March 2, 1942. The United States was already at war, fighting alongside British and Soviets to crush the Nazi and Japanese Imperial forces. That day Life magazine published six plans that the Axis could have used to invaded the US.
Titled "Now the US must fight for its life", the article began: "You are looking at the first German missile of this war to land on the soil of the Western Hemisphere. Before it is over, you will certainly see a lot more of the same." While it may seem sensationalistic in retrospective, barely a few months after the Pearl Harbor attack, the truth is that most people thought that Germans and Japanese forces could eventually try to invade the mainland.
The lack of public information, coupled with Pearl Harbor's psychological impact and the relentless U-boat attacks to US convoys in the Atlantic Ocean, made people believe in what we know now was practically impossible. Neither Germany nor Japan had the natural or human resources to commit to such a huge operation — but the fear was there.
But while the idea of an invasion seems crazy now, the truth is that the technology was gearing up to make an attack main cities in the North American continent possible, using long-range bombers with anti-radar and nuclear capabilities. It was the fear of a Nazi nuclear attack that eventually prompted the United States to push hard on their quest to obtain the fission bomb before their enemies.
Luckily, no nuclear attacks or invasions ever happened, the fabled Fifth Column—American Nazis who were supposed to help the Axis from the inside — never materialised, and everything ended on a good note despite crazy Nazi plans to re-rebuild the Third Reich using spies and saboteurs in US soil.
But that doesn't make these plans any less fun. This is what Life thought was possible at the time, along with some of their gloom and doom illustrations on the invasion.
Their first plan included "Japanese hop-skip-and-jump across the northern Pacific in great force." The insane strategy included an attack on Dutch Harbor, on the Aleutian Islands, using Japanese carriers and German battleships. Then their forces would advance through the West Coast until they reached Los Angeles, stopping on Seattle for a latte. On the East Coast, Germans would make "hit and run raids" using submarines, bombers and warships. Never mind that no axis countries had the men to actually occupy anything on the West, or that — except for their submarines — the Kriegsmarine was a pathetic force that couldn't even pass British Islands.
Plan two was a frontal attack, first invading Pearl Harbor and then entering San Francisco. Meanwhile, I guess they imagined the entire Pacific Fleet would be playing cards somewhere in the Bikini islands. Life saying that the "big water jump" would be "difficult" is a huge understatement, to say the least.
Plan three would came from the south, with Japanese forces reinforced by Germans given them "presumably" naval superiority over the US Fleet. The plan included a surprise bombing of the Panama Canal.
The fourth plan included the Japanese fleet "fighting its way across the Indian Ocean and going through Suez — which would have been taken by German forces. Then advancing from Dakar to Natal in Brazil, and up to New Orleans, where Nazi soldiers would have showed everyone their moobs in exchange for fake pearl collars.
For the fifth plan, Life imagined a frontal attack taking Madeira, the Azores, the Canary Islands and Cape Verde. From those bases, the combined Japanese and German navy would have met in the middle of the Atlantic, taken over Bermuda and attack Norfolk.
Plan six from out-of-your-fucking-mind included the Japanese fleet travelling all through the Mediterranean to the Northern Sea, joining the Kriegsmarine there and sailing for an Iceland invasion while the Royal Navy was being kept busy by Nazi u-boats. After taking Iceland and Greenland, the fleet would have advanced all the way through the St Lawrence river and Hudson Bay to the Great Lakes.
Man, those journos really hit the bottle those days. And here I was, thinking I was hard core. [Life]