Monday, December 31, 2018

Alternate Second World Wars

The Second World War is the most popular period for alternate histories. This post is a list of possible points of divergence during and before the Second World War, along with some suggested consequences. Basically, it's about sixty alternate history essays, each about one paragraph long.

This document is intended as a very broad-brush discussion of the field, which others can use as a foundation for more detailed alternate histories. The times during World War Two discussed below are the times of important consequences: the most elegant choice of a point of divergence may be earlier.

The Militarisation of the Rhineland, 1936
The piece of Germany on the left bank of the Rhine had been kept demilitarised since the end of the First World War. Moving troops in was arguably the first thing Hitler did that flaunted its inconsistency with the Versailles treaty. What if France had decided to respond with force? Germany didn't have an army capable of fighting France, and would have had to back down. Would the blow to Hitler's prestige be sufficient to topple him? Would France's name be mud in all peace-loving countries? The point of divergence would have to create a lot more political will in France, or at least a lot more anti-German feeling.

Stalin's Purge
Stalin had several purges, but I'm talking about the one in the late 1930s. It was a key reason why the Soviet Union's army put up such a poor showing in the Winter War with Finland and the weeks after Barbarossa.

Case I: The purge doesn't happen: The army will be stronger. Tukachevsky, a brilliant theorist and field commander, will still be alive: he may end up in the job that Zhukov had historically.
Case II: The purge is worse: The army will be weaker: maybe weak enough that they lose. Zhukov joins Tukachevsky in an unmarked grave. Morons may command the Red Army.
Case III: Stalin's enemies depose him: Just because Stalin was paranoid doesn't mean nobody was out to get him. Let's imagine that without the purge there would have been a coup of Red Army generals and politburo political enemies. The new leader might be Tukachevsky, Zhukov, or one of Stalin's political enemies.
German annexation of Austria was popular in both countries. It's hard to see who would intervene to stop it, though Mussolini had in 1934. When asked why he didn't intervene the second time, he said that in 1934 he would have won. If the war starts over this there'll be a lot of anti-war sentiment in the west.

The Sudeten Crisis
The Sudetenland was a mountainous border region of what's now the Czech Republic, mostly populated by Germans (it might be better to think of them as Austrians). Nationalist principles implied that they should be joined to Germany. But if they were, Czechoslovakia would become indefensible: the Sudetenland had the best defensive terrain, a lot of smokestack industries and the Czech version of the Maginot line. Historically, Czechoslovakia was forced to give them up because France and Britain wouldn't back them up and they couldn't beat Germany on their own.

Case I: France and Britain back Czechoslovakia: Hitler probably would have had to back down: Germany wasn't ready for war yet.
Case II: Poland backs Czechoslovakia: Historically, Poland acquiesced in the dismemberment of their only nearby natural ally in return for the town of Teschen. A seriously bad bargain. But by the standards of 1938 Poland and Czechoslovakia together have a pretty good army. Even without a western declaration of war they may just be able to force the Germans to back down: especially if great power intervention (from the west or the east) is always a possibility.
Case III: Poland, France and Britain back Czechoslovakia: Hitler definitely has to back down.
Case IV: The USSR and Poland back Czechoslovakia: This assumes Poland at least allows the USSR to rail troops and supplies across Polish territory. Not sure how plausible it is, or what the result would be. You can think of this as Poland jumping at a chance to let Russia and Germany fight somewhere that isn't Poland. I don't see that Russian soldiers locked into railway cars, by the way, are a security threat to Poland.

Occupation of the Czech Rump State, May 1939
Germany occupied what was left of Czechoslovakia too fast for anyone to do anything about it. The action gave Germany a big increase in its military strength: a third of the tanks that attacked France in 1940 were made in Czechoslovakia (before or after the conquest). But the action cost Germany a lot diplomatically: this is arguably the first time Germany did something for which it had no real excuse, and it made it clear that Hitler could not be trusted. As a result, it's the last major piece of intimidatory expansion Hitler got away with.

I doubt there's much of a point of divergence here, unless it's Germany not occupying the rump. Which requires a different approach to diplomacy on Hitler's part: he doesn't seem to have realised that the western powers took the Munich agreement seriously.

Russia attacks Poland, ahistorical
One of the USSR's aims seems to have been to recover the territory lost in the collapse of the Russian Empire, and Poland holds a lot. Edward Stasiak suggests an August 1936 trigger. As a general remark, the earlier the war happens the better chance the minor country has: major powers like Russia, Germany, France, Britain and Italy mostly built up their militaries much faster than the minor powers could.

Germany attacks Poland, September 1939
Germany's immediate claim was on the so-called Polish corridor, around Danzig, but in the long run Poland had to fight or surrender. What if Poland had given up the corridor and become a German minion? It's not crazy: fear of Russia could be a motive, and realistically the Poles had missed their best chance to resist a year ago when they let the Czechs be devoured. Surrender removes the trigger for a western entry into the war (see below) and it creates a border between the Third Reich and the Soviet Union. A war between them may follow, since it's much closer to what Hitler wants than a war with the west, and Poland will fight as a German ally. Certainly Russia will react to the appearance of the Wehrmacht in Poland with fear and loathing. The Baltic States now become interesting, and a good trigger for the Russo-German war. Who would win that war is very hard to guess.

France and Britain declare war on Germany, September 1939
Hitler thought they wouldn't. After all, what sort of idiot would let powerful, well-defended democratic Czechoslovakia be destroyed without a fight, then fight to defend the militarily and morally indefensible military dictatorship of Poland?

What if Hitler had been right? Poland is rapidly demolished, and whatever parts of Eastern Europe haven't fallen into the German or Soviet camps do so swiftly. War between Germany and the Soviet Union is then likely, to general western schadenfreude.

Sitzkrieg: The Phoney War, Winter 1939-40
After and during the fall of Poland, France and Britain remained almost entirely passive, despite facing a very weak German garrison. What if they'd taken the offensive?

Case I: Across the Franco-German border: Not much of a frontage, and straight into the Siegfried line. I don't think France has the strength to get anywhere, though it was probably worth a try.
Case II: By Invitation Through Belgium: I don't know what it would take to make Belgium join the allies. This offensive might get somewhere, though I'm sceptical it would bring down Germany.
Case III: By Invasion Through Belgium: I can't see this happening: if it does, the France and Britain will look very bad indeed. Perhaps if we assume the Belgians had done some deal with the Germans beforehand?
The Winter War, Winter 1939-40
This was a revanchist land grab (Finland had been part of the pre-revolutionary Russian Empire) by the USSR against Finland. Finland did very well, or the USSR did very badly, depending on your point of view. But eventually the USSR's huge numerical advantage ground the Finns down, and Finland had to make peace by giving up a larger chunk of border land than the original Russian demand. The war motivated Finland to make a vague and desultory attack on the USSR alongside Germany: they wanted the stolen territory back, but never really had their heart in an attempt to destroy the USSR. When the tide turned against Germany, Finland shrugged, gave the territory back up, and made a separate peace.

Case I: Finland wins: Stalin gets bored with attacking Finland and makes some face-saving deal. Finland presumably never enters the war. This is a POD of interest to Finns, but probably of little impact on the big picture.
Case II: It never happens: Stalin doesn't attack. He may go and do something else violent instead. Otherwise, neither Germany nor Stalin finds out just how awful the Red Army is. It's arguable that this reduces the chance of Barbarossa happening, or even of a Russo-German war of any kind happening. On the other hand, if there is a Russo-German war the Germans are likely to do very well, because nobody's been fixing all the things that are wrong with the Red Army. Finland won't be involved, even to the limited extent it was historically.
Case III: Finland surrenders quickly: Finland realises it can't win, so it doesn't fight. Russia takes a slice of territory, not as much as historically. And Finland will have a grudge. Otherwise it's just like Case II.
Case IV: Finland gets steamrolled: Deprive Finland of Mannerheim's leadership, make a few other adjustments, and assume they have some bad luck. Finland is rapidly and cheaply defeated. Everybody thinks the Russian army pretty competent. Finland attacks Russia in Barbarossa, and recovers the territory. When (if) the war turns against Germany, Finland tries to make peace. But the Russians have no great respect for Finnish skill at arms and decide to make a finish of it (no pun intended). Post-war Finland is just another Eastern European satellite with a communist government. Sweden finds itself on the front line and perhaps joins the NATO analogue.
Case V: The allies support Finland: I don't know how to make this happen, but it was talked about. This brings the USSR in as an active ally of Germany, at least for a while. I don't know how the allies get there but they'll probably be talking to Norway and Sweden, as well as directly landing at Petsamo.

Norway, April 1940
Historically Norway was invaded almost simultaneously by Germany and Britain: each saw it as important, each feared (rightly) that the other would attack and each (rightly) thought the Norwegians incapable of defending themselves. Germany also overrun Denmark in the process of getting to Norway. The main reason was the iron ore shipments that run (at least part of the year) from Kiruna in Sweden by rail to Narvik in Norway, then down the coast to German ports. By being fractionally later, the allies got the diplomatic credit for defending Norway rather than attacking it.

Case I: No invasion: Germany lost half its navy in the Norwegian campaign, that won't happen. Various British losses won't happen either but I'm not sure of their importance.
Case II: The allies attack first: The allies look like bullies, that may affect American support. The allies may do slightly better in the fighting but probably not much.
Case III: The allies get bogged down: The saving grace for the allies was that Norway was all over quickly. If the commitment had been more severe that could have an effect on the battle for France.
The Fall of France, May-June 1940
There were three sectors to the French-German effective border: a southern sector covered by the Maginot line; a central sector that the French thought impenetrable due to the Ardennes forest; and a northern sector where the French expected to be attacked and massed their best armies. The French plan was to advance through the northern sector to save as much of Belgium as possible. The Germans attacked through the centre, demonstrating that the Ardennes were not impassable after all. This left the bulk of the French army hopelessly outflanked and rapidly pocketed, and led to a swift German victory. Almost any POD gives the French a better chance than what happened historically.

Case I: Germans attack in the north: They were planning to do this, but changed their minds at the last minute, partly because the plans fell into allied hands. This leads to a German attack straight into the teeth of the French defence: the best case the French can possibly hope for, even so I'm not sure they will win.
Case II: Germany and France both concentrate in the centre: This probably requires an intelligence leak, perhaps an intercept decoded by the British. Same comments apply, if anything this is better for France since the forest will favour the defence.
Case III: Belgium joins the allies: Belgium remained neutral, but surely understood that Germany was the main threat. If Belgium concludes it's for the chop in any case it may agree to allow French and British troops to enter its territory: say, during the Phoney War. That changes the campaign a lot and I'd only be guessing if I said how. Once again, it's hardly likely to be worse than history.

Dunkirk, June 1940
What if the Anglo-French armies trying to evacuate from Dunkirk get wiped out? Deprived of this core the British army will lack the cadres needed to train new recruits. As a result its army will be of much lower quality throughout the war, a bit like it was in the first world war after its expeditionary force was wiped out in August 1914.

Vichy France, 1940
Vichy France was set up by the Germans to neutralise French resistance and hopefully produce an ally. The territories of France tended to sign up to the Vichy government unless they were immediately exposed to allied pressure (e.g. New Caledonia). In practice the only significant achievement of the Vichy French armed forces was to defeat an allied attack on Senegal, in West Africa. In 1942 it became clear that the Vichy French could not be relied upon to achieve anything for the German cause, and Hitler ended the farce, occupying the Vichy part of the country as the allies rolled up North Africa.

Case I: Active French participation in axis: There was some anti-British feeling on the part of the French, partly due to the British attack on French fleet elements they feared would fall into German hands. Suppose France was even more irritated with Britain for some reason. French troops could help to bolster Germany in the east, the way Rumanians, Hungarians etc. did historically. The SS will also recruit more successfully from France. The French navy becomes available to the Germans, except for whatever the British have already sunk.
Case II: Stronger Free France: Suppose Vichy France is seen by the French with contempt. Perhaps Petain refusing to support it would be an aspect of the POD. The most important areas are Senegal, Northwest Africa and Syria. If all these go Free French then all of Africa will fall rapidly.

Battle of Britain, late 1940
This could go differently, but I'm not sure what the impact would be. Worst case for Britain is that the fighters get driven out of Southern England and the Germans pound London and the southern cities with impunity. For a while, at least.

Sea Lion, late 1940
The German invasion of Britain. Others have written as to why this could never work. Strictly, of course, that's a meaningless statement in alternate history. Let's rephrase by saying that the point of divergence required to make Sea Lion possible will be so large and/or early that the alternate history resulting will be too different from real history to justify using the same name.
If you're determined anyway, you'll need every POD you can scrape up. Have the bulk of the Danish, Norwegian, Dutch and French navies fall intact into German hands, preferably with their crews carrying grudges against perfidious Albion. Chop the British navy up in an invasion of Norway or something. Wipe out the British army: Dunkirk is a popular place for that. Inflict much higher losses on the Royal Air Force during the fall of France. Have the Germans see the attack on Britain not as a separate campaign but as a natural continuation of the defeat of France, and have them draw up the plans before they even attack France. Let the Germans have a clever idea as to how to get the troops across: something to supplement the Elbe-Rhine barge fleet. Let the British make a bad mistake when guessing where they'll land: they did historically. Give the Germans some experience (off Norway?) bombing ships, so they get good at it. Transfer the best of the Regia Aeronautica to the channel to assist the Luftwaffe. Best of luck, you'll need it.

Spain, ahistorical
Franco liked to say that he fought as a German ally on the eastern front of the European war, as an American ally in the Pacific, and stayed neutral in the west. Spain traded with Germany from the fall of France until late in the war.

Case I: Spanish Republicans win unassisted: They'll be friendly to the USSR, which means they will trade with the Germans from the fall of France to Barbarossa, then cut off relations. Unless invaded by the Germans they will offer themselves as a launching platform for the second front. If they are invaded then Britain gets to fight a twentieth century version of the Napoleonic peninsular war.
Case II: Spanish Republicans win with Russian assistance: As Case I, but more so.
Case III: Spanish Republicans win with western assistance: Spain may fight on the allied side in the war. But perhaps not, they are tired of fighting and still more aligned with the USSR than the west.
Case IV: Spanish civil war drags on: What if the Spanish civil war were still in progress when France declared war on Germany? There's a German army of "volunteers" fighting alongside Franco. Spain would become the first theatre of war in the west.
Case V: Spain allies with Germany: Say, just after the fall of France. Historically Spain demanded so much as its price that Hitler said forget it. Germany can use Spain as a launching pad to attack Gibraltar and close one end of the Mediterranean. The loss of Gibraltar and Spain would make it very hard for the allies to take the offensive in North Africa, to carry out operations like Torch, or later to land in Italy. So the landings aimed at the liberation of France move up to 1943.
Case VI: Germany invades Spain: Would Franco really fight the Germans, when he has the chance to acquiesce? I assume the Germans win, and Spain becomes even more devastated. But it may not be pleasant, peninsulas with tough terrain and poor transport infrastructure, like Spain, are vulnerable to allied sea power.

Turkey, ahistorical
Turkey stayed out of the war and traded with Germany until very near the end, when it made a token declaration.

Case I: Turkey as a German victim: Same comments apply as to Spain. Idea is for Germany to directly threaten the Caucasus. It also gives the axis control of the Bosphorus-Dardanelles but I'm not sure that's important. I'm not sure I really believe this idea.
Case II: Turkey as a German ally: As above, but no need for an invasion and the Turkish army as an ally. Turkey can influence events in the Caucasus, Syria, Iraq, maybe Greece.

Soviet Pre-Emptive Attack
The Soviet Union did have a plan for this, one was drawn up by Zhukov. It was sort of like a larger version of the German invasion of France, pushing through the centre then hooking north to pocket Army Group North (to borrow a term from Barbarossa) against the Baltic. Who knows how well it would have worked: probably not really well, but also probably better than Barbarossa was for the Russians. The two obvious times are early 1941 and mid-1940. The latter is probably more interesting. Either way the Russians will have struck first, which increases the chance the Russian people will blame Stalin for the war. The Russian buildup during 1940 was huge, so both sides will be weaker in numerical terms.

Balkans Diversion, May 1941
The German attack on Yugoslavia and Greece may have delayed Barbarossa. Or may not, depending on who you believe about the weather. It certainly diverted British troops from North Africa, letting Rommel achieve impressive things. The root POD here may be the Italian attack on Greece.

Barbarossa, June 1941
Always a good subject for debate. Barbarossa was a brilliant tactical success, though it didn't quite achieve its optimistic objectives. In the long run, of course, it was a strategic catastrophe for Germany. A key question is whether Germany had a choice: would the USSR have attacked eventually anyway?

Case I: It doesn't happen: This leaves Germany facing a powerful but quiescent USSR in the east, and a belligerent but largely helpless Britain in the west. When and if the US enters the war the allies can probably win the Battle of the Atlantic, but it's going to be a terrible drain: every unit of resources allocated by Germany to submarines requires far more allocated by the west to anti-submarine warfare and replacement of shipping losses. The allies can't kick Germany out of France, or knock Italy out of the war, without Russia taking the brunt of the fighting. The three possibilities obviously worth looking at here are: a negotiated peace in the west; an eventual USSR attack on Germany; and the development and use of nuclear fission bombs by one or both sides.
Case I: Germany does better: Just having the Germans prepare better
Case I: USSR does better: Easy to arrange, just let Stalin listen to a few of the warnings he historically ignored. It's not clear it's a very interesting POD, though. The war will presumably be shorter, and Russia less exhausted, perhaps the USSR will control more of Europe.
Case II: Single main objective: Some thinkers have attacked Barbarossa as being unfocused. Each army group had a separate objective: Leningrad in the north, Moscow in the centre and Stalingrad in the south. There are some what-ifs you can play here assuming that the Germans identify one of these as the Russian centre of gravity, the most popular choice being Moscow. This isn't an easy plausibility argument, if you want to start from a small have a good grasp of military logistics.

Strike North, 1941
Japan attacked Russia in 1939 and had the dreadful bad luck to run into a Russian general called Zhukov. (Who'd been exiled there by Stalin in order to put him on tenure track for a gulag and an execution, so if you stop Zhukov's arrest there'll be someone else in the theatre. This makes Zhukov's arrest a rather elegant POD.) The result was a modest but quite dramatic Japanese defeat at Nomonhan. POD that away and the Japanese may be willing to attack the USSR in alliance with the Germans. They probably won't do all that well, they really never did against European armies except in jungles. But the distraction could be very serious, and the lend lease that historically flowed on Russian ships from America to Vladivostok will cease.

Life in Stalin's idea of a socialist Utopia wasn't fun. So when the Germans arrived in places like the Ukraine they were initially hailed as liberators by a significant percentage of the population. By their nature, however, Nazis cannot be put in contact with Slavs without a high risk of massacre. The Third Reich rapidly ran through its fund of good will and achieved an amazing thing: turned the Ukrainians into supporters of Russia. Changing this will take a big POD: racist brutality isn't a detachable aspect of Nazism, it's a central element. But letting the Germans keep a few friends would go some way toward any German victory scenario you wanted to construct. Ironically, the big winner from the change would be the SS, which could recruit Ukrainians, etc.; yet the SS is the historical worst offender.

The Germans diverted significant resources into killing people they didn't really need to. Jews are the famous example, but Gipsies, educated Poles, commissars, etc. are all worth remembering as well. (Apologies for anyone I left out, but that just underlines the point that this document is intended as a brief outline.) A Germany that harnessed those people's talents would be really scary, but that's probably too much to hope. (When I say “hope”, of course, what I really mean is fear.) A Germany that just used them as brute slaves might at least be slightly more efficient. The most interesting consequences might be in having all those educated, creative people still alive after the war. Add four million or so Jews, still alive and mostly wanting to leave Europe, and see what Israel turns into, or New York.

Strike South, December 1941
The Japanese felt themselves forced into war with the US, because their oil supplies had been cut off. This was the result of a sort of accidental diplomatic blockade: the US cut off their oil to protest Japanese occupation of French Indochina, and the Dutch and British cut off theirs because they thought it would please the Americans. It doesn't seem the Americans wanted to hurt the Japanese quite as badly as they did. American terms for a resumption of oil supplies were withdrawal from China. Nobody in Japan knew whether meant just China south of the great wall, which they might be willing to do, or Manchuria and/or Taiwan as well, which they wouldn't. There are plenty of PODs here for keeping Japan out of the war. The post-war implications of a powerful nationalist state in East Asia are fascinating.

Pearl Harbour, December 1941
After Pearl Harbour Japan rampaged across the western Pacific for six months. Something that should be made clear: Japan can't win against a serious America. Historically the US crushed Japan using about a fifth of its strength, the rest going to Europe. Make Japan tougher and you just force the US to allocate a little more or take a little longer. If you want Japan to win it has to be mostly a political change.

Case I: It doesn't happen: It was always a risky plan, so let's assume it never happened. The old American battleships survive, which is a mixed blessing because they're too slow to keep up with the carrier fleet. The Japanese carriers that struck Hawaii are off doing other things and so Japanese expansion goes a little faster.
Case II: The carriers are sunk: This could make a big dent in the American response. Japan's rampage will last significantly longer. American counterattacks will have to wait for the Essex-class carriers, but maybe Japan will have pushed further out by the time they come. Which won't clearly be good news for Japan.
Case III: The fuel supplies are wiped out: This will slow the Americans down a lot, but I doubt the implications are very interesting. Ships will go to Europe instead, which will help the Atlantic war.
Case IV: The carriers are spotted: A battle at sea follows, which the Japanese almost certainly win. Ships that get sunk in this battle won't rest on the bottom of the harbour waiting for salvage: they're gone for good.

Germany Declares War on the United States, December 1941
Hitler underestimated the United States in particular and the importance of convertible civilian industry in general. He may also have overestimated the long term importance of Operation Drumbeat, the mugging of a hopelessly ill-prepared US merchant fleet by U-boats. And he probably figured that with the US and Britain cooperating closely in the Pacific against Japan, they would also cooperate closely in the Atlantic. Even so, gratuitously declaring war on the United States was the action of a loon.

So what if he doesn't? FDR is going to find it hard to ask for a declaration of war against Germany, now that the US has a real live actively evil empire to fight and no desire for distractions. He'll have to sell it by claiming the axis is a real alliance, but will congress believe him? Hitler can make that especially hard through speeches declaring solidarity with the Aryan people of America. In fact, a declaration of war on the Empire of Japan would cost very little and is probably worth every pfennig's worth of ink in the pen he uses. And why not go the whole hog: offer the United States the services of, say, a brigade of German volunteers (they may even actually have volunteered!). The eastern front will never notice the loss of a single brigade, and even when the US turns the offer down it's all ammunition to the "Japan first!" crowd in congress. If you want to contemplate some less plausible options, what if the US says yes? Then there'll be US soldiers serving alongside Wehrmacht: improving US doctrine, building personal links and making the US army realise that these guys are really capable and really evil. Germany may ask the American congress to send over that Joe Kennedy chap to help mediate peace between Germany and Britain. Sound fellow.

Battle of Moscow, late 1941
In my opinion, the pivotal moment of the war. German forces reached the outskirts of Moscow, and advanced elements even circled behind it to cut rail lines. Historically a Russian counteroffensive drove the Germans back, but what if the Germans had taken Moscow? This is an enormous blow to the USSR: the loss of Moscow's industry; its importance as a transportation hub; the disruption to war planning; and morale. Comrade Stalin might just find himself up against a wall in front of a firing squad, with the new government making whatever deal they can. It isn't easy to take a city that's stubbornly defended, so we're looking for a POD that worsens the Russian's historical level of surprise.

Midway, June 1942
The American victory at Midway ended the historical Japanese rampage. The attack was partially triggered by the Doolittle raid, so that's a possible POD.

Case I: No attempt: The Japanese are obviously stronger. The Americans will have to kill their fleet honestly. Which they will, by overwhelming force. But not before the Essex-class carriers arrive.
Case II: The US doesn't respond: Perhaps because the Japanese change their codes. Midway falls, and the US will have to respond somehow, which leads to the battle on Japanese terms that the Japanese wanted.
Case III: Japanese victory: Not out of the question, the initial American attacks did get savaged. The point of divergence could be to take Spruance out of the picture (as a submariner he's an unlikely candidate for carrier command) and replace him with someone of less competence. Results are as for Cases I and II, but more so.

Stalingrad and Baku, Winter 1942-3
An easy German occupation of Stalingrad, for whatever reason, might have some impact but probably not a huge one. Pushing through to cut off and (perhaps eventually) occupy the Caspian oil sources could be very important. I'm unsure how important Stalingrad was.

Kursk, 1943
Mentioned mostly so I can dismiss it: the Germans are too far gone by this stage for any single battle to save them.

Normandy, June 1944
Normandy was a spectacularly brilliant deception operation and a logistical triumph. Even so, there was one beach, Omaha, where it all went horrible. What if everything that historically went right had gone wrong, and there'd been five beaches like Omaha? What if the invasion had turned into a bloodbath, pinned against the channel and eventually evacuated in disgrace, or even overrun? It would be the end of any significant allied effort for 1944. By the time they were ready to try again the Russians would be knocking on the door of Berlin.

Jet Fighters
The Me-262 was a primitive jet fighter. Its production and development were held up by Hitler's odd obsession with converting it into a strike aircraft.

Case I: Germans develop jets earlier: It'll hurt, but it can't really turn the war around. The US, Britain and USSR will presumably accelerate their own jet programs in response.
Case II: Germans fail to develop jets: This may retard jet aircraft.
Case III: Allies develop jets sooner: P-80s, MiG-somethings and/or Gloucester Meteors battle Me-262s and Arabo blitzbombers. All good fun, and jet technology may be accelerated, but probably not a huge impact on history.

The K-Bomb
The Germans had most of what they needed to produce a nuclear fission bomb. The big problem was resources generally, it's hard to see Germany funnelling the vast sums into their program the Americans could into theirs, unless Hitler gets obsessed with the idea. They had Werner Heisenberg to run it, but they'd also lost a lot of brilliant scientists like Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi, and made no visible effort to recruit Nils Bohr. Their concept was completely wrong (they thought they'd need to build a reactor and make it go supercritical, which rules out bombs small enough to be transported in aircraft) but that can be taken away by POD. If the Germans get the K-bomb early enough (from kern, the German word for nuclear) they'll probably drop the first one on London or Moscow. A later target might be Antwerp, or some critical centre of communications on the Eastern front.

Atoms for Germany, 1945
Nuclear weapons were invented for the purpose of attacking Germany. Let Germany hold on six months more and they may be. The postwar consequences are probably the most interesting: Germans may have stronger negative feelings about nuclear power, nuclear weapons and Americans.

Hiroshima, August 1945
The US didn't realise it, but Japan was ready to surrender when the Hiroshima bomb was dropped. A translation error was partially responsible for the confusion: nobody should discuss sensitive subjects with foreigners in a language as deliberately obscure as Japanese. The final straw had been the USSR's entry into the war, since the Japanese had been hoping the USSR would mediate. If America realised Japan was about to surrender, or if Japan surrendered sooner, maybe just a few weeks sooner, there might never have been a nuclear weapon used in anger. The post-war issues could bear a lot of scrutiny: America thinks the bomb is a secret, but it isn't. The USSR knows about the bomb, but maybe Stalin will be skeptical of his scientists' apparently hyperbolic descriptions. Both sides will capture German scientists from Heisenberg's project, who will think the project very difficult. But maybe not say so, since they're all unemployed and in danger of becoming slave labourers if they can't prove themselves useful. What if Russia builds a nuclear arsenal in secret? How long before scientists and science fiction writers start wondering aloud why nobody's been working on this? Or before the news leaks: scientists are very bad at keeping secrets, at least amongst themselves.

World War Three
At the end of world war two the allied and Soviet armies met across a vanquished Germany. What if the meeting had been violent? The Russians have a huge army, but not much manpower left in reserve. The western allies have the arsenal of democracy, lots of airpower and the sympathies of any German military units that have survived (e.g. the Norway garrison, von Kesselring's army of Italy and that division that got stuck on a channel island) or can be formed (e.g. from POWs). Best of all there are nuclear weapons in the pipeline. The Russians must win fast, or they won't win at all: of course, the best they can possibly hope to do is overrun Germany, France and just maybe Italy, so there'll always be a base for the allies to come back or at least strike back. The French, Yugoslav and Italian communist partisans will presumably fight as allies of the USSR. The Japanese have a glimmer of hope that they never deserved: if they get an offer of peace from the allies short of total humiliation they will accept; if they don't they will fight without real hope, notionally alongside the Russians.

Case I: The western allies start it: I don't see how to arrange this, it probably requires a conspiracy between, at a minimum, deranged analogues of Roosevelt, Churchill and lots of other people. Let us never speak of it again. OK, maybe a deranged analogue of Patton starts it and it gets out of hand. But sooner or later someone will try to pull the plug, if Stalin will agree. Not a really plausible POD.
Case II: The USSR starts it: Stalin's paranoia points outward for a while, instead of inward. Maybe the POD is a clever Red Army general who deliberately redirects Stalin's attention as the only way to prevent another purge. A lot of people in Russia will be unhappy and they'll take any good opportunity to depose Stalin if they think they can make terms. Or maybe Stalin realises what nuclear weapons can do and thinks he has to strike now, which is a really dumb way to think but who knows the mind of a mad dictator.
Case III: Both sides think the other started it: Probably the most likely POD. This makes for a bitter conflict, both sides are crying infamy and are in no mood to accept anything less than unconditional surrender. The blue glow of Cerenkov radiation replaces street lights in many Russian cities.

By David Bofinger

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Reich Without Hitler: Volume 1: The Falcons of Malta

The Reich Without Hitler series explores a world where, in late June of 1940, Germany is ruled by a mixed Nazi-Army junta under the new Führer, Herman Göring. It starts as our recognizable World War Two and proceeds in different directions to create something new and unique. In the Falcons of Malta, we take the war to Malta, the start of a major campaign in the Middle Sea. The book covers both the high-level strategy and one company of the Nibelungen Legion, a new service formed after Hitler’s death. Our merry band of freebooters will reveal the picaresque adventures that war can be. We even get a wartime Romeo and Juliet. Strap into your glider and come along for the ride.

There are many World War II alternate histories out there, but many if not most stumble on one thing: they require Hitler (a gambler, not to mention thoroughly evil and insane) to not act like Hitler. Author Scott Palter deftly solves the quandary by removing Hitler of the equation by his death shortly after the Nazis' victory in France. How will the new leadership act?

The novel answers those questions as it follows the ensuing weeks since the Fuhrer's death from both the top (the new rulers and, more importantly, the ones operating behind the scenes) and the bottom (as we follow the misadventures of an unlikely pack of rogues and accidental heroes). As the British (the only great power still in the fight) and the Soviets (at peace but never a friend of the Nazis) make their own plans, the war for dominion of Europe if not the world continues. The book is fast-paced, engrossing read. A must for World War Two AH fans, and an enjoyable read on its own.

C.J. Carella

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Alternate Endings — Ten Hypothetical Events That Would Have Changed the Outcome of World War Two

By George Dvorsky

Decisions during wartime are monumental things. Each move and countermove has the potential to change the course of history. Here are ten shocking ways the Second World War could have unfolded differently than it did.

1. Germany Invades Britain Instead of the Soviet Union
Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 proved to be his undoing, but it didn’t have to play out the way it did. After the fall of France a year earlier, the Fuhrer had his military chiefs come up with a plan for an assault on the United Kingdom, an operation dubbed Sea Lion. Preparations began in earnest in the summer of 1940; by the autumn, the British were convinced that an invasion was imminent. What’s more, with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact securely in place (a treaty of non-aggression between Germany and the U.S.S.R.), Hitler didn’t have to worry about a war with the Soviets; Stalin was content with his share of Poland, and had his sights set on Finland.

But Hitler soon nixed the plans to conquer England. For starters, it became painfully obvious that more time and preparations were needed. The Fuhrer also knew that an invasion in 1940 would be risky. Britain’s navy controlled the Channel, and as the Battle of Britain revealed, the Luftwaffe didn’t own the skies. What’s more, Hitler wanted to attack Russia sooner rather than later.
But what if the Nazi dictator delayed his conquest of Russia until 1942 or 1943? Germany might have continued its air assault on Britain while sustaining its naval blockade around the Isles. Then, after an appropriate period of preparation, an amphibious landing could have hit England’s shores in 1941 or even 1942. With Britain knocked out of the war, Germany could have finally headed east into the Soviet Union unencumbered.

Had Sea Lion succeeded, a likely scenario would have seen the British government and monarchy flee to Canada. From there, working with the Americans, the Allies could have planned for an invasion of Africa, which in turn might have led to incursions in Italy and the Balkans. What’s certain, however, is that it wouldn’t have been easy — especially if Germany’s subsequent invasion of the Soviet Union had gone Hitler’s way.

2. Japan Reconsiders Attacking Pearl Harbor
The isolationist movement in the United States was alive and well in 1941. Certainly American voters were divided on war. But with Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt was free to initiate hostilities against the Axis.

Japan’s fateful decision to confront the United States stemmed from its need to secure oil and rubber reserves from the Dutch East Indies and Southeast Asia. Had the empire not attacked Hawaii, Tokyo’s expansionist policies would have likely crossed United States eventually, say, after an invasion of the Phillipines. Japan needed to hobble the mighty American Pacific fleet before it could snatch up territory.

But for argument’s sake, let’s assume that Japan didn’t bomb Hawaii and the U.S. were never given a reason to declare war. In such a scenario, Britain and her colonial allies would have been isolated. America’s support for both the U.K. and the U.S.S.R. would have been limited. The Churchill would have struggled in Africa, likely never gaining the opportunity to invade Sicily or Italy. No Western Front would have emerged. The Soviet Union would have probably still defeated Germany, but it would have taken considerably longer. And under those conditions, Stalin just might have claimed all of Europe for himself after crushing the Nazis. 

3. The Germans Take Moscow in 1941
A longstanding debate among historians is whether or not Operation Barbarossa could have actually succeeded. The Nazis certainly committed a number of fatal mistakes during the invasion, including a 38-day delay in starting the attack — time that would have certainly come in handy at the onset of winter. And then there was Hitler’s catastrophic decision to divert the main thrust away from Moscow southwards to help Army Group South capture Ukraine. By the time Army Group Centre reached the outskirts of the Soviet capital in early December 1941 — a teasingly close distance of 15 miles (German soldiers could actually see the spires of the Kremlin) — winter had arrived with a vengeance, literally freezing Hitler’s plans to take the Russian nerve centre.

This was perhaps the deciding moment of the Second World War. The struggle certainly would have turned out quite differently had the Soviet Union fallen. First, it would have knocked a significant military power out of the fight. And once armed with Russia’s vast resources (including the oil regions to the south and the breadbasket regions of Ukraine), the Third Reich would have converted into the autarchy of Hitler’s fantasies. Nazi Germany would have become the global superpower, eventually defeating Britain, claiming all of the Middle East and quite possibly even linking up with Japanese forces in Asia. Berlin would have certainly developed nuclear capabilities, perhaps kindling a Cold War with the United States.

Frighteningly, the Nazis would have succeeding in murdering all the Jews and Romani of Europe. And through the diabolical Hunger Plan, they would have also starved tens of millions of Slavs to death, “cleansing” the occupied territories of its inhabitants. It would have been a humanitarian catastrophe of the highest order, possibility setting the stage for a totalitarian dark age. 

4. Russia and Germany Make a Separate Peace
Imagine a scenario in which both Hitler and Stalin came to a mutual agreement to cease hostilities on the Eastern Front. With the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact restored, Germany could focus all its efforts on defeating Britain. This one’s a bit of a stretch for at least two reasons. First, Germany desperately needed Russia’s oil reserves to continue its war effort. Second, Stalin would have been hesitant to allow Germany to continue running roughshod around Europe; the Third Reich would continue to pose a serious existential threat to the U.S.S.R. Still, the possibility that this could’ve happened is quite frightening. 

5. The Nazis Develop the Bomb Before the Allies
Given Hitler’s penchant for so-called “wonder weapons,” there’s little doubt he would have used the atomic bomb if he had it. This is the same regime, after all, that developed a precursor to the intercontinental ballistic missile. The Nazis even used mosquitoes as biological weapons.
It very well might have been lights-out for the Allies had Germany come up with the nuclear weapons first. It could have resulted in victory for Germany on all fronts. Mercifully, the Nazis never appreciated the potential for a weapon that was so closely associated with “Jewish science.” 

6. No Western Front
Had it been up to Winston Churchill, there would have been no Western Front opened. With memories of the bloodbath in Flanders still haunting him, the British prime minister was resistant to launch an amphibious attack on France, preferring instead his “soft underbelly” strategy of attacking Axis powers through Italy and the Balkans. But with the United States asserting itself, Churchill and the British military had to take a back seat to American planners. Hence the attack on Normandy in June 1944.

Of course, Stalin also demanded a Western Front — not only to offset the terrible losses being incurred by the Red Army (Stalin would later say, “You paid with your steel, we paid with our blood”), but to also prevent rival Allied forces from establishing a foothold in Eastern and Central Europe. He was already looking ahead to the post-war world and the creation of a communist bloc.

But had Churchill gotten his way, it’s likely that an exceptionally strong Allied invasion of both Italy and the Balkans would have occurred. Alternately (or in supplemental fashion), an invasion force could have come through Norway, which is why Hitler insisted on stationing over 400,000 troops there over the course of the entire war (even as Berlin burned). The complexion of the war would have been vastly different, with the bulk of anti-Axis forces coming from the east and south. It’s difficult to predict what might have happened next, but a German defeat could have still been likely. Though it’s interesting to think about France’s fate given such a scenario. 

7. The July 1944 Plot to Assassinate Hitler Succeeds
The 20 July, 1944 plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler resulted in tragedy on multiple levels. Not only did it fail in its primary objective, but it led to the capture of 7,000 people, of which 4,980 were executed. Worse, it retrenched and further radicalized Nazi party. Called Operation Valkyrie, the conspiracy was organized by Wehrmacht officers who wanted Hitler out of the picture so Germany could negotiate a separate peace with the western Allies and continue the war against the U.S.S.R. It’s highly unlikely, however, that Washington and London would have gone for it (recalling Roosevelt’s infamous “unconditional surrender” speech — and the fact that the Big Three already had an agreement ruling out a separate peace under any circumstances).

There’s been much debate over what might have happened had Hitler been killed in the war’s final year. It’s unlikely that his death would have resulted in the collapse of the Nazi party or the Axis war effort. Even Claus von Stauffenberg, a leading member of the Valkyrie plot, accepted that he would “go down in German history as a traitor.” Indeed, despite the sorry state of the war, the cult of personality surrounding the Fuhrer was surprisingly resilient.

Had the plot been successful, however, a likely scenario would have seen either Hermann Göring or the fanatical Heinrich Himmler ascend to the lead Germany. Both would have had the plotters captured and executed and the Nazis would have probably continued the war. A Third Reich under new management might have surrendered earlier, sparing Germany the cataclysm that was to befall it in 1945.

Another possible scenario is that the death of Hitler could have kick-started a more vociferous internal resistance movement — one that might have led to civil war. But owing to widespread German patriotism, this scenario is quite improbable. 

8. Stalin’s Red Army Continues West After Taking Berlin
By the time the Battle of Stalingrad had ended in 1943, the eventual outcome of the war was no longer in doubt: Germany was finished. Stalin’s Red Army persistently pushed the Wehrmacht back towards Germany, gobbling up territories that would later form the Iron Curtain. But as historian Anthony Beevor noted, Stalin —for a brief time — seriously considered taking all of Europe for himself. And he might have been able to do it, despite the fact that Russia was importing copious amounts of material and equipment from the U.S. (Russian soldiers were eating American canned food and driving in Jeeps and Studebaker trucks). After the fall of Berlin, the Red Army consisted of 12 million men spread across an astounding 300 divisions. Meanwhile, the western Allies had barely 4 million men making up only 85 divisions. By V-E Day, the Americans were still several months away from developing the bomb — enough time for the Soviets to push the Allies back to the English Channel. What would have happened after that, with the advent of the bomb, is anyone’s guess. 

9. Churchill Immediately Starts World War III
On the flip side of this alt-history coin, we also seriously need to consider Churchill’s Operation Unthinkable — the plan for the start of a new war against the Soviet Union after the fall of Nazi Germany. Like Stalin, Churchill had anticipated hostilities after a European victory and wondered if there was no better time to wage World War III than the present. But cooler heads prevailed. The Red Army stopped at Berlin and Eisenhower never considered taking on the Reds (unlike his compatriate, George Patton). 

10. The Allies Invade Japan Instead of Dropping the Bomb
The bombs were dropped on Japan because military experts presented President Truman with projections showing millions of U.S. casualties by the time Tokyo surrendered (the figures were based on casualties incurred during the fight for Okinawa). Had Truman refused to drop the bomb, Operation Downfall would have been put into effect — the largest amphibious campaign in human history.

The two-part invasion was set to commence in October of 1945. Operation Olympic would have seen the capture of the lower third of the southernmost main Japanese island, Kyushu. Then, in spring 1946, Operation Coronet would hit the Kanto Plain, near Tokyo. Airbases on Kyushu captured in Operation Olympic would have allowed land-based air support for this second phase of the attack. In total, 30 divisions would have been required. In response, the Japanese were preparing for an all-out defense of Kyushu. Had it gone down, it would have been a bloody mess.
George Dvorsky is a Canadian based bioethicist and the producer of the podcast Sentient Developments. He penned this piece for the futurist daily news site i09. would like to thank Mr. Dvorsky for granting us permission to reprint it. Follow him on twitter @dvorsky.

Monday, November 14, 2016

7 Bizarre World War Two Mysteries Involving Nazi Germany

7 Bizarre World War Two Mysteries Involving Nazi Germany - Urban Ghosts

The Second World War touched almost every corner of the globe, left an estimated 70 million people dead and countless families shattered. The events of what is considered to be the deadliest conflict in human history have been well documented and, 70 years later, remain seared into the public consciousness.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Tornado Bomb

Zippermeyer Wirbelwind Kanone.

Dr. Mario Zippermayr, an eccentric Austrian inventor working at an experimental establishment at Lofer in the Tyrol, designed and built a series of highly unorthodox anti-aircraft weapons that were observed very closely by the Reichsluftfahrtamt (Office of Aeronautics) in Berlin. Due to the overwhelming numerical air superiority of the Allies every effort was made during the last year of the war to find ways of exploiting any known phenomenon that could bring down the heavy bombers of the USAAF and RAF. Dr. Zippermayr constructed both a huge Wirbelwind Kanone (Whirlwind Cannon) and Turbulenz Kanone (Vortex Cannon). Both had the same goal – to knock down enemy bombers through clever manipulation of air.

To achieve this, the “Wind Cannon” used a detonation of hydrogen and oxygen to form a highly compressed plug of air that was channeled through a long tube that was bent at an angle and fired like a shell towards enemy aircraft. Impossible as this may seem the Wind Cannon did particularly well on the ground – breaking one inch thick wooden boards from a range of 200 yards! This promising development, however, meant nothing against the Allied bombers that were flying at 20,000 ft! Nevertheless, taken from the Hillersleben Proving Grounds the Wind Cannon was used in defense of a bridge over the Elbe River in 1945. Either there were no aircraft present or the cannon had no effect because it was still intact where it was found.

The Turbulenz Kanone, by comparison, was a large caliber mortar sunk into the ground with fired coal dust and slow burning explosive shells to create an artificial vortex. This also worked well on the ground but again the problem was the same – how to generate a large enough effect to reach the aircraft. Zippermayr did not know if the pressure changes of this device would be sufficient to cause structural damage to an aircraft but the vortex would definitely have an effect on the wing loading as even clear air turbulence had brought down civilian airliners.

Even though Zippermayr could not make either of these weapons any more potent, three outcomes came from his research. The first was the coal dust shell application used with light artillery in the Warsaw Ghetto which involved nothing more than shortening the barrel of the artillery piece and detonating the shells in flight. The improvised weapon was named “Pandora” and was sadly used to deadly effect against the Jewish freedom fighters.


A special catalyst had been developed by the SS in 1943 and the following year Zippermayer turned his energies to a heavy air (Schwere Luft) bomb. Encouraging results were obtained from a mixture consisting of 60% finely powdered dry brown coal and 40% liquid air. The first trials were carried out on the Döberitz grounds near Berlin using a charge of about 8 kg powder in a tin of thin plate. The liquid air was poured on to the powder and the two were mixed together with a long wooden stirrer. The team then retired and after ignition everything living and trees within a radius of 500 to 600 metres were destroyed. Beyond that radius the explosion started to rise and only the tops of trees were affected, although the explosion was intense over a radius of 2 kilometres.
Zippermayer then conceived the idea that the effect might be improved if the powder was spread out in the form of a cloud before ignition, and trials were run using an impregated paper container. This involved the use of a waxy substance. A metal cylinder was attached to the lower end of the paper container and hit the ground first, dispersing the powder. After 0.25 seconds a small charge in the metal cylinder exploded, igniting the funnel-shaped cloud of coal dust and liquid air.

The ordnance had to be filled immediately prior to the delivery aircraft taking off. Bombs of 25 kgs and 50 kgs were dropped on the Starbergersee and photographs taken. SS-Standartenführer Klumm showed these to Brandt, Himmler’s personal adviser. The intensive explosion covered a radius of 4 kilometres and the explosion was felt at a radius of 12.5 kilometres. When the bomb was dropped on an airfield, destruction was caused as far as 12 kilometres away, although only the tops of trees were destroyed at that distance, but the blast flattened trees on a hillside 5 kilometres away.

These findings appear in the British Intelligence Objectives Sub-Committee Final Report No 142 Information Obtained From Targets of Opportunity in the Sonthofen Area. Although one suspects initially that the radius of the area allegedly affected as described in this report had been worked upon by the Propaganda Ministry, the fact is that this bomb is never heard of today. Furthermore British Intelligence published the report without comment and what tends to give the description weight is the fact that the Luftwaffe wanted aircrews flying operationally with the bomb to have knowingly volunteered for suicide missions. The idea that the bomb had unusual effects was hinted at not only by the head of the SS-weapons test establishment but also possibly by Goering and Renato Vesco. On 7 May 1945 in American custody, Goering told his captors, “I declined to use a weapon which might have destroyed all civilization”. Since nobody knew what he meant, it was reported quite openly at the time. The atom bomb was not under his control, although the Zippermayer bomb was. Vesco reported that the supreme explosive was “a blue cloud based on firedamp” which had initially been thought of “in the anti-aircraft role”. On the Allied side, Sir William Stephenson, the head of the British Security Coordination intelligence mission stated:

One of our agents brought out for BSC a report, sealed and stamped This is of Particular Secrecy telling of liquid air bombs being developed in Germany of terrific destructive power.”

A 50 kg bomb was said to create a massive pressure wave and tornado effect over a radius of 4 kms from the impact point, a 250 kg bomb for up to ten kms. A sequential disturbance in climate for a period after the explosion was reported. Radioactive material added to the explosive mixture was possibly to give it even better penetration and distribution. Zippermayer’s device fits the idea of a high pressure bomb which Professor Heisenberg seemed to know about and to which he alluded in his eavesdropped conversation at Farm Hall. The bomb would have been the equivalent of a tornado but covering a far wider diameter, sucking up in its path everything but the most solid structures and scattering radioactive particles over the wide area devastated by the initial explosion. The survivors of the explosion would be suffocated by the lightning effect at ground level burning up the surrounding air.

The head of the SS-Weapons Testing Establishment attached to the Skoda Works was involved in the destruction of the catalyst at the war’s end. He had personally witnessed it being tested at Kiesgrube near Stechowitz on the Czech-Austrian border. These must have been the first tests, since he describes the astonishment of the observers at the force of the blast and tornado effect.

Various other smaller tests were carried out at Fellhorn, Eggenalm and
Ausslandsalm in the Alps. After these a larger experiment was made at Grafenwöhr in Bavaria described by the SS-General in the following terms: “We were in well-constructed shelters two kilometres from the test material. Not a large amount, but what power -equal to 560 tonnes of dynamite. Within a radius of 1200 metres dogs, cats and goats had been put in the open or below the ground in dug-outs. I have seen many explosions, the biggest in 1917 when we blew up a French trench complex with 300,000 tonnes of dynamite, but what I experienced from this small quantity was fearsome. It was a roaring, thundering, screaming monster with lightning flashes in waves. Borne on something like a hurricane there came heat so fierce that it threatened to suffocate us. All the animals both above and below ground were dead. The ground trembled, a tremendous wind swept through our shelter, there was a great rumbling, everywhere a screeching chaos. The ground was black and charred. Once the explosive effects were gone I felt the heat within my body and a strange numbness overcame me. My throat seemed sealed off and thought I was going to suffocate. My eyes were flickering, there was a thundering and a roaring in my ears, I tried to open my eyes but the lids were too heavy. I wanted to get up but languor prevented me.” An area of 2 kilometres was utterly devastated. Several observers on the perimeter were seriously affected by the shock wave and appeared to suffer from a kind of intoxication effect which lasted for about four weeks. That the weapon failed to make its debut on the battlefield in 1943 arouses the suspicion that very real fears existed regarding its knock-on effect on the climate. Within sight of Gernany’s defeat, it was tested again at Ohrdruf in the Harz in early March 1945.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

If France Kept Fighting: How World War II Might Have Gone Very Differently

Robert Farley

September 4, 2016

France surrendered to the Nazis in 1940 for complex reasons. The proximate cause, of course, was the success of the German invasion, which left metropolitan France at the mercy of Nazi armies. But the German victory opened profound rifts in French society. Instead of fleeing the country and keeping up the fight, as the Dutch government and a residue of the French military did, the bulk of the French government and military hierarchy made peace with the Germans.

But what if key figures (such as Marshal Philippe Petain) had viewed the situation differently?  If the French government had decided to go into exile in the Empire, rather than re-establish itself in the German protectorate at Vichy, then the rest of World War II might have gone very differently.

The Military:
France had extensive assets available to continue its resistance against the Axis powers. The French Fleet was the most notable of these; France possessed two of the world’s most modern fast battleships, numerous powerful cruisers and destroyers, and a host of support vessels. Had the French acted with any speed to the success of the German Ardennes offensive, this fleet could have evacuated a substantial portion of the French Army to Britain and to North Africa, possibly with much of its equipment intact.

In Allied service, these ships could have helped hem in the Italian Navy, and cut Axis supply lines to Africa.  Against Germany, French squadrons could have hunted raiders, driving the Germans to the Arctic even before the entry of the United States. And when war came to the Pacific, the Fleet could have deployed in defense of French Indochina and other French possessions, as well as giving critical support to the Royal Navy. For their part, the Army and Air Force could have contributed to the war in the Mediterranean, the defense of Greece, and to resistance against Japanese encroachment in French Indochina.

The Empire:
In Africa, while we can assume that the problems that bedeviled French-British operations in France would have persisted, the continued resistance of the Empire would have put Italy in an untenable position. Italy struggled to supply Libya when faced with just the British; the presence of the French fleet, as well as an active military threat in Tunisia, would have made it very difficult for the Axis to sustain operations in Africa.

Given the lukewarm Italian enthusiasm for the war in the first place, a concerted Franco-British offensive in the Mediterranean might have pushed Italy out of the conflict early, or at least curtailed Rome’s contribution to the Eastern Front. If Mussolini persisted in foolishly declaring war on Greece (as might have happened in case of the loss of Libya) French and British forces together could have sustained a serious Greek war effort, although probably not enough to hold off the Germans.

In the Pacific, Japan occupied French Indochina (first in part, and then wholly) because of the collaboration of the Vichy regime.  Had the French government remained at war with Germany, authorities in Indochina would have had both the means and the motivation to resist Japanese advances. Unless Tokyo was willing to risk an early war with the British (and possibly the Americans), it would have needed to seize French Indochina in the first days of its December 1941 offensive, which would have significantly delayed Japan’s larger offensive into Southeast Asia.

On the Other Hand…
The biggest reason that many French decided to collaborate with the Nazis was fear of what Germany would otherwise do to occupied France. To be sure, the Germans took great care in 1940 and 1941 to assure the French of their (relatively) benign intentions. At the same time, the Germans looted what was left of the French military and the French treasury, funding the Nazi war machine as it undertook campaigns against Britain and the USSR. Still, France mostly avoided “Polanisation,” the complete destruction of the national unit that the Germans carried out in the East.

Without a Vichy, the situation might have gone much worse for France, especially if the military continued an effective resistance from the Empire. The Germans always found some collaborators, and whether or not the French government continued to resist, some local authorities would have cooperated with the Nazis. But conditions in the occupied portions of France were worse than in Vichy, especially for those (Jews and political opponents) specifically targeted by the Nazi regime. In the south, Mussolini’s Italy might have been able to carve away a bigger chunk of France that it eventually took control of.

The availability of French territory in Africa might have made both Franco and Hitler more amenable to each others’ entreaties, although much would depend on how effectively the French and the British fought Italy. At the extreme, persistence of French resistance in Africa might have forced Hitler to delay his invasion of the Soviet Union, although even in this case Germany lacked much in the way of means to bring the British and French to heel.

Parting Thoughts:
Many Frenchmen (led most notably by Charles de Gaulle) maintained an honorable resistance to the Germans, even after the armistice. By 1944, a strong resistance movement in metropolitan France was supported by the infusion of large numbers of troops from North Africa and elsewhere. So, as was the case with Poland, France did continue to fight, even after defeat.

Nevertheless, the eventual course of World War II put an especially bad light on the decision of the French military and political hierarchy to cease resistance against Germany. Even without foreknowledge of the German disaster in Russia, however, the French had meaningful means to resist Germany, and to continue to put pressure on the Nazi regime. The refusal of the bulk of the French government to continue the war, if under disadvantageous circumstance, undoubtedly extended the suffering of the European continent.

Robert Farley, a frequent contributor to TNI, is author of The Battleship Book. He serves as a Senior Lecturer at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky. His work includes military doctrine, national security, and maritime affairs. He blogs at Lawyers, Guns and Money and Information Dissemination and The Diplomat.

Monday, August 1, 2016

This Naval Battle Could Have Changed the Course of WW2

The battle involved 15 American aircraft carriers deploying some 900 aircraft on one side and nine Japanese flat-tops with about 450 planes on the other. When the smoke had cleared, three Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) carriers lay at the bottom of the sea, with barely over 30 aircraft left on the decks on the remaining six flat-tops . In stark contrast, the U.S. Navy did not have a single flat-top sunk or damaged and suffered combat losses of 30-odd planes.

The Battle of the Philippine Sea is one of the largest naval encounters of World War II, but has often been overshadowed by other more illustrious fleet-on-fleet clashes of that particular conflict, especially the Midway and Guadalcanal campaigns preceding it, and the Battle of Leyte Gulf following it. The June 19-20, 1944 engagement is the last of the five carrier-versus-carrier clashes of the Pacific War, and it came about as the IJN sallied forth to contest Operation Forager – the American amphibious assault on the Mariana island of Saipan on June 15.

The battle that ensued is arguably more noted for the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot” of June 19, 1944; what is less often mentioned is the fact that the commander overseeing Forager – Fifth Fleet’s Admiral Raymond Spruance – has since been severely castigated for his caution during the battle. On the night of June 18-19, he received conflicting information that made him believe that his adversary was aiming for an “end run” so as to attack the beachhead at Saipan. He therefore chose to have the fast carrier component of the Fifth Fleet – the powerful Task Force 58 (TF 58) – covering Saipan. This resulted in a large proportion of the Japanese Mobile Fleet running away to fight another day – with potentially deleterious consequences four months later during the Leyte operation.

The controversy in the decades since the Battle of the Philippines Sea has revolved around these questions: Was Spruance too cautious? Should the Americans have gone westwards toward the Mobile Fleet instead of letting the Japanese come at them? This then begs the question: What if Spruance had been more aggressive and sent TF 58 after the Mobile Fleet on June 19? Would the subsequent battle have changed the course of the war?

Who would be able to attack first?

It is worth noting that even if Task Force 58 sought battle with its Japanese counterpart on the 19th, the latter would still be in a position to attack first as per the actual event. This was because Japanese carrier aircraft, with a range of over 300 miles, had much longer “legs” than the American ones, which could optimally hit targets 200-250 miles out. Moreover, Japanese reconnaissance capabilities were superior, and this meant that the Mobile Fleet was likely to find and attack TF 58 first, but not the other way round unless the Americans launched a truly vigorous search effort, as well as made significant headway toward the enemy during the night of June 18-19.

How would the aerial battle pan out?
Hence even if Spruance were to pursue the enemy from the start, the Mobile Fleet, by virtue of its longer aerial striking reach, would still be able to keep its adversary at arm’s length in the early stages of the June 19 encounter, and this would be the state of affairs until the Americans could close the distance between them and the Japanese.

This then raises the question of whether the so-called Turkey Shoot would have occurred. The climactic aerial battle of June 19, 1944 happened largely because Task Force 58 were solely focused on defense that day. Had the Americans gone after the Mobile Fleet instead, it is conceivable that the aerial battle that ensued would not be as dramatic. After all, TF 58 would then have had to split its aircraft between the combat air patrol (CAP) and attacking the Mobile Fleet.

Furthermore, in terms of the CAP, the Americans had to deal with not just enemy carrier-based planes, but land-based ones from nearby Japanese-held islands like Guam.

Notwithstanding this, the qualitative disparity between Japanese and American aviators as well as aircraft would still point to a decisive victory in the air for the United States. To illustrate, in June 1944, the average U.S. naval aviator had at least 525 hours of flying time compared to his Japanese counterpart’s 275.

Moreover, the American Hellcat outclassed the IJN’s mainstay “Zeke” fighter. That being said, American aircraft losses in combat would admittedly be much higher than the 30-odd actually incurred on the 19th.

Would U.S. carriers be sunk?
Because of the diversion of resources to offense, esteemed naval historian Samuel Morison maintained that some American carriers would have been sunk had Spruance been more aggressive on June 19. This is highly debatable as U.S. flat-tops would – coupled with superb damage-control capabilities – later prove themselves to be extremely sturdy platforms in the face of the suicide aircraft threat. Indeed, only a single American fast carrier – USS Princeton during the Leyte operation – was sunk by enemy action during World War II.

Having said that, the prospects of the Mobile Fleet attaining “mission kills” of TF 58 flat-tops were also limited, to say the least. To be sure, the Japanese achieved a number of “mission kills” vis-à-vis U.S. fast carriers later in the conflict, but it is worth noting that these were attained via the “precision-guided” kamikaze. Considering the parlous state of Japanese carrier aviation in June 1944, it would have needed a very healthy dose of luck for the Mobile Fleet to get in more than a few hits on TF 58 via the conventional mediums of dive- and torpedo-bombers in order to get mission kills on the U.S. carrier force.

A more complete victory
By the time Task Force 58 got into a position to attack the Japanese, it is conceivable that the American force would have repelled a number of air strikes, severely weakening the Mobile Fleet’s aerial capabilities. And if TF 58 could strike its adversary on June 19, 1944, it is likely that the Battle of the Philippine Sea would be discussed by historians in the same vein as other overwhelmingly decisive naval encounters, like the Battle of Salamis or the defeat of the Spanish Armada. In other words, the Battle of the Philippine Sea would not be an incomplete victory a la the Battle of Jutland, where the British let the bulk of the German surface fleet escape unscathed.

Indeed, in this hypothetical encounter, the Mobile Fleet – or at least most of its heavy units – would probably be decimated by Task Force 58’s carrier planes. After all, while TF 58’s sole strike on the Mobile Fleet that occurred on the 20th was relatively haphazard, the attack nevertheless yielded a commendable return of fleet carrier Hiyo sunk, Pearl Harbor veteran Zuikaku and battleship Haruna heavily damaged. Had TF 58 attacked its adversary a day earlier, the Japanese would arguably have suffered much heavy losses given that the Americans would be able to execute multiple strikes on June 19 and thereafter.

All that being said, hypothetical U.S. strikes on June 19 would likely have severely damaged many enemy ships, but not sunk them outright. This is because the Americans seemed to have imbibed the wrong lessons from their crushing victory at the Battle of Midway. In that encounter, four Japanese flat-tops were dispatched to Davy Jones’ Locker largely due to bombs, and the U.S. Navy would set great store on the use of bombs in the anti-shipping role thereafter. This was evidenced in the fact out of the 54 Avenger torpedo planes involved in the actual June 20 attack on the Japanese fleet, only a few carried torpedoes while the rest toted four 500-pound bombs each.

Postulating from this, it is highly conceivable that any U.S. strike during the 19th would, too, have focused on the use of bombs rather than torpedoes. While bombs are effective in their own right, they are not as ideal a weapon for the anti-shipping role compared to torpedoes. This is because unless the bomb detonates in the enemy ship’s magazine, it does not cause as much catastrophic damage – especially structural – unlike its underwater counterpart. Bearing this in mind, hypothetical American attacks of June 19 would have damaged several Japanese vessels and slowed them down, leaving the way for the “black-shoed” – read: surface warship-centric – Spruance to send in his surface component to deliver the coup de grace.

Possibility of a surface battle
It is worth noting that an encounter of this nature took place four months later during the Battle of Cape Engano, one of the constituents of the Battle of Leyte Gulf. There, Admiral William Halsey deployed a cruiser-destroyer unit against Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa’s Northern Force after the latter had been seriously weakened by carrier air attacks. Thus with various Mobile Fleet units damaged and rendered less maneuverable by bombs, the way would be paved for Spruance to deploy his beloved “heavies” against the cripples of the Japanese navy. As a matter of fact, he had on hand a total of seven modern battleships, including two of the powerful Iowa-class vessels, for an old-fashioned surface slugfest. Count the two Yamato-class super-dreadnoughts amongst the Japanese cripples, and the stage would be set for the salivating encounter that has fascinated naval enthusiasts in the decades since the end of the Pacific War.
Concluding thoughts

More than 70 years have passed since the Battle of the Philippine Sea and World War II aficionados are still debating Spruance’s decision on message boards and other platforms. The battle broke the back of Japanese naval aviation and concomitantly that of the IJN as well. However, critics argue that while the battle was decisive, it was “not decisive enough” as most of the Japanese surface fleet escaped to fight another day.

All in all, it can perhaps be argued with at least a fair degree of certainty that a more aggressive Spruance during the Battle of the Philippine Sea would bring about a “more decisive” outcome and herald the death knell of the Imperial Japanese Navy four months earlier. The Japanese fleet thus decimated, there would be no Battle of Leyte Gulf. And suffice it to say that with the need to wrestle for sea control gone, the U.S. carrier force could then focus on power projection overland.

The interesting question then would be to what extent could U.S. war plans against Japan be accelerated. It follows that the world might be a different place today had Admiral Raymond Spruance done things differently on June 18-19, 1944. But until the day a time machine is invented and the admiral can be forewarned of the repercussions his decision would bring about, the question of “What if Spruance had been more aggressive during the Battle of the Philippine Sea?” will always remain one of the most intriguing counterfactuals of military history.

Ben Ho Wan Beng is a Senior Analyst with the Military Studies Programme at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, and has published with the likes of The Diplomat, USNI News, and The National Interest. While contemporary naval affairs are Ben’s main research interests, World War Two naval history will always have a special place in his heart as it reminds him of his childhood days reading up on, among others, the Battles of the Eastern Solomons, Santa Cruz, Cape Esperance, and Bismarck Sea.