Chapter 41: The Treaty of Tula November 6th, 1943- As the Afrika Korps nears Tobruk Axis bombers increase their raids over the British held city. The AA is concentrated, accurate and highly effective causing German and Italian bombers to suffer heavily with little to show for. Balck, despite the losses, orders for the bombings to continue; he needs to soften up the fortress-city before he gets there. On the island of San Cristóbal American soldiers push the Japanese out of populated areas, after much devastation and bloodshed amongst the local populace, and into the hills and rough terrain located throughout the island. The Japanese are dug in, well supplied and ready to fight to the death if need be. American artillery, both from land units and American warships nearby, pummels known Japanese locations and disrupts their preparations as much as possible but their burrows are deep and ready for such an assault. The American naval commander, Admiral Frank Fletcher, in an interview with war correspondents quoted, “The Japs are dug in deep, but through shell and fire we’ll root them out of their holes.” The phrase “root them out” would become quite popular in the Pacific Theatre, particularly amongst the Navy and Marine Corps. Elsewhere, combat on Guadalcanal continues with both sides determined to butcher each other into oblivion. Five times the Japanese have assaulted American territory and five times they have withdrawn with depleted ranks, leaving behind a trail of bodies leading into the depths of the thick Pacific island jungle. November 7th, 1943- IJN and USN fighter craft engage in aerial dogfights west of the Solomon Islands. The IJN fighters had emerged from airbases on New Britain and Bougainville Island, the USN planes had come from the carriers operating in the vicinity. Both sides lose minimal aircraft, but the aerial conflict is escalating at a steady pace. The USN is watchful for the inevitable Imperial Japanese Navy reinforcements that will soon arrive. If the IJN taskforce is defeated the U.S. liberation of the Solomon Islands is all but assured while if the American navy lost many thousands of personnel would be left on the contested/captured islands. Not to mention it would be a detriment to American morale, something President Roosevelt is conscious of avoiding at all costs if possible. Despite the official cease fire across the Eastern Front multiple “firefights” break out between both sides, though they never escalate into anything larger than minor skirmishes. While both sides want peace both are ideological enemies with so much anger and enmity towards one another that they are finding hard to keep in check after three years of barbaric total war. November 10th, 1943- After a week of heavy, heated debate the Treaty of Tula is forged and signed by the Axis Powers and the USSR and its puppet allies. The main points of the Treaty are: 1. The Soviet Union formally renounces dominion over the Baltic States, eastern Poland, Belarus, the Ukraine, the entirety of the Caucasus Republics along with huge swathes of western Russia. 2. The USSR is to accept that the territories of central and eastern Poland, the Baltic States, Belarus, much of Western Russia and most of the North Caucasus is to be annexed into the German Reich at a time the Germans deem fitting, until then they would remain under Wehrmacht occupation in conjunction with local pro-German militias. The Soviets are also forced to recognize that the territories of Kola, East Karelia, and Karelia would be annexed directly into Finland (this territory is deemed too difficult to defend properly, also it shortens the amount of border territory both sides would have to man and defend). 3. The Soviet Union is made to recognize and publicly acknowledge the existence of the National Republic of the Ukraine and the Autonomous Free Republic of Chechnya. 4. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is to be reinstated with trade between the two countries to once again occur again for a period of five years with the ability to renew every five years. 5. The Soviet Union is to pay a large sum of reparations to the Axis Powers, specifically Germany and the Ukraine, for a period of six years. 6. The Red Navy is to build nothing larger than a frigate in the Barents Sea while the Caspian Sea Flotilla would be allowed to remain albeit not allowed to come near the German and Turkish controlled territories west of the Caspian. 7. There is to be a five kilometer wide demilitarized zone that stretches across the breadth of the Axis-Soviet border with any caught in between to be considered “fair game” and can be shot by either side. A spot north of Tula is selected as “neutral ground” where both sides can meet and discuss if need be in a somewhat civilized manner. 8. Both sides are to enact an exchange of prisoners program. The Treaty heavily favors the Axis Powers, as they come to the negotiation table from a position of great strength. The Soviet Union is forced to accept it as its armies have been bled dry, its industries ravaged, and its people tired. Moscow and Molotovgrad would both be within fifty kilometers of the border. While the Germans and its allies were successful against the Communists it did not mean the war was over, far from it. Communist partisans/freedom fighters plague significant portions of Axis controlled territory, forcing the entirety of the Ukrainian military to assist the one million men Germany plans to leave in its Eastern Territories as an occupation force. Turkey would have to leave almost four hundred thousand soldiers to properly patrol and maintain order in the South Caucasus which looked to be a hotspot for years. With the Caucasus Republics having come to the realization that the Turks had no intention in giving them their freedom this has led to extremely violent fire-fights between the Turks and the indigenous populations. Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and the German territories of Poland, the Baltic States, and Belarus would contribute large amounts of manpower and supplies to hold down the former Soviet territory. In accordance with the Treaty an exchange of prisoners would occur between both sides, though the number would be pitifully low through a combination of both sides not taking many prisoners and many that had been caught were worked to death or would be kept in confinement for any potential future use. The war in the East was now finally over. November 11th, 1943- Throughout Axis Europe celebrations are held in cities with the streets filled to the brim with jubilant crowds. Not even the threat of Entente bombings in western Germany deterred local German citizens from taking to the streets in joy. Radio stations throughout the Reich and its allies blare speeches, victory music, and other pieces of propaganda and would continue to do so for days and even weeks in several locations. While the Axis Powers reaction was of relief and immense satisfaction at having not only survived but captured huge swathes of territory, much rich in natural resources with (in most cases) a compliant population, the threat of Communism over Europe was now a forgotten nightmare for the foreseeable future. The Entente, and to a lesser degree, the United States watched with muted horror. The hope of the Entente had been for the Fascists and the Communists to wear each other down to the point where the Entente would be able to take on the scraps and leftovers of their once great and might militaries. It would not be so. With the threat in the East over the Entente High Commands predicted the Germans would amass their armed forces in western Germany or North Africa and both possibilities hinted at grim scenarios. The governments of Britain and France had realized they had dilly-dallied the war; they had to be led by the hand and even coerced by their respective militaries to do such steps as the bombing of western Germany, the extension and enlargement of conscription, the slow but methodical transition to a wartime economy. It might be enough to weather the Fascist threat… but it might not be. French Premier Édouard Daladier, facing an all time low popularity with many in his own party despising his weakness and apparent lack of will for the war, is forced to step down as Premier of the Third Republic. Paul Reynaud, a successful French politician and a vocal anti-Fascist/anti-German is elected by the Chamber of Deputies to the premiership. In his first speech to the French nation hours after ascending to the most powerful governmental position in the country the politician declared, “For too long France has acted misguided, led by fools or incompetents in government, hampering our brave and valiant military. No longer will that happen. I hereby transform conscription into a national draft. Our economy will make the transition to a total war economy, a state which our enemies’ have been at for years, much to our disadvantage. I will not lie to you, the coming years will be hard and will be a constant struggle. But France will not bend the knee to Fascism; it will protect its liberty with the blood, sweat and toil of its countrymen. We will see this war end with an Entente victory, of that I have no doubt.” It should be noted that the French Government moved with incredible speed in removing Daladier and replacing him with someone more vibrant and dedicated to the war. For years Daladier’s support base had eroded and Reynaud’s had grown. His selection was inevitable and everyone knew it, he merely needed the affirmation of the Chamber of Deputies to assume control. With a new leader, a more focused military policy, and a transition to a more effective war time economy beginning the French were well and truly committed to the war at last. The British viewed the Treaty of Tula with disdain but were unsurprised. They had predicted in one of their many scenarios a similar event occurring. Now was the time to act, not panic. As France did so too does Britain with the beginning of a universal draft, expansion of military industries and more suitable economic policies being set into motion. More and more planes, tanks, and men are to be sent to the Middle East but with a threat to France’s eastern border bound to become a reality in the near future a significant portion of the Armed Forces is to be diverted there to bolster the relatively small British Expeditionary Force. Estimates state that by the beginning of next year there will be nearly a hundred thousand British soldiers in France with more planned but other Theatres demand manpower as well. The United States reaction was pallid shock, specifically in the upper levels of government and the military, but public opinion was still against war against the Axis Powers. It seemed the American public viewed the European Theatre as “none of their concern” while the Pacific Theatre required their full, simmering gaze. In a call to London and Paris Roosevelt promises to once again send significant Lend-Lease to Britain and France, the first major shipments since the U.S. curtailed much of the Lend-Lease shortly after the Burning of Swede, but neither Roosevelt, Halifax nor Reynaud know if it will be enough. Major Theodore Hamilton, London, England, Great Britain- “We’re bloody screwed,” mewled Captain Harris as he stared ahead at the wall of the pub. Hamilton frowned, not in disagreement, but in the audacity of Harris. This was a military pub after all and many didn’t take well to defeatist sounding talk. “’Screwed’ is an exaggeration, Harris. We have been dealt a bad hand with the Treaty of Tula being signed but by all appearance the French are finally getting themselves together. This new premier of theirs has more balls than Daladier ever did, and we are following the French lead on this. You heard what the PM said over the radio: ‘Expansion of the Army, Air Force and Navy, total war mobilization, et cetera, et cetera.” Harris titled his head in quasi-agreement before he brought the pint of beer towards his mouth. “Yeah, we are doing a lot. But these should have been done in 19 fucking 40, not in 1943!” the Army officer sounded exasperated and Hamilton couldn’t blame him. He began to drink his own pint, though he was careful of how much alcohol he consumed these days. He had been ever since the pub fight after the Burning, the subsequent arrest by military police and the brief confinement had convinced him to never become so intoxicated as to lose one’s sensibilities, because if he did he could be in a compromising situation again and the next time he might not have a friend to help get him out. “Come now, Harris, have faith,” stated the ranking officer at their little table. Colonel Nigel Eddington bit into his cold sandwich and after chewing then swallowing continued to make his point. “We need to have faith, Harris. Whether it is faith in God, in the King, in the nation or our fellow comrades-in-arms, it doesn’t matter. We must have faith; faith in democracy, faith in Britain, faith for victory.” Harris shrugged. “I don’t know quite what to put my faith in anymore.” He laughed, “I’m getting drunk tonight, and I have faith in the beer drowning my sorrows, for at least a day.” Harris stood, downed the remains of his beer and left the pub. Most likely he had hard liquor in the Officers' Barracks. Colonel Eddington shook his head in disgust. “Any more attitude like that and I will write him up,” growled the colonel. “Easy, sir, he’s just had a rough few weeks, we all have. With the USSR having folded the war in the West will grow more and more. It’s going to get very bloody, very fast.” “Aye your right, Theodore, there’s a reason I got you out of the brig earlier than what was proposed. You have a sharp mind, and more combat experience than a dozen other officers I know combined, can’t let that go to waste in a prison cell.” Eddington finished his pint and called for another. When it had been set down in front of him the British officer continued in a more hushed, worried tone. “This war is entering a new phase, Theodore. It’s entering quite possibly the final phase. Either we hold the Germans, defend France and the Middle East successfully and counter-attack all the way to Berlin or…” “Sir?” “Or we get used to that damn swastika flying all over Europe,” Eddington muttered darkly and began to drink his new pint. It seemed that whole faith talk was for public's sake, that what Eddington was saying now were his true thoughts. Hamilton considered his words and nodded in agreement. The next year or two would decide it all. If Germany attacked and failed the Entente most likely would have the chance to invade Germany in a successful offensive. If the Entente failed France was lost and Britain would stand all alone. No matter how optimistic one could be Hamilton found it very difficult that Britain, even with the Empire, could face off against an Axis Europe from the British Isles. The logistics and manpower alone would be incredibly difficult. Rubbing his eyes he sighed. Everything was coming to a head. This was the crucible; this would be the moment historians looked back and said ‘This is where the tide turned,’ but for which side he knew not. But whatever happened he would fight on. It was all he knew how to do anymore. November 12th, 1943- Forward elements of the DAK encounter British periphery defense lines west of Tobruk. German panzers, bolstered with modern and effective Italian tanks along with mechanized infantry, are able to puncture the British positions in multiple junctions but with airpower leaning more and more into the Eighth Army’s favor as RAF reinforcements from Britain having arrived, the task of moving east become increasingly difficult. Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica squadrons are barely able to provide air coverage, much less penetrate Entente airspace in eastern Libya/western Egypt. Balck, in conjunction with Graziani, curtail further bombing raids over Tobruk. Losses had been dreadfully high with replacements weeks away at the very least. November 15th, 1943- Three days of dust-caked armored warfare outside of Tobruk sees the Third Reich and the Italian Empire victorious as the Eighth Army withdraws to east towards Bardia, the last major city west of the Libyan/Egyptian border. Cunningham bled the Afrika Korps but doesn’t quite have the strength to perform a defeat upon them. His withdraw saw most of his army reach Bardia albeit low on fuel, munitions and food. The RAF dominates the skies east of Torbuk and standing orders are not to fly any farther east due to it being essentially suicide and the moment pointless. British and American troops, commanded by Slim and Bradley respectively, capture Magway in south-central Burma. With the city having fell to the American/British forces the Burmese capital Rangoon is now the primary target. Bur moving men and equipment through such dense jungles is time consuming and Burmese and Japanese ambushes are constant, slowing down the Allied troops. Operation Undercut and the assembly of resources on Hawaii has saw General Bradley’s reinforcements drastically reduced though his shipments of supplies continue generally uninterrupted, something both him and Slim are thankful for. General Secretary Vyacheslav Molotv, Moscow, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics- The highest office of power in the Soviet government was in his hands, yet he had the least amount of power amongst the those assembled. All three sat a table in the General Secretary's office, the official office, not the private office Stalin had worked from so much for years. Beria, resplendent in his NKVD Chief uniform, coughed in annoyance. Molotov took the cue. "Let us begin. Military matters first." He nodded to the third and final occupant of the table. First Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Zhukov leaned forward in the comfortable chair. "I will not go into excessive detail over our losses and munitions usage but it is very high, dangerously high in fact. It would take us decades to properly recover from this war, if not longer. Nearly everything west of Moscow and Molotovgrad belong to the Fascists. That is a vast percentage of our population, former population I should say as many are now loyal to the Nazis, and significant amount of our industry. We might have the Ural factories still, and many millions of people, but we have been dealt a near mortal blow. Let us not forget that," the First Marshal looked at the other two members of the Triumvirate before continuing. "Though peace has been achieved we must forever be wary of the Nazis and their allies. If the Germans attack we must hold them or the Bastion of Socialism will collapse. To ensure the survival of our Soviet state I have begun issuing orders to establish in depth, formidable defensive networks along our borders with the Axis Powers. It is impossible to properly set up an in-depth defense system and man it for the entirety of the border, so the focus will be in strategic/tactical areas such as major cities, key road junctions and the like. Any avenues the Germans are likely to storm across in case of war will be sufficiently prepared to resist them." Beria and Molotov nodded in understanding as well agreement. "The upgrading of the Armed Forces will continue as well as replacement aircraft and tanks for the Red Air Force and Red Army respectively. Due to the current limitation of industry and resources there will be no new Red Navy vessels laid down for at least three years. “Now to our main objective for the military: the Japanese. Their imperialistic invasion of Siberia and our ally Mongolia constituted the most heinous of foreign aggressions,” Molotov noted Zhukov said this without any irony as the USSR under Stalin had done similar ‘heinous foreign aggressions’ multiple times. Zhukov continued, “And we the people will have revenge. Already I have dispatched fifteen divisions to the Far East along with three restructured tank divisions and eleven aircraft squadrons.” “What if the Germans betray the Treaty and invade us? We divert too much of our remaining forces to the Far East,” remarked Molotov. “If the Germans resumed conflict here it would lead to disastrous results for the Rodina. “You are quite right, General Secretary, but Army Intelligence has noted the mass movement of German troops and material to the west, back towards Germany. There is still a very impressive one million Germans plus Slavic auxiliaries and the Ukrainian military and the ROA but it is not enough to launch a front-wide campaign and hold down all of their newly acquired territories. It is simply not feasible. “ Molotov nodded in understanding. Zhukov entered his final phase of the meeting. “Now what we are sending now is only the beginning. My staff and I hope to have a million freshly arrived soldiers in the Far East within a year with enough armor and aerial support to roll over the Japanese Empire and its Chinese puppets. I have many notable commanders in mind to command this Theatre-” Beria spoke for the first time, “First Marshal, there is no need to send anyone.” The NKVD butcher smiled, “Why send a competent commander when we can send the best commander? I nominate you go, First Marshal. Command our troops and bring a victory as swiftly as possible. If anyone else was sent the campaign would last many months more and we need every day to ready ourselves for the eventual return engagement, whether it is against the Fascists or the Capitalists. Your presence in the Far East would be a boost to morale for the men and women, military and civilian both, and would show the Japanese we are serious about prosecuting the war there to a finish. What do you say, Comrade Zhukov?” As Beria had talked Zhukov’s face reddened and jaw clenched but he said nothing. Molotov understood what was happening. If Zhukov accepted the command he would be sent far, far away from Moscow and its still fluid political structure. With Zhukov out of the picture Beria’s influence would grow and if he controlled Moscow he would, in theory, control the Soviet Union. It was a political move to remove Beria's one true opponent in the capital. With Zhukov gone Molotov would have to bend to Beria’s wishes or face being charged with ‘treason.’ Zhukov could technically decline the offer but doing so would paint him as a conspirator, because why else would a high ranking, well-respected military officer not go towards a critical warzone but stay far away in the snake pit that was Moscow. He would be brought up on trumped up charges and removed. The Army and Air Force would complain but their threats would not materialize past that for whom else did they have to transfer their support to? Purkayev? No, he was respected but did not have the support of the Air Force. Ivanovich? Competent, but not particularly well known outside his command. So Zhukov had to accept it or risk all the cooperation and unity he had built up for years disintegrate before his eyes. “I… I accept the recommendation, Comrade Beria.” Now things would get interesting, very interesting, Molotov thought gloomily as the meeting continued. Could the ambition of the Soviet Union survive the ambition of these two men as well as himself? Molotov was determined it would, but with himself as leader in more than just name. It was a dangerous game, but was the only path left to him. November 16th, 1943- In Germany the Tiger I panzer production is cancelled with only units currently in the process of construction allowed to be finished. The reasons for this cancellation are many and varied but comes down to Armaments and Munitions Minister Speer citing the Tiger was too costly, too long to develop, and overall a disappointment in various categories and these issues warrant it to be cancelled. Hitler nearly forces Speer to continue production until he is informed of the progress of the Tiger II “King Tiger” program which was from the start created to properly replace the Tiger. The Tiger II is almost a year away from production but Speer successfully hints that if the Tiger I was to continue the King Tiger would take longer to reach production lines due to budgetary constraints and lack of available resources. With the war in the East having ended German focus is on both Western Europe and North Africa. One faction led by Field Marshal von Brauchitsch calls for the invasion of France to take precedence over any further action in North Africa. If France fell to the Reich than its colonies would surrender and bring Britain to the negotiations table, that is the hope at least. The other major faction, led by Field Marshal Franz Halder calls for a massive reinforcement of North Africa. His reasons was that if the Entente lost their major source of oil that their industries would sputter and their will broken, allowing both Britain and France to come to the negotiation table with honor but in a poor position. Hitler stated in a General Staff meeting that he would contemplate and ponder both sides and would give an answer within a week. As Berlin decides to do with its vast forces waiting reassignment in the East Field Marshal Wever does order the immediate reinforcement and bolstering of the Luftwaffe contingent in Libya. It would take a week or less but the order had been given. Another four German infantry divisions alongside a veteran panzer division were to be shipped to North Africa sometime in late December. November 18th, 1943- San Cristóbal is liberated in its entirety by American/Entente forces. The divisions from here are to be sent to Florida and Tulagi to further spread Entente/American sphere of control. More and more landings by American troops across the southern and eastern Solomon Islands begin, Orders go out from the Reichs Chancellery in Berlin to the vast army groups on the Eastern Front. The redeployment of manpower and material has begun with most slotted for western/central Germany with some to be sent to North Africa while a million men would remain to hold Germany’s new conquests. Germany’s Axis allies would be tied up assisting holding down former Soviet territory. The Ukrainians, numbering close to two hundred and ninety thousand men would be spread out over much of southern Russia and the northern Caucasus. The auxiliaries from the Baltic States, Poland, Belarussia and Russia would be used to hold down large tracts of territory with the Germans acting as a heavy reserve, available to move out and stop any rebel/guerilla groups from causing any significant trouble for the Reich. Chechnya is allowed to police its own area with only a minimal Wehrmacht presence. First Me-262 squadrons arrive from the East to the Westwall Air Command and will quickly become the known as predators of the air with Entente bomber squadrons’ losses nearly doubling and their accompanying fighter protection escorts suffering heavier than average losses. With more and more jet fighters arriving from the heart of Germany to defend its western border, and the results of their effectiveness becoming obvious, both the French and the British give their respective jet programs full, undivided attention. The British hope to have the Gloster Meteor in service within the next six to eight months, with the French estimating a year or more, though the British might offer assistance to accelerate their lethargic progress. The Luftwaffe’s victories in the West have seen Wever grow in prestige and influence within the Third Reich, though he is still far behind Himmler, Speer, Goebbels, Hess and Heydrich in terms of political power. November 21st, 1943- American reinforcements arrive in the Solomon Islands to expedite Operation Undercut. The majority is Army but a third is Marine. These troops will be put to good use in mass landings onto Malaita and Maramasike Island. Field Marshal Gott begins to send more divisions of British and Australian men to supplement the Americans in Undercut. When the majority of the Solomon Islands became secured Gott would order a predominantly British force to recapture New Britain to secure Papua New Guinea’s eastern shore and from there prepare for an eventual invasion of the Dutch East Indies. Reichsprotektor des Osten Reinhard Heydrich, Minsk, Belarussia Territory- “Unacceptable, Herr Heydrich, simply unacceptable,” spoke ‘Supreme Commander’ Andrey Vlasov to arguably one of the six or seven most powerful men within the German Reich. “What is unacceptable, Supreme Commander?” Heydrich had to be polite to Vlasov, officially the Russian was in a command chain separate of German control, but unofficially Vlasov served at the expense of the Führer’s pleasure. In 1941 Vlasov understood he was a tool. It seems since he had developed visions of grandeur, false grandeur at that. “The dissolving of the ROA! That is my army; I created it after the Meltdown! I helped you win the war for Christ’s sake.” Heydrich smiled a humorless smile. “My dear friend, the war is not won. We have the Entente still to fight and after that the Judaic-Bolshevik state still clings to life, no matter how much blood and lives it has lost it refuses to die. There will be another war, mark my words. It might be ten years, it could be a hundred, but it will happen, Supreme Commander. Race and ideology demand it. But we still have to fight in the West and there are so many variables as to cloud accurate predictions of when that war will be won,” or if, but Heydrich was a good enough National Socialist not to ever voice such thoughts aloud, even in private. He continued. “The ROA is to be dismantled and integrated in full into the Slavic Auxiliaries where they will serve a vital function for the Third Reich as wardens and protectors of the Eastern Territories.” “I was promised Moscow-” began Vlasov. “Has the Supreme Commander forgotten Moscow is still under Communist rule?" the SS officer asked sharply. "That the Triumvirate rule from there with an iron fist? Yes, you were promised Moscow, sizable portions of Russia and full membership in the Axis Powers,” Vlasov was more of a fool to actually believe that he would receive his 'promises', “but without Moscow, how the Americans would say it, ‘the deal is off.’ You will not have an independent European Russia, those lands from now on till the end of time will belong to the Fatherland and its citizens. Those Slavs of Aryan descent and good behavior, such as yourself, will become citizens of the Reich in due time when they have been put through proper introductory and reeducation into German National Socialist ideals and beliefs.” Heydrich leaned forward and stared at the Russian with a predator’s eyes. “The East is our living space, as dictated in Mein Kampf, and it belongs to the German people. The Baltic States, Poland, Belarussia and much of German controlled Russia has come to accept this. You have no true public support, no independent industry, and no political or monetary infrastructure separate of the Reich. You will accept this decision. That, or face the consequences,” what little warmth in Heydrich’s voice had disappeared, his tone was a wintry as Russian snowstorms. The bespectacled Russian turned red with fury. Opening his mouth to retort he stopped as he saw the look in the Reichsprotektor’s eyes. He promptly left. Heydrich sighed as the fool left left and picked up the black telephone that rested on his desk. Vlasov was a problem and must be… dealt with. He had a call to make to Berlin. The Führer and Reichsführer-SS must be appraised of the situation. November 24th, 1943- Japanese naval reinforcements in the form of three carriers and a large assortment of escorts arrive northwest of the Solomon Islands and begin to proceed south to engage and defeat or rout the American fleet. In a crucial meeting with the General Staff the Führer informs his subordinates that he has decided France is to be the next target of Germany. The vast majority of the Wehrmacht would be transferred from the East to the West and begin preparations for the invasion of France, codenamed Operation Nightfall. While he does affirm that France will be the Reich’s main target he will not ignore Field Marshal Balck. Vast amounts of supplies, especially supplies Balck is in constant shortage of such as fuel, spare parts and munitions would be diverted to him since the Eastern Front had come to a close, freeing up vast amounts of said materials. Reinforcements in terms of supply was great for Balck but manpower wise he would not receive much more than the four infantry divisions and a single panzer division for the foreseeable future. Italy, which has provided the bulk of manpower and equipment in the Theatre since the beginning, is running low on available manpower. Mussolini informs Hitler that his military is stretched very thin, with vast amounts of Army and Air Force personnel and equipment tied down in guarding the French-Italian border, as well as holding off the French in western Libya. The Italian Navy has recovered, in many ways but not entirely, from the Battle of the Tyrrhenian Sea and stands ready to take the fight back to Entente in the Mediterranean. With the Regia Marina having recovered to the point of once again representing a serious threat to the French and British naval interests in local waters the Entente is worried at where the Axis member will strike. Mussolini wants to strike at the French naval ports in southern France in a show of dominance over the French Navy; however the Italian General Staff are pushing for a strike against the British fleet based in Alexandria. If this fleet is defeated, or at most scattered, then the British grip on Egypt, and in turn the Middle East, will loosen significantly. November 27th, 1943- With both fleets playing cat and mouse the USN is forced to abandon its positions near Guadalcanal, albeit temporarily, but this leaves plenty of time for IJN transport ships full to the brim with men and supplies to be offloaded into Japanese-controlled portions of the island, steeling their resolve and will make them all the more harder to defeat. Two more sunk by American submarines in conjunction with a squadron of destroyers but the majority of Imperial troops making it to land to bolster the soldiers already on the island. After a review of expenditures, casualties, vehicles in need for maintenance and soldiers in need for rest the General Staff informs Hitler that the earliest the Wehrmacht can initiate effective combat operations against France would be in mid to late August of next year, with late September looking even more likely. The Führer was quite annoyed that it would take this long but after reviewing the reports himself haltingly agrees with their assessment. November 30th, 1943- Supreme Commander Andrey Vlasov, leader of the ROA, is assassinated by pro-Soviet terrorists outside his residence in downtown Minsk. Waffen-SS units are quick to capture and force the rebels to confess of their "crimes against the German State and its allies." All eleven are promptly executed by firing squads soon afterwards. Reich Minister Joseph Goebbels speaks over Radio Berlin, and via that to the rest of Axis Europe, of Vlasov's bravery and commitment to freeing the Russian people from under the steel boot of Soviet Communism. At the end of the well spoken, though short speech, it is announced that with the death of Vlasov, the highest ranking ROA commanders and the German government had come to an agreement that the ROA was to be folded into the Slavic Auxiliaries. No longer would there be talk of an independent Fascist Russia, but rather all of European Russia, barring the territory given over to the Finns and some minor border adjustments with the Ukraine, would be directly administered by Germany and would eventually be annexed into the Reich itself after a thorough "Germanization" and "Aryanization" process of the Eastern Territories which is predicted to take a decade at the minimum. Those ROA soldiers, now part of the Slavic Auxiliaries, would become eligible for German citizenship after meeting a vast multitude of criteria, ranging from serving in the Slavic Auxiliary Corps until war's end plus a subsequent ten year extended service, to reading and speaking German fluently, to finally proving their racial purity through a variety of tests, background searches and family history investigation to prove they would have good a "Aryan gene-pool" to add to the principal source further to the west. To the many tens of millions of Slavs not part of the ROA but under German rule the criteria would be much harsher. The racial purity trials would be more invasive and those that did not meet the criteria would become part of the Untermenschen Work Force that was planned to be created by early 1944 to modernize and improve infrastructure for the benefit of the Germanic and Slavic Aryans. It would take a minimum of thirty years for a civilian in the Eastern Territories that did not serve in any military capacity for the Wehrmacht to become a citizen of the Third Reich. Due to the easier conditions and future benefits many Slavs, those proven of "good blood" would join the newly established Slavic Auxiliary Corps which would become a sub-branch of the German Wehrmacht and actively assist in the occupation, policing, and easing the integration of the Eastern Territories into becoming future provinces of Germany. This is the outline approved by Hitler and his inner circle who eagerly begin making this hellish vision a reality. Any Slavs found to have Asiatic, Romani (gypsy), or Jewish ancestry are to be stripped of rights and immediately put into the Untermenschen Work Force and be worked to death. Some, principally Jews and Communists, would transported to the various death camps already being constructed throughout the Eastern Territories for quicker removal. The Final Solution had been simmering but with the Eastern Front now over as a military theater the SS could finally arrest and purge those elements deemed "unclean" or "potentially dangerous" to Germany and its peoples leading to the Nazis grand racial plan in the East to come into full play like a roaring fire being fed wooden logs. December 2nd, 1943- Another Japanese carrier arrives to the Solomon Islands with a small escort. This raises the threat level of the IJN in the area by a large factor as their airpower over water has grown by twenty-five percent. December 9th, 1943- Mussolini decides to follow his officers’ suggestion and orders the Regia Marina to prepare for an offensive operation against the British fleet based in Alexandria. The Italian carriers MS Aquila and MS Sparviero would lead this assault. But to secure their flank the Entente airbases on the Island of Cyprus must be silenced. The date for the Italian fleet to depart is January 6th, 1944. German assistance is called in the form of aircraft, particularly the Ural Bombers (Heinkel He-179 and the few remaining Junkers Ju 89). Squadrons of bombers and fighters would arrive over the coming week, landing on Italian controlled Crete to not only provide a powerful vanguard for the Italian ships but also to scout the eastern Mediterranean in interconnected patrols to thwart any aggressive probes by the Royal Navy. December 13th, 1943- After weeks of maneuvering to gain an advantage the USN and IJN meet each other in battle, southwest of the island of Santa Isabel, the fleets are arranged as thus: USN- 4 carriers, 1 battleship, 6 heavy cruisers, 6 light cruisers, 11 destroyers, and 8 frigates IJN- 4 carriers, 3 battleships, 4 heavy cruisers, 7 light cruisers, 9 destroyers, and 6 frigates By mid-afternoon both fleets had sent out their fighters and bombers which saw both forces’ air contingents fight in dogfights for miles around, the destroyed craft falling into the cold Pacific waters. Both admirals, Fletcher and Nagumo, show intelligence and tenacity, as well as a sliver of caution, but with superior tactics and highly trained pilots the Americans finish the fight with one carrier heavily damaged, the battleship nearly sunk and light to moderate losses amongst the remainder of the fleet. The battleship would be towed to Australia for repairs. Japanese losses were shockingly high, at least to the IJN: 3 carriers sunk, 2 battleships so heavily damaged as to be abandoned with moderate losses amongst the escorts. With so much tonnage lost in a single afternoon Yamamoto painstakingly orders the remainder of the fleet to withdraw to the Dutch East Indies, despite the dishonor for the Battle of the Solomon Sea was clearly an American victory. In Japan there is a near panic. In a single day the IJN had lost three precious carriers, along with more losses amongst its escorts. The loss of the battleships was bad but the sinking of the carriers was far worse. Redeployments are ordered, resources are to be diverted. The large assembly of ships in construction in the Home Islands must be completed sooner then late 1944; the Empire will desperately need them soon. Yamamoto convinces many within the Imperial Command that Japan can no longer expand, instead it must consolidate and defend its territory. Therefore there would be no more offenses into Mongolia, Siberia, Burma or China to regain territory. Instead infantry divisions, primarily ground forces from their puppet states, would hold off encroaching enemy forces while the Japanese begin to fortify and dig in anywhere and everywhere. The periphery of the Empire might fall but the core must survive, that is Yamamoto’s thinking. It is not a popular one amongst the Army and many admirals within the Navy. Many begin to meet in secret to discuss their dissent of Yamamoto’s strategic planning. December 17th, 1943- Twenty German Type VIII U-boats are transported via specially modified trains from Germany's Baltic Sea coast down through Central Europe to Italian naval ports in eastern Italy. These Kriegsmarine vessels and their veteran crews are to be used in the coming offensive against the British Royal Navy. Admiral Dönitz hopes to bleed the Royal Navy before the Italian and British fleets meet for the crucial engagement. Every ship heavily damaged or sunk is another the Italians would not have to worry about. December 22nd, 1943- What few Imperial Army soldiers remain on Guadalcanal are cornered and wiped out to a man. The island is now in American hands but at the cost of over three thousand casualties. Japanese casualties are estimated to be nearly twenty thousand. Sergeant Elrich Dorff, Munich, Germany- Snow fell softly onto the earth, thick enough to obscure sight for any kind of range. The train pulled into the station, the conductor spoke on the PA system, “Welcome home, soldiers, rest and relax, you deserve it.” With that farewell he took his place in the line disembarking the train. Took a while, due to the confinement and the unloading of luggage but eventually he stepped out of the carriage and stood not far from the track, looking for his mother, father, and Anneliese. After a moment he noticed his father, tall and proud and in a dark grey coat very similar to the coat Elrich himself wore. After a brisk pace he hugged his father, who returned the embrace with vigor. “It’s good to see you son, remarked Joachim Dorff. “Good to see you as well, it’s good to be home, though I wished I hadn’t been delayed in Belarussia or I would have been her for Christmas.” His father shrugged, “With so many returning from the East I didn’t expect you until January, I was surprised when you called from Poznan saying you were on your way.” “Better be late but here than be over there any longer,” Elrich said with a shudder that had very little to do with the cold. “Is it still bad over there, even since the treaty was signed?” “Ja, there are still a lot of partisans and guerilla fighters. For every cell we find and exterminate, another takes its place. It will be years, perhaps longer until the Eastern Territories are pacified in full.” His father nodded. His father picked up one of Elrich’s bags, despite his polite objection but his father shrugged the words off and continued to carry the bag. They left the station and made their way to their house, which was not far away. After a moment his father spoke, “I bet you are wondering where Anneliese is?” “I had wondered, but with the weather I didn’t expect her or mother to be there.” Elder Dorff nodded. An awkward pause followed, Elrich’s boots and Joachim’s shoes leaving imprints in the thick snow. “Son…” began his father. Elrich raised an eyebrow for him to continue. “Son, when we reach the house there will be a surprise, but do not get angry over it. We all agreed we shouldn’t tell you until you got home.” Elrich frowned. “What’s happened?” “You will see soon.” And with that they continued to trudge to the Dorff house which they reached soon after. After wiping their snow covered shoes on the porch, Frau Dorff would not take kindly to dirty snow being brought into her home, they entered. The first thing Elrich noted was the welcome heat and a yelp of emotional excitement. His mother Ingrid hugged him, her brown hair tickling his chin. He returned the hug and looked expectantly for Anneliese. He saw her parents in the back of the hall and out of the main living room she emerged. Elrich froze from shock. Not at what she looked like for her midnight raven colored hair and gray eyes benefitted her slim body quite nicely, but was shocked at what she carried. Not what but whom. She walked to him, carrying the bundle with confidence of much practice. She looked at him, her gray eyes full of doubt, fear, but happiness and love. “Hello, Elrich, this is your son Johann. Johann, meet your father,” she moved aside some cloth to show Elrich the boy’s, his son’s, face. A tuft of black hair so like Anneliese and the Gerstes lay atop his head. But the eyes… they were his eyes. A forest green that seemed to shine in the pink face that stared up in wonderment at the new person which he did not know was his other parent. “Johann?” emotion leaked out of Elrich. Funny how a battle-hardened solider who had seen, and even done, terrible things during the war, would be so shook up. He held out his arms for the baby to be placed. “Yes,” Anneliese smiled, hearing the love in his voice, if not understanding. She handed Elrich his son and both the child and man looked at the other, both seemingly fascinated by the other. It seemed to last an eternity but was perhaps thirty seconds. Eventually he found his voice. “Why?” he didn’t need to explain. Anneliese seemed to stiffen but after a deep breath she relaxed somewhat. “When I found out I was pregnant you were already back to the frontlines. What right did I have to burden you with the knowledge you had a child that your ability to meet him decreased more and more with every black bordered casualty list that was released. I was scared, Elrich. Should I have told you? Yes I should have, but I could not have known for sure whether you would be happy, annoyed, and angry.” “I would have been happy-” he began but Anneliese raised a hand to cut him off. “That was what I thought, as did your parents and mine, but you were so far away fighting, seeing friends and comrades die…” she held back her tears, “We, I, didn’t know how you would take it in such an environment. It was a risk I was not emotionally ready to take.” Elrich grinded his teeth in thought, she had a point, he concluded. There were times where everything seemed to go to hell and his emotions were erratic. He liked to think he would have been as happy as he said he would have been but not even he knew, nor will he ever. But here and now, without the stress of combat or the threat of death he could enjoy life. “While I wished you had told me, I... understand,” her shoulders sagged in relief, “and I am in agreement with your decision. The important thing is we are here together again. There is just one more thing to do.” “What?” her eyes darted across his face, trying to discern what he had in mind. Elrich grinned which eased her thoughts. “Anneliese Gerste, will you marry me?” December 28th, 1943- Balck receives the first major shipment of supplies from the Fatherland, especially spare parts as his panzers are in desperate need of maintenance. The first reinforcements (a panzer division and two infantry divisions) arrive in Benghazi and will begin to move eastwards towards Tobruk where the German Field Marshal continues to lay siege to the city, the other reinforcements of two divisions of infantry are currently in the midst of transit to Croatia where they would board ships for North Africa. The small handful of ports between Benghazi and Tobruk have been damaged by the intense combat of the North African Campaign with both sides sabotaging the ports when forced to withdraw. December 29th, 1943- The Brooklyn Project informs President Roosevelt that they have made great strides. Robert Oppenheimer himself flew to Washington D.C. to detail all that they were accomplishing. Oppenheimer told the President of their growing stock of enriched U-235, painstakingly separated from U-238 in variety of ways, and the increasing efficiency the Brooklyn Project was experiencing. Oppenheimer predicted sometime in 1944 that the Project would be able to split the atom and from their construction of a war-winning bomb could begin in earnest. Roosevelt is pleased but urges the scientists to move as fast as humanly possible. The casualty lists in the Pacific were steadily climbing higher and higher as the Japanese refused to go down without a ferocious, bloody fight. But that is not his only concern. Roosevelt and much of his Cabinet and the U.S. Chiefs of Staff cast wary glances at Europe. The Nazis victory in Russia have made them a larger threat to American interests then ever before. If the Atomic Bomb can be created and used in the Pacific it would send a message to Hitler to be wary of antagonizing the United States more then he already has. There is talk among the scientists to invite the French and British nuclear scientists over to America to compare notes and if need be accelerate the Entente's flagging programs. After much deliberation Roosevelt declines. The Burning of Sweden was bad enough with conventional weapons. If atomic weaponry was used on Europe the casualties would be horrifyingly staggering. No, only the United States would have these weapons of mass destruction, if the concept actually worked that is. The risk with what other nations would do with them was too scary to contemplate. January 1st, 1944- In Cairo, Egypt the Islamic National Movement leadership meets and decides that the small sabotage and guerrilla warfare the Movement had performed for years is to come to an end. To replace it the Movement plans to launch a Middle East wide uprising against the Entente. The Persian and Iraqi governments, specifically the militaries of these nations, send their assent with this decision. Soon, the sands of the Middle East will run red with blood and the cry for independence and freedom will roar like thunder.