One of this board's most prolific writers is Onkel Willie, who has completed a total of 15 non-ASB TLs to date. So that many masterpieces will not be forgotten, I am reposting all non-ASB TLs written by Onkel here.
Here's the beginning of the first one, a Chinawank:
The beat down coup and the Guangxu Reforms
The Great Awakening 1898-1913
At the end of the 19th century China was faced by a multitude of problems. It was a backward nation which had failed to modernize. Its isolation from the western world had caused stagnation. China was going through a crisis that severely weakened its society and sociopolitical system. Conservative Emperors had done China no good with their view that the Europeans were barbarians and their seclusion now came back to bite China. Western aggression, British opium smuggling, an inept ruling elite, a string of natural disasters, the Taiping rebellion and a massive bureaucracy were a near insurmountable challenge to the Qing dynasty. It shouldn’t be left without saying that the reformists had bright ideas but lacked experience in ruling and how to implement them. It would be an uphill battle from start to finish.
There was however a small group of people that were willing to take the necessary steps to make China the prominent power in Asia once again. At the head of this group was the Guangxu Emperor. He was pro-reformist but the ruling elite regarded him as a threat to their power and prevented any radical changes that could turn China’s situation around. The conservatives were headed by his own mother, of all people she opposed him, the Dowager Empress. A pro-reformist group consisting of Kang Youwei, Liang Qichao, Tan Sitong, Kang Guangren, Lin Xu, Yang Shenxiu, Yang Rui and Liu Guangdi was systematically blocked out. China at the end of the century remained backward despite the fact that an incentive for reform had been provided.
The ones who had provided the incentive were the upstart Japanese. The conflict had started over Korea which Japan saw as a threat to its security. It was, as a Prussian officer put it, ‘a dagger pointed at Japan’s heart’. Japan wanted to annex it before some other power could so. Several incidents had preceded the Sino-Japanese war. In 1876 Japan imposed the Treaty of Gangwha on Korea after incidents between Korean isolationists and Japanese. This treaty forced Korea to open up to Japanese trade and proclaim independence from China in its foreign affairs. China was understandably agitated as Korea was a tribute state under Chinese suzerainty. The Imo Incident in 1882 was another such incident. Korea was suffering from famines due to a severe drought. The state was nearly bankrupt. All of this led to discontent. Rioting broke out and a Japanese legation was attacked. Japan sent troops and China did the same to counter the Japanese. Korea moved more and more into an orbit around Japan and China could not tolerate this as it would mean loss of prestige. In 1894 a war broke out between China and Japan. The best forces of China, the Beiyang army and fleet, were soundly defeated and Korea became a Japanese protectorate. Peace was made in 1895 and a humiliating treaty was imposed on China forcing it to cede Taiwan and the Liaodong peninsula and pay 200 million Kuping taels, a third of the annual revenue of China, among other things.
In 1898 the Guangxu Emperor started a reform. The conservative Grand Council and the Dowager Empress opposed this as they feared that they would lose power. The reforms were considered too radical. A coup was prepared with the Dowager Empress as its leader. Little did they know that the Guangxu Emperor knew about the conspirators’ plans. The wild card was general Yuan Shikai. He was eliminated when he was bed tied after contracting tuberculosis, thus making him a non-entity in the political theatre. It is a general consensus among historians that he could have caused the coup to succeed as he knew about the Emperor’s plans. The inexperienced Emperor couldn’t have done much if that had happened. As it was, the Emperor had time to prepare a countercoup. The conspirators were arrested and the Dowager Empress was placed under house arrest in an ironic reversal of what she had planned. Many of the conspirators were sentenced to long prison sentences. Some had their noses cut off and the leaders were sentenced to death and swiftly executed. The angered Guangxu Emperor for the first time displayed the ruthlessness necessary. This was only part of the problem as this still didn’t solve the inexperience of the ‘new’ ruling elite.
This was the start of the Guangxu reformation. The educational system was reformed as was the traditional exam system. Mathematics and science were now prime subjects instead of studying Confucian teachings. The main problem was Kang Youwei’s inexperience. He was a brilliant theorist but hadn’t ruled over anything thus far. Needless to say there were several administrational problems in their implementation as the reforms were met with resistance. Initially the reforms had a small effect and it took time before they reached their full potential. In 1905 several schools in the more remote parts of China were still teaching Confucius. Lacking communications were also to blame though.
Sinecures, posts which give a salary but require little work, were eliminated. The tax collecting system was reformed to modern western standards. China opened up to foreign investment and commerce to apply capitalism to strengthen the economy and industrialize China. Most important of all was the creation of a modern army and navy. Japan had inflicted a devastating defeat. There was however a problem. The western powers of Britain, Russia, France and Japan wished to see a China that remained weak. None of them would want to help China become strong again. None of them wanted to help in any way unless it made China more dependent on them. There was however one western power that could gain from a strong China; Germany.
France, Britain, Russia and Japan were all allied against Germany in one way or the other. Many of China’s governmental institutions would be based on Imperial Wilhelmine Germany. A strong China could draw away the attention of three geopolitical competitors to the far eastern corner of Eurasia and away from Germany. Germany was understandably willing to help. Feelers were set out in Berlin by the Chinese ambassador for economic and military aid. Germany sent military advisors and provided modern equipment starting in 1899 as decided in the Treaty of Jena. Germany also had markets to gain from this and the treaty ensured that Germany would get the most lucrative markets and would always be asked first if an opportunity arose. This was a boost for Germany’s economy as it desperately needed markets; China was about the largest market one could wish for. This brought Emperor Wilhelm II one step closer to what seemed a wild idea; a Sino-German alliance.
German companies such as Krupp helped slowly but surely industrialize China. It would take at least two decades before China would surpass its major competitor for Asian dominance and arch nemesis; Japan. Improvement was there though. A draft was instituted and a two year service in the military was compulsory for ever man who reached the age of 21. There were a few modern units in the Chinese military but many still used muzzle loading rifles and, in rare cases, even lances to fight. General Von Hindenburg was appointed military attaché to China. He reorganized the Chinese army along Prussian lines, gave seminars to commanding officers on modern tactics and strategies in warfare and conducted war games and maneuvers to train the army. The new weapons and training were a great improvement but this Chinese army was completely new. It utterly lacked experience. German aid could only do so much and this would come to haunt China later on, more so since several conservative generals remained in charge.
In 1901 the first long distance telegraph and telephone lines were laid between Beijing and Nanjing. The modern communications allowed for more efficient rule and a more effective army. By 1910 industrial areas had sprung up around several major cities on the east coast. China was still behind on Japan but was closing. Production of coal, steel and pig iron, the basis for a modern and industrial economy, had nearly doubled in little over a decade. A Chinese Imperial Air Force was created in 1909. It remained small as air power was untested in combat. The foundations for what would become the largest air force in the world were there however. The navy during this timeframe was slightly neglected as China’s military minds considered China to be mainly a land power. Nevertheless, China purchased four Deutschland-class pre-dreadnoughts. A few cruisers and battlecruisers were bought as well to form the core of a small but potent fleet. In 1911 the Chinese purchased a Kaiser-class dreadnought which was the flagship of the Imperial Chinese Navy. A submarine arm was created in 1911. This activity caused Japan to worry a lot. It increased its presence in Korea which it had annexed a year earlier, expanded the army and started an ambitious fleet program.
The Era of Great Awakening as it was called, continued. The reforms were also political in nature. The Grand Council which had been powerless since the coup, was dissolved over vociferous protests. Instead a bicameral parliamentary system based on that of Germany and Britain was created. It consisted of the Lower House and the Imperial senate. The Lower House was elected by the people every six years. The largest party would form a coalition and provide ministers for a cabinet. It wasn’t a perfect system. The Emperor had the right to dismiss his government and issue new elections and the Prime Minister answered to him alone. The Imperial senate consisted of one representative for each province and was usually presided by a member of aristocracy. The new economic elite or bourgeoisie that was forming was increasingly encroaching on the power of the aristocrats however. Kang Youwei at this time attempted to draw up a constitution. Several versions were made and all were rejected, a testimony to his relative inexperience. In the end he decided to more or less copy the German constitution. It turned out that full fledged democracy was still a bridge too far for China. The Guangxu Emperor at this time had transformed from an inexperienced and soft ruler to a ruthless politician. His reforms were being implemented and were more or less successful. This moderate success gave the ‘soft’ Emperor a boost in self confidence. The conservatives by now were afraid to contest his power. The immense popularity boost he had gotten among the people due to his reforms further curtailed the power of the conservatives. The once discredited Qing dynasty was firmly in power again. For all intents and purposes, China seemed to remain authoritarian.
By 1913 the Era of Great Awakening was nearing its end. China was industrializing and would in time surpass everyone. China was also growing towards democracy for as far as the conservatives allowed it, modern communications such as telegraph, phone and in some places radiotelegraphy connected most of the major coastal cities, a modern army was forming and quality of life in general was improving. Large swaths of China in the west of the country and the countryside were left largely untouched by the reforms. The aristocracy and conservative elite managed to hold on to their power there. China still had a lot of improving to do but was doing well when compared to 1894.
It was at the end of the first decade of the twentieth century that China officially entered the Triple Alliance, thus becoming part of the Central Powers. The alliance was henceforth known as the Quadruple Alliance. This ensured the aid of Austria-Hungary and Italy for what it was worth. In 1912 Skoda opened its first factory in Beijing. Italian aircraft manufacturer Piaggio did the same in 1914. Both were attracted by the increasing demand for weapons for the growing Chinese armed forces. The British, Russians and French were left unimpressed by this move. They underestimated how strong China had become and they would suffer for it during the conflict that loomed over Europe. China would make them pay for their humiliations, aggression and unequal treaties. They would be revoked and China would be strong once more. Yes, China would grow strong.
It was in the second decade of the twentieth century that China’s strength would be tested for the first time, and what a test would that be. Now the people would see whether or not the radical changes to Chinese society had been useful. China would be dragged into the greatest ideological, industrial and military struggle that the world had seen until then. Many novelties would be implemented during this war. Machine guns, poison gas and the use of air power for reconnaissance and in combat roles would be used for the first time on such a massive scale. This is recognized by historians as the first modern war. Humanity would see the horrors of modern warfare and the tremendous loss of life in such a short time span would be incredible.
It was not in Asia that this war found its origins. The war would be ignited in the powder keg that was Europe. There were many political tensions in Europe at the dawn of the twentieth century. It was in 1871 that the German Empire had been proclaimed in Versailles after France was defeated in the Franco-Prussian war. Germany had annexed Alsace-Lorraine and had since then taken over France’s place as the leading continental power. The French were enraged and hated Germany. The diplomatic bumbling of Emperor Wilhelm II didn’t help much. He started a crisis when he visited the Moroccan sultan. His subsequent speech in which he favoured Moroccan independence was a direct challenge to the French mandate over Morocco and was designed to split the Anglo-French Entente. He achieved quite the opposite and Europe came close to war. A second crisis, known as the Agadir crisis, also nearly ignited a European war. Emperor Wilhelm II sent the gunboat Panther to Morocco and demanded large swaths of French Equatorial Africa as compensation for Germany’s loss in the first Moroccan crisis. The crisis petered out when Germany backed down after the implicit threat of war. There were other places in Europe were tension brewed as well. Austria-Hungary and Russia both had issues in the Balkans. Russia supported Pan-Slavic movements which wanted to create a south Slav kingdom with Austro-Hungarian territory. The Habsburgs were dead set against this of course and wanted to crush Serbia as soon as an opportunity presented itself. Russia also had a fierce hatred for the Ottomans. If one includes the Great War, these two empires have fought eleven wars. Russia wanted to see the Ottomans removed from the Balkans and succeeded. The Ottoman empire was known as the sick man of Europe and couldn’t do anything and no one would help. Britain in the meantime feared German European hegemony and the growing threat that the German navy presented. As for China and Japan; they just hated each other. If one adds militarism, imperialism and nationalism, a conflict of some kind was inevitable. And so the alliance system that would drag Europe and Asia into war was formed.
There were certain tensions within the alliance. Russia for instance was an absolute monarchy while France was a republic and Britain a constitutional monarchy. Italy in the meantime resented the Austro-Hungarian Empire because it harbored a large Italian ethnic minority. Even after the Three Wars of Italian Independence Italy had failed to fully wrest these minorities from Habsburg rule. Emperor Franz Josef wouldn’t give up the areas were these minorities lived. Austria-Hungary wouldn’t cede any territory as long as he was alive. These differences sadly weren’t enough to break up the alliance system and prevent this tragic war.
The war started over a rather ridiculous incident which could have been solved diplomatically. When the heir presumptive was in Sarajevo, he was assassinated by a Serb nationalist called Gavrilo Princip. Vienna immediately jumped on this opportunity to crush Serbia and its nationalist aspirations once and for all. The assassination was planned and executed by the Black Hand movement which was allegedly supported by Belgrade. The Austrians presented a list of demands to the Serbs which they couldn’t possibly accept. One of the demands was completely against their constitution. The Austro-Hungarians declared war over the matter and things spiraled out of control from there. Russia fully mobilized. Germany feeling threatened, sent an ultimatum to the Russians which went unanswered. Germany declared war on both Russia and France. It later turned out that Russia had no plans for a partial mobilization, explaining their apparent aggression. The war was partially to blame on miscommunication. The Austro-Hungarians purposefully left Emperor Wilhelm II in the dark about what they were up to.
1914: Home by Christmas
In 1914 the general belief was that this would be a quick war which would change the political face of Europe without much bloodshed. When Germany made its opening moves, it seemed that the general consensus of the time was correct. Germany, in violation of the Treaty of London, marched through Belgium thereby breaching that country’s neutrality which led to Britain’s declaration of war. This move was in accordance with the so-called Von Schlieffen Plan. This plan was created by count Alfred Von Schlieffen (Chief of staff from 1891 to 1905) who was a German field marshal and strategist. Germany was surrounded by France and Russia and any war would become a two front war and Von Schlieffen foresaw this. Von Schlieffen predicted that Germany would lose a two front war and developed a plan to prevent that. Germany would violate Belgian neutrality to circumvent French border fortifications. The offensive would consist of a strong right wing, seven times stronger than the left wing and a centre wing. He predicted correctly that the French would concentrate their main force in the Belfort-Sedan area. They would attack into Alsace-Lorraine and the left wing would likely retreat under French pressure, drawing the French away from the main event and into a trap. Von Moltke jr. altered the plan. He strengthened the left wing and weakened the right wing thereby putting more importance on operations in Alsace-Lorraine. This was against Von Schlieffen’s last words; ‘Keep the right strong.’
The German plan was foiled by several things. Belgian resistance was much heavier than expected. The fortresses around Liege only surrendered after the arrival of German siege guns such as their own 420 mm howitzers and the 305 mm howitzers manufactured by the Czech based Skoda. This alone held up the advance for several days. It was only after the destruction of an ammunition storage which led to a massive explosion that the citadel surrendered and the siege was broken. Germany’s advance continued but the plan didn’t take into account logistics. The large movement over a limited road and railroad network slowed things down. Exhaustion was a major problem as German forces had to march 25 to 30 kilometres each day. British reinforcements made things worse and Russia mobilized quicker than the anticipated six weeks, forcing Germany to send three army corps to stop Russia’s advance in East Prussia. All of this culminated in the Miracle of the Marne where Germany failed to bypass Paris west. The Germans instead passed east. The so-called Race to the Sea ensued in which the Entente and Germans tried to outflank each other. This failed and the opposing forces entrenched themselves in preparation for a long war.
In Asia things were stirring as well. China took advantage of the distraction of the western powers and by the end of August China had declared war on France, Britain, Russia and Japan. The last of those after it had declared war on Germany. China fully mobilized in accordance with the Quadruple Alliance and to take revenge. Hong Kong was overrun. The casualty rate was high for the Chinese. The kill ratio was 3:1 in spite of the fact that Chinese forces outnumbered the British defenders. China also unilaterally renounced many of the unequal treaties such as those forcing it to import opium. Chinese forces also behaved aggressively near the Russian border, forcing Tsar Nicholas II to divide his attention between east and west. This made the defeat at the battle of Tannenberg even worse. Japan made aggressive moves as well and invaded Manchuria from Korea.
1915: Learning Lessons
Tactics and strategies had failed to keep up with advances in technology. Impressive fortifications were built by both sides to keep what they had. Barbed wire made advances by infantry difficult. Machine guns mowed down advancing enemy soldiers, killing thousands and wounding just as many. The best example is perhaps the battle of the Somme in 1916 in which the British lost over 57.000 men on the first day. Poison has was also first introduced. The Germans were the first to use chlorine gas in 1914 during the First Battle of Ypres. They did so again during the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915. It caused a kilometre wide gap in Canadian lines. The use of human wave tactics coupled with the use of machine guns by the defenders caused many casualties. The Entente continued with their vigorous attacks. Germans integrated artillery into defense at the divisional level. German artillery caused heavy casualties at the so-called Vimy ridge, the Battle of Champagne and the Battle of Loos. Machine gun fire caused a massacre. The German high command looked upon this favourably and would later use this in their elastic defense in depth. This was the first time air planes were used. They were used for aerial photographic reconnaissance. Planes would be used in combat roles soon as they were armed to fend off the ‘Fokker scourge’. The west front remained a stalemate by the end of 1915.
Austria-Hungary hadn’t done well. Due to miscommunication the Austrians thought that the Germans would cover their flank while they punished Serbia. The result was that Russian forces marched on Krakow and Przemysl, penetrating deep into Austro-Hungarian territory. This forced the Austro-Hungarians to divide their forces. Their inability to stop the Russians forced the Germans to come to their aid. The Russians were defeated and by the end of the year Congress Poland was in hands of the Central Powers. This was the last full year that Tsar Nicholas II would rule. 1915 was also a year of betrayal. Italy was a member of the Quadruple Alliance but had decided to remain neutral. In 1915 the Italians decided to switch sides after the allies bribed them with the promise of Austro-Hungarian territory.
China was doing reasonable considering that its army was untested in battle. Hong Kong had been taken. Tibet’s quasi-independence had come to an end and China was fighting British forces in the Himalayas. Alpine warfare was exhausting but the Chinese seemed to have endless supplies of men and Britain would run out of men earlier as cold, frostbite, and logistical problems took their toll. Chinese forces had also crossed the Russian border, forcing the Russians to split their armies. Japanese forces were advancing in Manchuria. At sea Japan was uncontested as the Chinese remained in port. Their advanced armies beat the Chinese. The Chinese human wave attacks caused high death tolls but seeing hordes of millions of fanatical screaming Chinamen was demoralizing. Chinese resolve stiffened and their numerical superiority caused a stalemate here as well. Millions would perish on this front. In addition Chinese artillery proved devastatingly effective. This was thanks to the German army that the Chinese army was based on. Machine guns, poison gas, barbed wire and trench warfare would prevail here as well. Manchuria was largely gone but hatred against Japan provided a unifying factor for China. This war would be long.
1916: A year of progress
1916 was a good year on the eastern front, for Germany anyway. Russia at this time lacked the industrial power to stand up to Germany and was divided between two fronts, the European and the Chinese front. The problem was aggravated by the fact that the Ottomans had declared war as well a year ago, opening up another front. Incompetence, lack of modern equipment and bad infrastructure all hampered the war effort. Poland, an important agricultural area, was gone and German forces were marching into the western Ukraine and Lithuania, close to the Masurian lakes. Hundreds of thousands of Russians had fallen to German machines of war and food and other commodities were becoming rare in Russia. The Russians had started the war with nationalist vigour. That vigour was now gone and Russia was fighting for survival and with German, Chinese and Turkish forces encroaching on her, Mother Russia was losing, losing badly. The fact that the inexperienced Tsar had taken command in 1915, had aggravated things further.
Germany recognized weakness and exploited it in an almost predatory fashion. Germany created a defense in depth in the west which freed up several divisions. They were promptly shipped east and started hammering Russian forces. Food and fuel shortages worsened and prices soared. This combined with a harsh winter made things worse. In early October 1916 a strike broke out in Petrograd at the Putilov factory, Petrograd’s largest industrial plant. The strikers were fired by the plants owner, further fuelling unrest in the capital. The strikes and demonstrations increased in size and by October 5th virtually every industrial enterprise in Petrograd had shut down. The workers were joined by teachers, white-collar workers and craftsmen. They marched on the Winter Palace demanding bread and fuel. The police was dispatched but they found that they couldn’t control the mob and some police officers even joined them. Red banners appeared and the crowd started looting, starting at the police headquarters. Three days later the Tsar sent a battalion of soldiers. They shot the mob, causing many casualties. Many soldiers however grew sympathetic towards the crowd and deserted, ignoring their officers. The mutiny spread to the navy. A mutiny broke out on Russian cruiser Admiral Makarov. Many marines laid down their weapons and refused to take orders. The Tsar responded by sending more troops to put down the uprising but they refused to fire on their own people. Wild shooting occurred on the streets, transport had broken down and food and fuel supplies were dwindling.
It was under immense pressure that the Tsar abdicated. He abdicated on November 2nd 1916. The October revolution was complete. Nicholas initially did so in favour of his son, Alexei. His brother Grand Duke Michael became regent but quickly stepped down when he realized that there was no support for him. A provisional government was formed led by Alexander Kerensky. He wanted to uphold Russia’s commitments to the Triple Entente in spite of the dire situation. Chinese forces were moving in Siberia and had cut off the Trans-Siberian railroad and thus Russia’s connection with its far eastern territories.
Italy in the meantime was losing badly. It initially started the war with a numerical advantage but wasted in useless frontal attacks to reach Vienna. The Italians were ultimately forced to abandon their attempts to capture Vienna as casualty rates soared. Italian forces were left on the defensive and the Austrians retook a lot of territory that they had lost in 1866.
Kerensky launched one more major offensive which broke Russia rather than Germany. It did leave Austria-Hungary crippled but by February the Russian army was in a state of dissolution. Mutinies broke out once more in some units as the new government didn’t fulfill its promises. The communist Petrograd Soviet revolted in late February and contested the power of the provisional government. This revolution spread and Kerensky was forced to withdraw forces from the front to put it down. Russian cruiser Aurora supported the communists and the armed forces became divided with some supporting the reds and others the government. Russia was in state of disarray and couldn’t resist the Germans any longer.
Kerensky was left no choice but to secretively open negotiations with the Central Powers. He signed an armistice on February 22nd 1917. Germany could now effectively dictate terms. The Germans demanded war reparations and the cession of Poland, the Baltic states, Ukraine and Belarus. Kerensky was left no choice but to accept the terms as dictated in the Treaty of Lemberg and signed on April 1st. The revolution was spreading. Finland declared its independence shortly thereafter and Germany sent a force to ‘protect’ the new country from falling to communism. This was realization of Germany’s dream of a German dominated ‘Mittel Europa’. Kerensky managed to gain a status quo ante bellum peace with the Ottomans who were also starting to crumble. The Chinese on the other hand were very strict in their terms. They demanded nothing less than the revoking of the Treaty of Aigun and the restoration of Chinese borders as agreed on in the Treaty of Nerchinsk. Kerensky was left with no choice and China was restored to its 1689 borders.
This enabled the Germans and Austrians to divert troops to other fronts such as the western front and the Italian front. The new German commanders, Ludendorff and Hindenburg, planned a summer offensive in France. By 1917 Germany’s situation wasn’t very well. The Germans seemed desperate to win and attempted to starve Britain into submission by means of unrestricted submarine warfare. This was one of the reasons why America declared war in the summer of 1917. France wasn’t doing well either and mutinies had occurred as a protest against the useless offensives and the knowledge that America would eventually beat Germany kept them going. The Germans were now in a hurry to crush France and Britain before the Americans arrived in any significant numbers. The offensive started in August, two months after the arrival of the first units of the American Expeditionary Force, AEF for short.
They had learned lessons from three years of trench warfare and would now employ different tactics to end the stalemate where previous offensives had all failed. Unlike earlier offensives the German artillery bombardment lasted only for a few hours instead of days or weeks. This ensured the element of surprise. Communications were slow as couriers were often used. Field telephones were still in their infancy and were often unreliable. Lightly armed infantry teams advanced under the cover of a creeping barrage and infiltrated previously identified weak points in the enemy lines. After they achieved a breakthrough they captured enemy headquarters and artillery strongpoints. Squads heavily armed with machine guns and mortars attacked the strong points which the first wave had bypassed. The artillery provided cover wherever needed after this as regular infantry mopped up remaining resistance. The goal of the offensive was the capture of Amiens and Hazebrouck and a dash for the channel ports.
Amiens and Hazebrouck were both important to allied logistics. Large stockpiles were gathered there and both were important railway hubs. The fall of the channel ports would cut Entente forces off from resupply. The offensive was a success thanks to these knew tactics and allied inability to deal with them as they were completely new. This primitive form of blitzkrieg surprised the off guard French and British. German forces manage to reach Amiens and Hazebrouck and clinged on to them, screwing up the Entente’s logistical situation. German forces now threatened the rear of French and British forces. The war was mobile again and German forces used their momentum when they still could. Doing otherwise would give the Entente time to recover. German forces managed to take Calais and Dunkirk by December 1917 and only the British use of tanks stopped them just short of Dieppe in January 1918. Calais was the prime port for resupplying Entente forces on the western front.
France and Britain, recognizing that the military situation was hopeless, requested an armistice in late January 1918, not knowing that Germany was in just as bad shape by this point. A few more days and the German advance would likely have petered out. The stalemate would continue and this would give the Americans time to arrive in large numbers. Britain could likely fight on with its navy as Germany couldn’t win a naval war. The populace wouldn’t be enthusiastic about that but Britain could win such a war. France however could not as its army was broken. The French people were exhausted from four years of war and didn’t want to go on. Rioting and looting started for food. A few mutinies broke out. The military put these riots and mutinies down but the situation grew worse with growing food and fuel shortages. Military historians generally agree that an allied counteroffensive with American aid could have led to a German surrender. The French just didn’t want to hang on anymore. As it was, peace negotiations started. Several other countries were also in no shape to continue fighting. Italy had been battered throughout 1917 by Austro-Hungarian and German troops freed up by Russia’s surrender. Much like the Russian army, the Italian army was no longer an effective fighting force. Austria-Hungary, in spite of its victories, wasn’t much better off. The last Russian offensive had hurt them badly. Uprisings were breaking out which the Habsburgs found increasingly difficult to quell.
The Germans, recognizing that their own situation wasn’t too good either, reached a status quo ante bellum peace with Great Britain and recognition of the Treaty of Lemberg. The Germans were much harsher on the French. Many German nationalists advocated the complete demilitarization of France, its breakup into several states and the occupation of the northern industrial areas. They wanted to eliminate France as a threat forever. That ultimately didn’t happen but the terms were considered harsh nonetheless. The French were forced to cede the Briey-Longwy areas which contained large coal and iron ore deposits. The French army was limited to 125.000 men and no tanks. The air force was not to exceed a size of five hundred aircraft. The Germans also nicked several colonies. They took Senegal, Gabon, Benin and the French Congo. This was all part of the Treaty of Frankfurt. The French didn’t have much choice but to sign the humiliating treaty and did so on October 29th 1918 which caused a public outrage in France. Some demanded the continuation of the war until better terms could be reached.
The Belgians lost the Congo, realizing the German dream of ‘Mittel Afrika’. The British demanded however that German forces left Belgium and that no annexations of Belgian territory took place. The planned annexation of Liege and Belgian border areas such as Belgian Luxembourg and the division of the remainder of the country didn’t take place. Germany had planned to divide Belgium into Flanders and Belgium. The Dutch speaking Flanders would have gone to Holland. Francophone Wallonia would have become a puppet state. Belgium essentially got an early 19th century peace thanks to the British. The Germans traded territory. The amount of occupied Belgian territory determined their loss. A 100% of Belgian territory had been occupied so all colonies went to Germany. Had it not been for the Summer Offensive, Belgium would have retained 10% of its colony as roughly 90% of Belgium had been occupied. Luxembourg was annexed. The Portuguese had joined the war in 1916 after they had confiscated German ships on a British request. Germany had declared war as a response. Germany nicked Angola from them but left them Mozambique as to not risk war with pro-Portuguese Britain. The French were quite happy to trade off colonies of minor Entente members to keep as many of their own as possible. America at this point was angered that Britain and France abandoned it and signed a separate peace with the Central Powers. Peace reigned over Europe.
The same could not be said of Asia. In Asia a conflict, that was perhaps the largest death match ever, was going on. China had forces freed up from the Russian front and used them in useless human wave offensives against the Japanese. These offensives were reminiscent of the stalemate that had occurred on the western front and which had ended only after four years of continuous warfare. Japan had better equipment and tactics. China had massive numbers and old but still usable German equipment. This combination resulted in a deadlock which neither side could break. Both didn’t like the thought of surrender. Especially the Chinese were unwilling to surrender. The Sack of Harbin as it was known and similar actions by the Japanese had awoken a fervent nationalism and deep hatred of Japan. The Japanese were now stuck northeast of Beijing, the Liaodong peninsula marking the western most point of their advance. They had invaded the Shandong Peninsula as well to take German occupied Qing Dao and had advanced along the coast. By 1918 they were in the second year of the Siege of Nanjing. Nationalist propaganda glorified the defenders of the city. Hundreds of thousands had already perished on both sides and both sent more men into the meat grinder. This happened after the Battle of the Yellow Sea in 1916 which was the only occasion that the Chinese fleet ventured out to sea in great numbers. The Chinese fleet consisted of several German dreadnoughts, pre-dreadnoughts, cruisers and several Chinese built vessels. It was a defeat for China but the Japanese had sustained losses of their own. The slugging match dragged on. For propaganda purposes China sent several zeppelins to bomb Japan. The hydrogen filled giants had a psychological effect. The bombings themselves were pinpricks, causing only a few hundred fatalities. One was shot down and went up in flames. Nevertheless, there were some in Japan who now demanded peace.
Since France was now crippled for all intents and purposes, Thailand decided to take back several pieces of French Indochina. Add to that the fact that French forces were distracted by the Chinese, gave the Thai victory in the short and not well known 1918 Thai-French war which took place in January 1918 shortly before France and China made peace. China made France accept the Thai incursions and France, war weary and experiencing civil unrest, accepted the Chinese terms. China had behaved aggressively in Indochina but nothing more than minor incursions took place as Japan preoccupied the Chinese. This forced France to maintain at least some presence in Asia, hastening France’s defeat. France held on to most of the colony, leaving the French at least some national pride.
The combatants turned to the Americans who acted as mediators between the Asian giants. An armistice was reached in October 1918 and fighting suddenly stopped. This was the start of months of negotiations which took place while Chinese and Japanese forces stared angrily at each other from their trenches. Several incidents occurred and sometimes fighting just went on as usual. In May 1919 an agreement was finally reached. This was difficult as both sides wanted to gain as much as possible and both thought they had the right to. A status quo ante bellum peace was reached, leading to much anger in both Tokyo and Beijing. The Japanese considered this an unfair peace as they thought they had won. Nationalists advocated the annexation of Manchuria and the Shandong Peninsula and wanted to fight on. The Chinese weren’t happy either as they didn’t get back Taiwan and Korea which had been under Chinese influence until quite recently. China did keep Macau and Hong Kong as Portugal was to weak to resist and Britain didn’t want to seriously fight a long protracted war over it. China paid a one million pound compensation. Japan paid a similar compensation for Germany’s Pacific possessions, Micronesia. Germany managed to keep Samoa and new Guinea. Germany sold Qing Dao to China for one million Reich marks as its Far Eastern Squadron was gone anyway. This was the start of an uneasy peace which ultimately wouldn’t last very long. But the war was over; after four years and 16 million deaths, it was over.
In 1917 Manchuria wasn’t the only place in Asia where a conflict was going on. Russia had surrendered and a multisided civil war had broken out. Several generals had become independent warlords and had established independent. They all fought each other, the central government and the communists. The provisional government was lost in this violence and was merely another faction in this war, albeit a strong one. Russia’s armed forces had now completely dissolved and were divided among the various groups. Both China and Japan attempted to get an advantage out of this quagmire and supported various factions in the civil war. An alliance with one faction didn’t last long as China and Japan frequently switched sides for their own gain.
It was Alexander Kolchak who quickly became the Japanese main proxy. His armies operated in Central Russia and Siberia and were quite successful for a certain period of time. He established a government which controlled a large swath of Siberia and campaigned mainly against the provisional government and the communists. The Japanese however gave him only the absolutely necessary supplies and he quickly became dependent on Japan for just about everything. His little empire quickly became a Japanese satellite state and a general offensive by general Brusilov who remained loyal to the government managed to push him and his forces out of Siberia. He established a new government which controlled several of Russia’s eastern oblasts. It was known as the Russian Pacific Republic and consisted of Kamchatka and neighbouring oblasts Chukotkan, Magadan, North Sakhalin and the part of the Khabarovsk oblast that China hadn’t annexed after making peace with Russia. It had its capital in Petropavlovsk and was even more of a Japanese puppet than Kolchak’s previous government. Over 75.000 Japanese troops ensured its continued existence along with the presence of battleships Ise and Hyuga and a destroyer squadron which were based off the Pacific Republic’s capital, Petropavlovsk. Two light cruisers, Tenryu and Tatsuto were also part of this force. Battleship Nagato was added in 1921. These ships regularly patrolled the Russian Pacific coast along with the very small number of ships of the former Russian Pacific fleet that were available to Kolchak. This held off the government’s forces which had British, German and American support. Russia was too weak to challenge Japan at this time and recognized the Russian Pacific Republic in 1922. Kolchak’s rule was short lived. He died in 1924 of a severe ulcer and his Russian Pacific Republic was promptly annexed by Japan.
Roman Ungern von Sternberg was probably China’s longest lasting proxy. He pursued Pan-Monarchist goals in Central Asia where he tried to establish himself as Khan. He thought himself to be the successor of Genghis Khan and attempted to follow his steps and create a large empire in Asia. He dominated the plains in Kazakhstan for a while in the period 1920-1922. Eventually the Chinese dumped him as he was clearly an insane psychopath. His inherent racism didn’t help him much either and the peoples he lorded over overthrew him and the communists executed him. China then supported several minor warlords until they stumbled on the Basmachi rebels who fought against the communists who had managed to defeat the divided warlords and powerless and unpopular central government by 1922. The Basmachi rebellion was probably the last convulsion of the Russian civil war. The Basmachi rebels clearly were unable to fend for themselves without lasting Chinese aid against the communists. The Chinese established a puppet government in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan which they carved off Russia. This region was henceforth known as the Turkestan. China stationed troops there, trained a military and set up an efficient governing body which took orders from Beijing of course.
Ultimately no support from any country could prevent that Russia fell to communism. The warlords were too divided to stop the communists led by Lenin and were unpopular for their attempts to restore Tsarist laws. The government was weak and not much loved for their attempt to continue the war. The communists on the other hand promised peace, bread on the table and security and were unified. They proved to be harsh and introduced the Red Terror to enforce obedience. Lenin had made his way back to Russia after peace was made in Europe. Austro-Hungary was in chaos and with the army busy putting down rebellions, he made it back to Russia in 1918 incognito and with his charisma he unified the communists. By 1922 the communists controlled most of Russia. German support for the Whites was weak as their economy was still reeling from the war and they didn’t have the money for a large scale war. Secondly, they figured that the Soviet Union could function as a communist boogeyman to keep Germany’s new eastern European vassals in line. Germany had every intention of getting rid of the communist abomination when as soon as it had outlived this purpose.
When peace was made in 1918, large parts of Europe were left in ruins. Germany was had hegemony over Europe and was left the burden of picking up the pieces and rebuilding. Germany itself was rocked by a communist revolt led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. Many German army formation were returning from the front at this time and the revolution was squashed by the military which remained loyal to the government. The two man dictatorship of Ludendorff and Hindenburg imposed martial law to maintain order as civil unrest remained in Germany. The war economy ended which caused a lot of unemployment. It turned out that setting up and maintaining a war economy was easier than dismantling one. Many soldiers were demobilized which added to the unemployment. Inflation would also become an issue in postwar Germany although the new colonies, French war reparations and the annexed Briey-Longwy area luckily negated most of the worst of the economic crisis. Nevertheless several more demonstrations took place with red banners. Many jobless soldiers joined, demanding payment, a pension or a job and bread on the table. The police broke them up without too much of a fuss. Emperor Wilhelm II subsequently sacked Hindenburg and Ludendorff and cut short the military dictatorship they were establishing. They found that they would suffer the same fate as the iron chancellor, Bismarck. The socialists subsequently won the next elections and Wilhelm would frequently clash with them. By 1925 the economy had stabilized and the conservatives were back in power again. This enabled Emperor Wilhelm II to continue his naval race with Britain, now with the resources of Europe and a large colonial empire at this disposal.
Germany had created several new states. It had created the Kingdom of Poland out of Congress Poland with Austrian Arch Duke Karol Stephan as its king. Finland had become a kingdom as well with Prince Frederick Charles of Hesse as its king. The Baltic states received German and Austrian princes as their rulers as well. Ukraine and Belarus become republics but were generally as authoritarian as monarchic Germany was. These states enhanced Germany’s economic power and gave Germany hegemony in Europe. They were also political and military assets. The existence of the Soviet Union as a communist boogeyman made it easier to control them. Germany’s economic power doubled or even tripled because of these new pro-German states. They had large supplies of coal, iron ore and were generally producers of large quantities of agricultural products such as grain, dairy products, meat, pork and cabbage. Germany had a monopoly on markets in these countries and the world markets were flooded by products made in Germany and its so-called Central-European Prosperity Sphere. This nations also had armies which were trained and equipped by the Germans and organized along Prussian lines. They were efficient, mobile and well led but dependent on Germany which had a much larger army. Perhaps the most prosperous of Germany’s new puppets was Finland. Electronics industry, logging industry, paper factories, machine building industry and an agricultural sector sprang up and grew without the stagnant Russian empire. It also had a decent navy big enough to contain the Russian Baltic fleet, but too weak to challenge the ‘Kaiserliche Marine’ of Germany.
Germany’s problems were nothing compared to the problems of other European countries. The Habsburg Empire was in dire straits by the time the war ended. Several revolts had broken out all over the empire by 1918 and the army was sent in to crush them. Many soldiers of non-Austrian or non-Hungarian descent deserted, refusing to open fire on people of their own ethnic minorities. Essentially, the only ones fighting to preserve the Double Monarchy were the Austrians and Hungarians who made up 44% of the population but reigned supreme from Vienna. The other ethnic groups that made up the empire had little to no influence in the capital. It was mainly the Hungarians that prevented any change to the political situation as they wanted to maintain their power. The Hungarians were therefore very harsh to the minorities under their control and didn’t hesitate when violence was necessary. The Austrians were generally more friendly to their minorities although it wasn’t much better. In 1919 demonstrations and riots broke out in Prague, demanding Czech autonomy and thus the creation of a Triple Monarchy. The Hungarians advocated the use of deadly force to put an end to it. This ultimately led to a full blown Czech revolt and Emperor Karl acquiesced to Czech demands.
It was at this point that the internal tensions erupted into violence. The Hungarians threatened to succeed and they disregarded the Emperor. They brutally put down the Czechs and opened fire on Austrian troops who attempted to stop them. The Danube civil war had started. It didn’t last long as surrounding countries stepped in to secure their minorities and to carve off the chunk of the empire they wanted. The Italians immediately moved to seize South Tyrol, Fiume, Istria and Dalmatia. The Romanians moved into Transylvania, declaring that they were there to protect ethnic Romanians for the duration of the crisis. Serbia moved into Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia. This left the empire divided between a Hungarian and Slovakian half and an Austrian and Czech half. The rotting corpse that was Austria-Hungary was gone. German forces occupied Austria, Sudetenland, Bohemia and Moravia. These forces were used as peace keepers. In the end nothing could keep the empire from falling apart. The end of Austria-Hungary was made official in 1920 with the signing of the Treaty of Budapest. Habsburg domination of central Europe was now at an end. The Habsburgs remained in power in the newly created Kingdom of Hungary. This kingdom however controlled large Slovak and Polish minorities too. Serbia in the meantime renamed itself Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Emperor Wilhelm II was German Emperor but with the annexation of Austria and Sudetenland, he was crowned Emperor of the Germans like his grandfather had wanted all those years before. This was a boost in popularity for the Emperor whose position had been shaky since the end of the war. Germany was now indisputably the strongest country in Europe.
Another empire that was in a shaky position was the Ottoman Empire. It had suffered repeatedly from British and Russian offensives although the empire had had its moments such as Gallipoli for example. After the victory the British proceeded to strip the empire of its possessions with tacit German approval. Iraq and Palestine were annexed by the British and Syria was ceded to Italy. France at this time lacked the troops necessary to secure its own country, let alone Syria. Moreover, Germany wouldn’t allow France to gain anymore territory. The Greeks then proceeded to annex the Anatolian coast line where a large Greek minority lived. This was the time for several more progressive Turks to move. Among them was Mustafa Kemal, later known as Kemal Atatürk, leader of the progressive movement. He pushed back Greek forces with support from the sultan and the Anatolian coastline was returned to the empire. In 1915 the empire had bought two German ships which now formed the core of the Ottoman fleet, battlecruiser Goeben and light cruiser Breslau. In a brief war Atatürk managed to annex Crete and several other islands back into the empire. Bulgaria joined in and retook some territory in Thrace that it had lost after the war. Germany supported this while Britain supported Greece; in vain one might add. He then proceeded to reform the empire into a strictly constitutional monarchy in which he would hold real power. The position of sultan was to be a strictly ceremonial position. As he had the backing of the military, Atatürk was able to force these terms on the sultan. By 1925 Atatürk was the undisputed ruler of Turkey. He started to modernize the country immediately. He replaced the traditional Arabic script by the Latin alphabet and reformed the educational system. He reformed the empire to a strictly secular state and outlawed the covering of the head by women. Western Europe was the new ideal.
After the war several countries were discontent with what they had received for their suffering. Among them was Italy which was undergoing a recession in the early and mid twenties. The Italian army had suffered a lot during the war as it had incompetent leaders and was no match for the armies of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Their armies had pushed deep into Italy and had left the Italian army in shambles. Northern Italy was heavily damaged and Italy slipped into an economic malaise. Socialism and communism were growing increasingly stronger and large parts of Italy were coloured ‘red’. The elite, big business, the conservatives in the government such as the Catholics and the royal family feared this development and it didn’t take long before a countermovement arose. They were called the fascists and were led by a man called Mussolini. Their ideology was based on nationalism, imperialism and militarism. They supported the Roman Catholic church and upheld the thought that the family was the corner stone of Italian society. They were fervently anti-communist, anti-democratic, anti-liberal and anti-socialist. It was also a collectivist ideology similar to communism although no fascist would ever admit this. According to fascists the group, and by extension the state, was more important than the individual. They favoured a strong man, in this case Mussolini, to make Italy strong again over the conventional democratic political ideologies. The fascists were extremely militaristic as each nation was in a constant struggle for survival. Their economic policy supported corporatism and the forming of business cartels. These would lead to price deals and deals about wages. Eventually things would balance each other out, with some strong state guidance of course by Mussolini. The movement started to spread as a counter to socialism
Fascist youth clubs were created and the party militia, the black shirts, grew in numbers. Street fights with socialists became commonplace as did blackmailing of and violence against politicians who resisted the fascists and fought for a democratic Italy. When deaths started to occur, even Mussolini thought that the fighting should stop. He put an end to the violence of his militias. He however did not succeed in becoming leader of Italy via the democratic route. To change this, Mussolini staged a coup known as the March on Rome. He and 60.000 of his supporters marched on Rome, among them many discontent veterans of the Great War. King Victor Emmanuel III could have ordered the army to put down the coup but did not to prevent bloodshed. Some historians argue that he let it happen to curb the rise of the socialists and communists. He started an autarky policy an attempted to raise Italian grain production. He also attempted to stimulate Italian automobile and aeronautics industry situated in northern Italy. As of 1922 the Italian automobile industry was only 15% of the size of British automobile industry. His economic policies led to a decent recovery. He also started militarizing Italy and education in schools became fervently nationalist in order to ‘rid Italy of the weak mentality that had lost it the war’ as Mussolini put it. But he also enacted Social programs and laid the foundations for a large welfare state. Mussolini styled himself ‘Il Duce’ and claimed he would rebuild the Roman Empire and that the Mediterranean would become ‘Mare Nostrum’ again.
France was in dire straits. A communist revolution erupted in 1919 and quickly spread across France. Only the military and German intervention could put an end to it. Civil unrest didn’t end there and martial law was declared until the end of the crisis. The French government temporarily moved to Bordeaux to escape the violence. Barricades were erected and crowds with red banners took to the streets, attacking property of the bourgeoisie and governmental institutions. It was during this period that the Parti National-Socialiste Français or PNSF arose. Its ideology shared many similarities with Italian fascism. The party was extremely nationalistic, conservative, Catholic, collectivist. The party also had some slight socialist tendencies but was virulently anti-communist. Unlike Mussolini’s fascist party it was very anti-Semitic and also had some sort of mystical racial ideology in which races were organized into categories. The Germanic and Aryan races were considered superior. Southern Europeans, Latin Americans and Asians would be allowed to share in the spoils of war. The Saharan people, Jews and negroes were considered inferior and would serve only as slave labour. They would be reduced to docile peasants and workers who provided cheap food and consumer products for their French overlords. The Jews would be removed from France proper and would become what was known as ‘elite slaves’. Many of them were teachers, bankers, bookmakers and accountants and those would be exempt from manual labour. A similar movement arose in Germany called the NSDAP which gained about 15% of popular after the crisis hit in 1929. Its leader, Adolf Hitler, retired from political life in 1939 and became a moderately successful painter. Emperor Wilhelm IV would buy one of his paintings in 1954, three years before Hitler’s death.
The party arose slowly but surely with Philippe Henriot as its leader. He proved to be a good orator and would become known as one of the greatest demagogues of the twentieth century. The PNSF got 22% of popular vote in the next elections. In the Toulon city council the PNSF got a majority in 1927. In 1925 Germany occupied northern France because the French could no longer pay the war reparations. This aggravated the crisis in France and the PNSF propaganda machine spewed anti-German rhetoric and rhetoric against what they called ‘the January Criminals’. This was a reference to the French capitulation in 1918. The PNSF supported the theory that France had been stabbed in the back and could have won the war. The party’s party militia, the Milice, started a guerrilla war against the Germans with stolen mothballed old French army equipment. It wasn’t until 1926 that the Germans left. This didn’t mean recovery. The Germans had an economic crisis of their own as the Americans wanted their loans back. France had American loans as well and hyperinflation got worse. The French were the poorest people in western Europe. In 1933 yet another election was organized because the government failed to combat the economic crisis, rampant hyperinflation and high unemployment rates. The National-Socialists received 40% of popular vote and formed a coalition with the Catholics, the fascist Mouvement Franciste and the nationalist and monarchist Action Française. Henriot suspended the constitution and was granted dictatorial powers to combat the crisis. He styled himself ‘Le Guide’. His propaganda skills quickly made him popular.
Russia had also fallen to totalitarianism but, unlike France and Italy, had become communist. By 1922 the communists controlled all of Russia thanks to the fact that the White forces were too divided to stop them which ensured their defeat. In the early years Lenin allowed the existence of private property to a certain extent within the context of a socialist economy. This was known as the New Economic Policy or NEP for short. Lenin recognized that introducing a collectivist economy on his model could potentially lead to an economic disaster. This policy was a success and 1913 levels of production were restored by 1921. This policy was ended by his successor; Stalin. He had won a power struggle with Trotsky who contested his rule. He had achieved this through clever political scheming. Trotsky propagated the world revolution. Stalin favoured building Socialism in one Country which was much more feasible according to him as the Soviet Union was still very weak and in no way ready to spread the teachings of Marx and Lenin. Stalin started a program of ruthless industrialization with his first five year plan in 1928. His situation was problematic because of the loss of Ukraine to Germany. Ukraine was a valuable agricultural region. Stalin started the so-called Virgin Lands project which was a three year plan to cultivate Central Asia and the Caucasus. Many settlers moved to Kazakhstan and the Volga region. The program yielded good results and the production of grain, potatoes, cabbage, pork, veal and poultry increased 50-60% over three years. The five year plan went well. Stalin claimed that it had achieved its aims for 95% in four years. This wasn’t true but results were impressive. He had managed to industrialize the USSR with internal means and grain exports. The output of coal, pig iron, iron ore and steel doubled and the country was electrified. In 1934 he felt that the NEP was no longer necessary and collectivized agriculture in accordance with Leninist teachings. This caused a famine that killed five million people but Stalin was ruthless. Millions of so-called kulaks were deported. And Stalin was worshipped for it; the people indoctrinated by propaganda adored him.
Japan also lapsed into authoritarianism. After the war Japan felt unsatisfied. The pro-democratic group insisted that the military had failed and wanted to cut the budget. The militarists and nationalists argued that the weakness and unwillingness of the government and lack of funding were the blame of their failure to defeat China. The military ultimately gained the upper hand and Japan started a major fleet expansion program. Japan was a military dictatorship and the democratically elected government was rendered virtually powerless. The Japanese people were fed nationalist propaganda and became fanatics. This fanaticism would show itself in the next war.
The Old World Burns, A history of American Economic Expansion 1918-1940
America after the Great War was a prosperous nation unlike many European countries which now lay in ruins, faced a severe recession and were racked by communist insurrections. America had no such problems as it had only fought for a few months and no combat had taken place on American soil. America was now the world’s sole holder of major credit and most of Europe was indebted to the United States. America had no pity with old Europe and didn’t care much if Europeans were hungry. The Americans started to call in loans from European countries mercilessly. This contributed to American economic growth. America had perhaps the largest consumer industry in the world and with the collapse of the old European order, many new markets became available to America such as Japan and China who were deadlocked in an arms race and cold war and were vying for the position of dominant power of Asia. America was no definitely the world’s foremost economic superpower, replacing countries like Great Britain and Germany. America invested in many markets around the world and American products but also raw materials became commonplace in western Europe. The calling in of loans worsened the economic situation in Europe. Germany was going mainly on American credit. The Germans attempted to combat this by sucking every last penny out of France in so-called war reparations. The annexing of Czechia and Austria in 1920 also boosted the empire with the Skoda factories. This was barely enough to keep the empire’s head above the surface. The French had no such luck and become impoverished. The British went into a recession as much as Germany and the rest of Europe and withdrew from world affairs and into Splendid Isolation although Britain did support China as a counter to Japanese imperialism on occasion. Britain relied upon its Commonwealth to survive the crisis. Perhaps the only European country not indebted to the US was the USSR which was an autarky and thus relied solely on its own means.
The influx of eastern European immigrants further spurred American economic growth. After the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Germany had annexed the Czech and Austrian lands of the empire. Unlike Austria-Hungary however, Germany was a mostly homogenous state with a clear German majority which dominated the country. The Czechs and Poles barely made 15% of the empire’s population and they didn’t have much of a say in the way the Germans were running thinks. Because the Germans had such a large majority, they were able to control the Poles and Czechs without too much trouble. This, along with the postwar recession, led to a major emigration from the Polish and Czech lands to America. The majority of these Poles and Czechs were unskilled labour and were of great use in many construction projects in the postwar United States. Many Slavic people also left eastern Europe as their was no prospects for the future. Germany had economic hegemony and eastern European businesses were often unsuccessful. By 1930 America housed large Czech, Polish and Slavic communities.
The American economy went well and Republican Herbert Hoover was reelected president of the United States. He mostly continued America’s postwar isolationist policies. America had returned to isolationism after France and Britain had bailed out of the war in 1918. He however didn’t miss chances to expand European markets. After the Great War China and Japan achieved a status quo ante bellum peace via American mediation, much to discontent of both countries. Now they were locked in a cold war as their forces stared angrily at each other from the opposing banks of the Yalu river and Japanese and Chinese ships patrolled the seas within range of each others guns. America benefited greatly from this and played off the two Asian great powers. This cold war distracted them and thus withheld them from ever turning against America. America fuelled the cold war by supporting both sides. Japan needed raw materials such as American oil, coal and steel which Japan sorely needed. China had enough raw materials and more than sufficient unskilled labour. The Chinese instead enlisted American technical expertise. Many ships in the Imperial Chinese Navy, ICN, were designed by Americans and based on existing designs. Japanese naval commanders would notice that many Chinese ships resembled known American ship classes. America would benefit even more when war broke out as both Japan and China wanted more aid. The American government under Hoover’s democratic successor Roosevelt would cream off the profits, making the government rich and building up an immense cash reserve to counter a slight economic malaise that set in during the early thirties.
Rise of the Asian tigers, China & Japan 1918-1933
China had proven itself a tough opponent during the Great War. The people of China were very industrious and they started to rebuild the damaged part of their nation with great diligence. It turned out that China had large deposits of coal, the largest in the world. This was used in the rebuilding process. Coal was the basis for a modern economy and was used in electricity and steel production. The Chinese started to build up their economy which would be based on steel industry, heavy industry, electricity production and a large labour intensive agricultural sector. China’s principal export products were heavy machinery, weapons, steel, coal, rice, wheat and soy beans. Several large construction projects were undertaken such as the complete renovation of Beijing to modern western standards. Large parts of the city were torn down and completely rebuilt from the ground up. Modern houses and high rise tower blocks arose which all had an electricity and water supply. A large monument to the fallen of the war was also erected. The face of the city completely changed as slums were torn down and their impoverished people, among them war veterans, were provided with jobs. The dim, moist and unhygienic alleys and back streets were replaced by avenues which could accommodate the increasing traffic in the capital city of the Chinese Empire. The car was a relatively new invention but was gaining momentum in China. Trucks were used to transport both raw materials and finished goods in China faster than any ox or horse drawn cart ever could. The cities were also electrified. China had large coal deposits which were used to generate electricity. China was also very mountainous and made good use of this. China built several large hydroelectric power plants or dams, among them the Emperor Dam which would remain the largest dam in the world until the completion of the Grand Coulee Dam in America in 1942. It was completed in 1927 which means that its record held for fifteen years.
The government also encouraged private enterprise and bazaars and markets were commonplace on the wide avenues and squares that were created for this purpose. Many small businesses also arose. Many other Chinese cities were rebuilt in this way as well and the reforms of the Guangxu Emperor finally reached the people. Several agricultural reforms took place in an attempt to modernize this traditionally labour intensive sector and to increase the welfare of the peasants which were generally still quite poor. A redistribution of the land and subsidizing of farm equipment were among these reforms. China imported mostly American equipment and China’s machine building industry shamelessly started making similar machinery and sell them at much lower prices. China’s ability to deliver cheap products was a reason for China’s economic growth and explained how China could afford these construction projects.
A large railway network was already in place before the war and it increased. By 1933 it would be one hundred and ten thousand kilometres long with the finishing of the Great North-South line and the Trans-China line. The North-South line was over 2300 kilometres long and connected the major eastern and coastal cities, starting at Beijing and running through Tianjin, Jinan, Qing Dao, Hefei, Nanjing, Shanghai, Fuzhou and Hong Kong to end at Macau. Many other railroads branched of from this line. The Trans-China line was over 3000 kilometres long and linked Beijing with Artux, China’s western most settlement. The construction of both lines took nearly a decade and thousands worked on it. When finished, these railroads greatly improved China’s infrastructure and travel time to any point in China was drastically cut from weeks to mere days. They were also a propaganda stunt by the government and were heralded as a great achievement of the Chinese people. By train one could travel from east to west in around three days and from north to south in two. The Guangxu Emperor personally opened both lines. China’s economy was growing; growing fast.
Japan responded to this increasingly strong China by becoming increasingly militarized. Korea was utilized for its large coal, brown coal and iron ore supplies to build up a large military and navy. This was one of the reasons of the Washington Naval Conference in 1922. China was recognized as a great power by now as was Japan and both were invited. Neither wanted to limit his navy to the advantage of the other. China and Japan had much to fear from each other. China had a very long coastline to protect and Japan was an island empire and could easily be cut off from the rest of the world which would result in starvation. The representatives of both China and Japan left the conference which broke up as a result. With China and Japan increasing their naval forces, Britain didn’t want to fall behind and Germany didn’t want to fall behind on the British and so on. China now recognized the need for a large navy and started a construction program in 1923 to catch up with the larger Japanese navy. Japan started to focus on its naval air force arm after witnessing how American bombs easily sunk a captured Austrian battleship. The navy was divided as to whether battleships or aircraft carriers should be given priority and so both lines of ships were developed. By the start of the Second Great War the Japanese naval air arm would be the best in the world. The Chinese had little experience in shipbuilding as most of its ships were bought from Germany. China hired German and later also American experts to design new ships for the Imperial Chinese Navy. To compensate for lack of numbers, China built several large battleships. The largest was the Guangxu-class battleships which had a tonnage of over 58.000 tons and were armed with eight 42 cm guns in double turrets. A total of six of these monsters were built and wouldn’t be surpassed until the advent of the Japanese Yamato-class. Another class was designed to counter the ever increasing Japanese battleships, the Qing-class. It had twelve 40.6 cm guns for main armament and weighed in at 65.000 tons. Though lighter and with a smaller caliber main gun, they were very effective. Three were finished. Several fast battleships were also built which were based on the design of the Japanese Kongo-class. Destroyers, torpedo boats, submarines and numerous lesser vessels were built. In 1923 China also launched its first purpose built carrier, like Japan had done in 1921. That carrier, known as Hosho, was the first purpose built carrier in the world. Japan had the most experience in carrier building and naval aviation and the Chinese design subsequently copied a lot. In time China would design her own carriers. It would be only a matter of time before China overtook Japan. The naval race was on.
The Bear vs. the Dragon: Sino-Soviet border conflict of 1932-1933
It was in 1932 that Stalin felt confident enough to test Chinese strength, against the urging of many of his generals such as Mikhail Tuchachevsky. Stalin had completed his first five year plan at this time and the Soviet Union was industrialized by now. Production of coal, integral for fueling modern economies and Stalinist industrialization, had increased from 35.4 million tons to 64 million tons, pig iron output, necessary for further development of the industrial infrastructure, had risen from 3.3 to 6.2 million tons and iron ore output had risen from 5.7 to 19 million tons. Several large industrial complexes had been built or were under construction such as Magnitogorsk, Kuznetsk, the Moscow and Gorky automobile plants, the Urals and Kramatorsk heavy machinery plants and the Stalingrad and Chelyabinsk tractor plants. These were all centers of heavy industry and formed the nexus of the Soviet economy. The Soviet economy had been modernized and many new production processes had been imported or developed. The army had also benefited from this industrialization as the Soviet Union could now produce tanks such as the T-18, T-19 and the new, recently introduced, T-26. The former two were based on the Renault FT-17 and the T-26 was a copy of the Vickers 6-ton. Stalin now wanted to test China’s willingness to fight over the territories it had gained in the peace of 1917. By now the communists regarded themselves as the rightful rulers of all territory belonging to the former Russian Empire.
He would be facing a modernized Chinese army. China had learned a great deal of the Great War and many new theories had been developed to prevent a stalemate from occurring in any future war as part of the militarization against Japan. China wanted a quick, decisive victory. China’s arms race with Japan was happening on land as well. China had conducted maneuvers with storm trooper tactics to circumvent enemy trenches with a great deal of success. China had practiced a lot with this and storm trooper infantry was now an integral part of Chinese strategic thinking. China’s large population made it fairly easy to create a large infantry based army. Chinese military theorists and strategists also looked favourably upon the development of armoured vehicles such as tanks and armoured cars. The British had used these in the Great War several times to punch through enemy lines and break the stalemate. At the time tanks were only available in limited numbers and their impact on the course of the war was therefore limited. Nevertheless, the Chinese general staff saw their potential and recognized what large numbers of tanks could do. In 1920 the Chinese enlisted French company Renault to produce the FT-17 for the Chinese army. The French did a lot of outsourcing to build up their military strength in secret and avoid the restrictions of the Treaty of Frankfurt and readily agreed. This tank was perhaps one of the most influential of the twentieth century. It was the first tank with a fully rotating turret, driver in front and the engine in the back. This design would be repeated over and over again. It had either a 37 mm gun or a 7.92 mm machine gun for main armament. Renault factories in China produced many thousands of them. Another tank in the Chinese inventory was the Vickers 6-ton. China enlisted Vickers to build these as a replacement for the FT-17. Many thousands of FT-17s would serve alongside the Vickers 6-ton in the next war though. China, in both cases, chose quantity over quality as that was China’s strength. This would change later. The Vickers 6-ton was produced in both the A and B versions. The A version housed two Vickers 7.9 mm machine guns. This tank would prove devastating against infantry. The B version packed a 47 mm short barreled main gun and a machine gun for secondary armament. The Red Army’s T-26 was a slightly inferior copy with a 45 mm gun.
The opposing countries’ air forces were both fairly large. They were very conventional for their time and made use of biplanes, like all air forces of the day did. The Soviets used the Polikarpov I-3 and I-5, Tupolev I-4 and a recently introduced fighter, the modern Polikarpov I-15. All of these designs borrowed heavily from western designs. The I-5 for example used a British Bristol Jupiter VII engine for propulsion. The new I-15 was the most advanced fighter in the Soviet arsenal. It could reach top speeds of over 350 km/h and could carry four fixed forward-firing 7.62 mm machine guns or two fixed forward-firing 12.7 mm machine guns. It could also carry a payload consisting of 100 kg of bombs or six RS-82 rockets in later versions. China used the Nieuport-Delage 52 which was a match for anything the Soviets had except the I-15. The Chinese also had several British Bristol Bulldogs and Hawker Fury’s, American Boeing P-12s and about a hundred of the brand new monoplane American P-26 fighter. These were produced under license in most cases.
When looking purely at the technological side, one might say the Red Army and Chinese army were equal. China at this time had the largest standing army in the world with the USSR in second place. Despite being in second place, the Red Army was still outnumbered by the Chinese army 3:2 in peace time. If China mobilized every single able bodied man, this ratio would likely change to about 5:1. Secondly, thanks to German aid the Chinese army had good officers, at least as good if not better than those of the Red Army. Nevertheless Stalin decided to try his luck as he believed he could get away with it. What he would get would be more than he bargained for. The conflict started in November 1932 when Soviet forces moved the border markings and claimed two hills in Chinese territory. The Chinese response was swift and strong. An expeditionary force was sent in to drive out the insolent Russians. This they did with great diligence. The Chinese army pushed the Soviets out of Chinese territory and over the next few weeks Stalin had a full scale war on his hands. It turned out that the Chinese were very willing to fight. Chinese tank divisions and infantry divisions started to arrive in large numbers. Initially Soviet commander Tuchachevsky had a numerical advantage with about 52.000 men facing about 23.000 entrenched Chinese. Within a week over 60.000 Chinese reinforcements had arrived, fully equipped with artillery, machine guns, mortars and tanks and provided with air support. A battle ensued and Stalin quickly made peace and withdrew his forces in January 1933. This display of Chinese strength was probably the main reason why Japan decided on a preemptive strike, thereby igniting the Second Sino-Japanese war and a reason for Stalin to initiate his military first policy.
Rising Tensions, The Silence before the Storm 1933-1942
Clash of the Dragons, Second Sino-Japanese war
It was in 1933 that the Japanese leadership made its decision to attack China. China had shown off its strength against the Red Army, not the most formidable opponent in 1933 but not weak either. China was growing stronger militarily by the day and economically as well. The Chinese economy was already larger than the Japanese economy and production rates of automobiles were growing. In time the Chinese army would have the largest tank arm in the world and then Japan would no longer be able to win. The Japanese army had a tank arm as well as a response to China’s tank arm. In contrast to China however, Japan had focused on quality over quantity as the Japanese knew they could never keep up with Chinese production rates. The Chinese already had twenty armoured divisions. Chinese shipyards built more and more ships for the growing Imperial Chinese Navy. A new fleet program had been initiated in 1933 by the Chinese. The Japanese knew that if they didn’t move now, China would overtake them as the leading power of Asia in both the economic and military sense. It is estimated that by 1937 the Chinese navy would actually be larger than the Japanese navy. Japan’s decision to go to war had been made several months before the actual attack took place. This was revealed by recently released documents, showing that Japan was out for war and that there was no reasoning with them. Japan wanted to act before China grew too strong to defeat.
Japan started to mobilize in preparation for the operation. At the time spy planes and satellites didn’t exist. If any such surprise attack would be attempted today, it would have been discovered quickly by the Chinese. In 1933 that wasn’t the case and those in charge in Beijing were completely oblivious as to what the Japanese were planning. They knew about the activity going on south of the Yalu river but thought it to be a military exercise. Japan had done this several times to scare the pants off the Chinese and ascertain Japanese dominance. So far the Chinese weren’t very impressed by these overt threats to their country and remained confident in their newly found strength. Several Chinese generals urged the Emperor that this time it was different but he didn’t act since he didn’t want to provoke the Japanese and seem aggressive. The Japanese had meticulously planned the attack. The goal of the operation was to seize Manchuria which was the most industrialized region. At the same time the Japanese navy would draw the Chinese navy out to open sea and go to battle to them. The Japanese at this time outnumbered the Chinese 3:2 in ships. The loss of their navy and much of their industry, and thus there ability to fight a mechanized, mobile war, would make China surrender and put Japan in a position to force terms upon the Chinese. They drew upon their experience from the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905. They figured that China would respond in a similar way to such a catastrophic defeat; they were wrong.
The first Japanese forces crossed the Yalu river on June 25th 1933 at 5:30 AM. A declaration of war over some vague border incident was delivered to the Chinese Emperor a few hours later by the Japanese ambassador. The Chinese garrisons were caught completely off guard when the first Japanese artillery shells landed right on top of their positions. The Chinese and Japanese had constructed heavily defended lines on their respective sides of the river. Many thousands of bunkers, miles of barbed wire and trenches, over two million landmines and many thousands of artillery positions had been built. The Chinese were off guard and in most cases they didn’t get a chance to set off the charges under the bridges crossing the Yalu. The Chinese resisted valiantly; they fought until their was no man left standing. This should have been an indication to the Japanese on how the war would be. The Japanese pushed on and landed an amphibious force behind the Chinese defenders. They attacked Chinese lines in the back, not expecting to find mobile defense forces and minefields there, readied in advance just in case such a scenario unfolded. Chinese FT-17s and Vickers 6-tons engaged the Japanese invaders. The Japanese used storm trooper tactics to penetrate Chinese defenses with success. It still took them over two days to clear out the defenders but in the end the Japanese local numerical advantage made the difference. The border battle lasted for several days and the Japanese took heavy casualties in the order of a 3:1 ratio. Chinese forces were overwhelmed and enveloped in the end. The Japanese then proceeded to advance toward predetermined targets. The lack of strategic reserves in the region immediately behind the lines and a slow response from Beijing made this easier. The Chinese Emperor took command of the Chinese army. His ineptitude led to initial Chinese defeats. He issued his infamous stand fast order. As a result many Chinese units up to division sized ones were surrounded and went down fighting, sending Chinese casualty rates sky high. The Japanese captured Manchuria in six months and the Chinese government relocated to Xi’an. China however refused to surrender, much to shock of the Japanese militarist elite who, despite their initial successes, were unprepared for a long conflict with China.
The naval war didn’t go as well as the Japanese had expected either. On June 26th the Chinese and Japanese fleets clashed in the Yellow Sea. The Chinese fleet had seen a lot of modernization during the past decade and proved to be potent adversary even though the Japanese fleet was larger. The proud battle lines of both fleets fought each other and shells rained down on the ships. Both nations possessed aircraft carriers although Japan had more of them and had the most experience in naval aviation and combat. The battle ended in a Pyrrhic victory for the Japanese. The battle was indecisive as both navies had failed to destroy the other. The Japanese claimed victory as they had lost only 50.000 tons of shipping whereas the Chinese had lost over 120.000 tons. This war would be long.
The Rise of the Fascist Block
In Europe a fascist block was rising. France and Italy were the principal powers. France was the weakest but grew stronger with limited American support as a counter to German hegemony in Europe. The Americans provided the French with low interest loans to let their economy recover. They also imported French products. This would change with Roosevelt’s presidency which started in 1937. He was a virulent anti-fascist. In 1933 Henriot instituted programs to increase France’s birth rate. France had suffered many casualties in the war which meant less soldiers for the upcoming war that Henriot had planned. He introduced grants for people with children and women with four children or more got a medal and a 1.000 francs prize. In 1935 he made his first open anti-German move that went further than just rhetoric. His Milice units reoccupied several demilitarized zones on the Franco-German border and in northern France. The Germans were scared by how large the French military had become, not knowing that they were paramilitary forces. Germany and France signed the treaty of Straatsburg which allowed France to have 550.000 men in service in total, including reservists. The Social-democrat government of the day didn’t want war. Emperor Wilhelm II protested vociferously of course. The socialists did approve a new naval bill which cause a lot of controversy within the ranks of the SPD. France didn’t regard the Milice as soldiers and immediately acted to expand the army.
In 1936 the Spanish civil war started with the French and Italians supporting the Nationalists and the USSR supported the Republicans. The Republicans were social-democrats who had issued several controversial reforms. They had introduced anticlerical reforms and had redistributed the land to the peasants, much against the likings of the conservative elite. There were many other reasons. The Republican government wanted to regionalize Spain and give the Basques independence, according to rumours, leading to a Spanish federation. The Nationalists feared that Spain would fall apart and acted. It wasn’t the first time. Spain was an empire in decay and internal strife had divided it many times. When in 1936 the message ‘all over Spain the skies are clear’ was broadcast, the military started to move. On cue French forces crossed the border into Spain and crushed loyalist forces. The German block didn’t support either side. Wilhelm II personally favoured the nationalists but didn’t have the power to go it alone. French planes stationed near the Pyrenees bombed predetermined targets such as infrastructure and Republican radio stations to disrupt government communications and coordination. This sadly caused a lot of collateral damage. Apart from the French, the Italians and Portuguese also lent their support to Franco an his Nationalists. France contributed over 50.000 men equipped with tanks, machine guns, mortars and heavy artillery. Many of these weapons were forbidden for the French army but France had rearmed in secret, by means of outsourcing among other things. They also provided air cover in the shape of the Eagle Legion. France was too weak to challenge Germany which still massively outnumbered it but could give anyone else a bloody nose. The Italians provided over 70.000 men and Portugal sent a few thousand men strong volunteer legion.
The Republicans received aid from the Soviet Union but it wasn’t yet a power to be reckoned with at this time, not militarily anyway. Many volunteers swarmed in from all over the world to support the Republicans and prevent Spain from falling to fascism. The French army was tested in combat for the first time. It used a tactic that would become known as ‘guerre de foudre’ which the Germans called blitzkrieg. It revolved around the massed use of armoured formations. They would break through enemy lines and exploit the benefit as much as possible. They would make massive use of air and artillery support. The fact that within nine months the Franco-Italian forces established air supremacy only helped. The French also did limited adventures with paratroopers with success. The tactic was a success and would be adopted by other nations and France would use it again successfully at the start of the Second Great War. French, Italian, Portuguese and Nationalist forces captured the capital by early 1937 and a few months later it was over. José Antonio Primo de Rivera was installed as ‘líder’ of Spain as he was the front man of the fascist Falange party. He enjoyed broadest support, Mussolini was a great supporter. Henriot was a little less enthusiastic for his lack of anti-Semitism and because he didn’t support French racial teachings. It was however general Franco who truly ruled Spain from behind the curtains.
The French continued to rearm with help from Italy among other things. Italy had always been friendly to France during the twentieth century. Franco-Italian relations experienced a down turn in the immediate aftermath of the Great War since Italy didn’t achieve its goals. France and Britain were cursed a lot in Mussolini’s propaganda of the early twenties, calling them weak and unreliable. Italy got what it wanted later at the signing of the Treaty of Budapest in 1920. One obstacle to a Franco-Italian alliance was gone. In 1935 Mussolini attacked Abyssinia. He had encroached on its territory earlier but nothing had happened. Mussolini used brutal tactics to make the Abyssinians surrender such as poison gas and terror bombing when conventional warfare proved to be too slow for the impatient fascist dictator. He even attacked Red Cross convoys. This left Italy slightly isolated with France as the only friendly country to turn to. Mussolini despised French anti-Semitism but supported France anyway. In 1936 the Paris-Rome axis was formed as an anti-communist alliance officially. It was anti-German as well though they didn’t openly challenge the Germans as of yet. Spain and Portugal were later bribed into the alliance. This left Europe in a tripolar setting. The German block dominated central and eastern Europe and was the strongest economically. The French, Italians, Spanish and Portuguese formed the Western Alliance and were growing stronger. The third power which was disliked by both other blocks was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or USSR. It was the only communist nation in the world and Stalin’s ruthless industrialization had made it the world’s third largest industrial power, slightly ahead of China and slightly behind on Germany and the US. By 1940 the Soviet industrial base would be larger than that of Germany and the entire German block would hardly be able to surpass it in terms of production. Europe was once again set up for war.
The causes can be found at the end of the First Great War. Germany stood triumphant and had set up a large sphere of influence in eastern Europe. Great Britain got away with an easy peace as Germany was unable to force terms upon her. France was not so lucky and was brutally gutted at with a dictated peace known as the Treaty of Frankfurt. The French military was shrunk to a token force and France was forced to pay huge war indemnities. France also lost a significant amount of territory in Africa to the Germans. France was then wracked by a communist uprising, economic crisis, rampant hyperinflation and poverty. This led to the rise of the Philippe Henriot’s National-Socialist PNSF. The French virulently hated the Germans and wanted to break the German Empire and voted for radical extremist parties such as the communists and fascists. In the end the fascists prevailed. This had led to a militarization of France. Tanks, planes, machine guns and such had been purchased or made in France which had made a miraculous economic recovery. This didn’t solve the numerical disparity between Germany and France but the French military was certainly better in terms of organization as the swift action of the French military in Spain had shown.
Another cause was certain personalities. The flamboyant Mussolini for example saw himself as a new Julius Caesar or Augustus. He would unite the Mediterranean sea under Italian hegemony and thereby create a new Roman Empire. The Mediterranean would become ‘Mare Nostrum’ again as it had been under the rule of the Caesars of Rome such as Augustus, Trajan and so. Mussolini had already annexed Abyssinia as part of his grand scheme to restore Rome to its rightful place under the sun. Italy had also become increasingly militarist. With the disappearance of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires and the rise a friendly fascist France, Italy was left the dominant force in the Mediterranean sea. Mussolini had built four Littorio-class battleships and an aircraft carrier after French urging. The outcome of this war however would be determined on land. Henriot was quite a personality as well. He hated Germany. He had already remilitarized France and had rebuilt the economy but that wasn’t enough. He wanted to return to the Napoleonic era where France had dominated Europe. He attempted to do so by having Italy woo the various smaller Balkan states and Turkey who managed to get the Bulgarians to join and moderately awake Turkish interest. The Kingdom of Hungary was Habsburg and pro-German and was therefore not interested. The last and perhaps most mysterious dictator of Europe was Stalin, the absolute ruler of the Soviet Union, the Red Tsar. No one knew his intentions and many eastern European nations had militarized to a high degree with German aid in case he tried anything. His intentions wouldn’t be revealed until very late.
Other causes for this conflict were militarism, imperialism and nationalism in general. France for example wanted its colonies back and Italy wanted to expand at the expense of other colonial powers such as Germany and perhaps later Britain. Portugal joined the fascist allies to get back at Germany as well as it had annexed Angola. Japan also wanted to grow. In 1933 it had started the Second Sino-Japanese war to cut short the growth of Imperial China. It had already annexed Korea in 1910 and Taiwan in 1895. When America instituted an embargo, it sought to expand further, but not without allies. In 1938 France, Italy, Japan, Spain and Portugal created an alliance.
The opposing sides were the German block on one side, also known as the Central Powers and the fascist block on the other side. The German block was of course dominated by Germany which had become the largest economic power in Europe, more so after annexing the Austrian and Czech lands of the Habsburg Empire. It was the second largest steel producer in the world, second only to the United States. Regions such as the Ruhr area, Silesia and Bohemia were economic hubs of the empire as they were rich in coal and iron ore. Heavy industry, coal mines and steel industry were important sectors but so were heavy machinery, electronics and a growing consumer industry. This was backed by the resources of a large colonial Empire in Africa. Germany also had a large army which heavily focused on storm trooper tactics and the large scale use of artillery. This army was the largest in Europe but was doctrinally inferior to the French army. Tanks and aircraft would be used in support roles and Germany adhered to the Douhet doctrine which favoured bombers. Germany actually had more tanks than France and of a well design too but used them in the wrong way. This would come to haunt them in the war. The German navy on the other hand was the second largest in the world and was among the strongest in the world. The French navy posed no threat to German naval power.
The Germans had their allies in eastern Europe as well although they were more of economic than military value as they provided the Germans with raw materials. During the war they would assist with valuable reinforcements. These countries also possessed large deposits of coal and iron ore which fuelled heavy industry and Germany’s war machine. The armies they possessed were based on the German army and were organized along Prussian lines. They were equipped with German equipment as German weapons manufacturers had a monopoly in eastern Europe. They were generally not big enough to challenge Germany but enough to deter Stalin so far. The states themselves were industrialized with German aid. Ukraine had a large industrial region around the Donetsk basin and around Odessa. These were regional powerhouses of heavy industry, coal mining, steel production, arms manufacturing and ship building. Poland had a similar industrial region around Warsaw. This along with Baltic, Polish and Ukrainian grain would keep the German block going.
The opposing side consisted of France and its mediocre Portuguese, Spanish and Italian allies and Japan. France had a top notch army with semi-automatic weapons for infantry instead of bolt action rifles, a unified tank arm and a strong modern air force to support the ground forces in blitzkrieg action. The French army was highly professional which compensated for the lack of numbers. France recruited Great War veterans who were in their early to mid forties and still the German army was larger. The Italian army was generally more conservative in its organization and still used tanks and airplanes as infantry support, like Germany did but with a generally incompetent and reactionary leadership which resented change. Spain at the end of the 30s and start of the 40s was still reeling from the civil war which had torn apart the country for over a year. Sporadic guerrilla resistance was still common. Italian and French shipments of coal, petroleum, steel and grain helped speed up recovery. The Spanish army was in a transitional phase between the Italian and French standards which wouldn’t be complete when the war started. Spanish leaders, though elitist and aristocratic, proved to be at least semi-competent, more so since they had very recent experience. This competence avoided Spanish entry into the war as they recognized Spain’s bad position and because they doubted whether Germany would fold as quickly as predicted. Portugal was a minor Axis country and generally copied the other three which resulted in a weird but surprisingly functional mishmash. Japan wouldn’t be involved in the early phases of the war but its navy was a potent challenger, especially when fuelled with oil bought from France. Its army lacked tanks but those weren’t of much use in the jungles of southeast Asia. The Japanese navy and air force were formidable and would cause a lot of trouble for the Dutch and British colonial fleets as the former would be invaded by France and the latter would look one warily at what was going on on the continent, sitting behind the Royal Navy and RAF.
The technology with which the war would be waged differed radically from what had been used during the First Great War. Aeronautics was given much more importance as planes had made much progress. French dive bombers had proven deadly during the Spanish civil war. They were much faster than much more maneuverable than their wood and fabric biplane predecessors of 1914-1918. Speeds of half the speed of sound or more were common. Automatic and semi-automatic weaponry along with less cumbersome portable mortars, field telephones and field radios made infantry much more effective and independent. Tanks would also become prominent as they had gone a long way since the sluggish British monsters of 1917. They had turrets and much better engines which gave them the mobility needed for blitzkrieg. Tank design during this time period was similar in most countries. Tanks were generally lightly armoured when compared to late war models. Armour thickness often didn’t exceed 30 mm or so and the calibers of main guns were rarely over 50 mm. The most common tank for the French was the Char B3, a variant of the Char B1 which was faster and boasted thicker frontal armour, followed by the Somua S35. The Germans used the Panzer II and Panzer III which were generally inferior to French tanks but available in larger numbers. The Panzer IV would be more up to size to face the French although the Panzer V would really solve the problem and that tank wasn’t fielded in large numbers until 1944, after the end of the war. The Italians used the light tank M11/39 and several variants. The USSR mass produced the BT series and T-26 until the late 30s. They would be succeeded by the KV-1 and the T-34 which appeared in 1942. China used license produced Vickers 6-tons and FT-17s although they would produce their own tank designs soon.
Communication technology had also developed with leaps and bounds. In 1914 field radios and telephones were very new and were often unreliable and many units still used couriers to deliver messages. Morse code was also implemented in combat and would see even more use in this war. Several codes had been developed as well and huge computing devices would be used to crack them, most notably during the Battle of the Atlantic to track down French ships. Planes which were sent to bomb enemy targets were often guided with radio signals. Several countries were also independently researching radar which stands for radio detection and ranging. In Germany it was known as FunkMessGerät or FMG for short. It works by means of radio or micro waves which reflect from objects. Initially it was researched for military purposes but today it is used for air traffic control, meteorological purposes and measuring the height of waves. There was also one more piece of technology that would eventually determine victory, the atomic bomb.
The war would start in 1942 after several years of rising tensions. France had remilitarized and had occupied all demilitarized zone. The microstate of Monaco had been pressed into forming a customs union with France and was forced to allow French forces on its soil. The Italians had done the same to San Marino under Mussolini’s leadership. In 1941 France outright annexed Monaco and the royal family of the little country went into exile in Switzerland. Some Germans looked on warily at the growing strength of the fascists but Germany did nothing as it felt secure. The Prussian militarist elite generally believed that they could defeat France and Italy in any war. In 1941 Emperor Wilhelm II died and was succeeded by his son Wilhelm III who could do nothing to stop the coming war in its tracks. He had favoured early intervention against France but no one heeded his warnings.
He decided that he would intervene the next time the French crossed the line. His strength of will was tested sooner than he had expected. As part of Henriot’s policy to unite all Francophone people under one banner, France attempted to bring Belgium into France’s sphere of influence with the ultimate goal of annexing the French speaking Wallonia and turning Flanders into a puppet state. The Belgians resisted any French attempts to curb Belgian sovereignty and self determination as they were very independent minded. Belgium didn’t like the fascist regime on its southern border and feared it. It resented Germany as well for what it had done during the Great War. Many had been executed as part of German attempts to suppress the resistance but this only strengthened it. Buildings were burnt down and pillaging had taken place. In 1918 the Belgian economy was in shambles. Yet Belgium looked to Germany for protection against the aggressive French regime. In December of 1941 Belgium signed the Mittel Europa charter and thus became part of the German block, enabling it to profit from military assistance and economic cooperation. Belgium had signed a pact with the devil to ward off an even worse evil. Belgium had also signed its own death warrant as this provoked immediate French action.
In April 1942 France staged a border incident and used this as a pretext to invade Belgium ‘and stop Belgian aggression and put an end to the artificial state that was Belgium’. Henriot and his gang of thugs mistakenly believed that Germany would not declare war to defend Belgium. They were wrong and Germany declared war as soon as the first French soldiers crossed the Belgian border. French commanders had fortunately prepared for this event and contingency plans were in place. French forces encountered unexpected resistance from the Belgians. They were very stubborn as the valiant defense of Namur showed. The fortresses only fell after being subjected to intense aerial bombardment, long after being surrounded. German forces at this time had mobilized and poured over Belgium’s eastern border to stop the advancing French. The highly mobile French army dashed through the Ardennes which were guarded by second rate Belgian and German units as this area was considered impassable for tanks. By now France had established air superiority over Belgium. They continued their advance into Holland to bypass heavy German border fortifications which extended along the Belgian border as well. The Dutch army was in no shape to combat the French and their blitzkrieg. They lacked artillery, had only one tank and about forty armoured cars and had less than two hundred planes for an air force. The Dutch army was crushed in a matter of days. German defenses did achieve the effect of channeling the French toward the north German plain, exactly where the Germans didn’t want them as this would expose the Ruhr area, Bremen and Hamburg. The Germans fortunately had sheer numbers and used them to stop the speedy French advance which had stunned some generals and had scared others witless. The rapid conquest of Belgium, Luxembourg and Holland was seen as a miracle. From now on Prussian military minds would listen to innovators such as Erwin Rommel and Heinz Guderian. The French were finally stopped at Wilhelmshaven were sheer numbers and the High Seas Fleet’s big guns smashed the French armoured spearheads. They also got awfully close to Bremen and its shipyards. The French fell back and dug in for what would be another war in the trenches, but this time in northern Germany.
In southern Europe Italy had declared war under heavy French pressure. The Italians made inroads into Austria, at the coveted Brenner pass among other places. Unlike the French, the incompetent Italian army quickly got bogged down in alpine trench warfare after only a few weeks. German alpine forces and decent border defenses caused heavy casualties for Italy. In a way this was similar to how the Great War had been fought between Austria-Hungary and Italy except for the fact that Italy was now facing a much more unified, disciplined and competent enemy. Italian offensives continued much like in the first Great War. They attempted to reach Vienna and Mussolini got the silly idea in his head of trying to reach the Danube river and restore the northern border of Roman Empire which was of course an unachievable goal and the Italian invaders were repulsed before they even got to Vienna. Spain at this time didn’t declare war as Franco stopped it. Portugal did the same as both countries were too weak at the time. An Iberian volunteer legion was formed which was about 130.000 men strong and French equipped. France in the end decided to leave it this way as it didn’t want even more weak, useless allies.
The British position was a difficult one. They could support the fascists and let Germany be defeated, but then France and Italy would dominate the continent. Stalin would probably gobble up Germany’s eastern European vassals and leave Europe dominated by three hostile powers. In the end they might destroy each other but who said they wouldn’t try to subjugate Britain first. If they supported Germany then German dominance in Europe would continue and might even extend. Japan in the meantime was becoming a growing power in Asia and was clearly up to no good and had designs on Dutch and British possessions in the southeast Asia and the surrounding region. Britain therefore decided to support both sides in the conflict with weapons and cash in the hope of turning it into a stalemate and a negotiated peace.
While the stalemate continued, Germany started to churn out more and more weaponry. German industrial areas such as the Ruhr area, Bohemia and Silesia were now safe and more and more tanks came off the production lines, coal mines and steel factories started to seriously ramp up their production and food was being rationed; in short Germany was going into full war production. France and Italy had failed to defeat Germany quickly and the patriotic fervour of millions of Germans had been awoken. They had tried to destroy Germany and they had failed and now Germany was very pissed off; they had awoken a sleeping giant and it was now flexing its muscles of coal, steel and tanks. Germany now didn’t underestimated the French anymore and would use their own blitzkrieg against them as German tacticians such as Rommel and Guderian wanted. France at this time continued to launch offensives at German lines with a renewed élan but they didn’t penetrate much further into Germany. The economically vital areas such as Bremen, Hamburg and the Ruhr area remained out of reach.
During this time two other powers started to prepare for conflict. One was Stalin’s USSR which had seen fourteen years of industrialization by now and armed to the teeth. Production of steel, coal, iron ore and pig iron had been ramped up and output in many sectors of industry had quadrupled and tanks, rifles, artillery, planes, trucks and locomotives were being built in large numbers. Recently the innovative T-34 tank had been introduced which made all other tank designs obsolete in one blow. Stalin’s time to strike would come soon and he would spread the revolution far, a little too far for comfort. Japan was the other power. It had seen a massive militarization and had colonial ambitions of its own as it saw itself as equal to western powers. It wanted hegemony in Asia to become a superpower, both economically and militarily, to become self sufficient. Roosevelt had attempted to force an embargo on Japan over Japanese war crimes in China which had shown how dependent resource poor Japan was on the west. Many Japanese were afraid but luckily for them Congress disapproved as it was still highly isolationist. Fortunately Roosevelt couldn’t go farther than that as America remained in its postwar isolationism. This was proven when Roosevelt lost the 1940 election to the Republican and highly isolationist Dewey who profited from the war by selling weapons to all sides. The Japanese would strike first and hard at the colonial powers as its position in China was becoming more and more untenable due to the simple fact they were outnumbered and needed more resources and also wanted to put an end to British support for China. Great Britain at this time was in Splendid Isolation but most likely wouldn’t tolerate an invasion of the Dutch East Indies which the Japanese wanted to conquer to avoid having to buy American oil. Their financial position was becoming very difficult. Without an invasion Japan would go bankrupt. Secondly, morale amongst the Japanese was dropping and some quick victories would do them good. The Japanese had several plans to ‘defeat’ Britain and force it to come to terms. The most daring plan had been developed by admiral Yamamoto. The plan he devised featured an aerial attack on Singapore, the base of the British Eastern fleet. For both political and military reasons the attack plan was seen as too daring and impractical. Many felt that the loss of so many British sailors would enrage the British populace to the point that it wanted to fight a full scale war which Britain supported by its industrial might and the resources of its empire would win. Secondly, such an attack involving small, frail planes attacking capital warships had never been done before. Thirdly, Singapore was a very shallow harbour and torpedoes would strike the bottom before leveling out and resuming their run to the ships. Fourthly, Singapore was a very crowded area and difficult to fight in or so they fought. A new attack plan was devised which involved seizing Thailand, which would surely provoke a British response involving their proud battle line, and then Malaysia and Burma. Yamamoto did get his way this time as the navy’s carriers would be involved in a complex ambush. He was a major proponent of naval aviation as were several others and, as a result, Japan’s carrier arm was the best in the world.
The invasion commenced on March 7th 1942 and was followed by a British declaration of war. The unprepared and totally oblivious Thai were caught completely off guard. Japan used French bases in Indochina to get air superiority. As a result Thailand was overrun within twelve days. The Japanese seized the airfields and established air supremacy over Thailand. Within a month Malaysia was overrun by with a large Japanese troop force. The British were forced to send out their Pacific battleships from Singapore as a response and they steamed toward the Dutch East Indies, feeling confident of their victory. On the way Admiral Sir Tom Philips sunk three carriers; little did he know that they were cargo ships in disguise. This further boosted his confidence and his belief that his big guns would teach the Japanese a lesson. He was proven horribly wrong and he engaged the Japanese fleet in the South China Sea. He encountered a Japanese squadron of some five cruisers and twelve destroyers. It was a spring morning and it was slightly foggy. Through the dim fog the British battle fleet and the Japanese cruiser squadron exchanged fire and the Japanese fled. The British ran straight into a trap in what was known as the Battle of the Yellow Sea but would go down in British history as the Catastrophe in the South China Sea. The British battle line was damaged a lot by the Japanese carrier fleet consisting of Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu, Shokaku and Zuikaku. HMS Repulse, HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Royal Oak, HMS Valiant and HMS Howe, crippling the Eastern Fleet. Over 10.000 British sailors were dead. Ironically the aging battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth which had been decommissioned in 1942 but returned to service for the war had survived and would see much more action until the end of the Pacific War.
This united the British people although some argued that Britain should never have gotten involved in the region. Fervent patriots and nationalists wanted revenge as did many more British. Britain fully mobilized. Factories, shipyards, mines and millions people were geared to total war. Japan had now enraged the other sleeping giant of the world. Several aircraft carriers were being built or were nearing completion and the Illustrious-class carriers were already finished. Four Lion-class Battleships were also underway although only the lost ships would be replaced and no new battleships would be built. These ships would replace the five battleships that had been lost. The British admiralty had also learned a valuable lesson. A massive construction program was started to build more aircraft carriers which ended the domination of the battleship. For the first six months Japan wouldn’t notice much of this mobilization as fleet assets were being moved from the Atlantic to Southeast Asia. Another Japanese attack, a bombing raid, was aimed at Singapore and they destroyed the oil storage tanks, torpedo and ammunition storage and headquarters of the Eastern Fleet but failed to destroy the submarine base. This further crippled the British presence in the Pacific although over a hundred Japanese planes were shot down in the process. Japan then proceeded to invade Indonesia and what was left of the Siamese peninsula. All of it fell within six months. By then Britain was ready for war as sufficient fleet assets had been moved. Together with the Chinese the British would crush Japan and inflicted a defeat on the Japanese at the battle of the Java Sea. American isolationists prevented an American declaration of war on the European and Asian Axis forces which wisely remained out of America’s way as Germany, China and Britain were pummeling them. Congress didn’t see them as friendly allies but merely as co-belligerents in a European war. The election of Dewey in 1940 had further strengthened American isolation.
In the midst of the Pacific War several countries were developing nuclear weapons as well. Germany was at the forefront of nuclear physics with many brilliant scientists in that field originating from what was considered the academic and scientific capital of Europe or having moved there. Many brilliant minds such as Otto Hahn, Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg and Enrico Fermi who had left Italy for Germany since his wife was Jewish and his country was becoming increasingly anti-Semitic. One notable name that is missing from this list is Albert Einstein who had emigrated to America were he had more research possibilities. He along with Oppenheimer and Seaborg would be a leading figure in the Manhattan project. The German atomic bomb program was a secret project funded by the German government and executed by the famous Kaiser Wilhelm Society centered in Berlin. It was known as project Ragnarok. The Soviet Union under Stalin had also started a program of its own after Stalin had become suspicious after western scientific magazines stopped publishing on the subject. Head of the project known as Obiekt 147 was Igor Kurchatov. People such as Ioffe, Andrei Sakharov and Georgii Flerov were also present. Stalin was practical and didn’t believe it would work but now that the west was building a bomb, he wanted one too. China, Japan and France at this time also had a project. Chinese nuclear physics however was in its infancy and China lacked the means to pursue a domestic effort during the war. The Japanese program completely lacked organization. There were two programs; one of the army and another one of the navy. The scientists of the Rikken institute were also being pulled away from their work every five minutes to work on something else. France wouldn’t get a chance to finish its program.
Germany in the meantime was gaining the upper hand in the war; this was in early 1943. A large scale French offensive had been launched into the Rhineland, hoping to imitate Napoleon’s successes there. Much like the northern front it had become a stalemate. The French had pushed through heavy German border defenses but with heavy casualties. They had then sped toward the Rhine but a German counteroffensive led by general Rommel caused to grind to a halt in the Black Forest. The German war machine started to move. Germany launched a general counteroffensive which pushed the French out of German territory and into Belgium and Holland. French border fortifications held. In the north however German forces reached the Afsluitdijk which separated the Flevo polder from the sea but were stopped there as the French blew the dike, causing massive floods in the surrounding areas. In Belgium the Germans were stopped when the French blew the bridges over the river Meuse. German artillery and aircraft then started the siege of Liege which would last for months. They pounded what was then the largest ammunition dump of the world for weeks, destroying the city in the process. The Belgians would resent the Germans for that. The French returned fire with the old fortresses’ guns.
The Germans crossed the river Meuse a few weeks later under withering fire. They quickly established a beachhead and engineers built pontoon bridges. Liege was then surrounded with over 180.000 French soldiers still in the city. They were surrounded by a force three times that size. They only surrendered after two months of intense combat which resulted in heavy casualties for both sides and the complete annihilation of the city. French forces were pushed back by the German blitz. Several minor successful counterattacks took place but it didn’t change the fact that German forces outnumbered the French, mostly thanks to their large industrial base but also due to a population of around 80 million which was twice as large as France’s population. Stubborn, fanatical French resistance however slowed the German advance down and the Germans resorted to their infamous ‘Kesselschlacht’. French lines in the Ardennes were penetrated and large troop concentrations were surrounded. French forces fought a fighting retreat from Holland to avoid being cut off by the Germans which were headed for the Belgian coast. By April German forces were marching through the streets of Brussels and Antwerp was liberated in that same month of that year.
In Asia the war was going well. British and Chinese ships were slowly but surely creeping their way towards Japan. A massive naval construction program had made sure that Chinese and British forces outgunned the Japanese by this time. The British had started an island hopping campaign in southeast Asia and were headed toward the Home Islands. British battleships destroyed coastal defenses and British and Chinese planes, who outnumbered their Japanese enemies by far, bombed the Japanese defenders and shot the Japanese air force out of the sky. On land the Chinese started to liberate the coastal cities. During the infamous Second battle of Nanjing over 600.000 Chinese were surrounded by 1.9 million Chinese soldiers. A small corridor to the sea was cut off after a month of fierce combat. In the meantime the Imperial Chinese Air Force fiercely contest the airspace above the city and shot down many Japanese transport planes attempting to come through. The battle dragged on throughout spring and summer of 1943 and Japanese forces surrendered in September 1943, one of the very few occasions that Japanese forces surrendered. This broke the might of the Japanese. They were pushed back and by February of 1944 the Chinese had retaken Beijing and were marching toward the Yalu river on the Sino-Korean border which they reached in May of that same year. In the Pacific the island hopping campaign was nearing its goal, Sumatra and Java were retaken in July and September 1944 respectively after a month of Japanese resistance. A counteroffensive into Burma was launched although sporadic Japanese resistance there would continue until the very end of the war.
The Germans were doing well too as the tide had definitively turned in favour of them. In spite of French resistance and counteroffensives, the German horde which outnumbered them by far didn’t stop. In another large Kesselschlacht the Germans attempted to surround the better part of France’s army in the Vosges but failed as French forces retreated to a defensive position further west. It is said by military historians that Paris would likely have fallen within a week or two if Germany had succeeded in its plan. Now these troops could be used to ward off German offensives and block their march to Paris. In the end Paris still fell in September 1943 after a short but fierce battle which would take the lives of many tens of thousands of Germans even though they had air superiority and much more men and tanks. German soldiers triumphantly marched through the streets of the French capital and the German tricolor was hoisted on several important buildings such as the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Troimf and the famous palace of king Louis XIV, Versailles, were the German Empire had been proclaimed so long ago. The battle hardened French, indoctrinated by years of French fascist propaganda however refused to surrender. Henriot moved his capital to Bordeaux and fought on from there, resorting to more desperate means every passing day. Henriot for instance authorized the use of mustard and chlorine gas against the Germans which French generals such as Gamelin and De Gaulle used as a last resort. There was a public outcry in Germany as this war crime had gone unprovoked; Germany had not used gas in combat so far. Emperor Wilhelm III promptly retaliated by using nerve gas against French cities. By now French resistance had crumbled and German forces arrived at Bordeaux by late October. The Italians were receiving relatively little punishment as German forces only got as far as Venice where prepared Italian defenses stopped them.
On November 11th 1943 the French surrendered after Henriot had attempted to flee France for Spain through enemy lines but had been captured. The Italians were still fighting in Yugoslavia which Mussolini had invaded to mimic French successes of the early days of the war in spite of pleas of his generals. It had taken Italy three months to defeat the Yugoslavs in spite of superior numbers and weapons. Guerrilla resistance continued liong after that. A military coup d’état took place, deposing Mussolini. Italy surrendered to Germany on November 14th as it couldn’t hope to defeat the German legions that were swarming over northern Italy on its own. Germany imposed harsh terms on both defeated countries. France and Italy were both completely demilitarized and yet to be determined war reparations would be imposed on them. Germany also stationed inspectors and occupational forces in the industrial regions in northern France and northern Italy. This left Germany to solve the quagmire that were the Balkans caused by the power vacuum after Italy’s withdrawal after its surrender. After the Italian withdrawal the Balkan countries had started what was known as the Third Balkan War. Bulgarian forces fought Yugoslavia for Macedonia. The Kingdom of Hungary, which was no longer bound by the war, got embroiled in the war as well and annexed Slavonia. Turkey under sultan Abdülmecid II who had succeeded Mehmet VII in 1926 also decided to get involved. After the death of Mustafa Kemal Abdülmecid had gained more influence even though he was a constitutional monarch de jure. He supported Bulgarian ambitions in Serbia with troops and got a free hand and even Bulgarian support in Greece.
With Europe in chaos, Stalin saw an opportunity. The major fascist powers had been rendered powerless by the Germans. Six million good soldiers had perished along with several hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties and many north German, Dutch, Belgian, French and Italian capital cities and industrial centers were left in ruins. The German army at this time was spread thin as its forces occupied northern France, northern Italy and also possessed several military bases in its eastern European vassal states. This left nothing for a proper defense of the German block. The Balkan nations were in no way capable of defeating the USSR even if they were not infighting among themselves with Germany trying to a broker a peace with the implicit threat of direct German military intervention. While chancellor and diplomat Von Papen was in Geneva negotiating a peace treaty with the combatants of this latest Balkan war, the USSR ignited a diplomatic crisis in eastern Europe. Ukraine had several regions with large Russian minorities and Stalin demanded the retrocession of these areas to the Soviet Union and ‘an end to the oppression and brutality against the Russians’ as he put it. Stalin portrayed this as a liberation; it would be far from it. Stalin had no intent on reaching a compromise and wanted to restore the USSR to the 1914 borders of Imperial Russia. Stalin considered this a preemptive strike as he believed Germany would attack him at some point in the future. This was not his paranoia speaking. It has been revealed that plans for a Soviet-German war existed as early as 1930 but Germany was unable to pursue those grand schemes back then due to a recession and unrest on the home front.
Germany stood by its ally and warned Stalin that if he would attack, Germany would declare war. Stalin knew that the Germans weren’t bluffing about defending their allies as they had done the same for Belgium which had only very reluctantly joined the German sphere. On December 5th 1943 he launched Operation Suvorov, named after the fourth and last generalissimo of Russia and one of the few generals in history who never lost a battle. The Soviet Union had seen a massive industrialization and by now the Red Army had recovered from the purges and was armed to the teeth with T-34 and KV-1 tanks and MiG-3 and Yak-1 fighter planes which could match most contemporary western designs. The operation had been planned meticulously by STAVKA, the Soviet equivalent of a general staff which consisted of the Red Army’s top officers. Not only did Stalin invade Ukraine but the Baltic states and Belarus as well. It was the largest military operation of its kind ever to be carried out or even contemplated. Over 3.8 million men, 9.000 tanks and 13.000 aircraft had been mobilized for this operation. This was the better part of what forces the Soviet Union had in its western districts; the bulk of the rest of the Red Army was guarding the Sino-Soviet border. Also, the loss of the western territories had hurt the USSR’s manpower base. If Germany had lost the Great War, the Soviets could have mustered even more men.
The Germans responded by declaring war immediately and were followed by all members of the German block except for the Kingdom of Hungary which was still embroiled in Yugoslavia. The Hungarians instead formed a volunteer legion which ironically mostly consisted of Poles and Slovakians and to a lesser extent Ukrainians and Ruthenians, minorities which for a long time had been demanding greater autonomy from Budapest. This was an easy way to get rid of the more militant ones among them. Perhaps one out of every four volunteers was an ethnic Hungarian.
Germany used this act of blatant Soviet aggression in its propaganda and summoned every able bodied man to fight for freedom. Many responded to the call and enlisted and the nations of Europe united and flocked to the German banner. They rallied to defend themselves and fight for freedom. Stalin had not expected this kind of response to his action from a defeated war torn Europe. In spite of this the initial Soviet advance went speedily and Stalin couldn’t stop now anyway. In spite of near fanatical Ukrainian resistance the Red Army reached the Dnjepr and the capital of Kiev by Christmas. The Ukrainian president issued a ‘no retreat’ order which resulted in many hundreds of thousands of surrounded and dead or captured Ukrainian soldiers. The Ukrainian National Army could immediately mobilize over 1.1 million men in case of war, excluding strategic reserves. They were well trained and motivated to fight Stalin after the horror stories they had heard about purges, gulags and the deaths of so many ‘kulaks’ and the repossession of their lands. They were however equipped with old German equipment while the Red Army had the best of the best. German Panzer IIs and IIIs were decent designs but obsolete by 1943 and T-34s turned them into minced meat. Only the long 75 mm AT-gun and the 88 mm AA gun. The Byelorussians at this time were fighting for their very existence and Minsk was completely surrounded with the remnants of the small but professional Byelorussian National Army holding out in the west. The Baltic states were all but overrun in under ten days. The Poles were the first to be able to send reinforcements, commanded by king Karol II himself. The king himself was an artillery man an the Polish army had a lot of artillery which still effective in spite of age. Polish forces provided relief at Kiev and prevent a river crossing by the Soviets for five days, allowing Ukrainian forces to retreat in good order and the government to evacuate to Odessa.
The Germans panicked about the rapid Soviet advance and sent forces to stem the tide. The only country that really held its own was Finland. The Finnish navy had even shelled Leningrad as a propaganda stunt. The army used guerrilla tactics against Soviet forces and their supply lines. The Germans managed to inflict a defeat on the Soviets at Lviv in another large Kesselschlacht conducted by general Rommel who was becoming quite infamous by now. The Soviets by now were awfully close to achieving their goal, restoration to Russia’s 1914 borders. Germany was in desperate need of reinforcements. It had just come out of a war which had lasted for almost two years and which had drained Germany. The peace conference for the Balkans in Geneva was settled quickly with Germany deciding in favour of the Hungarians, Bulgarians and Turks. The Bulgarians gained Macedonia. The Turks and Bulgarians divided Greek Macedonia, realizing the dream of a Greater Bulgaria. The Turks also annexed most of the Aegean islands. The Hungarians were awarded Slavonia. What was left of Yugoslavia was divided between a Serbian state which encompassed only Serb majority regions and a Croatian state which also included Bosnia and Istria and Dalmatia which Italy had given back, ending the ethnic powder keg that Yugoslavia was and the possibility of another war starting there.
As Germany had difficulty fighting the Soviet juggernaut, Emperor Wilhelm III ordered the renegotiation of the peace with France and Italy. The Italians were allowed to keep Fiume where they still had troops to secure the sizable Italian minority. Both France and Italy were allowed to remilitarize up to 550.000 men and war reparations were scratched in return for Italian and French declarations of war on the USSR. German forces left their territory for the eastern front. Germany also renounced any claims to Italian and French colonies didn’t have the power to enforce these claims nor occupy what they wanted. The French and Italians readily agreed to this revision and mobilized many hundreds of thousands of war veterans to fight Stalin’s armies. Germany had its flaws and was disliked but as much as it was disliked, the USSR was utterly revolting to many.
Germany needed these reinforcements even though Francophobe nationalists protested. The irony of the situation was inescapably clear. Two countries who had hated each other’s guts since 1871 were now fighting together. The Soviet armies at this point reached the eastern most point of the Soviet advance, the East Prussian city of Königsberg which was a shock to many Germans as that was German territory. Rumours were spreading about Soviets headed for Berlin. It fortunately never came to that. At Königsberg a combination of German, Polish, Ukrainian, French, Italian and Hungarian forces decisively defeated the Red Army and prevented the fall of the city in one of the largest battles of the war in early May 1944. Stalin’s nightmare scenario had come true; in spite of Europe’s apparent division of weakness it had united against a common enemy, him. A general counteroffensive under German leadership started although the German general staff collaborated heavily with the French leadership in developing the plan. This plan was known as Operation Friedrich der Grosse and would involve many thousands of tanks planes and millions of men of all European countries. This also raised the hopes of many who had fled Russia after the October Revolution in 1917. Many tens of thousands of Russians returned and formed a volunteer legion of about 60.000 strong initially. The Germans also approached Grand Duke Vladimir to ascend the Russian throne in time and become Tsar Vladimir III of Russia in time. Vladimir Cyrillovich was the eldest son of Grand Duke Cyril who had assumed headship of the Romanov family after the death of Grand Duke Michael in 1919. He himself was a son of Grand Duke Vladimir who was a son of Tsar Alexander III. This made Vladimir Cyrillovich the cousin of Nicholas II and the most legitimate claimant to the throne. Germany was intent on overthrowing Stalin and establishing the Romanovs as puppet rulers.
In the Pacific the tide had turned in favour of Britain and China. By January 1945 Korea had been liberated after a bloody seven month campaign in the mountainous peninsula which China had won due to sheer force of numbers. The Chinese uprooted Japanese resistance and collaborators and established a puppet regime with Prince Uimin as Emperor Yeong of Korea. The Korean Empire had been restored. Borneo was liberated in July 1945 after a vicious four month campaign with Japanese forces resisting until the bitter end, forcing the British to fight for every inch of jungle. They however lacked air superiority and supplies from the Japanese Navy were cut off after a decisive crippling defeat at the Battle of the Makassar Strait which involved a few Dutch vessels. An insurgency would arise though. The Japanese were becoming increasingly divided in their priorities. They were losing on all fronts and were shifting forces from one crisis zone to another and back. The fact that the combined British and Chinese navies outnumbered and outgunned the Japanese didn’t help. Yamato had been lost when HMS Lion and HMS Conqueror engaged and sent her to the deep ocean floor of the Pacific Ocean in August while she attempted to beach herself at Taiwan to support Japanese forces there who were fighting an Anglo-Chinese invasion. Yamato’s sister ship Musashi succeeded were Yamato had failed and shelled Anglo-Chinese forces, significantly delaying them. By this time France had long since surrendered and had seized the airfields that they had lent the Japanese Air Force which explains the quickness of the British campaign in Siam in ’44. The campaign lasted about three months as Britain had air superiority. The fact that both Britain and China decided to focus on Japan and not help Germany against the Soviets didn’t help either. By October 1945 Japan had been reduced to just the Home Islands. An invasion was in the works.
By 1945 the Soviets were also losing their war with the west. The combined European powers proved to be too strong even for Stalin’s war machine and after the Soviets reached their western most point of advance they were pushed back. This started with the battle of East Prussia were the thin Soviet salient was cut off and as many as 500.000 Soviet soldiers were surrounded. They were cut off from resupply and a relief attempt only created a small hole for a few days which was sealed after German-Polish counteroffensives. This was in 1943; by mid-1945 German forces were approaching the Dnjepr and the first shells started to rain down on Kiev. The short lived Ukrainian SSR was disestablished and turned over to Red Army jurisdiction. In the end it wouldn’t matter much.
This Great War, although it is arguable whether it should be called that, also spurred weapons development. The Germans quickly figured out that the Panzer IV was totally inadequate to face off against the T-34 and the KV-1, not to mention the IS-series that followed in 1944 and the T-54 which entered serial production in early 1947. The Germans responded by building a new powerful tank design of their own which was known as the Panzer V, nicknamed Panther by some. Several companies had designs for a new German medium tank. The prime contenders were Daimler-Benz, MAN and Henschel among others. MAN and Henschel both presented more or less direct copies of the T-34. The general staff, recognizing the reality they could never produce it in Soviet numbers, disapproved. They lacked the industrial base to build as many as the Soviets had so quantity was chosen over quality. Daimler-Benz presented a 70 ton behemoth with an 88 mm gun. It carried sloped armour much like the T-34 but thicker; its frontal armour was impenetrable for any know Soviet tank design or anti-tank gun of ’43/’44. This tank was considered invincible. This was the other extreme. One of these would take as many man hours to build as five Panzer IVs. Both went back to the drawing board which resulted in the Panzer V we all know which entered production in early 1944. It was a compromise between firepower, armour and speed and could be produced in significant numbers. It was equipped with the long 75 mm KwK 42 L/70 gun and weighed a solid 45 tons. Later versions would carry the 88 mm gun to counter newer Soviet designs. It would ultimately replace the Panzer IV as there were limits to how much it could be upgraded. The Panzer V would be the most produced and the most successful German design of the war after the kinks with engine and suspension were worked out. 11.000 of them would be made during the war; 8500 produced in Germany and another 2500 in allied nations. In late 1945, early 1946 the Panzer VI Leopard was introduced which carried a 105 mm gun. It was far more powerful than the Panzer V but was of a complicated design and restricted to elite battalions. Only 1700 of them were built during the war.
Aerial warfare also saw a boost in development. Speed was considered more and more important. It dawned on German officers and politicians alike that the Soviets could produce more planes and that perhaps a technological leap ahead of whatever the Soviets fielded was a good thing. Germany was one of the countries developing jet engines in the early forties but German officers didn’t pay much attention to this as they believed that conventional planes should do fine in any future conflict. The two greatest competitors to design and supply the Imperial German Air Force with jets were Heinkel and Messerschmitt. Both came up with several versions and in the end the Germans chose Heinkel’s design, the Heinkel He 280. It was slightly slower than the Me 262 but was considered more economical after its engine problems were worked out with the fifth version, the He 280 V5. In April 1944 the first squadrons of the Luftwaffe equipped with He 280s appeared over the battlefield. They swept the skies clean. The Me 262 wasn’t built by Germany. The French adopted the design instead and ordered a first batch of 180 planes to be delivered by June. Germany also started work on a long range bomber to hit Stalin’s industrial areas in Central Asia and Siberia which would carry Germany’s atomic bomb.
The atomic bomb was perhaps the strongest weapon and it would influence politics very much. Politicians became very careful in threatening to go to war as it could result in nuclear warfare. At the time four countries had programs of any significance. These were the United States, Germany, Britain and the Soviet Union. The United States were furthest ahead thanks to their huge industrial complex. They pursued both the implosion-type design and the gunshot-type design as it was easy for them. They tested their first bomb, nicknamed Trinity, on August 17th 1945. It was a bomb of the former design and had a yield of 20 kilotons. This made America the world’s first nuclear power. Germany was also doing well thanks to its good team of scientists although Germany could devote less resources to the project because of the war. The British used the resources of their empire for their bomb.
The war continued as it had for most of 1945, with German forces and their allies slowly but surely pushing the Red Army back. The Soviets resisted fanatically as they believed they were fighting a liberation war. The war was known to them as the Soviet Liberation War or alternatively the Soviet War of Vengeance, vengeance for trying to kill communism all those years before. The war continued and by 1946 the Soviets and Germans were fighting the Battle for Moscow which lasted for six months and cost hundreds of thousands of lives. It ended with the Germans and Ukrainians symbolically hoisting their national flags on the famous Spasskaya Tower of the Kremlin which was a major propaganda stunt. This was devastating to Soviet logistics as Moscow was a vital railway hub which explains Soviet attempts to get it back. Stalin responded to this defeat by fully occupying Finland which had annoyed him by attempting to attack Leningrad and Murmansk. Stalin moved his capital to Omsk, well out of German bomber range, and called upon all Russian people to resist the western imperialists. Many millions were mobilized and the Soviet industrial complex attempted to surpass maximum capacity with murderous production rates, totally disregarding workers’ safety. A large counteroffensive was launched immediately on Stalin’s orders but even the brilliant Zhukov could not retake Moscow in what was known as the Second Battle of Moscow although he made a valiant effort and Soviet tanks got within half a mile of the Kremlin but in the end the Germans had numbers. The Soviets did have one lucky streak; the Germans were becoming overstretched. The Germans and their allies were fighting from Leningrad to Stalingrad. An offensive to take Stalingrad and cross the Volga failed, leaving the Volga industrial region in Soviet hands.
To give the German occupation some legitimacy, a pro-German capitalist government was formed with Grand Duke Vladimir Cyrillovich who accepted the German offer to become Tsar of Russia. Many hundreds of thousands of Russians who had fled the country after the events of 1917 and 1918 returned from exile to help rebuild their country and they quickly set up an efficient government apparatus even though they lacked experience. The Russians therefore enlisted the help of collaborators, among them many low ranking communists who would be granted amnesty provided that they helped the new regime deal with the people. On September 1st 1946 Vladimir was crowned Tsar Vladimir III, Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias in the Dormition Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin, enraging Stalin who considered Moscow his capital. This was a major propaganda stunt for the Germans and their allies and a shock to the communist regime, now based in Omsk and caused a drop in Soviet morale. Vladimir pulled all the stops to make this a grand spectacle in an attempt to restore the glory of the old days of the Russian Empire. He was quite successful. Before the grand ceremony the Imperial eagles were restored to many old Imperial buildings, replacing Stalin’s red stars. The ceremony was grand and all of Europe’s crowned heads were present; Emperor Wilhelm III, King Otto I of Hungary, Victor Emannuel III of Italy, George VI and many other European monarchs. The ceremony was covered by western press and the world witnessed how the Tsar and his Tsarina were driven to their palace in a golden coach with an escort of veteran Imperial Guard members. The Russian Empire with all its grandeur and symbolism had been restored after an interregnum of almost three decades. Attempts by other claimants to mar the event couldn’t ruin this. They considered Vladimir’s marriage to be morganatic since his wife’s line hadn’t ruled Georgia, where she originated from, in the male line since 1505. As such she was merely of nobility. Vladimir waved it away; nothing would ruin this day.
One of Tsar Vladimir III’s first acts was to officially declare war on the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics for its numerous crimes thus entering the war on the German side. The many anti-Soviet volunteer legions formed one army although certain republicans refused joining a Tsarist army; they wanted Kerensky but had little support as the formerly exiled Russians wanted a strong leader. Kerensky was remembered as a weak bumbling idiot. Stalin responded by not recognizing the Empire and declaring that he would kill the bastard state in its cradle. He would be proven very wrong as Germany tested its first nuclear weapon on June 18th 1947. It had been nicknamed Ragnarok, the Norse word for the end of times. The bomb was of the implosion-type design as it was considered more economic; the gunshot-type assembly needed more fissile material for the same result. With 22 kilotons its yield was slightly higher than that of Trinity. About one month later, on July 14th 1947, one Junkers Ju 390 bomber took off from its base in East Prussia headed for the Soviet industrial centre Chelyabinsk. The city centre was completely devastated in the immense fireball. Tens of thousands died while sleeping. The few who were awake at the very earlier hour witnessed the blast as the last thing they saw before dying. Many tens of thousands more died of radiation sickness and others were maimed for life or blinded by the flash. Stalin stoically listened to the news and shrugged. He refused to surrender as he believed that the Germans had only a few of such weapons and wouldn’t waste them on him. When the Soviets didn’t respond to the German ultimatum, the city of Kirov was incinerated. Stalin still refused to surrender and killed everyone who he suspected of secretly negotiating with the west. That ended when the Soviet capital city of Omsk was destroyed in a 19 kiloton explosion, killing Stalin in the process. With the government decapitated, the USSR started to fold. No more orders came through and the Red Army was in chaos. Beria was one of the few high ranking Soviet politicians still alive as he was in Kazakhstan as he was supervising the atomic bomb project. He accepted an unconditional surrender and turned over all nuclear knowledge of the Soviet Union to the Russian Empire before the Germans could get their hands on it. The Germans as a response destroyed the former USSR’s nuclear facilities.
Japan at this time had already surrendered. In the spring of 1946 the Chinese and their British allies launched Operation Argo, the invasion of Japan. They occupied the southern islands of Kyushu and Shikoku in a massive joint Anglo-Chinese operation. The Japanese army and populace resisted to their utmost capability but the overwhelming number of invaders repelled counteroffensives and Chinese reprisals for guerrilla attacks were terrible so resistance stopped quickly. When the Chinese and British threatened to invade Honshu as well, Emperor Hirohito ordered his forces to stand down and he announced the unconditional surrender of Japan. It is arguable whether all of these conflicts should be regarded as one war. Many see the Pacific War and the European war as two separate ones. Some even go so far as to divide the European war in two pieces. Although not allied, the USSR and the fascist did work in tandem to destroy Germany. Whatever the case, for the first time since 1933, after 75 million deaths there was an end to war. Peace reigned over the world.
The Pax Germania and the decline of the colonial empires 1947-1975
Germany, Britain and China now stood victorious over the fascists and communists and were Eurasia’s top economic powers. When Britain tested its first atomic bomb in October 1946, two out of three great powers were nuclear armed. Now it was time to dictate peace terms. The Soviet Union had surrendered unconditionally to Germany and its allies. Emperor Wilhelm III ordered the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to be disbanded. Its entire military and industrial complex would be turned over to Imperial Russia and Soviet political and military leaders would be tried for war crimes. The communist experiment was over after thirty years. On January 3rd 1948 the USSR was officially disestablished and incorporated into the Russian Empire. Tsar Vladimir I started to reorganize his wartime government. He didn’t want make the same mistakes that his predecessors had made and modeled his country on Wilhelmine Germany and Imperial Japan. He had lived in Germany, Britain and France and quite admired the machinations of democracy. After public unrest was subdued by the new Imperial Russian Army, a liberal constitution was drafted and elections were organized in 1949. The system of promotion by merit instead of social class remained in the army and the aristocracy didn’t get its old rights back much to their disappointment. Russia would be modern.
Japan was now left to the mercy of China and Great Britain. Britain and China imposed a harsh peace treaty on the Japanese so they would never be threat again; the Chinese Xuantong Emperor was largely behind that. Japan was to be completely demilitarized except for a 10.000 men strong gendarmerie and divided into occupational zones with China controlling the north and Britain the south until war reparations had been payed. A zone around Tokyo was left under Japanese jurisdiction. Japan lost Taiwan and its Eastern Siberian holdings to China. Elections were to be organized and Japan would from now on honour the model of constitutional monarchy as it was practiced in Britain; the Emperor would hold a solely ceremonial position. Japan was also forced to recognize Korean independence and pay large war indemnities to China and Korea and would not be allowed to posses weapons of mass destruction. In addition Japanese military and naval officers and high ranking politicians were to be tried for war crimes. Many high ranking Japanese politicians considered fighting on to force better peace terms but a Sino-British naval blockade and the testing of Britain’s first atomic bomb rendered them mute. The Japanese grudgingly accepted the peace terms.
This left China the dominant power in Asia. It had the largest army in the world and the fourth largest navy in the world with only the British, German and American navies able to match its power. Economically China was devastated; an area three times the size of France was left in ruins after China had retaken it inch by inch. Under the strong leadership of the Xuantong Emperor who had succeeded his father in 1940, China started to rebuild its shattered industrial base; the people of China did so with great diligence. The end of the war also sparked wars for independence in much of southeast Asia. Sukarno declared the independence of the Republic of Indonesia. The Dutch immediately sent in the army to put down the rebellion. The Chinese called upon the Dutch to give the Indonesians their freedom. The Dutch ignored them and would fight the Chinese backed Indonesians until 1955. The same happened in French Indochina but with an army of only 550.000 men, France couldn’t hold on to its vast colonial empire. Britain, too war weary to fight, granted India, Burma and Malaysia independence in 1948.
Germany at this time dominated the European continent and founded the so-called European Economic Community or EEC for short. Its founding members were Germany, Hungary, Ukraine, Holland, Belgium, Belarus, the Baltic states and Finland. German companies had monopolies in many economic sectors in Europe, making Germany the foremost European power economically. Despite their hatred for Germany, France and Italy would join eventually. The German Reich Mark became the dominant currency although member states kept using their own currency. In 1985 the Reich Mark would be adopted by the EEC monetary council as Europe’s currency. The EEC was a customs union with trade tariffs to protect the economies of member states. Trade and free traffic of goods, services and people was encouraged. This was done to protect mainly medium and small businesses as they had suffered the most from the war. British investment was blocked out this way. Germany also possessed nuclear weapons and the largest army in Europe. In 1955 Germany tested its first hydrogen bomb as America had done three years earlier. Britain did the same in 1957 but couldn’t release Europe from Germany’s stranglehold. Germany dominated Europe, prevented war and brought economic prosperity. Europe was now under the Pax Germania. Germany was now one of the strongest countries in the world. A cold war and subsequent nuclear stand off took place between Britain and Germany. Their navies remained in top strength despite the financial strain and nuclear weapons were aimed at each other’s capital cities. In the end Germany achieved supremacy through economic power. It had more money for a cold war. During the 80s and 90s Britain accepted that Germany was the dominant European power even though the Tory’s resisted this. Britain gave up the arms race which had caused the rise of huge navies and militaries and powerful nuclear arsenals which could lay waste to entire continents. This freed up cash for a huge socialist welfare state in Britain. This détente led to a demilitarization and agreements were made on the size of nuclear arsenals between Germany and Britain and later on the world’s other nuclear powers.
In space Germany dominated as well. During the war the rocket program had seen little attention. The government favoured the atomic bomb program. The rocket program was limited to some geeks with little funding. After the war the military became interested and by 1947 one A4 missile was ready for testing. They funded it provided that military applications were given priority. Ballistic missiles with increasingly longer ranges were tested. The A4 could reach suborbital altitudes. In 1955 already the Germans launched the first satellite and in 1960 the first man was brought into space. The German space program was separated from the military ballistic missile program and was dubbed German Space Initiative. During the mid fifties the Germans had the best Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, abbreviated ICBM. The British launched a satellite in 1957 and the Americans in 1958 although the isolationist American government only started it as a propaganda boost. Germany was thus given the lead in the space race. China at this time did not start a space program as it had other priorities.
Africa also didn’t escape from struggles for independence. As the European powers were weakened by war, movements for independence sprang up all over the continent throughout the 60s and 70s. Portugal fought a vicious colonial war in Mozambique for over a decade which drained the Portuguese economy. Spain only had Spanish Guinea, Spanish West Africa and Spanish Morocco to worry about. These weren’t densely populated and thus easy to control. After the death of José Antonio Primo de Rivera in 1980, the fascist regime in Spain was disestablished and the colonies were given a large measure of autonomy. The Portuguese Estado Novo regime had already fallen and Portugal had lost its colonial empire. The French, Italians and Germans also fought vicious and prolonged colonial wars for several years. German forces fought in the Congo basin for over a decade until Emperor Wilhelm IV withdrew them in 1978. In Tanganyika and Togoland protests of a different kind manifested. Massive peaceful demonstrations took place. In Germany protest started to take place as well with the youth unwilling to fight for the colonies. This was part of a social revolution which engulfed the world; youth culture. This involved a sexual revolutions and resistance against the ruling elite. Known authorities were now longer the sole source of power and knowledge and the political and social climate loosened up. Paradoxically it seemed as though prosperity and peace caused this. Especially Europe was hit by this phenomenon. Isolationist America and the generally more disciplined Asian nations such as China and Japan weren’t affected very much or at least less than Europe. Both colonies were granted autonomy and representation in the Reichstag although Germany maintained power in defense and foreign politics. Today these colonies are all that’s left of Germany’s huge Mittelafrikan colonial empire. In the meantime an Asian power was striving to overtake the west.
The Pax Siniensis 1975-2009
During the fifties China spent a lot of its time rebuilding but by the end of the decade their economy was growing slowly but surely. As the authoritarian regime viewed the Chinese Empire as a great power, a nuclear program was started with what little knowledge and results the Japanese program had led to. China had seized all of this information when it conquered Korea on the Japanese. The retreating Japanese left it behind as they considered their atomic bomb program a dead end. Much of that was because of the lack of resources and a very disorganized and incoherent research effort. Japanese scientists were by no means incompetent. What little work had actually been done was now used by the Chinese. Unlike Japan, China had one program which was under direct supervision of the government in Beijing instead of the military and navy. It is suspected that China and Russia shared information regarding their nuclear programs as they tested their first nuclear weapons within months of each other. This caused quite a stir in Berlin but Tsar Vladimir I assured Wilhelm IV that Germany and Russia were friends. A trade partnership between the EEC and Russia was established along with the formation of a Russia-EEC council. In 1966 China tested a 27 kiloton nuclear warhead which made it the world’s most powerful first nuclear test. China was now the dominant power in Asia.
China also started its own space program which yielded good results. In 1971 the first Chinese was sent into space using a missile based on a German design. This was the start of the Imperial Chinese Space Agency. The Chinese first tried to emulate the Germans who were on the forefront of space technology and, as was proven later, a bridge too far for China at the time. Later China would learn to establish goals for itself. A Chinese moon mission was planned for 1979 and was a success largely due to a Chinese effort of will to make it so. In Chinese propaganda it was portrayed as a grand accomplishment of China and Asia. This was one of only three Chinese moon missions which is a surprisingly low number considering that America and Germany launched at least a dozen moon missions in the sixties and seventies. China instead started to focus on building space stations for researching the effects of long term exposure to conditions in space on various organisms ranging from humans to lab rats and even vegetables. Several satellites were launched during this period for collecting data but also to establish a satellite network. Today China as a comprehensive network of satellites. In 1980 the ICSA announced that it would build an extensive space station which would be manned year round.
China started to dominate Asia economically in addition to its military dominance. With the damage from the war rebuilt and foreign investments from both America and Europe flowing in, the Chinese economy experienced a boom in the sixties and seventies with a peak growth of 7.2% in 1974. During the forties and fifties China covertly started to sponsor movements for independence in much of Asia. Indochina was granted independence by France in 1950 as France was weakened both economically and military and the ongoing guerrilla war overstretched French means. Britain was in even worse shape economically by 1947 and India, Burma and Malaysia were all independent by 1950. Perhaps the last colony to became independent was Indonesia were the Dutch attempted to control at least the main islands such as Java. These were important economically and only Chinese supplies kept the resistance going. The Dutch knew this but dared not to invoke Chinese anger. These colonies had little means and Chinese aid made them indebted to the Emperor who presented himself as a benevolent aide. China however did not extort these countries as it didn’t want to cause antipathy against China. China purposefully established the capital of the East Asian Co-Prosperity Zone in Pyongyang and not in Beijing to make it seem as though all members were equal. In practice China dominated the alliance militarily and economically. China made sure that friendly regimes remain in power. In 1977 China had founded the East Asian Co-Prosperity Zone with the Treaty of Pyongyang. Signatories were: the Korean Empire, the Empire of Indochina, Burma, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. Japan at this time was excluded from membership. Its war crimes were cited as the reason for this. The Philippines gained independence in 1947 and joined in 1979 after reassuring American-Philippine friendship. The isolationist military regime in Indonesia also remained out of the EACPZ. After its fall in 1988, Indonesia joined as well to profit from an influx of Chinese, Korean and Malaysian investment which boosted the weak Indonesian economy and helped combat poverty. Japan was finally admitted to the EACPZ in 1999. After an official Japanese apology and a state visit by Emperor Akihito in 1997, Sino-Japanese relations thawed. The creation of the EACPZ boosted the local economies of many Asian countries as tariffs were instituted. This protected local businesses. This also meant that Chinese companies got an important share in big sectors of the rising Asian economies. This block surpassed both Germany and the United Stated between 1975 and 1980.
China was now the dominant power in Asia although India’s economic growth has been rivaling with Chinese economic dominance for the past few years with India attempting to gain markets in East Asia. India and China were friends in the political field as China had supported India politically but were enemies in terms of markets. They were also rivals militarily as they had the largest and second largest army respectively and India tested an atomic bomb in 1970. As of today India is still weaker than China and is still dealing with poverty but a space program has been started and India has strengthened ties with America and Germany who see China as a major competitor. The only country not allied with or against China was Russia. Tsar Vladimir III approached all powers with a friendly attitude while he was transforming his country into an economic powerhouse. Stalin had already done much industrializing which is perhaps the only good part of his legacy. After the establishment of a partnership with the EEC, Russia formed the Shanghai-Moscow Cooperation Organization and aided India economically. A few years before his death he changed the succession laws, abolishing primogeniture and legitimizing his daughter. He did this to ensure his line would continue to rule. She was crowned Tsarina Maria I, Empress and Autocrat of all the Russias and was the first woman to rule since Catharina the Great. This angered prince Nicholas who had been successor to the throne and would have been Nicholas III. He argued that Tsar Paul never wished for his laws to be changed but Vladimir ignored him. Tsarina Maria Vladimirovna would lead Russia into a century of prosperity. Russia had been restored.
As it is, China dominated the world economically and Asia militarily with the fourth largest nuclear arsenal, after the US, Germany and Britain, and over 2.5 million men in active service with advanced weapons such as tanks, jet aircraft and electronic warfare. In 2001 the Asian Space Agency was founded with the merger of the Chinese, Korean and in 2008 the Japanese space agencies. An Asian Space Stations was finished in 2006 and all members of the EACPZ contributed to the massive undertaking. It was the largest in its kind and was a stop for the newly designed X-31. The X-31 is the western designation for this craft which is a highly advanced space shuttle. A lunar base is due to be finished by 2015 and a manned mission to Mars is planned for 2020, leading to heavy competition with Germany and US. Both NASA and the German Space Initiative have mentioned similar dates. By 1980 it was already ascertained that China had surpassed the west economically. Within a decade China had surpassed them militarily and in space as well. The last two decades of the 20th century and the entire 21st century are China’s.
An alternate history of how Hitler won the war and Nazi domination of Europe
Prologue: Rise to power, Consolidation and early war years, 1919-1941
1933 would later prove to be a fearful year and fateful year in German, and indeed European, history even though it didn’t seem that way at the time. That year was marked by the rise of Adolf Hitler and his NSDAP or National Socialist German Workers’ Party, more a band of thugs than an actual party but a band of thugs that would come to rule Germany and later the European continent. That however was still in the distant future in 1933 as Germany was still in a vulnerable state at the time and Hitler was seen as nothing more but yet another tin pot dictator. The Nazi regime would prove to be more than just a banana republic. The NSDAP had evolved from the DAP (German Workers’ Party), a party founded in Bavaria by a certain Anton Drexler in 1919, in the aftermath of the Great War of 1914-1918. Germany had been punished harshly with its army shrunk to a mere 100.000 men, a police force by standards of the day. The navy was cut down to size on behest of the British who saw the German navy as a threat to their naval supremacy, the remainder of the once proud High Seas Fleet was a mere token force. A war guilt clause and massive war indemnities finished the job and were supposed to cripple German power forever. It did quite the opposite as the German people were incensed and hatred simmered but Germany was powerless to act. In the midst of communist street violence and a mini civil war, the Weimar Republic had been formed and it was the first time that Germany was a true democracy, unlike Imperial Germany which had preceded it. The Weimar Republic suffered from many ailments. First of all it was associated with the Treaty of Versailles which would forever tarnish its image in the minds of the average patriotic German. Hyperinflation skyrocketed and the communists initiated a revolution in 1919. For a moment it seemed as if they would take over but the Reichswehr (the army left by the Treaty of Versailles) and the so-called the Freikorps militias (the famous Stahlhelm among them) squashed the revolution and the republic maintained its hold on power, if a shaky hold. It was in this turbulent environment that a young man named Adolf Hitler started his rise to power.
The story as stated in Mein Kampf is the truth mixed with Hitler’s idealization of his past. The real truth has been pieced together by numerous historians over and over again, mostly by means of eyewitness accounts and has been told many times. I shall therefore limit myself to a brief summary. He was born on April 20th 1889 in the small, sleepy town of Braunau am Inn in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He grew up as the son of a customs official named Alois and his wife Klara and suffered from an unhappy childhood (although the boy’s own character flaws were partially to blame). As a young boy already Hitler wanted to become a painter and study at the fine arts academy in Vienna but his authoritarian father wanted him to follow in his footsteps, leading young Adolf to clash with his father frequently. In primary school he was a mediocre and unremarkable pupil. In high school he was a poor student as he refused to work for any subject but art. He also had a love for history although this wasn’t rewarded with good grades. His father died in 1903, ridding him of one burden. By 1905 he had gone to Vienna where he had been rejected for the art academy. He was told that he would do good as an architect but lacked the proper educational basis. He lived a bohemian life on an orphans’ pension and support from his mother in Vienna. She died in 1908 as a result of breast cancer and Hitler was reportedly devastated by the loss and mourned her, unlike he had his father. Hitler, being too lazy to get a job as he was an ‘artist’, ran out of money and became a bum. It was during this time that Hitler became an anti-Semite on racial grounds after seeing an orthodox Jew, and he was likely influenced by ideologist Lanz von Liebenfels and the polemics of Karl Lueger. He tried to live off his paintings and eventually left Vienna for Munich, avoiding service in the Austro-Hungarian army. He was arrested and returned to Austria but was deemed unfit for military service and thus he returned to Munich, a “real German city” where he came to admire Germany more and more. He joined the Bavarian army and became a corporal and was decorated no less than two times for bravery; Hitler frequently volunteered for dangerous errands (he was a courier, a dangerous assignment at any time). In 1918 he was temporarily blinded by a gas attack and was in a field hospital when he heard of the surrender and was infuriated. He remained in the army and entered the DAP via this canal as he was ordered to check it out (since the DAP seemed leftwing, judging by the name). He proved to be a great orator and within a few years he ousted the party’s founder Anton Drexler and took over. His popularity and nationalist, anti-communist and anti-Republic rhetoric secured him a following in Bavaria. In 1923 he felt strong enough to stage a coup which was put down. Hitler was arrested but spent only a year in prison where he wrote Mein Kampf, only to find the party in disarray upon his release. His rise continued although economic improvement slowed him down. The Depression hit in 1929, catapulting Hitler back to prominence. His party militia, the SA or Sturmabteilung, intimidated political opponents, preventing them from campaigning effectively. As of July 1932 the NSDAP was the largest party with 37% of popular vote but conservative President Paul von Hindenburg refused to make him chancellor. In 1933 the Reichstag was burned down and Dutch communist Marinus van der Lubbe was blamed (or framed, depending on who you believe). Hitler ranted against the Weimar Republic, the November criminals, communists, social-democrats and liberals alike and claimed he would restore German pride and make Germany strong again and put bread on the table which made him immensely popular. His ideology became messianic as only few demagogues can claim to have achieved. In the midst of this Hitler was involved in an affair with his niece “Geli” who committed suicide. This part of his personal life was kept secret and would any mention of it would be erased when he took power. Another mistress, Eva Braun, rose to prominence and remained by his side and he would eventually marry her as a reward for her loyalty. After the Reichstag fire he won 44% of popular vote and was granted dictatorial powers, only the remaining social-democrats opposed him. The constitution was suspended, civil liberties destroyed and the press censored. Hitler was dictator and Germany his police state, the rest is history.
The SA quickly intimidated remaining political opponents and dissidents and those who refused to comply, such as diehard communists, were locked away in prisons and in concentration camps such as the newly erected Dachau once prisons were full. The Nazis set about to absorb total power and founded the Hitler Youth to indoctrinate the generation of the future to create loyal Germans who had known nothing but the will of the Führer. The Gestapo and the SD quickly uprooted resistance and very soon the German people were loyal to Hitler alone. In 1934 Hitler assumed the title of Führer (Leader) when President Hindenburg died. It was a combination of the offices of President and Chancellor. The Nazi ideology was very Messianic but very soon the Nazis showed their true colours when Hitler ordered a purge of the SA as he believed that its leader, Ernst Röhm, was going to stage a coup. Many prominent SA leaders were killed and between 1934 and 1938 memberships dropped from 2.9 to 1.2 million and the organization was gutted. This was known as the Night of the Long Knives. The organization was a paramilitary storm trooper army, meant to intimidate enemies and take power and it needed to be more subtle but it was unable to do so but aspired for more power, leading Hitler to believe a coup was imminent. The SA was henceforth only used in ceremonial roles and became a band consisting mostly of old, fat war veterans. The SS took its place and became a racial elite for Aryans only. Yet, the danger that the Nazi regime posed was not recognised by the European powers, not even by those that Hitler threatened in his rhetoric such as Poland and Czechoslovakia. Hitler was seen as just another tin pot dictator such as Mussolini in Italy or Stalin in the USSR. He would prove otherwise.
One of the clauses of the Treaty of Versailles forbade Germany from rearming and a small “Reichswehr” of 100.000 men was all that remained. Furthermore, this Reichswehr was not much more than an overblown gendarmerie as it was not allowed to posses tanks, heavy artillery and chemical weapons whereas Germany’s neighbours all had these. German generals of the 1920s predicted that the army in its current state couldn’t even fight a limited, defensive war against Poland or Czechoslovakia. Hitler took it upon himself to restore the armed forces, always a symbol of German pride and nationalism. In 1935 conscription was reinstated even though the Treaty of Versailles explicitly forbade Germany from doing so. New tanks such as the panzer II and III were built and heavy artillery was reintroduced. Britain and France stood by and watched but didn’t act on this defiance even when German forces marched back into the demilitarized Rhineland. An aerial arm was also created which became known as the Luftwaffe which under the guidance of its leader Hermann Goering became one of the most modern air forces in Europe and, indeed, the world. The navy was also expanded and several battleships were laid down, including the infamous Bismarck, originally classified as a 35.000 ton ship, it turned out to be a 50.000 ton vessel. It was joined by its sister ship Tirpitz and two other ships named Gneisenau and Scharnhorst. Several smaller battlecruisers such as the Admiral Hipper and its sister ships were also laid down in the thirties, against the Treaty of Versailles which only allowed for six battleships of 10.000 tons which the earlier Deutschland-class had already superseded. Several pre-dreadnoughts and light cruisers were also still in service, a shadow of the former Imperial German Navy. Also, new U-boats or gun calibres of more than 8 inches (203 mm) weren’t allowed. The Scharnhorst-class possessed 11 inch (28 cm guns) as did the Deutschland-class and the Bismarck-class went even further with 50.000 tons and 15 inch (381 mm) guns. New U-boats were also laid down and the British were acquiescent and appeased Germany by allowing them to have 35% of Britain’s tonnage but within a few years even that would go into the bin altogether along with the old Treaty of Versailles, Germany would break its chains and take off the muzzle imposed by the Allies. In 1936 the Spanish Civil War erupted between the conservatives, the army and the Falange on one side and the Republicans on the other. German battlecruiser Graf Spee was sent to Spanish waters along with the Condor Legion, a unit of the Luftwaffe. Italy, a fellow fascist state, sent some 70.000 men to support Franco. It was a test of Hitler’s new toys and a reaffirmation of German power. Franco won in 1939 and established his fascist-like regime, ending the threat of the Republicans who, according to rumours, wanted to regionalize Spain and even give the Basques independence.
In international politics Hitler remained quiet for the first few years as he could do nothing but bluff. In 1934 he had tried to take Austria and Austria’s dictator Dollfuss was killed by Austrian Nazis. Mussolini however foiled the plan as he considered Austria to be in his sphere of influence and thus he defended Austrian independence, unlike a few years later. Hitler was furious but could do nothing against Italy as the Italian army was much stronger at than whatever Germany had to offer at that point. Later, in October 1935, however the Second Italo-Abyssinian war erupted which severely degraded Italy’s stature in foreign politics. It ended in 1936 after atrocities committed against Abyssinia’s civilian population, i.e. mustard gas attacks. Mussolini grew closer to Hitler’s Germany and very soon the Berlin-Rome Axis was founded. Japan later joined in what became known as the Tripartite Pact, a fascist, militarist and anti-communist alliance, signed in 1940 as an addition to the Anti-Comintern pact and the earlier German-Japanese agreement. Both signed in 1936. In Germany he stuck to his program and instituted the Nuremburg laws in 1935 which limited the rights of Jews. They weren’t allowed to teach except in Jewish schools, Jews in public functions were sacked, Jewish doctors weren’t allowed to treat non-Jewish patients and they weren’t allowed to marry or have children with non-Jewish Germans. Euthanasia programs were also created for mentally ill “to put them out of their misery”. Large scale eugenics programs and experiments on human subjects would follow to research heredity so that one day the Nazis could breed the perfect Aryan people. In 1938 Hitler felt confident enough to annex Austria in the so-called Anschluss which was welcomed in Austria which never really had an identity of its own thanks to Pan-Germanism and this time Mussolini remained silent. France only managed to voice a weak protest. Shortly thereafter he instigated a crisis over the Sudetenland as it contained over 3 million ethnic Germans. The Czechs didn’t want to hand it over but a conference (the Munich Conference) was called in which Germany was granted the Sudetenland without a war. Once again the weak Chamberlain had given in to the whims of a tyrant. It wasn’t enough and a few months later the rest of Czechia was annexed into the Reich and the protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia was created along with an independent Slovakian puppet state which got Ruthenia carved off by an overenthusiastic Hungary. This proved to the European great powers that Germany was untrustworthy and Germany scared them even more by signing the Molotov-Von Ribbentrop pact in 1939 which included a secret clause about the division of Poland. Their possible Soviet ally had turned away from them as Stalin didn’t trust them and believed they wanted him to fight Nazi Germany alone which was perhaps true, considering what happened later.
In 1939 the Nazi regime started to make overtures toward Poland which the French and British didn’t take lightly. Germany demanded Danzig and the Polish Corridor which separated East Prussia from the rest of Germany. They had tolerated a lot and had appeased Germany and Poland was where they drew the line and threatened war if Germany crossed it. A diplomatic crisis ensued and Hitler’s claims soon extended to all of the pre-1914 German territories in Poland. Poland’s leader Ignacy Moscicki refused and on September 1st 1939, the Wehrmacht executed Fall Weiss. German battleship Schleswig-Holstein which had been at the Westerplatte in a “courtesy visit”, started shelling the Polish garrisons as Luftwaffe bombers lifted off and panzers crossed the borders. It was a three pronged invasion which called for an invasion from Germany proper, East Prussia and from Slovakia, the last one being supported by Slovak auxiliary forces. Much to Hitler’s surprise and shock France and Britain declared war on September 3rd. They however didn’t act on their declaration of war and a Phoney War ensued while Hitler’s forces ran over the Polish army which was spread thing, defending its 2300 km long borders with Germany. In the Battle of the Bzura Germany decisively defeated the Polish army. The German plan called for an aggressive attack. Hostilities would commence before the formal declaration of war and pursued a doctrine of mass encirclement and destruction of enemy forces. The infantry, not full mechanized but equipped with fast artillery and logistical support, would be supported by tanks and small numbers of infantry on trucks (forerunners of the panzergrenadiers) at the so-called Schwerpunkt of the battle. The flat Polish countryside was well-suited to mobile warfare but Fall Weiss was conservative and didn’t employ blitzkrieg as Heinz Guderian advocated. The Polish simply planned to defend and wait for a French relieving offensive in the west which never came. Polish insistence to defend their borders probably hastened their defeat; they should have retreated to the San and Vistula rivers. The Polish air force was swept from the sky and their battered army fell back to the Romanian bridgehead where they would hold out in well defendable positions. With the Soviet invasion on September 17th that plan was no longer feasible. Poland fell on October 6th but the Poles never formally surrendered. This was the start of a several month long period of no fighting.
German generals started to work on a plan to swiftly defeat the western powers as Germany didn’t have the resources for a prolonged conflict. The first plan was envisaged by Chief of Staff Franz Halder and involved a simply frontal attack which would drive toward the river Somme. Some say he devised this plan on purpose to discourage Hitler in engaging in what he thought to be an unwinnable battle (France alone could field much more divisions than the Germans could) and that he was even planning on assassinating Hitler. Hitler was disappointed with the plan as he believed that at least the conquest of the Low Countries would be quick and cheap, the speed giving him the element of surprise thus allowing him to occupy large tracts of northern France which would put him in a position to negotiate a favourable peace. This plan made it seem as if it would be a long and protracted war. A date had been set for November 12th 1939. At this time Von Manstein made a plan which would entail a move from Sedan to the north, right in the rear of the Allied forces where they would engage them in full battle. He conferred with Guderian who was lodged in a nearby hotel in Koblenz. This would give his 19th army corps a role. It was transferred from Army Group A to B, much to the delight of Von Rundstedt. Heinz Guderian who was present proposed a radical, novel idea. He proposed that not only the infantry but all forces should be centred around Sedan and conduct a swift and deep strategic penetration with these armoured forces and annihilate them in a cauldron battle or “Kesselschlacht”. The idea of mobile warfare had been widely discussed but had been dismissed, owing to the large number of infantry officers in the Wehrmacht who deemed the plan too risky. The main objection was that this would leave German flanks exposed to attack. Guderian countered that this could be averted by smaller armoured assaults to the south which however was in conflict with the concept of Führer-Directive No.6. Von Manstein wrote several memorandums and downplayed the role of Guderian or the armoured units to not generate unnecessary resistance to the plan. Belgian intelligence correctly deduced this course of events. On January 10th 1940 a Messerschmitt Bf-108 crash landed near Maas-Mechelen in the so-called Mechelen Incident in which German plans were revealed. Von Manstein proposed a new plan in which the Schwerpunkt was shifted to the south which was unlikely from a defensive point of view as the Ardennes were so heavily forested. Hitler was enthusiastic about it and adopted the plan. The plan was postponed several more times to make last minute revisions but a final date was set for May 10th 1940.
For mostly strategic reasons Germany also invaded Norway and Denmark. Denmark was more or less in the way and would serve as staging area for the invasion of Norway. Sweden supplied Germany with iron ore but its only harbour, Lulea, froze during the winter whereas the Norwegian harbour Narvik didn’t. Secondly, Norway could provide naval bases on the Atlantic for the Kriegsmarine. They invaded Norway on April 9th after Denmark had surrendered after one day of fighting. Ships landed marines in Narvik, Trondheim, Bergen, Kristiansand, Oslo and Egersund while paratroopers took Norwegian airfields for the Luftwaffe which could then fly in heavier equipment. Britain landed shortly thereafter but they were confined to a small pocket and Norway fell on June 10th which made it the occupied country that had resisted the Germans the longest. This was called Operation Weserübung and Fall Gelb was launched before the operation was even finished. Belgian and Dutch air forces were quickly swept from the sky and German air superiority in the Low Countries was a fact, their air forces were largely destroyed within twenty-four hours. The advance was quick as only some second-rate Belgian and French forces defended the Ardennes. The operation also saw the quick fall of what was considered the strongest fortress in Europe, Eben-Emael, which was captured by paratroopers, giving Germany control over the junction of the Maas and the Albert Canal. Holland surrendered on May 14th and Belgium fell quickly. Allied commanders were stunned by the rapid German advance and retreated. They were amazed, more so when it was revealed later by military historians that several German divisions hadn’t been fully equipped nor trained and that it was largely improvised. They did manage to successfully evacuate the trapped BEF (British Expeditionary Force) from Dunkirk in late May/early June. The advance continued towards Paris and the Channel. This became worse when Italy declared war on June 10th. France surrendered unconditionally on June 25th 1940. German next launched the Battle of Britain which ended in a British victory and an invasion was definitively averted and Hitler turned away from Britain and set his sights eastward. Winston Churchill said that never had so much been owed by so many to so few.
Italian involvement opened up the North African front where they were defeated, forcing Hitler to deploy the Africa corps led by Rommel, or Desert Fox. 36.000 British had all but destroyed the Italian 10th army numbering 200.000 as they invaded Egypt. The Italian army was in a poor state and commander Graziani lacked proper intelligence. Rommel managed to push the British back to El Agheila, roughly restoring Libya’s pre-war borders and so 1940 ended. 1941 continued with Germany in control of Europe and winning in Africa despite Rommel’s limited resources and Libya’s limited infrastructure. The counterattack quickly became a full-fledged offensive which drove all the way to Tobruk. The city did not fall and was besieged instead. A small operation known as Operation Brevity was launched by the British to push the Axis out of Egypt. A larger operation named Battleaxe to relieve Tobruk also failed and in the meantime the seemingly invincible Axis marched through Yugoslavia in March 1941 as an anti-Nazi coup had taken place there and because Hitler recognised the need to help the Italians who had been driven back into Albania by Greek forces. Yugoslav forces were defeated in eleven days, their problems aggravated by a Bulgarian stab in the back. Despite British support, Greece was defeated and Britain was fully evicted from mainland Europe once more on April 23rd. This was followed by a costly but successful invasion of Crete, giving the Axis control over the Aegean Sea.
Fascism reigned over the European mainland but one major power remained neutral but that was soon to change as clashing ideologies and personalities made war between these powers inevitable. It would be here that the war would be decided and won for Germany. One June 22nd 1941 the go-order was given and Operation Barbarossa was launched, the invasion of the USSR. Thanks to Stalin’s purges the Red Army was still reeling and unprepared for war. Many troops had been deployed in forward positions and had no forewarning from Soviet intelligence service since Stalin ignored the German build-up on his borders. Stalin was shocked and retreated to his datsja for several days, crippling the Soviet decision making ability. He didn’t believe that the Germans would violate the Molotob-Von Ribbentrop Pact so soon. Many units were surrounded as Stalin ordered them not to fall back. Furthermore, several thousands of aircraft were destroyed on the ground as the they were also not alerted as Stalin had forbidden reconnaissance flights over German occupied Poland to not provoke Hitler. This gave the Luftwaffe air superiority in the opening phase, enabling the Luftwaffe to harass the Red Army without interdiction from the Red Air Force and to provide close ground support. The Luftwaffe claimed to have destroyed 3100 planes in the first three days, although claims from historians run as high as 3922 or as low as 2100. Many Soviet divisions were encircled in the rapid German advance and they advanced for hundreds of kilometres. Minsk fell and Germany “liberated” the Baltic states from Stalin’s yoke. The pocket around Bialystok and Minsk resisted to the best of its abilities but they were defeated, albeit at a high death toll. Army Group South reached Kiev by August and Army Group North started its siege of Leningrad in September. In counterattacks Soviet forces managed to inflict heavy casualties near Brody. After a staggeringly fast advance German forces would reach Moscow by early December. Only good intelligence, Zhukov’s prowess and Hitler’s poor decision making prevented the city’s fall.
Operation Barbarossa was a much debated operation as many generals were against it, rightly believing that even in the event of a victory over the Red Army, the Wehrmacht would be bled white, more so with the ensuing guerrilla war that would follow when Hitler’s intentions and policies became clear to the liberated Ukrainians and other Slavs. The Nazi regime was no less intolerant and tyrannical than the regime of Stalin in the USSR. There had been a lot of debate but by now Hitler controlled his generals and not the other way around which would have been better for Germany. Many generals were old aristocrats, militarists or descendants of wealthy business men and settled for domination of Europe, excluding the USSR, and forming an economic-military alliance and restoring Germany’s modest colonial empire in Africa which were more limited and viable gains which Germany could digest unlike the vast expanses of Russia. Notably, chief of staff Halder had his reservations about the plan but had nonetheless done what the Führer had asked but he would clash with Hitler on military decisions on several occasions. In August 1940 Halder started working on the plan and aerial reconnaissance gave him detailed intelligence on Soviet troop dispositions and these planes were not shot down as Stalin, as mentioned earlier, didn’t want to provoke Nazi aggression as his army was nowhere near ready for war. As a preparation for this operation over 3.5 million German and 1 million Axis soldiers were moved to the border but Stalin did not act as the Nazis assured him that they were there for security reasons and launched Operations Haifisch and Harpune which entailed fake preparations on the Norwegian and Channel coasts for an invasion of Britain. In reality Hitler wanted to attack the Soviet Union to receive Lebensraum for the German people. The Slavs would be reduced to slave labour and would raise crops and make cheap consumer goods for the superior Aryan race, at least that was the theory. Part of the Slavic population would be exterminated to make room for Germans. Reality would prove the economic naysayers right as for at least a another decade and the half guerrilla warfare would continue.
There were several conflicts on strategy between Hitler and his generals. The former favoured a drive through the Ukraine and toward the Caucasus for the minerals and oil in those regions which Germany needed to continue the war but which would also severely hurt German logistics due to the distances involved whereas Moscow was closer and a vital railway hub. The latter therefore favoured a drive straight for the Soviet capital of Moscow as its fall would be a blow to the regime and Red Army morale and would cripple Soviet logistics for a significant amount of time, more so since large troop Soviet concentrations had been discovered south of the Pripyat marshes. The attack was divided over three task forces or army groups which each had their own designated objectives and followed traditional invasion routes although German generals would attempt to avoid Napoleon’s mistakes and would therefore attempt to defeat the Soviet Union quickly. Army Group North was assigned with an advance through the Baltic States toward Leningrad which Von Manstein expected to be able to do in under eight weeks. Army Group Centre would march for and take Smolensk, a vital railway hub for German logistics, and thrust for the Soviet capital of Moscow, the operation’s main objective. Army Group South would take the resource and mineral Ukraine and march for the Donetsk Basin which was a large industrial region of the USSR, created by Stalin during the 1930s and rich in coal. It harboured a large steel industry and lots of war-making potential. This region was paramount as far as Hitler was concerned and important in his ideology as this was where the bulk of German and other Aryan and Germanic settlers would go. In spite of German estimates based on the Red Army’s performance in the Winter War with Finland, the Soviet Union was by no means a weak country. Thanks to Stalin’s ruthless industrialization as part of his infamous Five Year Plans, the USSR was the second largest industrial power in the world, second only to the US and on par with Nazi Germany. A lot had been invested in the Red Army as well and the Soviet Union possessed a large numerical superiority with some 23.106 tanks of which some 12.782 were stationed in the western districts to fight 3.600 German panzers. The Soviets also possessed the new T-34 which would become renowned as one of the best tanks in the world in spite of the USSR’s bitter defeat. In addition to this there was the KV-1. The panzer IV, the best German panzer available in June 1941, could not penetrate this tank’s armour which prompted the Germans to develop heavier panzers. This tank was built as a response to a non-existent German tank which Stalin claimed had 100 mm armour. In July 1941 Red Army forces amounted to 5.7 million men, 2.6 million in the west, 1.8 million in the far east and the remainder on training or stationed elsewhere. The Red Army however lacked leadership, innovation an readiness and were ill-prepared for the surprise attack. The Germans relied on a doctrine of mobility and annihilation, excellent communications and confidence and experience from earlier victories. Stalin was initially shocked and later overestimated the Red Army’s capabilities. The Red Army had maintenance problems, lacking communications, limited logistical capabilities and was reeling from the purges which had prevented the implementation of Deep Battle, the Red Army’s version of mobile warfare. The static linear defences were quickly broken, explaining the Soviet Union’s initial defeats and the fall of places like Kiev, Minsk and the cutting off of Sebastopol. By early December 5th Germany would close on Moscow and start Operation Typhoon.
In the meantime on the other side of the world conflict was brewing and war loomed on the horizon. Conflict between the Empire of Japan and the Western colonial powers had simmered for a while although peace had been preserved. Major point of contention was the ongoing Japanese war in China, known as the Second Sino-Japanese War which had started after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident (to this day it is debated whether the Japanese actually caused/staged the incident themselves). The Panay Incident in which Japanese planes attacked gunboat USS Panay and also Japanese atrocities in Nanjing in what was known as the Rape of Nanjing (or Nanking alternatively), alienated western opinion and led to President Roosevelt instating an embargo against Japan. They wouldn’t get American scrap metal or oil anymore. This heightened tension in the Pacific Ocean between Japan and America, leading Japanese military minds to think that a war with the United States was inevitable. Japan got bogged down in China as the Chinese resisted fanatically and received Soviet and American support and because the communists and Nationalists finally united (for a time anyway). The problem was aggravated by harsh Japanese rule and reprisals against resistance. The puppet governments that the Japanese sponsored were largely unpopular due to Japanese atrocities and because the Japanese refused to grant these governments any real power so they were not deemed an alternative to Chiang Kai-Shek. Also the Japanese didn’t try to split the communists and nationalists. Initially the army favoured the northern option (i.e. the USSR) for resources but the option was dismissed after the Red Army decisively defeated the Kwantung Army in two border clashes (the Battle of Lake Khasan and the Nomonhan Incident). The southern option which the navy favoured was chosen. On November 26th the Kido Butai left port and sailed for a secret destination.
Its destination was soon revealed as bombs and torpedoes rained down on American’s Pacific base Pearl Harbor. This was seen as necessary to quickly knock out the US to force them to negotiate and seize the oil and resource rich Dutch East Indies and South East Asia. The attack was inspired by the British raid on Taranto in which biplane Fairy Swordfish torpedo bombers crippled the Italian navy. They modified their torpedoes to accommodate to the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor. The first American shots were fired by the USS Ward which sank two midget submarines and warned Pearl Harbor. The warning wasn’t heeded and a radar contact at Opana point was dismissed as a flock of USAAF B-17s which was scheduled to arrive from the mainland. They were detected on 7:02 AM local time, giving only a 46 minute warning so even if the warning had been passed on, its contribution would have been minimal. The first wave attacked Hickam field and Wheeler field and the planes were grouped close together as the Americans feared sabotage. Only a handful of P-36s and P-40s offered resistance. A second wave attacked the remainder of the harbour and sank several ships and crippled others and survivors in the water were strafed by Japanese fighters. A third wave did not come for several reasons: Nagumo believed that the element of surprise was lost and did not know what kind of resistance the Americans could still mount, he considered the Pacific fleet neutralized, he was running out of fuel and he was in range of land based bombers. This left CINCPAC, oil storage tanks, the submarine base and the navy yard intact. Their destruction could have delayed American retaliation for months. The attack had been a tactical success but a geo-strategic blunder in the long term. Four battleships had been sunk and four others heavily damaged but these would be refloated save two that were beyond repair. The Japanese had awoken a sleeping giant as many Americans on December 8th woke up to the news of the surprise attack and the deaths of 2.402 Americans soldiers and civilians. America was enraged and Roosevelt delivered his Infamy Speech and the United States declared war an hour later on December 8th 1941. America would have revenge as waves of fear and rage swept the American people.
Hitler at this time was still sleeping but when he heard, in a rare moment of epiphany, he decided to do the right thing for Germany. Originally, Hitler had assumed that Japan would join him in his conquest of the Soviet Union. Hitler, after the attack, exploded in rage. Nearly six months had passed without any sign of preparations for a Japanese offensive into the Russian Far East. Japan was unenthusiastic and had concluded a non-aggression pact with the USSR after the border incidents without knowledge from Germany. As no help was forthcoming from Japan, Hitler decided not to declare war on the US in favour of Japan and his Italian puppet Mussolini did the same as he had enough on his mind already as German forces were all that stood between his weak and crippled army and the British. America was several times larger than Germany, had more resources, could not be touched by any means so its war machine would remain intact and it had a much higher population base with some 134 million inhabitants. German industrial power could not cope with such a strong opponent and the USSR proved somewhat stronger than expected (although Hitler still expected victory to be a mere months away) and Britain had refused any peace offers thus far. Hitler was genuinely enraged about the this Japanese move and condemned the attack. When he heard of the attack on December 8th, he ordered a speech to be drawn up which denounced Japan and would ensure American sympathy. He didn’t know the numbers and precise American strength but he didn’t want to invoke their wrath. He knew what he would do if he had been President of the US and had quite an idea of what the Americans would do against any aggressors. Japan would be destroyed. The German embassy in Washington denounced Japan and Germany formally cancelled the Tripartite Pact and expressed “the deep sympathy of the German people for those close to the murdered sailors and sympathy for the American cause, vengeance”. The Italian embassy soon did the same. At noon December 9th 1941, Hitler delivered his speech to the Reichstag, an excerpt:
“Courage, bravery and honour are the words to describe the innocent American sailors who died after the Japanese sneak attack. I have no words for my revulsion of this atrocity of the so-called Empire of Japan. It is not worthy of the title Empire because Empires are never so barbarous, Empires are noble and fair. Many innocent lives have been lost and it is my duty as a good German to support the proud nation of America in these grave times against the treacherous Japanese. This sneak attack is a low and devilish act unseen in human history and is a sign of how low the Japanese race really is. Japanese are a naturally cowardly and inferior race and once the Reich stretches from coast to coast I shall destroy it with my bare hands if America leaves anything. These are perilous times but I am confident that the stronger shall prevail. I and the German people feel deep sorrow for the American loss and will do anything in our power to assist in the American war of vengeance. Alas, we are fighting the Soviet Russian hordes and I wish we could do more. I am confident that the white nation of America shall prevail and I can only wish them luck. America shall achieve its destiny and conquer the Yellow Race. The Reich is with you, and all that fight the Japanese aggressor.
The speech was broadcast all over Germany and very soon news reels in America showed the German leader’s rant against the Japanese which by now were hated and despised throughout the United States, Britain and the Reich and Hitler even sent a telegram to American President Roosevelt to further express his sympathy for the American cause and he offered to send wolf packs of U-boats to the Pacific and declare war in favour of America against The Empire of Japan. Roosevelt politely declined German help. The American president recognized this immediately for what it was: a political ploy to gain American favour and prevent American entry in the European war. He was deeply angered as because of this move it was politically impossible to arbitrarily declare war on the Germans for the loss of some destroyers whose presence in the Atlantic was being questioned more and more. For the first time since the Great War there was sympathy for the German cause and they were no longer referred to as “Huns”. Hitler had set in motion strong political machinations in Congress and the American people as people questioned why their boys were out on the Atlantic on destroyers escorting merchant shipping headed for Britain and fighting German submarines. Already German U-boat attacks had been seriously toned down to reap more favour and Hitler had ordered his submarine commanders explicitly not to engage American vessels. Hitler’s seeming sympathy for the American cause and his empathy for the families of American casualties caused a thaw in American sentiment for Germany and he was proclaimed Time Man of the Year for a second time in 1942 and he was all over the magazine’s cover. The isolationists had questioned long ago why American ships were fighting Germans and they were now given ammo for their argument as Hitler seemed friendly. Hitler got support from many right-wingers in Congress as well as many of them were staunch anti-communists. His political enemies accused him of supporting the red menace and being a philo-Stalinist and their rhetoric struck a chord as Germany continued to make friendly gestures toward the United States and Roosevelt seemed adamantly against the Nazis for profit and for the sake of old Anglo-American good feelings and his Anglophile attitude (although he pressured the British for nuclear secrets in return for help, hardly Anglophile). Roosevelt stressed the dangers of fascism and National Socialism and he knew also that a victorious Nazi Germany would lose the US markets in Europe although that was secondary to him, it went unheard. The average American however was not an economist and several admirals pressed Roosevelt to allow them to transfer ships to the Pacific Ocean to assist the crippled Pacific fleet. Mood in Congress was swinging away from war with Germany and toward destroying Japan. With resistance from Roosevelt an act was passed which limited Lend-Lease Aid to Britain to the bare minimum (i.e. money and the most necessary resources such as food, coal and oil). Weapon shipments were redirected back to the US and what little Lend-Lease went to the USSR dried up completely. Only the Jewish lobby supported Roosevelt’s position while the rest supported the Chinese lobby.
As a winter set in, the German advance sped up again as the autumn rains that had previously turned the soil into mud, had ceased and the ground froze again. In spite of this the Germans continued to struggle with continued Soviet resistance, long supply lines and the winter. The battle of Smolensk, lasting from July through September 1941, had severely delayed the advance and the decision to consolidate lines around Kiev and Leningrad added to this. Smolensk was also consolidated since it controlled a land bridge between several major rivers and was considered the key to Moscow but Smolensk had effectively stopped the Wehrmacht’s blitzkrieg forcing Army Group Centre to deploy almost half of its strategic reserves. It was an important stronghold and railroad hub as well which would ease German logistics which were becoming problematic. Kiev also drew troops as Stalin refused to withdraw troops from the salient there, as was noted in the memoirs of Aleksandr Vasilevsky and Georgy Zhukov, leading to a protracted battle of attrition against the Red Army which became a decisive German victory and a great tactical victory but its strategic importance remains debatable. Initially the Germans had used armoured units in rapid advances, encirclement and annihilation but were getting bogged down on just about every front from Leningrad to the Black Sea. Also, heavy resistance continued for quite a while in the Bryansk and Vyazma pockets which were encircled by German forces after they had cut off rail lines to the trapped Soviet soldiers. The magnitude of the defeat however was appalling with hundreds of thousands of men captured or perished and the Luftwaffe continued to attack Soviet supply columns and troops which hampered their ability to launch counteroffensive. Almost the entire Soviet western front was in shambles and it was being recreated from scratch. The Germans reached the Mozhaisk line in mid October and broke through it by the end of the month. Massive anti-aircraft defences defended the city and Zhukov recalled how 250.000 teenagers and women dug trenches and anti-tank moats, turning the city into a fortress. The German plan involved encircling and besieging the city as sending in tanks had proven costly during the capture of Warsaw in 1939. Moscow did not fall as reserves from Siberia arrived as intelligence from master spy Richard Sorge said that Japan would not attack. Zhukov managed to gather some 1.250.000 men to fight the 1.000.000 Germans that were poised to attack the city. Hitler seemed to accept the idea of a prolonged struggle as Zhukov’s counteroffensive drove the Germans some 160 kilometres away from the capital and only Hitler stand fast order prevented a rout of the German army as had happened to Napoleon. The encirclement had failed and there wouldn’t be a swift victory. Operation Barbarossa was the first Axis failure.
In Africa things took a turn for the worse for the Germans while Hitler focused on defeating the Soviet Union although it didn’t look like that yet at the start of the year which the Germans entered optimistic. By the end of 1941 the frontline had returned to El Agheila but the British would counterattack in 1942. Rommel launches another offensive against the British and takes Benghazi by the end of January and established a frontline at Gazala and Bir Hakeim, resulting in the Battles of Gazala and Bir Hakeim when Rommel tried to get through British lines, resulting in another German victory. By June the Axis remain on the offensive and begin an offensive from their “cauldron position” inflicting extreme losses on the British defenders in what would become known as “Black Sunday” which surviving Africa veterans still commemorate on June 13th every year. Tobruk fell to the siege later that month and was an important harbour for the Axis since whoever controlled Tobruk, controlled most of Cyrenaica. With Tobruk secured the Germans could advance beyond Benghazi without having to worry that troops on the Libyan coast could attack in their rear from places like Derna which was subsequently cut off. Tobruk was based on a peninsula which was easily defendable as it could only be accessed via one route which would be defended by a small force. The British used this to their advantage during the siege of Tobruk, forcing Rommel to spend a significant amount of forces trying to cut off supply lines to the vital port city. The first siege in 1941 had failed and Operation Crusader had pushed the Germans away. In 1942 the city would fall to a surprise attack. In late June the Germans attacked El Alamein, resulting in the First Battle of El Alamein. The city itself only had an insignificant railway station but overlooked the Qattara depression and the British chose to make a stand here. They dug in in heavily defended lines which Rommel could only outflank by making a large detour south. A large number troops had been made available because of the strong US presence in the Pacific which relieved pressure on Britain’s Asian possessions. America transferred its heavies from the Atlantic, causing the Japanese loads of trouble and headaches. Churchill considered the North African front more important and thus troops were transferred to drive out the Axis forces. It resulted in a strategic victory for the Allies even though the counteroffensive of Auchinleck’s Eight Army failed but the victory had bought time to regroup and resupply. In the last major Axis offensive Rommel attempted to encircle the Eight Army in what was known as the Battle of Alam el Halfa but Montgomery who had replaced Auchinleck was aware as ULTRA intelligence had broken German codes. He deliberately left a hole in the front to lure in Rommel and the ambush was a success. Artillery and tanks in anti-tank roles on the ridges severely damaged the Africa Corp’s motorized forces. With this failure Rommel wouldn’t be able to launch any offensives any time soon unless reinforcements arrived from Europe. This would culminate in the Second Battle of El Alamein which was a decisive Allied victory and was over by November 5th 1942. They however failed to exploit it by cutting off Rommel who managed to retreat in good order. They did manage to retake Tobruk on November 11th. A few days earlier, on November 8th, British landings had taken place on the Moroccan and Algerian coast but the success was limited. Initially the British believed that the French would not shoot or that resistance would be minimal. French feelings were mixed; they didn’t like the Nazis but held a grudge over the destruction of the French fleet at Mers-El-Kebir. French coastal batteries returned fire and the French ordered their 60.000 men strong force to resist. Some units defected to the resistance but not that many. The British force had a strength of some 85.000 men. The French fleet consisting of the unfinished battleship Jean Bart and an assortment of cruisers engaged the British but they were repelled at the cost of two destroyers. Sniper fire pinned the troops on the beaches and Dewoitine D.520s engaged the British in the air. This was known as Operation Phoenix and the British managed to secure a bridgehead albeit it at a cost. Resistance would continue in the mountains in Morocco, taking up valuable British troop strength.
On the eastern front the Soviet winter offensive continued as the Soviets fought on and attacked between Lake Seliger and Rzhev in an attempt to drive a wedge between Army Groups North and Centre and recapture Smolensk. German soldiers were weary due to the very cold winter and were unprepared for winter warfare but rallied and retained Smolensk. A Soviet paratrooper landing failed spectacularly and the offensive came to a stand still. In the south the Red Army crashed over the Donets river near Izyum with the intent to pin Army Group South against the Sea of Azov. The Germans however managed to counterattack and cut off the overextended Soviet forces in the Second Battle of Kharkov which was a decisive Axis victory with the loss of over 207.000 men out of 640.000 men for the Red Army whereas the Germans, Italians and Romanians lost only 20.000 men out of 300.000 and so the Soviet winter counteroffensive petered out. As spring arrived, the Germans once again started planning a new summer offensive and there was some debate about the objective of this latest offensive. Plans were made to attack Moscow again on June 28th but the plan was cancelled as some 80% of Red Army strength was concentrated around the Soviet capital while only 10% of Soviet forces were concentrated in the Caucasus and Don regions, thus leaving these economically and strategically important areas vulnerable to attack. Stalin however was convinced that another offensive would come in the Moscow region and he remained ignorant of the troop build-up in the Ukraine. As part of this operation Army Group South would attack and secure the Volga and Don regions and the march for the Caucasus and capture the valuable Baku oilfields which were the Red Army’s primary source of fuel although oil rigs were being set up in the Turkmen SSR on the Caspian Sea’s east coast. Reconnaissance flights by the Luftwaffe however revealed that the infrastructure in the region was poor and Halder, still Chief of Staff at the time, came into conflict with Hitler who, in his vanity ordered both operations to take place simultaneously. He grossly overestimated the Wehrmacht’s capabilities. Von Manstein, Paulus and Hoth however recognised that their panzers’ movements would be severely hampered too. Von Manstein managed to sweet talk Hitler into a smaller offensive which would have a similar effect by picturing it as a way to quickly cripple the Soviets. Army Group South would attack the Don and Volga regions, capturing Stalingrad and securing the rivers, and then march for Astrakhan thus cutting the USSR off from the Caucasus and the oil fields there. After several weeks of bickering Hitler approved the plan, envisaging a quick defeat, possibly before autumn of 1942.
By now the aerial war was also tipping in German favour, at least over continental Europe. Because America was only involved in the Pacific theatre, their production rates weren’t put to use in Europe and instead they would darken Japanese skies in about 18 months or so. The bombing campaign, even in night time, as becoming increasingly difficult to keep up for the Royal Air Force (henceforth abbreviated to RAF). It was becoming a battle of attrition as German anti-aircraft crews rose to the challenge each time as did German fighters such as the new Fockewulf Fw-190 which outperformed the Spitfire Mk.5. The bombing campaign against German cities was becoming more costly as bombers suffered heavy casualties, unlike popular pre-war experts had thought who claimed that “the bomber” would always come through. During 1941 raids grew as retaliation for the bombing of London and in the summer of 1942 Britain launched the first 1000 plan raid. Hitler was of course infuriated although it was difficult to do something about it as Germany had lost many men during the Battle of Britain. Only 44 planes had been shot down (although those 44 were not easy to replace without America’s industrial base chipping in as America focused on the Pacific). Fighter production increased with the Bf-109 which engaged fighters as it was able to fly higher and drop in behind them while the Fw-190 would attack the bombers as its performance dropped considerably above 20.000 feet. In total some 6.400 bombers would be lost in the war with 96 over Nuremberg. It caused a firestorm but Nuremberg would become one of the most disastrous raids in RAF history. The bombing during 1942 would be intense but would decrease in numbers in 1943, freeing up German resources for the eastern front. The British made the switch to night time bombing which cut their losses. In the second half of 1942 the effect would be felt as German production rates would slowly increase.
In the meantime certain historically pivotal events would take place such as the assassination attempt on Heydrich. He was scheduled to meet Hitler in Berlin and he was to be ambushed in a hairpin turn by assassins sent by the Czech government in exile. By a stroke of luck, or bad luck if you will, Heydrich’s car broke down a few days before and Heydrich chose to travel to Berlin by plane and the assassins had to improvise. They had had only limited training in creating bombs as they were meant to be marksmen and gun down the SS man so the crude bomb they planted on his plane failed to detonate. It was discovered and Heydrich was frightened by the attempt on his life and strengthened his security and started a brutal crackdown on the Czech resistance. His survival would mean that he would be one of the contenders for the position of Führer after Hitler’s death.
The operation was launched on July 12th 1942 and the Battle of Voronezh was a prelude of things to come. The city fell by July 25th,securing a crossing over the Don and Hoth’s 4th panzer army marched south-eastward down the river Don and in the direction of Stalingrad and soon Paulus’ Sixth Army arrived to bolster the effort. Rostov which had fallen in the winter offensive was recaptured in early August which was around the same time that German forces reached Stalingrad and the 4th and 1st panzer armies and the Sixth Army converged on the city and this was also the first offensive in which all European Axis powers took part. Italy and Romania provided troops to cover German flanks which were stretched in a salient and were thus vulnerable as they could be cut off. Even smaller Axis countries such as Croatia and Slovakia provided troops although their forces were attached to the Sixth Army and were under Paulus’ command. Especially the Romanians performed well and their 3rd and 4th armies managed to successfully clear the Azov Littoral. There was some tension between the Hungarians and Romanians over Transylvania and Hitler therefore decided to have them separated by the Italian Eighth Army. On Halder’s advice Axis forces advanced more slowly and on a broader front as a counter to Soviet flanking operations (although Hitler believed the Red Army to be incapable of that). They advanced on Chuikov’s 62nd Army which consisted of 187.000 men at the eve of battle while Axis forces consisted of some 270.000 men. Paulus, a more cautious man than his superior Von Manstein, attacked the city which by now as devoid of supplies but neglected to cross the Volga, allowing the Soviets to set up artillery positions on the eastern bank. The harvest had been taken away east and important factories had been stripped and moved although some continued production of T-34s. Von Manstein ordered Paulus to cross the Volga (without asking Hitler first since that would take took long and this had to be done), surrounding the 62nd army. As Stalingrad was so important ideologically. By now the Luftwaffe had completely stopped shipping on the Volga and possessed air superiority. This was known as Operation Jupiter, nicknamed the Battle of the Flanks. Soviet tank divisions attacked the weaker Romanian and Italian forces on Germany’s flanks and especially the unmotivated Italians buckled, forcing Germany to divert troops from other places. East of Stalingrad German reconnaissance squads were already less than 100 kilometres away from Astrakhan. In the Battle of the Flanks the Soviets were getting bogged down as German resistance stiffened. Paulus withdrew to the outskirts of Stalingrad and laid siege to the city instead as the city was effectively surrounded anyway like the Germans had wanted to do to Moscow as well. Here they succeeded although Stalin authorized troops to be transferred to be transported to the Volga front. Shipping over the Volga was increased, in spite of withering Luftwaffe attacks, to supply the 62nd army. Stalin ordered Stavka to come up with a plan to save the city. Zhukov’s forces briefly reached the city and several units of the 62nd Army managed to get away but Chuikov and over a third of the 62nd remained as the Germans cut them off. The entire Sixth, Eleventh and Seventeenth Armies were deployed in the region along with the Romanian Third and Fourth Armies. This force totalled some 1.200.000 men and the Red Army was not yet able to mount operations over an area that large as they, even though their weaponry was equal to the Wehrmacht’s, were still somewhat lacking in their logistical capabilities and were forced to decrease tank production to build more trucks (Lend-Lease had completely dried up and the Soviet Union was beginning to feel the effects). Surrounding Stalingrad was well within the Red Army’s capability but protecting the oil supply was more important right now. The operation ended on October 11th 1942 with the fall of Astrakhan to German forces.
This was a disastrous defeat for the Soviet Union, one from which they wouldn’t recover even though the Turkmenistan oilfields would partially compensate for the loss of Baku and Grozny. Stalin declared a total war, his equivalent of a holy war. This had just turned into a struggle for survival for the Soviet Union, more so since Stalingrad fell in late December 1942 after a prolonged siege although guerrilla resistance against the Nazis continued as their atrocities continued; the last bastion in the Volga region was gone and the Germans now controlled shipping from the Volga into the Russian hinterland and no help from Britain was forthcoming as Britain was still fighting in Africa and German forces had ready made defences in the mountains in Tunisia and the Vichy French were resisting British forces in Algeria. The Fall of Stalingrad came at a cost as many Axis forced had been bogged down and had depleted Army Group South’s strength and reserves in one of the most vicious battles of the eastern front in which the Soviets had forced the Axis to fight for every street and building. All buildings overlooking squares or cross roads were bristling with machine guns and Germans gad fought for every room and the Mamayev Kurgan had switched owners several times. In the end Army Group South outnumbered the 62nd Army and the Luftwaffe bombed them into submission. Stalin proclaimed Stalingrad a Hero City. Chuikov would die in captivity and he was posthumously bestowed the title Hero of the Soviet Union and the Lenin Order (ironically he would likely have been executed if he had escaped back to the USSR for incompetence). Fall Blau was a complete success. Stalin blamed Churchill for not opening a second front in Europe but he didn’t grasp reality; Britain could not invade Europe, not without eliminating Axis air power. He also accused the British of letting the USSR fight the Germans on their own so the USSR would be destroyed and Britain could waltz into Europe. This was obviously a figment of Stalin’s paranoia but it was true that Churchill had no love for communists but the Nazis were a much graver threat in his eyes. There were some improvements. The Wehrmacht was now at the limit of its logistical capabilities and would likely not advance much further east and so the USSR’s bad infrastructure now proved to be a bonus for them. Also the T-34 was showing up on the battlefield in significant numbers as was the KV-1 and both were more than a match for the panzer IV, the most numerous German tank on the eastern front. A strategic stalemate ensued as the Red Army was broken due to fuel problems and the German army unable to advance much further (at least not where it mattered) and was embroiled in a guerrilla war because of their own ethnic cleansing, looting and suppression of any manifestation of Ukrainian nationalism. During the winter both Soviet and German forces regrouped to make a stand or deliver a final blow respectively. Stalin knew he had to enforce a decision and prospects looked bleak.
Throughout early 1943 the British attempted to dislodge the Axis who were in an increasingly tenuous position and Rommel was in no position to attack and his supply lines were constantly being attacked by the Royal Navy and the RAF from Malta and Egypt. The British found themselves in a troubled logistical situation as well since the Libyan desert had a limited infrastructure and Rommel managed to hold on to the harbour of Tripoli and because American supplies remained limited to Lend-Lease because Roosevelt’s hands were tied. Axis codes had been broken a long time ago and it was suspected by the Germans but German code breakers dismissed it as impossible since their code was “unbreakable”, especially as new versions of Enigma were being developed. The Axis managed therefore managed to hold onto its defensive lines in Libya and Morocco since circumventing/outflanking German lines would be too much of an effort in the Libyan desert and the Moroccan Atlas Mountains where the French held on. The mountains were well defendable but Vichy French forces were less motivated than their German and Italian patrons. Also, the British army was decidedly of better quality and broke through French lines and the French were forced to retreat in the face of local air superiority (in spite of the French Dewoitine D.520s who took down quite some Spitfires with them) to lines further east, re-establishing themselves one hundred kilometres west of Algiers by early May 1943. The French force by now consisted of some 125.000 men with some 210 tanks, 500 aircraft, 10 or so warships and 11 submarines. The aircraft slowed the British down as they were equal to their British adversaries in performance and the warships sporadically shelled British forces advancing along the coast although the RAF repelled them.
As the Axis sat out the winter, they pulled themselves back together as did the USSR to the best of its abilities. Fortunately for the Red Army and Stavka it was quite obvious where the next offensive would come, Moscow. The Soviet capital was the only target of any value left within reach of German forces and large numbers of troops were redeployed to defend Moscow but first another offensive would be initiated to shrink the large bulge north Moscow which protruded deep into German frontlines and was a threat for any offensive aimed at Moscow. The Soviet leftwing was situated north of Rzhev and the rightwing was close to the city of Demyanks which was frontline city and only barely behind German lines. On May 25th 1943 the Germans launched Fall Schwarz (Case Black) but is much better known under the name Battle of the Bulge, named after the bulge that the Germans wanted to remove as it threatened Smolensk and Vitebsk. Soviet resistance was strong as they knew this was a prelude to another drive for Moscow since an attack south from this bulge could sever German armoured spearheads from the main body of the attack and envelop them but they were experiencing fuel problems because they were still cut off from Baku and Grozny. Zhukov launched a vigorous counteroffensive which stopped the German advance about 50 kilometres away from the Volga but it wasn’t good enough and Hitler decided that the bulge was small enough and that the threat was neutralized. German losses were heavy as well though because of the introduction of the T-34/85. Russian losses were increased because of the introduction of the Panther and Tiger tanks. The Panther had been developed in response to the T-34 and had the same slanted armour. It was however heavier due to thicker armour and possessed a long 75 mm gun. The Tiger had been in development earlier and thus sloped armour was not incorporated into its design but its armour was nonetheless difficult to penetrate even in the best circumstances and the rear was only really vulnerable. Its 88 mm gun, which had been designed as an anti-aircraft gun, could penetrate the T-34’s armour at any distance. Both however, despite their strength, broke down often because they were underpowered. The Germans already possessed several hundreds of them. Also, the siege of Leningrad was finally broken and fighting erupted in the city itself. There too the Soviets would fight until the end.
Now it was time for the USSR’s death struggle as Hitler ordered the attack on Moscow which was dubbed Operation Friedrich der Grosse, after the Prussian king who happened to be one of the best field commanders in German history. The Germans would once again attempt to encircle the city as they would lose their mobility advantage in urban warfare as they had experienced when they took Warsaw in 1939. For the purpose of the attack Hitler shifted forces from Army Groups South and Centre, including all panzer battalions equipped with Tigers and Panthers. Zhukov was assigned with the task to defend the city once again and he used whatever fuel reserves he had for this task. He created three defensive belts around the city in preparation for a battle of attrition which the Red Army could win due to sheer numbers. These lines consisted of anti-tank ditches, anti-tank obstacles and extensive networks of trenches and bunkers. The date for the operation was set on August 1st 1943 and Hitler held hopes that the city would fall before the winter which would make things a lot easier. It was not to be as German panzers quickly ran into T-34s north and south of the city which drove back German pincers who had already suffered casualties at Mozhaisk, a major stronghold which had set the Germans back for at least a week. This forced the Germans to enter the city. The government by this point had evacuated long ago, during the First Battle for Moscow in 1941. The Germans had gathered some 1.300.000 men, 3.750 tanks, 12.250 artillery pieces and 2.200 aircraft, the largest force ever assembled for one single purpose and the largest military operation in German history. The Second Battle for Moscow started with a huge artillery bombardment to cripple the city’s defence and the bombardment crept toward the Kremlin and the famous Spasskaya Tower received several hits but it remained standing, a symbol of hope for the Soviet people. This operation could not fail because if it did, Germany would not recover from the losses. German forces fought their way through the rubble and were forced to fight the Soviets from house to house. Soviet forces occupied strategic buildings on street corners and squares and barbed wire entanglements blocked the streets. German soldiers joked that after they had taken the living room, they still had to fight for the kitchen. Stalin was forced to flee the city as the situation was becoming too dangerous. Morale plummeted and a mass exodus started of civilians fleeing east. Resistance toughened and the fight continued into autumn and winter. On November 11th 1943 the USSR requested an armistice with German Panthers only 400 metres away from the Kremlin and it was about time as German losses were soaring even though they were winning. Germany couldn’t keep this up and were about to request peace as well as they were nearing exhaustion. The Germans and their allies had suffered some 417.000 casualties in the streets of Moscow but it was finally over and propaganda in Nazi Germany went nuts. As much as Stalin wanted it, the Red Army could fight no longer, the USSR was broken. The Russian bear was defeated at the hands of the German eagle.
Because of this decision Britain stood alone and even though they were winning in Africa, they wouldn’t be able to liberate Europe any time soon and it would come at too high a cost. The Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica still reigned supreme in the skies over most of Europe and Germany was already transferring Luftwaffe combat veterans from the eastern front to Europe and the Mediterranean Sea. By now the Africa Corps barely held on in mountain positions in Tunisia which were much easier to defend but as the Luftwaffe’s increased presence in the Mediterranean theatre became more apparent. After breaking through German-French-Italian lines in Tunisia, Britain too requested on armistice on December 29th 1943. After nearly four and a half years the war in Europe was finally over, peace reigned and the swastika reigned over Europe.
With their unprovoked attack on the United States, the Japanese leadership had made a grave error as they had misjudged the American response. They had attacked in hopes of a quick victory like in the Russo-Japanese War and had second-guessed that the Americans would respond in a similar way after a show of force by Japan. The opposite was true as the American populace was enraged. They closed ranks as they overcame their shock and a desire for revenge emerged, there was no rich, poor, black or white, now there were only Americans even if it was just for a short time. After Hitler’s statement, the Americans had transferred ships and men from the Atlantic to the Pacific since there was no threat coming from Europe (although Roosevelt argued otherwise) but there was some sympathy for the British cause as news seeped in of what the Nazis were doing in Eastern Europe, enabling Roosevelt to distance the US from Nazi Germany but not enough to declare war as their was no proof of these rumours and because Hitler didn’t act on the bait that Roosevelt dangled in front of his face (i.e. convoy escorts). Also Roosevelt managed to prevent a British financial collapse in 1941 by lending them money to continue fighting (causing innumerable civilian casualties and destroyed cities in Germany and a victory in northern Africa). Eventually, with the defeat of the Soviet Union, however, the British would be overwhelmed with the entire continent arrayed against them and Congress was not willing to add another front and neither was the admiralty or army leaders. In 1941 that was still in the semi-distant future and revenge was the word and the Japanese would soon find out what they had done.
Because the Pacific fleet was still in shambles, the American admiralty transferred several ships to the Pacific, most notably most of the heavies in the Atlantic fleet since they were no longer required in the Atlantic. Both USS New York and its sister ship USS Texas were redeployed to the Pacific Ocean as were the new ships of the North Carolina-class, USS North Carolina and the USS Washington. These ships were relatively new and were originally designed on the limits of the Second London Naval Treaty but as America’s enemies (mainly Japan) started to ignore the treaty, they were up gunned to 16 inches (as opposed to the original 14 inches. They were less armoured than other vessels due to weight limitations but possessed excellent fire control and they featured a new, modern main battery. Eight more battleships would be launched between 1942 and 1944 of the South Dakota and Iowa-classes and Japan would find itself outnumbered and outgunned. The Pacific fleet also had three carriers (USS Enterprise, USS Lexington and USS Saratoga) whereas the Japanese possessed six. USS Wasp, USS Hornet, USS Ranger and USS Yorktown were shifted from the Atlantic fleet to fight in the Pacific theatre, suddenly giving the Americans a slight numerical advantage in the Pacific but the transfer took weeks and Japan didn’t wait.
British, Dutch and Australian forces had been drained by two years of warfare at this point against Germany in Europe and North Africa and they had suffered disastrous defeats in the first six months of the war such as loss of the HMS Repulse and the HMS Prince of Wales which had both been sunk by aerial attacks off Malay. And Thailand, which had surrendered within 24 hours after the Japanese invasion, had officially sided with the Japanese on December 21st to save their own hides and provided a land bridge for the invasion of Malay which was still a British colony at the time. Hong Kong was attacked on December 8th and fell on the 25th and Canadian troops and the Royal Hong Kong volunteers playing a key role in the defence of the city. It was in vain as Japanese forces were overwhelming and they had the element of surprise. The American outposts of Guam and Wake Island were lost around the same time as the few hundred defenders of the islands were quickly overwhelmed at the loss of many prisoners of war, several minesweepers and freighters for the Americans which gave the Japanese two less thorns in their side. Following a declaration on January 1st 1942, the so-called American-British-Dutch Australian Command or ABDACOM was formed, a supreme command for the South East Asian theatre with Sir Archibald Wavell as the commander over a front stretching from Burma and the Dutch East Indies to the Philippines. Both Australia and India remained under separate local commands. In January 1942 the Japanese invaded Burma, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and the Dutch East Indies and captured Manila Kuala Lumpur and Rabaul. After being driven out of Malaya, the Allies attempted to resist in Singapore an it was quite a close run thing which could have screwed up Japanese operations in the region. The Singapore garrison surrendered on February 15th and 130.000 British, Dutch and Australian troops were taken prisoner. Allied resistance collapsed in the face of the Japanese onslaught and Wavell resigned as commander of ABDACOM and returned to his post of Commander-in-Chief of India. In the meantime Japan had almost destroyed Allied air power in the region and launched a psychologically devastating (but militarily unimportant) air raid against the Australian city of Darwin. At the Battle of the Java Sea, the Japanese all but destroyed the ABDA fleets, resulting in the Dutch East Indies falling into Japanese hands completely. In March and April the Japanese navy launched a raid into the Indian Ocean and attacked Ceylon, sinking British carrier HMS Hermes in the process and driving the British out of the Indian Ocean. The British were forced to retreat from Rangoon to the Indo-Burmese border which cut the Burma road and thus supplies to the Chinese who started squabbling among themselves again. ABDACOM was no success and Chester Nimitz was appointed commander of the US navy and general Douglas Macarthur became commander as well.
Japan seemed to do the impossible but they were running out of luck. They now occupied a vast area and lacked the aircraft carriers, air crews and oil tankers to keep that area under their thumb and the Allies subsequently regrouped. By now Japanese codes could be decrypted thanks to the efforts of Allied code breakers. They found out about an impending attack on Port Moresby and aircraft carriers USS Lexington and USS Ranger were ordered to join the USS Yorktown, leading to a strategic victory for the Allies since Port Moresby did not fall but USS Lexington was crippled by continuous Japanese attacks and she remained out of service for several months for repairs and refitting. The Japanese lost aircraft carrier Shoho and both Zuikaku and Shokaku sustained heavy casualties to their respective air wings and the former wouldn’t be present for the battle of Midway. This battle is now known as the Battle of the Coral Sea. Yamamoto’s main goal was the destruction of America’s carriers and he believed that the Admiral Nimitz had two operational in the Pacific Enterprise and/or Hornet. Saratoga was out of action and undergoing repairs after a torpedo attack and Yorktown was having its flight deck fixed after the Battle of the Coral Sea and USS Lexington resembled a Swiss cheese by now. Little did he know that Japanese codes had been broken and that more carriers than just Enterprise and Hornet were present at Midway. He first invaded the Aleutians as a diversionary attack (and propaganda stunt). Nagumo had four carriers, Hiryu, Soryu, Akagi and Kaga, but Japan was experiencing trouble in replacing losses. Also, espionage flights over Pearl Harbor failed and Japan had no knowledge of American carrier movements in the Pacific. The plan was to destroy the remaining American carriers and conquer Midway Atoll, giving Japan control over the Central Pacific and nullifying the gap in the defence of the Home Islands. The US navy had a warning because Japanese radio traffic could be intercepted and decoded. Enterprise, Hornet, Ranger and Wasp were present as was Yorktown which had been repaired in an astonishing 72 hours. The Japanese force was flanked and all four carriers were sunk, at the loss of only one American carrier, USS Ranger which was the oldest of them all. Additionally, one battleship and two cruisers were lost for the Japanese. The battle had been fought between June 4th and June 7th 1942 and was, along with the Battle of the Coral Sea, decisive. This was a crippling defeat for the Imperial Japanese Navy and a decisive victory for the US and the battle is considered a turning point in the Pacific War.
The Japanese also invaded New Guinea where inexperienced militias managed to hold off the Japanese and were later relieved by reinforcements of the Australian army who inflicted the first defeat on the Japanese army. Later, in late July/early August the Americans recognized a Japanese airfield under construction on Guadalcanal and staged an amphibious landing involving some 20.000 forces, mainly US marines, on August 7th, starting the Guadalcanal campaign. At the time there were some 36.200 Japanese soldiers stationed on the islands. The Japanese resisted vigorously as they were taught to resist until the bitter end and it was here that the Americans would first witness their infamous Banzai charges which, although frightening to see, were very costly to the Japanese as well. As America was not involved in Europe, they had many idle divisions which would be deployed here, increasing the American presence to roughly 69.500 men by mid-late September which resulted in the Japanese being outnumbered almost 2:1. By now all four South Dakota-class ships had been commissioned and deployed to the Pacific where they provided gunnery support at Guadalcanal. South Dakota, Alabama, Massachusetts and Indiana repeatedly shelled Japanese positions on the island, forcing them to retreat and they also sunk Kirishima and another ship, Hiei, was scuttled off Savo Island. By October American troop strengths had increased again to 88.000 but it remained an uphill battle as the Japanese resisted fanatically to the end, taking as many Americans with them as they possibly could in suicidal actions. Eventually the island fell into American hands by early November 1942, putting an end to the Solomon and Guinean campaigns.
An occupational force was left behind to keep the island while the Americans started their island hopping campaign. They had launched an invasion of the Moluccas and then Sulawesi as part of the Indonesian campaign to deprive the Japanese of their only oil supply even while they were still clearing the resistance on Guadalcanal, the Solomon Islands and New Guinea. Resistance here was notably weaker as the Americans learned from lessons of the Guadalcanal campaign. American B-17 bombers stationed on New Guinea extensively bombed the islands from the air and American battleships did the same at sea, shelling Japanese positions and delivering extreme punishment. The Moluccas were captured in a rapid paratrooper deployment to key strongholds and road junctions but at severe losses; the Americans hadn’t learnt the lessons of Germany’s invasion of Crete. The more heavily armed Japanese were surprised, explaining their defeat. The paratroopers held on to their assigned targets until the cavalry arrived. The invasions of Sulawesi and Borneo were more conventional and slower as resistance on Sulawesi continued for several weeks and Sulawesi was a bridgehead for an invasion of Borneo. The Japanese quickly abandoned Sulawesi to defend Borneo when they were under threat of being cut off. Borneo was Japan’s only source of oil. The invasion of Borneo was the last amphibious operation in the Indonesian theatre as the Allies would bypass Java and Sumatra which were relatively unimportant and non-threatening as they were cut off. Borneo was invaded on February 17th 1943 and saw first action of the USS Iowa, who was the lead ship of her class and had been commissioned in February of that same year. The Japanese were becoming desperate and ordered their largest battleship and pride of the Japanese fleet Yamato to enter the fray. She arrived in Brunei on May 22nd where she received extra fuel and additional ammunition. She sailed due south in the Celebes Sea and she and her escorts started to pound Borneo’s coastal areas and known Allied positions causing severe casualties and forcing them inland. They also encountered troop transports headed for Borneo which only had a light escort consisting of some cruisers which could only provide cover fire in the retreat. The Yamato and her escorts were also ordered to actively hamper Allied logistics by attacking freighters and oilers. This was seen as dishonourable but honour was put aside to save Borneo. It didn’t save the island but interfered with Allied operations and forced them to temporarily halt their advance and they got stuck in Central Borneo where they faced Japanese counteroffensives. Eventually Yamato would meet its match in the American navy. On June 4th 1943 she encountered USS Iowa, USS Alabama, USS New York, USS Texas and aircraft carrier USS Essex who were all in the region participating in the operations on Borneo and had been sent to deal with the Yamato. The Americans took extra care since they now knew from intelligence from encounters that Yamato possessed 46 cm (18.1 inch) guns instead of 40.6 cm (16 inch) guns. The Yamato was accompanied by battlecruisers Kongo and Haruna and several destroyers. Iowa and Alabama engaged the Yamato and opened fire with their 16 inch guns which were smaller in calibre but also more accurate thanks to radar and improved fire control systems and were faster than their Japanese adversary. New York and Texas took care of the battlecruisers which were at a disadvantage due to their thinner armour. Both were crippled by the hammering with 14 inch (356 mm) shells They turned on Yamato and eventually she was sunk due to repeated hits from shells, aerial bombs and torpedoes but not before she took the Alabama with her by penetrating her armour and hitting the ammunition storage. The resulting explosion ripped the Alabama into two pieces which sank in ten minutes, taking her crew with her. This was known as the Battle of the Makassar Straits and was the last capital ship engagement in naval history since battleships were of a dying breed. Operations on Borneo continued and the last Japanese bastion around the oil wells of Miri fell on July 4th 1943.
This paved the way for new campaigns as the Japanese navy only had so much in terms of fuel reserves to continue the war. The Royal Navy and the US Navy combined to hunt down the remainders of the Japanese fleet so they would have unopposed control over the Pacific Ocean. In the meantime the Japanese leadership considered its options, one worse than the other, and the oligarchy of militarists that ruled Japan decided to do what they considered the most honourable. Japan would fight on until the bitter end in the hopes of inflicting such high losses that the Americans would be forced to come to terms. They were deadly wrong as the United States had the means to persecute the war and they would show it again in their next campaign. The Americans however did need time to recuperate from their losses and transfer troops and assemble equipment for the next step toward an invasion of Japan. First they seized the Northern Marianas, beginning with the Battle of Saipan which started with an amphibious landing on October 23rd and ended with full American control over the island by mid November. After that both Tinian and the American possession of Guam were (re)taken. The fall of Saipan was also the start of the bombing campaign against Japanese cities as the Home Islands were now within range of B-24 “Liberators” and B-17 “Flying Fortresses”. In both cases the Japanese resisted heavily and refused to surrender but were outnumbered. The islands were in American hands by December, breaking Japan’s inner strategic defence ring. On March 25th 1944 they staged a large scale landing on the Philippines on the island of Leyte which was followed by the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest battle in naval history and a devastating defeat for the Japanese navy which was no longer a viable threat to the US Navy. What remained of the Japanese navy by early 1944 had been all but annihilated in this single battle. This invasion was championed by Macarthur since the Philippines lay on Japanese supply lines. Japanese forces weren’t what they once were and they were swiftly defeated and forced to retreat to the mountain jungles where they remained isolated in pockets. Most of these would be taken care of by the end of the war. The other large islands of Luzon and Mindanao fell quickly too. A large scale invasion of Formosa also took place during that year and resistance was little and came mostly from the Japanese and Japanized Taiwanese. In the end the garrison was overrun and the local Taiwanese which had suffered from Japanese oppression welcomed the Americans in spite of decades of Japanization. The invasion was assisted by some 12.500 Nationalist troops provided by Chiang Kai-Shek, the leader of the Nationalists and future president of the Republic Of China (commonly abbreviated to ROC). The invasion commenced on May 7th 1944 and the island’s garrison fell on July 7th after Nationalist forces hoisted the Chinese Republic’s flag on the civilian command building of the Japanese administration. The next campaigns were harder as the Home Islands were now under threat. They first invaded Iwo Jima as a springboard for the upcoming invasion of Okinawa. The Japanese resisted heavily and the island was dotted with bunkers and trenches. During the previous two weeks B-24s and B-17s had bombed the island and the navy had shelled its coastal defences. It took over a month before the last resistance ended and Japanese kamikaze heightened the death toll. Only 1083 Japanese soldiers were captured, the remainder of the over 22.000 defenders perished. The Battle for Okinawa was Iwo Jima times ten as this island was one of the Home Islands of Japan. The battle raged for two months. Over 100.000 Japanese defended the island which was covered in bunkers, trenches and barbed wire entanglements and they fought for every house and every street. At least a quarter of the civilian population perished as well in addition to the Japanese forced which sustained 95% losses. The Americans suffered some 50.000 casualties (including some 33.000 non-combat casualties). The island finally fell on October 21st and was one of the most bloody battles in the Pacific theatre.
The British in the meantime had liberated Burma and Malaysia and were in the process of doing the same in French Indochina. They had also landed an invasion force in Hong Kong and captured the city and joined forces with Nationalist troops in the region of Guangdong. By now Stalin’s USSR had somewhat recovered from the war with Germany and started to support the communists of Mao Zedong who operated further north. He provided Mao with “military advisors” who in reality were combat units armed with machine guns, modern rifles and mortars. These infantry units were spread out over China so their presence wasn’t immediately noticed. The Red Army also provided Mao’s army, which had been christened the Peoples’ Liberation Army, with artillery support and their latest 152 mm heavy guns proved devastating. Mao also laid the foundations for the Peoples’ Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) which was equipped with the new Yak-3 and the older but very fast MiG-3 which was able to outrun the A6M Zero even if the latter had better manoeuvrability. The nascent PLAAF also received the new IL-10, a further development of the IL-2 Sturmovik dive bomber. Very soon Soviet “advisors” and “volunteers” numbered in the tens of thousands. Increasing numbers of newer tanks of the Iosif Stalin or IS series were appearing alongside the T-34 and by autumn 1944 the USSR was a de facto combatant in the Pacific War even if Japan didn’t declare war in the face of Soviet POWs which served as proof as this would provoke full scale retaliation in the form of a large scale offensive. Soviet “military advisors” were the least of Japan’s worries as American forces stood poised to invade the Home Islands.
This operation was known as Operation Downfall which was scheduled to start on March 7th 1945 and was preceded by a relentless bombing campaign. Bombers stationed on Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Formosa and the Philippines launched raids of 1.000 bombers against Japanese cities and would keep on doing so for the remainder of the winter of ’44/’45, levelling almost every Japanese population and industrial centre and crippling Japan’s fuel deprived economy. Most major Japanese capital ships had been destroyed and those that still existed were kept in port due to lack of fuel. The Japanese air force rose to the challenge and their fighters rose up as bees who defended their hives but after a few months they stopped coming as Japan’s military-industrial complex was all but gone and there were no more planes, fuel or air men to crew them. By now the USSR had enough of a cause to declare war on Japan in their eyes. They published the story of one of their escaped advisors who was said to have been tortured (the Soviets likely did that themselves). His picture was smeared out all over the front page of Pravda and Japanese crimes were greatly exaggerated and portrayed over and over again. On February 9th 1945 the USSR declared its Non-Aggression Pact with the Japanese null and void and Stalin declared war on Japan “to fight the evil empire and its hideous atrocities”. The Red Army invaded Manchuria that same day and in a classic double pincer movement the Kwantung Army was enveloped and nearly destroyed in an operation that covered an area the size of western Europe. In the past three years a lot of the best units and equipment of the Kwantung Army had been transferred to the Pacific theatre to counter the rising tide. Manchuria had been overrun in under five weeks and the Red Army reached the Yalu and Tumen rivers which separated it from the Korean peninsula.
The invasion took place as planned on X-day on March 7th 1945 and resistance was high. The Japanese high command had correctly predicted where the Americans would invade, namely on Kyushu, the southern most island of the Home Islands. Over 14 divisions and three tank brigades totalling 900.000 men had been shifted from Manchuria, Korea and the other Home Islands to defend their coasts. In previous engagements the Japanese had created strong coastal fortifications which had been exposed to American shelling from the sea. Later, most notably on Iwo Jima, they had deployed defence in depth in heavily entrenched and fortified positions further inland which weren’t exposed to American naval gun fire. On Kyushu they had taken up an intermediate posture, far enough from the coast to escape American naval guns but close to enough to counterattack against any Allied landing. In total the Japanese could raise some 65 divisions for the defence of Japan but only had enough equipment for 40 and enough ammunition for 30, making resupply difficult at best. Also many cities, industrial centres and much of Japanese infrastructure had been destroyed over the past few months. The Japanese also hoarded whatever fuel they could find for the defence of the Home Islands. A lot of it was used to fuel the remaining 2.500 aircraft of the Japanese air force. The invasion was the largest amphibious and naval operation in the history of mankind and the forces at work were enormous; America was bent on finishing the Japanese off once and for all. Over 42 aircraft carriers, 24 battleships, an assortment of cruisers, 400 destroyers and destroyer escorts, dozens of submarines and thousands of landing craft took part in the operation. Over 14 divisions were designated to participate in the invasion. Thousands of aircraft cleared the sky and forces landed on the early morning after the fleet’s capital ships had shelled the coast. This was also the first use of jet aircraft in the shape of the P-80 Shooting Star which easily defeated any existing Japanese fighter. Resistance was heavy as the civilian population was fanatically hostile and indoctrinated to fight until the end: “Even if I kill only one American, it’ll be worth it.” A Japanese teenage girl had said holding a knife. Even old 18th century vintage muskets had been retrieved to fight the desperate struggle and small ammo shops had been set up everywhere over the Japanese countryside. The population had been starved however by American and British naval blockade which had lessened their fanaticism to a certain degree. The American advance to Kumamoto took over two months in spite of total air supremacy since the Japanese used the terrain to their advantage. This was known as Operation Olympic, precursor to Operation Coronet which was the invasion of Honshu. Their situation was worsened by a Soviet invasion from the north which took the Kuril Islands. On June 18th 1945 the Americans landed near Tokyo and Japanese military strength had been spent and the USSR’s invasion of South Sakhalin and Hokkaido gave the peace faction a decisive majority as the situation was now completely hopeless. On July 3rd 1945 Japan requested an armistice. The war was over and peace reigned over the world.
Germany stood victorious over the Soviet Union which was now in shambles. Britain had requested an armistice as well since they now stood alone in the war against Germany which had the resources of an entire continent arrayed against Britain and the British for one didn’t want to be starved into submission or receive retaliation for the years long bombing of major German cities. The German populace undoubtedly wanted vengeance and with all those planes and veteran pilots returning from frontline service in eastern Europe, they could do it. Also British spies and espionage aircraft had provided intelligence that Germany was preparing for an invasion of Britain again. These preparations were mock preparations but seemed convincing enough with large staging grounds and landing craft centred around Calais. In reality any German invasion likely wouldn’t come until 1947 or, more likely, 1948 because the German navy was too small and the RAF was able to resist German attempts to gain air superiority. Also, it was likely that the Americans would join the war in such an event to prevent the fall of Great Britain, their long standing ally. The USSR at this point could no longer offer any resistance as their economic base was gone and their western front was in shambles. German newspapers proclaimed that Germany had won and had achieved its birthright by conquering “Lebensraum” or Living Space in the east on the barbaric Soviet-Stalinist hordes and that a new era of prosperity would dawn. Propaganda was wrong as guerrilla warfare was flaring up already. Peace negotiations were opened in Berlin and with Hitler, Molotov and Lord Halifax meeting. Stalin refused to go himself since Hitler would likely have him arrested and give him a show trail and the an execution for war crimes and for his genocide (the Holodomor) which had been revealed to the world by the Nazis to portray Germany as a force of good, of liberators. Stalin followed the peace process from the new capital of Omsk. The Soviet Union found itself in political isolation as Stalin’s horrors were made public. Churchill was notably absent as well since the peace faction had issued a vote of no confidence in him because he wanted to fight on. The British essentially got away with a white peace and they acquiesced to German hegemony over the continent. They also returned French and Italian colonies and their troops left. Britain got away unharmed with its Empire intact and enough strength left to help the Americans in the Pacific. The Soviets were not so lucky; in spite of Molotov’s best efforts and Stalin’s stalling, they were gutted. Everything west of the Leningrad-Astrakhan line plus Moscow were ceded to Germany. The areas that the USSR had occupied during the Winter War were returned to Germany’s ally Finland and Finland was also awarded the Soviet harbour of Murmansk as an exclave. The utter humiliation of seeing the swastika being hoisted on the Kremlin’s Spasskaya Tower enraged Stalin and he vowed revenge.
The first issue was the implementation of “Generalplan Ost” the German plan for the colonization of eastern Europe, essentially a grand plan for ethnic cleaning of these regions. The plan had been developed after a series of studies conducted by the so-called “Reichssicherheitshauptamt” (RSHA), the security organ of the SS responsible for fighting all enemies of National Socialism. The last version of the plan had been issued in 1940. Preliminary versions had been discussed by Himmler and his close associates and the latest version was fully to Hitler’s satisfaction. What will follow now has been pieced together painstakingly by historians, researchers and journalists alike and its contents might not be reliable as it is based on eyewitness accounts of those who fled Nazi occupied Europe when they still had the chance. Archive material regarding Generalplan Ost hasn’t been released to date by the current German administration and neither have details been released on who created it or memos on the plan although eyewitness accounts implicate most of the senior Nazi leadership. The final memorandum on the plan was delivered in 1942 after the so-called Wannsee Conference in which the fate of undesirables, most notably Jews, was decided. Hitler gave the go-ahead for systematically murdering and/or deporting millions of Slavs, Jews, gipsies and other undesirables in the occupied territories. Nazi ideology proved to be somewhat flexible when it came to classifying peoples into categories such as the Chechens who are a great example of this. The Nazi Institute for Racial Purity, which had been created to categorize the new subjects, defined the collaborating Tatars and Chechens as co-rulers. The plan consisted of a so-called small plan and a big plan. The former was to be carried out during the war while the latter would be gradually implemented after the war over a period of 25-30 years. The plan envisaged the Germanization of a certain percentage of eastern Europeans (for example 50% of Czechs, 35% of Ukrainians and 25% of Byelorussians). Others would suffer fates ranging from extermination to expulsion or even enslavement. The plan foresaw the expulsion of 50 million non-Germanized Slavs as well as Lithuanians (because of their Polish ancestry) to areas behind the Urals and Siberia. Their place would be taken by some 8-10 million German settlers. In 1941 it was decided that the Polish state would be destroyed. The majority of the Poles would be forcibly removed to other places where they would be assimilated by the peoples living there, thus ending the Polish race. A small part would be Germanized and those that wouldn’t be Germanized would be forbidden to marry. Education was limited to the necessary basics (learning German, reading, writing and arithmetic) so they could follow orders from their German masters. Some Poles were abducted as forced labourers to work in German industry. Within a decade the General-Government of Poland would be completely German. Czech intelligentsia were allowed to emigrate to the United States and the Polish intelligentsia were cracked down on. Czechoslovakia had already been annexed in 1939 with the Czech part becoming the protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia and a theoretically independent Slovak puppet. It was the largest genocide in history and the expulsion of Slavs would be the largest move of peoples since the 4th and 5th centuries AD. Hitler ordered its implementation and the Einsatzgruppen and SS were ruthless. For the next four decades eastern Europe was cut off from the rest of the world. A guerrilla war erupted in eastern Europe which wouldn’t cease for another fifteen years. Hitler’s response when told about the guerrilla war:
“Good, that way the Greater German Reich will always be alert.”
Also, eastern Europe was divided into new administrative divisions or Reichskommissariats. Several cities were also renamed such as Simferopol which was renamed Gotenburg, Sebastopol which became Theodorichshafen, Leningrad which was restored to its old name of St. Petersburg, and Stalingrad which received the new name of Hitlerstadt. The Reichskommissariats seemed to be arbitrarily drawn lines which carved up eastern Europe. Ostland consisted of the Baltic states and Belarus and its capital was Minsk which also became the capital of Germany’s eastern territories. This area was perhaps the best region to live in since the Baltic peoples were considered to be fore posts of German civilization and would be assimilated instead of exterminated. The Caucasus comprised most territory south of Hitlerstadt which became the capital of this Reichskommissariat and was of high priority since this area was home to the Baku and Grozny oil fields, making Germany a large oil producer. The third, which was also important, was Ukraine which was renamed Reichskommissariat Gotenland which was expanded eastward in anticipation of the expulsion of the Ukrainians. This was also very important because the region was rich in coal and minerals for German industry and agriculture to produce food for the German people. The remainder of the occupied Soviet Union was awarded to the Reichskommissariat Moskau. Any remainders of the communist regime were removed, most notably the red star on the Kremlin’s Spasskaya Tower which was replaced with a swastika.
In Germany and Europe some societal changes took place too. Hitler started to break his pact with the churches because he viewed Christianity as weak. He stated that a new Christendom would have to emerge that was rid of all the pathetic compassion and love aspects although Hitler did admire clerical power in the medieval age. This new Christian religion would be centred around National Socialism, the New Order. Hitler claimed this would be done within fifty years. He also started a great restructuring of Germany. Much of Germany lay in ruin due to British city bombings. Berlin was to receive the grandest restructuring and would be renamed to Germania. Berlin had been redesigned by Albert Speer into a colossal neoclassical world dominating capital filled with granite and marble monsters. The city was to be crossed by two major avenues which would dwarf the Champs-Élysées in Paris, one on the east-west axis and the other on the north-south axis. All the engineering plans had already been finished during the war and land had been acquired for Hitler’s mega-capital. When construction started however, the engineers found out that the soil couldn’t carry these buildings and that the foundations would therefore need to be unusually deep. Hitler however was adamant about building his capital of Germania and ordered the builders to start digging the foundations, resulting in five to ten years of construction work for large parts of Berlin. On the north side there was to be a large forum known as the Grosser Platz. This square was to be surrounded by grand buildings such as the new and old Reichstag buildings. The grandest of all, the Führer’s palace was to be situated on the west side and the 1894 Reichstag building on the east side. On the north side of the plaza would be the centrepiece of Berlin, a massive domed structure known as the Volkshalle (people’s hall). With a width of 250 metres and a height of 200 metres it was sixteen times larger than the St. Peter Cathedral in Rome and it was the largest enclosed space in the world. It was based on the pantheon in Rome. The front of the building showed a traditional gabled pronaos supported by ten massive columns with the dome behind it. The large niche at the north end of the building which was covered in gold mosaic and 24 metre tall columns would reach up to the coffered ceiling and enclose a large golden eagle. The top of the dome was crested with an eagle which didn’t grasp the traditional swastika with the but a globe of the Earth. It was a symbol of German dominance and Hitler’s arrogance. In Hitler’s eyes it would become a shrine and symbol for National Socialism like the St. Peter is for Roman Catholicism. Towards the southern end of the Victory Avenue was the Arch of Triumph which was 100 metres high, much larger than the Arc de Troimphe on which it was based. Hitler also had plans for a new Olympic Stadium which would resemble the Colosseum but could fit 400.000 people. Munich also received some restructuring with a massive 300 metres high victory column with an eagle on top in the centre of the city as it was the birthplace of the Nazi party. Nuremberg also saw massive reconstruction with the Nuremberg rallying grounds being expanded greatly. The Thousand Year Reich had been born.
On the socio-political level Europe was reorganized as Hitler envisaged it. As the war was over, France was restored to a certain degree. The regions of Nord-Pas de Calais, Alsace, the entirety of Lorraine, and the northern chunks of Champagne-Ardenne and Picardie remained in German hands. In these regions people could choose whether they want to migrate to France or stay in Germany as German citizens. The military regime remained in power with marshal Philippe Petain as the leader the junta. In return however he had to cede Nice and Savoy to Italy and restore Germany’s colonies as Goering and his clique of old aristocrats, Wilhelmine imperialists and business people had requested and perhaps something extra. Petain didn’t have much of an army or political leverage to stop this. Hitler was uninterested as he foresaw a colonial empire in Europe which was easier to control as it bordered Germany. In the end Goering convinced him that the natural resources and the potential slave labour in Africa would add to Germany’s existing empire. Togo and Cameroon were restored to Germany and as a compensation for German East Africa and Southwest Africa (which were in British hands) Germany also annexed the Middle Congo, Gabon and the Belgian Congo which was de facto German property as Belgium had ceased to exist. Mittelafrika was a fact. The Germans also resurrected the idea of some kind of German dominated supranational European organization. Several European nations were “invited” to join (forced was a better word). The founding members, besides Germany, were Italy, Vichy France, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Croatia. This organization was called the European Community or EC for short and was founded in 1947 as an economic and military alliance. Free trade and free traffic of people, goods and services was guaranteed and all members pledged to aid each other in the event of war. Germany was permanent chairman of the alliance and possessed veto powers along with Italy where Mussolini was regaining some of his flamboyance and arrogance with his expansion of power. After the war they had annexed Istria, Dalmatia, the Austrian Littoral, Kosovo and Epirus and had established a protectorate over Greece, all with the blessing of Hitler. Italy was allowed to police the Balkans for Germany. Yugoslavia had also been split up in two. Serbia became a puppet kingdom although resistance from Tito’s communist guerrillas simmered for some years before drying up due to lack of foreign support. The other state was the Kingdom of Croatia (which also included ethnic Bosnian regions). The Netherlands and Belgium didn’t join as they didn’t exist; Germany had incorporated them into the Reich along with Norway because they were considered Germanic people. Europe was all but united under fascism and totalitarianism with only a few countries remaining out of the EC. Spain and Portugal would join in 1949, Sweden in 1951 and Turkey in 1955. It was a European power block primarily aimed at the Soviet Union but also the US with which relations had toned down after the short surge of Nazi popularity in ’41/’42.
In the Soviet Union Stalin was left to pick up the pieces of a devastated country. During the Second Battle of Moscow Stalin had moved to capital to the city of Omsk from where he directed the rebuilding process ruthlessly. In 1945 he moved out into the open again when he openly supported the communists in China against both the Japanese and nationalists and he occupied the entirety of the Korea which became a Stalinist dictatorship under Kim Il-Sung known as the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK). The Chinese Civil War restarted as soon as the Japanese had surrendered and at this time British troops still operated in southern and eastern China in cooperation with Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists. This war quickly became a proxy war with the USSR fully supporting Mao Zedong and his forces while Nazi Germany, Britain and the United States were all attempting to court the Nationalists an bring them into their camp. At this time Mao possessed most popular support as he was decent military leader and a very good propagandist and because communism still held popularity in Asia because of their anti-colonialist rhetoric. Mao would undo all the unequal treaties that the cosmopolitan imperialist powers had imposed on China and end the power of the oppressive land owners, aristocracy and warlords which still controlled China. The Nationalists wanted to restore China as a world power but really didn’t have anything else to offer. The Nationalists were offered help from the fascist block and the Anglo-American block in the shape of weapons, funding and training since they both wanted China as a strong ally in Asia. The USSR did the same for Mao but also offered actual military support. The Germans provided the new Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter which they had introduced in 1945 as the world’s first operational jet fighter and since the end of the war Germany possessed the tungsten needed for the alloys that the fan blades were made of. Germany also provided Panther and Tiger tanks which were now improved so they didn’t suffer engine problems. The British sold them Gloster Meteors and the Americans P-80 Shooting Stars. As the Nationalists were losing, America deployed troops and evened the balance (in spite of the widening rift between Nazi Germany and the US, America was still anti-communist although that would change). The war ended in 1947 with the signing of the Wuhan Accords after the US threatened to deploy nuclear weapons (openly admitting they had them for the first time although Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union had known for some time). Mao had advanced far but the USSR wasn’t what it had once been and also pushed for peace. China was divided between North and South. Inner Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, Hebei, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Gansu and Qinghai were awarded to Mao and his communists. Here he founded the Peoples Republic of China (PRC). Stalin strengthened his puppet by allowing him to take Xinjiang and Mongolia which was quite useless anyway. Beijing became the northern capital and Nanjing the southern one. In the aftermath of the war the Republic of China (South China) annexed Tibet, an act which was condemned by the north but went unnoticed in the rest of the world. As of today the area of the PRC has some 355.171.786 inhabitants and the area of the ROC some 18.104.22.1681. A united China could have some 1.6 billion inhabitants, almost a quarter of the world’s population.
In the north Mao imposed a centrally planned economy on the Stalinist model to industrialize the country in the first Three Year Plan. Stalin supported him with whatever means possible (mostly machinery and engineers in spite of Mao’s distrust of “intellectuals” which Stalin “helped” him overcome). China possessed large coal and iron ore deposits, providing the basis for a large steel industry and heavy industry and in 1959 the large Daqing oilfield would be discovered. Stalin himself introduced another Five Year Plan to rebuild his battered nation. Because of the German victory a lot of the Soviet Union’s industrial base had been taken away as it was situated in the west. The Central Asian SSRs had large unexploited mineral deposits in the shape of oil, natural gas, coal, iron ore, copper, nickel, silver, gold, bauxite, tin, chrome and uranium and Stalin wanted to utilize them to strengthen the Soviet Union even though this meant that the Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Tajikistanis, Kyrgyzstanis and Turkmens became stronger nationalities. Stalin however suppressed any dissent among his ranks. His industrialization was ruthless as he needed his country to become strong again. It was a repeat of the 30s and an even more immense feat as the USSR also maintained a rearmament and nuclear program. Out of sheer frustration for his loss in the war and the slowness of things Stalin ordered another purge. Molotov, Beria, Khrushchev and Malenkov were among the more notable communists to perish. They were replaced by weak, untalented, uncompetitive and relatively unknown weaklings who abided by Stalin. With participation in the war against Japan and the Chinese the USSR had regained some prestige. It had regained the Kuril Islands which they had lost in the Russo-Japanese War except for the southern most three which were awarded to Hokkaido, now known as the Japanese People’s Republic. The DPRK and the JPR more or less toddled along with the big boys and copied them. For the next ten years Stalin would ruthlessly industrialize and within a decade the Central Asian SSRs would become one of the most industrialized regions of the planet at the costs of almost 500.000 lives.
The rest of Asia would also see drastic changes as the colonial powers lost their hold. The Dutch East Indies became independent as the Republic of Indonesia and French Indochina split up into three independent nations, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, and was mostly carved up along ethnic lines to avoid a “Second Balkans”. This all happened in the aftermath of Japan’s surrender as the Americans opposed colonialism and because the British didn’t want to take them. The US also granted the Philippines independence as they had intended to do before the war but they did establish an air force and military base there. The British Empire had fought a long and hard war and both the Nationalists in China and Mao’s and Stalin’s communists supported independence movements throughout Asia. To avoid any further bloodshed the British granted Dominion status to India in 1947; they had been at war for four and a half years in Europe and four years in Asia for a total of six years and were too exhausted to fight colonial wars far away from home, with little popular support and in such a large colony. India itself fell apart due to internal strife as the Muslim minority feared that the Hindus would take over and oppress them and absorb power as they were the most numerous group in British India. They rightfully feared this as Muslim-Hindu relations in India weren’t very good. Two new nations appeared, India and Pakistan, the latter including East Pakistan which is now known as Bangladesh which became independent in the early 1970s. By now it was public opinion that the colonies should be let go and that they should be able to fend for themselves. Both Burma and Malaysia received independence in 1948 but remained Dominions, tied to the British crown in personal union and as military allies to Britain. With the defeat of Japan, America was the dominant power in the Pacific. Africa would see similar developments as Britain granted its colonies there Dominion status one by one. The Euro-fascist block wisely didn’t lay claim to any former possessions in Asia as the United States wouldn’t give them up. The Pacific was an American lake and Hitler didn’t consider those colonies worth fighting over. Indonesia was too far away to take over and digest. Vichy France had to live with the fact that Indochina was forever lost. French and Dutch possessions in the Caribbean ended up under American suzerainty as, in accordance with the Monroe doctrine, the US didn’t allow any foreign hostile powers there. The Dutch Antilles, Martinique and Guadeloupe had been annexed as territories after the Germans had proclaimed victory. Suriname and French Guiana became independent states with pro-American regimes in power.
The Germans and Soviets both knew of the Trinity test due to sources in the United States and they scrambled to get their own atomic weapons. Hitler had cancelled his atomic bomb program in 1944 as the results were unsatisfying and nuclear weapons were deemed unfeasible. The “Uranverein” as it was called was restarted in 1945 while eastern European slave labour dug a massive complex in southern Germany under a mountain where it would never be found as the slaves were buried in its foundations on Hitler’s orders. The project was restarted as Reich-US relations were decaying as rumours seeped through about the Final Solution, the destruction of the Jewish race, and other German atrocities. Also Germany and America started to compete more and more on the economic level and the Reich attempted to gain influence in traditionally American dominated regions. Also, a different administration arose in the US which was decidedly more anti-fascist. The political machinations caused a three way Cold War between the US, the Reich and the rump-USSR/PRC communist block. Werner Heisenberg however was not reinstated as its leader as he was either a bad administrator or had purposefully sabotaged Germany’s atomic program, his calculations were faulty and his theories wrong and he often disregarded protocol for experiments. Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker and Otto Hahn became the new lead scientists and researchers of the project instead of Heisenberg and started to work on new calculations. Resources came in a plentiful supply as uranium supplies existed in Niger which was under Vichy French authority and thus indirectly under German authority. The project came under Gestapo authority which was Heydrich’s department and the scientists and all their doings came under his scrutiny so that any sabotage was made impossible and he also pressured the scientists to come up with results. They managed to do the basic math from date collected out of radio isotopes left behind by the Trinity test which the SD had painstakingly attempted to gather. This way they knew how much fissile material was needed to achieve critical mass. A big breakthrough was achieved with the construction of the so-called Zippe centrifuge named after Gernot Zippe who was an important experimenter and had devised the machine with some 60 other scientists in 1947. Uranium consists of three isotopes (U-234. U-235 and U-238) but only 0.74% of the world’s uranium supply consisted of U-235 which was needed for nuclear weapons. Uranium could also be enriched to create the necessary Uranium-235 for a fission weapon. The device has a hollow cylindrical rotor which contains uranium in its gaseous hexafluoride form. A pulsating magnetic field at the bottom of the rotor, similar to that used in an electric motor, quickly spins the rotor around at 90.000 RPM, flinging U-238 to the outside and keeping the lighter U-235 on the inside. The bottom of the gaseous mix was heated, causing convection currents that move the U-238 down and the U-235 up where scoops collect it. Later German scientists were surprised to find that the Americans were years behind in centrifuge technology. During the 1950s Zippe would build his centrifuge out of maraging steel instead of aluminium, enabling it to spin even faster. This enabled the Germans to enrich uranium much faster. First the scientists enriched uranium to contain 3% U-235 to build a light water reactor. Later a heavy water reactor was created and a sustained nuclear reaction was achieved in 1949 with tritium and plutonium as by-products.
The USSR wasn’t far behind as Stalin’s sheer willpower pushed the scientists who feared for their lives if they didn’t get Stalin the bomb. The project was headed by Igor Kurchatov, one of the Soviet Union’s leading nuclear physicists. The project was situated in the city of Novosibirsk which subsequently disappeared from the map as it became a secret city. Other leading physicists were Andrei Sakharov and Georgi Flerov. The latter had urged Stalin to start the program in spite of the state the Soviet Union was in in 1943. Western scientific magazines had suddenly stopped publishing about nuclear fission, leading him to think that the west was pursuing nuclear weaponry. Nuclear physics in the Soviet Union was less developed than in the western world as communist ideology stressed practical science which would benefit the people. Therefore nuclear physicists had searched for practical applications such as nuclear energy. Kurchatov’s team managed to do the calculations and had a two year’s head start as Stalin immediately started the project as he wanted to use the weapon to take revenge. This compensated somewhat for the bad state the Soviet economy was in, which was grave indeed.
Hitler himself would not live to see the weapon detonated. In 1948 Hitler gave a speech to celebrate the completion of the Volkshalle in the newly completed granite and marble colossus designed by Speer. He started out with his speech as vigorous as ever even though he had deteriorating Parkinson disease which had been affecting his central nervous system which controls the body’s motor skills and speech. Hitler refused to bow down to the disease and had a large new medical institution created which primarily researched degenerative neurological diseases but also conducted research on cancer and cardiovascular diseases, both were large causes of deaths or would be in the developed world. It was called the Adolf Hitler Institute for Biomedical Research and a subdivision for purely eugenics and genetics was created to study the heredity of such diseases. The crowd noticed how his motions became slower and his speech more erratic as if he was forgetting the words or couldn’t read them, something unseen during his rule. Suddenly he stopped speaking as if he needed breath, age was catching up on him. He staggered and then collapsed on the stage with 180.000 people to see. He was rushed way to his doctors who concluded that he had suffered a minor stroke. He went into a comatose state, leaving the Reich without a leader. He woke up three days later to find his government in chaos. All had attempted to take power for themselves as he wasn’t expected to wake up. Hitler partially recovered but was tied to a wheelchair and was continuously looked after by his nurses. In the meantime Eva Braun gave birth to his son who was appropriately named Adolf. He would prove to be more moderate than his father (his mother was probably a moderating influence). Hitler was reduced to a figurehead as the power struggle continued behind the façade of order and discipline. He was present at the 1949 Nuremberg Rally (Reichsparteitag) but didn’t speak and only made a brief appearance, leading to speculation about his declining health.
He died peacefully on May 7th 1950 in his sleep at the age of 61. This was kept quiet for several days as a power struggle erupted. Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler was the first to perish as he returned from his vacation on the Black Sea as his plane blew up over the General-Government, making Heydrich the de jure leader of the SS, in addition to the offices of leader of the Gestapo, the SD and Germany’s police services (ORPO, SIPO, KRIPO) which made him the most powerful man in Germany. In the following three days both Rudolf Hess and Martin Bormann were executed for various alleged crimes including treason and the assassination of the Führer. They were given only a very brief show trail but they weren’t much loved anyway as they were seen as sycophants who owed their position to Hitler. It wasn’t until May 12th that Hitler’s death was announced, a nation mourned. All kinds of ludicrous ideas were suggested to revive Hitler, one more ridiculous than the other. His body was embalmed and interred in a mausoleum in Linz akin to the Pantheon but with little of decorations to not distract from the sarcophagus which was the building’s centrepiece. A large ceremony was organized and millions came to see and pay homage to the Führer one last time. He was revered as a national hero would had oversaw how Germany was reborn under his infinite wisdom. In the meantime the power struggle continued and Heydrich declared martial law, using another Polish uprising as an excuse. SS and SA patrolled the streets along with the police and made random arrests and summary executions ordered by Heydrich to eliminated his opponents. On a party congress he was almost unanimously elected Führer of the Reich even though the Goering-Goebbels clique attempted to avert this. Goering was replaced as leader of the Luftwaffe almost immediately by general Von Kesselring and instated as Reichskommissar of the Caucasus, far enough away to be no threat. He kept him alive as Goering was too popular and had something of a following in the military and the Luftwaffe. Goebbels remained in his position of propaganda minister and started to fabricate propaganda for his new Führer and the old one who established a cult of personality portraying him as Hitler’s apprentice. The Heydrich era had just begun.