The Twin Vipers: A Finished TL of the Berlin-Moscow Axis

  • BiteNibbleChomp

    Gone Fishin'
    A Puppet Back on It’s Strings, October 1943

    The IJA returned to the city of Hsinking and restored their puppet government of Manchukuo in October 1943. The last Qing Emperor, Puyi, resumed his rule of the territory in a move that upset the Chinese. To an outsider, it appeared that little had changed during the three years of Soviet occupation.

    But Japan had changed since the beginning of the war, and with the new civilian government gaining more support every day, the new Manchukuo was sure to change as well. The Japanese leadership was divided on how much freedom to give the Manchus, whether to allow them democracy or if this would just see them demand full independence. Japan still sought Manchurian resources, especially iron, which they were dependent on imports for and would only be able to get at a higher price from the international market. While Prime Minister Saito was firm on not granting the Army full control of the state, which he feared would eventually revert back to the orderless militarism of the 1930s, beyond that there was little agreement in Tokyo. Local democracy would eventually make it to Manchukuo in 1948, but these elected officials were still to be kept under Tokyo’s authority.

    Before Japan could regain control of the industry in Manchukuo, they would first have to deal with another aspect of Stalin’s occupation: the local communist movement. From the moment Vatutin’s army had overrun the first town they found in Manchukuo, the Soviets had intended to eventually set up a Manchurian SSR. Local communists, as well as important people from other parts of the Soviet Union and Communist-held China, had been given control of farms, factories and other industrial establishments which had been seized from their previous Japanese owners. Now that the Red Army had been pushed north, with Vatutin recalled to Moscow after Stalin’s patience with him wore out, and his incompetent successor Budyonny on the retreat, the Japanese settlers wanted their factories back. Communism had proven popular with a significant fraction of the people of Manchukuo, but for Japanese imperialists it was unacceptable, and the IJA was forced to fight a large communist insurgency, backed by the USSR and remnants of the CCP.

    The First of the Axis to Fall, November 1943

    Pressure on the Western Front had forced the German High Command to prioritise the defence of Germany over their many occupied territories, and after the fall of Belgrade Schorner’s Army Group D was in a sorry state. In order to prevent the Italians from liberating Romania, or cutting the routes from Turkey that supplied Germany with chromium, the defence of the Southern Front was increasingly under the control of Bulgarian and Hungarian forces, who although they were well equipped with Soviet weapons, tended to be reluctant to do anything more than defend their own lands.

    In this Graziani saw a major opportunity, a chance to defeat at least one of Hitler’s smaller allies and possibly end the war in the Balkans for good. In the autumn, Graziani decided that Bulgaria would be the better target, as a capture of Varna would force the Axis to reroute all of their trade routes through the Black Sea (which would make them vulnerable to Allied bombing) or all the way around it. Furthermore, the capture of Istanbul would provide a good starting point for the long-discussed plans to liberate Turkey.

    Bulgaria itself proved not too difficult to knock out of the war. The front line had been near Sofia for much of 1943, and when the city was occupied Tsar Boris III offered to surrender. The terms that the Italians offered (with approval from the other major Allied leaders) were extremely lenient, allowing the Bulgarians to keep all their gains from the war outside of pre-war Turkey and only requiring the Bulgarian armies to resist Axis armies should the borders of Bulgaria be crossed. Mussolini later explained that he allowed Bulgaria to keep ex-Yugoslav Macedonia in the hopes of gaining a loyal ally, while the Chetniks that were to eventually run the government in Belgrade had maintained little influence in the region.

    Mussolini hoped to build on the success in Bulgaria by ordering offensives towards Istanbul and Bucharest. With the Bulgarian Army posing no more of an obstacle, Istanbul was quickly reached by Italian motorised divisions, although a stubborn defence by the German occupation force ensured that the city would not fall until January 1944, by which time it had been badly damaged in costly urban fighting. Further north, the crossing of the Danube was met with only limited resistance, and it looked likely that Bucharest would fall, until Stalin grew concerned that the Allies were getting much too close to the core of the USSR. Abandoning his long-standing policy of equipping the Germans but otherwise sending only small forces west, he unleashed an entire Guards Tank Army, along with a considerable infantry force, against the Italians. Graziani’s force was quickly overwhelmed and thrown back across the river, while the Allies were forced to deal with a new reality: the Red Army had arrived.

    Wunderwaffen, December 1943

    Towards the end of 1943, the Axis began fielding a series of advanced weapons that Hitler termed ‘wonder weapons’ due to his belief that they were so superior to anything the Allies could field that they would singlehandedly turn the tide of the war. Soviet engineers and industrialists had had a part in the design and manufacturing of these weapons since 1941, which had seen the acceleration of designs that would not have been possible before late 1944 otherwise.

    The first of the Wunderwaffen to be deployed was the Fi 103 unguided missile (known as a V1 to OTLers). With a range of around 250km and a speed comparable to that of most fighters currently being used, the Fi 103 was a rather cost-effective substitute for either bombers or massive artillery pieces like Gustav or Dora, especially in light of the near-complete destruction of the Luftwaffe by the time of its introduction. Although Allied pilots did manage to intercept a considerable number of Fi 103s, the barrage of them that were fired at the French northeastern industries would only be ended with the capture of factories that made them or the destruction of launch sites, while Stalin found little use for them (targets in Japan being well out of range from Vladivostock) and produced only very few.

    Much more important in the air war was the Me 262 turbojet fighter. Able to fly much faster than any Allied fighters, the Me 262 proved difficult to intercept and lethal to pilots unfortunate enough to fight it. German use of the Me 262 was brief, as production facilities in the Rhineland were being bombed more and more heavily as the frontline approached, but Soviet reporters sent detailed messages back to Moscow, reporting on the aircraft’s strengths and vulnerabilities. Stalin was so pleased with the aircraft that he instructed MiG to not only begin production of the Me 262 (as the MiG-262) but to also develop a much more advanced jet fighter, which he wanted ready for serial production by July 1945.

    In December 1943, possibly the most fearsome design of them all entered front line service: the Panzer VI “Wolf” heavy tank. Having started out as a joint German-Soviet design based off the KV-1 and T-34, the Wolf had grown considerably to the point where it resembled a greatly enlarged T-34 with a KV-1’s armour and a massive 128mm gun that could take out even the formidable M26 Pershing at incredibly long range, while retaining the T-34’s ease of production. The Wehrmacht was the first to deploy Wolves in battle in the north of Holland, where they quickly became feared, with one British soldier remarking “at least the bloody Tiger breaks down if you give it a while”.

    Stalin wasted no time in ensuring that a Soviet variant of the Wolf was brought into use. Known to the Soviets as the T-6 and the Allies occasionally as the Bear, the Soviet variant of the Wolf initially carried the 122mm gun that was much more common in the USSR than the German 128, although the superiority of the German gun eventually saw its production in the USSR as well. Guards units were given the first Wolves in January 1944, and throughout that year the massive Wolf saw production numbers quickly pass hundreds of tanks every month.

    - BNC
  • BiteNibbleChomp

    Gone Fishin'
    Opening the East, January 1944

    Despite Soviet successes north of the Danube, the Italians continued to make good progress against the German occupation forces in Thrace, and the fall of Istanbul just after the new year opened up the opportunity of liberating much of Anatolia, where the Turkish resistance had finally gained an upper hand in the south and west against the Axis.

    In a conference at Rome, Italian, American and British commanders developed a plan that would see a combined Allied force (led by Graziani as the Italians commanded the most troops in the theatre) attempt to seize as much of Turkey as they could. Using the Indian armies stationed in Syria and the Italians crossing the sea from Istanbul, they hoped to link up with the Turkish resistance and retake Ankara, while US Marines landed on the south coast of Turkey to prevent the occupation forces from concentrating against the Allies.

    The Axis position in the west was considerably weaker than anyone, even Hitler, believed. Only third-rate units were being used in the area, as all veterans and elite forces had been pulled from Army Group D to fight on the Western Front, while only a pair of understrength panzer divisions were available to provide any sort of heavy fighting power at all. What resistance the Germans did offer was quickly swept aside, and by the end of the winter all of Turkey west of Ankara had been liberated.

    The eastern half of the country would prove much more difficult. Not only were the Allies operating at the end of lengthy supply lines (stretching back to Albania and Egypt), but the mountainous terrain favoured the Soviet defenders, while Stalin had sent some of his best mountain divisions, recruited from the Caucasus and having proven themselves in the invasion of Finland. As the winter weather prevented the Allied air forces from gaining a decisive advantage, Graziani called a halt to the operation. When clear skies returned, Stalin had sent his first production run of MiG-262s to the south, where they would prove a difficult foe.

    Battle of the Rhineland, January 1944

    After Manstein’s force had been wiped out, the Allies had planned on waiting until the winter passed before commencing the invasion of Germany. Their positions north of Arnhem meant that any defensive line based on the Rhine could be outflanked by the British, and it was believed likely that the Germans would prefer to hold out in the Rhineland, where most of their industry was concentrated.

    The appearance of the Red Army on the Danube changed that, as although the Soviets had not yet joined the battle directly in Germany (although the VVS had been taking over from the Luftwaffe for a long time), Allied intelligence had found that Stalin was certainly considering doing so, especially after Churchill refused a Soviet peace offer that would have seen the Communists control all of Europe east of the Oder and north of the Danube.

    The operation to take the Rhineland began in late January 1944, with the British 2nd Army leading the largest force out of the Arnhem bridgehead and along the banks of the Rhine. Manstein, now the overall commander of all the German forces on the Western Front, had expected an offensive in that sector, where the Allies had their only bridgehead over Germany’s greatest river. To stop the offensive, he pulled the best units of the remaining Wehrmacht from all along the Western Front to fight in the north, while brand new Wolf tanks were being driven out of the factories and straight onto the front line, not even giving the tanks’ paint time to dry.

    With the Germans now tied up in the north, the combined Allied command launched the second stage of the offensive. Using most of the American forces in Europe, including the recently formed 3rd American Army under the command of General Patton, the second stage of the plan called for an offensive through Belgium and the southern Rhineland to smash through the crumbling German defence and seize bridges across the Rhine near Mainz, threatening Frankfurt and encircling the Ruhr between the two forces. Patton, who was known for his aggressive armoured tactics (which had denied him army command during the trench battles of 1942 and 1943), proved to be the perfect man to lead the operation, capturing Frankfurt before orders got through ordering him to halt just east of Mainz for supplies to catch up. The fall of Frankfurt came as a shock to Manstein, who had managed to hold up the British in the built-up areas of the Ruhr.

    Battle of the Shetlands, February 1944

    Throughout the later months of 1943, the Kriegsmarine’s battleship fleet had expanded from two battleships to six, as the Friedrich der Große-class entered service. Hitler’s four new ships, KMS Friedrich der Große*, KMS Großdeutschland, KMS Hindenburg and KMS Ludendorff were for the most part a slight enlargement of the Bismarcks, able to maintain the 30 knots of their predecessors, while weighing just over 60,000 tons and carrying 16” guns.

    At the end of January, two factors came together that gave Hitler the opportunity to use his new naval power for the first time. Not only was the position in the Rhineland quickly becoming a disaster, and a victory at sea could be used to boost morale, but weather reporters predicted that conditions in the North Sea would be terrible over the next several days, which would give the ships time to slip through the Allied patrols. At Kiel, the Kriegsmarine’s officers protested, stating that the fleet had no hope of winning in what was mockingly called “Operation Suicide Charge”, in face of the British, French, Japanese and US Navies, each individually far superior to the Kriegsmarine. Hitler was steadfast in his determination to battle the Allied navies, and drafted orders for the SS to march into Kiel should Admiral Raeder order the Kriegsmarine to mutiny. Raeder reluctantly decided to order the Kriegsmarine out to sea, eventually admitting to reporters that “it would have been a shame to scuttle our fleet a second time at Scapa Flow”.

    In addition to the six battleships, the Kriegsmarine could still call on fifteen destroyers, 22 submarines, the cruiser KMS Prinz Eugen and the two pocket battleships KMS Admiral Scheer and KMS Graf Spee, as well as thirty Fw 200 Condor bombers based in Norway. Between them, the Allies could call on more than thirty fleet carriers, 28 battleships and over 300 smaller ships from the various fleets based in the Atlantic. Despite this, the Kriegsmarine force managed to sneak through the North Sea unnoticed, while the Royal Navy remained unconvinced that the intelligence reports of the Kriegsmarine passing by southern Norway were true, thinking the move so stupid as to be impossible.

    On February 9th, the Germans’ good luck ran out. The weather had cleared earlier than expected, and the Kriegsmarine ran into a small Allied task force built around the USS South Dakota and the enormous IJN Yamato. As Admiral Yamamoto set urgent radio reports back to London and called for all nearby Allied fleets to move to a position near the Shetland Islands, a massive battleship duel erupted. Several ships were badly damaged, and the Großdeutschland was forced to break away from the engagement and head to nearby Bergen for repairs towards the end of the day.

    On the second day of the battle, the tide of the battle shifted decisively against the Germans. Yamamoto’s call for reinforcements had seen US Admiral Spruance pull together a task force comprised of eight fleet carriers, five battleships including the Yamato’s newly built sister ship Shinano, and a wide variety of smaller ships including heavy cruiser USS Alaska, another recent build. As the Kriegsmarine had no carrier escort (their only carrier having been sunk early in the war), Spruance wanted to avoid another gun duel, instead opting to launch a massive air strike against the Germans. The first wave of torpedo bombers quickly sent Bismarck and Hindenburg to the bottom, while Raeder attempted to finish off the stricken Yamato. Two hours later, Spruance launched a second wave of bombers, which effectively finished off the Kriegsmarine as a fighting force (KMS Ludendorff would be the only German ship larger than a destroyer to survive the battle, Großdeutschland being sunk by a submarine before it reached Bergen harbour). Allied losses had included five destroyers, 94 aircraft (mostly shot down by the large numbers of AA emplacements on the new German battleships) and the Yamato, but although the Allies would spend months repairing damage, the battle was an unquestionable victory, and second only to Jutland as the largest naval battle in history.

    Head of the Viper, February 1944

    For many in Germany, the destruction of the Kriegsmarine in a worthless attack was the final straw. Despite his boasts and initial successes, particularly in securing Czechoslovakia in 1938 and then forming an alliance with the strongest power in the world, Hitler had overseen one disaster after another since the invasion of France. Not only had the German people had to endure three years of the Western Front, which had gone no better than during the First World War, but in recent months they had been forced through worse. Allied bombing raids had visited most major German cities, destroying huge swathes of urban area, not just industrial targets but civilian homes as well. As the Rhineland began to fall under Allied occupation, German confidence in the war, waning since 1940, finally collapsed.

    As Hitler announced a conference to begin in Berlin on February 24th, several high-ranking officers in the Wehrmacht began to consider removing Hitler from power and replacing him with a leader who would use the incredible advantages of an alliance with the USSR more effectively before Germany was conquered by the Allies outright. As the 24th neared, several officers informed Hitler that they would not be able to attend due to pressing needs at the front, while others travelled to Berlin, preparing to assassinate the Fuhrer and as much of the Nazi leadership as they could get.

    Fortune favoured the plotters, as an Allied bombing raid on Berlin the previous night had disrupted usual security procedures. Hans Oster, who had led a plot in 1938 intending to kill Hitler should the Sudetenland crisis become a war, managed to smuggle a bomb into the conference room by hiding it in a briefcase. During the conference, it became necessary to cover the large table with a map of the Western Front, with the briefcase being used to hold down one of the corners. Oster left the conference early, claiming that an urgent report meant that he was needed back at Abwehr headquarters (the messenger was himself a member of the conspiracy, and the “urgent report” forged). Twenty minutes later, the bomb exploded. Hitler and Himmler were among the seventeen officials killed, as were Rudolf Hess and Martin Bormann, two prominent figures who were considered by many as likely successors to Hitler.

    - BNC

    (* = Yes, I'm aware that Hitler had thought about naming the first 2 H-classes after Gotz von Berlichingen and Ulrich von Hutten, but those names suck so I'm not using them)
  • BiteNibbleChomp

    Gone Fishin'
    Iron Cross Melting, February 1944

    On the afternoon of February 24th, 1944, Germany stopped. Hitler was dead. The noise in the centre of Berlin was unmistakable. Ambulances, Police, SS and Heer soldiers all assembled to figure out what had happened, and where the nation would go from there.
    By the end of the day, it was clear that the Nazi leadership had been decapitated, with both Fuhrer and Deputy Fuhrer dead, as was Himmler and several of the highest ranking SS officers. Admiral Raeder had shot himself the previous week after the destruction of the Kriegsmarine, while OKW’s senior commander Field Marshal von Brauchitsch had been killed in an Allied bombing raid on his headquarters in January. Hermann Goring, commander of the Luftwaffe, was thus left as the most senior NSDAP member and only top commander of any branch of the Wehrmacht, and despite suffering major injuries from the bomb himself, he looked to be the best positioned to succeed the Fuhrer.

    Goring’s elevation to Fuhrer was far from undisputed. Not only was it virtually impossible to rule a country during wartime from a hospital bed, but very few people wanted to be ruled by Goring to begin with. The Luftwaffe and the Heer had been arguing with each other for years, and Halder had no interest in being commanded by his longtime rival. With the support of several of his co-conspirators, Halder moved to have himself declared Acting Fuhrer.

    Even within the Wehrmacht, Halder’s takeover was far from popular. Halder, like Hitler, had become obsessed with the need for great offensives to push the Allies out of Germany, despite that being well out of the Army’s capabilities by 1944, an attitude that had made Manstein quite frustrated with his superior. One of Halder’s first orders (without so much as consulting Goring) was that Manstein launch an offensive to push the Allies out of the Ruhr. Manstein, having successfully tied the British down into a defensive battle, knew that changing plans would be “stupid and idiotic”, demanded that he receive an order signed personally by Goring, which he knew Halder would not be able to provide. Some of Manstein’s subordinates still believed that Halder’s authority was legitimate, and insisted the orders be carried out, effectively splitting Army Group West in two.

    Further east, the new Nazi leadership found a new challenge in the SS. Sepp Dietrich had taken over from Himmler as leader of the SS forces as soon as it became known that Himmler was dead, being the most senior SS commander and a longtime close acquaintance to Hitler. With nearly 1,000,000 men loyal to him, primarily concentrated in the General Government region of former Poland, he could call on a formidable power base, and he was quick to denounce the Goring and Halder regimes as illegitimate (declaring that neither Hitler, Himmler or Hess had declared either of the two as their successor). Dietrich’s claim was quickly supported by his close friend Ferdinand Schorner, who commanded Army Group D in southern Hungary, the strongest Heer force outside of Manstein’s control.

    Swords Are Raised, March 1944

    Dietrich, long known to be an impulsive and aggressive commander, was quick to marshal his forces into a formation that became known as Panzerarmee-SS. Dietrich and Halder had been rivals ever since the SS was removed from the Western Front in 1941 after it became apparent that the Allies were using SS war crimes in anti-German propaganda, and with the bulk of the Wehrmacht tied down in battle against the Allies, Dietrich the time to be right for him to the SS to get revenge against Halder, and for Dietrich to install himself as Deputy Fuhrer.

    On March 2nd, Dietrich ordered the Panzerarmee-SS to march on Berlin, in the hopes of seizing the Reichstag and capturing Halder, effectively forcing Germany into civil war. Even though the SS had a powerful presence in the General Government region, men loyal to Halder had powerful positions even in Dietrich’s headquarters at Krakow, and word reached Berlin before the SS even began its march.

    Halder was forced into a difficult position, between an uncompromising Manstein and a rebellious Dietrich, and beyond those the enormous Allied armies and Stalin, who had not yet made a public move in support of any of the German factions. Between the various threats to his power, Halder decided that the SS was the greatest immediate threat, and moved to counter Dietrich’s advance.

    Oak Leaves and Olive Branches, March 1944

    In order to defeat Dietrich, Halder hoped to regain the support of the Wehrmacht, and in particular Manstein. Manstein, unlike Dietrich, had at least remained loyal to the Goring regime, and had only resisted Halder in the conduct of the fighting on the Western Front. Halder made Manstein an offer, effectively granting Army Group West near-complete independence from Berlin’s orders in return for the transfer of thirty divisions to Halder’s command, with the understanding that they would be used to crush the SS revolt before being returned to the Western Front.

    Manstein, who had already condemned Dietrich’s actions, told Halder that he was willing to back him against Dietrich and the SS, but warned that taking a quarter of Germany’s divisions off the Western Front could be catastrophic for the position there, and suggested that no more than ten divisions be pulled from the front. Halder eventually decided on fifteen, “even if it means we have to clear the Allies out of the Rhineland later”, and Manstein, despite his misgivings, agreed.

    Despite Manstein selecting units whose commanders had been the most vocal about supporting Halder’s rule, the act of sending the army to fight what was effectively a squabble amongst officers angered many common soldiers, especially conscripts who were if not eager, then at least willing to defend their country against a foreign invader. Within hours of receiving orders to transfer to Berlin, many soldiers deserted the lines, with many units simply vanishing as the men walked back to their homes (many of which were in western Germany), tired of the endless war. Others that did not desert looked ready to start a mutiny, and still more snuck across the front line to sit out the remaining days of the war in a prisoner-of-war camp. Of the fifteen divisions that Manstein sent to Berlin, Halder eventually received a force amounting to the combat strength of perhaps seven.

    - BNC
  • BiteNibbleChomp

    Gone Fishin'
    Aftershocks, March 1944

    In the two weeks following Hitler’s assassination, the situation in Germany was decidedly uncertain. Halder was far from the only major Wehrmacht figure to push a claim on the Deputy Fuhrer title, although a string of assassinations, suicides and resignations would eventually grant him effective control, save for the challenge from the SS. Outside of Berlin, Halder’s position depended almost entirely on the goodwill of what remained of OKW, which mostly depended on Manstein, and on Stalin, who had parked a large Red Army force on the German border.

    Outside of Germany, the Allied leaders were struggling to figure out how to approach the new German government, or even who actually held power within the country. Halder’s background in OKH had led him to be ignored by Allied intelligence agents, and they did not know whether the new government was interested in seeking any sort of peace arrangements. Moreover, the Allies were concerned that Hitler’s death would lead to the rise of another “stab in the back” legend akin to the one that had propelled the Nazis to power in the first place, and whether anything other than a total occupation and disarmament of Germany would prevent another war breaking out in twenty or thirty years.

    On the Western Front, Wehrmacht resistance continued to crumble in the Rhineland. With the SS effectively dragging the country into civil war, desertions and mutinies became more frequent, but in sectors where units remained loyal to the German cause, they fought as hard as ever. Roosevelt, Churchill and Daladier debated sending peace feelers to Berlin, but as Halder’s position was decided to be unstable, these efforts were decided worthless – another assassination, or the SS taking over, could easily restart the war regardless. Orders were sent out to all Allied units urging that German surrenders be communicated to higher command with utmost urgency in case of another major event in Berlin, but otherwise the war was to continue as it had against Hitler.

    Once Allied intelligence discovered that Halder was pulling troops out of the Rhineland, the time looked ripe for a final offensive to knock the bulk of the Wehrmacht out of the war for good. General O’Connor’s new plan called for an offensive just to the east of the Ruhr, hoping to outflank Manstein’s force by taking Cologne, before taking Essen and Dortmund and pinning much of Army Group West down on the west bank of the Rhine, where a follow-up offensive led by British and French forces would be able to force Manstein to surrender.

    General Patton had other ideas, advocating a general offensive towards Berlin, which would naturally be led by the 3rd American Army. To his superiors, he said that it wouldn’t matter who the German leader was if all of Germany was brought under control, and a swift offensive would prevent Stalin from relieving whichever faction of the Nazi government that he ended up supporting. After the French 5th Army was added to the striking force, Patton got his wish, and within three days Pershing tanks were storming through the Fulda Gap.

    The Red Bear Interferes, March 1944

    Through NKVD agents stationed in Berlin, Stalin had been closely following the aftermath of Hitler’s assassination. By March 9th, Manstein had effectively declared his support for Halder, and most rivals within OKW had either given their support for the new regime or been somehow removed from power. With the exception of Dietrich and the SS faction, Halder looked to have control of the government and the army, and seemed likely to maintain his power at least until Goring looked to be recovering from his wounds, which would not be a concern for another couple of months at minimum.

    Stalin however had become frustrated with the SS, which had been a major sticking point between the two major Axis powers. Hitler’s rise to power had been based on incredible amounts of anti-communist and anti-Slav rhetoric, and it was these views that inspired many volunteers to join the SS. After 1939, Hitler had focussed his speeches against other perceived “undesirables”, most of all the Jews, but older SS members did not always change their views, and Stalin was well aware of the atrocities being carried out in former Poland. With Halder having at least some measure of control over Berlin, Stalin was ready to seize the opportunity to crush the SS, before directly supporting the Wehrmacht in the defence of the Rhineland while the Germans were still capable of resistance.

    On March 11th, Stalin ordered the Red Army to cross the Bug River into Germany, officially “in support of the legitimate successor to the Hitler government”, although in practice the intervention made Halder little more than a Soviet puppet. Stalin airlifted an entire division into Berlin to secure the city against SS elements, while Il-2 bombers swarmed over Poland to destroy as much of Dietrich’s column as could be found, meeting little resistance (the Luftwaffe having been quickly brought under Halder’s control). Krakow was taken within four days, where the NKVD hunted down Dietrich’s deputy Ernst Kaltenbrunner. The old General Government was swiftly brought under Soviet control, while the Red Army pushed onwards towards Prague and Berlin.

    Berlin: The City of Three Battles, March 1944

    Despite Stalin’s best efforts, Sepp Dietrich arrived in Berlin on March 20th, with eleven SS divisions ready to overthrow Halder. Halder had trusted one of his closest political allies, General Walter Model, with the defence of the city, and Model had scraped together a sizeable force, including a newly-raised communist volunteer battalion, to fight off the SS. At the forefront of Model’s forces were fifteen Wolf tanks that Manstein had released from the Rhineland, which were invulnerable to nearly any weapons on the battlefield, and more than capable of destroying the SS Panzer IIIs leftover from the first offensive into France.

    Stalin however was unwilling to take the chance of losing any control of his closest ally (Kaltenbrunner’s death ensured that Dietrich would not work with the Soviets even if it meant surrendering to the Allies), and ordered the NKVD to find Halder, Goring, Model, and any other members of the new government that were likely to be in Berlin. Under cover of darkness, the German leadership was pulled out of Berlin while SS and Heer forces clashed in the city’s outskirts, and taken to Moscow.

    Three days later, Patton arrived in Potsdam to find the SS forcing a crossing of the Spree River and attempting to storm the Reichstag. Patton did not wait for orders from his superiors, sending the French 5th Army into the south of Berlin while the 3rd American rushed into the north, while Patton was determined to shoot “whatever son of a bitch leader the Germans have picked to lead them into hell”. The Reichstag was stormed a second time, as Allied soldiers pushed out the SS, although Patton never saw Dietrich before the SS commander’s tank was destroyed by a Soviet bomber.

    The Red Army arrived to find a Berlin that had just seen one of the most intense battles of the war. The SS had been broken by the combined efforts of the VVS and Allied ground troops, while the Heer’s forces in the city were in hardly better shape. Fresh off his victory against the various German forces, Patton was eager to fight the Red Army too, while Stalin’s men were left confused as to whether there were any German forces left in need of support, or if the war was reduced to just fighting the Allies once more. Both sides launched massive assaults against the other, determined to take the entirety of the ruined city, but so soon after undertaking an offensive covering hundreds of kilometres each, neither army could gain a decisive advantage over the other, leaving the city at the centre of what would soon become an enormous battlefield once more.

    A Broken State, April 1944

    As the Battle of Berlin raged on in the east, in the west O’Connor’s offensive to destroy the German presence in the Rhineland was quickly eroding what remained of the Wehrmacht’s strength. Morale among the German forces was at an all-time low, and the situation was made worse once it became clear that the Red Army would not be able to reach the Rhine in the foreseeable future. British artillery had established itself in positions within range of the enormous rail yards where dozens of trains filled with Soviet goods were left waiting for unloading crews that would never come – indeed Army Group West was now using the yard as a massive supply dump, and it became clear that the Rhineland would soon fall.

    Stalin eventually decided that Army Group West was unable to hold on, and ordered Manstein to leave the pocket, with the intention that he would travel to Moscow. Allied codebreakers intercepted the order, and sent a massive fighter force to shoot Manstein down. The plan worked, and a British patrol soon buried Manstein with full military honours. Manstein’s subordinate, and Army Group West’s final commander General Wilhelm List, surrendered to O’Connor the following day.

    Manstein’s rescue was only part of a plan to keep as much of the Wehrmacht intact under Soviet leadership as possible. East of the Weser, several German reserve divisions were still active, in varying degrees of combat readiness. Halder, at Stalin’s direction, sent orders to all of their commanders urging that they retreat towards Stettin, where they could join with the Red Army and continue the fight. Many Germans believed the war already lost and deserted along the way, but those that remained (who tended to be volunteers and career soldiers) eventually made contact with Soviet lines north of Berlin, where they were placed under Model’s command.

    With Manstein defeated, the Allies rushed to bring as much of Germany as they could under occupation. Italian forces in the Alps finally broke through the German lines and seized Vienna, where Ernst Rudiger Starhemberg was installed as the new Austrian leader, while the French smashed through the Siegfried Line to capture Munich and the launching sites of the Fi 103 missiles. The Royal Marines landed along the German coastline in the hopes of capturing the remnants of the Kriegsmarine, including the KMS Ludendorff, the only German capital ship to survive the Battle of the Shetlands. The Red Army reinforced its position in Pomerania and units were sent to keep the Allies out of Prague, with the Soviets gaining control of most of the old Czech border forts in the Sudetenland. Admiral Horthy attempted to pull Hungary out of the war as Allied armies approached Budapest, only for the NKVD to overthrow him and install Matyas Rakosi as a communist puppet. German-occupied Norway was reinforced by the airlifting of several Soviet divisions.

    By April 15th, Nazi Germany was effectively defeated, but from Moscow, Halder insisted that the fight would go on.

    - BNC
  • BiteNibbleChomp

    Gone Fishin'
    Questions of the Future, May 1944

    The defeat of Germany had been a long and difficult fight. Casualties, although not as bad as those suffered during World War I, had still been heavy for the Allies, and the prospect of fighting the ever more numerous Soviets after an already difficult war was intimidating. Overall victory against the USSR would require a massive investment of time, treasure and blood, and remained far from certain as the VVS continued to battle the Allied air forces above Germany. In the first months of 1944, it was not hard to see why certain parts of the French, British and American populations were calling for peace with Stalin.

    When Allied troops entered Germany in full force throughout March 1944, attitudes towards the war changed dramatically. The Wehrmacht had fought on the Western Front while abiding by the Geneva Convention, and while the SS had committed some atrocities in Belgium in 1940, they were quickly pulled from the line. But beyond the Rhine, the Allies found dozens of concentration camps, where hundreds of thousands of Jews, along with Poles, political opponents and other people Hitler had outlined for extermination, were housed. Common among the liberated prisoners were stories of other camps where people were taken to be killed. The Allies found none of these camps, but the stories were so common that the only logical conclusion was that these camps had been located in territory now controlled by the USSR.

    Allied newspapers were quickly filled with pictures of starving survivors of the camps, sparking a wave of outrage. Anti-Soviet propaganda produced since 1939 had occasionally made references to Stalin’s forced collectivisation plan in the Ukraine that led to millions of deaths, and images from Germany only confirmed what many believed already – that Stalin had not changed since the murderous days of the early 1930s. Indeed, it was likely that in addition to aiding Hitler (who had quickly gone from “enemy leader” to “one of the few worst people in all of history”), Stalin was just as bad as his ally, and the world would not be safe as long as he was free to continue killing people.

    Relighting the Fire, May 1944

    Baku’s oilfields had been raided once before, early in the war. Producing around three-quarter’s of the USSR’s oil supply, and only a short distance from Allied airbases in Turkey and Syria, the fields and nearby city were an obvious target for bombers. Incredible efforts had been undertaken to improve the infrastructure of the Syrian airfields, which had been a limiting factor to the ability of the Allies to target this vital centre. Now the French colony was host to one of the largest airbases in the world.

    Stalin knew as well as the Allies just how important Baku was, and had fortified the southern Caucasus with incredible amounts of anti-aircraft weaponry (including the German 128mm gun that had become the basis for the Wolf’s main cannon), and a non-stop fighter patrol that included MiG-262s. As a further precaution, Stalin had ordered the immediate relocation of all German synthetic fuel plants to Moscow, and the construction of new plants using the German design (in some cases even importing the engineers themselves), which would be able to keep the USSR supplied in oil even if the Caucasus was heavily bombed.

    Operation Razorback, the second major bombing raid on Baku, was planned for May 6th, although bad weather forced it to be delayed by two days. Over 600 Allied bombers, including a squadron of newly-introduced Avro Lincolns, were tasked with the destruction of Baku and the surrounding area. Unlike the 1940 raid, the bomber force could call on a formidable escort equipped with a wide variety of fighters, from the US Navy Corsair, to the RAF Tempest, and even a captured Me 262 (which was committed to the raid in the hope that the pilot could bring back valuable information about jet-on-jet combat as the Allies prepared to introduce their own jet fighters).

    Razorback ended up being the costliest Allied bombing raid of the entire war, losing 112 bombers and 83 fighters. Their deaths were not in vain however, as Baku was engulfed in a massive fire as spilled oil was ignited by incendiary bombs, rendering most of the fields unusable and the surrounding infrastructure badly damaged. The air battle above Baku also provided some desperately needed experience against jet fighters, with pilots coming to the conclusion that a traditional dogfight with a MiG-262 would only lead to disaster, and focus shifted to fighting them when they were in their most vulnerable positions during takeoff and landing.

    Bavarian Offensive, June 1944

    In the wake of Hitler’s death and the subsequent rush to secure Germany, both the Allies and the Soviets had spent much of the Spring building up their strength and adjusting their logistics systems. A new front line had emerged, roughly following a line from the centre of Berlin to the Sudetenland forts, then along the old Austrian, Hungarian and Romanian frontiers. In addition to the Hungarian and German armies, STAVKA had set up three fronts – Antonov’s Western Front in Germany, Rokossovsky’s Carpathian Front in Bohemia and Konev’s Southwestern Front in Romania, while the two Caucasus Fronts being merged under Zhukov’s single command in eastern Turkey. The Allied command structure had changed little since 1943, with the notable exceptions being the introduction of a 4th American Army under General Matthew Ridgway, and the rearrangement of units such that armies of the same nationality were now given adjacent positions on the front, with the British furthest north, then American, French and finally Italian units in the south.

    The Red Army had planned for Germany’s potential fall as early as the initial breakthroughs on the Western Front in summer 1943, allowing it to be in position on the new front line (which had been formed wherever the Allies and Soviets met) well before the Allies had a chance to. Stalin hoped to take advantage of the confusion within the Allied command and push the frontline west, recovering German industry in cities such as Munich and Stuttgart, and bringing France within Axis bombing range once more.

    Rokossovsky began the Bavarian Strategic Operation on May 27th, immediately clashing with the new 4th American Army and the bulk of the French forces currently deployed against the Red Army. What Czech forts the French had seized from the Germans were quickly retaken, while the first massed deployment of Wolf tanks, along with thousands of older T-34s, surged into Bavaria. Munich was taken early in the campaign, while the Americans scrambled to hold Nuremberg. A massive salient was carved out of southern Germany, and the numerically superior Red Army hoped to use the lengthened front to tip the balance in their favour.

    - BNC
  • BiteNibbleChomp

    Gone Fishin'
    Antonov and Bradley, July 1944

    Rokossovsky’s offensive had forced the Americans to pull Ridgway’s 4th American Army off the front line in front of the Czech forts in order to defend Nuremberg, leaving only the 1st and 2nd American Armies to cover the ground between Berlin and Plauen. With the situation in Bavaria continuing to appear favourable to the Red Army, it was time for the second part of the plan to retake Germany.

    The commander of the Soviet Western Front, Aleksei Antonov, was a much quieter personality compared to most of the generals fighting in Europe. Most of his time throughout the war had been in Moscow, where he was responsible for much of STAVKA’s planning. Stalin had come to trust Antonov, and in early 1944 decided that the quiet, cautious but talented general would be an ideal opponent for the aggressive and unpredictable Patton.

    Antonov’s plan was not bold or particularly aggressive, hoping to use the Red Army’s superiority in numbers, heavy armour and especially artillery to push the Americans out of central Germany, while Rokossovsky tied the Americans and French down further south. The overstretched Americans were pushed back and Leipzig and Magdeburg were retaken by the Soviets (much to Halder’s delight).

    Antonov met his match in General Bradley, commander of the 1st American Army. Bradley had noticed throughout the war that most Soviet offensives begun with massive artillery bombardments, followed by an armoured assault on a broad front, known to the troops as a “headlong smash”. Following the fall of Magdeburg, Bradley proposed that the bulk of the Army fall back to prepared positions five or ten kilometres behind the front line, just leaving enough forces forward to hopefully deceive the Soviet forces into firing their artillery into mostly empty ground.

    Bradley’s plan was tested when Antonov attempted to launch another attack in the direction of Hannover. Katyushas and conventional artillery fired a massive barrage into what they thought were the American lines, only for the tanks to then charge right into a well defended position further in the rear, complete with anti-tank guns and artillery of their own. Air strikes were launched targeting the Red Army’s position, and Antonov was forced to call a retreat, leaving a shattered Magdeburg in the hands of the Allies.

    Vladivostock Under Siege, August 1944

    The Far Eastern theatre had seen the first battleground of the war at Nomonhan, but by 1944 it was barely an afterthought in Moscow. The collapse of Germany forced Stalin to commit the majority of his forces to Europe, where it was increasingly obvious that the war would be decided on the plains of Germany and Poland. In the Far East, all forces had to be supplied over the Trans-Siberian Railroad, which had been sufficient to crush the Kwantung Army in 1939 but was now unable to supply enough forces to defeat a resurgent Japan in 1944.

    Harbin, the last significant city in Manchukuo to be liberated, was occupied by the IJA in the early months of the year. Budyonny, commander of the Far Eastern Front, had barely contested them, as Japanese, Manchu and Chinese elements sabotaged what little transport networks existed between Harbin, North Manchukuo and Soviet power bases in Chita and Irkutsk. Budyonny had instead pulled his forces out, sending them east to defend Japan’s obvious next target: Vladivostock.

    Vladivostock was a formidable position in its own right, and with fortifications capable of rivalling the Maginot Line, Stalin’s largest Pacific port was turned into a citadel. At the tip of a narrow peninsula, there was only one direction through which the Japanese could come, and any assault, especially a Banzai charge that they were well known for, would be costly.

    The Japanese did not want to fight according to Budyonny’s plans. While the reckless IJA of 1939 may have attempted to charge the lines, the reformed IJA of 1944 was determined to do anything but that. With the defeat of the Kriegsmarine, Prime Minister Saito had pulled the Navy out of the Atlantic, allowing it to directly clash with the Soviets in the Far East. Musashi and Shinano, the two largest battleships ever constructed, were available to use their 18” guns as offshore artillery, pounding Vladivostock while Army units waited, having demolished a section of the Trans-Siberian Railroad and having set up machine gun positions where tracks had once lay. Vladivostock would now be under siege, far from the heroic battle that Budyonny hoped would allow him to destroy the Japanese Army and allow a recapture of Manchukuo.

    The Oil Plan, August 1944

    In World War I, France and Britain had both lost the cream of an entire generation of men fighting on the Western Front. After five years of fighting in World War II, the best of the next generation had fallen, some on the exact same battlefields that their fathers and uncles had fought against the Kaiser. Even with the support of colonial troops from their respective empires, it was clear that their manpower was dwindling, and that a total war effort would not be sustainable forever. France, which had borne the brunt of the fighting in 1939 and 1940, and had been a major contributor ever since, was feeling the effects the hardest, having merged several divisions together in an attempt to keep each active division at something approaching combat strength.

    With Daladier urgently requesting that French units be pulled from the front line and given less taxing occupation duties, it was becoming obvious that a direct commitment to beat the Red Army in open battle, with millions of fresh Soviet recruits opposing exhausted Allied soldiers, would not be able to win the war by itself, despite Patton’s boasts to the contrary. The Red Army would need to be disabled and left unable to fight.

    Despite the heavy losses taken in the Razorback raid on Baku, the destruction of oil facilities there inspired the combined Allied leadership to develop what became known as the Oil Plan. The Oil Plan envisioned a massive bombing campaign directed at all of the USSR’s oil-producing facilities within bombing range, most importantly those at Maikop and Grozny, in the hopes that without fuel, the Soviet war machine would grind to a halt. Once this had been accomplished, Allied bombers would focus their attention on destroying known Soviet airfields, especially those that were operating the VVS’ fleet of jet fighters. Once the VVS’ infrastructure had been destroyed, and its tens of thousands of aircraft grounded, the Red Army’s logistics columns would be vulnerable to strikes from above, while ground forces would be able to defeat it in a weakened state.

    The raids on Maikop and Grozny were very successful, with anti-air defences much lighter than at Baku and an effective escort provided by RN and USN carriers operating in the Black Sea. Bletchley Park quickly intercepted Enigma messages from Moscow that indicated that although Soviet capacity had been badly damaged, synthetic fuel facilities and new developments of an oilfield near Ufa (well out of bomber range) meant that although the USSR was now producing less than it consumed, the difference was not so great as to be of any immediate risk to the nation’s military capabilities. Nonetheless, the rest of the Oil Plan could still be carried out, and efforts to destroy the VVS’ fighting capabilities began in early September.

    - BNC
  • BiteNibbleChomp

    Gone Fishin'
    Even the Dead Can Strike Back, September 1944

    As the German war effort collapsed towards the end of 1943, the Luftwaffe left behind prototypes and design work on a jet-powered bomber known then as the Arado Ar 234A. Able to fly faster than any Allied fighter (at least until the Gloster Meteor’s introduction in late 1944), the design would be almost impossible to intercept, while equipping it with drop tanks would give it a range of just over 2000 km, placing much of Europe within bombing range for the first time since Germany’s defeat.

    When Germany fell, Stalin had the NKVD and the VVS seize as much of the Luftwaffe’s research and development as could be obtained, and bring it into the USSR (while advanced designs that could not be saved, such as the little-known ‘Komet’ interceptor, were destroyed). The Ar 234 was handed over to Ilyushin, where after slight modifications (especially the conversion of armaments to similar Soviet standards), it entered production as the Il-14.

    The first use of the Il-14 in combat was as part of an old German plan to strike at the British east coast from southern Norway, which had been shelved owing to a lack of long-range escort fighters. 40 Il-14s took part in a bombing raid aimed at the port of Hull, hoping to impair British attempts to supply their forces on the continent. Two bombers were lost to engine failures and a third shot down by British anti-air, and only minor damage was inflicted on the port, but the Il-14 proved itself as a fearsome bomber. Three more raids would be launched against the British coast before the British assembled enough defences for unescorted bombing raids to be considered too risky by Stalin.

    A Permanent Intervention, October 1944

    Under siege from all sides, the defenders of Vladivostock were demoralised and led by an incompetent general. Many of the soldiers in the city were conscripts who cared little for the communist cause, and although formidable fortifications to the north of the city would make a direct Japanese assault extremely costly, the siege meant that the battle of Vladivostock did not have to be decided by force of arms.

    Ever since the beginning of war in 1939, the Japanese Navy had blockaded every Soviet Pacific port. What few ships the Red Fleet could call on in the Far East were quickly destroyed, and Soviet civilian craft, in particular fishing trawlers, were targeted in their place. Before the war, Vladivostock’s economy had been heavily based off a thriving fishing industry, and grain had had to be imported from other parts of the USSR in order to feed the 200,000 inhabitants of the city. The immense strain placed on the Trans-Siberian Railroad by the demands of the Far Eastern Front had meant that only the barest minimum of food supplies reached the city, and with the Japanese Army encamped where the tracks had once stood, the city began to starve.

    After six weeks under siege, and with no reinforcements on their way from Moscow, Budyonny and the twelve divisions tied up in Vladivostock surrendered. The Japanese occupation that followed quickly proved that despite all of the new government’s efforts to purge fanatics and extremists from the Army, many of the old ways still remained. The Soviets forces that were taken prisoner were widely considered to have dishonoured themselves, receiving harsh treatment in camps similar to the nearby gulags, while fires and looting broke out in the captured city. President Roosevelt sent a strongly worded letter to the Japanese, which prompted Prime Minister Saito to order the commanders responsible for the incident to be stripped of their rank.

    A Change In Leadership, November 1944

    As the next presidential election approached, Franklin Roosevelt’s health was visibly fading, and in early June 1944 the President announced that he would not be seeking a fourth term in office. During the Democratic National Convention, it was decided that Senator Harry Truman (who would have been Roosevelt’s running mate) would be the new Democratic presidential candidate, with Senator John Bankhead as his running mate. Vice President Henry Wallace campaigned to be both a presidential and vice-presidential candidate, but his support for peace with the USSR had made him unpopular during Roosevelt’s third term, with some going so far as to suggest he was a communist sympathiser.

    With a public endorsement from a popular president, Truman’s victory at the polls was never in doubt. Most Americans were convinced that the war would be best won with minimal disruption caused by a change in leadership, and with victory over the USSR still a distant prospect, the public wanted to give the war effort all the help it could get.

    Truman’s election marked a shift in strategic thinking among the US High Command. Roosevelt’s policy towards the USSR had been one of ending the war as quickly as possible on favourable terms, thinking that careful diplomacy would be enough to turn Stalin away from the policies of aggression that he had pursued since 1939. Truman, as early as 1941, had described Stalin as “a brute” and “someone who only understands the diplomacy of a long, hard stick”. As long as the Allies were willing and capable of continuing the fight, Truman was determined to make sure not only that Stalin lost the war, but that he damn well knew that he had lost too.

    - BNC
  • BiteNibbleChomp

    Gone Fishin'
    Blood Spilled In a Battered City, December 1944

    General Antonov’s weak performance in the field had caused him to ask Stalin to allow him to return to STAVKA and resume his old position, thinking that he would be more useful to the Soviet cause as a staff officer. Stalin, with five years of experience handling the war, was much more inclined to listen to his generals now than when he had ordered Zhukov to push the Japanese out of Mongolia in 1939. Antonov’s replacement was another STAVKA man, Ivan Bagramyan, who had been a corps commander during the Turkish operation in 1941 and was known for his fussily precise staff work much like Antonov, with a cautious commander still believed to be the answer to an unpredictable and aggressive Patton.

    General Bagramyan arrived at the front with orders to finally finish the Battle of Berlin, where Soviet, German and Allied men had been locked down in intense battle for six months, and some streets had changed hands as many as fifteen times. Only ruins were left of a city that Adolf Hitler had once declared would become the greatest city in the world, now being destroyed by soldiers fighting in the hopes of restoring Hitler’s successor to power.

    As winter approached, Bagramyan decided that it was time for an all-out offensive to take the rest of Berlin from the Allies. Poor weather would prevent the ever-present Allied air forces from interfering, while new issue of assault rifles would give the Soviet infantry an advantage over those of their enemies, which could be decisive in a city battle where tanks were vulnerable and heavy artillery support near-impossible to accurately aim. Most importantly of all, Bagramyan hoped to pin down Patton, who was well known to be operating in the area, as his force was considered the most dangerous of all Allied armies.

    Patton had no interest in fighting Bagramyan’s ideal battle. British code-breakers intercepted a message from Bagramyan to Stalin that described his battle plan in great deal (as the general was known for doing), which included the date of the battle’s beginning. The day before, Patton quietly pulled most of his forces out of the city towards Potsdam, hoping to make the Soviets waste their momentum against a non-existent force. As the Red Army swarmed into Berlin, Patton was on a platform in Potsdam giving a speech to his troops, declaring “We’re not going to hold a single god-damned thing. There is only attack, and attack always.”

    The next day, Patton struck back. While parts of his forces defended positions behind rivers just to the west of Berlin, the bulk of Patton’s forces launched a massive attack to the south, avoiding the city entirely. Bagramyan’s flank was immediately put into jeopardy, while his tank forces were obliterated by the arrival of the first true Allied heavy tank of the war: the M29 MacArthur. With eleven inches of frontal armour, the MacArthur was the only tank currently fielded by the Allies that could survive a hit from the Wolf’s massive gun at extreme long-range, finally ending the Red Army’s complete dominance in armour and making large scale offensives possible once more.

    Patton made good on his promise of not holding any ground, completely bypassing Berlin as he crossed the Spree River at Wildau and stormed towards the Oder. A break in the weather allowed the USAAF to bombard the Soviet positions from above, while P-80 Shooting Stars and MiG-262s clashed in the first large air battle fought between jet fighters in history. Patton’s Third American Army seized Frankfurt-an-der-Oder on Christmas 1944, for which he would be awarded a fourth star early into the New Year.

    An Axis in One Country, January 1945

    The destruction of Soviet airfields in accordance with the Oil Plan had left the Red Army vulnerable to aerial attack from the increasingly dominant RAF and USAAF, and as Patton marched in the north, south of the Danube the Italians looked ready to make another move. Their last battle against the Red Army had seen brave Italian soldiers thrown back across the Danube in face of Guards Tank units, which contained heavy tanks far superior to anything the Italians had fielded then. With variants of the M4 Sherman carrying 17lber cannons, and the best of the Red Army being crushed by Patton in Germany, Graziani wanted to secure more glory for Italy.

    Graziani was not going to strike the Red Army directly however. In Hungary, Stalin and the NKVD had overthrown Admiral Horthy (who was now well acquainted with the inner workings of a gulag) and installed a communist government instead. The Hungarian army, which was now mostly equipped with weapons stolen from the SS during the German Civil War, had little interest in fighting for a hated ruler and his despised master. The people of Hungary wanted peace, but anyone who voiced that opinion was certain to join Horthy in Siberia.

    The Italian offensive began on December 22nd, 1944, with thousands of Hungarians abandoning the fight at the first chance they got, hoping to escape Stalin and Rakosi’s grip, sitting out the rest of the war in a PoW camp. The Hungarian line was quickly broken through, and Budapest was taken with minimal resistance. Angry Hungarian citizens stormed the Sandor Palace and shot Rakosi, while the NKVD was left powerless to resist in face of the approaching Allied armies. Shortly afterwards, the French 2nd Army would capture Bratislava, overthrowing Jozef Tiso and forcing Stalin’s last independent ally out of the war.

    A New Direction, January 1945

    Within hours of his inauguration, President Harry Truman was on the telephone with Winston Churchill, hoping to determine how much the British were capable of contributing to the war. Churchill, like Daladier, was beginning to grow concerned about the ability of his nation to provide enough manpower for the front while maintaining a productive economy back home. Unlike France, for Britain the situation was not so urgent as to require the immediate transfer of units to quiet parts of the line or occupation duty in Germany, but Churchill did say that the war needed to be ended within the next twelve or eighteen months.

    As Patton’s troops were nearing Poland, the possibility of using liberated populations in the fight against communism was also raised. A brief discussion on the use of Germans had been shut down by Roosevelt as it risked allowing a revival of Nazism, but the formation of a new Polish Army carried no such risk, and similar liberation movements were also possible in Romania, the Baltic Region and even the Ukraine, the latter in particular having acquired considerable support after Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera had been freed from Nazi house arrest in Munich (his arrest likely having taken place at Stalin’s request).

    Churchill, like Truman, was also determined to rid Russia of the communist regime at the end of the war, in a similar manner to the denazification efforts already taking place in Germany. Without a complete defeat of the Red Army however, this would likely be too large a demand at a future peace conference, but Truman pledged that at the very least, Stalin would be removed from power and the remaining Nazi leadership would have to be handed over as a minimum requirement for peace. After the other Allies agreed to this, a message was communicated to Moscow in the hope that the Communist Party would remove Stalin from power.

    Although this did not prompt an immediate overthrow of Stalin, Truman still found success on the diplomatic front. Within days of Truman’s inauguration, Francisco Franco offered to commit the million-strong Spanish Army to the “crusade against communism” if the United States was prepared to provide the army with modern equipment to replace weapons dating back to the Spanish Civil War. With American factories producing more than a thousand tanks every month, most of them M26 Pershings, the decision was obvious, and Spain joined the Allies on February 6th, 1945.

    - BNC
  • BiteNibbleChomp

    Gone Fishin'
    Danzig: The Last Battle of the Wehrmacht, February 1945

    What remained of the Wehrmacht in 1945 was a hastily assembled force of around 150,000 men that was effectively a part of the Red Army. Although the officers from General Model down were all Germans, the soldiers used Soviet equipment, took orders from Soviet leaders and most importantly, fought to protect what was effectively Soviet territory. As Patton surged across the Oder, the last remnant of the Wehrmacht was no longer in Germany, but in Poland near the city of Danzig, the very territory for which the Wehrmacht had been built to acquire.

    The British, covering Patton’s northern flank, would be the ones to destroy the German army once and for all. In addition to what equipment the Red Army could spare, the Germans were using a variety of their own weapons, many of which were obsolete years ago. British Tortoise tanks, built to combat the Tiger and Wolf, found their massive 32lber gun being used against Panzer IIs and IIIs, while the Luftwaffe’s few remaining planes, most of them Bf 109s, were little more than extra training for Meteor pilots. As General Alexander used Patton’s momentum to push past the German army, take Danzig and encircle Model’s men, O’Connor launched a final, decisive attack.

    Goring, by now out of hospital and officially the German Fuhrer, was angry that the Red Army was not immediately committed to the fight in Danzig, despite Patton’s forces presenting a much more urgent, and powerful, threat to the south. Goring, who cared little for the growing oil shortage in the USSR and even less for the Allied bombers bombing every supply convoy they could find, demanded that Stalin do something to restore Germany. Stalin promised Goring that three Guards Tank Armies would be sent immediately to the front near Danzig for an offensive against the British.

    Goring was found dead the next morning. Moscow reported it as a case of heart failure. No offensive ever materialised.

    The City That Once Saw War, March 1945

    Patton’s promotion to full General following the fall of Berlin effectively made him commander of all American forces in Europe. His crossing of the Oder had forced much of the Red Army into retreat, while soldiers conscripted from non-Russian parts of the USSR were becoming less reliable by the day, tired of Stalin’s oppressive government and ill-treatment of its citizens. Despite harsh winter weather, the Allied air forces had been bombing every known Soviet airfield west of Minsk ceaselessly, slowly but surely destroying the VVS’ ability to resist.

    Patton’s forces had halted near Posen as the weather slowed movement to a crawl, but the general was set on getting the advance moving again as quickly as possible. At the first sign of dry ground in Poland, the US Army was back on the move. MacArthur tanks once again proved their worth defeating Bagramyan’s Wolves, while an overwhelming swarm of bombers smashed Soviet reinforcement units well behind the front line. Lodz and Krakow were taken, freeing millions of Poles from Soviet occupation, and when Warsaw was captured towards the end of March, President Ignacy Moscicki triumphantly declared that the Polish Republic had been restored, and a Polish Army was recruited from the liberated population.

    While retaking Poland, Patton’s men found out that the ‘death camps’, discussed but never found in Germany, were true. Large factory-like complexes located in the middle of nowhere, along with evidence of mass graves, were found scattered across the region. Communist graffiti indicated that at some point after Hitler’s fall, Stalin had placed the camps under new management, while they continued their deadly business of murdering millions. Evacuated by the time the Americans arrived (with any survivors likely to have been shipped off to Siberia), the camps provided further proof of the need to win the war. But before Patton would have a chance to do that, he would have to negotiate the Molotov Line, a massive line of fortifications covering the length of the Soviet border, from Memel in the north to the Siret River in the south. It was here that the Red Army would make its stand.

    Dash Past the Danube, April 1945

    The surrender of Hungary had left Konev’s Southwestern Front exposed to a flanking attack through the Carpathian mountains in central Romania. While difficult to traverse in winter, by the spring Graziani was preparing to launch an attack through the passes believed to be least well defended, in the hope of encircling the bulk of the Southwestern Front in Romania and opening up the southern flank of the Molotov Line to invasion (while Patton attempted to smash his way through in the north).

    Konev was thus forced into a difficult position, forced to defend either the Carpathian Passes or the north bank of the Danube while leaving the other exposed. The arrival of Spanish forces (now taking up positions in Slovakia) had shortened the amount of front that needed to be covered by Italians, while Allied bombing made reinforcement of Soviet forces west of the Molotov Line much more difficult.

    Konev’s solution was to fall back to the line of the Ialomita River, which was a less effective natural obstacle than the Danube had been, but would shorten the front considerably and would remove a great salient in western Romania that Konev believed to be nearly indefensible. The retreat began well, conducted at night so that the Italians would be less likely to notice movement across the Danube. But when Graziani struck through the Carpathian mountains, the plan fell apart as Italian forces seized parts of the Ialomita before the Red Army got a chance to set up a line there. The lack of Soviet forces on the Danube was soon noticed as Italian divisions in the north reported resistance from units believed to be holding the river, and a crossing of the Danube was ordered. Konev’s retreat turned into a rout as the Soviet soldiers rushed towards the Molotov Line, leaving most of Romania, and 250,000 Soviet soldiers, in Allied hands.

    The liberation of Romania would be a major blow to the USSR. Operating out of bases northeast of Bucharest, Allied bombers could now hit Soviet industry in the Ukraine with full force, while Leningrad was just as easily hit from bombers operating out of former East Prussia. Both industrial regions would soon be the targets of raids involving more than 2000 aircraft each on a regular basis, while plans were drawn up for the combined Allied invasion of the USSR.

    - BNC
  • BiteNibbleChomp

    Gone Fishin'
    Maginot of the East, May 1945

    As the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed, neither Hitler nor Stalin had ever seriously expected an alliance between the two to be long-lasting. Both dictators went into the pact hoping to buy time from the other, Hitler to defeat France and Stalin to push the Japanese out of Asia. As soon as a new border was drawn through the centre of Poland, Stalin ordered the Red Army to begin construction of a new defensive line along the border with Germany, which later became known as the Molotov Line.

    Work on the Molotov Line progressed well until early 1942, when the defences could be described as “mostly complete”. By this time however, the line was looking more and more redundant as the German Army had bogged down in France, and was becoming almost completely dependant on imported raw materials, nearly all from the USSR, in order to maintain its war efforts. Stalin was well aware that even simply cutting off the German trade would be enough to destroy the German economy within a short time, and any war with the USSR would very quickly turn against an increasingly powerless Germany, even in the unlikely event that France was forced out of the war. Apparently serving no purpose, work on the Molotov Line was abandoned.

    Germany’s collapse in the wake of Hitler’s assassination triggered a new interest in the Molotov Line. In the event that the Allies were defeated by the Red Army, Stalin hoped to use the border established by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact as his western frontier, with communist states being established in any states the Red Army held at that time (possibly allowing for the restoration of a Nazi regime under Halder, Goring, or another leader who Stalin believed loyal). If the Allies did manage to push the Red Army out of Germany and Poland, as Patton had done by early 1945, then the Molotov Line would prove useful as a set of defences to hold the Allies themselves out of the USSR. Work crews returned to the Molotov Line in May 1944, and in the following eight months the original line was completed, while an extension behind the Siret River in Bessarabia was added to the project (which was approximately half way to completion by the time the Italians were facing it).

    The completed Molotov Line was a formidable obstacle. Manned by 3,000,000 men, the line included no fewer than 5000 concrete bunkers, containing anything from a lowly machine gun to a massive 152mm gun emplacement built to destroy even the mightiest of Allied tanks. Behind the line were thousands of pieces of artillery, and anti-air guns to defend the frontier from aerial bombardment, all well connected to the Soviet railroad network. A substantial armour reserve, including ten thousand tanks of various sizes, and the bulk of the VVS lay ready to smash any breakthrough of the line. Intelligence reported very little about the Molotov Line’s existence, and it was only when Patton’s first attempted crossing of the Bug was thrown back with heavy casualties that the Allies truly began working out how to crack a fortification effort possibly stronger than even the Maginot Line, which had held off every German attack attempted over the five years that the two had been fighting.

    Seeking A Replacement, May 1945

    Truman had long been committed to the idea that Stalin would need to be overthrown or killed before any peace with the USSR could be acceptable, an idea that Churchill had been advocating since the Invasion of Poland. Once the military situation was such that plans for a potential post-war world could begin to be constructed, it was still assumed that the Communist Party would retain control of Russia after the war, with most Allied leaders believing that a more moderate communist, such as Anastas Mikoyan or Nikolai Bulganin, would be the most acceptable leader, although Roosevelt maintained that if Stalin was prepared to pull back to his pre-war borders and allow the restoration of democracy in Finland, Poland, Turkey and Romania, then that would be acceptable.

    Roosevelt had passed away in early February, never finding out the true scale of the atrocities that Stalin had carried out. Truman, as part of a visit to Paris to meet with Daladier, Mussolini and Churchill, had seen Buchenwald first-hand, and it was by now well-known that the worst camps were further east. No-one among the Allies even dared consider a world in which Stalin was allowed to continue ruling any longer, and as Patton decided that he would take the US Army into Moscow, it was decided to get rid of the Communist Party for good.

    With most known Russian anti-communists within the USSR either dead or imprisoned in a gulag, any potential future Russian leader would have to come from Allied-held territory. During the Paris Conference in early May 1945, the idea of re-establishing the White movement, broken in the wake of the Russian Civil War, was raised as a potential solution. While many notable White leaders, generals and other notable figures had died during the 1920s and 30s, Alexander Kerensky, the most notable of all anti-Soviet leaders (although he never joined the White movement itself), was still alive and well in New York, where he spent much of his time writing papers on Russian history.

    Kerensky, who had no desire to return to government after his failed term as leader in Russia during 1917, was unwilling to lead the New White Coalition, but was persuaded by Truman to give his official support for the movement in the hope of establishing legitimacy. The leadership position was eventually taken by Vasily Maklakov, who had led a liberal democratic party during the Tsar’s reign, and had since been living in France. Maklakov was able to take advantage of his less famous reputation, untainted by controversy the way Kerensky was, to unite the various groups of White emigrants under the New White Coalition Movement, and many people whose families had fled from Russia after Lenin took control volunteered to join the New White Army. Among them was Boris Shteifon, a Russian veteran of World War I and Wrangel’s campaigns in the Civil War, who had fought with the Chetniks in opposition to the Axis after 1941 and would soon be made the commanding General of the New White Army, and Maklakov’s right-hand man.

    Breaking the Molotov Line, June 1945

    The delay caused by the Molotov Line gave Patton’s logistics columns time to catch up to the armies that were extending further and further east. The Red Army, despite all the losses it had suffered in Poland and Romania, was far from beaten, and to deal a decisive blow the Allies desperately needed the respite. But Patton knew only one direction, and that was forward. No matter how well defended the Molotov Line was, Patton was sure his men could smash straight through it and begin a march on Moscow. But the Molotov Line would not be so easily smashed through, and after one bloody assault Truman ordered Patton to halt.

    Instead of bloody frontal assaults, Supreme Allied Commander General Eisenhower decided to use the Allies’ incredible air supremacy, hard won by the battles fought in accordance with the Oil Plan, to smash the Molotov Line from above. A series of ‘bunker buster’ bombs, the most well known being the five ton ‘Tallboy’, had been developed through the war’s middle years for use against massive industrial targets, only for Germany to collapse before any were needed. Now the bombs would be used against the Molotov Line’s bunkers and heavy emplacements, hoping to destroy them with underground explosions.

    Operation Moonscape began on June 22nd as nearly 10,000 bombers took off all across the front line. In an attempt to both confuse and overwhelm the defenders, some bombers were aimed at industrial cities such as Minsk, Kiev and Leningrad. Others were sent to bomb airfields, grounding the Soviet fighters and especially their formidable jets. Of the bombers sent to destroy the Molotov Line, only some carried bunker busters. Others carried incendiaries while yet more dropped regular high explosives. Even escort fighters, especially the heavily armed P-47s, attacked the Soviet concentrations on the ground, launching rockets at Soviet armour and anti-air guns. The bombardment lasted ten days, interrupted at times as the VVS attempted to destroy any aircraft they could. But against an onslaught representative of the USA’s immense industrial capabilities, the Molotov Line, and many of its defenders, were left reeling.

    - BNC
  • BiteNibbleChomp

    Gone Fishin'
    Patton Drives East, July 1945

    Even after suffering an aerial assault, the Molotov Line remained powerful. Unwilling to waste any more time before invading the USSR, Patton asked for, and was granted, permission to launch a ground assault. Backed up by nearly 250 ‘Black Dragon’ 240mm artillery pieces, Patton launched his attack near Bialystok on July 3rd. British Tortoise and US MacArthur tanks proved their value against the many concrete emplacements on the Molotov Line, while “Ugly Joe” minesweeper Shermans cleared paths for the infantry. It took three days and several thousand men, but eventually the Molotov Line was breached.

    General Bagramyan knew that any major Allied breakthrough of the Molotov Line could spell disaster for the USSR. Moscow was just out of Allied bombing range, but the airfields at Bialystok or Minsk would likely allow B-29s to rain death upon the Soviet capital. More importantly, most of the USSR’s synthetic oil plants, many of them moved out of Germany whole, were located in or near Moscow. With Maikop, Grozny and Baku still in flames, synthetic oil was a vital ingredient in the Soviet war machine, now more than ever. The risk was too great. The Allies needed to be stopped here.

    Bagramyan could call upon a sizeable reserve, with around 10,000 tanks, including 1000 Wolves, considered by both sides to be the best tank of the war. As the other parts of the front seemed quiet, he decided to send half of his reserves to battle Patton, leaving the rest available to counter any further Allied moves. Patton, in usual fashion, had rushed forward to seize Bialystok the moment it seemed possible, and was surprised by the swift Soviet counterstroke. The Americans were forced to retreat, but as more British and American soldiers poured through the gap in the Molotov Line (which at this point extended from the Masurian Lakes to somewhere just north of Brest-Litovsk), the Red Army’s assault was blunted. The bombers were called in once more, while the British surged north to cut off the forces still manning the Molotov Line in Lithuania. The battle of Bialystok would rage for five weeks, as the Red Army desperately fought to throw the Allies out.

    The Sun Has Risen, July 1945

    With the harsh Siberian winter now past, the Japanese Army was tasked with establishing Japan’s new frontier at the Amur river. Much of the area was unpopulated, and Japanese focus was along the Trans-Siberian Railroad, which for all intents and purposes ended at Khabarovsk. Stalin had finally sent some reinforcements to the Far East (despite the European Fronts needing them more than ever), hoping that Khabarovsk, which was just east of the Amur, could be kept out of Japanese hands.

    On the route to Khabarovsk, the Japanese found several gulags, housing everything from prisoners of war (neither Japan nor the USSR had signed the Geneva Convention, and prisoners on the Far Eastern Front were often poorly treated), to former Red Army men deemed to be disloyal or simply not communist enough for Stalin’s liking. Of particular interest to the Allies were the large numbers of former White soldiers, who Japan sent to the United States so that they could be a part of the New White Coalition if they so chose.

    The gulags captured, Khabarovsk was made once again the primary target, and by July the Japanese had reached the Soviet lines south and east of the city. Japan, for the first time in the war, finally looked to have a decisive advantage over the Soviets – not only did their local forces outnumber the entire Soviet Far East Front’s command, but the VVS barely had a presence anywhere within a thousand kilometres of Khabarovsk. Japan meanwhile was license building P-80 Shooting Stars as the J3L in Mitsubishi’s factories, giving Japan access to the best in Allied fighter technology. The forces opposing the Japanese were mostly made up of Ukrainian conscripts who had little stomach for the war, and many surrendered the first chance they got (while the Japanese had been asked to send any captured Ukrainians to the USA, where they would be offered a chance to fight under Bandera for a free Ukraine). Khabarovsk was taken on August 5th, and all Soviet territory south of the Amur was annexed to Japan as the IJA fortified the south bank of the river. The war in the Far East was effectively over.

    The Bug to the Baltic, August 1945

    As July turned to August, the Allies managed another pair of breakthroughs of the Molotov Line. The Italians, with the backing of a fanatic Ukrainian nationalist corps (comprised of former POWs) under the command of Stepan Bandera, was eager to enter the Ukraine, and the capture of Iasi in Bessarabia finally made that a possibility. Then the Spanish, with the help of the Gustav and Dora railroad guns (which had once been under German command), managed to destroy the great fortress at Brest-Litovsk, threatening Bagramyan’s southern flank while he continued to battle Patton for control of Bialystok.

    With the Soviet reserve worn from a month of heavy combat and now forced to cover three breakthroughs at once, Bagramyan was forced to retreat from Bialystok. Patton was quick to seize the initiative, sending in Ridgway’s 4th American Army to help the Spanish annihilate Bagramyan’s army, while the rest of the US Army was turned into a massive striking column, which began a relentless drive towards Moscow, taking Minsk towards the end of the month and Smolensk in mid September, prompting Stalin to call upon Russian patriotism in a desperate attempt to boost morale and throw the invaders out.

    Further north, the British were battling the Red Army for control of Riga. The Molotov Line by now well behind them, the Red Army’s presence in the north was all but finished, and grateful Lithuanians and Latvians came out of their homes offering food and flowers to the soldiers that had come to liberate them from Stalin’s tyranny. The British, unlike the Soviets, proved generous occupiers, quickly winning over the support of the locals, and the Estonian populace began wresting control of their country from the Red Army garrison before the British forces were even ready to link up with them. Riga was taken on September 2nd, allowing O’Connor and Alexander to drive towards the birthplace of the communist movement: Leningrad.

    - BNC
  • BiteNibbleChomp

    Gone Fishin'
    The Glory of Ukraine Shall Not Perish, September 1945

    While Patton tied down the best of the Red Army’s reserves near Smolensk, the Italians and Spanish had broken through the Molotov Line further south. As had been the case in the north, their first priority was to destroy the experienced veteran forces that manned the line of fortifications, a job that was mostly complete by early September after a series of encirclements near Chisinau, Lwow and Tarnopol, for which Stalin had General Konev shot.

    Having broken the Southwestern Front’s capability to resist in force, the Italian and Spanish forces swarmed through the western Ukraine, where they were greeted as liberators in much the same way as the British were further north. Stepan Bandera, as well as commander of the I Free Ukrainian Corps, also had connections to the Ukrainian resistance movement, and as their fighters were freed by the Allied march east, thousands flocked to Bandera’s blue and yellow banner.

    The capture of Kiev on September 20th, 1945, was to become the most important event in modern Ukraine’s history. Before fighting on the eastern outskirts of the city had even finished, Bandera had begun a great parade of Ukrainian soldiers through the city, which culminated in Bandera declaring Ukraine an independent state for the first time since the Russian Civil War. The new Ukraine was to become an Italian-style dictatorship under Bandera’s leadership, but compared to Stalin, millions of Ukrainians were ready to fight for independence.

    Outside of the Ukraine, Bandera’s actions had a drastic effect on the Red Army. Not only did much of the Ukraine east of the Dnepr river erupt into open revolt against the communists, including the vital industrial regions near Kharkov and Dnepropetrovsk, but any unit containing Ukrainian conscripts was now considered suspicious by the NKVD as desertions increased multifold overnight, and Ukrainian officers were purged. Stalin’s calls for more soldiers to oppose the Allies had led to a surge in conscription during September, but no more Ukrainians would be dragged into the Red Army (although volunteers were still accepted).

    For Stalin and Motherland, October 1945

    Until the end of September, Patton had looked to be well on his way to marching into Moscow almost unopposed. The US Army had soldiers in Vyazma and Bryansk, and were readying for the final push. While the first of Stalin’s new conscripts had been building a new set of fortifications in front of Mozhaysk, Patton was mostly dismissive of their abilities: a major oil crisis had begun within the USSR, limiting the mobility of their tanks and grounding most of the VVS, while the new forts could only be puny next to the once-mighty Molotov Line.

    As the first snows fell on October 4th, Patton was forced to halt. The snow had melted very quickly, turning many of the Soviet roads, which ranged from reasonably large dirt roads to goat tracks, into a quagmire of mud. The logistic train that supported Patton’s soldiers relied heavily on trucks (a railroad using the European gauge only existed as far as Orsha), which bogged down as the ‘rasputitsa’ season arrived. Stalin’s new soldiers, given no breaks by Patton or the Allies, had received some vital help from the affectionately known Comrade Mud.

    In addition to their harsh autumn weather, the Soviets had another weapon for which the Allies were unprepared: the MiG-11 jet fighter. Based off the Me/MiG-262 design, the MiG-11 used a much greater wing sweep angle, as well as a vastly improved turbojet engine in order to create the best fighter aircraft of World War II. With a top speed over 1000 km/h and armed with a 37mm cannon and two 23mm guns, the MiG-11 was capable of smashing any Allied aircraft up to 50,000 feet and could put even the mighty P-80 to shame. In order to distinguish it from the MiG-262, Allied pilots took to calling it the ‘Khrushchev’ after the NKVD boss, although a lack of oil would mean that the design would only rarely have the chance to show its true potential. At Stalin’s orders, all MiG-11s were to be used in the defence of Moscow, allowing the Soviets to at least partially regain control of the airspace above their capital.

    The ‘Conquistador’ Test, October 1945

    After suffering some delays in 1944, the Tube Alloys Project managed to produce the world’s first nuclear bomb by early October 1945. A test was conducted in New Mexico, where the plutonium-based implosion device ‘Freedom’ was detonated on October 23rd, giving a yield of nearly 90 terajoules of energy, the equivalent of around 21 kilotons of TNT.

    Despite Stalin’s refusal to surrender thus far, Truman was hesitant about using the nuclear bomb on the USSR. The MiG-11 ‘Khrushchev’, more than any other Soviet fighter, was more than capable of shooting down a B-29, and the rest of the Red Air Force was still a powerful foe, although one that spent a lot of time on the ground. Moreover, Leningrad was almost in British hands and Kharkov was being taken over by Ukrainian nationalists, leaving only the heavily protected Moscow as a potential major target. Kuybyshev, the next best target, would not be able to be targeted until Moscow was in Allied hands.

    There was also a reasonable risk of retaliation by the Red Army if the USSR did not capitulate immediately following the bombing. Stalin was known to possess a considerable stockpile of chemical weapons, including much of the old German stockpile, and had captured some primitive biological weapons from the Japanese in 1940 (Unit 731 and others were never revived once Japan regained the upper hand in the Far East). Although both the Allies and Soviets had been obeying the Geneva Convention’s rules in Europe, the USSR had never signed the convention, and the use of a nuclear weapon would provide him with a good excuse to begin ignoring it.

    Truman, after much consideration with his staff and with Winston Churchill, decided to send the next four nuclear weapons to Europe in case the situation became such as to warrant their use, while any further bombs would be kept in America for the time being. Patton however was not given direct access to the bombs, which remained only for use with direct Presidential authority.

    - BNC
  • BiteNibbleChomp

    Gone Fishin'
    Second Xinjiang War, November 1945

    The Chungking Agreement, signed by Molotov and Chiang Kai-Shek, had seen the rise of a five year non-aggression pact between Nationalist China and the USSR. While Stalin battled the Allies, Chiang had used the time to demobilise part of his army and finish off the remnants of the Chinese Communist Party. However the Red Army, officially under the orders of Mao’s successor Wang Ming, continued to occupy the Chinese province of Xinjiang, which had greatly disturbed relations between the two powers.

    Despite his agreement, Chiang knew by November 1945 that the Red Army would struggle to contest an offensive into Xinjiang – they had other problems much closer to Moscow and Leningrad. Furthermore, Chiang wanted to reopen the flow of war aid from the United States, which had been of vital importance in modernising the Chinese army. As jet fighters increasingly dominated the skies and fifty-ton tanks became the norm on the ground, Chiang was concerned that Japan would launch another attack against China as soon as the conflict with Stalin was over, and his M2 tanks and P-36 fighters would be terribly outmatched.

    In early November, Chiang announced that the non-aggression pact was cancelled, and ordered a 300,000-strong army into Xinjiang. The resulting conflict lasted only a matter of days, as most Red Army forces had been pulled out of Xinjiang to defend Moscow, and the remaining Chinese communists had little faith against the popular Chiang, especially as the USSR looked ready to fall. Wang Ming and Sheng Shicai were both captured by Chinese forces, and promptly disappeared from the world view. They would be executed shortly afterwards, and the Chinese Communist Party was rendered extinct.

    President Truman saw through Chiang’s actions, noting that it was only once the fall of the USSR became all but assured that he joined the war. He said to the press “just because you show up to a man’s funeral, doesn’t mean you suddenly get to claim a share of his inheritance”, while also making it known that China was welcome to purchase US arms at any time. Nor did this convince Britain, France or the USA to abandon their support for Japan’s claim to Manchuria, and China would leave the war remembered as the nation that jumped in only when the hard fight was already won.

    Capturing the Cradle, November 1945

    With the support of the liberated people of the Baltic States, the British Army was finally ready to begin an assault on Leningrad. Backed by two of the newest battleships in the Royal Navy, HMS King George V and HMS Duke of York, and a corps of New White Army volunteers, the British Army held a decisive edge in firepower, while many of the Soviet conscript defenders only held their place in the line because an NKVD commissar would shoot them in the back if they didn’t.

    As General O’Connor ordered his infantry into the city, the Red Army disintegrated as many soldiers decided that the war was lost, and had no more willingness to fight for Stalin. While some conscripts battled the British, others turned their guns on the NKVD. Those that survived the mutiny proved eager to join the New White Coalition at the first available chance, and when Lenin Square was captured and the great statue of Lenin toppled, it was the Russian tricolour, not the Union Jack, that was hoisted to a massive flagpole in its place. For the people of Leningrad, soon to be restored to its old name of St Petersburg, the war was over.

    For the people of Finland, it was not. General Mannerheim had escaped to London via Sweden and Norway as Finland had come under total Soviet occupation (despite Stalin’s claims that the Finnish SSR was an equal part of the USSR). Having joined the New White Coalition at the first opportunity, he was now seen as the man who would liberate Finland from the Soviets.

    As Leningrad fell, the Finnish people decided that the time had come to throw off their chains and declared the Finnish SSR to be independent, before an angry mob of Finns marched into Helsinki and killed any members of the communist leadership that could be found. Mannerheim was welcomed back to Finland, where he was declared President of the restored Finnish Republic. Mannerheim did so by heading a column of Tortoise tanks given to the New White Army by the British into Helsinki.

    Operation Arctic Storm, December 1945

    As the rasputitsa passed, Patton’s attention returned to Moscow. With all of his troops well equipped with warm winter clothing and cold-temperature lubricants for the tanks, the Army was ready to push the last hundred kilometres that stood between them and the Kremlin. Events at Leningrad had shown that Red Army morale was at an all time low, and any new conscripts were known to have received very little training. The USSR had enormous productive capability remaining as new factories were built behind the Volga River, but without the fuel to power their thousands of tanks, planes and trucks, the Red Army was a beaten foe.

    Or so the Allies thought. Stalin had spent the autumn pulling Zhukov from the Caucasus Front, which had not moved in more than a year, to replace Bagramyan and assemble the Red Army’s counterattack, in the hopes of pushing Patton far enough away from Moscow to ensure a favourable peace. Most of the Soviet oil reserve was committed to the movement of a new Tank Corps, comprised of Wolves, T-34s and the new 85mm-gun-equipped T-44, while experienced NKVD units, rather than newly-raised conscripts, were to lead the charge, able to call on air support from Il-14 jet bombers. The operation was to be called Arctic Storm.

    Arctic Storm began on December 15th by surprising General Patton, who thought the Red Army was a vanquished enemy. The Americans were pushed out of Rzhev on the 16th, and Vyazma by the 22nd, while Patton’s tanks worked to defeat their Soviet counterparts. Of particular importance to the American infantry was the new M20 model bazooka, which proved to be able to destroy the Wolf’s thick armour from much longer range than previous models, and as the Soviet soldiers tired, Patton was able to retake the initiative, launching his own offensive along the Kaluga-Tula line, where Soviet conscripts again proved themselves much less willing than the NKVD to continue the fight for Stalin.

    - BNC
  • BiteNibbleChomp

    Gone Fishin'
    Moscow, January 1946

    As Bradley’s army continued to battle the NKVD and Red Army elite forces, Patton had assembled a pair of great striking columns. Along the Volokolamsk Highway in the north, and the Tula-Moscow road in the south, the US Army, backed up by the ever-growing forces of the New White Army, marched on the Soviet capital. What remained of the Red Army was a barely coherent mess of divided loyalties, as every soldier debated whether to continue fighting for a long-hated dictator or whether the Americans, who came more as liberators than conquerors, would be a better option. With the NKVD stripped to the bone to provide manpower for Arctic Storm, the regulars had just about given up the fight, a war that they believed had been lost two years ago, when the German Army blew Hitler up.

    The Battle for Moscow was far from the great clash of arms that Patton had hoped would represent the fight for the Soviet capital. With most of the Red Army’s elite units tied down in battle against Bradley near Vyazma, only city militia, armed with feeble barricades and dated equipment were left to defend the Kremlin. Stalin and the top leadership of the Communist Party had evacuated the city as the US Army approached, while issuing orders that the city was to be defended to the last man and the last bullet. But the reserve was spent, and those few remaining troops had lost heart. Only those officials now in Kuybyshev believed in the dialectic of Marx and Lenin any longer.

    Moscow was declared captured on January 24th, 1946, and Patton was quick to assemble a massive victory parade through Red Square, using the exact same route as Soviet parades on May Day and the anniversary of the October Revolution, the only difference being that instead of T-34s, Patton had M29 MacArthurs. Only after Patton had paraded through the city was the New White Coalition given a chance to announce the beginning of a new Russian Republic, with Vasily Maklakov its first president. The new Republic soon secured the support of the Muscovite population, as bombing raids on the city ceased and abundant American aid reached the people who had suffered for six and a half years in support of Stalin and communism.

    Beyond Moscow, February 1946

    As Patton’s capture of Moscow failed to bring about an immediate surrender from the Soviet government, Truman called an emergency meeting of all the major Allied leaders to be held in Washington. No-one among the Allies had any stomach for a march to Kuybyshev or even the Urals, and the public was calling for soldiers to return home. At the same time, it was widely accepted that any continued communist government after the war would be completely unacceptable in light of Stalin’s horrific crimes, which were estimated to have cost tens of millions of lives. Intelligence had found out that Stalin, worried of his position if he was to surrender, was determined to fight on, but even the Communist Party was starting to fracture after their overwhelming defeats during the last year of the war.

    Aided by the arrival of new P-82 Twin Mustang long-range escort fighters, a major bombing campaign was conducted against the oilfields of Ufa, which provided the Red Army with its last significant source of fuel now that the synthetic plants had been taken and destroyed. In addition to immobilising the Red Army, the strike also allowed the Allies to demonstrate that they had the ability to strike anywhere in the USSR at will, which would prove incredibly important as the use of nuclear weapons was once again considered.
    As the Allies discussed what terms should be offered to the USSR and the fate of the post-war world, it was decided that an ultimatum should be delivered to the Soviet government, including a vague warning of the power of a nuclear bomb, in the hopes of prompting a surrender with as few additional casualties as possible.

    “We, the representatives of the governments of the Allied nations and their dependant territories, call upon the leadership of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to announce the immediate surrender of all soldiers in the Soviet armed forces, and the handover of those leaders who have participated in war crimes so that they may be tried for their unjust action, to any of the Allied Powers. We call for the restoration of democracy, supported by the movement of the New White Coalition, throughout Russia and other lands. This war has been a conflict against communism, not the Russian people, and the Russian people should not be punished for the actions of their leaders. The alternative to a prompt surrender will be nothing short of total and utter destruction of any centre which continues hostile action against the forces of democracy, a power which we may unleash at any time.”

    Leaflets containing the full announcement were dropped from bombers over every major Soviet city over the following days, while the VVS proved completely powerless to stop them. Stalin however was unconvinced, and broadcast a message on Radio Moscow (using a signal that did originate from its namesake city at all), declaring that “the cowardly imperialists believe that they can crush the Soviet spirit, when their fight is yet unfinished. New Soviet Men are not so exhausted of war, and the inevitable struggle towards world revolution must continue until completion”. Privately, Stalin was not convinced of his own propaganda, worrying that if the Allies ever got a hold of him, that he would forever lose power over the Soviet state.

    On the night of February 17th, 1946, four days after Truman’s announcement from Washington, a group of pro-White officers launched a coup in Kuybyshev, turning the Army against the NKVD. Stalin was captured and Khrushchev killed, while Nikolai Bulganin took control of the collapsing Communist Party. Bulganin, who had been a part of the Communist Party since the Revolution, had held only a minor role in STAVKA through the war and had been convinced that the war was unwinnable from the time the Molotov Line was first breached. In a secret message to the American government, Bulganin informed Truman that he was prepared to surrender, including the handover of Stalin, if he was granted immunity from prosecution by the war crime tribunals. Truman, who did not believe there was much case to be made against Bulganin, privately agreed after consulting with the other leaders of the Big Five, and a public statement of surrender was made the following afternoon.

    On February 19th, 1946, the guns fell silent across Europe and Asia for the first time in nearly seven years. World War II was over.

    Epilogue, March 1946

    The official end of the war occurred when Nikolai Bulganin and Franz Halder signed the Instrument of Surrender in Moscow on behalf of the Axis powers on March 1st, 1946. On the same day, the governments of the German Reich and the USSR were dissolved. Germany was to remain under Allied (mostly French until 1946) occupation, while Russia and Central Asia were immediately granted to the new Russian Republic, with Allied troops remaining as order was restored. Japan’s annexation of Siberia south of the Amur and the Kamchatka peninsula was confirmed, as was the independence of Finland, Ukraine, the Baltic States, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Turkey’s borders were restored, while Xinjiang and Mongolia were restored to China (the Nomonhan boundary dispute settled in Japanese favour). Italy and Bulgaria’s gains in the Balkans were made official, while the remaining ex-Yugoslav territory was brought under Chetnik-controlled Greater Serbia. East Prussia was split between Poland and Lithuania along the Pregel River, with Konigsberg being given to Poland as compensation for the loss of Vilnius to Lithuania, while Poland also gained Silesia and maintained its 1938 eastern border. France annexed the Saarland, while all German territory west of the Rhine was placed under a French occupation separate to the main Allied occupation.

    War crimes trials conducted during 1947 in Paris saw many Nazi and Soviet leaders sentenced for various war crimes and crimes against humanity that had been conducted since 1939. While the Geneva Convention had been obeyed on the front lines, officers who had been active in occupied Poland were linked to the genocide conducted against both German and Polish Jews, and those found guilty were given sentences ranging from ten years to the death penalty. Franz Halder would be sentenced to fifteen years’ imprisonment for his actions to keep the Nazi state, including its oppressive policies, intact after Hitler’s death, while Stalin was executed for his innumerable crimes.

    After the war, the worldwide communist movement saw a marked decline, being effectively destroyed by 1950 after a combination of censorship and reorientation saw most members of the far-left shift towards a more peaceful and democratic interpretation of Marxist thought, while Stalinism was discredited as the world’s most vile ideology, followed only by radical fanatics who were too few in number to be taken seriously by the general public. Fascist thought saw a smaller shift as the far-right worked to separate the genocidal policies of Adolf Hitler and Nazism from what would be considered to be mainstream fascist thought, and moderate fascist parties, following the lines of thought used by figures such as Mussolini and Franco, were established in most democratic nations, where they maintained a small but stable following.

    As the soldiers returned home, the shift from wartime mobilisation to a civilian economy prompted a minor recession, while the British and French struggled with wartime debt to the United States and a growing call for independence from the colonies. India, which had been vocal about independence before the war but had given their full support against Stalin, was the first to leave the British Empire in 1948, after British and Indian leaders decided that the creation of separate Muslim and Hindu states would best serve the region’s interests. The Middle East, including Iraq, followed in 1949, although the decision to create a Jewish state in Palestine for survivors of the Holocaust would trouble the region for several years. Many ex-colonies would go on to become important trading partners for the European powers as the decades passed, and although powerful dictators arose in some of these territories, many retained a willingness to work with the international community.

    In the Far East, Japan’s transition to democracy continued, as Prime Minister Saito signed an order preventing military personnel from serving as Japan’s prime minister while still in active service. The dispute with China over Manchukuo would continue to dominate the region’s political climate until Chiang Kai-Shek launched an invasion of Manchukuo in 1949. The Japanese Army, despite having halved in size since the fall of the USSR, maintained control over Manchukuo and a stalemate eventuated. When Japan became the second nation to develop an atomic bomb in 1951, the Third Sino-Japanese War was settled with a white peace, while President Truman’s efforts to have nuclear weapons banned under a revised Geneva Convention gained support, and the new Convention was eventually signed by every major nation of the world, including China, Japan and Russia. Chiang Kai-Shek’s death in 1954 would see his son Chiang Ching-kuo take power, which would begin a slow transition towards a more liberal China and a much-needed shift of focus towards internal issues, while Japan would retain great global importance, with Mitsubishi widely considered the world’s best aircraft manufacturer, with designs such as the supersonic J5M ‘Warrior’ jet fighter being exported in the early 1960s and the ‘Divine Wind’ series of airliners becoming a mainstay in global transport fleets after their introduction in 1957.

    The former Axis countries also integrated well into the new world order, as the mistakes of the past were learned and the Allied occupation guided them towards a peaceful, prosperous future. In Germany, Halder’s coup, which Allied leaders feared would turn into a new ‘stab in the back’ myth, was instead rewritten as a move that saved Germany from greater catastrophe under Hitler, an interpretation that Halder himself would publicly support once he was released from prison in 1963. Germany’s sovereignty would be restored with the abolition of the Allied German Occupation Committee in 1950, and the following transition to democracy under Konrad Adenauer would see Germany once again rise as an important power in the world, including the first manned mission to the Moon in 1981.

    Even with the great amount of public support that they initially enjoyed, the Russian Republic would spend the immediate post-war period struggling with internal troubles. Remnants of the Bolsheviks and the NKVD attempted to overthrow Maklakov when Allied ground forces left Russia in 1950, and open violence would trouble Moscow for three weeks following the unsuccessful coup. Russian industry was still devastated by the war, and American aid was needed to keep the people fed for several years. Maklakov’s successors however would see the establishment of a revived national industry program, and Russia became a major agricultural exporter in the 1960s. The long-standing debate about whether a Romanov pretender should be invited to rule Russia was put to a popular vote in 1952, but the apparent success of the republican system and bad memories of Russia’s past saw the motion defeated.

    Mussolini would continue to rule Italy until his death in 1955, when he was succeeded by Italo Balbo. His later years would see Italy endure a harsher post-war recession than that experienced in France or Britain, as poor economic policy and excessive military spending tested the limits of the nation. Mussolini’s abandonment of the ‘Battle for Wheat’ in 1948, as well as the coming of age of the generation born during Mussolini’s attempts to engineer a baby boom in the 1920s, would eventually see a recovery as new Italian businesses were established both in Italy and in the African colonies. Balbo would oversee the abandonment of Ethiopia in 1962, as decolonisation of Africa was well underway, and the actions of the Mussolini regime would hurt Italian relations in that part of the world for decades to come.

    Harry Truman would serve two full terms at President of the United States, throughout which he would be known as much for his widespread social programs as for his victory over the USSR. Truman would use his post-war popularity to begin the long process of desegregating the armed forces, a move that would make him be the most frequently cited ‘Greatest President in History’ by African-Americans, while he also oversaw a wide variety of infrastructure improvements across the United States. Truman also considered establishing a successor to the League of Nations, which Roosevelt had termed the United Nations, but the generally peaceful and co-operative nature of the international order after 1946 led him to believe it was unnecessary, and the idea was shelved shortly after he left office in 1953. His successor would be George Patton, who would serve one term as President. Patton’s term in office would see a revival of America’s military strength after the sweeping demobilisations ordered by Truman, and a stern warning to the Arab states to keep out of Israel. Domestically, Patton continued Truman’s policies supporting greater equality for African-Americans and other minorities, and worked towards creating a more efficient government system.

    Between 2000 and 2002, a series of detailed segments were printed in the Saturday Evening Post titled “What If Hitler Had Followed His Plans?”. Describing a world in which Stalin never attacked Japan, and the subsequent alliance between Hitler and Stalin never materialised after a series of failed negotiations, the stories quickly became popular across America and then worldwide. The series is notable for creating a scenario in which France fell in 1940, much the same way that Poland did in 1939, which was widely considered impossible, and after the inclusion of a German invasion of the USSR which saw the Wehrmacht reach the outskirts of Moscow and far-off Stalingrad, author George W. Bush felt it necessary to publicly defend his choices by stating that “in an alternate world, luck may fall a different way, and we can never be certain how people in a different scenario may react”. Bush ended the series by having Truman drop a pair of atomic weapons on Japanese cities, a move that many believe was not possible due to how hesitant Truman had been when it came to the use of nuclear weapons during the war with Stalin, but in Bush’s scenario, Imperial Japan was described as being almost powerless to resist, and the decision to drop the bomb would be considered the beginning of four decades of suspicion between the ‘Western Allies’ and a still-powerful USSR.

    A Message to My Readers

    Well, after 62 pages in Word, six weeks of writing and a little over 45,000 words, this story is over. I’d like to take the opportunity to thank all of you, both the 40 or so people that liked the posts and however many other readers that just took the time to browse the thread. I really appreciate the time all of you have spent reading my work and sharing in the discussion. :)

    Seeing as I have the space, I figure I might as well share some of the motivations and ideas that led to this timeline’s creation. Right now I’m a uni student in the midst of a four-month break where I don’t really have to do anything, and while I could very easily spend those four months playing Crusader Kings 2 or Total War, a big project like this means I actually have something to show for all that time. And it’s fun, so why not?

    I’ve found the idea of the Berlin-Moscow Axis fascinating for a long time. An ‘unholy alliance’, and a fairly drastic break from Hitler’s usual policy, that for a year and a half looked to be a serious threat to the Western world, before Hitler returned to his usual anti-communism and sent this strange event into the dustbin of history, a strange footnote in discussions about World War II that can present some truly ‘alternate’ outcomes in a way that the usual what if questions about the war, usually centred around Midway, Stalingrad or Barbarossa, cannot. If Hitler had maintained his alliance with Stalin, and neither side stabbed the other in the back, there is a very real possibility of an Axis victory in Europe and Asia.

    Indeed, I considered the outcome of an Axis victory when planning this timeline out. Generally, I don’t plan a timeline more than about two updates ahead of wherever I am at at that point in time – history is nothing but the decisions of many people all occurring at the same time, and many of those decisions are made with a look only to the short-term, and in an effort to maintain realism, I believe it is important to keep some hold of this idea – when Hitler invaded Poland, his mind was not yet set on invading the USSR specifically on June 22, 1941, only that that would be something he would consider in the future.

    For the early part of “The Twin Vipers” however, I thought it was important to have some idea of what was going to happen, and I decided upon an eventual Allied victory largely for storytelling purposes. The reason for this comes down to the Battle of France and subsequent difficulty of the Allies re-establishing a foothold on the continent, be it in Normandy or elsewhere. In the standard Berlin-Moscow Axis scenario, where Hitler and Stalin remain allies well into the 1940s, a stalemate across the English Channel is the only logical outcome. With no second front, Hitler can easily commit five million soldiers to the Atlantic Wall, which would be impenetrable to Allied amphibious operations, while Soviet industry and raw materials would keep the Luftwaffe well supplied, until eventually the USA either makes peace with the Axis, leaving a depressing and murderous Europe behind, or much of central and eastern Europe is obliterated as dozens of atomic bombs are dropped. Neither of which is very enjoyable to read, and even less to write. Not to mention that I have had enough of mass death timelines after ‘The Napolead’ last year, in which Imperial Japan-style total war became widespread and conflicts between the great powers ceaseless.

    The other scenario, to me the more plausible one, is one in which Hitler and Stalin work together more closely to establish spheres of influence in Europe and Asia respectively, until one dictator or the other decides to backstab his ally. Knowing the two men, this was sure to happen at one point, and the USSR’s superior industrial power would likely lead to it becoming the victor. But that gives a world very similar to OTL, especially if the betrayal happens in 1941 or 1942 as many believe it would. To me, rewriting near-OTL is a waste of time, when one can so easily go on Wikipedia if they wish to read about it anyway.

    It was around this time that I thought of the PoD – namely the Japanese victory at Nomonhan. Stalin’s war with Japan provided a good reason for the Berlin-Moscow Axis to remain stable, while Hitler would not be able to launch an alternate Barbarossa as long as France was still in the war. The later stages of the alliance, especially Germany’s growing dependence on Soviet imports, were things for which a trend already existed in OTL – Barbarossa was reliant on fuel imported from the USSR mere hours before the guns began firing on the Eastern Front, and the looting of occupied territories such as the Ukraine became necessary to sustain the Wehrmacht. Without that opportunity to loot, imports are the only logical alternative.

    I also found that the scenario, as it developed, allowed me to explore a series of common PoDs about World War II, that when explored in isolation and OTL as a background, are generally quite implausible. A good example of this is the idea that Japan could “strike north” and fight the USSR instead of the USA. All else from OTL, this scenario doesn’t hold up as Japan would run out of oil before accomplishing much, but when the Allies are allowed to take Hitler’s place on the Eastern Front, I found it interesting to look at Japan’s ability to wage war (which, until American submarines and bombers destroyed it, was quite significant), against the USSR. Another good example of this is Operation Unthinkable, which is rather senseless in the climate of OTL 1945. With the scenario causing the Allies to expect a war against the Red Army years in advance, the relative strengths and weaknesses of the two powers can be looked at and explored. The Oil Plan being a major part of this – obviously the Allies did not want to fight the bulk of the Red Army at peak strength, and the exposed nature of the Caucasus oil fields would likely be a factor in Allied planning in such a war, although the limited information about the Unthinkable plan created before the plan was abandoned means that this sort of thing does not always get the recognition that it would had it been carried out. I found these ideas interesting, and I hope you did too.

    Finally I feel that I should thank everyone who made a post on the thread or in a private message. Many of your posts have helped me to guide the timeline in an interesting way. Whether it be something that I had not fully considered, or a choice between two alternatives, I have used many of your posts for ideas in the past, with everything from the discussion about Mussolini on page one to the endless refining of the Wolf’s design and specifications, to make the timeline as enjoyable as it became. Many ideas, especially that of the White government ruling Russia post-war, were things I had barely thought about, but ended up fitting the story better than my original idea was (the original ending for the story was that Stalin would be nuked off the map in Moscow, and some other communist would make peace on the basis of post-Molotov-Pact borders). I don’t often give everyone the credit they deserve for these, so I’ll take the opportunity to do so now.

    Thank you everyone who has been a part of this journey, and I hope that you will join me if and when I make my next timeline, whatever it may be about.

    - BNC