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

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World War II has been, for nearly eighty years, characterised not by the efforts of the millions of soldiers who fought in it, or by the sweeping social changes that followed it, but by the infamous, and bizarre, alliance of the two most evil dictators to ever rule: Hitler and Stalin. Two men who had nothing in common save their desire of absolute power, and perhaps their love of death camps. Hitler at least had spent the better part of twenty years writing and screaming about how communism was the greatest enemy of the world and must be destroyed, while Stalin was well known for trusting no one and was certain that within a few years, the Germans would come for him.

The war itself had its origins in a series of increasingly aggressive moves by Germany beginning around 1936 with the reoccupation of the Rhineland, although it was not until the takeover of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 that war was believed to be inevitable. Even then, the British Chamberlain Government only believed Germany, and perhaps Italy to be their future enemies. Indeed there had been talks between London and Moscow in 1938 and continuing into 1939 of a potential alliance against the Germans. Had these talks continued successfully, or even had Stalin simply remained neutral, it is considered extremely likely that Germany would have eventually collapsed under its own weight, a mess of questionable accounting and constant resource shortages, doubtless before the summer of 1941. Yet events in, of all places, Mongolia, changed the history of the world forever.

The Nomonhan Battles, July 1939

Beginning in May 1939, the Nomonhan Battles originated over a border dispute: whether it should be the Mongolian allies of Stalin or the Mongolian allies of Hirohito that should be allowed to graze their horses over a few dozen kilometres of completely empty ground in the middle of nowhere, despite both sides having more than an abundance of empty worthless ground in the region already.

For the first month of the conflict, nothing more than localised skirmishes between the local forces took place, and at worst it looked like the battle would become a repeat of the Changkufeng incident a year prior. On June 27th (now the commonly accepted date for the start of the war) however, the Japanese Kwantung Army launched an air strike on a Soviet airfield. Tokyo issued a stern warning to the Kwantung Army commanders, ordering that no more airstrikes be launched as it risked escalating the border incident (already heavily committed in China, they had no desire for a wider war). The order went ignored.

In early July, the Kwantung Army launched a major attack hoping to knock out the Red Army’s presence on the Khalka River, now commanded by General Georgy Zhukov and numbering around five divisions and over 400 tanks and armoured cars. Shortly after the Japanese force crossed the river, Zhukov counterattacked. The move proved to be foolish, as his unsupported tanks were destroyed by Japanese infantry and bombers, and shortly afterwards a major Soviet supply convoy was destroyed in another airstrike. Although their assaults had been costly, the Japanese soon forced Zhukov to retreat from the disputed area. But they had pushed the Russian Bear too far...

No Longer a Border War, August 1939

Although neither Moscow nor Tokyo made an official declaration of war, the effective destruction of two Soviet divisions could not be interpreted as a minor border skirmish, and both sides scrambled to prepare for what was certain to follow.

Tokyo’s first action was to remove Lieutenant Generals Masaomi and Komatsubara from their posts for disobeying orders, giving them command of much smaller reserve units in China. General Ueda, the overall commander of the Kwantung Army, was forced into retirement for supporting the aggressive actions. Appointed in his place was General Shizuichi Tanaka, who had been previously commanding a division in China. Tanaka was given orders to prepare the Kwantung Army for a major war with the USSR, which would likely be soon fought across the entirety of Manchukuo: a territory far too valuable to lose.

Stalin’s reaction was no less drastic: Zhukov was recalled to Moscow and sidelined for his failure to defeat the Japanese (although he managed to avoid the 7.62mm fate that many other generals had suffered), despite the significant numerical advantages he had held throughout the battle. He was replaced with General Nikolai Vatutin, a man chosen more for his political reliability than for any great competence. Stalin at this time felt that the Japanese needed to pay for their arrogance in Mongolia, and that if a localised conflict couldn’t settle the issue, then an expanded one, which would allow the USSR to use its vast manpower and massive armoured forces, would have to. But before a major war could be allowed on the eastern border, the western one needed to be secured.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, August 1939

As the Red Army prepared itself for a war with Japan, Hitler had been massing the Wehrmacht along the Polish border. Hitler had detested the Polish state since its creation in the aftermath of World War I, not just because it cut East Prussia off from the rest of Germany, or that it had been given some old German territory to do this, but also because he believed the Poles to be racially inferior (a belief that would have horrific consequences for the population of the country). As the first step in the plan to achieve ‘lebensraum’ first outlined in Mein Kampf, the defeat of Poland was one of Hitler’s most important goals.

Hitler, having been a soldier in World War I, was haunted by the idea of a two front war, which had been a major obstacle for Germany between 1914 and 1917. While Poland’s army was hardly a match for the Wehrmacht, the potential entry of the USSR into a war that also involved France and Britain would very likely create a repeat of that war, something the Fuhrer was determined to avoid.

The culmination of several months of talks, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact provided a solution for both nations’ problems. Officially labelled as a non-aggression treaty, the Pact would keep Stalin from interfering in Hitler’s war with Poland, while Hitler would leave Stalin free to settle the disputes with Japan. Secret clauses in the pact also allowed for a division of Poland and the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, while the treaty was soon expanded into a substantial trade agreement, providing Germany with Soviet raw materials in exchange for industrial tools and expertise.

Poland, September 1939

On September 1st, the Wehrmacht stormed into Poland, sweeping across the country in a matter of weeks. Although brave defensive actions were fought, most notably along the Bzura River and near Warsaw, the Polish army had little hope against modern aircraft such as the Bf 109 and Ju 87, or the ‘blitzkrieg’ doctrines of fast moving armoured warfare that the Germans used to such devastating effect.

The Red Army was ordered into Eastern Poland two weeks later, to find only a skeleton defence guarding eastern cities such as Brześć Litewski and Lwow. The move prompted declarations of war by the French and British against the USSR, to follow those issued against Germany on September 3rd. These declarations had been fiercely debated within London and Paris, as some were worried that while a war with just Germany would be difficult, a war against Moscow as well would be nearly impossible, but these concerns were ignored when presented with the threat of an all-communist Asia. The Poles hoped that the second declarations would finally lead to a serious relief effort (after the abortive French offensive into the Saar). That help never came.

“The twin vipers of Nazism and Bolshevism represent the most sinister of alliances to ever confront our way of life. The road ahead will be hard, but if we are resolute in our will, the ultimate triumph of the free world is inevitable.” – Winston Churchill, 28 September 1939.

Count also Italy out, Benny can't ally with Stalin due to internal political reason (plus he don't have the same hold on power that Adolf has) and frankly he and Uncle Joe are targeting the same prize aka the Balkans and the ME. Italy will remain non belligerant, maybe trying to use the fear of the Red Bear to create a Balkan League under her leadership
Count also Italy out, Benny can't ally with Stalin due to internal political reason (plus he don't have the same hold on power that Adolf has) and frankly he and Uncle Joe are targeting the same prize aka the Balkans and the ME. Italy will remain non belligerant, maybe trying to use the fear of the Red Bear to create a Balkan League under her leadership
Indeed, but I think Italy will join the allies when the time seems ripe. Fighting Germany will be probably be more popular in Italy at least, and M is an opportunist.
The Hailar Offensive, October 1939

Once Warsaw fell to the Germans on September 28th, Stalin was confident that the western border of the USSR would not be a cause of trouble for any time in the foreseeable future. While the western powers had declared war over his role in invading Poland, they had no way of directly threatening the USSR without going through a neutral power such as Turkey or Iran. Without a threat to the west, Stalin finally allowed Vatutin to begin the long-awaited offensive against Japan.

Initially, Vatutin’s offensive was a great success. The Kwantung Army had expected any Soviet counterattack to be once again focussed in the Nomonhan area, and had reinforced the 23rd Division with two more divisions from further inland. Soviet airstrikes had also targeted Japanese positions in Korea, as well as the city of Harbin, while efforts in the north of Manchukuo had hardly escalated since the July battle. As it turns out, these escalations in the south were due more to the fact that more equipment was already available in Vladivostock than any deception plan. Nevertheless, the Kwantung Army was not prepared for an army to invade Manchukuo from the north.

Vatutin’s force rapidly took the city of Manzhouli, a short distance across the border, with minimal casualties. Although it appears that Stalin had originally planned to use the city as a bargaining chip to finally settle the disputes in Mongolia, the apparent weakness of the IJA (and the opportunity to get revenge for the war of 1905) convinced him to allow Vatutin to push forward. Perhaps he would have been better staying put.

The terrain that followed was rough and difficult. Deserts and mountains, individually difficult to fight in, were both present in northern Manchukuo, and while the Kwantung Army did not contest the area in any significant way, the terrain took its toll on the Red Army. The Japanese instead decided to defend the city of Hailar, approximately 100 km from Manzhouli, and the next significant settlement on the major road in the area. In a fierce week-long battle, the Red Army eventually took control of Hailar, although at great cost. What had become obvious by the end of the battle was that the Soviet logistics, almost entirely based off the Trans-Siberian Railroad and the trucks sent to the Far East during the Nomonhan battles, were wholly inadequate for an operation involving a quarter of a million men.

Confusion in Asia, October 1939

The beginning of a full-scale war between the USSR and Japan greatly complicated the political situation in Asia. Since 1937, Japan had been engaged in a brutal war with the Chinese, a battle known to the West mostly for its war crimes. Public opinion had for a long time been turned against Japan, notably with incidents such as the Panay incident in late 1937 and the Tianjin blockade in the summer of 1939, and as a result several of the great powers had been considering opening up aid deals with China.

China however had been supported by Germany in earlier years and Stalin much more recently, both of which were now British enemies, while Japan was effectively an ally. Yet Stalin had also supported an invasion of Xinjiang in 1937, and he was still providing support to the Chinese Communist Party, which was destined to become Chiang’s enemy the moment an external threat to China disappeared. The Soviet invasion of Manchukuo, which China believed to rightfully belong to them, put another strain on the relationship.

Chiang’s distrust of Stalin caused him to refuse to join the Berlin-Moscow Axis (as the “sinister alliance” was becoming known), but for the moment at least, he remained effectively in that camp. The 2,000,000-strong Japanese Army was too valuable for the British to give up just to support the Chinese (who were effectively incapable of offensive action outside their own borders), and any aid to China would effectively mean aiding an enemy power. The British meanwhile hoped to forge a peace settlement between China and Japan, although talks fell apart when it became clear that Chiang was unprepared to give up any concessions beyond possibly Hainan Island, while the IJA was too proud to consider anything less than the effective capitulation of the Chinese government.

The Winter War, December 1939

One of the secret clauses of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact placed Finland within the USSR’s sphere of influence. Stalin was quick to seize the opportunity to redraw another Soviet border, this one merely a few kilometres from Leningrad (which he believed was threatened by the Finns, despite the fact that the Finns had made no move against the USSR since the Civil War). In November, he sent an ultimatum to the Finns demanding that they adjust the border further away from Leningrad in exchange for a much larger area of Karelia, which Mannerheim was quick to refuse.

Although the Soviet plan had been to invade on November 30th, the war with Japan continued to take the resources of the western military districts (three corps had been transferred to Siberia from the west since July), and the Red Army was unready to move until December 14th. Immediately, the offensive slowed to a crawl, as the numerically superior Red Army was held up by Finnish ski troopers using irregular tactics, and behind them, the imposing Mannerheim Line.

Hitler was quick to support his ally, declaring war on the Finns and imposing a blockade around their ports, headed by the KMS Graf Spee and KMS Deutschland, which had just returned from a major raiding campaign in the North Atlantic. Icy conditions in the Baltic meant that the blockade accomplished little, but his actions strengthened the German-Soviet relationship and eventually resulted in the renegotiation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact into the German-Soviet Treaty of Alliance, the infamous Axis Pact.

Italy will join if France falls, It's just too tempting.

Sure, it will be extremely tempting...but in OTL Benny was a lot undecided about the DoW and both Ciano and Badoglio alerted him of the status of the armed forces; if we had the extreme political difficulty to sell to the King and co. being allied with the URSS and his situation will become more fragile.
Plus the alliance with the URSS (without even consulting Italy) mean that the Anti-comintern Pact is dead.
If Nazis and Soviets had joined forces, nothing short of the atomic bomb would have stopped them from dominating Eurasia from Korea to Gibraltar. And even that could amount to "too little, too late" unless sustained in a prolonged, systematic genocidal annihilation campaign.
Sure, it will be extremely tempting...but in OTL Benny was a lot undecided about the DoW and both Ciano and Badoglio alerted him of the status of the armed forces;
With the fall of France and the Soviet Union now an ally against Britain ,Britain is going to look far more likely that it will make peace. the factors that lead to Mussolini are vastly increased.

we had the extreme political difficulty to sell to the King and co. being allied with the URSS and his situation will become more fragile.
Why should Italy oppose a German-Soviet alliance for anything more then symbolic anti-communism. I doubt the King and Co are going give up on a chance to get Savoy,Nice, and Corsica along with some French colonies for symbolism alone.

A Nazi Germany/Soviet Union alliance isn't so far-fetched. I remember seeing a documentary on TV years ago that floated a proposed alliance between Germany, Russia and Japan to counter the Anglo-Saxon powers - the British Empire, the United States and Canada.

Well, we'll have to see how this plays out.
Chinese Offensives, January 1940

Japan’s failure to take Changsha in October 1939, coupled with the need to transfer forces to Manchukuo to face an ever-expanding Red Army, had weakened the IJA’s position in China considerably. Although a landing in Guangxi had cut China off from potential French or British aid (which was looking less likely than ever) and captured the city of Nanning, the Chinese had raised new forces while the Japanese were forced to move them, counting on the belief that China was incapable of offensive action to sustain their position while they fought with the Red Army.

When the first of three major Chinese offensives began in December 1939 in Mengkukuo, the IJA was caught off guard, and although a frantic scramble to patch a defence together ultimately stopped the Chinese from taking anything important, the worst had yet to come.

Shortly after the new year dawned, a much more serious offensive began in Guangdong province, aimed at crippling the Japanese position in Southern China. Here the Chinese found their greatest successes, recapturing Nanning and reversing nearly all of Japan’s recent gains, threatening Canton and nearly shattering the Japanese presence further east. Japanese losses, nearly all of them KIA, are estimated around 30-40,000, and while Chinese losses were similarly heavy, Japan was dealt an enormous blow to morale. For the first time, Tokyo was forced to confront the reality of fighting two vast powers at the same time.

Second Siege of Petropavlovsk, February 1940

One major advantage that the Japanese held over their enemies was their Navy. Comprised of ten battleships, six carriers, and many smaller ships, the IJN was almost as strong as the Royal Navy and US Navy, and far superior to any other in 1940. The Red Fleet, by contrast, had only three battleships, and was forced to divide its forces between the Baltic and Black Seas, as well as the Pacific. The results were predictable, and after a short battle outside Vladivostock in the early days of the war, the Pacific Squadron was effectively destroyed as a force, with blockades of Soviet ports quickly following.

After the losses in China and Manchukuo, the Navy hatched a plan that would, if successful, deliver to Japan a much needed victory (as well as undoubtedly rub some salt in the eyes of the Army). The target was Petropavlovsk, Stalin’s largest port on the Kamchatka peninsula. Although already under blockade and too far from the Manchurian Front to have much value in the present war, it was large enough that a capture would force Stalin to take some notice of Japan beyond Vatutin’s offensive, and it would finally secure the Kurile Islands from Soviet nuisance raids.

On February 5th, two Navy battalions landed in a nearly defenceless Petropavlovsk, while other forces secured the northern half of Sakhalin island (or Karafuto as the Japanese called it). While in Japan the move was celebrated as a tremendous victory, in the USSR it went ignored, as events in Finland caught the attention of Radio Moscow.

Petsamo, February 1940

From the moment the Red Army had marched into Finland, Mannerheim had put out calls for help to anyone who would listen. Norway and Sweden had flatly refused, determined to remain neutral, while Hungary had considered sending a volunteer force before deciding that the efforts required to get them to Finland would be too difficult to be worthwhile. Britain however, did not share a border with Germany, while France’s was heavily defended by the Maginot Line, so neither were at serious risk of Hitler’s immediate wrath. Hitler’s distant wrath, better known as the Baltic Blockade, did create a bit more of an obstacle.

Paris and London decided in January to send a 20,000 man expeditionary force to the Finnish arctic port of Petsamo (and the only port through which any aid could still pass). Escorted by a detachment of the Royal Navy including the battleships HMS Rodney and HMS Malaya, as well as four cruisers and numerous smaller ships, although as they would be operating north of the Arctic Circle during winter, no carriers were assigned.

Initially, all went to plan, and the Allied force landed in Petsamo without trouble (luckily, a few days before the main Soviet thrust aimed at the city arrived). The escort ships, undisturbed by the Red Fleet, began bombarding Murmansk to both damage the port and cause disruption to the Soviet forces headquartered there.

Problems began for the Allies when the largely ineffective General Meretskov was removed (and later shot) for his failure to quickly pierce the Mannerheim Line. His replacement, General Ivan Konev, chosen for loyalty reasons rather than skill, nonetheless proved quite capable and had begun to make progress in several sectors of the front. The arrival of the U-29 in Arctic waters also surprised the British, launching several attacks against the Royal Navy, and although no ships larger than a corvette were sunk during the month it was active (at this point, operating out of Arkhangelsk), the cruiser Norfolk suffered heavy damage and was forced to return to Britain.

On March 13th, Konev’s next offensive against the Mannerheim Line broke through near Summa and was quickly followed up by a blitzkrieg-inspired strike at Viipuri, which was occupied on the 18th. Petsamo was placed under effective siege the same day, where the Expeditionary Force awaited evacuation.

Vatutin’s Next Move, March 1940

After the fall of Hailar, both the Soviets and Japanese had spent months assembling their forces for the inevitable next offensive in Manchukuo. While Hailar had cost the Japanese little more than a loss of face, both sides were well aware that the southern, more populated areas of the territory held an abundance of resources, which were extremely important to the Japanese war effort, while a strike that reached far enough south could potentially cut the army in China off from Korea and the Home Islands. Both the Soviet Far Eastern Army and the Kwantung Army had swelled, the latter roughly doubling in size compared to early 1939.

On March 17th, guns thundered along the Amur and outside of Hailar, as Vatutin began a three-pronged assault aimed at Harbin. The fighting, as was common in China, was vicious, as neither side had ratified the Geneva Convention (or looked interested in following it). The insult of the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, and the well-known importance of Manchukuo to the Empire, were also reasons why neither side bothered giving quarter.

The Japanese defences on the Ussuri, opposite Vladivostock, were the site of some of the bitterest fighting in the whole war – as the most heavily fortified area of the line (and one of the most obvious launching points for an attack), Japanese soldiers were able to hold up the Red Army for more than two weeks before any serious bridgehead was created on the west bank. Even following this, banzai charges were attempted in a desperate attempt to push Vatutin’s men back into the USSR, but when BT-5 tanks were driven across the river, the Japanese were forced to retreat, but the cost had been high.

As it turned out, the forcing of the Ussuri crossing was likely unnecessary, as other units from the north and northwest began to threaten Harbin by the beginning of April, having pushed away, or more frequently, straight through the Kwantung Army defences. Unfortunately for the Red Army men, Harbin was the site of Unit 731 (or as it is more commonly known today, ‘War Crimes Unit 731’), a chemical and biological weapons testing facility famous for its experimentation on humans (often Chinese prisoners). Although the Kwantung Army remained intact, if shaken, the Japanese felt as though they had no other choice, unleashing a wave of chemical weapons on the advancing Soviet forces. Plague and cholera bombs were also dropped on Soviet cities including Vladivostock and Khabarovsk, but the high casualties did nothing but strengthen Stalin’s resolve (and give Radio Moscow some new pieces of propaganda). Most importantly however, the attacks slowed the Red Army down enough to save Harbin from capture, and gave the Kwantung Army time to prepare new defences.

Why should Italy oppose a German-Soviet alliance for anything more then symbolic anti-communism. I doubt the King and Co are going give up on a chance to get Savoy,Nice, and Corsica along with some French colonies for symbolism alone.

Because as i said before, Italy and URSS eyed the same thing aka Balkan and ME and with the URSS in the alliance the need for Italy is much less so even more than OTL all the goodies that you named will not be given, plus Benny will be forced to compete with Stalin for influence in the alliance; because for the King and the remnants of the liberal enstablishment plus a sizeble part of the fascist one being officially allied with the communist is a little hard to sell politically (sell them things is doable, as money is money, but an official alliance is another matter); throw the Anticomintern Pact throw the window in this manner without at least consulting Italy is a big slap in the face for Benny.
If we add all this at the OTL problem for Italy to enter the war, that made Mussolini pine over the decision to enter the's very probable that Mussolini will wait even more for the Dow, probably accepting whatever bribe the Allied will give him and try to use the boogeyman of the URSS plus Germany to gain more influence in the Balkans
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