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

Not open for further replies.
Also, if Soviets have the war with Japan, Germany is less pressured to accomodate them any more than they absolutly have to.
The War Spreads North, April 1940

Ever since the beginning of hostilities, Hitler had been considering a potential attack on Norway as a way of ensuring that the British would have no opportunity to interdict iron ore supplies from Sweden, which were commonly transported through the Norwegian port of Narvik. The landing of a British and French force in Petsamo further alarmed him, as when Petsamo inevitably fell, those forces would have to go somewhere, and many of them would rather board a Royal Navy ship than visit a Soviet prison camp. Where else would those ships go but straight to Narvik?

By March 25th, the Germans were ready. Elements of the Kriegsmarine currently in the Atlantic were ordered back to the North Sea, while ships were loaded with troops and sent north, where they would eventually land at the various ports along the Norwegian coast. Almost as soon as it began however, the invasion plans fell apart. The move that should have resulted in a quick and easy campaign became a muddled mess.

Ironically, the first ‘disaster’ of the campaign was the collapse of Finland on March 26th, as Konev’s tanks were heading for Helsinki. While a great victory for Stalin, it stopped the Red Army from tying down the two Allied divisions, which were able to evacuate Petsamo in good order. Four days later, while sailing back to Britain, the convoy returning from Finland ran into the German squadron carrying troops that were to be used to secure Narvik. The German squadron, comprised of the Admiral Hipper and a few destroyers, was quickly obliterated by the Royal Navy’s battleships. Warning was sent to Oslo, and when the invasion truly began on April 2nd, the small and outdated Norwegian Army was at least partially ready to resist. Most importantly, their Gladiator fighters were able to intercept the Fallschirmjagers that had been sent to secure the airfields and other key locations near Oslo.

The invasion of Norway, timed to coincide with a nearly bloodless takeover of Denmark, lasted only two weeks. Although the Narvik landing was destroyed and the Oslo one intercepted, other German landings at Kristiansand, Trondheim, Bergen and Stavenger were successful and Luftwaffe support eventually allowed the scattered landings outside Oslo to capture the city. Reports of U-boats operating in the Narvik area convinced the Royal Navy commander not to risk sending the Allied Expeditionary Force, straight out of Petsamo, into the city (as it turned out, there were no U-boats within 200km of his forces by this time). Other reports, this time of Red Army men massing on Norway’s border with the new communist puppet government of Finland, then convinced the Norwegian government to surrender to Germany, who occupied the entirety of the country.

Schlieffen Once More, May 1940

In the days immediately following the fall of Norway, British Prime Minister Chamberlain resigned from the office, stating afterwards that he felt that his attempts to both prevent the war, and then once it arrived, its conduct, had failed. Chamberlain recommended that Winston Churchill be given the role, a move that King George VI approved. Churchill, known both for his intense anti-communism dating back to the days of the Russian Civil War, and his almost equal hatred for Hitler and Nazism, was seen by many as the one man who could unite the country against the two greatest enemies Britain had ever faced. But Churchill was given little time to celebrate.

On May 10th, 1940, Hitler’s Wehrmacht stormed into Belgium and the Netherlands, their ultimate goal: France's humiliation and a true reversal of Versailles. Avoiding the impassable Ardennes forest, the plan in many ways was a re-run of the nearly-successful Schlieffen Plan used in 1914. The French, expecting the attack to come from the north to avoid the Maginot Line, began moving their forces into Belgium the moment war began, aiming to meet up with the Belgians and form a defensive line, similar to what had occurred in World War I, along one of Belgium’s rivers. The hopelessly outdated Dutch army put up a brave fight, but had little hope against Guderian’s fast-moving panzer force, surrendering after five days of intense battle. The Dutch Navy fled to London where they would continue the war, while elements of the army were able to join the Allied line near Antwerp.

The Belgians looked like they were going to collapse in the same way. The fortresses in the east, most famously Eben-Emael, that were supposed to hold the Germans back were defeated by a brilliant combination of Fallschirmjager tactics, deception and plain old brute force. Liege, Namur and Antwerp were overrun by the end of the first week of the campaign, while Brussels was captured on the 19th. French units, having rushed into Belgium, were being pushed out again, and questions began to rise in the High Command and government as to whether France was about to fall in the same way Poland had half a year prior.

On the 21st, those questions vanished. Guderian’s panzers, which had so far been travelling roughly in a straight line beginning with the cities in the Ruhr and likely ending with the Channel port of Boulogne, were halted near the city of Ghent. That sector of the front was filled by a combination of Belgian, French and British forces, still reeling from the dramatic battles of the previous week. Most importantly however was the presence of the finest elements of the French Tank forces, including the fearsome Char B1. Guderian’s Panzer Is and IIs were severely outmatched while his accompanying infantry struggled to cross the Scheldt river against an entrenched enemy not unlike that faced by their fathers at the Marne in the last war. Unlike their fathers, the Wehrmacht was able to call in Luftwaffe support including Ju 87 “Stuka” dive bombers, said to be able to “land a bomb on the top of a ten pfennig piece” (while this claim was never tested, it is close enough to the truth to avoid dispute). The Allies could also call on their own air support, and eventually a flight of RAF Hurricanes were necessary to throw the Germans back across the river. But by the end of the day, the most essential wing of the advance had stalled. France would not fall in one swift stroke.

Return to Wuhan, May 1940

Under pressure from both the Chinese and the Soviets, the IJA’s position was growing worse by the day. Having determined the Chinese to be the lesser threat of the two, Tokyo had decided to prioritise the Kwantung Army for reinforcements and new equipment, and had pulled some units out of the line in China to ensure that Vatutin could not break through and overrun the vital resources and factories of Manchukuo. But in aiming to solve one problem, the Japanese had created for themselves another.

From the early months of the war with Japan, Chiang Kai-Shek had hoped to wear down the Japanese forces by acting in a mostly defensive manner, conserving manpower and attempting to offset the qualitative disadvantages that his army suffered from. As more and more Japanese first-rate units were being sent north however, and boosted by the success of the winter offensives, the opportunity to strike at the invader once again presented itself.

Chiang’s aim was to retake Wuhan, a major city in central China and the site of the largest battle of the war so far. Its capture would jeopardise the Japanese positions across the rest of Hubei province, and possibly force the IJA to abandon Nanchang, which they had taken in early 1939. Furthermore, it would force Japan to either reinforce the Chinese front (which would relieve the pressure on the Soviets) or risk the collapse of their entire position south of Peking.

Beginning in early May, the Wuhan Offensive started out similar in scope to one of the offensives that had taken place in Guangdong, but as Japanese resistance was lighter than initially expected, the offensive was slowly expanded into a much larger effort that covered most of the frontline in Hubei. Although casualties were heavy on both sides, the Chinese made enough progress that the city of Wuhan erupted into open revolt against the Japanese, effectively collapsing their position in the area. Chinese forces entered Wuhan on June 4th, while Japanese commanders fell on their swords. Within Tokyo, the reaction was more drastic than ever before, as for the first time they began to look to the Western powers in the hope that the war with China could end on favourable terms before their presence there fell apart completely.

Ghosts of the Marne, June 1940

With the failure of Guderian’s panzer group to break through at Ghent, General von Bock was forced to abandon the plan of cutting off British and Belgian forces in Flanders. Although German industry was well supplied by Soviet raw materials and could handle a long war with the Allies if the need arose, images from the Western Front in World War I cast a long shadow over the country. Hitler had made it abundantly clear that France needed to be taken down in 1940 (rumours persist to this day that Hitler was planning on backstabbing his Soviet ally in 1941 if this was successful).

Bock’s new plan, codenamed Fall Rot, hoped to use the concentration of Allied forces in Flanders to his advantage, by attacking the correspondingly weakened Allied (primarily French) positions between Lille and Sedan, encircling the French 9th Army and allowing the German forces to push on towards Paris. At the same time, Guderian’s panzers were kept facing the British on the Scheldt, to either tie down their forces or, if the British moved to reinforce the French further south, to make a resumption of the original offensive possible on short notice. Hoth’s panzers, which had been a major part of the quick success in the Netherlands, were transferred south, and would form the main striking arm of Bock’s attack.

The new offensive began on June 1st, and initially saw the same success that the first strike against France had. French intelligence and communications (which can generally be described as poor) had not noticed most of the movement of German troops away from the Scheldt, and while the French lines in the south were more than capable of keeping away the German holding forces that had been there a week earlier, they were unprepared to face the brunt of Hoth’s panzer group, which tore through the French lines at Sedan and captured Reims within four days. The other wing of the attack also quickly broke through the French lines at Douai and pushed through to Arras and St Quentin.

With German troops on the Somme and heading for the Marne, Daladier and the French generals were forced to take drastic action. First, the 9th Army was ordered to retreat towards Laon before Hoth would be able to surround them. Then Daladier asked Churchill to expand the RAF’s coverage of the front, as the French Air Force had been badly smashed up in the fighting (a move that upset many in Britain, only for Churchill to publicly ask them if they would rather lose the war completely). Then nearly 40% of the forces manning the Maginot Line (which had been a quiet sector since the end of 1939) were pulled from that front and sent to the Marne.

The last move is likely to be the reason that Hoth was stopped before Paris. Having outrun their supply lines, the panzers had been forced to steal fuel from civilian petrol stations, and while resistance had not yet been strong enough to make ammunition a serious problem, the arrival of an entire French army (and eventually the transfer of another from the Scheldt line) meant that Hoth could no longer rampage through the countryside. Bock’s forces managed to reach Laon before the French retreat, and much of 9th Army was forced to surrender, but the primary objective of the attack, the capture of Paris, had failed. The French campaign had cost the Germans a great deal of equipment, and its failure rendered the Germans incapable of any further offensive action for several months.

The Great March East, June 1940

Following the liberation of Wuhan, the Chinese military was divided. Although the Japanese positions in the southern half of the country looked to be collapsing, some generals still believed in the previous, largely successful, strategy of defence and waiting for the Russians to liberate China. Others sensed the opportunity in front of them, believing that the successful Wuhan Offensive should be continued all the way to the old capital of Nanjing. Chiang Kai-Shek had been of the belief that the defence was preferable, hoping to conserve his strength for the battle with Mao’s communists that would undoubtedly flare up again as soon as the Japanese threat had passed. As Wuhan fell, his thoughts about that future war changed: if the Red Army ever made it beyond the Great Wall, there was significant risk that Stalin would hand the recaptured territory to Mao. The thought of losing Peking, or even worse, Nanjing to the communists was enough for him to order the offensive continued.

Nanjing however, was a long way away, and likely impossible to reach in the short term without a total collapse of the IJA. In an attempt to boost morale, Chiang decided to order Nanjing as the next goal of the operation, with a subsidiary attack launched in the direction of Nanchang. Equipped with Soviet T-26 tanks and I-153 fighters, the Chinese army was in the best state it had been since the beginning of the war, and a massive advance along the Yangtze wasn’t nearly so unthinkable as it would have been a year earlier.

Japanese forces, still shaken from the fall of Wuhan and the need to deal with the ever-increasing number of partisans in their rear, still managed to put up a brave, at times fanatical, fight. Determined to please the Emperor, they inflicted heavy losses on Chiang’s forces, and managed to hold the Chinese out of Nanchang and Anqing (approximately half way between Wuhan and Nanjing), when Chiang was forced to finally call off the attack. The liberation of Hubei province had cost them a little over 100,000 men, but much more importantly it had shown to the world that China was once again a serious world power.

The Empire of the Setting Sun, July 1940

For the Japanese, Hubei was the least of their problems. The Red Army, despite its endless logistical problems (mostly stemming from the enormous distance from Moscow and the limited capacity of the Trans-Siberian Railroad), was growing increasingly powerful, while Japan had effectively reached the limit of what they could commit to the defence of Manchukuo without drastic changes at home or leaving China entirely (an option that would cause, at minimum, a military coup).

By July, Vatutin felt that he had enough forces and supplies to make the next push. With approval from Stalin, a massive offensive began across the entire front line. Leading the charge were eighty enormous KV-2 tanks, brand new and totally impervious to any weapon in the Japanese arsenal. Armed with a cannon that wouldn’t have been out of place on a destroyer, the KV-2 could serve as either a mobile artillery piece or as a tank killer with devastating effect (one Soviet gunner claims that one round shot from his tank was able to slam through one Japanese Type 95, come out the other side and obliterate a second tank behind it). Japanese infantry had it no better, as Vatutin unleashed the mighty ‘Katyusha’ multiple rocket launchers, which could flatten most of a square kilometre in seconds.

Harbin had been designated as the objective of the offensive, which was planned to take almost a month. After taking it in just three days, and taking down four Japanese divisions with it, Vatutin (under Stalin’s orders) expanded the offensive. Pushing past whatever Japanese resistance got in his way, Vatutin aimed to take Port Arthur, the site of an embarrassing Russian defeat in 1905.

Despite many Japanese tactical errors, the Soviet offensive did not go completely to plan. July 7th, 1940, saw the combat debut of the Mitsubishi A6M ‘Zero’ fighter, which quickly showed itself to be a significantly better aircraft than anything currently fielded by the Red Air Force. Highly trained Japanese pilots fielding the Zero were able to achieve incredible kill ratios against Soviets who were mostly using I-16s.

Even with the fearsome Zero, the Kwantung Army was unable to stop the Soviet advance, which took the Manchukuoan capital of Hsinking on July 19th and then Mukden on the 29th, effectively cutting the entire Japanese Army in China off from Korea, forcing the IJN to handle the supply requirements of more than 600,000 soldiers. Vatutin would eventually reach Port Arthur in late August, but by then the battle for Manchukuo had been long decided.

The Minsk Conference, July 1940

The failure of the Wehrmacht to deal France a fatal blow in the spring left Germany with a major problem: Romania had formed alliances with both France and Poland, while Germany was dependant on foreign oil which was mostly supplied by the Romanians. Although Romania hadn’t taken any hostile action against the Axis yet, the fact that Romania was still selling oil to the French, and the suppression of the pro-Axis Iron Guard movement caused great alarm for Hitler.

Hitler’s solution was to propose a conference with Stalin, Mussolini and representatives from Hungary and Bulgaria, meeting in Minsk on July 27th, where they spent three days creating a plan to divide Romania that would guarantee Germany access to the Ploesti oil fields. Hitler also offered Hungary and Bulgaria lands that they lost to Romania and Yugoslavia in the Treaties of Trianon and Bucharest, in exchange for their joining the Axis Pact and in Bulgaria’s case, basing rights for Red Fleet ships. All of the guarantees in the original Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact were reaffirmed, giving Stalin the ‘green light’ to take his share of Eastern Europe. Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria and the USSR eventually agreed to go to war with Romania and Yugoslavia some time in September 1940.

Negotiations with Mussolini proved less successful. Although Hitler had offered Mussolini a great chunk of Yugoslavia and all of Italy’s claims to French lands, Mussolini knew that the situation in France cast into doubt Hitler’s ability to make good on the promises regarding the French territories (while Italy’s military was inadequate for any protracted war against the Allies). Mussolini had also felt insulted when Hitler formed the alliance with Stalin in 1939, in open violation of the Anti-Comintern Pact, without even consulting the Italians, and was wary of the reaction in Italy to joining an alliance with the hated communists. When Mussolini left the conference, Hitler was known to be quite upset to see the man he had looked up to for fifteen years abandon him. It would be the last time the two ever met.

With Hitler’s guarantee of non-interference, Stalin felt ready to finally take control of the lands promised to him in 1939. On July 30th, Stalin sent ultimata to the three Baltic States, effectively demanding that they allow the Red Army in or face war. Although they briefly considered opposing Stalin, his determination in Manchukuo and Finland convinced them to agree to Stalin’s demands. Within days they were reorganised into new Soviet Republics.

The Wider War, August 1940

The Wehrmacht’s failure to defeat France in the spring of 1940 forced Hitler to look for other ways to convince the British to give up the fight, knowing that the French would be doomed without their closest ally supporting them. Although Goring boasted that the Luftwaffe would be able to terrorise the British into submission with an intense bombing campaign directed at London, this was well beyond the Luftwaffe’s actual capabilities, as Bf 109s could barely make it to Britain from their current bases, much less provide any sort of escort to the bombers, but it is still very uncertain as to whether this would work.

Instead, the focus went to the Kriegsmarine. Although having suffered considerable losses in the Norwegian campaign, including the KMS Admiral Hipper and three light cruisers, the small navy still had considerable power to strike at the British. Arguably its greatest strength was the U-boat arm, which like in World War I aimed to bring the British down with an intense convoy raiding campaign. The use of submarines also allowed them to largely ignore the capital ships of the Royal Navy, which drastically outnumbered the Kriegsmarine’s. In the wake of the first French campaign, Hitler gave Donitz orders to have as many U-boats as possible built.

Unfortunately for Donitz, Hitler retained his fascination for capital ships of his own, which had only been boosted by the success of the raids conducted by KMS Graf Spee and KMS Deutschland in late 1939. With the launch of the new battleship KMS Bismarck, and her sister ship Tirpitz soon to follow, Hitler believed that he had the beginnings of a Navy that could soon challenge the Royal Navy to a surface battle like Jutland, and win decisively. In giving the Kriegsmarine maximum priority for resources, the Fuhrer ordered that another two battleships (“K” and “L”) be laid down with the same design as “H” and “J” (at this time known as the H-39 design), which had been slowly worked on since the middle of 1939. The carrier KMS Graf Zeppelin was also to be completed by the middle of 1941, although scepticism about the true value of carriers caused the scrapping of her sister ship “B”.

The Allies had also been busy on the naval front. In the middle of 1940, elements of the Imperial Japanese Navy entered the Atlantic after negotiations between London and Tokyo (the Japanese, having lost most of Manchukuo to the Soviets, needed to import resources to fuel their war against Stalin, while the British were desperately short of destroyers that the Japanese did not need in the Sea of Japan). American aid to Britain and France had also increased since May, including the delivery of a thousand 75mm artillery pieces and a hundred P-40 fighters to France, which had been well received by the American public and likely contributed to Roosevelt’s re-election in November.

Case Purple/Fall Lila, September 1940

Planned after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and organised in the wake of the Minsk Conference, the dual invasion of Yugoslavia and Romania by the four Axis powers had been long seen as necessary for Germany to finally secure enough resources to be totally self-sufficient, while Stalin wanted to push the USSR’s border as far west as possible to make a German backstab and following war more difficult.

When Hungary and Bulgaria joined the Axis on July 29th, Yugoslavia and Romania were almost completely surrounded, which would make aid from the Allies impossible and a strong defence on all fronts extremely difficult. When the Axis moved on September 6th, it was little surprise to anyone that the two countries quickly fell. Within two weeks both had been divided in accordance with the plans agreed to at Minsk, with the USSR taking Bessarabia, Bukovina and Moldova, Bulgaria taking Southern Dobruja and the lands it claimed at the time of the Second Balkan War, Hungary regaining Transylvania, and Germany occupying the rest of Romania (including the Ploesti oil wells, which had survived the invasion unscathed) and much of Yugoslavia. Hitler again offered Italy the coastal regions of Yugoslavia in exchange for their entrance to the Axis, but the offer was met with silence.

Although the Allies were unable to directly help either Yugoslavia or Romania, Churchill was determined to hit back at the Axis any way he could. Numerous ideas were discussed, including a Western Front offensive, which was shelved due to French unpreparedness and the small, albeit increasing, size of the BEF. Eventually it was decided to carry out the long-planned bombing of Baku, which if successful could eliminate more than half of the entire Axis oil production for several years, and would severely impact their efforts to continue the war.

Launched from French Syria in late October, the raid was made up of 150 Bristol Blenheim bombers. Communist spies in Turkey noticed the flight (where else would Allied bombers be heading but Baku?) and warned Moscow, which allowed fighters to be scrambled before the bombers arrived. The Red Air Force gave good account of itself in the battle, shooting down more than half of the British bombers (which were operating without escort due to the distance involved), but in spite of them, the raid managed to reach the oil fields and caused considerable damage. Much of the surrounding area was set on fire due to poor Soviet handling of spillage, and the city of Baku also suffered light damage. Most estimates today suggest that Baku lost most of its production capability in the raid, and was still only operating at 60% of its pre-war capacity a year following the raid.

The Great Betrayal, October 1940

Although the civil war between Chinese Nationalists and Communists had been put on hold since the Japanese invasion in 1937, Chiang and Mao were allies in name only, and both knew that as soon as the Japanese threat had passed, old rivalries would rise to the surface once more. With Nationalist forces nearing the gates of Nanjing, and the Red Army in Port Arthur and Mengkukuo, Japan would not be a serious threat to China much longer.

But Mao knew that if he waited until Nanjing and Peking were retaken, he would be fighting a Kuomintang that controlled nearly all of China, led by a hero that liberated much of it. Public opinion of Chiang had already markedly improved since the recapture of Wuhan, while Mao was relying on public discontent with the Nationalist government to make up for what he lacked in territory or soldiers. Allowing Chiang to do all the hard work against Japan had weakened the Nationalists considerably (Hubei alone had been worth 100,000 men, and the Nanjing campaign had the potential to match that), but weighed against the cost of fighting a popular government controlling nearly all of China from the backwater Shaanxi province, five divisions wasn’t much.

Feeling he had no other option, Mao ordered his forces to attack the Nationalists, hoping to take advantage of Chiang’s distraction with Japan and secure enough of the country to provoke a China-wide communist uprising. The initial battles went well, as Chiang’s best forces were deployed against the Japanese while only second-rate troops were left to watch the CCP. Communist forces were able to secure Xi’an and Lanzhou in conventional strikes, while small columns of Communists linked up with other groups across the country, causing chaos and temporary breakdowns in Nationalist communications in their wake. Chiang was left shocked, uncertain whether the broken Japanese, the ever-present Communists or even the looming Red Army (which had been inconsistent in its support of any side in the Chinese Civil War) was his greatest threat.

The Hong Kong Talks, November 1940

Ever since Wuhan had been lost, the Japanese had been trying to find a way to end the fighting in China and allow them to concentrate their army against the USSR. Talks between the two had stalled repeatedly, as Japanese ministers (who feared assassination if they returned to the Home Islands without a satisfactory deal) were determined to secure something resembling a victory – with proposals ranging from the rights for IJN ships to base themselves in Chinese ports to the outright annexation of the Peking-Tianjin region and Hainan island. Chiang’s diplomats were convinced that they had technically won the war and were arguing for a return to, at minimum, 1930 borders (how Chiang expected to get control of Manchukuo from the Red Army was never addressed) and reparations for the three years of damage that the IJA had caused.

Mao’s betrayal of Chiang heightened the need for an immediate end to the war. While Japan was a nuisance to China, it was increasingly unlikely that they would be able to do anything more than what they had accomplished in mid-1939, even if a peace was reached with Stalin. Mao however looked to have the potential to overthrow the Nationalist government completely, and Chiang could not afford to leave a million troops committed against the IJA while the Communists tore the rear of his state apart. It was this that prompted Chiang to ask the British to mediate a peace conference.

The British minister’s approach was to remind both sides that the Communists were the greater threat, and that arguments over who owned Manchukuo would only leave it in Stalin’s hands. The conference ended in an agreement where both sides would return to the status quo ante, as it was in 1936. The question of Manchukuo was left open as it had been then, with China retaining its claim to the land, with the intention of settling the dispute after Stalin was defeated. Japanese forces were to be taken out of Chinese territory over a two month period (nearly all of them went straight into the line on the Yalu), giving Nationalist forces time to occupy Peking, Shanghai and Nanjing before the Communists got the chance to seize them. In Japan, the deal with China was unpopular, as many still believed that China was a greater enemy than the USSR, but opposition to the deal (and the likely assassinations to follow) was silenced when the Emperor made his support for the deal known.

“Friend of the Free World”, January 1941

Re-elected to a third term, President Roosevelt now felt confident to begin accelerating aid programs to the Allies. British, and soon afterwards French, reserves of gold and other precious metals were being exhausted, and most predictions suggested that by the summer of 1941, Britain would be unable to buy enough equipment to supply their troops on the Western Front. Should the Western Front collapse, Americans feared that German and Soviet submarines would have nearly free reign over the Atlantic, would starve Britain to death and be able to launch attacks on the East Coast.

This fear of Axis control of Europe led Roosevelt to declare in his third inauguration speech that “America is the friend of the free world. Their safety is our safety, and we must oppose, in every way possible, efforts to destroy them.” In the following days, the speech gave rise to the Opposition of Dictatorship Act, which allowed the “free or discounted export of arms to nations in conflict with states who seek to weaken the cause of democracy around the world”, in effect making it possible for the US to aid any nation fighting the USSR or Germany. Although polls showed that only 58% of Americans supported ‘free’ aid to the British or French (much less the Japanese, who were still incredibly unpopular at this time), the act gained the approval of Congress after Roosevelt promised to only aid the Japanese if the position in China or Korea collapsed.

On February 16th, the Pan-American Security Zone was also extended to the 33rd meridian west of Greenwich (a line that passes through Greenland and near the easternmost point of Brazil), allowing US ships to patrol the western half of the North Atlantic for U-boats (which they would then alert the British about), escorting convoys while using neutrality as the reason that Germany should not attack them.

A Familiar Problem, February 1941

Germany’s strategic situation in early 1941 resembled in many ways the situation faced by the country in the later years of the last war. The alliance with Stalin meant that Hitler was free to send all of his forces to the Western Front, which was once again controlled by an entrenched enemy. The USA was edging closer and closer to war, although it would be at least another year before any American force of scale could be deployed on the Western Front. Possibly the only thing keeping Hitler in power and Germany in the war was the relatively good standard of living enjoyed at home, where food remained plentiful in the wake of imports from the USSR. Without the Soviet alliance, a repeat of World War I and frequent British bombing raids (despite Hermann Meyer’s boasts that no bomber would ever reach Germany) would likely have ended support for the Nazis after they failed to deliver victory in 1940.

Despite the apparently strong position at home and the fact that Germany controlled a greater part of France than they had in either 1914 or at the height of the Spring Offensives, Hitler knew that he had to win the Battle of France in 1941: before Germany could be crushed under the weight of American production that had defeated it in 1918. Unfortunately for him, the Allies knew this too, and had sent every available force to the Western Front, including not just the British Expeditionary Force that had landed in 1939, but Australians, Canadians, Indians, New Zealanders and others. Veterans of the Polish campaign and members of the Czechoslovak Army had also been formed into the Central European Legion, which was soon expanded to include Romanian forces as well. Any second blow against France would be much more difficult than the first one.

While giving orders to prepare a new offensive in France, Hitler took another page out of the Kaiser’s plans to win the war, beginning another series of attacks on British convoys. The most notable of these new raids was conducted by the new battleship KMS Bismarck, escorted by the cruiser KMS Admiral Scheer and ten U-boats. Taking place from February 26th until mid-March, the raid saw the sinking of nearly an entire convoy somewhere south of Iceland (after a surprise encounter), including a tanker, 31 merchant ships and two British cruisers. Most importantly however was the duel between Bismarck and the British battleship HMS Royal Oak, which heavily damaged both ships, until the arrival of Admiral Scheer caused the British captain to scuttle Royal Oak. The Kriegsmarine lost four U-boats, which were found shortly afterwards and sunk by British destroyers, but the arrival of bad weather troubled British efforts to locate either of the German capital ships before they returned to base in Norway.

Bismarck’s first raid, despite the overwhelming tactical success, could not win the war on its own. British efforts to counter the U-boat threat continued to improve, as British aircraft development achieved longer and longer flight ranges, while sonar tracking made it easier to locate and destroy the U-boats themselves. Bismarck and Admiral Scheer had evaded the enemy once, and sent nearly half a million tons of supplies to the bottom of the Atlantic, but the efforts of two ships wouldn’t ever be enough to win the Western Front on their own.

The Civil War Resumed, March 1941

Ever since the Great Betrayal, Mao’s communists had been busy infiltrating the parts of China officially under Nationalist control, attempting to gain the support of the populace with promises of reforms that would favour the peasant classes. CCP leadership knew that a quick campaign that, at the very least, established communist control over a large area of China was essential: Chiang could call on six times as many soldiers as Mao could, nearly all of them fully behind their leader who was now seen as the man who beat Japan. Not only were the Communists doomed in any set-piece battle if they couldn’t assemble a larger army, but a failure to expand communist control risked Stalin writing them off entirely, and Mao felt he needed support from Moscow if he had any chance of beating Chiang.

Stalin, however, was more interested in winning his war with Japan and the West than in supporting either side in China (he disagreed with Mao’s version of communism and had helped fight the KMT in Xinjiang in 1937). Had things progressed unchanged from the middle of 1940, it is likely that he would have ignored China entirely.

In the wake of the Hong Kong Peace Conference, Stalin changed his mind. A Soviet spy had infiltrated the conference while claiming to be a Swiss journalist, and reported back to Stalin the anti-Communist ideas that the British mediators had used to unite the Chinese and Japanese. As the conference ended, Stalin was convinced that the British and French would use China as a way of striking the USSR itself, and that if the Nationalists were allowed to win, China may enter the Allies fully, adding another three million soldiers to their ranks.

Deeming a Nationalist victory unacceptable, Stalin requested that Mao travel to Moscow in late February 1941. At their meeting, Stalin offered Mao a thousand T-26 tanks and 500 I-153 fighters, both of which were obsolete in Europe and against Japan but quite capable against anything the Nationalists were currently capable of fielding (with the exception of a few captured Japanese weapons). Stalin also ordered the puppet warlord Sheng Shicai, who controlled all of Xinjiang, to support the CCP in every way possible. Mao did ask Stalin not to declare war on the KMT directly, fearing that it would bring more Chinese into the Nationalist armies. Stalin, who wanted to use the bulk of the Red Army to conquer Korea, agreed.

The Third Front Opens, March 1941

As Mao arrived in Moscow, Stalin had just given the order to begin the Middle Eastern Strategic Operation (nicknamed in the post-war world as ‘Operation Venus’, although this was never used by the Soviet High Command), the long-awaited reaction to the Baku raid the previous year. The plan involved invading Turkey from two sides (the western force being commanded by the Germans) to secure Germany’s chromium supply, push the claims of the Georgian and Armenian SSRs and open up a route to the British and French colonies. Simultaneously, an invasion of Iran would be conducted with the hopes of capturing Iran’s oil (which would be useful in the case of Baku being destroyed), as well as pushing the British beyond bombing range of the Caucasus and opening up a threat to India. Following those two operations, Stalin hoped to provoke a series of Arab uprisings in Syria, Jordan and Palestine, which would give the Axis control of the entire Middle East and force the British to transfer forces away from the Western Front to defend the Empire.

The invasion of Turkey began on March 11th, 1941. The German Army Group D, under General von Kleist, was the first to move, sending nearly 400,000 troops into Thrace. Turkish forces in the area, armed with equipment dating back, in some cases, to the 1890s, were quickly overwhelmed and Istanbul was reached by the Panzer and motorised forces in just two days. To prevent their demolition, bridges across the Golden Horn were seized by paratroops. Turkish Prime Minister Refik Saydam, having seen his army annihilated and reinforcements cut off, declared Istanbul an open city, while Kleist rushed to the east.

Two hours after the German invasion began, General Konev’s 1st Caucasus Front invaded Turkey from the east. Comprised almost entirely of veterans from the Finnish campaign, this force was skilled in the close-quarters fighting that would be necessary in the mountainous lands of eastern Anatolia. Turkish soldiers fought bravely but managed little against the two-pronged onslaught, and the government surrendered after two weeks, as the Germans approached Ankara and Izmir.

Turkey was then divided into three zones of occupation. The first, covering Istanbul and the straits between the Mediterranean and Black Seas were under joint German-Soviet occupation. The second, covering much of Turkey west of the Kayseri-Adana line, was managed entirely by the Germans. East of the line was the third, Soviet zone, of which a substantial part was annexed into the USSR. All three zones saw a substantial British-supported resistance campaign, similar to that in Yugoslavia, and in practise the Axis never held much control over the south or deep interior of the country beyond where soldiers were actually stationed.

The Soviet invasion of Iran, launched on the 14th, started out with a similar level of success to the Turkish Campaign. Voroshilov’s 2nd Caucasus Front was the main arm of the attack, starting out from Baku and taking Tabriz before heading to Tehran. The 19th Army, based in Ashgabat and led by General Chuikov (who had spent a year as an advisor to Chiang Kai-Shek before Stalin decided to back Mao), provided a second prong for the attack on Tehran. The two forces seized the oil wells in the north of Iran, before taking Tehran in a costly battle and were heading south when events to the west took the USSR’s attention.

Coup d'état in Iraq, April 1941

Although Iraq had been British territory at the end of World War I and was still effectively under British domination after its official independence in 1932, the Iraqi military had relied on German officers and the country had welcomed many pro-Axis refugees from neighbouring territories. A group of officers known as the Golden Square, seeking to throw the British out of Iraq, had looked to the Axis (Germany principally) for help, and although the failure to defeat France had initially made them reconsider their plans, the Soviet invasions of Turkey and Iran boosted their confidence once more.

On April 5th, the Golden Square ordered their units, all stationed in Baghdad at the time, to seize control of the government away from the pro-British regent. The initial takeover of power was swift, but after the British declared war on Iraq in response, Golden Square leader Rashid Ali was forced to call for help from the USSR. Stalin, sensing the importance of Iraq, ordered the 2nd Caucasus Front (currently near Qom in Iran) to join the Iraqis at Baghdad.

The British were the first to act. As soon as the invasion of Turkey had begun a month earlier, Britain had rushed parts of the Indian Army to Basra and Kuwait, deciding that was favourable to pulling troops off the Western Front. When Iran was invaded, those troops were ordered into Iran to defend the southern oil wells, which were of great importance to the Allied war efforts. As the coup took place, 4th Indian Army was ordered into Iraq.

The pro-Axis faction of the Iraqi Army was quickly defeated by the 4th Indian near the city of Kut, the site of a major British defeat in 1915. French and British bombers based out of Syria bombed the oilfields in the north of Iraq, denying their use to the Axis (unlike Baku, these regions were not restored to pre-war capacity until 1948).

The real battle was to be fought in the streets of Baghdad itself, where Voroshilov’s men had arrived only two days before the Indians. Although the brand new T-34 tank was completely invincible to the British Matildas and Vickers MkVIs, and the British had nothing like the ‘Katyusha’ multiple rocket launcher at all, the close-quarters city fighting rendered most of the Red Army’s advantages in heavy equipment meaningless, while Soviet forces began to run out of supplies. By May 15th, Rashid Ali had been captured and imprisoned, 2nd Caucasus Front had been almost wiped out as a fighting force, and Baghdad had been devastated by the battle.

What's Germany's relation with China like ITTL? In OTL Germany supported the Nationalist in China up into 1936.
Taking place from February 26th until mid-March, the raid saw the sinking of nearly an entire convoy somewhere south of Iceland (after a surprise encounter), including a tanker, 31 merchant ships and two British cruisers. Most importantly however was the duel between Bismarck and the British battleship HMS Royal Oak, which heavily damaged both ships, until the arrival of Admiral Scheer caused the British captain to scuttle Royal Oak.
A bit surprise there's not a huge uproar with those losses in the Navy and public.
An entire convoy is unheard of.
What's Germany's relation with China like ITTL? In OTL Germany supported the Nationalist in China up into 1936.

Not massively different from OTL 1941. Germany basically ditched China when Japan attacked, and when the Berlin-Moscow Axis formed Germany was already at war with the British and so had too many other things to do to worry about China.

China meanwhile was never really a part of either the B-M Axis or, post-Mao's betrayal, the Allies and are more just an 'associated power', similar to the USSR of OTL, so they've got no real reason to be especially close or especially hostile to Hitler either.

A bit surprise there's not a huge uproar with those losses in the Navy and public.
An entire convoy is unheard of.

Churchill blamed Thande and got on with the war ;)

Really though that scene isn't massively different from OTL PQ-17 but replace "bombers from Norway" with "KMS Admiral Scheer". And throw a bit of luck the Germans' way (which, seeing how bad France has gone for them, they're probably owed some). Yeah, I didn't include a line about "Churchill told someone to find out which idiot is responsible for screwing it up", but rest assured that revenge on the Kriegsmarine is planned.

A whole lotta WW1 vibes mixed in with some interesting and new places to wage a second world war. I like it.
Glad to hear it!

Wouldn't a defeat in China bolster Communist popularity in Japan? If the militarists have disgraced themselves, then their hold on power must be weakening. I do like the Middle East expansion of the war.
Wouldn't a defeat in China bolster Communist popularity in Japan? If the militarists have disgraced themselves, then their hold on power must be weakening. I do like the Middle East expansion of the war.

Most of the leaders in China had found an honourable death for themselves, and in the Japanese view of things the Russians attacked Manchukuo, so while the militarists don't have the total unlimited power of OTL, they're still close to it (and assassinations can still target anti-militarists if they raise their voice too hard).

The Communists meanwhile basically don't exist at all and most of their leaders have "vanished". Having hundreds of KV-1s and T-34s parked on the Yalu might have a lot to do with that.

Crisis Averted, May 1941

The abysmal performance and then annihilation of Voroshilov’s 2nd Caucasus Front angered Stalin enough for him to recall Voroshilov to Moscow the same day that Baghdad fell. Stalin, paranoid as always, had the NKVD investigate the situation in Iraq and interrogate Voroshilov himself. Voroshilov cited a shortage of ammunition that had plagued the Front since its formation as the reason for its poor performance, while the British Indian force had appeared to have plentiful supplies.

The NKVD investigation led them to Gregory Kulik, in charge of artillery and ordnance production despite his aversion to any modern equipment (including tanks, rockets and even minefields), and as it turned out, a close friend to Voroshilov. Kulik had repeatedly given orders to produce inferior equipment and equipment in less than adequate quantities, which made Stalin believe that he, and Voroshilov by extension, were attempting to see the USSR defeated in the war. Despite the two having been close to Stalin, he ordered them shot after a show trial in early June, on the charge of counter-revolutionary activity.

While Voroshilov was receiving a 7.62mm gift from Comrade Stalin, the remnants of 2nd Caucasus Front needed a new commander. For this role, Stalin restored Zhukov to active command. Although Zhukov had been disgraced after the Nomonhan battle in 1939, he had since been placed in charge of the training facilities in and near Kiev, and good reports from NKVD agents had since restored Stalin’s confidence in the general. Arriving in Mosul on May 20th, Zhukov was quick to order the remaining Red Army forces out of Baghdad to regroup in the north of Iraq. The 4th Indian Army, already extremely far from their supply base in Basra, did not follow, while Red Air Force units based in Turkey and the Armenian SSR ensured that the Allies would not trouble them until reinforcements could be deployed to the Middle East.

All Violent On the Western Front, June 1941

“The only thing worse than the Western Front in World War II, was the Western Front in World War I. Apart from the medicine and the lack of gas, it was just the same battle fought by the sons of those who fought the Kaiser”
- Sgt. Harold Pine, WWI & II veteran and Victoria Cross recipient

By the summer of 1941, the Western Front was well and truly stalemated. Along the entire length of the front were two massive lines of trenches, beginning with the Maginot Line in the east and ending with more recently made fortifications along the Scheldt River in the west. The scene would have been quite familiar to a soldier who had been present in 1918, although the presence of tank turrets serving as mobile bunkers and incessant bombardment from the air added a new consideration for common soldiers and generals alike. But memories of the old Western Front remained, especially the ever-present machine guns, now championed by the recently introduced MG 39, or “Hitler’s saw”, which could fire more rounds per minute than any World War I gun had ever considered.

Hitler had spent the year since the failure of Fall Rot well, reinforcing Rundstedt’s Army Group B and Bock’s Army Group A. Panzer IIIs and IVs were finally introduced to the front lines in serious numbers, and while they were inferior to the heavily armoured Matildas and Chars on the Allied lines, they represented a significant step up from the Panzer I or II, which barely deserved to be called training vehicles.

As in Fall Rot, Army Group A would be the main German striking force. Closest to Paris with forces as far forward as the Marne River, Bock hoped to break through the French lines and take the City of Lights (or at present, the City of Blackouts), cutting the Allied lines in two and hopefully forcing the French out of the war. To assist in the operation, Hitler had given Bock control of the fearsome new 800mm ‘Gustav’ railroad cannon, a successor to the Paris Guns of the last war.

Despite massing his panzers into a striking column, Bock failure to secure a breakthrough along the Marne. Although the front most trench lines were smashed through in a matter of hours, tank traps and minefields quickly wore away at the best of the German tanks, while the French pulled reserves out of the city of Paris to plug the gaps. The reserve trench lines were quickly occupied by Allied troops, and after a week of battle Bock could only claim to have taken around 30km in the best sectors of the front.

Although the Allies had blunted the German attack fairly quickly, the campaign was not a complete success for them either. The Gustav cannon was installed in some of the newly-taken ground, putting much of Paris within range. When bombardment of the city began in early July, Daladier decided that French tank development inside the city was no longer practical, and urged the factories to produce trucks instead, while importing tanks from Britain and America, which did not risk having development rudely interrupted by an 800mm shell. The French government relocated to Bordeaux, and declared that France would not surrender even if Paris was taken.

Revenge for Royal Oak, June 1941

The Bismarck’s raid in March 1941 had been more successful than anyone in the Admiralty had dared imagine. The loss of a battleship and more than three quarters of the ships allocated to a convoy had shocked Churchill and angered the public, and answers were demanded. Those answers however, could not be found. In an inquiry conducted in April, none of the surviving British officers were found to have given any unsuitable orders, while difficult weather had made the interception of Bismarck in its return to base nearly impossible. Finding no-one to blame, Churchill dropped the matter.

The public was not so easily convinced, and revenge against the Germans was demanded. Unless the Kriegsmarine sent out another ship for battle however, a traditional engagement would not be possible, and with Bismarck being repaired and Tirpitz still undergoing sea trials, the Kriegsmarine looked unlikely to do just that.

Japanese Admiral Yamamoto instead proposed an alternative plan: an air strike on a major German port to sink as much of their fleet as could be found in a surprise attack. British intelligence was ordered to locate any major German ships that it could, which they eventually did in early June, finding three battleships, two cruisers, and most importantly the new German carrier KMS Graf Zeppelin in port at Wilhelmshaven. Debates continued in London for several weeks as to how the plan should be carried out, but the superior manoeuvrability of the Zero fighter and the overall superiority of the B5N torpedo bomber over the British Spitfire and Swordfish respectively won out, and the Japanese Navy was given the go ahead to launch the raid.

Launching planes from the carriers Akagi, Soryu and Hiryu, the IJN achieved a significant victory over the Kriegsmarine. The KMS Gneisenau, one of Germany’s mightiest ships, was hit in the magazine, exploding and leaving the remaining parts of the ship damaged beyond repair. The 1906 dreadnoughts Schleswig-Holstein and Schlesien were also sunk, as was the cruiser Blucher. Prinz Eugen was in port at the time, but suffered only minor damage, while the Graf Zeppelin had left Wilhelmshaven the previous night, and was found by surface elements of the Royal Navy off the coast of Denmark three hours after the raid, when it was quickly sent to the bottom (and became the focus of British newspapers for days). The Allies lost 58 aircraft, a cheap price to pay for a third of the Kriegsmarine’s major ships. Hitler was furious, ordering a raid be launched on the docks in London, although this proved much less successful.

Last edited:
Not open for further replies.