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

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Nuclear weapon won't be as much of a war winner ITTL. With the Soviet and German industries and R&D sectors working in tandem, plus most of their industry being far out of attack range, the Axis will be able to launch fighters and/or missiles until the end.

So any nuclear strike on the Axis would be followed by chemical (and maybe biological and radiological) retaliation on Britain, France, and possibly RoC and Japan.
Not to mention the remote but not inexistent possibility of Soviet-built subs or prototype long-range missiles (or agents going through Mexico) carrying bio, chemical or radiological weapons to the USA.

Nukes worked well OTL because Japan couldn't retaliate at all. And also the US was at the drivers seat in the Pacific War.

ITTL, Britain, France, RoC and Japan would all be against starting a WMD exchange when the Axis can still hit them. And politically the USA can't decide to nuke the Axis against the will of their allies (while risking the literal annihilation of said allies).

There's also the problem that Germany will likely have an air force and AA defence until the end (complicating any nuclear attack), and even if somehow the Allies manage to completely own German airspace (like IOTL), they would then have to take Soviet airspace too.
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Beria puts Stalin to sleep and negotiates a status quo bellum with some concesions. That could be an alternative option to fix this mess. I think invading the Soviet Union is not a nice option for the Allies after 3/4 years of war against Germany.
I has been a nice read, and a very god start. I wonder if the WW1 like western front is realistic against concerted attack, and I wonder if we would not see many more Soviet tanks and strategic artillery om the western front. They are in it together.
How are their mechanized forces looking like? Four major failed offensives has to have done a number the Heers mobile units

Roughly two combat-capable Panzergruppen (so the amount of stuff Army Group Centre could call on) actually organised that way, as well as tanks being used along the whole front as mobile bunkers, so enough to form a third PG if necessary.
Not to mention the remote but not inexistent possibility of Soviet-built subs or prototype long-range missiles (or agents going through Mexico) carrying bio, chemical or radiological weapons to the USA.

Pretty much non-existent. The three strongest naval powers of the world (perhaps four even, not sure how well France stacked up) are all opposing the Axis. Not sure how a sub is supposed to make it all the way from Arkhangelsk to Mexico undetected when there's probably a thousand destroyers in the Atlantic. Maybe one could do it, but even if it carried a V2 full of nerve gas, its not going to do much to the big picture.

Beria puts Stalin to sleep and negotiates a status quo bellum with some concesions. That could be an alternative option to fix this mess
Not for Beria. He gets taken down as soon as Stalin isn't there to keep him in power. But the Allies would certainly like someone to do it.

I has been a nice read, and a very god start. I wonder if the WW1 like western front is realistic against concerted attack, and I wonder if we would not see many more Soviet tanks and strategic artillery om the western front. They are in it together.

The Kursk salient had about as much frontage as the Calais-Luxembourg line, and the defences there were set up over a period of about three months, so it is certainly possible (and considering the heavily defence-focussed attitude of the French High Command, I think it makes sense). The Allies have also had air superiority over the Western Front since late 1940, so from that point on the Germans are going to struggle to break it no matter what they do.

Soviet artillery is present on the front in considerable numbers, although tanks aren't. Stalin still has a war with Japan and is fighting in the Middle East, so he can't give everything to Germany (and a T-26 isn't worth much in the west). Nor do I think he would. Stalin IOTL supplied Germany with so much stuff to keep the Allies and Germany fighting each other so that both would avoid fighting the USSR, and a stalemate in the west better supports this than a staredown across the Channel. While the risk of a German betrayal is quite low by this point (Germany is pretty much totally dependent on Soviet exports), Stalin may not come to the same conclusion.

A Change Amidst Dishonour, March 1942

In the early 1930s, Japan had been effectively taken over by the country’s military. For a long time, military rule had been popular, with their campaigns in China seen as a way of forcing the Western powers to give Japan the respect it deserved, instead of the apparent scorning it had received at Versailles.

By 1942, militarism was no longer quite so popular as it had once been. The Army had been repeatedly defeated in battle against both the Chinese and Soviets, and the Japanese Empire, once spanning from Wuhan to Hailar to Tokyo, was reduced to the Home Islands, perhaps a third of Korea, and a few isolated ports on the Siberian coast. Prime Minister Hiranuma, a determined anti-communist, had resigned from his post in disgrace, while many of his Army commanders had fallen on their swords. While the Japanese Army remained powerful (helped by shipments of American anti-tank guns which finally allowed them to counter Soviet armour), their leadership had lost face. Clearly, it was time for a change.

The Navy was quick to suggest Mitsumasa Yonai as Hiranuma’s successor. Yonai was known for having opposed the pre-war plans to build an alliance with Germany and Italy and for the Emperor’s confidence in his strong moral character. Yonai however, felt that it was improper that a Navy man lead the country while the war was dominated by the efforts of the Army. The Army was meanwhile in disgrace and no leader they offered would have the confidence of the majority of the nation.

The Emperor then called Yonai to his castle, offering him the post if he would take it. Yonai instead suggested that a move back to civilian government would be ideal for the nation, as it would reign in the Army (which had been ignoring Tokyo’s wishes as early as 1928) and would be more likely to bring about a rapprochement with the Western powers, who had been distrustful of previous Japanese governments and had allied with them only out of necessity. Yonai was convinced that Japan could win back respect from the West by continuing to support them against Germany and the USSR.

Following Yonai’s recommendation, the Emperor nominated Takao Saito to lead a new civilian government. Although the Army and Navy both maintained influential positions in the government, neither could exert anywhere near the level of dominance that they had once had. The change was well received in the West, and Churchill suggested that “the time may be right for a renewal of our old alliance” (referring to the alliance the two nations had formed before World War I).

America Can Into France, March 1942

General Bradley’s arrival in France in March 1942, backed up by ten divisions of American soldiers, represented a drastic shift in thinking on the Western Front. The Allies now had enough men on the Western Front to make offensive action possible, while the USAAF was tasked with the destruction of German industry in the Rhineland (the RAF and what was left of the French air force continued to maintain their superiority over the trenches). Bradley’s first major action in Europe was to meet with Daladier and the French High Command (the Americans were filling in largely French areas of the line), where it was decided that a major offensive should be delayed until a more certain superiority in both men and equipment could be brought to bear against the Germans, saving manpower and giving the air forces time to destroy German logistics.

In Germany, the reaction to Bradley’s arrival was much less calm, with the Fuhrer flying into a rage at an OKW meeting in Aachen after being told about it. Predictably, he demanded that an immediate offensive be launched against the entire length of front, only for all three army group commanders to tell him that it would be impossible to do so. Not only did the Germans not have enough Katyushas to cover more than one army group’s front line (Katyushas being seen as the only way to break through the formidable trench lines without suffering enormous casualties), but most of the reserves that would have backed up such an attack had been killed in Operation Ragnarok and the French counter-attack.

Jodl eventually came up with a solution that he hoped would appease Hitler: setting up the new Dora cannon (of the same make as Gustav) to add to the bombardment of Paris. Hitler quickly approved the idea, but quickly reverted to demanding soldiers be sent over the top. Bock eventually cut orders for an offensive for a small sector of front just north of Paris, and the attack went in on March 25th. No breakthrough was achieved and around 40,000 German soldiers were killed for no real reason.

Crisis in Command, April 1942

Hitler’s confidence in the war had been shaky since the failure to take Paris in 1940, and Bock’s failure to capture Compiegne (or even many of the French trenches) had only made the tensions in Germany worse. Not only were the horrors of 1918 repeating themselves, but Hitler was also fearful that Stalin was gathering forces to betray him (Stalin in fact, was doing no such thing, knowing that as soon as Germany fell, he would be next). A second failed war, and an even worse Versailles, were not acceptable. The war had to be won.

Hitler hoped to find a solution to Germany’s difficulties in his close friend Albert Speer, who convinced him of the need to reduce production of civilian goods and direct all possible industrial power towards military production. Fritz Todt, Minister of Armaments, told Hitler that nothing more could be done in the factories (despite the fact that few women were employed and factories were only running one shift a day). Uncertain what to do, Hitler did nothing at all for several months.

The Recapture of Seoul, April 1942

The Soviet logistic situation beyond the Yalu had always been terrible. The Red Army typically had very little in the way of supply lines, instead stockpiling for an offensive and then once that stockpile was large enough, attacking until it was worn down. While this method allowed the beginning of offensives to be incredibly powerful, over a longer period of time it meant that less Red Army soldiers received their full requirements of supply over a continual basis. In Korea, all it did was exaggerate problems that might have been ignored otherwise.

Most people in Korea at the beginning of the war were either pro-Japan or pro-independence. The latter group had been maintaining a resistance campaign against the Japanese ever since the Rising Sun was planted in Korean soil. When the Soviets came, many Koreans believed that if Stalin won, Korea would have no greater chance of independence under the communists (parts of Turkey, Finland, Poland and Romania had been annexed into the USSR), and a significant part of the independence movement ended up fighting the Red Army, joined by those who supported Japan’s rule. While the resistance in Korea would never achieve much on its own, it tied down a large number of Soviet forces (who had great trouble moving through the mountains and broken terrain of the peninsula), and over time the Red Army had bogged down.

Japan on the other hand, had grown stronger. Although the US public was still heavily divided on supporting Japan (resentment remained from their invasion of China), Japanese leadership had convinced Roosevelt to send them some heavy anti-tank guns. Now with the ability to actually fight the Soviet heavy tanks, the IJA hoped to push the Red Army out of Korea for good.

The resulting offensive began with the IJA using Soko Sagyo Ki flamethrower tanks to burn through the front lines, accompanied by the largest Banzai charge ever seen. The Soviets, low on supplies at the time, fought well, and in parts of the front defeated the Banzai charge before it made it to their lines. But along the western coast, gunfire by the IJN and the deployment of Type 1 Chi-He tanks made enough of a difference to see the Soviets pushed back, and Seoul was recaptured after a short but bloody battle. On the Home Islands, the people took the capture of Seoul so soon after the return to civilian rule as a good omen, and Saito’s government was finally legitimised by all but the most fanatical militarists (Saito himself had very little to do with the battle – the plans had been drawn up by the Army as early as December 1941).

The Cornered Tiger, May 1942

As early as the Long March, Chiang Kai-Shek’s single most important goal was to defeat the communists in China, and by 1942 it finally looked possible. The Kuomintang maintained control of much of the coast, including Nanjing and Shanghai, and maintained an iron grip on the southwest, while American aid flowed in through China’s many ports (including the delivery of dozens of radio sets, which would prove invaluable for Nationalist communications). Although communist bandit groups, fifth columnists and mercenaries caused trouble in Hubei and Jiangxi, Nationalist forces occupied the cities and units had been sent to clear the countryside.

Mao still had control of the north of the country, with Soviet puppet Sheng Shicai controlling Xinjiang and his own forces occupying the area from Lanzhou to Tianjin. He had been receiving considerable aid from the USSR, and communist forces had stolen so much Nationalist equipment that he had even claimed that “Chiang Kai-Shek manages our armouries”. But despite the huge numbers of tanks, planes and guns that the communists had access to, infrastructure in China was nowhere close to sufficient for supporting a fully equipped modern army: as many as 80% of Mao’s tanks were abandoned for lack of fuel before even getting the chance to face the enemy, and only those units near Red Army supply dumps in Manchuria were able to use them effectively.

The communist leadership’s power remained heavily focussed in Shaanxi province, and as Chiang gathered forces for an offensive against the communists, he decided that directly attacking their power base would be preferable to engaging Mao’s armies somewhere else, allowing Mao to continue using his land and treasure in the north to sponsor further resistance.

Slaying the Tiger, May 1942

Unlike the battlefields in Korea, France and the Middle East, there was no artillery bombardment or air offensive to herald the beginning of a new attack in China. The Nationalist air force was pitiful against the paper strength of the Communist one (although lack of fuel and airfields meant that Mao’s planes rarely got off the ground). In a land where there was never a clear front line and where land was only controlled when soldiers were physically present, an offensive could move 100km without being noticed as anything more than a routine movement of troops.

The capture of Xian, 300km to the south of Mao’s base in Yenan, was far from a routine troop movement, seeing the destruction of an entire communist corps in face of nearly quarter million Nationalists. Nor did Chiang’s generals halt there, leaving only a small force to hold the city while the rest stormed north. Most communist forces were still stationed in the northeast, and Mao was forced to decide between fleeing for Peking and staying for a final battle.

In the end, Mao and most of the communist leadership fled. Chiang’s army reached Yenan four days later, where 40,000 communists made a final stand and the Nationalists divided their efforts between killing them and looting communist possessions. But Chiang was less concerned about Yenan, and wanted Mao’s head. Luckily for him, a pro-Nationalist family in the south of the city had seen Mao and his bodyguards leave the city on horseback for the northeast. Nearly a hundred Nationalist aircraft were sent into the skies to find Mao, and he was eventually spotted on a mountain road in the west of Shanxi. The chase was on.

Chiang organised a cavalry expedition to attempt to track down Mao’s group before they made it to Peking, only to prove unable to find him. At the same time, the bulk of the Nationalist army was based in Shandong, and local generals there thought it would be wise to simply take Peking off the communists before Mao could get there. Nationalist M2 tanks clashed with Mao’s T-26s, taking huge losses, but many Chinese were proud to give their life for the man who had defeated the Japanese (many Nationalist soldiers in this part of the country had been peasants under Japanese occupation until 1940), and eventually the numerically superior Nationalist forces took control of the major roads in Hebei. Mao showed up a few days later in the middle of the night, only to be noticed by a sentry and shot in the face. That soldier was killed by Mao’s bodyguards moments later, but was posthumously promoted after word got back to Chungking.

Children of the Tiger, June 1942

Although Mao was dead, the communist cause was far from finished. Although the CCP split into at least four factions as various leaders in the party vied for Mao’s old position, Stalin wasted no time in ordering NKVD agents into China to install his chosen candidate, Wang Ming, into the position, while parts of the Red Army moved into Xinjiang to secure Sheng Shicai’s control of the province.

Wang Ming inherited a war effort that was becoming less of a war and more of an insurgency. Chiang had moved nearly two million men into Hebei, and Peking’s fall was a question of “when”, not “if”. Wang hoped to convince the Red Army to cross the border and save the CCP before it was lost forever, but when the IJA inflicted another defeat on the Soviets in Korea, Stalin became hesitant to continue backing what was becoming a lost cause. With its commitments elsewhere in Asia, the Red Army was not up to the task of fighting another four million men on an already massively overstretched front.

Stalin instead decided to try to close the Chinese Front down for good. Sending Molotov to Chungking, he offered Chiang a five-year non-aggression pact in exchange for a shutdown to aid to the CCP. Chiang, keen to rebuild his country after five years of war, accepted the offer. In practise however, the agreement was largely meaningless: the Red Army presence in Manchuria and Xinjiang continued, and Wang Ming would continue to direct the communist war effort from Urumqi, although it would mean less and less as Tianjin fell and the Nationalist Army directed its attention towards the destruction of the communist movement in the countryside. For many however, the Chungking Agreement represents the end of the Chinese Civil War, a thirteen year long battle that had seen millions of Chinese killed.

But while the fight in China was practically finished, elsewhere in the world the war raged on...

Tigers on the Prowl, July 1942

Germany’s tank production had never been truly adequate in face of the demands placed on the Panzer forces. The Polish and Belgian campaigns had been conducted with extensive use of Panzer Is and IIs, which barely deserved to be training vehicles as early as 1939. Hitler’s insistence that the Kriegsmarine have first priority for resources then led to 200,000 tons of steel being allocated to battleships and submarines, while the Western Front needed ever increasing numbers of Panzer IIIs and IVs, which after modifications to the design in 1941 were finally able to put up a good fight against the Crusaders, Churchills and Stuarts being used by the Allies.

When Germany introduced their new design, the Panzer V “Tiger”, onto the Western Front in 1942, it arguably created more problems than it solved, and they had more than enough problems to begin with. Although plans for the Tiger were being made as early as 1937, the final design was heavily inspired by the Soviet KV series. At over fifty tonnes, the Tiger was massive, although its 88mm gun was capable of destroying anything the Allies fielded. Its slow top speed was not an issue on the unmoving Western Front. But the Tiger was over-engineered. Not only was the design unfinished when production began (leading to chaotic field upgrades), but the most common German solution was to add even more components, slowing production times even more at a time when poor management was crippling the German industry.

The Tiger performed fairly well on the front, as the frequent engine breakdowns led to most Tigers being used as if they were barely-mobile bunkers (a role they were perhaps more suited to than their initial “breakthrough tank” role). Soviet engineers in Germany however remained convinced that the Tiger design was a terrible waste of resources. Soviet designs, especially the T-34, were built on the premise that a tank had a fairly short life on the battlefield, so making the perfect vehicle was a waste of time. Instead a tank should be strong enough to fight an enemy tank reasonably well, and past that all effort should be placed into simplifying construction as much as possible, so a very large amount could be made (the Soviets were producing around 700 T-34s a month by this time). Some of those engineers went as far as to suggest that the Tiger program be cancelled completely and efforts be directed towards the new Wolf design (a German-Soviet collaboration that was in many ways a simple upgrade of a T-34 built to carry German weapons), although conflicts between Hitler, the German and the Soviet engineers led to the Wolf being delayed until well into 1943.

You May Call Me Meyer, August 1942

German industry was not helped by Allied strategic bombing raids, which by the middle of 1942 were becoming very disruptive. With both American and British industry relatively untouched by the Luftwaffe’s pitiful long-range bomber force, the Allies were able to produce quantities of planes that the Germans could barely imagine, let alone produce themselves. Most of those bombers were sent to bomb the Rhineland, although flying from bases in Eastern France, it was possible for escorted bombers to reach Berlin, and it became routine for groups of over a hundred bombers to be sent against the German capital every night, with one raid even involving over a thousand bombers.

Luftwaffe performance improved throughout 1942 as Hitler ordered a suspension in U-boat construction and gave Goring the resources that had previously gone to Donitz (although he refused to consider scrapping the four battleships still under construction). The Fw 190 proved to be a very capable interceptor and also began to fill a ground attack role to replace the Ju 87. No matter how good the German fighters were though, the Allies always had more, and German losses were becoming unsustainable.

Stalin was greatly concerned by the erosion of the Luftwaffe. With the majority of active Red Army units in battle with Japan or guarding the frontier with China, he was relying on the Germans to keep the front far enough west that the Allies could not bomb the USSR. Even allowing Allied planes to reach the USSR’s border would be unacceptable, as it would put the Ploesti oilfields within range – with Baku still damaged (although the local defences there were more than enough to defeat any expected raids in the near future), Ploesti was essential for the German war machine. Although Hitler was reluctant to allow the Red Air Force to patrol inside Germany, Stalin began to consider whether parts of the Soviet Armed Forces needed to be committed to Western Europe before a collapse of the front threatened his own position in the war.

Late in 1942, the balance tipped once more, this time decisively against the Germans. While the Fw 190 was individually a better aircraft against most models used by the Allies (including the common Spitfire IV), it did not hold such an advantage over the American P-47, and pure production began to dominate once more, which the Allies had an unassailable lead in. When the Japanese introduced the Mitsubishi A7M shortly afterwards, the Allies gained a qualitative edge as well.

The Zero’s Successor, September 1942

Despite being an incredible machine, the Mitsubishi A7M should not have come into being as early as it did, or even possibly at all. Mitsubishi’s design team had been tasked with creating a successor to the Zero in 1940, hoping to improve upon the speed and armament of an already fearsome machine (many captured German pilots cited the Zero as the machine that was dreaded the most, even as late as 1943).

Very quickly it became apparent that the Navy’s design goals for the new plane were ambitious: in order to achieve the desired performance, an engine was needed that was much more powerful than anything currently available in Japan, requiring 2000 horsepower when the Zero’s engine had not managed half of that. Design work was halted in early 1941, only for America’s entry into the war to convince Mitsubishi to look abroad for engines (a decision that was controversial in Japan for a considerable time). The R-2800 Double Wasp engine delivered enough power to make the 16-Shi (as the A7M was then known) prototype feasible, and early tests using the Double Wasp were very successful, prompting the Navy to seek a license for production of the Double Wasp at home (although the earliest A7Ms continued to use imported engines).

The Navy quickly ran into another problem – the A7M was simply too powerful for use on any of Japan’s active carriers (the Taiho was the first that promised to be able to handle the plane, but would not be commissioned until late 1943). Once again the design faced cancellation, only for Prime Minister Saito to give his support for its continuation, and it was decided to use the A7M as a land-based fighter much like the Zero had been used in France.

The first A7Ms arrived in France in November 1942, although they would remain rare for months afterwards. Able to match the Fw 190 in speed and armament, and much more manoeuvrable, even the few that first arrived quickly built up a reputation as great as the Zero’s, and they quickly acquired nicknames such as “Demon Zero” and “Jerry Killer”, and an A7M pilot proved the aircraft’s worth when he shot down (and killed) the legendary Stuka ace Hans Ulrich Rudel.

So that means the Japanese constantly active in Western front or they just make war machines for Allies?

The IJA is committing nothing to Europe, they're busy fighting the Soviets in Korea.

However the IJN is a big contributor to the European war. The ships themselves are the third largest anti-Kriegsmarine force and have been invaluable to defeating the U-boats (no Destroyers for Bases ITTL). The navy air groups are mostly based on the ground now rather than carriers, but there are still a couple of thousand Japanese planes and pilots fighting in the west (although most of them are using American, French or British munitions, those being easier to supply and a 20mm bullet is the same no matter who makes it). What few ground forces the IJN has (excepting those used at Petropavlovsk and elsewhere) are fighting alongside the British and Free Forces in the trenches, and have given good account of themselves.

Isn't it possible for Condé's Third Army to attack in a East-West direction, while Giraud's Seventh Army do the same? If Blanchard manages to pin down the german forces present in the bulge in front of Paris, it could result in a big encirclement.
Maybe not so relevant, I don't really know the state of the French Army ITTL
I think it's a question of how soon Germany collapses and whether the Russians can salvage something from the wreckage. It would not surprise me to see Stalin set up a puppet regimes a la East Germany (though probably with borders further east).
Isn't it possible for Condé's Third Army to attack in a East-West direction, while Giraud's Seventh Army do the same? If Blanchard manages to pin down the german forces present in the bulge in front of Paris, it could result in a big encirclement.
Maybe not so relevant, I don't really know the state of the French Army ITTL

It is possible, although the French Army would need some help in holding the pocket down while maintaining the new front. However it doesn't really fit the mentality that the Allied command has adopted for the war - namely that a conservative approach is necessary when it comes to manpower and casulaties need to be avoided wherever possible ("we can't waste our strength against Germany or we'll never beat the damn Russians afterwards"). Which means a Patton type commander won't do too great ITTL.

The French and British both know that they are better off just waiting for the Americans to strengthen their lines and attack in '43 at lower cost, than rush an attack in '42 and possibly get lots more men killed.

And they'll provide easy meat for the Allies. Did the VVS had anything capable of dealing with B-17 bombers?

Not so much dead meat as being unsuited to fight the war in Europe IIRC most air combat on the West took place at altitudes over 20,000 feet due the CBO which is a problem because most Soviet aircraft were optimized to fight below 20,000 feet. Whether or not the Wallies are pouring resources into multi-engine bombers for a large-scale bombing campaign remains to be seen
Italy - Bite to Go With the Bark, October 1942

In the dark days of June 1940, as German panzers rushed towards Paris and the French Army appeared to be a small push away from complete collapse, Benito Mussolini had considered joining the Axis, saying to Marshal Badoglio that “I only need a few thousand dead so that I can sit at the peace conference as a man who has fought”. Mussolini had waited for the French Army to break apart, and was ready to claim his seat as a victor, but when the German victory failed to materialise, and at Minsk a month later, he decided to abandon the Axis unless a breakthrough on the Western Front occurred.

Remaining neutral turned out to be a wise move. Had Italy joined the Axis in 1940, they couldn’t have hoped to accomplish much. Even with the Germans nearing Paris, the French had built a formidable defensive line on their Italian border, while Marshal Graziani repeatedly expressed doubts about his ability to invade Egypt if it became necessary to do so. The Italian Army, while sizeable, was largely unmechanised and contained substantial amounts of outdated equipment. Furthermore, Hitler’s “betrayal” of Mussolini in allying with Stalin in 1939 had not been well received at home, and Mussolini did not believe the political cost to be worth a war that Italy had no hope of winning on its own.

Two years later, the situation had changed. Reforms, new production and two extra years of recovery after the cost of the Spanish Civil War had made the Italian Army, if not quite up to the standards of the French, British or German Armies, then it had at least become a respectable force that had the potential to make a valuable contribution to whichever side it supported. Although most of Mussolini’s territorial ambitions were in Allied (Nice, Tunisia) or formerly Allied (Dalmatia having belonged to Yugoslavia) lands, he believed that the Italian Empire could still be built while supporting what he thought would be the winning side.

In October 1942, Mussolini sent his diplomats to London to make the Allies an offer: if the French and British would remove all sanctions on Italian trade from the 1936 war with Ethiopia, would grant Italy the Dalmatian coast and his other claims to Yugoslavia after the war, and would allow Italy the greatest influence over determining the post-war fate of Austria, then he would declare war on Germany and the USSR, opening up a new front in the Balkans and divert German attention away from the Western Front.

Churchill and Daladier debated the offer for several hours, as it remained unclear whether the Italian Army would perform as poorly as it did in World War I (where troops had needed to be diverted away from the Western Front). Furthermore, the two leaders were concerned about how the deal would be received in Yugoslavia, which had also fought with the Allies and was continuing to maintain an anti-German resistance campaign. After much consideration, Churchill informed Mussolini that he was willing to agree to the terms, lifting sanctions on Italian trade on October 16th. After the war, Churchill justified the decision by explaining that “if a man’s house has burned down, and a carpenter offers to help you rebuild it provided you return his hammer that you borrowed last year, you don’t want to spend the next year wishing you had a carpenter helping you”, and that Italy’s claimed lands in Yugoslavia were both small in size and far from the Chetnik resistance strongholds in Serbia.

Opening the Southern Front, November 1942

Italy’s declaration of war on October 17th exposed Germany’s long southern flank to Allied invasion. Although Hitler had ordered the construction of defences along the Alpine border with Italy (especially the routes that led to what had once been Austria), this border was still undermanned. The German Army Group D, under Ferdinand Schorner’s command since Kleist returned to Berlin in early 1942, was overstretched in managing occupied Yugoslavia, Romania and Turkey, which involved a fierce battle with the Chetniks and other resistance groups.

The Italian offensive into Yugoslavia began an hour after the declaration of war, although word had not reached Schorner’s headquarters when Graziani’s troops crossed the border. Conducted by two forces, one based in Trieste and the other in Albania, the Italian plan was to take advantage of German confusion and occupy as much of Yugoslavia as possible before the Germans could form an adequate defence. The Italians also hoped to link up with the Chetniks in Serbia and help the resistance movements restore the Yugoslav government. In addition, Mussolini hoped to secure air bases within range of the Ploesti oilfields, which would allow the other Allies to begin bombing this vital Axis resource.

The Italian troops performed well, with a powerful motorised column seizing Ljubljana on the first day and Zagreb by the fourth, cutting the best German road and rail links between Germany and Belgrade. In the south, the naval base at Dubrovnik was taken undamaged while Bulgarian forces put up a stiff resistance in Skopje. When the city was taken, the entire southern third of Yugoslavia was open to liberation.

Hitler meanwhile wasted no time in sending reinforcements to Schorner, and the Hungarians resolved to defend their part of Yugoslavia. A combination of difficult terrain and increasing Axis resistance slowed Graziani’s offensive down, although in many parts of the front the Italians still found success, most notably the liberation of Sarajevo on November 10th. Budapest became the second Axis capital to be bombed from the air, and when heavy autumn rains finally brought the offensive to a halt, Italian soldiers occupied the western half of Yugoslavia, and the Chetniks fought viciously to reclaim the east.

Operation Mountain Lion, December 1942

Chuikov’s 19th Army, based in eastern Iran, was never going to be able to make a serious invasion attempt into India. At the end of a supply line stretching over 1000km from Baku, there was no way to keep the army both in supply and large enough to defeat the British Indian Army, which numbered more than two million. Chuikov’s priority since taking Bandar-e-Abbas in November 1941 had simply been to make the British believe he was planning to invade India, and otherwise keep control of the Iranian oilfields.
The Indians however, had no interest in being under communist rule (even if this meant delaying independence from the British), and had waited the hot summer out so that they could finally push the Soviets away from their borders. New armies had been raised and plans developed, and in late 1942 the Indians were ready for battle.

The Indian supply line would be no easier to manage than the Soviet one was. The Indian lines beginning in Karachi were almost as far from Bandar-e-Abbas as Baku, and travelled through the same arid terrain that the Soviet lines did. The new 7th Indian Army could roughly match Chuikov’s strength, but parity would not be enough to guarantee victory.

Instead, the Indians decided that an amphibious landing on the south Iranian coast (and launched from Arabia) could divert Chuikov’s attention, forcing him to pull some of his forces back, while the 7th Indian defeated what he left behind. Churchill expressed his reservations about the plan, comparing it to his failed Gallipoli campaign in 1915, but General Wavell gave his support after intelligence discovered that the Soviet defences in Ganaveh, Bushehr and other planned landing sites were much weaker than expected.

‘Operation Mountain Lion’ began on December 8th with the landing of four Indian divisions in southwestern Iran. Soviet forces in the area were quickly defeated, retreating into the interior of Iran and destroying the oilfields as they passed (some of the fields were not operational again until as late as 1951). Bandar-e-Abbas itself was stormed in another naval landing on the 11th, while the 7th Indian Army began attacking from the east, forcing Chuikov to retreat towards Kerman, and then Esfahan as the Soviet position unravelled. Stalin was angry and considered sending Chuikov to the gulag, and only his tremendous victory against the Indians a year earlier kept him out of Siberia.

It is possible, although the French Army would need some help in holding the pocket down while maintaining the new front. However it doesn't really fit the mentality that the Allied command has adopted for the war - namely that a conservative approach is necessary when it comes to manpower and casulaties need to be avoided wherever possible ("we can't waste our strength against Germany or we'll never beat the damn Russians afterwards"). Which means a Patton type commander won't do too great ITTL.

The French and British both know that they are better off just waiting for the Americans to strengthen their lines and attack in '43 at lower cost, than rush an attack in '42 and possibly get lots more men killed.

Did the French Army manage to maintain an edge in artillery like 1940 OTL ?
Well, at least ITTL there won't be that myth that the German military in WWII was made up of gods of strategy who only lost because of the Russian Hordes (TM) and US industry.
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