“Some say that Joseph Stalin, the mastermind behind some of the greatest atrocities to beset mankind, never died. They believe that somehow the evil former leader of the Soviet people, the man who murdered millions of his own, managed to survive the siege of Moscow and the purging fires of the Kremlin to escape justice somewhere in the vast expanses of Siberia.
My father was there, at the gates of Moscow, fighting alongside his fellow Englishmen, part of the Britannia regiment of the 32nd ϞϞ Division. He told me of the pride they felt as they marched towards St. Peters Square, part of that first victory parade on 6th June 1942. Seeing the smoke still rising from the ruins of the building where the one time dictator had issued the orders that led to the starvation and deaths of so many, he sensed that in some small way he had been a part of freeing Europe from the tyranny of communism and the overbearing yolk of American financial dependence.”
The above passage is the opening statement of a news report given in 1952 by a young British journalist following the trail of rumours that the ex-soviet leader, Stalin, was still alive. The report was set to coincide with the 10th anniversary celebrations marking the end of the Great War of Unification. This was a big opportunity for the journalist to make a name for himself after the relaxation of laws surrounding the freedom of the press were instituted by the then Chancellor of Europe, Adolf Hitler. The leader of the Thousand Year Reich had seemed to mellow a little in recent years, maybe it was because his vision for a better world for the more civilised states of Europe was finally taking shape or maybe it was just old age.
Although all that has been written so far is mainly fictional it really isn’t hard to see what might have been if, on the 3rd September 1940, a single decision had gone the other way. The 3rd September was the 56th day of the Battle of Britain, the German attempt to gain air supremacy over the skies of Britain and the English Channel. The concept was simple, a pure battle of attrition for the Germans, attack the airfields, attack the factories and keep shooting down the fighters of the Royal Air Force. Despite the claims of Herman Goering, head of the Luftwaffe (the German air force) the RAF was coping quite well with the pressure. Britain’s aircraft production was just about keeping pace with RAF losses; of the 300 or so aircraft destroyed in the last month the RAF managed to replace 260. However the battle was coming to a critical point, losses of trained pilots was rising within the RAF and the constant attacks were causing growing fatigue amongst those that remained.
On the 3rd September a meeting of the German high command took place to decide the best way forward. A heated discussion broke out between Kesselring and Sperrle the commanders of the two main air fleets involved in the battle over the British countryside regarding the strength of the RAF. Kesselring believed that the RAF was on its knees and advised that one last big battle would be enough to draw the remaining British planes into the sky, Sperrle was more realistic and recognised that the RAF was not a spent force. Call it arrogance, overconfidence or a chance for Goering to show off his prowess yet again, but he agreed with Kesselring’s view of the situation and a plan was devised to switch targets from the airfields to London. The first raid on the British capital would be set for just a few days later on the 7th. All that was needed was the final approval for the change in policy from Adolf Hitler, just a formality surely considering Hitler’s growing irritation with the air raids that the RAF’s bomber command were conducting over Berlin. In an unusual moment of caution Hitler didn’t agree immediately, he picked up the phone and talked directly to Sperrle, listening to his concerns and overruling the policy change. This turned out to be the biggest decision of Hitler’s life without him knowing it, if he’d agreed to the change in policy he would have given the RAF breathing room to recover.
So on the 7th September 1940 the attacks on the airfields and factories continued as they had done for the last eight and a half weeks. At that point the RAF had just 700 fighters left with the Luftwaffe able to put almost 1900 fighters and bombers into the air. By the 10th September the toll was starting to tell on the RAF and the losses of planes and, more importantly, experienced pilots were accelerating almost out of control. As a precaution, to ensure certain victory Hitler postponed the invasion of Britain, Operation Sea Lion, from the 15th to the 24th September.
|Operation Sea Lion - The Early Stages|
On the 24th the invasion began. Without the protection offered by the fighters of the RAF the Royal Navy found itself powerless to stop the German armada, losing ship after ship to aerial attack from the Luftwaffe. On land things didn’t go any better with little resistance offered in the first few days by the British until the German forces reached the Thames Line where they were delayed for almost two months. This allowed the British parliament time to relocate to the northern city of York. The King and his family decided to stay in London to show support to the millions of ordinary people who had no choice but to stay and endure the constant German attacks.
Meanwhile on the other side of the Atlantic, the U.S. presidential election campaign takes a sudden swing after the invasion of Britain and on the 5th November 1940 the Republican Party candidate Wendell Willkie becomes the 33rd President of the U.S.A. Despite his own personal beliefs that America should continue the provision of aid to Britain his party stands for isolationism. The very next day the decision was made that all supplies to Britain, both military and non-military should be suspended until further notice. The Selective Training and Service Act calling for military conscription of all men between 21 and 35 in force from mid-September is quietly forgotten about and eventually overturned. Looking for other sources of revenue to replace those gained from Britain the Americans reopen negotiations with Imperial Japan to supply the resources it needs to continue Japan’s war against China. This results in an uneasy but relatively stable peace between the two countries that had previously appeared to be drifting inevitably towards open conflict.
Despite valiant resistance the Thames Line is bypassed in late October and London falls into enemy hands just a few days later. The final surrender of the British government takes place on 4th February 1941, the prime minister, Winston Churchill, is not present as he is drifting between life and death in a hospital bed after an assassination attempt almost two weeks earlier. As part of the peace terms the Italian government is forced to return all British territories in Africa including those in Egypt and British Somaliland in return for Britain’s support in nullifying Britain’s Commonwealth allies. The unfortunate Churchill died just a few days later never knowing of his countries final downfall and the rest, as they say, is history.
The Germans choose The Viscount Halifax to head up the new government under occupation in Britain. Halifax was the natural choice as he was already a senior political figure within the British government and in the past had shown some sympathy towards the Nazi regime. In 1937 he had visited Germany and had written a letter to one of his colleagues about the German nation in which he stated "Nationalism and Racialism is a powerful force but I can't feel that it's either unnatural or immoral. I cannot myself doubt that these fellows are genuine haters of Communism, etc. and I daresay if we were in their position we might feel the same”.
Following Italy’s invasion of Greece in October 1940 things were not going well for Germany’s Axis partners. The Greeks had pushed Mussolini’s troops back over the border. Fortunately as a result of the repatriation of the British African territories the Italian forces in North Africa were now free to reinforce those in Greece. Slowly the Italians began to overcome their Greek foes. This came as a relief to Hitler as any intervention may have resulted in a delay to the planned invasion and conquest of the Soviet Union.
The Heroes of Barbarossa
(Top Left to Bottom Right)
Von Leeb, Von Bock, Von Rundstedt and Rommel
The Germans launched their assault on the Soviet Union, Operation Barbarossa, on 15th May 1941. Following the military coup in Iraq that left the country governed by the pro-German leader Rashid Ali the detailed plan was not finalised until April. Originally a three pronged invasion, it was now possible to add a fourth smaller battle group to attack the soft underbelly of the Soviet Union. Army Group North under Von Leeb had the objective of Leningrad, Army Group Centre Under Von Bock was to drive on to Moscow, Army Group South under Von Rundstedt was tasked with capturing the resource rich areas of the Ukraine and Caucasus and the Middle Eastern Expeditionary force commanded by Rommel was to invade Northern Iran, cutting the vital oil supplies and then push northwards into Georgia. Within a matter of weeks the Germans had laid siege to Leningrad and reached the suburbs of Moscow. Large parts of the Ukraine were captured and the advance on the Caucasus continued. In the extreme south Rommel achieved his objectives and using his own initiative continued northwards causing major disruption to the Soviet lines of supply and communication. Hitler determined to put an end to the fight before the harsh Russian winter set in diverted troops from both Army Groups North and South to assist in the encirclement of the Russian capital. The fighting ground to a near halt through the winter until finally the spring thaws began. The Soviet forces in Moscow were trapped and fighting for their very existence, many ordinary citizens urged to take up arms. The Russians fought for every house, every street, every factory and warehouse until the Germans finally broke the backbone of the Soviet defense and, following reports of Joseph Stalin’s death in an air raid on the Kremlin, the battle was finally over. On the 6th June 1942 the remaining Soviet commanders met with the German High Command, Hitler sitting silently at the head of the table and the unconditional surrender of all Soviet states was signed.
While this sequence of events is purely fictitious it doesn’t take a lot to imagine what might have been. Who is to say that if this had happened the world would be a worse place than it is now? Just imagine what might have been once Hitler’s objective had been achieved, all he called for was extra living space for the German nation. Who knows whether Hitler’s plan for the “undesirable” peoples of Europe would have ended in death or simply deportation to Siberia and other former Soviet eastern provinces? There would certainly have been no need for the development of the Atom bomb, no Cold War and the escalation of arms that followed. The deaths of millions and the destruction of property in Europe would have been averted through an early end to the war. The war funding could have been used for construction not destruction. The isolationist Americans may have felt less need to act as the world police in the following decades and trade between a German dominated Europe, a Japanese/Chinese empire and the U.S.A. may have benefitted all. But then we will never know …