The Soviet Bear
[I am indebted to Dale for the original idea behind this POD]
1936: In Spain, a Nationalist bombing raid hits several freighters in a Republican-controlled harbour. Unknown to Franco and his forces, the freighters are carrying most of Spain’s gold reserve for shipment to the USSR. As Republican forces attempt to clear up the mess – largely unaware of the gold themselves – the Soviets attempt to flee. There is a brief struggle and the Soviets are rapidly overpowered by the confused Republicans. They discover the gold, which a handful of Communists intended to send to the USSR in exchange for arms. The remainder of the Spanish Republicans knew nothing about it.
The discovery causes considerable embarrassment and a near-civil war within the Republican camp. The communists are pushed out of power after what both Republicans and Nationalists denounce as an act of high treason. Worse, the USSR has been made to look both greedy and foolish. The massive arms shipments intended for Spain are not dispatched. The news also has an international aspect as it reawakens old fears about Soviet plans to export communism by force.
The fighting within the Republican camp, however, is ended by the Nationalist advance and capture of Madrid within late 1936. The Republican side comes apart and retreats, some fleeing into exile, others trying to hold out in some parts of Spain. They receive a tiny trickle of arms from outside sources, but not enough to reinvigorate their cause. By the end of 1936 the Spanish Civil War is effectively over. The Nationalists declare victory, impose their rule of terror and use the captured gold to pay the Germans and Italians for their help.
1937: As Europe continues to stumble along, military experts on all sides study the lessons of the war. The Italians, for example, have actually done very well out of the war and are stronger than they were in OTL. The Germans, however, have done far worse; they haven’t learned all the lessons, or trained their personnel, that they did in OTL. Hitler is undeterred by such trivial details, but his Generals and many others within the Nazi Hierarchy are more understanding. The money is fast running out and Germany needs a new source of income. Perversely, the Germans find themselves selling arms to Poland, Finland and other countries – something that helps with the bank balance, but makes it harder to build up a coherent force. (And arms potential enemies).
For various reasons, both Britain and France have continued to rearm, trying to draw their own lessons from the Spanish Civil War. This worries Hitler, who knows that any German military advantage is likely to be fleeting. The Allies have considerably more resources to draw on than the Germans. He has the Italians, but the Italians are less interested in working with the Germans in this timeline, as Mussolini still sees himself as independent of Hitler. Wherever he looks, Hitler sees himself as boxed in by hostile powers.
In China, the Japanese provoke an incident to serve as an excuse to invade.
1938: Desperate for resources, Hitler starts threatening Czechoslovakia. The Czechs are not as intimidated by the Germans as OTL, nor are the British or France. Mussolini, keen to play a part on the world stage (and bribed by the Western Allies) urges resistance. The Poles mobilise and react harshly against German threats; even Stalin, looming in the distance, urges a popular front against Hitler’s aggression. Germany looks to be on the verge of confronting the entire world.
Hitler’s Generals are horrified. Germany’s mighty army is largely a bluff. Whatever advantage the Germans had had is gone, although the Western Allies are largely unaware of that. The French deploy a far more powerful army than the Germans alone; even the Poles or Czechs would give them a nasty fight. Realising that Hitler would only lead Germany to humiliation, the Germans give him a flat ultimatum. Stand down from leadership or be removed in a coup. With the SS effectively neutralised, Hitler passes day-to-day control of the Reich to Goring – in effect, to the Generals – and becomes Chancellor in name only. The world breathes a sigh of relief as the Germans back down from war.
The Generals inherit a Germany that has been pushed right to the limit, economically speaking. They want to continue building up the army, but that is impossible. The best they can do is continue selling arms to Germany’s few friends (and even some of their enemies) and cut various programs as much as possible. Germany’s insane plan to build a mighty battle fleet is scrapped. Far better, although the Germans don’t know it, is that the chain of events leading to the Holocaust is derailed. The Jews don’t have a comfortable life in Germany, but they’re not being exterminated.
This horrifies Hitler to the point where he goes into exile, rather than remain as a figurehead. The Generals take over the government officially, forming a military committee that purges most of the senior Nazis from power. It isn't a democracy, but it is much better than Hitler’s Reich.
Hundreds of Germans are sent into semi-exile over the next couple of years. Several dozen find themselves in China, aiding the Nationalists in resisting the Japanese; others find themselves in the USSR. Stalin is more than happy to aid the Germans in digging themselves out of their economic hole, in exchange for German military aid and training. The Red Army starts becoming far more powerful and dangerous. Stalin has plans...and is feeling a little paranoid.
The Western Allies haven't slowed down the pace of their weapons programs. This is partly because arms building is good for the economy (as long as there isn't a war) and partly because of the fact that the world is becoming far less safe. Italy may still have ambitions of conquest, Japan definitely has ambitions in the Far East and everyone is just a little nervous about Stalin. The communist underground has been spreading west for years, with a strange combination of home-grown communists and agents inserted into the host society. Both Britain and France attempt to crack down on this, convincing Stalin that they don’t have his best interests in mind.
1939: Poland, facing the growing spectre of a massive Russian army on the other side of the border, starts working on adding additional defences to the border. The Russians denounce this loudly as war-mongering, questioning the value of defences when the peace-loving Russian people don’t have any hostile intentions – no sir! The Poles don’t believe their honeyed words, but there is a limit to how much they can sustain their build-up. The Poles also accuse the Germans of aiding the Russians – quite rightly – provoking additional fears about the Germans in the West. Surprisingly, Italy is their strongest ally in the West.
The Germans are unsure of which path to take. Some of the Generals believe that Stalin will eventually come for them as well; others would dearly like to see Poland taken down a notch or two. The Germans have been pushing research as far as they can with their limited resources, including looking into jet technology and even a tiny atomic research program. The great weakness in the German Government is that it is, in effect, a coalition government and such governments are slow to make decisions. On the other hand, they are more than a little paranoid about communists in Germany. The communist underground is gaining power and adherents.
Hitler makes their lives worse. Broadcasting from Italy – where Mussolini has taken him in – he starts claiming that Stalin intends to occupy all of Europe and break it to communism. His words dent relationships between the German Generals and Stalin, who doesn't like hearing about himself being hectored on the radio.
In China, the Chinese Nationalists – armed and aided by the Germans – pull off a spectacular success when they trap and destroy an entire Japanese division. Japanese tanks are no match for German-built tanks, even with inferior drivers. The Japanese Government falls in the wake of the disaster as Chinese forces start attacking other Japanese forces, driving the Japanese back towards the coast. The Japanese respond with overwhelming savagery, looting, raping and burning their way through Chinese cities and villages. Outside reporters, including Americans, pick up on this and broadcast it to the world. Japan rapidly becomes a pariah state. Economic sanctions swiftly follow.
The Chinese Communists have largely remained on the sidelines, although they were receiving a trickle of arms and material from the Russians. Now, with the Nationalist star rising higher, Mao finds himself trapped between two fires. If he obeys Stalin and stays out of the war, the Nationalists will look far better than the Communists; if he disobeys Stalin, the results are likely to be fatal. Matters come to a head when local communists start fighting the Japanese on their own. Mao shrugs and throws his weight behind them, telling Stalin to send them weapons or lose his influence in China. Furious, Stalin complies, plotting later revenge.
The British Government is uncertain of what to do too. Some factions – led by Churchill – want to stand up to the Russians. They think that Stalin is just as much a rogue agent as Hitler was. Others don't want to get involved, despite growing evidence of Soviet subversion in Central Asia – where the Russians are backing factions in Afghanistan – and India, which has a growing nationalist movement that includes communist factions. They end up making verbal noises in the direction of Russia, but taking little effective action. Part of the problem is that they don’t know which way the Germans will jump.
The French have their own problems. The French Government is barely holding together and the communists are a powerful force. Taking overt action against them might trigger as civil war.
In the US, there is considerable concern over both the Japanese and the Russians. The Japanese are regarded as barbarians, but there are great concerns over Communist influence in America. HUAC has been focusing on communism in Hollywood and other places that can influence public opinion. A number of wealthy and powerful men have been sponsoring newspaper reports that reveal the truth about life in Russia – written by, among others, a young Ayn Rand – in an attempt to dent the image of communism. The results are mixed; the US isn't climbing out of the Great Depression anything like as fast as it should be. The US is also rearming, officially to deter the Japanese from doing anything stupid.
As 1939 draws to a close, Stalin starts to suspect that the communist nightmare – an alliance of all the capitalist and fascist countries against the USSR – is coming true. If the alliance has time to form, the USSR will find itself badly outmatched. The Russians start thinking about ways to destroy the alliance before it is too late.
Early 1940: A new wave of horror and revulsion sweeps over the world as Trotsky is murdered on the orders of Stalin. (Slightly earlier than OTL). Trotsky was one of the loudest voices condemning Stalin and warning of his ambitions to conquer the world. The murder sparks dissent among the various communist parties, as pro- and anti-factions start battling for control. The reformed communists become loud anti-Stalin partisans, spending more effort attacking the pro-Stalin communists than the establishment. Generally; the further from Moscow the less pro-Stalin, although there are some exceptions.
Stalin, who has access to a surprising amount of intelligence from the Western World, decides that the West is slowly forming an alliance against the Russians. He sees Churchill’s warnings about an Iron Curtain (out of time, I know) as an attempt to form an alliance, regarding him and Hitler as being part of the same party. That is arrant nonsense, of course, but Stalin believes it and he’s the only person who counts in Russia. He fears that, given time, Churchill will successfully bring Britain into a war against the USSR, perhaps even help Hitler to reclaim his position. Stalin knows Hitler well enough to fear his ambitions, even though he is practically powerless. His attempt to have Hitler killed fails miserably.
The Russians and the Poles have been pushing up against one another for the past year, with the Poles working endlessly to build defence lines against the Red Army. Stalin now puts his plans to start a war into high gear. The Red Air Force flies missions that ‘accidentally’ overfly Polish territory and even cause a handful of deaths on both sides. The League of Nations loudly condemns Russian aggression, but is unable to do anything. The handful of parties who might want to help the Poles either cannot or won’t.
The Germans Generals, fearful of the consequences of a Russo-Polish War, attempt to make a secret deal with the Poles. German forces will be allowed into Poland to deter the Russians. That’s dangerous – the Germans are nowhere near as powerful as OTL – and futile. The Poles fear the Germans more than the Russians. Worse, the various Russian spy rings soon pick up on the offer and alert Stalin. The combined force of the capitalist world, they warn, is making its way to the Soviet border. Stalin decides that there is no longer any time for games.
A group of Polish Communists are used to launch a set of shots towards the Russian lines. The Russians promptly decry it as an unprovoked Polish offensive and Radio Moscow broadcasts a warning to the workers and peasants of Poland, who are the tools of a military dictatorship – or at least that’s the official line. The Polish Communists attempt an uprising in the streets of Poland, apparently so the Russians can claim that they’re coming to the aid of a legitimate government. The uprising is put down quickly, but the Red Army is already rumbling across the border and heading for Warsaw.
The Red Army of this timeline is a mixed bag. It has benefited from German training, to some extent, but German doctrine isn't as advanced as OTL. It’s a ponderous sledgehammer rather than a stiletto. The Russians do, however, have far more tanks and aircraft than the Poles, although their logistics are poor. The Russian advance hits the Polish line and the Poles stagger. In places, the Russians break through, but they don’t move fast enough to prevent the Poles from withdrawing in reasonably good order. The Russian advance slows to a crawl in places, yet they’re still advancing.
The German Government hesitates. Now it has come down to open war, not all of the Generals want to get involved. The Germans cannot afford a long war. On the other hand, fighting the Russians in Poland is better than fighting them in Germany. The Polish Government is invited to allow the Germans to enter the country and join the defences, but they refuse – at least at first. They’re still hopeful of stopping the Russians themselves.
In Britain and France, the governments weight the situation. The British Government is keen to forward aid to the Poles, but the French are much less keen. The French Communists have largely swallowed the official Radio Moscow version of events and have vowed to prevent any supplies from being sent to Poland through France. They launch a series of wildcat strikes to make the point clear. There is much less trouble in Britain, but there is also a general apathy. Very few care about the Poles. The Royal Navy starts escorting shipments of food and supplies to Poland through the Baltic Sea. This results, eventually, in the Red Navy torpedoing a British ship, provoking a declaration of war from the Chamberlain Government.
The DOW causes a major political crisis in the UK. The Conservative Party – led by Chamberlain and Churchill – is very keen on strangling the USSR before it becomes a far greater threat. The Labour Party, on the other hand, isn't quite so keen on the idea. Attlee is smart enough to know that the Russians don’t exactly have his best interests in mind, but many of his party believe otherwise. There will not be a united government – a trend that grows worse as MI5 arrests a number of prominent communists, including ones who have links to the Labour Party.
Stalin finds himself outraged at the DOW, although he expected something like it soon enough. The Red Army is ordered to move north and secure the Polish ports to prevent any additional shipments of British arms, sparing Warsaw for the moment. It is a move that can only alarm the Germans; after all, there is a large German enclave in East Prussia. The Baltic States, which were watching the Russian invasion with concern, are offered a chance to surrender and then invaded. The Russians make themselves unpopular very quickly as the Baltic States cannot offer much in the way of meaningful resistance.
The invasion of the Baltic States and the advance on Gdansk finally tips the balance in Germany. The German Army, already mobilised, starts to advance into the Polish Corridor and secure the ports for the British shipping. It’s not exactly an invasion; the Poles are not happy about the Germans, but they’ve decided to accept it for the moment. The Germans are not in alliance with Britain, at least not yet, but there are a series of ‘understandings’ between the two powers.
In Poland, reporters from various states start sending messages and pictures back home. Many reporters have seen the results of the Russian advance and have been reporting fairly accurately, although not everyone wants to know. Radio Moscow and the communist propaganda machine have been broadcasting their own version of the truth, loudly screaming about Polish atrocities and suchlike. The two different stories are fought over in every world capital, although the Russians are losing as there are live broadcasts from Warsaw and other Polish towns and villages.
The Russian steamroller is closing in on Warsaw as the Poles start to run out of supplies. Nearly a month after the war started, the Poles are on the verge of losing. The Red Army surrounds the city and waits for the Poles to surrender, although the Poles are less keen on the idea than one might expect. Rumours about what happens to Polish officers and men who fall into Russian hands have travelled far and wide. Stalin is keen to crush the Poles by any means necessary, but his generals convince him otherwise. The Red Army can wait for the Poles in Warsaw to starve.
In the meantime, in response to the German advance into Poland, Russian forces have invaded East Prussia...
The German Army of this timeline is a small, highly-trained outfit with limited reserves and supplies. The Germans can conscript additional millions of German infantry very quickly, but they have colossal shortages of weapons and armour. This makes them both very conservative and very reliant on junior officers to take what opportunities appear in front of them. The German Air Force has the same problems, although they have been deploying a tiny number of jet aircraft to back up the more regular aircraft.
East Prussia isn't heavily defended at first and the Russians make steady gains before the Germans rush in reinforcements through the Polish Corridor. The Germans engage the Russians and fall back in a tactical retreat, biting off Russian spearheads and exterminating them before falling back again. The Russians don’t hesitate to plaster any suspect target with long-range fire, developing an almost supernatural respect for the Germans and their tactics. Even so, quantity has a quality all of its own.
The Russian rear is thronged with partisans – at first, mainly Polish units that were cut off by the Russian advance – that make the Russian supply lines weaker than ever. The Russians don’t hesitate to react savagely, rounding up and executing the population of entire towns and villages to deter partisans. The NKVD, which has a list of suspects – basically, anyone who can organise resistance – for arrest rounds them all up and ships them east to the gulags. When it becomes clear that this is placing an additional – and unnessisery – strain on Russian logistics, the Russians resort to shooting them instead. This gets picked up by reporters and the news leaks out across the world.
In Warsaw, as supplies are running out, the Polish Army launches a determined counterattack. The Germans throw in all the air power they can spare, in an unofficial alliance. The Italians, who have dispatched several army units to join the Poles, throw in everything they brought to the party. The offensive successfully breaks through to the city, allowing a chance to evacuate, but the Russians eventually close the siege again. Without most of its defenders, Warsaw falls...with scenes out of the Rape of Nanking.
Mussolini is pleased by the performance of his army, but rather more worried about certain weaknesses that have made themselves evident in the fighting. Italian tanks are no match for their Russian counterparts, while Italian aircraft aren’t trained to fight as a group. Even so, with the Vatican in his corner for once (the Church loathes communism, not without reason) he can demand sacrifices from his people that he didn't dare in OTL. The Pope, after hearing about the Fall of Warsaw, proclaims a crusade against godless communism and calls on all Catholics to join the war.
The news hits the US hard – and not only because the media has been reminding everyone about the horrors of communism for a long time. The Pope’s call to Catholics convinces many to join the new International Brigades to go to the aid of Poland. Not everyone is convinced about the wisdom of getting involved in the war, but the US starts expanding its own military force. In addition, German and British forces receive American equipment at cut-price rates. Big Business doesn't like the USSR.
The British Government finds itself in trouble. The obvious way to aid the Poles is to dispatch a BEF to join the defenders, but the long supply lines and lingering distrust of the Germans make that difficult. An alternate scheme, pushed by Churchill, is to head into the Black Sea and attack Sevastopol, but that would depend on Turkish concurrence. The Turks stall. They’d love to see the Russians taken down a peg or two, but they don’t trust the UK and they fear Russian power. Matters are not helped by the RAF, flying out of Iraqi bases, hitting Russian oil refineries near Baku.
After the fall of Warsaw, the Polish Government moves largely into exile in Czechoslovakia. The Czechs have little love for the Germans (and not that much more for the Poles), but they realise that a victorious Stalin will start pressing demands on them as well, aided and abetted by the communist underground. The Czechs don’t actually declare war, but they help to rearm the Polish Army and prepare for war themselves.
Stalin proclaims victory and sets up a puppet government of Polish Communists, which promptly signs a 99-year treaty with the USSR. This is a farce and generally recognised as such, but it causes considerable confusion in the West. It doesn't really alter the course of the war. The Russian spearheads are closing in on the Polish Corridor and threatening to isolate Poland from the rest of the world. The Germans fight hard, but are unable to stop them. Stalin simply doesn't care about the cost.
The German Government, urged by the exiled Hitler, holds top secret discussions with the British Government. Chamberlain is reluctant, but finally agrees to dispatch four British Army divisions to the front. There is some confusion over just who is actually in command as many of the senior British officers recall fighting the Germans in the last war. They come up with a fig leaf of being under Polish command, although the British have a great deal of independence – flexibility. The BEF – under the command of Wavell – holds its own fairly well against the early Russian advances, but British doctrine is far from perfect.
Stalin rolls the dice again. The British bombing raids from the south have been far more of a headache than they should. The Red Army has a sizeable force in the region, which is pointed down into Iran – officially, a British ally. The Soviet advance is aided by Iranian Communists who rise up and cause confusion, distracting the Shah’s government – and its German advisers – long enough to allow the Russians to outrun their logistics and get stuck. The Iranian Army fights with great bravery, but is unable to slow the Russians down. The RAF turns its attention to bombing the advancing force, yet they are far less successful at hitting moving targets than oil facilities.
Chamberlain finds himself caught in a political trap. At Churchill’s urging, men and material are being stockpiled for an attack on Sevastopol. Those men could be moved into Iraq and used to stem the Russian advance – if the attack can be stemmed. If the British lose their hold on the Middle East, however, Stalin will be able to hit them with a massive oil shortage. On the other hand, sending them to the Middle East means that the BEF won’t have any additional reserves to call upon, should they be needed. The Russians can afford to fight on two fronts simultaneously. The British cannot.
The British Government has been locked in secret talks with the Japanese. The new Japanese Government wants to get out of its trap, but it needs to do it without losing face or the militarists will overthrow it and start a war. The British need to stay close to the US, yet they need Japanese help to fight the Russians. The deal is cold-blooded and very cynical. The British will quietly drop their share of the economic sanctions against Japan and provide shipments of vital raw materials. In exchange, the Japanese will declare war against the USSR and launch an attack against the Russian Far East. The Chinese aren’t too pleased with this deal, but the Nationalists regard it as a chance to let the Russians bleed the Japanese a bit. Besides, the Chinese Army needs to regroup after its earlier victories. The two sides agree on a very quiet truce.
The Japanese carrier force (far weaker than OTL) moves north and attacks the Russian Navy, wiping out the Russian Far Eastern Fleet in an afternoon. The Russians have moved their best units west and are unable to offer serious resistance. The Japanese secure control of the air very quickly. Matters are not the same on the ground. The Japanese Army is very weak (and thinks that it’s far stronger than it is) and even second-line Russian formations give it a very hard time. The Japanese have designed an improved tank model – after encountering German-designed tanks in China – but most of their tanks are really mini-tanks and hardly suited to modern war. If the Russians didn't have other problems, the Japanese hold on China would be destroyed in short order. Only the Japanese air force prevents outright disaster.
Disaster strikes in Poland as the Russians break through and drive on Gdansk. The war has taught several Russian generals their art and one of them uses it to stick a wedge between the BEF, the Poles and the Germans. East Prussia’s defences crumble, forcing the Royal Navy and the remains of the Polish Navy to evacuate as many allied forces from the pocket before it collapses. Royal Navy battleships provide covering fire as the Russians close in, wrecking havoc on the Russian lines before the Russians start returning fire. Several thousand British soldiers fall into Russian hands, along with far too much irreplaceable equipment. The political fallout destroys Chamberlain and nearly takes out Churchill, leaving Lord Halifax as the only realistic choice for PM, short of a General Election. Luckily for the UK, Attlee maintains a dignified silence.
The German Generals curse Stalin and start working on defence lines for the remainder of Germany. The Polish fears over German intentions have faded, allowing the remains of the Polish Army to escape into Germany and join the defence line against communist – including Italian, Spanish and British units. The BEF is slowly being reformed in Germany.
In the meantime, the Russians are working on their logistics. Stalin has no intention of ending the war just yet. Besides, he has an ace up his sleeve.
Late 1940: The French Government has been on a knife-edge since the war began. The right-wing wants to fight communism, even if it means fighting alongside the Germans. The left-wing wants a communist republic in France, even if it means stabbing the Germans in the back. Both sides have been carefully jockeying for position over the past six months – now, fearing a left-wing coup in the wake of rumours about precisely what deal the British have made with the Japanese, the right-wing strikes, attempting to decapitate the communist movement. Unluckily for them, they have overestimated their own forces and underestimated the communists.
As shock troops go into Paris’s governing district, the citizens of Paris rise against them. Although the communists were taken by surprise by the early strike, they rapidly rise to the challenge and take control of the counter-attack. The shock troops find themselves in serious trouble, while entire army units deflect to the communists. Communist propaganda has been falling on waiting ears and non-communists are swiftly purged or forced to flee. A French infantry division loyal to the communists enters Paris and swiftly removes the last of the shock troops from their positions. In the wake of the victory, non-left-wingers are purged from France’s official government.
The core of the right-wing flees south, heading towards Toulon and the French Navy bases there. A handful of others flee to Britain or into Germany, taking with them what loyalist units they can. The communists swiftly organise their forces and give chase, calling on the sailors of the French Navy not to allow themselves to aid the forces of reaction. Although the upper levels of the fleet are solidly right-wing, the communists have had some success with the lower decks and manage to convince many crews to mutiny against their commanders. Loyalist Army units and Marines have to put down the mutinies and don’t always succeed. A handful of ships, loyal to the communists, get into the open sea and head around for communist-held harbours.
Through loyalty to Petain, Brigadier General Charles de Gaulle has become the senior right-wing military officer. Although he doesn't want to abandon France, de Gaulle is realistic enough to understand that the Communists hold all of the cards – at least for now – and that powerful forces are advancing on Toulon. He presses the remainder of the right-wing government to head to Algeria, where forces can be built up to retake France. Some of his infantry units are sacrificed to hold back the communists long enough to allow a complete evacuation, along with most of the French Navy.
The new left-wing government is a mixed bag. Plenty of them are hardcore communists; others are just left-wingers and socialists. Once they secure their power, they start a reign of terror directed against class enemies – priests, business owners, etc. They also start working on building up their army. The French Army, even torn apart by savage in-fighting, Is still a formidable force. It could tip the balance on the battlefields of Europe.
As 1940 draws to a close, it all looks very bad for the Western Allies.
Early 1941: The new government in France suggests that Britain itself may face the possibility of direct communist invasion. Although Halifax is smart enough to understand that that is a pipe dream, he still has to hold back several British Army units in Britain to console the worriers. That makes it harder for the British to support the Germans or fight the war in the Middle East. The British are learning from the war too, but the lessons are coming in too slowly to do much good.
One of Churchill’s pet ideas may be working better than he had dared hope. The USSR is an empire held together by military force. SOE is used to send arms and supplies to Ukrainians and dissident Russians, hoping to raise the spectre of an uprising in Stalin’s rear areas. The problem remains, as always, logistics. The British cannot send enough material to make a real difference. The British also arm and train French refugees – and form an alliance with de Gaulle and the Algerian French – in hopes that they can be used once the communist government wears out its welcome.
The Germans find themselves caught in Germany’s old nightmare, the two-front war. They’re not that impressed with the French Army, but they don’t have much to spare to defend the Western borders. They do attempt to talk Franco into attacking the French in the South, but Franco is less than keen on the idea, believing that the Algeria French will see it as an excuse to go after Spanish territories in Africa. The Germans start working to secure their western border as well as their east, but they’re pushed right to the limit.
Stalin’s grand plan seems to be working well, or so he tells himself. The Red Army has been using the winter months to resupply and learn from the prior fighting, while pushing the Germans lightly to keep them on their toes. Once the Russians have prepared themselves, they will advance against Germany from the east while the French attack from the west. In the meantime, Japan is a pain in the ass, but they cannot inflict permanent harm on the Russians.
The war in Iran is going badly for the British. As the Russians rebuild their logistics, they continue to advance down towards Tehran, smashing through both British and Iranian units. Once the capital falls – the Shah goes into exile in India – the Russians can start redeploying their forces to the Iraqi border and pushing attacks against British forces there. The Iraqis, who don’t like the British very much, rise up against British occupational forces and the Iraqi Government, drawing off British combat power from the front. Matters get more confused when the Grand Mufti declares Jihad against the Russians, citing Russian atrocities in Iran as the justification, and the British for occupying Muslim lands.
Part of the British problem is that there are uneasy rumblings in India. (And not just because of the curried eggs.) The British have rounded up the Indian Communist leadership, but there are plenty of communists out there who have embarked on a campaign of sabotage and subversion. The nationalists find themselves caught in a blind. They don’t like the communists either, but they don’t want to lose ground to them in the struggle to liberate India. With a communist army heading towards India’s borders, the Indian Communists look like the future.
Adding to the British problems, a handful of British POWs have been returned to Britain as ardent communists. Most of them have simply gone home, but a handful have served as agents of influence or outright terrorists. The Germans have a similar problem. The British Government wants out of the war, yet they cannot see any way to actually escape. There’s no acceptable way out.
Once they’re ready to advance, the Red Army heads west and advances towards Berlin. It is confronted by a mixed force of Germans, British, exiled French, Italians, Spanish and even a handful of unofficial American units. The US has provided a great many weapons to the combined force, allowing it to grow more powerful. That isn't always a good thing. American aircraft are good, better than the average, but American tanks are puny compared to Russian or German designs. On the other hand, the Germans have had months to prepare their defensive lines and fall back, trading space for time and the chance to bleed the enemy. German civilians have been evacuated from East Germany, along with everything that could be used to make the Russian advance easier.
The Russian bombardment is through and brutal, with Russian infantry advancing afterwards under cover. The Germans fall back, although the bombardment makes it harder for them to retreat as planned. The combined air force also plays a major role; the Russians may have the numbers, but they don’t have the training of the RAF or the German air force. Even the Italians do surprisingly well against the Russians.
As the Germans start to fall back as planned, the French Army invades from the West. The French are actually more motivated than OTL, although they do have serious gaps in senior leadership. The French Communists are good at urging the troops on to defeat the Germans and link hands with the Russians. The Germans only have a small force in the west, which is forced to fall back under heavy attack, slowing down the French as much as possible. The French are generally more civilised than the Russians and don’t commit so many atrocities, although more German citizens get caught up in the war. The Western Media picks up on some incidents and blows them out of proportion.
The British Government finds itself divided in two. One faction, led by Churchill, wants to concentrate on the planned Sevastopol operation. The Turks have been worried by the Russian victories in the Middle East and are willing to join the alliance. The other faction wants a much larger commitment to Germany or an invasion of Belgium and the Netherlands, using them as a base for an invasion of France. The RAF is already bombing targets in France, resulting in air battles over Britain as the French Air Force seeks to retaliate. The main problems are political and logistical; the UK doesn't want to violate neutrality and shipping in enough troops to hold the ports and advance is going to be difficult. The UK is in secret talks with the King of Belgium, but the government is not keen on turning the country into a war zone. Fear of the communists is matched by fear of the potential devastation caused by the war.
There is a third option, one pushed by the Germans. The British reinforcements can be fed into Germany to assist the German defence line. The British Army is not keen on the idea; the UK isn't well-prepared for such an operation, while the Germans would be in command of the war and UK forces.
Hitler leaves Europe and moves to the US to whip up support for the war. He isn't a popular speaker. There are plenty of Jews in the US who remember how Hitler made the lives of the Jews much worse during his short spell in power, before he was removed by his Generals. The US itself is torn; big business is pushing for additional commitments to the anti-communist front, but there is a strong isolationist impulse in the US, made stronger by Japan’s problems while fighting Russia. The communists in the US have been largely removed, but there are other social problems – the lives of black Americans, for one. Roosevelt’s position has been badly weakened by HUAC peeking into the communist influence in the White House, including the VP – Henry Wallace.
The US has been supplying weapons and material on very favourable terms. Scandinavia, although not directly involved in the war, has been receiving considerable amounts of weapons. The Finns, Swedes, Danes and Norwegians have received enough aid to turn them into formidable local military powers. The US has also been building new ships – Liberty Ships – and escorting them with American warships. Some charge, not without reason, that the government is hoping for an ‘incident.’
The naval war is a bit of a damp squib. The Red Navy manages to pull off a handful of successes in the Baltic Sea, but has little influence outside those waters. The handful of French Navy warships controlled by the communists manage to raid Britain and attack British shipping, but the Royal Navy is overwhelmingly powerful and manages to deflect most of those attacks.
In Germany, the defenders are in serious trouble. The Red Army is getting bled white, but the advancing French make it impossible for the Germans to hold the Russians or throw them out of the country. The Germans attempt to encourage resistance movements behind the lines, but the Russians have been quite successful in destroying enthusiasm among the Poles for resistance. The Red Army simply has far more reserves than the defenders.
Mussolini opens up a new front by sending units of the Italian Army into France, invading in the direction of Nice. The Algeria French help out by adding their naval forces to the Italian Navy and raiding France’s borders. It successfully draws away some communist units to slow down the Italians, but the communists are very determined to play a decisive role in defeating the Germans. Their propaganda was based around it.
The Red Army plods on and eventually surrounds Berlin. The German Generals pull out of the city, leaving behind a small force determined to make the Russians pay for every inch. The Russians aren’t interested in playing that game. Stalin is intent on destroying the remains of the united front, which will allow him – he thinks – to declare victory on his terms.
In the Black Sea, the Royal Navy enters the waters in force, for the first time since the Crimean War. British battleships and carriers bombard Sevastopol, just before Royal Marines land around the city and attack the port. The Russians are surprised at being attacked so blatantly and the British take the port, intent on using it as a springboard for tearing the Ukraine away from Moscow. Unluckily for the British, the Ukrainian resistance movement they counted on doesn't exist – the SOE was fooled by the NKVD, aided and abetted by communist spies in Whitehall. There are plenty of Ukrainians who are willing to take up arms against the Russians, but they need to be prepared and there isn’t much time.
In Moscow, Stalin blows a fuse. The Red Army has been working up additional units for the Western Front. They are, instead, dispatched to points south. As the British start to advance north – discovering that it isn’t as easy as it looks on a map – the Red Army starts to advance south. The NKVD follows in their wake. The British win the first handful of battles, but as the Russians continue to reinforce far faster than the allies can hope to do so – the Algeria French send in some of their own forces – the British end up being pushed back. The NKVD ruthlessly wrecks farms and slaughters anyone who might be harbouring dreams of an independent Ukraine. A month after the campaign began, the British fall back to the fortress city and hold out long enough to evacuate the remaining troops and men from the Black Sea. The campaign ends in unmigrated disaster.
The Red Army advances out of Iran into North Iraq, surrounding Turkey on three sides. As the Royal Navy pulls out of the Black Sea, Stalin gives the Turks an ultimatum. They can declare their neutrality in the war or be invaded. The Turks want to fight because they suspect that the Russians will turn on them once they have dealt with the Germans, but realistically they cannot hold out for long. They accept the bargain. The Russians throw in some parts of Russian-held Iraq to compensate them, allowing the Turks to get bogged down with a Kurdish insurgency. In the meantime, the Russians advance down to Basra and overrun Kuwait. Very few Iraqis welcome them after two weeks of occupation, but the Russians respond with their typical savagery after resistance begins.
This threatens to bring the Russians into conflict with the USA. The Saudis have pleaded for support from the Americans, who have been developing the Saudi oil fields. FDR is reluctant because the US isn't ready for a war, but finally agrees to send a few American units into Saudi Arabia. Besides, the Americans can guard transhipment hubs for shipping war material to British forces. The Russians calculate that they can overwhelm the American units fairly quickly, but the US would join the war and they have enough enemies already.
The twin disasters in Sevastopol and the Middle East – and the looming catastrophe in Germany – destroy the Halifax Government. Churchill, who had the bright idea of trying to invade Russia in the first place, is unceremoniously sacked from his position and appointed Ambassador to the USA. That weakens Halifax’s position to the point where he is challenged by other Conservatives, even Chamberlain. The Tories engage in a game of Musical Chairs for several weeks, while the remainder of the government slowly grinds to a halt. No one can secure a majority. Eventually, Attlee is confronted by other Labour Party powers. Either he claims Labour’s right – as the most powerful party now that the Tories are tearing themselves apart – or he will be removed and replaced by someone more intent on putting Labour into power. Attlee finally claims the post of Prime Minister, all-too-aware that left-wing influence will tilt Britain towards Stalin.
Attlee is a socialist and a believer in the Welfare State. He isn't a believer in Stalin. He knows just how dangerous the Russians are...and he also fears the dangers of the British Reactionaries (for want of a better term) launching a coup. There are dark rumours about Churchill being approached to lead a government that would have been established by extra-legal means. Certain elements of the Royal Family are reported to be sounding out the position of various political leaders on the subject. He tries to steer a middle course, appointing Eden to serve as his Deputy and hoping to form a War Cabinet in fact, if not in name.
Part of the problem is that the war is costing far too much. The British Economy is very weak, all the more so now following the disasters in the Middle East and the loss of effectively free oil. It would be a great deal worse if the US wasn't sending supplies on very good terms, but now the only large sources of oil are in Saudi Arabia and the US. There is very little public support for the war and communist propaganda is having an impact. Ration cards and suchlike are extremely unpopular, as is the growing security state watching for communist insurrection. MI5 is trying to track down and break communist cells, but this isn't an easy task – all the more so because they have a habit of picking on union leaders and suchlike. This leads to resentment, which in turn leads to wildcat strikes and go-slows. Attlee knows that this is wearing away at the very fabric of Britain, but there’s very little he can do about it.
The Germans get an unexpected reprieve as the Czechs join the war, launching a surprise attack into Poland. The Russians are scattered at first and the Czechs push hard, aided by their superior tanks and training. The Russians eventually redeploy and push back, but the Czechs have won the Germans time to rebuild. It isn’t going to be enough. The French Army is still pressing through the West and the Germans are caught between two fires. Matters are not helped by a communist uprising in Wilhelmshaven that takes the city and screams for the French to come help them, although the French fail to get there in time to prevent the German army from crushing the communists.
The German Generals don’t want to admit it, but the war is probably lost. The Russians are bleeding them dry, breaking through into inhabited areas of Germany and wrecking havoc. The Germans just don’t have the equipment to stop them. Stalin sees it in pretty much the same terms. The Red Army can make a massive attack on the remaining parts of Germany and defeat the Germans, which will allow the Russians a chance to catch their breath and rebuild after the war.
Working with the British Government, the Germans start shipping out as much as possible to the UK, starting with trained workers and their equipment, followed by their families. The German Army intends to hold the line as long as possible while the Germans who may regain Germany will have a chance to rebuild in safety. The Russians discover the evacuation and start using it for propaganda, propaganda that is picked up by left-wing factions in the UK. They believe – or claim to believe – that the Germans are coming to take British jobs or to impose a German order on Britain. The result is considerable chaos in the UK, all the worse because many union leaders have been arrested and interned.
As the Russians start their final offensive, the situation in Britain explodes. Perversely, it is so bad because it is directionless. Many workers go on strike or simply refuse to work very fast. Attlee finds himself caught between two fires. If he cracks down, the Labour Party will overthrow him; if he allows it to happen, there may be a coup. He stalls too long and various reactionary factions strike. The Houses of Parliament are garrisoned by armed troops and most MPs are taken prisoner. It is a very British coup. Martial law is declared across the nation, with troops used against the greatest disturbances. Attlee himself is taken prisoner and interned, probably to his relief.
In Germany, the German Army and its allies make their final stand. The fighting boils down to trench warfare before the Russians finally break through and head west, linking up with the advancing French forces. Stalin declares victory as Russian forces occupy their half of Germany and start preparing for occupation duties. The NKVD discovers, to its annoyance, that most of the Germans on the arrest lists have managed to escape to Britain. They compensate by arresting every former German soldier they can get their hands on and shipping them all east to the gulag.
The new British Government worries figures in India, provoking an unlikely alliance of Hindu and Muslim Nationalists with the communists. The Viceroy claims that there isn't going to be a purge of Indian political figures – as is happening in the UK – but he isn't believed. The communists force the issue by launching an attempted coup and calling in the Russians for help. Stalin isn't keen on getting involved, but he feels compelled to send a small force into northwest India (modern-day Pakistan) to establish a communist republic. The fighting rapidly spills out of control, with the Princes seeking to save themselves from the mob and the Nationalists fearful of the prospects of Russian domination. By the end of the year, the British hold on India is shattered.
Stalin also ships reinforcements to the Far East. The Japanese gains are swiftly reversed and Russian forces position themselves for invading Manchuria in the following spring.
1942: Stalin basically thinks that he’s won. If the Russians can hold onto their gains for the next few years, the USSR will become basically invincible. That may not be easy. The Russians have stressed their transport and logistics to the limit in order to manage the offense. The Russians desperately need peace in order to consolidate their gains. That may not be so easy. Apart from the Far East – and the Japanese are still making themselves a pain in the ass there – the Russians are fighting on a number of fronts. It’s too much to sustain for long.
The Russians have been content to trade space for time in the Far East. Now, as Stalin rotates in new armoured divisions, the Russians go on the offensive. This isn't as easy as it sounds. Unlike in Europe, the logistical base is poor and the Russians don’t have enough logistics to advance fast. On the other hand, they have far more experience than the Japanese and far better tanks and tankers. The Japanese lose badly and start getting pushed back towards Korea.
That terminates the uneasy truce between the Chinese and the Japanese. The Chinese may be happy to watch the Russians and Japanese slug it out, but that means that the Russians will wind up in control of Chinese territory and they may not be willing to give it back. The Chinese Communists go on the offensive to aid the Russians, while the Chinese Nationalists concentrate on attacking the Japanese. The Japanese, who have pulled out too many units to face the Russians, start to crumble under the offensive. As they grow weaker, they encourage nationalist revolts in Korea and even with some of the more friendly Chinese leaders. The Japanese have more than worn out their welcome. Chinese forces push up from the south as Russian forces push down from the north, driving the Japanese back into Korea. Japanese air power can slow the enemy down, but not defeat them. The Japanese even resort to biological warfare in the hopes of slowing down the advancing doom, but their weapons are insufficiently dangerous. Plagues will continue to flourish in China for the next few years. By mid-1942, however, the Japanese position on the Asian mainland has been destroyed.
The Chinese Communists expect the Russians to start aiding them to defeat the Nationalists. Stalin is less keen on the idea. Quite apart from the fact he doesn't trust Mao, he doesn't have the logistics to make a major commitment to China. The Russians cannot carry the war to Japan itself – the Russian Navy is still far weaker than the Japanese Navy – but the Japanese have been effectively broken. The Russians occupy chunks of Manchuria – stripping it of all Japanese industry before handing it over to the Communists – and set up a puppet government in Korea.
This betrayal weakens the hand of the Communists. The United States has been shipping in vast levels of supplies to the Nationalists, who are still being trained and led by exiled German forces. They have also made major progress on cleaning up their act and are less corrupt than in OTL. The Chinese Civil War starts almost at once, but this time the Nationalists are far more powerful and careful than OTL. The Communists cannot stand against them outside Manchuria. The Nationalists are content to work on securing the remainder of the country first before digging Mao and his loyalists out of their fortress.
In Europe, the French Communists have effectively occupied West Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. The French face some minor resistance from various underground groups, but as tales start to filter west of what is happening in Russian-controlled Europe, the resistance starts to fade away. The French aren’t anything like as bad as the Russians. The French Government may be Communist, but it is led by Frenchmen – and they don’t actually want to bow down to Moscow. Being Russia’s ally is one thing, but they don’t want to be Russia’s puppet.
In Russian-occupied Europe, Stalin is working hard to set up puppet governments that can take some of the occupational work off his hands. It’s not easy. Most of the communists in Germany were executed by the military government, while those who fled to Russia have little following back home. The Russians clamp down on resistance with brutal efficiency, making it effectively futile.
The Russians also bully Italy and the few remaining independent countries. The US has been shipping in arms and supplies, but Italy is having its own problems with communists. The Russians push them to sign a non-aggression pact with the USSR, intending to scoop up Italy and the remaining countries later on. At the moment, occupying Italy might be a country too far.
The new British Government is on uneasy ground and knows it. The country is not happy at the war and how the new government destroyed the old one. There are endless strikes and work slow-downs, despite the best efforts of the new government. Only the support from the United States prevents total collapse. The war needs to end as soon as possible. Given time, and the addition of German scientists, the UK can rebuild its position.
Matters are not helped by the near-complete collapse of the British Empire. Canada, Australia and New Zealand have distanced themselves from the new British Government. The Australians, in particular, are worried about the Japanese. They might have gotten a bloody nose from the Russians, but they still possess formidable naval strength and an urgent need for resources. The collapsing British position in India, Burma and Malaya is a formidable temptation to the Japanese. The Australians enter a reluctant pact with the Japanese to secure the Dutch East Indies – after the Dutch go communist – but they remain worried about their ally.
South Africa, on the other hand, is an enthusiastic ally of the new British Government. The South Africans have long feared communist subversion among their black population – who they think should remain contented to be oppressed – and support the development of a police state. As the days go by, the South Africans start facing an ongoing insurgency, caused more by their treatment of the blacks rather than communist subversion.
The British have also, more or less by accident, picked up French Algeria and Spain as allies in the war. The French position, however, is not strong as the Arabs are starting to become restless under French domination. The US helps by shipping in supplies and war material, but Algeria is not a suitable base for recovering the mainland. The French Communists seem too strong to be overthrown, at least so far.
The 1942 Midterm Elections in the US put a strong Republican majority into Congress, pushing the US further towards the Right. The fear of communism leads to the development of a major security state and a crackdown on all communist or communist-related organisations, which includes most civil rights groups and suchlike. The position of Black Americans and American Jews, for different reasons, becomes considerably worse. Churchill and Hitler tour the country, speaking about the dangers of communism. They refuse to speak together, for obvious reasons.
The US is also making massive investments in defence. By 1943, the USN is the most powerful naval force afloat, while the USAAF has more modern planes and the Army has a number of effective divisions. Several American units are dispatched to Saudi Arabia to hold the line there, while others are stationed in Britain to help ward off the communist threat. The US has created the Atlantic Pact, a treaty intended to provide for a common defence against the communist threat. America, Britain, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand are the signing members. There are places held open for a non-communist China and a non-Imperialist Japan if they wish to join. Secretly, the US is also working on the first atomic bomb.
Latin America is restless, largely because the US is supporting forces that are anti-communist. Although no major regimes are overthrown, there are growing communist insurgencies in many countries. It isn't a cheerful development.
As 1943 draws to a close, the USSR straddles most of Europe. This world is not a cheerful one. If the communists can be held back long enough for the inherent contradictions within communism to take effect, the capitalist world might win. If not...Stalin might yet realise his vision of taking over the world.