From a comment by Dale, a few PODs back…
What Really Happened: The German attempt to take Moscow failed badly, but the Germans, partly because of a ‘stand fast’ order by Hitler, were able to hold the line and beat off the ‘Stalin Offensives’ in 1942, before heading down to Stalingrad.
What Might Have Happened: The Russians score a decisive victory.
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the Russians get lucky and manage to kill off one of the foremost German commanders. Hitler’s orders are never passed up the chain. Alternatively, his orders might not have been passed on by his subordinates, or he may never have issued them at all, or he might have had a sudden panic attack and ordered a retreat instead. The Germans, instead of trying to hold the line, fall into disarray and by the time someone managed to pull a defence line together, the Germans have gotten pretty mauled.
Stalin, who may have a vague idea how bad the German situation is, orders the offensive to be launched as quickly as possible. The Russians scramble to put together the operation, but they’ve already done most of the preliminary planning. They hit the German lines and, instead of bouncing, manage to break through the lines in several places. The German commanders, realising that they’re not going to get additional reinforcements, are forced to conserve their fighting power instead of tearing the Russians to shreds. The Russians appear to have the upper hand in both manpower and material and the Germans are forced back. The weather makes their lives even harder and, in retreat, morale is pretty low.
The Russian offensive continues until it runs out of steam.
Stalin was always prone to pushing an early offensive from tactical
victory to tactical defeat. This
time, however, the defeats are barely noticeable and the Russians have a
breathing space. His commanders
convince him to pause for the moment and build up before they go on the
offensive again, preparing in the meantime to meet a German offensive.
They don’t know, not for sure, but the Germans don’t have the material to
make that offensive.
The news of the defeat reaches Hitler and his reaction is
to start preparing for a major war.
This is what he should have done months ago.
The problem is that his forces have taken a major beating – in contrast
to the string of Japanese victories – and that they will need rest and
replenishment as soon as possible.
Rommel, in the desert, won’t get additional reinforcements for his campaign
Although Churchill and FDR welcome the victory, it isn’t
likely that a Second Front can be opened up in 1942.
The burden of the fighting will have to be borne by the Russians – again.
American and British forces are taking a pounding at the hands of the
Japanese, but – ironically – the news of
Hitler is determined to go on the offensive as soon as
possible. He twists Mussolini’s arm
and orders him to send a few tens of thousands of Italians to the front lines.
The Italians aren’t happy about being there and the Germans have no idea
how to make use of their capabilities. They
send a mountain division, the toughest in the Italian army, to a flat plain.
(This happened in
Stalin has high hopes of ending the war in a year and pushes his generals for an offensive. That’s optimistic; the Russians need time to prepare for the coming storm. News that there will not be a second front within the year spurs Stalin on and he orders an offensive, into the teeth of the German positions. The fighting is savage, but the Germans hold the line, until the Russians hit the Italians on their flanks. The breakthrough is a slaughter and thousands of Italians are killed; they’re not remotely equipped for such fighting. Some of them surrender rather easily and then convince others to surrender, forming the core of an Italian Communist Army. The Germans are still quicker at reacting and manage to get a blocking force in place, but the sheer weight of Russian fire takes a dreadful toll. In the end, the Russians have gained a few miles of ground and lost thousands of men and tonnes of equipment, but the Germans are much weaker. Matters aren’t helped by the SS rounding up a few thousand Italians and sending them to camps, but luckily saner minds intervene and free them, for now.
The Soviets hail the battle as a great victory. They have a point, although it was nowhere near as decisive as they suggest. Hitler is furious and orders total concentration on the Eastern Front, knowing that there are questions being asked in shadowy corners about his leadership. Rommel’s forces are drawn down to the bare minimum required for stiffening the Italians, knowing that the British have too many problems with the Japanese to launch an offensive. German resources are shifted towards tanks and planes, which means that the u-boat war won’t be as bad, but the Germans are also concentrating quite heavily on sinking the artic convoys. Their remaining surface units manage to embarrass the British by sinking a convoy and then escaping the battleship sent to cover it.
The Russian victory is a headache for Churchill.
He wants post-war
Mussolini has good reason to curse the brutal friendship
now. The Germans have screwed up by
the numbers and gotten the Italian forces decriminated.
Worse, they made their contempt for the Italians plain and nearly sent
thousands more into their camps…and then sent some of them home on leave.
Whispers are running through all of
And so the British launch a major offensive against the
Italian lines. Rommel has actually
done a better job of working with the Italians than anyone else.
The problem is that the Italians no longer believe that the Germans will
win the war and their only hope for maintaining their existence as an
independent state is to move against the Germans and join the winning side.
They wanted to time it better, but they know – from their covert contacts
with the British – that any Italian colony that is taken by the allies will not
be returned. When the offensive
begins, Rommel is surprised to discover that the Italians have changed sides,
sharply. German forces cut their
way out and head towards
The Italian Government has had enough.
It would have preferred to wait until the Germans were weaker, but
there’s no longer any choice.
Mussolini is removed from power by the King and a new government starts the job
of rounding up the Germans in the country, while negotiating with the allies for
allied support. This sudden change
of heart surprises the allies as well and they don’t have forces on hand to
reinforce the Italians. The best
they can do is ship the forces from
Hitler dusts off a contingency plan for occupying
The Germans have worked like demons to build up an armoured
reserve for a blow to strike at the Russians.
Hitler is confident that it will succeed, but there are several
weaknesses in the armoured juggernaut.
The German allies have grown less willing to send the Germans what they
need and so the Germans are critically short of a good many items, like fuel.
The offensive goes well at first, but Russian reserves turn the tide and
push the Germans back again, striking deeper into the heart of the German
formation. The Russians have massed
everything for one decisive push and, as they smash through the lines, they send
the Germans in headlong retreat.
The British have always had an under-the-table
communications line with the Vichy French.
They now use it to point out that the Russians are going to be at the
door soon and if
Hitler is not
amused. He would like nothing
better than to punish the French for their attitude.
The problem is that he doesn’t have the ability to engage them properly.
The Russian victories have altered the balance of power in
The British and the Americans have been quietly drawing up
contingency plans for a landing in
Stalin is not stupid.
The current rate of progress is highly satisfactory to him.
Allied help is useful, but not essential.
A Second Front now would probably ensure that he would have to share his
gains. As summer rolls on, the
Soviets unleash their greatest offensive yet, punching through the German lines
and digging deep into
Certain elements within the German Army have been preparing a coup. They strike one night and kill Hitler. Not all of their plans work and the net result is an uneasy stand off between the Army, the SS and the Party. Goring ends up as the head of a caretaker government that includes Himmler, Speer and Kesselring. This isn’t such a bad thing for the Germans; Hitler’s style of command had been becoming increasingly erratic. The committee reaches out to the Allies, but the allies are reluctant to discuss anything with the Germans, even with the Russians bearing down on them.
The committee also has a more capable grasp of military
issues. They start another series
of defence works, including pulling back as many civilians as possible from the
east and preparing a final stand.
They also horse-trade with
The Germans have also struck a deal with
The Russians have a problem; they’ve outrun their
logistics. Lend lease is making up
some of it, but that’s actually causing other problems, because their treatment
Finally, the Russians launch their attack.
It’s not the perfect assault they wanted, but it’s good enough to hit the
Germans all along their lines and pin them in place, rather than allowing them
to use their advantages against the Russians.
The fighting is joined by underground forces, mainly comminists, all
The Free French have landed and effectively take over the
ports used to supply the allied forces.
The Vichy French think they’re the ones in charge and react harshly.
Allied forces manage to keep the two sides apart for the moment, but
The allied forces are gambling badly.
The German Committee is split.
Himmler wants to negotiate with the allies, but the allies are saying no.
The Germans are not quite in the midst of a civil war, but both sides are
preparing to fight one. The Russian
threat keeps them focused, for now, as civilians flee to the west and the
Russians come burning onwards.
Stalin hears about Himmler’s peace terms, assumes – incorrectly – that the
allies are listening to him and orders a new offensive.
Russian forces surround
So…there’s a number of ways this could go.
The Russians might stop at the Germany-France border and wait.
They might attack the allies – no a-bombs yet – and try to snatch