What If Russia Scores A Decisive Victory In 1941?


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.  Stalingrad will not happen in this timeline.


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 against Egypt.  Luckily for the Germans, the British have additional problems in the form of the Japanese.  Hitler hopes that the Japanese will attack the Russian rear, but the Japanese recognise the implications of the German defeat and decide…hell, no. 


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 Moscow provides a boost to various forces.  While Hong Kong still falls, Singapore holds out as Churchill rushes reinforcements into India and Burma.  The allied plan is basically to hold the line until overwhelming material superiority is in place, and then start advancing against the Japanese.  The Russians, meanwhile, get as much as they can in the way of supplies from the West.


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 OTL.)  Relations between the two allies go downhill sharply and fights are common.  The Italians get lumbered with the task of anti-partisan operations in the German rear and rapidly find it a terrible struggle.  Russian soldiers, cut off from their front lines, and civilians are organising themselves into units to fight the Germans and cut their supply lines.  The Italians start out as more popular than the Germans (it wouldn’t be hard) and go downhill rapidly.  They don’t want to be there.  The Spanish and a few other minor allies send units as well, but not all of them are combat effective.


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 Europe to be divided into spheres of interest.  His second-worst nightmare is a Europe dominated by Russia.  FDR is less concerned, convinced that Churchill is really concerned with saving the empire, and feels that the British ought to be doing more.  Churchill likes FDR, but knows that he’s wrong on this one.  He pushes the British forces in the desert to launch an offensive against the German and Italian positions…


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 Italy about how the Germans intend to deal with the Italians and the Italian Army is in a state of serious demoralisation.  They’re supposed to be sending a few new divisions to Russia, but military leaders, sensing the growing trend, are stonewalling.  Certain figures within the Italian government have been making covert approaches to the Allies.  Matters are actually worse because the Soviets have sent back a handful of captured men, now convinced communists, and are using them to spread defeatism. 


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 Algeria, but are unable to hold the line.  The Italian forces behind them greet the rather puzzled British, who take over most of Libya until the final disposition of the colony can be decided.


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 Libya back over to Italy and hope.


Hitler dusts off a contingency plan for occupying Italy and puts it into operation.  In our timeline, the plan worked perfectly; in ATL, it goes splat.  The Italian Army is convinced, probably correctly, that the Germans intend to put them all to work as slave labour, and fights back desperately.  The Germans occupy most of Northern Italy, but the south remains free and insurgency is rife.  Italian soldiers on duty with the Germans in Russia are rapidly rounded up, disarmed, and put to work.  Many of them are later liberated by the partisans.


Vichy France has to make a decision, and fast.  They should, legally, intern Rommel and the remains of his forces.  OTOH, the Germans are right next door and demanding that they supply the Germans instead.  They stall, while taking back the areas of France occupied by the Italians and evicting the Italian soldiers.  Hitler would love to press the issue, but there isn’t time; the great offensive is underway.


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.  Leningrad, still under siege by the Germans, is liberated as the Germans are sent running, right back to Poland.  Finland takes a look at the changing situation, makes contact with Moscow and changes sides.  German forces in Finland are interned. 


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 France doesn’t chance sides, she will be left completely without colonies.  British forces are massing on the border with Algeria and if the French refuse to cooperate, they will invade Algeria and take over its administration.  The French are actually in quite a lot of trouble in Algeria; nationalist groups have been pressing for a greater say in their own affairs, if not outright independence.  There is a quick reshuffle of bums on seats in Vichy and they make the decision to intern Rommel’s forces.  Rommel is in no position to argue the toss and is probably greatly relieved.  Their statement to Germany is a masterpiece of misdirection, confusing enough to put off military action all by itself, proclaiming themselves neutral in the conflict.


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 Vichy forces are old and outdated, but they could still be nasty and Vichy has quite a few surprises prepared for the Germans, if they invade.  He bides his time as the Russians start to press through Byelorussia and into Poland; there will be an opportunity for revenge soon, he thinks.


The Russian victories have altered the balance of power in America.  Although American forces have been preparing for the Second Front, parts of the government don’t see any need to commit American forces to Europe, not when the Japanese are still out there.  (Midway doesn’t happen in this timeline; instead, the Japanese fleet is destroyed in early 1943.)  FDR knows better, now; the Russians intend to establish their own form of order across Europe.  Italian communists are very active in the new order and politically very powerful; the Italian government cannot control them.  The same goes for the French Communists, who are running an underground war against Germany in Occupied France and becoming part of the government in Vichy France.


The British and the Americans have been quietly drawing up contingency plans for a landing in France if the Germans suddenly collapse.  Those plans present political problems of their own.  The Free French are not represented within Vichy France’s command structure and are, at least on the surface, regarded as deserters.  DeGualle finds that infuriating, but the matters on the ground dictate that the Vichy French are treated as the legitimate government.  Worse, the Italians are demanding a steep price for their aide, even though they can’t hope to recover occupied Italy.  At least, not on their own.  Worst of all, Stalin’s persistent demands for a second front have faded…


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 Poland.  Polish forces in Warsaw rise up against the Germans and are slaughtered for their pains; Stalin sees no reason to allow them to live to threaten his rule.  The West is horrified by this display of ruthlessness, the more so as a puppet communist government is installed and starts to take over Poland.


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 Vichy France and even with resistance groups, offering supplies and pacts in exchange for a quiet rear.  This doesn’t impress the communist resistance groups, who are growing bolder and bolder as the soviets creep closer, while Vichy is effectively paralysed by its disastrous situation.  If it declares for the allies, Germany can hit them with overwhelming force far quicker than the allies, but if it tries to maintain its current path – in a sense, acting as one of Germany’s allies, the allies will take the French colonies.  It’s not a good balancing act and, as the winter of 1942 rolls on, the Russians are preparing to tip it over.


The Germans have also struck a deal with Sweden.  German forces in Norway, held there by Hitler’s will, will be withdrawn if the Swedes take over and agree to keep allied forces out.  It’s a face-saver; the Germans don’t really care about Norway any longer.  The Russians are at the gates.


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 of Poland is raising hackles all across Europe and America.  Stalin isn’t impressed by denunciations from the polish exiles, but the West is another matter; he becomes determined to take as much as he can get.  Spoiling raids and light advances become the order of the day as the Russians dig in to Poland, preparing for the next offensive and, just incidentally, purging Poland of everyone they don’t like.  Ironically, they find their greatest allies among the Jews, who knew that Hitler intended to kill them all.


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 across Europe, including some in Germany (actually soviet troopers inserted into the area), which causes major paranoia among the Germans.  The Committee orders harsh tactics and rounds up any known communists, most of whom are completely innocent, as Russian forces punch through the lines, trap and destroy German forces, and push to the west. 


France finally takes a stand.  After another round of political bloodletting, the Vichy French government gambles, orders the Germans out of the country while thanking them for their help.  The Germans, trapped between two fires, fail to respond in time and the limited forces left in France can’t suppress the French.  Fighting spills out all over France, an odd kind of fighting, as Vichy forces prepare to hold the line against the Germans.  Allied help in the form of fighter-bombers and a small number of infantry troops (those who would go to make up Operation Torch in OTL), arrives at the beaches, secures the ports, and prepares to advance.  German forces in France regroup along the eastern border, destroying and burning as they retreat, while France starts a political civil war.


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 France is on the verge of a civil war, the more so because the Free French tried to disarm a communist cell and discovered that the communists were prepared to fight.  Vichy’s ragtag government is on the verge of falling apart completely, with communist factions pushing for the Free French to be either exiled (“they left us here to fight alone; the cowards!”) or arrested (“they tried to disarm the People!”  Allied forces try to just stay out of the way…


The allied forces are gambling badly.  America’s commitment is the only one it can make.  A German force hands out a mauling in France to a superior French force.  If the force is lost, America will need at least a year to build up a new army.  Churchill has similar problems, except he can’t actually build a new army.  If he loses in France, he won’t be in office for a week.  The only thing the allies have going for them is that the Germans are in just as bad a position, although they’re still good tankers, as long as the supplies hold out.


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 Berlin – the Committee barely escaping in time to avoid capture – and push onwards as Germany collapses.  The entire western front is a political nightmare.


Let’s see…



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 France, or they might wait for the French Communists to win the civil war…