Fair Warning: Its not quite the WW2 we all know and love, but it should be interesting anyway. If you don’t like using Hitler – which is the weakest point of the scenario –just substitute a more conventional German from that era.
What Really Happened: Despite massive provocation from France and considerable economic turmoil, the Weimar Republic managed to stay in control of Germany, thwarting the development of a nationalist regime. Hitler led a group of people in Munich in an attempted putsch, but failed ingloriously.
What Might Have Happened: It is not inconceivable that Hitler might have been able to take power in 1923. The German political scene was burning with anti-French resentment and hatred for the allies. Hitler, however, failed to take even basic precautions for his coup, such as making sure of the police, and was arrested. Let’s assume that he manages to make sure of them before beginning and the proto-nazi party, led by Hitler and General Erich Ludendorff, with his conservative nationalists, manages to gain power in Munich.
This success weakens the government in Berlin. Hitler’s massively anti-French speeches weaken it still further by him becoming a hero to the population. As Hitler prepares to march for Berlin, the government is pressed by all sides; nationalists want a stronger line on reparations and foreign affairs. Conservatives want a strong line on communism, war veterans want their issues address and military leaders want to escape the Versailles limits on the German military. Everyone, it seems, wants a Hitler government and a strong Germany. Even some members of the Reichstag have been sending quiet messengers to Hitler, intending to discover what role they could have in a Hitler Germany.
Something has to break. It does. As Hitler and Ludendorff march towards Berlin, the government sends military units to arrest them, but Ludendorff convinces them to surrender and join him. A military coup for all of Germany now appears likely. The government sends messengers to Hitler and offer him the government – in exchange for clemency. They’re a bit pressed by the huge crowds of demonstrators and the strong belief that the loyalty of the military now belongs to Hitler.
Hitler and the conservatives form the new government. Hitler is appointed chancellor of Germany, although with fewer powers than the previous chancellor. Ludendorff is appointed president by a strong conservative push, as they believe that he’ll be a check to any of Hitler’s larger ambitions, although at this point the general is Hitler’s puppet. To all intents and purposes, Hitler is the ruler of Germany, although he has to move more carefully than he did in OTL.
(All right, unlikely bit over. If you don’t like that, replace Hitler with a German conservative from somewhere.)
Hitler plans to rearm as quickly as possible. That’s a little difficult as the Germans are forbidden to raise huge armies by the treaty and the power balance is hugely on the side of the west. Hitler approaches that problem in a cunning way which was used by German states against Napoleon, he introduces ‘land armies’ – conscripts of German man to work on the land in military style – and limited volunteer semi-conscription. Each year’s worth of young men gets a choice between ‘volunteering’ for the militia – as long as its not the ‘real’ army, the west won’t really care – or serving on the Land Armies. The Germans get more volunteers than they know what to do with, so they train them for two years each, keep the best for the regular army, and keep careful track of the ex-servicemen. Once Hitler takes the gloves off, the Germans will use the regular army – in which every man is trained to be a sergeant and/or battalion leader – to lead a massive conscript army, without the years that would be needed to train them from scratch.
The Germans also work at technological advances. The treaty forbids building tanks, but the Germans are able to design an advanced version of a captured British tank from 1918 in a remote training centre and mass-produce the components for the tanks. The Germans also do some quiet design work in the Soviet Union (as OTL), but the anti-communist stance of the German government means that such exchanges have to be done quietly. The Germans also produce a passenger aircraft that could be converted to military service, as well as a small plane designed to be fun for a single flyer, but also convertible into a fighter plane of 1918-level. The Germans experiment with a submarine design in the USSR, but building massive fleets is well beyond the German capability. Finally, the Germans experiment with poison gas and methods of delivering it to targets of opportunity.
There are also a few other little tricks. The Germans produce several thousand heavy tractors that can be quickly fitted with armour to become Tankettes. There is also a version of a car which looks suspiciously like a jeep.
The Germans have several other important things going for them. The land armies are able to revitalise German farming and industry. Many roads are built and interior transport systems designed and produced. The German population is well fed for the first time since 1914 and is reasonably happy with the Hitler government. The only ones who are unhappy are the communists, many of whom have been quietly purged or deported to the USSR.
The west is very slow to respond to the German actions. The British and French have problems in their empires to respond too, as well as little desire for a fight and communist problems. The social problems the two nations have makes it harder for them to interfere, as is the glowing reports of the success of the German land armies and the fact that Germany, the defeated nation, is managing to feed itself. The British government considers a limited land army scheme, but there is serious resistance within the government, who are afraid that the skills that the workers will learn might be turned to a communist uprising. Others don’t really care about the workers, but worry about feeding millions of poor, not to mention the old theory that the person who works the land – owns it. A land army scheme could eventually force the government to seize the estates and had it over to the workers. The French have a far more active communist underground and are seriously reluctant to provide anything like military training for them.
The west’s other problems are an acute lack of intelligence on the scale of the German plans and worries about communist invasion. The west does not have much idea about the size of the army the Germans could mobilise, nor how determined the Germans are to rectify Versailles. The west is primarily interested in extracting reparations from Germany – although that is becoming politically difficult as pictures of staving German children begin to circulate – and keeping Germany as a barrier to communist expansion. As far as the west knows, they have superiority to Germany on every field, but the gap is a lot closer than they know.
Japan is preparing to grab off Manchuria. America is staying out of the world’s affairs. Italy is very supportive of Hitler, but the conservative elements of the German government prevent Hitler from being too close to the Italians.
The war crisis comes in 1930. France is suffering financial problems and is considering forcing Germany to pay the remaining reparations. The Germans, however, mobilise and take their case to the League of Nations, protesting that France was extracting tribute at the cost of thousands of staving German children. That’s not quite honest as Hitler’s polices have allowed most of the German population more than enough to eat, but Hitler was never one to worry about the truth of the matter. The league hesitates, many nations don’t like France or don’t care, but Poland is actively supporting France and other nations are fuelled by an intensive dislike of Germany. The British are finding it difficult to take action on either side. War looks inevitable.
War Plans: The Germans have contingency plans for this situation. They plan to reoccupy the Rhineland and fortify it as soon as Hitler gives the command and then dare the French to evict them. If Poland looks like entering the war, the Germans plan a quick strike on the ‘Polish corridor’, cutting off Poland from the sea and resupply, while using Romania and the USSR to cut off supplies from anywhere else. Poland can then wither on the vine while Germany forces France to come to an armistice.
The French and the Poles are nowhere near as organised. The Poles plan to attack East Prussia and Danzig as soon as hostilities break out. Once they’re held, the Germans won’t find it so easy to cut them off from the sea, which would then let them turn to face the Germans across the Polish-German border and support the French. The French plan to occupy the Rhineland, as which point they confidently expect the Germans to sue for peace.
The Opposing Armies: The French Army is a mess. They’re well equipped with tanks, guns and supplies, but they suffer from a lack of trained leaders. Many of the WW1 officers have resigned or died, others don’t have the patronage to be promoted, while most of the officers who were promoted since 1920 don’t have any experience apart from the Rif War. Many of the conscripts are seriously reluctant to fight and don’t have anything like the training they should have, while the doctrine remains scarred from WW1. The French are still preparing to build the Maginot Line. The French do, however, have a few advantages; they have far more artillery guns and shells than the Germans, and they are more capable of replacing their lost material than the Germans. The French also enjoy total naval dominance.
The Poles are strong in infantry and have a small force of WW1 era tanks. They don’t, however, have any way of replacing lost material apart from importing it – which has the problem of losing sea access and limited hard currency – and they have limited mobility. What mobility they do have is based on horses and they have a very small air force.
The Germany army is completing its mobilisation. It has raised several dozen divisions of infantry with plenty of weapons and ammunition. They have also deployed about 500 advanced-WW1 level tanks and about 500 aircraft converted for war purposes. The Germans, however, are very weak on artillery and a few other supplies. For example, German radios are very crude and there are nowhere near enough of them. German tactics are based on a cross between defence in depth, Cambrai and WW1 stormtrooper tactics. The Germans have a couple of submarines built in the USSR, a few old ships and limited naval forces. Italy supplies some volunteers and some artillery.
War: The Germans believe they have to move fast before the French can outproduce them or the British can join in the war. Germany reoccupies the Rhineland on 25th May 1930 and demands that France stop its threatening actions. The French demand that Germany demobilise and withdraw from the demilitarised Rhineland. Hitler makes speeches across Germany claiming that the Rhineland is sovereign German territory and whips up anti-French feeling across Germany.
The French make a final appeal to the League of Nations, but discover that few other nations are willing to intervene. France declares war on Germany and prepares to move into the Rhineland. Hitler uses this evidence of French perfidy to return the declaration of war and orders even harder sacrifices from the German people.
The French demand that the British honour their treaty obligations to keep the Rhineland demilitarised. The British are reluctant; a large proportion of the British public believes that the French started the war, or that Hitler can be reasoned with, or that the French won’t honour any of their own commitments. The British content themselves by sending a few volunteers to France - mainly ex-WW1 vets – and supplying France with advanced tanks and planes, but the French have to pay from their own gold reserves. This pumps much needed funds into the British economy.
The French army completes its mobilisation and advances into the Rhineland. The Germans meet it at the border and fall back expertly, delaying the French, but not stopping them. This is consistent with the French belief that all they’re facing is the 10’000 strong army of Versailles and encourages their generals to push onwards. A few more perceptive voices point out that its too easy, but the generals in charge don’t listen, as they’re already expecting massive honours from a grateful France. On the fifth day, the Germans spring their surprise.
The Germans have placed most of their tanks and aircraft on the sides of the expected line of attack. They now send that mass into the sides of the French formation, which has not expected to be attacked, let alone in such a fashion. Their air cover is stripped from them in the first day. The Germans trap a large section of the French army and force it to surrender, as well as chasing the reminder back towards France. The Germans have won a great victory though French overconfidence.
The Germans spend a week to recover from the battle. They need to collect the French supplies and discover how badly they’ve been wounded in the war. They also need to resupply their forces as quickly as possible, while preparing for further advances into Alsace-Lorraine and possibly Poland.
The French defeat forces the Poles to halt and consider. The Germans warn the Poles that they have the ability to defeat them and that, if forced to do so, they won’t be merciful. The Germans demand that the Poles surrender control over the Polish Corridor for duration of hostilities and stand down their army. Failure to do so will be considered a Casus Belli. The Poles indignantly refuse and the Germans declare war on them.
German forces advance into the Polish Corridor. German diplomats signal that of the Poles do not attack 1919 German territory; they won’t attack the mainland of Poland. The Poles try to hold back the Germans, but the German tanks break their lines in a manner similar to Cambrai and the Poles are pushed backwards. The Polish attacks on East Prussia are beaten off. The Germans reach East Prussia, but cannot advance further due to events in France and concern about the USSR’s reaction. The Poles have lost most of their mobile forces and welcome the pause.
The shock of the defeat forces the French to clean house. The most incompetent generals are shuttled off to insignificant posts, court-martialled or, in one case, strung up by angry troops. The French also go on a panic buying spree, spending their gold like water, for British and American weapons. The Japanese help out a bit by purchasing basing rights in Indochina. The French train hard and set up defensive lines on the 1914 basis. Alsace-Lorraine is, to the eyes of the panicking French government, under heavy attack. All that’s happening is German recon patrols, but the French panic anyway. This weakness encourages Hitler’s desire for revanch and German forces press carefully into Alsace-Lorraine. The French fall back.
There is good news for the French government, though, as the attack on Poland worries the British government – and small infringements of Belgium neutrality mean that the British have got to become involved. Distrusting of the French generals, the British demand special prillivages, which the French grant, and send over several divisions of British troops. Belgium and the Netherlands seal their borders and refuse to allow anyone in.
The French and the British set up their defensive lines and wait for the German offensive. Hitler is uncertain what to do; on one hand he has an opportunity to make Germany’s gains stick by defeating the French and the British. However, if the Germans lose (and they are already having supply problems as the British blackmail the Italians into not sending any more war materials), the gains he’s made will vanish and Germany will lose any chance at becoming powerful again. He makes secret contact with the French government, but they refuse to consider peace, the entry of the British having stiffened their spine.
Hitler decides to gamble. The Germans mass all the tanks they can scrape up within a week and launches a mass attack on the French lines. The French, however, have built their lines with the intention of stopping a German tank-led assault and the German attack bogs down. The French, who have been carefully plotting out firing patterns, plaster the attack lanes with artillery fire and poison gas. The Germans retaliate by using gas themselves, but the allies are much more prepared for it in their trenches. After the gas attack, Hitler orders the offensive abandoned. Germany begins a more serious peace discussion at the League of Nations.
France is not interested. Nationalist forces have pretty much taken control of France and they intend to make Germany pay in blood. The French work hard to develop new tactics that take advantage of their strengths and minimise their weakness. (Basic strategy 101 – few French generals bothered to learn this.) The French tactics consist of massive artillery downfalls onto single German positions and then overrunning whatever remains. The French have superiority over Germany in tanks numbers and, with the British new Hart tanks (Designed by Basil Liddle-Hart), they have much better tanks and aircraft.
The Germans are in serious trouble. They’re running out of equipment and supplies. Oil supplies are far too low and many of their tanks are immobilised. The German generals work to make sure that their modern tanks are fully armed, but that means that their makeshift tank/tractors are underfueled. The French seize air superiority over a section of the battle zone and systematically destroy the German forces in that sector. The Germans fight hard, but are defeated. Hitler makes matters worse by sending in reinforcements that are also soon overwhelmed.
In two weeks of hard fighting, the French secure all of Alsace-Lorraine and press on. The Germans have had lots of time to fortify and the French tanks are snarled in trenches designed to halt tanks. French sappers are able to remove most of the obsicules and the French press on. This does, however, produce a crisis in the allied chain of command.
The British government has used the war to push though a series of laws designed to implement a Land Army scheme. The last thing the government wants is for the war to go on for so long that they have to conscript the men who are feeding the nation. The British economy is growing, a long war would mean that it might well fall. The British need time to rebuild their empire. The British are also worried about the threat from Italy. Hit Mussolini too hard and he might decide to spread the war further afield, while the Japanese are pressing China to give them Manchuria. The British eventually refuse to take part in any further attacks, but agree, reluctantly, to station three divisions in France, just in case the Germans manage a breakthrough.
Hitler is facing defeat, but there’s one last toss of the dice. The Germans have about 100 modern tanks and 300 Tankettes in the occupied zone in Poland. Those forces might be able to turn the balance in the west, or they could defeat the Poles. After the Polish defeat the Poles have tried to strengthen their defences, but the lack of Polish industry and sea access makes that difficult. If, Hitler reasons, the Poles were to be defeated; they would bring pressure on the French to make peace. Failing that, Poland could be destroyed and the French would have no choice, but to concede the 1914 eastern borders. If the USSR were to move into the power vacuum left in Eastern Europe, defence against Communism would become a lot harder, particularly for an exhausted France.
The Germans kick off the attack on the Poles from three directions. The Germans retake air control and bomb the Poles mercilessly until they run out of bombs. Poison gas is also deployed. The Germans make good headway at first, but bog down in several places, as well as being sucked into a city fight in some villages. The Polish cavalry hit at German supply lines and raided into German itself, causing small German units to be chase them all over the battle zone. For all intents and purposes, the German offensive had failed.
For the months preceding the German attack, the Polish intelligence service had been grimly aware that the USSR was moving forces into the Ukraine and near Poland. The Poles calculated that the Soviets expected a German victory in the east, followed by a German collapse in the west, as had happened in 1917-18. The Poles realised that unless the German attack was stopped, they’d be defeated by one or the other of their historical enemies. The Poles opened communications with the Germans for a truce. The Poles recognised German control of the Polish Corridor. In exchange, the Germans withdrew from the rest of Poland and allowed some supplies to trickle in.
The French launched a massive attack on the German lines in the west. The French had been training while the Germans fought the Poles and were stalemated. The French now calculated that the Germans had run out of most of their supplies – now was the time to attack. The French started their offensive with the new tactics, as well as bombing as many German cities as they could reach. Reluctantly, the French command ordered the bombing to include gas.
The next few months are a brutal struggle. French forces methodolity piece the German lines and smash their way towards Berlin. The Germans fight desperately in the villages, but the pressure of the allied advance makes fighting seem futile to many Germans. As food supplies run out, the Germans start losing heart for the war. Hitler holes up in Berlin and fortifies the city – which is being regularly bombed – to the utmost. In a brutal fight, the French manage to capture the city and the Germans collapse. Hitler commits suicide as the French advance.
Aftermath: The French publicly blame the allies for allowing Germany to rearm. Using their victory, their plan to take Germany to pieces – annexing the Rhineland directly and breaking up the rest of the German state into its 1870 components. The states are disarmed and the French station small garrisons in them to keep them quiet. The Poles grab the Polish Corridor, Upper Saliasa and East Prussia as the Germans collapse, forcing the German population westwards.
The French, however, have been ruined by their victory. They’ve spent most of their gold reserves and are importing food from Britain and the US. They’ve also aroused international condemnation for their treatment of German refugees. Desperate to raise funds, the French sell the captured German weapons around the world – China, Mexico and Finland all purchase some, making them all tougher customers.
There is a glut of German refugees on the world. States that want to build up their armies allow ex-commanders to immigrate with their families. The Chinese allow several thousand ex-troopers to immigrate and give them command posts in the Chinese army, making it more active. Germans also settle in South Africa and Australia. A few are hired by the republicans in Spain when the civil war breaks out, allowing them to defeat the nationalists.
The world enters a mild depression. The extra flow of French money adds enough liquidly to the world economy to avoid much worse problems. The German land army scheme is implemented in many nations, allowing them to feed their populations. Aristocratic prilvages in Britain, for example, vanish.
The French soon, however, discover that their colonies are beginning to raise nationalist sentiments. Indochina is practically lost to Japan – will Algeria soon follow?