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On to Berlin: 1938

©Final Sword Productions 2003


This is another Chris challenge. He and I were discussing what became his Polish article.  I proposed this and he asked me to show how it would work.


Advance admission: the cooperation between the Czechs and Poles presented here is QUITE unlikely.  The Polish vulture policy would be a key proximate cause of WW2.  I am presuming that the Polish colonels showed minimal knowledge of European history and geography instead of the ethnochauvist stupidity that in fact guided them.


The point of this whole preamble is that Hitler’s behavior at Munich was largely bluff.  Few people really understand this.  They reason backwards from May-June of 1940 and project that army and that Air Force into Munich and the Polish crisis. 


A bit of history may help [see Paul Kennedy – the Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, pp. 303-310 for a good fast survey].  Versailles had quite well castrated the German military.  Even with illegal reserves their ten division army only saw itself able to field some 21 divisions, all weaker in heavy weapons than a 1918 division.  By the fall of 1938, through massive efforts and the absorption of the Austrian army, this had been brought to 42 active divisions [including half a dozen motor or panzer formations, all deficient in tanks, maintenance, tires, fuel and training – see Guderian’s Panzer Leader for the breakdown rate on a motor march to Vienna after the Austrian surrender earlier in 1938], 8 reserve divisions and 21 militia [Landwehr] divisions.  The actual combat strength was less than the sum of the OB.  Hitler had a wargamer’s fascination with little flags he could move around a map.  This meant he was always pushing for more units.  At this stage of the expansion all of these were critically short of cadre, transport, heavy weapons, specialists, training, even ammo.  The big German strength was in the air.  The German AF was never as big as Allied propaganda allowed it to present itself.  It was certainly big enough to blitz the Czechs.


However air power by itself doesn’t win wars.  The German air superiority was less than that of the West 1943-45.  Wars are won on the ground.  The Czech army had some 40 divisions.  The border fortifications used mountain terrain to very good advantage.  While not as strong as the Maginot line they were probably the next most formidable such barrier in Europe.  Skoda made excellent arms.  After the Germans took over they used Czech arms and arms production throughout the war.  Think of the Czechs as a very good 1919 army – a somewhat more tank heavy, more motorized version of the British army that broke Luddendorf’s back in 1918..  The question mark of course was their manpower.  How many of the Germans, Poles, Slovaks, Ukrainians, Romany and Hungarians would fight for Czechoslovakia.  Actual mobilization produced significant avoidance.  Battle would probably have produced significant desertions.  So given the ideological morale of the Germans after the propaganda got done with them, let us have German morale cancel out Czech cadre, training and equipment.  That still leaves a German army at best less than twice the strength of the Czechs.  To attack a fortified zone in bad terrain normally needs a 5-1 advantage to be victorious.   So it is safe to say that while Germany could beat the Czechs they couldn’t blitz the Czechs. 


The loose cannon in the equation is Poland.  The German plan [see web site below] basically called for throwing everything against the Czechs.  The other frontiers were to be screened as lightly as possible.  If the actual 1939 campaign is an indicator border police, Labor Service, HJ [boy scouts], and SA [part time party thugs] would be used in a bluff until the real military was done. 


It would have worked in the West.  The French simply didn’t want to fight.  France’s twin fears were facing Germany alone and having the British do a deal with the Germans leaving them alone.  The net effect of this was to mortgage French policy to British.  As so often in British history, what London had was less a policy than a set of attitudes.  The military chiefs wanted vast rearmament and then spoke of a long war to beat the Germans by blockade and peripheral operations.  The treasury wanted severe limits on military spending and was quite certain that even a war of moderate length would bankrupt the UK.  The political class, especially Chamberlain and the senior Tory leaders simply refused to make hard decisions.  They wouldn’t address the class structure and the limits it put on Britain industrially and financially.  They despaired at the worldwide commitments that history had given the British Empire but refused to make cold-eyed realpolitik adjustments to them.  They found the whole concept of realpolitik – war, diplomacy by national interest instead of moral precept, etc. – too distasteful for words.  They feared tying themselves to the French and with that French ambitions in Europe.  They hoped to avoid doing morally unpleasant deals with Hitler but were even more morally repelled by dealing with Stalin.  They found FDR’s high-flown phrases unbacked by action simply annoying as it was exactly what they would have done had god seen fit to move the British Isles sufficiently far from Europe.  Hitler had them read perfectly at this point.  They wouldn’t fight even if they did declare war.  He could afford to ignore them.


The eastern situation was more complex.  Although all involved found it too distasteful to admit, the Soviet Union was in fact the #1 military power in Europe by this time.  Russian manpower plus Stalin’s forced industrialization plus a war economy had given Joe masses of divisions plentifully equipped with tanks, trucks, guns and planes.  The quality of the equipment was no worse than anyone else’s.  The purges had in fact made a hash out of the officer corps and the effectiveness of the military as a whole.  However, this was not generally recognized until the Winter War of 39-40.  Whether Stalin realized is a secret that died with him.


Now Stalin had defense treaties with the French and Czechs.  However being his normal paranoid self the Czech treaty only obligated him if the French also fought.  He VERY rightly feared being pushed into a war with Hitler that the West sat out.  He also needed French help to get transit rights through the territory of their Polish and / or Rumanian allies to actually reach the Czechs.


The key missing piece was Poland.  It had a big army – 37 infantry divisions, 6 cavalry divisions, 11 reserve divisions, 1-2 proto mech brigades [still forming in this period as units but the equipment was already there and the men trained], 11 cavalry brigades, 15 home guard brigades, 5 border divisions and 11 border brigades.  The equipment level was low even by 1917-18 standards but it included tanks, AT guns, some AAA and a small but decent air force.  The overall training and cadre levels were quite high.  Like the Czechs they were riddled with national minorities [Germans, Jews, Lithuanians, Byelorussians, Czechs, Ukrainians and Romany to name only the most numerous], but only the Germans were likely to be a problem.  The others had few reasons to prefer Hitler’s
ethnochauvist racism to Poland’s.  The Jews had a positive incentive to prefer Polish pogroms to Hitler’s KZL’s and race laws.


In OTL Poland acted the vulture.  As part of the breakup of the Czech state they grabbed a border city.  Here we will have them mobilize as part of the general rush to war before the autumn crisis.  We will still have the actual Munich conference but Stalin will throw a monkey wrench.  Angry at being excluded, he will announce that he will honor his Czech treaty even without the French.  Emboldened by this, the Czechs will walk out and the conference will collapse.


[Yes, I am aware that one school holds the Czechs didn’t want to fight either.  If you cannot accept that the Czechs find their nerve then it is hopeless regardless].


We will now arrange to have Poland acquire a sane leader.  I will admit that this will require ASB’s.  The fly in the ointment of Russia’s promises to the Czechs is the lack of a common frontier.  Poland and Rumania both had historic reasons to fear Russia and ideological reasons to fear the Soviet Union.  Neither would grant transit of any sort.  Here the Poles offer an under the table deal.  They will publically deny there is ANY deal.  Privately they will ignore aerial overflights.  The area of Galicia involved is remote and if the Russians do not publicize it, the Poles won’t either.  They also agree to allow equipment shipments to be sent by rail if labeled as civilian freight.  The final fig leaf actually came out of the Soviet playbook in Spain.  Soviets troops will NOT be allowed to transit Poland.  International volunteer brigades will.  The Soviets immediately begin mobilizing the world communist movement and sympathizer organizations for enough men to provide a cloak around Red Army units.


Hitler’s rage at the Czech walkout knows no bounds.  The British have written off the Czechs, washing their hands of them because of their behavior.  The French consider themselves bound to follow the British.  So Hitler demands that the Poles declare themselves.  And they lie.  They deny any Soviet deal.  They admit there are not monitoring their air space in the extreme southeast.  They are keeping their Air Force between Warsaw and the German border, for defensive reasons of course.  Similarly while they have screened ALL their borders including the Czech, Rumanian and Soviet ones with the home guards, Border troops and reserve divisions, the entire active army is one large clump between Warsaw and Posen.  They claim this too has been done for defensive reasons.  They were sweetly take the military attaches from the German embassy in Warsaw around to observe.  They invite the commanders of German border units to inspect the Polish border troops digging in.  A purely defensive posture is quite obvious to a trained military observer.  As for the increased rail traffic from Kiev and Minsk to Prague, the Poles just say ‘commercial business’. 


Goring sees through it all.  Hitler’s rage is too great and his racial contempt for mere Slavs too much.  If France won’t fight why should the Polish army deter him.  Hitler attacks on October 1st, 1938 – before the situation can change.  The Russians have so far only sent 100 bombers, 200 tanks and a few thousand ‘International Volunteers’.  After three days of heavy fighting, Goring’s planes rule the skies over the Czech state but the army is making slow going nibbling its way into the Czech border fortifications.  Guderian makes a penetration but has been pocketed in the Czech rear by a fast reaction of the Czech reserves.  His position is like Rommel’s at Gazala.  He has three rapidly attriting mobile divisions in a cauldron with their backs to a minefield / fortified zone through which a trickle of supplies sneak through at night.


In the meantime the Soviets have been clear that while the Comintern has come to the aid of the Czechs, the Soviet Union itself has not.  As in Spain the Soviets will slowly feed in supplies and men but not enough to risk themselves.  The two main differences with Spain are that here most of the men are actual Soviet military personnel [in Spain the specialists were Soviets but the cannon fodder were not] and the Czechs refuse to part with their gold reserves [unlike the Spanish Republic which in desperation shipped their to Odessa]. 


The Poles have of course moved their central reserve towards the German frontier and towards its juncture with the Czech border.  One should recall that it was the Poles who originally broke the German Enigma code machine [ULTRA].  By reading the German signals traffic the Poles are able to fool the Germans into thinking that the bulk of these units are still deep in the rear when in fact they are all now 20-30 km from the border.


On the night of October 3rd – 4th the Poles strike.  They just mask the East Prussian and Pommerian sectors.  The bulk of the infantry is sent into Silesia.  Their mission is to take in the rear the German Army Group attacking from Silesia south into Czechoslovakia.  All the cavalry [actually mounted infantry], the two proto mobile brigades and half a dozen infantry divisions launch themselves at Berlin.


The German frontier defenses are essentially a trip-wire.  They collapse under Polish attack.  The Poles rarely achieve tactical surprise but it doesn’t matter.  Regiments can usually defeat platoons and companies, even in hasty attacks after long approach marches.


With typical German operational brilliance the Silesian forces extract themselves from the jaws of the trap.  Upper Silesia is of course lost, along with its supply depots and airfields.  Of course this quick regroupment and retreat dooms the other German attacks.  Hitler and his generals have screaming fights over this.  The generals want to stop the attacks and franticly move reserves.  Hitler wants the attacks to continue.  In the end the generals sabotage his orders.  They attack enough to get Guderian out, but elsewhere limit action to patrols while preparing to regroup.  They can hide frontline action behind false reports.  They cannot send troop trains on their own.


The Polish cavalry does a repeat of their great advances of 1918-21 against the Soviets.  The German air force inflicts heavy losses during daylight on whomever they catch.  The Poles move mostly at night.  Also the German planes are all deployed to attack the Czechs and must first be regrouped to central Germany.  As the Poles reach the Berlin suburbs, Hitler orders a levee en masse.  A few tens of thousands of volunteers are mobilized but in the main the German civilians run before the Slavic hordes [LOL – racial propaganda can bite in BOTH directions].  Berlin falls in 48 hours as the tiny garrison plus the volunteers are herded into a pocket in the downtown government district and basically left to starve. 


Adolph the Idiot gets out in a Storch [German equivalent of a Piper Cub].  In a screaming match with his senior generals [OKH has relocated to Magdeburg, Beck ends the silliness by just taking out his sidearm and shooting the fool.  The majors and colonels clear HQ of the few SS and loyal Nazis, after which the troop trains begin rolling from Austria and Bavaria to save the heart of Germany.  When the Pope offers to mediate both sides accept.  The Germans trade Silesia and taking all the Germans back from Czechoslovakia, Poland and Silesia for peace.  Europe doesn’t have a 2nd World War thanks to Hitler’s stupidity and the mighty Polish cavalry.


Case Green : German war directive for Czech invasion 1938


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