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Desert Victory

What Really Happened:  One of the most tantalising possibilities from 1941 comes with Churchill’s decision to divert forces from Egypt – where they were engaged against the Italian forces and General Rommel – to Greece in an ill-planned and futile attempt to save Greece against overwhelming German attack.  It failed; the British had to retreat from Greece and then lost at Crete.

What Might Have Happened:  What might happen if the forces remained in Egypt?  Its quite possible that Wavel might have managed to pull off a tactical victory against the Germans, who were running out of supplies (not for the first or last time).  Let’s imagine that the British defeat a German force and press on, evicting them from Egypt.

Hitler goes nuts.  He was never keen on sending troops to Africa anyway.  The Italians are losing badly as the British press forward, and there are the demands of the Balkan fronts to contend with.  Even German logistics can only stretch so far – and he’s running out of time.

Rommel gets orders to pull back to Libya.  The British forces are scenting blood as the Italian position comes apart, forcing their way into Libya.  Recognising that they’re on the verge of a genuine victory, Admiral Cunningham directs all his efforts towards supporting the troops, including bombardment of Libyan ports and interdicting the supply lines, which were falling apart anyway.  Mussolini orders his troops to fight to the last man, but the Italians are out of supplies and their morale is at rock-bottom.  Rommel flies out in an aircraft as the remaining Italians start to discuss surrender with the British.

Churchill is delighted as Libya surrenders.  The British take as prisoners much of the Italian force and the Germans who survived the final battles.  The PM starts to look for other ways to affect the Germans, including a possible invasion of French North Africa.  DeGaulle is very keen on that, claiming that the French in North Africa will support him if the British invade.  The War Cabinet isn't so keen; they would much rather keep French North Africa neutral for the moment.

The stunning defeat has political repercussions in Italy.  Many Italians are anti-war; they don’t want to fight besides the Germans.  Some elements of the ‘peace party’ start to open communications with the British, attempting to leave the war with honour.  The Germans catch wind of this and start planning their countermove, despite Hitler’s determination to invade Russia in the winter.

In a sudden coup, the King of Italy moves against Mussolini, ordering the Italian people to rise against him.  Mussolini is unseated by members of his own guard, more out of a sense that a sacrifice is necessary than royal loyalty.  The new government begins to talk openly to the British, who are encouraging, but demand that the Italian fleet be surrendered to prevent it falling into German hands.  The new government balks at this; they don’t trust the British very far at all.  Negotiations break down over the status of Italy’s colonies.

Meanwhile, the Germans jump.  Hitler has planned a quick victory, air-jumping German forces into Rome and seizing the King and court.  The British catch wind of the preparations through Ultra, but don’t dare inform the Italians.  Some Italian forces fight bravely – the navy sails en masse for Cairo – but by and large the Germans have occupied Italy.  Bitter over the loss of the Afrika Korps, the Germans take it out on the Italians.  Ironically, Italian industry becomes more productive under the Germans. 

The British manage to secure Sardinia and Corsica, moving radar units and RAF planes in to hold the islands.  Hitler is content to allow the British to remain there; their can’t be used as bases, or so he thinks.  DeGaulle isn’t happy over not being informed that Corsica was being targeted, but Churchill was adamant that warning must not get back to the Germans.  The British also secure Crete; Hitler contemplates using a paratroop force to recover it, but General Student’s force took a beating at Rome.

Strategic Overview:  The desert war has stalemated.  The British don’t have the strength to invade Italy or France.  The Vichy French are playing a dangerous game – denying the Germans transit rights in French North Africa – in order to avoid losing their main colony.  The Germans are reluctant to directly invade because of their plans for Russia – and also because the British might manage to cut any German force off in French North Africa.


The British are becoming more and more aware of Japan as a potential threat, at least in the very near future.  The Americans have started using sanctions against the Japanese, something that convinces the Japanese that their only option is to strike first.  The British have a nightmare; there are too many targets to defend and the Americans won’t cooperate on more than a general level.

Barbarossa July 1941: The German army is advancing into the open steppes of Russia.  The Russians have had more time to prepare their defences, but the Germans have learnt many lessons from the desert war.  The Germans have also planned a more limited campaign for this round; they don’t think that they can seize Moscow in 1941.  Instead, the Germans concentrate on seizing Leningrad and the grain lands of the Ukraine.

Stalin has been warned of the limited German intentions by Britain.  Using his military skills, upon which opinion is divided, (he thought that he was great; everyone else thought that he was crap), he decides that late November is a good time for a counter-attack.  The Russian army can’t pull such manoeuvres off yet; the Germans hand them their heads and slaughter a great deal of Russia’s finest men.  Rommel distinguishes himself on the battlefield, using techniques developed for use against the British.

Hitler wants to press on, but the German generals dissuade him.  The Germans are already dangerously overstretched; they need time to restore themselves.  The German army goes into winter quarters, sweeping up the masses of Russian equipment that the Russians left behind and conducting anti-partisan sweeps.  Stalin is content to allow the peace to last; he needs to rebuild his army and defend Moscow for the coming spring.

East Asia: The British government sees the signs on the wall before the US takes serious notice.  In OTL, there weren’t many men who could be spared for the Far East; in ATL the British have several spare divisions that aren’t fighting in Africa.  Throughout September to November, the British reinforce India, Burma and Singapore with crack army and RN units.  As it becomes clearer that Hitler is too busy in Russia to bother with invading Britain or French North Africa, the British move more and more troops to the east.  The Italian and Free French units can handle most of the German threats that remain in the west.

Ironically, the massive British reinforcement prompts the Japanese to start the war earlier than OTL.  The Japanese begin the war with fewer divisions than they did in OTL (at least 2 were in China almost until the war started), but their navy is first rate.  They also adjust their planning for the British Empire, concentrating on a holding action while driving the Americans out of the pacific.

Pearl Harbour is hit, as in OTL, but with the unfortunate addition of the loss of two American carriers.  The US uses its remaining forces to raid the Japanese, but isn’t able to contemplate aggressive action for at least six months, due to limited resources.  This has a knock-on effect; Macarthur will not survive the Philippines.  The US press howls about Macarthur’s last stand.

(And that’s when Fleetlord Atvar turns up – only kidding)

The US concentrates on building up the forces in Australia as their war production comes online.  The British are concentrating on East Asia.  In this Singapore, Hong Kong will still fall, but Singapore will not.  With more forces and a competent general – Wavel - in command, the Japanese will not manage to surprise the British.  British Matilda tanks are an unpleasant surprise to the Japanese, even if they can’t be deployed in the jungles.  After several weeks of hard bitter fighting, the landing force is in serious trouble.

The Japanese Army decides upon a new strategy.  While a blocking force will invest Singapore, the army will head into Burma, breaking the supply lines.  They meet a powerful British force on the borders of India, while the RN and the Japanese navy dukes it out in the Indian Ocean.  The Japanese suffer badly from British submarines, but the royal navy isn’t able to stand up to the Japanese in equal combat.  The result is a bloody stalemate – tactically – but strategically the British have won.

The British launch counterattacks into Burma, evicting the Japanese by sheer weight of numbers.  By late 1942-early 1943, the Japanese are being wiped out by the British forces, while Singapore still stands.  A final desperate attack is beaten off – a very close run thing, as General Monty observes later.  The British invade Indochina, aided by revolts in the Japanese rear, and Siam turns against the Japanese.

In late 1942, America returns to the seas.  The new carrier force is still training, but politically the Americans have to launch a counterattack soon, before the British defeat the Japanese on their own.  Their priority is to break the Japanese blockade of Australia and start rolling up the Japanese conquests.  Without Macarthur, the Americans don’t have so much pressure to invade the Philippines, instead they head upwards to the older Japanese territories.

The British and the Americans have something of a disagreement over China.  With a full-scale war going on and an even-more damaged American fleet, the supplies to China had been severely reduced.  The British don’t feel that Chiang is worth supporting – not entirely from decent motives – and the Americans think he is.  Eventually, the British agree to allow the Americans to use India as a transit base, but not to send any help themselves.

By early 1944, the pressure on the Japanese is becoming intolerable.  The British have forced the Japanese out of East Asia and are working to recover Hong Kong.  Despite Churchill’s howls, there is a great deal of covert cooperation between British and Chinese forces, including a British-trained Chinese division under Stillwell.  As logistics improve, Allied submarines cut Japan off from its remaining sources of supply, and once Saipan falls to the US, the Americans can begin to pound Japan into the dirt.

The Eastern Front 1942-1944:  Hitler believes that his army is ready for the push on to Moscow, while Stalin believes that he’s ready to throw out the Germans.  The Soviets strike first, using carefully horded tanks and aircraft to launch a number of powerful attacks.  The attacks catch the Germans by surprise and they’re pushed backwards, but they manage to gain control when Stalin pushes the offensive too far forward.  After a brutal series of battles, the Germans force the soviets back, and then go on the offensive.  Millions of Soviets are killed in the battles around Moscow before the city is surrounded; Stalin and his inner cabinet fleeing just before the Germans enter the city.

The victory is not as impressive as it seems on the map.  Stalin has moved most of the USSR’s bureaucrats to the Urals, where they can control the Soviet economy.  Most of the production plants have also gone east, so the USSR won’t be as badly hurt as it seems.  Hitler, however, is delighted; he orders preparation to seize the oil wells.

After taking a breather, the Germans head south.  Stalin builds up forces near Novgorod and launches a counterattack against Moscow, attempting to regain his capital.  After a brutal battle, with winter coming on, Rommel defies Hitler by ordering a retreat from Moscow, falling back to Smolensk.  The Germans take a beating from the Russians during the winter, before they withdraw back into the Ukraine and Belarus.  Under pressure from Rommel, who is now sceptical of Hitler, the Germans begin to prepare their defences to bleed the soviets white.

Stalin refuses to sit on his laurels.  Mustering a major force, he launches a major attack on the German defences.  The Germans fight well, bleeding him heavily, falling back after killing thousands of Russian soldiers.  Stalin takes several miles of ground and proclaims it a victory, before the Germans counterattack and retake it.  May-June 1943.  The war seesaws back and forth for months, with neither side gaining the upper hand, until the allies attack France.

To be continued…?  You decide – let me know what you think.

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