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Eastwards’ Ho!

The basis of this unconventional Alternate History lies in Hitler’s personality.  He could at best be described as a clever tactical officer, but with limited long-term conceptions.  What realism he displayed with clearly more limited as he gained more power and enjoyed more successes.  In 1936, he was realistic enough to understand that the Germans would have no choice, but to withdraw, if the French opposed them in the Rhineland.  In 1941, he thought nothing of declaring war on the world’s foremost industrial power; in 1942 he sent the German army into a disaster and in 1944 refused to negotiate with the allies for a compromise peace. 

Hitler was basically, therefore, an opportunist.  He took advantage of western unreadiness in 1936 and 1938.  He saw that the west’s politics could not support an offensive and was able to gamble and take Poland. 

Opportunity, however, knocked again in 1939.  The Soviet Union had invaded Finland – to strong international condemnation – and the Finns had knocked them back.  It was clear that the mighty soviet war machine was not as tough as it looked.  This may have played a part in Hitler’s decision to head east in 1941, but by then the USSR had solved many of the problems in the Red Army. 

However, what if the Germans went east in 1940?  There was strong political cover on many angles (anticommunism, fellow Nordic nation being attacked, Russian history) and the west was not about to fight anyway.  To Hitler’s eyes, the Russians must have looked like an easy target. 

The Red Army would be far weaker than it was in 1941.  The army was commanded by men who had been chosen on the grounds of their loyalty to Uncle Joe.  The army had also not begun their massive build up –they would have fewer infantry, weaker tanks (only a handful of T-34s), less training, fewer planes and the need to keep a substantial force in the Far East.  The Japanese had been clobbered, yes, but if the soviets were occupied in the west they might decide to try again. 

The German army would also be weaker.  Their supply lines would be longer and less well coordinated.  On the other hand, the Eastern European states could be counted on to provide troops and bases, even Italy might provide some troops.  The Italians might well be more effective as the Russians would not be more advanced. 

The Germans have another advantage.  Absent the ‘victory disease’ that plagued Germany and a possible threat from the west, the Germans have a strong motive to avoid genocidal attacks that force the population to follow Stalin, instead of sitting on the sidelines or fighting the Russians alongside the Germans.  The Germans raise several divisions of Ukrainian, Byelorussian and exile-Russian troops, many of which were captured from the Soviet troops in Poland and add them to the anti-communist forces.  Without a pressing need to intervene (A German collapse or a genocide campaign that forces America to push them), France and Britain stay on the sidelines.  The Turks contemplate the lands the Tsars and the USSR stole.  The Finns look for a pace deal that allows them their 1939 borders, but Stalin hedges. 

Hitler builds up quickly and heads east.  The soviets apparently stationed a few tank divisions and infantry divisions in Poland while fighting in the east.  I don’t think they would have presented much of a problem.  Hitler’s forces quickly take all of Poland and the Baltic States and head into the Ukraine.   Winter comes, however, and the Germans pause, but with the enthusiastic support of the population, they survive better than in OTL. 

Stalin would probably blame the failures of the Red army on the Germans instead of his political generals.  Zhukov, arguably the best general the Russians had, might be given command of the western front or not.  It probably won’t matter. 

Stalin uses the winter months to build up his forces and launch a counter attack.  The problem is that the red army will not be ready for such an attack.  Its air cover will be untrained and therefore minimal.  Its experienced men will have been lost in the early battles or tied down in the Far East.  Its tanks will be numerous, but the Russians have not yet worked out how to use them properly.  The Russians launch a hammer-blow at the Germans forces in the Ukraine, but the Germans see the attack coming (they’ll have better on site intelligence if they treat the Ukrainians better), out manover the Russians and smash the attacking force.  Hundreds of Russians are killed or go into German prison camps.  The signal defeat of the Russians brings the Japanese back in the game.  They take the Russian Far Eastern ports and attack vigorously.  They tie down soviet divisions. 

The Russians are having supply difficulties.  They demand that Britain and France launch offensives into Germany, as well as sending supplies to Russia.  He threatens a separate peace with Germany if the allies do not comply.  The British offer to send supplies, but demand that the Russians pay for what they receive, while the French refuse to launch any offensive.  The French are completing the modification of their army and don’t want to waste it.  Both powers think it’s a shame that Hitler and Stalin can’t both lose. 

The Germans have been sounding out the allies (absent Norway Chamberlain is still in charge) for a peace in the west.  The Germans offer to resurrect a limited Poland and purchase supplies from the west.  The allies want clear limits, even on German weapons, before they can leave the war. 

The disastrous battles in the Ukraine convince many people that the Soviet Union is finished.  It’s weakened, yes, but with some care it may bounce back.  However, the soviets have lost most of what made them a great power, much of their industry has been captured or destroyed to prevent it falling into German hands.  The Germans have been training massive Ukrainian brigades to police the captured areas, as well as organising work forces and advance scouts.  These forces are equipped with captured soviet weapons and are very motivated to fight the soviets. 

The soviets are numerically stronger than the Germans and their allies.  That’s about the only advantage they have.  Following their defeat, they have conscripted thousands of Russians without military experience into the Red Army.  They have devastated areas in the hopes of breaking the German supply line.  The conscripts have a tendency to desert to the Germans Russian exile forces or simply to go AWOL.  The NKVD uses harsh measures, but the soviets need time to recover their strength.

In April 1940, the Germans and their allies head further into Russia.  Leningrad falls to a German/Finnish attack and becomes a bastion of the Russian anti-communist forces.  The Finns settle for that territorial gain and refuse to move further into Russia.  The Germans head eastwards and take Smolensk (Loosely halfway between Moscow and Minsk).  This convinces several members of the soviet military that Stalin is not a good general.  They launch a coup.  In the wake of confused red army/NKVD fighting, the army, commanded by Zhukov, comes out ahead.  The USSR totters as reports of Stalin’s death encourage the other SSRs to revolt.  The Turks launch a campaign to liberate Georgia and the Baku oilfields.  The Iranians also take some territory. 

Zhukov sues for peace.  Hitler is all for pressing on, but the Germans are having supply difficulties and are running out of parts.  The Germans directly annex the reminder of Poland and the Baltic states, as well as the areas of Russia that have been taken and the transport lines throughout the Ukraine and Byelorussia.  Those two states are permitted a quasi-independent status, but are very dependent upon the Germans.  The remains of the USSR is under strict limits concerning military power and is forced to supply Germany with strategic goods.  

The west is looking for a fig leaf to make peace.  Hitler grants them a fig leaf by resurrecting Poland with some of the lands taken from them in 1939.  This is a mainly Ukrainian region, so the area (and the Poles) will remain compliant.  The west takes the deal, however, and peace is made on the basis of the status quo.  As Britain has benefited from the war (soviet gold), the British are not too unhappy about the outcome.  The Japanese threat is reduced as the Japanese try to occupy the regions they conquered before the soviet collapse. 

The Germans soon run into difficulties with their allies.  The Ukrainians are unhappy about the reluctance of the Germans to supply them with modern weapons and the German military camps on their soil.  The Germans have also been trying to economically dominate the region, purchasing mines and factories.  Other parts of the soviet industry, which the Ukrainians regard as theirs, have been taken back to Germany for study.  The Germans would love to just take over the region, but they’re exhausted from the war and know how heavily armed the nationalists are. 

Despite all those problems, Hitler sees visions of brilliance for the future.  The Germans are already considering continuing the eastward march in 1942 and ending Russia’s existence.  Alternatively, perhaps the Germans can go west and recover Alsace-Lorraine.  He has all the time in the world to decide….

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