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No Second Alamein

© Final Sword Productions 2008

 

 

Winston Churchill is a most complex historical figure. On one hand he is the man who kept Britain in the war for a year and a half [June 40 Ė Dec 41] when by all rights the UK had no way to win and could have best served its interests by doing a deal with Hitler. On the other hand he was a disaster as a warlord. From Norway to Anzio his schemes ignored logistics, ignroed the capacities of his military forces and frequently ignored common sense as well. Second Alamein is a classic example.

Essentially Rommel with an inferior force had exploited the operational ineptitude of British command and operational defects in the Commonwealth armies [lack of combined arms ability, an officer corps at the middle and higher levels that seemed not up to the rigors of mech warfare and extremely slow OODA loops] to defeat a superior Empire force and chase it from Gazala to Alamein with secondary defeats at Tobruk and Mersa Matruh. However he reached Alamein with a few dozen still functional tanks and a few thousand exhausted men [there are stories of German units falling asleep on sand dunes under artillery fire during the spastic set of engagements that are called First Alamein Ė men so exhausted that even battle and amphetamines could not push more energy out of their exhausted bodies]. However the Empire troops were equally punch drunk and while vastly superior in numbers and firepower simply could not coordinate knockout blows. The affair ground to a halt as both sides dug in and reinforced.

Churchill used the interval to do a command reshuffle. Auchinleck certainly merited sacking for the various failures to date [they may not have mostly been his fault but as the commander the responsibility rested with him]. However the core reason he was sacked was for telling the truth to Churchill about how much time and how many reinforcements it would take to resume the offense. We know his requests were accurate because Montgomery took still more time, received still more reinforcements and came near to losing the opening phases of Second Alamein.

However this all begs the question of why attack at all. Torch was coming. The exact date wasnít know when Second Alamein was in planning but the general answer of late October Ė mid November was known. It was also obvious that once the Allies were in Algeria the Axis position in Egypt was untenable. Rommelís line of supply past Malta was already under heavy air-sea attack. So were the long truck routes from Tripoli and Benghazi to the front. Beyond Winnieís wish for a prestige victory why bother? Within 12 months the bottom of the British manpower barrel would be breached [from the autumn of 43 onwards the British disbanded an average of a division a month to keep their remaining forces at strength].

So let us presume that Churchill shows a modicum of conservative caution. Torch finds the Panzer Army still dug in in Egypt. Hitler still responds by sending Fifth Panzer Army to Tunisia. Without the arrival of Rommelís vanguard Ahrimís Fifth finds it cannot keep extending its left and the US and French reach the sea somewhere in south Ė central Tunisia. Ahrim now has a pocket around the two Tunisian ports and the road from Tunisia to Tripoli is essentially open. At this point even Adolph the Idiot would have had to order a withdrawal from Egypt. However Montyís divisions are fresh, the Desert Air Force has complete command of the skies and the Franco-American force is a thousand miles closer to Tripoli. With Tripoli lost Panzer Army Afrika goes into the bag. Ahrimís force follows right on schedule. So far this is just the North African war with a slightly different set of battle names.

The difference comes over the rest of 43. In OTL the Allies took into January of 43 to come to terms with the facts that the failure to rapidly take Tunis in 42 meant that the 43 campaign would be in the Med. They went into Sicily because they had to do something and then from there on to Italy on the same inertia. The strategic bankruptcy reached its peak at Anzio where they landed a force big enough to require massive naval and amphibious support and too small to actually take Rome. In this ATL the winter letdown and funk does not occur. Ahrim is pocketed and there is a victorious advance to and beyond Tripoli. Ike has time with less stress to make the obvious point that there is no way to disengage for a spring invasion of France. So [hopefully] Sicily and Italy are better thought out. They become something to do for 1943 and not a slog up the spine of Italy to Rome. The advance is ended north of Naples and the focus is shifted to either Provence [a setup for Normandy the next year] or across to Albania and Greece [this would have been Churchillís choice]. Either would have been far more strategically useful than Anzio and Casino.

The added bonus is that the Monty legend never happens. Alexander gets 21st Army Group for Normandy. That in and of itself is an allied victory.

 

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