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Viva Il Duce

© Final Sword Productions 2006



In the list of weirdnesses that make WW2 such fun to play with Italy’s decision to enter WW2 has to rate up there among the ones where people sit in the early 21st century scratching their heads going ‘what on earth were they thinking’. Italy had been loosely allied with the West until the blow-up over what Italy perceived as a backstab on Abyssinia after Italy had done the West’s work forcing Hitler to back down over Austria in 1934. Abyssinia and Spain had combined to nearly bankrupt Italy. The Italian military was underequipped with an aging class of weapons and what little money Italy had had been wasted on a surface fleet of dubious utility. Although nominally allied to Germany, in 1938 Italy had been treated as a second class citizen at Munich and ignored in the nearly year long runup to the actual war. Instead Hitler had formed a de facto alliance with Stalin.

Even when the Western campaign started the Germans did not want Italy coming into the war. By early June the Germans knew they had won a historic victory and feared Italian entry would just ruin everything. Italian colonial claims might prompt the French to fight on from Algeria instead of doing a deal once Paris fell. In OTL Mussolini ignored all of this. He expected the war to end promptly and wanted a seat at the peace conference. It was a disastrous miscalculation and fundamentally changed the course of the war both in Europe and Asia. So let us presume that Germany and the UK each dispatch an envoy to Rome in early June. The Germans promise Italy a seat at the peace ONLY if they do not come into the war but promise to do nothing to help them if they do come in. Churchill threatens to seize the entire Italian Empire if Italy comes in but promises them a seat at the peace conference if they do not. Essentially the two real powers bully Italy into keeping the peace until the Frogs pack it in. Germany comes through at the French armistice and gets the Italians an extraterritorial port facility at Djibouti and perhaps the Azzou strip on the Libyan-Chadian border. France had sworn not to take colonial losses but this Petain and Darlan probably would have swallowed.

Now within 60 days it is obvious that the UK is not about to make peace. Within 90 days it is obvious that Sea Lion isn’t going to happen. In OTL the locus of war now turned to the Eastern Med [Greece, Libya] and East Africa. Now none of these things happen. Churchill doesn’t get his colonial victories to prove the UK is still in the war. Hitler doesn’t have a Balkan diversion. To most of the world it looks like a siege of the UK, but one where the British are more than holding their own.

With no need to redeem Italian failures against France, Mussolini listens to the Germans and avoids the Greek debacle. Yugoslavia takes the weak membership in the Tripartite Pact but does not have the Belgrade coup. There will be no war in the Balkans. So Barbarossa opens three weeks sooner [spring floods were late so the May 15th date is out]. Rommel has a panzer corps out of Rumania instead of a Panzer Army in Africa. Italy sends a somewhat larger ‘volunteer’ force than in OTL. They sent six divisions to Spain so shall we say eight divisions of black shirts, White Russians and royalist Serbs including the Spanish Blue division. To use the Marxist phrase this is party to party aid so the Italian government does not declare war.

Now the UK essentially has no land war and hasn’t had one since the 2nd BEF evacuated France. Stalin had asked for a British expeditionary force in the aftermath of the initial Barbarossa disasters. Logistics would limit what could be sent but let us presume that a small army could be supplied through occupied Iran and into south Russia. So let us use the British 10th Army HQ [which was designated northern front if the Germans did advance past Baku in 1942] and put Auchinlek in charge. For corps commanders give him O’Conner and Cunningham, the desert general and the East Africa one. Again stealing availabilities from the OTL campaigns send UK 7th Armored Div, Australian 6th Div, NZ 2nd Div and Indian 4th Div. Follow-up would be the Palestine Brigade, the Polish Carpathian Bde, the Free French Bde [LeClerc’s people], the collection of odds and ends that became the Long Range Desert Group [substitute Steppe for Desert – essentially a jeep and armored car force], and a pair of Army Tank Brigades [Matildas]. It is small change on the scale of the Ost Front. It is a huge propaganda plus for the British Empire. Presume for logistics they fight on or near the Black Sea coast and so miss the Kiev pocket. They have a few minor wins and form part of the counterattack force that retakes Rostov towards the end of 1941.

Now two big changes flow from this. The first is in the Soviet Union. From the time of Barbarossa onwards the British had been trying to get Stalin to give up his Polish prisoners from the 1939 mini-war with Poland. We now know that part of the problem was that he had shot some tens of thousands of Polish officers. With the British really helping Stalin gives up what in 42-43 became known as the Anders Army. The Poles are allowed first as replacements for the British 10th Army and then the British are allowed to form Polish divisions winter of 41-42. In OTL the Poles ultimately formed 11 divisions plus an airborne brigade and a couple of tank brigades. Of these three actually saw combat. Ost front standards of what a combat division was were lower than what was used MTO and ETO so let us have the actual 1st Armored and 3th and 5th Mountain divisions [done here as motor rifle format as mountain divisions made sense for Italy but not in Ukraine]. We will also field the 2nd Mech which in OTL was formed in the UK but never deployed to France. The other seven paper divisions [Poles had more officers than men in part because Stalin was more willing to part with officers than men, in part because many of the conscripts captures [Jews, Belorus, Ukranians, etc.] preferred to serve in the Red Army / the Red Army preferred to keep] can come out as imperial garrison units which in fact is what they were used as in OTL.

However there was a flip side to all of this. Rommel’s war was a huge logistic drain on Germany. The three divisions in Africa of OTL were spare change. The truck fleet needed to support them was more than any army group in Russia had. Similarly much of the success of Stalin’s Moscow counteroffensive happened because one of the two air fleets in Belarus supporting Army Group Center was in November of 1941 pulled out to bail out a disaster in the Med. The Germans still don’t take Moscow. THAT problem was a combination of weather [winter does come] and rail bottlenecks between Warsaw and the front [Adolph the Idiot did not put a premium on logistic things like railway repair and thus was less capable at this than the Kaiser’s army in 1914]. The extra trucks and the extra air fleet mean that after the initial repulse Army Group center does not come near to falling apart. This in turn probably means that Stalin does not extend the offensive from the Moscow sector to the whole front. Both sides lose less men over the winter and the front stays closer to Moscow.

Second flip is in the Far East. In December of 1941 UK was overstretched between the Med, the Battle of the Atlantic, the air war and supporting the SU via Lend Lease. So the Far East was left undermanned especially in fighters. The idea was that they would be filled in during the first half of 1942. In this ATL the British do less land fighting than in OTL so simply have more equipment and more first rate deployable units. Furthermore the limiting factor on deployment into Ukraine is logistics. There is simply no way to keep ramming divisions up the pipeline past Baku and supply them a thousand kilometers further. So add a pair of first line divisions each to the garrisons of Burma [hypothetically 5th Indian and 50th UK] and Malaya [hypothetically 7th and 9th Australian] plus a few hundred first line fighters each [again the logistics do not allow massive deployment to Russia whereas with the Med shipping route open they do allow such deployments near the ports of Singapore and Rangoon].

In OTL both Malaya and Burma were near run things decided mostly by overwhelming Japanese air power plus inept British generalship. Perceival will still be a complete twit but with a few good divisions and enough good air should hold north of Johore. Similarly Alexander should be able to hold Rangoon and lower Burma. In both cases the initial Japanese attacks were with inferior forces. They won by luck, air superiority, facing 2nd rate British units whose OODA cycles were woeful even by British standards, British mental inability to deal with Japanese forces in their rear even if those forces were small parties of light infantry and the British simply not being ready for war to break out on 7 December 1941. As is Singapore fell to a Japanese army of inferior numbers that was essentially out of ammunition.

The Japanese will still ultimately take Malaya, the East Indies and Lower Burma. The British had nothing that could stand up to the Japanese carrier fleet at this point in the war. But this will tie up the six carriers against first Malaya, then the East Indies and then lower Burma through the rest of 1942. So no battle of the Coral Sea [the Japanese do not attempt to advance further on New Guinea than the Buna area within land based air range of Rabaul]. Similarly no Midway and no Guadalcanal. The big fighting is further east and involved a slow retreat from Singapore through the East Indies to Timor and then from there out to Australia. Given enough land based air the Empire can keep getting enough people out from island to island. Huge losses but not the mass surrender that happened in OTL.

Now this ties into a very different war. USN gambled risking its carriers in the South Pacific. There was a zero chance they would have risked them in East Indian waters, especially as in this ATL all six Japanese fleet carriers are still alive. So with Guadalcanal remaining as an Australian backwater the US fleet does tip and run raids on the mandated islands but its big ships are out of the war until the Essex class comes on stream in late 43. People tend to forget that the US was fighting two wars in 1942 – a naval/air war in the South and Southwest Pacific that ate shipping and a naval/air war in the Atlantic which we lost badly [we didn’t beat the U-boats until 1943]. In this ATL the main fleet has little to do in 1942 so it can focus on winning the submarine war. Most of the mistakes made were attention deficit disorder type: mistakes anyone who had been through the last round of U-boat war in 17-18 could have told them. So have the USN do better after the initial month’s disasters focus their minds. In reverse have the East Indian campaign suck up the air resources that became the 8th Air Force in England. The B-17’s and the bomber generals all go to the East Indies and Australia where Macarthur and the Australian PM Curtin can bang heads to force them to be proper support units instead of trying to win the war on their own.

There is no way of knowing how the East Front changes from this point. There are simply too many variables. Both sides are stronger than in OTL. The Germans are closer to Moscow but Stalin hasn’t thrown away his main strength in Ukraine on an idiot Kharkov offensive. My presumption would be another German summer offensive but having it fall short of driving Stalin from the war. However the bigger change comes elsewhere. Without the war in North Africa TORCH simply makes no sense. TORCH was the second arm of a pincer. Now there is no Italy to drive from the war. In reverse the Anglosphere needs the Med shipping route left open which starting a war in North Africa would imperil. So it is more likely than not that Marshal gets his way and a few allied divisions are landed in Normandy during the late summer of 1942.

The usual thing is to write off this operation, Roundup, as doomed to failure. I disagree. The German garrison in the West fluctuated between 20-25 divisions in this period with very few armored or mech units. In 1944 there were 60 divisions, 10 of them mobile [including some of the best equipped Germany had] and a further 5 on call in Italy and Galicia. There were no beach defences except directly in the Calais narrows. Dieppe proved you couldn’t hit a port head on. So I will presume an earlier Dieppe in say May of 1942 followed by a Roundup of 2-3 divisions in August on the actual invasion beaches.

There was no reason why the Allies could not have taken a lodgement area. Hitler was still doing war on the cheap at this point. He did not do his economic mobilization till after Kursk. So Germany simply wasn’t producing enough tanks, planes, etc. for a material battle of attrition in the late summer of 1942 on top of the Ost Front. So have the Allies get 20 divisions onto the continent and the Germans stalemate them with 20 but only after the wreckage of Cherbourg falls.

The spillover effects now start to hit. With a real western front Hitler cannot keep attacking in Russia. Germans do their real war mobilization a year sooner. So Stalin has the joy of trying to fight the Germans out of Russia with a better German army further east and playing for a draw. Normandy becomes as deadlocked as the Western front of 1915-17. However there is simply no reason for the West to be as suicidally stupid as Haig. A static front is still a front facing Hitler. There is still a small but real British army fighting in the East to which a US corps could be added for political / propaganda reasons. What DOES happen is that the decisive air battle of 42-43 is fought over France and Belgium. The Combined bomber offensive never goes East of the Rhine. It happens in daylight with heavy fighter escorts. In OTL there was a long period [1940-44] where the Combined Bomber Offensive was the Allied war effort from the UK. Here there is a front in France. Here the East Indies drain off a lot of long range air strength in the spring-summer of 1942.

So we have a slower bloodier Ost Front and a stalemated Normandy front. Having a land war in Normandy probably means no silly British offensives into Burma 43-44. Slim is left to guard Assam and do commando sparring with the Japanese in the mountains along the border. When Timor finally is evacuated the Australian-New Guinea front similarly goes to stalemate. Each side fortifies and uses land based air and subs for raids. The real Pacific war will come when the US goes for the Marianas [with perhaps a detour to Wake first] in 1944.

Which brings us back to Italy. Italy will not have lost its merchant marine as it did in OTL. Italian industry will be producing flat out for Germany in the same way the Swedes and Swiss did. The force draft industrialization of Italy will happen two decades sooner in this ATL with the Italian economic miracle being a 40’s fascist one instead of a 60’s EU one. By the summer of 1944 the Germans should have what they had historically in the East plus a good chunk of Ukraine. The ‘Italian’ army at this point should be mostly Ost Truppen and under German command even if the nominal Italian division names are retained. The West should have an expanded Normandy beachhead – say 20-30 klicks out from out historic Cobra breakout line. There was simply no way Germany could win a long run artillery / air attritional battle and equally no way Churchill would allow British lives to be squandered the way Haig did in WW1. So heavy offensive work would depend on how fast Marshall could deploy US units. Which in turn would be limited by the slow victory in the Atlantic [in OTL as of Normandy Ike had more Empire than US divisions – this didn’t change until mid summer]. Italy would by this time have an army of 40-50 divisions and a noticeable industrial base [say what France had in 1940]. Both sides would have tried to bribe Italy but the West had more to offer. So Italy enters the war in the summer of 1944. We promise huge economic aid and territory. As Vichy would by this time be effectually a German puppet and there would not be a counterbalance of a Free French government in Algiers the Allies can promise broadly. Italy is offered Corsica, Nice, Savoy, Tunisia, Djibouti and a protectorate over Yugoslavia with Dalmatia reverting to Italy.

The Germans would have seen it coming and formed armies to cover the Italian borders. So all the Italian entry initially gains them is part of Kosovo and southern Dalmatia. However unlike 1915 the Italians do not make futile frontal assaults once blocked. They are content to go on the defensive and wait for Allied air forces to be deployed to Italy. Rome and Milan have to endure a few terror raids but essentially the Germans find the terrain in the Alps and Balkans as unpleasant for offensive operations as the Italians did. So Italian entry initially doesn’t accomplish all that much. Even in Russia there are few Italians left and most are ideological fanatics who rally to the German cause against Il Duce’s ‘treason’.

What it accomplishes is to give the Balkan Axis an option besides Hitler and Stalin. As the Red Army grinds through Ukraine in the autumn of 1944 Bulgaria and Turkey take the plunge. They join the Allies for massive subsidies. This opens the sea route to Russia through the Black Sea. This leads to a linkup with the Italians in Macedonia. None of these armies is good enough to fight masses of panzers. None of them has to. The Germans have second rate police divisions in Yugoslavia and Rumania and not many of those. The nominally Axis Yugoslavs now disintegrate with the bulk of their army going south to the new Balkan front and the balance going into the mountains to play guerrilla. The Germans set up new puppet regimes in Belgrade and Zagreb but no one pays them much mind.

Stalin now starts getting worried about Rumania. He does NOT want it occupied by the British and asks their 10th Army to exit via Baku, which it does. This in turn slows down the Soviets for just long enough for the Rumanian king to do his own side switch. The two Rumanian armies at the front mostly go over to the Soviets. A mixed force of Brits, Italians, Bulgars and Turks comes to help the Rumanians liberate Transylvania. In turn this frees the main Balkan front to lever itself from Kosovo to Belgrade.

And this by year’s end forces Hitler to thin out the Western front enough so Normandy sees a breakout to Paris and the Seine. THAT causes Vichy to switch sides. Darlan saves the French fleet from scuttling. So year end sees a Western front running Somme to Aisne to the Vosges to Belfort. The mutual antagonisms of the various French factions are even worse than in OTL. Imagine the squabbles of Algiers 42-44 of OTL in Paris with Petain and Darlan still alive and still in control of formal power.

The Balkan front runs Dubrovnik – Savajero-Belgrade –Iron Gates – mid Transylvania where it links to an east front with the German still holding before Lvov, Minsk, Duanberg and on to the Narva. Finland has dumped the Germans a few months later in the war than OTL and the same problem of 20th Mountain Army in Lapland is still in the process of sorting itself out.

I’ll give the Germans the sense to do a coup in Budapest the same as OTL so Hungary stays with the Axis to the bloody end. So it takes all of 1945 to lever the Germans back to the Rhine and Vistula and out of Hungary and Yugoslavia. Berlin, Munich and Peenemünde have been nuked. The combined bomber offensive starts in early 1945 as the ring closes around Germany. With all of Germany within Allied fighter range it is a no brainer. So Germany still gets bombed flat.

Pacific war takes a very different turn also. Once Vichy switches sides no one needs major fleets in the Med. The British were able to pull the bulk of their forces as well as most of the French and Italian battle fleets out of the Med and into the Indian Ocean. This in turn kept a portion of the Japanese fleet stuck in Singapore and unable to sortie out to fight the Americans in the Marianas. So while the Japanese will fight the carrier battle of all time in the Philippine Sea the bulk of their battleships sit it out in Singapore. So no Marianas turkey shoot but when the smoke clears the USN has lost a dozen major ships while Japan has lost all her carriers and the Marianas. The step by step from there is still Iwo and Okinawa but this time there is no Kyushu invasion planned. Instead the final hop is Pusan to complete the blockade ring. Japan is still bombed flat but is not nuked [those go to Germany]. Japan starves massively winter 45-46 as submarines and small craft out of Pusan and Okinawa make supply of the Home Islands essentially impossible.

The odds are that the Emperor throws in the towel sometime in the spring of 1946. Allies would not have been as fanatic about unconditional surrender with Germany still in the field. If Japan is left with a Versailles type disarmament and an American shogun under the Emperor something could have been worked out. So the Japanese do a 180 phased withdrawal from the south Pacific and Asia. The Japanese battle fleet is handed over to the Allies for division. Moscow never enters the Pacific war. Instead Chiang is given Manchuria by the Japanese. Korea becomes independent under Syngman Rhee. Vietnam gets autonomy under the Emperor. Burma gets independence in 1947 but under terms more favorable to Britain and India.

1946 sees Germany pounded flat, nuked some more and occupied. Russians get a bit further west in Saxony and the West occupied Hungary and Austria but no real surprises. You can flip a coin on Prague. Almost doesn’t matter. My best guess would be Slovakia going into the proto-WP and Czechia as a neutral in the manner of OTL’s Austria. The UN veto powers are US, USSR, UK and Italy. World does not see fascism as the same thing as Nazism. The Final Solution is seen as something uniquely German not as proof that all right authoritarians are bottomlessly evil. When some form of EU does form in the 50’s it is along the lines of EFTA as this is a MUCH weaker France and a weaker still rump Germany. Also Spain, Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Rumania, Hungary, Austria are founding members.

Also there is a VERY different world attitude on the use of nukes. In OTL Japan was able to use the race angle to guilt trip the US for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There is no way to play the race card when blonde Euros are nuking blonde Euros. Also the limits of what nukes are is exposed. World in OTL sees nukes as forcing Japan to surrender. Fact is they were the straw that broke the camel’s back. Here nukes do not force Germany to surrender and thus they are just seen as a big bomb.

Il Duce dies in 1968, a much respected world leader. Italy transitions to a parliamentary democracy over the next decade [see post-Franco Spain as a model]. China’s civil war ends in the 50’s when the Maoist remnant retreats over the Soviet border. However Chiang’s China is a wildcard on the world stage, in many ways closer to Moscow than the West. Cold War as we know it mostly doesn’t happen. The West now includes a strong Italy and a weaker France. SU is much more bled out and much weaker. The probable result is that Stalin just annexes what he has and calls it a day. So a larger East Germany, Poland and Slovakia become SSR’s. He may keep what he occupied in Iran and Norwegian Lapland. But Western Europe never looks as weak as it did 1945-48. The US may demobilize but there is no problem replacing US occupation troops in Germany with Italians, Spaniards, Turks, etc. The weaker France does not have the huge Communist resistance in did in OTL so the ‘sides’ in French politics are a weaker CP, Vichy and the London backed Gaulist-liberals. French politics stays poisonous. The French probably need twenty years to reconcile to their territorial losses. However they do a deal early in Indochina leaving them with the strength to hold Algeria. The Middle East decolonizes FAR more slowly. The Palestine question is probably settled by a tiny Israel [think a smaller version of the 1947 lines] under Italian protection while the larger piece is an Arab Palestine that actually forms a government under British protection [and perhaps as a second crown for Jordan]. It is a nasty mess but less so than OTL. Egypt is nastier as the British need a LOT more pushing to leave. Syria gives the French a war as bad as Algeria did. Finally gets its independence but Christian Lebanon [ a smaller Lebanon than OTL and definitely massive Christian majority] joins EFTA under French protection.


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