THE DRIVE FOR THE CAUCASUS

Stalingrad became a symbol of Russian endurance, of German capability. It also had an important strategic significance. If the Germans had cut across the Volga, they would have sliced right through the Russian lines of communication, for oil and for transport. Stalingrad was not an altogether facile quest on Hitler’s part but it became invested with enormous psychological significance. Both sides in this ghastly chest to chest struggle could not be unlocked. One side, it seemed had to be destroyed and the other become victor. It had the quality of a titanic struggle, the political importance which was attached to Stalingrad by both Hitler and Stalin was immensely significant.

EXPLORATORY STEPS: JULY 1940 – SEPTEMBER 1942

To Hitler, the oil of the Caucasus had always been one of the foremost attractions of Russia. He had mentioned the necessity of seizing the Baku oil fields as early as 31st July 1940, during one of the initial discussions of his plan to invade the Soviet Union. In the spring of 1941 the Armed Forces High Command activated the so-called Oil Detachment Caucasus for the purpose of taking over the oil fields. At that time the Germans expected that their advance into the Caucasus would be so rapid that the Russians would not be able to severely damage the oil wells, and the tables of organization and equipment of the oil detachment were established accordingly.

The next step in this direction was the preparation of Directive No. 32, circulated by the Armed Forces High Command among the three services on 11th June 1941-11 days before the start of Operation BARBAROSSA. This directive envisaged a drive from the Caucasus across Iran as a part of the plan for the continuation of operations against the British Empire following the defeat of the Soviets. At that time German expeditionary forces were to be activated in the Caucasus and sent across Turkey and Syria to Palestine and across Iraq to Basra. The same directive also visualized the use of the Arab liberation movement against the British in the Middle East, and Special Staff F was designated to initiate and coordinate the corresponding military and subversive activities.

A few days later, on 16th June 1941, German counterintelligence submitted to the Armed Forces High Command a plan for securing the Caucasus oil fields as soon as the internal disintegration of the Soviet Union would become manifest. A nucleus of 100 Georgians, trained by German counterintelligence agents in sabotage and revolt tactics, was in existence in Romania. These Georgians would have to be brought to the oil fields by sea or air transport as soon as the German ground forces approached the Caucasus region. In a somewhat optimistic vein the plan foresaw the employment of the Georgians in two to three weeks after D-Day.

On 24th July 1941 the Army Operations Division wrote a memorandum on the conduct of operations after the conclusion of Operation BARBAROSSA. With regard to the Caucasus it was anticipated that the British would seize and block this area as soon as the Germans approached the Sea of Azov. The first British troop concentrations were believed to be taking place along the northern and eastern border of Iraq. Because of terrain difficulties a German offensive from the southern slopes of the Caucasus across Iran into Iraq could not be executed before the spring of 1942. Meanwhile, data regarding the Caucasus were to be collected; a list of German tourists, who had climbed the Caucasus Mountains during recent years and knew the terrain and weather conditions, was drawn up, and books dealing with the same subjects were carefully scrutinized.

At the beginning of August the German Naval Operations Staff submitted an estimate of the probable reaction of the Soviet Black Sea fleet in the event of a German penetration into the Caucasus. It was believed that the fleet could seriously hamper operations by keeping the coastal road and railroad between Tuapse and Sukhumi under fire. Among the Soviet ships suitable for such operations were one battleship, six cruisers, and 15 modern plus five outdated destroyers. In the Black Sea area the German Navy had no units capable of stopping or disturbing the movements of the Soviet fleet. Coastal batteries would be of limited use; even if they did drive the Soviet ships farther off shore, the latter would still remain within reach of the coast. Air force protection was the only effective means of safeguarding coastal traffic.

In late September reports from agents and radio intercepts indicated that the Russians had from five to six divisions in the Caucasus and three in Iran. It was estimated that British troops entering the Soviet Union would take three weeks to get from Iran to the Caucasus and four weeks to the Crimea.

THE FIRST PLAN FOR A CAUCASUS OPERATION: OCTOBER 1941

In October 1941 the Operations Division of the Army High Command drew up the first detailed plan for a Caucasus operation. The scope of the offensive was limited to seizing the oil resources of the Caucasus and to reaching the Iranian and Iraqi border passes for a possible farther advance toward Baghdad. [See General reference map of the Caucasus area above.] The operation was to be executed in six separate phases, extending from November 1941 to September 1942. These phases were outlined as follows:

1 Seizure of the approaches to the northern Caucasus, starting in November 1941;

2 A series of preliminary attacks leading to the seizure of favorable jump-off areas by May 1942;

3 Launching the offensive across the Caucasus Mountains in two different stages in June 1942;

4 The advance across Transcaucasia toward the Turkish and Iranian borders;

5 Seizure of favorable jump-off areas within Iran; and

6 Capture of the border passes leading into Iraq. The last three phases were to take place in the period July-early September 1942.

The feasibility of the entire offensive would depend on the course taken by current operations in the Russian theater. The second and third phases could be executed only if German troops reached the lower Volga during the winter of 1941-42. The scope of the preliminary attacks to be launched during the second phase would depend on the overall plan adopted for the offensive across the Caucasus. The latter could be launched via the two roads following the Black and Caspian Sea coasts respectively and over the mountain road leading to Tiflis. The interior roads crossed the mountains over passes more than 10,000 feet in altitude. These roads could be negotiated only by mountain divisions. The movement along the Caspian coastal road would be easier because only a few outdated Russian destroyers were liable to interfere.

During the first stage of the offensive proper, two motorized and two mountain corps were to be employed, driving toward Sukhumi and Kutaisi in the west, Tiflis in the center, and Baku in the east, respectively. As soon as any one of these forces had achieved a breakthrough, one additional motorized corps that was being held in reserve was to move up and launch the pursuit. The commitment of this reserve force would determine where the point of main effort was to be placed during the second stage of the offensive.

The employment of two corps in the west during the first stage would be necessary because of the vulnerability of the lines of communications along the Black Sea. Moreover, in the west was the only opening for launching an enveloping drive, since unfavorable terrain conditions prevented any such maneuver elsewhere. During the second stage of the offensive the penetration into the mountains would have to be exploited by the reserve corps which could thrust either via the Black Sea coastal road to Batumi and from there via Tiflis to Baku; or across the mountains to Tiflis and from there either to Batumi or Baku; or along the Caspian shore to Baku and from there, if necessary to Tiflis.

While the offensive was in progress, German naval contingents would have to protect Novorossiysk and Tuapse by taking over captured coastal batteries. In addition, some submarines would have to keep the Russian Black Sea fleet under control, and the Navy would also have to make available the shipping space needed for carrying supplies from Novorossiysk to Batumi once the Russian fleet had been eliminated.

The Luftwaffe would have to protect and support the ground forces; combat the Red Navy and its ports; commit airborne troops to capture the major cities; use dive bombers against the pass fortifications; and prepare transport planes to airdrop supplies.

This plan met with general approval at an exploratory conference held at Army High Command headquarters upon request of the Operations Division on 24th October 1941. An attack across the Caucasus was considered the quickest solution to Germany’s MiddleEastern problems. The effect of such an offensive would induce Turkey to join the Axis Powers. In addition, British forces that would otherwise oppose Rommel in North Africa would be tied down in Iran.

An offensive launched in the spring of 1942 would first lead to the seizure of the Caucasus oil fields, then open the passes from Iran to Iraq, and finally permit the capture of the Iraqi oil fields in the autumn of 1942, when the weather favored the commitment of large ground forces. The essential prerequisite for such far-reaching operations was the seizure of the west bank of the lower Volga from Stalingrad to Astrakhan. This realization implied that if, for instance, the Germans failed to capture Stalingrad, a complete reevaluation of the plans for an offensive against the Caucasus would become necessary.

Among the essential preparations for a Caucasus operation discussed at this conference were the production of military maps and tropical clothing as well as the activation and equipment of special mountain troops.

CAUCASUS PLANNING: NOVEMBER 1941

In a conversation with Field Marshal von Brauchitsch on 7th November Hitler mentioned that the seizure of the oil fields would have to be delayed until the following year. This delay had actually been anticipated by the Operations Division of the Army High Command. However, a new point was brought up by the Führer when he added that he had no intention of going beyond the Russian border. The scope of the offensive was thus limited to the Caucasus; this change in plans was probably due to the slowdown in the 1941 advance caused by the muddy season.

According to all available intelligence the Red Army intended to put up stiff resistance in the Caucasus. By 9th November German intercept units had identified 5 army headquarters in that area. If exact, this information would imply the presence of at least 15 divisions, whereas prior to that time the presence of only 5 had been assumed. It seemed improbable that the Russians would move sizable forces across their border into Iran. And it seemed even more unlikely that the British would send strong forces northward into the Caucasus. For the time being the situation in the Caucasus remained obscure.

In a conversation with General Halder on 19th November, Hitler stated that the first objective for 1942 would be the Caucasus. An offensive launched for this purpose in March-April 1942 would bring the German forces to the Soviet border with Iran. Depending on the situation at the end of 1941, offensives in the center could subsequently be launched beyond Moscow toward Vologda or Gorki by the end of May 1942. Other objectives for 1942 could not yet be designated.

Their scope would depend mainly on the capacity of the railroads. The question of whether a defensive wall separating Asiatic from European Russia was subsequently to be constructed remained open.

Hitler thus revealed a number of interesting facts. Even as late as 19th November he seemed convinced that the Germans would be able to capture Moscow before the end of 1941. Furthermore, he seemed to believe that the Caucasus offensive across difficult mountain terrain could be successfully executed within a few weeks in April and May, as a kind of southern interlude prior to another offensive farther north. Three days later, on 22nd November 1941, Halder ordered a light infantry division organized for the Caucasus operation and mountain personnel withdrawn from combat. As late as 16 days before the turning of the tide in front of Moscow the atmosphere at Army High Command headquarters appeared definitely optimistic.

EFFECTS OF THE MOSCOW SETBACK: JANUARY 1942

An order dated 10th January 1942, originating from the Armed Forces Economics Office and the Organization Branch of the Armed Forces Operations Staff and signed by Hitler brought out the newly imposed material limitations—if not the change in scope—of the 1942 operations.

In the introductory paragraph Hitler stated that the long-range strategic plans remained unchanged; the Navy and the Luftwaffe were to be expanded for the showdown with the Anglo-Saxon powers. Until further notice, however, the operations scheduled for 1942 would not permit a reduction in armaments destined for the Army. On the contrary, the Army would have to be given even more than its ordinary share of manpower and armaments so that it could accomplish its mission for 1942.

In effect, the Army was to have top priority on armament production. Wherever shortages of raw materials developed, the Navy and Luftwaffe would have to take the cuts. Greater standardization, the introduction of more substitutes, and the increased use of captured munitions were recommended as means to overcoming production bottlenecks.

The ground forces were to be ready for offensive commitment by 1st May 1942; supplies for at least four months of continuous operations would have to be accumulated by that time. The units taking part in the offensive would have to be amply provided with supply and service troops as well as motor vehicles, while those committed along the Atlantic Coast would not need many trucks. Ammunition supplies for all weapons used in the Russian theater would have to be built up to one month’s expenditure in addition to the basic load.

The Navy was to concentrate on submarine construction and maintenance. The Luftwaffe was to continue its current programs, except for a temporary curtailment of its ammunition and bomb production schedules.

Among the military-economic programs, oil had first priority. The railroad transportation, signal, and other programs were to be carried on along the same lines as before, whereas the motor vehicle output was to be increased. Military manpower requirements were to be coordinated with the industrial ones.

Perhaps the most striking note in this order was its pessimistic undertone. Written at a time when the Germans were desperately trying to stem the Russian tide west of Moscow, the order showed the many weaknesses in the German war machine which had become manifest after less than seven months of fighting in Russia. During the following weeks further planning for the summer offensive came to a standstill, probably because of the life-and-death struggle that raged along the Army Group Center front.

THE FIRST PREPARATORY ORDERS: FEBRUARY 1942

With the acute danger past at the front, the military planners were able to pursue more actively the preparations for a summer offensive. On 12th February 1942 the Operations Division of the Army High Command issued a directive for the conduct of operations after the end of the winter. An introductory statement anticipated that the Russian winter offensive would not succeed in destroying the German troops and their equipment. During the coming weeks the Germans would have to consolidate their lines, eliminate Russian forces that had penetrated into their rear areas, and generally attempt to seize the initiative. At the same time they would have to prepare themselves for the muddy period following the spring thaw.

The directive then went into great detail in describing the different aspects of the muddy season and the countermeasures to be taken. The Army High Command intended to use this probable lull in operations to rehabilitate and regroup its forces.

Army Group South was to hold its positions and make preparations for the planned offensive. First, the Russian penetration west of Izyum would have to be eliminated, then the Kerch Peninsula recaptured and Sevastopol seized, so that the forces stationed in the Crimea would become available for employment elsewhere.

Army Group Center was to seize Ostashkov and shorten its front line by eliminating various dents and penetrations.

Army Group North was to hold its lines near Kholm, Staraya Russa, and north of Lake Ilmen.

After the end of the muddy season all three army groups were to improve their front lines and establish continuous defensive positions, if possible. Because of the precarious supply situation, it seemed doubtful whether more than isolated strong points could be held along certain sectors of the front. Armored and motorized reserves would have to be assembled in accessible areas.

Units withdrawn from the frontline for rehabilitation would have to train their recently arrived replacements on the basis of past experience in combat. Because of a shortage of equipment, only a certain number of divisions could be fully rehabilitated. The ones selected for this purpose were the armored and motorized divisions as well as the army and corps troops of Army Group South, and three armored and three motorized infantry divisions as well as some of the army and corps troops of Army Groups Center and North. In the process of rehabilitation, each armored division was to have three tank battalions, and each motorized infantry division one. The armored divisions of Army Groups Center and North that were not to be rehabilitated would have to transfer some of their cadres to the south. Three armored and six infantry divisions of Army Group Center were to be moved to western Europe without their equipment. There they were to be completely rehabilitated and reequipped. The armored and motorized infantry divisions remaining with Army Group Center and North would have to be rehabilitated in the line without being issued any new equipment. The armored divisions in this category would probably have only one tank battalion. Approximately 500,000 replacements were supposed to arrive in the theater by the end of April 1942.

A special rehabilitation area for Army Group South was to be established near Dnieperopetrovsk, while for Army Group Center similar areas could be set up near Orsha, Minsk, Gomel, and Bryansk. Those few units of Army Group North which were to be rehabilitated would probably be transferred to the Zone of Interior. Rehabilitation was to begin in mid-March at the latest. After the muddy season the fully rehabilitated units of Army Group Center were to be transferred to Army Group South.

The exigencies of the last few months had led to the commitment of a great number of technical specialists as infantrymen. The overall personnel situation and the shortage of technically trained men made it imperative either to return all specialists to their proper assignment or to use them as cadres for newly activated units. The future combat efficiency of the Army would depend upon the effective enforcement of this policy.

The high rate of materiel attrition and the limited capacity of the armament industry were compelling reasons for keeping weapons and equipment losses at a minimum.

In the implementing order to the army groups and armies, the Organization Division of the Army High Command directed on 18th February that those mobile divisions that were to be fully rehabilitated would be issued 50-60 percent of their prescribed motor vehicle allowance and infantry divisions up to 50 percent. Every infantry company was to be issued four automatic rifles and four carbines with telescopic sights; armor-piercing rifle grenades were to be introduced. Bimonthly reports on manpower and equipment shortages as well as on current training and rehabilitation of units were to be submitted by all headquarters concerned.

The element of surprise was essential to the success of the summer offensive. On 12th February Keitel therefore issued the first directive for deceiving the Russians about future German intentions. The following information was to be played into Soviet intelligence hands by German counterintelligence agents:

At the end of the muddy season the German military leaders Intended to launch a new offensive against Moscow. For this purpose they wanted to concentrate strong forces by moving newly activated divisions to the Russian theater and exchanging battle-weary ones in the East for fresh ones from the West. After the capture of Moscow the Germans planned to advance to the middle Volga and seize the industrial installations in that region.

The assembly of forces was to take place in secret. For this purpose the capacity of the railroads was to be raised before the divisions were transferred from the West. German and allied forces would meanwhile launch a major deceptive attack in the direction of Rostov.

As to Leningrad, the prevailing opinion was that this city would perish by itself as soon as the ice on Lake Ladoga had melted. Then the Russians would have to dismount the railroad and the inhabitants would again be Isolated. To attack in this area appeared unnecessary.

In addition, those German troops that were earmarked for the Russian theater and presently stationed in the West were to be deceived by the issuance of military maps and geographic data pertaining to the Moscow area. The units that were already in the theater were not to be given any deceptive information until the current defensive battles had been concluded. The same directive also requested the Army and Luftwaffe to submit suggestions for other deceptive measures The maintenance of secrecy was strongly emphasized.

THE NAVY’S ROLE: FEBRUARY 1942

The German Navy’s principal concern in the Black Sea area was the transportation of supplies for the Army. The difficulties were caused by the shortage of shipping space and the absence of escort and combat vessels. Measures taken to improve the German position in the Black Sea included transfer of PT boats, Italian antisubmarine vessels, small submarines, and landing craft; mine fields were also being laid. Orders had been issued to speed up these measures and support the Army by bringing up supplies. Russian naval forces in the Black Sea would have to be attacked and destroyed. The degree of success obtained would determine the outcome of the war in the Black Sea area. Attention was called to the fact that eventually it would become necessary to occupy all Russian Black Sea bases and ports.

On the other hand, the remainder of the Russian Baltic fleet stationed in and around Leningrad had neither strategic nor tactical value. Ammunition and fuel supplies were exceedingly low. About 12 of the high speed mine sweepers had been sunk so far, so that only four or five were left. About 65 out of 100 submarines had been sunk by the Germans.

THE INTELLIGENCE ESTIMATE: 20th FEBRUARY 1942

In a summary dated 20th February 1942 the Eastern Intelligence Division of the Army High Command stated that the Russians were anticipating a German offensive directed against the Caucasus and the oil wells in that area. As a countermeasure the Red Army would have the choice between a spoiling offensive and a strategic withdrawal. Assuming the Russians would attack, it was estimated that their offensive would take place in the south. There they could interfere with German attack preparations, reoccupy economically valuable areas, and land far to the rear of the German lines along the Black Sea coast. If they were sufficiently strong, the Soviets would also attempt to tie down German forces by a series of local attacks in the Moscow and Leningrad sectors.

Numerous reports from German agents in Soviet-held territory indicated that the Red Army had been planning the recapture of the Ukraine for some time. At the earliest the Russian attack could take place immediately after the muddy season, i. e. at the beginning of May.

The Russian forces identified opposite Army Group South consisted of 83 infantry divisions and 12 infantry brigades as well as 20 cavalry divisions and 19 armored brigades, plus an unknown number of newly organized units.

Interference from British forces seemed unlikely. The latter would move into the Caucasus area only if their supply lines could be properly secured, a time-consuming process that had not even been initiated. On the other hand, lend-lease materiel was arriving in considerable quantities; the first U. S. fighter planes had been encountered along the German Sixth Army front.

HITLER’S PREOCCUPATIONS: EARLY MARCH 1942

On 5th March an order signed by Keitel summarized the various instructions issued by Hitler to the services during recent weeks. In the general part of this order, the Army and Luftwaffe were reminded that premature attacks conducted without concentrating sufficient forces had failed on several occasions. Efforts to stop Russian penetrations all along the front had led to piecemeal commitment and dissipation of ground forces. The Russians would have to be stopped wherever they threatened vital communications. In the event of a Soviet breakthrough full-strength units were to be assembled along of the salient and the gap was to be closed after the bulk of the Russian forces had passed through.

Minor rectifications of the defense lines were permissible so long as no important installations were thereby abandoned. No local attacks, the results of which were out of proportion with the losses, were to be launched. Luftwaffe support was to be requested only for essential operations, such as destroying concentrations of Soviet armor prior to an attack. Many a Russian attack could be delayed or altogether weakened beyond repair by disrupting Soviet lines of communications. To achieve greater effect, the heaviest bombs available were to be used for all-out air attacks. Since there was a shortage of artillery along many stretches of the front effective air support for offensive operations was essential. Because of the current emergency, air transport was so scarce that no additional airlift operations could be carried out during the muddy period.

In the second part of the order the mission of each army group for the immediate future was set forth as follows:

A ARMY GROUP SOUTH

1 If the Crimea was to be seized with a minimum of delay, the Kerch Peninsula would have to be captured before starting the siege of Sevastopol. The Russian ports and Black Sea fleet would have to be neutralized from the air before ground operations were started in the Crimea.

2 The next step was to eliminate the Izyum salient by first letting the Soviets exhaust their offensive power in that area and then cutting off the salient by thrusts directed from the shoulders. The armored divisions of the First Panzer Army were to carry out these thrusts and were therefore given top priority on tank and motor vehicle deliveries.

B ARMY GROUP CENTRE

All forces available in the Army Group Center area were to be assembled for a Ninth Army thrust in the direction of Ostashkov. This drive was to take place before the spring muddy period. The lines of communications that had been frequently disrupted would have to be secured.

C ARMY GROUP NORTH

The airlift operations that had been initiated to bring the situation under control were to be stepped up. More reinforcements were to be moved up to permit the consolidation of the situation at Demyansk and prevent an encirclement along the Volkhov. Eventually, Sixteenth Army was to attack from the Staraya Russa area in a movement that was to be coordinated with the Ninth Army drive toward Ostashkov. The VIII Air Corps was to support this operation as well as the Volkhov maneuver.

Another directive, signed by Hitler on 14th March, dealt with the problem of Allied assistance to the Soviet Union. It stated that British and American efforts to bolster Russia’s power of resistance during the decisive months of 1942 would have to be curbed. For this purpose the Germans would have to strengthen their coastal defenses in Norway to prevent Allied landings along the Arctic coast, particularly in the Petsamo nickel mine area, in northern Finland. Moreover, the Navy would have to intensify submarine operations against convoys crossing the Arctic Ocean. The Luftwaffe was to strengthen its long-range reconnaissance and bomber units in the far north and transfer the bulk of its torpedo planes to that area. The flying units were to keep the Russian ports along the Murmansk coast under constant attack, increase their reconnaissance activities, and intercept convoys. Close inter-service cooperation was essential.

THE SITUATION: END MARCH 1942

The overall situation remained static during the month of March. The Russians showed signs of exhaustion, while the Germans were incapable of launching any major counterattack. Like two groggy boxers, the opponents warily eyed each other, neither of them strong enough to land a knockout blow. The weakness of the Russians became manifest through a number of incidents. In the area around Velizh, for instance, the Germans captured rifles, the butts of which were unfinished, indicating that the weapons had been issued before they were ready. The shortage of infantry weapons, though nothing new, seemed more acute than ever. Russian prisoners stated that wooden rifles were being used for training recruits in the Zone of Interior. In another instance, the Russian cavalry divisions opposite Army group South were so short of horses—their strength had dropped to approximately 60 horses per regiment—that the men had to be employed as infantry.

The true condition of the German forces could be gathered from a status report of 30th March 1942. Out of a total of 162 combat divisions in the Russian theater, only eight were immediately available for any mission, three were capable of offensive missions after a rest period, 47 were available for limited offensive missions, 73 were fully suited for defensive missions, 29 were only capable of limited defensive missions, and two were not suited for immediate commitment. The 16 armored divisions in the theater had a total of 140 serviceable tanks, that is to say less than the normal complement of one division. Because of the shortage of motor vehicles and prime movers, few divisions were more than 20 percent mobile. The few available tanks and self-propelled guns were distributed among various armored and infantry divisions.

Under these conditions the arrival of the muddy season at the end of March, which practically enforced a truce in the fighting, was a relief for both protagonists. Although the mud was less severe than during the preceding autumn, it did not hamper operations for some time.

During March Army Group South was not engaged in any large-scale fighting, and Bock, who had assumed command of the army group after Reichenau’s sudden death on 17th January 1942, used this lull to reinforce the wall around the Russian breach near Izyum.

In the Army Group Center area the heavy fighting in the rear of Fourth and Ninth Armies continued. The Russians did everything in their power to supply their forces behind the German front, and they exerted constant pressure on Army Group Center’s only supply line, the Smolensk-Vyazma-Rzhev railroad. German efforts to keep this route open were handicapped by a shortage of troops. Also, in the Vitebsk-Velikiye Luki area there was a latent threat which the Germans were unable to eliminate. But they were fortunate that the Russians in this region had dispersed their forces over a wide area instead of concentrating them for a southward drive.

South of Lake Ilmen Army Group North had assembled a relief force to establish contact with the Demyansk pocket. The situation along the Volkhov front had deteriorated because a strong attack launched by the Russians northeast of Lyuban resulted in a deep breach, which—in conjunction with the Volkhov penetration—threatened to develop into a double envelopment of the German forces in that area.

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OPERATION BLAU

DIRECTIVE NO 41: 5th APRIL 1942

There can be no doubt that Hitler himself conceived the plan for the German summer offensive. In addition to designating the principal objectives, he plotted most of the details and even went so far as to dictate the text. His self-confidence as military leader had greatly risen since he had overcome the winter crisis without abandoning a major part of Germany’s territorial gains in Russia. In his recently acquired position of commander in chief of the Army he seemed less than ever disposed to listen to his advisers. Whereas the plans for Operation BARBAROSSA had been prepared according to German General Staff procedures, those for Operation SIEGFRIED—the summer offensive of 1942—were drafted by General Halder and his immediate assistants according to detailed instructions received from Hitler who dictated the final version. In so doing, the Führer completely rewrote Directive No. 41, adding very important parts pertaining to the conduct of operations in particular. At the same time the code designation SIEGFRIED was changed to BLAU, and Hitler specified that the services be given separate instructions regarding the maintenance of secrecy and the scope of strategic propaganda directed at the Caucasus area.

DIFFERENT CONCEPTS OF STRATEGY

According to the postwar conclusions of Generals Halder, Heinrici, etc., the German summer offensive should never have been launched. The German Army had emerged greatly weakened from the ordeal of the winter 1941- 42. It had no strategic reserves. To concentrate the essential forces for a large-scale offensive, wide sectors of the Russian front had to be stripped of all their local reserves. Even though the Russians were equally weak by spring 1942, they had manpower reserves and natural resources that were not available to the Axis Powers.

In Halder’s opinion the appropriate German strategy for the summer of 1942 would have been to stabilize the front, eliminate the numerous Russian salients and dents in the German lines, and shorten the front line to save personnel. While using active defense tactics at the front, the German Army could have reorganized and refitted for an offensive to be launched at the first favorable opportunity.

Hitler, however, was adverse to any such delay in the continuation of the offensive. In his opinion the Russians had been hard hit during their winter onslaught, and if given time, would get back on their feet. He doubted whether the German Army would be in a more favorable position in 1943 than in 1942. Also, Germany would have to seek a decision in Russia that year, because the Allies might attempt an invasion of western Europe in 1943. While direct and indirect United States aid to Britain and Soviet Russia was steadily increasing, Italy’s military and economic power was gradually deteriorating. The crushing blows suffered by the Italian armed forces in the African and Mediterranean theaters had affected the staying power of Germany’s principal ally in Europe. Moreover, by adopting a defensive strategy, Germany would lose face with Japan and the neutral powers. Finally, Hitler believed that a dictatorship, to maintain itself, had to produce an incessant stream of successes. An offensive in 1942 would be all the more necessary because, with the military-economic situation steadily growing worse since the start of the Russian campaign, time was working against Germany.

DIFFERENCES OVER THE CHOICE OF OBJECTIVE

The original objective of the campaign against the Soviet Union was “to eradicate the remaining Russian military potential and deprive the Soviets of the resources on which their economy was still based.” The experience of 1941 indicated that this objective could not be attained unless the Russians were prevented from withdrawing. Halder at the time asserted that this would be extremely difficult in the south, where the Russians could afford to trade space for time without suffering a decisive defeat.

The situation could have been different in the center, where the Russian capital was still within German reach. A deep enveloping sweep launched from the Voronezh-Orel region to points east and northeast of Moscow would have had a telling effect. There was little doubt that the Russians would again have summoned all their strength to defend their capital as they had done during the preceding winter. An offensive in this area would therefore have given the Germans a far better chance to deal the Soviets a knockout blow than an operation in the south.

The German offensive in 1942 was, however, launched in the south because Hitler felt that a decisive victory could be won in southern Russia. Germany’s growing shortage of strategic materials influenced the Führer’s thinking so much that he became convinced the Soviets were suffering from similar handicaps after having lost so many rich provinces to the Germans. He argued that if their vital oil supply from the Caucasus was threatened, they would use all their remaining manpower and materiel for its defense. Another factor was that possession of this oil would be of greater importance to the German war effort than anything Moscow had to offer.

According to the postwar writings of General Halder and his associates, Hitler’s decision to launch an offensive in the summer of 1942 in the southern part of the Russian theater was at best a doubtful gamble. His objective could have been obtained only if the Russians had committed the bulk of the Red Army in the Don bend and if the Germans had succeeded in cutting off and destroying these Soviet forces.

Hitler’s directive was issued on 5th April 1942. It read essentially as follows:

A INTRODUCTION

The winter battles in Russia were approaching their end and the Germans had won a “defensive success of unequalled magnitude.” The Russians had suffered extremely heavy losses and used up the reserves they had earmarked for subsequent operations.

As soon as weather and terrain conditions permitted, the Germans would regain the initiative so that they could eradicate the remaining Russian military potential and deprive the Soviets of the resources on which their economy was still based. All available forces of Germany and its allies were to be employed for this purpose, taking into account that the occupied territories in northern and western Europe, and especially their coast lines, had to be safeguarded.

B OVERALL PLAN FOR THE RUSSIAN THEATRE

While Army Group North was to seize Leningrad and establish contact with the Finns, Army Group Center was to hold. In the south, German attack forces were to penetrate into the Caucasus. To attain the latter objective, the Army would have to proceed by phase lines. In planning the conduct of this offensive factors to be considered were the course of the front lines along which the winter fighting would be brought to a conclusion and the availability of manpower, equipment, and transportation.

All available forces would have to be concentrated for the principal operation in the south in order to first destroy the enemy forces in the Don bend, then seize the oil resources of the Caucasus, and finally cross the Caucasus mountain ranges. The Leningrad operation was to be made contingent upon developments in the overall situation.

C CONDUCT OF OPERATIONS

As a first step toward accomplishing these missions, the Army was to consolidate its position along the entire Russian front. That would require a number of limited objective attacks which would have to be conducted with maximum power to assure local superiority and rapid success, and to strengthen the German troops’ self-confidence.

Once this consolidation had been achieved, the Kerch Peninsula would have to be cleared and Sevastopol captured. During these preliminary operations the Luftwaffe and Navy were to disrupt Russian communications in the Black Sea. Moreover, the Russian forces that had dented the German lines at Izyum would have to be cut off along the Donets and destroyed.

After these preliminary operations the Army was to launch the Caucasus offensive proper. During the initial phases the Russian forces south of Voronezh and west and north of the Don would have to he destroyed. Since the divisions available for this operation could not detrain and assemble simultaneously, the offensive would have to be executed by consecutive phases that were to complement one another. The delivery of individual attacks in different parts of the theater would have to be so coordinated that maximum power could be developed at the right time at the decisive point.

Encirclements of Russian forces resulting from German breakthroughs and envelopments would have to be tight; the enveloping forces would have to avoid any delay that would offer the Soviets an opportunity to escape. While movements were underway, the armored and motorized infantry units were to avoid losing contact with the infantry divisions; whenever the latter were unable to make headway, motorized elements were to lend them support.

The offensive was to start with a breakthrough from the area south of Orel in the direction of Voronezh. Two enveloping forces were to seize Voronezh. During the second phase, while some of the infantry divisions established a strong defensive line from Orel to Voronezh.

THE PARTICIPATION OF GERMANY’S ALLIES

During the summer of 1942 Germany’s allies were to play a much more significant part in the Russian theater than heretofore. In an effort to intensify their participation in the struggle against the Soviet Union, Keitel had visited Hungary and Romania during the preceding winter and Hitler had made a personal appeal to Mussolini. The Armed Forces High Command was to provide all the weapons and equipment it could spare for the allied contingents. The political differences were to be partly overcome by interspersing Italian corps or armies between Hungarian and Romanian ones. In compliance with requests received from Germany’s allies, Hitler on 15th April ordered national units to fight under the command of their own army or at least corps headquarters. This decision was to cost the Germans dearly when their allies collapsed along the Don front under the blows of the Russian counteroffensive.

To ascertain smooth cooperation at different levels of command, the German Army organized a number of liaison staffs to be attached to allied division, corps, and army headquarters. Hitler showed his continued anxiety over the morale of the allied troops a few weeks later, when he stated that Italian and other allied military achievements should be given proper credit in German news releases. Fanatical loyalty on the part of the Germans would in turn inspire their allies with similar feelings.

The Germans counted on the assistance of the following allied forces:

On the other hand, Hitler was unable to satisfy the requests of Generaloberst (Gen.) Erwin Rommel after his meeting with Mussolini at the beginning of April 1942. No motorized army artillery and engineer units could be made available for the North African theater before the successful conclusion of the Caucasus offensive in the autumn of 1942. By June, however, Rommel’s advance into armored and motorized divisions were to continue their southeastward drive along the Don, performing another double envelopment in conjunction with forces thrusting eastward from the Kharkov area.

During the third phase of the offensive the forces following the course of the Don were to link up near Stalingrad with those advancing eastward from the Taganrog area. Every attempt was to be made to seize Stalingrad or at least bring the city within reach of German artillery so that the Soviets would be deprived of its production and transportation facilities. Subsequent operations would be greatly facilitated if the bridges at Rostov could be seized intact and bridgeheads could be established south of the Don.

The German attack force on the right advancing eastward from Taganrog was to be reinforced with armored and motorized divisions in order to prevent major Russian elements from escaping across the Don. Defensive positions would have to be built along the Don while the advance was in progress. These positions would have to be amply provided with antitank guns and so constructed that, if necessary, they could be of service during the winter. Allied forces, supported by German troops, would have to man these positions, and German divisions would have to serve as strategic reserves behind the Don front.

Because of the advanced season the movements across the Don toward the south would have to be so timed that the Caucasus could be reached without major stoppage.

D THE LUFTWAFFE

Apart from giving direct support to the ground forces, the Luftwaffe was to protect the concentration of forces in the Army Group South area by strengthening the antiaircraft defense, particularly those of the Dnieper railway bridges. In the event that reconnaissance information should indicate the assembly of Russian attack forces, the Luftwaffe would have to disrupt Soviet lines of communications and above all destroy the railroad bridges across the Don.

E THE NAVY

In the Black Sea the Navy’s main function was to carry out naval transports. Since the Russian Black Sea fleet had so far not been affected by military events, German naval vessels transferred to these waters would have to be prepared for combat without delay. The Russian Baltic fleet was to be neutralized in the Gulf of Finland.

Special security precautions were to be taken, which—together with strategic propaganda—were the subject of instructions issued simultaneously. The number of persons initiated in the plan for the summer offensive was to be held to a minimum; conversations about possible operations were strictly forbidden; no long-distance calls discussing preparations were to be made beyond army group, air force, and VIII Air Corps. All orders and messages were to be forwarded by courier in writing, and differences of opinion were to be cleared up in personal conferences or through an exchange of coded messages. Germany’s allies were to be informed of only the most essential facts.

Strategic propaganda was to be directed at the Caucasian tribes – independence was to be promised. Liaison officers were to be attached to allied propaganda agencies to guarantee adherence to German policies.

This directive leaves no doubt that Hitler’s principal objective for the summer offensive of 1942 was the possession of the Caucasus and its oil resources The shortage of combat troops and the precariousness of the transportation network made it necessary to place great emphasis on the preliminary operations, whereas the main drive toward the Caucasus was outlined only in its initial phase—the seizure of bridgeheads across the Don. More specific orders for a Caucasus operation were not issued until 23rd July 1942, when the operation was in full swing and Hitler signed Directive No. 45. At the time Directive No. 41 was written, no basic conflict between the eastward thrust toward Stalingrad and the southward drive into the Caucasus was anticipated. Like Voronezh, for instance, Stalingrad was to be a stepping stone along the approach road toward the Caucasus. In the Führer’s mind, however, the desire to conquer the city on the Volga by house-to-house fighting gradually became a fixation. This was all the more difficult to understand because in 1941 he had rejected any direct attack on Leningrad and Moscow. The diversion of more and more forces toward Stalingrad was made to the detriment of the principal drive into the Caucasus, and eventually both efforts were to bog down for lack of strength.

ESTIMATES, DELAYS AND DISAPPOINTMENTS: APRIL 1942

INTELLIGENCE ESTIMATE

Despite the bitter experiences of the winter 1941-42, the Germans continued to underestimate their Russian opponent. According to an estimate submitted by the Eastern Intelligence Division on 10th April 1942, the Red Army had been greatly affected by the winter fighting. Newly activated units showed deficiencies in training, weapons, and equipment. Not only was there a shortage of manpower, but the limitations imposed by the loss of armament production capacity would hamper the further activation of armored units.

In 1942 the Russians would limit themselves to defensive operations, possibly interrupted by intermittent limited-objective offensives to harass the Germans. Being aware of the German plans for an offensive in the southeast, the Russians could be expected to use every means at their disposal to maintain their lines of communications with the Caucasus. As yet there was no indication that the Russians intended to launch a spoiling attack in the south. In the center they would try to consolidate the defense system around Moscow, whereas in the north the relief of Leningrad would probably be given top priority.

Few Russian units appeared to be at full combat efficiency. While the activation of new rifle divisions was feasible, that of armored divisions seemed no longer possible. Steel production was the bottleneck. No major Russian offensive was to be expected in the foreseeable future. The bulk of the Soviet forces would probably be massed in the south.

Making these ideas his own, Halder reported to Hitler that the great number of Russian divisions identified since November 1941 seemed to indicate that the Red Army had mobilized all its manpower resources and had used up a major part of them during the winter offensive.

DELAY IN THE PRELIMINARY OPERATIONS

On 16th April Generaloberst (Gen.) Fritz Erich von Manstein, commander of Eleventh Army in the Crimea, suggested to Hitler that the attack on the Kerch Peninsula be delayed until 5th May because he was still short some essential items of supply. Hitler approved Manstein’s request, adding that the Luftwaffe would have to give strong support to the ground forces. As soon as Kerch was cleared, Army Group South was to pinch off and eliminate the Izyum salient, after which the siege of Sevastopol was to be begun. The timing of these three preliminary operations was to be made contingent upon the availability of essential air support. Because of the delay in the start of the first attack, the Sevastopol operation would not begin before mid-June at the earliest.

THE SITUATION AT ARMY GROUP CENTRE

As a result of the shifting of forces to the West, to Army Group South, and to rehabilitation centers, Army Group Center was forced to abandon the attacks on Ostashkov and Toropez. Despite its reduction in strength, however, the army group was ordered to eliminate the partisan forces in its rear, consolidate its front line, reorganize its remaining units, and set aside reserves. After these missions had been accomplished, the army group was to undertake a series of limited objective attacks.

CHAIN OF COMMAND

The first phase of the summer offensive was to be conducted by Army Group South, composed of Second and Sixth Armies, Fourth Panzer Army, and the First Army. During the second phase First Panzer Army, the Italian Eighth Army, and probably also Eleventh Army were to intervene. The newly activated Army Group A was to assume control of the movements foreseen for the following phases, while Army Group South would become responsible for securing flank protection along the Don front.

TRANSPORTATION

The divisions that were to participate in the German offensive were to be moved up in three echelons. The 41 divisions—21 of which were allied—that were to reinforce the units stationed in the south were none too many for an offensive of such dimensions. Since the Russians had the better railnet for their assembly, they might be able to jump off before the Germans. Much would depend upon the quantities of lend-lease equipment they would receive via Murmansk by June 1942.

The delays in the start of the preliminary attacks would necessarily affect the time of the offensive proper, all the more so because as late as April the Russians were still holding the initiative.

Divisions to be moved up for the Summer Offensive

TURKEY REMAINS NEUTRAL

Hitler, who believed that Turkey would sooner or later join the Axis Powers, ordered the German Ambassador in Ankara to offer the Turks 150 million marks worth of military equipment at a time when he could hardly spare a rifle. However, the deal was not consummated because Turkey refused the passage of German submarines and PT boats through the Dardanelles into the Black Sea. In his search for another solution Hitler ordered the boats disassembled, transported cross country, and reassembled in Black Sea ports. This order was carried out, but it produced no significant results.

LOGISTICAL PREPARATIONS

TIMING

During the first phase—the drive on Voronezh—the offensive forces were to be supplied from the supply depots of the Kursk district. After the seizure of Voronezh, the railroad connecting that city with Kursk would become the principal feeder line for the Don front. Nonorganic truck transportation columns were to carry the supplies for the spearhead divisions.

The Kharkov supply district was to support the attack forces participating in the second phase. An advance base was to be set up at Valuiki as soon as the Voronezh forces linked up with those coming from Kharkov.

During the third phase additional advance bases would have to be set up along the railroad leading from the Stalino supply district to Stalingrad and east of Valuiki along the Don. Supply points would also have to be established south of the lower Don as soon as German troops crossed the river for the drive into the Caucasus.

To carry out these different missions, a large number of truck transportation columns would have to be held in readiness. Special supply reconnaissance teams were to follow the spearheads during each movement.

CHAIN OF COMMAND

Until Army Group A assumed control in the southern part of the Army Group South area, the supply preparations for Operation BLAU were to be the responsibility of the newly formed Command Staff South.

SUPPLIES

Aside from the initial issue carried by the troops, the following quantities of supplies were to be stored in depots:

Detailed preparations could be made only for the first two phases for which the necessary data were available. Depots in the Kharkov and Kursk districts were to break down supplies according to the estimated requirements of the forces that were to be assembled in these areas, whereas at Stalino supplies were to be stored in bulk.

MOTOR VEHICLES

By the start of Operation BLAU it was hoped that most of the participating units would be adequately equipped with motor vehicles. Prime movers were still scarce. The preliminary operations as well as the long distances some of the motorized units would have to cover to reach the assembly areas might cause further attrition in organic motor vehicles before the start of the offensive proper. Despite intensive maintenance and repair efforts the spearhead divisions would probably have only 60 percent or less of their organic motor vehicles by the time the offensive was launched. Truck transportation columns with a total capacity of 11,000 short tons would be available by 20th June 1942 to compensate for the shortage of organic vehicles.

RAIL TRANSPORTATION

During the initial phases of the operation the attack forces could rely on three major rail lines with detraining points in the Kursk, Kharkov, and Donets Basin areas. During the third phase the left arm of the pincers directed at Stalingrad would lack rail support as it extended southeastward along the Don. The right arm would be dependent upon the single railroad connecting Stalino with Stalingrad. This was the only railroad by which the attack forces could be supplied once they were approaching the Volga.

SUMMARY

The supply situation during the first phase appeared satisfactory with sufficient ammunition and rations apparently available for the second phase. But POL reserves would be consumed by 15th July, and the continuation of the offensive would have to be assured from current shipments.

ORGANIZATIONAL PROBLEMS

REHABILITATION UNITS

The predominant problem facing the Organization Division of the Army High Command was the rehabilitation of units. Altogether three armored and five infantry divisions committed in the Russian theater were selected to be exchanged for one armored and nine infantry divisions stationed in the West. The troops to be withdrawn from the Russian theater were to be deloused twice: first before entraining and then again after detraining.

Some of the army and corps troops as well as the divisions that were to be rehabilitated within the theater could not even be pulled out of the front. They were to be rehabilitated in place, a very unsatisfactory procedure not propitious to raising the combat efficiency of the respective units. Leaves were to be granted to all those men who had served uninterruptedly in the theater since the start of the campaign. Two leave trains per week were scheduled for each army group.

SHORTAGE OF TECHNICIANS

The armored divisions complained about the continued shortage of technicians and the weakness of their cadres. Tank and truck drivers were at a premium. Several orders were issued requesting field commanders to return technicians and specialists to the assignments for which they were trained. To relieve the manpower shortage within the theater, native units were to be activated from the prisoners of Tatar, Caucasian, Georgian, Armenian, and Cossack nationality who would probably be captured during the summer offensive. These units were to assume some of the routine duties heretofore curried out by German troops, thus permitting a more judicious employment of the latter.

CONSTRUCTION OF FORTIFICATIONS

On 26th April General Halder issued an order calling for the establishment of a defense system. In view of the general weakness of the front lines, enemy breakthroughs could be prevented only by constructing fortifications, establishing switch positions, and building specific fortified areas.

The front lines were to be fortified in depth. Switch positions were to protect the Bryansk-Kharkov line. Since there was not sufficient manpower to construct continuous lines in the rear, it would be necessary to establish fortified areas that could be held for prolonged periods by weak forces against superior enemy pressure. These fortified areas were to secure important supply and communications centers, such as Melitopol, Dnieperopetrovsk, Poltava, Bryansk, Roslavl, Smolensk, Nevel, Luga, Gatchina and Pskov.

By securing the most important road and rail junctions, river crossings, etc., situated between the front line and the fortified areas in the rear, the Germans could create a defense system capable of successfully withstanding any Soviet armored elements that might break through the front.

Engineer staffs were to be responsible for the construction of the fortifications. Only indigenous labor was to be used because of the shortage of German manpower. The material needed for the construction program would also have to be procured from local resources.

OIL BRIGADE CAUCASUS

The Oil Detachment Caucasus, formed in the spring of 1911, was expanded because of recent experiences with the Russian scorched earth policy. Since the oil fields would be more severely damaged than originally presumed, the detachment was brought to a strength of 10,794 men and redesignated Oil Brigade Caucasus. The brigade was issued 1,142 vehicles and six planes and ordered to stand by, ready to move into the Caucasus oil fields immediately behind the combat troops.

CASUALTIES AND REPLACEMENTS

At the end of the winter fighting, on 30th April 1942, total German casualties, excluding sick, numbered 1,167,835 officers and men. A number of measures to save personnel had been introduced, such as lowering the T/O strength of the infantry divisions. Nevertheless, by 31st October 1942 the estimated shortage of replacements in the Russian theater would amount to 280,000 men, even if all operations proceeded according to plan. The Organization Division believed that it would be impossible to provide sufficient replacements for all three army groups. The three solutions therefore taken under consideration at the end of April were as follows:

1 To give Army Group south its full complement of replacements, in which case the situation at Army Groups Center and North would not be relieved until July 1942;

2 To fulfill only 80 per cent of the Army Group South requirements, as a result of which the position of the other two army groups would improve quite considerably by July 1942; or

3 To give Army Group South its full complement and accelerate the arrival of additional replacements by transferring during May and June to each of the two other army groups 100,000 men with only two months of training.

General Halder chose the third solution, fully cognizant of the disadvantage incurred by committing replacements with only two months of training. Actually, he had little choice in the matter. The monthly report on the rehabilitation of units in the Army Group Center area during April 1942 indicated that the unabated intensity of the defensive fighting as well as the withdrawal of divisions for transfer to the West had almost completely obstructed the reorganization and rehabilitation of the units that stayed in place. In general, the divisions which were to be rehabilitated in place would have only limited mobility and reduced combat efficiency, the shortage of motor vehicles and horses being their greatest handicap.

THE PARTICIPATION OF GERMANY’S ALLIES

During the summer of 1942, Germany’s allies were to play a much more significant part in the Russian theater than heretofore. In an effort to intensify their participation in the struggle against the Soviet Union, Keitel had visited Hungary and Romania during the preceding winter andHitler had made a personal appeal to Mussolini. The Armed Forces High Command was to provide all the weapons and equipment it could spare for the allied contingents. The political differences were to be partly overcome by interspersing Italian corps or armies between Hungarian and Romanian ones. In compliance with requests received from Germany’s allies, Hitler on 15th April ordered national units to fight under the command of their own army or at least corps headquarters. This decision was to cost the Germans dearly when their allies collapsed along the Don front under the blows of the Russian counter-offensive.

To ascertain smooth cooperation at different levels of command, the German Army organized a number of liaison staffs to be attached to allied division, corps, and army headquarters. Hitler showed his continued anxiety over the morale of the allied troops a few weeks later, when he stated that Italian and other allied military achievements should be given proper credit in German news releases. Fanatical loyalty on the part of the Germans would in turn inspire their allies with similar feelings.

The Germans counted on the assistance of the following allied forces:

Allied Divisions Available for the Russian Theater (Summer 1942)

On the other hand, Hitler was unable to satisfy the requests of Generaloberst (Gen.) Erwin Rommel after his meeting with Mussolini at the beginning of April 1942. No motorized army artillery and engineer units could be made available for the North African theater before the successful conclusion of the Caucasus offensive in the autumn of 1942. By June, however, Rommel’s advance into Egypt seemed so promising that Hitler suddenly decided to divert to North Africa a number of tanks, trucks, and weapons which had been reserved for the rehabilitation of two Russian-theater divisions.

Aside from Germany’s allies, a number of European states, even some of the recently vanquished ones, offered contingents of volunteers who desired to participate in the campaign against the Soviet Union—which for a time tended to assume the characteristics of a crusade against Bolshevism. But Hitler, distrusting his former enemies, reluctantly permitted only a limited number of Frenchmen to serve in national units up to regimental strength. Party political considerations induced him to transfer the responsibility for organizing foreign military volunteer units from Army to National Socialist Party (Waffen-SS) control.

REAR AREA SECURITY

Anxious to secure the lines of communications of the combat forces, General Halder decided that three German security divisions plus Hungarian and Romanian troops were to follow behind the advance. Each security division was to be composed of one infantry and one security regiment, one motorized military police, one artillery, and one signal battalion, as well as one Cossack troop. Military administrative headquarters and prisoner of war processing units were to be formed in addition.

ARMY GROUP SOUTH’S DEFENSE LINE

One of the problems that constantly preoccupied Hitler during the preparatory period was the exposed flank that would extend from Voronezh to the area northeast of Kursk. The Führer ordered this defense line amply provided with antitank guns. A total of 350-400 self-propelled 75-mm antitank guns—more than half of them captured French weapons—and some 150 captured Russian 76-mm guns were to be distributed along this front to repel Soviet medium and heavy tanks. Tractors and captured prime movers were to be employed to give a certain degree of mobility to those guns which were not self-propelled.

THE ROLE OF ARMY GROUP A

The new Army Group A was to be formed under the command of Field Marshal Wilhelm List. To prevent premature discovery of the German intentions by the Russians, the arrival of all higher headquarters in the assembly areas was to be delayed to the last possible moment. The Army High Command was to control the movements of all Army Group A and Fourth Panzer Army units as well as those of the army and corps troops.

The cover names given to each of the Army Group A units were to convey the impression that they were engaged in fortification work. List himself was not to arrive in the theater until shortly before the start of operations. The forward echelon of his headquarters was transferred to Poltava on 12th May, the remaining elements were to arrive at Stalino later in May. By approximately 15th June, when the first phase of Operation BLAU was to be launched, Army Group A headquarters was to be ready to secretly assume command over the Eleventh and Seventeenth Armies, and possibly over the First Panzer Army. The overt assumption of command was to take place shortly afterward.

FEINT AND COUNTERFEINT

At the beginning of May 1942 Molotov flew to Great Britain and the United States, where he was promised that a second front would be opened before the end of the year. On 2d May a news agency report from Moscow indicated that the Russians were expecting a German spring offensive launched from the Bryansk-Orel-Kursk area. The probable objective was Voronezh, after which the German troops would advance down the Don to seize Stalingrad, while other German forces thrusting from the Kharkov region would advance eastward.

This news report must have produced a certain effect, since only five days later the Chief of the Armed Forces Operations Staff issued a new directive concerning deception. Referring to the previous directive on the same subject dated 12th February 1942, Jodl divided the period before the start of Operation BLAU into two phases.

During the first phase, which was to last up to 25th May, the existing uncertainty with regard to the true German intentions was to be increased, and the preparations and movements for Operation BLAU were to be dissimulated by showing no point of main effort. Since some of the troops needed for the preliminary operations around the Izyum salient were to assemble behind Army Group Center, the Russians would have difficulty in recognizing the objective of the next major offensive. To German units the troop movements were to be explained as a series of simple exchanges of battle-weary divisions from the Russian theater for fresh divisions from the West. The rehabilitation of numerous divisions had long been overdue. As soon as the preliminary operations got under way, maps of the Moscow area up to the middle Volga were to be distributed to the Luftwaffe units.

The second phase was to start after 25th May. By that time the Russians would be at least partly aware of the German distribution of forces. If their attention was drawn away from Army Group South toward Army Group Center, it might be possible to deceive them with regard to the real German main effort and objective. This deception was to be achieved by replacing German units with allied ones at the front, thus simulating a weakening at a point where in reality strength was being built up. An attack on Moscow was to be simulated by assembling some of the attack forces at the boundary between Army Groups South and Center. By intensifying reconnaissance activities along sectors of the Army Groups Center and North fronts one might simulate offensive intentions. Other means suggested were deceptive radio traffic and supply activities; the formation of fictitious staffs; night march movements of rear elements of security divisions; the erection of dummy planes on airfields in the Army Group Center area; rumors spread by military attachés assigned to neutral countries; the planting of articles in military magazines published in neutral countries, in which special emphasis was placed on Moscow’s significance as the center of Russian resistance, as the hub, and the key to armament production, indicating that after the loss of Moscow the Red Army would be unable to offer active resistance west of the Volga.

To judge by the results, the net effect of these deceptive measures was disappointing, since on 16th June another news agency report from Moscow contained details concerning the German intentions and came very close to the real plans.

 

THE DEVELOPMENT OF WARNING SYSTEMS, 1945-53 Part II

E. THE SEAWARD EXTENSION OF A WARNING SYSTEM

It was early recognized that any radar line, either close in or far to the north, would require extensions out to sea and down the coasts of the United States in order to prevent the possibilities .of an end-run attack on the United States. Three elements came to be involved—airborne radars, naval picket ships, and fixed offshore installations anchored to the sea floor.

1. AEW Systems

The idea of an airborne early warning and control aircraft was first raised in the mid-1940s, before the war ended. The Army Air Forces had no experience in the field, but the Navy had at least an introduction to it through its efforts to intercept Japanese kamikaze attacks on the fleet off Okinawa. Yet, overall experience with the technique was lacking.

The advantages were obvious. Such an extension of the radar system would give at least 30 additional minutes of warning; low-altitude coverage that was overlooked by coastal-based radars, would also be possible—AEW aircraft at altitude could look down and thus reduce the prospect of low-altitude sneak attacks.

Shortly before the end of the war, the AAF had directed the Air Materiel Command to examine the concept of an airborne control center for offensive operations. In 1946, the Air. Staff suggested that the effort be switched to serve air defense purposes. However, because of budgetary constraints, duplication of Navy efforts, and the Navy’s head start in the field, the AAF project was dropped. The final closing out in 1948 of any USAF effort on an airborne facility left the Air Force dependent on the Navy for an offshore radar screen.

In the meantime, in April 1947, a newly formed US-Canadian planning group, which was under the respective Chiefs of Staff, issued a plan for early warning. They proposed an early warning line across Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Newfoundland, and off both coasts. Offshore coverage would be by radar planes and ships. The plan never went anywhere, but it did reflect an early expression of what was to become the ultimate air defense system a decade later. Strangely, the 1947 Air Force plan, SUPREMACY, had not included provision for offshore coverage and had been criticized by both the JCS and the ADC for the inadequacy.

The Navy pursued its AEW development program, adopting radars to Navy Grumman bombers and then to B-17s (PB-1Ws). Lockheed Constellations (C-121s) were also configured for radar. In late 1949, the Air Force directed the ADC to observe Navy experiments.

The basis for interservice cooperation in air defense was established by the Key West Agreements in the spring of 1948. The Navy agreed to provide “sea-based air defense and sea-based means of coordinating control for defense against air attack,” and also to coordinate with other services in the establishment of such systems. However, not until the creation of the Continental Air Defense Command in late 1954 were any jointly approved doctrines or procedures issued by the JCS. In view of this lack of JCS-approved doctrine, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) in 1949 drew up general principles for Navy cooperation, which were to serve for years. He decreed that the basic principle for naval participation in air defense was that naval forces possessing important air defense capabilities would be trained and prepared for emergency deployment to reinforce those forces that were regularly assigned the air defense mission. He did not intend that there be a routine and permanent commitment of naval forces to the mission. Specific arrangements were to be made between individual commanders of sea frontier and air defense forces.

While it was not until 1951 that an ADC-owned AEW&C force was authorized, the ground work for such a mission had been laid earlier. Late in 1949, the Navy had suggested the possibility of using AEW aircraft for both ASW and air defense in Joint tests, to which the Air Force agreed. The Navy tested its AEW aircraft in both an ASW and a surveillance role with ADC cooperation in July 1950 off the West Coast. Tests of intercepts vectored by Navy PB-1Ws were successful in picking up targets 500 miles out, and of intercepting them 300 miles out.

Finally convinced of the utility of and necessity for AEW, the Air Force established the requirement for 48 RC-121s in July 1951 and then raised the total to 56 by year’s end. The first 10 were slated for 1953 delivery, all by 1955. In actual fact, final deliveries were not made until 1956; and, while the first squadron was activated in October 1953, it was not equipped until a year later. The first plane was delivered in May 1954. An effort was made to offset the time lag by converting some B-29s to an AEW role, but this proved abortive.

The first comprehensive plan for employment of the AEW aircraft was prepared by February 1952. It proposed establishment of barriers off each coast, 800 miles long and 200 miles offshore. Each barrier would be manned by four AEW&C aircraft orbiting on station, with about 200 miles between planes. The ADC estimated that with this spacing the probability of detection at low altitudes would be 80-90 percent. The eastern barrier started about 125 miles southeast of Nova Scotia and ran to about 250 miles northeast of Norfolk. The western barrier ran from 250 miles west of Seattle to 200 miles off San Francisco. The final total of some 60 aircraft would operate 30 from one base on each coast.

2. Picket Ships

The Air Force early recognized the need for shipborne radars to fill the offshore gap until the AEW system was functioning. It also recognized that ships could complement the AEW aircraft by adding a high-level coverage to the aircraft low-level coverage.

The matter had been discussed by the Air Force and the Navy since 1949, bur the Navy was slow to move, despite agreement on the utility of picket ships. In December 1950, the Navy finally volunteered two picket ships to work with the ADC in the event of emergency, but the next month the Air Force told the CNO that vessels for 10 stations were needed as soon as possible. The Navy replied that 10 ships of the type probably would not be available until 1954.

A test of the two proffered picket ships was jointly held by the Eastern Air Defense Force and the Eastern Sea Frontier Force in February and March 1951. The main problem uncovered was that of poor communication from ship to shore. Neither radio-telegraph nor voice contact could be maintained for more than 28 hours without a complete breakdown. Intervals of over three hours occurred during which no contact could be made.

The Air Force tried in vain to have the Navy increase the number of picket ships. Not even the two tested were actually formally approved for that emergency role until September 1952. As a result, no more than one or two stations were manned until 1955.

3. Offshore Stationary Radars

While the concepts of AEW aircraft and picket ships were raised quite early, the offshore stationary radar was a latecomer. The Lincoln Laboratory Summer Study Group in 1952 concluded that an additional means of reinforcing radar coverage was offered by the shoals lying off the northeast coast of the United States. It suggested use of radar platforms, like oil drilling rigs, to be emplanted on five shoals in water 50-100 feet deep, 75-100 miles offshore. The name of Texas tower was soon applied to what seemed a way of bypassing the problem of getting picket ships from the Navy. The ADC endorsed the concept, but as noted earlier, no action was taken until late 1953, when the Air Force included 5 Texas towers in its FY55 funding.

G. ORGANIZATION FOR AIR DEFENSE AND WARNING

Progress in the development of the substance of a warning system during these years was not matched by improved organization. Throughout the entire period, organization was fragmented.

It will be recalled that the Army Air Forces established the ADC in March 1946, as a first organizational step. The National Security Act of 1947 did not clarify air defense responsibilities, but in the Key West Agreement of 1948 the Air Force was assigned the responsibility for air defense, and the Army and Navy agreed to provide forces as required. Each service was to perform its assigned mission “in accordance with the policies and procedures approved by the JCS.”

In the meantime, the ADC had been dissolved and merged, along with the Tactical Air Command, into the Continental Air Command in December 1948. However, because of the added impetus given air defense at the beginning of the 1950s, the ADC was reestablished in January 1951, with headquarters at Colorado Springs. In April 1951, the Army established an Antiaircraft Command, to be collocated with the ADC. The structure of the organizations was parallel and closely integrated for field operations.

From time to time, the Chief of Naval Operations issued policy statements regarding Navy participation in continental air defense, but no separate command organization was established. The two Sea Frontier commanders were still, in 1953, the principal operating link between the Navy and the Air Force on air defense matters.

The ADC was responsible to the Air Force, the Antiaircraft Command to the Army, and the Sea Frontier commanders to the Navy. Any plan prepared by the ADC, whether it involved solely an Air Force function or required participation by the Army and Navy, had first to be approved by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force. As far as the Air Force portion of the plan was concerned, it had first to compete with the plans of other Air Force commands for its share of the Air Force budget. If the ADC plan did include the other services, the Air Force then had to bargain with them, and quite likely the JCS as well, to get the plan requirement fulfilled. This bargaining ran smoothly so long as no service interests were contradicted.

The Air Force had responsibility for the basic ground radar system for surveillance and control of all weapons, the fighter forces, and the initiation of warning to alert both military and civilian agencies. Within limits, the Air Force established requirements for all the services. In theory, the ADC, through the CSAF, could levy requirements on the other services for participation in a program. In practice, while tactical control of air defense forces of all three services was broadly executed by the ADC, there was no assurance that the ADC could obtain Army and Navy forces as required.

The same situation prevailed in the US-Canadian air defense relationship. There were two coordinated systems, rather than one integrated one.

H. WARNING 1945-53: A SUMMATION

By the end of 1953, 87 radar stations were operational in the US warning net. Of these, 75 represented the US permanent system, 8 were Canadian sites of the Radar Extension Program, and 4 were old LASHUP sites still in operation. Seventy-nine mobile and semimobile stations had been authorized, but would not be in operation until late 1954-early 1955.

The Secretary of the Air Force was able to report in July 1954:

The development of an air defense in depth has been greatly aided by increased radar operations by the Canadians and the resultant extension of our basic radar net. Improvements in the radar net have permitted greater emphasis to be placed on increasing the radar coverage and improving the overall system capability. A major step will be the ultimate transition from a manual system to a high capacity radar net capable of providing the essential elements of detection and control. Additional aircraft control and warning squadrons have been deployed to advanced overseas bases.

The activation of the first airborne early warning and control division of the Air Force on 1 May 1954 marked a major advance in air defense early warning and control systems. This division is being equipped with specially modified versions of the Super Constellation (RC-121). Eventually the Division will operate squadrons off both Atlantic and Pacific coasts on a round-the-clock basis.

At the end of 1953, therefore, the type of air defense system outlined by the commanding general of the ADC in 1946-47 was in place and operating. Plans for Improving range, responsiveness, and kill potential had been approved, but the necessary hardware delivery had not yet begun.

After seven years of consideration, the JCS authorized the creation of a Joint command to control air defense, directing in August 1954 the establishment at Colorado Springs of the Jointly manned Continental Air Defense Command, under the USAF as executive agent. The step was apparently not taken enthusiastically. In response to a request by the CJCS, Admiral Radford, on 16 October 1953, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force had submitted on 16 December a report on command arrangements for defense of the United States (included in JCS 1899/89) in which he concluded that no change was needed or advisable. The CJCS replied that a joint command was both necessary and advisable and recommended that the JCS approve in principle the establishment of a joint air defense command.

The years from 1947 to 1953 had seen the establishment of a system comparable to-that used in World War II. The extended public debate and the final NSC decision in October 1953 directed the creation of a wholly new system. This was the crucial decision. The steps taken in the previous eight years had been both discrete and incomplete. They did not represent a major coordinated effort to develop a continental defense system. The years 1954 and 1955 were to see the construction and integration of new elements of the system. However, the public debate continued over the efficacy of the air defense system, with Congress repeatedly expressing concern over the disproportionate resources being allocated to the strategic striking forces. The irony was that the delays in reaching the decision to create a wholly new system meant that the system was to be rendered obsolescent before it became operational.

 

The First Three Generations of Modern War

The 1982 Hama Massacre

The Chinese military philosopher Sun Tzu said, “He who understands himself and understands his enemy will prevail in one hundred battles.” In order to understand both ourselves and our enemies in Fourth Generation conflicts, it is helpful to use the full framework of the Four Generations of modern war. What are the first three generations?

First Generation war was fought with line and column tactics. It lasted from the Peace of Westphalia until around the time of the American Civil War. Its importance for us today is that the First Generation battlefield was usually a battlefield of order, and the battlefield of order created a culture of order in state militaries. Most of the things that define the difference between “military” and “civilian” – saluting, uniforms, careful gradations of rank, etc. – are products of the First Generation and exist to reinforce a military culture of order. Just as most state militaries are still designed to fight other state militaries, so they also continue to embody the First Generation culture of order.

The problem is that, starting around the middle of the 19th century, the order of the battlefield began to break down. In the face of mass armies, nationalism that made soldiers want to fight, and technological developments such as the rifled musket, the breechloader, barbed wire, and machine guns, the old line-and-column tactics became suicidal. But as the battlefield became more and more disorderly, state militaries remained locked into a culture of order. The military culture that in the First Generation had been consistent with the battlefield became increasingly contradictory to it. That contradiction is one of the reasons state militaries have so much difficulty in Fourth Generation war, where not only is the battlefield disordered, so is the entire society in which the conflict is taking place.

Second Generation war was developed by the French Army during and after World War I. It dealt with the increasing disorder of the battlefield by attempting to impose order on it. Second Generation war, also sometimes called firepower/attrition warfare, relied on centrally controlled indirect artillery fire, carefully synchronized with infantry, cavalry and aviation, to destroy the enemy by killing his soldiers and blowing up his equipment. The French summarized Second Generation war with the phrase, “The artillery conquers, the infantry occupies.”

Second Generation war also preserved the military culture of order. Second Generation militaries focus inward on orders, rules, processes, and procedures. There is a “school solution” for every problem. Battles are fought methodically, so prescribed methods drive training and education, where the goal is perfection of detail in execution. The Second Generation military culture, like the First, values obedience over initiative (initiative is feared because it disrupts synchronization) and relies on imposed discipline.

The United States Army and the U.S. Marine Corps both learned Second Generation war from the French Army during the First World War, and it largely remains the “American way of war” today.

Third Generation war, also called maneuver warfare, was developed by the German Army during World War I. Third Generation war dealt with the disorderly battlefield not by trying to impose order on it but by adapting to disorder and taking advantage of it. Third Generation war relied less on firepower than on speed and tempo. It sought to present the enemy with unexpected and dangerous situations faster than he could cope with them, pulling him apart mentally as well as physically.

The German Army’s new Third Generation infantry tactics were the first non-linear tactics. Instead of trying to hold a line in the defense, the object was to draw the enemy in, then cut him off, putting whole enemy units “in the bag.” On the offensive, the German “storm-troop tactics” of 1918 flowed like water around enemy strong points, reaching deep into the enemy’s rear area and also rolling his forward units up from the flanks and rear. These World War I infantry tactics, when used by armored and mechanized formations in World War II, became known as “Blitzkrieg.”

Just as Third Generation war broke with linear tactics, it also broke with the First and Second Generation culture of order. Third Generation militaries focus outward on the situation, the enemy, and the result the situation requires. Leaders at every level are expected to get that result, regardless of orders. Military education is designed to develop military judgment, not teach processes or methods, and most training is force-on-force free play because only free play approximates the disorder of combat. Third Generation military culture also values initiative over obedience, tolerating mistakes so long as they do not result from timidity, and it relies on self-discipline rather than imposed discipline, because only self-discipline is compatible with initiative.

When Second and Third Generation war met in combat in the German campaign against France in 1940, the Second Generation French Army was defeated completely and quickly; the campaign was over in six weeks. Both armies had similar technology, and the French actually had more (and better) tanks. Ideas, not weapons, dictated the outcome.

Despite the fact that Third Generation war proved its decisive superiority more than 60 years ago, most of the world’s state militaries remain Second Generation. The reason is cultural: they cannot make the break with the culture of order that the Third Generation requires. This is another reason why, around the world, state-armed forces are not doing well against non-state enemies. Second Generation militaries fight by putting firepower on targets, and Fourth Generation fighters are very good at making themselves untargetable. Virtually all Fourth Generation forces are free of the First Generation culture of order; they focus outward, they prize initiative and, because they are highly decentralized, they rely on self-discipline. Second Generation state forces are largely helpless against them.

Fighting Fourth Generation War: Two Models

In fighting Fourth Generation war, there are two basic approaches or models. The first may broadly be called the “de-escalation model,” and it is the focus of this article. But there are times when state-armed forces may employ the other model. Reflecting a case where this second model was applied successfully, we refer to it (borrowing from Martin van Creveld) as the “Hama model.” The Hama model refers to what Syrian President Hafez al-Assad did to the city of Hama in Syria when a non-state entity there, the Moslem Brotherhood, rebelled against his rule.

In 1982, in Hama, Syria, the Sunni Moslem Brotherhood was gaining strength and was planning on intervening in Syrian politics through violence. The dictator of Syria, Hafez al-Assad, was alerted by his intelligence sources that the Moslem Brotherhood was looking to assassinate various members of the ruling Ba’ath Party. In fact, there is credible evidence that the Moslem Brotherhood was planning on overthrowing the Shi’ite/Alawite-dominated Ba’ath government.

On February 2, 1982, the Syrian Army was deployed into the area surrounding Hama. Within three weeks, the Syrian Army had completely devastated the city, resulting in the deaths of between 10,000 and 25,000 people, depending on the source. The use of heavy artillery, armored forces, and possibly even poison gas resulted in large-scale destruction and an end to the Moslem Brotherhood’s desires to overthrow the Ba’ath Party and Hafez al-Assad. After the operation was finished, one surviving citizen of Hama stated, “We don’t do politics here anymore, we just do religion.”

The results of the destruction of Hama were clear to the survivors. As the June 20, 2000, Christian Science Monitor wrote, “Syria has been vilified in the West for the atrocities at Hama. But many Syrians – including a Sunni merchant class that has thrived under Alawite rule – also note that the result has been years of stability.”

What distinguishes the Hama model is overwhelming firepower and force, deliberately used to create massive casualties and destruction, in an action that ends quickly. Speed is of the essence to the Hama model. If a Hama-type operation is allowed to drag out, it will turn into a disaster on the moral level. The objective is to get it over with so fast that the effect desired locally is achieved before anyone else has time to react or, ideally, even to notice what is going on.

There is little attention to the Hama model because situations where the Western states’ armed forces will be allowed to employ it will probably be few and far between. Domestic and international political considerations will normally tend to rule it out. However, it could become an option if a Weapon of Mass Destruction were used against a Western country on its own soil.

The main reason we need to identify the Hama model is to note a serious danger facing state-armed forces in Fourth Generation situations. It is easy, but fatal, to choose a course that lies somewhere between the Hama model and the de-escalation model. Such a course inevitably results in defeat, because of the power of weakness.

The military historian Martin van Creveld compares a state military that, with its vast superiority in lethality, continually turns its firepower on poorly-equipped Fourth Generation opponents to an adult who administers a prolonged, violent beating to a child in a public place. Regardless of how bad the child has been or how justified the beating may be, every observer sympathizes with the child. Soon, outsiders intervene, and the adult is arrested. The power mismatch is so great that the adult’s action is judged a crime.

This is what happens to state-armed forces that attempt to split the difference between the Hama and de-escalation models. The seemingly endless spectacle of weak opponents and, inevitably, local civilians being killed by the state military’s overwhelming power defeats the state at the moral level. That is why the rule for the Hama model is that the violence must be over fast. It must be ended quickly! Any attempt at a compromise between the two models results in prolonged violence by the state’s armed forces, and it is the duration of the mismatch that is fatal. To the degree the state-armed forces are also foreign invaders, the state’s defeat occurs all the sooner. It occurs both locally and on a global scale. In the 3,000 years that the story of David and Goliath has been told, how many listeners have identified with Goliath?

In most cases, the primary option for state-armed forces will be the de-escalation model. What this means is that when situations threaten to turn violent or actually do so, state forces in Fourth Generation situations will focus their efforts on lowering the level of confrontation until it is no longer violent. They will do so on the tactical, operational, and strategic levels. The remainder of is therefore focused on the de-escalation model for combatting insurgency and other forms of Fourth Generation warfare.

Alternate Second World Wars

Axis Power: Could Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan have won World War II? Paperback – September 23, 2012

Introduction

The Second World War is the most popular period for alternate histories. This post is a list of possible points of divergence during and before the Second World War, along with some suggested consequences. Basically, it’s about sixty alternate history essays, each about one paragraph long.

This document is intended as a very broad-brush discussion of the field, which others can use as a foundation for more detailed alternate histories. The times during World War Two discussed below are the times of important consequences: the most elegant choice of a point of divergence may be earlier.

The Militarisation of the Rhineland, 1936

The piece of Germany on the left bank of the Rhine had been kept demilitarised since the end of the First World War. Moving troops in was arguably the first thing Hitler did that flaunted its inconsistency with the Versailles treaty. What if France had decided to respond with force? Germany didn’t have an army capable of fighting France, and would have had to back down. Would the blow to Hitler’s prestige be sufficient to topple him? Would France’s name be mud in all peace-loving countries? The point of divergence would have to create a lot more political will in France, or at least a lot more anti-German feeling.

Stalin’s Purge

Stalin had several purges, but I’m talking about the one in the late 1930s. It was a key reason why the Soviet Union’s army put up such a poor showing in the Winter War with Finland and the weeks after Barbarossa.

Case I: The purge doesn’t happen: The army will be stronger. Tukachevsky, a brilliant theorist and field commander, will still be alive: he may end up in the job that Zhukov had historically.

Case II: The purge is worse: The army will be weaker: maybe weak enough that they lose. Zhukov joins Tukachevsky in an unmarked grave. Morons may command the Red Army.

Case III: Stalin’s enemies depose him: Just because Stalin was paranoid doesn’t mean nobody was out to get him. Let’s imagine that without the purge there would have been a coup of Red Army generals and politburo political enemies. The new leader might be Tukachevsky, Zhukov, or one of Stalin’s political enemies.

Anschluss

German annexation of Austria was popular in both countries. It’s hard to see who would intervene to stop it, though Mussolini had in 1934. When asked why he didn’t intervene the second time, he said that in 1934 he would have won. If the war starts over this there’ll be a lot of anti-war sentiment in the west.

The Sudeten Crisis

The Sudetenland was a mountainous border region of what’s now the Czech Republic, mostly populated by Germans (it might be better to think of them as Austrians). Nationalist principles implied that they should be joined to Germany. But if they were, Czechoslovakia would become indefensible: the Sudetenland had the best defensive terrain, a lot of smokestack industries and the Czech version of the Maginot line. Historically, Czechoslovakia was forced to give them up because France and Britain wouldn’t back them up and they couldn’t beat Germany on their own.

Case I: France and Britain back Czechoslovakia: Hitler probably would have had to back down: Germany wasn’t ready for war yet.

Case II: Poland backs Czechoslovakia: Historically, Poland acquiesced in the dismemberment of their only nearby natural ally in return for the town of Teschen. A seriously bad bargain. But by the standards of 1938 Poland and Czechoslovakia together have a pretty good army. Even without a western declaration of war they may just be able to force the Germans to back down: especially if great power intervention (from the west or the east) is always a possibility.

Case III: Poland, France and Britain back Czechoslovakia: Hitler definitely has to back down.

Case IV: The USSR and Poland back Czechoslovakia: This assumes Poland at least allows the USSR to rail troops and supplies across Polish territory. Not sure how plausible it is, or what the result would be. You can think of this as Poland jumping at a chance to let Russia and Germany fight somewhere that isn’t Poland. I don’t see that Russian soldiers locked into railway cars, by the way, are a security threat to Poland.

Occupation of the Czech Rump State, May 1939

Germany occupied what was left of Czechoslovakia too fast for anyone to do anything about it. The action gave Germany a big increase in its military strength: a third of the tanks that attacked France in 1940 were made in Czechoslovakia (before or after the conquest). But the action cost Germany a lot diplomatically: this is arguably the first time Germany did something for which it had no real excuse, and it made it clear that Hitler could not be trusted. As a result, it’s the last major piece of intimidatory expansion Hitler got away with.

I doubt there’s much of a point of divergence here, unless it’s Germany not occupying the rump. Which requires a different approach to diplomacy on Hitler’s part: he doesn’t seem to have realised that the western powers took the Munich agreement seriously.

Russia attacks Poland, ahistorical

One of the USSR’s aims seems to have been to recover the territory lost in the collapse of the Russian Empire, and Poland holds a lot. Edward Stasiak suggests an August 1936 trigger. As a general remark, the earlier the war happens the better chance the minor country has: major powers like Russia, Germany, France, Britain and Italy mostly built up their militaries much faster than the minor powers could.

Germany attacks Poland, September 1939

Germany’s immediate claim was on the so-called Polish corridor, around Danzig, but in the long run Poland had to fight or surrender. What if Poland had given up the corridor and become a German minion? It’s not crazy: fear of Russia could be a motive, and realistically the Poles had missed their best chance to resist a year ago when they let the Czechs be devoured. Surrender removes the trigger for a western entry into the war (see below) and it creates a border between the Third Reich and the Soviet Union. A war between them may follow, since it’s much closer to what Hitler wants than a war with the west, and Poland will fight as a German ally. Certainly Russia will react to the appearance of the Wehrmacht in Poland with fear and loathing. The Baltic States now become interesting, and a good trigger for the Russo-German war. Who would win that war is very hard to guess.

France and Britain declare war on Germany, September 1939

Hitler thought they wouldn’t. After all, what sort of idiot would let powerful, well-defended democratic Czechoslovakia be destroyed without a fight, then fight to defend the militarily and morally indefensible military dictatorship of Poland?

What if Hitler had been right? Poland is rapidly demolished, and whatever parts of Eastern Europe haven’t fallen into the German or Soviet camps do so swiftly. War between Germany and the Soviet Union is then likely, to general western schadenfreude.

Sitzkrieg: The Phoney War, Winter 1939-40

After and during the fall of Poland, France and Britain remained almost entirely passive, despite facing a very weak German garrison. What if they’d taken the offensive?

Case I: Across the Franco-German border: Not much of a frontage, and straight into the Siegfried line. I don’t think France has the strength to get anywhere, though it was probably worth a try.

Case II: By Invitation Through Belgium: I don’t know what it would take to make Belgium join the allies. This offensive might get somewhere, though I’m sceptical it would bring down Germany.

Case III: By Invasion Through Belgium: I can’t see this happening: if it does, the France and Britain will look very bad indeed. Perhaps if we assume the Belgians had done some deal with the Germans beforehand?

The Winter War, Winter 1939-40

This was a revanchist land grab (Finland had been part of the pre-revolutionary Russian Empire) by the USSR against Finland. Finland did very well, or the USSR did very badly, depending on your point of view. But eventually the USSR’s huge numerical advantage ground the Finns down, and Finland had to make peace by giving up a larger chunk of border land than the original Russian demand. The war motivated Finland to make a vague and desultory attack on the USSR alongside Germany: they wanted the stolen territory back, but never really had their heart in an attempt to destroy the USSR. When the tide turned against Germany, Finland shrugged, gave the territory back up, and made a separate peace.

Case I: Finland wins: Stalin gets bored with attacking Finland and makes some face-saving deal. Finland presumably never enters the war. This is a POD of interest to Finns, but probably of little impact on the big picture.

Case II: It never happens: Stalin doesn’t attack. He may go and do something else violent instead. Otherwise, neither Germany nor Stalin finds out just how awful the Red Army is. It’s arguable that this reduces the chance of Barbarossa happening, or even of a Russo-German war of any kind happening. On the other hand, if there is a Russo-German war the Germans are likely to do very well, because nobody’s been fixing all the things that are wrong with the Red Army. Finland won’t be involved, even to the limited extent it was historically.

Case III: Finland surrenders quickly: Finland realises it can’t win, so it doesn’t fight. Russia takes a slice of territory, not as much as historically. And Finland will have a grudge. Otherwise it’s just like Case II.

Case IV: Finland gets steamrolled: Deprive Finland of Mannerheim’s leadership, make a few other adjustments, and assume they have some bad luck. Finland is rapidly and cheaply defeated. Everybody thinks the Russian army pretty competent. Finland attacks Russia in Barbarossa, and recovers the territory. When (if) the war turns against Germany, Finland tries to make peace. But the Russians have no great respect for Finnish skill at arms and decide to make a finish of it (no pun intended). Post-war Finland is just another Eastern European satellite with a communist government. Sweden finds itself on the front line and perhaps joins the NATO analogue.

Case V: The allies support Finland: I don’t know how to make this happen, but it was talked about. This brings the USSR in as an active ally of Germany, at least for a while. I don’t know how the allies get there but they’ll probably be talking to Norway and Sweden, as well as directly landing at Petsamo.

Norway, April 1940

Historically Norway was invaded almost simultaneously by Germany and Britain: each saw it as important, each feared (rightly) that the other would attack and each (rightly) thought the Norwegians incapable of defending themselves. Germany also overrun Denmark in the process of getting to Norway. The main reason was the iron ore shipments that run (at least part of the year) from Kiruna in Sweden by rail to Narvik in Norway, then down the coast to German ports. By being fractionally later, the allies got the diplomatic credit for defending Norway rather than attacking it.

Case I: No invasion: Germany lost half its navy in the Norwegian campaign, that won’t happen. Various British losses won’t happen either but I’m not sure of their importance.

Case II: The allies attack first: The allies look like bullies, that may affect American support. The allies may do slightly better in the fighting but probably not much.

Case III: The allies get bogged down: The saving grace for the allies was that Norway was all over quickly. If the commitment had been more severe that could have an effect on the battle for France.

The Fall of France, May-June 1940

There were three sectors to the French-German effective border: a southern sector covered by the Maginot line; a central sector that the French thought impenetrable due to the Ardennes forest; and a northern sector where the French expected to be attacked and massed their best armies. The French plan was to advance through the northern sector to save as much of Belgium as possible. The Germans attacked through the centre, demonstrating that the Ardennes were not impassable after all. This left the bulk of the French army hopelessly outflanked and rapidly pocketed, and led to a swift German victory. Almost any POD gives the French a better chance than what happened historically.

Case I: Germans attack in the north: They were planning to do this, but changed their minds at the last minute, partly because the plans fell into allied hands. This leads to a German attack straight into the teeth of the French defence: the best case the French can possibly hope for, even so I’m not sure they will win.

Case II: Germany and France both concentrate in the centre: This probably requires an intelligence leak, perhaps an intercept decoded by the British. Same comments apply, if anything this is better for France since the forest will favour the defence.

Case III: Belgium joins the allies: Belgium remained neutral, but surely understood that Germany was the main threat. If Belgium concludes it’s for the chop in any case it may agree to allow French and British troops to enter its territory: say, during the Phoney War. That changes the campaign a lot and I’d only be guessing if I said how. Once again, it’s hardly likely to be worse than history.

Dunkirk, June 1940

What if the Anglo-French armies trying to evacuate from Dunkirk get wiped out? Deprived of this core the British army will lack the cadres needed to train new recruits. As a result its army will be of much lower quality throughout the war, a bit like it was in the first world war after its expeditionary force was wiped out in August 1914.

Vichy France, 1940

Vichy France was set up by the Germans to neutralise French resistance and hopefully produce an ally. The territories of France tended to sign up to the Vichy government unless they were immediately exposed to allied pressure (e.g. New Caledonia). In practice the only significant achievement of the Vichy French armed forces was to defeat an allied attack on Senegal, in West Africa. In 1942 it became clear that the Vichy French could not be relied upon to achieve anything for the German cause, and Hitler ended the farce, occupying the Vichy part of the country as the allies rolled up North Africa.

Case I: Active French participation in axis: There was some anti-British feeling on the part of the French, partly due to the British attack on French fleet elements they feared would fall into German hands. Suppose France was even more irritated with Britain for some reason. French troops could help to bolster Germany in the east, the way Rumanians, Hungarians etc. did historically. The SS will also recruit more successfully from France. The French navy becomes available to the Germans, except for whatever the British have already sunk.

Case II: Stronger Free France: Suppose Vichy France is seen by the French with contempt. Perhaps Petain refusing to support it would be an aspect of the POD. The most important areas are Senegal, Northwest Africa and Syria. If all these go Free French then all of Africa will fall rapidly.

Battle of Britain, late 1940

This could go differently, but I’m not sure what the impact would be. Worst case for Britain is that the fighters get driven out of Southern England and the Germans pound London and the southern cities with impunity. For a while, at least.

Sea Lion, late 1940

The German invasion of Britain. Others have written as to why this could never work. Strictly, of course, that’s a meaningless statement in alternate history. Let’s rephrase by saying that the point of divergence required to make Sea Lion possible will be so large and/or early that the alternate history resulting will be too different from real history to justify using the same name.

If you’re determined anyway, you’ll need every POD you can scrape up. Have the bulk of the Danish, Norwegian, Dutch and French navies fall intact into German hands, preferably with their crews carrying grudges against perfidious Albion. Chop the British navy up in an invasion of Norway or something. Wipe out the British army: Dunkirk is a popular place for that. Inflict much higher losses on the Royal Air Force during the fall of France. Have the Germans see the attack on Britain not as a separate campaign but as a natural continuation of the defeat of France, and have them draw up the plans before they even attack France. Let the Germans have a clever idea as to how to get the troops across: something to supplement the Elbe-Rhine barge fleet. Let the British make a bad mistake when guessing where they’ll land: they did historically. Give the Germans some experience (off Norway?) bombing ships, so they get good at it. Transfer the best of the Regia Aeronautica to the channel to assist the Luftwaffe. Best of luck, you’ll need it.

Spain, ahistorical

Franco liked to say that he fought as a German ally on the eastern front of the European war, as an American ally in the Pacific, and stayed neutral in the west. Spain traded with Germany from the fall of France until late in the war.

Case I: Spanish Republicans win unassisted: They’ll be friendly to the USSR, which means they will trade with the Germans from the fall of France to Barbarossa, then cut off relations. Unless invaded by the Germans they will offer themselves as a launching platform for the second front. If they are invaded then Britain gets to fight a twentieth century version of the Napoleonic peninsular war.

Case II: Spanish Republicans win with Russian assistance: As Case I, but more so.

Case III: Spanish Republicans win with western assistance: Spain may fight on the allied side in the war. But perhaps not, they are tired of fighting and still more aligned with the USSR than the west.

Case IV: Spanish civil war drags on: What if the Spanish civil war were still in progress when France declared war on Germany? There’s a German army of “volunteers” fighting alongside Franco. Spain would become the first theatre of war in the west.

Case V: Spain allies with Germany: Say, just after the fall of France. Historically Spain demanded so much as its price that Hitler said forget it. Germany can use Spain as a launching pad to attack Gibraltar and close one end of the Mediterranean. The loss of Gibraltar and Spain would make it very hard for the allies to take the offensive in North Africa, to carry out operations like Torch, or later to land in Italy. So the landings aimed at the liberation of France move up to 1943.

Case VI: Germany invades Spain: Would Franco really fight the Germans, when he has the chance to acquiesce? I assume the Germans win, and Spain becomes even more devastated. But it may not be pleasant, peninsulas with tough terrain and poor transport infrastructure, like Spain, are vulnerable to allied sea power.

Turkey, ahistorical

Turkey stayed out of the war and traded with Germany until very near the end, when it made a token declaration.

Case I: Turkey as a German victim: Same comments apply as to Spain. Idea is for Germany to directly threaten the Caucasus. It also gives the axis control of the Bosphorus-Dardanelles but I’m not sure that’s important. I’m not sure I really believe this idea.

Case II: Turkey as a German ally: As above, but no need for an invasion and the Turkish army as an ally. Turkey can influence events in the Caucasus, Syria, Iraq, maybe Greece.

Soviet Pre-Emptive Attack

The Soviet Union did have a plan for this, one was drawn up by Zhukov. It was sort of like a larger version of the German invasion of France, pushing through the centre then hooking north to pocket Army Group North (to borrow a term from Barbarossa) against the Baltic. Who knows how well it would have worked: probably not really well, but also probably better than Barbarossa was for the Russians. The two obvious times are early 1941 and mid-1940. The latter is probably more interesting. Either way the Russians will have struck first, which increases the chance the Russian people will blame Stalin for the war. The Russian buildup during 1940 was huge, so both sides will be weaker in numerical terms.

Balkans Diversion, May 1941

The German attack on Yugoslavia and Greece may have delayed Barbarossa. Or may not, depending on who you believe about the weather. It certainly diverted British troops from North Africa, letting Rommel achieve impressive things. The root POD here may be the Italian attack on Greece.

Barbarossa, June 1941

Always a good subject for debate. Barbarossa was a brilliant tactical success, though it didn’t quite achieve its optimistic objectives. In the long run, of course, it was a strategic catastrophe for Germany. A key question is whether Germany had a choice: would the USSR have attacked eventually anyway?

Case I: It doesn’t happen: This leaves Germany facing a powerful but quiescent USSR in the east, and a belligerent but largely helpless Britain in the west. When and if the US enters the war the allies can probably win the Battle of the Atlantic, but it’s going to be a terrible drain: every unit of resources allocated by Germany to submarines requires far more allocated by the west to anti-submarine warfare and replacement of shipping losses. The allies can’t kick Germany out of France, or knock Italy out of the war, without Russia taking the brunt of the fighting. The three possibilities obviously worth looking at here are: a negotiated peace in the west; an eventual USSR attack on Germany; and the development and use of nuclear fission bombs by one or both sides.

Case I: Germany does better: Just having the Germans prepare better

Case I: USSR does better: Easy to arrange, just let Stalin listen to a few of the warnings he historically ignored. It’s not clear it’s a very interesting POD, though. The war will presumably be shorter, and Russia less exhausted, perhaps the USSR will control more of Europe.

Case II: Single main objective: Some thinkers have attacked Barbarossa as being unfocused. Each army group had a separate objective: Leningrad in the north, Moscow in the centre and Stalingrad in the south. There are some what-ifs you can play here assuming that the Germans identify one of these as the Russian centre of gravity, the most popular choice being Moscow. This isn’t an easy plausibility argument, if you want to start from a small have a good grasp of military logistics.

Strike North, 1941

Japan attacked Russia in 1939 and had the dreadful bad luck to run into a Russian general called Zhukov. (Who’d been exiled there by Stalin in order to put him on tenure track for a gulag and an execution, so if you stop Zhukov’s arrest there’ll be someone else in the theatre. This makes Zhukov’s arrest a rather elegant POD.) The result was a modest but quite dramatic Japanese defeat at Nomonhan. POD that away and the Japanese may be willing to attack the USSR in alliance with the Germans. They probably won’t do all that well, they really never did against European armies except in jungles. But the distraction could be very serious, and the lend lease that historically flowed on Russian ships from America to Vladivostok will cease.

Brutality

Life in Stalin’s idea of a socialist Utopia wasn’t fun. So when the Germans arrived in places like the Ukraine they were initially hailed as liberators by a significant percentage of the population. By their nature, however, Nazis cannot be put in contact with Slavs without a high risk of massacre. The Third Reich rapidly ran through its fund of good will and achieved an amazing thing: turned the Ukrainians into supporters of Russia. Changing this will take a big POD: racist brutality isn’t a detachable aspect of Nazism, it’s a central element. But letting the Germans keep a few friends would go some way toward any German victory scenario you wanted to construct. Ironically, the big winner from the change would be the SS, which could recruit Ukrainians, etc.; yet the SS is the historical worst offender.

Genocide

The Germans diverted significant resources into killing people they didn’t really need to. Jews are the famous example, but Gipsies, educated Poles, commissars, etc. are all worth remembering as well. (Apologies for anyone I left out, but that just underlines the point that this document is intended as a brief outline.) A Germany that harnessed those people’s talents would be really scary, but that’s probably too much to hope. (When I say “hope”, of course, what I really mean is fear.) A Germany that just used them as brute slaves might at least be slightly more efficient. The most interesting consequences might be in having all those educated, creative people still alive after the war. Add four million or so Jews, still alive and mostly wanting to leave Europe, and see what Israel turns into, or New York.

Strike South, December 1941

The Japanese felt themselves forced into war with the US, because their oil supplies had been cut off. This was the result of a sort of accidental diplomatic blockade: the US cut off their oil to protest Japanese occupation of French Indochina, and the Dutch and British cut off theirs because they thought it would please the Americans. It doesn’t seem the Americans wanted to hurt the Japanese quite as badly as they did. American terms for a resumption of oil supplies were withdrawal from China. Nobody in Japan knew whether meant just China south of the great wall, which they might be willing to do, or Manchuria and/or Taiwan as well, which they wouldn’t. There are plenty of PODs here for keeping Japan out of the war. The post-war implications of a powerful nationalist state in East Asia are fascinating.

Pearl Harbour, December 1941

After Pearl Harbour Japan rampaged across the western Pacific for six months. Something that should be made clear: Japan can’t win against a serious America. Historically the US crushed Japan using about a fifth of its strength, the rest going to Europe. Make Japan tougher and you just force the US to allocate a little more or take a little longer. If you want Japan to win it has to be mostly a political change.

Case I: It doesn’t happen: It was always a risky plan, so let’s assume it never happened. The old American battleships survive, which is a mixed blessing because they’re too slow to keep up with the carrier fleet. The Japanese carriers that struck Hawaii are off doing other things and so Japanese expansion goes a little faster.

Case II: The carriers are sunk: This could make a big dent in the American response. Japan’s rampage will last significantly longer. American counterattacks will have to wait for the Essex-class carriers, but maybe Japan will have pushed further out by the time they come. Which won’t clearly be good news for Japan.

Case III: The fuel supplies are wiped out: This will slow the Americans down a lot, but I doubt the implications are very interesting. Ships will go to Europe instead, which will help the Atlantic war.

Case IV: The carriers are spotted: A battle at sea follows, which the Japanese almost certainly win. Ships that get sunk in this battle won’t rest on the bottom of the harbour waiting for salvage: they’re gone for good.

Germany Declares War on the United States, December 1941

Hitler underestimated the United States in particular and the importance of convertible civilian industry in general. He may also have overestimated the long term importance of Operation Drumbeat, the mugging of a hopelessly ill-prepared US merchant fleet by U-boats. And he probably figured that with the US and Britain cooperating closely in the Pacific against Japan, they would also cooperate closely in the Atlantic. Even so, gratuitously declaring war on the United States was the action of a loon.

So what if he doesn’t? FDR is going to find it hard to ask for a declaration of war against Germany, now that the US has a real live actively evil empire to fight and no desire for distractions. He’ll have to sell it by claiming the axis is a real alliance, but will congress believe him? Hitler can make that especially hard through speeches declaring solidarity with the Aryan people of America. In fact, a declaration of war on the Empire of Japan would cost very little and is probably worth every pfennig’s worth of ink in the pen he uses. And why not go the whole hog: offer the United States the services of, say, a brigade of German volunteers (they may even actually have volunteered!). The eastern front will never notice the loss of a single brigade, and even when the US turns the offer down it’s all ammunition to the “Japan first!” crowd in congress. If you want to contemplate some less plausible options, what if the US says yes? Then there’ll be US soldiers serving alongside Wehrmacht: improving US doctrine, building personal links and making the US army realise that these guys are really capable and really evil. Germany may ask the American congress to send over that Joe Kennedy chap to help mediate peace between Germany and Britain. Sound fellow.

Battle of Moscow, late 1941

In my opinion, the pivotal moment of the war. German forces reached the outskirts of Moscow, and advanced elements even circled behind it to cut rail lines. Historically a Russian counteroffensive drove the Germans back, but what if the Germans had taken Moscow? This is an enormous blow to the USSR: the loss of Moscow’s industry; its importance as a transportation hub; the disruption to war planning; and morale. Comrade Stalin might just find himself up against a wall in front of a firing squad, with the new government making whatever deal they can. It isn’t easy to take a city that’s stubbornly defended, so we’re looking for a POD that worsens the Russian’s historical level of surprise.

Midway, June 1942

The American victory at Midway ended the historical Japanese rampage. The attack was partially triggered by the Doolittle raid, so that’s a possible POD.

Case I: No attempt: The Japanese are obviously stronger. The Americans will have to kill their fleet honestly. Which they will, by overwhelming force. But not before the Essex-class carriers arrive.

Case II: The US doesn’t respond: Perhaps because the Japanese change their codes. Midway falls, and the US will have to respond somehow, which leads to the battle on Japanese terms that the Japanese wanted.

Case III: Japanese victory: Not out of the question, the initial American attacks did get savaged. The point of divergence could be to take Spruance out of the picture (as a submariner he’s an unlikely candidate for carrier command) and replace him with someone of less competence. Results are as for Cases I and II, but more so.

Stalingrad and Baku, Winter 1942-3

An easy German occupation of Stalingrad, for whatever reason, might have some impact but probably not a huge one. Pushing through to cut off and (perhaps eventually) occupy the Caspian oil sources could be very important. I’m unsure how important Stalingrad was.

Kursk, 1943

Mentioned mostly so I can dismiss it: the Germans are too far gone by this stage for any single battle to save them.

Normandy, June 1944

Normandy was a spectacularly brilliant deception operation and a logistical triumph. Even so, there was one beach, Omaha, where it all went horrible. What if everything that historically went right had gone wrong, and there’d been five beaches like Omaha? What if the invasion had turned into a bloodbath, pinned against the channel and eventually evacuated in disgrace, or even overrun? It would be the end of any significant allied effort for 1944. By the time they were ready to try again the Russians would be knocking on the door of Berlin.

Jet Fighters

The Me-262 was a primitive jet fighter. Its production and development were held up by Hitler’s odd obsession with converting it into a strike aircraft.

Case I: Germans develop jets earlier: It’ll hurt, but it can’t really turn the war around. The US, Britain and USSR will presumably accelerate their own jet programs in response.

Case II: Germans fail to develop jets: This may retard jet aircraft.

Case III: Allies develop jets sooner: P-80s, MiG-somethings and/or Gloucester Meteors battle Me-262s and Arabo blitzbombers. All good fun, and jet technology may be accelerated, but probably not a huge impact on history.

The K-Bomb

The Germans had most of what they needed to produce a nuclear fission bomb. The big problem was resources generally, it’s hard to see Germany funnelling the vast sums into their program the Americans could into theirs, unless Hitler gets obsessed with the idea. They had Werner Heisenberg to run it, but they’d also lost a lot of brilliant scientists like Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi, and made no visible effort to recruit Nils Bohr. Their concept was completely wrong (they thought they’d need to build a reactor and make it go supercritical, which rules out bombs small enough to be transported in aircraft) but that can be taken away by POD. If the Germans get the K-bomb early enough (from kern, the German word for nuclear) they’ll probably drop the first one on London or Moscow. A later target might be Antwerp, or some critical centre of communications on the Eastern front.

Atoms for Germany, 1945

Nuclear weapons were invented for the purpose of attacking Germany. Let Germany hold on six months more and they may be. The postwar consequences are probably the most interesting: Germans may have stronger negative feelings about nuclear power, nuclear weapons and Americans.

Hiroshima, August 1945

The US didn’t realise it, but Japan was ready to surrender when the Hiroshima bomb was dropped. A translation error was partially responsible for the confusion: nobody should discuss sensitive subjects with foreigners in a language as deliberately obscure as Japanese. The final straw had been the USSR’s entry into the war, since the Japanese had been hoping the USSR would mediate. If America realised Japan was about to surrender, or if Japan surrendered sooner, maybe just a few weeks sooner, there might never have been a nuclear weapon used in anger. The post-war issues could bear a lot of scrutiny: America thinks the bomb is a secret, but it isn’t. The USSR knows about the bomb, but maybe Stalin will be skeptical of his scientists’ apparently hyperbolic descriptions. Both sides will capture German scientists from Heisenberg’s project, who will think the project very difficult. But maybe not say so, since they’re all unemployed and in danger of becoming slave labourers if they can’t prove themselves useful. What if Russia builds a nuclear arsenal in secret? How long before scientists and science fiction writers start wondering aloud why nobody’s been working on this? Or before the news leaks: scientists are very bad at keeping secrets, at least amongst themselves.

World War Three

At the end of world war two the allied and Soviet armies met across a vanquished Germany. What if the meeting had been violent? The Russians have a huge army, but not much manpower left in reserve. The western allies have the arsenal of democracy, lots of airpower and the sympathies of any German military units that have survived (e.g. the Norway garrison, von Kesselring’s army of Italy and that division that got stuck on a channel island) or can be formed (e.g. from POWs). Best of all there are nuclear weapons in the pipeline. The Russians must win fast, or they won’t win at all: of course, the best they can possibly hope to do is overrun Germany, France and just maybe Italy, so there’ll always be a base for the allies to come back or at least strike back. The French, Yugoslav and Italian communist partisans will presumably fight as allies of the USSR. The Japanese have a glimmer of hope that they never deserved: if they get an offer of peace from the allies short of total humiliation they will accept; if they don’t they will fight without real hope, notionally alongside the Russians.

Case I: The western allies start it: I don’t see how to arrange this, it probably requires a conspiracy between, at a minimum, deranged analogues of Roosevelt, Churchill and lots of other people. Let us never speak of it again. OK, maybe a deranged analogue of Patton starts it and it gets out of hand. But sooner or later someone will try to pull the plug, if Stalin will agree. Not a really plausible POD.

Case II: The USSR starts it: Stalin’s paranoia points outward for a while, instead of inward. Maybe the POD is a clever Red Army general who deliberately redirects Stalin’s attention as the only way to prevent another purge. A lot of people in Russia will be unhappy and they’ll take any good opportunity to depose Stalin if they think they can make terms. Or maybe Stalin realises what nuclear weapons can do and thinks he has to strike now, which is a really dumb way to think but who knows the mind of a mad dictator.

Case III: Both sides think the other started it: Probably the most likely POD. This makes for a bitter conflict, both sides are crying infamy and are in no mood to accept anything less than unconditional surrender. The blue glow of Cerenkov radiation replaces street lights in many Russian cities.

BY David Bofinger

The Inter-World Wars Military Thinkers

General Erich Ludendorff

Throughout history, all too often the conclusion of one armed conflict has served as a prelude to the next. Never was this more true than at the end of World War I, which, although it was sometimes described as “the war to end all wars,” provided only a temporary respite. Scarcely had the guns fallen silent than people started looking into the future on the assumption that the Great Powers of this world had not yet finished fighting one another. Which gave rise to the question: How was this to be done?

To virtually all of those who tried, the point of departure was the need to avoid attrition, reopen the way toward decisive operations, and reduce the number of military casualties on the battlefield. The casualties themselves had been the direct result of the superiority of the defense as brought about by modern firepower, hence the most pressing problem was to find ways to bypass or overcome it. One of the first serious theoretical treatises to look at the problem was written by an Italian general, Giulio Douhet. An engineer by profession, during the early years of the century Douhet had become fascinated with the military applications of the internal combustion engine. A little later he was also found dabbling in futurist ideas concerning the spiritual qualities allegedly springing from those two speedy new vehicles, the motorcar and the aircraft, claiming that they possessed the ability to rejuvenate the world and Italy in particular.

As a staff officer in 1915–18, he was in a position to observe, and reflect on, the twelve abortive offensives the Italian army had launched across the River Isonzo. Surely there had to be a better way of doing things—one that, in fact, he had already promoted during the war itself, arguing in favor of the creation of a massive bomber force and its use against the enemy. His masterpiece, Il Commando del Aereo (the command of the air), was published in 1921 and, as the title suggests, tried to do for the air what Mahan had done for the sea. In his own words, “the form of any war … depends upon the technical means of war available.” In the past, firearms had revolutionized war; then it was the turn of small-caliber rapid-fire guns, barbed wire, and, at sea, the submarine. The most recent additions were the air arm and poison gas, both of which were still in their infancy but possessed the potential to completely upset all forms of war so far known.

Douhet surmised correctly that as long as war was fought only on the surface of the earth, it was necessary for one side to break through the other’s defenses in order to win. However, those defenses had become stronger and stronger until the ability to maneuver past them and take strategically important targets such as cities and industrial areas became impossible. Sheltered by this reality, the civilian population carried on almost undisturbed. As we saw, it was by mobilizing that population that the belligerents were able to produce what it took to wage total war and sustain the fight for years on end.

The advent of aircraft changed this situation. Capable of flying over battle lines and natural obstacles, and possessing a comparatively long range, aircraft were free to attack centers of population and industry. Because no effective defense against such attacks was possible—given that the air could be traversed in all directions with equal ease and there was no predicting which target would be hit next—any war would have to start with a massive attack on the enemy’s air bases so as to establish “command of the air.”

That having been achieved, and extrapolating from the events of 1916–18, Douhet suggested that forty aircraft dropping eighty tons of bombs might have “completely destroyed” a city the size of Treviso. A mere three aircraft, he calculated, could deliver as much firepower as a modern battleship in a single broadside, whereas a thousand aircraft could deliver ten times as much firepower as could the entire British navy—counting thirty Dreadnoughts—in ten broadsides. The kicker was that the price tag of a single battleship would buy about a thousand aircraft. As Douhet pointed out, moreover, even these calculations failed to take account of the fact that the science of military aviation had just begun and that aircraft capable of lifting as much as ten tons of bombs would soon be built. Carrying Douhet’s views further, investments in armies and navies would by necessity come to a halt, and given that the new weapon was inherently offensive in nature, most of the aircraft ought to be not fighters but bombers. And instead of being grafted on to the army and navy, such air fleets would be formed into an independent air force. At the outbreak of the next war, that air force would be launched like a shell from a cannon. Having obtained command of the air in this sense by destroying the enemy’s airfields, the attackers would switch from military to civilian objectives. Using gas as the principal weapon, the aim should be not merely to kill but to demoralize. Leaping over the enemy’s ground defenses, a war waged by such means might be over almost before it had begun. By minimizing the casualties of both the attacker and the defender (whose population, feeling the effects of war directly, would force the government to surrender) represented a humane alternative to an endless battle of attrition. To carry out the air offensive, Douhet proposed a comparatively small force made up of elite warriors, a vision that meshed well with the anti-democratic, fascist ideas he also entertained.

The dream of avoiding warfare by attrition was also alive in the great prophet of mechanized land warfare, John Frederick Fuller. Even as a young officer, Fuller had given evidence of a formidable intellect expressed by an interest in everything from Greek philosophy to Jewish mysticism. In the years before World War I, he made great effort to discover the principles of war, of which he settled on nine: direction, concentration, distribution, determination, surprise, endurance, mobility, offensive action, and security.’

In numerous publications—Fuller was a prolific writer who, however, often tended to overstate his case—he argued that war, like every other field of human life, was decisively affected by the progress of science. Like Douhet, he considered the most important fruits of science to be the internal combustion engine (on which depended the airplane and the tank) and poison gas. For him, future warfare on land would center on the tank and the mechanization of artillery, reconnaissance, engineering, signals, supply, and maintenance units. Fully mechanized, an army would enjoy almost as much freedom of movement as did ships at sea. Now armies could once again maneuver against each other, concentrating against select sections of the enemy front, breaking through, and bringing about victory at comparatively low cost.

In the debates about tanks and mechanization, his views, coming as they did from an ex–chief of staff of the most advanced mechanized force in history, commanded particular respect. Yet even barring his most extreme ideas—say, that armies should consist of tanks alone and every infantryman provided with his individual tankette—many of his suggestions have come to pass. Considering himself not merely a military reformer but a philosopher as well, Fuller went on to spin an immensely complicated network of intellectual propositions on the nature of war, life, history, and whatever. Combining all these different strands, many of his historical writings were decidedly brilliant. However, much of his theorizing was decidedly half-baked, tied as it was to his interest in mysticism and the occult.

In the history of twentieth-century military thought, Fuller’s name is almost always associated with that of his younger contemporary and friend Basil Liddell Hart.’ Unlike Fuller, Liddell Hart was not a professional soldier, but rather studied history at Cambridge before enlisting, received a commission, and fought in France. Gassed at the Somme, Captain (throughout his life he enjoyed emphasizing the military rank he had attained) Liddell Hart spent the rest of the war in England training infantry recruits. It was in this capacity that he first started thinking seriously about the best way to prepare for, and wage, armed conflict.

Concerning his intellectual development, two points are worth noting. First, like so many of his generation who were educated in public schools, Liddell Hart was brought up on the notion that war was akin to sport and games. In his memoirs, he explains that he was good at football—not because his coordination and technique were in any way outstanding, but because he could envisage all various combinations of play and foresee where the ball was likely to end up. Second, and again like so many of his contemporaries, Liddell Hart ended the war as a fervent admirer of the British military establishment, which after all had just fought and won the largest armed conflict in history to date.

However, within a few years he reversed himself, joining the then fashionable trend of disillusionment with the war in general and with its conduct at the hand of the British high command in particular. In criticizing that conduct, his stature as the popular journalist he became after the war and interest in sports were to come in handy. Like Fuller, Liddell Hart concluded that sending men into the maws of machine guns had been the height of folly, the origin of which was to be found not in simple bloody-mindedness but in the writings of the greatest of all military philosophers, Carl von Clausewitz. To Liddell Hart, this was the prophet whose clarion call had misled generations of officers into the belief that the best, indeed almost the only, way to wage war was to concentrate the greatest possible number of men and weapons and launch them straight ahead against the enemy. In 1914–18 the “Prussian Marseillaise” had borne its horrible fruit.

To restore the power of the offensive and save casualties, in his early writings Liddell Hart recommended “the indirect approach.” Rather than attacking the enemy head-on, he should be thrown off balance, achieved by combining rapidity of movement with secrecy and surprise, with attacks carried out by dispersed forces (so as to conceal the true center of gravity for as long as possible), coming from unexpected directions, and following the least expected route, even if this meant overcoming topographic obstacles. Above all, every plan had to possess “two branches”—drawn up in such a way as to keep the opponent guessing concerning one’s true objectives. Any plan should also be sufficiently flexible to enable an objective to be changed if it turned out to be too strongly defended.

All such maneuvers were to be carried out in two-dimensional space, along lines of communications, overcoming all natural and artificial obstacles, while trailing “an umbilical cord of supply,” and against an enemy who presumably was both intelligent enough to understand what was going on and capable of engaging in countermaneuvers. War, consisting essentially of movement, was presented almost as if it were some kind of sophisticated game played between opposing teams. This was particularly true of Liddell Hart’s mature work. The older he became, the more pronounced his tendency to give tactics a short shrift. Other subjects such as mobilization, logistics, intelligence, command, communication and control, and questions of killing and dying were also lightly skipped over. Reading his most famous and oft-reprinted book, Strategy: The Indirect Approach, one might be excused for thinking war was about operational movement and very little else.

During the early 1920s, Liddell Hart also became interested in mechanization, and in this so much of his thinking was “borrowed” from his mentor, Fuller, that their friendship suffered for it. Thus it was little surprise that Liddell Hart’s vision of mechanized armed forces, as set forth in his Paris, or the Future of War (1925) as well as The Remaking of Modern Armies (1927), employed a combination of aircraft, tanks, and poison gas as weapons with which defenses could be skipped over or overcome, resulting in the war brought to a swift and cheap, if violent, end.

What prevented Liddell Hart from making a detailed forecast of the Blitzkrieg, with its characteristic combination of armored divisions and tanks, was his abiding revulsion for the horrors of World War I and his determination, which he shared with so many of his generation, that they not be repeated. From about 1931 on, this caused him to switch from attempts to devise more effective ways to win toward thinking about less costly ways to avoid defeat. Following Julian Corbett without bothering to acknowledge the master, he now claimed that the “British Way in Warfare” had always been to stay out of massive Continental commitments. Instead the kingdom had relied on its navy to keep the enemy at bay (and harass and weaken him by means of well-directed strokes at selected points) and on Continental allies to deliver the coup de main. By 1939, Liddell Hart had convinced himself that “the dominant lesson from the experience of land warfare, for more than a generation past, has been the superiority of the defense over attack”; even in the air, as experiences in Spain had shown, “the prospects of the defense are improving.” Therefore, instead of Britain repeating its World War I error—which had led to so many casualties— it could safely trust the “dauntless” French to stop the Germans. Britain itself, its armed forces thoroughly modernized and mechanized, should revert to its traditional strategy, relying primarily on blockade on the one hand and airpower on the other. This had the additional advantage that it would make universal conscription and mass armies unnecessary—a preference for small professional forces that Liddell Hart, a liberal, shared with some thinkers like Douhet.

Compared with Douhet, Fuller, and Liddell Hart, Erich Ludendorff was a towering figure. Much more than the first two, he understood what modern war was like from the top, and unlike the last-named he did not regard it as some kind of field game; “the war has spared me nothing,” he would write, having lost two sons. On the other hand, and again unlike Liddell Hart in particular, neither did he shrink from its horrors.

At first, Ludendorff was perhaps no more bigoted than was required of a German officer of his generation. Indeed, during the war he once opened a proclamation to the Jewish population of occupied Poland with the words, “Meine liebe Jidden.” In the 1920s, however, influenced by his second wife, he started dabbling with anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, and anti-freemasonry (he could never make up his mind which of the three international forces posed the greatest danger to Germany). He also took a part in the 1923 Nazi Putsch; for all this he has been rightly condemned. However, this should not obscure the fact that his vision of future war was more nearly correct than any of the rest.

Having spent more than two years in charge of Germany’s war effort, Ludendorff did not believe that a first-class modern state could be brought to its knees rapidly and cheaply by aircraft dropping bombs, or by fleets of tanks engaging in mobile operations, however brilliantly. In part, his Der Totale Krieg merely continued the work of some pre-1914 militarist writers, such as Colmar von der Goltz and Theodor von Bernhardi, who had advocated total mobilization and mass armies. And up to a point, his book recounted his own experience, which by attacking many of his less cooperative colleagues sought to explain why Germany had lost the war. Yet whatever the book’s precise origins and purpose, Ludendorff’s main thesis was that the developing technologies of production, transportation, and communication made modern war into much more than merely a question of armed forces maneuvering against one another for mastery of some battlefield. Instead, war would now demand a nation’s total effort, and therefore a total devotion of all resources to its execution.

To be sure, the next war would make use of all available weapons, including poison gas. Both civilians in their cities and soldiers in their trenches would be targeted, and the resulting casualties, destruction, and suffering would be immense. Therefore, by necessity, as important as the total mobilization of material resources would be the spiritual mobilization of the people—a point on which, as Ludendorff and many of his countrymen saw it, imperial Germany with its old-fashioned, authoritarian system of government and its neglect of the working classes had been sadly deficient.

The implication of such mobilization was an end to democracy and the liberties it entailed, including not only freedom of the press but workers’ rights and capitalist enterprise as well. For either industrialists or union leaders (during the war, Ludendorff had had his troubles with both) to insist on their own privilege was intolerable. Along with the entire financial apparatus available to the state, they, too, were to be subjected to a military dictatorship. And having experienced the process firsthand, Ludendorff was under no illusion that the nation’s spiritual and material mobilization could be improvised. Hence the dictatorship he demanded, and for which he no doubt regarded himself as the most suitable candidate, was to be set up in peacetime and made permanent.

The next war would be a life-and-death struggle to be won by the belligerent with the greatest resources and the strongest will to mobilize and deploy them—which incidentally disposed of any childish illusions concerning small, professional, and highly mobile, let alone chivalrous, armed forces. Anything that did not serve the war effort would have to be ruthlessly suppressed. Politics would, in effect, be swallowed by the war. Ludendorff was never one to mince his words. “All of Clausewitz’s theories should be thrown overboard…. Both war and policy serve the existence of the nation. However, war is the highest expression of the people’s will to live. Therefore politics must be made subordinate to war.” Or else, to the extent that this did not happen, treated as superfluous and, indeed, treasonable.

In the decades after 1945, Ludendorff’s military ideas were often attacked by featherweight commentators who mistook their world—in which nuclear weapons had made total warfare as he understood it impossible—for his. During these years, it was Liddell Hart and Fuller who, whether rightly or not, were celebrated as the fathers of the Blitzkrieg. Nevertheless, the fact remains that it was not their vision of World War II but Ludendorff’s that turned out to be only too horribly true.

To be sure, fleets of aircraft, though they did not drop gas, did fly over fronts and bombed cities on a scale that, had he been able to envisage it, might have made even Ludendorff blanch. The combination of airpower, armor, mobility, and wireless restored operational mobility, laying the groundwork for some spectacular campaigns in which countries the size of Poland and France were knocked down at a single blow. The Second World War also demonstrated the reestablishment of the balance between defense and offense, although events were to show that both tanks and aircraft were equally as capable of preventing a breakthrough as they were of helping one take place.

Where Ludendorff proved most correct, however, was in his insistence that the Second World War—a term, of course, that he did not use—would be broadly like the first, and like its predecessor would develop into a gigantic and prolonged struggle. As was the First World War, it would be waged on many fronts, at sea and in the air as well as on land. Like its predecessor, it would both demand and make possible the mobilization of all resources. He was also proved right in that even democratic Britain found it necessary to curtail the role of politics by setting up a national coalition government—which meant that, as long as the conflict lasted, there was no parliamentary opposition, and elections were postponed. Ludendorff’s posthumous triumph may, indeed, be seen in the fact that, by the time the war was over, a continent had been devastated and an estimated forty million people lay dead.

 

Der Halte Befehl – France, 21 May 1940 Part I


‘We have lost the battle for France.’

French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud

to Winston Churchill, 15 May 1940

In the evening hours of 10 January 1940, a German Junkers-52 transport plane made an emergency landing in a field near Mechelen-sur-Meuse. On board was a staff officer of the 7th German Infantry Division, who carried on him detailed plans of the invasion of France. He was captured before being able to burn his maps. These showed the German plan for a spring attack through the Ardennes with a crossing of the Meuse (Maas) south of the Belgian border. The captured plans were rushed to General Maurice Gamelin, Commander-in-Chief of Allied armies.

He didn’t believe it, as much as he didn’t believe his chief of espionage, Colonel Payol of the Deuxième Bureau, who had confirmation from their source deep in Berlin, ‘Bertrand’, an official in the German Ministry of War.

No, decided General Gamelin, no army could ever cross the Ardennes, although, only two years before, during French Army manoeuvres conducted by himself, General Prétalat had used exactly the same breakthrough route as was shown on the captured German plans. Finally, the French military attaché in Bern informed Gamelin to expect a German push on Sedan by 8 May. He was only two days out.

On the morning of 10 May 1940, a special unit of German paratroopers, which had practised their assault on a mock-up model of their target, dropped on Fort Eben Emael, which controlled three vital bridges along the border between France and Belgium. Within twenty minutes, this strategic junction was in the hands of the Germans, and the road into France laid open.

On 1 September 1939, the world was given its first taste of Germany’s Blitzkrieg strategy. It was based on lightning thrusts by panzer forces in combination with tactical air strikes, a technique developed during the inter-war years by the German panzer genius, Heinz Guderian. While Germany had developed an élite tank force, the British Army had Mark I tanks equipped with a machine gun, and even their heavier Matildas were no match for the fast German armour. The French were even worse, their tanks lumbered along at 4 m.p.h. to allow their fantassins (foot soldiers) to follow the attack. The German panzers moved at 60 km p.h.

Despite the Polish demonstration, the men who dominated Allied military planning were ossified and locked into a static defence. Major General Sir Louis Jackson’s view was typical of their thinking when he referred to the decisive battle of the First World War, the breakthrough by British armour at Amiens: ‘The tank was a freak. The circumstances which called it into existence were exceptional and are not likely to recur. If they do, they can be dealt with by other means.’

The short-sighted view of the Imperial General Staff was matched by the French. ‘We are not Poles,’ stated General Gamelin, ‘it couldn’t happen here.’ The French General Staff counted on the invulnerability of the Maginot Line. The main flaw of this highly sophisticated defence system was that it did not reach all the way to the sea but stopped at the Belgian border! The French assumed, wrongly as it turned out, that it would invite German forces to push through Holland, where the might of French, Belgian and British armies could crush their advance along the fortified Dyle River line. It was precisely this concentration of Allied forces in Flanders which led to the French debacle.

The plan for their lightning march to victory was presented to Hitler by the chief of staff of General von Rundstedt’s Heeresgruppe A (Army Group A), General Erich von Manstein. He suggested a surprise thrust with the bulk of German panzers, seven divisions, through the weakest point in the French defences, the heavily wooded Ardennes mountain range, leaving it to General Bock’s Heeresgruppe B (Army Group B) to fake the expected advance into Holland along the established invasion routes of the First World War. The French fell into the trap, even the ageing Marshal Henri Pétain, the hero of Verdun, who stated: ‘The Ardennes are impenetrable, this sector is not dangerous.’

One hundred and fifty kilometres of dense woodland separated the Maginot Line from the fortified Dyle River line in Belgium. For this – the key to the German attack plan, General Gamelin allotted only fourteen reserve divisions. Against these stormed forty-five crack German divisions, including all their heavy panzer units.

Myths surround the swift and conclusive German conquest. One is that victory was achieved by German tank superiority. This assertion is false. The Germans had 2,574 tanks to the Allies’ 3,254. Also, the Allies’ armour-plating and guns were superior to those of the German Mark II and Mark III models. The French were simply out-generalled. They had developed a Maginot mentality, basing their entire plan on an inflexible concept, outdated battle strategy and, most of all, an exaggerated confidence in static defence. (The Maginot Line was handed intact to the Germans the day following the French surrender!)

Yet, history tends to overlook a relatively minor action fought by seventy-four British tanks near Arras which was to prove of major significance to the continuation of the war.

After only two days of fighting, the leading German panzers had reached Sedan and the Meuse. On 12 May, an erroneous report that German panzer units had already crossed the Meuse reached General Corap, commander of the French Ninth Army. Corap panicked and ordered a precipitated withdrawal. He was replaced by General Giraud who was captured the following day.

On the 13th, General Erwin Rommel’s 7th Panzers did cross the river on a hastily assembled pontoon bridge. They were unopposed and quickly overran a new French defence line before it could even be manned. This rout opened a gaping hole in the French line. The panzer advance was so lightning fast that the Germans did not bother to stop and take prisoners. Long lines of surrendering French soldiers marched alongside the speeding panzers, many still carrying their weapons. Sometimes a German tank would stop, collect their rifles and crush them under the cleats of the panzer.

The French still had at their disposal three armoured divisions capable of stopping the German steamroller. Though their military Intelligence had by now established that the German panzers were definitely not headed towards Belgium, Gamelin, a man never prepared to change his preconception and beset by an inability to adapt to a rapidly changing situation, was at the root of the military debacle. When General Weygand replaced Gamelin, and a decision was taken – already too late – to move the three tank units into position, the 1st French Armoured Division of General Bruneau was simply wiped out by Guderian’s 19th Panzer Corps, assisted by the Luftwaffe’s Sturzkampfbombers (aka Stuka) near Beaumont, the 2nd Tank Division (General Bronché) unloaded at the wrong place, owing to a faulty train schedule, and the 3rd Tank Division ran out of fuel on their way to the front.

The forward movement by French and British reinforcements faced another serious problem, one not ‘Made in Germany’. Thousands of refugees streamed out of Eastern France and Belgium, and choked the main roads with their human flood. They came with every sort of transport imaginable – baby prams, wheelbarrows, pushcarts – piled with everything they owned or thought indispensable, useless items grabbed in panic – guitars, pictures and umbrellas. Automobiles soon ran out of gas, or their owners were pulled from them by others trying to reach safety, and now these vehicles lay in the middle of the road, adding to the traffic jam. Hungry people picked unripe corn and green fruit from trees, and then suffered the consequences. A child, clinging to her mother’s skirt, stumbled along on legs stiff from tiredness; the mother dumped what she was carrying to caress her child. A momentary scene of caring amidst a crowd in panic. Many sat down next to the road and waited for the inevitable to happen. They were a mass of ragged, tired people stumbling past the rotting corpses killed by strafing aircraft. The continued harassment by the German Stukas hung as a dark cloud over the scenes of tragedy along the road.

These refugees accomplished what ten additional German divisions couldn’t hope to achieve – they effectively blocked the badly needed Allied reserves from reaching their prepared defensive positions. By the evening of 15 May, the three German Panzer Corps of Hoth, Reinhardt and Guderian were pushing unopposed into France and a gallant attempt by a quickly assembled 4th French Armoured Division under a young colonel, Charles de Gaulle, had no effect on Guderian’s progress. The Battle for France had begun only five days before and France was already stumbling towards a humiliating surrender.

OKW (German Supreme Command), 15 May, afternoon. The two-week Polish campaign had been achieved through the talent of Hitler’s tank commanders, but the political leader of Germany sadly lacked the military experience to grasp the complexity of modern tank warfare. With the Führer’s conviction of his special mission in history, surpassed only by his belief in his unique military genius, he had surrounded himself with generals who were as incompetent as their French counterparts, yes-men like Keitel and Jodl. The Germans’ real strength lay in their front-line commanders, men such as Guderian and a young divisional general, Erwin Rommel. He was to become the best of German generals, since he alone managed to overcome the rigid German military spirit. He was never a party man, and, like his superior, Guderian, considered the generals at OKW incompetent and useless worriers. His intense dislike of men like Himmler, Jodl and Keitel was well known and he never became hypnotised by the political structure on which his personal security depended. The admiration he initially carried for Hitler was quickly transformed into deception and disgust. And for a valid reason. When the three tank corps had broken out of the Meuse bridgehead, and pushed ever deeper into France, driving the defeated armies before them, Hitler’s nerves gave and his anxiety grew in direct relation to the speed of the panzers’ advance. On that spring afternoon, a barrage of messages from their advance units flooded into OKW. The generals in the map room could hardly keep up with the movements of the arrows and flags. Hitler studied the general map and became highly fidgety. Keitel saw his Führer’s worries and agreed with him. ‘I agree with your appreciation of the present situation, mein Führer. We are over-extending our panzer forces. We must expect a counter-offensive.’

16/5 OKW: Der Franzose führt anscheinend aus seinem Reservoir Dijon-Belfort Kräfte nach der linken Seite des Durchburchkeils heran. (The French are bringing up from their Dijon-Belfort reserves new forces against the left flank of our breakthrough.)

The generals Keitel and Jodl accepted their leader’s assessment of the situation. Only Halder, the brilliant strategist, argued that the advance was much too rapid for the British to adjust to and that French morale had collapsed outright. He was right. But Hitler would only listen to his yes-men. On 17 May the initial order went out to stop the 19th Panzers.

HQ, 19th Panzer Corps. ‘But, general, it’s an order from OKW, a personal order from the Führer himself.’

‘I don’t care if it comes from the Pope. Get General List at 12th Army on the line, tell him I’m resigning my commission’, fumed Guderian. More than just another general, List proved an astute diplomat, and a compromise was reached. He allowed Guderian to carry out a ‘reconnaissance in force’. It was a farce. To conceal his moves from his Füher, Guderian had a telephone wire strung from his advancing command car to the place where OKW had stopped him. And thus it happened that the German panzers raced for the Channel coast before Hitler knew what was going on.

General Gamelin’s Directive No. 12 was issued at 09.45 hours on the 19th. It ordered all Northern Armies to head southwards at all costs and not find themselves encircled and pushed towards the Channel ports. While General Georges and his forces were to attack from the north in a southerly direction, the French 2nd and 6th Armies would attack northwards from Mezières. An event precipitated this order. At 19.00 hours that day, General Gamelin, greatly suffering from depression brought about by an advanced stage of syphilis, was replaced by Maxime Weygand. Weygand’s new plan, worked out with General Georges, his North-East Army Group commander, was for a pincer movement against the exposed German advance units. Georges, a mentally and physically unfit leader who, after the debacle on the Meuse had burst into tears, visited General Gort at his headquarters. He asked Gort, Commander-in-Chief BEF, (British Expeditionary Forces), to throw in his remaining tank reserves and cut off the two lead panzer divisions which had outrun their support infantry. BEF was to establish a new defence line Arras–Cambrai–Bapaume. In exchange, Georges promised a powerful French tank attack from the south.

BEF Commander Gort did not bother to inform General Georges that he was already considering a withdrawal towards Dunkirk. However, he did advise his Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, who ordered plans for ‘Operation Dynamo’ to be drawn up, a move which was to save the British Army from annihilation.

While the French and English wasted precious time negotiating who should attack and where, Rommel’s 7th Panzers were racing hell-bent for the heart of France. His panzers moved along a front only 3 km wide and 50 km from his nearest resupply unit. He took a considerable risk, since both his flanks were held by sizeable Allied forces. On the 18th, he pushed them on again. ‘Weiterer Marschweg: Le Cateau-Arras. Auftanken! Antreten!’ (Next direction: Le Cateau–Arras. Fill up! Stand at ready!’)

Soon he had no more petrol for his panzers. (It has been said that some filled up at local gas stations.) This made him furious until he discovered the reason, one of his own making. His advance had been so fast that his support division was still in Belgium! When Hitler heard about this, it gave him stomach cramps and his OKW generals, a sleepless night. Rommel’s daring was amply rewarded. For only 35 killed and 50 wounded, his division had taken 10,000 prisoners and captured or destroyed over 100 enemy tanks.

On 20 May, the day that the first units of Guderian’s panzers pushed into Abbeville, BEF Commander Gort put General Sir Harold Franklyn in charge of the Arras sector. In the corps command centre, a farmhouse near St Eloi, General Franklyn gathered his chief staff officers. Opinions were hopelessly different and no clear picture emerged. According to the latest reports from their retreating units, German panzers had already crossed the Scheldt at Cambrai and were approaching the final defensible water barrier, the Canal du Nord. The Germans were obviously trying to envelop Franklyn’s corps, and with it the whole Allied North-East Command of the French First and Seventh Armies, the Belgian Army, and the British Expeditionary Force.

Gort told Franklyn that he could not count on aerial support. He had to rely on his own ground forces – two divisions, the 5th and the 50th, plus the 1st British Tank Brigade, made up of units of the 4th and the 7th Royal Tank Regiments. The plan was for a concentrated thrust by infantry and tanks along the Arras–Bapaume highway to sever the head of the viper, Rommel’s 7th Panzers before the German support infantry could link up. Franklyn’s tank units were strong enough to carry out this objective as long as they didn’t meet up with Rommel’s main force. What finally put the scheme into operation before a unified plan could be worked out was an urgent cable by Churchill to Prime Minister Reynaud: ‘… The tank columns in the open must be hunted down by numbers of small mobile columns with a few cannons …’

General Gort set D-hour for 21 May at 14.00 hours. General Martel was put in command. The first wave was composed of the 13th and 151st Infantry Brigades plus sixty-five Mark I and eighteen Mark II tanks. Martel was promised flank support of seventy light tanks of the French 3rd Mechanised Division – but no air cover. There was one problem, and not a small one at that. Though Intelligence had correctly identified the 7th Panzers of General Rommel, they missed out on the 8th Panzers, the 5th Panzers, as well as a mechanised SS Panzergrenadier Division which was following Rommel’s Blitz – 400 tanks and 20,000 men.

A few days earlier. The moustachioed commander of the 1st British Tank Brigade was sitting in his command truck. A message arrived. Unit under heavy attack from the south–west. How could that be? South-east, yes, but south-west? His men were still holding the river line. Had the Germans managed to cross over the Dyle in the south, perhaps at their junction point with the First French Army?

The radio ended his doubts: … Lead units of German 39th Panzer Corps have crossed Dyle … we suffer heavy casualties …’ Followed by: ‘Attention all units. Hoth’s 5th and 7th Panzers seen general heading Maubeuge–Le Cateau …’

That was yesterday. Today he saw them. The panzers were fanning out, heading for his position. This time he couldn’t expect anyone else to solve the problem for him. He couldn’t retreat; for that it was too late. Bullets whipped past, slapped into trees and earth. All along the line his men were firing their rifles at armoured vehicles. Not much of a contest.

‘Need artillery support. Over.’ A distant bang. Another bridge went up before the enemy’s panzers got to it. ‘What’s happening?’ he enquired.

A tired voice came over the speaker. ‘We’re being clobbered, govn’or, dat’s wot.’

‘Blue 14, this is Foxtrot 7, do you read?’

‘Go on, Foxtrot 7.’

‘Blue 14, request permission to pull back.’

‘Foxtrot 7, permission denied. You hold with whatever you’ve got. Out.’

He knew that he had just sealed the fate of a battalion, but he had no choice. If they’d pulled back, it would leave the division’s, and, with it, the BEF’s entire flank wide open for the panzers. An officer stumbled in, his face grey and sweaty. ‘Sir, we cannot raise division headquarters, they’re either down or dead. We need tanks. Those Matildas of the 4th Royal would do us nicely.’

‘All right.’ He turned to his radio operator.’ Forget division, patch me through to GOC.’

‘I’ll give it a try, sir.’

‘You do better than that, son, or you’ll walk from here to there by foot.’

He had to launch a counter-attack, and very soon. For that he needed those heavy Royal tanks before the whole division was mashed under the cleats of German armour. The main railway bridge was already blown, but Jerry pioneers had thrown an assault bridge across the water. And now their panzers were streaming across, supported by heavy artillery. He turned to his radioman, headphones clamped to his head, listening to messages relaying firing orders and enemy positions.

‘Sir, confirmation, the Germans are across the river at Wavre.’

‘What about our sector?’

‘Sir, GOC orders a holding action, no further orders.’

The noise of distant shelling increased, explosions were creeping towards his positions. From across the river, an 88 scored a direct hit on a position of Alpha Company. Five men were killed. ‘Sir, GOC on the line.’

‘Hand me the mike. This is Blue 14 …’

The room was lit by a ball of yellow, followed by a mind-blowing crash. The radio operator tumbled forward, a big hole in his tunic. ‘This is Blue 14 …’ yelled the brigadier into the mike. It was no use. The splinter that had killed his radioman had also smashed the radio tubes. The brigadier jumped from the command truck. Had to get to another radio. Alpha Company had one. It wouldn’t carry far, but his message could be relayed down the line. When he reached the men of Alpha, he was told that their commander had been killed.

‘You there, sergeant …’

‘Yes, sir.’ The man saluted smartly.

‘Take over Alpha Company.’

‘Very good, sir.’

Finally he established contact with GOC only to hear that the Germans were already deep behind everybody, behind the French to the south, the Belgians to the north and now moving behind the British. Divisional commanders ordered places to be held that had already fallen. It was those cursed panzers. There was only one solution. Throw at them all the tank reserves in one single blow, and try to cut the Germans’ thrust in two. For this, his unit was ideally placed: the main panzer force had passed directly to his south and now their flank was open to his brigade. He passed the proposal through to GOC. The reply he got was not what he had expected. It wasn’t for attack, but another ‘disengage from the enemy’. ‘All units withdraw to Delta Blue line. Immediate.’ He checked his Michelin road map. Just like the Germans, his side also depended on these fabulous French road maps one could purchase at any petrol station. It showed that the Germans were racing for the Dendre, another river, already west of the Dyle. They had to move back. But not in panic. If he could achieve an orderly withdrawal his men would be available to fight another battle another day. He had to work out a scheme to extract his forward companies from their exposed position. They had to sneak back quiet like, leaving behind only a thin covering screen.

‘Major, we’re moving out. The guns are mechanised, the men are not. A problem?’ The major turned to the Regimental Sergeant Major who came to attention, stiff as a ramrod. Nothing would perturb this man, not even German panzers. ‘Try and organise us something with wheels for the boys.’

‘Yessah. There’s the equipment and food trucks.’

‘Dump it, we need men, not tents’, said the brigadier. ‘Here’s the plan. The guns move at 03.00 hours, the men at 03.20 hours. No lights. We head for the Dendre River. As soon as the last man is across, blow that bridge.’ He would be helped by artillery support. Shells from a German field battery screamed overhead. The last British unit along the Dyle line managed the move out without losses. They drove and walked and stumbled until they reached a forest. The troops were exhausted and wanted to sleep. Instead, they were ordered to dig in.

‘Sir,’ argued a company commander, ‘the men are a bit tired.’

‘Bloody hell, who isn’t?’ replied the brigadier.

Messages crackled over the ether: 30 German tanks, 60 half tracks, 20 guns, five miles east of Grosart, heading north-west at 0715 hours.

Dendre River line under heavy attack. Request permission …

By the time they had fixed one defence line the Germans were already past them. The brigade faced the threat of being completely cut off.

18 May, 22.00 hours. Heavy panzer units advancing rapidly along Le Cateau–Cambrai and Valenciennes–Douai axis.

Which meant that the Germans had already broken through to his south and were coming straight at his unit. The Germans expected to roll up the entire British Expeditionary Force from the rear. A barrage from some 25 pounders whistled overhead, ranging in on the advancing panzer column. A new order from GOC superseded the last: BEF to establish by 1200 hours May 19 along Escaut line, Oudenarde-Maulde.

Pull back again! The men were worn out. And another message.