By Dale Cozort
In the previous article we looked at a possible Polish Victory in 1939, in this one we follow the consequences of that.
Well, we got Poland through until 1940 with at least some plausibility. The French and English and even the Germans are now building their own versions of the bazooka. The German Panzer divisions appear to be an important idea, but not a war-winning one given the appearance of bazookas. German infantry is howling for armored support and increasingly getting it at the expense of the Panzer divisions.
Germany is encountering increasing economic difficulty. In our timeline, their buildup would have bankrupted them if it hadn’t yielded quick dividends. In this timeline, it doesn’t yield those dividends. German generals know that Germany can’t win a long war. The anti-Hitler underground is strengthened by the lack of new easy victories for Hitler.
In our timeline, Hitler escaped repeated assassination attempts only by a series of incredibly lucky coincidences: bombs on his plane not going off, last-minute changes of plans that avoided assassins. The chances of those coincidences all occurring in any other timeline are slim. Hitler would have almost certainly been assassinated at some point in this scenario. At that point, negotiations to end the war become possible, especially if Chamberlain is still British prime minister.
Say Hitler is assassinated around March 1940 (beware the ides…). His successor, whoever it was, would be looking for a way out. So would the West.
Result? A ceasefire in place, followed by a negotiated settlement. The Germans keep Danzig and negotiate for the Polish Corridor. They offer to compensate the Poles with some minor territories elsewhere; maybe some little pieces of what was once Czechoslovakia. The Germans keep the Sudetenland, but agree to withdraw from the rest of what used to be Czechoslovakia, but not immediately. The Germans rush to train and equip a larger Ukrainian army in order to put pressure on the Poles.
The Ukrainian situation puts the Western Allies in an awkward position, because the Allies technically guaranteed Ukrainian minority rights in part of the area after World War I but let the Poles ignore those rights between the wars.
Stalin realizes that he has outsmarted himself. His armies have used this time to grab a big hunk of northern Manchuria and humiliate the Japanese army, but he has also grabbed more than a Japanese government can let him keep without a fight. The Japanese escalate by spreading the war beyond Manchuria.
Stalin also has waited almost too long to grab the hunks of Poland he could have had as part of his pact with Hitler. As he becomes aware of the negotiations, he rushes to put himself in a position to grab his share of the booty. The Germans don’t trust his offer to join in the war against Poland, but they use it to win concessions from the Western Allies and Poland. They also give him reason to believe that they might restart the war if he attacks Poland. The Soviets announce that unrest in eastern Poland threatens Soviet Ukraine, then launch an attack into eastern Poland. The Germans wait to see how good of an offer the West and the Poles are willing to give them, and how well the Poles do in the east.
As the Soviets advance, the Poles suddenly become very reasonable on their western borders. The Western Allies sweeten the deal by tossing in a few ex-German colonies in Africa.
The Germans take the new concessions and quickly withdraw from most of the territory they have taken in the west. The Poles shift the bulk of their army to the east to meet the Soviet challenge. The Soviets quickly take a significant hunk of the territory, then become embroiled with the German-trained and -equipped Ukrainian army. The German army still occupies part of southeastern Poland. They provide arms and leadership for the Ukrainian army.
The Soviet army in Europe is not all that formidable at this time. Their best troops are still fighting in Manchuria. The divisions in the western Soviet Union were hit very hard by Stalin’s purges in the later 1930s. In our timeline, this was an army that had trouble beating Finland. It poured across the Polish border in September 1939 in a disorganized mess that even our timeline’s Poles would have given a hard time if they hadn’t been otherwise occupied.
In this timeline, it makes very good headway at first, because the bulk of the Polish army is in the west. As the Poles shift their forces to the east, the Soviet advance runs into trouble. The Ukrainians grab as much territory as they can in the Soviet rear, using Blitzkrieg tactics very effectively to cut off large hunks of the overextended Soviet army. A significant number of German “advisors” are fighting with that army. Ukrainian guerrillas take advantage of the Polish-Soviet fighting to grab weapons and key pieces of territory. The Poles hit the Soviets with a counteroffensive that cuts off the spearhead of their force and pushes the rest into making a hasty retreat, right into the teeth of the Ukrainians. Some of the army escapes, leaving behind their heavy weapons. Several hundred thousand Soviet troops are captured by the Poles or the Ukrainians.
The Soviet army in the west was well-equipped, but it was an amateur army at this point, with many of its officers removed in Stalin’s purges and a lot of the remaining ones terrified of taking any kind of initiative. The Soviet army facing Japan had escaped the worst of the purges, so it was still combat-worthy, but it was also tied up with the war against Japan. The Soviets scramble to reestablish a defensive line. They manage to do that just inside the pre-war Soviet border.
In the north, the Poles actually occupy a small part of pre-war Soviet Union. In the south, fighting breaks out between the Ukrainians and the Poles over Ukrainian-speaking areas of Poland. The Poles quickly discover that the Germans have trained a formidable army. The Ukrainians still manage to pursue the Soviets a short distance into the pre-war Soviet Union. Several Soviet generals discover that embarrassing Stalin is bad for their health. The Soviets start trying to push the Poles and Ukrainians back by sheer weight of men and equipment.
The Germans continue winding down their occupation of Poland and Norway. The bills for their arms buildup are coming due, and they don’t have the booty that they used to pay those bills in our timeline.
The Western Allies, especially England, are in the same boat. Both the Germans and the Western Allies demobilize as quickly as they safely can. The French do send large amounts of equipment to rebuild the Polish army. They have to negotiate with the Germans to do it, though. The Ukrainian nationalists have captured the parts of Poland adjoining Romania, so there is no way for arms to get through unless the Germans or the Ukrainians let them. The price of letting those arms through is a ceasefire in place between Poland and the Ukrainian nationalists, and a reduction of Polish forces near the cease fire line. By mid-1940, France sends Poland several hundred single-engine fighters. They also send large numbers of older tanks like R35s and H35s.
The Germans play an ambiguous role in the war between Poland and Russia. They continue sending arms to the Ukrainians, primarily Czech-designed stuff. That makes their role a little less obvious. If an independent Ukrainian state emerges in eastern Poland, allying with it could give the Germans access to a lot of natural resources, including oil. The Germans still occupy Slovakia and the Czech Republic, so they are in a position to make sure the arms flow to the Ukrainians continues. The Poles protest German support for the Ukrainians, but not too loudly. Right now the Ukrainians help the Poles to some extent by distracting the Russians. Also, the Poles want to make sure the German withdrawal from Poland continues, and they need to ship arms across German-held territory so they can’t afford to antagonize the Germans too much.
Is this getting weird or what?
Let’s see. Hitler is dead in 1940. World War II just kind of fizzled out, because without a continuing supply of booty the Germans couldn’t continue paying for it, and the Western Allies were also running out of money. The Soviets are now at war with Poland and a German-trained and -advised Ukrainian nationalist army in the west and Japan in the east. The idea of large-scale armored attacks has been discredited, because they appear to have failed in Poland. The Ukrainian successes with armor are dismissed as the result of Soviet weakness and the impact of the Polish attack on Soviet frontlines.
In our timeline, the Soviets disbanded their armored divisions in November 1939 in spite of the evidence from Poland and their own successes in the Japanese-Russian border skirmishes. In this timeline, the Soviets use their huge tank force in an infantry support role. The tanks prove very valuable in that role, but they sustain heavy losses.
The Poles, with French and English backing, are strong enough to keep the Soviets from overrunning all of Poland, especially with the Soviets distracted by war with Japan. The Poles are not strong enough to knock the Soviets out of the war or even to keep them from eventually chewing off Polish territory.
The Poles aren’t willing to give up that territory, though. Poles are a minority in the areas the Soviets overran. During the Soviet occupation, that minority was hit hard, with the Soviets pushing them out or deporting them to Siberia. The remnants of the Polish minority in this area are now fighting as guerrillas inside Ukrainian-held territory.
Both the Poles and the Ukrainians have hundreds of thousands of Soviet prisoners of war. The Ukrainians find that a large number of their prisoners are from the Ukrainian area of the Soviet Union. They are able to recruit tens of thousands of those men into their own army. They also recruit small “liberation armies” from other Soviet ethnic minorities. The Poles set up an anti-Stalin Russian army and establish an anti-Stalin government in the small area of Soviet territory they control.
The Romanians have a treaty commitment to fight alongside the Poles if the Poles are attacked by Russia. They are reluctant to honor that treaty for obvious reasons, but they do help as much as they can. They send what few weapons they can spare and help the Poles out financially as Poland tries to buy weapons for its fight.
Benito Mussolini makes a lot of noise about helping out the Poles in their fight against the Bolsheviks. He sends a few tens of thousands of “volunteers” to fight with the Poles. They don’t prove particularly useful. He also sends a hundred or so reasonably modern fighter planes. They help quite a bit.
France and England are in an awkward position. Their wartime ally is still at war. At the same time, they are financially weakened by the months of war, and they really don’t want to get involved in another war. They send large quantities of war material, and help out financially as much as they can, but try to delay or avoid actual involvement in the ground war.
The Western Allies may or may not declare war on the Soviets immediately, but both Britain and France declare a blockade of the Soviet Union.
In France, authorities uncover evidence of widespread sabotage of the French war effort by Communists. (That happened in our timeline as Stalin sided with the Germans due to the pact with Hitler, but it was overshadowed by the fall of France.) In this timeline, the French government reacts to what they consider treason by trying to suppress the French Communist Party and get rid of its control of any unions that it controls. The French Communists fight back with strikes and violent demonstrations. Stalin pushes the French Communists to do everything in their power to disrupt French arms shipments to the Poles. The result is a virtual civil war, but the French Communists are nowhere near strong enough to seize power, and the strong evidence of sabotage during the war discredits them with enough of the rank-and file workers that the French government is able to suppress them.
As an outgrowth of that conflict, the French look for ways to distract the Soviet Union from Poland without getting involved in the ground war there. They build up an air force in French-controlled Syria for a strike at the Soviet oilfields in the Caucasus.
The French riots and the Soviet-Polish War inflame tensions between the left and the right throughout the world. In the United States, the large Polish ethnic group fights for aid to Poland while leftists oppose it. Both sides recruit for volunteer brigades to fight in the war, with volunteers coming from all over the world.
By August 1940, Stalin fears that the old Bolshevik nightmare of all of the capitalist countries uniting to fight the Soviet Union is coming true. That isn’t quite what is going on. England and France are supporting Poland, but they deliberately distance themselves from Japan. The Roosevelt Administration in the US is torn. Some members of the administration lean toward the Soviet Union, and the Democrats can’t go too heavily against the Soviets without losing some left-leaning voters. On the other hand, the Democratic Party needs Polish voters in the next election. They won’t get them if they show any sign of leaning toward the Soviets.
Another factor: many Americans hate Japan for what it has done in China. The Soviets are fighting Japan, which keeps the Japanese from making further inroads into China. Franklin Roosevelt shows that he is a master politician. He offers to mediate between the Poles and the Soviets while pushing for massive increases in aid to the Chinese Nationalists. That indirectly helps the Soviets by weakening Japan, which appeases the left. He offers humanitarian and economic aid to Poland, which appeases the ethnic Poles in the US.
Stalin realizes that he cannot take too much Polish territory without provoking a real war with the Western Allies. He is also getting clear signals that the Japanese are fair game. He goes on the defensive against Poland while organizing major pushes to kick the Japanese out of the rest of Manchuria in August through October 1940, and to destroy the Ukrainian nationalists.
The Japanese are in no position to hold all of their gains in China plus Manchuria. They pull back to more defensible positions in China and put most of their energy into fighting the Soviets.
The Nationalist and Communist Chinese race to control the vacated territory. The Soviets push the Chinese Communists to concentrate on distracting the Japanese. The ChiComs put more effort into that than they want to, but they still put part of their energy into the scramble to fill the vacuum left by the Japanese. The Nationalists fill as much of the vacuum as they can.
Then, as more and more Japanese power is sucked into Manchuria, the Nationalists actually win some small victories over the weakened Japanese. The Soviets look ready to grab all of Manchuria by late September 1940. The Japanese scour China for any available unit with combat power. The Soviets spill out into Japanese-occupied provinces of Northern China. They set up a Soviet puppet government to control Manchuria, which quickly sours relations with the Chinese Communists. The Japanese maintain a toehold in Manchuria, but they strip so much of their power out of China to do it that they leave the remaining garrisons vulnerable. The Nationalists take back huge stretches of territory, leaving Japanese garrisons isolated in a few major cities.
The Soviets don’t do so well in the west. Germans are excited by what they see as Soviet weakness and scheme to establish a series of German-allied small countries in Soviet Ukraine and possibly other areas. They pour arms, equipment and large numbers of “advisors” and “volunteers” into the Ukrainian nationalist-held area. The Ukrainian nationalists are very well equipped and as well trained as the Germans can get them, but they are grossly outnumbered by the Soviets.
The Poles are still theoretically at war with both the Soviets and the Ukrainian nationalists. In reality, they are building up their forces to take on whichever side wins in the war between the Soviets and the Ukrainian nationalists.
The Soviets do somewhat less well against the Ukrainians than they did in the early stages of the war against Finland in our timeline. They try to use sheer numbers and firepower to overcome inexperience. The Ukrainian nationalists fight that offensive the way the Germans would have in our timeline, with slashing counteroffensives that cut the Soviet force into pockets, then destroy those pockets. By the time the fall mud bogs both sides down, the Ukrainian nationalists hold a large slice of Soviet Ukraine. They have been reinforced by large numbers of captured Soviet Ukrainian troops, who switch sides.
This probably leads to a German-led attempt to partition the Soviet Union, with Soviet minorities providing a fig leaf for the west to allow that to happen.
The Germans need booty to bail themselves out of their economic mess. The Soviets look weak. Poland finds itself forced to become a minor German ally, like Romania and Hungary were in our timeline. The Italians make a lot of noise about helping and send a few division of “volunteers”. A war between a German-created coalition of Soviet minorities, the Poles and the Japanese on the one hand, and the Soviets on the other, would probably tie up both sides for years. Without all of the resources of Western Europe behind it, and without early use of Blitzkrieg, the Germans and their allies would probably not be able to easily knock the Soviets out of the war.
On the other hand, with a British blockade, a war on two fronts, possibly less atrocities to unite the Russian people and no horde of American Lend-Lease trucks, the Soviets would not be anywhere near as formidable toward the end of the war as they were in our timeline. Look for the Soviets to get pushed back a looong ways over a period of several years, eventually further than in our timeline. The Germans might even be able to buy trucks and oil from the French and the Brits after a decent interval.
The Germans would, if they had any sense at all, set up a series of puppet states based on the Soviet minorities. Those states would be weak and unstable for the most part, but they would at least be able to handle anti-partisan operations. I would guess that the Soviets would end up like a somewhat larger and more powerful version of Nationalist China in our timeline — still able to resist and tie up large numbers of troops, but not able to retake territory. There is a chance that the loss of Moscow and Leningrad could cause the Communist regime to fall, in which case it would probably be replaced by one or several Nationalist Russian regimes, which would eventually go back to fighting the Germans and their allies.
The Soviet minorities like the Ukrainians would become more and more restless in their allegiance with the Germans as the Soviets or any successor state weakens. The Germans would be desperate for economic resources to pay for this war while the puppet states would be desperately trying to rebuild their economies after Stalinism. Look for fighting of some sort to go on for anywhere from five to seven years.
Germany gains a very large lead in military technology, with jets, rockets and, by 1947 or so, A-bombs. They probably also have crude helicopters by this time, and they have become good at inserting and extracting commandos behind enemy lines.
The Germans build up a very large bomber force to attack Soviet industry in the Urals by this time. They eventually reinvent armored divisions. They then use their bombers and the new atom bombs to force the surrender of the remnants of Soviet or Nationalist Russian opposition.
Up until the atom bombs start falling, the West spends several years happily watching the Germans exhaust themselves trying to destroy the Soviets. Once the Soviet threat to Poland goes away, and once the war became a matter of Germans and Japanese against the Soviets, France and England find themselves in a positions to sell “non-lethal” stuff like trucks, oil, radios, etc. to both sides. The leftists in both countries don’t like that, but rank-and-file workers love the resulting economic boom and aren’t willing to rock the boat.
The United States and Italy both participate in the “non-lethal” trade, and their economies boom. Italy prospers more than the others, because Mussolini is quite willing to build up his arms industry at German expense and send a big hunk of the production to the Germans.
Poland prospers for the war years too. The Polish army is in charge of a hunk of conquered Soviet territory. The Poles are also tied into the German arms supply network. The Poles try to maintain their independence of action, but that is difficult with German troops all around them. The Ukrainians and other German-backed ex-Soviet states are increasingly restless. They are being forced to bear most of the cost of the war, and as the memories of Stalin’s rule fade the mood in those countries becomes increasingly anti-German.
Atom bombs start dropping on Russia. Every other major power in the world kicks their atom bomb programs into high gear. All of the major powers have done quite a bit of research, but they are still years away from a bomb. As Germany shifts troops home from Russia, Britian and France frantically shore up their anti-aircraft defenses and build bomb shelters. Even the United States does the same things. Pro-German and appeasement groups spring up in the West. So does fear and hatred of Germany. The German leadership is aware that they are riding a tiger. They have a massive temporary advantage in any war with the West, but in a few years their own cities will be threatened.
The Germans demand that France, England and the United States stop their nuclear weapons research and open up sites to German inspection. The United States refuses immediately. The French and British stall. Giving in means domination by Germany for the foreseeable future. Both countries start slipping scientists and equipment out to the United States and Canada.
The Germans figure out that the most important part of the English and French programs is slipping away from them. They launch air attacks on the facilities of both countries — using conventional weapons. Those strikes are combined with commando raids. They make it clear that nukes will follow if necessary. They also demand that nuclear scientists be turned over to Germany for internment. France and England are in an impossible position. Many of the scientists are already in the United States or Canada, so they couldn’t be reached even if the countries wanted to turn them over. The public in both countries is in a volatile mood, with some groups calling for appeasement and others calling for an immediate war with Germany.
And that’s where I’d put the story
It wouldn’t be a bad story either. I might write it if I can figure out a way to get to this situation with a little more plausibility.
I suspect that the Western Europeans would fight at some point. They would lose, even if the Germans didn’t use nukes. The French and British would not have had the shock of the 1940 defeats to wake them up.
The German army would be partly tied down in Russia, but it would be battle-hardened and it would have years to hone the strategy and tactics of rapid battle. The French and British would learn some lessons, but nowhere near enough. French army exercises were designed to let France’s 70+ year old generals demonstrate lessons to the troops, not to let the troops discover new things. When the conflict between Germany and the West came, it would probably be over in less time than the Fall of France took in our timeline. The Panzer divisions would roll over France, eliminating the bulk of the British army at the same time.
That would be followed by a cold war between Germany and the US, with the US providing arms and assistance to what was left of the Russians, trying to pry Germany’s Eastern Front allies away from it, and aiding the Nationalist Chinese on a large scale.
And that’s about as far as I dare take this one.