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Sunday, November 16, 2014


Steve Cole ponders ten ways that World War II might have turned out very differently.

1. Italy might have stayed out of the war. That would have effectively eliminated the Mediterranean theater, the Afrika Korps, and the Italian campaign. Seriously, Italy was very little help to the Germans, and was always starting sideshow wars that distracted the Germans from the main effort. Without the Italian-caused Balkan mess, the Germans would have invaded Russia two months earlier and Rommel might have taken Moscow.

2. The US might have been delayed entering the war. The American people had very little interest in going to war and were unhappy with FDR's undeclared and unauthorized naval war in the Atlantic. Without the Japanese strike at Pearl Harbor and Hitler's stupid move to declare war on the US after that, any US entry might have been months or years later, or might have never happened. The Japanese needed the oil in Dutch Indonesia but did not have to invade the Philippines to get it (despite their mistaken belief that they needed to). Russia's Siberian troops might have continued fighting the Japanese and Moscow would have fallen.

3. The Germans might (a few minutes after seeing the first T-34) have radically improved their Panzer-IV tanks by sloping the frontal armor, switching to the long-barreled gun, and widening the tracks. (Call it the Cougar just to give it a name.) Production of the Panzer-III could have been terminated in September 1941 and that assembly line used for the StuG-III tank destroyer, which used the same hull as the Panzer-III and the same gun as the long-barreled Panzer-IV. These steps (and a tank recovery vehicle) would have vastly improved the combat power of the Panzer divisions.

4. Hitler could have quit messing with the aircraft industry. He delayed jet production. He insisted that all German bombers be redesigned as dive bombers (which cost money, range, speed, and bomb load). For bonus points he could have sped up jet production. Waves of jet fighters would have stopped the strategic bombing campaign when it started in 1943 and would have seriously disrupted Allied air supremacy over Normandy.

5. The British and Americans might have built a better tank. Let's face it, the Sherman was substandard due to thin armor and an inadequate gun. Later versions helped a little, but other than the handful of Fireflys none of them were the equal of the Panzer-IV, let alone the Panther or Tiger.

6. The Japanese could have used their submarines as commerce raiders (as the US and Germany did). The long US supply line from California to Hawaii could not have been protected without a massive increase in US destroyer production at the expense of something else (perhaps those magnificent battleships that ultimately had nothing to do that the old battleships already on hand could not have done).

7. The Allies could have just copied superior German stuff. The 75mm anti-tank gun, the 88mm anti-aircraft gun, the MG34 (let alone the MG42) machinegun, and the panzerfaust rocket launcher would have been easy to copy and were vastly more effective than Allied weapons.

8. FDR made his demand for unconditional surrender without approval from his allies, and it shocked them that he made such a huge political mistake. The German soldiers then felt they were fighting for the very existence of Germany, and the Japanese thought they were fighting for the very existence of Japan. They might well have agreed to a negotiated settlement.

9. The Germans could have made a far more rational defense against D-Day. There were really only two plausible invasion areas (Calais and Normandy) so troops could have been concentrated there. No concrete should have been wasted on the western coast of France or the coast of Denmark. The key bridges that British glider troops seized on the night of 5 June could have been guarded by entire platoons of troops instead of a couple of sentries. The key German tank divisions could have been parked 10 miles from the beach not a hundred miles or more. Even so, the massive amount of naval gunfire (seven battleships and 23 cruisers) would mean that the landing was not going to be totally destroyed.
10. The Germans could have paid attention when shipping packages. The war in Europe went the way it did largely due to British success cracking German codes, but the British got their start from the Poles. A month before the war began, the Germans mistakenly mailed an Enigma code machine to an address in Poland. Recognizing what it was, and with German diplomats on the way to get it back, the Poles had two telephone engineers examine it for a few hours. Without their report, there would have been no ULTRA, no Bletchley Park, no code breaking, no man called Intrepid, and probably, a much more expensive victory, or a negotiated peace.