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Tuesday, December 01, 2015


Steve Cole's thoughts on the many ways that World War II could have taken a very different direction during 1938-40.

1938, June, Germans drop Plan-Z: The Germans had planned to build a balanced navy to challenge the British by 1947. If they had abandoned all heavy ship production and instead concentrated on U-boats, they could have had 200 ocean-going boats in September 1939 instead of only 60. With that number in service, Britain's lifeline from America and its colonies could reasonably have been severed, forcing the British out of the war by 1941. Hitler could then have focused entirely on Russia, defeating it in December 1941, and then fought World War III with the US in 1955.

1939, August, competent German postal clerks: The Germans accidentally mailed an Enigma code machine to Poland weeks before the war started. Before the Poles gave it back, two telephone engineers examined it (taking notes and photos, which were sent to Britain). Without this, Bletchley Park might have never broken the German codes (and could not possibly have before 1943, and may never have as it was only the promise of quick success that got funding from Churchill). Without that, ULTRA would not exist and all of those German secrets would have stayed secret. The British would have lost the Battle of the Atlantic, the British Army would have been trapped before they reached Dunkirk, Montgomery would not have won Alamein, the Salerno landing would have been destroyed, and D-Day would have been far more risky. Any one of those could have resulted in an Axis victory or a negotiated peace leaving Hitler in power.

1939, September, France invades Germany: Given the minimal defenses the Germans had on their western border, a French offensive would have quickly driven to the Rhine river and beyond. Little could save Poland (which in two weeks was reduced to a besieged city of Warsaw) but the French could have brought the war to a quick conclusion (had they actually envisioned and prepared for an attack in advance for a reaction to a German attack on Poland).

1940, May, the British Army is destroyed: Before the heroic evacuation at Dunkirk, Guderian and his three panzer divisions stood on the Aa canal, closer to Dunkirk than the British. (It is a historical fact that an intercepted Ultra message convinced the British commander in the field that he needed to run for Dunkirk immediately. The loss of Ultra would have destroyed the British Army.) The German high command was terrified that Guderian was "out on a limb" and didn't want him to be destroyed, so they ordered him to stop. Years later, some generals from Berlin insisted that they secretly wished he would ignore his orders, grab Dunkirk, and destroy the British Army rather than let it escape. (To be fair, nobody knew that escape was even possible.) This would have caused the fall of Churchill and the British would have accepted a separate peace. With no African or Balkan campaigns to mess up his plans, and with no need to leave large garrisons in France and Norway, Hitler would have conquered Russia. The US would never have had a reason to get into WWII, but a US-vs.-German WWIII might have happened in the 1950s.

1940, November, an anti-British president is elected by the US: Without US support, Britain would have had no choice but to end the war on whatever terms it could get, leaving Hitler with the additional forces he needed to take Moscow in December 1941 and win the war. Again, a scenario for a 1950s World War III between the US and Germany seems plausible.