The “1941 Plot” or a Bit of Alternate History (5)

A column of German forces in Paris

On several occasions, Adolf Hitler used to state that he had “a Prussian Army; a Christian Kriegsmarine and a National-Socialist Luftwaffe”. Obviously, he would have preferred to make the Army and the Kriegsmarine national-socialist as well, but it is still highly unlikely that he would have attempted such a radical reengineering of the Wehrmacht on his own initiative.

SS-Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler was a different matter entirely. He had no doubt at all (and was diligently working on convincing the Führer), that the all security services (including Wehrmacht which is also a security service, obviously) had to be combined into a single State Protection Corps (a super-RSHA, if you will).

And commanded – at all levels – by fanatical national-socialists fiercely loyal to Adolf Hitler. He implied (and very probably stated it explicitly) that SPC had to be managed by him – SS-Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler. And be a part of the SS, of course.

It is not clear how long would it have taken Himmler to convince Adolf Hitler to integrate Wehrmacht (or at least its Army and Abwehr) into the SS. But the generals had some very serious reasons to be worried for their very lives.

First, less than two months after the Night of the Long Knives that did away with the SA – the “second Army” of the Nazi state, Hitler publicly violated his solemn promise to the Reichswehr (that there will be never a “second Army” in the country) by creating exactly such a thing – SS-VT.

Recently renamed Waffen-SS, by November of 1941 this fearsome force consisted of seven divisions – over 100,000 men. And growing fast. The generals also were well aware of the fact that Hitler was not averse to repeat – if necessary – Operation Hummingbird.

And due to his quite open admiration of how Stalin dealt with his real and perceived political enemies (including top Red Army commanders), there was little doubt as to what his next target might be.

They were also well aware of Himmler’s firm intention to incorporate Wehrmacht (or at least the Army + Abwehr) into his beloved State Protection Corps (i.e., RSHA) via a “hostile takeover” of sorts. Bloody hostile (in a very literal sense), if needed.

Although only a small number of generals took active part in Oster/Halder conspiracy, the fact of this conspiracy was well-known to all top Army commanders. And although Gestapo (i.e. Himmler) were by law prohibited from spying on Wehrmacht, there was little doubt that such creative individuals as Himmler, Heydrich and “Gestapo” Müller would have easily found a way to get around this ban.

Consequently, the chances of Himmler finding out about the September Conspiracy and using this knowledge to physically eliminate – one way or the other – the key Wehrmacht commanders and replace them with the Waffen-SS ones (of which by that time there already were plenty), were very real.

Real enough for the Wehrmacht commanders to make a firm commitment to planning and executing a military coup – the “1941 plot”. Starting right after the Great Britain signed a peace treaty with the Third Reich.

This plot (most likely) would have been almost a carbon copy of the Oster Conspiracy (or July 20th plot, for that matter). The coup again will have been led by Franz Halder and Hans Oster and the latter will (again) assemble team(s) of special ops commandos to capture, arrest and (most likely) kill Hitler, Himmler, Göring and other key Nazi leaders.

After that has been accomplished, the conspirators will (Valkyrie-style) announce the suppression of the coup by the “rogue Nazis” and the establishment of a military dictatorship.

As Himmler’s intentions were a threat to all Wehrmacht commanders, this time there will be no “putschists” and “loyalists”. All top Wehrmacht commanders will take part in the coup and with no one to have the resources to oppose them (neither Waffen-SS nor the Luftwaffe ground units were a match for a regular Army), their success would be guaranteed.

Unless Heinrich Himmler figured out how to stop them.

The “1941 Plot” or a Bit of Alternate History (4)

Operation Typhoon

Now imagine that the Wehrmacht launched Operation Typhoon one month earlier – on August 31st, 1941. Actually, it could have started a month earlier – at the end of July, had Franz Halder (Chief of the Army General Staff), Fedor von Bock (commander of Army Group Center – AGC) and Heinz Guderian (commander of the 2nd Panzer Group – a key component of AGC) convinced Hitler to focus all efforts and resources on capturing two key Soviet cities – its capital Moscow (first and foremost) and Leningrad (previously St. Petersburg – the capital of the Russian Empire).

Had that happened (and it very well could), Stalin, the Soviet government (military and civilian) and the whole population of the USSR (first and foremost, of its two capitals) would have faced the abovementioned disaster in mid-September of 1941 (of not at the beginning of that month).

However, in this case, Wehrmacht would not have halted its offensive – because it had sufficient supplies of everything it needed to press on; there would have been no mud on the infamously bad Soviet roads to stop the German armor and there would have been no blizzards to ground the murderously efficient Luftwaffe.

A little known fact is that about half of the heavy and medium tanks used by the Red Army (light tanks were all but useless against German Panzers) during its Moscow counteroffensive in December of 1941, were British.

Deliveries were made in October in November meaning that in September of 1941, the Red Army would have had no tanks to fight the Panzerwaffe (had Operation Typhoon began in August – let alone in July).

Also, Murmansk – the Soviet port through which just about all lend-lease deliveries were made, was protected by Hawker Hurricanes which began to arrive in early October. Had Operation Typhoon began in July, there would have been no Hurricanes to protect the convoys – and hence no lend-lease deliveries to the USSR.

Consequently, in this case the Wehrmacht would have entered Moscow practically unopposed at the end of September at the latest. Two to three weeks earlier the panic (which would have been way more powerful – irresistible, actually) would have engulfed both the military and civilian government (as it did in every large city attacked by the Wehrmacht previously).

Consequently, instead of defending the city, both the military and the civilian militia (the Soviet equivalent of Volkssturm) would have simply left the city (again, it happened before pretty much everywhere). In short, the Moscow defense would have collapsed allowing the Wehrmacht to capture the city in a matter of a few days (if not hours).

By that time Leningrad was already surrounded by the German troops (it has been all but completely encircled since September the 8th). The fall of Moscow would have made the position of the besieged city totally and utterly hopeless.

Which, in turn would have led to a wholesale exodus of both the military and the civilians from the city – with no will to fight left and a complete collapse of the defense system everyone will have only one option – run. Making Leningrad essentially and open city which will be occupied by the Wehrmacht in a matter of a few hours (a day at the most).

After the fall of Moscow and Leningrad, the Southern and Southwestern fronts of the Red Army would have surrendered in a few days at most – which would have taken care of the “Kiev problem”.

Although they still presented a formidable force (even after taking a severe beating from the Germans), their commanders were incompetent at counterattacking (to put it mildly). So keeping them at bay during the whole Operation Typhoon would not have been a major problem. In fact, not a problem at all.

In the abovementioned scenario, Stalin would have found himself in a situation similar to Hitler’s in late April of 1945. True, Napoleon has taken Moscow and still lost the war, but at the time it was but a provincial town (though the largest) – the capital was St. Petersburg which was completely out of reach for the French.

Besides, it was the logistics problems that led to the defeat of Napoleon’s Great Army – but he did not have trucks, trains and cargo aircraft. Wehrmacht did not have this problem – at least not in September – or even in October of 1941.

Unlike Hitler in late April of 1945, Stalin could have left the capital (for Kuybyshev), but it made no difference whatsoever. After the complete collapse of the Red Army and the Soviet State (inevitable after the fall of Moscow and Leningrad due to their critical functional, emotional and even spiritual value), German Panzers would have entered Kuybyshev in no time.

Like Hitler, Stalin was addicted to his messianic idea (at least as powerfully, as an addict to a hard drug). For Hitler, it was making Germany #1 global superpower and acquisition of the Lebensraum in the East necessary for complete self-sufficiency in foodstuffs and key natural resources.

For Stalin it was the territorial expansion of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics until the “last republic” is accepted and integrated (or annexed) into this global Communist state.

Under this scenario, it would have been obvious to Stalin in September of 1941 (as it was for Hitler in April of 1945) that his chances of ever making his messianic dream a reality were reduced to precisely zero by his victorious enemies.

Faced with a very similar situation, Adolf Hitler predictably chose to commit suicide (although he did have numerous opportunities to escape Berlin and go into hiding) as he had nothing left to live for. Consequently, it would be fair and reasonable to conclude that Stalin would have done exactly the same thing.

It would also be reasonable and realistic to construe that he would have been succeeded with Lavrentiy Beria – the “Soviet Himmler”. Like his German counterpart, he was a head of the country’s security service – NKVD (a rough equivalent of the German RSHA).

Actually, he was even better suited for running the country as (unlike Himmler) he already had an experience of managing the whole Soviet republic (a rough equivalent to the German federal state – Land).

Besides, he was a ruthless pragmatist (a technocrat even) who – as he proved beyond the reasonable doubt after Stalin’s death in 1953 – did not care much about Communist ideology. Or any ideology for that matter.

Hence there is little (if any) doubt the after Stalin’s suicide (inevitable under the abovementioned scenario), Beria would have signed a Brest-Litovsk-style treaty with the victorious Third Reich.

Would have Adolf Hitler signed it? IMHO, yes he would. Despite the collapse of the Red Army and the Soviet State, the USSR was still a gargantuan country that Germany simply did not have the resources to control.

Besides the Civil War (that ended only 20 years ago) made the Soviets extremely adept at guerilla warfare – which would have decimated Wehrmacht in no time (a nationwide uprising was something the Germans simply could not afford).

And Russia has already proven beyond the reasonable doubt its capability of rebuilding itself – after suffering almost complete collapse of the Army and a State (and a humiliating defeat in the Great War). Which was something that the Germans did not want at all.

Consequently, the Nazis (most likely, convinced by the generals) would have almost certainly developed and signed Brest-Litovsk II (possibly a hybrid with the “reversed Versailles treaty” as well).

The only reason Great Britain kept fighting the Third Reich in 1940-41 (after the fall of France) was the deep-seated belief of its leaders (first and foremost, Winston Churchill) that (1) the war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union was inevitable; and (2) that due to its enormous superiority in population and other resources the Soviet Union will win.

After the defeat of the USSR and signing of the “Brest-Litovsk II”, these hopes would have been dashed. The war with the Third Reich would have been hopeless and even suicidal for the UK – as now nothing prevented the Germans from destroying the British Air Force, then the Navy and then crossing the English Channel and landing on the British Isles. And for the British Empire – as the war with Germany would have left Britain with insufficient resources to protect its Asian part from the Japanese.

Hence, there is little (if any) doubt that Winston Churchill or (more likely) the one who would have replaced him, would have had no choice but to sign a peace treaty with the victorious Third Reich (most likely, with not territorial or other losses suffered by the British Empire).

The interesting question is: what would have happened in the Far East? Would the Imperial Japan have attacked British colonies? Probably not, because after Britain signed a peace treaty with Nazi Germany, all of its Army, Navy and Air Force were available for protecting the Far Eastern colonies. Which would have undoubtedly shifted the odds in British favor.

However, Japan would have certainly grabbed oil-rich Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) – there is little doubt that the peace treaty with Germany would have prevented Britain from going to war with Japan over the territory that belonged to German-occupied Netherlands.

Would the United States have gone to war with Japan over the Dutch East Indies? Not if Japan had not attacked the United States. Which it would most certainly had not done as it would have solved its oil problems (and problems with other resources) by colonizing what is now Indonesia. Hence the American oil embargo would not have been such a big deal.

It is also quite possible (very likely, actually) that the terms of the peace treaty with the Third Reich would have required Great Britain to supply Japan with all natural resources that it needed, ignoring its atrocities in China.

Hence, under this scenario there would have been no war in the Pacific at all. Except the colonial war in China, of course which rather sooner than later would have resulted in the Japanese victory (it is unlikely that in this global configuration the USA – or the Soviet Union for that matter – would have supported the Chinese for a long time).

However, it is far more interesting what kind of impact the victory in the Second Great War would have made on Germany, the Nazi regime and on Adolf Hitler personally

The “1941 Plot” or a Bit of Alternate History (3)

oboronamoskva-1Stalin decided to stay in Moscow. His train was unpacked and his offices opened up once again at the Kremlin. However, he still faced a crucial problem – how to put an end to panic that by now engulfed almost all civilians and even quite a few men (and women) in uniform.

He took the approach that already worked for him on a number of occasions – to “crush fear with fear”. He started with his closed associates – members of the Politburo of VKP(b) – Soviet Communist Party – and of the State Defense Committee (the latter was a de-facto wartime government of the country).

He immediately convened a meeting of “all of the above” and – without stating his own position – asked everyone for his opinion on whether they should stay and defend Moscow – or leave.

However, everyone knew what his position was – by returning all of his belongings to his office in the Kremlin he announced it loud and clear (actions always speak far better than the words). Hence, everyone voted “stay and fight” (although there is little doubt that everyone would have preferred exactly the opposite – but were too afraid to admit it).

Then he (predictably) declared the “state of siege” in Moscow (far more draconian than a state of emergency, although Moscow was not under siege – not even close). Acting on his orders, the NKVD (Soviet equivalent of RSHA).

Its men were allowed to shoot everyone on the spot – without a trial or even an investigation – at the slightest suspicion of not following the orders of the Soviet government (let alone stealing or, God forbid, spreading panic). No one knows how many were killed and how many of them were innocent of any crime but the panic was suppressed and the order was restored.

By that time (the end of October) the German Army High Command ordered a halt to Operation Typhoon to bring in the necessary supplies and reinforcements (logistics in Russia was a real bitch and the war was consuming men, hardware, fuel, food and other supplies in unheard of quantities).

This was a colossal strategic blunder as it gave the Red Army two crucial weeks to bring in the vital reinforcements (30 divisions, over 1,000 tanks and 1,000 aircraft). These reinforcements (together with artificial floods – a murderous, but necessary measure) saved Moscow, Stalin, the Red Army and the whole Soviet state from all but certain defeat and destruction.

On November 15th, the Wehrmacht resumed an all-out assault on Moscow. But now its situation was radically different – the enemy was far stronger and the supplies of food, ammunition and reinforcements (both in men and hardware) were woefully inadequate.

Still, by December 2nd, the German Army was on the verge of entering Moscow city limits. A reconnaissance battalion managed to reach the town of Khimki (now a Moscow suburb), only about 8 km from the then borders Soviet capital. It captured the bridge over the Moscow-Volga Canal as well as the railway station, which marked the easternmost advance of German forces.

Unfortunately for Germans, terrible weather conditions (blizzards, etc.) grounded the fearsome Luftwaffe – which very probably made all the difference. The Red Army managed to increase its strength fivefold – to half a million men – and on December 5th launched the now-famous Soviet winter counteroffensive.

At an enormous cost (up to 10:1 in personnel) it delivered the first strategic defeat to the previously invincible Wehrmacht and thus put an end to German Blitzkrieg. The war on the Eastern front (and subsequently on both fronts) became a war of attrition – the war that the Wehrmacht and the Nazi Germany in General were ill-equipped to fight (and subsequently not surprisingly lost).

Now imagine that the Wehrmacht launched Operation Typhoon one month earlier – on August 31st, 1941…


The “1941 Plot” or a Bit of Alternate History (2)

Stalin 1On September 30th, having destroyed 43 divisions of the four Soviet armies (the Red Army lost over one million men, 60% of them taking prisoner), the Wehrmacht launched Operation Typhoon which final objective was the capture of Moscow – the capital of the Soviet Union.

The first blow took the Soviet High Command completely by surprise (no wonder – by that time the whole infrastructure of the Red Army was on the verge of collapse).

The 2nd Panzer Group, returning from the south, took Oryol, just 121 km south of the Soviet first main defense line. Three days later, the German armored columns pushed on to Bryansk, while the 2nd Army attacked from the west. To the north, the 3rd and 4th Panzer Armies attacked Vyazma.

This combined assault shattered the first Soviet main defense line (hastily created after it became painfully clear that Operation Thunderstorm – an all-out invasion of Europe – was ruthlessly canceled by Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS).

Six Soviet armies totaling over 600,000 men were encircled. About 100,000 more were killed, injured or taken prisoner which left only 100,000 (and around 150 tanks) available for the defense of Moscow.

Despite enormous losses in personnel (in millions) and in hardware (in tens of thousands) the Red Army still had formidable reserves. However, its logistics and the whole military (and civilian) commands were in such disarray that the Soviet High Command simply could not assemble sufficient force to stand up to the German onslaught.

Hence, the capture of Moscow by the Wehrmacht became a very real possibility. So real, in fact, that secret document (decree #34) from the State Defense Committee, dated 15 October 1941 (the worst day of the whole war for the Red Army and the whole USSR), records that it had been ordered

‘To evacuate the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet and the top levels of Government… (Comrade Stalin will leave tomorrow or later, depending on the situation)… In the event of enemy forces arriving at the gates of Moscow, the NKVD – Comrade Beria and Comrade Shcherbakov [First Secretary of Moscow Communist Party City Committee] – are ordered to blow up business premises, warehouses and institutions which cannot be evacuated, and all Underground railway electrical equipment.’i

Anastas Mikoyan, a member of the Soviet Politburo, later said that Stalin had told him on 15 October that he intended to leave the Soviet capital. Crucial communications equipment and documents were removed from the Kremlin and packed on board Stalin’s train, waiting at Moscow station.

On the night of 16 October, key government personnel were told to leave their offices and prepare to flee. According to Nikolay Ponomarev, Stalin’s telegraphist:

‘There was a car waiting outside [the Kremlin]. We were driven away. Moscow was completely dark. The weather was wet. I saw we were heading for the railway station. I saw the armored train and Stalin’s guards walking back and forth on the platform. It became clear to me that I would have to wait for Stalin and go into evacuation with him.’

Meantime, panic was (predictably) growing amongst the population of Moscow. There were even (totally unfounded) rumors that Germans had been seen in the city. As a result, some shop owners opened their doors and told Muscovites to take whatever they liked, because “soon the Germans would snatch it all”. In the chaos, many tried to flee the Soviet capital. The roads and rivers were blocked with masses of people trying to escape from the city by any means they could.

Now, at this most crucial point in his country’s history, Stalin faced a simple choice. Should he stay or should he go? Should he try and remain in Moscow and risk encirclement by the German army – perhaps even his own capture or death – or should he run east to seek safety in the city of Kuybyshev (present day Samara) on the Volga river?

During World War II, Kuybyshev was chosen to be the alternative capital of the Soviet Union should Moscow fall to the invading Germans, until the summer of 1943, when everything was moved back to Moscow.

In October 1941, the Communist Party and governmental organizations, diplomatic missions of foreign countries, leading cultural establishments and their staff were evacuated to the city. A dugout for Joseph Stalin known as “Stalin’s Bunker” was constructed but never used.

However, Stalin decided to remain in Moscow, taking an enormous gamble. He was quoted as saying:

“If the enemy enters the city, I will personally lead the Kremlin security battalion into the battle”

And he meant it. He knew his country, his city and his people well enough to have no illusions – had he leaved the city, it would feel abandoned by its Leader. Fear, loathing and depression will totally suppress the will to fight and the inevitable panic would immediately lead to the collapse of both civilian and military infrastructure.

And thus to the inevitable fall of Moscow. Leningrad will fall in no time as it will also feel abandoned and hopeless. No, it would not have surrendered – the Wehrmacht commanders were under strict Hitler’s orders to not even negotiate the surrender of the city. There would be simply an enormous exodus of both the military and the civilians which will make Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) a de-facto open city.

Stalin knew himself very well as well. He knew that after the fall of Moscow and St. Petersburg, he himself would have had no will to fight left. He had to apply an enormous effort to restore it after the devastating blow that he received in the early morning of July 22nd when Hitler attacked. The loss of both Moscow and Leningrad in a matter of days would have surely crippled him mentally and emotionally.

As well as all other Soviets – top to bottom. After two consecutive blows of such magnitude – after dozens of smaller blows received by every Soviet citizen in the past four months, both the Red Army and the Soviet state would inevitably – and almost instantly – collapse.

Making both easy prey for the victorious Wehrmacht – and guaranteeing its swift, decisive and irreversible victory. Which was made even more inevitable by the fact that Kuybyshev was no Moscow in terms of command and control infrastructure – one simply could not run efficiently neither the Red Army nor the Soviet state from there.

So Stalin took an enormous gamble – and won.