Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Luftwaffe '46 - An Alternative History
Battle of the Baltic.
Focke Wulf TA183 second generation single engined fighters escort Heinkel Hs132 jet dive bombers in an attack on a British Convoy heading for Oslo. Over the horizon lurk Meteor F3s and Tempest Vs, scrambled from their Norwegian bases.
Models in 285 scale from my collection.
Alternative histories have always been a mainstay of imaginative writing. I exclude pure time travel SF stories where some future time patrol goes back in time complete with fully functioning ultra-tech equipment. I mean where history is changed by a small event that cascades.
This is classic chaos mathematics by which a complicated system is so sensitive to initial conditions that it is effectively unpredictable. This is the classic butterfly’s wing effect so beloved of journalists. Chaos is rather rare in the natural world except at small scales. For example, predicting the temperature at an exact spot in England at an exact time and date in 2010 is impossible because it is chaotic. However, I could have a very good stab at estimating the mean temperature of that spot over the course of the year because all the complicated processes intermesh to give random distributions driven by large predictable processes.
This was brought home to me when I bought a set of miniature wargame rules for recreating dogfights between German jets and allied planes in 1946, Luftwaffe ’46 is a popular airgaming theme. The authors of the rules felt the need to devise a scenario of how this might have come about.
They postulated that Eisenhower might have been shot down over the D-Day beachhead in 1944. They then predicted a cascade: (i) the British would have taken over control of the allied armies, (ii) due to their incompetence, the Battle for Normandy would have stalemated, (iii) the Nazis would have held onto their eastern empire by throwing back the Russians, (iv) so the Germans would have the resources, strategic material, and time to develop advanced jets and the fuel to fly them, (v) that the British would have refused to develop their own technology (there is no end to British stupidity), and (iv) therefore Germany would be the only country with advanced jet planes.
This is a classic chaos assembly but why would WWII follow chaos mathematics and how likely is this result. The answer is that it is nonsense as a model of an alternative history (even allowing for British stupidity).
WWII followed a war pattern repeated through history. A ‘country’ builds a military superiority in quantity and/or quality which it uses to attack its neighbours, who collective have a far superior economic and military potential. The question is can the aggressor win before that potential is realised and they are crushed?
A classic example is the Second Punic War. The Barcas built a superior war machine in Spain, which they used to attack the Rome. The Carthaginians ran riot, winning battle after battle until they destroyed the Roman Army at the decisive battle of Cannae, a battle without a morrow if ever there was one – except that it wasn’t. It had no effect on the eventual course of the war. . Hannibal couldn’t overrun Rome so he couldn’t win. Eventually Rome would overwhelm him. Carthaginian victories merely delayed the process. You can make a similar case for Napoleonic France, Confederate America, Imperial Germany and WWII.
Germany started well in WWII, neutralising Russia and overrunning France but then came unstuck in the second half of 1940. To win in the west they had to occupy London. They lost the German fleet in the Norwegian sideshow and then the French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir. Fighter Comand’s defeat of the Luftwaffe meant that they would never take London. They were now fighting for a stalemate in the West. Hence all those Hitlerian offers of peace to the UK in 1940.
German lunges into the Balkans and North Africa merely pitted then against the British on British terms and brought no strategic gains. The German defeat in the Battle of Moscow in December 1941 marked the German high mark in the east. London and Moscow had survived the initial rush. From now on, Germany was fighting for a draw.
1942 and 1943 saw giant battles initiated by German offensives with disastrous results: 900,000 in North Africa, 600,000 in the Stalingrad Campaign, and 200,000 in the Kursk salient – with all their equipment. Germany lost the war in 1942 and 1943.
The Russian offensive against a weak, equipment light German army in 1944 destroyed Army Group Centre and 900,000 troops overall. Whatever happened in Normandy was irrelevant, even assuming Eisenhower was irreplaceable, which I doubt.
So I want to play Luftwaffe 1946. I don’t need a historical rationale to play wargames with toy soldiers but thought it might be fun to try. What might extend the life of the Nazi Empire such that they could field jets in ’46?
Clearly it had to be something that happened in 1941. Actually there was something odd that happened in 1941. After Pearl Harbour, the USA declared war against Japan on the 8th Dec., but not Germany. Germany declared war on the USA on 11th Dec.
Initiation of war with the USA was an insane decision even by Hitler’s standards. It was also unnecessary. Germany’s interests were best served by peace with the USA and letting it take its vengeance on Japan. The USA was militarily weak in 1941, both in quality and quantity, but it had enormous potential as the world’s largest economy. It is possible that had Germany not made that rash move then America might not have come into the European war for years – see WWI.
Germany could not win WWII after the Battle for Moscow but without American intervention it is by no means inconceivable that it could survive as a going concern into 1946, probably going down to defeat in ’48 or ‘49.
Hence Luftwaffe ‘46.
So here’s the challenge: Can you think of a decision in history that could reasonably have gone the other way in such a way as to change history?