Sunday, May 5, 2019

Guest Post: Icebreaker Begins

This article originally appear in Today in Alternate History as 5th, May 1940 - Icebreaker begins

In retrospect, the timing of Josef Stalin's first stroke during early 1936 was precipitous. Certainly, the Soviet leadership's weak handling of the Spanish Civil War was a short-term boost to the Fascist dictators. For the Western democracies, it was rather fortunate, then, that powerful new figures in Russia were exercising an iron grip of the Kremlin four years later. The real significance ultimately was the end to a cleansing of Communist Party ranks, stopping short Stalin's planned purge of the officer corps in the Red Army.

A second, far more debilitating stroke followed shortly after high representatives of the Nazi German government concluded negotiations leading Moscow on the evening of August 23, 1939. In fact, both parties had signed a dead letter even though the ink was hardly dry on the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. From a strategic perspective, the neutrality of the USSR prevented Great Britain from using the dominance of the Royal Navy to impose a WW1-style embargo on the Germans. Despite the steady flow of supply from the USSR to Germany, there was never any realistic prospect of the Western Allies actually declaring war on both the Soviets and the Nazi, even though both countries had blatantly violated sovereignty of a neutral nation when they partitioned the Second Polish Republic. The opportunity for the Western Allies to strike Soviet oil-fields in Baku was passed up by Chamberlain, even though an earlier Churchill Government might well have calculated otherwise. Clearly, the Western Allies could not afford to fight both great powers.

As plainly evidenced by the articulation of his own megalomaniac vision in his prison diary Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler had every intention of invading the USSR as soon as his Western flank was secure. However, he badly miscalculated Soviet intent when he massed seventy percent of the Wehrmacht in Western Europe. The Red Army, having abandoned their defences to occupy Poland, seized the opportunity to pounce as soon as the Battle of France was underway. The so-called Operation Suvorov was actually a variation of a secret operational plan devised by Stalin to use Nazi Germany as an "icebreaker," i.e. to take control of the continent by manipulating Hitler into a wider war that he could not possibly win. The so-called "Man of Steel" would not live to see victory, because "Dr." Beria saw fit to relieve cranial his pressure with a 9mm drill.

The critical period of time for the Soviet strike was 11-12 May when German supply dumps and  100% of the Luftwaffe had been irretrievably committed to the West. Only eight divisions of German troops were deployed on the Eastern front, and none in defence of Hungary or Romania. Even though the Wehrmacht had struck decisively and the Dutch had surrendered, the British, French and Belgians were undefeated. This was the point of vulnerability when the Soviets chose to strike.

Ironically, a purge of the Red Army would have probably have made Icebreaker infeasible. In the present moment, however, with the Red Army at full strength, this was a tactical masterstroke but only time would actually tell whether Soviet logistics could sustain such a risky initiative. As the old military truism goes, "Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals talk about logistics." In all probability, the Soviets lacked the logistical capability to defeat Germany in 1940. 

Consequently, it was decided to attack on two fronts. About 400,000 Soviet troops crossed the border from occupied Poland into Germany. Meanwhile, a 100,000 strong Soviet force attacked the small Romanian army and occupied the oil-producing region of Plioesti. It was anticipated that this strategic strike would cause acute resource shortages for the Wehrmacht within six months or less. By then senior officers of the Wehrmacht had overthrown Hitler and called for a ceasefire.

Communism had won the day and post-1940 Europe was a transformed continent. The Soviets and the Axis Powers entered a Cold War Period that frequently threatened to, but never quite broke out into open conflict. All of these countries would collapse to popular democratic movements during the late 1980s. Meanwhile Britain and France had lost their global leadership and lay in the shadow of the two neighbouring super-powers, USSR and Germany. Both WW1 victor powers would de-colonise and form a Western European Community with the Low Countries as they struggled to remain relevant as the millennium approached.

Author's Note: In reality between twenty-five and fifty percent of officers were purged, which seriously weakened the operational fighting strength of the Red Army prior to the outbreak of war.

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