Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

No One to Root For

A couple weeks ago I read The Polish Officer by Alan Furst, a spy thriller of sorts (though a dark and at times meandering one) about an officer in the Polish-in-exile intelligence service from 1939 to 1943. It's a good novel, with a lot of historical detail which is (so far as I know) quite accurate.

Among other things, it provides a brief but masterful description of the chaos and idiocy that was the Soviet response to the warnings of and actual first days of the German invasion of the USSR. (The main character is eventually sent as a liaison between Polish and Russian partisan groups.) As it describes the gradually stiffening resistance (rather than the implosion that the main character watched during the occupation of France), the author comments (in reference to the German believe that once the door was kicked in the entire Soviet edifice would crumble): "They had attacked the USSR, but now they found themselves fighting Russia."

This reminded me of my rather ambiguous thoughts when reading Antony Beevor's masterful history Stalingrad a year or two ago. By the end of the book, I found myself wishing that the German army would somehow survive. Loathsome though they were, there was little to choose between them and the Soviets, and one started to feel it was unfair that (with the Soviets doing everything possible wrong leading up to and in the first weeks of the invasion) the USSR not be defeated.

But life is notoriously unfair, especially on the steppes of Russia. And given that the several million Nazi soldiers who vanished into Russia made it much more possible for the Allies to defeat the Axis, I suppose one should consider it some sort of limited good.

Still, it seems an interesting question of alternate history what would have happened if the Soviet government had sufficiently collapsed under the German attack to leave something of a power vacuum to the East. Would an Allied victory have been possible without Papa Joe over on the Eastern Front? Trying to keep some sort of control over the vast stretches of Russia wouldn't have tied up as many Nazi soldiers as the Soviet army eventually chewed up, but it would certainly have been a massive drain on resources. Though the oil fields of the East would have done a great deal to ease the supply problems that crippled Germany by the end.

5 comments:

Patrick said...

I think a lot would have changed had the Eastern front gone differently.

People forget how pivotal the Battle of the Bulge was. By the point the US was at full mobilization; we had no more troops to send. If the Germans had broken through the Allies would likely have been pushed back across the Channel.

From there, who knows what would have happened. It's fun to speculate.

Joseph said...

I suspect one of the most important differences is that Berlin would still be slightly radioactive.

Darwin said...

I suspect one of the most important differences is that Berlin would still be slightly radioactive.

Heh. Good point...

Steve Bodio said...

Furst is truly good-- I have all his novels. His atmospherics and grasp of the politics of those days are amazing.

LogEyed Roman said...

I think it would have changed the war so much in favor of Germany that it could only have been a major catastrophe.

I can't say whether the Allies would have been able to win. I am sure that if they had, it would have been far more costly.

And I really think they might have lost.

Note the Caucasus, if you have a globe or a world map. If Germany had held that securely, along with their access to the Mediterranean through their ally Italy, the threat to North Africa would have been totally different. Malta almost fell in 1942; at one point, if two freighters had been stopped, one carrying fuel and one food, the island would have fell. Rommel came within a frog's chest hair of taking North Africa, including Egypt. And this with most of their resources diverted to the Russian front.

If Russia had fallen early, Germany could have devoted (literally) ten times the resources to taking Malta, and more than twice to Rommel. Oh, and their air and U-boat warfare against England would have been far heavier. Not only would the resources be freed from fighting Russia but with the huge increase of oil from the Caucasus, their war production and training would have gone way up. (There were, for instance, pilots who took nine months to go through a supposed ninety-day night figthing school due to fuel shortages.) It's hard to see how the Allies could have kept Malta. And with Malta a German, not an Allied, forward base for controlling the sea lanes, AND with several times the resources available to Rommel, it's hard to see how the Germans would not have taken all of North Africa.

Note that this includes Suez.

So the Germans would have cut England's main artery to her empire. The only route left would be around Africa; taking far more shipping and giving the Germans more opportunities to attack it.

I don't see how the Torch landings in Africa would have been even feasible in 1943, with the Mediterranean a German lake. They might even have taken Gibralter.

With the Mediterranean largely secured from Allied attack, and Suez in their hands, Germany would have hooked up with Japan. There's a nightmare. The two had a huge number of capabilities that would have cancelled out one another's difficulties. If Germany suddenly got all the rubber, tin, and tungsten it wanted (all these were bottlenecks to their war production); and if Japan got machine tools to multiply their war production; and plenty of Russian food and oil so the American submarine campaign was reduded from a menace to a nuisance--bad news. I can add endless details. How would the American naval campaign work out if they suddenly were fighting, not the slow and fragile Zero, but FW-190s? If they were being bombed by big JU-88s and not fragile Bettys? Oh, and what if the U-boats in the Atlantic were suddenly armed with Japanese Type 95 torpedos, with almost no wake, higher speed, and THREE TIMES the range of any other torpedos?

The Convair B-38, which ended up being used as our main stragetic Cold War bomber before the jet bombers came on line, was conceived around 1942, in order to be able to bomb Germany from North America. The Allies had contingency plans to continue the war if Russian and Britain were taken out. Even if we had won, what would have been the cost? Nuclear bombs on both sides? Ten million American dead instead of 400,000? Worldwide deaths of 500,000,000 instead of 50 million?

I'm unsentimental about the Soviet Communist regime, and I know Staling was a murderous blunderer. And I know the Russians would not have done it for us if there were nothing in it for them. Nevertheless, 20 million Russians died, and their sacrifice probably saved us from losing the war. I'm certain it saved the world from hundreds of millions of additional deaths.

LogEyed Roman