June 3rd 1949
A German submarine sinks a merchant ship just off the coast of Florida, marking the first of many such incidents. While the U.S. merchant marine fleet is well trained on paper, and the U.S. coast guard has been training intensely for just this fight - the German submariners are very experienced while U.S. coastal forces are very raw.
[* Note that unlike our timeline the U.S. is using black outs, coastal convoys, well coordinated anti-submarine defenses, etc, right from its entry in the war. There are also Royal Navy advisers in the U.S. Atlantic Fleet and coast guard, providing their expertise and experience from the long battle of the Atlantic *]
June 4th 1949
U.S. and British marines land in several locations around the island of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, and other lesser islands, facing scattered but fierce resistance from Axis forces in the first hours. However, Axis morale could not be lower and by the end of the day their resistance is waning. Axis forces in the Canaries are cut off and out of hope, and they know it. The heavy guns of four American battleships and numerous lesser ships begin to lay waste to fortified Axis positions as U.S. and British carrier aircraft saturate Axis troops with mustard gas and napalm.
June 5th 1949
Germany opens its largest offensive since the invasion of western Europe. Thousands of guns and rocket launchers pummel Soviet lines along broad portions of the front in the northern Belorussian sector and in the southern Ukrainian sector. The Soviets conduct similarly massive barrages of their own, having been informed by captured soldiers that the German offensive was coming. In the air, some 2,000 Luftwaffe aircraft surge into the skies - a thousand German fighters battle a thousand Soviet fighters across a dozen great clashes as countless swarms of Luftwaffe bombers strike Soviet troop concentrations, supply dumps, and transportation junctions from the Baltic states to the Black Sea coast of the Ukraine. Soviet bombing efforts are less successful, with German radar guided AAA and missiles exacting a heavy toll on the slow, lumbering, Soviet bombers.
On the ground, the great push is in the North. One massive panzer force crashes into Soviet lines southwest of Minsk while another drives directly northeast into Soviet-occupied Lithuania. The soviets have been expecting such a move and have placed their best anti-tank forces in the theatre directly in the path of the German juggernaut. The resulting clashes are epic, and German panzer columns advance in fits and starts across a hellish landscape baked in napalm, high explosives, nerve gas, mustard gas, smoke, blood, and the stench of death. Despite heavy panzer losses, and the disruptive pre-dawn Soviet artillery and rocket barrages, the German armored pincers advance as much as eight kilometers in the first day.
To the south, Soviet commanders report proudly to Moscow that the German advance into the Ukraine has been blunted utterly - with heavy German losses. Strangely, local field commanders on the ground are bemused at the uncharacteristic lack of tenacity displayed by the Germans and by the unusually large amount of minor Axis forces seen on the battlefield. The implications, suspected by some, will take several days to filter up to Moscow.
June 6th 1949
U.S. marines land on Madeiras, reinforcing the British marines still in control of much of the island. Axis forces on the island are largely out of supply and in disarray, having been under pressure from aggressive British marines ever since their airfield, main field headquarters, and supply dump were wiped out in the recent atomic strike.
June 9th 1949
Axis forces on Santa Cruz de Tenerife, driven into several inland pockets and into the smoldering ruins of the port city itself, surrender to American and British forces. Later in the same day, Axis forces on Madeiras also surrender. Though the Allies will continue to mop up the various Axis held lesser islands for several more weeks, the five week Battle of the Canary Islands is essentially over and the Axis have been dealt a shattering, stunning, defeat. They have lost their experienced marine and paratrooper forces as well as a large chunk of their maritime air power in the Atlantic. American media trumpets the dramatic and incredibly successful American entry into the war against the European Axis. Euphoria sweeps the American people and there is open talk of the war in Europe "...being over by Christmas".
Across Axis Europe the mood is more sombre as official news reports, including Radio Berlin itself, concede that "our forces have been dealt a set back in the battle for the South Atlantic". Hitler's mood is grim, yet his knowledge of Germany's own progress in its atomic program and the progress in the east allows him to remain confident. The Third Reich is less than a year from deploying its own atomic bomb and the German atomic program is spread far and wide, well hidden, and heavily fortified. And German panzers are driving all before them in Belorussia.
Mussolini, having now lost his entire Atlantic surface force including his most modern battle cruiser and his entire marine force, decides that he should be content with the Mediterranean and turns his focus back towards North Africa. Italian and German engineers are steadily repairing and modernizing the facilities at Gibraltar and other coastal strong points in the south of Spain. Powerful, modern, radar-controlled heavy guns and swarms of land based aircraft will stand ready to challenge any Alliance attempt to force the straights.
June 10th 1949
In Belorussia the German advance has cut to a point directly south of Minsk and the main Soviet defensive lines in the region have been ruptured, leaving German panzers and mechanized infantry to flow into central Belorussia with stunning speed. Soviet forces, battered, weary, under intense attack from the air and desperately short on fuel, lack the mobility to properly realign their defenses and instead begin to fall back in disarray north to Minsk and east towards Russia itself. In Lithuania the German advance has been slower but still steady and soviet forces have fallen back in good order to a secondary defensive line anchored on Vilnius.
June 12th 1949
German infantry, supported by heavy panzers, enter the ruins of Vilnius and enter into bloody house to house, and rubble to rubble, fighting with Soviet forces. With the Vilnius line wavering and German panzers now moving east of Minsk - the Baltic states erupt into violent rebellion. Nationalist elements in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia launch major uprisings in nearly every large city, and rebel forces begin what will be a sustained campaign against Soviet logistics in the Baltic states. Meanwhile, in the air the Luftwaffe has gained the upper hand as the Red Airforce sustains massive losses and begins limiting its operations to a purely interception role in an effort to husband its diminishing resources. Germany does not yet have complete air superiority, but it is getting close to that point in the skies over the northern front.
Late in the day orders begin to go out from Moscow, and Soviet forces in occupied Sweden begin to execute plans for the evacuation of Sweden.
After several British B-31 raids on east Algerian ports from airbases out of west Africa, a particularly large British B-31 force approaches Tunis from out over the Sahara desert. The force, 200 bombers strong, is met by Italian and German interceptors south of the city and over two dozen of the bombers are downed. The rest hammer the port of Tunis and one of the trailing bombers drops a 22 kiloton British atomic bomb on the city. The atomic warhead explodes off target, several hundred yards inland rather than over the port itself, but much of the city and its associated supply depots and transportation junctions are destroyed or heavily damaged by the blast and the resulting three day inferno that sweeps through the city. Many tens of thousands of civilians are killed in addition to several thousand Italian troops. The port is also heavily damaged, mostly by the conventional element of the raid.
June 15th 1949
The U.S. Army Air Force establishes three new Air Force commands. The 8th Air Force, operating out of the British Isles. The 13th Air Force, operating out of Egypt, Crete, and Cyprus. The 16th Air Force, operating out of British Palestine and occupied Iraq. In addition, the SBC(Strategic Bombing Command) will establish facilities and operational capability in these same three theatres. It will take months to build up in these distant lands, but the wheels of the U.S. war machine are turning.
In Algeria, Egypt, Palestine, and Iraq massive anti-British protests turn violent with dozens killed in the resulting clashes with colonial police and British forces. The atomic bombings of the Canaries, Tunis, and Tripoli have ignited passions and turned Arab sentiment even more dramatically against the British. Egypt in particular is a hot bed of Arab nationalism and radical Islam, with a growing radicalized movement calling for the expulsion of the British and neutrality in the "White Christian's war".
On the northern portion of the eastern front, the success of the German offensive continues despite bitter and relentless resistance from the Soviets. Red Army forces in and around Minsk have been severely disrupted and the Soviet position in this region is unravelling. German forces are now well to the east and southeast of Minsk - and German armored probes are already pushing south from Lithuania and north from central Belorussia to encircle Minsk. In Lithuania Vilnius has fallen to German forces but not without a horrendous loss of blood and machinery for the Germans. The Vilnius line has been broken, and Soviet forces are struggling against Baltic nationalist guerrilla forces as they move into their next line of defense at the Lithuanian-Latvian border
Heinz Gustov inhaled deeply from one of his precious cigarettes and took a moment to appreciate life. That he was still alive was quite surprising to him, to say the least. A full year in the Eurasian War, commanding that tin can of an Mk4, had nearly done him in more times than he cared to remember. Even on the last day of that war, he recalled, he'd only narrowly escaped being killed by the fourth T-34 he'd encountered that day. The first three he'd killed himself, or rather his gunner had at any rate. The glorious years of peace in between seemed a distant memory to him now, less real than his harsh year in the Eurasian War. Then had come the tough campaigns in France and Greece, less nasty than the Eurasian War's Eastern front perhaps but no less likely to have killed him. Instead, rather, he'd claimed the lives of more than a few French, British, and Greeks. Not without a cost, a Parisian sniper had got him in the shoulder during the brutal slog into the French capitol - he'd never forgive the orders that sent his tank into the rubble strewn fortress that Paris had been. He'd seen so much death.
And then the real horror began. The Red Army tore into the Reich's eastern flank the summer before with all the vengeance of a Red Horde of devils and Heinz Gustov, now a young Colonel, had been there through it all. The fighting withdrawal back towards Minsk and then falling back more still, towards the East Prussian frontier itself as the Baltic states were once again gobbled up and the Red Army threatened to encircle his men time and again. The Soviet equipment was second rate, their soldiers were still ill trained by his own standards, yet they came forward - an oncoming wave of men and machines that seemed like a tide that would never break. Yet, break it did.
The Reds ran out of steam, and as 1948 became 1949 Heinz accepted his promotion from Colonel to Major General with a grim resignation as the Reich gathered its strength all around him. He'd earned the promotion more by outliving his comrades than for any other reason, though his service had never failed for quality or bravery. From a young tank commander at the tail end of the Eurasian War, Major General Heinz Gustov now found himself in command of a panzer division.
And now, for two full weeks, a nightmare of constant radio chatter, ceaseless uncomfortable driving in his command APC, death from every direction, responsibility weighing down like a great stone crushing him. He'd lost so many men, so many. And too many panzers, more than he dared dwell upon. Yet, two weeks into the campaign Heinz Gustov crushed a cigarette on torn earth - to the east of Minsk. The strategic Belorussian city was nearly surrounded, the 350,000 Soviet soldiers there trapped in a tightening circle of steel and flame from which Heinz and his fellow officers did not intend to let go. Even now, jets screeched overhead as Luftwaffe bombers maintained a constant bombardment of the remaining corridor out of the Minsk pocket. Artillery rumbled, and rockets rippled in staccato high pitched continuous rips as more and more firepower fell upon Minsk.
And to the East the quiet was unsettling. Sporadic artillery fire and a few rocket salvos were all the Red Army had been able to muster for the past two days. Heinz felt confident that, with his panzers even now being refuelled, he could resume his drive east with little effective Soviet resistance. And so, sighing at the loss of one more cigarette, Heinz walked back to the hastily erected field tent near his command APC and stared gloomily at the map as his aides glanced at him impatiently.
He began to issue orders. Axis of advance. Artillery missions. As much Luftwaffe support as he could beat out of the stubborn Airforce Colonel over the static filled phone. Around him the temporary headquarters buzzed with activity. Cougar II's, their engines purring with fresh fuel like great contented cats, rolled east in a seemingly endless stream. Helicopters came and went, the chopchopchop of their roters filling the air as scout craft probed east and larger models took away wounded and brought in replacements. Jets roared and propellers droned overhead as Luftwaffe and occasional Red Airforce planes passed overhead. Nearby, one of the new mobile radar-guided anti-aircraft vehicles sat still, its radar turning endless circles as its deadly looking 20mm barrels angled into the air. Once, the chemical weapons siren screamed and Heinz and everyone else scrambled into their protective suits and waited for the deadly smoke that never actually arrived. The wind had shifted East momentarily and Heinz hoped fervently that some of the filthy gas had drifted back over Soviet lines.
Finally, after the last cougar II had rolled through Heinz helped his aides pack up the maps and radios and other equipment into the command APC. The tent was broken down, the temporary emergency field hospital folded into trucks and one by one the vehicles that made up the mobile headquarters rolled down the road to the east, leaving great belching clouds of smoke in their wake. Heinz's command APC went last and only a scorched open field and a variety of trash, debris, and bloody bandages marked the passing of the 2nd panzer division.
The atmosphere in the ornate command room deep beneath the Kremlin was as silent and grim as a tomb. The news from the west was bad, as bad as could possibly be imagined. When word had arrived that the offensive in the north was clearly the real German effort, Beria had fallen deathly silent, glaring through his spectacles at anyone who dared glance in his direction. Minsk was nearly surrounded, and German panzers were now slashing east towards Russia itself, driving all before them. Sweden was in the process of being evacuated, conceding away the Soviet position in Scandinavia. Lithuania was lost and the rest of the Baltic states were in open and violent rebellion. To make matters worse, a muted rumble from above marked another German bombing raid on Moscow. No one in the bunker beneath the Kremlin had taken notice of the barely audible air raid sirens wailing above.
The Soviet Union was in dire straights. Everyone in the room knew it, but none dared mouth the words with Beria looking like an angry wasp waiting to sting.
"Gentlemen" said Beria, Secretary General of the Soviet Union and the central peg in the Soviet intelligence and security apparatus. He continued, after a brief silence. "It would seem we have no choice but to implement the recommendations as set forth in plan Gambit". Heads nodded gravely around the table. No further words were called for or wanted.
The plan, worked up by Red Army and party leaders over the past several months, represented the Soviet Union's response in the event of a significant German break through. Garrisons in the East and central Asia were to be cut to the bone, and the scant freed up manpower sent west. Defenses along the front with Japan would be cut to an absolute minimum, on the reasonable basis that the Japanese were simply in no shape to conduct offensive operations. Preparations for the invasion of Korea would be put on hold, indefinitely. Civilian energy and other rations would be cut even deeper, to absolute bare minimum levels. All non-essential research projects would be cancelled in favor of immediate practical arms production. Boys and girls as young as 13 and fit senior adults as old as 68 would be drafted to work in industry and civil defense roles. In short, plan Gambit was the last major additional mobilization that the Soviet Union could muster - the last source of new strength. The body, lacking any further fat reserves, would begin to consume muscles and bone. It would take as many as four to six months to fully implement, and the Soviet Union had to hold on until the last of its reserves could be mustered as per Gambit's requirements.
Holding on would not be easy. The Soviet Union's problems were many, far more and greater than anyone but the innermost circle of the Party knew. Firstly, there was the problem of oil. The Soviet Union simply did not have enough, and the limited drilling and refinery production it did have was coming under German bombardment in one region in particular, east of the Caspian Sea. And moving the oil was becoming more difficult as well, as German bombing of rail infrastructure was becoming more and more of a problem. Oil shortages were now so acute that the Red Airforce had been forced to curtail its sorties severely, thus severely hampering its efforts to counter the German summer offensive. The Red Army was not immune either, it having been forced more and more to reserve its fuel only for use in specially designated mobile reserve armored divisions. Horse traction was being used more and more to move Soviet infantry and even heavier equipment wherever practical. To a degree, the Red Army was in the process of de-mechanization. Such were the shortages that large-scale offensive operations were simply no longer possible, and even large-scale re-deployment of Red Army divisions would be problematic. The rest of Soviet Union's limited energy reserves had to go to industry, where factories churned out the weapons of war that kept the Red Army in the fight.
Then, there was the problem of manpower. Since the Russian civil war and Stalin's purges Russia had been bled white. The Eurasian War slaughtered a high percentage of the Soviet Union's young men, and then the Second World War's slaughter had come. The great Russian cities in the west were bombed out shells of their former selves, regularly coming under chemical bombardment. civilian losses were in the untold millions since the summer of 1948. The Soviet Union, home of the People's Communism, was running out people, rapidly. And there were no more fresh reserves to be had aside from scraping the bottom of the barrel by conscripting children, the elderly, and the physically disabled and handicapped.
If the enemy were anyone aside from the Nazis then the rational thing would have been for the Soviet Union to simply accept harsh terms for an Armistice, and spend a generation or more licking her wounds. But war with the fascists was war to the knife, a war of Slavic racial survival in Europe. No one doubted that the Germans would ultimately treat the Slavs as they had treated the Jews if they reigned over everything west of the Urals. And so, the Soviet Union would fight until the seams of its foundations simply fractured and the society that was the Soviet Union faded away for lack of people.
This was the harsh reality that everyone in the room, including Beria himself, well understood. And plan Gambit represented perhaps the last step shy of the melting away of Russia. Although, of course, there were other plans in the secret files of the Party, plans involving a vast migration of people and mobile assets. At last resort the Urals would make a formidable shield after all, and moving Russia was perhaps preferable to losing it all together.
To be continued in Part 53...