Besides, who doesn't love a scenario set in one of the longest, bloodiest and most widespread wars in history? So let's focus on two of the biggest powers involved, the Third Reich of Adolf Hitler and the Worker's Paradise that was the Soviet Union.
Big thanks to Joe Biscotti on Facebook for suggesting this idea!
Point of Divergence
About the only way I can prevent Germany from launching an attack on the USSR is to remove Hitler, as he was the one person, despite the advice of his generals, who ordered preparations made for Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the USSR. So we just have to kill Hitler sometime between the end of the Battle of Britain in October 1940 and the start of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941. So... I dunno. Let's just say sometime in January 1941 Hitler is in a car crash. Or a time traveler showed up and erased him from history. Really, anything could work. I'm not that picky right now, as Hitler isn't the main point of the scenario.
Hitler is removed from the scene, and a power struggle emerges in the Nazi high command between the usual gang; Herman Goering, Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, maybe a cabal of generals. At this point in time I would think that Goering would have the best chance of becoming the Fuhrer, though I think something like a triumvirate, with Goering the public face, Goebbels the guy in charge of day-to-day stuff, and Himmler the muscle to make sure they all stay in power. It isn't perfect, and eventually issues would arise, but for now we will leave it here.
|Just dealing with two parties is usually a problem... huh America?|
This would turn out to be good and bad for Nazi Germany. First of all, and perhaps one of the biggest changes, with Hitler out of the way, the Generals would have more free reign to fight any future battles as they see fit. But that's one of the few positives. Germany was still fighting the United Kingdom, and Winston Churchill would not be interested in making peace, despite the removal of Hitler. Goering might be pushing for more resources for the Luftwaffe to try to start the Second Battle of Britain, while Rommel would be demanding more resources to fight in North Africa (German troops would still be sent in February 1941), and Italy would still be trying to show off (and fail hopelessly, as per OTL), meaning even more stuff the Nazi's would have to do. Infighting that Hitler had not only tolerated but pushed for in a demented Social-Darwinist theory would only be worse with three major figures leading Germany at once. Under Hitler there were four major branches of the military that didn't cooperate, four economic departments, two intelligence services that never worked together, two high commands that were in charge of conflicting battlefields, and five atomic bomb projects. Now, imagine in Goering managed to get a few more things for the Luftwaffe, Himmler added a few more responsibilities to the SS, and Goebbels just started a few other things... the mess Nazi Germany could have been in would be even greater.
So, what about the USSR? Well they might be in a bit better shape, but not by much. After all, noted all around terrible person Joseph Stalin is still in the big office in the Kremlin. And while he knew the Soviet war machine was in terrible shape after killing off most of the capable officers of the military and the humiliating fight against little Finland (though he would never admit to being the cause of it), Stalin would see the disorganization of Nazi Germany, which he still had a non-aggression pact signed with (It wasn't an alliance, it was just a deal not to attack each other), which would give him a lot more breathing room to build up his military: more T-34 tanks, more bombers, more fighters. Maybe send a few thousand more dissidents to Siberia. But by early 1942 Stalin might be in a much stronger position that Nazi Germany, dealing with those stubborn Brits. And if Hitler could break a non-aggression pact, why can't Stalin?
|"Now all of you... go die already."|
So in May 1942, instead of German tanks heading east a year before, Soviet tanks are heading west, attacking Germany when at it's weakest.
The Soviet-Nazi War
The Soviets will have immediate successes, mostly because Germany had vastly divided forces over an entire continent: troops in Western Europe to suppress the French and defend from England, forces in North Africa to try to take Egypt and whatever other forest fires Italy started in the Balkans. However, German troops manage a fighting retreat, and by the time the Soviets reach Warsaw, they are already dealing with stretched supply lines and stiffening German resistance. A brief halt is ordered, but soon Soviet troops are reaching the pre-Poland Invasion wars of Germany, and panic sets in.
As it turns out, being invaded by a foreign nation makes former enemies work together, and Nazi Germany is no exception. Churchill, delighted to see two former allies now fighting each other, is now willing to sign a ceasefire with Nazi Germany, if just so that they could destroy each other. The difficulties of the Triumvirate are set aside for now, and the process of defeating the USSR comes to a head. Organizations are streamlined, the General Staff given their orders, and the economy goes into Total War mode.
|C'mon, I easily defeated the Gauls. I can take on Russia!|
But it would take time for Germany to recover from the blow, especially as Russian troops drive through Romania and Hungary, cutting Germany off from it's major oil supply. Attempts at bombing Russian supply centers are hampered by the lack of long range Luftwaffe bombers and fighters that can reach the factories that turn out those tanks. And it's not like Germany can pull out all the troops from Western Europe and North Africa to fight at home, in case those English bastards start the war again.
By the fall of 1942, any further Soviet progress has been stalled, and now Germany is on limited counter-offensive mode. Soviet forces tenaciously defend the lines they established, but are slowly pushed back with high casualties. A new Soviet attack in the January 1943, this time headed straight for Berlin, smashes through the German lines. However, Germany is more prepared now, and manages to halt the offensive 50 miles from the German capital. A pincer movement designed by recalled General Rommel (I didn't say the generals had to stay where they were, they could still be moved around) inflicts a crushing defeat on the Soviet Army there, capturing hundreds of thousands of Soviet prisoners. However, the war continues as Nazi troops push east, and Soviet troops try to push west, neither side strong enough to force the other to give up. A sneak attack on Vladivostok by Japanese troops puts Russia on a two front war, but the cold and Russian tenacity prevent the Japanese from making huge gains. (They won't attack the US, at least not yet, as it wouldn't be likely that Germany would be able to distract American attention in this TL).
|Just give them cheap hamburgers and a bunch of flags. They won't care anymore!|
By 1944 or 1945, Nazi Germany would be nearly at the end of their resources, even after pushing the Soviet Union out of their former territory and into Ukraine would mean that German manpower would be nearly at the breaking point. Russia would be in a better position economically, but with the quick attack Stalin wanted to knock out the Nazi's failing, several generals, among them General Zhukov , praised as a Hero of the People just months before, would be getting a bit agitated that a war was started against a nation with the better army. When word reaches the NKVD of the possible public enemy and an attempt to capture Zhukov is defeated by troops loyal to the General, a full blown resistance movement against Stalin takes place. A quick armored dash by Zhukov to Moscow from the front line (made possible when Zhukov negotiates a secret ceasefire with Rommel) and a bloody fight to secure the Kremlin ensue. Stalin, surprised at the speed of Zhukov's rebellion, is captured before he can flee, but is shot while being lead to captivity by a soldier furious at having his family taken away for no reason. Zhukov has himself declared Acting Premier of the Soviet Union, and asks for peace with Nazi Germany, which the exhausted Nazi's accept.
Nazi Germany's economy is in shambles, the USSR is struggling to reform and come to terms with the Stalin era (and the loss of the Ukraine, Baltic States, their chunk of Poland and Belorussia as German puppet states), Britain is unbowed and slowly returns to it's traditional pastime of Empire Administration, Japan gets a few chunks of land in Siberia and a puppet state in China to boss around, and the US remains out of the war blissfully unaware (or not interested) in what just happened. While Japan would eventually attack the US in the Philippines and Pearl Harbor in the late 1950s, inflicting a huge defeat that snapped American out of it's isolation, that's still a decade in the future. Atomic weapons are eventually discovered, but a landmark deal in 1962 (signed in Cuba, of all places) officially bans their use in war.
|...FFS North Korea! You still would try to get them, wouldn't you?|
The Nazi Triumvirate finally collapses in 1947 with the death of Goering (officially as a heart attack, in reality a morphine overdose), and soon Himmler and Goebbels struggle to find who will take over sole control. However, the SS eventually is the trump card, and Goebbels is forced out of office, and into exile in the United Kingdom. The Third Reich becomes a strange hybrid of police state, military-industrial complex and neo-pagan ritualists. The Jews, after unofficial pogroms and hatred during and after the Soviet Invasion, are all sent out of Germany, many settling in Libya, Somalia, Madagascar and other African territories of the British and Italians, who are able to keep their land mostly because no one else wanted it.
A five way power struggle comes to a head in the 1970s: The US, UK and USSR (which has finally begun to reform into a something like modern China) versus Nazi Germany and Japan. The Third World War quickly spirals out of control, with Nazi Germany and Japan both launching surprise attacks on the USSR, which brings the US and UK into the war. One atomic bomb launched by Germany on Leningrad shocks the world, and soon nuclear weapons becomes part of this war, though usually only on a tactical level. By 1975, after four years of war, Nazi Europe is invaded on the west and east, and Berlin captured by a very pissed off Russia. Japan would be a tougher nut to crack, with the resources of China at their disposal. By 1977, with Russian forces pushing through China and the US and UK hop-scotching their way across the Pacific and finally landing on the Home Islands, Japan sues for peace. Tens of millions of soldiers and civilians had died, including many in the Western US by a Japanese biological weapon, and the rebuilding of the world would take a long time...
|Did anyone bring a shovel? A broom? A Roomba?|
Once again, I let the USSR get off lightly by overthrowing Stalin. Man, I seem to do that a lot. I guess I just really don't like him. Can you blame me?
But the big thing I want to point out is that in the 1940s, having only just captured most of Europe and with a very inefficient economy and political system, and the micro-manager that was Adolf Hitler screwing things up, Germany just wasn't in a position to deal with both the UK and the USSR at the same time. Nazi Germany could have dealt with England alone had they had a plan, and they might have been able to stand toe-to-toe with the USSR for a long period of time, However, I think World War Two, and Total War as a theory in general, also shows something else: the nation that was attacked, if they could withstand the air, land and sea attacks that drag them in (the Battle of Britain for the UK, Barbarossa for the USSR, and Pearl Harbor for the US), would be fully unified to engage the enemy. The nation that launched the attack, if not able to mount a quick defeat like the Battle of France, Poland, or the Low Countries and Norway, will be dragged into a war of attrition that they cannot win.
So, I think that if Nazi Germany, due to some reason wasn't able to attack the USSR, and instead the USSR attacked it, I think you would see a reverse Eastern Front: Germany recovering from a surprise attack and pushing east in a bloody slog. But that can only happen if Germany only has to deal with the USSR, and not the UK, and especially not the USA as well.
|....damnit, shouldn't have said that...|