Hearts of Iron III allows players to take on the role of any major (or minor) nation in WW2. I’m trying to stop the war from even becoming global by defeating the Germans before they’ve even started.
Milan, Italy, January 1942:
1941 will forever be remembered in the national history of France as a year of bloody battles. On both sides of the war thousands of men fought and died with bravery. In the north the German push on Belgium intensified, with huge battles occurring daily. In the south the French forces push ever further into the Italian heartland, hoping to put Italy out of the war for good.
The Italians are in such dire straights that Hitler decided to divert a huge portion of his army to shore up their resolve. The arrival of the better equipped German forces brought the French advance to a halt outside of Venice, yet can’t force a breakthrough to the beleaguered Italians south of Milan. French armoured columns and veterans from the Belgian front sweep away Italian counter attacks.
Soon the entire Italian army is in full flight, holding onto provinces for no longer than a few days. Crack French mountain troops scale the tough hills and valleys of central Italy to outmanoeuvre and outflank pockets of resistance. It’s a race against time as generals in their S35 tanks push their men on to victory. Armoured units sprint ahead of the infantry, sweating in the summer heat to keep up. General Philippe Leclerc de Hautecloque, by now one of the most famous leaders in my army, wins battle after battle, driving a wedge through the Italian armies. My nation’s fuel reserves are almost dry – tanks are running on empty and the air force is grounded - yet no-one stops for a moment.
By July the French are on the outskirts of Rome itself, pummelling the seven hills of the Eternal City with artillery fire. In the sea the navy’s submarines prowl the waves, sinking dozens of desperate Italian attempts to relieve the siege of their capital.
In the southern Mediterranean, with Tunisia taken from the Italians, French and British forces stage a daring daylight invasion of Sicily, capturing Palermo before the shocked Italian reserves can respond. In complete contrast to the stalemate in Belgium, the Italian front is a shockingly blitzkrieg-like affair.
Then, in September, with Rome on its knees and most of the country captured and capitulated, a letter lands on my desk. “Italian ambitions have been crushed,” it read. “Italy has surrendered to the Allies.”
I can barely believe it. Italian factions fight on in the South but the country’s back is broken. Italy’s fuel reserves flood in to replace our dwindling supplies. In just 10 months the French forces in the weaker southern theatre have defeated one of Germany’s strongest allies.
The speed of the advance soon catches up to the men, though. Despite their victory, my units are strung out, exhausted and ill-supplied. Venice is finally taken in the north after a 20-day siege and is immediately retaken by German forces. In the south I’m surprised by a ferocious Italian loyalist counter-attack. German-led heavy tank brigades and crack infantry smash into my fatigued units. Only a week after the capitulation I’m having to act frantically to stop my tired troops from being routed.
Ill news reaches me from Asia, too. Japan has declared war on the Allies and has invaded French Indochina. I don’t have the manpower or time to send reinforcement so take drastic measures. I give Indo-China its freedom from French rule and make a hasty alliance in order to create a buffer between the Japanese forces and the rich resources in the south of Vietnam.
With that matter dealt with for the time being I turn my attention to the war in Belgium. Despite the hundreds of thousands of men that Germany has lost trying to take a few miles of ground they insist on throwing themselves at me.
My northern army is the epitome of French defensive doctrine, and have been steadily raking in the experience points for two years. I had hoped by now to go on the offensive, but it seems that the attack will not go through Belgium...
I’ve been eyeing up the underbelly of Germany like a hungry wolf. Once Italy is done with I can truly threaten the Third Reich by attacking through Austria. At the moment my exhausted troops are holding the line near the Alpine border but with British reinforcements on their way from newly-liberated Greece that is set to change.
I’m beginning to wonder if Operation Barbarossa (which is seven months late) will never happen. Perhaps due to my continued resistance the Germans simply don't want to risk war with Russia? Historically Hitler only embarked upon Barbarossa after he was sure his Atlantic front was secure. Similarly the Japanese, while declaring war on Europe, have not attacked Pearl Harbour and the Americans are still sitting on their laurels. Though my armies may have made short work of Italy, invading Germany and Austria is another matter entirely. Especially as my air force is no match for the Luftwaffe and my navy has been decimated in dealing with Italian submarines and convoys.
1942 will surely be a pivotal year in my attempt to shorten the war.