This series follows my attempts to thwart Hitler and change the course of history. I started by trying to stop the war from happening but failed. Now I’m trapped in a war of attrition which my French forces have endured since 1940. Some measure of success came with my conquest of Italy but, as the years go by and as the combatants begin to get more desperate, something will have to give.
Paris, France, 1943-44:
“Wars, horrid wars!” Virgil once wrote in the Aeneid. As the end of 1944 looms it seems that war unending, war unceasing and war everlasting is all that faces a weary France. For five years she has fought hard against the German war machine – sometimes alone – and it is beginning to show. Manpower is at an all time low while many units on the frontlines are ragged and undermanned.
That is not to say that all is lost. For Italy still lies in French hands. The lines have stabilised since the initial threat of a German breakthrough. Now, though, both sides are exhausted and ill-supplied, meaning that in Italy, as in Belgium, French and German soldiers are content to stare at each other across the border.
The French people have borne the brunt of this war. As in the Great War, France has lost more than a million men defending Europe. Her armies hold a line from the English Channel to Switzerland and from the Alps to the Adriatic, ever at the forefront of the fighting and ever plugging the gaps that open up when her allies falter.
Hitler spent much of 1943 attempting to break through Belgium, drawing troops from his defence of the Alps to try and punch a hole in the Allied lines. For a series of days German panzer divisions pushed back beleaguered British troops before French forces, marshalled by Maurice Gamelin, fell upon the German flanks, sending them reeling back across the Meuse.
Stalin still refuses diplomatic overtures. It seems that no one save the Germans know what is exactly going on across the Russian steppes. My hopes for a Russian invasion of occupied Poland dwindle daily.
In the Adriatic, my attempts to flank the German forces by moving through Yugoslavia are stopped by a single heavy tank unit. Week after week I’m thwarted by this lone Italian division left over from my conquest of the country. Curious, I check the commander – it’s none other than Major Erwin Rommel. Pulling back from the Yugoslav front to spare my men more causalities, I wonder what it was that Major Rommel did to make Hitler dump him into an Italian unit so far from the major fighting.
It is soon October and the rains have turned the frontlines of Belgium to muck and quagmire. Men sit in their defensive positions and begin to gloomily wonder if this war shall mimic the Great War of the past. German attacks are few and small, beaten back with only a few score of casualties. The British attempt a small-scale attack across the Meuse but are beaten back, no doubt slightly irritated that I refused to support their doomed assault.
Finally as February of 1944 rolls around, freezing the ground of the front lines, I’m given the bad news: France is out of manpower – the French people have given everything they can give and there are no longer any able-bodied Frenchmen available in high enough numbers to reinforce my troops. This effectively puts paid to any offensive actions I had planned. Now every battle with large casualties is a loss to France.
In the Pacific, the Americans report that their island-hopping is going well. In fact they’re only a small stretch of ocean away from the Japanese mainland. With such huge successes the US sees fit to ship a regiment or three of marines to the Belgian front. I imagine that the muddy, charred and blasted landscape of Europe looks very different to the claustrophobic jungle of the Pacific they grew used to.
Finally the US begins to show its military and economic might. I’m able to pull back French units as American ones take their place. Some of those relieved divisions have been holding their place for years, some since the start of the entire war. I place them in the reserves back in French territory to give them some well needed rest and recuperation.
German attacks mount in Gent and Brussels. Each leaves a few thousand dead on both sides. I have no idea how the German nation is holding up to such punishing losses but I know that should it keep up my units will dwindle away. The 1944 election sees the incumbent cabinet win once again, with a majority of 58%. With the war still balancing on a knife edge there is no time for political upheaval.
The summer of 1944 sees a sudden (and unexpected) flurry of punishing combat. All at once the Belgian front explodes in movement as both sides fling attacks at one another. Tens of thousands die and many more are injured. The French 51st, 61st and 75th Divisions force back a German assault costing the enemy more than 23,000 dead. It’s a huge blow for the Germans but one that can’t be capitalised on as more enemy divisions fill the gaps left behind. For a moment an American battlegroup pushes through the German lines, taking Rotterdam and Breda before it's attacked on all sides by experienced German divisions and is forced to pull back.
It’s a horribly tense situation as I watch my veteran divisions slowly lose men to this war of attrition. What’s worse is the news that nuclear reactors have been spotted in German territory. The frightening possibility of nuclear attack crawls ever nearer. The war must be won before that becomes a reality. Now more than ever the hopes of the Allies rest on the actions of the Soviet Union, which has been lazily annexing Asian countries since 1940. As 1944 draws to a close I can’t help but feel that one way or another World War Two will be stopped soon – though whether by me or Hitler I cannot tell.