Author Topic: Opportunity Lost  (Read 3660 times)

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Opportunity Lost
« on: April 11, 2022, 03:26:35 AM »
Reposting story from an archived GB.

Opportunity Lost

On 12 March 1938, Hitler announced the unification of Austria with Nazi Germany in the Anschluss. Immediately thereafter he turned his attention to the ethnic German population of the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia.  In 1938, in a desperate effort to keep the peace, Britain and France agreed to German demands with the September 1938 Munich Agreement. US President Roosevelt supported Britain and France in this action. In March 1939 however, Hitler flouted the Munich Agreement by occupying the remaining portions of Czechoslovakia. In response, the British, supported by the USA announced their commitment to defending Poland, which many assumed Hitler would attack next.  They were not to be proven wrong.

1939-1941 European War

In September 1939 Germany invaded Poland, and France and Britain declared war in response. Though few Americans wanted to intervene in the war, an October 1939 Gallup poll showed that over 80 percent of the country favored Britain and France over Germany. Using this as a trigger and relying on an interventionist political coalition of Southern Democrats and business-oriented Republicans, Roosevelt called Congress into a special session to revise the Neutrality Act. Overcoming the opposition of famous aviator Charles Lindbergh and other isolationists, Roosevelt won passage of the revised Neutrality Act of 1939.  This not only allowed belligerents to purchase aircraft and other combat material from the United States, it would more importantly allow the use of US forces to support their use.  Roosevelt used this as the legal basis to deploy an American Expeditionary force to Europe.
That said, this force would not be a significant.  In 1939, estimates of the Army's strength range between 174,000 and 200,000 soldiers, smaller than that of Portugal's, which ranked it around 19th in the world in terms of size.  Similarly, its tank force, which had been originally created in the first World War had been allowed to stagnate throughout the interwar period.  Indeed, from the end of World War I to 1935, a total of 15 tanks were produced. At this stage, there was also no independent air force with the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) instead falling under control of the Army.  The US Navy was somewhat better prepared though still only a fraction of what other nations had having been constrained in part to international limitations on naval operations in the 1920s. Battleship production had restarted in 1937, commencing with the USS North Carolina, though this was still to enter service,  As such, the American Expeditionary Force as it was known, was only a small addition to the forces of Britain and France.  All up, the force would consist of a combined force of a single Infantry Division (the 2nd) and a single Cavalry Division (the 1st).  Supporting this would be the entire 2nd Wing of the USAAC which included some 15 Squadrons equipped mainly with a combination of Douglas B-18 bombers, Northrop A-17 attack aircraft and Seversky P-35 and Curtiss P-36 fighters.  It was hoped that this force would make a meaningful contribution.

During the so-called "Phony War," Roosevelt tried desperately to negotiate a peace, but Hitler was uninterested in such a possibility. Japan, meanwhile, grew increasingly assertive in the Pacific, which increasingly competed for US focus, a point incessantly highlighted by Roosevelt's detractors in the US.  The Phony War would come to an end in April 1940 when Germany invaded Denmark and Norway and more so in May 1940 when Germany invaded the Low Countries and France.
During the Battle of France the US units were spread evenly between supporting the British and French forces and thus suffered the same fate as they did.  By successfully implementing new blitzkrieg tactics, the Wehrmacht rapidly advanced to the Channel and cut off the Allied forces in Belgium, trapping the bulk of the Allied armies in a cauldron on the Franco-Belgian border near Lille. The United Kingdom was able to evacuate a significant number of Allied troops from the continent by early June, although abandoning almost all their equipment.  In the air, despite the valiant attempts by their crews it was obvious the the US aircraft were simply no match for the Luftwaffe.  Although US companies had new aircraft coming such as the P-40, P-38 and others they would be too late to see action in the Battle of France. 

USAAC Seversky P-35 somewhere over France, 1940

German troops using an abandoned American M3 Stuart tank for cover somewhere in France 1940 - American tanks were only few in number and were no match for the Panzer IIIs used by the Germans.

USAAC B-18s over France - these bombers were no match for Luftwaffe fighters.

Northrop A-17 of the 37th Attack Squadron USAAC somewhere over France.

The disaster in France significantly damaged Roosevelt's reputation back home.  The complete rout of Allied forces and the news that American forces had made no real contribution to the battle saw many criticising Roosevelt for a wasteful throwing away of American lives in a war that had nothing to do with the USA at a time when there were still domestic problems at home.

Never-the-less, US forces, primarily in the form of aircraft, though also naval ships such as destroyers, continued to be sent to reinforce Britain.  During the Battle of Britain (Jul - Oct 1940), USAAC fighters found themselves fighting alongside their RAF brethren and taking a toll on the Luftwaffe.  The first units to be equipped with new P-39, P-40 and even a couple of P-38s (the latter on combat trial having been rushed to the UK) all performed well thus re-earning some pride following the fall of France.

USAAC P-40 seen over the English Channel September 1940 - alongside the Hawker Hurricane the P-40 was seen as a solid performer though was able to be well matched by Luftwaffe BF-109Es

USAAC early YP-38 seen over southern England late 1940 - a small number of this fighter were tested in combat against the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain and performed superbly.

Election of 1940

The fall of France and the associated losses of American forces couldn't have come at a worse time for Roosevelt.  In the months prior to the July 1940, there had been much speculation as to whether Roosevelt would run for an unprecedented third term. As Germany swept through Western Europe and menaced Britain in mid-1940, Roosevelt argued that only he had the necessary experience and skills to see the nation safely through the Nazi threat. However the Democrat party's political bosses feared that this would result in a severe backlash against the party as voters associated them with the losses in France.

As such, at the July 1940 Democratic Convention in Chicago, Roosevelt was challenged by his former campaign manager James Farley and his Vice President, John Nance Garner.  It wouldn't really make any difference though as a few months later in November they were soundly defeated by a Republican Ticket of Thomas E. Dewey and Charles Lindberg who, acutely aware of strong isolationist and non-interventionism sentiment, promised there would be no involvement in foreign wars if they were elected.

President Thomas E. Dewey

The aftermath

Following the inauguration of President Dewey in late January 1941, it was quickly declared that US forces in the UK would be coming home.  The new US administration reached out to Germany and requested a ceasefire.  Despite the protests of the British Prime-minister Churchill, the news that the new US Administration intended to see the original Neutrality Acts reinforced and thus aid to Britain ceased, forced his hand.  In return, Hitler promised that Germany would never attempt to invade Britain. 

Months later in mid May, Germany launched Operation Barbarossa.  With no need to worry about its Western or Southern flanks the Wehrmacht was able to commit almost its full forces to the invasion.  Indeed, they were even joined by contingents from Britain and France who now felt that the chance to rid the world of Communism was a fight worth joining.  The subsequent war would be fought on a scale that was unprecedented.  Huge battles of encirclement at Kiev, Smolensk and eventually Moscow would see hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops captured.  By early September, Stalin had been defeated and the Soviet Union broken up.  The majority of European Russia was under German control with moves already underway to expand further East.

The German War against Russia was a swift one and avoided the dreaded winter that had crippled Napoleon's 1812 invasion.

Meanwhile in the East Japan had been watching closely.  With the Soviet Union no more and the territory it once held being in disarray, the expansionist Japanese Government saw that the time was now right to strike to satisfy the increasing demand for resources.  An alternate plan of striking south was quietly shelved especially given the fact that it would have necessitated a striking at the US in order to prevent any interference in the Pacific.  This was also underlined by the fact that because of the details of the US-German treaty signed earlier in the year, Germany made it clear that it would not support any war against the USA.

Thus in October 1941, Japan launched the first attacks from its territories in Manchukuo.  These initially made quick progress but by mid November the Japanese forces found themselves having to cease operations due to the Winter.

Imperial Japanese Army troops in East Russia December 1941

And so ended 1941.  If only things had gone differently...
All hail the God of Frustration!!!

You can't outrun Death forever.
But you can make the Bastard work for it.