A new book, Hitler Triumphant: Alternate Histories Of World War II, sets out the 'what-ifs' of crucial moments of the Second World War. Credit: PTsouras

History

Hitler Triumphant: The Alternate Histories Of WWII

A new book explores the 'what ifs' of WWII's big moments …

A new book, Hitler Triumphant: Alternate Histories Of World War II, sets out the 'what-ifs' of crucial moments of the Second World War. Credit: PTsouras

The great 'what if' of the second world war has been something society has pondered in different ways almost continuously from the moment the conflict was declared over in 1945.

Generally, 'what ifs' have tended to focus on Hitler winning the war instead of the Allies, with ponderings finding a home in the conversations of conspiracy theorists, the plots of big-budget television shows and even academic study. However, while the focus has been chiefly around the black and white matter of Nazi victory, other significant events have been side-lined in the discourse around alternative WW2 histories.

A new book has set out to explore these other instances where the balance of Allied success hung in a position of tension. Those events are charted in Hitler Triumphant: Alternate Histories of World War II, with the consequences of such outcomes explored to their ends.  

The 'what ifs' covered in the book include those involving an early counter-invasion of Europe by the Allies in 1943. Credit: P Tsouras

What if Winston Churchill's plane had been shot down and Halifax became Prime Minister? Or what if Hermann Göring had taken power after the successful assassination of Adolf Hitler? What if Italy had not aligned with the Third Reich and instead joined the Allies? These are some of the possibilities explored in the book, edited by Peter G Tsouras.

In a series of essays written by notable historians, Hitler Triumphant offers a taste of the dreadfulness that might have befallen Britain during the darkest days of the Second World War.

The book charts a series of essays written by notable historians in the field of WW2. Credit: P Tsouras

One of the essays explores the knock-on effects of Winston Churchill dying in a plane crash while en route to France in the early days of his premiership.

May 22, 1940

Gunther Ahlberg could not believe his luck. As his Messerschmitt 109 fighter broke out of the grey bolster of cloud over Calais at some 8,000 feet, the bright spring sunshine yielded a magical scene to his feasting eyes. The blue counterpane of the Channel lay smooth and unruffled, reflecting the clear, sunlit skies above it - empty except for the flight of aircraft winging south-west some thousand feet below him. Three of the new English Spitfires, plus a civilian Dakota lumbering along between them. The fighters were clearly an escort, and, equally clearly, his duty must be to attack the civilian plane- whoever was on board must be important to merit such a trio of shotgun riders. All of these thoughts coiled through his mind in a couple of seconds while instinctively he was already preparing for the attack. Flicking the gun control into the 'Auf' ('on') setting, he banked the yellow and black camouflaged plane, gazing out of the long cockpit at his prey. Astonishingly, despite the clear conditions, they had not seen him yet, and he had the elements of height and surprise on his side plus the rising sun behind him to cancel out their advantage in numbers. He was - how had they called it in World War I?- 'the Hun in the sun'. He smiled grimly, then tilted his stick forward to commence his attacking dive. 

Ahlberg struck lucky. The first machine gun bullet that entered the Dakota's cockpit killed its pilot. The rest of the burst, though they found targets too among the cockpit crew and the instruments, were redundant, as the Dakota, with its pilot hanging insensibly over his controls, his life's blood gushing out across his instruments, began its steep and irreversible dive towards the gulping sea, carrying with it Britain's Minister of Defence, his staff, its crew and the hopes of a desperate nation as it careered down, down, down. 

Appeasement to the Nazis is investigated in an essay looking at the untimely death of Winston Churchill. Credit: P Tsouras

If this had actually happened, it would have been one of the most significant days of the entire twentieth century. 

Jones' essay continues, telling us that Lord Halifax was informed of Churchill's death within 40 minutes, and that somewhat reluctantly, he picked up the baton of replacing a Prime Minister who had himself only just replaced Chamberlain. But does such an event lead to appeasement with Germany? This is the question Jones' work answers.

Other 'what ifs' include the capturing of Moscow and the Fall of Malta. Credit: P Tsouras

Another 'what if' explored in Hitler Triumphant is the Allied invasion of Europe occurring a year earlier than it actually did, in 1943.

In this essay, historian Dr Stephen Badsey, a senior lecturer in the Department of War Studies at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, underlines Hitler's biggest mistake in declaring war on the United States a week after Pearl Harbour, highlighting its catalyst-characteristic in bringing the Americans to Europe.

Badsey reveals his imagined take on Europe's early liberation, codenamed Operation COCKADE, detailing the planning, personalities involved and ultimately, its failure, in stunning detail. 

September 1943

The first Allied troops to land in France at the start of operation COCKADE were 505th Parachute Infantry of 82nd Airborne Division, jumping just after dusk at 9:00 PM on September 8 from their aircraft over the rugged plateau just five miles inland from Cherbourg and West of its main road. Winds and clouds were reasonable, a three-quarter moon provided enough visibility, enemy anti-aircraft fire was light, and most of the regiment made it down safely. Next, the leading brigade of British 6th Airborne Division dropped to the East of Cherbourg, with the objective of seizing Maupertus airfield and knocking out the coastal batteries in the area. Barely 300 transport aircraft were available, and this had led to two hair-raising Allied decisions: first that the airborne assault should take place simultaneously with night bombing of targets all across the Cotentin, and second, that there should be three airborne landings that night, with the same aircraft returning at 1:00 AM, bringing with them the remainder of 82nd Airborne Division including gliders with heavy weapons, and again at 6:00 AM, just before dawn, bringing the remainder of 6th Airborne Division with their gliders …  

… At first, and despite their anxieties, the Allies achieved considerable surprise. Shortly after midnight, a listening post in southern England reported that 'a German coastal artillery subaltern on the far shore had been heard calling his captain on the radio to ask if anybody knew what all the fuss was about', just before all transmission from that battery ceased. But as the first reports of Allied paratroopers came in, the Luftwaffe directed its night-fighters into the Cotentin and as the second wave arrived many of the Me 109s and Me 110s broke through the RAF escorts. Most of the unarmed transports scattered in self-defence, almost one in five were shot down, and those Paratroopers who managed to jump, some from burning aircraft, landed spread far across Normandy. To their eternal honour, the surviving transport crews returned at dawn for a third attempt. Total losses among the Paratroopers were over sixty per cent, and of 200 gliders fewer than 50 made it down intact. Leigh- Mallory protested to Eisenhower at what he termed the futile slaughter of two fine divisions. An epic air battle that would rage by day and night for the next 72 hours had been joined. 

Hitler Triumphant: Alternate Histories of World War II is edited by Peter G Tsouras. Credit: Greenhill Books

The negativity expressed in this snippet at the start of Jones' faux history continues, battle-by-battle, until, ultimately, the big push to recapture Europe from Hitler's grasp fails. The Allies are forced to withdraw from Cherbourg back to England before the winter months of 1943. This leads to fragile relations between the big three of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, resulting in consequences to the broader Allied effort.

But does this lead to an eventual Hitler victory? Would something as straightforward as invading Nazi-occupied France in 1943, instead of 1944, really lead to something so drastically different in the war's eventual outcome? These questions are answered in Badsey's work.

Other scenarios explored in Hitler Triumphant include the fall of Malta in 1942, a successful Stalingrad breakout, and Moscow's capture by the Germans in 1941, all of which are told by historical experts with clarity and detail. The book includes a series of maps accompanying the what-if explorations and several images, some of which rarely seen.

 

Hitler Triumphant: Alternate Histories Of World War II, published by Greenhill Books, is available now.