The Year of the Masters of War
Part 12: Alliance Warfare, September 25 – December 31, 1944
Of all the challenges of war, one of the most frustrating ones is that of alliance warfare. As allies rarely let their formations be commanded by each other except in extraordinary circumstances or relationships, the frequent result of waging war alongside someone is an incredible amount of bickering. This bickering covers strategy; the conduct of war; the ends of war in both its meanings, that is what the purpose of war is and how it should end; and just about everything else under the sun. There is no such thing as an easy alliance at war. There are workable alliances, but rarely are they actually easy ones, however well alliance members can on occasion manage to work together. Then there are dysfunctional, unworkable alliances. These generally tend to drag down the stronger members to the level of the weaker ones by being forced to bail them out of bad situations time and again, thus diluting strength all over the place.
The Italian-German alliance was not an easy one. It was not a particularly functional one either. Its original purpose had been to increase Italian domestic tolerance for international expeditionary adventures around the Mediterranean to increase the span of the Italian Empire. It was also hoped that, with Germany being the more worrisome partner in terms of upsetting the European balance of power, Italy would be able to hide behind Germany and essentially act with impunity, the entire world focused instead on the apparently greater threat. By 1941 this had all fallen to pieces when Germany declared war on the Soviet Union and promptly proceeded to not invade that latter country successfully. They instead sat in eastern Poland and Latvia staring eastward and claiming that there were too many Soviet troops for them to move anywhere. Anywhere, that was, except where there were weaker parties to beat up such as the Swedes and Norwegians and Finns, all at the expense of the Eastern Front. They even sent troops southward to Illyria in early and mid-1944, undoubtedly because they knew that they would be safe there, making a gesture while being protected by Italian operational skill. It thus came as a complete surprise to Mussolini and indeed all the Italians when, at the end of the Balkan campaign in late September, the Germans immediately began moving yet again. At first it was all a bit unbelievable, but they were not going home to Germany, nor to any other fronts. Instead, they were pushing northward out from Dacia, and eastward across the Bosporus! A veritable flood of German formations were actually moving against the Soviet Union. Albeit not against any Soviet formations; they were only moving because on those two fronts there was a complete absence of Soviet troops. They were all heading into a vacuum.
Those crazy Germans, streaming eastward as if they were some sort of torrent or something.
German contributions to the Balkans and their subsequent march eastward, of course, had to come at a price. That price was paid by the Eastern Front. There, the Soviets gained sufficient confidence in their numerical superiority to launch an offensive in the south, pushing into southern Poland which began achieving results by late October in terms of recovering and even taking territory. They even managed to achieve some sort of minor pocket, possibly destroying a small number of German formations. Meanwhile, in Anatolia the Germans had already advanced past Ankara and were sweeping along the southern coast just behind. The Germans also exploded out of Dacia to sweep across the considerable spaces of the Ukrainian steppes. They crossed the Dnepr at its southern bends and closed the isthmus to the Crimea. This sudden energy puzzled and surprised the Italians, who had simply planned on remaining on the defensive for the remainder of the year while forming plans for further action against the Soviet Union. Instead, Mussolini did not even have them dig in but instead kept them back and scattered across Dacia and Thrace for rest and recreation. He was going to let the Germans carry the brunt of the war, albeit only for a few short months. The Soviets were still slow in reacting to the debacle of the Balkans, and only in November did Soviet formations begin appearing to face the Germans in Ukraine and Anatolia. Mussolini still had command of several German formations and, not particularly caring much for them, sent them on what was essentially a suicide mission northward from Ukraine to the German shelf in Poland. They got as far as Rowne before being encircled and destroyed, resulting in the destruction of sixteen German divisions totaling about one hundred and forty-four thousand men. Mussolini didn’t care. They were only Germans, after all.
The Germans, doing Mussolini’s work for him in some ways.
A number of other German troops under Italian operational command, being closer to Germany than to potential doom in Ukraine or elsewhere in the Soviet Union, Mussolini simply sent back to Germany in the hope that German units under operational Italian command might actually achieve something on the Eastern Front. By late December, these units were partaking in a few battles in southern Poland, where the situation had for the Germans deteriorated even further. The Soviets had reached Slovakia and had conquered what probably amounted to a fourth of that country already. They were generally hitting the Germans hard and pushing them back as well. Inexplicably, the Persians appeared once again and even conquered a town for themselves, which is simply mind boggling. There is no explanation for this.
For the better part of three years, the Italian-German alliance was something of a drag on Italian strategy. After all, the Italians had to conduct and will likely have to end the war the Germans had started mindlessly. However, in the last three months of the year, the Germans actually began doing something again (the first time being Finland in the first three months of the year). They indeed pushed the borders of the Italian Empire back to nearly where they were at the beginning of the year in Anatolia, and far beyond them in the Ukraine. However, the trade off for this was an ongoing reversal in southern Poland which the Soviets might or might not remain capable enough of to turn into something greater than it already is. The Italians were still undecided on what their strategy for the forthcoming year should be. The future was as murky and unknown as ever.