- Dec 16, 2002
Where the Iron Crosses Grow
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Europe March 1939 - The Axis
This game is being played with the New Order events
Spring 1939 – The world holds its breath. The German III Reich under the leadership of its Führer Adolf Hitler has won a stunning series of diplomatic victories and thoroughly humiliated the French and British Alliance.
1936 - Rhineland and Spain
In the spring of 1936 the Rhineland was remilitarized, and the French did nothing. The summer of the same year, Spain descended into civil war. Germany and Italy backed the military rebels under General Francisco Franco with arms, supplies and materials, although no direct intervention took place. Germany also sent military advisers to the Nationalists, training their officers in accordance to Wehrmacht military doctrine. France and Britain, suspicious of the revolutionary anarchist and communist influence in Spain again did nothing. Within six months the Soviet-backed Government of the Spanish Republic had been defeated and a Fascist regime under General Franco installed in Madrid.
1937 - Strategy for rearmament
Now followed a lull during which Germany did not further antagonize the western powers. No new crises erupted for the whole of 1937, a time during which the German rearmament began to pick up pace. Given the limited resources of the German industry, Minister of Armaments Hjalmar Schacht opted for a strategy of quality over quantity, with no immediate increase in the size of the Army. Germany was also tirelessly working in the diplomatic field. The Foreign Commissar of The Reich, Count Friedrich-Werner von der Schulenburg was seen on numerous visits to Rome, Madrid, Budapest, Bucharest and Sofia and all of these capitals soon maintained the closest relations with the Reich. For the time being no attempt was being made to form any formal military alliances though. Consistent efforts were also made to keep Holland and Belgium neutral, countering French attempts to include these countries in a military alliance with Great Britain.
1938 - Anshclüss and Münich. Rearmament picks up pace
All of this changed in 1938. In March of that year, Hitler, with the tacit acceptance of Mussolini, pressed Austria mercilessly to accept a union with Germany, “Anschlüss”. Austrian Nazi leader Arthur Seyss-Inquart was finally appointed Chancellor, with German troops standing on the border threatening direct invasion. Austria fell without a shot and was declared part of the German Reich. The Austrian army was incorporated wholesale into the Wehrmacht, after a brief period of rearmament and reorganisation along German lines. The western powers were appalled but again did nothing.
At this point the German rearmament program was beginning to pick up speed. A project to double the effectives of the army before the summer of 1939 was announced by Hitler in a radio speech in April. Not mentioned in this speech was the increase of the Panzer Divisions from 3 to 8, to be equipped with the state of the art medium tank PzKpfw-IV Ausf G. Neither was the unrestrained growth of the Luftwaffe mentioned. The fighter units were being equipped with Bf-109E interceptors and Bf-109E-4/B “jabos” (fighter-bombers) while the bomber units were receiving He-111 medium bombers and Ju-87B Stuka dive-bombers. The Luftwaffe was designed as a close support air force, to work in close cooperation with the army. Although Junkers had developed a serviceable heavy bomber in the Ju-90 (also known, somewhat optimistically as the “Ural Bomber”) no orders were made by the Reichsluftfartministerium (RLM). The Kriegsmarine, on the other hand received little funding, and had to content itself with the upgrading of existing ships. Even the old WW1 vintage dreadnoughts “Schlesien” and “Schlesvig-Holstein” received new radar equipment. Only two new ships were being built at reduced speed, the battle cruisers “Scharnhorst” and “Gniesenau”.
During the summer, Hitler again raised the stakes, accusing Czechoslovakia of oppressing the German minority of the Sudeten, the mountain range encircling Bohemia, and demanding the incorporation of “Sudetenland” into the Greater German Reich (as the III Reich now styled itself, after the Anschlüss). This time, the French tried to counter German ambitions, trying to enlist Soviet support. Alarmed, a group of German generals begun to prepare an ousting of Hitler, to avoid Germany getting enmeshed in a suicidal war, but this plot was crushed as general von Stülpnagel was caught with incriminating documents by the Gestapo. Although von Stülpnagel bravely endured the tortures of the SS without incriminating his co-conspirators (Canaris, Halder, Klüge and others), the plot fell apart. The heroic general was shot on the eve of the Münich accord and the army had been firmly brought to heel.
In the end British suspicion against the USSR led the allies to enter into negotiations with Hitler in which the Czechs were not permitted even to take part. Concluding a shameful treaty with Hitler in Münich, the Allies decreed that Czechoslovakia must give up the Sudetenland or face war against Germany on their own. British premier Chamberlain returned to London, waving the treaty document and declaring “peace in our time”. The Czechs gave in and the month of September saw Sudetenland, with all its fortifications and easily defensible terrain annexed to the Reich. Czechoslovakia was now at the mercy of Germany.
Spring of 1939 - Fall of Czechoslovakia
The failed military plot might have given Hitler food for though, because he did not move again until the next spring, when the German rearmament program had advanced considerably. Using Slovak nationalist aspirations as a pretext, Czechoslovakia was broken up. Czech president Benes was summoned to Berlin and next to forced to sign a treaty in which Germany assumed a “protectorate” over Bohemia and Moravia. Slovakia would become a formally independent state, closely allied to Germany under nationalist leader Tiso. Hungary got a slice Slovakia too, signalling to the world that the relations between Admiral Horty and Hitler were very good indeed. Count von der Schulenburg had done a good job.
The Axis takes shape
Again the western powers failed to react, and in the wake of the fall of Czechoslovakia Germany extended its influence further, signing mutual defence pacts with Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. Franco irritated Hitler by turning down a similar offer of alliance. This was a major setback for Hitler, since a German-allied Spain would have presented France with a two-front war in case of war with Germany. But it was not to be. Wehrmacht experts advised Hitler not enter into a formal alliance with Italy at the time, since Italy would not be able to hold its own against British and French forces in Africa. A treaty of military access was concluded with Italy in lieu of an alliance.
The western Allies had scarcely collected themselves from the shock of these events when Hitler forced a recalcitrant Lithuania to secede the Memel region to Germany. It was the usual story: troops massing at the borders, threats of war and invasion flying… seeing the writing on the wall after the fate of Czechoslovakia, Lithuania gave in.
This is now: March of 1939. The German rearmaments program is its final stage. Will the Western Allies remain silent? Where will the volatile Hitler strike next? Can a war in Europe be avoided?