• I’m a pretty big fan of alternate history and I read as many of them as I can find, plus writing a few of my own. My two favorites are Third Reich Victorious and its companion book Rising Sun Victorious. They are made up of 10 separate stories which explore different ways (and turning points) at which each of the two could have won the war. The stories were complied by Peter G. Tsouras who includes one story of his own to each book as well as being the editor of both.

    While I love both of these books, at times some of the stories make me want to pull my hair out and on at least one occasion has gotten a book thrown across the room! There a several ways they manage this but it comes down to 3 different things.

    1. Inconclusive or lack of “Victory”
    A couple of them do this, where a battle or operation ends with out any real clear cut winners. Best example, story 6 from Rising Sun called Samurai down under, which details a Japanese invasion of Australia. In short, Port Morseby falls, America doesn’t land at Guadalcanal, and the Japanese land at Charters Towers in Queensland. Japan’s plan is to create a number of enclaves on the Australian coast as far south as Brisbane in an attempt to force Australia out of the war (I think, they don’t really mention the over-arching strategy here, like the end purpose, but hey “willing suspension of disbelief” and all). Japan brings Yamashita in as over-all commander and meet with initial success. However, several of the landings go badly, Japan fails to take Brisbane and a number of the enclaves are quickly isolated (rather then becoming mutually supportive of each other, which I think they were supposed to) and later destroyed. Yamashita’s command in Charters Towers gets bottled up and is then outflanked by the Americans (finally) landing at Guadalcanal in 1943, and is joking called by the allies “Japans Tunisia”. How the hell is that a victory for Japan? The title of the books are Victorious not Doing slightly more then we did Historically. On the German side they have the story of Germany getting the bomb early in 1944 and nuking Moscow and London. However this doesn’t result in a negotiated peace but rather has the Allies nuke Berlin later that same year! Again I ask, how the hell is that a victory?

    2. Disappearing Armies/Forces
    This one really bugs me and more then a few (especially in the German book) do this. Story 5 in Third Reich, The Hinge Alamein to Basra, details a German victory in North Africa. The author makes mention numerous times about the disparity in forces between the two armies, especially about how Rommel was down to 37 tanks to the British 150. Things go slightly different with Rommel not turning north to help the 90th light infantry but pressing through the British left and out flanking their position (oh and Gott takes command of the 8th army instead of Monty). The Brits are routed and fall back past Alexandria, splitting the 8th army in two direction, with the 7th Australian, 18th Indian, and New Zealand divisions, falling back south towards Cairo, while the rest head for the canal. After receiving reinforcements Rommel pushes for the Suez canal while detailing the 90th light and some Italian forces to block the British units defending the line with Cairo. After reaching the canal Rommel easily brushes aside the royal engineers and captures the bridges over it intact. As he presses into Palestine he faces no organized resistance, only colonial troops and some police battalions. My question, where the hell did the rest of the 8th army go? Where are the 1st and 7th Armoured divisions along with all the British formations that weren’t mentioned falling back towards Cairo. No mention is made of them surrendering to the Germans, they weren’t cut off and encircled (the New Zealanders were but fought their way out and to Cairo) SO then where the hell did they go? There is mention of casualties(and the loss of about 50 some-odd tanks) but not on the level of an entire army being wiped out, in fact detailed mention is made of their retreat and their seizure of civilian transport to help facilitate it. If a portion of the 8th Army fell back on Cairo, then logically one would have to assume the rest headed for the canal zone (which I think is mentioned) and would cross it into Palestine. Yet when Rommel arrives, they’re gone! In another story covering a Soviet offensive at Kursk instead of a German one, the author mentions that the Soviets have amassed over 6,000 aircraft in 3 air fleets to support and cover their operations. However, during the height of the battle the Luftwaffe manages to destroy the Soviets 1st tank army in the open. What happened to those 6,000 aircraft in 3 air fleets? I mean if you are going to mention them and not include their activities in the battle fine, I get that. But you can’t have a key component of the battle then be effected by these forces and not account for those 6,000 aircraft!

    3. Too Crazy to work
    These are usually stories where there is no chance in hell of the plans detailed ever actually working. One such story (not included in the Rising Sun book) is a Japanese invasion of North America with them seizing Victoria Island and Seattle in the process, a German invasion of Britian without the defeat or destruction of the Royal Navy or the RAF (its like they just show up or something?). They are annoying because they have broken the “willing suspension of disbelief” by going way over the top with their ideas. Another book called “The Moscow Option” comes to mind with a glaringly obvious and massive plot hole appearing in the first chapter and kinda of tainting the rest of the book (though the book is still pretty good).

    Third Reich Victorious and Rising Sun Victorious are still two of my favorite books despite these problems and i’m not trying to bash them too hard and I would and do strongly recommend that if you get the chance to check them out.

  • 2021 2020 '19 '18 '17 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    Interesting topic.  I guess that a book called “Rising Sun Does Marginally Better” wouldn’t have had as much sales appeal as one titled “Rising Sun Victorious”, even if it described some of the content more accurately.

    I’ve never read the two books you mention, but I too would have major problems with the plausibility issues you mentioned.  I’m fine with suspension of disbelief as long as it’s not stretched so far that it becomes suspension of rational thought.  This is a problem that happens in lots of movies and TV series: you’re watching the story unfold, and then you think, “Hey wait a minute…why didn’t they think of this obvious solution to their problem?”  Or, “Why would the bad guys set up the perfect plot, then go out of their way to do something incredibly stupid which creates an opportunity for the good guys to defeat them?”  The answer in both cases is: Because otherwise the story the writer wants to tell would fall apart.  A lot of writers in this situation take the gamble that if they make the story interesting enough and keep things moving fast enough, the viewer won’t notice the plot holes.

    Proper alternate-history scenarios, or counterfactuals, are supposed to be plausible.  They’re not supposed to make outrageous assumptions.  One of the best and most interesting books along these lines that I know about is: “What If ? - The World’s Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been”, edited by Robert Cowley.


  • 1. I’ve read both books and I agree with the first point you make, that some scenarios like Australia, or the Kamikaze offensive, basically change the course of WW2 but the Allies are still victorious at the end. I guess a point could be made that for the Allies they would accept nothing but unconditional surrender after 1942, so in that sense Germany and Japan are victorious because the Allies didn’t achieve their aims.

    2. A bit nit-picking perhaps? Just because they aren’t mentioned doesn’t mean they stopped existing, it’s just a matter of tying the ends. If the author wants Rommel to reach Egypt, then it would have come up with a plausible story for their disappearance. Maybe they surrendered. Maybe the formations just lost all coherence and control.
    The disparity in numbers and skill between the Luftwaffe and the Red Air Force was always present, from the start of Barbarossa. The Soviets had 13,000 planes at the start and they were crushed - the number of planes is irrelevant, unless you can command and control them in a useful manner, otherwise they are nothing but expensive toys.

    3. I have read The Moscow Option as well - what’s the major plot hole to you?

    Another nice one by Tsouras is 'Hitler Triumphant" - it has 11 scenarios, some already done but differently, while others new, from an invasion of Gibraltar, Italy going for aircraft carriers on the 30s, Italy not joining the Axis and remaining neutral (and ‘winning’ by being avoided destruction, the 6th Army breaking out of Stalingrad and the Allied landings being defeated.


  • @CWO:

    One of the best and most interesting books along these lines that I know about is: “What If ? - The World’s Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been”, edited by Robert Cowley.

    I have read a few of these books and I agree they are always very well written.

    @Hobbes:

    2. A bit nit-picking perhaps?

    I suppose it is a bit of a nit-pick on my part, but I think the author could have easily included a simple line clarifying what happened to the aforementioned forces. I simple “and their retreat disintegrated into a route with total loss of cohesion as an effective force” would have been all it took. I think leaving loose ends like that is just sloppy writing on the authors behalf.

    @Hobbes:

    3. I have read The Moscow Option as well - what’s the major plot hole to you?

    Perhaps plot hole is a bit too strong a word, but it broke my “willing-suspension-of disbelief” right out of the gate. The very concept that the 2 Soviet army groups, the Southern Front (comprising the Kiev and Ukrainian military districts) and Bryansk Front, sat and waited while the Germans charged into Moscow was a bit too hard to believe. Both of these formations were still relatively intact and could muster an impressive 1.5 million men, thousands of artillery guns, tanks and motorized transport. The fact that no one in STAVKA, or that Stalin himself, wouldn’t have placed an higher priority on defending Moscow over the Ukraine is just ridiculous to me. Also the book points out how large the flank of the German position would have been but that somehow 2 corp of the German Heer, stretched over a hundred miles of front was all it took to keep these formations in check. To me, claiming that the Soviet authorities wouldn’t have frantically thrown everything they could have in to the front of the German push on Moscow, or the flank of a German bulge, is unrealistic as during the war the Soviets did just that. Claiming the STAVKA, or Stalin especially in this case, wouldn’t have striped the two army groups down to a skeleton force to blunt the charge on Moscow, or ordered one of them to charge into the over extended German flank even unto their own destruction asks the reader to suspend disbelief too much. Again, a bit of a nit-pick I suppose, but when it is the set0up for the entire book and is the mcguffin the drives the rest of the story forward, it kind of taints the rest of the story for me. Again, a simple line stating that Army group south and center were then required to lock the two aforementioned Soviet army groups in combat to prevent just that, was all it would have taken to keep me on board.


  • @Clyde85:

    @Hobbes:

    3. I have read The Moscow Option as well - what’s the major plot hole to you?

    Perhaps plot hole is a bit too strong a word, but it broke my “willing-suspension-of disbelief” right out of the gate. The very concept that the 2 Soviet army groups, the Southern Front (comprising the Kiev and Ukrainian military districts) and Bryansk Front, sat and waited while the Germans charged into Moscow was a bit too hard to believe. Both of these formations were still relatively intact and could muster an impressive 1.5 million men, thousands of artillery guns, tanks and motorized transport. The fact that no one in STAVKA, or that Stalin himself, wouldn’t have placed an higher priority on defending Moscow over the Ukraine is just ridiculous to me. Also the book points out how large the flank of the German position would have been but that somehow 2 corp of the German Heer, stretched over a hundred miles of front was all it took to keep these formations in check. To me, claiming that the Soviet authorities wouldn’t have frantically thrown everything they could have in to the front of the German push on Moscow, or the flank of a German bulge, is unrealistic as during the war the Soviets did just that. Claiming the STAVKA, or Stalin especially in this case, wouldn’t have striped the two army groups down to a skeleton force to blunt the charge on Moscow, or ordered one of them to charge into the over extended German flank even unto their own destruction asks the reader to suspend disbelief too much. Again, a bit of a nit-pick I suppose, but when it is the set0up for the entire book and is the mcguffin the drives the rest of the story forward, it kind of taints the rest of the story for me. Again, a simple line stating that Army group south and center were then required to lock the two aforementioned Soviet army groups in combat to prevent just that, was all it would have taken to keep me on board.

    Interesting. I’m not an expert at all, but from my readings there are a few factors that again might explain it.

    1. In 1941 Zhukov was highly skeptical of the abilities of an armored blitzkrieg breakthrough and instead focused in ‘Deep Operations’ - so one explanation would be that those Fronts weren’t moved because Zhukov expected the German thrust to falter (to me the plot hole would be to explain how Army Group Center was supplied, due to the difficulties felt, and the effect that it would have on the other Army Groups).
    2. The Soviet armies massed on the Ukraine were to be the ‘offensive component’ of Zhukov’s plan to defeat Germany by bringing the fight German soil. Thus Zhukov might as well have kept them in place to sweep Poland after the main German thrust was defeated.
    3. Stalin believed that Hitler’s goal would be Ukraine and other industrial areas rather than Moscow. And when Stalin ordered the removal of the factories to the East that took priority over troop movements (also coupled with transport movements for the deployment of STAVKA’s Strategic Reserve.

    As you mention, instead on the book both Fronts remain on their positions without any explanation - perhaps a good one would be that Zhukov was gambling for the German advance to Moscow to stall before unleashing them West. Then it would be the turn for Army Group Center to be encircled and destroyed.

  • 2021 2020 '19 '18 '17 '16 '15 '14 '13 Moderator

    I have read the Newt Gimgrich and William Forstchen  what if Gettysburg trilogy. Could not put them down.
    Loved reading about generals I knew in a different context, but am aware is not WW2.

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