Alternate History for Axis & Allies


  • 2016

    The purpose of this thread is to share the backstory that I am using in a home-brew, card-driven modification of the board game Axis & Allies, which I have discussed elsewhere. I thought the folks on this forum might have some interesting suggestions.

    The modification uses (for now) the HBG 1936 world map. The map is beautiful, but the choice of projection means that huge areas of the play area are irrelevant.

    Based on numerous playthroughs with my gaming group, I have revised the map so that we can include a greater number of participants and extend the fighting to parts of the map that are often disused. (Please note that these modifications reflect the play patterns and preferences of specific groups of people. They will not be appropriate for everyone.)

    I have tried to write the material in a unique style that simulates a 1930s radio newscast, so forgive the unusual tense.

    Credit to Dr. Mike Bennighoff of Avalanche Press for ideas on Greece and the Dutch. Much of the content related to naval issues is taken directly from “The Cherry Trees Spared,” a speculative history of naval treaty discussions on Changing The Times, an alternate history electronic magazine, author unknown.

    The Story

    The War to End All Wars did nothing of the sort. Even as all went quiet on the Western Front, Russia was still mired in a long, bloody process of unwinding that would drag on through 1922. The Greco-Turkish War opened in May 1919 and is still being fought. The Entente soon dissolved in acrimony as the three major Mediterranean powers � Great Britain, France, and Italy � squabbled over how best to divide both the nearly-spoiled German and fast-crumbling Ottoman pies.

    Thinking to head off a prohibitively expensive arms race between themselves, five great powers (the aforementioned trio, joined by the United States and Japan) convened in Washington, D.C. to reach agreement on how to apportion German�s High Seas Fleet. (In June 1916, British inspectors at Scapa Flow narrowly averted a plot by German Rear-Admiral Ludwig von Reuter to scuttle his storied command.) The delegates also discussed restrictions affecting naval shipbuilding.

    The negotiations achieved little in the way of tamping down rising tensions. Nor did they succeed in turning swords to ploughshares, as some had intended. Instead, the British achieved their aim of preserving the Navy List by agreeing to transfer the lion�s share of Germany�s fleet to the French � much to the chagrin of Italy and Japan. American acquiescence was secured only because Clemenceau agreed to immediately end his country�s occupation of the Rhineland.

    Over the next decade-and-a-half, the tonnage of the world�s major navies grew by leaps and bounds. Virtually all of it was devoted to battlewagons. Absent the imperative to reduce the weight of armor and guns and without a surplus of hulls requiring conversion, few design bureaus saw any reason to commission aircraft carriers. The sole exception was in Italy, where, following a state visit during which he observed British planes simulate an attack on an ex-German dreadnaught, Mussolini insisted that his navy build one of its own. Interest in submarine technology similarly waned amidst continuing enthusiasm for the all-big-gun warship.

    Fleets are expensive. When the global depression began in 1929, the pain was all the keener. Desperate for change, millions turned to the opiate of fascism. From Lisbon to Warsaw, military men promised to restore the dignity of the working man. First, they turn on alleged enemies within; then, on enemies without. War was once again made to seem glorious. It worked too well.

    In the West, tensions came to a head over the Abyssinia Crisis. When Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, the League of Nations did nothing. Within less than a year, the Italians pacified the country and installed their viceroy. Feeling that Mussolini�s ambitions must soon force his hand and urged on by critics in the fascist Mouvement Franciste, Albert LeBrun decided that he must act. With the backing of the British, who closed the Suez Canal, France blockaded Italian Africa.

    The French and British press predicted that Italy would take humiliation sitting down, but in a burst of martial ardor, Il Duce ordered Admiral Domenico Cavagnari, commander of the Home Fleet, to make steam for Tripoli. Fearing that a general melee would expose the weaknesses of the Regina Maria, Cavagnari opted to launch a surprise attack with the small air group borne by Italy�s lone carrier, Leonardo da Vinci. The admiral anticipated that his fighter-bombers would do only light damage, thereby salving Italian honor without provoking an invasion of Savoy. Instead, the Italians traded some two dozen aged biplanes for one battleship and the newest and largest cruiser of the Marina Nationale. Immediately, both sides lurched backwards. Terrified of French retaliation, Mussolini sacked Cavagnari even as the Suez was hastily reopened.

    The Tripoli Raid provoked a paradigm shift in thinking about the future of naval operations. Because huge investments had already been made in battleships and battlecruisers, only some of the major navies of the world were in a position to exercise the full range of their options. One immediate solution, at least, was to refit every warship with anti-aircraft guns. The British, Japanese, and Italians chose to build more carriers. The United States expanded an existing programme of airship construction, increasing the size and carrying capacity of new models so that they could serve as launching platforms for up to six fighters. The airships would act as sheepdogs for their precious capital ships. They would be supplemented by large numbers of land-based fighters and torpedo bombers. The Dutch pushed their existing lead in fire-control technology.

    Great Britain now strikes a conciliatory tone. Too many young men never came home after the last war. Whitehall, chastened by the Roman Affair, says it will seek to accommodate the �reasonable� ambitions of certain continental powers. The Opposition charges that British government is craven. Yet, still mired in economic depression and anticipating Japanese aggression in Asia, the Empire can ill afford another general conflagration in Europe � all His Majesty�s resources must be diverted east, to Fortress Singapore.

    Across the Channel, the LeBrun government has barely survived the backlash from one-time political allies who charge that he has betrayed French honor by failing to punish the Italians more sternly. But French coffers are empty, and the air force antiquated. French generals vacillate between assertions that they can easily sweep aside the Italians and disturbing confessions that, should they fail to do so, Hitler would surely pounce. Realizing that he must fend off pressure from his political right but in no position to sort out his army�s crisis of confidence, LeBrun has reversed French policy on Spain, opening supply lines to the Republican cause while at the same time ordering the Arm�e d’Afrique to the Libyan border in a deliberate show of force.

    In The Hague, a long-standing policy of austerity is being hastily abandoned � and none too soon. Fear of German and Japanese aggression has yielded an impressive expansion of United Netherlands naval and air power, and in the East Indies, a credible fleet (anchored by fast battlecruisers) takes shape to delay any task force the Emperor might send until the British arrive. Still, it is the army that will bear the brunt of action if war comes again to Europe, meaning that the French and British commitment are of utmost importance.

    In divided Spain, the Nationalists are on the offensive as the country convulses under the twin blows of Red and White Terrors. Rapidly consolidating his authority over the Moroccan Protectorate in early July, General Francisco Franco secured both Italian and German assistance � most critically, a commitment of 22 Junkers Ju52 aircraft to ferry his colonial troops to Seville. Now, with a string of victories behind them, these battle-hardened units drive toward Madrid, opposed only by a hastily-assembled and militarily ineffective Popular Front. Spain�s moribund empire has likewise fractured: Peru and Cuba have declared for the Nationalists while leftist officers have seized Puerto Rico and – with timely assistance from French Indochina – narrowly aborted a coup attempt in the Philippines.

    To the west, in Portugal, Ant�nio Salazar is coming to grips with the fact that his trans-Atlantic empire has seen better days. Ambitious rivals in Spain and Italy are accomplishing great things in the name of fascism, while Portugal can only leak at the seams. A recent naval mutiny has underlined the fact that not all Portuguese are reconciled to the Novo Estado � as if the Great Depression had not already badly damaged regime standing. Hundreds of thousands of Portuguese have departed Europe to try their luck in Africa and South America. As a result, Salazar’s secret police report that constitutionalism, and with it, the cause of independence, is winning adherents both at home and in Brazil, the jewel in Portugal’s colonial crown.

    Distance from likely adversaries has preserved the peace in much of Portugal�s still-extensive overseas empire, but the reactionary clique that recently seized power in Spanish Peru is reportedly sanctioning the intrusion of Spanish settlers into Portuguese territory. Meanwhile, neighboring Argentina has embarked upon a program of naval expansion that Lisbon will be hard-pressed to match. Worse yet, war has broken out in the Chaco, pitting Portuguese client Bolivia against Argentine-backed Paraguay. Bolivia is by far the larger and wealthier of the two combatants, but Paraguayan successes have been virtually unmitigated, requiring Portugal to subsidize the Bolivian war effort at a time when she must already spend heavily to keep the flag flying in Rio de Janeiro.

    German fortunes are once again at high ebb. Inch by inch, the Reich redeems the bloodlands of Mittel Europa, rejecting the conditions imposed at Versailles. Adoring crowds numbering in the hundreds of thousands hail the Fuhrer who promises them one thousand years of glory. Successfully staring down her Great Power rivals, who did nothing to arrest her increasingly warlike behavior, Germany has risen as a phoenix from the ash heap of the Great War, leading the Continent in industrial output and completing a comprehensive remilitarization. Now, the noose tightens around the necks of the old arbiters of European power. In October, Germany and Italy signed the Rome-Berlin Axis, a dagger pointed at the heart of the Mediterranean, while in November, Germany concluded Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan, squeezing the Soviet Union between them.

    For his part, Il Duce preens over the �imminent success� of the Nationalist cause in Spain. He speaks grandly of "eight million bayonets� that will punish French aggression, ignoring the acid remarks of a German minister who cautions that the Italians must remember to see that these are fixed to rifles. The attack against the French went very well indeed � so well that, after an initial fit of nerves, Mussolini sees no reason why fortune will not continue to bestow her favors. Like the Germans, the Italians have an axe to grind. From 1915 to 1918, they paid the butcher�s bill but gained very little for it. The Mediterranean is already a British lake. Italy has acquired a brace of new colonies in East Africa, along with the foothold of Adalia in Asia Minor, but it is clear to everyone, not least Mussolini himself, that even this is not enough. Noises from Rome suggest that Italy may soon make demands of Greece on behalf of the oppressed peoples of Albania, though it is in the Eastern Desert of Libya, against the Frenchman over the border, where the next great conflict will soon come to a head.

    Though it contributed little to the Entente victory twenty years ago, Greece has been fighting a war of its own � first against the Ottomans, then against the Turks. Deft diplomacy by the Greek king, Alexander, secured critical European assistance long enough for Greek armies to secure Eastern Thrace, Ionia, and Constantinople before pushing as far as Trebizond on the Black Sea. The war resulted in virtually complete achievement of Greek irredentist aims (the Megali Idea) by 1923 � but at a catastrophic cost in lives and money. Since that time, Greek troops, always too few in number, have struggled to stamp out Turkish resistance for more than a decade-and-a-half. The Greek economy is in freefall, with predictable results for her military: the army has little, the navy nothing, and the air force even less. Many conscripts arrive at their units without boots or rifles. More than half are not Greeks at all, but Armenians, Georgians, Jews, Circassians, and White Russians. Ethnic massacres are still commonplace, and neither Smyrna or Constantinople, two of the three most important cities in the Greek-speaking world, have yet been rebuilt. Greece cannot go on in this manner for much longer. Either she must have the renewed assistance of Britain and France, preoccupied by their own troubles, or else accede to the demands of the Italians and the Soviets and hope that their hunger is sated before too much is lost.

    Josef Stalin, having completed a years-long purge of the Soviet Union�s political, military, and intellectual establishment, is now minded toward expansion, both ideological and territorial. One day, Moscow arranges to sustain the Republicans in Spain; the next she plans an expedition into Sinkiang or sends the Black Sea Fleet to bombard Trebizond. Recently, the Kremlin began border negotiations with the Kalmar Union. Stalin�s pretext for demanding concessions on the Karelian Isthmus is fear of his neighbors� aggression. This paranoia has already been borne out in the Soviet Far East, where, as winter snows begin to fall, the Red Army has clashed with the Kwantung Army two hundred kilometers outside Vladivostok.

    The Kalmar Union, with its seat of government in Stockholm, is a modestly prosperous nation centered on the Baltic Sea. Although merely an observer to the cataclysm of the Great War, Sweden profited handsomely: when the Russian government collapsed, the Swedish Royal Army led White forces to victory in Finland, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. The fledgling states that then emerged hardly required the instructive example of the Polish-Soviet War to encourage mutual participation in a compact aimed at preserving their hand-won independence. Since that time, ongoing border disputes with aggressive neighbors in both Warsaw and Moscow have predisposed the Union to cooperation with Germany. Border skirmishes with the Poles tapered off following the death of Josef Pilsudski, but conscripts have been called up and military spending increased more than five-fold in the last year as the Soviets talk of revision. Recalled from holiday in India, Field Marshal Baron Carl Gustaf Mannerheim has been tasked with strengthening the line of fortifications that bears his name.

    The Japanese are the great wild card of these halcyon days. In less than a half-century, they have risen to challenge European power in the Orient, defeating the Tsar in a short, sharp war and then thrusting deep into the rotten heart of China. Chiang Kai-Shek�s Nationalist armies won him his first great victory of the war at Tai’erzhuang in April, where he marshaled more than a quarter-million troops, but it is far from clear that the Kuomintang can sustain this momentum.

    The Japanese now have a choice to make. Do they take advantage of Russia�s distraction in northern Europe to redress the loss dealt them at Lake Khasan? Will they pivot west, finishing what they started in China? Or will they heed the encouragement of a growing clique of young officers and strike out for Manila, Batavia, and points south and east?

    Amidst this disorder, the United States slumbers. President Roosevelt’s has been unable to convince his countrymen that much is at stake beyond their two shores. Even as the number of “incidents” with Japan rises steadily, it appears that the U.S. will stand by as the world burns�


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