September 1938: The Gathering Storm

While the default scenario, starting in 1936, allows the player much time to prepare for the onset of World War II, starting in 1938 sets you on the brink of all-out war, with brushfires already burning and little time left...

Redoubling their efforts against Ethiopia, the Italians defeated and annexed this mountainous African kingdom, and added it to their growing empire. Il Duce (Benito Mussolini) began to look elsewhere for conquest. Japan continued to struggle in China, its military government having come to power in a coup, and then having launched an invasion of Shanxi on a pretext (the Marco Polo Bridge Incident), and found itself at war with most of China. Having failed, initially, to sweep across Nationalist territory, the Japanese even opened a second front at several points along the coast, including in Cantonese China (Guangxi Clique).

General Franco, in Nationalist Spain, continued to lead the fascists in the Spanish Civil War, having received the aid of German and Italian fighting troops and air squadrons against the Soviet-supplied Republicans. He had consolidated his territory, and now marshaled his armies against the centre and east of Spain.

In central Europe, Hitler had re-militarized the Rhineland (the industrial Ruhr valley was critical to German rearmament plans), made the construction of a modern army and air force known to the world, and annexed his homeland of Austria. These illegal (according to the Treaty of Versailles) acts agitated the democracies of western Europe, and a few far-sighted leaders began sounding an alarm that many others failed to hear. It was widely acknowledged, among westerners, that the Versailles Treaty that ended the Great War had been far too harsh, and what Germany’s totalitarian government was doing was seen as a logical “readjustment” of what had been – perhaps something that would even bring more stability to Europe!

These opinions were widely shared in the United States, where even President Roosevelt’s Ambassador to Great Britain, Joseph Kennedy, looked favorably upon what the Nazis were accomplishing against the typical economic stagnation of the Great Depression.

In the Soviet Union, one dictator looked warily upon the rise of another, practically “next door,” but nevertheless saw that some common ground could be found.

Much was uncertain in 1938. Many things had the potential to happen, but it was difficult to predict what would be… What choices will you make to steer the course of the world?

September 1939: Blitzkrieg

No more time to plan – it’s war!

Adolf Hitler had come to power on an anti-communist platform, railing against the Comintern, and warning that communists would take over Germany if his Nazi party were not elected. Nothing, then, shocked the world more thoroughly than Germany’s conclusion of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact – a non-aggression pact between Germany and the Soviet Union: two powers long thought to be intractable enemies.

Mere weeks later, the world would learn of yet more surprising secret clauses within the treaty.

In the short months before September, 1939, Hitler’s audacious, heavy-handed diplomacy had delivered first the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia (and most of her protective fortifications), then the whole of that country into his hands. Encouraged by unrivaled success, he began to make noises about the Danzig Corridor, where he wanted his neighbor, Poland, to be forced into giving up her only access to the sea. This became his excuse for war.

Meanwhile, Italy had annexed tiny Albania, and stood in alliance with Germany, though not taking immediate action to join her in war with the great powers of Europe. What trouble would Mussolini stir up while the world watched, fixated upon Germany?  What adventures would Josef Stalin embark upon, now that he was free of worry about the threat Germany might have posed?

Moreover, what opportunities might Japan see, now that the owners of south Pacific colonies were preoccupied with Europe?

Would fascism sweep the world? Could Hitler even be beaten?

As Germany launches itself into Poland, stunned governments in London and Paris agonize about whether to carry out their obligations to the countries of eastern Europe. It’s your opportunity to take charge and determine the future of Europe!

June 1941: Barbarossa

As most of Europe and northern Africa has fallen into the hands of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, as the British people stand isolated but resolute in opposition, and as the exiled governments of Europe desperately pray for the restoration of their homelands, Hitler is about to launch his most audacious doublecross...

In September 1939, German armies utilizing Blitzkrieg tactics had first crushed the outclassed defenders of Poland in six weeks. The British and French remained quietly, at first, sheltering from the might of Germany behind the Maginot Line’s walls of concrete and the English Channel’s walls of water. Aerial sniping went on, and great ships on both sides rose and fell upon the fortunes of war. But, for the most part, the Allies kept their options open, feeling powerless, and somehow hoping it would all be over with the surrender of Warsaw.

His mind freed from worry along the shared Polish frontier with Germany, Hitler’s neighbor Stalin turned his attention to expanding Soviet borders by whatever means necessary. Mere months after she occupied eastern Poland, as allowed by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Stalin’s Red Army invaded Finland, beginning the Winter War. Finland fought with unexpected ferocity, and the Soviets were initially repelled. Eventually, the Russians wore the Finns down, and peace was concluded with large sections of border territory exchanged. Emboldened by this victory, Stalin forced territorial concessions against Romania, and against the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Then, in the spring of 1940, Germany stormed into Denmark and Norway with commandos and paratroopers, thereby securing access to the Baltic Sea, and shielding its important trade routes with iron-rich Sweden.

Soon after, Blitzkrieg hit the “low countries” – Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg became their route around the flank of the Maginot Line into the heart of France. British and French defenders were powerless against the onslaught. The Allies were effectively defeated within two weeks, and soldiers scrambled onto evacuation transports at Dunkirk and elsewhere, desperate to save themselves as the rest of France fell and Great War veteran Marshal Pétain arranged a separate peace which allowed him to set up a collaboration government in Vichy. Much of France’s colonial empire declared with the Vichy government, while some refused. In the Far East, the Axis ally of Japan agreed to “protect” French Indochina, while things got sorted out in Europe.

In the face of Hitler's series of stunning victories, only the United Kingdom stood steadfast against him. Germany attempted to destroy Britain’s Royal Air Force with precision bombing attacks, and then relented in favor of bombing cities with the intent of lowering British morale. In the end, this became Germany’s first defeat – in the RAF’s “finest hour” they caused the Luftwaffe so many casualties that the Battle of Britain became unsustainable as a daily campaign. Sporadic strategic bombing continued throughout the war, later coming to include even Germany’s high-tech rocket weapons, but after the summer of 1940, Hitler gave up on invading across the English Channel, and turned his sights elsewhere.

The North African theatre of war was an interesting sidelight to the campaigns in Europe. British General Montgomery fenced with German Field Marshal Rommel across the desert sands of Libya and Egypt. This became one of the longest running back-and-forth campaigns of the war, and one of the earliest moments of decision came when Rommel besieged a British enclave at Tobruk, which held from April until relieved in November 1941.

Even while the German army prepared to invade her erstwhile ally, the Soviet Union, her other major ally’s blundering aspirations drew Germany south. Having invaded Greece from her base in Albania, Mussolini’s Italian troops found they’d taken on more than they could handle. Fearing Greece could be used as an airbase by Britain to attack his Romanian ally’s oilfields, Hitler ordered the invasion of uncooperative Yugoslavia in order to secure a path to Greece. These two victories, culminating in the spectacular capture of the island of Crete by German paratroops, buoyed Axis confidence in her own military prowess. But as they say, pride cometh before the fall...

Having delayed his offensive into Soviet Russia, it wasn’t until June that Germany massed its army groups for a surprise offensive into the USSR. Complete surprise was on her side, and yet this ultimately became Hitler’s biggest mistake.

Which side will you choose to play on the steppes of eastern Europe, and how far will you get? Which general will you be in the sands of North Africa? What military hardware will you build that will give you the edge over your mortal enemy? Only you can decide victory or defeat in these famous campaigns!

Dec 1941: Day of Infamy

The die is cast, with a desperate gamble... Who will prevail in the east?

By 1941, Japan’s situation was becoming desperate. Her war in China was hopelessly bogged down. Her reserves of oil and steel had dwindled in the wake of embargoes by the United States and other powers. Those who knew the situation determined that she had only months to go before continued warfare would be impossible. With likely stalemate looming, Japan set an audacious course toward possible victory.

The German invasion of the USSR in June had borne much fruit by the autumn, having yielded major victories, hundreds of thousands of Russian captives, and territorial conquest of most of Belorussia and the Ukraine. But weather had closed in, stalled their offensive, and it was only beginning to recover as frigid temperatures descended upon the steppes of Russia. On December 2nd, the German invaders had reached to within 25 kilometers of Moscow, but their offensive froze hard along with the ground in the deep of winter, and they paused to await the Soviet counterattack.

Meanwhile, standing alone against the terror of Nazi Germany, Great Britain was increasingly hopeful that the United States would come to its aid. Sympathetic American President Roosevelt tried to lead his country toward war. He did not succeed, yet he was able to involve the United States in a number of actions which straddled the borderline between neutrality and aggression – among them the sale of arms to Britain, the Lend Lease Act, “neutrality patrols” where US destroyers would escort shipping bound for English ports, and even later the seizure of Axis shipping in American ports. These were half-measures, from one perspective, but were also very bold in their own way. By the spring of 1941, US Navy escort vessels were engaging in limited combat with German U-Boats, and in May American aircraft assisted in the search for the battleship Bismarck. In October of that year, the first American casualties of the Battle of the Atlantic drew the US closer to war with Germany. Ironically, the actual spark would come from the opposite direction.

Japan’s masterstroke was meant to destroy the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. While they did sink or cripple all of the American battleships present, they failed to catch the aircraft carriers, which had left port with their escorts earlier in the week. They also neglected to deliver follow-up attacks which many historians believe could have knocked Pearl Harbor out of the war for months. But the attack staggered the United States, and yet angered her people and built a resolve to persevere.

Simultaneously, Japan struck seemingly in every direction at once. Troops came ashore at Wake Island, New Britain and Guam, and later elsewhere in the south Pacific and East Indies. Japanese troops surged into Hong Kong. Landings were made against American bases in the Philippines. After Japanese bombers sunk two of Britain’s most powerful warships, they landed troops in Malaya, which hurried south to attack the British fortress of Singapore from the landward side, where they had few defenses.

The stunned Allied military forces in the Pacific faced Japan’s unexpectedly strong military might with a collection of scattered, rag-tag defenders, and a decentralized command split between multiple countries. The remnants of the US Asiatic Fleet joined with elements of the Royal Dutch and Royal British navies to oppose the Japanese invasions when and where they could. Obsolete American submarines slipped out to do what they could. And so did the paltry survivors of the United States Army Air Corps, most of which had been destroyed on the ground. But it seemed too much to hope that these outclassed, outnumbered warriors could stand a chance against the well-organized Japanese onslaught.

Soon, Germany and Italy were at war with the USA, and U-Boats were prowling the eastern coast, turning American tankers and merchant vessels into funeral pyres within sight of the shore. But Prime Minister Churchill was eager to welcome a powerful new ally into the fold against her mortal enemy, and Britain, at least, breathed a sigh of relief.

Will you choose the challenge of the battered giant, recovering from a sucker-punch but determined to take his revenge? Or will you try to out-do your historical predecessors, delivering a clever war plan superior to those that proved insufficient before? Will you attack at Pearl Harbor, or save your forces for other battles? Better still, will you catch the American aircraft carriers at anchor, and sink them? The fate of empires is in your hands!

Feb 1943: The Tide Has Turned

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... There comes a moment when the fortunes of war seem to have shifted. Now is that time! But is the shift for real?

The Axis had seemingly extended its grasp far and wide.

In the Pacific Ocean, Japan held firm to almost all of the land it had taken since the Pearl Harbor attack. She was no less dominant in China. New Guinea was mostly in her hands. Her soldiers fought the British in Burma, threatening to push into India. A vast swath of the south and central Pacific was dotted with Japanese-held islands and atolls. The Imperial Japanese Navy roamed these areas, practically unchallenged.

Germany had begun to erect an “Atlantic Wall” to prevent invasion of Europe along a long line of captured coastline. Parts of the wall were concrete and reinforced steel, with minefields and heavy artillery. But the wall was more of an idea – like the Iron Curtain – a daunting barrier one feared more than anything to cross. Behind it, none in Europe but neutral Sweden and Switzerland remained outside of the sway of fascism. Beyond it lay the vaunted German Wehrmacht, which no one could best.

Indeed, while the American, British and Free French invasion of North Africa, in November 1942, had thrown the Vichy collaborators and Italian defenders out of most of Africa, and while Montgomery’s army had chased the tail of the German Afrika Korps out of Libya, the enemy was cornered now, behind defensive lines in Tunisia, and the Germans remained formidable foes.

And yet, the Axis seemed to have lost steam, and had drifted toward stalemate. Germany had proved not to be undefeatable. In the east, despite a wildly successful drive toward the Caucasus in the summer of 1942, the German thrust had stalled again in the winter, and been met by a punishing Soviet counteroffensive that severed the 6th Army’s spearhead, isolating them in Stalingrad, and pressing the rest of the German and Romanian armies back, away from any hope of rescuing them.

In the north, Leningrad had held against the Germans, despite long months of bitter siege. The near-fatal grasp of Nazism had been prized away from the gates of Moscow, and the Russians prepared to capitalize upon the effective elimination of a whole Axis army by mounting a more general offensive.

In the Pacific, Japan’s invasion attempt against Port Moresby, in New Guinea, had been turned back by an amazing US achievement – dueling carrier air groups in the Coral Sea had left both sides bloodied, but the Americans had won a meaningful strategic victory.

Then, the United States had taken the initiative against a Japanese invasion planned for Midway, which had been discovered through signals intelligence and cryptoanalysis. The Americans sunk four of Japan’s six fleet carriers – putting an end to Japanese air and naval dominance irretrievably.

Now, the Americans have gone on the offensive, and have landed in the Solomon Islands chain at Guadalcanal. The Japanese have been defeated, and are pulling back to other islands in the Solomon chains.

Stalingrad is about to surrender. The Germans are cornered in Tunisia. The Americans have gained their first offensive victory in the South Pacific. Is the tide of war really changed, forever? Or will you seize victory from the jaws of defeat?

Jun 1944: Götterdämmerung

With armies closing in from all directions, all signs are that the Axis countries are collapsing, though they are not yet powerless to defend themselves. The war is far from over, the ending not yet written...

After first securing the rest of the Solomon Islands, and continuing to advance across New Guinea, American marines landed at the Japanese-held island of Tarawa in November 1943, suffering a level of casualties that set the pace for later operations, but which forced the Americans to re-evaluate their strategy and settle upon an “island hopping” campaign which would leave some heavily defended islands in Japanese hands, bypassing them in favor of more strategic islands which would help to stage the next advance.

Though bypassing some islands, the US captured a number of less defended island chains in the spring of ’44, then mounted the bloody invasion of the major Japanese base of Saipan in June. The associated naval Battle of the Philippine Sea cost Japan another three aircraft carriers and hundreds of planes and pilots. Saipan would be a stepping off point to invade the Philippines later in 1944.

In Africa, the German perimeter at Tunis was finally breached in May 1943, and a surrender secured. From there, General Patton led an assault upon the beaches at Sicily in July, which led to the invasion of the boot of Italy in September. Struggling northward slowly, fitfully, and with many casualties, the Allies finally captured Rome in June after first making a risky amphibious landing at Anzio and having to defend the beachhead for months against heavy pressure.

The invasion of Italy caused turmoil which first removed dictator Benito Mussolini from power. The usurpers announced a peace with the Allies, then later declared war upon Germany. But German commando Otto Skorzeny freed Mussolini from captivity, who then declared the Italian Social Republic and vowed to continue the war on the side of the Axis.

On the eastern front, the frustrating and costly defeat of a German summer offensive at Kursk has surrendered the momentum of battle on the eastern front to the USSR, and the Soviets continue to push the Germans back toward Berlin. The former Polish frontier was first crossed in January 1944, and the reconquest of the rest of the Ukraine and Belorussia continued. The borders between combattants have nearly returned to where they were before the German invasion in 1941.

Allied strategic bombers have stepped up their devastating attacks upon Axis targets in Germany, Italy and Romania. And now, the Allied armies have also returned to France by landing on the beaches at Normandy. It was a costly venture, but they’ve established a beachhead. It is not yet secure. To survive, they must capture more seaports, which will allow desperately needed supplies to flow in and fuel the breakout.

Yet, time may be running out, because the German secret weapons program is bearing fruit. Buzz bombs and V-2 Rockets are pummeling British cities, jet fighters are beginning to regain some of the advantage they’d lost against the Allied bomber formations, and German heavy water experiments, which might lead them to build an atomic bomb, may or may not have been successfully sabotaged.

Will the Allies liberate Paris soon? Will they reach the Rhine, and press on beyond it? Who will reach Berlin first, or will the Germans be rescued by a strategic victory, or by their secret weapons programs? Will the USA capture islands near enough to Japan to begin a strategic bombing campaign? If so, will they use the A-Bomb, or will they invade? Is there any way Japan can still win? Again, these questions are left to your creativity as a strategist – the future is yours, to seize as you will!