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Plan Z:
Long War Timeline

By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
April 2016

The German Navy’s Plan Z for the construction of a huge surface fleet had no chance of coming to fruition in the course of the Second World War. At least the Second World War as we know it. Since gamers want their Plan Z ships, we had to come up with a plausible course of events that would have allowed Germany to build such a fleet. And that became the setting we call The Long War.

The first project in The Long War is Second World War at Sea: Plan Z, our massive supplement for Second World War at Sea: Bismarck. The Long War is a “crossover event,” as they call it in the world of superhero comics, and it will eventually include both Second World War at Sea and Panzer Grenadier items in its lineup. The Second World War in this alternative history started a little later than the one we know, with Germany concentrating on defeating the Soviet Union first while the Western democracies looked on in hopes that the two totalitarian regimes would destroy one another. Instead the Germans finish the Soviets and turn on the West, with much better weapons than was the case in our 1943. But the democracies have not been idle in the intervening years, either.

Here's a look at the timeline leading up to our Plan Z scenarios:

March 1939: Lithuania cedes Memel region to Germany.

April 1939: Poland and Germany renew their 1934 Non-Aggression Pact. Germany is allowed to annex the Free City of Danzig and build an extraterritorial railway and Autobahn across Polish Pomerania (the so-called “Corridor”) to East Prussia. Germany guarantees Poland’s borders.
Note: The Poles of our reality refused this offer, setting Adolf Hitler on a course for war.

August 1939: Poland signs the Anti-Comintern Pact. Germany agrees to provide production licenses for German aircraft engines and Czech tanks. The Soviet Union is not pleased.
Note: The Poles of our reality refused this offer, too.

September 1939: Lithuania signs the Anti-Comintern Pact. German training missions begin work with Lithuanian Army and Air Force units. The Soviet Union is not pleased.
Note: Lithuania likewise refused this offer in our reality, but Polish acceptance would have made it hard for the Lithuanians to say no.

November 1939: Soviet demands for naval and air bases in Latvia, Estonia and Finland are met with staunch rejection. Expecting compliance, the Soviets are not really prepared for war but the Red Army lurches over the borders anyway on the last day of November.

December 1939: Finnish and Estonian forces score major victories over the invaders; the Latvians continue to resist but are pushed back towards Riga. Britain and France condemn the Soviet attack and promise aid, but deliver little. Germany begins large-scale materiel assistance to all three countries.

January 1940: Soviet troops finally capture Riga, but the Estonians hang on to Talinn with the help of a Swedish division. More Swedes pour across the Baltic in the weeks before the sea ice becomes too thick for travel even with icebreaker assistance. The Finns continue to offer stout resistance. Sensing Soviet vulnerability, German troops begin filtering across Poland to assembly areas near the Soviet border.
Note: Finland had reached the end of her strength by February 1940, and would have needed active Swedish assistance to hold out until the spring thaw allowed the Germans to take advantage of the Soviet quagmire in Finland for a full-scale invasion of their own.

February 1940: An unseasonably cold winter helps the Finns, but also limits the ability of German aid to reach them. A German airlift brings the 22nd Air Landing Division to Helsinki to encourage continued resistance.

March 1940: Estonian resistance finally collapses. The Finns reject Soviet peace overtures and continue fighting. A second German division arrives by air, but the Germans still have not entered actual combat except for fighter squadrons flying with Finnish markings.

April 1940: Ice finally begins to break on the Baltic, and Swedish troops and materiel assistance arrive in Finland. Two more German infantry divisions arrive by sea.

May 1940: German, Polish and Lithuanian troops invade the Soviet Union. German armored spearheads strike north toward Leningrad and the Finnish front, east toward Moscow, and southeast toward Kiev.
Note: The Soviet Union was always the prime target of Adolf Hitler's schemes of conquest. German armored/motorized formations would have been much smaller without the captured French trucks that helped move them in 1940, and their tanks would have been much less capable. But on the other hand, they do get to start closer to their objectives thanks to the alliance with Poland, and also, only two prototypes of the T34 existed in May 1940.

June - August 1940: The Axis armies capture several million Soviet prisoners and occupy large swaths of territory, but new Red Army formations keep appearing at the front. The war is little discussed in Western Europe or North America, and with Britain and France at peace and no effects on American trade or shipping, Franklin D. Roosevelt decides not to seek a third term as president.

September 1940: Gen. Ion Antonescu, with covert German aid, overthrows King Carol II of Romania. Romania joins the Axis powers and sends two armies into the Soviet Union.
Note: Romanian oil fueled the Axis powers, and would have been just as necessary in this timeline.

October 1940 - May 1941: Axis armies continue their advance, isolating Leningrad, linking up with the Finns and overrunning most of Ukraine. Soviet resistance stiffens in front of Moscow, and a counteroffensive throws the Germans back from the capital during the abnormally cold winter.
Note: One reason the Germans were unprepared for the winter campaign of 1941-1942 was the unusually low temperatures recorded that year. The same weather pattern had been the case for the previous two years. There’s no reason to think they would have had any fewer winter troubles in 1940 than in 1941.

June 1941: Operation Barbarossa opens, a massive Axis offensive aimed at securing the iron and steel of the Don Basin and the oil of the North Caucasus. Two Italian armies add their strength to the Axis order of battle.
Note: Nazi strategic objectives would have been no different a year earlier, but much greater Italian participation would have been possible with no fighting taking place in Africa or the Balkans.

July - November 1941: The Axis overruns all of Ukraine and the lower Volga region including Stalingrad and Astrakhan. Leningrad and Murmansk fall. Japan enters the war, and Japanese troops capture Vladivostok and Nikolayevsk, and break the Trans-Siberian Railroad.
Note: The American embargo on sales of metals and oil to Japan came after the Japanese occupation of French Indo-China, which has not yet occurred in this history. Tensions are high, but the Japanese do not yet feel restrained from acting to help finish off a badly wounded Russian bear and U.S. President Garner is not interested in foreign entanglements.

December 1941 - March 1942: Red Army infantry formations continue to fight fiercely in the war’s second winter, but this time there is little change in the front lines.

April – July 1942: Moscow falls and the Soviet government flees to Kuibyshev. Stalin refuses to consider peace talks, but soon receives a fatal dose of nitrous oxide during a routine dental exam. His successor, Andrei Zhdanov, sues for peace, yielding much of the western Soviet Union including the Caucasian oil fields. The Soviet state survives, but in grossly reduced conditions – a Polish garrison occupies Moscow - and forced to yield up its armaments and factories.

August 1942: German troops occupy Denmark and Norway. The Danes offer little resistance; the Norwegians fight fiercely but are unable to overcome the two-pronged offensive from north and south, with Murmansk providing a very useful base for the German Kriegsmarine. Responding to this unprovoked aggression, Britain and France declare war on Germany but cannot prevent Norway’s fall.

September 1942: Battle-hardened German panzer divisions erupt through the Ardennes forests into Belgium and France. While the French Army has introduced large numbers of new tanks over the past two years, they are outclassed by the German Panzer IV with its long-barreled 75mm gun and the former Soviet T-34 tanks used by many German formations. Combined with German experience gained in two years of armored warfare, the result is never really in doubt. By late October France requests an armistice. Sensing opportunity, Japan attacks American, Dutch and British colonies in the Far East.

March 1943: Britain remains defiant, but the new battleships and carriers of the German Kriegsmarine now have secure bases in Norway and France from which to isolate the United Kingdom from its Empire and its trading partners. This history’s version of the Battle of the Atlantic is ready to begin in earnest. This will be a very long war.

How likely were these events? Not very; the genocidal madness of Adolf Hitler and his regime made sure of that. The Nazis started the war, waged it and lost it all according to their twisted ideology. But this series of events would allow Nazi Germany to build and operate the large surface fleet foreseen in Plan Z.

Click here to order Second World War at Sea: Plan Z right now.

Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.