Chapter 5: InfernoFebruary 19th, 1942
Wolfsschanze, near Rastenburg, Prussia
"I see. Yes, thank you. Good work."
Forst set the phone down. It was early morning, and Hitler, as he tended to do, was sleeping late, and few people were around, save for a few aides, the bunker and buildings were quiet.
He looked at the massive map table and moved some of the unit designations to match what he'd just heard:
The call he had just received had been the news that he'd been waiting for. The two pincers of Operation Taifun had linked up. Inside were at least 24 Soviet divisions, including armor divisions - and, if intelligence was correct, Stalin's latest general and his entire staff. Soon, as soon as the pocket was cleaned up, the Germans would launch Operation Taifun II, the capture of Moscow.
He hoped the rains wouldn't be as bad this spring. Once they were done, his troops could move faster. He had few worries about Moscow - there were few troops with guns and almost no tanks left to defend it. But the Soviet Union would not fall with Moscow. No, they would need to be pushed back, perhaps as far as beyond the Urals. Yet he could feel it now. The Russians were broken. They had attacked too soon, many of their industries still not beyond the Urals, and now the Germans had them. The Soviets would sue for peace or Germany would push them beyond the Urals and use the new bombers coming online to smash everything they built to so much rubble.
- - - April 3rd, 1942
Near Wexford, Ireland
Conrad Beck watched as the press-ganged Irish laborers nudged the body, flipping it over and watching for a grenade or other booby trap. Nothing. The Irishmen picked the body up and tossed it into the waiting truck for later burial.
They should have known better, Conrad thought. A few militia, probably armed by the English, taking on four divisions, and one of them a panzer division...
...No, that hadn't been smart at all. These Irish were like that - braver than they were smart. Well, now they were brave and dead.
One of the Irishmen doing the detail suddenly straightened, coming up with a gun that had been under one of the bodies. He swung it to bear on Conrad, but the German already had his MP40 up and pointed with combat reflexes that had been honed against well-trained British troopers. The man barely had the submachine gun - ugly model, Conrad thought irrelevantly - turned in his general direction before Conrad hit him with a long, chattering burst. The Irishman gave a burbling scream and fell, twitching a few times before Conrad put another burst into him.
"Dummkopf!" he snorted, then motioned to the other workers with his gun. "Work," he growled, and they grabbed the new body and tossed it on top of the old. Brave, but stupid.
- - - May 7th, 1942
Stalin sat gloomily in the dark room. Moscow had fallen. He'd almost waited to long - he'd sworn to stay in the last, and in the end, had had to be flown out, his small two-seater plane hugging the ground as closely as it could at night, trying to avoid the buzzing 109s that sometimes even prowled at night.
He was tired, and he wasn't sure the others with him - most of whom had left before he had, he had noted with morose pride and anger combined - realized how much of a blow the loss of Moscow had been. In the Soviet Union, all roads, specifically, all railroads, led to Moscow. And now it was in German hands. They would be here soon, he thought. Probably. Or perhaps they would swing south and capture what remained of his southern forces.
He couldn't even shoot the idiot general who had managed to get himself and almost the entirety of the center of the Red Army captured. Privately, and for once, Stalin admitted that it probably wouldn't have been fair to. The man had maybe a third of the numbers of the Wehrmacht facing him, and almost no air cover.
Stalin, General Secretary of the Soviet Union, sat in a darkened room and wondered what he should do.
- - -
May 8th, 1942
Churchill sank into a chair, feeling faint. "Are you sure?" he asked the young intelligence officer who had brought him the message.
"Yes. Quite sure, sir. The report is coming from Leningrad now, as well as Berlin."
"I see. Thank you." He paused for a moment, then said quietly "You may go."
The young man - Churchill didn't know his name, left, and Churchill turned back to his visitor, the former president.
"Are you going to be alright?" FDR asked, wheeling his chair closer to the table they had been sitting at.
"It's this heat," Churchill said. "Well, this heat and bad news like that. I had placed too much hope in the Russians."
"Not the only ones who let you down," Roosevelt said, his voice tinged with bitterness. "I had hoped that the people of the United States were wiser."
"I suppose they considered that it wasn't their fight," Churchill shrugged. Roosevelt had done what he could for Great Britain, had sold them destroyers and weaponry for leases on bases, had done as much as he could, in fact, right up to the day Charles Lindbergh had moved into the White House. And now he had come to India, to commiserate with a friend. But Roosevelt still had his home to go back to.
"It will be their fight," Roosevelt said. "That's how I see it."
Churchill shrugged. "Probably not. Probably not. I read his book, you know."
"That piece of rubbish?"
"Well, yes, it is that. But he wants Russia. Lebensraum,
they call it. I must admit, I'm starting to wonder if I shouldn't have perhaps let them have it."
Roosevelt was silent at that, and there was silence at the table, until Churchill thought to bring up the considerably more cheerful subject of what a difficult time the Japanese were having keeping China pacified.
- - -May 8th, 1942
Moscow, Occupied USSR
Hitler scuffed at the ashes in the street, still falling from the sky as buildings burned. The Soviets had tried to blow up most of the administrative buildings, but the Kremlin and St. Basil's Cathedral had been mostly spared. Perhaps they thought they would get them back. Hardly.
"The city will have to be torn down," he said, speaking to his entourage. Forst wasn't there, instead back at the Wolfsschanze planning the next two operations. "But not completely."
That caused some raised eyebrows, but the Fuhrer's thinking on the matter had changed over time, and with conversations he'd had with both Forst and Speer. Speer had wanted to preserve the architecture, and now that he was here, Hitler had to agree that some of the buildings - the old Czarist ones, of course - had some grandeur. Forst, on the other hand, had just stared at him in disbelief when he had mentioned the idea of leveling the city.
"That is not funny," the man had said, in apparent horror. "Not even as a joke. Do you know that every railroad in the whole damn country goes through Moscow? Am I to have our troops laying rail as they go? Perhaps I should have our panzers pulled by sled dogs through the snow?"
And that had been that. So the Germans would pull down the buildings the Russians had burned or demolished, which was most of them, and they would occupy the rest for administration and as a depot. The population was mostly gone - fleeing through German lines or already fled. That was good, too.
"They are weak." Hitler said, almost to himself. "Just one more good kick and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down."