Gotterdammerung: The Twilight of the Gods
Wargaming WW2 beyond May 1945 by Charles Dickinson
(part one - Land Warfare)
There is a long standing fascination with historical 'what if' scenarios in popular as well as SF fiction. One only has to consider the success of books such as Fatherland to recognise that we remain intrigued by the possibility that the Second World War might not have ended as it did. The purpose of this article and the following one on the air and sea war is to give some ideas as to how the major armies would probably have been equipped and organised if the war had continued beyond May 1945. I will try and give some ideas for both the option of the war dragging on slightly and also that of Nazi Germany surviving as in Fatherland.
Germany undoubtedly held the lead in the technology and tactics of land warfare, her big weakness was that she could not produce enough war material to turn back the allied tide. Interestingly, Germany did not suffer significant manpower shortages unit near the end because of the superbly organised reserve and replacement system she developed after WW1.
Infantry: German infantry were equipped with the most effective weapons of any combatant. German troops were issued with the first General Purpose Machine-guns (MG-42), the first assault rifles (Sturmgewehr 44), the first disposable anti-tank rockets (Panzerfaust) and were issued with the very first practicable infra-red night sights during the last days of the war. Any alternate history scenario should recognise that at the squad level German troops were equipped to a level similar to most modem armies and would have a significant advantage in firepower over almost all opponents in 1945-7.
Armour: at the end of the war Germany possessed a marked qualitative advantage over British and American tanks and a still significant edge over Soviet tanks. The main German tank was the superb Panther, an ideal balance of firepower, speed and armoured protection. Although Allied tanks were coming into service that would have equaled the existing Panther G, a new model was scheduled for production by mid 1945. This model, the 'F' possessed several advances. It had a new, much better protected, turret which mounted a stereoscopic range-finder, the first in a production tank. It was also scheduled to receive the 88L71 main tank gun already fitted to the King Tiger and capable of killing the heavy Soviet JS2 at long range. It was to receive several more minor improvements such as thicker roof armour and armoured ammo bins to increase reliability and survivability. Some Panthers had already been fitted with an experimental infra-red night fighting system which did see limited service. The Panther was also to be the basis for a self-propelled AA vehicle, the Coelian Flakpanther, armed with, initially, twin 37mm Flak and later twin 55mm Flak (the post war Soviet 57 mm AA system was a direct development of this).
The second most common tank was the Panzer IV. This had been in service since 1938 and, although heavily upgraded during the course of the war, was now at its design limits. However the chassis was still suitable for conversion as a self-propelled gun with a heavier weapon mounted directly in the hull. In this role the Panzer IV would have seen several more years service, particularly as the Jagdpanzer IV, a heavily armoured tank destroyer armed with the same potent 75L70 gun so effective in the Panther. The Jagdpanzer IV was due to be the standard tank destroyer in Panzer units and was also probably going to be the standard assault gun to replace the increasingly obsolescent StuG III series.
The other major tank destroyer was the Jagdpanther, a Panther with the long 88 in a hull mounting. It is likely that this would have remained in production even if the Panther F had entered service as it was easier to produce and was still extremely effective in it's role as a heavy tank destroyer. The same comment goes for the Jagdtiger, a tank destroyer version of the King Tiger. The King Tiger would probably have remained in production as the heavy tank units it was assigned to were primarily assault or spearhead units where it's heavy armour gave it a role over the lighter Panther. Like the Panther the King Tiger was subject to continuous development throughout it's life and was due to receive a stereoscopic range-finder system from mid 1945.
A general observation on German heavy tanks... Much emphasis is placed on the super tanks such as the 150 tonne Maus but it should be borne in mind that the Panzer troops and their commanders (as opposed to Hitler) always rated mobility and firepower over armour in any of their designs. If one considers the post-war Leopard it was much more agile than either the Chieftain or M60. Therefore any 1946+ army should avoid large numbers of the monster tanks.
Finally, what about the 'poor bloody infantry' or 'Landser'. The German army had come to the conclusion that the towed conventional anti-tank gun was obsolete.. If the weapon was powerful enough to do the job it was too heavy to be manhandled easily particularly in the Russian mud. They responded to this is several ways. The first answer was to make he guns self propelled and this is the reason for the plethora of light SP vehicles on a vast range of chassis. This was viewed as a stopgap and the infantry were to receive the fully armoured Hetzer as their standard tank destroyer and assault gun. The second response was the production of the 'Pupchen' hi-lo pressure gun, a light weight 88-mm low velocity gun firing a hollow charge round. It had the advantage of mobility without the back blast signature of recoilless and rocket weapons. Needless to say the German infantry would have been generously equipped with Panzerfaust and Panzerschreckt man-portable weapons.
On a more exotic note the Germans were starting to experiment with the first guided weapons. The first was a wire guided air to air missile, the X-4, but an anti-tank version, the X-7, was being developed and was the basis of the post war systems such as the Soviet Snapper and Swatter and the French SS10 and SS11. These early systems involved 'flying' the missile to it's target rather like a model airplane and were very vulnerable to counter tactics and, if radio controlled, to jamming. If deployed they would probably have been used in both vehicle and ground mounted systems. It is also possible they would have been deployed on the early helicopters the Germans had developed.
Other Equipment: the Germans were becoming increasingly unhappy with the performance of their armoured half-tracks that were viewed as under powered and insufficiently mobile compared to the Panther. The small Sdkfz 250 series was due to be dropped in 1945 and its role carried out by the larger Sdkfz 251. This in itself was to be replaced by a fully tracked AFC based on the Czech Pz 38(t) chassis already used for the Marder and Hetzer SP guns and which was to become the basis for most German light armoured vehicles. Short of peace though the Sdkfz 251 would probably had remained in production and in service in much the same way the modern American M113 supplements the much more complex Bradley IFV.
Organisation: there were few major organizational changes in the pipeline other than the substitution of new equipment for old. German infantry units would probably have remained heavily dependent on horse power for the duration of any war at least until any large scale conventional combat had ceased. In the background of Robert Harris's 'Fatherland' the partisan warfare on the eastern front one would probably have seen a gradual increase in the level of motorisation of all units. This would have first encompassed reconnaissance elements and the anti-tank units then the prime movers for the artillery. Only when the transport needs of the Panzer forces had been completely filled would the infantry have been likely to receive trucks to replace horses in their logistics units. The Germans would also have been likely to maintain cavalry units for the partisan war as much of it took place in inaccessible terrain such as the Pripet Marshes and the immense forests of White Russia.
The Panzer units would probably not have changed radically. Rather they would have been increasingly outfitted in line with Heinz Guderian's ideals. The main changes for gamers would be that the Panzer Regiment would contain two battalions of Panthers and possibly a third battalion initially of assault guns (Jadgpanzer IV or just possibly Jagdpanthers) but eventually these too would have been Panthers. The Panzergrenadiers would have received increasing numbers of half-tracks to mechanise first one battalion in each regiment then to fully mechanise the entire division. Jagdpanzers would have equipped the tank destroyer battalion and would probably have been issued to the anti-tank platoon in each panzergrenadier battalion, especially if it was mechanised. The anti-tank battalion would also have been the unit receiving any guided missile vehicles, mounted on the same chassis as the jagdpanzer. The reconnaissance battalion would have received the scout variant of the Pz38(t) and it's infantry would have been mounted in APCs. They would also have received Sdkfz 234/1 and /4 eight wheeled armoured cars armed with 20 mm auto-cannon and 75 mm Anti-tank guns respectively. The 'Puma' variant with the 50 mm gunned turret was only produced in limited numbers and although an excellent armoured car was regarded as too lightly armed by the end of the war. Incidentally, the Germans avoided arming their post war armoured cars with anything heavier than a 20 mm gun because the Puma tended to have been used as a surrogate tank and not for scouting duties.
The Western Allies
The problem with presenting the allied forces in an extended WW2 scenario is that we are very familiar with much of the equipment. Most weapons brought into service after the war were simply wartime projects brought to fruition. This said one could still try to point out what features of a 1945-7 Allied army would differ from the WW2 forces with which we are familiar.
Infantry: judging by post-war equipment neither the British nor Americans were going to change the standard infantry weapons. In both armies the standard rifles and machine-guns remained in use until the mid 1950s when everyone standardised for NATO. At a purely cosmetic level the British army would have replaced the unreliable 'Sten1'sub-machine-gun with the 'Patchett' and 'Sterling' SMGs which is still in use today.
A more important change would have been in the anti-tank weapons issued to troops. Like the Germans the Allies had realised that towed anti-tank guns were getting too cumbersome and this produced a number of solutions. At the platoon level the 2.36" Bazooka would have been replaced by the more powerful 3.5" version which historically first saw action in Korea. It is likely that the British army would also have used the 3.5" to replace the PIAT. To replace the anti-tank gun the Allies had developed a range of recoilless weapons firing hollow charge warheads. By the end of the war the Americans were deploying 57-mm and 75-mm recoilless rifles mounted on man portable tripods and jeeps. The Americans were also developing 105mm and 155-mm recoilless field guns of which the 105-mm piece saw service post-war as an anti-tank weapon and was developed into the 106-mm recoilless rifle that saw extensive service in the 50s and 60s.
The British also developed a series of recoilless weapons of which a 3.45" weapon almost saw service as a man portable artillery piece for the jungle war. Post war the British would develop the powerful 120-mm MOBAT and WOMBAT recoilless weapons. In game terms these recoilless weapons should gradually replace the conventional anti-tank weapons at battalion level and below.
Tanks: by the end of the war the Allies were on the verge of nullifying the superiority of the German panzers. The British had already introduced the potent 17-pounder anti-tank gun and had introduced the revolutionary 'discarding sabot' round. This round worked by surrounding a very hard and dense tungsten carbide armour-piercing projectile in a lightweight casing (the sabot). This meant that the shell was propelling a lighter round at a higher velocity. As the round left the barrel the sabot detached and the dense tungsten core carried on to the target to a higher velocity than possible with the standard shell. Although the 17 pounder was initially only a towed weapon by 1945 it was fitted in a number of tanks and tank destroyers. In addition the Centurion mainbattle tank was completing its development. The Centurion would become famous after the war, especially during the Arab-Israeli wars but in 1945 it would have been a match for the Panther in terms of firepower, armour and mobility, a first for an Allied tank. The British were also introducing an up-graded Cromwell, the Comet. The Americans had three major upgrades in progress as the war ended. The long serving M4 Sherman was being built in its ultimate form, the M4A3E8 (Easy-Eight) variant. This incorporated many improvements over the original version. The most important was the fitting of the high-velocity 76-mm gun as standard which, while not as effective as the 17 pounder, was a significant improvement on the existing 75-mm weapon. The Easy-eight also received an improved suspension system which allowed wider tracks to be fitted and improved cross country performance markedly (the original Sherman had greater ground pressure over it's 'footprint' than the Panther or Tiger despite being 15 or more tons lighter than either). It was also fitted with an ammunition storage system where the rounds were stored in sleeves inside bins filled with a water-glycol mix. The function of this was to reduce tank losses from ignition of the ammo when the tank was hit (the usual reason for tank brew-ups). Unfortunately the system was rendered largely ineffective by the tendency of crews to pack in as many extra rounds as possible on top of the bins and thus negating the advantage of the bins.
The Americans also began to deploy the M24 Chaffee light tank to replace the M5 Stuart. The Chaffee was a truly excellent light tank. Armed with a 75mm gun, fast and with thin but well sloped armour it would remain in service with NATO allies until the 1980s. As an aside, the French would fly several dismantled Chaffees into Dien Bien Phu in Dakotas where they were re-assembled by the Foreign Legion and played a critical role in the battle.
Finally, the Americans were bringing the M26 Pershing into action as the war finished. Armed with a 90mm gun, well protected and mobile it was equivalent to the Panther in most respects but being produced by American industry, would have been available in large numbers.
The Allies were also developing a wide range of support vehicles such as armoured personnel carriers and self-propelled guns. The British made extensive use of obsolescent tank chassises in specialist roles and probably this would have continued. As the Sherman was replaced as a combat tank it is likely that many older vehicles would have had the turret removed and the interior gutted to provide a heavy APC as had already been done with the Canadian Ram tank (christened 'kangaroos'). In game terms the effect would be that infantry in major attacks would be transported to their objectives in these Kangaroos. These were generally assigned from the 79th division, a specialist unit where the British pooled their specialist engineering and assault assets and then assigned the various units to other divisions for specific operations.
By 1945 the Americans had decided upon the 'Combat Team' system by which they designed families of vehicles based on a common chassis. These were approximately as follows:
The 'Light Combat Team' was based on the M24 Chaffee light tank. And as well as the basic tank it would include an anti-aircraft vehicle, the M19, with twin 40 mm Bofors in an open turret, a self propelled 105 mm howitzer, the M37, which was a replacement for the M7 Priest, and a self propelled 155-mm howitzer, the M41. Also part of the 'team' were the mechanically similar M18 Hellcat tank destroyer and a turretless M18, the M39, used as an APC and gun tractor.
The 'Medium Combat Team' was based on the 'Easy Eight' Sherman M4A3E8. The main variants were the M40 155 mm SPG and M43 203mm SPG.
Finally, The 'Heavy Combat Team' was based on the M26 Pershing chassis and would have introduced another 155 mm SPG and a 240mm weapon.
The Americans disliked wheeled armoured vehicles. If one looks at their post-war behaviour, it is likely that most half-tracks and wheeled armoured cars would have been replaced, at least in armoured units, with Chaffee tanks and a tracked APC. Either the M39 or a fully enclosed one based on the same chassis (for these hypothetical scenarios something like the post-war M75 APC would be a reasonable substitute for the M3 half-track).
Finally, the allies, especially the British, were developing infra-red night fighting equipment for both vechicles and men of which a British small arms mounted system, 'Tabby', was about to be deployed at the war's end.
Organisational: there were few significant changes likely, most involved replacing old equipment with newer weapons. In the American army the changes were likely to be as follows:
The infantry would have received the 3.5" 'Superbazooka', probably by 1947 at the latest. By late 1945 they would have received the 57 and 75mm recoilless rifles to replace the 57mm AT gun. Although the 57mm weapon would probably have not been powerful enough for use in Europe and might well have been used only in the Pacific theater where it's low weight and firepower would have been very useful against Japanese bunkers and the few, lightly armoured, Japanese tanks available. At regimental level the under-used 'gun company' was due to be re-equipped with three batteries of four heavy 4.2" mortars replacing the three batteries of two 105 mm howitzers. The regimental anti-tank company would probably have received the 3" AT gun to replace the 57mm AT but it is quite likely that the company would have been replaced with a company of Shermans, giving more mobile firepower and integral armoured support to all units.
In armoured units the main changes would be those indicated above with the Chaffee replacing the M5 Stuart, all Shermans becoming 76 mm armed and all tank destroyer units receiving either the M18 Hellcat or M36 Jackson. The Pershing was deployed in heavy tank battalions organused as a Sherman battalion but with Pershings instead though still containing the 'light' company (equipped with Chaffees). Pershing units would have been assigned as army or corps level assets as more became available. Armoured divisions were to receive a battalion of Pershings in addition to their official strength though they may have replaced the Tank Destroyer Battalion.
In the British and Commonwealth armies the likely changes were as follows:
The Infantry would not have changed radically but would probably have received at least some 3.5" bazookas. Anti-tank support at battalion would probably have remained the 6-pounder as the APDS round (which the Americans never adopted) meant that it was still effective against German tanks at the shorter ranges these guns were usually employed. It is likely that the 6 pounder would have been replaced in the late 40's by a recoilless gun similar in capabilities to the post-war 120-mm MOB AT. As an aside, the British Army was very short of manpower by late 1944 so any scenario should try to reflect the fact that most infantry units should have a rifle strength 75-50% of official TOEs. The Bren gun carriers were being replaced by 'Oxford' carriers, these were essentially turretless Stuart tanks and were used in the recce and gun tow roles.
In armoured units the main changes would be in the gradual introduction of the Centurion and Comet. Apparently the Centurion was slow to produce so the Comet would probably be the most common new tank. Both the Comet and Centurion were used to create homogeneous battalions although the regimental recce squadron would have received the Cromwell. Sherman units were receiving an increasing proportion of 17-pounder armed Fireflies although some (-25%) 75 mm armed tanks might have been retained as the 17-pounder was felt to have a poor high explosive round. The British also received some Chaffees and used them to replace their gun armed Stuarts (they still used the turretless Recce Stuart). Anti-tank units retained their 17 pounder, both towed and self propelled and so would not have changed significantly.
The Red Army
The Russians had the most successful land army in WW2 and this was in no small part due to their ruthless emphasis on mass-producing a limited number of potent weapon systems. In the period under discussion the Russians had three tank chassises in service. The most important was the famous T34. By 1945 it was in its ultimate form, the T34/85, and the associated SU-100 turretless tank destroyer. These would have remained in full production as the T34/85 was only slightly weaker than the Panther and the SU-100 could destroy it at most normal combat ranges. An improved tank, the T-44, with heavier frontal armour and an improved suspension was built in limited numbers but suffered from reliability problems which were not ironed out until the post-war T-54 was produced.
The next most important tank was the Iosef Stalin series. The IS-2 was already in mass production in 1944 and was well able to match the Panther whilst SPG versions, the ISU 122 and ISU-152, were widely available for infantry support. Just as the war finished a new version, the IS-III, came into service. Although a world beating design with it's 122 mm gun and thick, well sloped, armour it was compromised by a cramped fighting compartment (even by Russian standards) and some design features that would have affected it's combat effectiveness. This was replaced by the IS-4 that had a longer hull and even heavier armour. The IS-4 saw only-limited production post war but was definitely viewed as superior to the IS-3 and would certainly have quickly superceded it if the war had continued. The post-war T-10 was a direct development and is very similar in appearance.
The final Russian chassis was the SU-76 SPG which used an obsolete light tank chassis as the basis for an infantry support gun. By 1945 it was under armed and under armoured but used otherwise redundant factory capacity and was produced in nearly as large numbers as the T34/85. The SU-76 can be best summarised by the fact that its crews nick-named it 'Suka' (Bitch!).
With regards to other equipment the Russians relied on American Lend-Lease to provide them with most of their jeeps, Light and medium trucks, scout cars and half-tracks. The Russians would receive limited amounts of newer Allied equipment plus increased quantities of re-conditioned older equipment as the Americans phased it out. The Americans had huge quantities of such equipment Stateside.
Soviet tactics emphasised firepower for all troops and is the reason their infantry was so generously equipped with submachine guns. The German Sturmgewehr 44 deeply impressed them and in the last months of the war a convalescing infantry officer called Kalashnikov was working on a Soviet version which we know as the AK-47. If the war had continued it is highly likely that Russian troops would have been issued with the AK-47 as their standard rifle. As an intermediate step the Soviets developed the SKS carbine using the same 7.62mm intermediate cartridge the AK-47 would use. This was a semi-automatic weapon quickly superceded in Soviet service by the Kalashnikov series but widely distributed to client states and saw considerable service in Vietnam.
For anti-tank work the Soviets had a range of potent towed weapons that would remain in use until the late 50's (later in airborne units). Their infantry was still equipped with the PTRS series of anti-tank rifles that were of limited use in 1945. The Soviets were however very impressed by the German Panzerfaust and made extensive use of captured stocks. It is still unclear whether they ever manufactured a direct copy but they certainly mass produced a development of it, the RPG-2, which would probably have seen service by 1946 or 47 at the latest.
Organisation: Soviet organisation will mainly reflect the improvement in equipment. The tank units will receive greater numbers of heavy tanks, each Tank Corp probably receiving a heavy brigade equipped with IS-2's and ISU's and the SU-100 becoming the standard tank destroyer. The IS 3 and 4 will probably remain an Army level asset.
The infantry will receive increased armoured support with real tanks and assault guns replacing the obsolete SU-76, The infantry will also receive both RPG type weapons and possibly SKSs' and then AK-47's especially in the tank-rider units.
Any scenarios for 1946 should try to represent the following elements. German panzers will still have a qualitative advantage but will no longer enjoy the virtual immunity they enjoyed in 1944. The infantry on both sides will be even more dangerous to tanks thus making combined arms tactics essential. The Allies will have a major advantage in artillery, both in numbers and flexibility. Allied and Soviet troops should be portrayed as experienced but increasingly cautious as, historically, they realised that the war was almost over and they intended to be about to enjoy the celebrations. The Germans should reflect their loss of experienced veterans but also the sometimes fanatical, bravery exhibited by the inexperienced Volksgrenadier and Hitler Youth units.
For a different scenario consider playing a German counter attack (perhaps at night) by Pather Fs and Panzergrenadiers supported by He 162s flying ground support. Stopping them would be infantry well equipped with bazookas and recoilless anti-tank weapons and reinforced by Pershings, Centurions or SU-100s.
Modelling 1946 and later
There is now quite a wide range of suitable kit for this 'period'. Below are some suggestions but is by not means absolute, especially if you are willing to convert vehicles or figures. Most of the companies below also do historical ranges that are also suitable. Finally, check out the Technical Virtue' site: http://fingolfen.tripod.com/
20 mm Land Warfare: Airfix - JS-IIIs and Centurions, Matchbox - Chaffee, Stuart, Puma, M40 SPG, Jagdpanzer IV, Hasagawa - Panther F, in Metal. Skytrex - M26 Pershing, Coelion Flakpanther, Katchen Pz38(d) APC. MMS - Ml8, M39, Pz38(t)recce tank. Rolf Hedges' Liberation Miniatures does a Sagger missile that would be suitable for early German missiles. He also does T-55s tanks and KV-85 turrets, I am sure that if asked politely he would supply a T-55 hull and KV-85 turret to build T-44s. Figures Armour Artillery - a range of 'Late 45' Germans with Stg44, night-sights, anti-tank weapons etc. Platoon 20 - late war Germans and Americans, Post war East Germans who wear a helmet based closely on the Nazi's intended replacement of their 'coal-scuttle' design and carry AK-47s, which could pass as Stg44. They also do Modern Soviet Motor Rifle troops in one piece cammo smocks and armed with AKs. Painted as wearing the black blotched wartime sniper/engineers cammo suit they would be close to what 1946+ Soviet assault troops with AK-47s would have looked like, especially if mixed with some WW2 figures in cammo suits (FAA, Platoon 20 and possibly SHQ all do scout/sniper figures).
In 1/300th (and l/285th): Heroics and Ros - Panther F, Maus, E100, Coelion, Katchen, Wasserfall and Enzian AA missiles, Almost all late-war and post war Allied and Russian equipment. Basically, get their list and buy some samples of what looks interesting, H&R is not that expensive. GHQ - Panther F, Coelion, Maus, E100, Pershing, JSIII . GHQ stuff is excellent but expensive. Infantry - Can anyone really tell in this scale? As above, T-44s can be easily created from T-54/55 hulls and T-34/85 or KV-85 turrets.
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