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Operation Pike: How Britain and France Almost Bombed Russia

 
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Operation Pike: How Britain and France Almost Bombed Ru... - 11/21/2015 5:21:37 PM   
DicedT

 

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A piece I wrote for The National Interest on the crazy Anglo-French plan to bomb Russia in 1940. How this would have changed history is too frightening to contemplate.

http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/operation-pike-how-crazy-plan-bomb-russia-almost-lost-world-14402

Michael
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RE: Operation Pike: How Britain and France Almost Bombe... - 11/21/2015 8:03:58 PM   
warspite1


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Thanks for posting this thought-provoking article. I agree that this is one of the many intriguing what-if’s of WWII, although I am not sure on some of the arguments here (or at least the background to them):

quote:

But what if Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union had been allies instead of enemies?

quote:

By late 1939, Britain and France were convinced that Germany and Russia were already friends.


They were ‘allies’ thanks to the signing of the M-R Pact. What exactly the term allies / friends etc (call it what you will) actually meant depended upon from whose view you are looking at, and what the war situation was at the time. E.g. upon signing the pact Stalin was not massively interested in fulfilling his end of the bargain, but when the Germans started defeating all before them, a certain urgency gripped the Soviet leader…. Timely supplies to Germany tended to be made after each German victory and became less reliable in between times. The pact was a means to an end for both leaders – not the end in itself. I am not sure what the British and French had to be unsure or need to be convinced about in 1939/40.

quote:

What if America, Britain, and their allies had faced a massive Red Army backed by the military prowess and technological sophistication of the Luftwaffe, Nazi panzers and U-boats?


This is a big assumption and, I think, rather ignores what Hitler was all about; his raison d’etre…. Lebensraum in the east. So while, as said above, the two were ‘friends of convenience’ to make the leap and see the Germans and Soviets as true allies in the proper sense of the word, – marching side by side and conducting military operations together - does not seem feasible to me. Drang nach Osten was never far from Hitler’s thoughts… The Slavs were untermensch who had no place on this planet – unless it was to act as slaves the German master race.

quote:

The outcome would probably have helped Hitler win the war.


quote:

In any event, fortune, or rather misfortune, saved the world.


These comments make an even bigger assumption. I think ‘could and could have’ is the strongest I would insert here.

quote:

That apocalyptic vision of a new Dark Ages almost happened. In the early days of World War II, Britain and France planned to bomb Russian oil fields. The goal was to impede Hitler.


quote:

Perhaps there was also the frustration of the sitzkrieg, as Allied armies sat impotently behind the Maginot Line while the Germans overran Poland and Scandinavia. Bombing Russia must have seemed easier than confronting the German army on the battlefield.


Well strictly speaking this was one of Gamelin’s ideas to keep the war away from French soil. Remember the French did not want the Rhine mined. Why? Because of the fear that the Germans may have retaliated…. By the way, there is no point scoring here - neither the British nor the French leadership emerge with any credit for the period September 1939-June 1940. Having declared war on Germany for the right reasons, the way in which the leaders (and many of their professional military advisors) of both countries conducted themselves in that period can frankly be summarised as nothing more than ‘General Goofy goes to War’. The Allies sat impotently behind the Maginot Line out of choice. What would have been the result of an offensive in September, before Poland was defeated and the bulk of German forces were in the east?

BTW, the Norwegian Campaign was another such fiasco (for which the British take the bulk of the blame this time) – and that too could have seen the British and French at war with the USSR plus Norway, and Sweden for good measure…..!

quote:

Stalin had tried hard to form an anti-Nazi coalition before the war, only to meet such resistance and hesitation that he became convinced that the capitalists were plotting to embroil Germany and Russia in a mutually exhausting war while the West stayed on the sidelines.


quote:

While London and Paris dithered over whether to ally with the Communists, Berlin had no such hesitation: on August 23, 1939, Germany and Russia signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.


This I think is too simplistic. Yes, the Western Allies could have gone about things in better fashion (a recurring theme sadly….) but at the end of the day, Chamberlain and Daladier simply could not give Stalin what he wanted (and the Poles sadly, were not entirely blameless (albeit for understandable reasons) in this either) – as a fellow psychopathic dictator, and with no qualms about the rights of Finns, Lithuanians, Poles et al, Hitler with the stroke of a pen, could.

quote:

Russia gained Eastern Poland and the Baltic states, a prospective breathing space to build up its military strength, and the prospect that Germany and the Western powers would exhaust themselves while Russia bided its strength.


quote:

The treaty left the Third Reich free to gobble up Poland and Western Europe without fear of a second front in the East. Just as important, the Soviets agreed to supply vital raw materials – especially oil – to the Third Reich, keeping the German war economy running and breaching the Allied naval blockade that had proved so decisive in World War I.


quote:

Yet the real winner was the Fuhrer.


They both felt they were winners at the time – understandably so. History showed who ultimately benefitted the most…

quote:

Thus was born Operation Pike. Flying from Allied bases in Iran and Syria, as well as neutral but anti-Soviet Turkey, more than a hundred British and French bombers would continuously attack Soviet oil fields in the Caucuses in a night strategic bombing campaign. This was more than idle planning. Unmarked British reconnaissance planes flying from Iraqi airfields actually photographed oil installations at Baku and Batumi in March 1940.

Allied air planners were confident this would be a mighty blow. We know now that it would have been a joke. British night bombing efforts in 1940-41 was so inaccurate – only a handful bombs landed within miles of their target – that the Germans hardly noticed them. Even in 1944, thousand-bomber Royal Air Force night raids, supported by the most sophisticated radar and navigation technology of the time, drop their loans on entire German cities because they could not destroy pinpoint targets.

As the Germans proved, bomb-damaged facilities could be restored with remarkable speed. A 1944 Lancaster bomber carried 7 tons of bombs; a 1940 Blenheim only half a ton. Only the deepest hubris – which indeed afflicted strategic bombing enthusiasts throughout World War II – could make anyone believe that a hundred primitive early-war bombers could devastate the Soviet oil industry.

Ironically, as Osborn notes, instead of harming Germany, the bombing would have weakened the Soviet regime that was the bulwark of the coalition fighting the Nazis. "Someone would have had to have filled the power vacuum if Stalin's government collapsed; that in all likelihood would have been Hitler."


The argument seems a little contradictory here. Either the bombing effort would be inconsequential (which I naturally agree with) OR it would have dealt a blow to the Soviet economy – which you say would have helped Hitler. Both arguments are made at the same time I think?

quote:

However, the real what-if would have come in the summer of 1940. If Operation Pike had been launched prior to the surrender of France, then the British government would have faced the prospect of fighting a Nazi-Soviet alliance, with no French ally and the United States still withdrawn behind its walls of isolationism.

Some British leaders, such as Lord Halifax, had favored making some kind of peace deal with Hitler. If Britain had also been at war with the Soviet Union, perhaps not even diehard Winston Churchill would have had the stomach to continue fighting what would have seemed like a hopeless war.


Well the war looked pretty hopeless in real life in July 1940!

But back to the subject in hand, again, I’m not sure how this automatically follows. For one thing, we do not know how Stalin reacts? Stalin was a canny operator. As you said in your article, he wanted Hitler and the Western Allies to slug it out and for them to weaken each other. If the air strikes prove as desultory as you expect (and I agree with you) the positives for retaliation, in favour of sitting back as per plan A, are less advantageous. But if military action was his decision, where does Stalin retaliate? If he decides to send forces into Syria how do they get there? Would Turkey, having seen the respective performances – Soviets in Finland, and the Germans in Poland – be itching to join forces with the Soviets? Unlikely I would have thought. A Soviet attack on Turkey? That’s another interesting what-if? Would Hitler feel free to attack France with the Soviets interfering in Turkey (having already claimed Bessarabia)?

If France has fallen and if Stalin did take leave of his senses and ordered the Soviets to move into the Middle East in numbers, while the Germans were free to amass on the Polish frontier then yes, under those circumstances, Hitler may have been able to launch a successful Barbarossa against a weakened enemy – but…..

quote:

Of course, even if Allied bombing had brought Hitler and Stalin together, the romance would have been doomed. Two predators greedily devouring other prey would inevitably have turned on each other.


Well I think we will have to agree to disagree on the idea of how exactly they are brought together, but I agree with the final sentence 100%!

quote:

Nonetheless, Operation Pike might have changed the history of the world.


Yes - Might.

This is a very interesting alternate history to explore. Thanks for raising.


< Message edited by warspite1 -- 11/21/2015 9:09:37 PM >


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(in reply to DicedT)
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RE: Operation Pike: How Britain and France Almost Bombe... - 11/22/2015 5:55:59 PM   
HMSWarspite

 

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I don't think it is interesting as alternate history at all.
a) Western Allies could not bomb Russia with more than a few 250lb GP, and these would have achieved nothing (if they can do it at all), so no effect on actual true capabilities.
b) Hitler was going to fight Russia regardless. Stalin getting annoyed with France or UK was not going to change that, and he wasn't going to help Stalin get at us.
c) To quote Churchill "If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons". It would be patched up so fast your eyes would water. I mean, there was talk about breaching Scandinavian neutrality to help Finland in 1940, and we dropped any friendship there fast enough.

Where is the interest and change in anything significant?

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RE: Operation Pike: How Britain and France Almost Bombe... - 11/22/2015 6:16:38 PM   
warspite1


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quote:

ORIGINAL: HMSWarspite

I don't think it is interesting as alternate history at all.
a) Western Allies could not bomb Russia with more than a few 250lb GP, and these would have achieved nothing (if they can do it at all), so no effect on actual true capabilities.
b) Hitler was going to fight Russia regardless. Stalin getting annoyed with France or UK was not going to change that, and he wasn't going to help Stalin get at us.
c) To quote Churchill "If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons". It would be patched up so fast your eyes would water. I mean, there was talk about breaching Scandinavian neutrality to help Finland in 1940, and we dropped any friendship there fast enough.

Where is the interest and change in anything significant?
warspite1

Where is the interest and change? It's in my response. But to reiterate:

quote:

a) Western Allies could not bomb Russia with more than a few 250lb GP, and these would have achieved nothing (if they can do it at all), so no effect on actual true capabilities.


Agreed. By this token and rather pathetic effort, the Soviet oil industry is not affected one tiny bit.

quote:

b) Hitler was going to fight Russia regardless. Stalin getting annoyed with France or UK was not going to change that, and he wasn't going to help Stalin get at us.


Agreed. Lebensraum in the east was Hitler's raison d'etre - end of. And the idea that the two nations would fight side by side against the Western Allies is fanciful. Even if such an unlikely scenario came to pass (i.e. a Soviet move against the Middle East) the two would NOT be fighting alongside each other and each would always have one eye on what the other was doing and where. Under no circumstances would one be coming to the aid of the other.

quote:

c) To quote Churchill "If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons". It would be patched up so fast your eyes would water. I mean, there was talk about breaching Scandinavian neutrality to help Finland in 1940, and we dropped any friendship there fast enough.


Agreed. Needs must when the devil vomits on your eiderdown (as Blackadder would say).

So what could change to affect in some way the course of the war?

Only - and I repeat - only if Stalin decides to take action. Because of geography this would be difficult to do - and because of the performance in Finland - this would be potentially suicidal (no hindsight allowed re British and French capabilities in 1940).

The only way Stalin could take action would involve a major campaign in the Near East - major because he needs to actually reach Syria in the first place.

It is this scenario - and only this scenario - that could make for an interesting what-if. Hitler was paranoid about Romania so any move by Stalin into Turkey would be a major problem. Attacking through Persia? Possible but unlikely given Stalin's MO in 1940.

As I say, all this is highly unlikely - even if the Western Allies were stupid enough to proceed with the attack. But so very little in life is guaranteed and is, at the very least, worth a decent discussion...

< Message edited by warspite1 -- 11/22/2015 9:03:32 PM >


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RE: Operation Pike: How Britain and France Almost Bombe... - 11/22/2015 11:13:40 PM   
vonFelty

 

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Personally, I think Hitler could have kept an alliance with Russia if he really wanted. Although the Soviets were in an offensive position in 1941, it was more likely Stalin being paranoid than actually wanting to attack Germany.

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RE: Operation Pike: How Britain and France Almost Bombe... - 11/23/2015 5:51:33 AM   
warspite1


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quote:

ORIGINAL: vonFelty

Personally, I think Hitler could have kept an alliance with Russia if he really wanted. Although the Soviets were in an offensive position in 1941, it was more likely Stalin being paranoid than actually wanting to attack Germany.
warspite1

Well yes he could. But of course such action would have gone against everything he stood for, and the very reason he begun the war in the first place....

The 'alliance' with the Soviets was a temporary solution to a problem he thought he would not have to face; the fact that the Western Allies were not going to give him a free hand in pursuing Lebensraum in the East was not something he factored in.

Once they drew a line in the sand after Czechoslovakia, Hitler realised he would have to fight Britain and France. A deal with the Soviets allowed him to do that before attending to his actual goal.

Hitler wanted Germany to be like the US. A large, self-sufficient country having access to all the raw materials it needed so that it would never be in the position of 1914-18 ever again - and never be held at the mercy of a naval blockade. The oil of the Caucasus, the wheat of the Ukraine (not to mention the other vital resources found within the USSR) would feed the Greater German Empire.

That was Hitler's raison d'etre - everything that happened stemmed from that dream.


< Message edited by warspite1 -- 11/23/2015 7:45:05 AM >


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RE: Operation Pike: How Britain and France Almost Bombe... - 11/23/2015 9:58:59 PM   
Numdydar

 

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quote:

ORIGINAL: DicedT

A piece I wrote for The National Interest on the crazy Anglo-French plan to bomb Russia in 1940. How this would have changed history is too frightening to contemplate.

http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/operation-pike-how-crazy-plan-bomb-russia-almost-lost-world-14402

Michael


Unfortunately spell check does not catch everything

Somehow I do not think dropping 'loans' on German cites would have any more impact that the actual bombs that were dropped

The below quote is from your otherwise fine article

"... of the time, drop their loans on entire German cities ... "

(in reply to DicedT)
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RE: Operation Pike: How Britain and France Almost Bombe... - 11/24/2015 6:38:12 AM   
warspite1


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quote:

ORIGINAL: Numdydar


quote:

ORIGINAL: DicedT

A piece I wrote for The National Interest on the crazy Anglo-French plan to bomb Russia in 1940. How this would have changed history is too frightening to contemplate.

http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/operation-pike-how-crazy-plan-bomb-russia-almost-lost-world-14402

Michael


Unfortunately spell check does not catch everything

Somehow I do not think dropping 'loans' on German cites would have any more impact that the actual bombs that were dropped

The below quote is from your otherwise fine article

"... of the time, drop their loans on entire German cities ... "
warspite1

Duh Numdydar don't you know anything? This did accurately refer to loans. In 1943 the Ministry of Economic Warfare decided that the best way to defeat Germany was through economic and not military means. The Allies thus dropped loans on to cities. These were sub-prime loans, which, when dropped in huge numbers upon poor German inhabitants who had no means to repay, would cause the financial structure of Germany to collapse.


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RE: Operation Pike: How Britain and France Almost Bombe... - 11/24/2015 1:22:25 PM   
Numdydar

 

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I had no idea that is how the Allies won. There should be a game that accurately represents that since all the games up until now just show it was military power that did Germany in. I think you should post a note in the WitW Tech section so 2By3 can get the game patched with this new information right away

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RE: Operation Pike: How Britain and France Almost Bombe... - 11/24/2015 2:50:38 PM   
LiquidSky


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Germany was too big to fail

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RE: Operation Pike: How Britain and France Almost Bombe... - 11/24/2015 9:22:32 PM   
Numdydar

 

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But there was no one left to bail them out. So a good example of what happens without someone coming along with truck loads of cash to help out.

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RE: Operation Pike: How Britain and France Almost Bombe... - 11/28/2015 1:07:16 AM   
Zebedee


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Enjoyed the read thank you. Think I'd have to disagree with some of the premise. Just purely from the point of view that the Anglo-French planning was for an economic blockade of Europe to bring Germany down, and so closing off an actively compliant SU was obviously part of that. Against a weaker Soviet Union for the Germans to invade at some stage, the counter-history depends upon France not falling in 1940, which in itself would prevent an invasion of the Soviet Union as the Heer and LW are tied down in the West. One can't get to historical 1941 without going through historical 1940. An Anglo-French bombing campaign in 1940 isn't going to materially weaken the Soviets sufficiently to counterbalance the forces Germany will need to keep in the west.


quote:

ORIGINAL: vonFelty

Personally, I think Hitler could have kept an alliance with Russia if he really wanted. Although the Soviets were in an offensive position in 1941, it was more likely Stalin being paranoid than actually wanting to attack Germany.


To me, there's just too much tension in the relationship for it not to collapse relatively quickly. As it did. The ideological goals which drove Hitler were the economic ones to a great degree with regards to the Soviet Union. Even during the M-R Pact, the Germans were getting increasingly tetchy with what the Soviets were demanding in return for the raw materials and food which the Germans were becoming reliant upon to meet shortfalls. The more the Soviets provided, the stronger the argument within Nazi circles that those resources should cut out the Communist middleman. There wasn't a Goldilocks 'just right' settlement for Stalin to find with Hitler in those circumstances.

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RE: Operation Pike: How Britain and France Almost Bombe... - 11/28/2015 9:19:32 AM   
HMSWarspite

 

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Yep, the issue with all the variant counter histories is that Hitler was going for Russia, come hell or high water. The only debate was when. He didn't expect France to fall as fast as it did, and so in realistic terms it is easy to see that this might have been 1942 rather than 1941, which gives a debate about relative capability change in the mean time, but a major change of sides was never on.

It might be an interesting debate as to whether the 1940 Russian offensive capabilities in Persia (say) would be better or worse than the Italian ones in Egypt and East Africa (even if there is no chance of it happening)... They weren't exactly equipped for the tropics/desert, and have you seen how big Iran is? Personally I see a lack of supplies and organization leading to another stalemate, regardless who Russia attacked. The limited offensive against japan in the east is the only counter evidence..

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RE: Operation Pike: How Britain and France Almost Bombe... - 11/28/2015 9:38:55 AM   
loki100


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quote:

ORIGINAL: HMSWarspite

...

It might be an interesting debate as to whether the 1940 Russian offensive capabilities in Persia (say) would be better or worse than the Italian ones in Egypt and East Africa (even if there is no chance of it happening)... They weren't exactly equipped for the tropics/desert, and have you seen how big Iran is? Personally I see a lack of supplies and organization leading to another stalemate, regardless who Russia attacked. The limited offensive against japan in the east is the only counter evidence..


FWIW, possibly more effective than you've given them credit. The Soviet Union contained deserts (I know, I've seen at least one having once spent 5 days on top of a camel), so the forces in the Central Asia MDs would have had some capacity/experience.

Against this is of course the valid view that the Red Army would have struggled to organise a p*** up in a brewery at this stage (the Winter War being a rather clear example) in terms of logistics.

The other advantage they had was the Iranian Tudeh. This was large, armed and very pro-Soviet. When the Soviets did invade in 1941 (in co-operation with the British), by the time they reached Tehran the Tudeh had already conquered the city. So an invasion would have had the advantage of at least some local support.

The bigger constraint is why would they? When they entered in 1941 it was pretty consensual all round (apart from the pro-German govt), an outright invasion would have seen long term occupation problems. I also think to assume an invasion misreads Stalin's mindset. At this stage he wasn't especially interested in expansion (all the grabs in 1939 and 1940 were seen as reversing the unequal settlement imposed in 1918), his interest was in keeping others out of the Soviet Union?


< Message edited by loki100 -- 11/28/2015 10:39:21 AM >


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