Dystopia is fun! I wrote this speculative piece 10 years ago - an almost plausible way World War 2 could have gone down a different path, given one key moment.
In our reality, the frankly hilarious in almost every way possible King Zog of Albania personally defeated an assassination attempt in 1931, guns blazing as his bodyguards drop, at a Vienna opera house. Yes, it's literally a rap video 50 years in the past.
But what if Zog wasn't as good a shot as he was in reality?
In THIS timeline, in 1931 Zog falls in a hail of gunfire (although still captivating the press of Europe, desperate for good news and fascinated by the dashing gangster royal). In the ensuing chaos, a young Communist named Enver Hoxha takes over. The new government breaks all ties with Italy (Albania was largely an Italian economic protectorate at the time), but gets little aid from the USSR which is in the midst of the Great Purge. Little Albania, destitute and in chaos, retreats within itself to “build socialism”. Mussolini is tempted to invade, pushed by Italian bankers who were nationalized, but decides that Ethiopia is the more tempting target.
History continues as normal, because hey, it’s Albania, who cares? 1939 comes and goes without an Italian annexation of Albania - unlike in our timeline, when a jealous Mussolini browbeats Zog into surrendering his country, a Communist and largely destroyed Balkan duchy holds no charms for il Duce. But the historical break asserts itself forcefully a year later.
No Italian Albania means no Italian invasion of Greece. Which, in our timeline, failed miserably, and gave the English a foothold in the Balkans. The Germans had to bail them out, in Operation Marita, and also triggered a simultaneous invasion of Yugoslavia when a fascist-sympathetic government collapsed after agreeing to give the Nazi invasion force transit rights. It was a mess that delayed Hitler's planned invasion of Russia by 6 months.
But with no Albanian foothold tempting Mussolini to imperial greatness, this doesn't happen. Germany invades the USSR on schedule, in the spring of 1941. And the Panzers arrive on the outskirts of Moscow, as they did historically, 5 months later. Only instead of December snows, it’s the September thaw. There is no General Winter to save Stalin. Depressed and refusing to abandon his capitol, he dies in the smashed ruins of the Kremlin, reliving his Russian Civil War past leading a futile cavalry charge against Guderian's tanks.
The Soviet government, hiding in the Urals city of Kuibyshev, quickly destroys itself - Beria shoots Malenkov, Zhukov shoots Beria, Molotov shoots Zhukov. The Stalinists were always little more than feudal gangsters, and defeat does not suit them. Marshal Rokossovsky, the Polish-Russian tank commander who spent time in the gulags after the Tukhachevsky purge, takes his long awaited revenge for having his knuckles broken by the secret police, overthrows the government in a coup, and negotiates a surrender with the victorious Nazis. The USSR, now missing most of European Russia, is swiftly fallen upon by a Japanese invasion seeking easy spoils and descends into a hundred feudal warlords and chaos.
With the fall of Russia, Germany is dominant in Europe. They annex the Balkans leisurely in 1942 (the abortive Socialist experiment in Albania ends at this point under German boots, ironically outliving its Soviet inspiration), and, taking the long way through the Caucasus, the tanks of Rommel and Guderian meet in Cairo, which combined with Franco’s Spain joining the victorious Axis (historically likely given a Russian collapse - Spanish troops fought in Russia), cuts off the Commonwealth from its Asian territories. The UK and its new US allies have only one option left to them - the invasion of France. Only instead of Operation Overlord, in 1944 against a Germany fighting a last-ditch defense against an enraged Soviet Union, Operation Sledgehammer takes place in 1943, against a Germany that has no other fronts and no distractions. It’s Dieppe magnified - a huge slaughter of tens of thousands of men for seemingly no purpose that causes both Churchill and Roosevelt to be thrown out of office.
Yet Germany cannot end the war. For all its reversals and defeats, England is still protected from the Wehrmacht by a few dozen miles of sea water blocking England from France. England is hammered day and night, first by bombers, then by missiles, yet England endures - much as Germany in our timeline, incessant bombing kills civilians by the score and inflicts untold misery but leaves the military and economic infrastructure largely intact. The Kriegsmarine embarks on a huge rebuilding program, based on input from their Japanese allies (fresh from victories against the US at Pearl Harbor, Midway and Anchorage) on the wisdom of aircraft carriers. Yet it would be years before they come online.
And they come too late. In 1949 Berlin, Frankfurt, and Hamburg are vaporized in nuclear fire (a dozen other bombers never make it to their targets). A sullen peace is concluded, with no real victor. France is given a sort-of independence under Petain. With Hitler dead in Berlin's ruins, Himmler and his SS take over the still very militarily dominant Germany. Eventually leftist revolts overthrow the inefficient and insane Fascist regime, 50 years and uncounted millions of deaths later. But the European Union is very much a German domain.
Churchill's government falls after the Sledgehammer disaster, replaced by the 1st Earl of Halifax, Edward Wood, returned back from a stint as ambassador to the US in a failed hope that he could negotiate an honorable peace with the Germans. Weary of a role few could hold, he did little to stop the forces of the Marxist "Second Commonwealth" which took power, overthrowing the monarchy in 1952 and severing all ties to Europe.
Russia is a wild anarchic starving hell on earth. The attempts at German colonization fail miserably; no one wants to live in Himmler's Spartan work camps masquerading as pastoral villages. Any attempt by ambitious Russian warlords to reunite beyond a city or two are smashed by a watchful German army, but a Russian state does not rise from the ashes until the 21st century, well after the German Nazi collapse.
In the Pacific, Japan's high water mark against the US Navy was the Battle of Anchorage, where America's last 2 carriers in the Pacific are sunk in 1942. Yet Japan does not have the ability to follow up on this; America is just simply too huge for Japan to conquer. The Pacific War grinds on, year after bloody year; Australia falls in 1943 but Japan never can properly hold on to it nor its Chinese client states. After the European war ends, Japan fights on, despite nuke after nuke, until there are no more Japanese left to kill. The nuclear bombing of Australia, despite the atrocities committed during the Japanese occupation wins America few favors among the Commonwealth. President Curtis LeMay couldn’t care less. He took power in a coup after the failed Sledgehammer landings, and America is as dark as Europe, but for different reasons.
And no one knows what happened to all the Jews in Europe.
And all because, unlike our timeline, a king named Zog couldn’t shoot straight.