I think it would take more than one divergence, but let’s see what I can do. This is a bit Rube-Goldberg, so bear with me.

Step One: Winter 1939/40 gets serious three weeks early and ends three weeks to a month early.


(a)The Soviets postpone the Winter War with Finland rather than send unprepared troops into ongoing blizzards. The Soviet attack is postponed until spring.

(b) The Allies don’t have the “help Finland” excuse to intervene in Norway and proceed with contingency plans at a much slower rate.

(c) Mussolini doesn’t grandstand by sending weapons to Finland as he did historically–which historically was a bad move for Italy because the Soviets cut off sales of their oil to the Italian navy, leaving it with precariously low supplies when Italy entered the war.

(d) With no imminent Allied threat to Norway, Hitler figures Norway can wait until France falls.

(e) Without the disastrous Allied response in Norway, Chamberlain hangs on as British Prime Minister through the Battle of France, which comes early.

(f) The Battle of France starts around April 10-15, as soon as the mud dries enough, and the sky clears. The Germans were ready and champing at the bit by that time and the French had adopted the Breda variation of their Dyle plan, which disastrously sent the bulk of their mobile reserves about as far from the crucial part of the battle as they could have been. The crucial variable that historically postponed the German attack was the late spring and persistent mud, so earlier spring would mean an earlier attack.

(g) Without the Norway attacks, German use of airborne troops in Holland is more of a tactical surprise, something that had been theorized about rather than something the Germans had actually used already. As a result, the German airborne attacks are more successful/less costly, succeeding in the attempted decapitating strike on the Dutch government and cutting airborne and transport plane losses.

Step two: The Battle of France happens about the way it did historically, but about a month earlier.

Something similar to the Dunkirk evacuation probably happens, but with less success. Historically the Brits got lucky in that several crucial days were rainy, keeping the Luftwaffe at bay and allowing the Brits to load during the day for several crucial days, but the channel was calm. That’s a very unusual combination. No rain would mean that the evacuation would be restricted to the eight hours of night, as it was historically on clear days. Historically, that cut the guys evacuated to about one-third the rate they managed during the rainy patch (the 8 night-time hours versus 24 hours). There are other variables, such as the evacuation possibly lasting longer, and Chamberlain not being able to inspire the Brits the way Churchill was, but as an approximation the Brits get out one-third of the guys they did historically. They might not be as generous in getting French troops out in that situation, but allied unity would require that some French troops get evacuated. So the Brits get somewhere between one-third and one-half the troops out that they did historically.

So it’s late May. France has surrendered.

(a) The Brits have considerably fewer of their best-trained troops available. 

(b) The German navy hasn’t been virtually destroyed in the Norway invasion as it was historically.

(c) The German airborne forces are in considerably better shape, both because they did better in Holland and because they didn’t lose the 300-odd transport planes that they historically had to write off in Norway.

(d) The Brits still have Chamberlain as prime minister, at least for a time. I doubt that he would have been displaced during the Battle of France. He would be vulnerable once it ended.

(e) The Brits would have had a month less to outproduce the Germans in fighter planes and train more pilots

(f) Historically, the Brits just had to survive until early October, when weather in the channel made an invasion essentially impossible. The earlier fall of France means the Germans have an extra month when the Brits are vulnerable.

(g) (From old and possibly faulty memory) The Brits were historically temporarily cut off from Ultra intercepts by some German code changes during the Battle of France, but got their capability back in time to realize in early July that the Germans were nowhere near ready to invade and there was no immediate need to negotiate.

At that point, it’s all a matter of how leaders perceive the situation and react. A victorious Sea Lion is probably still not possible, but the Brits situation is dependent on perceptions. The Brits themselves have to perceive, after the shock of defeat in France, that the Germans aren’t ten feet tall. The US has to perceive that Britain will fight and can survive. Otherwise, they’ll hoard military equipment instead of sending it to the Brits. No fifty destroyers. No 500,000 small arms sent to Britain. Probably fewer planes. A Vichy French official has to be convinced enough that Britain can survive that he takes a huge personal risk by signing over billions of dollars of French contracts for order to be built in the US over to Britain. Japan has to be sufficiently deterred to not go after the Far East colonies. If Japan realizes how weak Britain is at this point, they can grab 90-95% of the world’s rubber supply and humiliate Britain, possibly loosening the British hold on India, which historically became precarious after the Brit defeat at Singapore. Spain has to be deterred from letting German planes on bases within easy range of Gibraltar.

The British hold on the Middle East would loosen, with the first Shah of Iran wondering if he can extract more concessions from the British on Iranian oil and Iraqi and Egyptian nationalists looking for ways to exploit British weakness.

Under this scenario, I would still say the Brits have a 60% chance of avoiding defeat, but if they lose their nerve a whole lot of bad tumbles down on them, with a lot of other jackals joining Mussolini to try to grab pieces of what they perceive as a dying lion.

In the meantime, the Soviets launch a spring war against Finland rather than the historical Winter War, starting their offensive within a week of the German attack on France. The Soviets have had additional months to prepare, but then so have the Finns. Without the harsh lessons of the Winter War, the Soviets probably do somewhat better due to better weather, but still do an awful job. The Soviet Army was badly in need of reform, and historically it took the shock of the Winter War to bring that home to its top leadership. Here, the shock comes roughly six months later, cutting time to implement changes by about a third, assuming the Germans attack in the summer of 1941.

Postponing the Winter War could delay the T34, though it probably wouldn’t delay the KV-1. Historically, elements in the Soviet military wanted to concentrate on late-model BT-series tanks and T26s rather than the T34, but poor performance of Soviet armor in Finland gave the T34 a leg up. Any delay for the T34 would probably be on the order of 6 months at most, pushing production start from September 1940 to March 1941. The KV1 and KV2 might be affected a little. The Winter War clearly showed the KV’s superiority over a multi-turreted competitor, so postponing that war might result in some early KV production getting diverted into the multi-turret competitor.

The Soviet Spring War on Finland would quickly sort out the KV1 versus multi-turret issue. It would also give the KV1 a huge boost because it will be very difficult for the Finns to stop, even if poorly used in penny packets. Mass use of KV1s as opposed to a few prototypes would give German intelligence a good idea that the KV1, though not the T34, existed. That probably lights a fire under up-gunning the Panzer 3 and building a German heavy tank. The Germans had a couple early-stage programs for a new heavy tank, but they probably couldn’t get one into production by the summer of 1941, even if they gave it top priority. At best, they might get more long-barrel 50-millimeter guns on Panzer 3s and maybe have an uprated 75 millimeter gun entering service for the Panzer 4 either around the time of the invasion or a little after.

If France fell in May 1940 and Britain sued for peace in June 1940, Hitler would undoubtedly toy with the idea of invading the Soviet Union in late summer 1940. Given the time it took to build up for the historical invasion in 1941, moving the invasion up almost a year would be unrealistic, so at best we are probably talking 1941.

If Germany is at peace with Britain, and the Red Army has just looked incompetent against Finland, Stalin would have absolutely no doubt that the Soviet Union is next on the German menu. I’m not sure what else he could add to the frantic armament that the Soviets historically did in this period, but if there were any stops to be pulled out, the Soviets would pull them.

On the other hand, if the Brits were out of the war, the Germans would have access to world markets for natural resources, at least to the extent that they could pay or barter for them, which would be somewhat limited. The Germans didn’t have a lot of hard currency.

Would Italy pull something stupid in the Balkans? Hard to say. Despite his bluster, Mussolini was not very decisive, changing his mind back and forth several times historically before attacking Greece. Since we’re looking for a possible German victory scenario, we’ll say Mussolini stays out of Greece, though that’s probably 50-50 at best.

So it would all come down to Germany versus the Soviet Union, with Britain rebuilding its shattered, nearly bankrupt economy and trying to deter Japan. The US would be frantically rearming, building the two-ocean navy it historically planned.

I’ve given the Germans as many advantages as I plausibly can—including some non-obvious ones like having all the planes and pilots they historically lost in the Battle of Britain and all the oil that they historically burned there and in the Balkans and North Africa. Even with all that, I’m not sure the Germans take the Soviet Union. Actually, I would again, put odds of an actual Soviet surrender at considerably less than fifty-fifty. It’s a little more likely that Germany could take the parts of the Soviet Union that generate great power, reducing the Soviet Union to something approximating Nationalist China written large.

Even if the Germans impose something similar to the Vichy regime on the Soviets, just occupying the parts of the Soviet Union the Germans would need to would suck down their manpower. It would be very difficult to make a German empire in the Soviet Union pay for itself, even if the Germans could conquer it.

That’s about the best I can do on a German victory scenario and German victory remains unlikely, not to mention probably self-defeating in the long run.