Essai en Guerre: an FFO-inspired TL

With additional French purchases, along with historic British purchases, there's likely even more constraints on both Curtis and North American..... Who's the most likely candidate(s) to backfill backlogged orders - at that point in time?
American war production is elastic though. At any given moment, capacity is limited, but the greater the prospects of profitable production are, the more investment there is in new plant.

As a general thing such expansion has a limited rate. One thing that might have limited the resolve of US investors in opening up yet more aviation production lines would be the thought that their main OTL customer, Great Britain, could achieve peace with Hitler any time HM War Government decided to call for a truce. If you build a whole new assembly line in Kansas or Georgia and then the war in Europe stops, it is just another bad investment made valueless.

OTL US war production ramped up to insanely higher levels once the USA itself entered the war, which put the government in the position of making assurances to the various firms. Constraints continued and always would exist, limiting the number of airframes and other war materiel the US firms could churn out in a given week...but fear that a financial investment in expanding plant might prove to be a costly error is not going to be one of them! If a given firm proves to be incompetent (this happened to both Brewster and Curtis during the war OTL) then the authorities will seize their plant and hand it over to better management, but barring punishment for specifically culpable individuals, the owners are entitled to compensation and will get it.

Now consider that in this ATL we are not in a period where only one government, the British War Cabinet, can single-handedly decide to either continue or end the war. There are two major Allied governments; one is in exile all right, but exiled to substantial holdings with considerable value (to reassure US investors who might have doubts about actually getting paid) and with even more skin in the game than the UK and Commonwealth generally--the idea that the Continent must not be dominated by a single dictator might seem too abstract for Americans to have confidence the British won't throw in the towel and cut their losses, but the very country the entire exilic French Government and military forces purport to defend is under German occupation! The whole premise of the French government in exile is winning the war and taking their homeland back. They might go bankrupt; they are not going to want to quit. So the composite Entente of Britain and France together between them have both credit and resolve.

This is not quite as good as the US government writing the various firms a blank check to cover any war-winning related expenses they might claim at the Congressional pork feeding trough, but it is pretty reassuring for the short run anyway, and so we can expect more production capacity being built up faster than it was OTL in this period, with what was accomplished once the US belatedly entered the war in late '41 being an index of how much faster it might build up versus OTL in this time frame.

Another set of limits that usually applies but does not apply here, in either OTL or TTL--the USA is still emerging from the Depression. There is just lots and lots of slack potential capacity to engage that will not suck up much in the way of scarce assets, certainly not fundamental ones like say labor, even labor with specialized skills. Capital is another story, but then again, to say we are still hung over by the Depression is precisely to say there is capital capacity sitting around idle.

As the USA geared up for total war after Pearl Harbor, limits were hit and various economic reactions took place such as galloping inflation (offset by soaring wage levels and price controls and rationing of goods to be bought with accumulating wages--war bonds became the major form of savings, which closed the circle of US self-financing and in effect mortgaged the entire capital value of the whole USA for a wartime budget. When this happens, the dynamic of US war industries will change and become preoccupied much more with US rather than foreign customers. But at this point, US open involvement is only something FDR is hoping to work his way toward gradually, and rising military procurement on "preparedness" pretexts is not crowding the market too much--it is actually expanding it.

So in this period especially, Fall of France (but here this being a geographical but not political thing) to Pearl Harbor, I think US firms will simply grow more rapidly due to greater investor confidence these investments will pay off, and while I think I cannot argue that none of the conflicts others have brought up will happen, that instead of say the Mustang being cancelled to make room for more P-40s, actually it will be delayed a bit and initially produced in smaller numbers in some new plant that did not exist OTL, and when it is appreciated a bit more, this plant will expand in parallel with the one producing the Warhawk surplus.

What I wonder is whether it is possible that higher revenues might enable Curtiss to pull out of its OTL funk and come back with a successful late war design that finally takes them past the P-40. OTL they offered many, including a long range jet as their last gasp, but none were deemed good enough. Part of this was apparently a stagnant corporate culture. Can heavy Warhawk procurement at this early hour, combined with AdA confidence in the Curtiss brand, lead to something neat?
OTL they offered many, including a long range jet as their last gasp, but none were deemed good enough. Part of this was apparently a stagnant corporate culture. Can heavy Warhawk procurement at this early hour, combined with AdA confidence in the Curtiss brand, lead to something neat?
Probably not, but without French input, the Model 87, while looking like the older Model 81A 'Tomahawk' shared very little in commonality.
So might not such quite as bad. Well, maybe just -mediocre- where performance dropped from an even more rugged structure and more guns, without much more power from the very slightly improved Allison.
But with the French around, could they push for a return to a Radial, like R2600 power?
At this point OTL, October 1940, Curtiss was working on the XP-53 for a USAAC proposal for a laminar flow wing with Eight .50s, the Continental 'Hyper'1430 inverted Vee.
Since that engine was nowhere close to running on a test stand, let alone in an airframe, in December that was changed to try a British Merlin. This modified prototype was called the XP-60
Now with AdA officials wandering around the Curtiss plants looking over the 230 H81A being built for them, they will bring up getting the next Curtiss Fighter.
On the immediate drawing boards and being cut into a prototype, was the P-46 to be shared with the British Purchasing Commission, with two .50s in the nose like the Model 81, but had Eight .30s in the wing. In July, 1940 the USAAC wanted an improved P-40C( Model 81B) with Six .50s and other changes, that became the Model 87, or P-40D, replacing the poorly performing XP-46 prototype
Now what will the AdA attache officials want? They weren't looking for huge gun batteries, they wanted performance.
So they would want a more minimalist fighter, like the earlier Hawks were.
I have the vague thought that I should investigate with some biographical research on McDonnell about whether he might be taken up into Curtiss as part of a major managerial and staff shakeup. The premise is that all this early war French demand puts the dysfunctional aspects of Curtiss management under greater scrutiny, whereas I am assuming McDonnell was at loose ends early on in the war and needed a break. An early opportunity to join an established big name firm, presumably in part because people who backed his independent company bid OTL are involved in the Curtiss reorganization and fast-track him in, might offset his presumable desire to run his own show, particularly if he is given fairly large funding and some loose tether to run a division to his liking.

This gives us the fallback of imagining that in the ATL, basically Curtiss postwar is increasingly identical to McDonnell OTL. Presumably the young upstart engineer never manages to get his name on the company, which harks back to the glory days of the first generation of HTA flight.

I think we can do a bit better though. A lot of what I am envisioning would be postwar stuff and probably out of scope of interest here.

But a few opportunities for Curtiss, some of it under McDonnell's influence and some being other tracks the legacy designers would be pursuing, might be possible to realize:

1) OTL the Curtiss Commando was this company's answer to Douglas's DC-2/3 series. Here perhaps there is a bottleneck in trying to ramp up to make "Dakotas" for both Britain and France, and the French turn to Curtiss for a supplement in Commando variants--eventually there might be an upgrade which, in the same naming tradition as "Commando" but honoring their French clients, is called "Legionaire." Postwar of course these planes just add to the general glut of medium cargo, low altitude low speed short range transports that were overwhelmingly Gooney Bird variants. But they do establish a civil transport (and of course military transport) niche for Curtiss they can follow up on post-war; the former is tough because the small/medium short range small airfield market is saturated with war surplus transports; many efforts to make a "DC-3" replacement including Douglas's own makeover went nowhere. The immediate postwar market is in long range high speed high capacity transAtlantic jobs which OTL were dominated by Lockheed's Constellation series. Meanwhile military transports are a thing, albeit somewhat niche.

2) Indeed upgrades of the Warhawk to Q model levels might be in the cards, one hopes a bit faster to maintain market share. OTL all Curtiss efforts to make the next generation of Hawk failed to achieve any edge over competition.

3) McDonnell however made this thing called a "Bat" OTL that featured blended wing/fuselage. It failed testing due to the engines tending to overheat, but perhaps if one can show he was thinking on these lines long before the war end period when the Bat was tested, we can justify a somewhat degraded-engine version that might be competitive with rival firm designs of the same (1942-'43) era, and therefore pick up a contract and be gradually upgraded to match its OTL intended spec (without the engine fires) and beyond.

I have some radical and probably overly wonky and Mary-Sueish notions about ways and means to compensate for weaker but more reliable engines. I believe part of the problem of the Bat was insufficient ability to cool the engines due to their being buried in the general wing blending. I have not been thinking on lines of improving cooling so much as supplemental forms of thrust to be honest.

But I do think a Bat in some form might be a possible outcome of Curtiss taking on McDonnell, and between reorganized Curtiss's deep pockets and influence and a better match up of design capability to wartime needs while the war is still hot, before VE Day, substantial orders might be fielded, and if the post-war USAAF or USN don't want the improved end of war era design, perhaps the AdA will.

It would be a matter of looking at realistic performance parameters to see if the "Bat" would be a plausible next-gen Hawk or if it has its own separate niche.

4) Historically, Curtiss--that is, Glenn Curtiss himself--got his start in the aviation biz designing flying boats, which were the major exception to the OTL rule that the USA did not make warplanes in the Great War. Curtiss's seaplanes were procured by the British and had a major influence on the several competing British flying boat designs in the interwar period. Could Curtiss get back to its roots and design some flying boats or other seaplane types for the USN and allied navies? And might this stimulate competition from the major American designers, notably Consolidated which became Convair with the acquisition of Vultee? The blended body concept was part of an OTL late war/postwar jet seaplane concept that eventually evolved into the unsuccessful water-ski delta fighter design of Convair's in the 1950s. A blended body prop plane might be suitable.

I am trying to sit on my hands regarding the more outlandish notions I have, but one of my favorites comes into play here--using hydrofoils on a seaplane design. The triangular or trapezoidal V/U design might be favored, as this form automatically rides higher out of the water as takeoff speed builds up, but I am fonder of the notion of foils submerged well below the wave troughs for a smoother ride; these have to be actively controlled in angle of attack to be sure, and struts bearing them have to be well streamlined and still would add a lot of drag. Water being some 800 times denser achieves much higher pressure on the foil at a given speed, so the area of the foils of whatever design is low whereas strength requirements suggest making them of thick strong (and salt-resistant) steel. The traditional subsonic wing planform, with wide span to minimize induced drag by means of high aspect ratio, might be disfavored versus a more compact circular or oval design, perhaps indeed one where span is less than average chord length. Such foils appear to be a disaster in terms of induced drag, but actually the vortices involved interact with suitable designs in somewhat beneficial ways, giving the delta wing its virtues. At deeply subsonic speeds where flow is incompressible practically speaking, a circular form might be favored, lending itself to compact form. So I am envisioning a shield-shaped thing, a compound of two ellipses, forward with chord half the span (a 2:1 half ellipse with flow along the minor axis) and trailing half-ellipse of opposite 3:1 with flow along the major axis, so the rear portion has 1.5 rear maximum chord as the span, so we have overall 2:3 span/chord ratio. At subsonic speeds, a fluid flow foil generates the center of lift at 1/4 chord or so, so putting the mounting strut with mechanism to vary angle of attack (probably using tab "hydrolerons" at the rear tip for the required torque) there, where the two half-ellipses meet, would place it at the center of lift force. Making such a strut retract would not be too difficult, nor would it mass a lot more than say twice that of landing gear on land--it might even be possible to put a short-strut wheel in a watertight covered recess to use these struts as the landing gear on land.

This design might lower the hydrodynamic compromises necessary to enable a plane to land on water and take of from it, in particular eliminating the "step" needed to break the tail of the plane away from contact with the water surface, thus allowing the lower fuselage to be well streamlined despite doubling as a boat hull. The bottom still has to be heavy and strong, but American warplanes of WWII solved a great many problems by adding weight and then using very high engine power to compensate. The USA had ample access to high quality high octane aviation gasoline so this worked well for us, and our allies who benefited from using American high octane "petrol" as we don't call it.

Another Mary Sue concept I like though is developing high power radial aerodiesel engines, which is counterindicated by this American easy access to high octane gasoline to be sure. But if one can make a reasonably light diesel engine, surely heavier than a gasoline one of the same power, but keep the weight differential in bounds, diesel fuel has some advantages. It stores denser so tanks of a given volume hold more fuel, or when weight is the constraint, the tanks can be made smaller and lighter. Diesels are more fuel efficient, so a given mass of fuel translates into longer endurance and thus greater range. And it is less volatile and so the risk of accidental fire is reduced somewhat, which could be a major selling point for carrier deck operations; being able to operate all aircraft on diesel type fuel makes the carrier a bit less vulnerable to enemy strikes, such as the Japanese eventually took to making with kamikazes. OTL Packard did develop a radial diesel in the early 1930s but it had drawbacks--some of these I have read of included stuff like either burning or leaking lubricant oil a more advanced design might well fix. Suppose a stronger Curtiss company can persuade Packard to resume their work with modern high temperature alloys and other tricks such as turbosuperchargers? (It does occur to me that more efficient piston strokes might leave an exhaust-driven turbosupercharger with less waste heat to scavenge to drive the supercharger, but first of all I doubt this would do more than somewhat reduce the power available, and second it might be possible, diverting a bit of power to an intake air compressor (or rather, making the supercharger element a bit more powerful and diverting some of its pumped airflow to the turbine unit) to combust some diverted fuel to supplement the exhaust power and using the combined flow of exhaust and burner-enhanced airflow to drive the turbine.

With both the low aspect ratio hydrofoils and the competitive supercharged radial aerodiesels I am looking ahead postwar to the jet era, where on one hand, experience with subsonic low aspect ratio hydrofoils might give Curtiss a jump on delta wing high subsonic speed designs (the Avro Vulcan operated in this regime for instance), whereas developing families of high performance warplanes using advanced high power diesel engines would pre-position Curtiss (McDonnell) designs to switch over to either jet propulsion or turboprops.

Meanwhile success in developing aerodiesels would recommend them to long range aircraft--in wartime, deep penetration bombers (and if scaled down, give their fighter escort longer range too) and especially postwar, to the large, long range, fast-subsonic civil transports which were the major civil market postwar. Converting these to turboprops and then jets might come more naturally and earlier to a firm accustomed to these alternative designs.

Anyway we have a range of possibilities in wartime alone. A minimal Curtiss comeback with advanced Warhawks serving right to the end of the war; perhaps some ATL extension, perhaps the McDonnell Bat design, etc.

The idea that McDonnell would settle for working for Curtiss might not be plausible, and even without him I am sure Curtiss had some god people who would think of something.

Once the USA does enter the war on its own behalf, all my arguments for there being "room for all" with French demands merely augmenting the range of choices at little cost to OTL projects go out the window--all of a sudden the USA is going to be operating at the limits of capacity and sacrifices will have to be made somewhere to enable any ATL product. This is true in the early war years anyway; the USA did not actually reach full capacity OTL and so we can have extra stuff by means of somewhat more expansion without breaking the plausibility bank at all.
Can the US (Rock Island Arsenal?) produce enough M-2, M-3 Light Tanks in time to be useful additions for both the French and British North African forces?

IIRC, the US Mediums, even the wifty M-2 won't be ready till 1941, and the M-3 Medium (Lee/Grant) later than the M-2
From 1940 to 1945, Rock Island made 94 vehicles.
Besides them, you had Christie, who was able to make round a dozen before the War, and none during.
The only group able to do more than hand built prototypes, was Marmon-Herrington, and they made around 1000 during the War
And that was with wartime expansion
The need that ultimately spawned the Mustang is still there. Less of one, true, but there's still need for a long-range escort fighter more nimble than the P-38.
This might indeed ultimately generate the Merlin Mustang. On the other hand, there would be options, such as the P-47 with drop tanks - albeit not as good.
So the AdA could end up with the P-40Q...
I think that's quite likely, given the confidence the AdA will build up in Curtiss and the P-40 specifically. OTL the Q was cancelled because there were already better things, but in the relative absence (or perhaps delay in getting there) of the Mustang P-51D, there might be an opportunity for its development that didn't exist OTL.
Now consider that in this ATL we are not in a period where only one government, the British War Cabinet, can single-handedly decide to either continue or end the war. There are two major Allied governments; one is in exile all right, but exiled to substantial holdings with considerable value (to reassure US investors who might have doubts about actually getting paid) and with even more skin in the game than the UK and Commonwealth generally--the idea that the Continent must not be dominated by a single dictator might seem too abstract for Americans to have confidence the British won't throw in the towel and cut their losses, but the very country the entire exilic French Government and military forces purport to defend is under German occupation! The whole premise of the French government in exile is winning the war and taking their homeland back. They might go bankrupt; they are not going to want to quit. So the composite Entente of Britain and France together between them have both credit and resolve.
This is a great way of putting it, and a critical consideration that might easily get overlooked, in terms of understanding US actors' risk assessments and confidence levels, which are going to determine investment timings and emphases. The overall effect is likely to be a net positive for the Allied effort, but in ways that are hard to illustrate concretely.
Can heavy Warhawk procurement at this early hour, combined with AdA confidence in the Curtiss brand, lead to something neat?
Maybe the Q, or something like it, perhaps with a greater emphasis on range, for the escort role.
Now with AdA officials wandering around the Curtiss plants looking over the 230 H81A being built for them, they will bring up getting the next Curtiss Fighter.
There are probably already more than 230 H81s in production for the AdA in the ATL. At this point in the ATL, the main discussions will be around the P-40E, which might be called the H81E in AdA service. With the P-40 so closely associated with the AdA, the P-40E is unlikely to get called the Kittyhawk; maybe the Faucon?
Here perhaps there is a bottleneck in trying to ramp up to make "Dakotas" for both Britain and France, and the French turn to Curtiss for a supplement in Commando variants--eventually there might be an upgrade which, in the same naming tradition as "Commando" but honoring their French clients, is called "Legionaire."
There are various factors that might get the AdA interested in the C-46 as an alternative to the C-47 - not just their close relationship with Curtiss, but also some of the characteristics of the C-46 make a good fit with the current AdA requirements - since the French are thinking about how they fight a modern war in austere theatres, maybe the greater payload might be attractive.
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There are probably already more than 230 H81s in production for the AdA in the ATL. At this point in the ATL, the main discussions will be around the P-40E, which might be called the H81E in AdA service. With the P-40 so closely associated with the AdA, the P-40E is unlikely to get called the Kittyhawk; maybe the Faucon
That was the OTL order, before May.
Upthread I listed the time frame of the interplay between the Model 86(XP-46) and Model 87(P-40D) with the BPC(RAF) and USAAC that was without French input.
No, I don't think they would have liked how the XP-46 specifications at all, that was mostly British, and even they bailed once NAA did their prototype Mustang, and how the Model 87 was slapped together. French weren't looking for more more ruggedness and more guns, they had a more Japanese outlook, with performance and maneuverability prime concerns. That the Model 87 could have a centerline bomb cradle really wasn't on their shopping list.
I believe they would have wanted an improved Model 81, not what the 87 ended up being, but just mostly using the uprated Allison from the XP-46, but keeping the rest of the 81 as more lighter weight, maybe going for twin .50s in the nose, and maybe a 20mm in each wing, since the Allison could not have an motorcannon as they desired with their own domestic fighters with the 12Y engine, along with the recent RAF Malcomb Hood canopy starting to equip the Spitfire mkIA.
Its something to notice that the French name for Fighter aircraft was 'Hunter' not 'Fighter' so a little different mindset.
Part 5.1
Part 5. Man cannot tell, but Allah knows

Extract from ch.6, Mit Rommel bis zum Ende, by Hans von Luck

I still recall that long drive on June 15th that took us up to our forward HQ. Really it was the last time for several weeks, if not months, that the General and I could have a proper conversation about matters other than immediate operational ones. A young staff officer, I think called Hube, accompanied us. They had sent us a new driver, a sergeant called Beck, who cheerfully took us off at what felt like a hundred miles an hour.
‘Steady, driver,’ I said, though the General himself only smiled.
‘Sorry, sir,’ he replied, ‘my orders were to get you back as soon as possible.’
‘I can see you take orders literally. Who told you that?’
‘I did,’ said Hube apologetically. ‘I thought-’
‘It’s fine,’ said the General. ‘Beck, where did you learn to drive like that?’
Beck chuckled. ‘On the road to Celle,’ he said.
‘And who taught you?’
‘Well, sir, I could tell you a tale, with your permission.’ The General indicated assent. ‘Well, sir, they got me out of the barracks in Hohne - remember like it was yesterday - very cold day it was, sir, beginning of February last. Thought I was in trouble, but no, this transport lieutenant tells me I’m a driver now. Funny way of going about it, but well, shouldn’t have joined the Army if I can’t take a joke, should I?’
‘Does this story finish before we get to HQ?’ I asked.
‘Don’t worry, sir, done in a jiffy. Anyway, this lieutenant puts me behind the wheel of a truck, a big one, and me never driven more than a farm-cart before. He shows me the pedals, and gauges and that, and I start it up. “Go forward, down the road,” he says, so off we go. I’m thinking we’re off to the training place, where I can learn about all this business properly. So we go down this road quiet like, and get to Celle. Maybe twenty kilometres. “So is it here, sir?” I says. “Is what here?” he says. “The training place,” I say. “No,” he says, “you’re trained now.” And he gives me the chit saying I can drive anything up to five tonnes.’
We went quiet for a moment. ‘I hope you’ve done some more driving since,’ said the General.
‘Oh yes sir, lots.’
‘Well that’s all right then,’ said the General. ‘Anyway, I don’t think you’re alone.’
Hube broke in. ‘You did better than some. I hear they’ve made fifteen kilometres the standard.’
The General spoke again. ‘Last time I was in Berlin, von Schell was saying we need to de-motorize the Army. The Reds keep making trouble about oil deliveries. Not enough fuel, he said.’
‘He must be crazy,’ Hube burst out. ‘We can’t march all the way to-’ he stopped himself.
‘Permission to speak, sir?’ asked Beck. Again this was granted. ‘Every man jack in 7th Panzer knows we’re off to teach Stalin a lesson, sir, and get the oil. No need to worry about saying too much. Of course, my lips are sealed outside present company.’
The General smiled again. ‘I hope comrade Stalin knows less than you do, sergeant.’
‘Stands to reason, sir. There’s too many of us just to go and sort the Greeks out, and why’d we go by way of Poland, anyway?’
We all thought over this for a while. ‘Do you remember the day, Hans,’ said the General, ‘when we stood on the docks at Marseilles, and watched the smoke from the French ships on the horizon, and took bets how soon the war would be over?’
‘I think we both lost that bet, my General,’ I said.


Memorandum of the Joint Economic Planning Office to the Supreme War Council


...The main constraints upon the further motorisation of the French Army therefore do not rest in the supply of the motor vehicles themselves. Sadly, owing to misunderstandings and clerical errors, the evacuation procedures following the Setback did not make drivers as high priority as necessary. We have made efforts to recruit drivers among the colonial troops, but have encountered many difficulties in this respect, though these are being overcome. Generally they require several hundred kilometres of road training...
Our war effort requires abundant tanker space, much of which has been allocated to the needs of the Navy for bunker fuel and to the AdA for aviation spirit. Gasoline and diesel therefore compete for priority. However, the Americans have assured us that if necessary supplies can be increased.
The options that present themselves to us, therefore, for the motorisation programme up to the end of 1941, are as follows.
  1. The maximum option of motorizing all the major field formations of the Army. We do not recommend this, as the shortage of drivers does not permit it. V Corps, in Greece, holds positions where animal transport is in some respects superior.
  2. Besides III Corps, already fully motorised, we have sufficient means to fully motorize one further corps, and to motorize the artillery, engineer and HQ elements of the remainder of the Army.
  3. To motorize one division in each Corps, rather than an entire corps…
I like the juxtaposition of the French saying each driver needs hundreds of kilometres of training before they can be passed, and the German staff driver who managed 20km before being handed a chit.
The French Army is at least fully aware of the issue and hasn't been sniffing it's own paint like the Wehrmacht.
Part 5.2
Girolamo Leoni, La Follia, ch.6, extract

By the late summer our position in the Dodecanese had become alarming. During June and July the Allies had demonstrated a serious intention to make Crete a significant base, building up its air strength greatly, but it proved difficult, after the failure of operation MANFRED, to engage German interest in the theatre. I was in Tirana at the time, attached to the General’s staff, and we repeatedly visited Salonika and tried to alert the Germans to the risks. But any requests for further support received only the reply that all this would have to wait until the defeat of Russia. We now know that in Berlin they were even more dismissive. ‘Yet more Italian whining about the Aegean,’ commented General Keitel on June 30th. ‘We have told them once Russia is smashed we shall have everything we need to deal with the Mediterranean. But patience does not come easily to them.’ All the Germans did was send a few more U-boats to the Mediterranean as a gesture of solidarity.
The sole remaining German concern about Greece, following the frustration of MANFRED, was to ensure the security of the Ploesti oil-fields. Reassurance on this point soon came. On 15th July a squadron of Wellington bombers flew from Libya, refuelled in Athens, and attacked Ploesti that night. The results disappointed the British air marshals: only one aircraft dropped its bombs on the target, causing negligible damage. ‘We scattered the rest of our bombs halfway across Romania,’ wrote the British squadron-leader. ‘A complete fiasco, and we lost too many of our lads into the bargain.’ Six of the Wellingtons came down, four of them in the sea after getting lost and running out of fuel. ‘We must solve the night navigation problem - our present capabilities are quite inadequate,’ he went on. ‘Besides the Wimpy is not the plane for the job. Its bomb-load at that range cannot do much harm even if we hit the targets.’ Of course I only read this after the war, but similar thoughts occurred to us all.
The Germans did not even feel certain that the raid had been British until they discovered the wreckage of one bomber near the Romanian-Bulgarian border. ‘If that’s their worst, our fears about Ploesti were overblown,’ wrote General Halder, ‘a few guns or fighters will ensure the safety of the oil fields.’ All this, however, meant that as far as Berlin was concerned, the Aegean went from being considered a minor theatre to being almost forgotten. During the summer most German units transferred to the Eastern Front, including my dear musical friend Martin Schneider, who I sadly missed: much later I heard he had been killed.
Not even the enemy offensive in July stopped this transfer activity; the Germans felt confident they could hold it off easily, and in the event did so, as we did against the Greek offensive that occurred about the same time. But that was the mainland, where the Germans could fight best. In the islands it was different...
Throughout the summer British ships made the run from Tobruk to Crete. We knew they were up to something. Again, with hindsight one can see that of especial importance was the arrival of radar equipment in July. This, together with two fresh anti-aircraft regiments, ensured that the airfields in Crete could no longer suffer from surprise attacks, and the RAF could now operate from them in force. Although low-level air attacks could get under the radar, these were costly for our comrades in the Regia Aeronautica. ‘Every raid we make I lose machines, and at such low level the loss of a machine meant the loss of its crew,’ the commander of Gruppo 20 said to us. ‘The airfields in the theatre define austerity, so repairs are slow. Serviceability rates have plummeted.’ Thus the Malta story was repeated. After an initial period of vulnerability, the enemy was secure on the mainland, while Crete could become the base for aggressive operations…
The first Allied objective was Kasos, where we had a small garrison. During July air attacks became common, and on 4th August a British battalion landed there with a heavy naval bombardment and distant cover from the Mediterranean Fleet. This seemed excessive for the smallness of the target, but the Allies were determined to avoid any risks. ‘This is our first real counter-attack,’ commented Mr. Lyttleton, ‘there must be no mistakes.’ Our garrison, lacking supplies and hopelessly outgunned, surrendered. ‘The Italians fired a few shots for form’s sake,’ commented Colonel Keyes, the British commander. ‘They felt let down by their command, with reason. We captured fifty men and a dozen mules. The mules caused most of our casualties.’ The British now had an early-warning position east of Crete, inhibiting our air raids from Scarpanto. They were gaining air superiority - as we often warned Rome, but without success. Mussolini’s sole concern at this period was to try to recover his credit with Hitler by sending Italian forces to Russia.
The taking of Kasos was only a preliminary to the operation known as CONCAVE, which showed how with remarkable speed the Allies had evolved a formidable amphibious capability, which we could only contemplate with awe and envy. What I found especially impressive was the smooth co-operation not only between various nations but also between the land, sea and air forces…


Theo Barker, A Song at the Sacrifice, ch.9, extract

Bingo and I had felt very much the need to do something more useful than hang around in Chania writing memos that no-one read. The struggles and sufferings of the Greeks had moved us all profoundly, we all wanted a crack at the blighters. So Bingo found a billet in Intelligence though in no exalted capacity. I heard that Bob Laycock’s happy little band of cut-throats needed Greek-speakers, so I pulled a few strings and went to a seedy office near the port and chatted to a young subaltern in Greek for half an hour, alternating between ancient and modern. Eventually he said, ‘you’ll do’, which was the first English I heard from him, and then an hour later I walked home as a newly-commissioned second lieutenant in the Royal Engineers - why the Engineers I have no idea. It was vouchsafed to me that my duties would not generally involve laying mines or building bridges…
They sent me to Egypt, allowing me to see Eleni for a few blessed days. She was concerned about me joining the fighting services, but understood - news of the Salonika massacres had just come out and we all felt very fired up. Then I was sent to the main camp of 11 Commando in the desert.
The papers made a big fuss about CONCAVE and how impressive it was, but for me and the rest of the chaps it started inauspiciously. We had gotten kitted up and drove out into the desert for an exercise, when word came that the exercise was postponed. So we returned to Alex, only to hear that we had all the wrong kit, and had to hand it in. Three days later they re-issued us with the same kit again! We finally got to the exercise area where we were to rehearse how we would cooperate with aircraft. As instructed, we lay down red smoke on the target, and a minute later three Blenheims roared overhead. They dropped their bombs - right on top of us! Fortunately they were only practice bombs, but this didn’t make us feel much confidence in the RAF. They promised us they would get it right on the night.
The most serious thing was that although we knew we would be making a seaborne landing we had no chance to rehearse getting in and out of the assault craft. There should have been an exercise on the Glengyle, but that got cancelled because of an outbreak of illness among the crew. So when we boarded her, on August 24th, it was the first time many of us had even seen an assault ship. George tried to get someone to listen to our woes, but everything was in such a rush…


Extract from ch.9, Marianne and John by Charles Montague

Meetings of the Supreme War Council had fallen into a routine. Every two months, the meeting-place would shift, with Algiers and Casablanca being used by the French, Gibraltar and London by the British. This involved much travel, most of it necessarily by air, and inevitably there was eventually a calamity. On June 2nd the plane carrying Mr. Eden to Gibraltar went missing. No trace was ever found. Naturally there was speculation that the Germans had shot it down, but the Germans were just as mystified. ‘A great loss, but we must carry on,’ commented Mr. Churchill.
I don't know that any comment was made on this key P.o.D.

Eden was an important player during the war certainly, and a PM after.
I don't know that any comment was made on this key P.o.D.

Eden was an important player during the war certainly, and a PM after.
There are going to be a few semi-random butterflies like this one. Some people who died OTL will survive (e.g. Italo Balbo) and others who survived will not, such as Eden; sometimes this will have significant consequences for the war, other times it will not. I wanted to capture a sense of the randomness of fate.
Incidentally, one thing that has made a strong impression on me reading about WW2 is the number of major personalities who perished in air crashes. Sometimes through enemy action (e.g. General Gott, Admiral Yamamoto) but more often it seems simply through accident (e.g. General Sikorski, Admiral Ramsay, Subhas Chandra Bose, Fritz Todt, Werner Molders, Glenn Miller, Alan Blumlein, Air Marshal Leigh-Mallory, probably Antoine Saint-Exupery, and that is just off the top of my head). In those days it was normal for aircraft to operate in ways that nowadays the authorities probably wouldn't allow in most places. I think something like 30-40% of aircrew fatalities were from accidents, not action. This puts into perspective the amount of flying that Churchill, especially, did during the war; he records numerous flights in his memoirs, some of them quite hairy.
A wonderful TL!
Thank you!
Part 5.3
Extract from ch.6 of To the stars the hard way: a history of 50 Wing RAF by Bertram Owen

The Wing now comprised three squadrons, now all back up to strength, operating from Crete. During CONCAVE they frequently operated alongside SAAF Blenheims. They spent late August engaged on strikes against the Italians in the Aegean with the goal of isolating Scarpanto and Rhodes. The Italians had just introduced a new fighter, the Macchi C202, and this proved a most unpleasant opponent, though fortunately rare. The strikes by Blenheims produced disappointing results for the level of effort and casualties - five planes lost in ten days, with only a handful of hits scored on Italian vessels. One Navy memo expressed concern thus: ‘bombing at mast-top height speaks volumes for the courage of the crews, but exposes these large, slow aircraft to even small arms fire. We have noted better results at less cost from mining operations.’
Worse was to come. Squadron Leader Fife commented: “We had a proper foul-up on the big day. We took off at first light and plastered our target, a coastal battery, alongside the Springboks. Then we headed out over the sea and saw the invasion convoy. We gave the recognition signal, and it all seemed fine, then some trigger-happy idiot fired and we had the whole convoy blasting away at us. Good thing they were terrible shots, we got off lightly. But when we landed a few of the SAAF came with us, they’d been shot up pretty badly. If we were angry, it was nothing to how the Springboks felt, and their language was pretty blue. Four of their crates were u/s and one had gone down - no survivors.”
After this Fife received a posting back to Britain to train new crews. His parting comment in the war diary, which he passed to his successor, summarised much of the British bomber effort in the first two years of the war: ‘The Blenheim is out of date at least in Europe. Immense courage and skill by my boys - but many painful losses and a nagging feeling that we haven’t accomplished all that much in the way of hurting the enemy.’ This view had become widespread in the RAF, and contributed to the decision in the final quarter of 1941 to withdraw the Blenheim squadrons from first-line duty. ‘We’ll send them from the Med to the Far East, where things are quiet,’ commented one Air Marshal.
Part 5.4
Extract from War in the Middle Sea, ch.10

A description of the vicissitudes of operation CONCAVE can hardly do better than the report written soon afterwards by General O’Connor.
“...CONCAVE has demonstrated beyond doubt the challenges faced by amphibious operations under modern conditions. Modern warfare is above all a matter of heavy and complex machinery, and the defenders always have the advantage that their machines are already in place on land and ready for use. The attacker by contrast must disembark a mass of delicate machines, readily corroded by salt water, harassed by fire, often in darkness both literal and metaphorical.
3. Signals equipment was lacking, and too many radio sets broke down or performed poorly. Commanders repeatedly were in the dark about the position and status of units. For instance, of sixteen new type radio sets issued to the New Zealand battalions, fourteen were discovered to have faulty batteries. This was not discovered until the troops were already ashore owing to the extreme haste of the planning and preparation.
4. Even where signals equipment functioned, confusion too often reigned. For instance, on 26th, 11 Commando transmitted repeated requests to HMS Fiji for gunfire support, using the agreed codes. However, only one officer aboard the cruiser had been trained in these codes, and he had suffered accidental injury, so it took several hours for the request to be understood, by which time the Commandos had taken the objective. Several casualties then resulted to our troops when the Fiji bombarded the target. This all occurred even though the cruiser was the allocated gunfire support vessel for the Commando battalion. A training exercise had been planned which should have ironed out these problems, but it was cancelled due to lack of time.
5. Tribute should, however, be paid to the Navy’s gunfire support in general, which proved essential. For the most part the troops’ only complaint was that the bombardments could have been heavier. Against a weakly held objective such as Scarpanto, cruiser gunfire sufficed, but stronger defences will need heavier guns.
6. Communication with the RAF will also need attention. The Army recognises the enormous effort made by the RAF and the heavy losses they suffered. The enemy’s air was no more than a nuisance factor. This is the most important single factor accounting for our success. However there were several troubling incidents. The sinking of three of our patrol boats by our own planes hurt morale considerably; they were mistaken for enemy torpedo boats. The RAF crews stated that no recognition signals were seen, apparently because of unfavourable lighting conditions. Similarly the destroyer Defender suffered a heavy bombing attack by our own aircraft, fortunately without damage. Clear recognition signals must be mutually agreed. Considering that the Defender was alone and attacked by no less than fifteen of our bombers over the course of two hours, we might also suggest that the RAF review their methods for attacking ships.
7. Conversely, the Navy fired upon our aircraft on several occasions, destroying one Blenheim and damaging several others. Navy gunners should receive additional assistance in aircraft recognition. We understand efforts are underway to produce electronic means for friendly ships and aircraft to recognise each other; these should be a priority before any larger-scale amphibious operations.
8. The bombardment of the French battalion at Arcesine by our Blenheims not only caused casualties, but also an unpleasant argument which culminated in the French Colonel challenging the SAAF squadron leader to a duel. We can ill afford such incidents.
9. On that occasion only the light bomb-load of the Blenheims prevented heavier casualties. It is not the Army’s place to teach the Air its business, but common sense must question the continued employment of the Blenheim. We understand that the French have started to use their American Curtiss fighters to carry bombs, and that two such fighters can carry the same bomb-load as one Blenheim, with equal accuracy, much greater speed and self-defence ability. We understand our own Hurricanes can perform this role when given suitable modification.
10. The processes and routines for loading and unloading the troops require review. Two of the LCAs aboard Glengyle were lost, with many men drowned, because of elementary errors in launching procedures. More time to rehearse might have prevented this minor tragedy. The LCMs carrying the Hussar light tanks to Diakoftis beach arrived over two hours late chiefly owing to unforeseen difficulties securing the vehicles in the landing craft. Fortunately this did not greatly impede operations, but we note that in any littoral with a greater tidal range, a delay of a few hours may badly affect the prospects for successful unloading of heavy machinery. Again time to prepare could have prevented this.
11. The congestion on Diakoftis beach prevented the anticipated capture of Karpathos town on the first day. If the enemy had been able to employ artillery against the beach, they would have inflicted heavy casualties. Apparently only one harassed officer (whose radio had also broken down) was available to organise landings and movements on this particular beach, and none of the assault troops knew who he was. The day of the landings is not the time to make such introductions…
28. To summarise, very many improvements, and thorough rehearsals, are required before larger amphibious operations. Only the extreme weakness of the defence, and our local air and naval superiority, permitted the capture of the island.