"We Won - So, What Now?": Selected Stories from World War Two and Its Aftermath

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    “The Queen will attend a service at Westminster Abbey next month, commemorating the 70th anniversary of Victory Day. The anniversary on 10 March marks 70 years since the end of World War II.

    The service will be held on 10 March, the last of three days of events. There will also be a two-minute silence at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, and the lighting of more than 1,000 beacons around the country.

    The silence, to be held at 15:00 BST on Thursday 10 March, will mark the moment Prime Minister Winston Churchill broadcast his speech to formally announce victory over the Soviet Union and the end of the war. It will be followed by the lighting of the beacons, which will stretch from Newcastle to Cornwall.

    The Queen famously joined in with the street celebrations in London on 10 March 1946. On 10 March cathedral bells will also be rung across the country at 11:00 BST. A 1940s-themed concert will be held on Horse Guards Parade in London in the evening, to be shown on the BBC. The Queen, Duke of Edinburgh, Prince of Wales and Princess of Wales will be joined at the Thursday service by veterans and their families.”
    - BBC News, 3 February 2016

    “There had been every indication that a splendid victory was at hand. We had smashed Hitler and now we’d smashed the rest of the fascist Western nations – at least that’s what our commissar told us. Nice boy, really, just led astray. Of course, time was against us from the beginning – war meant no more supplies from England or America and, after a while, we felt that pinch. Spare parts for our T-34s or even buttons for our jackets started to becoming harder to find. You didn’t notice their growing rarity at first until, one day, it became obvious. You sensed something was wrong. But an army such as ours could handle it – we had shown we could handle anything. Then, one fateful day, I was behind the lines at Paderborn, visiting a library. I’d hoped to memorise some fairy tales – I could hardly bring books back home with me – for my children. Never had the imagination to come up with any on my own and, well, you know what they say about Russian fairy tales. They could do with something lighter. I got distracted by, I think, some commotion on the road. Disputes between two lorry drivers over who had right of way, you know, silly stuff, the farcical stuff which defines life that they never show you in the films. Punches were thrown and I took one of the drivers aside, once he’d calmed down, and took him to the park – it was a lovely autumn morning and I thought it’d be good for his nerves. It was obvious from the start that he was in need of a pick-me-up like that. We discussed the war on the way there – he told me, in hushed tones, about the depth of our logistics problems. The Allies were carving us up, he told me – but I wasn’t worried. What could they do – push us back to Moscow. Not even God could, not at this point. Then, as we passed through the gates into the park, having provided the local forced labourers with their regular teasing, I suggested we climb a nearby hill, so we did, and one could see for miles to the east. Look at all that Germany we own, I laughed, and he laughed too. Then, over the hills, a flash of light. Incandescent. Everyone says a second sun, but that’s what it was, just hovering over the Westphalian countryside. My eyes seared. Then the shockwave; I was thrown to my feet and rolled halfway down the hill. When I could crawl back up I saw this great, evil, black mushroom cloud rising over everything. Then, some miles further to the east, came a second. And we thought we had logistical difficulties before. An hour later, we had our first Pershings sighted, and I don’t think a Russian ever made another step west.”
    - Account of Sergeant Gerasim Kovalev, 51st Corps of the Red Army

    “For the people of the dismembered Soviet Union, peace was an empty word. Famine, disease, and banditry swept the lands, the Allies having neither the men nor materials to hold down such enormous territories, as disempowered Soviet institutions either crumbled or looted. Gloom, dark and foreboding, swept the lands of the East – a nation which had, only a few months prior, seen glorious victory approaching at great speed, had now been visited by apocalypse. Its great cities had been smashed once by the Nazi war machine and been immolated a second time while atomic death blasted even the venerated Shock Armies from existence. British officers were in Omsk, distributing bread and talking about municipal elections, while General Marshall sat in the Kuntsevo Dacha poring over Red Army demobilisation details. Thousands of men, hungry and wounded, sat in great crowds along Moscow’s avenues, while across Poland and the Baltic nations whole forests and great tracts of fields smouldered and innumerable masses of humanity stumbled about rendered barely recognisable with radiation burns. To the west, millions toasted a lasting victory, a “peace for all time,” but for the defeated it could not have felt like anything but yet another nightmare. Hell had been let loose on Eastern Europe and the burns would not heal easily. Drifting down the Moskva River, the ash which had once been Joseph Stalin must have been glad it never faced the wrath of these people.”
    - Rubentein, S. (2016) ‘Lambs in the East – A New History of the Sov
    iet Union, pp.12.’

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    2.
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    “Once Yalta fell to pieces, it was obvious to anyone who knew anything that lasting peace between the Allies was on a knife’s edge. One needed only to look at a map to see that these two huge forces, one blue and one red, were approaching a clash. Germany was becoming a secondary issue, a shrinking bit of territory stuck between the two, and Stalin could never be coaxed away from his conviction that the West would march on Moscow. The OSS warned London and Washington that something was up, that the Red Army wasn’t preparing the static positions one expected now Germany was defeated, but, to their eternal shame, they just didn’t want to hear it. Eyes were busy turning to the Pacific. That Stalin might still be hungry was a thought few wanted to entertain.”
    - Interview with Karson Millard, American intelligence officer

    “I can’t tell you how it felt. The air was squeezed from my lungs when the news came through – just days before, I’d been out on the streets of Warrington, climbing a streetlight, drunken celebrations with all the sailors and Royal Engineers from all over. Peace at last, we cried, dizzy with joy. Then, a few days later, I wake up with this strange feeling. Somehow, I knew something was wrong. I go downstairs, light the stove, flick on the wireless, and there it is. The Red Army had crossed the frontier, smashing into our lines in Germany like waves against cliffs. You can’t imagine the cold sense of betrayal. It drove some to fury – that Stalin had tricked us. Robbed us of everything. Suddenly the prospect of many more years of fighting, against an enemy far bigger than Germany ever swelled to, became real in all of our minds. Despair was all one could find.”
    - Account of Madeleine Revie, civilian in Warrington, England

    “Borghamn: Look, if there’s one thing the U.S. hasn’t been able to cope with, it’s losing their superpower status.
    Interviewer: Have they lost their superpower status? They’re still just as powerful as ever, surely?
    Borghamn: If you are a superpower, and others also become superpowers, you are not such a superpower anymore. It’s a simple mathematical fact – the more pie another has, the less pie you can have. In a finite world, that is how power is dispersed.
    Interviewer: Do you think it’s good for the world – for power to disperse?
    Borghamn: I think it’s good for Europe. I’m not altogether bothered about the world. Our greatest failure for centuries has been fighting each other and not seeing the common good in uniting – we finally learned a better way after the war, of course, but we were never that powerful. America still ruled the roost and, in plenty of ways, still does. But we live in a multipolar world now – China came online in a big way back in the 1970s, of course, and America’s naturally never gotten over that, and India will get there too, eventually. Then there’s us – economically, nobody can touch us, and ever since Russia got on board with our project, we must be the greatest power there is, in terms of sheer potential. But until we get over this silly nationalistic qualm over pooling our militaries into a single European Defence Force, we’ll never truly be at the table. Hard power and soft power are great – having both is better.
    Interviewer: Would this hard power include Europe acquiring atomic weapons?
    Borghamn: I think we have the right to atomic weapons – if we want them. America’s monopoly can’t last forever – how long do they think they can dangle the threat of annihilation over the world before the world says enough? I think it said ‘enough’ a long time ago.”
    - Interview with Lelle Borghamn, unsuccessful candidate for President of the European Union, 2008

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    “There’s this presumption – or maybe ‘assumption’ is the word, I don’t know – among a lot of people that, once the nukes fell, everything suddenly got really easy. That the Red Army just sort of crumbled and went away and we walked to Moscow without much trouble. Not so. Before, the odds had been stacked about seventy against us and thirty for us. Once the nukes dropped and their rear echelons were incinerated, and by the sheer will of General Marshall we seized the initiative, it dropped to about, I’d say, sixty for us and forty against us. As time went by it improved, but good God, the Red Army weren’t down yet. Anybody who thinks that must have forgotten it took another seven months to beat them, even as we peppered them with atomic fire every now and then, whenever a bomb became available. They weren’t exactly coming off the assembly line, and it was a rather big theatre of war – one wasn’t going to win all on its own. At the time, before the counterattack, before Operation Archangel really got underway, we thought we’d won the war already. We saw the mushroom clouds, some of us, and once we were storming back across the Rhine it seemed like things would be easy. Then we had our first big tank battle, not far from Munster; Shermans couldn’t handle Tigers, so God only knows why we thought they could handle IS-2s. Three waves were needed before we could break their line – but at least we broke their line. We’d never done that before.”
    - Captain Elliot Rather, 20th Armored Division, United States Army

    “Operation Archangel was what happens when the best planners mankind has ever produced have to improvise – many only knew the atomic bomb was coming a few days in advance. It was that kind of secret. The plan was simple, really – drop every A-Bomb we had in our possession, all at once, on the Red Army. Soviet cities, for now, would be spared – they’d known destruction and it hadn’t stopped them conquering most of Europe, so why waste a perfectly good bomb? Sometimes they’d fall on the frontline units, sometimes on the supply lines – confusion was as important as actual damage and disruption. Once they fell, Operation Archangel’s first phase began – throwing men and material back across the Rhine into the Red Army defences, looking for newly opened cracks to wiggle into. With their command and control in chaos, it was hoped they wouldn’t notice this attack was a diversion. The real thrust, the true meat of the operation, was up on the flatter plains to the north. A great Anglo-American pincer movement to bypass the defenders on the Rhine, fight through the shattered real areas, encircle those defenders with armour, and destroy them. After that, we were told, more bombs would be available – and we could just keep going.”
    - Major General Harry Johnson, 2nd Cavalry Division, United States Army

    "Breathtaking scenes unfolded at Israel’s Supreme Court today as Adolf Hitler, fearsome dictator of the Third Reich and murderer of countless millions, visibly shook as he saw his death sentence upheld. He will be hanged at noon next Thursday. The trial, which has captivated the world, was only possible due to his own natural stupidity which would reveal the truth of his fate. Herr Hitler did not perish at the Berghof, as believed since the war’s end, but fled the continent he had immolated while wife Eva Braun lay charred and disfigured beside to a corpse long thought to be her husband. With the help of an underground SS network he made it to Chile where, in the fields of Patagonia, he tried to put together a new life out of the world’s attention. But, even as Parkinson’s disease and methamphetamine addiction took deathly hold of him, Hitler could not stay quiet – he became involved in the local politics of Torres del Paine where his cadence was recognised and, soon, the Israeli secret service were knocking on the broken man’s door. Several times during the trial proceedings were paused when passionate Jewish groups barged into the Supreme Court in vengeful pursuit of their Antichrist – they will, soon, come away satisfied. The architect of their people’s misery has faced the most perfect form of justice – he did not exit the Earth of his own accord. The Jewish people, as they ought to, have decided his fate."
    - The Times, January 15, 1952
     
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    “The efforts of the British Army to dislodge the Red Army from the Carpathians deserves to enter into national mythology. With the liberation of Budapest and British armoured units under Montgomery greatly distinguishing themselves in the legendary clashes on the Great Hungarian Plain, the Red Army dispersed into Europe’s third-largest mountain range. From there, they hoped to block an Allied advance into southern Ukraine with minimal forces while most units could be redeployed between the Outer Eastern Carpathians and the Black Sea to shield Moldavia. Dislodging these forces in Slovakia and central Romania, too dispersed to target with the atomic bomb, became the objective of the SAS and the 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division. The Battle of Cucurbăta Mare, in which the SAS took on and defeated entrenched Red Army positions five times their size in the turgid cold, was among the earliest actions and the most widely remembered, popularised in films such as 2006’s Peak Warriors. Additional objectives followed – while the British and Soviet armies were fighting street by street for burning Bucharest, mountain troops too were fighting crevice by crevice, nook by nook, in the most biting winter conditions imaginable, to clear a route for the eventual Allied advance on the Dniester. Other actions by the SAS during the war, whether the Murmansk Raid or their heroics in the North African desert, have gained far more attention in the public imagination - the Carpathian Campaign deserves to stand alongside them.
    - Underwood, J. (2009) ‘A Concise History of the SAS,’ pp.182.

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    "Hideous. All of it - profoundly hideous. The end of the Nazis should have been the end of the war. Blackness had festered across Europe and we had cleared it away - only for Stalin to impose it back on us all. I thought of all those little children, who lived through such horror, so gangrenous to the soul, who had to do it all over again with nay a pause for breath. I thought of those liberated cities which would have to be liberated yet again. Flagpoles with evil banners to be torn down - again. And I thought of the camps. Where men became ogres. All those people, freed, into the warm air of peace at last - and the peace was taken from them again. We were told, as always, we were fighting for civilisation. Freedom. Democracy. I no longer believed in these causes. The pithy little bugles we play when war comes along. What good are they when carnage seems an eternal curse? When would the cosmic wheel of fate show us mercy? That was what I thought, then, but then came the atomic bomb. Thank God for the atomic bomb. Purification, at last. Evil given the only curing treatment - fire and smoke and pain. And fear. That is the grand secret of the atomic monopoly. The sword the Americans have dangled over the World these many decades. It's genius. Only through the threat of annihilation can evil never breed. War becomes impossible. Try, they say - we dare you. Try you might. But you'll be struck down by the might of God's own thunder. I've heard it said their throne is made of glass. The day they blink, the day they show mercy and don't make good on the threat, is the day it shatters and war will return. All those pent up hatreds and resentments, free to erupt in every corner of the scarred world. I pray they never show that mercy. It is no mercy to condemn all men by saving some. That terrible dilemma is what America now grapples with. It is the curse they have placed upon themselves. Their soul may not survive. But men will."
    - Interview with Klaus Scholtz, Treblinka survivor

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    “When it came to the Pacific, the shift in the strategic situation was what you might call ‘significant but not severe.’

    With Okinawa in our hands, the B-29s could quite easily bypass Japan altogether and reach Vladivostok. The biggest question the Army Air Force had was whether they ought to bother (they did bother, obviously, but the fact that the question was asked is significant). The Soviet Pacific Fleet was, in the War Department’s opinion, barely worth the trouble. Its surface fleet was limited, lacking any aircraft carriers and easy prey for Navy pilots trained on the far more formidable Imperial Japanese Navy, and their submarines mostly built for minelaying or coastal patrols. Those submarines which could venture out deeper were hopelessly antiquated by our standards and didn’t worry us tremendously – until the Iowa’s sinking, obviously, but that was later on.

    The Soviets themselves were primarily engaged with mining the Sea of Okhotsk and fortifying their shores – these were defensive actions and reflected a strategic way of thinking that their war would be won or lost in Europe, not all the way over here. The Pacific, for the Soviets, was still a backwater – Marine Raiders were hardly about to land on the shores of the Russian Far East, because Siberia was nothing but a gigantic empty field too big to occupy and inconsequential until Japan was dealt with anyway. Hence the sudden efforts by the Soviets to form their uneasy truce with the Japanese and prop them up with fuel and aircraft supplies. Soviet pilots arrived in the Home Islands to help fend off our bombers but, even with their involvement, Japan was the battlefield. Thusly, the planning staff agreed, Japan remained the priority in this hemisphere.

    The central difficulty of remaining entirely focused on Japan, of course, was that all assumptions were, sooner or later, we’d be invading the Home Islands. But right at that moment, our European forces were in full retreat and bleating for replenishment. Arguments were made that whole theatres of war couldn’t be abandoned because another was experiencing a momentary reversal of fortune. But, bit by bit, Washington was slicing away portions of the Fast Carrier Task Force as the need for aircraft in Germany mounted, and Marine regiments were being reassigned from San Francisco to Norfolk. The Pacific War was grinding to a halt. I think the Navy’s pride was rather bruised by the experience – Europe, we had been told from the war’s start, was the priority, and with Germany’s surrender could finally feel a warm sense of primacy. That sense vanished on June 10.

    Obviously, with our Pacific forces being reduced, any prospect of invading Japan herself was nonsensical. With one flick of Truman’s pen, this became formal policy – the objective now became mopping up those Imperial Japanese forces left in New Guinea and the Philippines, and where resources permitted snuff out the garrisons we had isolated on the Bismarck Archipelago, the Caroline Islands, the Marshalls, and the Palaus. Meanwhile we would continue and, resources permitting, escalate the bombing campaign against Japanese cities. When the Soviets began ferrying supplies across the Sea of Japan those convoys, eventually, became targets too, with wildly varying results, until they'd moved enough aircraft to open up air corridors. Eventually, Washington woke up to the need in July for the long-overdue invasion of the Kuril Islands. Hit the supply lines, blockade half the Pacific Fleet’s submarines, tighten the noose on Japan, and give everyone back home a much-needed victory. Strategic planning in the Pacific adapted quickly.”

    - Lieutenant General Stanley Embick, Joint Strategic Survey Committee

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    “For Finland, the situation from the beginning of proceedings was complicated. The Malbork Conference studied the unique Finnish situation intently and, by the end of it all, came to the conclusion that punishing them one way or the other way would be silly. They had, from 1940, faced the Soviet Union, which became in time an enemy of the West, in two separate conflicts. That was two points in their favour – but the latter conflict was done as an ally of the Third Reich. Then, under intolerable pressure from a newly empowered Soviet Union, they had first turned on the Germans and ceded territory to Russia, and then permitted free reign for the Red Army across their territory. Soviet pilots took off on Baltic patrols via Finland, Soviet warships docked at Finnish ports, and Soviet soldiers patrolled every municipality. Finland was, undoubtedly, occupied, but with the apparent permission of the Finnish government, which even in occupation seemed to believe they could cling to neutrality. Eventually, of course, the Soviets were repelled in Germany, and the Finns harassed the Red Army in what they call the Finality War as they withdrew to reinforce the front. By the time of the Soviet collapse and surrender, minimal forces were left in Finland, and all were surrendering to Finnish troops. The Malbork Conference faced the tricky task of figuring out whether Finland had been a co-belligerent of the Soviet Union or of the Third Reich, or of both, and whether any of this warranted some sort of punishment. The decision, eventually, came – it did not. In fact, Finland was held up as the perfect example of a small nation doing its best to survive in tussles between great powers far beyond its control.
    “We have never had an enemy in Helsinki,” said the American representative at Malbork, reflecting the views of many. Finland having lost certain territories to the Soviet Union during the course of the war, it was agreed that all of these would be returned – and then some. Russia’s Murmansk Oblast and the Karelo-Finnish Soviet Socialist Republic were also to be put under Finnish administration. It was clear from the start that the goal was to declaw the future Russian state, whatever shape it might take, by depriving it of the hugely important Murmansk port and the ability to instigate significant naval operations in the North Atlantic. Finland, it was felt, could be trusted with Murmansk in a way that Russia could not. Ethnic Russians, of course, would now live in Finland in their many thousands – all were given the choice of staying as Finnish citiens or leaving as Russians. It took one look across the border to decide staying Finnish sounded nice – the legacy of this decision, gifting Finland with a sizeable and often agitated Russian minority, haunts its politics and relationship with the State of Russia to this day.”
    - Small, K. (1997) ‘Finland: A Modern History,’ pp.109.

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    “From the moment peace was declared, old fears began to rear their heads in economic circles. The war economy had been a godsend for America, salvaging it from the Great Depression, but with demobilisation rapidly underway fears grew that the country could slip straight back into the darkness again. President Truman hoped to guide America through the challenge but, as wartime price controls were lifted, inflation skyrocketed and labour unions became uneasy. Strike action spread across the nation, characterising the early post-war economy, and Truman only inflamed it further with a dreadfully ill-advised radio address broadcast nationwide on December 1, 1946 since known as the ‘bloody flowers speech.’ In it, Truman urged strikers to lynch their foremen and warned the strikes would only end in executions.
    “You should bear in mind,” he told the strikers, “that you no longer have any friends in Moscow to run to.” The address inflamed labour tensions and outraged large swathes of the nation, who suddenly saw in Truman not a victorious war leader but a desperate, inadequate, flailing peacetime one. Congress, taken by the Republicans the previous month, moved to censure the eventually apologetic President for his remarks but the damage was done. Only the Taft-Hartley Act 1947, greatly restricting the legal power of trade unions, brought the immediate labour relations crisis to a close.

    Meanwhile, in the corridors of foreign policy power, talk of a vast financial package to rebuild the ruined world was gaining traction. Europe and Japan remained piles of smoking rubble, with few tangible signs of recovery, and, if it did come, it might take decades for these modern economies to return to their pre-war strength. Hyperinflation was rearing its head in France, food riots turning into miniature civil wars across Russia, and rationing tightening by the day in Britain. Recovery needed to happen much, much faster. Truman, a Wilsonian internationalist, had been a strong supporter from the plan’s inception and it enjoyed bipartisan support – not least after the cruel 1946-47 winter in Europe, reaching minus 25 degree Celsius in parts of Britain, where famine killed thousands. These images, and the sense of a ruined world ready to breed fascist and communist monsters as it had done last time, were a watershed. The murder of a Cabinet minister in Britain amid public outrage at the famine and escalating strife in Italy, in which the Pope was said to have arranged for his evacuation to Brazil, were watershed moments.

    Many also saw the plan not just as key for rebuilding the Old World but for saving the New World, too, by renewing Europe and Asia into lucrative markets for American goods. “We can’t be the dominant economy if there aren’t any other economies to dominate,” Truman famously, or infamously, said. Unfortunately for Truman, what might have been his greatest achievement came too late to take any credit for, despite having shepherded it so skilfully through the legislative process. The International Recovery Program, transferring almost $20 billion worth of economic aid to the destroyed economies of Europe and Asia, with all kinds of strings attached which still echo to the modern day, was delayed by a growing isolationist band in the Congress for long enough that, when at last approved, it would land on President Eisenhower’s desk, not his.”
    - Carshalton, B. (2000) ‘Blue All Over: The Democratic Party and the Economy,’ pp.210.

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    “We can’t go any further,” Georgeta tells me grimly. I look past her, over overgrown meadows which end in a great, impenetrable forest of auburn trees. Halfway there, a rotting stone farmhouse sits like a rock on an empty beach. It doesn’t look dangerous out there – but our Geiger counter, which has been screaming at us for a while now, knows better.
    “This is where it fell?” I ask, and she shakes her head.
    “Not exactly, it was past the trees, way over there somewhere,” she says, pointing over the forest. “But the fallout went in every direction. Mostly the other one – but some came this way.” Look east, and you can see, just about, through the haze, the grey urban shape of Tiraspol – you can’t go there either, not anymore. Folks who want an extraordinary look at a Soviet city suspended in 1946 have to look from the nearby hillsides. Step into the civic boundaries itself and you won’t last long. Local legends say that those who do come back rotten and hungry for human flesh. It was here, in the Moldavian territories of Romania which agitate daily for independence, that the ‘Celestial Lady’ was shot from the sky. A B-29 like any other, she was carrying an atomic bomb meant for a Red Army logistics hub in Ukraine, but she came down here on January 3, 1946. The weapon exploded on impact with the ground and the resultant airburst has irradiated nearly four thousand square kilometres of Romania. People won’t be able to set foot in Tiraspol, nor the many villages around it, for thousands of years. It’s occasionally remarked that everyone in Moldavia gets cancer eventually. Wildlife has thrived in humanity’s absence but the place carries a haunting, otherworldly air. It’s said that at night you can hear singing coming from the clouds.
    “This was never meant to happen,” Georgeta says to me.
    “It’s dreadful,” I agree. “War sucks.”
    “No,” she says. “Not that.” I fix her with a quizzical look. “Physicists say the bomb should never have done this. It was meant to explode with a power of twenty kilotons. Why didn’t it?” She’s right. The Celestial Lady’s payload had more explosive power than it was ever designed to unleash. Much, much, much more than twenty kilotons.
    “I guess we’ll never know,” I say uselessly, and she nods sagely. Silence, between us, but so much birdsong. More than I’ve ever heard.
    “I think something else was at work,” she says, finally. “Some other force wanted this to happen. Something that hides in the soil." We watch for a little while longer until, Geiger counter still chirping, we turn back to the jeep.
    - Pickford, D. The Guardian: ‘Strange and unsettling: my day trip to the Moldavia Exclusion Zone’, 23 Oct 2005

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    “It was two or three days after the Soviets launched their Operation Thunderstorm, and from the start a lot of people knew we were as close to a wonder weapon as the Allies were going to get right now. The Soviets had no jet fighters of their own, but the Germans had and they’d surely capture blueprints sooner or later – as it happens, they captured more than blueprints, and it led to my place in a little moment of history. I was about fifteen thousand feet up, over Saxony, part of a patrol of Gloster Meteors heading north in search of Soviet bombers. Pe-2s were menacing our airfields and trying it on with our ports and we had to cut down as many as we could – Meteors were proving very good at the job but we just didn’t have enough of them yet. We were drowning in Ivan fighters. Well, the patrol was quiet, then suddenly these black dots start to appear in the sky, straight ahead and just a little higher. Generally our tactic was to attack from above, and they must have cottoned on, because they were flying higher than I thought their engines could even manage. I call it in and we move to intercept, when suddenly there comes a stream of tracer and another jet screams by not a few metres from my cockpit. Its wing could’ve taken my head off! I banked hard and gave chase, and suddenly realised what it was – an Me262! German! But this one was different – they’d repainted it, brushed away the swastika, and given it the red star instead. Turned out the Soviets had captured some on the ground and thrust them into combat, and now they were looking for Meteors to test themselves against. I managed to empty some 20mm into him and watched one of his engines erupt, but it wasn’t over – at least twelve of the little buggers had set upon us! It’s funny to say but during the tussle it never occurred to me that we’d be part of history – I took on and sliced one more 262 from the sky, and most of them turned for home. We took five for two of our own – and just like that, June 13, 1945 saw the first dogfight between jet fighters. Quite a moment.”
    - Lieutenant Barry McDonnell, No. 616 Squadron RAF

    “With the Red Army fulfilling its objectives by August 1, settling on the boundaries of the Alps and Rhine River despite every sinew of their war machine beginning to creak, only handfuls of Allied resistance remained, such as the famed and doomed last stand of the U.S. 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Heidelberg Castle. The rest, glaring from across the Rhine, readied for the next wave. Instead, Stalin issued his Moscow Declaration.

    The Allies, he demanded, must accept Soviet dominion in all German territories east of the Rhine. The Rhineland would be split off into a demilitarised and independent International Zone policed by a Soviet-American coalition; a theoretical neutral boundary between France and Germany. Denmark, entirely occupied, and the Netherlands, its eastern half occupied, would hold plebiscites on their future, which was taken to mean they would soon find themselves with entrenched pro-Moscow rulers. Iran and Afghanistan, too, would remain in the Soviet sphere, with the latter expected to be entirely incorporated into the USSR as a republic. These demands having been met, the two sides would sign a peace treaty and the war would end with a steel curtain dividing the continent.

    In effect, Stalin was asking that the Allies – having poured years of blood and treasure into the liberation of Europe – now accepted the dominion of much of it by another tyranny and the eternal threat of another war in Europe, not to mention the constant threat of Soviet control over the vital Persian Gulf. To anyone who looked at a map, it was obvious that the state of affairs which Stalin wanted could not last for long. A Europe divided in two between equally powerful ideological opponents could not possibly stay at peace – a Third World War would, inevitably, follow, and it could be more destructive than anything which had yet been seen. Given the war which it was following, that was quite the compliment as far as wars go.

    It took little time for the leaders of the United States, Britain, and France to come to an agreement - the Moscow Declaration was rejected in full. Only the unconditional surrender of the Soviet Union, as had been demanded of Germany and Japan, would be accepted. With this rejection broadcast by Churchill to the Commons and by Roosevelt to the Congress, now the United Nations rushed to be ready for Stalin’s next strike. France, surely, was next. Nobody knew how far he wanted to go. While Churchill spoke, not far away at RAF Molesworth in Cambridgeshire, a 4,400 kilogram object was being loaded into a bomb pit.”
    - Brighton, M. (1978) ‘To Hell And Back: The Second World War,’ pp.450.

    “For the second time in twenty years, a nuclear crisis between the United States and China has come to a close with an apparent American victory. President Cunningham last night addressed the nation from the White House and made clear that the Yang Guo government had agreed to permit United Nations inspectors access to all fifteen of the so-called Special Interest Sites whose secrecy began what we must now call the Second Atomic Crisis. Asia, and the world at large, are breathing a sigh of relief after the prospect of devastation reigning over a nation of a billion people and the world’s second largest economy seemed to fade, but analysts warn that these next few days will be critical. If China does not live up to what President Cunningham called “our best chance for lasting peace and understanding in Asia,” then a false dawn could be revealed and the crisis only prolong itself. Professor Noel Tomkins of Harvard University told the Satellite News Network that regardless of whether peace is maintained in East Asia, the relationship between these two fierce economic rivals has only become colder. American global hegemony, enforced at the end of an atomic sword, has defined geopolitics since the Second World War – China’s alleged efforts to develop its own atomic weapons and place itself on an even keel with the U.S. represented a clear attack on the principles of the Truman Doctrine. It is a principle which the Chinese government has publicly rejected since 1966 but not one they have been keen to overtly challenge given the potential risks involved. That came to a close two months ago with the American accusations of secret Chinese nuclear developments. It became increasingly clear, despite widespread global protests, that President Cunningham was prepared to unleash America’s atomic arsenal on China if Washington’s demands of openness and dismantlement were not met. The question on many people’s lips now is how much longer this way of policing the world can go on. A severe dilemma arises which is that, once another nation does possess atomic weapons, American hegemony will forever be lost for at that point, atomic retaliation becomes possible – and so too, at least according to many American strategists, does the end of human civilisation on this planet.”
    - Lawson, A. The New York Times: ‘China backs down in atomic crisis’, 14 June 1987

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    11.
  • 11.

    "For the third time in as many months, astronomical observers have reported the same phenomenon - what has come to be known as Ramiel's Fire. Across a large portion of the Northern Hemisphere, from Alaska to Warsaw and Casablanca, cracks were seen to appear in the sky. This is the second time the hemisphere has had an exclusive view of the event - in January it was seen only over portions of New Guinea and the Arafura Sea, and last month was to be observed all across the Northern Hemisphere in a far more widespread display than that witnessed last night, which was scattered in its presence. The United Nations Space Authority, whose telescopes in Australia, the Shetland Islands, and Hawaii observed the strange occurence on all three occasions, held an emergency press conference early this morning at their Geneva headquarters where the location of the phenomenon was pinpointed to the upper ionosphere, the outermost fabric of skin before the Earth's atmosphere becomes empty void. For the time being, stated Administrator Kyo Ishikawa, the nature of Ramiel's Fire is unknown but "it appears to be entirely benign." This has not prevented the event, characterised by thin aurora-like bends in the sky visually similar to cracks in glass, triggering increasing unease among some religious establishments. Although mainstream denominational authorities have made great pains not to be caught up in hysteria, Archbishop Lawrence Kirk has already made headlines with his claim that "these events may have some as-of-yet unclear mystical quality. There has been, for some time, a sense among many that all is not quite right about the world. Something is coming - or, perhaps, something has already come." The Archbishop has not further clarified his own position on Ramiel's Fire, but allegations that the phenomena constitute "a sign of a coming apocalypse" have run rampant for the past three months. The recent mass suicide of evangelists in Colombia has been the most infamous of responses to the meteorological display but pollsters have found that "a general sense of unease and trepidation pervades throughout the population," according to Mass Observation. Yet, the polling institute noted, this is not unique to the last three months - many have reported similar feelings for the past four months, not three, with the first unusual spike in collective societal feelings noted in the days immediately proceeding Ramiel's Fire. While this may yet prove a complete coincidence, an uneasy happenstance yet exists - Geoffrey Webb, the noted preacher and controversial cult leader, appeared to predict Ramiel's Fire taking place several weeks before it began. He further stated that "the world will be ripped apart not by bombs or an exploding star, but by ourselves - by our own minds. The force of our personalities cannot exist on this limited world, where things have been so wrong for so long. Something became unusual at some point quite recently in our history. I don't believe everything which has happened is what was supposed to happen. An interference has taken place. Holy, unholy, divine or not divine, in a way it doesn't matter - the universe senses our wrongness, and, like a dog with an irritating flea, it wants to shake us off."
    - Treliske, V. The Times: ‘Strange atmospheric events repeat for third month’, 7 March 2022
     
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    12.
  • 12.

    “Half a million Russians surrounded on all sides – it must have been the greatest encirclement in the history of warfare. The Red Army was in total chaos and ripe for the taking – the Northern Front had been shunted this way and that and now we had them entirely encircled in the vicinity of Bydgoszcz. These men who pushed Hitler’s war machine some thousand miles, bathed in blood and emerged as Europe’s most celebrated warriors, had been reduced to nothing. That was the power of the atomic bomb – it left craters in their formations, their logistics, their command and control, and their morale. That was, probably, our greatest victory. It takes a lot to snap the minds of a glorious empire’s footsoldiers. We managed it.

    Alas, they refused to surrender – or, still more terrified of Stalin than our command of nuclear physics, Marshal Vasilevsky refused. I’m sure plenty of those poor young conscripts would’ve been happy to give it up and avoid what we’d be giving them. An isolated army group, with two completely failed breakout attempts, like a cornered rat, to its name, is quite the delicious target. The B-29s must have been salivating.

    So, sat in my frozen foxhole, wrapped in a blanket and covered in snow, still familiarising myself with this division to which I'd been transferred since my old one was destroyed in the first days, I was staring at my stopwatch and remembering our orders – don’t look to the south between half seven and eight that morning. Wait for ‘it.’ Then, once ‘it’ was done, prepare to advance. General Simpson – and CBS, who I had the pleasure of speaking to – had arrived just to observe the drop. Officers were wandering about with these big black goggles on, too big to wear with your helmet, looking like some insect-human hybrid. I thought it was ridiculous – how powerful and impressive and ‘World Eating’ could this bomb really be? Sure, I knew it’d turned the tide of the war in a day, but a man’s imagination is only so big a canvas to paint on.

    Eight, of course, came and went. You know how military intelligence is. We were told to stick to the plan - don't look. Another hour passed until, sat with Corporal Griffiths, him chewing graham crackers and me reading old journal entries, and thinking it'd never happen and the Army Air Force were full of shit, the crisp morning sky turned yellow. We ducked down, casual, like it wasn’t even worth properly acknowledging. Shouts rang out not to look – then, a few moments of silent brightness, and the blast came. Nearly blew my soul out of my body. A shout of “all clear!” and we could look – I peeked over the rim, Griffiths with me, and saw the thin, towering, growing mushroom cloud. It was beautiful. Enchanting. Just knowing whole Soviet armies were underneath that thing – it stirred lobes you didn’t even know you had! We scrambled from our foxhole and moved to the staging area – already, before the cloud was finished rising, the M24s were rolling towards it. We followed, the muscle behind the fist, walking on foot through the fields towards the cloud. Sporadic resistance came but surrenders were significant – many Russians we found were burned or blinded. When riding an M24 I saw a whole company stumble by, hands on each other’s shoulders, all of them without functioning retinas. We did meet some tanks, at one point, when T-34s hidden in the stripped away trees started taking potshots, and a few villages needed fighting over, but it was nothing like what we’d come to expect from the Red Army. So much of their forces had been vaporised. I must have seen more communist tanks upside down than functioning. Our biggest problem was the sludge - the tanks kept getting stuck in it. All the snow had melted and, somehow, nobody accounted for that. The Northern Front, with its half million battle-hardened men, melted too. Only took a week or so. Much harder battles were fought by much smaller formations. Vasilevsky was just a shadow on the pavement – it’s said you can find him, if you know where to go. Hard to believe I was really there. But I was there – I have the cancers to prove it.”
    - Corporal Charles Durning, 18th Infantry Division, United States Army

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    13.
  • 13.

    “Those last days were bad. Stalin simply refused the face facts – he denied it was all over. The Allies had breached Soviet territory at last, bringing the plague of war back to our lands so soon after we thought we had driven it out, and with each passing week their stocks of atomic bombs only grew. Stalin’s last-ditch ploys, appealing to our spies in Los Alamos to turn to sabotage, had come to nothing – the frenzy of communications had only betrayed them. By the New Year, the impatient Allies were turning on the cities, seeking to vaporise us. Leningrad, Stalingrad, Baku, Kiev, Minsk, Tashkent, Kharkov, Odessa, Tbilisi, Yerevan, Alma-Ata, and so many others. All gone - just like our Japanese 'allies,' who folded with a mere four cities immolated. Only Moscow remained – deliberately spared, the Allies promising through the Swiss not to incinerate it so there might be someone left to surrender. But Stalin would not hear it. Not even with famine and disease stalking the whole land and masses of desperate refugees swarming the capital from all directions, fleeing what I heard a peasant woman call ‘Satan’s whoop.’ It was on the second of March that I accompanied Marshal Zhukov from the front in Ukraine back to the capital – he had been summoned by Stalin. Nobody in his rapidly dissolving inner circle knew why but the executions and purges were coming thick and fast. Zhukov thought Stalin intended the same of him – but respected him enough to look him in the eye first. I thought so too, though I dared not say so. The Marshal seemed weary and ready for the end. He had survived two atomic bombs, one of which had taken his hand, and seemed glad of the opportunity to escape the apocalypse. That is what I assumed, anyway. The truth is that he was ready for death but for very different reasons.

    When we arrived at Stalin’s dacha, deep in the woods outside Moscow, we were surprised to find it not so heavily guarded. Some the NKVD guards had deserted, fleeing with many others into the fields where they thought they might not be targets of the bomb. Fear, cold and simple, had broken their indoctrination. Stalin had grown too fatalist to have anything done about it. He had sunk into the deepest of depressions. At the first look at him, as the Marshal shook his hand, I realised that he knew the end was upon us. You could see it in his eyes. He looked very old. When we were alone, I had asked the Marshal what he planned to do. “I have to give him a chance,” he replied. And so they went into Stalin’s office together, alone, and there Stalin still denied reality. He would not give in. Extraordinary – though he knew it was true, that the war was lost, he would not admit it. And so, Zhukov seized him, threw him onto the Karabakh rug, and stabbed the tyrant to death with a blade sewn into his cuff. All this he did with only one hand. Stalin was always a very weak man.”
    - Account of Misho Gelashvili, personal assistant to Marshal Georgy Zhukov


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    14.
  • 14.

    With war erupting with the Soviet Union, the British Raj duly declared war along with much of the rest of the world. But the character of the Indian independence movement, strongly oriented towards socialism since the 1930s, was significantly impacted by the change in events.

    A large portion of the movement gave themselves to the (likely correct) viewpoint that, with a Soviet victory, Indian independence under socialism would soon follow. Why would they then oppose this? The optimistic sense that Delhi might be an equal partner alongside Moscow in the socialist world pervaded, at least partly fuelled by a wishful thinking that Indians would not be trading one foreign imperial ruler for another. Fracturing along ideological lines, certain segments of the independence movement found it hard to remain united – but a shrinking minority were for alignment with the British. The Soviet Union’s entry into the war in opposition to Britain hugely complicated the empire’s position in India.

    In the corridors of Whitehall, fear of widespread discontent among Indians unwilling to defend the Empire against the socialist superpower burned like wildfire. Churchill himself wrote to the Viceroy, Archibald Wavell, urging him to “collar the lot” in reference to the more left-wing elements of the Indian independence movement. Crackdowns, and a spasm of violence in response, soon rippled through the subcontinent. In some places it seemed as if outright civil war was underway and an attempt at a Marxist uprising in Calcutta was swiftly crushed. Britain drew much support from the middle classes – while many had been on the fence about fighting Japan, at least initially, many feared a communist future and with the guarantees of post-war independence becoming increasingly shrill and taking on the tone of “alright, alright, fine, whatever you want!” Britain would, just, hold on. But the independence movement, while cracking internally, would still take much civil order with it during its squabbling. This would have profound effects on India’s post-war direction – an excellent analysis of this can be found in the bibliography of Dr Jon Orion, whose status as our pre-eminent expert of independent India is entirely justified.

    While all this took place, there was still a war to fight.

    By the time Iran fell to the Red Army, India was flanked on three sides by Axis powers. Although the Allies were on the offensive in Burma and had just retaken Rangoon the previous month, a gloomy sense prevailed among the Imperial General Staff that their gains could be reversed were substantial forces to be reassigned to Balochistan. Their fears were, somewhat, assuaged – the Red Army had neither the logistics nor the manpower to attempt an assault into India’s vastness. Apart from probing attacks along the Makran coast, with an abortive attempt to establish a new front line along the Dasht River, the Soviets limited their operations over present-day Pakistan to air operations as they squabbled with the British for superiority. The Royal Indian Air Force, already in action over Afghanistan as the Red Army moved in with limited forces which would soon be bled dry just as the British Empire had been before them, would be the beneficiary of a vast new training program for home-grown Indian pilots as the dire situation became increasingly clear. The equipment, however, would not be so forthcoming as the eager recruits. Meteors, arguably the most advanced and effective fighter aircraft anywhere in the world, were available in India but the thing about subcontinents is that they tend to be rather big. There were just not enough available to turn the tide and the Meteors were, generally, deployed from coastal bases or shipped to Oman to help keep not India but the route into the Persian Gulf secure, as it became the most dangerous waterway on planet Earth.

    More outdated models, usually Spitfires or Hurricanes, were on the frontline instead as Imperial forces set up their new defensive lines in Balochistan. It was anticipated that, when they did advance, the Red Army would keep to the coast – this they did, when the advance came, and the Battle of Gwadar would be the result.
    - Cage, W. (2009) ‘India’s War,’ pp.444.

    ...

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