It must be the fall atmosphere these days compelling me to watch films like “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” more often, because I’ve been giving some thought to fodder for an interesting alternate history what-if: the Nazi concept for the “Alpine Redoubt”, or “Alpine Fortress”.
In real life the Alpine Fortress was a plan hatched by Heinrich Himmler in the winter of 1944 for the Nazi regime and military to retreat to an area spanning from southern Bavaria across western Austria to northern Italy. The basic idea is that the mountainous terrain would prove far more defensible by a relatively small number of troops than, say, the plains of eastern Prussia, and the area’s relative remoteness from the Allied advance would give them more time to dig in and prepare to bleed the Allied forces as much as possible, giving the Axis its last real hope for victory in Europe.
Late-stage Nazism: so many Dreams, yet so little Industrial Capacity…
As it happened, Adolf Hitler never fully endorsed the plan and no serious efforts were ever made to actually implement it, but it was used to great effect as a deception against the Allies, to the extent that a primary reason the US didn’t drive to Berlin to beat the Soviets there was because they believed they needed to concentrate on the alpine front, i.e. against the Nazis’ redoubt.
Intelligence reports, which were fed by the Nazis to the Allies, identified the Redoubt as having stores of foodstuffs and military supplies, possibly even armaments production facilities (no doubt buried deep underground). Within this fortress, it was thought Hitler and company could evade capture by the Allies and cause great difficulty for the Allied occupation in the rest of Germany. Indeed, this deception was so successful it’s considered to be one of the crowning achievements of German intelligence during the entire war! Only when the western Allies penetrated southern Germany without meeting much organized resistance was it revealed that the Redoubt was a myth.
Around the same time period, there was also a plan for an Operation Werwolf, which is itself an interesting chapter in WWII history. Essentially, Werwolf units were to be tasked with being the Nazi guerilla resistance after the occupation, but like the Alpine Fortress, it was never put into effect except as a propaganda campaign. But what a propaganda campaign it was! Under the direction of Josef Goebbels there were Werwolf broadcasts. According to Wikipedia:
The Werwolf propaganda station “Radio Werwolf” broadcast from Nauen near Berlin, beginning on 1 April 1945. Broadcasts began with the sound of a wolf howling, and a song featuring the lyrics, “My werewolf teeth bite the enemy / And then he’s done and then he’s gone / Hoo, hoo hoo.” The initial broadcast stated that the Nazi Party was ordering every German to “stand his ground and do or die against the Allied armies, who are preparing to enslave Germans … Every Bolshevik, every Englishman, every American on our soil must be a target for our movement … Any German, whatever his profession or class, who puts himself at the service of the enemy and collaborates with him will feel the effect of our avenging hand … A single motto remains for us: ‘Conquer or die.’ “
Boy, they don’t make propaganda like they used to, do they? 🙃
In any case by 1944 Nazi Germany had neither the inclination nor the industrial capacity left to make a serious effort to implement either Operation Werwolf or the Alpine Fortress. As one example, by that stage the pep pills which had been in such abundance during the initial blitzkrieg couldn’t even be manufactured en masse anymore. “D-IX”, a cocktail of cocaine, methamphetamine, and oxycodone, was in development as the next generation of performance enhancer, with very promising results, but they only had enough to feed to a couple of submarine pilots.
The Alpine Redoubt: a sound Plan?
Where the alternate history what-if comes to the fore is the question: what if Nazi Germany and the Axis had prepared from the get-go to dig in to an Alpine Fortress, and it was fully ready and operational in 1945?
Well, that’s a kind of a nightmare timeline, to be honest. As it was, even without much deliberate fortification of the Alps, they were about the last stronghold of the Axis in Europe, leaving aside the places like Denmark and Norway that were deliberately bypassed (indeed, there was some thinking that Norway could serve as an effective fortress for the Nazis in addition to or instead of the Alps):
Notice that the Allies were only seriously penetrating northern Italy as of the surrender in May 1945, and they hadn’t even reached the upper parts of Austria at all. The whole region from the Italian peninsula through roughly Bavaria is honestly pretty hostile terrain for an attacker to take over. For this reason the Italian fascists had a similar plan to the German fascists’ Alpine Redoubt, the Valtellina Redoubt, but like the Alpine Fortress it was never seriously implemented.
The hard core of the SS holding out in alpine Castles? Ooh…
Considering how defensible the region proved in real life, if there were serious and heavy investments in building up military fortifications, infrastructure, and industry in the region I suspect the Axis could have held out for years after 1945. No doubt by that point the only units left would be the most hardcore elements of the Waffen SS and the like, but the terrain, fortifications, and infrastructure of an Alpine Redoubt wouldn’t really demand any more manpower than the fascist hardcore could provide.
In addition, there were plans ordered by Hitler (but never implemented) to move slave laborers en masse from the eastern front to the Alpine Fortress area, to be used as a captive workforce and, even more importantly and terrifyingly, as hostages. Such a plan also works very well with Operation Werwolf; guerilla warfare and terrorism always works much better when the guerillas and terrorists have a safe haven bordering the country they’re operating in to retreat to and to be resupplied by. I’m sure the Alpine Redoubt would be dispatching a steady stream of terrorists and guerillas to Germany and other parts of Europe to make life hell for the Allies and for the civilian population that failed the Nazi regime.
With the hardcore of the SS and the like being all that was left, there would likely be no serious obstacle to the SS becoming dominant over this alpine polity, perhaps resembling the SS state Heinrich Himmler was planning to craft in Burgundy or Crimea, the nerve centers no doubt being all those old medieval castles that dot those picturesque mountains.
Talk about atmosphere! I’m honestly kinda surprised there’s no prominent work of alternate history that explores such a scenario: an extended World War II where the SS presides over vast slave-labor underground factories from their medieval castles high up in the Alps, dispatching terrorist units everywhere, holding thousands of hostages, the Germans loyal to the Nazi regime living under constant siege as their horizons slowly but steadily shrink as the Allies grind onward in the bloodiest military campaign in history. Sounds like a terrific setup for a streaming show. Closest we’ve come is “The Man in the High Castle”, but the premise is very different, indeed almost the opposite.
With enough industrial capacity, it’s even possible we’d see quite a few Wunderwaffen emerge from the Alpine Fortress, given some more years for Nazi scientists and personnel to work on them. That would be fascinating. Keep in mind it’s also likely that a war that drags on well into the 1950s will go nuclear, much like the tail end of the Pacific War did in real life.
Whether the Alpine Redoubt would be nuclear-bombed or not depends on how good their anti-aircraft defenses are in this timeline; since it’d be boring to have Allied air supremacy which would enable them to just nuke the Alpine Fortress into submission, let’s suppose the Redoubt has effective anti-aircraft defenses and can field its own air force, including advanced jet fighters and bombers. Ooh…
In any case, even if Allied air power can’t penetrate deep behind the front lines nuclear weaponry, in either the form of aerial bombing or heavy artillery, could and likely would be used on the front line itself. Given enough time it’s even possible the Nazi remnants could develop and field their own nuclear weapons. Yikes.
Like I said, it’s like a nightmare timeline.
A more intriguing Path to a communist Europe?
It might also be worth noting that the war going on in Europe well into the 1950s would mean World War II stretches for over a decade. The travails involved could easily tip over most of the countries that formed the Western bloc into becoming communist. As it was Italy and Greece only narrowly escaped, and France had a large communist contingent. In particular, the communist partisans were the most hardcore resistance against Nazism, and in real life liberated Yugoslavia more or less independently of the Soviet Army.
This might be one of the more creative ways to get a communist Europe after the Second World War, though I would like to add that the general idea of the Alps as the last refuge of fascism is compatible with a war fought between the Axis and the Soviet Union without nearly as much involvement from the Western Allies as in real life for whatever reason. For instance, let’s say Pearl Harbor never happens and Britain makes a separate peace with Nazi Germany before Operation Barbarossa begins. Even the Normandy invasion failing would place the “line of contact”, where the Red Army and western Allied armies met, far further west than it ended up being, drastically increasing Soviet influence in western Europe.
Another take on this premise: I’ve never been hugely fond of the Ghostapo trope, but a setting like what I outline here would be a fantastic atmosphere for various supernatural or fantasy intrigue. Maybe the Nazis are able to build up this fortress because the SS succeed in uncovering sources of magic? Ooh…
One could even do something like Harry Potter, a boarding school of magic in a castle, only it’s all being run by besieged Nazis. Deeper into the 1950s there would even be children Harry Potter’s age who were raised entirely in the Alpine Fortress, no doubt under the aegis of the Hitler Youth. It might sound disturbing, but imagine a plot where this whole state of affairs is something of a mystery, and the child protagonist is the one who, for whatever reason, has the power to end the horror once and for all (maybe even through time travel, creating the timeline we know today), and figures it all out over the course of the story. Or something like that.
Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “Dark Academia”. Would be cool I think.