Four years ago, I was one of six writer’s chosen to appear in Substitution Cipher, an alternate history anthology that focused more on espionage and spies than soldiers and battles, and how those that work in the shadows can change history as much as a king or a general. I only got that chance thanks to the Alternate History Weekly Update, who posted about the anthology when it was still accepting sub-missions, and allowed me to publish my first work, and then reviewed it and gave away a free copy of the anthology.
My story, “From Enigma to Paradox,” turned World War Two onto it’s head by allowing Nazi Germany to uncover that their “unbreakable” Enigma code was broken by the Polish and British, and used the information to their advantage.
“From Enigma to Paradox” is still my favourite short story I’ve written, and not only because it was printed in a book that I could hold and read over and over again, but because I had the chance to research and hypothesize a rather unique Nazi Wins World War Two Scenario. However, with the bene-fit of hindsight, I do realize there are some issues with the original story I didn’t touch on, glossed over, or ignored. So maybe it’s time now to look back at some of those points, and talk about it here, on the website that got me my big break.
Also, I will say it now: there are spoilers ahead. If you don’t want to find out what actually happened in my story until you read it, go find the e-book or the paperback on Amazon right now, and come back after you’ve read it. Otherwise, here we go!
The point of divergence in my story is that a convoy of the secret materials, along with a copy of the Enigma machine, was captured by the Nazi’s during the invasion of France in May and June 1940, and the German intelligence agency, the Abwehr, quickly discovered from the information revealed that the codes had been, if not quite broken, at least were mostly readable thanks to a Polish agent in 1932 getting their hands on the original device and code books. The Poles had already given all their knowledge about Enigma to the British, who, operating at Bletchley Park, were already working on breaking the Enigma code, a process they called Ultra.
This was a major part of the story: the discovery that the British were, if not reading the full messages, could figure out most of the messages, allowed the Germans to give false information to the British, which resulted in a destruction of the RAF in the Battle of Britain. With RAF Fighter Command barely holding on through most of long months from July to October 1940 in our history, this was what broke the camels back. This is very similar to what the Allies did to try to trick the Germans, which they did regarding the Invasion of Sicily, D-Day, and many other smaller events through the war. This time, I just flipped it on it’s head, and had the Germans doing the tricking, Operation Paradox in my story.
With four years of further research and knowledge, I realize that this would have been a huge stretch. For one thing, despite the brilliant combined arms attacks that paired Panzers, motorized infantry and close support aircraft on the battlefield, the high command, from the heads of the Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Heer, the OKW, the SS, and a dozen other military and intelligence functions were at odds. While this isn’t uncommon in most nations (consider the rivalry of the US Army, Navy, and Air Force, as a start) it wasn’t helped by Hitler’s determined efforts to ensure that all the major departments would be fighting and squabbling with each other to ensure they would be reliant on him alone to solve any issues that would come up. I did mention that the ruse fell apart, but by then the battle with England was already virtually won, so the effect wasn’t totally detrimental to the Nazi’s. However, with hindsight, I’d think that maybe the deception would have unraveled quicker, and it would have allowed the British to recover, even if they knew they couldn’t trust Enigma again.
What happened next was Operation Sea Lion, the invasion of England. With the RAF destroyed, the Nazi’s actually did try to cross the English Channel. In my story I only said that air superiority and the U-boats allowed the invasion to proceed, especially after a mad dash by the Royal Navy to destroy the invasion was mostly halted by the Luftwaffe. While there are many cases in World War Two of airplanes being superior to ships (the sinking of the Bismarck, Pearl Harbor, and the entire Pacific Campaign come to mind), the Royal Navy was still the master of the seas, especially the North Sea and the Channel. If anything, the invasion would have to be put off even longer, until the U-boats, Luftwaffe and naval building program that built the Bismarck, Tripitz and other ships were finished. This would mean a full year or two before Sea Lion could have begun, but by then Hitler’s attention would have been drawn elsewhere: i.e., the Soviet Union. And in that time, the Luftwaffe would have to be still bombing England, keeping the RAF down, and trying to hamper the British Army as it was rebuilt, slowly and painfully. But a year is a long time in a total war, and the British were not going to give up that easily, especially with Winston Churchill in charge.
This brings up the paradox of World War Two, at least for Germany: Germany knew, from a long, bloody history, that they couldn’t fight a two front war. They did it in World War One, and lost. They were doing their best in World War Two to not do it, but if anything Hitler allowed himself to be dragged into not only two fronts (West vs. Britain, the US, Canada and other nations, and east against the Soviet Union), but also a third (North Africa), forth (Scandinavia), fifth (Balkans), sixth (the Atlantic Ocean), seventh (the Holocaust), and eighth (occupied countries) front. So, if Hitler wanted to win, he had to focus on one front, or at least the one that would have posed the biggest threat to him in the long run, which was Great Britain. From there, eventually the British Empire and the US, if it ever entered the war, would be able to try to force a crossing back to the Continent. If the UK wasn’t there, and the British had to fight from Canada or India, then returning to the British Isles was only going to happen after a long brutal battle, or the negotiating table.
But here’s the other part of the Paradox I mentioned: Germany was in no shape to attack Britain. This is something that Alternate Historians have agreed on for years, that Operation Sea Lion was a non-starter, and would have most likely failed within weeks of starting. But Britain couldn’t be bombed into submission. They could be starved with the U-boats, but that was a long and uncertain battle. Hitler wanted immediate results, and after the success in invading Poland, the Low Countries, Norway and France, he was used to them. An invasion of Britain would have failed though, shattering the Nazi war machine, and possibly give Stalin ideas to invade west...but that’s another story.
So, is my story plausible? To a degree, yes. The Nazi’s could have found out about the breaking of Enigma, and eventually replaced it, rendering the British cryptanalytic unit useless for months, if not years as they tried to solve the new one. But would it have been able to win the Battle of Britain? If used right, a broken code is almost as useful as an airtight one, but it’s hard to see how it could have worked for anything approaching the Allied deception plans.
And Sea Lion? Maybe if I had the invasion in 1941, but by then the British would have been able to rebuild, rearm and prepare for the attack, while destroying the Luftwaffe piecemeal, and throwing off Hitler’s other plans to invade the USSR. And even then, it’s uncertain if the Germans could have smashed across to a heavily fortified island without a strong navy to help.
So, I give my own “From Enigma to Paradox” a somewhat plausible rating, but even now, I can see that it most likely would not have worked out in the long run.
I’d like to thank Matt and the AHWU for allowing me to write for them several years ago on different topics, and for promoting my new blog, (Alt)History Inc. And, of course, for bringing Substitution Cipher to my attention over four years ago, covering the story, the interview and review, and everything else.
Happy Birthday Weekly Update! And here’s to another five years of history twisting, fictionalizing the past and reimagining yesteryear!
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Tyler "tbguy1992" Bugg recently received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Winnipeg in History and English, and now he tries his best to use both, writing for a small town newspaper and writing his own blog, (Alt)History Inc, and procrastinating by playing Civilization, Fallout and other video games. You can find him on Twitter @tbguy1992.