March 15, 1943
The Bavarian alps were a popular destination for tourists, vacationers, or those seeking to immerse themselves in nature. The mountains, lakes and forests offered a majestic backdrop for visitors. Among this idyllic landscape was the Berghof, the home of Adolf Hitler. It was where he spent most of his time, when he was not at his headquarters on the Eastern front. The Fuhrer was at this moment out walking along the mountain peaks by himself. He strolled along for several minutes, until he came near the edge. Gazing outward, Hitler looked upon the summit of the Bavarian alps. He watched as the Sun slowly set below the horizon, and marveled at the colors it cast into the sky. Hitler had been an artist once, when he was a young man living in the streets of Munich. He'd had an appreciation for natural beauty then, and had made a meager living selling paintings. It had been decades since he had last picked up his brush, though. He doubted whether he could paint the Sunset that was fading before his eyes. As the orange light drained from the sky, turning the day into night, Hitler decided it was time to return. He had business to attend to. Turning away from the mountain face, he walked back to the Berghof, lost in thought. He pondered about the war, about his peace plans, and how they would play out on the World stage.
Suddenly, the ground beneath his feet shuddered. Hitler stopped and looked around. Had he imagined that? No. The trembling became more intense, making the entire earth rumble slightly. Flocks of birds flew out of the forests and into the sky, disturbed by the motion.
''An earthquake?'' Hitler muttered, in astonishment. There were hardly ever any earthquakes in Bavaria, let alone in the mountains.
The tremors quickly diminished, then vanished altogether. The Fuhrer stood alone, wondering what had happened. He did not know it then, but history had changed. His mortal enemy, Joseph Stalin, had just died.
The Politburo was caught off guard by the sudden demise of their Chairman. They had served under Stalin for 17 years, and had grown to fear and respect him. There were only two occasions on which they had seen his composure break. The first was in 1941, when he was told that the Germans had invaded. The second was in 1943, when he was informed that the war was lost. The last development was ultimately what led to him committing suicide. Now the USSR was without a leader. News of this quickly reached the ears of Lavrentiy Beria, chief of the NKVD. Seeing an opportunity, he attempted to seize power for himself. He ordered his troops to take control of the Soviet capital in Kuibyshev: They clashed with the Red Army, and came dangerously close to the Central HQ of the Politburo. But ultimately, the NKVD were repelled, and Beria himself was captured. The crisis only lasted 2 days, but it contributed to the unraveling of the USSR. The Germans were monitoring the situation closely, and correctly deduced what had happened. They were pleased to see that there was infighting among the Soviets. Meanwhile, the Politburo had to quickly get their affairs in order. They held a private session and nominated Vyaschlaw Molotov as the new Chairman. He ordered the execution of Beria and his conspirators, and had the NKVD demobilised. On March 17, the Soviet State released an announcement that Joseph Stalin was dead. News of this quickly spread around the entire world. It set off a firestorm of speculation everywhere. The Russian people were deeply divided. Those who had declared allegiance to Andrei Vlasov -and they numbered in the millions- were quick to celebrate the death of the Soviet Dictator. Others who remained loyal to the Communist party and to Stalin mourned his passing. But all sides regardless of political affiliation knew that the war would quickly come to an end. The USSR was unraveling with an unholy speed. Revolutionary groups were rampant in the countryside, spreading anarchy and chaos. The starving people were rioting in the city's, demanding more rations.
Russia was in the midst of an oppressive famine which killed thousands every day, sapping the peoples willpower to continue the war. The Red Army was forced to deal not only with the Wehrmacht, but also with partisans and Vlasovite rebels. Morale was very low, and desertion was endemic. The Politburo knew that the game was up. Their position was getting worse by the day, as more and more territories fell under the sway of the Russian Liberation Army. They were also concerned at the prospect of Turkey and Japan entering the war. This would make the conflict even messier than it was, and risk greater territorial losses for the Soviet Union. Vyachslaw Molotov exercised his powers as Chairman, and made the decision to seek a conditional surrender with Germany. He knew from the Potsdam declaration that the terms of peace would be very severe indeed: They had driven Joseph Stalin to suicide. But if he didn't reach an agreement soon, his prospects of saving the USSR might disappear altogether. Molotov had to cut a deal now, while he still had some bargaining chips. He authorised the diplomats to make another offer of surrender, and this time they received a favorable response. At the Swedish embassy in Stockholm, German and Soviet diplomats approached each other and began discussing terms. When a proposal was cabled back to Molotov on March 19, he read the conditions and felt a sense of dread. He had been presented a Carthaginian peace. He took the proposal before the Politburo and sought their opinions: After a heated debate, they persuaded him to accept. Molotov sent his response back to the embassy, and the diplomats worked out a time and place where the armistice would be concluded. The two sides came to an agreement several hours later: The Soviet delegation would come to Moscow, on March 23. The Germans insisted that the proceedings take place at the former capital of the USSR, which was now under their control. It was a not-so-subtle reminder that they were holding all the cards.
March 23, 1943
Moscow, Reichskommisariat Moscow
A motorcade made its way through the streets of the great city, which was still heavily damaged from the previous years fighting. The column of vehicles arrived at Red Square, where a small crowd was gathered. German film crews recorded Vyachslaw Molotov and his diplomats as they exited their vehicles and walked up the steps of the Kremlin. The film reels would later be shown in Cinemas all over occupied Europe: It was perhaps the greatest propaganda victory of the war. The footage was a crushing blow to those who hoped for a Nazi defeat. The Soviet delegation made their way through the former capital building of the USSR. They arrived at a large room that was filled with nearly a hundred people. This was were the armistice would be concluded. There were officials from several different countries, including Germany, Italy, Hungary, Romania, and Finland. Molotov was furious when he saw that Andrei Vlasov, leader of the Russian Liberation Army, was present among the audience. He despised the turncoat General who had defected to the Fascists. As he scanned the room again, he noticed a group of diplomats moving his way. Molotov was unpleasantly surprised to see Joachim von Ribbentrop among them. The Nazi foreign minister walked over and greeted him with a cold smile.
''Hello again, Molotov. Its been a long time. Congratulations on your promotion. I think you will make a much better Chairman than Stalin. Even though you'll be ruling over a much smaller state.'' Ribbentrop said, as a smirk crept over his face.
''Shall we begin the proceedings?'' Molotov asked.
''Of course. Right this way.'' Ribbentrop replied, pointing towards a long table where several diplomats were seated.
The conversations in the antechamber abruptly died down as the German and Russian delegations walked to the main floor. They both went to opposite sides of the table and took their seats. Ribbentrop gave a short speech on the war between the Axis and the Soviets: How it started, how it developed, and how it would end.
''The party's now present at this meeting have agreed upon a postwar end state that is satisfactory to all nations involved. The first order of business is territorial concessions. The German Reich will permanently retain all territories that are presently under its control. In addition, they will operate within an occupation zone extending through the Caucasus, and up to the Volga river. The Soviet Union will no longer have a presence in the Caucasus, or beyond the Volga river.'' Ribbentrop announced.
Molotov suppressed a shudder. With this re-alignment of the borders, the Soviet Union would permanently lose 95 million people to enemy occupation. And that wasn't even including the 12 million who had died in the war. The sheer magnitude of their defeat was crushing. The USSR would never be the same after this. Its power and stability would be greatly reduced.
''Next are the arms reductions measures. The Soviet Union will strictly limit its production of war material, including tanks, artillery, aircraft, and warships. Their facilities will be monitored by an armaments commission, who will ensure compliance with the regulations. The size of the Red Army will be reduced to no more than 2 million personnel, including reserves.''
''The Soviet Union will render to the German Reich a war indemnity not exceeding five billion Rubles. They will abide by a strict trade embargo with the Allies, and will not trade goods with them. They will conduct trade with Germany and other Axis states, including the trade of grain, raw resources, and petroleum.''
''In addition, the Soviet Union will permanently withdraw itself from the Alliance, and abolish all agreements that were made with them. This includes the Atlantic Charter, and the Declaration of the United Nations. They will break off all diplomatic relations with Britain and America. Furthermore, they will no longer recognize the European Governments in exile.''
Ribbentrop took a deep breath, then continued.
''So much for the preamble. The Soviet delegation will now review the Instrument of Surrender and verify its authenticity.''
From across the table, a German diplomat produced a document from a briefcase, and passed it over to Molotov. The Chairman of the USSR scrutinized them intensely. There were two separate files, one in German, and one in Russian. He handed the first to his colleague, and took the second for himself. They spent several minutes reading through the documents. Then, he made his final decision.
''We recognise these documents as authentic.'' Molotov announced.
''Excellent. The Soviet delegation will now sign the Instrument of Surrender and bring the war to an end.'' Ribbentrop said.
He handed a pen to Molotov, who took it with a trembling hand. The eyes of the entire room were upon him. A German film crew recorded the moment. Time seemed to slow to a crawl. Molotov closed his eyes, and drew a breath. With the stroke of a pen, he signed his name to the document, and signed his country into bondage.
It was all over. The 2 year conflict between Germany and the Soviet Union was finished. History had changed forever.
Germany had finally achieved its greatest national ambition: It had triumphed over Communism and defeated the Soviet Union. It removed the only real threat to its own existence, and thus guaranteed its own survival. In a war lasting 2 years, Germany transformed into an entirely different geopolitical entity. Its territory more than tripled in size, and 95 million people were added to its population. Adolf Hitler now had all the Lebensraum he would ever need. Germanys natural resources were greatly expanded: It had nearly unlimited quantitys of coal, iron ore, grain, and oil. There were thousands of new factorys and millions of labourers to build war material. But more importantly, Germany had conviction that its system and ideology were unbeatable. With its victory over the Soviet Union, they had transformed into the most powerful nation on Earth: The Greater Germanic Reich. And now, Britain and America would have to face the full force of their onslaught.