This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. The Danzig War of 1936 - 37 saw an aggressive German régime under Ernst Röhm defeated by the combined forces of Great Britain, France, and Poland, and the three nations are now the dominant powers of Europe. In 1939 Poland joins together with Romania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland to form a defensive alliance called the Warsaw Pact. The alliance is put to the test in October 1944, when a Soviet-backed coup attempt in Lithuania brings war between Poland and the USSR. In Helsinki, the government of President Väinö Tanner reluctantly decides to declare war on the Soviet Union . . .
Today's post was written by Jussi Jalonen, who has kindly consented to bring his wealth of knowledge of Finnish history to add some much-needed verisimilitude to this timeline. So, without further ado, the Johnny Pez blog proudly presents:
Tora! Tora! Tora!
by Jussi Jalonen
Suur-Merijoki Airbase, Finland
10 October 1944
The wind-sleeve at the edge of the runway was being torn to the left by the hard, chill wind blowing directly from the southeast. It was raining, but the planes were already prepared on the airfield. The old Blenheims of Bomber Squadron 48; the brand new Italian Capronis of the Coastal Squadron, fitted with Japanese torpedoes; the sleek Polish P.62-fighters of Fighter Squadron 30; the heavy, twin-boom Fokker G1-fighters fitted with Lublin-made rockets; and the domestic, Finnish-made Pyörremyrsky-fighters of Flight Regiment 1. Most of the planes were decorated with Count von Rosen's coat of arms, the colours of the Finnish Air Force, but the nearby Hawker Hurricanes were carrying the black-blue-white triangle of the Estonian Air Arm. The fighter pilots were taking shelter from the rain under the roof in front of the main barracks.
"Goddamn rain," Flight Sergeant-Major Eino Ilmari Juutilainen cursed. "What's the pitch, anyway? Is the GHQ seriously planning an air raid in this weather? It's not that I wouldn't like to get some trigger time at long last, but I'd prefer to have at least some sunlight so that I can see what I'm shooting at."
"From what I've heard, it's supposed to be much more than just an ordinary raid," Lieutenant Hans Wind answered. "Something really big is going to happen. The brass seriously wants to open this campaign with some kind of a grand slam, something that'll bring home to everyone that messing with this country carries a heavy price tag."
The first twelve hours of the war had been far less dramatic than anyone had expected. Finnish radio intelligence was constantly reporting on the ongoing Soviet troop concentrations on the Karelian Isthmus and north of the Ladoga, but the Red Army hadn't actually crossed the border except in two localities at Kuokkala and Salmi. The Red Air Force had made several appearances over Finnish territory, Soviet artillery was throwing shells across the border on a regular basis, and the Navy had received word of a submarine sighting near Hanko, but otherwise this first day of hostilities had been surprisingly uneventful. On the southern side of the Gulf of Finland, Soviet bombers had attacked the fortresses of Aegna and Naissaari, but without much success. For the moment, Stalin had had to abandon plans for a large-scale offensive against Finland and Estonia, mostly due to the unexpectedly fierce resistance of the Polish armed forces, which was forcing him to throw all the reserves of the Red Army to support the advance towards Vilnius, Brzescz and Lwów on the central front. The Soviet dictator had calculated that he'd be able to keep a check against the Finns and Estonians in the meantime; both countries could always be finished after Poland had fallen.
The two sister nations weren't going to grant him that luxury by remaining passive. The fortresses on both sides of the Gulf, connected by maritime cables, were ready to close the sea to all hostile vessels, and the air forces were about to take an action which would force Stalin to pay attention to his northwestern flank.
Wind and Juutilainen turned and noticed Major Magnusson approaching them. The senior officer was wearing an old, grey overcoat and ordinary infantry combat boots; about the only thing suggesting his service in the Air Force was his blue cap. He was carrying a black, leather-covered folder. The Major saluted both pilots, who responded to the gesture in an orderly manner.
"Evening, gentlemen," Magnusson said, pulling a paper out of his case. "The GHQ has provided us with a new order, which you shall read to the rest of the squadron. As you may have guessed, we have been given an escort duty. Here's the detailed mission outline." He handed the paper to Wind.
Wind read the message. Filled with disbelief at the words, he looked at the commanding officer and read the text once again. His expression became more and more stupefied, and unable to figure out anything to say, he passed the document over to Juutilainen. The Flight Master took a look at the order and gave a cracking laugh. "Are these orders for real?" Juutilainen asked. "No, of course they have to be, right?" He looked first at Wind, who looked even more baffled than before, and then at Magnusson, who nodded quietly.
"This is what the Coastal Squadron has been trained to do, gentlemen," Magnusson said. "You must ensure that the bombers reach their destination. After Flight Regiment 1 has marked the targets with parachute-torches, the main attack will be made in three waves, with you in the first and the third, and the Estonians leading the second. The last wave will be delayed, to take out whatever may remain of the target. We've made an estimation of the enemy forces as well, which is written there. Although the fighter defence is likely to be considerable, your main worry will be the anti-aircraft batteries. Chances are that the enemy won’t risk all its interceptors when there's a chance that their planes could end up being shot down by their own flak. As for taking out the batteries, the Fokker pilots will finally have to earn their pay." Magnusson laughed. "But it's still easy enough. Hit and run. Destroy everything and get the hell out of there. You know the drill."
Wind drew a deep breath. "All right, then. Let's go."
Juutilainen shook his head. "Grand slam, indeed. After this, we'd bloody well better win this war." He grinned. "Still, this is going to be fun . . ."
In less than forty-five minutes, the first Pyörremyrsky-planes, accompanied by the large Fokkers, had taken wing from the airfield and vanished into the night sky. Fifteen minutes later, they were followed by the Capronis and their P.62-escorts. The first wave of the attack headed south, in the middle of the autumn storm in the darkness over the Gulf of Finland.
10 October 1944
Thick plumes of smoke rose from the devastated harbor of Kronstadt. In the course of the early morning hours, the entire coastline of Leningrad had been turned into a graveyard of battleships, and the cataclysmic scenery was dominated by the largest of the destroyed Soviet dreadnoughts. The mutilated corpse of Gangut, which had received a direct hit from a flight bomb on its deck, together with the massive, still-burning sixty-thousand-ton hulk of Sovyestkiy Soyuz, which had had its hull penetrated by five torpedoes, were slowly sinking in the grey, still waters of the Neva estuary. A cold, sad October drizzle was falling over the remains of the once-mighty Soviet Baltic Fleet, and high in the sky above Leningrad, the fourth wave of Finnish fighters and torpedo-bombers, their blue swastika insignias gleaming in the dim autumn sunlight between the rainclouds, continued to circle over the city, like a swarm of vultures returning to a carrion.
They were not going to find anything else to feast on; the first three waves had annihilated every single capital ship in the port, and the few cruisers and destroyers which had made it to sea would not escape the net of mines, small warships and coastal artillery barraging the Gulf of Finland. Deep under the dark waves of the Baltic, the Finnish and Estonian submarines were already preparing to pursue their prey.
From a distance, Anna Akhmatova watched the destruction which opened before her, unable to believe her eyes. Earlier in the morning, she had witnessed one political commissar publicly executing three dock workers suspected of collaborating with the enemy and guiding the attacking airplanes to their targets. Most likely the men had been innocent, but at least the commissar could now report to his superiors that he had succesfully captured and eliminated the enemy spies. Akhmatova had also seen many of the townspeople rushing for bomb shelters in various parts of the city -- in vain, as it turned out, since none of the enemy aircraft had attacked the city itself, but instead concentrated entirely on Kronstadt. And the havoc which they had wrought there . . .
For a passing moment, she thought of Lev, who had been released and drafted immediately upon the outbreak of war three days ago. He was supposed to be serving in one of the airfields close to the city. Was he alive? Or had he been killed in some other attack by the enemy? How was it possible that the war had actually reached this city? Who bore the main responsibility for it? We, or the enemy? Why had the defence failed at this critical place? Was it because of the superiority of the enemy, or because of our own incompetence? If so, how justified was this government really to safeguard the state and the people -- and, since we had been unable to question the legitimacy of our government, how does this reflect on the people?
This is a day of gloom, Akhmatova thought to herself. A day of infamy. Not for them, but for us. They have shamed us, they have humbled us, in all their austerity. They have stolen the sky and brought an apocalypse upon our ironclad shores . . .
Feeling the sting in her heart growing more and more painful, Akhmatova slowly sketched the first verses of the poem on her writing pad.