This article consists almost entirely of a plot summary. It should be expanded to provide more balanced coverage that includes real-world context. (February 2020) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Hitler's War (2009)
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
The War That Came Early is a six-volume alternate history series by Harry Turtledove in which World War II begins in 1938 over Czechoslovakia. The first volume, Hitler's War, was released in hardcover in 2009 without a series title. The paperback edition was later announced as The War That Came Early: Hitler's War.
The series is six volumes:
- Hitler's War
- West and East
- The Big Switch
- Coup d'État
- Two Fronts
- Last Orders (originally announced as Not with a Bang)
Points of divergence
The series's initial point of divergence occurs on July 20, 1936, when Spanish Nationalist leader José Sanjurjo listens to his pilot's advice and change the conditions of his flight back to Spain, thus averting the crash that caused his death in our timeline. However, the next two years the course of the Spanish Civil War remains virtually the same as Sanjurjo makes the same military and political decisions that Francisco Franco did in real history; only the name of the Nationalist leader changes. However, in 1939, Sanjurjo makes a significantly different decision by deciding to aid the Axis conquest of Gibraltar. (In real history, Franco carefully maintained cordial relations with the British. That, however, comes after the series's main point of divergence.)
The timeline again, far more significantly, diverges from history in September 1938. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier meet German Führer Adolf Hitler at Munich, ready to appease Hitler and to force Czechoslovakia to agree. However, their supine attitude and manifest wish to avoid war at any price arises Hitler's predatory instinct. While his generals want to gain time for further building up Germany's armed forces, Hitler feels that the time to strike is now while his opponents are so obviously unprepared. With the extensive British and French concessions, Hitler has no pretext to launch a war, but news of the assassination of Sudeten German leader Konrad Henlein by a Czech nationalist suddenly gives him a casus belli (in actual history, Henlein lived until 1945). Hitler jubilantly declares that there is no further room for negotiations and that his army will attack Czechoslovakia immediately. Chamberlain and Daladier erroneously believe that Hitler himself had Henlein assassinated and, much against their will, are forced to declare war and fulfill their treaty obligations to Czechoslovakia.
As a result, World War II starts in 1938 with a German attack on Czechoslovakia, rather than an invasion of Poland a year later. Consequently, as a result of these events, both sides are far less prepared for war than in real history.
This timeline can be considered to have been created by the (fictional) Czech nationalist Jaroslav Stribny, who assassinated Henlein. He is never seen onstage, and the reader is given no access to his thoughts and reasoning. Posterity in this timeline would link his name with that of Gavrilo Princip, whose act of assassination had set off the earlier World War I.
|Publisher||Del Rey Books|
|August 4, 2009|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover & Paperback)|
The War That Came Early: Hitler's War, published in 2009, is the first book in the series. Like many of his other series, Turtledove uses multiple viewpoint characters, mostly young soldiers and junior officers. The novel follows the war between September 1938 and the spring of 1939.
The German Army concentrates most of its available forces for the invasion of Czechoslovakia, leaving the Siegfried Line greatly underdefended and gambling that the French will not launch any major offensive. Indeed, the French content themselves with a token offensive, conquering some minor German border towns and later evacuating them with no strategic effect and failing to seriously relieve the pressure on their Czechoslovak ally. The Soviet Union sends airplanes to aid Czechoslovakia, but the lack of a common border prevents the Soviets from sending ground troops through the intervening territory of Poland and Romania without risking war with those countries, a step for which Joseph Stalin is not ready yet.
The Czechoslovak Army offers tenacious and persistent resistance to the overwhelming German forces, causing Prague and other cities to be heavily damaged and a great toll of civilian casualties to occur. The Škoda works and other industrial centers are also totally destroyed, which denies the Germans from using them for its armament program later in the war. Later in the conflict, the Slovak Hlinka Guard stages a pro-Nazi rebellion; many Slovak soldiers, even if not joining this uprising, fight only halfheartedly and tend to desert en masse. In addition, Poland and Hungary invade from the north and south, respectively, intent on asserting their own territorial claims over Czechoslovak territory. After German, Hungarian and Polish forces divide Czechoslovakia into two, Czechoslovak resistance crumbles, with the country's leaders forming a government-in-exile in Paris. Many soldiers (mostly Czechs, with some antifascist Slovaks, and Ruthenians) also escape to France, where they will play a significant role later in the war.
Impact on Spanish Civil War
The outbreak of the European war comes just in time to breathe new life into Republican Spain, which faced an imminent collapse. France reverses its former "Non-Intervention" policy, and a flow of munitions across the Pyrenees helps the Republic win the Battle of the Ebro and reunite its territory that was separated into two by the Nationalist rebels some months earlier. The International Brigades, which were about to be withdrawn from Spain, remain there "for the duration". However, Spain becomes a backwater, forgotten by the rest of the world with the spotlight turned elsewhere. Both Spanish sides are starved of supplies by their respective patrons, which need the munitions for higher priority fronts. The Spanish war becomes stalemated, with neither side able to make any decisive move.
Sanjurjo turns his attention to conquering Gibraltar, the British enclave ceded to Britain in perpetuity by Spain by the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht. Spanish Nationalist troops suffer heavy losses from the naval artillery of the moored British warships, but with the aerial support of the German Condor Legion, British resistance is overcome, and the Royal Navy ships are forced to withdraw into the open sea. The conquest of Gibraltar is a fillip to both Spanish national pride and Sanjurjo's personal reputation and might have strategic implications for later stages of the war in the Mediterranean theatre. However, by depriving the British of a highly valued strategic asset, Sanjurjo irrevocably ties the Spanish Nationalist cause with that of Germany and so foreclosing any chance of surviving in power after a German defeat. Towards mid-1939, the long-deadlocked Madrid front becomes active, with both sides moving reinforcements there. The Nationalists aim to finally conquer the city, and the Republicans, who deploy the International Brigades there, seek to push them away decisively and end any further threat to the Spanish capital.
The Soviet war with Poland and Germany
After having taken a minor part in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, the staunchly anti-communist Polish government openly moves to the side of Germany since it considers Adolf Hitler to be a more tolerable neighbor than Joseph Stalin. Consequently, Polish-Soviet tensions grow until they finally erupt into open war, with Stalin accusing Poland of oppressing its Belarusian minority and then launching an invasion with the proclaimed aim of liberating them. The true objective is to regain formerly Russian territory that Soviet Russia had ceded to Poland in 1921 after the Soviet-Polish War. The Poles ask for German aid, become Hitler's formal ally, and receive some military assistance, mainly in the form of Luftwaffe fighters.
The Soviet advance stalls because of the staunch Polish and German resistance and the harsh midwinter conditions, as well as the poor logistical situation for the Red Army. Though not committing ground troops en masse, Germany finds itself fighting a two-front war, its nightmare from the First World War, which increases the urgency of quickly winning a decisive victory on the Western Front. It also means that for the time being, Germany can spare no resources for the conquest of Denmark and Norway. While air raid regulations and wartime rationing become part of daily life in both London and Berlin, neutral Copenhagen has life goes on as usual.
Japanese invasion of Siberia
For some years, there had been a power struggle within the Japanese military and political establishment, with the Japanese Navy arguing for a war aimed at wrestling control of the Pacific from the United States (Nanshin-ron), and the generals, particularly those of the powerful Kwantung Army, preferred an attack on the Soviet Union (Hokushin-ron) as an extension of Japan's ongoing conquest of China. The Soviet Union's entanglement with Germany and Poland tips the balance in favour of the Kwantung generals.
The Japanese shift from an undeclared, low-intensity border war with the Soviets along the Mongolian border to an all-out invasion of Siberia, with the clear strategic aim of cutting the Trans-Siberian Railway, the only long extended supply line to Vladivostok. Cutting the line would mean that the city and the rest of the Soviet Far East would swiftly become untenable and fall into Japanese hands. Well aware of that, the Soviets fiercely contest the Japanese advance north of the Amur River and hold the invaders away from the vital railway line. Meanwhile, the Americans present in Japanese-occupied China at the American Legation in Peking and elsewhere are worried about the increasing arrogance and expansion of the Japanese Empire. However, decision-makers in Washington, DC, are content to see the Japanese direct their aggressive energy at the Soviets, and the Americans keep supplying Japan with fuel and scrap metal and so effectively tacitly support the Japanese war effort.
Invasion of the Low Countries and Northern France
In the winter of 1939, world attention shifts away from the other war theatres to the Western Front, where the German Army launches its bold effort to implement Fall Gelb (Case Yellow) by using the armoured striking force that it had lacked in the previous war. The Germans knock France altogether out of the war after they began by launching a massive surprise attack on the neutral Netherlands. The Dutch Army, caught completely unprepared, resists until German bombers inflict heavy damage on defenseless Rotterdam. Rather than have more of their cities suffer the same fate, the Dutch government surrenders after five days.
Belgium, which had refused to let French and British forces deploy on its soil, belatedly allows them after the Germans invade it. After three weeks of fighting, Belgium is overrun and King Leopold, who was never enthusiastic about waging the war, surrenders. The Germans then invade northern France, bypassing the Maginot Line by way of the Ardennes. Although the French are repeatedly driven back, the force of the German Blitzkrieg is not as overwhelming if the German arms industry had received another year to produce more advanced tanks. With the war launched in 1938, the Germans must rely heavily on the Panzer I, a light tank that was intended originally for training. Also, with an active Eastern Front against the Soviets, the Wehrmacht is unable to concentrate all of its forces in the west.
Much of the Allies' armaments are inadequate or obsolete as well, with artillery antedating World War I and air forces still having many biplanes, which sometimes hold their own against more-modern types. Still, the Allies are not broken and wage a fighting retreat more and more deeply into France. Though Dunkirk and other Channel ports are conquered by the Germans, making communications with Britain difficult, the British Expeditionary Force remains united with its French ally, some Belgian forces that continue to fight despite their country's surrender. Highly-motivated Czechoslovak exile troops also aid in the battle.
Disaffection in the German Army and the Battle of Paris
The continuation of bitter fighting and the absence of the expected French collapse causes disappointment among German officers, who feel that Hitler acted precipitously in launching the war. A conspiracy of conservative officers is foiled by the Gestapo, with them being executed or sent to the Dachau concentration camp. In the aftermath, a widespread witch hunt is launched throughout the German Army that targets many completely-innocent officers, which increases the feeling of frustration and disaffection in the German ranks, combined with to the increasing fatigue of the ongoing difficult fighting.
The Germans advance southwards, capture Verdun without the massive toll exacted there in the previous war, advance farther south than in the 1914 Battle of the Marne, and penetrate the outskirts of Paris. The French capital is heavily bombed, with the Eiffel Tower destroyed. Although neither Edouard Daladier nor Neville Chamberlain are inspiring war leaders, resistance continues with the defiant proclamation: "Paris is the front, here we will stop them." The Allies also start deploying armored forces effectively after they learn from their German opponents, and the French command finally listens to the advice of its best armored warfare expert, Colonel Charles de Gaulle. The German forces prepare for a decisive push to surround and conquer Paris but are confronted by a massed force of determined French, British, Czechoslovak, and French Colonial African troops. The exhausted German soldiers are stopped and the Allies, to their own soldiers' surprise, manage to start pushing them back. The Germans are in a predicament, with no strategic achievement to show for the months of grueling fighting and are overextended; also, their flank is threatened by French forces at the Maginot Line, which is bypassed but not defeated.
The threatened Jews
With Germany already straining its resources for external war in November 1938, there is no nationwide Kristallnacht involving pogroms and the burning of synagogues. Still, discrimination and persecution of Jews becomes ever more intensive and oppressive. Even Jews who are completely assimilated into German culture, who thought of themselves as patriotic Germans are driven beyond the pale and not allowed to join the army even when they want to, despite having served with distinction in the Great War, nor allowed to use the air raid shelters when Allied bombers start arriving overhead. The conquest of Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Northern France expose an increasing number of additional Jews to the racist brutality from which German Jews suffered since 1933. The Jews have no clear idea how far the Nazis intend to go, but they have many reasons to feel foreboding and start assuming that they could count themselves lucky to continue to be alive at the war's end.
West and East
|Publisher||Del Rey Books|
|July 27, 2010|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
The War That Came Early: West and East, published in July 2010, is the second book in the series. Both Germany and the Soviet Union are bogged down by a two-front war, and neither makes significant progress against the other in Eastern Europe.
The Siberian campaign
The Japanese successfully sever the Trans-Siberian Railway, cutting off shipments to Vladivostok. Cold weather and mosquitoes take their toll on the Japanese soldiers, and skirmishes with Soviet partisans are common. Despite the distance from the industrial areas of Russia, Soviet forces maintain modest air and artillery superiority, but their accuracy is often doubtful, causing many casualties on both sides. Japanese attacks on Vladivostok proceed much like their attacks on Port Arthur in 1904, suffering tremendous casualties and gaining very little ground.
The War in the West
The Germans have slowly introduced the Panzer III, a tank with thicker armor and a turret large enough for the whole gun crew. It proves formidable against its French counterparts, but the arrival is delayed by a lack of resources and the diversion of most German armored units to the Eastern Front in Poland. The Germans completely occupy Denmark and fight with the British in Norway. Sweden displays its neutrality by printing both Allied and Nazi propaganda, but Stockholm is still heavily fortified to defend Sweden's independence. German U-boats are forced to take extra measures to avoid targeting neutral merchant ships in the hope of avoiding American involvement in the war, and they experiment with the snorkel.
The British and French successfully launch an offensive, driving the Germans into a slow retreat towards the French border. Some of the German High Command launch another coup against Hitler, but that is put down as well as the previous one. In the aftermath, many Germans who are suspected of being disloyal, from ordinary privates to generals, are arrested by the SS and Gestapo.
Germany increases its commitments to Poland, sending Panzers and infantry to cut off the Russians in the disputed territory. In response, the Russians escalate the war, launching a full-scale invasion that drives as far as the Vistula before they are stopped and driven back.
Japanese occupation of China
Tension mounts between American forces stationed in Shanghai and the Japanese Imperial Army. The Japanese and well-to-do Chinese collaborators drink in fancy bars, and the Japanese show off their success in Russia, likening it to the 1905 Russo-Japanese War.
The Big Switch
|Publisher||Del Rey Books|
|July 19, 2011|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
The War That Came Early: The Big Switch, published in July 2011, is the third book in the series. The big switch referred to in the title is that of France and the United Kingdom, as they join Germany in its war against the Soviet Union. At the end of the book, the Japanese assault on the European colonial powers and the United States begins.
The Russians at Vladivostok finally surrender for a lack of food. A shortage of trained bomber pilots in the Far East makes the Soviets take experienced copilots and retrain them as bomber pilots. The Japanese force their captured Russian prisoners to go to a Unit 731 facility, like in the Bataan Death March, where they are experimented on by the Japanese. The Soviet peace with the Japanese sets the new border at the current front line and so the Red Army can concentrate on its western enemies.
The War in the West
The Germans slowly retreat as the British and French counterattack. The Allies evacuate Norway, leaving it to the Germans. Rudolf Hess parachutes into Scotland in a bid to convince Britain and France to join Germany and Poland in their campaign against the Soviet Union. Winston Churchill is the primary voice of opposition, but he dies in an apparent accident after he is hit by a drunk driver. The Allies agree to the plan, sending their troops into Russia to fight the Soviets. The German Army withdraws from France and is only slightly harried by a few stubborn francs-tireurs. The Czechoslovaks, who continued to fight after their defeat, are disgusted and head to Spain to fight the fascists there. A few groups in France and Britain, mainly of disaffected soldiers and politicians, wonder if a coup may be necessary to stop their countries' descents into police states, and Roosevelt suspends Lend Lease aid to the Western Allies.
The Advance into Russia
The Germans and their Polish allies drive the Soviets out of Poland and into Belorussia. The Soviets suffer many major defeats, and the German army is at the gates of Smolensk when the winter starts. British and French troops arrive to bolster the German and Polish defense against the Russian counterattacks. The obsolescent SB-2 is consigned to night bombing missions, as the much-better Pe-2 is now available and the SB-2 is unable to defend itself against fighters such as the Bf 109. The Soviets take a measure of revenge on the British by attacking the Royal Navy base at Scapa Flow with long-range bombers. The Baltic Sea is dangerous waters for both sides, as it teems with mines and patrol aircraft.
Roosevelt, alarmed at Japan's aggression, freezes the flow of oil and raw materials to Japan. Soon, on Sunday, January 12, 1941, Japan launches surprise attacks on French Indochina, the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies, Hong Kong, Malaya, Hawaii, and a few minor targets. The Cavite-based Asiatic Fleet is devastated. At Pearl Harbor, the Americans are warned of the attack and so lose only a carrier, a battleship, and some fuel storage facilities.
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil War is a stalemate, which does not change throughout the book. When France switches sides, the Czech regiment is sent to Spain to help the Republicans.
The Threatened Jews
Jews in Germany are forced to bear a new name. Jewish males have the new first name of Moses, and Jewish females have the new name of Sarah, but both can still live a more-or-less normal lives in their homes. In Czechoslovakia, the country's entire Jewish population is consigned to a ghetto in Theresienstadt. The worst is the fate of Jews in the German-occupied parts of the Soviet Union: captured Red Army soldiers are killed out of hand, Jewish civilians in captured towns are subjected to cruel harassment, and the American press has stories of systematic massacres. Polish Jews remain protected by Poland being an ally of Germany and so German soldiers there are ordered not to interfere with local Jews.
|Publisher||Del Rey Books|
|July 31, 2012|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
The War That Came Early: Coup d'Etat, published in July 2012, is the fourth book in the series. In this volume, the situation of the war changes once again, with a military coup in Britain turning them against the Nazis and their allies fighting the Soviets. In the Pacific, throughout 1941, the Japanese gain ground throughout South East Asia with the Western powers unable to prevent it.
The War in the West and North Africa
After the initial Japanese surprise attack, the US Navy deploys the Pacific Fleet to seek and destroy the Imperial Japanese Navy's Combined Fleet, and retake islands captured in the opening battles. However, the plan fails, as the Pacific Fleet is continuously attacked by Japanese aircraft, flying from the captured islands. After suffering heavy losses, including the flagship USS Arizona, the Americans are forced to return to Pearl Harbor, leaving any US forces on recaptured islands stranded and without support. The Japanese take Midway Island away from the American forces there, and start a bombing campaign against the Hawaii. All US Navy front-line aircraft carriers, except for the USS Ranger, are sunk at the Battle of Midway. The USS Boise is assigned to escort the USS Ranger, but Japanese aircraft again attack the ship, and sink the Boise with two direct hits.
|Publisher||Del Rey Books|
|July 23, 2013|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
The War That Came Early: Two Fronts, published in July 2013, is the fifth book in the series and spans the period 1942 – early 1943. The French and British are now fighting the Germans in Belgium, while the Germans also have to continue battling the Soviets in the east. Due to the shift of manpower to the Western Front, Germany is now starting to lose ground in Russia. On the other side of the world, Japan begins launching biological attacks against the US.
British forces are pushed back towards Egypt when the Afrika Korps arrives under the command of Walther Model. Field Marshal Montgomery is killed when his transport plane is shot down by the Germans and is subsequently replaced by Claude Auchinleck.
The Germans are forced to transfer substantial numbers of men and amounts of equipment from Russia to the reopened Western Front. French and British troops stranded in the Soviet Union are also shipped back to France and Britain. After reversing the pro-Nazi coup in the British government, leaders of the plot are assigned to minor diplomatic posts far from London to prevent future collaboration, though their sympathizers remain in England, largely unknown. The 1942 US elections change little with a few Democrat seats being lost, but the United States remains out of the European theater of war. FDR does sell/send Britain some B-17 bombers that the RAF uses for daylight bombing raids of German cities. FDR eliminates funding for work on an atomic bomb in Tennessee, on the advice that the project is unlikely to yield results for the amount of money it requires. The German U-boat U-30 sinks the British Navy's aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal. Following the second insurrection in Münster, the SS begin another purge of the military, removing anyone with connection to Münster from duty.
Due to the shift of manpower to the Western Front, Germany is now starting to lose ground in Russia, with just enough soldiers left to slow the Soviet advance. The biggest difference is Germany's use of Panzer IVs as medium battle tanks instead of just infantry support. They receive larger guns (75 mm vs the 50 mm of Panzer IIIs) and better armament so that they can now go toe-to-toe with Russian T-34 tanks. The bigger shock for the Russians is newer German Tiger I heavy tanks (Panzer VIs) with their 88mm guns that are true "tank killers". There is no mention of the Panzer V (Panther) tank. The German Luftwaffe also introduces FW-190s into the mix to aid the older Bf 109s. The book ends with the Red Army breaking through German lines and advancing on the town of Horki in Belarus.
In the Pacific, the Japanese are at a standstill. While they now have Midway, they still haven't taken the Hawaiian Islands. The US Navy's stock of fleet carriers is reduced to a single surviving vessel (USS Ranger) to protect the Islands, but is later joined by two "baby flattops" (converted merchant vessels that each possess only half the aircraft capacity of the Ranger). From Midway, Japanese launch a biological attack against the Islands by dropping canisters of plague infested fleas living on rats. However, the United States is apparently prepared for this, as it frequently issues vaccinations to servicemen, countering each new disease the Japanese send.
Spanish Civil War
Despite General Franco's death by a sniper, little changes in Spain as both sides still receive only limited support from their respective allies. However, now that France is fighting the Germans once again on the Western Front, the regiment of Czechs are requested by the French government to return to France to help the French Republic fight the Germans in Belgium. The Czechs, remembering France's earlier betrayal, are wary of France's intentions and continue fighting around Madrid. The Nationalist forces receive assistance from the German "Legion Kondor", though the German officers are regularly targeted by Republican snipers.
The threatened Jews
Life for the Jews in Germany, what little there is, goes on as before. Strict rules and curfews with no relief is combined with miserable treatment by the Nazi authorizes. The RAF starts daylight bombing raids on German cities that kill both Jew and German alike. On one bombing raid, the Bruck family is killed when their bakery/home is destroyed by bombs from RAF B-17s purchased from the USA. Sarah Bruck survives because she was out shopping at the time, but the Nazi government takes the remaining property and assets of the bakery just the same. A demonstration in front of Münster Cathedral demanding the release of the imprisoned Archbishop Clemens August Graf von Galen turns into a slaughter as members of the Gestapo open fire on the crowd. Waffen-SS troops enter Münster to restore order and close off the plaza in front of the cathedral to the public. Rumors go around that the SS troops were brought in after the Wehrmacht refused to do so. Anti-SS sentiment continues to grow in the city.
The last novel of the series takes place from late 1943 to 1944. The Americans launch an airborne invasion that retakes Midway Island, and a military coup takes place in Germany. Hitler is killed, and Germany is plunged into a brief civil war. As the new German government negotiates peace with the Allied powers, Germany withdraws from most of the territories that it conquered, but the British and French allow Germany to retain rule over what was Czechoslovakia, even though the German invasion of that country was the original cause of the war. The Baltic states and the Vilnius region become part of the Soviet Union, and in the other parts of Eastern Europe, the prewar anti-communist dictators retain their rule, such as Ion Antonescu in Romania and Miklós Horthy in Hungary. Stalin deploys troops into the eastern Russia, hinting at a new Russo-Japanese war to retake Vladivostok, and he concludes an alliance with the United States, still involved in the war with Japan. Jews in Germany have survived the years of Nazi harassment, and the new military government returns their citizenship and full rights. The conservative German generals restore the flag of Imperial Germany, rather than that of the short-lived Weimar Republic, and Germany seems headed for an open-ended military dictatorship that is nationalist and militarist but not Nazi. Albert Einstein meets with Peggy Druce to find her ex-husband, Herbert, to try and convince him to continue funding the Manhattan Project since the military-ruled Germany might get the atomic bomb first. Britain also remains under military rule. The British generals promise to hold elections and restore parliamentary democracy, but they avoid setting a date. Military or civilian, the government faces the prospect of dissolution of the British Empire, like in our timeline. In Spain, Vaclav Jezek kills Nationalist leader General Sanjurjo, the Nationalist forces eventually surrender, and Spain is finally united under the left-wing Spanish Republic.
Altogether, the series could be seen as a major display of the butterfly effect. The single act by a single person (a Czech nationalist killing Konrad Henlein in 1938) has wider and wider ramifications, resulting seven years later in a world completely different from the 1945 that we know. Instead of the Americans and Soviets facing each other in the middle of occupied Germany, in the altered history Germany has remained the undefeated, dominant European power, its military might virtually intact, with no American military presence in Europe and the Soviets still on its eastern margins. Obviously, its 1950s and 1960s will also be nothing like those we know.
Both historical viewpoint characters are marked as such.
- Luc Harcourt (d. 1941) — A young French soldier caught in the struggle to defend his country. He rises from private to sergeant during his service, fighting at the start of the war in western Germany and then defending the Low Countries and France. His unit is sent to fight the Soviet Union after France switches sides in The Big Switch. He is killed by Willi Dernen when the French contingent escapes to the Soviet lines in Coup D'Etat.
- Aristide Demange — A veteran of the Great War and Harcourt's superior. He is promoted from sergeant to lieutenant as the war goes on but still talks and acts like a no-nonsense noncom. He is almost always seen chainsmoking Gitanes cigarettes. Demange becomes a viewpoint character at the end of Coup D'Etat when Harcourt is killed as his unit crosses over to the Soviet lines. When the Western Front reopens, he and his unit are eventually "escorted" out of Russia, and he returns to France, where his unit fights the Germans in Belgium.
- Vaclav Jezek — A Czech soldier who sees action in Czechoslovakia before its defeat and again in France. It is during the fighting in France that he obtains his signature weapon, an "obsolete" antitank rifle, which he uses as a sniper rifle. His unit is expelled from France when the French ally with Germany in The Big Switch. The Czechs move to Spain to fight the fascists in the Spanish Civil War. He kills General Francisco Franco with his antitank rifle and later high-ranking German officers who advise the Nationalists. Jezek goes on to stop a Nationalist armored assault by destroying three Italian-made CV33 tankettes. Some time later, he is recognized for his efforts, given a medal, money, and leave in Madrid, where he meets Chaim Weinberg who is recuperating from his latest wounds. He returns to the front and later kills Marshal Sanjurjo, causing a complete collapse of the Nationalist front. Furious that the final peace left Germany in occupation of his beloved country, he heads home, takes his big gun, and is determined to cause the German occupiers as much trouble as possible.
- Alistair Walsh — A Great War veteran and British staff sergeant of the British Expeditionary Force, Walsh first fights the Germans in Belgium and then France before he is transferred to Norway. He is evacuated from there, and on leave, on leave in Scotland he takes Rudolf Hess into custody. He resigns from the Army after the Big Switch and is drawn into Ronald Cartland's clique against Horace Wilson. After it seizes power from the Wilson regime in Coup D'Etat, he re-enlists and is sent to North Africa to fight the Italians. After the British are driven back by Walther Model's Afrika Korps, and Field Marshal Montgomery is killed, Staff Sergeant Walsh is transferred back to England, where he meets some Members of Parliament again who lead the retaking of the government away from the pro-German faction. He then finds himself in western Belgium in a second Battle of the Somme. The British bombard German positions for days before attacking, this time with tank support. However, the British and French tanks are no match for the heavily armored German Tiger tanks, and the British assault is stopped dead in its tracks, with Walsh stuck in the middle of no man's land.
- Chaim Weinberg — An American International Brigadier and New York City Jew fighting for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. He meets "La Martellita," a feisty female Spanish Republican, ardent communist, and local Spanish unit commander. He gets her pregnant after he walks her home drunk one night (he happened upon the same bar where she was drinking heavily during The Big Switch when he is certain that it means the end of the Republic). She is very angry with him for her new condition but insists on marrying him so that her child will be legitimate and have a proper last name. A son, Carlos Federico Weinberg, is born, and she quickly divorces him and wants nothing more to do with him. Chaim goes back to the front lines and gets himself shot up. La Martellita visits him in the hospital and brings the newborn along for him to see. She reminds Chaim that she still wants nothing to do with him and apparently starts dating a Soviet political officer. After he recovers, he goes back up to the front lines, where he meets an old friend, Mike Carroll. The Nationalists start a mortar bombardment at their line, and they are both hit. The mortar kills Mike Carroll and mashes Chaim's left hand and side of his head. Chaim is sent back to the hospital, where his head wound is bandaged and his hand has the first of a large number of many operations. Recuperating in Madrid, he runs into another old friend, Vaclav Jezek, where they spend an evening of retelling war stories and killing a bottle of rotgut cognac. He eventually returns to the front and assists in the final push against the Nationalists before he observes the final surrender. With the victorious Republic turning increasingly intolerant of dissent, he feels that he might have overstayed his welcome and returns to New York City.
- Pete McGill — An American China Marine stationed at the American Legation in Peking, China. He witnesses growing tensions in the Far East and is later reassigned to the Shanghai International Settlement. He falls in love with a White Russian taxi dancer, but she is killed and McGill severely injured in a communist terror bombing. He recuperates in a military hospital in Manila while the Japanese invade the Philippines and bomb Pearl Harbor. He is then assigned to the USS Boise, which takes part in the inconclusive US drive against Japanese possessions in the Central Pacific. The Boise is sunk by a Japanese submarine, and McGill narrowly escapes death before he is rescued. He recovers in the Hawaiian Islands and is assigned to the fleet carrier USS Ranger as a gunner. He later trains as a paramarine and takes part in the recapture of Midway.
- Sergei Yaroslavsky (d. 1940) — A Soviet Red Air Force bomber pilot, he aids Czechoslovakia and later serves in the war against Poland and Germany. He is killed when his parachute catches fire while he bails out of his damaged SB-2 in The Big Switch.
- Anastas Mouradian — Introduced as Yaroslavsky's co-pilot, he becomes a viewpoint character in The Big Switch. He is promoted to first lieutenant and full pilot before he joins the defense against the Japanese invasion of Siberia. After Vladivostok falls, Mouradin is reassigned to the war against Germany and gets to fly the new Pe-2 bomber.
- Ivan Kuchkov — Yaroslavsky's bombardier, also known as "the Chimp" buy not to his face. Kuchkov becomes a viewpoint character in Coup D'Etat after he survives getting shot down with Yaroslavsky and is conscripted into the Red Army as an infantryman. Kuchkov rises to command a squad but is almost sent to a penal battalion when one of his privates accidentally shoots and kills their unit's political officer after he had refused to give the correct password for the day. He and the private are exonerated when both NKVD investigators agree that it would take more paperwork for them to get them into the penal battalion then if they were to report that it was an accident. He and his squad are later moved to the east, where they are arrested again by NKVD officers.
- Kapitänleutnant Fritz-Julius Lemp (historical) — U-boat captain of the German submarine U-30 who accidentally sinks the SS Athenia, leading to a diplomatic incident with the United States. As a result, his boat is given the hazardous task of field testing a new experimental piece of equipment, a "snorkel", which is designed to increase the submarine's speed when it is slightly submerged below the surface. Lemp finally gets promoted to lieutenant commander after he and his crew sink the British aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal.
- Leutnant Hans-Ulrich Rudel (historical) — A German Stuka pilot and preacher's son, he has always been loyal to the party above all else, even God. Thus, he is approached by the SS who wants him to become an informant. Rudel starts to show deviation from his initial fanaticism as he protects his outspoken tail gunner and falls in love with a half-Jewish barmaid in Poland. In Two Fronts, he and his squadron are sent back to Germany to fight on the Western Front. As in real life, Rudel is a pioneer in the use of aerial tank-busting cannon.
- Joaquin Delgadillo (d. 1939) — A Spanish Nationalist foot soldier in the Spanish Civil War, he is fervent supporter of the Nationalist cause. He participates in the seizure of Gibraltar before he is sent to Madrid. After Delgadillo is taken prisoner Chaim Weinberg tries to re-educate him, but Delgadillo eventually decides to be his own man. He escapes during an air raid but is killed almost immediately by a bomb.
- Willi Dernen (d. 1942) — A German Wehrmacht infantryman who sees action in France, where he is trained as a sharpshooter by snipers sent to hunt Vaclav Jezek. Dernen is later dispatched to the Soviet Union, where he is eventually shot in the head by advancing Soviet troops in Two Fronts.
- Arno Baatz – An Unteroffizier leading Willi Dernen's squad, he is derided as "Awful Arno" behind his back and despised by his men for his unpleasant personality and petty adherence to army regulations. When he becomes a viewpoint character after Dernen's death in Two Fronts, Baatz's behavior is revealed to be actually motivated by concern for his men's welfare, but he genuinely fails to understand why he is hated so much. He remains loyal to the Nazi cause and takes shelter with them in the Münster town hall. Baatz assists in an assault against an enemy artillery piece but is assumed to have died during the attack.
- Hideki Fujita — A Japanese Army sergeant stationed in Manchukuo who first sees action against the Soviet Union. After the fall of Vladivostok, he escorts Soviet prisoners to a Unit 731 facility and serves as a guard there. After the war against the US begins, he is reassigned to Unit 113, another biological weapons unit, in Burma when captured US soldiers escape from his custody. Eventually tiring of his assignment, Fujita requests and receives a transfer to a flying unit that drops biological bombs on the Chinese. His unit commander then asks him to join him and some handpicked others in the unit to move to Midway Island, where he operates as a bombardier on a bomber that drops chemical weapons on the Hawaiian Islands, to little effect. He is later killed assaulting a hill on Midway, as American Paramarines launch an airborne invasion of the island.
- Ludwig Rothe (d. 1939) — A German Wehrmacht Panzer II commander who takes part in the invasions of Czechoslovakia, the Low Countries, and France. He is alternately amused and annoyed by the eccentricities of his crewmates: Rothe's driver is hypersexual and his radio operator, Theo Hossbach, is a willful recluse. Roethe is forced to bail out of his damaged panzer at the end of Hitler's War and is killed by Harcourt.
- Theodosius "Theo" Hossbach – A German Wehrmacht Panzer II radioman who serves under Ludwig Rothe, he is wounded when Rothe is killed. Hossbach serves in a new Panzer II on the Eastern Front in West and East. One of his new crewmen is Adi Stoss, an alias used by Sarah Goldman's brother upon joining the Wehrmacht. Hossbach and his crew get a newer but used Panzer III in 1941 and then an upgraded new Panzer IV in 1943, only to have it destroyed by advancing Soviet tanks. Hossbach and his crew get out of their damaged panzer and are left looking for a way to escape the Soviet assault at the conclusion of Two Fronts. Members of his panzer crew are the driver Adi Stoss, the tank commander Sergeant Hermann Witt, and the gunner Private Kurt Poske. He and his unit are later reassigned to the outskirts of Münster before they join the new German government forces in ousting Nazi-supporters from the town.
- Peggy Druce — An American civilian in Czechoslovakia at the time of the invasion who witnesses Nazi cruelty towards the Jews and finds herself unwillingly living in Berlin. She eventually makes her way home and speaks out against the Nazis. After she finds out that her husband, Herb Druce, had an affair while she was trapped in Germany, she admits to having a one-night stand with an employee of the US Embassy in Berlin. Their marriage goes downhill from here. She tries to salvage it, but her husband goes off on long business trips for the US government to attempt to save it money. On one of his trips, he apparently convinces authorities to cancel the Manhattan Project since he considers it an expensive pipe dream. In Reno, Nevada, he sends her divorce papers. She agrees to the divorce vut is not happy with it. She starts hitting the bottle more and more as time goes by, but she still makes political speeches for the Democratic Party and President Franklin Roosevelt.
- Sarah Bruck (née Goldman) — A teenage German Jew from Münster who, along with her family, struggles to live day to day in the face of Nazi anti-Semitism. She falls in love with and marries Isidor Bruck, the local Jewish baker's son. After being married to Isidor for only a short time, her husband's family bakery is destroyed during a British daylight bombing raid. Isidor and his parents are killed in the blast. Sarah survives, as she was out shopping, but then discovers that the Nazi government is taking ownership of their property and other assets for the "good of the Reich," leaving her with nothing. Sarah goes back to living with her mother and father in Two Fronts.
Non-viewpoint historical characters
- Juan Antonio Ansaldo — Spanish pilot and extreme-right militant (viewpoint character in a single episode)
- Ronald Cartland — British MP and former soldier, who leads the faction that opposes Horace Wilson
- Neville Chamberlain — Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1937–1940)
- Winston Churchill – Minister of War for the United Kingdom (dies in 1940)
- Édouard Daladier — Prime Minister of France
- Großadmiral Karl Dönitz — German commander-in-chief of the Kriegsmarine's U-boat forces
- Colonel Charles de Gaulle — French Army commander.
- Joseph Goebbels – Propaganda Minister for Germany
- Hermann Göring – Reichsmarschall of Germany and commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe
- Konrad Henlein — leader of the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia whose assassination in September 1938 triggers the German invasion of Czechoslovakia
- Adolf Hitler — leader of Nazi Germany (viewpoint character in a single episode)
- Friedrich Hoßbach — German military adjutant to the Fuehrer
- Benito Mussolini — leader of Fascist Italy
- Franklin D. Roosevelt — President of the United States
- General José Sanjurjo — leader of the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War
- Archibald Wavell – British general and prominent figure in the 1941 British coup
- Horace Wilson – Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1941, when he is overthrown by a military coup
- Milton Wolff — commander of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War
- Marshal Ion Antonescu – leader(?) of Romania*
- Chiang Kai-shek – leader of the Kuomintang and the Republic of China*
- Marshal Khorloogiin Choibalsan — leader of Communist Mongolia*
- Christian X of Denmark – king of Denmark*
- General Francisco Franco — Spanish general who is killed in 1941 by Vaclav Jezek
- Miklós Horthy — Regent of Hungary*
- Hirohito — Emperor of Japan*
- Leonard Kaupitsch – German military governor of Denmark*
- Nikita Khrushchev — Red Army leader and Commissar*
- Leopold III of Belgium – King of Belgium*
- Maxim Litvinov – Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union*
- Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim – commander-in-chief of the Finnish Defence Forces*
- Walther Model – commander of the Afrika Korps, sent to North Africa to aid the Italians in 1942*
- Bernard Montgomery – commander of British forces in North Africa until he is killed by his plane being shot down*
- Mao Zedong — leader of the Communist Party of China*
- Edward Rydz-Śmigły – de facto leader of Poland*
- Joseph Stalin — leader of the Soviet Union*
- Jozef Tiso — leader of the German puppet state Slovak Republic*
- (* — mentioned only)
- "Last Orders (The War That Came Early, Book Six)". Random House Publishing. Retrieved 2013-11-04.
- Silver, Steven H. "Hitler's War". Retrieved 2010-10-29.
- In actual history, Germany prepared Operation Felix, a plan for occupying Gibraltar, but Francisco Franco opposed its implementation.