The War That Came Early
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. Subsequently, the paperback edition was announced as The War That Came Early: Hitler's War.
Hitler's War (2009)
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
The series is six volumes:
Points of divergence
In this series the initial point of divergence occurs on July 20, 1936 with Spanish Nationalist leader José Sanjurjo listening to his pilot's advice and changing the conditions of his flight back to Spain, thus averting the crash that caused his death in our timeline. However, in the following two years the course of the Spanish Civil War remains virtually the same as Sanjurjo makes identical military and political decisions that Francisco Franco did in real history; only the name of the Nationalist leader has changed. Only in 1939 does Sanjurjo make a significantly different decision, aiding the Axis conquest of Gibraltar, while in real history Franco carefully maintained cordial relations with the British. This, however, comes after the series' main point of divergence.
The timeline again—and far more significantly—diverges from history in September 1938. UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier meet German Führer Adolf Hitler at Munich, ready to appease Hitler and force Czechoslovakia into surrender. However, their supine attitude and manifest wish to avoid war at any price arouse 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; however, 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 in fulfilment of 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, 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 First World War.
|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 progression of 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 under-defended 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 does send airplanes to aid Czechoslovakia, but — having no shared border — cannot send ground troops through the intervening territory of Poland and Romania without risking war with these countries, a step for which Joseph Stalin is not yet ready.
Czech soldiers offer tenacious and persistent resistance to the overwhelming German forces, with Prague and other cities heavily damaged and a great toll of civilian casualties. The Škoda works and other industrial centers are also totally destroyed, denying Germany use of them for its armament program later in the war. Later in the conflict, the Slovak Hlinka Guard stages a pro-Nazi rebellion, and many Slovak soldiers — even if not joining this uprising — fight only half-heartedly and tend to desert en masse. After German forces cut Czechoslovakia in half and are joined by Hungarian Army troops invading from the south and Polish Army troops from the north, Czechoslovak resistance crumbles, with the country's leaders forming a government in exile in Paris. A considerable number of soldiers (mostly Czechs, with some anti-Fascist Slovaks and Ruthenians) also escape to France, where they will play a significant role later in the war.
Impact on the Spanish Civil War
The outbreak of the European war comes just in time to breathe new life into Republican Spain, which had faced 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 which was cut in half by the Nationalist rebels some months before; the International Brigades, which had been on the point of being withdrawn from Spain, remain there "for the duration". Subsequently, 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, who 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 under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Spanish Nationalist troops suffer great 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 Spanish national pride and to Sanjurjo's personal reputation, and might have strategic implications for later stages of the war in the Mediterranean. However, by depriving the British of a highly valued strategic asset, Sanjurjo irrevocably ties the Spanish Nationalist cause with that of Nazi Germany, 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, while the Republicans — who deploy to Madrid the International Brigades — 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, considering Adolf Hitler to be a more tolerable neighbor than Joseph Stalin. Consequently, Polish-Soviet tensions grow until finally erupting into open war, with Stalin accusing Poland of oppressing its Belarusian minority and launching an invasion with the proclaimed aim of liberating these people (the true objective is to regain formerly Russian territory which the Soviet Union had to cede to Poland in 1921 following the Soviet-Polish War). The Poles ask for German aid, becoming Hitler's formal ally, and receive some military assistance, mainly in the form of Luftwaffe fighters.
The Soviet advance stalls, due to the staunch Polish and German resistance and the harsh mid-winter conditions. 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, in neutral Copenhagen life goes on as usual.
Japanese invasion of Siberia
For some years previously, 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), while 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 sole, long extended supply line to Vladivostok. Cutting the line would mean that the city — and the entire Soviet Far East — would swiftly become untenable and fall into Japanese hands. Well aware of this, 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, D.C. are content to see the Japanese direct their aggressive energy at the Soviets, and America continues to supply Japan with fuel and scrap metal — in effect tacitly supporting 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 the Schlieffen Plan of 1914, using the armoured striking force they lacked in the previous war, and knock France altogether out of the war. The Germans begin by launching a massive surprise attack on the neutral Netherlands. The Dutch Army, caught completely unprepared, resists as best it can, but German bombers inflict heavy damage on defenseless Rotterdam, and rather than have more of their cities suffer the same fate, the Dutch government surrenders after five days.
Belgium, which earlier refused to let French and British forces deploy on its soil, belatedly allows this after the Germans invade. After three weeks of fighting Belgium is overrun and King Leopold — never enthusiastic about waging the war — surrenders. The Germans then invade northern France, by-passing the Maginot Line by way of the Ardennes. However, though the French are repeatedly driven back, the force of the German Blitzkrieg is not as overwhelming as it would have been had the German arms industry received another year of producing more advanced tanks. With the war launched in 1938, they have to rely heavily on the Panzer I, a light tank intended originally for training. Also, with an active Eastern Front against the Soviets, the Wehrmacht can't 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 on some occasions are able to hold their own against more modern types). Still, the Allies are not broken, and wage a fighting retreat deeper and deeper 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, as well as with some Belgian forces continuing to fight despite their country's surrender, and with highly motivated Czechoslovak exiles.
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 had acted precipitously in launching the war. A conspiracy of conservative officers is foiled by the Gestapo, with the conspirators executed or sent to the Dachau Concentration Camp. In the aftermath, a widespread witch-hunt is launched throughout the German Army, targeting many officers who had not been involved in the conspiracy at all. This increases the feeling of frustration and disaffection in the German ranks, added to the increasing fatigue of the ongoing hard fighting.
The Germans advance southwards, capture Verdun without the massive toll exacted there in the previous war, advance farther south than in the Battle of the Marne in 1914 and penetrate into the outskirts of Paris. The French capital is heavily bombed, with the Eiffel Tower destroyed. Still, though neither Daladier nor 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 armour effectively, having learned from their German opponents and with the French command at last listening to the advice of their best armour 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 and British troops, as well as Czechoslovaks and African Black soldiers from the French colonies. 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, overextended and their flank threatened by French forces at the Maginot Line, by-passed but not defeated.
The threatened Jews
With Nazi Germany already straining its resources for external war in November 1938, there is no nationwide Kristallnacht involving pogroms and burning of synagogues. Still, discrimination and persecution of Jews becomes ever more intensive and oppressive. Even Jews completely assimilated in the German culture, who thought of themselves as Germans (and as patriotic Germans) are driven beyond the pale, not allowed to join the Army even when they want to (and when they had served with distinction in the previous war) nor being 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 have 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 be still 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 locked into two-front wars, neither Germany nor the Soviet Union 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 commonplace. Despite the distance from the industrial areas of Russia, Soviet forces still maintain modest air and artillery superiority, though their accuracy is often doubtful, causing many casualties on both sides. Japanese attacks on Vladivostok proceed much like their attacks on Port Arthur in 1905, suffering tremendous casualties for very little ground gained.
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. Panzer IIIs prove formidable against their French counterparts, but their 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 in order 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, while experimenting 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 this, as well as the previous one is put down. In the aftermath, many Germans 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 being stopped and driven back.
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 due to a lack of food. Due to a shortage of trained bomber pilots in the Far East, the Soviets take experienced co-pilots and retrain them as bomber pilots. The Japanese force their captured Russian prisoners to go to a Unit 731 facility, Bataan Death March style, where they are experimented on by the Japanese. The Soviets make peace with the Japanese, setting the new border at the current front line, so the Red Army can concentrate on their enemies to the west.
The War in the West
The Germans are slowly retreating 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 against this, but he dies, in an apparent accident, after being hit by a drunk driver. The Allies agree to this plan, sending their troops into Russia to fight the Soviets. The German Army withdraws from France, being only slightly harried by a few stubborn francs-tireurs. The Czechoslovaks, who continued to fight after their country's defeat, are disgusted, and head to Spain to fight the Fascists there. A few groups in France and Britain consisting mainly of disaffected soldiers and politicians wonder if a coup may be necessary to stop their countries' descents into police states, while Roosevelt suspends Lend Lease aid 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 by the beginning of winter. 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.
President Roosevelt, alarmed at Japan's aggression, freezes the flow of oil and raw materials to Japan. Shortly after, 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 have warning of the attack and only lose a carrier and a battleship, as well as some fuel storage facilities.
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil War is in stalemate, which does not change throughout the book. When France switches sides, the regiment of Czechs are sent to Spain to help the Republicans.
The Threatened Jews
Jews in Germany are forced to bear a new name. Jewish males will have to have the new first name of Moses, and Jewish females have the new name of Sarah, but 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 in the American press there are stories of systematic massacres. Polish Jews remain protected by their country's being an ally of Germany, German soldiers in Poland being 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 Japanese Navy, 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. 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 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 Belgium. 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 USA remains out of the European theater of war. FDR does sell/send Britain some B-17 "Flying Fortress" 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 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 main battle 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. TheUS 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 the cathedral of Münster demanding the release of the city's archbishop 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, it 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 civil war. As the new German government negotiates peace with the Allied powers, Germany retreats from most of the territories 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 their original reason to go to war. The Baltic states and the Vilnius region become part of the USSR, while in the other parts of Eastern Europe the pre-war anti-Communist dictators retain their rule - such as Ion Antonescu in Romania and Miklós Horthy in Hungary. Stalin deploys troops into the eastern part of Russia, hinting at a new Russo-Japanese war to retake Vladivostok, and concludes an alliance with the United States, also 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 - nationalist and militarist, though 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 Bomb first. Britain, too, remains under military rule. The British generals do promise to hold elections and restore Parliamentary democracy, but avoid setting a date. Military or civilian, the government faces the prospect of dissolution of the British Empire, one aspect in which this history resembles ours. 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 we know: Instead of the Americans and Soviets facing each other in the middle of occupied Germany, in the altered history Germany remains 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, the 1950s and 1960s of this history will also be nothing like those we know.
The two 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, 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 Luc 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 chain smoking 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 Demange 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 later in France. It is during the fighting in France that he obtains his signature weapon, an "obsolete" anti-tank rifle that 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 there. In Spain he kills General Francisco Franco with his anti-tank rifle, and later kills high ranking German officers advising the Nationalists. Jezek goes on to stop a Nationalist armored assault when he destroys three Italian-made CV33 tankettes. Some time later he is recognized for his efforts, given a medal, money, and leave in Madrid when he meets up with 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 - taking his big gun and 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 being transferred to Norway. After being evacuated from there, while 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 anti-Horace Wilson clique. After the clique seizes power from the Wilson regime in Coup D'Etat, he reenlists 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 up again with some Members of Parliament that lead the retaking of the government away from the Nazi-lovers. He then finds himself in West 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 German Tigers 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 on the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War. During R&R he meets "La Martellita" a feisty female Spanish Republican, ardent communist and local Spanish unit commander. He gets her pregnant after walking her home drunk one night (he happened upon the same bar where she was drinking heavily during The Big Switch, certain that it meant 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. Once the child is born, Carlos Federico Weinberg, 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 his new born son 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 recuperates, he goes back up to the front lines when 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 many, many operations. While recuperating in Madrid, he runs into another old friend, Vaclav Jezek, where they spend an evening retelling war stories and killing a bottle of rotgut cognac. He eventually returns to the front and assists in the final push against the Spanish nationalists, before observing the final surrender. With the victorious Republic turning increasingly intolerant of dissent, he feels he might have overstayed his welcome and returns to New York.
- Pete McGill — An American Marine stationed at the American Legation in Peking, China who 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 is severely injured in a Communist terror bombing. He is recuperating in a military hospital in Manila when 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 USS Boise is sunk by a Japanese submarine and McGill narrowly escapes death before being rescued and recovering in the Hawaiian Islands. After recovery, he is assigned to the fleet carrier USS Ranger as a gunner. He later trains as a paratrooper 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 bailing out of his damaged SB-2 in The Big Switch.
- Anastas Mouradian — Introduced as Sergei Yaroslavsky's co-pilot, he becomes a viewpoint character in The Big Switch. He is promoted to first lieutenant and full pilot before defending 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 — Sergei Yaroslavsky's bombardier, also known as "the Chimp" (though 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 when he refused to give the correct password for the day. He and the private are exonerated when the two NKVD investigators agree that it would take more paperwork for them to get the two 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 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 called a "snorkel", which is designed to increase the submarine's speed when slightly submerged below the surface. Lemp finally gets promoted to Lt. 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 are looking for 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. A fervent supporter of the Nationalist cause, he participates in the seizure of Gibraltar before being 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 Russia, where he is eventually shot in the head by advancing Soviet troops in Two Fronts.
- Arno Baatz – The 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, it is revealed that Baatz' behavior is actually motivated by concern for his men's welfare and that he genuinely doesn't understand why he is hated so much. He remains loyal to the Nazi cause, and takes shelter with them in Munster's 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 Imperial Army Sergeant stationed in Manchukuo who first sees action against the Soviet Union. After the fall of Vladivostok, he escorts Russian prisoners to a Unit 731 facility and serves as a guard there. After the war against the US begins Fujita is reassigned to Unit 113, another biological weapons unit, in Burma when captured American marines escape from his custody. Eventually tiring of his assignment, Fujita asks for 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 hand-picked others in the unit to move to Midway Island where he operates as bombardier in the Japanese air force, dropping 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. Rothe is alternately amused and annoyed by the eccentricities of his crewmates; his driver is hypersexual and his radio operator, Theo Hossbach, is a willful recluse. He is forced to bail out of his damaged panzer at the end of Hitler's War and is killed by Luc Harcourt.
- Theodosius "Theo" Hossbach – A German Wehrmacht Panzer II radioman who serves under Ludwig Rothe, he is wounded when Rothe is killed and then 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. Theo 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 Russian tanks. Theo and his crew get out of their damaged panzer and are left looking for a way to escape the Russian assault at the conclusion of Two Fronts. Members of his panzer crew are: driver Adi Stoss; tank commander Sergeant Hermann Witt; and gunner Private Kurt Poske. He and his unit are later reassigned to the outskirts of Munster, before joining 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 who 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 down hill from here. She tries to salvage her marriage, but her husband goes off on long business trips for the US government, attempting to save it money; on one of his trips, he apparently convinces authorities to cancel the Manhattan Project, considering it an expensive pipe dream. While in Reno, Nevada, he sends her divorce papers. She agrees to the divorce and 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 FDR.
- Sarah Bruck (née Goldman) — A teenage German Jew from Münster who along with her family struggle 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 only being married to Isidor for 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 she 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; leader of 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 — leader of the German Kriegsmarine
- Colonel Charles de Gaulle — French Army commander.
- Joseph Goebbels – propaganda minister for Nazi Germany
- Hermann Göring – Reichsmarschall of Nazi Germany
- Konrad Henlein — leader of the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia; his 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 until 1941, when he's 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 Nationalist General, 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 — Soviet 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 Finland*
- 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 in Two Fronts until he is killed when his plane is 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 Nazi puppet state Slovak Republic*
- (* — mentioned only)