The Great Game: Triumph and Disaster

May 13th, 1949
Somewhere in Siberia

The trackless steppe stretches endlessly in all directions, offering no fixed point for the eye or the attention to fix on; only where the Ynglinga Hird marches is there any sign of life. There, on the other hand, the land positively boils with activity; tanks on their carriers, kitchen wagons, outriders on horses or little all-terrain Sleipnirs, Kazakh and Uzbek cavalry plodding forward with banners and lances, and the infantry in their thousands and tens of thousands. The stolid strils in their dull field-gray – Balts, Russians, Germans, all the subject races of the Norwegian Realm – form a moving, flowing backdrop against which the black-clad Ynglings stand out sharply. They march uncaringly, the Ynglings, with the free-flowing stride of men who know themselves masters of all they survey. How can the Chinese oppose them? The People’s Army is far away, contesting mastery of the Middle East with the Burgundians. More to the point, perhaps, they know themselves the freest of all men, these Ynglings: Freed by their slave empire from the demands of labour, freed by ancient law to bear arms, to duel, and to vote, and freed by the still more ancient decree that Might is Right to despoil the riches of China, to take its women and wealth and bring its teeming peoples under their rule.

There has yet been no opposition to the attack; even a full month after the declaration of war, the strategic surprise remains total, and in any case these barren borderlands, far from the industries of the south, are not where the People’s Army will choose to make its stand, in whatever strength it can scrape together. But now the Dragon shows signs of stirring. From the south comes the deep thrumming of bomber engines, hundreds of them. The Ynglings are unconcerned. The Chinese are throwing their air force at the invasion, hoping to slow it down and buy time for the mobilisation of their vast population; but it cannot work. There is not enough air power in the world to significantly slow an advance of this size; the dead and wounded will be heaved out of the way, and the survivors will close ranks and march on, leaving the Chinese to return to their bases much depleted – for now the bomber formation, a vast V of Vs of Vs, is in view, and the fleet Valkyrie fighters that dart around it, taking a deadly toll for their passage. The bomber will always get through, but not enough, never enough to seriously harm the Ynglinga Hird.

The bombers are over the line now. There is a bright, blinding flash; another.

Mushroom clouds begin to rise from the place where the Ynglinga Hird stood.

May 14th, 1949
Håkon’s Hall, Bergen

“No.”

Vidkun had been up all night, and it showed; there were deep bags under his eyes, and his skin was a pale gray. Nonetheless, there was weight in his denial.

“Well, what are you going to do, then? Three-fourths of Second Army has been destroyed as a fighting force!”

“A devastating blow, yes. The worst defeat ever suffered by Norwegian arms. And yet, nonetheless, what has changed? There is still no single Chinese division between Second Army and Beijing; there are still a million Ynglings on the march into undefended China. We can still win this. As long as I sit in this seat, we will not sue for peace. And, gentlemen, you still don’t have the votes to unseat me; not when the Ting realises that pulling back now dooms us to be a second-class power forever.”

There was silence for twenty seconds, while the Radical delegation digested this. Slowly, a look of awed agreement began to spread among them. “Defeat,” one of them quoted softly, “is an event that takes place in the mind of the commander.” He paused for a long moment, then burst out, “Vidkun, I didn’t think you had it in you, but you’ve got balls enough for a Radical. But wait. What about the polaks?”

“Ah.” Vidkun smiled like a shark. “You may leave the polaks to me.”

May 14th, 1949
Håkon’s Hall, Bergen

The head of the Overkommando Ynglinga Hird looked, if anything, even worse than Vidkun. He stood at attention – and quite literally on the carpet – to deliver his news: “Sir. I must report that, in the opinion of OYH, there is nothing further to be hoped for in a military sense, and must recommend that we immediately sue for peace with all our enemies.”

Vidkun nodded. “Nonetheless, there will be no peace.”

A deathly silence hung for a moment as the Chief of Staff stared unbelievingly at his civilian commander. He did not reach for the pistol hanging at his right hip, but a subtle change in his posture indicated that he was now refraining from doing so by a deliberate effort of will. At last he went for a slightly different weapon. “In that case, sir, I see no option but to resign; I cannot be responsible for defense operations in the current strategic situation.”

“If you resign, the government will fall.”

“Yes, sir. And we will have peace. And we desperately need peace.”

“Defeat,” Vidkun quoted firmly, “is an event that takes place in the mind of the commander.”

“Oh, come off it. That stuff reads well in the headlines, but it won’t prevent the Belgians from swallowing Denmark and crossing into Sweden. See how victorious you feel when they stand on Ulriken and shell Håkon’s Hall!”

Vidkun sighed. “All right, all right. It’s like this. If I sue for peace, if I even show any hint of weakness, the coalition will fall apart and the Radicals will pounce. They’ve been waiting for that for…”

“Never mind the pathetic political maneuvers! I thought better of you. These are Yngling lives we’re talking about.”

“Precisely. If you’ll let me finish: The Radicals will follow our traditional strategy: Cut the losses, retrench, wait for opportunity. We’ll have a punitive peace, lose Siberia, the Americas, Germany. Then, in ten or fifteen years, when they feel strong enough, they’ll attack again. Only this time, all parties will have a vast stockpile of these atomic bombs. Win or lose, we cannot survive that war. We can survive this one, even if only by losing so badly that we can’t start the next one.”

Sverre stood thinking for a few moments. “You would throw away millions of lives – all our empire – perhaps our very independence. We’d see Scandinavia split into vassal republics!”

“Yes. All that’s true. But I don’t see any better choices. Oh, we could hang on for fifteen, maybe twenty years, but sooner or later the Radicals would obey the logic of their convictions and attack, convinced that they’ll triumph if only they put enough Will into it. But the bullet doesn’t care, and the atomic bomb doesn’t care either. It is too late to save Norway as a Great Power. But we may still save the Norwegians as a people.”

Slowly, reluctantly, Sverre nodded. Without words, he came to attention again, and saluted, fist to heart, before turning to go. As he exited the Square Chamber, he heard Vidkun whisper behind him, very softly. “And besides… maybe the horse will learn to sing.”

Right, it’s like this: When I backstabbed the Chinese by pulling out of the war with Burgundy, I moved my army to Siberia in preparation for an attack. Unfortunately I put it in two large stacks, confident that China had used all its nukes in the blitz against Belgium and England. It turned out he had one in reserve that he himself had forgotten about, loaded on to a strategic bomber sitting in a dusty Algerian airfield. BOOM! I lost the better part of sixty divisions there, and they were good divisions too, lots of panzers and mech inf.

Then, successful Chinese diplomacy led to both the Burgundians and Poles DOWing me. The Burgundians (helped, it must be admitted, by that buggy 125% efficiency bonus on their HQ units, but oh well, spilt milk) drove me out of Germany in short order; the Poles had to redeploy their armies and didn’t do anything very much. Nonetheless, it was pretty clear that I was going to lose, so I asked the Comintern for peace. We exited to edit in that peace. Then Poland changed sides again. If I feel inspired, there’ll be a section about the Yngling counter-coup in Lodz. This changed the strategic situation to the point where I might, just might, be able to pull it off. Hold off the Belgians using the Poles as cannon fodder, and smash the Chinese while they’re still redeploying from the Middle East. It’s a gamble but it just might work.

At this point in the AAR, though, Vidkun doesn’t know about developments in Poland – he’s bluffing when he tells the Radical delegation to “leave that to me”. He’ll be as surprised as anyone when they change sides again. However, even with that, I’m in pretty bad straits here. If nothing else, the Polish tail has now gotten to the point where it can easily wag the Yngling dog! In Axis-internal politics, my one advantage right now is my nuclear monopoly. But I do feel that Vidkun is right. If the Ynglings are going down, they’ll go down in a blaze of glory, fought out with rifles and tanks and individual courage. There’ll be no Cold War and no nuclear holocaust in this history, if I can help it; in a timeline where the Americas are rather thinly settled and all the industrial action is in densely-populated Europe, that would be utter disaster, even more so than in OTL. Vidkun is not exaggerating when he speaks of saving the Norwegian people, even at the cost of Norway as a Great Power.

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