Operations in the west, too, would have been profoundly affected by the Führer's demise. On 28 June Hitler had rejected a plan, put forward by von Rundstedt and Rommel, which suggested a German withdrawal back to the line of the Seine. With Hitler gone, this plan could have been put into effect. There would have been no Mortain counter-attack and no Falaise pocket, with their attendant losses.
Instead a defence of the Seine would have been followed by a defence of the Somme, and then the Meuse and Moselle, and so on back to the Reischswald and eventually the Rhine. This early withdrawal from France - about three weeks sooner than the one that did occur - would have saved some 250,000 men and much equipment, some of which could have been redeployed to the Eastern Front, particularly in Rumania.
Hitler's demise, then, would have allowed Germany to adopt defensive strategies on both western and eastern fronts, fighting on shorter, more defensible lines. And with Rumania still under German control, the oil crisis of late 1944 would have been less severe. In addition, Germany would still have had access to the strategically important minerals of the Balkans and Anatolia, so that many of the log-jams that delayed jet aircraft production would not have occurred.
Moreover, without Hitler there would have been no Ardennes offensive, and consequently no squandering of precious resources. Instead the Germans would have imposed a series of attritional slogging matches on the Anglo-Americans, fought on ground of their own choosing. In the east the fierce resistance offered to the Soviets on the frontiers of East Prussia and the Carpathians would have been stronger yet, while the great tank battles that actually took place on the plains of Hungary at Debrecen, would have been fought to defend the oil fields of far-off Rumania.
The disparity in production and manpower between the Allies and Germany, however, was so great that the Eastern Front would have given at some point, whoever was in charge. On 12 January 1945 the Soviets launched a great offensive in central Poland, which carried them from the Vistula to the Oder - dangerously close to Berlin, in other words - in less than three weeks.
In our alternative world, it is difficult to see how the Vistula - Oder offensive, however vigorously resisted, could have been stopped. Soviet deception had persuaded Hitler to concentrate his forces in Hungary and East Prussia, but there is no reason to suppose that other German generals, even those unhindered by their Führer, would not also have fallen victim to false intelligence.
A radical solution to the Soviet advance
On 23 January, Soviet forces reached the Oder, only 60 miles east of Berlin. Shocked by the speed of the Soviet advance, the German naval high command actually discussed a radical solution - opening Germany's western front and allowing the Anglo-Americans unimpeded access through Belgium and the Rhineland into the heart of the Reich.
They hoped the Allies would thus be drawn in to join with Germany in keeping the Russians to the east of the Oder - but this idea was not discussed outside the Naval high command, as there was little trust between them and the other two services. In the absence of Hitler it is likely that such a scenario, in effect an Anglo-American relief in place of the German army, followed by German demobilisation, would have been widely, and in some quarters favourably, canvassed.
Would it have become policy? It is possible, given that the crisis produced by the Vitula-Oder offensive would have fractured the loose coalition running Germany. Goering and Himmler, now weak and discredited, would have gone to the wall, and a new government composed of Army and Waffen SS generals, could have announced that Germany's western borders were now open.
Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin at the Yalta Conference, 1945
The Yalta conference, at which the Anglo-Americans and Soviets were to agree the post-war division of Europe, was only two weeks away. With their forces still west of the Meuse, and bogged down in the Appenines in Italy, the Anglo-Americans were expecting to go to Yalta as supplicants, with the Russians in a strong position.
But if the plan had been followed, suddenly Berlin would have been offering unconditional surrender. The dowry would have been significant - not just control over central Europe but over south-eastern Europe to boot. The price of acceptance for the Allies, however, would have been immense - an irrevocable breach with the Soviets. The British, perfidious as ever, would probably have accepted, but there would have been problems with the Americans, who thought they needed Soviet support for the war against Japan.
If the Germans had taken the initiative, and had begun pulling back from their western defences, it is difficult to see how Anglo-American forces could have avoided being sucked into the resulting vacuum, and pushing on to face the Russian advances, no matter what political decision had been made in London and Washington.
By ending the war three months early, Germany would have escaped the last of the terror raids, particularly the destruction of Dresden. In addition, the bulk of German territory would have been surrendered to a disciplined, civilised enemy, so that the murder, rape and pillage of the Soviet advance would have been confined to areas east of the Oder. There would have been war crimes trials, but possibly not as extensive as those that actually took place.
The long-term political impact of the way the war ended would have been immense if Operation Foxley had succeeded. If it had, and Stalin had been excluded from the Balkans or from Berlin, he would not have accepted the situation. He would probably have launched offensives against the Allies as they advanced into Germany in their attempt to keep Russia out of central Europe. One can imagine Anglo-American and Soviet forces clashing in Carpathian passes, or shelling each other across the Oder.
In this scenario, the Cold War would have started with a bang the moment the Anglo Americans reached the German side of the Eastern Front. In June 1945 Churchill, worried by increasing Soviet belligerence, actually did propose the re- mobilisation of German forces as a way of opposing Stalin, a suggestion that was quickly buried by the chiefs of staff. In the post-Foxley world, he may have got his way.
The spring and early summer of 1945 would have been the period of maximum danger, as Russian and Allied troops faced each other. This confrontation would have eased only with the first successful test of the American atomic bomb on 16 July, which would have dictated a policy of prudence to Stalin.
This end to the war would have left a bad taste in many mouths. The political left in the west would have railed about the betrayal of the Soviet Union, and accorded to the Soviet system much greater legitimacy than it actually had. Conversely the right in Germany would have seen the 'Volk' stabbed yet again in the back, not once but twice (by the Allies and by the treachery of their own generals). They would have said that if Hitler had lived, if the borders had not been opened, Germany might yet have avoided the humiliation of an Anglo-American occupation. There would have been soul searching, but not as much as that produced by the reality of total, utter defeat.
The legacy of betrayal could only have served to make the post-war world more dangerous than it actually was. The Soviet Union, faced with a resurgent, psychologically undefeated Germany allied to Britain and America, may have withdrawn ever deeper into paranoia, perhaps not unreasonably. The crises of the early Cold War years would have happened not in Berlin or Budapest, but in Iran or the Norwegian-Finnish frontier.
These crises might have been containable, but it is unlikely that the world would have been as lucky as it actually was, in October 1962, when the Soviets deployed missiles to Cuba. All that was required to tip the balance in favour of war at that time was a slight increase in paranoia, a condition that is highly likely to have been rampant in the world - if Operation Foxley had succeeded.