Of course, there are several problems to solve:
- The terrain in question (esp. close to Murmansk) is about the hardest there is on Earth. Hell, even general Eduard Dietl dared to tell the "führer" that it looks like after the creation of the world.
- The Finns wanted to conquer the lost territory back, but only a minority wanted more than that. That's why their troops didn't like to advance further.
- German troops weren't that well prepared for the winter. But you know that.
I've read some books about the OTL background, "Finland in the Second World War: Between Germany and Russia" by Olli Vehviläinen, and Earl F. Ziemke's "German Northern Theater of Operations 1940–1945".
In the Lapland theater, the Axis had five divisions (but keep in mind that the German mountaineer division were somewhat smaller than usual divisions), the Soviets six incl. one reserve division. This should be changed if you want to succeed there.
Some ideas which might help:
- With the BEF defeated at Dunkirk, the "führer" might decide to move some divisions from France and Norway esp. to the East. This might help in this theater too - originally, Dietl had demanded four divisions for striking at Murmansk, but only got two.
- Concentrate on cutting off the railway instead of trying to advance through the horrible terrain between Petsamo and Murmansk
- An uncommon solution: Make Mannerheim the supreme commander of this theater. Maybe this'll motivate him to advance farther, or teach the German soldiers how to fight a winter war.
Then again: Since I think that the Nazis would better win their war (against the Soviets) in 1941, Murmansk will matter just for a few months. Esp. since the harbor's facilities were dismantled (Murmansk was considered to be too close to the fighting lines, 40 miles only) and had to be brought back and reconstructed later, after the WAllies promised to support the SU.
I've checked a certain other AH forum for ideas re: an attack on Kandalaksha (Kantalahti)/Belomorsk, but didn't find anything. Well, this nice map of the Soviet rail system in 1941, but I hadn't looked for that.
But also another problem: The US had threatened to declare war on Finland if they took Murmansk or Belomorsk (Sorokka in Finnish). Under this condition, it's not surprising that the Finns will only attack Soviet cities which don't matter much in the whole situation.
This book about the Continuation War/German-Finnish Coalition looks interesting, but I don't want to spend 15 hours on a single audiobook.
But this one was helpful, and had many good photographies: Hitler's Arctic War by Dr. Chris Mann.
Now I can give it a try: How do we strike at the Murmansk railroad in a way that is realistic and works?
Probably won't work:
- Making Mannerheim supreme commander of the theater: Dietl actually suggested this to him in 1942, but he declined. (As if he didn't want the nazis to win...)
- Making Dietl supreme commander: Suggested to him, he declined too. And admittedly, leading an army split into three groups far apart from each other is no easy task. Even if he's better than Falkenhorst.
- Using wide, removable tracks for their panzers. In OTL they started this in 1942 only.
What might work:
- Moving some troops from Norway to Karelia. The Wehrmacht had nine to twelve divisions there. We know, the "führer" was paranoid about a British invasion. But with a victory Dunkirk, he might agree to give one or two of them for Barbarossa. Of course, they'll need more supplies for that too, but at least they'll have more engineers to build roads. Because there were practically no west-east roads in Karelia.
- Avoiding to split the party (er, troops). In OTL, they were supposed to strike at Murmansk, Kandalaksha, and Lou(k)hi. Maybe in this ATL the "führer"'s mood is better, and he allows them to unite, or strike in only two places, leaving the defense to the Finns. - Of course, they're still in a terrain where it's hard to advance. So the Soviets might find out what they're up to and move troops accordingly.
- An attack on Belomorsk, which was almost undefended (read that in a book about Andropov - hm, if this works, I might kill him at this opportunity). Of course, unless the Soviets do the sensible thing and move troops there.
But yes, blitzkrieg in this terrain is pretty much impossible. So there doesn't seem to make sense to think about making a faint here and then to quickly strike somewhere else... yeah, if the Soviets didn't have the only railroad... OK, now there's a railroad Laurila–Kandalaksha, but it was finished in 1942 only...
Here are two more texts which were helpful about the Karelian theater, both by General der Infanterie Waldemar Erfurth who served as O Qu V (having the job of the military historian) under Franz Halder:
Warfare in the Far North
The Last Finnish War
What won't work (at least not well enough): Airstrikes, special commands, paratroopers. They managed to cause damage at the railroad, but in each case, it could be repaired by the Soviets in a few hours. So we need the Heer to strike there.
This thread suggests that Mannerheim is incapacitated, and general Aalto (who doesn't know or care that the US threatened to declare war if the Murman railroad was destroyed) attacks Belomorsk successfully, given that he has 27300 Finns against 12000 Soviets, and it's "just" 60 kilometers. But that would be in December, which might be too late already.
Some more ideas what might work:
- Finland attacks during Barbarossa from the very first day, instead of waiting some days as IOTL. Under these circumstances, you don't have the element of surprise.
- Mannerheim suggested during winter 1941/42 to attack Belomorsk/Sarokka. Would this have been the best place to strike at the railroad? It's relatively far in the south - but also quite far from the border. Good idea, or him playing another trick on the nazis?
- If Kandalaksha is the optimal place, it'd help if the Finns attacked there on June 23rd (or whichever is the day after Barbarossa starts ITTL), as Falkenhorst wanted. Maybe a Soviet airstrike on Helsinki causes big damage, so Mannerheim'll want retaliation? - And of course, the "führer" shouldn't make a decree to stop attacking there, as he did on August 2nd.
- The Finns allowed the Soviets in Hangö to hang (pun not intended) around there until november/december. If they were defeated earlier (if necessary, by Germans), that'd free two Finnish divisions for the East.
- A railroad built from Rovaniemi to the East would also help. Even if the Germans had to do it alone.
- And since I already stated (elsewhere) that Barbarossa will start 10-14 days earlier, that'll help too until the winter comes. Although Erfurth says that the winter is the optimal fighting time in this theater. (But only if your soldiers are trained appropriately, like the Finns and later the Soviets too.)
What to do about it now? My original idea was: Dietl makes a feint in some place, while planning to make the real attack at Kandalaksha. His Soviet opponent has to make an important decision, decides in the wrong way, and when he wakes up to reality, the Wehrmacht has taken Kandalaksha and destroyed several miles of railroad. (They make take a page from the Yankees in "Gone with the Wind", make a fire from the railway sleepers/railroad ties, or trees [there are enough of them], heat the tracks in it, and twist them into circles to make repair even harder. GWTW wasn't verboten in Nazi Germany...)
Do you think this is realistic enough?
(About distances: It's about 300 km from Murmansk to Kandalaksha, 170 from Kandalaksha to Lou(k)hi, 220 from there to Belomorsk. In 1941, the railroad was still single-track, the trains on it ran on bituminous coal, made 20-25 mph, and there were 10-15 trains driving per day, both directions, and it was estimated that the track might handle up to 40.)
One more detail: During their retreat, the Wehrmacht used a machine called "Schienenwolf", a kind of railroad plough, to destroy railroad tracks efficiently. They didn't invent it, though - so it might be in use in 1941 already. Here's a short video - seems it could move about as fast as an average walker, so you might indeed destroy several miles of tracks during a few hours. And if the Red Army will have to transport them by steam rail from 300+ kilometers, the wehrmacht will have some hours.