France defeats Britain 1910s (creating this dreamt world)

Even developing aviation it needs to advanced by around 30 years to get an aircraft capable of affecting major naval vessels.
Internal combustion engines can come online earlier. The Italian dudes behind one of the first ones circa 1850s were going to sell it in Belgium but IIRC one died. Speeding up development overall by 5-10 years gets a long way to planes and tanks and what not.

Fundamentally France needs no Germany to afford the safety to keep up Napoléon III’s modern navy. Franco-Prussian War I think is slightly too late, I’d set my POD in like 1860. Have Nappy III refuse to sign free trade with the UK, as that ruined his internal industrialist support and forced him to rely on Catholics which in turn kicked off Italian adventures and Austrian problems.

Or maybe just kill Moltke and the King and have Bismarck (his bags already packed, per OTL) flee with Austrian victory against Prussia. France in turn backs Prussia, forming a new northern alliance that guards her borders and gives freedom to face off against UK?

something like that on a quick stab at it.
One problem here is that at the time, to defeat the UK, the French need to inflict a defeat on the largest navy in the world, one thats been prepared since the 1800s to fight France at sea. And here the French are totally screwed, they're outnumbered, and by 1910 don't even have any Dreadnoughts whilst the UK has many and several battlecruisers as well, and the French have a smaller number of pre-dreadnoughts and their semi-Dreadnoughts are just entering service. They're so outnumbered its not even funny, and that's not just in the Med but on the French Atlantic and channel coasts.
If the French were able to get their army across to North Africa and threaten Egypt and the Canal its still going to be a long 'ol slog and your supply lines are going to be interdicted by the RN coming from Gibraltar and Malta.

Zepplins whilst a nice idea are not going to be big enough or powerful enough to carry a bomb that can really threaten a capital ship, and good luck hitting a destroyer.
Second Empire France was a rival to Britain in first-line warships, and in early ironclads the British and French were matching each other in producing classes to rival.

Best Regards
Grey Wolf

The French fell behind massively during the age of the pre-dreadnought though.

By 1910 the French would have had at most 20 battleships in service (or reserve, I'm including the Marceau, Messina and Hoche in those numbers and they were hopelessly obsolete by this point), no Dreadnoughts, 23 armoured cruisers and 24 protected cruisers from the 1890s and most of those are obsolete and old, no scout cruisers, and no light cruisers. Many of the French Battleships are also old and of inferior design to contemporaries across the channel (namely Bouvet and her 4 'sisters' as well as the Brennus class ship, they were flat out inferior to their RN equivalents, the Majestics and Canopus classes, of which there was 9 and 6 respectively, the 3 Charmalagine class were 'okay' but small for their role and again, roughly equal to the Majestics).

The RN would have had 35 Battleships in active service, as well as 4 Dreadnoughts and 3 Battlecruisers, 35 armoured cruisers, 71 Protected cruisers (again some are old and obsolete others are not) 10 scout cruisers and 6 light cruisers. And I'm not going to count the Destroyers/torpedo boats for either side. This kind of quite frankly absurd number disparity is the big problem here. And whilst many of the protected cruisers would be dispersed across the globe, if the UK was threatened then you can bet the vast majority would be recalled home, same with the armoured cruisers. And all the battleships and dreadnoughts would be in home waters or the Med. Whilst the French fleet's split between the Med and the Atlantic coast and there's Gibraltar in the way to unify their forces.

And if France built up its fleet somehow (stopping the revolving door at the Admiralty and thus having a stable government would be a must for this), why are we then assuming that the UK would build as per OTL. This is one of the issues that often crops up in Nazi wanks. The Nazi's build X Y Z and develop M whilst the Anglo-French do EXACTLY as per OTL and do not respond in any way. If the French somehow managed to get their house in order at a leadership level and then get the shipyards organised and more built and an efficient program of warship construction started in the pre-dreadnought era (Which itself would pretty much take an act of God as the French ship building industry from the 1890s onwards was a mess) then the UK is not gonna go "Oh this is fine." And not react. The UK could afford and had the facilities to build far more ships. So you'd probably see 9 Majestics, 9 Canopus, 9 Londons etc etc etc and these are numbers that the French simply can't match because they don't have the infrastructure for it.

As an example it took the French 6 years to get this ship into service and the fastest built of her half sisters was 5 years. Another far worse example was laid down 1882, completed 1891.

the UK built the Majestic class within 2 - 4 years, all 9 of them, thats how efficient the UK's shipyards were. And if you build up a fleet to challenge the RN and threaten the country, the UK could afford to do that again and again if you start a building race with them, and its a race that France would loose. They don't have the shipyards, or slips to build enough ships to challenge the RN at any level.

Looking at small craft in service you're also talking the RN having 180 odd destroyers of varying size and quality, with 64 of those being more modern ships that would be more recognisable as a WW1 type destroyer rather than a large torpedo boat destroyer type.

France had 55 destroyers, most of which were the older Victorian era torpedo boat destroyer type design and no more modern WW1 type destroyers, the large swarms of torpedo boats the French had made during the Junne Ecole period were largely gone or horrifically obsolete with a bare handful of later designs, namely the 5 strong Cyclone and 6 strong Mistral class being anything remotely useful in the modern era and even then they're small, coast defence craft, not offensive units.

Also this is the Royal Navy that was shaken out of its malaise by Fisher and his innovations and time in command of the Med fleet. By 1910 the RN was more than ready for a war with anyone.

This vid gives a good breakdown of the French Battleships of the period we're talking about, and by 1910 the French would have all four Libertie's in service and them, along with the 2 Republique's are the most modern and capable French Battleships. Facing them are 4 Dreadnoughts, and everything else, the King Edwards and Lord Nelsons would be more than a match, and there's 8 King Edwards and 2 Lord Nelsons. And there in theory should be 19 French Battleships as the Iena blew up in 1907.

So I hope this gets across the number problem the French face, and they have to defeat the RN in the Channel, and in the Med, to stand a chance.
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The only way this OP scenario could happen is with the napoleon Dynasty carrying on after 1870 (no defeat at the hands of the Emergent Germany) and even then as Steamboy has laid out above the disparity between the fleets is massive - the British Empire is the worlds only hyperpower when it came to Naval, Financial, trade, Mercantile and perhaps less so much by 1910 Industrial matters (although still far ahead of anyone in ship building capacity).

It unlike many nations around the globe enjoyed 100 years or so of glorious peace and stability and so while not impossible I cannot easily see a path where France can challenge the Royal Navy in such a fashion without a particularly tall 'if tree'.
Yeah surviving Napoleon Dynasty and no Franco-Prussian war, or a successful one for France for one thing would help. But you've still got the fact that you're taking on a hyper-power who's on an island and has the strongest navy in the world which you MUST defeat if you want to attack them, or attack their overseas empire. Oh and they have large fleets in the way wherever you go.

You can't just go "Ahh but Zepplins" because 1. The lift capacity to carry a sufficient bomb load to do significant damage simply does not exist as there's not aero engines powerful enough or zepplins big enough. And to carry a decent bomb load they'd have to be HUGE, and that comes with all the structural issues that plagued Zepplin like designs and you'd also need sufficiently powerful aero engines for them, and you'd need LOTS which takes away funding froooom.

2 - The Navy. you're going to have to massively increase the size of the French Navy, and this means not just building ships but having the facilities to build and maintain them. The French were plagued by their small dockyards and slips until the 30s, its why they went for the quad turret in many WW1 designs, because you could make a short ship more of a threat if you crammed more guns onto it and the quad turret allowed for this. There's also the governmental changes that you'd need, you'd need damn tight controls of the shipyards and builders as well as not having the revolving door at the top where administrations changed all the time.

3 - So whilst you're building up a zepplin bomber force, and also building a massive navy, what about the army? The British army had been shaken out of its complaceny by the Boer war and was improving rapidly. But France is a land based power, you're not going anywhere without taking out the RN and even if you somehow do, the British army wasn't that bad, it was just small.

4 - Assuming all of this, you've then not factored in any British response and they would respond. Louis Bleriots little hop across the channel caused a spark of national concern about the 'air threat' and if the French are building zepplins by the score for a nascent air force and are found to be planning to use them as bombers (and that would leak), the UK would respond, either with AA defences or primitive planes and zepplins of their own. And if you're building a huge navy as a rival to the UK the British will go "Oh bravo, its just like the 1800's all over again!" and respond with a ship building program of their own that makes the Two Power standard look meak in response. And they can afford it because they're a hyperpower.

So unless you hugely change history or have London, Portsmouth, Manchester and Liverpool (as well as Plymoth, Dartmouth, and Chatham) all get walloped by Asteroids or for the British to think that they've got too many ships and sink 3/4 of them for no good reason, France would struggle to say the least to accomplish this kind of victory in the 1910s. And it don't matter if you go forwards a decade or back, either way the numbers don't get better but worse.
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The first Decade and a half of the 20th century is the right time for lighter-than-air craft (airships) to be dominant over heavier-than-air craft (planes) The steampunk genre loves airships, but tends to be driven by the cool factor rather than how they work in a hard technical sense, with tricks like giving them a boutique lifting gas from off the periodic table.

Airships outperformed planes for range and altitude and payload at the beginning of World War One. The problem is that airships are big and expensive, more like destroyers or cruisers, while planes are simple and cheap. Airships are also inherently fragile. An earlier access to large amounts of helium would help with the fragility problem. Helium has only half the lifting power of hydrogen. Some later German zeppelins attempted to fix this problem by having an outer layer of helium cells, and an inner layer of hydrogen cells. So not only would the helium get hit first by anti-zeppelin fire, but the helium also would form an inert layer around the super flammable hydrogen, hopefully acting as an automatic fire extinguisher.

Airships are limited in payload, but the individual airship payload problem could be helped by spamming out zeppelin bombers. It would be expensive, and unless the military budget was increased, some other part of the budget would suffer. If the OP Alt France put all of its eggs in the airship basket and skimped on the surface fleet, that might help. The devastation required by the OP dream might be helped by the military thinkers figuring out the physics of making a firestorm earlier, so waves of zeppelins with a specific mix of HE and incendiary bombs systematically attacking a target. This would be a terror bombing campaign. Firestorms only work against dense urban targets. But one could also destroy a lot of industry if the factories were in urban areas. And the initial thinking on aerial bombing imagined something like this.

One would need to find a way to prevent or delay airplanes, the airship’s natural predator, from rising in ascendency. Some kind of design obstacle that allowed big powerful engines but not small ones. Steam powered airships?

The period is not going to allow accurate bombing by airships to threaten the surface fleets of the day. The optics and calculators are not good enough. Dive bombers were the only plane that could hit a warship in World War Two. And zeppelins have to keep a safe distance from the target lest the be shot down by AAA. However I imagine that some kind of low recoil gun might be able to accurately shoot through the thin deck armour of a warship. An upscale version of the COW 37mm gun, or a true recoilless gun shooting from a pod on the airship, with a tungsten penetrator. The zeppelin would have the height advantage working in its favour in this situation. Or maybe a zepppelin could drop some kind of parachute torpedo contraption?
The devastation required by the OP dream might be helped by the military thinkers figuring out the physics of making a firestorm earlier, so waves of zeppelins with a specific mix of HE and incendiary bombs systematically attacking a target. This would be a terror bombing campaign. Firestorms only work against dense urban targets. But one could also destroy a lot of industry if the factories were in urban areas. And the initial thinking on aerial bombing imagined something like this.

The problem here is that you counter this by then saying -

The period is not going to allow accurate bombing by airships to threaten the surface fleets of the day. The optics and calculators are not good enough. Dive bombers were the only plane that could hit a warship in World War Two. And zeppelins have to keep a safe distance from the target lest the be shot down by AAA

The same is true of Zepplins. To get the sheer concentration of bombs needed you would need scores and scores of Zepplins, each one carrying about 2000kg of bombs which is what a HE-111 could carry internally. But even with 80 + HE-111 raids there wasn't firestorms, as it requires a concentration of bombing, the right targets and the right conditions (even the 1000 bomber raids did not cause firestorms). Firestorms can't be summoned up with any raid. You'd need the bombs to drop in such a tight area that the Zepplins would have to look like there was a traffic jam, nose to tail zepplins for miles.

And then there's the other needed thing. Accuracy. As you said, the optics and calculators are not that good, in fact they're bloody aweful and its just easier relying on the Mk1 Eyeball. So to get the concentration and accuracy needed you'd need probably hundreds of zepplins coming in on a raid with them being literally nose to tail following one another. And to get accurate, they'd have to be low. Which makes them instantly vulnerable.

And again all this is happening in a bubble where the British are seemingly ignoring the French developments. They wouldnt.

And there was a bombing 'duel' between Zepplins and RN ships in WW1, the Zepplin spent time trying to manouver into position over the British ship (a light cruiser) and the cruiser just put her helm over and steered out the way. No hits were scored and the only casualties was probably some pulverized fish.
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If industrialization is an issue perhaps an earlier PoD might help: somehow get France to agree to the Frankfurt Proposal borders. This means perhaps no 100 days, but Napoleon 3 could still possibly make an entrance.


Monthly Donor
I'm always attracted to your dream based threads here over the last 20 years even if as you yourself say, they aren't that likely to be realistic. Well, what else does one expect from a dream? Now, fitting things to make the dream approach plausibility is rather more tricky but not impossible if some leeway is allowed in terms of PODs and so on. It seems your dream has an outcome rather than an origin, so therefore that enables us to go back and figure out PODs and changes to attempt to come up with what has resulted. Well, that's AH I suppose and as stated in the thread title it's about planning how to get there if we can, or close to it.

I would say, as always, the atmosphere and writing style is very good right from the start. The grimness of London stands out starkly from your words. Knowing you, you may well have something up the sleeve for the British at some point down the line so it's not going to be all rainbows and unicorns for the French. The higher one reaches the harder it is to maintain such grip, as history illustrates.

EDIT: I have just noticed you've "Gone Fishing" and self banned yourself from the fora for a while. As I know you well, this tends to happen when you've become despondent when working on various writing projects and due to the rather hard nature of your real life. Also, I know how hard you concentrate and research and how much care, attention and effort you put into matters as I have observed when you've visited me or I've stayed at yours over the years. I hope the comments which may have prompted that won't put you off this in due course, and I for one will be happy to see where this goes.

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