Prologue: The Summonings
  • Introduction: This is a timeline about Eastern Europe following the First World War. In this timeline, Józef Klemens Piłsudski is assassinated in 1919. Piłsudski was the leader of Poland from 1919 until 1935 (with some breaks) in our timeline, and he was an enormously influential man. Additionally, this timeline will have a special focus upon the Freikorps in the Baltic. This is for two reasons. First of all, the Freikorps in the Baltic was an immensely interesting, but relatively unknown, portion of Eastern European history. In OTL, many ideas that came to dominant far-right discourse in Germany were incubated in the Baltic, by the men who were sent up there to fight. Secondly, I would like to use the Freikorps as a vehicle to explore the impacts of war, and the microhistory of the soldiers who fought in this region — I would like to ask "what if" the war in the Baltic had happened in a different manner, how would this affect the soldiers' experience of war. In turn, when we explore this microhistory, we can examine knock-on effects: if these soldiers have a different experience of this particular war, the ideas that they bring home might be different. I will still do a great deal of writing about the state-level events, and about the "great men" of this period. In this timeline, we will meet men such as Roman Dmowski, Leon Trotsky, Miklós Horthy, Vladimir Lenin, King Ferdinand I, Kārlis Ulmanis, and the various statesmen of Germany. We will also track how changing events affect the Versailles Conference (albeit with less of an intense focus, as I don't want to ruminate upon Western Europe too much). So, I will try and do a nice and even balance between microhistory and macrohistory. I will also try and interweave them as best that I can, so we can see how shifting global events can quickly affect the lived experiences of unimportant men and women. Anyway, I hope to see some of you stick around. I promise that this timeline will be fun. Or, I'll try to make it fun.

    * * *
    "The fighting in the Baltic was of a wildness and grimness, which I had experienced neither before in the World War nor afterwards in all the Freikorps fighting. There was hardly an actual front, the enemy was everywhere. And when it came to a clash, it became a slaughter to the point of complete destruction. There I saw for the first time horrors visited on the civilian population. Countless times I saw the horrible pictures with the burned-out huts and the charred or smeared corpses of women and children. When I saw this for the first time, it was as if I had been turned to stone. Back then I believed that a further intensification of human destructive madness was not possible. Even though I later had to see incessantly far more gruesome pictures, today still there stands clearly before my eyes the half-burned hut with the entire family which had perished inside, there at the edge of the forest on the Düna. Back then I could still pray and I did so!"

    quote attributed to Rudolf Höss, aged 18[1].

    * * *
    Hell and Fury in the Damned East
    a timeline about the Freikorps, communists, nationalists, Eastern Europe, and where it all went wrong.


    Pillars of Society by George Grosz, 1928.
    This painting satirically depicts the elite ruling class of Germany: businessmen, clergymen, and generals, continuing to reproduce the same selfish militarism that led to the First World War.

    Prologue: The Summonings

    Major General Gustav Adolf Joachim Rüdiger Graf von der Goltz was born in 1865, in a small town called Züllichau in East Prussia, not far from Posen. As his name suggests, Rüdiger was of aristocratic descent, though his lineage had fallen into obscurity and his father had been a lowly district administrator. In 1870, when he was four years old, he saw Prussia defeat France. Around the same time, his mother died. In his memoirs, his mother's death commands one sentence; his pseudo-memory of the defeat of France, from when he was four, carries a paragraph. In 1918, the war was lost, and Rüdiger was 53. He had been in Finland for some time, advising the Finnish Army in their fight against the Bolsheviks, but he returned to Germany in January of 1919. His stay in Germany was short.


    Photograph of Rüdiger Graf von der Goltz.
    Larger, higher-resolution photograph can be found here.

    Berlin, January of 1919.

    brrng brrng brr-

    "von der Goltz, Guten Tag!"

    On the other end, a rasping cough hacked away in response. Rüdiger brushed bread crumbs off his shoulder with his left hand. In his right hand, he fondled a beer, trying to put it down without losing the telephone handset balanced on his shoulder. Outside, it was raining.

    "Rüdiger von der Goltz?" the voice on the other end said, hoarse after its substantial coughing fit.

    "Yes, the only one that I'm aware of."

    "Rüdiger von der Goltz, the scourge of the Bolsheviks?" the voice crooned. "You were in Finland, no?"

    Rüdiger chuckled. The nickname of Bolshewikenschreck was charming but slightly juvenile. "Yes, I'm that guy. How can I help you?"

    "This is General Wilhelm Groener. Deputy Chief of Staff under Field Marshall Hindenburg. I will be brief." the voice paused for another cough. "We would like to summon you to meet with us. We have a special assignment. It isn't strictly within the purview of the Army, but we think that you are the right man for the job."

    And so Rüdiger put on his uniform. He combed his moustache. And went to meet with Groener and his generals. After his meeting, he went to Königsberg. On the precipice of the German Empire (now the German Republic, according to Friedrich Ebert and his friends), Königsberg was a suitable last-stop for Rüdiger. Centuries ago, Königsberg had been a stronghold for the Teutonic Knights from which they plunged into the bloody heart of paganism, driving to pacify Lithuania.

    You see, Rüdiger had just been assigned his own crusade, if one could call it that. He certainly would, after all. The Armistice of Compiègne, which effectively began the surrender of the German Empire, had stipulated that the German Army withdraws to behind the Rhine. But there was no similar stipulation for the Eastern Front. This was because the Eastern Front hadn't been "resolved". The Entente Powers hadn't decided what to do about the "Russia Question", and lacking manpower and resources to send to the Eastern Front, they preferred that the German military administration, the Ober Ost, hold the line for a while, at least until they could figure what they were going to do. There was a slight problem. The Ober Ost was rapidly collapsing. The Bolsheviks sought to revise the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and had begun attacking German positions on the 18th of November, 1918. Furthermore, the German soldiers stationed on the Eastern Front had begun to mutiny en masse following the Armistice of Compiègne. The conditions in the East were terrible, and now that there was no war to speak of, they desired to return home. In some areas, such as Grodno, Riga, and Minsk, soldier's councils were formed with the intent of returning authority to the common man, and officers were chased away or decommissioned. The new republican government under Ebert, alarmed at the tales of mutiny and fearing a full-scale revolt, dissolved the Ober Ost and ordered the soldiers to return home. They happily obliged.

    However, there remained the question of the German military commitment to "holding the line" in the East. The Entente Powers demanded that the German Army be responsible for this. But there were far more powerful motivating factors at work: the Bolsheviks, now unhindered to advance across previously German-held territories, represented a grave existential threat to Germany. Foreign policy aspirations were also at play: the new governments of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia were viewed with suspicion by the Germans, and military involvement in the region, even as Entente-sponsored protectors, might sway these nascent governments to the German fold. Finally, these regions contained tens of thousands of Baltic Germans, leftovers from the Teutonic glory days. The Baltic Germans comprised the aristocratic ruling class of the Baltic and were subject of romantic fascination for many Germans, especially those who regretted the demise of the Hohenzollern monarchy. Therefore, the German Military High Command (the Oberste Heeresleitung or OHL) felt that securing what remained of the Eastern Front, specifically the Baltic, was in their best interests.

    Rüdiger had been sent to the Baltic to establish a German military presence there. However, the regular Army units were in the process of demobilising, so Rüdiger would have to seek other avenues of military power.

    * * *

    Andreas Stefan Becker was born in 1902, in a small town called Stallupönen in East Prussia, not far from Königsberg. As his name would suggest, Andreas was of ordinary descent, with no notable lineage. His father farmed sugar beets and potatoes. In 1915, when he was 13, his older brother had been killed in Belgium. He had been manning a trench when a nearby officer's pistol had misfired and shot him in the face. Unable to bear the humiliation of friendly fire, the Beckers told their neighbours that their eldest son had been killed charging a Belgian machine gun position. Andreas held this humiliation deep in his heart, and even as he pretended to be one of them, he resented all the other families because their sons died gloriously. Or, they had returned home undefeated in battle but betrayed on the home front. Of course, this last part was hardly true — in 1918, the situation of the German Army was so dire that even the most patriotic amongst the officer corps admitted that they could only fight with strength for a few more weeks. But Andreas didn't know that, and he trusted in the local politicians who lamented the Armistice of Compiègne as a betrayal of Germany. In small towns such as Stallupönen, information was controlled by those with access to it, and it was dispensed at the discretion of the powers that be.

    In January of 1919, an official from the regional military office came through Stallupönen with pamphlets. The man gave one to Andreas, explaining that the military was organising a campaign into the Baltic to destroy the Bolsheviks. He explained that it wasn't a regular military operation, but one that was more mercenary in nature. Andreas would be paid generously, first of all. Secondly, more loot and plunder was awaiting him in the Baltic when he got there. And thirdly, Andreas could experience the thrill of the fight!

    The next morning, Andreas informed his parents that he was going. His mother wept for the loss of her second son, and his father was grim and melancholic. They knew that they could not stop him from leaving. That was the last they saw of Andreas Stefan Becker; his blonde hair tousled, the morning sun illuminating his rosy cheeks as he walked out the door. As he left, Andreas told his parents that he was making a life for himself. The pay was good, he would buy them some land, and they could raise pigs or sheep.

    Andreas was one of tens of thousands of impressionable young men who were cajoled into joining the ranks of what would be known as the Freikorps. Too young to have served in the First World War, and lured by promises of loot and glory, they made up one of two groups that formed the backbone of the Freikorps. The other group was those belonging to Rüdiger von der Goltz's class: aristocrats and officers who were repelled by the republican tendencies of the new German government. This odd coupling would fuse to create a strange and potent psychological character — on one hand, optimistic, energetic, and vigorous, and on the other hand, deeply pessimistic, bitter, and arrogant.

    It is early January 1919. We will track these men as they go East.

    * * * * * * *
    End of Prologue.

    [1]: This is a real quote by the real Rudolf Höss from his memoirs. Rudolf Höss was the commandant of Auschwitz, and personally oversaw the deaths of millions of Jews during the Holocaust.
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    Dramatis Personæ
  • Dramatis Personae

    Below, you will find a list of characters organised alphabetically. There is a next description of the character, with both OTL and ATL information. Also, there is a link to the first appearance of the character. Important characters are highlighted in dark green. I will be editing this post periodically to make that it is up-to-date. If you're a new reader, it is absolutely not necessary to read this post. The purpose of this post is more to refer back to as you're reading new chapters.

    • Andreas Stefan Becker: Fictional character. He is seventeen years old as of 1919, from a small town called Stallupönen, which is in Eastern Prussia. Andreas serves as a fictional proxy for the experiences of the thousands of young Freikorps volunteers who served in the Baltics. He first appears in the Prologue.
    • Roman Dmowski: Polish politician and nationalist. Roman Dmowski was an archrival of Józef Piłsudski, despite having the same goal of Polish independence. Contrary to the left-leaning Piłsudski, Dmowski was conservative, deeply religious, and felt that ethnic minorities had no place in an independent Poland. In this alternate timeline, he has seized control of Poland in a coup with support from Lieutenant General Józef Haller and Prince Eustachy Sapieha. He first appears in Part II of Chapter I.
    • Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky: Bolshevik revolutionary and head of the Cheka. Dzerzhinsky is a ruthless and cunning man, who was the chief architect of the Red Terror. He was known as "Iron Felix" amongst his peers. Interesting fact: he is actually Polish, of noble birth. In this alternate timeline, he is involved with the assassination of Józef Piłsudski and Ignacy Paderewski. He first appears in Part III of Chapter I.
    • General Wilhelm Groener: German general and Deputy Chief of Staff in the German Army. He convenes a meeting with Rüdiger von der Goltz and organises the Freikorps expedition to the Baltics. He first appears in the Prologue.
    • Lieutenant General Józef Haller: Polish general and war hero. Haller was in charge of the famous Blue Army, which fought with France against the Central Powers. Prior to that, Haller fought under the Austro-Hungarian flag against the Russians. Similar to Dmowski, Haller takes a more conservative view than Józef Piłsudski. In this alternate timeline, he helps Dmowski seize control of the Polish government following the assassination of Piłsudski and Ignacy Paderewski. He first appears in Part III of Chapter I.
    • Lieutenant General Dmitry Nikolayevich Nadyozhny: Bolshevik general. Along with Commander Jukums Vācietis, he commands the Bolshevik forces on their northern front, near the Baltics. In this alternate timeline, he is directed by Leon Trotsky to redirect troops to mount an offensive against Poland in February of 1919, following the assassination of Józef Piłsudski and Ignacy Paderewski. He first appears in Part III of Chapter I.
    • Gustav Noske: German Minister for Defence. He is a member of the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD), and is regarded as controversial because of his involvement with the violent suppression of the Sparaticists. He is a cunning and pragmatic figure who survives on his political acumen. He first appears in Part I of Chapter I.
    • Ignacy Jan Paderewski: Polish politician, pianist, composer, and nationalist. Paderewski was a world-famous musician who was chosen to serve as the first Prime Minister under the Piłsudski government. Incredibly popular both at home and abroad, it was hoped that Paderewski would be able to bridge the gap between all the infighting factions of Poland. In this alternate timeline, he is assassinated on the 10th of January, 1919. He first appears in Part I of Chapter I.
    • Józef Klemens Piłsudski: Polish stateman, war hero, general, and nationalist. Piłsudski was a domineering force of Polish politics, who was instrumental in securing an independent Poland. Enormously popular amongst the army and the general population, Piłsudski was viewed with suspicion by Poland's traditional elite, due to his socialist inclinations. In our timeline, his military genius would culminate in the Miracle at the Vistula, arguably one of the most decisive victories in modern European history. In this alternate timeline, he is assassinated on the 10th of January, 1919. He first appears in Part I of Chapter I.
    • Brigadier General Edward Rydz-Śmigły: Polish general and nationalist. Rydz-Śmigły is a prominent commander in the Polish military, currently in charge of the Lublin command. Like Piłsudski, Rydz-Śmigły leans left, but he wears his socialist beliefs more prominently. In our timeline, Rydz-Śmigły would be the principal force behind the Polish defence against the Nazi German invasion in 1939. In this alternate timeline, he fights alongside Haller in defence of Dmowski's government, but only due to the existential Bolshevik threat. He first appears in Part II of Chapter II.
    • Prince Eustachy Sapieha: Polish nobleman and politician. A prominent prince (in Polish aristocracy, a "prince" is roughly equivalent to a duke), Sapieha allies himself with Dmowski and Haller in their coup. By no coincidence, Sapieha had actually attempted a coup of his own against Piłsudski on the 5th of January. In this alternate timeline, Sapieha is chosen as Dmowski's Prime Minister, though he is a puppet. He first appears in Part III of Chapter I.
    • Leon Trotsky: Bolshevik politician and revolutionary. Leon Trotsky is in charge of the Red Army, but you already knew that. In this alternate timeline, Trotsky directs Commander Jukums Vācietis and Lieutenant General Dmitry Nadyozhny to open an offensive against Poland in February of 1919. He first appears in Part III of Chapter I.
    • Commander Jukums Vācietis: Bolshevik general. Along with Lieutenant General Dmitry Nadyozhny, he commands the Bolshevik forces on their northern front, near the Baltics. In this alternate timeline, he is directed by Leon Trotsky to redirect troops to mount an offensive against Poland in February of 1919, following the assassination of Józef Piłsudski and Ignacy Paderewski. He first appears in Part III of Chapter I.
    • Captain Jürg Voigt: Fictional character. Voigt is a Freikorps volunteer in charge of the unit which Andreas Becker and Hans von Sachsenheim serve in. A bitter and ruthless hussar ex-officer, he fights simply because it is the only life he knows. He first appears in Part I of Chapter II.
    • Major General Gustav Adolf Joachim Rüdiger Graf von der Goltz: German general and the principal architect behind the Freikorps campaign in the Baltics. He also has an absurdly long name. He is a brilliant and adventurous commander who has a turbulent relationship with the German Republic. Unsatisfied with the overthrow of the Hohenzollern monarchy, the long-term goals of von der Goltz are unknowable and constantly in flux. In his memoirs, he claims that the strategic goal of the Freikorps campaign was to re-install a monarchy in Russia that would be sympathetic to Germany, however, this is not corroborated with the official accounts of that conflict. He first appears in the Prologue.
    • Hans Karl Maria von Sachsenheim: Fictional character. Von Sachsenheim is a friend of Andreas Becker who serves in the Freikorps. He is designed as a proxy to the "fallen aristocrat" trope of German literature of this period, and seeks to reclaim some of his family's lost glory in the Baltics. He first appears in Part I of Chapter I.
    • Wincenty Witos: Polish politician and nationalist. Witos is the head of the Piast party, which represents the interests of small landholders and the farmers. Although not as politically savvy as Roman Dmowski or Józef Piłsudski, Witos is an important politician who commands deep loyalty amongst his rural electorate. In this alternate timeline, he has formed a strategic alliance with Dmowski, supporting his coup. However, in the long term, Witos aims for a restoration of democracy. He first appears in Part II of Chapter I.
    • Count Maurycy Zamoyski: Polish nobleman and politician. Zamoyski is an ally of Dmowski and is one of the largest landholders in Poland. He is deeply conservative and supported Dmowski's coup. He first appears in Part II of Chapter I.
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    Chapter I: The Polish Waltz, Part I
  • "The assignment was attractive and tempted me. I had no idea that I had been handed a blunt sword, that I would be absolutely surrounded only by enemies, and that my worst enemy would be my own people and my own government. Once I saw things more clearly, I often characterised my job as the squaring of a circle; and yet it was successfully carried out by me and my admirable staff, against a world of enemies."

    quote attributed to Rüdiger von der Goltz, on the subject of his mission to the Baltic.

    * * *

    Chapter I: The Polish Waltz
    Part I


    The Skat Players by Otto Dix, 1920.
    This painting depicts several mutilated and disfigured veterans of the First World War playing a card game. Many disabled veterans were shunned by society although they had sacrificed their bodies for the Fatherland.

    Throughout Germany, recruiting offices returned to action. They churned out pamphlets and posters that recommended joining a new adventure to the Baltic. Gustav Noske, the Minister for War, convened the German Recruitment Office for the Baltic Land (the Anwerbestelle Baltenland), which was placed in charge of registering volunteers for the Freikorps. Andreas Stefan Becker was promised lucrative pay for his service; indeed, the Freikorps salary was 30 gold marks for a three-month contract. This was excellent pay considering the economic turmoil of post-war Germany. There were also many veterans returned to the homeland who were unable to properly adjust to civilian life. Furthermore, there was an outraged minority of returnees who were disgusted at the new republican government and its socialist tendencies. Recruitment efforts targeted these sentiments directly.

    The Königsberg Train Station, early January of 1919.

    Andreas sat atop his bags, in a large group of young men. Most of them were no older than 18 or 19, and about half of them were 17 or younger. They wore shabby uniforms, and all of them had caps rather than helmets. Some carried the standard-issue Gewehr 98, but many of them carried ancient Gewehr 88s and Gewehr 71s. All of them were anxious, though some were better at hiding it than others. Andreas lit a cigarette. To his right, a boy slightly older than him read a pamphlet aloud.

    "Comrades! Those who are unable to adjust to the transition from the military service to civilian life; those who still want to see foreign countries; those who see their future in them, they all must join the volunteers of the 10th army" the boy announced, putting on an officious voice. "Fuck civilian life, anyhow. I don't want to die at the age of 72 at the office like my old man."

    The boy looked up at Andreas expectantly. Andreas hadn't realised that the boy was talking to him specifically.

    "Oh um... Yeah. I mean, my parents farm potatoes..." he said. "My dad fought in the war against France, though. The one that we won, I mean."

    "Ahh... 1870. Now, then we were men." the boy mused, a starry look in his eyes. He turned to Andreas and stuck out his hand. "Hans Karl Maria von Sachsenheim. I come from Berggießhübel, it's a town in Saxony."

    Andreas shook the hand, and then asked: "von Sachsenheim? Your parents must have been important, no?"

    "They were. Well, no. They weren't. But my great-grandfather had been a count, and he had some holdings. Our family had a castle that overlooked a lake. But his son, my grandfather, gambled and drank away his estates. He was an idiot. My father was able to get a job in the Kingdom's tax administration using my great-grandfather's old connections, but he was never able to recover his heritage."

    It was an archetypal story that Andreas had heard before. For Hans, this was an opportunity to redeem the honour his family had lost. Hans folded up the pamphlet and put it away.

    "Did you hear about the land grants?" Hans asked suddenly. Andreas hadn't, and told him so. "Well, apparently the Latvian government is granting each German soldier a parcel of land. And citizenship[1]. This is assuming that we can kill the Bolshies, that is."

    "Why would I want to become a Latvian?" asked Andreas.

    "You won't become a Latvian. You will just have Latvian citizenship. There are thousands of us up there. The Baltic Germans, you see. They ruled those lands under the Russian Empire." explained Hans. "Do you know Yevgeny Miller?"


    "Yevgeny Miller is one of the White Russian generals. He's one of the good ones, hates the fuckin' Bolshies. Anyway, he's a German, but he was born in Dünaburg[2]. You see, you can retain your Germanness, and not be a citizen of Ebert's shit-for-brains government. General Miller's family goes back centuries through the Russian Empire, but every one of them was raised speaking German."

    "I see." said Andreas. This was a lot to think about. He had always tied his Germanness to the land upon which he had been raised. He considered himself to be a son of Stallupönen, and then a Prussian, and then a German. In that order. But Hans was right: he didn't feel at home in post-war Germany. His entire life had been structured around religion and family, with the monarchy looming large over his shoulder. Now, things had changed. His brother had died a humiliating death for nothing. He felt a distant animosity towards the Berliners and the urbanites that had elected the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (the SPD). Maybe, there was a better life to be made.

    With these thoughts in his head, Andreas took the train out of Königsberg. They would go as far as the German border, before they would march north-east through Lithuania, towards Libau in Latvia[3]. At the same time as Andreas and his new friend, Hans, were headed in that direction, tens of thousands of regular German Army units across the Eastern Front were in the final stages of their demobilisation. As they left a front that stretched from Kiev to Narwa[4], the Bolsheviks advanced, rapidly gaining ground. To the south, the nascent Polish state under Józef Klemens Piłsudski was making its own preparations for war. The Poles feared that a front that was now largely undefended would permit the Bolsheviks to attack them directly; their fears were well-founded. Vladimir I. Lenin's Bolshevik government regarded the new Polish state as an aberration and sought to conquer it. In our version of history, the Polish-Soviet War would thwart the Bolshevik attempts to expand eastwards; the war would sap the energies of the Red Armies, and direct their animosities towards Piłsudski. The fighting in the Baltic, by contrast, would be over in a manner of months. The Red Army would be expelled from Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia by the end of April 1919. The Freikorps would return home before the end of 1919. However, as we are here to examine what could have gone wrong, rather than what did go wrong, things will play out a little differently. Ladies and gentlemen, buckle your seat-belts, let's get this party started.

    * * *

    Warsaw, 10th of January 1919

    The winter rain poured on Warsaw, blanketing the city. The streetlights flickered through the rain, looking like distant stars. A motorcade rumbled down the road through the water. Aleksander Wojciechowski sat under an awning in a café. He was the only person seated outside, and he was shivering as he sipped a vodka. It was barely above freezing. The proprietor had thought him mad to sit outside on a day like this. Perhaps, Aleksander was mad. Certainly, tomorrow everyone would think him to be mad for what he was about to do. Comrade Dzerzhinsky's instructions had been very clear. Aleksander was born into nothing, the son of a pauper and without a wife or children. But he would not die as a nothing. The motorcade drew closer. There were four cars, two smaller cars, one truck, and one larger car. The larger car was in the middle, with the smaller cars on either side. The truck, filled with soldiers, trailed the other three. Aleksander stood up. He finished his vodka in one gulp and stepped forwards.


    Józef Klemens Piłsudski on the left, Ignacy Jan Paderewski on the right.

    Inside the larger car, a muscular man with a bushy moustache and hard eyes sat opposite a thin, tall man who had wild white hair. The first man was General Józef Klemens Piłsudski. He was a hero of the Polish efforts for independence, and believed that Poland's future lay eastwards — he had been born near Wilno[5] and considered himself a Polish-Lithuanian. The other man was Ignacy Jan Paderewski, an internationally renowned classical pianist and Polish nationalist. In our version of history, Paderewski would become the Prime Minister of Poland later on in January. He was not its first Prime Minister, but he was arguably the first one to be internationally respected. Importantly, Paderewski would lend significant credibility to Piłsudski, who was viewed with suspicion by the Entente Powers. Unfortunately for both of them, this was not to happen. As Piłsudski harrumphed and smoked a large cigar, Paderewski leaned forwards to look out of the window of the car. He saw a man on the other side of the street, standing in the awning of a café. He saw the man was holding something in his hands, maybe a ball or a cylinder of some sort. And then, he saw the man throw the thing directly at the car[6].

    It was the last thing he saw.

    * * * * * * *
    End of Part I of Chapter I
    [1]: The promises of Latvian citizenship to the Freikorps fighters were real. The promises of land were not, but it was a pernicious rumour that spread through their ranks.
    [2]: Dünaburg is now called Daugavpils.
    [3]: Libau is now called Liepāja.
    [4]: Narwa is now called Narva.
    [5]: Wilno is now called Vilnius.
    [6]: The assassination of Piłsudski and Paderewski is our POD. In our timeline, Piłsudski was the subject of many plots and schemes, and assassinations in interwar Poland was not uncommon. Piłsudski would survive an assassination attempt in 1921. In this timeline, he is successfully assassinated in 1919. The removal of Piłsudski will greatly change how Poland fights the Soviet-Polish War, which will, in turn, affect the war in the Baltic. Although this timeline's POD is Polish, we will spend a lot of our time later on in this TL exploring its indirect consequences with the Freikorps in the Baltic. Of course, we will spend some time on Europe in general, and especially early on in this TL, we will spend quite a bit of time on Poland.
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    Chapter I: The Polish Waltz, Part II
  • "The Russians are all more or less disguised imperialists, including the revolutionaries. The trait of these minds, always longing for the absolute, is a vivid centralism. They loathe varieties, cannot conciliate dissonances — such things dull their will and imagination to the extent that they cannot combine varieties into one whole; they reject even the idea of conscious social organisations. Let everything happen by itself — that is the wisest solution according to them, because it is the simplest and the easiest. Which is why there are so many anarchists among them. A strange thing, but I have never met any republicans among Russians!"

    quote attributed to Józef Klemens Piłsudski, circa 1915.

    * * *
    Chapter I: The Polish Waltz
    Part II


    Rejtan: the Fall of Poland by Jan Matejko, 1866.
    This painting depicts members of the Sejm deliberating upon the demands of Poland's neighbours to partition her. Tadeusz Rejtan, a patriotic deputy in the Sejm, can be seen on the right, lying on the ground in front of the doorway to prevent other members from leaving. Leaving the chamber would signify an end to the discussion, and therefore, a capitulation to the demands of partition.

    In our version of history, Józef Klemens Piłsudski would turn out to be the most important man in Eastern Europe during the interwar period outside of the Soviet Union. Not only was he instrumental in the defeat of the Soviets during the Polish-Soviet War, but his vision of Poland as a multicultural, pluralistic state became the dominant ideal of Poland. Furthermore, as he dominated Polish foreign policy until his death in 1935, he emphasised Poland's position as a barrier between both Germany and the Soviet Union, and was careful to avoid becoming too cordial with either one. Rather, he attempted to procure alliances with France and the other Eastern European states, such as Romania, Hungary, and Latvia, to deter German and the Soviet aspirations. In the sphere of domestic policy, Piłsudski advocated a status of "non-partisan government cooperation", in which individual political parties were expected to subsume themselves to Piłsudski's quasi-dictatorial regime. Policies from both the right- and left-wings were legislated, in an attempt to placate as many people as possible and prevent revolutions from either side, but this also had the effect of incensing Poland's opposition politicians. It must be noted that these policies, while they became mainstays of the Polish state due to Piłsudski's domineering influence, were actually rather idiosyncratic to Piłsudski himself. He had a lot of opponents within Poland who articulated radically different ideas of what Poland should look like and how it should function. But now Piłsudski is dead, and the threads of history are being spun in a completely different direction.


    On the left is Roman Dmowski, on the right is Count Maurycy Zamoyski.

    Paris, 15th of January 1919.

    Snow crested the copper rooftops of Paris, a slight breeze buffeted the snowflakes as they fell. It was early evening, and the cafés were slowing filling up with Parisians enjoying their apéritifs before dinner. A low hum of pleasant conversation hung over the streets. Men and women ambled up and down the street. Some cats hanging out in an alleyway mewed. The war was over, people were unwinding from four years of carnage. This pleasant scene was rather interrupted by the sound of snow being kicked up as a man dashed down the pavement, clutching a dossier of papers. The man is wholly unimportant; he was a clerk working with the Polish National Committee, an organisation based in Paris that purported to be the legitimate legal representatives of Poland to the Versailles Conference. However, the dossier of papers the man held was incredibly important — it contained the details of the assassination of Piłsudski and Paderewski. The clerk ran until he reached the apartment of one Roman Dmowski. He began pounding the door frantically. The door flew open.

    "What!?" exclaimed a small, well-dressed man, with a tone of indignation. "I have a doorbell, you know! You're going to damage the bloody door! I just had it varnished!"

    "I-I'm sorry, Mr. Dmowski!" replied the clerk. "You must take these! They are of vital importance!"

    Roman Dmowski snatched the dossier out of the clerk's hands. He looked at the front cover: "DIRECT FROM WARSAW. VERY IMPORTANT. DELIVER TO ROMAN DMOWSKI." Roman leafed through the first couple of pages, still standing in the doorway. Suddenly, his face took on an expression of intense seriousness.

    "You must go... I must attend to this." said Roman to the clerk. The clerk nodded and turned to leave. Roman took the dossier to his office. Sitting at his desk, he poured himself a drink and began to scrutinise the dossier, underlining bits and pieces with a pen. After some time, Roman picked up his telephone and rang in a number. The phone dialled, and then the other end picked up.

    "Hello? Who is this?" on the other end.

    "Maurycy, it's me. Roman. Have you heard the news?" said Roman. The man that Roman was calling was Count Maurycy Zamoyski, a prominent nobleman who was in charge of the Polish National Committee's foreign affairs and its vice-chairman.

    "No... What news?"

    "Piłsudski... He has been killed. Paderewski too. Someone threw a bomb at them in Warsaw..."

    "Oh..." There was a pause as Count Zamoyski gathered his thoughts. "What are we going to do? Is this good for us... I mean... You kno-"

    "Good for us!?" spat Roman violently. "You idiot. No, this is not good for us. Would I prefer that Piłsudski was less of a pain in the arse? Yes! Would I prefer that it was one of us, not him and Paderewski, that was running shit back in Warsaw? Of course! Do I want Piłsudski dead? No!"

    Let's pause for a moment. Okay, so we had Piłsudski in Poland, with Paderewski slated to become the Prime Minister. They were killed. So who is this Roman Dmowski guy? What is the Polish National Committee? Fear not, this will be explained. It was mentioned earlier that Piłsudski had a lot of opponents. Actually, that is a slight understatement. In January of 1919, there were two governments of Poland. One was in Warsaw. It was headed by Piłsudski, who controlled the Polish army, and had many allies within the Polish left-wing (though not amongst those who were aligned with the Bolsheviks, who had their own networks within Poland). In Paris, Roman Dmowski headed the Polish National Committee, which was a government-in-exile that was recognised by the Entente Powers as the legitimate and legal government of Poland. Dmowski's government had a lot of allies amongst Poland's aristocracy and landholders and was friendly with other parties of the right-wing. The Entente, and the French, in particular, did not trust Piłsudski, and they were very fond of Dmowski. But Dmowski and Piłsudski, though they were opponents, were not enemies per se. Piłsudski needed the international support and recognition that Dmowski had because, without support from the Entente, Piłsudski would find it extremely difficult to rebuild the Polish state. On the other hand, Dmowski recognised that as Piłsudski controlled the Polish Army, he was far more powerful than himself, even if Dmowski temporarily enjoyed status as the "correct" government of Poland. In our timeline, the two men would reach a rapprochement when Dmowski would agree to Piłsudski's proposition to form a coalition government between his allies and Dmowski's allies, with Paderewski as Prime Minister. In effect, this would lead to the gradual decline of Dmowski's power, as Piłsudski remained in charge of the Polish Army, and Dmowski and his allies would be sidelined completely in 1926 when Piłsudski would successfully initiate a coup and install himself as Prime Minister. Anyway, let's return to the story. Dmowski and Count Zamoyski had been talking on the phone, yes?

    "I'm sorry... Look, I know that was deeply insensitive of me. We have indeed lost a patriot and a son of Poland... But we must act and we must act fast." said Count Zamoyski.

    Dmowski sighed. "Yes, we must. I will call a meeting with the rest of the committee. We will meet with the French and talk with them. If Piłsudski is dead, the army will fall into disarray quickly. You have to go to Warsaw, you must leave the first thing tomorrow morning. Find Wincenty Witos[1], and find out who's calling the shots in the army now that Piłsudski is dead."

    "Yes, Roman. I will go."

    * * *
    Königsberg, 18th of January 1919.

    Rüdiger von der Goltz sipped his coffee and listened to the man in front of him blabber on and on. It was bloody cold, and Rüdiger did not fancy staying still in such weather. He would much rather be walking, or moving in some capacity, to stay warm. His coat was not nearly thick enough. The man seated in front of him was General Johannes von Eben, a pleasant but rather dry man who was a caricature of the Prussian aristocracy. General von Eben had a thick, white handlebar moustache and impossibly correct posture. He had also spent most of the Great War fighting with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, subordinated to their 2nd Austrian Army. In Rüdiger's opinion, the Austrians had made a complete fool of themselves, and their Hungarian bedfellows were a tribe of incompetent morons. While he was thinking this, it became painfully clear to General von Eben that Rüdiger was completely uninterested. There was a pause, and then General von Eben awkwardly tapped the tabletop.

    "Oh no, I'm terribly sorry... I drifted off for a moment there." stammered Rüdiger, snapping back to attention.

    "It's no worry. I was just asking: how many men have you got for your expedition?"

    "How many men? Well, let's see. So far, we have recruited about 10,000 men. I think I can double that number. Also, our friends, the Baltic Germans, have begun forming their own armed forces. I suspect that we will be able to incorporate them too. The Latvian government wants me to take on their men, but... Well, I will be honest, I don't trust the Latvians."

    "Ha ha! Of course. They know nothing about fighting. What do you expect?"

    "Yes, and also their loyalties are... Questionable. Although we are meant to protect the Latvian government, I cannot say for certain that I would like their men in my ranks."

    "Wholly understandable. It's dangerous up there. I was up there with the 10th Army, we took Wilna[2]. Whatever, you'll find out for yourself but the East is not civilised. It's barely human." General von Eben said the last few words with considerable malice. Then he paused as if annoyed by what he had said. He decided to change the subject. "You hear about what's happened in Poland?"


    "They killed Piłsudski. The rumours say that it was either Ukrainian nationalists or Bolshevik operatives. But they're still not ruling out anarchists, of course."


    "Piłsudski is... Well, was, the head of the Polish army. Anyway, it doesn't matter. Fuck him. The point is that it may have been the bloody Reds, and that they're dangerous. Bloody dangerous."

    "Sure. Well, that's why I'm going up there."

    General von Eben smiled knowingly. "How are you getting up there?"

    "Train. 3rd and 4th class. Unheated carriage. Don't fucking ask me how that happened. Apparently, our government is too preoccupied to get me a decent bloody seat, so I had to do it myself last minute."

    "Yikes. Well, you're certainly travelling exactly to the right place. Hopefully, you'll still get there before the Bolsheviks do."

    Rüdiger nodded in agreement. Hopefully, indeed.

    * * * * * * *
    End of Part II of Chapter I

    [1]: Wincenty Witos was the head of the Piast Party, and an important populist and agrarian politician in Poland, who often allied with the right-wing. He was quite popular with the rural peasantry.
    [2]: Wilna is yet another name for Vilnius, or Wilno, if you're Polish. Getting confused yet? Good.
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    Chapter I: The Polish Waltz, Part III
  • "An independent Poland is very dangerous to Soviet Russia."

    remark made by Vladimir I. Lenin in 1920.

    * * *

    Chapter I: The Polish Waltz
    Part III


    We Want Warsaw! by Pavel Sokolov-Skalya, 1929.
    This painting depicts Soviet efforts to capture Warsaw during the Polish-Soviet War. The fact that it was painted nearly ten years after the unsuccessful war highlights the Soviet preoccupation with capturing Poland.

    The assassination of Józef Klemens Piłsudski and Ignacy Jan Paderewski was already having far-reaching implications. Count Maurycy Zamoyski left Paris on the 16th of January to return to Warsaw. There, he would broker an agreement with Piłsudski's allies to postpone the upcoming elections, which had been scheduled for the 26th of January. Count Zamoyski made contact with Wincenty Witos, the leader of the agrarian-populist Piast Party, where he enlisted his consent to support a government formed by Roman Dmowski's Polish National Committee. Who exactly would compose this proposed government was yet to be determined, but it was agreed that Piłsudski's allies in the left-wing would be excluded. Count Zamoyski also met with a powerful aristocrat by the name of Prince Eustachy Sapieha[1]. Prince Sapieha had recently gained notoriety for attempting an ill-planned coup against Piłsudski on the 5th of January, earlier that very month. He had been exonerated for his misdemeanour on the insistence of Piłsudski, who wished to convey a benevolent attitude of reconciliation, but the fact that he was even being met was a rather ominous omen. Count Zamoyski asked Price Sapieha to recruit his allies in the Polish officer corps to support a government formed by Roman Dmowski[2]. Piłsudski's allies were disarrayed and hamstrung not only by the assassination of their man, but by the fact that the assassin appeared to have been a Bolshevik; the parties of the Polish left-wing suddenly became acutely aware of the possibility of pro-Bolshevik sympathisers within their ranks. Leaders amongst the left-wing began convening urgent meetings to mitigate this possibility. Meanwhile, the Polish Army didn't immediately react — disorganised and demoralised, they chose to wait out the partisan infighting before picking a side. The chess pieces were rapidly moving across the board, as Poland struggled to react to the decapitation of her leadership.

    Meanwhile, far away in Petrograd, a certain Polish man by the name of Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky was particularly delighted. Felix Dzerzhinsky, known to both friend and foe as Iron Felix, was the director of the Cheka, the notorious state security agency and secret police of Lenin's Soviet Union. He had ordered the assassination of Piłsudski in order to cripple the Polish Army, as the Red Army was currently advancing through land formerly occupied by the demobilising German Army, it would be inevitable that they would come into contact with the Polish sooner-or-later. Dzerzhinsky hadn't thought the assassination attempt would succeed. To him, it was a gamble with an unlikely upside and absolutely no downside, since the Soviet Union could simply deny that the useful idiot carrying out the assassination had anything to do with them. Lone wolf terrorists shot and bombed people all the time in Europe. It happens. Furthermore, Dzerzhinsky had no idea that Paderewski would be travelling with Piłsudski. A happy coincidence.

    When Dzerzhinsky reported this news to Leon Trotsky, who was in charge of the Red Army, he was equally pleased.


    Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky on the left, Leon Trotsky on the right.

    Petrograd, 20th of January 1919.

    Leon Trotsky's office was not small, but it was modest. A simple wooden desk and a chair without a cushion in a large, spacious room that was filled with books stacked vertically in piles. Behind the desk, there was a large poster board, upon which Trotsky had posted several maps. Most of these maps depicted troop movements or supply routes, and all of them were covered in multicoloured pins and cryptic notes. Trotsky had been trying to organise the mess of papers on his desk when the door opened and Felix Dzerzhinsky walked into the room. Trotsky shrunk into his chair at the sight of him. Dzerzhinsky was not a scary-looking man. He was small, with wispy hair and beady eyes. He wore a simple cap and an undecorated uniform that did not bare his rank. But men knew him, and they feared him. The man they called Iron Felix emanated an aura that could only be described as definitively Satanic.

    "We killed Piłsudski." announced Dzerzhinsky. "We killed Paderewski, too."

    Leon Trotsky sat up, very interested. "What? Great! How did you do this?"

    "A bomb." stated Dzerzhinsky, very plainly. If Dzerzhinsky felt anything at all about the countless murders he was involved in, many of which he had carried out personally, it never showed. He was inscrutable. To be frank, it was extremely unnerving.

    Trotsky contemplated this. Then, he stood up very quickly and began moving pins around on his maps. With his back to Dzerzhinsky, he continued speaking: "Felix, this is amazing news. Poland is an aberration on Europe, and with the great general of Poland dead, we must capture this moment!"

    "I quite agree, comrade."

    "What happened to the assassin?"

    "There was a truck filled with soldiers near where he killed Piłsudski. The assassin was completely shot to pieces within minutes."

    Leon Trotsky stood back from his maps, examining the rearranged pins. "Ah, excellent. A dead man can't snitch. Well anyway, I must make some calls, and you probably have important business to attend to..."

    "I am a busy man." said Dzerzhinsky, and on that note, he left. Trotsky sat down at his desk and picked up his phone. He dialled in a number.

    "Hello? Yes. Leon Trotsky here." Trotsky rolled his eyes as the voice on the other end garbled a series of questions. "Yes. Yes. No. I don't know. Ask Radek. Shut up, I have orders. Okay, are you listening? Tell Nadyozhny and Vācietis that Piłsudski is dead[3]. I repeat: Piłsudski is dead. I want them to emphasise a push southwards out of Wilno, tell them to hold the line in Estonia, we can worry about them later but we must divert troops to a southward push. I want reinforcements to the Baltic theatre, as many divisions as you can, pull them up from Ukraine. The sooner we can stage an assault out of Wilno, the better. I want them to get eyes beyond the Nemen River. Fuck it, I want intel as far as the Narew. Did you get all that? Good. Now go and do your work!"

    He slammed the receiver down. Then, he suddenly remembered something. He got up and ran to the door, throwing it open.

    "Dzerzhinsky! Dzerzhinsky!" he yelled down the hallway. No response. "Goddamn... He's gone and fucked off." Trotsky looked around and saw a young clerk strolling past, looking far too contented with himself. Trotsky grabbed him. "I want you to go to Dzerzhinsky and tell him to initiate contact with our cells in Warsaw! We need intel from the Polish capital! Go!"

    The young clerk tried to stammer a response but Trotsky pushed him. "Go! Run!" he shouted. The clerk ran.

    * * *
    While Trotsky and Dzerzhinsky schemed and moved pins on maps around, Roman Dmowski met with representatives of France, Britain, and the United States in Paris. Roman informed them that the elections had been delayed in light of the recent events and that he intended to seize power. The Entente Powers were hesitant about this, understandably so. It had been an objective of theirs that democratic government should manifest in Europe. But Roman told them that under the circumstances, that was not possible. At least, at the present moment. He assured them that he would form a coalition government and include as many parties as possible. However, he neglected to tell them that he had no intention of including the Polish left-wing. After this meeting, Roman boarded the next train to Warsaw.

    Prince Sapieha made contact with his allies within the Polish officer corps. Importantly, many of Prince Sapieha's friends were officers within the Warsaw district, giving him immediate control over the capital. He was also able to enlist the support of Lieutenant General Józef Haller, who had been a co-conspirator in Prince Sapieha's abortive coup attempt on the 5th of January. With General Haller on their side, Roman Dmowski and Count Zamoyski could count on at least some of the army to support them. And those that didn't directly support them would be extremely hesitant to turn on their comrades.

    Meanwhile, in the Baltic, our friends in the
    Freikorps had just arrived. After several days of awful travel in unheated train carriages, Rüdiger van der Goltz was finally at his destination. Indeed, he would arrive in Libau before the Bolsheviks and he had some time to spare, but unbeknown to him, the Red Army advance had just been diverted southwards from Estonia. He had less time than he thought. As for Andreas Becker and his new friend, Hans von Sachsenheim, were also on their way to Libau. They would soon be organised into the Iron Brigade, directly under the command of the legendary General von der Goltz. If you have read this far, my dear reader, then you will be aware some dangerous forces have been set into motion, and you may suppose that things will start wildly deviating from our version of history. You would be correct.

    * * * * * * *
    End of Chapter I
    [1]: Prince Eustachy Sapieha was a powerful landholder and scion of the Sapieha family, one of the most prominent families of nobles in Poland. He wasn't a prince in the sense that he was to inherit a kingdom, but the Polish "prince" is roughly equivalent to a duke. In our timeline, Prince Sapieha would reconcile with Piłsudski (despite having previously tried to overthrow him) and join his government. Eventually, Prince Sapieha would become ambassador to the United Kingdom. However, with no Piłsudski, Prince Sapieha is suddenly in a very powerful position, as he still maintains all his contacts from his coup attempt.
    [2]: Earlier on, I mentioned that Piłsudski controlled the army. He did, and he was extremely popular with the rank-and-file, the lower officer corps, and with sections of the army that he had previously commanded. However, large swaths of the upper officer corps, and some sections of the army that had fought under other generals (such as Józef Haller), were less excited for a Piłsudski-dominated Poland.
    [3] Lieutenant General Dmitry Nadyozhny and Commander Jukums Vācietis were in charge of the Red Army's northern front in the Baltic.

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    Interlude: Vācietis & Nadyozhny's War Plans
  • Interlude: Vācietis & Nadyozhny's War Plans

    Below is a map that represents the movements of troops in the last week of January, 1919. The red line represents the Soviet front line. The red arrows represent diversions of Soviet troops that are currently underway. The yellow arrows represent the planned assaults in the first phase of the Soviet attack on Poland. The green arrow represents the movements of the Freikorps legions from Königsberg to Libau. Please note that this map uses post-Versailles OTL borders, and that in January of 1919, most of the eastwards borders of Poland and the Baltic states are undetermined. For example, the dotted line that bisects Poland is the Curzon Line, one of the proposed eastwards borders for Poland that is currently being deliberated upon at the Versailles Conference.

    * * *
    Lieutenant General Nadyozhny and Commander Vācietis, the leaders of the Red Army's northern front in the Baltic, had received their orders from Leon Trotsky. They were to divert troops to Wilno as fast as possible. From there, they would begin preparations for a larger offensive into the Polish heartland. This change in course presented several problems. To begin with, we must note that the Soviet advances into the territory that had been previously occupied by the German Army had been disorganised and hasty. Their efforts to seize territory as the Ober Ost collapsed had been — for lack of better words — a hot mess. They had to contend with White counter-revolutionaries, bandits, nationalist uprisings, and the retreating German Army (who were the only ones that the Red Army was reluctant to engage). There was barely a "front line" in the conventional sense, and the armed groups they encountered along the way could be hostile or friendly, maybe with a multiplicity of loyalties, or none at all. Another significant problem faced by Nadyozhny and Vācietis were rumours of German paramilitaries being assembled in Latvia and Lithuania. Diverting troops from their war on the upstart republics of the Baltic to open a new offensive into Poland would stretch the available Soviet manpower significantly, and this could not be afforded if the Latvians and Lithuanians were shoring themselves up with mercenaries. Nevertheless, Nadyozhny and Vācietis had their orders, and the Soviets would have to act fast if they were to take Poland by surprise[1].
    * * *
    [1]: In our timeline, the Polish-Soviet War begins with an preemptive attack by the Polish, who assault Pinsk, and then Wilno, before advancing into Byelorussia. This Polish-Soviet War, which is beginning with a Soviet assault based out of Wilno, will unravel as a sort of reverse to OTL.
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    Chapter II: Après Nous, le Déluge, Part I
  • "The nation becomes the master of its fate not only when it has many good sons, but also when it possesses enough strength to restrain its bad ones."

    quote attributed to Roman Dmowksi, circa 1905.

    * * *
    Chapter II: Après Nous, le Déluge
    Part I


    New Planet by Konstantin Yuon, 1921.
    In this painting, Konstantin Yuon imagines the Russian Revolution as a cosmic event so powerful that it literally forms a new planet ⁠— and with the cataclysmic birth of this new planet, comes the death of the old world.
    On the 1st of February 1919, Major General Rüdiger von der Goltz arrived in Libau. The Bolshevik front line had already swept through almost all of Latvia, and Libau was the only town of any significant population left untouched by the Bolshevik advance. Rüdiger von der Goltz took control of the remaining Latvian and German troops there, and quickly began reorganising them according to his design: the native Latvian regiments were disbanded and merged with regiments of the Baltische Landeswehr, and the remnants of the 8th Army and the VI Reserve Corps were incorporated into the incoming Freikorps battalions hailing from Germany[1]. Rüdiger came to conflict with the Soldiers' Council of Libau and the military police almost immediately; the latter of whom mutinied a few days after Rüdiger assumed command, but he convinced them to fall into line when it became apparent that their mutiny might encourage a wholesale defection to the Bolsheviks. As for the Soldiers' Council, they had briefly challenged Rüdiger by attempting to form subordinate soldiers' councils amongst Rüdiger's incoming troops. They asserted that they could request the removal of an "unsuitable superior" from Gustav Noske's War Ministry — until Rüdiger threatened the liquidation of the Soldiers' Council by those troops loyal to him. His command was challenged internally as well as externally, and very quickly, Rüdiger realised that his position was far more precarious than he had previously imagined.

    Libau, 6th of February, 1919.

    Andreas Stefan Becker stood at attention, his Gewehr 98 hoisted upright. Its barrel and mechanism had been polished, and the wood cleaned. Next to him, Hans von Sachsenheim stood. A tall, slender officer in a blue hussar's uniform craned over the pair of them, his monocle glinting in the sun at them. The hussar had a huge, shaggy beard that was streaked with grey. Andreas was sure that he had never seen a hussar with a beard — in fact, every soldier he'd ever seen had been clean-shaven.

    "Very good." rasped the hussar, nodding in mild approval at their rifles.

    Hans and Andreas sighed in relief. The hussar strolled past them to inspect the other new arrivals in turn. In front and behind them were rows of fresh arrivals from Germany. There were boys like Andreas who had never seen war, they could be given away not necessary by their age (though that was very obvious) but by their mannerisms. They laughed and joked loudly, and at night smoked and drank with youthful energy; sometimes they got so drunk they danced with each other. The veterans and ex-officers kept their distance. They were of another race entirely and seemed to keep concert with cosmic laws that Andreas was unaware of. These men had travelled with the younger recruits, but they didn't mingle. They rarely smiled and seldom laughed. The veterans seemed to all have an unspoken understanding with each other and didn't need to talk out loud often. At night, they drank and smoked too, but did so quietly; sometimes one would get so drunk he would weep in silence. The other men would pretend this wasn't happening and carry on as usual. This hussar officer belonged to this latter group, and when he looked at you, he seemed to be gazing through you at something far away on the horizon.

    By now, the hussar officer had finished his inspection and walked to the front of the company. He picked up a megaphone and began to speak to the company as a group: "I see that many amongst you are quite young, and perhaps have never seen war before, do not worry, we will develop you into men."

    A single laugh was heard. It seemed to come from a viciously scarred older man a couple of men down from Andreas, who Andreas had never seen display any sort of emotion until now.

    The hussar officer looked at the scarred man with a bemused expression and then continued: "I am Captain Voigt, and I am the commanding officer of this company. Now, Major General von der Goltz is preparing for an offensive against Goldingen[2]. We will leave later this evening, and we will march through the night and then assault Bolshevik positions at the break of dawn. It is expected that there will be heavy resistance, but we have better weapons and more ammunition than them... And better men." Captain Voig
    ht paused briefly. "Okay. You may now break rank and take supper."

    Elsewhere in Libau, away from the rank-and-file, Major General Rüdiger von der Goltz had spent the entire evening attempting to negotiate a parlour car from the Latvian government for use on the railroads. The condition of Latvia's railroads were appalling — to travel 70 kilometres, it took over seven hours. Furthermore, most of the rail cars had been completely ransacked and vandalised. Rüdiger demanded a refitted and armoured parlour car in which his general staff could sleep, and that he could use as a sort of mobile headquarters, and the Latvian government refused. He appealed to Noske's War Ministry, who informed him that they lacked the funds to send one over. Rüdiger was incensed and whipped off a furiously sarcastic telegram to the War Ministry. He remarked that he felt the German Republic was waging a war not against Bolshevism, but against Prussian militarism: the republican government was perfectly happy to allow Prussian generals to defend Germany's borders, but didn't seem to care if said Prussian generals died in the process. Rüdiger sometimes thought the snubs from Noske were deliberately intended to expedite his ageing, just to get Rüdiger a little closer to the grave. The parlour car debacle would be the first of many altercations between Rüdiger, the Latvian government, and Noske's War Ministry, and the recalcitrance of Rüdiger in the face of his supposed superiors would set the tone for later relationships.

    * * *

    On the left is General Józef Haller, looking very dashing in a fur coat. In the centre is Wincenty Witos. On the right is Prince Eustachy Sapieha.
    Meanwhile, in Poland, a lot was happening. On the 23rd of January, Roman Dmowski arrived in Warsaw via train. He had brought General Józef Haller with him from Paris. Acting on the advice of Prince Sapieha, who had telegraphed them from Warsaw, they negotiated the early release of General Haller's Blue Army from the command of the French. This army of Polish volunteers had previously been attached to the French forces on the Western Front[3]. The Blue Army was transported via rail to Poland shortly after Dmowski, at the expense of the French, who considered it a personal favour to General Haller. They would arrive in waves between the 1st and 8th of February. The Blue Army numbered 68,000 strong, and it was battle-hardened and well-equipped. It was also ferociously loyal to General Haller, who had seen them through the hellish fighting in the last stages of the war. At the same time, Prince Sapieha's allies amongst the Polish army's Warsaw command seized control of the capital and the surrounding towns. With reinforcements from the Blue Army, their control seemed assured. Whispers of a coup permeated Warsaw, but the army stated that they were merely securing order in the light of Piłsudski's assassination. This explanation was accepted given the heightened state of anxiety — many Polish newspapers had started to print sensationalist stories about a possible Bolshevik insurrection.

    In this environment, Roman Dmowski played his cards cautiously. He spoke to the Cabinet on the 7th of February and demanded that the Polish government appoint General Haller to the commander-in-chief of Poland's armies, and disband Piłsudski's old office of Chief of State. Piłsudski's death made the office of Chief of State unnecessary, said Roman, since there were no suitable candidates to replace him. The Cabinet felt forlorn and anxious, and after Wincenty Witos pledged his support to Dmowski's proposals, the majority of the Cabinet followed suit and ratified the measures. Now, the highest civilian office in Poland was the currently vacant Prime Minister, and the highest military office was held by General Haller. The atmosphere in Warsaw was extremely tense — so far, no one had attempted to gather power and challenge Roman Dmowski and his allies. The left-wing opposition, headed by the Polish Socialist Party (the PPS), tentatively reached out to Witos to form a coalition in the Sejm against Dmowski's National Democrats when the elections were resumed. As Poland's most powerful left-wing party, the PPS was aware of the scrutiny that they would be under following the assassination, and so consciously acted strictly within the confines of the law. But Witos rebuffed them. As we know (but the PPS did not), Witos had already agreed to form a government with Roman Dmowski. As for Roman, he seemed to be moving at a glacial pace, wary of stepping on any toes, but this changed very quickly.

    Warsaw, 9th of February 1919.

    Roman Dmowski was drinking coffee in his office. It had previously been the office of a National Democrat functionary, but Dmowski had cleaned him out of there and claimed the office for himself. Nevertheless, it was cramped, windowless, thoroughly disorganised, and tucked away in an obscure corner of the National Democrat's headquarters. Very few people knew that Dmowski was based in this particular office. One of those men who did know, however, was General Haller.

    knock! knock! knock!

    "Yes, come in!" said Roman, stirring his coffee slowly. The door opened, and General Haller marched in, flanked by two aides. Roman saw the general and was completely taken aback. General Haller was dressed in full uniform, and he looked thoroughly pissed off.

    "G-General! I didn't realise we had a meeting..." stammered Roman, as he stood up to shake the man's hand.

    "We didn't." barked General Haller, ignoring the hand. "I came here as soon as I could. There was no time to warn you of my arrival."

    Roman's hand hung limply in the air for a moment, and then he withdrew it and sat back down. "Well, what can I help you with?" he asked.

    "What can you help me with? Well. Good question. We need to act quickly, Roman. I propose that my men seize the apparatus of government."

    "A proper coup? No... No. We must do this thing according to the rules. I have managed to postpone the elections, but we still must secure a parliamentary majority."

    "There is no time!" shouted General Haller. The aides nodded in sycophantic agreement.

    "What do you mean?"

    "A border patrol have seized a party of Bolshevik scouts near Sejny! We managed to get one of them to talk, and he said that they had been ordered to infiltrate and report on the size and strength of our lines and that they were not alone in their mission. They said there were other scouting parties, and what's more, the scout said that he's heard of Bolshevik troops from Minsk arriving in Wilno!"

    "So? What does thi-"

    "It means!" thundered General Haller, "I mean that the Bolsheviks are planning an attack of some sort! Why else would they be concentrating men in Wilno? Maybe against us! Maybe against Lithuanian positions, who knows! But we cannot afford to be caught with our dicks in our hands!"

    Suddenly, it all clicked in Roman's head. The Bolsheviks killed Piłsudski. Now, they will attack Poland during the chaos. There were probably revolutionary cells in Poland that were being activated! Right now! And Piłsudski, who had ingratiated himself with the left-wing, would have allowed the Polish Socialist Party and their friends to occupy positions in the Sejm, and take powerful positions within the government. Roman furiously mulled over this in his head.

    "Very well! Your men will seize the government. Proclaim the Sejm dissolved, and sack the cabinet. Go and find Prince Sapieha and get him to go with you. He has friends in the Warsaw garrison. And also, we must purge ourselves... Round up the socialists and the communists... Do not formally arrest them, not yet. But intern them. For their own safety, tell them that." Roman said this slowly and carefully, and General Haller nodded sternly.

    "We will need to cordon Warsaw off as well. Form a military garrison to prevent anyone from leaving. Also, we must seek out allies in the other army commands." proclaimed General Haller.

    "Yes... Yes." replied Roman.

    "And the office of Prime Minister? Will you take it?"

    "No. Make Prince Sapieha do it."

    "Very well."

    * * * * * * *
    End of Part I of Chapter II

    Note on the chapter title: the phrase "Après nous, le déluge" is French, and in the conventional sense it is very indifferent and arrogant — it means something like "after us, who cares what happens?". However, its literal translation is "After us, the flood". In a lot of German literature from this period, the imagery of the Bolsheviks as an oncoming flood or tidal wave occurs again and again. The implication being that not only is the Bolshevik advance seemingly unstoppable, but that it covers and drowns everything that it touches. One could only hope to stand their ground and weather the storm, for to try and swim would to become part of the flood itself. In this chapter, I will be reversing the tone of the phrase "Après nous, le déluge", to be "oh shit, after us, the flood!".
    [1]: The 8th Army and the VI Reserve Corps were part of the regular German Army on the Eastern Front, and many of their ranks joined the Freikorps rather than demobilise and return to Germany.
    [2]: Goldingen is now known as Kuldīga.
    [3]: In OTL, the Blue Army returns to Poland in April. In this timeline, they are coming home one month early.

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    Chapter II: Après Nous, le Déluge, Part II
  • "To force a way through the prisoning wall of the world, to march over burning fields, to stamp over ruins and scattered ashes, to dash recklessly through wild forests, over blasted heaths, to push, conquer, eat our way through towards the East. To the white, hot, dark, cold land that stretched between ourselves and Asia — was that what we wanted? I do not know if that was truly our desire, but that is what we did. And the search for the reason why was lost in the tumult of continuous fighting."

    quote attributed to Ernst von Salomon, in his autobiographical novel The Outlaws.

    * * *
    Chapter II: Après Nous, le Déluge
    Part II


    Der Krieg by Otto Dix, 1932.
    This piece, its form inspired by medieval triptychs, attempted to depict the hellish conditions of the First World War. The format of the triptych invokes the religious iconography of medieval triptychs, equating the apocalyptic martyrdom of man in the First World War with the crucifixion of Christ.

    Goldingen, 9th of February 1919.

    The air around Andreas steamed and billowed as bullets cracked and whizzed passed him, and through trees, and through other men. In front of him, a cluster of houses and a barn burned ferociously, a spiralling torrent of flames lit the skies and poured smoke into the heavens. Behind him, German voices cried out into the night. Captain Voigt was somewhere back there. Andreas could hear his voice bellowing orders: "Get out of the way! Move, you idiot! Get to the machine gun! Load the damn thing!"

    Andreas Stefan Becker was completely unprepared for the fighting in the Baltic. It was nothing like the tales of war that he had heard from the Western Front, where days and days would pass without even seeing a single enemy soldier emerge from a trench. It was not even like the stories he had from veterans of the Eastern Front, where cavalry and machine guns mixed in a maelstrom of rapid skirmishes and where the front line danced back and forth over the marshes. Here, there was no front line. Grey shapes would occasionally pop out of the periphery — from behind trees, or from the windows of houses, and the Germans promptly would mow them down. But most of the time, there was no enemy to be seen, and bullets and explosions would appear spontaneously and cut down men and horses, as if Zeus himself was throwing them down from Mount Olympus like lightning bolts.


    Andreas snapped to attention. About seventy metres to his left behind him, Captain Voigt was lying prone, one arm propped around a groaning soldier whose left arm had been blown off. Captain Voigt was looking directly at him, his eyes alight with indignation. Andreas stared blankly at Captain Voigt, who began to gesticulate frantically with his free hand. Andreas looked to where he was pointing. About fifty metres away was a machine gun, set up behind an overturned cart. Its previous operator lay next to it, still alive but bleeding out. Andreas gripped his rifle and gulped. Next to him, sitting shielded behind the carcass of a horse, Hans von Sachsenheim looked up at him: "Fuck man."

    He broke cover and ran.

    Blat! Blat! Blat! Blat! Blat!

    From somewhere, a rifle cracked at him, and Andreas could hear the spinning whizz of bullets passing near him. His breathing was ragged as he desperately tried to pick up his pace. His foot hit a root and he went tumbling down.

    Blat! Blat! Whoomph! Whoomph!

    The soil around him spat up into the air. A hand grabbed him from behind. Hans swung Andreas' body behind the overturned cart. Wood splintered and cracked as the rifle fire tore over the cart.


    Suddenly, as bullets ripped over his head, Andreas got the acute sensation that he was dreaming. He could see Hans next to him, holding the machine gun and pointing. He could see the wood of the cart cracking as the Bolshevik gunman honed in on them, each shot getting closer. But it seemed as to Andreas as if he was controlling himself from above, like a puppet. Everything seemed to have taken on a quality of enormous distance. He gingerly reached to his left and handed Hans a belt of ammunition. Hans loaded it and began firing.


    Hans sprayed machine-gun fire over the houses, tearing out their windows and doors. Some grey shapes fell. The rifle fire stopped. From his left, Andreas saw a wave of Germans suddenly rush past their position, emboldened by their control of the machine gun.

    Sometime later, after the Germans had secured the village, they rounded up a group of about eleven men. These were Bolsheviks who had surrendered. Only a few of them had real uniforms; six of them wore plainclothes, with either a felt hat adorned with a red star or a red armband. Andreas watched as Captain Voigt interrogated a man who seemed to be a leader amongst them.

    "A German!? You're a German?" spat Captain Voigt.

    The man blinked at Captain Voigt, with an expression of exhausted annoyance. "Yes. From Lüneburg. There are many of us."

    The German Bolshevik explained that he had been a prisoner of war from the Great War, captured by Russians and sent to Siberia. He had escaped and joined the Red Army after a Hungarian who had been at the same penal colony had told him about the writings of Lenin. Of the other prisoners, only four were Russians. Two were Czechs, two were Latvians, one was a Yiddish Jew, and one was a Finn. After hearing this, Captain Voigt ambled back to the sergeant in charge of holding the men.

    "Sir, what should we do with them?" he asked.

    Captain Voigt eyed them. These men were no soldiers. They barely had uniforms. Now, he learned they weren't even Russians. They were a motley crew of random assorted races, bound together by the false idolatry of Bolshevism. They were bandits, mutineers, traitors. He had come to the Baltic expecting to liberate the Latvians and the Germans, now he found that were Germans and Latvians within the ranks of the enemy. As Captain Voigt fumed, the German Bolshevik lounged in the dirt lazily. The Czechs were sobbing silently, holding each other. The Russians were scowling, their ugly little faces screwed up and covered in mud. The Yiddish Jew was muttering curse words under his breath.

    "Fucking shoot them!" he barked.

    They were shot, and their bodies were thrown into the burning barn.

    * * *

    Brigadier General Edward Rydz-Śmigły, head of the army command in Lublin. Also, aligned with the socialists.
    General Józef Haller and his Blue Army, along with Prince Eustachy Sapieha's allies in the Warsaw garrison, seized control of the Polish government on the 13th of February. Despite Roman Dmowski's hesitations, the undertaking proved remarkably easy. Warsaw was already filled with troops, and so General Haller ordered his men to round up Warsaw's politicians and march them into an emergency session of the Sejm. General Haller explicitly gave no warning, and so when his troops appeared outside the homes of Poland's socialist politicians, many of them fled, fearing the worst. Those caught in flight were arrested and detained, preventing them from attending this emergency session. Those that didn't flee were not formally arrested but placed under house arrest. Therefore, at this emergency session of the Sejm, no members of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS) were present — this was precisely what General Haller and Roman Dmowski wanted. Bleary-eyed and shaken, the politicians of Poland were completely taken aback when Roman Dmowski announced his intention to form a "government of national unity", and disband parliamentary activity. From the podium, ominously flanked by General Haller and soldiers of the Blue Army, Roman implored the Sejm to dissolve itself and subsume themselves to his new government. Roman Dmowski assured them that it would be temporary. He reminded them that he was a staunch believer in democracy, and that "there could be no Poland without the Sejm", but the current situation demanded resolute authority and unity. It was a very surreal and bizarre political situation, as the Sejm had not officially been elected yet, given that the elections had been postponed. The assembled politicians were not really parliamentarians, but were electoral candidates from the important parties who had been rounded up in Warsaw. They had no official legislative power, but neither did Roman Dmowski, who was now speaking to them from the podium as if he was already the Prime Minister. A not-yet-elected legislative body was being demanded to dissolve itself with legislative power it did not yet possess, by a man with no legal authority. In fact, the only person who had any legal authority was General Haller as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

    In a manner properly befitting a coup, Roman Dmowski called a tally of votes by hand, to be counted by one of the Sejm marshals. With his National Democrats, he commanded about half of those present at this ramshackle meeting. When Wincenty Witos signalled to his Piast Party to fall in line, Roman Dmowski commanded an outright majority. Just like that, Roman Dmowski and his allies seized control of the government. He sacked the Cabinet and stacked the ministerial positions with Piast and National Democrat members, then appointed Prince Eustachy Sapieha as Prime Minister. Roman Dmowski still did not possess any legal title, but he was calling the shots. It was the way he preferred it right now. Privately, Roman Dmowski and Wincenty Witos considered the backslide into a dictatorship as a temporary measure justified by extreme circumstances and the precarious state of the Polish government. However, as any astute student of history knows (this no doubt includes you, my dear reader), it is far more difficult to relinquish the reigns of unchecked power than it is to seize it.

    Shortly after the Sejm voted itself out of existence, General Haller sent out envoys to the other army commands, demanding that they fall in line. All of them did, except for one: Brigadier General Edward Rydz-Śmigły, head of the Lublin command[1], sent back a demand for the resumption of elections and the release of PPS members. This would be trouble: Lublin had briefly been the site of a socialist government independent of Warsaw at the end of 1918, and Rydz-Śmigły still had control of the troops in that area.

    * * *
    Warsaw, 16th of February 1919.

    "What the fuck!?" spat Roman Dmowski. In front of him, sat General Haller and Prince Sapieha. Standing next to them was Wincenty Witos, who had taken on the cabinet portfolios of Minister of the Interior and Minister of the Economy. "The Bolsheviks have already seized Kobryń, and now you tell me that Edward Rydz-Śmigły is refusing to mobilise!?"

    Prince Sapieha eyed Roman nervously, "Look... All we need to do is appeal to him on the basis of national unity... Surely, when he recognises the Bolshevi-"

    "Goddamn it!" shouted Roman, completely cutting off the Prime Minister of Poland. "This is realpolitik now! There's no fucking 'national unity' rhetoric in this circumstance! Haller, can we pacify him?"

    General Haller bit his lip in hesitation. "No. We cannot."

    "Fuck! What th-"

    "Hey!" General Haller stood up, suddenly towering over Roman. "Shut the fuck up! We need to think constructively here and now just be assholes about it!"

    There was a brief pause as General Haller eyed down Roman. Then, General Haller resumed talking: "We cannot spare troops while the Bolsheviks advance on us from two fronts. If Rydz-Śmigły mobilises against us, we will be caught in a civil war as well as a war against the Bolsheviks. But we also cannot rehabilitate the socialists all of a sudden and resume the elections. Our government is incredibly fragile as it is."

    "Maybe we seek help?" chimed in Wincenty Witos, with a tone of hesitation. "I mean... The French?"

    "The French?" said Roman. "I know them better than anyone and trust me, they may spare materials, but they cannot spare men."

    "The... The Germans?"

    "Really?" demanded General Haller. "The Germans? We are literally fighting them in Poznań and Silesia right now[2]. What the hell?"

    "So we accede them certain concessions for their help with the Bolsheviks."

    "That is absolutely not up for the discussion!" thundered General Haller.

    But they were running out of the time. The Bolshevik advance would pick up speed soon, and unless Poland either found friends or solved her internal strife, it would not last this war. The Germans were hostile to Poland, and even the most left-leaning German politicians viewed her as a threat and a blight on the world map. But they feared the Bolsheviks far more, and the memory of the Spartacist Revolt lingered in the German consciousness. The French were amenable to Polish interests — it had been them who had negotiated the transport of the Blue Army — but they were war-weary and distant. The Romanians to the south were friendly to the Poles, but they were ravaged by their losses in the Great War and barely possessed a functioning military. It seemed that a creative solution was sorely needed.

    * * * * * * *
    End of Part II of Chapter II

    [1]: at the close of the First World War, several Polish governments established themselves in competition with each other. In Lublin, a socialist politician by the name of Ignacy Daszyński formed a government in opposition to both Roman Dmowski and Józef Piłsudski. Ignacy Daszyński's military was commanded by Edward Rydz-Śmigły, who would go on to command Poland's armies during the Second World War in our version of history. Edward Rydz-Śmigły and Ignacy Daszyński capitulated to Józef Piłsudski at the end of 1918, and Edward Rydz-Śmigły's condition was that he keep his command as a brigadier general.
    [2]: in the months of January and February of 1919, the Poles of Silesia and the Poznań region revolted against German rule. War was never declared, but the Polish insurgency was able to seize most of the region before a ceasefire was called in early February. Under Polish control but legally part of the German Empire (in our timeline, they would be formally annexed to Poland later in 1919 as part of the Versailles Treaty), this unsolved revolt is an enormous strain on Polish-German relations.
    Quick note: the tone and style of the narrative sections are meant to reflect the attitudes of the protagonists and their realities. Therefore, the tone of the Freikorps sections will get increasingly violent, angry, and bitter as the protagonists undergo a process of brutalisation by war. In our version of history, many members of the Freikorps denigrated into ruthlessness and atavistic sadism, and they ended up committing a variety of awful atrocities in the Baltic that were informed by racist and chauvinistic ideology. The views and attitudes implied or espoused by these characters do not reflect my actual views, and I do not endorse them.

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    Chapter II: Après Nous, le Déluge, Part III
  • "Diplomats were invented simply to waste time."

    remark made by David Lloyd George during the Paris Peace Conference.

    * * *
    Chapter II: Après Nous, le Déluge
    Part III


    Union of Lublin by Jan Alojzy Matejko, 1869.
    This painting depicts the signing of the Union of Lublin, which formalised the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as a single state. The Union of Lublin is often viewed as a high point of Polish power by nationalists, and was a pivotal moment in the development of Eastern Europe. The themes of unity are probably on many peoples' minds as a fractured Poland attempts to pull itself together before the Russian advance.
    Lublin, 21st of February 1919.

    Brigadier General Edward Rydz-Śmigły was not a man to be trifled with. A large man with a shaved head and a booming voice, Rydz-Śmigły had served under Józef Piłsudski in the First World War against the Russians. In that war, he distinguished himself as an exceptionally capable commander and became a friend and confidant of Piłsudski. He had remained in command of the Lublin Army Command and was not very happy about what had been going on in Warsaw. You see, Rydz-Śmigły was closely aligned with Poland's socialist faction, and considered the internship of his friends in the Polish Socialist Party to be egregious and personally threating. In fact, "not happy" was a severe underestimation of Rydz-Śmigły's feelings. He was livid.

    In his office, he was sitting behind a small wooden desk. He gripped his pen in his hand tightly, staring at the sheet of white paper in front of him. A vein in the side of his head bulged. To his right, a nervous young aide sat there with a tray of tea and biscuits. Rydz-Śmigły tried to write:

    Dear Mr. Dmowski,

    As your friend compatriot and ally, I must alert you to my severe grievances regarding the unenviable situation in Warsaw. Naturally, you are aware of my political inclination party affiliation, and I am concerned about the welfare safety of my friend comrades in the Polish Socialist Party. I have been requested instructed to recognise your new government the new democratic government. While I am inclined to do so, especially in such dire times, I must ask demand the resumption of elections and the release of those members of the Polish Socialist Party that you have imprisoned. If not, I will be forced to
    Forced to what? He stopped writing. He lit a cigarette and fumed. Forced to what? To abandon Poland? Join the Bolsheviks? Rydz-Śmigły grabbed the piece of paper and scrunched it up. He threw it at the ground. The aide got up in a start and reached for the crumpled ball of paper.

    "No!" barked Rydz-Śmigły. "No... Just... Stay there!"

    The aide sat back down wordlessly. Rydz-Śmigły picked up his pen, and he started again:

    To Mr. Dmowski,

    Your coup in Warsaw has not gone unnoticed! I am deeply alarmed and upset. I have received orders to fall in line behind your government, and I feel that I must convey express my deep dissatisfaction. However, at the same time, I recognise the perilous disastrous situation and the rapid Soviet advance. Therefore, I am prepared to mobilise in support of the government your new government, in exchange

    Again, he found himself at a loss. Although he wanted to demand the elections, he knew that Dmowski would not fold on that. He thought maybe he should write for the release of the Polish Socialist Party politicians and leave the question of the elections to later, but what would that achieve? He screwed that letter up and threw it at the wall. It bounced onto the floor and rolled next to the other scrunched up letter.


    You stupid fucking idiot jackass!!! You pull off a coup while I got Russians at my goddamn motherfucking doorstep! They're fuck advancing! They're in Prużana!!! Why do you send this stupid goddamn letter demanding
    He threw that letter at the floor as well. He huffed and puffed. The aide nervously tried to offer tea, hoping it would calm him down. Rydz-Śmigły threw a biscuit at him, which caused the poor young man to scurry out of the office. He didn't know Roman Dmowski, in spite of the forced friendliness in his letters, and he certainly did not trust him. Dmowski surrounded himself with aristocrats and pompous ass-kissers. The man had cut his teeth licking the boots of the Russian Tsars and smooth-talking his way around Paris[1]. In contrast, Edward Rydz-Śmigły had fought for Poland on the battlefields. His men had died for the Polish flag. He decided that Dmowski was not the right person to talk to.

    Dear General Haller,

    Let us talk. One soldier to another. I will be leaving Lublin to mobilise my men to the front. I have decided that I will not busy myself with politics in this hour, but I am deeply dissatisfied with your friend Dmowski. I await your correspondence.

    Brigadier General Edward Rydz-Śmigły
    Finally satisfied, Rydz-Śmigły took the letter to be delivered. His lack of direct communication with Dmowski (or indeed, Prime Minister Eustachy Sapieha, or any other member of the civilian government, for that matter) was a deliberate slight. Rydz-Śmigły was effectively denying them the legitimacy they desired, but while also signalling his loyalty to Poland. Besides, he had more pressing matters to attend to. He had to get to the front. And fast.

    * * *


    Gustav Noske, the German Minister for War[2].
    Berlin, 25th of February 1919.

    Gustav Noske was on his way to work. It was a cold February morning in Berlin, a light drizzle accentuated the dour mood of the capital. On the sides of streets, youths loitered and crippled veterans hobbled along. Noske was an unremarkable man and was not well publicly known. This suited him just fine. He did not want to get shot by some raving Freikorps lunatic, or stabbed by a Spartacist. Berlin was a dangerous place nowadays. He stopped at a newsagent to buy some tobacco. As he paid, something caught his eye. A newspaper with the headline: "REDS IN

    "W-when was that printed?" demanded Noske, pointing at the paper.

    The newsagent regarded him with a raised eyebrow. "I dunno. Today? If it's on the rack, probably today."

    Noske snatched up the paper. He paid. And on his walk, he glanced over the story. His eyes boggled. The paper described, with fantastic embellishment, how several Freikorps soldiers travelling to Libau had tried to stop in Metenburg[3] for the night, only to be warned away at the border because it was under siege by Bolshevik forces. The story went on to recount the testimonies of some German farmers near the Polish border, who said that they had heard artillery fire.

    He ran. Down the streets of Berlin he flew, dodging startled pedestrians and weaving through honking motorcars. Luckily no-one recognised that this small, bespectacled man hurtling past them was the Minister for War. The tabloids would've loved that. He reached the Ministry for War and bounded up the stairs, bursting through the double doors to his office, panting and heaving. Noske wasn't fit. He was pouring sweat. His secretary and a coterie of deputies and understudies sat in a circle of armchairs, drinking coffee and smoking. They had bemused expressions on their faces. Noske struggled to catch his breath.

    "Everything alright, sir?" asked the secretary, tentatively. She furrowed her brow, very visibly concerned.

    "N-no..." stammered Noske. He adjusted his spectacles, which had come loose with sweat. "You... Any of you read this?"

    "Read what?" piped up one of the deputies.

    Noske pointed at the headline. Despite how shook he was, Noske spoke very calmly: "Look. Russians on our border. When did that happen? How come no-one told me? I'm the minister in charge here. Who's keeping things from me?"

    The secretary, the deputies, and the understudies sat there for a moment, silent. Then one cracked a wry grin. "Oh, that story... No, no...You see, the Reds haven't made it that far. But they have redirected a lot of their forces into Poland... They have made substantial advances in the last month. But, I don't know exactly where that paper got this story from, but we've been in communication with the border guard, and there have been no sightings of any Reds from their end." The deputy waved his hand in the air dismissively. "That story is totally unverified.[4]"

    "Well... Well, why didn't anyone tell me that?" said Noske.

    "Tell you what? That... Everything is normal?"

    "No. That... I mean. Why didn't anyone tell me that this story is false? I ran all the way here."

    "I didn't... We didn't know that you had read that story? How were we meant to tell you it was false if we didn't know that you had read it or not?"

    "That's not what I... Alright. Okay. Let me just..." Noske wheezed and collapsed into an armchair. "Let me just catch my breath for a moment."

    He sat there and dabbed at his sweat with a handkerchief for a few minutes. Then, he began speaking again: "Well, this whole shock has brought to my attention the whole situation with the Bolsheviks... Where do we stand with them?"

    "We have a formal ceasefire with them. Brest-Litovsk." said a young deputy, who looked fresh out of the academy.

    "Technically, that treaty is with the Hohenzollern government." said Noske. "And they seem to be pretty determined to reverse that treaty anyway."

    "Still, they wouldn't risk war with us." replied the young deputy. "Their war is with the Poles and the Lithuanians and the White armies."

    "And yet we are engaged in combat with them currently!" piped up an older man who wore a thick moustache and a monocle. He seemed to be an ex-officer.

    "Where?" demanded the young deputy.

    "In the Baltics. Tens of thousands of our men fight there against the Bolsheviks..."

    "They're not technically our men." Noske cut in. "They're volunteers fighting for Latvia and Lithuania."

    The moustached ex-officer harrumphed with amusement. "Save it for the jury! You think the Bolsheviks care about the technicalities? They see German soldiers with German uniforms shooting German guns. Our man up there, Rüdiger von der Goltz, fought against the Bolsheviks in Finland. They sure as hell remember him."

    Noske pondered this. He remembered Rüdiger von der Goltz well. They had met before von der Goltz had departed up to the Baltics. They had a strained relationship, as von der Goltz didn't trust the socialist-leaning Noske, and Noske had little patience for the hot-headed Prussian aristocrat. But with the threat of Bolsheviks cutting through Poland and touching the German border, men like von der Goltz might suddenly find themselves in high demand.

    "What are the chances of the Bolsheviks actually reaching Metenburg?" Noske inquired.

    "Honestly? Pretty damn high." said the moustached ex-officer.

    "I agree." said the younger deputy. "That fake news story is based on something real. You can hear artillery from the German border. Very faintly. But the whole thing about the farmers is real. They're close."

    "Plus, the Polish are not a particularly martial race. They're disastrously ill-suited for war. Especially against the bestial and savage Russians." added the moustached ex-officer.

    "And... We are genuinely worried about war if the Bolsheviks do take Poland?" asked Noske.

    "I'll say we are!" exclaimed the moustached ex-officer. "Have you read what Lenin and his friends keep saying? World revolution! Berlin is next! The Spartacists were just the first taste!"

    "Yes..." agreed the young deputy. "The threat is credible. I concur."

    "Right. Here's what we will do. I want someone to telegram Rüdiger von der Goltz about the possibility of opening a southern front in the Baltics. I want us to increase the Freikorps recruitment drives. And I want someone to get in touch with whoever the hell is running Poland."

    "I believe that's Roman Dmowski. He and Józef Haller staged a coup recently, after Piłsudski's assassination."

    "Haller. We know Haller. He fought with us against the Russians."

    "...And then against us at Kaniów." interjected the young deputy.

    "Whatever. We can forget Kaniów for the moment. Someone get in touch with Haller. Telegram him or get a courier to wherever he is. If the Bolsheviks are cutting down the Poles as quickly as I'm hearing, then they'll be willing to talk. Maybe we can settle the Poznań and Silesia question without the French or the British dicking us over."

    "Indeed." said the moustached ex-officer. "Let's get going, then!"

    * * *
    On the 29th of February, Prime Minister Sapieha received an official notice from the Supreme Allied Command, who requested a "more complete" diplomatic presence at the ongoing Versailles Conference. The Commission on Polish Affairs was convening in March to review the Polish-German borders, and it had been noted that both Roman Dmowski and Count Maurycy Zamoyski had abandoned the Polish diplomatic mission in Paris[5]. The tone of the notice, which bore signatures from the secretaries of David Lloyd George and Georges Clemenceau, came across to Prime Minister Sapieha as officious and haughty. He passed the note on to Roman Dmowski, who wrote out a long and furious letter explaining that Poland was in the middle of being invaded after having its leaders assassinated and that they were therefore rather preoccupied with not getting killed. But after writing the letter out and reading it aloud to Prime Minister Sapieha and Count Maurycy Zamoyski, he decided on a more diplomatic course of action. All three of them knew that the Supreme Allied Command should be cajoled and flattered rather than yelled at. Lloyd George and Clemenceau were both sympathetic to the Polish cause, and it was important that Dmowski and Haller's new government be received warmly, rather than alienated. It was decided that Prime Minister Sapieha be dispatched to Paris to personally handle the negotiations in March. This was done for three reasons: first, the presence of the Prime Minister himself would impress the Allies. Secondly, it would keep Sapieha out of harm's way should there be a counter-coup in Warsaw. Dispersing the leadership of the new government made it less vulnerable to a sudden change of fortunes. Thirdly, and most crucially, it would give Haller and Dmowski more room to exercise their authority. Of course, the third reason wasn't said out loud at any point in the discussions. But, there was an understanding. The office of the Prime Minister was still technically bound by legal perimeters and parliamentary protocol (even if the Sejm was suspended), but Dmowski's unofficial dictatorial position was outside scrutiny.

    Other than intrigue with the Supreme Allied Command and the German War Ministry, events on the front had been rapidly unravelling. The Soviets had seized Brest-Litowsk[6] after a protracted siege and heavy resistance from local militias. The Bolsheviks spent several days looting the city in orgiastic celebration. They had taken the city in which the reviled Treaty of Brest-Litovsk had been signed. They were well on their way to unravelling that treaty.

    Meanwhile, General Józef Haller was on his way with the Blue Army to open a counter-offensive against the Bolsheviks out of Bielsk Podlaski when a courier brought him the letter from Rydz-Śmigły. He briefly considered making a copy of it and forwarding it to Roman Dmowski, but, for unknown reasons, decided against doing that.

    * * * * * * *
    End of Part III of Chapter II

    [1]: Roman Dmowski had spent a long time as a member of the Duma in Russian Poland. In this capacity, he tried to toe a line between his Polish nationalism and his desire to keep his job (aka, pleasing his Russian masters). Compared to his contemporaries such as Piłsudski, Dmowski placed a great deal of importance upon the aristocracy and the Catholic Church. He was also far more anti-Semitic. One could view these things as having roots in his Russian political environment. Weirdly enough, a lot of the loyalties and political persuasions of different actors in post-WWI Poland can be loosely correlated with whether or not they were from German, Austrian, or Russian parts of Poland.
    [2]: The official title of Gustav Noske is "Minister for Defence". Historically speaking, the "Minister for War" was the name of the ministerial position before the German surrender. The reason that I refer to him as "Minister for War" is because he is referred to as such in a German primary source I was reading, and I found the idea that the Germans would deliberately eschew the term "Minister for Defence" in favour of the older term rather amusing.
    [3]: Metenburg is the German name for Augustów, which we can see on our map here.
    [4]: Fake news is not a new thing! The uncertain situation of the East was ripe for fear-mongering and hysteria. One famous example is the fact that after the Battle of Warsaw, many German newspapers printed stories that said that the Soviets had won, not the Polish.
    [5]: This correlates with OTL, in which the Commission on Polish Affairs meets in March. Over the next couple of months, this convention would draw up a favourable settlement for Poland IOTL. But without a strong diplomatic presence in this new timeline, it is entirely possible that the settlement wouldn't be as generous.
    [6]: Brest-Litowsk = Brest-Litovsk. The Polish like replacing Russian Vs with Ws, apparently.

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    Chapter II: Après Nous, le Déluge, Part IV
  • "Now times have changed. There is no question now of a lengthy preparation for the battle; we are now living in the period after the storm, in the period after the first great victory over the bourgeoisie. Now there is only one other problem before the working class: to finally and irretrievably break up the resistance of the bourgeoisie. That is why the working class, acting in the name of the liberation of the whole of humanity from the atrocities and terrors of capitalism, must carry out this task to a definite end and with unswerving firmness. No indulgence for the bourgeoisie and no leniency – but complete liberty and the possibility of realising this liberty, to the working class and poorest peasants."

    closing statement of Nikolai Bukharin's
    Programme of the World Revolution, which was a pamphlet published in 1917.

    * * *
    Chapter II: Après Nous, le Déluge
    Part IV


    The Bolshevik by Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev, 1920.
    In this painting, Boris Kustodiev celebrates the victory of the proletariat by representing the "Bolshevik hero" as a nondescript, generic man. The message here is clear: anyone can be a Bolshevik hero, and the Bolshevik hero is everyone. Additionally, the Bolshevik hero appears to rise out of the crowd, an effect that Boris Kustodiev hoped would capture "the spontaneous in Bolshevism".
    Moscow, 2nd of March 1919.

    Leon Trotsky had been drowning in documents, maps, files, letters, dossiers, telegraph messages, and various other loose bits of correspondence and schematics. Each day, his harried secretaries dumped armloads of documents on him. But he preferred it this way: even as the stacks and stacks of books and papers piled up around him, the frenetic Trotsky worked away. Day and night. By March of 1919, the Bolshevik offensive against Poland was well underway, and this meant more and more maps for Trotsky to pour over, telegraphs to sign off, pins to push around, generals to call up and yell at. On this particular morning, Trotsky was standing on his chair, looking over a huge map of Poland that he had unravelled over his desk. Everything was going as planned. Well, everything had been going as planned. Near the Polish city of Bielsk Podlaski, there had been a sudden and rapid breakthrough of the Bolshevik front line. The assault had appeared seemingly out of nowhere.

    "When did we get wind of this attack?" demanded Trotsky. He said this to his empty office, his hands on his hips. Naturally, no-one answered. Because the office was empty. Trotsky leapt off the chair. He circled his desk, pondering the situation. He had been reliably informed that the Polish front line had been suddenly reinforced by over 60,000 soldiers of the Blue Army. These men would be under Józef Haller's command, and they were battle-hardened and well-equipped. Bolshevik military intelligence had placed the Blue Army in France. It was estimated that they wouldn't be able to return to Poland until mid-April. But it seemed that somehow they had secured passage to Poland earlier than expected. This was quite the pickle for Leon Trotsky. On one hand, Vācietis and Nadyozhny had already made strong progress, but on the other hand, the Bolsheviks couldn't afford to suffer surprises like the sudden return of Haller.

    Pacing around his office, Trotsky briefly considered calling up the head of military intelligence and demanding an explanation. But there wasn't much point. The Bolshevik intelligence services were disorganised and understaffed, and the chaotic environment meant that information was often delayed if not entirely incorrect.

    In this map, we can see the Bolshevik theatre of war as Trotsky views it. The dotted red line indicates the Bolshevik front line. The placement of the commanders is approximate. The Freikorps under Rüdiger von der Goltz are not yet registered by Trotsky as a credible threat (although he probably should), and so he doesn't appear on this map.

    The situation was troubling. Attacked from all sides by innumerable enemies, every flank of the Bolshevik front was threatened. To the south, General Anton Denikin marched on Tsaritsyn. Rumours said that Denikin planned to mount an assault on Moscow[1]. In Ukraine, a four-way war between Symon Petlura's nationalists, Nestor Makhno's Black Armies, the Bolsheviks, and the Polish waged. Trotsky's men, who recently wrested Kiev from Petlura, advanced from the north, while the Poles occupied Western Ukraine, around Lwów. The truce with Makhno's Black Armies was extremely tense, especially since several Red Army detachments in Crimea had defected to Makhno[2]. But Trotsky maintained the upper hand in this relationship. For months, Makhno had been trying to turn their truce into a formal alliance. The Black Armies had been petitioning Moscow to send them guns and ammunition, but Trotsky viewed Makhno as a threat, especially as the long-term goal of the Bolsheviks was to seize Ukraine. Therefore, these requests for guns and ammunition were constantly ignored, creating a situation of an undeclared embargo of Makhno's Black Armies.

    "What I really need..." murmured Trotsky to himself. "Is to take the steam out of Denikin... Then, I could move men from that front to the west, and prepare for a decisive push towards Warsaw..."

    He shuffled some pins around on the map, and then stood back to consider it.

    "But how..."

    Trotsky grimaced. He knew that he did not have the available men or material to make a crushing assault against Denikin just yet. The rear of Denikin's army was already harassed by Makhno's Black Armies. But Makhno was unable to do any substantial damage right now: his men were ill-armed and constantly low on ammunition.

    "Perhaps... Maybe I give Makhno those guns after all..."

    Indeed, if Makhno received the weapons he was constantly asking for, then the Black Armies might be capable of mounting an actual offensive into Denikin's rear. Of course, this would mean that Trotsky would have to give up the goal of seizing Ukraine for the time being, but if he could tie down Denikin with a surprise attack from Makhno, then he could pull men from that front and move them west to the Polish front.

    "And if I can move men from that front, I could poach Tukhachevsky as well... Voroshilov could take command of that front... And if I can move Tukhachevsky into Poland, I give my best commander control of the assault on Poland, have that over and done within a matter of months, and then mop up Ukraine after Warsaw falls..."

    Trotsky walked over to his desk and picked up his phone. He dialled in a number and called: "Yes. Hello? Listen: change of course. Makhno will have his guns. Let's send Lev[3] down to talk to him. I'm sure he can come to come kind of agreement..."

    * * *
    Moscow, 4th of March 1919.

    In a dank cellar somewhere beneath the city, far from the prying eyes of anyone, a thin, wispy-haired Polish man sat on a stool across from two other men. The two other men wore military uniforms. They have shaved heads and muscular torsos. The small Polish man named Felix Dzerzhinsky sat cross-legged, craning himself towards the two men. A single tungsten light dangled from the ceiling, illuminating the room. It had the effect of making this thin man look unusually small.

    "Tell me..." croaked Dzerzhinsky. "What have you learned from our prisoners..."

    The prisoners that Dzerzhinsky referred to were two Polish officers who had been captured when the Bolsheviks had seized Brest-Litovsk. One of them was a colonel. The other was a major. They had both been brutally tortured and then shot. Their bodies were doused in gasoline and burnt.

    "Well..." began the larger of the two officers. "The colonel... He was difficult to talk to..."

    "But we did get him to talk!" interjected the smaller officer.

    "Oh yes?" said Dzerzhinsky, with a raised eyebrow.

    "Yes... He served under General Rydz-Śmigły... Yes, and what he said was that his boss hates Dmowski..."


    "Really!" exclaimed the larger officer. "He said that Rydz-Śmigły once talked to him about how Dmowski was wrecking Poland's democracy by locking up the socialists!"

    "He said that?" asked Dzerzhinsky.

    "He did! And what's more, he said that Rydz-Śmigły isn't recognising Dmowski's government!"

    Dzerzhinsky sat there for a moment to mull this over. This was very, very interesting information.

    "Perhaps... A sympathiser?" queried Dzerzhinsky.

    "Oh, well... I don't know about that." said the smaller officer. "It seemed to me that Rydz-Śmigły was more of a pink bourgeois socialist than a Bolshevik... You know, a reformist type... Lily-livered. "

    "No, no." disagreed the larger officer. "I think it sounded like Rydz-Śmigły really hates Dmowski. I think he could be radicalised!"

    Dzerzhinsky smiled. "Well, what have we got to lose? This could be the sort of victory that we need... Imagine, we've already assassinated Piłsudski... Just think about if we managed to turn Rydz-Śmigły! Poland would be the first modern country to be conquered by intrigue alone... I'd love to see Trotsky's face when I tell him that his armies aren't needed anymore!"

    "Yes!" exclaimed the larger officer.

    "Dispatch the orders!" barked Dzerzhinsky. "Let's see if we can't get Rydz-Śmigły to the table, at least to talk... I think we might be onto something here!"

    * * * * * * *
    End of Part IV of Chapter II

    [1]: In our timeline, Denikin would launch an assault on Moscow in the summer of 1919 after seizing Tsaritsyn. He would make it as far as Orel, just 360 kilometres from Moscow, before his supply lines collapsed after an assault into his rearguard by Makhno's Black Armies in October of 1919. But now, Trotsky is willing to foment an earlier assault by the Black Armies against Denikin, while he plans to shift the balance of Soviet troops to the west, the course of the Russian Civil War will be irrevocably altered. Already, just one month after our Point of Divergence, far-reaching and powerful effects are being felt.
    [2]: In our timeline, the uneasy truce with Makhno will be maintained until 1920, when the Bolsheviks would surprise attack the Black Armies and wipe them out.
    [3]: This refers to Lev Kamenev, not be confused with Sergey Kamenev. Lev Kamenev is a prominent Soviet functionary who IOTL handles a lot of the diplomatic relations between Makhno and the Bolsheviks. In this timeline, he will be reprising this role. Sergey Kamenev is the general in charge of the Bolsheviks' eastern-most front, and he is the "Kamenev" that is indicated on the map.
    Note: I decided to do the Bolshevik post first rather than the Freikorps/German post. The next update, and final part of Chapter II, will focus on the Freikorps, though! Stay tuned.
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    Chapter II: Après Nous, le Déluge, Part V
  • "Over millennia, society has tamed our impetuous urges and desires; the savage, brutal, shrill tone of our instincts has been polished, smoothed and dampened. Growing refinement has enlightened and ennobled man; yet the beast still sleeps in the depths of his existence. There is still much of the animal in him... and when life's dial swings back to its primitive guiding line the mask falls; primitive man, the cave-dweller, sallies forth naked as ever, with all the savagery of his unfettered instincts."

    excerpt from the writings of Ernst Jünger, a Freikorps soldier and novelist who would become famous for publishing Storm of Steel, one of the first significant memoirs about the First World War.

    * * *
    Chapter II: Après Nous, le Déluge
    Part V

    Dying Soldier (left) and Nighttime Encounter with a Madman (right) by Otto Dix, 1917.
    These two sketches were made by Otto Dix during his time in the trenches of the First World War. Similar to his paintings that we have seen earlier, Dix's pencil sketches sought to portray the brutal realities of war. The sketch on the left depicts the gruesome situation of a soldier wounded by artillery shrapnel, while the sketch on the right depicts the terrifying smile of a shell-shocked man.
    Tuckum, 14th of March 1919.

    They had been marching for days and days. Weeks and weeks, they had carved their way through the Latvian countryside, through the grey haze of the February rain, sloshing through mud and sleet, pushing their way through the fog. Andreas and Hans hadn't spoken much. They had other things on their minds. Ever since they had taken Goldingen[1]. Then, they had massacred eleven Bolshevik prisoners-of-war. Andreas and Hans had stood above them and shot each one.

    Bang! Kla-klack. Bang! Kla-klang. Bang! Kla-klack. Bang! Kla-klack.

    The unwieldy, ponderous bolt-action of their aging Gewehr rifles made the process excruciatingly slow. At one point, about half-way through, Andreas had to stop to reload his rifle. This created an awkward pause during which the remaining live prisoners-of-war simply stared dumbly at him. They just looked up at him with wide, teary eyes, but they didn't make a noise. Andreas wanted to say something. But what could he say? That he was sorry for shooting them? What good would that do? These men sentenced to death looked up at him he was God himself. The whole time, Captain Voigt sat off to the side, smoking a pipe and reading a newspaper clipping from Germany, phenomenally uninterested in what was going on.

    Bang! Kla-klack. Bang! Kla-klack.

    When the work was done, the dead Bolsheviks were thrown into a burning barn. Ever since then, the Baltic had repaid the Freikorps for their cruelty. It poured down cold, stinging rain day in and day out. Wolves circled beyond the horizon. Bullets flew out of nowhere, knocking down stray Germans. When the Freikorps had seized Schrunden[2] on the 3rd of March, the small Bolshevik garrison had surrendered without much of a fight. That was until the Freikorps entered the main square, whereupon a lone sniper started firing. Unable to pin down the location of the sniper, the Freikorps began raiding every house door-to-door. When they eventually found the sniper in a foxhole outside of the town, they dragged him out and beat him to death with their rifle-butts in full view of the townspeople. They left his bloodied and mangled body at the foot of the town hall as a warning. In Laižuva[3], they faced heavy resistance and were unable to enter the heavily-barricaded town. The Freikorps bombarded the town with a field gun, setting it ablaze with a few incendiary rounds, before storming what remained. They discovered that the enemy combatants hadn't been Bolsheviks at all. They were a local Lithuanian militia intent on defending their village against invaders. The Freikorps tried to explain to the few survivors that they were here to help them defend the Baltic from the Bolsheviks, and so they were on the same side, but the explanation got lost in translation. Not that it mattered, the town had been destroyed. Yesterday, they had captured Kandau[4]. They encountered heavy resistance but eventually overwhelmed the Bolsheviks who occupied the town. It had been a fairly standard siege, all things considered. However, a horse-cart rigged with high explosives had been detonated several hours after the Bolshevik surrender. The explosion killed four Germans, several civilians, and reduced many buildings to rubble. By the time the Germans traced the cable back to the detonator, the culprit had long since vanished.

    Freikorps had no idea how to fight this kind of war. They craved the sorts of grand victories that could be won in large-scale conventional battles, where both sides wore uniforms and had defined defensive and offensive positions. The few times when they got this type of combat — such as the initial seizure of Kandau — they won handily, and the old veterans and ex-officers glowed with a dreadful sort of delight.

    In this map, we can see the Freikorps advance out of Libau. As this map is from the German perspective, I have given the names of the towns in German, with their local names in brackets. The Bolshevik front-line is given by the red dotted line. The map is clickable for a larger and clearer resolution.
    After Kandau, they hadn't slept. Captain Voigt had force-marched them straight towards Tuckum, leaving a token garrison behind. Entering the town, they found Tuckum to be completely quiet. Many of the shops had been boarded up. No pedestrians were in sight. Clutching his Gewehr, Andreas stalked down the main street uneasily. There were about a dozen or so other soldiers around him. A few birds chirruped somewhere in the distance. A chilly breeze blew down the street. Ahead of him, a burly sergeant motioned for them to start checking the windows and doors. Wordlessly, the soldiers slid to the walls of the buildings, inching along while they peeped into the windows, checking for movement. Andreas crept along the side of a house, and seeing its door ajar, signalled to Hans. Hans nodded, and they positioned themselves on either side of the doorway, and then with their rifles, pushed the door open. The old wooden door creaked loudly as it swung upon. Andreas caught sight of something move quickly in the dark of the doorway.

    "Movement!" he shouted.

    "Go! Go!" yelled the burly sergeant.

    Andreas raised his rifle. "Hands up!"

    But he couldn't see anyone. There was a wooden table, some chairs, what looked like a week-old bowl of half-eaten soup on the table, and a mess of tangled clothes and bedsheets strewn across the floor. A drawing of the countryside hung on the wall of the house. Andreas nervously stepped through the doorway and into the house, with Hans close behind.

    "I said: put your hands up!"

    He heard the sound of a door slam and he swung around.

    "In there!" he shouted, pointing his rifle to what seemed to be a bedroom door. It was the only room on the inside of the house. Hans ran to the side of the door-frame, and Andreas kicked it open. He heard a shrill scream. Something fell to the ground and smashed. Hans flew into the room. Andreas bolted in after him. Lying on the ground, next to a large bed, was a young woman. She couldn't be older than twenty.

    "Get up! Hands up!"

    But she was burbling in Latvian or Estonian or some other language. Hans reached over and grabbed her by the hair, and she started screaming in German: "Get off me!!! Leave me alone!"

    Andreas lowered his rifle. "Hans! She's a German!"

    Hans dropped her, and she thudded back to the ground. "Leave me alone!" she sobbed.

    "Why didn't you say you were German?" demanded Hans, furiously gesturing at her with the barrel of his rifle.

    "I d-didn't k-know..." she wept, curling up into a ball.

    "Hans, leave her alone!" said Andreas. "She is terrified!"

    Hans scowled at Andreas. "What's this about? We're here to liberate her!" he snarled, then he turned back to the woman. "Where are the Reds?"

    "I don't k-know... They l-l-left... I think..."

    There was something strange about her voice. Andreas couldn't quite place it, but the way she talked made him feel unnerved. She sounded as if her mouth was being animated by strings, her words halted and stuttered.

    "Is anyone else here?" asked Hans.

    "No..." she said.

    "Very well..." said Andreas, and the two of them began backing out of the bedroom, leaving her in a heap on the floor while she sobbed. They the door behind them and began to walk out of the house. However, on their way out, Andreas saw a wooden square on the floor of the main. He walked over and inspected it. It seemed to be a cellar door.

    "N-no! Don't open that!"

    Andreas turned around to see the woman now standing in the bedroom doorway. He stared at her. She wasn't crying. Instead, she had a wide-eyed and tense expression on her face. Andreas grabbed her by the arm. She tried to push him away, but Andreas shook her.

    "What do you mean!?" he shouted. She didn't answer and turned away from him. He turned to Hans. "Open that door!"

    Hans swung the cellar door open and looked inside. "I can't see anything! It's too dark!"

    But from within the cellar, down the steps, they heard what sounded like a cat. It was a sort of soft mewling. Hans pulled the cord on the Dynamo[5] that hung around his neck and began walking down the steps into the cellar, his rifle raised. Andreas stood above the cellar, clutching the woman by the arm.

    "Oh... Oh... God..." muttered Hans from within the cellar.

    "What? What is it?" exclaimed Andreas. But Hans didn't answer. He turned to the woman, who had started clawing at him, trying to escape his grip. "What is down there!?!"

    She just started screaming.
    Freikorps soldiers from outside had started to flood in. The burly sergeant pushed past Andreas and the woman and ran down the steps into the cellar with his revolver raised.

    "What the fuck!?" he screamed.

    Andreas threw the woman to the ground and followed the sergeant down the steps. There, he saw the sergeant standing next to Hans. Hans was simply standing there, completely still except for his right arm, that was yanking on the Dynamo. The small light of the Dynamo illuminated a wet shape on the floor of the cellar. Andreas felt like throwing up. Lying on the ground, a man in a German uniform lay. He was covered in cuts and bruises. His jaw had been shattered, his left eye had been punctured, and the thick, viscous eye jelly dribbled down the side of his face. One of his arms had been cut clean off at the elbow, and infection had started to set in at the stump, filling the room with the grotesque scent of rotting flesh. The man was writhing there, unable to stand or move, his limbs thrashed helplessly. The guttural mewling was coming from him. He was unable to speak, his tongue had been cut out of his mouth. Andreas' eyes bulged. He ran back up the stairs.

    "Get her!" he screamed. The woman, who had been lying on the floor by the cellar, bolted upright in a start. Two German soldiers tried to grab her, but suddenly she procured a revolver.

    Blam! Blam! Blam!

    Andreas dove to the ground as her shots blew chunks out of the wall behind him. One of the Freikorps men next to him fired his rifle and the woman's head burst open like an overripe watermelon. Her corpse dropped. At that moment, all hell broke loose. The sound of automatic gunfire erupted from somewhere and from his prone position, Andreas saw the windows smash in and the men around him drop. Blood sprayed across the walls. Outside, he saw men dive for cover as machine-gun fire ripped up the cobbled street. The sergeant ran up from the cellar, closely tailed by Hans.

    "Get down!" yelled Andreas, and they dropped to the floor. Andreas began to crawl along the floor to the outside door. The men outside had scattered. Some were prone, inching along while bullets tore around them. Some had ducked into houses, but the machine-gun fire seemed to be coming from a high angle, as it was blasting out the windows and doors of the houses as the men ran into them for cover. Using the ajar main door as cover, Andreas peered outside.

    "There!" he bellowed. In the bell-tower of the town's church, a mounted Lewis gun rained lead down upon the Germans below. Andreas cracked off a few rounds, but they missed, puffing clouds of dust uselessly against the side of the church.

    "Here! Throw this!" said the sergeant, who had crawled up next to Andreas. He handed him an artillery flare.

    "What do I do with this!?"

    "Throw it at the fucking tower!!!"

    Andreas glanced outside again. "It's too far away!"

    "You're going to have to run! Throw it from one of the other houses!"

    Andreas gulped.
    Ah shit. Another dash through the gunfire. He stood up, flung the door upon, and ran. Almost immediately, he could hear the air hiss with lead as the machine-gunner swivelled to shoot at him. He flew down the street, leaping over potholes, sidestepping prone Freikorps men and dead bodies. The ground around him hummed and cracked with bullets. He saw a house ahead of his whose door was open, and he made a running dive through the doorway, crashing through a table and bowling over chairs. The machine-gun fire spat in his wake, narrowly missing, blowing out the windows of the house. Several hands grabbed him, pulling at him.

    "Get off! I'm okay!" Andreas sputtered. The hands retracted. Andreas shuffled out of the debris of the table he'd dived into and saw a handful of Freikorps soldiers huddled in the corner, taking cover from the machine-gun fire. Like him, they were young and scared. Andreas showed them the flare. "Look. I've got this. There's a field gun back there, if they see this flare, we're going to blow those bastards to hell!"

    They stared at him blankly. Then, one smiled. Andreas crawled back to the doorway and lay there for a few minutes while the machine-gunner pounded the house they were in. Then, after a few moments, the gunner switched targets and began firing at something else. Andreas stood up and pulled the door open. This time, he didn't need to run. He was in range of the tower. He lit the flare and hurled it at the tower. It arced through the air, hit the tower, and bounced off. It landed on the church's roof, where it burned. The machine-gunner stopped firing. He probably realised what was about to happen. For a moment, nothing happened. For another moment, still, nothing happened. Andreas gritted his teeth.


    Explosion by George Grosz, 1917.
    Centred around a red vortex, the heart of an artillery explosion, Grosz attempts to recreate the visceral carnage of an artillery bombardment in this painting. Fire and smoke pour into the sky as men, buildings, and the Earth itself is ripped asunder.

    Then, he heard a whistling sound. And then a crack! as something exploded against the front of the church. It wasn't a large explosion, but an extremely bright one. Huge, tall arcs of bright white rose and crackled out of the explosion.

    "White phosphorus!" shrieked Andreas. "Why the fuck are we firing white phosphorus!?"

    Thick, noxious plumes of white smoke billowed up from the church, rolling down the streets. Andreas saw the tendrils of white phosphorus spiral towards them. If it caught on the roofs of any of the houses, they would be ablaze in minutes.

    "Run! We have to run!"

    He grabbed the men, yanking them upright. Their stunned faces blinked dumbly at him. Andreas pulled at them, and as if awakening out of a trace, they suddenly hurled themselves out of the door, dashing down the street as the thunder of white smoke rolled after them like the Great Flood itself. Andreas ran after them, barely holding onto his rifle. The sky above him crackled and roared as the white phosphorus nestled itself in the thatched roofs of the houses around him. He saw the Hans and the sergeant dash out of the house that they had found the tortured German in. Red-orange flames leapt up around the glowing white of the phosphorus.

    "What's fucking happening!?" screamed the sergeant.

    "White phosphorus! We're firing white phosphorus! Why!?"

    The sergeant's face blanched. "Shit! I forgot! It's the only artillery munitions we've got left!"

    Andreas stared at him. "We've got to get out of here!"

    They ran. Everywhere the lancing tendrils of phosphorus had touched, flames sprung up. Typical of most towns in the rural Baltic, Tuckum was built almost entirely out of wood, with a mixture of thatched and wood-slatted roofs. All highly flammable. Andreas heard another crack! and the second ball of white horror exploded, this time against the top of the bell-tower. More tentacles of hot phosphorus shot out. More thick, all-suffocating smoked plumed.

    "Make them stop!" huffed Andreas as he ran. "Why are they firing again!?"

    "I... don't... know!!" gasped the sergeant, stumbling across the rubble and the bodies. Down the street, they ran, until they reached the perimeter of the town. Several hundred meters away, atop a large hill overlooking the town, they could see the field gun and the rest of the Freikorps men. They were loading another shell.

    "Stop!!!" yelled Andreas. He jumped up and down, waving his arms. But it was no use. They were too far away. There was no way the Freikorps field gun could hear him. He started running again, directly towards the field gun. The artillery piece went off, sending another shell hissing over Andreas' head as he ran. Then suddenly, he saw several men on horseback galloping towards him. He stopped. The horsemen flew towards him. They wore the blue-grey uniform and tall felted hats of hussars. He recognised Captain Voigt, with his huge bushy beard and glinting monocle, amongst them.

    "You!" bellowed Captain Voigt, his horse whinnying and bucking as he pulled it to an abrupt stop. The other horsemen went to Hans, the sergeant, and the few other Freikorps men who made it out. "We have to get you men out of here!"

    "There are other men in there!" exclaimed Andreas, pointing at the town, which by now, was roaring with flames.

    "Nevermind them! Get on!"

    "They'll die!"

    "We don't have time!" Captain Voigt roared. Then, brandishing a sabre, he pointed to the side of the burning town. Andreas saw a mass of moving grey objects. Bolsheviks. Hundreds of them. "The phosphorus drove them out! The whole fucking town was an ambush! Everyone were dead men walking already! Get on!"

    Andreas stared. His mouth gaped. He felt the rough hands of Captain Voigt pull him from behind, hoisting him onto the back of the horse.

    "H-how... We were... We were just in there..." he stammered.

    "It was a fucking ambush! And we wouldn't have known if not for the phosphorus!"

    Andreas' world was starting to crash in on itself. The tortured German. He would have died in that cellar, burnt to death amidst his horrible wounds. The woman. Her head blown open. The fire. The hell. It was all swirling and billowing inside of him. He was unable to make sense of any of it. He grabbed at Captain Voigt madly.

    "I d-don't want... I don't w-want them to die!"

    "Shut the fuck up, boy!"

    Captain Voigt pulled at the reins of the horse and they hurtled off, galloping back towards the hill. Andreas clutched onto him for dear life. He felt tears streaming out of his eyes. Suddenly, about halfway to the hill, Captain Voigt pulled on the reins and they came to another abrupt halt.

    "Are you crying, boy!?" he roared, seemingly amused. He signalled to the other horsemen to ride on without them.

    "I... I could have died... So many..." spluttered Andreas into the back of Captain Voigt's jacket.

    "So many... What? So many others died? And you didn't?"

    "W-what... What happens... After us? When we d-die?" sobbed Andreas pathetically. He wasn't even thinking, just blurting out nonsense. He felt so small and helpless all of sudden. He felt like he was being crushed.

    Captain Voigt craned over his shoulder to look at Andreas. He was grinning madly. His monocle burned red with the fires of the sky, his teeth bared like a wolf's. Andreas recoiled instinctually. "When we die?" laughed Captain Voigt. "What the fuck?" He reached back to grab Andreas. His hands grabbed Andreas by the hair and pulled him, turning his head.


    Andreas tensed his neck, fighting the captain, who was pulled his head to the side.


    Captain Voigt's other arm reached around and grabbed Andreas by the jaw, his nails digging into Andreas' face. He wrenched Andreas' head to the side. The hand that was holding him by the hair reached down, peeling open Andreas' eyelids, which were forced closed and streaming with tears.

    "Look, boy!" proclaimed Captain Voigt, his voice booming into the heavens. He held Andreas' face, forcing him to stare at the grey mass of Bolsheviks. He saw them pouring across the horizon, streaming down past the swirling red of Tuckum. Next to him, Captain Voigt loomed over Andreas, his hysterical grin gnashing, his wild eyes flashing. He was not a man. Andreas had not seen men like him. He towered atop his horse, a mad demon. This was his domain. His feeding grounds.

    "I've seen it." growled the demon in the hussar uniform. "I've seen what comes after us. And now, you have too."

    Andreas' eyes, pried open, could only roll around their sockets and stare at the horizon where the Bolsheviks swirled like an oncoming wave. By now, the Germans had started shelling the Bolsheviks with the white phosphorus shells. Spots of bright white bloomed against the seething mass of grey. Pinpricks of rifle fire danced amongst them. The drum-beat of the artillery thumped away. Somewhere, a machine-gun started rattling.

    "After us... There is nothing." hissed Captain Voight. "After us, comes the flood."

    * * * * * * *
    End of Chapter II
    [1]: This was covered in Part II of Chapter II, here.
    [2]: Schrunden is also known as Skrunda.
    [3]: Laižuva is a small town near to Schrunden.
    [4]: Kandau is also known as Kandava.
    [5]: A Dynamo is a small, chain-operated flashlight that the Germans used during the First World War. Typically, it was hung around one's neck. It did not require batteries as it was mechanically operated.
    Note: this is an entirely narrative chapter, focussed on telling the microhistory of the Freikorps. I won't post these too often, but I do think that they are important.
    Another note: the bit about the Freikorps finding a tortured German soldier in the basement of a woman's home is closely based upon an anecdote that was told by Erich Balla. To the Germans, the notion of a woman combatant was a horrifying thought that offended the closely-ordered, neatly categorised worldview of "spaces and races" (e.g. war is a male space; the Germans are a martial race, etc.) that many Freikorps soldiers held. The fact that the woman is ostensibly German, also speaking Latvian, is meant to demonstrate the ethnic "confusion" of the area. The memoirs of the Freikorps soldiers that I have read are full of frustration and anger at the lack of clear ethnic boundaries in Eastern Europe. Constantly confused about who exactly their enemies and allies were, and unable to make sense of the fluid and ambiguous social/ethnic/religious relations of Baltic society, the Freikorps often just collapsed the world into an us/them binary. Simply put: anyone not speaking German is a Bolshevik. But as we have seen in previous chapters, even that doesn't hold much water.
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    Recap: Ten Posts So Far
  • Recap: Ten Posts So Far


    She Represents (Carnival Scene) by Jeanne Mammen, 1928.
    Jeanne Mammen was a prolific artist who affiliated with George Grosz and Otto Dix, whose art we have seen earlier. However, while Grosz and Dix, who were traumatised veterans of the First World War, expressed deeply cynical and oppositional viewpoints through their art, Mammen portrayed the Interwar period as a time of liberty, prosperity, and freedom. No doubt, this was because as a woman, the Weimar Republic afforded her a welcome relief from the stuffy and oppressive patriarchal society of Wilhelmine Germany. This piece of art bears no relevance to the timeline, I just really like her art a lot and wanted an opportunity to post it somewhere.

    If you've made it this far through my timeline, thanks for sticking around! I thought I'd celebrate ten updates with a recap of the events that have transpired. I will be doing this every ten posts, to recap on the narrative and to make sure everyone knows what is going on. I realise that this timeline is a little dense and the updates can be quite long, so I hope these recaps are useful. Also, I will touch upon divergences from IOTL history, and make a note of the different narrative threads that have been left open, to give you an idea of what we will be looking at in future updates. So, without any further ado:

    Germany and the Freikorps

    1. Rüdiger von der Goltz is ordered to assemble a Freikorps force to be sent to the Baltic. He is ordered to do this because the Supreme Allied Command has decreed that the German military is responsible for maintaining order in East until they decide the "Russia Question". The Entente hopes to safeguard the independence of the new Baltic republics. Germany (more specifically, Gustav Noske) hopes to use the Freikorps as an instrument to extend waning German influence. Rüdiger von der Goltz's motives are hard to know, but he has no love for the republican government of Germany.
    2. Many of the new Freikorps recruits, such as Andreas Becker and Hans von Sachsenheim, are optimistic about fighting in the Baltic. Gradually, their optimism will be eroded as they experience the hellish conditions there. The continuing brutalisation and ideological development of these men will be an ongoing focus.
    3. Rüdiger von der Goltz and the main force of the Freikorps arrive in Libau in early February. Initially, he has trouble with the Soldiers' Council and the military police (leftovers from the regular German army), who threaten mutiny. This threat is quelled. By the 9th of February, the Freikorps take Goldingen, advancing inland into Latvia.
    4. In late February, Gustav Noske becomes cognizant of the rapid Bolshevik advance and starts to worry about them reaching the German border. Seeing Polish weakness as a potential way to solve the Poznan and Silesia question without Entente meddling, he floats the idea of offering aid. This is a very significant divergence, as IOTL, the Germans refused to talk to the Polish regarding the borders. This will be a narrative thread that will be further examined.
    5. On the 14th of March, the Freikorps reach Tuckum. They are now about halfway to their goal of seizing Riga.
    The Polish
    1. On the 10th of January 1919, Józef Piłsudski and Ignacy Paderewski are assassinated by a grenade thrown by a communist revolutionary. The revolutionary is immediately killed. This is the major POD for this timeline.
    2. Taking advantage of the resulting power vacuum, Roman Dmowski returns to Warsaw, now that his erstwhile adversary is dead. He seeks to ally with Wincenty Witos and Józef Haller. Other than those two, Roman Dmowski brings several powerful aristocrats in as allies.
    3. Józef Haller's Blue Army is released from French command in early February, about a month earlier than IOTL. The Blue Army occupies Warsaw, and Roman Dmowski convinces the fragmented Polish government to appoint Józef Haller as the commander-in-chief of Poland's armies.
    4. As the Bolsheviks start their invasion of Poland, Roman Dmowski and his allies decide to stage a full-blown coup and suspend the elections until further notice. On the 13th of February, they stage this coup, and appoint Prince Eustachy Sapieha, though Roman Dmowski rules from behind-the-scenes. The socialists are arrested and barred from participating in government and are currently too disorganised to do anything about it.
    5. The Polish discuss seeking help against the Bolsheviks. They rule out the French, who do not have the resources or manpower, and briefly consider the Germans. Józef Haller refuses to contemplate appealing to the Germans for help.
    6. Roman Dmowski faces a problem when Edward Rydz-Śmigły, commander of the Lublin command and a committed socialist, refuses to mobilise in support of Roman Dmowski's new government. Eventually, Edward Rydz-Śmigły decides to mobilise, but while he tacitly recognises Józef Haller as the commander-in-chief of Poland, he refuses to recognise Roman Dmowski's government. This will be a narrative thread that will be further examined.
    7. Prime Minister Eustachy Sapieha is sent to France to represent Poland to the Supreme Allied Command's Commission on Polish Affairs. This commission is intended to definitively settle the Polish borders. This commission will meet later in March. The results of this commission will be detailed in the coming updates.
    8. Józef Haller and his Blue Army open a counter-offensive against the Bolsheviks out of Bielsk Podlaski.
    The Bolsheviks
    1. Felix Dzerzhinsky, head of the Cheka, is directly involved with the assassination of Józef Piłsudski and Ignacy Paderewski.
    2. When Leon Trotsky learns of the assassination, he decides to exploit the chaos in Poland by diverting troops to open an all-out invasion. This lines up with the wider Bolshevik strategic goal of reuniting the former Russian Empire and potentially spreading the revolution to Germany. This is an enormously significant divergence, as IOTL, the Bolsheviks didn't begin an invasion of Poland until several months later.
    3. While the Bolsheviks begin this invasion in the last week of January, it stretches Bolshevik forces quite thin on their western fronts. Leon Trotsky is aware of this problem and seeks to rectify it by freeing up troops in the south and east. To do that, he believes that giving in to Nestor Makhno's requests for arms will allow Makhno to mount an attack into the rearguard of Anton Denikin's armies, distracting Anton Denikin. This is another large divergence. IOTL, Nestor Makhno was effectively blockaded by the Bolsheviks, eventually betrayed, and the Black Armies were destroyed. This will be a narrative thread that will be further examined.
    4. The Bolsheviks are surprised by the counter-offensive of Józef Haller's Blue Army; Bolshevik military intelligence had incorrectly placed the Blue Army in Paris.
    5. Aware of Edward Rydz-Śmigły's socialist sympathies and his dislike for Roman Dmowski, Felix Dzerzhinsky seeks to open a secret channel of communication with him. The end goal of this is to convince Edward Rydz-Śmigły to defect. This will be a narrative thread that will be further explored.
    There you have it. In the spirit of celebrating the ten update mark, I'd love to hear any feedback about the structure/narrative of this TL; what works, what doesn't, etc. I'm going to take a little break but I should have Part I of Chapter III done by the end of next week. Chapter III will be entitled "The Betrayal at the Vistula". In addition to the above, I'd like to bring in the Finns, as well as take a closer look at what's going on in Ukraine and the Versailles Peace Conference. If I can, I would also like to begin taking a look at the Russian White armies and some of the other Eastern European states (such as Hungary, Romania, etc.) but that is all contingent upon my research and writing bandwidth.
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