My favorite is Kaiser Wilhelm II for being the quintessential Kaiser Wilhelm II... ordering railroads built in the middle of the desert, dressing in Navy Uniforms to intimidate the Reichstag, badmouthing the British to get back at his late "Uncle Bertie" and hereby causing a diplomatic row... ah, what a time to be alive.

There has to be a modern American sitcom about the life of Wilhelm II in the running somewhere XD
YES! That would make a great sitcom-- with TTL's version of Graham Chapman playing the lead role.

I really wanted to make TTL's Wilhelm as obnoxious as his OTL self... glad I succeeded there. ;)
 
YES! That would make a great sitcom-- with TTL's version of Graham Chapman playing the lead role.

I really wanted to make TTL's Wilhelm as obnoxious as his OTL self... glad I succeeded there. ;)
Agree with congressman however, I would be a bit wary of pushing to far with it because from what I have read and to my understanding. He was very intelligent however this was hampered by utter complete lack of impulse control and bouncing around like a adhd kid high on sugar. Which i have to say you have captured and it is great
 
Last edited:
Agree with congressman however, I would be a bit wary of pushing to far with it because from what I have read and to my understanding. He was very intelligent however this was hampered by utter complete lack of impulse control and bouncing around like a kid high on sugar. Which i have to say you have captured and it is great
That's the point. The idea for the trans-Saharan railway was a stroke of genius in the theoretical sense. It's problem was that the logistics was pretty difficult at the time and not worth the expense. Wilhelm was smart enough to come up with it but his lack of impulse control meant that he only cared for the grand issues at play and not the mundane matters. That's why this TL's characterization of it was perfect
 
My personal favourite would have to be Karl of Danubia, probably followed by the fictitious Lucien Chanaris. CEH is up there too, by virtue of his, well, not being Wilson.
That and his fabulous beard.

Regarding the timeline: don't worry! There is no rush, take your time; we can wait.

BTW, I just nominated Emperor Karl for Best Character!
Hopefully someone will second before the deadline; there is still a week, so...
 
Chapter 40: The West is Feldgrau
Chapter Forty: The West is Feldgrau
"In every bush a Frenchman, in every Frenchman's hand a gun. In every gun a bullet, in every German a hole."
-Attributed to Lucien Chanaris

"If this is what peace looks like- two dozen men killed and three bombs a month- then God help us when we face a war!"
-Kaiser Wilhelm II commenting on the unrest in occupied France

"Germany has cut our nation in twain. Our honour is besmirched. People of Belgium, never forget who you are. Our country and people will never be taken off the map!"
-Belgian Cardinal Desire-Joseph Mercier, fierce opponent of German rule, in 1919


Peace is a casualty of war.

The people of Belgium and northern France had lost peace in the autumn of 1914 and did not know if they would see it again. With his nation collapsing in 1916, Joseph Caillaux had faced a dilemma. Given a choice between continuing a ruinous war and sacrificing territory, Caillaux chose Scylla over Charybdis, amputating thousands of square miles to let the rest of France live.

Northern France was not a good place to be in the war's wake, as military rule carried on unchanged. The biggest difference was that in signing the Treaty of Dresden, Paris had agreed to the status quo, destroying hopes of liberation. Opinions towards the French government varied. Many assigned it a near-Messianic quality, dreaming of a war of liberation and confident that, as no father abandons his children, so they in the ‘lost provinces’ weren’t forgotten. Sympathetic patriotism seldom lasted. As 1917 turned into 1918 and people saw the German flag as opposed to la tricolour for the hundredth time, it suddenly sank in. There would be no liberation. Paris either couldn’t or wouldn’t move to free the lost provinces. The people of the occupation zone were on their own, with no one to protect them from the Kaiser’s every whim.

It didn’t take long for them to take matters into their own hands.

There was a reason Germany stationed as many soldiers in France during the quarter century after the war as during the conflict. Hope that the occupation would end soon and fear kept the locals down at first, but as those faded, so did their pacifism. Minor riots and protests broke out throughout 1919, none of which were especially well-organised. These were all nonviolent- the reasoning being that Germany would look far worse crushing peaceful protestors than dangerous rioters- and few got far. Since they were so decentralised, these protests had diverse goals: some clamoured for more substantial rations while others claimed, using well-thought-out arguments written by ex-lawyers, that the entire German occupation of northern France was illegal. Ironically, Germany took the former more seriously than the latter. Changes to the ration system were small enough to be feasible, which would send a powerful message to the people of the occupied zone. Neither protest nor international pressure would ever get the Germans to withdraw; thus, contempt was the best weapon there.

Another prominent source of resistance came from the clergy. The people of northern France were overwhelmingly Catholic, and many viewed rule by Protestants as an insult. Widespread fears of forced conversions had proven to be all so much talk, but priests criticised the occupiers wherever they could. Many a homily equated collaborators with Judas and his thirty pieces of silver or compared Kaiser Wilhelm II to the Babylonians, Herod, and various Roman emperors. The bishop of Lille, one Alexis-Armand Charost (1), called the occupation “uncharitable and unjust” and called on the people of his diocese to “do as our forefathers did in the catacombs, with the pagan world pressing in on every corner.” When questioned about this, he replied smoothly that he was merely calling on his people to keep the Faith, but he did nothing to criticise those who took his words as a green light to take up arms. His opposition to German rule didn’t mean Bishop Charost approved of the Paris government- he criticised the Republican government’s secularism, and hinted that a different French regime could well have won. When the Second French Revolution erupted in summer 1917, though, Bishop Charost reluctantly supported Paris.

“There are three evils of the world we face today. The least is Paul Deschanel and the republican government ruling over our brothers. Though they have lost the Faith and live in a secular realm, they are Frenchmen too and are waging a just battle to keep our homeland free from ‘varied and strange teachings’. Then, there are the Germans. The Kaiser is our new Caesar to whom we must render, even though his rule may not be in accordance with the objective laws of morality. While we must never let ourselves forget that we are Frenchmen no less than a man in Paris or Brest and must remind our occupiers of this at every turn, nor ought we to turn to sinful practises for the sake of France… Finally, there are these rebels, the French Worker’s Army, the Sorelians, or whatever you wish to call them. In no way can their atheistic ideology be approved. The people of this diocese and of all France must reject them with all their power, even to the extent of allying themselves with the German occupiers…”

Bishop Charost’s conduct pushed the envelope, and only three things kept him from arrest. For a start, he threw the occupiers the occasional bone, such as claiming that the people of the occupied zone had a duty to ‘render unto’ Kaiser Wilhelm. He always argued for passive resistance, not open revolt. Second, Charost criticised both sides of the French Civil War with nearly equal fervour, and the occupation authorities could cherry-pick statements of his and use them as a cudgel with which to beat Paris. Finally, arresting a holy bishop would have appalled collaborators and invited embarrassing condemnation from the Vatican. The Pope may have had few divisions, but no one could contest his soft power. Thus, Bishop Alexis-Armand Charost remained at his pulpit.

His Excellency Bishop Alexis-Armand Charost.
bishopcharost.jpg


Their protests having failed, the French people moved to forms of resistance which didn’t exactly align with the teachings of the good Bishop and his Master.

The Nanzig Riots of June 19, 1920 was the first serious resistance to German rule. A fair number of Germans had immigrated there after the war, while many who’d spent their lives in the city had German ancestry and had emphasised that after the war. All this to say, when an ordinance proposing that all secondary education be in German was proposed, the city’s Frenchmen gathered en masse to protest. Things escalated as they proved billy clubs and tear gas ineffective; for three days much of Nanzig was out of control. The mob murdered seventeen German women and children; this pales next to the 102 French civilians and an unknown number of rioters who died in the fighting . Both sides screamed bloody murder at the other, but Germany continued to hold the guns and thus made the rules. The ring-leaders of the Nanzig Riots were summarily executed as a warning.

So ended the only great uprising against German rule during the Occupation period.

Germany’s unwilling subjects weren’t stupid. They were peasants and city-dwellers, not soldiers. Few weapons existed in the territory apart from elderly rifles and the traditional pitchforks- certainly nothing which could stand up to the German Army in combat. The enemy gradually grew more aware of nooks and crannies which might serve as hideouts, and they gradually inserted more informants and spies. The people may have loved their country- but not its new government (2)- but they wouldn’t throw their lives away without a chance of success. Resistance thus passed into gutters, back-rooms, and deep forests as people formed loose militias and cells. Few had more than a dozen people and none had the means for a full rebellion, but they all kept the flame burning. Supposedly loyal farmers lay in the bushes and fired at German convoys as they passed by; seldom did anyone survive to tell the tale, and so these people didn’t face justice. Locals undermined bridges in the dead of night and watched as they collapsed the next day, sending a platoon or cavalry squadron plunging to their deaths. When the Germans searched for the culprit, they protested innocence- surely, the tragedy must’ve been caused by a structural fault? There was no way to prove their guilt, and so German commanders usually opted not to make heads roll. The easiest way to prevent sabotage was to station more soldiers at key points on roads and rail lines, but manpower was a finite resource in peace-time, so there were practical limits there. Since few rebels remained in one place for very long, no one could guess where they’d strike next.

Hostage-taking, the traditional means used to keep occupied populations in line, had the same effect as a bear swiping a hornet’s nest; it might have hurt the foe, but it drove them to great anger. For every German- soldier or civilian immigrant- killed, ten Frenchmen would die. Executions almost universally led to riots in which more Germans died; this led to yet more hostage-taking as the problem snowballed. Those who had done firing-squad duty found themselves especially loathed: in one case in Sedan, the brother of an executed hostage murdered one of the firing-squad members and cut the body up into nine pieces. The body parts were scattered around town, each with a word on a piece of paper attached. When put together, they formed the sentence C’est ce que tu as fait à ma sœur (This is what you did to my sister). Firing-squads suffered in other ways. Their victims were innocent and harmless, who had simply drawn the short straw. Killing them wasn’t war, it was murder. Many turned to drink to forget, still others couldn’t take it and killed themselves. By the end of 1921, the situation had gotten so out-of-hand that the governor-general of occupied France repealed the hostage-taking policy; if things went on like this for much longer, Germany would end up with a full-scale guerilla war and a high suicide rate on its hands.

The worst resistance came from those who followed the idea of “guerre totale”, or total war. These rebels had gone to war with Germany in 1914 and were still fighting in 1919. While their allies fought the German soldiers, this subgroup fought the German nation. German immigrants to the occupied zone were swine who lived fat at French expense, and they had to be driven out. Terrorism was a legitimate means to an end- after all, they asked rhetorically, how many French women and children had ended their lives staring at a firing squad? Nor were Germans across the border any safer- many diehard rebels slipped into Germany proper to plant home-made bombs in garbage cans or cars. Letter-bombs were a persistent problem; an average of three a month struck Germany in 1918 and 1919. This all killed ordinary Germans who had more in common with French civilians than Erich von Falkenhayn. Six-year-old boys died when the gum wrapper they threw into a public garbage can set off a bomb. Businessmen commuting from Stendal to Berlin died when their train derailed. Sixty people in Dusseldorf died when someone slipped something into the water supply. Few terrorists lost sleep over this. They were waging their private war against the occupiers, and to them that justified everything.

The most active rebel, Lucien Chanaris from Reims, sent his first letter-bomb to an elderly lady in Munich in June 1918 and murdered ten others in the next six months before founding the most prominent and least scrupulous rebel cell: le Comité du salut français (French Salvation Committee, CSF). (3) The CSF was the stuff of German nightmares. Prime Minister Ernst von Heydebrand was nearly killed by a CSF assassin in January 1920 while shortly thereafter the crown prince of Hesse was obliterated when his chauffeur turned the key in his limousine and triggered explosives. Despite not knowing what he looked like or what his voice sounded like, the average Frenchman in the occupied zone venerated Chanaris, viewing him as a Robin Hood-esque hero bravely striking against the occupiers. Their sufferings at German hands left them indifferent to pain inflicted on les Boches while they doubtless enjoyed watching the Germans squirm at yet another failure to catch him.

Aware that there was a massive price on his head- up to three million marks in the summer of 1921- Chanaris kept on the move, seldom sleeping in the same bed for two nights in a row. Even as dozens and then hundreds of people all across the occupied zone pledged themselves to his cause, only a handful knew his whereabouts at any given moment. The French terrorist was never photographed and all of his correspondence was done under a nom de guerre and in coded messages. Chanaris had almost no personal affects. The only picture German intelligence had of him was from his occupation identity card, which everybody over the age of twelve in the occupied zone had to carry.

The sole surviving photograph of Lucien Chanaris, taken in 1917 for his identity card. All other photographs were destroyed by a burglar in mid-1918.
vrailucien.jpg


However, Chanaris is not a total enigma to historians; surviving parts of his diary give us a clue as to what he believed. The word appearing most in the surviving fragments is not “France”, “Germany”, or “war”, but “Julie.” A German soldier had killed his wife, and Chanaris viewed every terrorist action as reprisal. “Nothing will be enough for her”, he wrote on 28 July 1922, “but I must try.” It’s clear from his writings that he knew how much pain he was visiting on innocent Germans and hints of remorse shine through, such as when he speaks of ‘the pain of knowing that even as I write, three or four men in Hamburg have had their lives ruined, have had done to them what I had done to me. And I know I am responsible. How many children will ask through their tears what happened to their parents, and the answer will be that they died because of Lucien Chanaris?’ A little armchair psychology suggests that Chanaris wasn’t a psychopath or a hardened killer, but someone who found in the causes of political violence and national liberation the emotional sustenance which he’d lost upon his wife’s death. This helps explain his actions, even if it doesn’t excuse them.

There were many reasons why Germany tolerated politically embarrassing peaceful protest, flickers of highly expensive low-level fighting, and terrorism costing them the lives of their own citizens for so long, all for the sake of controlling northern France.

Berlin coveted the economic treasure trove that was Northern France. Since Britain’s blockade in the Great War had led to severe coal shortages, the coal mines of Briey-Longwy and those near Lille were coveted to help ensure that such a thing could never recur. Similarly, a quarter of France’s pre-war steel production lay in the occupied sector. These resources would move Germany closer to the promised land of self-sufficiency (4); for example, one-third of the steel used on the Trans-Sahara Railway came from northern France. Selling them on the open market proved a viable source of hard currency and that certainly helped the German budget get through the difficult postwar years. Exploitation also took place on a much lower level, as German soldiers ‘requisitioned’ jewelry and other valuables but also pots, pans, and foodstuffs. While no one has ever conclusively studied the matter, it’s clear that the occupation of France generated enough revenue every year to be at least partially self-sustaining. Had the Germans been less efficient extorters, they might well have had to withdraw from northern France, which would have cost them dearly in international prestige.

Military factors went alongside economic ones. Germany’s strategists believed France had followed a policy of ‘strategic aggression’ going into the Great War; they’d even worked that phrase into the Treaty of Dresden. Defeat in 1871, this line of thought went, had enraged Paris and made them desire revenge, leading to their invasion of Alsace-Lorraine early in the war. While that had flopped, it had convinced Germany’s military elite that France was bent on destroying them. Such revanchism would only be strengthened by the defeat of 1916, and the General Staff fully expected a French thrust against their homeland in the next war. The swathe of land from Amiens to the 1914 border meant that such a battle would be fought on soil inhabited by Frenchmen, and the damage done would be no great loss to Germany.

Occupied France would carry on fighting its overlords in small ways, preparing for the day of liberation and making the occupier’s lives hell as best it could.

To the northwest, Belgium counted its blessings. The small kingdom had suffered greatly in the war; Germany had tossed aside promises to respect its neutrality, while its British benefactor hadn’t saved it. King Albert I ruled in exile from Ypres, only a handful of miles behind the few men who’d escaped their homeland. Germany’s victory at Third Ypres (5) had killed the last Belgian bastion, and King Leopold fled to London. His country and people were under hostile rule, and he fully expected the Kaiser to wipe them off the map. Albert almost refused to attend the Dresden Conference, asking “what difference does it make if I am in at the death?” but he decided the only honourable thing to do was to be there when the lights went out.

He was rather surprised by how the proceedings turned out.

Britain had gone to war with Germany over Belgium’s neutrality for a simple reason: having grey uniforms touch the English Channel would be a disaster. With Germany triumphant on the Continent, London needed to look out for its own interests first, and cut a deal with Germany: in exchange for Belgium’s continued independence, London would hand back most of Germany’s colonial empire (6) and throw France under the bus. Since one of Berlin’s great fears had been a collapse in negotiations leading to Britain carrying on the war and naval blockade from their island fortress, this came as a great relief.

Thus, King Albert got his country back.

Article 42 of the Treaty of Dresden confirmed Belgium’s neutrality; Article 43 promised that no power would be allowed to station troops in Belgium or cross Belgian territory without that country’s express permission. “The goal, really”, one Belgian parliamentarian remembered some years later, “was to make us into a Switzerland, a neutral buffer. Of course, people didn’t want to know how we felt about it!” Such is the fate of small countries sandwiched between Great Powers. David Lloyd George and his successor went out of their way to emphasise Belgium’s neutrality, and scrupulously followed a policy of ‘keeping the scales even’, as one of Lloyd George’s allies put it. This even extended to economic matters as London did its utmost to prevent Belgium’s economy from becoming too linked with Germany. The reason was simple: like an asteroid caught between two planets, Belgium was gravitating towards Berlin. Germany had shifted Belgium’s borders to suit its own interests by taking everything east of the Meuse River and annexing the Congo while compensating Belgium with the French Channel ports. The fortresses which had delayed the country’s conquest in 1914 were gone, and while Britain was on the other end of the Channel, nothing more than a river separated Belgium from Germany. For all of its proclaimed neutrality, Belgium had to pay more heed to the stronger nation to its east than the weaker one to its west. From Britain’s perspective, talking about ‘neutrality’ every time Belgium moved too close to Germany enabled them to fight German influence in the country while looking honest.

British fears were perfectly valid, for Berlin paid only lip service to Belgian ‘neutrality’. Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northwestern region of Belgium, had never quite felt at home under Brussels. Germany had tentatively backed Flemish independence during the war (7) to weaken the Belgian government-in-exile. Belgian neutrality at the point of a British bayonet meant that Germany had to support the cause more covertly, but they never stopped. Flemish nationalists Joris van Severen and August Borns (8) conferred with prominent Germans in Berlin in spring 1917. A year later, he detailed his proposals to King Albert (9). Belgium was to be made a dual monarchy a la prewar Austria-Hungary, with Flanders enjoying its own government and even military. The King privately mocked him, but van Severen had the last laugh. The war had transformed Belgium’s demographics; the Francophones east of the Meuse were gone, but the people of Pas-de-Calais now lay under Brussels. These people had spent their lives in France and felt no loyalty to the country Dresden had attached them to, while a good number spoke Flemish. Thus, when the 1919 elections came round many voted for the newly formed Calais Coalition. Liberals, conservatives, and even a few socialists all rubbed shoulders, united by one goal: their own regional interests. Refusing to enter any coalition, the local party won every seat in its home constituencies and none anywhere else. With their eastern constituencies under a foreign flag, the traditional Francophone parties were deprived of support, and the Flemish nationalist Frontpartij clenched 18% of the vote. (10) Belgium would spend the next two years governed by a coalition in which the Flemish were a junior partner and Calais ignored. Flanders would carry on as a part of the Kingdom of Belgium, but their nationalist dreams were far from dead as Germany- albeit peacefully- egged them on. Perhaps it is fortunate that Flemish independence failed. It is hard to see Britain responding well to a new, pro-German nation gaining hold over the Channel ports, and Europe in 1919 had seen enough of war.

Josias van Severen, the German-backed Flemish nationalist.
vanseveren.jpg


Despite all this, Brussels counted its blessings. Emerging from the war independent had been a miracle, and appeasing Germany was essential for national survival. Prime Minister Prosper Poullet’s (11) government affirmed that Belgium had no claim to its former eastern provinces and urged the people there to accept German rule. Poullet was a patriot, but recognised that bloodshed would only bring reprisals while ruining German-Belgian relations. The Prime Minister’s heart was in the right place, but the Belgian people were in no mood to listen. Had their leader forgotten how Germany had raped their country, stolen their empire, and smashed their families and cities? Poullet’s name became synonymous with treason, and a veteran assassinated him in January 1918. The assassins might’ve killed one man, but they couldn’t stop the forces of history. It was better for his countrymen across the Meuse to accept their fate and to live in peace as best as they could.

Unlike northern France, eastern Belgium transitioned rapidly to civilian rule, being annexed into Prussia in 1919. The people weren’t too keen on this- they were Belgians, not Prussians!- but faced a simple choice. Either they could accept being part of Prussia, or they could submit to another half-decade of martial law. German immigrants trickled in month-by-month. They mostly kept to their own neighbourhoods and were always a minority, but without them road signs wouldn’t have been changed to German and German wouldn’t have displaced French as the lingua franca in primary schools. Terrorism wasn’t as big an issue in Belgium as in France, largely because there were fewer Belgians in the area and the Brussels government, unlike Paris, discouraged such a thing. The generation born in the 1920s would grow up in a strange environment- raised by Belgian parents who tried to transmit that identity to their children, but living in a society which told them they were Germans. Their children, born in the 1940s and 1950s, would know no such confusion- they were as German as Kaiser Wilhelm III and IV. In the year 2021, the people of Lüttich- not Liege- and Baistun- not Bastogne- speak no more French than the people of Königsberg.

France and Belgium had both suffered during the Great War, but their paths in the postwar world diverged. Northern France looked to be trapped under the German boot forever, while Belgium east of the Meuse enjoyed nominal equality with the rest of the empire.


Comments?


(1) Very much a real person and one we might just hear from again...

(2) For my new readers: see chapter 17 and go from there.

(3) NOT to be confused with the Salvation Committee of France!

(4) Still impossible in this TL, albeit by a smaller margin than our world. For instance, Swedish iron ore is still indispensable.

(5) A different battle from OTL’s

(6) It’s all in chapter 13, but essentially Sudwestafrika and Kaiser Wilhelmsland were traded away.

(7) Much of this was in 1917 IOTL, so the butterflies strike.

(8) This gent. And his mate.

(9) More or less OTL.

(10) It was about six percent IOTL, but like I say, Calais is effectively invalidated and Wallonia has just been cut in half, so…

(11) He seems relatively pro-German and thus a reasonable choice…. but please correct me if I am wrong!
 
Last edited:
Great update.
The generation born in the 1920s would grow up in a strange environment- raised by Belgian parents who tried to transmit that identity to their children, but living in a society which told them they were Germans. Their children, born in the 1940s and 1950s, would know no such confusion- they were as German as Kaiser Wilhelm III and IV. In the year 2021, the people of Lüttich- not Liege- and Baistun- not Bastogne- speak no more French than the people of Königsberg.
I think it is finally confirmed that Germany wins the second round. I hope France wont get balkanized.
 
Great update.

I think it is finally confirmed that Germany wins the second round. I hope France wont get balkanized.
This is the sort of response I love!
Thank you very much for the kind words. I'm not going to say too much about GWII, but it's more or less an open secret that the German Empire, at least, survives. With regards to France's balkanisation or lack thereof, I leave you to speculate....
 
Interesting update, but I do wonder how long Occupied France can stay that way - at some point it's gotta transition to either a full brutal occupation such as that which brought down the Boer republics, or a more peaceful and civilian modus vivendi with the occasional terrorist only. Of course that may be only after the next war...
 
Chapter Forty: The West is Feldgrau
"In every bush a Frenchman, in every Frenchman's hand a gun. In every gun a bullet, in every German a hole."
-Attributed to Lucien Chanaris

"If this is what peace looks like- two dozen men killed and three bombs a month- then God help us when we face a war!"
-Kaiser Wilhelm II commenting on the unrest in occupied France

"Germany has cut our nation in twain. Our honour is besmirched. People of Belgium, never forget who you are. Our country and people will never be taken off the map!"
-Belgian Cardinal Desire-Joseph Mercier, fierce opponent of German rule, in 1919


Peace is a casualty of war.

The people of Belgium and northern France had lost peace in the autumn of 1914 and did not know if they would see it again. With his nation collapsing in 1916, Joseph Caillaux had faced a dilemma. Given a choice between continuing a ruinous war and sacrificing territory, Caillaux chose Scylla over Charybdis, amputating thousands of square miles to let the rest of France live.

Northern France was not a good place to be in the war's wake, as military rule carried on unchanged. The biggest difference was that in signing the Treaty of Dresden, Paris had agreed to the status quo, destroying hopes of liberation. Opinions towards the French government varied. Many assigned it a near-Messianic quality, dreaming of a war of liberation and confident that, as no father abandons his children, so they in the ‘lost provinces’ weren’t forgotten. Sympathetic patriotism seldom lasted. As 1917 turned into 1918 and people saw the German flag as opposed to la tricolour for the hundredth time, it suddenly sank in. There would be no liberation. Paris either couldn’t or wouldn’t move to free the lost provinces. The people of the occupation zone were on their own, with no one to protect them from the Kaiser’s every whim.

It didn’t take long for them to take matters into their own hands.

There was a reason Germany stationed as many soldiers in France during the quarter century after the war as during the conflict. Hope that the occupation would end soon and fear kept the locals down at first, but as those faded, so did their pacifism. Minor riots and protests broke out throughout 1919, none of which were especially well-organised. These were all nonviolent- the reasoning being that Germany would look far worse crushing peaceful protestors than dangerous rioters- and few got far. Since they were so decentralised, these protests had diverse goals: some clamoured for more substantial rations while others claimed, using well-thought-out arguments written by ex-lawyers, that the entire German occupation of northern France was illegal. Ironically, Germany took the former more seriously than the latter. Changes to the ration system were small enough to be feasible, which would send a powerful message to the people of the occupied zone. Neither protest nor international pressure would ever get the Germans to withdraw; thus, contempt was the best weapon there.

Another prominent source of resistance came from the clergy. The people of northern France were overwhelmingly Catholic, and many viewed rule by Protestants as an insult. Widespread fears of forced conversions had proven to be all so much talk, but priests criticised the occupiers wherever they could. Many a homily equated collaborators with Judas and his thirty pieces of silver or compared Kaiser Wilhelm II to the Babylonians, Herod, and various Roman emperors. The bishop of Lille, one Alexis-Armand Charost (1), called the occupation “uncharitable and unjust” and called on the people of his diocese to “do as our forefathers did in the catacombs, with the pagan world pressing in on every corner.” When questioned about this, he replied smoothly that he was merely calling on his people to keep the Faith, but he did nothing to criticise those who took his words as a green light to take up arms. His opposition to German rule didn’t mean Bishop Charost approved of the Paris government- he criticised the Republican government’s secularism, and hinted that a different French regime could well have won. When the Second French Revolution erupted in summer 1917, though, Bishop Charost reluctantly supported Paris.

“There are three evils of the world we face today. The least is Paul Deschanel and the republican government ruling over our brothers. Though they have lost the Faith and live in a secular realm, they are Frenchmen too and are waging a just battle to keep our homeland free from ‘varied and strange teachings’. Then, there are the Germans. The Kaiser is our new Caesar to whom we must render, even though his rule may not be in accordance with the objective laws of morality. While we must never let ourselves forget that we are Frenchmen no less than a man in Paris or Brest and must remind our occupiers of this at every turn, nor ought we to turn to sinful practises for the sake of France… Finally, there are these rebels, the French Worker’s Army, the Sorelians, or whatever you wish to call them. In no way can their atheistic ideology be approved. The people of this diocese and of all France must reject them with all their power, even to the extent of allying themselves with the German occupiers…”

Bishop Charost’s conduct pushed the envelope, and only three things kept him from arrest. For a start, he threw the occupiers the occasional bone, such as claiming that the people of the occupied zone had a duty to ‘render unto’ Kaiser Wilhelm. He always argued for passive resistance, not open revolt. Second, Charost criticised both sides of the French Civil War with nearly equal fervour, and the occupation authorities could cherry-pick statements of his and use them as a cudgel with which to beat Paris. Finally, arresting a holy bishop would have appalled collaborators and invited embarrassing condemnation from the Vatican. The Pope may have had few divisions, but no one could contest his soft power. Thus, Bishop Alexis-Armand Charost remained at his pulpit.

His Excellency Bishop Alexis-Armand Charost.
View attachment 625058

Their protests having failed, the French people moved to forms of resistance which didn’t exactly align with the teachings of the good Bishop and his Master.

The Nanzig Riots of June 19, 1920 was the first serious resistance to German rule. A fair number of Germans had immigrated there after the war, while many who’d spent their lives in the city had German ancestry and had emphasised that after the war. All this to say, when an ordinance proposing that all secondary education be in German was proposed, the city’s Frenchmen gathered en masse to protest. Things escalated as they proved billy clubs and tear gas ineffective; for three days much of Nanzig was out of control. The mob murdered seventeen German women and children; this pales next to the 102 French civilians and an unknown number of rioters who died in the fighting . Both sides screamed bloody murder at the other, but Germany continued to hold the guns and thus made the rules. The ring-leaders of the Nanzig Riots were summarily executed as a warning.

So ended the only great uprising against German rule during the Occupation period.

Germany’s unwilling subjects weren’t stupid. They were peasants and city-dwellers, not soldiers. Few weapons existed in the territory apart from elderly rifles and the traditional pitchforks- certainly nothing which could stand up to the German Army in combat. The enemy gradually grew more aware of nooks and crannies which might serve as hideouts, and they gradually inserted more informants and spies. The people may have loved their country- but not its new government (2)- but they wouldn’t throw their lives away without a chance of success. Resistance thus passed into gutters, back-rooms, and deep forests as people formed loose militias and cells. Few had more than a dozen people and none had the means for a full rebellion, but they all kept the flame burning. Supposedly loyal farmers lay in the bushes and fired at German convoys as they passed by; seldom did anyone survive to tell the tale, and so these people didn’t face justice. Locals undermined bridges in the dead of night and watched as they collapsed the next day, sending a platoon or cavalry squadron plunging to their deaths. When the Germans searched for the culprit, they protested innocence- surely, the tragedy must’ve been caused by a structural fault? There was no way to prove their guilt, and so German commanders usually opted not to make heads roll. The easiest way to prevent sabotage was to station more soldiers at key points on roads and rail lines, but manpower was a finite resource in peace-time, so there were practical limits there. Since few rebels remained in one place for very long, no one could guess where they’d strike next.

Hostage-taking, the traditional means used to keep occupied populations in line, had the same effect as a bear swiping a hornet’s nest; it might have hurt the foe, but it drove them to great anger. For every German- soldier or civilian immigrant- killed, ten Frenchmen would die. Executions almost universally led to riots in which more Germans died; this led to yet more hostage-taking as the problem snowballed. Those who had done firing-squad duty found themselves especially loathed: in one case in Sedan, the brother of an executed hostage murdered one of the firing-squad members and cut the body up into nine pieces. The body parts were scattered around town, each with a word on a piece of paper attached. When put together, they formed the sentence C’est ce que tu as fait à ma sœur (This is what you did to my sister). Firing-squads suffered in other ways. Their victims were innocent and harmless, who had simply drawn the short straw. Killing them wasn’t war, it was murder. Many turned to drink to forget, still others couldn’t take it and killed themselves. By the end of 1921, the situation had gotten so out-of-hand that the governor-general of occupied France repealed the hostage-taking policy; if things went on like this for much longer, Germany would end up with a full-scale guerilla war and a high suicide rate on its hands.

The worst resistance came from those who followed the idea of “guerre totale”, or total war. These rebels had gone to war with Germany in 1914 and were still fighting in 1919. While their allies fought the German soldiers, this subgroup fought the German nation. German immigrants to the occupied zone were swine who lived fat at French expense, and they had to be driven out. Terrorism was a legitimate means to an end- after all, they asked rhetorically, how many French women and children had ended their lives staring at a firing squad? Nor were Germans across the border any safer- many diehard rebels slipped into Germany proper to plant home-made bombs in garbage cans or cars. Letter-bombs were a persistent problem; an average of three a month struck Germany in 1918 and 1919. This all killed ordinary Germans who had more in common with French civilians than Erich von Falkenhayn. Six-year-old boys died when the gum wrapper they threw into a public garbage can set off a bomb. Businessmen commuting from Stendal to Berlin died when their train derailed. Sixty people in Dusseldorf died when someone slipped something into the water supply. Few terrorists lost sleep over this. They were waging their private war against the occupiers, and to them that justified everything.

The most active rebel, Lucien Chanaris from Reims, sent his first letter-bomb to an elderly lady in Munich in June 1918 and murdered ten others in the next six months before founding the most prominent and least scrupulous rebel cell: le Comité du salut français (French Salvation Committee, CSF). (3) The CSF was the stuff of German nightmares. Prime Minister Ernst von Heydebrand was nearly killed by a CSF assassin in January 1920 while shortly thereafter the crown prince of Hesse was obliterated when his chauffeur turned the key in his limousine and triggered explosives. Despite not knowing what he looked like or what his voice sounded like, the average Frenchman in the occupied zone venerated Chanaris, viewing him as a Robin Hood-esque hero bravely striking against the occupiers. Their sufferings at German hands left them indifferent to pain inflicted on les Boches while they doubtless enjoyed watching the Germans squirm at yet another failure to catch him.

Aware that there was a massive price on his head- up to three million marks in the summer of 1921- Chanaris kept on the move, seldom sleeping in the same bed for two nights in a row. Even as dozens and then hundreds of people all across the occupied zone pledged themselves to his cause, only a handful knew his whereabouts at any given moment. The French terrorist was never photographed and all of his correspondence was done under a nom de guerre and in coded messages. Chanaris had almost no personal affects. The only picture German intelligence had of him was from his occupation identity card, which everybody over the age of twelve in the occupied zone had to carry.

The sole surviving photograph of Lucien Chanaris, taken in 1917 for his identity card. All other photographs were destroyed by a burglar in mid-1918.
View attachment 625062

However, Chanaris is not a total enigma to historians; surviving parts of his diary give us a clue as to what he believed. The word appearing most in the surviving fragments is not “France”, “Germany”, or “war”, but “Julie.” A German soldier had killed his wife, and Chanaris viewed every terrorist action as reprisal. “Nothing will be enough for her”, he wrote on 28 July 1922, “but I must try.” It’s clear from his writings that he knew how much pain he was visiting on innocent Germans and hints of remorse shine through, such as when he speaks of ‘the pain of knowing that even as I write, three or four men in Hamburg have had their lives ruined, have had done to them what I had done to me. And I know I am responsible. How many children will ask through their tears what happened to their parents, and the answer will be that they died because of Lucien Chanaris?’ A little armchair psychology suggests that Chanaris wasn’t a psychopath or a hardened killer, but someone who found in the causes of political violence and national liberation the emotional sustenance which he’d lost upon his wife’s death. This helps explain his actions, even if it doesn’t excuse them.

There were many reasons why Germany tolerated politically embarrassing peaceful protest, flickers of highly expensive low-level fighting, and terrorism costing them the lives of their own citizens for so long, all for the sake of controlling northern France.

Berlin coveted the economic treasure trove that was Northern France. Since Britain’s blockade in the Great War had led to severe coal shortages, the coal mines of Briey-Longwy and those near Lille were coveted to help ensure that such a thing could never recur. Similarly, a quarter of France’s pre-war steel production lay in the occupied sector. These resources would move Germany closer to the promised land of self-sufficiency (4); for example, one-third of the steel used on the Trans-Sahara Railway came from northern France. Selling them on the open market proved a viable source of hard currency and that certainly helped the German budget get through the difficult postwar years. Exploitation also took place on a much lower level, as German soldiers ‘requisitioned’ jewelry and other valuables but also pots, pans, and foodstuffs. While no one has ever conclusively studied the matter, it’s clear that the occupation of France generated enough revenue every year to be at least partially self-sustaining. Had the Germans been less efficient extorters, they might well have had to withdraw from northern France, which would have cost them dearly in international prestige.

Military factors went alongside economic ones. Germany’s strategists believed France had followed a policy of ‘strategic aggression’ going into the Great War; they’d even worked that phrase into the Treaty of Dresden. Defeat in 1871, this line of thought went, had enraged Paris and made them desire revenge, leading to their invasion of Alsace-Lorraine early in the war. While that had flopped, it had convinced Germany’s military elite that France was bent on destroying them. Such revanchism would only be strengthened by the defeat of 1916, and the General Staff fully expected a French thrust against their homeland in the next war. The swathe of land from Amiens to the 1914 border meant that such a battle would be fought on soil inhabited by Frenchmen, and the damage done would be no great loss to Germany.

Occupied France would carry on fighting its overlords in small ways, preparing for the day of liberation and making the occupier’s lives hell as best it could.

To the northwest, Belgium counted its blessings. The small kingdom had suffered greatly in the war; Germany had tossed aside promises to respect its neutrality, while its British benefactor hadn’t saved it. King Albert I ruled in exile from Ypres, only a handful of miles behind the few men who’d escaped their homeland. Germany’s victory at Third Ypres (5) had killed the last Belgian bastion, and King Leopold fled to London. His country and people were under hostile rule, and he fully expected the Kaiser to wipe them off the map. Albert almost refused to attend the Dresden Conference, asking “what difference does it make if I am in at the death?” but he decided the only honourable thing to do was to be there when the lights went out.

He was rather surprised by how the proceedings turned out.

Britain had gone to war with Germany over Belgium’s neutrality for a simple reason: having grey uniforms touch the English Channel would be a disaster. With Germany triumphant on the Continent, London needed to look out for its own interests first, and cut a deal with Germany: in exchange for Belgium’s continued independence, London would hand back most of Germany’s colonial empire (6) and throw France under the bus. Since one of Berlin’s great fears had been a collapse in negotiations leading to Britain carrying on the war and naval blockade from their island fortress, this came as a great relief.

Thus, King Albert got his country back.

Article 42 of the Treaty of Dresden confirmed Belgium’s neutrality; Article 43 promised that no power would be allowed to station troops in Belgium or cross Belgian territory without that country’s express permission. “The goal, really”, one Belgian parliamentarian remembered some years later, “was to make us into a Switzerland, a neutral buffer. Of course, people didn’t want to know how we felt about it!” Such is the fate of small countries sandwiched between Great Powers. David Lloyd George and his successor went out of their way to emphasise Belgium’s neutrality, and scrupulously followed a policy of ‘keeping the scales even’, as one of Lloyd George’s allies put it. This even extended to economic matters as London did its utmost to prevent Belgium’s economy from becoming too linked with Germany. The reason was simple: like an asteroid caught between two planets, Belgium was gravitating towards Berlin. Germany had shifted Belgium’s borders to suit its own interests by taking everything east of the Meuse River and annexing the Congo while compensating Belgium with the French Channel ports. The fortresses which had delayed the country’s conquest in 1914 were gone, and while Britain was on the other end of the Channel, nothing more than a river separated Belgium from Germany. For all of its proclaimed neutrality, Belgium had to pay more heed to the stronger nation to its east than the weaker one to its west. From Britain’s perspective, talking about ‘neutrality’ every time Belgium moved too close to Germany enabled them to fight German influence in the country while looking honest.

British fears were perfectly valid, for Berlin paid only lip service to Belgian ‘neutrality’. Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northwestern region of Belgium, had never quite felt at home under Brussels. Germany had tentatively backed Flemish independence during the war (7) to weaken the Belgian government-in-exile. Belgian neutrality at the point of a British bayonet meant that Germany had to support the cause more covertly, but they never stopped. Flemish nationalists Joris van Severen and August Borns (8) conferred with prominent Germans in Berlin in spring 1917. A year later, he detailed his proposals to King Albert (9). Belgium was to be made a dual monarchy a la prewar Austria-Hungary, with Flanders enjoying its own government and even military. The King privately mocked him, but van Severen had the last laugh. The war had transformed Belgium’s demographics; the Francophones east of the Meuse were gone, but the people of Pas-de-Calais now lay under Brussels. These people had spent their lives in France and felt no loyalty to the country Dresden had attached them to, while a good number spoke Flemish. Thus, when the 1919 elections came round many voted for the newly formed Calais Coalition. Liberals, conservatives, and even a few socialists all rubbed shoulders, united by one goal: their own regional interests. Refusing to enter any coalition, the local party won every seat in its home constituencies and none anywhere else. With their eastern constituencies under a foreign flag, the traditional Francophone parties were deprived of support, and the Flemish nationalist Frontpartij clenched 18% of the vote. (10) Belgium would spend the next two years governed by a coalition in which the Flemish were a junior partner and Calais ignored. Flanders would carry on as a part of the Kingdom of Belgium, but their nationalist dreams were far from dead as Germany- albeit peacefully- egged them on. Perhaps it is fortunate that Flemish independence failed. It is hard to see Britain responding well to a new, pro-German nation gaining hold over the Channel ports, and Europe in 1919 had seen enough of war.

Josias van Severen, the German-backed Flemish nationalist.
View attachment 625063

Despite all this, Brussels counted its blessings. Emerging from the war independent had been a miracle, and appeasing Germany was essential for national survival. Prime Minister Prosper Poullet’s (11) government affirmed that Belgium had no claim to its former eastern provinces and urged the people there to accept German rule. Poullet was a patriot, but recognised that bloodshed would only bring reprisals while ruining German-Belgian relations. The Prime Minister’s heart was in the right place, but the Belgian people were in no mood to listen. Had their leader forgotten how Germany had raped their country, stolen their empire, and smashed their families and cities? Poullet’s name became synonymous with treason, and a veteran assassinated him in January 1918. The assassins might’ve killed one man, but they couldn’t stop the forces of history. It was better for his countrymen across the Meuse to accept their fate and to live in peace as best as they could.

Unlike northern France, eastern Belgium transitioned rapidly to civilian rule, being annexed into Prussia in 1919. The people weren’t too keen on this- they were Belgians, not Prussians!- but faced a simple choice. Either they could accept being part of Prussia, or they could submit to another half-decade of martial law. German immigrants trickled in month-by-month. They mostly kept to their own neighbourhoods and were always a minority, but without them road signs wouldn’t have been changed to German and German wouldn’t have displaced French as the lingua franca in primary schools. Terrorism wasn’t as big an issue in Belgium as in France, largely because there were fewer Belgians in the area and the Brussels government, unlike Paris, discouraged such a thing. The generation born in the 1920s would grow up in a strange environment- raised by Belgian parents who tried to transmit that identity to their children, but living in a society which told them they were Germans. Their children, born in the 1940s and 1950s, would know no such confusion- they were as German as Kaiser Wilhelm III and IV. In the year 2021, the people of Lüttich- not Liege- and Baistun- not Bastogne- speak no more French than the people of Königsberg.

France and Belgium had both suffered during the Great War, but their paths in the postwar world diverged. Northern France looked to be trapped under the German boot forever, while Belgium east of the Meuse enjoyed nominal equality with the rest of the empire.


Comments?


(1) Very much a real person and one we might just hear from again...

(2) For my new readers: see chapter 17 and go from there.

(3) NOT to be confused with the Salvation Committee of France!

(4) Still impossible in this TL, albeit by a smaller margin than our world. For instance, Swedish iron ore is still indispensable.

(5) A different battle from OTL’s

(6) It’s all in chapter 13, but essentially Sudwestafrika and Kaiser Wilhelmsland were traded away.

(7) Much of this was in 1917 IOTL, so the butterflies strike.

(8) This gent. And his mate.

(9) More or less OTL.

(10) It was about six percent IOTL, but like I say, Calais is effectively invalidated and Wallonia has just been cut in half, so…

(11) He seems relatively pro-German and thus a reasonable choice…. but please

Chapter Forty: The West is Feldgrau
"In every bush a Frenchman, in every Frenchman's hand a gun. In every gun a bullet, in every German a hole."
-Attributed to Lucien Chanaris

"If this is what peace looks like- two dozen men killed and three bombs a month- then God help us when we face a war!"
-Kaiser Wilhelm II commenting on the unrest in occupied France

"Germany has cut our nation in twain. Our honour is besmirched. People of Belgium, never forget who you are. Our country and people will never be taken off the map!"
-Belgian Cardinal Desire-Joseph Mercier, fierce opponent of German rule, in 1919


Peace is a casualty of war.

The people of Belgium and northern France had lost peace in the autumn of 1914 and did not know if they would see it again. With his nation collapsing in 1916, Joseph Caillaux had faced a dilemma. Given a choice between continuing a ruinous war and sacrificing territory, Caillaux chose Scylla over Charybdis, amputating thousands of square miles to let the rest of France live.

Northern France was not a good place to be in the war's wake, as military rule carried on unchanged. The biggest difference was that in signing the Treaty of Dresden, Paris had agreed to the status quo, destroying hopes of liberation. Opinions towards the French government varied. Many assigned it a near-Messianic quality, dreaming of a war of liberation and confident that, as no father abandons his children, so they in the ‘lost provinces’ weren’t forgotten. Sympathetic patriotism seldom lasted. As 1917 turned into 1918 and people saw the German flag as opposed to la tricolour for the hundredth time, it suddenly sank in. There would be no liberation. Paris either couldn’t or wouldn’t move to free the lost provinces. The people of the occupation zone were on their own, with no one to protect them from the Kaiser’s every whim.

It didn’t take long for them to take matters into their own hands.

There was a reason Germany stationed as many soldiers in France during the quarter century after the war as during the conflict. Hope that the occupation would end soon and fear kept the locals down at first, but as those faded, so did their pacifism. Minor riots and protests broke out throughout 1919, none of which were especially well-organised. These were all nonviolent- the reasoning being that Germany would look far worse crushing peaceful protestors than dangerous rioters- and few got far. Since they were so decentralised, these protests had diverse goals: some clamoured for more substantial rations while others claimed, using well-thought-out arguments written by ex-lawyers, that the entire German occupation of northern France was illegal. Ironically, Germany took the former more seriously than the latter. Changes to the ration system were small enough to be feasible, which would send a powerful message to the people of the occupied zone. Neither protest nor international pressure would ever get the Germans to withdraw; thus, contempt was the best weapon there.

Another prominent source of resistance came from the clergy. The people of northern France were overwhelmingly Catholic, and many viewed rule by Protestants as an insult. Widespread fears of forced conversions had proven to be all so much talk, but priests criticised the occupiers wherever they could. Many a homily equated collaborators with Judas and his thirty pieces of silver or compared Kaiser Wilhelm II to the Babylonians, Herod, and various Roman emperors. The bishop of Lille, one Alexis-Armand Charost (1), called the occupation “uncharitable and unjust” and called on the people of his diocese to “do as our forefathers did in the catacombs, with the pagan world pressing in on every corner.” When questioned about this, he replied smoothly that he was merely calling on his people to keep the Faith, but he did nothing to criticise those who took his words as a green light to take up arms. His opposition to German rule didn’t mean Bishop Charost approved of the Paris government- he criticised the Republican government’s secularism, and hinted that a different French regime could well have won. When the Second French Revolution erupted in summer 1917, though, Bishop Charost reluctantly supported Paris.

“There are three evils of the world we face today. The least is Paul Deschanel and the republican government ruling over our brothers. Though they have lost the Faith and live in a secular realm, they are Frenchmen too and are waging a just battle to keep our homeland free from ‘varied and strange teachings’. Then, there are the Germans. The Kaiser is our new Caesar to whom we must render, even though his rule may not be in accordance with the objective laws of morality. While we must never let ourselves forget that we are Frenchmen no less than a man in Paris or Brest and must remind our occupiers of this at every turn, nor ought we to turn to sinful practises for the sake of France… Finally, there are these rebels, the French Worker’s Army, the Sorelians, or whatever you wish to call them. In no way can their atheistic ideology be approved. The people of this diocese and of all France must reject them with all their power, even to the extent of allying themselves with the German occupiers…”

Bishop Charost’s conduct pushed the envelope, and only three things kept him from arrest. For a start, he threw the occupiers the occasional bone, such as claiming that the people of the occupied zone had a duty to ‘render unto’ Kaiser Wilhelm. He always argued for passive resistance, not open revolt. Second, Charost criticised both sides of the French Civil War with nearly equal fervour, and the occupation authorities could cherry-pick statements of his and use them as a cudgel with which to beat Paris. Finally, arresting a holy bishop would have appalled collaborators and invited embarrassing condemnation from the Vatican. The Pope may have had few divisions, but no one could contest his soft power. Thus, Bishop Alexis-Armand Charost remained at his pulpit.

His Excellency Bishop Alexis-Armand Charost.
View attachment 625058

Their protests having failed, the French people moved to forms of resistance which didn’t exactly align with the teachings of the good Bishop and his Master.

The Nanzig Riots of June 19, 1920 was the first serious resistance to German rule. A fair number of Germans had immigrated there after the war, while many who’d spent their lives in the city had German ancestry and had emphasised that after the war. All this to say, when an ordinance proposing that all secondary education be in German was proposed, the city’s Frenchmen gathered en masse to protest. Things escalated as they proved billy clubs and tear gas ineffective; for three days much of Nanzig was out of control. The mob murdered seventeen German women and children; this pales next to the 102 French civilians and an unknown number of rioters who died in the fighting . Both sides screamed bloody murder at the other, but Germany continued to hold the guns and thus made the rules. The ring-leaders of the Nanzig Riots were summarily executed as a warning.

So ended the only great uprising against German rule during the Occupation period.

Germany’s unwilling subjects weren’t stupid. They were peasants and city-dwellers, not soldiers. Few weapons existed in the territory apart from elderly rifles and the traditional pitchforks- certainly nothing which could stand up to the German Army in combat. The enemy gradually grew more aware of nooks and crannies which might serve as hideouts, and they gradually inserted more informants and spies. The people may have loved their country- but not its new government (2)- but they wouldn’t throw their lives away without a chance of success. Resistance thus passed into gutters, back-rooms, and deep forests as people formed loose militias and cells. Few had more than a dozen people and none had the means for a full rebellion, but they all kept the flame burning. Supposedly loyal farmers lay in the bushes and fired at German convoys as they passed by; seldom did anyone survive to tell the tale, and so these people didn’t face justice. Locals undermined bridges in the dead of night and watched as they collapsed the next day, sending a platoon or cavalry squadron plunging to their deaths. When the Germans searched for the culprit, they protested innocence- surely, the tragedy must’ve been caused by a structural fault? There was no way to prove their guilt, and so German commanders usually opted not to make heads roll. The easiest way to prevent sabotage was to station more soldiers at key points on roads and rail lines, but manpower was a finite resource in peace-time, so there were practical limits there. Since few rebels remained in one place for very long, no one could guess where they’d strike next.

Hostage-taking, the traditional means used to keep occupied populations in line, had the same effect as a bear swiping a hornet’s nest; it might have hurt the foe, but it drove them to great anger. For every German- soldier or civilian immigrant- killed, ten Frenchmen would die. Executions almost universally led to riots in which more Germans died; this led to yet more hostage-taking as the problem snowballed. Those who had done firing-squad duty found themselves especially loathed: in one case in Sedan, the brother of an executed hostage murdered one of the firing-squad members and cut the body up into nine pieces. The body parts were scattered around town, each with a word on a piece of paper attached. When put together, they formed the sentence C’est ce que tu as fait à ma sœur (This is what you did to my sister). Firing-squads suffered in other ways. Their victims were innocent and harmless, who had simply drawn the short straw. Killing them wasn’t war, it was murder. Many turned to drink to forget, still others couldn’t take it and killed themselves. By the end of 1921, the situation had gotten so out-of-hand that the governor-general of occupied France repealed the hostage-taking policy; if things went on like this for much longer, Germany would end up with a full-scale guerilla war and a high suicide rate on its hands.

The worst resistance came from those who followed the idea of “guerre totale”, or total war. These rebels had gone to war with Germany in 1914 and were still fighting in 1919. While their allies fought the German soldiers, this subgroup fought the German nation. German immigrants to the occupied zone were swine who lived fat at French expense, and they had to be driven out. Terrorism was a legitimate means to an end- after all, they asked rhetorically, how many French women and children had ended their lives staring at a firing squad? Nor were Germans across the border any safer- many diehard rebels slipped into Germany proper to plant home-made bombs in garbage cans or cars. Letter-bombs were a persistent problem; an average of three a month struck Germany in 1918 and 1919. This all killed ordinary Germans who had more in common with French civilians than Erich von Falkenhayn. Six-year-old boys died when the gum wrapper they threw into a public garbage can set off a bomb. Businessmen commuting from Stendal to Berlin died when their train derailed. Sixty people in Dusseldorf died when someone slipped something into the water supply. Few terrorists lost sleep over this. They were waging their private war against the occupiers, and to them that justified everything.

The most active rebel, Lucien Chanaris from Reims, sent his first letter-bomb to an elderly lady in Munich in June 1918 and murdered ten others in the next six months before founding the most prominent and least scrupulous rebel cell: le Comité du salut français (French Salvation Committee, CSF). (3) The CSF was the stuff of German nightmares. Prime Minister Ernst von Heydebrand was nearly killed by a CSF assassin in January 1920 while shortly thereafter the crown prince of Hesse was obliterated when his chauffeur turned the key in his limousine and triggered explosives. Despite not knowing what he looked like or what his voice sounded like, the average Frenchman in the occupied zone venerated Chanaris, viewing him as a Robin Hood-esque hero bravely striking against the occupiers. Their sufferings at German hands left them indifferent to pain inflicted on les Boches while they doubtless enjoyed watching the Germans squirm at yet another failure to catch him.

Aware that there was a massive price on his head- up to three million marks in the summer of 1921- Chanaris kept on the move, seldom sleeping in the same bed for two nights in a row. Even as dozens and then hundreds of people all across the occupied zone pledged themselves to his cause, only a handful knew his whereabouts at any given moment. The French terrorist was never photographed and all of his correspondence was done under a nom de guerre and in coded messages. Chanaris had almost no personal affects. The only picture German intelligence had of him was from his occupation identity card, which everybody over the age of twelve in the occupied zone had to carry.

The sole surviving photograph of Lucien Chanaris, taken in 1917 for his identity card. All other photographs were destroyed by a burglar in mid-1918.
View attachment 625062

However, Chanaris is not a total enigma to historians; surviving parts of his diary give us a clue as to what he believed. The word appearing most in the surviving fragments is not “France”, “Germany”, or “war”, but “Julie.” A German soldier had killed his wife, and Chanaris viewed every terrorist action as reprisal. “Nothing will be enough for her”, he wrote on 28 July 1922, “but I must try.” It’s clear from his writings that he knew how much pain he was visiting on innocent Germans and hints of remorse shine through, such as when he speaks of ‘the pain of knowing that even as I write, three or four men in Hamburg have had their lives ruined, have had done to them what I had done to me. And I know I am responsible. How many children will ask through their tears what happened to their parents, and the answer will be that they died because of Lucien Chanaris?’ A little armchair psychology suggests that Chanaris wasn’t a psychopath or a hardened killer, but someone who found in the causes of political violence and national liberation the emotional sustenance which he’d lost upon his wife’s death. This helps explain his actions, even if it doesn’t excuse them.

There were many reasons why Germany tolerated politically embarrassing peaceful protest, flickers of highly expensive low-level fighting, and terrorism costing them the lives of their own citizens for so long, all for the sake of controlling northern France.

Berlin coveted the economic treasure trove that was Northern France. Since Britain’s blockade in the Great War had led to severe coal shortages, the coal mines of Briey-Longwy and those near Lille were coveted to help ensure that such a thing could never recur. Similarly, a quarter of France’s pre-war steel production lay in the occupied sector. These resources would move Germany closer to the promised land of self-sufficiency (4); for example, one-third of the steel used on the Trans-Sahara Railway came from northern France. Selling them on the open market proved a viable source of hard currency and that certainly helped the German budget get through the difficult postwar years. Exploitation also took place on a much lower level, as German soldiers ‘requisitioned’ jewelry and other valuables but also pots, pans, and foodstuffs. While no one has ever conclusively studied the matter, it’s clear that the occupation of France generated enough revenue every year to be at least partially self-sustaining. Had the Germans been less efficient extorters, they might well have had to withdraw from northern France, which would have cost them dearly in international prestige.

Military factors went alongside economic ones. Germany’s strategists believed France had followed a policy of ‘strategic aggression’ going into the Great War; they’d even worked that phrase into the Treaty of Dresden. Defeat in 1871, this line of thought went, had enraged Paris and made them desire revenge, leading to their invasion of Alsace-Lorraine early in the war. While that had flopped, it had convinced Germany’s military elite that France was bent on destroying them. Such revanchism would only be strengthened by the defeat of 1916, and the General Staff fully expected a French thrust against their homeland in the next war. The swathe of land from Amiens to the 1914 border meant that such a battle would be fought on soil inhabited by Frenchmen, and the damage done would be no great loss to Germany.

Occupied France would carry on fighting its overlords in small ways, preparing for the day of liberation and making the occupier’s lives hell as best it could.

To the northwest, Belgium counted its blessings. The small kingdom had suffered greatly in the war; Germany had tossed aside promises to respect its neutrality, while its British benefactor hadn’t saved it. King Albert I ruled in exile from Ypres, only a handful of miles behind the few men who’d escaped their homeland. Germany’s victory at Third Ypres (5) had killed the last Belgian bastion, and King Leopold fled to London. His country and people were under hostile rule, and he fully expected the Kaiser to wipe them off the map. Albert almost refused to attend the Dresden Conference, asking “what difference does it make if I am in at the death?” but he decided the only honourable thing to do was to be there when the lights went out.

He was rather surprised by how the proceedings turned out.

Britain had gone to war with Germany over Belgium’s neutrality for a simple reason: having grey uniforms touch the English Channel would be a disaster. With Germany triumphant on the Continent, London needed to look out for its own interests first, and cut a deal with Germany: in exchange for Belgium’s continued independence, London would hand back most of Germany’s colonial empire (6) and throw France under the bus. Since one of Berlin’s great fears had been a collapse in negotiations leading to Britain carrying on the war and naval blockade from their island fortress, this came as a great relief.

Thus, King Albert got his country back.

Article 42 of the Treaty of Dresden confirmed Belgium’s neutrality; Article 43 promised that no power would be allowed to station troops in Belgium or cross Belgian territory without that country’s express permission. “The goal, really”, one Belgian parliamentarian remembered some years later, “was to make us into a Switzerland, a neutral buffer. Of course, people didn’t want to know how we felt about it!” Such is the fate of small countries sandwiched between Great Powers. David Lloyd George and his successor went out of their way to emphasise Belgium’s neutrality, and scrupulously followed a policy of ‘keeping the scales even’, as one of Lloyd George’s allies put it. This even extended to economic matters as London did its utmost to prevent Belgium’s economy from becoming too linked with Germany. The reason was simple: like an asteroid caught between two planets, Belgium was gravitating towards Berlin. Germany had shifted Belgium’s borders to suit its own interests by taking everything east of the Meuse River and annexing the Congo while compensating Belgium with the French Channel ports. The fortresses which had delayed the country’s conquest in 1914 were gone, and while Britain was on the other end of the Channel, nothing more than a river separated Belgium from Germany. For all of its proclaimed neutrality, Belgium had to pay more heed to the stronger nation to its east than the weaker one to its west. From Britain’s perspective, talking about ‘neutrality’ every time Belgium moved too close to Germany enabled them to fight German influence in the country while looking honest.

British fears were perfectly valid, for Berlin paid only lip service to Belgian ‘neutrality’. Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northwestern region of Belgium, had never quite felt at home under Brussels. Germany had tentatively backed Flemish independence during the war (7) to weaken the Belgian government-in-exile. Belgian neutrality at the point of a British bayonet meant that Germany had to support the cause more covertly, but they never stopped. Flemish nationalists Joris van Severen and August Borns (8) conferred with prominent Germans in Berlin in spring 1917. A year later, he detailed his proposals to King Albert (9). Belgium was to be made a dual monarchy a la prewar Austria-Hungary, with Flanders enjoying its own government and even military. The King privately mocked him, but van Severen had the last laugh. The war had transformed Belgium’s demographics; the Francophones east of the Meuse were gone, but the people of Pas-de-Calais now lay under Brussels. These people had spent their lives in France and felt no loyalty to the country Dresden had attached them to, while a good number spoke Flemish. Thus, when the 1919 elections came round many voted for the newly formed Calais Coalition. Liberals, conservatives, and even a few socialists all rubbed shoulders, united by one goal: their own regional interests. Refusing to enter any coalition, the local party won every seat in its home constituencies and none anywhere else. With their eastern constituencies under a foreign flag, the traditional Francophone parties were deprived of support, and the Flemish nationalist Frontpartij clenched 18% of the vote. (10) Belgium would spend the next two years governed by a coalition in which the Flemish were a junior partner and Calais ignored. Flanders would carry on as a part of the Kingdom of Belgium, but their nationalist dreams were far from dead as Germany- albeit peacefully- egged them on. Perhaps it is fortunate that Flemish independence failed. It is hard to see Britain responding well to a new, pro-German nation gaining hold over the Channel ports, and Europe in 1919 had seen enough of war.

Josias van Severen, the German-backed Flemish nationalist.
View attachment 625063

Despite all this, Brussels counted its blessings. Emerging from the war independent had been a miracle, and appeasing Germany was essential for national survival. Prime Minister Prosper Poullet’s (11) government affirmed that Belgium had no claim to its former eastern provinces and urged the people there to accept German rule. Poullet was a patriot, but recognised that bloodshed would only bring reprisals while ruining German-Belgian relations. The Prime Minister’s heart was in the right place, but the Belgian people were in no mood to listen. Had their leader forgotten how Germany had raped their country, stolen their empire, and smashed their families and cities? Poullet’s name became synonymous with treason, and a veteran assassinated him in January 1918. The assassins might’ve killed one man, but they couldn’t stop the forces of history. It was better for his countrymen across the Meuse to accept their fate and to live in peace as best as they could.

Unlike northern France, eastern Belgium transitioned rapidly to civilian rule, being annexed into Prussia in 1919. The people weren’t too keen on this- they were Belgians, not Prussians!- but faced a simple choice. Either they could accept being part of Prussia, or they could submit to another half-decade of martial law. German immigrants trickled in month-by-month. They mostly kept to their own neighbourhoods and were always a minority, but without them road signs wouldn’t have been changed to German and German wouldn’t have displaced French as the lingua franca in primary schools. Terrorism wasn’t as big an issue in Belgium as in France, largely because there were fewer Belgians in the area and the Brussels government, unlike Paris, discouraged such a thing. The generation born in the 1920s would grow up in a strange environment- raised by Belgian parents who tried to transmit that identity to their children, but living in a society which told them they were Germans. Their children, born in the 1940s and 1950s, would know no such confusion- they were as German as Kaiser Wilhelm III and IV. In the year 2021, the people of Lüttich- not Liege- and Baistun- not Bastogne- speak no more French than the people of Königsberg.

France and Belgium had both suffered during the Great War, but their paths in the postwar world diverged. Northern France looked to be trapped under the German boot forever, while Belgium east of the Meuse enjoyed nominal equality with the rest of the empire.


Comments?


(1) Very much a real person and one we might just hear from again...

(2) For my new readers: see chapter 17 and go from there.

(3) NOT to be confused with the Salvation Committee of France!

(4) Still impossible in this TL, albeit by a smaller margin than our world. For instance, Swedish iron ore is still indispensable.

(5) A different battle from OTL’s

(6) It’s all in chapter 13, but essentially Sudwestafrika and Kaiser Wilhelmsland were traded away.

(7) Much of this was in 1917 IOTL, so the butterflies strike.

(8) This gent. And his mate.

(9) More or less OTL.

(10) It was about six percent IOTL, but like I say, Calais is effectively invalidated and Wallonia has just been cut in half, so…

(11) He seems relatively pro-German and thus a reasonable choice…. but please correct me if I am wrong!
When are you going to write on Austria - Hungary, I really want to see Austria's vengeance
correc
 
Does Lucien Chanaris end up getting caught at some point?
I don't think so, no. I see him as managing to dodge death time and again until he dies or flees abroad... but what do you think?
Somebody has looked at the bright side of live (annotation 3)
Quite. :)
Interesting update, but I do wonder how long Occupied France can stay that way - at some point it's gotta transition to either a full brutal occupation such as that which brought down the Boer republics, or a more peaceful and civilian modus vivendi with the occasional terrorist only. Of course that may be only after the next war...
I'd say we're already at 'full brutal occupation'. Relations between the two sides are awful and look to stay that way for a long time. There are too many disgruntled Frenchmen for Germanisation en masse. As the Kaiser's fictitious quote hinted, Germany really has a mess on its hands here.

@Freshest11212 , the system won't let me quote your post for some reason. Here's my public service announcement of a few days back:
IRL, Lent is fast approaching, and I've decided to give up something I really care about as opposed to chocolate or whatever. I will be fishing between 17 February (Ash Wednesday) and 3 April, and we will get back to the narrative on Easter Sunday with the liberation of Vienna.
It will be a long update and hopefully worth the wait!
 
That mention of the differences between the generations of former East Belgium in the 20s and those of the 40s onwards, makes me suspect something nasty went down in the 30s. Especially since there's an ominous lack of mention of that decade. Something that made them drop any lingering Francophone sympathies, and to completely embrace their new German identity instead.
 
That mention of the differences between the generations of former East Belgium in the 20s and those of the 40s onwards, makes me suspect something nasty went down in the 30s. Especially since there's an ominous lack of mention of that decade. Something that made them drop any lingering Francophone sympathies, and to completely embrace their new German identity instead.
cackles evilly
Very perceptive of you as always, Jaenera. Yes, Belgium is going to go through something very traumatic which will make a lot of people question where their loyalties ought to lie. That said, it won't be a Holocaust-level of insanity and more traditional factors will play a part; Berlin wants to foster immigration to eastern Belgium, and the Walloons there will be 'drowned out', almost. But like I said in the update, by the 50s the people there are, well, Germans.
 
cackles evilly
Very perceptive of you as always, Jaenera. Yes, Belgium is going to go through something very traumatic which will make a lot of people question where their loyalties ought to lie. That said, it won't be a Holocaust-level of insanity and more traditional factors will play a part; Berlin wants to foster immigration to eastern Belgium, and the Walloons there will be 'drowned out', almost. But like I said in the update, by the 50s the people there are, well, Germans.
I'm guessing Antwerp won't be in good enough shape to host the 1920 Olympics then. Or maybe the will?
 
I'm guessing Antwerp won't be in good enough shape to host the 1920 Olympics then. Or maybe the will?
They might be, at least I think so. Antwerp is in Flanders, after all, and from the sound of things, the Flemish seem to be less antagonistic to the Germans after the war, and have a large stake in the current Belgian government. Enough that they could push for at least economic rapprochement with Germany, with the next two years allowing Antwerp to be ready for the Olympics.

EDIT: If they can't become pro-German independent once/if Belgium falls apart, can't Flanders just go back to the Netherlands? I mean, the Flemish are/were Dutch, aren't they? Sure, it'll disappoint Kaiser Bill, but he's got no real beef with the Dutch, so I don't see him really opposing it either.
 
Last edited:
Top