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If there's any place in Africa that might get more than passing notice from Japan, it's Ethiopia. And even then, it's less that Japan would want to colonize it, as much as they'd want to partner with the Solomonic Dynasty in modernizing the country. IOTL, there were even plans for a dynastic marriage between one of Haile Selassie's sons and a Japanese noblewoman, only for those plans to come crashing down with the Italian invasion. And even with the growing alignment between what would later become the Axis, it caused quite the diplomatic stink between Imperial Japan and Fascist Italy.
What were their names or was this just an idea being floated?
If there's any place in Africa that might get more than passing notice from Japan, it's Ethiopia. And even then, it's less that Japan would want to colonize it, as much as they'd want to partner with the Solomonic Dynasty in modernizing the country. IOTL, there were even plans for a dynastic marriage between one of Haile Selassie's sons and a Japanese noblewoman, only for those plans to come crashing down with the Italian invasion. And even with the growing alignment between what would later become the Axis, it caused quite the diplomatic stink between Imperial Japan and Fascist Italy.
Hmm... interesting idea. I'll give it a think
If there's any place in Africa that might get more than passing notice from Japan, it's Ethiopia. And even then, it's less that Japan would want to colonize it, as much as they'd want to partner with the Solomonic Dynasty in modernizing the country. IOTL, there were even plans for a dynastic marriage between one of Haile Selassie's sons and a Japanese noblewoman, only for those plans to come crashing down with the Italian invasion. And even with the growing alignment between what would later become the Axis, it caused quite the diplomatic stink between Imperial Japan and Fascist Italy.

And just like that I learned something new today cool
Come to think of it, who is President of France right now? All the dramatis personae we have of France right now are prime ministers, generals, mayors, and revolutionary demagogues.
Chapter 23: The Rise of Dictator Deschanel and the Fall of Montbard
Chapter Twenty-Three: The Rise of Dictator Deschanel and the Fall of Montbard

"Congratulations. We have ourselves a dictator. Let us hope that he may do his work efficiently- it would mean we have not surrendered our liberties for nothing."
French leftist politician Leon Blum commenting on Emergency Powers Act #3

"A single spark in a dry plain can, if not snuffed out immediately, start a great fire, one from which there can be no escape..."

"In passing Emergency Regulations Act #3, Paul Deschanel had destroyed his reputation, both amongst his contemporaries and posterity. For although the Third Republic would not be ejected from the mainland until 1918, in practice it was killed by this act. Deschanel was now supreme master of all France, free to stand on the population and comb as thoroughly as he wished for signs of disloyalty- and it did him no good."
Irish historian Robert FitzGerald, The Great War for Civilisation (1998)

Paul Deschanel was disappointed in himself. When his colleagues had proposed him as an emergency Prime Minister, visions of glory had flashed before his eyes. He wanted to be remembered as the man who haved France from destruction. With incompetent predecessors having lost the Great War and led to a socialist revolution, the country was tottering on the brink of ruin. But, he had vowed to himself, he would be different! He would crush the Dijon rebels, restore the economy, and France put on a stable track. As a French patriot and a strong-willed man, Deschanel had taken this as a personal mission. Thus, he viewed his inability to stamp out the rebellion as more than a serious setback- Deschanel considered it to be a personal insult. This sense of being snubbed would lead to a certain anger and impulsiveness from the French Prime Minister in the last weeks of 1917, leading him to make decisions that would come back to haunt him.

As chronicled previously, Deschanel’s greatest fear was of a popular uprising. No one knew exactly how the Dijon revolt had started (1), which only made it more terrifying. If a random spark could set Dijon ablaze, there was no guarantee that such a thing couldn’t happen in Bordeaux, Paris, or Marseilles. This feeling that he was sitting atop a tinderbox was a perfect path to paranoia for Deschanel. France’s domestic situation remained abysmal, and in the wake of his failed assault on Dijon, respect for his unelected government was at an all-time low. The prospect of a mass uprising was very real, and the Prime Minister saw only one thing which could avert it.

Deschanel’s infamous Emergency Regulations Act #3 (the first two dated from the Emile Loubet era and merely re-activated similar wartime laws) was passed on 2 November. It had been designed to suppress any hint of popular insurrection, so that France could focus on militarily crushing the Dijon revolt without having to worry about revolution in the streets, and it was everything the moderates had feared. Centrist politicians had long suspected Deschanel, seeing him as an opportunist who wanted to take advantage of the crisis to cement his personal power, and they were determined to stop him. Right-wing delegates eagerly voted for the bill, viewing it as a necessary step to maintain order. With a socialist uprising in the country's heart, no one wanted to let the left anywhere near power, and they lacked a voice with which to dissent. Debate on the bill dragged on throughout the afternoon of 2 November, and, fearing that his proposal would get shot down, the Prime Minister covertly gave orders to increase the armed guard around the building where Parliament was meeting. As a platoon of armed men walked into the hall, the moderates suddenly changed their tune and, cowed, consented to the bill’s passage.
The postwar French government made a great deal of noise about this law, sparking a host of misinformation and conspiracy theories. For a century-old piece of legislation, the Emergency Regulations Act #3 still attracts a surprising amount of debate even in 2020. Naturally, no two sources say the same thing about why it was implemented. Some claim it was a necessary expedient which Parliament would’ve repealed once the crisis passed, others claim that Deschanel wanted to become a French Marius, forever extending the state of emergency to further his personal power- and that ignores the half-baked conspiracy theories, many of which are too silly to be worth a legitimate rebuttal. The truth is that Deschanel had no ambitions to become a dictator, but neither was he afraid of trampling on democratic processes. Had he quelled the revolt, France would have slowly transitioned back to democracy, but Deschanel would’ve wielded emergency powers long enough to implement the reforms he saw fit before stepping down.

At any rate, when the Prime Minister of France sauntered off to his favourite restaurant for dinner on the night of 2 November 1917, he wielded more power than any Frenchman since Napoleon III- none of it deriving from a popular mandate. He believed that the French government hadn’t done enough to prevent popular unrest and fix the country’s deep-set problems; this would change, but he would administer the repairs with the heaviest of hands. The bill immediately curtailed civil liberties and expressing “disloyal” or “Martovist-Sorelianist” (2) sentiments was now a crime. Deschanel suspended civil liberties indefinitely while declaring strikes and protests illegal. Of course, all this violated France’s democratic tradition, but after a chaotic 1917 people in France were less worried about such things than they had been before the war. In order to maintain all this, the military and police presence in the major cities was to be greatly increased.

Paul Deschanel had just established himself as a military dictator.

This new policy was, naturally, loathed by the French populace. The past year had been a very hard one for them with hyperinflation, excessive taxation, shortages of every kind, and violence all taking their tolls. All the average Frenchman wanted in autumn 1917 was a roof over his head, stable money, and a decent job- he didn’t give a tinker’s cuss about socialism or revolution, and he certainly didn’t appreciate his own government treating him like one of the enemy. For many people, petty crime and protests had offered a convenient valve for their frustration; Deschanel’s clampdown only made them simmer more. Another major gripe with the new Prime Minister was his unelected status; the people would not enjoy taking orders from a man who they hadn’t chosen to lead them. Now, so much as complaining was treated as a crime- and there were Regular Army soldiers on the streets to enforce the law. In the first week after the Emergency Regulations Act #3 became law, police arrested four hundred people across the country on very spurious charges of “sedition”- their actual crimes ranged from grumbling about the new regime to four armed men accused of beating a soldier up. As the first two weeks of November dragged on, unrest spread all across France. Deschanel ascribed this to rebel influence and reacted by clamping down even harder. But he saw the real problem every time he looked in a mirror. By assuming that the French people were on the verge of revolt and untrustworthy, he incensed them and fulfilled his own prophecy. Riots broke out all across France, just as Deschanel had feared, as the people finally grew sick and tired of being dictated to by their new Prime Minister. In their eyes, the sole difference between him and his predecessors was that his heartlessness matched his incompetence. Of course, that was just the man-in-the-street’s view, and he wasn’t aware of many of the issues Deschanel was forced to consider; nevertheless it was a valid enough opinion, and it motivated people to action.

Meanwhile, in Dijon, the rebels were preparing for their next step. Their successful defence of the town had boosted their morale considerably, and they decided to take to the offensive. The unrest across France deeply encouraged the leadership, as they hoped the people would greet their advancing forces as liberators. However, the defence of Dijon had taken a heavy toll on the rebel army- many of its best soldiers had been killed in that fight, and rebuilding it to a point where it could fight the government toe-to-toe would require both a great deal of new manpower and a respite from government attacks. As it happened, they were in fact to get that necessary breathing room- Deschanel’s need to suppress discontent in the cities left precious few troops for active military operations. Many viewed the Dijon rebels as real liberators, a fresh change after years of stagnant and ineffective rule from Paris. In the first weeks of November, several hundred young men fled to the city to enlist in the rebel army. Most were country boys from eastern France who brought their own weapons. There were also several cases of German troops in the occupied zone arresting Frenchmen trying to cross the border; under interrogation, these men admitted that they’d hoped to enlist in the Army of Dijon. And of course, as riots swept the major cities, those clashing with the police and army looked to Dijon for inspiration and hope. In short, the rebels were in a better situation than a glance at a map would indicate.

Ironically, the rebel leadership was no more united than its foe in Paris. When the Dijon revolt had first erupted, there had been no firm leader; eventually, a group of workers and soldiers’ councils had been formed. These were all chaired by well-liked workers in the former case and junior officers- mostly lieutenants and captains- in the latter. Now, an officer by name of Jean-Jacques Famride had been selected as the overall head of Dijon. The people had not elected Famride, and he ruled at the head of an army, making him a de facto military dictator. Nevertheless, his rule was popular enough amongst both the people and the all-important councils. Neither Famride nor the councils were especially left wing; the tumult of recent events (3) had propelled them into their current positions. This junta had done reasonably well and had passed the first crucial test- surviving a major government assault. However, an unknown force had entered the scene: a man by the name of Georges Sorel. Sorel was a leftist philosopher whose eloquence had earned him tremendous popularity amongst the men of Dijon and the councils- this had forced Famride to grant him considerable influence. This was a recipe for a power struggle. Both Famride and Sorel rightly viewed the other as rivals and competed for the same power base. Famride’s practical, military-oriented plans contrasted with Sorel’s dreams of a syndicalist revolution. Neither trusted the other, but each lacked the strength to oust his rival, and the two would continue their uneasy alliance at the top of the rebellion for now.

Both men would play a crucial part in the Dijon rebellion’s next move. General Famride was a military man and saw only one option: to take the offensive. A hard thrust northwest, toward Paris, would catch the government off-guard and hopefully incite uprisings amongst the populace. This idea met with stiff resistance amongst some soldier’s councils, however. Their men had bled heavily defending Dijon, but had borne it in good grace because they were fighting to protect their hometown. Would they be so willing to lay down their lives for Famride’s military goals? The general understood the argument being made, but recognised one key truth: this was a battle to the death. If Paul Deschanel wasn’t beaten, he would kill the rebels. Odds were that they would die anyhow, but Famride naturally wanted to go down with a fight. Thus, going on the offensive was crucial. And to rally the men for this, he turned to Sorel. The philosopher spent two days composing a new piece calling on the troops to “bravely take to the offensive and secure (their) rights and the rights of the French workers…”

As usual, the men loved him for it. On 5 November, the soldier’s councils sent representatives to General Famride; their men were willing to go on the offensive. Equipment was still not up to scratch, but morale was abundant. Famride was of course pleased to know that he could continue with his strategy, but the fact that he’d had to cajole the men and plead with them, while Sorel’s eloquence had quickly got the job done, gave him cause for worry…

The ultimate objective of the attack was the village of Montbard. It was of moderate size and, of course, a long way from the fighting of the Great War. Its relative proximity to Dijon had initially been a cause for worry on Deschanel’s part, as he feared saboteurs or agents provocateurs appearing and wreaking havoc. As such, he ordered that the town have extra “security” put in place. His fears of popular unrest turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the people were none too keen on having the boot placed on their neck. After the first attack on Dijon collapsed, he rushed more men to the town, which put a great deal of burden on its supplies. All this to say, by the second week of November the people were heartily sick of government rule, and viewed the rebels if not with enthusiasm, then certainly as a breath of fresh air.

The Second French Revolution remains something of an anomaly to military historians. It was fought in the manner of a nineteenth-century war, as both sides had been de-fanged by the loss in 1916. Of course, men still suffered and died in the war, but gone were the days of fixed entrenchments and unbreakable positional warfare, with the associated butcher’s bills. Now, small armies augmented by minimally trained citizen recruits fought. Battles were decided in an afternoon, with such anachronisms as bayonet charges and cavalry. One key point is that both sides fought with comparatively small numbers of men. Nowhere is this clearer than during the Montbard campaign, where ten thousand rebels squared off against an equal number of government troops. (4) Considering that a prewar French division had some 17,000 men in it (5), this shows how weakened la Nation was after three years of war and how deep into the barrel both sides were scraping.

Advancing as Napoleon’s men might’ve, in a column down a country road, the rebels passed through the village of Vitteaux just past dawn on 9 November. The town was already under the control of a “Vitteaux Council”, and the local forces eagerly let the main column pass through. The rebels reached the first objective- Courcelles- at nine AM on the same day. The enemy had expected them, and a series of firing pits lined with barbed wire greeted them. Had the defenders possessed machine-guns, they could’ve mowed down the entire rebel assault within a few hours. As it was, the 1886 Berthiers they wielded weren’t up to scratch, and their forces could not break the deadlock. However, geography lay on the rebel side. There were two approaches to Courcelles: the direct one the infantry were trying to capture, and a route which led through a twisty back-road. The rebel cavalry amassed an hour into the battle and hit them in the flank. Fully committed to holding off the enemy infantry, the government commander couldn’t spare any resources for fighting cavalry and hastily retreated.

As the troops pulled out of Courcelles, the population saw a chance to curry favour with the incoming army and took their fury out on the occupiers. Women dropped tiles from second-storey windows while boys grabbed kitchen knives or pots. Some troops deserted to the rebels, but unlike at Dijon, the men weren’t being thrown forward in a pointless offensive and that had a salutary effect on morale- thus, the desertion rate was far lower here. By the afternoon of 9 November, Courcelles’ several thousand souls lay under rebel rule. Contrary to government propaganda, the new rulers were merciful- talk of dragging out la guillotine or of mass hostage-taking proved just that, talk. Of course, no occupation is ever without its frictions and there would be discontent later, but the first hours proved as smooth as hoped for. At any rate, the rebels had their foes on the run and were more preoccupied with that than any behind-the-lines business.

Dijonite troops, one man holding flowers given to him by an especially appreciative local maiden, display a captured French flag

There was no reprieve for the victors of Courcelles- the next town was only three kilometres away and needed to be subdued. Vic-de-Chassenay was a controversial target for Famride and his officers, because it wasn’t directly on the road to the ultimate target and only a small country road connected it to Courcelles. Considering the need to conserve manpower, why bother attacking at all? The answer is a simple principle: no army should leave its flank uncovered. If the rebels got seriously entangled several kilometres down the road, government troops would inevitably occupy Vic-de-Chassenay and use it as a springboard to cut off the rebels. With plenty of daylight left, the town would make a good place to halt after a successful day’s fighting. Thus, at one PM, the rebel commanders received orders to pull out of the town and proceed westwards. It was to be an unpleasant march made better only by the reading of Georges Sorel’s propaganda. The road was narrow and twisted, with massive trees blocking out the light. This would’ve made great ambush country if the foe were so inclined, and a lot of men were tensely keeping their eyes peeled. Every time someone stepped on a twig, his comrades hurriedly looked around, guns ready. A long day’s fighting had left many hungry and fatigued, but the commanders had to prioritise the overall operation and couldn’t afford to stop. There was no telling what kind of opposition the men would face at Vic-de-Chassenay, and many viewed this whole attack as a waste of time that would get many killed.

They had never been so pleased to be wrong.

Only a handful of government forces occupied Vic-de-Chassenay. Since the country road was so narrow and the town so out-of-the-way, the local commander hadn’t figured the rebels would be interested in capturing it. One platoon was resting in town when sentries spotted a massive rebel army: the commanding lieutenant infamously fainted before coming round and surrendering; many of his men later opted to join the rebels. As for the civilians, well, Vic-de-Chassenay was no metropolis and only a token garrison was necessary. Given that there was no field telephone connecting the newly conquered town to General Famride’s headquarters, the men sent a running dog (6) with the unexpected good news while the conquerors held in place. The rebels made much of their alleged moral superiority over the government and were careful to treat the locals with respect. Officers gave their men the break they’d wanted all day, but kept them on a tight leash; they gave one private who tried to steal a chicken from the locals a severe lecture in front of the entire town and a pay cut. Several local men, evidently impressed with the rebels, enlisted in the ranks. By this point it was getting late, and there was still no confirmation as to what their orders were. When they arrived at close to five PM (the running dog had to travel through the same back road as the humans) they were unsatisfying if not totally unexpected: the men were to hold in place for the day. They had done well considering what precious little they had to work with, capturing Courcelles and Vic-de-Chassenay with light casualties in less than a day, but with dusk fast approaching they deemed it unsafe to do anything more today.

10 November dawned. In Dijon, a worried General Famride and Georges Sorel glanced at the reports from the previous day, trying to gauge what today would bring- their government counterpart in Montbard did the same. There was a hope that today could be the day of decision, yet no one knew what it would bring. Soldiers in Courcelles and Vic-de-Chassenay awoke from a surprisingly restful night in the fields outside town and wolfed down their rations- enjoyed would be too strong a word- augmented by an egg or slice of bread donated by willing locals. It was going to be a long day ahead, but they were as ready as they could be. Meanwhile, the people of Montbard arose from a mostly sleepless night. Looting and clashes with the military had kept them up all night, leaving the town’s defenders on edge and more tired than they should’ve been, while the people were on the verge of rising up. It was a good job Montbard was still a long way away from the front, but if something didn’t change, there was no guarantee that the town could be held… Fortunately, the officers in the town expected success. The rebels had but a small force which, by all accounts, had taken heavy losses the previous day. Occupying small country villages was one thing; cracking open a decent-sized town such as Montbard would be an altogether different matter and, it was hoped, one too great to be accomplished.

Time would tell.

The first day of rebel occupation in the two conquered towns had been a light one, with minimal intrusions by the conquering troops. However, one man was about to get a rude awakening: a Father Michel Montbardier in Courcelles. As he began his homily a little after eight AM to a few dozen sleepy yet devout farmers, a deafening roar interrupted him- the sound of artillery brought up in the night blasting enemy troops. Father Montbardier sent an altar boy out to see what on earth was going on; the lad was joined by about half the town’s population. These guns were mostly the old 75-mms, but they were a bloody excellent weapon and they got the job done. Of course, as many noted in their diaries, when compared to the gargantuan, three-day-long barrages of the Great War, this was a bloody joke, but it certainly gave the enemy something to think about. While the guns blazed away for half an hour, the rebels in Courcelles moved out. Their target lay some two-and-a-half miles down yet another country road; this time it was the hamlet of Semur. However, when they were approximately twenty minutes from their goal, things went wrong.

The guns used in the artillery barrage of an hour previously had had a range of slightly over five miles. Operating under the impression that his men could conquer Semur without too much difficulty, the rebel commander opted to concentrate his fire on the enemy positions behind the town. While this caused tremendous chaos in the targeted zone, it left the government’s artillery in Semur untouched, and as the gunners heard the shells whizzing over their heads, they knew to prepare for attack.

Thus, the rebels, too, felt the brunt of artillery fire. Shells burst in every direction, sending fragments flying through densely packed bodies. Metal tore into flesh, shredding bone from muscle, and men dropped to the ground in agony; their more fortunate comrades leapt into the bushes to wait out the storm. Horses (7) panicked and charged off, throwing their riders to the dirt and trampling them. The barrage let up after a few minutes, but the damage was done. Attrition had fallen out of the sky, reducing platoons to squads and even sections, killing experienced officers, and throwing a spanner into a very fragile military machine. No attack on Semur could take place today.

Capitalising on their advantage, the government forces in Semur leapt onto the counteroffensive, taking advantage of the momentary disorganisation of the rebels. Much of the subsequent fighting took place on the road the rebels had been advancing on but many clashes took place in the fields and even the woods. The counterattack went in at half past ten AM and drove the rebels back several kilometres. Of course, neither side possessed the numerical strength for a really decisive blow, but the damage done was still tremendous. From his headquarters, General Famride began to panic. Manpower was always stretched dreadfully tight, and the rebels couldn’t afford major losses. The counterattack continued throughout the morning and the enemy threw his forces back still further until the sound of small-arms fire was audible inside Courcelles. Defeat seemed imminent…

...until a bright idea was had.

A relatively small number of men had undertaken the assault on Semur. This was due to the fact that, expecting heavy resistance in Vic-de-Chassenay several miles to the west, Famride had committed a substantial number of troops there and they couldn’t get to the day’s fighting in time. This was understandable enough, but it was still a blunder which Famride’s detractors would use against him for the rest of his career. However, there was a major silver lining: a substantial number of troops were safely tucked away in Vic-de-Chassenay, awaiting only orders to move out. As the church bells struck twelve noon and vicious fighting occurred just outside Courcelles, the general sent a runner to the forces to the west with a daring set of orders: they were to take the northeast road out of town and hit the village of Semur from the flank. Time was very much of the essence and there was a fatalist feeling amongst the rebel leadership that if this manoeuvre didn’t work, they were all dead. Nevertheless, at half-past-twelve on 10 November, several thousand rebel troops marched the three and a half miles to Semur. Knowing that every moment they dawdled was a moment their comrades fought and died, the troops moved as fast as humanly possible, and reached Semur an hour later.

The defenders were unprepared for an attack. Assuming that the road was too narrow to permit a substantial force through and just as strapped for manpower as their foes, the government defenders had left the southwest approaches to their town shoddily defended. Cheering heartily, the rebels tore into the terrified defenders of Semur. As with everything in the Second French Revolution, the technology employed was artificially redundant, but the passion and fury more than made up for it. To the rebels, their opponents were oppressors who had buggered up the war and made their lives a misery for a year; government troops often fought with an officer’s pistol pointed at their backs and acted as though they had nothing to lose. It wasn’t enough. Outnumbered, the government soldiers began retreating into Semur itself at around one PM, the officers screaming at them to stand and fight often, unfortunately, catching stray bullets. Once the shell of defences was cracked, those inside the town didn’t stand a chance. High-ranking officers, those who wore stripes on their trousers and seldom heard the rattle of small-arms fire, ran surprised out of their commandeered command centres; they were quickly taken prisoner and divulged into telling everything they knew. Chaos reigned as the rebels cleaned Semur of enemy forces; civilians were often all too happy to wield a kitchen knife or drop a brick on someone’s head to support the rebels . Many government platoons, seeing which way the wind was blowing, murdered their officers before surrendering en masse. From the rebel perspective, this was ideal for several reasons: it was a sign that the malaise of mutiny continued to affect their foes, and such men offered potential soldiers to replace casualties (let it be repeated that both sides were fighting with small armies and maintaining troop strength was a prime concern). Fighting died down after ninety minutes and word was sent back to Courcelles.

It was a good job the rebels had gone to the bother of occupying Vic-de-Chassenay.

A map roughly showing where the events of this chapter take place; Dijon is several kilometres to the southeast
Screen Shot 2020-11-11 at 3.41.20 pm.png

That he’d captured his target through the proverbial back door while the enemy still blocked the main road was mildly amusing to General Famride. However, that irony didn’t change the basic situation in front of him- his men were seriously fatigued after a long day’s combat and were still repulsing government forces. They had performed admirably, fighting without rest or reinforcements, but exhaustion will always catch up to courage amongst fighting men sooner or later; Famride feared they were approaching that point. The lines had been creeping back for hours, into the town of Courcelles itself; stray shells and bullets killed many while fires flickered on in much of the town. From his office, not even a kilometre away from the fighting, General Famride could hear not just the explosions of shells and the banging of individual guns, but the screams and cries of individual men. Much of the town’s population, which had found the first day’s occupation to be quite tolerable, had fled south; many of the representatives of the soldiers’ councils had done the same, and Famride’s advisers were telling him to follow suit. The forces which had just conquered Semur were too exhausted to mount an attack south, and there was an additional fear that those men might be needed to repulse a government attack. In other words, it would be down to the defenders of Courcelles to save themselves.

If the men didn’t complete their task, the day’s victory in Semur would be undone and the rebellion snuffed out then and there.

This is where Georges Sorel comes into the picture. The author of such tracts as “Reflections On Violence”, who had called for the proletariat to take revolution into their own hands, had gotten cold feet. As of the mid-afternoon of 10 November, he was hiding in a barn several miles away from Courcelles, and a runner had to be dispatched to him. General Famride wanted him to address the defenders, and he needed to be there as soon as humanly possible. Sorel, who was reading while sitting on a box of feed, hemmed and hawed for a bit, but when the messenger grabbed his pistol and threatened to move him out by force, the philosopher relented. It was getting close to four PM when the two arrived at Courcelles, and the enemy was preparing for a final breakthrough lunge. Time was of the essence.

“Proclamation To The Defenders of Courcelles” was read out ninety minutes later. Much like the reading of Sorel’s exhortations in the First Battle of Dijon, the scene became a popular legend in postwar France, and much like the Dijon myth, it totally ignored the other factors at play. By half-past four, both sides were totally exhausted and willing to call it a day. After a perfunctory last heave against the defence, the attackers flopped down in their firing pits or pulled back, content to wait another day; the rebels were all too happy to retire to a warm bed. Sorel’s words may have inspired the men, but they did little to affect the situation in real terms. Of course, the French postwar government would remember none of this, idolising the philosopher’s tracts and downplaying General Famride’s leadership- and the runner fetching Sorel from a safe barn miles behind the lines was forgotten. At any rate, when 10 November slipped into darkness, it left a strange position indeed. Semur, miles behind the lines, was securely in rebel hands- yet isolated government troops were in a position to capture the rebel headquarters.

To those used to the mechanical slaughter of Neuve-Chappelle and Verdun, this flexibility was more than a little peculiar, if not unwelcome.

Neither side was especially happy with the day’s results. For a start, the ever-pressing issue of manpower was rearing its ugly head. People were fighting and dying out there, even if the losses were in the dozens and hundreds rather than the thousands and tens of thousands as in the Great War. This wasn’t 1914-1916; the entire nation wasn’t united behind the cause and there were no reinforcements constantly arriving and waiting to enter battle. For all their successes, the rebels still controlled only a small pocket of territory, and even though they were squeezing every man and bullet they possibly could, they could never match the resources the central government had at its disposal. However, that government was fighting with one hand tied behind its back- the Germans had already made plain that they would not take kindly to the French increasing their army on the grounds of crushing the revolt. Furthermore, the tendency of individual soldiers who’d had enough to desert and the ‘need’ to maintain martial law in the cities to ward off uprisings (8) left the government fighting with one hand tied behind its back. All this to say, neither side could afford major losses, and indecisive battles such as those of the past two days were not what either side needed. The diminutive size and scope of these fights prevents them from ever being labelled “great” or “decisive”, but they were important enough in their own way and should not be dismissed.

Politics now intervened. In Paris, Deschanel was furious that the rebels were gaining ground. He had hoped that by the end of the day, French troops would be in Courcelles and preparing to march on Dijon, and wanted to know which blithering idiot had let him down. Since none of the government commanders were willing to admit blame, Deschanel was left without a scapegoat and was forced to let them get on with it. However, Deschanel had not forgotten his reason for sitting in the big seat- his colleagues had tasked him with restoring the country and he aimed to do just that. In numerous telephone calls made in the evening of the tenth, the Prime Minister made it unmistakably clear that this war had to end fast, and hinted that heads would roll if this wasn’t wrapped up in a matter of weeks. No military man enjoys having to deal with political pressure, and this would lead to more bitterness and impulsivity amongst the government troops. In the rebel camp, Famride was none too happy about the day’s reverses. Losing important ground and valuable men were of course never good, while he was distinctly uncomfortable with the isolated position of occupied Semur. Yet, there was more to it than that. What really bothered the rebel general was the fact that Georges Sorel had addressed the men once more. A pattern was developing, in which whenever rebel forces suffered setbacks under his command, Sorel came in to revive morale- the men remembered who had thrown them into dangerous fighting and who exhorted them on. If the philosopher built too much personal loyalty and strength amongst the men, trouble would ensue. Famride didn’t think the greying man was ready to attempt a coup just yet, but it never paid to be too careful, and he privately began wondering if perhaps the man needed to suffer an unfortunate accident...

11 November 1917 dawned. Even before the sun had come up, men were preparing- the rebels were moving into forward positions and the artillery of both sides was firing occasional registration shots. The one major disadvantage facing the government troops was that they were out in the open- as Semur was lost to them, they had no town to stay in and had spent the night in the fields. While this wasn’t ideal, it meant that they were less susceptible to artillery, as they could disperse easier. Thus, the shots exchanged by both sides harmed them less than their Dijonite foes. Having exhausted much of their strength the previous day in their failed attempt to break through, the defenders knew that they would have to take a punch of their own today, and had spent much of the night entrenching. Thus, the road and fields in front of Courcelles were as well-defended as could be expected.

French government troops prepare to repulse an enemy attack out of Courcelles. Note the antiquated rifles and uniforms.

Real fighting commenced at eight AM. The rebels fought like men who had nothing to lose- because that was literally true. If the day went poorly, it was only a matter of time before government reinforcements swept in and crushed them. The thing, as General Famride put it, “(was) to make sure that things do not go poorly!” Once again, the attackers deployed tactics which might’ve come from the 1860s, using bayonet charges and even cavalry. The fighting dragged out through the morning, but it gradually became clear that the government had shot its bolt the previous day- the men were sore and tired after a long day’s fighting and minimal sleep, and it showed. After two hours, the rebels achieved their breakthrough. Soldiers threw down their arms, preferring to spend the rest of the war as a prisoner in Dijon rather than die in this miserable field, while some over-zealous officers at the rear found themselves staring into the barrels of their comrade’s guns.

As victory approached for his side, Georges Sorel found himself the victim of a freak accident. Never an especially courageous man, he had been standing a safe distance behind the lines, viewing the battle through binoculars while scribbling away on a new proclamation. As he wrote, he found himself the victim of a stray bullet. The little lead pellet tore through his left shoulder and sent him to the dirt, howling and shrieking in agony. Two men quickly rushed him to the surgeon’s, who had bad news. Sorel was a seventy-year-old man who was frail for his age; an infection would be lethal. The bullet had dreadfully mangled his shoulder and sliced through some very sensitive nerves, as the doctor discovered when Sorel found himself unable to move his left arm. There was only one thing for it. Operating without anaesthetic, the doctor amputated Georges Sorel’s left arm- the patient passed out from shock shortly thereafter, although his condition rapidly stabilised. The men didn’t find out until the end of the day, after they’d linked up with their comrades in Semur, but they were crushed when they did. Their hero, the eloquent old man who’d put into words everything they believed, had taken a blow just like them! Of course, there was nothing especially heroic about how Sorel had been wounded, but rumour flies faster than fact and the men’s admiration for Sorel only increased. However, as might be expected, the truth became quite distorted. Soon, men began speaking of a conspiracy to kill the philosopher which had, thankfully, failed. But who would have the motive to do such a thing? The soldier’s councils? General Famride? No one knew, but that didn’t stop people from pointing figures and distorting the truth.

Jean-Jacques Famride was having an excellent morning. Not only had his rival been badly wounded- and given that he was seventy years old, how long could Sorel be expected to live?- but his men had fought their way out of the situation they had been stuck in. He ate a fine lunch in Semur that day, and cast his gaze ahead to the ultimate aim of the campaign, Montbard. As he did so, the smile quickly faded from Famride’s face. Montbard was ten miles away (9) with numerous villages in the way. The rebels had won a crucial victory but at great cost, and a ten-mile advance into well-defended villages was likely beyond their means. Famride spent the next day and a half reorganising and congratulating the men. They gave enemy troops who had surrendered during the fighting a pat on the back, a hot meal, and a rifle in their hands- these men were often all too happy to serve, as they had no more love for Deschanel’s regime than the rebels. Added to the inevitable trickle of civilian recruits, and the French rebel army rapidly recovered its strength. However, news came on 14 November that would change everything.

A major uprising had broken out in Montbard, similar to the original Dijon revolt. The precise details are not worth recounting here, but suffice it to say that the harsh governance Deschanel had hoped would prevent armed resistance had in fact provoked it. A “Montbard Worker’s and Soldier’s Council” had been proclaimed, and a few hundred people in that town had taken up arms.

No one knew what was to come next, but one thing was certain: the rebellion was spreading like wildfire and would not be snuffed out anytime soon. Paul Deschanel had failed in his initial attempt to crush the foe and would have to deal with the repercussions of that, while Georges Sorel was- quite literally- down but not out. Only time would tell what came next…


  1. No one ITTL, of course- for those who’re new to the TL, see chapter 17
  2. Again, since Julius Martov is the closest thing TTL has to a successful leftist revolutionary, anyone left-of-centre is automatically labelled a Martovist. Kind of odd, when you consider the vast ideological differences amongst all these socialists, but there you go…
  3. Once again, please refer to chapter 17
  4. If these numbers seem ludicrously low, remember two things. One, the rebels consist of the original Dijonites plus defectors to their cause. Two, that statistic for government forces is: 40,000 men left in the metropole, less 15,000 killed/defected in the last assault on Dijon, less what’s needed to maintain more or less martial law.
  5. I think.
  6. Not one of the imperialists, thankfully. ;)
  7. For the love of God, why are they bringing horses anywhere near combat in 1917? TTL has human characters fighting with militaries seriously reduced by the German restrictions, that’s why. Petain, Foch, Nievelle (haven’t forgotten about them, don’t worry) would be horrified- or maybe they’d be glad to see so much mobility when compared to their OTL ordeals…
  8. Not necessary at all, but Deschanel insists and no one can tell him no without being sacked…
  9. Not as small a distance as it might seem, especially for such a small force. Also: neither side has as many lorries as might be expected; the Armistice of 23 May in chapter 9 deprived the French of many.
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I feel kinda bad for Sorel honestly, he's too old to have to deal with the harshness of the battlefield. Hopefully he's going to pull through awhile longer.
This is a great scene of rebellion and old technology coming back to the forefront. Home meade armored automobiles and trucks are sure to come along soon--even an improvised armored train or two. (Trains can carry a LOT of weight...)
Could a 75 be fired from the back of a truck? Shoot and scoot?
It's serious improvisation time.
Can't wait for a new update on Austria's civil war
One will be along soon, rest assured. I've got three tracks running parallel and have to sort it all out in my head... but events in Austria need to be discussed soon.
His body Changes and he becomes inmortal ? ;)
Long Live Eternal Chairman Sorel!
This is a great scene of rebellion and old technology coming back to the forefront. Home meade armored automobiles and trucks are sure to come along soon--even an improvised armored train or two. (Trains can carry a LOT of weight...)
Could a 75 be fired from the back of a truck? Shoot and scoot?
It's serious improvisation time.
Thanks; glad you liked it.
Yes, all these things you described are in play in combat- people are forced to really scrape the barrel and come up with new ideas...
I imagine the Second French Revolution would be seen as a perfect example of modern "low-intensity" war studied by underdogs and guerillas for decades...
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