Interesting timeline so far! What did the Franco-Italian ceasefire look like?
Thanks! Your support's appreciated!

Pretty much just that- a basic ceasefire, nothing elaborate. I'm planning an update, I think, where I'll discuss both official peace treaties (the one with Germany and the one with Italy).
 
There is absolutely no way France could recover from this defeat let alone attack Germany in 20 years. Demographically even before the war France was declining rapidly compared with the rest of Europe while after it the French would have lost all hope and become completely demoralized. This is unlike Germany which after otl ww1 had a great demographic position(Birth rates still high and a nationalistic and vengeful population). I just dont see how international socialism, communism or some sort of sydicalism could reverse France's national decline as a great power that had started after Napoleon and seems to be concluded with round two defeat at the hands of an imperial germany with enormous currents of patriotism, vitality, and general enthusiam for what the future holds for their undefeated nation. It seems there is no reason for Italy to abandon the alliance with germany, Austria will be de facto a german puppet going forward, and extremely pro german baltic, finland, and Ukraine will ensure Germany's position in the east while weakening Russia to the point of maybe being even worse off(aasuming it avoids bolshevik takeover) than otl Soviet Union.

Unless you have some terrible calamity down the road for germany waiting to happen, I see absolutely no reason for a ww2 to be any bit plausible ITTL. So far excellent timeline, it goes without saying.
 
As I wrote in another thread. France lost against a Germany that was allied with Russia and England it then lost one on one against Germany and now it will have lost though allied with Russia and England. Any politician who even hints at going for another round can be happy if he only loses his job.
 
There is absolutely no way France could recover from this defeat let alone attack Germany in 20 years. Demographically even before the war France was declining rapidly compared with the rest of Europe while after it the French would have lost all hope and become completely demoralized. This is unlike Germany which after otl ww1 had a great demographic position(Birth rates still high and a nationalistic and vengeful population). I just dont see how international socialism, communism or some sort of sydicalism could reverse France's national decline as a great power that had started after Napoleon and seems to be concluded with round two defeat at the hands of an imperial germany with enormous currents of patriotism, vitality, and general enthusiam for what the future holds for their undefeated nation. It seems there is no reason for Italy to abandon the alliance with germany, Austria will be de facto a german puppet going forward, and extremely pro german baltic, finland, and Ukraine will ensure Germany's position in the east while weakening Russia to the point of maybe being even worse off(aasuming it avoids bolshevik takeover) than otl Soviet Union.

Unless you have some terrible calamity down the road for germany waiting to happen, I see absolutely no reason for a ww2 to be any bit plausible ITTL. So far excellent timeline, it goes without saying.

As I wrote in another thread. France lost against a Germany that was allied with Russia and England it then lost one on one against Germany and now it will have lost though allied with Russia and England. Any politician who even hints at going for another round can be happy if he only loses his job.

Hmmm, interesting. I'm taking all this into consideration.
Whether cooler heads in France will prevail... well, you'll see.
 
I just finished this; read it all at one sitting. GREAT STUFF!
Did anything happen on Easter Monday, 1916, in Dublin? If so, what were the results?
 

NoMommsen

Donor
Another chapter I enjoyed to read 😀.

Just a wee question :
What did the brits know or ... decided to know (or know not) about those rather prominent french travellers through their country using their ports to reach for Denmark ?​
To me it seems somewhat unlikely that there won't be some ... questions asked in Whitehall.

I just finished this; read it all at one sitting. GREAT STUFF!
Did anything happen on Easter Monday, 1916, in Dublin? If so, what were the results?
Don't really know why there should be much change or diversion ITTL regarding this affair.
However, together with the - at least on the continent - lost war (yet another "Back-Stab-Legend prevailing ... ?) I would expect a rather polluted to poisoned political atmosphere all over Britain and maybe especially in Ireland (?) with quite some potential for another round of violence on the emerald island.
 
As I wrote in another thread. France lost against a Germany that was allied with Russia and England it then lost one on one against Germany and now it will have lost though allied with Russia and England. Any politician who even hints at going for another round can be happy if he only loses his job.

Your first example refers to the Napoleonic Wars right?
 
I just read the entire thing in the last 20 minutes got to admit i am loving it. however, i have some things nibbling at me the first one and certainly the most glaring is the austrians giving up trieste. as the one their few major ports and certinly the largest the economically, makes treiste a very hard pill to swallow i can see it being given up if the germans really put the screws to austria to do so but even then the lack of trust would make it difficult.
secondly is the description of italian forces. While on the grandscale of things i certainly agree with you cadorna will ensure that, just wait one second.
CADORNA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ahhh much better god i swear i lose 20 brain cells whenever i think of that man. Anyway back on topic, the grandscale situation i will defend you on certainly but i find the description of the italian forces a bit off mark. I can certainly see the supply sitaution fitting your description especially without britain to bankroll it however, the training is where i disagree as to my understanding the ground forces and technologically were quite up to scratch even among special units. such as the italian alpini, arditi and bersaglieri being quite competent for example and in ww1 the arditi especially stood out but sadly suffered high casualties from poor tactics. this is the crux of the italian military problem the troops were decent in rare cases good but the tactics employed especially by cadorna were attrocious. we can see the difference in success in the military by looking at otl with cadorna's removal and success after the fact especially as units such as the arditi stop being horribly misused.

Tl;DR
basically the lengths i believe would be required to ensure the austrians giving up trieste unreliable but pluasible and i find while the trajectory of the italian campaign incredible and enjoyable i find the description of the troops themselves slightly off mark. thank you for listening to my rambling
sincerely the crazy coot from aus
 
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did another quick read and thinking about it i am curious about the italian front and its losses because if it is anything remotly similar to the italian front otl it will be one hellish bloodbath and even with a shorter line i think the french would really struggle by the time of your described breakthrough the french would of had to replace hundreds of thousands of lives possibly millions but the line is nowhere as stretched out as otl so the fighting would be more focused. personally i do believe while cadorna is quite hopless, much like the otl 11th battle the french with their already severe manpower shortage may not survive another attack even if the italians didn't have the alpenkorps, sadly for the french they canno perform a miricle like caporetto to attempt reversal and even if that was the case it would likely just mean more losses long term and the possible replacement of a buffoon. so long term may be fualty as well. it is completely up to as it is your tl and i would even agree with your approach including the alpenkorps as long as the italians don't get unreasonably shafted.

actually talking about the french losses damn that would be ugly it would be as if an entire generation was wiped out feels bad man. i fascinated to see what develops out of france after the war.
 
Yes, the Italian front was certainly hellish. Cadorna's reputation will be slightly better ITTL because, well, he was on the sending end of the Caporetto analogue.
As for France, they're KO'd right now, and the final peace treaties with both Germany and Italy will be harsh. Their manpower will not recover for a long while yet.
 
Yes, the Italian front was certainly hellish. Cadorna's reputation will be slightly better ITTL because, well, he was on the sending end of the Caporetto analogue.
As for France, they're KO'd right now, and the final peace treaties with both Germany and Italy will be harsh. Their manpower will not recover for a long while yet.
welp rip, france is dead long live france. the idea of cadorna's reputation surving makes my stomach turn but it does make sense. can't wait for the next chapter this is a fun read
 
Chapter 10- Britain Quits
Chapter Ten- Britain Quits
"If we can crush that little pocket that is Dunkirk, this war will be over. Now that their best sword has been knocked from their hand, the British are all too keen to surrender. I challenge Hindenburg or Ludendorff to do better."
- Erich von Falkenhayn, 27 May 1916

"There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today."
- Admiral John Jellicoe, 31 May 1916

"The spirit of Trafalgar is broken!"
-
Kaiser Wilhelm II in the wake of the Battle of Jutland

"Well, I was a bit cheeky to this 'ere Jerry sergeant, and I said something rather rude to 'im. He gave me a good kick and took me to a cell, right? And the next day, in comes this other bloke, and we got chatting a bit later on, when the Germans wasn't looking. Imagine me surprise when I found out 'oo it was! Old Marshal Haig himself. He was a bit morose, didn't say much, you know. But I thought, I thought to meself, "blimey, this 'ere's the chap who sent me and me mates over the top time and again, and the Germans went and captured 'im like the rest of us?" At first, I thought it was a bit funny, but I didn't really say anything, didn't want to offend a ruddy Field Marshal, did I? But then I thought- wait a tick, wait a tick. If a big hat like Haig got captured- then blimey, we must really be losing 'ard. I didn't laugh so much after that."
-Sergeant David Cross in a BBC television interview, 1976


For Britain, the Springtime Mutinies spelled disaster. They had well over a million men stationed on French soil- all north of the Somme River- and Herbert Asquith feared for their safety. Towards the end of April, he made clear to Douglas Haig that if mutinous French troops attacked British forces, Haig was to fight back. However, neither Asquith nor Haig were as worried about a military attack from French mutineers as a propaganda one. Young Tommy Atkins wanted to be back in Blighty, cup of proper tea in hand, watching a local football match with the wife. There were a million Tommy Atkinses on the Western Front. Until now, the expectation had been that British troops could and would take anything, and Haig had felt that these men were his to experiment with, consequence-free. Now, though, that trust in the men from on high was shaken. Even while the French army disintegrated during April and the Kaiserschlacht, the British refrained from launching an offensive to pressure the Germans. The French High Command’s motto of “just one more offensive!” had pushed their army into chaos. Douglas Haig, murmured comments of the men under him notwithstanding, wasn’t stupid, and he would not make the same mistake. However, this left the BEF in rather a curious position. If they couldn’t be trusted to mount offensives, what were they doing? During the darkest days of the Kaiserschlacht, Haig sent some British troops down to the French sector, but this wasn’t particularly effective. These British troops were too few to effectively pad the lines, and ended up chewed up as cannon fodder… when word spread, it only made Asquith and Haig still more nervous.

The Armistice of 23 May was a catastrophe for the British. Suddenly, over a million of their lads were stuck in an uncooperative foreign country, with a hostile army literally hundreds of yards away. When Asquith found out about the Armistice- he was informed by a rather breathless spy operating in Denmark only a few hours before Kaiser Wilhelm spoke from the Reichstag window- he was livid, and muttered, “those damn frogs deserve whatever comes to them!” He immediately rang Joseph Caillaux, but- in one of those great little moments of history- the French operator just so happened to accidentally put him through to a Parisian butcher’s shop. The British Prime Minister said some very foul words to the startled Frenchman and tried again. This time, in a first for the British during the war, he broke through to his target. Asquith resisted the urge to give Caillaux a piece of his mind and merely informed his French counterpart that his actions ran “in an opposite direction to the nature of our alliance.” The PM hoped to achieve something constructive- his goal was not to persuade Caillaux to resume hostilities (he knew a lost cause when he saw one), but to assist the BEF in getting across the Channel quickly and safely. In the back of his mind, Asquith must’ve known that there was no longer any chance for victory, but that didn’t diminish his obligation as a statesman to protect the lives of his country’s young men. Too much was at risk for things to fail, he impressed upon Caillaux…

… and the British were about to see exactly what could go wrong.

Now that a cease-fire with the French was in effect, Erich von Falkenhayn’s options multiplied. Close to a million men were on the Western Front, and with France all but defeated, they no longer needed to man the lines. While naturally keeping adequate troops to “pad” the lines in case hostilities resumed with the French, substantial German forces shifted to the British sector north of the Somme River. It was a mark of the ease with which Germany could operate in the West that they could imagine a new full-scale offensive only weeks after the Kaiserschlacht. In fact, preparations for a blow against the British had started even before the Armistice, as soon as the French Army began to crumble- this explains how a new offensive could be launched a mere two days after the cessation of hostilities with France. Thus, on the 26th of May, the British forces in Flanders felt the wrath of a new offensive. Falkenhayn had deputised tactical planning for the Third Battle of Ypres to Oskar von Hutier, who was rapidly becoming his protege. Third Ypres commenced at 4 AM on the 26th with a “hurricane barrage”, using several Austro-Hungarian Skoda howitzers. Some 35 German divisions from other sectors of the West, from Italy, and even from the Eastern Front, went over the top. Bardonecchia veterans practised the same Hutier-style assault tactics they’d performed on the Italian front, penetrating the thick British defences. In the skies, German ace Oswald Boelcke led several squadrons of fighters behind enemy lines, providing reconnaissance and strafing British troops. The response from Sir Henry Rawlinson, Haig’s deputy in the area, was slow. His front line under heavy shellfire and German columns stabbing into his rear, by one PM Rawlinson bit the bullet and ordered tactical retreats. He meant these as a tactical expedient to straighten his line, but once men started running it was awfully hard to get them to stop. German troops chased the British and Belgians across the muddy battlefield until nightfall, advancing as far as the Franco-Belgian border northwest of Poperinge. Fighting continued the next day, and it was now painfully clear that the Germans had broken through.

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A cursory glance at a map will reveal the danger: from the Franco-Belgian border to Dunkirk is a mere 25 kilometres. It seemed inevitable that Dunkirk would become the scene of fighting in a day or two. Meanwhile, the shattering of their left flank left the rest of the BEF- several million men- dangerously exposed. If Dunkirk and Calais fell, the Germans would trap them and they would have to surrender en masse. Sir Douglas Haig was not blind to this. There was nothing he wanted to do more than halt the retreat and go back on the offensive, but the power displayed by the Germans on the first day of Third Ypres had left his forces winded. Furthermore, there was plenty of pressure from Whitehall; Asquith couldn’t let the flower of his country’s youth get cut off and trapped, and Haig knew that if the BEF south of Ypres became isolated, the war would be over- and with it his career. Thus, he saw only one option- retreat. (1) At a tense meeting with King Albert of Belgium in the small hours of the 26th, he explained the necessity. The King of the Belgians was furious, ranting about “British betrayal at the eleventh hour”, but was mollified when Haig promised to allow Belgian units to accompany the British. The sun poked its head above the trees only hours after King Albert and Haig met, signalling to both sides that the fighting was to continue. Now that the element of surprise had faded, the Anglo-Belgian defenders put up stiffer resistance. But the delay imposed on the Kaiser’s armies was a matter of hours, not days, and dozens of bodies, not hundreds. Dunkirk seemed doomed to fall the next day, and that would be checkmate for the BEF.

A hop, skip, and a jump away in London, Prime Minister Asquith was now panicking. All of his nightmares about losing the Channel ports seemed to be coming true. Desperation filled the old man’s soul as he telephoned Joseph Caillaux at seven PM London time. He recognised that France had signed a cease-fire; his aim wasn’t to get the French to restart hostilities per se. (2) No, instead he wanted French permission to use Dunkirk, Calais, and other ports as evacuation centres, and for the French to assist the BEF in getting to said ports. Cautiously, the French PM agreed.

His cooperation with the UK would prove short-lived.

Early on the 27th, Joseph Caillaux’s telephone rang, with none other than Erich von Falkenhayn on the line. The German Chief of Staff had figured out what the French were up to, and he was livid. How dare they try to pull something like this? With classic furor Teutonicus, Falkenhayn raged that he was being generous not restarting hostilities to punish the French for their “insolence”- a prospect which must’ve made the room swim before Caillaux’s eyes. If the French didn’t shut down the Channel ports immediately, the German Army would bring further punishment down on their heads. Falkenhayn also hinted that German troops would soon be engaged in fresh military operations against the British on French soil, and that it would be unwise, to say the least, to complain. Damning les Boches in his mind, Calliaux agreed, and set off to telephone Robert Nievelle. These instructions baffled the French commander-in-chief. His men were refusing to fight the invaders occupying their homeland. They wanted to go home fast, and if they didn’t get their wish, things could go from bad to worse. And now, Nievelle asked incredulously, the Germans wanted French troops to fight the British? He was sorry, but there was nothing that could be done. Thus, Caillaux rang back Falkenhayn and informed him of the situation. He’d be willing to shut down the Channel ports to British craft and grant the Germans right of way, but there was no way he could supply troops. Surprisingly, Falkenhayn took Caillaux at his word, perhaps realising just how deep the malaise of mutiny had spread in the French Army. Meanwhile, Caillaux had a very awkward telephone call to make to No. 10 Downing Street.

A few minutes later, Herbert Asquith literally threw down his telephone receiver and pounded the desk, epithets flying off his tongue. Caillaux, he thundered to his aides, was a collaborator! Why was he sealing British troops in the Channel ports if not to let the Germans come and wipe them out? Of course, he didn’t know about Falkenhayn’s harsh telephone call. Asquith ordered Sir Douglas Haig, himself now in Dunkirk, that his men were to return fire if the French attempted to prevent their entering the harbour, “or otherwise subjected them to armed harassment.” Just as all seemed lost, the First Lord of the Admiralty(3) stepped in. Winston Churchill had a grand plan- to rescue as many British troops from France as possible before the Germans closed in. Citing the need for “steadfastness, courage, and dynamism”, the First Sea Lord dubbed his scheme Operation Dynamo. At one PM on the 27th, Churchill proposed his scheme to Asquith; the Prime Minister didn’t need much coaxing to agree. Haig was informed an hour and a half later and told to congregate at Dunkirk. Getting there wouldn’t be an issue- the Germans had driven the British back to the coast, and the Royal Army was attempting to construct a redoubt between Dunkirk and Bray-Dunes. Haig issued the requisite orders, and within a few hours, Dunkirk was under British martial law- which caused more than a few raised eyebrows in Paris- and looked every inch like a British army camp. Seeing as how Dynamo had only officially commenced at half-past-two, and sailing through the mine-ridden English Channel at night was a good way to cut one’s life expectancy, no transports could reach the town in time for evacuations that day. Meanwhile, Falkenhayn sensed what Haig was up to, and turned the bulk of his army to besiege the small town; reserves shielded his flank from a potential relief attempt by the rest of the BEF.

During the evening of the 27th, the Royal Navy assembled a fleet of troopships at Kent, ready for action the following day, while the defenders of Dunkirk fought valiantly throughout the night. By nine PM, the Germans had brought up a considerable amount of artillery, and spent much of the night firing registration shots. It was a long night for everyone on both sides, to put it mildly. But, as the old saying goes, the night is darkest before the dawn. At four-fifteen AM, the telephone in Haig’s headquarters (the Dunkirk public library) rang with good news- the first wave of transports was setting off from Deal, and should arrive at a quarter to seven. Haig pulled fifteen hundred men out of the line and marched them to the beach shortly before the transports arrived; that they were all British caused some grumbling amongst the Belgians. Small-arms fire rattled in the background as the men nervously stood on the beach. Then, just as the first rays of sun appeared over the village, the troopships steamed in slowly, naval flags fluttering in the breeze. Cheering, the exhausted men boarded. For them, the war was over. Their conviviality lasted mere moments, before one of their number struck a mine laid by the French. The explosion sent a hundred men flying in all directions before their very eyes; six survived. The troops shivered all the way home, and it wasn’t from the cold. An officer from Deal harbour telephoned Haig at ten AM with the good news that the men were now back on English soil, and that the transports would be back at one PM. All throughout the morning, British troops fought a delaying action on the perimeter of town, waiting for the transports to come take them off. Haig could hear the rattle of gunfire in his office, and no doubt fingered the pistol in his pocket for comfort. Not since the Boer War fourteen years earlier had the Field Marshal been close enough to the fighting to hear the rattle of small-arms. The troopships duly returned at one PM, carrying off another two thousand men. Fighting continued throughout the afternoon, with Anglo-Belgian forces doing their damndest to resist. One German soldier, remembering the battle decades later, joked that his platoon had “taken the kitchen, but needed another big push to capture the sitting-room!” (4) This was First World War combat par excellence- a machine-gun and a few strands of barbed wire could hold attackers up for a long while. The only difference was that instead of trenches, soldiers fought from houses and street barricades. For the British, there was a simple reason for such dogged resistance- if the harbour fell, there’d be no escape for any of them. But for many Belgians, the battle for Dunkirk had a more emotional aspect. Unlike the British, their homeland was under enemy occupation. Thus, they had many personal grievances the Tommies lacked. Since the Germans were obviously winning the war, they had no home to return to. If they were to die and be buried on foreign soil, their lives destroyed, they were bloody well going to take a few Germans with them. Yet, history has remained silent on the subject of these poor lads. The Belgian contribution to the Battle of Dunkirk was only publicly commemorated for the first time in 1995, when the government of the Grand Duchy of Flanders (5) erected a monument in Dunkerque Harbour.

German forces rush to engage the British in Dunkirk's High Street. Three more cautious comrades can be seen in the rear.
germantroopsdunkirk.jpg


The troopships returned one last time at six-thirty PM on the 28th. Another few thousand British lined up on the beach, eager to head home. The last evacuation would not go as smoothly as hoped, however. As haggard British troops lined up at the harbour to board, they heard a buzzing overhead. Two massive balloons, escorted by black aeroplanes, flew overhead, casting a shadow as they flew in front of the sun. As the horrified British soldiers watched, the airplanes zipped down, their machine-guns blazing away. Men threw themselves to the sand, praying that they wouldn’t get hit, while bolder ones stood and shot at the planes; German gunners rewarded such bravery with death. Terrifying as it was, the aerial assault wasn’t the main German aim. While the men were distracted, the two Zeppelins released their bombs, which came crashing down on the harbour. The force of the explosion hurled cowering British troops into the sea and blasted apart the harbour arm. The SS Dieppe, waiting to pick up troops, was hit and rapidly ran aground as the German raiders returned home. Now, the harbour was blocked by the Dieppe’s ruins. Even moving the wreck to repair the harbour arm looked to be a difficult undertaking. Since troopships and destroyers have to remain in a certain depth of water, and since one couldn’t expect the British troops to swim en masse to them, that left everyone in a right pickle. Henceforth, British troops would have to evacuate from the open beaches… which were too shallow for transports and destroyers. Meanwhile, the Germans were still closing in, and it was going to be a long night for Sir Douglas Haig...

When the day’s Dynamo evacuees reached Deal, it must’ve seemed to many that if this was an example of the British soldier, then the Empire’s days were numbered. All were parched and famished, and many had been sick on the rough Channel crossing. Most were missing some piece of equipment, while- despite Haig’s wishes- the evacuees had not left as coherent units. They had left the vast majority of their heavy equipment such as artillery behind, and it would later fall into German hands. It was a ragtag bunch of men who staggered to their barracks, where Army nurses greeted them with a bowl of soup and a cup of tea. The worst part of it all was that they were the lucky ones. Across the Channel, the defenders of Dunkirk had no reprieve, despite the slackening pace of German attacks. Firefights, hunger, and above all, stress kept many up all night, including Sir Douglas Haig. A mounting sense of desperation filled the British commander as he realised that he and the men he commanded might not make it home. Haig dropped off at around one in the morning, but an hour later, a pistol shot woke him. Leaping up, gun already in hand, he nearly tripped over his adjutant’s body; the man had killed himself.

Meanwhile, across the Channel, ace schemer Churchill had yet to give up. He had a cunning plan which might just make the evacuation work and save thousands of lives… and of course, his own career. When Asquith summoned him a few hours after the Zeppelin bombing to account for himself, Churchill proposed that individual fishing-boats and pleasure-craft be used to ferry men home. Asquith was dubious, but at least his First Lord of the Admiralty had a plan, and it was better than nothing. The next day, the 29th, the Prime Minister issued an order commandeering all such craft. The whole day was spent requisitioning and preparing captains for their task, during which over a thousand British troops died in the streets of Dunkirk. When the “Little Ships”, as they quickly became known, set out from the various port towns of southern England- Eastbourne, Hastings, Dover, Folkestone, Deal, Margate, et al.- many must’ve known that if this failed, then it would be game over for the war.

They would soon be proved right.

The Little Ships numbered about 800, and ranged from fourteen feet to forty. Their captains, mostly veterans of Imperial wars too old to fight, awoke in the small hours of 30 May, knocked back a cup of tea, and took their young sons or their friends down to the harbour before sunup. They’d removed all personal items the day before to make room for government-supplied bandages, life rafts, and above all, men. All that was left to do was set off. A handful of Royal Navy destroyers were present to escort the Little Ships and steer them clear of mines. At first, everything seemed excellent- few captains got lost, no one struck a mine, and by noon the Little Ships had come as far as they could go- since Dunkirk beach had numerous submerged rocks, the evacuating British had to wade through a hundred yards of waist-deep water to board. However, the Germans were aware of Churchill’s ploy and their long-range guns shelled the beach as the first Little Ships pulled in. Almost a hundred British troops were killed or wounded. Haig ordered the British guns to concentrate their fire on said artillery, with the result that the afternoon was spent in a substantial artillery duel. A lack of artillery and the fact that they were shipping out much of their manpower forced the British to substantially contract their position. The Field Marshal felt that was a reasonable price to pay, and many agreed with him. By one PM, the Little Ships were full and ready to go.

This photo was taken by a Dutch correspondent shortly after twelve on Dunkirk beach; exhausted British troops wait to be taken off.
dunkirkevacuees.jpg


Then the trouble started.

As mentioned above, the Germans were not blind to the Little Ships’ manoeuvre. Their lunchtime barrage had been an attempt to instill fear and kill troops, but its purpose was also to test for the presence of the Little Ships- the German commander calculated that the British wouldn’t return heavy fire unless their precious vessels had arrived. As soon as the extent of the British counter bombardment became apparent, the German commander telephoned Erich von Falkenhayn with the news. Falkenhayn then issued a coded order to the U-boats moved to the English Channel to interfere with Dynamo- their quarry would be along soon. (6) At approximately one-thirty PM, as the Little Ships headed back to Deal, the weight of a dozen or more men making them noticeably lower in the water, the submarines struck. The handful of Royal Navy destroyers were the first targets, and three were torpedoed in ten minutes; the advantage of the element of surprise. The survivors fought back with depth charges, but the numbers weren’t on their side. In their haste to flee northeast, several panic-stricken Little Ship captains sailed into mines, only furthering chaos. It was like a turkey hunt for the German captains, who merrily let loose with torpedoes and machine-guns. Out of some 800 Little Ships carrying roughly 13,000 men, a mere 562 made it back to England, while only 8,700 evacuees survived to stand in the pub again.

From his headquarters in Dunkirk’s small library, Sir Douglas Haig knew he was trapped, and declared to his men that “With our backs to the wall, each one of us must fight on to the end.” The men fought valiantly, making the Germans pay in blood for every metre they advanced towards the beach. However, they were only delaying the inevitable, and at ten AM on the thirty-first, German troops burst into Haig’s headquarters. The Field Marshal killed one and wounded another before being taken prisoner. Six hours later, the Germans burst onto Dunkirk beach. Despite a full day of evacuation, over ten thousand British troops were still on the beach, and they fought surprisingly well. The Germans spent the rest of the day subduing the beach, fighting not ceasing until well past dusk, when the surviving Tommies threw up their hands. All told, nearly 20,000 British troops stepped into captivity on 31 May, Sir Douglas Haig included. Falkenhayn was now free to turn all his energy on the British forces stretching from Flanders to the Somme River…

As for Winston Churchill, he found out about the Little Ships Massacre roughly two hours after the fact. His response was both quintessential and the target of much scorn from his plethora of enemies. Hands shaking, he removed his glasses and downed a glass of scotch in one go, before uttering one of his famous quotes. “Wars have never been won by evacuations, it is true, but seldom have wars been lost by them. As with so much, we British are first in this.” Such a pithy quote gives no hint of the fate to befall the First Lord of the Admiralty. Once Herbert Asquith found out about the fiasco, he summoned Churchill to Whitehall and gave him a thorough dressing-down. An understandably furious Asquith, who was after all fearful for his own job, placed responsibility for the deaths of five thousand Britons at sea the previous day squarely on Churchill’s head. Asquith would subsequently develop this attack in his memoirs; in the two chapters Churchill devoted in his to the last week of the Great War, he spent a voluminous ten pages fiercely defending himself. All throughout the 1920s, both men would appear in court time and time again, suing the other for libel. But here on a rainy spring day in 1916, Asquith pounded the table and stripped Churchill of his post, calling him incompetent and a disgrace to the history of the Royal Navy. By all accounts, Churchill fought back, calling the Prime Minister a scoundrel, a damn fool for leading the country into an unwinnable war, and if popular rumour is to be believed, several less printable adjectives. According to one of Asquith’s bodyguards, the argument grew so heated that they almost had to eject Churchill from No. 10 by force.

Bitter drama in London aside, if the UK thought it had suffered enough, it hadn’t seen the worst yet…

The day after the Little Ships Massacre, another whammy hit the British Empire off the Danish coast. The German High Seas Fleet, which had henceforth remained cooped up in Baltic ports, set out on the 31st. One can find the roots of the battle in the morning of 31 May, when the High Seas Fleet left harbour. Within hours, the UK’s code-breakers knew what had happened, and the Admiralty gave the go-ahead for the Royal Navy to hunt down and destroy the Germans. Sir David Beatty led his naval contingent into the North Sea to intercept Admiral Franz Hipper and lead him towards Sir John Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet, which would crush the Germans… surely.

At 2:20 PM, one of Beatty’s ships detected several German torpedo boats, engaging them eight minutes later. Hipper moved south, hoping that the British would chase him and run into Admiral Reinhard Scheer. Together, he hoped, they could defeat Beatty and achieve their purpose. The two fleets grappled with each other as they steamed southeast, the first shots being fired at twelve minutes to four. The Royal Navy was soon in for an unpleasant discovery; years of attempting to build as many ships as possible had led to armour being somewhat neglected. German shells could easily cut through the steel plating and make for the highly explosive ammunition magazine, with predictable results. Beatty’s flagship HMS Lion was severely damaged, and only a chance flood in the magazine saved her from a fatal fireball. HMS Indefatigable and HMS Queen Mary weren’t so lucky- both were torn apart by fire, and out of 2,294 sailors on both ships, eleven survived. However, things were soon about to turn around. At approximately four PM, Beatty realised he was being led into the jaws of Scheer’s fleet and turned around, putting everything he had into the flight north. Now, the roles were reversed: Beatty led Hipper and Scheer towards Jellicoe while trading fire with them. The moment everyone had been waiting for came at approximately six PM, when both British fleets clashed with both German ones. This was only the third time in history that two fully metal battleship fleets had clashed (the other two both being in the Russo-Japanese War), and one would have to go back to Nelson’s day to find a naval battle of such scope. HMS Defence took a ferocious pounding, while the somewhat misnamed battleship HMS Invincible was sent flying in all directions barely half an hour into the fighting. A whopping 1,026 Royal Navy sailors died with the latter. Making the most of their numerical advantage, the British lobbed shells at the Germans at an unmatchable rate. Shortly before seven PM, Jellicoe’s dreadnoughts “crossed the T”- that is, they moved into a sideways position vis-à-vis the Germans, turning the fury of their side guns on them. Not wanting to become one with the Indefatigable, Queen Mary, Defence, and Invincible (among others), Scheer decided it was high time to call it a day. The High Seas Fleet looped to the southwest, intending to reach Wilhelmshaven. Newly confident now that he’d got them on the run, Jellicoe opted to cut them off and turned his fleet due south. Before too long, the Royal Navy and High Seas Fleet were trading shots once more. Aware that the foe outgunned him, Scheer opted to save his battleships- not only were they more useful in combat, but the Kaiser would censure him had he lost the prestige-winning heavy ships. The German battlecruisers took egregious damage, and many a German sailor died so Scheer could get away. By now, it was dusk, meaning Jellicoe’s chances of bringing a successful pursuit off were nil. Aboard SMS Friedrich der Grosse, Scheer weighed his options. Clearly, despite inflicting serious losses on the enemy, he had failed in his primary objective- to isolate and sink a substantial portion of the Grand Fleet. His own losses had been nearly as heavy as those of the British, with many of his battlecruisers limping like wounded pack animals, totally dependent on the herd for survival. If he couldn’t use darkness as his cloak to return to safety, things might turn very ugly in the morning. Scheer opted to take the fastest route home via Horn’s Reef. This was fortunate, as Jellicoe had expected action further north, with the result that Horn’s Reef was guarded by little more than a destroyer flotilla. When the two collided at approximately 11:20 PM, the cautious British refrained from attacking for fear that the approaching ships might be friendly. Scheer didn’t waste the element of surprise, and inflicted heavy casualties on the British. As earlier in the day, the Royal Navy shot itself in the foot by not maintaining effective communication with Jellicoe, thus leaving the destroyers to duke it out with the High Seas Fleet. The end result was predictable: at 2 AM on 1 June, having lost the pre-dreadnought SMS Pommern and a crippled battlecruiser, the remnants of the High Seas Fleet pulled away. When he finally found out, Jellicoe wasn’t worried, confident that he would be able to intercept and destroy Scheer that day. It was not to be. A little after lunchtime, an exhausted Scheer dropped anchor at Wilhelmshaven, ending the Battle of Jutland. Both sides had given it all they had, and both sides had suffered tremendously. The High Seas Fleet had lost a battlecruiser, a pre-dreadnought, four light cruisers, five destroyers, and 2,551 lives, while the Royal Navy had lost three battlecruisers, three armoured cruisers, eight destroyers, and 6,094 lives.

Battleships advancing under heavy fire at Jutland.
battleofjutland.png


The legacy of Jutland is hard to pin down. Certainly, the British achieved a tactical victory- given their numerical superiority, such a thing was to be expected. What is more controversial is the battle’s long-term strategic impact. In a typical bit of hyperbole, Kaiser Wilhelm exclaimed that “the spirit of Trafalgar is broken!”, but one can dismiss that as nationalist bluster. The Royal Navy had been damaged, but it was still the strongest fleet in the world, certainly stronger than the Kaiserliche Marine. A second sortie would surely have failed… and this is where discussion of Jutland’s strategic implications hit a wall. Considering that the Anglo-German war had but a week left, we shall never know how the naval war might’ve developed had hostilities stretched on into 1917. One guess was made in the 2003 work Year Three on the High Seas, a counterfactual history by Swedish naval historian G.E. Larsen. Larsen’s thesis was that the Royal Navy blockade could’ve held indefinitely, and that Britain could’ve starved Germany into submission by mid-1917 without setting a boot in France. The author remains sceptical; his views are that German access to French ports could’ve circumvented the blockade perfectly fine, and that the Kaiser could’ve pushed for such a thing. What is certain is that following the Dynamo debacle, news of a bloody naval battle was not what the British public nor the British government wanted to hear, and it pushed many towards a pro-peace stance. At any rate, speculation aside, the events of 5 June would persuade the British that peace had to be made.

Sir Herbert Kitchener was a deeply respected figure in Great Britain. He had been the senior commander of the BEF for the first two years of the war, outranking Sir John French. Despite losing his post at the end of 1915, his name still carried a great deal of gravitas. Disgusted by the deadlock in the West, he had taken an interest in the Eastern Front as a means of galvanising the Entente war effort. The collapse of France had only heightened his interest in the Tsar’s potential, and he was en route to Arkhangelsk to meet prominent Russian officials. Britain had a policy of funneling borrowed American money to Petrograd, and Kitchener would likely have discussed the possibility of another massive loan. However, the weather turned foul, and before too long, a force-9 gale was tossing his ship about like a bath toy. Unsurprisingly, she struck a mine, sending the British hero to a watery grave. That same day, hundreds of miles to the south, another disaster struck the Royal Navy. Patrolling halfway between Malta and Marseilles, Italian submarine skipper Luigi Rizzo encountered the dreadnought HMS Queen Elizabeth, and no destroyers were in sight. Scarcely believing his good luck, Rizzo sent two torpedoes into the Queen Elizabeth’s hull, and watched with great satisfaction as the behemoth slipped below the waterline. The battleship was too far from land for any boats to come by, and thus those who didn’t initially drown succumbed to exhaustion.

London found out about the twin losses at roughly the same time, creating much confusion. Kitchener was dead? Had he been torpedoed, had he struck a mine, or what? But those reports must be wrong- he wasn’t anywhere near the Queen Elizabeth. It took some time to figure out that the loss of Kitchener and the loss of the dreadnought were coincidences, but by the end of the day, Asquith was aware of the day’s damage. His task was to figure out a way to present this to the public. Those living in Kent were already amply aware of how bad things were- if they hadn’t seen the Dynamo evacuees firsthand, someone they knew had. Elsewhere, morale wasn’t as bad, but there was still a dreadful sense that things were going wrong. With Russia tottering, the French knocked out of the war, tens of thousands of young men sitting behind German barbed wire, many more totally isolated and in mortal danger, not one but three embarrassments at sea, the capture of Earl Haig, and the death of Lord Kitchener, (all of which save the first had occurred within a month) the appetite of many, proletarian and politician alike, for yet more conflict was nil. From Asquith’s perspective, if he tried to send the Dynamo evacuees across the Channel again, either they’d get sunk or mutiny; both seemed just as likely and as disastrous. What would be worse was the spectre of riots breaking out over why the UK continued to put its blood and money into a war which was clearly lost. If that happened… well, Asquith had no desire to see revolution on his streets. Cognisant that no British arms could alter the situation on the Continent, and aware that his government’s life expectancy could be measured in weeks if not days, on 7 June, Herbert Asquith sent a telegram to Sir Mansfield Findlay, the British ambassador in Oslo. Would the Norwegian government be interested in brokering an armistice with the British?

Sir Findlay telegraphed back on the eighth that King Haakon VII’s government would be interested in such a thing. Asquith was relieved, as the Norwegians had demonstrated pro-Entente sympathies in the past, and it was hoped that they might influence things Britain’s way. Later that day, Sir Findlay added that the German ambassador to Norway had received information from his government; the Kaiser and his associates were interested in a cease-fire as well. Sagging his shoulders with relief, Asquith telephoned Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey. He was to pack his bags and brush up on his Norwegian; a ticket from Glasgow to Oslo had already been booked.

Although Grey arrived in Oslo on the evening of the twelfth, the late hour meant that negotiations didn’t commence until the next morning. His opposite number was Arthur Zimmermann, he who had won over Italy some twenty months previous. The Germans treated Grey with more respect than Picot and Cambrone had been and gave British interests more consideration. The reason was simple: the UK had been beaten, but it hadn’t been crushed. Germany couldn’t hope to eliminate its warmaking capacity the way it had with France. Ultimately, the armistice signed on the thirteenth of June 1916, while still representing a British capitulation, was not as crushing as the one imposed France. The highlights were:

  • All fighting between British and German troops is to cease within twelve hours
  • No combat at sea is to take place; if attacked, either side may defend itself
  • The U-boat campaign against British shipping is to cease as soon as submarine commanders can be informed, while the Royal Navy units involved in the “distant” blockade of Germany are to enter port no later than 1 July.
  • The remaining British units in France are to be disarmed and provided with transportation home at the expense of the UK Government. Germany shall have until 13 August to ensure that all British servicemen are repatriated.
  • All prisoners and captured equipment are to be retained for the moment and returned within thirty days of the signing of a peace treaty, this includes wounded men in stable condition.
The last point caused a great deal of controversy when announced publicly. Asquith was deeply uncomfortable with consigning thousands upon thousands of his men- including Earl Haig, for heaven’s sake!- to humiliating captivity, and consoled himself with the knowledge that a peace treaty would soon be signed. From the German perspective, keeping thousands of British prisoners would give them a valuable bargaining chip when a proper peace treaty was signed. Meanwhile, they prepared for a week of speeches, parades, and alcohol, while Falkenhayn dreamt of a war-winning campaign in the East. Asquith, who would be forced out of office and replaced by David Lloyd George seven days later, prepared to face the furious press and the furious opposition in Parliament. From his cushy exile in Blenheim Palace, Winston Churchill shook his fist at the Government and called Asquith a thousand names. Earl Haig grit his teeth and ate his sauerkraut with the other men, while the dispossessed King of the Belgians sank into depression. And over in Petrograd, Tsar Nicholas began sweating.

Germany had won in the West, and its place in the sun seemed tantalisingly close…



  1. A little out-of-character, I know, but necessary to let the chapter run properly.
  2. He knows a lost cause when he sees one!
  3. No Gallipoli means that Churchill is First Sea Lord for longer ITTL.
  4. Obviously, IOTL this joke was used at Stalingrad.
  5. All will be revealed in time. ;)
  6. These were the same U-boats which the British nearly bumped into at the start of the Battle of Jutland IOTL.
 
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Irvine

Banned
Chapter Ten- Britain Quits
"If we can crush that little pocket that is Dunkirk, this war will be over. Now that their best sword has been knocked from their hand, the British are all too keen to surrender. I challenge Hindenburg or Ludendorff to do better."
- Erich von Falkenhayn, 27 May 1916

"There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today."
- Admiral John Jellicoe, 31 May 1916

"The spirit of Trafalgar is broken!"
-
Kaiser Wilhelm II in the wake of the Battle of Jutland

"Well, I was a bit cheeky to this 'ere Jerry sergeant, and I said something rather rude to 'im. He gave me a good kick and took me to a cell, right? And the next day, in comes this other bloke, and we got chatting a bit later on, when the Germans wasn't looking. Imagine me surprise when I found out 'oo it was! Old Marshal Haig himself. He was a bit morose, didn't say much, you know. But I thought, I thought to meself, "blimey, this 'ere's the chap who sent me and me mates over the top time and again, and the Germans went and captured 'im like the rest of us?" At first, I thought it was a bit funny, but I didn't really say anything, didn't want to offend a ruddy Field Marshal, did I? But then I thought- wait a tick, wait a tick. If a big hat like Haig got captured- then blimey, we must really be losing 'ard. I didn't laugh so much after that."
-Sergeant David Cross in a BBC television interview, 1976


For Britain, the Springtime Mutinies spelled disaster. They had well over a million men stationed on French soil- all north of the Somme River- and Herbert Asquith feared for their safety. Towards the end of April, he made clear to Douglas Haig that if mutinous French troops did something as insane as attacking British forces, Haig was to fight back. However, neither Asquith nor Haig were as worried about a military attack from French mutineers as a propaganda one. Young Tommy Atkins wanted to be back in Blighty, cup of proper tea in hand, watching a local football match with the wife. There were a million Tommy Atkinses on the Western Front. Until now, the expectation had been that British troops could and would take anything, and Haig had felt that these men were his to experiment with, consequence-free. Now, though, that trust in the men from on high was shaken. Even while the French army disintegrated during April and the Kaiserschlacht, the British refrained from launching an offensive to pressure the Germans. The French High Command’s motto of “just one more offensive!” had pushed their army into chaos. Douglas Haig, murmured comments of the men under him notwithstanding, wasn’t stupid, and he would not make the same mistake. However, this left the BEF in rather a curious position. If they couldn’t be trusted to mount offensives, what were they doing? During the darkest days of the Kaiserschlacht, Haig sent some British troops down to the French sector, but this wasn’t particularly effective. These British troops were too few to effectively pad the lines, and ended up chewed up as cannon fodder… when word spread, it only made Asquith and Haig still more nervous.

The Armistice of 23 May was a catastrophe for the British. Suddenly, over a million of their lads were stuck in an uncooperative foreign country, with a hostile army literally hundreds of yards away. When Asquith found out about the Armistice- he was informed by a rather breathless spy operating in Denmark only a few hours before Kaiser Wilhelm spoke from the Reichstag window- he was livid, and muttered, “those damn frogs deserve whatever comes to them!” He immediately rang Joseph Caillaux, but- in one of those great little moments of history- the French operator just so happened to accidentally put him through to a Parisian butcher’s shop. The British Prime Minister said some very foul words to the startled Frenchman and tried again. This time, in a first for the British during the war, he broke through to his target. Asquith resisted the urge to give Caillaux a piece of his mind and merely informed his French counterpart that his actions ran “in an opposite direction to the nature of our alliance.” The PM hoped to achieve something constructive- his goal was not to persuade Caillaux to resume hostilities (he knew a lost cause when he saw one), but to assist the BEF in getting across the Channel quickly and safely. In the back of his mind, Asquith must’ve known that there was no longer any chance for victory, but that didn’t diminish his obligation as a statesman to protect the lives of his country’s young men. Too much was at risk for things to fail, he impressed upon Caillaux…

… and the British were about to see exactly what could go wrong.

Now that a cease-fire with the French was in effect, Erich von Falkenhayn’s options multiplied. Close to a million men were on the Western Front, and with France all but defeated, they no longer needed to man the lines. While naturally keeping adequate troops to “pad” the lines in case hostilities resumed with the French, substantial German forces shifted to the British sector north of the Somme River. It was a mark of the ease with which Germany could operate in the West that they could imagine a new full-scale offensive only weeks after the Kaiserschlacht. In fact, preparations for a blow against the British had started even before the Armistice, as soon as the French Army began to crumble- this explains how a new offensive could be launched a mere two days after the cessation of hostilities with France. Thus, on the 26th of May, the British forces in Flanders felt the wrath of a new offensive. Falkenhayn had deputised tactical planning for the Third Battle of Ypres to Oskar von Hutier, who was rapidly becoming his protege. Third Ypres commenced at 4 AM on the 26th with a “hurricane barrage”, using several Austro-Hungarian Skoda howitzers. Some 35 German divisions from other sectors of the West, from Italy, and even from the Eastern Front, went over the top. Bardonecchia veterans practised the same Hutier-style assault tactics they’d performed on the Italian front, penetrating the thick British defences. In the skies, German ace Oswald Boelcke led several squadrons of fighters behind enemy lines, providing reconnaissance and strafing British troops. The response from Sir Henry Rawlinson, Haig’s deputy in the area, was slow. His front line under heavy shellfire and German columns stabbing into his rear, by one PM Rawlinson bit the bullet and ordered tactical retreats. He meant these as a tactical expedient to straighten his line, but once men started running it was awfully hard to get them to stop. German troops chased the British and Belgians across the muddy battlefield until nightfall, advancing as far as the Franco-Belgian border northwest of Poperinge. Fighting continued the next day, and it was now painfully clear that the Germans had broken through.

View attachment 581690

A cursory glance at a map will reveal the danger: from the Franco-Belgian border to Dunkirk is a mere 25 kilometres. It seemed inevitable that Dunkirk would become the scene of fighting in a day or two. Meanwhile, the shattering of their left flank left the rest of the BEF- several million men- dangerously exposed. If Dunkirk and Calais fell, the Germans would trap them and they would have to surrender en masse. Sir Douglas Haig was not blind to this. There was nothing he wanted to do more than halt the retreat and go back on the offensive, but the power displayed by the Germans on the first day of Third Ypres had left his forces winded. Furthermore, there was plenty of pressure from Whitehall; Asquith couldn’t let the flower of his country’s youth get cut off and trapped, and Haig knew that if the BEF south of Ypres became isolated, the war would be over- and with it his career. Thus, he saw only one option- retreat. (1) At a tense meeting with King Albert of Belgium in the small hours of the 26th, he explained the necessity. The King of the Belgians was furious, ranting about “British betrayal at the eleventh hour”, but was mollified when Haig promised to allow Belgian units to accompany the British. The sun poked its head above the trees only hours after King Albert and Haig met, signalling to both sides that the fighting was to continue. Now that the element of surprise had faded, the Anglo-Belgian defenders put up stiffer resistance. But the delay imposed on the Kaiser’s armies was a matter of hours, not days, and dozens of bodies, not hundreds. Dunkirk seemed doomed to fall the next day, and that would be checkmate for the BEF.

A hop, skip, and a jump away in London, Prime Minister Asquith was now panicking. All of his nightmares about losing the Channel ports seemed to be coming true. Desperation filled the old man’s soul as he telephoned Joseph Caillaux at seven PM London time. He recognised that France had signed a cease-fire; his aim wasn’t to get the French to restart hostilities per se. (2) No, instead he wanted French permission to use Dunkirk, Calais, and other ports as evacuation centres, and for the French to assist the BEF in getting to said ports. Cautiously, the French PM agreed.

His cooperation with the UK would prove short-lived.

Early on the 27th, Joseph Caillaux’s telephone rang, with none other than Erich von Falkenhayn on the line. The German Chief of Staff had figured out what the French were up to, and he was livid. How dare they try to pull something like this? With classic furor Teutonicus, Falkenhayn raged that he was being generous not restarting hostilities to punish the French for their “insolence”- a prospect which must’ve made the room swim before Caillaux’s eyes. If the French didn’t shut down the Channel ports immediately, the German Army would bring further punishment down on their heads. Falkenhayn also hinted that German troops would soon be engaged in fresh military operations against the British on French soil, and that it would be unwise, to say the least, to complain. Damning les Boches in his mind, Calliaux agreed, and set off to telephone Robert Nievelle. These instructions baffled the French commander-in-chief. His men were refusing to fight the invaders occupying their homeland. They wanted to go home fast, and if they didn’t get their wish, things could go from bad to worse. And now, Nievelle asked incredulously, the Germans wanted French troops to fight the British? He was sorry, but there was nothing that could be done. Thus, Caillaux rang back Falkenhayn and informed him of the situation. He’d be willing to shut down the Channel ports to British craft and grant the Germans right of way, but there was no way he could supply troops. Surprisingly, Falkenhayn took Caillaux at his word, perhaps realising just how deep the malaise of mutiny had spread in the French Army. Meanwhile, Caillaux had a very awkward telephone call to make to No. 10 Downing Street.

A few minutes later, Herbert Asquith literally threw down his telephone receiver and pounded the desk, epithets flying off his tongue. Caillaux, he thundered to his aides, was a collaborator! Why was he sealing British troops in the Channel ports if not to let the Germans come and wipe them out? Of course, he didn’t know about Falkenhayn’s harsh telephone call. Asquith ordered Sir Douglas Haig, himself now in Dunkirk, that his men were to return fire if the French attempted to prevent their entering the harbour, “or otherwise subjected them to armed harassment.” Just as all seemed lost, the First Sea Lord (3) stepped in. Winston Churchill had a grand plan- to rescue as many British troops from France as possible before the Germans closed in. Citing the need for “steadfastness, courage, and dynamism”, the First Sea Lord dubbed his scheme Operation Dynamo. At one PM on the 27th, Churchill proposed his scheme to Asquith; the Prime Minister didn’t need much coaxing to agree. Haig was informed an hour and a half later and told to congregate at Dunkirk. Getting there wouldn’t be an issue- the Germans had driven the British back to the coast, and the Royal Army was attempting to construct a redoubt between Dunkirk and Bray-Dunes. Haig issued the requisite orders, and within a few hours, Dunkirk was under British martial law- which caused more than a few raised eyebrows in Paris- and looked every inch like a British army camp. Seeing as how Dynamo had only officially commenced at half-past-two, and sailing through the mine-ridden English Channel at night was a good way to cut one’s life expectancy, no transports could reach the town in time for evacuations that day. Meanwhile, Falkenhayn sensed what Haig was up to, and turned the bulk of his army to besiege the small town; reserves shielded his flank from a potential relief attempt by the rest of the BEF.

During the evening of the 27th, the Royal Navy assembled a fleet of troopships at Kent, ready for action the following day, while the defenders of Dunkirk fought valiantly throughout the night. By nine PM, the Germans had brought up a considerable amount of artillery, and spent much of the night firing registration shots. It was a long night for everyone on both sides, to put it mildly. But, as the old saying goes, the night is darkest before the dawn. At four-fifteen AM, the telephone in Haig’s headquarters (the Dunkirk public library) rang with good news- the first wave of transports was setting off from Deal, and should arrive at a quarter to seven. Haig pulled fifteen hundred men out of the line and marched them to the beach shortly before the transports arrived; that they were all British caused some grumbling amongst the Belgians. Small-arms fire rattled in the background as the men nervously stood on the beach. Then, just as the first rays of sun appeared over the village, the troopships steamed in slowly, naval flags fluttering in the breeze. Cheering, the exhausted men boarded. For them, the war was over. Their conviviality lasted mere moments, before one of their number struck a mine laid by the French. The explosion sent a hundred men flying in all directions before their very eyes; six survived. The troops shivered all the way home, and it wasn’t from the cold. An officer from Deal harbour telephoned Haig at ten AM with the good news that the men were now back on English soil, and that the transports would be back at one PM. All throughout the morning, British troops fought a delaying action on the perimeter of town, waiting for the transports to come take them off. Haig could hear the rattle of gunfire in his office, and no doubt fingered the pistol in his pocket for comfort. Not since the Boer War fourteen years earlier had the Field Marshal been close enough to the fighting to hear the rattle of small-arms. The troopships duly returned at one PM, carrying off another two thousand men. Fighting continued throughout the afternoon, with Anglo-Belgian forces doing their damndest to resist. One German soldier, remembering the battle decades later, joked that his platoon had “taken the kitchen, but needed another big push to capture the sitting-room!” (4) This was First World War combat par excellence- a machine-gun and a few strands of barbed wire could hold attackers up for a long while. The only difference was that instead of trenches, soldiers fought from houses and street barricades. For the British, there was a simple reason for such dogged resistance- if the harbour fell, there’d be no escape for any of them. But for many Belgians, the battle for Dunkirk had a more emotional aspect. Unlike the British, their homeland was under enemy occupation. Thus, they had many personal grievances the Tommies lacked. Since the Germans were obviously winning the war, they had no home to return to. If they were to die and be buried on foreign soil, their lives destroyed, they were bloody well going to take a few Germans with them. Yet, history has remained silent on the subject of these poor lads. The Belgian contribution to the Battle of Dunkirk was only publicly commemorated for the first time in 1995, when the government of the Grand Duchy of Flanders (5) erected a monument in Dunkerque Harbour.

German forces rush to engage the British in Dunkirk's High Street. Three more cautious comrades can be seen in the rear.
View attachment 581692

The troopships returned one last time at six-thirty PM on the 28th. Another few thousand British lined up on the beach, eager to head home. The last evacuation would not go as smoothly as hoped, however. As haggard British troops lined up at the harbour to board, they heard a buzzing overhead. Two massive balloons, escorted by black aeroplanes, flew overhead, casting a shadow as they flew in front of the sun. As the horrified British soldiers watched, the airplanes zipped down, their machine-guns blazing away. Men threw themselves to the sand, praying that they wouldn’t get hit, while bolder ones stood and shot at the planes; German gunners rewarded such bravery with death. Terrifying as it was, the aerial assault wasn’t the main German aim. While the men were distracted, the two Zeppelins released their bombs, which came crashing down on the harbour. The force of the explosion hurled cowering British troops into the sea and blasted apart the harbour arm. The SS Dieppe, waiting to pick up troops, was hit and rapidly ran aground as the German raiders returned home. Now, the harbour was blocked by the Dieppe’s ruins. Even moving the wreck to repair the harbour arm looked to be a difficult undertaking. Since troopships and destroyers have to remain in a certain depth of water, and since one couldn’t expect the British troops to swim en masse to them, that left everyone in a right pickle. Henceforth, British troops would have to evacuate from the open beaches… which were too shallow for transports and destroyers. Meanwhile, the Germans were still closing in, and it was going to be a long night for Sir Douglas Haig...

When the day’s Dynamo evacuees reached Deal, it must’ve seemed to many that if this was an example of the British soldier, then the Empire’s days were numbered. All were parched and famished, and many had been sick on the rough Channel crossing. Most were missing some piece of equipment, while- despite Haig’s wishes- the evacuees had not left as coherent units. They had left the vast majority of their heavy equipment such as artillery behind, and it would later fall into German hands. It was a ragtag bunch of men who staggered to their barracks, where Royal Army nurses greeted them with a bowl of soup and a cup of tea. The worst part of it all was that they were the lucky ones. Across the Channel, the defenders of Dunkirk had no reprieve, despite the slackening pace of German attacks. Firefights, hunger, and above all, stress kept many up all night, including Sir Douglas Haig. A mounting sense of desperation filled the British commander as he realised that he and the men he commanded might not make it home. Haig dropped off at around one in the morning, but an hour later, a pistol shot woke him. Leaping up, gun already in hand, he nearly tripped over his adjutant’s body; the man had killed himself.

Meanwhile, across the Channel, ace schemer Churchill had yet to give up. He had a cunning plan which might just make the evacuation work and save thousands of lives… and of course, his own career. When Asquith summoned him a few hours after the Zeppelin bombing to account for himself, Churchill proposed that individual fishing-boats and pleasure-craft be used to ferry men home. Asquith was dubious, but at least his First Sea Lord had a plan, and it was better than nothing. The next day, the 29th, the Prime Minister issued an order commandeering all such craft. The whole day was spent requisitioning and preparing captains for their task, during which over a thousand British troops died in the streets of Dunkirk. When the “Little Ships”, as they quickly became known, set out from the various port towns of southern England- Eastbourne, Hastings, Dover, Folkestone, Deal, Margate, et al.- many must’ve known that if this failed, then it would be game over for the war.

They would soon be proved right.

The Little Ships numbered about 800, and ranged from fourteen feet to forty. Their captains, mostly veterans of Imperial wars too old to fight, awoke in the small hours of 30 May, knocked back a cup of tea, and took their young sons or their friends down to the harbour before sunup. They’d removed all personal items the day before to make room for government-supplied bandages, life rafts, and above all, men. All that was left to do was set off. A handful of Royal Navy destroyers were present to escort the Little Ships and steer them clear of mines. At first, everything seemed excellent- few captains got lost, no one struck a mine, and by noon the Little Ships had come as far as they could go- since Dunkirk beach had numerous submerged rocks, the evacuating British had to wade through a hundred yards of waist-deep water to board. However, the Germans were aware of Churchill’s ploy and their long-range guns shelled the beach as the first Little Ships pulled in. Almost a hundred British troops were killed or wounded. Haig ordered the British guns to concentrate their fire on said artillery, with the result that the afternoon was spent in a substantial artillery duel. A lack of artillery and the fact that they were shipping out much of their manpower forced the British to substantially contract their position. The Field Marshal felt that was a reasonable price to pay, and many agreed with him. By one PM, the Little Ships were full and ready to go.

This photo was taken by a Dutch correspondent shortly after nine on Dunkirk beach; exhausted British troops wait to be taken off.
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Then the trouble started.

As mentioned above, the Germans were not blind to the Little Ships’ manoeuvre. Their lunchtime barrage had been an attempt to instill fear and kill troops, but its purpose was also to test for the presence of the Little Ships- the German commander calculated that the British wouldn’t return heavy fire unless their precious vessels had arrived. As soon as the extent of the British counter bombardment became apparent, the German commander telephoned Erich von Falkenhayn with the news. Falkenhayn then issued a coded order to the U-boats moved to the English Channel to interfere with Dynamo- their quarry would be along soon. (6) At approximately one-thirty PM, as the Little Ships headed back to Deal, the weight of a dozen or more men making them noticeably lower in the water, the submarines struck. The handful of Royal Navy destroyers were the first targets, and three were torpedoed in ten minutes; the advantage of the element of surprise. The survivors fought back with depth charges, but the numbers weren’t on their side. In their haste to flee northeast, several panic-stricken Little Ship captains sailed into mines, only furthering chaos. It was like a turkey hunt for the German captains, who merrily let loose with torpedoes and machine-guns. Out of some 800 Little Ships carrying roughly 13,000 men, a mere 562 made it back to England, while only 8,700 evacuees survived to stand in the pub again.

From his headquarters in Dunkirk’s small library, Sir Douglas Haig knew he was trapped, and declared to his men that “With our backs to the wall, each one of us must fight on to the end.” The men fought valiantly, making the Germans pay in blood for every metre they advanced towards the beach. However, they were only delaying the inevitable, and at ten AM on the thirty-first, German troops burst into Haig’s headquarters. The Field Marshal killed one and wounded another before being taken prisoner. Six hours later, the Germans burst onto Dunkirk beach. Despite a full day of evacuation, over ten thousand British troops were still on the beach, and they fought surprisingly well. The Germans spent the rest of the day subduing the beach, fighting not ceasing until well past dusk, when the surviving Tommies threw up their hands. All told, nearly 20,000 British troops stepped into captivity on 31 May, Sir Douglas Haig included. Falkenhayn was now free to turn all his energy on the British forces stretching from Flanders to the Somme River…

As for Winston Churchill, he found out about the Little Ships Massacre roughly two hours after the fact. His response was both quintessential and the target of much scorn from his plethora of enemies. Hands shaking, he removed his glasses and downed a glass of scotch in one go, before uttering one of his famous quotes. “Wars have never been won by evacuations, it is true, but seldom have wars been lost by them. As with so much, we British are first in this.” Such a pithy quote gives no hint of the fate to befall the First Sea Lord. Once Herbert Asquith found out about the fiasco, he summoned Churchill to Whitehall and gave him a thorough dressing-down. An understandably furious Asquith, who was after all fearful for his own job, placed responsibility for the deaths of five thousand Britons at sea the previous day squarely on Churchill’s head. Asquith would subsequently develop this attack in his memoirs; in the two chapters Churchill devoted in his to the last week of the Great War, he spent a voluminous ten pages fiercely defending himself. All throughout the 1920s, both men would appear in court time and time again, suing the other for libel. But here on a rainy spring day in 1916, Asquith pounded the table and stripped Churchill of his post, calling him incompetent and a disgrace to the history of the Royal Navy. By all accounts, Churchill fought back, calling the Prime Minister a scoundrel, a damn fool for leading the country into an unwinnable war, and if popular rumour is to be believed, several less printable adjectives. According to one of Asquith’s bodyguards, the argument grew so heated that they almost had to eject Churchill from No. 10 by force.

Bitter drama in London aside, if the UK thought it had suffered enough, it hadn’t seen the worst yet…

The day after the Little Ships Massacre, another whammy hit the British Empire off the Danish coast. The German High Seas Fleet, which had henceforth remained cooped up in Baltic ports, set out on the 31st. One can find the roots of the battle in the morning of 31 May, when the High Seas Fleet left harbour. Within hours, the UK’s code-breakers knew what had happened, and the Admiralty gave the go-ahead for the Royal Navy to hunt down and destroy the Germans. Sir David Beatty led his naval contingent into the North Sea to intercept Admiral Franz Hipper and lead him towards Sir John Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet, which would crush the Germans… surely.

At 2:20 PM, one of Beatty’s ships detected several German torpedo boats, engaging them eight minutes later. Hipper moved south, hoping that the British would chase him and run into Admiral Reinhard Scheer. Together, he hoped, they could defeat Beatty and achieve their purpose. The two fleets grappled with each other as they steamed southeast, the first shots being fired at twelve minutes to four. The Royal Navy was soon in for an unpleasant discovery; years of attempting to build as many ships as possible had led to armour being somewhat neglected. German shells could easily cut through the steel plating and make for the highly explosive ammunition magazine, with predictable results. Beatty’s flagship HMS Lion was severely damaged, and only a chance flood in the magazine saved her from a fatal fireball. HMS Indefatigable and HMS Queen Mary weren’t so lucky- both were torn apart by fire, and out of 2,294 sailors on both ships, eleven survived. However, things were soon about to turn around. At approximately four PM, Beatty realised he was being led into the jaws of Scheer’s fleet and turned around, putting everything he had into the flight north. Now, the roles were reversed: Beatty led Hipper and Scheer towards Jellicoe while trading fire with them. The moment everyone had been waiting for came at approximately six PM, when both British fleets clashed with both German ones. This was only the third time in history that two fully metal battleship fleets had clashed (the other two both being in the Russo-Japanese War), and one would have to go back to Nelson’s day to find a naval battle of such scope. HMS Defence took a ferocious pounding, while the somewhat misnamed battleship HMS Invincible was sent flying in all directions barely half an hour into the fighting. A whopping 1,026 Royal Navy sailors died with the latter. Making the most of their numerical advantage, the British lobbed shells at the Germans at an unmatchable rate. Shortly before seven PM, Jellicoe’s dreadnoughts “crossed the T”- that is, they moved into a sideways position vis-à-vis the Germans, turning the fury of their side guns on them. Not wanting to become one with the Indefatigable, Queen Mary, Defence, and Invincible (among others), Scheer decided it was high time to call it a day. The High Seas Fleet looped to the southwest, intending to reach Wilhelmshaven. Newly confident now that he’d got them on the run, Jellicoe opted to cut them off and turned his fleet due south. Before too long, the Royal Navy and High Seas Fleet were trading shots once more. Aware that the foe outgunned him, Scheer opted to save his battleships- not only were they more useful in combat, but the Kaiser would censure him had he lost the prestige-winning heavy ships. The German battlecruisers took egregious damage, and many a German sailor died so Scheer could get away. By now, it was dusk, meaning Jellicoe’s chances of bringing a successful pursuit off were nil. Aboard SMS Friedrich der Grosse, Scheer weighed his options. Clearly, despite inflicting serious losses on the enemy, he had failed in his primary objective- to isolate and sink a substantial portion of the Grand Fleet. His own losses had been nearly as heavy as those of the British, with many of his battlecruisers limping like wounded pack animals, totally dependent on the herd for survival. If he couldn’t use darkness as his cloak to return to safety, things might turn very ugly in the morning. Scheer opted to take the fastest route home via Horn’s Reef. This was fortunate, as Jellicoe had expected action further north, with the result that Horn’s Reef was guarded by little more than a destroyer flotilla. When the two collided at approximately 11:20 PM, the cautious British refrained from attacking for fear that the approaching ships might be friendly. Scheer didn’t waste the element of surprise, and inflicted heavy casualties on the British. As earlier in the day, the Royal Navy shot itself in the foot by not maintaining effective communication with Jellicoe, thus leaving the destroyers to duke it out with the High Seas Fleet. The end result was predictable: at 2 AM on 1 June, having lost the pre-dreadnought SMS Pommern and a crippled battlecruiser, the remnants of the High Seas Fleet pulled away. When he finally found out, Jellicoe wasn’t worried, confident that he would be able to intercept and destroy Scheer that day. It was not to be. A little after lunchtime, an exhausted Scheer dropped anchor at Wilhelmshaven, ending the Battle of Jutland. Both sides had given it all they had, and both sides had suffered tremendously. The High Seas Fleet had lost a battlecruiser, a pre-dreadnought, four light cruisers, five destroyers, and 2,551 lives, while the Royal Navy had lost three battlecruisers, three armoured cruisers, eight destroyers, and 6,094 lives.

Battleships advancing under heavy fire at Jutland.
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The legacy of Jutland is hard to pin down. Certainly, the British achieved a tactical victory- given their numerical superiority, such a thing was to be expected. What is more controversial is the battle’s long-term strategic impact. In a typical bit of hyperbole, Kaiser Wilhelm exclaimed that “the spirit of Trafalgar is broken!”, but one can dismiss that as nationalist bluster. The Royal Navy had been damaged, but it was still the strongest fleet in the world, certainly stronger than the Kaiserliche Marine. A second sortie would surely have failed… and this is where discussion of Jutland’s strategic implications hit a wall. Considering that the Anglo-German war had but a week left, we shall never know how the naval war might’ve developed had hostilities stretched on into 1917. One guess was made in the 2003 work Year Three on the High Seas, a counterfactual history by Swedish naval historian G.E. Larsen. Larsen’s thesis was that the Royal Navy blockade could’ve held indefinitely, and that Britain could’ve starved Germany into submission by mid-1917 without setting a boot in France. The author remains sceptical; his views are that German access to French ports could’ve circumvented the blockade perfectly fine, and that the Kaiser could’ve pushed for such a thing. What is certain is that following the Dynamo debacle, news of a bloody naval battle was not what the British public nor the British government wanted to hear, and it pushed many towards a pro-peace stance. At any rate, speculation aside, the events of 5 June would persuade the British that peace had to be made.

Sir Herbert Kitchener was a deeply respected figure in Great Britain. He had been the senior commander of the BEF for the first two years of the war, outranking Sir John French. Despite losing his post at the end of 1915, his name still carried a great deal of gravitas. Disgusted by the deadlock in the West, he had taken an interest in the Eastern Front as a means of galvanising the Entente war effort. The collapse of France had only heightened his interest in the Tsar’s potential, and he was en route to Arkhangelsk to meet prominent Russian officials. Britain had a policy of funneling borrowed American money to Petrograd, and Kitchener would likely have discussed the possibility of another massive loan. However, the weather turned foul, and before too long, a force-9 gale was tossing his ship about like a bath toy. Unsurprisingly, she struck a mine, sending the British hero to a watery grave. That same day, hundreds of miles to the south, another disaster struck the Royal Navy. Patrolling halfway between Malta and Marseilles, Italian submarine skipper Luigi Rizzo encountered the dreadnought HMS Queen Elizabeth, and no destroyers were in sight. Scarcely believing his good luck, Rizzo sent two torpedoes into the Queen Elizabeth’s hull, and watched with great satisfaction as the behemoth slipped below the waterline. The battleship was too far from land for any boats to come by, and thus those who didn’t initially drown succumbed to exhaustion.

London found out about the twin losses at roughly the same time, creating much confusion. Kitchener was dead? Had he been torpedoed, had he struck a mine, or what? But those reports must be wrong- he wasn’t anywhere near the Queen Elizabeth. It took some time to figure out that the loss of Kitchener and the loss of the dreadnought were coincidences, but by the end of the day, Asquith was aware of the day’s damage. His task was to figure out a way to present this to the public. Those living in Kent were already amply aware of how bad things were- if they hadn’t seen the Dynamo evacuees firsthand, someone they knew had. Elsewhere, morale wasn’t as bad, but there was still a dreadful sense that things were going wrong. With Russia tottering, the French knocked out of the war, tens of thousands of young men sitting behind German barbed wire, many more totally isolated and in mortal danger, not one but three embarrassments at sea, the capture of Earl Haig, and the death of Lord Kitchener, (all of which save the first had occurred within a month) the appetite of many, proletarian and politician alike, for yet more conflict was nil. From Asquith’s perspective, if he tried to send the Dynamo evacuees across the Channel again, either they’d get sunk or mutiny; both seemed just as likely and as disastrous. What would be worse was the spectre of riots breaking out over why the UK continued to put its blood and money into a war which was clearly lost. If that happened… well, Asquith had no desire to see revolution on his streets. Cognisant that no British arms could alter the situation on the Continent, and aware that his government’s life expectancy could be measured in weeks if not days, on 7 June, Herbert Asquith sent a telegram to Sir Mansfield Findlay, the British ambassador in Oslo. Would the Norwegian government be interested in brokering an armistice with the British?

Sir Findlay telegraphed back on the eighth that King Haakon VII’s government would be interested in such a thing. Asquith was relieved, as the Norwegians had demonstrated pro-Entente sympathies in the past, and it was hoped that they might influence things Britain’s way. Later that day, Sir Findlay added that the German ambassador to Norway had received information from his government; the Kaiser and his associates were interested in a cease-fire as well. Sagging his shoulders with relief, Asquith telephoned Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey. He was to pack his bags and brush up on his Norwegian; a ticket from Glasgow to Oslo had already been booked.

Although Grey arrived in Oslo on the evening of the twelfth, the late hour meant that negotiations didn’t commence until the next morning. His opposite number was Arthur Zimmermann, he who had won over Italy some twenty months previous. The Germans treated Grey with more respect than Picot and Cambrone had been and gave British interests more consideration. The reason was simple: the UK had been beaten, but it hadn’t been crushed. Germany couldn’t hope to eliminate its warmaking capacity the way it had with France. Ultimately, the armistice signed on the thirteenth of June 1916, while still representing a British capitulation, was not as crushing as the one imposed France. The highlights were:

  • All fighting between British and German troops is to cease within twelve hours
  • No combat at sea is to take place; if attacked, either side may defend itself
  • The U-boat campaign against British shipping is to cease as soon as submarine commanders can be informed, while the Royal Navy units involved in the “distant” blockade of Germany are to enter port no later than 1 July.
  • The remaining British units in France are to be disarmed and provided with transportation home at the expense of the UK Government. Germany shall have until 13 August to ensure that all British servicemen are repatriated.
  • All prisoners and captured equipment are to be retained for the moment and returned within thirty days of the signing of a peace treaty, this includes wounded men in stable condition.
The last point caused a great deal of controversy when announced publicly. Asquith was deeply uncomfortable with consigning thousands upon thousands of his men- including Earl Haig, for heaven’s sake!- to humiliating captivity, and consoled himself with the knowledge that a peace treaty would soon be signed. From the German perspective, keeping thousands of British prisoners would give them a valuable bargaining chip when a proper peace treaty was signed. Meanwhile, they prepared for a week of speeches, parades, and alcohol, while Falkenhayn dreamt of a war-winning campaign in the East. Asquith, who would be forced out of office and replaced by David Lloyd George seven days later, prepared to face the furious press and the furious opposition in Parliament. From his cushy exile in Blenheim Palace, Winston Churchill shook his fist at the Government and called Asquith a thousand names. Earl Haig grit his teeth and ate his sauerkraut with the other men, while the dispossessed King of the Belgians sank into depression. And over in Petrograd, Tsar Nicholas began sweating.

Germany had won in the West, and its place in the sun seemed tantalisingly close…



  1. A little out-of-character, I know, but necessary to let the chapter run properly.
  2. He knows a lost cause when he sees one!
  3. No Gallipoli means that Churchill is First Sea Lord for longer ITTL.
  4. Obviously, IOTL this joke was used at Stalingrad.
  5. All will be revealed in time. ;)
  6. These were the same U-boats which the British nearly bumped into at the start of the Battle of Jutland IOTL.
Great.
 

Geon

Donor
Just a thought on my part. Given that France ad surrendered might it not have been better for Falkenhayn to - following the French surrender simply give the British an ultimatum? Namely, give them a cease-fire of 72 hours or so to evacuate their troops or face a full offensive. Doing so would probably save hundreds if not thousands of lives on both sides and allow the UK and Germany to retire from the battlefield in an honorable fashion.
 
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