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Trentino and Istria are Italian!
  • Trentino and Istria are under Italian control. Tyrol is not.
    This is canon in the TL... so much so that I gave it a threadmark!

    Please disregard any and all comments made by me which imply anything else.
    My apologies for the confusion.

    Additionally, I've posted a skeleton for chapter 17 in my test thread... it's the most recent post by me.
    If you want to hop over there and tell me how plausible or implausible you find it, that'd be appreciated.
    -Kaiser Wilhelm the Tenth
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    Chapter 17- Roots of the Second French Revolution
  • Chapter Seventeen- Roots of the Second French Revolution

    "All across France that spring, there was a great discontent. People went about their business, picking their lives up as best they could from the war. There was no starvation, as Caillaux and others had feared there might be, and a new way of life was taking place. Yet, beneath the ostensible normalcy, there was a certain feeling that it wasn't all over yet; that France had more to go through. Such pessimists would soon be proved right..."
    -William Crampwell, Robespierre's Heirs: The Second Revolution (1976)

    "People of Dijon! You have seen the frantic efforts with which the government attempts to suppress you- now, in the name of your proletarian interests, rise up and seize power for victory! It will not fall into your lap; but if you believe, at this critical hour, then you can do it!"
    -Georges Sorel to the people of Dijon, 21 October 1917

    Joseph Caillaux’s government lasted four days after the signing of the Treaty of Dresden. A mob greeted him on the train station platform, and his guards had to form a protective square around him. That same day, the French Senate ousted him in a near-unanimous vote of no confidence. The man who signed the dishonourable peace was a perfect scapegoat for everyone’s political failure. With rioting in the streets, families going hungry, and the country weeks away from horrible inflation, the wonder is not that Caillaux lost his government- it’s that he didn’t lose his head. Parliament tapped Émile Loubet of the centrist Democratic Republican Alliance to head a coalition government. Loubet’s task was unenviable; he somehow had to craft a functioning state out of the mess given to him by his predecessor.

    France was in chaos, with no prospect of anything improving. Losing approximately half the country’s natural resources had debased the currency, and the cripplingly high reparations being shipped east threw salt on the wound. By Christmas Day, the franc was down to a thirteenth of its prewar value; when the first 250 million francs went to Germany three weeks later, that went down to a thirtieth. Loubet sought to turn this hyperinflation to the country’s advantage, and he met with the German ambassador a few weeks after taking office, asking if France could pay off its reparations in cash. One didn’t need an economics degree to figure out that if so, the country could throw 65 billion francs’ worth of paper at the Kaiser and be done with reparations by the end of the decade. The German ambassador all but laughed in Loubet’s face. Germany had hoped to create this hyperinflation and wasn’t about to squander its advantage. The ambassador reminded Loubet that the Treaty of Dresden stipulated that the reparations had to be in specie or raw materials, before dismissing him with a wave of the hand.

    Summer 1917: A Frenchman carts almost a hundred million francs to the shops to buy some ordinary goods.

    There was no escape for the French economy, which was swallowed up in a wave of worthless bills. Suppliers had to figure out how to make do without their prewar trade patterns, driving many out of business. Inflation forced the survivors to raise their prices by absurd amounts; the cost of a loaf of bread increased four hundredfold in the first six months of 1917. Since employers had so much worthless money on their hands, they could afford to raise wages, but income never caught up with the costs of living. Ironically, the average household spent more money since before the war in the start of 1917- since last week’s salary couldn’t buy a few potatoes, it only made sense to covert one’s francs into more tangible goods. In places, the French people de facto reverted to a barter economy, as a loaf of bread was filling regardless of whether it cost half a franc or half a million. In the last weeks of 1916, some borrowed money in the expectation of hard times; while the loan quickly lost value, at least it was easy to pay off. By the time of the New Year, however, those who had loaned money realised that things wouldn’t be getting better soon and kept a tighter hand on their pocketbook. Frenchmen lucky enough to have stable foreign connections converted their holdings into American dollars, Spanish pesos, or any other stable currency. Some wasted their coins in the first weeks of the New Year; they lived well for a little while before running out of valuable money. The wiser Frenchmen buried their coins for the day they’d really be worth something and made do with bills for a time. However, the government, desperate as it was for valuable currency, declared this practice a crime.

    Tax collectors went to people’s homes accompanied by discharged ex-soldiers looking to put their physical talents to civilian use. They turned houses upside down and dug up gardens in search of coins, and if they couldn’t find any, the tax collectors would make off with picture frames, jewelry, and even mirrors. Of course, these men were just as hungry as anyone else, and they often had families to feed- thus, they frequently nicked foodstuffs along with valuables. Bands of discharged soldiers, especially those whose homes now lay under German rule, roamed the countryside, living off the land. The average French farmer fought them just as vehemently as he did the tax collectors- they were out to steal the goods he needed to survive just like the tax collectors. Farmers banded together for a common defence, and some small, rural towns of a few hundred people formed local militias to defend their fields from intruders, regardless of whether or not they came from Paris. The government had taken their sons, lost them a war, and ruined their economy- why should they give it still more? Of course, many peasants and country folk remained firmly loyal to the state, but the precedent set was ominous.

    The central government’s control over the state was loosening, and anarchy seemed perilously close.

    Conditions only worsened throughout the summer. Inflation reached four thousand percent in September, and landlords tossed more and more families onto the streets as last week’s wages couldn’t cover the week’s rent. Although one cannot blame Loubet for the conditions in his country- he was just as surprised as everyone else and had next to nothing to work with- his government’s helplessness laid the groundwork for his undoing. As Marcel Cachin, a far-left politician who had kept his head down during the war, remarked, “that summer, the city of Paris was a tinderbox. All that was needed was to lift the lid and let the people explode.” The truth was that Loubet feared the people. The French proletariat had been told they were on the cusp of victory; that same government then threw up its hands and admitted that they had been wrong. People had been taught to hate for the past three years, and their attempts to direct that hate against the Germans had met with frustration. Now, they turned their hatred on their government, which had raised their hopes all for nothing and had made their lives a misery. Some downtrodden circulated the works of two authors: one a homegrown radical from Cherbourg, the other- ironically enough- a certain German philosopher.

    The Revolution of 1789 has, like all political movements, a certain set of associated imagery. The guillotine is of course the most common, to rank alongside the caricature of Marie Antoinette and “let them eat cake!” Yet, the storming of the Bastille is equally well-remembered. Popular imagination has distorted it beyond the bounds of fact, but the image of the workers of Paris storming the evil king’s dank dungeon and liberating the innocents inside has a great deal of appeal. The Revolution of 1917 had a much more humble trigger, but the popular imagination- to say nothing of the revolutionary government- inflated it just as much as the fall of the Bastille.

    On the night of 30 September- 1 October, a greengrocers in Dijon burned to the ground. It could have been an accident, but it could also have been arson- there is insufficient evidence to make a definitive statement. A groggy fire brigade spent the night battling the blaze, waking up half the town in the process. During the small hours, three homeless teenage boys- David LaRoc, Edouard Joubert, and Georges Sassoin- crept to the smoking ruins under cover of darkness, looking to scrounge whatever they could find. Their search was fruitless, and they left with only two million francs between them. As they crept away, they bumped into the dispossessed greengrocer who was also trying to salvage what he could. He drew a knife and wounded David LaRoc before the police arrived. They threw the three boys in jail and confiscated their two million francs; a doctor patched David up the next day.

    From left to right: David LaRoc, Edouard Joubert, and Georges Sassoin

    Thus far, nothing about this story stands out or is in any way remarkable. Looting and lawlessness were on the rise all across France and young men were the most common offenders. However, word spread around town of what had taken place. As it is wont to do, rumour distorted the truth beyond all recognition, and before long a crooked businessman had murdered a young person for the two million in his pocket; the police had helped him commit the heinous crime and were holding the young man’s friends in a squalid cell. (1) With people already living on a knife-edge and sick of their government’s seemingly pointless extractions, news of this was enough to send a few over the edge. On the night of 5 October, a group of twenty armed men- mostly jobless veterans- gathered what weapons they could find and headed for the local jail. They fought their way inside, clashing with the guards and killing two before kidnapping one; the mob forced him at gunpoint to unlock the cells and release the prisoners. Regardless of what French far-leftists will say, the Dijon jailbreak was a grubby, simple affair seeing a few dozen angry citizens fighting a few tired prison guards looking forward to a change of shift. France’s government post-revolution tremendously exaggerated the scale of the affair, with a plaque where the jail once stood commemorating the “revolutionary martyrs” who died there and commissioning a great mural of the event.

    By now, word of what had happened reached the city mayor, a man named Charles Dumont. Unsurprisingly, he ordered every policeman in the city to punish these men. The Dijon Mounted Police galloped in and, billy clubs and pistols swinging, dispersed the crowd. They took captured criminals to a much higher-security prison on the outskirts of town, and several people- including, unfortunately, the three boys who started this whole mess- died in the fighting. And that should have been the end of that.

    However, Dumont made a profound miscalculation. To him, it was impossible that the arrest of three young men could’ve caused such anger amongst the people of his town. It simply wasn’t the done thing for people to raid jails after hearing of an arrest. The mayor didn’t understand the level of popular revulsion towards the government in France and how these jail-breakers wanted nothing more than to give the government a poke in the eye to vent off some of their anger. No, to him, this unprovoked attack on a symbol of government order was the start of something very ominous.

    There was a revolutionary plot in Dijon, and if Dumont struck fast, he told himself, he could strangle it in the grave!

    The next day, the sixth, the police in Dijon were jumpier than usual. They patrolled the streets in their twos and threes, all armed and some on horseback. That was odd but nothing unheard of; however, what was unusual was their barging into cafes and factories and demanding that people turn out their pockets. Confused, people stepped away from their machines and showed a scowling constable a picture of their wife and several million francs in change. Besides the usually violent raids by the tax-collector, people had to put up with the police coming in and searching for… something. “Subversives” was the usual term, but that could mean anything. The police made no on that first day, but when workers came home after being harassed at work to find the place in a mess… many unkind things were said about the government that night. Mayor Doumont, seeing that his sweeps had been unsuccessful, doubled down. The next day, he sent out the police again, and this time something went wrong. A workman in a foundry (2) was on his lunch break when a policeman overheard him grumbling about these searches and the inflation. The policeman accused him of being a “subversive”, and hauled him off to the station, where they unjustly accused him of being in connection with the jailbreak. There was nothing in it but the policeman wanted his promotion and was unencumbered by a sense of justice. Of course, the poor steelworker’s mates knew something was wrong when he didn’t come back after lunch, and that afternoon the police stationed armed men in the foundry just in case things went wrong. Working under gunpoint is seldom pleasant, and the men were left exhausted and embittered at the end of the day. They promised one another that they wouldn’t put up with this tomorrow. As 8 October dawned, the workers at the foundry bumped into each other on their way in, as always… and they didn’t go to work. When the foreman went onto the foundry floor at nine AM, he found only a handful of armed policemen ready to ward off trouble. Cursing a blue streak, he telephoned his supervisor, who telephoned the city chief of police. The city chief of police was all too aware of the mayor’s paranoia and saw a way to curry favour with his boss. He gave orders that the striking workers were to be tracked down and thrown in jail, along with anyone helping them. This was of course flagrantly illegal, but France in autumn 1917 was a chaotic place, and people paid less attention to such things than they would’ve before the war. The rumour mill distorted the truth, and by the end of the day the workers of Dijon were under the impression that striking had just been declared illegal. And, with cynicism of the sort only experience could bring, they assumed that this was the prelude to a wage cut. People met in the privacy of their homes to discuss this and formulated a plan to get their own back.

    In jumping at shadows and overreacting to events to an extreme degree, Dumont had given root to a leftist conspiracy where none had existed before.

    When the sun came up on the fifteenth, a strange thing happened. Workmen stayed at home, visited each other, or went to church- but not to work. All over Dijon, foremen and business owners turned up at work to find the place empty. People were sick to death of the jittery police trying to sniff out subversion, and sick of working jobs for money that wouldn’t be worth the paper it was printed on in a month’s time. By ten AM, word had reached the mayor that a general strike was in place. He was furious and knew that he had to tell Prime Minister Loubet- if he didn’t, someone else would and that would be the end of his political career. However, since his aggressive tactics had flopped in the past, the mayor tried something else, and at lunchtime announced his willingness to negotiate with the leader of the strikers. However… no one put themselves forward. This strike had of course been planned and there were leaders, but no one wanted to stick their neck out, as the mayor had shown no willingness to compromise until now. This seemed like a trick to lure them out and then have them tried as Marxist swine. Dumont was now in a tight bind. He didn’t see how fearful and angry the people were, nor why they’d refused to negotiate with his authority. In his eyes, this only confirmed the fact that a leftist conspiracy was afoot. So, he sent the police patrolling in the streets once more while telephoning Prime Minister Loubet. Communist infiltrators “of the Julius Martov type” (3) had created a general strike in Dijon, and the local police weren’t enough to root out the perpetrators and get the city back to work. He needed the muscle only the Regular Army could provide. Of course, there were no Communist infiltrators, but creating a scapegoat when talking to one’s superior was always better than pinning the troubles on one’s own overreaction. For his part, Loubet was terrified of the far-left, fearing- not without reason- that the abysmal economic conditions within France were fertile soil for a revolution. In his eyes, Mayor Dumont had done the patriotic thing by clamping down hard, and it was his job as Prime Minister to back him.

    Meanwhile… things were about to go from bad to worse.

    The Verdun Mutinies had doomed the French war-effort in the spring of 1916. They had started with one unit refusing to pointlessly advance into the teeth of German machine-gun fire; when the brass tried to suppress them and shove them forward, the situation only escalated. Once the mutineers had survived the first few days, the conflagration spread until almost all the French Army was infected with the rot. Although one can only say this with hindsight, Mayor Dumont ought to have studied how the battle went wrong, for he was about to make the same mistakes Joffre and Petain did.

    At five PM on 15 October, fifteen hundred Regular Army troops marched into Dijon. They declared that they were here to stamp out “Martovist activity” and end the general strike. If the workers didn’t get back to it tomorrow, there would be trouble. Things could’ve stopped there, but once again the fog of confusion threw a wrench in the works. From the perspective of the working classes, the paranoid mayor was so determined to lord it over them that he needed to impose martial law and treat them like an enemy. Instead of going to bed, a handful of men decided enough was enough. If the government was going to treat the people of Dijon like an enemy… then they were bloody well going to act like an enemy! That night, locals mugged a Regular Army corporal on patrol, making off with his rifle and the five million in his pocket. This only confirmed Mayor Dumont’s belief that there was an enemy amongst the people, as no patriotic Frenchman would kill a French soldier if he didn’t have a higher loyalty to the far-left ideology of his choice… surely. As he was wont to do, he massively overreacted. At sunrise the next day, he met with the colonel commanding the occupying forces and conveyed his fears. Doumont wanted to take hostages to force the left-wingers pulling the strings to give themselves up; the colonel complied. Thus, on the morning of 16 October, ten innocent men in Dijon were woken up with rapid-fire knocks, and found a squad of burly armed men at the door. As their wives and children screamed and cried, the stunned hostages were led away, their protestations of innocence ignored. The colonel declared that the men who mugged the corporal had forty-eight hours to give themselves up; otherwise the ten hostages would meet their Maker. This naturally terrified the populace, but the man behind the mugging, not wanting to die, remained silent. Two days passed, and at sunrise on 18 October, the troops gave the hostages blindfolds and cigarettes.

    Firing-squad duty has got to be one of the hardest parts of occupation duty. As trained soldiers, such men cast aside their personal feelings and do the dirty job. The popular image, immortalised by The Third of May 1808 of faceless men butchering civilians “because of orders” may have some truth to it, but there are always human beings pulling the triggers. Ten men were assigned to do the bloody work and it was expected that all would go smoothly. Yet… these men were veterans. They had been through the Great War, the disappointments of 1915, the hellish meatgrinder that was Verdun, and had taken part in the Springtime Mutinies. Their unit had laid down its arms and been amnestied by Joseph Caillaux’s government, yet postwar Army service wasn’t a gratifying job. The food and living conditions were awful, discipline was as tight as ever, and the wages- never high to begin with- were as worthless as everyone else’s. And now, they were to execute ten innocent men whose only crime was going on strike? No, the firing squad declared, they weren’t going to do it. The apoplectic colonel ordered the men to be seized and court-martialled… but the men sent to arrest the firing squad somehow couldn’t find them. Word of the incident quickly spread, and soldiers formed “councils” to discuss the situation independently of their officers. The colonel, like Petain at Verdun, saw a mutiny in the making, and like Petain, he was determined to nip it in the bud. He fled the city and telephoned his brigade commander, requesting men to put down what he termed a “serious mutiny”- words which the postwar French Army lived in dread of. A fresh two thousand men were summoned and reached Dijon on the morning of 19 October.

    No actual violence had taken place in Dijon since the debacle with the firing squad- the men, incidentally, were now being sheltered in someone’s home- and everyone was still obeying their superiors. However, everyone knew something was amiss. And when the two thousand soldiers marched in, they were under orders to treat the men already there as mutineers. The defenders were extremely confused, since they hadn’t declared themselves in a state of mutiny or done anything treasonous. Yet… there were armed men attacking their comrades, and they fought back. 20 October saw Frenchmen fighting Frenchmen in Dijon. The defenders, sensing that the die was cast, turned on Mayor Dumont before issuing weapons to the civilians. Naturally, many loathed the occupiers, but others felt that if other Frenchmen were attacking the garrison, they wouldn’t be too picky about attacking civilians. Thus, some in Dijon decided they had nothing to lose and fought alongside the garrison. Like in spring 1916, some of the attackers refused to go forward. These were their fellow countrymen, they protested, and they weren’t going to throw their lives away over what had to be a misunderstanding. Thus, many of the attacking troops went over to the defenders. By the end of 20 October, the attack on Dijon had been beaten back, and the town was in the hands of mutineers.

    Of course, this only confirmed Loubet’s fears of communism. Once the Prime Minister received reports that the mutineers had ejected Regular Army forces from Dijon, he formally declared it to be in a state of rebellion, and ordered the Army to crush it. Loubet decided against a full-scale mobilisation for fear of wider unrest, which could escalate into civil war.

    In Dijon itself, everything was confused. For a start, there was no clear leader- just a handful of soldier’s councils. The prospect of being put down as traitors, when all they had done was repulse an attack which- in their eyes- had been unprovoked, terrified the men. If they could’ve peacefully surrendered they would’ve, but it was too late for that now. The people naturally weren’t happy about what had just occurred, and many were fearful that the government would roll in and punish them all. However, since the mutineers occupied the town and held the guns, collaboration seemed like the best of bad options. The Army of Dijon, as it came to be known, prepared to repulse whatever attacks came its way. The men knew they couldn’t win in the long run, but what did they have to gain by throwing their arms down and surrendering? A blindfold and a cigarette, that was what. However, another man slipped into Dijon on the 21st, who would end up having a tremendous effect on the course of events- a certain Georges Sorel.

    Georges Sorel: the man about to infiltrate Dijon and take control over the Second French Revolution

    Things were about to go from bad to worse and Emile Loubet’s reputation was soon to become a casualty of the Second French Revolution…


    1. One would have to be crazy to fret over two million francs in the autumn of 1917.
    2. Steel is actually doing okay at the moment because the government can give it to Germany as part of the reparations; ie, Germany will accept 50 million 1914 francs worth of steel in lieu of 50 million 1914 francs worth of cash.
    3. Right now, Martov is kind of the face-on-the-poster for all leftist revolutionaries; he’s the only quasi-successful one (and he’s still alive, which only makes people fear him more).
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    Chapter 18- Hungary Resists
  • Chapter Eighteen- Hungary Resists

    "If we could break through in the war, with all the Russians from Poland to Siberia aligned against us, then why- why?- is this state having so much trouble quelling a few jumped-up provincials?"
    Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf, on the evening of 4 August 1917

    "It would appear that our cause is stronger than anticipated. Why, if the Austrians- for that is all they are, none of this "Danubia" nonsense- continue with such efforts, we will be the only ones standing before long."
    -Hungarian general Karl Tersztyánszky von Nádas

    Everything was falling apart for Emperor Karl. He had inherited an empire weakened in the Great War and given it new life. Reform seemed to be on the horizon, with the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia's equal recognition a first step to a reorganisation of the empire.

    And then the Hungarians broke away.

    Emperor Karl was a peaceful man with no appetite for fighting. In an unprecedented act of charity, he had even offered the rebels a status quo antebellum peace the moment he heard of the revolt. But once the Hungarians had rejected his good-faith offer, Karl was prepared to fight. Time was of the essence, as if the Hungarians embarrassed imperial arms repeatedly, they would make the whole reform project look weak and foolish. The fact that the empire could only use its own forces was also a constraint- no Great Power needed another’s help to put down a revolt. With all these factors in mind, Emperor Karl met with his military supremo Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf (1) on 14 July to hammer out a war strategy.

    The empire enjoyed several military advantages over the Hungarians. For a start, it possessed a massive numerical superiority. Demobilisation had of course cut the immediate army size, but with the war less than a year finished, the state could rapidly recall men and send them to fight. Additionally, the imperial garrisons in Serbia and Poland, who had been under arms since 1914, were valuable assets. Emperor Karl and his advisers rushed them to the front; conscripts took their places. Out of some 7.8 million men in November 1916, approximately a quarter of them were Hungarian, while the empire needed at least a quarter million to hold down Serbia and occupy the Kingdom of Poland. Thus, after several months of mobilisation, Danubia could expect to have over five million men at its disposal. Had the civil war come a year later, the empire would’ve fully integrated its military- all the different kingdoms would have had their own units composed entirely of men of their own ethnicity. As it stood, the empire would have to make do with its disorganised, albeit large and experienced, army. By contrast, the Hungarian rebels could count on fewer than two million men once fully mobilised- a step which would take time. The Honved- veteran reservists- were being rapidly called to the colours, but turning them into proper soldiers would take time.

    The first week of the Austro-Hungarian Civil War passed inconclusively. Secession had come too rapidly for many to prepare; thus, both sides had to mobilise- a time-consuming process. Skirmishes broke out all across the long front between border guards, but no land changed hands yet. It was around this time that an interesting linguistic shift took place. The empire's official name was now the "Austro-Hungaro-Croat-Slavonic Empire", or the "Triple Monarchy of Austria-Hungary-Croatia-Slavonia" (Croatia-Slavonia being one territorial unit). However, in addition to being unwieldy, this description wasn't particularly accurate. With Hungary in revolt, it seemed wrong to speak of it in the same breath as Austria, yet "Austria-Croatia" failed to stick. Instead, a new name for the Habsburg state spread throughout the summer of 1917: Danubia. The name encompassed all of the empire's holdings while also being helpfully ambiguous on the status of rebel Hungary. Although it would take time to spread, "Danubia" stuck, and hereafter refers to the Habsburg holdings.

    A bigger concern for the Danubians was the sizeable Hungarian minority in the other imperial kingdoms. These peoples had been restless ever since the Croatian crisis began in June. Rioting had gripped southern Slovakia and western Transylvania for weeks, and once Hungary declared its secession, the ethnic Hungarians in these areas decided to go with them. Thus, the Imperial Army’s first taste of combat came in a dozen small towns whose people sympathised with the rebels. Heavy fighting took place in the streets between Hungarian insurgents and local militias; although the empire soon restored its rule, there was much loss of life and the towns would remain under military rule for the rest of the war. Another potential issue was newly conquered Serbia: with the bulk of the empire’s resources focussed on Hungary, the veteran garrison there would have to be sent north. The occupied Serbs were not blind to the fact that the tough, grizzled veterans who’d ruled them for nearly two years were being replaced by fresh-faced conscripts barely old enough to run a razor across their cheeks. This led to fears in Vienna that the coming war would see a Serbian revolt. Not much could be done, though, and it was generally felt that even if imperial forces were temporarily ejected, they could restore their position after the war.

    Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf, the Danubian commander-in-chief, had not had a glorious time in the Great War. His attempts to conquer Serbia and save Galicia had failed, each requiring German troops to stabilise him. Before the bullets flew in Sarajevo, he had dreamt of preventative wars against Italy and Serbia to unite the empire and bring the tension in Europe to a head; ironically, the man who had shot these proposals down was Franz Ferdinand. Conrad genuinely believed himself to be a second Alexander, and the constant setbacks and perceived slights he encountered throughout his career had left him stifled and frustrated. Now, as the most seasoned officer in Danubia, he didn’t take well to a Czech or Pole talking to him as his equal. All this to say: Conrad’s judgement, never perfect to begin with, would be clouded by a desire to prove himself at last in the coming war.

    The first substantial action of the Danubian Civil War came on 22 July. Conrad von Hotzendorf, acutely aware of Emperor Karl’s desire for a rapid victory, planned a quick operation. He was going to march on Budapest from the north, capture the rebel leadership, and end the war in one fell swoop! Leaving only a small force in Galicia, Conrad moved the bulk of the empire’s German troops into Slovakia. However, the overbearing Feldmarschall started off on the wrong foot by attempting to dominate his fellow commanders. No matter what the Constitution said, Conrad declared, as the most decorated hero in the empire- and a Viennese- he ought to have precedence. After all, Emperor Karl was of German blood- no? Thus, on 22 July some twelve divisions attacked on a front from Kosice to Gyor; a distance of some 270 kilometres. (2)

    The Hungarians had anticipated this move. With Budapest only a short distance from the Slovak border, it made sense for the attack to come from the north, and most of the rebel state’s forces were concentrated in that direction. General Karl Tersztyánszky von Nádas had been outfitted with most of the Hungarian Army’s supply of machine-guns, as well as the first seven Great War divisions to be recalled. Nadas was determined to forge an impenetrable northern line, where the imperial forces could bleed themselves white trying to break through. After a three-hour artillery barrage, Conrad sent his Austrian troops forward; the Slovaks and Czechs present held their forces back. Such caution was well-placed, as the men of the Kaiserliche Österreichs Armee were mauled by Hungarian machine-gun fire. Soldiers who had fought side-by-side alongside the Hungarians in Gorlice-Tarnow and the Oststorm of summer 1916 were cut down by their erstwhile comrades. Only late in the day did the commanders in the rear town of Martin agree to send forth their forces. Combat continued indecisively until sundown forced a halt. The first day’s fighting had proved quite different from the Western Front stalemate- there were not enough men for a firm deadlock, while the length of the active front made it inevitable that some maneuver would occur. In this, conditions mirrored the Imperial Army’s service on the wide-open Eastern Front, and many commanders in the imminent Russian Civil War would study the campaign.

    As the second day dawned, Danubia’s men clambered out of their foxholes, having got too little sleep with bullets and artillery keeping them up, and went forth once more. In keeping with his belief that Budapest was the main strategic objective, Conrad insisted on concentrating the bulk of his resources on the centre of the front. A breakthrough was possible, he insisted, but only if the men and junior officers were aggressive enough. However, two things hampered his goal. For a start, the forces of the different kingdoms- two divisions of Lodomerians and one from Galicia had arrived last night- were hesitant to be melted down by the machine-guns all to please some overbearing general. The second issue hampering Conrad was his own pride. While Oskar von Hutier had been charging to glory in Estonia, Conrad’s men had been tramping through the mud of western Ukraine. He would never admit that the Germans were ahead of him by aping their breakthrough tactics. This irresponsibility consigned thousands of imperial troops to their deaths, but the stubborn Viennese warhorse wouldn’t change his ways. Thus, with the fresh Poles and Ukrainians at the tip of the attack, Conrad ordered a push towards the tiny Hungarian hamlet of Dobra Niva. The town held out for four days- far longer than expected by either side- before Czech cavalrymen worked their way around the Hungarian flank.

    Anachronistic infantry tactics had made the battle far harder than it had to be; anachronistic cavalry sweeps had won the day. History can be an ironic business at times.

    Danubian infantry in newly occupied Dobra Niva. Note the new, "German-style" helmets introduced shortly before the outbreak of the conflict.

    Dobra Niva now flew the Danubian flag once more, and the town’s Slovak men eagerly donned the colours. And the empire had gained what? A few hundred people, some quaint country houses, and some first-rate goulash and schnapps. Another pokey hamlet lay a few miles south of this town, then another, then another… It would be a long road to Budapest. This did not deter Conrad, who began drafting orders for a march southwards. The imperial commander envisioned columns of troops marching down country roads, with cavalry playing their part. Subjugating Hungary would be a glorious old-school campaign of the sort the Great War had never provided. As his men trooped south down the road in their columns, only their rifles and uniforms distinguished them from soldiers of fifty years ago. Appearances, however, were misleading. At noon on 1 August, three days after the fall of Dobra Niva, a buzzing noise came above the imperial columns. Hansa-Debreczen (3) bombers swooped down, dropping their payloads on imperial troops. Men scattered every which way across the road, some leaping into the dirt while others tried ineffectually to shoot the bloody things down themselves. Panicked horses sent their riders flying and galloped off. Danubia’s air force was small, and fighters couldn’t scramble in time to shoot the bombers down; the Hungarian air raiders landed without a scratch behind their lines.

    The aerial assault had delayed the imperial march south, which didn’t resume until the next day. Conrad was taking no chances, and he telephoned the General Staff in Vienna- he wanted as many fighters as possible sent to support his men. Despite the terror from the sky, the first day of the month had seen little real fighting in this sector, but that was expected to change today, the second. A little before one PM, the imperial troops came across a fork in the road. Both paths led to small hamlets: Babina to the west and Sasa to the east. The army brought artillery up to soften up the defences of both while the army set up camp at the fork; aeroplanes buzzed above just in case. By midafternoon, the preliminary barrage was underway and everyone knew which village their unit was to assault. The past two days had seen a dearth of Hungarians on the ground, and the imperial commanders assumed that they were concentrating in force to defend the two villages; thus, the coming battle was expected to be bloody. The advance commenced at four PM, artillery shells whizzing over the men’s heads. After the barrage ceased at five, the imperial troops gave a rousing battle-cry and threw themselves at the Hungarian defenders…

    A map showing the area where Conrad blundered.
    Screen Shot 2020-10-11 at 4.13.21 pm.png

    ...who weren’t there.

    The men assaulting Babina and Sasa were all Great War veterans. They knew what combat looked like, even combat against poorly equipped Russians who lacked rifles and ammunition. But even in the sweeping advance of summer 1916, men stopped bullets, trod on landmines, and got tangled up in barbed wire. The deafening sweeps of machine-gun fire which had characterised the last war were missing here. All the imperial troops faced at these two hamlets was some Honved militiamen with repeating rifles, who rapidly retreated. Conrad had expected that he would need the night to bring up supplies and reinforcements, and that he would have to make the main effort for these two hamlets on the third. Instead, Danubian soldiers occupied the two villages before nightfall, having taken only minimal casualties. The village was of course deserted, with only a few old ladies and young children- all Slovaks- left, as the Hungarian inhabitants had either been conscripted by the rebel army or fled. There was little of value in the village; retreating rebels had taken everything that wasn’t bolted down, but that had been anticipated. At eight PM, incredulous commanders sent runners back to the camp at the fork in the road with the incredible news: what had been an objective for two or three days of fighting had fallen in a few hours. When Conrad found out, he uncorked a bottle of champagne before going off to telephone his sovereign. He was covering himself with glory and making the rebels flee; this war was going splendid! Why, it seemed too good to be true.

    As it turned out, it was.

    Conrad was eager to follow up on this victory, and identified three towns worth taking: Krupina on the western road, Pliesovce to the east, and Bzovská Lehôtka, located in between the roads. The latter could serve as a useful supply and command centre, as it was connected to both roads. Cavalrymen were sent on reconnaissance, but they encountered resistance from local Hungarian farmers. These men might be too old or too young to fight, but they knew what to do with a hunting rifle, and they certainly hampered the Army’s ability to scout. Aeroplanes went up, always in formations to ward off their Hungarian opposite numbers, and a picture gradually became clear. Bzovská Lehôtka and Pliešovce, being closer to the front, were being fortified by the Hungarians, but Krupina appeared more lightly defended. That made sense to the imperial commanders; the Hungarians had offered only token resistance to the north so as to fortify these more substantial towns. Not wanting to lose the momentum of his advance by getting bogged down in thick Hungarian defences, Conrad decided to focuss on Krupina.

    At daybreak on 4 August, two infantry divisions advanced down the road to Krupina. Their goal was less to capture the village than to size up the defenders and buy time for a larger force to come down the winding country road. A few Hungarian guerillas waited in the woods, but once they saw almost 20,000 men coming their way, they quickly disappeared. By nine AM, advance units were trading shots with the garrison of Krupina, while two FK M.5 field guns (4) were being assembled.

    And then the cavalry showed up.

    The Hungarian commander in the sector, General von Nádas, wasn’t stupid. He knew that the empire would always have more men and resources than Hungary, and even with Great War technology giving him the defender’s advantage, he couldn’t afford to fight toe-to-toe. Therefore, he had to outwit Conrad. (5) Abandoning Babina and Sasa, tiny hamlets not worth spilling blood over, let von Nádas conserve his manpower. If Conrad wanted to penetrate deep into Hungarian territory, von Nádas would let him, dangling the prospect of victory before his eyes- a savvier commander might’ve grown suspicious at the fact that in the year 1917, his armies had advanced fifteen kilometres in a week. As it was, although the two divisions “bunched up” to provide their attack on Krupina with more force, they left small rearguards behind. And at 9:30 AM, the rearguard reported itself under attack from Hungarian cavalry pouring out of the woods. With the bulk of the two divisions engaged in combat with Krupina’s defenders, pulling back reinforcements to help the rearguard wouldn’t be easy; the men naturally feared being trapped a la Cannae. However, the projected assault on the main fighting units didn’t come. Instead, having polished off the Danubian rearguard, the Hungarian cavalry unit galloped north, back to Babina. When they arrived a little before eleven, they found the village defended by only an understrength infantry division organising for combat. The Hungarians charged, mercilessly swinging their sabres and blasting rounds from their carbines. Although the surprised defenders did their best to resist, the Hungarians ruthlessly exploited their initiative, and quickly neutralised the defending machine-guns. By noon, Babina was back in Hungarian hands.

    Conrad had looked forward to an old-fashioned, glorious war unlike the modernist slaughter of the trenches. He ought to have been more careful what he wished for.

    For their part, the two divisions thrown against Krupina failed in their task. This wasn’t their fault as Conrad had intended them to serve as only the vanguard, but in the face of stiff Hungarian resistance, battalions were melted into companies, and companies into platoons. By the mid-afternoon, the survivors had fled, and made their way through the fields back to safe ground.

    Conrad was rapidly alerted that things had gone wrong. He was livid to see Babina back in rebel hands, and ordered an immediate counterattack, throwing a mixture of Czech, Slovak, and Lodomerian units into Babina at four PM. Ironically, the town fell almost as easily the second time as the first; the cavalrymen had a hard time defending on horseback, yet they weren’t used to fighting on foot, and lacked machine-guns or barbed wire. As the sun drenched the Hungarian sky in pink and orange, bringing a close to 4 August, the weary imperial troops settled down to night watch in the newly reconquered town. To the south, the Hungarians set about fortifying the road to Krupina under the cover of darkness, for the inevitable next assault.

    The Danubian supremo was left supremely frustrated. He had a war of mobility and numerical superiority; he was in his element in a way he hadn’t been during the Great War. The Hungarians were supposed to roll over and die, not repulse him like the bloody Serbs had done! If Emperor Karl chose this moment to visit the front… That night, Conrad came up with a fresh plan. He was going to throw everything he could get at the Hungarians, and he would do it at such a short range that there would be no room for treachery (as he would refer to the cavalry ambush in his memoirs). Transferring his attention to the eastern road, he was going to storm Pliesovce and show these rebels that when their cavalry tricks were taken out of the equation, the Imperial Army couldn’t be beat. Conrad conferred with his co-commanders, hoping for their men to reinforce him. The Czech and Slovak generals were none too keen to see their men thrown forth in another of Conrad’s wild offensives, and they argued for two solid days. Finally, Conrad threatened to telephone the Emperor, saying that he could take Pliesovce were it not for the recalcitrance of the Czech and Slovak commanders. Against their better judgement, the generals agreed. While the brass hats bickered, the men rested in Dobra Niva, and reinforcements and supplies were brought up. Two days later- 6 October- Conrad issued the final orders. The Danubian guns opened fire at five AM, and six divisions went over the top an hour later.

    Hungarian troops tending to a wounded comrade during the successful defence of Pliesovce. One of the strangest things about the Danubian Civil War is that, since the Hungarians seceded so rapidly, their men often wore extremely similar uniforms to those of the Danubians.

    The Hungarians were not blind to the massing Danubian forces. As soon as the thrust towards Krupina was blunted, it became clear that Conrad would turn his guns on a closer target. The previous several days had seen Hungarian reinforcements arrive at the town, complete with everything needed for a Great War-style defence. Civilians were evacuated, barbed wire strung up, and trenches dug. As the Danubian divisions charged across No-Man’s-Land, the Hungarians greeted them with blasts of machine-gun fire. Attempts to lay down a “creeping barrage” failed miserably, as many of the gunners undershot their intended targets, killing their own men. Meanwhile, Hungarian artillery based on the hills north of rained shells down on the road, cutting imperial troops off from supply and reinforcements. Not even the use of mustard gas was sufficient to dislodge the Hungarians- the winds changed at just the wrong moment and the imperial troops ended up harming themselves instead. By midmorning, the attack had turned into a spectacular failure. Having taken heavy losses, the imperial forces retreated to Sasa. Conscious as always of the need to conserve manpower, the Hungarians did not pursue.

    Conrad’s failed attack on Pliesovce brought an end to his attempts to break through in the centre of the front. In just over two weeks, his armies had advanced approximately five and a half kilometres, at the cost of some 13,000 casualties. His boorish, overbearing command style had not endeared him to his Slavic counterparts, nor to Emperor Karl. Part of the problem was that Conrad hadn’t learned his lessons from the Great War. Having spent the war on the mobile Eastern Front, fighting underequipped Russians in the wide open steppe, he genuinely believed in the validity of prewar tactics, and that fighting spirit could carry the day. His attachment to outdated means of waging war had cost many their lives.

    Distressed by the failure of the campaign, Emperor Karl visited the front three days later. The devout emperor was pictured handing out medals and crucifixes to soldiers. Famously, he took off his imperial regalia and volunteered at a field hospital for half an hour. Emperor Karl also donated two thousand krone out of his own pocket to the families of all soldiers wounded in the campaign. Another great work of mercy was performed once the emperor returned to Vienna; Conrad was sacked as Chief of the Austrian General Staff, and given the post of military attaché to Switzerland. He would not return to the fatherland for another seven years, and died, embittered, in 1925. (6) His replacement was Colonel-General Arthur Arz von Straussenburg. The emperor, a devout Catholic, was appalled at the use of mustard gas (7), famously declaring that defeat tasted sweeter than satanic smoke. Indeed, the imperial forces never used gas for the rest of the war, even when the Hungarians got their hands on some (which wasn't often; their attempts to set up a homegrown nitrates industry weren't too successful).

    On the Hungarian side of the trenches, General von Nádas was in a triumphant mood. Despite being outnumbered and outgunned, he had turned back the imperial invaders, at a cost of only a few kilometres of territory relatively light casualties. If this campaign could be replicated, the Hungarian cause would be greatly strengthened. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mihaly Karolyi in Budapest had a grand plan. He was going to strike at the very heart of Danubia and take something which would force Karl to grant Hungarian independence…

    No one could have guessed it at the time, but the United Empire of the Danube was about to be shaken to its roots, and it would soon look to many that the ancient state might not live to see 1918...


    1. Arguably the greatest asset the Hungarians possessed
    2. The internal border between Hungary and Slovakia is somewhat further to the north than OTL’s in this area; I’m basing this off of the map drawn by SamuelVonStrassburg (threadmark 23)
    3. OTL’s Hansa-Brandenburg GI’s, the Dual Monarchy’s main WWI bomber. The Hungarians obviously rename the models they get their hands on.
    4. By no means an artillery expert, but judging by Wikipedia, this gun seems light/mobile enough for such a task- no?
    5. Admittedly, not the most challenging task in the world.
    6. Analogous to Karl’s giving Conrad the boot once taking office IOTL.
    7. Karl banned the stuff around this time IOTL.
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    Chapter 19- Mexico Resists
  • Chapter Nineteen- Mexico Resists
    "The honour of our nation has been besmirched one too many times. In his pursuit of the now-deceased bandit Villa, killed by Yankee bullets, President Hughes has crossed a line. After his latest incursion upon our sovereign territory, we must show that we too have honour and rights. Mexican people, I call upon you in our hour of need to fight to the bitter end..."
    Excerpt from Venustiano Carranza's declaration of war against the United States, 11 August 1917

    "Let's see the little men fight us once we get in gear. The American eagle is about to knock their scrawny bird out of the sky, make no mistake. Zach Taylor's smiling up in Heaven, that's for sure. We're gonna finish what he started"
    General John J. "Blackjack" Pershing, 15 August 1917.

    "Force of arms would always go the American way. In the autumn of 1917, the only army which could've faced the United States toe-to-toe was that of Kaiser Wilhelm, and that would never happen. Carranza, like David against Goliath, used what he had. The United States could take Veracruz- but once they had to face deep, impenetrable jungle with the Mexicans fighting tooth and nail, there would be problems with laying a siege to the capital..."
    -Irish military historian Robert FitzGerald, The Great War for Civilisation, 1998

    Neither side was well prepared for the Second Mexican War. America had been at peace for twenty years, and a strong culture of isolationism had pervaded the nation since its conception. A quick, victorious campaign against Spain notwithstanding, the United States had been at peace since the Civil War. Thus, what the media quickly dubbed “Hughes’s War” was seen as peculiar at first. There was some panic amongst white Southwesterners, with some quite racist fears and rumours spreading during the summer of 1917- were the Mexicans in town trustworthy? If they were Mexicans, surely they had to be in league with the enemy! Race riots occurred in El Paso, Albuquerque, and elsewhere, with “patriotic militias” attacking the “internal enemy”- or, white men too old or too young to fight beating up defenceless Mexicans in the streets and bullying anyone speaking Spanish. In California, Governor William Stephens sent state militias around the big farms on a search for Mexican citizens, whether or not they were in the country legally. However, this effort failed because the large farmers of the state shielded their useful employees, and only a handful of arrests occurred.

    Despite these acts of racism, the outbreak of war didn’t radically affect the average American’s views on his Mexican counterparts. No great anti-Spanish violence had taken place in 1898; none took place in 1917 outside the Southwest. As one commentator for the New York Times wrote “by going about the streets of the city, even moreso than during the Spanish war of twenty years past, I get the feeling that people are going about their business. Mexico is a world away, and the good people of New York know that they have never, in most instances, seen a Mexican man with their own two eyes, nor will they see a Mexican man setting foot in anger in this city.” Another speculated that the upcoming World Series was of greater interest to the people of his town than the war, which either spoke highly of the American public’s love of baseball or of the overwhelming isolationist sentiment in the country. (1) Across the Rio Grande, Venustiano Carranza was, to put it mildly, questioning the wisdom of his decision to declare war on the United States. National honour demanded it, he told himself, but could the battle against los Yanquis really be won? After all, unlike the Americans, Mexico was a deeply divided country. Four days after the declaration of war, he issued a statement. If the Zapatistas- peasant rebels based in the south- wanted to lay down their arms to fight the Americans together, Carranza would be willing to let them. Their leader, Emiliano Zapata, scoffed at the offer. He had been fighting his war against the central government for over a year; even if Zapata didn’t particularly like the Americans, they distracted Carranza from him and that was what counted right now.

    Mexico’s greatest advantage was its terrain. Hundreds of miles of arid desert separated the Americas from Mexico City, and only one town of any worth- Monterrey- stood in the north. This wasn’t like the 1840s when Zachary Taylor had marched deep into the country; a modern army’s supply lines couldn’t be stretched over such a vast expanse of desert. As Venustiano Carranza put it, “let the Yankees try to take our capital after having lugged every gun and every man across five hundred miles of our country, and the results will surprise them!” Besides, the prospect of attempting to hold down the peasants of Sonora and Chihuahua, with plenty of guns and few compulsions about using them, appealed to no one.

    Fortunately, there was a way around this for the United States. Three years ago, as the world descended into madness, nine American sailors had been arrested by the Mexican government. This had infuriated the United States- who were the Mexicans to tell their men what to do?- and then-President Wilson had ordered retaliation. American marines had landed at the port of Veracruz within days and occupied it for six months. Now, Hughes wanted to repeat his predecessor’s move. He summoned General John J. Pershing to the Oval Office on 12 August, the day after war was declared. If he could land a suitably large army in close proximity to the capital, he might intimidate the Mexicans into ending the war before it could drag on, thus giving the American public the limited war Hughes had promised them. General Pershing was none too keen on this idea- he wanted glory. The past two conflicts had seen him leading cavalry across the Mexican border to fight Pancho Villa- who had been killed in the first battle of the war. A landing at Veracruz would involve cooperation with the Navy and reliance upon the Marines, both of which would diminish his personal lustre. He hadn’t got to where he was today, with these straps on his shoulders, by giving his inter-service rivals pride of place in a military operation! Hughes let the general simmer for a bit before presenting him with an ultimatum. He could either meet with Admiral Henry T. Mayo- commander of the Atlantic Fleet- later that day, or he could leave his stars on the desk as he left. When Hughes phrased it like that, Pershing agreed with the President.

    War Plan Green Two entailed an amphibious assault on the Mexican port of Veracruz, and from thence an advance to the capital. Pershing stayed up late into the night drawing up notes for his meeting with the admiral tomorrow. The main thing he wanted from Mayo was ships to get his men across the Caribbean as soon as possible. Prewar studies based around the 1914 operation estimated that 150,000 men would be required for War Plan Green. How soon could Mayo get transport fleets amassed in Miami, New Orleans, Mobile, and Galveston? Not much had changed since the previous occupation of Veracruz in 1914, and the Americans could land a significant number of troops within two or three days. Of course, this was a full-on war and an army big enough to take the capital would have to be landed; thus, Mayo would need to spend considerable time ferrying troops across the Caribbean. He estimated that it could take up to six weeks for 150,000 American boots to be placed on the ground. This was unacceptable to Pershing. How was he supposed to establish a beachhead from which to expand when all the Navy could do was drip-feed him men? Admiral Mayo retorted that only 2,000 men had been needed to capture Veracruz in 1914. That was true, replied Pershing, but 1914 had been a limited intervention, not a full-scale war. If the Americans went in with that few men, the Mexican Army would besiege and crush them. And what about the northern border- if too many men were stuck in New Orleans waiting to cross the sea, couldn’t that give the Mexicans an opening to raid the Southwest? Pershing also argued that the whole idea of a strike in the south was besides the point- since Mexico’s valuable oilfields were in the northeast, an attack towards Monterrey made more sense. The two debated for several hours that day before deciding to take it to Hughes.

    President Hughes’ decisions were deeply frustrating to Pershing, but he had his reasons. He was a man of his era who believed in American dominance in the Western Hemisphere. However, the one thing unacceptable to him was conscription. The Democrats, led by Wilson, howled about it from the rooftops. The American public’s relationship with forced service had always been a hostile one; in 1863, massive draft riots had swept the country, and that was in the middle of a great civil war. President Hughes, aware that his election had been razor-thin, didn’t want to blow his party’s political capital on a conscription measure. Hughes had portrayed himself as a liberal, progressive candidate who cared about the ordinary man. And, as evidenced by the New York Times commentator above, the average American didn’t much care about the war, and certainly didn’t want to be dragged off the streets to go fight. Some men would sign up out of patriotism, of course, and the National Guard would be heavily tapped, but snatching men off the streets and sticking uniforms on their backs would be political suicide. Thus, no conscripts would fight in the Second Mexican War. This ran into the fact that the US Army was extremely small- as of 1916, there had only been 108,000 men under arms- fifty thousand fewer than War Plan Green called for. An advance on Monterrey and campaign in the northern desert would only prolong the war, forcing Hughes to enact a politically disastrous conscription bill.

    The old dividing line between politicians and generals had reared its ugly head, clouding Pershing’s vision.

    United States Marines landed at Tampico that same day. The entire Marine Corps- some 10,000 men- had been sent to New Orleans the day before war broke out, and was in barracks on standby when Carranza declared war. Two days later, on 13 August, three thousand men landed at the Mexican port town. Their goal was less Tampico per se than the oilfields surrounding town. The Marines liked to boast that they were the toughest soldiers in the world, and that not even Kaiser Wilhelm’s Sturmtruppenkorps could beat them. We shall never know whether or not that is true, but the second-rate defenders of a sleepy Mexican fishing town certainly weren’t up to the job. The Marines took the town within two hours, losing only four men and establishing an unofficial new slogan- “from Tripoli to Tampico!” (1) From there, they fanned out along the coast of Tamaulipas province, after the black gold under the surface. A handful of Texas National Guard cavalry assisted them, and within a week the oilfields of the province lay under the Stars and Stripes. However, the Mexicans, having expected something like this, had taken the precaution of sabotaging the fields, blowing up equipment, dispersing workers, and making themselves scarce. Not until after the war would the Americans get any value from the fields. In the meantime, 3000 US Marines were left on garrison duty on the east coast of Mexico. Using such prime fighting troops for garrison duty was about as efficient as sending a battleship out to catch fish for the Navy cooks. They would later be replaced with Texas National Guardsmen, but the inefficiency would cost the United States in the short term.

    The Marines had wasted their time, and men who could’ve made a valuable contribution to the fighting in Veracruz were stuck hundreds of miles north.

    Meanwhile, the main show went ahead. Naval action preceded infantry landings; sweeping aside the Mexican navy, Admiral Mayo’s ships pounded the Caribbean coast while Admiral Austin M. Knight’s Pacific Fleet did the same on the opposite shore. As dawn broke on 15 August, Carmen, Campeche, Coatzacoalcos, and Veracruz on the east coast felt the wrath of the US Navy, while Tijuana, Ensenada, and Cabo San Lucas met the same fate in the Pacific. Once the battleship smoke had cleared, a 2,500-hundred-strong advance guard from 1st Infantry Division set foot in Veracruz, trading shots with the stunned town militia. Those who remembered the 1914 occupation and had anticipated a repeat had fled, but most of the city was caught off-guard. Civilians hid in their homes or shops, some grabbed knives or guns and gave the Army a hand. This wasn’t like 1914 when the Mexicans had acquiesced peacefully; this was a full-on war and the defenders were bolting and barring the door- a door which the Americans broke down. By nightfall, half of Veracruz lay under American occupation, but the Mexicans still held out; one American journalist compared it to the fighting in Dunkirk in spring 1916. Three thousand Americans arrived the next day and pushed a little further, but Mexican reinforcements had arrived as well. Unlike in the north, where he had planned to trade space for time, Venustiano Carranza was fighting in his country’s heartland and wasn’t prepared to cede an inch without making the Yankees pay. If the Americans could be hurled into the sea, Mexico’s position would greatly improve- and that was to say nothing of the effects it would have on morale. Thus, throughout 16 August, Mexican troops threw themselves forward in localised counterattacks. The Americans, still disembarking and small in numbers, lacked machine-guns, artillery, or barbed wire and thus couldn’t repel the foe as though this was the Western Front. Three thousand more men landed on the 17th and went straight into action.

    An American rifleman lies low to reduce his profile in the Battle of Veracruz.

    By now, Pershing was apoplectic. A few days of fighting had failed to accomplish anything, and only half of 1st Infantry Division was ashore. He wasn’t going to let his men get chewed up in Veracruz and have the campaign bog down. Pershing was motivated by concern for his soldiers, of course, but there was a less altruistic motive at play; if the invasion of Veracruz failed, he would go down in history as the idiot who bungled it. In a telephone call to President Hughes from his headquarters in New Orleans, he emphasised that the Navy’s performance was inadequate and that his men were getting chewed up. If something didn’t change, the assault on Veracruz would fail. The President was understandably concerned and telephoned Admiral Mayo to see what could be done. Mayo’s response was that he was getting every troopship the US Navy could send his way, but with the war only a week old he hadn’t received many yet. As it stood, only three thousand or so men could be sent from the United States to Veracruz every day, meaning that 1st Division would be fully landed within a week. Mayo understood the pickle Pershing found himself in, but there was nothing he could do. However, the President had the power to do something. Telephoning Major-General George Barnett of the Marine Corps, Hughes ordered the seven thousand Marines left in New Orleans to proceed to Veracruz with all due speed; Admiral Mayo was to give these men priority in transport.

    At dawn on 18 August 1917, three and a half thousand United States Marines boarded the transports and landed several miles north of Veracruz, at the town of Zempoala. Like the defenders of Tampicos, the Zempoala garrison was wholly unprepared to face the power of the United States Marine Corps. Combat ceased within hours, and by the end of the day the Marines were pushing southwest. They worked their way around the back of Veracruz during the night, attacking Mexican reinforcement and supply columns. Shortly before one AM on the nineteenth, they entered Soledad de Doblado, another hamlet to the west of Veracruz. Ten hours later, the other three and a half thousand Marines landed to the south of Veracruz at Anton Lizardo, working their way northwest throughout the afternoon. The day was hot and sticky, with rain coming down in buckets, but these were Marines, the best of the best, and they managed well enough. Shortly before sundown on 19 August, while the men of 1st Infantry Division fought their way through the streets of Veracruz, the Marines rendez-voused a little southwest of the city, cutting it off from the rest of Mexico. From there, they turned on the supply columns, fighting to keep reinforcements from getting through. Meanwhile, American troops landed at the towns the Marines had secured. The results were telling; on 22 August 1917, deprived of reinforcements and supplies, the defenders of Veracruz threw up their arms.

    The Battle of Veracruz had been long and bloody. Whereas 1914 had seen a quick, simple occupation with little bloodshed, here the Mexicans had forced the Yankees to pay for their tickets to get in. It wasn’t so much that the Mexicans were strong, it was that the Americans were at a logistical disadvantage; had the Americans been able to get the entire 1st Division ashore within a day, the fighting would’ve been much quicker. Despite the cost in blood, the Americans had achieved a very substantial victory. The road to the capital had been torn open and the Mexicans deprived of one of their largest ports. Coupled with the Marine landing at Tampicos, the fall of Veracruz had secured the eastern coast of the country; the valable oilfields now lay in range of American forces. With US troops only two hundred miles away from his office, Venustiano Carranza became more determined than ever. He had united Mexico behind him, and had not spent all that time and energy to have the Yankees destroy his united nation. The Mexican troops guarding the roads from Veracruz to the capital were placed on high alert- the enemy would be en route before too long. Carranza doubted that Mexico City could push back a full American column, but he could take advantage of the American logistical issues to make a push on the capital unacceptably expensive.

    In the American camp, Pershing saw only trouble in the wake of victory. 1st Division had bled very heavily in the capture of Veracruz and would need weeks to recover, while the pace of reinforcement to the forces in Mexico was not increasing by anywhere near enough. Since War Plan Green estimated that edit later divisions would be necessary for an assault on the capital, it would be weeks before such an operation could be mounted- time which Carranza could use to fortify the capital. Since the defences of Veracruz had held the Americans up for days and required battleship bombardments to subdue, the inland defences of the capital would be a nightmare. The Americans had their beachhead, but they couldn’t do much with it.

    With the military sphere having stalled, President Hughes turned to diplomacy. Cuba had spent hundreds of years as a Spanish colony until the American invasion in 1898, and the country had enjoyed nominal independence since. However, like the rest of the Caribbean, the island was under American sway. President Mario Garcia Menocal was acutely aware of his country’s position, and was determined to curry favour with the Americans so as to provide him with an argument to use with Washington- that he was a loyal puppet and should be rewarded. Thus, on 1 September 1917, Cuba declared war on Mexico. It was decided to send 12,000 Cuban soldiers to Mexico over the next few months, while plans were made for an additional 25,000 should the need arise. (2) What was more useful, however, was the Cuban Navy. As an American puppet, the island nation lacked a significant combat fleet, but it possessed a large number of transports. If these ships could be sent to New Orleans, it would greatly aid the Americans in sending their men to Veracruz. Cuba was not the only Caribbean nation to throw its weight in with the overlord, however.

    To the south of Mexico, Guatemala also took a keen interest in the war. Unlike most of the Latin American states- who were sick to death of the Americans- Guatemala actually wanted to move closer to Washington. The reason for this was that German immigrants and businessmen held a great deal of sway in the country, and with the German Empire triumphant, many Guatemalans feared puppetisation from Berlin. The Monroe Doctrine, however, would provide a first-class shield against such a thing; thus, the Guatemelans aimed to please the Yankee giant. Of course, there were other motives at play; annexing a slice of southern Mexico seemed rather appealing to many in the country. A declaration of war was presented to the Mexican ambassador on 29 August. Of course, the small Latin American state’s military wasn’t large and had little ability to conquer, but they did force the Mexicans to divert troops. Similarly, Haiti and the Dominican Republic- both American protectorates- declared war on Mexico. Their militaries were minimal, but their shipping capacity came in handy and their presence helped bolster the American narrative about leading a “Caribbean anti-Carranza coalition for freedom”- transparent nonsense, but good propaganda.

    American infantry prepare to disembark at Veracruz harbour, September 1917. The month saw a lull in the fighting as the United States brought in troops.

    September dragged on. Men died of malaria and snakebite as a lull came in the fighting. Carranza was busily rushing every man he could to protect the approaches to the capital, leaving little for Mexico’s other fronts. Skirmishes took place on the American and Guatemalan borders, but they were inconsequential- while the villages located right on the northern border changed hands, the Americans were stretched far too thin to even contemplate approaching Monterrey or Hermosillo, or to advance down the sunbaked Baja peninsula. In the south, the paltry state of the Guatemalan Army was matched only by Carranza’s inability to dispatch troops to fight them. Pershing still advocated sending forces north to take Monterrey, but that was more out of a desire to win a victory independent of the Navy than anything else, and the city wouldn’t hear an American bullet for the entire war. American troops occupied a strip on the eastern coast stretching from the Texas border to Veracruz; the 41st Infantry Division from North Carolina occupied the towns and loosely manned the frontier. There as everywhere else, fighting was limited by the lack of manpower. Most of the action was centred around Veracruz, where American and allied ships brought in man after man after man, eventually reaching almost two divisions a week. Trenches which would’ve been recognisable on the Western Front were dug by both sides as the Mexicans sought to keep the foe from breaking out of the city perimeter. If they could do that, eventually the Americans would get tired and withdraw.

    By 28 September, the Americans were ready. The US Navy and her allies had worked overtime to ship almost 150,000 men to Mexico, and upwards of eight divisions were concentrated in Veracruz. Thus, at five AM, General Pershing gave the final go-ahead orders. American artillery pounded the entrenched defenders outside the city, and four hours later, the men went over the top. Either they would capture Mexico City or die trying… and a lot of Yankees would die trying regardless.

    Pershing enjoyed a numerical superiority over the Mexican defenders. They were holding back substantial reserves for the defence of the capital, while Pershing had almost 150,000 men involved in the first wave. The Americans were lacking in artillery, but the Mexican shortage was far worse. All this to say, Pershing’s plan was near perfect, except for one thing… was bloody predictable. Ever since Veracruz itself had fallen, Carranza had been painfully aware that the Americans would try and break out to take the capital. Mexico didn’t have a lot of modern defensive weaponry, but one of the great things about such weaponry was that one didn’t need a lot of it- two or three machine-guns, a bit of barbed wire, and a sprinkling of landmines could stop an attacker dead in his tracks- literally. Thus, when the Americans climbed out of their trenches at nine AM, they were met with heavy resistance. The topography of southern Mexico didn’t lend itself to a military advance under the best of conditions; by contrast, the defenders had ample cover. American troops were brave, but they weren’t well-experienced. The country had been at peace since 1898 and had spent the past half century prioritising the Navy over the land forces; the few men who were veterans had never faced anything more difficult than a few Spanish cavalrymen in Cuba. Officers anticipated a re-run of the Spanish-American War, not modern warfare like this. Cavalrymen found themselves obliged to dismount before they were shot out of the saddle; the horses were used to bring up supplies, and sentenced to death from unfamiliar tropical diseases. Of course, the Mexicans had their problems (3). Peasant conscripts from the north didn’t give a monkey’s about expelling the Americans from such a far-off place, and wanted to get back to their families. Some men panicked and fled to the rear, while none had much experience with modern warfare. Malaria affected the defenders just as much as the attackers, while the Mexican supply system was, to put it mildly, lacklustre. Yet, it rapidly became apparent that the march on Mexico City would come to resemble nothing so much as the fighting on the Western Front- the front line wouldn’t be shifted by much, while both sides would pay a ferocious cost in blood. Pershing was furious at the lack of progress, and jotted down some profane remarks in his diary that night. Not without reason, he feared that Hughes would sack him if the offensive didn’t get going fast. Yet… he was fully committed. Most of the USA’s military manpower was under arms in those trenches. If Hughes wouldn’t turn on the tap of conscription and escalate the war effort, there was nothing Pershing could do.

    A propaganda poster from autumn 1917 exhorting Americans to buy Liberty Loans. These helped finance the war without driving the country deep into debt, although the recession limited the American public's ability to purchase.
    Screen Shot 2020-10-21 at 7.21.36 pm.png

    The general’s environment wasn’t conducive to planning, either. Pershing had moved from New Orleans to Veracruz three days before his offensive went off, so as to be closer to the fighting; he had set up shop in the gutted post office. The American general lived in fear of the locals. He naturally had a large security force, but there was always the risk that things would go wrong, that someone would chuck a bomb through a window or “accidentally” run him over. The fears were reasonable enough- occupied civilians have never loved their conquerors- but they distracted Pershing from his task and that wasn’t helping anybody. Sitting in his rubble-strewn office, eating whatever the Army cooks turned out, relying on coffee to keep him running for eighteen hours a day, and listening to the rumble of gunfire outside the city all took a toll on Pershing. This wasn’t what the war was supposed to have been like! When he got the news of war after the Battle of Los Lamentos, he had imagined a third Punitive Expedition, leading men through the desert on a latter-day Crusade; Mexico City substituting for Jerusalem. Like so many generals of the era, John Pershing was discovering what modern war meant.

    Disgusted, General Pershing cancelled his attempt to break out of Veracruz on 3 October. His men had achieved only minor advances, and had incurred almost two thousand casualties in five days. This led to much celebration on the Mexican side of the lines- los Yanquis had been given a bloody nose! Of course, they had bled excessively too, and Carranza was none too keen on sending them precious reinforcements. Repelling a second American attack would be much harder. Yet, the propaganda victory was undeniable. However, three days after the end of the American offensive, a volunteer infantry regiment disembarked in Veracruz. This was of course nothing unusual in and of itself, but these men were about to become the stuff of Venustiano Carranza’s nightmares. The regimental commander paid a call on General Pershing, who out of respect for the man’s seniority, agreed to grant him a greater deal of autonomy than most men of equivalent rank. After all, how many former Presidents of the United States were in the front line?

    Mexico was about to get Rough Ridden on.

    1. The USMC’s first combat came against Barbary pirates in Tripoli in 1798, rescuing American civilians.
    2. Akin to Cuba’s actions in OTL WWI.
    3. Unbeknownst to the Americans, they’re putting the cream of the crop in terms of men and equipment into the Veracruz perimeter. It won’t always be this hard, rest assured.
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    Chapter 20- The Fall of Vienna
  • Chapter Twenty- The Fall of Vienna

    "I know my people well- I have lived amongst them my whole life. They will hold through anything, make no mistake of that. They will hold."
    -Emperor Karl to his wife, 29 October 1917

    "The old man is dead, eh? And he left a five year-old boy to play with his crown in Salzburg? What news- we shall be entertaining the ambassador from England three days from today!"
    - Mihaly Karolyi, November 2 1917, upon hearing of Karl's presumed death

    The Hungarians had done better than anyone anticipated. When nationalist pride prompted Prime Minister Mihaly Karolyi to declare the independence of the Hungarian Republic on 13 July, 1917, few had given the Hungarian state long to live. On paper, the deck was hopelessly stacked against it; the Habsburg empire surrounded it on all sides, while the Central Powers were hostile towards the revolt. When Emperor Karl I had ordered Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf to mount an offensive south from Slovakia, everyone had expected that the imperial bull would batter down the gates and waltz into Budapest. Yet… that didn’t happen. The Hungarians out-thought General Conrad and ended up losing only a few small villages. This cost Conrad his career; Emperor Karl sacked him and replaced him with General Arthur Arz von Strassenburg. Von Strassenburg was, however, an unknown quantity both to his side and the enemy. He had not especially distinguished himself in the Great War, but neither did he have any great blunders on his record. Only time would tell.

    Prime Minister Karolyi should have been happy. His men had turned the Imperial forces back; the enemy armies were still well north of the Danube and in no position to break through any time soon. The recent fighting had cost them far more than the Hungarian defenders. To the south and east, meanwhile, the enemy forces coming from Croatia and Transylvania were stalling. The rebel army’s supply of munitions and equipment was still reasonably high, and best of all, neither Germany nor Italy looked to be interested in intervention . In short, the war was going well.

    What, then, was the issue?

    Karolyi's knowledge of American history was minimal. As a European, he seldom gave thought to Charles Evans Hughes’ republic. Yet, in the weeks leading up to Hungary’s secession, he had got his hands on a history of the American Civil War. His position, he believed, was analogous to the Confederacy’s in the first months of that war. His state held a temporary initiative, but that would not last. Conrad’s past offensive had, despite its failure, captured a certain amount of territory. If that happened time and time again, the defenders would tire and give way. Like the American South facing off against the Union, the rebel Hungarian state couldn’t hope to win a war composed of toe-to-toe defensive battles; the ever-growing strength of Danubia would eventually wipe the state out.

    Hungary had to teach the empire that rebels could fight back, and that it was better to let Karoly’s state go rather than expend all that blood and treasure- before it was too late. And to do that, the Hungarians needed to take the offensive.

    If the Hungarians launched a major offensive, they could persuade the Danubians to give up the war, but only if they did it properly. A lightning strike would be necessary against a major target; the shock factor of realising how dangerous the Hungarians could be would then persuade Emperor Karl to give up. To continue with the American Civil War analogy brewing in Karolyi's mind, the Confederacy in 1862 had lunged into Maryland and Pennsylvania, hoping that capturing Baltimore or Philadelphia would terrify the Union into letting them go. While General Lee’s manoeuvre had failed, Karolyi told himself, that was due to tactical issues unrelated to the present conflict; the grand strategic aspect was what counted. And there was one glaringly obvious target to strike at: Vienna.

    No one in the imperial capital imagined that the war would come to them. After all, the posh gentlemen scoffed, these rebels were just jumped up Slavic provincials who didn’t know one end of a wineglass from the other! When the news of Hungarian secession reached the capital, the general reaction had been that Conrad would be in Budapest before the onset of winter. As Empress Zita wrote in her diary shortly after the outbreak in hostilities, “Looking around, I do see soldiers on the streets, it is true, but this is what one would expect from a capital city. People still merrily go about their business, enjoying their lives, selling paintings, drinking wine. In short, one could not prove by the spectacle meeting one’s eyes that the empire is at war.” After the first imperial offensive of the war flopped, the people still scoffed. Yes, some petty frontier towns might change hands, but never Vienna. The city was too ancient and too grand for war to pay a call here. After all, in the Great War against the Russian titan, had the capital ever heard so much as a single cannon going off?

    They were soon to get an awakening.

    The distance from the Hungarian border to Vienna was only thirty kilometres at its closest point. Compounding the situation, the Danubians had put minimal effort into fortifying these approaches. Of course, this wasn’t really their fault as no one had predicted the Hungarian revolt, let alone the fact that said rebels would try to take Vienna. However, the defenders had one major advantage. The westernmost part of Hungary, closest to Vienna, was known as the Burgenland. It was inhabited predominately by Austrians, whose loyalty lay firmly with Emperor Karl, and whose opinion of Mihaly Karolyi wasn’t fit to repeat in a civilised setting. Yet, although less than a tenth of the population was Hungarian, they held disproportionate influence within the territory and it had always come under Budapest’s sway. Fighting had broken out in the territory even before the formal declaration of Hungarian secession, as individual Austrian “patriots” took it upon themselves to prevent the local Hungarians from rising. The town militias, many of whom were composed of ethnic Magyars, intervened on the side of their countrymen, leading to brutal street fighting which left many dead. The Hungarian Republic’s declaration of independence only led to an escalation of the violence. Caught in the middle was the area’s significant Croatian population, who- their homeland having spent far too long under Budapest’s yoke- sided with the Austrians. Since mid-July, the Hungarians in the region had been sitting atop a bomb primed to go off, fearful that an imperial march east would meet with sympathy from the locals.

    Using the Burgenland as a base for an assault on Vienna was going to be a devil of a job.

    General von Nadas was summoned to Budapest on 10 October and given his new assignment. There were approximately a million and a half soldiers fighting for Hungary; only a few more were on the way. Since the empire surrounded Hungary, slightly under a million of those men were needed to man the frontiers, leaving 600,000 soldiers free for operations elsewhere. (1) Károly made it clear to his commander that these men were the cream of the crop and that they couldn’t be replaced if things went wrong- so his head would be on a platter if this operation failed. With that ringing endorsement in his ears, von Nadas received orders to muster the listed units in the Burgenland and march on the imperial capital as soon as possible. The Hungarian Third Army, as the Hungarian high-ups christened it, moved west. It was obvious to the men where they were headed, and they rapidly began calling themselves “Karoly’s Avengers”, and the “Army of the Schonbrunn”- the latter a reference to the Habsburg palace in Vienna. For security reasons, officers made every attempt to suppress such nicknames, but they survived and postwar chroniclers often use these terms.

    Unsurprisingly, the first shots fired by the Third Army were in the Burgenland. The locals were none too pleased to see 400,000 Hungarians- another 200,000 remained behind as a last-ditch reserve- arriving in their territory in the last weeks of October, just as the last of the harvest was being brought in, and made their displeasure felt. Minor incidents took place- Hungarian horses vanished in the night, ground glass somehow got mixed in with the biscuits the soldiers carried for field rations… charming things like that. The Hungarians reacted savagely, taking and executing hostages… which only made the Austrians and the Croats love them still more. Considering that this was to be the forward base for the push on Vienna, they couldn’t tolerate an active movement of francs-tireurs , and they peeled an additional three thousand men off for anti-partisan duty. This would keep the Burgenland quiet for the rest of the war, but it would come at a cost of combat effectiveness. Meanwhile, the concentration of force so near the capital had terrified the Danubians. Emperor Karl was not naive, but neither was he a military man. He had very much left the war to first Conrad then Straussenburg, and neither had suggested that the Hungarians could move against the imperial capital- thus, he was horrifically surprised when his commanders told him what was going on. Since much of Danubia’s prewar rail network ran through Hungary, transferring forces from Galicia or the Balkans would prove a daunting task. The empire didn’t have much left in Austria or Bohemia; most of those units were away at the front. Pulling units out of western Austria was possible, but Karl was reluctant to do it barring a dire emergency; he feared that if Danubia appeared to be coming apart, the Italians might attempt to grab some of the land in the region they’d coveted for years. It would all come down to whether or not the defences on the border would hold…

    A (badly made) map roughly showing the front lines at the beginning and end of the chapter...
    Screen Shot 2020-10-23 at 5.26.26 pm.png

    The Hungarian offensive opened on 27 October with a massive barrage of the imperial trenches. Contrary to General von Straussenburg’s predictions, the Hungarian assault came on a narrow front. The Danubians had anticipated that the rebels would try to capture as much of the Austrian heartland as possible; instead, von Nadas appeared to be focussing all his energies upon Vienna. Almost half a million Hungarians went over the top on 27 October; despite Great War-style defences, the imperial troops weren’t up to scratch. By midday, sheer force of weight had displaced the defenders from their frontline trenches, leaving imperial captains and majors frantically screaming into the telephone for reinforcements. It did them little good, and by the end of the day the frontline villages of Sommerrein, Sarasdorf, and Bruck an der Leitha lay under Hungarian occupation. Fighting died down during the night, but the next day found the Imperial troops no more able to halt the rebel tide. By noon on 28 October, all but a few pockets of defenders had thrown up their hands and consigned themselves to captivity. With a great war-cry, the Army of Schonbrunn poured through the gap thus created in pursuit of its namesake. Village after village fell into Hungarian hands, and by the end of the day the rebels had advanced five miles- results which many a Great War soldier would, quite literally, have died to achieve. It was the old magic word: breakthrough.

    In Vienna, Emperor Karl was in a state close to panic. They had shattered the frontline defences in a day, and by the end of the day the Schonbrunn Palace was but fifteen miles from the fighting- the rumble of guns was quite audible as the emperor ate his supper. There was nothing for it- Vienna could not be held. Straussenburg could concentrate no amount of men in time to halt the Hungarian advance east of the city. If the enemy maintained his current pace, von Strassenburg told his sovereign, he would be here in three days. Anarchy was rife in the city, with refugees clogging up the westward roads which the troops heading east needed. Those determined to stick out Hungarian occupation- even those who were normally very peaceful and law-abiding- often turned to crime to get their hands on some tinned food or emergency cash. People buried their valuables in back gardens and bolted the doors in case of trouble. The fire brigade were occupied putting out blazes set by looters or by refugees determined not to leave anything for the Hungarians. After the police failed to establish order; the mayor declared martial law at one PM on the 28th. A veneer of panic lay just beneath one of Europe’s oldest cities.

    That night, with everything around him collapsing, the emperor went to the Cathedral of Saint Stephen, where he knelt in prayer for four hours, until midnight. He knew that he couldn’t hope to hold the capital, but he prayed that he might minimise the sufferings of his people and keep the empire together. No doubt, Karl wept a few private tears in the pew that night. He returned to the cathedral the next day for Mass, and for an hour the war faded away. Under the familiar arched ceiling, with the beautiful icons and the glorious tabernacle in front of him, and the Eucharist on his tongue, Emperor Karl received the great gift of peace. After the service, he visited Cardinal Friedrich Gustav Piffl in his office, and told him that if he wished to flee the capital- for the sound of artillery had already interrupted the chants at Mass- no one would think any less of him. Cardinal Piffl smiled and shook his head. The people of Vienna needed their shepherd now more than ever. If he fled, deserting his post, what kind of example would he be setting? His responsibility to the people of the Archdiocese of Vienna wouldn’t change regardless of whose flag flew in the city. Cardinal Piffl then summoned one of the capital’s most promising priests, Father Theodor Innitzer. (2) The two men charged a presumably somewhat overawed Father Innitzer with accompanying any refugees from the city and tending to their spiritual needs. He collected his vestments and missal, and took everything he needed for the Eucharistic celebration before heading out to join the columns of refugees fleeing westwards. Servants buried the cathedral’s fine relics and art, and Emperor Karl returned to the Schonbrunn Palace.

    A modern picture of Saint Stephen's in Vienna. The church was very heavily damaged in the capture of Vienna, but painstakingly rebuilt afterwards and is nearly indistinguishable from the prewar version.

    29 October was a rotten day at the front. Von Straussenburg was paying the price for his hubristic belief that the Hungarians couldn’t strike west; he had nowhere near enough men to repulse the foe. Enemy troops crossed the Danube and advanced up both banks, seizing pleasant hamlets who hadn’t heard the sounds of fighting since Napoleon’s day and ruining their tranquility. Local militias- the Landwehr- did their utmost to resist, but when fifty greying veterans of the Austro-Prussian War came across nearly four hundred thousand modern troops, the outcome was never in doubt. The Danubian forces never possessed enough strength in one place to set up a firm, entrenched redoubt, and so they had to keep retreating. Imperial commanders fought a series of delaying actions, trading space and men for time. A company might entrench, fight for half an hour to keep Fischamend under the imperial flag for a few more minutes, and then retreat to play the dynamic out again in Flughafen Wein an hour later. Few had much to eat or many chances to rest as death lay waiting in the cool autumn breeze. When the sun slipped below the mountains, Hungarian troops found themselves in the Vienna suburb of Schwechat. They had not quite succeeded in taking the capital in two days- but there could be no doubt in anyone’s mind that 30 October would be the great day. That night, Hungarian artillery indiscriminately shelled Vienna, seeking to disrupt the movement of troops and terrorise the population. “Tomorrow”, General von Nadas boasted in his diary, “1848 shall be avenged!”

    Refugees poured out of the city throughout the night with little more than the clothes on their backs. They screamed and argued, made a fuss, and impeded the passing of troops towards the city. (3) Those who had decided to stay fled to basements and attics, trying, usually with little success, to get a wink of sleep. The garrison keeping the city under martial law had entrenched itself on the perimeter, joined by the police and local Landwehr- this had the unintended side effect of giving looters and burglars a free hand. The few remaining servants in the Schonbrunn Palace buried the imperial crown jewels and other historic artifacts deep underground before joining their wives and children. And in the imperial bedchambers a little before midnight, a very important farewell was said.

    Emperor Karl would not abandon the city. Touched by Cardinal Piffl’s heroism, he had decided to stay on in Vienna. Just as Constantine XI had remained in Constantinople to the bitter end half a millenium ago (4), so he would stick with his people. Empress Zita- who, unbeknownst to anyone at the time, was pregnant (5)- and their four children were instructed to flee westwards with Karl’s brother, Archduke Maximilian. Sitting his eldest son Otto on the knee, Karl told him that he would be an emperor one day, and that his mum and Uncle Maximilian would help him. He kissed Zita goodbye one last time and promised that “we will see each other again. God willing, it will be in a few months, after the war. But if He should wish otherwise, we will meet in a different life. Help the children get to heaven, and do not let them forget me.” He handed her a rolled-up piece of paper and told her not to read it until word came that Vienna was gone. An armoured lorry took the Imperial family to Salzburg, while the emperor went down to Saint Stephen’s one last time. The church was locked and bolted for obvious reasons, but Cardinal Piffl sent a servant to open it for the emperor. Karl requested Holy Communion one last time, and spent the night in prayer for his family, his people, and his empire.

    At five AM, the roar of an artillery barrage announced that the Hungarians were en route. The invaders climbed out of their trenches for the last time and took on the rearguard defending Vienna. As expected, the defenders put everything they had into this last fight, but it wasn’t enough and by seven AM the rebels were entering the capital. Determined not to let his beloved city be sacked, Karl sent word to the commandant that Vienna was to be declared an open city. Far better it be captured intact with minimal loss of life and destruction of property than the foe destroy it.

    Letting the Hungarians in peacefully didn’t entirely save Vienna. Conquering armies have never been kind to cities, and once the Hungarians reached their goal they took whatever they could carry. They stole fine clothes and watches, stuffed gold and silver into pockets, and pillaged the finest restaurants. Men were shot down in the streets and women taken by force. The emperor heard all this from inside the cathedral, and he wept, murmuring over and over, “Father, forgive them- they do not know what they do.” (6) At eight AM, as though it were an ordinary day, Cardinal Piffl came out and went into the confessional; the emperor followed suit. They came out a few minutes later and Piffl offered Mass; the emperor was obviously the only one in the congregation. It was a strange spectacle, with the Holy Sacrifice being offered with gunfire and screaming in the background in lieu of angelic chanting, but it was still Mass. Sadly, it was never to be finished. Halfway through, a ferocious banging came on the doors, followed by a gunshot; the lock had been shot off. A handful of Hungarian troops- evidently not Catholic like most of their countrymen- burst in and paid very little attention to the sanctity of the church, or to the one man in the pews. In an iconic scene, both emperor and cardinal ignored the looters, keeping their eyes fixed on the Mass. Icons were carted off to meet a fate they didn’t deserve, and men grinned at the prospect of getting rich. One of the Hungarians grabbed his pistol and made for Cardinal Piffl. The cardinal turned around a split second before the murder. Grinning, the Hungarian marched over the corpse, up the altar. This was something Karl could not stand. As the Hungarian soldier reached for the tabernacle, Karl tackled him to the ground; one of the soldier’s comrades shot the emperor dead. Karl von Habsburg was only twenty-nine years old, and had ruled the United Empire of the Danube for less than a year.

    A moment later, the church caught fire. Of course, this was not especially surprising in and of itself- with Vienna being looted, a fire was expected. Within moments, the inferno had trapped the offending Hungarian soldiers. The fire wore itself out quickly, leaving nothing but a pile of ashes on the floor. The altar and front of the cathedral were seriously damaged, and would not be fully reconstructed until 1922- the front of Saint Stephen’s has survived undamaged ever since. However, two items escaped the blaze. The first of these was not discovered until after the war, when Cardinal Piffl’s successor was walking around church grounds during the reconstruction, and stumbled across a singed box. He opened it to find several perfectly preserved Hosts. These Hosts were carefully placed inside a special container and have survived perfectly to the present day. The second item to escape the blaze was a statue of the Virgin Mary- it remained on its plinth during the fire and was left without so much as a singe mark on it. However, when Hungarian troops- fortunately, less inclined to vandalism than the ones mentioned above- discovered the statue, its face was wet. The Twin Viennese Miracles remain well-documented and well-celebrated within the Catholic Church even today. Since he had died to protect the tabernacle from vandalism, he was declared a martyr by Pope Benedict XV a year later, and was canonised in 2017- 30 October became his feast day. (7)

    An icon of Saint Karl of Austria (1888-1917) the Emperor of Peace, the Host-Saver.

    Following the capture of Vienna, the Hungarian Third Army stopped to rest. Garrisoning the city, even with much of its population having fled, would be a monumental task. Fighting had damaged much of the city- although it wasn’t as bad as some had feared- and analysing what still stood and what to do with what would be a time-consuming process. There was also the monumental question of the imperial family- captured servants revealed that everyone but Karl had fled to Salzburg, but they had no idea where Karl himself was. This prompted a massive search lasting ten days. Finally, it was concluded that he was dead. Naturally, Prime Minister Karoly trumpeted this to the world. The Emperor was dead- who would lead Danubia now? Hungarian arms had proven themselves time and again; with Vienna lost and the Emperor dead, why couldn’t they see that they had lost the war, and that Hungarian arms had forged a real nation? Diplomatic recognition for Hungary was surely imminent, Karoly told himself…

    The Imperial family reached Salzburg two days later. Poor Empress Zita wept the whole way, convinced that her husband was dead, while her brother-in-law and her sons tried to console her. As soon as they reached their new home, a breathless messenger rushed up to them with the news that the capital had fallen four days earlier. Zita took the letter out of her pocket and, hands shaking, opened it. Inside, her deceased husband had written:

    My dearest,

    By the time you read this, I shall be dead.

    I am torn writing this, my dear. I have a great duty to you, my wife, and to my children. Yet, I have a duty to my people and to my empire as well. Never have my responsibilities clashed so in all my days. Making this choice pains me, my dear, but I must stay with my people. They need me in their hour of weakness. I know that you will do everything within your power to raise our children as I would have wanted them raised, and that you and my brother Maximilian will raise our son Otto to follow me one day. I ask that you pray for my soul, and may we see each other in the Kingdom of Heaven before too long. I love you.

    There followed a ludicrously long signature listing his several dozen titles- second of which was “King of Hungary”. The Archbishop of Salzburg was summoned, and a weeping five-year-old Otto was crowned with all of his late father’s titles, making him the sixty-third Habsburg ruler of Austria since the late thirteenth century, and the second sovereign of the United Empire of the Danube. Of course, since he was still in short trousers, Maximilian was crowned as Regent until Otto turned eighteen. That same day, he ordered General von Straussenburg to send whatever he could, from wherever he could get it, to ensure that the Hungarians couldn’t pour west into the imperial heartland. Meanwhile, he had a train to catch for Berlin...

    1. Very, very rough calculations have given me just shy of two million Hungarian troops for the whole war; I figure that peeling off 600,000 for something as massively important as taking Vienna is possible.
    2. OTL’s Archbishop of Vienna from 1932-1955.
    3. I agree, it doesn’t make military sense to try and defend Vienna in the wake of overwhelming odds- but from General Arthur Arz von Straussenburg’s perspective, the capital is far too important politically for him to say he let it go without a good fight. This will condemn a lot of Danubians to avoidable deaths, but TTL’s characters are human- they make mistakes too!
    4. The inspiration for this idea, at least partially.
    5. Pregnant with Archduke Carl Ludwig. Since he was born in March 1918, he would still have been conceived ITTL. I know there’s a long argument about whether or not people should be born post-POD, but I’m going to let him be born. Besides, he’s not an important person in the TL- odds are we’ll never hear from him again.
    6. Luke 23:34, incidentally.
    7. Karl was beatified in 2004 IOTL- I can’t remember his feast day off the top of the head.
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    Chapter 21- The Noose Tightens
  • Chapter Twenty-One: The Noose Tightens
    "Thanks to the policies of President Hughes, my people were given a chance to show their worth in the field. And it paid off for them. Black people all around this country will remember the Houston Hellfighters."
    - Colonel Emmett Jay Scott, speaking on behalf of President Charles Evans Hughes in the 1920 US election

    "If that swine Emiliano Zapata and that swine Charles Hughes can agree that I am a bad man, it flatters me. I must be important for those two to team up against me!"
    Venustiano Carranza, commenting on the bizarre alliance of convenience established during autumn 1917

    "Damn that pendejo Obregon! I trust a man; he plunges the knife into my back!"
    Venustiano Carranza, commenting on the betrayal of General Alvaro Obregon.

    Venustiano Carranza had never been a religious man. Unusually for a ruler of Catholic Mexico, he had always held a secular outlook, and once he came to power, had severely curtained Church influence. Yet, in the wake of the US Army’s failed attempt to break out of Veracruz, he had to have thought of David and Goliath. John J. Pershing was landing three thousand men a day in occupied territory. The Yankees had undisputed control over the seas and had aligned most of the Caribbean against Mexico. The oilfields of the east coast and Mexico’s largest port were both gone. All that… and the Americans hadn’t even introduced conscription.

    By contrast, Mexico was rushing every man and every gun it could get its hands on to the Veracruz front. The social and economic implications of this were immense; every conscript sweating away in the trenches of the south was a man who wasn’t bringing in the harvest up in Sonora, or working in a copper mine in Chihuahua. Mexico’s population outside the major cities had never been high, and there was a genuine worry that there weren’t enough hands left to get everything done which needed doing. Carranza knew all of this, but he didn’t see what choice he had. With the Mexicans fighting so deeply out of their weight, every resource had to go towards victory. They could repair economic damage after expelling the Yankees. Of course, there was the risk that the Americans would win, thus leaving the economy in even worse shape… but worrying about that would do no one any good. However, there was some good news- from a military perspective, the war was at worst a stalemate. As it stood, the Mexicans had the US forces penned in in Veracruz, while no one had enough force to do anything in the north or on the Guatemalan front. Carranza’s goal was simply to maintain the status quo, beat back whatever sorties the Americans launched, and wait for Hughes to get sick and tired of the war. Time would tell…

    Ironically, General Pershing was no happier. He had achieved substantial victories in the first three months of the war, yes, but they weren’t his victories. Were it not for the Navy ferrying every single one of his men across the Caribbean, and had the US Marines not launched powerful flanking maneouvres against the Mexicans, the supply columns to Veracruz couldn’t have been severed and the defence would not have faltered. Admiral Mayo and the Marine commander were boasting about their roles in the capture of Veracruz, and leaving Pershing out of the limelight- all because 1st Division had done the unglamourous but essential work of driving the Mexicans out, street by street, of Veracruz. To top it all off, ex-President Theodore Roosevelt was now at the front with a volunteer regiment and the rank of honourary colonel, and was trying to order Pershing about. It was monstrously unfair and he was going to do something about it!

    General Pershing’s desire to prove himself as a great hero all his own was going to lead to a lot of lives being lost.

    The Mexican defenders of the Veracruz perimeter had an advantage in terms of defensive weaponry. Machine guns, land mines, and barbed wire were all hell on an advancing army, and Pershing had stuck his hand in the meat grinder. The question of how a backwards country such as Carranza’s Mexico had gotten its hands on such weaponry was of course on many minds in October 1917, but as it wasn’t relevant to the military aspects facing Pershing it shall be ignored for now. (1) Like the Allied generals of 1915, launching failed offensives on the Western Front, or like Cadorna in Savoy, General Pershing had learned what modern weaponry did against an old-fashioned advance- and Joffre and French had not had to do their bloody work in tropical jungle conditions. He had gone in hard, when what was needed was a smart advance. But what did ‘smart’ look like?

    Proud defenders: Mexican troops pose for the camera before going into battle, October 1917

    While Pershing was trying to figure out how to break open the road to the capital, he had to deal with Theodore Roosevelt. The ex-President was busy making a thorough nuisance of himself. Almost every day, Roosevelt visited the former Veracruz post office to badger Pershing. By God, he’d come to Mexico to fight, to excel, and to have one last hurrah, not to sit around in these miserable trenches all day! Roosevelt paid little heed to the fact that he was a mere regimental commander while Pershing was commander of all the Americans in Mexico. The former President was of the opinion that his experience and stature- which already made the men look up to him greatly- entitled him to a say in command and that, in his own words, “if we spent less time pussyfooting about and went after the enemy like a man, we would surely be celebrating in Mexico City at this moment!” Every time, Pershing- while showing all due respect to the man protocol still required him to address as “Mr. President”- escorted the Rough Rider out of his office. This was a frustrating modern war and Roosevelt’s desire to relive the campaigns on the Great Plains one last time wasn’t helping. Tensions between the two would remain a source of friction throughout the entire campaign. Roosevelt wasn’t the only man to irritate Pershing, however- President Hughes was about to go over his commander’s head in a way that would lead the United States closer to victory but would be seen postwar as a snub to the general.

    Following his declaration of war on the United States back in August, President Carranza had called for a “united front” against the invaders- for the bandits and rivals in the countryside to throw down their arms, and for his opponents in the capital to not scheme against him. Of course, Carranza was not naïve enough to believe that they would accept long term, but he emphasised that they were all Mexicans and no one had anything to gain by letting Hughes win. In the south, peasant rebel Emiliano Zapata responded with a two-fingered salute, as he had spent the past year fighting Carranza. If federal armies were busy keeping the Yankees tied up in Veracruz, they weren’t fighting him- a state of affairs he liked just fine. The war had proved a boon to Zapata, whose disorganised army had spread out, and by mid-October controlled much of the aptly named Guerrero province. His forces were snaking closer and closer to Mexico City, and were in fact much closer to the capital than the Americans- however, they were far too small to pose a serious threat to the city. As of October 1917, the Zapataistas were a nuisance to Carranza, nothing more. The gentlemen in Washington DC frowned on Zapata’s movement, as the Mexican rebel’s practice of redistributing land to the peasants and radical rhetoric made some in Washington fear that he was a communist. (2) “What use would it be”, one congressman queried, “if American money were spent propping up a Julius Martov in the backyard of this fine republic, when this war is meant to show the world who is the sovereign of this hemisphere?”

    However, the US Army’s failure to break out of Veracruz left President Hughes frustrated. He was doing his utmost to win this, yet the country was putting everything it had into this war. If he could not win quickly, Hughes would have no choice but to enact conscription and increase the government’s control over the economy… steps which he was loath to take. Zapata’s base was in exactly the right position… if supporting him would end the war quicker, Hughes would worry about the consequences later. Pershing and the conservatives in Congress would pitch a fit if they found out, so Hughes bypassed them. As Supreme Commander of the military, he didn’t have to defer to anyone in military matters. With a war on, no one would ask too many questions here and now, when it counted most. Thus, on 15 October 1917, Hughes summoned Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby to the Oval Office. The President ordered Colby to head to Zapata’s base in Morelos province to see what the rebel leader needed. The anti-Communist Secretary of State was none too pleased to be negotiating with a peasant rebel but he was both an utterly devoted Secretary of State and personally loyal to Hughes, and promised to do his utmost. The President, who had expected nothing less, informed Colby that he was to proceed immediately to Baltimore, where a small flotilla waited. Hughes handed Secretary Colby a letter marked “to Mr. Zapata” and sent him on his way with a firm handshake. At Baltimore harbour, Colby boarded one of the waiting destroyers and headed south.

    As the US diplomat steamed down the East Coast towards the Panama Canal, John J. Pershing received a boost from an unexpected quarter. President Hughes had, acting in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the US military, ordered full integration not long before war with Mexico broke out. After the declaration of war, African-Americans had volunteered at a rather higher rate than their white counterparts had expected- some estimate that one in four enlistees in the Second Mexican War were black. Most were Southerners desperately looking for better conditions than the sharecropping life could provide, but there were plenty from all over the country. However, while Hughes could force recruiting officers not to discriminate, he couldn’t change hearts or minds and many acts of racism against African-American enlistees occurred. White lieutenants always just so happened to assign them demeaning chores day after day- or worse, sent them forward on reconnaissance patrols that didn’t have a prayer of coming back intact. With the cynicism only experience could breed, many patriotic African-Americans had anticipated this, and one of them came up with a novel solution. Emmett Jay Scott was a prominent disciple of Booker T. Washington and admirer of President Hughes, and at the outbreak of war had been offered the position of Special Advisor of Black Affairs to the War Department. (3) Now, disgusted by the issues men of his race had to overcome to serve their country, he stole half an hour of the President’s time. When he came out, he had swapped his lavish office job for a colonel’s commission. Returning to his home city of Houston, Texas, he raised his banner and called for volunteers from all across the country. Of course, there was no law preventing whites from enlisting in his regiment- ironically, he would’ve fallen foul of Hughes’ desegregation law had he tried- but few white Texans would have cared to enlist in a regiment run by a black colonel. Thus, the Fourth Texas Volunteer Regiment was composed almost entirely of African-Americans. They came from all across the country to enlist, and before long, a lack of supplies forced Colonel Scott to start turning them away. Unsurprisingly, his regiment quickly acquired a memorable nickname- the “Houston Hellfighters”- white troops labelled them with several less savoury descriptions. (4) General Pershing- whose appellation “Black Jack” came from his willingness to treat African-Americans as the equals of white soldiers- loved the idea of an all-black regiment, as did President Hughes, and in a cable to Scott asked if he couldn’t raise a second regiment. Furthermore, since the Hellfighters were already based in Texas, why not use them to shore up the Rio Grande front, which had until now remained very quiet? Of course, this idea was not entirely because of strategic interests- there was morale amongst white troops to consider, and many would be aghast at fighting alongside African-Americans. Colonel Scott was not a stupid man and surely noticed this, but for the sake of diplomacy he kept mum. A second all-black regiment would be raised in January 1918 in Nashville.

    Men of the Houston Hellfighters pose in their hometown before shipping out, November 1917.

    At any rate, Pershing now had a brainwave. When Theodore Roosevelt paid one of his customary calls to the general’s headquarters on 12 November to complain of boredom, Pershing asked how he’d like to take his regiment north to reinforce Scott’s troops in Texas. “Why, General”, replied the President, “that would be bully!” From Roosevelt’s perspective, a transfer to the Rio Grande front would grant him the freedom of maneuver he had long desired, while Pershing would finally have the old warhorse out of his hair and Colonel Scott would gain precious reinforcements. The symbolism of a former President volunteering to fight side-by-side with an all-black regiment was not lost on Hughes, who played the image up as an example of the success of his integration policies. Thus, Roosevelt’s regiment spent the last week of November 1917 in transports taking them through the Panama Canal to San Francisco, and thence to the front. Officially, the two units were merged as the Fifteenth Independent Brigade, but in practise they retained very separate identities and loyalties to their commanders.

    Colonel Emmett Jay Scott, who achieved fame as the best-known African-American regimental commander in the United States.

    Meanwhile, Hughes’ bit of diplomacy with Emiliano Zapata went ahead. Secretary of State Colby landed at Acapulco (5) on the last day of October- under heavy guard, of course- and was met by several Zapatistan soldiers. The American destroyers remained off the coast to ensure his protection- their standing orders were to bombard the town to smithereens if anything happened to the Secretary of State. Colby’s party was led through the impoverished Mexican town to a back alley where three rusty motorcars of American make sat. The Army bodyguards made it very clear that they would not tolerate being blindfolded or disarmed, and the Mexican Zapatistas, not wanting to become intimately acquainted with American bayonets, respected their wishes. As the sun went down, the three cars drove through the dirt roads of rural Morelos, Colby’s teeth clicking with every bump and pothole in the road. His nerves weren’t helped when someone pulled out a bottle of cerveza, but no one was harmed. Finally, at ten PM, the party reached its goal- the remote village of Taxco. The place was so out of the way that few civilians resided there, but it was crawling with Zapata’s men. Colby and his bodyguards were led out of the car to an abandoned building and there, sipping on water with lime and surrounded by armed men, was Emiliano Zapata. The moustached Mexican warlord smiled carefully and shook Colby’s hand, the ambassador’s coat and tails seeming very out of place in this dusty town. As one of his men translated, Zapata welcomed Secretary Colby and thanked him for coming. Those hard Mexican eyes searched the polished ambassador’s face, sizing him up. His mission, Zapata declared, was to bring freedom and well-being to the people of Morelos- just like George Washington had fought as a guerilla for years to bring freedom to the people of the East Coast. It was an imperfect analogy, but it got the job done and helped dispel fears in Colby’s mind that Zapata was a “Martovist”. The guerilla leader scoffed at that; what did an uprising in a frozen city a year ago, halfway across the world from Mexico, have to do with anything? There were obvious ideological differences between the Americans and Zapatistas- to the former, the warlord was a dangerous far-leftist while the latter saw los Yanquis as continuing a century-old tradition of expansion against Mexico- but both sides papered them over as they had a powerful incentive to reach an agreement. Zapata wouldn’t entertain the thought of US troops setting foot on his soil, fearing- not without reason- that Hughes would use that as an excuse to dominate the movement. This was rather fortunate as the Americans lacked both warm bodies to land in the west and the transports to get them there. However, Zapata was very interested in the possibility of procuring American arms. They didn’t have to be the most modern ones- all the different Mexican factions were using equipment that any European state would’ve been ashamed to hand out. While Secretary Colby lacked the authority to authorise anything, he did promise to take the matter up with Hughes. No one spoke for a few seconds before Zapata removed his sombrero and began toying with it. Looking Colby straight in the eye, he pulled a notecard out of his pocket and read out, in broken English, “Would the United States agree to grant diplomatic recognition if my men take control of all Mexico?” This was an ambitious prospect to say the least and Colby was left unsure of what to say. Eventually muttering some platitude about America’s desire for “free will and self-governance amongst the Mexican people”, he hastily beat an awkward retreat out of the building and along the winding road back to the destroyers.

    Zapata would receive his American supplies, but the axis of convenience between the two would never develop into anything of substance and neither trusted the other.

    At the same time, Colonels Theodore Roosevelt and Emmett Scott were preparing for their march south. Together, they commanded some three thousand men, mostly infantry. Having moved from Houston to Tucson, the two regiments were as ready to invade as they ever would be. The great German commanders would’ve laughed themselves silly at the idea of two regiments posing a substantial threat to a country, especially when multiple divisions couldn’t advance out of the Veracruz perimeter. Yet, northern Mexico was such a vast expanse of territory so neglected by both sides that such a thing was possible. Military historians would subsequently see the coming campaign as something of a last hurrah for the nineteenth-century modes of war; cavalry sweeps across the desert, men surviving on the hardtack they carried on their persons, and no pesky machine-guns or trenches. An amused German reporter would refer to it as the “Anachronismus-Feldzung”- the “Anachronism Expedition”- in his report back to the Fatherland. Outdated or not, when the Rough Riders and Houston Hellfighters set off on 1 December 1917. Unfortunately, the cynics were rapidly proven correct about one thing; that two regiments couldn’t accomplish much in real terms. The two regiments immediately came across the Mexican town of Nogales, one of the few towns of substance in the north. Having made most of its money from cross-border trade, the war had not been kind to the town and most of its inhabitants had long since fled to safer parts of the country. As such, the town garrison was minimal- only a hundred men- and they surrendered within a day, much preferring the rations and warm beds of a Yankee prisoner camp to the danger and loneliness of midnight watch in the frigid desert nights. Roosevelt and Scott called a halt for the day, and the brigade spent the night of 1-2 December pillaging everything they could find in the village.

    It was to be one of their last tastes of civilisation for quite a while.

    As the men marched across the deserts of northern Mexico, they soon found themselves faced with a very different foe than General Pershing, but one that was no less deadly. Whereas Pershing had machine-guns and barbed wire holding him up, Roosevelt and Scott had to contend with the terrain. During the 1920 election, one witty satirist (a prerequisite for the profession) in the pay of the Democrats would crack jokes about “a walking tour of Northern Mexico, paid for by you, the taxpayer, with all the lizards and scorpions the eye can take in!” He was of course exaggerating, but the first week of the campaign felt odd. With Pancho Villa- previously the biggest danger in northern Mexico- killed in the first battle of the war and most of the local bandits knowing they were out of their depth, the march across Sonora was missing one thing- the enemy. In a few places, town militias dug their old rifles out of the cupboard and took a few potshots at the invaders, but they invariably threw up their hands after a few hours. Opportunistic bandits sometimes liberated the contents of a field kitchen, but it was always for their own good, not to harm the invaders and save their country. In the first week of the war, heatstroke was the number one cause of fatality amongst the Americans, with snakebites and scorpion stings coming second. Enemy action took third place. It was the antithesis of the fighting on the Western Front. Instead of men and guns packed so tightly together that advances were measured in yards not miles, soldiers could spend a day marching down a dusty road without glimpsing the enemy once. Both commanders grew restless for different reasons. Colonel Scott resented the fact that the first all-black regiment in American history was reduced to tramping across northern Mexico doing nothing, not giving his men the chance to prove themselves in combat as the equals of their white counterparts. By contrast, Roosevelt was simply bored. There were hardly any Mexicans in his way, nor was there any sort of big game worth shooting at. Depression consumed the old American warhorse as the brigade trooped west. Far from being the glorious adventure both men had hoped for, the march across the desert was turning into a colossal waste of time. What on earth were they doing in Sonora?

    As it turned out, President Hughes had had a purpose for putting men into the northwestern corner of Mexico beyond getting Roosevelt out of Pershing’s hair and tucking the Hellfighters in a safely obscure place where they couldn’t arouse too much popular anger. For the past seven years, Mexico had been a deeply divided country, with regional strongmen paying lip service to the central government while running their own independent kingdoms. And the two regiments just so happened to be trooping through the home country of one such strongman, Alvaro Obregon.

    Obregon’s relationship with Venustiano Carranza had always been long and complicated. They had fought side-by-side in the Revolution of 1910, but had broke in December 1916, after which Obregon returned to his native Sonora. When the war broke out, Obregon- a Mexican patriot at heart- had offered his services to Carranza. The President, seeking to pursue a united front in the wake of the Yankee goliath, had enthusiastically agreed and accepted Obregon back into the army. However, he didn’t completely trust his former rival and assigned him to the defence of the north. The hope was that by keeping him busy away from the scene of the fighting, Obregon would be left unable to pressure Carranza.

    It was a grave mistake.

    Alvaro Obregon, the Sonoran warlord who aligned himself with the United States. This action would subsequently earn him the sobriquet "Betraying General".

    Alvaro- now General Alvaro- Obregon had few men at his disposal; the country needed every resource to pad the lines at Veracruz. Carranza might’ve wanted him to lead cross-border raids into Mexico, but he lacked the resources for such an operation. This actually suited Obregon fine- he was content to manage his troops from his Hermosillo townhouse and grow chickpeas. (6) Of course, when he wasn’t on his hands and knees in the garden, Obregon was focussed on strengthening his position in Sonora. He commanded few men and wanted to make sure that what he had was loyal to him personally. This led to little irregularities taking place in the books during the first months of the war- funds used to pay the troops were not sent directly to them, but rather routed through Obregon’s personal account. Unlike most such cases, there was no actual skimming-off of funds, but the upshot of it all was that the men believed that Obregon was paying their wages out of his own pocket. Additionally, the men in Sonora were all peasant conscripts, and they were bloody grateful to be stationed within a hundred miles of their farms and hometowns as opposed to being sent down to the trenches of Veracruz. Obregon played this up amongst the men, telling them that it was because of his magnanimity that they were staying close to home, and that Carranza wanted them to fight and die in the south! It was not exactly a lie, but it stretched the truth- the fact was that there was a need for a scratch force at the border and that it was simpler and much cheaper to use local men for the task. Similarly, officials in Sonora deemed too loyal to Carranza personally had a way of suffering tragic accidents in the first months of the war- either that, or Obregon gave them a rifle and sent them to Veracruz- after all, the country needed them where the fighting was thickest! Carranza knew what his old rival was up to, of course, but swallowed quite a lot because he wanted Obregon’s cooperation in the anti-Yankee front.

    All this to say, when Colonel Roosevelt and Colonel Scott went to the Rio Grande front in autumn 1917, President Hughes saw a way to put them to cunning use.

    The Yankee incursion into Sonora had disturbed Obregon, but there was little he could do. He had only a few thousand men, and what was most important was retaining their loyalty- this entailed protecting their farms and families. However, spread-out as his own forces were, he lacked the capability to defend all his men’s farms. Thus, he promised to cover their losses out of his own pocket, and told his men to move their families to the major cities. Given that the Americans barely had three thousand men under arms, they had no chance of conquering Hermosillo, Guaymas, or Caborca if he attempted to defend them. However, on 10 December, a message from Washington reached the American colonels: they were to offer to negotiate with Obregon.

    Theodore Roosevelt was furious over this. He had come to bang heads together and find one last bit of glory. The only negotiations he wanted to conduct with the enemy were to accept his surrender! Colonel Scott, however, counselled prudence. They were military men and had orders from the President; to not carry them out would be an ill-advised move. Eventually, the headstrong Rough Rider agreed. Leaving handpicked subordinates behind, the two colonels proceeded on horseback to the hamlet of El Cesar under heavy guard. It would’ve surprised many had a hundred people lived in the town before the war; as it was, Scott and Roosevelt found it depopulated. The suspicious Rough Rider kept his pistol drawn as he walked into the town, men from both American regiments shielding him. If Obregon had planned an ambush, well, a lot of Mexicans were going to go down with the two Yankees. But there was no trap, just a portly Sonoran warlord and his bodyguards waiting for them. Clean-shaven, cigar in hand and wearing a light grey suit, Obregon would’ve looked at home in the New York Stock Exchange. His English was first-rate, but as neither Scott nor Roosevelt knew a word of Spanish, he used an interpreter. Retrieving the message from Hughes, Colonel Scott explained that the Americans wanted to work with Obregon. He had had his differences with Carranza in the past, and they wanted to help him properly resolve those differences- in exchange for some help, of course.

    If Alvaro Obregon would turn his guns on Carranza, the United States would de facto recognise his control over Sonora and commit to backing him postwar.

    Obregon was a fierce Mexican patriot. He had no love for los Yanquis, whom he viewed as having treated his beloved motherland like dirt since its conception. Collaborating with the invaders ran counter to everything he believed in. Yet… he shared that trait common of all warlords, pragmatism. He may have never heard the phrase, but the Americans were offering him a massive gift horse and he wasn’t about to look it in the mouth. Thus, Alvaro Obregon agreed to work with the Americans… for now. Scott and Roosevelt promised to wire Hughes about sending supplies to Obregon, who reciprocated by promising the American brigade free passage through his territory- in exchange for the United States returning all the land it held to Obregon’s control. The Americans retired to the town of Santa Ana, while the Mexican warlord pondered how to present this to his men.

    In President Hughes’ quest for an anti-Carranza coalition, he had lined up an African-American radical-cum-officer, an ex-President of the United States, a left-wing insurgent in the southwestern mountains, and a cynical Sonoran warlord. War makes strange bedfellows.

    When Venustiano Carranza heard the news, he was apoplectic. He had given that swine Obregon the benefit of the doubt, and what had he done? He had gone and climbed into bed with the enemy! The President’s health was declining precipitously. The strain of leading his country in war for four months had taken its toll- Carranza had lost weight and his famous moustache now drooped. He spent far too much time in conferences with his generals or ministers, seeing how the war was taking its toll on the country- there were not enough imports getting onto the Pacific ports, the economy was shaking as too many men were absent from their tasks for too long, and worst of all, there were rivals waiting in the wings to destroy his regime. The Mexican president wanted to end the war- he would even accept Yankee control over the oilfields- but knew that to do so would invite his violent removal from power and subsequent execution. Carranza lived in fear of a coup, or of the news that the Americans had burst out of the Veracruz perimeter. Yet, the news which would topple his government came not from any of these things, but from the sinking of a Peruvian-flagged merchant ship off the Sinaloan coast...

    1. Please, guess as you see fit! And we will return to this subject…
    2. Obviously not an accurate guess, but in the wake of the September Revolution in Russia, TTL’s intelligence advisers look at anything even a little to the left of what they’re used to and think “Communism! Julius Martov!”.
    3. As OTL.
    4. Just shaking things up a bit.
    5. Captured by Zapataistas during the war when Carranza, er, had other things to worry about.
    6. An OTL hobby of his, apparently.
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    Chapter 22: The Rise of Georges Sorel
  • Chapter Twenty-Two: The Rise of Georges Sorel

    "Soldiers of Dijon! For too long you have laboured under the harsh rule of one failed government after another. Now, the reactionary Paul Deschanel seeks to wipe you out and butcher your families- for what? For nothing; for the crime of standing up for yourselves! Take heart, comrades! If we fight now, if we put everything of our being into this moment, we can leave our mark on history, as the first shots of a great revolution..."
    Excerpt from Georges Sorel's address to the soldiers of Dijon

    "If they want to fight, they may fight. Rebels will get what is coming to them, just wait and see..."
    Paul Deschanel, 28 October 1917, a few hours before the attack on Dijon commenced

    It is a testament to Emile Loubet’s lack of foresight that when the city of Dijon erupted in October 1917, he was caught by surprise. On one level, it is hard to blame him. The creation of the Dijon Commune had been a minute-by-minute, blow-by-blow affair. Like a game of Chinese whispers, the facts on the ground were hopelessly distorted by the time they reached Paris. Conservative ministers urged Prime Minister Loubet to send troops in, fearing a repeat of the Springtime Mutinies which had forced France to exit the war, while liberals argued for restraint and negotiation. Never a decisive man, Loubet would spend hours making a decision...only to get the next report from the city that things had gone from bad to worse. Miscalculation, rash decisions, and a refusal to listen to or trust the other side had turned a riot caused by the imprisonment of three street urchins into a full-blown revolt in three weeks.

    All this to say, Emile Loubet was completely out of his depth and was the worst possible candidate to sit in Paris at this critical juncture.

    Meanwhile, the Dijon Commune was coalescing. In the third week of October, after repulsing an attack by central government troops, the rebels had kept the city under de facto martial law. The garrison hadn’t wanted to mutiny, but after they fought back against governmental authority, they had no choice but to carry on. Now, the self-styled Army of Dijon ruled the city, trying to figure out what to do next. Their leadership comprised a handful of soldier’s councils representing the men, but there was no overall platform as to what to do next. The soldier’s councils wanted nothing more than to negotiate their way out of this mess and get back to whatever they were doing beforehand. Yet, the arrival of one man would change everything.

    A banner used by one company of the Dijon Worker's Army. This took me about forty minutes to get right.
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    Georges Sorel was an odd bloke. After a hardscrabble childhood in Cherbourg, the quest to keep body and soul together had led him into a government engineering job. It was there, while travelling all around France, that Sorel had first gotten his hands on far-left literature, and he ate it up like there was no tomorrow. While admiring the revolutionary ideology of Marx, he came to disagree with certain aspects of his philosophy, and abandoned orthodox Marxism for syndicalism in the late 1890s. However, what set Sorel apart from most of the world’s left-wing intellectuals was that he held many aspects of traditional culture in high esteem. Claiming that “no great philosophy can be established without being based on art and on religion” (1), he rejected the more materialist aspects of Marxism. More unusual still, Sorel was perfectly willing to work with conservatives who shared at least some aspects of his economic vision. However, when the war broke out, Sorel fell out with mainstream politics and retreated into his own little world. At sixty-nine, he was far too old to serve even in the dark days of 1916, and spent much of the war in Bordeaux, slaving away at his desk, a bottle of wine never far away. Once the Treaty of Dresden crippled France and set hyperinflation in motion, Sorel got out as fast as he could; a few days before Christmas 1916, he booked a train to Nice, now under Italian rule. Ironically, that the city lay under enemy rule made it a popular destination for Frenchmen in the tumultuous months after the war; it spared it the violence and hyperinflation of the motherland. Sorel very much kept himself to himself, scribbling away on a new book. He completed his Reflections on the Potential for Revolutionary Action in a Broken Nation (2) in September. Totalling some three hundred rather dense pages, it spoke of the fragility of postwar France and Russia and called on the workers and intellectuals to rise up there. Its most famous line- that “evolution of the proletarian consciousness will not happen spontaneously, it is something towards which every individual must strive for with all his means if the revolution is to occur!”- was a direct refutation of Karl Marx’s belief in the scientific inevitability of the revolution. Having been a revolutionary philosopher for a long time, Sorel knew all too well that to attempt to openly publish his work would lead to Italian troops knocking on his door; thus, he kept mum. Ironically, considering that the Dijon uprising was only weeks away, Sorel became depressed in the wake of finishing his work. He read about the cruel extortions of Loubet’s government in its desperate attempt to balance the books and the violence this lead to, but he didn’t think the French people were ripe for revolution.

    Thus, the Dijon mutinies only weeks later proved a pleasant surprise for Sorel. He slipped into France on 19 October and made his way to Dijon two days later. At that point, the Army of Dijon, preoccupied as it was with defending from a serious assault by the government, lacked the force to block every entrance into the city. The revolutionary philosopher has left no written record of his first impressions on entering the city, but he was underwhelmed. From the reports the Loubet government was putting out, Dijon was under the control of real radicals akin to those in Petrograd during the September Revolution. The goal in distributing such propaganda had been to inflame hatred for and fear of the rebels amongst the populace, but they raised Sorel’s hopes, and he expected to see some syndicalist utopia. Instead, Sorel found an atmosphere of de facto martial law. Most of the able-bodied men in the town had joined the so-called Army of Dijon, and the military was running everything. This atmosphere minimised production and commercial activity. Dijon appeared to be passively waiting for Loubet to make his next move, hoping that the whole situation could somehow defuse.

    It was enough to drive Sorel mad.

    Meanwhile, Paris was wracked by its worst political crisis since the war. The French Parliament tarred Emile Loubet as a scoundrel, an idiot, and- depending on whom one asked- a German agent. There was no truth in the latter accusation, but no one could deny that he had handled the whole crisis extremely poorly. The surprise was that when the vote of no confidence came on 23 October, Loubet had been in power for the better part of a year. Everyone from the centre-leftists in the Republican Union to the hard far-rightists heaped scorn on the Prime Minister- his own Democratic Republican Alliance, a centre-left party, offered only the meekest defence. They knew that Loubet’s failure to address the economy and the Dijon crisis had inflicted permanent damage, but hoped that by jettisoning him they could minimise the harm done. Ominously, the true radical leftists largely abstained from voting; many of them didn’t turn up. France had a handful of mainstream Marxist politicians who placed their loyalty to the Worker’s International above their loyalty to la Nation. To a handful of these radicals, the Dijon Commune represented the “inevitable” revolution Marx had preached; it was time to desert the reactionaries in the Chamber of Deputies and join the masses! In practical terms, this meant that the new government lacked a substantial left-wing influence, dragging its composition to the right.

    Paranoia was rife in the streets, with rioting taking place as people feared the establishment of a far-right government that would restrict their liberties under the guise of “emergency powers”. France had not had a general election since a few months before the war, and there was a fear amongst the people that a new tradition was being established- that of the men in suits forming governments without the consent of the people. If they couldn’t express themselves at the ballot box, they would do so with their fists and clubs. All throughout the third week of October, haggard riot police clashed with furious demonstrators in the streets of the capital. For the genuine socialists in Paris, the week was tremendously exciting, as the revolution really appeared to be en route. Socialist propaganda spread around the city as if by magic, and young workers formed gangs to redistribute some wealth to themselves. However, despite the fears of many, there was no second Paris Commune in October 1917. The police kept order while the politicians debated what to do.

    No one could seem to agree on the composition of the emergency coalition. The right wing argued that the danger to France had never been greater, that the country’s peril was even worse than in 1916. Defeat in the war had been awful, yes, but for all its harsh extractions the Treaty of Dresden had left France’s political and social fabric intact. Armed revolution, rioting in the streets, and a city in the hands of traitors was a greater threat, and it was all coming from the left. A government of the far-right, reinforced by an emergency powers bill, so they said, was necessary to combat the existential threat the motherland was facing. To the moderates, this was dangerous talk. Of course they recognised the gravity of the situation, but handing power over to la Federation Republicaine (3), to say nothing of strengthening them with an emergency powers bill, was a recipe for dictatorship. If the centrists feared a Marxist revolution, they had no desire to hand unlimited power to the reactionaries. Ironically, many of the leftists remaining in Parliament- who were of a more moderate disposition than those who’d left- were inclined to back the rightists, if only to show that they really weren’t the threat everyone imagined them to be. Thus, the two sides reached an impasse. Neither side wanted to give any more ground and few imagined that the other side was acting in good faith- to the moderates, the far-rightists wanted to use this as an excuse for a dictatorship, while the far-rightists suspected the moderates of seriously underestimating the peril the country found itself in. However, as the twenty-fourth dragged on into the twenty-fifth, a growing sense emerged that something had to be done. Going without a functioning government for two days was bad at the best of times, but with Dijon in the hands of insurgents, riots in the streets, and the Army imperfectly loyal, something would have to give. Deliberation continued well past eleven PM on the 25th until they reached a compromise. Paul Deschanel, one of the more right-wing figures in the Democratic Republican Alliance, was offered the top job. As his party was a centrist one, the moderates respected him, while his conservative views meant the more rightist figures in the government considered Deschanel to be on their side. Of course, many had their gripes with the man and his government was fated to be an unstable one, but France at last had a functioning government without recourse to a military dictatorship.

    Paul Deschanel, the French prime minister who attempted to suppress the Second French Revolution. Rebel troops were fond of comparing his moustache to that worn by Kaiser Wilhelm II.

    It was far too late.

    While the men in Paris had bickered, the men in Dijon had nominated one of their own as leader. Jean-Jacques Famride (4) was a brigadier general who had distinguished himself during the Great War. Famride had earned a Croix de Guerre in 1915 and fought honourably during Verdun and the subsequent Kaiserschlacht. He had been the second-in-command in the force tasked with assaulting Dijon on 20 October; after the men had mutinied and killed their officer, Famride had taken control and switched sides. He was not a socialist himself, but he hated hyperinflation and the feckless Loubet government just as much as anyone else and the idea of crushing the defenders of Dijon rankled his sense of honour. Now, the leaders of the Dijon soldier’s councils had elected him their leader. Famride knew that another government attack could come crashing down on the city any day now, and was bitterly aware that Dijon might not have the strength to repulse them- the news on 26 October that Paul Deschanel was in charge in Paris only confirmed his fears. Declaring that “we don’t have enough troops to defend- we must attack!”, Famride met with the leaders of the soldier’s councils in the afternoon of the 26th. Reports suggested that an attack on the city was imminent, and if they were to survive they needed to take the initiative. With the village of Quetigny to the southeast under the control of the Army of Dijon, Famride wanted to strike northwest towards Paris. If the rebels could capture a sizeable town, it would cripple government morale and enable them to, in the commander’s words, “think long-term”. The phrase marks something important; Famride harboured no illusions that he could calm the situation. The fact that this whole revolt had started almost by accident was neither here nor there; it no longer mattered who had made what mistakes or the intentions of the participants. In killing soldiers of the French Government, the Army of Dijon had crossed the Rubicon. It was win or die, kill or be killed.

    Paul Deschanel would have agreed with that statement… he was determined to kill first. Upon taking office a little before midnight, he had reviewed at the country’s military situation and muttered something uncharitable about Emile Loubet, the Treaty of Dresden, and the Springtime Mutinies. The victorious Germans had wanted to abolish the French military, but this was of course an impractical aim and they had settled on letting France keep 75,000 men under arms. The Japanese landgrab in Indochina had cost France several thousand colonial troops, and the country needed thousands more to keep a lid on Algeria and Central Africa. This left approximately forty thousand men in mainland France- all career military, few of whom had lives outside the armed services. Faced with the demand to cut the military, the government had been very selective, and they selected those who were kept on for their skill and record. The subsequent hard times had of course affected them, but considering that they were being fed and housed by the government, the hyperinflation didn’t harm them as much as it did civilians. This small force had been stripped of modern weaponry and aeroplanes- and over three thousand were in open revolt in the heart of France.

    If Deschanel was going to nip this treason in the bud, time was of the essence.

    To head the assault on treasonous Dijon, Deschanel tapped the young Georges Humbert. Humbert had performed reasonably well in the Great War and had passed the most important test for a French commander- he had stayed on after the Treaty of Dresden forced France to massively downsize her armed forces. He was outfitted with fifteen thousand men- all that could be spared- and told to have at it.

    Conquering a city full of hostile inhabitants has never been an effortless task. Knowing what their fate will be in the men ahead fail, they will do everything in their power to bolster the defence. The defenders of Dijon were even more committed. They had done nothing wrong, and the ignorant central government had sent troops in to oppress them. Now, it appeared they were about to meet a dreadful fate as aiding and assisting armed rebels. Expecting no quarter, they could not afford to give any in return. Thus, as Sorel noted, “all of Dijon mobilised”. Men too old or too young to for wartime conscription grabbed old guns and joined their comrades on the perimeter; women and girls made sandwiches and prepared to take on the role of ad hoc nurses. Of course, few of these were professionals and there was a great deal of inefficiency and mistakes made, but morale was on the side of the defenders.

    Thus, on the 28th of October 1917, the Battle of Dijon commenced. Central government troops came down from the north and west into the valley. As they did so, passing through some of the most scenic countryside in all of France, they encountered small villages. Tellingly, these villages were empty- the inhabitants had mostly fled to rebel-held Dijon. Fighting began a little before ten AM, and it rapidly became clear that the military restrictions imposed on France had been bloody effective. Government troops lacked the artillery to conduct a modern advance and the aeroplanes necessary to reconnoitre properly; by the same token, the defenders lacked machine-guns or landmines. Ironically, this was a good thing for the inhabitants, as it meant that unlike at Artois, Ypres, or Verdun, towns were not destroyed in meat-grinding battles. In 1914, officers had spoken of the importance of elan and traditional bayonet charges; these illusions had met a grisly death in the Great War. Now, with the Germans having crippled France’s military, both sides were forced to revert to such tactics. It might’ve been a refreshing change for some of the older commanders, but it largely led to confusion amongst the men- and confusion in the heat of combat is all too often fatal.

    Regardless, it became clear very early on that one thing had not changed since Verdun- the men were not especially eager to fight. These 15,000 government troops had been selected to stay on because they were career military. They had been through the disastrous retreats of 1914, the debacle of Verdun, and the paranoia and instability of the Springtime Mutinies. And now the government wanted them to charge headlong at their fellow countrymen whose only crime was not to have treated the workers of Dijon like traitors when they clearly weren’t? To the average man in General Humbert’s assault, this simply wasn’t worth dying over. There had been murmurings of mutiny since before the attack went in and some of the brass hats had recognised the possibility, but there were no serious plans in place for if the men refused to do their job. However, 28 October saw no full-fledged mutiny. Instead, the attacking force manifested its displeasure in other ways- they gave themselves up after firing a few perfunctory shots, they “got lost” and somehow materialised ten miles away, or- in the most extreme cases- wounded themselves to get away. There were a few isolated incidents of men outright refusing to fight, but military policemen were able to quickly and quietly deal with them. By contrast, the defenders put everything they had into it. Marked as traitors, and urged on by General Famride, they had nothing to lose. Throughout the afternoon, they steadily gave ground, trading space for time. It would be possible to fight a street-by-street battle in Dijon but there were emotional factors making that unlikely- many of these men were fighting for their hometown with their wives and children only a few kilometres away, and it certainly wasn’t worth bringing those things into harm’s way for the sake of a tactical advantage.

    A recently colourised photograph of government troops preparing to attack Dijon. Note the absence of machine-guns or heavy weaponry.

    Fighting bogged down at two PM at the village of Hauteville, a few kilometres west of the main city. The rebels didn’t know how demoralised the central government forces were and saw only their own weakness. Ammunition was running low, men were dying in horrible ways, stray bullets were killing innocent women and children, and the fighting hadn’t even reached a built-up area yet. The leaders of the soldier’s councils saw their men being gunned down in fields and firing pits and worried that they would either mutiny or simply be ground down first. An hour after the battle reached Hauteville, the leaders of the councils announced that they would meet in the town hall at sunset. They didn’t openly state what for, but the obvious implication was that they were planning a retreat. Dijon, it seemed, would be in government hands by the end of the day, and just as Tsar Michael had crushed the September Revolution, so Deschanel would crush France’s popular movement…

    ... Which brings us back to Georges Sorel.

    Sitting in his apartment in Dijon, listening to the sounds of gunfire, the French philosopher became despondent when he heard the news of this planned convention. Everything was going wrong! The people were supposed to revolt and grab their chance at liberty with both hands, not roll over and die after a few hours fighting! Fear gripping his heart, aware that he might die in a few hours and that he had to do something, Georges Sorel scribbled his “Exhortation to the People of Dijon” on the back of a letter which ought to have gone to the old woman downstairs. Maniac energy possessed him as he spent hours setting down his message to the people, getting every last detail perfect, and as the sun set down he trooped off to the town hall, the din of combat growing closer and closer.

    The meeting between the soldier’s councils was as panicked as Sorel had feared, No one had any expectation that they could repulse the government assault- commanders spoke of their units taking unsustainable casualties, ignorant of the bleeding the enemy was doing. Men grimaced at the fate awaiting them- if the city fell, the government would surely treat them as traitors, with the ensuing blindfold and cigarette. Officers told stories of women and children fleeing to the southeast and soldiers leaving their posts to protect their loved ones. As the greying man pushed his way into the building- there were a handful of civilians present- General Famride said the dreaded words, “we must prepare to evacuate and look after ourselves first in the coming days.” Sorel stood up and trudged to the rebel officer, pressing his proclamation into Famride’s hands. “Read this”, he said, “and let your men see it. It will be what they need to hear- what we all need to hear.” The officers were naturally pressed for time and didn’t read this stranger’s rolled-up message; it was handed off to a subordinate. The bored sergeant unrolled the manifesto and read it silently before muttering “Mon Dieu!” and handing it over to an officer. The officer was suitably impressed and asked Sorel if he’d written this himself, before instructing that it be sent to the men fighting. In a bizarre yet iconic scene, Dijon’s printing presses were put to work churning out copies of Sorel’s manifesto.

    At six PM, with the defences of Hauteville beginning to crumble, officers sent couriers to the troops bearing copies of Sorel’s proclamation. Enheartened, they cheered and returned to the fight with renewed vigour. The postwar French government widely disseminated the so-called “Sorelian Miracle”, commemorating it in poems and paintings. Even today, many far-leftists in France speak of it. (5) The story of the “miracle” is that it was Sorel’s inspiring words which rallied the men for one last, victorious push against the foe. However, the story is just that- a story. The fact that the government’s attack faltered shortly after Sorel addressed the troops was incidental, and military historians have established a solid consensus as to why it occurred; the government troops were worn out. They had been on the offensive all day with next to no artillery, charging across flat plains. Morale was shot and with night coming closer some men were slipping away. By the same token, a day of defensive combat without the benefit of land mines or machine guns had exhausted the defenders of Dijon, and they surely couldn’t have repulsed an attack by fresh troops. Thus, the end of the first day of the Battle of Dijon was an inevitability. However, the defenders didn’t see things that way. Ignorant as they were of the enemy’s condition, they assumed themselves to be outnumbered- which they were- and outgunned, and more than a few considered the cause hopeless. Thus, when the enemy pulled back after a day’s fighting, it seemed to these men like a great triumph. Flush with victory, they looked around and saw this pamphlet by a “Georges Sorel” commending them for defending their rights so gallantly. Despite having taken heavy casualties, Dijon’s defenders cheered that night as they searched for this obscure Georges Sorel.

    Still wearing his helmet, the greying Marxist had spent the late evening of 28 October wandering the streets, his pamphlet in hand. When a soldier asked him if he knew of this Georges Sorel, the response was, “well, of course I know him! He’s me!” The stunned- and evidently rather trusting- soldier led Sorel back to his trench and introduced him. Someone produced a glass of wine, and the troops cried “Vive le Sorélianisme!” He spent several hours chatting with the men, discussing his philosophy, and encouraging them as they prepared for the next day’s combat…

    ...they were soon to get a surprise.

    At four AM, a terrific racket woke the defenders of Dijon. Expecting an attack, they grabbed their rifles and stood ready, but no government troops advanced. The fighting was audible...but no bullets were flying anywhere near them. As only veterans can do, the men assumed this to be a ruse and maintained their guard. An hour and a half later, enemy forces leapt over the top and crossed what passed for No-Man’s-Land, seemingly confirming their suspicions. However, something was wrong. These men weren’t firing, and they were advancing with their hands up. A lieutenant walked up to the rebels, two armed men fixing their guns on him, and asked that they accept his entire platoon’s surrender. A rebel officer agreed, after which forty haggard government troops came across the lines disarmed. Scenes like this repeated themselves all throughout the small hours of 29 October.

    It was the Verdun mutiny all over again, and it doomed the attack on Dijon.

    Suddenly, Georges Sorel found himself popular beyond all reason. The men, genuinely inspired by his words, had adopted this eccentric septuagenarian as their patron. He had put into very eloquent words the cause for which they were fighting and dying, and they loved him for it. As 29 October stretched on and government troops surrendered to the Dijon rebels- who often agreed to treat them well if they fought on their side- an amazing elan set in amongst the men. Against all the odds, they had beaten the foe- David had triumphed against Goliath. Of course, the reasons for the victory had nothing to do with Sorel’s exhortations, but they cheered for him regardless. However, there was one man who was unhappy, and that was General Jean-Jacques Famride. As president of the soldier’s councils, Famride was a de facto military dictator. Of course, his position was far from rock-solid and he had to appease his fellow soldiers, but the fact remained that he ruled by the sword. Famride’s situation was compounded by the fact that he was not seen as “one of us” by the men. This was due to the fact that he had been a government commander who defected. The soldier’s councils respected him, especially in the wake of his successful defence, but to the average Dijonite he was nothing more than a faceless name. All of this contrasted with the popular, eloquent Sorel. If the people of Dijon and the soldier’s councils decided to follow the philosopher instead of the general, trouble could ensue… Deciding that the best thing to do was to nip the problem in the bud, Famride shared lunch with Sorel on 1 November. His message was polite but unmistakable: he was the leader in Dijon and any attempt to build a power base amongst the men would not be appreciated. Of course, Famride couldn’t afford to snub the influential Sorel too openly, but the message got across. Sorel would later claim that the general would’ve had him killed were he not afraid of the repercussions which would’ve ensued from the men, and this author is inclined to believe him. The two established a modus vivendi, but trouble would ensue…

    Meanwhile, in Paris, Paul Deschanel was furious. Georges Humbert, his young point man, had totally disgraced himself, and was sacked. Bringing in a new commander, however, changed little. Deschanel had thrown fifteen thousand men against Dijon; they were now either dead, mutinied, or had fled into the countryside. Of course, Humbert’s force had bled the rebels heavily, but the damage was done regardless. This left approximately twenty-five thousand men left in France. However, no more could be stripped from their posts. The reason was simple: Deschanel rightly feared a true popular revolt and needed to maintain a heavy military presence to keep a lid on things. Contrary to what the postwar French government would say about him, Paul Deschanel was not a heartless strongman. He did not wish to enrich himself and oppress the French people, nor was he especially heavy-handed in disposition. Nonetheless, the rebels painted him as the archetypal villain as defined by Karl Marx: the cruel leader crushing the proletariat whose overthrow was inevitable according to the so-called laws of history. This was quite unfair, but it was accurate in one key respect: Paul Deschanel was afraid of his own people.

    The conditions in France were appalling and were only getting worse. A year after the war’s end, hyperinflation, poor harvests, and violence wracked France. Faith in the central government was at an all-time low and people didn’t have an iota of respect for their new, unelected Prime Minister. Serious urban violence had already broken out while Deschanel was being appointed behind closed doors; only armed police had brought a stop to these demonstrations. Given the recent defeat and mutiny, the potential for armed unrest was very real.

    Paul Deschanel was terrified of mass uprisings all across France, and wanted to establish a military dictatorship in all but name to ward such a thing off. If asked about it, he would’ve vociferously denied it, but it was true nonetheless. This policy has been hotly debated over the past century, with no consensus forming as to its wisdom or lack thereof. While tying down massive numbers of French troops certainly didn’t help, the fact remained that popular uprisings were imminent and having them on-hand to quell dissent was a good thing. Regardless, it makes little difference, for the French regime was about to fall…

    ...the first uprisings were only days away….


    1. An OTL quote from the Wikipedia page on Sorelianism
    2. Fictitious
    3. The largest right wing party in the Third Republic
    4. The first of many fictitious characters ITTL.
    5. Think of the Battle of the Dadu Bridge and the way Mao trumpeted it as fact; many tankies in IOTL 2020 swallow the legend up.
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    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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    Chapter 24: Danubia Weakening
  • Chapter Twenty-Four: Danubia Weakening

    "Valiant Serbs, take up your arms! The cause is a glorious one, one which we must strive for with every fibre of our being! You know all too well the sufferings which the cruel northerners have inflicted upon you- now take up your own destiny and free yourselves! Serbia will not forget such a deed..."
    Serbian rebel leader Stepana Stepanovic

    "We all knew something was amiss when the Romanians came back alone, without the hostages, but we said nothing. Everything seemed amiss for the next few days, as though there was a great secret which no one had told us about. Something evil hung in the air... A few nights later, we watched the Romanians and the Saxons be taken away from us. No one knew why, but we all knew in our bones that it was not for a good reason... That night, the flames awoke us all. Fire whipped through the streets, I could hear the cries of my family as they burned to death... I was terribly singed as I crept away under cover of darkness, hoping, praying that the soldiers would not catch me... I fled, living rough, and finally made my way to Hungary shortly after the New Year. Even now, I cannot bear to think of what my people went through during that period, it brings tears to my eyes..."
    Maria Tothia, a Transylvanian Hungarian who was nine years old during the National Homogenisation Policy, recounting her own survival. Her account would subsequently be published in the 1939 book Grim Precedent: An Account of the Lesser Transylvanian Cleansing by Russian author Sergei Anatolikin, and she herself would be adopted by a Hungarian-American family in New York City in 1919.

    Salzburg is a beautiful city. Seventeenth-century townhouses painted in vibrant and varied colours are surrounded by vast, stately mansions. Well-trimmed hedges and lush urban gardens provide a dash of green to offset the urban scenery, as though an artist had placed them there with a few much-needed brushstrokes. A thousand little stories take place in the city’s maze of backstreets, where children play, women sit and gossip, and vendors hawk their wares. The city is built on rolling hills, meaning that if one stands on a high vantage point, one can gaze at all this urban splendour and take it in as though it were a rich and sumptuous meal. The vast Austrian Alps rise in the distance, their grey majesty offset by lush vineyards and farms. Truly, today as in autumn 1917, the western Austrian city is gorgeous.

    It was a pity that the Imperial Family wasn’t in a mood to appreciate scenery during their stay.

    That the Habsburg Empire lived to see 1918 was a miracle. Following the sacking of Vienna by Hungarian rebels in late October, the empire was truly at rock bottom. Emperor Karl was dead, and his son Otto was merely five years old. Karl’s brother Maximilian had been crowned as regent; Regent-Emperor Maximilian was hiding in Salzburg. Word was spread to the different corners of the realm after a few days that the imperial seat remained occupied and that the war was far from over, but the fact that Maximilian was speaking from a capital-in-exile only highlights the poor position the regime found itself in.

    Austria was militarily defensible. The Alps blanketed the entire country, making the terrain extremely difficult to move an army across. If the Hungarians tried to lunge across almost two hundred and fifty kilometres of such rugged terrain, they would find a stiff response waiting. Landwehr- local militias- could be raised and troops pulled in from other theatres to defend the provisional capital if need be. Of course, the Hungarians still possessed an immediate numerical superiority in the Vienna area: some 400,000 Hungarian troops had been committed to the attack and the defenders had made only a fraction casualties. In the short term attacking the rebel army to liberate Vienna would be suicide, but a longer-term view showed some promise for the empire. No, the problem was not an immediate military threat per se- it was a political one.

    Danubia threatened to come apart at the seams. When, what felt like a lifetime ago, Emperor Karl had begun the process of reform, a new spirit had entered the air. He was a breath of fresh air, something different from the grey men in Vienna and Budapest. A new era seemed to be dawning. That attitude was now dying. Events had shown the central government to be militarily incompetent and not equal to the task of subduing their foe. If the Imperial throne couldn’t hold its realm together in a proper fashion, at what point did it lose its mandate? At what point did the other peoples of the empire have a right to secure their own futures and go their own ways? No one had definitive answers, but these questions were spreading through word of mouth and secret letter in the first half of November 1917. No open riots took place in the major cities, but there was plenty of grumbling to be had, most of it in the vein of I frankly don’t care whether or not Hungary stays with us; I want my boy home safe and sound! The deterioration in living conditions reminded far too many of the Great War- as Hungary was the breadbasket of the empire, Danubia grew increasingly dependent on food imports and was forced to increase rationing. Nobody starved, but no one enjoyed being told that they would have to go another two weeks before they could get more coal or potatoes. In sum, while the governments in the regional capitals never formally wavered in their loyalty to Maximilian and no attempts at secession were made, the war had dealt a mortal blow to the unity of Danubia, one from which it was never to recover.

    As blood in the water attracts a shark, so the empire’s enemies were attracted to its weakness, and they all came out of the woodwork after the sack of Vienna. With Danubia fighting to quell Hungary and save the union, it could no longer spare energy for foreign affairs, and the empire’s geopolitical situation was irrevocably changed during the last weeks of 1917.

    Nowhere was this more true than in the Balkans.

    The region had always been unstable, with the Great Powers jockeying for position and newly independent states having their own smaller- but no less bitter- rivalries. For two years now, ever since autumn 1915, Danubian troops had occupied Montenegro and northern Serbia, while Bulgaria had annexed Macedonia and some surrounding territory. Albania- never the most stable of nations- had cautiously sat out the war, as had Greece; realism had forced both states to adopt pro-German policies.

    The Danubian-occupied portion of Serbia was on the verge of erupting. Occupation duty in the Balkans had been a coveted task during the war, and Serbia had become something of a rest area for imperial forces throughout the war- veteran units which had distinguished themselves in combat went there for a rest and to be built up before heading back to the Russian front. When Emperor Karl announced the creation of the new constitution, many Serbians had had hopes that they could join the empire under his rule- if not as good as independence, it would at least mean that their culture would be preserved and an end to military occupation. Karl was personally sympathetic, but nationalists in the government had pitched a fit and he eventually agreed that the Serbs would have to wait ten years. This had left them furious and seething with revolt. As soon as the news came of Hungary’s secession, plots and plans were hatched, and autumn 1917 saw a number of “incidents.” Car bombs went off all across Serbia, riots and strikes took place in all the major cities, and in one charming incident, the brigadier in charge of Belgrade found that someone had put cyanide in his morning biscuits... he only survived because his porky adjutant nicked one beforehand and fell over dead shortly thereafter. As the war dragged on, the Imperial General Staff came to view the several divisions on occupation duty as an essential military asset… they were, after all, seasoned veterans. Thus, the men were shipped north to fight and replaced by fresh-faced conscripts just out of training camp who hardly knew one end of a rifle from another and had never heard a shot in anger.

    The conditions were ripe for revolt.

    Danubia understandably censored its papers heavily during the war. Reporters operated under considerable scrutiny, their every written word monitored by government officials. This censorship was even tighter in occupied Serbia, as no one wanted to give their occupied subjects the impression that the master was weak. However, the net of censorship was not infallible, and a message appeared in the papers from Maximilian on 6 November, proclaiming a “fight to the death.” While the article specifically referred to him as Archduke Maximilian and neglected to mention that he was speaking from Salzburg, people nonetheless put two and two together quickly. Why was Maximilian- heretofore a quiet nobleman who shied from the limelight- speaking if Karl was alive? And if Karl was dead, something had to have gone seriously wrong. Couple that with the inevitable rumours flying around and it didn’t take long for people to realise that Vienna had fallen. Elated by the news, several hundred Serbs marched in a protest down one of Belgrade’s major boulevards three days later, demanding an end to the occupation. The young conscripts, not knowing how to react, replied with CS gas and bayonets, and in the ensuing chaos twenty people died.

    From then on, both sides took the gloves off.

    The people of occupied Serbia took this as a sign that the empire was intent on holding them down forever, and that since Danubia was at its weakest ebb, if they were going to make a play for independence, it was now or never. As such, they acted with the desperation of men who have nothing to lose. Riots broke out in Belgrade, Sabac, and the other great cities. At this stage, there was no central direction for the uprisings, each of which operated on their own. In some ways, that only made the imperial forces more nervous; it showed the level of popular revulsion with their rule and that they couldn’t trust anyone. The situation was only exacerbated when handfuls of imperial troops of South Slavic stock defected to the enemy. Only a miniscule number of men did this, but their defections were widely publicised. Unfortunately, this led to several shocking acts of racism- in one infamous episode, a garrison of German Tyroleans lynched three ethnic Serb soldiers in their ranks. Atrocities against civilians occurred with appalling frequency- even today, the bodies of Serbian civilians executed en masse by Danubian troops are still being dug up.

    Danubian troops oversee the hanging of Serbian civilians suspected of harbouring rebels, December 1917

    Emperor Karl would've been disgusted at how this war was being fought.

    However, neither side possessed the resources for a crippling blow. The Serbian rebels were disunited, with varying goals and ideologies- some were monarchist, others republican, still others far-leftists. Rebel cells from the cities had very different outlooks on where Serbia ought to go than did their rural counterparts. The uprising was fairly weak and disorganised, and its success can be attributed less to its own power than to the weakness of its foe. As for the Danubians, losing Vienna and the pressing need to defeat Hungary meant that Serbia was nothing more than a sideshow, and they would have to pay the price of not giving it enough attention. However, the Serbs were about to get a boost from an unexpected quarter- the very nation which had stabbed them in the back and made their subjugation possible.

    The situation regarding Bulgaria was complicated. The Bulgarians had joined the war in September 1915, stabbing Serbia in the back and grabbing half the country. They had a reasonably tranquil time controlling their new acquisitions, and Tsar Ferdinand’s government hoped that military occupation could be lifted and the area given full civilian status in the not-too-distant future. His task was made easier by the fact that there was no Macedonian identity as such- the division between Macedonia and Bulgaria was seen as an artificial one. Serbs were far from a majority and thus were the only ones not to profit from the new regime.

    The Bulgarians had never enjoyed especially good relations with the Central Powers. Like all the newly independent Balkan states, they loathed the Ottoman Empire, remembering the half a millennium for which they’d been subject to the Turkish yoke; their partnership in the Great War had been one of convenience. Likewise, the men in Sofia viewed their alliances with Romania and Italy as short-term ones forged by a common enemy- the former had a long border on the Danube and many ethnic Bulgarian subjects while the latter was a potential rival for influence in Albania. Not even the Germans were an intimate ally- Erich von Falkenhayn had openly stated that he regarded the pact with Bulgaria as a temporary measure, and that Berlin and Sofia would likely find themselves in opposing camps before long. (2) Weakening Danubia by supporting a weak Serbia looked to be an excellent step towards the Bulgarian dream of making themselves the premiere Balkan state.

    Bulgarian arms began crossing the border in the second week of November. Of course, Tsar Ferdinand’s government knew that the Danubians- and more importantly, their German patrons- would be livid if they found out; thus, subtlety was the order of the day. Many weapons were Serbian arms captured either in 1915 or in the Balkan Wars, while currency shipments were often in Danubian krone dating from before the new constitution. They also permitted volunteers to go to Serbia; many of these were Serbs whose village had been occupied by the Bulgarians, and consequently found themselves under Sofia’s rule as opposed to Vienna’s. This was a highly convenient safety valve, as it got potentially rebellious subjects out of the country while enabling Bulgaria to claim that it was merely conducting “deportations.” However, plenty of Serbian-speaking Bulgarians crossed the border and assisted the rebels. The Serbs were a long way from content at this. Bulgaria had stabbed them in the back and crushed their dreams of independence, and few had anything left to say to it. Surely, Bulgaria was only doing this out of selfish geo-political goals, and not altruism?

    Time would tell...

    Ultimately, the Serbs were successful in their goal of ejecting the Danubians. By the middle of December, the imperial occupation zone and Montenegro were free of enemy troops. This was a tremendous accomplishment, but the question remained: where to go from here? The rebels lacked the strength to push northwards into Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the Danubians were much more focussed on Hungary; thus, a stalemate ensued which would last until the end of the war. Serbian general Stepa Stepanovic, who had gone into hiding in the mountains of Kosovo when the Central Powers overran his native land, was tapped to head a “Provisional Council of Free Serbia”. With the great foe to the north distracted, Bulgaria quietly offering support, and the other regional powers turning a blind eye, Serbia’s future seemed more secure than it had in a long while. We shall leave the Serbs there for now, but they will be discussed soon…

    While the Serbs battled for independence, a strange dynamic was occurring between Danubia and Romania. The two had never enjoyed good relations, their pact in the Great War having been a partnership of convenience as opposed to a genuine alliance. Bucharest had always coveted ethnically Romanian Transylvania, which had belonged to the Hungarian half of the empire. Many Transylvanians had desired unification with their “motherland” for decades, and the empire had had to spend a great deal of time repressing calls for autonomy or independence. The region had rebelled against Hungarian rule in August, not wanting to die for the people they hated. This was one of the few glimmers of light for the empire during an otherwise bleak time, and they welcomed Transylvania back under the fold, hoping that it would eagerly fight its Magyar rivals.

    Events soon proved them wrong.

    The rather hastily-convened Transylvanian rebel administration, while declaring their absolute loyalty, was oddly hesitant to enact many of the steps the other lands were taking. In the latter half of July 1917, while the other imperial regions called their young men to the colours and prepared for war at a frenzied pace, eager to win a quick victory over their Hungarian foes, Transylvania- ironically, given its historic animosity towards the Hungarians- moved at a slower pace. The government concentrated force on the Hungarian border to prevent their nascent revolt from being crushed but made no attempt to cross it. During the war, in an attempted symbol of good faith, Vienna had permitted Transylvanians to form a special volunteer unit in the Romanian military- the Transylvanian Legion. The members of this force had since returned to their home country, and could’ve been reactivated at the drop of a hat. Instead, they remained at home, plying their peacetime trades and watching the empire tear itself to shreds.

    Why was Transylvania a de facto neutral in the war despite its loathing for Hungary?

    The answer lies in that the men in Cluj were looking not west, but east. As mentioned above, many of the region’s Great War veterans had fought under Romanian command, and the region was ethnically identical to its eastern neighbour. The war had only increased the Romanian identity amongst Transylvania’s people. They had revolted without imperial aid, and this left them de facto their own masters. In effect, Transylvania had given itself the apparatus of a functioning state, and they hoped to use the war as an excuse to draw closer to Romania.

    With Budapest distracted and Vienna… incapacitated, the Transylvanian government was free to chart its own course and conduct internal policy as it saw fit. And it was in Transylvania that one of the nastiest episodes of the Danubian Civil War took place: the “National Homogenisation Policy”. The syllable-rich name is a euphemism for an extremely vile bit of ethnic cleansing. As of 1917, well over a quarter of the region’s population- approximately half a million people- were of Magyar stock. During the period of Hungarian rule, they had enjoyed considerable power within the area; the prospect of becoming minorities in their own homeland did not endear them to the new constitution. Fighting had broken out between Transylvanian soldiers and these Hungarians in July, and dragged on well into the autumn before finally being suppressed. Ironically, the two counties where Magyars formed an absolute majority- Hargica and Koviszra- were in the eastern part of Transylvania, bordering Romania. Now, those regions lay under martial law. Gheorghe Pop de Basesti (2) had a vile plan. As part of his dream of integrating Transylvania into the mother country, he wanted to “eliminate” those Hungarians.

    Gheorghe Pop de Basesti, the elderly Romanian nationalist behind the ethnic cleansing of Transylvanian Hungarians. He would be sacked postwar, but would die before he could face trial for his actions.

    By November 1917, conditions were perfect for such a thing. The Hungarian rebels were preoccupied in the west in the wake of their conquest of Vienna, while imperial troops continued to tie large numbers of their men down in the north- in other words, there was no chance of a rebel offensive into Transylvania. The internal situation was quite clear, meaning that no serious unrest big enough to topple the government could take place. And most importantly, Emperor Karl- who, being a devout and moral Catholic, would’ve been furious had he found out what de Basesti was planning- was dead, and his successor was not only in exile in Salzburg, he appeared to have the energy and power of a dead fish.

    The National Homogenisation Policy formally commenced on 7 November 1917. On that date, two Hungarian youths in the town of Borsec mugged a Romanian girl and took her by force. Her screams attracted a local soldier on patrol (3), who quickly rushed to her rescue. She was taken to hospital, but the boys got away.

    Of course, this was no mere crime- the “boys” were in fact convicted criminals ordered to do this to provide a pretext for what came next; not that that saved them from hanging for rape.

    The local military authorities went to great lengths to rub the story in the faces of the local Hungarian population, hoping to provoke them into revolt. They succeeded better than they could’ve hoped: some five hundred people turned up to protest at the hangings three days later. The two criminals still died, but not before a full-scale battle had broken out between the locals and the military authorities. The major in charge of Borsec pleaded that he needed more men to control the town; the government granted him an additional hundred men and told to “make any changes to the composition of (his) district deemed necessary…” Of course, the major had had a call from a high-up in Cluj, who had given him some stomach-churning and precise instructions: half of Borsec’s Hungarian males between 18 and 39 were to be dispensed with. Declaring that hostages needed to be taken to prevent further unrest, Transylvanian soldiers gathered up some four hundred seventy-five men on the tenth and marched them to a gorge four miles away. There, the first massacre of the National Homogenisation Policy occurred. Within minutes, the young lads were all dead. The Bloody Borsec Gorge, as it is known, remains preserved to the present day as a symbol of the attempted ethnic cleansing of 1917. Although the bodies have long since decayed, a plaque and statue remain above where the killing trenches were dug, surrounded by four hundred and seventy-five pairs of silver-plated hands. Of course, events such as the Borsec massacre would be vastly overshadowed by what was to occur fifteen years later- but we shall cover those grisly events in due course.

    Transylvanian troops executing ethnic Magyars at Bloody Borsec Gorge.

    When the soldiers returned to Borsec late that day without the town’s young men, stony, hate-filled glares greeted them. People knew in their bones what had happened to their friends and family, but they couldn’t prove it- and besides, since the soldiers had the guns, arguing with them would be ill-advised.

    Two days later, on the thirteenth, some three hundred inhabitants of Borsec- most of the town’s Romanian and Saxon population- were ordered to evacuate. They gave no explanation, just sharp orders from the men holding the guns that they were to move to the larger village of Toplita several miles to the west. They were given lorries to ride in and were permitted to take all of their money and whatever they could carry, along with a promise that the military authorities would give them a stipend once they arrived at the new village. The official explanation was that the recent violence had made Borsec unsafe, and that since Transylvania was run by its Romanian inhabitants for its Romanian inhabitants, the government was evacuating them for their own safety. Perplexed but unwilling to argue, the three hundred people- including the girl whose assault had ostensibly started all this- boarded the lorries… and were promptly given cash or land once they reached their new village.

    The next day, Borsec burned to the ground.

    This picture of Borsec aflame was taken by an unnamed Danubian soldier. Note the German-style caps the officers are wearing.
    The government refrained from conducting a formal investigation, but the evidence clearly points to arson. The most obvious evidence of this is that someone started multiple fires in exactly the same way- in two separate locations, they found a charred container of gasoline next to the thatched cottages of Hungarian peasants. Soldiers stood on the outskirts of town to ensure nobody escaped. They were not entirely successful in this, as several Magyar women and children would escape and tell the horrible tale, but the fire completed the process of reducing a two-thousand-strong Hungarian population to nothingness. In Cluj, de Basesti was deeply pleased and took the success of what he referred to as the “Borsec operation” as a green light to pursue ethnic cleansing. Of course, there were over three hundred thousand Hungarians in Transylvania and they couldn’t all be killed, but the hope was to kill some and deport the rest. Throughout November and December 1917, deeply traumatic violence wracked Transylvania. While there were no further massacres on the scale of Borsec, there were plenty of instances of soldiers surrounding a town, executing its young, potentially dangerous, Hungarian men and deporting the women and children to concentration camps.

    These atrocities would claim approximately 50,000 lives in the last two months of 1917 before de Basesti called a halt to them. Despite his best efforts, word of the atrocities leaked out to the wider world. Some Magyars fled to rebel Hungary and told Budapest their story; the rebel propaganda machine then loudly began yelling about the empire’s “massacre of innocents.” Such stories had been told before, of course- the Entente had spoken of the “Rape of Belgium” in 1914, the Russians had publicised the Armenian Genocide, and the British had yelled about the Herero Genocide to the four winds after their conquest of Namibia during the Great War. None of these atrocity stories had made much difference in the grand scheme of things. People- a horrified Emperor Maximilian included- initially suspected that the Hungarians were lying, perhaps seeking to dissuade Germany from backing Danubia, but the stories kept coming, and only gained traction after a Bulgarian newspaper printed a front-page story with images of the Bloody Borsec Gorge. Shortly after the New Year, Maximilian ordered de Basesti sacked and replaced with a less bloody-minded figure- but the empire’s position was quite different by then.

    The National Homogenisation Policy was not the only way de Basesti exploited the war to further Transylvanian autonomy. Citing the fact that Vienna lay under enemy rule and that the Hungarian revolt had severed much of Transylvania’s links with the rest of the empire, de Basesti took measures to establish a Transylvanian administration with tremendous autonomy. Much of this was unofficial, of course. Officially, Transylvania had been part of Hungary for the past sixty years, and before that had fluctuated between being a province ruled from Vienna and one ruled from Budapest. While on paper, it would simply revert to the former, in practise de Basesti was building on the unique opportunities for autonomy. Since Transylvania had rebelled against Hungarian rule, and de Basesti had been the leader of that revolt, the administration was staffed by people loyal to him. With Vienna occupied, surely Maximilian would not notice if the self-appointed provincial governor changed a few things? By New Year’s Day 1918, then, Transylvania was not only without much of its Hungarian minority, it had a fully functioning governmental apparatus- all the while ignoring the war raging to its west and adopting a position of de facto neutrality. Why, then, didn’t de Basesti take the step he’d always wanted to- secede from the empire and join Romania?

    One can find the answer in Berlin.

    During the war, Austria-Hungary- as it was back then- had been an indispensable junior partner for Germany. Yes, the men in Berlin had been profoundly irritated by the need to mend the damage done by Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf’s blunders, but everyone at least grudgingly admitted that Vienna was essential for victory. That still held true in peacetime- Kaiser Wilhelm II and his cabinet had no interest in seeing the United Empire of the Danube collapse. Like everyone else, they recognised that something was afoot in Transylvania (even if they didn’t know what yet) and that the region was moving towards independence. One didn’t have to be a genius to see that if the area broke off from Danubia, it would at the very least become a staunch ally of Romania.

    Bucharest had to be encouraged not to back Transylvanian independence.

    Following a telephone call from Foreign Minister von Bethmann-Hollweg, the German ambassador to Romania visited that country’s foreign minister, a bearded man by the name of Ion Bratianu, on the last day of November. He had a simple message: the German Empire would “take it amiss” (to cloak the threat in smooth diplomatic language) if Romania recognised “any change in the status quo regarding the Danubian Kingdom of Transylvania.” Bratinau understood clearly enough and maintained his decorum during the meeting. Once the German ambassador had left his office, however, he let loose with a few choice epithets. He had discussed unification with de Basesti and both men had gotten their hopes up; furthermore, he knew significantly more about the National Homogenisation Policy than most. Bratinau had hoped to go down in history as one of the men responsible for uniting all the Romanian people under one flag; now, the Germans had made that impossible. The Germans, the Foreign Minister thundered to himself, had set the Romanian nationalist cause back by decades- they were just as bad as their Ottoman allies! After he’d calmed down a bit, he reluctantly telephoned the Prime Minister and King Ferdinand with the bad news; they had the decency not to let their disappointment slip into undiplomatic language. As Danubia and Romania remained officially at peace with full diplomatic relations, mail and telegraph cables travelled freely from Bucharest to Cluj. Thus, a wire reached Gheorghe Pop de Basesti’s office in the small hours of 1 December from Romania. It was cast in diplomatic language, but the message was clear: no Romanian support would be forthcoming if Transylvania moved towards independence, and Bucharest would never agree to absorb the region, regardless of whether the people voted for it. Coincidentally, the National Homogenisation Policy drew to a close within weeks of that cable’s reception. Transylvania would continue to sit on the sidelines and watch Danubia fight Hungary, taking no active part, but the Germans had nipped its nascent nationalist movement in the bud.

    In conclusion, as 1917 drew to a close, the United Empire of the Danube position was critical. Serbia was gone for the foreseeable future, relations with Romania were shot, Transylvania’s fealty to the union was doubtful, the Italians were being extremely belligerent (4), and the inexperienced Maximilian sat on the throne. However, as they say, the night is always darkest before the storm. Help disembarked at the Salzburg train station on Christmas Day 1917…

    ...the Germans had arrived. Hungary’s days were numbered, and the empire’s vengeance was about to begin.


    1. This is actually OTL
    2. Many thanks to @Rattenfänger von Memphis for giving me a link to this gentleman.
    3. Harghita and Covasna Counties, with Magyar populations in excess of 50%, were under martial law.
    4. More to come in another update! I was originally planning to combine the Italian stuff with this, but I think it’s better on its own...
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    The Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler
  • On that topic... What's Hitler up to in this timeline?
    I actually gave this a lot of thought. So, here goes...

    After joining the German Army in 1914 and fighting on the Western Front, Adolf Hitler was transferred to the East in the wake of the Springtime Mutinies, just in time to serve in the Oststorm, the Hutier-led offensive that broke Russia's back. He distinguished himself repeatedly, winning two Iron Crosses. However, he was never especially popular amongst the men who surrounded him. After the war ended, he returned to Munich, but fell on hard times. In May 1917, he became an art teacher at a primary school for boys, while keeping an eye on Danubian politics. Hitler loathed Emperor Karl and the Constitution, ranting in his diary about the "racially bastardised state" and its "Jewish wire-pulling elite." When news came of the sack of Vienna, he is said to have rhetorically asked his pupils, "What can one expect from a such a race as the Hungarians? It all goes back to Genghis Khan, you know." This did not endear him to one boy of Hungarian descent, who burst into tears. Hitler then, acting in a rage, made a blunder that would get him fired- after the child refused to stop blubbering, he rammed a lampshade on the boy's head. The child's furious father accosted Hitler after school that day, and the two got into a fight. This made Hitler so livid that he went home and chewed on the carpet to release his anger. Hitler would later join the German expeditionary force sent to Danubia...
    Chapter 25: The Fall of the Rough Rider
  • Chapter 25- The Fall of the Rough Rider

    Harold Beaumont was having a rotten war.

    This was supposed to have been an adventure. When it had all started, it had seemed like something out of a dime novel. The Third Punitive Expedition had been fun to read about in the papers, but it had seemed like a world away from Richmond, Virginia. It was all thousands of miles away from the bank where he worked, and it made good entertainment but not much else. His attention had been fixed on dodging the wrath of dull old Mr. Reeves at the office, and on Daisy June Lee living two doors down. Some of his mates had enlisted- one had come home on crutches, the others were all fine- but Harold had never heard the trumpet call for him, thank you very much.

    Then one day, he had read in the papers that old Teddy Roosevelt was putting together an expeditionary force, and somehow that had been different. Roosevelt’s name was synonymous with adventure, Harold told himself, and there would be glory in fighting under him. So, he gave Mr. Reeves his notice and got on a train halfway across the country to enlist in Roosevelt’s volunteer regiment. He’d passed September in a training camp in rural Texas. It was the hardest thing he’d ever done- Texas could teach Richmond a few things about heat and dust while Roosevelt was a most demanding CO- but it had been exhilarating and rewarding in its own way. Staggering back to barracks after a long day’s fieldwork felt so much better than getting on a trolley after a dull day at the bank. He’d made friends, too- Lance-Corporal David from Ohio, Ernie from Illinois, and Tad from North Dakota. Two people were from New York City- a Jewish chap called Yossel (what a name, Harold had thought!) and a fellow named Paul whose surname had just about every letter of the alphabet, who they universally called Greek. The members of Platoon B grew as close to one another as men can, until they became like brothers. They’d boasted to one another about how tough they were, told filthy jokes, and learned to understand one another’s accents. Once they’d set foot in Veracruz on the sixth of October, Harold Beaumont had anticipated a quick and easy crusade.

    Instead, he and his mates had spent a month in the trenches outside Veracruz. It had been hotter and stickier than Texas could have dreamt of, and bucketfuls of rain had poured out of the sky every day. One man came down with pneumonia, and Harold never heard from him again. No one had told Harold anything, but it had been plain to see that Veracruz was ruined by fighting, and not a lot of civilians had come out to greet them. The food had all been shipped in from the States- apparently no one trusted the locals to do any cooking- and it had mostly been stale crackers and tinned meat. Harold wouldn’t shed a tear if he never ate hardtack again in all his born days. Once the novelty of being at the front had worn off, he had grown bored. There was nothing to do in the trenches- no adventure to be had, no towns to visit, and no booze to lay one’s hands on. The only break in routine had been dreadful danger, horrible scenes that kept Harold up at nights. Some kid sergeant- not from his regiment- had been shot in the face after sticking his head up from the trench. He’d lain there in agony for half an hour, screaming God’s name, contorted, before someone had put him out of his misery. Harold hadn’t had much appetite for tinned beef that night… not that he ever did, mind you. A fresh sergeant had arrived to take his place: William Blythe from Arkansas. (1) He’d been an ass, always nagging the men and calling them yellow- Harold had been made to do pushups one day after his helmet wasn’t clean enough. David had returned the compliment, christening their new commander “the Blythering Idiot”, and the men began referring to the Sarge as such whenever his back was turned.

    Three weeks into October, a shell had burst in the trench and sent poor Ernie- who was writing at the time- flying in all directions; Harold had buried what little of his mate he could find later. No one had been able to walk past that stretch of trench for a few days afterwards without shuddering, knowing they were treading on their friend’s grave. The high-ups hadn’t ordered the general offensive everyone had expected them to, and so the men had just sat there for weeks on end. Rumours had spread that Colonel Roosevelt- their commanding officer insisted on being called ‘Colonel’, and he couldn’t abide ‘Teddy’- was getting bored and wanted a transfer. The men in Harold’s squad hadn’t known if that was true, but they would’ve bet on it. The trenches outside Veracruz had had nothing to offer but soul-crushing stalemate.

    Then one day in the middle of October, news had come that his regiment was to be transferred. Harold and his mates had nearly wept for joy; they’d taken turns spitting on the ground as they left. A Cuban merchant vessel had carried them to New Orleans, and a train had taken them to Arizona. This, Harold had thought, was what it was supposed to be like! The desert had been so vast, it felt as though he could see halfway to the ocean; he’d been able to see all the stars at night. It was a long way from cool, but Arizona hadn’t had the dreadful humidity of Veracruz. Local women had given him their best cooking… and a few other things besides. When his regiment had crossed into Sonora, the first few days had felt like a holiday. Surely, there would be Mexican bandits to kill and adventure to be had here in the desert… no?

    Evidently not.

    Harold’s company had advanced through miles and miles of miles and miles. The desert was punctuated only by the odd cactus and what the locals called a road- the winding dirt trails certainly wouldn’t have merited the name back in the States. The days were hot as blazes, the nights were bloody freezing. A few people had died of heatstroke, Paul the Greek amongst them, while scorpions and snakes got a few others. Harold had thanked the Lord he wasn’t one of them! Aside from a few bandits, there had been almost no Mexicans in sight, and Harold hadn’t had many chances to use his Springfield. He had gulped water and salt tablets, cursing whichever halfwit had kept the rations for them so low. Hunger had been his constant companion, hardtack and tinned meat doing little to drive it away. Harold had stunk to high heaven, not having bathed since his brief time in New Orleans… he had gotten a laugh thinking what Daisy June Lee would’ve said if she could’ve smelled him! Gradually, boredom had set in. One or two people had tried to desert… what Colonel Roosevelt did to them wasn’t pretty. All kinds of crazy rumours had circulated- that they were next to a regiment full of black people, or that they were trying to make a deal with a local strongman. Harold hadn’t believed a word of it. Black people in uniform, he’d thought scornfully? (2) As to the other, he’d had no idea and cast it out of his mind- it wasn’t as if just staying alive didn’t present enough distractions. However, it must’ve been true, as a few weeks before Christmas, a local had approached under flag of truce. Harold had wanted to plug him, but the Blythering Idiot had stopped him and found someone who knew Spanish. The Mexican had explained that he represented one “Alvaro Obregon”, and that he was to lead US forces through Sonora.

    * * *
    Now, four days before Christmas, Harold Beaumont was finally seeing some action.

    If he’d had his choice, Harold wouldn’t have risked his life over Topolobampo, Sinaloa. It was a pissant little fishing town of a few hundred people with nothing to recommend it- and his Virginia drawl hadn’t a hope of pronouncing it anyhow.

    “You isn’t wrong”, Tad said, his flat Dakota accent contrasting sharply with Harold’s, “but it’s got one thing to recommend it.” Harold grunted, hard-pressed to find any redeeming feature in Topolobampo. “Uh-huh. Suppose you tell me just what?” Before Tad could answer, a burst of rifle fire came from a nearby house. The two men instinctively fell flat, swearing as bullets flew above their heads. Whoever was firing was halfway smart, as he’d picked a second-storey window from which to do so. That gave him a better vantage point and made him bloody hard to hit. Someone- hopefully that Blythering Idiot of a sergeant, Harold thought- howled as a bullet struck home.

    “Yeah, Tad. This damn place is really worth it, huh?” Harold reworked the bolt in his Springfield- the bloody thing only fired one shot at a time. “S’pose you tell me how?”
    “It’s simple. We take this place, the Navy can put submarines here, where it’ll do ‘em a lot of good.” Harold started to reply, suggesting another place the Navy could put their submarines which would do them even more good, but was interrupted by Sergeant Blythe.

    “You dumb asses wanna shut it?” Harold couldn’t see the sergeant but knew his voice all too well. “They hear ya, they’ll give you a little somethin’ to remember ‘em by. Serves- damnit!” The Blythering Idiot dropped to his knee, clutching his chest. “Damn it.”, he said through gritted teeth. “One of you… aah!” His words vanished, consumed in a freakish scream. Blood bubbled from his stomach.

    “Cover me!” Tad and Yossel blazed away at wherever that bloody Mexican was shooting from while Harold threw himself to the ground. Just like he’d learned to in basic, he crawled over to the wounded CO. One look told him he didn’t have much chance. Sergeant Blythe, poor Sergeant Blythe, wouldn’t live long enough for the doctors to do any good. His face was deathly pale while his torso was soaked in blood. Harold’s stomach lurched, but this was no time for hesitation. The crackle of gunfire filling his ears, he slung the sergeant over his shoulder; he could barely distinguish the Blythering Idiot’s curses from his howls of pain. Harold knew exactly when the foul-mouthed sergeant gave up the ghost as his profane, agonised howls fell silent.

    Harold glanced over his shoulder; the men in green-grey were only a few hundred yards away, but he was already in the centre of Topolobampo. Graves Registration was two streets down. Passing American troops and Mexican civilians all gave him the same odd treatment: they glanced at him sympathetically while giving him a wide berth.
    “Here y’are, sir.” He dumped Blythe’s body in front of a bored-looking corporal standing in front of a former general store. The sign had been painted over to read ‘Graves Registration: United States Fifteenth Independent Brigade, Third Battalion.’

    The corporal turned up his nose. “Name, rank, pay numbah?” Had basic training not given Harold a crash course in understanding different accents, he doubted he would’ve been able to decipher the corporal’s Boston-infused pronunciation. As it was…

    Harold gingerly grabbed the sergeant’s dog-tags, which were soaked in blood. He cleaned them on his sleeve, before reading out the Blythering Idiot’s full name and pay number. Won’t hardly be the same platoon without him. He would never have thought that he’d be able to get used to war and death, but he had. What was the sergeant but one more name to be jotted down in the history books? Harold stiffened to attention and dashed off a quick salute. The corporal leapt to attention, wide-eyed, as though he was on the West Point parade grounds under inspection from a general. His salute might’ve been peeled from a textbook. Didn’t hardly think I was that important, Harold thought with a wry grin. He turned around- and there stood Theodore Roosevelt.

    “Mist- mist-t-, er Colonel!” Harold’s salute was as stiff as the sergeant’s had been a moment before. Was he standing firmly enough at attention? Awkwardly, he tried unsuccessfully to brush the dirt and blood off his uniform.

    “Don’t worry about it, soldier.” Roosevelt had a big laugh which made his whole body shake. He was wearing an Army uniform without rank insignia, and was flanked by two men built like giants. “You’re doing your job just like the rest of us, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.” He glanced at Sergeant Blythe’s remains. “A pity. But he died doing his duty, and he died for a righteous cause. No shame there, by God. Still, don’t let’s leave him lying about. Take him away!”

    The corporal turned very pale and gave another razor-sharp salute. “Yes, sir!” Gently, he picked up the body and took it inside, and that was the end of the irascible sergeant’s story. “And you?”, Roosevelt said. “Your name?”

    “Private Harold Beaumont, Mr. Pres- er, Colonel.” After a moment’s pause, he added, “From Richmond, Virginia, sir.”

    “Bully!” Roosevelt nodded. “Come with me.” Flanked by Roosevelt’s bodyguards, the two men walked back to the front, the rumble of gunfire growing ever louder. American troops stared awestruck at the former President. Harold smiled to himself. This would be something to tell the boys in Richmond about! “We’re doing something worthwhile, you know. This is how it’s supposed to be. The stronger race inevitably seeks to overwhelm the weaker one in a great struggle for survival, just like, oh damnit!” Roosevelt snapped his fingers. “What was the name of that Englishman? The one with the vast theory, you know?” Harold shook his head- his knowledge of England didn’t extend much beyond the fact that they were on the other side of the ocean. “Darwin, that’s it!” The ex-President’s eyes gleamed behind his spectacles. “Darwin! He spoke of the need of animals in the wild to adapt, to conquer, if they are to survive. Well, Private Beaumont, that is what the great American eagle is doing now. It conquers its prey, swoops down for the kill, and triumphs!” The two men paused on the outskirts of town. The fighting had moved up while Harold was at Graves Registration, and the ground they stood on had been occupied by Mexicans half an hour ago. “Hand me my rifle, Al.” One of Roosevelt’s bodyguards took a Springfield off his back and gave it to the president-turned-colonel. “Well, off we go!” Theodore Roosevelt chuckled, checked to make sure the gun was properly loaded, and dashed off to the fray- he ran quite fast for a man of his age. Harold and the two bodyguards followed suit.

    “Took you long enough.” David from Ohio had a fresh cut on his lip, but he didn’t seem to notice. “Who were you talkin’ to back there? Some lovely local gal?” Harold leapt down into his friend’s foxhole and took careful aim.

    “Not quite, man. Not quite. You’ll see.” A Mexican soldier was crouching behind a cactus- his light brown, dust-covered uniform didn’t quite match up with the green of the plant. Harold started to take aim, but the enemy howled and fell over dead before he could shoot. Above the din of battle, Harold heard a triumphant whoop. “Bully!”

    “Was that…?” David sounded incredulous. “No, it couldn’t have been.” Despite the danger both men found themselves in, Harold laughed. “‘Fraid it was. He’s come down to join the fun, Dave.” Harold shook his head and chuckled. “Let’s go join him.” The two men leapt out of the foxhole, Springfields blazing. One of the Mexicans turned and fled- Harold made sure he didn’t get very far. “Bully! They're the best prey, by God- they shoot back!”, Roosevelt yelled to no one in particular. “Bull-”

    He never finished his catchphrase.

    Theodore Roosevelt stopped dead in his tracks, clutching at his chest. An unnatural wheeze came from deep in his throat, and he slowly fell over backwards. Harold gasped and, forgetting the danger, dashed over to the former President. Just as with the Blythering Idiot, it was too late. The old hero had an entry wound under his collarbone and an exit wound just below his left ear. His jaw was literally hanging by a thread- just a little sinew and muscle.

    “No.” Harold’s voice was an unnatural rasp. “S...sir?” It was too late, of course. Beneath his spectacles- which, oddly enough, were perfectly intact- Roosevelt’s eyes were grey, unseeing. No howls of pain came from the wounded commander, and his chest was flat. Blood poured from the grisly wound, covering his face and uniform. Harold had to fight to keep his tinned beef down. Roosevelt’s arm twitched once, twice, a dark stain spread across his crotch, and that was it.

    Theodore Roosevelt was dead, and Harold Beaumont was powerless to do anything about it.


    (1) Grandfather of none other than Bill Clinton, who is of course butterflied away ITTL
    (2) The character is a Virginian in 1917- his views on race are certainly not my own
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    Chapter 25.2: The United States Goes To War
  • Chapter 25.2- The United States Goes To War
    "Johnny, get your gun, get your gun, get your gun! Take it on the run, on the run, on the run. Make Ven-us-tiano 'fraid of you, and the old red, white, and blue! Do-o-wn South! Do-o-wn South! Send the word, send the word, do-o-wn south! We're a-go-ing, yes we're a-go-ing, and the foe we'll trounce when we're a-down south!"
    -Verse one of "Down South", a popular patriotic ballad written in January 1918 by George Cohen.

    "If you pull the tail feathers of our national eagle, you can bet it will bite back. Now, Mr. Carranza is about to find out what we can do when we put our mind to it!"
    -Charles Evans Hughes in his New Year's address to the country, 1 January 1918.

    Things weren’t going as planned.

    The Second Mexican War should have been a cakewalk for the United States. As they had in 1848 and 1914, US troops had landed at Veracruz; they were then supposed to have occupied it with minimal fuss and marched triumphantly on the capital. Given that the landings had taken place in mid-August, the war should’ve been over by autumn. Such a quick victory would’ve toppled the regime of Venustiano Carranza and sent a powerful signal to both the nations of the Western Hemisphere and the newly ascendant Central Powers that the United States was not to be crossed lightly… plus, it would’ve helped revive the sluggish American economy.

    Instead, with Christmas a bare two weeks away, thousands of Americans were stuck in fortified positions outside Veracruz. Repeated attempts to break out of the perimeter, led by John J Pershing, had met with failure. Of course, holding that line was proving deeply costly for Carranza’s men, but that such a country could fight the United States toe-to-toe was galling. Diversions elsewhere had proven unsuccessful: former President Theodore Roosevelt and ex-Congressman Emmett Jay Scott had formed a volunteer brigade, and Roosevelt had met his fate deep in Sonora. Guatemala, Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic were all on-side, yet their participation had proven insignificant. The only place where the Americans had had any real success was in fomenting internal dissent; they had coerced Sonoran warlord Alvaro Obregon into a pact with them, while peasant rebel Emiliano Zapata led an insurgency in the southwest. That said, despite both enjoying covert American backing, neither Obregon nor Zapata looked to be capable of taking Carranza down. Despite their superiority in size and status as a Great Power, the Americans seemed unable to land a decisive blow that would end the war.

    And now Theodore Roosevelt was dead.

    News of the Rough Rider’s fall had brought an outpouring of public grief amongst the American people. They’d loved Roosevelt, giving him the affectionate moniker “Teddy”, and had cheered his volunteer regiment on, following his successes in the papers. He’d been killed on 21 December 1917, and news had reached Washington within hours. President Hughes is said to have groaned and told his wife, “Antoinette, tomorrow I am going to have to appear on the podium, in front of all those reporters, and give Venustiano Carranza an early damn Christmas present.” He spent the entire day writing and rewriting the bad news, trying in vain to package the blow in a cushion of rhetoric. Of course, the press was one step ahead of him, the New York Times publishing a massive front-page article on the 23rd, crying “ROOSEVELT DEAD, PRESIDENT SILENT!” When one of his aides showed him the paper, Hughes uncharacteristically let loose with a torrent of bad language- it only improved his mood when another aide brought in a Mexican propaganda article gloating about the “cruel Yankee cowboy meeting his fate”. Shortly after three PM, Hughes stepped out onto the White House lawn to deliver his press conference; he met with a lot of hostility for letting Roosevelt go off and get killed in the first place. It was all monstrously unfair, but it sold papers, and that was what the press cared about most.

    The New York Times' front-page headline on 23 December 1917 announcing Theodore Roosevelt's death.
    Theodore Roosevelt death article.png

    Christmas was a subdued affair that year as people mourned for their President. Across churches in America, priests and vicars spoke of the loss to the country (before going on to say that since this was Christ’s birthday, their congregants should remember that Roosevelt was now being judged by a higher Authority). A few imaginative toy store owners somehow found the time to capitalise on the news, putting teddy bears dressed in mourning black on the shelves (these subsequently became valued collector’s items). After a perfunctory Christmas message to the newspapers, Hughes and his wife paid a call to the newly widowed Edith Roosevelt and her daughter Ethel. Roosevelt’s sons were all officers in Veracruz, and they telephoned Christmas greetings and brief messages of political support to the president.

    However, the mourning soon took on a darker turn. There were several instances of violence against Mexican-Americans in supposed “retaliation” for Roosevelt’s death; in one case in Los Angeles, a group of yobbos who really ought to have been in the Army attacked a prominent Mexican-American’s home during a family Christmas celebration. They pounded the tar out of the poor family while the police looked the other way. Roosevelt’s funeral took place a week into the New Year in New York City; over ten thousand people turned up to wish the old Rough Rider farewell. However, things quickly descended into violence, with people who had spoken out against the war being viciously attacked by their more jingoistic neighbours; again, the police were often willing to look the other way.

    This propaganda poster, issued by the state of Texas, perfectly highlights the racism with which white Southwesterners acted towards their Mexican counterparts in the wake of Roosevelt's death.

    All of this rubbed one key fact in the President’s face: the United States couldn’t win the war as it was fighting right now. Something would have to change.

    Charles Evans Hughes was a liberal man despite belonging to the Republican Party. When the war had commenced back in August, he had refused to conduct a real mobilisation for war. National Guardsmen and the small yet professional full-time military had all gone to the front, while patriotic volunteers had of course been accepted (his son Charles Jr having been one of them, he was killed at Veracruz), and a scheme of “War Bonds” were established. Aside from this, the President had deliberately minimised the war’s intrusion into civilian life. Taxes had been kept at close to peacetime levels, and there had been no conscription put in place.

    All of this could change. As President during wartime, Hughes had the authority to enact conscription via executive order, while the slim Republican majority in both houses of Congress would be enough to raise taxes. Banking on a quick war, the President had followed his conscience and refrained from taking these steps in August. Now, facing embarrassment on the world stage, he was forced to consider. The American economy was in a poor state; if the government took out loans from the big banks to help finance an expanded war effort, that might prove a shot in the arm- and putting people to work in factories and the like certainly wouldn’t hurt. Nonetheless, the President remained opposed. He viewed conscription as an unacceptable intrusion on the liberties of the individual, while his anti-corporate past as a judge made him loath to empower the big banks by taking out loans from them- loans which the American taxpayer would have to pay back out of his none-too-full wallet. Of course, some made a more cynical argument- Hughes had portrayed himself to the voters as a champion of individual liberty and minimal government; with the midterms only a year away, he couldn’t afford to reverse this stance. As the American public carved up its New Year’s ham, Hughes paced the Oval Office, cigar in hand, thinking.

    A few days after Roosevelt’s funeral, an old friend of Hughes paid a call to the White House. House Majority Leader James Mann had always got on well with the President, and both men were eager for a catch-up. The Democrats would spread all kinds of rumours and misinformation about the political deal about to be hatched; the participants would go to great lengths to deny them. President and Representative made small talk over a bottle of brandy for half an hour before Hughes smiled awkwardly. He had rather a delicate favour to ask of Mann. Hughes recognised the importance of expanding the war effort, but for political reasons he didn’t want to openly take the step of introducing such measures. If Mann would approach the governors of certain reliably Republican states- he listed New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and the six New England states- and ask them to implement statewide conscription measures, he would very much appreciate it.

    This was a clever proposal. The only successful American draft, in 1862, had been conducted on a state-by-state basis. Therefore, by delegating this power to the states, Hughes could claim that he was following precedent. There was also a certain amount of implicit passing of responsibility to the governors in this. Since the conscription laws would come from state capitals as opposed to Washington DC, Hughes could craft a narrative that it was the doing of patriotic governors, not the White House. Finally, by sending the message through Mann, Hughes could frame it as though the initiative came from the House. Of course, many would see through this and Hughes would take a lot of flak in the coming years for his sleight of hand, but it was expedient in the short term.

    One side effect of Theodore Roosevelt’s death had been to increase patriotism amongst the public. Before the death of the former president, the war had seemed far off and unimportant to many. Losing a much-loved public figure such as Roosevelt had been an insult of sorts to many Americans, and many of them felt they had to get back at Carranza. While this unfortunately resulted in numerous cases of anti-Mexican violence, it also led to an upswing in voluntary enlistment. Thirty thousand people volunteered all across the country in January 1918, giving rise to an odd little cultural phenomenon. Many of these people had eaten liberally and put on a bit of weight over the holidays, and they weren’t always in prime shape. One abrasive recruiting sergeant, whose name has not survived, commented that “these boys are too soft- all full of ham and dough”- hence, they came to be dubbed “doughboys”, and the phrase would linger in the American lexicon as a derivative term for one who shows up late and unprepared.

    Enthusiastic "doughboys" line up to enlist, January 1918

    Young men were not the only group of overfed patriots affected by Roosevelt’s death, however. In keeping with the promise he’d made with President Hughes, James Mann invited the governors of New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and the six New England states to his office one bitterly cold January day to discuss conscription. Stances on the matter varied, but everyone agreed that the former president’s death had opened up a real window of opportunity and that it was now or never. The governors all agreed that conscription was for the best, but one of them- Samuel McCall of Massachusetts- had an idea. With the country up in arms over the insult of Roosevelt’s death, now would be a good time to push a nationwide service bill through- having forty-eight states collaborating on the same programme would be far more effective than having different governors following their own policies. This impressed Mann, and later that day he telephoned President Hughes. Roosevelt’s death, Mann emphasised, had changed everything. People really wanted to serve and likely wouldn’t object to being forced to; having the federal government direct everything would make the entire process much smoother. (1) Pressing his advantage, Mann said that a Republican-introduced conscription bill would make the party look strong and patriotic at this key juncture. Once more, Hughes was caught in a bind. The midterms would be along in November, and so he had to factor public opinion in- and the public now seemed to want mandatory service. However, the President’s conscience still resisted the idea, leaving him in a bind. Nevertheless, at one AM on the ninth, he left a note for his secretary. ‘Call Mr. Mann first thing in the morning’, it read, ‘and let him know I want to talk to him yesterday’. He then staggered off to bed, waking his wife up with his snores.

    Sure enough, Mann paid a call to the White House at six-thirty AM; Hughes was plowing through a plate of lox and eggs when the House Majority Leader knocked on the door. The message was simple: he wanted Congress to meet as soon as possible to vote on a national conscription bill, and he wanted to call it the “Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Service Act”. As it was in the middle of the Congressional season, summoning them was the work of a moment, and Mann found himself on the floor just after lunch.

    * * *
    Representative John Abercrombie

    John Abercrombie was freezing. Washington DC was so much colder than Alabama, and he’d never been able to get used to it. For reasons known only to God, the Congress hadn’t bothered to pay to heat the building, and it was a chilly January day. He pulled his tweed coat tighter over himself and rubbed his hands together, stifling a sneeze as he waited in the security queue.

    “You’re clear”. The security guard looked to be about sixty-five and desperately needed a shave. Shaking his head, Abercrombie walked through the ornate doors through the rotunda, glancing at the ceiling mural. George Washington looked down at him, flanked by angels. People milled about, talking with their fellow Congressmen and with reporters. A dozen regional accents assaulted Abercrombie’s ear; he couldn’t understand half of what anyone was saying. All he wanted to do was to get this over with and back to his flat.

    “Ah, John. Good to see you.” Abercrombie’s fellow Alabama Congressman was a rotund man with a well-clipped beard named Edward B. Almon. “Mighty cold, no?”

    “You might say so, yes. You holding up well?” The two men gripped hands and leaned in closer to hear one another over the cacophony of voices. “Anyone wants to know what I think”- he lowered his voice conspiratorially “it’s a damn waste o’ time having us meet here. It will be a pleasure once we move on from Mr. Roosevelt’s death and get on with our business.”

    Edward Almon smiled. “Right there, my friend, there you are certainly right. I cannot see what business the President had in starting this war in the first place; I just thank the Lord all my sons are safe.” Before Abercrombie could reply, the Speaker of the House banged his gavel.

    “The House of Representatives is now in session!” With that, the dull formalities commenced. John Abercrombie tuned out, his mind drifting to the wife back in Alabama. He absentmindedly polished his spectacles, trying to ignore the bitter cold in the hall.

    “I now cede the floor to the honourable Representative from the state of Illinois, House Majority Leader James Mann!” The gavel came down once more, and Representative Mann stepped onto the floor. As a former university dean, Abercrombie had taken a good deal of ribbing about looking like a professor, and he knew that there was some truth in that. Mann, however, looked twice as scholarly as he. The Majority Leader wore the largest round glasses Abercrombie had ever seen, and well-maintained silver hair covered his head and chin. Mann’s raspy accent left no doubt that he was from the Midwest and contrasted sharply with Abercrombie’s Southern drawl.

    House Majority Leader James Mann, looking every bit the professor

    “Congressmen of the United States!

    I do wish we were gathered here today upon some matter less pressing to the nation. I deeply regret the proposal I am about to make, wishing with all my heart and my being that it was not necessary. Yet, it is. The United States of America finds herself at war with the despotic regime of Venustiano Carranza, a state of war in which the first shots were fired by Mexican soldiers against Americans defending our honourable national interest. Our progress in this conflict has not been what we might have hoped. This is in no way a detriment to the courage of our soldiers in arms, nor is it a judgement on the wisdom of General Pershing. Rather, the blame lies in that we underestimated the tenacity with which the Mexican regime would defend itself. As the premiere power in this Hemisphere by the grace of God, we had anticipated rapid success and a restoration of peaceful relations. Now, half a year has gone by and this nation has failed to force a decision.”

    Abercrombie stifled a yawn. He had better things to do than hear this silly Yankee cover his backside to defend a war that shouldn’t have been fought in the first place while sitting in a bloody freezing hall.

    “The late President Theodore Roosevelt recognised this state of affairs. In a testament to his personal courage and daring, he took it upon his own initiative to lead men down to the Rio Grande and plant our American flag in those vast deserts. Now, he has been taken from us, God rest his soul. Yet, in his personal sacrifice we may all find inspiration. Thus, I announce my submission to the House of Representatives of the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Service Act. If passed, this will enable the various governors of the forty-eight states to call the young men of America to war. I know that every man in this country has a fire of patriotism in his belly and will nobly serve if called.

    I wish that this was unnecessary. I wish that President Roosevelt was still among us. I wish that the war had brought swift success in weeks. I wish that peace still reigned in North America. Yet, the world is as we find it and not as we wish it. Therefore, I submit this to the House in total faith that you gentlemen will decide the proper course of action according to the dictates of your own conscience. Thank you, and may God bless the United States of America.”

    John Abercrombie and Edward Almon clapped heavily, more out of relief that he’d finally shut up than anything else. Abercrombie smiled to himself at the sight of his fellow Democrats doing likewise. However, the Republicans were going wild- one or two were even getting up on their feet, and he could’ve sworn he heard a whistle from somewhere. The heavy gavel came down once more.

    “Voting shall now commence!”, the Speaker boomed. “Those in favour are to respond, ‘Aye!’, those against, ‘Nay!’” He cleared his throat. “Representative Rankin, Montana?” A middle-aged woman stood up, her floral hat far too small for her. Abercrombie wrinkled his nose- a woman in Congress? What was the world coming to?

    “Nay!”, Rankin declared forcefully before sitting down hurriedly. The Speaker made a note before moving to the next Representative… and on it went. Abercrombie wished for a cigar to warm him up, but smoking was forbidden. His stomach growled and his eyes grew heavy. “Won’t half be glad when this is over, I tell you. They made me miss lunch on account of this.”

    “Tell me about it.” Edward Almon spoke in a low whisper. “Frankly, I hardly care one way or the other if this here bill passes. I’m a fat ol’ man and they ain’t gonna take me.” Both men smiled.

    “Congressman Almon?” Edward stood up. “Nay!”

    “Very good. Congressman… Abercrombie?” Oh, Lord, here we go. His legs protesting, Abercrombie stood up. “Nay!” A handful of Republicans sent him frosty stares; a Georgian representative whose name escaped Abercrombie flashed him a thumbs-up. He smiled back.

    “Very good. Congressman…” On and on it went. His head ached, and he needed to relieve himself. After everyone had voted, the Speaker of the House pounded the gavel once more. “The bill is passed!”

    Oh, shit, Abercrombie thought with a groan- a most un-Congressional sentiment. Meanwhile, the Republicans- less that Representative Rankin from Montana- were jubilant, pounding one another on the back, laughing and joking. The Speaker- himself a Republican- looked distinctly pleased as well, and had a certain lightness in his voice as he moved to adjourn.

    “I say, Abercrombie.” The Georgian representative from earlier tapped him on the shoulder as everyone ever-so-slowly left the hall. “Care to join us for dinner? A few of us, we’re meeting at the Eagle’s Lodge for supper, thought you might like to come.” The mere thought of a mouthwatering steak at someone else’s expense did a lot to improve Abercrombie’s view of the world.

    The Eagle’s Lodge was jammed full that night. Along with the Congressmen, several wealthy officers were having a sending-off party for one of their number going to Mexico; while a Danubian diplomat tried to impress a gorgeous redhead by buying her the most expensive wine on the menu. The lighting was quite dim, and Abercrombie scarcely noticed Edward Almon at first.

    “Good to see you made it! I daresay the rest of our party should arrive soon.” Over the next few minutes, Abercrombie came to wonder exactly how Almon meant his remark. So many Congressmen came through the door it appeared the rest of the Democratic Party was arriving, not the rest of the dinner party.

    Wilson smiled thinly. “The pleasure, my good man, is all mine. Nice to get back to the capital once in a time. I do wish I could make the acquaintance of this lovely city more often. If only that… so-and-so hadn’t taken my office.” Both men laughed dimly. “Come, then. I daresay everyone has arrived.” Led by a somewhat overawed waiter, the Southern Democrats made their way to a round table big enough to suit King Arthur.

    “Have whatever you please”, the ex-President said. “My treat.” Suddenly, the world seemed a brighter place, and Abercrombie felt no compulsions about ordering the most expensive steak on the menu- nor was he the only one to do so. If Wilson’s heart bled at the damage being done to his wallet, he didn’t show it. “My condolences to you all on the passage of that… infernal bill.”

    “Indeed, sir.” That was a Virginia congressman, who shared Wilson’s soft accent prevalent in the state. “Many a hope for our liberties was dashed. No doubt the President was pleased, though.”

    Wilson nodded, taking a bite of his greens. “Ah, you may rest assured that if I had achieved my re-election, that would never have crossed my desk. Now, how many good American boys must meet their doom for President Hughes’ political goals? It is a fearful thing to lead this country into war.”

    Abercrombie nodded, attacking his steak as though he hadn’t eaten in months. “And all because of Mr Roosevelt’s untimely death.”
    “Ah, yes.” Wilson’s smile was devoid of warmth. “You know, when this foolish war started, I knew he wanted to fight. High office was never his true calling.”

    “He was a damned cowboy. I saw it comin’ a mile off.” The Tennessee congressman who’d spoken realised that he’d been a little too free with his comment- no doubt aided by his empty whiskey glass- and turned very red. “Sir.”

    Another cold smile crossed Wilson’s face. “Ah yes, Mr. Fischer. I cannot deny that he had a wild streak about him. As a matter of fact, I- and you gentlemen may treat this with the strictest confidence- I found the account of his death mildly amusing. The Rough Rider falls off his horse!” Everyone- Abercrombie included- laughed. He could all too easily imagine the old lion charging into fire, determined to go out with glory. Abercrombie sipped his wine- it was an Italian Savoia. (2)

    “True enough, sir, but the timing was still unfortunate. Now, that warmonger Hughes will use his death as an excuse for whatever measures he sees fit. We will be no better than the serfs under Tsar Michael!”

    Wilson sighed. “Mr. Abercrombie, I sincerely wish I could say you were wrong. As it is, I see no way we can stop this bill in the House, and therefore innocent boys will die to satiate Mr. Hughes’ whims.”

    “Damn right… er, sir. There ain’t nothin’ we can do.” All of a sudden, an idea came across Abercrombie and his face lit up. “So why fight it?”

    Wilson frowned. “I beg your pardon?”

    “Why fight it, sir, if we can’t stop it?” Everyone stared at Abercrombie, but he didn’t flinch. “If y’all in the Senate don’t make too much fuss over this, it’ll still pass, but we’ll have shown Hughes that we can be bargained with. If we give him this, we can get something in return- it’s the way the game works.” The wine in his belly gave him the courage to keep going. “And besides, I’ve read the bill. It lets the governors say how many men they want to send to the war. Not Hughes, not some so-and-so in his fine office in Washington, but the governors. Now, if we have to work with this here bill, what’s to stop the governors from just saying they want five hundred men and leaving it at that?”

    “Mr Abercrombie”, said the Tennessee representative, “you have forgotten something. As soon as he took office, that damnyankee Hughes forced us to treat black folks the same in the Army!” Whiskey fuelling his passion, the Tennessean leaned across the table. “You cannot mean you want the fine state of Tennessee to let black folks join on the same basis as good white men?”

    “Of course not!” Abercrombie was shocked at the very idea. “I’m a good Southerner, same as you. But what I am saying is that under the terms of this bill, the governors can control conscription. Well, what’s stopping them from saying quietly to the recruiting sergeants, ‘come up with some pretext, anything you like, so as not to let black folks sign up at your station?’” He ate the last piece of steak and wiped his mouth. “Delicious. Anyhow, I don’t hardly reckon black people are man enough to fight. Can’t trust ‘em.” (3) Everyone was finished with their supper. “Waiter!” Abercrombie snapped his fingers, and a black man in a tuxedo appeared within moments. “Peach crumble for me, and make it snappy, boy!”

    “Yes, sir.” The waiter bowed obsequiously and retreated.

    “And a brandy for me!”, Almon called after him. “Mr. Abercrombie, I daresay you’ve come up with something quite useful there.” Almon's eyes gleamed. “If we appease Mr. Hughes’ foolishness here, we can minimise the damage done while excluding those who are unworthy to fight.” The waiter reappeared with Abercrombie’s dessert and Almon's drink.

    “So, then, we’re agreed?” Everyone nodded. “Jolly good!” Almon raised his brandy. “To freedom!”

    “Freedom!” John Abercrombie drained his glass.

    * * *

    Now that the Democrats had opted to let the bill pass, there was little work to be done in the Senate. The Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Service Act passed the Senate and found itself on Hughes’ desk before dinner. The next day, the twelfth, he announced the new bill to the nation who responded with a surprising degree of patriotic fervour. Parades took place in the major cities as young men went to enlist before their notices came in the post, and many towns held sending-off parties for their sons. The South was far slower to enact conscription, with each state sending an average of 700 draftees throughout the first two months of the new law’s life, but elsewhere governors responded enthusiastically. By March 1918, marvelling at the fresh troops flooding the Veracruz perimeter, General Pershing was confident enough to boast that the war would be over by May.

    However, events were to take an unexpected turn, and Carranza’s regime would fall without a single Yankee boot setting foot in Mexico City...


    1. Well, that’s what he thinks. I, ahem, beg to differ.
    2. Imagine champagne being thought of as German ITTL.
    3. Again, Abercrombie is an Alabaman in 1917. His views on race don’t exactly align to those of your humble author.
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    Chapter 26: The German Election of 1917
  • Chapter Twenty-Six: The German Election of 1917

    "Egal für wen Sie stimmen, die Regierung steigt immer ein." (No matter who you vote for, the government always gets in)

    "If Hugo Hasse wishes to burn down the system, he can do it without me! I'll not play the Lvov to his Martov!"

    -Friedrich Ebert, commenting bitterly on his split from Hugo Haase

    In 1914, with Europe mobilising for war, all the major countries had put politics on hold. As patriotic fervour swelled in Berlin, Petrograd, London, and Paris, politicians put country before party and pledged their support for the war effort. There had been exceptions, of course- a few radicals had grown weary of war as time went on and refused to vote for war credits- but mostly the Great War brought had about unprecedented political unity.

    It was too good to last.

    Like all of Europe save Tsarist Russia, Germany in 1914 had been a multiparty democracy, and as such its political scene was deeply divided. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) held a third of the seats in the Reichstag, and its allies a similar amount, but they were in no way a unified bloc. Some, such as party chairman Hugo Haase (1), were were unabashed Marxists who viewed Germany as ripe for revolution, while others were moderates who wanted to work within the system, supporting a peaceful transition to a welfare state. Many in the SPD had viewed the war as amoral and were opposed to the extractions of the Treaty of Dresden, which earned them plenty of ire as unpatriotic from their foes. The war had seen tremendous hardships placed on the shoulders of the German workers, with intrusive rationing and longer hours. The SPD leaders had swallowed all this as a patriotic wartime expedient, but with the war won they were no longer willing to compromise. The war had brought about social change to Germany, and Haase viewed this as an open door to a host of worker protections- new labour laws, wage increases, etc. In a speech in Hanover in March 1917, Haase declared that, “now, German people, you have carried our flag to new heights- now win for yourselves that same glory which our Fatherland holds!” That line sums up the SPD’s position in the run-up to the general election quite well: barring a relatively small minority of serious Marxists, they were good and patriotic Germans who were proud of their country’s achievements- but they were also unwilling to compromise their economic beliefs any longer.

    The arrival of a postwar recession considerably aided the SPD. (2) This was nothing out of the ordinary, but it still pinched. During the Great War, as the government had called more and more men to don Feldgrau, factory owners had hired women in ever-increasing numbers. They quickly realised that women were far easier to manipulate than their husbands and brothers had been, and paid their female employees a fraction of what they’d given their male counterparts. It was unfair and exploitative, but it drove up profits and that was what the managers cared about. When the men started trickling home in early 1917, those who found their old jobs waiting for them found their managers were paying them three-fourths or even half of what they’d been making in 1914- because that was what they’d been giving the women. Unsurprisingly, this led to excruciatingly bitter relations between workers and overseers, and the spring of 1917 saw many strikes. In one unfortunate incident in Munich, the owners of a steel plant hired a group of ex-soldiers to break up a strike; however, the strikers themselves were all veterans, and they fought back. Bloody street fighting continued for several hours before the police put a stop to it. There were fears- or hopes, depending on who one talked to- of more widespread action, possibly even a general strike, but none of those things took place.

    The reason is simple: by summer 1917 demobilisation was proceeding apace. Millions of young men were returning to the Fatherland to find that the jobs they’d looked forward to before the war were now gone, or that someone was doing them for half pay. This left these returning soldiers out of a job, and they would’ve been willing to work for even less than what the bosses were giving out now. Disgruntled workers were aware of this, and knew that if they gave their employers the slightest excuse, they would toss them out and hire some ex-soldier for half the pay. The SPD saw all this and banked on unemployed veterans and dissatisfied workers alike voting for them. Leading members of the party called for a system of soldier's pensions or bonuses in gratitude. However, the Social Democrats were about to receive a blow from an unexpected quarter- France.

    The Second French Revolution had a profound impact on German politics. A left-wing insurrection had risen out of nowhere and captured a city with not just the consent, but the active participation of the working classes. Critics charged that SPD policies looked an awful lot like what was going on in Dijon. If it could happen there, conservatives charged, it could happen in Berlin. These accusations quickly spiralled out of control until they were irrational, bordering on ludicrous- it might surprise one to learn that there was no vast SPD conspiracy to mount a coup the day before the election. Of course, France and Germany had very different political climates in the summer of 1917, and despite officially endorsing Marxism, the vast majority of SPD politicians and voters wanted nothing to do with revolution. Nonetheless, the news from Dijon would ultimately prove fatal to the SPD cause.

    Six weeks before the election, on 1 September, the Social Democrats held a party conference in Berlin to determine the last-minute goals as the big day drew ever closer. They intended it to be a small, simple affair, but things soon went awry. A group of conservative hecklers turned up outside the meeting hall an hour before the conference was due to start. They chanted such slogans as, “what about Dijon?” and several cruder things, and generally made nuisances of themselves, but they didn’t attempt to physically harm any of the delegates and were reasonably orderly. However, their obnoxious behaviour had a profound effect on several of the delegates.

    The SPD was broadly divided into two camps: the true revolution-seeking Marxists, and the more conservative group which wanted to work within the existing political structure to improve the workingman’s lot. The war had only increased the ever-present tension between the two groups. Chairman Haase belonged to the former camp, but he was most definitely in the minority. He’d taken a lot of flak over the preceding weeks about being an alleged revolutionary, and many within his party feared that his radical rhetoric might cost them seats. Therefore, when Haase began his speech by discussing ‘international worker’s solidarity’ and seeking ‘stable, equitable relations’ with France, many shifted uncomfortably in their seats. It wasn’t that they were fire-breathing nationalists, but with the German people up in arms following their victory in the Great War, the workers didn’t want to hear about solidarity with their Anglo-French counterparts. The moderates, led by Friedrich Ebert, said that the focus had to be on improving the German workingman’s lot within the newly strengthened system. Gesturing out the window where the conservative hecklers were still making a racket, he famously asked, “do you think these people will vote for revolution?” After the meeting broke up, Ebert stayed behind, and he had a long, tense conversation with Haase. If the party didn’t moderate, he said, they would be trounced in the election. Haase’s radicalism just wouldn’t sell. The Chairman replied that “Martov curried favour with the bourgeoisie and look what it got him”. (3) Ebert furiously stormed out, convinced that Haase was leading the party to ruin.

    Chairman Hugo Haase and his more moderate deputy Friedrich Ebert


    As the SPD feuded, conservatives planned for triumph. The aptly named German Conservative Party, led by Ernst von Heydebrand, naturally assumed that the German people would be receptive to their message after a victorious war. As such, their campaigns focussed on a “rally-round-the-flag” effect, with them referring to themselves as the party of nationalism, glory, and of course the military. A poster of theirs, depicting a soldier standing tall and proud, rifle and bayonet in hand, the word Konservative! on the weapon, best illustrates this. That summer, the party spent thousands of marks holding celebrations and parades for returning soldiers, thanking them for making the Fatherland strong, hoping these men would vote their way. Their propaganda emphasised the similarities between the SPD and the Dijon Commune, playing on people’s fears that Haase would implement revolution were he to become Chancellor- palpable nonsense, but it was what many wanted to hear. Von Heydebrand’s party also enjoyed a boost when Erich von Falkenhayn, whose masterstroke at Verdun had made him one of the most popular men in Germany, and Count Alfred von Tirpitz, hero of Jutland, co-signed a memorandum endorsing the Conservative cause as the “patriotic and just path for the people of our empire”. The one major chink in the Conservative armour was of course the weakened economy; many of the veterans to whom they appealed were coming home to find themselves out of a job. Von Heydebrand went on record stating his belief that everything would smooth out in time, and that once the specie from France really got rolling in, it would be the boost the German economy needed. He then blamed the Dijon uprising for slowing the pace of reparations, before using that as a segway to fearmonger about revolution- which was what his constituents wanted to hear. And, for all the economic issues facing the country, the Conservatives enjoyed full coffers as the wealthy Prussian landowners generously funded the cause.

    A Conservative propaganda poster targeting veterans. The text reads, "German Soldiers: You won the war for your country, now win the peace for your family with the Conservative Party!"
    German Conservative poster.png

    The Conservatives rode high on a great crest of jingoism and were ready to crush the fractured, stigmatised Social Democrats.

    Election Day rolled around on 12 October 1917, with turnout rather high. Contrary to Entente propaganda about the “Kaiser’s dictatorship”, Germany enjoyed the broadest suffrage of any European country, second only to the United States; all males over the age of 25 were eligible to vote. While some territories directly annexed to the German Empire were already under civilian control (4), they would not be voting in this one. Polling was extremely heavy in all areas, with long queues forming in the major cities to vote- many peasants hopped in their wagons to make a day of their trip to the city. As is traditional in all elections, Germans spent 12 October boasting to one another about their party’s strength, teasing their friends of different political leanings, and constantly asking one another, “so, how do you think it’ll go?” Newspapers flaunted their ideological stance, enriching paperboys in the process, while know-it-alls explained to the poor chap sitting across from them on the train exactly why they were right. There was no outright voter suppression, and the election was not “managed” by the Kaiser or the Army, but several unfortunate incidents did take place. In Alsace-Lorraine, the regional party found itself harassed by armed nationalist gangs. Contrary to what some would claim, the government or the Conservatives had not organised these gangs; they were nothing more than groups of individuals collectively breaking the law. Such gangs targeted the homes of well-known Alsace-Lorrainian regional party voters and politicians, and in one instance a gang of three beat up some elderly Francophone men with pins denoting their support for the party in their lapels. However, the police weren’t about to let this get out of hand, and the thugs quickly found themselves behind bars. The violence in Alsace-Lorraine can be traced to Francophobia in the wake of the Great War and was never a serious issue, and subsequent elections in the province would be perfectly peaceful.

    Thus, the German people went to bed that night with many hopes and many fears…

    ...and woke up the next morning with a Conservative-led government.

    As many had foreseen, the split between Haase and Ebert had proved fatal to the SPD’s chances. Too many people had viewed the Social Democrats as the party of revolution and voted instead for the Conservatives or one of the minor parties. Meanwhile, the Conservatives had successfully minimised discussion of the sluggish economy and played the jingoistic card perfectly. Out of 397 seats in the Reichstag, the Conservatives now controlled 142. They had performed well in their traditional Prussian strongholds, but had also swept Posen and the area around Danzig, which had traditionally been under the sway of a Polish regional party. The dark backstory behind that party’s near-disappearance in the election shall be covered in due course… Elsewhere, the Conservatives had done well in the area surrounding Berlin, although the city itself- as usual- had gone for the SPD. Meanwhile, the Free Conservative Party had done reasonably well, picking up a few seats west of the Elbe River. The Free Conservatives and Conservatives obviously shared a very similar ideology and had worked together many times in the past; the reason they were two separate entities was that the former was more focussed on urban areas and concerns than the latter. The two parties collectively held 139 seats.

    A parliament chart showing the new composition of the Reichstag.
    Place In the Sun- Parliamentary DIagram.png

    How, although over two hundred Reichstag seats eluded them, did the Conservatives dominate?

    The answer lies in the existence of a plethora of smaller parties. Unlike the United States, with its two parties, or Great Britain with its three, the German Empire had well over half a dozen parties routinely taking part in their elections. Many of these were region-specific, and while they would never win a majority, their influence would not be small if they tilted to either side.The Bavarian Peasants Party denied thirteen seats to either side, while a Hanoverian regional party swept its home districts. Meanwhile, the National Liberals and Progressives siphoned votes off from the Social Democrats- many moderate SPD voters went for them because they saw them as a better option than Haase’s alleged revolutionary stance. Last, the Zentrum- Centre- performed strongly enough to be considered one of Germany’s three strongest parties. Its efforts to win the Catholic vote gave it most of the Rhineland and Bavaria. All this left the Social Democrats with little outside their traditional bases of Berlin and Saxony.

    A badly made election map depicting the results by district of the 1917 Imperial German general election (5)

    German Election Map 1912.png
    On 14 October, Ernst von Heydebrand visited Kaiser Wilhelm II to accept his sovereign’s congratulations. He looked forward to collaborating with his monarch to pursue a fresh, conservative agenda in victorious Germany, and set about appointing a new cabinet. Of course, with only 139 seats, the two conservative parties lacked a majority and would have to cooperate with the Zentrum in order to accomplish any major work, but they certainly had the clout to mostly run things as they saw fit.

    Defeat proved fatal to SPD unity. Friedrich Ebert blamed Chairman Haase for the defeat, claiming that his radicalism had- just as he predicted- turned off too many German voters, leading them to vote for the National Liberals or the Progressives. Ebert and his allies spent much time in discussion throughout the last weeks of 1917. Would it be possible for them to consider forming a party of their own? While Haase was admittedly not as radical as the Spartacists and similar groups, events had shown he was too far to the left for the man-in-the-street, and that left the Social Democrats out of power. Many of the party’s moderates agreed, and on 3 January 1918, Friedrich Ebert took the monumental step of forming the National Labour Party (Nationale Arbeiterpartei, NA). The reaction was immediate- within the first few months, thousands of the more moderate Social Democrats defected, leaving Hasse in charge of a crippled SPD. The now-disposessed Chairman was livid at Ebert’s betrayal, but the fact was that his erstwhile colleague commanded support, and when the next general election rolled around he would surely have great potential.

    For now, despite the tumult of party politics, the German Empire marched on, still basking in the glow of victory...


    1. Okay, this needs some explanation. IOTL, if I’ve got my facts straight, Haase was forced to resign as SPD leader after refusing to vote for an emergency budget in March 1916. This is butterflied ITTL, because my March 1916 the war was just about won, therefore the 1916 budget didn’t contain an absurd amount of funding for the war and German pacifists saw the end in sight, so to speak. Thus, by autumn 1917, Haase is SPD chairman, not Friedrich Ebert. This obviously leads to major butterflies down the road….
    2. I’ve mentioned before that economics isn’t really my thing; if I’ve gotten my facts wrong please do tell me and I’ll retcon!
    3. A reference to Julius Martov briefly allying himself with Prince Georgi Lvov during chapter 12.
    4. Luxembourg is a princely state; Neutral Moresnet has been annexed to Prussia. Both are under civilian rule. The Polish Border Strip, however, remains under martial law, as does the territory annexed from Belgium (that east of the Meuse River).
    5. This map is based off of one created by user Furfur at Wikimedia Commons, link to the original here. Used under the terms of the CC license, edited.
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    Chronology by RattenfangerVonMemphis up through 1917
  • 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.
    Kaiser Wilhelm the Tenth, in your entry above, you hinted at how you have to juggle all these various historical scenarios up in the air at the same time (“ three tracks running parallel and have to sort it all out in my head”) and I have wondered about how you actually do plot out what I think has to be really more than “three tracks” of events when you write your chapters.

    At first, I was reading this thread, chapter by chapter, and was not too aware if events in one chapter were happening simultaneously with another chapter or maybe before or after. I was not clearly seeing how, for example, events in Austria or France or Mexico were overlapping, intersecting or meshing with each other. Each chapter was being read by me essentially in isolation.

    So I decided to do a timeline, or an outline, of the events that had mentioned dates as well as your own clarifying answers to questions asked by us fans upon reading your chapters and combine them into a chronology so I could see at a glance what was happening when and where.

    And it made me wonder if you are doing a similar timeline/outline/chronology ? If so, I am sure I am not the only fan here who would like to see it. Here is an example of how I put together information found in this thread from your chapters which only made me enjoy your timeline more fully and also realize the massive amount of research you have had to have done to put it all together. (Quotes are Kaiser Wilhelm the Tenth’s words from the various chapters.)

    Events from September 1916 to December 1916, courtesy of Kaiser Wilhelm the Tenth…
    September 23, 1916 -- Tsar Michael II marches on Petrograd. Martov flees to Norway via Finland

    September 24, 1916 – Tsar takes control of Petrograd, ending the September Revolution.

    September 25, 1916 -- Tsar in Winter Palace as Germans begin shelling Petrograd. Tsar requests Armistice talks with Germany via Sweden. Germans agree.

    September 28, 1916 – Stockholm Armistice signed between Russia and Germany

    In October 1916 -- Germans allow Lenin to go from Switzerland to Russia… Ireland is under martial law.

    “By October 1916, Germany appeared to be on top of the world. Its armies stretched from Amiens to Estonia, and Europe was subjugated, allied, or frightened into neutrality. Given the chaos France was in (1), a further advance in the West would overwhelm the few loyal French troops left in the trenches. The September Revolution had placed a weak Tsar at the top of an unstable Russia, and much of eastern Europe lay under the German heel. German U-boats remained on the prowl in the Atlantic, ready to restart their campaign against British shipping at any moment, while David Lloyd George’s government in London was sitting on the head of a pin. Thus, historians tend to overlook one essential fact of the Great War.

    The German Empire was nearly as eager for peace as the Entente..”

    October 3, 1916 -- Germans beginning planning Peace Conference in Dresden

    October 13, 1916 – British diplomats arrive in Dresden

    October 14, 1916 -- French diplomats arrive in Dresden

    October 15, 1916 -- Dresden Peace Conference opens. Belgium’s borders to be shifted westward, acquiring French territory while Germany annexes Belgian territory east of the Meuse River. Neutral Moresnet annexed to Prussia. Germany to receive Belgian Congo. Luxembourg becomes a German Federal state.

    October 16, 1916 – Dresden Peace Conference continues. Germany to repatriate British POWs, including Haig, by start of 1917. Britain agrees to battleship equality with Germany. Germany does not bring up issue of Ireland’s independence. No British reparations. Italy to purchase Malta and British Somaliland. Cyprus to have plebiscite in 1917. Germany cedes Namibia and New Guinea to the British Empire. Ottoman Empire pre-war boundaries restored, including Hejaz. “The British signed what was more or less a white peace with the Germans, nothing worse.”

    October 1916 --- Dresden Peace Conference continues with France. France allowed a 75,000 army only. Italy takes Nice, Savoy, Corsica, Tunisia and Djibouti. Germany annexes French territory east of the Meuse River. “Tens of thousands of square miles” of France to be left under German rule. French born in these territories eligible for German citizenship. Germany acquires Morocco and other French African colonies plus a 99-year lease of Dakar. France to pay Germany 65 billion francs as reparations. French navy to be divided up between Germany and Italy. Monaco to remain independent.

    October 20, 1916 – Treaty of Dresden signed. The Great War ends in the west. Other provisions.. Albania becomes Italian protectorate. Montenegro annexed to Austria-Hungary under civilian rule. Serbia under Austro-Hungarian military rule. Bulgaria gets Macedonia from Serbia.

    October 24, 1916 – In London, the Anglo-French Financial Commission agrees that Britain and France cannot repay their American debts… Caillaux government in France falls. Emile Loubet the new leader

    October 26, 1916 – The Anglo-French Financial Commision tells American banker J. P. Morgan that their debts to the United States cannot be repaid. When President Wilson is informed he “instructed Morgan to issue an ultimatum to the Commission in his name immediately: either commit to paying off all debt by the originally agreed dates, or he would treat them as having defaulted. The Commission replied within four hours: they were going to default and risk the consequences.”

    October 27, 1916 -- President Wilson issues an executive order allowing JP Morgan to assume control over all British-and-French-held assets in the United States.

    Late October 1916 – Several instances of British and French managers sabotaging and damaging the companies and assets seized by the Americans

    November 1, 1916 – At Konigsberg, Russia begins peace negotiations with Central Powers.The frontline as of September 14, 1916 is to be Russia’s new international western border. Provisions include Finland independence, Romania gets Bessarabia, A Habsburg is on the throne of the Austro-Hungarian puppet Kingdom of Poland. Russia to keep Ukraine. Russia’s Black Sea Fleet to be divided between Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria and Romania......In a livid telephone call to the Anglo-French Finance Commission J. P. said that because of the October acts of sabotage, he would only value the collateral at three-fourths its official value, as that was the most he could hope to get out of it. Britain and France were still on the hook for a quarter of their debts, and Morgan wouldn’t settle for anything less than cash.

    November 7, 1916 – U.S. Presidential Election. Wilson loses to Charles Evans Hughes… Emperor Franz Josef dies, Archduke Karl is the new ruler of the Dual Monarchy

    November 11, 1916 -- Russia signs Treaty of Konigsberg with Central Powers

    November 13, 1916 -- News of the Anglo-French defaults begins rocking the U.S. Stock Market

    November 30, 1916 – U. S. economy has shrunk back to 1913 levels due to Anglo-French defaults and collapse of the arms industry.

    In November 1916 --- Ottoman Empire continues the Armenian Genocide. By 1918-1919, the only Armenians left will be those on the Russian side of the border.

    December 25, 1916 -- The Japanese-Siamese Pact signed. Aims to eliminate Anglo-French influence in Siam. ......The French franc now worth only 1/13 of its 1914 value

    Sometime after the Peace of Dresden (October 20, 1916), in Portuguese Macau, Japan signs a “white” peace with Germany. Japan to keep Qingdao (Tsingtao) and Pacific islands. Germans to retain their pre-war rights, mostly economic, in Qingtao
    One of the most interesting sections to me, was the aftermath of Emperor Karl's death.
    October 30, 1917 -- Emperor Karl declares Vienna an open city. Hungarians take Vienna and loot the city. Emperor Karl is assassinated in the Cathedral of Saint Stephen.

    October 31, 1917 – U.S. Secretary of State Colby lands at Acapulco, Mexico and is taken inland to Taxco to negotiate with Zapata. In return for American arms, Zapata will help the Americans against Carranza.

    October 1917 – “When news came of the sack of Vienna, he [Adolf Hitler] is said to have rhetorically asked his [primary school art] pupils, "What can one expect from a such a race as the Hungarians? It all goes back to Genghis Khan, you know."

    November 1, 1917 -- Danubian royal family reaches Salzburg…At a Dijon lunch General Famride and Georges Sorel reach a “modus vivendi” that Famride is THE leader.

    In early November 5-year-old Otto becomes new Emperor with his uncle, Archduke Maximilian, as regent until Otto turns 18.
    Chapter 27: The Raj Assasinated
  • Chapter Twenty-Seven: The Raj Assasinated

    "Angrezi ghar jao!" (British Go Home)
    - A very common bit of grafitti on Indian street corners in the months following the Great War; British troops were known to react viciously if they caught civilians in the act.

    "Commander, tear this town down till you find the traitors, and bring me the murderers- I want them alive!"
    -Governor Lloyd George in the wake of Bonar Law's murder. (1)

    India had had a bitter experience in the Great War. Well over 150,000 Indians had donned khaki and fought for the British Empire (2). Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims had all fought side-by-side, distinguishing themselves repeatedly. Easily recognisable by their physical traits, Indian troops had gone to every theatre where British troops were stationed; they’d fought at the Marne and in the failed offensives of 1915, against the Ottoman Empire and in the German colonies, and many had died in the chaotic evacuation from the Continent in the summer of 1916. The war had given Indians experiences they had never imagined, and which some of their British overlords were uncomfortable with- such as a revived sense of Indian nationalism and the ability to organise into effective military units.

    These men had a long trip home. Many of those who had gone to Mesopotamia were in prisoner-of-war camps when the fighting ended, while those in the former German colonies or England were surrounded by whites who received priority for demobilisation. This naturally caused plenty of bitterness, and there was an incident at a training camp outside Colchester in January 1917 when some Indian troops demanding to be sent home were fired upon by military police; four died. However, by the spring of 1917 most were en route for Bombay, the official demobilisation centre for Raj troops. Everyone was looking forward to getting back home and having things back the way they were before the war.

    They should have been more careful what they wished for.

    On the surface, the war hadn’t affected India much. Plenty of fit young men had never been called up, while the requisitions imposed on the economy weren’t much different from peacetime. As such, the men found their homeland barely touched by the war. There was no starvation in the cities like in Berlin or Petrograd, and the villages hadn’t, like Ypres, been reduced to rubble. Farmers still picked crops or cotton, Indians and whites still rubbed shoulders in the dense, impoverished cities, the food still set your tongue on fire, Hindus and Muslims still looked on one another with distrust, and the British still controlled everything.

    Going from an atmosphere where they’d fought alongside their white counterparts and seen with their own two eyes that they were just as good as them, to one where their race labelled them as inferior, was a deeply embittering experience for these veterans. In fighting side-by-side with people of their ethnicity, these veterans had developed a sense of nationalism they’d lacked before the war, and many pondered just what to do. Something had to change, but what, and how?

    Into this vacuum stepped Kaiser Wilhelm II. Ever one for adventurous schemes, he had promoted the cause of Indian independence during the Great War. With the war over, there was less justification for such adventures than before, but the Kaiser wasn’t about to let that stop him. During the war, he had supervised the establishment of a shadowy “Berlin Committee” to promote Indian independence, and he kept them active in the postwar world. Their main goal was to use German power to foster a repeat of the mutinies which had affected the Indian army in 1915. This would subsequently become a huge sticking point between London and Berlin, but for now the pro-independence activists would remain in drab offices, making contingency plans for the uprising they were sure would come one day. Unfortunately, while these men enjoyed the Kaiser’s personal backing, Germany wasn’t an absolute monarchy, while these men had no control over foreign policy. Cooler heads whose goal was to establish a working relationship with Great Britain staffed the Foreign Ministry. Attempting to detach the Crown Jewel of the Empire had been an acceptable wartime ploy, but if they tried it now, it would be a case for war- and would surely invite British meddling in Mittelafrika. Thus, German backing for Indian independence was reduced to occasional, meek gestures of verbal support. Other groups with similar goals existed in the United States, but the American authorities were watching them closely, and their ability to influence their home was minimal.

    It would be up to the people of the subcontinent to evict the British from their homes.

    Meanwhile, in London, Prime Minister Lloyd George was determined to get a handle on the colonies. He knew that they’d suffered during the war and wanted to head off further problems while raising morale. Of course, this was not from the goodness of his heart; rather, it was to forestall a potentially expensive colonial insurgency. Thus, he Minister for the Colonies Bonar Law on a tour of the British Empire. (3) He was to visit the great cities of the colonies and give a few patriotic speeches before meeting with the local administrators and find out what they needed. Law was enthusiastic, claiming that he needed a holiday, and set out in early February 1917. His first port of call was Gibraltar, then Cairo, then Nairobi in Kenya. Pictures have survived of him and the governor clutching rifles on a hunt. From there, he hopped on the HMS Queen Mary, specially chartered for the occasion, and went to Bombay on the 24th. His plan was to go from Bombay to Calcutta to Singapore- three cities in four days.

    An oil painting of Bonar Law, Minister for the Colonies

    Instead, he was killed in Bombay.

    The assassination took place in a manner eerily similar to that of Franz Ferdinand; his car was passing down one of the main streets in a parade when it suffered mechanical trouble. While the driver fumbled with the engine, an Indian nationalist hurled a bomb out of nowhere. Law never saw the murderer, much less had time to react. A tremendous explosion hurled shards of metal every which way, cutting down dozens of innocent bystanders, and incinerating Law along with the governor-general of Bombay- a man unfortunate enough to be named Freeman Freeman-Thomas. within moments. Ironically, the driver survived because he was crouching on the opposite side of the car to the explosion; he escaped with ‘just’ a concussion and broken leg. Chaos ensued, with people- whites and Indians alike- screaming and running for their lives. No one knew if the terrorist was still alive, if he had a gun on him, or if more than one murderer was present. One of Law’s bodyguards, thinking that he’d seen the murderer, started blazing away with his rifle, but he’d guessed incorrectly and ended up killing two innocent people. A panicked civilian returned fire with a pistol he happened to own, adding to the chaos before police tackled him to the ground, beating him savagely. All told, twenty-two people died in the fracas, excluding Bonar Law and Governor Freeman-Thomas.

    An image of the damage done by Bonar Law's assassination.
    Screen Shot 2020-12-01 at 5.02.52 pm.png

    Following Law’s murder, the British placed Bombay under lockdown. Soldiers and police forced people into their homes while they carried a thorough investigation out. Indians were arrested and searched, with very little attention being paid to proper legal proceedings. Whites weren’t exempt from scrutiny, but the assumption was that no Englishman would have done such a thing and they recieved much less attention. The next few days saw the British incredibly on edge and not inclined to give their subjects any doubt; when one elderly merchant joked about the “explosive change” this would bring, a policeman who’d overheard had him arrested and questioned for two hours.

    Law had been killed at ten AM Bombay time, which was four-thirty in the morning in London. When Prime Minister Lloyd George awoke at six, the first thing was a note on his desk telling him to call the deputy governor of Bombay immediately. Unfortunately for our purposes here, Law’s right hand-man and now successor was one Baron George Lloyd; despite this bizarre coincidence, he was an effective administrator. The morning’s events naturally left the new governor shaken; he had only survived because he was travelling in the car behind Law just in case something like this happened. He had just finished receiving stitches on his cheek when the phone rang; the conversation was thus rather painful physically as well as emotionally. Nonetheless, he conveyed everything he knew to the Prime Minister; some madman had killed Law and he would leave no stone unturned in finding out who. The PM nodded understandingly before telling Lloyd to carry on his present course. Privately, the new Governor-General was fuming. Security had been reasonably tight, but there had been nothing to indicate that Law was in any particular danger. As soon as his cheek felt a little better, Governor Lloyd rang up the man in charge of security and gave him a piece of his mind, calling him a bloody fool and several less printable things besides. Days of police activity turned up nothing.

    Who could have done this, and why?

    MI5 later ascertained that the murderer was a man named Pavel Adjee. He was an Army veteran who’d fought on the Western Front and experienced severe discrimination from white officers, being forced to perform degrading and dangerous tasks every day. On one occasion, a white officer had told him to go hungry and called him a racial slur after he’d explained that his faith forbade him from eating tinned beef, on another a different officer had turned a blind eye when some soldiers shoved him to the ground and claimed that he “didn’t look much browner now than before!” These inexcusable actions, combined with the sting of defeat, led Pavel to despise the British regime in India, and when he returned home in late December, he began planning to strike back somehow. Pavel wasn’t associated with any organised terrorist cell; he was very much a lone actor. He got his hands on some disused Mills grenades stolen from an Army warehouse and assembled two using skills he’d learned in the Army. After blowing Bonar Law sky-high, Pavel had fled in the chaos and, all too aware of what his fate would be if they caught him, used the second grenade to commit suicide. No one knew this though, and the British would spend years trying to find the killer. A racist image formed in many people’s minds, aided by newspaper cartoonists attempting to be witty, of Indians assembling bombs in the jungle with the help of wild animals, and sacrificing to their ‘gods’ for luck in killing white people. Naturally, the Indians turned this on its head, and the attempt to find the killer became a cultural phenomenon- except that instead of giving him a blindfold and a cigarette, they’d give him a firm handshake and a hot meal. When India eventually gained its independence, one group of militants dubbed themselves the “Lawbreakers”- an excellent double entendre if ever there was one.

    The British were on edge throughout the spring of 1917. As if to vent their frustrations over having lost the Great War, they jumped at shadows all over the subcontinent and were unusually nasty towards their subjects. On the grounds that they were attempting to find the men who’d murdered Bonar Law, British police raided homes and businesses almost at will, and showed much less tolerance for complaint amongst their colonial subjects than before the war. Meanwhile, the Government’s attempts to balance the books led to an increase in taxes across India. One may speculate on whether the tax hike was privately influenced by Lloyd George’s desire to avenge the loss of his confidant. Salt, rice, and vegetables all had new levies imposed on them, which only made life harder for the people. They naturally responded with strikes and protests, but in a first-rate bit of cynicism, the colonial regime banned these gatherings on the grounds that another terrorist strike could occur. When the people rejected this and protested anyhow, they were met with bayonets and bludgeons. All of this made the Indians love British rule even more. Many of these people who had to put up with the increasingly hard-handed Raj government were Great War veterans who had fought for the Union Jack. They had no hatred for the British, but they had had more than enough of the status quo and now, for the first time ever, had the means to change it.

    Something was going to give eventually, but no one knew what, or where…

    * * *
    Asaf Jah VII, the nizam whose assassination was the first blow in the First Hyderabadi Revolution

    1. Consider this quote a small tribute to David Prowse. RIP
    2. Expeditionary Forces A, B, and parts of C fought ITTL- that looks to be somewhere between 150,000 and 175,000 men.
    3. The fall of the Asquith government means that Law is kept on, as Lloyd George wants a steady hand at the rudder right now.
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    Sacred Pastures, by Eric Blair
  • Excerpt from Sacred Pastures, by Eric Blair (1940). The short story, ostensibly a children's tale, was an allegory of Blair's being forced to flee India during the 1917 revolt, when he was just a small boy.

    "Trouble ahead", said the old donkey. "You mark me words, trouble ahead."

    "How d'you mean?" Rupert the pig took a bite of hay- not the freshest he'd ever had, but not too bad.

    "Well, it's like this, see. Haven't you noticed? The cows seem a bit... on edge?"

    "On edge?" Rupert frowned. He hardly ever thought about the cows. He'd been born on the farm and grown up side-by-side with them. Of course, everyone knew the rule- pigs were above cows- but that was only on paper. Rupert liked cows. Some of his best friends were cows. "Why would they be on edge?" He snorted and lifted his leg- the old donkey turned up his nose.

    "Haven't you any decency, Rupert? Do that someplace else. Anyhow"- he descended into a brief coughing fit- "they seem on edge. I've heard them talking to one another, complaining about the way of life on the farm. I hear everything, you know." That was true. The donkey had been around, well, for donkey's years, and occasionally joked that he'd been born before their grandfathers. Rupert and all the other animals trusted him instinctively- perhaps it was no surprise that he'd been able to overhear the cows. "One of them even said that they were sacred."

    "Sacred?" Rupert's ears perked up. "What a load of cobblers. That's just one of them silly myths they tell, innit? Sacred." He lifted his leg again and took a great bite of hay, belching a moment later. "I hope you told 'em where to 'ead in."

    "I did no such thing! Really, Rupert, you can be uncouth at times. No, I would never have done that. Imagine what they'dve thought."

    "I dunno...mate." No one knew the donkey's birth name. "All seems a bit daft, you ask me. Besides, us porkers run the place! Not as if..." The donkey kicked him as lightly as possible, his hoof stinging Rupert's side. "What was that for, you-"

    Harranda walked in. He was a hulking, five-year-old Holstein with a brown-and-white coat. "Evening, sir." He nodded his big head to Rupert, who wagged his tail. "And to you." The donkey bleated a wordless greeting. "Is there anything for me, sir Rupert?"

    "Er, let me 'ave a look." Rupert took one last gulp of hay, filling his stomach, and trotted off. "Yeah, you can have some of that, but leave us a bit of water. And be quick about it! There's a good lad." Chuckling, Rupert dashed out of the barn and leapt into a nearby mud puddle, squeaking with pleasure as he rolled about, splashing mud everywhere. That's the ticket.

    "Really, Rupert!" The donkey had a fresh mudstain on his hide and looked none too pleased. "Haven't you any class?"

    "What d'you mean? I'm a bona fide porker, I am. Course I got class."

    "Treating Harranda like that- and you wonder why the cows are unhappy." The donkey shook his head. "And you dirtied my coat- I shall have to splash in the river to get this off!" Like a naughty schoolboy, Rupert chuckled and dashed off behind the barn. Two roosters devoid of many feathers were fighting over something. "Evening lads."

    "Look here!", screeched one of them, "why don't you sort it out, Rupert? Paul"- he gestured to the other bird- "wants to deprive me of all my grain and I will not stand for it!"

    "How dare you, Georges? That is a barefaced lie!" And they were at it again, pecking, scratching, and clawing. A moment later, however, they squawked in terror and took wing for a few moments. The farm's dachshund Willy dashed up to Rupert, a bone in his mouth.

    "Ah, hello Rupert. I trust you are well?" Willy was the fattest dog Rupert had ever seen, his belly stretching to the ground, and an accident many years ago had left one of his paws deformed. Despite that, he was a bloody fast animal. "Silly hens."

    "Allo Willy." The pig spoke cautiously- he'd never got on well with the dog and didn't trust him. "Wot d'you want?"

    "Well, I've been having a chat with the cows, you see. They are, eh, none too pleased with you, ja?"

    "Why?" Rupert frowned, scratching the ground with his hoof. What had he done?

    "They say, my friend, that they want to take this farm back for themselves! It was theirs once, you know." That's ridiculous. Rupert had been born on the farm, and so had all the other animals- it didn't belong to the cows any more than it belonged to Willy, or to the bickering roosters. "I don't believe it, mate." Before Willy could reply, the sound of heavy footsteps came his way. Harranda and half a dozen other cows approached, scowling as much as a cow can scowl.

    "Ah, there you are! Now, we have been thinking." Have you? First bloody time for everything. Given that he was surrounded by none-too-friendly animals quite capable of beating the pulp out of him, making the wisecrack seemed ill-advised. "About this place, and about you porkers."

    "Ha...have you? Listen 'ere, I'll have you know that..."

    "It was a paradise before you lot came here!" Harranda stomped his hoof. "We had it all to ourselves- grass as far as the eye can see, clean rivers to drink from, everything a bovine could want. All animals were equal, there were no great mud puddles for your use-"

    "What on earth's wrong with mud puddles? We 'ave em everywhere; they keep you clean!"

    "We cannot abide it, Rupert. You and all your porkers- out. That is our final word." Rupert couldn't speak. His mouth hung open, his eyes wide and his tail drooping. It just wasn't possible. All this- the farm on which he'd grown up, his favourite mud puddle, all of it- was it now gone? How was he guilty for having been born here? How was he at fault for enjoying this farm as his birthplace just because he was a swine? "Get knotted, mate. This is my home too, you know, and I won't stand for..."

    He never finished his sentence.

    Harranda brought his hoof down on Rupert's curly pink tail, crushing it. He howled in pain and scurried free, dashing off the farm. Freedom? He scoffed. The cows might have their freedom, but he had lost his. Everything he had on the farm was gone.

    Rupert would have to make his way back home... somehow.
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    Chapter 28: India In Revolt
  • Chapter Twenty-Eight: India In Revolt
    "1917 was the year our people remembered who they were. Without their sacrifice, we never could have done what we have done, never crossed the mountains we have crossed."
    -Subhas Chandra Bose, president of the Indian National Republic

    Allan Fyfe was sick and tired of this. The nineteenth of June was proving dreadfully hot. “Can’t wait till we get off this bloody duty”, he muttered to himself. He ran a hand across his brow; it came back soaking wet. His uniform clung to his body in the heat; it was awfully stuffy in the khaki cloth. A bead of sweat fell from Allan’s hair to his collar, tickling him as it crept down his back. He thought longingly of cold English winters with not enough coal in the flat, huddling close to the fireplace for warmth. Coal cost money, and to his father that meant it was suspect. Thus, bitter cold had always been the norm. No need to worry about that here, though. Hyderabad in winter was lovely; what passed for cold here was like fine seaside weather in Brighton. In the summer… that was a different story. It felt as though God had put this land on the boil and forgotten about it. Grey monsoon clouds threatened to burst any moment and wading through the humidity took distinct physical effort. Of course, the locals didn’t seem affected at all, but the English suffered.

    “How long while we’re done here, mate?” Geoff Whitley was a freckle-faced boy who’d just got out of school. He leaned in close to whisper, “This innaf like a furnace.”

    “I dunno how they stand it.” Allan checked his watch. “Twenty more minutes.” His helmet was awfully heavy; his neck was dreadfully sore. The crowd inched its way past his street corner. People yelled, laughed, cried, and spoke Hindustani- Allan had a tin ear for the language.

    “I say, my good sir soldier!” A wizened old man in a loincloth tapped Allan’s shoulder. He smelled as though he hadn’t washed in days and had but a few wisps of hair to his name. “Please, can you help me?” His eyes were red and moist.

    “Wot d’you want?” Haven’t got any soap on me, mate.

    “I am a Brahmin, sir, a priest, and… and one of my cows, my sacred cows, is lost!” The old man’s chin wobbled and his eyes glistened. “It is a great shame, sir, a great shame. As a priest, these animals are my responsibility” He muttered something in his native tongue.

    “Alright, sir. You ‘ear that, Geoff? We’ll keep our eyes peeled for it.” The brahmin bowed and walked off, tears dripping down his face. Allan scoffed. “Look for his bloody bovine, my left… What’s so bloody special about them cows anyhow? And hadn’t he ever heard of washing, eh?” He ran his finger along his collar, desperately trying to let in a little air. “You’ve never been in the Army, have you?”

    “Me?” Geoff’s face flushed, his freckles disappearing into a sea of pink. “Na. Ne’er fought in the war.”

    “Well mate, let me tell you one thing.” Allan leaned in close. “If you had, you wouldn’t ‘ave given that herbert the time of day!” Both men smiled. “Some things just aren’t worth it.”

    Later that day, officers assigned the two men to a different patrol. There was an ageing grain warehouse in a back-alley which they were to keep safe from “treacherous saboteurs”. Allan’s opinion was that anybody who tried to rob this dump would have to be truly desperate, but no one seemed to care what he thought.

    “What’re they keepin’ that lot in there for anyhow?” Geoff’s face was pink in the heat. “I swear, they coulda given us some of that instead of that dollop from lunch.”

    “Aah yes, but there’s a snag. That would be convenient, and we can’t have that!” They chuckled. Suddenly, a noise came from inside the grain warehouse. Allan frowned. There it was again! “I say, Geoff”, he began slowly, “d’you think that… that might be something?” Was someone desperate enough to break into the warehouse?

    “Think we’d better go havva look. We was told to protect this, after all.” The two men fixed bayonets and advanced into the warehouse. Once their eyes had adjusted, they saw nothing out of the ordinary; mountains of grain reaching to the stars. Suddenly, the noise appeared again. Both men flinched and swung in the direction it had come from. Despite the heat, Allan was suddenly alert, his nerves tingling. “Advance and be recognised!” It was just like night patrols during the war, when any sudden movement might be your best mate or your worst enemy. Someone was there, alright…

    “Flip!” Geoff’s mouth hung open, his eyes wide. Allan could hardly believe it, either. There, munching placidly on a pile of hay, was a cow. A sacred cow. “Daft fella found his bovine, eh Allan?”

    “Quite.” He chuckled and removed his helmet, his scalp joyfully soaking up the fresh air. “Erm, Geoff… what do we do now? I mean, if this is the brahmin’s sacred cow, how do we get it to move?” Here was something he hadn’t learned at training camp! Suddenly, an idea popped into his head. “Or do we?” A grin spread across Allan’s face. “I mean, aren’t you getting sick of what the cooks dish out?”
    “Bet yer…” Geoff’s face lit up as he realised what Allan meant. “It’s not as if we’ve not got the guns. We’re by ourselves…” The two soldiers stared at the cow; the dumb beast stared back, not knowing its fate.

    “Get back, Geoff.” Allan loaded his rifle and fired, the recoil punching his shoulder. The cow crashed to the ground with a scream, blood spreading across the floor. “Now, when we’re back here tomorrow, mate, bring something to cook with and we can have a nice juicy steak dinner…”

    20 June dawned. For some reason, Allan Fyfe and Geoff Whitley didn’t have much appetite at breakfast; they left their gluey porridge neglected in its bowl. He nicked a bit of lard from the kitchen, sticking it discreetly in his pocket, and made sure to bring his lighter. It awaited…

    From left to right: Allan Fyfe, Geoff Whitley, and an unidentified soldier, showing off the lovely rations and accommodation British troops in India enjoyed. This picture was taken shortly before the events of this chapter.

    It wasn’t to be a good day for Allan and Geoff.

    A dreadful stench- that of blood- greeted them at the warehouse. Oh crikey, he thought, the body made a stench. I might’ve known. A crowd awaited at the door, and they were visibly upset. This would not end well, would it?

    “There they are!”, one Indian man cried in a thick Hindustani accent. Oh bugger. Ten people rushed up to Allan and Geoff. “Do you know- do you know- what is in there?” He was visibly shaking with fury.

    “Er… haven’t the foggiest. But we’re soldiers, and you lot need to…”

    “A cow. A sacred cow of the Brahmin! Some suar (1) murdered it! Murdered it!”

    “Not just some suar.” Allan had heard that broken voice before. Sure enough, there was the wizened old brahmin. His hair was disheveled and he looked ancient- except that yesterday’s grief was now replaced with fury. “Those suars!” He pointed accusingly at Allan and Geoff. “I told those two Englishmen- those very same Englishmen- that I was missing a sacred cow. And what did you do?…” He dissolved into tears of rage.

    “No I didn’t! That’s a bloody lie!” Allan’s voice seemed very small next to the rage of these people. More and more people were gathering, none of them looking too pleased. He felt isolated, overwhelmed. “I didn’t touch that…” He was cut off by a torrent of Hindustani, none of which sounded very friendly. Someone lobbed a rock, and he snapped. Instinct taking over, he fired into the crowd, and someone shrieked, his red guts spilling onto the ground.

    It was the last mistake he’d ever make.

    The crowd charged, cursing and screaming in their own language. Allan Fyfe and Geoff Whitman fought back, but they were outnumbered and overwhelmed. The mob crushed them to death and broke into the warehouse to salvage the sacred animal’s body.

    * * *

    Following Allan Fyfe’s murder, the rioting only escalated. People forgot the whys and hows and saw a fine excuse to strike back against their British overlords. Once the cow’s body had been saved, they burned the warehouse to the ground; the blaze spread to nearby buildings. An Englishman called the fire brigade, but the mob attacked them and they had to flee in their truck. When the firemen returned, they were escorted by a complement of armed men, but the street battle continued. The firefighters were forced to do their job while dodging bullets and foul language, and they soaked the combatants as they battled the blaze. They may have quenched the physical flames, but the conflagration of conflict had just begun...

    By the afternoon of 20 June 1917, the British had lost control of Hyderabad City. The rioting which had broken out earlier in the day had spread like wildfire, killing not just the offending soldiers but their infuriated superiors too. No one was safe, as tax collectors and other hated symbols of colonial rule were targeted by the mob. Innocent people died as well, in some cases from friendly fire, in others simply because they were the wife or child of a hated figure. The colonial regime ordered militia units belonging to the local nizam to quell the violence, but many men refused, having more in common with the troublemakers than the British. There were many horrifying cases of white men approaching militiamen confidently, only to find guns aimed at their chests… they didn’t have too long to ponder why.

    Mob action is never rational and never ends well for its victims.

    In Calcutta, Governor Lloyd spent the evening trying to figure out what on earth was happening in Hyderabad City. Reports were often out-of-date by the time they reached him, or the man compiling them had succumbed to panic and gotten a crucial detail wrong. Nonetheless, he remained calm and collected, ordering several regiments of white troops to make their way to Hyderabad with all due speed. They ordered garrisons in the surrounding towns to hold in place and ward off any sign of trouble from the natives, while attempts were to be made to contact the nizam.

    Unbeknownst to Lloyd, the nizam was dead.

    Asaf Jah VII had been prince of Hyderabad for six years. During that time, he’d followed the policies of his predecessors; he’d cooperated with the British while enriching his kingdom. The result was that Hyderabad’s Muslim elite became fabulously wealthy while the colonisers extracted whatever they pleased; it was the impoverished Hindu masses who got the short end of the stick. The people were used to the status quo but didn’t exactly love it; religion was the bigger issue. Asaf Jah and his court were all Muslims; the people were Hindu. While the rulers had never actively rubbed their religion in their subject’s faces, many associated the economic inequality and British rule with Islam. As the regime’s capital descended into violence, decades of popular exasperation with the nizams and British were about to come to the forefront.

    Once it became clear that he could not put the riots down, Asaf Jah departed for the countryside with his ten-year-old heir presumptive and a few wives and courtiers, leaving orders to crush the insurrection in full cooperation with the British. He likely imagined that he’d spend a few days out of the city until things cooled off, before returning and putting this whole mess behind him.

    Instead, he was assassinated just as he sat down to dinner.

    The nizam, being a Muslim, had no qualms about eating beef, and upon hearing news that the riots were caused by the murder of a sacred cow, quipped “at least they chose a clean animal to murder! I do not think my hounds will get such a response when they go!” Unfortunately, he was overheard by a servant named Aditya Deol, who was understandably quite offended. Aditya was someone who should never have been taken along by the nizam, for he was a proud Hindu nationalist and deeply sympathetic to the rebels. Livid, he slipped something into the royal family’s dinner, and let events take their course. By the end of 20 June, Asaf Jah and his colleagues were dead from poisoning; only the ten-year-old Asam Jah survived as he hadn’t had much appetite.

    To think that twelve hours before his death, the nizam’s regime was perfectly secure, until two greedy soldiers set off a chain reaction!

    Asaf Jah VII, murdered nizam of Hyderabad. He became famous (or infamous) for his willingness to cooperate with the British regime.

    Of course, murdering one’s sovereign is seldom good for one’s health, and the palace guard leapt into action. Everyone who’d had anything to do with preparing dinner was interrogated, and Aditya Deol was rapidly put to death. Nonetheless, the damage was done. Ten-year-old Azam Jah was crowned as nizam early next morning in- ironically enough- the city of Nizamabad. However, ten-year-old monarchs seldom make firm rulers. Children lack the force of will to make their imprint on the institutions of state, and the wisdom to lead their country well. The more fortunate ones have honest and skilled regents acting for them- as with young Otto von Habsburg and his uncle Maximilian- and the less fortunate become overshadowed by rapacious, feuding courtiers, shut up in their bedrooms and ignored to the detriment of their countries.

    Such was the fate of Azam Jah, Nizam of Hyderabad.

    Filling the power vacuum in Hyderabad was essential if some stability was to be maintained. George Lloyd was awoken at two AM with the news; his response was unbecoming of an upper-class gentleman, to say the least. However, he soon recovered his head and, after a hot cup of tea, got busy dictating a telegram to the British commander in Nizamabad. The young boy was to be “introduced” to the British authorities as soon as possible. If Azam Jah could be persuaded to issue pro-British orders, the risk of Hyderabad disintegrating would be much reduced. That done, Lloyd stomped back to bed, hoping against hope to get some rest before dawn.

    Of course, he was not the only one hoping to get in the young boy’s good books. His father having expired at ten PM, the sobbing prince was put to bed by his nanny and awoken at six AM on the 21st. His mum- who wasn’t the formal princess of Hyderabad- ate breakfast with him and tried to soothe him, to little avail. The poor child was confused and traumatised, and needed time to process what had just happened.

    Instead, he was treated to a revolving-door of dignitaries paying call.

    Dulhan Pasha Begum had been the formal Hyderabadi princess until ten PM last night, and she wasn’t about to relinquish power to a little boy who she had no blood connection to. Her clout was largely unofficial but she certainly wasn’t someone you wanted to cross. Dulhan was cool and detached, ignoring the nizam’s sniffles, and asked him to confirm her superior status over his mother. This naturally incensed his mum, and the two Hyderabadi ladies nearly got into a ferocious shouting match in front of the child. In the end, nothing came of Dulhan’s visit- Azam Jah’s mum gave him a document conferring pre-eminence on her, and not knowing what he was signing, the boy obeyed his mum and put his signature on. This left Dulhan livid, and the Hyderabadi court would be dominated by their vendetta for years to come. Once he turned eighteen, Azam Jah would have Dulhan sequestered, but that is for another chapter.

    The next guest was the senior British commander in Nizamabad, one Brigadier General Lionel Foxwood. (2) Foxwood came escorted by a platoon of khaki-wearing Englishmen, and received vicious stares from the palace servants. However, sharp steel has a way of getting the unarmed to keep their heads down, and Foxwood came to no harm. He was somewhat more sympathetic than Dulhan had been, and when the young nizam broke down crying in the middle of the audience, he gave him a small pat on the shoulder and said “there, there” in Hindi. As a foreigner and a military man, he was unconcerned with Hyderabadi politics; all Foxwood cared about was quelling the revolt as quickly as possible. He asked Azam Jah to sign a document granting him the right to command Hyderabadi troops temporarily, to help quell the revolt; once more the prince put his name to something he didn’t understand. Satisfied, Foxwood retreated to his headquarters shortly before noon to plan operations against the rebel-held capital.

    The nizam had one more visitor.

    Sir Kishen Pershad was unusual in that he was a Hindu. This had earned him a few raised eyebrows from the regime’s Muslim elite but he’d never gone out of his way to make it an issue. His faith had made him popular amongst the Hindu masses and many regarded him as a “populist” figure with an ear cocked to their interests. This was stretching the truth, but for obvious reasons Pershad let the misconception flourish. He enjoyed a second advantage in that he’d been a personal friend of Asaf Jah VII and was one of the few court figures to enjoy his son’s trust. Thus, when Pershad and Azam Jah shared lunch on the 21st, the boy opened up for the first time and spoke about his feelings. It was all very emotionally touching, but that wasn’t what Pershad cared about. It was the work of a moment for him to talk Azam Jah into appointing him Grand Vizier, saying that “it’s what your father would’ve wanted.” Exploiting the boy’s emotions for his own ends was morally questionable to say the least, but it was certainly effective. That evening, Pershad addressed the court, thanking Azam Jah for the promotion and asking for “cooperation” from all the men assembled.

    Hyderabad was now, for all intents and purposes, his.

    While the court had reshuffled itself in Nizamabad, violence had spread across the princely state. Militiamen had pushed out of the city into the surrounding countryside, promising liberation from “Anglo-Muslim domination!” Many poor Hindu villagers had seized the chance to get even with their ex-overlords and happily took up arms. Often, rural villages lacked British garrisons and went over “whole-sale” to the rebels; other times the small British units were overwhelmed and chose surrender over death in the face of impossible odds. Governor Lloyd was still determined to contain the emergency, and ordered white troops sent to crush the revolt. For all the damage they’d done, the rebels still barely controlled two thousand square miles, and their grip over the land they held was far from absolute. Like the fireman who cuts a blaze off from oxygen, he could strangle the rebellion in the cradle…

    Mounted rebels in Hyderabad prepare for action...

    ...but then he couldn’t. News had spread all over the subcontinent that Hyderabad was in revolt. The regime itself commanded little popular support and the major cities were all under martial law. The last days of June saw plenty of violence in the countryside against both regime and British troops; all too often these were minor incidents such as farmers taking potshots at passing men from the bushes. None of it was enough to pose a serious danger, but it all sent the same unnerving message- the people of Hyderabad wanted freedom. Outside the princely state, the next few days saw plenty of riots and strikes in all the subcontinent’s cities. Many areas were under what amounted to military rule as Governor Lloyd searched for the vast nationalist conspiracy behind all this. Of course, such a thing existed in his mind only, and paranoia drove his every decision. Lloyd’s mood wasn’t helped when someone fired a shot into his study on the 22nd despite the heavy security surrounding his Calcutta mansion; the bullet missed his Bengali cleaning lady by inches. The spread of rebel-held territory in Hyderabad, the constant unrest elsewhere, and an overwhelming fear for his personal safety led Lloyd to make a fatal error. At midnight on 1 July, having given London due notice, he issued a declaration of martial law. This was to apply both in territory under direct British rule and in the princely states. Rules of engagement for British troops were seriously loosened; anyone caught in “subversive” activity could be shot without trial. The hope was that this would make combatting rebels and rioters much more efficient, and cow the local population.

    It was like putting out a fire with gasoline.

    The order went out in the small hours, arousing officers from their beds at two AM. These men had been working extremely hard lately and an interruption in their sleep wasn’t needed. When they were given such a huge order and so little time to enact it, the groggy officers reacted poorly and didn’t think through the consequences of what could go wrong. Orders reached the average soldier an hour or so later, causing much confusion; how were they supposed to enforce their rule any more than they were already doing? The idea of turning tough and confrontational on the populace literally overnight didn’t appeal to many, as they knew all too well what the backlash would be…

    Sure enough, the Indian people were none too amused. Things started to go wrong even before the sun came up; there weren’t enough white troops to conduct security inspections and establish checkpoints, and there were literally hundreds of cases of Indians resisting searches and small-scale fights breaking out. Convinced that they were doing vital work rooting out conspiracies which didn’t exist, officers ordered house raids which did nothing but infuriate the populace. Riots and protests became daily occurrences across the subcontinent, and crushing them- because no decent Englishman could ever bring himself to treat the natives with respect, perish the thought!- sapped morale while costing money and lives. The advent of the monsoon made life more difficult for everyone; both sides were forced to contend with raging floods which made it dangerous to leave town on foot, much less fight a guerilla war. Rations were spoiled in the torrents of rain, and nobody’s temper was improved by getting soaked to the skin day after day. The time-honoured English phrase “bloody weather!” took on new meaning as revolt and monsoon met.

    In the princely states, the local rulers lost much of what little autonomy they possessed, as British officials suddenly found themselves able to interfere in the administration of the states. However, the princes acquiesced to this; the only reason they hadn’t been totally subdued was that they’d always toed the British line and there was no reason to stick their necks out now. Nonetheless, some court figures in these states began dreaming of coups d’etat that would topple their British overlords… State militias were under formal orders to stand down, yet many men refused and serious fighting ensued. Some militiamen formed gangs and fled to the countryside, occupying villages and becoming bandits.

    All told, Governor Lloyd’s martial law policy was a total failure. The revolt in Hyderabad spread like a cancer on the body of the Raj, while the British grip elsewhere was slackening. Centuries of British rule in India seemed on the verge of coming to a bloody halt...


    1. Google Translate tells me that’s the Hindi word for ‘swine’
    2. A fictitious character- I’m sure there’s a real person I could’ve used but I didn’t want to spend an hour combing the Internet for him!
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    Chapter 29: A Tiger By the Tail
  • Chapter Twenty-Nine: A Tiger By the Tail

    "We are holding a tiger by the tail, my friends, and we must not let the thing turn round and claw at us!"
    - Winston Churchill commenting on the situation in India, summer 1917

    "India? Yes my friends, there is no doubt that India is tremendously valuable. But what Mr Lloyd George, the Liberals, and the Conservatives fail to understand is that what is more valuable are the lives of British men! How can one support a measure that will condemn good British troops to death after having escaped the cauldron of the Great War?"
    Prominent Labour Party figure William Adamson criticising Lloyd George's decision to ship British troops to India.

    "Go forward, valiant soldiers, and do your duty for that Empire on which the sun never sets! England expects every man shall do his duty!"
    -David Lloyd George addressing troops about to depart from Plymouth harbour for India

    The British Empire was the product of three centuries’ worth of construction. It had started off as a few trading outposts on the road to China in the mid-sixteenth century, and by the summer of 1917 it spanned a quarter of the globe. India and China, lands courted for their wealth since Roman times, were now under direct control and indirect influence, respectively. The sun never set on the British Empire, as the Union Jack fluttered from the furthest northern reaches of Canada to the Egyptian desert to the jungles of Brunei.

    And now it was all in danger of coming undone.

    The Indian revolt of July 1917 was not inevitable. London could have taken steps in the wake of defeat to give the people of the subcontinent more autonomy as a reward for their wartime contributions. Yet the British repeatedly turned a tin ear to their subjects. After a fanatic murdered Bonar Law, Viceroy George Lloyd saw a conspiracy afoot and clamped down hard. The Raj simmered for months until two inept soldiers touched off a revolt by killing a sacred cow.

    That revolt had now spread across Hyderabad like wildfire. The local nizam controlled only a small chunk of his realm, while the British were facing mass unrest in the rest of India. Lloyd’s stern martial law had only raised tensions without making Britain’s task any easier. 10 July saw the rebels seize the city of Gulbarga to the west; the British garrison had been fighting the inhabitants for days and finally gave up. The countryside was no longer safe for white men as “freedom fighters” prowled about; they may have had high-minded goals, but they behaved an awful lot like common bandits. No one at the front seemed to know what to do: the rebels were able to dodge conventional assaults by melting into the jungle, yet whenever the British sent infantry patrols to beat the rebels in said jungle, those men seldom returned. That it was monsoon season only made things worse; while the Indians were used to the torrential rain, the British had a nightmare keeping troops supplied in the muck. The weather made it impossible for the British to use chemical weapons to flush out their foes; gas was useless in thick rain. Servants couldn’t be trusted, as it was all too common for cooks to slip a little snake venom into the stew or for guides to send British troops into a waiting ambush.

    Rebel Indian cavalry charge a British army camp in the countryside, July 1917

    Only in the cities did the British have a secure presence. Viceroy Lloyd’s martial law meant that troops were heavily concentrated there, and they ruled urban areas with an iron fist to the detriment of controlling the countryside. Rural villages took on a very nasty character, as they were a major source of food production; often the farmers were put to work at bayonet point, the colonisers making off with the goods. All this infuriated the locals and cost the British manpower, but it ensured that no one starved. One may compare British rule in summer 1917 to a net; wherever men in khaki were present, the British controlled, but there were vast swathes of territory (and more than a few sizable cities) where rebels ruled. The regime in the cities may have been iron-fisted but was a long way from peaceful- 10 July alone saw riots in twenty cities leave a hundred Englishmen dead and whole city blocks levelled. The disruption of trade with the countryside left rationing tight for everybody, and hunger motivated people to vicious ends. Indians turned on one another for a bowl of rice, while the British were certainly not above forcibly requisitioning food. Armed soldiers with a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later guarded grain warehouses. Looters and “subversives” (a very loosely defined term ranging from grumblers to rioters), if they were lucky, found themselves in detention camps. These were not known for their sanitary conditions or bountiful rations, and once again they tied down many British troops who could’ve been put to good use against the rebels. Many died from dysentery, malnutrition, or simple execution in these prisons.

    If things went on like this, the British Raj would collapse, and that would be the beginning of the end for the Empire.

    British troops guarding a warehouse repel rioters with gas, summer 1917 (2)

    The men in grey suits in Whitehall had finally had enough. David Lloyd George refused to be remembered as the man who lost India and was prepared to move heaven and earth to crush the revolt. He’d initially supported martial law to quell the trouble, but had soured on it after ten days of chaos. He realised Calcutta was out of its depth, and that London needed to step in. On 10 July 1917, he telephoned Lloyd and the two men had a terse conversation. The PM made no bones about his displeasure. He was sending some encoded instructions to Lloyd, which were to be followed to the letter. The prideful governor was none too pleased about this, but sensed that he was already on thin ice and didn’t protest too loudly. He spent the afternoon pacing his office, waiting for the missive to arrive. When it did, his comments were enough to make a schoolteacher faint. Lloyd George was appointing a man named Francis Maxwell as “special emergency commanding officer with all due jurisdiction over military forces of the British Indian Army.” In short, a new man would run military operations- and it was a good bet that Maxwell would thumb his nose at Lloyd. This was a snub to the governor, but what came next was worse. He was ordered to make a public speech praising the princely regimes and the people of Burma- both groups had remained steadfastly loyal and the latter was one of the few peaceful spots in India at the moment. Lloyd’s ego bristled at the thought of praising a nonwhite, and he feared- not without justification- that doing so might send a message of weakness. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister had made it clear that he expected Lloyd to obey, and the man didn’t want to lose his job.

    Thus, at midday on the twelfth, Lloyd invited a number of reporters into his Calcutta office. The windows were locked and the curtains drawn. Only reporters and government officials were let in and they were all subject to intense scrutiny. His desk was surrounded by muscle-bound white troops and no servants were allowed in the room, just in case.

    Surely nothing could go wrong… surely.

    “Good afternoon to you all. I, Viceroy George Lloyd, Baron Lloyd, speak to all the peoples of India today. The time since the war has, regrettably, not brought the peace we have all craved. Mistrust, violence, and deception have caused flawed decisions to be made. Can my august predecessor, Mr Freeman-Thomas (1), be absolved of all error? Perhaps not. It may be argued, not without reason, that previous governments made miscalculations. Yet there can be no denying that the past sixty years have brought peace and stability to the Indian people. Under the rule of His Majesty King George V, the Indian people have flourished. Therefore, this government is all the more appalled by the senseless acts of violence which have wracked our beloved realm. The assassination of Mr Freeman-Thomas and Mr Law was an inexcusable crime, the work of radicals who will not listen to reason! The past weeks have been a time of tremendous national stress for all of us. A senseless tide of violence has washed over our beautiful land- and this is an even greater crime. Truly, the history of India is reaching a bitter ebb.

    “Yet, we must not permit ourselves to slide into despondency! For let us never forget that you, the Indian people, are overwhelmingly loyal! The good princes of this realm, especially Azam Jah of Hyderabad, driven from his capital by insurgency and chaos, remain steadfastly loyal to the stable order. I must also congratulate the people of Burma on their fealty- Rangoon remains one of the few places in this land where peace is still the order of the day, where it is the birds and not the guns which chirp at nights. Yet above all, I must thank you, the people of India. I know from the bottom of my heart that these dangerous radicals do not represent who you are and what you stand for. The Raj Government is and will always stand for peace and prosperity, and has always rested on the backs of a great silent majority. Now, I must call upon that silent majority once more, to carry the torch and hold firm in their fealty. Thank you.”

    He blew up five minutes later.

    The security in the office was immense, yes. However, the Viceroy's palace was still bustling with servants and ministers moving back and forth. As such, one gardener whose name has not survived was able to exploit a security lapse in the small hours of 12 July. Governor Lloyd had always had a green thumb and rather liked to glance out the window at his plants. The garden, though separated from the office by a sizable fence, was only fifty metres away from the window. Thus, the Hindu gardener was able to plant a time bomb in the garden scheduled to detonate at noon. Ironically, he hadn’t known about the speech and was simply hoping that Lloyd would be in his office at the appropriate time. The upshot of it all was that not only was the governor-general killed, so were three newspapermen and a soldier. The blast tore through the fence at precisely twelve noon, sending shards of metal and cabbage flying every which way. Debris crashed through the wall, collapsing the structure of the building and reducing Lloyd’s office to rubble. The governor-general survived the initial blast but had his trunk blown off; he was pulled, howling, from the ruins within minutes, his suit drenched a sickly red, and died a lingering death.

    The British retaliated predictably. The new governor-general, a man named Rufus Isaacs, quickly showed that he was his predecessor’s equal in ruthlessness and superior in thinking. Viceroy Isaacs was sworn into his new post forty-five minutes after doctors pronounced Lloyd dead. His first move was to declare a policy of hostage-taking, infamously saying that “for every one of our men they kill, we’ll put twenty up against a wall- and we’ll give ‘em a bit of shepherd’s pie first!” (3) His policy was never fully enacted- although hundreds of hostages were taken, the kitchens of the Raj were never put to work producing shepherd’s pie en masse. Nonetheless, the British randomly pulled twenty people off the street and shot them that very day. The executions took place at sundown in a military prison, but word naturally got out and hundreds of people turned up to prevent it. Soldiers were forced to fix bayonets and form a sharp square around the execution yard to prevent the mob from having its way; eighteen Indians were killed by these jittery men. The policy of hostage-taking was extended all throughout the Raj, and before too long the volley of firing squads became part of daily life. They snatched innocent people off the streets, took parents from their children, husbands from their wives. Some, having lost a loved one to the firing squad, decided to literally go out with a bang by going to a public place with a homemade or stolen explosive beneath their clothing. Of course, for every white man killed by said bombs, twenty more innocents were executed… and so it went. (4) Anybody who could flee did, and no one entered freely.

    The British public wasn’t told the full story of what was happening in India. Rumours of the violence racking the subcontinent and a reasonable desire not to be caught up in it kept the press away. That image was in keeping with the British tradition of viewing the colonies as slightly untamed, backwards places, and it played into London’s hands. For a start, having those pesky reporters too afraid to come near the fighting effectively meant that the press was censoring itself, since the Ministry for the Colonies could drip-feed information to them. Second, it promoted the notion of India as a wild and barbaric land, which meant that London could portray the war as a clash between “civilisation” and “barbarity”. That image was totally inaccurate- the British were even less scrupulous than their foes- to say nothing of racist. Nonetheless, it was in keeping with a decades-long imperial mindset, and so it appeared on the front page of the Daily Herald and the Daily Mail. (5) This stream of propaganda convinced many veterans to re-enlist. Many of these men had not had a good time since coming back from the Great War- the jobs they’d previously held were gone, their mates from before the war dead, etc. Unemployment remained stubbornly high. As such, all it took to convince many was one or two concocted stories about Indian “savagery”, and they were off to re-enlist.

    A new army was being established, one that might just save the British Raj.

    Aside from a few eighteen-year-old kids who’d been too young to join in 1916, and who eagerly followed their older brothers to India, this fresh army consisted almost universally of Great War veterans. These men had been out of service for less than a year and retraining them would be a matter of course. Royal Army training camps, some built during the war, were scattered all across Britain; for the sake of convenience, most men went to the massive complex at Cannock Chase in Staffordshire. The Army of India, as it quickly became dubbed, had a most peculiar experience in training, for the men, being largely seasoned veterans, were able to impress their drill sergeants by actually knowing what they were doing! Of course, there were plenty of fresh-faced green recruits who needed toughening up, but the refresher course in late July 1917 proceeded remarkably smoothly.

    However, there were limits to what Britain could do. The British economy in summer 1917 was stable but shaken. They’d defaulted on their debt to the Americans and the sale of Malta and Somaliland had helped pay for the war, but the Exchequer was still in no mood to finance a million-man army halfway across the globe. The Great War veterans returning to the colours had just begun to re-integrate themselves back into civilian society and the economy; this was a recipe for labour shortages. Additionally, with the war having just been lost, many civilians drew comfort from the fact that “Jack and Tommy” were back from the Army, as that was surely a harbinger of more peaceful times. Even though those men were returning to service voluntarily, their disappearance caused some panic that Britain was about to be hurled back into a great war, and contradicted the official line that everything was fine in India. Many in Parliament were unhappy about this- having just lost the Great War, they said, wasn’t it time Britain rested and thought of a peaceful way forward? How could David Lloyd George sleep, knowing that he was condemning to death men who’d fought in the trenches and survived the debacles of 1916? Labour kicked up a fuss about conscription; the Conservatives lamented the return of wartime taxes.

    Lloyd George would have none of it. He had to walk a fine political tightrope and generally tried to appease both sides of the spectrum, but this was too much. In a much-publicised interview with the Daily Express, he claimed that “this nation’s pride was harmed by losing the Great War, but our status as a premiere empire was not! If, however, we should lose India to chaos, it would be the end of the British Empire on which the sun never sets, a greater defeat than we have suffered since the Hundred Years War.” Despite its political intent, the Prime Minister’s message was not wrong. India was essential to Britain’s status as a world power and they had to make sacrifices to retain it. Such an approach was unquestionably the right thing for Britain, but it did Lloyd George’s political career no favours. The Liberal Party was divided and dying, and Lloyd George was forced to draw support from the Conservatives, who like everyone else were tired of war. The electorate would reject him and the Liberals in the 1918 general election, and one consistent charge against him was that “He killed my boy after the war was done!”

    David Lloyd George threw his political career under the bus in an attempt to preserve the British Raj.

    Top: David Lloyd George, bottom: Governor-General Rufus Isaacs


    By the start of September, the Army of India- as it came to be known- was ready to go. The men had been retrained and equipment dug out of warehouses for them; officers were ready to lead. David Lloyd George gave a farewell speech for one brigade at Plymouth harbour on the first, calling on them to “bravely go where our grandfathers went, to restore prosperity and safety to our beloved empire.” To the tune of “Rule Britannia”, played by a secondary-school marching band, the brigade boarded HMS Cardiganshire and HMS Andania, the two ships steaming off on their long journey to India. This scene was repeated in all of Britain’s harbour throughout the first week of September 1917, as men packed up and moved to fight. This timing was ideal as it meant that the troops would be landing just as the monsoon abated.

    While the Army of India- some forty thousand men- landed at various ports across the subcontinent, the British enlisted aid of a different sort. Nepal and Bhutan were nominally independent states which could so easily have been swallowed up by the colonisers. However, being remote Himalayan lands without much in the way of natural resources, London decided it was cheaper and better to keep them as protectorates. Neither was especially wealthy and with Chinese Tibet a mountain range away, their economic livelihoods were linked to the Raj. London had paid the regimes subsidies for decades and that money was what had kept Nepal and Bhutan afloat.

    It was time for Britain to cash in on its investment.

    The two kingdoms had remained neutral thus far, and had become even more cut off from the outside world than usual. There were no telephone or telegraph lines reaching into the rugged mountains and so communication with Nepal and Bhutan had to be done in the ancient way- give a courier a slip of paper and pray he doesn’t fall off a Himalayan cliff. With India not exactly a safe place for foot journeys right now, communication between the mountain kingdoms and their patron in London had gone dark. Nonetheless, envoys managed to reach the two kingdoms in early September. Owing to the immense costs of the war in India, they said, London was forced to trim its budget, and they would be unable to give Nepal and Bhutan their annual subsidies in 1918. The two courts responded with horrified gasps, as to turn off the money tap from London would be to drive the two kingdoms into bankruptcy. However the envoys said with a wry smile, if Nepal and Bhutan were to send their armies into battle against the rebels, that would reduce the strain on London just enough for the subsidies to find a place in the budget after all.

    It didn’t take long for the courts to decide.

    Nepalese troops on parade shortly before leaving for India

    Being small mountain nations under the thumb of a foreign power meant that neither state needed a large military. Equipment was out-of-date and training minimal. Had the Nepalese and Bhutanese armies been shipped over to Europe, the result would’ve been a bloodbath. Yet… there wasn’t a modern army to be faced in India. The fighting there was one of urban unrest and guerilla warfare, and that was the sort of fighting which even a backwards force was capable of. While backwards, the Nepalese and Bhutanese armies were disproportionately big for such small countries, and combined the two states contributed eighty thousand men to the British cause. These troops would play a key role in ensuring that northern India remained relatively calm compared to the chaos elsewhere.

    In sum, the British Empire had been dealt a very nasty blow in July 1917. They were desperately trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered crown jewel. Yet, Britain was still a Great Power and they’d ridden out the first blows. A counteroffensive was coming… but more trials still lay ahead…


    1. Freeman Freeman-Thomas was Lloyd’s predecessor; he was assassinated alongside Bonar Law in chapter 27
    2. Yes, this is a still from Threads
    3. Shepherd’s pie, being made of beef, would be offensive to the rebels
    4. Inspired by the latter scenes of hostage-taking in TL-191, where Mormons and Confederates were executed en masse as reprisals for the murder of Union troops.
    5. Before they became the tabloid rags they are today.
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    Chapter 30: The Independence Congress
  • Chapter Thirty: The Independence Congress
    "People of India! Unite behind the legitimate government which has been denied you for too long! We must stand together in this, our hour of need, behind your Provisional President Mahendra Pratap..."
    -Mahendra Pratap, Provisional President of the Indian Free State

    "Why all this division? What benefit is it to the people? Hindus and Muslims, men of arms and men of peace, are we not all Indian? If Mr Pratap will overcome his pride and let us work together we can craft the dream our people have desired for generations..."
    -Mohandas Gandhi, calling for unity at the Independence Congress

    The Indian revolt was a disjointed affair. Much of the north and east, especially the cities, remained under British control. These regions were rife with rioting and violence, but control was mostly centralised. Nepalese and Bhutanese, not white British, manpower helped to keep the area quiet, and the local princes donated their militias for the same purpose; the hope was that since these people were racially closer to the natives, they’d arouse less ire. Martial law was in full effect, with the military distributing ration books and enforcing curfews; one was likely to be arrested if one couldn’t provide identity cards. No one was happy with the status quo, yet the region remained quiet.

    It was in the south and centre where chaos reigned.

    The great revolt had started in Hyderabad, and rebels had now wiped that princely state off the map. The youthful nizam had set up a court-in-exile in Calcutta, and a warlord named Guldar Patel (1) ruled most of the territory; pro-nizam loyalists had become bandits with their own little enclaves in the jungle. Bengal remained loyal, and the regime had too many troops present for Calcutta to explode, while Burma was quiet. In Mysore and Madras, the local princes had declared their fealty to London and had firm control over a few blocks in their capital cities- the rest of their realms were divided between bushwhackers and hapless patrols. The same situation played out all across the south, centre, and west of the subcontinent. The key point is that every city, a different leader led every bandit group, every patch of territory in revolt. Aside from their common enemy in the British, these leaders had nothing in common. Modus vivendi were made and promptly discarded as these forces viewed each other as dangerous rivals.

    India was sliding into warlordism.

    It was all too clear that the British were recovering some of their strength. As the monsoon dried up in September, London got its act together, shipping in 75,000 fresh troops from the homeland and calling on eighty thousand men from Nepal and Bhutan. Added to the quarter million British troops already running around on the subcontinent, and it was clear that the scales of attrition would soon be rebalanced. With the enemy increasing his own strength, a disunited war effort would only bring about slow defeat as Britain snuffed out each revolt one by one. In the best-case scenario, if the Indians were lucky and did manage to gain independence, what would that leave them? A bitterly divided subcontinent where the people would forever be trapped in the middle of petty sectarian fighting. Many were acutely aware of the danger, and now one group stepped to the forefront, determined to unite the subcontinent and save their people’s dream of liberty…

    A postage stamp depicting Mahendra Pratap, Provisional President of the Free State of India

    The Provisional Government of Free India had been formed in Kabul during the Great War. The Germans had tried with little success to rile up the tribesmen of Afghanistan and have them invade the Raj on Berlin’s behalf. The war had ended before they could fully develop the scheme, but a provisional government for an independent India was ready at this critical hour. Since the cities were crawling with British troops, the members of the Provisional Government travelled through the countryside. The border between Afghanistan and northwest India was long and porous, and with the valuable heartland in open revolt no one noticed a handful of wizened old men crossing the border. The members of the Provisional Government encountered a handful of refugees seeking shelter in Afghanistan, but aside from that they travelled alone. They reached the rebel-held city of Multan on 14 September and asked to speak with the highest-ranking man in town. The Provisional Government explained who they were and requested asylum in Multan. The rebel leader, presumably somewhat confused, agreed, and they set up shop under armed guard. Mahendra Pratap, leader of the group, reconfirmed himself as Provisional President of the Indian Free State (he’d initially proclaimed himself such in 1915), and the other four men did the same with their titles. Their claim to be the “rightful leaders of the free India which the people are striving to achieve” stretched credulity. Mahendra Pratap and his colleagues hadn’t set foot in their native land for years and knew only the basics of why the great revolt had started. He only had a rough blueprint for how he wanted to run India, one which was explicitly populist and would’ve involved great social changes. With the revolt divided between very different groups with diverging plans for the future, there was no guarantee that the men with the guns would confer legitimacy on Pratap’s Provisional Government.

    Nonetheless, Pratap hadn’t come all this way to sightsee, and so he had to try.

    On 29 September 1917, Pratap issued a proclamation to leading Indian nationalists, calling on them to meet in Multan for an “Independence Congress”. Given that the subcontinent was torn by moving troops, shell-holes, monsoon storms, and cities aflame, the mail service wasn’t exactly running at top speed and it took time for the message to get out safely. Pratap’s proclamation was dispatched by couriers disguised as servants, who carried the message in their heads and not on paper for fear British troops might capture them. The task was further complicated because no one quite knew where many leading Indians were at that moment. Many brilliant men had fled the fighting in their hometowns, and it wasn’t as if they registered their move at the tax office first. Mohandas Gandhi and his wife had moved back to South Africa, but they saw what Pratap was trying to do as the culmination of decades of activism, and quietly made their way to Multan under assumed names via the Ottoman Empire. Not everyone was so easy to find- many rightly feared arrest if they associated themselves with the rebels, while others had been killed in the fighting. Since it would be a disaster if the British were to arrest a delegate and extract information from him, they avoided the direct routes to Multan. People came in from Afghanistan, through the deserts of northern India, even across the Himalayas, all with a variety of aliases. Notably absent were any representatives of the Berlin Committee, the Indian nationalist group sponsored by Kaiser Wilhelm II- it was deemed too unsafe to let them travel to Multan and the German Foreign Ministry didn’t want to risk angering the UK. Rebel leaders whose guns made up for their lack of intellectual credentials were invited; it wouldn’t do if the men on the ground laughed off the Congress’ decisions and did as they pleased.

    There were fears that the warlord of Multan would try to mount a coup, arresting Pratap, Gandhi, and the rest of the delegates, or that the British would capture them. However, the warlord conveniently suffered a tragic accident a few days into August, after which Pratap declared Multan to be “the first region to come under the direct administration of its legitimate government.” What the people thought of this, we shall never know.

    Unofficial flag of the Indian Free State. Notably, Muslim delegates strenuously objected to the presence of the Hindu symbol in the centre for obvious reasons
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    At any rate, by 15 October the Congress was as ready as it ever would be. Many important people were still missing, but the longer the rebel leaders congregated in one place, the greater the danger that someone would betray them. Armed troops surrounded the ancient royal citadel where the discussions took place. The Independence Congress had two formal goals: to forge a united strategy for the rebels and to draw up plans for what the subcontinent would look like postwar. There was genuine excitement at the thought that progress was being made in the struggle for Indian freedom, and everyone hoped that- like the Imperial Constitutional Convention in Danubia- the Congress could overcome its differences and create something innovative and useful.

    They would do exactly as well as their Danubian counterparts had.

    From the very first day, Mohandas Gandhi and Mahendra Pratap were locked in rivalry. Both considered themselves the natural leader of the independence movement and criticised the other’s time abroad and foreign connections. Gandhi implied that Pratap was a Germanophile who would prioritise Berlin’s interests above those of his people, while Pratap savaged Gandhi for having served in the South African military during the Boer War fifteen years previous. Ironically, their ideologies were actually quite similar- both were advocates of religious tolerance and secular society, and social reform designed to minimise the oppressive caste system. Their rivalry was fundamentally about who was the better representative of Indian nationalism, not real policy.

    Aside from the Gandhi-Pratap feud, the Congress’ great weakness was that all the different delegates wanted different things. Islamic nationalists enjoyed disproportionate strength because Multan was an Islamic city, and they took this opportunity to push heavily for Muslim interests. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, one of the most prominent Muslim delegates, called for a formal appeal to be made to the sultan in Constantinople for aid. Ferocious debate over whether to request Ottoman support ensued, with the Hindus rejecting it for fear that postwar India would become dominated by Turks and Muslims. Still other Islamic delegates called for an independent Muslim state; Bengali nationalists wanted to make sure their homeland walked away from all this independent of a greater India. The Muslims yelled about being “marginalised” and accused the Hindus of not respecting their interests, while the latter replied that if the revolt’s unity was destroyed by religious disputes, then none of them would get what they wanted. A further spanner was thrown into the works by the fact that the princely states were collaborating with the British, and that those were majority-Hindu but Muslim-ruled. Hindu delegates effectively accused their Muslim counterparts of having a superiority complex and wanting to dominate India- that they were meeting in an Islamic city only added weight to their argument. Both sides were right in that the last thing anybody could afford was bitter feuding between the two faiths. Both sides were wrong in their belief that the other was trying to sabotage their goals. One must consider centuries of Hindu-Muslim tensions in the subcontinent when regarding these debates, and that certainly wasn’t something that started in 1917 or 1857. After four days of pounding on tables and trading barbs in their native tongues, the Congress reached a compromise whereby they agreed to “respect Islamic territorial rights” in Balochistan, Bengal, and the Northwest Frontier Provinces. Perhaps fortunately, Jammu and Kashmir were under tight British control and thus sent no delegates- one can only imagine how the region would’ve divided the subcontinent’s religions! (2).

    Political differences were also important- some delegates wanted to retain the princely state system, arguing that it gave representation to the diverse peoples of India. “But” their opponents cried, “those were in league with the British and we can’t let them go unpunished!” One man who suggested that the princely states survive as autonomous republics was laughed at (3); he was later shown the door for using “unprofessional language” in his retort. Most of the delegates were wealthy intellectuals, and many were of a conservative bend: such people didn’t believe they should see the ancient building-blocks of India abolished so that Pratap could rule with absolute power from a mansion in Calcutta. Republican government was seen as a Western innovation as compared to the Indian tradition of rule by princes. When a federalist structure was proposed as a compromise, the military warlords spoke up, demanding that they have whatever territorial gains made recognised as autonomous fiefdoms. Since many had overlapping claims with one another- indeed the armies of some were openly fighting each other- and since their possessions usually bore little relation to historic or cultural divides, this caused considerable controversy. However, the warlords had been invited to the Congress because they had the guns, and taking away their legitimacy wouldn’t be a smart move. After several members had walked out in exasperation, they reached a tenuous compromise; the warlords would be allowed to keep all troops under their personal command and couldn’t be forced to do anything with them they didn’t want to, but once the conflict was done, they would relinquish all claims to the land. Not everyone accepted this and several men “went rogue”. Furthermore, this was virtually guaranteeing a civil war somewhere down the line. The hope was that some military men would exhaust themselves against the British and against one another, thus reducing their power in postwar India. At any rate, it was a temporary, expedient compromise that gave the revolutionaries some much-needed unity.

    By this point, October was dragging into November and the tide of the war was turning against the rebels. Military men wanted to get back to their units, while others didn’t feel especially safe in Multan. There was the constant risk of assasination or simply something going wrong with the many troops in town, and people like Gandhi and Pratep wanted to move to a safer location. Worse than that, though, the British were finally getting things done. After months of unrest had failed to evict the whites from major cities, the people were starting to lose steam. The north and east were growing ever-more secure, while MI5 was delivering intelligence reports that something important was happening in Multan and plans were being made for an advance to the city.

    It was time to get out.

    Congress was adjourned on 24 October, with every delegate taking an oath to respect Mahendra Pratep’s supremacy. Naturally, Gandhi and his partisans were loath to do this, but it got done regardless. On that note, everyone slipped away- Muhammad Ali Jinnah and his colleagues to Kuwait, Gandhi to rural Hyderabad, and the Provisional Government to the Gujarati capital of Ahmedabad.

    For all their hopes, the Independence Congress had had too many problems to overcome and failed to coordinate a pan-Indian strategy… and the British were preparing for a counteroffensive…


    1. Fictitious
    2. Round and round and round we spin
    3. Which is a pity, as I think it’s actually a pretty good idea.
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