Chapter 31: A Crown Jewel Restored
  • Chapter Thirty-One: A Crown Jewel Restored
    "Speaking in the name of humanity, I must criticise with all the force in my being the savagery committed by the British Empire in India, against noble freedom fighters seeking to revive a great and nationally conscious state. India has committed no crime and is merely justifying itself on the world stage, while England is showing herself to be the same warmonger careless of the lives of her colonial subjects. The massacre of Sindh was a greater crime than anything which the European continent has seen since the Thirty Years War!"
    - Excerpt from Kaiser Wilhelm II's controversial Christmas 1917 message vituperating the British conduct during the battle for the Sindh city of Hyderabad

    "Pakhtunkhwa is now under the safe and trustworthy control of the Pashtun state of Afghanistan. Great Britain need have no fear, for we will be a most responsible steward of the territory. It would be most unfortunate if reason failed to prevail and this was to become a point of tension."
    -Emir Habibullah Khan of Afghanistan

    "17 October. Another day, another damned dreary day in this foul city... Sergeant was killed today, took him away screaming, missing a leg. One can only wonder how long he lay there before it was all over, poor bastard. Phosogene gas and flames, the stench of blood, the ceaseless rattle of bullets, the roar of cannon and the shrieks of men as something hits home, it all gets to one. I do wonder when my turn will be- half an hour after this is written? Two days? I have fought in France and in Flanders and I tell you, there are few things as grisly as what this horrid city has to offer. When I think of what I could be doing, back home living the life of a civilised being, my stomach curdles."
    - Excerpt from the diary of a British soldier giving a glimpse to the horrid conditions of the Battle of Hyderabad. The man would die the next day, killed when his own side unleashed a chlorine attack and he was caught without his mask.

    Britain’s crown jewel had been cracked. Despite the rhetoric of everyone from George Lloyd to Lloyd George (1), the British regime in India had stared death in the face in the summer of 1917. With the south and centre of India dissolved into a myriad of warring factions, it seemed only a matter of time before monsoons and unrest swept away the last touches of British pink from the map. Yet… that hadn’t happened. A rump Raj had clung on in the north and in the cities, backed by the local princes, while the failure of the Independence Congress had demonstrated the Indian inability to coordinate their revolt into something larger and more dangerous. London had found the political will to defend its most important colony and had enlisted seventy-five thousand men to fight, added to the nearly quarter of a million troops already in the subcontinent. Britain had coerced Nepal, Bhutan, and even Tibet (2) into the fight, contributing a further 100,000 men. Nearly double that number of Gurkhas- native Indian warriors- also lay at the British disposal. All together, close to half a million men would be at the Raj’s disposal by the end of 1917.

    It had taken longer and cost more lives and money than it ought to have, but the imperial counteroffensive was ready at last.

    The Army of India spent September aboard Royal Navy troopships, slowly steaming past Italian Malta. Notions of Italian superiority received a blow when the garrison of Malta found a massive British flotilla steaming past their position; the Royal Navy fleet came very close to the spot where an Italian submarine skipper had felled HMS Queen Elizabeth in the last days of the war. The initial commander of the invasion was one Francis Maxwell (3), a veteran of the Western Front. He directed the Army of India to Oman- still nominally a British protectorate. The advantages of this were twofold: it served as a useful springboard for operations against the coast, and- like the passage past Italian Malta- it reminded the world that the British Empire was still king in the Persian Gulf.

    From their base at Muscat, British troops landed in small numbers at Bombay and Chennai in the first week of October, where they received their baptisms of fire, going into action against rioters literally within minutes of disembarking. Others went to Calcutta for a (relatively) quiet bit of garrison duty, freeing up other soldiers to fight. However, 50,000 men of the Army of India had a unique role: they were to undertake the first strategic campaign of the war.

    Sindh was long gone, broken off by a local warlord. This man had sent a delegation to the Independence Congress, but bitter rivalries with his Pashtun foe had caused him to recall his man early. The local warlord was isolated and weak and nipping him in the bud would show how very serious the British were about restoring their empire.

    Fifty thousand men landed on the Sindh coastline on 3 October to get the point across.

    Sindh has a lengthy coastline, but much of it is dominated by impassible mountains. While the British would need to comb these remote strongholds out eventually, immersing the men in fruitless duties straightaway would only whittle them down. Thus, the Army of India set foot in the Indus River Valley, where the low-lying terrain would make for smoother operations. This naturally scared the living daylights out of the local warlord who abandoned his capital in Karachi and fled to the hinterland. The local troops were none too well-equipped or trained, and the British sliced through them with ease. The ground was still swampy from the monsoon- the Indus floods every year, turning the countryside to muck- but the British made do. There were now two objectives which needed taking. To the west was the port of Karachi, the largest city in Balochistan, and to the north was the confusingly named Hyderabad. (4) Karachi’s extensive harbour meant it could play a key role in shipping troops to fight, but Hyderabad was in a more strategic direction- it lay just up the Indus River on the very route the British wanted to follow. Thus, the force split: fifteen thousand men were to lay siege to Karachi while the remaining 35,000 proceeded north.

    Attempting to land directly outside Karachi- or God forbid, in the city’s port- would’ve been a nightmare; the broken and mountainous terrain is far from conducive for most military operations. Only two coastal villages were close enough to be useful for the British purposes: Keti Bandar and Kharo Chan. Neither contained more than a hundred people and the monsoon had left both swimming, but they made useful forward bases. It was a hundred kilometres from these settlements to Karachi; four days walk. The local warlord had already fled for the interior mountains and left but a skeleton force to defend his largest city. Deciding that they might as well do something while they used up coal, Royal Navy cruisers pounded Karachi for four days while waiting for the land army to arrive. The upshot of it all was that by the time the British reached Karachi on 7 October, the defenders had either fled or were willing to throw up their arms. A dozen Englishmen died in the Battle of Karachi; drowning and disease felled thirty in those four days. There was now little incentive for the British to move westwards, as only impenetrable mountains crawling with warlord troops waited in that direction.

    Hyderabad was a far more promising target.

    Apologies for the poor quality of the map; this was all I could find.
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    As mentioned above, the annual monsoons had swollen the Indus River. While this made life difficult for troops picking their way through the muck and anybody involved with logistics, it meant that troopships could go further upstream. Of course, transporting the earmarked thirty-five thousand men upriver would be difficult and would’ve left the British flank exposed. Thus, General Maxwell took two divisions to Hyderabad by water; the remaining forces would advance up the banks of the Indus, quelling resistance and doing what they could to grease the wheels of logistics… which often wasn’t much. Making their way across the soggy banks of the myriad tributaries, British troops reached the first town of note after five days, which glorified in the well-flowing name of Goth Rais Muhammad Qasim! A few troops of the warlord were present, armed with stolen Lee-Enfields. They took a few potshots at the arriving British troops before realising just how out of their depth they were; the lucky ones fled to the mountains, the unlucky ones never got the chance. The British were grateful to the defenders for using Lee-Enfields as the killed and wounded left behind perfectly usable ammunition. A similar story played out the next day on the opposite side of the river where the defenders of Chuhar Jamali decided that life was too short and ceded their stretch of riverbank to the British. Neither of these towns possessed key strategic importance, but the last thing anybody wanted was for the rebels to regroup and use them to cut off British supply lines, and so a hundred men sacrificed their lives to put them back under the Union Jack.

    Aside from those two towns, there wasn’t much but nameless wilderness on the road to Hyderabad. As the British progressed inland, the terrain grew higher and higher, and soon the marshy coastlands were replaced by craggy mountains. The river grew too shallow for troopships, and so the British were forced to make do with rowboats. This wasn’t exactly the quickest way to transport men, and it posed many logistical issues, but it was still better than marching. British troops advanced northwards for three days, some in boats, others on foot, until they reached the next target of semi-importance: the Keenjhar Lake. This mountainous lake fed several tributaries of the Indus, and two villages close to the water would make useful staging points. By this point, everybody in Hyderabad knew fully that the British were coming, and they decided not to waste manpower in futile delaying actions. Neither village held more than a few hundred people and both surrendered on 16 October.

    It was time to go after Hyderabad itself.

    Hyderabad, Sindh lies mainly on the east bank of the Indus River, although the suburb of Kotri is built on the west. An impassible plateau some twenty kilometres long and eight wide lies to the south, effectively shielding it from attack from that direction. Going around the plateau would do unspeakable things to the British supply columns. All this to say: the defenders controlled the ground, and the British had only a small channel through which to advance. They were not idle, setting up what little artillery they had on the plateau and in the aforementioned suburb of Kotri, while digging trenches and even setting up barbed wire (5) on the east bank of the Indus.

    The British were going to have to pay full price to get inside Hyderabad…

    ...or so the rebels thought.

    A respectable naval contingent had accompanied the transports to Muscat, capital of Oman, and was now sitting in that city’s port. With the UK nominally at peace, there was no danger of a serious naval attack, and the Admiralty deemed it unwise to pull prestigious capital ships from the North Sea or the Mediterranean. This was more for show than security, to remind both the Ottoman Turks and the local princes that Britannia still ruled the waves; thus many of the vessels were frigates and destroyers. While they might not have done well against the High Seas Fleet, these small ships were perfect for more delicate operations… such as sailing up the Indus River to bombard Hyderabad’s coastal defences.

    Word reached the British admiral in Muscat at midday on 18 October that he was to send his four Insect-class gunboats- HMS Glowworm, HMS Gnat, HMS Scarab, and HMS Cricket (6)- across the Persian Gulf and up the Indus immediately. Within forty-five minutes, the four ships were steaming off at their top speed- all of fourteen knots- on a journey that would ultimately take two days. Meanwhile, the battle for Hyderabad raged on. The 7th and 11th Volunteer Infantry Divisions, plus a “mini-division” of two brigades, advanced forward. As mentioned above, the defenders of Hyderabad had the terrain on their side and had no intention of giving way. “Tommies” advanced across broken terrain very different from the soft mud of Flanders, that vast plateau always staring up at them from the right. The Balochis had little artillery, but they were efficient with what they had, blasting boats carrying reinforcements or supplies straight out of the water. Englishmen were shot by well-concealed natives or got hung up on barbed wire stretched between rocks. The British troops fought valiantly, adapting to the terrain as best they could, but they were not specialised mountain infantry. Their military experience was in the flat plains of Ypres and the training camps of Salisbury Plain. Men screamed as bullets tore through khaki cloth, shredding their insides and spewing red gore onto the ground. The Indus River ran red with blood, and boat captains told grisly stories of oars pushing dead bodies out of the ground. Food rations ran short and men sometimes fought one another for drinking water, even drinking out of the bloodied Indus. Sunlight and heat pounded on the Englishmen, who were felled by heatstroke, not enemy bullets. The Army of India suffered these conditions for two days as they pushed their way into Hyderabad City.

    War is the same monster regardless of where it is fought.

    At long last, the gunboats turned up. General Maxwell was in his command tent some three hundred metres behind the front lines (7) when he received the news from downstream. Maxwell dispatched orders for a fresh push to begin in an hour’s time. The average Tommy, not knowing the support he was about to receive, was none too enthusiastic about this, and the typical response was a profane twist on “not this again!” However, a few minutes before one PM on 18 October, the four Insect-class gunships steamed up the Indus, brushing corpses aside, and unloaded their fire on the defenders. Their superior armament devastated the foe, sending shards of metal and soft brown flesh flying every which way. (8) Rebel artillery did its best to repulse them, but two days of fighting had left the guns depleted, and they didn’t have the strength to knock the ships out. HMS Cricket took a grievous hit to the stern and would later have to undergo repairs, but the mission was a success. Within half an hour, both the artillery on the plateau and the defences in front of Hyderabad had been dealt grievous blows. Taking heart, the British troops cheered and leapt out of their foxholes. The bombardment had left the defenders shattered, and they soon fell back. Sensing which way the wind was blowing, many residents of Hyderabad fled that afternoon, heading into the interior with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. By nightfall, the British had pushed the defenders back into the city itself, yet the battle would rage on for another three days. These men were fighting for their homeland- many had been born and raised in this very city- and so the fighting had an emotional aspect for them it lacked for the British. Shouting “allahu ackbar!”, they hid in upstairs windows and shot at British troops from relative safety. When white troops entered a house, they often found that the seemingly helpless woman knew how to wield a saucepan or carving knife. There were many instances of atrocities being committed, of British troops opting to burn a block of houses down rather than clear it with rifle, bayonet, and grenade. Fires ripped through much of Hyderabad, roasting innocent civilians inside their homes. Desperate civilians leapt into the Indus just to get it over with. Frustrated with their lack of progress, the British turned to chemical weapons after a day and a half, saturating the town with phosgene and chlorine. Deeply disturbing images survive from the wake of the battle of dead Sindhs, their flesh burnt by flame and their faces blue from suffocation.

    The Sindh defenders were undeterred by their poor arms and training; raw determination, a sense that they couldn’t survive and might as well go out with a bang kept them going. All the carnage sickened these Great War veterans who, having escaped the worst war in human history, wanted nothing more than a quiet life in Blighty.

    War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it. (9)

    A British soldier takes aim during the vicious streetfighting in the Sindh city of Hyderabad

    The fires of Hyderabad finally went out on the 22nd. Thousands of men had lost their lives and the city had been ruined. Taking the city had proven far harder than anyone had imagined, especially considering how simple the previous fighting in Sindh had been. No precise casualty figures exist, but perhaps thirty thousand Sindh civilians and soldiers combined lost their lives in the fighting. Nor were the British exempt; their losses dictated that the two-brigade “mini-division” be broken up; its component parts were fed into the other two units. Had it not been for those Insects turning up, the battle might well have gone differently. Despite the loss of life, the British had achieved something very real. The Sindh warlord had put the bulk of his forces into defending Hyderabad; as a result, he was now deprived of much of his organised strength. Recognising that he couldn’t beat the British in open combat, he gave orders for men to flee to the hills. If the foe took on the tedious task of garrisoning and feeding the major cities, the rebels could hide in the mountains for a long time.

    While the Sindhs fled to their mountainous redoubts, the British prepared to continue the offensive. General Maxwell pulled units from their quiet garrison duty in Karachi and sent them to the front, where they formed a valuable reserve. November 1917 was a somewhat easier affair for the British in Balochistan, as they focussed on taking towns such as Bandin and Mirpur Khas. These places were relatively lightly defended, as the enemy had wasted too much manpower in Hyderabad to mount coherent defences elsewhere. “After the ordeal we had been through”, one British officer who’d fought at Hyderabad wrote to his wife in London, “the recent weeks have been quite a reprieve; dare I say almost like a holiday.” He was exaggerating slightly, but the point still stood. Fleeing the crater they’d made on the landscape, trying not to think about what they’d done, the Army of India pushed north. However, they soon got rather an unpleasant surprise.

    Afghanistan was a British protectorate. Like Nepal, Bhutan, and to an extent Tibet, it owed its survival to that it was cheaper for London to let it live than to annex it… plus a desire to keep some healthy breathing room between the Russians and the Raj. However, like many states, Afghanistan was saddled with artificial borders, drawn up to meet the short-term needs of colonisers. Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group were the Pashtuns, and many of their kinsfolk lived on the British side of the border in the area known as the Northwest Frontier Provinces. Emir Habibullah Khan decided the time was ripe to “reunite with our brothers to the south”, and in mid-November 1917 sent the small Afghan army rolling across the border. Like Sind, the NWFP were in revolt. Afghanistan’s army was small and ill-equipped, but their foes were in no better shape. Within weeks, Afghan troops had occupied the region’s major cities. Many Pashtuns, seeing that the occupiers were of the same race as themselves, consented meekly enough to the new order; plenty joined the Afghan army to escape a dull life of goat-herding. Remarkably few instances of rioting or revolt took place. Despite this, Afghan rule was very thin, with bandits loyal to the warlord having virtual control over the countryside and free rein wherever Afghan troops weren’t directly present. The British walked into this situation in the first days of December 1917. Since Afghanistan was nominally an ally of London, they described their occupation as “relieving the load on our British allies by taking responsibility to secure the Pashtun area ourselves.” Protestations of loyalty seem irrelevant when one considers Afghanistan’s behaviour on the ground. British troops attempting to enter the NWFP found themselves “deterred” by armed Afghans none too intent on letting thousands of white troops pass through what they considered their territory. When General Maxwell met four times with representatives of the Afghan government in mid-December, talk of friendship was contradicted by the armed guards both sides took with them. London was none too pleased at how progress was stalling, but neither did it want to spark a crisis by pushing the Army of India through the NWFP and having Afghans fight Englishmen; the last thing Britain needed was yet another foe in India. Eventually, the British conceded. An accord was signed on 19 December promising to “determine the status of the Pakhtunkhwa region through future diplomatic channels”- code for letting the Afghans keep the region. The Pakhtunkhwa dispute would damage Anglo-Afghan relations for years to come, but neither side wanted war and so they accepted the status quo.

    With Sind secure, the NWFP under Afghan rule, and Jammu and Kashmir being held down by Nepalese troops, western India was now mostly clear. To be sure, bandits still held out in the mountains and the region had a long way to go before real peace set in, but the time for military action was past. It was time to turn east, to the heart of the subcontinent. To the east lay the vast realm of Rajasthan, a federation ruled by different petty princes. The local rulers had sided with the British and nearly been deposed back in July, but like in many other places, the rebels had since lost steam. Three regiments were dispatched to help defend the status quo antebellum, but Rajasthan would not be a major target for the Army of India. Instead, Maxwell’s army turned to Gujarat, the coastal region east of Balochistan. A local strongman had cobbled together a respectable army in the province and didn’t look like he was going anywhere. Thus, it fell to the Army of India to hoist the Union Jack above the land once more. The men spent Christmas Day travelling down the Indus River valley, passing the battlefields on which their comrades had paid the ultimate price. There were no trees, no presents, no turkeys, just the endless barren landscape of these remote mountains, just the certainty that another battle was coming, that thousands more men would never kneel in church or stand in the pub again. Christmas spirit was rather low that year in the Army of India. However, unbeknownst to them, they weren’t quite forgotten.

    Kaiser Wilhelm II had a Christmas message for them… it wasn’t to be the sort they’d appreciate, however.

    The Kaiser loved an exciting adventure. His personality was naturally inclined towards grandeur, to the sort of story which found its way to the front page. There was nothing Wilhelm loved more than making some off-the-cuff statement which shocked the world and turned every head in his direction… after he’d waxed his moustache, of course. A year had gone by since the war, and some of the publicity had faded.

    The German Emperor was determined to seize the limelight once more. (10)

    As he always had, Kaiser Wilhelm addressed the German nation on Christmas Day. His speech was the usual mix of festivity and nationalism, congratulating the Conservative Party on its recent win and telling everybody how splendid they all were. Reporters and dignitaries, domestic and foreign alike, nodded along, bored to tears, before the Kaiser dropped a bombshell. When he spoke of “the savagery and aggression of certain powers which have tarnished this year”, everybody interpreted this as a reference to the Hungarian atrocities in Vienna and the Second French Revolution. Instead, with plenty of Britons present, the Kaiser lambasted “the savagery committed by the British Empire in India, against noble freedom fighters seeking to revive a great and nationally conscious state.” The “massacre of Balochistan”, as he termed it, “was a greater crime than anything which the European continent has seen since the Thirty Years War.” Every jaw hung open, the scratching of reporter’s pens the only sound in the room. People glanced at their copies of the speech and found no reference to the Indian revolt- this was an ad-lib on Wilhelm’s part. No one knew what he was going to say next, and one German diplomat years later remembered being terrified that the Kaiser was about to recognise an independent India or something equally daft. Fortunately, if incredibly, Wilhelm then completely changed topic, returning to the text of his speech. Not missing a beat, he went on a long, sentimental tangent about how the camel cavalry in use in Mittelafrika reminded him of the camels bringing gifts to the infant Christ.

    In his latest bid to attract attention, the most powerful man in Europe had just trod on a lot of diplomatic toes.

    Britain was predictably furious. David Lloyd George howled about the “grievous offence, the terrible injustice” of what the Kaiser had just said. Foreign Secretary Edward Grey, who only a year before had compromised with Germany at Dresden, privately muttered that His Majesty the King ought to publicly cheer on rebels in Mittelafrika, if that was how the game was going to be played. Victor Hay, the Earl of Errol and ambassador to Germany, lodged a formal protest. Nor were the Germans happy- Foreign Minister Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg viewed off-the-cuff remarks like this as incredibly dangerous for Germany’s foreign policy. Of course, this wasn’t the first time Wilhelm had run his mouth, but with the Great War only a year past, the diplomats wanted to tread carefully. Nobody had the gravitas to call out the Supreme Warlord to his face, but in the last days of the year both Bethmann-Hollweg and Chancellor Ernst von Heydebrand made public statements contradicting what their sovereign had said, and they made numerous apologies behind closed doors. Ironically, Kaiser Wilhelm’s words went mostly ignored in India- Germany was a long way off and couldn’t do much to help even if it wanted to. The astounding thing about this incident is that nothing came of it. Germany didn’t extend diplomatic feelers to the Provisional Government or ship arms to the rebels. Even though many didn’t understand it at the time, the Kaiser’s remarks were all bluster, all show and no substance. That said, the incident soured Anglo-German relations and for years both were convinced that the other was meddling with its empire. As for the Kaiser himself, Wilhelm seldom commented on the incident after the fact- one suspects that he was embarrassed by it.

    Kaiser Wilhelm II’s unfiltered tongue had very nearly caused a diplomatic disaster.

    Back in India, 1918 opened auspiciously for the British. Christmas and New Year’s festivities in the cities were of course cancelled, but the expected bout of terrorism never materialised. MI5 was working overtime to pre-empt any such activity, and Gurkhas patrolled the streets, their trademark long knives on full display. Some fighting occurred in the cities, but compared to the tumult of the summer it was manageable. After two truly idiotic agents provocateurs planted bombs in the Portuguese enclave of Goa a few days into the New Year, Lisbon dispatched a token force to aid their longtime British ally. Burma and Northern India remained quiet while the rulers of Rajasthan had consolidated their holdings. Only a chunk of the subcontinent from Gujarat to Madras remained under rebel rule… the clock was ticking…

    Following the capture of Hyderabad and the failed attempt to advance into the NWFP, the Army of India had turned to Gujarat. General Maxwell had spent the holidays travelling with his men on horseback, drawing up plans on the go much as Alexander and Caesar had. With the war dragging on and costing millions of pounds, Maxwell found himself under pressure to end the thing as quickly as possible. His plan was a simple one: march through Gujarat, rendezvous with the embattled British pockets in Bombay and on the west coast, and advance from there to the Bay of Bengal. It could be done, he said, but he needed more men. Attrition had reduced the Army of India to about 40,000 men grouped into four divisions (the 7th and 11th Volunteer Infantry Divisions, the 15th Light Division, and the 10th Cavalry Division). That was enough to secure the Indus River Valley, but nowhere near enough to blaze a trail across the subcontinent. Thus, Maxwell agreed to withdraw a hundred thousand Britons from garrison duty in the north- their places taken by Gurkhas- and a second front would be added to the campaign. A fresh unit, six divisions strong and called the Eastern Army, was assembled at Calcutta for this purpose in January 1918. Royal Navy troopships shipped the Eastern Army to Sri Lanka, where it was reorganised to prepare for the big day. This pincer assault against southern India was dubbed Operation NOTTINGHAM and was scheduled to begin on 1 February. Exploiting their uncontested mastery over the waves, the British sent word of their plans to the remnant princely holdings on the west coast. The fleet docked at Muscat went to Colombo to be on-call should offshore bombardment be ready.

    It was time to sweep up the pieces of the broken jewel.

    One brigade of the 15th Light Division made the first move five days before NOTTINGHAM commenced. A barrier of marshland had separated the rebels from British Balochistan and neither side had tried to cross it; a policy of “live-and-let-live” had been the order of the day. Transporting forty thousand men across a vast swamp would challenge enough, but supplying them would be an absolute nightmare. Thus, that brigade was put to work establishing forward positions and building pontoon bridges across the marsh’s more impassible spots. One company was tasked with attacking the Gujaratis defending the area across from the marsh so as to keep them busy and conceal the actual intentions. The plan worked; surviving communications from the Gujarati defenders of the area to their higher-ups speak of clashes with “unusually well-armed patrols”.

    They were soon to have their illusions dispelled.

    Another bad map showing where the western part of NOTTINGHAM was conducted...
    Screen Shot 2020-12-17 at 8.14.33 pm.png

    ...and another, equally bad one showing where the eastern part was conducted.
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    Operation NOTTINGHAM commenced at six AM on 1 February 1918. British troops leapt forth from their swampy bridgeheads, dashing over pontoon bridges laid by their comrades in the preceding days. Horse-drawn light artillery crossed the marsh to drier ground, and by the late afternoon the Gujaratis found themselves under shellfire. Cursing the bloody fool who’d said that this was just an unusually well-armed patrol, the local commander fell back.

    Once he started retreating, it was awfully hard to stop.

    The success of NOTTINGHAM reminded many of pre war colonial adventures. The old maxim about machine-guns (11) held true, as the rebels found themselves on the wrong end of too much firepower. They might have been fighting for their homeland, but they couldn’t stand up to sixty thousand men far better-equipped than they. Mindful of what had happened in Hyderabad, both sides tacitly followed a policy of “open cities.” When, eleven days into the campaign, the warlord’s men were forced to abandon the town of Bhuj and the nearly 100,000 souls inside, they went around the city’s flank. Many in the town became refugees, but there was no drawn-out, bloody combat killing tens of thousands. Not that the British went out of their way to be moral; Sopwiths cut their way through the skies, strafing hapless refugee columns. By the middle of the month, Britain had reached Kutch Lake; they had conquered a third of Gujarat.

    Meanwhile, the second part of NOTTINGHAM proceeded apace. Given that no British footholds existed on the east coast, the landings from Sri Lanka had to start from scratch. The Royal Navy had enough transports for the task, but moving six divisions by sea was no mean feat. Moving the first division from Columbo, Sri Lanka’s largest port, to the Indian mainland would take about ten hours plus the return journey. Thus, orders went to the men on 31 January that they were to go to bed early and were excused from morning parade; they were to sleep in so as to be fresh for the coming night. Few soldiers ever receive such an order in their careers and the men obeyed enthusiastically. At five PM, following an unusually good supper in the mess hall- plenty of people must’ve been reminded of the hearty meal eaten by the condemned man- the first division boarded the transports and off they steamed, destroyers providing escort. The fleet reached the tiny coastal village of Ervadi at three in the morning on the first. Naturally, the few civilians in town were asleep and so the British enjoyed the element of surprise. The handful of soldiers and policemen in town were surprised in their beds and led into the street, where they received a complementary blindfold, cigarette, and six grammes of lead. Ervadi was put under British martial law as the invaders set about expanding their beachhead. They’d moved with such speed that the people had been caught off-guard, and word hadn’t yet spread when the sun rose. Inhabitants of the nearby villages were concerned when they heard gunfire as they ate their breakfasts and said their morning prayers, and stunned when khaki-clad white men reappeared on their streets. This area had never been under the rule of a pro-British prince and so no one had any illusions as to how the British would govern. However, on that first day it was logistics which consumed the colonisers. Bringing rations, ammunition, and all the other things needed for a modern army ashore was more important than intimidating the locals and so people learned to keep their heads down.

    2 February saw the troopships return and the beachhead expand, but it also saw resistance stiffen. By now, the world was fully aware of Britain’s two-pronged offensive against India and the local militant was ready to resist. With a stroke of a quill, he summoned the Madras Popular Militia from the abyss. Ostensibly “a gathering of all the region’s peoples to defend our hard-won identity against the monstrous invasion we now face”, it was in reality a massively unpopular conscription drive. The people may have vaguely preferred rule by a local strongman to rule from Calcutta, but they didn’t want to serve in a peasant army and they were tired of fighting. At any rate, Madras lacked the supplies to properly equip a conscript army and they couldn’t really hope to do much against tens of thousands of British. So NOTTINGHAM pressed on. This area was a good bit more densely populated than Gujarat and so the fighting moved slower- with correspondingly more civilian casualties, of course. Fierce hand-to-hand fighting took place, with khaki-clad men grappling with local warriors as factory-made bayonet and homemade knife collided. British artillery and machine guns cut down rebel soldiers and civilians indiscriminately. While the ultimate outcome was never in doubt- Madras stood no chance of repulsing the invaders- men still fought and died. They hardly knew where they were and knew little about the strategic or tactical reasons for being there- all they knew was that they were there and they had a job to do, even if that meant laying down their lives. The desire of Madras to assert its independence and the desire of Britain to restore the Raj were almost forgotten as it boiled down to “us” and “the enemy”. People fought and killed in the blazing equatorial winter without thinking about what they were doing, and they died scarcely knowing why.

    All war is like this: no matter how noble the cause, it is all the same when one is in the thick of it.

    Military historians do not pay the Indian revolt much heed. It was an affair of jungle warfare, of peasant armies clashing with first colonial militias hardly any more advanced than they, and then superior British troops with advantages they couldn’t dream of. Yet, there is one key aspect of Operation NOTTINGHAM which is a key moment in military history.

    After three weeks of fighting, the British reached the city of Madurai. The place held religious significance for many Hindus and had been a thriving cultural and political hub before the revolt. Added to this was the fact that many defenders had an emotional connection with the land and were loath to give it up without a fight. Besieging the city would take too long, it was too large to circumvent, and storming it would be prohibitively expensive. All seemed lost…

    ... until some new weapons turned up.

    In 1915, seeking a break from the deadlock of the trenches, the British had formed a “Landships Committee” designed to craft the perfect armoured breakthrough vehicle. Several prototypes had been built but nothing had come of it, and the events of spring 1916 indicated the supremacy of sharp infantry, not armoured vehicles. However, the idea had not been completely forgotten, and David Lloyd George had ordered research to continue in August 1917, as the Army of India prepared to ship out. Now, five experimental machines were ready for action. Equipped with a two-pound Vickers gun and a forward machine gun, these tracked beasts were put into action on 23 February, and scared the defenders quite literally to death. (12) Their official name was the Windsor-I Landship, named in honour of the royal family, but they became known as “bricks on wheels” to the British and lohe ke haathee (iron elephants) to the Indians. However, they bore a strong resemblance to water tanks and so that name eventually stuck. Regardless of what one called them, they were bloody effective. Bullets were deflected by their strong armour and the rebels didn’t have enough artillery to take them out with shells. Despite the fact that four of the five machines broke down within a day, the Windsor-Is provided the impetus needed for British troops to capture Madurai and push on.

    Fighting carried on all throughout the spring as the two pincers of NOTTINGHAM pushed closer together. Both British armies took heavy losses from enemy action, malaria, and heatstroke. In every place the British left un-garrisoned, local unrest and banditry popped up, but still their armies moved forward, slicing through Madrasians and Gujaratis with equal force. Token numbers of Portugese troops landed in the west, fighting the local warlord to secure Goa. 16 April was a joyous day as forces from east and west met up at the city of Gulbarga. Fighting would stretch on into the summer but Operation NOTTINGHAM had done its task of securing southern India.

    General Francis Maxwell was lauded for his skill in beating the revolt at long last. He was recalled to London and given a bar on his Distinguished Service Order medal as well as an Order of the Star of India. The British public, starved for heroic tales by the loss of the Great War, longed for a popular military figure to brighten up the papers, and Maxwell played that role to perfection. He spoke to veteran’s groups, Conservative political conferences, and launched an unsuccessful bid to become a Conservative MP for his Guildford constituency in the 1918 election. He would retire in 1922, and fell off his horse during a game of polo in 1927, dying instantly.

    General Francis Maxwell, hero of the reconquest of India

    Maxwell’s burst of fame raised public morale and obscured the bitter truth: the British Empire had been badly hurt in 1917. India, the heart of the empire, had been irrevocably shattered. The people had learned that they were capable of fighting their white overlords. Already, conspiracy theories were spreading in the subcontinent about why the great revolt had failed- none were true, but it showed how quickly anger spread at failure to defeat the British. Azam Jah sat on the Hyderabadi throne with Kishen Pershad pulling the strings, but did the people respect him? Of course not.

    Pandora’s Box had been opened in the summer of 1917, and the British Empire would never be the same again.


    1. I had to, sorry. The now-deceased Governor-General George Lloyd, and Prime Minister David Lloyd George.
    2. Credits to @Sarthaka for telling me about Tibet.
    3. Seeing as how he died at Passchendaele IOTL, he’s still alive here.
    4. In this chapter, my references to “Hyderabad” means the city, not the princely state
    5. Stolen from the British, by the way- the Germans genuinely aren’t helping.
    6. Inspiring names.
    7. He loved to lead from the front and was killed doing so in OTL
    8. Posting this here so as not to break narrative flow: 2 × BL 6-inch Mk VII guns, 2 × 12-pounder guns, 6 × .303” Maxim machine guns (Source: Wikipedia,
    9. Nicked from General William T Sherman.
    10. Slightly off-topic: who had the bigger ego? Wilhelm II or MacArthur? Please share your thoughts…
    11. See what I did there? Maxim?
    12. These are more or less Little Willies with the mechanical kinks mostly sorted out.
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    A Day in the Life of Ireland, 1917
  • A Day in the Life of Ireland, 1917

    “And that, madam, will be two pounds exactly.” The shopkeeper scratched his silver moustache and smiled weakly. “Tax included, of course.”

    “Two quid. Here y’are.” Gayle O’Connor set the coins with the Limey King’s portrait on them down on the counter. The shopkeeper cleared his throat. “Fancy a bit of corned beef for your dinner? I know you Irish all like it.”

    “Not today, you know it’s a Friday.” Mr Rowland asked every Friday, Gayle refused every Friday. It was a ritual. “Just the loaf.” She dashed off, tucking the loaf into her basket. Two quid. A fecking disgrace, anyone wanna know what I think. People rarely wanted to know what an eighteen-year-old Irish girl wanted to think. She pulled out her brolly to shield herself from the rain battering Baltimore’s streets. Her people spoke softly, glancing about to see if anybody could hear them. Bags shadowed their green eyes, symbols of too little sleep. We’re all in the same boat, aren’t we? Gayle shook her head and sighed.

    “Papers, mickey.” Burly Sergeant Atkinson, his belly sticking out, loved to stand on this corner. “G’waan luv, give us your”- he leered at her- “papers.”

    “Yes sir, coming, sir.” Gayle pulled the crumpled document out of her bag. It gave her name, address, details- green eyes and red hair just like everybody else, five foot two- relatives, and a promise that she’d had nothing to do with the rising in 1916. “Nothing to do with the rebellion, eh? Good girl, good girl. Didn’t even make ‘em a nice bit of cabbage when we got done with ‘em?” The sergeant laughed at his own joke. “Ere, are you who you say you are?”

    “Why wouldn’t I be, sir? Me dad and me brothers are all dead, sir. That’s why”- even after a year, talking about them brought a lump to her throat- “that’s why there’s nothing filled in for ‘em on the form.”

    “Native food that bad, eh?” Another obnoxious Cockney laugh followed, Gayle chuckling dutifully. If she’d had a penny for every time a limey had made that joke… “G’waan, luv. Yer alright.” She curtsied and took her paper back. As she turned round, Sergeant Atkinson’s hand brushed against her backside. Gayle O’Connor’s teeth clenched, and she walked back home.

    Saturday was a quiet day. Gayle and her mum cooked for their family, watched anglers come in from their Atlantic runs, and tried to get a bit of rest. When they went to Confession late in the afternoon, as always, two British soldiers stood at the church entrance and the Union Jack flew prominently above the Vatican flag. “You been a naughty girl, eh?”, one soldier leered. “Keep it up.” His mate cackled and slapped him on the back. She turned red, her blush submerging her mosaic of freckles, and pulled her veil down as she entered the church.

    Sunday began at four AM with an erupting alarm clock. Gayle put a lunchtime roast in the oven and made oats for her younger sisters, before doing a bit of sewing- the limeys were paying for civilian clothes and money didn’t grow on trees, not these days. She hated serving the occupiers, but if giving Tommy Atkins- one in two Englishmen seemed to be called ‘Atkins’ or something like that- a fresh pair of trousers kept food on the table for her family, well, pride never filled one’s belly. Gayle knew exactly when five AM came- “Come to the Cookhouse Door, Boys” blazed through Baltimore as the British troops awoke to food cooked by Irishmen. Food that my family needs. Gayle shook her head- she couldn’t afford to get angry and make a mistake sewing, or she wouldn’t get paid for this. But still, there was ever so much to keep bottled away… she was already tired when six AM rolled around.

    Church was fine. Gayle knew the Latin by heart and could’ve followed along in her sleep. The world Father talked about- a land of justice and love- was a long way away from Ireland. If the Lord had lived in Ireland, the British would’ve interrupted His preaching and asked for His papers. The idea was absurd and not a little irreverent, but it made Gayle smile. And in fact, two British troops stood at the back of the church just to be sure everyone behaved themselves. Bloody Prots, she thought condescendingly. The bells of the Consecration snapped her back to focus, but she soon drifted off in a sea of Latin. Everybody filed up for Communion, Gayle kneeling down and sticking out her tongue. As she knelt in her pew, shouting interrupted her prayer.

    The British soldiers in the communion queue had their hands stretched out.

    “I tell ya, you can't receive!” Gayle’s face turned white beneath the sea of freckles- no one had ever seen Father lose his temper. Her mum and sisters stared at her, the same horrified expression on their faces. “You know what we teach, now go.”

    “Come off it, mickey.” That was Sergeant Atkinson. “You lost the bloody war, remember. We say wot’ what, don’t we boys?” His mates laughed unpleasantly at Father, who hurriedly put the Sacrament back in the tabernacle. “You men get out of my church! Go on!”

    “You heard him!” Gayle stared, stunned. Where had she got that courage from? “Go on, leave!” Her breath came fast, and she hardly noticed the glow with which everybody stared at her. As Sergeant Atkinson walked up to her, Gayle’s heart rammed against her chest. “Listen, mickey girl”, he growled, flashing his tobacco-stained teeth at her, “we run this place. Not you, you little redhead. I’ll remember this.” He jerked his thumb and the British soldiers left the church. Gayle collapsed into her pew, all the adrenaline having left her.

    Monday dawned. If anybody had wanted to thank Gayle for her heroism the previous day, letting her sleep in until six would’ve been a pleasant way to do it. Nobody did though, and the O’Connors still had to eat, so she was on the streets long before the sun poked its way through the trees. Baltimore was already bustling, with fishermen heading out to sea and people from nearby Sherkin Island- as lifeless a rock as ever existed- (1) coming in to work on the mainland. Gayle headed off to the pub for sixteen hours of cleaning and serving tables.

    She was to be spared the dull day’s work… but what she got instead made dull look desirable.

    Gayle was halfway to work when somebody touched her. “Get away!” Probably some drunk. It wasn’t as if such a thing hadn’t happened before. But this was no drunk.

    “Allo, luv.” Sergeant Atkinson’s grin was predatory, not mirthful. “You been doing alright then, eh?” He scowled at her, once again displaying his stained teeth.

    “Sergeant”. Gayle tried to keep her panic out of her voice. “I can't stop now; I’ve got to work.”

    “Oh, you do, do you?” He grabbed her arm. “Let’s see about that.”
    “Get away!”, Gayle screamed at the top of her lungs. “Help, I’m…” Atkinson shoved his hand over her mouth. “Now we see wot happens when you cross the men who run this island, girl. Don’t think you can get away with that.” She kept on screaming. A British soldier marched back on patrol, and her hopes soared. Surely he would save her! But no, he merely turned a little red and kept on marching. Damn you! Damn you! If you were here, with this… you have no idea, do you? No one heard her cries. No one ever heard a bloody mick when she cried for help. Thrashing in fear, Gayle bit Sergeant Atkinson’s hand covering her mouth. He roared in pain but didn’t let go. Sergeant Atkinson grabbed her belly… and his hand reached lower, and there was nothing Gayle O’Connor could do to stop what came next.

    This was Ireland, 1917.

    (1) I speak from experience

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    Place In the Sun Christmas Special
  • Kaiser Wilhelm II's 1917 Christmas address. The bold parts were not scripted and were ad-libs.

    “Good day to you all. Today, 25 December 1917, marks the birthday of the Prince of Peace. All around the world, people of Christ stop on this holy day and offer thanks. The German people are united in theirs, for the past two years have been fateful in every way imaginable. Envious rivals in London, Paris, and Petrograd forced the Fatherland to take up arms. And you, German people, have conducted yourselves with nobility and honour beyond any calling, and now you are reaping the reward owed to you. Having won their place in the sun by force of arms, the German people and their monarch bask in the glow of victory. Our heroic Deutsches Heer stands from Amiens to Minsk, our long-cherished colonial dreams fulfilled in Morocco and Mittelafrika. Tsar Michael in Petrograd and David Lloyd George in London have repented of their error and granted us the peace we deserve, and for this I thank them wholeheartedly. The international conspiracy to wage a war of aggression against the Vaterland failed, and we are all the stronger for it.
    1917 has been a year of thriving and of new heights for the German people which not even the most base and rank of our rivals can deny. Brave men in feldgrau have quelled the dark depths of Mittelafrika and brought liberty to Mitteleuropa. Yet our achievements have not been purely in the martial sphere- under the leadership of our fine Foreign Minister Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, standing just to my right, German diplomacy has advanced a hundredfold, convincing friend and foe alike that our old promises still hold true, that we mean others no ill-will and stand for what we have always stood for.
    In 1914, as the fateful hour ticked closer and the German state hoisted its sword, I promised a general, liberal election once peace had been achieved. That hour came in October when the German veteran went to the polls to use the freedom he fought with all his being to defend. Once again, I extend my most heartfelt congratulations to Ernst von Heydebrand and the rest of the Conservative Party for their success. I have every confidence that the German people will thrive under the leadership which they selected in October for years to come.
    Economically, we have thrived. Unlike certain states surrounding Germany, the mark has remained remarkably free of inflation, while our relationship to foreign creditors leaves nothing to criticise. The indomitable efforts of our economic bureaux have made this so. No depression, no wave of poverty, has crashed over our victorious people. Indeed, the German man returning from his service to the Fatherland finds things better than ever before in his beloved hometown; the international dreams of wrecking the German state have been foiled.
    A year may have passed since our people conquered what was rightfully theirs, but true peace has yet to come. 1917 has been a violent year for the world’s people. Crude terrorists east of the Meuse River have butchered patriotic Germans in Nanzig and elsewhere. Madmen in the pay of the Russians have wracked the Kingdom of Poland with their savagery, attempting to deprive the Polish people of the peace German arms have rightfully carved for them. Germany’s loyal ally, the United Empire of the Danube, fought through the Great War with commendable steadfastness, but has been pushed to a low ebb by the savagery of the Hungarians. Karoly Kuhen-Hedevary and his mob have crossed the laws of war. Vienna, the glorious city at the heart of Europe and a centre of tranquility, is now nothing more than a heap of ash crushed under the cruel Slavic heel of the Hungarians. To the young Otto von Habsburg and his steward Regent Maximilian, I say this: Germany is with you! Now, there is a greater crime still than the atrocities of Vienna, one barely days old. Speaking in the name of humanity, I must criticise with all the force in my being the savagery committed by the British Empire in India, against noble freedom fighters seeking to revive a great and nationally conscious state. India has committed no crime and is merely justifying itself on the world stage, while England is showing herself to be the same warmonger careless of the lives of her colonial subjects. The massacre of Sindh was a greater crime than anything which the European continent has seen since the Thirty Years War!
    Yet, it is not only thoughts of war and of bitterness which consume me. For today is of course Christmas Day, the birthday of our Lord and Saviour. And there is a moment surrounding this great event which our empire’s height reminds me of. In the first twelve passages of the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, it is detailed how the three Magi proceeded from that same India which is even as I speak being ravaged by the British Empire, to pay homage to that divine Infant. And as I think of those men crossing the desert upon their camels, reliant upon nothing save their strength and convictions, I am reminded of nothing so much as our camel cavalry keeping order in Mittelafrika, or of the same use which our valiant Ottoman Turkish comrades have for the beasts. Let this memory be etched in the minds of each and every one of you. Despite the international plans of those who wished to see our glorious empire ground to the dust, Germany is on top once more, and I can only hope and pray that 1918 brings us more heights still. Thank you, and may God bless our place in the sun!

    Screen Shot 2020-12-24 at 12.01.55 pm.png

    A very happy Christmas to all my readers! Thanks for making Place In the Sun possible! Hope you all have an excellent day.
    -Kaiser Wilhelm the Tenth​
    Chapter 32: The Saint George's Day Riots
  • Chapter Thirty-Two: The Saint George's Day Riots
    "We're not going to do this bloody dance again."
    - David Lloyd George's first response to hearing about the St. George's Day Riots

    "If the limeys were to root out every single suspect behind this bombing, they'd have to arrest every Irishman in Belfast. And they're doing just that, God help us."
    - Diary entry of Michael Collins, 25 April 1917. Collins was in a British prison cell at the time.

    "What the feck have we to lose?"
    -Question posed to an American correspondent by an Irish rebel in Belfast, 27 April 1917

    Ireland had done poorly in the Great War. The country had chafed under British rule since the twelfth century. Cognisant of this, British politicians had proposed various schemes for “Home Rule”, and a compromise had been set to go into effect in the summer of 1914… just in time for the Great War to derail plans. Initially, this wasn’t a problem as vast numbers of Irishmen placed their loyalty to the King above local nationalism- many posters survive exhorting the Irish to do their bit for King and Country, just like everybody else. Catholics served alongside Protestants and Irish was spoken alongside English. This deeply offended many Irish nationalists, who viewed it as collaboration with the enemy and argued that now was the time to seize independence with both hands. However, the Irish people, while sympathetic to the nationalists’ goals, wanted to achieve them through peaceful cooperation with London and thus disdained rebellion in their own homes. With mounting commitments in the trenches and revolt in South Africa, Britain was glad that at least one potential trouble spot remained quiet.

    It wasn’t to last.

    By spring 1916, the Central Powers were rolling towards victory with Italy and Romania on-side. As Easter approached, Verdun had fallen to the Germans while the Italians were cracking through the Alps. If a revolt was to take place, now was the time. So, the Easter Rising went ahead in Dublin… and crashed and burned. Many of the four thousand Irish Volunteers contributed little to the fighting, and the British rushed thousands of men to the city. With the Entente position on the Continent deteriorating, saving the British Expeditionary Force from capture became a priority. Thus, surplus British troops were evacuated to the “safety” of Ireland in the last week of April 1916. Ironically, they only arrived on the Emerald Isle after the fighting was over and had they been present on the Continent, they might’ve prevented the German victory at Third Ypres. (1) Furious at Ireland’s “betrayal”, the British placed the country under military rule. General John Maxwell, who had quelled the revolt, was appointed military governor. His regime included the six northern counties, but the British yoke was much lighter there, and outspoken Protestants got on quite well with the authorities.

    Throughout the spring and summer of 1916, Britain viciously rooted out any hint of trouble in the Emerald Isle, arresting over three thousand ex-rebels; they executed ninety. General Maxwell (2) offered a tacit olive branch by only executing ringleaders while commuting the sentences of many ordinary Irish. Nonetheless, the people of Dublin heard far too many firing squads to think that the British were being kind. Many have speculated that British heavy-handedness in Ireland was a reaction to the loss of the Great War- if nationalist anger could be turned on the Irish, it would distract people from their country’s failings on the Continent. Thus, Britain kept Ireland under martial law “until such time as the rebel menace has been eradicated.” Since most of the Easter Rising’s leadership was now pushing up daisies, this claim of a “rebel menace” had no basis in fact, but the British would use it as a fig leaf for their occupation of Ireland for years to come.

    After Operation DYNAMO had retrieved a sliver of the Army from the Continent, Irish soldiers were given priority for demobilisation; this was not out of kindness, but out of a desire not to have guns in the hands of well-trained minorities who’d proven their untrustworthiness. When these men returned to their homes, they found a bitter experience waiting for them. Soldiers in the same khaki uniform they’d worn till recently patrolled the streets, treating them and their families like dangerous enemies. They had fewer freedoms than they’d had in the trenches, and being able-bodied young men constantly had to prove that they weren’t rebels in disguise. The Irish had done their patriotic duty and were being rewarded for it not with Home Rule but martial law.

    It didn’t take long for people to start making plans.

    The failure of the Easter Rising had dealt the Irish nationalist leadership a nasty blow. Many leaders were now dangling from the end of a rope, Michael Collins surviving only by chance; only his American citizenship saved Eamon de Valera. The Irish rebel cause was a long way from dead, but when the inevitable next round took place, different men would lead it. One such man was Arthur Griffith, whose party Sinn Fein had become deeply associated with the revolt despite Griffith’s tendency towards compromise. However, these men were all hampered by their intellectual nature. They were politicians whose dreams of an independent Ireland involved them running it from behind a desk. Some, such as Collins, wanted a second Easter Rising; others, such as Griffith, wanted to compromise with the British. Physical disunity and martial law made it extremely difficult to communicate, and the rest of 1916 passed with little official action being taken. When the Germans hung Ireland out to dry at the Treaty of Dresden, the imprisoned rebels could do nothing but bemoan in their diaries. However, plenty of unofficial action was taken in the latter half of 1916.

    As mentioned above, plenty of ex-soldiers were roaming around Ireland, and they rapidly grew sick of being treated like the enemy. The countryside was large and the British couldn’t afford to occupy every single hamlet. Thus, plenty of veterans found it easy to congregate at a friend’s house, bringing a bit of supper, and talk sedition. None of these men had MI5 files or criminal records beyond the odd bit of petty crime, and on the off-chance a soldier came knocking they could easily change the conversation. These people all knew how to handle weapons, and it was easy enough for them to hide the odd Mills grenade in the cowshed.

    Several important facts stick out about this Irish resistance. For a start, it was de-centralised. Michael Collins in his Welsh prison cell may have been a popular martyr, but his real influence over events was nil. Arthur Griffith was free and had a theoretical mouthpiece in Sinn Fein, but the British were watching him like a hawk. Sensibly, Griffith kept his head down and waxed non-committal about Irish nationalism throughout late 1916. There was no central dissident group to issue instructions to cells; it was up to every Irishman to do what he saw fit. This was an advantage in that arrested people knew little and could thus tell their captors little, but it was a disadvantage in that the Irish could not do more than mount supply runs and mug the odd British soldier. The second important thing is that British and American propaganda aside (the British claiming it to be a bad thing while the Americans lauding it as a virtue), the Irish people were far from united in their path of rebellion. Many identified as subjects of the Crown similar to how a Canadian or Australian identity, linked with but separate from the “mother country”, persisted. Plenty of Irish troops had spent the past two years living and dying alongside people from Pembrokeshire, Newcastle, and Hull, people who spoke with the same accents as the occupiers. The Great War had taught them that the British didn’t have horns and were mostly decent people- lashing out at them would be murder. A more practical aspect was at play: going into revolt means putting one’s wife and children on the front lines and turning one’s hometown into a battlefield. The Easter Rising, after all, had been conducted by a relatively small republican clique, not by the masses taking to the streets. While the harsh reprisals had alienated many from British rule, they’d also served their purpose; many who loathed the British were too afraid to act. The fact remains that whether out of affinity for the British or simple fear, the vast majority of Irishmen took no part in the postwar unrest, preferring to stay at home and open a new chapter in their lives.

    They weren’t to get their wish.

    Christmas and New Year’s were subdued affairs. Church services still took place- under the scowls and watchful eyes of British troops- but there were no parades or public festivities (barring a few put on by Protestants in Ulster). This wasn’t out of spite, rather a fear that letting the Irish Catholics publicly celebrate their way would give nationalism a shot in the arm. Thus, anybody planning to chuck a bomb at a Christmas parade was out of luck. However, Britain’s great mistake was to treat Ulster far lighter than the south, and Irish nationalists began planning.

    Craig Farthwynd wasn’t on any watch list, nor should he have been. Farthwynd was a sales clerk born in Limerick who’d moved to Belfast with his son after his wife died a few years before the Great War. He’d turned to the bottle to cope, giving the neighbours an endless supply of gossip. Both he and his son had joined the Army in the Great War- he in Libya, his son in France- but his boy had never come home. This drove Farthwynd deeper into depression and he became a recluse after the war, no longer socialising with his colleagues or even going to church or to the pub. Deciding that life wasn’t worth living, he began thinking about suicide in spring 1917- but not before taking revenge for losing his son. Farthwynd began toying with explosives, building home-made bombs based on what he’d learned in the Army. He was remarkably good at covering his tracks, only working in the evening when he could draw the curtains and have the lights on without arousing suspicion, and fixing the light bulbs in his house to provide a plausible cover story. There was nothing in his public behaviour to suggest that he was a danger to others and no grounds for intervening save to prevent suicide. With the anniversary of the Easter Rising fast approaching and many known subversives at large, no one in authority thought to keep an eye on old Craig Farthwynd.

    Their complacency would end up killing dozens.

    Disguised as “the man about the boiler”, Farthwynd (4) snuck into Saint Aidan’s, an Anglican church in his hometown, on Saint George’s Day 1917- a year to the day after the Easter Rising. Two hours later, the reverend was preaching to a hundred people when Farthwynd’s device exploded; eighteen were killed and another thirty-one injured.

    Although no one knew it, the Long War had just begun.

    St. Aidan's in Belfast (colourised). The Anglican church was destroyed in 1917 and the site today is a memorial to the Long War.

    Belfast’s fire brigade quickly descended on the smoking ruins of Saint Aidan’s but were overwhelmed. Since Farthwynd had placed the bomb next to a gas heater, a great deal of carbon monoxide had been released and many victims had suffocated- the firemen had to wear their gas masks. The explosion had damaged Saint Aidan’s foundations, and the ruins were eventually pulled down. Civilian police and a few soldiers rushed to the ruins and quickly began searching for who might’ve done this. Eventually, they established that no one had recognised “the man about the boiler” who’d come a few hours ago. It wasn’t much, but it was a start. Policemen and soldiers collaborated in vicious sweeps, as anyone who might conceivably have been involved found armed men knocking on their door. These people were totally bewildered and terrified that British would execute them for a crime they hadn’t committed. Ulster was nominally under martial law so this was all legal, but it won the British few friends… especially since not a single Protestant received anything more than a polite inquiry. Surprisingly, no one died on the first day- this was because the suspects were too stunned to fight back. That said, plenty of people got a truncheon where they could afford it least or had serious damage done to their property. All told, the British arrested six hundred Irishmen in Belfast on Saint George’s Day.

    Meanwhile, that snake Farthwynd had gotten away. No one really remembered enough about him for the police to construct a detailed profile- their response to this was simply to arrest as many people as possible and hope they got him. This was of course no way to run an investigation, and it failed miserably. While innocent men and women were being arrested for the crime of having red hair, Craig Farthwynd was hiding in the village of Boardmills. When the Royal Irish Constabulary raided his house, they found a journal detailing his suicidal thoughts, a heap of electrical equipment… and Army-issue gunpowder.

    Now it all made sense- but it was too late; Farthwynd had killed himself that same day.

    The Saint Aidan’s Bombing could have been an isolated event. The Royal Irish Constabulary could’ve immediately told their superiors they’d found the culprit; said superiors could’ve immediately and publicly cancelled the sweeps and released all prisoners. However, by that point it was ten PM and the police and Army were preparing for bed. Night patrols had already been assigned, and some altercations between soldiers and locals continued past dawn. Neither the soldiers nor the Irishmen knew that the culprit had been identified.

    They were determined to keep the fight going.

    24 April- the one-year anniversary of the Easter Rising- started off with a bang. The Belfast jail was full to the brim, and none of these people were keen on their captivity. At six AM, one man whose name has not survived was being brought his breakfast when he made a break for freedom, attacking the guard. Prison guards seldom go anywhere alone and the man was rapidly killed, but the damage was done. Innocent prisoners wanted their freedom back and wanted to see their families; thus, they quickly mobbed the surviving guard and nicked his keys and weapon. Fighting broke out all across the Belfast jail, and by dawn a prison riot was in full effect. Soldiers and policemen from all across Belfast were called to the city jail, which limited their ability to control the streets. Many of the city’s Irishmen decided that the past day’s events meant that the British were going to treat them like dirt no matter what they did and that they needed to strike back. Thus, as the church bells struck nine, they turned on the occupiers, crying “freedom or death!” The commandant of Belfast frantically explained that he’d found the culprit of the bombing and that the sweeps would stop in exchange for the people calming down, but it was too late- most believed that he was trying to trick them into surrendering.

    24 April 1917 saw Belfast explode into revolt. A mob which stormed the jail at ten AM was repulsed with heavy casualties; they returned a few hours later with reinforcements and were more successful. Convinced that the Irishmen had gone mad and were trying to murder them all, the city’s Protestant majority struck back. They shared race and religion with the occupiers and so had hardly suffered under occupation; they were now to take advantage of that good standing in the worst way possible. Mobs of Scots-Ulstermen and Britons, some armed, charged into the streets, setting upon anybody with red hair. Vicious street battles consumed Belfast as years of tension came to a boil. Police and soldiers turned a blind eye to the Ulster mobs while landing on Irishmen with both feet. Churches were particular targets for both sides, as were businesses owned by one side or the other. The only significant places spared damage were military facilities; soldiers deployed to Belfast Harbour had no qualms about using lethal force to stop any attempt to damage the Royal Navy fleet stationed there. As it turned out, their presence there was superfluous; when a gang of Irish looters tried to break aboard a destroyer, a blast from the ship’s guns turned them to jelly. Following this, at about two PM, the warships put to sea for their own safety- they would not return for a week. The other place where security was maintained at a cost in human life was the Harland and Wolff Shipyards. A centrepiece of Royal Navy construction, these were far too important to risk being damaged and so Regular Army soldiers were stationed all around the perimeter, armed with rifles, bayonets, and very loose rules of engagement. Crawford McGullagh, Lord Mayor of Belfast and an unabashed Unionist, was killed when somebody chucked a rock through his window at just the wrong moment. This didn’t actually make much difference since Belfast was under martial law, but the propaganda value of the thing was immense.

    General John Maxwell’s dreams of a quiet St. George’s Day had died a bloody death… along with a hundred inhabitants of Belfast.

    Armed with stolen British kit, rebels in Belfast pose for a picture before going into action on the city's streets.

    As with many revolts, the first twenty-four hours were critical. Unlike the relatively well-planned Easter Rising, the St. George’s Day Riots (as they would come to be termed) were a spontaneous affair and a genuine expression of popular loathing for the British. Had it exploded into a pan-Ireland revolt, the British would’ve been hard-pressed to put it down, especially with India on edge in the wake of Bonar Law’s assassination. To everybody’s relief, while Belfast remained both literally and proverbially on fire, the mess didn’t look likely to spread to the rest of Ireland, or even to the rest of Ulster.

    The reasons for this are many.

    Out of all the cities of Ireland, Belfast was most on edge. This was due to the fact that the military authorities massively discriminated between Protestants and Catholics, leaving the latter with a massive- if justified- chip on their shoulder. Since this double standard didn’t exist in the south, the people there were ironically less bitter. Second, the sweeps to find the Saint Aidan’s bomber had been confined to Belfast; the British rightly assumed that the bomber had planned his operation in that city. Thus, Limerick, Cork, Dublin, and Derry (5) had all been spared the intrusive and maddening police sweeps. Finally, the events of 23 and 24 April had moved so swiftly, the rest of Ireland hardly knew what was happening. Lacklustre communications and British censorship meant that no hard, concrete facts about the Saint George’s Day Riots reached the south until it was all too late. Rumours swirled, and a few isolated muggings took place, but there was nothing even resembling a full-scale uprising anywhere else.

    Having managed the immediate crisis, it was time to put a lid on the bloody thing.

    General John Maxwell had fewer men than he might like; approximately fifteen thousand Regular Army soldiers or the equivalent of an over-strength division. (6) The Royal Irish Constabulary, the peace-time police force, had a similar number of men. Crushing the Belfast rebels wouldn’t be such a challenging task in and of itself, but what would be harder would be putting down the revolt without enraging Irish public opinion and setting off a larger uprising. Maxwell employed regular Army men for the task; the Constabulary weren’t trained soldiers and would be out of their depth in urban fighting. Thus, Maxwell spent 26 April in his Dublin office surrounded by armed-to-the-teeth soldiers, scraping away a company here, a battalion there. Orders went out the next day for the “Belfast Brigade” to assemble at Derry with all due haste.

    Considering the state of the roads in rural Ireland, 1 May was as good as could have been hoped for.

    Meanwhile, Belfast continued to burn. The rioters never formally declared themselves in revolt, but this had long since moved past civil unrest. After the initial rush of fighting on the 24th, both sides had cooled off somewhat. Plenty of combatants- both Catholics and Protestants- had grown tired of the fighting and returned to look after their homes and families. Aside from key points such as the Lord Mayor’s home and the shipyards, British control over Belfast was gone, and this left the Protestants to fend for themselves. Revisionist historians have attempted to turn the St. George’s Day Riots into a club with which to beat Catholicism; none of that is true. Archbishop Michael Louge, Primate of All Ireland, condemned the “senseless, anti-Christian violence” on the 26th (though admittedly this was a statement the British would’ve wanted him to make), and many Irish parish priests did the same. British conspiracies about a “Papist plot to steal Ireland” were flat-out lies and must be treated as such.

    Sadly, many of Belfast’s Catholics spent the last days of April 1917 doing things the Pope would’ve frowned at, to put it mildly.

    Convinced that they represented a fifth column (7), Belfast’s Catholics set upon their hated Protestant neighbours. Quite unjustifiable behaviour took place as acts of murder, arson, and even torture took place. This version of Magdeburg quarter was met with a reply Gustavus Adolphus would’ve been proud of: the Protestants fought back. Acting with the knowledge and at least tacit approval of the authorities, gangs of Ulstermen struck back against the Catholics. Blow for blow, eye for eye, wife for wife, child for child, all throughout the last days of April. From John Maxwell’s perspective, however, this was ideal. The enemy in Belfast was divided and focussed upon their Protestant neighbours… and there were a lot fewer loyal Protestants to worry about when the shooting started.

    Said shooting began on 2 May at seven AM. The Belfast Brigade had assembled at (London)Derry the previous day and spent much of the night riding commandeered lorries to their target. The brigade had been quite haphazardly thrown together and lacked much modern equipment, but there was more than enough steel and cordite to go around. Aided by the Royal Navy flotilla ejected from the city on the 24th, the Brigade pushed its way into the western suburbs while the sun lay low and pink in the sky. Irish militiamen used to street fighting lacked machine-guns or any kind of reliable logistics and so couldn’t hope to resist for long. Finding themselves out of their depth, they retreated further and further east as the morning drew on, often taking their wives and children with them. Protestants often cheered the approach of British troops and acted as local guides. By noon, the British and their Ulster allies had reached the Lagan River, and by day’s end the Union Jack flew over Belfast.

    The St. George’s Day Riots were over at last…

    ...but the Long War had only just begun.

    The United States of America was none too pleased at the events of April 1917. Britain’s failure to pay back its Great War debts (8) had strained relations between the two and damaged the American economy; Anglophobia was on the rise with many criticising the “lousy bums” on the other side of the “pond” who lost the war and couldn’t pay back their debts. Now, the powerful Irish American lobbies in the country screamed bloody murder. J Hamilton Lewis, Senate Minority Leader, delivered a speech on the seventh to a number of his colleagues vituperating the British over the “bloody Belfast massacre”. Mobs in Boston and New York burned King George and General John Maxwell in effigy. Charles Francis Murphy, leader of the powerful Tammany Hall machine in New York City and one of the most influential Irish-Americans, collected several million dollars in May 1918 for a “Rebuild Belfast” fund- while some money went to humanitarian causes in the city, thousands of dollars went missing; coincidentally, the number of American-made guns floating around the Irish countryside increased greatly in the summer of 1917. Despite being in the private sector, these efforts enjoyed quiet yet substantial federal backing. President Charles Evans Hughes had won New York, Massachusetts, and other states with high Irish populations in 1916, and so it made sense for him to court them here. Summoning the British ambassador to his office on 5 May, he gave the man a thorough dressing-down, criticising the “un-European” nature of the fighting in Belfast. However, Hughes offered the British an olive branch by phrasing his criticism very specifically to make it clear that he objected to violence against white, Christian Irishmen, and said nothing about the recent reprisals in India for the murder of Bonar Law. Hughes then trumpeted this to the Irish community as a triumph, and they responded with support.

    Political analysts all across the States pondered if the Republicans might win the Irish vote in 1920…

    Meanwhile, the British made bloody sure that the St. George’s Day Riots couldn’t be repeated. The Protestants of Ulster were put to use serving the occupiers, as an “Ulsterman’s Home Division” was formed in summer 1917. The size of a normal British Army division (9), this force would be used to keep order in Ulster. The idea was that many men could serve in their home cities, conducting martial-law patrols while being able to pop round to the wife and kids on Sunday. Since they were Ulster Protestants just like the civilians, the latter wouldn’t feel oppressed by military occupation- while they’d also be able to bring the boot down hard on Irish Catholics. The programme was never a complete success- low wages drove many off- but it reduced the burden on the British. Territorial Army officers were shipped over to Ireland in summer 1917 to train the Ulsterman’s Home Division, who were outfitted with Great War surplus. The overall effect was to reduce the burden on British manpower while also increasing the standards of living in the nominally-occupied North. In the rest of Ireland, fifteen thousand Regular troops backed up by some Territorial Army volunteers (10) and the Constabulary ruled with an iron fist.

    There would be no pan-Irish uprising for some time… but the Long War had just begun...


    1. See Chapter 10: Britain Quits.
    2. Obviously a completely different person from the Maxwell in chapter 31. I do hope this doesn’t get too confusing.
    3. Very much fictitious.
    4. I’m not a Game of Thrones man, but isn’t there a character by this name? Either way, if there is, it’s just coincidence.
    5. Derry? Londonderry? Which ought I to use?
    6. There were approximately 20,000 British regulars involved in the OTL 1921 war so this seems reasonable to me… the Internet and my reference books couldn’t give me a number because that would be convenient. If any of you have any ideas, please share and I’ll happily retcon!
    7. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but since the Spanish Civil War as we know it is heavily butterfly-impacted, this phrase will never be a ‘thing’ ITTL. Does anybody have an interesting in-universe phrase akin to it?
    8. See chapter 15
    9. According to this (,Appendix A) there were approximately 300,000 Protestants in Ireland in the 1911 census, so recruiting 10,000 doesn’t seem unreasonable.
    10. Emphasis on the word “volunteers”- TA units couldn’t be forced to serve abroad in peacetime if I’m reading my sources right.
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    Chapter 33: Perfidious Albion
  • Chapter Thirty-Three: Perfidious Albion

    "A Great Rebalancing occurred at the signing of the Treaty of Dresden. At the stroke of a pen, the British were taken from being king of the Great Powers to just another Great Power. The scales tipped so that, while Britain's core interests and imperial status were left undamaged, Germany was now the Great Power. Her interests came first, and she was the ultimate arbiter of events in the same manner Britain had been prior to the Great War. States seldom react well to this, and it is to Britain's credit that she accepted the change in status quo without resorting to armed force straightaway."
    -Irish historian Robert FitzGerald, The Great War for Civilisation (1998)

    "Of course Britain is still an empire. But it is like this, you see. We now have our place in the sun as England's equal, as dare I say their friend. Our interests are just as valid as theirs, and no more shall we play their game just because they say so."
    -Kaiser Wilhelm II commenting on the Anglo-German balance of power, 1917.

    "When one is accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression."

    1916 had not been a good year for the British Empire. They had started off forced to prop up France’s war on two fronts, but had failed to save her from crumbling at Verdun. Seperate naval disasters had claimed the HMS Queen Elizabeth and Sir Herbert Kitchener. Operation DYNAMO, the chaotic evacuation from Dunkirk, had cost five thousand plus men their lives and led four times that number into captivity; Sir Winston Churchill had lost his post as First Lord of the Admiralty because of it. Defaulting on their debt to the Americans had damaged the British economy, while losing Malta and Somaliland to the Italians and Cyprus, Kuwait, and Bahrain to the Ottomans had cost them much pride. As the Great War ended, the British needed a quiet year to recover and dream up a path forward.

    1917 had not been a good year for the British Empire. The Great Indian Revolt had kept the crown jewel of the empire aflame for half a year, and cost at least thirty thousand British lives- not counting the lives of their allies on the subcontinent- and upwards of a million pounds. While not as devastating, the St. George’s Day Riots in Ireland had shown that the independence movement there was a long way from dead, and British men would be needed away from home to keep the boot down there. The actions of the Belfast Brigade had further strained relations with the United States. But worst of all, Britain felt terribly isolated. Germany stood triumphant across the North Sea while the old Entente cordiale lay smashed.

    These were just some of Britain’s problems in 1917.

    Staring out of his London window, Foreign Secretary Edward Grey found a very different world to that of 1914. Great Britain had survived the war as a world power, but Grey’s diplomatic hand of cards was far smaller than it had been three years ago. Most obviously, there was the German colossus to contend with. Prewar attempts to contain Berlin had failed, and Grey was thankful that hadn’t cost him his job. Britain may have had an empire, but with its army damaged it couldn’t win a war with the Germans on its own. A great rebalancing had occurred (1), with Germany and her allies now outweighing the British Empire. However, it wasn’t as bad as it seemed on the surface. During the peace negotiations, Grey had gained something which looked like a concession but was in fact a gain: a new naval treaty. Germany was now exempt from the Two-Power Standard, and a 12:12 battleship ratio was implemented. The prewar naval arms race, which had seen large chunks of the British budget poured into naval construction, was over. Grey knew that Anglo-German relations had potential, as witnessed by the way his German opposite number had cooperated with him at the Dresden Peace Conference. If both sides agreed to respect each other’s core interests, a new Great Power relationship could take shape. Grey supported such measures, as did a handful of far-sighted British officials.

    It was a pity most people didn’t feel the same way.

    The average Briton, according to the German satire Simplicissimus (2), spent half of 1917 throwing darts at pictures of the Kaiser for having won the war and the other half throwing darts at pictures of the Government for having lost the war. It wasn’t true, of course, but it summed up the Germanophobia prevalent in Britain nicely. The last time Britain had lost a major war was during the American Revolution, and so this was a major “bucket of cold water” for the British population. Having been raised on a Victorian diet of “the empire on which the sun never sets!” (3), having Tommy Atkins go abroad and come back defeated- if he came back at all- was a dreadful slap in the face. People began asking themselves if Britain was really God’s favourite, if the twentieth century would be theirs, as had been promised before the war. As human beings are wont to do, the British lashed out with their rage, expressing it with massive anti-German sentiment. When Kaiser Wilhelm II made his remarks about India, mobs in Britain’s greatest cities and smallest towns staged protests, some of which were quite violent. In Ipswitch, a mob burning the Kaiser in effigy set fire to some local houses; the town pressed no charges. Some in the Government advocated retaliation against the Germans for the Kaiser’s inflammatory speech by advocating for full Moroccan independence or something equivalent. Veterans all loathed the Germans, and the Royal Navy was offended that diplomats had traded their battleship superiority away.

    A British newspaper cartoon of summer 1917 showing the Imperial German naval flag flying in a British harbour, expressing the general feeling of lagging behind Berlin and bitterness over that in Britain post-Great War.

    There was little love lost for the other Central Powers, either. Bulgaria and Romania were too far away to be worth getting worked up over, but a rather disturbing cartoon appeared in the Daily Mail a few months after Dresden depicting Serbia as a man being torn apart by horses labelled ‘Sofia’ and ‘Bucharest’. Cyprus had seen much violence between Greeks and Turks in the last weeks of the war, and the British had eventually decided that enough was enough and given it to the Ottomans at Dresden. Many Britons believed correctly that the Ottomans had engineered this with the goal of nicking the island, and the false belief that Constantinople was trying to detach Egypt from its British protectorate. Italy received a tongue-lashing in the press and on the streets, and a persistent belief would linger for years that if they’d joined the Entente, then the Central Powers would’ve lost. (4) Racist stereotypes about lazy Italians became all too commonplace. More frivolous than important but still worth telling: a petty diplomatic argument erupted between London and Rome in February over fears that the Italians were about to force the Sovereign Military Order of Malta off the island, with Britain claiming that this represented “unjustifiable oppression of the traditional Maltese way of life.” (5) This accusation was totally unjustified and was utter nonsense, but it showed how eager the British were to score even the most trivial victory over their foes. From Britain’s perspective, the one bright spot was Austria-Hungary. London watched with interest as Emperor Karl transformed the nation into Danubia, and more than a little pleasure (6) as Hungarian rebels repeatedly embarrassed Imperial arms. When said rebels burned Vienna to the ground and killed Emperor Karl, glasses clinked from Edinburgh to Brighton.

    Advocating a rapprochement with “the enemy” in 1917 Britain was a good way to get a fat lip… but it wasn’t just the Central Powers whose relations with Britain suffered. Two members of the Entente slipped from Britain’s good graces in 1917.

    This cartoon from 1917 depicts Britain as a maiden shackled to a cruel German knight, intended to display how "uncivilised" the Germans were.

    The collapse of France had strained relations between London and Paris. The French had wanted the British to launch an offensive to reduce the pressure on them at Verdun (7) and hadn’t been pleased at Britain’s seizure of the Channel ports after France left the war. For their part, the British looked down their noses at French “cowardice” for having ducked out of the war… they could do this from behind the safety of the Channel, as the French never ceased pointing out. When France’s internal cohesion broke down in the spring of 1917, many Frenchmen became refugees- some of these tried to enter Brighton, Dover, and similar ports. Heart-wrenching scenes occurred as British coast guards were under orders to turn back desperate Frenchmen. (In fact, many of these people had relatively happy endings; many were taken in by Belgium). David Lloyd George did not conceal his contempt of Emile Loubet, claiming that “the French people have the bloody government they deserve and they can see how they like it!” His contempt was only increased when the Second Revolution erupted and spread. Paul Deschanel’s hardline stance won him a mixed reception in Britain- while some, the PM included, applauded his commitment to “order”, most feared that he was trying to turn France into a dictatorship. As the year drew to a close, with the revolt only having grown, many in Whitehall realised that in a year’s time they would be dealing with a Sorelian France. For Britain, a Continent with both France and Germany hostile- something their grand strategists had fought to prevent for centuries- looked dangerously likely. However, there was nothing to be done- few believed that Deschanel could save France and in any case no one wanted British boys to die for such a thing. Thus, late 1917 saw a distinct cooling of Anglo-French relations. Ex-First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill proposed a daft plan to prevent the French navy from falling into “Sorelian” hands by mounting a surprise attack on it akin to the Battle of Copenhagen during the Napoleonic Wars; fortunately this got him nowhere fast. (8) As many pointed out, there was a contradiction in the plans of those who wanted to aid Deschanel’s regime: if said regime wasn’t capable of fighting off the rebellion by itself, then it was too far gone for British help to make much difference and the only result would be to make the new French regime more hostile to Britain.

    The United Kingdom was going to have to plan for a world with an unfriendly France, no matter how unpalatable such a thing was.

    On the other end of the world, Britain suffered a more subtle but no less dangerous diplomatic defeat: Japan. This took a rather unusual form. A low-level battle of telegrams and formal protests was waged throughout the first months of 1917 over the actions of a third country: Siam. Britain had held a sphere of influence in the country before the Great War, but in the months after Dresden, Bangkok had taken advantage of British weakness and “persuaded” British merchants to leave while presenting British officials with their passports. The overall effect had been to eradicate London’s influence in Siam, at a cost of several thousand pounds in trade not conducted. Much to Britain’s chagrin, Japan had quite actively supported the Siamese campaign against foreign influence. This was most irritating to Britain because Tokyo was so careful to cover its tracks, offering only rhetorical support and not moving directly against British interests in Siam. No weapons were shipped to the areas in question nor did Tokyo ever threaten to use force; the Japanese moved through platitudes. If read charitably, the phrase “we support Siamese territorial integrity” meant just that: an informal guarantee of the kingdon’s frontiers. However, the Siamese correctly read it as backing for their anti-British moves and so London had every right to be offended.

    Another thorn in the side of Anglo-Japanese relations was the latter’s seizure of French Indochina in flagrant violation of international law. France formally declared war on Japan over this, but with the Marine Nationale confiscated and the Dijon revolt spreading, there was little they could do but ruffle their feathers. Brunei, Hong Kong, and Singapore were a long way from Calcutta, and that Tokyo could snatch these oriental jewels terrified Britain. No one wanted to test whether the Royal Navy was up to defending the colonies. The outbreak of the Great Indian Revolt was something for which Japan couldn’t reasonably be blamed, but whispers abounded that the whole thing was a plot by Tokyo to detach the imperial crown jewel. Such rumours, while understandable, had no basis in fact and thus Tokyo was justified in taking offence. Anglo-Japanese relations remained warm on the surface, but the two were growing more and more distant behind the scenes, and many wondered if the two countries might discard their alliance one day…

    Lastly, there is the matter of the imperial Dominions to consider. Canada, Newfoundland, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa were all self-governing colonies with their own parliaments, who had unhesitatingly joined the Great War alongside the mother country. The war had left different marks on different states. For Canada and Newfoundland, it had been rather a disappointment. Their men had gone overseas and died, all for nothing. Few Canadians had been present in Operation DYNAMO, and so they’d had to endure the humiliation of laying down their arms and being transported to England by the Germans. Afterwards, it was a bloody long trip across the ocean, and plenty of Canadians were still in England or aboard a transport when 1917 drew to a close. This left the dominions embittered, but they recognised that Britain was doing what it could and viewed their sufferings in a stoic, patriotic light as “for King and Country”. For its part, London appreciated the sacrifices its partners across the ocean had made.

    Australia and New Zealand had had similar experiences to Canada and Newfoundland, yet their positions in 1917 were markedly different. Both had suffered light casualties during the war, their troops having gone to Italy’s East African colonies, to Libya, and taken part in the failed Mesopotamian campaign. (9) The Armistice of 13 June did not apply to Ottoman or Italian forces and so thousands of ANZACs were left fighting and dying for several days while their British counterparts were being transported home. Making matters worse, neither dominion had representation at Dresden, leading many to feel that London wasn’t considering their interests. However, like the Canadians, they tried to give the mother country the benefit of the doubt and took their wartime losses with a stiff upper lip, trying to focus on the meaningless acquisition of northern New Guinea to distract from their losses. What changed things for Australia and New Zealand was the Japanese seizure of Indochina. This move demonstrated Tokyo’s audacity and was a clear sign that it could act with impunity in the Pacific, terrifying Melbourne and Wellington. Great Britain might fear the loss of colonies such as Hong Kong or Brunei, but they stood to lose their very independence. That a Japanese invasion of either would be impossible didn’t occur; the mere idea of such a thing was terrifying enough). Thus, tremendous frustration arose in these places as they felt abandoned by the mother country they’d given their young men to protect. Throughout the 1920s, Australia and New Zealand would constantly push for more naval support from London, more resources allocated to the Pacific… anything to keep the Japanese away. Relations between Melbourne and Wellington on the one hand and London on the other remained warm for the moment but would cool steadily with time.

    Finally, there was South Africa. Aside from Japan, no Entente country had gotten more out of the war. A brief rebellion had delayed the country’s active participation, but the central government had rapidly quashed it and spent 1915 devouring German Southwest Africa. The small South African navy had gone to the Mediterranean for convoy and anti-submarine duties; losses had been relatively light, despite fierce opposition. Operations closer to home in Africa had naturally consumed much of South Africa’s manpower, but they had still scraped a brigade together for action in Europe. The three thousand men of the South African Overseas Expeditionary Force met a grim fate. During the Kaiserschalacht (10), the brigade had been stationed in the village of Longueval en route to Amiens. Surrounded by crumbling French units busy deserting or mutinying, the brigade was isolated and fought valiantly for a week before surrendering. Just under half the three thousand men were killed or wounded and the others made prisoners; they would not return until early 1917. For such a small country, losing fifteen hundred men in a few days of fighting was quite scarring. Thus, South Africa’s experience in the war was quite multi-layered. On the one hand, they relished in getting to keep Namibia and spent 1917 integrating it into the motherland, but on the other they blamed Britain for losing the Overseas Expeditionary Force and were determined that their boys would never again die for London’s imperial dreams. When Lloyd George requested South African troops to help crush the Great Indian Revolt, Cape Town gave him platitudes. They were exhausted from the war, they said, and besides, surely the strongest empire in the world could handle this matter themselves? London was none too happy about this, but there was nothing they could do. South Africa remained a self-governing colony, but it dreamt of a future unshackled to Britain where it could be a regional giant without having to toe London’s line. Time would tell.

    Losing the Great War had not been fatal to Britain’s standing as a world power. Neither the Central Powers nor Japan wanted to go out of their way to damage British interests. America stood aloof, unhappy with Britain but wanting a relationship, while the Dominions retained their loyalty to the mother country. However, no longer would London dictate its relationship to foreigners. Relations would all too often be on the other state’s terms, with Berlin or Tokyo presenting the bill and Britain paying it. The British Empire still spanned much of the world and with a little luck and skill could thrive in the post-Great War world. Time would tell if they possessed enough of those qualities…


    1. Shameless plug: I nicked this phrase from Graham Allison’s Destined for War. Read it.
    2. Which will last to the present day ITTL! Imagine an Imperial German version of The Onion.
    3. To quote Simplicissimus fictitiously-- wow, what a mental image.
    4. DBWI: Italy doesn’t join the Central Powers at Vienna?
    5. Kind of silly when you think about it, since Italy is Catholic, but that’s how petty the British are being.
    6. The British would never say schadenfreude- that’s a German word!
    7. The war ended well before OTL’s Somme
    8. Wow, imagine how such a thing would've gone in OTL?
    9. No Gallipoli, not with a hostile Italy posing a menace.
    10. See chapter 9- The Fall of France
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    Chapter 33.2: Britannia Contests the Waves
  • Chapter 33.2: Britannia Contests the Waves

    "We are not defeated yet, by God. With the Channel at our backs and our Navy afloat I dare the Kaiser to enforce his will on us!"
    -David Lloyd George boasting defiantly of Britain's military survival, 1917

    "Imagine a man being torn apart by three horses in the manner of the old executions. That, my friends, is our Empire. Germany and the backstabbing Italians are one horse, the Japanese another, and the bloody Dominions telling us what to do are another. But we have survived worse storms and we shall pull through."
    -Sir John Jellicoe commenting on the geo-political strain on Britain, 1917

    For a defeated military, the British had done quite well.

    Starting off with a hundred thousand soldiers deployed in August 1914, the British Expeditionary Force had doubled by the spring of 1916- and that was after casualties had been replaced. Despite the courage of its men, the Army had failed to ease the pressure on France and had faced the full might of the German Army at Third Ypres. Operation DYNAMO was when the British Army can be said to have lost the war; five thousand casualties and 20,000 prisoners taken was enough to move Whitehall towards peace. In just under two years of fighting from August 1914 to June 1916, Great Britain suffered approximately half a million deaths. The social aspect of this back home was considerable, and many women spent 1917 sleeping in an oddly empty bed.

    Despite proud claims to the contrary, the British Army had lost the Great War.

    Losing the war and many lives didn’t affect Britain’s ability to project power around the globe. Plenty of men in Singapore, Kenya, and Belize never heard the rumble of guns and remained doing what they’d done pre war: keeping the Union Jack up around the globe. The main losses were concentrated in the Territorial Army, Britain’s prewar reservoir of trained men for home defence. Most of these were now pushing up daisies, and the conscripts who’d replaced them didn’t always want to stay under the colours. The TA would be formally disbanded in 1918 and replaced with the Army Reserve- men who worked as librarians in Reading (1) and put in a few weeks of training every year. Many of the 75,000 volunteers in the Army of India were ex-TA men who hadn’t enjoyed civilian life; India veterans would subsequently make up a disproportionately high number of Army Reserve men. Like all former servicemen, veterans of the Great War and the India campaign bonded together with their shared memories, good and bad. 1917 saw the emergence of veteran’s groups all across Britain, often centred in somebody’s house or the local church hall or pub and providing valuable emotional and financial support for former servicemen. Such groups would play a valuable role in tossing out the Liberals in 1918 as they blamed the Asquith government for losing the war and the Lloyd George government for the hard times which came after. These organisations were typically quite “well-behaved”, although there were instances of drunken ex-soldiers setting out in unruly gangs to pounce on known conscientious objectors or pacifists. Cases also arose of veterans essentially thinking that they were above the law and treating civilian police with contempt. Tensions arose between soldiers who’d fought throughout the whole war and those who’d been captured. The former viewed the latter (some 95,000 of them) as cowards for having “opted out”. Ex-prisoners of war usually proved their manhood by giving their accusers a fist in the teeth. That said, the vast majority of veterans were extremely well-behaved and as usual with such things, the media prominently reported the rare cases of bad behaviour while ignoring the many patriotic, law-abiding veterans.

    While most veterans reintegrated back into society, often conquering depression or alcoholism, and a small group ended up rather anti-social, another handful were never the same, becoming bitter recluses furious over having lost the war. This would lead to a tragic incident which would put many ex-soldier’s associations in a poor light.

    Rupert Kendall had had quite an ordinary life before the Great War doing odd-jobs in London. He’d spent every free moment in the pub with his mates, choosing his hobby of skirt-chasing over marriage. Rupert had gone off to the Great War expecting adventure… and had gotten something else entirely. Fighting in Artois in spring 1915 and being gassed at Second Ypres had changed him. His Cockney humour had vanished beneath the grimly set jawline of a soldier who’d seen it all. Kendall had been wounded in the arm during the Third Battle of Ypres and fought in Dunkirk, where he was wounded again. He’d been taken off during Operation DYNAMO, but a U-Boat had sunk his Little Ship and he’d had to tread water for two hours before being picked up. When he arrived in Folkestone, Kendall was diagnosed with hypothermia from the cold water and gangrene from the two wounds in his arm. Nightmares haunted him every night of his mates screaming in a shell-hole, of his Little Ship exploding and his nearly drowning, of the gnawing pain in his arm that never went away. It was a miracle that he didn’t have any amputations performed; an even greater one that he escaped morphine addiction. Like many in his shoes, Rupert Kendall suffered from shell-shock and spent his twenty-seventh birthday in a psychiatric hospital. He got out in June 1917, mentally stable but with his dark memories bubbling below the surface. Rupert found solace in the Malden Legion, a veteran’s association based out of his local pub, the Gypsy Queen. He was always a bit of a loner there, irritated by people who hadn’t been through what he had, but he never once missed a meeting. Rupert began railing about the Irish “stabbing us in the back”, claiming that the St. George’s Day Riots in Belfast were part of an Irish-German conspiracy. It was all nonsense, but some of his colleagues believed it, and a very dangerous plan was hatched. In his war-torn mind, Rupert Kendall imagined himself the man who would show the world that Britain would never give in to “those nasty foreigners”. He was going to strike a blow for King and Country.

    Together with a few friends from the Malden Legion, all men equally damaged inside by the war, Rupert travelled to London’s Belgrave Square where the freshly opened German embassy stood. The embassy grounds were a public place where anybody could come and go as they pleased, although the building itself was under armed guard. On a warm, wet August day, Rupert and his mates chucked homemade grenades through an open window. They were immediately tackled and arrested by armed men, but the damage was done. Fortunately, the ambassador was out to lunch, but forty embassy staff and ten innocent bystanders were killed or wounded. Kendall and his colleagues were hanged in January 1919, and the Gypsy Queen was raided. No one else was implicated, but the Malden Legion’s reputation was ruined and it disbanded soon after.

    As with the Army, so too with the Royal Navy. Since it is much easier to stick a rifle in a man’s hands and teach him how to fight in the trenches than it is to teach him the inner workings of a military vessel, and since building destroyers is a longer and more time-consuming process than building battalions, the Royal Navy had not grown nearly as much as the Army during the war. This meant that there were far fewer ex-Navy men “on the beach” than there were with the Army, and correspondingly fewer ex-Navy organisations.

    It also meant that the Royal Navy had a better chance of reverting to its pre-war role than the Army.

    Prior to the Great War, the Royal Navy had been Britain’s pride and joy, fulfilling two essential strategic goals: keeping the lifelines to the Empire open and deterring a German attack on the home island. It had succeeded in both during the Great War; Britain had imported Argentine beef and American materiel while facing no invasion of its home country. Despite having lost sixty-nine surface vessels and thousands of lives, it had fought the U-Boat menace to a stalemate while leaving much of the High Seas Fleet in the bottom of the drink. With plenty of help from France, distant Japan and South Africa, it had kept the shipping lane from Gibraltar to the Suez Canal open. Unlike the Army, the Royal Navy could claim to have performed well in the Great War, and many British naval enthusiasts claimed that the war had been “lost on land but won at sea”. This did little to strengthen Army-Navy relations, but held more than a little truth about it.

    The one area where the Royal Navy had unquestionably failed, and the one which harmed relations between the services the most, was in Operation DYNAMO. Failure to take the U-Boat menace seriously enough had led to the submarines ambushing the Little Ships and killing five thousand soldiers. The debacle had cost Winston Churchill his post as First Lord of the Admiralty; Sir John Jellicoe, whose victory at Jutland had made him a public darling, replaced him.

    The new man had ideas to reform the Royal Navy.

    Jellicoe was an imperfect commander, but he recognised that Britain’s strategic situation differed greatly from three years before. The good news was that the drubbing the Germans had received at Jutland, plus the 12:12 battleship ratio now in effect, meant that the surface naval threat from across the North Sea was ironically less than in 1914. That was the only silver lining he could see in the storm cloud. Japan’s seizure of Indochina showed their ability to do as they pleased in the Pacific, meaning that more naval resources would have to be allocated there. Britain viewed Italy and the Ottoman Empire as permanently hostile, while much of the Marine Nationale flew a Central Powers flag; this left Britain solely responsible for the Mediterranean. Lastly, while the British had done well enough in the Battle of the Atlantic, they had taken heavy losses from Germany’s submarines- and that was with French support. There was no need for a major allocation to the Atlantic in peacetime, but Jellicoe believed he had to keep a number of ships earmarked for such a thing in the future… not to mention the need to defend the North Sea. All this to say, the Royal Navy was stretched in four directions and would have a tremendous balancing act in the years to come.

    Historians often credit Jellicoe exclusively with reorganising the British fleet post war. In fact, this was not solely his doing: dozens of people collaborated on the project throughout 1917. Nonetheless, as First Lord of the Admiralty, his was the ‘face on the poster’ at the time and so we shall credit him here.

    The Home Fleet was based at Rosyth, and its hypothetical wartime job would be to do what its predecessor had in 1914-1916: to blockade Germany from afar and deter an invasion. He created a new formation, the Atlantic Fleet. The smallest of the new divisions, it contained a disproportionately high number of destroyers and was designed to fight off the U-Boats and keep supply lines to America, Argentina, and the Empire open. Jellicoe based the Atlantic Fleet at Pembroke in Wales and expanded existing facilities to accommodate them. Canada’s small but efficient navy was tasked with cooperating with the Atlantic Fleet in future times of war- surely neither Canada nor Newfoundland would refuse to stand by the mother country in an hour of need?

    With Italy and the Ottomans now foes at the same moment as France was taken off the naval table, Jellicoe was forced to commit precious resources to the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean Fleet’s goals were rather limited. Jellicoe had decided that with its resources stretched, Britain could not single-handedly keep the route from Gibraltar to Cairo open, especially with Malta under Italian rule. Thus, the Mediterranean Fleet’s goals were limited to defending the approaches to its namesake sea, both of which flew the Union Jack. As long as those two points held, Britain would be able to contest the Mediterranean in the face of superior opposition. The fleet was divided into two sub-fleets, Western and Eastern, but the acronyms WestMedFleet and EastMedFleet were soon adopted and so we shall use them here. Full admirals commanded both and enjoyed a high degree of autonomy from the other. As part of the Mediterranean division, the harbour at Alexandria was massively expanded, providing much-needed revenue to the British regime in Egypt.

    The Orient was no longer a British playground. In the years before the Great War, the Anglo-Japanese alliance had allowed all parties concerned to relax, confident that there would be no war in the region. Said security was now a thing of the past. Japan had been allowed to keep the German Pacific territories, providing it with naval bases hundreds of miles afield and extending its reach like never before, while its seizure of French Indochina spoke of how ruthless it was. Faced with what they perceived as a very real threat, Australia and New Zealand clamoured for increased British defences, while London was forced to consider its own interests in the area. Hong Kong was a valuable port in peacetime, but it would not be defensible from a Japanese attack. A small China Squadron remained moored there to ward off trouble, but it was anticipated that the fleet would close all the hatches fleeing south in the event of war. With North Borneo similarly isolated and lacking an adequate port, this left Singapore as the obvious choice. The Malacca Fleet was stationed in the city, and in time of war its task would be to defend its base and close the straits for which it was named, thus denying Japan a path to India.

    This left much of the world’s oceans without a regular, substantial Royal Navy presence. The Bay of Bengal was covered only by a handful of units from the Malacca Fleet, and it was an open question how much naval support could be provided in the event of another Indian revolt. A small squadron not designated as a formal fleet was anchored in the Falklands, but that was more to show off to Argentina than anything else. For all intents and purposes, until a major war broke out the South Atlantic would be the purview of the South African Navy. The new Fleet system stripped the Persian Gulf of much of its British presence. A small squadron- again, not formally designated a Fleet- was stationed at Muscat, but they were there for anti-piracy duties and to remind Constantinople, Tehran, and the smaller Arab states that Britain was still a player in the region. However, neither force was ever going to dominate its respective region. Placing ships in Sierra Leone enabled the British to keep an eye on Mittelafrika and the German concession in Dakar, while the flotilla at Bermuda would prove invaluable if a conflict arose with America. Other minor refuelling and patrol stations were scattered about the globe, but none amounted to much force. For their part, Canada and Newfoundland refused to send a single sailor to British fleets abroad.

    In sum, Britain had suffered the least of the Entente powers. Their homeland had not been invaded, their Navy remained mostly afloat, armed rebellion had not come to their streets, and their finances were tolerable. Yet it was painfully clear that the glory days were past. London’s allies were weak and untrustworthy, and the German colossus was her equal if not superior. No longer was the empire the undisputed master of all it surveyed- now Britannia contested the waves.


    (1) Dreadful to be sure; my apologies.
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    World Map, 1917
  • This map reflects the world situation on 1 January 1917, following the Treaties of Dresden and Konigsberg, Japan's seizure of Indochina, and the Franco-Siamese War.
    It is based off of Ulyanovsk's Europe 1918 basemap and Crazy Boris' 1914 basemap; both from the Historical QBAM Thread. All mistakes are mine.

    (This took dreadfully long to get right!)
    EDIT: Updated to include the retconned United Baltic Duchy
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    Chapter 34: The East Is Feldgrau
  • Chapter Thirty-Four: The East Is Feldgrau

    "In 1913, we had been under the rule of Russia for a century. Things were bad and we hated the foreign rule, but after a hundred years we had all gotten used to it. Now, we have our own states, our own countries once more. Who could have imagined such a thing in 1913? But I wonder how benevolent the Lithuanian government can be when there are German sentries at His Majesty's door."
    -Diary of Adam Petrauskienė, a young man living in Vilinus, late 1918.

    "I should like to extend my apology to the people of the Eastern countries. Germany has played a pivotal role in the development of Eastern Europe over the past century, but that development has often had harsh consequences for the people of the region. While our historic achievement of liberating the East and restoring the peoples to independence is laudable, we must criticise the errors of our forebears. Thus, I say this: today, I issue a formal apology to the people and governments of the Kingdom of Lithuania and the United Baltic Duchy. The regime led by Erich Ludendorff, the martial law of Ober Ost, was not in accordance with international law or the dictates of the human conscience. Germany must bear a measure of historical responsibility for this..."
    -German Social Democratic Reichskanzler Theodor von Grafschuber speaking at the annual Old World Economic and Security Community (Altwelt Wirtschafts- und Sicherheitsgemeinschaft) summit in Riga, United Baltic Duchy, 2018. The speech attracted controversy because, in the eyes of the German right, it challenged Germany's 'inherent right' to lead the Continent.

    Germany had long coveted an Eastern European empire. The Teutonic Knights had spent much of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in battle with medieval Poland and Lithuania, while Prussia had been all too eager to gobble up as much of Poland as possible. Many viewed the Baltics, with their substantial German population, and Poland as prime places for expansion. Freidrich Neumann epitomised these views in his 1915 book Mitteleuropa. Neumann’s book was well-timed, as that same year the Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive delivered Poland and Lithuania to the Central Powers, who divided it amongst themselves. German troops manned the north of the line and ruled Lithuania, while Austro-Hungarian troops manned the south and centre and ruled Poland. (1) The status quo persisted until Germany’s summer offensive of 1916 delivered Estonia and more of Belarus to Germany; Reich troops occupied these territories. Peace came on 11 November 1916, extending German hegemony further east than ever before. Soldiers of the Central Powers stood from Narva to Minsk to Warsaw. Diverse peoples inhabited this area, all with their own aspirations and attitudes towards their new overlords.

    In Berlin, attitudes towards the new Eastern European lands were straightforward- it was a colony to exploit at will. Food shortages had haunted the Central Powers during the war, and Germany was determined to never let this recur. They imported close to a million tonnes of grain and over two million heads of livestock during the last two years of the war; that pattern continued through 1917 and 1918. German companies eagerly moved east to claim natural resources- fourteen and a half million tonnes of coal were brought to the Fatherland from Poland by 1918. Combined with the resumption of world trade, the bounty of the East meant that the years following the war were fat and happy ones in Germany- despite economic turbulence caused by demobilisation, the price of food was markedly lower in 1917 than three years before.

    Well-fed Germans were apathetic to the human cost of these policies. Erich Ludendorff’s “Order of Rule”, issued in June 1917, declared that “the interests of the army and the German Reich always supersede those of the occupied territory.” (2) Farmers had up to half of their produce nicked by German troops and women, children, and the elderly were often impressed into labouring for token wages with a soldier’s bayonet never far away. Germany was equally rapacious in its pursuit of forced labour. The regime deported Slavs to occupied northern France and eastern Belgium, as well as Danubian Galicia, and put them to work clearing battlefields. This was an unquestionable breach of international law, and decades later various German prime ministers would offer apologies to the Polish, Belarusian, Lithuanian, and Baltic governments. That said, despite the claims of some Slavic nationalists, these policies never constituted genocide; no master plan to eradicate the peoples of the East existed, nor did the shortages ever escalate into famine. This does not absolve the German Empire of its actions, but it is important to note that ineptitude and apathy by distant, ignorant bureaucrats, not malice per se, caused the human losses. Naked plundering also lasted a relatively short time; rapidly petering out once direct martial law ended and nominally independent states formed- but the Eastern countries’ relationships with Germany were never equitable and always rigged to benefit the latter.

    It is perversely fitting that the Eastern lands only gained independence because of one man’s career interests.

    Advocates of creating eastern puppet states- who were acting out of expediency, not altruism- had to go through one man: General Erich Ludendorff. He had distinguished himself in the war, cracking open the Belgian fortress of Liege as a colonel before being transferred to the Russian front. Victory at Tannenberg had made him a cult figure, a hero who’d saved sacred East Prussia from the Russians, and now-General Ludendorff had remained on the Eastern Front. He came into his moment in summer 1915, conquering Poland, Lithuania, and even parts of western Belarus. (3) Reward for his service came in October 1915 with command of Ober Ost, the military district spanning from Riga to Vilnius. Ober Ost grew in autumn 1916 as the Oststorm- Germany’s great offensive capitalising on Russia’s internal troubles- delivered more of Belarus and Estonia into the Reich’s hands. Ludendorff was a bitter rival of Chief of Staff Erich von Falkenhayn, and while the latter basked in the glow of his victory in the west, Ludendorff made bloody sure the people of Ober Ost knew who was number one. Ostensibly ruling on Berlin’s behalf, from 1916 onwards Ludendorff turned the military district into his own fiefdom. Many of the worst requisitions came during the Ober Ost period; surviving memoirs and diaries confirm that the leanest years for most in the Baltics were 1916 and 1917. Falkenhayn disliked the status quo but let it stand because there was a war on and Ludendorff, whatever else one said about him, was literally bringing home the bacon. By the middle of 1917, however, his patience was fraying. The Chief of Staff was determined to take his rival down a peg. It was this, and not concern for the well-being of the locals, which motivated his interest in puppet states- although he was perfectly happy to cite statistics from the Treasury claiming that puppet states would be cheaper to run than Ober Ost. (4) There was just one problem: as a military man, Falkenhayn had no excuse to throw his weight around in foreign affairs.

    The Chief of the German General Staff was going to have to talk to some ‘useless civilians’ who’d stayed home while he was being a hero at Verdun.

    Falkenhayn met with Finance Minister Siegfried von Roedern in autumn 1917. The two had never had much to do with the other, and so the meeting was a bit frosty at first. Both men were professionals though, and they had a common goal. Von Roedern was terrified about the national debt. The war had left Germany with an eighty billion mark deficit (5), and the chaos in France meant that reparations would be slow in coming. Ober Ost placated Ludendorff’s ego, but it was a leech on Germany’s wallet and was an ideal bit of fat to trim. Falkenhayn said that puppet states could provide Germany with the same resources it was getting now at a fraction of the cost; Von Roedern happily accepted the claim, adding that a decrease in supply might actually be a good thing, as it might drive prices up a little and stimulate the economy. (6) The two men wrote a memorandum and jointly submitted it to the Kaiser on 30 October. Wilhelm took little convincing; a nominal Poland was already on the map- what was a few more?

    Convincing the sovereign to go ahead had been the easy bit- convincing Erich Ludendorff to go quietly would be the challenge.

    Erich Ludendorff, generalissimo of Ober Ost, looking decidedly more cheerful than usual.

    Kaiser Wilhelm broke the news to his general in a telephone call on the first day of November. The porky general was too Prussian to give his genuine feelings to his exalted monarch, but once he set down the phone, Ludendorff flew into a torrent of coarse language. Ober Ost was his by rights, by God! Surely that swine Falkenhayn was behind this! After a few hours spent venting his spleen, Ludendorff calmed down sufficiently to dictate a formal protest to Wilhelm. Highlighting the profit Germany had gained from the military district, Ludendorff claimed that Baltic peoples were too uncivilised to farm efficiently without German soldiers pointing guns at their backs. He also voiced his offence that he, the hero of Tannenberg, was being thrown out of his position on budgetary grounds. With Falkenhayn whispering in his ear, the Kaiser said that little would change on the ground; exports would still be under German supervision, it was simply that they would be done in a way involving less German manpower. Ludendorff remained unconvinced, and it looked as though the Kaiser might have to fire him to break the impasse- a public relations disaster in the making if ever there was one. Matters were exacerbated when the offended general complained to Marshal Hindenburg a few days later, and the other hero of Tannenberg protested the injustice to the Kaiser. Just as things appeared to be falling apart, Falkenhayn arrived with a cunning plan. He would offer Ludendorff what appeared to be a concession, but what was really a gain for the Chief of Staff.

    Falkenhayn telephoned Ludendorff on 7 November 1917 with a proposal. It was unjust, he said, to even consider dismissing the venerable Ludendorff over something as slim as budgetary issues, and for that he was sorry- doubtless, Falkenhayn’s stomach must’ve curdled at apologising to his rival. In exchange for accepting the dissolution of Ober Ost and the creation of Eastern puppets, Kaiser Wilhelm would give Ludendorff command of all German troops in the new satellites. This was a peace-time position and so he would not be a military governor, but it was the closest thing he could give. Tossing a stick in with the carrot, Falkenhayn claimed to be speaking on the Kaiser’s behalf and implied that Ludendorff would be sacked if he did not agree. This was a victory for Falkenhayn for two reasons. For a start, it earned him acclaim from Kaiser Wilhelm for avoiding a public-relations catastrophe, and less honourably, it got his rival Ludendorff out of Berlin and out of power.

    The path was now clear for the establishment of Eastern satellites.

    Of all the Eastern lands, Poland had the best claim to independence, but also the most contentious relations with the Central Powers. Prussia and Austria had collaborated with Russia to take Poland off the map in 1795 and happily divided it up at the Congress of Vienna. That border had remained unchanged until the start of the Great War, leaving Poles divided, with links to both sides in the war. Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Poles themselves all had aspirations for the country. Germany had always looked down its noses at the Poles and viewed them as a source of manpower and natural resources, not as a people to respect. Hans Hartwig von Beseler, military commander of Poland in the wake of Gorlice-Tarnow, traced the basic path which Poland was to follow. Von Beseler proposed that Germany establish a rump Polish state akin to Napoleon’s Grand Duchy of Warsaw; something with which to de facto control the country without having to pay for military occupation. Von Beseler’s proposals met with much praise, with General Ludendorff praising them in high circles. By the end of 1915, it was decided to place Poland on the map after the war. Committees in Berlin got to work drawing provisional borders and interviewing prominent Poles.

    The Kingdom of Poland nominally joined the family of nations on 5 November 1916, when the “Provisional Council of State” declared independence. Interestingly, the Kingdom of Poland spent its first two months in a power vacuum- there was no king, and the Regency Council would not be established until 14 January. This made little odds as the German military continued to govern. A man named Waclaw Niemjowski was president of the Council and was expected to end up as Prime Minister once a monarch was installed. One can gauge Niemjowski’s power from the time he spent listening to the German aide by his side and reading missives from Berlin, as compared to how much time he devoted to statecraft. Aspiring German civil servants spent the spring of 1917 flocking to Warsaw to begin a career supervising the Polish bureaucracy.

    Despite having its foreign policy managed by Germany, Poland established diplomatic relations with much of the world. Germany broke the world record for being the fastest state to recognise a newly independent nation; four minutes after the Provisional Council of State declared independence, the first German ambassador walked through the door and presented his credentials. All of Europe but France followed suit throughout 1917- Russia was bound by the Treaty of Konigsberg, Britain viewed it as an olive branch that cost them nothing, the Central Powers were all too happy to do so, and the rest of Europe aimed to please Berlin. The United States would drag its feet until autumn 1918- Charles Evans Hughes had to weigh his Germanophobia against his desire for the Polish vote in that year’s midterms. Poland’s diplomatic relations with the world enabled Berlin to claim that the state enjoyed real independence, but the German garrisons in the new state showed no sign of preparing to pull out and celebrated Poland’s “day of liberation” by nabbing wine and sausages from the locals.

    Poland’s ‘independence’ was totally bogus.

    The country was a source of tension between Germany and Austria-Hungary. Both sides had parts of historic Poland in their core territories, and both wanted to dominate the conquered Russian area. To Vienna’s chagrin, troops earmarked for a potential war against Italy had gone to garrison duty in Poland. This brought their arms little glory and Conrad chafed at being treated as a subordinate. This was a blessing in disguise, because it gave Austro-Hungarian, not German, officials much more leverage over Poland, since theirs were the ‘boots on the ground.’ Germany resented this, as they were the senior partner in the Central Powers and wanted to bend Europe to their will. Nonetheless, they were forced to treat Vienna as an equal in the battle over Poland’s future… the idea of asking the Poles never once crossed their minds. Another bargaining chip Vienna enjoyed were the Polish Legions, formations of ethnic Poles created by Jozef Pilsudski. The Legions had fought valiantly during Gorlice-Tarnow and the Oststorm, leading Pilsudski to demand autonomy from the Austro-Hungarians. After the imperial government refused, Pilsudski became a bitter man. (7) Germany would subsequently shoot themselves in the foot vis-a-vis the Austrians and Poles when, in June 1917, they demanded that all Poles under arms swear an oath of loyalty to Kaiser Wilhelm II. This disgusted Pilsudski and alienated many Poles from Germany. It looked as though Austria-Hungary would become the dominant player in Poland…

    ...and then Hungary broke away.

    The Danubian Civil War (8) changed everything. Hungary declared independence on 13 July and spent the summer beating back imperial assaults. With revolt chewing at its heartland, Danubia needed every man available to crush the Hungarians. The Polish Legions from the Great War were still under imperial control and went south, depriving the nascent Polish state of the potential nucleus of a future military. More importantly, the empire swallowed its pride and asked Germany to take over occupation duties in Poland; Berlin was all too happy to comply.

    Poland was now in Germany’s pocket.

    Even a proxy state requires a normal government. Germany was trying to demobilise and so occupying every town in Poland as though there was still a war on wasn’t workable. Poland’s lack of a functioning government was costing it international legitimacy and exposed the unpleasant fact that Germany was ruling by the sword. Thus, in autumn 1917, Berlin entered the market for a Polish king. The Habsburgs wanted Archduke Karl Stephen to mount the throne to unite the Galician Poles with the new Polish state, but they no longer ruled the roost and Berlin ignored their opinions.

    Germany would place its own man on the Polish throne.

    King Frederick Augustus III of Saxony, Frydryck I of Poland
    frederick of poland.jpg

    The kings of Bavaria, Wurttemberg, and Saxony all had respectable claims. The Polish throne, powerless though it was, was heavily contested. This was because with the unification of Germany and Italy over the preceding decades, and no more independent Balkan states, plenty of German royal houses who might’ve gone abroad to rule a foreign country now had nowhere to go, and reigning over Poland would be prestigious. Letters exchanged between contenders to the throne survive, laced with bitterness unusual for dignified noblemen. Eventually, a rather convoluted- and not a bit unsavoury for the women involved- compromise was reached. King Frederick Augustus III of Saxony would become King Fryderyk I of Poland, and his daughter Princess Margarete Karola would marry Prince Konrad of Bavaria. When Frederick died, Konrad would inherit the Polish throne, and a joint House of Wettin-Wittelsbach would rule Poland. A generation later, the oldest son of Konrad and Margarete would marry a woman from Wurttemberg, and their child would become King of Poland, thus forging a Polish dynasty with roots in three kingdoms. Konrad was amiable to the plan and agreed to marry Margarete, even if the bride didn’t much fancy her new husband. Frederick Augustus was crowned as King of Poland in Warsaw on 3 September 1917, and the wedding took place a month later. A general election to the Sejm, the Parliament, was scheduled for January 1918, and Poland’s constitution was unveiled on Christmas Day 1917. Of course, all this talk about parliaments and constitutions was window-dressing; German soldiers remained on the country’s territory and German bureaucrats really ran the place.

    Princess Margarete Karola of Saxony, another in a long strain of European noble-women whose honour was sacrificed over dynastic issues.

    It was an insult to the poor woman’s honour, but it solved the issue of dynastic claims and that counted for more in the year 1917.

    This is where race enters the story. As mentioned above, Germany viewed itself as superior to the Poles, and the politically powerful, conservative Prussian landowners had never reconciled themselves to Poles in their territory… besides, they could scarcely wait to get their hands on the empty land on offer. Therefore, a consensus developed throughout 1916 and 1917 that they needed to annex a western Border Strip, especially if Danubia ended up winning the battle for influence. Therefore, German garrisons remained in the proposed areas. When Hungary broke away and Germany absorbed Poland, Erich Ludendorff pushed for immediate annexation of the strip, but it was decided to wait until a proper Polish government had been formed to mollify public opinion. With a “proper Polish government” now in existence, Ludendorff pushed ahead. On 4 March 1918, the Sejm ratified the Treaty of Siedlice, King Fryderyk giving Royal Assent. Twenty thousand square kilometres passed from Polish to German hands. The Border Strip was divided between the German provinces of East Prussia, Posen, West Prussia, and Silesia. The conservative Junkers who dominated these provinces eagerly swept in, gobbling up vast tracts of land for their estates. Germany now controlled thousands more Poles and Jews- but it wasn’t to last. What followed would become something of a black mark in Germany’s history, straining relations between Germany and the United States (the Polish and Jewish voters didn’t react kindly to such a thing), and making many Poles despise the Germans who’d liberated them from Russia only to infringe on their dignity.

    The deportations of spring 1918 began within weeks of the Treaty of Siedlice. Ethnic Poles living inside Germany- including in the Border Strip- were ‘encouraged’ to move to the new Kingdom of Poland. Propaganda appeared in German, Yiddish, and Polish exhorting “the unity of the Polish race”. Just in case people missed the message, King Fryderyk issued a proclamation (in German, which says how much he valued his Polish subjects) calling on “his people to return home” and said ominously that he would work with the Kaiser to assist German Poles who wanted to return to their so-called motherland. Germans in the eastern provinces began giving Poles the cold shoulder, tacking up signs forbidding Poles from entering, all with quiet approval from Berlin. Incidents of anti-Semitism ticked up in spring 1918. One infamous example came when a young German in Danzig mugged an elderly gentleman who’d spent his entire life there but whose parents had hailed from Poland (he spoke with a pronounced Polish accent). The local police refused to investigate, and when the man brought charges before a court, they dismissed the case as not worth their time despite his bruises and bandages. Just in case anyone felt like missing the point, at the same time the police began pulling down houses in Polish and Jewish quarters of towns for alleged safety reasons, Germany’s major rail companies announced the resumption of services eastwards, with a third-class seat from Posen, Danzig, or Königsberg to Warsaw costing thirty pfennigs (the state quietly subsidised the programme). Many deportees were good Germans who had served honourably in the Great War, but were now betrayed by their Fatherland. History can be an unfair business. That said, direct violence against Poles in Germany by the state was fairly rare, although not uncommon. Caricatures in the London and Petrograd papers, and rumours in the Lower East Side of New York City of Germans burning down Polish villages and killing everyone who didn’t agree to move eastwards were untrue.

    The deportations left the Polish Border Strip and, to a lesser extent, Germany’s eastern provinces depopulated. Berlin would attempt to make up for this by fostering immigration from the Volga Germans. These people had lived in Russia since the eighteenth century and had never been trusted by the Tsarists. When the Russian Civil War erupted, Germany would extend an open invitation for these people to settle as refugees on humanitarian grounds- many took up the offer.

    The 1918 Sejm elections saw the rise of the National Conservatives. (8) The party represented German interests first and foremost, and consisted mostly of wealthy Poles who’d purchased seats, and men who’d been officers in the now-disbanded Polish Legion. Jozef Pilsudski had resigned over the oath crisis and held no place in the new parliament. It surprised no one when Waclaw Niemjowski, former president of the Provisional Council of State and Regency Council, became Poland’s first PM. Poland’s Constitution stipulated a general election every five years, but few expected much change in 1923. The Kingdom of Poland would carry on, bereft of its Border Strip and shackled to Germany, but independent. 1918 would see Germany reduce its military presence in the kingdom somewhat as it demobilised- however, six military bases remained scattered throughout the small kingdom, and virtually all of Poland’s industrial and financial assets were either owned by Germans or set up to provide profit to the western colossus. Poland would not develop a real military for years- only a skeleton force comprising Polish Legion veterans bound by oath to the Kaiser and commanded by Germans. The Poles appreciated their independence from Russia but were none too happy about their subservience to the Germans. For the moment, Berlin could keep hold of the Kingdom of Poland by playing up fears of the Bear.

    To Poland’s east lay the Belarusian People’s Republic. Belarus, it was widely quipped, had no need to fear the Bear- it was the Bear! The joke reflected that there was no precedent for a Belarusian state- the territory had gone from the Kievan Rus to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to Russia, and now to Germany. Therefore, the Belarusian People’s Republic was the first time the Belarusian people and culture had had a state all its own. The one snag was that the Belarusian language and alphabet were very similar- though not identical- to Russian and many Belarusians were bilingual, Belarusian gentiles were uniformly Russian Orthodox, the Russo-Belarusian border was an artificial war frontline codified in a peace treaty, and ‘Belarus’ is the Russian for ‘White Russia’.

    Germany had to do everything in its power to get the inhabitants of the People’s Republic to embrace their appointed role as ‘not Russians.’

    Much of Belarus had fallen to Germany during Gorlice-Tarnow. Minsk, Grodno, Baranovichi all lay under German rule. Unlike in Poland, there were no Danubian troops in Belarus, and so Berlin had a totally free hand. In late 1916, when revolt gripped the Ukraine, some considered awarding the territory to that country; Tsar Michael’s quelling of the revolt put pay to those dreams. With Ober Ost a thing of the past, something had to be created in the region. The idea of parcelling Belarus out amongst Poland and the Baltic states was discussed but rejected; no one wanted to embolden Poland by extending its territory to Minsk. An independent Belarus would serve as a useful buffer against Russia and keep the other German puppets weaker and smaller than they would’ve been otherwise. Thus, on 21 February 1918, the First National Council of the Belarusian People’s Republic met in Minsk, declaring independence. (9) German advisers were present to ‘assist’ in drawing borders. Said borders were totally artificial. The eastern border was the limit of the German conquests as per the Treaty of Konigsberg; to the northwest was the long frontier with what would become Lithuania. Nationalistic delegates pushed for much more, but the German word was final.

    Many factions had a voice in founding the Belarusian People’s Republic. The Belarusian Socialist Assembly had mixed feelings about the new status quo- on the one hand, they had been freed from the Russians, but on the other it was the equally reactionary imperialist Kaiser who had done so. Nonetheless, deciding that they could do more good inside the system than out of it, the socialists attended. The other major delegation was the Belarusian branch of the General Jewish Labour Bund, a left-wing, secular Jewish organisation which spread across the Russian empire. They were skeptical about working with the Kaiser, fearing antisemitic treatment, but again decided that there was more to gain swimming with the tide than against it. Poland’s branch of the Bund had broken away when German boots overran their home country; now the Belarusians did the same. This meant that the First National Council had a very left-wing flavour. Clearly, the only way a monarchy could be imposed was at bayonet point- which would’ve cost money and lives when Berlin was trying to trim the fat. Kaiser Wilhelm was none too pleased about this, nor were Hindenburg and Ludendorff, but they eventually reached a consensus that it didn’t make much odds. German boots would remain on Belarusian soil and the country would be economically shackled to Germany no matter what- why not let them have their republic? When the Second National Council convened on 25 March 1918, it got busy laying down provisional sketches for a republican constitution. The Socialists and the Jews hemmed and hawed over this and that, but a liberal order, albeit one subservient to Germany, was clearly being formed. They scheduled a formal congress to assemble a Belarusian government for December.

    Father Christmas came right on time for the Belarusians and Germans.

    The First All-Belarusian Congress elected the Socialist Jan Sierada as President, and established the Rada, the Parliament. There were thirty-six regular delegates to the Rada, plus fifteen devoted to the rights of Belarus’ Polish, Russian, and Jewish minorities, ten representatives of local authorities, and ten for major cities. However, like the Polish monarchy and parliament, the Rada’s authority extended no further than the auditorium where it met. Germany indirectly ran the Belarusian economy and it just so happened that every officer above first lieutenant in the nascent Belarusian army was a German who’d lost his job in the postwar demobilisations, but who Berlin had offered a new line of work to.

    Despite German control, Belarus experienced a cultural flowering in the years following the war. Germany had a vested interest in getting the Belarusian people to see themselves as “not Russian” and so they emphasised Belarusian culture, sponsoring nationalist poets and art- the irony that a foreign imperialist did this was lost on few. Many Belarusians, especially conservatives, disliked the new regime and longed for a return to the Russian fold, but the Jews, Poles, and liberals provided key support for the People’s Republic. Germany looked forward to the 1920s and beyond, when a new generation of Belarusians would be born and raised knowing only their government and Germany, and that Russia was the enemy…

    To Belarus’ north was the Kingdom of Lithuania. Germany had overrun the territory during Gorlice-Tarnow and it had been part of Ludendorff’s Ober Ost. Lithuania had last existed independently in 1569, when it federated with Poland. The resulting Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was a dual monarchy similar to prewar Austria-Hungary, in which both ethnicities shared equal status and control over the state’s future. This pleasant arrangement was not to last, and from 1795 to 1915 Lithuania lay under Russia’s yoke. Yet, the Lithuanian identity had survived its exodus, and many hoped to see an independent state once more. Conservative Germans dreamt of incorporating the country into their empire and opposed dreams of independence. In fairness, these proposals were quite generous, with Lithuania being offered the same deal as Bavaria and other kingdoms- rule by a local king and sizable cultural autonomy. Domestic German politics proved the death-knell of this idea; Catholic Bavaria and many of the smaller constituent states objected to the expansion of the Protestant Prussian colossus, and got the idea dropped. Lithuania was relieved- Russia had given Poland a similar deal at the Congress of Vienna and look what happened there.

    One surprising threat to Lithuania’s independence came from Poland. Having gained liberty, the Poles wanted to expand their borders. Many in Warsaw and elsewhere called for Poles and Lithuanians to “join forces” in reviving the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Their argument was that since the Commonwealth represented the last time a sovereign Lithuanian state and a sovereign Polish state had been on the map, resurrecting it (albeit with reduced borders) would correct a historical injustice and provide protection from Russia. This argument collapsed when viewed closely, for it ignored Austro-Prussian guilt in the “historical injustice”. A restored Commonwealth would be subservient to two of the powers which wiped it off the map. The proposed ‘reduced’ frontiers only highlighted this; the pre-partition borders encompassed much key German and Danubian territory and no one in Berlin or Vienna would stand for that. Added to this was that a century of Russian domination had turned the Lithuanians off the idea of being shackled to any foreign power. Advocates of a Commonwealth were shunned as traitors or in Polish pay- these harsh accusations had a ring of truth about them.

    Lithuania would not settle for anything less than full independence.

    The cynical motto “Might makes Right” is all too often true in statecraft. German soldiers occupied the country and could do what they pleased. As with Poland, placing Lithuania on the map served Berlin’s interests and so that was what happened. After much wrangling, Germany and the nascent Council of Lithuania compromised. Duke William of Urach, a politically neutral German prince, took the regnal name Mindaugas II after a medieval Lithuanian prince. The Urach dynasty would rule Lithuania for the next century- and presumably beyond, for even in the year 2021 King Mindaugas IV remains a popular figure. As with Poland, the kingdom learned that beggars cannot be choosers; Lithuania had nominal independence but remained shackled to Germany, and the people learned to accept it. Lithuanian nationalists yearned for freedom, but the German response of “us or the Russians?” quelled many; the tip of an imperial bayonet made a convincing argument as well.

    Mindaugas II, King of Lithuania
    mindaugas ii.png

    Polish-Lithuanian relations in the years to come make an interesting if unfortunate coda to Lithuania’s story. One effect of the two being united for centuries, first under the Commonwealth and then the Russians, is that many Lithuanians lived in the new Kingdom of Poland and vice versa. Germany had awarded districts such as Augusto and Vilnius, with their high Polish populations, to Lithuania. A widespread conspiracy theory of the period was that they had done so to sow discord between their puppets; events played out that way. The German master would never have tolerated a war, but acrimonious border disputes persisted until well into the 1920s, and the Polish ambassador to Vilnius (itself claimed by Poland!) often found himself out of work; his Lithuanian counterpart in Warsaw fared no better. Protests by one side or the other were very common, as were incidents on the border. Germany eventually got sick of the mess and in 1924 deployed forces in the two countries to man the border while applying economic pressure.

    Disliking the Germans, Russians, and Poles in equal measure, the Lithuanians would carry on.

    Berlin enjoyed a unique advantage in the Baltic- there was a large population with guaranteed loyalty. Germans had first moved into the region during the late Middle Ages, forming a landowning upper caste. With great tenacity, they had stuck out through Polish and Russian domination, and many could trace their family trees back three or four centuries. Their ethnicity linked them to Germany- many had faced suspicion from Russian authorities when the war began- and they had gotten along well with Ludendorff’s Ober Ost regime. Now, the various noble houses would compete to see who would rule. One name proposed was Gustav von Biron of Courland, whose ancestors had ruled the Grand Duchy of Courland and Semigallia in the eighteenth century. Von Biron proposed resurrecting the Grand Duchy, but Berlin turned him down, fearing that the state would be too small and weak to survive in the modern world. There was some bitter haggling throughout spring 1918, but eventually everyone found an acceptable compromise candidate: Adolf Pilar von Pilchau. Von Pilchau was a sixty-seven-year-old landowner from Estonia with a large family and an even larger estate. His sons could succeed him as Grand Duke and he would always act in Germany’s interests. Kronprinz Wilhelm travelled to von Pilchau’s estate on 21 May with the news. He arrived, escorted by armed guards, at seven AM: the soon-to-be-monarch was in his bath and was quite startled when a servant walked in with the news that the Kaiser’s son was at the front door and wanted to see him! His hair still wet, von Pilchau agreed to become Grand Duke, ruling on Kaiser Wilhelm’s behalf.

    The United Baltic Duchy was a government by wealthy German landowners for wealthy German landowners. When the constitution was formalised in November 1918, qualifications for sitting in Parliament (Gustav von Biron received the prime ministership as a consolation prize) were pegged to the amount of land one owned and the amount one had sitting in the banks of Riga and Berlin. Elections were meaningless; the position of Prime Minister was something for wealthy German families to pass around like a participation trophy they were “entitled to” by virtue of their blood. Grand Duke von Pilchau ruled at the Kaiser’s behest, and where Berlin told him to go, he went. Baltic Germans sued one another in German courts, the local Papiermark was pegged 1:1 with the German mark (the latter was actually legal tender inside the Duchy!), and German was the official language of government (Latvian and Estonian were treated as ‘recognised minority languages’ despite speakers of either of these tongues outnumbering German-speakers). Since the Duchy’s raison d’être was pleasing the wealthy German landowners, tax rates were extremely low, making it a fine tax haven for wealthy Germans. Extremely low taxes were only possible because of immense subsidies from Berlin, but one cannot deny that the economy profited from having wealthy Germans deposit their money in Riga. Another trick the German upper crust caught onto was to marry their daughters to a Baltic landowner, and to give her a large sum of cash as a dowry, to be deposited in a Baltic Duchy account- and then to spend that money as their own. Libertarians for decades to come would point to the Baltic Duchy as a prime example of their policies thriving in action: if a wealthy German landowner wanted to repair a stretch of road running by his estate, he hired Latvian or Estonian day-labourers to do it with the government not stepping in once. Rich Germans had wielded considerable economic clout for decades, but throughout the 1920s their power exploded, and a study in 1927 found that the noble families employed more people than the government. The Duchy also had a significantly higher number of soldiers than the other German puppets because of its proximity to Petrograd. This would become important during the Russian Civil War, as both sides were deterred from messing about in the German East by the knowledge that one of Russia’s key cities could be removed from the board. Interestingly, none of these soldiers were Latvian or Estonian, showing how much the Germans trusted the natives.

    The United Baltic Duchy was a glorified colony.

    Adolf Pilar von Pilchau, Grand Duke Adolf I of the Baltic

    Common themes ran through all the German puppets in the East. Different ethnicities- Poles, Lithuanians, Balts- had long and complex histories of independence and submission to Russia. Feelings towards Germany’s new order were mixed. On the one hand, they were grateful for having their own states on the map. For the first time in centuries, Lithuanian, Polish, and Belarusian were used in courts and classrooms, not Russian. (11) Nearly everyone in the East was grateful to be free of the Russian yoke and at least grudgingly thankful to Germany for having removed Russian dominance. Germany managed to squander much of that goodwill by lording it over the Eastern peoples. Polish Germans were bitter about being deported to the Kingdom of Poland and felt betrayed by their government, while the Poles in the Kingdom frowned at these newcomers. All of the Eastern puppets were run for German benefit. German immigrants were given pride of place by the forces stationed in the countries and they owned most of the major business and held most of the good jobs. Racial discrimination was baked into all the countries to an extent, with the natives being second-class citizens and their cultures under assault from German ways in their own countries. The United Baltic Duchy, with its personal union with Prussia and large German population, was the worst in this; the Belarusian People’s Republic the least so.

    The East had gone out of the Russian frying pan, and if not directly into Germany’s fire, then onto the hot coals next to the blaze.


    1. These men were on the Italian front in OTL. Side note: ITTL, Poland is not divided; all of Poland is under Austro-Hungarian military rule.
    2. This is an OTL quote taken from page 399 of Alexander Watson’s Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I. I predicted it’d be a useful Christmas gift… and I was right!
    3. Gorlice-Tarnow is more successful in TTL because Austro-Hungarian troops who were on the Italian front in our world are in the East. These men end up doing garrison duty in Poland, which leads to… butterflies!
    4. I have no idea if that’s actually true, but you can get statistics to prove anything you like if you distort them enough, so...
    5. Many thanks to @Athelstane for this…
    6. I’m no economist-- please let me know if this claim is a load of horse...radish.
    7. But with the war over, he couldn’t have defected to the Entente, so he just stays in limbo.
    8. To my new readers: see chapter 16, but essentially Austria-Hungary=Danubia.
    9. Fictitious
    10. Most of this is not OTL, but it’s based off of OTL with divergences by authorial fiat.
    11. I know the other languages were used in the western Russian empire, but hopefully my point comes across
    Last edited:
    Chapter 35: The Finnish Revolution
  • Chapter Thirty-Five: The Finnish Revolution

    "A Finland freed at last, just think! We have never had a state for our people, and to think that I should be the one to lead them. I do hope it will last."
    -Matti Passivuori, Provisional President of the Finnish Socialist Workers Republic

    "The bloody swine. I don't trust them."
    -Zemitov, spoken a few days before his untimely death

    Finland had trod a unique path in the Great War. Like Belarus, no precedent existed for a Finnish nation-state, yet that didn’t mean there was no such thing as a Finnish identity. The country had seesawed between Swedish and Russian control for centuries before it was confirmed as an autonomous Russian possession at the Congress of Vienna. Industrialisation brought profound social change to Finland; a growing intelligentsia developed a socially conservative national identity while newly-formed labour unions crafted a populist equivalent. Russia had kept hold of Finland throughout the last decades of the nineteenth century by pleasing the conservative elite by granting them some autonomy and backing their economic superiority. This worked for a time, but blew up in Russia’s face after their defeat in 1905. Finland’s working classes associated their economic subservience with Russian domination, and launched a general strike, hoping to gain economic and political rights. Russia’s domestic troubles left it in a weak negotiating position and it was forced to make concessions, weakening the power of the elite. By the outbreak of war, pro-independence and left-wing sentiment were strong across Finland, and tied together in a manner not seen elsewhere.

    The September Revolution was Finland’s chance, and they seized it with both hands.

    Tsar Nicholas II abdicated (1) in the small hours of 15 September 1916, and news reached Finland by the end of the day. No one cared about the whys or hows; all that mattered was that the Bear was weak and if they gave it their all, they could pry his claws off. On 16 September, Matti Paasivuori, leader of the Finnish Social Democrats, (2) issued the “Finnish National Manifesto”. His goal was not independence but rather “autonomisation”. Paasivuori called for the re-establishment of the old Grand Duchy of Finland, with the Tsar as Grand Duke. What was radical about Paasivuori’s plan was that it reduced the monarchy to a ceremonial position. Parliament and the Prime Minister were to have sole control over domestic policy, a “Ministry of Culture” was to be established to promote Finnish culture at Russian expense, and only local military units were to be allowed. The lengthy prologue to Paasivuori’s manifesto implied that it was being generous leaving Finland under nominal Russian control, one paragraph beginning with “The national desires and aspirations of the Finnish people can not and must not be ignored for another moment, and the Finnish people will seize the hour regardless of their future relations with Russia…” Paasivuori spent a week editing the manifesto and getting signatures, before submitting it to Tsar Michael II on 25 September.

    Matti Paasivuori, the creator of the first independent Finnish state in history
    It was returned to Paasivuori’s Helsinki apartment three days later with a note in Cyrillic: status quo to continue. Tsar Michael may have been a more liberal man than his brother but he was still a Russian nationalist. Conceding defeat to Germany was costing Michael legitimacy; letting Finland go would only add to that. Paasivuori realised he’d just stuck his head in the lion’s mouth and fled to German-held Estonia. His move was fortuitous, as three days after the rejected memorandum came back Russian secret police knocked on the door of his empty flat. They turned the place upside down, finding ‘subversive’ literature and the like, but nothing to suggest his whereabouts or anything substantial about his political colleagues. The secret police reported back to Franz Albert Seyn, a Baltic German whose loyalty lay with Petrograd, and who had governed Finland for seven years. Governor Seyn reasoned that Paasivuori had to be somewhere, and ordered wide-ranging sweeps. The last days of September saw the police knocking on the doors of prominent Social Democrats, demanding to know Paasivuori’s whereabouts. Their ignorance of where the Party boss was- most were asking themselves the same question- raised suspicions. Why, the Russians asked themselves, would the Social Democrats deny their boss's whereabouts if not to defend a conspiracy? Governor Seyn, determined to please his new bosses in Petrograd, decided that everyone was lying to the authorities. In the small hours of 1 October, the secret police returned, warrants in hand.

    Over forty of Finland’s leading leftists were arrested that day.

    Leftism and nationalism were uniquely linked in Finland. The average workingman associated Russian domination with the economic might of the gentry, and conflated attacks on Finnish nationalism with attacks on his economic rights. Thus, when the people saw Social Democrats being arrested for national sentiment, they assumed it was the opening shot in a plan by the Russians and upper classes to squeeze a little extra labour out of them or to cut their wages just a little more, and they weren’t going to tolerate it.

    No one is sure who started the strike which escalated into the Finnish Revolution. Various names and faces circulated after the war, and many impostors claimed to be the man who set the ball rolling. This would put supper on the table for many libel lawyers but provide a confusing narrative for historians, and so we shall stick to the basic facts.

    A strike broke out at a fishmonger’s in Helsinki just before lunch on 3 October. The business had branches across the city and was owned by a wealthy Russian named Zemitov whose brother was a colonel stationed nearby. Zemitov's good connections and wealth had gone to his head and he was fond of flaunting his 'Russian superiority' over the locals. He'd spent the morning and the preceding day boasting to his employees about how the Tsar’s men were going to catch that so-and-so Paasivuori and what he personally would like to do to him… the suggestions weren’t pretty. After a day and a half, the Finnish employees had had enough, and they refused to come back from their lunch break. A furious Zemitov sacked them on the spot and went to find new hires the next day. To his chagrin, no one came forward. Zemitov’s now-ex employees had spread the word about what a pain he was to work for and no good Finn wanted anything to do with him. After three days, Zemitov was at the end of his rope; he had had to cancel most of his orders and was staring down the bankruptcy barrel. He turned to his colonel brother, asking if he could possibly borrow some money to get through the rough patch. Being a good brother, the colonel loaned him a hundred rubles, and Zemitov returned to his home in Helsinki on 8 October. Fortune came his way, as the very next day a number of Russian refugees from the Baltic, who the German authorities had been all too glad to be rid of, arrived in Helsinki. Zemitov was all too happy to help get them on their feet and they were all too happy to find work straight off the boat. Zemitov went to bed on the ninth convinced his problems were over.

    He was wrong.

    Watching all this, Zemitov’s former employees got their facts wrong. In their eyes, he had just sacked good Finns for the crime of being proud of who they were, before going to the Russian Army for support and money. They assumed the colonel had loaned him money as one Russian to another to help him oppress the locals, not realising it was merely one brother doing another a favour. The long arm of the law from Petrograd was getting involved in a private matter, backing the oppressive Russian, and that was a definite breach of the rules. To top it off, the Army was then helping Zemitov find Russians to displace Finns, causing wives and children to go hungry. On the night of 11 October, a gang of ten tossed some gasoline-soaked rags into Zemitov’s townhouse and threw a match in behind it. The Russian fishmonger died quickly, and the murderers got away clean.

    Police tracked an arsonist down the next day. He broke under interrogation, admitting to burning Zemitov’s house down because “he was working against the people who really own this country.” All the captured Finn meant was that he disliked being arbitrarily sacked by a foreign boss, but the police over-reacted. With the purge of leading Social Democrats only days ago, this seemed like an admission of being part of something much bigger and more sinister. Word reached Governor Seyn that something was amiss, and all the pieces clicked.

    Matti Paasivuori had written a manifesto calling for a leftist Finnish revolution and circulated it amongst his colleagues, who had orchestrated the murder of a patriotic Russian as the first shot in a revolution!

    Franz Albert Seyn, last governor of Russian Finland


    Determined to impress Tsar Michael, Seyn took steps to nip a leftist revolution in the bud- he ordered a crackdown on the Social Democrats. Russian soldiers made the arrest rounds on the 13th and showed fewer scruples. Amongst those taken were all the original strikers at Zemitov’s shop who’d started the whole mess, along with left-wing professors and politicians. Governor Seyn hoped this would scare the “radical left nationalists” who had murdered Zemitov. Instead, it convinced them the Russian oppressors would stop at nothing and as such, they ought to take matters into their own hands. News of the Zemitov affair had travelled far and wide and this 'proved' to the working classes that a political and economic crackdown was only days away.

    Revolutions are seldom so spontaneously organised. As if by instinct, the Finnish people knew what to do in the second week of October 1917- they threw up their hands and refused to go to work. The general strike was not, contrary to Russian propaganda, organised at a national level; it was led by grassroots Social Democrats who’d slipped through the police net. Like a boulder tumbling downhill, events moved under their own power, gaining momentum until nothing could stop them. Finland’s economy ground to a screeching halt within a week. Any establishment owned by Russians faced crippling labour shortages as no one showed up to work, while Finnish shopkeepers made sure their countrymen had enough by not catering to Russian customers. Race relations deteriorated; gangs of Finns and Russians, mostly young men, went at one another in the streets. Russians, understandably bitter at having lost the Great War, took their anger out on the Finns, who fought back just to prove that they weren’t Russia’s footstool.

    Tsar Michael was livid. His brother had been thrown out by the people a month ago and the same could happen to him at any moment. Michael already had the ignominy of being the Tsar who surrendered to Germany and was understandably sensitive about public opinion. He would not tolerate rebellion in his empire and signed an edict declaring Finland in revolt at midnight on the twentieth. Troops crossed the border within minutes.

    The Finnish Revolution was well and truly on.

    It was fortunate for Finland that Russia had just lost the Great War. The strikers knew that things might get ugly, but there was a difference between fighting off police and Russian gangs and fighting the Russian military. Several thousand well-equipped, well-trained soldiers would have crushed the Finns. However, the Great War had taken massive tolls on Russia's manpower and logistics, and so the units sent to Finland were third-rate militia, many veterans of the fighting which had crushed the Petrograd Workers Army. (1) Discipline was lax and supplies hard to come by… which put them in the same league as the Finns. Once the strikers realised what the government was doing, they fought back. Few guns existed in urban Finland and so the strikers-turned-rebels made a great effort to procure some. A mob of about five hundred ransacked a Russian Army arsenal in Turku on the twenty-fourth, capturing several thousand weapons, and by the end of the day, Turku was in rebel hands. Similar scenes played out in Helsinki, Tampere, and elsewhere.

    A true people’s revolt swept across Finland in the last days of October 1916.

    Finnish militia block off a street in Helsinki in the first days of November
    Matti Passivuori had mixed feelings about the Finnish revolt. He was sympathetic to Finnish nationalism but was not a die-hard revolutionary. Passivuori wanted to work with the different factions in the country to build a peaceful social democracy, and he certainly didn't want violence ripping through Finland's streets. Deciding the best way he could serve his country was to make a peace deal leaving little room for future conflict, Passivuori entered Helsinki on 3 November and, speaking as leader of the Social Democrats, called for an immediate end to the fighting and a peace on the terms of his National Manifesto. Such a thing would leave his homeland with de facto self rule while pleasing everybody... or so he thought. Too much blood had been spilt for both sides to step back. The Finnish people couldn't stand the idea of reverting to Russian rule, while Tsar Michael couldn't lose face by admitting defeat against another foe.

    Matti Passivuori's pursuit of peace had cost him much prestige. With a war for Finland's very existence on, the Social Democrats didn't have the time to worry about internal politics, but once Finland gained independence they would remember his watering down their goals. Kullervo Manner, another leading Social Democrat, stepped forward in the first week of November. Manner made a tremendous effort to ingratiate himself with the fighting men and to incite revolution elsewhere. Many suspected that at the next party congress- whenever that might be- Manner would step forward...

    Internal squabbling did little for Finland's cause. The first week of November saw Finnish rebels fighting toe-to-toe with the Russians, but that wasn't enough. The Finns needed to push Russian soldiers out of their soil, whereas the Russians simply needed to wait and transfer forces from the rest of their empire. If things went on like this, eventually the rebels would tire and enemy weight and numbers would make their full impact. The looming prospect of capture and a lingering death in Siberia did little for Passivuori, who was seen by his aides weeping at his desk and pointing a pistol at himself. Manner kept his feelings to himself but surely the same prospect weighed on his mind.

    Then one day, Finland won the war.

    The Finnish Revolution had occurred simultaneously with the Dresden Conference. Berlin had an eye on the Finnish uprising; an independent Finland would pose a danger for Russia by placing a hostile border within miles of Petrograd. When German and Russian diplomats sat down at Konigsberg in the first days of November 1916, the victors demanded that Finland be granted independence; the horrified Russians were not in a strong bargaining position. Correctly interpreting Germany’s silence on the Ukrainian revolt (3) as an olive branch, they reluctantly let Finland go. The Treaty of Konigsberg was signed on 11 November 1916 and word reached the Russians in Finland by the small hours of the twelfth. Confused and bitter Russian troops packed up and headed home. Getting them out of Finland was a long process- many were buried deep in the country with few roads and little transport. Many Russian soldiers, bitter over having been ‘sold out’ at Konigsberg when they’d been on par with their foes on the ground, committed atrocities on the way out, burning houses and violating women en route to the Russian border. Memories of such behaviour would strain relations between Finland and Russia for years to come… which a century of colonialism had left pretty poor to begin with. Fearing persecution from an independent Finnish government, many Russian civilians followed the army in its march to the Rodina.

    The Finnish Social Democrats had not been the only participants in the uprising. Many rebels were conservatives who wanted to be rid of the Russians but who abhorred socialism; others were quasi-private armies funded by noblemen. Still others were genuine hard-core Marxists who were much too far to the left for Passivuori. Therefore, Finland's key question in November 1916 was what sort of a country they now were. Finland's parliament had previously been a rubber-stamp for the Tsar, and many of its members had been scattered by the war, but it provided the best possible nucleus for a government acceptable to all. Parliament had been elected in 1913, and a call was put out for all parliamentarians to congregate in Helsinki on 1 December.

    The so-called "Independence Session" commenced on the first of December 1916. Twelve of the 200 parliamentarians were missing: four had been taken prisoner and executed by Russians, six had fled abroad, and two had been killed in the fighting. Seven were Social Democrats and the others belonged to the conservative Finnish Party. Clearly, the existing parliamentary setup wouldn't suffice for an independent state; there was no Prime Ministerial post nor a system of elections to choose one. Trouble started immediately when a show-of-hands election for a provisional president was held. This post was intended as a figurehead for a few weeks while a proper constitution was devised and wasn't expected to generate much ire. As the leader of the largest party, Matti Passivuori considered himself entitled to the post but many disagreed. Johan Richard Danielson-Kalmari, chairman of the Finnish Party, feared the Social Democrats (even though he got on well personally with Passivuori) and argued that to make Passivuori provisional president would lead to the left dominating the process of drafting a constitution, impairing conservative interests. Passivuori also took fire from the opposite side: Kullervo Manner criticised his attempt of 3 November to make peace and accused him of being insufficiently Socialist. This was greeted with a mixture of cheers and boos from the Social Democrats, and the two men nearly got into a shouting match. Passivuori's position was ironically harmed when the leader of the Agrarian Party jumped in. Kyosti Kallio's party was centrist, and he leaned to the right of the platform. Sensing that the Social Democrats would have their way no matter what, Kallio reasoned that he'd rather have the moderate Passivuori than the firebrand Manner in charge of the proceedings. Matti Passivuori was thus in the position of being supported by conservatives while criticised by his own party. Although the show of hands confirmed him as provisional president as a compromise candidate, Kullervo Manner was waiting in the wings and dreaming of making the Social Democrats the far-left party he'd always wanted.

    The debate over the provisional presidency had taken up all of the first day, and it wasn't until the second that real work began. For a start, what was the Finnish state to call itself? Passivuori and Manner were united in the name "Finnish Socialist Worker's Republic", but conservatives objected to 'socialist' for obvious reasons. Once again, Passivuori's quest to please all sides meant that he agreed to drop 'socialist'. Parliament adopted the name "Finnish Worker's Republic", with Kullervo Manner's far-left faction unanimously voting against. The same drama played out over a flag. Manner wanted a simple red banner (4), but in addition to being unaesthetic, there was nothing historically Finnish about that idea. Once more, Passivuori proposed a compromise. Finland would be represented by a dark blue Nordic cross for Christianity on a bright red background for socialism. (5) Being a Marxist atheist, Manner didn't like the idea of a Christian symbol on his national flag but knew he wouldn't get anywhere there, and so kept his mouth shut. By now, it was getting late- another day had been wasted on trivialities. Manner and the left-wing of the Social Democrats spent the night complaining bitterly. Manner had taken a far more active role in the Revolution than Passivuori. He had led troops while Passivuori had tried to make peace. And now, the Party leader had the gall to compromise with counter-revolutionaries at every turn? The real socialists, Manner thundered, ought to leave the conference and go their own way! A colleague dissuaded Manner from this by pointing out that if they walked out, they would be giving away all their influence. If the Marxists stayed, at the very least they could prevent Parliament from being too reactionary. Against his better judgement, Manner agreed.

    The stage was set for some fine political battles in the years to come... and maybe some ones fought with cordite too.

    The proceedings dragged on for two more weeks, with Passivuori going out of his way to seek compromise, inevitably sacrificing his social-democratic beliefs as he did so. Unfortunately, the Finnish Constitution' distinct leftist flavour was the worst of both worlds for the Provisional President. Many landowning conservatives who could trace their roots back centuries distrusted the regime's intentions and condemned Passivuori as a bloody socialist with whom there could be no compromise, while Manner was livid that Passivuori was 'selling out' socialism by making concessions to other parties. Elections were to be held every three years with universal suffrage for those eighteen and up regardless of property qualifications. Anybody- women included- who had turned forty was eligible to run for a seat in the unicameral legislature, formally known as the “Parliament of Finnish Workers”. The constitution provided for freedom of worship but secular government, as well as state control of education and freedom of expression.

    The Finnish Worker's Republic entered 1917 with conflict brewing beneath the surface. The ruling Social Democrats were divided and fear of a leftist insurrection was high. Landowning gentry had little love for the new government and tried to pretend it didn't exist; Passivuori had to strike a balance between keeping them happy and making them kick something into the pot. Russia cut off the grain imports which had fed Finland prior to the war, causing shortages and price hikes. Kullervo Manner saw the hard times as an opportunity, eagerly explaining how 'the system' could never work in favour of the common man, and his popularity grew among the Finnish working classes. Germany was displeased that Finland wasn't as militaristic as had been hoped; what purpose did Finland serve if not to pressure Petrograd?

    Peace wasn't to last for long, and Matti Passivuori would not be able to sit atop a pin forever...


    1. It’s all in chapter 12.
    2. OTL. There were a few potential candidates for this role but I went with Passivuori.
    3. A lot more decentralised than its Finnish counterpart and not located very close to the frontlines.
    4. OTL's flag. I really don't like it and so I'm using authorial control of butterflies to come up with something a little different. :)
    5. Odd blend of ideas!
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    Chapter 36: The Armenian Genocide
  • Chapter Thirty-Six: The Armenian Genocide

    "The world can choose between the word 'genocide' and affordable oil. It is up to them."
    -Anonymous Ottoman official commenting on the world's silence vis-a-vis the Armenian Genocide. His statement is unusual in that it acknowledges the consensus that the Pasha regime was guilty of genocide.

    "Constantinople's regime has always stood to murder our people. Nothing has changed in a century and it is only because of oil that they keep a choke-hold over the world. This injustice must and will end one day! Our unique Armenian heritage survives, like so much else, in the United States, and I call upon this government to formally commemorate the eightieth anniversary of the genocide- yes, call it what it is, call a spade a spade, call it a genocide!"
    Makroui Keleshian, president of the National Armenian-American Society, speaking to some four hundred people in Pittsburgh, 1994.

    Russia’s invasion of Anatolia in 1915 had enraged Enver Pasha. Admitting failure wasn’t an option for a strongman; the people would turn on his regime if they knew he’d failed to defend them. Thus, he scapegoated the Armenians. Honest Turkish boys from Constantinople and Angora had fought valiantly in the Caucasus only for Orthodox Christian Armenians to stab them in the back with one eye on Petrograd! Enver’s actions against the Armenian people were not without historical precedent- the Turkish overlords had spent the past five centuries looking down their noses on the Christian ethnicities they ruled and had indulged in bouts of persecution before- but were unparalleled in their cold-bloodedness and totality. “It is absolutely necessary”, declared Committee for Union and Progress stooge Nazim Bey in February 1915, “to eliminate the Armenian people in its entirety, so that there is no further Armenian on this earth and the very concept of Armenia is extinguished.” (1) Europe had not heard such rhetoric in centuries.

    On 24 April 1915, Enver ordered mass arrests of Armenians across the empire, beginning a years-long Genocide. Armenians were gathered together in their hundreds and even thousands, tied together with rope, and machine-gunned, or they were made to stand in a line shackled tightly together and the leading man was thrown off a cliff- and they were the lucky ones. (2) Millions more were condemned to hundred-mile death marches to camps in Syria, with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. Heatstroke and dehydration felled many, who died with the sun beating mercilessly down on them, roasting them from the inside while cholera and typhus took their bloody tolls on others. Some Armenians were spared having to walk, instead being shoved aboard cramped cars on the Berlin-Baghdad railway, causing disease and suffocation. The elderly were first to die, then small children. Young men were absent from the march; viewing them as a security threat the Ottomans had executed many before setting out. Thus, mostly girls and women staggered into the Syrian camps, many after surviving horrible sexual abuse. Once there, their sadistic Ottoman guards slowly worked them to death. The war’s end in summer 1916 didn’t affect the genocide, and deportations continued apace; the only difference was that the prisoners were doing pointless makework instead of war-related tasks. Some Armenian women, especially those with Turkish facial features, procured freedom by marrying guards or converting to Islam, while a very few lucky ones snuck out of the camps and flee hundreds of miles to Egypt, Iran, or even Russia. (3) For most though, there was no hope, just years of starvation and backbreaking labour under the baking Syrian sun. The end of the war removed Britain and Russia’s ability to criticise the Genocide; while they might have been able to do so during wartime to weaken their foe, repairing relations with the Ottoman Empire took precedence and London kept mum. Germany and Danubia both wanted good relations with Constantinople and refrained from protesting. Only America, with its small but significant number of Armenian immigrants and descendants, voiced objection to the Genocide, but Charles Evans Hughes’ words counted for little so far away. When the Pasha clique fell from power, the subsequent regime would make vague references to the Genocide, but only as a source of one-upmanship against the Pashas, as opposed to a desire to rectify a wrong.

    Ottoman troops in German gear guard a pile of skulls; all that remained of dozens of genocide victims.

    To say that the Ottoman Empire was getting away with murder would be a gross understatement and would diminish the millions of innocent lives lost.

    The horrible coda to the story of the Armenian Genocide is how it is remembered a century on. The Ottoman Empire’s denial of history is best illustrated by this lengthy quote from Sultan Bayezid III from 2015, two years before his death:

    “(When considering the idea that) unusual hardship was incurred by the group of imperial subjects identifying as ‘Armenian’ during the First Great War and in its aftermath, one must bear two things in mind. For a start… the ‘Armenian’ identity as such has not existed in centuries. Should I get on a plane to an ‘Armenian’ city, what would I find? I would find the Turkish language spoken in every corner and the call to prayer echoing throughout the day. An ‘Armenian’ identity is a historical construct. No Armenian state has existed since the sixteenth century, when the region became part of Turkey, and who today remembers the Armenians? What some refer to as ‘Armenia’ has been part of Turkey for only a century less than our capital. If one is to speak of the ‘eradication’, or the ‘genocide’ as some insist on referring to it… of the so-called Armenians, one may as well speak of the ‘eradication’ of the Byzantine people in 1453. Are we guilty of oppressing an ethnic group in this city because the Palaiologos dynasty once ruled here?... One may say that the Algerian government occupies territory once part of the Roman Empire. Is Algiers guilty of crimes against the Roman people? One may say that because this empire captured Constantinople, the city where we now speak, in a long-ago period of history, that we are guilty of genocide. One may speak of the ‘genocide’ inflicted on the ancient Egyptians by Caesar Augustus… Such a view would be sloppy historiography and littered with an all-too-common anti-Turkish bias prevalent in our enemies.

    Second, talk of suffering and hardship must be contextualised, for there was a war on. The Russian regime of Tsar Nicholas seldom paid heed to the rights of any peoples with which it entered into context. Should one travel to the Fatherland Defence Museum in East Prussia, one will read of wells being poisoned to kill locals and such like. It is infinitely more likely that whatever suffering was inflicted upon the peoples of north east Turkey was inflicted by the hardship of war and by the savagery and brutality prevalent amongst the Russian army of the period.

    Lastly, there is a simple truth which should be evident even to a child: not everything one reads is true! In our schools today across the world young people are taught to ask questions and ‘think critically’- I know I was- but for some strange reason the world community is developing a collective amnesia to this fact whenever the so-called ‘Armenian question’ is raised. Objective historians the world over with years and decades of academic, research experience in the Ottoman Empire have all concurred time and time again that this so-called ‘Armenian Genocide’ is at best a gross exaggeration… One must think that perhaps we are better off without these Armenians today. For if a handful of descendants claiming descent from a centuries-extinct historical group- after all, there has been no such thing as ‘Armenia’ since the sixteenth century, and a people cannot long survive without a land to call their own- can distort the facts so radically and gain such broad acceptance in the world, just think of the damage a million Armenians could do!” (5)

    Sultan Bayezid III (1924-2017, reigned 2009-2017).


    The former Sultan’s speech sums up the Ottoman Empire’s attitude to the genocide it committed on its own soil- namely, “what genocide?” A survey of Ottomans in Constantinople between 18 and 35 conducted in 2009 revealed that only 43% had ever heard the phrase ‘Armenian Genocide’ and that a little under half believed it to be a conspiracy theory as opposed to fact. Turkish public schools, even in the year, 2021, do not mention the genocide once in their curriculum. Ottoman academia is even more hostile, as evidenced by two professors at the University of Smyrna who were publicly denied tenure for publishing a research paper concluding that the genocide did, in fact, take place. Foreign historians who wish to teach or conduct research in the empire are closely vetted for anything pro-Armenian on their records. This relentless suppression of its own history has earned the Ottoman Empire- otherwise a relatively tolerant state with multiple parties, competitive elections, and something approaching genuine democracy- much condemnation on the world stage. Germany has admitted and apologised for its own ‘auxiliary role’ in the genocide and repeatedly hinted to Constantinople to do the same, while the pitifully small Armenian diaspora (largely concentrated in the United States) has given the Ottomans countless tongue-lashings over the years. Turkish oil money has thwarted the efforts of these good people, as Constantinople and its allies raise the price of the black gold to any country which recognises what happened to the Armenians. Unsurprisingly, the places where Armenia’s story is best remembered are Norway and Venezuela; both in the oil market but without cultural and religious links to the Ottoman Empire.

    Flag of the Armenian Diaspora Union, one of the largest international Armenian remnant organisations. The background is the Armenian national flag, the black represents the historic Armenian borders, and the organisation's name is written on the dove.

    Screen Shot 2021-01-17 at 8.52.17 pm.png

    Flag of the National Armenian-American Society, headquartered in New York City and led since 1989 by Makroui Keleshian, whose parents escaped the Ottoman Empire in 1917. (Ms Keleshian was born in 1934.)
    Screen Shot 2021-01-17 at 9.01.30 pm.png

    But for these two groups, scarcely anybody remembers that an entire race was all but wiped out a century ago, and there appears to be little future for the seven million surviving Armenians, virtually all of whom live abroad.


    1. An OTL quote.
    2. Can’t make this stuff up. Disgusting.
    3. IMPORTANT footnote: This refers to select individual cases happening in TTL. It is in no way my intent to downplay the lethal effectiveness and inhumanity of the genocide either in OTL or TTL and should not be construed as such.
    4. This gentleman.
    5. NONE of this is my own authorial opinion. I was disgusted with what I came up with while writing this fictitious statement- and the worst bit is that OTL’s Turkish government isn’t much better than TTL’s Ottoman Empire in the twenty-first century.
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    Chapter 37: The Postwar Ottoman Empire
  • Chapter 37: The Postwar Ottoman Empire
    "All day long, without respite nor peace, the fighting continues. Greek against Turk, Turk against Briton... by the time it is over there will be no Cyprus left to annex!"
    Excerpt from the diary of a Greek-Cypriot woman, summer 1916

    "The Ottoman Empire gained something most valuable at Dresden and Konigsberg. Dreams of annexing or of puppetising Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Egypt were shown up as just dreams, and all they had to show on a map was Kuwait traded for Qatar. Yet, this represented an essential gain for the state, for it gave the Pasha regime a few years of quiet with which to rebuild the empire, something more valuable, far more valuable, than anything on a map..."
    - Robert FitzGerald, The Great War for Civilisation, 1998.

    The Ottoman Empire had not performed especially well in the Great War. An invasion of Siani in 1915 had flopped, and Ottoman troops sent the rest of the war on the defensive in Palestine, while Russian troops had gained a bridgehead in the Caucasus and never lost it. As on the Western and Italian fronts, 1915 passed in stalemate. Britain had repulsed the enemy attack into Sinai but was in no position to push towards the Holy Land, while neither side landed a knockout blow in Mesopotamia. Fortunately for the empire, anticipated rivals such as Italy, Bulgaria, and Greece either joined the Central Powers or remained neutral. The empire’s heartland was too large and remote for the Entente to strike at it, giving the Ottomans a secure territorial and resource base from which to continue the war. (1)

    The Ottoman Empire’s moment came in the first months of 1916 when British general Sir Charles Townshend, seeking to break the deadlock and gain glory for himself, crafted a plan for a “lightning strike” against Baghdad. When Townshend set off in autumn 1915, his greatest foe was not the Turks but logistics. Unable to keep his men supplied in the desert, he clung to the Tigris River. Increasingly aware of his vulnerability, Townshend retreated to the hamlet of Kut al-Amara in December, but a German-led Ottoman army soon encircled him. 1916 opened with a bitterly cold January as the thermometer plunged, but while the Ottomans feasted on rations brought down from Baghdad, the British starved. His men dropping like flies, Townshend stepped into captivity on 29 April 1916, dooming attempts to capture Ottoman Mesopotamia. Pasha had not been idle during the months of siege, following his triumph by attacking southeast with men from the 90,000-strong strategic reserve. Lacklustre Iraqi logistics meant it took approximately a month to move a trainload of soldiers from Constantinople to Baghdad. (3) Despite this, some 30,000 Turks had been transferred to the Tigris by the first of May. Slowly, the Ottoman Empire pushed its way southeast. Britain’s men had courage but not numbers, and with France’s situation going from bad to worse on the Continent, there was little prospect of reinforcement. London signed an armistice with Germany on 13 June, but fighting in Mesopotamia went on for another month until the Ottoman Empire snatched Kuwait in late August, thus winning decisively in the Mesopotamian theatre.

    While Turkish troops marched resolutely to Kuwait, Cyprus exploded into ethnic violence. The British regime had favoured ethnic Greeks- eighty percent of the island’s population- who returned with loyalty to London. Turkish Cypriots had always chafed under Britain and felt threatened by their Greek neighbours, causing them to look to Constantinople for protection. When Britain had abandoned all pretense and formally annexed Cyprus at the start of the Great War, Turkish Cypriots expected mass violence from the Greeks. It pleasantly surprised them when this did not occur; Britain had no desire to see ethnic violence rip up one of its colonies at a cost of imperial money and lives, and so tenuous peace prevailed.

    This quiet ended in the spring of 1916.

    Despite not having performed brilliantly, the Ottoman Empire had picked the winning side and was clearly going to profit from that. War Minister Enver Pasha and his cronies coveted Cyprus; besides containing thousands of his fellow Turks, its strategic location would provide useful naval bases. Pasha slipped agents provocateurs onto the island in early May, with the goal of setting off as much violence as possible.

    An explosion rocked the Famagusta Gate on 13 May, killing seventeen and destroying medieval fortifications in the blink of an eye. The Venetians had built the gate to defend the capital, Nicosia, in the sixteenth century and remained a popular landmark. Nicosia’s British fire brigade was on the scene within minutes and spent the rest of the day fighting the blaze, while the police did their utmost to track the perpetrator down. Unfortunately, they failed; any potential witnesses had died in the explosion and the culprit- an Ottoman agent- had entered Cyprus from neutral Greece, covering his tracks very well.

    The Famagusta Gate bombing was just the start. Ottoman agents conducted various acts of terrorism throughout the summer, not even pausing when London signed a ceasefire with Constantinople. Maintaining plausible deniability was extremely important to the Pasha troika- this ran roughshod over the Geneva Convention and could’ve been fatal to their joint career if discovered. Turkey thus minimised its contacts with agents on the island, letting them do as they pleased. The lack of central direction resulted in a haphazard campaign. More often than not, British troops or Greek civilians were the victims, but the terrorists weren’t above killing ethnic Turks just to cover their tracks. Sir John Eugene Clauson, governor-general of Cyprus, was in a maddening position. He knew that Constantinople was behind the violence in his colony but couldn’t prove a thing without hard evidence, and the bloody terrorists were covering their tracks too well! Sir Clauson took matters into his own hands, doing something reprehensible and stupid for the sake of his job. Soldiers spent the first week of August 1916 arresting Turkish Cypriots en masse. Sir Clauson reasoned that even though this would harm innocent life, it would ensure the capture of the terrorists. British soldiers arrested Turkish males over sixteen for the crime of speaking their native language, wearing a fez, or being seen in a mosque. Too many Greek Cypriots happily turned on their neighbours, betraying them to the British or worse, committing atrocities of their own; young Turkish men retaliated by formed armed gangs and slipped out to the countryside, or staged retaliatory attacks against Greek Orthodox churches. This only confirmed Britain’s fears that the Turks on the island were in league with Constantinople and served as an impetus for more internments. Thousands of innocents were crammed into unsanitary internment camps across the island, with dozens of deaths from disease or violence a day. This violated international law, but Britain had boots on the ground while Constantinople didn’t. Some refugees managed to slip away to Constantinople by fishing-boat, but British troops guarded the harbours to prevent agents provocateurs from entering or criminals fleeing.

    Cyprus was a moral disaster by the time of the Dresden Conference.

    A German political cartoon satirising hopes for peace on Cyprus.
    The Entente and Central Powers made peace at Dresden in October 1916. Regime loyalist Halil Mentese represented the Ottoman Empire, accompanied by a small army of translators and servants. Mentese and Enver Pasha had discussed Ottoman goals at length, and the respective nations had informed their ambassadors in Constantinople of those goals. Mentese remained quietly at the back for the first two days while Germany presented France with the bill. The first order of business on 17 October was Kuwait. Ottoman troops occupied the colony and had been flooding in since the cease-fire. Mentese requested Britain recognise Constantinople’s suzerainty over the colony, and to permit the Ottomans to re-establish their protectorate over Qatar. Mentese’s audacity raised more than a few British eyebrows, with Sir Edward Grey pointing out that the UK could launch a counteroffensive in the Middle East. That was bluff; to retake Kuwait by force would’ve meant restarting the war, and a raised eyebrow from Kaiser Wilhelm silenced Grey. Backpedalling, he offered the Ottomans Kuwait in exchange for reciprocal concessions elsewhere, but the UK wouldn’t be leaving Qatar. Halil Mentese ignored the bit about “reciprocal concessions elsewhere” and behaved as though Britain had given him Kuwait on a platter.

    Moving on to bloody Cyprus, Mentese spoke of the “ethnic cruelties” perpetrated against innocent Turks, accusing both Britain and Greece of ethnic cleansing. This was flatly untrue- Britain’s policies were racist but not intended to eradicate Turkish Cypriots, while neutral Greece had nothing to do with the events on the island. Mentese then made what he described as a “humanitarian gesture.” Great Powers had, directly and indirectly, spilled too much Cypriots blood; why not let the people determine their own future in a plebiscite? Grey retorted that it was a bit rich of the Ottomans to criticise Great Powers spilling blood while massacring their Armenians. Mentese denied that he knew what Grey was talking about, but his fury gave him away. Dusk was approaching and so everybody adjourned for the day. Several British and Ottoman interpreters got into bitter arguments that night, with the British yelling “what about Armenia” and their Turkish counterparts yelling “what about Ireland?” More substantially, an aide asked Grey over a gin and tonic if he really wanted years of ethnic strife on Cyprus- the Foreign Minister stroked his chin and said nothing. Grey accepted the plebiscite idea the next day, and it was written into Article 34 of the Treaty of Dresden on 20 October. A Plebiscite Commission was established, but there was some debate about who was to lead it. Britain proposed Henry Morgenthau, American ambassador to Constantinople, but Constantinople rejected him because of his unabashed criticism of the Armenian Genocide. Abraham I Elkus, a prominent American Jewish diplomat, was accepted because of his faith; since Christian-Muslim divisions were a major historical factor in the Cypriot divide, both sides assumed a Jewish man would be ‘neutral’. Commission officials trickled into Cyprus through the last weeks of 1916 to prepare for a vote on 25 December; both British and Ottoman troops accompanied them to keep order.

    Halil Mentese kept mum when making peace with Russia at Konigsberg two weeks later. While Ottoman control of Kuwait and the violence on Cyprus gave them a bargaining chip against Britain, the Russians held all the cards against them. Russian troops had overrun much of Ottoman Armenia, exposing the massacres committed by Turkish troops, and held a chunk of Anatolia; not a single Ottoman boot stood on Russian soil. They abandoned dreams of shifting the border north or of establishing puppet states in the Caucasus as Mentese procured only two concessions; forgiveness of all Ottoman debt to Russia and the evacuation of all occupied Ottoman territory by New Year’s Day 1917. Many Armenians, knowing what the return of Ottoman power would mean, abandoned their homes and possessions on a long march to the Russian border. Russian troops, bitter over having lost the war when they had defeated the Turks in battle, often refused to permit Armenian refugees to tag along; civilians were a drain on resources.

    These Armenians would soon meet a bitter fate.

    Christmas Day 1916 opened with the Cyprus plebiscite. Predicted mass violence hadn’t materialised, largely because both sides believed they’d get what they wanted. Unbeknownst to anyone, Enver Pasha had a plan to ensure he got what he wanted. Citing the brutal ethnic violence, he called on Turkish Cypriots to “join for their own safety”; ie, move to a specific geographic location within Cyprus. Making such a direct appeal to the Turkish Cypriot population was one reason Constantinople had wanted boots on the island to ‘supervise’ the plebiscite. Many were all too happy to get away from their British and Greek foes, and thousands travelled to the north-east of the island. Every Cypriot over eighteen- women included- was eligible to vote, and when the commission unveiled the results on New Year’s Day 1917, they revealed something surprising. Out of three choices- remaining under the British Crown, incorporation into Greece, or incorporation into the Ottoman Empire, maintaining the status quo prevailed with 49% of the vote; becoming part of Greece received 34%, thus leaving 17% voting to join the Ottoman Empire. What was interesting was that the 17% was located almost uniformly in the northeastern tip of the island- if Cyprus didn’t join the Ottoman Empire it faced the danger of an ethnically Turkish insurgency in one geographic area. Constantinople now stepped in with another ‘humanitarian’ gesture. It would be unjust, they said, to leave a fifth of Cyprus’ population under a hostile regime. Given that the vote had been divided on rough geographical lines, why not partition the island? Turkish Cypriots in the north-east could become part of the Ottoman Empire, while Britain and the Greek Cypriots could rule the rest? By this point, though, everyone had had enough. Britain had offered to let the people decide- they emphasised that they hadn’t had to do this- and they’d had chosen British rule. Sir Edward Grey informed Constantinople that he would hear no more talk on the matter. Cyprus was and would remain British, and since Britain had boots on the ground, they were the ones able to set the agenda. The island would be a sticking point in Anglo-Turkish relations for years to come, and a shared interest in the well-being of Greek Cypriots- plus a natural desire to contain Turkey- would draw London and Athens closer together despite the latter’s courting of Germany. Once it became clear, the Ottomans would never gain Cyprus, the Pashas recalled their agents on the island, and 1917 saw ethnic violence decline immensely.

    Constantinople’s scheme to steal Cyprus had failed, and all those deaths had been for nothing.

    Turkey had gained few concessions at Dresden, but it had acquired something more badly needed: breathing space. Russian and British ability to menace the frontiers had greatly decreased while Italy, Bulgaria, and Greece all treated the empire with more respect than before. However, the Ottoman Empire faced one issue which the war had exacerbated: debt. Prior to the war, European loans had been one of the few things keeping the empire going, and the bill would come due on those eventually. As mentioned above, the Ottomans had had their debt to the Entente cancelled at Dresden but were still on the hook for payments to Germany, Danubia, Italy and Holland, totalling some five billion- to say nothing of the immediate expenditure on the war, some 2.6 billion liras, and the Ottoman Empire’s prewar deficit. Inflation had gone through the roof while living standards plummeted, and a year of peace had done nothing to help.

    The Ottoman Empire was looking at total financial collapse going into 1918.

    Talaat Pasha was finance minister as well as prime minister. Since his head would roll if the imperial economy didn’t soon recover, he spent the winter of 1917-1918 crusading for a national bank. If the Finance Ministry could assume a greater degree of centralised control over the economy, that would help them keep expenditure down and give him a better idea of what he had to work with. Writing to the Sultan, he pointed out that the economic programme adopted in 1911 had promised a national bank by 1915, and that enough time had gone by without one. Mehmed VI was sympathetic to the idea, but pointed out that the Ottoman Public Debt Administration would need to give its consent. Talaat was a good Turk and so the mere mention of that organisation was enough to make him mutter obscenities. The Ottoman Public Debt Administration (OPDA) was a consortium established to manage Constantinople’s debt to the world, and every Turkish patriot worth his salt was convinced that it was a ploy to exploit the empire; they were not entirely wrong. Nonetheless, Talaat Pasha was going to have to go through the OPDA to establish his central bank. Sir Adam Block, prewar president of the OPDA, was invited to Constantinople on 13 February 1918, where he met with the Pasha troika. This wasn’t an official session of the OPDA and Sir Block could offer only his personal opinions, but what he said was encouraging. Sir Block would be willing to approve and assist with an Ottoman central bank in exchange for more economic rights within the empire. Talaat Pasha had mixed feelings on this; on the one hand, his country needed financial reform but economic concessions to a country they’d just defeated in war was a bitter pill. Talaat proposed a formal session of OPDA to discuss the matter; Sir Adam Block agreed.

    The Ottoman Public Debt Administration’s governing council convened in Constantinople on 1 April 1918. The post-revolutionary French regime, disliked by all parties, hadn’t been invited. Britain, Germany, Danubia, the Netherlands, and Italy were all represented, and their interests varied. Danubia, weakened from its Hungarian ordeal, was in no position to make demands, while the Netherlands and Italy couldn’t have cared less about whether or not the Ottomans had a central bank. Sir Adam Block wanted economic concessions in the former colony of Kuwait in exchange for supporting the measure, while Germany’s interests were more balanced; they wanted a stable and healthy Ottoman Empire from which they could procure oil and bypass the Suez Canal. Talaat Pasha explained his proposal for carrying through with the central bank as detailed in the 1911 programme and received approval from the delegates. Talaat wished he hadn’t had to get permission from foreign powers to run his own internal affairs but was grateful nonetheless, and he eagerly sent word to the Finance Ministry to proceed with plans for the bank. The National Bank of the Ottoman Empire would be inaugurated on 1 January 1919, with a handsome central building in Constantinople blocking traffic through to the present day.

    Talaat Pasha was determined to follow up on this victory by slashing his country’s debt to the OPDA nations. Constantinople needed to deflate the currency and improve living standards, but they couldn’t do that if they owed Europe (less Britain and France) five billion liras. The German representative was acutely aware of this and wanted to strike a deal which would reduce Constantinople’s debt while gaining something for Berlin. He proposed that a German-led consortium (though other nations could of course buy shares) be formed to drill the empire’s oilfields, especially the newfound ones in Kuwait, and that the Ottoman Empire lease Germany a naval base in Kuwait. The former would both enrich Germany and extend their control over Turkey’s greatest source of revenue, while the latter would let them bypass the British Suez Canal. Talaat replied that negotiations over a Kuwaiti naval base were outside the scope of OPDA, but agreed to discuss the matter elsewhere and offered tentative agreement for now. In exchange for these concessions, Germany would waive its credit against Constantinople, leaving only Italy, Holland, and Danubia. Under pressure from Berlin, the remaining three agreed to let the Ottomans refinance their debt at an interest rate of three percent to be paid over ten years. Turkey had more lean times ahead, but by 1928 it would hopefully be free of foreign debt.

    Germany had done the Ottoman Empire a good turn, but not without a cost; they were serious about the oil consortium and Kuwaiti naval base. Enver Pasha travelled to Berlin that summer to discuss the latter with Chancellor Ernst von Heydebrand. Von Heydebrand proposed that Germany lease the port of Doha for ninety-nine years, to be paid for by forgiving all Ottoman debt. This was too much for Enver Pasha; Kuwait was now sovereign Ottoman territory and Germany had no right to impose itself there. The man-in-the-street, the sultan, and the regime loyalists who really ran things would all be angered if Enver made such a concession. He could all too easily see the other Pashas ejecting him as yet another stooge of foreign interests, killing his political career. Compromise was the order of the day. Enver proposed that in exchange for forgiving Ottoman debt, Germany could lease Doha for nine years, after which the port would revert to Ottoman sovereignty. However, the Kaiserliche Marine would enjoy basing rights at Doha until 2008 at a cost of a hundred thousand marks per year adjusted for inflation. Both sides were satisfied and moved on to the second order of business, the proposed European consortium to develop Ottoman oilfields. Enver made it clear that the empire’s natural resources were exclusively its property; while the Europeans might be invited in, they would only do business at Constantinople’s pleasure. Von Heydebrand replied that Enver had agreed to establish the consortium, and that if he backed out now Germany would force the Ottomans to pay back their loans. As with the Kuwaiti naval base, compromise prevailed. A new organisation was established with headquarters in Berlin and Constantinople, named the Ottoman Petrol Exportation Consortium (OPEC) The Ottoman and German governments would start with a 50% stake, but foreign governments and even private companies could all buy in. Enver would later remark that he would never have consented to this had it not been for the empire’s debt crisis and criticised the Germans for making Turkey “prostitute” its resources, but considering that the Pasha troika collectively invested two million dollars in OPEC, he couldn’t have been too broken up. In the end, the deal proved surprisingly profitable for Constantinople. Danubia and the Netherlands acquired small stakes in the company while many individuals in both Europe and America did likewise. While they would’ve liked to have sold all of their oil independently, OPEC served as a useful means for Germany to support the development of the Ottoman oil industry and was a significant source of revenue for the Turkish government in the 1920s- to say nothing of the wealth it brought private Turks.

    Seeds had been sown for an Ottoman economic revival, even though living standards would remain low and inflation high until well into the 1920s. The Pasha triumvirate now faced a new struggle, one more challenging than running the war or saving the economy and on a matter far closer to their hearts: themselves. Their Committee of Union and Progress had lied and committed fraud to gain power, and the three men understandably feared the empire’s limited electorate rejecting their clique. With elections slated for October 1919, the Three Pashas had two years to devise a winning strategy. Gangs roamed Constantinople’s streets harassing anybody opposed to the ruling triumvirate, while the Ottoman electorate was told over and over again that the C.U.P. had won the war and the opposition was weak as water at best and outright treasonous at worst. Their efforts were given a boost when Sultan Mehmed V died on 31 July 1918. Mehmed had never been friendly to the Pasha clique, but his successor Mehmed VI was more interested in culture than politics and would never have become emperor had his older brother not committed suicide.The Pashas looked forward to vindication at the ballot box in October 1919…

    Enver Pasha wasn’t on the ballot in 1919; as War Minister his was an unelected post while the same held true for Navy Minister Djemal Pasha. Talaat Pasha held the post of Prime Minister as well as Finance Minister and hoped that even if things went wrong and he lost the first post, he could still keep the second. As befitting a strongman, Talaat had Committee of Union and Progress thugs turn up the heat in Constantinople as October 1919 came round. Gangs of out-of-work young men were given a hot lunch and dinner in exchange for causing a ruckus. Prominent opponents of the regime found their personal safety at risk in the run-up to the election, and many opted to decamp to the countryside for a few days. The Pashas turned their propaganda up to eleven, rhetorically asking who won the war and fixed the economy. When 22 October rolled around, the troika had every expectation of being reelected.

    They had to pull some strings to make it so.

    From top to bottom: War Minister Enver Pasha, Prime Minister and Finance Minister Talaat Pasha, Naval Minister Djemal Pasha



    The Pasha dictatorship was not set in stone, and the C.U.P had many foes. The Pasha regime had suppressed Liberal Union, the Ottoman Democratic Party, and the Ottoman Socialist Party, forcing them to operate under CUP “management”. Nonetheless, the minority parties enjoyed genuine support. Enver, Talaat, and Djemal weren’t universally popular, with many non-Turks alienated by their ethnic nationalism, while many others blamed them for the poor economic conditions. Previous leading figures within the CUP- including one Mustafa Kemal- had withdrawn their support.

    Genuine opposition forced the Committee for Union and Progress to do what all good strongmen do: cheat.

    One day before the election, Socialist leader Yesik Reval Pasha, who had defected from the CUP, was arrested on grounds of “serious financial fraud”. Papers across the empire ballyhooed made sure the Ottoman electorate woke up on Election Day with the news that one of the principal opposition leaders was a criminal. While many recognised this as nonsense, the empire’s more gullible subjects fell for it, and it provided a fine opportunity for regime officials to ‘investigate’ the Socialist Party. This ‘investigation’ lasted until the end of the month, and to the regime’s delight it revealed that someone had edited thousands of ballots marked for the CUP to show a Socialist vote. The Pashas delightedly fixed these ballots before driving the Ottoman Socialist Party back underground. Yesik Reval Pasha was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment while the state confiscated his fortune. While Liberal Union and the Democratic Party weren’t so specifically targeted, local vote-counters- all good Pasha men, of course- had no qualms about ‘correcting’ ballots so they went for the CUP. The last days of October saw widespread protests against fraud; these were especially concentrated in the pro-Liberal Union Arabic regions of the empire; police quashed them with the centre’s approval.

    Finally, at lunchtime on 1 November, Talaat Pasha announced his re-election as Prime Minister, The Committee for Union and Progress held some seventy-four seats; the rest were split between the various opposition parties. Sultan Mehmed VI was none too pleased at the fraud but lacked the power to challenge Talaat, making him one in a long list of Turkish sultans overpowered by dynamic courtiers.

    The Pasha triumvirate would rule the Ottoman Empire in the 1920s with a harsh fist, but would do all in their power to drive it into modernity…


    (1) The strains caused by having Italy in the Central Powers preclude Gallipoli
    (2) Those who were at Gallipoli IOTL
    (3) From Wikipedia: “The total time to get from Constantinople to Baghdad during the war was 22 days. The total distance was 2,020 kilometres (1,260 mi)”
    (4) He wouldn’t have known just how bad it was.
    Chapter 38: Mittelafrika
  • Chapter Thirty-Eight: Mittelafrika

    "My people have suffered under the rule of one white man for decades. Now, they say, we are under the rule of another white man! Well, I tell you, it makes as much difference to me as it would to the people of Berlin if they were to go from rule by the Mongo to the Luba!"
    -An embittered (and presumably well-off) Congolese expatriate mocking the idea that Germany would be a better ruler than Belgium in a letter to a friend, spring 1917.

    "The Dark Continent has been tamed at last! German people, rally to the cause of our empire!"
    -Kaiser Wilhelm II during his first and only visit to Mittelafrika, summer 1918.

    The Great War had profoundly affected Africa. Four centuries of colonisation had culminated in 1914 with the continent being divided on perfectly straight, non-contested lines, none of which bore any relation to cultural or geographic patterns. Barring the quasi-Westernised Liberia and the ancient Ethiopian empire, every square mile of the second-largest continent was under direct rule from Europe. Few Africans were happy with the status quo- many felt that “it was a paradise before you came here!” and romanticised their people’s independent history. Several tribes used the Great War as an excuse to revolt; by 1915 the Senussis of North Africa were at war with both the Entente and Central Powers, having led a vast swathe of territory in both Libya and Egypt into revolt, while three separate uprisings rocked French West Africa. Few of the continent’s peoples joined them in this though; for most, the war was a chance to leave their farms and cities and prove their worth. Well over a million Africans donned khaki, blue, or Feldgrau for the mother country, not forgetting their ethnic identities and experiences of racism but willing to ‘do their bit’ and let bygones be bygones. Black troops went to all theatres of war; French tirailleurs sénégalais fought on the Western Front aside Parisians while Nigerians rubbed shoulders with Yorkshiremen. More common was for African troops to be deployed against foes on the continent. 250,000 men of the King’s Own African Rifles distinguished themselves in combat in German East Africa, while the South African Volunteer Brigade had done a tour of Egypt before going to the Western Front. 17,000 Congolese spent two years in German East Africa; many Belgians who didn’t want to or couldn’t fight in Ypres became commanders in the Congo. These Belgian officers-in-exile fought with a greater hatred of the foe than the British or French because their homelands were lost, and if the only way to avenge that was to fight in East Africa then so be it.

    Africans in the pay of the Central Powers were no less valiant. Aware that they couldn’t win, they resolved to go down with a fight and make the Entente pay for every inch taken. Africans in German service spent 1915 fighting a losing battle to keep Namibia out of South African hands, waging a delaying battle across the dusty, baking plains. Namibia was a long way from friendly territory and Britain’s naval dominance meant that few supplies could get through, whereas the Dominion of South Africa put its small but substantial weight behind the fighting. The defenders had courage aplenty, but that wasn’t enough to win a war by itself, and the end of 1915 would see the Dominion flag fly over Namibia. South Africa would annex it- as opposed to its coming under rule from London- following the Treaty of Dresden.

    Kamerun and German East Africa were different stories. Unlike Namibia, both were dense jungle with minimal population and negligible infrastructure beyond a few port towns. France had ceded Kamerun to Germany two years before the war, and it was the least well-developed of Germany’s colonial possessions. Colonial governor Karl Ebermaier knew his position was hopeless but had no choice but to fight. Schutztruppe- a catchall term for black German soldiers- were recruited from the locals, swelling the defensive force threefold to some six thousand poorly equipped and trained men. Arrayed against them were ten thousand Entente soldiers who enjoyed naval support and lines of supply extending to Cape Town and London. The invasion of Kamerun began during the last days of autumn 1914, when much of the colony’s prewar military was caught foolishly defending the coast and wiped out. Faced with the loss of the coastal towns which made Kamerun a viable colony, Ebermaier decided on a retreat into the interior where his men tied down ten thousand enemy soldiers for over a year. Local Schutztruppe knew the terrain far better than Entente and made the most of that, luring the enemy into dense bush where a man lay in Feldgrau, bayonet at the ready. Quixotism wasn’t enough to save Kamerun. By February 1916 the Entente had overrun the colony and Ebermaier had to flee to Spanish Guinea. While in Spanish protection, the German grew depressed over his failure and contemplated suicide.

    He needn’t have worried.

    Karl Ebermayer, governor of Kamerun.

    Kamerun was isolated from the rest of the war and events there had no bearing on those in Europe. Days after Britain and France finished mopping the floor with Ebermaier’s regime, Erich von Falkenhayn’s offensive opened at Verdun and knocked the French on their heels. As part of the Armistice of 23 May, France had to pull its forces out of Kamerun; the British did likewise for logistical reasons. The Treaty of Dresden restored Kamerun to German control, and Karl Ebermaier would rule the colony until 1923.

    Then there was German East Africa, in 1914 the most populous of Germany’s African colonies with seven and a half million people. Only ten thousand were German immigrants, but the loyalty of the natives was never in question. As in Kamerun, the defenders of German East Africa had poor logistics and only fifteen and a half thousand were on hand to defend the colony. The officers were uniformly white, while the vast majority of foot soldiers were black Schutztruppe. With British East Africa and Rhodesia on two sides and the Congolese colossus to the west, on paper the isolated colony didn’t stand a chance, and everyone assumed it would fold quick enough.

    Such naysayers had reckoned without Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck.

    Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck had been born in the Rhineland in 1870 and spent his adult life in the colonial services. He had been part of the German force sent to quell the Chinese Boxer rising in 1900 and served honourably even though he grew to dislike the guerilla-style tactics in play there, considering them dishonourable and unworthy of the German military.

    If this was so, it made Von Lettow-Vorbeck a master of an art he despised.

    Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, the Lion of Africa, shown here without his trademark moustache.
    Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck.jpg

    Von Lettow-Vorbeck commanded five thousand soldiers at the outbreak of war, half of whom were white Germans. Throughout 1914 and early 1915, Von Lettow-Vorbeck discarded orders from the colonial governor and launched one daring expedition after another into British and Belgian territory. His insubordination raised eyebrows and would surely have got him demoted or transferred had he not been so successful. Togoland fell without a hitch while Namibia and Kamerun were slowly swallowed up, but Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck kept fighting. His persistence was rewarded on 18 June 1916 when a British soldier approached under flag of truce with a telegram from the German minister to Norway of all places. The United Kingdom had signed an armistice with Germany in Oslo five days previous and British troops were to pull out with all due speed. The war was over.

    Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck wasn’t present at the Dresden Conference despite his wishes to be. He spent the summer and autumn of 1916 in Dar es Salaam, rebuilding his tired force of Schutztruppe. There was an expectation that Germany’s possessions on the continent would increase and that would require more native black troops. Von Lettow-Vorbeck’s took the form of a small parcel from Berlin with a Pour la Mérite inside. Like all Germans, the size of the new Mittelafrika overawed him: from once-Belgian Congo to the desert of French Central Africa (now Tschad), to French Congo and even Benin in the far west: all was German. Some had hoped to gain British Nigeria or Rhodesia, but Berlin hadn’t been able to demand those. Von Lettow-Vorbeck secretly coveted command of Mittelafrika for himself, but was denied: Heinrich Schnee, former governor of German East Africa, got the top job. Von Lettow-Vorbeck briefly feared being ignored, but he needn’t have worried. Berlin had an equally important job for him. With all of Germany’s colonial possessions barring the enlarged Togoland now geographically contiguous, the General Staff wanted to establish a unified military command for the African territories. (1) What better man to lead it than Von Lettow-Vorbeck, hero of the East African fighting and conqueror of the German front page? Wasting little time, Von Lettow-Vorbeck dashed back from a brief holiday in the Rhineland to his new post in the city of Brazzastadt, capital of Mittelafrika. (2) He would remain at this post for the rest of his career, marrying a Belgian girl half his age in 1922 and having three children.

    Mittelafrika was a diverse place if ever there was one. East Africa had been a settler colony in the years before the war and that pattern continued after it. Interestingly, a small but significant number of Austrian Danubians moved to the colony in the wake of the civil war, largely going to the wealthy and heavily Germanised regional capital of Dar es Salaam. The city profited from this influx, experiencing a steady increase in German immigration throughout the 1920s and would be fifty percent white by 1925. German East Africa became a “model colony” in which living standards were on a par with the Balkans or the German puppets in the east, the government prioritised education and infrastructure, and German racism was held somewhat in check as Christian German culture rubbed shoulders with Islam and Swahilli- a long way from the “darkest Africa” stereotype prevalent elsewhere.

    Sadly, much of Mittelafrika was not run this way.

    Germany had acquired the Belgian Congo at the Treaty of Dresden, but since they didn’t have soldiers in the colony when pen was put to paper, establishing physical control would take time. Small groups of officials reached the major cities in late October, formally replacing the Belgian flag with the German, but their lack of administrative appartuses to run the colony led to corner-cutting; many Belgian civil servants simply recieved new contracts from Berlin. Pride motivated some Belgians to refuse- one said that after what the Germans had done to their homeland, doing anything for them would make them like Judas and his thirty pieces of silver- but one couldn’t eat honour and most were grateful to have a job. A new generation of German bureaucrats would arise and found jobs in Africa, thus phasing out these Belgians, but they made useful placeholders who knew the territory. Unlike the civil service, the military was no place for ex-Belgians; as their loyalty was inherently suspect, giving them guns was a poor idea. Conscious of the tongue-lashing King Leopold had rightly received for his atrocities in the colony, Kaiser Wilhelm did his best to ensure that the German regime in the Kongo was more humanitarian than the one which came before, yet the influence of ex-Belgians meant that Deutsches Kongo (3) was run rather similarly to its Belgian predecessor. Rubber remained the main plank of the colonial economy, and German corporate interests merely replaced Belgian ones. While people weren’t having their hands cut off for failing to meet quotas, human rights were never a major concern for the colonisers, and living conditions were appalling. Berlin repressed several uprisings which occurred throughout the 1920s, inflicting many civilian casualties. Very few white Germans moved to Kongo, not wanting to live in an impoverished, war-torn land, and the demographics remained very similar from before the war- although German was quickly phased in as the lingua franca.

    Kongo would never be a good place to live, but it was a tremendous source of revenue and for Berlin that counted for more.

    To Kongo’s north was Tschad, which can be summed up with the following joke. “Two tribesmen ride up to one another on their camels and one says to the other: ‘What shall we do, brother, now that we are under the rule of Germany and not France?’ The other replies, ‘What are Germany and France?’” Germany’s issues in projecting power into the Kongo were ten times worse in Tschad- towns of more than a thousand people and proper infrastructure were rare amongst the sand dunes. Wilhelm II’s being their lord and master made little difference to the Saras and Arabs (4). Many in Berlin questioned why the country was taking on the expense of running a useless patch of desert which brought them little economic gain. (5)

    There was a very simple reason- Tschad was to become, in the words of Kaiser Wilhelm, “the greatest escape tunnel in the world.”

    Britain’s blockade of Germany had caused much harm to the country during the Great War. Geography dictated that while a country might dominate the Continent, Great Britain would always be poised to cut said empire off from the wider world- it was why neutral trade with Germany had withered and died during the Great War and why Napoleon’s Continental System had bitten France in the backside a century previous. London’s possession of Gibraltar and the Suez Canal only made things worse. Since Germany could never achieve naval supremacy over Britain, they would surely be doomed to fighting with one hand tied behind their backs during a second Great War- no?

    Perhaps not.

    Powerful connections with Italy- both diplomatic and physical (the latter through Swiss and Danubian rail) looked to be a new fixture of German foreign policy. Added to this was that Italian Libya and German Tschad touched, while Douala touched the Atlantic Ocean too far south for the Royal Navy to isolate it. Strong rail and maritime connections with Italy had kept the Mediterranean competitive for the Central Powers during the Great War and had helped them communicate with Libya- why not extend that pipeline further, so that a rail line could connect Benghazi with Douala via Tschad? “I dream of a line”, the Kaiser declared in spring 1919, “of German-Italian communications and transports. One might board a train in Hamburg and travel uninterrupted through Germany and into Switzerland, thence into Italy, before sailing to Libya. Once there, I dream of a man boarding a train and travelling across the continent for hundreds of miles before planting his boots in the warm shores of the African Atlantic!”

    Thus was the Transafrikanische Eisenbahn (Trans-African Railway) conceived.

    The logistical difficulties of such a thing were obvious. From Benghazi to Douala was two thousand miles as the crow flies; difficult-to-traverse mountains and hostile French Niger and British Nigeria lengthened the route by four hundred miles. This cut through the Sahara Desert, where for hundreds of miles in every direction there was nothing but sand. Tschad’s few towns lived in crushing poverty, the mission of the locals being to sustain their water supplies. Dirt goat-tracks were the closest thing to roads. Nomads who didn’t exactly subscribe to the Westphalian idea of ‘absolute sovereignty’ had lived in the deserts since the Middle Ages and would take it amiss if the white men started building railroads through ‘their’ territory. Since they were working on Italian soil, the German builders would have to pay steep rent to Rome for permission, and if Italy ever withdrew its consent, the project would be off. Once one left the desert, one entered Kamerun, the dense jungle which had held up thousands of Entente soldiers during the Great War. Malaria was the order of the day, and in places a man was lucky if he could see ten yards in front of him. Equatorial humidity was added to the heat, and while water supplies were plentiful, they were more often than not unsafe to drink. Much of the colony, despite having been under German control since 1912, was scarcely known to Berlin and was theirs in name only. Finally, once one reached Douala, what did one find? An impoverished colonial city without the infrastructure needed to be a major shipping port.

    And Kaiser Wilhelm II wanted to spend millions on a railroad.

    Locally recruited Libyans toiling away on the Trans-Sahara Railway, summer 1920.
    The project had its proponents, though. Aside from the geo-strategic advantages mentioned above, such a thing would bring Germany much prestige as, unlike France, they could claim to have ‘conquered the continent!’- such was the slogan used by proponents of the railroad. Italy was all in favour of the idea- bringing in the apparatuses needed to construct a railroad would provide a fine bit of cover for increasing the garrisons in remote southern Libya, where the Senussi were lying low after their most recent uprising had failed. Italian financiers looked forward to charging Germany the most exorbitant price possible. Besides, since this was Germany’s idea, Italy could let German workers do all the heavy lifting- literal and proverbial- and so its labour costs would be minimal. The German Finance Ministry reluctantly allocated thirty million to the project in November 1919; construction began soon after.

    Phillip Holzmann AG was Germany’s premiere construction firm, responsible for some of the greatest edifices of the past few decades, the most significant of which for our purposes was the Berlin-Baghdad Railway. Chancellor Ernst von Heydebrand, the Italian ambassador to Berlin (6), and the company’s executive signed a contract for five million per year for the next five years, with Germany paying three-fifths and Italy the rest in January 1920. The German government would physically own the railway, and the sections in Libya would have extraterritoriality, while Phillip Holzmann AG would also enjoy unlimited free use of the railway. Three weeks later, German emissary to Rome, Hans von Flotow and Italy’s Finance Minister struck a deal whereby Germany would pay Italy a onetime lump sum of ten million and give Italy the right to use the railway for free. (7) (8) Pen touched paper and Kaiser Wilhelm II nailed the first spike in on 11 April 1920.

    Constructing the Trans-Africa Railway would prove a monumental task. Logistics in the Libyan desert were appalling once one travelled a few miles from Benghazi. Many natives didn’t want to work on the “white man’s project”, considering it a further intrusion on their homes, and there was no way Europeans were going to leave their homes to dirty their hands in Africa. The only way to attract enough natives was to raise wages, which increased overhead for the construction firm. After a band of Senussi attacked a gang of construction workers in early June, the company informed Berlin that it had to provide security otherwise the deal would end; Phillip Holzman AG would not have its workers killed (or fork out for the insurance). Thus, Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck was ordered to dispatch an entire brigade north to keep order- this protected the construction but strained supplies. Every piece of equipment had to be shipped in from Europe to a Libyan port and brought down either by lorry or mount, as did every ration. Just as an army which has swept all foes aside cannot advance too far lest it lose its supplies, the construction could only proceed as fast as the supplies. Stifling summer heat crashed upon the project as April turned to May; the latter saw two heatstroke deaths and that number would quadruple in June. Work continued through the summer, but it rapidly became clear that things would not end well, as the only thing climbing faster than the death toll was the expenses. Germany’s debt from the war was eighty million and they had paid not much of that off, while the thirty million allocated to the project was burning at both ends.

    Thus was the Trans-Sahara Railway laid to rest.

    The first attempt at the project had been an unmitigated failure. Eight months of work had seen the line come within miles of the Libyan-Tschadi border, nowhere near enough to connect with a line to the Atlantic (although what was present was quite high quality). Worse still from the German perspective, the terms of the contract still bound them and had to pay Phillip Holzman AG the required five million per year for the next five years- but that would all be for nothing. The failure of the Trans-Sahara project would doom Ernst von Heydebrand’s government, but that is for another update. However, this is not the end of the railway story. Plans for a line between Douala and the Tschadi town of Fada would be adopted in 1939 and construction would go on throughout the 1940s, with Kaiser Wilhelm III taking a much-publicised journey from Berlin to Douala in 1950, a little over a year before his death. Today, the Transafrikanische Eisenbahnkommission, headquartered in Berlin and Brazzastadt, gives the involved governments- Germany and Italy included- a share in Africa’s biggest transportation route.

    Northwest of Mittelafrika was Morocco, nominally an independent state under a German ‘protectorate’- France had held an identical position in the sultanate before Dresden transferred it to Germany. Minimal change resulted from Berlin’s take over- conservative, pro-German policies were the order of the day and Berlin’s civil service ran the country. 1917 saw a small Mediterranean Squadron move into Rabat while many German investors flocked to Rabat. Britain was none too happy at having German troops only miles from the Rock of Gibraltar, but there was little they could do. When the Rif Rebellion set Spanish Morocco aflame in 1920, London reinforced Gibraltar but decided against aiding the rebels: projecting power so close to a German holding broke the spirit (if not the letter) of the unwritten Great Power ‘rulebook’ and would surely invite retaliation. Some in France pondered intervening on the rebel side, but the country was too weak from its civil war and such plans were shelved. Germany and Spain partnered to crush the Rif and the whole matter was taken care of within a few years. Morocco would continue playing a subservient role in its own country but would never challenge German dominance, and even today is a Germanophone nation with strong ties to Berlin, and an African member of the Old World Economic and Security Community (Altwelt Wirtschafts- und Sicherheitsgemeinschaft) (9). On the other end of the Sahara Desert lay Togoland. Originally intended as a coaling station for the Navy, Togoland had fallen quickly in 1914 but had its size doubled at Dresden with the acquisition of French Benin. The white population had been low before the war and continued to stagnate, yet living standards were quite high. Because of this, Togoland’s Africans came to identify as “African-German” or “Togolese Germans” in a way few in the empire would for years, and Berlin had remarkably few issues running the colony. Finally, there was Dakar. The major West African port had been procured for ninety-nine years at Dresden because a secure base in the mid-Atlantic would greatly enhance Germany’s ability to project power in the region. With their homeland under partial German occupation and the fabric of their nation fraying, the French had had to acquiesce and a German occupation force reached Dakar on the first day of November 1916. The city was sovereign German territory much as Qingdao had been before the war, and Germany took the fact that French West Africa surrounded it very seriously. Conscripts were sent to the city annually, with an average of two battalions on hand at any given point. Some adventurous German fishermen moved to Dakar to begin a new trade in equatorial waters, but for the most part the city’s raison d’etre was as a naval base. Living standards remained about the same as before the war and the new regime didn’t change much about daily life in the city.

    Flag of the German concession in Dakar.
    Screen Shot 2021-01-27 at 1.22.23 pm.png
    That, then, was Mittelafrika. Forged from the fire of the Great War, the massive colony and its outliers put Germany on the map of Africa on a par with Britain and France and was a great source of pride in Berlin. To quote Wilhelm II, “now that we, the German people can claim a piece of that great wilderness known as Africa, that I can look from Tschad to Togoland to the Indian Ocean and see our flag, now that all of this is true, now I know the German Empire has its place in the sun.”


    1. Prussian centralisation, ja?
    2. A fusion of Brazzaville and Leopoldville, suitably Germanised.
    3. The German for it, “Kongo” is how the colony is referred to in TTL in the Anglophone world and so that’s what I’ll use here.
    4. Sara being a Tschadi ethnic group. The bit about using German names still holds true here, by the way.
    5. The country’s oil reserves weren’t developed till much later, no?
    6. The Internet is being exactly as helpful as always… if anyone has a name please ‘shoot’...
    7. There’s a reason Germany’s naval growth will be a bit stunted beyond my general ignorance of ship design… where do you think that money is going to instead eh?
    8. I feel like I need to explain this better: the German government is hiring Phillip Holzman AG in the same way one might hire a builder to touch up one’s roof: the government’s footing the bill and providing the workers, who are then “hired” by Phillip Holzman AG and nominally paid by the company- which presumably uses a big chunk of the money from Germany and Italy for wages. Sorry if this seems oversimplistic and/or inaccurate: my knowledge of such things is hazy and it helps to write them down.
    9. See the very top of chapter 34 (here) for a hint...
    Chapter 39: Dropping Anchor
  • Chapter Thirty-Nine: Dropping Anchor
    "If the German fleet becomes superior to ours, the German army can conquer this country!"
    -Sir Edward Grey

    "The spirit of Trafalgar is broken!"
    -Kaiser Wilhelm II commenting on the naval situation in the wake of Jutland

    "The fact remains that while Germany may be growing, and that while England and Japan remain allies, this country has nothing to fear. We have oceans separating us from Europe and could take on London, Ottawa, and Tokyo all at once. And who is to say we may not have to one day? I tell you, sir, if we may credit Mr. Wilson's administration with any one thing it is his great expansion of the fleet..."
    -Secretary of the Navy Edward Benn to Charles Evans Hughes, 1920

    Kaiser Wilhelm II had always loved the Kaiserliche Marine (1). For the German Empire, four decades old compared to Britain and France’s centuries of history, a powerful fleet offered the same prestige London and Paris had found in colonisation. Much of Germany’s prewar budget had gone to an arms race which saw the gap between the KLM and Royal Navy narrow considerably. While the KLM had few opportunities to wield its might on the waves before the war, its very existence boosted Berlin’s Great Power credentials and Kaiser Wilhelm II’s ego; the monarch lost few opportunities to remind the world the North Sea was no longer a British lake. Sir Edward Grey’s comment that “if the German fleet becomes superior to ours, the German army can conquer this country!” sums up Britain’s feelings on the matter. For all its might, the Royal Navy wasn’t omnipotent and needed to prioritise the threat from Kiel; thus naval arrangements were arranged with America and Japan.

    Both sides went into the Great War eager to prove themselves on the waves…

    ... and both sides were disappointed.

    Britannia had ruled the waves since Trafalgar and expected to ride roughshod over the KLM. German warships based in the Pacific eluded Britain’s net before handing them a humiliating defeat at Coronel in the South Atlantic. More embarrassment came when HMS Audacious, one of Britain’s largest dreadnoughts, was sunk not in a heroic fleet action but by a floating mine. Britain bungled what in retrospect was its last chance to turn the tide of the naval war at Dogger Bank in January 1915; Sir David Beatty inflicted losses on the foe but let the enemy slip through his fingers mostly intact. The wake of Dogger Bank saw the Germans remain concentrated en masse at home as a “fleet in being”- Britain couldn’t steam in and crush the Germans without sending much of the Home Fleet to the bottom. Faced with a long war, both sides turned to economic warfare on the waves: Britain sealed off the North Sea and by extension Germany from the rest of the world by blockade while the KLM invested in U-boats. Neither project looked likely to turn the war one way or the other, and naval enthusiasts resigned themselves to a war of trenches and stalemate.

    Then Italy joined the Central Powers.

    Italy’s declaration of war reached London and Paris on 24 May 1915, tilting the strategic situation in the Mediterranean against the Entente. German U-boats could operate out of Naples and Palermo, placing the Gibraltar-to-Cairo shipping lane- the jugular vein for British troops in Egypt- under grave threat and forcing the Admiralty to divert large numbers of destroyers to the Mediterranean. This weakened their ability to fight U-boats in the Atlantic. (2) The Regia Marina wasn’t especially large, but it tipped the scales just enough to keep the naval war at a stalemate throughout 1915 and 1916.

    The German Navy sought to end that stalemate on 31 May 1916, several hundred miles off the Danish coast.

    Fitting the Battle of Jutland into the war’s wider history has always proven problematic, for it was fought in isolation from events on the Continent. (3) When the High Seas Fleet left port on 31 May, Germany had already won- France lay broken and Britain had pulled its troops from the Continent. Some have speculated that inter-service rivalry played a part in the battle: surely the navy needed a triumph to match the one taking place on the plains of northern France? If that was what they were looking for, they were to be disappointed: the High Seas Fleet limped home with its tail between its legs and many of its crew lost in the deep blue. German historians pushed the theory that, although their country suffered a tactical defeat, they won a strategic victory. The High Seas Fleet had shown Britain it couldn’t win the naval war and thus ought to sue for peace. Had Britain not sued for an armistice days afterwards, naval historians and strategists would likely view Jutland differently. While it’s true that the morale blow caused by letting the Germans escape yet again no doubt influenced Britain to move for peace, postwar German thinkers overstated the importance of the battle in convincing Britain to throw in the towel while minimising the fact that the High Seas Fleet was defeated on the waves that day, and they drew the wrong tactical conclusions altogether.

    What could be more glorious, they asked, than a modernised High Seas Fleet capable of standing toe-to-toe with the Royal Navy in a pitched battle?

    Germany’s naval circles spent close to a year before and after the armistice in a heated debate over battlecruisers. The KLM had always taken this class of ship extremely seriously, expecting them to do the work of battleships. An ambitious five-year construction programme had been drafted in 1912 for seven battleships and seven battlecruisers, to be dubbed the Mackensen-class after the field marshal. However, none of the seven were ready when war came: the flagship SMS Mackensen would not be laid down until the summer of 1915 and even then wouldn’t be finished for another three years. What this meant was that while Germany had a great deal of funds earmarked for the new battlecruiser class, they hadn’t fully committed themselves to the project when war came. Some lamented this, arguing that seven battlecruisers would go a long way in intimidating the British, but construction timetables couldn’t be rushed.

    The future of the Mackensen-class would lead to an interesting debate in Germany’s naval circles…

    When the elderly battlecruiser SMS Yorck fell victim to a floating mine in December 1914, the KLM drew up plans to replace it. Building such a vessel was a lengthy process and some- correctly, as it turned out- predicted that the war might end before the new cruiser could see service, but everyone agreed that putting more hulls in the water was necessary and so construction went ahead. Literally days after the vessel’s conception, the Royal Navy sent the battlecruisers SMS Gneisenau and SMS Scharnhorst to the bottom near the Falkland Islands. In response to this, two new Mackensen-class battlecruisers were ordered in January 1915, named after the Falklands casualties. To the surprise of many, there was considerable objection to this. Admiral Eduard von Capelle pointed out that the Mackensen-class had been designed before the war, and argued that Germany ought to abandon the design and create a new class of battlecruiser incorporating lessons learned from the conflict. However, von Capelle lacked the authority to make such changes and his objections were ignored. Thus, the German Admiralty planned for a new class of battlecruiser, the Ersatz Yorck, which would consist of the three replacement ships. These were essentially Mackensens with some minor upgrades in terms of weaponry, and their main attraction was that they’d be in the water as soon as possible.

    The situation changed a year later in March 1916, when von Capelle became head of the German Admiralty. (4) Now that he sat in the big chair and had the Kaiser’s ear, he could make whatever changes he deemed necessary. After gaining Wilhelm’s approval, von Capelle proposed three designs for grossekruizers- literally, ‘big cruisers’. These, he argued, would be everything the German Navy had heretofore lacked, with stronger guns, more speed, and thicker armour. Jutland on 31 May, followed by Britain’s exit from the war a week later, confirmed his preference for grossekruizers (GKs); in his eyes these ships would surely have done better in naval combat than the Mackensen-class. Like most Germans, von Capelle drew the wrong conclusions from Jutland, imagining that the casualties from that battle had forced Britain out of the war and that if Germany could damage the Royal Navy in a decisive battle in the next war, they could win a similar triumph in that conflict. When Von Capelle proposed his design for a class of three battlecruisers- since it was the tenth revision, the design was known as the GK10- in October 1916- it won the support of Kaiser Wilhelm II and Admiral Reinhard Scheer of Jutland, who commented that “had I these ships in May, we would have crushed England then and there!”- a slight exaggeration to say the least. However, the GK10 design would face an enemy far greater than the British- the budget.

    Winning the war had cost Germany well over eighty million marks, and winning the peace was proving equally expensive, with the occupations in both East and West, providing assistance to disabled veterans, and establishing a colonial apparatus in Mittelafrika all adding up. When Finance Minister Count Siegfried von Roedern was shown the proposed GK10 design in January 1917, he was aghast. Working in an office all day long had given him a very different perspective on things from von Capelle and Scheer. Like all Germans, he overstated how well his country had performed at Jutland and in his eyes, “the bloody ships we had were adequate for the task at hand; therefore I see no reason to burden this country with vessels which will do the same task for twice as much!” The old divide between civilians and soldiers reared its ugly head as one bureaucrat dug in his heels and refused to move. His main ally in this was none other than Erich von Falkenhayn. As Chief of Staff of the Army, Falkenhayn didn’t much care about naval warfare and saw the GK10 as a vanity project- to say nothing of his desire to grab the lion’s share of the budget with both hands. He and von Roedern co-signed a memorandum opposing the design and presented it to the Kaiser on 1 March 1917. Wilhelm was livid but his voice wasn’t the only one which mattered. Procedure dictated a construction programme codified in a Naval Law every five years, and it so happened that the Fourth Naval Law, having been created in 1912, was due to expire this year.

    The matter would have to go before the Reichstag… thus shifting control from sailors to politicians.

    Top: Admiral Eduard von Capelle; beneath him is his rival Finance Minister Count Siegfried von Roedern

    The Reichstag convened on the eighth of May 1917 to craft the German Empire’s Fifth Naval Law. Kaiser Wilhelm wore a naval dress uniform, which violated regulations about when such things could be worn but got the point across; Eduard von Capelle and Reinhard Scheer wore their admiral’s garb and sat next to their sovereign. Count von Roedern, meanwhile, sat on the other end of the hall in a grey civilian suit, a briefcase brimming with notes resting on his lap, glaring at the naval delegates through his pince-nez glasses. The last time the Kaiser had visited the Reichstag was in August of 1914, when he’d declared that he “no longer saw parties but only Germans!” Such unity was now gone, and even though he didn’t directly address the assembly he left no doubt where his opinions lay.

    As per the Treaty of Dresden, for every twelve capital ships possessed by Germany, Britain was entitled to twelve- thus, the Fifth Naval Law provided for only twelve capital ships over five years. Seven of those ships were already clear: four Mackensen-class battlecruisers and the other three which would end up being built as either Ersatz Yorcks or GK10s. Added to this were two Bayern-class battleships, SMS Saschen and SMS Württemberg. Two other Bayerns had already been built under the preceding Naval Law, and these two ships would round out Germany’s battleship fleet. Combined with the seven battlecruisers, this left three capital ships to construct before 1922. Satisfied with this, everyone moved on to more pressing matters.

    The fundamental issue at hand was whether to build Ersatz Yorcks or GK10s. Von Capelle spoke first, claiming that “every true German will beam with pride as he sees these fine ships in port for the first time.” His original speech had explained how the danger from Britain was so great that powerful ships of the line were needed, but he’d been ordered to rewrite it; Berlin was doing its best to form a modus vivendi with London, and bellicose statements wouldn’t help that. Von Capelle won a smattering of polite applause and ceded the floor to Admiral Scheer. Scheer recounted his experience at Jutland in suitably heroic terms and explained in great detail how it had helped the Fatherland win the war, before explaining how the GK10 would enhance Germany’s tactical ability at sea. The Conservatives and the Kaiser cheered wildly; the scowling Social Democrats slammed their hands together three times. Finance Minister Count von Roedern then rose and strode to the centre of the floor to explain how tight Germany’s budget was. The Mackensen and Ersatz Yorckprojects were acceptable because they already had some money put aside for them, but not the GK10. Striding back and forth like a professor across a lecture hall, Count von Roedern asked the assembly if they “would rather live in an impoverished Germany where the veterans who have given us this victory are left without the means of sustenance, where our cities, colonies and military are allowed to atrophy, so that we may have three battleships of the premiere quality as opposed to three perfectly normal ones?” The apocalyptic language, the fact that von Roedern had his terminology wrong with regards to the word ‘battleship’, and the obvious pleasure he took in dragging out his point left the naval delegates gnashing their teeth and Kaiser Wilhelm II forcefully twirling his moustache. Supreme Warlord though he was, Wilhelm wasn’t an absolute monarch and without the Reichstag’s approval the proposal couldn’t be passed.

    Kaiser Wilhelm II sat, impotent, through half an hour of voting while his dream was killed.

    The Reichstag refused to grant funds for three GK10-class ships, citing budgetary issues. They were willing instead to go with the pre-Capelle plan of four Mackensen-class battlecruisers and three Ersatz Yorcks to replace those lost in the war. Capelle was livid at being ignored and nearly all the KLM felt that a tremendous opportunity was being thrown away, but there was nothing that could be done.

    Thus, Germany gained its Fifth Naval Law.

    The first three ships of the Mackensen-class- SMS Mackensen, SMS Graf Spee, and SMS Prinz Etiel Frederich- were laid down in spring 1915 and entered the water thirty months later. Various teething troubles held up the fourth, SMS Ersatz Friedrich Carl, until the spring of 1918. While the four vessels underwent construction in the summer of 1917, the flagship of the Ersatz Yorck class grew closer to completion one hammer-stroke at a time, and she formally entered service on 1 September 1918; all the survivors of the ship for which she was named were present at the ceremony. Von Capele wasn’t a petty man and had resolved to build the other three ships of the class to the highest specifications. Ironically considering all the amount of fuss made over it, SMS Ersatz Yorck was quite well-regarded by many German commanders once they’d gotten used to it- the ship underwent some naval testing in the Baltic Sea in December and performed quite well. People spoke highly of its armament, which represented a step up from the Mackensens. Although von Capele would complain about the insult to his post in his memoirs, he somehow found the courage to speak when the last Ersatz Yorck, SMS Ersatz Scharnhorst, was launched in April 1919, and later paid the class the very high compliment of ‘adequate’.

    Drawing of SMS Ersatz Yorck, launched 1 September 1918. SMS Ersatz Yorck line color.png: aaa3-otherderivative work: Aaa3-other, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

    His thoughts had moved onto bigger and better things in any case…

    While rounding out its battlecruiser fleet, Germany finished the Bayern-class battleships SMS Sachsen and SMS Wurttemberg. The former had been laid down a few months before the war and the latter in January 1915, but the fighting had ended before they could see service. Sachsen joined the High Seas Fleet on the first of September 1917, with Wurttemberg following three months later. The two served alongside their sister ships SMS Bayern and SMS Baden, mooring side-by-side in Kiel harbour. The four Bayern-class ships were comparable to a British super-dreadnought and handed the High Seas Fleet considerable power-projecting ability, helping to repair the damage done at Jutland. Britain’s unease wasn’t helped by the Kaiser’s jingoistic speeches at the launchings, but worse was to come. Plans for an even greater class of ships had been in the works since 1914, and a team of naval experts had spent the war in back rooms toiling away. Within twelve months of Sachsen slipping into the water, plans for this new class of battleship were submitted to the Reichstag as per the provisions of the Fifth Naval Law.

    The only thing about the proposed L20e battleships which didn’t inspire awe was their name. Everything from armament to armour promised to be superior to the Bayerns, themselves top-of-the-line ships. Jutland had shown that German warships had a small but significant qualitative superiority over their British foes and the proposed L20e would only widen that gap. Eighteen months had passed since the Fifth Naval Law’s passage and a new Conservative government had replaced the Social Democrat-led wartime coalition. (5) Chancellor Ernst von Heydebrand was more sympathetic to the military than his predecessor and consented to fund three L20es, with one to be built every year. Construction began on SMS Hesse, SMS Ostpreußen, and SMS Rheinland in January 1919 and stretched over three years- the only change made was renaming them the Hesse-class as opposed to the unwieldy L20e. With regards to armament and armour, the Hesse-class took its inspiration from the Bayerns; turret arrangement, gun calibre, and armour patterns were all similar but not identical to the preceding class.

    Great Britain watched all this with horror. After sending Napoleon’s navy to the bottom, they’d spent the nineteenth century ruling the waves and considered that their divine right. The expectation of crushing the KLM in 1914 hadn’t just been rooted in jingoism (although that was certainly a prime factor); Britain had never faced a naval defeat big enough to destroy its grand strategy and if the Armada and Villeneuve hadn’t been enough, why would the Germans? Thus, the inability to wipe the foe out during the Great War had been not just a tactical and strategic blow but an emotional one too.

    Was Britain losing her edge?

    Herbert Asquith’s government had been a casualty of the war and by the start of 1917 David Lloyd George was in power. Lloyd George had no love for Berlin and was deeply concerned that if the Royal Navy fell too far behind, Britain would face invasion or starvation during a second war. When the Prime Minister conferred with First Sea Lord Sir John Jellicoe in February 1917, his questions were simple. How had Britain gone wrong and how could that be fixed? Jellicoe had commanded at Jutland and for obvious reasons wanted to downplay his own failings there. However, neither he nor Lloyd George believed that the battle had been instrumental in causing Britain to exit from the war. The German narrative that “defeat” at Jutland had caused Britain to quit wasn’t backed up by events- Winston Churchill’s failed evacuation had already wrapped up by 31 May, thus eliminating Britain’s ability to project power on the continent. (6) By shifting blame onto Churchill, Jellicoe successfully downplayed his failure at Jutland. Lloyd George replied that that was so, but the fact remained that Britain had failed in its mission to wipe out the KLM and accounts had to be made for that. Desperate to preserve his reputation and career, Jellicoe blamed inferior British armour and damage-control practises; several valuable ships had been lost at Jutland when German shells crashed through their thin defences into rooms filled with improperly stored gunpowder. He also highlighted Germany’s superior battlecruisers, which were far more capable than their British counterparts of fighting in the line. MI5 had kept both men well-informed of the Ersatz Yorck versus GK10 debate, and Jellicoe stressed that unless Britain took action, they would find themselves outmatched by a new generation of German battlecruisers. Fortunately, Jellicoe said, a solution was at hand. Much like with the German Ersatz Yorcks, Britain had commissioned a new class of ships in 1915 to replace losses. Space had been filled in the budget for four Admiral-class battlecruisers, but work had proceeded extremely slowly with only the first having been laid down. This, Jellicoe argued, was a blessing in disguise. Since the Admiral-class was essentially a blank slate, the design could be revised to incorporate lessons from Jutland. He wasn’t the only one to have made such proposals and many in the Admiralty would’ve been perfectly willing to back him up. The First Sea Lord presented the Prime Minister with a three-page memorandum of specific technical changes he wanted to see, and David Lloyd George consented. Jellicoe firmly believed that the Admiral-class would give Britain an appropriate tactical edge and enable them to win the next decisive battle at sea, which in turn would grant them sea control. (7) Thus, the Admiral-class arose like a phoenix from the failure of Jutland.

    Britain was, however, hampered by the same issue as the Germans; namely, financial concerns. The Great War had been horribly expensive, with Britain having reached nearly the end of its gold reserves by the summer of 1916. London had borrowed some two billion from the United States and had had to default on that after its French and Russian creditors announced their inability to pay back their own loans. Attempts to sock away for the proposed ships were dashed once the Indian revolt began in June, four months after Jellicoe and Lloyd George spoke. That conflict distracted British finances for the rest of the year and it wasn’t until mid-1918 that the country could even think about tackling its debt- much less starting off on a new construction programme. The first of the four ships, HMS Hood, had been re-laid down in the autumn of 1916 (8), but the tight budget and Indian revolt kept work at a snail’s pace. Nevertheless, skeleton crews kept toiling away until January 1918, by which point the scale of Britain’s economic issues became apparent. The war in India had been funded largely through borrowing and paying off those loans had to take pre-eminence over battleship construction. Thus, it wasn’t until early 1920 that HMS Hood entered the water, close to four years after she’d first been ordered. Her sister ships followed suit with one being launched every year over the next three years.

    HMS Hood at her launching, February 1920

    All this was good but it wasn’t enough. Ten years before Hood slipped into the water, Britain had been the greatest power in the world, to whom building new and mighty fleets was a matter of course. Watching Germany put seven cruisers in the water with relative ease made the Admiral-class look pathetic. If this was all they could do, many sighed, then the country really was doomed. Perhaps the country’s days as a Great Power were over, and that the next war- for everyone assumed there would be a next war- would see the Royal Navy sunk all thanks to the American creditors, the Indian rebels, and the stingy Exchequer? Why couldn’t the country do more?

    Such pessimists would’ve been amused to know that Germany was encountering similar troubles.

    The German Empire’s great project of the early 1920s was one most definitely geared to the landlubbers- the Trans-Sahara Railway. (10) The project had strategic sense behind it but it was also bloody expensive and ill-executed, and after eight months the thing was laid to rest in autumn 1920. Germany was left thirty million marks poorer, and that was money which couldn’t be poured into naval construction. Admiral Eduard von Capelle was thus left shaking his fists, confident that the British were on the cusp of developing new designs which would cast Germany in the shade. Nonetheless, there was hope for the German Admiralty as in 1922 a new five-year plan had to be constructed. Unable to do anything but plan, von Capelle and his colleagues spent 1920 and 1921 in their offices and bedrooms, crafting plans for what they’d do when they had the chance. (11) With the national debt under control and the folly of the Trans-Sahara Railway exposed for all the world to see, von Capelle wasn’t about to let the financiers in grey suits get the better of him!

    Ernst von Heydebrand’s government was out of power by 1922 but the successor administration was amiable to the Navy’s needs. With Germany’s financial situation under grips by 1922 (12), the country could afford to build high-quality battleships which would remain powerful and competitive for years to come. Plans for improved grossekruizers were submitted under the provisional name GK12s (these would eventually become known as the Roon-class after the Austro-Prussian War commander), and these were expected to fight in the line alongside battleships. As to the big ships, von Capelle had taken inspiration from a different proposal for the L20e (this one being codenamed the L24), and modernised the design. His proposed battleship design was codenamed the L25e and would later become known as the Kronprinz Wilhelm-class. Provision was made for three ships of this design and six Roons by 1927. Germany was thus assured of naval competitiveness throughout the 1920s…

    Across the Atlantic, the United States watched with what could almost be described as amusement. The path which would lead to the United States becoming the world’s premiere naval power dated back to Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency and the writings of Alfred Thayer Mahan. Roosevelt adopted the Mahanian principle of a “fleet in being”, anchoring large, united fleets off of each shore to deter foreign foes while connecting the coasts with the Panama Canal. Construction was a slow business, and it was only under Roosevelt’s successor William Howard Taft the United States finished its first European-style dreadnought, 1910’s USS Michigan. By the time Taft’s term expired in 1912, America had six dreadnoughts under its belt and more on the way. Woodrow Wilson, as ardent an imperialist as Roosevelt even if he liked to cloak himself with pacifist rhetoric, expanded the Navy still further, with one of his advisers claiming that the United States would acquire a navy “second to none.” March 1915’s Naval Appropriations Act was followed a year later by the Naval Act of 1916. By 1919, twelve battleships, six battle cruisers, ten scout cruisers, fifty-six destroyers, and eighty-five submarines, as well as the rudiments of a naval aviation branch, would be added to the already substantial US Navy.

    The message to Europe could not have been more clear: they trifled with the United States at their peril.

    America’s industrial might had swollen since the Civil War. With a country untouched by conflict and a seemingly bottomless supply of immigrant labour to turn the crank, constructing such a fleet in less than four years was uniquely possible for America. November saw Woodrow Wilson replaced by Charles Evans Hughes, but one of the few things the Republican agreed with his predecessor on was the need for strong national defence. Few of the ships were available for the Second Mexican War but the war effort certainly sped up construction. Thus, America viewed Britain’s struggles to launch the Admiral-class as pathetic and their pride over getting the last one in the water in 1923 as near comical. Britain really did appear to be losing its teeth, and the question of who was the greatest Anglophone state appeared answered. By the middle of the decade, the United States was the world’s greatest naval power. An earthquake had ravaged Japan’s economy, leaving them unable to compete in terms of heavy ship construction while Germany, for all her bluster, was still growing and in any case preoccupied with Britain. Such was American confidence that Secretary of the Navy Edward Benn was able to comment to the President in early 1920 that the United States was capable of taking on the Anglo-Japanese alliance alone and winning.

    When Charles Evans Hughes told the American voter he’d made his country “king of half the world” in the 1920 election, he was not lying.

    The five years after the Great War showed that a new naval reality had emerged from that conflict. Germany’s star was rising, its capital ships bringing it the same prestige on the waves its empire brought it on land. Britain was still a Great Power and the Royal Navy was certainly not to be trifled with, but financial concerns had limited the fleet’s ability to grow and London’s best days were behind her. British weakness created a power vacuum in the Pacific; Japan had gotten away with puppetising Siam and stealing French Indochina and was at the very least an equal to Britain. London was too preoccupied with Germany and India to offer real resistance to Japan and so Tokyo was able to throw its weight around. The real winner of the naval war, though, was America: its two fleets left the Western Hemisphere equally closed to British and German influence and were the only thing Japan was forced to take seriously.

    Time would tell what this all meant for the world…


    1. Referred to as the KLM.
    2. Never really worked it in here until now, but TTL WWI’s Battle of the Atlantic was rather better for the Germans for this reason…
    3. See chapter 7, but the battle went more or less as OTL.
    4. Reichsmarineamt
    5. See chapter 26.
    6. See chapter ten
    7. I, the author, am being a bit sarcastic here- of course that’s not all there is to sea control but it’s the erroneous lesson learned at Jutland and so Jellicoe treats it as Gospel. No way this will end poorly…
    8. That’s actually OTL
    9. The G3 and N3 (or analogues) aren’t butterflied, but they will be delayed beyond the scope of this update until the mid-1920s.
    10. See chapter 38
    11. Add 100 years to those dates and you can see where your quarantined author is coming from….
    12. Wow, talk about alternate history ;)
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  • Revanche

    No, you silly old bag. Don’t, for the love of le bon Dieu, come to my counter. Go to any of the other clerks, just not mine!

    “Ah, good day madame. Comment allez-vous et qui est-ce je fais pour vous?”

    Frau- not madame, always frau- Gertzer wrinkled her nose at Lucien Chanaris. “Are you free, young man? Pull your tie up.” When he’d first met Frau Gertzer, Lucien had pretended to be unable to understand her accented French, but the tongue-lashing he’d received had convinced him it was more trouble than it was worth. He gave the silk tie an obligatory tug. “What will it be then, mada…”

    “Frau!” Frau Gertzer spoke like an offended schoolteacher reprimanding her pupil. “My name, young man, is Frau Gertzer! Not ‘madame’! You want to show a bit more respect, you do. Need I remind you who my husband is?”

    “Of course not”- you silly old bag- “Frau Gertzer. How could I forget the good Oberleutnant Gertzer?” Lucien remembered a time without the German officer and his wife- happier, simpler days. “Now then, as you can see, we are very busy today, so perhaps I could assist you before moving onto one of the others?”

    “Silly Frösche. They can wait their bloody turn. Anyhow… now where did I put the damn thing?” Frau Gertzer dug about in her handbag, murmuring in German. The clock ticked away. “There’s the thing.” She sat a cream envelope addressed to Munich on the desk. “Get me a postage stamp and get this sent off at once! It’s essential, young man, absolutely essential. If my

    sister can’t get this, I can’t fathom how she will find the money to meet all the expenses in running Munich’s second-largest bingo club. Just think what that would do to her reputation, eh? Have I told you about the troubles dear old Helga faces?”

    Lucien sighed to himself. Could he avert what was coming? “I believe you have, Frau Gertzer. She’s-”

    Frau Gertzer slapped the counter. “Look here, young Frenchman, don’t just stand there talking. When a lady needs something, she must have it done immediately, not at the convenience of a young man such as yourself! By God, I thought the French had a reputation for manners; if so, you are a poor, a very poor specimen indeed. It goes a long way towards explaining why you lot lost the…”

    “Quite.” Lucien slammed a postage stamp on the envelope, trying not to look at the Kaiser’s printed face. “That will be ten pfennigs. Next!”

    A pimpled young man stepped forward. “International mail”, he said in much better French, “for my petite-ami in Paris.”

    Lucien looked to Reims Cathedral for salvation for a very secular reason: when the bells chimed five it was time to go home. He wasted no time bolting into the street.

    Occupied Reims was a dreary city. The Hohenzollern flag flew over the town hall while German soldiers complained that wine, women, and jokes at the locals’ expense were wearing thin. One-legged veterans begged on the street corner. That could have been you, mate. The idea of Julie left alone with no one curdled his stomach. Lucien’s arm chose that moment to act up, and he rubbed it forcefully. Had the German shot a little to the left…. What if, what if, what if? Where will that get you, my friend? The answer lay unconscious on the curb, an empty bottle by his feet. Lucien crossed himself and turned the corner.

    Lucien arrived home just as the sun was slipping below the chimneys. The same kids were playing on the sidewalk, the same old women were gossiping on their garden fences, and the same Germans were marching back and forth, bayonets fixed. He bowed his head to the soldiers and stepped inside house number twelve. Just like always, he took off his boots first, then his coat, then his bowler; Julie had had that carpet laid down in 1913 and since the maker was dead, there would be no replacing it now. She would kill him if he dirtied it. “It’s me, love!”


    “It’s me, love! Back from the post office.” Lucien frowned. Was she asleep? She does like to nap when she’s ill. He dashed into their upstairs bedroom, only to find it empty. “Julie? Where are you? Julie?” He went into the kitchen, but something far worse than tantalising smells and oven warmth greeted him.

    The place had been turned upside down; cupboards were torn open and a window was smashed. A body lay on the table, the blood dripping from it mingling with tap water on the floor.

    “No!” Lucien pulled his wife’s lifeless body off the table and cradled her. “Julie. Julie.” What else was there to say? She would never talk to him again, never open her eyes again. The gaping wound in her stomach would never close. Lucien could no more save the person he loved than he could stop the tears dripping onto her. He murmured his wife’s name over and over like a mantra, as though it was a magic spell which might bring her back. Time faded away, his head spinning round and round.

    “Who?” A better question came to mind. “Why?” Who would have wanted to do this? Lucien set his wife’s body on the table and covered her with a blanket before washing the blood off his hands. The larder had been emptied and the family photographs lay crumpled on the floor, their gold frames nicked. Lucien gently unfolded one. He stood in his best suit, in the same black tie he was wearing now, his arm around Julie’s waist. She looked like a queen in her white dress, a rose in her black hair. Did she know what was coming? Did she know that ten and a half years after that photograph was taken she would be dead? Did the priest know that in ten and a half years her life would be over and that he wouldn’t be able to offer her last rites? “Doctor.” He laughed bitterly. What good would that do? She was dead, wasn’t she, and there was no remedy for that in anybody’s pouch. Nevertheless, it was what one did, and so Lucien left, taking extra care to lock the door.

    The walk lasted an eternity in which all Lucien heard was the crunching of gravel under his boots and the thud of his footsteps and his heavy heart. He rapped on the doctor’s door.

    “Aah, Monsieur Chanaris, good day, good day.” The apple-cheeked doctor was smoking a cigarette. “What can I do for you, then? How is your lady wife?”

    * * *

    “Well, my friend, I am truly sorry. Truly.” The doctor gripped Lucien’s hand. “I will be at the funeral, you can bet on that.” He frowned. “Here. When they tell you how much it will cost to fix all of this”- he gestured to the broken plates and pipes- “do let me know. I will see what I can do to help, hein?” Both men sighed. “You must go to the occupation authorities, Monsieur Chanaris. If there is any justice to be found-”

    “Is there any justice to be found? Forgive me, but I have a hard time believing the boches will give a Frenchman any justice. If I am lucky, they will wait until I have left before they mock me!”

    “You may be right, Monsieur Chanaris. No, I will go further: I believe you are right. But what can one do? The closest thing the people of northern France have to justice is submitting to the occupiers and praying that they are magnanimous.”

    “Some justice. And what good will it do Julie?” Lucien raised his hand. “No, I am sorry. I ought not to have lost my temper with you. Very well, I shall do as you suggest. Thank you… for everything.”
    The doctor handed over Julie’s death certificate. “Any time, Monsieur Chanaris.”

    * * *

    Hallo Sergeant.” A German private who couldn’t have been over nineteen escorted Lucien to the desk, where a beefy man with three stripes on his uniform was cracking his knuckles. The two men said something in German, the only bit of which Lucien caught being ‘someone who speaks French.’ The sergeant nodded and disappeared into a back room, and Lucien’s heart sank when he saw who he came out with.

    “Lucien Chanaris!” Oberleutnant Gertzer bared his crooked teeth. “The one I have heard so much about!” Gertzer and the young private jabbered in German. “So, Monsieur. Your wife has suffered, eh, an unpleasantry?” An unpleasantry. That’s one way to put it. An unpleasantry. If your wife were murdered for no good reason, would it be an unpleasantry? If your loved one was killed, would you describe it as “unpleasant?” Would Frau Gertzer’s death be unpleasant? In other circumstances, Lucien might have smiled.

    “Now then, Monsieur Chanaris, a military inspector will accompany you to your home and find, what is the word, evidence. And in the event we discover something of interest, we will of course inform you.” Two muscle-bound Germans followed Lucien home, bayonets at the ready.

    * * *

    The village priest buried Julie shortly before midnight; Lucien was the only one present. He did not sleep that night but knelt at the grave in yesterday’s suit till dawn, showing his papers to passers-by as needed. He whispered his wife’s name a thousand times that night, his soul crying in pain that he hadn’t prevented this. It was a cold night for Lucien Chanaris.

    When Lucien arrived at the post office at six AM, the only thing emptier than his belly was his soul. The day crawled by on hands and knees, but he was grateful for the distraction. No sooner had grief, inadequacy, or pain come up than a customer arrived and he had an excuse to stamp them out- literally. Thank God Frau Gertzer didn’t appear!

    The kitchen was still flooded when Lucien got home and he had to spend the evening fixing the pipes as best he could. After that, he wolfed a tin of soup before heading to the cemetery. Julie didn’t have a proper grave- just a small wooden cross with ‘J.C.’ on it. How long before that, too, was taken away? How long before someone ‘unpleasantly’ kicked this bit of wood over, leaving no one to remember the woman he loved?

    “How long?” Crows cawed and raindrops plunged. Lucien wept. “How long, Julie, till this is taken from us?”

    “Lucien Chanaris?” Two German soldiers stood behind him. “Papers.” He shoved the documents at them. “Need I remind you that you are violating curfew?”

    “Need I remind you-” No. Telling the boches where to head in would only make things worse. “My apologies, meine Herren. It will not happen again.” It will not happen again. God forbid I should be with the woman I love as best I can. God forbid I put a toe out of line. Need I remind you I am a human being? “What can I do for you?”

    “Come with us quickly before it gets dark.” One of the Germans stepped closer and whispered in his ear in rusty French: “We think we know who is responsible and why.”

    Never before had one of the German conquerors made Lucien Chanaris feel life was worth living. There was, he decided, a first time for everything.

    “Ach, Monsieur Chanaris.” Oberleutant Gertzer sipped coffee. “Would you care for one?” Lucien accepted gratefully- not much chance he’d get to sleep tonight. It was cold and bitter. “The fact of the matter is, a brief review of records and a handful of interrogations have revealed to us exactly who is responsible for the death of your wife.”

    Lucien’s eyebrows shot up. “Who? Who is it that… that could do something like that?” His fists clenched and his heart hammered. What would it be like, putting a name to the man who’d ruined his life? Oberleutnant Gertzer flipped through some paperwork as the clock ticked, every stroke bringing them closer to midnight.

    “One of my men, whose name I am not at liberty to disclose, broke into your house two days prior. Why, I could not tell you- perhaps he wished to take something. A picture frame, money, jewelry… or something else.” Gertzer’s eyes lit up and a fresh wave of anger washed over Lucien. How dare the oberleutnant even think about… that happening to his wife? “Anyhow, my good man, I have accosted the, ah, suspects. You may rest assured they have been most suitably punished.”

    “How?” Lucien wanted to kill, tear, yell, scream, shred, murder, anything. Anything to hurt the man who had killed his wife, anything to show the man who’d ruined him- whose name he still did not know!- what pain felt like. He had not wanted to kill during the war but he did now. It was the animal, not the man, in him who asked: “What did you do to him?”

    “Transfer to another unit.”

    Lucien blinked. “Excusez-moi? The man… the man who murdered my wife… he has been transferred?” Lucien spat out the word like a vile curse. “After what he has done, you think a transfer is appropriate?” The doctor’s words- “the closest thing the people of northern France have to justice is submitting to the occupiers and praying that they are magnanimous” rang in his ears.

    “Well, I debated it and think a transfer best for all concerned. On the one hand, if word gets out amongst you people that one of my men murdered your Sylvie-”

    “Julie.” Lucien turned his wife’s name into a dagger and thrust it at the enemy. “Her name was Julie.” Was. Not ‘is.’ Was. She ‘is’ nothing anymore.

    Gertzer shrugged. “As you say, Julie. As I have said, if word gets out that this individual was the one responsible for taking her life, it might prompt someone to do something foolish.” The oberleutnant raised his eyebrows by a fraction of an inch. “You know how many hostages we kill every time one of our men is murdered. It would be such a shame if more innocent Frenchmen had to die because of this, ah, unpleasantry.”

    “Unpleasantry!” Lucien leapt from his chair. “An unpleasantry? My wife, the woman I cared about”- sobs choked him- “is dead and gone, and you refuse to do anything. You refuse to acknowledge my pain. You can change this, you can let justice be done, but no. My Julie’s death is just an unpleasantry. Tell me, sir, if…” He took a deep breath. If he asked whether Frau Gertzer’s death would be an ‘unpleasantry’, the oberleutnant would make his life ‘unpleasant’. “Tell me if you have a soul, if you know what pain is like.”

    Gertzer shrugged again. “Off you go, my friend. Come on.”

    * * *

    “I mustn’t. I mustn’t.” Why not? What have you to lose? Your family? Lucien Chanaris took his hand off the closet door. His bedroom hadn’t been raided, and so he knew it was there. Did he want to do it that badly? He sighed and shook his head. Life went on; it was late, and he needed sleep. Two weeks had gone by and he’d barely got a wink, but he had to try. Lucien took off his shirt and got into bed; the empty pillow called him a coward. Did you love her, Lucien? Did you really love her?

    That was when he knew.

    Lucien eagerly retrieved his kit from the war. Had the Germans found out he still had his, he would have been in a world of trouble. Lucien got to work, and three hours later, at two AM clutched the finished explosive as fondly as the child he could now never have.

    * * *

    Frau Gertzer walked into the post office. How unpleasant. Lucien Chanaris laughed for the first time in weeks, though it was a stifled laugh devoid of mirth. He stared at the ageing woman like a predator in the bushes. “What can I do for you, Frau Gertzer?”

    “Get this sent to my sister! It is absolutely essential that this arrive as soon as possible, young man. Do you hear me? Well? Have you any idea of the importance of this package?”

    Oh yes. Oh yes, I do- more than you could ever dream of. “I could not tell you, Frau. What’s so special about it?” The package contained a very fine chess set Oberleutnant Gertzer had purchased and which she wanted to send to her sister as a birthday present. If it didn’t arrive within days, her sister and family would become the laughingstock of their hometown. “Do not worry, Frau Gertzer. It will arrive as soon as your mail service can get it there.” The Army, not the civilian postal service, managed occupied Northern France’s mail deliveries, and getting things across the border took time.

    “Well, I should hope so! I tell you, the amount of money spent on this was outlandish, exorbitant! Of course, anything for the ones you love, but it is still costing my husband a pretty pfennig. Really, she’ll love it; it’s to die for! Which reminds me, how’s your Sylvie?” Her sparkling eyes and laughing mouth told the truth. In lieu of snapping her neck then and there, Lucien murmured that she was fine and concentrated on the plan. It would end well, it would. It had to!

    The rest of the day crawled by on hands and knees. Twenty minutes before closing time, he snuck out behind the back and retrieved the concealed device, which he’d stuck inside a cardboard box. Plenty of people saw him, Germans included. What was unusual about a post office worker bringing in a cardboard box? Reims Cathedral clanged five and everyone began closing down. Lucien went about his tasks a little slower and was still cleaning his counter when the last man filed out. Now was his chance. He grabbed the box meant for Frau Gertzer’s sister and stuck the improvised explosive in with the chess set, before resealing the package and walking out of the post office, his conscience panging not a bit. This was for Julie. Lucien didn’t care to know what would come next. Would he be arrested? Would he be killed? Would someone do to him what he’d just done to Frau Gertzer’s sister, namelessly murdering him from afar just as someone had done to Julie? Round and round and round it spun.

    “It will all be unpleasant”, Lucien Chanaris said. He laughed at the German flag flying from a lamppost.

    Chapter 40: The West is Feldgrau
  • Chapter Forty: The West is Feldgrau
    "In every bush a Frenchman, in every Frenchman's hand a gun. In every gun a bullet, in every German a hole."
    -Attributed to Lucien Chanaris

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

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

    Peace is a casualty of war.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    His Excellency Bishop Alexis-Armand Charost.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    He was rather surprised by how the proceedings turned out.

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

    Thus, King Albert got his country back.

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

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

    Josias van Severen, the German-backed Flemish nationalist.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

    (5) A different battle from OTL’s

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

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

    (8) This gent. And his mate.

    (9) More or less OTL.

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

    (11) He seems relatively pro-German and thus a reasonable choice…. but please correct me if I am wrong!
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    Chapter 41: The Black Eagle
  • Chapter Forty-One: The Black Eagle

    "You cannot defeat the will of the people. No one man can undo five centuries of power from this dynasty. By the grace of God, I will see to that."
    -Regent-Emperor Maximilian IV

    "You will have whatever- whatever- you need, Herr Kaiser-Konig. Vienna will be avenged! Budapest Delenda Est."
    -Kaiser Wilhelm II to Maximilian

    "In dispatching the Danubienkorps, Germany demonstrated her utter commitment to hegemony in Central Europe. The Black Eagle of the Hohenzollerns was about to sink its claws into the Hungarian Republic."
    -Excerpt from Irish military historian Robert FitzGerald's The Great War for Civilisation (1998)

    German boots pounded on the railway platform. Prussian sergeants barked commands. Crisp salutes flew back and forth. Officers conversed over maps. Hungary’s doom was at hand.

    1917 had been an annus horribilis for the Habsburg Empire. Engulfed in victory’s afterglow, Emperor Karl I had reshaped Austria-Hungary into a triple monarchy, but like Icarus, in trying to fly next to the sun Karl had burnt his wings. Hungary and Serbia were in revolt, the Transylvanian government was ethnically cleansing its Magyars, Vienna’s ashes lay under rebel rule, and Karl was now dead. With imperial arms scattered and Mihaly Karolyi’s state intact, the end seemed nigh. Though Karl’s five-year-old son Otto sat on the throne, real work fell to his uncle. Regent-Emperor Maximilian (Maximilian IV) didn’t need experience to see how bad things were.

    Fortunately, he didn’t need to look far to find the solution.

    Germany was every bit as concerned as he was. The Habsburg Monarchy had been allied to Berlin since 1878. Vienna provided a stable southern flank and a check against Russian influence. A shared history and culture linked the Habsburgs with the various German dynasties; Maximilian was the great-times-four grandson of the last Holy Roman Emperor while many Germans lived in Vienna and vice versa. Kaiser Wilhelm II had been close to the late Franz Ferdinand and had held the late Franz Joseph in great respect. Since Hungarian was unrelated to any European tongue, many looked down their noses on the Magyars. Racist imagery of Europe’s crown jewel smashed by ‘hordes from the East’ crisscrossed the continent, unfair though it was. Germany had gone to war in 1914 in part to protect their ally from the Russians, hawks pointed out, and they couldn’t abandon them to Hungary three years later. Strategy compounded emotion: the Habsburgs provided a stable southern flank for Germany. Chaos on the German border, regardless of whether it was caused by Hungary or Russia, would destroy Berlin’s ring of steel, opening the way for hostile foreign powers. Besides, how could Germany claim mastery over Europe if it let Danubia collapse under its nose?

    All this weighed on Maximilian IV’s mind when he stepped onto Berlin Station.

    Emperor Maximilian IV, regent for Karl's five-year-old son Otto and forced to reunite his empire at the point of a sword.

    When the two heads of state conferred at the Imperial Palace on 4 December, Maximilian remembered years later, he came “with cap in hand. German generosity was our only hope, the life-blood our fatherland needed… When I look back even now, I don’t know what I would have done had that not been given…” This didn’t save Maximilian from depression. His brother was dead, and his nephew in the black of loneliness. His fiance Franziska was in Salzburg with Karl’s widow. All were in peril, and he was in Berlin. All Maximilian could do was stare out his bedroom window at the world, watching the snow, knowing he couldn’t help that which he loved right when he was most needed. The curtains might have been prison bars, the servants jailers. When his journal and his books wore out, what was there to do between meetings but brood? “Unbecoming for any man”, his diary records, “much less an emperor.” But he was a man and an emperor. With his countrymen dying in service to the empire, what right had he to weep in a foreign palace? All there was for Maximilian to do was bite his lip and wear the mask of an emperor.

    He had plenty of chances to publicly wear that mask, as his hosts needed convincing.

    Germany wasn’t in the best place to send forces south. Billions of marks of debt needed paying off and people needed to return to their prewar civilian jobs. Finance Minister Count von Roedern gently reminded the emperor that bailing him out would cost an astronomical amount and that Vienna would be on the hook for at least part of that. “Tell that to me again”, the emperor retorted, “when I am in Vienna!” Von Roedern shut up. Manpower was needed in the eastern puppets and to hold down Belgium and northern France, as well as to establish a colonial apparatus in Mittelafrika. Chief of Staff von Falkenhayn wanted to send forces south, but anything which would diminish German strength in the east would never be approved by Erich Ludendorff. Since Ludendorff remained in the East, the retired Marshal Hindenburg argued with Falkenhayn on his protege’s behalf. Hindenburg might have been retired and thus lacking formal power, but his status as the hero of Tannenberg gave him much prestige. It wasn’t that he disliked Maximilian’s regime, Hindenburg said, but Germany had to look out for itself first. When the two men conversed for thirty minutes, a servant recalled, one could have cut the air with a knife. Danubia’s regent was deeply offended and neither Hindenburg nor Maximilian were on speaking terms afterwards. The Navy too had voices objecting to intervention- battleships didn’t build themselves and it would be a disaster if that money went south! One suspects that they might’ve been rather more supportive of intervention had there been the prospect of glory on the waves. None of this helped the emperor’s depression. If Germany couldn’t save him, then nothing would. He contemplated suicide, preferring death over the dishonour of returning home empty-handed.

    Maximilian IV was not just fighting to save his empire- he was fighting to save himself. Nothing would get him to stop short.

    Ten days in the capital reminded Maximilian that for every German who wanted to abandon him, three had his back. Erich von Falkenhayn and the rest of the General Staff wanted to review age-old contingency plans- could his men use Bohemian roads and railroads? Of course, whatever they needed. Come to think of it, was such-and-such a mountain pass wide enough to accommodate enough troops? Poland’s ambassador to Berlin wanted to know if a unit of German Poles could be formed and sent to Galicia under Danubia’s banner. Prime Minister Ernst von Heydebrand let Maximilian address the Reichstag for two hours, where he received thunderous applause. Most gracious of all was the Kaiser. Wilhelm II treated his counterpart as an honoured guest, giving him a room in the Imperial Palace and dining with him nightly. He even purchased an ivory elephant sculpture from Mittelafrika and a set of Prussian blue tin soldiers for Otto. Doubtless the personal relationship between the two men smoothed the process greatly. “You shall never defeat our friend to the south”, Wilhelm declared on 14 December. “Herr Mihaly Karolyi does not know the depth of the mistake he has made. It will not be long before our two peoples unite to teach him exactly what he has done!” When the press distributed these remarks across the globe, mixed feelings were aroused. Germans (including those in America) cheered Kaiser Wilhelm, as did Catholics (sacking St. Stephen’s Cathedral had won the rebels few friends), while Karolyi’s regime used the quote to rally the people to war. What compromise, they asked, could there be with a man who said such things? The Kaiser’s remarks came as the Austro-German Dual Alliance (renamed the German-Danubian Alliance) was reconfirmed. The treaty had been signed in 1878 and was extended for another forty years until 1958. There was much pomp and ceremony as Maximilian made his way to Berlin Station on the 14th. As his armoured train provided courtesy of the Kaiser rolled through Saxony and Bavaria, stops became more frequent. Maximilian was none too pleased- every moment he spent on a siding kept him from his family- and grumbled about inefficiency. Surely this was no way to treat an emperor? When he found out why his train was delayed though, he silently apologised to the Germans and complained no more.

    The trains carrying German soldiers into Danubia, Maximilian recalled years later, were “the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, before or since.”

    After reaching Salzburg on the second day of 1918 he returned to his mansion. His fiancé Franziska threw her arms around him while Karl’s widow Zita was scarcely less pleased. Emperor Otto was battling not Hungarians but spinach, and viewed Maximilian’s return as a liberation all its own- the German toys did wonders for his mood. Maximilian spent the night with his family before addressing the nation the next day. Reporters from both empires lapped up his words, and there were groundless but reasonable fears that an assassin might sneak into the crowd. With Otto on Zita’s knee, Maximilian reassured his people that better things lay ahead.

    “Who among us has not suffered? Who among us has not felt the sting of pain, of confusion, and of death? Every calamity on the face of the earth has struck our fatherland over these three and a half years. I need not repeat them to you. It was His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty Franz Joseph who led us through the Great War, and he gave up his strength a bare two months after the guns fell silent. (1) From the forge of the Great War emerged a new and vitalised fatherland. In the years preceding the war, some foolhardy detractors had claimed that our dynasty was weak. They said that ‘the Habsburgs have had their day! Let them crumble alongside the Ottoman Turks, and given time they shall be as gone as the Romans!’ My subjects, I ask you- were these detractors correct? Did the voices of doubt and destruction in Petrograd, in Paris, did they predict what would happen? No! Under this ancient banner, the people of our empire drove back the fearful invader. Our imperial father, as much as our Heavenly One, led us to a historical triumph. Like the Israelites in the Desert, His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty Franz Joseph did not live to see the Promised Land. The war consumed him, and not a day went by when he did not devote every fibre of his being to prosecuting it. In this, he may be considered as much a casualty of the Great War as the valiant men who laid down their lives at the fighting front in service to the State. His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty Franz Joseph was the architect of victory in the war. It fell to his noble successor His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty Karl to become the architect of victory in peace.

    “My illustrious predecessor reigned over this State and its varied peoples for three hundred and eleven days. It was his life’s dream to restructure the very fabric of our State. This goal aroused controversy, for we are a mosaic of nations. Doubtless, every citizen of this State can recall their objections to this restructuring. Granting each national component its own territorial settlement with scant regard for precedent was doubtless a revolutionary act. But His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty Karl, it must be agreed, was acting as a good father does. Reshaping our fabric to align with the nationalities and facts was done in the utmost good faith. This was nearly universally recognised. What objections existed were raised in the same good faith as the proposal itself. It seemed, then, that after wandering the desert, our imperial father would guide us into the promised land.

    “Yet, there were those who could not accept this. Pride, that human foible which more than any other can swallow justice or prudence, reared its ugly head. In no way did my illustrious predecessor’s plans infringe upon the dignity of the Holy Hungarian Crown. (2) In no way, that is, but one. Mihaly Karolyi and his cabal could not bear the sight of becoming equals! We kneel to Vienna, they said, but the Slovaks, the Croats, and the Romanians of Transylvania kneel to us! Nothing could be accepted which did not satiate their pride. Thus, Mihaly Karolyi irrevocably broke with centuries of tradition. Nothing is sacred for this man- not the fatherland, not the union, nothing. Such thinking, it need scarcely be said, poses the gravest of threats to common institutions, the rule of law, and the national groups of the State. As your imperial father, I would be remiss if I were to tolerate such a thing.

    “Thus, people of Danubia, the trumpet blares for the second time! This State cannot and therefore will not tolerate the armed treason being committed in the lands of the Holy Hungarian Crown by Mihaly Karolyi and his clique. As my august predecessor summoned you to the defence of your homes three years ago, now your imperial father summons you. Defend this union which we have laboured for. Only the continuation of empire can provide that safe and secure society necessary for the common good- such a thing will never be found in the chaos of rebellion. This is an hour of gravity and tumult for us all. Yet we have faced such crises before. Vienna was occupied a century previous by the strongest nation on the continent, but did we fold? We shall no more submit to Karolyi than we did to Napoleon. Neither the strength of the foe nor our deep-seated fears will cause this State and its nations to falter when resolve and fortitude are most called for. I know my people well enough to say this from the bottom of my heart with the fires of conviction raging.

    “To the people of Vienna and of the Burgenland, I say this. Hold for a little longer, continue to resist the despotism arrayed against you. Remember that as subjects of this crown you are entitled to every protection it is within our means to provide. Every hour you remain valiant and steadfast, every act of defiance against the cruel foe, is an hour closer you come to liberation and reunification with your Fatherland. The hearts and minds, thoughts and prayers, of your fellow subjects and of the world are united to you as never before. When this calamity has passed, as indeed it must, we shall restore you to prewar glory. Vienna, the crown jewel of Europe, shall be made whole once more, if only you can ride out the storm for a brief while longer. The men ought to take arms, the women ought to take shelter, but all must take heart. If you have warriors amongst you, men who wear the title ‘Habsburg Citizen’ as the badge of honour it is, now is the time.

    “I must now turn to our greatest of allies. In war, as in life, no burden is too great if born with a friend by one’s side, a man of strength and of infinite compassion. Such a description is amply fitting for the German Government. For the past forty years they have stood at our side. In every respect they have tailored their strategic policies to minimise conflict with our interests; I can say with confidence that His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty Franz Joseph charted the same course. Brotherhood in all, unity in war. As the Berlin Government proved its fealty in the summer of 1914 as the world descended into madness, so it does so once more now. For this, German people, we are forever indebted to you.

    “Lastly, I must address a few words to the Hungarian nation. Return to the fold! Far be it from me to deny the obvious- Hungary is as ancient a state as Austria. The Hungarian people are possessed of a firm national consciousness which nothing shall ever shake. Yet this is not the way to pursue it. The lands of the Holy Hungarian Crown are and shall for eternity be linked with this State and this crown, the person of the Habsburg emperor. I speak to the Hungarian peasant, the Hungarian soldier, the man who wishes for his political life to revert to what it was before madness swept over our continent: Reject Mihaly Karolyi and his path of folly, for nothing good shall ever come of it. Know that this empire has stood for seven hundred years and shall stand for seven hundred more. Think of your children. Shall they live in a safe and secure society in which each national unit possesses its territory under a common State, united by a God-ordained ruler, a father for the Fatherland, or shall they live in a realm marked by discord and chaos? The choice, people of Hungary, rests in your hands. To Mihaly Karolyi, I say this: You cannot win. The German Government has given its unequivocal backing to the unity of the Danubian state. Herr Karolyi, I ask this of you: can you look yourself in the mirror and honestly say that this is essential? Are the deaths and suffering inflicted upon your people truly essential? I speak to you not just as a man with deep love for his fatherland, but as one God-fearing man to another. Spare your people this, Herr Karolyi. Surrender now and permit the natural political order to resume its course, and the Hungarian nation will remember your return to decency and the greater good. Your life, and the lives of your collaborators in high treason against the Triple Monarchy shall- I personally swear it upon my honour, with God and the people of my empire as my witnesses- be spared. Thank you.”

    When Karolyi read it the next day, he is said to have quipped that “(Maximilian’s) speech was truly dull and tepid, all but guaranteed to dissuade people from his hopeless cause. Yet another case of the pen triumphing over the sword!”

    He would soon come to regret those words.

    By the end of the third week of 1918, Germany’s Danubienkorps was fully assembled in western Austria. This was peacetime and budgetary concerns had had to be factored in; thus, the army wasn’t as strong as it might have been. Professional soldiers, those who’d been under arms before the Great War, dominated- civilian conscription was seen as having too many societal and financial costs to be worthwhile. However, many civilians volunteered. Some, particularly in the south, were of Danubian descent and felt affinity to that country, while others simply hadn’t thrived in the civilian world and wanted a steady job. (3) Bavarian units predominated- not only did the Land share a long border with Danubia, but the locals were more at home in the Alps than those from the North German Plain. Added to this was a shared ‘south German identity’ which survived despite Berlin’s discouragement. It was hoped that Danubian Germans would feel more affinity towards Bavarians than northerners and vice versa. Thus, the nucleus of the Danubienkorps was the six-division Bavarian Sixth Army, commanded by Generaloberst Ferdinand von Quast. (4) Added to this was a brigade from Wurttemberg and two volunteer divisions from all across the empire. Oskar von Hutier, hero of spring 1916’s Bardonecchia Offensive (5), reprised his role as commander of the mountainous Alpenkorps. This placed approximately 100,000 Germans on Habsburg soil. Nearly all had served in the previous war and so only a minimum of training was required. After entering the empire in the first week of the new year, the Danubienkorps spent an average of fifteen days practising fighting in the mountains under the tongue of Danubian sergeants before heading east. Locals treated them like heroes. Out came the best wine and foodstuffs as church bells clanged in celebration and mayors gave pompous speeches. Children’s choirs sang ‘Watch on the Rhine’ with varying degrees of skill, while busty Austrian girls gave the troops flowers and kisses on the cheek. Fears abounded amongst officers that discipline would falter. Famous German discipline notwithstanding, these were relatively deprived young men being cast into a land of milk and honey- who wouldn’t want to stop and indulge? Soldiers were under standing orders to refuse food, drink, and sex- those who were caught with contraband faced a tongue-lashing they never forgot. Of course, the officers weren’t immune, and they often ‘confiscated’ a bottle of schnapps or a roast goose ‘for the sake of discipline’ only to be caught enjoying themselves later. Jokes circulated amongst the minority of Prussian northerners that if they were in charge, discipline wouldn’t have been an issue, and what could one expect from a lot of southerners anyhow? The coda to this is that most of the generous Danubians were quite put out when their gifts were refused.

    6TH ARMY (Generaloberst Ferdinand von Quast)
    • 8th Infantry Division
    • 16th Infantry Division
    • 36th Infantry Division
    • 38th Infantry Division
    • 5th Bavarian Division
    • Bavarian Cavalry Division
    BAVARIAN ALPENKORPS (General Krafft von Dellmensingen)
    • 1st Bavarian Jager Brigade
    • 2nd Bavarian Jager Brigade
    STURMTRUPPENKROPS (General Oskar von Hutier)
    • 3rd Assault Company
    • 23rd Assault Detatchment
    • 46th Assault Company

    It was with a heavy sigh that the men left western Austria and entered the war zone.

    German troops enjoying Austrian hospitality, spring 1918

    While the men weren’t resisting temptation, the generals had been laying plans. Danubian Chief of Staff Arthur Arz von Straussenburg had conferred with von Quast and Emperor Maximilian, and the three men had devised a broad strategy for winning the war. First would come the liberation of Vienna. The imperial capital offered both prestige and strategic value- hence why the Hungarians had been so keen to occupy it. Most of Danubia’s major roads and rail lines ran through the city and as such were currently cut. For example, as it stood in January 1918, moving from Graz to Prague required extensive use of branch line and district rail, much of which had only three or four tracks- the story was much the same for the imperial highway network. Taking Vienna would solve most of Danubia’s logistical issues. Added to this was the moral factor: the empire’s credibility as a Great Power would always be tarnished as long as it let its capital remain under foreign rule. Liberating the grandest city on the continent would prove that the imperial government was capable of defending its citizens- and punishing those who harmed them. However, moving to liberate Vienna would be almost as big a gamble as moving to conquer it had been. Intelligence reports and plain common sense suggested that the Hungarians had heavily fortified the city- some estimates in January 1918 gave them over 100,000 men there, the size of the Danubienkorps. There was a slim but real chance that a liberating offensive against the capital might fail, which would be catastrophic for imperial strategy, to say nothing of imperial morale. In order to forestall that, subsidiary attacks would have to be made. Little could be done in Bosnia-Herzegovina- the region’s nationalists were giving imperial rule a headache while large forces were needed to prevent the Serbian rebels (7) from pushing west. However, Croatia, where this entire mess began, seemed to offer possibilities. Fighting between Croatian Home Guardsmen and Hungarians had subsided, usually in the latter's favour, but if properly executed, an offensive northeast from Croatia could strike into Hungary’s underbelly, diverting resources from Vienna. Similarly, the imperial authorities contemplated an offensive south. Bohemia and Slovakia were both solidly loyal and housed large numbers of troops. While an autumn offensive in that direction had failed, everyone hoped that a better-planned successor might break through. Since Budapest was only sixty miles from the Slovak front, a break-through there would be a first-rate emergency for the rebels.

    It was here that politics entered the story. What Maximilian and von Straussenburg were proposing was, even with German help, a tall order with high stakes: failure would only exacerbate the empire’s weaknesses and create more rifts in its political fabric. Not knowing what the political consequences would be, the men in Salzburg decided to boost their chances by summoning foreign reinforcements from Poland.

    Tadeuz Jordan-Rozwadoski was commander-in-chief of the Polish Legions. This formation had been established in the Great War to garner Polish support for the Central Powers and was in the process of transforming into a standing army for the Kingdom of Poland. A few days before the New Year, the imperial ambassador in Warsaw ordered Rozwadowski (8) to go to Salzburg. There, he was presented with a most unpleasant ultimatum. The Polish Legions were to be sent to Galicia with all due haste, whence they would be integrated with forces of Lodomeria (the Polish crownland). The Legions would be under imperial command, not that of Warsaw. Rozwadoski was livid. He’d allied with the Central Powers for Poland’s sake. Good Polish boys had served Berlin and Vienna in the hopes of liberation, and were now being treated like pawns. Rozwadowski had little choice though. German occupiers had replaced Danubian ones and the straw dangled before Poland could be withdrawn at any moment. If Rozwadowski did not cede the Legions to Danubia, his people would suffer. So he sent a cable home, and Poland’s fighting men went south while foreign soldiers occupied their homes. In time, this would brew into a political drama which would end poorly for all concerned, but that’s for another chapter...

    Mihaly Karolyi had been just as frantic as his opposite numbers. When Vienna had fallen on 30 October, he’d assumed the war would be done by Christmas. With a five-year-old boy on the throne and his regent uncle scarcely more experienced, why would the empire keep fighting? He had spent November agonising over whether or not to make a peace offer. Karolyi genuinely regretted that war had been necessary. He may have been a Magyar nationalist par excellence, but he held a certain respect for the empire. “It is a tremendous pity”, he wrote in his journal three weeks after Vienna’s fall, “that I must choose between my people and the state they love. But if our national rights can be achieved only under the banner of the Hungarian Republic, then so be it.” Had Maximilian recognised Hungary’s independence with its traditional borders- including Croatia, Slovakia, Transylvania, and the Burgenland- Karolyi would have been all too happy to pull out of Vienna and spend the rest of his days in peace. However, his advisers dissuaded him from extending a peace proposal. They agreed that Danubian power was irrevocably broken but dreamt of the propaganda opportunities. What glory there would be in making the Habsburg Emperor ask them for peace because he could not take it any more! If they asked Maximilian for a ceasefire, these foolish men said, they would be asking him to acknowledge their independence out of the goodness of his heart, to concede something which wasn’t his. No, if Hungary held out for a few more weeks they would have not just peace but glory. Against his better judgement, Mihaly Karolyi agreed, and his proposal for peace was shelved. One suspects it wouldn’t have made much difference- it’s hard to see Maximilian agreeing to a peace at the cost not just of half his empire, but the self-determination of the Slovaks, Croats, and Transylvanian Romanians he’d sworn to lead. At any rate, the war dragged on.

    Once it became clear that he would have to carry on the fight, Mihaly Karolyi holed up in the map room to stare at a grim reality. Its short-war dreams having failed, Hungary was entering the sixth month of war and the strain was showing. Despite its lack of accomplishments thus far, Danubia was in many ways stronger than the rebels: the mountains of western Austria provided an impenetrable heartland while Bohemia and Galicia added reservoirs of manpower and resources. Danubia had enough men to fill the ranks while keeping factories and fields humming. Hunger was an issue in the empire’s cities, but (admittedly overpriced) German and Italian imports alleviated the pain. (9) Hungary had the opposite problem: their people and army were well-fed but lacked industry. Once the existing Great War surplus of ammunition and such was expended, they would be in trouble- and no one was interested in selling them anything. In short, while the empire could afford more blunders because even shorn of Vienna, it was the stronger of the two, Hungary would only grow weaker. Much ink has been spilled comparing Karolyi’s revolt to the American Civil War. The South convinced itself it could win despite being the weaker of the two because it did not need to conquer the North; it simply needed to convince the North that conquest wasn’t worth the bother. To this end, it struck at Pennsylvania, Maryland, and later Washington, DC, but failed to take any of them. Having defended its vital spots, the Union was able to let attrition win the war. Back in the summer, Karolyi had taken this to heart. Just as the Confederates could’ve defied the maths and won had Philadelphia fallen into their lap, he told himself, so too could his state defeat the odds and Danubians if they seized Vienna. As the days ticked by and no pleas for peace came from Salzburg, the scales fell from the Hungarian Prime Minister’s eyes. Hungary had taken the prize, sacked the capital, smashed the rail network, killed the emperor. To extend the American Civil War analogy, Lee stood in Philadelphia, rode his horse on the White House lawn, stood weary but triumphant over the fields of Gettysburg. (10) There was no possible greater symbol of victory- and yet the war was still being lost. He had given it his all but hadn’t knocked the stronger power out. Nothing, Karolyi reasoned, could be gained from another offensive but unaffordable casualty lists. Now, David would have to dodge Goliath’s club- and the beast would swing with the force of not one empire but two.

    Mihaly Karolyi was determined to make his foes pay for every step they took.

    Vienna had to be held at all costs. The Habsburg capital was the sole bargaining chip the rebels had, the greatest sign that they were winning. Allowing that to revert to imperial control would be a very visible harbinger of defeat, to say nothing of opening the road to Hungary itself. Thus, the end of 1917 saw close to one-third of Hungary’s rebel army- some half a million men- stationed in the key sector. Not all were actually in the city- that would’ve been a recipe for encirclement- with many defending the flanks of the Hungarian salient around the capital. Much time and effort was put into ensuring that when the day of battle came the enemy would have to cut through not just the Austrian Alps, trenches, machine-guns and barbed wire, but concrete pillboxes and similar fortified positions. Permanent artillery was placed on the mountains just northwest of Vienna, whence they could rain fire on approaching troops. Explosives were laid on the banks of the Danube River, surrounded by requisitioned pleasure-craft. When the moment was right, these would be set off and the resulting debris would hopefully block the river, creating a logistical nightmare for an advancing foe. Civilians were conscripted to dig ditches and man supply chains. This latter point ran counter to the Geneva Convention and many heads would roll after the war as Viennese civilians found judges eager to hear their accounts of the sacking and occupation excesses. Attempting to curry favour with the locals was a doomed game and the Hungarians didn’t even bother trying. Christmas and New Years saw Vienna on lockdown, with Hungarian troops shooting first and asking questions afterwards. The people may have hated foreign rule but they were in no position to end it. At a great cost in moral power, the Hungarians had secured their prize against all but the strongest enemy assaults.

    Time would tell how good their construction was.

    The first objective for the liberation offensive was the town of St. Polten. Thirty miles west of Vienna and sixteen south of the Danube, it served as a useful ‘forward post’ for the enemy defence and housed two connecting highways. Mountains narrowed the approach to the city to a twelve-mile wide, twenty-mile long corridor, which the defenders stripped of everything of value. Peasants were deported across the front lines and their property confiscated. Roads were torn up to prevent lorries from using them. Small clusters of mountains became artillery outposts, towns were surrounded by barbed wire.

    When the Germans and Danubians entered this mess on 1 March 1918, it became clear that the Hungarians had gotten value for money. Previous fighting in Danubia- in the forests of Slovakia and the eastern approaches to the capital- had been fast-moving affairs dominated by traditional pre war tactics of infantry columns and cavalry assault. The former was due to the openness of the territory and relatively small armies both brought to bear, the latter due to Hungary’s crushing material superiority. Now, the tactics of the Great War reared their ugly head. Danubian and German forces left their trenches in the forward base of Amstetten and plodded towards their first-day objectives. Prior to the war, the number of people who’d ever heard of, much less set foot in, Blindenmarkt, Ferschnitz, and Euratzfeld could be counted on two hands. Now though, these sleepy Alpine villages would become synonymous with ‘death’ for thousands of young men. As at Neuve-Chappelle, Artois-Loos, Menton, and a dozen other battles, expectations were greater than the results but smaller than the casualty list. Conscripts from western Austria charged into the teeth of Hungarian machine-guns and were caught up on barbed wire. They slipped on loose Alpine rocks and were struck by a bullet as they fell. They were mown down and crashed to the field, spilling blood and guts all over white snow and green grass. It may have been a cold spring day but the heat of battle hung in the air, clutching at men’s lungs, making their heart ram against its ribcage, on alert for every little thing yet still missing the bullet which shattered your skull. Different German accents mingled with Czech and even Italian and Slovene, urging one another on, while Hungarian cheers emerged from sandbagged machine-gun posts. The tongues were different, but the screams were the same. Hungarian machine-gunners massacred imperial infantry until they were wiped out by artillery or bombs dropped from planes, as helpless as their victims had been a moment before. It was easy to tell when six feet of ground had been captured- that was the average height of a corpse sprawled in the mud. Hardly knowing why or even how, the two sides claimed one another’s lives all day long in the quaint Alpine villages.

    On the other hand, it brought prestige to the Fatherland.

    The first-day objectives weren’t taken on 1 March. Nor on the second, nor the third. Only on 4 March did the three hamlets succumb to the weight of imperial artillery. 8,200 Danubians had died to capture six miles of land over four days; the Hungarians had lost three-fourths that number. Imperial arms now stood on the left bank of the Ybbs River, a north-flowing estuary of the Danube. St. Polten lay across thirty miles of what had once been a highway but was now a strip between the hills and trees armed to a fare-thee-well. If the pace of advance and casualty rates stayed where they were now, just reaching St. Polten- to say nothing of actually conquering it- might cost forty thousand lives. Yet what choice was there? The empire had to plod on. Thus, the guns roared at dawn on 5 March and the men charged over the top. A new set of villages waited to be conquered, all equally well-defended and none of them having any value beyond lying on the road to St. Polten. And, cynics asked, what value did St. Polten have except that it lay on the road to Vienna? Enough value, evidently, that men had to lay down their lives for it. Neumarkt, Karlsbach, and Steinakirchen dangled like jewels before the generals’ eyes, and they reached out to grab with thousands of human fingers. Two weeks were spent chasing these little hamlets, only for Bergland and Petzenkirchen to take their place in the queue. As March trickled to a close, the days grew warmer and longer. Spring rain melted Alpine snow, sticking boots into mud. Men drowned and horses died of exhaustion as their hooves got stuck in the muck and no one could save them. There seemed to be an endless supply of villages to conquer and an endless supply of pink flesh to throw on the line- but there was only one of you, and no one saw himself as expendable. Yet while the odds of dying in combat were high, the odds of being executed for refusing to go forward were one hundred percent. Reinforced by mathematics, the grinder cranked on.

    Austrian troops advance through what had once been St. Polten, April 1918

    For their part, the Hungarians were determined not to let the strain show. Every step the enemy took, their propaganda never ceased to remind the troops, was a step they took towards the fatherland. Courage and honour became the Hungarian watchwords and retreats were always due to supply issues, never fear. Attempts to minimise casualties led to defence-in-depth: numbers were thinned in the first trench line but strengthened in the rear. This incentivised the Danubians to attack and hopefully break through the first thin line, after which the reserves could counterattack. In practise, it disintegrated into a bloody mess of cordite, profanity, blood, guts, steel, and the taking of human life.

    Finally, after six weeks of fighting, the Danubians reached the promised land. After losing almost exactly forty thousand men (39,992 to be precise), the imperial armies set foot in St. Polten. Of course, they still had to conquer the bloody place.

    The Battle of St. Polten lasted from 17 April to 22 May. Both sides hung on to scraps of rubble which had once been a block of flats or greengrocers as though they were defending the Holy City. Machine-gunners set up shop in upper rooms and blazed away while in lieu of trenches, the men fought from urban barricades and the safety of rubble. Civilians either took shelter in basements or approached the imperial forces with raised hands- these were sent to the rear and spent the rest of the war in refugee camps. Finally though, the weight of imperial numbers made a difference, and an eerie quiet hung over the front as June approached. Had the Hungarians committed their strategic reserve to this forward defence, they could well have held the Danubians up all summer. As it was, their advance guard had performed admirably for what was supposed to be just the tip of the iceberg, claiming some forty-eight thousand imperial lives while losing two-thirds of that number.

    Meanwhile, the Danubians had been putting their Polish Legions to work. Units from the Polish and Ukrainian-speaking territories were integrated with Polish troops under imperial command. This raised eyebrows- ethnic tensions and lingual differences made it harder for Poles and Ukrainians to operate as one- but saved time. Razdowski’s pride was soothed when he was given joint command to share with General Eduard von Bohm-Ermoli- the latter’s experience fighting in Galicia with local troops recommended him for the post. A total of 100,000 troops were concentrated in the region, outnumbering the Hungarians by a quarter.

    At five-thirty AM on 28 February 1918, the Hungarian defenders of Pliesovce were woken by imperial artillery. Since the town lay sixty miles up the road from Budapest, its defences approached the quality of those in the west. Only one brigade was stationed in the immediate vicinity, but tens of thousands of reserves lay waiting. That brigade survived four days of hellish shelling, comforted only by the depths of their dugouts and the knowledge that help was en route. The Danubians and Poles were making the same mistake the Entente had during the Great War: a long barrage expended shells and gave the enemy ample time to prepare for what was to come. Prioritising the approaches to St. Polten left little for Pliesovce, but the Hungarians found enough spare artillery for a counter bombardment. Reserves exploited the breaks in shelling to dig earthworks and lay extra barbed wire, and with trembling hands everyone stared over open sights for four long days.

    When the Danubians and Poles charged over the top on 4 March, they found a bed of nails waiting for them.

    Bohm-Ermoli and Radzowski had committed the grave sin of attacking fixed defences. In making the move their enemy expected, they ceded him the initiative. The Hungarians had the initiative… but opted not to use it. Defence required less energy. The first brigade in the line withstood brutal odds for a day before attrition had its way with it. Pliesovce passed into imperial hands on the fifth, but all that gave the empire was a road into a nest of machine-guns. Poles from both sides of the border charged into a storm of cordite and flames, of land mines waiting to blow their legs off, of other scared young men ready to take their lives because they, too, had no choice. The only thing which emptied faster than Hungarian cartridges were the skins of imperial soldiers. 6 March was spent trying to break out of Pliesovce without success. So too was the seventh, and the eighth, and the remainder of the week. Only on the thirteenth did the Hungarians run out of men and metal, and they opted to fall back to Bzhovska Lehota, whose two hundred souls had long since fled.

    Bzhovska Lehota lay between two roads, each of which ultimately led to Budapest. If imperial forces tried to bypass it, the town’s defenders could sever their communications. This gave it value well beyond what one might expect, and the Hungarian commander was determined to hold it no matter what. Bohm-Ermoli and Radzowski were determined to conquer it no matter what. Such mutual stubbornness meant that a lot of young men would die in Bzhovska Lehota no matter what.
    It seems redundant to describe what the combatants endured at Bzhovska Lehota. All that need be said is this: over the course of seven weeks, 9,000 Danubians, 7,000 Poles, and an unknown number of Hungarians gave their lives for thirteen square kilometres, by which point Bzovska Lehota and the all-important roads flanking it were indistinguishable from what had once been the countryside. What a senseless waste of human life.

    By the middle of April, just as the battle for St. Polten was beginning in the west, the northern front fell silent. Both men had expended irreplaceable life for some petty villages. Since the north was a secondary concern for both sides, the fighting had been conducted with less than a quarter million troops in total. This meant that both sides felt their losses far more than they would’ve elsewhere. The empire’s supply of Polish cannon-fodder wouldn’t last forever while the Hungarians only had so many men to trade for space and time. As the pressure in the north receded, the Hungarians were able to feed troops into the St. Polten meatgrinder. Another failure did little for the empire’s morale. People began to query the point of another offensive- the breakthrough hadn’t occurred and Budapest was still a long way away. There was talk of court-marshalling Bohm-Ermoli and Radzowski for incompetence but Maximilian vetoed that idea.

    June found both sides approaching the breaking point. Following directives from Berlin, Ferdinand von Quast had been cautious with the Danubienkorps. “Think of a rapier”, the commander remembered years later. “If one drives a thin fencing sword into a sheet of plate armour, what will happen? The man in the armour will surely be wounded, but the blade will shatter. What is needed there, as we needed in Austria, is an axe, something to bludgeon the foe but not run him through.” The Danubienkorps was an elite formation, good for breakthroughs but not the endless blood and tears characterising war in 1918. Individual German formations fought with distinction in the St. Polten campaign, but too much was at stake for the Danubienkorps to be committed en masse. German papers spoke of heroism, but official telegrams regretted to inform you that there was another side to the story. After six months, the German people started wondering why Fritz and Karl were risking their lives in peacetime when they should’ve been back on the farm. France, Russia, and Britain were viewed as existential threats by the bauer and burgher; Mihaly Karolyi most definitely was not.

    The Danubian people were suffering just as badly. Newspaper reports on the damage done by liberating armies were censored for fear that they’d wreck morale; banalities about joyous celebrations in St. Polten were given pride of place instead. Emperor Maximilian crisscrossed the country, speaking in Salzburg, Prague, Kosice, Cracow, Lemberg, Cluj, and Zagreb (but not Sarajevo: the last thing his regime needed was another turnover of power). He was fully aware of his people’s suffering and thanked them profusely; he also publicly renounced meat and alcohol until victory came. Despite this, Danubia’s people were reaching the end of their rope. They’d gone to war in the summer of 1914 and had had only six months of reprieve since. Men were absent from the empire’s cities while women and children divided their time between factories and ration queues. War-weariness was simply a fact of life. Just as people couldn’t imagine the sun not rising every morning and setting every night, so the years before 1914 might have happened in a dream. Pictures and newspapers from 1913 seemed strange. ‘Why’, the response was, ‘there was no war on then!’ A world in which the Russians or the French or the Hungarians weren’t the hated enemy, vilified in the press and crude gutter slang, was by June 1918 as alien to the empire’s subjects as Mars. But what was there to do? One got out of bed in the morning, sipped one’s ersatz coffee and munched on one’s bread roll before heading off to school or a factory because it was simply what one did. The empire’s people had taken too much to care anymore, so they focussed on one day at a time, going through the motions because it was the only way to keep going. As one desperate teenager opined in Salzburg, “if God wished to economise on time a bit, He could simply remove all the days between now and when Mihaly Karolyi lies dead. He would be doing us all a favour.” They knew that one day, the war would end, and every pointless day they made it through was a pointless day they’d never have to worry about again. People were too tired to care about revolution. The herberts with red flags, who whispered of Marx, Engels, and Martov in back alleys and compared Maximilian with Nicholas II, were ignored. (11) The only thing the September Revolution had changed was that hundreds of Petrograders were needlessly dead. People may not have loved the monarchy after four years of suffering, but neither did they hate it, and the overwhelming majority didn’t believe throwing it out would fix their problems. Communism might deliver on peace, bread, and land, but the price of gunfire in the streets was too high. It would be done without patriotic convictions- much less enthusiasm- but the Danubian people would carry on until the end.

    The Hungarian people weren’t so resilient.

    By June 1918, Mihaly Karolyi was panicking. Militarily, his state had held its own in a year of fighting. Repeated imperial assaults in the north had been beaten off, Vienna had been conquered and secured, and the ethnic cleansing in Transylvania was ignorable. Yet none of that mattered. Hungary’s economy was in freefall; the defence of St. Polten and Bzhovska Lehota had expended ammunition the arms factories couldn’t hope to replace. Economic reports showed that by the end of July, Hungary’s ammunition reserves would be expended, after which the men would have only the bullets physically in their guns- enough for a day of combat at the most. German patronage of Danubia left Hungary isolated diplomatically- not even the Balkan rebels wanted anything to do with them. Anglo-Russian offers to mediate were universally understood as attempts to get into Berlin’s good graces and were seen as worthless. Croat fealty to the union left Hungary shorn of a coastline, reducing its trade with the world to nothing. Severe requisitioning kept the troops fed but civilians hungry. While Karolyi and his cabal dined on goulash and the soldiers ate tinned egg noodles, the people endured deprivations every bit as bad as their imperial counterparts. Hungary was an agricultural land so there was no danger of famine, but there were more than enough shortages to go round. The miracle, then, was that Hungary had survived this long.

    Hungarian morale had been machine-gunned at St. Polten. The Hungarian people, for the most part, had been amiable to the Danubian project. They saw themselves as somewhat special, true, but also as proud subjects of the Habsburg dynasty. There was a reason their realm had been titled the “Lands of the Crown of Saint Stephen”- the Hungarian national identity had existed within the Habsburg framework since the late seventeenth century. Even Mihaly Karolyi was saddened by secession and had held the dynasty in great respect before the war. The difference between Karolyi and the Hungarian man in the street was that the latter didn’t care about Hungarian claims to Slovakia, Croatia, and Transylvania. If goulash and egg noodles were cheap and the government left him alone, he was a happy man. (12) Franz Joseph had provided those things in 1913; Mihaly Karolyi’s Hungarian Republic did not. The war was doing nothing for the average Hungarian, who wanted peace with honour.

    A spectre was haunting Hungary: the spectre of revolution.

    Mihaly Karolyi’s simplest propaganda was also his best: if the imperial armies conquered Hungary they wouldn’t discriminate between rebel leader and ordinary Hungarian. Guilt by association gave everyone an impetus to fight. While most took this to heart, by summer 1918 a small number of Hungarians decided to travel in the opposite direction. They would turn on Karolyi and spare themselves from Maximilian. Only one trait existed amongst these different groups: opposition to the regime. Some were urban, some agrarian. Some were liberal, others conservative, others Marxist. Many viewed their fellow rebels with as much scorn as Karolyi, while others would have sided with him against Maximilian had Budapest not been losing. All that mattered was that they wanted to live.

    Jozef Pogany, leader of the Piros Revolution

    Jozef Pogany (13) had been born in Budapest, and at the time of the Great War was a comfortable twenty-eight year old journalist. He hadn’t thought much of Emperor Karl or the Imperial Constitutional Convention, but neither had he been keen on secession. In lieu of joining Mihaly Karolyi, Pogany had become a war correspondent. Covering the plight of the Hungarian workers and peasants in the winter of 1917-18 had changed Pogany. He’d never considered the war winnable, but now saw the harm it was doing for the very people it was supposed to be helping. Sometime around the New Year, Pogony left his lukewarm Judaism for Marxism. He knew that Maximilian would destroy Karolyi root and branch, but hoped that the Hungarian people could gain clemency if they stabbed their leader in the back.

    Jozef Pogany made it his personal mission to save the Hungarian people.

    As a writer, Pogany knew how to attract attention and that truth made the best propaganda. Taking inspiration from Georges Sorel in France, he authored anonymous pamphlets. Sympathetic printers mass produced copies while ‘forgetting’ his name. Mihaly Karolyi was compared to Tsar Nicholas, the feckless despot losing a war and causing his people to suffer; Maximilian was Tsar Michael II, the lesser of two evils. By May 1918, the ‘nameless writer’ (as he came to be known by friend and foe alike) had a small following amongst hungry Magyars. (14) Assuming Karolyi had him on a hit list, Pogany slipped into the mountains on the Transylvanian border- nominally Hungarian but not somewhere where Budapest wielded much control. Thence, he won converts. Pogany had some support in the army- many soldiers were disillusioned with Karolyi after a year of fighting and if revolutions could get them back home then so be it.Whispers crossed Budapest and Debrecen that revolution would deliver them not just from their poor conditions but the imperial threat as well. When strikes broke out in May, Pogany took undeserved credit- the strikers may have been loosely inspired by his words but they barely knew his name, much less viewed him as a source of authority. Nonetheless, he deserves all the praise and all the scorn he received from his actions that summer.

    The Hungarian for ‘red’ is “Piros”, and it’s by this name that the events of summer 1918 are remembered. As with all such things, the Piros Uprising began with a single spark which lit a steppe fire.

    Janos Dámvadtehén had been wounded at Karlsbach in March. Unable to walk, he’d been discharged in late June and sent onto the streets of his native Nagykata. His two brothers had been killed- one by a Russian, the other by an Austrian- and his parents had succumbed to tuberculosis. Hobbling around on his crutch begging had gotten old very fast, and Janos had begun thinking with his stomach, not his head. Since begging brought only enough for a few crusts of bread a day, he turned to theft. As mentioned above, food shortages were a problem by summer 1918 and when the shopkeeper wasn’t watching over the goods with his gun, the attack dog was. It was one such attack dog who caught Janos on 15 June, sinking its canine fangs into his remaining leg as he tried to make off with a sack of boiled beans. His howls of pain attracted a fair bit of attention, and the shopkeeper turned up in short order. Bleeding profusely, Janos was turned over to the police. By now, word had gotten round about what had happened, and a crowd turned up at the police station demanding his release. “This man has fought for the fatherland”, they cried, “and this is the thanks you give him?” Mounted police well past their salad days dispersed the crowd and Janos stayed in jail. The people returned home, angry but helpless.

    The next day, they started a revolution.

    The workers of Nagykata refused to go in on 16 June. Janos Dámvadtehén had served honourably and the people saw in the way in which he was abused everything that was wrong in rebel Hungary. Protesting his ill-treatment relieved their anger and looked patriotic. The mayor was having none of it though, and had Janos executed that very day to set an example. Infuriated, a group of fifty torched the mayor’s house, whaling the stuffing out of him as he fled. Next, they turned on the shopkeeper whose dog had started this whole mess. No matter how fierce the animal was, it was outnumbered and didn’t have a gun. The shop owner had little time to grieve before he had the living daylights beaten out of him. A desire for justice gave way to a desire for a full stomach, and the mob ransacked the grocer’s. Bread, cheese, vegetables, potatoes, even meat and milk were all there, and the mob gorged itself. At this point, someone pulled out one of Jozef Pogany’s writings. It was time, they decided, for change. Congregating at the town hall, the workers declared themselves the “Nagykata Worker’s Council”, protected by their armed citizens. They issued a memorandum calling for “peace, bread, and land.” The war was to be stopped on “honourable terms”- these were left vague but generally assumed to mean no military occupation and a general amnesty from Maximilian. The Budapest government was to guarantee better rations to its subjects, while agriculture was to come under “popular control”. No one quite knew what the latter was to look like, but it does illustrate how far Hungary’s urban and rural relations had fallen by June 1918. There was a widespread and not unjustified feeling that farmers were looking after themselves first and indifferent to hunger in the cities, and the Nagykata council may have intended “popular control” to mean urban supervision of the fields to limit this skimming off the top.

    Unfortunately, they didn’t last very long.

    Mihaly Karolyi wasn’t about to let revolution sweep his heartland. Not bothering to consider why such a thing was taking place- the chickens were coming home to roost in his doomed war- he ordered a clampdown. Honved troops marched into Nagykata on the eighteenth. These were ill-trained and even worse-armed militiamen, but they outnumbered the local revolutionaries. By the end of the day, the revolt was as dead as the twenty-six casualties sustained. That would hopefully be the end of that, thought Karolyi, and he could get back to the real war… except it wasn’t and he couldn’t.

    The first act of the Piros Uprising was over, but the second act had yet to begin.

    Jozef Pogony had been on the other end of Hungary when the brief Nagykata revolt began, and had been reading a heavily censored article about it when it ended. Nevertheless, the journalist-cum-revolutionary was elated. Here was proof that the Hungarian people wanted revolution! Being a wanted man slowed his pace only a little as he moved west. By 1 July, he was conferring with his handful of allies in Budapest. Many of the Nagykata insurgents had made their way to the capital, and once they found out who this big-eared man with the jutting jaw was they became willing to take any order. “Truth is the best weapon we have”, Pogony said, “and we must use it. Once the people want revolution badly enough, it will happen.” There were genuine fears that the people would reject him- after all, not only was revolution a bloody affair, but the Habsburg armies were drawing closer to the capital every day- but Pogony waved those aside. If they didn’t act, Maximilian would crush them all.

    Events at the front now took pre-eminence.

    By July 1918, Hungary was fraying at the seams. Despite not having suffered any cataclysmic defeats, the weight of attrition had left the rebels exhausted. The shortages mentioned above had taken their toll, while the “Nagykata pox” (as one officer referred to revolutionary sentiment) had infected the men. Attempts at founding soldiers’ councils had been made while desertion rates had skyrocketed. With the war so clearly lost, many said, why bother?

    To extend Ferdinand von Quast’s metaphor, now that the foe had been softened up the time had come to run him through.

    When Emperor Maximilian met with von Quast and von Hutier on 13 July 1918, all agreed that with Hungary reaching the end of its rope, it was time to press the attack. A steady stream of volunteers had returned the Danubienkorps to its initial strength of 100,000; six times that many Danubians prepared to exploit a German breakthrough. And ten minutes past midnight on the first of August, the endgame began.

    Reichsgrüben was yet another sleepy town en route to Vienna. After the St. Polten meatgrinder ran out of steam in late May, the Hungarians had fortified the town, knowing that imperial arms would soon come knocking. And come knocking they did, as a five-hour barrage crashed on poor Reichsgrüben long enough to knock the defenders about but not long enough for reserves to arrive. Shells smashed machine-guns and dugout roofs and tossed barbed wire and bloody flesh about. German soldiers sliced through Hungarian weak spots and lines of communication, leaving the Danubians to eradicate strongpoints. Losses from the St. Polten battle left the defenders too outnumbered and outgunned to properly resist. Surrounded Hungarian units surrendered en masse, preferring to be done with the war rather than risk their necks over nothing. Hungarian commanders screamed at one another over the telephone while some diehards shot at their fleeing comrades. Panicked rear officers fled gunfire in staff cars or on horseback; the resulting traffic jams were shot up by imperial troops or strafed by fighters. Austrian villagers evicted their overlords with guns and knives, joyously welcoming imperial troops. Fears that the liberators would slow the advance by stopping to enjoy the gratitude proved groundless. The Danubians and Germans were like wolves chasing after their prey, wanting nothing but victory. Testosterone fuelled their killer instinct. There would be time to rest when the deed was done, but first there was a war to be won.

    By the end of 1 August, the two empires had conquered ten miles and rolled up an entire Hungarian defence network. had been rolled up- results not seen, ironically enough, since the Hungarian lunge towards Vienna in October. Such a devastating advance, when compared to the bloody slog of St. Polten, can be ascribed to several things. First, the Hungarian supply situation was abysmal. As Karolyi’s economic advisers had so glumly predicted, the rebels were running out of bullets and rations- the oil greasing the wheels of an army. A million men cannot make a single brick if they lack mud and straw. Second was morale. Four years of war had worn the Hungarian nation out. The soldiers wanted to be back home with their families, not crouched in the trenches waiting to die. Many harboured respect for the Habsburgs and were only fighting because they had no choice. Enough was enough. Choosing between getting filled with lead in a blaze of glory or getting filled with potato in a prisoner-of-war camp was easy. The third factor was that this was the first time the Danubienkorps was committed en masse. Fear of its being ground up in street fighting, while reasonable, had prevented the Danubienkorps from maximising its explosive power. Now, Oskar von Hutier could add the Vienna campaign as another feather in his cap.

    And this was just the first day.

    The 450,000 Hungarian troops opposing three-quarters of a million Danubians and Germans were doomed. Their expensive fortifications were rendered moot by a lack of shells, bullets, men, and morale. Mihaly Karolyi would have been better served ensuring that these men each had guns to defend themselves with rather than concrete slabs to hide behind. Each of the next three days saw five miles conquered, until the armies reached a sight which made many weep. After nine months, they had reached their goal. The crown jewel of Europe, the maiden despoiled, was about to be freed.



    1. Against Russia, anyway.
    2. This isn’t actually true- Slovakia and Croatia became ‘things’ at Budapest’s expense.
    3. Amongst those who fell into this latter category was one Adolf Hitler.
    4. Very much an OTL figure.
    5. See chapter 9
    6. An analogue to the Oath Crisis still occurred in TTL, meaning that Pilsudski is out.
    7. See chapter 24
    8. Polish names are written given name then family name, no?
    9. With the Great War over, the British naval blockade obviously isn’t a thing.
    10. Confederate wank much? ;) Note: Obviously, the idea that the CSA could’ve won had it taken Washington and Philly is fallacious but I’m just using it as an analogy- hope the idea gets through.
    11. See chapter 12.
    12. Cheap goulash and egg noodles? Sign me up. My experience with Hungarian cuisine has been minimal but enjoyable…
    13. This gentleman
    14. ‘Hungry Hungarians’ would’ve been a bad enough pun to attract the mods… ;)


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    Chapter 41.2: Budapest Delenda Est
  • Chapter 41.2: Budapest Delenda Est

    "Down with the Communists! Peace, bread, and land!"
    Legitimist slogan, summer 1918

    "Marxist orthodoxy dictated two revolutions: a liberal bourgeois one to sweep away the feudal structure, and a communist one to sweep away the liberal bourgeois structure. In the absence of a successful communist revolution, Marxists the world over looked to Mihaly Karolyi as the harbinger of revolution. He would create a liberal bourgeois Hungary; Jozef Pogany would create a communist one. There was just one small problem with this theory: what do the Marxists do when the feudal structure refuses to burn?"
    -Excerpt from Irish military historian Robert FitzGerald's The Great War for Civilisation (1998)

    The tides of war had carried them here.

    The sack of Vienna had been an unpardonable offence. Emperor Karl lay dead; St. Stephen's Cathedral had been ruined. In winning the battle for Vienna, the Hungarians had forever lost the battle for world opinion. Aided by the German Danubienkorps, Imperial forces had pushed the rebels back to just outside Vienna. Now, on 4 August 1918, a sense of history hung in the night air. Ever since Franz Ferdinand had gone to his death, gunfire had been the background noise across Europe. Staying alive had been the primary concern for Germans, Danubians, and Hungarians alike. The incoming shell or mail delivery had been more urgent than “what’s it all for?” If they spent too much time wondering what would come after the war, the answer would turn out to be nothing. The fate of nations, the tides of history, how they’d be remembered by future generations were for other people to sort out. They had a rifle to muck out. Yet, on the night before the assault on Vienna the men couldn’t help thinking about history. A hundred years from now, people would remember the liberation of Vienna. These men were in the same league as the Russians who liberated the ashes of Moscow from the invincible Napoleon. These men were in the same league as the heroes of 1519 and 1683, who’d defended not just this very city but all of Europe from the Muslims, the same league as the heroes of Constantinople in 1453, the same league as the Crusaders, as Charlemagne and Roland, as Julius Caesar. The world was watching the men of Germany and Danubia, and the future of Europe hung in the balance.

    Their sovereign knew all too well. Every shrill telephone ring piercing his sleep, every missive dropped on his desk, every general knocking on his door with red stripes on his trousers, reminded him what was at stake.

    A devout Catholic, Maximilian saw the Danubian Civil War as a crusade against chaos. That night, kneeling in Salzburg Cathedral, Maximilian prayed for his dynasty, his empire, and above all his people. Father Theodor Innitzer, the Viennese priest who’d been ordered to leave St. Stephen’s shortly before the attack, joined him. After nine months of administering Sacraments at the front, it was a joy to be back in Salzburg. Father Innitzer read out Psalms 23 and 91 and called on Saint Urich of Augsburg, who’d fought the Magyars nine centuries previously. Danubia, Father Innitzer said, was walking in the valley of the shadow of death. By the grace of God, Maximilian and young Otto would deliver their people from the snare of the fowler, from the noisome pestilence. They would tread upon the lion and the adder. And before too long, the Triple Monarchy would dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

    It would all begin in a few hours.

    The crown jewel of Europe: about to undergo one last ordeal

    The prospect of conquering 175 heavily-populated square miles kept the men awake as the fourth of August became the fifth. Even as the foe drew closer, the Hungarians had reserved 125,000 men to defend the city- these were augmented by those who’d escaped the advancing foe. The Klosterneuburg mountains northwest of Vienna overlooked not just the city but the approaches from the west, and they’d been turned into a vast artillery platform. Dozens of Hungarian guns- many of them Skoda howitzers akin to those which had crushed the Belgian fortress of Liege- were poised to rain shells upon the advancing foe; they were too high up to be vulnerable to imperial counter battery fire. Impressive though this was, it had only been made possible by depriving everywhere else, and there weren’t enough shells to go round- a microcosm, some might say, of the Hungarian war effort.

    While the hills south of Klosterneuburg weren’t exactly impassable, they weren’t ideal for maneouvering Sturmtruppen through. A flank attack, Maximilian, von Quast, and von Hutier decided, was necessary. The southern flank, encompassing such towns as Baden bei Wien and Wiener Neustadt, was shielded by mountains. Attacking there would cost more in blood and time than it could gain. That left the north. Danubian troops had occupied the village of Tulln on the fourth, whose only distinguishing characteristic was a bridge over the empire’s namesake at one of its narrowest points. If a suitable force could cross the river there, they could work their way around the river’s north bank and hit the capital from the east. The drowsy Sturmtruppen made a night march to Tulln and began crossing the river at 1 AM on the fifth. Meanwhile, the logistical apparati needed for such a massive assault moved up. Everything was done with great haste as people fought their exhaustion. There would be time to rest once the battle was won and Vienna freed, but first the task had to be done.

    It began at dawn on 5 August 1918. Sturmtruppen struck east on the river’s north bank, catching the Hungarians unaware- no one had expected them to move at night. A machine-gun burst and grenade toss later, and Mihaly Karolyi’s river defences were no more. On they swept. To the south, Danubian troops cut their way into the capital. The desire to avoid the guns at Klosterneuburg led them to the southern routes. Thus, it was the suburbs of Penzing, Hietzing, and Liesing which first saw imperial flags. 300,000 imperial soldiers advanced eastward, wishing with all their might that the artillery would get moving. Fortunately for both sides, the population of the suburbs had been ‘evacuated’ to the east bank of the river. This was ostensibly for safety reasons, but the real purpose was to prevent Austrian civilians from rising up. After two days the defenders of Penzing and Liesing gave up- there wasn’t enough pink flesh and grey metal to go round. Hietzing, however, held out two days more. The reason was simple: they couldn’t give up Schönbrunn Palace without a fight.

    The Habsburg estate encompassed three centuries and two hundred hectacres. Even more so than with Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, it symbolised the glory not just of Vienna but of the Habsburg Monarchy. With grandeur dripping from its walls, the trappings of power spanning its grounds, Schönbrunn would not have been out of place on Olympus. Its surviving the October sack had been miraculous. Now, since Maximilian would get too much from being allowed to unfurl his flag across its grounds again, it was too great a symbol to be left alive. Mihaly Karolyi thus consigned the better part of an irreplaceable division to a hopeless battle in Hietzing just to destroy beautiful Schönbrunn. And what for? Pride. Since those deaths served no military purpose, and nothing was gained from wrecking the Imperial Palace, his success must be rated as one of the great tragedies of European history. Both sides took the gloves off. Danubian troops ran on fire and fury, seeking nothing more than revenge for all they’d been through. Adrenaline and testosterone kept them from thinking about the damage they were doing to their emperor’s palace. The room where Maria Theresa had once slept became a sandbagged machine-gun nest; the room where peace had been made between France and Austria in 1809 had its windows blown out. When Danubian forces finally secured Hietzing at the end of 8 August, the Imperial Palace was a burnt-out shell of its former self. Priceless works of art were destroyed, great dining halls and bedchambers reduced to smoking heaps of rubble, exotic gardens piles of ash. The Roman ruins had been sent the way of Carthage. (1) Forty-eight hours of modern war had rendered moot three centuries of construction.

    This is war.

    Imperial troops pose in a room of the liberated Schonbrunn Palace

    Emperor Maximilian refused to fight a house-to-house battle for his capital. If the Hungarians were going to defend everywhere as they had Schönbrunn, he would have no capital left once it was all done! Von Quast disagreed, preferring to wear the foe down in the suburbs. House-to-house fighting would consume the meagre rebel supplies, leaving them helpless. Blood rushed to the emperor’s cheeks. If they were fighting to liberate Berlin, he thundered, and Frederick the Great’s grave had just been desecrated, would von Quast support destroying another district? Had it not been for Oskar von Hutier, the two men might’ve gotten into a fisticuff. Since Hutier was speaking to his superior officer and a foreign head of state, he had to propose his compromise delicately. German and Danubian forces would concentrate on the north bank of the Danube and subdue the Klosterneuburg position. Doubtless, the Hungarians would defend their heavy guns like madmen, and in so doing wear themselves out without destroying half of Vienna. It was a mark of how far the rebels had fallen that an attack into a nest of artillery could be seriously proposed. The fighting in Vienna subsided that morning as men were transferred north. Defences were dug around Penzing, Hietzing, and Liesing while men crossed the Danube. German pilots kept Hungarian scouts on the ground and so the rebels had little inkling of what was coming. Vienna’s defenders spent the morning of 9 August patrolling the streets, bayonets fixed on those who hadn’t been deported. This pleasant reprieve didn’t prepare them for what came next.

    At one PM, the hamlet of Burg-Kreuzenstein heard gunfire. A ceaseless rumbling from the west had been part of the village’s life for days. It meant liberation, true, but it also meant the chaos of war was coming their way. Nonetheless, no one was lobbing grenades into their front gardens and so the people grew used to the noise. Now, it crescendoed and sharpened. Everyone knew what the pounding of artillery mingled with the rat-tat-tat of small arms meant- they had last heard it when the Magyar tide swept over them. As they had in the first moments of winter, Berg-Kreuenstein’s townsfolk took to the cellar to ride out the storm. For the first time in the occupation, the Hungarian masters envied their unwilling subjects for enjoying a liberty they lacked. Sheltering in their makeshift trenches, with only a few strands of barbed wire and no machine-guns, the occupiers of Burg-Kreuzenstein were savaged. Karolyi’s assumption that Vienna would be attacked from the west meant the far bank of the Danube had to make do with cheap defences. What cost few forints (2) cost life and land. For a few hours in the afternoon of 9 August, the Hungarian position in Vienna appeared doomed.

    They were saved at the eleventh hour.

    Fighting on the far bank of the Danube carried one major risk; the men were less than five miles from a massive artillery reserve. Oskar von Hutier hadn’t imagined this would jeopardise the attack, but he’d been wrong. At three PM, the guns of Klosterneuburg opened fire on the German troops across the river. Unable to return fire, the Sturmtruppen retreated to the trenches previously occupied by the Hungarians. Enemy shells rained upon the elite troops till dusk, whence the Germans retreated outside the range of the big guns.

    Overconfidence had led von Hutier to stick his head in the lion’s mouth.

    Both sides had stalemated one another by the tenth. A break-in battle would destroy the city and cost too much, while von Hutier had shown movement within range of the Klosterneuburg artillery to be prohibitively expensive. Everyone still felt that avoiding a pitched battle and letting attrition wear the foe down was the best move. Thus, Maximilian, von Quast, and von Hutier settled on a siege. Severing supply lines would render Hungary’s position untenable; doing so far enough from the city would negate the dreaded artillery.

    The only problem was that cutting roads fifteen miles away on the other end of a river would be a hefty operation for even the fastest armies of 1918.

    German forces had been damaged in the previous day’s fighting and so much of the work fell to the Danubians. The rubble of Leising became the staging-point for five divisions. Three were veterans of the battle for the suburbs; the other two freshly arrived from the heartland. Out of range of their precious cannons, the Hungarians were weak. Heavy fighting had left them tired and no relief was en route. As he heard the footsteps and gunfire, as he smelled the cordite and saw the devastation under an iron-grey sky, as every raindrop penetrated his thin uniform, the young conscript realised the only way to get back to Budapest was through Maximilian IV. Four days of interlude saw 180 such men give themselves up. They went limp as imperial raiding parties entered their trenches, throwing up their hands and falling on their knees, crying in broken German not to be shot, or they sprinted across No-Man’s-Land, dodging their own side’s bullets and placing their lives in the hands of the nearest imperial patrolman. Most never made it that far. As the stars fought their way through the clouds to bathe Vienna in silver light on the night of August 13, everyone knew that no matter how wily Hungary’s commanders were, the battle was already decided.

    Shells- many of them German-made- (3) began falling on Vosendorf shortly before eleven PM. If the Danubians wanted to use all the sunlight they could, they’d have to start just after six AM; thus, the preliminary barrage had to begin very early. Bombardment kept Vosendorf’s Hungarians up while also slamming the roads behind it. Ironically, the locals had the Hungarians to thank for their safety more than anyone else; the deportations meant to forestall an uprising kept them out the way of their liberators’ shells. As Danubian soldiers drank coffee like water and scoffed rations, Hungarian troops screamed in their dugouts. Many who’d worried about what the morning would bring found the question moot…

    When whistles blew at 6:30, the Danubians thanked God for a bad night’s sleep. The artillery had kept them up but had savaged the foe. Rear defences and roads were as badly torn up as the forward trenches. Excavating themselves from their pharaonic tombs took all the fight out of the Hungarians. Outnumbered diehards were overwhelmed. Concentrating sparse machine-guns in the city centre left few for flank action; thus precluding sandbagged nests of Hungarians mowing down two dozen enemies. Vosendorf fell within eighteen hours, cutting one road out of six. That night, aggressive patrols traded hundreds of yards and dozens died in near-blind skirmishes, but both sides had something resembling rest. Just before the sun rose, they got right back at it. Rain turned the shell-holes into puddles and the road into gravel soup. This brought the Hungarians time to flee- those who didn’t get stuck on the roads themselves. Leopoldsdorf, the next exit from the capital, was only three miles away and had taken its fair share of shells. When, after eight hours, soggy imperial forces entered the town, the rearguard lived just long enough to collect sixty human lives at the door. Only one more road south remained.

    Meanwhile, German and Danubian forces had been doing the same on the far bank. Nearly all the Danubienkorps less the storm troopers plus four imperial battalions went forth at the same time as their southern comrades. Avoiding the Hungarian guns at Klosterneuburg entailed a wide sweep towards the target costing time and lives. Thus, Niederhollabrunn suffered the travesties of war as punishment for being en route to a road junction. As the day dragged on Hungarian reinforcements were carefully brought from Vienna. Only the explosive power of the German Army coupled with rebel supply and morale woes advanced the double-headed eagle. Niederhollabrunn fell shortly after noon on the ninth, and fighting was just dying down in Ritzendorf as pink sunset gave way to a cloudy night. The first day had seen tell-tale signs of Hungarian materiel shortages: like the Russian Army at its worst, Hungarians were going into battle unarmed and filching their dead comrades’ weapons. Men had been rather too quick to give themselves up. Yet Germans would have to keep dying as long as Hungarians kept fighting. Rain and blood slid from their Stahlhelmmen (4) as Ferdinand von Quast’s men pursued their second-day objectives. Hills kept the Germans out of Kreuttal for three hours before the defenders were hit in the rear and surrendered, but Ulrichkirchen and Wolfpassing lacked natural defences. Helping hooves out of mud and wringing out one’s mac took time which could’ve been used chasing the enemy, but the advance was still impressive. Having shot their bolt the Hungarians ceded Wolkersdorf before dusk and ate their rations from a safe distance. Two roads out of Vienna on the far side of the Danube had fallen without the artillery cluster coming into play.

    The local Hungarian commander was furious. He had to conserve every man, shell, and bullet like grain in a famine, but German industry gave the foe reserves falling out of his ears. It wasn’t tactics eroding his position, it was maths. Thank God Mihaly Karolyi seemed to understand! Once the weather dried up, imperial forces would speed up, and as it was nothing could keep them from reaching the Danube. Since surrendering his forces on the western bank would get him fired, the only thing to do was pull back to the eastern bank. Yet another good night’s sleep was missed as the remaining Hungarian soldiers in the south spent the night of 15-16 August crossing the river. But for the heart of Vienna itself, every rebel position west of the Danube was now gone. All the effort put into avoiding encirclement had been wasted.

    The Danubians were going to win and Vienna didn’t have very long left.

    A week after von Hutier’s bunder, the liberating troika looked forward to closing the ring. Weary men left their hastily dug night trenches for the fray. Adrenaline and noise had kept them up all night while weeks of combat had left them at the end of their rope, but their foes were worse. In the south, the six miles to the river were covered in a morning with barely a shot fired; the Hungarians had all retreated to the other bank. As tens of thousands of Danubians bathed in and drank from their national namesake, tears mingled with Alpine water. With the southern exits from Vienna sealed and no means of crossing the river, the day was won.

    The north wasn’t so peaceful. Pulling the rebels out of the south bank hadn’t just been for their own safety; they could now keep the last road open. The Hungarian commander was ordered to keep Gross-Enzersdorf as a forward base for counterattacking reserves. In declaring casualties ‘acceptable’, Karolyi consigned irreplaceable men to their deaths, with no encouragement other than “be valiant.” One doubts whether the exhausted men took this to heart as they spent another night marching and entrenching. To their commanders, as to every man in Vienna, Gross-Enzersdorf was their last lifeline; the gravel road heading east and west might’ve been paved with solid gold. Staving off encirclement was worth any price. The defending men saw Gross-Enzersdorf as hardly worth putting on the map, much less dying over. Twenty-two defected that night and spent the small hours being grilled by German and Danubian officers while eating like the starving men they were.

    When the guns rumbled at dawn, these twenty-two men had a much better time than the rest of their regiment. Skill and numbers dashed hopes of an eleventh-hour stand. Unwilling conscripts fought till their rifles were empty then threw up their hands. Sixteen-year-old boys in labour battalions turned on the Magyars with shovels; their sisters threw bricks and pots from a distance. Men were killed trying to grab rifles from dead bodies. Surrendering Hungarians had to be protected from the locals. A handful of Danubians from the south bank crossed the river and marched three miles to the battle in the early morning fog. Half his men in captivity or made casualties, the Hungarian commander presented a white flag at 11:20 AM. Five minutes later, the Oberstleutnant in charge of the Danubians from the south saluted the German colonel who’d led the attack from the north. Laughing and joking, their men stepped over the rubble of Gross-Enzersdorf to shake hands and embrace. They had beaten the foe and linked up at last.

    Vienna was encircled.

    From his headquarters in the Rathaus (city hall), the Hungarian commander pondered his options. His main asset was the Klosterneuburg guns; the foe still entered their range at his peril. An attack from the north would entail crossing the river and advancing through miles of defensible hills, all while under bombardment. Danubia enjoyed a manpower superiority, he knew, but there were cheaper ways of getting in. Being able to worry less about his north was the only bit of comfort the Hungarian enjoyed. 100,000 rebels had to defend a seventy-mile perimeter and 270 square miles of vengeful Austrians. They’d been receiving the lion’s share of supplies, but no more were en route, and when those ran out there would be nothing. At least half a million enemy troops were in the siege area and reserves would only swell that number. By contrast, in order to be of any use to him Hungary’s meagre reserves would have to break through an army.

    Which brings us to the question of a breakout.

    Vienna was encircled at roughly noon on 17 August. Telephone and telegraph lines had already been damaged in the fighting, so it fell to a messenger pigeon to carry the bad news. ‘Grey Grenvaros’ dodged imperial bullets on a ten-mile odyssey to Wiener Neustadt, whence the local commander telephoned Budapest. Mihaly Karolyi’s initial comments are best left untranslated, but he calmed down quickly. An immediate hard choice presented itself. Since it was already close to five PM, to accomplish anything before dusk was impossible. Something as complex as a breakout would be a Gordian knot in blind night fighting; doing it with disorganised, fatigued men would be impossible. Yet, the ring around Vienna was several days old in places and had already begun to harden. If they had a night to bring up reinforcements and dig trenches, the Danubians and Germans would make Gross-Enzersdorf impenetrable. Lastly, there was the question of how much the Vienna garrison could participate in a break-through. Every hour presented an opportunity for the enemy to pound the perimeter from all sides, and every man sent to the breakthrough point was one not manning the perimeter. If too few men were holding the perimeter and garrisoning the streets, the edifice might collapse. After conferring with the General Staff, the rebel leader decided to “amass reserves at a suitable point over two or three days, and then we shall punch a hole and see what develops.”

    Time would tell how successful he’d be.

    Maximilian IV had been eating his lunch when the telephone rang. When Chief of Staff von Straussenburg told him the news, his eyes moistened. All that time worrying over what was to be done, whether or not he could save his country- it was now past. His agonised questions alone in that Berlin bedroom had been answered. The battle was won, Danubia saved. After hanging up, Maximilian whispered the old Polish motto, “Si Deus nobisicum, qui es contra nos?”- if God is with us, who is against us? In the eighteenth century, his Habsburg ancestors had watched anachronistic Poland be wiped from existence, and recent months had led Maximilian to wonder if, like Poland, Danubia’s time had come. Now the question appeared settled. Unlike Poland, this ancient empire would live to fight another day. The United Empire of the Danube was saved. “The mission”, Maximilian murmured with tears in his eyes, “the nightmares. They’re finally over.” (5)

    Vienna was on the brink. With liberators on four sides, the people finally had the chance to take matters into their own hands. The evening of 17 August saw riots which the occupiers brutally repressed. Fearful for their own safety and sick of this war, fighting civilians was a way of releasing anger. Thus, Hungarian troops took the gloves off and deployed bayonets and gas. Not anticipating quarter, they weren’t about to dole any out. Cavalry patrolled the streets all night. When morning came, the people struck back. Soldiers were mugged while morning soup and horse feed were poisoned. Tussles with rebels merged with early-morning arrests into riots, and by ten AM all pretence was abandoned. The Great Viennese Revolt had begun. Men fought their occupiers however they could, lobbing homemade bombs and wielding butcher’s knives. Those who spoke Hungarian disguised themselves and did real damage. All the while, imperial and German soldiers were pounding on the perimeter. With their rear in chaos and supplies dwindling, the outnumbered defenders couldn’t hold. Rothneusiedl in the southeast was taken in two hours while to the north, German forces marched up the left bank of the Danube. Hungarian hopes of retaining the western districts were dashed. Much damage was done to the beautiful capital, but not on the scale of October. Nightfall saw imperial forces bring up reinforcements and tend to their wounded civilians. The key event of the next day would not be, however, an advance through the capital. Rather, 18 August would be dominated by the last Hungarian offensive of the war.

    As Karolyi had feared, the Viennese perimeter hadn’t been defensible. Too many factors had conspired in Danubia’s favour, and the southern half of the capital was slipping away. If the rebels didn’t reclaim the initiative fast, the pocket wouldn’t last two days. The only way to reclaim the initiative was to go on the offensive, piercing the siege to delay the conquest.

    Like most things born of desperation, this counterattack was ill-planned. There weren’t enough reserves to punch through the imperial defences while the rebel artillery was concentrated in Klosterneuburg. Nonetheless, what choice was there? If victory was asking too much, then in throwing their lives away these men could postpone defeat. That ten percent of the understrength militia division armed with thirty-year-old guns deserted the night before the attack speaks volumes about what the Hungarians thought of their odds. Hochleithen was chosen as the break-through point: it was closest to Vienna and was near the Klosterneuburg guns. Its being miles away from yesterday’s fighting raised hopes that it would be poorly defended. A small lunge from the perimeter to meet the advancing troops was planned. Yet, one junior officer wrote the truth in his diary that night. “If our national and military hopes are to lie in these six thousand men, half of whom are fifteen and the other half sixty-five, it would be to Hungary’s advantage to seek whatever clemency the Emperor deigns to offer, lest we entrust the defence of Budapest to my six-year-old daughter.”

    It’s hard to imagine his little girl could have done much worse.

    Things didn’t start as poorly as one might expect. Striking in the quiet sector had been wise; the defenders of Hochleithen weren’t expecting an attack and lacked machine-guns. The two thousand men pushing out of Vienna should have been fighting further south, but still made a difference. For once, numbers played into Hungarian hands- there were fewer Danubians in Hochleithen than rebels. After an hour the unthinkable happened: the bullet-ridden imperial banner was lowered from the village. A tenuous escape tunnel had been crafted, and for a few hours the garrison appeared saved. It didn’t take long for things to go wrong, though. Exuberant at being reconnected, the commander in Vienna telephoned Karolyi at 12:47 for instructions. He wanted to cut his losses and pull out, but the civilian Karolyi refused. Ceding Vienna would be a harbinger of defeat. Whatever reserves existed, no matter how decrepit, were to march through the new corridor and defend the Vienna perimeter. The only snag was that the battalion of boys and grand-dads who had enough flesh to punch through the weakest of defences, were the only reserves at hand for a day’s march. Everything else had already been committed. “Well then”, declared Karolyi, “we shall just have to be all the more deadly, short, and swift. We cannot lose now. That corridor is our lifeline.”

    Hungary’s leader had forgotten that the Danubians could move through his corridor just as easily as his own forces. He had punched his hole, but wasn’t to like what developed.

    While Karolyi had been bickering with his commander, the Danubians and Germans had liberated Vienna. Aided by the people’s storm, they swept through city blocks and thoroughfares. People cheered the black and yellow banner as it was hoisted over rubble. Crying “Gott mit uns!”, “Dominus nobisicum!”, and even “Deus vult!”, the people of the United Empire of the Danube reclaimed their city. The burnt St. Stephen’s cathedral was liberated, as were concert halls, coffee houses, and shops selling boys’ toys and electric irons. Mindful of civilian lives, von Straussenburg forbade gas while explosives and shelling were minimised. A few pockets held out- including the Klosterneuburg guns- but by 1 PM on 18 August, just as Karolyi was lecturing his commander in Hochleiten, the capital was secure. Imperial forces then pounded the Hungarian corridor, tearing their way east.

    From the Hungarian perspective, Vienna was not just dead- it was cremated and the ashes were blowing towards Budapest. Two and a half weeks of fighting were rendered moot. The Hungarians had lost the battle for Vienna, and every step east the enemy took reminded them that they’d lost the war.

    The fall of Vienna was too big an event for even the censored Hungarian papers to hide. On the twentieth- two days after the fact- an officially sanctioned article was released. Hungarian arms, it declared, were “preparing to defend the regions of Bratislava, the Nieuslieder Sea, and to continue occupying the forward position of Wiener Neustadt and Graz, all to best repulse any enemy offensive.” These positions, it emphasised, had been established “only after very heavy defensive fighting in which many of the foe were cut down.” The word ‘Vienna’ didn’t appear once, nor was a map provided. Nevertheless, it didn’t take long for the people to realise what had happened. A panicked realisation set in that since they couldn’t win, Maximilian would be at their gates before long. Fear led the Hungarian people to turn on Mihaly Karolyi.

    In this, they had an ally in Jozef Pogony, whose dreams of a people’s revolution seemed on the cusp of fulfillment. The second half of the Piros Revolution was about to begin.

    Pamphlets were distributed across Budapest on 22 August calling for a general strike. “The only way to save the Fatherland from reaction and destruction is for the working masses to take things into their own hands!” When Pogony lambasted Karolyi for losing the war and called for revolt, his words were heeded. The people of Budapest had suffered greatly and had finally had enough. “Peace, Bread, and Land” sounded bloody good to them, and they turned on Mihaly Karolyi’s regime with fury. Clashes with police and riots mixed with a general strike as workers threw down their tools and entered the streets. “Peace, Bread, and Land! Peace, Bread, and Land! Peace, Bread, and Land!” Four syllables summed up the dreams of Budapest, dreams which the foolish and arrogant Karolyi had thrown on the line and which Maximilian seemed fit to steamroller at any moment. They had to pull their city and fatherland back from the brink, back from the horrors of war which they’d been spared so far. If Jozef Pogony could save them from what lay ahead, they would follow him. What had they to lose? “Peace, Bread, and Land!” Half the troops in Budapest were just as desperate as the rioters and so they joined them. No longer safe, Mihaly Karolyi attempted to flee the city, but was stopped. One of his bodyguards, whose name has not survived, had had enough. The Hungarian rebel heard the gun cocking, and turned around a split second before the blast. Mihaly Karolyi was forty-three years old, and had been Prime Minister of the Hungarian Republic for thirteen months. His assassin was gunned down moments later, but the damage was done. Rebel Hungary had been decapitated.
    Chaos reigned in Budapest. One policeman might be for Pogany, another for the ancien regime. As with policemen, so with bakers, doctors, and school-teachers. Priests offered sanctuary inside their churches- weapons had to be left at the door. By midmorning, the riots had consumed half the capital. Karolyi’s protege Janos Hadik had survived and rallied the loyalists to his cause. With the top floor of a department store his headquarters, he planned a counteroffensive. The situation was bleak- many of the soldiers in the capital had gone over to Pogany, while nearly everything else was busy being battered a hundred miles to the west. Tapping into the western reservoir would cost territory- and besides, in the time it took to move a unit from the front to the capital the riots might consume Budapest. The roar of a canister shell told Hadik to hurry, the screams of the mob reminded him what was at stake. He shook his head. If the regime couldn’t defend Budapest with what it had on hand, it was in too much trouble for units from the front to make any odds. Every available unit in Budapest was to throw itself against the rioters, asking no questions and taking no prisoners. Pogany may have had the pen, but Hadik had the sword, and he knew which would conquer Budapest- aphorisms be damned. Budapest’s armoury was cracked open, and out came the CS gas and bayonets. Professional soldiers were outnumbered, but their equipment made a key difference. As the mob soon learned, raising red flags while smashing windows and heads was easier than fighting fully-armed troops. Triumphal shouts were replaced by the screams of the dying and the cacophony of stamping boots, pierced only by gunshots. It was a mark of how far humankind had regressed in three years that what would’ve made headlines in 1914 as “Massacre in Budapest!” was now almost de rigeur. Justinian’s men had hardly done worse in Constantinople fourteen hundred years previous. When the sun set on 22 August, two hundred and forty-seven bodies had been pulled from the smoking ruins- twice that number had been wounded. Fires nibbled away at the capital for another two days, but they were not fires of revolution, and that was all Janos Hadik cared about. The Piros Revolution had been brought to a swift and brutal end.

    Janos Hadik: the man who oversaw the Hungarian Republic's death throes.

    Attacks against the rebel regime came from the opposite direction, too. August saw the rise of a new Hungarian faction who made up for paltry numbers and a total lack of training with excessive common sense. Dubbed the “Legitimists”, these men were Hungarians fighting on behalf of Maximilian and Danubia who saw Mihaly Karolyi and Janos Hadik as traitors to their emperor. The communists weren’t allies of convenience; they were enemies who’d dangle at the end of a rope. Legitimists had no fewer qualms about shooting rebel troops than communists trying to redistribute their harvest- or, for that matter, attacking their neighbours who sold their grain to Hadik. Young men took their rifles to the countryside and became partisans fighting for “Danubia and Hungary.” The most obvious reason people became Legitimists was opportunism. With Vienna gone, hunger in the streets, and society fragmenting, foreboding hung in the air. Perhaps by allying themselves with the coming storm, they might escape the worst of its wrath? There was more to it than that though. Many Legitimist partisans were Catholic peasants who’d venerated Franz Joseph. The Habsburg dynasty stood for peace and prosperity, for conservatism and Faith, for the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. Having grown up under propaganda telling them that the emperor was their father and guardian of the Hungarian people, many couldn’t believe that Maximilian was all bad. Doing something for the empire wouldn’t just save their skin- it was what they owed their fatherland. “To remove the Habsburgs from Hungary”, wrote an unusually eloquent Legitimist, “is to remove the salt from the sea, the oxygen from the air.” They were the real Hungarian patriots; Mihaly Karolyi and Janos Hadik were the traitors. Little else united the Legitimists, who lacked a clear leader or a unified structure. Legitimists, for obvious reasons, were concentrated near the front lines and many would join the Danubians once the armies washed over their villages. Postwar, many Legitimists would find their careers fast-tracked by the grateful Maximilian; they supported his narrative of the Hungarians being wayward brothers who needed forgiveness, not the eternal enemy. The role these men would play in reconstruction is for another chapter.

    The Legitimists were about to get their big break.

    Janos Hadik couldn’t stop the imperial tide eastwards. On 29 August, seven days after his predecessor’s death, Hadik conferred with his ministers in Debrecen. Everyone knew about the atrocities committed in Vienna- many of the men in the room had encouraged them at the time. No mercy could be expected from the vengeful Danubians. “Unless you gentlemen wish to dangle from a rope over burning Budapest like a pig over flames, we must find a solution to this war.” The words tasted like bile. All the death and suffering, all the hopes and fears, all the triumph of taking Vienna and killing Emperor Karl, had been for naught. Magyar supremacism had been set back a generation. Historians would remember Janos Hadik and his colleagues as fools who lost the war and paid for it at the gallows. But if surrendering without enemy troops on national soil could spare his people from the worst excesses of war, Hadik had no choice but to do so. None of his ministers were fanatics. After three days of arguing, and with the Danubienkorps battering on Bratislava’s gates, a decision was made. “Placing our trust in God and in the mercy of the emperor, the Government of the Hungarian Republic as of seven PM, 1 September 1918, requests a cease-fire with the Government of the United Empire of the Danube and all allied forces fighting alongside said Government.”

    Hadik’s proposal enjoyed Maximilian’s unreserved support. With Mihaly Karolyi dead, the repentant Hungarians were coming to their senses. He could have peace without making a desert, and that could bring re-integration. Von Straussenburg cared about the military, not the political. Four years of suffering had taken its toll, and the imperial army was reaching the end of its rope. What would it cost his men to reach Budapest by Christmas? Accepting Hadik’s ceasefire would save lives. Not everyone agreed, though. Giving the Hungarians a slap on the wrist for murdering Emperor Karl and torching Vienna would only encourage them to revolt again. Teaching the Hungarians what a mistake they’d made wasn’t enough- they had to rub their noses in that fact till they bled. One suspects revenge for Vienna was the paramount concern. The Germans concurred- putting the jackboot to Budapest would satiate bloodlust. Berlin had spent a lot of money to help its ally, and photographs of a burning Budapest would show the German public that their investment had been worthwhile. When Kaiser Wilhelm II telephoned Maximilian on the second, he advised “crippling the successors of Attila by leaving their horde with nothing but ashes!”, and in a separate telegram to von Quast floated the idea of the Danubienkorps marching alone to Budapest if Maximilian made peace. Had such a thing been tried, the Habsburgs would have evicted the Germans by force and public sympathy would’ve shifted to Hungary. As it happened, Maximilian didn’t want the Danubienkorps to enter Hungary. He was immensely grateful for German aid, but Vienna’s liberation had shifted everything. No longer were his armies fighting to free German-speaking territory; they were moving to reunite the empire. In order for Hungary to become a normal part of Danubia, both Hadik and Pogony had to be felled by imperial arms. Hungary’s people had to be shown that they weren’t being conquered by a hostile foreign power. Sturmtruppen burning Budapest would be satisfying in the short term, but would do more to weaken his empire’s structure than anything else. Vienna would be avenged- he already had a list of those whose heads would roll- but torching Budapest would do little more than literally inflame passions. As King of Hungary alongside Emperor of Danubia and Archduke of Austria, Maximilian had to be sensible. If the Hungarians were to forget frustrated dreams of independence, he would have to forgive their worst excesses.

    This aroused German ire. “I do not think much of this idea”, said a young Sturmtruppen commander named Erwin Rommel. “Karl attempted to placate and look where that got him. Mark my words, if Emperor Maximilian follows this policy of his we shall have to repeat this at another time. That would not be peace, but an armistice for twenty years.” Why were German boys dying in the empire if not to avenge Vienna with Budapest, an eye for an eye. Anything else would be unsatisfactory. Fear was the best way to restore the union. Rome had never had trouble with Carthage after it was sacked and the fields sown with salt. It was here that Erich von Falkenhayn intervened. Germany’s Chief of Staff believed Berlin had the right to dictate events in Central Europe and that Danubia was only a Great Power by virtue of its victory in the Great War. In a missive to the emperor, von Falkenhayn declared that it would be “unfortunate” if the empire “paid insufficient attention to means of ensuring continued internal stability.” His polite words masked serious intent. The Germans had much support from those in the imperial court who wanted revenge. There was a real sense amongst the empire’s Austrians that since Maximilian only ruled because of Emperor Karl’s untimely death, he had a responsibility to avenge his predecessor. Those who spoke of removing the regent if he didn’t commit to finishing the war found quiet support from the Germans. Maximilian conceded. Destroying Hungary would cost blood, time, prestige, and moral strength, but losing Berlin’s support would be fatal. The war would plod on and thousands more would go to the grave for German visions of grandeur. Against his better judgement- to say nothing of his conscience- Budapest would be made to pay.

    The end now came quickly.

    Imperial troops had conquered Bratislava during the debate over a cease-fire, forging a clear path ahead. Reinforced by the Danubienkorps, one arm would advance down the great river while a smaller force attacked in Slovakia. The two branches would converge on Budapest, destroying Jozef Pogany’s Communist regime, after which the rest of the rebel state could be mopped up. The only things rumbling at the front in mid-September were the stomachs of ill-fed Hungarians. Imperial engineers spent the month toiling away on the roads east of Vienna, connecting the new positions to supply bases in Salzburg. Since Mihaly Karolyi hadn’t thought the empire could reach this far east, he hadn’t earmarked as much force for defending it as Vienna. Without knowing it, Hungary’s late leader had handed the enemy an intact set of rail lines and roads. More German-made bullets and rations crossed the chewed-up roads from Salzburg to Bratislava while commanders stared at maps. In the north, the weary Polish Legions prepared for another attack while reinforcements from various crownlands moved up. They were nearly at the end of their rope, but the Danubians had to carry on. The end was too near for peace now.

    Janos Hadik would’ve given anything he had to trade places with Maximilian. Legitimist partisans were moving from nuisance to threat by interfering with the harvest. The resulting food shortages in cities ironically drove people to support the communists. Soldier’s relations with officers can be summed up by the following joke, “they (officers) have it so hard these days. For every three men he commands, one will be a communist, one will remain loyal to Janos Hadik’s regime, and one will be marking time till he can defect to Maximilian. It is not an easy thing to tell the first two they are wrong!” Protecting one’s farm from partisans superseded defending Janos Hadik, and so people took off. Equipment had long since dried up- people were armed with Austro-Prussian War rifles, hunting guns, or not at all. The better part of Hungary’s artillery had been taken from Klosterneuburg, and was now sitting only a few hundred yards away from the defenders- except the enemy was pointing it east. With Germany determined to fight to the death, all Hadik could do was lead his country to a glorious end.

    Maximilian IV now brought the axe swinging for the final blow.

    Dawn came early on 2 October 1918. Hundreds of Danubian and German shells lit up the night sky, their orange streaks slicing through the black and muting silver stars. Gas gurgled. So did blood stuck in human lungs as men fought a losing battle for their last breaths. All across a forty-mile corridor between the Neusiedler Sea and Galanta, the weight of over a quarter of a million men punched through the Hungarian lines. It was Bardoneechia, the Oststorm (6), and Reichgrüben all over again. (7) Sturmtruppen used weak spots as their highway to supply dumps and roads. The Hungarians had had enough. Their homeland would fall regardless of what they themselves did, so why not give up? Secret Legitimists turned on their comrades and waved white flags; communists deserted. Imperial gunboats sailed down the Danube, pounding Hungarians who couldn’t shoot back. German fighters- including one flown by a certain Hermann Goering, another by Rudolf Hess- kept the sky clear of Hungarian planes.

    A similar story played out in the north. With Vienna gone and the road to the heartland opened, defending Bzovska Lehota suddenly seemed unimportant. Grizzled Polish troops leapt over the top on the second and punched through the defences. Foreign bodies were fed into the crank to overwhelm the Hungarians. After a day’s fighting, Bzovska Lehota, the sleepy Slovak town for which thousands had given their lives, fell. Poles and Galicians streamed south, while attacks from the flanks further pressured the defenders. By the end of October, imperial and Polish troops had advanced to within thirty miles of Budapest. Legitimists in the countryside presented themselves to imperial officers- their knowledge of the terrain made them invaluable, and since they spoke the same language as the people they were seen as less provocative. This prompted Maximilian to use them as occupation troops.

    With collaborators greasing the wheels, the juggernaut finally reached its goal.

    The Hungarian Republic died on 12 October 1918. Nothing else mattered- not ideology, not differences of opinion or race or class- now that the hour was approaching. Mobs ransacked the government buildings taken over by the regime and clashed with die-hards. Meanwhile, people fled east. Better to take their families to the countryside than die in the capital. The men in front of Budapest knew they couldn’t win. Outnumbered and outgunned, all they had was the knowledge that they were defending their wives and children. It was a good reason to fight but not enough to win. By the end of the day, after the better part of a year’s suffering, the harvest sown with blood at St. Polten, Bzovska Lehota, and Vienna had been reaped. Without needing to do more than organise the Legitimist street fighters and disperse crowds, the Danubians occupied Budapest. The people hid in cellars and attics. Any moment, the soldiers would come knocking to offer their family to the men like a pagan sacrifice in appeasement for Vienna. What had they done but been born on the wrong side of Lake Balaton? Nurses clutched babies to their breasts, shopkeepers yelped in protest. German Sturmtruppen rampaged through the streets where children had played before the war, shooting first and asking questions afterwards. No cathedrals were burned, but many homes and shops were. Aeroplane-dropped leaflets in German and Hungarian informed the people that ‘for every house which hides one rebel, ten will be punished’. Prominent Legitimists had been told to flee ahead of time, but those left in the city flew a flag with a coded message: white on one side, the Habsburg eagle on the other. Soldiers in the heat of combat sometimes paid attention, but they could no more control where their bullets went than they could prevent people from dying once they’d set the buildings alight. Imperial troops were less vicious than the Germans- after all, as Maximilian never ceased to remind himself, he was King of Hungary. It wasn’t murder, the emperor told himself a thousand times that day, watching reports come into Vienna, the Hungarians had brought this on themselves. Surely, in spite of the destruction the world told him to wreck on Budapest, a new leaf could be turned over? Surely, the Triple Monarchy could recover from this?

    Maximilian IV would have given anything to know the answers.


    1. I felt like such an arse writing this.
    2. Hungary’s currency?
    3. Why not? Germany is at peace and might as well send its ally a few of the shells which exploded at OTL’s Second Marne or what have you…
    4. This was introduced during OTL Verdun for the Germans and during the Brusilov Offensive IOTL for the Austro-Hungarians, so all three should be wearing it now, at least to an extent. No way that could cause confusion…
    5. Bonus points for anyone who gets this reference!
    6. Germany’s TTL August 1916 offensive which led to Tsar Nicholas’ fall. See chapter 11.
    7. And let’s not forget Caporetto! ;)
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    Chapter 42: So Far From God, So Close to America
  • Chapter Forty-Two: So Far From God, So Close to America

    San Diego didn’t feel like it was sixty miles from the fighting. Even on the third of March 1918, with what Californians called winter barely gone, the city felt like a scene from a postcard. Palm trees twirled in a lazy breeze, the sun shone on golden sand and blue waves, and shipping titans shared the sea with fishing-boats. But for a few more Navy ships and shore patrolmen than usual, there was no way to tell there was a war on. A posting where the enemy was a stone’s throw away but still harmless was the best kind of posting. The pitcher of reinforced lemonade stared alluringly from across the room. His hand was inches from the glass when the telephone rang.

    “Admiral Caperton.” The Commander-in-Chief, US Pacific Fleet glanced at the map on his wall. Mexico and the Gulf were spread out over sixty square feet; every hamlet with more than three people was shown, along with tides, navigational lines, and depth charts. Red pins were spread throughout Sonora province and along the Rio Grande; Veracruz appeared to have come down with spotted fever. Caperton cleared his throat. “With whom am I speaking and what can I do for you?”

    The commander of the 3rd Submarine Division gave his name. (1) “Sir, at approximately 1200 hours two days ago San Diego time, one of our submarines, the K-7, intercepted a vessel some 5.2 nautical miles from the island of Isla Altamura, off the coast of Sinaloa.”

    “Isla Altamura.” Caperton’s Tennessee tongue wasn’t suited to pronouncing the Spanish name. The wall map told him the island was six miles away from the enemy coast- nautical miles being fifteen percent smaller than their everyday counterparts. “Inside enemy territorial waters, then. Well, what’s the meaning of this call, then?” Why are you wasting my time? would have been impolitic. America’s blockade of Mexico was centred in the Caribbean, and the occasional ship snuck through and landed on the Pacific coast. With Baja California and the western seaboard unoccupied, there were too many miles for the US Navy to enforce an airtight blockade in the Pacific. There was nothing unusual about the odd privately owned ship being destroyed while trying to land in the west.

    “This ship was sailing under a false flag, sir.” Caperton sat up a little straighter. “It was registered legitimately enough, as the MGP Prospero. (2) The K-7’s skipper- Parsons is his name, sir, Captain Larry Parsons- stopped the ship properly. Full surfacing, plenty of warning, everything. Only problem was, sir”, the commander whispered excitedly, “the captain wasn’t no Panamanian. You must understand, sir, that I’m just basing what I’m about to say off of the skipper’s log. We simply can’t tell if or what he omitted from that without a full enquiry, and that's not something I'm authorised to do.”

    “Get to the point, Commander.” Admiral Caperton lit a cigar.

    “Yessir. You see, well, the Captain sent a boarding party onto the Prospero, right and proper. And he found that, well, the ship was really sailing out of Stettin, Stettin on the Baltic coast of-”

    “Yup, know where Stettin is, Commander. I learned me a thing or two at Newport, too.” Admiral Caperton was proud of graduating from the Rhode Island naval academy. “And let me guess, these here Panamanians were working for a fellow named Schmidt who answered to Kaiser Wilhelm?”

    The commander chuckled. “Yes sir. From what we found in the log, this here so-called ‘Prospero’ was really a German merchant mariner, SMS Wohlstand- means the same thing, ‘prosperity’, just different languages- under a false flag. Owned by a German guy, docked at Colon two weeks ago. He hired an all-new crew, all Panamanians. Somehow- probably through bribery- he managed to change the registry on his ship.”

    “Bribery?” Admiral Caperton slammed the desk. “How the hell did that get through?”

    “You know how it is, sir. Half these Panamanians don’t give a damn what they see as long as they get a piece of the action. Pay the right guy a few thousand, he’ll make a mistake on a form for you. That’s just a guess, mind- nothing in the log there.” Caperton seethed. Someone’s head would roll because of this. He counted his blessings he wasn’t in command of the Panama Canal. “Well, go on.”

    “Yessir. Like I was saying, someone greased palms and, according to his log, got through the Panama Canal on 18 February. Lied about his destination, too- said he was going to Lima. Had fudged papers and everything. The boarding party apprehended his ship, like I said sir, at 1200 on the 1st, where we found all this stuff in the ship’s log.” His sigh told Caperton something else was coming. And sure enough: “Sir, this is where it gets hairy. There… there was more in that ship. It’s now sitting on the bottom, but it was bound for Carranza.” Fear lurked in the commander’s voice, and Admiral Caperton heard him swallow. “Weapons, sir. French and British, mostly. Maxims, Hotchkisses, Lee-Enfields… Entente stuff, sir, most likely captured in the Great War... and which has been killing American boys down in Vera Cruz for months.”

    “Shit.” A moment later, Caperton turned red. “You didn’t hear that, Commander.” His subordinate chuckled as Caperton cleared his throat. “Anyhow. My God, are you sure, Commander? I mean, if this is true…” Admiral Caperton envied the commander and Captain Larry Parsons for having less room to fail. If something went wrong, if another apprehended German smuggler sought help from his government, the responsibility for a diplomatic incident would fall squarely on the shoulders of Admiral William Caperton, Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet. “If this is true”, he breathed, “then it’s too big for your division to handle. Continue...continue with your current method of operations. Take absolute care to follow international law with regards to everything, you hear me? Everything. The last thing we need is for the damn Krauts to have a pretext to complain about ill-treatment. Understood?”

    “Yes sir.”

    “Dismissed. Good day.” Caperton put the receiver down. My God, what will all this mean? I must speak with the President. Yes, kick the can up to the one man who can do more damage than me. How did President Hughes handle it all? He touched the telephone again, but stopped. The spiked lemonade looked more alluring than ever before.

    * * *

    “...and in conclusion, Admiral, I want that blockade water-tight, do you hear? Nothing should be able to reach the Mexican Pacific coast without facing the full might of the United States Navy… Admiral Caperton, I could not care less if our Navy destroys innocent traders. For a start, provided we heed international law like the Sunday Gospel, no one will have a right to complain under said law. Surely they taught you this at Newport?” If it brought sarcasm out of Charles Evans Hughes, it had to be bad. “And at any rate, I would much rather have a diplomatic incident with, say, Peru, than the German Empire. Peru, by God, is ours- Theodore Roosevelt made that plain. All those so-called countries are. (3) Germany… best not to contemplate that idea. Should you fish up any more smugglers, take them into custody as is proper. The Foreign Service will take care of the rest. Do I make myself plain, Admiral?”

    “Yes, Mr. President.” His meek Tennessee twang- odd combination, the President thought- was replaced by a dull buzzing. Hughes set the receiver down.

    “Oh, for the love of God!” President Charles Evans Hughes stared accusingly at the green telephone before offering his detailed opinion of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Venustiano Carranza, the deceased Pancho Villa, and for good measure, Admiral Caperton. “Get me something to wet m’throat!”, he screamed into the black telephone. A moment later, a butler in white tie and tails slid into the Oval Office, his shoes as polished as mirrors. He bowed his head, handed the President a glass of iced lemonade with a bit of scotch, and vanished. Just like America, the drink wasn’t as strong as he’d like. “How did we get into this mess? What possessed that, that maniac with the moustache to do this?” The late Theodore Roosevelt, slain in southern Sonora, glared at him from the wall. Hughes stroked his voluminous beard- Mrs. Hughes said it made him look like Zeus. Wouldn’t mind a bloody lightning bolt to throw at the Kraut. He picked up the green telephone. “Get me the Secretary of State!”

    Frank B. Kellogg sat erect before the President, his heavy jaw and cropped blond hair contrasting with Hughes’ snowy mane. “Mr. President, this is... This is an outrage, sir. What justification could Berlin have for what is effectively a conspiracy against this nation’s war effort?”

    “Damn good question, Frank.” Hughes puffed on a cigar. “Best I can see is that Kaiser Wilhelm wants to show the world how strong he really is. Now that he doesn’t have to worry about France or even England, he wants to remind this country to stay on our end of the Atlantic.” The damn cheek. “So, what could be better than tossing Carranza just enough to keep us busy, tie us up?”

    Kellogg nodded. “It’s all gone into my notes, sir.” The Secretary of State turned pale. “Do… do you think this could mean…” Hughes knew what he was thinking. The unspeakable three-letter word, with all it meant, hung in the air.

    Hughes broke the silence. “We’d certainly have a fine casus belli. For heaven’s sake, this tramples all norms. Great Powers do not damn well fool about with one another like that!” What about your predecessor selling arms to Britain and France, the cynical voice in the back of his head asked. That was different, Hughes told himself. Great Powers surely could help one another. And besides, what happened in Wilson’s term stayed in Wilson’s term. “Damnit Frank- I never should have trusted him. If only we’d been a little smarter, if only we’d given the limeys and the French just a little bit more, you and I wouldn’t be dealing with that silly kraut emperor now!” The President sighed. His rant had exhumed the bile- now fear took its place. “Frank”, he said slowly, “can you see it happening? Can you really see us going to war with the Krauts over this? Because that’s how it’ll play out if we fail in this. It’d… it’d be the biggest thing this Union has seen in fifty years.” The idea chilled his spine.

    A trace of fear penetrated Kellogg’s diplomatic mask. “Which makes it all the more imperative, Mr. President, that we do not fail here. Being half-hearted will only send the wrong message. Mr. President, I believe we should let Ambassador von Bernstorff know just how serious we are. If there are no consequences here, sir, then the Kaiser will develop the misapprehension that he can do what he will. Let them know we aren’t a threat and don’t want war, but draw a red line.”

    “Of course, Frank.” Hughes sighed. “All right- thank you. As ever, I appreciate your counsel. I know I chose wisely when I requested you for Secretary of State. I will entrust you with speaking to von Bernstorff- he should be in his office now. And see to it that our Mr. Gerard in Berlin is fully informed- doubtless, we shall have him protest to the officials there. Perhaps some of it will seep through Kaiser Wilhelm’s infernally thick skull.” Hughes smiled to himself. “Best not to include that phrase in the report, eh?” Chuckling, he carried on. “And no attention until we’re ready, do you hear me? Don’t want the bloody press getting ahold of this and calling me a lame duck. Well, good day, Frank.”
    “Mr. President.” Kellogg retreated from the Oval Office, and President Hughes picked up the telephone. “Get me my speechwriter- I want him here ten minutes ago! And while you’re at it, a bit more of that reinforced lemonade would be most welcome.”

    * * *

    Secretary of State Frank Kellogg

    Frank B. Kellogg smiled at the reporters. Cameras left green rings pulsating before his eyes. Accents from New York, Boston, Atlanta, and Detroit assaulted his ears. Oh God, he thought. I haven’t got a bit of fluff on my jacket, have I? The question seemed very important as the press examined him like a specimen under a microscope.

    “Good day, gentlemen. I speak on behalf of not just this Administration, but of the entire United States of America. I most sincerely wish that what I am about to say was unnecessary. This is a serious matter pertaining not just to our rights and honour as a sovereign nation, but of the war our Republic finds itself embroiled in. The lives of many thousands of American soldiers may hinge upon the decisions taken here.

    “When Venustiano Carranza established a state of war with this nation, we resolved to prosecute said war within the fullest extent of our powers. Such was, and continues to be, our right as a sovereign nation. As is within our rights under the Hague and Geneva Conventions- this nation being a signatory thereof- our Navy established a blockade not over the enemy coast line, but rather over individual ports as per international law. However, our submarines have continued to patrol such waters as are internationally permitted to them. In both cases, the object is to deprive the enemy of such raw materials and international trade as was necessary to maintain hostilities, and thereby secure a resolution to the conflict. A great number of nations have attempted to continue normal peace-time trade with the enemy. This is their right under the aforementioned international treaties, and this nation’s ability to restrict it is constrained by both treaty and decency. Neutral shipping to the enemy, while at times a licit objective for our blockade, must be and has been treated with the utmost respect for international law and human life, as per Section VI of the 1907 Hague Convention. I shall not pursue the details, but suffice it to say that those shipping-vessels fallen afoul of our blockade have, without respect to flag, received absolutely proper treatment. In this, our nation’s scrupulous adherence to the twin Conventions has won us much international respect and advanced the legitimacy of our cause. Likewise, until a very brief time ago, it was believed to the fullest extent of this country’s knowledge that the Mexican regime adhered to the same Conventions with equal scrupulosity.

    “It is with the utmost regret that I must inform the American public and its government that such a view was mistaken. Only days ago, it was discovered that a vessel registered under the Panamanian flag and attempting to licitly engage in trade with the Mexican government, was not what it appeared to be. Stopped by an American submarine in enemy territorial waters, the crew of this vessel was permitted to disembark and its cargo examined prior to sinking, in full accordance with legitimate protocols. In examining the vessel, however, several irregularities so severe as to amount to a contradiction of international law were immediately noticed. For a start, as the captain’s log revealed, it belonged to the Imperial German Merchant Marines and was registered under a false flag. Second, the cargo was not legitimate goods such as foodstuffs, medical supplies, and the like, but rather weapons.

    “The situation is thus. The German Government, in flagrant disregard of the relevant protocols vis-a-vis the rights and restrictions of neutrals in wartime, specifically Hague XIII, Article VI (4), has been shipping weapons to Venustiano Carranza’s regime. This has cost thousands of American soldiers their lives and prolonged the war.

    “Speaking on behalf of the United States Government, I call upon Kaiser Wilhelm II to cease and desist. Should further action of this type be taken, I can promise that the United States Government will retaliate to the fullest extent of its power. The actions of the German Government run counter to that most fundamental principle of our foreign policy- President Monroe’s Doctrine of 1823. For ninety-five years, we have endeavoured with tremendous success to keep the Western Hemisphere free of influences from Europe. Knowingly or not, in violating said Doctrine Germany’s actions have caused the gravest offence to the American government and people. This could lead to a severe deterioration of German-American relations, the ramifications of which would have such dire consequences for the peoples of our two nations that it is a deeply unpleasant thing to dwell upon them. Suffice it to say that a calamity could ensue if responsible action is not taken by the leaders of our two States.

    “Speaking on behalf of the United States Government and of President Hughes, I propose this to the German Government. Cease your illegal support for Venustiano Carranza and we shall not endeavour to trouble you. The United States and Germany share the status of Great Powers, and furthermore possess an immense commonly held heritage. For acrimony to be the dominant feature of our relationship would be a most unfortunate incidence. The American people and their government are desirous of peace. A formal note of apology from Prime Minister von Heydebrand (5) or another official designated by the German Government, would most certainly suffice. Then, this Government will most certainly be willing to place this matter aside as a brief point of discord in what I- and in this I speak not just as a representative of my Government and people, but on my own personal accord- most sincerely hope will be a long era of unity between our two nations and peoples.

    “To the Mexican people, I say this. I am authorised by President Hughes to speak of the matter of peace, and consequently shall devote a few words to it now. Magnanimity is very much within the American tradition. Our republic has never coveted undue glory, nor held the desire to oppress its neighbours. Though we have from time to time found it necessary to take up arms in accordance with our status as a great and rising power, our intent has always been benign, to spread the twin gifts of democracy and civilisation. (6) Only one man stands in the way of this fine objective. (7) Venustiano Carranza brought a form of unity to the Mexican nation, but he did so at the point of a sword, using force as his weapon and disregarding the popular democratic mandate necessary for legitimate rule. In flagrant defiance of prior American agreements with Mexico, Carranza proceeded to declare war on our great republic, following an incident provoked by his own soldiers in the midst of a routine operation designed to suppress banditry- a task which ought to have fallen to him- and secure our stable border. (8) I have absolute confidence that the Mexican people do not desire this war any more than the people of the American state. Upon news of Carranza’s resignation or removal from office, President Hughes will move with the utmost speed to seek a secure and just peace for the good of all parties. Thank you, gentlemen, and good day.”

    Another wave of bulbs exploded in his face, and he froze his mouth into an awkward smile. That bit of fluff on his jacket seemed far more important than the fate of nations. Frank B. Kellogg walked off the podium as though he had a pole rammed up against his spine, every muscle tense. Thank God that’s over.

    * * *

    Venustiano Carranza was arrested on 11 March 1918, ten days after SMS Wohlstadt was sunk. The war had not been easy on the Mexican president. Carranza had spent the first two months of 1918 in a secret bunker a hundred miles west of the capital. This was for his own safety, but it left him terribly isolated. The subterranean Presidential Bunker was a long way from the rest of the world. Sunlight was a rare commodity while security concerns limited the number of people Carranza saw daily. Just as no assassin could peer through a window to plan a shot, Carranza couldn’t look out on the world. El Presidente spent twelve hours a day hunched over his desk, subsisting on coffee, cigars, and rice. His beard grew longer and greyer while his frame thinned and his temper shortened- the physical signs of strain.

    Mexico couldn’t win. The previous August, President Hughes had ordered John J. Pershing to cross the Rio Grande in pursuit of Pancho Villa. Carranza may have been Villa’s foe, but he was also a fierce nationalist who couldn’t stomach Americans crossing the border without permission. “A massed crossing of one nation’s border by the soldiers of another, without the slightest permission from said nation, is an act of war by any measure!” However, a just cause was no substitute for an industrial base or modern army. Despite his best efforts, Carranza had been unable to dislodge the Americans from Veracruz or Tampico. Alvaro Obregon, previously a key lieutenant and something of a friend, had turned traitor and was now helping US troops through his Sonoran fiefdom. Having reached a modus vivendi with the foe, Emiliano Zapata dominated Oaxaca. American ‘dollar diplomacy’ had lured Guatemala, Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic into the war; Nicaragua and Panama had since joined. Day after day, the pressure grew on the Veracruz perimeter. Los Yanquis hadn’t tried to break out yet for fear of the high casualties that would ensue, but neither could Mexicans crush the beach-head. Carranza knew the front was a ticking time-bomb, but there was nothing more he could do.

    America’s blockade had killed Mexico’s prewar export industry. In a bitter twist of irony, Mexican products were replaced mainly by American ones on the world stage. Small farmers, the backbone of Mexico’s agricultural sector, were needed in two places at once. Young men had to put the uniform on, but without them the harvest couldn’t be properly collected. In the end, many rural boys dodged conscription to work on the family farm, placing the burden of service on urban residents. Years of civil strife had birthed a widespread feeling that if the government couldn’t directly help them, they didn’t owe it much. Thus, farmers began cutting themselves off from the cities, eating their goods rather than selling them. Urban Mexicans blamed Carranza and the war for the rising food prices.

    The elite saw the damage done by the war. All were Mexican patriots who hated to see their country brought low, but they were also realists. Revolutionary Mexico’s first commandment was to live by the sword and die by the sword. If Carranza couldn’t lead his country, he had to be removed. The fate of Mexico- and, equally importantly, their own careers- hung in the balance. When Frank Kellogg promised a just peace to Mexico, the last domino fell.

    The Triunvirato who removed Venustiano Carranza's regime. From top to bottom: Felix Diaz, Adolfo de la Huerta, and Francisco Mugica
    felix diaz.jpg

    Francisco Mugica.jpeg

    Felix Diaz had been born in 1868 in Oaxaca province, and entered revolutionary politics after his uncle’s regime was toppled in 1910. Outmatched by his wilier foes, Diaz had spent time abroad before returning to Mexico just as the guns quietened in Europe. (9) Despite opposing Carranza’s regime, Diaz was a patriot and placed himself at Carranza’s disposal in September 1917. Not trusting Diaz, El Presidente gave him a junior command on the Guatemalan front. His connections to the ancien regime won Diaz few friends, and he took an “extended leave of absence” at Christmas. While on leave, he secretly conferred with two others: Adolfo de la Huerta and General Francisco Mugica. All concurred that the war was going nowhere and despaired for Mexico’s fate, and gradually decided to do something about it. Mugica and Diaz were both military men while de la Huerta occupied a key spot in Carranza’s administration. That de la Huerta was a long-time ally of Alvaro Obregon, who enjoyed America’s good graces, didn’t hurt. With Carranza holed up in his bunker west of the capital, no one noticed the minor changes being made in early 1918. Elite units were pulled from Veracruz and sent to the capital; they were replaced at the front by pro-regime commanders.

    As soon as Kellogg declared Carranza the sole obstacle to peace, the Triunvirato- triumvirate, as it was dubbed- moved into action. Troops commanded by Mugica stormed the Presidential Palace and other government buildings in the small hours of 8 March 1918. Since Carranza had kept his whereabouts secret, only a handful of people knew he wasn’t in the capital. As such, much damage was done and many lives taken by soldiers trying to find him. Otherwise, the coup was as clean as possible. There were no hitmen murdering Carrancistas en masse, and those arrested were largely spared their lives. Things were only improved when a large granary was captured by soldiers loyal to the Triunvirato and its contents distributed amongst the public. At five PM, de la Huerta declared Carranza ‘incapacitated’ over Mexican radio. He called on officers to obey directives from the capital and soldiers to follow all orders. Nothing less than the “stability and fabric of the Mexican state which you have laboured for so long to construct” was at stake.

    Venustiano Carranza, meanwhile, was cursing a blue streak. Just as he’d predicted, traitors had surrounded him! El Presidente had to act fast if he wanted to retain his title… to say nothing of his life. Four hours after de la Huerta addressed the nation, he spoke from his bunker. Rumours that he was ‘incapacitated’, he told the nation, were lies. The Triunvirato- who, he emphasised, were Yankee sellouts- would be crushed “swiftly and mercilessly”. Men who, only hours before, had declared for the plotters now repented and turned on those who disagreed, while provincial governors picked sides. There was unrest in all of Mexico’s major cities. Officers in Veracruz were too busy resisting the Americans to worry much, but skirmishes broke out elsewhere. The worst confusion came from those who’d heard one broadcast but not the other, or those in rural areas who hadn’t heard at all.

    For a few hours, Mexico appeared on the brink of civil war.

    The Triunvirato moved quickly to prevent such a thing. 24 hours after they’d first struck, five hundred men rode west, having discovered Carranza’s whereabouts while rifling through the Presidential Palace. Two days later, they reached the mountain hamlet of Macho de Agua, where El Presidente was holed up. After a three-hour battle with guards chosen for their fervent loyalty, General Mugica and his men entered the bunker and, stepping over the corpses, persuaded Venustiano Carranza to surrender. A pistol at the back of his head, Carranza spoke one last time to the Mexican people. A ‘compromise’ had been reached, he ad-libbed, whereby ‘the Triunvirato will assist me in securing a peaceful settlement with the Americans.”

    * * *

    “Yes, General Pershing. Of course, General Pershing. As soon as you can get it signed, please! Get Mr. de la Huerta into the perimeter as soon as possible under flag of truce…. Of course, of course… And do send my personal thanks to the three gentlemen. Yes… good-day, General.” Charles Evans Hughes set the green telephone down. A smile crossed his weary, white face. “It’s over”, he murmured, staring at the ceiling. “Praise God, but it’s finally over!” The lemonade stared at him again. Why not celebrate, Mr. President? Hughes grinned.
    “To Uncle Sam!” Down the hatch it went.

    * * *

    Lieutenant Patton at the signing of the Treaty of Mexico City
    george patton.jpg

    First Lieutenant George Patton allowed himself the luxury of a smile. (10) Six months had passed since the Veracruz Armistice, and he wanted to get back Stateside. Beatrice couldn’t wait forever! You’ve been down here for so long, George. You can damn well hold out a bit longer. He glanced at himself. Dress uniform felt like a second skin made of plastic and glue. His field uniform was covered in dirt and blood and everything else a dismounted cavalryman found in the trenches. It was his, it made him feel like he was doing something worthwhile. Standing around in a Goddamned penguin suit was another matter. Perhaps to compensate for having lost, the Mexican officers were even more ornate, with all manner of red, green, and white on their uniforms. No neckties, though, Patton thought scornfully. Makes ‘em look like a bunch of damn peacocks.

    “Atten-shun!” Two companies of Americans and a handful of Mexican officers clicked their heels and saluted. The unremarkable delegations from the smaller Caribbean states entered Mexico City’s town hall. They’d done next to nothing in this war and would get next to nothing. Besides, he thought scornfully, they ain’t real countries anyhow. Only one real country between Canada and the South Pole. (11) Then came the Mexicans. Patton recognised the porky one in grey- he was Alvaro Obregon. The sole man in uniform had to have been General Francisco Mugica. The other two were Adolfo de la Huerta and Felix Diaz, though he couldn’t have said which was which.

    Frank B. Kellogg looked like he’d been a prizefighter in his younger days. His heavy jaw and deep eyes made clear that there was a real man under all that cloth. As to the last man-

    “Mr. President!”, Patton whispered. Yes, that was Charles Evans Hughes. He didn’t carry himself like Kellogg- the first word which entered Patton’s mind was librarian- but his eyes spoke of ruthless self-confidence. An interpreter who surely hadn’t reached twenty lurked behind Huerta, trying not to stare at the President. Taking every step carefully and deliberately, Hughes walked past and saluted the honor guard. Patton’s fellow lieutenant, a grey-eyed Missourian with the world’ biggest glasses, looked fit to burst with pride. (12) US troops fought frantically to keep the press away. “Mr. President!”s and “Senor!”s flew like rockets; the flash-bulbs were as blinding as any explosion. Patton blinked the green rings away.

    "You will be so kind, I trust”, Hughes said, “to read it out in our respective languages?” The interpreter nodded.

    “Whereas the Contracting Powers of this Treaty on the one hand:
    The United States of America, the Republic of Cuba, the Republic of Guatemala, the Republic of Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the Republic of Nicaragua, the Republic of Panama,

    And the Government of the United Mexican States on the other,

    Having entered into a state of war as of 11 August 1917, and having established a temporary cessation of hostilities as of 11 March 1918, are now desirous of a firm and just peace, in which the status of all signatories is given the utmost consideration within the codification of the peace, and in which the sacrifices of those who ceded their lives are given equal weight, do from this date agree to adopt the following, that they shall be legally binding upon the Contracting Powers and constitute a formal cessation of the state of war henceforth:

    • Article I: The state of war between the United Mexican States on the one hand and the other Contracting Powers shall be brought to an immediate conclusion.
    • Article II: All forces belonging to the United States of America and associated powers shall vacate the territory of the United Mexican States, but for the following listed territories, no later than 1 January 1919.
      • II.I: The province of Tamaulipas is to remain under occupation by forces of the United States until 31 December 1923.
    • Article III: In the course of this retreat, the United States of America and associated powers shall abide by the following principles:
      • III.I Forcible evacuation of the inhabitants shall be forbidden; no damage or harm shall be done to the persons or property of the inhabitants.
      • III.II No person shall be prosecuted for having taken part in any military measures previous to the signing of the armistice.
      • III.III No destruction of property of any kind to be committed.
        • III.III.I The above shall not apply to the demolition of facilities of a military nature; eg, coastal guns, pill-boxes, etc, but not including facilities of an industrial nature with the capacity to produce military goods.
      • III.IV Stores of food of all kinds for the civil population, cattle, etc., shall be left in situ.
      • III.V No measure of a general character shall be taken, and no official order shall be given which would have as a consequence the depreciation of industrial establishments or a reduction in their personnel.
      • III.VI Roads and means of communications of every kind, railroads, waterways, roads, bridges, telegraphs, telephones, shall be in no manner impaired. All civil and military personnel at present employed on them shall remain.
    • Article IV: The blockade of the Mexican coastline shall terminate as soon as is practical; all vessels in said blockade shall depart for ports dictated by officers of the United States.
    • Article V: All vessels of the Mexican Navy are to proceed to New Orleans, whence they shall be disarmed by authorities of the United States Navy.
    • Article VI: An agreement concerning the size and capacities of the Mexican Navy shall be signed at the choosing of the United States Government, but not on or after 1 January 1920.
    • Article VII: The land forces of the United Mexican States shall not exceed 100,000 men, of which no more than 15,000 may be cavalry.
      • VII.I: Mexico shall be forbidden from producing or importing any make of machine-gun or land mine until 1 January 1923.
    • Article VIII: The United Mexican States are forbidden from stationing Regular Army units within ten (10) miles of the border with the Republic of Guatemala.
      • VIII.I: All fortifications along said border are to be destroyed not after 1 January 1919 . Guatemalan officers shall have the right to conduct an inspection of said border at the discretion of the Guatemalan Government to ensure compliance.
    • Article IX: The Government of the United Mexican States hereby renounces any and all claim to the oil reserves of Tamaulipas Province. Said oil reserves are from this moment forward the sovereign property of the United States Government.
      • IX.I: Even after the period of occupation has elapsed, the United States Government shall retain the right of free movement throughout Tamaulipas Province. Agents of the United States Government shall be subject to neither tariffs nor customs inspection.
    • Article X: Article Twenty-Seven of the present Constitution of the United Mexican States is to be abolished. (13)
    • Article XI: The autonomy of Sonora Province is to be codified into the Mexican constitution.
    • Article XII: The Mexican regime with which this Treaty was contracted is henceforth to be seen as the only legitimate one.
    • Article XIII: The United States Government commits to guaranteeing the present frontiers of the United Mexican States against external and internal alterations.”

    One by one, the men signed.
    We won, of course we did! Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Hell, we play to win all the time. That's why we damn well won here, and that’s why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war. George Patton twisted his mouth into a cold smile.


    1. Which the Good Old Internet™ doesn’t want to tell me. Any information would go a long way…
    2. Fictitious; didn’t want to spend an hour combing for a real name.
    3. He may not be Wilson, but he’s still an imperialist.
    4. Here's the link I used to help write this. International law is a tricky bastard to get a handle on and if I’ve flubbed something… please say so!
    5. See chapter 26
    6. My middle school history textbook says hello.
    7. Charles Evans Hughes? ;)
    8. See the end of chapter 15
    9. All OTL.
    10. @BiteNibbleChomp this one’s for you…
    11. That’s his opinion. Very fashionable 100+ years ago.
    12. Any guesses? Here’s a hint…
    13. Providing for nationalisation of the oil industry.