Ulster Fought and the Kaiser Won


(Disclaimer: No, Imperial German Ulster does not feature in this timeline. At least, not yet.)

The name of the Great European War, of 1914-1916, is in a sense as multi-faceted as the conflict itself. The name refers to the vast scale of the conflict, with armies
larger than ever seen before clashing, death tolls reaching higher than had even been imagined in previous wars. The name refers to the all-encompassing nature of the war,
both in terms of territory (in Europe, only seven nations were able to remain fully neutral, encompassing roughly 14.5 million people and only about 4.3 percent of Europe's total population)
as well as in the manner it changed the lives of those living in both belligerent and even neutral nations. The name also indicates the great impact of the war - not only
was it a massive conflict, the likes of which had never been seen before, but it also set Europe on the path that it remained on for most, if not all, of the 20th century
and even beyond. The political crises in Germany and Russia alike brought the idea of a powerful, central monarch into harsh contrast with mass politics, while parliamentary
rule was challenged, forced to evolve beyond what it had grown into in the previous centuries. Meanwhile Austria-Hungary, its own political leadership invigorated by the great
prestige and clout gained from victory in the war, was able to reform into what is now seen by many as the definitive answer to ethnic nationalism, a true multi-ethnic state
under the aegis of a dynasty but ruled by its many peoples.

- Arnold Frankeson, introduction to The Great European War and Its Aftermath


The words were famous only days after they were spoken. Before the week was over, hundreds of thousands of Germans could easily complete the sentence given only the first three words. "Auch im Kriege" became a sort of phrase of its own, thrown in at the end of another argument or used as a short. The words themselves held obviously incomplete meaning: 'even in war'. They were from a speech given by Philipp Scheidemann in the Reichstag in December of 1916; the full sentence was "Auch im Kriege ist Deutschland Rechtsstaat", meaning 'even in war, Germany is a state of the rule of law'. The speech encapsulated much of what would in the following year explode into prominence during the political crisis in Germany. It primarily addressed the conduct of German soldiers and occupation forces in the region often referred to as 'Ober Ost', an area under German occupation for roughly a year before its annexation in the Treaty of Stockholm. Once the war ended, civilian officials poured into the area, replacing the military-state with the peacetime institutions of the German Empire.

What they found was bound to cause trouble; several major figures within the German Army had argued in favor of continued military administration of the region, knowing that an influx of reporters, civil servants, and similar - as well as many political figures looking to inspect or prepare the region for the next Reichstag elections in which its (at the time) roughly million-strong voting block could prove a great asset - would lead to issues. Their efforts failed, and as a result stories of arbitrary executions, forced labor and other conduct which had previously, under military rule, been seen as necessary but was now viewed by the critical eyes of liberal and social-democratic commentators as clear breaches of German law, came to light. When Scheidemann gave his influential speech in the Reichstag, many were still unaware of the details of what had happened in Ober Ost during the war. Reports from the area spread slowly at first, blocked where possible by state actors sympathetic to the army or simply dismissed as 'lacking sufficient evidence to report' by more conservative papers. Not long after the "Rechtsstaat Speech", however, the dam broke. It was impossible for a newspaper to avoid the topic, impossible for any politically-minded German to not find themselves with an opinion on the matter after being bombarded with names, figures, and citations of legal codes.

But of course, for all of this to come about, the war that began in 1914 had to be won. But to find the seeds which grew into the victory of Berlin, Vienna and their allies, a look all across Europe is necessary, going from the familiar military academies of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the inadequate ammunition stockpiles of the Imperial Russian Army and on to odder places, to London and onwards to Ireland. Once all the other pieces were in place, it would be there, in Ulster, that a decisive weight would be placed on the scales.
Ireland and the Home Rule Crisis
Quick note before the main update: I was actually planning to do this yesterday, but some work related to it took a lot longer than planned so I delayed this part of the post.

Then I spent almost all of the three hours and over a thousand words of writing just trying to lay out enough of the background of the PoD that it's actually coherent for someone who isn't already familiar with the situation; even then I've cut stuff (some will be tied in later, though) for length, because jeez and also because I want to make sure I'm writing UFatKW and not Ireland Is Complicated And Here's Why.

So, instead of the original plan of one beefy update on the main PoD and the early development of the war, I'm going to mix-and-match a little, making it a big text update on the main PoD plus a map that says a lot about how 1914 goes but leaves room for another update.

I'll also note here that I intend to stay fairly broad-strokes with the war itself; partly because I could very easily (I have both the inclination to and the books to enable it) go way too in-depth to reach 1915 any time before mid-2020 and partly because I want to focus on the post-war part of the timeline, as that's where a lot of the original ideas were and what I'm most eager to get into.

So, then, without further preamble...


Ireland and the Home Rule Crisis

In 1801, the Kingdom of Ireland was merged with that of Great Britain, forming the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The Parliament of Ireland ceased to exist; 87 years later the Government of Ireland Bill 1886 (also known as the First Home Rule Bill) was introduced in the House of Commons and died there, unable to gain majority support. It was the first major attempt in Westminster to bring what was known as 'Home Rule' to Ireland after 1801, and would have resulted in the creation of a unicameral assembly to act as a devolved de facto parliament in Ireland, ending the participation of Irish members of parliament in Westminster. In 1893, the Government of Ireland Bill 1893 (AKA the Second Home Rule Bill), containing differences to the First Home Rule Bill but fundamentally focused on the same matter, as implied by the name. Unlike the first, the bill passed through the House of Commons only to be vetoed by the House of Lords; at this point in time, various Irish organizations had been campaigning for Home Rule for 23 years. It would be another 18 years until the Government of Ireland Act 1914 (AKA the Home Rule Act) passed after a constitutional crisis paved the way for its passing, allowing it to bypass the House of Lords after being unable to gain a majority there in 1912 or 1913.

As the political battle in Westminster was coming to a close, the stage was being set for a very different sort of confrontation in Ireland. Amidst fears of "Rome Rule", an ascendant Catholic Church dominating politics in a new Irish Parliament, differing economic interests in the more rural southern Ireland and the industrial Belfast, and a total political overshadowing of the smaller Protestant population, over 471,000 signatures were gathered beneath the Ulster Covenant (which declared, for its over 230,000 male signatories, that they would "us[e] all means which may be found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule Parliament in Ireland [...] and mutually pledge ourselves to refuse to recognize [a Home Rule Parliament's] authority"). This pledge, made in late September 1912, would come into sharper focus the following year, when a 100,000-man-strong paramilitary force was formed: the Ulster Volunteers, a force dedicated to the resistance of Home Rule by whatever means proved necessary. As German weapons were smuggled into the country, the threat which lay beneath such statements grew into the specter of armed revolt.

Of course, Ulster was not the only province of Ireland; its population was majority Catholic, Home Rule had been a key issue of the Irish party which had secured a majority of Ireland's MPs in Westminster. Without the fears that could be stirred up by the idea of the Pope ruling over and suppressing them, or that rural Irish would demand policies that cut into the core of their prosperity, the promise held within the Ulster Covenant was a threat. A threat seen by enough as in need of answering that in 1913, the Irish Volunteers were formed, taking on a historical motto ('Defence not Defiance') and a clearly-stated goal which placed them in firm opposition to an attempt by the UVF to break Home Rule: "to secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to the whole people of Ireland", as stated by Eoin MacNeill, the organization's head. The Irish Volunteers had no body of signatories to immediately draw from, but rapidly grew until they reached almost twice the size of the UVF in the last days of peace. Just as the Ulster Volunteers, the force brought in German rifles to arm itself.

With two large armed camps gathering strength in Ireland, the situation had already degraded significantly, but more fuel would soon be fed to the fire. In March of 1914, with the Home Rule Act soon to make its final visit to the House of Commons and expected to pass, the question of a reaction to the stated aim of the UVF to at minimum ignore and likely outright rebel against the new Irish Parliament swirled within the British Cabinet. The possibility of taking military action against the Ulster Volunteers was considered, and the resulting incident rapidly revealed the cracks in any plan hinging on using the British Army to do so. Believing "active operations" were to begin in Ulster, a number of officers made clear that they would prefer resignation or dismissal to the carrying out of these orders. The necessity of the Irish Volunteers could now be argued with this - if the British Army would not enforce its laws, defend Home Rule and the "rights and liberties common to the whole people of Ireland", then clearly the Irish would need to do so themselves.

On July 28th 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. In Britain, the final stages of the continental calamity had been outpaced just barely by the eruption of violence in Ireland. Only two days prior, Dublin was the scene of what became known as the Bachelor's Walk massacre; after confronting 1,000 freshly-armed Irish Volunteers, a force of British troops attacked protesters - described as throwing rocks and being hostile, but unarmed beyond said stones - with rifle fire as well as bayonets. The four dead and thirty-plus wounded sent waves of rage through Ireland, managing to bring the tension on the island to what would reveal itself to be just a few words below the point of boiling. It was in this environment that a carefully-prepared plan of the UVF was brought to its final stage of readiness. As Belgrade was already under the war's first bombardment, the UVF commander in Belfast sent a telegraph detailing that: "All difficulties have been overcome and we are in a very strong position", with a further guarantee that if the recipient were to "signify by the pre-arranged code that we are to go ahead, everything prepared will be carried out to the letter".

The plan's origins are unclear, their source likely an officer who had gone over to the cause of what would become the Ulster Volunteers in 1910. Called "the Coup", it envisioned a rapid strike that would, seizing an opportunity to paralyze any response, be carried out by the UVF. While its source is unclear, their details are less so:

1. Cut rail lines so that no police or Army could be sent to Ulster.
2. Cut telegraph and cable lines.
3. Seize all depots containing arms, ammunition, etc.
4. All avenues of approach by road for troops or police into Ulster should be closed by isolated detachments.
5. Guns of field artillery [caliber] should be captured either by direct attack - or else by previous arrangement with the gunners.
6. All depots for supply of troops or police should be captured.

This plan, if carried out rapidly and with all of its obstacles overcome as per the telegraph, would place the Ulster Volunteer Force in control of the province, requiring a large-scale military response to pry the likely dug-in defenders out once they had positioned themselves at its borders. Worse, such action would inevitably require either using potentially unreliable (to the point of outright joining with the forces of the UVF, or simply refusing orders that would bring them into conflict with them) formations or potentially reducing the available land forces to the point that usage of the Irish Volunteers to bolster them would become necessary. Finally, the same cracks that were present in the British Army were present in its Royal Navy.

The reply came quickly, only hours before a meeting that could have changed the course of British (and, European, and by extension world) history, bringing reconciliation or at least temporary relief from the issue of Irish Home Rule and Ulster. But instead, the attention of those who had originally planned to meet for other reasons was seized by the rapidly-forwarded copy of one of a handful of messages that had slipped out of Ulster just before the last lines were cut. Even as continental Europe hurled itself into war, millions of men mobilizing in the following days, Britain itself was plunged into a bloody conflict within its own borders.

Ulster, it had been decided, would fight.


The Opening of Belgium
The Opening of Belgium

Only days after the eruption of fighting in Ulster, news of which had since spread through Britain and further to the continent, Germany gave Belgium an ultimatum. On the 24th of July, the Belgian government had declared its intent to uphold the country's neutrality in the event of war; as the last week of July came to an end, however, the situation had changed dramatically. Of the powers that had signed the 1839 Treaty of London and guaranteed Belgian neutrality, four were mobilizing against one another, leaving only Great Britain and the Netherlands as uninvolved parties; the former had just fallen into what would at minimum be a major revolt or, should the matter continue to escalate as it had in July, into outright civil war. As such, when, on the 1st of August, an ultimatum was delivered to Belgium by Germany, the decision to be made by Brussels far from easy. The Dutch could hardly be counted on to go to war with a great power alone for Belgium - they had themselves just declared neutrality in the current conflict.

Further worsening the Belgian position were the results of a meeting on the 29th of July between German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg and Edward Goschen. Happening only a short time after the arrival of the news of the events in Ulster, the meeting represented an attempt by the German Chancellor to ensure that Britain would not join the war (which was at this point both to come and already ongoing); brought to a government in the midst of reacting to a crisis that had, and still was, eclipsing the continental conflict, the proposal was no masterpiece of diplomacy. Fundamentally, it was an outline of German war goals, promises as to their limits, and
little else. Metropolitan France would not find any parts of itself under German rule, and Belgium would emerge from the war just as independent as it had been before it. Of course, the latter of these points all but demanded the British effectively renounce the old Treaty of London - they could hardly guarantee Belgian neutrality and accept German plans that apparently involved some interruption of their independence.

Thus it was that Brussels, two days before receiving a German ultimatum, was given a quiet encouragement by Britain to "avoid conflict with Germany". An assurance followed, stating that if it was necessary the Belgians would receive British aid, but the situation in Britain and the preceding sentence both undermined any hope that the Belgian government could have drawn from it. The situation was clear, even if Germany had yet to make a direct move towards Belgium, and represented anything but a choice of neutrality or belligerence: either refuse Germany's demand and face invasion by their army, with likely assistance from France but at best minor aid from Britain
until their internal troubles had been resolved, or accept German troops passing through Belgium and effectively side with Berlin and Vienna.

When the German ultimatum arrived, "requesting" a reply within 24 hours under threat of viewing Belgium as an enemy nation, the Belgian government had already come to a decision. Paris, already warned of a potential movement of German forces in the north, now received a confirmation from Brussels. The Belgian Army, already partially mobilized on the 30th, was fully mobilized and received new orders. Only one hour before the expiration of the ultimatum, Berlin received a reply, one as unambiguous as they had demanded. While not total submission - several conditions were demanded by Belgium - the core of the message was clear.

Belgium would allow German troops to move through.

(Brief note at the start - apart from exclusion of a historical revision of the original text which cut out several passages and demanded a quicker response, this is a translation of a historical document rather than something I've made; the wording may be a bit off in some places as a result. I retrieved the original from here, not that it's of much use if you don't speak German.

The Secretary of the Foreign Office to the Ambassador in Brussels

Berlin, 29. July 1914​

The imperial government is in possession of reliable communications regarding the planned deployment of French armed forces along the Maas from Givet to Namur. These messages leave no doubt regarding the intention of France to move against Germany via Belgian territory.

The imperial government cannot overcome the worry that Belgium, despite its best wishes, may not have the capacity to withstand such a deployment of French forces with an expectation of success that is sufficient to guarantee safety against the threat this would pose to Germany without assistance. It is imperative that Germany, to preserve itself, must preempt the enemy attack. It is for this reason that it would fill the German government with the greatest sorrow, were Belgium to see in the defensive actions of Germany that have been forced upon it by its enemies, which require it to itself move onto Belgian territory, an act of hostility against itself.

In order to preclude any misunderstanding, the imperial government declares the following:

  1. Germany does not intend any hostile actions towards Belgium. If Belgium wishes to take a position of benevolent neutrality towards Germany in the coming war, the German government would obligate itself to, when peace is made, not only guarantee in their entirety the vested rights (lit. "State of ownership/posession", may also be referring to contemporary Belgian borders) and independence of the Kingdom, but also be prepared to approach any claims of the Kingdom to compensation by territory at the cost of France in the most benevolent fashion.
  2. Germany obligates itself, under the above prerequisite, to clear Belgian territory as soon as peace is made.
  3. In the case of a friendly attitude on the part on Belgium, Germany is prepared to cooperate with royal Belgian officials to purchase in cash all needs of its troops and to repair any damage that may be caused by German troops.
Should Belgium adopt a hostile stance towards German troops, especially in the case of causing trouble to the German advance by means of resistance at the Maas fortifications or by destruction of railways, streets, tunnels or other works of civil engineering, Germany will be forced to its own sorrow to view the Kingdom as an enemy. In this case Germany could not obligate itself to any actions regarding the Kingdom, and would be forced to leave the later arrangement of the relation two states to one another to the decision on the field of battle.

The imperial government relinquishes itself to the specific hope that these eventualities do not come to pass, and that the royal Belgian government will know to take appropriate measures to avoid the occurrence of events as the aforementioned. In this case, the bonds of friendship which bind these two neighboring states would undergo a further and abiding strengthening.

We (the original is something like 'your high-borns', which even with some fiddling would probably muddy the waters a bit too much, but it does seem to refer to "us", basically) wish to strictly confidentially inform the royal Belgian government of this and request an unambiguous response within 24 hours. [...]

v. Jagow​
Grey is going to have some troubles to make the Parliament to accept a war in the Continent...

If memory serves me right Lloyd George supported war conditionally. So, given Germany demanded access through the proper diplomatic channels, I think British involvement is somewhat unlikely.

This timeline looks very promising - watched.
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Deleted member 94680

Grey is going to have some troubles to make the Parliament to accept a war in the Continent...

Thread title suggests he fails or at least the British Empire's entry into the war is too late to prevent a CP victory.

If memory serves me right Lloyd George supported war conditionally.

IIRC, only Grey and Churchill supported War before German violation of Belgian neutrality. Asquith personally wanted to remain out, but supported Grey’s position of resigning, so effectively became the third member of the Cabinet to support War. Otherwise the entirety of the remainder of the Cabinet didn’t support a Declaration over the July Crisis as it was before Belgium. Once the German ultimatum to Belgium became known (and the likely Belgian response) the majority became “conditional interventionists” - only Morley and Harcourt were still committed to remaining out.
"The Cabinet was hopelessly divided—fully one third, if not one half, being opposed to our entry into the War. After the German ultimatum to Belgium the Cabinet was almost unanimous." Lloyd-George, War Memoirs vol 1.
If memory serves me right Lloyd George supported war conditionally. So, given Germany demanded access through the proper diplomatic channels, I think British involvement is somewhat unlikely.

This timeline looks very promising - watched.

IIRC, Lloyd George was against the war. He changed his mind when Germany invaded Belgium. According to Christopher Clark, "Lloyd George later claimed that he would have refused to go to war if the German invasion of Belgium had been confined to the route through the Ardennes".
IIRC, Lloyd George was against the war. He changed his mind when Germany invaded Belgium. According to Christopher Clark, "Lloyd George later claimed that he would have refused to go to war if the German invasion of Belgium had been confined to the route through the Ardennes".
The popbelm being that Germany would never have accepted that becuse the ardens dosnt give the right hook the distance it needs, it was always going to cross the muse and into the Belgian plan which in British eyes would threaten the channel ports.
One thing, I'm not convinced that Belgium would in any extent alow Germany to cross nuraly, not only dose that implicitly make Belgium a co-baligerent to Germany agenst France as far as the laws of war where concerned but this is also the same nation that not only refused to alie dispute Germany doing this agen 20 years later but how also had troops stationed in ostland and Antwerp whith orders to fire agenst the British if they tried to land one moment be for the Belgian government asked for them!
One thing, I'm not convinced that Belgium would in any extent alow Germany to cross nuraly, not only dose that implicitly make Belgium a co-baligerent to Germany agenst France as far as the laws of war where concerned but this is also the same nation that not only refused to alie dispute Germany doing this agen 20 years later but how also had troops stationed in ostland and Antwerp whith orders to fire agenst the British if they tried to land one moment be for the Belgian government asked for them!
Generaly a valid point I think.
In this case however, France and Germany are on a collision course without working brakes. And the last major power that could help Belgium has just told them that help will not arive, ie they are to avoid conflict with Germany. Add that the Belgians can add that to the situation in Ireland and the result will most likely be working with one side.