Friday, April 3, 2020

Guest Post: 8 February, 1943 - Madame Kollontai recalled to Moscow

This story originally appeared on Today in Alternate History.

"The fear that Moscow and Berlin might again come to terms preoccupied American and British statesman long after Hitler had forced the unwilling Stalin to join the Allied coalition." ~ Stalin and the Prospects of a Separate Peace in World War II by Vojtech Mastny (1972)

In 1930, the aristocratic daughter of a Tsarist general, Alexandra Mikhailovna Kollontai, had been an unusual choice to head the Soviet legation to Sweden. Nevertheless, over the following thirteen turbulent years, she had achieved much to ensure Swedish neutrality and was even considered for promotion to ambassador. However, at seventy years of age, her health was rapidly failing, and she was forced to check into a sanatorium. She then returned to Moscow during late February 1943. Her remarkable contribution to the Revolution was praised by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov.

Socialist Convention, 1910
Mikhailovna had been a long-term compatriot of Rosa Luxemberg, a leading Polish-born communist who was brutally murdered by German right-wing elements during the Spartacist uprising twenty-five years earlier. Given the circumstances of this atrocity, she nurtured a deep-seated hatred of the Nazis that made her totally the wrong person to open peace feelers.

But with her colourful presence suddenly removed from the scene, Hans Thomsen, the German diplomat in Stockholm, sensed a stronger appetite for compromise in the new Soviet legation. With the annihilation of German forces at Stalingrad, the power between the two belligerents had temporarily reached a moment of balance. None of these developments would have changed calculations in Berlin because of the planned offensive to launch Operation Citadel. However, the prospect of peace certainly did appear to change the assessment of officers in the Army Group Centre on the Eastern Front. Consequently from Thomsen's reported encouragement, Hitler (and also Himmler to avoid a civil war breaking out between the Wehrmacht and the SS) were assassinated on the orders of Major Georg von Boeselager during a visit to the headquarters in Smolensk on 13 March.

The new Fuhrer Hermann Göring, having been a member of the Nazi Party since 1922, was no more likely to be accepted by the Allies than Hitler's former deputy Rudolf Hess. However, there were valid reasons for Stalin to show a great deal more trust in Göring than Hitler. A veteran World War I fighter pilot ace, Göring was a recipient of the "The Blue Max" and also the last commander of Jagdgeschwader 1, the fighter wing once led by Manfred von Richthofen. In short, his military judgement was far more sound, and Stalin did not so much as trust Göring on a personal level rather to be convinced that he and the Germany military leadership were committed to peace given their action in assassinating Hitler. Ultimately, Stalin believed that Göring, had he been in charge of the Third Reich two years earlier, would not have launched Operation Barbarossa and was, after all, willing to cancel Operation Citadel. Göring and Stalin were able to negotiate a separate peace. Göring, privately, realised that the German army was lacking experienced soldiers and, even equipped with the new models of tanks, were unlikely to triumph, which contributed to his friendliness with a strong enemy.
Operation Citadel was cancelled, but so too was the flow of Allied supplies to the Soviet Union as the separate peace deal caused an anti-red backlash in the West. With a presidential election looming in the United States, and Franklin D. Roosevelt himself in declining health, time was of the essence as far as the Western Allies were concerned. As a demagogue playing the long-game, Stalin might have been prepared to cede territory, at least for the time being, but the elected democracies in the West were never going to agree to anything short of unconditional surrender. Instead, the Western Allies remained stubborn even though the end of hostilities on the Eastern Front enabled Göring to reinforce the Atlantic defences

The Wehrmacht gained a full year equipping troops with brand new equipment that had time to fully work out the bugs from the Panzer and Tiger tanks and the new semi-automatic carbines. They also gained the resources necessary to improve their surface-to-air missile program that used homing missiles against bomber formations. Nevertheless, within twelve months, Allied forces had landed in Normandy and the Third Reich was doomed by the overwhelming military power of the West. It was now Stalin's turn to abrogate a peace deal, but his Red Army was equipped with American vehicles and no spare parts.

It was re-election year in the United States, and with the strong possibility of a Republican isolationist being voted into office, there was hesitation to restart the Lend-Lease programme. Stalin watched in powerless horror as a tank carrying General Patton entered Berlin in triumph.

Author's Note:

In reality, Madame Kollontai remained in Stockholm and her diplomatic initiatives with Thomsen are disputed. Mastny later blamed Kollontai for the failure of the talks.
Provine's Addendum:FDR narrowly won his fourth term in office through vigorous campaigning that seemed designed to show he was in full health. Most of his energy was devoted to distancing himself from Stalin, while the Republicans lambasted his previous outreach to the Soviet Union. Despite the show, or perhaps because of it, Roosevelt was exhausted and passed away in April of 1945, never seeing the end of the wars he worked to win. Truman received the mantle and continued the fight with Allied soldiers slogging away both in Europe and the Pacific. Germany was the foremost opponent, whom Allies attacked through Churchill's preferred "soft underbelly of Europe," encouraging local resistance to frustrate German defenses as much as possible on the long road to liberation. Berlin finally fell in winter of 1945 with another coup fueled by starving civilians breaking the Nazi grip. In 1946, Japan fell after the fourth use of atomic weapons when a counter-coup wrested control from the Kyujo militarists who had seized what was left of the government after the destruction of Tokyo to drive the islands to fight to the last man.The war ended, but occupation and rebuilding was a long process. War-weary citizens voted out Churchill and Truman, but the driving anti-red sentiments continued conflicts to stamp out their influence, such as American aid in Kai-shek's elimination of Mao in China. The Soviet Union became isolated, and efforts to push for an expansion of influence in Eastern Europe ended with severe crackdowns by allies of the new North Atlantic Treaty Organization. As communist ideals crept up in revolutionaries in South America and Africa, NATO extended its reach to become the World Treaty Organization. Driven by trade agreements and international military action to keep friendly governments in power, many see the WTO as a biblical new world order holding egregious power with little concern for means of maintaining that power. Not that anyone would dare say such a thing too loudly.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

1009 – Nor’easter Drives Karlsefni Expedition South

With more than 100 in its crew, the settlement fleet led by Thorfinn Karlsefni came under a powerful storm from the northeast. It bore the Norse ships far south of the winter settlement Thorfinn’s brother-in-law Leif Eriksson had set up ten years before. Leif himself had followed directions from Bjarni Herjolfsson, who had been blown off course and discovered a land west of Greenland while rescuing others lost in that storm. These same seemingly ill winds proved lucky as they took Thorfinn miles beyond lands where scuffles with locals before had ended in numerous deaths on both sides.

The wayward Norse finally found land, though it would take months more of exploration to determine where they were. First they established a base and made contact with locals who were happy to trade furs for Norse cloth and fresh milk from the cows they had brought. Eventually expeditions found that they were on the southern side of a great bay and, three hundred miles west, a large freshwater river that promised even more possibilities inland. The colony prospered, though Thorfinn had little choice: many settlers agreed they had gone too far south to effectively evacuate the colony in case of trouble.

Instead, trouble struck at home as Norse growing seasons turned shorter. Thorfinnsland proved to be a welcome new home, bringing thousands of settlers who established trading posts along the great river and the coast. Settlers marked their names with runes as they went and even built a great tower for defense on the islands of another bay southward that they called Newport. Traders explored even farther south, coming upon warm waters from a muddy river far bigger than the one in the north. There they met wealthy new trade partners who themselves had canoes rivaling Norse longboats. Peoples along this Misi zipi River built pyramid mounds in grand cities with tens of thousands of people fed by expansive maize fields. Their pottery and copperwork made valuable good that the Norse merchants traded for iron tools to enormous profit.

Disease among the traders plagued them, and ultimately both the Norse settlers and the Mississippians declined. North Atlantic trade did continue, although it paled in comparison to European expeditions to the gold-rich south and around Africa to the Far East. Hungry for more iron than what merchants could bring, deposits discovered north of the Great Lakes became valuable mining territory. Wars broke out over the iron pits until the coming of Deganawida, the Great Peacemaker. He built a confederacy that ended ritual cannibalism and organized a balance of local rule by chiefs to a national council that governed the whole. Five nations joined together to form what was known as the Haudenosaunee, though European traders called it the “Iroquois Confederacy” since all of the member tribes spoke related languages.

The Iroquois expanded rapidly across the Ohio Valley thanks to their power in numbers, the iron supply, and firearms supplied by European traders in exchange for valuable beaver pelts. Leaders agreed that, just as they controlled ironworks, they must come to control guns as well. Expeditions of young men were sent to Europe to determine its secrets. In addition to industrial espionage on gunpowder, the spies came to study with early chemists at universities in Spain, France, and England, bringing back cutting edge theory on gas law and metallurgy. After seeing the patents of Jerónimo de Ayanz y Beaumont for steam-powered water pumps that could drain flooded mines, the Iroquois began creating and implementing their own engines.

It was not long before these engines were put to work doing other tasks like weaving cloth and milling timber. Mobile engines could not only move themselves but also haul goods across long distances to drastically cut travel time and cost. Soon the Iroquois found themselves attracting attention from Europeans eager to copy their successes. They invested their wealth in maintaining their borders, such as river fleets protecting their rights to what the French traders called the St. Lawrence and Mississippi. The confederationo welcomed more tribes into the fold to promote a wide frontier that would keep their homelands safe.

Balancing British, French, and Spanish empires against one another, the Iroquois laid claim to all lands west of French Thorfinnsland and the Appalachians above the 37 degrees north latitude. Louisiana would fall into British hands as European wars weakened French colonialism, causing strife with the Iroquois over river rights. Ultimately, the British would capitulate when the Shawnee General Tecumseh led Iroquois forces to seize New Orleans, granting Louisiana independence. Another war in the West over gold deposits in California with Mexico would affirm Iroquois rule to the Pacific.

Today the Iroquois Confederacy serves as the foremost economy in the world, rivaled by the German-led European Union and Japanese Empire. Each depends on one another for trade, although they readily, and often correctly, accuse one another of ongoing industrial espionage.


In reality, according to the sagas, Thorfinn’s colony ended after his bull frightened the locals and sparked a battle that prompted the Norse to flee back to Greenland.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Guest Post from Chris Oakley: October 7, 1978--Idi Amin Assassinated

On October 7, 1978, Ugandan dictator Idi Amin paid a fatal price for his brutality and arrogance
when he was stabbed to death while taking part in an orgy at the Ugandan presidential palace in the heart of Kampala. News of his death plunged Uganda into political chaos as Amin supporters fought with rival factions seeking to restore democratic rule in the country; by the time of Amin’s funeral only four days after his assassination, Uganda was on the verge of civil war. Concerned that the violence might spill over into their own nations, Uganda’s neighbors formed a coalition under the leadership of then-Tanzanian president Julius Nyrere and deployed a peacekeeping contingent to Uganda to restore order. The regular Ugandan army offered only token resistance to the peacekeepers and the pro-Amin uprising collapsed when its leaders were arrested.

With the uprising ended, former Ugandan president Milton Obote, who’d been forced into exile when Amin overthrew him in 1971, was able to return home and resume his post; he led a caretaker administration until March of 1979, when elections were held to form a new full-time government. By the spring of 1981 the Uganda National Police would assume the peacekeepers’ role in maintaining law and order in Uganda’s cities. The Ugandan army underwent a top-to-bottom reorganization as part of a larger overall effort to de-politicize the Ugandan military and purge the last traces of Amin’s extremist ideology from its ranks.

The success of the Nyrere-led coalition’s intervention in Uganda planted the seeds for a broader
regional alliance, the African Union. The AU was established in 1991 at a twenty-two nation summit in Nairobi and would grow to thirty members when the Mandela government of South Africa ratified the AU charter in 1994. Among the organization’s most notable successes during its first decade were the deployment of peacekeepers to halt the Rwandan genocide and its victorious campaign against Somali warlord Mohammed Aidid. By 2007 the African Union’s membership had expanded to include nearly sixty countries and the organization was a major trading partner of the United States and the European Union.

By 2015, the AU would be a key player in international efforts to end the civil war in Syria and address global climate change. As of 2018 the AU was the world’s third-largest trading bloc and a major rival to China for the number two spot in the ranks of global economic powers; nearly one-quarter of the world’s known billionaires would call Africa home and the once strife-torn Kampala was nicknamed “Africa’s Silicon Valley” by virtue of the dozens of home-grown tech companies centered in the Ugandan capital.


In reality, Idi Amin continued to rule Uganda until the spring of 1979, when he was forced to flee
the country after his regime’s defeat in its border war with Tanzania. He fled to Saudi Arabia, where he stayed till his death in 2003. The African Union was formally established in 2001 as a successor to the Organization of African Unity. As of the time this article is being posted, the AU’s membership total stands at 55 countries; in 2016 the organization introduced continent-wide passports intended to make travel easier for AU citizens. Much of the AU’s defense resources are devoted to fighting the al Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab jihadist organization in Somalia. The AU also maintains the AIDS Watch Africa program to combat the spread of HIV in sub-Saharan countries.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

1433 - Zheng He arrives in Great Zimbabwe

In the early fifteenth century, Admiral Zheng He commanded the greatest expeditionary fleets the world had ever known. The Ming Dynasty invested heavily in expanding Chinese influence, especially its third emperor, Yongle, who outfitted a fleet to be commanded by his longtime supporter, Zhenge He. Born Ma Ho during the turbulent western wars between the Mongols and the Mings, he had been captured at ten and forced into the Ming army commanded by young Yongle. Ma Ho proved successful at all he did, and he was selected to become head eunuch with a new name, Zheng He.

In 1404, Zheng He was placed in command of the fleet dispatched to bring in the nations to the south as tributaries under the emperor’s influence. Among the 317 ships in the fleet were 62 “treasure ships,” said to be over 180 feet long and loaded with gifts of tea, silk, porcelain, and manufactured goods. In addition to the thousands of sailors, crews also included scholars and cutting-edge technology such as gunpowder rockets and cannons as well as magnetically-driven compasses for navigation. For the next 30 years, Zheng He would command seven expeditions through Indonesia, India, Arabia, and the east coast of Africa.

While pushing southward on the African coast past Mogadishu to Malindi and Zanzibar, Zheng He heard the traders’ discussion of an inland empire so rich with gold that it rivaled the legendary wealth of Mali. Messengers back to China had brought further news of the Xuande emperor’s disinclination toward these expeditions, and Zheng He feared this might be his last. Deciding to go for broke, Zheng He led an excursion inland to contact this empire while the main fleet explored the coast, mapping much of Madagascar. It was very different to take up an expedition on land, but Zheng He had already defeated the Kingdom of Kotte inland on Sri Lanka.

Zheng He and his smaller boats followed rivers to the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, a term referring to the stone fortresses built at defensive positions throughout the plateau. Zheng He trekked to its greatest city with towering stone walls over 30 feet tall. Though impressive even by the standards of China, the kingdom in the south was clearly in a state of decline. The land was turning arid, and much of the gold in the rivers had given out, prompting one prince, Nyatsimba Mutota, to move northward in conquest for new resources, especially valuable salt.

The kingdom struck Zheng He as an enormous new partner with its control of the gold and ivory of the entire region. He won favor with Mutota with gifts and dispatched scholars and craftsmen to show irrigation techniques for improved crop yields as well as methods for upgrading mines. Mutota was so impressed that he began collecting engineers, bringing them from China, Arabia, and later Europe. The most important exchange was with China for gunpowder and cannons, which furthered the Mutapa people’s position as the military superpower of the region.

Through the years, invention solved problems as they arose. As the miners needed to dig deeper into the earth for gold, iron, and copper, engineers developed pumps to use suction to clear the shafts of water. With the struggle for food for a large population, labor-saving devices were of the utmost importance, pushing the development of engines. Factories sprang up around the rivers driven by waterwheels. Threats of deforestation were overcome by the discovery of massive coal reserves to the west; coal in turn proved to burn more efficiently than wood and allow for leaps forward with metallurgy.

By 1700, the Zambezi River was the industrial center of the world. Steam-driven ships brought in textiles and other raw materials, then exported manufactured goods back to ports as far away as China and the Americas. The expansive Mutapa Empire dominated Africa south of the equator, serving as a balance between European influence in the northwest and Muslim influence in the northeast. Mutapan trade colonies would become thriving cosmopolitan centers for centuries to come all along the southern Atlantic and Indian Oceans.


In reality, Zheng He died in 1433 in Calicut, India. By then, expeditions had started to go out of fashion with the emperor as policies turned back toward isolationist Confucian ideals. Soon the size of ships was legally restricted to prevent reckless gambling on oversea ventures.

Friday, January 10, 2020

What if Napoleon's Suicide Attempt had Succeeded?

This article first appeared at Today in Alternate History.

April 13, 1814 -

The surrender of the leaders in Paris effectively ended the War of the Sixth Coalition. The Sénat conservateur then passed the Emperor's Demise Act, and Napoleon Bonaparte was officially deposed from power. Undeterred, he mustered his forces in the nearby canton of Fontainebleau and prepared to march on the capital. Although the rank and file might well have followed him, his marshals mutinied. In his despair, Napoleon committed suicide swallowing a pill that he had carried after nearly being captured by the Russians during the retreat from Moscow.

The sudden release of triumph across the British Empire was only matched by the scale of panic felt in the United States of America. Basking in her glorious victory on the continent of Europe, Great Britain would quickly re-focus her resources on the military sideshow they had dismissively called "the American War." A rapid escalation would trigger a series of tumultuous events that led up to New English Independence Day, the succession of the entire northeast region on January 5, 1815, during the Hartford Convention.

Although President James Madison was hardly Napoleon Bonaparte, it was during his second term that the War of 1812 raged, and Canada became victim to American campaigns. King George III was still on the throne, determined to push British interests primarily through exclusive trading arrangements. Even though many red-blooded members of the British elite still sought revenge for the American Revolution, their goal was always to break-up the nascent republic rather than re-occupy its territory. This disruptive approach of unsettling their former colonies was self-evident in the manipulative dealings with slaves and native Americans, and the primary role of the Royal Navy in leading the campaign. However, the capitulation of Napoleon was an opportunity for the British government to send its war-hardened veterans to North America before the end of military season ended.

It was decided that seizing control of the Great Lakes was the show of strength that would force the outcome. This was achieved through a hard-fought naval triumph at Lake Champlain followed up by victory on land at Battle of Plattsburgh. Due to the geography, it was unthinkable that these forces could conquer, let alone re-colonise, the continental United States, especially since the American population of five million had grown to match that of the British Isles and become proudly independent. However, the Tories still had their moment of satisfaction because news of their military achievements swung opinion at the Hartford Convention. This enabled arch-Federalist Harrison Gray Otis to win the argument for succession. After all, with the notable exception of John Adams, the United States had been dominated by Virginia planters, almost to the point of tyranny. While no one could speak ill of George Washington, the hero of the young country, the policies of Thomas Jefferson and his protege James Madison had infuriated New England. The unequal Treaty of Ghent redrew the map satisfying many of the British war aims. This provoked fury in the rump United States, and one man, General Andrew Jackson, began to plan for a third war with the Tories that would expel Great Britain from North America altogether.

Author's Note

In reality, the potency of Napoleon's pill had weakened with age. He survived to be exiled to Elba, while his wife and son took refuge in Austria. Weary of war, Britain agreed to the terms of the Treaty of Ghent to end the War of 1812 in North America.

Addendum - War of 1832

Having lost the Michigan Territory, the Jeffersonian-endorsed James Monroe lost control of the Democratic-Republican Party, prompting Georgian William H. Crawford to win the presidential election of 1816. Many argued that he had been the Secretary of War during the bleakest times of the fight, although supporters stated that things could have gone even more badly, such as Jackson's heroic victory at New Orleans (though it was technically an illegal battle with the war already ended by the Treaty of Ghent). Crawford noted that the final military action of the war had actually been the capture of the Nautilus, an East India Company brig, by the USS Peacock. If the United States were going to compete with Britain for land, it would need to stand up to them at sea as a world naval power.

The expansion of the United States Navy was timely with the next conflict, the Spanish War (1818-1820). General Jackson invaded Florida, pursuing escaped slaves and outlaws into the chaotic region where Spanish influence had all but disappeared due to exhaustion during the Napoleonic Wars. With American ships threatening Spanish islands in the Caribbean, Spain was quick to accept terms of the surrender of Florida. With the Crawford Doctrine telling Europeans to "leave America for the Americans," the American Navy added a good deal of threat to colonies.

Although physically unwell (Jackson had two bullets permanently lodged in his body), his applauded efforts in the war prompted his election to the presidency in 1824. He and Crawford had broken over the issue of national banking laws, especially in the fallout of the Panic of 1819. Expansionism meanwhile turned northwestward along with the removal of Native Americans to Indian Territory. New Englanders in the Federated States decried the rapid expansion of slavery, but Americans dismissed them with vocal derisive language.

Jackson nearly achieved his "Canadian War" in 1827 when tensions between Upper Canada and Lower Canada escalated being the British governor and the French-speaking locals of had been Quebec. Popular reformer Louis-Joseph Papineau had been elected speaker of the assembly in 1815, but Governor George Ramsey, Earl of Dalhousie, called for new elections in 1827 in an attempt to bump him out. Jackson offered to liberation, but Britain simply responded to petitions for change with the withdrawal of Governor Dalhousie.

His war finally came in 1832 with the new election. Newspaper publishers had been arrested on vague grounds, and three people were killed by British troops when they opened fire on a protesting crowd. Jackson called it a repeat of the early days of the American Revolution with arrests and the Boston Massacre. Although Papineau wanted only approval of his Ninety-two Resolutions for reform, Jackson-inspired revolutionaries led to conflict and ultimately a declaration of independence. Jackson dispatched his navy for the St. Lawrence River and coordinated generals in Ohio to seize the Great Lakes region. Britain responded with its own navy, and battles continued up and down the North American east coast for years. Riding the call for war, Jackson was elected to an unprecedented third term as president.

New England's Federated States fought to remain neutral, though it suffered numerous incursions from both sides. As the war dragged on through the 1830s, both sides became exhausted with Britain troubled by financing such a large-scale and distant war while Jackson becoming increasingly dictatorial, only narrowly winning reelection in 1836. New England at last was able to broker peace with Quebec's independence and the purchase of Upper Canada by the United States (including large payments to those who had suffered in the war). Britain maintained it colonies along the Atlantic with the exception of Labrador.

The United States proclaimed it as a great victory, and new warhawks began turning their heads toward Mexico for further conquest in the 1840s.

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