Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Guest Post: Monty Remains in Command

This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History, a variant of Jeff Provine's scenario December 8, 1943 - Eisenhower Dies in Jeep Accident.

July 19, 1944

It was tragically ironic that General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, was killed in a non-combat related mechanical accident caused by an equipment malfunction in his signature Willy's 4x4 staff jeep. Rugged, reliable, and highly maneuverable, this famed workhorse of the American military had replaced equines in everything from cavalry units to supply trains and had been hailed by Ike himself as, alongside the Dakota and the Landing Craft, one of the three most important tools in the war.

A staff officer who had never seen combat in his 27-year career, Eisenhower had run Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) off-shore from England. The death of this soldier-statesman was a fateful act of destiny since Ike had been travelling to Tac to relieve General Bernard Law Montgomery of his command of the 21st Army Group, which comprised all Allied ground forces engaged in the Battle of Normandy (Operation Overlord). His mentor, Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), Alan Brooke was sharply critical, observing that "Ike knows nothing about strategy and is 'quite' unsuited to the post of Supreme Commander. It is no wonder that Monty's real high ability is not always realized. Especially so when 'national' spectacles pervert the perspective of the strategic landscape."

Despite very clear explanations in written briefings, Ike had failed to grasp Monty's strategy. Worse still, Monty's desire to remain withdrawn at Tac created a communication gulf allowing misunderstandings to arise. The historic significance of this tragic event was that Monty was still in command during the American break-out, Operation Cobra. This precious victory was earned by the hard-fought, but woefully under-valued, Operation Goodwood, the frustratingly slow British break-out that had convinced his antagonists, Ike, his British deputy Tedder, and Churchill to sack Monty. In simple military terms, Goodwood had started surprisingly well but stalled at Caen, whereas Cobra started very badly but ended in glory. Misunderstood from the start, Goodwood was the launch platform for Cobra, bought in the heavy cost of British lives that proved Monty was a true coalition soldier in the tradition of Wellington, Churchill, et. all, who had also commanded Allied forces dominated by non-British nationals.

Ever since the invasion of Sicily, the hero of El Alamein had taken damaging blows to his reputation, mainly due for his abrasive character enraging his superiors. Monty's standard bluff that "his plan was working" had carried him through the worst period of his illustrious career. Regardless of Brooke's observation on "national perspectives," the reality was that American troop count dominated the British who were at the limit of their manpower. Of course, Ike was only a puppet for Roosevelt who sought to sharply diminish British influence in military strategy. However, Monty's destruction of 23 of Hitler's 38 divisions was a towering accomplishment that simply could not be ignored, and so he continued as Allied Ground Forces Commander while the more-humble American General Alexander Patch was appointed to run SHAEF. The only realistic alternative would have been to send US Chief of Staff George Marshall to Europe, and as Roosevelt had told him, "I didn't feel I could sleep at ease if you were out of Washington." Even though Monty lacked the naked unchecked aggression of US generals, it would only be due to his meticulous defensive planning that the German counter-attack through the Ardennes would be anticipated and crushed in December before the line could even bulge.

Author's Note:

In reality, Monty negotiated a temporary relief for his command although Ike took over on September 1st when Churchill promoted him to Field Marshall as a consolation prize. In Generals: Ten British Commanders who Shaped the World, the author Mark Urban offers the perspective that the Battle of the Bulge was caused by Ike's broad front strategy and Monty's intervention was the approach he had been arguing for throughout the Second Battle of France.

Provine's Addendum (with input from comments by Stan Brin and Mike McIlvain):

The death of Eisenhower sent a wave of gloom through the Allied nations, especially the United States, whose propaganda machine worked to ensure Eisenhower was seen as a hero despite dying in a simple vehicular accident. It changed Army protocol, keeping officers out of jeeps and driving in more stable, secured vehicles. Patton himself may have become a casualty, but he lived long after the war as a military adviser for decades into the Cold War. Historians can only postulate how many other commanders lived from what could have been lethal accidents in the Korean War.

Monty's strategies were criticized as leaving much of the western front stuck between Belgium and Holland with the more southerly armies directed by American generals getting no farther than Baden-Wurttemberg before meeting the USSR troops pushing from the east. Still more criticism came that he was protecting English-speaking lives at the cost of Soviet soldiers, while others felt that he had deprived the western Allies of more victory. Monty himself defended his record and became an outspoken conservative as the Cold War expanded, especially in the People's Republic of Austria and the troubled multiple states such as the People's Republic of Bavaria after Germany had been "balkanized" with Soviet insistence.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Guest Post: Western Allies attack the soft underbelly of the Axis without Eisenhower

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.


May 21, 1944 -

Allied Command undertook a comprehensive re-evaluation of the landing operation for the invasion of France. This successful attempt to regain consensus followed the tragic death of Major General Dwight D. Eisenhower in a jeep accident one day after being unceremoniously appointed Supreme Commander in the coming Operation Overlord.

Having proven himself as supreme commander of a mixed force of Allied nationalities, services, and equipment on the battlefields of North Africa and Italy in 1942 and 1943, Eisenhower's ill-fated, botched appointment in a handwritten note from FDR to Stalin was an advancement over nearly four hundred more senior officers. The reason was that the job was considered largely political, not military tactics, and it was rather telling that his specialty was with logistics and his organizational abilities. Suffering from bad health and a fiery temper, he outwardly displayed confidence and serenity. But the main problem was he had lacked any direct combat experience during his twenty-seven years as an army officer and his broad front approach had been strongly resisted by his commanders. They much preferred a narrow front, a divisive conflict of opinion that brought into question their own vainglorious ambitions for becoming the architect of victory. Selecting a solitary ground forces commander would make matters even worse. The lack of respect for his credentials was self-evident from an argument he had with Bernard Montgomery. Eisenhower put his hand on Montgomery's knee and replied: "Steady, Monty, you can't speak to me like that; I'm your boss."

Rightly or wrongly, this broad v. narrow front circular argument was trapped in the logistical constraints inherent in Northern Europe. Logically, the only way to resolve this problem was to launch the main attack in Southern France through North Africa by an extension of Operation Torch and the invasion of the Italian peninsula. This of course was nothing more than the original logic of Prime Minister Churchill's soft belly strategy. The British had favored a more peripheral strategy that centered in the Mediterranean. As early as the Second Claridge Conference in July of 1942, he was firmly against the idea of an assault on the heavily defended northern shore of France.

Having restored harmony by substituting the broad v. narrow front with an agreed two-front approach, one fresh problem emerged. There were insufficient landing craft to launch both invasions simultaneously. However, the choppy waters of the English Channel would not be suitable until early June. This was the basis of an opportunity for going early in the south and this army group to proceed up the Rhone River and eventually occupy the right flank of the Allied offensive. It was therefore agreed that Normandy would be the second landing when the weather permitted, with Supreme Commander Allied (Expeditionary) Force George Marshall in charge of Montgomery, Patton, and Bradley in command of three separate army groups.

Their revised approach to attacking Fortress Europe had many secondary advantages over the original plan: the flatter beaches of the Côte d'Azur for amphibious assault, calmer weather in the Mediterranean and a side-step of the Atlantic Wall just as the Germans had masterfully taken with the Maginot Line. From a political perspective, Montgomery was given the honor of leading the first assault in Provence with Patton and Bradley in the rear driving the assault in Normandy. It was felt that this separation of command would avoid personality clashes and power struggles between Anglo-British commanders. Their strategic goal for this pincer movement was to make the German occupation of France untenable, forcing a withdrawal that would end the war before Christmas.

The impressive sight of the Royal Navy arriving in considerable force off the southern coast of France was a great delight to Churchill & co. Onboard were Montgomery's Expeditionary Force comprising British and Canadian Forces plus a French Army reluctantly serving under his command on the promise they could liberate Paris. They managed to successfully establish a beachhead, but, characteristically, Monty delayed his drive inland until he had accumulated overwhelming superiority. By this time, the second landing was ready for go-ahead and, following moments of savage fighting on the beaches, was executed at great speed by American forces. An early sign of aggressive intent was signaled by Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr. arriving on Utah Beach as he repeated Pershing's famous words, "Lafayette, we are here!"

Hitler, wrongly believing that the pedestrian landing in Provence must be a feint, launched a furious counter-attack to "throw the Allies back into the English Channel." The centerpiece of the assault was a counter-attack from Mortain towards Avranches to cut off the American breakthrough at its narrowest point. Tragically, Roosevelt would die of a heart attack shortly thereafter; at the time of his death, he had been recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross to recognize his heroism at Normandy. The recommendation was subsequently upgraded, and Roosevelt was a posthumous recipient of the Medal of Honor. Meanwhile, the uniquely American victory at Mortain would be the beginning of the end of the Second Battle of France. Montgomery and de Gaulle were infuriated with this lack of attribution as junior military partners, but they ultimately had fallen victim to their own hubris in being part of the first landing. This maneuver of course was the wily Marshall's plan from the very beginning.

Author's Note:

In reality, although initially designed to be executed in conjunction with Operation Overlord, the Allied landing in Normandy, a lack of available resources led to the delay of the second landing until August.

Provine's Addendum:

Marshall was hailed as the Hero of Europe, again much to the disdain of British military leaders as his fame continued into peacetime with a Nobel Prize for his plan to rebuild postwar Europe. While many hoped he would run for president, Marshall declined, and Omar Bradley instead won the 1952. Montgomery looked to imitate the peacetime political careers of American and French Allies, using his position as commander of the Western Union to tie the UK much more closely to the continent and ultimately shifting the capital of what would become the European Union to London. Patton, meanwhile, continued his service with the military, being among the first advisors in South Vietnam.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Guest Post: Biden VP in '80

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History with input from Robbie Taylor.

July 12 to July 15, 1976 - Democratic National Convention

Former Governor of Georgia Jimmy Carter arrived in New York City with enough delegates to clinch the Democratic nomination.

A Washington outsider and devout Christian certain of his own position, Carter felt a heavy weight of moral leadership responsibility to create an appearance of party unity, which had been sadly lacking in the 1968 and 1972 Democratic Conventions. This imperative was foremost in his mind, a primary consideration behind his choice of running mate. By inclination, he favored Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale, a "flexible liberal" and a protégé of Hubert Humphrey, as his running mate. Obvious alternatives included Edmund Muskie, Frank Church, Adlai Stevenson III, John Glenn, and Henry M. Jackson. All of these candidates offered regional advantages and other perceived benefits.

Taking soundings at the convention, Carter, a virtue-signaler, was tempted to make a more daring choice. Thirty-three-year-old "Blue Collar" Joe Biden of Delaware was the first senator to endorse Carter's presidential bid when he was a long shot. Certainly he had an inspiring personal story of family-based redemption, hope, and faith that resonated with Carter who was humble and supremely ethical. Like Mondale, Biden was also flexible, liberal on civil rights and liberties, senior citizens' concerns, and healthcare but conservative on other issues. Born in Pennsylvania, a state that was showing unexpectedly close polling figures, Biden offered more potential impact on the 27 electoral college votes. Delaware was smaller in area than Minnesota, but the "First State" was more populous. And finally, he was considered a better conduit for campaign funding.

To Carter's lasting disappointment, Biden was ineligible due to the Twelfth Amendment requirement that a vice president must be constitutionally eligible to the presidency. He would be thirty-four years old in November, so, being below the threshold of thirty-five, he could not fulfil this requirement. Nevertheless, Carter enthusiastically offered him a speaking slot, and Biden delivered a fine, if not somewhat emotional, address to the convention. Thereafter, he helped Carter by vigorously campaigning in the north-east.

Mondale, who delivered a well-received acceptance speech, soon proved his worth. He put in an impressive performance at the first-ever Vice Presidential Debate. Held at the Alley Theatre in Houston, Texas, Mondale was an assured figure to the 43.2 million viewers who tuned in. Due to Ford's gaffe in the second presidential debate, these televised performances played an unusually significant role in the 1976 race.

Mondale was a key participant in the negotiations between Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin that resulted in the Camp David Accords. But tragedy would strike during the Iran hostage crisis when VP Mondale bravely undertook a dangerous mission for his country. He was killed in a plane crash en route to the USS Midway (CV-41) in the Indian Ocean. In the final year of his first term office, Carter desperately needed an inspiring choice of running mate to beat Ronald Reagan. His thoughts immediately returned to Biden. Although much less of an activist vice president than Mondale, he freshened up the campaign much as Gerald Ford had sought to do in replacing Nelson Rockefeller with Bob Dole.

A former lawyer with a sharp mind, Biden distrusted Reagan's hawkish patriotism and exposed his back-channel dialogue with the Iranians. This October Surprise transformed the voting calculations handing Carter-Biden an improbable narrow victory in the polls. In a magnificent gesture, Carter famously sent Biden to meet the embassy hostages when they disembarked from Freedom One, an Air Force Boeing C-137 Stratoliner aircraft, upon their return.

Author's Note:

In reality, Mondale has been credited with shifting the US Vice Presidency into having a more substantive role in an administration as an advisor to the president.

Provine's Alternative Ending:

Unfettered from Carter, Mondale continued his efforts toward the presidency and worked alongside Biden, who was thought still too young to lead the free world in the presidency itself but was applauded as vice president. The Mondale-Biden ticket won in '84, managing to convince the public that they could recover from the second act of the double-dip recession as readily as the Oval Office had in the earlier part. With inflation under control, unemployment low, and wages matching the increased productivity thanks to the Democratic partnership with unions as well as increased automation in industry and offices, American workers in the 1990s came to a four-day workweek as predicted in 1956 by another then-vice-president, and ironically Republican, Richard Nixon.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Guest Post: NATO invasion of Dominica - October 1982

This post courtesy of Sea Lion Press.

The small and poor island of Dominica in the Caribbean had lunged from crisis to crisis since independence in 1978. Its initial prime minister was the incompetent and brutal Patrick John of the Dominica Labour Party, who in his first year oversaw civil service strikes, loss of banana crops due to the banana board's failure to provide antiviral sprays, and a bitter fight with a gang of Rastafari criminals known as the Dreads who grew marijuana in remote farms and raided nearby towns and plantations for food, money, and young girls they kidnapped and whose attacks on tourists had reduced tourism. John had four years earlier passed the the Prohibited and Unlawful Societies and Associations Act, better known as the Dread Act, which made it illegal to be a Rastafari, to have dreadlocks, or to support the political philosophy of the Dreads, who had openly talked about burning down Dominica's towns. More than that, anyone who was covered by this law could be arrested without cause and, if killed or injured by anyone within a dwelling, the person who assaulted them was immune from prosecution. Essentially, John had made it legal to kill anyone with Dreadlocks, despite committees he appointed to look into this confirming that the vast majority of Rastafari on the island were peaceful activists with the violent criminals being a small minority.

He had also created a full-time professional army called the Dominica Defense Force, which John was personally in charge of and which was de facto a militia of men loyal to Patrick John as a person rather than the government he represented. In May 1979, John banned public gatherings, protests, and strikes altogether, a desperate attempt to silence his critics. It didn't work. Huge crowds gathered outside the Government Headquarters, and, when the DDF came to move them on, they threw rocks at them. The DDF then opened fire, wounding several protestors and killing Phillip Timothy, a nineteen-year-old. This led to the collapse of John's government due to outrage and, at the next election, Eugenia Charles of the Freedom Party became Prime Minister.

Charles's government would not last long. In May 1981, the DDF, whose leaders were publicly suspended due to accusations of drug dealing, launched a surprise attack against the Dominican police force in an attempt to overthrow Charles's government. The police had the better of the early fight, but the DDF had unexpected reinforcements from a band of American and Canadian mercenaries led by Mike Perdue and recruited primarily from racist hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan. While the mercenaries were poorly trained and suffered large casualties, with the likes of Don Black dying early, they were well armed and added extra bodies to the fight. Soon, the DDF were able to accept the surrender of Charles and her government, with them leaving the island at gunpoint to go into exile. Charles would ask for support from Ronald Reagan to overthrow the regime, support that was initially hesitant as the USA came to grips with what exactly the second John government would look like.

However, things had not gone all the way of the DDF. Their plan had also involved an alliance with the Dreads, but the Dreads had double-crossed them and, forewarned about the battle, had attacked both sides, further reducing the number of armed men available to John. Thus when the socialist firebrand Rosie Douglas retreated to the northern town of Portsmouth and declared a shadow government there, John couldn't immediately attack him. Moreover, John quickly fell out with his mercenary allies who treated him with contempt and demanded large amounts of money and for him to let them run the island as a criminal's paradise, a center for cannabis and cocaine production and trafficking, to meet the increasing demand in American cities as well as a hub of the arms trade and a gambling center where dirty money could be spent in casinos, something that John felt would lose him his allies on the island who viewed him as a tough on crime leader.

The island quickly spiraled into chaos with Perdue, Douglas, and John vying for control and the Dreads thriving in this chaos. The increase in crime also burdened John's remaining international reputation, especially when he allowed the Barbadian arms dealer Sidney Burnett-Alleyne to use the island as a depot to sell to Apartheid South Africa, which was condemned by François Mitterrand, who had Dominica surrounded by two French islands. While the Reagan administration had hoped to come to a deal with John and wanted any intervention to be against the Communist rulers of nearby Grenada, the possibility of Libyan-backed Douglas gaining control scared them enough that they soon openly supported a restoration of the rightwing Eugenia Charles. In October of 1982 NATO forces invaded the island to restore order.

Note: In real life, the plan to restore John was discovered and stopped prior to it being carried out.

Provine's Addendum

Vice President George H.W. Bush had already been hoping to expand the CIA and U.S. military in the growing international drug war, but seeing all of NATO step in promoted ideas of stronger, Western-capitalism-driven involvement. Through international anti-drug treaties, the U.S. and allies could find open doors into just about any third world country to step in militarily to crack down on drug operations. While many supporters praised successful operations, critics accused it of being a new wave of colonialism or simply a waste of taxpayer money and soldiers' lives. Efforts at home to dry up demand for drugs such as the DARE program proved largely ineffectual. By the time of the Obama administration, it was evident that a change was needed leading to the legalization of marijuana and decriminalization of harder drugs, instead focusing on addiction treatment.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Guest Post: UN adopts P5+N9+R1 formula

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History with input from Robbie A. Taylor and Thomas Wm. Hamilton.

Oct 25, 1971

The official recognition of the People's Republic of China (PRC) was accompanied by a structural change to the Security Council that was adopted without amendment to the UN Charter.

The problematic one-permanent-member veto had been a safeguard that had been designed to prevent a World War breaking out and, in a sense, was a legacy of the failed League of Nations. UN membership had quadrupled since 1945, and the rise of new nations created an appetite for change as the superpowers vied for allies. All parties broadly agreed that the current structure was outdated and required more balanced representation but geopolitical differences prevented reform. For example, Brazil becoming a permanent member of the Security Council was blocked by the Soviet Union as they felt it would just be an American proxy.

US Ambassador to the UN George H.W. Bush called for a super-majority (four-fifths of the whole 15-member Security Council) override of a single member veto, a voting mechanism granting more power to the nine non-permanent members (in the event of two or more vetoes, the super-majority would not prevail). This "weakened" voting scheme (or the alternative minimum two permanent member veto) had always been blocked by the Soviet Union. Arguably, the weakening of the Soviet veto would be less objectionable now that there would be two communist states on the Security Council. This was why Bush had chosen the expulsion of the Republic of China (ROC) as the ideal time to make his move.

This democratic initiative might well have been well received in Moscow if not for the Sino-Soviet Split. This division led Leonid Brezhnev to fear that the US was seeking to encircle the Soviets by forcing a permanent wedge between the USSR and PRC. Certainly he lacked confidence that Soviet influence would prevail over the super-majority simply because the US had a greater number of allies and client states in the Third World. Nevertheless, this was the age of détente, and Brezhnev wanted to reciprocate in some limited form. He sought to favor countries in the Soviet orbit as well as non-aligned nations such as Albania and India, boosting the prestige of the USSR by demonstrating global leadership. His counter-proposal was the creation of a sixth veto on the Security Council held by a rotating member from the General Assembly as an alternative to the American four-fifths override mechanism, not as an amendment or addition to the override, but in outright opposition to it.

Ultimately, a compromise was reached that added a rotating voting member with the right to veto under the P5+N9+R1 ("five permanent, nine non-permanent and one rotating") formula proposed by Bush, raising his profile as a global statesman. Under the existing rules, non-permanent members were elected by the General Assembly and could be involved in global security briefings. However, in practice, frequent voting disputes delayed certain ambitious nations from being elected.

Of course, none of these changes favored the ROC's government in Taipei; they merely took the bitterness out of the pill for their American allies. The ROC had used its Security Council veto only once, to stop the admission of the Mongolian People's Republic to the United Nations in 1955 on the grounds it recognized all of Mongolia as a part of China. Support from the United States and her allies Britain and France slowly weakened, most obviously in 1961 when they were persuaded to pressure the ROC government to accept international recognition of Mongolia's independence. Thereafter, Albania brought annual votes to replace the ROC with the PRC. With this part of the Cold War struggle clearly lost, the ROC was formally expelled from the UN by a vote of the General Assembly. Repeated attempts to rejoin would continue long after Chiang's death four years later.

To reduce the consequential damage to relations with the US, Brezhnev made a magnificent gesture of goodwill, suggesting that Brazil was invited to serve as the inaugural rotational member. A rotation scheme was then developed that saw any member of the General Assembly join for a month, in tandem with the change of Presidency. This mechanism would see Israel, Cuba, South Africa, Iran, Albania, and many other ambitious nations participate in contentious debates during the dramatic years leading up to Bush's election as President in 1980.

Author's Note

In reality, just the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2758, Albania's motion to recognize the People's Republic of China (PRC) as the only legitimate representative of China to the United Nations, was passed.

Provine's Addendum

There were soon tests of the system with overrides of vetoes such as the UK in Dec 1971 and Feb '72 over Rhodesia, China in '72 over entry of Bangladesh, and the USA over Israeli occupation in '73. The USA was soon seen as the loser in Bush's gambit as more UN involvement was seen in Vietnam, Africa, and the Middle East. However, Bush held that it was fear of UN action that persuaded the USSR to refrain from unilateral action in Afghanistan, which would later be divided into North and South by UN resolution. The UN gradually came to be seen as a protector in the post-colonial world with votes overriding neo-colonial efforts between the USA and USSR, especially in the division of spheres of influence in the Middle East. Analysts sometimes suggest that there could have been warfare beyond the UN-led removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq leading to the independence of Kurdistan.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Guest Post: Dunkirk Halt Order Countermanded

This post originally appeared on Today in Alternate History.

24 May, 1940

With the Wehrmacht in complete mastery of the Western Front, Colonel-Generals Gerd von Rundstedt and Günther von Kluge recommended a three-day pause outside the Dunkirk pocket. Approximately four hundred thousand troops comprising the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and the French 1st Army were bottled up in this corridor to the sea. A flooded fenland with partial fighter cover from Kent and extra artillery support from the Royal Navy, British Commander Lord Gort fully intended to make a desperate last stand here. There was a compelling argument for avoiding such a costly struggle, taking Paris and forcing a French surrender. From a purely military perspective, the Colonel-Generals' justification was perfectly sound: the terrain was unsuitable for armour, the troops were exhausted, and their vehicles and equipment urgently needed maintenance.

Luftwaffe commander Hermann Goering concurred with their reasoning, but he had his own secret agenda: a vainglorious victory for his air force made possible because the RAF had largely been withdrawn for the defense of the home islands. He asked for the chance to destroy the forces in Dunkirk. Hitler actually wanted "to help the British," avoiding a Battle of Britain altogether by signing a peace deal. This would allow the Heer to prepare for the forthcoming invasion of the Soviet Union, which Hitler considered to be the main prize.

In these command circles, it seemed almost certain that a consensus would be reached. But these specious arguments were swept aside by Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch, who managed to convince Hitler that the best bargaining chip was a defeated and captured BEF. He won the argument, stating that the scale of British losses in the Battle of France demonstrated steely determination to fight on afterwards. He believed that the British required a "brutal beating," a final moment of violent closure to convince them that they were as roundly defeated as their fellow Allied nations.

Having studied the advanced plans for Operation Sealion, Brauchitsch had anticipated a reverse invasion, an evacuation attempt of the scale actually being considered for Operation Dynamo. The fruit of his labour was Hitler's proceed order for Army Group B of the Germany Wehrmacht's permission to assault Dunkirk. With the BEF and French surrounded, and the Belgians gone, the Battle of Dunkirk ended swiftly. In the biggest military disaster since Yorktown, the British lost three hundred thousand men trapped in France.

The scale of Churchill's folly now became abundantly clear. His main critic in the cabinet Lord Halifax was way ahead of Brauchitsch, having issued a defeatist warning about "fighting to the end after Europe was lost," which proved to be prescient. The coalition government in office less than three weeks fell to a vote of non-confidence; Halifax took office as Prime Minister promising to end the war through negotiation.

However, von Rundstedt and von Kluge's fears of overextension were also proven right. In his post-war diary, Halder would note "[Hitler] was constantly oppressed by a feeling of anxiety that a reversal loomed..." He dismissed Brauchitsch abject with the new fear that the Soviet Union would take advantage of the severely weakened state of the Wehrmacht. In fact, Stalin had already prepared Operation Icebreaker, his maniacal plan for the conquest of Western Europe.

Author's Note:

In reality, Churchill hailed their rescue as a "miracle of deliverance". While more than 330,000 Allied troops were rescued, the British and French sustained heavy casualties and were forced to abandon nearly all their equipment; around 16,000 French and 1,000 British soldiers died during the evacuation.

Provine's Addendum

Though the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that had divided Poland between Germany and the USSR promoted non-aggression, its defined spheres of influence in the Baltic states proved to be hardly realistic. Lithuania was a particular question as Germany wanted to hold it as a frontier for the historic East Prussia region. Finland, too, became a quasi-battleground as Germans supported Finnish independence against Soviet incursion, especially after Finland proved itself by holding off Soviet attack for two months in the Winter War of '39-40. It was only a matter of time, international commentators thought, that one side invaded the other, especially after Stalin began to restrict raw material exports to Germany in August 1940. In September 1940 when Germany joined with Italy and the Soviets' eastern nemesis Japan in the Tripartite Pact, the fate of war was sealed. Molotov and Ribbentrop met again in October and November of 1940, and the message was clear: the USSR must join Hitler's Axis or face a two-front war. Stalin, refusing Hitler's offer to shift Soviet influence southward to Iran and even India instead of a warm-water Baltic port, chose war. Soviet troops moved into Bulgaria, and Hitler ordered his armies westward. Japan followed suit with a surprise attack on Vladivostok before marching back into Mongolia, where they had been ousted in 1939.

Meanwhile, the United States stood by, enjoying an economic surge by supplying both countries as a neutral party, though the bulk of the material did sell to German interests. The UK also remained neutral and more nervous, wondering what would become of its empire when the giants wore themselves out fighting in Asia and the winner began to look abroad.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Guest Post: The marriage of Ranavalona I to Said bin Sultan

This post courtesy of Sea Lion Press.

December 1833

The Mad Queen of Madagascar Ranavalona accepted the marriage offer of the Lion of Oman, Said bin Sultan, crowning an alliance between their two realms.

Ranavalona had inherited control over the rapidly expanding Merina Kingdom in  Madagascar from her cousin and husband Radama I. Radama had conquered large areas of the lowlands with an army of serfs and had banned the slave trade in order to win an alliance with the British Empire. However, by the time of Radama's death in 1828, losses due to malaria and enemy action were severely costing his armies, and the riches that could be obtained by looting were far less than had been counted on. Ranavalona's rule was a slowdown in expansion, stopping short of unifying the entire island while building up her standing army to the huge size of 30,000 men, all armed with homemade firearms. Ranavalona oversaw the pacification of these newly conquered lands, which led to huge loss of life. The Merina occupation forces would accuse prominent and suspected rebels of casting harmful spells on the occupiers and then force them into taking the trial by poison. Literal witch hunts became prominent as a way of removing powerful men without the need for evidence.

Ranavalona was also far less powerful than Radama, with a circle of noble advisers having increasing influence, and she came to regret her partnership with the UK, which had failed to benefit her economically as the British emphasis on free trade meant that their traders weren’t willing to pay export taxes. It had also opened the door for British missionaries, who were openly preaching Christianity and teaching literacy rather than useful engineering skills. Further, her nobles made private deals with British traders to gain their own influence. The British presence ultimately discouraged other Europeans, such as a German attempt to bring in electricity, which London prevented.

Ranavalona wanted to escape this alliance and push towards autarchy rather than free trade, but she needed some protection. She found that in the Sultan of Oman, one of Madagascar's major trade partners, who had moved his capital from Muscat to Zanzibar in Tanzania the previous year to centre his empire on his African holdings, where he was fighting a war in Kenya. He proposed an alliance between his state and Ranavalona, which would allow his riches and her army to combine and dominate East Africa. Tthis alliance would be marked by Ranavalona becoming one of his many wives. After some discussion, the Merina Queen accepted, changing the fate of East Africa forever.

Note: The proposal was a real one, but in reality was politely rebuffed.

Provine's Addendum

The marriage and resulting unification drawing Madagascar into the Omani Empire established a far-flung series of land-holdings across the western Indian Ocean from India, Arabia, the African continent, and Madagascar. It also brought to the forefront the complexities of empire with a populace that largely followed Ibadi Islam but also had pockets of Christianity and Hinduism as well as numerous indigenous religions, especially in Madagascar. In the years leading up to his death in 1856, Said bin Sultan worked to determine a coherent path, which proved to be economically-driven religious tolerance as he abided the different practices of Ranavalona. Rather than breaking his empire among his sons as he began to think, Said bin Sultan decided to maintain a political unity to promote wealth through trade.

The empire focused on building its navy to support trade, which simultaneously boosted the capabilities for industrialization. Iron ore was mined in Zanzibar while coal was brought from Madagascar, turning the new city built by Majid bin Said, Dar es Salaam, into one of the largest centers of industry in the world. The "floating empire" of shipping ports gained expansive inland gains as railroads were added, largely with assistance by German engineering and banks. French and British colonialists attempted to gain influence as well, but the diligence of the sultan prevented the empire from being carved up. It profited greatly as a neutral supplier in World War I, sending material to both sides until the Allied blockade forced Omani interests toward Britain and France. Following the war, the empire saw its own wave of nationalism break it into its regional pieces though attempting to maintain the strong economic bloc of the West Indian Ocean.

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