Thursday, November 19, 2020

Guest Post: Mongols Win Battle of Bun'ei

This article by Tom Bornholdt first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

By 1274, the Mongol invasion of Japan was underway. In 1266, Kublai Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan and ruler of the Mongol Empire under the Yuan Dynasty, had sent emissaries to Japan demanding that it become a vassal. At that time the real ruler of Japan was Hojo Tokimune, whose official post was that of Shikken, which was the regent of the shogunate. He sent the emissaries back without an answer. Meanwhile, he ordered Kyushu, the Japanese island most likely to be invaded because it was closest to the Korean peninsula to prepare for war. On November 2 , a Mongol invasion fleet with 22,000 soldiers and 7,000 sailors departed Korea. On the way to Japan, it captured Tsushima Island and Iki Island before landing at Hakata Bay on the north coast of Kyushu. There they were confronted by several thousand Japanese, who were soon confused by the tactics used by the invaders. This included phalanxes and the throwing of paper and iron-casing bombs, which disoriented the soldiers and made their horses uncontrollable. Though the Japanese fought bravely, by nightfall the Yuan had driven them a few miles inland and burned the town of Hataka. The Japanese prepared to make a last stand at Mizuki where there was a very old earthwork moat fort.

The three Yuan generals then had a meeting. Holdon wanted to keep pursuing the Japanese. Hong Dagu worried about his men being exhausted and getting ambushed during the night. He therefore advocated returning to the ships. After some debate, Liu Fuxiang agreed with Holdon and the attack continue. After midnight, a great storm arrived without warning. More than a third of the Yuan ships were dashed against the rocks and destroyed. Many others were blown far out to sea while a few were beached in repairable conditions. In the morning, generals realized that if they had moved their soldiers back aboard the destroyed ships they would have perished during the storm. There were not enough ships left to evacuate the entire army so the generals concluded they were stuck. Because of the loss of supplies, they needed to proceed cautiously. In the afternoon, they encircled the Japanese forces at Mizuki but made no assault, intending to starve them out while their soldiers finally got some badly needed rest. Eight days later, the Japanese sortied and were annihilated. In the meantime, the Yuan army had sacked Dazaifu, the political center of Kyushu.

By the end of the year they had defeated the Japanese in detail several times and gained control of the northern half of Kyushu. During the winter the army raided the southern part of the island resulting in a few small engagements.

In early March of 1275, the Yuan expedition received some reinforcements along with supplies. On March 26, they landed on the north shore of Nagato Province, which lay on the opposite side of Kanmon Straits. This resulted in a fierce 13-day battle which ended with the Yuan invaders being forced back to their ships and departing. The Japanese on Honshu had previously heard stories of Yuan atrocities committed on Kyushu, the majority of which were true. The fighting in Nagato Province produced more stories that were all the more frightening because they occurred closer to home. The failure of this operation made Kublai Khan realize that conquering Japan was going to be harder than he had expected. However, at this time he could not afford to further reinforce his expedition with anything more than penny packets since he was still at war with the Southern Song.

During the summer, Hojo Tokimune slowly moved samurai to southern Kyushu. The commander of the Japanese forces there mounted an invasion of the north in early September, despite being ordered by Hojo Tokimune to wait another month. This offensive surprised the Mongols and caused them some grief at first but were eventually able to soundly defeat it south of Dazaifu on September 15. After that, the Mongols concluded that they needed to conquer all of Kyushu before trying again to invade Honshu. This turned out to be a lengthy campaign with the Japanese increasingly turning to guerilla tactics. This, in turn, provoked the Mongols to commit more atrocities. It wasn't until the spring of 1277 that they felt that they could try again to invade Nagato Province. They attempted a landing there on May 25 and found to their dismay that the Japanese had greatly improved the coastal defenses there, including building a wall. The landing was costly failure for the Mongols. In October, the Japanese sent another expedition to southern Kyushu but within two months it was obliterated. After that, the war went into another lull with Mongols content to further consolidate their hold on Kyushu. The war was an increasing drain on the finances of both the Mongol Empire and Japan, but the Mongols were better able to afford it. Hojo Tokimune was forced to raise taxes and then raise them again. In late 1278, a few rich merchants decided to the move to the Kuril Islands to escape the burdensome taxes, bringing their guards with them to protect them from the Ainu inhabitants.

On March 19, 1279, the Yuan Dynasty crushed the Song Dynasty at the naval Battle of Yamen. This was the end of the Song Dynasty. While this allowed Kublai Khan to focus on the conquest of Japan, it had no immediate discernible effect. Indeed 1279 was the quietest year of the war. This lull continued into 1280. In the autumn of that year Kublai held a conference at his summer palaces. A number of options were discussed. One of them was to incorporate Kyushu into their empire but to give up on trying to subjugate the rest of Japan. Another was to again try to land in Nagato Province but using a much larger force. Even if the landing was successful, advancing through the very rugged terrain of northern Honshu would be difficult. It was acknowledged by all that it would take over a year to reach the Imperial Court at Kyoto. Another option was to invade Shikoku next and only invade Honshu after it was captured and subdued. This was the plan that Kublai initially favored, but there were still others that intrigued him.

At this time public opinion inside Honshu was decidedly mixed. There was still a great deal of dread. However, there was also growing frustration with the shogunate's inability to liberate Kyushu from the grip of the Mongols. This was coupled with the growing dissatisfaction with the heavy taxes. 1291 started off as another quiet year, but Hojo Tokimune worried that with the defeat of the Song Dynasty another attempt to invade Honshu was highly likely. He concluded that retaking Kyushu was necessary to prevent an invasion of Honshu. Since the beginning of the invasion he had been working diligently to improve the Japanese navy in both quantity and quality. He did not believe that the enemy knew the full size of the fleet he had amassed. On August 7, most of this fleet arrived at Taka Island carrying a large force of soldiers. They quickly captured Taka Island. Two days later, they landed at Hakata Bay but sustained heavy losses. For the next five days there was a protracted bloody battle in the nearby countryside which favored the Japanese but turned into a stalemate.

Then on August 15 a typhoon, known to the Japanese as the akumakaze, struck this fleet at anchor and devastated it. By this time, most of the soldiers had landed but the commander of the expedition ordered the soldiers to retreat back on to the ships once the storm had cleared. However, there was not enough space on the surviving ships to cram everyone aboard. More than half of the soldiers were left behind. On the way back to Honshu two overcrowded vessels foundered. It took the Yuan army in northern Kyushu three more days to eliminate the Japanese soldiers who had been left behind.

The afternoon August 31 a large Yuan fleet carrying 54,000 men (incl. sailors) arrived off the Kanmon Straits which separated Honshu and Kyushu. The fleet's departure had been delayed nearly three months because Kublai Khan had trouble deciding which plan he wanted. He eventually asked the Polos for advice on this matter. Since the plan he finally chose was the one they favored, he decided to send them along with the expedition to witness firsthand the fruits of their counsel.

That night the great Yuan fleet carefully passed through the Kanmon Straits. Once it was through it sailed ESE inside the Inland Sea. During the day there were some skirmishes with small Japanese craft but they proved to be little more than a nuisance. When it arrived off Iwai Island, the great fleet split into two groups. The smaller group which was under the command of Fan Wenhu had about 20,000 men. It proceeded to Hiroshima Bay where it methodically proceeded to land its soldiers. Half of what was left of the Japanese navy was in the Inland Sea and most of them converged on Hiroshima Bay. There generated some naval action but it interfered with the landing only a little. The Yuan soldiers encountered very weak resistance on the beaches. Once they had landed, they were ordered to proceed northwest until they reached the Sea of Japan. Their mission was to cut the lines of communications between Nagato Province, where nearly half of what was left of the Japanese army was currently located, and the capital at Kamakura. It also succeeded as a diversion drawing away some of the Japanese reserves in central Honshu. Meanwhile, the larger part of the Yuan fleet under the command of Arakhan sailed SSE until it passed Okinoshima Island. It then turned to the east and swung around to the south of Shikoku. The afternoon of September 8, it began to enter Osaka Bay having fought off a few small Japanese warships during the morning. At dusk, it started to land its soldiers on Osaka's beaches where they encountered only weak resistance. They continued landing during the night. The following morning a substantial Yuan detachment was also landed on Awaji Island to the west of Osaka Bay. This would protect the rear of the Yuan army from Japanese forces on Shikoku. By nightfall the Mongols had captured the important city of Osaka. However, 30 miles to the northeast there lay an even greater prize: Kyoto and the Imperial Court!

Arakhan did not wait for the landing of soldiers and supplies to finish but set out at first light for Kyoto with the troops he had at hand. His route passed through the Kamo River Valley so he did not have any rough terrain to contend with. That evening Emperor Fushimi received word that Osaka had fallen and a large Mongol was heading his way. He was frankly told that the forces guarding Kyoto were too weak to withstand the enemy. That night Fushimi along with his retinue were evacuated to the east with the fortified capital city of Kamakura as their ultimate destination. The rest of the Imperial Court was left behind to fight to death to defend the Chrysanthemum Throne.

The next day, the Mongols' vanguard reached the outskirts of Kyoto. They made no attempt to storm the city but scouted it and, when more units arrived, began to surround it. Arakhan had been in a hurry to reach Kyoto, but he was in no rush to capture it. Once his soldiers had surrounded the city, he let them rest as long as they remained prepared to counter a sortie. He brought up supplies from Osaka. He sent out parties to scout and raid. He prepared catapults and constructed both an inner and outer circle of ramparts. Marco Polo was reminded of a cat playing with a mouse. Arakhan knew that the capital city of Kamakura was a natural fortress that would be very difficult to capture. His hope was that the Shikken would feel compelled to rush to this most sacred place with what forces he had available. Sure enough on September 22, Arakhan received word from his scouts that an enemy force was approaching from the east. This consisted of a mere 900 samurai plus their retainers as well as 700 sohei (warrior monks) and some armed civilians. Arakhan then ordered all work to cease on the catapults and the inner ring of ramparts and to concentrate solely on the outer ramparts. Two days later the Japanese army arrived at Kyoto late in the day. The samurai, many of whom were elderly, were mounted on horseback but the others were on foot and had been subjected to a grueling forced march for several days. The Shikken, Hojo Tokimune was leading them.

Arakhan did his best to hide the full size of his army from the enemy fearing it might scare them off. Despite this, Hojo Tokimune saw enough to realize he was very badly outnumbered. For not the first time in this war, he experienced fear. He had once asked his Zen Master, Mugaku Sogen, what to do to overcome his cowardice. Mugaku Sogen told him to sit in meditation and seek out the source of the cowardice within himself. The Shikken allowed his men and their horses to rest beyond the range of the Yuan bows for two hours. He spent the last hour in deep meditation. When he was done, he received final reports from his subordinates. By this time, the sun had set. The twilight illuminated the Yuan army to west but the Japanese were difficult to see in the growing darkness. Unfortunately this meant that he did not see the Yuan soldiers Arakhan was sending well to his east to cut off his line of retreat. He moved his army within bow range of the ramparts. He ordered a volley of arrows to be unleashed. The enemy did not respond. He ordered two more volleys. He shouted, "Katsu!" (Victory), then lead his samurai in a great charge on horseback. The sohei unleashed one more volleys of arrows then joined the charge along with the armed civilians.

Arakhan then gave the signal for the two bonfires he had prepared to be lit. The catapults flung bombs that exploded in the midst of the samurai while a dense mass of arrows rained down on them. Despite this, the samurai kept on coming. If they were unhorsed, they advanced on foot as best they could. A few managed to reach the ramparts only to contend with a line of polearms. In less than an hour, the slaughter was over. Only three samurai were captured, and that was because they had been stunned. All of the rest including Hojo Tokimune were either dead or dying. So too were most of the sohei. It was a different story with the armed civilians who had minimal training. Some of them fought fiercely albeit ineffectively inspired by heroic samurai but the majority of them soon panicked and fled. Most of those were caught by the soldiers Arakhan had sent to the east though a few managed to escape in the darkness. Marco Polo would later write of this engagement, "It was magnificent but it was not war. It was madness."

Having slaughtered the Shikken and his men, Arahan decided that the time had come to capture Kyoto. He let his men sleep late. Mid-morning, he sent one of his men to ask the defenders if they wanted to surrender. As expected, their commander refused. The Yuan catapults then started hurling bombs down on the city. From behind the inner ramparts, Yuan archers carefully fired at whatever targets they could see. There were only seven samurai, four of whom were in ill health, inside Kyoto. Several popular stories, all of them exaggerated, would be written about their exploits. A majority of the defenders were sohei from different sects that in the past had frequently fought each other over theological squabbles and imagined insults. This day they fought side by side with a common purpose. There were also members of the Imperial Court Fushimi had left behind. Some knew how to handle a weapon when the siege began but most did not. During the siege they received some training. When the Mongols failed to make a quick assault, the commander thought the enemy might be trying to starve them out and put everyone on reduced rations while resisting the urge to sortie.

At noon, the Yuan assault began after three dense volleys of arrows. With very few exceptions, the defenders fought bravely. By nightfall, the attackers had breached the outer defenses but there were still pockets of resistance that managed to hold out well into the following day. Kublai Khan had made it very clear to Arakhan that any unarmed courtiers that were captured inside Kyoto were not to be harmed. Furthermore, they were to refrain from looting except for taking useful items like food, horses and weapons. With only a few exceptions, these policies were obeyed. By this time, Arakhan had received word from Fan Wenhu that there was heavy fighting underway in the Iwami and Aki Provinces with the Japanese army that had been in Nagato Province trying to reach Kyoto. Fan Wenhu was making excellent use of the advantage of being on the defensive in very rough terrain. Furthermore the warships that Fan Wenhu commanded were making good progress in eliminating the Japanese warships in the Inland Sea. This would make it easy for Arakhan to receive supplies form the large dumps in northern Kyushu. Once Kyoto was taken, Arakhan left behind a strong garrison force at Awaji Island, Osaka, and Kyoto, then headed west with the bulk of his army. His first objective was Ise Bay which the army reached without significant opposition on September 29. Arakhan then let the most of his army rest there for three days while sending a piece of it south to capture Ise Jingu the most important of all Shinto shrines. As with Kyoto, Kublai Khan had commanded that unarmed clerics at that shrine were not to be harmed. The Mongols left behind a modest garrison at the shrine.

Arakhan's ultimate objective was to reach the Kanto Plain. He proceeded along the coast where there were hallway decent roads and only a few mountains. When he reached Mikama Bay, his fleet dropped off some supplies brought from dumps in southern Kyushu while he rested for two days. From then on, the fleet would protect him from a seaward attack. On October 15, the army's vanguard reached the base of Mt. Fuji. The Polos saw it the next day and were deeply impressed by its beauty. By this time, Arakhan had decided that he still didn't want to make an assault on the formidable fortress of Kamakura when he reached the Kanto Plain. He didn't know that it was very weakly defended at this time. He decided that he would unleash his Mongols once they reached the open spaces of the Kanto Plain letting them rape, pillage and plunder as they pleased. He had been relatively restrained at Osaka and downright nice by Mongol standards at Kyoto and Ise Jingu, but that was about to end. If there was indeed a strong Japanese force at Kamakura or anywhere else nearby, this would force them to fight in the open where the Mongols could eradicate them. Furthermore, it would give whoever was currently running the show at Kamakura an incentive to submit to Kublai Khan.

When Hojo Tokimune had departed Kamakura for his ill-fated appointment at Kyoto, he instructed his rensho (assistant regent) Hojo Shigetoki to assume the duties of Shikken should he perish. Unfortunately the rensho was more optimistic about the Shikken's chances than the Shikken was. It wasn't until a month later that he learned about the Mongols claiming to have killed Hojo Tokimune. Up until then, he made the minor humdrum operational decisions to which he was accustomed but put off any major strategic moves not wanting to be viewed as being presumptuous. For a few days he was unsure as to what to make of the Mongol claims and so continued to act hesitantly. Emperor Fushimi could sense this weakness and saw this as an opportunity for him to reassert some Imperial authority.

The Polos were appalled by what they witnessed after they left Mt. Fuji. Marco would later write of what he called the "Rape of Kawasaki." The fall of 1281 was a period of unmitigated horror throughout most of the Honshu. Many people living in the Kanto Plain fled in terror into the mountains. Commerce broke down throughout the island while brigandage waxed. In the prior years, a few hundred anxious souls had departed Honshu for Hokkaido where they soon found themselves contesting with the Ainu. In the fall of 1281, this migration blossomed. A handful of warships that technically belonged to the Japanese navy helped facilitate this development. The migration numbered over 2,000 by the year's end. They succeeded in carving out a partially fortified enclave in southern Hokkaido that managed to repel the initial attacks by the Ainu. Some of the wealthier refugees were attracted to the Kuril Islands as an alternative.

Reports of what was happening in the Kanto Plain reached Emperor Kishimi at Kamakura. The suffering of his people caused him to weep. Many of the important figures of the very powerful Hojo clan had perished at the Battle of Kyoto alongside the Shikken, which made it easier for him to reclaim authority. On November 28, he decided that for the sake of his people he must agree to become a vassal of Kublai Khan. He then browbeat the rensho into going along. The next day he sent an official message to Arakhan of his decision.

Author's Note:

In reality Liu Fuxiang sided with Hong Dagu that fateful night and the Yuan soldiers retired to their ships. The losses caused by the storm made them abandon the invasion and return to Korea.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Guest Post: Triumph on Sullivan's Island

This article first appeared on Today In Alternate History.

"General Lee ... wishes you to evacuate the fort. You will not, without [an] order from me. I would sooner cut off my hand than write one" ~ John Rutledge

June 28th, 1776 - The defining moment in the birth of the Palmetto Republic was undoubtedly the hard-fought Battle of Fort Sullivan.

The fort's construction work was only half complete when nine British warships under Admiral Sir Peter Parker prepared to launch an attack on Charleston Harbor. Patriot reinforcements under General Charles Lee of the Continental Army had marched from North Carolina in anticipation of this aggressive move. Lee made an incorrect estimate that the fort would fall within thirty minutes and all of the defenders perish. Instead, the 2nd South Carolina Regiment under Colonel William Moultrie drove off the British in a famous victory.

It was the president of South Carolina "Dictator John" Rutledge that had ordered Moultrie to fight. One of the accidental factors in the victory was that the British cannonballs could not penetrate the fort's walls, which had been made out of palmetto logs packed with sand. Charleston had been saved, the men were heroes, and the palmetto was an enduring symbol of South Carolinian courage.

For the next seven years, nearly a third of the combat activities of the Revolutionary War occurred in South Carolina. This was partly because setbacks in the North had encouraged the Royal Navy to attempt to retake Charleston. As a result of the famous victory, Rutledge had become a central figure in the patriot struggle. His bitter disputes with Lee widened into a feud with the leadership of the Continental Congress.

South Carolina was considered large enough to be a viable independent polity. With the national legislature preparing a new constitution for a direct democracy to enfranchise property-holders, Rutledge decided that he had to seize the moment once again. Using his control of the militia, he took South Carolina in a radically different direction, following the example of Vermont, which continued to govern itself as a sovereign entity based in the eastern town of Windsor. Inevitably, the Union attempted the same tactics as it did in disagreement with Rhode Island by threatening a blockade with no trading. However, South Carolina was willing to pay this price for its independence.

A decade later, Rutledge led the Palmetto Republic's celebrations of Carolina Day, marking the tenth anniversary of the battle. By the time that representatives to the Constitutional Convention arrived in Philadelphia a year later, it was abundantly clear that the long-term future of South Carolina would exist outside of the United States. The original Articles of Confederation had recognized the thirteen members of the Continental Congress as having diverse interests and goals, but the idea had already taken hold that Americans had to form one single lock-step federal government.

This emerging consensus only validated Rutledge's political thought and inspired independence. Nevertheless, his outcome would cause border disputes with neighboroughing Georgia and North Carolina. Tension was to be expected, just as this was the issue of land claims with New York and New Hampshire that had prevented Vermont joining the Union. Rutledge hoped to build a Carolinian Confederation that combined all the former southern colonies. That herculean near-impossible task would fall to his firebrand successor, John C. Calhoun, at a time when the bonds of union had weakened and Georgia and North Carolina were beginning to dream of secession.

South Carolinian Jurist James L. Petigru would famously observe that "the territory of Palmetto is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum." During the nineteenth century, many US politicians would consider it a good thing that South Carolina was safely outside the Union. Ironically, Palmetto also struggled to trade with the increasingly anti-slavery British Empire. One of the key battlegrounds of the Revolutionary War, a State of South Carolina might well have been a key battlegrounds of a civil war if South Carolinian firebrands had fueled the calls for secession from inside the Union.

Author's Note:

In reality, Rutledge represented South Carolina in the Philadelphia Convention. He played a leading role resulting in his elevation to the Supreme Court.

Provine's Addendum:

Over the course of the coming centuries, settlers would spread westward, causing friction with the Americans' neighbors to the north and Mexico in the south. After the disastrous War of 1812, both sides were nervous about another war caused by the disagreement of national boundaries in the northeast. Taking the success of landlocked Vermont as an example of a neutral barrier (that both could still attempt to manipulate through trade and diplomacy), the United States and British Empire both recognized the Republic of Madawaska in 1827. The hasty settlement of the Oregon territory claimed by both sides again left a wide gap. After much deliberation and influence, an independent nation was founded in 1843.

Meanwhile, disagreements in the southwest turned to violent revolutions. While the United States did not directly declare war for its own territory, Americans readily backed revolution in Texas in 1835 and another in California during the Second Texas-Mexican War in 1846. Both nations became close allies to the United States, although no one took suggestions of cessation seriously.

Even after the nineteenth century, further breaks would be seen in North American English-speaking nations. California had nearly lost its northeastern corner to a settlement dubbed "Deseret," but the anti-Mormon Nataqua War in the 1850s and '60s maintained dependence. In 1941, Oregonians and Californians who shared rural ideals felt ignored by their capitals and formed up a new allied nation called Jefferson, all under the careful guidance of the United States, which was eager to avoid a fight in the western hemisphere as Europe and Asia ground on in a second World War. Another cultural shift saw the southern end of the Carolian Confederation break away from Florida in 2008 with a new capital in Miami.

In the many years of organizing nations after the breakaway of the Carolinas, it is remarkable to historians that Virginia never vowed for independence, especially during the turbulent times after the Revolution. Virginia first grew by accepting and then giving away former North Carolinian claims to what became the state of Franklin. Later, Virginia would let go of its western claims to form Westylvania and Kentucky. Perhaps it was Virginia's dedication to work within the Union while championing local authority that prevented any notion of civil war and instead led to the plethora of US states, such as Superior above Lake Michigan, Empire in upstate New York, and Chicagoland separated from Illinois.


Thursday, September 24, 2020

Guest Post: American engineer Tom Dolan Dies in Car Crash

This post originally appeared at Today in Alternate History with input from Allen W. McDonnell. 

 In 1958, a young American engineer named Thomas Dolan was tragically killed in an automobile accident travelling to work at Vought Astronautics Division near Dallas. His vehicle turned over on the highway and caught fire. Dolan's charred body was barely recognizable and his priceless research papers reduced to ashes.

The incalculable loss to scientific research was that Dolan had recently conceived the experimental concept of a Lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR) through which a smaller lunar lander might independently descend to the surface of the Moon. In all probability, he was wasting his time with this brilliant idea because of the mule-headed stubbornness of the development team director, Wernher von Braun. Even when he was proven totally wrong on judgement calls such as the four-inch flight, von Braun relied on emotional appeals to plead for more time, money or one last chance.

Even to his closest colleagues, it was clear that von Braun exercised an unhealthy control over the direction of the space program. His obsession with rocketry maintained a single-minded focus on the anachronistic concept of direct ascent via a single launch vehicle. A third lunar-landing alternative was Earth Orbit Rendezvous (EOR) to assemble, and possibly fuel, components of a translunar vehicle in low Earth orbit. By order of magnitude, LOR was costly, EOR was expensive, and Direct Ascent was mind bogglingly insanely expensive in comparison.

Due to these cost considerations, EOR was developed using piloted reusable first stages to save money. Still, NASA relied upon von Braun's advanced skills in political manipulation. He fueled the fears of politicians in Washington that the Soviets would win the race to the Moon. The NASA budget rose to an incredible 1.5 percent of total federal funding. Much of the new money was taken from defense, and plans to send military advisors to Vietnam quietly scrapped.

America fulfilled President Kennedy's pledge to land a Man on the Moon before the end of the sixties. For the piloted first stage developed for EOR the E-1 engine was selected for development and demonstrated its reliability for decades in reusable piloted stages. The Aerospike version first used in 1968 for the first manned lunar mission was designed to be efficient at a broad range of altitudes unlike earlier models that were optimized for efficiency at sea level altitude.

With the benefit of hindsight, it was obvious that the right choice had been made for the long-term strategy of space flight. This was because direct ascent was grossly expensive with very limited usefulness once the basic moon landing series was completed. LOR was less expensive if the only goal was a limited number of moon landings for political effect. However, EOR with reusable piloted first stage although initially more expensive to develop, was a future-proof technology for later programs. As a result, by the time that Von Braun died in summer 1977, the future of space platforms was clear. The journey from space stations to permanent bases on the Moon and other planets in the Solar System was well underway.

Author's Note:

In reality, Dolan proposed the first fully developed concept of Lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR) but NASA officials initially considered the associated risks unacceptable. The Gemini missions proved them wrong, paving the way for his idea to be put into practice. For the NOVA and later Saturn V first stage, NASA selected the Rocketdyne F-1 rather than the E-1 model because of von Braun's desire for Direct Ascent.


Provine's Addendum:

As the Cold War ground on after the successful American lunar landing, space again became a major player as the Reagan administration was swept into office in 1980. Many blamed the Democratic party for the expansion of communism over southeast Asia with revolutions in Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia following that in Vietnam. Central Asia seemed to be following, too, with the Soviet invasion in 1979. Reagan promised regaining the upper-hand, literally, in 1983 with a Strategic Defense Initiative including an orbital grid of anti-missile weapons. While labs across the country worked on R&D projects, budget-minded administrators sought more efficient means of launch. Ironically the spending escalated to the construction of a magnetic coilgun, which proved to be a good investment as the cost for individual payloads dwindled to a few hundred dollars per kilogram.

While the government budgets swelled, the Cold War ended in the '90s with the collapse of the Soviet Union and widening US-China relations. The Coilgun, built on the equatorial Jarvis Island isolated both for defense as well as Cold War secrecy, turned to civilian use. Communication satellites presented opportunities for hundreds of new cable television stations and satellite-linked telephones became the norm worldwide. With low start-up costs, numerous companies launched in the early 2000s with hopes of gold-mining on the Moon or founding the first permanent Martian city.

Friday, September 18, 2020

1118 – Songs prop up Liao Dynasty

In 1115, Song diplomats met with their counterparts in service of the Jurchen warlord Wanyan Aguda disguised as horse-traders. The Jurchen lived to the northeast of the realm of the Liao, a Khitan dynasty who had long been the rivals of the Songs in the south. The first Song emperor, Taizong, had attempted to invade the Liao to recapture the lost Sixteen Prefectures that once served as the northern frontier of imperial Chinese lands. Taizong’s invasion reached modern Beijing in 976, where he laid siege. The Liao managed to dig an extensive tunnel underneath the Song siege, reinforcing the city and ultimately drive the Song away. After more than a decade of warfare, the two finally brokered peace with the Song paying an annual tribute of more than three tons of silver and 200,000 bolts of silk. The proud Song describe the protection money as “gifts” rather than protection money to barbaric northerners.

A century later, the Jurchen rebelled against their Liao oppressors. Aguda established a new dynasty, the Jin, and looked to conquer the Liao utterly. As the region fell into war, the Liao struggled to meet the ferocity of the Jurchen, many of whom sought vengeance for humiliations of their families and women. Seeking to further break the Liao, the Song and Jurchen considered joining forces. After years of debate, however, the Song court under Huizong looked back on the previous defeat of the great Taizong. The Song were excellent organizers and manufacturers, but they did not seem to have the warrior’s lust for battle. Ultimately they refused the Jin offer and instead renegotiated with the Liao to send men and materiel for the war while ending their tribute.

The north continued as a warzone for decades, and the Song proved to be masterful in profiteering. The Songs had long been dedicated to producing, following the wisdom of Confucius on working hard and investing profits. During their reign, the population of China had doubled twice while rebuilding from the losses under the Tang dynasty. Much of the growth was thanks to expansion of high-yield rice crops and improved infrastructure. The Songs innovated as well, introducing woodblock printing, paper money backed by national banks, and gunpowder. Young men from across the empire took civil service examinations to test their worth under Confucian ideals, helping to create a powerful class of bureaucrats who sought to maximize the glory of the empire. Artists and merchants formed guilds while business drove expansion in manufacturing and mining.

Following the extensive war in the north, the nearly exhausted Liao drove many of the Jurchen westward, which caused a decades-long reorganization of the nomadic peoples living there. The Song finally had their own vengeance, retaking the Sixteen Prefectures by purchasing the land and encouraging the Liao to move northwest themselves with their new investment. Growing Mongol forces a century later struggled with the Jurchen and Liao, never quite organizing into empire themselves as the Song skillfully bribed competing tribes to work against each other.

The Song, meanwhile, became increasingly imperialistic. Invigorated by neo-Confucianism that blended universalist ideals of Buddhism, Song merchants reached farther than ever for new markets that could benefit from the products created at home while coffers swelled with profits in doing so. Confucian rationalism also borrowed from Daoism to understand the laws of nature, greatly expanding Chinese science in anatomy, physics, and chemistry. Iron smelting led to interest in hot coal-fires, which soon transitioned into steam-driven engines. Adapting paddle-wheel ships already created for naval engagements, Chinese merchants soon sailed even faster than the wind. It would still be centuries before steam-driven land vehicles followed the seaborne ones, but in time Chinese railroads would stretch to markets across continents.

China’s major rival for trade during its rapid growth was the Abbasid Caliphate, which from its capital Baghdad controlled routes leading to Europe and Africa as well as already having many inroads with Indian ports. Looking to avoid costly trade wars like the disputes that had risen in India and Indonesia where their spheres of influence overlapped, Chinese exploratory fleets of enormous ships some four hundred feet long headed eastward with hopes of sailing around the world to reach these western markets. Instead, they instead two new continents running nearly from pole to pole. Direct trade with Europe was stalled by nearly a century, but the Chinese did establish relations with the Inca and Aztec empires as well as founding new provinces around valuable mining centers.

By the twentieth century, China was the unquestioned master of the Pacific, although its position of world superpower could be challenged by the Ottomans whose empire reached from the Chinese frontier to the Atlantic and readily adapted Chinese technology. Although often antagonists, the two empires also work together, such as the express rail link from Casablanca to Kaifeng. Squabbling nations of Europe, meanwhile, manage their own corner of the northern Atlantic.



In reality, the Song made an alliance with the Jin to mutually attack the Liao and divide up their lands. Observing the Song struggle militarily in their invasion, the Jin broke the alliance in 1125 and marched southward. They conquered the capital and northern regions held by the Song, ending the Northern Song dynasty. The remaining Song reestablished their capital in the south and continued to rule until conquest by the Mongols founded the Yuan Dynasty.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Guest Post: Manila Devastated by the Eruption of Mount Pinatubo

This post originally appeared on Today in Alternate History.

By 1880, the strategically located port of Manila was the western hub of Spain's trans-Pacific trade. These rich benefits covered the high expense of maintaining the Spanish colony of the Philippines long after the independence of the viceroyalty of New Spain. This economic calculation changed overnight with the September 3, 1891, eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Luzon Volcanic Arc. After the catastrophe of this natural disaster, the islands were quietly abandoned to their fate, becoming a backwater by the outbreak of the war with the United States in 1898. Under the Treaty of Paris, they nominally entered US possession with the loss of the last remnants of the Spanish Empire.

Spared the volcanic eruption, the Philippines could well have become the prime American holding in Asia. Instead, America focused her attention elsewhere on the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico. In one of the last acts of Herbert Hoover's regime, the Philippine islands were granted independence by the US Congress in the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act. At the time, the US was looking inwards in isolation, mired in the Great Depression and the resulting social unrest. One of the casualties of the era was Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur who was fired for his mishandling of the Bonus Army Protestors.

Meanwhile, the security situation in the Pacific was fast deteriorating. Chiang Kai-shek was sufficiently alarmed that he hired MacArthur as a consulting adviser to help re-organize the Chinese Nationalist Army. Ten years after Philippine independence, the forces of the Empire of Japan used the islands as a low-profile staging point for the invasion of French Indochina. The sparsely populated islands briefly became under Japanese control.

The much-admired five star General Dwight D. Eisenhower would mastermind a famous victory over Japan, working closely with the US Navy to drive through the Central Pacific. In the wake of World War Two, he would be elected President and guide Puerto Rico and Guam (incorporated into Hawaii due to its small population) towards statehood within the Union. In contrast, these positive developments would be overshadowed by the very poor management of the occupation of Japan, leading to a diplomatic coldness between the two and the push toward conservatism in the 1960s restoring earlier Japanese cultural aspects over American ideals like overt advertising and public displays of affection.

Nevertheless, the Pacific Rim slowly began to emerge as a key region in the global economy. There would even be a slow paced resurgence on the Philippine islands. Growth and expansion would eventually lead to the development of a small Christian republic on Luzon by the turn of the twenty-first century. Despite centuries of Catholic legacy, Protestantism would increasingly dominate by the millennium.

Wikipedia Note:

In reality, the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines' Luzon Volcanic Arc was the second-largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century, behind only the 1912 eruption of Novarupta in Alaska. Today, Manila, alongside Mexico City and Madrid are considered the world's original set of Global Cities due to Manila's commercial networks being the first to traverse the Pacific Ocean.

 Provine's Addendum:

The precedent of religious separatism in the Republic of Luzon led to a "balkanization" of the region during the turbulent era of decolonization. Indonesia's many islands divided into modernist Islamic West Indonesia, traditional Islamic Java, Protestant Eastern Indonesia, Hindu Bali, and the twin Catholic nations of Flores and East Timor, which would later unify. Nearby Papua New Guinea divided into the Protestant south and Catholic north, nearly along the lines of the old British/German colonies. Many historians traced back the focus on religions for political division to the American efforts to study local culture in Vietnam after such struggles with the occupation of Japan, which prompted the CIA to pull support from Ngo Dinh Diem after he refused the plan for the smaller, more stable South Vietnam that remains today.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Guest Post: The Fat Boy Drops Early

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

"We - the President of the United States, the President of the National Government of the Republic of China, and the Prime Minister of Great Britain, representing the hundreds of millions of our countrymen, have conferred and agree that Japan shall be given an opportunity to end this war. We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action. The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction." ~ OTL Potsdam Declaration

June 15, 1945 - Nationalist China is saved by Fat Boy

In early 1945, the progress of the Manhattan Project was rapidly accelerated by the strategic choice of Uranium Implosion over easier but inefficient impact detonation. This bold decision was taken despite many leading scientists expressing deep concern that the design was far too theoretical to implement.

The benefits soon became clear. Less than a fortnight after the fall of Berlin, one atomic weapons was ready for immediate deployment and enough uranium was available to rapidly build four more. This compressed timing of the deployment schedule was highly significant because the tentative plan had always been for the Soviets to declare war on Japan within three months of victory in Europe. With the Red Army occupying Eastern Europe, the Western Allies suddenly had an opportunity for victory on their own exclusive terms. Such an outcome would transform the post-war landscape, having profound affects not only for Japan, but for Mao Zedong's Communists also.

The detonation of the world's first atomic bomb would be a supreme expression of American authority. Although many other Allied nations might profit from an earlier victory over Japan, the main beneficiary would of course be US hegemony. In the long-term, history would draw a straight line from Admiral Perry's arrival in Tokyo Bay through Theodore Roosevelt's mediation of the Russo-Japanese War and onto VJ Day. Despite this contemporary perspective, explosive experts from the United Kingdom had played a major part in the breakthrough. As a result of this decisive contribution, the UK would gain a third part of the arsenal and become the second atomic weapon-state.

The detonation of the "Fat Boy" device over the Japanese city of Hiroshima was insufficient to force the Supreme War Council to capitulate. However, the subsequent threat of further bombs - and critically the assurance that the Emperor could rule as a figurehead under Allied Occupation - was enough to swing Foreign Minister Togo into the peace camp. Despite the rising threat of insurrection, Japan would issue a declaration of unconditional surrender before the end of June.

There would be a very high price to be paid for victory. For example, Manchuria had been an independent nation prior to 1931. The Japanese Kwantung Army was undefeated in the field and many Japanese colonists in Manchuria had suddenly become stateless citizens. Moreover, it was improbable that the Soviets would fully accept this status quo even though the UN Security Council was stacked with capitalist victor powers. Once Eastern Europe was under control, the Soviets began to clandestinely support liberation movements across the Far East in a determined attempt to undo American influence. The inevitable consequence was a huge commitment to post-war Asia.

Many political analysts confidently predicted that Chiang Kai-shek's National Regime was doomed anyway. These unresolved concerns for the future would overshadow the peace settlement even though Britain, France, and the Netherlands would quickly move to reoccupy the territories in their Asian Empires. Of course, because the French and Dutch were not yet nuclear powers, they did not have the chance to threaten guerrilla armies with the atomic bomb. By the time that France had the capability to do so, the war in Indochina was already lost.

Author's Note:

In reality, the Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation would set the stage for the Chinese Civil War and the triumph of Mao Zedong. President Truman would be accused of "losing China." In this scenario, we imagine the possibility of a region-wide Vietnam scenario.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Guest Post: Day of Infamy

This post originally appeared on Today in Alternate History.

"Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan". ~ FDR's OTL "Day of Infamy" Speech 

December 7, 1941 - On this fateful day, the US naval base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, was destroyed by an atomic discharge.

This terrifying weapon was developed by the Empire of Japan as a result of technology espionage arising from a chance meeting six years earlier in Nazi Germany. The founding father of modern physics research in Japan, Dr Yoshio Noshina, had travelled to the Max Planck Institute in Munich. It was there that he met a Jewish researcher called Lise Meitner, an Austrian-Swedish physicist praised by Albert Einstein as the "German Marie Curie". Needing to escape Nazi harassment, Noshina convinced Meitner to return with him to Japan to continue her work.

Whether Meitner later developed misgivings is unclear; however, in the medium-term, her work convinced the Japanese leadership to throw national resources at weaponizing the project. This huge programme included the mining of uranium in eastern China as well as the close cooperation of the Armed Services (not easy as much inter-service rivalry had plagued Japan for many years). By the outbreak of war in Europe, Noshina's team had overcome the major technical obstacles and were rapidly in the process of developing the world's first atomic weapon.

The expansion of the Co-Prosperity Sphere had been challenged by what the Japanese saw as a series of unnecessary provocations from President Roosevelt. Although they fully understood that America was expanding and desired greater influence, they believed that it was still possible to expel Western interest from the entire region. Their leadership realized that due to the industrial might of the United States, it was unrealistic to expect that the Japan could ever prevail in a long drawn-out conflict. What they needed then was a knock-out blow that would force the Americans to withdraw from Asia Pacific before overwhelming resources could be brought to bear.

But they had misunderstood the Western mindset because FDR was even more aggressive as a result of the atomic discharge. He was encouraged by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's words - "What kind of people do they think we are? Is it possible they do not realize that we shall never cease to persevere against them until they have been taught a lesson which they and the world will never forget?" From their bellicose reaction to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, it was abundantly clear that Britain and America were more than willing to fight on no matter what, despite the imbalance in technology. The next phase of the war was even more frightening, with biological weapons being deployed by Japan in the form of a deadly virus sent over the American West Coast in air balloons.

Despite their many victories and occasional high moments, the Axis Powers never had the overwhelming capability to occupy the vastness of North America. With American and exiled British forces subdued but undefeated, the War dragged on for almost a decade. Finally, a long-running stalemate on the Eastern front led to a Soviet-Nazi armistice. This slowdown of military action triggered a general uneasy peace settlement that left Western Europe in German hands, and the Japanese preeminent in Asia Pacific. But the rivalry continued unabated as the Great Powers continued to develop even more terrifying weapons that would allow them to resume, and then win, a continuation war in the near future.

Author's Note:

In reality, the attack was a surprise military strike with conventional weapons by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service. Disputes about the status of the Japanese Atomic Bomb Development project remain unresolved to this day.

Site Meter