Monday, June 20, 2022

Guest Post: de Santillan saves the Spanish Treasure Fleet

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

June 8, 1708

The incomparable Spanish Navy admiral José de Santillán was placed in command of a large treasure fleet that comprised fourteen merchant ships, a lightly armed hulk, and three escorting warships.

From onboard the flagship San José, he master-minded his infinitely dangerous assignment to safely transport over two hundred tons of gold, silver, and emeralds extracted from holdings in South America to Europe in order to fund the ongoing effort for the War of the Spanish Succession.

The situation was going very badly for his once-great nation because the Bourbon King Louis XIV had conquered swathes of the Spanish Empire on the continent. Eventually, he succeeded in placing his grandson Philip on the Spanish throne via diplomacy. He sought to reverse the decline of Spanish power as a stepping stone to establishing a united Europe under a single Bourbon monarch.

The Grand Alliance of England, the Netherlands and Austria stood in his way, and they had the great fortune to have John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, as commander of the Army of Europe. It was at this vital juncture that a major hurricane decimated the Royal Navy squadron in the Caribbean led by Charles Wager. His greatly reduced forces were swept aside by the treasure fleet in a desperately one-sided affair in Cartagena, fought off the northern coast of Colombia in the Caribbean coastal region.

The safe arrival of the treasure fleet radically changed both the fortunes of war and the recovery of Spanish prestige. Ever since the overwhelming Anglo-Dutch victory at Blenheim three year earlier, it seemed likely that the reconstituted Grand Alliance would defeat the French and Spanish Bourbons. Instead, the Alliance would be defeated long before the death of Louis XIV in 1715. His son Louis XV survived a smallpox scare to eventually establish the Bourbon super-state that Wager, Churchill, & co. had fought so hard to prevent. One unintended consequence of this success was that the rivalry with French colonies in the Eastern Hemisphere sowed the seeds of another Iberian War.

Author's Note:

In reality,
de Santillán decided to sail from Portobelo to Cartagena on 28 May because he could not wait much longer as the hurricane season was approaching. The rest of the fleet, plus their escort under Jean Du Casse, were waiting in Havana and threatened to leave without him. The battle ended in a British victory over the Spanish fleet. Lost at sea the greatest treasure ship starting the hunt for the legendary shipwreck and its $20 billion worth of treasure. Wager, the hero of the hour, later served as First Lord of the Admiralty from 1733 to 174.

Provine's Addendum

With the Dutch suppressed, the British navy depleted, and Spain effectively a puppet of Paris, Portugal was France's main overseas rival for valuable colonies. Bourbon merchant fleets swiftly scooped up the Dutch territories in India and the East Indies, reinvesting the income in building their naval defense. Rivalries broke out in India and Africa, and when the War of the Austrian Succession in 1740 offered a chance for the Bourbons to be militarily distracted, the Portuguese launched a campaign to reestablish dominance of trade in the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, with the Bourbon's new ally Prussia switching sides from the previous Grand Alliance, the distraction did not last long as Austria, the Netherlands, and Great Britain were dealt another round of serious blows. Portugal, too, this time felt costly invasion. Through the coming decades, the Bourbons redoubled their efforts at dominating the Far East trade at sea while encouraging a Prussian-led German state as a buffer against the growing powers of Sweden and Russia as the Hapsburgs declined. Great Britain, meanwhile, had enough of continental wars and determined focus on its colonies in the Western Hemisphere, ensuring loyalty against potential expansion of New France or New Spain.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Guest Post: Franco-British Union

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

Kent, Dover, June 10, 1940 -

In a joint address forever known to history as Toujours Ensemble ("always together"), Winston Churchill and Paul Reynaud paid tribute to the secret heroes of Operation Dynamo. These were the incomparably brave Franco-British Union soldiers who sacrificed their evacuation to defend the Dunkirk perimeter. This rearguard action had become necessary due to the collapse of the Western front and the surrender of the Belgian Army on May 28th. Emergency orders had then been issued "Every man for himself, make for Dunkirk." Franco-British commanders hastily met to establish a strategy for the defense of the Dunkirk beachhead itself. Churchill privately considered this outcome to be "a colossal military disaster," but he had no choice but to roll with the punches since he desperately needed Reynaud's cabinet to accept his offer of a complete merger of the two countries and thereby avoid French capitulation.

Absent this complicated political dimension to the problem, it would have made far more military sense to evacuate Allied forces earlier without such a narrow squeak. Both Churchill and Reynauld offered an unconvincing "Never Surrender" pledge, but French cabinet members had lingering fears of "fusion with a corpse." Meanwhile, other disgruntled figures on the periphery included General Charles de Gaulle, the "Man of Destiny" who had planned to form a Free French Army in the event of his government surrendering along with the Dutch and Belgians. The hero of Verdun, eighty-four year old Phillipe Pétain, wanted to avoid total destruction, threatening to veto the proposal because he preferred a Nazi dictatorship to being part of a French/UK government. Another minister muttered "Better to be a Nazi province. At least we know what that means."

In binary terms, the anti-Union faction of the cabinet considered the offer a simple choice between surrendering to Great Britain or to Germany. Given their resistance, it was just as well that the Union proposal had been voted on before Dunkirk. After all, the sense of defeatism would have only been super-charged by popular anger had thousands of French troops had been killed enabling the British Expeditionary Force to evacuate. This perceived abandonment at Dunkirk would have created a wedge between the two Allies with the threat of the French fleet falling into German hands. "I was somewhat surprised," wrote Churchill, "to see the staid, solid, experienced politicians of all parties engage themselves so passionately in an immense design whose implications and consequences were not in any way thought out". Churchill put his doubts aside and told the cabinet, "In this crisis we must not let ourselves be accused of lack of imagination."

Even if Churchill and Reynaud had aptly demonstrated the potential to coexist in harmony, the undeniable truth was that the nature of Union was a largely legal and symbolic one. After all many French military units had been forced to surrender because their positions were untenable. Even if France was a mostly defeated nation, and the Union brought French division home to England, the benefits obtained by Churchill were very tangible. The legitimate Franco-British government had the authority to order the French fleet to sail out of harm's way and join the Royal Navy's activities. Similarly, French colonies remained associated with the Allies. The outward appearance of strength was far greater without French capitulation, as Churchill had intended all along - a continuation of the national alliance for mutual defense. This strategy was not without risk because it tempted Hitler to accept Franco's ludicrous offer at Hendaye: a Spanish military alliance in exchange for French North Africa and Gibraltar, which would have been an unacceptable condition for a surrendering French government.

The Dunkirk perimeter had been replaced with a different kind of political encirclement that trapped Churchill and Reynaud. It would have been less confusing, if not outright better, if Reynaud had persuaded his cabinet colleagues to continue the fight from North Africa after the formation of a French government-in-exile. The military reality was that the Western front had been fought to a stop as obviously intended by the German Halt Order. Regardless of their unconvincing saber-rattling and bold rhetoric, a peace settlement between the belligerents was clearly in everyone's best interest. The Axis Powers had no realistic prospect of pressing for victory and actually wanted to completely re-focus their forces on the forthcoming invasion of the Soviet Union. Whereas, the nascent Union had a path to recovering the French mainland, and , potentially, breaking up the short-term government arrangements that had yet to properly form.

It was under these radically altered circumstances that Allied leaders were to face renewed pressure to seek terms with Hitler because the continuation of the war only threatened to bankrupt the nation without any obvious benefit. The Toujours Ensemble speech had included a wistful, hopeful reference to American intervention. In fact, U.S. President Roosevelt was yet to decide whether to declare a national emergency and re-invoke the Espionage Act of 1917 to control shipping in American waters and in waters near the Panama Canal Zone. FDR himself was under intense domestic pressure to act as ceasefire broker, a personally attractive route that would allow him to retire at the end of the year. Albeit the outbreak of war, the only reason to continue would have been to protect his legacy: the continuation of his social programs was at risk under the Republican Wendell Wilkie or indeed his own vice president, "Texas Jack" John Garner.

Author's Note:

In reality, apart from French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud, other French leaders were less enthusiastic about a declaration of union, considering it an alliance of circumstance. He resigned that evening without taking a formal vote on the union or an armistice, and later called the failure of the union the "greatest disappointment of my political career." Churchill's private secretary said, "We had before us the bridge to a new world, the first elements of European or even World Federation."

Reynaud later wrote in his memoirs, "Those who rose in indignation at the idea of union with our ally were the same individuals who were getting ready to bow and scrape to Hitler." As a result of these events, de Gaulle had the opportunity to recast himself as the leader of the Free French and the embodiment of French honor and pride.

Provine's Addendum:

Hitler's Operation Barbarossa, intended to be a quick victory like the Western Front, turned into a grueling, dragging battle across Eastern Europe and back. German forces initially did well, but the Soviet defense winnowed away their opponents while building a powerhouse farther east behind the lines that would push back. By 1947, Soviet troops had returned to what had been the border after the division of Poland in 1939. Many expected Hitler to call for an end, but the Fuhrer was determined to win. With Germany weakened, it became the ideal time for the Franco-British Union to liberate the occupied lands in Europe and North Africa.

While war raged in the east, the Unionists had been racing to build up its military. This third act of World War II began with a massive seaborne invasion across the English Channel alongside a naval battle in the North Sea to establish a blockade. Without German reinforcements available to support the Nazi-puppet government in France, much of the fighting fell to Spanish and Italian allies. These proved to be uninterested in supporting a Hitler-led world order that already looked to be doomed, leading to the liberation of France and its African territories within a few years. Italy, Spain, and ultimately much of Germany capitulated, the latter most in an effort to break free from the war-mad Hitler and gain Union protection rather than see all of Germany come under Soviet control.

By 1950, Europe was divided between the Union and its neighbors and the Soviet stronghold, which stretched as far as the Oder River. Tenuous peace settled as the Union focused on strengthening its control over its expansive colonies that covered Africa and nearly every territory touching the Indian Ocean. The Japanese Empire, meanwhile, continued to exert authority on East Asian countries, testing the boundaries of the United States and Soviet Union without ever provoking a full-scale war. Proxy wars soon broke out to weaken the Union's grip with Soviet-funded rebellion in India and Japanese-influenced resistance in Indochina. Meanwhile, the United States' foreign policy turned more fully to the Monroe Doctrine, exerting influence on Latin America to ensure that the Western Hemisphere maintained distance from the rest of the world.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Guest Post: Spanish Armada Dominates the Sea Lanes

In 1588, the "Great and Most Fortunate Navy" known to history as the Spanish Armada set sail from Lisbon, Portugal, with 130 ships and 30,000 men, headed for the English Channel.

A recent technology innovation was the experimental side-wheel steam ships developed by the Spanish ship captain and inventor Blasco de Garay. And yet even more fearsome than the advancements, size and power of this vast force was the illustrious choice of commander, Spain's greatest admiral who had never lost in battle, Álvaro de Bazán, the incomparable Marquess de Santa Cruz. Due to a combination of technology, tactics, timing, and outrageous good fortune, the English fleet was bottled up at Plymouth harbour. Undoubtedly, Lord Howard of Effingham and Sir John Hawkins greatly missed the remarkable skills of England's own greatest admiral, the privateer Francis Drake who had been tragically killed in the Strait of Magellan on an ill-fated expedition a decade earlier.

With the English Channel secured, an invasion force under the command of Alexander Farnese, the Duke of Parma, governor of the Spanish Netherlands, landed in Margate and his battle-hardened veterans occupied London within a week. With the Protestant Tudor state on its knees, papist forces rallied to their support, and the platform for a Catholic restoration was firmly established. Ironically, Farnese had actually proposed an alternate strategy to concentrate on the final conquest of the Netherlands instead. This would have greatly strengthened Spain's position not only against England but France as well, ending a drain on the treasury and replacing it with a source of taxes and other resources.

Bazán and Farnese were both great captains of arms that had achieved the military goal of ending the English and Dutch privateering ships that disrupted Spanish interests in the Americas. King Philip II had also achieved his political goal of overthrowing Queen Elizabeth I and her establishment of Protestantism in England. He hastily declared a historic victory so that he could begin collecting the lucrative payments that had been promised by Pope Sixtus V in the event of a successful landing. But this war chest could never be enough because the conquest of the Kingdom of England was to prove far more easy than occupation. Even though the Protestant figurehead Good Queen Bess was imprisoned in the Tower of London and later executed on November fifth, she somehow managed to get the rebellious message out to her loyal subjects, "England Expects."

Due to cost factors and dogged armed resistance the days of Spanish-ruled England were always going to be numbered but at least the stage had been successfully set for the overseas domination of Philip's successors. The long-term problem was that the invaders' religious subjugation was untenable; after all, sectarian-fueled patriotism was a heady brew. The troubled lands of the former Kingdom of England would ensure centuries of darkness, locked in never-ending waves of sectarian violence. This ongoing religious strife would only prove to be the platform for the development of a new form of thought leadership, atheist socialism. Under this radicalized political philosophy, a re-united republic would eventually arise to threaten the monarchies of continental Europe: "Remember, remember the fifth of November..."

Author's Note:

In reality, the
Marquess de Santa Cruz had died in February and the Duke of Medina Sidonia, a high-born courtier, took his place. While a competent soldier and distinguished administrator, Medina Sidonia had no naval experience. He stuck rigidly to the King's orders not to attack first unless absolutely necessary - a "fatal flaw in Spanish strategy" according to Robert Hutchinson. Hutchison also noted, "The Spanish boasted that [Queen] Elizabeth would be paraded in a cage in the streets of Rome, .. [if the Armada had succeeded] we might be speaking Spanish today."

Provine's Addendum:

The island of Great Britain was a hotbed of violence through the seventeenth century, dwarfing even the prolonged war in the Netherlands. War spilled over even into the Kingdom of Scotland, where Protestants rebelled against King Charles I. The Spanish response was initially mass executions, but the tactic only added more fuel to the fire. Soon Spanish leaders turned to deportations, sending prisoners to colonies in the New World. Not wanting to outweigh loyal colonists with too much English influence, many of the prisoners were concentrated in English Virginia, soon re-dubbed "Maryland" to clarify that the virgin was Mary, Mother of Jesus, rather than the former Tudor queen, Elizabeth.

Other English left the homeland of their own accord, whether seeking peaceful lives abroad or looking to establish colonies of their own that might escape Spanish rule. Over time, English would become a widespread language most often associated with pirates and squatters. As the socialist English republic sought to export its revolutionary ideals, the language was forbidden in numerous European kingdoms and empires. Spanish, meanwhile, grew into the global lingua franca.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Guest Post: 18 September 1937 - Juan Negrin Calls for Intervention

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

By 1937, all of the Great Powers were prepared to give up on non-intervention in the Spanish Civil War. The Republic's Prime Minister Juan Negrín forced the issue with a formal request to the League of Nations in Geneva. This request was considered by the League's Political Committee that publicly acknowledged the "failure of non-intervention," recognizing General Franco's Nationalists as belligerents.

This starkly apparent reality had been recognized a week earlier at a multilateral diplomatic conference held in Nyon, Switzerland. It began once it was clear the Non-Intervention Agreement was not preventing Italian and German aid to the Nationalists. The United Kingdom and France led the conference, which was also attended by Bulgaria, Egypt, Greece, Romania, Turkey, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Their collective goal was to use naval forces to impose the embargo because Mussolini's Italy had been carrying out unrestricted submarine warfare. In an incredible show of joint strength, their final conference agreement accused Italy directly. In so doing, the British delegation got ahead of themselves, encouraging Negrín to call for intervention, a premature action that would disastrously backfire.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, elements of the Tory Caucus clung to the delusional belief that Fascist Italy was a diplomatic conduit with Nazi Germany that could personally influence the situation due to Mussolini and Hitler's close personal relationship. However, the Italian-Ethiopian War created enormous tensions after the British tried in vain to persuade Mussolini to submit the dispute to the League of Nations. British newspapers overwhelmingly demanded that Winston Churchill be made a member of the Cabinet, the Daily Telegraph declaring "That one who has so firm a grasp of the realities of European politics should not be included in the Government must be as bewildering to foreigners as it is regrettable to most of his own countrymen."

Now into his third term of office at Downing Street, Stanley Baldwin reluctantly chose to temporarily stay on as Prime Minister, taking the incredibly brave decision to appoint Churchill as Foreign Secretary, overlooking the younger Minister of Affairs, Antony Eden who was only thirty-eight years old. Baldwin's misjudgement was that Eden would curb the excesses of Churchill's over-bold character but at the same time satisfy the country's demand for a robust Foreign Policy spokesman. Baldwin's intention was to use Winston to coerce Mussolini back into the fold, but the recalcitrant Churchill was far more concerned that Hitler's "air bridge" in southern Spain provided the decisive element that would allow the Nationalists to quickly take over the country.

Il Duce was enraged, over-reacting to the wording of the final agreement to the Nyon Conference by committing full support to the Nationalists with the enthusiastic support of Nazi Germany. But almost nobody in Great Britain wanted the Spanish Civil War to widen to a general conflict, leading to a fierce public reaction and the drama of an emergency debate in the House of Commons. The most damaging allegation of Government Policy was that Churchill's provocative multilateral attempts had undermined collective security in the League of Nations. The inevitable result was that Baldwin had to take the painful decision to replace Churchill with Eden. Baldwin himself would resign shortly afterwards, making way for his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Neville Chamberlain a full-throated advocate of appeasement who rashly promised the country "peace in our time."

Allen W. McDonnell's Addendum

Following the termination of the Non-Intervention Agreement, Great Britain and France shipped a million bolt action rifles to Negrin's Republican Government. However, Fascist Italy shipped Franco's Nationalists a hundred thousand semi-automatic rifles. This superior rifle technology,  the Breda PG chambered for 7mmx54mm Spanish Mauser, enabled the Nationalists to win the Spanish Civil War eighteen months sooner than OTL. This POD led Hitler to order a switch over of the German military to semi-automatic rifles and when the Second World War broke out in 1939, the Axis Powers were victorious over the Allies and USSR by December 1941. This conclusion meant no Pearl Harbor because Japan does not dare start a war when Europe is peaceful and there are no distractions for the USA.

OTL, the only country that bought the bolt action rifles from Italy was Costa Rica OTL and they lived it. Most of central and South America including Cuba used the 7mm Spanish Mauser from 1895-to 1955. Italy was supposed to adopt it for their soldiers before WW II but corruption and incompetent leaders in the Army blocked it until the manufacturer gave up. As a result, Italy went into the war using surplus World War One rifles just like Germany and UK did.

Author's Note

In reality, the Daily Telegraph article quoted was published two years later and the Nyon Conference did not accuse Italy directly; instead, the attacks were referred to as "piracy" by an unidentified body. 

British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden would end up resigning from his post. Mussolini scoffed at him publicly as "the best-dressed fool in Europe." This was after he had grudgingly tried to protect non-intervention in the Anglo-Italian meeting with the argument of avoiding escalation into a European-wide conflict.
 
The General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, Walter Citrine, recalled a conversation he had had with Baldwin on 5 April 1943: "Baldwin thought his [Churchill's] political recovery was marvelous. He, personally, had always thought that if war came Winston would be the right man for the job."

Friday, May 20, 2022

Guest Post: May 20th, 1861 - State of Deseret Declared

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History with input from Allen W. McDonnell, Robbie Taylor, and Thomas Wm. Hamilton.

By May 1861, eleven states had seceded from the Union. In Salt Lake City, secessionists were sufficiently emboldened by speeches from aging Mormon religious leader Joseph Smith to declare the independent State of Deseret and send ambassadors to Mexico City, Washington, and Richmond. Emperor Maximillian and Provisional POTCS Jefferson Davis received them , but POTUS Abraham Lincoln rejected the declaration and ordered Federals to suppress their rebellion.

For the settlers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), it was polygamy that had driven a wedge with the federal government. This thorny religious issue had escalated in parallel with slavery and the Confederacy also with a landmark case like Dred Scott v. Sandford. In the case of State v. Smith, Congressional rejection of Utah Territory statehood was upheld. This was due to faith-based objection to multiple marriages in the Mormon Church, despite Joseph Smith's attempt to obtain a favorable ruling under the freedom of religion provision.

Matters escalated even further when the leaders of the nascent republic recognized the principle of polygamy in their state constitution. The signatories were treated as bandits as the Federal soldiers violently suppressed the uprising. Apart from the doctrinal divergence, one reason believed for this viciousness was that many of the Federal officers were intensely jealous of the Mormons for having multiple spouses.

At the end of the Civil War, Utah Territory was finally incorporated into the Union as the Mormon Church went underground. However, the area remained a hot-bed of discontent and required the stationing of Federal Troops long after the Reconstruction Era had ended. The Mormon Wars were some of the bloodiest fought in the west's unification.

Author's Note:

In reality, Smith was killed when a mob stormed the jailhouse. There was no State v. Smith. The 1890 Manifesto of LDS Church President Wilford Woodruff to comply with U.S. law was approved unanimously.

Provine's Addendum (inspired by notes from Stan Brin): 

Fears of intolerance had nearly sparked a "Utah War" between settlers and federal troops defending wagon trains in 1857, but Smith had calmed militia leaders and taken the argument to the courts. Failing there and seeing the opportunity for a distracted Republican government, leaders hoped to have an independent Deseret established well by the time the dust of the civil war in the East settled. Although the church had good sources of food and salt with the Great Salt Lake, all manufactures had to be brought in by wagon. Attempts to industrialize were limited by spiking costs due to the war effort.

The recapture of Utah by federal troops was swift, but the rebellion had only begun. Following Joseph Smith's death, many of the church fled to Canada, settling in British Columbia. Others, led by Joseph Smith III, fought on for what they considered their rights. With rugged spaces throughout the territory, it was nearly impossible for soldiers to hunt them down completely while the rebels could strike and disappear, including the attempted assassination of President Grant at Promontory Point in 1869.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

October 1, 1804 - Russian Defeat at Battle of Sitka

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Russia was in a unique position in the fur trade. Because of its eastward claims of North American territory across the Pacific, Russia held under its domain vast territory rich with valuable fur-bearing wildlife while the western claims of other European powers had largely been tapped out by overhunting. However, the Alaskan claim was farther away from Europe than any other, requiring a ship to sail across at least two oceans either around Africa or South America or an overland trek of thousands of miles across Siberia.

Alexander Andreyevich Baranov served as the first governor of Russian America, tasked by the Russian-American Company to develop the fur trade and act as the proxy for the Tsar since St. Petersburg was some 4,000 miles away. With a mind keen for business, he moved the main Russian settlement to Kodiak for better access and established numerous outposts on other islands to facilitate trade with the native Tlingit. Pushing southward to prevent British incursion on Russian claims, Baranov purchased land on Sitka Island. In 1802, Baranov left his newly founded Sitka outpost to go back to Kodiak.

Disagreements arose between the settlers at Sitka and the Tlingit, largely based on the philosophical question of whether land could truly be owned. While the Russians documented ownership in legal writing, the Tlingit saw the “purchase” as gifts in exchange for becoming neighbors. Feuds encouraged the Tlingit to ask the Russian newcomers to leave. When the Russians refused, Chief Katlian attacked the settlement and wiped out the Russian fort. The British ship Unicorn (which had likely supplied the Tlingit with gunpowder and firearms and encouraged the attack) had been nearby and returned the survivors for a tidy ransom.

Despite the violence, both sides knew that the Russians would eventually return. Stoonook, a Tlingit shaman, pushed his tribesmen to build fortifications strong enough to withstand European-style weapons and sieges. Baranov, meanwhile, received a promotion from lower nobility to a much higher office, giving him unquestioned command over the officers of the Russian warship Neva. With Aleut allies and Russian soldiers, Baranov sailed to seize the island. Upon word that the Russians were approaching, Tlingit civilians fled while warriors gathered in the Shís'gi Noow ("Fort of Young Saplings"). A skirmish broke out when a Russians sighted a group of Tlingit in canoes bringing their gunpowder supply from another island back to the fort, but the Tlingit managed to avoid Russian cannon-fire and escape to safety inside the fortifications.

On October 1, Baranov led a landing party to assault the Tlingit fortress. The Tlingit responded with a terrifying barrage of small-arms fire that drove the party into retreat. Katlian charged after them, and the Tlingit drove the Russian force back to the water. Only the cover fire from the Neva enabled them to escape. Two of the Russians had been killed, and Baranov and more than a dozen others seriously wounded. The captain of the Neva took command, ordering bombardment of the Tlingit fortress. The wooden defenses backed by earth proved strong enough to withstand the Russian warship’s cannons indefinitely. Nevertheless, the Neva continued its assault throughout the day, pausing to call for the Tlingit to surrender. Stocked with ample gunpowder themselves, the Tlingit were in no hurry to give up.

When Baranov had recovered from his wounds enough to resume negotiations himself, he approached Katlian with a flag of truce. Baranov had been greatly humbled by his injuries and inspired by the Tlingit’s ingenuity and tenacity. At last he determined to have the Tlingit as allies rather than enemies. Katlian, Stoonook, and Baranov conducted extensive negotiations that at last settled differences in native and Russian understandings. Ultimately, Baranov’s outline for Alaskan government with large swatches of communal land between claims for permanent settlements were not too different from the historical Russian mir where serfs lived, albeit with much more self-rule.

Baranov left twenty Russians to build a new settlement as part of the Tlingit community and returned to Kodiak with his outline for an extensive colonial government largely led by native politics. With Russian efforts maintaining peace and encouraging economic growth, Baranov set out to build the colony. He appealed to St. Petersburg not for the usual requests of weapons and building supplies but for engineers and scholars who could establish methods of making weapons and industry in Russian America. Russian Orthodox missionaries contributed to the education efforts, especially in medicine for native populations such as inoculation against smallpox.

Russian America thrived as Baranov sought to bolster native economies. Geologists trained scouts in what to seek out for signs of mineral deposits, and scouts returned showing the land was rich with potential for mining. Near the Russian Fort Ross north of San Francisco, scouts told of vast gold deposits that could easily be panned. The RAC soon turned away from fur-trading and instead established mines and foundries. To encourage settlement, Tsar Nicholas I promised liberation to any serf family willing to move to Russian America. Serfs migrated by the hundreds of thousands, building up the route known as the Trans-Siberian Highway, which would become a railway in the 1870s linking St. Petersburg to Vladivostok.

Baranov never returned to Russia. When he received word that his Russian wife had died in 1807, he married his Aleut lover and legitimized his children with her in the Russian Orthodox Church. In addition to his genetic legacy, Baranov left numerous towns and geological features named for him. His efforts also contributed to the web of nations left behind as the Russian Empire transitioned into a republic following the First World War. Former Russian “colonies” that were essentially led by native governments dominated the northern Pacific including Alaska, Russian California, and Hawaii, all tied together in an economic confederation that would inspire much of the European Union decades later.

 

--

In reality, the Tlingit warriors bringing the store of gunpowder had been hit by a lucky shot from the Russian ship. The destruction of the gunpowder, along with the loss of many of the young leaders who had risked themselves to bring it, meant that the Tlingit could not last a long siege. They decided to disappear into the night so that, when the Russian landing party advanced on October 4, they found the fortress empty. The Tlingit continued with mutual distrust of the Russian settlers. Baranov’s new settlement at Sitka became the Russian colonial capital in 1808, and Baranov died on the passage back to St. Petersburg in 1819.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Guest Post: Exundation of 1919

This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

Even with the grand instruments of their day, scientists could not explain the turning point of so-called Western Civilization.

During the final stages of the Great War, the world mean sea level fell by a total of four hundred feet from where it had existed for the prior two millennia. Needless to say, this inexplicable historic event, subsequently known as the Exundation, would dictate the nature of the peace settlement. Pope Benedict XV was vindicated; he had issued an early warning that had been largely ignored like his many calls for a ceasefire. Inevitably, his view was based on Genesis, that God as a loving Father had divinely formed a new world of peace. "The war to end wars" would prove to be exactly that.

Three of the victor powers were most directly affected because of the disappearance of the English Channel and the shrinkage of the Mediterranean Sea. Great Britain, France, and Italy had enjoyed maritime dominance throughout the recent conflict. Ironically, the principal defeated Great Power, Germany, which had been starved into submission by their respective navies, was now landlocked into a permanent state of encirclement.

The victor powers' representatives at Versailles had the task of redefining borders due to the collapse of the Central Powers' sprawling empires. What might otherwise have turned into a Scramble for Africa closer to home took a very different direction. The overriding principle of contiguity prevailed, resulting in the creation of a Franco-British Union and a Scandinavian Confederation. This meant that Germany, previously a colossus of central Europe, was surrounded - some would say crowded out - by super-sized neighbouring countries. The populations of contested territories in Schleswig-Holstein, Alsace-Lorraine and Limburg had a ring-fenced guarantee of security. It would be hard to imagine a more dramatic reversal of fortune over the course of five short years.

The British and French shared foundational interests in North Africa and without the Exundation likely excluded the Kingdom of Italy from a share of the main spoils. However, her much closer proximity to their imperial possessions forced a major rethink of colonial policies. The Roman Empire had once used the region as a grain basket. What would now emerge was an innovative long-term strategy to merge these developing nations into metropolitan Europe.

The biggest irony of all was that the Second German Empire had itself been proclaimed in the Hall of Mirrors, which now had Germany as part of the new federation. This much bigger project was now begun in the very same location where Otto von Bismarck had once stood triumphant. The rebuilding of the new Europe was a long century's work. However, there was great hope for the future, in less than twenty years, the former warring parties were planning an English Channel Canal that would provide the new Netherlands with seagoing access to the Atlantic. Other irrigation projects in the Mediterranean were pursued by the Suez Canal Company. As the former British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey famously observed, "The lamps are coming back on all over Europe."

Provine's Addendum

While Europe rebuilt itself, formerly seaside nations across the world also faced challenges that required major public action. In the Western Hemisphere, cities focused on cutting channels to reopen harbors fed by rivers. On the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, major ports such as Boston, New York, and Virginia Beach were now fifty to 120 miles inland. Some cities like San Francisco and Rio de Janeiro were near enough to the new coast to found new harbors, but ultimately many populations would migrate to the newly founded cities, such as New Boston and New New York. The inland prairies turned from the Great Plains to the Great American Desert, and the Dust Bowl drove farmers away by the hundreds of thousands.

"Migrating populations" served as the major summary of world events for the century. While Europe added much arable land, other areas dried out profusely from the smaller oceans feeding a weaker hydrosphere. Some populations simply had to move toward the sea, such as the migration from inland Argentina to the new sprawling plains. Violence broke out among migrating Sunnis and Shiites in the Middle East competing for arable land along the long river valley that was once the Persian Gulf while highlands became unlivable. Prolonged violence grew in East Asia as Japan became part of the mainland by a narrow isthmus west of what had been Tsushima Island in the Korea Strait. A canal project reestablished the straight, and the cross-traffic of land and sea made Tsushima most of the most valuable economic regions in the country. Japan expanded westward in the prolonged Second and Third Sino-Japanese Wars as Chinese people migrated eastward while desertification struck Central Asia. In Southeast Asia, the vast new lands connecting the continent and Indonesia became a "wild west" of lawless territory as nations and colonizers scrambled to determine who owned what.

Sea navigation also of course changed with the Exundation, most notably in the Arctic. The Northwest Passage, which had only at last been successfully navigated in 1906, became truly un-navigable as the the Canadian Arctic Archipelago merged into a complicated series of peninsulas and isthmuses. Traversing the past North America was a moot point anyhow as the shallow Bering Strait drained, connecting Alaska and Russia by a 1,400-mile-wide land bridge. Currents warmed the southern side, which attracted immigrants from across the world seeking livable space, while the northern side continued as a frozen wasteland devoid even of the migratory marine life that once traversed from Pacific to Arctic and back.

Shorelines estimates from https://www.floodmap.net/

Site Meter