Monday, January 11, 2021

Guest Post from Allen McDonnell - "The Exundation of 1758"

 This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History. In this scenario, Allen W. McDonnell imagines the world mean sea level fell by a total of 400 feet two centuries earlier than in his guest post The Exundation of 1939.

In 1758, the world mean sea level fell by a total of 400 feet from where it had existed for the prior two millennia. This event, subsequently known as "the Exundation," would become the turning point of so-called Western Civilization.


In his last days, Pope Benedict XIV personally warned about the vision he had received early in the month of February. In the normal course of events the Catholic nations tended to have most of their ships in port on Ash Wednesday so that the crews could more easily participate in the sacrament that marked the beginning of Lent. The pope warned the French, Portuguese and other predominantly Catholic countries like Poland via communication between himself and the heads of state of each power. Some took the warning to heart and ordered their navies and merchant fleet to be at sea at least at the horizon from any shore. Others like France had intended to ignore the warning but when they discovered the powerful Venetian fleet had set every movable ship out to sea, they scrambled to get their own ships to sea in order to be prepared for any sneak attack which might be in the offing.

Finally believing it was his Christian duty to warn all mankind, the pope issued a proclamation urging that all good Catholics and other Christians should have their ships at sea for the Lent because God was going to preform a miracle and that they would regret it deeply if their ships were in port. The Orthodox Czar of Russia openly scoffed at the proclamation and ordered all of his ships to make for port in defiance of the advice. The Lutheran powers of Northern Europe were torn, but when the French repented and sent their ships to sea, they followed to prevent a sneak attack bottling their ships up in port.

With Spain and Venice putting everything to sea, the other European powers almost unanimously decided that getting their fleets out to sea "just in case" was the wisest course of action. In Catholic Latin America, the Spanish and Portuguese colonies did not get the warning in time being so distant from Europe. This resulted in hundreds of merchant ships including the heavy Galleon designs still in use for cargo transport in the region and dozens of lighter faster naval vessels normally used for chasing down pirates and moving messages as quickly as possible all becoming stranded.


In the North American British colonies, a fresh shipment of Redcoats had arrived late in 1757 and were preparing for the assault on Fort Louisbourg on Isle Royal which guarded the entrance to the Saint Lawrence River. These 1,500 men were mostly barracked on the troop ships which had ferried them across the Atlantic in the port of Halifax or for the officers and senior enlisted ranks quartered in civilian housing at the expense of the residents. No warning reached the colonists in North America for the same reason that it was lacking in Latin America. Over the great Ocean reaches, there was simply not time for even a fast courier ship to depart Europe and reach North America in the time between when the Pope issued his warning and the governments of France, the United Kingdom, and Spain reacted. It was later learned that a Spanish ship had been dispatched but ran aground on the Bahamas before reaching Saint Augustine in Spanish East Florida.

Much to the shock of the world at 6 PM in Jerusalem on February 8, 1758, the Great Exundation began. At first, nobody noticed because God is a loving Father, but at 7 PM world sea level had fallen five inches. By 6 AM the Mediterranean Sea level had fallen five feet. For the people who live inland, this could have been mistaken for the tide going out, but any experienced sailor in the Mediterranean knew that low tide was never more than a foot below mean sea level in the region because the small size of the water exchange at Gibraltar meant not that much water could move in and out of the basin in a tidal cycle. Exundation was even more obvious in Boston and Halifax where the ports routinely recorded tide levels and their records showed that as the regular tide went out sea levels on the edge of the harbor fell much further and faster than normal. Then when the tide came back in after twelve and a half hours, it peaked five feet below the expected value. If the Exundation continued for even a few days, ships in port would be stuck in the mud on rapidly drying land instead of floating in the sea. All the ships which had been at anchor were already firmly grounded by the time anyone realized action needed to be taken.

At London on the Thames river in the center of the ancient city, the change was even more obvious because the tidal range on the Thames was three times larger than that in North America. The low tide this far upstream from the North Sea had been three feet above mean sea level, and this had dropped to two feet below mean sea level while the highest tide expected that night had been 22 feet above mean sea level and had only risen to 17 feet. At this distance from the sea the river channel was nearly 60 feet deep to the bottom which was about 57 feet below mean sea level. The city of London was 115 feet above mean sea level the day before the Exundation began.

At 6 PM on Ash Wednesday in Jerusalem, world sea level had fallen ten feet from its previous average and it showed no sign of the Exundation stopping. Those captains who had been in port Ash Wednesday morning who still had vessels afloat had put to sea even if they were not really prepared for sailing wherever possible.

For the Russian navy, however, everyone had feared telling the Czar, but in Saint Petersburg he could see for himself it was too late for the Baltic fleet, the waters in the harbor were just too shallow at that end of the Gulf of Finland and the ships were all well stuck in the mud.

The Exundation continued hour by hour and day by day for forty nights and forty days. Finally at 6 PM on Palm Sunday, the Exundation ended as if it had never begun. World mean sea level had fallen a total of 400 feet from where it had existed for the prior two millennia. The parallels with the Great Flood of Noah were blatant and only a dedicated atheist could deny that they existed. An even greater parallel exists in that the inhabited coastal regions around the world find themselves in a steady drizzle of rain, gently rinsing everything for the entire 40 days but not slowing exundation in the slightest.


London was now one more city in Continental Europe because the British Isles were now surrounded by land on all sides extending west of Ireland and north of Scotland even capturing the Shetland Islands. The Thames river now merged into the Rhine and the larger river meandered north on the east side of the hills which were once Dogger Bank halfway between the hills and the Jutland Peninsula until it reached the new Gulf of Skagerrak just south of Norway. The Baltic Sea had fallen greatly in level, with the passage between Copenhagen and Sweden now a dry valley leaving the city landlocked. However the remaining passage between the Baltic and the Skagerrak passed between the wider Jutland peninsula and the former island of Sjaelland now attached to Sweden from Copenhagen all the way to the new river valley that drained the shrunken Baltic. This left the nation of Denmark with much more land than before, but with a much longer border with Germany on the south and for the first time land connection with Sweden to the east and Great Britain to the west. Negotiation of the new borders was an immediate concern.

The Baltic and North seas had for all useful purposes ceased to exist and were now dry, and presumably valuable, land. As the sea level fall had been relatively gentle, in effect lowering the high tide on every cycle until the exposed shore had declined down 400 feet, the rainfall had rinsed the slight salt content of the new land away even as it was exposed.

Birds miraculously dropped seeds which had sprouted endless seeming acres of weeds and grasses on the newly exposed land and these were growing even as the many nations bickered over where the new borders should be drawn. Initially powers drew borders half way between themselves and whatever power occupied the dry land on the opposite side of the new dry seabed as a negotiation starting point.

This left the Denmark/Sweden border just east of the now landlocked Copenhagen in the valley which now sat where the sea passage had previously been. On the south this was effectively an extension of the old Germany/Denmark border using the same standards on both sides of the wider Jutland peninsula while in the west it was half way between old England and the same former peninsula which meant the enlarge Rhine now flowed through Denmark before the Thames merged into it to pass into old England. With the lower sea level the Thames had shrunken greatly in the area through London, no longer nearly 60 feet deep it was now closer to 20 in mid channel. There was just as much fresh water as before, but now the intrusion of sea water from below no longer buoyed it up to greater depth.

In Northwest America, an even greater change had taken place with the drying of the Bering Sea placing Alaska and Siberia in direct contact. On the Arctic side of Alaska the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea were now dry land, albeit very cold dry land, and in New France (Canada) the Canadian Archipelago of arctic islands was now a peninsula bordering on the deep regions of the Arctic Ocean. The Baffin Passage and sea and much of Hudson's Bay had also drained away, leaving Greenland island now a peninsula of North America. Further south, the Saint Lawrence Estuary had shrunk and moved far east and passed just south of the British island colony of Newfoundland, which was now a peninsula jutting from the south east coast of New France (Labrador and Quebec).

The only ports in North America unaffected by the Exundation had been those on the Great Lakes, all of which were already well above sea level and isolated from the world's oceans by the Saint Lawrence river. Unfortunately these ports like Fort Ruoille on Lake Ontario and Montreal in the channel of the Saint Lawrence itself were under threat of attack by the Redcoats as the French and Indian war had been raging for several years by this time.

The great cities of the east coast now found themselves landlocked from dozens to hundreds of miles inland from the sea. Ships that had been under construction or in dry docks for major repairs were likewise now located dozens to hundreds of miles from the sea. Saint Augustine and Pensacola Florida were landlocked but the channel between Florida and the former Bahamas was still a sliver of water. The Gulf Coast of Florida was effectively now nearly 223 miles in average width where it had been 95 before exundation leaving the small port of Tampa and the administrative city of Pensacola far inland.

For every major nation outside of North America, the building of new ports on their new coastlines delayed shipping for many months. The war in North America disrupted this rebuilding effort because every port outside of the Great lakes had to be replaced but people were preoccupied with defensive works.

Philadelphia, where many ships had been built and repaired, scores of ships were now 400 feet above sea level and nearly a hundred miles as the crow flew from the newly formed coastline.


The world was unable to quickly deal with the new crisis. Italy, for example, now has a massive new area of land because to the north half of the Adriatic Sea is now dry land creating a much longer border with Morlachia, Hungary. At the same time, Sicily is now attached by land, Sardinia has grown and merged with French Corsica, and the Barbary Pirates in Libya and Tunis are landlocked because the sea is hundreds of miles further north in the new dry land of North Africa. In the majority of the Balkans and eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea the Ottoman Empire was still the major power but things had changed a great deal. The Persian Gulf had drained down into a river mostly fed from the Tigris and Euphrates arising in Mesopotamia. The Sea of Azov had likewise drained to just the Don river valley, and the Crimean Peninsula was now merged into the greater north shoreline of the Black Sea. The rivers Dnieper and Danube were still major influx sources but the lower sea level meant the flow out through the Bosporus was much more rapid and harder to sail against.

The growing British Empire is badly mauled by the fact that much of the Royal Navy is now high and dry. The Straits of Gibraltar had been captured just 54 years earlier and had become a major naval fortification to make passage by enemies more difficult. Now the passage was narrower and far below the altitude of the existing fort making the guns there ineffective. To keep their influence, a new fort at the much lower level would need to be built and the heavy guns re-positioned, none of which would be quickly nor cheaply accomplished.

In addition to the changes in the Adriatic Sea the Aegean Sea that created the unique Greek culture on hundreds of islands is now dry land and the islands are mountains in that vast plain. In Central America, the land changes are just as remarkable. the Yucatan Peninsula of New Spain (Mexico) has doubled in size, Nicaragua has a new land area 30% larger than before and narrow Panama has grown nearly 50%. The relatively short trip across the isthmus to get to the Pacific is more than doubled and the fortified ports on each side are now high and dry with trapped ships inside the dry harbors.

On the bright side, a new archipelago has formed between Nicaragua and Jamaica, a scattering of islands that much resemble the Bahamas. Speaking of the Bahamas, much like Florida their area has effectively doubled, and, instead of dozens of islands separated by water, they are now a handful of much larger islands connecting groupings of the former scattered collection. Cuba has also expanded nearly 40% and only a narrow passage now separates it from the new Big Bahama island to its north east. Directly north a new island sits between Florida. Puerto Rico has grown to nearly double its former size and includes the Virgin islands now landlocked with it to the east and Mona island to the west leaving just a narrow passage between the expanded island and Hispaniola Island, which is the least changed gaining just a few percent of land around its steep coastlines. Most of the Caribbean islands have grown substantially, often merging into larger islands including several small islands together into larger landmasses. This is not a great cultural change until you approach northern South America where the islands of Trinidad and Tobago now find themselves part of the continent.

Further along the coast, Brazil and its northern neighbors outside of Venezuela gain modestly while to the south lightly explored Uruguay adds nearly 40% to its surface area while Argentina is massively expanded as well. This does present the difficulty of making Buenos Aries and Montevideo landlocked cities where yet again many ships are stranded in these fairly young colonial cities. This is the breadbasket of South America, and the expansion of the fertile prairies into what was the South Atlantic will eventually be of great benefit. Fortunately for the people of South America, very little that they import outside of slave labor is actually crucial to their economies. Between the great widening of Argentina to the east and the doubling in size of the disputed Falkland/Malvina Islands the British colony now finds itself physically attached to Argentina. However, little quickly changes because with so much of an increase in territory, the Spanish are much too busy to worry about the old claims in the short term. The not-yet-colonized islands of Tierra del Fuego are also greatly expanded, though other than increasing ranch land for the llama and sheep ranchers, this also has little immediate effect other than the closing of the Straits of Magellan.

The fertile Nile Delta has slumped outward into the new basin, and the river is cutting its way down through the accumulated silt to the new sea level, destroying the Egyptian breadbasket and washing away all the farmland for the last 50 miles of the Nile river valley. Ancient famine will be visited on Egypt once again, and this time the Muslim majority will be blaming the Christian minority because the Pope was the one who prophesied the warning.

For Africa, the greatest effects are in the northern coast as already discussed but a few notable exceptions do exist to the "not much changes" rule. The Canary, Madeira, and Azores islands off the north west coast generally find themselves gathered into much larger islands incorporating several or even many of the smaller pre-existing islands. In the furthest south, Africa gains a new fertile plain extending the continent as much as 80 miles from its old coastline and in the north east the Red Sea is shrunken with a narrow passage at the south end still connecting it to the Indian Ocean while in the north the entire Gulf of Suez is dry parched desert. Madagascar and the small island groups near it also benefit somewhat with the small island groups forming three larger islands much as took place off the opposite corner shore in the Atlantic.

Asia undergoes the greatest changes of all. Already the largest continent Asia now extends nearly 200 miles closer to the North Pole where Siberia has expanded northward. Along the east coast, massive new dry lands are formed south of Beringia incorporating Sakhalin and the four main Japanese islands in a long volcanic arc that attaches to South Korea and China at its southern extent. This turns the Sea of Japan into an inland sea with rivers winding out through the gaps on the north and south ends of Honshu. If the Exundation is permanent, this sea may become a new Black Sea with salty anoxic water in the lower basin covered by a brackish to nearly fresh surface layer fed by the rivers flowing down from Manchuria and the mountains surrounding the sea. The Yellow Sea and East China Sea are now broad expanses of freshly exundated land crossed by the ancient Chinese rivers. This land more than doubles the highly fertile Chinese lowlands which already support 300,000,000 rice farmers with their water-buffalo-drawn plows. Taiwan is an island no longer, now a mountainous plateau at the edge of this fertile territory and the Ryuku islands controlled by Japan further out to sea have gathered their clusters into new larger islands as has been seen with so many of the archipelago groups around the world.

While only the Japanese Honshu island is an island, these smaller groups remain detached from the Asian mainland. Further south the expansion of Asia has brought Hong Kong and Hainan islands into the continent and the draining of the Gulf of Tonkin, Gulf of Siam and the Java Sea have tripled the size of Indochina and merged the three main islands of the Dutch East Indies, Sumatra, Java and Borneo into Indochina. Even more surprising the additions to Borneo have captured the islands between that massive island and the Philippines forming all that formerly diverse territory into a massive new peninsula extending northeast from Borneo with the Sulu Sea a captive sea much in the guise of the Sea of Japan further north. A few of the eastern islands of the Dutch Indonesian colony escape incorporation into Asia like Celebes and Ceram, but the giant island of New Guinea is now incorporated into Australia , becoming the new northern end of the expanded island continent. In South Asia, the Bay of Bengal is slightly shrunken adding territory to Burma and the Indian subcontinent, which now incorporates the island of Ceylon as its southern tip. The Arabian Sea is slightly smaller and as already discussed the Persian Gulf is now a dusty desert plain between Arabia and Persia.

Australia is changed almost beyond recognition, now extending north past what used to be the island of New Guinea with the Gulf of Carpentaria and Arafua sea completely drained and the Timor Sea shrunken to leave a much narrower body of water between the continent and the island of Timor in the indies. In the south the coast goes further south greatly increasing the fertile region for European crops and Tasmania is no longer a lone island but now part of continental main mass.

New Zealand is no longer two large islands in the company of dozens of smaller ones; instead, it is one very large island extending slightly further north, east and west and considerably further south. The associated islands all progressed through the conglomeration effects with the two main Chatham islands becoming one larger island and the Auckland islands forming one larger island.

Across the broad Pacific, this same scenario is played out many times with small islands and nearby islets being gathered together by the Exundation effect to form one or more much larger islands. In Hawaii the famous Pearl Harbor is left high and dry and the island of Molokai is nearly doubled in size by the exposure of its western half known as the Penguin Bank to fishermen. As a general rule, however, the Hawaiian Island chain have very steep slopes below the water line so the total additional territory in general only extends outward a handful of miles. With the exception of Molokai, none of the islands is remarkably enlarged or gathered together with recognized islands to form a new larger island.

Last but not least, in the little-explored continent of Antarctica, every ice shelf floating on the edges of the continent become hard grounded ice sheets indistinguishable from the vast dome of ice covering the interior. Because the Exundation took place late in Antarctic summer and early fall, the loosely floating sea ice was at its minimum extent, but what remained was mostly grounded on the now exposed Antarctic continental shelf covering the freshly exposed mud in a meter of stranded sea ice. As a result as the fall progressed and winter set in fresh snow falling on the newly exposed shelf fell onto this freshwater ice and started easily accumulating in place.

Because the new land has been under a rainy drizzle for the entire Exundation, it is very wet and impassable on the night of Palm Sunday; however, March 19, 1758, dawns with bright sunshine and starts rapidly drying up the exundated land to more normal condition.

The UK was now also face to face with the fact that the Royal Navy was no longer a shield between itself and Continental Europe. From a point just east of Hurd's Canyon all the way to the Norwegian Sea curving around east and north from that point, the UK was now firmly attached to Europe by land. While the UK had some of the very largest territorial gains in Europe as a result, for the first time in its two millennia history was vulnerable to land armies. France immediately takes advantage of these new facts to attack Great Britain directly in what evolves into a new Fifty Years War.

On the spiritual front, the Catholic faith is strongly boosted, and many Protestant Christians and not a small number of non-Christians convert to Catholicism because they believe the Pope really is the conduit from God to Man on earth. This even leads to a large number of Muslims in the hardest hit areas converting, though it also hardens the resolve of the most devout Islamists that this is all the work of Shaitan to mislead the masses away from the True Faith in Allah. Most of the Judaeo-Christian-Islamist faithful learn the story of Noah's flood from early childhood, and the only thing that places special emphasis on the Papacy and Catholic division is the Pope's public warning to all Christians. This leaves more than enough wiggle room for the truly devout members of other sects within the overall belief in Jehovah/God/Allah of the Old Testament to remain within their own belief but for those doubters who want miraculous proof the Exundation is plainly what they were seeking on some level.

In Latin America, it sinks in to the Spanish and Portuguese colonists that they are effectively cut off from exporting mineral wealth, sugar and tobacco to markets in Europe. They also realize they will no longer have a steady supply of African slave laborers flowing into their lands. A struggle to adapt to a more self-sufficient culture ensues.

In North America, the opportunistic Baron Jeffery Amherst sees the Exundation as a clear miracle separating him from Great Britain. At first he carries through the grand strategy drawing on colonial population to increase his military strength and using his advantages and skill to overwhelm the French fortifications, effectively ending the war in 1761. By this time, small boats have been built in the new harbors of the east coast and have discovered that the United Kingdom and France are engaged in a vast war and both sides have completely forgotten their colonies in the face of total war between themselves. Amherst surprises the colonials by declaring himself King of America as the most senior official of the now-absent British government. To solidify his throne, he creates his own American nobility, giving titles of Marquis, Viscount, Earl, and Baron to leading citizens born in the colonies almost all of whom are from the wealthiest families. A few exceptional colonial officers like Baron George Washington of limited wealth but military prowess are added into the new nobility by virtue of their usefulness to the new Royal Family. With military skill and an American Parliament meeting in Philadelphia which he selected as his capital in imitation of London. The city is now far from the coast, but the Delaware River meanders down the 400 foot slope to the new sea shore and ensures fresh water will always be available to the city, and, with a lot of work, the ships trapped in dock can be moved to the river and gotten back out to the Atlantic to serve as the core of a new Navy.

Jeffery I is a dedicated expansionist, and one of his favorite methods of negotiating with First Peoples on the edge of his nation is to gift them with blankets carefully selected from the sick beds of persons infected with smallpox. After the disease sweeps through the settlements so treated, it is a simple matter for his standing army of ruthless redcoats to secure the new territory while the nobility has the area surveyed and distributed for development. At the same time, all the newly exposed continental shelf is quickly converted into pasture lands and agricultural developments because the fast-growing seeds dropped by the birds during the Exundation are no obstacle to the plow. Surveyors mark out areas reserved as woodlots and teams of foresters bring in the desired tree species, but it will be a decade or several decades before the newly planted trees are worth harvesting for any useful purpose. Plowing the newly defined fields is mostly a case of scouring the soil for field stones and then working the new land with an ox drawn plow for planting. The short sharp brutal war on New France delays these actions for two years, but by then the sod has completely stabilized the new lands and the area is ripe for development.


After talking it over with Steve a few weeks ago, I have written up what I think may have happened if the proposed Exundation of the continental shelf had taken place 150 years after the founding of the Jamestown colony in Virginia. I hope you all enjoyed it. By this point, after the founding the English were in firm control of the coast from Spanish Florida all the way to the tip of Nova Scotia with Acadia in what is today New Brunswick being the only real exception and the French colonists there were few and far between. Climate-wise this is still "The Little Ice Age," and a modern resident of Philadelphia or Wilmington would be shocked by the cold winters and cooler summers compared to 2021. Benjamin Franklin is a successful inventor and printer in Philadelphia in his early 50's, and I see him being an early and eager convert to an independent American Monarchy. With all the wars erupting in Europe due to the Exundation, the colonial period is at the very least going to suffer a long interruption, and, in those places where the European colonists can stay in control and prosper, the old home countries will face stiff competition if they try and resume their empires once they have settled things in Europe. British North America is particularly well positioned for this breaking off of contact as the population is already undergoing rapid growth and an increasing majority of leading citizens are born Americans, not immigrants. Historically less than a century after this date the USA+Canada will have a population larger than Great Britain. In large part, this is because North America east of the Mississippi is about five times the size of the island of Great Britain, and European diseases have weakened and depopulated the natives to the point the newly born palefaces can move into these lightly populated frontiers and convert them into European-style landscapes with small farms and ranches interspersed with woodlots.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Guest Post: 30 July 1914: First Cousins Solve the July Crisis

This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

"We are readying ourselves to enter a long tunnel full of blood and darkness" - Andre Gide, 28 July 1914

Map courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Tsar Nicholas II made a bold diplomatic move in order to save his throne and avert a disastrous conflict breaking out across Europe. With Austria-Hungary and Serbia already at war, he reached out to his first cousin Kaiser Wilhelm II with an audacious proposal to partition the crumbling Habsburg Empire.

Consequently, when German and Russia began the mobilization of their Armies it was not to fight each other, but to march into Austria-Hungary. The Germans would occupy Austria proper, and also, Bohemia as well as the Trieste and the the main Austro-Hungarian naval base Cattaro. This occupation gave Wilhelm ports on the Adriatic Sea for his navy. As a result, he could more easily transit in support of his overseas colonies without being a threatening stance for the UK by placing those ships in the Atlantic or Indian oceans at the colonies themselves.

Whereas Russia obtained Hungary, Transylvania, Slovakia, and other territories while Serbia obtained freedom under the Tsar's protection. For the time being at least, these cynical moves helped to remove the imminent threat of war that had been hanging over central Europe for years.

Author's Note:

In reality, Russia continued with its mobilization despite a German ultimatum for Russia to stop. Minutes after the expiration of the ultimatum on 30 July, a tense scene between the German and Russian ambassadors in Moscow played out. The German ambassador asked three times if Russia would reconsider, and each time the answer was "no." The German ambassador breathed shakily, pulled out a written note, and handed it to the Russian ambassador. It was a piece of paper that would put Germany and Russia at war by the next morning, plunging Europe into the flames.


Provine's Addendum:

While Wilhelm's sense of pride had been preserved and a Russian intervention with Serbia avoided, the diplomatic actions postponed war in southeastern Europe only by months. Every people-group in the diverse Austro-Hungarian Empire had its own reaction to the partition. The Czechs in Bohemia announced their insult but were changing one German emperor for another and largely shrugged at the occupation. Ukrainians and Poles, some with family already in the Russian Empire, felt that they might have a stronger voice in the long term. Slovaks adapted readily with some even glad to be rid of Czech political influence.

Italians in Trieste welcomed German fervor in controlling the Slovene populace, which had a middle class growing rapidly under industrialization. Tensions grew hotter and hotter, especially as the Croats and Serbians in the south campaigned for their independence. In 1918, rebellion broke out among the former A-H sailors now part of the German fleet due to disagreements with their commanders and sailed for Montenegro. The chaos expanded across the countryside with numerous groups of the western Slavic people calling for independence like Serbia and Montenegro had seen from the Ottomans a few decades before. Used to quick wars such as that with France and Austria, the Prussian-led German forces found themselves in a quagmire of unrest and guerilla warfare. The battles dragged on for years until tactics modeled on the Boer Wars cracked the local nerve with mass prison camps and many thousands of dissenters shipped off to German colonies.

Meanwhile, Russia faced its own growing pains. Hungarians had managed a dual-monarchy in 1866 after the Austro-Prussian War, and now they found themselves as a second class once again. So distant from Moscow, many Hungarians called for outright independence. Similarly, many Romanians in Transylvania argued to be joined with the Kingdom of Romania, which had won independence in its theater of the Russo-Turkish War in 1878. Many Russians agreed with them but feared setting nations loose might make for a dangerous precedent with others who could rebel. Czar Nicholas II, who preferred boating to nation-building or war, relied more and more on the Duma, the elected federal congress that had been born out of concessions from the Russian Revolution. The diversity within the empire became more and more obvious with every election, especially as industrialization freed up serfs and built feelings of nationalism among those minorities in the middle class. This nationalism would feed into a new wave of independence movements that would largely dismantle the Russian Empire in the 1950s and '60s, spinning off some twenty-three nations.

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.

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