Monday, February 19, 2018

Guest Post from Allen McDonnell - "The Exundation of 1939"

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

In what came to be the turning point of so called Western Civilization the Pope personally warned Benito Mussolini about the vision he had received early in the month of February 1939 that all ships needed to be far out to sea on Ash Wednesday. 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 also warned the French, Portuguese and other predominantly Catholic countries like Poland via communication between himself and the heads of state of each power. Some, like Benito Mussolini, took the warning to heart and ordered their navies and merchant fleet to be at sea at least 100 km from any shore. Others like France had intended to ignore the warning but when they discovered the powerful Italian 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 on February 19th, 1939, urging that all good Catholics and other Christians should have their ships at sea for the next week because God was going to preform a miracle and that they would regret it deeply if their ships were in port during Lent.

Stalin openly scoffed at the proclamation and ordered all of his ships to make for port in defiance of the advice. Hitler initially planned to do the same, but once Stalin had made such a big deal out of ordering his navy to port he decided a 'training exercise' was in order and commanded his navy and merchant shipping to all leave port ASAP and rendezvous at an undisclosed location south of Iceland.

With Germany and Italy 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 South America the Brazilian, Argentine and Chilean fleets had all also deployed at the advice of the pope and even the small navy of Mexico had joined in the general deployment though they all did so strictly on faith. The pope said it was God's warning they should follow and in these very catholic nations the people in control knew if they disobeyed the warning and something bad happened as a result the populations of their countries would rise up and overthrow them for letting it happen.

In the USA, none of the government officials took the warning very seriously, including the Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Leahy, but when every other navy including the British and French fleets deployed he felt it was prudent to put most of the American fleet to sea in response. While the US Navy did have replenishment ships of its own the Merchant Marine was totally independent in peacetime and whether a shipping company ordered its vessels to sea was an individual decision.

Much to the shock of the world at 6 PM in Jerusalem on February 21, 1939, 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 Washington D.C. where the Washington Navy Yard routinely recorded tide levels and their records showed that as the regular tide went out sea levels on the edge of the basin fell much further and faster than normal, and when the tide came back in 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.

At London Bridge 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 on the Potomac in North America. The low tide this far up stream 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 Soviet navy however everyone had feared telling Stalin his decision had placed the fleet in danger and when they finally brought the news to him he had refused to believe it until his personal envoy traveled to Leningrad and confirmed what was happening. By the time the report came back 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 by the time Stalin ordered his navy to sail. The only place the USSR had not lost any naval vessels was the Black Sea fleet where the Admiral had realize the Exundation was taking place and had ordered his ships to weigh anchor and relocate in deeper water maintaining their relative distance from the new shoreline. As a result when the sailing orders came his ships were able to spread out into the central Black Sea easily. In the far North and far east a few larger ships were stranded but the harbors had been deep enough that the 36 hour delay in sailing orders had not trapped them all.

Image courtesy XKCD's "What If?"
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 half way 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. Bird dropped seeds had sprouted endless seeming acres of weeds and grasses on the newly exposed land and these were sprouting even as the many nations bickered over where the new borders should be drawn. The eventual consensus in the League of Nations was to draw the new border equidistant from the prior borders of the land which had existed before the Exundation.

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 North West 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 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 in Canada the independent colony of Newfoundland was now a peninsula jutting from the south east coast of Labrador and Quebec and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence had likewise narrowed into the Saint Lawrence River for most of its area. 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 worlds oceans by the Saint Lawrence river. With some dredging to make sure sea going ships could make it all the way to Lake Ontario the ports of Rochester, New York and Toronto, Ontario were the first major ports back in business for international traffic. The old Erie Canal extending from Buffalo to Albany New York was also able to deploy barge traffic down the now much longer Hudson river to the new coastline of the Atlantic Ocean by midsummer. 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. Miami Florida was landlocked but not badly because the channel between Florida and the former Bahamas was still a sliver of water between, but the Gulf Coast of Florida was effectively now nearly 223 miles in average width where it had been 95 before exundation. Miami became the first American port city outside of the Great Lakes able to provide dock space to the thousands of ships stuck at sea for lack of docks.

For every major industrialized nation outside of the USA and Canada the building of new ports on their new coastlines delayed shipping for many months. The USA and Canada were also engaged in this rebuilding effort because every port outside of the Great lakes had to be replaced, as did naval bases. Army and Air corp bases suffered no losses, but the huge naval complex at Philadelphia where the US Navy built and repaired many of its ships was now 400 feet above sea level and nearly a hundred miles as the aircraft flew from the newly formed coastline. The Exundation in Louisiana and Texas ended crude oil exports instantly because the big oil tankers could no longer get to the ports where the pipelines could fill their cargo tanks. This was a major blow to the European economy as well as Japan because both regions were major importers of American crude oil. Just as bad the Persian Gulf had itself become dry desert land creating a much greater barrier between middle eastern oil and export. The same was true of the Indonesian colonies of the Dutch which had been a major oil supply and cash supply for The Netherlands, again ended at least in the short run by lack of access. The worlds third largest exporter, Venezuela, was similarly troubled in South America.

The Industrialized world, just recovering from the Great Depression, 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 Yugoslavia. At the same time Sicily is now attached by land, Sardinia has grown and merged with French Corsica and the colonies in Libya and Tunis are extended hundreds of miles further north in the new dry land of North Africa. The British Empire is badly mauled by the fact that the Suez Canal is now high and dry in the desert and re-excavation is simply not a realistic option. The Straits of Gibraltar and the passage to the Black Sea are still open but both are narrower and carry swifter currents. 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 Mexico has doubled in size, Nicaragua has a new land area 30% larger than before and narrow Panama has grown nearly 50%. Of course like the Suez the canal named for the country is no longer functional and whether it can be extended in both direction to reach the sea is an open question for later times. 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 and Cuba with Cuba laying claim to it and the USA not disputing the claim because it it nearly all beyond the old half way point between the two countries. 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 nearly unchanged 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 where Venezuela is eager to incorporate them into itself. At the time of Exundation Venezuela had the third largest oil producing nation on Earth and though it is now cut off from easily shipping oil and refined products to the rest of the world it is still quite able to haul oil and products overland to its neighbors. It also doesn't take long to extend barge capability down the longer rivers creating the ability to use coastal barge traffic to haul the same crude or fuel to neighboring countries more cheaply. Trinidad is more or less conquered as soon as it becomes attached to Venezuela because the government wants to exploit is oil resources and add them to Venezuela's own ASAP. With the drying of Lake Maracaibo and the Gulf of Venezuela additional oil drilling in areas that used to be submerged is greatly simplified and will lead to additional oil production within a few years, as will test drilling in likely locations throughout the newly dried coast regions.

Further along the coast Brazil and its northern neighbors outside of Venezuela gain modestly while to the south 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, but this is the breadbasket of South America and the expansion of the fertile prairies into what was the South Atlantic is of great benefit. Fortunately for the people of South America very little that they import is actually crucial to their economies. Exporting grain and livestock to Europe in exchange for manufactured goods had served them well, but a lack of radios or even cars was not a major blow so long as everyone was well fed and healthy. 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 actually changes because with so much of an increase in territory the Argentinian's are much too busy to worry about the old claims in the short term. The islands of Tierra Del Fuego shared between Argentina and Chile 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. Unless something happens quickly the 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 were 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 South Africa gains a new fertile plain extending the country 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 from whence the canal had gotten its name 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 600,000,000 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 the Japanese main islands are no longer islands 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 French 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 split between the British in the east and Dutch in the west 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 India; 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 Iran.

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 if 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 and 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 spring drizzle for the entire Exundation it is very wet and impassable on the night of Palm Sunday however April 3, 1939 dawns with bright sunshine and starts rapidly drying up the Exundated land to more normal condition. League of Nations diplomats had already agreed upon the new border arrangements having rapidly negotiated them during the preceding nearly six weeks as an emergency measure, but once the Exundation ceases and everyone can see where the new borders lay Hitler is no longer willing to be satisfied with his modest gains.

The proposed new borders of Germany left Hitler's nation landlocked with the UK/Denmark division of the former north sea and the French/UK border following the center of the former English Chanel from the Belgium-Dutch/UK line to where the Seine river crosses the line of the Channel Islands. From that point west their is a cut out to include the former islands in the UK, then the border is Hurd's Deep canyon. The Seine enters Hurd's Deep north of the Channel Islands, trapped by the the now exposed Hurd's Deep canyon. From west of the former islands the new agreement follows the Seine through the canyon all the way to the now distant Atlantic.

The issue is while Hitler can accept a border half way into the Baltic Valley (former sea) between Germany/Denmark-Sweden on his east accepting a similar agreement to the west with the German border synonymous with the Belgian-Dutch border and crossing over to the Denmark/German border leaves Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany just as landlocked as Luxembourg or Hungary.

Unwilling to concede and give up even his moderate naval ambitions Hitler orders the Wermacht to conquer Denmark and incorporate it into Greater Germany. While war with the UK and France is still undesirable beating up on Denmark not only restores his access to the Norwegian Sea, it also effectively doubles the size of 1933 Germany by adding half of the North Sea Basin to the gains already made in the dry Baltic extensions. June 20, 1939, Hitler declares war on Denmark and his forces invade, carefully stopping in the Baltic valley at the new Sweden/Denmark border but advancing in the Jutland Peninsula and Dry Seas to the west until they reach the Skagerrak Gulf and Norwegian Sea. The UK and France are appalled by German aggression and teeter on the edge of declaring war but developments had been too rapid for the governments to have guaranteed the new territorial integrity agreed to in the League of Nations as being worth going to war. 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.

Hitler is generous in his peace terms with Denmark, at least in his own opinion. Denmark agrees to become a 'protectorate' of Greater Germany and gets to retain King Christian X on the throne. They even get to retain their territory in the Baltic and a narrow slice of land west of Jutland. However they are allowed police forces only, no military of their own, and all local laws are subject to review and modification by Germany. The vast expansion of Denmark west of Jutland beyond the new line is conceded to Germany placing the majority of the Rhine River extension in German control and giving Hitler back the access to sea for his navy. Hitler immediately orders a new naval base be built at the new mouth of the Rhine on the Skagerrak gulf and soothes the UK and France with statements that all of his territorial ambitions have now been satisfied.

Further east Stalin is no longer the least bit concerned about the UK or France coming to the rescue of the former Baltic states which escaped the USSR at the time of its founding and takes the opportunity to invade Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia as well as Finland. The small states fall quickly and the exundated land in the Gulf of Finland and Gulf of Bothnia are easily seized, but when it comes to advancing into Finland proper the Red Army is far less successful. The unfortunate sailors of the Baltic Fleet whose ships were all stranded find themselves relabeled Red Army troops and on the front lines against the Finns who have more snipers than anyone had imagined possible before the war. Officers and Sergeants are effectively targeted and every time the Red Army advances a few miles it looses a dozen commanders. An Army without leaders is just a disorganized mob that isn't going anywhere fast.

In the far east Japan is able to seize nearly all of the new Chinese land and this gives them half of what they were seeking in their war against China, land to expand their population into. the other thing they desire, cheap Chinese laborers, is easily available in the portions of China already conquered and soon Japanese farms and businesses are popping up from Taiwan to Korea across the dry seas. The USA has more than enough to deal with in North America to keep it busy and the China War drops off the list of important political factors for the next few years.

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 Islamist's 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.

2 comments:

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