Thursday, December 28, 2017

December Guest Post: Smuts Enters Constantinople

This post originally appeared on Today in Alternate History

December 9, 1917

On this day in alternate history, the First Empire Army led by future British Prime Minister, Field Marshall Jan Smuts, captured Constantinople.

Back in May, Prime Minister David Lloyd George had sought a commander of a "dashing type" in order to inflict a crushing defeat of Ottoman Turkey and boost Allied morale. Unfortunately the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, which had once numbered a mighty three hundred thousand men, had been drained of resources for the struggle in Flanders. Before Smuts would agree to be George's hero, Smuts demanded, and was given, reinforcements from Australian Corps, Canadian Corps, NZ Division, Indians, and the new tanks to drive a campaign that General Haig, commander of the Western Front, didn't believe in.

Nevertheless, this decision to ensure a victory "of the Easterners" had still managed to enrage the other involved parties in Europe. Ultimately, the reluctant French were bought off with the promise of a French flag in Beirut and Alexandretta. However, General Haig, who was on particularly bad terms with Lloyd-George, had created a very great deal of dissent amongst the Tory back-benchers in the House of Commands. Later in the year, the situation in France would indeed deteriorate, although the arrival of American Forces would eventually overcome this set-back. Smuts, meanwhile, used his new resources to capture the heart, and then the whole of the eastern Ottoman Empire.

Of more lasting consequence was the effect on the plan to offer a Jewish Homeland. This endeavour was already imperiled by contradictory promises of sovereignty to various Arab Princes. Moving ever more centre stage, Smuts then recommended a relocation to copper-rich Northern Rhodesia, a proposal that was accepted with less resistance given that the indigenous people had even less say that the population of Palestine. To seal the deal, it was accompanied by a British guarantee of minority rights for religious Jews in an Arab Palestine.

By now an Imperial Statesman of the highest order, Smuts and his colleague Louis Botha were war heroes that had both played a key role in the victorious British Army during the Great War. Smuts would soon succeed Botha as Prime Minister of South Africa upon the death of the latter in 1919. Twenty years later, Smuts was invited to re-join the Imperial War Cabinet, and, in Westminster, he was talked about in private as a potential substitute for Winston Churchill should the old lion perish during war-time. The irony of this was of course that Churchill, despite being on good terms with Smuts, had conceived the earlier Dardanelles operation that had failed to capture Constantinople. Nevertheless, this contingency was put by Sir John Colville, Churchill's private secretary, to Queen Mary and then to George VI, both of whom warmed to the idea.

This contingency proved necessary when Winston Churchill suffered a fatal heart attack while staying at the White House as a result of the sinking of the Repulse and the Princes of Wales almost twenty-four years to the day that Smuts had entered Constantinople. Smuts would then lead the Empire to victory, but, by the end of the war, he confronted a new form of nationalism that would threaten his legacy both in South Africa and also in the Zionist Homeland he had helped to create.

Author's Note: In reality Smuts refused refused the command (late May) unless promised resources for a decisive victory, and he agreed with Robertson that Western Front commitments did not justify a serious attempt to capture Jerusalem. Allenby was appointed instead, and he did capture Jerusalem on this day OTL.

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