Monday, March 18, 2019

Guest Post: 15th March 1935 - Aleppo Canal opens

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

Against all expectations, the "sick old man of Europe" was re-born as the new country of Ottomanistan, a rich oil-producing Caliphate, in the two decades that followed the Empire's humiliating defeat in the Gallipoli Campaign. Inevitably, the victor powers' influence in the region sharply declined during that same period.

The reason for this reversal of fortune was the growing revenue from the kerosene trade that had rejuvenated the Caliphate's coffers. This was a welcome development because the old empire had been heavily burdened by the still unpaid debts to Western banks that dated back to the Crimean War. At last the return to Great Power status was surely marked around the world by the iconic picture of Jamal Pasha the Bloodthirsty and tribal leaders opening of the Aleppo Canal connecting the Mediterranean Sea with the Euphrates River. This shorter route offered advantages over the Anglo-French owned Suez Canal although it required a complex series of engineering works to succeed. This included dams and fresh water reservoirs in order to prevent salt water from polluting the agricultural hinterland.

The end of six centuries of empire had been widely predicted prior to the outbreak of the Great War. It was the British Admiralty that had conceived the breakthrough idea of triggering this collapse. They planned to capture the Dardanelles using outdated naval ships unfit for combat against the German fleet. This initial gambit ended in failure, but in a second attempt, the New Zealand and Australian Division and the Australian 1st Division made landfall. Of course, had the Entente Powers not switched the invasion point to Suva Bay, then Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Kemal would be alive and Enver Pasher perhaps still in charge of the military triumvirate.

Instead, Ottoman participation in the Great War ended with the Armistice of Constantinople. The ancient Greek province of Thrace was returned to the Hellenic Kingdom, and Anatolia was formed into an independent new buffer state. Western Allied forces occupied the straits and the city of Constantinople was ceded, under existing Treaty obligations, with some reluctance, to the Tsar. This was justified because keeping Russia in the war was a strategic objective of the Western Allies. Even though Russian forces had been less than twenty miles away, this marked the historic (if arguably, undeserved) achievement of a long-term Imperial policy objective. Not only was the Russian Black Sea Fleet now engaged, but massive Anglo-French supplies and reinforcements could be sent to relieve the pressure on the Eastern Front. To support this thrust, the Royal Navy was given freedom of the straits and a port in the Aegean. Consequently, the outcome was a win-win for the Entente Powers, if not actually a war-winning game changer as originally hoped for.

Of course the departure of sixty million citizens of Turkic origin transformed demographics for Ottomanistan. Declaring a new capital in the Syrian city of Aleppo, the sixteen million remaining Ottoman citizens were predominantly Arabic, and Ottomanistan retained control of the Islamic religious centre of Medina. The new Grand Vizier would be Jamal Pasha, the former Governor of Aleppo, following Enver Pasha's resignation due to the humiliation of defeat. A confident and charismatic national leader, this proved to be the first step in the recovery of Ottoman fortunes. As world demand for petroleum increased, the country that was seen as a shadow of its former self suddenly found great wealth in its natural resources and power in competing offers of alliance with old enemies and allies in Europe.

Author's Note:

In reality the failure to secure the high ground at ANZAC Cove led to a tactical stalemate with the landings contained by the defenders in a perimeter less than 1.2 mi (2 km) long. In this scenario we have used the more favourable landing site of Suva Bay that was used later in the campaign under the hopelessly incompetent generalship of Sir Frederick Stopford. The picture shows Djemal Pasha with Iraqi tribal leaders, celebrating the completion of the al-Hindya dam on the Euphrates river near al-Hilla, south of Baghdad.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Guest Post - VJ Day Delayed

If there was irony as well as tragedy in the propaganda phrase "Loose Talk Costs Lives" then it was because the experimental physicist Luis Walter Alvarez was shocked and appalled by Truman's wildly inaccurate depiction of the bombing of Hiroshima. The president had mistakenly said that the energy of the blast was equivalent to 20 kilotons of TNT, the measurement of the test bomb at Alamogordo, New Mexico. Of course he might have been exaggerating simply because he had threatened the "complete and utter destruction" of Japan in his Potsdam Declaration. Alvarez, however, knew for certain that it was only 13 kilotons. This was because of the radio transmitter-based measurement device that he had parachuted out of a chaser plan flying directly behind the Enola Gay.
Even had it been blatantly ignored by the military hierarchy, the measurement would still be required for the bombing of Nagasaki even though Alvarez was not assigned to the operational mission. This proved to be a costly miscalculation because he decided to take matters into his own hands. Whether through guilt or anger, but certainly for the wrong reasons, Alvarez took the fateful decision to attach to the device a warning letter addressed to a scientific colleague called Ryokichi Sagane, a physicist working at the University of Tokyo. The letter was edited by two of Alvarez colleagues, Bob Serber and Phil Morrison.

The Japanese military recovered the letter and handed it to Sagane on August 11th. The emotional Alvarez liked to think that maybe his persuasive words would play a role in the rapidity of the Japanese surrender. If so, he was very badly mistaken because Sagane deduced from his words that the United States had exhausted its stock of enriched uranium.

The Imperial Japanese Government agreed with him but in the present moment were equally if not more concerned by the rapid advancement of Soviet forces. This fear was actually shared by the Americans who would have a third bomb (fourth if one counted the test) ready by August 18th. Due to Alvarez breaking the rules, it would be necessary to drop this device on the city of Kokura in order to end Japanese procrastination before the Soviets could make a move on Japanese territory.

As events were to transpire the shape of the post-war world had been transformed in the very moment that Sagane opened the fateful letter of warning. The Soviets learnt of this development via intercepted signal traffic. With their forces crossing the Yalu River, they decided to act upon this intelligence by declining the American request to pause the invasion of Korea at the 38th parallel.

Meanwhile, the Chinese cities of Nanking, Tientsin and Shanghai were occupied by the Red Army. The consequence of this would be that China, rather than Korea, would be partitioned along the Yangtze River following VJ Day. In the long-run this outcome might well have saved Chiang's Nationalist regime but in the present moment the Soviet expansion in the Pacific was unexpected. Indeed it seemed to many in the West that the atomic bomb had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. This proved not to be the case because Nationalist China, strongest of the Asian economic Tigers, became the bulwark of American power in the Pacific long beyond Chiang Kai-shek's death in 1975. The continuation of his rule had enabled the government of South Vietnam to weather the storm of civil war.

Author's Note: In reality, Sagane did not pass the letter until after the war, and Alvarez did not actually sign it in his name until much later in 1949.

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