Thursday, January 28, 2021

Guest Post: Agadir Crisis Leads to War

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

July 1, 1911 - On this fateful day in alternate history, the Kaiser's naval intervention in the Third Morocco Crisis turned to disaster when the German gunboat SMS Panther exploded and sank in Agadir Harbour.

The Germans had a limited goal of gaining compensation for French expansion, but they also sought to test the strength of the Great Power alliances. Choosing Morocco for such a test proved unwise because the only interested parties were Great Britain, France, Spain, and Germany. Unsurprisingly, the remaining three parties, the Ottoman, Russian, and Austro-Hungarian Empires, all withdrew from their alliance obligations.

The Kingdom of Spain had barely recovered from their disastrous war with the United States and was facing ignominious humiliation to stay in control of Spanish Morocco. An escaped anarchist had made a recent assassination attempt on the king's life. Despite the appeal of the kaiser's extravagant promises of both Gibraltar and Morocco, the Spanish did not trust the Germans to come to their relief in either the Pyrenees or the Mediterranean, instead expecting to see combat on the Franco-German border in a repeat of the Prussian victory of 1870. Alfonso XIII was actually more much concerned about hanging onto his throne. Also, another obstacle was that he was married to Victoria Eugenie, daughter of Queen Victoria. Consequently, he had no choice but to refuse to join the Germans in fighting the remaining Entente powers.

Forced to make a decision, and under pressure to climb down, the kaiser consulted with Alfred von Schlieffen. The maniacal former Chief of Imperial Staff had developed the battle plan for a one-front war against the French Third Republic. This "Schlieffen Plan" had been successfully tested in war games during 1901 although it necessitated the invasion of the low countries, whose neutrality had been guaranteed by Great Britain. Since Great Britain had committed itself aggressively ever since Lloyd-George's Mansion House speech1, neither man considered this a key factor in the decision.

The ageing von Schlieffen had feared he would not live to see the result of his strategic genius. Not only did he consider the military conditions to be highly favourable, he was absolutely convinced that there would be no better opportunity. He was to be proven right, the Germans would emerge victorious from this Great War. But not long after von Schlieffen's death in 1913 there would emerge fresh evidence that it was subversive elements of the German military that were actually behind the sinking of the so-called Panthersprung.

Wikipedia Note:

In reality, negotiations between Berlin and Paris resolved the crisis: France took over Morocco as a protectorate in exchange for territorial concessions to Germany from the French Congo, while Spain was satisfied with a change in its boundary with Morocco. There was talk of war, and Germany backed down. Relations between Berlin and London remained sour.
1) We assume an earlier speech at Mansion House triggered by the sinking of the German gunboat, changing the timescale of events.

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