Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Guest Post: France Cedes Alsace (and not Lorraine) under Treaty of Frankfurt

This post originally appeared on Today in Alternate History.

August 22, 1871 - France Cedes Alsace under Treaty of Frankfurt 

"If France persists in wanting the republic, which would be a bad neighbor for Germany, we will persist with our territorial demands" ~ OTL Chancellor Bismarck in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War

Culturally and dialectically German, Alsace had been French territory for over two and a half centuries. This occupation was to keep it out of the hands of the Spanish Habsburgs, despite it being heavily contested between France and various German states in wars and diplomatic conferences. 

The latest external threat had come from the Prussians who had inflicted a series of defeats that brought the Second French Empire to the verge of disaster. Not needing to be reminded that it was Marshall Bl├╝cher's Prussians that turned the tide at Waterloo, the French Emperor was determined to seek a different fate from his illustrious uncle. After yet another defeat at Beaumont-en-Argonne, Napoleon III decided that instead of simply leading his troops in a charge to break out, it was time to find a new way to fight.

This tactic resulted in the onset of Trench Warfare at Sedan. Although France had avoided a military collapse, the victory was German's. Nevertheless, Wilhelm's territorial ambitions were sharply diminished. Bismarck wisely cautioned against the collapse of Bonapartist rule because it would likely backfire by creating a vengeful republican neighbor. 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/22/Alsace-lorraine.JPG/1200px-Alsace-lorraine.JPG Napoleon III reluctantly ceded the disputed territory of Alsace to Kaiser Wilhelm I under the provisions of the ill-fated Treaty of Frankfurt. Consequently, Lorraine remained in French hands, Napoleon III remained on the throne, and talk of a Capetian restoration or a republican overthrow came to naught.

Trouble was still around the corner because Napoleon refused to recognize the new German Empire. Despite the peaceful intentions of elder statesmen, the separation of Alsace-Lorraine was to open the door to a second Franco-Prussian War fought by their successors. Napoleon IV succeeded his father in 1873, whose dying words were, "Be brave as we were at Sedan." During his reign the Second French Empire invested heavily in efficient railway infrastructure that enabled troops to be rushed to the border and dig in with only hours' notice.

In response, the Germans developed a military machine with the intent of breaking trench defenses. The "kampfwagen" ("battle wagon") was an armored motorized transport powered by steam. After Bismarck was fired by Wilhelm II in 1890, the new king paid a needlessly provocative visit to Strasbourg that humiliated France's national prestige. His assassination by a French-speaking Alsatian stoked the cinders of the still-burning dispute and triggered the outbreak of a devastating conflict in Europe. New diesel-powered kampfwagene stormed France, conquering Paris in a matter of weeks.

Wikipedia Note:

In reality, following an armistice with France, the Treaty of Frankfurt was signed on 10 May 1871, giving Germany billions of francs in war indemnity, as well as most of Alsace and parts of Lorraine, which became the Imperial Territory of Alsace-Lorraine. French determination to regain Alsace-Lorraine and fear of another Franco-German war, along with British apprehension about the shifting balance of power towards Germany, were among the factors that caused World War I.

Jeff Provine's Note:

In reality, Napoleon III ordered several attempts at breaching the German siege at Sedan. By September 2, when it became obvious that they were trapped, Napoleon surrendered himself and his massive army. The French Empire collapsed, and the resulting Treaty of Frankfurt would unify Germany under the rule of Wilhelm. Napoleon III would be exiled to London, where he would die in 1873 with his last words, "We were not cowards at Sedan, were we?"

 Provine's Scenario Addendum:

After the fall of Paris, France faced peril not only from German invasion but from republicanists suggesting the imperial government-in-exile at Orleans should be removed. Napoleon IV had successfully created a line of defense in the Loire River, blowing bridges and ensuring water flowed deeply enough to flood any potential diesel engines trying to cross. With modern warfare still being largely experimental, the emperor was open to ideas, prompting the Philippe, the pretender Duke of Orleans, to present a battle plan. Philippe had come to France illegally in 1886, breaking the law of exile, and lived in Switzerland when not adventuring in Africa and Asia.

Following Philippe's strategy of semi-scorched earth, French soldiers attacked the German supply lines and destroyed all possible sources of diesel fuel. Soon the German army found itself trapped far behind enemy lines with kampfwagene that were little more than artillery placements already low on ammunition. German attempts to free the army in Paris were as ineffectual as the French incursions into Alsace and the Rhineland. The war dragged on with both countries growing weary until at last a new peace was made. With no territories exchanged and photographs of devastated French land stretching for miles in the newspapers, much of Europe was disgusted by the seeming pointlessness of war. Germany even famously sat by, watching Russia attempt to meddle in Balkan affairs alongside the crumbling Austro-Hungarian Empire to the detriment of both.

In France, Napoleon IV received much of the blame despite his efforts to make the nation ready for invasion. Military historians note that without his improvements to infrastructure, the nation would have collapsed, but, at the time, Napoleon IV had to abdicate to save his house from being ejected from France. His cousin Victor became Napoleon V, causing trouble even among the Napoleonists who argued it should have been Victor's father or even his popular younger brother Louis. They were united, however, in that the Duke of Orleans should not come to the throne, as many called him the "Savior of France." Victor proved to be a good compromise overall, appealing to republicanists with his moderate politics and never backing down from the growing Orleans faction.

Germany, meanwhile, puzzled over the military struggling in a conflict that should have been won as quickly as the earlier Franco-Prussian War. It was agreed the issue was supply, so Wilhelm II's government invested heavily in Zeppelin's designs of airships, creating ones massive enough to carry industrial payloads. As the airships were easy targets for high-speed smaller aircraft, a generation of designers made improvements such as anti-aircraft defenses, internal lift-bags, and helium harvested from uranium mines. The demand for helium drove many of the schemes of Wilhelm III (then Prince Wilhelm and later "The Empire-Builder") to industrialize German colonies and build relations with the United States. Other designers focused on improving combat airplanes to serve as escorts, developing lighter, faster engines. Military advisers worldwide agreed the next war would be won by air superiority.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Guest Post: Graham Island

This post first appeared on Today In Alternate History

10 July, 1831 - Graham Island emerged, following a month of intense seismic activity, as a full-grown islet between Sicily and Tunisia in the Mediterranean Sea.

During August, sailors of the Royal Navy ship of the line HMS St Vincent planted the Union Jack. Claiming terra nullius (free for anyone to occupy), they named the island Graham, to honour the First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir James Graham. The triumphalist report from Captain Humphrey Fleming Senhouse spurred Graham to declare the island a strategic foothold in the Mediterranean. Naval reinforcements were promptly dispatched to prevent French or Sicilian privateers from gaining control of the area at the heart of European shipping routes.

Even before these vessels could arrive, a four-way sovereignty dispute had developed. Claiming for the Bourbon crown, Sicilians sent their own ships, naming the island Ferdinandea after the King of the Two Sicilies, Ferdinand II. Yet even they were beaten to the chase by the French Navy who made a landing, and called the island Julia, because it was born in July. It was also in reference to France's July Monarchy, which had seen the Orleanists overthrow the Bourbons. Spain, too, declared its territorial ambitions.

None of these four nations would back down although the appetite for conflict was limited so soon after the Napoleonic Wars. After several naval clashes, the short-lived War of Graham Island would be won by Great Britain. However, the Royal Navy's victory would have profound long-term consequences for the whole continent. The significance of the war was disguised by the humiliating loss of national prestige that would mark the end for Louis-Philippe, King of the French, and his ill-fated July Monarchy. Meanwhile in Naples, Ferdinand also faced serious challenge to the continuation of his unpopular rule.

Out of this military reversal, the former Dauphin Louis Antoine, Duke of Angouleme, restored Bourbon rule at the reluctant acquiescence of the Chamber of Deputies. Given the fact that he was childless, the reason for this surprising move soon became clear when a personal union was declared with the Kingdom of the Sicilies. Under these arrangements, the son of Ferdinand II would marry into French nobility and become the Bourbon monarch in 1861. This powerful combination would frustrate both Garibaldi's plans to unite the Italian peninsula and Bismark's dream of establishing a Second German Reich, not to mention Napoleon's nephew's political ambitions in Paris.

By the centennial anniversary of Waterloo, it was clear that France was once again master of continental Europe. Feeling strong enough to make a second move against Graham Island, the French Navy launched a naval assault in 1915. Due to the interventions of the Bourbon Empire, London was prevented from allying with powerful states such as Italy and Germany whose national ambitions had been thwarted. Instead, Great Britain had to hastily assemble a coalition of forces in the German Federation, Italian states, and potentially in Eastern Europe to confront this belligerent power grab. The liberal MP Edward Grey unenthusiastically remarked "The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime."

Author's Note:

In reality, the island sank after five months and is currently twenty feet below sea level.

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