Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Guest Post: Blucher Victorious at Waterloo

 This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

June 18, 1815 - The Duke of Wellington's untimely death at the farm of Le Haye Sainte was a tragic moment that changed continental Europe forever.

Britain had been the only consistent enemy against Napoleon, and Wellington was the most senior and important Allied commander. Although Waterloo was superficially similar to John Churchill's Army of Europe and their famous victory at Blenheim a century earlier, appearances were deceptive. Despite the highly visible British-led command structure at Waterloo, only thirty-six percent of the Anglo-allied Army was English-speaking. The rest were German speakers, sourced by King George IIII as Elector of Hanover and also from the Dutch, Walloons, and Flemish.

Ultimately it was the Prussian Marshal Gebhard Blücher's and not George's armies that saved the day as Napoleon marched to eliminate his enemies one-by-one before British, Prussian, and Austrian could unite into a force nearly six times France's size. Although they did arrive late, they defeated Napoleon's last reserves, the senior battalions of the French Imperial Guard infantry. As a matter of fact, the Prussians would have been there very prominently from the outset had Wellington not made the unforgivable mistake of setting off late. French troops overwhelmed the 400 German defenders there, and eye-witnesses recounted Wellington's death as heroic as Horatio Nelson's a decade before. Though Napoleon had beaten the Prussians at Ligny two days earlier, Blucher's troops reformed in the east and led to Napoleon's defeat and capture.

The German victory at Waterloo ended Napoleon's return to power and resulted in his final abdication. Given the strength of the Seventh Coalition, these outcomes were widely expected. More improbably, it brought forward by several decades the formation of a Second German Empire immediately after the collapse of the First French Empire. The negotiation of the Treaty of Paris provided the earliest signs that the Prussians intended to lead the German states in the domination of the continent. In London, British cabinet members quickly realized that they had fallen out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Author's Note:

In reality, the victory of the British-led coalition was over-attributed to Wellington and by some accounts he exaggerated the importance of his own role. "By God!", he added, "I don't think it would have been done if I had not been there." But it would not have been done without the Germans.


Provine's Addendum:

Holding Napoleon bodily proved to be a powerful bargaining chip during the Congress of Vienna for Prussia. King Frederick William III was a mousy and unimposing who had joined the Coalition war effort reluctantly despite French invasion of Prussia. During the negotiations, however, Prussians used their advantage to secure the whole of nearby Saxony under their rule, a move that soon cascaded into an empire. As Napoleon had dissolved the Holy Roman Empire, he was decided to be fit for rule over the German-speaking areas were reorganized beneath him as a new German Empire. Britain immediately balked as George III was also King of Hanover, but special status becalmed British anger. It proved moot in 1837 when William IV died and his brother Ernest Augustus became king in Hanover as Victoria was ineligible being a woman.

The move elevated Frederick William to an imperial status, which forced him to create bureaucratic bodies for delegation rather than overseeing everything himself as he had always done out of fear of failure due to his inferiority complex. Ultimately the emperor would find delegation comfortable, leaning on his advisors to conduct imperial business while he focused on his personal project of unifying the Protestant churches in Prussia. His son, Emperor Frederick William II, proved extremely popular taking steps to heal the Protestant and Catholic divide through his empire. His wife, Elisabeth Ludovika of Bavaria, was Catholic until their marriage, and Frederick William patronized the Cologne Cathedral following the conclusion of long-time issues with the archbishop.

Prussian authority grew through the nineteenth century as Austria's power waned. Frederick William II, a diehard romantic, had always considered Vienna to be the higher power, but his brother Wilhelm, the new regent upon the emperor's retirement due to ill health in 1861 and then emperor in 1871, held very different ideas. Austria lost its hold on Italy through a series of wars and was gravely weakened in authority by the Hungarian revolutions beginning in 1848. When Franz Josef invoked the Holy Alliance to suppress Hungary, Frederick William II had been eager to supply troops in aid. By 1866, however, Wilhelm's armies marched against Austria to affirm German borders and "liberate" Bohemia as a new buffer state between the two. The spinoff of the new country began a cascade that broke the empire into its component parts based on ethnic groups. When the dust settled, Franz Josef was King of Austria, which was soon a client state of the German Empire.

Rapidly industrializing, Germany soon began numerous rivalries with the other imperial giants of Europe. In the Balkans, Germany and Russia worked to dismantle the Ottoman Empire into new states such as Bulgaria and Albania as well as furthering the borders of Greece, then each tried to extend influence over them. Abroad, Germany established colonies in Africa and the Pacific, winning more territory as concessions of the Franco-German War in the 1890s. Had the war gone on longer, many strategists believed Russia could have been brought in to create a second front and defeat Germany, but mechanized warfare gave German advantage early on. Strategists then speculated what the next great war would be; although no one could be certain, they all agreed that Germany would be at its heart.

Notes on Addendum:

The Prussians only gained the northern part of Saxony in 1815, which suited Frederick William III fine. When the 1848 revolutions offered the crown of a united Germany to Frederick William IV, he refused it, believing Vienna was the proper authority over Germany and that an elected rabble could not take its place (he was said to have called the offer a "crown from the gutter"). German unification would come gradually through the Austro-Prussian War and Franco-Prussian War.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Guest Post: de Santillan saves the Spanish Treasure Fleet

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

June 8, 1708

The incomparable Spanish Navy admiral José de Santillán was placed in command of a large treasure fleet that comprised fourteen merchant ships, a lightly armed hulk, and three escorting warships.

From onboard the flagship San José, he master-minded his infinitely dangerous assignment to safely transport over two hundred tons of gold, silver, and emeralds extracted from holdings in South America to Europe in order to fund the ongoing effort for the War of the Spanish Succession.

The situation was going very badly for his once-great nation because the Bourbon King Louis XIV had conquered swathes of the Spanish Empire on the continent. Eventually, he succeeded in placing his grandson Philip on the Spanish throne via diplomacy. He sought to reverse the decline of Spanish power as a stepping stone to establishing a united Europe under a single Bourbon monarch.

The Grand Alliance of England, the Netherlands and Austria stood in his way, and they had the great fortune to have John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, as commander of the Army of Europe. It was at this vital juncture that a major hurricane decimated the Royal Navy squadron in the Caribbean led by Charles Wager. His greatly reduced forces were swept aside by the treasure fleet in a desperately one-sided affair in Cartagena, fought off the northern coast of Colombia in the Caribbean coastal region.

The safe arrival of the treasure fleet radically changed both the fortunes of war and the recovery of Spanish prestige. Ever since the overwhelming Anglo-Dutch victory at Blenheim three year earlier, it seemed likely that the reconstituted Grand Alliance would defeat the French and Spanish Bourbons. Instead, the Alliance would be defeated long before the death of Louis XIV in 1715. His son Louis XV survived a smallpox scare to eventually establish the Bourbon super-state that Wager, Churchill, & co. had fought so hard to prevent. One unintended consequence of this success was that the rivalry with French colonies in the Eastern Hemisphere sowed the seeds of another Iberian War.

Author's Note:

In reality,
de Santillán decided to sail from Portobelo to Cartagena on 28 May because he could not wait much longer as the hurricane season was approaching. The rest of the fleet, plus their escort under Jean Du Casse, were waiting in Havana and threatened to leave without him. The battle ended in a British victory over the Spanish fleet. Lost at sea the greatest treasure ship starting the hunt for the legendary shipwreck and its $20 billion worth of treasure. Wager, the hero of the hour, later served as First Lord of the Admiralty from 1733 to 174.

Provine's Addendum

With the Dutch suppressed, the British navy depleted, and Spain effectively a puppet of Paris, Portugal was France's main overseas rival for valuable colonies. Bourbon merchant fleets swiftly scooped up the Dutch territories in India and the East Indies, reinvesting the income in building their naval defense. Rivalries broke out in India and Africa, and when the War of the Austrian Succession in 1740 offered a chance for the Bourbons to be militarily distracted, the Portuguese launched a campaign to reestablish dominance of trade in the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, with the Bourbon's new ally Prussia switching sides from the previous Grand Alliance, the distraction did not last long as Austria, the Netherlands, and Great Britain were dealt another round of serious blows. Portugal, too, this time felt costly invasion. Through the coming decades, the Bourbons redoubled their efforts at dominating the Far East trade at sea while encouraging a Prussian-led German state as a buffer against the growing powers of Sweden and Russia as the Hapsburgs declined. Great Britain, meanwhile, had enough of continental wars and determined focus on its colonies in the Western Hemisphere, ensuring loyalty against potential expansion of New France or New Spain.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Guest Post: Franco-British Union

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

Kent, Dover, June 10, 1940 -

In a joint address forever known to history as Toujours Ensemble ("always together"), Winston Churchill and Paul Reynaud paid tribute to the secret heroes of Operation Dynamo. These were the incomparably brave Franco-British Union soldiers who sacrificed their evacuation to defend the Dunkirk perimeter. This rearguard action had become necessary due to the collapse of the Western front and the surrender of the Belgian Army on May 28th. Emergency orders had then been issued "Every man for himself, make for Dunkirk." Franco-British commanders hastily met to establish a strategy for the defense of the Dunkirk beachhead itself. Churchill privately considered this outcome to be "a colossal military disaster," but he had no choice but to roll with the punches since he desperately needed Reynaud's cabinet to accept his offer of a complete merger of the two countries and thereby avoid French capitulation.

Absent this complicated political dimension to the problem, it would have made far more military sense to evacuate Allied forces earlier without such a narrow squeak. Both Churchill and Reynauld offered an unconvincing "Never Surrender" pledge, but French cabinet members had lingering fears of "fusion with a corpse." Meanwhile, other disgruntled figures on the periphery included General Charles de Gaulle, the "Man of Destiny" who had planned to form a Free French Army in the event of his government surrendering along with the Dutch and Belgians. The hero of Verdun, eighty-four year old Phillipe Pétain, wanted to avoid total destruction, threatening to veto the proposal because he preferred a Nazi dictatorship to being part of a French/UK government. Another minister muttered "Better to be a Nazi province. At least we know what that means."

In binary terms, the anti-Union faction of the cabinet considered the offer a simple choice between surrendering to Great Britain or to Germany. Given their resistance, it was just as well that the Union proposal had been voted on before Dunkirk. After all, the sense of defeatism would have only been super-charged by popular anger had thousands of French troops had been killed enabling the British Expeditionary Force to evacuate. This perceived abandonment at Dunkirk would have created a wedge between the two Allies with the threat of the French fleet falling into German hands. "I was somewhat surprised," wrote Churchill, "to see the staid, solid, experienced politicians of all parties engage themselves so passionately in an immense design whose implications and consequences were not in any way thought out". Churchill put his doubts aside and told the cabinet, "In this crisis we must not let ourselves be accused of lack of imagination."

Even if Churchill and Reynaud had aptly demonstrated the potential to coexist in harmony, the undeniable truth was that the nature of Union was a largely legal and symbolic one. After all many French military units had been forced to surrender because their positions were untenable. Even if France was a mostly defeated nation, and the Union brought French division home to England, the benefits obtained by Churchill were very tangible. The legitimate Franco-British government had the authority to order the French fleet to sail out of harm's way and join the Royal Navy's activities. Similarly, French colonies remained associated with the Allies. The outward appearance of strength was far greater without French capitulation, as Churchill had intended all along - a continuation of the national alliance for mutual defense. This strategy was not without risk because it tempted Hitler to accept Franco's ludicrous offer at Hendaye: a Spanish military alliance in exchange for French North Africa and Gibraltar, which would have been an unacceptable condition for a surrendering French government.

The Dunkirk perimeter had been replaced with a different kind of political encirclement that trapped Churchill and Reynaud. It would have been less confusing, if not outright better, if Reynaud had persuaded his cabinet colleagues to continue the fight from North Africa after the formation of a French government-in-exile. The military reality was that the Western front had been fought to a stop as obviously intended by the German Halt Order. Regardless of their unconvincing saber-rattling and bold rhetoric, a peace settlement between the belligerents was clearly in everyone's best interest. The Axis Powers had no realistic prospect of pressing for victory and actually wanted to completely re-focus their forces on the forthcoming invasion of the Soviet Union. Whereas, the nascent Union had a path to recovering the French mainland, and , potentially, breaking up the short-term government arrangements that had yet to properly form.

It was under these radically altered circumstances that Allied leaders were to face renewed pressure to seek terms with Hitler because the continuation of the war only threatened to bankrupt the nation without any obvious benefit. The Toujours Ensemble speech had included a wistful, hopeful reference to American intervention. In fact, U.S. President Roosevelt was yet to decide whether to declare a national emergency and re-invoke the Espionage Act of 1917 to control shipping in American waters and in waters near the Panama Canal Zone. FDR himself was under intense domestic pressure to act as ceasefire broker, a personally attractive route that would allow him to retire at the end of the year. Albeit the outbreak of war, the only reason to continue would have been to protect his legacy: the continuation of his social programs was at risk under the Republican Wendell Wilkie or indeed his own vice president, "Texas Jack" John Garner.

Author's Note:

In reality, apart from French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud, other French leaders were less enthusiastic about a declaration of union, considering it an alliance of circumstance. He resigned that evening without taking a formal vote on the union or an armistice, and later called the failure of the union the "greatest disappointment of my political career." Churchill's private secretary said, "We had before us the bridge to a new world, the first elements of European or even World Federation."

Reynaud later wrote in his memoirs, "Those who rose in indignation at the idea of union with our ally were the same individuals who were getting ready to bow and scrape to Hitler." As a result of these events, de Gaulle had the opportunity to recast himself as the leader of the Free French and the embodiment of French honor and pride.

Provine's Addendum:

Hitler's Operation Barbarossa, intended to be a quick victory like the Western Front, turned into a grueling, dragging battle across Eastern Europe and back. German forces initially did well, but the Soviet defense winnowed away their opponents while building a powerhouse farther east behind the lines that would push back. By 1947, Soviet troops had returned to what had been the border after the division of Poland in 1939. Many expected Hitler to call for an end, but the Fuhrer was determined to win. With Germany weakened, it became the ideal time for the Franco-British Union to liberate the occupied lands in Europe and North Africa.

While war raged in the east, the Unionists had been racing to build up its military. This third act of World War II began with a massive seaborne invasion across the English Channel alongside a naval battle in the North Sea to establish a blockade. Without German reinforcements available to support the Nazi-puppet government in France, much of the fighting fell to Spanish and Italian allies. These proved to be uninterested in supporting a Hitler-led world order that already looked to be doomed, leading to the liberation of France and its African territories within a few years. Italy, Spain, and ultimately much of Germany capitulated, the latter most in an effort to break free from the war-mad Hitler and gain Union protection rather than see all of Germany come under Soviet control.

By 1950, Europe was divided between the Union and its neighbors and the Soviet stronghold, which stretched as far as the Oder River. Tenuous peace settled as the Union focused on strengthening its control over its expansive colonies that covered Africa and nearly every territory touching the Indian Ocean. The Japanese Empire, meanwhile, continued to exert authority on East Asian countries, testing the boundaries of the United States and Soviet Union without ever provoking a full-scale war. Proxy wars soon broke out to weaken the Union's grip with Soviet-funded rebellion in India and Japanese-influenced resistance in Indochina. Meanwhile, the United States' foreign policy turned more fully to the Monroe Doctrine, exerting influence on Latin America to ensure that the Western Hemisphere maintained distance from the rest of the world.

Site Meter