Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Guest Post: Monty Remains in Command

This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History, a variant of Jeff Provine's scenario December 8, 1943 - Eisenhower Dies in Jeep Accident.

July 19, 1944

It was tragically ironic that General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, was killed in a non-combat related mechanical accident caused by an equipment malfunction in his signature Willy's 4x4 staff jeep. Rugged, reliable, and highly maneuverable, this famed workhorse of the American military had replaced equines in everything from cavalry units to supply trains and had been hailed by Ike himself as, alongside the Dakota and the Landing Craft, one of the three most important tools in the war.

A staff officer who had never seen combat in his 27-year career, Eisenhower had run Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) off-shore from England. The death of this soldier-statesman was a fateful act of destiny since Ike had been travelling to Tac to relieve General Bernard Law Montgomery of his command of the 21st Army Group, which comprised all Allied ground forces engaged in the Battle of Normandy (Operation Overlord). His mentor, Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), Alan Brooke was sharply critical, observing that "Ike knows nothing about strategy and is 'quite' unsuited to the post of Supreme Commander. It is no wonder that Monty's real high ability is not always realized. Especially so when 'national' spectacles pervert the perspective of the strategic landscape."

Despite very clear explanations in written briefings, Ike had failed to grasp Monty's strategy. Worse still, Monty's desire to remain withdrawn at Tac created a communication gulf allowing misunderstandings to arise. The historic significance of this tragic event was that Monty was still in command during the American break-out, Operation Cobra. This precious victory was earned by the hard-fought, but woefully under-valued, Operation Goodwood, the frustratingly slow British break-out that had convinced his antagonists, Ike, his British deputy Tedder, and Churchill to sack Monty. In simple military terms, Goodwood had started surprisingly well but stalled at Caen, whereas Cobra started very badly but ended in glory. Misunderstood from the start, Goodwood was the launch platform for Cobra, bought in the heavy cost of British lives that proved Monty was a true coalition soldier in the tradition of Wellington, Churchill, et. all, who had also commanded Allied forces dominated by non-British nationals.

Ever since the invasion of Sicily, the hero of El Alamein had taken damaging blows to his reputation, mainly due for his abrasive character enraging his superiors. Monty's standard bluff that "his plan was working" had carried him through the worst period of his illustrious career. Regardless of Brooke's observation on "national perspectives," the reality was that American troop count dominated the British who were at the limit of their manpower. Of course, Ike was only a puppet for Roosevelt who sought to sharply diminish British influence in military strategy. However, Monty's destruction of 23 of Hitler's 38 divisions was a towering accomplishment that simply could not be ignored, and so he continued as Allied Ground Forces Commander while the more-humble American General Alexander Patch was appointed to run SHAEF. The only realistic alternative would have been to send US Chief of Staff George Marshall to Europe, and as Roosevelt had told him, "I didn't feel I could sleep at ease if you were out of Washington." Even though Monty lacked the naked unchecked aggression of US generals, it would only be due to his meticulous defensive planning that the German counter-attack through the Ardennes would be anticipated and crushed in December before the line could even bulge.

Author's Note:

In reality, Monty negotiated a temporary relief for his command although Ike took over on September 1st when Churchill promoted him to Field Marshall as a consolation prize. In Generals: Ten British Commanders who Shaped the World, the author Mark Urban offers the perspective that the Battle of the Bulge was caused by Ike's broad front strategy and Monty's intervention was the approach he had been arguing for throughout the Second Battle of France.

Provine's Addendum (with input from comments by Stan Brin and Mike McIlvain):

The death of Eisenhower sent a wave of gloom through the Allied nations, especially the United States, whose propaganda machine worked to ensure Eisenhower was seen as a hero despite dying in a simple vehicular accident. It changed Army protocol, keeping officers out of jeeps and driving in more stable, secured vehicles. Patton himself may have become a casualty, but he lived long after the war as a military adviser for decades into the Cold War. Historians can only postulate how many other commanders lived from what could have been lethal accidents in the Korean War.

Monty's strategies were criticized as leaving much of the western front stuck between Belgium and Holland with the more southerly armies directed by American generals getting no farther than Baden-Wurttemberg before meeting the USSR troops pushing from the east. Still more criticism came that he was protecting English-speaking lives at the cost of Soviet soldiers, while others felt that he had deprived the western Allies of more victory. Monty himself defended his record and became an outspoken conservative as the Cold War expanded, especially in the People's Republic of Austria and the troubled multiple states such as the People's Republic of Bavaria after Germany had been "balkanized" with Soviet insistence.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Guest Post: Western Allies attack the soft underbelly of the Axis without Eisenhower

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.


May 21, 1944 -

Allied Command undertook a comprehensive re-evaluation of the landing operation for the invasion of France. This successful attempt to regain consensus followed the tragic death of Major General Dwight D. Eisenhower in a jeep accident one day after being unceremoniously appointed Supreme Commander in the coming Operation Overlord.

Having proven himself as supreme commander of a mixed force of Allied nationalities, services, and equipment on the battlefields of North Africa and Italy in 1942 and 1943, Eisenhower's ill-fated, botched appointment in a handwritten note from FDR to Stalin was an advancement over nearly four hundred more senior officers. The reason was that the job was considered largely political, not military tactics, and it was rather telling that his specialty was with logistics and his organizational abilities. Suffering from bad health and a fiery temper, he outwardly displayed confidence and serenity. But the main problem was he had lacked any direct combat experience during his twenty-seven years as an army officer and his broad front approach had been strongly resisted by his commanders. They much preferred a narrow front, a divisive conflict of opinion that brought into question their own vainglorious ambitions for becoming the architect of victory. Selecting a solitary ground forces commander would make matters even worse. The lack of respect for his credentials was self-evident from an argument he had with Bernard Montgomery. Eisenhower put his hand on Montgomery's knee and replied: "Steady, Monty, you can't speak to me like that; I'm your boss."

Rightly or wrongly, this broad v. narrow front circular argument was trapped in the logistical constraints inherent in Northern Europe. Logically, the only way to resolve this problem was to launch the main attack in Southern France through North Africa by an extension of Operation Torch and the invasion of the Italian peninsula. This of course was nothing more than the original logic of Prime Minister Churchill's soft belly strategy. The British had favored a more peripheral strategy that centered in the Mediterranean. As early as the Second Claridge Conference in July of 1942, he was firmly against the idea of an assault on the heavily defended northern shore of France.

Having restored harmony by substituting the broad v. narrow front with an agreed two-front approach, one fresh problem emerged. There were insufficient landing craft to launch both invasions simultaneously. However, the choppy waters of the English Channel would not be suitable until early June. This was the basis of an opportunity for going early in the south and this army group to proceed up the Rhone River and eventually occupy the right flank of the Allied offensive. It was therefore agreed that Normandy would be the second landing when the weather permitted, with Supreme Commander Allied (Expeditionary) Force George Marshall in charge of Montgomery, Patton, and Bradley in command of three separate army groups.

Their revised approach to attacking Fortress Europe had many secondary advantages over the original plan: the flatter beaches of the Côte d'Azur for amphibious assault, calmer weather in the Mediterranean and a side-step of the Atlantic Wall just as the Germans had masterfully taken with the Maginot Line. From a political perspective, Montgomery was given the honor of leading the first assault in Provence with Patton and Bradley in the rear driving the assault in Normandy. It was felt that this separation of command would avoid personality clashes and power struggles between Anglo-British commanders. Their strategic goal for this pincer movement was to make the German occupation of France untenable, forcing a withdrawal that would end the war before Christmas.

The impressive sight of the Royal Navy arriving in considerable force off the southern coast of France was a great delight to Churchill & co. Onboard were Montgomery's Expeditionary Force comprising British and Canadian Forces plus a French Army reluctantly serving under his command on the promise they could liberate Paris. They managed to successfully establish a beachhead, but, characteristically, Monty delayed his drive inland until he had accumulated overwhelming superiority. By this time, the second landing was ready for go-ahead and, following moments of savage fighting on the beaches, was executed at great speed by American forces. An early sign of aggressive intent was signaled by Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr. arriving on Utah Beach as he repeated Pershing's famous words, "Lafayette, we are here!"

Hitler, wrongly believing that the pedestrian landing in Provence must be a feint, launched a furious counter-attack to "throw the Allies back into the English Channel." The centerpiece of the assault was a counter-attack from Mortain towards Avranches to cut off the American breakthrough at its narrowest point. Tragically, Roosevelt would die of a heart attack shortly thereafter; at the time of his death, he had been recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross to recognize his heroism at Normandy. The recommendation was subsequently upgraded, and Roosevelt was a posthumous recipient of the Medal of Honor. Meanwhile, the uniquely American victory at Mortain would be the beginning of the end of the Second Battle of France. Montgomery and de Gaulle were infuriated with this lack of attribution as junior military partners, but they ultimately had fallen victim to their own hubris in being part of the first landing. This maneuver of course was the wily Marshall's plan from the very beginning.

Author's Note:

In reality, although initially designed to be executed in conjunction with Operation Overlord, the Allied landing in Normandy, a lack of available resources led to the delay of the second landing until August.

Provine's Addendum:

Marshall was hailed as the Hero of Europe, again much to the disdain of British military leaders as his fame continued into peacetime with a Nobel Prize for his plan to rebuild postwar Europe. While many hoped he would run for president, Marshall declined, and Omar Bradley instead won the 1952. Montgomery looked to imitate the peacetime political careers of American and French Allies, using his position as commander of the Western Union to tie the UK much more closely to the continent and ultimately shifting the capital of what would become the European Union to London. Patton, meanwhile, continued his service with the military, being among the first advisors in South Vietnam.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Guest Post: Biden VP in '80

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History with input from Robbie Taylor.

July 12 to July 15, 1976 - Democratic National Convention

Former Governor of Georgia Jimmy Carter arrived in New York City with enough delegates to clinch the Democratic nomination.

A Washington outsider and devout Christian certain of his own position, Carter felt a heavy weight of moral leadership responsibility to create an appearance of party unity, which had been sadly lacking in the 1968 and 1972 Democratic Conventions. This imperative was foremost in his mind, a primary consideration behind his choice of running mate. By inclination, he favored Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale, a "flexible liberal" and a protégé of Hubert Humphrey, as his running mate. Obvious alternatives included Edmund Muskie, Frank Church, Adlai Stevenson III, John Glenn, and Henry M. Jackson. All of these candidates offered regional advantages and other perceived benefits.

Taking soundings at the convention, Carter, a virtue-signaler, was tempted to make a more daring choice. Thirty-three-year-old "Blue Collar" Joe Biden of Delaware was the first senator to endorse Carter's presidential bid when he was a long shot. Certainly he had an inspiring personal story of family-based redemption, hope, and faith that resonated with Carter who was humble and supremely ethical. Like Mondale, Biden was also flexible, liberal on civil rights and liberties, senior citizens' concerns, and healthcare but conservative on other issues. Born in Pennsylvania, a state that was showing unexpectedly close polling figures, Biden offered more potential impact on the 27 electoral college votes. Delaware was smaller in area than Minnesota, but the "First State" was more populous. And finally, he was considered a better conduit for campaign funding.

To Carter's lasting disappointment, Biden was ineligible due to the Twelfth Amendment requirement that a vice president must be constitutionally eligible to the presidency. He would be thirty-four years old in November, so, being below the threshold of thirty-five, he could not fulfil this requirement. Nevertheless, Carter enthusiastically offered him a speaking slot, and Biden delivered a fine, if not somewhat emotional, address to the convention. Thereafter, he helped Carter by vigorously campaigning in the north-east.

Mondale, who delivered a well-received acceptance speech, soon proved his worth. He put in an impressive performance at the first-ever Vice Presidential Debate. Held at the Alley Theatre in Houston, Texas, Mondale was an assured figure to the 43.2 million viewers who tuned in. Due to Ford's gaffe in the second presidential debate, these televised performances played an unusually significant role in the 1976 race.

Mondale was a key participant in the negotiations between Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin that resulted in the Camp David Accords. But tragedy would strike during the Iran hostage crisis when VP Mondale bravely undertook a dangerous mission for his country. He was killed in a plane crash en route to the USS Midway (CV-41) in the Indian Ocean. In the final year of his first term office, Carter desperately needed an inspiring choice of running mate to beat Ronald Reagan. His thoughts immediately returned to Biden. Although much less of an activist vice president than Mondale, he freshened up the campaign much as Gerald Ford had sought to do in replacing Nelson Rockefeller with Bob Dole.

A former lawyer with a sharp mind, Biden distrusted Reagan's hawkish patriotism and exposed his back-channel dialogue with the Iranians. This October Surprise transformed the voting calculations handing Carter-Biden an improbable narrow victory in the polls. In a magnificent gesture, Carter famously sent Biden to meet the embassy hostages when they disembarked from Freedom One, an Air Force Boeing C-137 Stratoliner aircraft, upon their return.

Author's Note:

In reality, Mondale has been credited with shifting the US Vice Presidency into having a more substantive role in an administration as an advisor to the president.

Provine's Alternative Ending:

Unfettered from Carter, Mondale continued his efforts toward the presidency and worked alongside Biden, who was thought still too young to lead the free world in the presidency itself but was applauded as vice president. The Mondale-Biden ticket won in '84, managing to convince the public that they could recover from the second act of the double-dip recession as readily as the Oval Office had in the earlier part. With inflation under control, unemployment low, and wages matching the increased productivity thanks to the Democratic partnership with unions as well as increased automation in industry and offices, American workers in the 1990s came to a four-day workweek as predicted in 1956 by another then-vice-president, and ironically Republican, Richard Nixon.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Guest Post: NATO invasion of Dominica - October 1982

This post courtesy of Sea Lion Press.

The small and poor island of Dominica in the Caribbean had lunged from crisis to crisis since independence in 1978. Its initial prime minister was the incompetent and brutal Patrick John of the Dominica Labour Party, who in his first year oversaw civil service strikes, loss of banana crops due to the banana board's failure to provide antiviral sprays, and a bitter fight with a gang of Rastafari criminals known as the Dreads who grew marijuana in remote farms and raided nearby towns and plantations for food, money, and young girls they kidnapped and whose attacks on tourists had reduced tourism. John had four years earlier passed the the Prohibited and Unlawful Societies and Associations Act, better known as the Dread Act, which made it illegal to be a Rastafari, to have dreadlocks, or to support the political philosophy of the Dreads, who had openly talked about burning down Dominica's towns. More than that, anyone who was covered by this law could be arrested without cause and, if killed or injured by anyone within a dwelling, the person who assaulted them was immune from prosecution. Essentially, John had made it legal to kill anyone with Dreadlocks, despite committees he appointed to look into this confirming that the vast majority of Rastafari on the island were peaceful activists with the violent criminals being a small minority.

He had also created a full-time professional army called the Dominica Defense Force, which John was personally in charge of and which was de facto a militia of men loyal to Patrick John as a person rather than the government he represented. In May 1979, John banned public gatherings, protests, and strikes altogether, a desperate attempt to silence his critics. It didn't work. Huge crowds gathered outside the Government Headquarters, and, when the DDF came to move them on, they threw rocks at them. The DDF then opened fire, wounding several protestors and killing Phillip Timothy, a nineteen-year-old. This led to the collapse of John's government due to outrage and, at the next election, Eugenia Charles of the Freedom Party became Prime Minister.

Charles's government would not last long. In May 1981, the DDF, whose leaders were publicly suspended due to accusations of drug dealing, launched a surprise attack against the Dominican police force in an attempt to overthrow Charles's government. The police had the better of the early fight, but the DDF had unexpected reinforcements from a band of American and Canadian mercenaries led by Mike Perdue and recruited primarily from racist hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan. While the mercenaries were poorly trained and suffered large casualties, with the likes of Don Black dying early, they were well armed and added extra bodies to the fight. Soon, the DDF were able to accept the surrender of Charles and her government, with them leaving the island at gunpoint to go into exile. Charles would ask for support from Ronald Reagan to overthrow the regime, support that was initially hesitant as the USA came to grips with what exactly the second John government would look like.

However, things had not gone all the way of the DDF. Their plan had also involved an alliance with the Dreads, but the Dreads had double-crossed them and, forewarned about the battle, had attacked both sides, further reducing the number of armed men available to John. Thus when the socialist firebrand Rosie Douglas retreated to the northern town of Portsmouth and declared a shadow government there, John couldn't immediately attack him. Moreover, John quickly fell out with his mercenary allies who treated him with contempt and demanded large amounts of money and for him to let them run the island as a criminal's paradise, a center for cannabis and cocaine production and trafficking, to meet the increasing demand in American cities as well as a hub of the arms trade and a gambling center where dirty money could be spent in casinos, something that John felt would lose him his allies on the island who viewed him as a tough on crime leader.

The island quickly spiraled into chaos with Perdue, Douglas, and John vying for control and the Dreads thriving in this chaos. The increase in crime also burdened John's remaining international reputation, especially when he allowed the Barbadian arms dealer Sidney Burnett-Alleyne to use the island as a depot to sell to Apartheid South Africa, which was condemned by François Mitterrand, who had Dominica surrounded by two French islands. While the Reagan administration had hoped to come to a deal with John and wanted any intervention to be against the Communist rulers of nearby Grenada, the possibility of Libyan-backed Douglas gaining control scared them enough that they soon openly supported a restoration of the rightwing Eugenia Charles. In October of 1982 NATO forces invaded the island to restore order.

Note: In real life, the plan to restore John was discovered and stopped prior to it being carried out.

Provine's Addendum

Vice President George H.W. Bush had already been hoping to expand the CIA and U.S. military in the growing international drug war, but seeing all of NATO step in promoted ideas of stronger, Western-capitalism-driven involvement. Through international anti-drug treaties, the U.S. and allies could find open doors into just about any third world country to step in militarily to crack down on drug operations. While many supporters praised successful operations, critics accused it of being a new wave of colonialism or simply a waste of taxpayer money and soldiers' lives. Efforts at home to dry up demand for drugs such as the DARE program proved largely ineffectual. By the time of the Obama administration, it was evident that a change was needed leading to the legalization of marijuana and decriminalization of harder drugs, instead focusing on addiction treatment.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Guest Post: UN adopts P5+N9+R1 formula

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History with input from Robbie A. Taylor and Thomas Wm. Hamilton.

Oct 25, 1971

The official recognition of the People's Republic of China (PRC) was accompanied by a structural change to the Security Council that was adopted without amendment to the UN Charter.

The problematic one-permanent-member veto had been a safeguard that had been designed to prevent a World War breaking out and, in a sense, was a legacy of the failed League of Nations. UN membership had quadrupled since 1945, and the rise of new nations created an appetite for change as the superpowers vied for allies. All parties broadly agreed that the current structure was outdated and required more balanced representation but geopolitical differences prevented reform. For example, Brazil becoming a permanent member of the Security Council was blocked by the Soviet Union as they felt it would just be an American proxy.

US Ambassador to the UN George H.W. Bush called for a super-majority (four-fifths of the whole 15-member Security Council) override of a single member veto, a voting mechanism granting more power to the nine non-permanent members (in the event of two or more vetoes, the super-majority would not prevail). This "weakened" voting scheme (or the alternative minimum two permanent member veto) had always been blocked by the Soviet Union. Arguably, the weakening of the Soviet veto would be less objectionable now that there would be two communist states on the Security Council. This was why Bush had chosen the expulsion of the Republic of China (ROC) as the ideal time to make his move.

This democratic initiative might well have been well received in Moscow if not for the Sino-Soviet Split. This division led Leonid Brezhnev to fear that the US was seeking to encircle the Soviets by forcing a permanent wedge between the USSR and PRC. Certainly he lacked confidence that Soviet influence would prevail over the super-majority simply because the US had a greater number of allies and client states in the Third World. Nevertheless, this was the age of détente, and Brezhnev wanted to reciprocate in some limited form. He sought to favor countries in the Soviet orbit as well as non-aligned nations such as Albania and India, boosting the prestige of the USSR by demonstrating global leadership. His counter-proposal was the creation of a sixth veto on the Security Council held by a rotating member from the General Assembly as an alternative to the American four-fifths override mechanism, not as an amendment or addition to the override, but in outright opposition to it.

Ultimately, a compromise was reached that added a rotating voting member with the right to veto under the P5+N9+R1 ("five permanent, nine non-permanent and one rotating") formula proposed by Bush, raising his profile as a global statesman. Under the existing rules, non-permanent members were elected by the General Assembly and could be involved in global security briefings. However, in practice, frequent voting disputes delayed certain ambitious nations from being elected.

Of course, none of these changes favored the ROC's government in Taipei; they merely took the bitterness out of the pill for their American allies. The ROC had used its Security Council veto only once, to stop the admission of the Mongolian People's Republic to the United Nations in 1955 on the grounds it recognized all of Mongolia as a part of China. Support from the United States and her allies Britain and France slowly weakened, most obviously in 1961 when they were persuaded to pressure the ROC government to accept international recognition of Mongolia's independence. Thereafter, Albania brought annual votes to replace the ROC with the PRC. With this part of the Cold War struggle clearly lost, the ROC was formally expelled from the UN by a vote of the General Assembly. Repeated attempts to rejoin would continue long after Chiang's death four years later.

To reduce the consequential damage to relations with the US, Brezhnev made a magnificent gesture of goodwill, suggesting that Brazil was invited to serve as the inaugural rotational member. A rotation scheme was then developed that saw any member of the General Assembly join for a month, in tandem with the change of Presidency. This mechanism would see Israel, Cuba, South Africa, Iran, Albania, and many other ambitious nations participate in contentious debates during the dramatic years leading up to Bush's election as President in 1980.

Author's Note

In reality, just the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2758, Albania's motion to recognize the People's Republic of China (PRC) as the only legitimate representative of China to the United Nations, was passed.

Provine's Addendum

There were soon tests of the system with overrides of vetoes such as the UK in Dec 1971 and Feb '72 over Rhodesia, China in '72 over entry of Bangladesh, and the USA over Israeli occupation in '73. The USA was soon seen as the loser in Bush's gambit as more UN involvement was seen in Vietnam, Africa, and the Middle East. However, Bush held that it was fear of UN action that persuaded the USSR to refrain from unilateral action in Afghanistan, which would later be divided into North and South by UN resolution. The UN gradually came to be seen as a protector in the post-colonial world with votes overriding neo-colonial efforts between the USA and USSR, especially in the division of spheres of influence in the Middle East. Analysts sometimes suggest that there could have been warfare beyond the UN-led removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq leading to the independence of Kurdistan.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Guest Post: Dunkirk Halt Order Countermanded

This post originally appeared on Today in Alternate History.

24 May, 1940

With the Wehrmacht in complete mastery of the Western Front, Colonel-Generals Gerd von Rundstedt and Günther von Kluge recommended a three-day pause outside the Dunkirk pocket. Approximately four hundred thousand troops comprising the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and the French 1st Army were bottled up in this corridor to the sea. A flooded fenland with partial fighter cover from Kent and extra artillery support from the Royal Navy, British Commander Lord Gort fully intended to make a desperate last stand here. There was a compelling argument for avoiding such a costly struggle, taking Paris and forcing a French surrender. From a purely military perspective, the Colonel-Generals' justification was perfectly sound: the terrain was unsuitable for armour, the troops were exhausted, and their vehicles and equipment urgently needed maintenance.

Luftwaffe commander Hermann Goering concurred with their reasoning, but he had his own secret agenda: a vainglorious victory for his air force made possible because the RAF had largely been withdrawn for the defense of the home islands. He asked for the chance to destroy the forces in Dunkirk. Hitler actually wanted "to help the British," avoiding a Battle of Britain altogether by signing a peace deal. This would allow the Heer to prepare for the forthcoming invasion of the Soviet Union, which Hitler considered to be the main prize.

In these command circles, it seemed almost certain that a consensus would be reached. But these specious arguments were swept aside by Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch, who managed to convince Hitler that the best bargaining chip was a defeated and captured BEF. He won the argument, stating that the scale of British losses in the Battle of France demonstrated steely determination to fight on afterwards. He believed that the British required a "brutal beating," a final moment of violent closure to convince them that they were as roundly defeated as their fellow Allied nations.

Having studied the advanced plans for Operation Sealion, Brauchitsch had anticipated a reverse invasion, an evacuation attempt of the scale actually being considered for Operation Dynamo. The fruit of his labour was Hitler's proceed order for Army Group B of the Germany Wehrmacht's permission to assault Dunkirk. With the BEF and French surrounded, and the Belgians gone, the Battle of Dunkirk ended swiftly. In the biggest military disaster since Yorktown, the British lost three hundred thousand men trapped in France.

The scale of Churchill's folly now became abundantly clear. His main critic in the cabinet Lord Halifax was way ahead of Brauchitsch, having issued a defeatist warning about "fighting to the end after Europe was lost," which proved to be prescient. The coalition government in office less than three weeks fell to a vote of non-confidence; Halifax took office as Prime Minister promising to end the war through negotiation.

However, von Rundstedt and von Kluge's fears of overextension were also proven right. In his post-war diary, Halder would note "[Hitler] was constantly oppressed by a feeling of anxiety that a reversal loomed..." He dismissed Brauchitsch abject with the new fear that the Soviet Union would take advantage of the severely weakened state of the Wehrmacht. In fact, Stalin had already prepared Operation Icebreaker, his maniacal plan for the conquest of Western Europe.

Author's Note:

In reality, Churchill hailed their rescue as a "miracle of deliverance". While more than 330,000 Allied troops were rescued, the British and French sustained heavy casualties and were forced to abandon nearly all their equipment; around 16,000 French and 1,000 British soldiers died during the evacuation.

Provine's Addendum

Though the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that had divided Poland between Germany and the USSR promoted non-aggression, its defined spheres of influence in the Baltic states proved to be hardly realistic. Lithuania was a particular question as Germany wanted to hold it as a frontier for the historic East Prussia region. Finland, too, became a quasi-battleground as Germans supported Finnish independence against Soviet incursion, especially after Finland proved itself by holding off Soviet attack for two months in the Winter War of '39-40. It was only a matter of time, international commentators thought, that one side invaded the other, especially after Stalin began to restrict raw material exports to Germany in August 1940. In September 1940 when Germany joined with Italy and the Soviets' eastern nemesis Japan in the Tripartite Pact, the fate of war was sealed. Molotov and Ribbentrop met again in October and November of 1940, and the message was clear: the USSR must join Hitler's Axis or face a two-front war. Stalin, refusing Hitler's offer to shift Soviet influence southward to Iran and even India instead of a warm-water Baltic port, chose war. Soviet troops moved into Bulgaria, and Hitler ordered his armies westward. Japan followed suit with a surprise attack on Vladivostok before marching back into Mongolia, where they had been ousted in 1939.

Meanwhile, the United States stood by, enjoying an economic surge by supplying both countries as a neutral party, though the bulk of the material did sell to German interests. The UK also remained neutral and more nervous, wondering what would become of its empire when the giants wore themselves out fighting in Asia and the winner began to look abroad.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Guest Post: The marriage of Ranavalona I to Said bin Sultan

This post courtesy of Sea Lion Press.

December 1833

The Mad Queen of Madagascar Ranavalona accepted the marriage offer of the Lion of Oman, Said bin Sultan, crowning an alliance between their two realms.

Ranavalona had inherited control over the rapidly expanding Merina Kingdom in  Madagascar from her cousin and husband Radama I. Radama had conquered large areas of the lowlands with an army of serfs and had banned the slave trade in order to win an alliance with the British Empire. However, by the time of Radama's death in 1828, losses due to malaria and enemy action were severely costing his armies, and the riches that could be obtained by looting were far less than had been counted on. Ranavalona's rule was a slowdown in expansion, stopping short of unifying the entire island while building up her standing army to the huge size of 30,000 men, all armed with homemade firearms. Ranavalona oversaw the pacification of these newly conquered lands, which led to huge loss of life. The Merina occupation forces would accuse prominent and suspected rebels of casting harmful spells on the occupiers and then force them into taking the trial by poison. Literal witch hunts became prominent as a way of removing powerful men without the need for evidence.

Ranavalona was also far less powerful than Radama, with a circle of noble advisers having increasing influence, and she came to regret her partnership with the UK, which had failed to benefit her economically as the British emphasis on free trade meant that their traders weren’t willing to pay export taxes. It had also opened the door for British missionaries, who were openly preaching Christianity and teaching literacy rather than useful engineering skills. Further, her nobles made private deals with British traders to gain their own influence. The British presence ultimately discouraged other Europeans, such as a German attempt to bring in electricity, which London prevented.

Ranavalona wanted to escape this alliance and push towards autarchy rather than free trade, but she needed some protection. She found that in the Sultan of Oman, one of Madagascar's major trade partners, who had moved his capital from Muscat to Zanzibar in Tanzania the previous year to centre his empire on his African holdings, where he was fighting a war in Kenya. He proposed an alliance between his state and Ranavalona, which would allow his riches and her army to combine and dominate East Africa. Tthis alliance would be marked by Ranavalona becoming one of his many wives. After some discussion, the Merina Queen accepted, changing the fate of East Africa forever.

Note: The proposal was a real one, but in reality was politely rebuffed.

Provine's Addendum

The marriage and resulting unification drawing Madagascar into the Omani Empire established a far-flung series of land-holdings across the western Indian Ocean from India, Arabia, the African continent, and Madagascar. It also brought to the forefront the complexities of empire with a populace that largely followed Ibadi Islam but also had pockets of Christianity and Hinduism as well as numerous indigenous religions, especially in Madagascar. In the years leading up to his death in 1856, Said bin Sultan worked to determine a coherent path, which proved to be economically-driven religious tolerance as he abided the different practices of Ranavalona. Rather than breaking his empire among his sons as he began to think, Said bin Sultan decided to maintain a political unity to promote wealth through trade.

The empire focused on building its navy to support trade, which simultaneously boosted the capabilities for industrialization. Iron ore was mined in Zanzibar while coal was brought from Madagascar, turning the new city built by Majid bin Said, Dar es Salaam, into one of the largest centers of industry in the world. The "floating empire" of shipping ports gained expansive inland gains as railroads were added, largely with assistance by German engineering and banks. French and British colonialists attempted to gain influence as well, but the diligence of the sultan prevented the empire from being carved up. It profited greatly as a neutral supplier in World War I, sending material to both sides until the Allied blockade forced Omani interests toward Britain and France. Following the war, the empire saw its own wave of nationalism break it into its regional pieces though attempting to maintain the strong economic bloc of the West Indian Ocean.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Guest Post: 17 December 1663 - death of Great Nzinga

This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

The incomparable Southwest African ruler Great Nzinga died peacefully in her sleep. She was eighty years old and had been bedridden with a throat infection that spread to her lungs.

She was born into the royal family of Ndongo, a Mbundu kingdom in central West Africa, around 1583. Her mother was one of her father's slave wives. During her thirty-seven-year reign, she fought for the independence and stature of her kingdoms against the encroachment of the Portuguese and the rapid growth in the African slave trade. Not only would she transform the region, but she would redefine the place of women in politics in Africa and the world.

The first Europeans had arrived in Central Africa almost a century before her birth. Nicolas V issued a series of papal bulls granting Portugal the right to enslave sub-Saharan Africans in the 1450s. It granted the right to invade, plunder and "reduce their persons to perpetual slavery." This brutal treatment of "black Gentiles" was considered a natural deterrent and Christianizing influence to "barbarous" behavior among pagans. Portugal extracted slaves at a rate of 10,000 per year in 1612. Then in 1619, the first enslaved Africans to arrive in the British colony of Virginia were Ndongans onboard the White Lion. They had been kidnapped by Portuguese colonial forces, who sent captured members on a forced march to the port of Luanda. Ordered onto the ship São João Bautista, which set sail for Veracruz in the colony of New Spain, about 150 of the 350 captives aboard the ship died during the crossing. Then, as it approached its destination, the ship was attacked by two privateer ships, the White Lion and the Treasurer. Crews from the two ships kidnapped up to 60 of the Bautista's enslaved people.

At that time, the dominant central African kingdom was Kongo, and Nzingha was from the southwestern provinces of that rich civilization. She was taught to read and write Portuguese by visiting missionaries as the empire extracted slaves to work vast plantations in Brazil. Local black merchants and warriors, predominantly from the Imbangala and Mbundu tribes, supplied slaves to the Luanda and Benguela markets. They were rewarded with large profits and firearms. The extraction devastated the local population, and slaves' average life expectancy in the New World was only seven years.

Nzinga became Queen Regent after the death of her brother Mbandi. Forced out of the capital city of Kabasa, he had killed himself with poison out of despair, nominating Nzinga as his successor. The fortunes of the Ndongans only began to improve after the Dutch West India Company seized Luanda during the chaos of the Portuguese Restoration War. Through allyship with the Dutch and also the Imbangala, she was able to make military gains and establish a stronger new base in Matamba. The conquest of the neighbouring state of Kingdom of Matamba was her first step towards independence.

The unity of the Ndongans triumphed over the division of the Europeans. The Portuguese eventually returned to Luanda after the formal end of the Iberian Union. However, by then the Pope had recognized the independence of Ndongo and Matamba also Nzinga's forces were fortified with Dutch-supplied muskets and gunpowder. These forces policed the local merchants and warriors to intercept slave supply. Nzinga would then begin her real work, teaming up with the Jesuit priest and missionary Antonio Ruiz de Montoya from Paraguay in order to convince the Catholic Church to issue a Papal bull ending the African Slave Trade. Montoya had laid a complaint before Philip IV of Spain as to the Portuguese policy of sending kidnapping expeditions into the neighbouring regions of South America. He subsequently obtained from the king important exemptions, privileges, and protective measures for the reductions of Paraguay. After this success, he headed to Southwest Africa rather than return to the Americas. This new proclamation rescinded the papal bulls issued by Nicolas V and while it did not stop the Slave Trade overnight, it was certainly the beginning of the end of the African Holocaust.

Author's Note:

In reality, Portuguese authorities abolished slave trafficking in 1836. Montoya died in 1652 soon after his return to America.

It is estimated that almost 5.7 million slaves left Angola between 1501 and 1866. Angola was one of the great supplying sources from the 15th century to the mid-19th century. In the centuries since her death, Nzinga has been increasingly recognized as a major historical figure in Angola and in the wider Atlantic Creole culture. She is remembered for her intelligence, her political and diplomatic wisdom, and her military tactics.

Provine's Addendum:

The new papal bulls defended the rights of Christianized Africans and Native Americans, meaning that people could only be enslaved if not converted and must be freed upon conversion. Missionaries like Montoya worked feverishly to spread the word, and though much suspicion grew up whether conversions were genuine, the slave market collapsed as the prices for slaves skyrocketed. Nzinga, having seen slavery all her life, worked to revolutionize her own culture by ending the practice in her kingdom and uplifting the social status of women. While the Dutch were Protestants and thus as immune from papal bulls as they were Nzinga's edicts, market forces drove them out of the slavery business.

Instead, they and other European settlement strategies focused on colonization through corporations and indentured servitude for those willing to make the trans-Atlantic journey but without much capital beyond their own bodies. High-profit plantations were the gateway to colonizing the Caribbean and American South, but they proved to be their own end as servants whose contracts ended left to start their own competing farms. By the 1700s, middle-class farming outpaced the few huge plantations, which usually declined after a generation due to management. For example, George Washington left farming to focus on settlement schemes in Ohio, while the philosopher Thomas Jefferson retired to France and then London, unable to pay his debts and forfeiting his home at Monticello.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Guest Post: Later de Gaulle

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History with input from Robbie Taylor.

11 March, 1949 - Death of President Henri Giraud

On this sad day in alternate history, French four-star general Henri Giraud died in Dijon. He was seventy years old and had been at the center of power struggles in France throughout her troubles in the twentieth century.

His lifetime of devoted national service was lit up by acts of incredible personal sacrifice and tremendous courage that included capture in both World Wars. He was leader of the Free French Forces during a remarkable period that included a great escape from a high-security POW prison and then commanded French troops in North Africa during Operation Torch. As part of a notorious Italian-style side-switching deal with the Allies, he briefly served under the de facto head of the Vichy Government and High Commissioner of France in Africa (head of civil government) for North and West Africa, Admiral Darlan, who was assassinated in Algiers only weeks later. A political opportunist, collaborator with Germany and notorious Anglophobe, it is highly doubtful that Darlan's own career would have survived Petain's repression of the Resistance movement. There was speculation that the assassin, Bonnier de la Chappelle, was acting on behalf of a monarchist group seeking to restore the Bourbon pretender.

General Eisenhower, who was the Operation's Supreme Allied Commander, famously referred to Giraud as "gallant and honest, but politically uninterested." A more complete assessment would have probably been "reluctant," and Darlan's assassination certainly changed the leadership calculations, bringing him the authority and prestige he had previously lacked. Despite Eisenhower's mischaracterization, Giraud became President of the French Committee of National Liberation (Free French Forces), Chair of the Provisional Government after VE Day, and subsequently President of the French Republic. A man who fully reconciled himself to the Western Allies defeat at the hands of the Nazis, he had the good sense to recognize the end of Europe's colonial era and accepted it. Decorated with the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, the highest French order of merit, both military and civil, his passing was near-universally regretted across the Free World.

Former US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, fast approaching his own demise and knowing what was coming in Paris, said with a touch of bitterness that America had "lost a true friend." This was because Giraud's passing was noticeably ignored by his former leadership rival,the embittered governor of Madagascar, two-star general Charles de Gaulle. Of course it was only because of FDR's maneuverings that Giraud had been living in Dijon, and de Gaulle (who he considered "well-nigh intolerable") in a distant backwater of the French Union. Moreover, it was Giraud's controversial decision to abandon Indochina that widened the gulf with the so-called Gaullists. However, due to his untimely demise, he did not have sufficient time to resolve the final status of French North Africa and, most importantly of all, Algeria. Of course the irony was that his unlikely rise to power had begun with the expatriate French factions based in North Africa. De Gaulle was enraged that American-backing had enabled Giraud to gain preeminence in the power struggle for leadership of the Free French movement.

Not yet sixty years old, the ever-ambitious de Gaulle was a Republican pretender. Convinced he was the l'Homme du destin, he had every intention of making a political comeback, and of course the rapid departure of his two chief adversaries only opened the door to his eventual return. The "Darlan" deal, bombing of the French fleet by British at Mers-el-Kebir, and loss of Indochina were unhealed wounds in the traumatized French psyche that de Gaulle ripped open to seize power. Promising to restore the glory of France, his return during the Eisenhower presidency would create a gaping fracture in the Free World. Most appalling of all was his diplomatic recognition of Franco's Fascist Spain. This deep divide in the West was because of his punitive sense of antagonism towards Britain and America for initially recognizing Vichy France and later sponsoring Giraud instead of backing him during exile in London. It was a deep humiliation that would not be forgotten, let alone forgiven, resulting in a great deal of friction right up until his death in 1970. His lasting influence in the Francophone world survived his death notably with Quebec's decision to follow his advice and secede from the Confederation of Canada.

Author's Note:

In reality, outmaneuvered by de Gaulle, Giraud lost support and retired in frustration in April 1944.

Provine's Addendum:

De Gaulle's action strained relations with other members of NATO, but he was hardly shy about his feelings of French supremacy. As post-war Europe rebuilt itself, de Gaulle found a new chance for a French-led alliance through the West European Union. Born out of the Schuman Declaration that organized French and West German coal and steel production under a single authority, the union grew through economics and politics into a major power by the end of the twentieth century. Influence drew in Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, which gradually brought in more nations and formalized in 1993 to seize on the opportunity to scoop up former Soviet Bloc nations. The UK was invited to join, but resisted, creating a complex border across Ireland that nearly reignited the Troubles. Instead, NATO declined to a more English-speaking alliance as the UK and US watched to see whether France and Russia would again go to war over Eastern European territory.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Guest Post: The Norwegian Empire Collapses in 1079

This post courtesy of Sea Lion Press.

Harold the Unlucky of England was faced with two invasions in 1066: one by William of Normandy that he defeated and the second by Harald of Norway, which defeated him. Harald of Norway well earned his epithet of 'Hard Ruler' as he was highhanded in his dealings with both the Nobles and the Church. The Catholic Church was still powerful, and Harald's anti-papal leanings squandered any possible advantage he could have gained from the Pope's dispute with Stigand and the Anglo-Saxons.

Moreover, his clemency was simply not trusted, he made nice with men only until he could defeat them and broke any deal he felt he could afford to. The result was a brutal series of rebellions and sacks. Areas of Southeast England did not recover for decades, and the English nobles were replaced with foreigners. The new jarls were largely Norwegians, but also Harald increasingly gave out English land to Welsh and Scottish under-kings, in order to tie them into his realm and break any potential ties with English rebels which was staggeringly unpopular. By the time of his death in 1075, England was simply not willing to endure another Scandinavian king.

Tostig Godwinson, the Yarl of Wessex, was the first to make his move, declaring himself king before Olaf could return from Norway, but he was too clearly associated with foreign rule to be accepted by the English rebels. Morcar, the exiled Earl of Northumbria, returned to England in order to challenge both Tostig and Olaf. Olaf landed in the Humber shortly afterwards. The Norwegian Anarchy had begun, and it would last for six more years as pretenders and invaders reduced Harald's North Sea Empire to rubble and ashes.

1079 would be the critical year.

Tostig and Morcar were both killed in 1076 and 1078 respectively, and the Danish invasion from Scania had been defeated in 1077. Dublin had been lost in 1078, and the Welsh front was going badly, but by 1079 Olaf must have seen peace, if not complete victory, as achievable. There was just the problem of Northumbria. Morcar's death at Ligeraceaster had left Edgar the Ætheling in a vulnerable position, but Northumbria remained firmly in rebellion. For Olaf to claim all of England, he needed to capture Yerk and Edgar's court.

But Edgar, unknown to the Norwegians, had made his famous devil's bargain with the Kings Harald and Malcolm of Denmark and Scotland, respectively. As Olaf approached Yerk, he found himself greeted by a united army of his enemies that far outnumbered him. In a mirror of Brunanburh, the famed founding battle of Anglo-Saxon England, the Norwegians formed into a shield wall, but the axemen of the Allied Army flanked it and broke it. The feared Norwegian army, outnumbered and tired, was routed. Crucially, Olaf himself was trampled down by a cavalry brigade and killed.

In a day, any chances of the Norwegian Empire surviving had been lost. Norway proper, having lost their king, would face two more years of anarchy as the farmers' rebellions in Norway reached a critical point while the royal family struggled to agree on the new king. The retreat of Scandinavian power from the North Atlantic in the aftermath of the Norwegian Anarchy benefited all the British kingdoms. England and the Orkneys gained full independence, the Irish Kingdoms were able to enjoy some measure of respite from foreign invasion, and Wales entered a mini golden era under Caradog ap Gruffydd and his sons. But the main benefactor was Scotland. The High Kings of Scotland extended their influence and power farther than any had before. The Kings of the Isles and Mann were firmly confirmed as under-kings and the Bretons of Strathclyde as far south as Westmorland were also brought into Scottish orbit. Moreover, Edgar's devil's bargain with King Malcolm had seen Northumbria partitioned and the old kingdom of Bernicia resurrected as a Scottish vassal.

Note: William the Conqueror had originally aimed to cross the Channel before the arrival of Harald Hardrada, but bad weather delayed him. It is more than possible for him to cross first and lose to the English, with the Norwegians taking advantage.

Provine's Addendum

Scotland's growth of influence over the coming centuries brought a new weight to the delicate balances of power in Europe. England was a constant battleground during the "Hunner Years War" over its territory between Scotland and France. As the Medieval Warm Period began to cool, Scotland faced longer winters and thicker ice in the Highlands. Many Scots migrated southward, finally affirming control of Britain by population. By the 1500s, Scottish merchants followed suit of their Spanish and Portuguese counterparts by establishing colonies overseas. At first, the Scottish Empire had only small holdings more on par with the Dutch and Swedish, but vast natural resources in Britain of coal and iron drove the Scots to become one of the great world powers following the Industrial Revolution.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

September 2, 31 BC - Octavian Defeated at the Battle of Actium

The War of Actium became the final act in nearly a century of political instability in Rome. The latest war, spurred by senators assassinating the previous war's victor, Julius Caesar, in the Forum itself, had been won by the Second Triumvirate of Caesar's great-nephew and adopted son Octavian and two of his most trusted generals, Marcus Lepidus and Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony). The alliance soon collapsed with Lepidus disgraced, and Octavian sought to defeat his rival Antony, who had grown to legendary status with victories in the East. He had even taken up with Cleopatra, Julius's former love, in Egypt despite being Octavian's brother-in-law. Anthony divorced Octavia, married Cleopatra, and wrote a new will that all of his possessions would go to the children he had with Cleopatra as well as granting Julius and Cleopatra's sixteen-year-old son Caesarion huge realms to rule from the Roman conquests. Octavian stirred the senate with propaganda to declare war on Egypt to win the lands back legally. Antony and a large faction of senators took up arms in Cleopatra's support.

The battleground for Octavian's Rome and Antony's Egypt proved to be Greece, where many of Anthony's allies from the senate had secured a broad region of support. Octavian moved his troops on the peninsula north of Actium in western Greece to counter Anthony's armies while harassing Anthony's waterborne supply lines with his navy, superior in numbers and speed. Octavian avoided a major land battle directly with Anthony, instead winning a gradual war of attrition as Antony's army stagnated on the opposite side of the Ambracian Gulf. With Antony's support disintegrating, Cleopatra suggested falling back to Alexandria for the winter with garrisons for their allies and launching a fresh campaign the next year. Antony determined he would use his quinqueremes and quadriremes, the largest battleships of the day, to smash through Octavian's smaller Liburian patrol boats on the north side and gain open sea. While Octavian was busy with Antony, Cleopatra's support fleet could slip away. Antony would then disengage and cover the retreat.

Much like all best-laid plans, they quickly went awry. Facing a choppy sea, Antony's large ships were barely maneuverable, especially with the plague of malaria that had reduced them to minimal rowers. Octavian brought his ships up to bottle-up Antony's fleet, and Cleopatra escaped through the gap in Octavian's lines. At first a promising wind blew to support the Egyptians, but then it abruptly turned against them. Seeing it as a sign from the gods, Cleopatra turned her ships about and attacked Octavian's fleet from the flank and behind.

Although Octavian had superior numbers, his ships were surrounded with many of them caught uselessly in the middle. Those on the outermost edges fought to a gradual standstill, and then it was Antony's battleships that won the day. They served as floating fortresses, moving slowly but surely, to annihilate ship after ship. What of Octavian's forces could escape did so, but Octavian's body was found after the battle so badly burned that it had to be recognized by Julian family amulets.

Instead of falling back to Alexandria, Antony hurried to capitalize on his surprise victory by moving on Rome itself. Many of Octavian's former allies swarmed to his side. Others felt it was best to flee, and Antony repeated his previous venture with Julius Caesar hunting down those who resisted them through Octavian's holdings in Hispania. Antony restructured Roman nobility by rewarding those loyal to him, establishing a generational dependence on the wealth of Egypt, particularly its bountiful harvests of grain that fed what essentially became a client state.

Cleopatra was hardly welcome in Rome the first time she came in 46 BC with Julius Caesar, but this time the Romans were too afraid to displease her. She soon returned to Egypt, and Egyptian culture flooded Rome with cults of Isis and Osiris. In 12 BC, Gaius Cestius completed as his burial chamber the first pyramid in Rome, one of many more to follow. Caesarion, Antony's chief heir and adopted son, was not only considered the son of deified Julius Caesar but also deified himself. Though Caesarion would only have four extended visits to Rome during his lifetime, one was to dedicate his own temple to himself on the Palatine Hill.

Instead, Caesarion dedicated his life to formalizing the new Egyptian empire. He inherited a firm hand over Rome itself as well as a sizeable personal empire that stretched from Greece to Armenia in the Donations of Alexandria that had started the War of Actium. Caesarion's half-brother Alexander Helios became ruler of Parthia through a marriage orchestrated by Mark Antony, while his half-sister, Selene, married King Juba II of Numidia and Mauretania. Caesarion dispatched his younger half-brother, Ptolemy Philadelphus, to Rome to serve as pontifex maximus and manage affairs in the northwestern side of his empire.

Egypt began a new era as a naval empire. Its western fleet roamed west of the Pillars of Hercules sailing north to Britannia for tin and south for African gold. The eastern fleet sailed for trade with India and a sea route to southern Parthia. Dreams of joining the two through a canal would require centuries to realize; until then, eastern Egypt remained the focus of the flow of goods unloading and reloading. Egyptian Thebes (once Luxor) and Antinoopolis became two of the largest cities in the world as transition sites along the Nile. Large trade fleets circumnavigated the continent of Africa, repeating the three-year journey along the route commissioned by Necho II six centuries earlier. Even after Egypt's empire splintered and fell away from rebellion and barbarian incursion, Egyptian-founded port cities still traded from Africa to Indonesia.


In reality, Octavian won the Battle of Actium, much in thanks to Quintus Dellius deserting Antony and turning over his battle plans and Antony missing the signal from Cleopatra to retreat and misinterpreting it as a rout. Antony and Cleopatra did fall back to Alexandria, where they committed suicide after Octavian laid siege. Octavian became Pharaoh and held Egypt as a personal possession, adding it to further legal powers that established him as Augustus Caesar, the first of a long line of Roman emperors. Egyptian grain continued as a key economic force behind the emperors for centuries to come.

Friday, February 24, 2023

September 11, 1777 - Washington Shot in Ambush

Britain hoped to strike a blow to the Revolutionary cause by marching up from Chesapeake Bay to seize Philadelphia, the young nation's capital. Near Brandywine Creek, Patrick Ferguson, a Scot sniper captain, came upon a small patrol of American soldiers. Rather than expected ragtag scouts, it was a handful of soldiers alongside two officers, one in a blue coat with a "high-cocked hat" and another in an outrageous continental cavalry uniform.

Although only 33, Ferguson was already a seasoned veteran from the end of the Seven Years War and numerous military actions since. He had handpicked his command and armed them with breech-loading rifles of his own design following cutting-edge firearm technology. While firing on officers was considered dishonorable, Ferguson had heard the stories of American troops doing just that, "fighting like natives." Ferguson gave the order to shoot.

The American officers proved to be none other than Commander-in-Chief George Washington and his Polish adviser, Count Casimir Pulaski, famed for his flamboyant dress as a hussar. Washington had decided to personally survey the landscape and British movements in anticipation of a stand at Brandywine. His zealousness proved to be his undoing, though historians argue it may have been better for the British to have captured Washington than killed him outright.

As news spread of Washington's death, the Revolutionaries' response was vengeance. The ferocious Battle of Brandywine was initially in favor of the Americans as the British fell back from a vigorous assault. The unconditioned American troops, however, overextended themselves and soon were forced to retreat. It nearly became a rout that could have cost the Americans their largest army along with their highest ranking leader, but General Nathanael Greene brought forward the reserves under his command to cover the retreat. Soldiers soon added "Hero of Brandywine" to Greene's nickname as "The Fighting Quaker" who had joined the cause despite his family's background in the Society of Friends.

Congress fled Philadelphia, and the American army fell back to Valley Forge. Britain hoped this would bring an end to the war, but the rebels proved resilient. Congress continued its efforts from York, PA, confirming Horatio Gates as the new Commander-in-Chief. Although not as popular as Washington, Gates did prove to be an effective organizer. Newly drilled through the winter and with much improved supply lines established, the new American army impressed France enough to win an alliance in 1778. With Americans receiving French naval support and widespread popular support, the British gave up trying to make headway in the northern colonies and ultimately abandoned Philadelphia. They even offered a peace commission, which was rejected. Instead, the British decided upon the Southern Strategy of focusing their efforts in the Tory-filled southern colonies where loyalists could be readily found for information or supplies.

Gates dispatched Greene to the South, soon followed by another hero, Benedict Arnold. Arnold had been wounded at Saratoga and only returned to service in May 1778. Despite Arnold being considered a national treasure, Gates did not trust him as Arnold had disobeyed orders when attacking and routinely questioned his strategies to the point of shouting matches. The odd pair of a forge-owning Quaker's son and a would-be merchant, both Connecticuters fighting in the South, surprisingly proved to be successful. Greene followed a path of "unconventional warfare" that was decried by the British for its effectiveness in protecting and striking out of rebel hotspots, such as the famous raid in the Battle of Camden that tied up British troops enough that Arnold was able to lift the Siege of Charleston, which had already fought off an earlier British attempt in 1776. It was a bitter humiliation to the British that prompted the removal of Henry Clinton, the British Commander-in-Chief of troops in America, who had determined to lead the Charleston expedition personally. Arnold proved popular among the elites in Charleston and was granted his request of military command of the city. Greene was content with his revenge of Washington through Virginian Colonel William Campbell, who led the charge that killed Patrick Ferguson at Kings Mountain, NC.

Britain was increasingly frustrated in its efforts to raid by the French navy, which bottled up the British troops at the last major foothold in the colonies, New York. In the enormous Battle of New York of 1781, Gates led the Americans to victory in taking the city before Clinton's replacement, Guy Carleton, famed defender of Quebec, could arrive. The damage, particularly to the property of loyalists, many of whom fled with only the shirts on their backs, would be legendary, but it was the last of the major battles of the war, which would end officially with the Treaty of Paris 1783.

Though the war was over, the question of how to govern the United States continued. Congress remained controversial, and there was major concern for the rights of the former colonies, especially from South Carolina where Arnold had remained and grown into a wealthy merchant and politician. Greene, who had returned to Connecticut facing substantial debt, sold off his Southern plantations awarded for his service and took up a position with the United States government negotiating with Native Americans. When the Articles of Confederation proved unable to manage the states together, a Constitutional Convention was called. Gates's offer to serve as president was politely declined due to the bad taste in many New Yorkers' mouths his name brought, and ultimately Nathanael Greene won the position with his experience in managing negotiations.

The Constitution ratified in 1788 brought about a system of checks and balances along with a much stronger Executive branch. Though Arnold continued to voice his concerns about federalism, the office of the president proved to be a great enticement to him. Although inherently self-motivated, it proved to be a unifying matter that drew support from liberal Jeffersonians. Arnold would beat out the legally mind John Adams to become the first national president with promises to maintain balance. He worked alongside the economically minded Alexander Hamilton to establish a shared-branch form of national bank that begrudgingly satisfied both federalists and those fearing federal tyranny. Its success at minimizing speculation while supplying a steady stream of investment would soon lead Hamilton to the Executive Mansion himself.


In reality, after Ferguson had given the order, he recalled it, feeling disgust at the ungentlemanly action of ambushing an officer. Ferguson shouted at Washington, who glanced up and then merely rode on. After being wounded, the doctor mentioned Washington and Pulaski, and Ferguson noted, "I could have lodged half a dozen balls in or about him." Ferguson later participated in raids and then in the British Southern campaign, dying under a volley of at least eight shots at Kings Mountain.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Guest Post: Ivy League Nixon treats JFK as Alger Hiss

This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History, answering the question posed by Bill Whalen in his LA Times article, "The many what-ifs of Richard Nixon."

Richard M. Nixon, ace student of Whittier High, was tested with a prodigious I.Q. score of 143 and recognized as one of the most promising and accomplished high school seniors in California. He graduated third in his class of 207 and was deservedly offered a tuition grant to attend Harvard University.
Proving to be an outstanding student with an encyclopedic mastery of the law, he repeated this academic success again graduating third in his class. However, like many of his student colleagues, his budding legal career was suddenly interrupted by the outbreak of World War Two. Some astutely legal-minded fellows strongly encouraged him to exploit his status as a birthright Quaker and seek a military deferment.

Instead, Nixon applied for and received a Navy commission and was assigned to duty in the Pacific. In that theatre, he first met John F. Kennedy in the wake of the disastrous sinking of patrol torpedo boat (PT) #109. As a self-made man from a poor family, Nixon was left unimpressed by the embarrassing command failure of this scion of the American mandarin class. Kennedy escaped censure apart from a scolding letter from his elder brother. Disgusted, Nixon made a derisory off-hand comment to a naval colleague, "I call them spoiled rotten. And I tell you what would cure them. A good, old-fashioned trip to my Ohio father's woodshed."

Twenty years later, their paths crossed again, and this time Nixon would prove to be Kennedy's nemesis. Nixon gained national attention as a leading member of the brilliant legal team behind the impeachment of President Kennedy that followed the Vietnam fiasco and multiple personal indiscretions. During this lengthy period of the so-called "Camelot twilight" era, Nixon stayed at the Watergate Hotel. Wire-tapping and later a break-in to his room was widely blamed on Attorney General Robert Kennedy but never proven. Appalled by this extra-judicial action, Nixon had the opportunity to reflect upon his own destiny. It was following the political earthquake of Kennedy's resignation that Nixon retired from the U.S. Navy Reserve and began to consider his own political future.

Author's Note:

In reality, Nixon remained in his hometown and enrolled at his local Quaker college of Whittier because he was needed at the store because of his father's continued illness requiring his mother's care. Nixon famously once said "None of those Harvard b*st*rds!" despite choosing Harvard professors Henry Kissinger and Daniel Patrick Moynihan as his principal foreign and domestic advisers. Kennedy and Nixon were actually good friends; indeed, JFK even made a contribution to Nixon when he was running against Helen Gahagan Douglas for the Senate.

Provine's Addendum:

The downfall of the Kennedy family set the stage for a narrow Republican win in the 1964 elections. Lyndon Johnson distanced himself from as much of the political damage as possible, though even his long stint in Congress proved forgotten by many in the wake of Nixon's attacks. The Democratic Party was further divided by the loud voice of George Wallace, who cried for states rights in the face of the Civil Rights Act passed in the wake of Kennedy's impeachment, though not removal. Many saw the act as a great unifier for the country to heal old wounds, but others found it divisive. Thanks to the strife as well as Nixon's vehement campaigning in California, narrowly turning the state as Nixon made a public mockery of the "Daisy" television campaign ad, Barry Goldwater came to the White House with Nixon as his vice president. Historians would later comment on it being one of the dirtiest elections in American history, rivaling even the outlandish 1800 election, after which the Jeffersonian hatchetman James Calendar went to prison for slander against Adams, whose own campaign spread the rumor Jefferson would work to legalize and promote prostitution.

Nixon set about to continue his perceived role as the nation's watchdog. With Director of the FBI J. Edgar Hoover as his right-hand man, Nixon fanned the flames of a new Red Scare on top of uncovering corruption scandals at seemingly every level of government. Goldwater, who promise to "clean up the mess" in Vietnam, focused most of his attention on containment using US air and artillery support without boots on the ground and restructuring the social welfare system in the country to more align with his policies of state-based action. At the 1968 Republican national convention, Goldwater felt pressure to step aside for a Nixon presidency, leading to Nixon's alliance with the growing conservative elements such as California governor Ronald Reagan and the surprising upset that put Nixon at the top of the ballot. Goldwater, betrayed, returned to the senate and later called Nixon "the most dishonest individual I have ever met in my life."

Nixon won handily in 1968 as the Democratic Party still struggled to realign itself in recovery from the Kennedy implosion. In 1972, he won again by an even wider margin, though there were growing factions upset by his methods of publicly destroying targets such as corporate polluters to great aplomb while secretly destroying opposition from within. As the nation's bicentennial approached, rumors spread of Nixon looking to overturn the Twenty-second Amendment that disallowed a third term of presidency. When several leaders in Congress and even the Executive branch came forward to reveal it was true, it was a moment those who wanted to derail Nixon had waited for. Nixon denied everything, but his cracked public image soon shattered, and he gave an embittered speech at the 1976 Republican national convention commenting on his victimhood, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore." Ronald Reagan won the candidacy, but he would lose out to Democratic dark horse James Carter of Georgia, whose two terms built a transparent federal system of social welfare and began the model of taxation on the wealthy like Roosevelt's Revenue Acts that would be followed for decades.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Guest Post: Charles I Dies after Failed Escape Attempt

This article by Allen W. McDonnell first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

On November 11, 1647, while attempting to escape custody at Hampton Court Palace, Charles I falls, striking his head and going into a coma. Under care of the staff , he is given water and broth by using a hollow quill to dribble drops of liquid into his mouth. The nurse is quick to discover that by timing the drops to when the king is exhaling through his nose, his body automatically swallows the drops. Because of the feeding of liquids, the king lingers in his coma until February 14, 1648, when he expires from malnutrition without ever regaining consciousness.Parliament enacted a Council of State rather than a Regency a week after the king lost consciousness. Having seized control during the second Civil War, the Long Parliament decided that removing Charles I and his descendants might be necessary for their very survival and the good of the country. By act of the Council of State following the funeral of Charles I on February 14, 1648, his wife and surviving children along with the captured members of his Privy Council and their families are exiled to the uninhabited island of Saint Helena in the south Atlantic. Along with the elites are sent a number of crown loyalist small farmers and the supplies needed for raising food crops and clearing land and the necessary poultry and livestock to support a self sufficient population.

In preparation for the nobles' arrival, the first fleet departed in February 1648 with two navy guard ships and six transports carrying 200 New Model Army soldiers as guards and 1,200 crown loyalist colonists to build New Edinburg and lay out the farms, plant the crops , and construct storehouses for the supplies on the cargo ships of the fleet. By the time Charles II, his mother, and siblings arrive in September, the Stanley Palace is built and furnished for them. Along with the royal family are 423 crown loyalist nobles and an additional 800 farmers. The main crops are root vegetables like potato, beets, and turnips. The main sources of protein are the wild birds and mammals for the first two years while the farmers expand their poultry flocks and livestock herds to become completely self sufficient.

Back on Great Britain, the Long Parliament begins the arduous process of writing a new constitution, changing the nation from a monarchy into a republic. In place of the king, the new government will be under the Lord Protector elected from the House of Lords with a Privy Council heading each department with half the members coming from each house of Parliament headed by the Prime Minister. To prevent a new monarchy from developing, the Lord Protector serves for life but his own near relatives are ineligible to serve as the next Lord Protector. Every member of the House of Lords who is not closely related to the current Lord Protector is eligible to seek the office upon his death and to be appointed they must win a majority of votes in both houses of Parliament forcing the choice to be widely acceptable.

By the time the new constitution is negotiated and written ending the second English Civil War, years have passed, but in 1651 with the surrender of the last Scottish crown loyalists the new constitution goes into force. The victorious leader of the New Model Army, Oliver Cromwell, is elected first Lord Protector. With Cromwell's unexpected death in 1658, John Paulet, 5th Marquess of Winchester, is elected the second Lord Protector and serves until his death in 1675.

Author's Note:

The Republican constitution is loosely based on the Scandinavian system in use during this period. In Denmark, Sweden, and Norway of this era, when a monarch died or was deposed, the council of nobles would meet and elect a new head of state. Sometimes they would elect the son of the outgoing monarch, but this was not always the case. Also on some occasions, the three sets of nobles would elect the same 'King' and the three Scandinavian nations would be united under one crown; at other times, they would be completely independent of one another in their highest office. The Republican constitution precludes passing authority down a single family tree and keeps the leadership distributed over time throughout the nobility.
Provine's Addendum:

As England's empire continued to grow, the constitution would be tested and transformed with the needs of time. Maintaining a class of nobles infuriated many, but it proved a stabilizing agent while everyone aspired to the wealth of such magnitude that they would merit a seat in parliament. Over the eighteenth century, many planters from overseas in the West Indies, Americas, India, and West Africa joined the House of Lords, following the model of Scottish lords being incorporated back into office after the civil wars. The House of Commons grew in a similar suit to represent colonies, creating an extensive network that resolved some of the issues of citizens being so distant from London.

The growth of industry in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries changed the scope of government. People whose wealth was in corporations rather than land called for their own seats, giving rise to an oligarchy that changed radically in mere based on fortunes in steel, oil, rubber, media, or whatever the product in demand at the moment was. Policies remained vastly pro-business, ultimately leading to revolution for workers rights.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Guest Post: Death of the Tzarevich

This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History co-written with Allen W. McDonnell with input from Thomas Wm. Hamilton, Robbie Taylor and Jeff Provine.

23 June 1914 - Tragedy in Saint Petersburg transforms the World Crisis

Alexei Nikolaevich, Tsarevich of Russia, breathed his last as Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his morganatic Czech wife Sophie Chotek, Duchess of Hohenberg, departed Vienna for a tour of Sarajevo, the provincial capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Partly due to the archduke's recent promotion to inspector general of all the armed forces of Austria-Hungary, Slav nationalists misinterpreted this as a preparation for another war in the Balkans. This was despite Franz Ferdinand's cherished dream of reforming the multi-ethnic Habsburg Empire.

Franz Ferdinand was the nephew of Emperor Franz Joseph I but had become heir presumptive when his cousin, Crown Prince Rudolf, committed suicide with his mistress Mary Vetsera at his hunting lodge in Mayerling. The emperor had ruled since 1848 but would be dead within two years.

The Romanovs had even more pressing dynastic problems than the Habsburgs with their sole male heir, Nikolaevich, succumbing to his final haemorrhage dying less than eight weeks short of his tenth birthday. Needless to say, this family tragedy devastated his father, although the tsar took some comfort from a visit by his royal cousin Kaiser Wilhelm II, who attended the boy's funeral. Nicholas would be distracted from affairs of state in the Russian court for many months, and the kaiser himself seemed to experience something of an epiphany about the value of human life.

One reason for Wilhelm's upbeat mood change was that during the short visit, the magician Grigori Rasputin regenerated his withered arm. Having outstayed his welcome in the Russian capital, the Mad Monk decided to return with the delighted kaiser back to Berlin. After all, his mission in Saint Petersburg was over because Nikolaevich had died while he was in the loving arms of the Tsarina.

Meanwhile, back in Sarajevo, a Serbian-formed anarchist group known as the Black Hand Gang had decided the timing and circumstance was against an assassination attempt on Franz Ferdinand. Public support for the tsarevich even in a nation as discontent with their royals as the Russian Empire convinced them that it may well make a martyr rather than a show of force.

Nevertheless, the archduke correctly sensed that the city was highly agitated and war with Serbia was imminent.  Even with military preparations and diplomatic urgency, the Austrian-Serbian War would not be long in coming. Rather than the spontaneous outbreak of a European war that many had feared, the conflict widened and spread to the south and into the Balkans. Emperor Franz, who had mandated the German language in the Armed Forces to suppress Czech nationalism, used multi-ethnic tension as a weapon, gaining covert support from the Ottoman Empire to stir up trouble in the Islamic segment of the Serbian population. It was a heart-breaking, brutal decision that drove Franz Ferdinand and Sophie to despair.

This approach back-fired for another reason: the Kingdom of Italy had been in two very recent wars with the Ottomans, first taking Libya and making it an Italian colony and then secondly in the Baltic supporting people there who wanted independence and/or revenge on the Ottoman Empire. Italy was drawn into the conflict on the side of the Habsburgs and the Ottomans on the side of Serbia, resolving some of the religious tension out of necessity largely due to the old emperor stirring it up. This alignment kept the Russian Empire neutral, which was certainly a sensible move for the Romanovs given the country's instability.

However, it created other problems for France, Great Britain, and Germany. Germany had a tacit agreement with the Ottomans and with Austria, so Wilhelm had a fateful choice: either to stay neutral or fight one of its planned allies. War was hardly in their interest at all. German desires in the west had been secured by their victory in the Franco-Prussian war in the 1870's that expanded their western flank, so there was nothing further to gain by attacking France, Great Britain, and Belgium. Their  empire's interest was always a big land grab in the east, but Russia had remained neutral. Based on advice from Rasputin, Wilhelm ultimately sold his fleet to the Ottoman Empire, Japan, and other interested international friends like Argentina to stress the British navy and concentrated on building his most efficient army, deploying the bulk to Africa to secure the German Empire there.

Also during this expansionist period, Great Britain had annexed Kuwait, which was at this time an exporter of pearls because no oil had been drilled there yet, and had sought oil concessions from the Ottoman Empire to develop oil fields in Kurdistan, i.e. "Mesopotamia," based on ancient oil seeps still in use in the region. The British plan, partly sponsored by the young Winston Churchill, was to develop Kurdish oil resources and ship it down the river or by pipeline to Kuwait, where it would be the supply source for the Royal Navy Indian Ocean fleet. In 1914, the Royal Navy was the world's largest with enough ships to secure separately the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans in order to protect the sea routes across the world empire back to the home island.

As Germany turned to strengthening their position in Africa, it left Great Britain in the position that they should be helping the Ottomans against Italy and Austria-Hungary as they formerly did during the Crimean War as a bulwark that could cut off Germany from its colonies in an emergency. This military effort dragged a reluctant France into the war with them. The Mitteleuropa of Imperial Germany then sat in the middle, neutral, happily selling arms and munitions to anyone who wished to buy.

By the time Emperor Franz died in 1916, both Austria-Hungary and the Kingdom of Italy were bankrupt. The bloody fighting through the mountains of the Balkans like the Carpathian Alps has killed the "flower of their youth" because advancing against a machine gun holding a mountain pass was in effect a human wave attack that kept going until it overwhelmed the machine gunners defending the pass at terrible cost. Serbia had been beaten down, slowly ground under, but the price in blood and treasure was immense. Out of this crisis would emerge the young resistance leader Josip Broz Tito, son of a Croat father and Slovene mother.

Tsarist Russia had earned a much-needed breathing spell by staying out of the fight like Imperial Germany. This allowed the Romanovs to regroup, letting them finish restructuring the army based on their losses in the 1905 Japanese war. There was enough food for even the poorest peasant since there was no massive enlistment to fight Germany and Austria-Hungary, so farm labor was available and food prices strong selling to the war-torn Balkans, eliminating the main source of revolutionary desires. The Tsar concentrated on conceiving a male heir with his wife in the hope of another son being born, hopefully without the hemophilia. That child would emerge with more than a passing resemblance to Rasputin. 

Meanwhile, Vladimir Lenin cursed his ill-luck kicking around Switzerland, finally deciding to seek a sponsor for a fateful trip to meet the young man Tito.

Author's Note:

In reality, the Tsarevich survived until the executions in Yekaterinburg.

Provine's Addendum:

Flush with cash, Germany sponsored the rebuilding of the Balkans. The move was popular, but cynics pointed out that it was clearly a move of propaganda and colonialism. Emperor Franz Ferdinand realized his dream of bringing together a multi-ethnic empire by improved rail and roads, though he would soon be considered a puppet of the Kaiser. As the glory days of the economic boom faded, the Balkans would again become a hotbed of problems, and international efforts routinely went out to stamp out calls of collectivism and communism. Many experts feared whether the next great war would be something like the Seven Years War with action both on the European continent as well as the growing colonies abroad or a mass-uprising of workers across the world.

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