The Great War in 1905
by D Fowler
Part I Prologue:
Germany had tried to take control over Morocco, and the French rebuffed them. Morocco, after all, was in part of France’s sphere of influence - which pretty much covered all of West Africa. Germany was the big bully tot he French; they didn’t have as much territory, so they wanted more.
The rivalry had been going on since before the mid-’80s, when European powers carved Africa like a Thanksgiving turkey. It had lasted since even before 1871, and the Franco-Prussian War, thoughthat defeat set quite a few things in motion that led to this war.
Part of the problem, of course, was that everyone wanted a piece of the action; even small places like Italy. Even Belgium had the Congo, for crying out loud, and that was big! No wonder, the diplomats said soothingly at the summit over this squabble, there’s a dispute, but it need not lead to war.
For a while, it looked like peace could prevail. Then, the Germans, who would send a gunboat there in 1911 to encourage native unrest, chose to do this several years early. French naval forces stood their ground, and a skirmish ensued. Several troops on both sides were killed, and negotiations broke off, and a proposed conference in Spain was called off.
War still might have been averted, but there was an election campaign in France. The deaths of French soldiers combined with the angst over losing the Franco-Prussian War led to general calls for war, and all candidates began to utter increasingly hostile statements.
Skirmishes escalated throughout 1905, as the military was mobilized to fight Germany, both in the colonies and at home. Some began to call for "All of Africa for Alsace and Lorraine," meaning that the main French objective should be their continental territory. Others called for a more balanced approach, and this became the main campaign issue in France.
More fearful of German invasion than of losing colonies, France elected the candidate who campaigned most strongly to get Alsace and Lorraine back. (The election of the balanced candidate would one day become one of the most common AH on soc.history.what-if.) Forces began to mobilize in incredible numbers along the Franco-German border, and Germany responded with troops of their own. In late January, 1906, France declared war on Germany, despite negoiation efforts by the U.S. A minor attack began in German Kamerun, but the main thrust was against Germany.
Public sentiment in Britain supported waiting - after all, France was the aggressor. On the other hand, at least France hadn’t attacked neutral Belgium. And, Germany was the more dangerous of the two nations. One famous account of those early days is that a young member of Parliament, Winston Churchill, suggested that Britain wait for Russia to enter the war instead, figuring that Russia and France, at this time, were closer and Russia would provide a second front. Another fellow exclaimed in response: "The Russian bear nearly collapsed from internal bleeding only a couple months ago, their military is in no shape for anything, and you believe they would take on the evil Huns and their deadly machine? How bloody stupid do you think the Czar is, anyway?!"
The Czar was not "bloody stupid," but the Italians were pragmatic. They’d begun to drift apart from the Triple Alliance in the last year or two, and the Prime Minister was interested in expanding Italy’s territory. He could, of course, attack France, or he could attack Turkey and capture the Tripoli region of North Africa, though this would weaken the Triple Alliance. He would wait a few weeks, though.
Austria, meanwhile, had little reason to attack France, and also little opportunity. They sent some troops through Bavaria the first couple weeks of the war, but they were mostly concerned with maintaining an Eastern Front, just in case Russia attacked.
As February wore on, the world was on the brink of joining the war. Japan’s navy moved to assault German Pacific possessions, and they declared war on Germany. Britain continued their neutrality for a few months. However, they insisted that Germany stay away from the Channel in their efforts to bombard French coastal towns; a little token of appreciation for their recent allies, the French. As Germany began grinding down the French war machine, though, the British began to realize the Germans could wind up supreme on the continent. With the war starting this early, Germany wasn’t as heavily industrialized, nor as strong, but they were still quite tough, and pushing the French back effectively.
The size of the thrusts was rather distressing to the Kaiser; he expected Germany to win much more handily. His new War Minister, von Moltke, suggested something daring - open a second thrust down through Belgium. Russia wasn’t going to be involved soon, after all, so they didn’t need to worry about an Eastern Front. The Kaiser liked the plan, and crossed his fingers, hoping that the British wouldn’t be able to help.
He would be wrong. In April, 1906, the Germans launched their second thrust, and the British quickly declared war on Germany. The major powers were at war, and soon other nations would demand a piece of the action.
WW I in 1905 - Part II: Having Your Pizza & Eating it, Too.
April: Austria declares war on France and Britain. The Germans, still a little concerned about an Eastern front, urges the Turks, whom they’d felt it advisable to befriend just recently, to declare war on the Russians.
Italy sees the Germans having a chance to beat France, but they are leery of the British. Plus, there is the distrust created by the German befriending of Turkey. Hence, they keep their border with France secured but don’t attack directly, despite German urging. This escalates distrust between Germany & Italy.
June: In a few more years, Germany’s success against France would have been massive. It was only a fair-sized success, though, once they began to beat back the French, because they hadn’t quite had the time to build up a mammoth army. Not only that, but they also tried to take Morocco (hard with the British navy dogging them) and French West Africa through Kamerun. The Germans, though, were just as interested in a colony grab as anything. The British were able to launch a counterstrike from Nigeria to keep that from happening.
Because of this, the British Expeditionary Force faces no immediate problems as they land in France; they don’t need to rush to defend Paris. Things do, however, quickly bog down into trench warfare. If it was only Britain and France versus Germany, they might stand a chance of winning somewhat easily, but with Austrians helping more and more on the Western front, times were mighty tough.
Italy, seeing that the French are holding the Germans off rather well, continues to be leery of entering a war on the German side; the French navy is still soewhat potent, and the British, without having to worry about aiding Russia, would be out in full force against them. They occupy Tunis quickly for the purpose of capturing the Tunisia colony, plus some of Algeria, but not wishing to antagonize the Allies too much, they have other ideas.
The Italians consider Tripoli & Libya an excellent colonial opportunity, and instantly commit the sin of covetousness. [Several years later, in OTL, they fought and beat the Turks over that land.] They felt the need to attack while Europe was in a crisis.
Therefore, as the Turks considered an attack on Russia, Italy attacked the Turks. Germany fired down a telegram to the Italians saying, in effect, "Are you nuts?!"
Italy answered with this reponse. "We have done nothing to violate the Triple Alliance. In fact, the Ottomans are just as likely to go over to the Western Side, because their mortal enemy, Russia, is out of the war, and a historic enemy, Austria, is on our side."
Indeed, the Ottomans are rather miffed at this time about the Zimmer note, named after an obscure courier who delievered it to the Sultan. The note basically pushed for total war against the Russians, though Germany was not offering any real support. This fact was not lost on the British and French, who lobbied to get the Sultan to 1. Ignore the telegram totally; or, more hopefully, 2. Entre the war on the side of the Triple Entente, which was now down to a Double Entente, with the Russian military still licking its wounds from the 1905 revolt.
The Ottomans are jittery about war with Russia, having lost so many other times to the Russians, with worse losses - a.k.a. the Bosphorus - only prevented by the British amd French. The Entente members were really pushing the Sultan for a declaration of war on Germany, or at least Austria, promising the Ottomans not only the retention of all lands Italy was trying to take, but Tunis and a few other minor French lands, too; after all, France could get some German colonies in return. Plus, the French President remained adamant about Alsace and Lorraine being first on any agenda, "even if it means losing some of our prized African territory." He was sure his countrymen would accept a little colonial bribe if it meant getting Alsace & Lorraine back.
Germany sends their Pacific fleet around toward the Atlantic, hoping to link up with their Atlantic fleet. However, with less time to catch up to and surpass the British militarily, their navy winds up losing quite a few major battles, and will continue to lose. One British scribe noted it was "much like Napoleon all over again, Germany has control of the land right now, but we will soon have the seas."
Miffed that the Germans haven’t openly declared war on the Italians, let alone offering more aid versus Russia if they should enter the war, Turkey finally agrees that Russia is still too sizeable a foe to worry about defeating without some major assistance. (They would later realize they were overestimating Russian abilities for 1906.) With Germany unwilling and unable to provide it, as they are fully committed to grinding down the Western allies down in France and the colonies, the Ottomans join the war on the side of the nations which had protected the Bosphorus for them several times - Britain and France. Their friendship with Germany hadn’t grown strong enough to enter a war on their side merely for friendship reasons. The London Times’ headlines read "Triple Entente Once More."
In Russia, Czar Nicholas laments the British decision to lure their old rivals, the Turks, into the war, and further laments that the war couldn’t have been postponed "until the British and we straightened things around in the Middle East. In another year or two, I’m sure we would have been fast friends, and this little bit of insanity would not have taken place." He does, however, offer to mediate, and decides that he will consider entering the war in its last few months, if one side appears to be the victor.
Germany and Austria quickly declare war on the Ottomans, joining Italy in that struggle. The British gain key ports with which to base ships for attacks into the Adriatic. Serbia gains promises of Turkish and British protection and declares war on Austria, with Montenegro following. The British, meanwhile, keep pushing the Czar for a second front in Germany, though they recognize that their only hope may be a thrust through Austria and up into Germany.
In the U.S., President Theodore Roosevelt follows Congressional elections with a promise to "get the nation’s economy rolling" with massive beefing up of their military. Grooming Taft as a successor, he often meets with the man to discuss how and when war in Europe might be joined by the Americans, along with hinting that a certain former Rough Rider would love to lead an expedition, and would make a great commander of American forces in several years.
Meanwhile, the first large shipment of American planes, designed by the Wright Brothers "on special emergency order" for the U.S. government to sell to Britain and France, heads for Europe. President Roosevelt proclaims "we have some very good friends over in Europe who can use our assistance, and we’re going to provide them with technology, if we don’t provide them with troops."
WWI in 1905: Part III - Trafalgar II
German fleet comes into contact with a major chunk of the British Atlantic fleet near Dakar. With Ottoman help just now drawing Austrians away from the Western Front and evening things out for a while, this is seen as a major turning point - as Churchill puts it, "this battle, this second Trafalgar, will, even more than the first Trafalgar, make or break the backs of the despots’ realm, and could ensure our hegemony on the seas for the next half century." The man is ridiculed in the House of Commons for often referring to the battle as "Trafalgar II," especially since it’s not being fought at Trafalgar, but the witicism simply endears the British press to him all the more.
After a few skirmishes, the battles gets incredibly tense as Germans attempt to sail northward around Africa to relieve those ships wihch are trapped and can’t get through the Channel. British ships, under Admiral Fisher, pursue, while British ships near Gibraltar pocket the Italians and prevent them from exiting. Massive numbers of British and some French ships duke it out with the Germans for days in the largest sea battle in world history to that date. A small number of German ships slip trhough by going around Ireland, but even most of those are halted. To ensure continued Irish support, the Home Rule bill urged by many members of the Liberal Party is pushed through the House of Commons.
Finally, on March 22, the British fleet emerges victirous. They have suffered heavy damage, and the loss of their chief admiral, "whose likeness will soon shine along with Lord Nelson’s for eternity, guarding the grand Trafalgar Square." Admiral Richard Jellicoe is also hailed as a hero for his excellent work taking over after his commanding officer was killed in battle.
The German navy having been defeated, the Germans push for a more massive assault on the ground. The small number of airplanes which manage to make in in the air to bomb ground targets trouble the troops, especially since the still-flawed designs mean most casualties come not from bombs but from planes crashing near foxholes and exploding, shattering their debris everywhere.
A large offensive by the Germans stalls, having resulted in one of the bloodiest battles in world history. The problem: Germany has began to need massive numbers of troops to support the Austrians, who are having to drop back because of massive assaults from the Serbs, Romanians, and Ottomans, plus other small nationalities. It is then when the Kaiser hits upon an idea.
There is a young revolutionary named Mustafa Kemal in the Ottoman Empire. If the Germans could somehow fund his group, called the Young Turks, and sponsor a revolt, they could get the Ottomans out of the war. An agent of theirs has made contact with Kemal, who says he needs "aobut a year or so" before he is ready to launch a revolt. The Kaiser learns of this, and sends a message through the agent: "How much help do you need to speed things up?" The Germans hope it isn’t a lot, they are being pounded in France, and the sorry state of the Austrian and Italian militaries are weakening them more than they care to admit.
Actually, Germany just wishes the Italians would get the heck out of Africa, but that is one negative about their present position, the Italians really have no hope of gaining land in continental Europe from any of the Allies except, perhaps, France, and even the French have too strong a border force. They have grabbed some Turkish islands, and now must take their lumps in Africa. Besides, they’re just having too much fun down there, with the main focus of others on Europe; even the British are more interested in aiding the French up north then stopping Italian supply routes, leaving the Italians and Ottomans, each with small navies, to skirmish in the Med..
Kemal’s message has been relayed to the Kaiser: "Organization growing day by day, if taking over now would need assurance of no European meddling and assistance in establishing liberal democracy quickly so we can draw more supporters. If we build it, they will come. If the people think you are buliding it, they won’t."
Kaiser Wilhelm is not happy at this delay; he would like to have some control over the Middle East. The only way to do that, he feels, is to put a Hohenzollern on the throne. It was certainly *not* by allowing a democracy of any type to flourish.
However, more important to him was eliminating this wicked Southeastern front. He agreed to help Kemal, but he also approached Bulgarians who were prepared to declare indpendence. He chose to supply the Bulgarians, and not Kemal, promising that if Bulgaria revolted, Germay would support them with troops and money. Bulgaria would be much mroe likely to fall into line as a German puppet than an independent, liberal thinker like Kemal.
The Bulgarian revolt begins as the French launch a disastrous assault on German fortifications. The dense forests were being leveled, and in some cases burned up, the fires begun by exploding airplanes. As the year wore on, of course, the air industry improved markedly, a necessity with the heavy demand for it by the British and French. Germany continued to work on prototypes, but theirs were having trouble getting off the ground.
Germans launch chemical agents for the first time in an effort to break the long line of trenches which extends from about Amiens to Comar. A German contingent reaches Troyes, and another large army comes close to Paris, but the Allies beat them back. The French, though, are clearly weakened, and some troops are near mutiny.
Germans are defeated only a couple dozen miles outside of Paris, halted only because their own numbers are being decimated by a return volley of chemical weapons which the Allies launched over the last few weeks. It is here that the French take one last, desperate gamble.
France had understood when Czar Nicholas hadn’t upheld his end of a treaty with France; after all, their military was in deplorable shape. The French offered Russia a "massive tribute" to join the war against Germany, including the possibility of a lease on a warm water port in French Southeast Asia. "The Russians will take any warm water port they can get," posited one member of the French Parliament. America was also offered money, but President Roosevelt, considering America’s expansionist aims, requested something else - Guadaloupe and Martinique. The French decided to think about it.
Bulgaria having been freed, a Hohenzollern is placed on the throne. The Young Turks, seeing increased unrest, begin their revolt as well, though it will take a little longer to unfold.
Having begun a military buildup a couple years before, because of his interest in fighting in the European conflict, President Roosevelt announces that "the forces which have fomented rebellion in Turkey could very well strike here next! We cannot let them do that. Therefore, I must regretfully ask Congress for a declaration of war against Germany and Austria-Hungary." Congress declared war quickly.
Italy was left out of the equation, as the Italians, having taken about all they could in Africa, were now faced with a peace proposal; a separate peace with France, all of OTL’s Libya, Chad, bits of Central Africa and Algeria, and Tunisia plus some reparations in exchange for Italy’s entrace of the war on the Allied side.
With Italy preparing to also join the Allied cause, in hopes of capturing Trieste, the French President noted "we are following in Napoleon’s footsteps, in a way, giving up land for help with the war just as with Louisiana. However, I was elected on a platform to take back Alsace and Lorraine, and I’m not going to rest until they’re back in French hands!"
WW I in 1905, Part IV - The Tide Turns
American forces at various bases cheer the news that the Italians have signed a peace treaty with France. Upon rumors that the Italians will soon launch an attack against Austria, many shout jubilantly, figuring that they might not have to do much fighting after all.
Teddy Roosevelt, meanwhile, mulls over several things. Not wishing to wait too long, lest the Germans emerge victorious, he’d launched America into the war a little early. He couldn’t very well lead them as a general while he was President. He supposed he could go over in March of 1909, but he also heartily believed that the U.S. would have the war won by then.
Someone would need to ensure a fair peace emerged, however. So, the man who’d helped mediate the Russo-Japanese War considered that he might just break tradition - in a way. It wouldn’t be a total break, of course; Washington’s tradition only spoke of election, and he (Roosevelt) had only been elected once.
On the other hand, he’d grown a little tired of being President, and wished to try other pursuits. He could always return later. Taft had been groomed as his successor for a while, and he felt Taft could do a good job. Sure, Taft could get that Supreme Court appointment he’d always wanted in a couple years, and maybe Charles Hughes or someone could run in 1912, but it seemed a little early for the young Hughes to be running in 1912. A couple terms of Taft, maybe with one more of his own thrown in if he wanted, then Hughes could run in 1920.
There were many possibilities, and TR only had a few months to decide.
The Italian flip proved quite successful from a surprise standpoint. Austria could understand warring against a party which wasn’t really a member of the Triple Alliance, and Turkey was an old nemesis. However, Italy’s flip was mostly about land it coveted in Europe, and it antagonized the Austrians and Germans greatly. Churchill, now a member of the War Department, made a special visit to Russia to plead for Russian entry into the war. He suggested a bold strategy to Russia that "if it works, it will break the backs of the Hun."
The Czar, ever reactionary, this time chose to listen to the British. Germany was now immeshed in the Western front, and might not be able to get troops into the East quickly enough. The King was a distant relative of his. He asked the Duma to declare war, and when they refused, he did it anyway. The idea of securing a Polish buffer state had been rather sound, but Czar Nicholas would soon learn that as a tactician, Churchill was a great speaker.
Russian forces, having been enthused by early gains in Prussia, hit a brick wall as massive amounts of German chemical agents hit them. The Austrians, whom Churchill had believed too weak from the Italian switch and the propping up of the Bulgarian king - now married to an Austrian Princess - lashed out at the Russians with a powerful thrust eastward and then northward. At one point, the still-weak Russian military was nearly surrounded by Austrians and Germans zooming eastward by rail toward East Prussia. They fought their way out while receiving heavy casualties, and soon began to lament listening to Churchill. As one Duma member screamed late that month, "there is a reason we are not friends with the British - they are too stupid to wage a successful war on land; the only thing they know is the ocean."
Meanwhile, American forces began to arrive in France to "make the world safe for democracy." At home, President Roosevelt opted to remain at the helm, running for a second elected term. "It will surely be my last," he announced, and while some opposed this as a break with tradition, he was well-liked enough that most chose to regard that no, the letter of the tradition really wasn’t being violated. Of course, if America suffered any major setbacks, that mood could change.
The Ottomans quit the war after the Young Turks revolt forced drastic changes in the Constitution and government. The name "Turkey" was adopted Mustafa Kemal promised that "we are no longer the "sick man of Europe." Detractors said the main reason was there were almost no holdings in Europe, but that was beside the point. Kemal began a series of changes that focused attention away from "petty squabbles which have produced the bloodiest war in history," and instead tried to modernize along the American model. Corruption and graft would, hopefully, become things of the past.
After some more waiting and major destruction in some areas, the Germans launched another minor offensive. This one was met with American troops, who managed to hold the line. (Remember, these troops had been preparing for 2 years.) It was now the Germans’ turn to flounder, as America’s Great White Fleet attacked remaining German ships mercilessly. Though the Americans suffered moderately heavy losses, their precision was such that the British even suggested using that fleet to land troops in northern Gremany, as a diversion. American leaders thankfully convinced the British that Belgium would be a better place.
A small force lands in Belgium to draw some Germans northward and take a load off the French trenches. Gradually, the Allies were winning, though Russia contined to be ground down in the east, as they fought a very nasty battle for Warsaw. It got uglier when the Kaiser promised his own buffer state if the Poles revolted. Polish leaders quickly cabled the Czar: "Germany has matched your offer, give us total indpendence or we fight for the Germans."
This infuriated Czar Nicholas, who ordered troops to attack the rebellious Poles as well. The colleague who’d spoken to Churchill some two years earlier issued this statement in the British Parliament: "I must apolgize to my learned colleague, Mr. Churchill; it appears the Czar is indeed much more stupid than I had suspected."
With the Russians in a near-civil war in Poland, Germany was having far too much fun gobbling up pieces of Russia. As the Russians fell back and maintained defensive positions, the people were once again in an uproar. Rioting and strikes began to break out, as the people decried the leadership of "the man who just lost an empire in an afternoon."
Of course, German advances in Russia meant having some setbacks on the Western Front, giving Roosevelt more ammunition to claim that "America is winning the Great War," but they continued to maintain territory in Belgium and northeastern France. Some spoke of a cease fire and possible truce, but such things never materialized.
Teddy Roosevelt beat the Democratic challenger in the U.S. election. The race was somewhat close, but not incredibly so.
Austria began falling apart itself, as it faced serious internal dissension among Hungarian and Slav forces, who were upset that the Austro-Hungarians were supporting Bulgarian independence from the Ottoman Empire, but ignoring their own nationalities. Talk began openly of a Triple or even Quadruple Monarchy.
Strikes and dissension worsen as Russians openly kill Poles, with Germans in turn massacring Russian troops.
January: A full-scale revolt, aided by Mensheviks, breaks out in Moscow, with Russian troops less able to handle this one. Austria is merely holding its own with Russia, but Germany has taken most of Poland and Lithuania.
The Czar reluctantly abdicates in favor of his brother, Mikhail, who grants enormous power to the Duma.
The Duma pulls Russia out of the war, amid worries that Poland will be annexed by Germany. However, U.S. forces are having an impact, and manage to hold as German troops come back from the East.
A cease-fire is agreed to, with America’s Roosevelt proclaiming that "this was not the ‘splended little war’ I had hoped for, but we have seen dynasties fall, we have seen democracy triumph against the forces of tyranny, and soon we shall see the fruits of victory throughout the Earth."
The peace conference, however, would be anything but routine.