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How Britain can really win World War One

The British nation won World War One at a cost to its social and political structures that would crush the empire, the status quo and end British superpower forever.  The huge human cost in fighting the war, often paid on the say-so of French strategists, caused massive dismay and caused a growing anti-war movement in Britain itself, which had the effect of taking Britain to the border of the abyss in 1939. 

It need not have been that way.  Britain had had years of experience fighting wars that, on the strategic level, were huge sieges.  While I concede there was a need to keep France in the war, there was no need to allow the French to spend British troops – or their own for that matter – like water. 

I’m going to start on the assumption that the British declaration of war was inevitable.  A timeline in which the British do not join the war is very different.  Having done that, the real change is that the British use their power to its greatest advantage, rather than futile fighting on the western front. 

The first thing to do is make it clear to the French who’s in charge strategically – the British[1].  The price for British support, money and supplies is dancing to a tune called by the British on the strategic level.  The French get tactical command – there were not enough British officers in any case – and a promise of British support for the recovery of Alsace-Lorraine[2].  The British make it clear to the French that the allies can support a long war – which the Germans can’t – and the only way to lose is to allow the Germans a shot at victory.  Therefore, no hare-brained offensive into Germany just after the war breaks out[3]. 

This has the effect of allowing the French to shift reserves towards Belgium as soon as it becomes clear how the Germans are attacking.  Instead of a German march to French, they run into heaver opposition than OTL and get stopped in their tracks by a large French force and a token British force.  The war degenerates into static fighting. 

The British push the Russians into doing the same thing; they build defensive lines and concentrate on pushing Austria-Hungary.  The idea is to bleed Germany white. 

Standard British tactics and strategy tend to involve attacks on their foe’s colonies.  In most of the British wars, that was important because those colonies could generate military power and threaten the British in places they’d sooner forget about (although no foreign colony could do that on the scale of India or British North America[4]).  However, that’s not so important with most of the German colonies.  The real exception to that is German East Africa, which is invaded by South Africa (and annexed directly by them[5]) and the German Pacific Islands, which are invaded by Australia and Japan.  Japan also invades the German bases in China[6].  The reminder of the German colonies are blockaded and left to wither (or for one of the British colonies to raise a volunteer force to invade and annex the hapless Germans). 

The British are building up a powerful land army, with the vague promise made to the French that it will be sent to the western front and used in a final offensive after Germany weakens.  The British don’t exactly mean to break that promise – they just expect the war to be over before they need to make a substantial commitment to the front.  The real use of that army is in reinforcing Egypt and then pushing the war against the Ottoman Empire. 

The British have a large number of experts on the Middle East.  In OTL, their advice was ignored until too late, here; lets have the British listen to their people on the ground.  The British arm and train the Arabs and promise them the Middle East as an Arab republic, which will become a junior partner of Britain[7].  There is no need in this timeline for a balancing act between competing nationalist, French, Italian and Russian claims.  The main British concern is to have influence rather than formal domination of the Middle East. 

How long the Ottoman Empire can survive under these circumstances, particularly as Britain increases the size of its army and its logistics in Egypt, is questionable.  However, the expanded British army can then be used to force the Dardanelles, which would allow the British to seize Constantinople and defeat the Turkish government[8].  At this point, I suspect the Young Turks would make a deal with Britain under the threat of the French, Russians, Greeks and Italians dividing up the Turkish heartlands.  Turkey leaves the war, gives up the lost territory to Britain and the Arab republic (or whatever polity forms) and interns the Germans in the country at the time. 

The defeat of the ottomans probably leads swiftly to the defeat and collapse of Austria-Hungary.  In OTL, the British and French made a deal with the Italians, promising territorial gains in exchange for their support, which they then defaulted on[9].  In ATL, it’s important not to offer the Italians any of the Ottoman territories, so the British offer them one of the German colonies in exchange for their declaration of war and an attack against Austria-Hungary.  The pressure of the Russians on the east and the Italians (plus a small British contribution) and nationalist feelings causes the Austria-Hungarians to seek a peace deal.  News of this gets out and the empire collapses into civil war. 

This places Germany alone and friendless.  They’ve lost some of their colonies and others are suffering from being cut off by British blockade from the homeland.  The British have completed the task of building a massive army and are facing pressure from the French to deploy it to the western front.  The French have been inflicting four-to-one German casualties, but their army is starting to feel the pressure.  As the British start to deploy their army, the Germans begin to consider peace talks, a consideration that becomes far more important as the British launch this timelines equivalent of the battle of Cambrai and shatter a large section of the German lines[10]. 

The Germans have been enjoying success in the east to some degree, penetrating Russian lines and breaking through in a number of places, but they need to withdraw most of their troops to face the new offensive and, despite a massive German offensive (a cross between Verdun and a 1916 version of the 1918 ‘Michael’ offensive), face defeat in the field.  The Germans sue for peace, just in time to save the Tsar from a popular revolution. 

The peace is fairly mild at first.  Germany loses her colonies to Britain (apart from a couple to Italy), returns invaded Russian territory (and an intact polish liberation army) to Russia, leave Belgium and surrenders most of the surviving navy.  However, France is not satisfied and demands some extra German territory, which the Germans are forced to hand over under protest. 

Aftermath:  The British have a new trading partner in the Middle East and greater control over the region.  They don’t, however, feel like making and keeping commitments to the Jews and offer them parts of Africa instead of Israel, a deal that annoys Jewish opinion. 

French probably blame the British for their higher costs in the war.

[1] This is probably the greatest single hitch in the AH – the first ASB signal, to borrow Scott’s term.  French were very determined to keep Britain as occupied as possible on the western front, and French pride demanded the recovery of any occupied French territory (inc Alsace-Lorraine).  However, the French needed to win the war to survive as a Power of any kind, Britain had the ability to leave the war at will, so the British effectively blackmail the French. 

[2] Second greatest hitch.  This assumes pre-war planning or very quick thinking. 

[3] This is a significant POD on its own.  French nearly put their entire army into a trap, which the desperate resistance of the BEF at Mons and the French victory at the Marne saved them from. 

[4] No French, German, Spanish or Italian colony could generate huge armies and act on their own without higher authority.  Most powers had colonial regiments, but none of their colonies could generate effectively independent military power.  

[5] This is needed to secure South African participation in the war. Smuts would have done it on his own, with or without Britain’s say so. 

[6] Probably inevitable. 

[7] Better from the British point of view then massive annexations, which would require huge garrisons and allow the French to demand a share. 

[8] British bad planning, French insistence on participation and bad logistics allowed the Turks to keep ahead (sometimes barely) of the allied invasion force.  Here, the British hit the Turks with everything at once. 

[9] Essentially accurate, although British/French did not expect the Turks to keep an independent nation. 

[10] Brits had the idea for tanks and tank tactics in 1914.  Bad leadership slowed down their development. 

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