Normally Christmas was a joyous occasion for the city, but right now it was hiding, trying to come to grips with the reality it had woken up that morning. The Romans lined the streets and waited for the inevitable, for what the Radio had instructed them to wait for, relenting, unresisting and in mass numbers. It had started snowing again, but the snow falling down from the sky was light even by local standards and and did not impede them much. The snow was falling on a mostly silent crowd and snow from the day before yesterday that had melted and then frozen again last night. Then a low word ran through the crowd.
“They are coming.”
Most people couldn't hear or see anything, even those in the windows that were putting out white flags out of the many windows of the flat buildings this part of Rome consisted of. For all of them it was a wholly novel experience. Of course they had seen their fair share of parades and in all sorts of weather, but never like this. For them defeat was a completely new experience and in spite of the Government's orders they did not know what to expect. Propaganda hadn't demonized the Allied Forces as much as the Japanese did, not that they knew that, but there was still a cloud of fear hanging over them, adding to the already charged atmosphere.
The child who had spoken was sitting on top of his father's shoulders who in turn was standing on top of a building. At this, he put his son down and together they walked down. When they stepped onto the street, careful not to slip on the cobblestone they watched and looked down the street. The first thing they noticed of the approaching Allied troops were not marching troops, roaring planes or armoured vehicles but rather their own peculiar sort of music, which the father as bagpipes. The music, if one could call it such, was preceding the advancing troops as it was usual not only with the British Army. Soon everyone around them began to strain their necks in order to get a good look at their new masters and after roughly two to five minutes the first came around the corner. Up front marched a band of men playing the pipes and drums, wearing kilts instead of standard BD trousers, braving the cold and playing 'Scotland the brave' on their instruments with concentration. The whole column, a whole Regiment of troops, was marching with a precision that would have put the most elite formations of the Axis armies to shame. These soldiers were dressed in the normal British-pattern BDs and had the winter Equipment strapped to their backs and hips, their Rifles over the left shoulder and looking straight ahead, not once acknowledging the presence of the Italian civilians. Upon closer inspection however one could see that they were not only wearing a shoulder patch with an eagle and a silver 48 on it, but also had a read Maple Leaf stitched onto their uniforms, marking them not as British but rather Canadian troops, or rather the 48th Highlanders of Canada that marched into Rome to martial music and without a shot being fired. Right behind them came what turned out to be the Commander of I Canadian Corps, known as the Canadian Expeditionary Force, Lt. General Harry Crerar in the sort of Land Rover with a convertible roof, standing up and looking not like the military mind that had crushed opposition that outnumbered his troops by a fair margin. Behind him came another Infantry Regiment, this one too Canadian, but they were driving on the small tracked light Armoured Vehicles that the Allies called Universal Carrier officially and Bren Carrier in fact, and it took them a longer time to pass the spot where the father and his son were standing.
Then came what impressed the Italians the most. At first they heard the clattering of chains on the cobblestone and the roar of dozens of Diesel engines and those that had served knew that his meant tanks. It stopped snowing, but no one cared as tank after tank came around the corner. The Cromwells were painted in a colour that fitted well into the winter landscape of southern and central Italy, and good god they were larger than most tanks the Italian Army had, with the exception of the same Maple Leaf on the side and sometimes their flag from wireless antennas. They were giving off the impression of an experienced and battle-hardened force, evident not only from the hard stares of the crews as they were standing in their hatches with their black berets in regulation position but also from the field modifications and evident repairs on their vehicles, most of all though from the frighteningly large number of kill rings many of them had painted onto the barrels of their long main guns. The Music began to fade into the distance, but the army marching through didn't. Row after row of soldiers marched past, and soon it were not only Canadians, but also British, Polish, Belgian and Dutch troops, each equipped and trained after the British pattern but marching under their own flags, ramming home the message that the Allies firmly intended nothing but the full and total defeat of the Axis powers.
But what had brought this about? How could the Allies march into Rome like this without fear of resistance from the Italian Army? The events of the last four days had seen to that, even though some Historians would later claim that the Dutch Air Force and the Italian King had merely been Deus Ex Machina for a higher power.
After the Canadians had broken the Axis lines to the south-east of the city and entered the outskirts of the city they had received orders to halt. This was because Alexander and his subordinate Commanders rightly feared that the Italians would rush every armed soldier they could scrape together into Rome, and city fighting would surely grind up the CEF if it was to go in alone, so the 48th Highlanders, the leading Allied unit were ordered to halt until the rest of the Allied Forces around the southern end of Rome. When Mussolini, having managed to regain contact with the Italian Forces in the field gave a flurry of orders to his Generals. First he removed the Italian Armed Forces from the structure of the Axis Command and then demanded that the Italian Army, his Blackshirts and every able-bodied man was to hurl itself at the Allies. So while both sides paused, the political machinery in Italy kicked into gear, the initiative coming from an unexpected side: The Italian King.
Victor Emmanuel III of Italy had refused to evacuate Rome against the wishes and thinly-veiled orders of the Duce, preferring to share the fate of his subjects, his capital City and of his son who had been badly wounded when his unit had been smashed by the 3rd Gurkha Mountain Rifle Division. When the King heard what Mussolini's plans for Rome and the war were he was aghast. The Allies had roundly beaten Italy and Mussolini was trying to turn Rome into a second Warsaw in spite of Rommel declaring it an open city. What happened next is one of the few and rare points in history that could bring disaster and deliverance at the same time, depending on how the players acted. In Facist Italy the nominal authority for the workings of the state still lay with the King even though Mussolini had long since stripped the Monarchy of it's authority but even so the King still commanded considerable influence.
Radio Rome, a day earlier
“Y...Your Majesty...” The workers at the station had had their share of bigshots over the years but never the King. Never in person. Unlike the Duce he always pre-recorded his speeches and was never seen in the station, but now he had rushed to it as fast as possible.
“Is everything ready?” “Yes, your Majesty.”
The King stepped into a broadcasting booth and he knew that what he was about to do would make or break not only the Monarchy but Italy itself.
“To the Italian People, to the Italian Soldiers of all branches!
The military situation of Italy is grave. The enemy has invaded our shores and stands poised to take our Capital. Enemy bombers, fighters and Infiltrators are ranging our skies almost at will. In spite of the best efforts of our troops and our allies much of our country is now in enemy hands.
After examining this current situation and condition closely, I have decided to take extraordinary measures. I hereby order our government to inform the governments and representatives of the the British Empire and the Allied that the Italian nation offers an honourable cease-fire. Italian soldiers: There are those that want you to fight on, to fight inside Rome itself. If you receive orders to this effect: do not follow them! The legitimate Italian Government does not issue them, it and the Italian people do no longer want to fight a lost war. There are still Axis forces fighting on Italian soil, and therefore those that feel that Italy should fight on. To them I say that I will demand in the name of the Kingdom of Italy that they are to vacate all Italian possessions at once and in a peaceful manner. To the others I say that any prolongation of the fighting would only lead to Italy being shred to pieces between two powers greater than ourselves.
It is the role of the Monarchy and the Government to strive for prosperity and happiness throughout the world, and for the security and well-being of the Italian people. War was declared on the Allied powers of Britain and France to further the Italian position. The war has failed and our Armies have been defeated, so there is no point in fighting on.
This war has now lasted two years, and despite the best efforts of the military, the government and the Italian people, this war has not been successful for Italy. The enemy now possesses a foothold on Italian soil, and Allied Armies are large and plentiful with large reserves. If we continue to fight this war, this mass of men and machines will destroy the Italian Nation and bring untold destruction and death.
As a result, I have no way to save the millions of Italian citizens other than to surrender.
I express my deepest regret to our allies in Europe who have worked hard with us to achieve victory. I am pained by the thought of the officers who died in service to me, and their bereaved families. My greatest concern is for the welfare of the wounded and for those who have lost their homes and livelihoods.
The road ahead for Italy will be very difficult and I am aware that many will feel betrayed. However due to the current situation, I have resolved that there is no option but to work to achieve peace for all the generations to come. To do this we must surrender and deliver ourselves to the mercy of our enemies.
To maintain the structure of the Italian nation, I am working for you, and I am relying on the sincerity and goodwill of the Allied Nations. I ask you to remain calm and to refrain from fighting with your fellow citizens, so that we do not lose the confidence of the world.
Let us work together for the future, confident that our nation will endure, but also aware of the heavy responsibilities and the difficult road ahead. Work together to rebuild the nation for the future, so that we may keep pace with the world.”
The King stepped back from the microphone and took out his handkerchief. He wiped his forehead and face while stepping out of the booth into the corridor. Outside the workers of the station were looking at themselves and at the King. What hey had just heard was so different from what they had broadcast only yesterday, but if the King himself said that the war was lost...
“So what now, your Majesty?” asked his aide-de-camp.
“Now we wait Major, now we wait.”
“Do you think that the Allies will accept or even react, Sir?”
The King sighed and strolled over to a window that looked out over the roofs of Rome. “I hope so.”
The news that the Italian King had broadcast and offered what amounted to a surrender of Italy was reported to Field Marshal Alexander in an instant. He had the authority to grant local cease-fires, but nothing on this scale. This was not a Division, this was an entire country. He doubted that the Italians were completely honest. He knew as well as anybody that there were some rabid fanatics in the Italian ranks, but if even some were inclined to surrender... at the very least it would throw Rommel's lines into disarray. Such were his recommendations when he flashed the news to Algiers and London. The French were unsure, but the PM, caught in the bath and always keen to create rifts authorized Alexander to accept without bothering to consult either Gort or any other of his top commanders. Within four hours the most powerful wireless transmitters that the Allies had in Italy were broadcasting only the following on the frequency of Radio Rome: “We accept”, followed by orders to all Allied units to hold positions.
Meanwhile the Italian high command was in turmoil. While the 48th Highlanders of Canada marched into Rome Mussolini began to loudly rant about betrayal and backstabbing by a perfidious monarchy and vowed to personally hang the King once the victorious Italian Armies marched into Rome, while the Generals that were tasked to make it happen had not lost touch with reality, as a matter of fact many were agreeing with the King. Unlike the Duce they had actually read the reports and drawn more or less correct conclusions and knew that Italy had the choice between fighting on and be surely ground to pieces between the Axis and the Allies or to give up know while there was still something of Italy left to defend. The Italian Army had been slowly disintegrating since the fall of Lybia, and those that were in favour of giving up had time and again been forced to swallow their comments for fear of their own life and careers.
Those that were in favour of fighting on joined the Duce in his rants and they had sort of a point. If the Italian troops retreated north together with their Axis partners they could be re-equipped with German and Soviet Equipment and fight on. In this however they did blatantly disregard three things that were blatantly obvious to anyone else, either by choice or by ignorance. Firstly the Italian Army was soundly outmatched in most respects by the Allied troops that were all more or less equipped and trained after the British pattern, Armaments factories straining to produce the weapons needed for that. While non-British and Canadian units were somewhat light on heavy Artillery with the CEF and the British Army having priority for those guns the Allied troops still had a vast superiority in firepower. Secondly morale within the Italian Army was shattered. The proud Italian troops that had gone to war in Africa last year had been soundly thrashed by an Army that hadn't outnumbered them until recently, and being comprehensively beaten by a force smaller than your own was enough to break the morale of any unit. Thirdly the Italian civilians were sick of war. While they had no particular hatred for the Fascists at this point they were sick of being shot at, of Artillery exploding, bombs falling and the constant sound of Battle and only wanted it to be over. To prevent the bloodbath everyone was sure would follow if Mussolini managed to put forces into Rome an attempt was made to arrest the Duce only to have him and his most loyal Officers slip through their fingers thanks to a car parked on the other side of the building.
So when Mussolini made a counter-broadcast from a far less powerful station near Terni the reaction was lacklustre. When acceptance from Alexander came in, most of the Italian units that had heard the broadcast or received the orders ceased fighting and waited for the Allies to arrive and disarm them. The Allied troops on the other hand moved forward slow and careful. The Italians however for the most part did not put up any more resistance even though there were isolated incidents between fanatics and those that obeyed the King more than idiotic orders from Mussolini who wasn't even their nominal Commander in Chief any more. On the whole though the Allies marched into and around Rome without incident.
The lack of a German or Soviet reaction however puzzled Alexander and his commanders. The other Axis forces were withdrawing north at speed and most did not realize that their left flank had disappeared until the next morning, by which time the Allies were close on their heels, driving right into the gap that the collapse of the Italian Army after the surrender had brought. The orderly axis retreat turned into a disorganized rout when conflicting orders came in that gave several different positions for the new main line of resistance.
Why this was so wasn't fully explained until several weeks later. Rommel had been driving northwards in his mobile command post when he himself had heard the Italian King's broadcast. He remarked then that there was nothing to be done and ordered the Axis forces to retreat to the line where eventually the Allies would run into them again, while at the same time Rommel's second in Command, Lieutenant-General Hans-Jürgen von Arnim sent out orders to hold on another line that ran south of what Rommel orders. The fact that von Arnim had flown ahead three days earlier in anticipation of a situation like this one. He had lost contact with Rommel and was executing standing orders as he had them. Rommel tried to reverse the Chaos that resulted but his command car was strafed by a Dutch Spitfire seriously wounding and knocking out the German Commander for two crucial weeks, allowing the Allies to roll up much of central Italy without much organized resistance while in the south Alexander and representatives from all the Allied powers fleshed out the real armistice with the Italians and rear area forces disarmed the Italian troops.
Eventually the document was signed:
On the initiative of the Kingdom of Italy to the hands of the representatives of the Allied powers of the British Empire, the Dominion of Canada, the Dominion of Australia, the Dominion of New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, the Republic of Poland, the Republic of France, the Kingdom of Belgium and the Kingdom of the Netherlands the signatory powers agree to enter an armistice by noon on the 30th of December 1941. This Armistice extends to all Italian and Allied Forces by Land, Sea and Air.
Conditions of the Armistice are as follows:
- The Italian Army, Air Force and Navy are immediately ceasing all forms of support of the Axis powers.
- Italian units engaged with Allied Forces anywhere in the world will immediately cease active resistance against Allied Forces.
- The Italian Army and Air Force will be demobilized immediately.
- The Italian Navy will return to Taranto and/or Allied held ports immediately and the ships be interned for the remainder of the war.
- The Allied powers will release all future prisoners of war within the next two months.
- Italian Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen who agree to return home Without further acts of resistance against the Allied Powers are free to do so without hindrance by the Allied authorities.
- Italy north of Rome is to remain under Allied administration until all Axis forces are expelled from Italian territory.
- Italy south of Rome and Rome itself are returned to Italian Authorities after Democratic and free elections can be organized.
- The Kingdom of Italy will not be forced to declare war against the Axis powers but will renounce membership in said Alliance.
- Further stipulations will be negotiated for the final Peace treaty.
The Kingdom of Italy:
His Majesty, King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy
The British Empire:
Field Marshal Alexander, GOC Allied Forces in Europe
Dominion of Canada:
Lt. General Crear, Commander in Chief, Canadian Expeditionary Force
Dominion of Australia:
General Morshead, Commander in Chief, Australian Imperial Force
Dominion of New Zealand:
General Freyberg, New Zealand Expeditionary Corps
Union of South Africa:
General Smuts, Commander in Chief, South African Expeditionary Forces
Republic of Poland:
General Sikorsky, GOC Polish Combined Forces in Exile, GOC Polish Army
Republic of France:
Monsieur Blum, President of the Republic
General Jean Joseph Marie Gabriel de Lattre de Tassigny, French Expeditionary Army
Kingdom of Belgium:
General Jean-Baptiste Piron, CinC Belgian Expeditionary Group, Commander 1st Belgian Infantry Division.
Kingdom of the Netherlands:
Admiral Karel Doorman, CinC Royal Netherlands Navy, Royal Netherlands Expeditionary Forces in Europe.
The forward Allied units, mostly the British and Polish Armoured Divisions, raced after the retreating German and Soviet forces, smashing the feeble resistance the Germans and Soviet rear-guards were putting up before running head-on into the line that would dominate the war in Italy for a long time: The Gustav-line. Built by the Organisation Todt this line consisted of gun pits, concrete bunkers, turreted machine-gun emplacements, barbed-wire and minefields, built in a line stretching from between Genoa and La Spezia in the west through Modena in the centre of Italy to the coast in the east. The Germans and Soviets had been building the line since shortly after the Allied landings, overruling the Italian General Staff who saw this as defeatist, and now von Arnim hoped that it would hold the Allies until overwhelming numbers could be brought to bear on them. Both sides knew that the fight for the line would be a long and bitter one.
[Notes: There you go. And since AoD is delayed until Q1 2010, I even get more time to write stuff during the holidays, even though I bought Killing Floor instead. Please, please save/memorize that map. You'll need it.]
 Of course taking some liberties due to rule of cool.
more cool updates, sweet seeing your versions of historical events, like the italian surrender or attack on rommel. with this stalemate on the Gustav line, are we going to be seeing action on other fronts or simply skipping ahead a bit to the point at which it is (presumably) breached?
Kurt_Steiner Yeah. But there will be attempts to break through.
Griffin.Gen Well yes, but I have great plans for the RCAF, great plans indeed. And as an added gimmick, the Canadians have taken over the military administration of Rome too.
BritishImperial Thank you, thank you. The Allies aren't near the main line of resistance yet. Before they can hope to try and break through they have to clear forward lighter field fortifications that are several miles deep. I will jump ahead, but we will see the breakthrough battles.
all I plan to end this book now. The Christmas Special will be between books so to speak.
Realising somewhat belatedly that I haven't commented on AAO for a good few updates, I'd just like to say that I loved this update. Great portrayal of the King, described to me by my A-Level History master (as Oirish as it is possible to be) as "Victor Emmanuel de turd".
Am a little confused as to the size of Alexander's command - you mention a whole raft of nations in the armistice. How many of them have contributed troops?
Those that are on the document have contributed. In many cases though it's not more than a single Division and a few Fighter Squadrons. Aside from the Commonwealth Countries only the French and the Poles are contributing more than a Division or so. The French are late arrivals as at last they have come to terms with the British calling the shots.
The man was almost one of the only ones on the Air India shuttle flight from Bombay. Normally these flights were full since Singapore's King George VI airport was the air hub for south-east Asia, Oceania and the central Pacific but at this time of the day there was little traffic, especially during the holidays. When the de Havilland-Vickers Superb came in to land the brightly lit airport was visible with the sprawling metropolis nearby and only a stretch less than a mile wide not dotted with housing.
After touch-down the aircraft taxied to the terminal and the few passengers disembarked and went past the inter-imperial customs barrier for their luggage. When the man showed his passport the customs officer showed no reaction to the name on it aside from a quick glance at the face that was slightly younger in the picture than it was in reality. The man made no reaction himself and walked to the luggage reclaiming area where he quickly found his. Outside the terminals a long line of taxi-cabs was waiting and he selected the one closest to the door he was coming out of and soon he was sitting in the comfortable back of the car driving towards Singapore proper past one of the many war memorials on the Island. His hotel was placed in one of the better regions of the city, but he did not care much for that. He checked in and fell asleep on his bed and in his clothes while watching the season's first rerun of Carry On Singapore on TV which was a tradition all over the Crown Dependency.
The next morning, after a shower and a hearty breakfast the man whose first name was Andrew walked out of the hotel and decided not to take a Taxi this time. He hadn't spent much time here for a few years now, but he still knew his way around. When his father had been a boy he had spent some time here while his Grandfather had been stationed here during the war. Up in the air a Squadron which as it happened was No. 633 Squadron and currently on rotation and he could see four of their Lightnings on the sky even now as they swept their wings into the position for which the Lightning was so famous. Andrew wasn't in the service as it was tradition in his family and had instead opted for the senior Service at a very young age, the publicity that his father had brought to the family was not something that was more prominent within the Royal Navy than it was when he was walking down the street, unlike in the RAF. Singapore was still the main far-eastern British Fleet base and seat of JSHQ Far East so even in uniform he would not have stood out of any crowd here, but he wasn't due back in Bombay and on HMS Lion for another two weeks, so he had decided to savour the opportunity to wear civilian clothes around the clock. As he walked through the streets of Singapore he rarely looked up past the towering skyscrapers that pierced the sky and instead used the signs on the buildings and advertisements to brush up his Malay. It took him the better part of the morning to get where he was going and by mid-day he stopped and bought his lunch from a street vendor near the Special Air Service Memorial and ate on the steps that led up to the monument. He had to say, the city had not changed much since he had last been here shortly after coming out of Dartmouth on his way to his first assignment on HMS Formidable. After an hour of lounging around Andrew decided that it was time to get down to why he was here. Near the memorial there was the Imperial Cementary where those that had died during the war, civilian and military alike were buried and long rows of crosses, half moons, stars of David and normal grave stones denoted the final resting places of the dead. He knew where he was going even though this was the first time in years he was coming here. He looked up and looked back towards the city for which so many on both sides had died.
Andrew was looking for one specific grave among the many here. 23rd row, ten down when viewed from the south Entrance near the Naval Base. He walked past the long rows of graves before finally reaching the one he was looking for. Like many of them it was well cared for by the local Branch and Club of the Royal British Legion that had taken over those that had no dependants living near the location. The sky was clear, unusual for this time of the year, but Andrew was thankful that it was, because he hated rain when he was on land. Like the person he had come to visit he felt best when he was out there and on the sea. The upstart Carrier lads might think different, but nothing compared to standing on the Bridge of a Dreadnought when it left port. Then he could see the headstone. On the top the family insignia, around them a small Union flag and the Blue Ensign of the Crown Dependency. Andrew didn't see this as unusual, the military life was deeply ingrained within his family ever since his grandfather had joined the service before World War Two and the many battles that had been fought during the war.
He looked down at the headstone and read the name on the headstone again. He knew that the man laying buried here was lucky that there had been laid to rest here even though he had been wounded several hundred miles away so now his family had a place to grief on instead of him being buried in the cold, distant earth on 'enemy' territory.
“Good afternoon, Grandpa.” Andrew said.
“I know you probably don't approve of me never learning to fly or joining the service that does, but I still...” he paused, trying to find words. “I...I...” He paused again. “It's been far too long since I was here... Jesus, it was at least twenty years, back in '65... I was just a little boy back then, hardly taller than your headstone...and now here I am again, taller, older and most certainly less fit than I was back then.” He snorted and went on: “That's what you get from becoming a sailor and serving everywhere but on land. But...that's not why I am here.”
Andrew turned and hid the lower half of his face behind his hand before talking again.
“Dad was sick. Very sick. It wasn't cancer or anything, but...something that he said you would find somewhat funny, nothing more than a ruptured appendix gone very, very bad. He almost died, and he is still rather weak. The thing is though, he found something.”
Andrew went to his knees and pulled an object from his pocket.
“Anyhow, I was just back on leave, Lion is currently under refit at Rosyth, so I took three weeks leave and came here... at his request. As you might know he can't very well go anywhere without being recognized, never mind that his doctor has still banned him from flying, and that's something that must really annoy him. He said that this was something that apparently you wanted to have.”
Andrew paused again and watched as a group of elderly Canadian Veterans walked past, the Ensign of the Royal Canadian Navy leading their procession as they honoured their own dead. When they were past, Andrew spoke again.
“Anyhow, here it is.”
He placed the object on the headstone. He stepped back and paused before taking it again and examining it closer for the first time since he had boarded the plane to Bombay back at Heathrow. It was a small wooden box several inches long and wide. Inside Andrew found a “Siege of Singapore” medal that had been posthumously given to his grandfather after the war. This was the original, his father had had a facsimile made years ago, but only now the original was coming to where it had been supposed to be all these years. Andrew buried the box in the soil that held his Grandfather's body.
“Father is really sorry he can't come himself. Dear God, I am sorry he couldn't come himself.”
Stepping back Andrew clasped his hands together and said:
“I wish I'd known you personally. Father has bored me to death with his war stories, but...I started show interest and suddenly your name pops up almost everywhere, and let me say you this: I am very proud of what you did.”
With that Andrew stepped back. He saluted the headstone and then turned to leave. His job here was done.
[Notes: I hope you like it. It's not very Christmas-y but this was where it was going and I felt I should let it go there.]
 350-seater Super VC10, there were studies for a double-decked version that would have managed this kind of seating. Alas, nothing came of it. It's not unreasonable to say that an aircraft like this couldn't have had the same growth the 747 had over the years. I am presupposing here that after the disaster with the Valiant Bomber Vickers has sold it's aviation Division to de Havilland and the Superb is produced under dH/V for marketing reasons.
Also, over the next day or two I will be on a writing spree. I'd rather have my brother and sister here with me, but thanks to them not coming this year I have time to write a lot and so I will do little else. This might mean at least one, maybe even two updates tomorrow and probably another one the day after that.
Ambassador St Claire was again in the conference room, only that today he was not alone on his side of the table because the negotiation team from London had arrived last week and now, for the first time since the end of the Quebec uprising the representatives of the Empire and the UAPR were talking to each other officially. They had spent day after day here, fleshing out some sort of agreement. The preliminary talks had been easy enough. St Claire hadn't needed much time to make the relative positions of both sides versus the Japanese clear, but then the troubles started. The Americans were not willing to co-ordinate their own potential war effort with the British, and the British were not willing to make any form of political, military or technological concessions and that was something that the Americans wanted, if not openly then clearly behind closed doors. The British Intelligence networks in the UAPR were still rather minimal, but amongst other things the Americans had trouble making their own RDF technology work and had trouble with high-performance aircraft engines that also delivered this performance at great heights and now, at least behind their doors and informally mentioned once or twice they wanted technological assistance from the British who had experience with high-altitude aircraft. This however went against the policies and basically against the personal convictions of St Claire.
The Americans had however relented on a few things. Warships of one side would be allowed to refuel in the Pacific ports of the other, aircraft and ship recognition books exchanged and if war was to break out then major operations be communicated if practicable. The military members of the team were less than enthusiastic about that but there was nothing that could be done, or at least nothing that the briefs and guidelines from No.10 allowed.
He had been very, very surprised when the Prime Minister himself had arrived in Washington aboard HMS Hood fresh out of the dock, and was now engaged in a battle of wits and political manoeuvres with Browder. They were more similar than anyone around the table cared to admit, but their platforms were different. Churchill was held accountable by a bi-cameral Parliament and the King, Browder and the Central Committee could pretty much do as they pleased, since the emergency regulations from the times of the Civil war had been conveniently forgotten about and were still in effect. Militarily the Allies and the UAPR were also different. The Allies had only minimal Naval Forces in the area, the RAN and RNZN, along with the RNN were good for local defence but nothing more until Force A was moved to Singapore where they would arrive on the 2nd of the next month. In ground forces though the Allies were stronger and easily capable of defending the British and Allied holdings in the South Pacific. The Americans on the other hand had most of their strength at Pearl Harbour, cannibalizing their Atlantic Fleet to bring the Pacific Fleet back up to full strength, while most of their ground forces were still arrayed in the northern areas of the UAPR. The Japanese though... they were a wildcard, even more than usual. Negotiations between the Japanese and the British were still going on at Hong Kong, the Japanese Fleet was conduction manoeuvres in Philippine waters while President Mac Arthur was sitting in Manilla, not daring to say much about that lest he been ground to pieces between the Japanese and the Communists. Mac Arthur and his Republic (if the term was applied loosely) were a bone of content between the British and the Americans for reasons of trade and geopolitics and that was something that was conveniently forgotten for the moment.
'War, or rather threat of war makes for strange bedfellows.' St Claire thought as he watched Churchill and Browder bicker over the issue of the sharing of Intelligence Information. MI6 believed that the Americans may have cracked the Japanese Foreign Office codes at the very least, and it was reasonable to assume that they were working on JN-25, the Japanese Naval Codes since Britain was most likely doing the same. St Claired was spot on without knowing. Bletchley Park had long since cracked the Japanese Diplomatic Codes and JN-25 was being worked on but proved to be a difficult fellow to crack. Neither side was willing to do anything to compromise the own decryption efforts and that made it rather difficult to come to an understanding. And while the diplomats talked, the military acted.
Right at this moment a massive troop convoy was moving from the Calif..Pacifican Coast and was on it's way to Hawaii, presumably carrying everything from 20mm ammunition to planes and men. Meanwhile Force A was not only moving to Singapore but was also escorting a troop convoy that carried Indian and UK troops from training in Britain to India where they would reinforce the Indian Army with something that was in short supply in India: a full Division of late-model Cromwell Tanks belonging to the 11th Armoured Division, pulled out of Italy to the dismay of Field Marshal Alexander and and hastily thrown onto the transports because the Prime Minister insisted that a stronger Armoured component was needed in the Indian Army, anti-tank training or not. St Claire was happy that he did not have to head the negotiation team in Hong Kong....
the same day
“This is unacceptable!”
The voice of Saburo Kurusu was not raised much, but the exclamation mark at the end was clearly audible to Sir Robert Craigie, formerly his Majesties Ambassador to Japan and as of late the leader of the British delegation to the talks in Hong Kong. Unlike in America neither the British nor the Japanese position had moved an inch since they had started to meet at the beginning of the month. The Japanese wanted the British to evacuate all citizens of European Descent instantly and hand the Colony over to the 'rightful rulers of China' that would most certainly sell it to the Japanese within seconds, while the British used diplo-speak to tell the Japanese to bugger off and better keep their Carriers in port. To Sir Robert it was as if to bull headed Irishmen were butting heads over who was taking the most beautiful village girl to the dance with even less of a chance of reconciliation.
“And why is that?” Sir Robert asked.
Kurusu smiled thinly and replied with an air of superiority that began to irritate the British more and more.
“It is because you keep occupying rightful Chinese territory and oppressing Chinese citizens, that is why. Tokyo feels very strong about this and we are willing to come to an honourable settlement.”
Sir Robert sighed and replied: “Hong Kong is an integral part of the British Empire. We have bought the Island, the New Territories and Kowloon from the Chinese Government while they were still at war with Japan, a legitimate deal between two legitimate Governments, and the recent elections for the representative council have shown that the citizens wish to remain subjects of the British Crown, as we have told you so many times before.”
He knew what was going to come next.
“The people describing themselves as the Chinese Government were nothing of the sort. The legitimate Chinese Government was in exile in Harbin at the time, and this Government has not nor will it ever sell Hong Kong to a European Imperialist Power. Therefore your occupation of Hong Kong and the surrounding area is illegal by Chinese and Japanese law, and as much as you want us to abide by your laws when on British territory we expect your Government when on Chinese or Japanese soil. We consider Hong Kong to be Chinese territory. If no agreement can be reached we must consider our options.”
Sir Robert glanced at the Governor-General of Hong Kong. Both men knew that any form of agreement was far away, out of reach even.
“Do you realize that what you are saying can be seen as an ultimatum? What would stop my Government from seeing this as a demand to vacate Hong Kong on pain of war?”
Kurusu had the grace to have a slight look of embarrassment on his face. The Japanese leaned back and silently whispered among themselves while Sir Robert reached for a pen and paper. He wrote something and handed the paper to the Governor-General who read it, nodded tiredly and gave it to the Lieutenant-General Commanding the Hong Kong Defence force. The General took it and read the words written on it.
The General nodded and as the Japanese, lead by Kurusu began to read out the latest 'compromise' proposal, the General rose from his chair. He exchanged platitudes with his opposite number and the Japanese delegation. He excused himself and left. Outside the RMP guards saluted to the General who was to sunken in his thoughts to notice them.
Daedalus. The plan no one ever wanted to use. The plan that held defeat at it's core even before the fighting had started and that admitted it to the world. Yet there was little else that could be done.
The plan was the preparation for a useless defence of Hong Kong whose only reason was to delay the enemy and give the rest of the Far Eastern British Empire to raise the alarm, to man the guns and prepare the defence. When the General stepped out of Government house his car was already waiting.
An hour later the General was in his command and reading over the list of available shipping and dread once again gnawed at him. Evacuation? Evacuating Hong Kong was impossible, the shipping available simply wasn't enough and who was he to decide who would go out. Scientists and craftsmen? Women, Children and old people? Everyone who could be crammed onto the ten freighters, three Destroyers and one Heavy Cruiser that lay moored in Hong Kong since the shipping routes had been closed by Far Eastern Command? And yet these were his orders. The standing plan didn't detail this, it merely said that 'all available shipping is to be utilized, including any and all warships present'. The final responsibility for the evacuation and the selection of the lucky few lay with none other than himself. He put the papers down and looked around at his staff. Morale...morale was the key to how long the reasonably well equipped but small garrison could hold out. Sow how was morale?
'Difficult to say.' he thought as he leaned back in the bamboo chair he was sitting in. He was convinced that the air of confidence that everyone was putting up was just that, put up and not real. But was it really? Would they fight a hopeless battle with next to no hope of reinforcements and resupply just to buy time for their comrades farther south? He thanked his aide as the Lieutenant brought in a cup of tea and decided that they would fight. They might be outnumbered, alone and probably forgotten by a British public that was concentrating on either Italy or the bigger picture in Asia, but they would fight. Taking the King's shilling came with certain responsibilities and by god he would carry them out.
His second in command stuck his head through the door of the command post.
“Government House says that the Japanese have left.”
“Left left or left to go to sleep, Brigadier?”
“The latter, General. Sir Robert believes though that the former is only a matter of days if not hours and asks you to stand by to implement Daedalus as fast as possible. He didn't tell me much, but he thinks that something is cooking.”
The General nodded and dismissed the Brigadier, but before the other man could leave a soldier came in. The Corporal saluted and handed the General a folder.
“This just came in on the Army Cipher.”
The General sighed. That meant that the Japanese were probably knowing what was in it already, since Hong Kong had never received the new cipher machines, another sign that London believed his position was a hopeless one.
“Close the door Brigadier.”
The Brigadier closed the door behind the Corporal and the General read the message out loud.
“Headquarters Imperial General Staff to GOC Far East, GOC Malaya Command, GOC Hong Kong.
Intelligence suggests that Japanese intentions at negotiations at Hong Kong are to gain time. Embassy in Tokyo reports massive fleet movements from Hiroshima, Tokyo and various bases all over Japan. Japanese Government refuses direct appeals by the British and American Governments. Foreign Office also estimates that current efforts merely meant to gain time.
Final Japanese intentions are unclear there is no, repeat no direct indication of Japanese hostile intentions but CIGS estimates that hostilities may break out without further warning. This dispatch is to be considered an official War warning. Engage Japanese forces if confronted with hostile intent on British/Allied territory and in British/Allied waters. Further Intelligence will be forwarded as received.
“That's it then. They have given up.”
“Sure looks like it, Brigadier. But then again what hope was there in the first place? It wasn't as if the Nips were going to accept us sitting on this little island and refusing to go home when they ask nicely.”
The Brigadier said nothing and thought of his family in Folkstone instead.
“The Gin Drinker's line won't stop them, hell sinking the Island wouldn't stop them.” the Brigadier said after a few minutes. “We'll give them a good fight though, General.”
The General snorted and emptied the rest of his tea.
“This time there will be no relief column of Cavalry though.”
“We can't all serve at Rorke's Drift, Sir.”
The General snorted again and said no more. The Brigadier recognized the dismissal for what it was and went to call the staff together. Hours later the air-raid sirens wailed for the first time, but today it was only an exercise for the civilians and the heightened alert status for the soldiers. On the whole however only Hong Kong went to a full war footing. Everywhere else the war warning was received and readiness increased, but nothing more. After all, the Japanese couldn't strike that far south without being detected first.
[Notes: The last days of peace in the far east are ticking away....]