TheButterflyComposer

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The germans are even more outnumbered and surrounded than they were in OTL so...the first year might not go too well. Indeed, if we are lucky, all the trenches might end up being dug in Germany, and thus only that country gets ruined.

Saying that, Austria and Italy going to war immediately in 1911 is a fascinating change. I'm not sure who wins that one. Austria I suppose, provided that Italy is as badly prepared as they were in OTL. However, if the war lasts long enough, OTL Italy may emerge and absolutely murder the Austrians.

If France can hold off the Italians and the Spanish on their own for a bit (and I suspect they can), and again, hopefully on the border rather than France proper, the UK should be able to halt the Germany army on their own in the north (especially with over twice the manpower they had in OTL 1914). The race to the sea might even be won a little more decisively by the Entente, depending on how spooked the germans are by the british showing up (they were very spooked OTL), and what rhe Belgians and French have in the region.

Ideally, France holds Spain and Italy on the mountain borders, Austria slowly pushes back the Italians/prevents most of their forces going against France, Russia and Austria launch a joint offensive into East Germany, the UK and Belgium push back the german attack on the western front, and the colonies are very quickly wiped up and the sea lanes cleared for the US to steamroller into France/land in Spain.
 

slothinator

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I very much enjoyed the overall feeling of everything slowly but surely rolling towards destruction.
The Cadorna-Moltke Plan seems like an effective strategy, I can't wait to see how it falls apart.
I wonder how supportive the populace really is and if there is a belief that "It'll be over by Christmas".
 

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I really do try to avoid thinking about all of this deterministically, but it is amazing how much it never feels as if anything else is going to happen except war breaking out. It's like at the start of this century this great psychic wound opened up and everyone just thought, we need to have a war now. What realistically could have stopped it here, I wonder.

Oh I lost. It was going okay for the majority but the numbers were against me in the end.

Europe seems to need a decades-long disaster every once in a while. The Italian Wars in the 16th Century, the Thirty Years' War in the 17th, the combination of the Great Northern and Spanish Succession Wars in the 18th, the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars at the turn of the 19th, and the grand catastrophe of 1914-1945 in the 20th. It occurred to me that, over in the mirror universe (and half a century later), Echoes has also been heading towards seemingly inevitable tragedy. Fingers crossed it ends better than here.

How Napoleonic of you.


Clear, Concise, Correct.

Massive prevarication and finally beingt forced into a decision by the actions of others - how typically British.

You can always count on Englishmen to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.

Be fair, they made this rod for their own back with the damn balkan trip wire plan. Chamberlain really made the noose and put it round his neck before complaining he was about to be hung, help!

In other words, it guaranteed British involvement, so the plan worked perfectly! Okay, fine, I'll concede that it was supposed to prevent war by guaranteeing British involvement.

Now it is all up to France. No fooling themselves with Attaque à outrance I hope.

France is in the kettle for certain and Germany, Italy and Spain are all stoking the fire. The first Entente priority must be to prevent a French collapse; the second... well, Spain and Italy both offer extended coastlines and Spain has rather slender manpower. There's no directly helping Austria or Russia, only piling on the pressure in the west can save them.

Germany will feel herself compelled to go all in against France - except for what is needed for defense against Austria and Russia. Or perhaps just a bit more in the south and east, for security... and a soupcon more to prop up the Italian, who are fighting on two fronts. And a tad more to compensate for the Austrian mountains. And a few divisions more to occupy the wide Polish plains.

And... what happened to our superiority in France?

At least I hope it will be so. If Germany has the technological superiority I fear they do, then Germany might just be able to smash the French, then pivot to break the Austrians and wreck the Russians. Otherwise Germany will, at some point, run out of manpower and collapse.

It all comes down to how badly the Pact nations get hurt in the opening offensive and whether France remains viable.
The germans are even more outnumbered and surrounded than they were in OTL so...the first year might not go too well. Indeed, if we are lucky, all the trenches might end up being dug in Germany, and thus only that country gets ruined.

Saying that, Austria and Italy going to war immediately in 1911 is a fascinating change. I'm not sure who wins that one. Austria I suppose, provided that Italy is as badly prepared as they were in OTL. However, if the war lasts long enough, OTL Italy may emerge and absolutely murder the Austrians.

If France can hold off the Italians and the Spanish on their own for a bit (and I suspect they can), and again, hopefully on the border rather than France proper, the UK should be able to halt the Germany army on their own in the north (especially with over twice the manpower they had in OTL 1914). The race to the sea might even be won a little more decisively by the Entente, depending on how spooked the germans are by the british showing up (they were very spooked OTL), and what rhe Belgians and French have in the region.

Ideally, France holds Spain and Italy on the mountain borders, Austria slowly pushes back the Italians/prevents most of their forces going against France, Russia and Austria launch a joint offensive into East Germany, the UK and Belgium push back the german attack on the western front, and the colonies are very quickly wiped up and the sea lanes cleared for the US to steamroller into France/land in Spain.

All good analysis. Although, I wouldn't put too much faith in Austria. Remember that they are, after all, surrounded on all sides but one by hostile armies. That the one friendly border is the Serbian one is an alt-historical irony that only just occurred to me. Heh.

I very much enjoyed the overall feeling of everything slowly but surely rolling towards destruction.
The Cadorna-Moltke Plan seems like an effective strategy, I can't wait to see how it falls apart.
I wonder how supportive the populace really is and if there is a belief that "It'll be over by Christmas".

Thanks. I find the lead-up to WWI more interesting than WWII because of that sense of sudden, but apparently inevitable tragedy. Good to know I've captrured the feeling of dread.

Another tragedy of the war is that 'Over by Christmas' probably made the war, but once Christmas came and went, the Sunk Cost Fallacy had kicked in (and with it, the two sides' war goals became ever more irreconcilable).
 
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BigBadBob

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ACT ONE
MEETING THE ENEMY
October 1911 – March 1912

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The BEF arrives in France, 1914







PART ONE
WAR AT SEA






4

Spy vs Spy

The spy is our privateer for the industrial age; a scoundrel going about his business; that business made good by love of country.
Winston Spencer-Churchill, 1913

There’s not much luck involved in espionage. The one, minor, exception is any time one should happen to succeed.
Sir Archibald Wyndham, interviewed by The Home Service in 1951


The outbreak of the Great War includes two of the finest achievements of British Intelligence, but they were rooted in one grand failure. The record of the Secret Intelligence Service as the war progressed only magnifies that grand failure. Despite inauspicious beginnings, the SIS ended the war as arguably the finest intelligence service of any of the combatant powers.

Espionage has been a part of warfare since the very beginning. Even in the Bible, Joshua sends spies to Rahab. To know your enemy’s location, strength, and plans better than they know yours can be the difference in a close contest. It can even turn what should be a foregone conclusion upon its head. What marks the Great War out in the long history of military intelligence is the sudden jump in the resources devoted to it, the sophistication of the operations conducted, and the sheer volume of information processed by all sides.

Of course, this did not all spin up, unheralded, on the morning of October 3rd, 1911. Many of the techniques and innovations that became so central to the intelligence effort had been pioneered or thought of in the preceding years. In fact, the knitting together of the various schools of intelligence thought had begun in earnest in Britain just before the outbreak of war. To understand the importance of this, we must first take a short tour of the state of intelligence in May 1911, when Churchill first arrived at the Admiralty.

Once at the forefront of intelligence work, British capabilities had atrophied since their previous heyday in the 1860s, during the Great Game in Central Asia against Russia internationally, and the campaign against the IRA domestically. With the acknowledgment that Germany was now a major threat, those who wished to return some of this capability were finally able to make small breakthroughs. The first step was actually making use of the various military attachés in embassies around the world.

The most important of these men would, without a doubt, be the attaché to the Berlin embassy. In the fourteen years preceding the September Crisis, this was Colonel, later Brigadier General, Arthur Bannister. Initially expecting the post to consist largely of being ignored, Bannister nonetheless did his job conscientiously. It was in one of his comprehensive reports that the Admiralty was first given the news that Germany had begun construction on its own dreadnought. In that same report, he laid out the evidence that the plans for what was to be SMS Deutschland had been heavily based on those for HMS Bellerophon. That Bellerophon had barely left dock made clear that this was not reverse-engineering, and the Germans had successfully stolen plans or infiltrated the yard itself.

The Admiralty response was sluggish, but there was at least an acknowledgement that there had to be one. The result was the creation of the Counter-Intelligence Bureau, tasked with finding foreign spies and actually combing through the reports of military attachés and other sources of what was finally acknowledged as ‘military intelligence.’ This was still a long way off from what was necessary though. At its founding in 1903, the CIB had only three members; Captain Mansfield Smith-Cumming (Royal Navy), Captain Vernon Kell (British Army), and David Ferrars (Home Office). The last of these men was not even expected to do much of the intelligence work, but rather to act as liaison with the Home Office and police.


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(L-R) Mansfield Smith-Cumming, Vernon Kell, and David Ferrars

That the three men were given their own room in the Admiralty Building, Room 39, was less a vote of confidence than it was a hope they would stay out of the way of others. Despite these somewhat inauspicious beginnings, the CIB managed to make itself an efficient outfit. Part of this was Ferrars joining in on the actual intelligence work wholeheartedly when Smith-Cumming realised the sheer volume of reports would overwhelm his ability to see the forest for the trees, much less effectively co-ordinate the various attachés to act on that big picture. Ferrars’ contacts in the Home Office also allowed Kell to effectively use expertise and information from the old anti-IRA and new anti-Boer operations to identify suspicious individuals.

Smith-Cumming and Ferrars soon found themselves co-ordinating a three-level operation. At the top were themselves, then the military attachés, and finally, an ever-expanding list of informants and agents in the relevant country. What they were still struggling to do was to turn this all into actionable intelligence. One of the consistent frustrations they experienced was the ‘report in language,’ or RIL. Quite simply, though the lower two levels could be counted on for some level of proficiency in the local language, it would still be garbled enough once it got to the top level that Smith-Cumming and Ferrars would not have much use for it. They needed linguists [1].

On the domestic side, CIB was more successful. Just as the foreign side’s contacts expanded, so did Kell’s. As the initial volume of information was smaller, he could more methodically build to his goals, rather than being almost purely reactive. The logic was that, should Britain start finding spies too quickly, the enemy would know something was up. The many already embedded would go to ground. If, however, they could identify as much as possible of the intelligence community in the country before pouncing, then it could be taken in one fell swoop. As with a disease, Kell could then focus on catching new arrivals before they could embed.

Aware that results would have to be shown to get the manpower necessary for such an operation, he did keep closer tabs on the less competent members of the suspect pool. Some were too obvious in their patterns of movement and enquiry, others had failed to convince the locals that they were from out-of-town, rather than out-of-country. In 1906, Kell and three officers of the Metropolitan Police arrested Arthur Smith of Deptford, in reality Arthur Bracht of Dortmund. A member of the latter group, he had been – unconvincingly – posing as a dockworker attempting to get a job at one of the dreadnought-building yards. This, and his recent arrival, meant that the Germans would hopefully – and did – see him as a one-off failure to embed, and not a sign of a deeper problem. It was Bracht’s arrest that finally gave CIB the prestige to ask for a fourth member.


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Archibald ‘Archie’ Wyndham

Lieutenant Archibald ‘Archie’ Wyndham was initially supposed to help Kell, having been hired off of his success. When he turned out to be something of a polyglot though, it became clear that his best use would be on the foreign side of CIB. Tasked with the ‘reports in language,’ Wyndham was soon able to turn them into one of the most valuable assets in all of CIB. Having started to cut through German jargon, by 1908 he was offering training in Military German to anyone going to ‘visit’ Berlin. If CIB could capture just one drunken boast by a sufficiently high-ranking German officer, the possibilities for extrapolation were endless.

What Wyndham desperately wanted was to go to Berlin himself but, as the RIL part of CIB would practically cease to exist without him, resourcing meant there was never a chance for this. This then, was the state of CIB in May 1911. Kell was slowly building his list of spies, ready to clamp down when satisfied (or when war broke out); Smith-Cumming and Wyndham were finally getting to grips with the sheer amount of information coming in, to the point they were asking for expanded operations by attachés and more comprehensive reports; and Ferrars was facilitating both. It was a far too small operation, especially should war break out and the demand for intelligence skyrocket, but it was making efficient use of what resource it had.

Seely had been pushing for more funding since his arrival at the War Office in August, but was getting nowhere with the Admiralty, and was even having trouble convincing the Army Council. While they could accept CIB as a peace-time measure, when the main concern were spies at home and the main method of intelligence-gathering abroad were diplomatic staff, both branches of the Armed Forces expected to take back full control in the event of war. It was Churchill’s arrival at the Admiralty, and his lesser care for angering the Navy Board that broke the deadlock.

With Churchill’s Admiralty pledging more funding, to the point CIB would be able to hire almost a dozen more men, the Army Council gave into Seely. This in turn allowed the two men to co-ordinate on what they wanted from CIB and expand the organisations remit to better reflect what it was already doing. The new Secret Intelligence Service would have a clear division between the new Home Security Service, under Kell, and the Foreign Intelligence Service, under Smith-Cumming. The Director of SIB as a whole would be David Ferrars [2].

With the joint backing of the War Office and Admiralty, they were also able to pressure Calthorpe into finally approving the creation of Home Office Warrants. Kell and Ferrars had been trying in vain for the entirety of CIB’s existence to get the Home Office to allow for a single order to monitor an individual’s correspondence, rather than having to get the Home Secretary’s signature for each individual piece. With 21 HOWs approved within the first month, Kell was able to finally fill in some of the last blanks in the main German spy ring in London.


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The British Embassy in Berlin, c. 1884

The expanded funding of the SIS allowed for the hiring of twelve new members, half for HSS, and half for FIS. The most important of the immediate consequences of this was that Wyndham was no longer the lone polyglot of the SIS. Having trained the new recruits in translating both RILs and the untranslated documents he had been receiving, he was able to get the assignment in the Berlin embassy that he had craved. There, undercover as a civilian aide to Bannister, he was educated on the network-building the Brigadier General had been practicing for over a decade. In return, Wyndham shared practice from Kell, both on what the Germans had done well, and what HSS used to identify spies.

Slowly, Wyndham widened his circle out from the embassy, taking convoluted routes out from his residence on Dessauer Strasse – switching ties and hats and affecting an awkward gait to lose any tail – before spending most of the day haunting locations by the Ministry of War known for their military and official clientele. Having done so, he slowly became bolder in his efforts to extract information, sitting closer to the groups of officers, even occasionally engaging them in conversation. When the September Crisis reached fever pitch late in the month, he was forced to accelerate his plans to achieve his most ambitious goal.

On the 29th, as the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary were preparing to share the German Ultimatum to Belgium with the Cabinet, Wyndham set up shop in the Café Hohenzollern just off Leipziger Strasse. He did not know it at the time, but it would be the last day that German General Staff officers would be given the evening leave that facilitated his daring heist [3]. Posing as a civilian eager to buy what were soon to be ‘Heroes of Germany’ a full round of beers, he spent some hours with a joint Army-Navy party of officers. Late in the proceedings, he surreptitiously kicked one of their briefcases under the seats, hoping they would be too drunk to notice its absence.

In what proved to be perhaps the greatest stroke of luck for Britain of the entire war, even though it had not yet begun, the officer in charge of the briefcase in question did forget it when the party left for barracks. Fifteen minutes later, Wyndham retrieved the briefcase, and left the Café Hohenzollern. After rifling through the documents in the alley, he selected one that included reference to fleet movements, thinking he had found the latest High Seas Fleet exercise. Then, in what was the most audacious part of the entire plan, he returned the briefcase to the Ministry of War, pretending to have noticed the officer had forgotten it when looking for his own wallet at the end of the night.

Two days later, as the Embassy was evacuated, Wyndham sliced open the lining of his overcoat and sewed it back together with the document inside. On the ferry over, he translated the document, and soon realised it was not about High Seas Fleet exercises, even if he could not yet cut through the code-names. Finally, on October 4th, having consulted with one of the new recruits, the true horror of the document became clear. The German Staff had somehow managed to obtain the plans for ‘Wedding Band,’ the Entente strategy for assuring naval supremacy in the early war.

That he was then able to get a hold of the First Lord at the entrance to the Admiralty that same day was another in a string of strokes of fortune. With the knowledge that Wedding Band was compromised, Churchill was able to telegraph the information to Paris and Washington that the plan would have to be altered. He was also able to justify his override of the Royal Navy’s own movement plans on such short notice. 24 hours later, and the High Seas Fleet might have been able to divide and conquer as Admiral Haldane’s squadron made its way from Lowestoft to join the rest of the Grand Fleet. Wyndham’s daring and luck made up to some extent for the fact that FIS had not had sufficient time to train agents of its own that could have infiltrated Pact countries on a larger scale, and also avoided catastrophic consequences for the delays that marred SIS’ other great achievement of the early war.


cib 1911 - Copy.jpg

The Home Security Service, August 1911

As soon as Ferrars and Kell had determined the threat of war was sufficient to risk any remaining foreign agents in Britain going to ground – September 21st, when Berlin took too long to respond to the counter-offer – they had asked the Home Secretary to sign off warrants for 32 suspects around the country. Calthorpe, believing such an action would precipitate the very war he was trying to prevent, refused. Attempting to take the matter higher up, No 10 refused as well, Lloyd George being unwilling to completely alienate the peace camp. It was not until October 1st, when the PM accepted war as inevitable, that the Home Secretary was given orders from above to sign the warrants.

Considering the document disseminating Wedding Band amongst German high command was coming so late, and the High Seas Fleet itself did not put a plan to counter it into action until the day after war was declared, it seems likely the fatal leak happened during the delay from September 21st to October 1st. Kell himself had estimated that the extra resource from the June reorganisation meant he would be able to identify the final foreign agents by the end of 1911. As with SIS, if HSS’ extra resource had come earlier, it would not have taken sheer luck, both in the form of Wyndham’s derring-do and the many small moments that had made the Great Document Heist itself, to avoid a catastrophic intelligence and counter-intelligence failure.

The major benefit of such a close shave, however, was that SIS immediately received a further massive boost in funding to avoid a repeat of the Wedding Band incident. Over the course of the war, the agents and tools this funding paid for would facilitate the creation of a true continental spying operation, built on more than the military attachés that, with the abandonment of the embassies, were now no longer allowed in the Pact countries. It would also fund the occupation of Room 40 by SIS’ new cryptography operation. Over the course of the war, this newest section would become perhaps the most important intelligence asset of all.


[1] – Ferrars had taught himself some Russian, Smith-Cumming some Italian, and both some German, but it this was of only marginal help when so much jargon and code was involved.

[2] – Ferrars was seen as the compromise candidate between Army and Navy. His position as one of the Four Men of CIB was also meant to ensure that he could keep control of any intra-service rivalry arising from Kell and Smith-Cumming’s informal division of responsibilities becoming formal.

[3] – In part, it was Wyndham’s actions that brought on the end of evening leave in Berlin, as the General Staff attempted to ascertain what had been lost and by whom, and to avoid further such incidents if there were indeed such bold Entente spies in the city.
 
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DensleyBlair

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The Italian Wars in the 16th Century, the Thirty Years' War in the 17th, the combination of the Great Northern and Spanish Succession Wars in the 18th, the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars at the turn of the 19th, and the grand catastrophe of 1914-1945 in the 20th.

Or, more succinctly, the 20th century.

It occurred to me that, over in the mirror universe (and half a century later), Echoes has also been heading towards seemingly inevitable tragedy. Fingers crossed it ends better than here.

Oh ye of little faith. Morbidity is sooooo pre-War. :p

How Napoleonic of you.

Probably didn’t help that my step dad picked the black pieces so he could be Blücher…

he wasn’t best pleased when I suggested his all conquering forces might be other black-attired armies from history…

1
Spy vs Spy

life’s a riot with…?

Or maybe some German new wave


That he was then able to get a hold of the First Lord at the entrance to the Admiralty that same day was another in a string of strokes of fortune.

Now we know why the war went on for so long, the British used up all their luck before hand…
 

TheButterflyComposer

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Clear, Concise, Correct.

Like everything I say, right?

You can always count on Englishmen to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.

Wait...no, you!

That the one friendly border is the Serbian one is an alt-historical irony that only just occurred to me. Heh.

Might make all the difference.

The German Staff had somehow managed to obtain the plans for ‘Wedding Band,’ the Entente strategy for assuring naval supremacy in the early war.

Holy shit. That is a piece of luck. And a horrible indictment on the admiralty. All those fictional sherlock Holmes cases about German espionage stealing naval plans are quite real in this time line, so it seems.

Probably didn’t help that my step dad picked the black pieces so he could be Blücher…

WzaDnc5.gif
 
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Chris Taylor

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I thought I had a handle on notable British pols and senior civil servants of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, but lurking in this AAR for a month or two has thoroughly disabused me of that notion. I've had to google a dozen or so names, and every time I have found that @BigBadBob has distilled the essence and attitudes of the real individual into an easily digestible, plausible alt-version. I'm a little bit in awe of how well-crafted this AAR is!

Can't wait to read more about the Entente's travails in the Great War.
 
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I wonder if we will learn how the Germans came to be in possession of strategic naval plans. Obviously someone leaked them, but who?

The second of the Commander Buller books goes into some detail about how a German spy-ess - um - extracts the secret of the 'Invincible' class from Buller. He has of course given her disinformation, which is why 'Blucher' gets built. They aren't great books but they are a fun read (the first is in the Boer War period and the second happens before and during WW1). Richard Hough is the author, the books are 'Buller's Guns' and 'Buller's Dreadnought'.

In the same 'fun read' category is 'To the Honor of the Fleet' by Robert Pilpel, which makes good use of some American double-dealing.
 

TheButterflyComposer

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I wonder if we will learn how the Germans came to be in possession of strategic naval plans. Obviously someone leaked them, but who?

It was *rolls dice* Neville Chamberlain's fault!
 
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@TheButterflyComposer -

Yes, but... Everything is Neville Chamberlain's fault. A chamberlain is something like a butler, and it is always true that the butler did it.

And did it after dinner. Post hog, ergo, proper hog.

From which we conclude, rigorously, that Neville Chamberlain was a pig... and not just a pig-kisser, as one of his successors seems to have been.

*Dusts hands*. There, that's sorted.
 
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It is not true that it is always Neville's fault. Rolled a die after all. It could have also been *roll* Woodrow Wilson, *roll* Julius Ceaser (or if you are of a classical bent, Brutus, for killing him), *roll* Edward Heath, *roll* umm...Karl Marx, *roll* or your mum.

If it rolls off the table, it's Trump's fault.
 

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Very exciting and enjoyable heist over in Berlin, I suspect that the war will give many agents a chance to shine.
Oh, it's never great news when the enemy has your ace at the start. Hopefully, the damage control will be sufficient until a new plan can be devised.
 

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Or, more succinctly, the 20th century.

Oh ye of little faith. Morbidity is sooooo pre-War. :p

Probably didn’t help that my step dad picked the black pieces so he could be Blücher…

he wasn’t best pleased when I suggested his all conquering forces might be other black-attired armies from history…

life’s a riot with…?

Or maybe some German new wave


Now we know why the war went on for so long, the British used up all their luck before hand…

1607710841725.png


Excellent choice. Hadn't heard it before, so it was a pleasant surprise.

It is a finite reserve, but when a quick war is what your enemy needs, it's not too bad to use it all up post-haste.

Like everything I say, right?

Wait...no, you!

Might make all the difference.

Holy shit. That is a piece of luck. And a horrible indictment on the admiralty. All those fictional sherlock Holmes cases about German espionage stealing naval plans are quite real in this time line, so it seems.

Indeed.

The below was very much my reaction when I posted such an uno reverse.

whathaveidone.gif


It wouldn't be a British war effort if it didn't require miraculous recoveries from the consequences of institutional complacency.

I thought I had a handle on notable British pols and senior civil servants of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, but lurking in this AAR for a month or two has thoroughly disabused me of that notion. I've had to google a dozen or so names, and every time I have found that @BigBadBob has distilled the essence and attitudes of the real individual into an easily digestible, plausible alt-version. I'm a little bit in awe of how well-crafted this AAR is!

Can't wait to read more about the Entente's travails in the Great War.

Thanks! As I've said to a couple people, the research has been a wonderful refresher course for me as well.

I wonder if we will learn how the Germans came to be in possession of strategic naval plans. Obviously someone leaked them, but who?

The second of the Commander Buller books goes into some detail about how a German spy-ess - um - extracts the secret of the 'Invincible' class from Buller. He has of course given her disinformation, which is why 'Blucher' gets built. They aren't great books but they are a fun read (the first is in the Boer War period and the second happens before and during WW1). Richard Hough is the author, the books are 'Buller's Guns' and 'Buller's Dreadnought'.

In the same 'fun read' category is 'To the Honor of the Fleet' by Robert Pilpel, which makes good use of some American double-dealing.

I tried to come up with a reason, but couldn't think of a satisfying one, so excused myself with 'many German records were burnt upon news of defeat.'

Being enticed to reveal the plans by a... convivial... lady would not be out of character for some of the dead wood admirals Churchill and Fisher removed.

It was *rolls dice* Neville Chamberlain's fault!
@TheButterflyComposer -

Yes, but... Everything is Neville Chamberlain's fault. A chamberlain is something like a butler, and it is always true that the butler did it.

And did it after dinner. Post hog, ergo, proper hog.

From which we conclude, rigorously, that Neville Chamberlain was a pig... and not just a pig-kisser, as one of his successors seems to have been.

*Dusts hands*. There, that's sorted.
It is not true that it is always Neville's fault. Rolled a die after all. It could have also been *roll* Woodrow Wilson, *roll* Julius Ceaser (or if you are of a classical bent, Brutus, for killing him), *roll* Edward Heath, *roll* umm...Karl Marx, *roll* or your mum.

If it rolls off the table, it's Trump's fault.
In 1911? It's Chamberlain's fault. My mother was blameless, especially where I was concerned. You could ask her and she'd tell you so except that you'd need a medium.

Suppose, in a roundabout way, one could argue it was a Chamberlain's fault by bringing the Germans and British into informal conflict in the first place.

I must say, after reading through it all, that this is a most eloquently written AAR. I'm looking forward to the future chapters and to where Britain's story will go.

Thanks! Glad to have you on board.

Very exciting and enjoyable heist over in Berlin, I suspect that the war will give many agents a chance to shine.
Oh, it's never great news when the enemy has your ace at the start. Hopefully, the damage control will be sufficient until a new plan can be devised.

It was fun to write (and allowed me to make a Colonel Blimp reference with the name of the café).

There will most certainly be damage.
 
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5
Ships in the Night

It was a far worse sort of terror to think we might at any moment be caught on the open sea by the Germans, alone, than it was to be in the thick of it.
Lieutenant Michael Richardson, in his diary, October 12th, 1911


To understand just what happened in the days before the Battle of the Forties, it is necessary to know the original plan for Wedding Band, and then the thinking of the two sides as they attempted to predict what the other side knew in the aftermath of Wyndham’s heist. In the 48 hours between the British declaration of war and the beginning of the Battle of the Forties, a bewildering set of manoeuvres and counter-manoeuvres took place as the Admiralty and Imperial German Navy tried to out-play each other before the first shots were ever fired. First, we turn to Wedding Band as it was before Churchill and Wyndham’s meeting.

It was a plan devised to negate, as quickly as possible, the fact that the dispersal of Entente naval power around the globe would leave the Kaiser Pact, whose naval might was almost exclusively in Europe by 1911, with numerical supremacy in the North Sea and Mediterranean during the first days of a war. It was built on the idea that the High Seas Fleet could be contained in the former, and the Italian and Spanish fleets in the latter for a week or two. This would give time for the US Atlantic Fleet to cross its namesake ocean and restore Entente supremacy [1].

The British Grand Fleet, with its 22 dreadnoughts to the High Seas Fleet’s 23, would contain the northern escape route for Germany from its base at Scapa Flow, while guns at Dover and Calais would make the Channel route impassable. The remaining 10 British dreadnoughts in Europe would take up positions by the Strait of Gibraltar and, supported by the guns at the Rock, prevent passage by the 20 dreadnoughts of the Italian and Spanish navies. The French navy, with its six, could stay in reserve at Land’s End and come to the aid of the Mediterranean Fleet if they were, as expected, forced into a fighting retreat by a force twice their size [2].

This version of Wedding Band, of course, relied on the Pact fleets being unsure about the numbers they faced. Much effort was put into obscuring the movements of fleets. It was therefore necessary that it always be possible there were more ships in an area than could be counted by observing the main naval stations. Whereas once a British squadron’s move from London to Hong Kong, or vice versa, would be accompanied by much pomp and circumstance, they now left port at night, and endeavoured to arrive then as well. Smaller dockyards were built in inlets that could hide the fact ships had arrived at station outside of Europe.


grand fleet manoeuvres - Copy.jpg

The Mediterranean Fleet on manoeuvres off the Spanish coast in 1910

It was this plan that German intelligence obtained, rendering all the secrecy of the past years for naught in an instant. Knowing that the Grand Fleet was barely at parity with the High Seas Fleet, and that part of it would have to make their way up from Lowestoft to join the bulk of the fleet at Scapa Flow, the Germans could attempt defeat in detail in the North Sea.

The Night Squadron, as it is now known, was stationed in Lowestoft for the purposes of confusing the High Seas Fleet at the outset of a war. By setting off ostentatiously into the North Sea with its three dreadnoughts, the North Sea Squadron was meant to add a final measure of deception as to the dispositions and strength of the Royal Navy in Europe. Instead, with Wedding Band revealed, it now offered a potential chance for the German Navy to sally forth and – more than quite literally – decimate the Grand Fleet.

Knowing that the Germans knew this, the Admiralty could attempt to counter. The problem was that, by the time Churchill had been briefed by Wyndham, the Northern Squadron had already left port. For most of the afternoon of 4 October, it would be performing a grand arc in the North Sea, before heading north to Scapa Flow. If the High Seas Fleet were already mobilised, they would almost certainly be making for the Squadron. While recently installed radios would allow for directing them to cut the arc short, there was no guarantee that they would not be caught before Scapa Flow.

The initial fix was to have the Grand Fleet sally out to meet the North Sea Squadron, and hopefully they would meet at a point before the worst had happened. At that point, the High Seas Fleet would abandon chase, or the Royal Navy would be at rough parity and have a fighting chance of making up for its slow start through superior British gunnery. The question was what the Germans would do if they had figured out exactly which documents had gone missing, for then they would know that the British knew what they knew.

The Admiralty had guessed one thing about German thinking correctly; the High Seas Fleet’s options were to gamble on the British response being too slow, or to abandon the attempt at an early knockout blow altogether. Knowing that the British were likely to be initiating counter-measures, but also cognisant these counter-measures would have to be decided too quickly to include the French, and thus they could not outright tip the balance of ships in the Entente’s favour, the Germans chose the former. While the North Sea component of Wedding Band was being revised, the High Seas Fleet left Hamburg.


night squadron bw - Copy.jpg

The original North Sea Squadron arch (dotted) and Wedding Band Revisited (solid)

Why exactly the Germans chose this course of action remains the source of much speculation, as precious few documents have been recovered from German Naval Command’s records. Memoirs by those in command, inevitably, have been long justifications in hindsight for the choice. What exists, though, paint a picture of a Naval Command Staff that was convinced it could deal the Royal Navy, and thus Britain, a psychologically fatal blow [3].

Combined with control of the Channel Ports via quick occupation of Northern France, defeat in detail in the North Sea would convince the British the war was unwinnable. Considering the blood and treasure the supposedly squeamish Brits eventually chose to sacrifice to the war, this seems an unlikely outcome with US forces on their way that would allow Britain time to rebuild its fleet. Such a miscalculation plays a constant part in German thinking, not only during the run-up to, but much of the early war.

Soon after the North Sea Squadron made its turn, late in the evening on the 4th, the rumours had begun to fly among crews. Eventually, enough would make it around the decks and down the chain of command that an approximation of the truth could be made. Lt Michael Richardson, serving on the HMS Bellerophon, described the atmosphere in the hours after the turn:


It began with the ship groaning as her heading was adjusted. Those of us who knew the rough path we had been supposed to take could, at this point, tell something was wrong. With the junior officers milling around on decks excitedly, trying to ascertain if we had taken a wrong turn or orders had changed, the buzz of rumour soon spread to the ranks. Perhaps the manoeuvre was deemed unnecessary, and we had been ordered back to Lowestoft. It was the order to prepare the guns that confirmed the worst rumour; the Germans were out on the seas with us, and we were, as far as anyone could tell, desperately outgunned.

Even as Richardson and his men found themselves alone, their possible salvation was working double-time to get out of harbour as fast as humanly possible. Finally, around midnight, the Grand Fleet left Scapa Flow. At this point, the High Seas Fleet and North Sea Squadron were midway through a chase in which both were pushing their ships to the absolute limits. Around 3AM on the 5th, both fleets had, in fact, experienced simultaneous issues with their older ships threatening to fail on them. After a long, dark night of fear and sweat though, the lead ship in the Night Squadron, HMS Radcliffe, received a message from the Grand Fleet; they were within an hour of each other.

A mere ten minutes later, the first shots of the chase were fired by SMS Kaiser, splashing down some hundred yards away from the HMS Collingwood. This was, as they say, it.


[1] – Wedding Band had received its name when, at an early Joint Naval Staffs meeting, Admiral Smith-Gorton of the Royal Navy made a joke about how ‘what therefore hath Chamberlain joined together, let not German put asunder.’

[2] – The reason the French Navy was not automatically with the Mediterranean Fleet was a political concession to the French, who knew they would be taking the brunt of the land combat in the West, and accepted by the Admiralty due to a distrust of the French Navy’s combat ability. That a fleet with six dreadnoughts could be so incompetent as to negate the numerical help was an assumption rightly mocked by Churchill and Fisher when they set upon their reform of the Admiralty, but their political capital was still too tied up in the wider reform of the Admiralty to challenge it at the last pre-war joint meeting of the Entente Naval Staffs.

[3] – Particularly useful are the diary entries of Admiral von Bülow, who remained the lone holdout to the end, and wished to have his objections recorded somewhere if the attempt failed.
 
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Tension building very nicely as we creep towards the first exchanges. Still couldn’t call it on the basis of what we know so far, but considering that also includes the knowledge that the war takes up the best part of a decade I dare say we won’t really be able to call much until quite late on.
 

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The problem a dog has, in chasing a car, is what to do with it once it is caught.

Capital ships of that era might be turbine-powered, in which case they could keep up a high steaming speed for very long periods, or by reciprocating engines - in which case they could not. A mixed force of older and newer ships would have to conform to the speed of the slowest or abandon them to the enemy. But finding a fleet in the open ocean is not simple or easy - witness Jutland, where the two fleets might have slipped past each other had not a merchant ship been in-between.

The British should have a look at any fishermen or merchant ships that might be about and possibly have a nice sit-down with their neutral owners. They might also take a hard look at any radio signals while at sea. If the Germans are using radio direction-finding or, worse, have British codes in addition to their war plans... well, then, Hans and Otto will have to be 'discouraged' from doing so in the future.

The chief danger here for the Royal Navy is the same as run by Troubridge in the Mediterranean and Craddock in the South Pacific - of being drawn into a battle against greatly superior forces and defeated, in Craddock's case, or refusing to engage, per Troubridge, and being court-martialed and having career and reputation ruined. It was Troubridge's example that Craddock cited when accepting engagement at Coronels. But, in brief, I think the Royal Navy can afford a defeat here and should make the Germans pay for what they get... in other words, running-to is acceptable while running-from is not. "Come on if you think you're hard enough!"


Coalition warfare is notoriously the most difficult to manage, so it makes good sense for the French fleet to cover the movement of troops from North Africa to France. The headlong charge of the High Seas Fleet is most uncharacteristic (of Germans and of navies in general) and a similar rapid movement by the Italians and Spanish should not be expected. Warfare of course is characterized by the unexpected... but Spain and Italy would be more reasonably concerned with keeping their fleets in being, I would think. It takes a long time and a lot of money to build a capital ship, and you have to have the backing of a major ship-building industry before you can risk them.
 
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TheButterflyComposer

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The British Grand Fleet, with its 22 dreadnoughts to the High Seas Fleet’s 23

Ex-fucking-scuse me? Hand in your British badge right now, you incompetent naval planner, you!

The remaining 10 British dreadnoughts in Europe would take up positions by the Strait of Gibraltar

...oh, alright then. Stay of execution.

prevent passage by the 20 dreadnoughts of the Italian and Spanish navies

!

Ok first of all, back to handing in your British card for not having more dreadnaughts. Second, the Italians and Spanish have 20 of them? What are they made of, plywood?

The French navy, with its six,

Six? Why did we ally with the one major European power that has a justifiably sized dreadnaught force rather than a ridiculously huge one?

Six...how embarrassingly sensible. It'll bury them.

Knowing that the Grand Fleet was barely at parity with the High Seas Fleet, and that part of it would have to make their way up from Lowestoft to join the bulk of the fleet at Scapa Flow, the Germans could attempt defeat in detail in the North Sea.

Shit, this is it. This could be the end of the naval war in one battle (depending on what happens). Britain can wreck the Germans and they'll never recover, or they can sink lots of each (which is at least long-term a strategic win for Britain) or @Wraith11B could ascend from hell and blast apart the whole grand fleet whilst losing no ships of his own.

The initial fix was to have the Grand Fleet sally out to meet the North Sea Squadron, and hopefully they would meet at a point before the worst had happened. At that point, the High Seas Fleet would abandon chase, or the Royal Navy would be at rough parity and have a fighting chance of making up for its slow start through superior British gunnery.

Hmm...

The Admiralty had guessed one thing about German thinking correctly; the High Seas Fleet’s options were to gamble on the British response being too slow, or to abandon the attempt at an early knockout blow altogether. Knowing that the British were likely to be initiating counter-measures, but also cognisant these counter-measures would have to be decided too quickly to include the French, and thus they could not outright tip the balance of ships in the Entente’s favour, the Germans chose the former. While the North Sea component of Wedding Band was being revised, the High Seas Fleet left Hamburg.
What exists, though, paint a picture of a Naval Command Staff that was convinced it could deal the Royal Navy, and thus Britain, a psychologically fatal blow

Makes sense, if one considers that the Germans think the British don't really want to go to war and wont commit once there. As it stands, not only do the British want to fight this one out and hold most of the cards, there is no way on earth the Public, Parliament or the Admiralty will accept white peace with Germany if they sink the royal navy. The Federation, having just reived the Empire, is going to be all behind safeguarding its existence by smashing the upstart naval power back into the briny depths.

After a long, dark night of fear and sweat though, the lead ship in the Night Squadron, HMS Radcliffe, received a message from the Grand Fleet; they were within an hour of each other.

What a tense night race that must have been.

A mere ten minutes later, the first shots of the chase were fired by SMS Kaiser, splashing down some hundred yards away from the HMS Collingwood. This was, as they say, it.

I have mixed views on what will happen. The Grand Fleet may catch the Germans by surprise or out of position, and should in any case prove victorious. However, first they have to show up and the Germans surely must be capable of taking and sinking most of the original force by then?

The reason the French Navy was not automatically with the Mediterranean Fleet was a political concession to the French, who knew they would be taking the brunt of the land combat in the West, and accepted by the Admiralty due to a distrust of the French Navy’s combat ability

Oof.

The problem a dog has, in chasing a car, is what to do with it once it is caught.

The Ledger Conundrum.
 

Wraith11B

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Shit, this is it. This could be the end of the naval war in one battle (depending on what happens). Britain can wreck the Germans and they'll never recover, or they can sink lots of each (which is at least long-term a strategic win for Britain) or @Wraith11B could ascend from hell and blast apart the whole grand fleet whilst losing no ships of his own.

I have been summoned... and just how have I not seen this AAR yet?! Seems like one right up my alley!

I'm off to get to reading and I will be working at getting caught up. So, stand by for a @DensleyBlair -in-Talking-Turkey-esque recap!