TheButterflyComposer

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Yes, I knew of that one, but I know that one was more of Admiral Jackie Fisher's brain child.
There is nothing a late Edwardian thinks cannot be solved with battleships...
 
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Director

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Fisher had a lot of ideas and oversaw the development of a lot of others - his tenure did not entirely remake the Royal Navy but wrought more change than any other Admiralty figure I can think of. His greatest contribution (in my opinion) was to shake the complacent mindset, increase opportunity for the talented and try to push the RN into the new, technological and industrial world. Had a more complacent figure like Beresford been in control in the pre-war years the consequences could have been grave.

His obsession with landing the Royal Army on the German coast was... not one of his better ideas. In the first place, without a British Army in France the French might simply have gone down in defeat before the BEF could get ashore and Belgium - the most prominent reason for Britain being in the war in the first place - irretrievably lost.

In the second, the Royal Navy would not have been able to supply and/or withdraw such an invasion - the RN had its narrowest margin of superiority in the early days of the war, no secure base, a healthy fear of attack in confined waters and a relentless need for fuel. Going after Heligoland was a bad enough idea; trying to squeeze the Grand Fleet past Denmark to get to the Baltic is just a recipe for catastrophe. It is the equivalent of shoving your arm into a bear trap.

Third, Gallipoli shows us how long it takes to gather the resources for an amphibious operation of this scale. Warship losses in the Baltic would have been far worse than at the Dardanelles - unsustainably so, I think.

Fourth, crushing such an invasion could have been done without drawing German troops from France - there were enough divisions moving from France to Russia, plus reserves. The Russians might have gotten a little further than the Masurian Lakes, but if that is offset by a German occupation of Paris and the eradication of the BEF, then it's well worth it.

As a best case, planning and preparation for such a stunt would have kept the BEF out of France in the critical early days of the war and possibly led to a German invasion of Denmark. I just cannot see any prospect for success in WW1 and - with aircraft - far less chance in WW2.


I confess that revolution in Spain was something I didn't see coming. After the preliminary comments I half-expected the Spanish to unleash a gas attack and I am relieved that did not happen. As for dealing with it - my belief is that Britain won't much care who runs the place so long as they don't interfere in the war effort. France will care desperately about who controls Spain but won't have much leverage since she depends on her allies for her continued existence. That leaves dealing with the revolutionaries to Roosevelt and the Americans, despite the Catalan revolt being on the other side of the country. The British and French might see American 'mediation' with the rebels as a useful learning exercise. Though the Spanish-American War would make American dealings with the monarchy a bit 'fraught', the rebels might not share that anti-American sentiment. So I propose a tripartite commission for the rebellion with the Americans given the lead.

In your last post I find my emotions the same as when I read of actual WW1 history - a frustrated sense of 'Will you get on with it' driven by the urgency of seeing opportunities slip away. But the armies are large and ponderous, and even when they are transported by sea they move scarcely faster than a man can walk. No Napoleonic strokes here.

I've just been reading up on the peace prospects of 1916-early 1917 and on the frantic juggling the British were doing to escape financial collapse. At one point, Colonel House was advising Wilson not to lay out a peace plan because he thought the British would use the pretext to invade the US! Truth may not be stranger than fiction but in this case it is more hallucinogenic.
 
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I forgot to mention the more likely case. If Britain commits the Grand Fleet to the Baltic, Germany - courtesy of Wilhelmshaven and the Kiel canal - can operate in the Baltic or in the North Sea as they choose. No British politician, admiral or general is going to agree to give the Germans uncontested control of the North Sea for an indefinite period - that idea is PKBA (pre-emptively killed before arrival).
 
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Le Jones

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Masterful as ever, @BigBadBob; of course the Spanish Peninsula plays to British (and US) strengths from an intervention and freedom of manoeuvre POV. I have to agree with @Director that I didn't really anticipate the revolution. I agree to a point that the French are the ones with the greatest stake in the outcome and I can see Whitehall washing its hands of this, letting the French take the lead. I fear that for the people of Spain the worst is yet to come. A sort of proto-Franco strongman, anyone?
 
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slothinator

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Having separatist regions on your front lines is not a great position to be in.
Ah...I see that Spain is going for the Spanish Ulcer strategy.
 
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BigBadBob

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Sorry all, not a delayed update post, though I really hoped it would be.

Just figured I'd drop in to assure everyone that I am not dropping FAWHA just as things are getting good. It is merely that the combination of a quite busy couple weeks at work (and the return of the pubs) will probably slow the pace of updates. My usual days for writing ended up becoming de facto Wednesday and Thursday over the last couple months, and last week saw them taken up by a very late night in a beer garden and a long day at work (not helped by the aforementioned late night), respectively.

Hopefully, the adjustment to a life less locked down won't take too long, and we'll be back to regular service soon.
 
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DensleyBlair

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Spain are being very unhelpful, then. Who would've guessed? No doubt what was looking like a fairly mild if humiliating defeat is now destined to be drawn-out, gruelling and needlessly bloody. The things strongmen will do to stay in power, eh?

Enjoy the pubs, BBB!
 
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BigBadBob

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It currently seems that the kicker is a Spain unwilling to surrender. I myself am keeping German victories in Central and Eastern Europe in mind, and the fact that it was already confirmed that Russia will face revolution and exit the war that way

Spain may only be able to prolong its defeat for roughly half a year, but that's a half-year where the forces in Iberia cannot be brought to bear on Italy. Of course, as the update will hopefully make clear, far from merely causing strategic delay for the Entente, the Spanish regime's refusal to face the facts will make things go from bad to worse for the people of the peninsula.

As my professor from the course: "Europe in the Age of Total War, 1914 - 1945" (which I took at uni) always said: before the First World War, defeat meant revolution. And that was more than some governments were willing to bear.

Of course, sometimes you get the worst of all worlds.

Hmm. Honestly, it would probably be better to try and sort out Spain into smaller chunks. It's been an unruly state for a long time and a lot of people in it, don't want to be.

Even if Germany takes Russia out in a separate peace, they shouldn't be able to take advantage much. They're still locked into Europe. Not much chance of maneuvering, whilst the entente do.

With the Entente desperate to get its troops in Iberia down to a skeleton garrison, and the social fabric of the peninsula torn to shreds by the violent death throes of Military Absolutism, a divided Iberia may very well be fait accompli by the time attention can turn to more permanent arrangements for peace.

Certainly, Germany doesn't have the freedom of action that the sea gives, but they do have the advantage of interior lines, and they're likely to be able to take advantage of the ability. I'd certainly hope that we don't see Project Catherine courtesy of Cerberus and Churchill...
Well, Project Catherine was just Churchill recycling a older idea of his, one he had during WWI
Yes, I knew of that one, but I know that one was more of Admiral Jackie Fisher's brain child.
There is nothing a late Edwardian thinks cannot be solved with battleships...

A landing over here... A landing over there...

Fisher had a lot of ideas and oversaw the development of a lot of others - his tenure did not entirely remake the Royal Navy but wrought more change than any other Admiralty figure I can think of. His greatest contribution (in my opinion) was to shake the complacent mindset, increase opportunity for the talented and try to push the RN into the new, technological and industrial world. Had a more complacent figure like Beresford been in control in the pre-war years the consequences could have been grave.

His obsession with landing the Royal Army on the German coast was... not one of his better ideas. In the first place, without a British Army in France the French might simply have gone down in defeat before the BEF could get ashore and Belgium - the most prominent reason for Britain being in the war in the first place - irretrievably lost.

In the second, the Royal Navy would not have been able to supply and/or withdraw such an invasion - the RN had its narrowest margin of superiority in the early days of the war, no secure base, a healthy fear of attack in confined waters and a relentless need for fuel. Going after Heligoland was a bad enough idea; trying to squeeze the Grand Fleet past Denmark to get to the Baltic is just a recipe for catastrophe. It is the equivalent of shoving your arm into a bear trap.

Third, Gallipoli shows us how long it takes to gather the resources for an amphibious operation of this scale. Warship losses in the Baltic would have been far worse than at the Dardanelles - unsustainably so, I think.

Fourth, crushing such an invasion could have been done without drawing German troops from France - there were enough divisions moving from France to Russia, plus reserves. The Russians might have gotten a little further than the Masurian Lakes, but if that is offset by a German occupation of Paris and the eradication of the BEF, then it's well worth it.

As a best case, planning and preparation for such a stunt would have kept the BEF out of France in the critical early days of the war and possibly led to a German invasion of Denmark. I just cannot see any prospect for success in WW1 and - with aircraft - far less chance in WW2.


I confess that revolution in Spain was something I didn't see coming. After the preliminary comments I half-expected the Spanish to unleash a gas attack and I am relieved that did not happen. As for dealing with it - my belief is that Britain won't much care who runs the place so long as they don't interfere in the war effort. France will care desperately about who controls Spain but won't have much leverage since she depends on her allies for her continued existence. That leaves dealing with the revolutionaries to Roosevelt and the Americans, despite the Catalan revolt being on the other side of the country. The British and French might see American 'mediation' with the rebels as a useful learning exercise. Though the Spanish-American War would make American dealings with the monarchy a bit 'fraught', the rebels might not share that anti-American sentiment. So I propose a tripartite commission for the rebellion with the Americans given the lead.

In your last post I find my emotions the same as when I read of actual WW1 history - a frustrated sense of 'Will you get on with it' driven by the urgency of seeing opportunities slip away. But the armies are large and ponderous, and even when they are transported by sea they move scarcely faster than a man can walk. No Napoleonic strokes here.

I've just been reading up on the peace prospects of 1916-early 1917 and on the frantic juggling the British were doing to escape financial collapse. At one point, Colonel House was advising Wilson not to lay out a peace plan because he thought the British would use the pretext to invade the US! Truth may not be stranger than fiction but in this case it is more hallucinogenic.

Can't start talking about Iberian Peace before you have Iberian Armistice, and the Military Absolutists, sadly, have decided the ship of state will go down with them.

Colonel House seems to have been somewhat... more confident in the capacity of the UK to wage more war in 1916-17 than the UK was.

I forgot to mention the more likely case. If Britain commits the Grand Fleet to the Baltic, Germany - courtesy of Wilhelmshaven and the Kiel canal - can operate in the Baltic or in the North Sea as they choose. No British politician, admiral or general is going to agree to give the Germans uncontested control of the North Sea for an indefinite period - that idea is PKBA (pre-emptively killed before arrival).

Indeed.

Masterful as ever, @BigBadBob; of course the Spanish Peninsula plays to British (and US) strengths from an intervention and freedom of manoeuvre POV. I have to agree with @Director that I didn't really anticipate the revolution. I agree to a point that the French are the ones with the greatest stake in the outcome and I can see Whitehall washing its hands of this, letting the French take the lead. I fear that for the people of Spain the worst is yet to come. A sort of proto-Franco strongman, anyone?

Thanks you!

You are, I'm afraid, correct about the worst being yet to come. Much of it arrives this update.

Having separatist regions on your front lines is not a great position to be in.
Ah...I see that Spain is going for the Spanish Ulcer strategy.

I have to thank you for reminding me of the Spanish Ulcer, since it helped me come up with the chapter's opening quote.

Don't worry, if the café's opened back up over here that would also take precedence over anything I'm doing online

Understandable. I hope they open soon.

Spain are being very unhelpful, then. Who would've guessed? No doubt what was looking like a fairly mild if humiliating defeat is now destined to be drawn-out, gruelling and needlessly bloody. The things strongmen will do to stay in power, eh?

Enjoy the pubs, BBB!

Aye.

Thanks! I did, but also managed to push my writing into Tuesday-Wednesday, hence the update finally getting out today.
 
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BigBadBob

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23
March to Madrid


We have somehow found ourselves both Wellington and Napoleon.
Lieutenant-General Francis Hall, December 12th, 1913


The first indication that the road to Madrid would not be quite as smooth as the strategic situation implied was the attempt by XIII Corps in Andalusia to push beyond their line to Cordoba. Along with the Portuguese Army units in the area, the general advance was to head east from positions running north-south from Lora del Rio to Lantejuela. The expectation was that Spanish forces would offer token resistance, but soon slip into general retreat, with the government suing for peace.

Instead, the 50 miles between Anglo-Portuguese forward positions at La Campana and the outskirts of Cordoba saw some of the heaviest fighting on the Spanish Front in the whole war. Were it not for the fact that Entente forces made genuine forward progress in return for their sacrifices, parts of the approach to Cordoba could have been mistaken for the hellscapes of Northern France and Belgium. Between the first day on 4 October, and the lowering of the Spanish flag above Cordoba City Hall on 6 November, Lieutenant-General Hall’s Corps had suffered 12,000 casualties on a pre-offensive full strength of 44,000 men.

The Spanish and Portuguese, meanwhile, had both suffered roughly the same number of losses in Andalusia over that same period. Despite the fact that another major population centre falling to the Entente made it even more impossible to replace these losses, no offer of armistice arrived from Madrid. Eager to close out the Spanish Front, the French proposed that the Entente thus be the ones to send out the first feelers for peace. The British and Americans agreed on the condition that such a move be kept as secret as humanly possible.

At first, this might seem a nonsensical choice. After all, the Entente showing a willingness to negotiate would surely have the population put pressure on the Spanish government to come to the table. The problem for the British and Americans was two-fold; unlike the French, for whom matters of sequencing and symbolism mattered far less, they wanted it to be clear that it was the Entente who had beaten Spain into submission. If there were to be any sort of public negotiation, the Germans could take it as a sign of Entente weakness, rather than of the inevitability of the Pact’s doom.

Equally, the Catalonian and Basque governments might see it as the prelude to their dreams being traded away for a chance to put more men into the fight against Germany. If the dreaded uprising were to then kick off, the Spanish might think they had a chance, and break off negotiations. The irony would not only be palpable, but the kind that would be a major issue for governments ostensibly based on prosecuting the war to the bitter end. This last fact, in particular, informed the desire to avoid looking weak. It was not only the Germans, but their own populations, perceiving weakness that unnerved the British and Americans about being the ones to offer peace.

What was terrifying about the alternative, pushing until Madrid, if necessary, was that none of the current positions of Entente troops made for an easy route to the Spanish capital. The course of the war had left them either in the north or far south of the Iberian Peninsula. With the war against Italy expanding and Northern France requiring ever bigger armies, new formations could hardly be directed to a minor front that was supposed to have closed already. If the Entente were to take advantage of its clearest route, through the Castelo Branco-Plascencia Gap into the central plain, troops would have to come from elsewhere on the Spanish Front to supplement the small Portuguese force maintaining defensive positions there.


anglo-portuguese - Copy.jpg

(L-R) General Antonio Monteiro, Lieutenant-General Peter Stanley, and General Manuel Gomes da Costa

With the relief of Gibraltar and the US-UK Joint Mediterranean Fleet now operating out of Barcelona, keeping the Spanish-Italian Joint Fleet in a state of some check, it was decided that Franco-British units from Catalonia could be ferried down the Spanish Coast and on to the safety of Lisbon with acceptable risk. And so, the British XII Corps and French XVI Corps made their way to Lisbon, and from there on to Castelo Branco in the dying days of 1913. Unlike in Northern France, where both sides had by now learned that the cold winters were even more unfavourable for attackers, in Iberia, the general lack of freezing temperatures would allow them to launch an attack relatively soon after arriving.

Lieutenant-General Peter Stanley, of XII Corps, quickly established a rapport with General Monteiro, in command of Portuguese Home Forces (i.e. units not yet engaged in Spain), and General da Costa, now promoted to Commander in Chief of the Portuguese armed forces. Though the French and British would be the tip of the spear, it as vital that Portuguese troops protect their flanks and rear, which would only expand as the tip got closer to Madrid. Whether it be Spanish guerrillas disrupting supply, or smaller contingents of conventional arms left behind by what was to be a relentless drive for the capital, the whole of Portugal’s Home Forces and manpower would have to be committed to keeping such units from slowing the March to Madrid.

Though there had been troops from both sides on the border near Castelo Branco, the intensity of the combat elsewhere had forced the Spanish to focus on approaches that actually had Entente troops making a push, and the Portuguese maintained garrisons across the country, out of fear that the Spanish might try to distract with a push for Lisbon from unexpected directions. From a political standpoint, it was a major gamble by da Costa to abandon this strategy. The odds were heavily in favour of there being no Spanish reserve that could take advantage of would-be defenders abandoning northern Portugal, but all of Portuguese geopolitical manoeuvring since 1904 had been focussed on avoiding a proper invasion. It was the sine qua non of the government’s legitimacy.

The March began on 8 January, with the crossing of the border. Making quick progress in the first week, brushing aside the attempts by the meagre border garrisons, the push immediately caused a total reorientation of Spanish forces. Relying on the mountains and rises into the highlands to keep Entente forces at bay with minimal troops, the majority of Spanish forces remaining were placed against XII and XVI Corps on the narrow approach to Madrid that offered no immediate natural obstacles.


Castelo Branco to Madrid - Copy.jpg

The Passable Gap between Castelo Branco and Madrid

By the end of January, progress had slowed, even if the drive had made it to Talavera de la Reina, roughly half-way between Plasencia and Toledo. As the push continued inexorably in February, and Entente forces elsewhere moved to occupy the lower ground that had been abandoned in places like Andalusia and the eastern coast, the ordeal of the Spanish people reached its climax. With major food producing regions partially occupied for almost a year, and many completely lost to the Entente since the start of the March, brutal rationing began to morph into starvation.

In Entente territory too, the prospect loomed ever larger thanks to a combination of winter stores being scorched or taken by retreating Spanish soldiers, prioritisation of Entente soldiers for what was left, and the disruption to global shipping the war had created. By the time Madrid was within striking distance, in late March, the situation in Spain had become a political concern for the governments of the Western Entente. The reports in the news, which had been allowed as a way to emphasise the cruelty of the Spanish government for refusing to surrender, had led to calls for something to be done [1].

Though rationing had, by now, become reality in France, it was still some months off in Britain, and was not being contemplated at all in the US. It was thus the latter two who came under more pressure to divert shipping of food from India and the Mid-West to Spain. The British government, already discussing rationing in Cabinet, without any such diversion in place, determined that they would have to tough out the pressure until Entente troops could largely move out of a surrendered Iberia. Not only would surrender relieve demand on Iberian food supplies by moving Entente troops out, but allow for redistribution peninsula-wide, which was currently prevented by the frontlines.

In addition to this though, Lloyd George asked Chamberlain to ask the Americans if they could spare anything. Though Britain would not get the specific credit, it would at least make the Entente look good if they could provide some relief. By association, the government could at least offer further proof to any waverers that it was the Entente who were the morally righteous side in the war, especially in contrast to the tales of terror emanating from occupied parts of the Russian Empire over the winter of 1913-14.


spanish hunger relief - Copy.jpg

Queue at a Hunger Relief Station in Talavera de la Reina, April 1914

Luckily for Chamberlain, his order for the British Ambassador to gently push the suggestion to the White House coincided with President Roosevelt’s own decision to approve the Hunger Relief Plan of 1914. Eventually, the Hunger Relief Administration would follow Entente armies as surely as the extension of their military supply lines, and form the backbone of efforts by the US and Britain to feed post-war Europe, but the plan as announced on 19 March 1914 was limited to three months, and specifically targeted at the areas hardest hit in Spain, which largely consisted of those that had been in the path of the March to Madrid.

Over the course of the next month, as XII Corps began a push into Madrid itself, and XVI Corps moved to cut the city off from the south, the US Army’s 8th Division established Hunger Relief Stations across the occupied territory to their west. The most immediate consequence was the alleviation of the worst of what had become, in some places, near-famine conditions. Depending on who is asked, the Relief Stations had a much more important effect; they broke the resolve of the defenders and population of Madrid.

It is unclear if the reports filtering through to the city through refugees and the Entente armies themselves (who were now actively using the promise of food as a psychological addition to their arsenal) really did play the decisive factor. What is certain is that, over the course of the three days between 23 April and 27 April, the defence of Madrid collapsed. Caught flat-footed – attempting to get a train from Madrid Atocha, which he did not know had been captured hours earlier – King Alfonso XIII officially surrendered himself to British troops in the early hours of the latter date.

With the news of His Majesty’s surrender, Military Absolutism collapsed. Robbed of their last vestige of legitimacy, the Entente confirmed victorious, the leadership of the Spanish government and military delivered themselves into the hands of Entente forces. By 21 May, Haig and Gouraud could report to their respective governments that the Spanish Front had ceased to be an active theatre of operations. It had taken 2 years, 7 months, and 19 days. The Spanish people had suffered horrors that must have been unimaginable in September 1911. A whole generation of young men were crippled or dead in Iberia. For the British, it had cost 258,912 casualties (of whom 63,184 would never come home) but, at long last, somebody had been forced out of the war.


[1] – Entente troops in Iberia often expressed less sympathy than their countrymen, with some resenting the population for failing to remove the government in a manner similar to the Portuguese, Catalans, or Basque, despite the vastly different situations the latter had faced.
 
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eoncommander

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A whole generation of young men were crippled or dead in Iberia. For the British, it had cost 258,912 casualties (of whom 63,184 would never come home) but, at long last, somebody had been forced out of the war.

Got to take those small wins when you can get them.
 
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Luckily for Chamberlain, his order for the British Ambassador to gently push the suggestion to the White House coincided with President Roosevelt’s own decision to approve the Hunger Relief Plan of 1914. Eventually, the Hunger Relief Administration would follow Entente armies as surely as the extension of their military supply lines, and form the backbone of efforts by the US and Britain to feed post-war Europe, but the plan as announced on 19 March 1914 was limited to three months, and specifically targeted at the areas hardest hit in Spain, which largely consisted of those that had been in the path of the March to Madrid.
Cue Herbert Hoover. He was actually a good engineer and a fine administrator, despite being pretty much unable to communicate with the public. A classic example of the Peter Principle, promoted until he failed.

So - with sunny Spain in flames in our rear-view mirror we now shape our course for Romantic Italy!

Seriously, regardless of what result the game hands out, there's quite a strong chance that taking Entente troops out of Spain would set off a multi-sided struggle that the worst element is most likely to win. I can't see Spain settling down permanently in multiple pieces, so the challenge here is how to get out of Spain without having to go back in later.
 
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I am extremely anxious to see what happens to Spain now. War notwithstanding, as has been said, the worst is probably still to come. The country seems to be a total vacuum of any sort of organisational capacity, and I don’t have high hopes for the sort of person who might look to fill it…
 
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So - with sunny Spain in flames in our rear-view mirror we now shape our course for Romantic Italy!
Oh no, it's going to the Italian campaign of WW2 but with WW1 tech, prepare for a demoralizing slog
 
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TheButterflyComposer

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Spain is a future problem though, so aside from the Portuguese and maybe the French (if it starts to affect the border), the entente will carry on.

Italy is very vulnerable now, and the central powers as a whole can now be contricted by the seas. The Mediterranean is no longer a dangerous battle ground but a entente lake, with some Italians in there pushing their luck.

If Germany doesn't get Russia to collapse soon, the war effort is going to turn very much against them. In two years, they've gotten nowhere, gotten lots of germans killed, starved the nation, and are now losing allies. Why carry on fighting?
 
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Despite victory being declared, I fear that Spain will continue to burn long after the Entente has left; if indeed they manage to leave...
Also, concerning news coming from Russia, has someone checked in on Nicholas recently?
 
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VOTE VOTE VOTE

Q1 ACAS: LAST CHANCE SALOON!

VOTE VOTE VOTE

Got to take those small wins when you can get them.

Quite.

Cue Herbert Hoover. He was actually a good engineer and a fine administrator, despite being pretty much unable to communicate with the public. A classic example of the Peter Principle, promoted until he failed.

So - with sunny Spain in flames in our rear-view mirror we now shape our course for Romantic Italy!

Seriously, regardless of what result the game hands out, there's quite a strong chance that taking Entente troops out of Spain would set off a multi-sided struggle that the worst element is most likely to win. I can't see Spain settling down permanently in multiple pieces, so the challenge here is how to get out of Spain without having to go back in later.

Ooh, yes! There's the head of the HRA, all ready and practically in his OTL job.

British Army World Tour 1911-1917: Worst Gig You've Ever Been To. Tickets no longer optional as of (spoilers).

Yes, a lot of people thinking they'll win the war and just set a new century-long peace like 1815 are going to find that there's no such thing as a geopolitical Hit and Run.

I am extremely anxious to see what happens to Spain now. War notwithstanding, as has been said, the worst is probably still to come. The country seems to be a total vacuum of any sort of organisational capacity, and I don’t have high hopes for the sort of person who might look to fill it…

High hopes are something of a foolish thing to have in this part of world history, I'm afraid.

Oh no, it's going to the Italian campaign of WW2 but with WW1 tech, prepare for a demoralizing slog

Monte Cassino: Now wtih even less church left!

Spain is a future problem though, so aside from the Portuguese and maybe the French (if it starts to affect the border), the entente will carry on.

Italy is very vulnerable now, and the central powers as a whole can now be contricted by the seas. The Mediterranean is no longer a dangerous battle ground but a entente lake, with some Italians in there pushing their luck.

If Germany doesn't get Russia to collapse soon, the war effort is going to turn very much against them. In two years, they've gotten nowhere, gotten lots of germans killed, starved the nation, and are now losing allies. Why carry on fighting?

Well, for the same reason all lost causes do; sheer, bloody-minded stubborness and sunk cost fallacy.

Despite victory being declared, I fear that Spain will continue to burn long after the Entente has left; if indeed they manage to leave...
Also, concerning news coming from Russia, has someone checked in on Nicholas recently?

Indeed.

With how popular he must be, I imagine his mother, and that's about it.
 
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24
The Riviera Campaign


Welcome to the Riviera. The same lack of progress as Flanders, but not the same equipment. Less recognition than there or Spain. The weather isn’t too bad.
John Pemberton, Midnight in Marseilles (1927)


Compared to the other fronts, or even the war at sea, it is hard to call any part of the Western European Theatre of the Great War a ‘forgotten’ part of the conflict. If, however, there is one, it is the series of battles fought in south-eastern France between the winter of 1911-12 and the Viareggio Landings. Known as the Riviera Campaign, it was never the focal point of the war. The Flanders-Northern France Front was never short of attention, while Spain’s time in the limelight was offered by the nation’s position as the weak link. When attention turned to the war with Italy though, it was to the audacious operation that functionally ended the war in the Riviera.

Much as it was never the priority for the Entente, it was likewise never the main concern for the Italians. Having failed to achieve a breakthrough in 1911, they contented themselves largely with holding the line, preferring to commit their attentions to the Pact campaign to occupy the Balkans. It was not until the collapse of the Spanish regime that the imminent redirection of Entente armies their way forced Italian High Command to devote the lion’s share of their attention to the most obvious avenue of attack. This too, would disappear once the King’s Own Scottish Borderers waded ashore at C Beach.

However, the lack of attention paid to the Riviera Campaign does not mean it did not matter. Had either side gained the upper hand decisively, it would have immediately forced a halt to offensive action in Spain and the Balkans. The retreating side would be compelled to reinforce, while the advancing would equally have an obligation to press their advantage on, the most important front on the Mediterranean Coast [1]. It also had a major impact, of course, for the many men who fought in it, and for the local population. One of the combatants, in fact, produced what is one of the finest novels about the war.

Midnight in Marseilles, by John Pemberton, who served with the 10th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers, was first published in 1927. Set over an unspecified period of time, in an unspecified part of the south-eastern French front, in an unspecified unit, the novel offers a richly detailed look at the rhythm of the campaign. Its publication finally offered the veterans of the war in the Riviera their day in the sun [2].


john pemberton - Copy.jpg

2nd Lieutenant John Pemberton, shortly after commissioning

Though Midnight in Marseilles is still very much a war novel, and includes scenes of combat and deprivation in the trenches, it is perhaps more notable for its descriptions of the world away from the front. The third chapter of the book is dominated by a week-long journey through the key cities on the Entente side of the line, Toulon, Marseilles, and Arles. It is telling of Pemberton’s skill at capturing the mood that the French translation is considered a part of the region’s cultural heritage.

Toulon, the closest city to the front, he describes thus:


It is a city at war, but not because of the presence of soldiers like us. Rather, it is the nervous, tense energy that permeates every interaction. The heightened sensitivity of the inhabitants to noise; their instinct to look at any sudden movement in the periphery; the whole of Toulon has not just the trappings, in sandbags and military signposts, but the feeling of a trench.
At first, this might seem an absurd thing. After all, are we not on leave here, far from any trench? But there is the rub. We are on leave and, should the line move here, we shall find another place to go on leave. For the people of the city, there is no alternative. Since the start of the war, a movement in the Riviera that may barely register on the map could well mean occupation. As we listen out for the shell that could end our lives if it falls just a little closer, they listen out for the sound of the front (always faintly audible) that could end their lives as they know them if it comes just a little closer.

Marseilles, on the other hand, the group finds livelier:

It is, of course, not as it was before the war. It is not so tense though. The cafés will still have the buzz of conversation and, if you know the right old waiter to ask (for they are, all, old. The young men were called long ago), you may find yourself purchasing some regional wine in the alley. It is at a price that would make the most inveterate dipsomaniac think twice, but then, the only type of person who can both afford it and be just that desperate for drink is a group of soldiers on leave.
The wine allows for some flirting with a group of the local mademoiselles which goes nowhere, as not much can be shared of two bottles between three men anyway. Far more excitement is gained from trying to hide the effects of said bottles from the MPs. They are a particularly humorous sort here, being subjected to the revelries of every Tommy that ever got short leave or passed through for a night. We have now joined the proud ranks of those who have passed under their watchful, tired gaze.

Finally, there is Arles:
This is a military city, and not because of its proximity to the front. No, this is a military city because soldiers outnumber civilians, and it is not in any way a close contest. Every major building has been colonised by some command or other. The joint command of Haig and the French in City Hall. Our Corps in the abandoned primary school (one of the reasons we outnumber the inhabitants is that many left in the early days of the war, fearing the advancing Italians, and there was little incentive to come back to a town they had lost; just not to the army they expected). The mayor works from his own house now, along with what little of the city council is left relevant. The British are running the river and the French the trains.
As a result, the place has a faint feeling of the barracks. Everything is just a little too clean and stowed away. Save for the occasional elderly who refused to leave, almost everyone is walking in lockstep. There is no café serving liquor for those in the know here. That does not mean it is completely unavailable. It is just that, as with all barracks, it must be procured from a private or lower-ranking NCO with a shameless trade in all contraband (and similarly shameless disregard for quality).

marseilles leave - Copy.jpg

British troops on leave, trading Sterling for Francs at Marseilles-Saint-Charles Station

This was one of the main differences between the Riviera Campaign and the war further north, though neither moved much. The smaller scale of things (and the distance from Britain) allowed for a sort of intimacy to develop with the surrounding area. In Flanders and Northern France, units would become very familiar with the front, but leave would often be spent at home. If not there, Paris offered a draw that homogenised the experience of many men with France outside the immediate vicinity of their trench.

On the Riviera, the Arles-Marseilles-Toulon trio offered different experiences, and soldiers were able to take advantage of those experiences more consistently. This was not only because the front was quieter, and so leave was not so often halted on news of imminent attacks, but because the lower intensity of the fighting meant that men were less likely to be invalided home before they could take more than a handful of trips out into the country. It is not a coincidence that, unlike novels in which leave at home or a singular trip out into the wider country is a set-piece, Midnight in Marseilles is named after a place well behind the line, and returns there often.

Neither is this to say that the Campaign was not, at times, extremely violent and feature large-scale attempts to break the opposing line. Alpine warfare in particular, further up the Rhône Basin, was a gruelling and bloody affair. As in the Pyrenees to the west, the terrain could just as easily cause casualties as the enemy, with landslides and avalanches not an unknown phenomenon thanks to artillery fire being used, sometimes, to induce them. The battles in the Aix-en-Provence Corridor in the summer of 1913 – when the Italian Army bet that the combination of Entente efforts elsewhere in the Western Theatre would starve their opponents of materiel – were some of the most intense in the entire war, with casualty ratios approaching those of the slaughter in Flanders and Northern France [3].

Despite the lack of attention, it is estimated that some 270,000 men of the British Armed Forces were posted to the Riviera at one point or another between 3 October 1911 and 12 August 1914. 31,934 were killed there. There were more deaths in combat for the British Army in the Riviera over that timespan than for the entire Napoleonic Wars (1804-1815). Only in a cataclysm on the scale of the Great War could the Riviera ever have become a ‘forgotten front’.


[1] – For the Ottomans, their own were obviously more important, while Suez was arguably more vital to Britain. For the war as a whole though, its connection and consequence for the other two fronts in France, and Italy’s position in the Pact relative to Spain, made the Riviera more important by far.

[2] – It also played a small role in bringing the Christmas Truce to the forefront of the narrative of the Great War, as it prompted veterans to reminisce about the event.

[3] – The appalling rate of loss did not receive the commensurate attention because the number of men involved for both sides was simply not on the scale of the titanic clashes happening on the latter front at the same time.
 
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J_Master

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The battles in the Aix-la-Chappelle Corridor in the summer of 1913
This seems to indicate (to me at least) that the Germans will invade the Netherlands as I can't think of any other type of front related to that city, or it's a somewhat off reference to the 1668 treaty meaning it's about cities in Flanders in some way
 
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BigBadBob

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This seems to indicate (to me at least) that the Germans will invade the Netherlands as I can't think of any other type of front related to that city, or it's a somewhat off reference to the 1668 treaty meaning it's about cities in Flanders in some way

Ah, dammit. That was supposed to be Aix-en-Provence.

My apologies. Now fixed.
 
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