Essai en Guerre: an FFO-inspired TL

Rhodes has fallen. And the Allies are improving their amphibious doctrine, which will save many lives, and make future ops more likely to be successful. .

I wonder what that news is. 4th of December isn't a weekend, so unlikely to be a vet slightly earlier Pearl Harbor. Unless they've attacked French Indochiba first, but that would probably but PH and the Philippines on alert.

Maybe ructions in Italy? Or something on the Eastern Front?
 
Part 6.6
Extract from The Footsteps of History: the war diary of Eustace Marcel

Sunday, 7th December 1941

..as we waited, M. Lyttelton and I walked along the Avenue des Francais. We spoke of the beauty of the Corniche, the recent difficulties with the Maronites, and the exploits of the Storks, all of which was a way to avoid the subject on both our minds, then were silent for a while. Then: ‘What do you think of the deal, M. Marcel, really?’ he asked. Of course my new English friend is a man of affairs, a capitalist to his fingertips, he thinks of “the bottom line” (Ed.: English in original) always. A brilliant man nonetheless, and well connected, married to a Duke’s daughter.
‘I must speak freely, monsieur,’ I said. ‘If I were in President Inonu’s shoes, I would hesitate long before accepting.’
He nodded, and wiped his high forehead with a handkerchief, apparently the warmth of Beirut even in December had its effect on him. ‘However, M. Marcel, if we do not at least seek to convince ourselves of the benefits, we shall never convince others.’
This had the force of truth. ‘Well, then,’ I said, ‘let us enumerate. Istanbul receives the protection of two hundred modern aircraft, four regiments of anti-aircraft artillery, and radar equipment. All in Egypt and ready to move, as soon as President Inonu gives the word. They to retain all this equipment upon our eventual departure.’ I lit a cigarette, one of the last of my good ones, and offered one to him, which he rejected politely.
He took up the theme. ‘All they must do is hold a line in Thrace. Besides the material, they receive the lasting gratitude of the Allies, and even Moscow, and their good offices in settling any little questions that might arise, for instance with the Greeks.’
‘I do not put much faith in the good offices of Moscow,’ I said. I recalled my time in Russia during the intervention, not favourably, and shuddered. ‘The less we say of that the better. We shall only weaken our case.’ He agreed, and we returned to our respective lodgings, awaiting the call that would send us on our way.

11.50pm.
My writing of the above has been interrupted. M. Lyttelton and his colleagues joined Garville, myself and Prospere for dinner, and we had the best turbot I have had in a long while. We engaged in much chat about how soon the rest of the Dodecanese would fall. I myself put ten sous on it happening before midnight - which of course would have meant a night flight for us. ‘Strike while the iron’s hot,’ one of the Englishmen said. Prospere did not think we should go before we took Lemnos - ‘the needful thing,’ he keeps calling it. ‘So much the better if you have to wait,’ he said, smiling. ‘I hear we will be getting some new American planes soon. You could fly to Ankara in style, sitting on best leather, a bottle in the ice-bucket, maybe chatting with a pretty stewardess from New York to brighten the trip.’
Such pleasant reflections! We were saying our au revoirs when the phone rang, a message from Cairo for M. Lyttelton, and he took the receiver. Of course we all assumed it was news from the Aegean, and we all stopped putting on our jackets in order to listen.
‘Archy, slow up, I can’t make you out, terrible line… what’s the flap?’ He listened for a minute, his face showing a change, becoming thoughtful. ‘How many? Oh.’ Another pause, he made a gesture to us, and we all looked at one another; Garville silently picked up the other receiver to listen. As he did so he blanched. M. Lyttelton’s words kept coming. ‘Is there no doubt?’ he said, almost pleading. ‘And Washington? Any word?’ Then another long spell of listening, he sat, and one of the Englishmen, moved by some presentiment, poured him a brandy.
At length he put the phone down, and said an English exclamation I did not recognise, then turned to me. ‘The balloon’s gone up in the East,’ he said. ‘Japanese planes attacked the Americans in Hawaii and the Philippines.’
Garville broke in. ‘And troops crossing the Indochina frontier in force. Air raid on Hanoi. And…’ he choked, a sort of sob.
‘What is it?’ I asked, dreading what he might be about to say.
‘I’m sorry, Eustace,’ said Oliver, ‘it’s bad news about your cruisers.’
 
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He took up the theme. ‘All they must do is hold a line in Thrace. Besides the material, they receive the lasting gratitude of the Allies, and even Moscow, and their good offices in settling any little questions that might arise, for instance with the Greeks.’
That sounds ominously like selling out your own ally...
 
I assume M Marcel had family aboard one of the battlecruisers, poor sod.

The question is which ones, and how badly has that wrecked the Entente fleet in the area? The Med is now relegated to an afterthought, as all available resources will be heading East. The prior in this TL must think they're facing an absolute disaster. Little do they know it could be much worse.
 
I assume M Marcel had family aboard one of the battlecruisers, poor sod.

The question is which ones, and how badly has that wrecked the Entente fleet in the area? The Med is now relegated to an afterthought, as all available resources will be heading East. The prior in this TL must think they're facing an absolute disaster. Little do they know it could be much worse.
War is terrifying.

On the other hand, they can have little doubt Uncle Sam is In on their side now.

Which might not be great news for the theater in the short run anyway; all of a sudden American exports to their forces might be in short supply, even repair parts might become scarce, as the US military grabs everything for themselves, and it will be a while before the same weapons in Yankee hands will be as effective, because the Americans are "green." And it will take some time to organize expeditionary forces.

But if they can just hold on with what they've got for a while, their forces will be greatly multiplied eventually; they shall surely come out ahead, the question is when. And to be sure, how much of the story of the Great War whereby European powers are beholden to arrogant Yanks is repeated.

OTL the answer to the latter question was, a whole hell of a lot. Here with FFO, it will be less so, but as you note they don't know how much worse off they could have been. During the Great War for the most part, at least with aircraft (maybe a lot less with ships and munitions) the Americans at least Bought European; it was a policy decision agreed to by Wilson not to attempt to develop American warplane designs, since the British and French state of the art was so highly developed and US resources would be better spent elsewhere. (American flying boat designs, by Curtiss IIRC, that is Glen Curtiss personally, were an exception, the British bought some of them which accelerated several makers in Britain designing their own on similar lines. But American aces of the Army Air Corps flew SPADs and Nieuports and so on; only the Curtiss JN "Jenny," a trainer, was mass produced for training and those stayed in America. Here it is pretty much the opposite for the French anyway, though Britain's factories are pouring out their makes the French arms industry is on hold, limited to whatever factories in Algeria can gear up to make at best. So the AdA and French naval aviation are at the mercy of American generals and admirals to the extent FDR gives them rein. It is a political balancing act for him, how many American made airframes continue to be sold, or donated, to foreign forces versus held back for the American forces to gain proficiency in and man themselves.

I suppose that the models France has ordered from Curtiss and others are specialized to French specifications and the US Army and Navy can be persuaded easily enough to let them go on through the pipeline, it is a question of how much new production gets diverted to US forces before new production plants can be built and go operational, that part is a time frame of a year or so and only that fast because of lavish use of resources, which America has of course.

The other looming question, which I expect will be settled as OTL but again these allies in Lebanon don't know it yet, is how much American effort will be made in the theater where we were actually attacked head on, in the Pacific which is mostly a sideshow for these Europeans though not entirely--the British are worried about Australia and New Zealand not to mention Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, etc, the French are getting immediate bad news about Indochina and might worry about Polynesia as well.

Now the fact that the Japanese must reduce French colonial forces in Indochina must surely divert a lot of force they landed on the Philippines with OTL. Unfortunately I was shocked to learn some time ago (years ago, from various AH TL discussions) that it was decided way back in the earlier 1930s that the US could not cost-effectively project enough force to directly defend the Philippines, which I am not sure was a reasonable conclusion to draw. Certainly in the most cold-blooded sense, it is more efficient to put only token or theoretically zero forces in distant colonial holdings and then rely on Great Power deterrence to protect them; the hoisted flag is a paper barrier that if penetrated, triggers general war and then whoever can seize the islands without opposition easily enough has to face the entire USA coming after them with everything we can muster--later. A sort of early version of MAD. But the whole point of the US seizing the Philippines in the Spanish-American war was to provide bases for global power projection, that is anyway the main point and major justification put forth by the imperialists of the day--no one figured the Philippines would be some great economic resource in themselves. A parallel and somewhat less openly aggressive purpose was essentially the same reason the Spanish invested in taking the archipelago in the first place--it was a foot in the door for the China trade for Spain, and similarly holding Manila would be something of an asset for Americans asserting rights to trade in China.

Times change I guess. In the interim, Americans certainly did invest in enterprises in the Philippines and they were worth something directly. US government priorities changed with shifting politics; substantial domestic opposition to the initial wave of jingoist imperialism was present from the start and grew more pointed as US forces had to fight the Filipino insurrections for years thereafter, and eventually it became consensus the USA was going to belatedly spin the colony off as an independent nation, and it became a "Commonwealth" in the later interim, which might have had a lot to do with lowering the priority of defending directly. I still shake my head at the fatuousness; the decision to "civilize and Christianize" (per President McKinley) our "new caught half grown peoples half devil and half child" per Kipling's pro-imperialist and pro-Yankee encouraging words was no farther in the pasts of the 1941 defenders than 1978 is to us reading this today, and at that time it would have been insane to propose not defending them. Of course in 1941 sea and air power project was faster and more powerful, and Japan was much more relatively strong than in 1898, but I have little doubt that if US planners had felt a keen sense that losing the Philippines would be as bad as losing say Washington state, provision could have been made to blunt any landing attempts well enough to make the sustained defense feasible.

In fact I believe the US military either changed its mind again or had orders to attempt to do so, and that in the years immediately leading up to 1941 serious efforts had been made to beef up defenses and perhaps there was some optimism they could hold after all, despite a decade or so of neglect.

So coming back to ATL differences--OTL the Japanese could concentrate heavy force on taking the Philippines and hope to gain the upper hand there pretty fast in the wake of this heavy tackle, then route some of these forces on to the Dutch East Indies and their general OTL farflung dizzy success, especially since they counted on the US fleet being effectively removed from the Pacific for a considerable time,

(And it just now occurred to me--perhaps the ATL successes of the Pearl Harbor strike were somewhat greater than OTL. Most AH consideration seems to reach a consensus that they pretty much rolled sixes and fives in the OTL attack, that it would not be cost effective to divert even more strike force nor would extra waves of air strike be feasible, as while US air defenses were decimated what remained of them would be on ready alert for later strikes and effective, and that it was not feasible to do more damage to either the fleet or the vital repair facilities making Pearl an asset. But it could be that where they rolled a 4 or 5 OTL they rolled another 6 here and the damage is worse, that the carriers might have been caught in harbor for instance or that the channel might be blocked, or major infrastructure damage done beyond OTL. In short this PH could be worse, at least somewhat, than OTL. Not that I think it matters in the long run: I don't see how infrastructure damage could not be rapidly repaired or replaced at Pearl, and meanwhile the home ports of the fleet in the Pacific are in California and Washington state, not to mention what is based at the Panama Canal and what could come through it, which indeed Japan had schemes to strike at, but pretty far fetched and low hitting power schemes compared to the one-shot Pearl Harbor surprise strike).

So American capacity to respond immediately is no better than OTL and might conceivably be even less, but against this, the Japanese must divert their all-in OTL efforts to invest the Philippines, which they absolutely must attempt now, toward Indochina to a great extent. This has to give the American (and Commonwealth Filipino, who did well in their own right IIRC) defenders somewhat better odds, if perhaps still plainly doomed, at least they can slow down the invasion, delay the date of ultimate collapse of open warfare (insurgency never ended OTL, again largely to the credit of the Filipinos themselves) and decimate the IJA and perhaps IJN forces sent to do the job in initially lesser numbers due to the Indochina diversion (versus OTL I mean--in absolute terms, I suppose Indochina is the higher priority target and prize in itself, for its own resources and for the access it gives the Japanese to Thailand and thus projecting on to Burma and Malaysia--the point being that OTL they had this jump almost directly to British-claimed borders in hand already on Pearl Harbor Day, here they have to fight through whatever resistance Indochinese based force, French and domestically recruited colonial forces, can offer them. The Thai government might be aiding and abetting already, seeing the Japanese are sweeping all before them should tip the court over to the Axis side firmly, but they are pretty weak in themselves, the main relevance of Thai alignment with the Axis being the free hand they gave the Japanese to mobilize and take resources).

The additional resistance and diversion the need to fight their way to control of Indochina presents Japan, and possibility that it will slow them down in the Philippines too, in turn might buy very useful time for the colonial DEI forces to slow and perhaps even halt Japanese investment of their territory. OTL the Dutch colonists did resist stubbornly; if the initial blow is delayed and attenuated they might be more effective and aid might reach them soon enough to limit Japanese advances considerably.

I don't recall much discussion of DEI (some I think, regarding policy in either selling oil to Japan or not doing so per American embargo wishes, but not much else) which makes sense since they were an irrelevant backwater of the general war (except for that oil issue, or selling tropical resources such as rubber in general) until this dramatic moment when it all turns on a dime. But they are on the front now!

And of course OTL some rather infamous incidents of allied commanders being blamed for major bungling (MacArthur in the Philippines, what'shisname in Singapore) could, insofar as it was that and not just Monday morning quarterbacking, turn out otherwise based on essentially chance combined with delays and diversions of the attacks. MacArthur gets no delay versus OTL of course--in fact an OTL bit of random bad fortune for Japan (bad weather preventing an airstrike out of Taiwan exactly coinciding with the strike on Pearl that was planned) might go the other way, with Manila taken by surprise at the same moment Hawaii was per the war plan. But he will be facing less force I think--the only way it could be as great an invasion attempt as OTL would be if all the forces for the branch of ATL attack on Indochina are drawn either from forces in reserve in the Home Islands or are taken from OTL postings in China. In Singapore, and in Jakarta/Batavia, on the other hand, it might not eventually be a lesser force that approaches, but that approach must be delayed I think.

Even if the USN is even worse off due to Pearl being more decimated if that is possible, overall the Allies in the Pacific are better off, thanks to Japan having to fight for Indochina. That colony may be doomed to fall, but will cost Japan time and force to take it. Not to mention they are denied any resources they managed to accumulate from their de facto control much earlier OTL.
 
Extract from The Footsteps of History: the war diary of Eustace Marcel

Sunday, 7th December 1941

..as we waited, M. Lyttelton and I walked along the Avenue des Francais. We spoke of the beauty of the Corniche, the recent difficulties with the Maronites, and the exploits of the Storks, all of which was a way to avoid the subject on both our minds, then were silent for a while. Then: ‘What do you think of the deal, M. Marcel, really?’ he asked. Of course my new English friend is a man of affairs, a capitalist to his fingertips, he thinks of “the bottom line” (Ed.: English in original) always. A brilliant man nonetheless, and well connected, married to a Duke’s daughter.
‘I must speak freely, monsieur,’ I said. ‘If I were in President Inonu’s shoes, I would hesitate long before accepting.’
He nodded, and wiped his high forehead with a handkerchief, apparently the warmth of Beirut even in December had its effect on him. ‘However, M. Marcel, if we do not at least seek to convince ourselves of the benefits, we shall never convince others.’
This had the force of truth. ‘Well, then,’ I said, ‘let us enumerate. Istanbul receives the protection of two hundred modern aircraft, four regiments of anti-aircraft artillery, and radar equipment. All in Egypt and ready to move, as soon as President Inonu gives the word. They to retain all this equipment upon our eventual departure.’ I lit a cigarette, one of the last of my good ones, and offered one to him, which he rejected politely.
He took up the theme. ‘All they must do is hold a line in Thrace. Besides the material, they receive the lasting gratitude of the Allies, and even Moscow, and their good offices in settling any little questions that might arise, for instance with the Greeks.’
‘I do not put much faith in the good offices of Moscow,’ I said. I recalled my time in Russia during the intervention, not favourably, and shuddered. ‘The less we say of that the better. We shall only weaken our case.’ He agreed, and we returned to our respective lodgings, awaiting the call that would send us on our way.

11.50pm.
My writing of the above has been interrupted. M. Lyttelton and his colleagues joined Garville, myself and Prospere for dinner, and we had the best turbot I have had in a long while. We engaged in much chat about how soon the rest of the Dodecanese would fall. I myself put ten sous on it happening before midnight - which of course would have meant a night flight for us. ‘Strike while the iron’s hot,’ one of the Englishmen said. Prospere did not think we should go before we took Lemnos - ‘the needful thing,’ he keeps calling it. ‘So much the better if you have to wait,’ he said, smiling. ‘I hear we will be getting some new American planes soon. You could fly to Ankara in style, sitting on best leather, a bottle in the ice-bucket, maybe chatting with a pretty stewardess from New York to brighten the trip.’
Such pleasant reflections! We were saying our au revoirs when the phone rang, a message from Cairo for M. Lyttelton, and he took the receiver. Of course we all assumed it was news from the Aegean, and we all stopped putting on our jackets in order to listen.
‘Archy, slow up, I can’t make you out, terrible line… what’s the flap?’ He listened for a minute, his face showing a change, becoming thoughtful. ‘How many? Oh.’ Another pause, he made a gesture to us, and we all looked at one another; Garville silently picked up the other receiver to listen. As he did so he blanched. M. Lyttelton’s words kept coming. ‘Is there no doubt?’ he said, almost pleading. ‘And Washington? Any word?’ Then another long spell of listening, he sat, and one of the Englishmen, moved by some presentiment, poured him a brandy.
At length he put the phone down, and said an English exclamation I did not recognise, then turned to me. ‘The balloon’s gone up in the East,’ he said. ‘Japanese planes attacked the Americans in Hawaii and the Philippines.’
Garville broke in. ‘And troops crossing the Indochina frontier in force. Air raid on Hanoi. And…’ he choked, a sort of sob.
‘What is it?’ I asked, dreading what he might be about to say.
‘I’m sorry, Eustace,’ said Oliver, ‘it’s bad news about your battlecruisers.’
I'm trying to figure out how the French navy got caught so exposed.

I'm backtracking from memory on this timeline, so please forgive me.

Significant elements of the Force de Raid joined the Free French. This includes two modern, fast battlecruisers with decent but not great anti-aircraft fits. The combination of the RN and the MN have significantly changed the scales of the naval war in the Med. It is not a grinder of RN cruiser and battle line forces nor do carriers get dinged trying to force convoys through contested air and sea space from either Gibraltar or Alexandria. From Gibraltar, local escorts and air cover can be arranged all the way to Cape Bon and the a local heavy covering force can supply the forward bastion of Malta. There is no reason to do Club Runs, there is no reason to run operation Hats or anything else. The larger pool of RN and MN carriers, battleships, fast battleships, and cruisers means more ships are available for both critical missions (reducing the probability of losses) and more ships are available for quick refits.

The RN/MN have a significant set of problems in home waters. They need a heavy and fast hitting force in Home Fleet to counter the German fleet in being (3 modern fast capital vessels) and they need a heavy force in the central Med to counter the Italians, but they should be able to free up significant fleet units for the Far East including multiple modern carriers. In Home Fleet, a force of one or two armored deck carriers, plus KGV, PoW (never damaged at Denmark Straits), Richeleau, Hood and one of Rodney/Nelson should be more than enough to counter the KM. In the Med, the modernized QEs are enough to take the fight to the Italians if reinforced with some of the third line battleships (non-modernized QEs, the Rs, and the French 1st War ships). There are forces available to engage in Main Fleet East.

Two RN, and two MN battlecruisers with perhaps Ark Royal with appropriate cruiser and destroyer support is a powerful force in being if it is based in Singapore. I can't figure out why the MN would forward deploy battlecruisers to Cam Ranh Bay when lighter cruiser/destroyer forces along with submarines and coastal combatants can cover northern Indochina. The battlecruisers are most effective in strategic and operational space to force the Japanese to come south with enough force that this is not a deniable incident if it goes wrong. Keeping them in a very distant cover position from Singapore makes sense. Basing modern capital units well within air range of the enemy makes far less sense.

I am still scratching my head here.
 
That sounds ominously like selling out your own ally...
It could mean that. These men are diplomats, and they have a degree of the usual diplomatic cynicism. Greece has no choice but to fight, so from their perspective can be taken for granted. Turkey does have a choice, so has to be wooed. On the other hand, they could mean nothing more than (for example) brokering a deal about the Greco-Turkish sea frontier off the Dodecanese - given that Greek annexation of the Dodecanese is a certainty - and it will happen during the war, not after - the Allies want both Greece and Turkey in the war on the same side, and do not want any distractions.
Of course, all this is moot as Turkey isn't coming in anyway. But at the time in the ATL they wouldn't know that.
 
The Med is now relegated to an afterthought, as all available resources will be heading East.
For a start, the resources assembled for the Turkish adventure as described by MM. Lyttelton and Marcel.
The prior in this TL must think they're facing an absolute disaster. Little do they know it could be much worse.
The keynote of the next few months will be desperate, but not altogether unavailing efforts on the part of the Allies in the East.

I suppose that the models France has ordered from Curtiss and others are specialized to French specifications and the US Army and Navy can be persuaded easily enough to let them go on through the pipeline, it is a question of how much new production gets diverted to US forces before new production plants can be built and go operational, that part is a time frame of a year or so
Yes - there should be enough in the pipeline to keep the French effort going until the summer. The Union have plans, which they will now be sharing with the US, by way of encouraging the President not to divert too much materiel to his own forces.
the Pacific which is mostly a sideshow for these Europeans though not entirely
If anything, Indochina will matter more to the French here as their most important territory outside of North Africa. Losing it would mean a political crisis for the Algiers Government, with its own ramifications.
Now the fact that the Japanese must reduce French colonial forces in Indochina must surely divert a lot of force they landed on the Philippines with OTL.
Some, though I've assumed all the forces that OTL went against Malaya will go to Indochina in the ATL.
perhaps the ATL successes of the Pearl Harbor strike were somewhat greater than OTL. Most AH consideration seems to reach a consensus that they pretty much rolled sixes and fives in the OTL attack, that it would not be cost effective to divert even more strike force nor would extra waves of air strike be feasible, as while US air defenses were decimated what remained of them would be on ready alert for later strikes and effective, and that it was not feasible to do more damage to either the fleet or the vital repair facilities making Pearl an asset. But it could be that where they rolled a 4 or 5 OTL they rolled another 6 here and the damage is worse, that the carriers might have been caught in harbor for instance or that the channel might be blocked, or major infrastructure damage done beyond OTL. In short this PH could be worse, at least somewhat, than OTL.
It's possible that random butterflies of the ATL would mean the carriers being in port. There are a few such random butterflies throughout the TL. I have assumed (again by way of simplifying the research task) that the overall level of damage to the US Pacific Fleet is similar in the ATL. In short, they will be able to initiate carrier raids similar to OTL, and crucially the Doolittle Raid is still going to happen.
in absolute terms, I suppose Indochina is the higher priority target and prize in itself, for its own resources and for the access it gives the Japanese to Thailand and thus projecting on to Burma and Malaysia
The cheapness of the Japanese acquisition of Indochina OTL is extraordinary in hindsight. One of the more pathetic parts of Vichy history was when they begged Berlin to intercede for them with the Japanese in late 1940; of course Berlin had zero interest in helping their supposed Vichy partners.
he Thai government might be aiding and abetting already, seeing the Japanese are sweeping all before them should tip the court over to the Axis side firmly
I have hinted earlier in the TL that the Thai attitude is not quite so pro-Axis as OTL. The British have not been shy about twisting Phibun's arm, pointing out just how exposed Thailand is. Unlike in OTL, the British have the means to intimidate Bangkok effectively, and this means the anti-Phibun faction there (which I've represented as led by the Regent, for simplicity's sake) has not permitted the Franco-Thai war. I think the Thai priority will quite naturally be to avoid their country becoming a battlefield.
OTL the Dutch colonists did resist stubbornly; if the initial blow is delayed and attenuated they might be more effective and aid might reach them soon enough to limit Japanese advances considerably.
The Dutch will play their part.
overall the Allies in the Pacific are better off, thanks to Japan having to fight for Indochina. That colony may be doomed to fall, but will cost Japan time and force to take it.
This is the key thing. My estimate is rough and ready, but I assume that since it took until February for the Japanese to reach and take Singapore, it will take at least as long for them to conquer the whole of Indochina, since Indochina is much bigger than Malaya. This gives the Allies several extra weeks, say two months, to prepare in the DEI.
The combination of the RN and the MN have significantly changed the scales of the naval war in the Med. It is not a grinder of RN cruiser and battle line forces nor do carriers get dinged trying to force convoys through contested air and sea space from either Gibraltar or Alexandria. From Gibraltar, local escorts and air cover can be arranged all the way to Cape Bon and the a local heavy covering force can supply the forward bastion of Malta. There is no reason to do Club Runs, there is no reason to run operation Hats or anything else. The larger pool of RN and MN carriers, battleships, fast battleships, and cruisers means more ships are available for both critical missions (reducing the probability of losses) and more ships are available for quick refits.
Yes - the RN and RAF's Mediterranean attrition in 1941 was brutal. Here it's much less, so that even if the RAF had to support a force equivalent to the OTL DAF in the Aegean-Greek theatre, they should still have something to spare for the East. And the RN's 1941 attrition has been much less. Just to sum up the capital ships and carriers: Barham has been lost, but Hood has not. I assume the Italian raid on Alexandria which crippled Queen Elizabeth and Valiant has also been butterflied, as has the damage to Illustrious and the loss of Ark Royal (no need for such risky runs to Malta), and the damage (during the Crete campaign) to Formidable.
In Home Fleet, a force of one or two armored deck carriers, plus KGV, PoW (never damaged at Denmark Straits), Richeleau, Hood and one of Rodney/Nelson should be more than enough to counter the KM.
That is more or less my thinking, and we will see them in action soon. Because the KM has not yet lost a capital ship (Bismarck's raid was butterflied) they still need some educating about the dangers of the Atlantic.
I can't figure out why the MN would forward deploy battlecruisers to Cam Ranh Bay when lighter cruiser/destroyer forces along with submarines and coastal combatants can cover northern Indochina. The battlecruisers are most effective in strategic and operational space to force the Japanese to come south with enough force that this is not a deniable incident if it goes wrong. Keeping them in a very distant cover position from Singapore makes sense. Basing modern capital units well within air range of the enemy makes far less sense.
The short answer to this is that there is no problem, no matter how serious, that politicians cannot make worse.
 
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Arguably, this should mean that the Japanese won't get as far. Given that OTL, their shoestrings were so thin that a single Carrier raid managed to derail their operations so much it lead to the Battle of the Coral Sea and later the entire Guadalcanal campaign (if I recall things right that is) having to fight through Indochina and then not having ready-made airfields there for the Malayan campaign is only going to derail things even earlier.

Never mind that we all know what happened in Indochina between 1950 and 1975. Pair that together with how the Japanese treated locals that dared to resist...

Is there a French version of All along the Watchtower?
 
Never mind that we all know what happened in Indochina between 1950 and 1975. Pair that together with how the Japanese treated locals that dared to resist...
A further factor: the Japanese do value Indochina in itself, but mainly as a springboard for operations against the DEI and the oil. That means they will try to seize all the major cities and ports, but they will not make a priority of conquering the hinterland. That means the French forces - mostly locals - will mostly disperse rather than surrender, carrying their weapons with them. It all has the makings of a major guerrilla war.
Now time to finally find out what has happened in the East, I've teased long enough.
 
Part 7.1
Part 7. On fait la guerre comme il faut...

Prime Minister to General Wavell at Singapore
9.12.41

2. The Council met again last night. We decided to cease our Aegean offensive forthwith. Warspite has been released early and is on its way with Illustrious and Formidable, Cunningham commanding. The Home Fleet and the French are also sending reinforcements, the Admiralty will provide details later today. We expect to send Victorious as Indomitable has now returned from America.
3. The Air Staff believe the air forces you have already received or will shortly receive should provide for the safety of Malaya. However it now appears likely that we must send assistance to Indochina. Accordingly we are stripping the forces we had built up for offensive operations in Med theatre. Four more Hurricane squadrons will arrive this month, and four more next month.
4. A Beaufort squadron and one Beaufighter squadron also being sent. Four more Blenheim squadrons available if needed. Pray also let us have your opinion whether we should send the Wellington squadrons from Africa.
5. The Australians are on their way, two British divisions are relieving them in Greece. Pray inform me regarding your intentions for 4th and 5th British-Indian Divisions. These fine formations must not be left passive. British 6th Division and tank brigade coming from Aegean. Another tank brigade is available, but we will only send this if you can find active employment for it.
6. We should employ the Australian 8th Division as a single formation. Its current dispersal is unsatisfactory. Pray let me know your plans.
7. Indications from Stalin are that German thrust on Moscow now defeated. He intends offensive operations on a large scale. Decisive results may follow in that theatre. At all events German attention will focus on Eastern front for many months. We therefore expect we can send further reinforcements.
8. Very distressing news of French cruisers. Reports say assailed by aircraft. How serious is the damage? How was this possible? Are our ships able to resist such attacks?
9. French bearing up manfully. Mandel doubts if Indochina can be held but determined to try. Politically impossible to allow it to fall without utmost effort on our part. We must do more than send air units.
10. What arrangements do we have for Borneo? Japanese will want the oil wells there as next target. What Air do we have there?

General Wavell to Prime Minister
9.12.41

...4. You asked about Force X. We believe you ask a good question which deserves a full answer. Governor had insisted on their presence at Cam Ranh for political and diplomatic reasons, to reassure Indochina population and deter Japanese. He then forbade them to sortie as desired by Admiral, fearing this would be provocative. Discussion was ongoing when Japanese struck, apparently by land-based torpedo aircraft from Hainan. This had been considered beyond effective range. Signals and navigation problems prevented effective intervention by French aircraft.
5. Salvage should be possible, but shortages of equipment and personnel prevent speedy results. Naval reinforcement very welcome. Until they arrive we cannot undertake any naval counter-offensive or even defend effectively. Now our Navy insists on keeping Fleet units within range of land-based air cover. Also more naval fighters needed. Japanese fighters very active and capable.
6. American fleet losses mean that enemy’s main fleet likely to be available for offensive in my theatre. We are currently weaker so must concentrate on preserving fleet in being. Can harass with submarines, our T-class boats are at sea, the Admiral wants at least 5 more.
7. All the air units you mention should be sent. General Georges informs me that of his 300 aircraft only half now operational. Many wrecked on ground by heavy air attacks. Urgent need to send Hurricanes and Blenheims to Saigon. French making arrangements for their ground protection.
8. Borneo air very weak, one fighter and one flying-boat squadron. RAF view facilities as too poor for large Air force. Risk is any aircraft we send will suffer same fate as French, wrecked on the ground, owing to lack of early warning and AA defences. Propose using 6th Division there if Thais remain neutral, on understanding that enemy sea and air power means they have initiative and we cannot prevent their landing.
9. Overall picture is that we can perform only local counter-attacks until initial Japanese impetus is spent. We must concentrate on delaying actions until all reinforcements arrive. We must accept some forfeits of territory in order to preserve fighting strength.
10. However we recognise political necessity to aid Indochina. Propose sending Indian 4th to Saigon as strategic reserve force. Georges proposes delaying actions around Hanoi and withdraw best units south; I concur. Essential to keep enemy air bases out of range of Saigon. In practice this means holding enemy north of Hue - Da Nang area. Proximity of Hainan gives Japanese air superiority over Gulf of Tonkin.
11. I intend to keep Indian 9th & 11th Divisions, now up to strength, as Malaya garrison. Indian 5th Division arriving in Burma in readiness for MATADOR or SUPER-MATADOR depending on Thai attitude. 4th will supplement, may be available for other duties. Would aid if 10th also available. No indications yet of change in Thai deployments. Evidently power struggle ongoing between Prime Minister and Regent. This uncertainty greatly complicates our military dispositions, our plans change daily.
12. Americans reporting heavy fighting on Luzon and other islands. Their air force like the French has taken heavy losses and must assume the enemy will soon have air superiority. Am meeting Admiral Hart tomorrow…
 
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The short answer to this is that there is no problem, no matter how serious, that politicians cannot make worse.
This is a major plausibility barrier from an otherwise plausible timeline. The Free French have as significant military assets a modest field army, and three modern first class capital ships. Everything else is fungible enough. Throwing away 2 of the high value irreplaceable and rare assets for a political point is a bit of a stretch especially if both the MN and RN leadership are both screaming that the two BCs with screen should be in Singapore and if assets are needed to show the flag in Indochina, than that is why they have excellent ASuW destroyers and fast cruisers.
 
Very well done. The voices of the writers are very authentic. I don't fully agree with all the narrative choices, but it's all plausible.

I will be looking for the resolution of the southeast Asia melee. It's not widely known, but when Japan landed in Thailand on 12/7/41 OTL, Thai forces resisted for several hours and inflicted hundreds of casualties before they were ordered to stand down. If the Japanese push too hard, maybe they will drive Thailand into the Allied camp.
 
Throwing away 2 of the high value irreplaceable and rare assets for a political point is a bit of a stretch
I feel like this is a point written very much from the standpoint of someone outside the TL and who has enough knowledge of the Geopolitics at play to know that Japan WILL attack and WILL ATTACK SOUTH.

Whereas, if I'm recalling OTL well, the British/Free French etc. Were trying very hard to try and keep Japan out of the War.
 
I feel like this is a point written very much from the standpoint of someone outside the TL and who has enough knowledge of the Geopolitics at play to know that Japan WILL attack and WILL ATTACK SOUTH.

Whereas, if I'm recalling OTL well, the British/Free French etc. Were trying very hard to try and keep Japan out of the War.
I disagree.

I agree that the WAllies were trying to deter Japan from coming south. That is what prompted the OTL deployment of Force Z (deterrence not defeat was its mission) and it is likely what prompted the deployment of a modified/reinforced Force Z and the French battlecruisers in TTL.

The security of Malaya is dependent on the security of Indochina. The security of Indochina is dependent on the RN keeping the South China Sea lanes open.

What is more of a deterrent --- two forces split up well outside of mutual support where either force can not stand to offer battle against a modest sub-group of the IJN or a single force that has integrated combined arms with at least one or two modern carriers, three or four fast battlecruisers and an appropriate screen that can fall back to a secure bastion with a world class dockyard? Now that force is enough to get the IJN to have to engage in an all or nothing gambit. Sending the OTL Malayan invasion naval covering forces is just asking to be defeated in detail.
 
I have to agree with @fester here. I would like to add that the French politicians will be quite risk averse with their assets. For example, I don't see them agreeing at participating at a costly offensive in Greece or participate at risky operations as the OTL bombardment of Genoa by Somerville. Their fleet is the biggest political asset they possess now. i suspect the modern french naval units will be considered a negotiation asset during the constant negotiations with the British. What the British need more from the French is naval units. So trades like "we will assign the Force de Raid to you for half a year and we will get priority in the X and Y products coming from America" will be a common thing.
 
The thought that has no come to mind is how pitifully and institutionally awful the Western Powers were at assessing the capabilities of Japanese Aircraft. OTL/ITTL, were the British/Commonwealth/French cognizant of the capabilities, both in terms of range and firepower, of Japanese Airpower? Because if they believed the Japanese couldn't actually damage Battlecruisers forward stationed, that makes the risk much lower.
 
The thought that has no come to mind is how pitifully and institutionally awful the Western Powers were at assessing the capabilities of Japanese Aircraft. OTL/ITTL, were the British/Commonwealth/French cognizant of the capabilities, both in terms of range and firepower, of Japanese Airpower? Because if they believed the Japanese couldn't actually damage Battlecruisers forward stationed, that makes the risk much lower.
Only the Soviets and Italians had real missions to fight the Japanese as aid to the KMT in the mid-late '30s. Chennault had zero support of the USAAC til 1941, and that was pushed by FDR
Chennault has a a couple of French Pilots, as part of his International squadron, but again, nothing official
 
Good discussion about the Force du Raid question. My motive in writing that part, as @diestormlie indicates, was to give the Allies a 'Force Z moment' which reveals how seriously they have under-estimated the Japanese. However @fester and @X Oristos make a strong argument that the French would have exercised greater caution in the disposition of their scarce assets. The Force du Raid were intended to hunt German commerce-raiders in the Atlantic, so let's assume they are still there. (They might have work to do before long.) I have amended this to refer to Force X which we can assume comprised a pair of fast cruisers.
 
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