Let Them Pass

Riain sorry the Germans had 2.1 mio men against France with France having 1.5 and 0.2 BEF. OTL Germany moved one army east, and needed one to deal with the Belgiums.

ITTL Joffre has moved two armies into Paris proper so the Germans still have 2.1 mio men and the French in armies that count 0.9. if you have something around 40% of the army strength of your enemy achieving local superiority is pretty hard.

And with Paris encircled it is a matter of weeks at best before the French armies run out of ammo.
I'm not talking about how many men Germany had overall, I'm talking about how many men they had at the decisive point and how much territory they had to cover. IOTL it was at the Marne and ITTL we haven't seen it yet. At the Marne IOTL the Germans had some 3 Corps masking Antwerp and 2.5 Corps besieging Namur which were sent East once Namur fell which in total equates to a full Army that was crossed the border but wasn't at the Marne. In detail this means that for example regimental machine gun companies that started with 8 MGs were down to 4 or 5 MGs by the Marne. In contrast the BEF for example withdrew onto its 5th and then 6th infantry divisions, and after the Aisne the entire BEF used the coastal railway to move to Flanders because there were no German forces in the area to stop them.

ITTL 1st Army will have to cover a line from Paris to the sea, a distance of 160-200km, while the other 2 armies besiege Paris and the other 4 armies will have to cover the 500km from Paris to the Swiss border. That's a LOT of space to cover, particularly for 1st Army, and the BEF may be able to put all 6 of it's divisions against an area of front held by 2 German divisions between say Dieppe and Paris.
That would be folly of the Germans. The French have but two!) armies left from Paris to the Swiss border, so why use 4 German to cover this?

2 armies Paris to border, 2 armies to cover Paris, 2 from Paris to the sea (parity at all places) and one army in reserve. With the much shorter marching distances and much less fighting ITTL Germany should be much better off.
Oh and btw Joffre made a huge blunder. With those two armies now digging in in Paris the Germans are now 7:4 armies outside of Paris.

Let those two armies lay barbed wire in Paris, entrench the leftover artillery at crossroads, find nice positions for snipers... none of that helps France right now. Joffre has just thrown two armies away. The German high command might send him a couple hundred bottles of Jahrgangssekt (equivalent to Champagne) a year after France has asked for terms.

Now the Germans can amass their 7 armies first against the three remaining French and then against the BEF. Even if they lose two of them in the process it will mean 2 to encircle Paris, 2 to roam France and one for the East.


By the way, someone can correct me but this seems like something Joffre would do. Others may correct me if I am wrong but as far as military matters Joffre seemed like a complete bungler.
By the way, someone can correct me but this seems like something Joffre would do. Others may correct me if I am wrong but as far as military matters Joffre seemed like a complete bungler.
I think he would have someone else command the newly created 'Army of Paris', namely Gallieni since he had been the commander of the Paris Garrison, so he wouldn't be bogged down with that while doing what he felt his job was, to prepare a massive counterattack from the SE of Paris into the German Flank, and the units to the NW, along with the BEF after the landed
He was no Cordona, he would sack Generals (over 50!) who dind't follow his orders, but didn't go into the shooting them, and was respected by his subordinates( since he appointed so many of them), whom he would visit. He was decisive, and not a waffler like Moltke the Lesser.
That would be folly of the Germans. The French have but two!) armies left from Paris to the Swiss border, so why use 4 German to cover this?

2 armies Paris to border, 2 armies to cover Paris, 2 from Paris to the sea (parity at all places) and one army in reserve. With the much shorter marching distances and much less fighting ITTL Germany should be much better off.
As @marathag said above Joffre felt his job was to make a massive counterattack.

If the ~500km from Switzerland to the siege works at Paris was held by 2 Armies then it isn't covered at all. Joffre formed the Army of Alsace on 11 August by attaching a bunch of Reserve divisions to a Regular Corps, the 6th Army of Regular and Reserve Corps on 26th August and 9th Army was formed on 29th of August, so the initial mistake of not using Reserve divisions was quickly remedied.

So if there are enormous stretches of empty land then Joffre would bang together an Army, likely including a large cavalry component, and break through the almost non existent German line and attacking deep into their rear, possibly with a hook to the supply route to the Germans forces around Paris.

OTL Maps.
The French can't move too much from the south, as that gives Prince Rupprecht's 10 divisions an open route for a true double envelopment, another Cannae

This TL, the German Right Wing has a far more secure flank, no 'Race to the Sea' will be needed as the Belgians let them thru save so much men and especially time.
Moltke won't lose his nerve as soon, and is much farther North and West of OTL thanks to free use of Belgian interior lines for 1st and 2nd Armies

Purple are the main railroad lines partially scribbled in, Red the changed advance of 1st and 2nd Armies thru Flanders and northwest Wallonia

Now a question might be, was Third Army allowed to March over to the French Border, or did they have to entrain and then go North, leaving SW Wallonia open for French Patrols?


Hmm... The U-Boats don't need to be particularly effective or devastating. Just by existing, they could drive the British to some "paranoia" by overestimating the invisible menace. "What if that crazy Kaiser has filled the Channel with submarines!?" So they take many precautions, which in turn slow down the response time of the B.E.F., which in turn can't deploy as fast as the French would need...
Or just force convoying, the use of less efficient routes et cetera.
Chapter 19: As the Trap Closes


Chapter 19: As the Trap Closes
August 19, 1914; Berlin: Kaiser Wilhelm is far from pleased by the Belgian decision to allow British observers in Antwerp. But he understands King Albert’s position. Great Britain unlike France has not declared war on Belgium and a blockade of Antwerp could well mean starvation for Albert’s people. Kaiser Wilhelm is gambling on a quick victory in France before winter. If he can achieve that then the presence of British observers in Antwerp becomes superfluous. However, if the war becomes protracted the issue of these observers may have to be reexamined. For now, he will take no action.

Paris: General Joffre receives Poincare’s telegram. He tells his aide who has brought him the message that the message never arrived. He then burns the telegram. Joffre is determined to hold the Germans off until the British move out of Le Havre. Unfortunately, the British military liaison informs him it will probably be another week before the BEF is ready to begin their counteroffensive to relive Paris. Meantime he has ordered that all prisoners in Parisian jails are to be put to work constructing barricades and fortifications throughout Paris. He also institutes food rationing for all citizens remaining in Paris. Joffre is confident he can hold Paris until the BEF can break through the German lines to him.

Le Havre: After the sinking of two troopships and a day later a supply vessel the decision has been made to sail ships to Le Havre only during the daylight hours. General French is not pleased that his troop and supply ships take meandering routes to avoid the potential danger of U-Boats and the 2nd Torpedo Boat Squadron. But he does not want to lose any more men or equipment. He informs London that he should be ready to begin his counteroffensive by the 26th at the very latest.

London: First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill is looking over a map of the French coast. Churchill has abandoned his plans for invading the port of Antwerp. He realizes now not only would the casualties be immense for the British, but they would likely bring the Netherlands in on the side of the Central Powers. But Churchill is now looking at another possible plan. It will have to be a long term one to be sure. It will take time for troops to arrive from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and India. But once they are there Churchill hopes to use them for a new idea that is forming in his head.

If one of the French channel ports namely Pas de Calais can be taken, then German supply routes through Belgium could be cut without having to further compromise the Belgian stance on neutrality. the plan will take at least two months or more to formulate but with most of the German troops presently concentrated near Paris Churchill believes such a landing could effectively starve German forces that depend on the supply lines through Belgium.
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Just discovered and started reading this timeline. And I apologize if this point has already been raised and discussed. But, if I may:

At Whitehall the French ambassador tells Prime Minister Asquith of “Belgian Perfidy” and asks that Britain honor her treaty obligations. However, rather then receiving a firm affirmation he is simply told the British are monitoring the matter and will decide shortly regarding intervention. Asquith is keeping his options open. He does not want to commit to a war his fellow countrymen are divided on joining.
As many here likely know, Britain had no treaty obligation at all to France, though of course in the July Crisis, the Élysée tried hard to persuade Asquith that the previous discussions between London and Paris and military arrangements amounted to such. Sir Edward Grey, of course, conceded in his famous August 3 Commons address that Britain had no such obligation to France. "....it is only fair to say to the House that that obligation of honour cannot apply in the same way to us. We are not parties to the Franco-Russian alliance. We do not even know the terms of the alliance."

You, Geon, doubtless mean to have Ambassador Cambon here referring to the 1839 Treaty, though Cambon would surely be pushing a nebulous obligation to France at the same time, too. But it is difficult argue that the treaty automatically created an obligation for signatories to intervene by force (no British parliament could ever assent to such a concession), let alone if the violation of Belgian neutrality was undertaken by the Belgians themselves.

I am enjoying the timeline - just wanted to make that small point.
How the hell did Churchill even become First Lord of the Admiralty?
No doubt a plan so cunning, a tail could be pinned on it and it would be called a weasel
I haven't got far enough in the timeline to make a judgment on the viability of how Churchill is being painted here yet, but I can't help but feel a need to make a small friendly nudge in Churchill's favor . . . threads like these are an easy opportunity to pile on poor Winnie.

It's not that he didn't have some daft ideas, or (worse) that he didn't pour his political power into trying to force the daft ideas on reluctant military leaders who understood how daft they were. I think, with Niall Ferguson, that his warhawkism was as badly misplaced in 1914 as it was dead-on target in the 1930's. But we *should* remember also what a force for good he was at the Admiralty in 1911-14. For a total naval neophyte, he *was* a quick study, and supplied some desperately needed energy and drive into reform and advance of the RN, and mostly in the right directions. He almost single-handedly pushed the Queen Elizabeths (rather than a reworked class of Iron Dukes) through, and put the Navy squarely on the path to transition to a oil-fueled force. He pushed air and submarine technology forward with gusto. He raised naval pay (and it desperately needed a raise). On the whole, the Navy was considerably better prepared for war in 1914 because he had been in charge of it for three years. Even if he does deserve some blame for inflicting David Beatty on it.

Even the Dardanelles was a shrewd strategic idea in principle . . . of course, translating principle into action in the face of practical realities was a constant stumbling block for Churchill throughout his career.
The issue is that there is a distinct lack of amphibious ops experience so trying them out, well they tended to go poorly and even during WW2 there were several smaller ops that gave valuable experience for both DDay and the push across the Pacific that without things would have been much worse.

As it is, I cannot see anything before 1915 and with that we are still looking at the Gallipoli force (minus French contributions) as the BEF needs more forces to hold the line.
All right. I've finally read all the updates, though not all of the commentary...

First off: Well done to @Geon for a higly readable and researched timeline. Crisp formatting and very readable prose. I'm very much subscribed. Also, bonus points for picking up on a rarely considered point of departure for the Great War: Belgian acceptance of the German ultimatum. It is specially interesting to think about because, deep down, it was an outcome that Wilhelm and certain of his ministers, conditioned by the bad character of King Leopold, were banking on.

I do have some nits to pick, though most are admittdly in the realm of analysis rather than errors of fact.

1. It is not a slam dunk, but I think the heavy odds (I would say, at least 4 to 1, if I had to quantify it) are against Asquith declaring war at this juncture, and this is my greatest reservation. I think a lot of examination of not just Asquith's characer, but that of his cabinet - and even that of the Tory leadership - is necessary. As is just exactly what was decided in cabinet, and when. Too often, we operate in broad strokes when discussing the British decision-making, when it took a very particular set of developments - I would say, machinations - to get a Liberal-governed Britain to a declaration of war. There was nothing inevitable about it.

a) Asquith's cabinet was a pacifist-dominated Liberal cabinet in 1914. And when I say "pacifist," I do not mean it in a George Lansbury sense. It might be better to say "non-interventionist" for our purposes. It was probably in the neighborhood of about 15 to 5 - with the five interventionists/hawks being Grey, Churchill (at the hard end), Haldane, Asquith, and - marginally - Lloyd George. At the other end, the most opposed to war could be identified in the four Liberal ministers who resigned over the decision for war (Beauchamp, Morley, Burns, and Simon - Asquith did of course later manage to persuade Beauchamp and Simon to rescind their resignations). So it is quite remarkable that Edward Grey was able to maneuver a mostly non-interventionist Cabinet to agree to a decision that would take Britain into war, even with his unusually close relationship with Asquith to lean on.​
b) The key decisions were taken on Sunday, August 2, the date of the German ultimatum to Brussels. There were two Cabinet meetings that day: 1) one from 11:00am-2:00pm, and a second from 6:30-8:00pm. In the first, the Cabinet voted that a stance that a German naval bombardment of French Channel ports would be a trigger for war. In the second, it was also decided that a violation of Belgian neutrality would be a trigger, too. These were the conditions that the majority decided would be necessary for thm to support war, not a declaration of war itself - but even so, they provided the necessary tripwires when the time came for Kaiser Willie to trip them. Note that the prospect of the HSF cruising the Channel blowing up stuff was the first and easiest "get" for the Cabinet - not Belgian neutrality.​
c) Something else noteworthy happened on Sunday, August 2, that mattered a great deal. Bonar Law and Lansdowne delivered a letter to Asquith promising "unhesitating" support for the government in any measures it sought to employ in support of the Dual Alliance. This promise was bolstered by Churchill's reading, before the Cabinet, of a letter from prominent Tory F. E. Smith saying that a canvas of his colleagues permitted him to say that "the government can rely upon the support of the Unionist party, in whatever manner that support can be most effectively given." The italics are mine. It became apparent that the prospect now loomed of a national government, one which could well be mostly Tory: a prospect that chilled Asquith, and most ministers present. This had the effect of nudging wavering ministers into the agreement to a "Belgian" formula in the evening. It acted, it seems, as a kind of unspoken threat by Asquith. This wasn't just for crass self-intrested reasons (though these can't be ruled out), but also because Asquith and his ministers mostly thought the Tories were irresponsible madmen who could not be trusted with running a war.​
d) Even so, it took the news of Belgium's refusal of the ultimatum, and German bellicosity, on the following two days to shore up the waverers - to give not just them, but the public, the cover they felt they needed to go to war for what really were other reasons - unwillingness to allow the German fleet in the Channel, and fear of Liberal government being replaced by a de facto Tory dominated government. And since the German fleet did *not* make that appearance, it really did come down to a need for Germany to violate Belgian neutrality to close the deal.​
But what happens in a scenario where it is the Belgians themselves who violate Belgian neutrality? This would have wrongfooted not only the non-interventionist Cabinet majority, but even the Tories. Much as Bonar Law's caucus might crave a showdown with Germany, Albert's decision to give way would deny them their obvious casus belli. Given correspondence we have access to now, it seems far more likely that both Grey's faction and the Tories would have to reconfigure their stances. "Saving Belgium" was not going to win any votes any longer, especially with the Huns conducting what amounted to a friendly koffeeklatch in Belgium, rather than, you know, shooting and shelling their way in. So that leaves the first formula decided on August 2: the High Seas Fleet entering the Channel. But Grey realized full well that Wilhelm was unlikely to provide him with that.

It is hard to see how a "wait and see" middle path doesn't win the day for Asquith. It would, to be sure, cost him Edward Grey, a great blow, but a blow less painful than losing most of his Cabinet to a mostly Tory National Government Cabinet. The middle path would be a declaration to France and Germany that warships of belligerent nations would be forbidden entry into the English Channel, and for that matter, an exclusion zone in the northern North Sea - all to be enforced by a mobilized Royal Navy. This would clearly favor France, which could readily use territorial waters for its own warships in the Channel, and obstruct Germany, whose navy would be effectively bound to the Baltic and Heligoland Bight - even if it allowed its maritime trade to continue. (The French would still be outraged, and the Germans unhappy, but neither would be in a position to do much of anything about it.) Asquith would be left to hope that the Germans would supply some further provocation (most likely, a breakdown in amicable German transits of Belgium) to supply him with the needed casus belli to get a united Liberal Cabinet into war.

It is quite possible, even probable, that the Cabinet could, within days, be further persuaded by the hawks to deliver a follow-up note to Germany that any deployment of KM naval units to any Belgian ports, or French Pas de Calais ports, would also be cause for war. This would likely embrace also any Belgian or French warships, even coastal patrol boats, which the Germans might "acquire" as their units moved through.

2. I think @marathag has a valid point about Joffre's addiction to the offensive. In OTL, it took a hell of a lot to move him off it. That would be true here, too. And what it took was the realization on 21-24 August that the armies opposing his key offensive armies (3rd and 4th) were a lot bigger than he had thought, thanks to his dogmatic belief that the Germans would not include reservists in their frontline formations in war. Belgium surrendering would be a strategic plot twist, no question, one he would have to react to somehow; but he had been assuming that the German violation of Belgium would be more modest anyway, and he did not think they would have the troop density to sustain a massive right envelopment regardless of whether the Belgians were throwing flowers at marching Boches or grenades. "So much the better for us!"

So I think what he does is goes ahead with Plan XVII preparations, with some adjustments of 5t, 6th, and 9th armies on his left to meet the faster moving German right flank. The attack on Colmar goes ahead on August 7. The tricky part is what happens on August 14, when the main offensive into Lorraine kicks off. By this point, as Geon has it, the Germans are pouring into Artois, Picardy and Champagne, and it's becoming apparent now - not a week from now - just how numerous these army formations are. In this case, I think that Joffre calls off the Lorraine offensive at the last second, or that he stubbornly keeps at it for a day or two, until the full disaster looming forces him to reverse course. Either way, his position is going to be even worse than Geon has it here, because he has lost valuable time for shifting his front.

3) My reading of Poincare, based on his public language in these weeks, is that he will insist on fighting for Paris, not abandoning it. In terms of both public morale and his political survival, he simply cannot afford the loss of Paris. The memory of 1870 still looms painfully. "Paris held out for 6 months in 1870, and you are giving it up in less than three weeks? Mon Dieu!"

I think Gallieni is going to get his chance to shine - or die.

. . .

I think my other concerns (like the number of u-boats in the Channel) have already been addressed.

. . .

I think the two latter points do not require a major rewrite of the timeline, and bear some reflection. The first one is a different story, so I'd understand if that is a bridge too far. And I do concede that I cannot be 100% sure that Grey couldn't find an alternate way to get Asquith into the war - I just think it is very unlikely. But in truth, it may not matter much for the main clash, because either way, the BEF is not going to be a factor.
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That is a very good question @Remington 2.0. Germany does not suffer any casualties in Belgium and they have only in the last couple of days begun to suffer any significant casualties. I would say that manpower wise they are doing great. How about the rest of you watching this TL? What is your assessment?
That is a very good question @Remington 2.0. Germany does not suffer any casualties in Belgium and they have only in the last couple of days begun to suffer any significant casualties. I would say that manpower wise they are doing great. How about the rest of you watching this TL? What is your assessment?
Not Marching thru Belgium is also a huge time advantage, and for not wearing away the troops endurance if they get a trainride to the Border with France
That is a very good question @Remington 2.0. Germany does not suffer any casualties in Belgium and they have only in the last couple of days begun to suffer any significant casualties. I would say that manpower wise they are doing great. How about the rest of you watching this TL? What is your assessment?
No, you're surely right.

The Germans actually didn't suffer *that* badly in terms of casualties in their operations in Belgium in August. Probably around 19,000 in total from the main actions (Charleroi, Namu, Liege, Mons, Halen), with most of the losses (about 11,000) actually coming in combat with the French Fifth Army at Charleroi. Still, that's more than full Heer rifle division's worth, so it surely helps.

More important, German logistics will be in better shape, because it will have been a smooth (and rapid) march without deployments for combat; the Germans will have consumed a lot less in the way of ammunition, food, fodder, etc.