No GNW (or “Peter goes South”)

Having the American Isolationists be more successful would be a huge boost for the U.S. staying out of WWI. Having Wilson maintain his platform of isolationism while the U.S. becomes more anti-UK instead of anti-Germany (due to events before and during WWI) is likely how it's going to happen, but we'll see how it pans out.

IIRC Wilson was sympathetic to the Boer cause and could even be more sympathetic if he managed to meet Jan Smuts earlier in his life by being a neutral mediator (like a more radical Boer War leading to a separation of the British Cape and the Boer Republics).
ITTL the Cape is Dutch, which may help to keep a prolonged conflict with more participants sucked into it (and the US failed mediation attempt, which shifts public sympathies).
A series of unfortunate events #2
353. A series of unfortunate events #2
“Now this is the Law of the Muscovite, that he proves with shot and steel,
When ye come by his isles in the Smoky Sea ye must not take the seal,”

Only a bad ruler takes away from his subjects something he does not need.”
K.Miksat, ‘The magic coat’
«Мы не поклонники разбоя:
На дурака не нужен нож,
Ему с три короба наврешь
И делай с ним, что хошь»
B. Okudjava
“Diplomacy is the art of saying 'Nice doggie' until you can find a rock.”
Will Rogers
The principle of give and take is the principle of diplomacy - give one and take ten.”
Mark Twain
If it's wrong when they do it, it's wrong when we do it.” [2]
Noam Chomsky​
Intermission. One of the big differences between OTL and TTL is “Jewish question”. Due to the not getting the Baltic Provinces and a big chunk of the PLC ITTL Russian Empire has very limited Jewish population and, due to more reasonable policies of the first emperors, and absence of Empress Elizabeth who officially started the whole thing, there is no Pale and most of the OTL antisemitic laws. However, to keep things more or less on Planet Earth, there are some restrictions caused by a general antisemitism like percentage quotas, rights of land ownership and limited rights to live in the capitals. Even if the government does not allow the violent excesses (AFAIK, there were no pogroms during Stolypin’s tenure), situation is still can be considered oppressive causing emigration and resulting ill-feelings and diplomatic US-Russia tensions which in OTL caused abrogation of an old trade treaty during Konx’ tenure as a Secretary of State; this was formally over an issue of not recognizing the American (or any other) passports of the former Russian Jews who (by the reasons unknown) decided to go to the RE - they were treated as the Russian Jews in the terms of restrictions. In OTL both Witte and Stolypin were advocating abolishment of the restrictions but neither quite antisemitic NII not the “progressive” 1st Duma wanted to act upon the issue. ITTL I’m going to remove it from the table and thus to fix some international and domestic problems before getting to the nasty international stuff.

Russia 1912.

Resolving the “issues”.
In general, Witte and Stolypin did not like each other both personally and politically but there were two issues on which they acted in a rather surprising unison:
  • Rights of the Russian Jews.
  • “Death to the communal model!”
On the first issue both had been agreeing that having a sizable underprivileged minority is counterproductive and only attracts its members to the revolutionary movement instead of productive activities. At some point Witte bluntly told to Alexander III that, as an Emperor, he has two options: either to drown all Russian Jews in the Black Sea or to give them the full rights. Stolypin was pointing out that the Russian constitution implies equality of all subjects and that to a great degree the oppressive practices are result of the “creative” interpretation of the laws by the local administrations, like was the case with the late Grand Duke Sergey Alexandrovich who expelled from Moscow the Jewish army veterans by narrowly interpreting the law and pretending that while they personally could live in Moscow, their families could not, etc. Not serving any practical purpose except for caving to various antisemitic organizations, these regulations kept causing problems domestically and internationally and promoted a bad image of the regime. Alexander himself tended to sin in this area but a dedicated push from two unlikely allies finally got him convinced and he signed a manifest without even bothering to send it to the Duma [3]. The “patriots” had been making unhappy noises for a while but then found some other sources of entertainment. Domestically, it produced an expected effect in the terms of switching from revolution to the productive occupations [4] and internationally it killed complaints about not respecting the foreign passports of the former Russian Jewish subjects: they were treated as everybody else.

As an additional tool for improving relations with the US (and to save a lot of a headache related to catching to poachers), in 1911, upon initiative of P.C. Knox, the international conference regarding restrictions upon preserving the seals had been called [5] resulting in a treaty signed by RE, US, Japan and UK (for Canada) ending the unrestricted killing of fur seals on the high seas and providing a formula for sharing the kills made on rookeries.

The quote had been set for hunting on Pribilof islands group in the Bering Sea about 300 miles off the Alaska coast and the CommanderIslands off the Asian coast. The owner country (RE) was entitled to 70% and the rest was equally distributed between three other signatories. On one hand, the foreign operators had been officially permitted into the Russian territory but OTOH, the strict regulations were expected to prevent already shrinking seals population from the extinction and put on each signatory state an obligation to control activities of its own sealers. Knox and the public opinion in the US had been quite happy and even took easy the Russian warship placed in SF Bay.

Of course, the issue of an alternative RR in Manchuria and “transportation rights” on TransSib was dead but this was business, nothing personal, but contracts on few hundreds locomotives and few submarines of Holland 602 class [6] whipped out the remaining hard feelings and traditional mutual love was back in place.

On the second issue both of them insisted on universal right to get identification document directly from a local administration on individual. Situation looked as following: to travel outside his gubernia and for many other purposes subject of the RE needed an identification document , which could be obtained in a local administration. However, in the community-based settlements this application had to go through the “community leaders” who may recommend or not recommend issuing of the document on individual basis. Understandably, this provided communal leadership with a great power of retaining community members under their control which extended to the peasants who exercised their right to get individual farm land - formally, they remained the community members.

Things not too nice.

In 1911 Italy decided that the time is ripe for finally realize its claims to Libya. In 1908, the Italian Colonial Office was upgraded to a Central Directorate of Colonial Affairs. The nationalist Enrico Corradini led the public call for action in Libya and, joined by the nationalist newspaper L'Idea Nazionale in 1911, demanded an invasion. The Italian press began a large-scale lobbying campaign for an invasion of Libya in late March 1911. It was fancifully depicted as rich in minerals and well-watered, defended by only 4,000 Ottoman troops. Also, its population was described as hostile to the Ottomans and friendly to the Italians, and they predicted that the future invasion would be little more than a "military walk".

The main (besides the OE) opponent of this idea, the French Empire, was in a process of putting its newly-acquired colonial empire into an order while having a quality time trying to “pacify” the annoying tribes of the Southern Algeria and in a process slowly conquering additional parcels of sand in Sahara Desert. Besides this, the Empire enjoyed the Belle Epoque and there was little will to get seriously involved into the serious military confrontations, which did not really touched French interests. Emperor Charles III was quite satisfied with a role of a (very rich) “father of the nation” staying above the political fights, the press was thoroughly corrupt, the banks were powerful and the Radical Party was the most important power favoring progressive income tax, economic equality, expanded educational opportunities and cooperatives in domestic policy. In foreign policy, it favored the maintenance of peace through compulsory arbitration, controlled disarmament, economic sanctions, and perhaps an international military force. However, political coalitions collapsed with regularity, rarely lasting more than a few months, as radicals, socialists, liberals, conservatives, republicans and monarchists all fought for control. To make a long story short, the French public was in a rather indulgent move regarding the Italian designs: they want Libya? Let them have it.

British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey stated to the Italian ambassador on 28 July that he would support Italy, not the Ottomans. On 19 September, Grey instructed Permanent Under-Secretary of State Sir Arthur Nicolson, 1st Baron Carnock that Britain should not interfere with Italy's designs on Libya.

Germany was then actively attempting to mediate between Rome and Constantinople so Italian PM Giolitti and Foreign Minister Antonino Paternò Castello agreed on 14 September to launch a military campaign "before the Austrian and German governments [were aware] of it".

An ultimatum demanding removal of the Turkish forces from Libya in 48 hours was presented to the Ottoman government, led by the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), on the night of 26–27 September 1911. Its content was a diplomatic “jewel”:

It began with a statement that Turkey keeps Tripoli and Cyrenaica in a state of disorder and poverty. Then there were complaints about the opposition of the Turkish authorities to Italian enterprises in Tripoli. The conclusion was stunning: "The Italian government, forced to take care of protecting its dignity and its interests, decided to proceed to the military occupation of Tripoli and Cyrenaica." Turkey was offered no more and no less how to contribute to the seizure of its territory by taking measures to "prevention any opposition" to Italian troops.

Through Austrian intermediation, the Ottomans replied with the proposal of transferring control of Libya without war and maintaining a formal Ottoman suzerainty. That suggestion was comparable to the situation in Egypt, which was under formal Ottoman suzerainty but was under de facto control by the French. Giolitti refused, and war was declared on 29 September 1911.

The Ottomans who did not have any serious force in the province and did not have a navy. In 1910 the Ottoman Navy Foundation was established by the Ottoman government in order to purchase new ships through public donations. On the funds raised the Ottoman Navy purchased two old battleships from Germany: SMS Weissenburg and her sister ship SMS Kurfürst Friedrich Wilhelm (both launched in 1891). These ships were renamed Turgut Reis and Barbaros Hayreddin, respectively. The day before Italy declared war, the ships had left Beirut, bound for the Dardanelles. Unaware that a war had begun, they steamed slowly and conducted training maneuvers while en route, passing southwest of Cyprus. While off the island of Kos on 1 October, the ships received word of the Italian attack, prompting them to steam at full speed for the safety of the Dardanelles, arriving later that night. The following day, the ships proceeded to Constantinople for a refit after the training cruise and afterwards remained there. The Ottoman Navy was too weak to transport troops by the sea.

It goes without saying that, with all preliminary preparations and time table of its own choosing, Italy found itself unprepared. The Italian fleet appeared off Tripoli in the evening of 28 September but began bombarding the port only on 3 October. The undefended city had been occupied by 1,500 sailors and on October 10 landing of 20,000 troops (a force considered adequate for occupation of Libya). Having no prior military experiences and lacking adequate planning for amphibious invasions, the Italian armies poured onto the coasts of Libya, facing numerous problems during their landings and deployments. Tobruk, Derna, and Khoms were easily conquered. The first true setback for the Italian troops happened on 23 October at Shar al-Shatt, when the poor placement of the troops near Tripoli led them to be almost completely encircled by more mobile Arab cavalry, backed by some Ottoman regular units. The attack was portrayed as a simple jihadist revolt by the Italian press although it nearly annihilated much of the small Italian expeditionary corps placed in Tripoli.

Officially, out of approximately 1,500, 21 Italian officers and 482 soldiers died at Shar al-Shatt, 290 of them massacred after surrender. There was an outcry about post-battle massacre but to an outside world it sounded as “the Italians stepped into it … again”. While the Italians had been speedily transporting more troops, French public got out of its self-indulging state for long enough to demand from the government to declare an official neutrality and to close Suez canal for the ships of belligerent nations thus eliminating Italian possibility to transport its arguably best troops from Eritrea and Somali. Russian government sent squadron with a vaguely formulated task to “guarantee security of the Straits and other Russian interests” [7] but Kaiser Wilhelm upstaged everybody else by ordering two ships of the German Mediterranean Squadron, heavy cruiser Goeben and light cruiser Breslau to go to the Ottoman service [8].

This was a serious change of the game: with the newest Italian battleships only in a construction, Goeben could probably sunk all 4 most modern Italian Regina Elena class battleships simultaneously with a minimal risk to itself: 25.5 knots vs. 22 knots, ten 28 cm (11 in) SK L/50 guns range 18 km) vs. 2 305 mm 40 calibers guns (one forward and one aft, range 14 km) and a better armor (KCS 3-11 inches vs Harvey 6 inches). Not that Goeben alone could win a war but Italian control of the sea routes was over and Wilhelm did not even create casus belli.


To make things more complicated, Italy’s main baker, the UK, found itself in a rather messy situation on a wrong end of Africa. [9] When representatives of the “civilized powers” had been drawing borders on the map of Africa it was, by their own admission, a rather abstract exercise because most of these territories were pretty much unknown geographically and demographically. As a result, an agreed upon border between the Dutch and British possessions in South Africa was by Orange River.

The agreement is an agreement but the Brits got themselves distracted conquering other places which looked more promising and when they finally captured everything except the territory between the Orange and Limpopo rivers they found that the Boers (Dutch farmers from the Cape Colony) not only grabbed territory between the Orange and Vaal Rivers and created Orange State there but, not being gentlemen, spread across the Vaal, subduing the natives and settling all the way to Limpopo creating Transvaal Republic. Both these states were declared independent so that the Dutch government could not be blamed.


The Brits were generally inclined to let it be because the lands looked not very good for anything besides farming and this was not what they were looking for. However, as a matter of principle, they wanted two republics to recognize the British sovereignty. The Boers refused and the Brits moved troops from their possessions West and North of the republics but the Boer militia proved to be a hard opponent and in the first serious encounter British troops lost, within few minutes, 120 men killed and wounded vs. 2 killed and 5 wounded Boers.

British tactics of advancing in small widely separated columns proved to be a failure and after few defeats of its troops the British government recognized the Boers full independence and self-government although still with British control of foreign relations.

Unfortunately, in 1810 it was found that the ridge, known locally as the "Witwatersrand" (literally "white water ridge" – a watershed), contained the huge deposit of gold-bearing ore. This discovery made the Transvaal, which had been a struggling Boer republic, potentially a political and economic threat to British supremacy in South Africa. In the early 1912 the Second Boer War started and the Brits found themselves too busy to get actively involved elsewhere.

To make things more complicated, the arrogant French, in the best traditions of a virtuous demagoguery so favored by the British politicians, extended closing of the Suez canal to the participants of this conflict as well getting a broad European support and public applause: the Boers were now everybody’s heroic darling underdog and the Brits - its opposite.

[1] We are not fans of brutality:
You don't need a knife for a fool,
You'll tell him an outrageous lie
And do to him what you want.”
[2] IMO, he would better stick to his main profession.
[3] In OTL NII bumped Stolypin’s project that was eliminating some of the restrictions to the Duma where it “died”.
[4] In OTL Witte was answering to the international criticism by pointing to a high percentage of the revolutionaries among the Russian Jews. Quite obvious, a person as intelligent as he was could not confuse the reason with the consequences but he was representing NII who was strongly antisemitic. On a personal level Witte left some, let’s say, “questionable” remarks (not sure if they were inspired by his marriage or other experience 😂) but his position as a statesman was a completely different issue.
[5] It really was and this has nothing to do with …. well, never mind. 😂
[6] In OTL 2 first subs of that class had been built in 1911 for Chili but ended up being sold to Canada. Russia bought two of this series in 1914 so why not earlier?
[7] There is still Russian-Ottoman protectorate of the Septinsular Republic.
[8] In OTL they entered service only in 1912.
[9] Unlike most other things, this one is well behind the schedule. I hoped to avoid it altogether but now it starts looking handy.
Good chapter, hopefully with Italy trying to take Libya they mostly end up breaking themselves fighting against guerrillas once the brutality of OTL happens. Same thing with Brits in SA
Good chapter, hopefully with Italy trying to take Libya they mostly end up breaking themselves fighting against guerrillas once the brutality of OTL happens. Same thing with Brits in SA
That’s the general idea. Now I have to figure out a plausible way to escalate the whole thing into a major, protracted, mostly naval conflict with unclear outcome.
If Italy is struggling to defeat the Libya with low supplies ottoman army i think Italy reputation is even more worse than otl every great power will see italy as clown of Europe.
That’s the general idea. Now I have to figure out a plausible way to escalate the whole thing into a major, protracted, mostly naval conflict with unclear outcome.
Maybe have Italian and British ships starting to stop and confiscate the cargo of neutral nations because of the funding going towards the Boers and Libyans?
Maybe have Italian and British ships starting to stop and confiscate the cargo of neutral nations because of the funding going towards the Boers and Libyans?
Rather problematic because the Boers are landlocked and Italians are occupying all ports of Libya. Confiscating cargo going to the third party ports could be, IMO, slightly too much for the Brits of early 1900s unless they want to expand the local conflict into a major war. But there is definitely something in a favor of this schema if they start stopping the American ships (or at least a ship) as well (the Boers are everybody’s darlings). With the Italians it is simpler: I just have to modify a little bit what did happen in OTL and add what could happen (as in “was considered a high possibility”). 😉
If Italy is struggling to defeat the Libya with low supplies ottoman army i think Italy reputation is even more worse than otl every great power will see italy as clown of Europe.
I was going to start the next chapter with a nasty joke on this account which was circulated in Europe at that time. But Britain is (more or less) their ally and may feel obliged to help. Or perhaps it may not. Especially if the things are not going well elsewhere.
That’s the general idea. Now I have to figure out a plausible way to escalate the whole thing into a major, protracted, mostly naval conflict with unclear outcome.
How about combining doggers bank with concentration camps? E.g. the news comes out about the concentration camps, Russia and the US send a hospital ship, that a British warship mistakes as warships (mist?) and sink them?
Probably french the last chapter said Egypt is under the Suzerainty of french the same position otl British obtain after the french sold their share of suez canal.
Formally, Egypt is a Khedivate under the Ottoman sovereignty. At the time in question Khedive is Abbas Helmi II Pasha. The French (as in OTL Brits) are de facto in charge and, as a majority holder and force on the ground, they are controlling Suez.
A series of unfortunate events #3
354. A series of unfortunate events #3
“The traditional friendship between Italy and Great Britain, and the important influence which the existence of a powerful Italian fleet must exercise upon the maintenance of our position in the Mediterranean, make it a matter of the highest importance that Italy should not decline from her position relatively to other Mediterranean powers, or lose the place that has been so hardly and honourably earned amongst the war-fleets of the world.”
Sir W.H.White, 1909
Libya. Trenches. Italian unit receives an order to attack. Its brave commander jumps out of the trench, brandishes his sword and shouts to his troops: ‘Avante! Avante!’. Soldiers in the trench are applauding him and shouting ‘Bravo, bravo, capitano!’ but remain in the trench.”
A nasty contemporary joke.
“This was a great reward for us. We had not had the good fortune to meet the enemy in force.”
General Emilio De Bono​


It was not a surprise that the landing operation and capture of the ports went quite well but then the Italian ground forces, with all their numerical and technological superiority got stuck and the war smoothly drifted into a trench phase. Which meant that slowly but steadily the Italian army had been drifting back into a traditional position of being laughingstock of Europe. Which was bad because a lightening campaign of conquest was OK with pretty much everybody in Europe but a protracted war had repercussions: the attitudes changed.

Text on the French cartoon below: “Menelik: Seigniora, he is even a greater bugger than I am”. The government of France and French public started realizing that acceptance of the British-Italian idea regarding “sharing” North African coast may be not as innocent as it looked because there were large Italian communities in the French owned/controlled Tunisia and Egypt. Plus, after the battle of Kunfunda Bay on the Red Sea (Italy: 1 protected cruiser, 2 destroyers; OE: 6 gunboats, 1 armed tugboat and 1 armed yacht, all destroyed or captured) the Italians proclaimed a blockade of the Arabian Red Sea coast and began seizing vessels carrying contraband. And this was a clear violation of a power balance on the Red Sea that was directly concerning French, German and Russian interests in the region: after the Abyssinian fiasco Italy was permitted to preserve its presence on the Red Sea, not to make the rules.


The Navies on the Med
Principal naval bases for Ottoman naval forces in 1914 were Alexandretta, Basrah, Canakkale, Beyrut, Djeddah, Hocliecla, Jaffa, Samsoun, Izmir, Sinope, Smyrna, Trebizond, and the main arsenal at lstanbul. The main Ottoman coal port was Zonguldak, roughly 150 miles from the Bosporus Strait on the Black Sea. The Ottoman navy did have a marine unit of about 4,000 men. As far as the ships were involved (all of them being more or less old), it had 2 battleships (both obsolete), 1 coastal defense ship, 2 protected cruisers (old) and few small ships of various types. During the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid the navy practically was not training, number of personnel was severely cut and most of the bigger guns were not operational. Sultan did place some orders in Britain and Germany but his main idea was to avoid paying the money due so the results were predictable. After he was deposed, the new government was trying to change situation by introducing the naval programs drawn up by the British mission along with British tactics to utilize such plans. By 1912 the Ottoman Empire did not, yet, get any noticeable results of these efforts, except for a drastic reduction of its personnel from 31,000 in 1908 to 7,000 in 1912, and it is anybody’s guess how these programs would work out: they were influenced by both Alfred Mahan's view on empire building and British experience in empire seizing. In neither scenario was the true problem of the Ottoman Empire confronted: that of empire protecting.

Italian fleet had 12 battleships, 19 cruisers, 40 destroyers, 90 torpedo boats and 10 coastal defense ships. In other words, the naval forces were incomparable, especially taking into an account that Italian Navy included 4 recently built battleships of Regina Elena class, each with 2 inch /40 calibers and 12 8 inch/45 calibers Armstrong guns made by Elswick Ordnance Company. The ships had modern engines but traded protection for speed and rather questionable firepower: only one of main caliber guns could be deployed at any position but broadside and the range of their relatively short guns was not impressive. Actually, even in the terms of speed they were already behind ships made after 1909. But none of the above mattered in confrontation with the Ottoman fleet, if it was going to happen. Which, at least on a major scale, was extremely unlikely because as soon as the war was declared the main force of the Ottoman fleet withdrew for the safety of the Dardanelles.
The Italian Mediterranean fleet was divided into two squadrons with two divisions in each squadron (one of 4 battleships and one of 4 cruisers). Smaller ships were attached to each of these units.
The detachment of small Italian war ships was based in Somaliland at Mogadishu being augmented by the cruisers: R.I.S. Piemonte, R.l.S. Artigliere, R.I.S. Calabria, and R.I.S. Puglia.

Austrian Fleet.
  • 10 battleships including just completed Tegetthoff (20,000 tons, 20.4 knots, main caliber 12 - 12” guns, armor - 279 mm)
  • three armored cruisers
  • three protected cruisers
  • 1 fast cruiser
  • 13 destroyers
  • 36 torpedo boats
  • 6 submarines
  • 3 coastal defense ships
  • numerous old ships still afloat
British Mediterranean Fleet:
  • battlecruisers "Inflexible", "Indefatigable" and "Indomitable"
  • four armoured cruisers of the 1st Cruiser Squadron,
  • four "Town" class light cruisers,
  • flotilla of destroyers
French Mediterranean Fleet:
  • six old battleships,
  • eleven pre-dreadnoughts,
  • dreadnoughts "Jean Bart" and "Courbet"
  • 11 armoured cruisers,
  • four protected cruisers,
  • 43 destroyers and 17 submarines.
German Mediterranean Squadron, consisting of the heavy cruiser Goeben and light cruiser Breslau, by Wilhelm’s order went to the Ottoman service.

Russian Black Sea Fleet. By 1911 it was not too impressive because most of the new ships were going to the Pacific and Baltic fleets. Now most of it had been sent for “Straits protection” operation on the Med:
  • Ship of the line “Empress Maria” - 23,000 tons, 21 knots, and 12 12” guns of main caliber.
  • 7 old style battleships:
    • 4 with displacement 13,000 tons, speed 16 knots, main caliber - 4 12” guns and various combinations of 8”, 6” and smaller guns
    • 2 with displacement of 10,000 tons, speed 14-15 knots, 6 12” guns and 6 6” guns. Left in the Black Sea.
    • 1 with displacement 8,000 tons, speed 14 knots, 4 10” and 8 6” guns. Left in the Black Sea.
  • 2 cruisers - 6,500 tons, 23 knots, 12 6” and 12 75 mm guns.
  • Destroyers:
    • 4 - 600 tons, 26 knots
    • 13 - 350 tons, 26 knots
    • 4 - 240 tons, 26 knots (left in the Black Sea)
  • 4 gunboats - 1,250 tons, 12 knots, 8”,6”, 75mm, 47mm (2 left in the Black Sea)
  • 12 torpedo boats (left in the Black Sea)
  • 6 transport ships
  • 4 submarines
  • 1 hydroplane transporter.

Intermission. Common features of the concept of aircraft carriers were proposed in the report of the U.S. Naval Attaché in France in 1908. The concept of aircraft carriers was described in more detail in Clément Ader's book L'Aviation Militaire, published in 1909. The first takeoff from the deck was made on November 14, 1910 by American Eugene B. Eli from the light cruiser Birmingham. (Eng. USS Birmingham (CL-2)). In 1909 captain of the naval engineer corps L. Matsievich made a report in St. Petersburg on the need to create aircraft carriers, and then six months later proposed a project for the construction of an aircraft carrier for 25 aircraft, with preliminary experiments on one of the destroyers. In the spring of 1910, Lieutenant Colonel K. Konkotkin, was offered a much cheaper project to convert the outdated ship Admiral Lazarev into a real aircraft carrier with a flight deck and hangar. They were not rejected, just put on hold until future times due to the shortage of funds.
It was decided to implemented a much more modest project
: to convert steamships Empress Alexandra, Emperor Alexander I, Emperor Nicholas I, Romania into hydroplanes transporters [1]. They were not real carriers because its hydroplanes were operating off the sea surface. Electric winches and Temperley booms were installed to lift and lower hydroplanes.

“Empress Alexandra" was renamed "Orlitsa" and became the first ship of this project. It served on the Baltic, had speed 12 knots, armament of eight 75 mm guns and two machine guns and was carrying 4 hydroplanes.


“Alexander I” served on the Black Sea. It had speed of 15 knots, 6 120 mm and 2 57 mm guns and carried 8 hydroplanes capable of carrying bombs up to 50 pounds.
“Nicholas I” also served on the Black Sea, had speed of 15 knots, and 6 120 mm, 2 75 mm guns and 2 machine guns, carried 7 hydroplanes of the same construction as “Alexander I”.
All these transporters actively participated in WWI. Both “emperors” with two more converted ships and 2 land-based air brigades (32 hydroplanes) formed air division of the Black Sea Fleet. In total, during the First World War, the combat composition of the Russian Navy included 12 aircraft transporting ships (originally planned - 24): eleven - in the Black Sea Fleet and one in the Baltic Fleet.

Even the squadron of 4 old battleships (3 older and slower ones had been left in Sevastopol) was more than adequate for preventing Italian cruisers from penetrating the straits but addition of a new ship-of-the-line would make such an attempt even by the whole squadron rather suicidal. 4 of the old Russian battleships had been lacking in speed but had a heavier armor (229-356mm vs. 102-250mm on the most modern Regina Elena class ) and more 12” guns per ship (4 vs. 2) than their Italian counterparts and, after the recent modernization, these guns were 50 calibers vs. 40 of the Italians and the armor was the same KCS as on the newest Italian battleships. So, in the case of an open confrontation the Italians could run but not fight and with the addition of Empress Maria they would be lucky to run.

As far as a broader operations had been involved, the Italians had advantage in the armored cruisers but not after the Ottoman fleet got an addition of Yavuz Sultan Selim (admiral Wilhelm Souchon and his crew looked cute in their new uniforms 😉).

Austria was taken somewhat by surprise by the whole thing but now its government started grumbling: the last thing Austria wanted was change of the status quo in OE because this could give some wrong ideas to the Turkish and Austrian Serbs. And Hungary was holding exactly the same opinion. The Duke of Abrussi, commander of the cruisers division of the 1st Italian Mediterranean squadron, placed a blockage on the Ottoman Adriatic coast and immediately created a diplomatic incident. Blockadirng the coast upset the status quo, and Austria objected to warfare being injected into the volatile Balkans. Italy reacted by moving the Duke's force to the vicinity of the Dardanelles in order to combat any sortie attempted by the Ottoman fleet. They even fired at the Ottoman fortifications of the Dardanelles. Which was a big mistake. Not because this barrage did not cause any damage but because the whole episode (admittedly blown out of proportion) provided the Ottoman government to declare a temporary closure of the Straits (with over 180 merchant ships of various nations being stuck in the Black Sea) and to invoke an article of the Russian-Ottoman agreement by which, upon the Ottoman request, Russia had to provide help in providing security of the straits. It was, of course, just a lucky coincidence, that a big part of the Black Sea Fleet was just hanging north of the Bosphorus and could response immediately…

The British government found itself in a somewhat ambiguous situation. On one hand, Italy was kind of an ally - it was encouraged to take Libya and there was a vague assurance that the UK is going to help if it is attacked by a third party in a process of doing so. OTOH, there was no formal military treaty, Italian operations went beyond the outlined scope and, as was the case with the straits, which the Ottomans had been threatening to close, inconvenienced the British trade. Plus, so far, the third parties were not directly involved in operations in Libya. On a broader geopolitical scale situation was getting increasingly complicated. Germany, besides pro-Boerish demagoguery, launched the big naval exercises in the Northern Sea while France put its Mediterranean Fleet on a high alert and now the Russian Black Sea Fleet was positioned outside the Dardanelles. Put together, they could create serious problems for the British Mediterranean squadron and, what’s worse, the Suez canal being closed for the warships and military cargo, was creating serious problems with conduct of the Boer war forcing the British ships with the troops and cargo to sail along the western coast of Africa, where they did not have too many supply bases and where the Dutch in the Cape Colony were predictably unsympathetic. Any serious military offset, together with the supply problems, could destabilize situation situation on the East coast of Africa and, who knows, maybe there would be problems even in India.

Of course, the British Empire had enough shipping and naval capacities to handle the problem but in the case of an escalated conflict the resources would have to be allocated for protection of the sea routes and this may expose the British Islands. Of course, in the ongoing naval competition Britain was still ahead of Germany but not so much, if at all, of Germany plus France plus Russia and its dependence upon supplies from the abroad had been much higher than one of the continental opponents who, in combination, were pretty much self-sufficient and had a much greater industrial potential. So, it looked prudent not to escalate the situation more than absolutely necessary and, if push comes to shove, leave Italy on its own.

However, it would be worth trying to create a diversion for Russia on the Far East. Japan was an unlikely candidate but an ongoing mess in China could provide some opportunities: if not Yuan Shikai then perhaps one of the nationalist republican leaders could stir up trouble in the Northern Manchuria or provide a push to return the lost Mongolian territories. This should not be too expensive and complicated to organize.

Now, in Libya the land war had been, seemingly, going nowhere. The Italians hold the coastal area and gradually increased number of their troops up to 100,000. They even brought few airplanes and one of their pilots conducted first in the world aerial bombardment by dropping few hand grenades from his plane and, to a somewhat greater effect, the same way done from the dirigibles.

Now the Italians were undisputed pioneers in the most innovative warfare and could demand at least some respect.

On the opposite side the numbers had been growing slowly. The ports had been closed so the Ottomans couldn’t bring reinforcements by the sea and, with France declaring a neutrality, they could march them across Egypt. However, the volunteers were a completely different issue. Well over 10,000 soldiers from the Egyptian army volunteered to go an fight in Libya and got a leave from Khedive. Him being …ah, yes… ruler of the Egypt, the French authorities there did not see any reason to interfere. An unusually big number of doctors, journalists and simply tourists from various parts of Ottoman Empire also travelled across Egypt at that time ending up in Libya, and great sums of money had been raised by the Muslim communities to purchase and smuggle the weapons. So far there were no planes and heavy artillery but it looked like this could be just a matter of time. Still, most of the fighting troops were the local Beduins under command of their tribal leaders and the Turkish officers.

Supply situation of the Italian troops in Libya was not too good after Yavuz Sultan Selim and Midilli accompanied by few armed Ottoman steamers sunk or captured a number of the Italian transports. How they risked to travel only in the caravans guarded at least by a cruiser division. The whole thing became something of an entertainment: Yavuz Sultan Selim was sailing back and forth of the Eastern Med hunting down Italian supply ships and single warships while Italian battleship squadrons had been trying to catch up with him. Couple times they even got lucky but usually these encounters were short and, after making few shoos from a big distance, the participants would disengage with the minimal damage or not at all.

On the Red Sea.

There was also a steady flow of the French, Russian and German weapons going to Ethiopia through the Red Sea ports and then by railroad and caravans. Menelik was old and incapacitated by the numerous strokes but his designated heir, Lij Iyasu, looked as a good candidate for making trouble in Italian Eritrea: “He was bright, but also impulsive, cruel, lascivious, prone to depressions and egocentricities, and politically inept. Despite his vision of an Ethiopia in which religion and ethnic affiliations made no difference in a man's political or private career, he had no clear comprehension of the power realities in the empire, nor of his own position as its ruler.” Absence of the excessive comprehension was just fine as long as he was listening to the right (French, Russian and German) advisors and had a military backing of his father, Ras Mikael, ruler of the Wello Province. Besides them, there were quite a few prominent local figures, like Dejazmatch Tafari Makonnen, who were all for getting Eritrea back under Ethiopian control. Taking into an account that Germany had a naval base in Inghel and possessed Dahlak Archipelego, which pretty much controlled entry to Mitsiwa, the Italian port in Eritrea, it strongly looked like the Italian activities on the Red Sea may come to an abrupt end without the British support.

The task was to assemble an adequate force needed for an assured destruction of 4 fast protected Italian cruisers with 6” guns of a main caliber. Routinely, none of three “interested parties” had permanently stationed in their naval bases on the Red Sea any reasonably big ships - there simply was no need. And now they had to get them from elsewhere without negatively impacting their other interests.
  • Russia dispatched from the Black Sea Fleet 1 armored cruiser (7,000 tons, 24 knots and 10 6” guns of main caliber) and 2 gunboats, each with 2 8” and 1 6” guns, they were slow but the 8” guns could be useful for a coastal bombardment or as an extra fire power if the Italians decide to fight a naval battle. As a security measure, on their way to Alexandria they were escorted by the Battleship Squadron of the Black Sea Fleet (this was also expected to dissuade Italians from any adventurous ideas like attacking coast of Anatolia).
  • Germany sent from its East Asia Squadron the armored cruisers Fürst Bismarck (11,000 tons, 18.7 knots, 4 - 9.4” and 10 - 5.9” guns), Prince Adalbert (9,875 tons, 20.4 knots, 4 8.3” and 10 5.9” guns) and 2 light cruisers of Ariadne class (3,000 tons, 21.5 knots, 10 - 10.5cm guns).
  • France sent two Gloire class armored cruisers (each 9,996 tons, 21 knots, 2 - 7.6” and 8 - 6.5” guns) and one Edgar Quinet class armored cruiser (13,800 tons, 23 knots, 14 7.6” guns). They’d have to sail together with the Russian ships from Suez.
The Italian Red Sea squadron was going to be squeezed between two forces, each strong enough to deal with it without noticeable problems.

Of course, there was a wild card - the British ships of the Northern Patrol based in Port Sudan and those of the Southern Patrol based in Aden. However, these two forces were extremely unimpressive, except for Euryalus (Southern Patrol), an armored cruiser of 12,000 tons, 21 knots, 2 9” and 12 6” guns, and Juno (Northern Patrol), 2nd class protected cruiser of 5,600 tons, 18 knots and 5 6”guns. The rest were much smaller ships (armed sloops, 3 3rd class cruisers, armed tug and a boarding ship). However, their interference was not really anticipated both because this would mean a full scale war and because it was officially announced that the Italian ships on the Red Sea had been engaged in piracy stopping and searching the neutral commercial ships for no obvious reason, confiscating not military cargo and detaining the Muslim pilgrims on their way to Mecca. At least the last was patently untrue but there were “escaped victims” interviewed by the French press with a resulting stench spreading well beyond the area of fighting. The Brits definitely did not need a religious conflict with the Muslims. At least not right now, when they already had other problems.


When it became clear that the enemy comes from both ends of the Red Sea and that escape is impossible, the Italian Red Sea squadron tried to hide in the port of Masawa but it was practically lacking the coastal defenses and the odds were too unequal so within couple hours the squadron ceased to exist and the city was on fire.

Ethiopian troops entered Eritrea and advanced toward Asmara facing strong resistance from the Italian and local Eritrean troops. The defenders situation was not good: they could not expect reinforcements and supplies by the sea so their best option was to retreat to the North as slow as possible in a hope that they’ll be eventually able to escape to the safety of the British-held Sudan where the Ethiopians would not dare to follow. Ethiopian advance was slow due to the problems that were always plaguing operations in the area: almost a complete absence of the roads and low population density, which meant that moving even a reasonably light artillery was a nightmare and that as soon as the supplies that soldiers carried with them had been exhausted, getting food became a major problem that could not be easily resolved by a looting. The caravans of camels and mules had to be organized, food collected in the not yet exhausted provinces of Ethiopia and carried to the army. Capture of Massawa somewhat improved the supply situation because the defenders had to abandon Asmara and some food and ammunition could be received by the sea. But the Italian-Eritrean troops retreated to the Eritrean Highlands and at least for a while the operations deteriorated to the level of the occasional skirmishes. Lij Iyasu, who had been hanging with an army to get credentials of a military leader, decided that he got enough of those and returned to Addis Ababa leaving in charge his father.

The allies soon enough figured out that their force is too big for any practical purpose but did not risk to leave the area completely out of fear that the Brits from Aden and Port Sudan would use their departure for recapturing Masawa. So the Russian gun boats and one French cruisers remained in the ports, the Germans moved to their nearby base on Dahlak Archipelago and the rest sailed to their bases guarding entrance to the Red Sea from Bab el Mandeb.

Back in the trenches. In December 1911 the Italians had been fortifying their positions on the Nadura Hill near Tobruk while waiting for reinforcements. Captain Mustafa Kemal was in command of Tobruk region and foresaw that the consolidation of Italian forces would jeopardize his position. As such, Kemal ordered Sheik Muberra, leader of the local volunteers, to attack as soon as possible to prevent the reinforcement of the Italians on Nadura Hill. At the same time, Turkish soldiers and Tripolitanian volunteers under the command of Enver Pasha were ordered to attack the Italians on Nadura Hill. Enver Pasha's force approached Nadura Hill just before dawn and attacked. The Italians were surprised and responded in a disorganized fashion without the benefit of cannon fire. Nadura Hill was captured in two hours and the Italian Bersaglieri retreated to Tobruk while leaving three machine guns along with munitions.

The event prevented further Italian advance beyond Tobruk: even after receiving reinforcements they remained at the beacheads.
[1] In OTL converted in 1915 and participated in WWI. ITTL at least one is functional by 1911.
Good chapter, Italians embarrassing themselves further and hopefully we get to see them lose Eretria to the Ethiopians
Starting something small and manageable and ending up in a deep international s—t is probably less embarrassing than not being able to deal decisively with a falling apart OE as happened in OTL so perhaps I’m too kind to them. And don’t you feel sorry for the Eritreans? 😜
Anyway, so far the problem is how to make this mess really big by getting the Brits (and perhaps Greece?) directly involved but keeping the US out of picture. Perhaps Russian-China limited scale adventure, like OTL conflict on East China RR, and second Sino-Japanese War going in parallel as a cherry on the top?

Or to have initially just Britain-Germany naval & colonial war with France and Russia being friendly neutral to Germany but then perhaps joining the conflict?

Well, and AIII is in the last years of his extended life…
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Starting something small and manageable and ending up in a deep international s—t is probably less embarrassing than not being able to deal decisively with a falling apart OE as happened in OTL so perhaps I’m too kind to them. And don’t you feel sorry for the Eritreans? 😜
Anyway, so far the problem is how to make this mess really big by getting the Brits (and perhaps Greece?) directly involved but keeping the US out of picture. Perhaps Russian-China limited scale adventure, like OTL conflict on East China RR, and second Sino-Japanese War going in parallel as a cherry on the top?

Or to have initially just Britain-Germany naval & colonial war with France and Russia being friendly neutral to Germany but then perhaps joining the conflict?

Well, and AIII is in the last years of his extended life…
Russia staying out of the war is ideal imo, they won't have much to gain instead of a massive bill, so them being more supportive with words and a few loans with low interests and equipments towards Germany is probably the best outcome for this, or at least, keep their part of the war limited to the Far East helping out the Japanese in China.