Introduction
Hello, everyone. So, I've lurked here for quite some while before registering recently, and I've decided to start a timeline based on a question which has always fascinated me: what if Italy joined the Central Powers in 1915? This timeline's PoD is that Germany forces Austria to agree to terms more palatable to the Italians, which eventually- spoiler!- leads to a Central Powers victory in World War I. This timeline is all fully planned out in my head... all that's left is to write the thing and share it with the AH.com community. So, without any more ado, I leave you to enjoy chapter one.
 
Chapter One: The Second Vienna Conference
Chapter One: The Second Vienna Conference
"There is a common good, mein Herren, there is a common good... Just think, would you rather cede land to Rome as the price for alliance, or cede land to the Russians as the price for survival?"
- attributed to Arthur von Zimmerman, February 1915

Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Joseph greeting dignitaries to the Second Vienna Conference, 1915
franzjoseph.jpg


The Second Vienna Conference commenced on the thirteenth of February 1915. Just like a century before, diplomats from all over Europe congregated in the Habsburg capital. Just like a century before, bitterness and disagreement lay just an inch below the facade of an ostensible alliance. And, just like a century before, history was to be made here.

Ever since 1882, the Triple Alliance had linked the German Empire, its ramshackle Austro-Hungarian counterpart to the south, and the Kingdom of Italy. The young kingdom was looking for protection against France and support for its colonial ambitions, and Germany was all too happy to gain an ally for the next war with France they knew to be imminent. An attack on one, the treaty declared with one eye fixed on Paris, was an attack on all. Then, in 1914, the world went mad. The assassination of an Austrian archduke created a crisis that spiralled out of control, and by the first week in August, the world was at war. Yet, the Italians got cold feet at the last minute. A brief war with the Ottoman Empire had demonstrated the woeful inadequacy of their armed forces, and they had no desire to be forced to throw their men against France and Britain. Thus, as the world fell down in the summer of 1914, Italy opted out on a technicality- seeing as how Austria-Hungary had fired the first shots, not Serbia, Russia, or even France- they were not bound by treaty to enter the war.

The response from the Central Powers was predictable. Germany was deeply embarrassed that, while the British followed through on their treaty obligations to Belgium and entered the war, their own Italian ally pulled out. In Vienna and Budapest, the response was a dismissive sniff and a snide comment, usually to the tune of “well, what did you expect from a lot of Italians?”

Following the German defeat at the Marne, the war bogged down into stalemate and trenches. Frustration grew in Berlin as it became increasingly apparent that the war, far from being “over by Christmas”, would drag on into the indefinite future. France would not crack soon, while Austria-Hungary’s performance- losing Galicia to the Russians and failing to subdue tiny Serbia, the cause of this bloody war anyhow- was, to say the least, disappointing. Something else was needed if the Central Powers were to seize the initiative in 1915.

Despite sitting out the first months of the war, Italy was by no means intent on simply sitting back and watching the show- on the contrary. Italian prime minister Antonio Salandra pursued a policy of “sacro egoisimo”- or ‘sacred self-interest.’ To put it bluntly, this meant playing the Entente and the Central Powers to discern who would give Italy the best deal. For many, the Entente seemed like a more logical choice- Austria had tried for centuries to hold Italy down, while as mentioned above, war with Ottoman Turkey was a living memory. Besides, Rome coveted the largely ethnic Italian Trentino, Trieste, and Tyrol- all of which lay under Vienna’s yoke. Yet, there was an argument amongst many for siding with Berlin and Vienna. For a start, there was the obvious- Italy was still tied to the Central Powers by the Triple Alliance. If they backslid, and Germany won the war, well, that would leave them in a fine pickle. Beyond that, many Italian nationalists had historical grudges against France- who could forget Napoleon III’s occupation of the Papal States, or his illicit seizure of Savoy? Going back further, these same nationalists could point to Napoleon I’s subjugation of the peninsula to his every whim. Gradually, Antonio Salandra became more and more influenced by these voices, and began dropping hints that he was interested in drawing closer to the Central Powers- such as including a line in a speech of his that "as Trentino can be seen by some as a part of Greater Italy, so too can Savoy, and Nice."

Many an Italian politician and intellectual was left scratching his head in the last months of 1914.

Throughout December and January, telegrams and notes crossed from Rome to Berlin, and back again. None of it was official, but the message was quite clear. Berlin badly wanted Italy in on its side and would pay over the odds to get them. If the Italians would like to meet representatives of the Central Powers at some mutually agreeable location, the details could be hashed out more fully.

Which brings us back to the Second Vienna Conference.

The German Empire dispatched its seasoned diplomat Arthur Zimmermann, and Erich von Falkenhayn, Chief of Staff and arguably the man most in the driver’s seat regarding the strategy of the Central Powers. Naturally, the ambassador to Austria-Hungary was also present. Given that the conference was being held in its capital, the Austro-Hungarian Empire had a wide range of delegates. Just about everyone dropped in at some point or another- Falkenhayn’s Austrian counterpart Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, Foreign Minister Count Stephan Burian von Rajecz, even old Emperor Franz Joseph himself occasionally. Italy sent its seasoned foreign minister Sidney Sonnino and General Luigi Cadorna. In addition to the principal figures, there were dozens of minor functionaries, secretaries, interpreters, and ministers from all three nations- to say nothing of the flood of journalists eager to pick up a quote or photograph. For almost a month, Vienna was filled with pomp and gaiety the likes of which hadn’t been seen since before the war. Balls and banquets became standard fare for all, and many a bottle of wine was consumed. Indeed, it was a good time to own a hotel or drive a cab in the imperial capital.

Beneath all the elaborate ceremony and celebration, things weren’t quite so rosy. The Italians proved surprisingly firm negotiators, much to the fury of the Austrians (many of whom felt like the Germans were forcing them to do this). In transcripts from meetings and notes from Prime Minister Salandra back in Rome, one can detect more than a little cynicism and opportunism. Italy’s position was simple- if you can give us more than France and Britain can, we’ll join you. If not, then… What they wanted was the territories of Trentino, Tyrol, and Trieste from Austria, plus Nice, Savoy, and Corsica from France. In the eyes of Italian nationalists like Salandra and Sonnino, this would finally complete the process of Risorgimento begun in 1861, thus creating a “Greater Italy.” Of course, this being the twentieth century, they also wanted a colonial empire to match the status they dreamed of. Since one of the planks of the Triple Alliance was nominal German support of Italian colonial ambitions. When the Italian ministers mentioned this with an irrepressible smile, the Germans all shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Of course, Germany had its own colonial ambitions, and there was no way on earth they were going to give up their Mittelafrikan dreams for Rome’s sake. Fortunately, there was surprisingly little conflict in terms of colonial claims, and Africa wasn’t a substantial sticking point for either side.

Austria-Hungary, however, was livid. The two German-speaking regimes might have been allies, but one couldn’t have guessed by listening to the late-night arguments between their representatives. Profanity and thinly veiled barbs flew back and forth between both sides on multiple occasions, and for much of the conference, the Austro-Hungarian and Italian delegates were hardly on speaking terms… even through an interpreter. This was all very frustrating to Berlin, which had a genuine strategic vision and a plan to win the war; the only problem was that Vienna couldn’t dream of making the sacrifices it entailed. Many of these grey-whiskered men had been born in an Austrian Empire stretching into the mountains of Italy, an Austrian Empire where the Germans reigned supreme. Voluntarily ceding territory to a country that had only cobbled itself together fifty years ago- and wasn’t much of a country, as far as these Habsburg gentlemen were concerned- was a disgusting prospect. It didn’t matter that the Trentino was ethnically Italian, or that Italy had long had its eyes on the Trieste peninsula: for the Austro-Hungarians, ceding land to Italy was simply unacceptable. It was a point of pride- one of the few things the Habsburg regime possessed in abundance. Indeed, after the war, Austria-Hungary would continue to bear a grudge against Germany and Italy for "cheating" it out of land it considered theirs... the fact that it was a wartime expedient was forgotten. For a moment, it looked as though the conference might fall apart over the issues of Trentino and Trieste, with Italy sitting out the war or- oh, the horror!- casting its lot with the British and French.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Eventually, the obtuse Austrian diplomatic corps came round to seeing things Zimmermann's way. Through a combination of promises of rewards- such as Germany partially compensating Vienna for ceding the territory- and threats- such as raising the possibility of refusing to assist Austria-Hungary in its next attempt to conquer Serbia if they didn’t co-operate- Zimmermann and the Italians eventually got most of what they wanted- the Viennese absolutely refused to budge on the issue of South Tyrol, and the Italians reluctantly agreed to accept this. On the twenty-fourth of February 1915, the Tripartite Vienna Accords were signed by all three nations. The key points of the accord were as follows:

  • The Kingdom of Italy shall declare war upon the Entente three months from now; that is, on the twenty-fourth of May.
  • The Austro-Hungarian Empire is to void all claim to Trentino and Istria. Austro-Hungarian forces shall vacate the territory within thirty days’ time, and Italian forces may enter immediately.
  • Upon the conclusion of the war, Nice, Savoy, Corsica, Tunisia, and French Somaliland shall be ceded to Italy. Germany and Austria-Hungary pledge to support any future Italian claim to British Somaliland, Kenya, Malta, and Uganda.
  • Germany and Austria-Hungary will recognise Italy’s claim to the Dodecanese Islands.
  • Germany and Austria-Hungary will grant Italy a free hand in Albania.


Thus, as pen was put to paper, history was about to be changed forever...

Comments? (Even if it's merely "this is ASB" or "good thus far"... that sort of thing can be quite helpful)
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What has suddenly made von Jagow a brilliant diplomat, when he had shown so little sign of competence previously? Might be more plausible if you find a replacement for him. Though if you could give the Italians more reason to distrust the Entente (add some incident or make some historical incident go worse) and/or replace some key pro-Entente Italian high government official with a pro-CP Italian high government official (or best of all find some clever change that manages to produce both of those as effects) the amount AH would have to concede might be reduced, making it more plausible that AH might seriously consider it.
 
U might want to change ur map there because it shows italy getting all of South Tyrol something the Austrians would never agree to as South Tyrol was majority German and had been held by the hapsburgs for hundreds of years.
 

Gendarmerie

Banned
Hopefully the German will send some good German advisors and resources to the Italian army leadership otherwise they just forced Austria to give up land for nothing.
 
Hopefully the German will send some good German advisors and resources to the Italian army leadership otherwise they just forced Austria to give up land for nothing.
Would be Hilarous if Loss,techically Italy is not cutting all their coal too? 90% of italian coal come from britain, we already showed than Italy in CP is a handicap for the CP, as france thanks to nice and savoy can hold it easily and would not cost troops at all.
 
It's still colored on the map.

Also I'd say the southern border of Libya is wrong but it's technically disputed so whatever.
I split it between Italy and A-H... my mapping skills aren't the best. And besides, I say in the text that "the Viennese absolutely refused to budge on the issue of South Tyrol, and the Italians reluctantly agreed to accept this"

Good start, looking forward to this.
Thanks very much! :)
 
Uh small problem. Italy was utterly dependent on British imports of coal and other goods to keep its economy running. This is the reason they ended up in the Entente side OTL. You'd need to create a POD where sufficient transalpine transportation infrastructure exists to import coal from Italy. So basically this only works if someone carves an artificial canal through the alps.
 

NoMommsen

Donor
Would be Hilarous if Loss,techically Italy is not cutting all their coal too? 90% of italian coal come from britain, we already showed than Italy in CP is a handicap for the CP, as france thanks to nice and savoy can hold it easily and would not cost troops at all.
Uh small problem. Italy was utterly dependent on British imports of coal and other goods to keep its economy running. This is the reason they ended up in the Entente side OTL. You'd need to create a POD where sufficient transalpine transportation infrastructure exists to import coal from Italy. So basically this only works if someone carves an artificial canal through the alps.
You might be right ... if you would keep on ignoring contradicting evidence I brought already up. With the 'freed' coal exports by germany to Francve, Russia and Belgium the british coal imports to Italy could have well been supplemented.
 

NoMommsen

Donor
Dear @Kaiser Wilhelm the Tenth , for the 'diplomatics' about italian siding ... the 'reluctantce' of the austrians might have been lesser than often perceived.
I.e- the cisleithanian ministerpresident Stürgkh argued for a rather comporehensive 'offer' to Italy.
... with achknowledging that only after actual victory it might have to be decided what would eventuallybe ceeded to Italy in the end ...
... also not to forget that also Berchtoldt tended to ceed ceretain territories to Italy (what was taken as a welcomed pretext to get rid of him by certain ... transleithanian politicians).
 

Coulsdon Eagle

Monthly Donor
Let's allow the OP to sketch out how Italy intends to wage this war, and what support they expect to receive from their allies (compared to what the actually receive!).

It's been done before but a well-written and logical TL is always welcome, especially when the OP is open to suggestions & constructive criticism.
 
Well, the actual war is going to be worse than the OTL Guerra Bianca - after all, the AH-Italian border is on the good side of the Alps.
I don't really expect anyone - France or Italy - to make any gains on this front. It's going to be a primarily colonial war, I'd expect, plus maybe some version of Gallipoli if Churchill still has it his way.
 
With the Italians tipping the balance I can see the Gallipoli campaign ended far earlier or if the Entente get wind early enough butterflied entirely and those troops initially used instead to hold Egypt / Suez and we might see a North Africa campaign in 1915/16?

With no way to reinforce their holdings in East Africa I can see a similar East African Campaign being conducted with the Italian forces at a serious disadvantage.

After that - gets too muddy
 
Well, the actual war is going to be worse than the OTL Guerra Bianca - after all, the AH-Italian border is on the good side of the Alps.
I don't really expect anyone - France or Italy - to make any gains on this front. It's going to be a primarily colonial war, I'd expect, plus maybe some version of Gallipoli if Churchill still has it his way.
Lybia is very vunerable to the british, the Reggia Marina could easily see themselves on the bottom of the medditeranean now
 
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