Nice update, @Kaiser Wilhelm the Tenth.

But I'm not so sure why Romania would join the central powers like you say in footnote 5.

King Ferdinand was very pro-Entente, and he married a Russian if I remember correctly.
Plus, allying with the cp's is kind of saying that "we don't care about Transylvania anymore". Kinda implausible, since that had been a big point of tension for ages.




I bet we'll see a German-Japanese rapprochement after the war.
With Japan giving back Qingdao and the islands in exchange for an anti-British alliance.
Well, even worse :p - half-Russian and half-English (well, English/German)...
Marie remained a staunch Anglophile and heavily supported the Entente - and she had a great deal of influence over Ferdinand, who IIRC was something of a Francophile, like many of the Romanians themselves.
I think it's sort of a foregone conclusion that Romania would side with the Entente, believing that they had more to gain in Transylvania from a comparatively weak neighbor, than they could possibly hope to gain (back) in Bessarabia from the mighty Russian Empire. They could plausibly remain neutral though....
 
I bet Romania's going to rue the day it joined the Central Powers.
Germany's not going to be a very good ally, if we look at OTL the kaiserreich was infamous for treating Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey like client states after 1917. So we could see romania becoming a german puppet.

Although in the chapter about the Balkans, it was mentioned that Bulgaria and Germany were growing more distant.
So maybe we could see a Romanian-Bulgarian war?
With Germany sending money and arms to Romania?
 
Chapter Six- Feeling the Strain
Chapter Six- Feeling the Strain
"All day long, we go about our lives, trying to forget the shadow. But it cannot be ignored for long. Every woman in mourning clothes, every ration card, every miserable queue for food with your belly aching and rain coming down, every time I miss my husband, is a reminder of what has overshadowed our lives."
- Excerpt from the diary of Russian housewife Petya Yuzahvensha, 27 January 1916

"Doing exactly what we've done eighteen times before is the last thing they'll expect us to do this time!"
-General Sir Anthony Hogmanay Cecil Melchett

Christmas of 1914 had brought the famous “Christmas Truce” on the Western Front; for a day, English, French, and German troops stopped shooting and fraternised as fellow Christians on their holy day. Although Boxing Day brought a vicious renewal of hostilities, the truce was a symbol of the humanity all the combatants shared. It was a sign that, at war though they were, deep down both sides remembered that there were human beings on the other side of the line- despite the fact that they were all too willing to kill the same men with whom they celebrated Christmas if orders dictated.

The fact that Christmas Day 1915 was a day of killing like any other says a lot about how deep into the war both sides were now.

As 1915 rolled into 1916, both sides were feeling the strain of war in new and painful ways. All the illusions of grandeur which had swept the combatants in the summer of 1914- that the war would be over by Christmas, that they would be having tea in Berlin or coffee and cigars in Paris, that it would be a glorious affair of trumpets, colourful uniforms, and picturesque cavalry charges like in Napoleon’s day- had now been shown up as dreadfully wrong. Instead, millions of men were sealed in the muddy trenches of France and Poland, Savoy and Palestine, with advances measured in metres, not miles. Glory in this war was equivalent to suicide, as if one stuck his head above the sandbags, it’d get blown off by a machine-gunner who had no idea who he’d killed. Douglas Haig, Luigi Cadorna, and others had all sought after the breakthrough when the cavalry would be released and towns miles behind the lines would fall like ripe fruit, but all they got was offensives in which thousands were cut down for no discernible purpose.

For the first time, the war spread to civilians in a meaningful way. In previous conflicts, women and children had of course feared the conscription notices appearing in mailboxes, had seen propaganda posters as they walked to the shops or school, and had wept as Dad never came home. Yet now, a new phrase entered their lives- the “home front.” The very words implied that the war really had come home, that housewives in Brighton, Viennese schoolchildren, and old men in Petrograd all had a responsibility to the war effort, that in not eating meat and having half a sandwich instead of a full one, they were somehow sticking it to the Kaiser or the English. Rationing had crept into the combatant states as more and more grain was sucked to the front, leaving precious little for everyone else. In the farms and fields, this was less of an imposition- whereas the peasants had previously sold their grain to private markets, now they were being forced to fork it over to the government at some fixed rate. Their cash incomes went down, but bread and butter stayed on the table. In the cities, however, graft and corruption rose. People who were friends or relatives of ration distributors and shopkeepers got to dip their hand in the till, so to speak, often leaving housewives queueing for miles only to be told the butter had been brought up. Yes, they had a government document in their hand saying the government entitled them to such-and-such an amount of eggs and so much flour, but they’d just have to wait. By the end of 1915, anger at such corruption had yet to lead to full-scale riots, but there was more than enough grumbling going around, especially in Germany, cut off as it was by the British blockade, and backwards Russia.

Yes, this was modern war- a total, all-consuming beast which had to be fed human flesh by the generals and sustained by those at home at an inordinate cost, from which no one could see a way out.

By far the state most feeling the strain was the Russian Empire. 1915 had exposed its severe weaknesses in both the military and logistical/economic spheres. In January, its armies were deep into Galicia; by December, it was defending Latvia, White Russia, and Bessarabia. The Russian Army’s tactical reflexes had been shown to be clunky, with Russian commanders markedly inferior in many cases to their German opposite numbers- although the gap with the Austro-Hungarians was much narrower. One statistic demonstrates how inadequate Russia’s war industry was- in the first four months of 1915, a mere 2 million shells and approximately 280,000 rifles were produced. This left Russian artillerymen able to fire only one or two shells a day, while Russian infantrymen had to wait for a comrade to die before snatching the corpse’s rifle- at substantial risk to their own life, naturally.

The Russian domestic front was also showing severe signs of cracking. While the housewives of Petrograd queued up for their meagre weekly bread rations, the Tsar and his family lived in opulence only a few blocks away, indulging their every whim for balls and celebrations. Poverty gripped the empire’s streets, but to the average imperial civilian, all they got from the government was the equivalent of “let them eat cake!”, as the Tsar called upon their patriotism and ordered them to carry their cross for the sake of the Motherland. Had he been making sacrifices himself, the people might have viewed him more charitably. As it was, the luxury and intrigue of the court gave such patriotic rhetoric a condescending tone. Although the propaganda machine did its best to hide it- such as by banning maps of the front from appearing in newspapers after Gorlice-Tarnow to prevent the people from finding out the scale of the disasters befalling the army- a sense that the government was incompetent crept into the popular imagination throughout 1915. Hints of despair no censor could wipe out crept back home through letters, contributing to a general darkness and discontent. Meanwhile, for those in reserved occupations, hours grew longer, prices rose, and wages barely kept up. Coal-miners, factory workers, and the like worked their fingers to the bone day after day, and all they got in return was a meagre bread ration and a drafty flat to share with others- if the bread ration hadn’t been nicked by a well-connected crook, or if the landlord hadn’t tried to gouge more money out of the workers by jacking up the rent.

Women such as these routinely worked twelve-hour days in factories throughout the war. These particular ladies are creating uniforms in Moscow.
russian women workers.jpg


It was enough to make one want to pick up a sharp object and take to the streets.

On the other side of the frozen winter trenches, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was dealing with its own problems, which were almost as severe as the Tsar’s. The lustre the Dual Monarchy had hoped to gain through military triumph was plainly nowhere to be found. A year and a half of combat had seen most of Austria-Hungary’s best troops killed and Galicia briefly lost. It had tried three times to conquer the nation ostensibly behind it all- Serbia- but each time, the runty Balkan state stood victorious. In both Serbia and Galicia, the state needed massive German support to achieve its objectives. Had Italy or Romania joined the Entente, the empire might’ve been pushed over the edge. For Emperor Franz Joseph and his court, their ancient empire now looked more than ever like a German puppet. It was outrageous and humiliating… after all, as any Viennese grandfather of the period could tell you, they were young lads before “Germany” was even a gleam in Otto von Bismarck’s eye!

Pride was the least of the empire’s worries, however. Much like the Russians, the Austro-Hungarian economy was starting to seriously feel the strain of war. They had lost good Galician farmland, and the fact that Gorlice-Tarnow ran over the land right in the middle of growing season didn’t help a bit. The government might’ve hoped to recoup these losses by stealing from Poland, given that their armies were doing most of the garrisoning (1), but Germany vigorously objected, given that they wanted to be seen as liberators from Russian oppression… either that, or they wanted the goods of Poland for themselves. Another issue was that with Trieste and the Zadar Peninsula ceded to Italy, a major commercial port and fishing centre was gone. Now, the Dual Monarchy had to pay Italy for fish it would’ve caught itself before the war. Serbian grain was of some help, but the occupying army swallowed too much of it up, and the costs nearly outweighed the economic benefits. (2) Naturally, the armed forces received priority in foodstuffs. All this to say, by the start of 1916, factory workers in Vienna, Prague, and Linz were really feeling the pinch. This led to tremendous discord between the Austrian and Hungarian halves of the empire, as the grain-rich Hungarians tended to keep enough for themselves and then some before forking anything west. Vicious stereotypes about Hungarian profiteers making a killing and leaving “us” to starve pervaded Austria. People wondered why the government wasn’t feeding them. Meanwhile, the Hungarians- whose leaders had never been keen on the war to start with- wondered why their sons had to go off and die, just because an Austrian archduke got shot. War brought unity, but these questions would not go away after the peace treaty was signed. Franz Joseph’s successor would have a lot of work on his hands after the old emperor finally passed away.

Nor were the Italians exempt from feeling the pinch. The wave of nationalism and enthusiasm which had gripped their country a year ago was as dead as the men Luigi Cadorna had fed into the meat grinder. Italian dreams of marching into Nice triumphantly had been shown up as impossible, and every attempt to batter down the gates ended the same- a heap of men dead and the artillery moved up a few hundred worthless yards. And between the end of First Menton on 15 June and the end of the year, there were four more Battles of Menton, which totalled some 55,000 Italian casualties and 40,000 French. None succeeded in even capturing all of what had once been the little Alpine town. Yet, there was no discernible path out of this trap for the Italian government. They had promised their people Nice and Savoy, and had whipped the population up into a frenzy over them. With every Battle of Menton, the bitter The Italian Government regrets to inform you… telegrams were inevitably sweetened by newspaper reports that “our forces are drawing closer to Nice”, or that they were “fighting heroically against fanatical defence.” If the papers concocted no stories of martial glory for months at a time, the population might question the war. If Prime Minister Antonio Salandra couldn’t give his people the image of glory as a substitute for real victory, they would be far less willing to endure the sacrifices they were making. So the guns rumbled on.

Domestically, Italy was actually fairly well off. All the fighting was taking place on the frontier, meaning that the country’s farms were secure. Additionally, the Adriatic Sea remained safe for Italian fishermen, protected as it was by mines. The same held true of the Tyrrhenian Sea to a lesser extent. Fears that losing British coal imports were proven meaningless, as Germany could ship supplies south which would have gone to the Entente nations in peacetime- Switzerland agreed to facilitate this by letting the Germans use its railroads, and Austria-Hungary was also naturally cooperative. Corruption was less of a problem than in Russia or Austria-Hungary, so rations were distributed far more equitably- this led to better public morale. The Italian people might’ve been lied to time and again by their government and generals, and might be losing young men at a tragic rate, but they were content with their lot.

On the other side of those mountain trenches, the French were panicking. 1914 had been a dreadful year for France, with Belgium destroyed and a fifth of their home country lost. Approximately 300,000 Frenchmen had died between August and December 1914. Hopes had been high amongst the French High Command that 1915 would be their year, but the entrance of Italy into the war dashed said hopes. The Champagne Offensive was General Joseph Joffre’s great white hope, but the first months of 1915 saw it melt against machine-gun fire at a cost of 90,000 French lives. Another offensive at Neuve-Chapelle similarly failed. By this point, it was mid-March. Any plans the French or British might’ve had for further offensives were postponed by the German strike at Second Ypres in late April and cancelled by the Italian declaration of war a month later. France was forced to shift 150,000 men south, with more to follow. This forced a fundamental shift in Anglo-French military policy. There could be no more offensives on the Western Front for the time being- holding was all that could be expected. Joffre and his colleagues were forced to rely more on British manpower as all French troops north of the Somme River were sent to Italy. This rendered French operations in the north impossible. The pressures of colonial war and the fact that the Mediterranean was no longer very safe to transport troops across meant that France could expect no African or Indochinese troops to arrive on the Western Front, reducing the potential strategic reserve. Fortunately, the terrain meant that the Italian front was easy to defend, while the Germans were more focussed on Russia throughout 1915. But would that hold true into 1916?

Domestically, France was also in trouble. Much of its coal, steel, and similar resources now lay behind German lines. This reduced the country to dependence on British imports for many commodities, and to impose severe rationing at home- indeed, France had the strictest rationing of any combatant in the war. All too often, French women and children had to queue for hours to get a slice of bread and a bowl of soup, and then return home to houses the coal couldn’t heat. Things grew so bad that the winter of 1915-16 became known to many as l’orge froid d’hiver- the Cold Barley Winter, after one of the few grains readily available and the lack of heat. (3) Many in France were questioning why the government couldn’t do more, even if draconian censorship prevented them from saying as much. And even draconian censorship had its limits, for some Frenchmen thought they’d found a way out, in the form of a long-dead philosopher with a big bushy beard…

karlmarx.jpeg

Last, there was the United Kingdom. The English Channel shielded the island nation from land attack- a geographic trait many states would give anything for. Thus, unlike France, Britain was never fighting for its independence. However, King George V’s realm was not exempt from the strains of war. Its most basic problem was simple. That same island geography which gave the United Kingdom such protection from land attack also severely hampered its natural resources and made it dependent on imports, both from the vast reaches of the British Empire and from neutral states such as Argentina. Throughout 1915, Germany concentrated its efforts on strangling the United Kingdom’s imports. Throughout the year, 1.3 million tonnes of Allied and neutral shipping went to the bottom; a significant portion of this was British or intended for a port in Britain. (4) While substantial, this wasn’t enough to cripple the British economy, and indeed, the UK never introduced rationing in the Great War.

A British poster exhorts its viewers to buy War Bonds. These were a tremendous source of financial help to the British government.
maximwarbonds.jpg


Britain was also slowly accumulating substantial debt. Funding the war effort, plus heavily subsidising its dominions and sending a pound or two France’s way was costing His Majesty’s Treasury an astronomical amount of money, and by the end of 1915, the UK’s coffers were drained. Increased taxation helped some, but there was only one place to go for the kind of money Britain needed. By the end of 1915, British debt to private American banks- such as the House of Morgan- and the US government was well into the millions. (5)

Another luxury afforded the UK was its ability to avoid conscription. In 1914, the irregular Territorials had supplemented the small professional British Army, and this comprised the BEF which proved itself repeatedly in the first months of the war. A steady stream of patriotic volunteers had kept the British supplied with men for their various fronts, and by the end of 1915 well over a million men were in khaki. However, British casualties were steadily rising, and by December 1915, 400,000- including the cream of the prewar Army- had gone to meet their maker. Raw recruits weren’t coming in fast enough to make up the losses, either. The British tradition of a more liberal, less intrusive government made the conscription issue politically awkward. Not even in Napoleon’s day had the nation been forced to take such a step. Italy’s joining the Central Powers stretched the Western Front even thinner, and soon the French were making noises about needing an extra 200,000 British troops to cover men sent to the Italian mountains- and of course, more men would be needed to protect Gibraltar, Malta, Egypt, and Cyprus. Britain’s leaders tried to kick the can down the road for as long as possible by cancelling a plan to capture the Dardanelles from the Ottomans once it became clear whose side Italy would join (6). Incidentally, this move was widely unpopular at the time, with First Sea Lord Winston Churchill claiming that it could’ve knocked the Turks out of the war with one blow. Modern historians tend to agree with Churchill’s analysis. Regardless, by the time 1916 rolled around it was painfully clear that there could be no more waiting. Reluctantly, Prime Minister Herbert Asquith implemented conscription on the first of January. The move was seen as a dangerous sign. If Napoleon Bonaparte hadn’t been enough to force the British nation to conscript... what did that say about the Kaiser’s strength? Nevertheless, Tommy Atkins kept a stiff upper lip, donned khaki, and fought.

A British poster encourages young men to enlist. Such campaigns would become largely obsolete by the end of 1915.
women of britain say go.jpeg


All the combatants were feeling the strain in one way or another by the end of 1915. Italian entry had strengthened the Central Powers considerably, and battlefield triumphs in Poland and Serbia had made it very much a German year. The question on everyone’s mind was whether the Entente could recoup its losses in 1916. Could Russia overcome its backwardness and construct an army which would liberate Poland? Would Britain be able to go on meeting its commitments in France while fighting in the Mediterranean and protecting its shipping? And- most pressing of all- could France survive another year of two-front war, especially now that Russia was weakened?

Time would tell...



  1. The Austro-Hungarians have approximately 100,000 extra men on the Eastern Front ITTL, given that Italy’s on their side. This means that following Gorlice-Tarnow, they take over much of the responsibility for garrisoning occupied Poland, while Germany sends more men west.
  2. Quite literally- forgive the pun. More seriously, it should go without saying that the locals got the short end of the stick. The occupation years were very hungry times in Serbia, Montenegro, and Albania.
  3. I’m sure 99% of you already know this, but barley is traditionally fed to animals, so…
  4. Including, of course, the Lusitania.
  5. I searched all over the internet and AH.com, as well as in my collection of WWI books IRL, and couldn’t find a number. If anyone has one, please tell me!
  6. This releases some 345,000 troops for action. The New Zealanders, as mentioned in a previous update, went to Somaliland, while I imagine most of the others just went to the Western Front.
Comments?
 
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Chapter Seven- A Way Out for Germany?
Chapter Seven- A Way out for Germany?

"We are all growing thinner every day, and the rounded contours of the German nation have become a legend of the past. We are all gaunt and bony now, and have dark shadows round our eyes, and our thoughts are chiefly taken up with wondering what our next meal will be, and dreaming of the good things that once existed." (1)
-Anonymous German housewife.

"The forces of France will bleed to death... whether we reach our goal or not."
-
Erich von Falkenhayn.

"Essentially, by the start of 1916, a feeling of being trapped had pervaded the German military structure. They knew that if they were cut off by hostile states forever, they would suffocate, they would be smothered. Thus, Falkenhayn, the General Staff, etc... they all felt the need to "break the iron ring". Verdun, and the Italian offensive launched at the same time was the great attempt to do that, to gamble so much of the Empire's manpower on one great punch... We forget today that the outcome of the battle was a close-run thing, certainly the result that was attained was not a guarantee..."
-Irish military historian Robert FitzGerald, in a 2017 lecture at King Iaoichim I University, Dublin.
As in 1914, Germany had dominated events in 1915. Thanks to its diplomats allying Italy and Romania and its commanders being the best in Europe, it had pushed the front lines well beyond the borders of the Reich. Belgium, Serbia, Poland, and northern France all lay under occupation. Despite these victories, when German strategists looked at the year ahead, many were pessimistic. Despite the fact that they’d won great victories, Germany was still surrounded on two sides. Russia had been beaten time and time again, but it was a long way from defeat. To the west, France was holding on against the pressures of two-front war, while Great Britain sat, impregnable, across the English Channel. Thanks to Britain, Germany’s domestic situation was deteriorating considerably. The Royal Navy had established a blockade from Scotland to Norway and across the English Channel, thus sealing Germany off from the world. By the end of 1915, hunger had set in in Germany’s cities. The German Women’s National Service (Deutscher Frauendienst) became known as the empire’s Good Samaritans, feeding thousands a day at their soup kitchens. Naturally, speculation and corruption were rife. Urban stomachs growled day in and day out as rations of bread, soup, and margarine were proven inadequate. When compared to their British counterparts, German factory workers spent longer hours on the floor and went home to a smaller ration. It was maddening and infuriating, but most did the Prussian thing- they shut up and said “Guns before Butter!” The well-fed General Staff, though, didn’t see things that way. To them, domestic stagnation was a cancer which could kill the German Empire. Hungry workers might throw down their tools one day. Strikes and riots in Berlin, Dusseldorf, and Munich would paralyse the German war effort, to say nothing of the impact it’d have on the troops at the front. In the eyes of the General Staff, the Central Powers were in a race against time, to win the war before economic stagnation killed them.

Hungry Berliners crowd at a soup kitchen run by the German Women's National Service.
soupkitchenberlin.jpg


Military victory had to be achieved this year, or else.

Following Gorlice-Tarnow, a great debate kicked up in the German General Staff as to which way to concentrate in 1916. The dynamic duo of Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff, heroes of the East, argued that Russia was badly weakened and that one more push could finish her off. They advocated a fresh offensive in the Baltics with the goal of advancing to Petrograd from Riga. With his capital in range of German guns, surely the Tsar would see sense and surrender… either that, or the people would toss him out on his ear. Hindenburg and Ludendorff also saw the Russian armies as the weaker target, and felt that the open spaces of the East would provide better ground for an offensive than the high-density trenches of the West. Furthermore, they reasoned, with the resources of western Russia in their hands, Germany’s economic woes would be taken care of, and they could concentrate with all their might against France.

Erich von Falkenhayn took the opposite course. In his eyes, the whole crux of the war came down to Germany versus Britain. The UK, he reasoned, was the glue holding the Entente together. As long as Britain remained in the war, it could blockade Germany and fund anti-German forces in a manner similar to the Napoleonic Wars, when successive coalitions were bankrolled by London. The goal, then, had to be to make Britain see the war as hopeless. There was, however, a rather obvious problem: an invasion of England was impossible. Nor would an all-out blow against the BEF force the British out- they could, given time, raise a new army and ship it across the Channel, and in the meantime France would still be there. Paradoxically, Falkenhayn argued that the only way to make Britain give up the fight was to take France out. If the French were knocked out of the war, the British would be confined to their island, and their only surviving ally would be Russia.

In the last months of 1915, the East-West argument dominated the halls of the General Staff offices. Men in dress uniforms argued with one another in offices over endless cups of ersatz coffee, compared intelligence reports, and stuck coloured pins in maps. Eventually, the Kaiser intervened and gave Erich von Falkenhayn his blessing. The war would be decided in 1916, and the great battle would be in the West.


Erich von Falkenhayn: Chief of the German General Staff, and the man behind the deaths of thousands at Verdun.
Erich_von_Falkenhayn.jpg


The Chief of the German General Staff spent Christmas hunched over in his office, obsessively planning his magnum opus. He came up with an entirely new tactical plan for what was being dubbed Operation Gehricht. Nearly every offensive launched in the war was focussed on trying to break through the trenches and into undefended open ground, yet barbed-wire and machine-guns always held it back. Such offensives also inflicted heavier casualties on the attacker than the defender. Falkenhayn rejected this formula. His plan was to set up a great meat-grinder, a battle of attrition from which the French couldn’t withdraw- thus, their manpower would eventually be worn down. The main question was: where to launch the blow? Various sites along the front were considered, but in the end, Falkenhayn selected one, a target which was to become synonymous with “death” for hundreds of thousands of Germans and Frenchmen: Verdun.

For over a millennia, Verdun had stood as a gate between France and Germany. In 843, Charlemagne’s sons had divided their realm between themselves at this city, unwittingly creating the first entities recognisable as “France” and “Germany”. Both sides recognised its strategic value 1100 years later; as the fires of the Great War commenced, Germany demanded the town as a guarantee of French neutrality… obviously, that demand was refused. The town was ringed by heavy fortresses, but was lightly defended as it was considered to be in the “active sector”. Falkenhayn determined that the place’s symbolic value and heavy fortifications meant that the French would endure anything to hold it. Thus, plans were made for a meat-grinder offensive aimed at Verdun. The goal was less to break through the forts and capture the city as to force the French to keep feeding men in until they were bled white. This was to be achieved by carefully controlling the German forces put into the battle- enough to grind the French to bits, but not enough to break through to Verdun proper and force the French to call it a day. Ever since time immemorial, soldier had asked of their generals “‘ere, is ‘e trying to get us killed, or wot?” For once, the answer was a literal yes.

Of course, Falkenhayn wasn’t about to fight alone, and in December 1915, he paid a call to Luigi Cadorna- the Italian general was enjoying a Christmas holiday in Milan. Falkenhayn asked for the Italians to launch a fresh offensive to tie as many French troops down as possible. Unfortunately, he couldn’t spare any German divisions, but he did agree to send several officers down to assist. Falkenhayn also requested that, for the love of God, Cadorna please pick somewhere different to attack this time as opposed to launching a fifth Battle of Menton; the two would settle on the town of Bardonecchia, some fifty miles from Grenoble. Both operations were set to begin simultaneously, so as to catch the French by maximum surprise. The initial start date was the twelfth of February; however, bad weather at Verdun led to the operation’s postponement by nine days. And so, on the twenty-first of February, the largest battle humanity had ever seen commenced. One way or another, the war would be decided here…

Comments? Questions? Criticism?

(1) Quote comes from this.
 
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NoMommsen

Donor
"Nice" new update ;) ... wee notion :
right spelling is "Operation Gericht" without the "h" you put in.​

Oh, and ... in 1915 even to its end the food situation in Germany was far from what it was to the end of 1916. ... far better.
ITTL not to forget, that with Italy there's also another possible way of food imports as well as such imports from the balkans.
 
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Nice insight into how hard the war is on the civilian side of things. I know this is all OTL which only makes it more heartbreaking.

So Germany actually succeeds in Verdun this time? Poor France...or maybe I should say Commune of France as it seems to heading towards.

I wonder how reforms in the AH will go in the postwar environment? With the Danubian Federation form? Gotta say I'm curious.

Overall, nice TL!
 
"Nice" new update ;) ... wee notion :
right spelling is "Operation Gericht" without the "h" you put in.​

Oh, and ... in 1915 even to its end the food situation in Germany was far from what it was to the end of 1916. ... far better.
ITTL not to forget, that with Italy there's also another possible way of food imports as well as such imports from the balkans.
Will fix the typo. Thanks for spotting that.
The Balkans actually aren't contributing much to the German economy- the Austro-Hungarian garrison is swallowing up most of the resources and generally isn't being very efficient. Italy isn't exporting a lot, but is quite self-sufficient in terms of agricultural products.

Good work.
Thanks! Glad you like it. :)

Nice insight into how hard the war is on the civilian side of things. I know this is all OTL which only makes it more heartbreaking.

So Germany actually succeeds in Verdun this time? Poor France...or maybe I should say Commune of France as it seems to heading towards.

I wonder how reforms in the AH will go in the postwar environment? With the Danubian Federation form? Gotta say I'm curious.

Overall, nice TL!
Thanks! I tried to convey a "human" aspect to this ATL... nice to know I succeeded.
Yes, Germany will succeed at Verdun (albeit at great cost).
Following the death of Emperor Franz Joseph in November 1916, Austria-Hungary will have a number of challenges on its plate, and Emperor Charles will have a great deal of work to do. Time will tell if he succeeds...
 
Just finished reading and I have to say that I really like the POD of a German backed compromise between Italy and A-H. I wonder how the 1916 offensives will go as launching a battle of attrition along the Franco-Italian border will be very hard due to the terrain, but there are less available French forces to plug the gap in Verdun.
 
Just finished reading and I have to say that I really like the POD of a German backed compromise between Italy and A-H. I wonder how the 1916 offensives will go as launching a battle of attrition along the Franco-Italian border will be very hard due to the terrain, but there are less available French forces to plug the gap in Verdun.
Verdun as the masterstroke the Germans thought it'd be? That's gonna be awesome to read
Thanks to both of you! I'm glad you like it thus far.

The Verdun chapter will be done by the end of the day... I hope I do it justice. :)
 
Chapter Eight- Hell on Earth
Chapter Eight- Hell on Earth

BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.

Pierre Soilon jumped, spilling ersatz coffee over himself. He muttered something foul and clutched at his hand. The pain receded after a few moments, and his heartbeat slowed down. Another German gunner letting off his shells, he thought. Nothing new on the Western Front. Enemy artillerymen loved nothing more than shelling his trenches at random, hoping to take a few Frenchmen with their guard down. It was, he supposed, nothing the French artillerymen didn’t do to the Germans. As long as you were in a dugout, it wasn’t anything worth worrying about unless the roof caved in. Pierre shook his head. This was war, and it was the chance you took. Worrying about everything that could go wrong would drive a man mad… he’d seen it with his own eyes. Pierre took a sip of faux coffee and thought no more of it.

BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.

Pierre muttered something foul and scowled. Didn’t that idiot have anything better to do? At least he was making a big target for himself. The more shots an enemy artilleryman let off, the more obvious he made his position. All that was left to do was to wait and ignore the irritating noise.

BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.

“Alright”, muttered Pierre, “now he’s getting annoying. I swear, if our own guns don’t…”

The world blew up.

What seemed like a million German guns all opened fire at the same moment. The force of the eruption threw Pierre across the dugout as if he were a rag doll, the coffee cup smashing on the ground. The force of the blow winded him. Pierre couldn’t hear himself scream over the deafening explosions, explosions which made a volcanco seem like nothing. The ground shook as though this were an earthquake, and he had to crawl on his hands and knees to retrieve his helmet. Pierre crawled under the dugout’s meagre desk and grabbed the legs to steady himself. The rickety desk fell apart in short order, the legs flying every which way and the top coming down on Pierre’s head. He added another pain-filled curse to his screams and crawled to the centre of the room, screaming like a baby and hugging his legs. If the walls fell in, it’d be game over. This wasn’t how he wanted to go; he was only twenty-six years old! Every bit of dirt falling from the ceiling looked like the start of a cave-in that would, if he was lucky, kill him quickly. Pierre imagined himself buried alive, fighting a losing battle for breath, unable to move, paralysed in earth like an insect in amber. It had happened to comrades and friends- nothing said he couldn’t be next.

Ave Maria, gratia plena, dominus tecum…” , he prayed silently, barely conscious of the screams he was emitting. The Latin surprised him, as he’d never been a religious man. It just went to show that there really were no atheists in foxholes. He didn’t notice the telltale stench of a man who’d fouled himself, either. All he did was sit in the dugout and scream, praying and hoping that when it was over, he’d still be alive.

Pierre Soilon sat through nine hours of nonstop shelling.

His first indication that it had stopped was the sound of screaming. Someone very close by was screaming his lungs out- but he was the only one in the dugout, he was sure of it. Such was his terror that it took him a minute to realise that he was the one screaming. And if he could hear his screams, then the artillery wasn’t deafening them out anymore. Which could only mean…

Like some undead beast rising from its tomb, Pierre Soilon stood up and shook the dirt off, snatching his rifle from the ruins.

“Up! Up! Out!” That was his sergeant, all right. Pierre dashed out into the main trench and was blinded by the sun- his eyes had become adjusted over the past nine hours to the darkness of the dugout. As far as the eye could see in either direction, dazed soldiers clutched their rifles while NCOs dashed to and fro, issuing orders and trying to establish control. Pierre’s heart was racing at a million miles an hour. The Germans had been known to pause their bombardments, and then to restart them as soldiers congregated in the trenches. He eyed the nearest dugout, ready to sprint back in.

A battle-cry erupted not too far away, and the machine-gunners began their deadly work. Pierre knew what that meant, and a bolt of adrenaline shot through him. He ran up to a viewpoint and aimed his rifle at No-Man’s-Land. A series of grey dots appeared a few hundred yards away. He knew what they were, all right.

The Germans were doing their utmost to take Verdun away from France, and it was up to Pierre Soilon to stop them. As he fired, loaded, and fired again, he wondered if he’d still be alive in an hour.

A French poilu very much like Pierre Soilon, in the moments before the guns erupted at Verdun.
pierresoilon?.jpg

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"I am taking command. Inform your troops and keep up your courage!"
-
Philippe Petain upon taking command, 26 February 1916.

"Soldiers! For a month, you have valiantly defended our homeland, and the great city of Verdun! Now is the hour of decision. Now is the hour in which we must triumph. In the name of France, our mother, take the offensive once more and reap what you have sown in a month of fighting. Each of us must give his all, but victory must surely be in sight!"
-
Philippe Petain's Order of the Day on 24 March 1916, the date of his ill-fated offensive at Verdun.


At seven AM on the twenty-first of February 1916, fourteen hundred German guns opened fire on the French defenders of Verdun. Within sixty seconds, 250 miles away, thirteen hundred Italian guns began pounding the trenches outside Bardonecchia. When Joseph Joffre, the most senior general in France, got word of the simultaneous offensives, he is said to have downed a double whiskey despite the hour. But Joffre was the only military man in France with a bottle in his hand at that moment.

The barrage at Verdun went on for nine hours. Men were pulverised in open trenches and buried alive in their dugouts, where they suffered lingering deaths. As with so many offensives before it, the opening stages of Gericht tore the strip of land separating the two armies up, reducing it to something resembling the surface of the moon. At a quarter to five PM, an initial wave of 150,000 Germans went over the top. Some 50 divisions would ultimately follow. The French had long considered Verdun an inconsequential quiet sector, and despite being aware of Germany’s plans to launch an offensive, lacked sufficient force to meet the blow. (1) Hastily organised infantry counterattacks lacking in artillery support didn’t help; they failed to throw back the Germans while wasting lives for no discernible purpose. Such foolishness took its toll, as within three days, an average of two out of every three front-line soldiers was dead. The survivors lacked emergency rations and ammunition, which only hastened the end. Four days after the start of the offensive, in what was a near-fatal embarrassment to Joffre’s career, the 24th Brandenburger Regiment had the signal honour of taking Fort Douaumont. The great fort was the largest defending the city, and had been expected to hold out for weeks, if not months. In fact, the behemoth of steel and guns was a paper tiger. Back in January, its commandant had refused to allow a security inspection, and the defences were ill-manned, to say the least. The Germans captured Douaumont when the fort’s defenders were in a dull training lecture instead of doing their duty. The Germans walked in without firing a shot and burst into the lecture hall, capturing everyone. When Falkenhayn heard the news, he is reported to have laughed and joked that German drill sergeants were on the watch even in their sleep, so such a debacle could never strike the Fatherland!

Joseph Joffre was distinctly less than amused. His military instincts told him to cut his losses and withdraw, but politics- the one thing guaranteed to keep a soldier scratching his head- dictated otherwise. If he gave up after four days of unmitigated defeat, his aides whispered, the German propaganda machine would have a field day! French morale would plummet! Thus, Joffre resolved to do his utmost to win. On the 26th, he appointed Philippe Petain as commander of the Verdun sector. Petain was without a doubt a skilled commander, and he gave victory his every effort. For a start, he terminated the bloody infantry counterattacks which had characterised the first days of fighting. The new French commander believed that shelling the Germans from a safe distance would save French lives while draining the foe. Petain also instituted something which would become a legend in postwar France to rank alongside the taxis which allegedly saved Paris in the autumn of 1914: la Voie Sacree. The “Sacred Road”, as the French dubbed it, was the lifeline keeping French forces supplied. Before the war, it had been nothing more than a quaint country road over which two or three farmers would drag their goods to market every day. Now, thousands of horses and men took supplies to the troops at the front and brought the wounded back. (2) Petain earned well-deserved credit for this, but he is remembered more than anything as the man who failed at Verdun… as well as for his antics in postwar France. No doubt, he made mistakes, but dispassionate historians have reached a consensus that he was being forced to make bricks without straw. For Verdun was not the only front on which France was pressed… the Italians were attacking as well, after all.

Luigi Cadorna was not Erich von Falkenhayn. Historians are unanimous in saying that he lacked the German general’s foresight and imagination. Likewise, the Italian Army was unquestionably inferior to the German. Men weren’t as well trained, equipment was shoddy, etcetera. Yet… none of that mattered. Although Cadorna didn’t realise it, he was nothing more than a diversion. Italy’s latest effort at Bardonnechia was doing nothing more than tying down some 150,000 French forces- plus another 75,000 holding the line elsewhere. (3) But that was enough. Italy’s young men were sacrificing themselves in droves as they crawled into machine-gun fire in the rocky Alpine hills, capturing a hundred yards of territory on a good day. But every bullet fired in the craggy Alps, and every Frenchman in the rocky trenches, was one not present at the real battle.

The period 26 February- 6 March has earned a well-deserved place in First World War history as the “Black Week of the French Army.” The morale of the French soldiers completely collapsed during these eight days. There was no hiding the truth in the chaos of battle. Every poilu knew how Douaumont had fallen without a shot being fired, without honour, let alone glory. Of course, the French didn’t have long to ponder such things, as another feature of Verdun was its massive rate of shellfire- the highest in the history of warfare. Soldiers were blown apart by shells like mown grass, while gas shells grabbed their lungs and didn’t let go. A few days of this was enough to induce mental breakdowns in many Frenchmen. Some poilus burst into tears like children, while others tossed their rifles down and sat in the muck silently, too stunned to notice the shell whizzing in that would send them flying in all directions. Still others deliberately exposed themselves to gunfire, while some turned their rifles on themselves. Sometimes, supplies from the Sacred Road failed to reach troops, who died of dehydration and exhaustion after a few days.

One of the hundreds of thousands of Frenchmen who died at Verdun.
deadfrenchmanverdun.jpg

Hell would be a mild word to describe the conditions faced by the French defenders.

All this encouraged Erich von Falkenhayn. His plan to bleed the French white appeared to be working. However, there was a problem: he wasn’t moving fast enough, and German troops were dying because of it. Before commencing the attack on the 21st, he had boasted that he’d be in Verdun in four days- so that’d be the 25th. As March approached, he was a long way away from the city. However, Falkenhayn was convinced by the reports of French conditions that he could still win, but he needed something else. He turned to the west bank of the Meuse River, hoping to catch the French off their guard there.

Two small natural features dominated the area west of the Meuse: two small hills named Le Mort Homme and Cote 304. They offered several key advantages to Falkenhayn, and as such assumed outsize importance. If he could base artillery there, he could rain down even more hellfire on the defenders. Second, the two hills formed a “gate” through which German forces could pass, capturing the villages of Esnes, Montzeville, and Chattancourt, threatening the forts shielding Verdun from the west, and most importantly, forcing the French to extend their front by several miles. When Falkenhayn gave the go-ahead on 6 March, he had high hopes.


A map showing the most important features at Verdun. (6)
Verdununmarked.png


The Chief of the German General Staff was not to be disappointed. Petain knew of the potential importance of the west bank, so the German move didn’t come as a surprise to anyone. However, there was simply nothing he could do about it. All that could be spared from the hellish struggle from the east was a skeleton crew, and Petain could do nothing more than hope. But his hopes were soon dashed. After a week of combat, the ruins of both Cote 304 and Le Mort Homme had fallen, and the Germans exploited their local breakthrough. Esnes fell on the fourteenth, Chattancourt and Montzeville two days later. By now, Petain was desperate, and forced to transfer troops west to stop the onslaught. On the seventeenth, a German attack on Fort Bois Bourrus was barely halted at a terrific cost in French lives. This, however, came at a price. In the second week of March, the Germans gleefully captured Fort Vaux and Fort Tavannes, as well as the village of Fleury. This left them able to pour onto the Cotes-de-Meuse, which would put them within spitting distance of Verdun itself. Philippe Petain, never the most optimistic general, saw the writing on the wall, and on the 21st, he telephoned Joseph Joffre for permission to withdraw. The hero of the Marne, however, wasn’t having it. He had been made the scapegoat for the failures of 1915 and was taking a lot of flak (5) for what the politicians saw as a pointless slaughter at Verdun. In Joffre’s mind, victory had to come out of Verdun… otherwise, he would be out of a job.

It is factors such as these which condemn men to their deaths in the thousands; it seems.

On the twenty-third of March, Petain received orders from Joffre. He was to launch an immediate counterattack to keep the Cotes-de-Meuse in French hands and to advance towards Chattancourt. And no, before you ask, he wouldn’t be receiving any additional reinforcements. In his telegram, Joffre strongly implied that he would personally ruin Petain’s career if he didn’t achieve results. Upon receiving this news, Petain is said to have paraphrased Pierre Cambrone’s line at Waterloo, and said “les poilus mortent, mais ils n’abandonnent pas!” (7) However, like General Cambrone, it is equally likely that Petain said simply, ¨merde!”. For Joffre was asking the impossible. A month of defence had reduced the French soldiers to exhaustion and ruin. Petain was of the opinion- one which many postwar scholars share- that after another week or two of such fighting, the French would’ve buckled under the weight of the foe, and that would’ve likely been the end of the battle. As it was, an offensive was out of the question. But Petain was a soldier, and he couldn’t disobey a direct order from his superior. It pained his conscience to no end, but a few hours after receiving Joffre’s orders he issued orders which were to condemn still more Frenchmen to their deaths, and threw the exhausted defenders of Verdun forward one more time. All throughout the 24th of March, he paced up and down in his headquarters, trying to find out what was going on. He hadn’t expected greatness- indeed, news of any ground being taken would’ve been a pleasant surprise- but even he was surprised by the news he received.

The French army at Verdun, from the Cotes-de-Meuse to Fort Bois Bourrus, had had enough. After a month of hell on earth, they would not be ordered forward like lambs to the slaughter. They were killing their superiors and declaring themselves in a state of mutiny.


  1. None of my WWI books IRL, nor anyone on the Internet, wants to give me a number for divisions or men for the start of the battle. If any of you have such information, please tell me and I’ll retcon!
  2. IOTL, it brought up almost 200,000 men… but they’re in Italy. Some 27,000 tonnes of supplies also reached the front IOTL; this number is lower here, but not by too much.
  3. Rough numbers. The point is that France has way fewer men to put into the Verdun meat grinder than OTL. This means that certain things devised by Petain, such as troop rotation, aren’t possible ITTL. This in turn means that French troops get worn out faster and their morale is much lower. This means, well, you’ll see…
  4. In marked contrast to OTL, where the French had far more manpower, and Petain put his freshest troops to the west.
  5. Although perhaps not quite as much as the men under his command.
  6. With credits to @NoMommsen for the map.
  7. The poilus die, but they do not surrender.
Comments?
 

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Such a rapid riot, although without Italy as an enemy, the countries of the central powers are better off and that negatively affects France.
 
Given the French have had to divert men to the Italian front in 1915 and the Germans have not had to divert men there? Plus AH can divert men that went to the OTL Italian front against the Russians which reduces pressure on the Germans to divert men to the Eastern front. Yeah... nothing good can come from this.

I assume the mutiny will still defend but refuse to attack? Which still lets them be isolated potentially.

Also capturing a fort without firing a shot is just the type of event you would think is ASB but ends up happening during a war.

I do wonder how Falkenhayn will be perceived. This was very much a battle to grind and not capture but at the same time, I am unsure if the Germans had any better realistic options on the Western Front. Though now with the mutiny and stretched manpower they may very well be able to turn Verdun into a rupture point

I would like to see a chapter with the major nations on each side of their war reacting to how 1916 is going as well as what is happening on the Eastern Front (plus also are the Brits sending as many forces into Mesopatamia and Egypt as OTL or are they pulling more of them off to fill in the gaps of the French forces arrayed against Italy, not to mention the Egyptian Forces have to be worrying about Italian forces in Libya).

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Also looking back at Chapter 6, the take that Gallipoli would have knocked out the Ottomans is I guess ironic is the best word given what happened OTL but you can imagine the books and discussion all based on that happening
 
Given the French have had to divert men to the Italian front in 1915 and the Germans have not had to divert men there? Plus AH can divert men that went to the OTL Italian front against the Russians which reduces pressure on the Germans to divert men to the Eastern front. Yeah... nothing good can come from this.
Vot do you mean, nothing good can come of this? It is how ve will win ze war, ja?
;)

But seriously, that's the Entente's whole problem in a nutshell.

I assume the mutiny will still defend but refuse to attack? Which still lets them be isolated potentially.
That's basically right- defence but not attack. However, Joffre will have a rather, er, heavy-handed response which will basically pour gasoline on the fire.

Also capturing a fort without firing a shot is just the type of event you would think is ASB but ends up happening during a war.
I know, it's great. Got to love it.

I do wonder how Falkenhayn will be perceived. This was very much a battle to grind and not capture but at the same time, I am unsure if the Germans had any better realistic options on the Western Front. Though now with the mutiny and stretched manpower they may very well be able to turn Verdun into a rupture point
Much to the chagrin of Hindenburg and Ludendorff (who will have less of a reputation ITTL), both the general public and military historians ITTL regard Falkenhayn as a genius and a hero, who ended the slaughter of the First World War and made history.

I would like to see a chapter with the major nations on each side of their war reacting to how 1916 is going as well as what is happening on the Eastern Front (plus also are the Brits sending as many forces into Mesopatamia and Egypt as OTL or are they pulling more of them off to fill in the gaps of the French forces arrayed against Italy, not to mention the Egyptian Forces have to be worrying about Italian forces in Libya).
Ooh, interesting! Thanks for requesting that- I'll see what I can do.
Right now, both Libyan fronts are at a stalemate- the fighting seesaws back and forth, but neither side can really break through. Palestine is mostly OTL. However, following TTL's Kut al-Amara, the Ottomans will begin advancing towards Kuwait, as the British have fewer troops in Mespotamia.

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Also looking back at Chapter 6, the take that Gallipoli would have knocked out the Ottomans is I guess ironic is the best word given what happened OTL but you can imagine the books and discussion all based on that happening
Indeed! For the record, Churchill will remain First Lord of the Admiralty for a longer time than OTL.
 
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