Preemptive British Militarism

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by MatthewB, Jun 1, 2019.

  1. MatthewB Banned

    May 15, 2019
    Ontario, Canada
    Had Queen Victoria and Albert both lived to 1914 (both aged 95) the former would have whipped her grandchildren into a compliant state. Albert is needed to keep Victoria in a sound and positive mind.
  2. MatthewB Banned

    May 15, 2019
    Ontario, Canada
    The biggest threat to India in the 20th Century is not Russia, but Japan.

    When France capitulated Britain should have taken the initiative and invaded FIC, in the same manner that Britain invaded Madagascar and attacked the French fleet in the Mediterranean and North Africa. That’s the sort of prudent yet aggressive action the empire needed, take FIC before Japan can, and tell Japan that Britain will remember if Japan makes any move while Britain is busy in Europe.

    Instead Britain, especially in the post-ww1 to Churchill era was governed by pussies, gents who dithered, prevaricated and procrastinated on what to do. That’s not the men that can build or keep an empire, and Japan had their measure.
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  3. michael1 Well-Known Member

    May 6, 2017
    British military success before the 20th century was based on establishing a coalition to prevent any single European power dominating the continent on land. This meant nobody else had enough spare resources to stop the British gradually occupying most of the the desirable bits of the world (compare the 7 years war and the war of the Spanish succession with that of American independence). When the coalition was unable to stop the French the British had to hand back most of their gains (War of Austrian succession and Treaty of Amiens) to prevent the French breaking up the coalition. When Britain was unable to assemble a coalition it was unable to affect the continent much (e.g. Danish-German/Austrian war or Armenian crisis of 1890s).

    German unification and industrialization fundamentally changed the Continental European balance of power. Before this France and Russia roughly balanced each other, with victory going to whichever could get the most support from Britain, Austria and Prussia. Austria and Prussia were often in conflict. So Britain often had the decisive voice not because it was much more powerful than everyone else, but because it was the swing vote. After unification there was no such natural balance and there were fewer independent significant powers, both of which reduced the influence of Britain.

    Britain's primary goal before WW1 was to ensure Russia and/or France didn't come to an accommodation with Germany as this would leave Germany dominant on the continent and Britain vulnerable. This is why Britain was prepared to swallow so much Russian intervention in Persia. As Bismark said, in a world of 5 great powers the key is to be one of the three. So going to war with Russia at the Dogger Bank, when Russia was prepared to apologise and pay compensation would be really stupid, at least as long as there was no Anglo-German agreement. An agreement like this had been attempted but each country thought they were in the dominant position and so neither was willing to make the compromises necessary.

    Another complicating difference between the 20th century and the period before (roughly) German unification is that it was no longer enough to keep Europe stalemated to keep and expand the empire, now there great powers beyond Europe, and given Britain had the most extensive interests outside Europe it was likely that these powers would eventually come into conflict with the UK rather than other European countries. So the UK essentially militarily withdrew from the Americas and when forced to choose between the two non-European powers it quite sensibly chose to ally with the one it couldn't defeat, which also, luckily, happened to be the one it had most in common with. In any case, previously achieving stalemate in Europe was enough for the UK now this was no longer sufficient, making UK policy more difficult, especially as stalemate itself was harder to get.

    As to occupying FIC in 1940, with what exactly? The Japanese moved into the country in September 1940 so there's a gap of perhaps 2-3 months between the fall of France and Japan occupying northern FIC. At this point the British had no army equipment to spare (having saved the men but not the equipment), were fighting the battle of Britain in the air without knowing if they would win and so had to rebuild the army in the UK and had to have sufficient naval forces to cover the Atlantic and face the Italian navy. You can make all sorts of criticisms of interwar British defence policy, and that of the later war, but the summer of 1940 they broadly got right. First priority was defend the UK from invasion. Second the supply lines to the UK, everything else was subordinate to this, including India and middle eastern oil, neither of which needed Malaya to be held, never mind FIC. This is why the British were willing to announce the closure of the Burma road when Japan asked for it, they were making sensible strategic choices given the position they were in, however much they might regret the choices and events leading to that position.

    In a sense prevarication and procrastination was exactly the right policy. Britain had occupied the best bits of the world when at its peak, now that its underlying power relative to others was getting weaker it wanted as little change as possible because any change was likely to be bad for Britain (at least from an imperial point of view).
  4. MickCz Well-Known Member

    Dec 23, 2013
    The reason that there was a British "Empire" was trade. The British government did not get involved in India, other than in the Napoleonic wars, until the Mutiny. Prior to that the prime mover was the East India Company which supported those local rulers who wished to trade...and overthrew and replaced those who did not. The "Empire" was indeed acquired "in a fit of absent-mindedness"
    Like the current American Empire, the British preferred to have "friends" in charge who agreed with their trading policies...and took steps to ensure it. Prior to the Mutiny, there was no thought to actually governing India; there quite simply was no profit in that whatsoever. The phrase "follow the money" very much applies.
  5. JoshConnorMoon Member

    Mar 9, 2019
    • Warning
    Throwing around random quotes, the choice of the ignorant.
  6. CalBear Your Ursus arctos californicus Moderator Moderator Donor

    Oct 4, 2005
    Oops, wrong.

    Play the ball. DO NOT insult other members.
  7. interpoltomo please don't do coke in the bathroom

    Sep 18, 2007
    The UK deciding to act post-1918 as a radically interventionist foreign policy just means you get a WWII where operation sea lion becomes doable due to the americans sinking british convoys.
  8. JoshConnorMoon Member

    Mar 9, 2019
    You need to explain your reasoning a little better on that one.
  9. Derek Pullem Butterfly Killer

    Jan 26, 2011
    Britain never had a policy of seeking out a large Empire - they kind of bumbled into it and then decided if anyone was going to have an Empire it was going to be them.

    Empire, even in the 18th and 19th centuries was seen as a bit of a money pit. America was lost to revolution and the EIC had to be repeatedly bailed out and was almost lost to revolution. The cost of the Boer and Zulu wars far outweighed the benefit to the nation as a whole. What was true was that certain influential allies of those in government profited greatly from Empire and in several cases led the nation into colonial expansion.

    So there was always a counter camp in parliament who did not want to get dragged into external conflicts as they were not prepared to stand the cost.
  10. Gannt the chartist Well-Known Member

    Nov 8, 2010
    Actually they got it by taking over the Mughal tax systematics n kept it by a combination of reputable banking and vigorous offensive action by a superior infantry.
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  11. Saint_007 The King Of Nothing

    Sep 17, 2011
    In 1905, while Japan had just thrashed the Russian fleet, it was still having trouble taking Korea. The Russians cried uncle because their economy was going to trash too, and Revolution had almost come; had they held on longer, the Japanese economy would have come crashing down, bringing down the Japanese war effort with it.

    And even if Japan were seen as that strong, there was still the massive absorbent mass of China in the way. Hindsight, as they say, is always 20/20, and everyone thought that Japan would have its hands full handling China (which, to be honest, was correct even at the height of WW2, as the Japanese were unable to fully subjugate the coast and were unable to advance too deeply into China's interior. Their advances into Indochina were possible because they took advantage of the Vichy government and a severe lack of preparations in that part of the world. Furthermore the Japanese in WW1 were gentlemen, while they became outright savage in WW2. That would have required a psychic to realize how aggressive the Japanese would become by 1937, especially if you're looking at them as the country that just came out of the Meiji Restoration.
    Except Europe and Africa were literally on fire in WW2, as the Axis had decided to invade the Balkans, the BEF had to dump most of its equipment at Dunkirk to make room on the boats, France had fallen and with it North Africa, leaving Gibraltar and Egypt woefully exposed to a hostile Mediterranean. Oh, and there was a bewildered and terrified British public fearing that the Germans would just hop across the Channel and force a jackboot on Britain's throat. There were other priorities at the time, as Madagascar was invaded in 1942, when the tide was turning, and the attack at Mers-El-Kebir was less an act of decisiveness and more a terrified British navy trying to neutralize a major threat. And the latter had repercussions long after the war, with bad blood between the British who saw it as necessary, and the French who saw it as dishonorable slaughter.

    Most of the Empire's meager land forces were tied up in Europe and Africa, so they had little to spare in the Far East. And then the Japanese massacred the HMS Repulse and Prince of Wales with aircraft, effectively showing that the old Royal Navy was sorely obsolete in a naval battle there. To show strength there would have required pulling it away from the far more critical zones in Egypt and the Mediterranean.

    Doing all that before WW1 would be massively out of context, make Britain the aggressor for actions that clearly have no cause (unless the British can explain they've suddenly gotten the ability to see the future clearly) and turn the world against them.

    Britain may have been the greatest power of the age, but by 1900 things had vastly changed. And even at its height, Britain was less about aggressive power and more about maintaining a careful balance and preserving trade.
    The people who elected such 'pussies' were the people who had experienced the horrors and perils of World War 1. If they've been "castrated" as you put it, it's because they walked into WW1 expecting another glorious war, and got the Somme, Passchendaele, and all sorts of horrible battles, which scarred the British and French so badly they never wanted another major war like that ever again. Bullish, confident rhetoric had been common before WW1, but after that people got a lot more anxious about talking big because they themselves found nothing but death and horror in the trenches. The German outrage at the Treaty of Versailles outweighed their horror, and even then, they wanted to believe Hitler when he said war will be swift and short and with minimal (German) casualties. Hell, the blitzkrieg was designed almost entirely around breaking up enemy strength while taking the least amount of casualties in the process.
    Excellent points, you beat me to them - and got a few I hadn't realized.
  12. Barry Bull Donor

    Apr 21, 2008
    Hong Kong
    Japan by no means is capable to threaten the SLOC between the Raj and the Home Isles and the land border of the Raj before WWII. Even in WWII, conquest of India remains logistically difficult for the IJA.

    In contrast, Russia/ USSR remains a significant land threat to the Raj before UK withdrawn from India .
  13. Karelian Well-Known Member

    Sep 8, 2011
    When Britain and Japan were allied, plans of requesting Japanese troops to sail to Raj to help defend the Northern Frontier against Russia were seriously considered:
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  14. Michele Well-Known Member

    Nov 9, 2007
    Elizabeth I sent a landing force in Le Havre, and withdrew it without having accomplished anything.

    Then she sent poorly financed, barely supported expeditionary forces to the Low Countries, and at the same time she was engaged in peace talks with Spain. That's not exactly very decisive and bellicose.

    She also managed to beat the Spanish Armada, which everyone remembers - i.e., she won a defensive action. Then she sent the "English Armada" to Spain, which nobody remembers - because it was an English defeat in an offensive operation.

    Then she supported the Protestant French King Henri IV: once again, with puny, unfinanced, unsupplied forces that were defeated and sent packing.

    She succeeded in Ireland. That was her time's equivalent of the late British Empire's colonial wars, not a confrontation with a same-weight-class opponent.

    She also fared relatively well, guess in what, trade, generally by establishing semi-private companies to handle that.

    When she actually faced her time's equivalent of Nazi Germany, she ended up with the Treaty of London of 1604: figure Chamberlain that signs off on Poland becoming a German Protectorate (in her case, she sold out the Dutch to Spain).
  15. MickCz Well-Known Member

    Dec 23, 2013
    But she was very good at PR!

    Thanks for your's a period I haven't researched in any depth at all. It does emphasise that Britain was not very successful in major military encounters ie those against "same weight class opponents " as you correctly put it.

    The Navy was always preferred by the populace as the service to join; more chance of enrichment by sharing in Prize rewards. The army was second choice; little chance of loot.

    Until the Great War Britain resisted creating a mass army....too expensive and in reality little need for it.

    The British (not really an) Empire was created by the flag following trade...reluctantly and only when trade had problems which the ruling trading class wanted solved other than at the their own expense. So essentially...foreign controlled national oil industry nationalised by popular government....get your state which you basically control to exert force...paid for by the common people...
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  16. michael1 Well-Known Member

    May 6, 2017
    1. Until the nineteenth century the navy needed a pressgang while the army didn't, casting doubt on your suggestion of public preferences
    2. Before around the eighteenth century another major reason for limiting the army was the threat of royal absolutism. Later on there was a repeated desire for a large army but this was limited by a small English population and high English wages, meaning foreign mercenaries had to be hired and these were available in only limited numbers.
    3. The British were no more reluctant to acquire an empire than other Europeans, and often seized areas simply because they could (e.g. scramble for Africa, doctrine of lapse in India, Australia....). What they were (sometimes) was more haphazard with less of an overall plan, but this was partly down to the sheer range of territories acquired (in time and space).
  17. Michele Well-Known Member

    Nov 9, 2007
    She was very good at internal affairs, which was more than half the problem at her time. Don't forget that by 1939, the British Fascist Party was definitely on the wane, while Elizabeth I had a continuing problem for all her life with the English Catholic minority.
    Militarily, OTOH - well, she was not unlike the British PMs of the 1930s, so I objected to the notion that she would be more aggressive, bellicose, and above all lavish with the military budgets.

    BTW, a point I forgot to make - it's the budgets. In the 1920s-30s, the British governments tried to establish de-escalation naval agreements because they did not want to pour the state budget into battleships. They even allowed Germany an increase in her Versailles navy, pursuant to limitations that allowed the British not to spend too much. In 1929-30, the global crisis had hit all the world.

    Now, the Nazis had two advantages when it came to spend money for armaments.

    1. They were not a democracy. The Nazis did take care not to disappoint the populace too much until 1938, but they did not need to worry about being voted out of power.
    Britain, OTOH, was a democracy.

    2. They were willing to spend as if there were no tomorrow. The Nazis embarked on several sorts of catastrophic economic policies, which would have caused an economic meltdown by 1939 or at the latest 1940. But that was not a problem for them, because they planned to actually use, in wars of aggression, the armaments they were building at the expense of everything else. And by conquering other countries, they'd steal their resources and solve the problem.
    Britain, OTOH, could build armaments, but not at a pace that would wreck the economy. Nor could they plan to solve economic problems by attacking every neighbor in sight; they intended to use the armaments defensively, not offensively, and that brings you no loot.
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2019
  18. Michele Well-Known Member

    Nov 9, 2007
    The numbers needed, however, were very different. If you have a volunteer pool of 100 and 75 of them prefer the Navy, while 25 prefer the Army, but the Army needs 30 and the Navy needs 300... you can still say the volunteers prefer the Navy, but you can also see why the Navy also need non-volunteers.

    Every other army of the 1600s, 1700s and early 1800s did the same.

    They were not very reluctant to acquire an Empire - for some values of "empire", which were not the same as those of most European countries. As the other poster says, they were motivated by trade. If the local ruler was pliable enough and gave the English merchants good business, the English weren't particularly interested in establishing their own direct rule, imposing their own laws, customs, and religion. Compare with the Spanish Empire in South America.
  19. michael1 Well-Known Member

    May 6, 2017
    The wartime army often had more personnel than the navy so this may also undermine rather than reinforce your view that people always preferred the navy.

    The Spanish conquered South America for pecuniary and ideological/religious reasons, which strike me as very similar/the same as the reasons for the British empire. The British wanted to ensure that the rules under which they operated were what they considered reasonable, i.e. to impose their own standards of laws and customs. What they were unable to do in the seventeenth century was occupy large amounts of desirable land in the Americas or the East, however this was down to weakness, not a lack of desire. For example, the Dutch drove the British out of what is now Indonesia in the 17th century. Britain was then forced to trade with the then powerful Indian empire on Indian terms. It was only when the Indian empire had broken up that Britain was able to pick off the remnants, which they showed little hesitation in doing once France had demonstrated the possibilities.

    All European countries tended to occupy areas that were thought to be profitable or important for defending other possessions, I'm not sure why you think the English were different?
  20. Michele Well-Known Member

    Nov 9, 2007
    Absolutely true - in wartime, and usually in large wars against similar-sized opponents the army was large. That's the exception, though, not the rule.

    Because India still is predominantly Hinduist and Muslim, while the indigenous religions of South America have disappeared.
    Because in India, they do speak English, but the local languages are alive and well, while in South America the local languages were nearly eradicated, and are seeing a resurgence, here and there, only recently.
    Because in India, at the time of the British departure there still were hundreds of princely states, the largest of which made unsuccessful bids for independence (only to be violently annexed by India or Pakistan). Whereas, when Spain was gradually booted from South America, the successor states were descendants of Spain, not originally indigenous states.

    Naturally, India was not the only place in the British Empire, and others were treated very differently - which in itself, however, goes to reinforce the difference in the British approach, compared with the Spanish viceroyalties.
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