Preparing France for Fashoda?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Bad@logic, Aug 14, 2018.

  1. Bad@logic Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2014
    Location:
    République populaire de Californie
    Most of the time Fashoda, the colonial crisis in Sudan, in alternate history is used as a way for the British to launch a desultory smack down of the French.

    To reverse that, with a POD of an intense colonial crisis which directs French attention towards Britain and unites French policies in rivalry against them, from a decade before the 1898 crisis of Fashoda between France and Britain, what sort of strategy(ies) could the French adopt to be able to either win the resultant war or make a war costly enough for Britain that it backs down? "Winning" can be Pyrrhic in that the French defeat England but are profoundly weakened by the conflict militarily, economically, or strategically, but they do have to succeed to win the war itself.

    Unhelpful comments for which their posters will be guillotined:
    1)The Royal Navy is unbeatable so it is worthless trying.
    2)Anything involving white flags or surrender.
    3)France needs to focus on Germany: That's not the point, the point is a Franco-British war, that is discussed in every other thread.
     
    Julio92, Lenwe and Hawkeye like this.
  2. Ultima Ratio The Last Baron

    Joined:
    May 1, 2010
    Hm, well an extensive British campaign against the French in Africa is no easy task. Of course they can always extend the war by seizing other French holdings, but if it stays focused on Africa, a well-prepared France can win. Invasion of France proper is not really an option for Britain.
     
  3. Bad@logic Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2014
    Location:
    République populaire de Californie
    I haven't seen any indication the French really thought about it in planning terms, but I was thinking that that could tie into a general French "continental' strategy. The French problem is that their navy is obviously inferior, while their advantage is their army. If they built the Trans-Saharan railroad (it hardly seems impossible with 10 years time) then they could link the West African colonies to North Africa, and hence transform it into a land-based war virtue of the superior forces they can deploy in Africa to conquer Sierra Leon, Ghana, Gambia, Nigeria, etc. The 19e corps d'armée in North Africa had at least 3 divisions and if it was the same size as the regular French army corps then 40,000 men, which should be sufficient to conquer the British West African colonies in collaboration with their West African forces (and that's discounting any troops they could deploy into Africa pre-war from France proper). At which point they have a quite nice negotiating position. Sufficient fortification and garrisoning of French Indochina, Madagascar, and maybe the Caribbean and they would be able to deny the British control over any important French territory, with only an easily-circumvented British blockade constituting their only bargaining chip.

    It would be best if they could keep the Mediterranean open, which doesn't seem impossible by focusing all of their planning just on fighting a war there, and maybe with a rapid coup de main to control the Moroccan littorals to base torpedo boats there to extend their strategic depth. Certainly a continuing torpedo boat presence to keep it a contested zone and to force British shipping around the Cape of Good Hope would be an invaluable French diplomatic counter to British blockade during the negotiations to end the war.

    In effect, transforming a naval war into a continental war, France's specialty. It just takes a great deal of preparation, technical ingenuity, and time to make it work.
     
    Julio92, Lenwe, Kirook and 5 others like this.
  4. Bad@logic Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2014
    Location:
    République populaire de Californie
    Anyway though, that's the least conventional strategy and reading about the Jeune Ecole I never saw any indication of it planning a principally land-centric war like that. Which to be fair... might because its about naval strategy, so navies naturally want to fight something on the ocean. If the focus is definitely on fighting England, and the Army can't get around that, then presumably it would be pushing to have something to do to keep itself relevant, in this case like West African operations. Might actually be a useful way to turn what is otherwise a crippling issues, inter-service rivalry.

    Anyway, moving on to what the French actually planned: The French had basically two doctrines, one being the traditionalist school (focused on battle fleet operations), and the other being the Jeune Ecole (focused on lighter assets for commerce raiding and littoral warfare). They had varying changes within them and later on they had a combination of the two after Fashoda, but those are the principal doctrines that can be chosen from for preparing the French navy.

    Theoretically I suppose, both are potentially plausible for the French to adopt. To start with the first, the traditionalist school of a battle fleet focused on capital ship engagements: the Second Empire had tried to rival England with a battle fleet, and the French view had been that it might constitute the core of a fleet of neutrals against England. So theoretically, if the French can get allies with other nations - it already has Russia (although there was a very low opinion of the Russian Navy's capabilities) - and with necessary other large European large navies like Italy and Germany at least and perhaps the United States, that function might be achievable. Unfortunately I don't see any reason for why Italy and Germany would cast their lot on the French side, even if one can come up with the idea of them being neutral, nor the United States - the only reason for why they would intervene is to protect their commerce and trade, but the Royal Navy is large enough and controls the seas enough that it can engage in a "polite" blockade as opposed to just sinking everything, and the UK is a much better trade partner than the French for most nations, so I'm doubtful that it would mean that they would go to war on France's behalf.

    Historically the traditionalist admirals who were in favor of this had basically no clue about how to apply it to fighting the UK (my favorite part is when they were deciding what their 6 modern Mediterranean battle ships should do if the English brought the Channel fleet to reinforce their own Mediterranean fleet, and it reads that the Mediterranean admiral would "himself judge which actions to take" - frankly the only appropriate one would involve a loaded pistol) and even at the height of Fashoda, it was utterly insane in that they laid out their war plans on fighting Italy. If the French were really committed to fighting England the traditional model of battlefleet centric operations would be infeasible in my eyes and would just produce an inferior version of the Royal Navy.

    But, does anybody else think that the traditional model might work? The French can't hope to match the English fleet size, but maybe they can have sufficient numbers of battleships to make the English back down? Especially since economy of scale would mean that increasing their battleship construction fund would drive down costs, so they could produce substantially larger numbers of more capable units than they did historically.
     
  5. catalfalque Wandering Historian

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2006
    Ropp certainly didn't think the Royal Navy was unbeatable, in fact he thought that the newest battleships had huge boiler problems and that French submarines, the best in the world at that time, would have proved an equaliser with the rest
     
    Hawkeye likes this.
  6. Tanc49 Domitian Truther

    Joined:
    Oct 9, 2014
    Would the French block Suez? At this point, the Brits have more to lose while the French are in a solid position to control all of West Africa

    I know the canal was a joint venture but not sure if it was operated by the French too
     
  7. longsword14 Communism: This time, we will get it right!

    Joined:
    Jan 16, 2015
    @Bad@logic
    Have you been reading Roksund's book lately ? :winkytongue:
     
  8. fasquardon Cosmonaut

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2012
    I am having a hard time seeing what could set this off...

    Maybe the British occupation of Egypt sparks more bitterness? (Hard to see how though, seeing as the British wanted France to come occupy Egypt with them.)

    fasquardon
     
    wtw likes this.
  9. FillyofDelphi Banned

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2017
    Perhaps France adopts a more Pro-Ottoman diplomatic stance (As for why, I'd need time to think. Economics are probably a factor, or a major fallout with Russia probably paired with additional alignment of Vienna in France's direction) and starts pushing for the restoration of Konstantinyye's authority in Egypt?
     
  10. fasquardon Cosmonaut

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2012
    Hmm. That might actually be welcomed by the British (who originally went to the Ottomans asking for them to intervene in Egypt, before they approached the French about a cooperative venture). I'm not sure when the British decided they actually quite liked holding Egypt...

    Maybe the PoD is that the French DO occupy Egypt with the British, and as things develop, the British start thinking that they'd like Egypt to themselves and start slowly working to push the French out of Egypt, meaning there is a steady drip feed of irritants to get the government in Paris thinking seriously about how to deal with Britain if she gets more aggressive.

    So when Fashoda happens, to the British it's an unwelcome setback to their schemes to become the prime power in Egypt and to the French it is yet another arrogant move from the British in the region.

    Still... I do feel like this is forcing the Brits to carry an idiot ball. They really just needed security for their investments, which doesn't push them to alienate the French at all.

    fasquardon
     
  11. FillyofDelphi Banned

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2017
    The issue though is that would require a POD of more than a decade before 1898 (1882). The way I'm looking at it, perhaps you'd be better served by the British finding themselves with reduced influence in Egypt as part of the Mahdist Wars (perhaps squandering their local military elements and finding it a money sink). If the Ottomans are in a somewhat better position due to butterflies, perhaps the British invite them back in to help bolster the position; thus weakening their relative position in both Egypt and Sudan in exchange for the security of their economic position there.

    In that case, there might be enough space to form paranoia (especially if a more agressive France adopts this rhetoric and is making friendly moves towards the Ottomans) that Britain might be at risk of a crisis forcing them to concede Egypt back to total Ottoman control and that it would result in favorable treatment for France in the region that would undermine the security if their Asiatic communications and their commercial position in East Africa. There's at the very least a rational there. It is dependent on France pushing the envelope though; perhaps out of a strict policy of trying to obtain their "India"/profitable jewel in the colonial crown
     
  12. Bad@logic Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2014
    Location:
    République populaire de Californie
    Actually yes, the very one haha.

    I don't think it is hard to find a colonial crisis. Fashoda was a relatively insignificant, in its own terms, stand-off, that was resolved relatively amicably, but it was a major prestige blow and the French navy completely changed its doctrine afterwards as well as making huge differences to its fleet composition. I'd suggest something like the 1893 Siam Crisis but more extended: maybe the French try to go all the way for Siam and the English force the French to settle for what they originally had, threatening to blockade France and attack French colonies and launching cruisers to place themselves threateningly close to Saigon. Perhaps stand-offs occur between French and British naval forces back in Europe on fleet maneuvers nearly, but not quite, sparking war. Although ultimately it doesn't actually harm French power levels much compared to OTL, and it certainly doesn't lead to war, it absolutely wrecks Anglo-French relationships and redirects French attention from planning for its principal maritime enemy to be Italy to instead be the UK. But really there are so many flash points around the world that one can find plenty of events like that, because both France and the UK are expansionist and running into conflict of interests. In fact I would find British expansionism or bellicosity sparking the war to be the most likely, and in stark contrast to the normal cliché of an aggressive France and passive and pacifist UK.
     
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2018
  13. Bad@logic Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2014
    Location:
    République populaire de Californie
    Anyway, returning to tactical-operational concerns, how do people think that the French Jeune école strategy would work against the British? There seem to have been two broad trains of thought in such regards, with one stressing a fleet with a great emphasis on torpedo boats and other lighter ships and then cruisers, and one which simply wanted cruisers (the flotte homogène). Would it have been sufficient to defend the French coasts, inflict dangerous losses on the Royal Navy, and destroy British trade to the extent that the British would either lose or be forced to sue for peace?
     
  14. fasquardon Cosmonaut

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2012
    I can see the jeune école strategy would inflict pain on the royal navy, but it doesn't have much in the way of war-finishing moves.

    Much depends, I think, on how limited a war France and Britain have.

    fasquardon
     
  15. Bad@logic Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2014
    Location:
    République populaire de Californie
    While the actual military effectiveness of the Jeune école strategy is debatable (I'm inclined to think that its commerce warfare strategy would be highly effective - right up until every nation on earth declares war on France for sinking their merchant ships right, left, and center), one element which I could see as being an important part of it for Fashoda is simply the deterrent effect. If their fleet proposals for a homogeneous cruiser fleet, or a cruiser and torpedo boat fleet, were approved then they might very well be able to have sufficient ships that to Britain a war with France would appear mutually assured destruction - Britain would win in the end but the destruction of its trade and commerce would be to the extent that its own empire would be fatally damaged. The British were after all, quite concerned about the French cruiser forces OTL, thought they needed at least a 2v1 numerical superiority in cruisers to protect their trade lanes, and are unable to, unlike the French, give up their battleship component to focus entirely on cruisers. Combine that with say, the Ethiopian part of the Marchand expedition working, so the French have local superiority perhaps (I don't know how many troops they were sending through) and with an amount of brinkmanship the result could be the English back down. In which case the Jeune école would have secured its focus without a shot being fired.
     
    Gwachiko likes this.
  16. fasquardon Cosmonaut

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2012
    I think the more "total" the war becomes, the more Jeune école strategy will perform badly. In a short war and/or a war that is kept localized to a region, it could perform well enough.

    I wonder how well a Jeune école fleet would perform as a "fleet in being"? As in, the French keep their cruisers and torpedo boats on a leash, can their threat tie down enough of the RN to allow a win in the colonial theatre? And would the French actually use such a fleet in this way? Or would their be a "use it or lose it" attitude?

    fasquardon
     
  17. Bad@logic Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2014
    Location:
    République populaire de Californie
    The French plans after Fashoda when the navy got serious about fighting the UK did envision attempting to tie down and force Royal Navy units to disperse under the Lanessan plan, but they seem to have envisioned that as a way for their battle fleet to gain local superiority, not for their colonial forces to do so. The Jeune école thinkers meanwhile, seem to have had a single-minded obsession with raiding British trade and much less interest in the colonial theater of operations. It might just be Roksund's book's portrayal of it, but overall they seem to have thought of the war in terms of a metropolitan conflict which would yield victory and then decide the situation in the colonies, rather than vice versa as the English did, in both the traditional and reformist schools.