Ulster Fought and the Kaiser Won

Introduction

  • (Disclaimer: No, Imperial German Ulster does not feature in this timeline. At least, not yet.)

    The name of the Great European War, of 1914-1916, is in a sense as multi-faceted as the conflict itself. The name refers to the vast scale of the conflict, with armies
    larger than ever seen before clashing, death tolls reaching higher than had even been imagined in previous wars. The name refers to the all-encompassing nature of the war,
    both in terms of territory (in Europe, only seven nations were able to remain fully neutral, encompassing roughly 14.5 million people and only about 4.3 percent of Europe's total population)
    as well as in the manner it changed the lives of those living in both belligerent and even neutral nations. The name also indicates the great impact of the war - not only
    was it a massive conflict, the likes of which had never been seen before, but it also set Europe on the path that it remained on for most, if not all, of the 20th century
    and even beyond. The political crises in Germany and Russia alike brought the idea of a powerful, central monarch into harsh contrast with mass politics, while parliamentary
    rule was challenged, forced to evolve beyond what it had grown into in the previous centuries. Meanwhile Austria-Hungary, its own political leadership invigorated by the great
    prestige and clout gained from victory in the war, was able to reform into what is now seen by many as the definitive answer to ethnic nationalism, a true multi-ethnic state
    under the aegis of a dynasty but ruled by its many peoples.


    - Arnold Frankeson, introduction to The Great European War and Its Aftermath

    ---​

    The words were famous only days after they were spoken. Before the week was over, hundreds of thousands of Germans could easily complete the sentence given only the first three words. "Auch im Kriege" became a sort of phrase of its own, thrown in at the end of another argument or used as a short. The words themselves held obviously incomplete meaning: 'even in war'. They were from a speech given by Philipp Scheidemann in the Reichstag in December of 1916; the full sentence was "Auch im Kriege ist Deutschland Rechtsstaat", meaning 'even in war, Germany is a state of the rule of law'. The speech encapsulated much of what would in the following year explode into prominence during the political crisis in Germany. It primarily addressed the conduct of German soldiers and occupation forces in the region often referred to as 'Ober Ost', an area under German occupation for roughly a year before its annexation in the Treaty of Stockholm. Once the war ended, civilian officials poured into the area, replacing the military-state with the peacetime institutions of the German Empire.

    What they found was bound to cause trouble; several major figures within the German Army had argued in favor of continued military administration of the region, knowing that an influx of reporters, civil servants, and similar - as well as many political figures looking to inspect or prepare the region for the next Reichstag elections in which its (at the time) roughly million-strong voting block could prove a great asset - would lead to issues. Their efforts failed, and as a result stories of arbitrary executions, forced labor and other conduct which had previously, under military rule, been seen as necessary but was now viewed by the critical eyes of liberal and social-democratic commentators as clear breaches of German law, came to light. When Scheidemann gave his influential speech in the Reichstag, many were still unaware of the details of what had happened in Ober Ost during the war. Reports from the area spread slowly at first, blocked where possible by state actors sympathetic to the army or simply dismissed as 'lacking sufficient evidence to report' by more conservative papers. Not long after the "Rechtsstaat Speech", however, the dam broke. It was impossible for a newspaper to avoid the topic, impossible for any politically-minded German to not find themselves with an opinion on the matter after being bombarded with names, figures, and citations of legal codes.

    But of course, for all of this to come about, the war that began in 1914 had to be won. But to find the seeds which grew into the victory of Berlin, Vienna and their allies, a look all across Europe is necessary, going from the familiar military academies of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the inadequate ammunition stockpiles of the Imperial Russian Army and on to odder places, to London and onwards to Ireland. Once all the other pieces were in place, it would be there, in Ulster, that a decisive weight would be placed on the scales.
     
    Ireland and the Home Rule Crisis
  • Quick note before the main update: I was actually planning to do this yesterday, but some work related to it took a lot longer than planned so I delayed this part of the post.

    Then I spent almost all of the three hours and over a thousand words of writing just trying to lay out enough of the background of the PoD that it's actually coherent for someone who isn't already familiar with the situation; even then I've cut stuff (some will be tied in later, though) for length, because jeez and also because I want to make sure I'm writing UFatKW and not Ireland Is Complicated And Here's Why.

    So, instead of the original plan of one beefy update on the main PoD and the early development of the war, I'm going to mix-and-match a little, making it a big text update on the main PoD plus a map that says a lot about how 1914 goes but leaves room for another update.

    I'll also note here that I intend to stay fairly broad-strokes with the war itself; partly because I could very easily (I have both the inclination to and the books to enable it) go way too in-depth to reach 1915 any time before mid-2020 and partly because I want to focus on the post-war part of the timeline, as that's where a lot of the original ideas were and what I'm most eager to get into.

    So, then, without further preamble...

    ---

    Ireland and the Home Rule Crisis

    In 1801, the Kingdom of Ireland was merged with that of Great Britain, forming the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The Parliament of Ireland ceased to exist; 87 years later the Government of Ireland Bill 1886 (also known as the First Home Rule Bill) was introduced in the House of Commons and died there, unable to gain majority support. It was the first major attempt in Westminster to bring what was known as 'Home Rule' to Ireland after 1801, and would have resulted in the creation of a unicameral assembly to act as a devolved de facto parliament in Ireland, ending the participation of Irish members of parliament in Westminster. In 1893, the Government of Ireland Bill 1893 (AKA the Second Home Rule Bill), containing differences to the First Home Rule Bill but fundamentally focused on the same matter, as implied by the name. Unlike the first, the bill passed through the House of Commons only to be vetoed by the House of Lords; at this point in time, various Irish organizations had been campaigning for Home Rule for 23 years. It would be another 18 years until the Government of Ireland Act 1914 (AKA the Home Rule Act) passed after a constitutional crisis paved the way for its passing, allowing it to bypass the House of Lords after being unable to gain a majority there in 1912 or 1913.

    As the political battle in Westminster was coming to a close, the stage was being set for a very different sort of confrontation in Ireland. Amidst fears of "Rome Rule", an ascendant Catholic Church dominating politics in a new Irish Parliament, differing economic interests in the more rural southern Ireland and the industrial Belfast, and a total political overshadowing of the smaller Protestant population, over 471,000 signatures were gathered beneath the Ulster Covenant (which declared, for its over 230,000 male signatories, that they would "us[e] all means which may be found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule Parliament in Ireland [...] and mutually pledge ourselves to refuse to recognize [a Home Rule Parliament's] authority"). This pledge, made in late September 1912, would come into sharper focus the following year, when a 100,000-man-strong paramilitary force was formed: the Ulster Volunteers, a force dedicated to the resistance of Home Rule by whatever means proved necessary. As German weapons were smuggled into the country, the threat which lay beneath such statements grew into the specter of armed revolt.

    Of course, Ulster was not the only province of Ireland; its population was majority Catholic, Home Rule had been a key issue of the Irish party which had secured a majority of Ireland's MPs in Westminster. Without the fears that could be stirred up by the idea of the Pope ruling over and suppressing them, or that rural Irish would demand policies that cut into the core of their prosperity, the promise held within the Ulster Covenant was a threat. A threat seen by enough as in need of answering that in 1913, the Irish Volunteers were formed, taking on a historical motto ('Defence not Defiance') and a clearly-stated goal which placed them in firm opposition to an attempt by the UVF to break Home Rule: "to secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to the whole people of Ireland", as stated by Eoin MacNeill, the organization's head. The Irish Volunteers had no body of signatories to immediately draw from, but rapidly grew until they reached almost twice the size of the UVF in the last days of peace. Just as the Ulster Volunteers, the force brought in German rifles to arm itself.

    With two large armed camps gathering strength in Ireland, the situation had already degraded significantly, but more fuel would soon be fed to the fire. In March of 1914, with the Home Rule Act soon to make its final visit to the House of Commons and expected to pass, the question of a reaction to the stated aim of the UVF to at minimum ignore and likely outright rebel against the new Irish Parliament swirled within the British Cabinet. The possibility of taking military action against the Ulster Volunteers was considered, and the resulting incident rapidly revealed the cracks in any plan hinging on using the British Army to do so. Believing "active operations" were to begin in Ulster, a number of officers made clear that they would prefer resignation or dismissal to the carrying out of these orders. The necessity of the Irish Volunteers could now be argued with this - if the British Army would not enforce its laws, defend Home Rule and the "rights and liberties common to the whole people of Ireland", then clearly the Irish would need to do so themselves.

    On July 28th 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. In Britain, the final stages of the continental calamity had been outpaced just barely by the eruption of violence in Ireland. Only two days prior, Dublin was the scene of what became known as the Bachelor's Walk massacre; after confronting 1,000 freshly-armed Irish Volunteers, a force of British troops attacked protesters - described as throwing rocks and being hostile, but unarmed beyond said stones - with rifle fire as well as bayonets. The four dead and thirty-plus wounded sent waves of rage through Ireland, managing to bring the tension on the island to what would reveal itself to be just a few words below the point of boiling. It was in this environment that a carefully-prepared plan of the UVF was brought to its final stage of readiness. As Belgrade was already under the war's first bombardment, the UVF commander in Belfast sent a telegraph detailing that: "All difficulties have been overcome and we are in a very strong position", with a further guarantee that if the recipient were to "signify by the pre-arranged code that we are to go ahead, everything prepared will be carried out to the letter".

    The plan's origins are unclear, their source likely an officer who had gone over to the cause of what would become the Ulster Volunteers in 1910. Called "the Coup", it envisioned a rapid strike that would, seizing an opportunity to paralyze any response, be carried out by the UVF. While its source is unclear, their details are less so:

    Simultaneously:
    1. Cut rail lines so that no police or Army could be sent to Ulster.
    2. Cut telegraph and cable lines.
    3. Seize all depots containing arms, ammunition, etc.
    4. All avenues of approach by road for troops or police into Ulster should be closed by isolated detachments.
    5. Guns of field artillery [caliber] should be captured either by direct attack - or else by previous arrangement with the gunners.
    6. All depots for supply of troops or police should be captured.

    This plan, if carried out rapidly and with all of its obstacles overcome as per the telegraph, would place the Ulster Volunteer Force in control of the province, requiring a large-scale military response to pry the likely dug-in defenders out once they had positioned themselves at its borders. Worse, such action would inevitably require either using potentially unreliable (to the point of outright joining with the forces of the UVF, or simply refusing orders that would bring them into conflict with them) formations or potentially reducing the available land forces to the point that usage of the Irish Volunteers to bolster them would become necessary. Finally, the same cracks that were present in the British Army were present in its Royal Navy.

    The reply came quickly, only hours before a meeting that could have changed the course of British (and, European, and by extension world) history, bringing reconciliation or at least temporary relief from the issue of Irish Home Rule and Ulster. But instead, the attention of those who had originally planned to meet for other reasons was seized by the rapidly-forwarded copy of one of a handful of messages that had slipped out of Ulster just before the last lines were cut. Even as continental Europe hurled itself into war, millions of men mobilizing in the following days, Britain itself was plunged into a bloody conflict within its own borders.

    Ulster, it had been decided, would fight.

    ---

     
    The Opening of Belgium
  • The Opening of Belgium

    Only days after the eruption of fighting in Ulster, news of which had since spread through Britain and further to the continent, Germany gave Belgium an ultimatum. On the 24th of July, the Belgian government had declared its intent to uphold the country's neutrality in the event of war; as the last week of July came to an end, however, the situation had changed dramatically. Of the powers that had signed the 1839 Treaty of London and guaranteed Belgian neutrality, four were mobilizing against one another, leaving only Great Britain and the Netherlands as uninvolved parties; the former had just fallen into what would at minimum be a major revolt or, should the matter continue to escalate as it had in July, into outright civil war. As such, when, on the 1st of August, an ultimatum was delivered to Belgium by Germany, the decision to be made by Brussels far from easy. The Dutch could hardly be counted on to go to war with a great power alone for Belgium - they had themselves just declared neutrality in the current conflict.

    Further worsening the Belgian position were the results of a meeting on the 29th of July between German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg and Edward Goschen. Happening only a short time after the arrival of the news of the events in Ulster, the meeting represented an attempt by the German Chancellor to ensure that Britain would not join the war (which was at this point both to come and already ongoing); brought to a government in the midst of reacting to a crisis that had, and still was, eclipsing the continental conflict, the proposal was no masterpiece of diplomacy. Fundamentally, it was an outline of German war goals, promises as to their limits, and
    little else. Metropolitan France would not find any parts of itself under German rule, and Belgium would emerge from the war just as independent as it had been before it. Of course, the latter of these points all but demanded the British effectively renounce the old Treaty of London - they could hardly guarantee Belgian neutrality and accept German plans that apparently involved some interruption of their independence.

    Thus it was that Brussels, two days before receiving a German ultimatum, was given a quiet encouragement by Britain to "avoid conflict with Germany". An assurance followed, stating that if it was necessary the Belgians would receive British aid, but the situation in Britain and the preceding sentence both undermined any hope that the Belgian government could have drawn from it. The situation was clear, even if Germany had yet to make a direct move towards Belgium, and represented anything but a choice of neutrality or belligerence: either refuse Germany's demand and face invasion by their army, with likely assistance from France but at best minor aid from Britain
    until their internal troubles had been resolved, or accept German troops passing through Belgium and effectively side with Berlin and Vienna.

    When the German ultimatum arrived, "requesting" a reply within 24 hours under threat of viewing Belgium as an enemy nation, the Belgian government had already come to a decision. Paris, already warned of a potential movement of German forces in the north, now received a confirmation from Brussels. The Belgian Army, already partially mobilized on the 30th, was fully mobilized and received new orders. Only one hour before the expiration of the ultimatum, Berlin received a reply, one as unambiguous as they had demanded. While not total submission - several conditions were demanded by Belgium - the core of the message was clear.

    Belgium would allow German troops to move through.

    (Brief note at the start - apart from exclusion of a historical revision of the original text which cut out several passages and demanded a quicker response, this is a translation of a historical document rather than something I've made; the wording may be a bit off in some places as a result. I retrieved the original from here, not that it's of much use if you don't speak German.

    The Secretary of the Foreign Office to the Ambassador in Brussels

    Berlin, 29. July 1914​

    The imperial government is in possession of reliable communications regarding the planned deployment of French armed forces along the Maas from Givet to Namur. These messages leave no doubt regarding the intention of France to move against Germany via Belgian territory.

    The imperial government cannot overcome the worry that Belgium, despite its best wishes, may not have the capacity to withstand such a deployment of French forces with an expectation of success that is sufficient to guarantee safety against the threat this would pose to Germany without assistance. It is imperative that Germany, to preserve itself, must preempt the enemy attack. It is for this reason that it would fill the German government with the greatest sorrow, were Belgium to see in the defensive actions of Germany that have been forced upon it by its enemies, which require it to itself move onto Belgian territory, an act of hostility against itself.

    In order to preclude any misunderstanding, the imperial government declares the following:

    1. Germany does not intend any hostile actions towards Belgium. If Belgium wishes to take a position of benevolent neutrality towards Germany in the coming war, the German government would obligate itself to, when peace is made, not only guarantee in their entirety the vested rights (lit. "State of ownership/posession", may also be referring to contemporary Belgian borders) and independence of the Kingdom, but also be prepared to approach any claims of the Kingdom to compensation by territory at the cost of France in the most benevolent fashion.
    2. Germany obligates itself, under the above prerequisite, to clear Belgian territory as soon as peace is made.
    3. In the case of a friendly attitude on the part on Belgium, Germany is prepared to cooperate with royal Belgian officials to purchase in cash all needs of its troops and to repair any damage that may be caused by German troops.
    Should Belgium adopt a hostile stance towards German troops, especially in the case of causing trouble to the German advance by means of resistance at the Maas fortifications or by destruction of railways, streets, tunnels or other works of civil engineering, Germany will be forced to its own sorrow to view the Kingdom as an enemy. In this case Germany could not obligate itself to any actions regarding the Kingdom, and would be forced to leave the later arrangement of the relation two states to one another to the decision on the field of battle.

    The imperial government relinquishes itself to the specific hope that these eventualities do not come to pass, and that the royal Belgian government will know to take appropriate measures to avoid the occurrence of events as the aforementioned. In this case, the bonds of friendship which bind these two neighboring states would undergo a further and abiding strengthening.

    We (the original is something like 'your high-borns', which even with some fiddling would probably muddy the waters a bit too much, but it does seem to refer to "us", basically) wish to strictly confidentially inform the royal Belgian government of this and request an unambiguous response within 24 hours. [...]

    v. Jagow​
     
    Death of the Septemberprogramm
  • Death of the Septemberprogramm

    The German offensive into France in August was far from the perfectly-planned, clockwork charge to and through Paris that had been simultaneously hoped for by German planners and dreaded by those hoping for a Franco-Russian victory. Belgium's admittance of German troops, originally sprung upon by the Oberste Heeresleitung and civil administration as a method of ensuring the success of the plan to encircle and destroy France's armies, was not unconditional. The delays created by the Belgian government's conditions were not as severe as those that would result from the planned offensive into the country, but combined with the early warning they had given, they proved to be enough that when German troops crossed the border, stretching further west than had first been planned in an ambitious attempt to capitalize on the easy movement of troops through Belgium.

    French forces, concentrated south and east of where the primary German advance was now known to be focused, were rapidly reorganized - however, even after the shifting of two armies towards the underdefended border with Belgium, the bulk of French troops remained concentrated around the fortified Franco-German border. These then began an offensive into Alsace-Lorraine, first capturing Mülhausen (Mulhouse) before engaging in a costly push further north into Lorraine; almost all of the gains these early attacks made were lost only weeks later, either due to counter-offensives by German forces or as a result of French withdrawals in the face of the need for further redeployments to the west.

    Emerging from Belgium, which was itself in a brief, unstable limbo regarding its diplomatic status vis-à-vis France, German troops faced varying levels of opposition. In the north, Dunkirk fell rapidly, its defenders too few in number and equipment to resist for long. Lille was the site of a battle which favored the French until additional German forces forced a retreat, resulting in another brief siege and bombardment of a fortified but poorly-defended city. Maubeuge fell to the advancing Germans as well, but extracted a high toll from both the German attackers and the newly-arriving French who tried to repulse the final advance.

    Yet even as encounter battles and attempts to rapidly overcome fortified obstacles blunted the edge of the German forces, with casualties rising beyond expectations and presenting their own unique challenges to the German Army, they still pushed forwards. The French, increasingly bloodied after initial rapid successes in Alsace-Lorraine, were forced to withdraw, reshuffle, straining their railway network as tens of thousands of men were sent west.

    It was during the final days of the rapid advance of German forces that what would be known as the Septemberprogramm came into existence. The result of input from industrialists, military figures as well as discussions had by and with members of the bureaucracy, it summed up what the results of Germany's expected crushing victory were to be. Slivers of France were to be carved off - no large bites like in 1871, merely a few strategic slices, ideally to be granted to Belgium (but, as a note in the margins commented, even in the event of direct annexation, "earlier promises to Britain should not bar the path"). Belgium would then be securely placed in the role of subservient ally, and as a further 'reward' could be given privileged access to the second matter which dominated many of the discussions which birthed the Septemberprogramm: Mitteleuropa, a device by which a Prussia already ruling, through its "majority stake", Germany, which would in turn exert a similar type of control over a system of states tied to Berlin by primarily economic means.

    While it is possible to name an exact date - the 7th of September - for the first collection of the Septemberprogramm's catalogue of war goals, the date of its death is less exact. Convincing arguments could be made that the Battle of Amiens, which stopped the advance of the German First Army despite the technical victory, which pushed their French counterparts just past the city and into trenches which would take until October to be cleared. Similarly, the successful reinforcement of Reims and the halting of German forces there offers a tempting choice; after all, the city would stay in French hands until shortly before the fall of Paris, making it a much more permanent victory that the Germans had been stopped before it. Others emphasize the various battles further east, between Reims and Verdun. The argument is simple: even if the other German advances had been stalled, had they continued there they would have simultaneously threatened the flanks of both the defenders of Reims and the French forces still massed around their eastern fortifications.

    Broadly speaking, the circumstances that led to the creation of the Septemberprogramm - an apparent rapid, decisive military victory of Germany over France in the opening months of the war, coupled with successful defense against Russia in the East - changed significantly or ceased to exist between mid-September and early October, when the end of the Battle of the Oise marked the final "closing" of the front, as attempts by French and German forces to outflank one another rapidly led to the growth of a line of trenches from several points along the front line. 1914 would see several more German attacks, but none were able to achieve more than at most a regional advance of the front line; as the weather grew colder, German troops shifted to a defensive stance, expanding trenches that served them well in repulsing the generally less successful French attacks in the same period.

    Finally, as 1914 ended, the Septemberprogramm was replaced as a general guideline or goal with which to steer policy decisions by the "Payer Memorandum", which was itself even less of a strict policy than its predecessor. Named after the author of the original text, in which arguments are made for a negotiated peace, it quickly grew beyond the original idea and became a hybridized list of new war goals, political strategy and even guidelines for military operations. Gaining the name of "Peace Pincer" ("Friedenszange") and depicted in several political cartoons as a device to squeeze peace from the French through an industrial press combining military strength and "encircling policies of alliance".
     
    The Eastern Front in 1914
  • The War in the East

    "The common conception of the Great European War as the source of the technologies and doctrines of modern warfare is not entirely accurate. As is so often the case, innovations that were given an opportunity to prove themselves during the conflict did not spring fully-formed out of a genius inventor's mind after the battles had begun. Instead, they were built on a foundation of other developments, both technical and otherwise. In some cases the pioneering work of first invention had already been done by the time of the war. A perfect example for this late, war-spurred adoption of technology is the 'Motorgeschütz'. An armored, motorized vehicle on treads that carried a cannon built into a turret, itself on a swivel: aside from several details, such as the extensions made to allow passage over larger trenches and similar obstacles, it bears such resemblance to its modern descendents that in 1911 it could without reservation be called revolutionary. However, while its design predates the outbreak of the Great European War by several years, it was rejected until the experiences of German and Austro-Hungarian forces crossing the muddy roads of the Russian Empire's 'Vistula Country' set the armies of both countries onto the path towards rediscovery and development of the design."
    - Jean-Enrique de Fauld, introduction to 'History and Development of the Pfz and Other Tracked Fighting Vehicles'

    The war that began in August 1914 brought a kaleidoscope of emotion into the German high command. At its very beginning was an unexpected triumph, the opening of Belgium that meant a flanking strike into northern France could be conducted without the need to besiege Belgian fortresses or mask their army to cover the advancing forces. Then there were the early weeks in which the great gamble seemed to be paying off; a rapid victory over the French came ever closer, from the horizon to just outside of the army's reach. Disappointment and worry followed, with the nightmare scenario arising in almost full force: war with France and Russia, two fronts on the opposite sides of Germany. But, despite the pessimistic expectations of many in the army, Britain was not amongst those taking to the field against the German Empire. Better yet, the dreaded Russian steamroller - which at first seemed even more fatal than originally thought, mobilizing with speed below that of the other powers but still above expectations - had been bloodied early into the war with the battles in Galicia/southern Poland and East Prussia.

    Even as news from the west grew worse and the heady excitement of August cooled, a new optimism rose. Perhaps the nightmare of a two-front war was not all that it had been feared to be; while the movement of German troops from northern France to the east drew sharp criticism, the successful defense by those that remained against French attempts to retake lost ground, as well as the advances into Russian Poland, lead to the rise of a new confidence in the German Army. After all, one could perhaps muse in the closing weeks of 1914, German troops had proven themselves to be masters of both the attack *and* the defense, German leadership had led to the stunning victory of Allenstein (later known by its more propagandistic name, the Battle of Tannenberg), then the complete retreat of all Russian troops from German soil. Certainly, losses were significant even in the major victories, and every new advance was proving difficult in the face of tenacious Russian defense, but with the fever of nearly-grasped victory so few weeks in the past, these were easy to overlook.


    ***

    A New Plan

    Following the dismissal of Moltke the Younger in the face of the failure of the final attempt to outflank French forces and seize an early victory over France, culminating in the order for German troops to withdraw in the immediate aftermath of the Battle on the Oise, the change in personnel - Erich von Falkenhayn becoming the new Chief of the German General Staff - was to be followed by a change in strategy. In the face of developments in France, which showed that major efforts would be required to break through French defenses and that well-dug-in German troops could withstand attacks by larger French forces, a decision was made to postpone further offensives until the front could be reinforced. The German advance had come at the cost of significant losses, especially among officers, which first needed replacing before any build-up of additional troops could take place. Further was the issue of logistics; problems of ammunition had arisen during the last stage of the Battle on the Oise, and while the Belgian railways were undamaged, those in France were in need of months of effort to be fully repaired, making the delivery of reinforcements and supplies a matter of significant effort. The conclusion was to use the time demanded by logistical concerns to repair the French railways, begin the stockpiling of ammunition needed to ensure sufficient supplies were available for later attacks and allow for the formations on the front to be replenished.

    During this time, troops would be made available for attacks against Russia in the east, satisfying the requests of the rather suddenly well-known Paul von Hindenburg and his chief of staff, Erich Ludendorff. These attacks, made in conjunction with Austria-Hungary's forces, would spoil efforts by the Russians to begin their own offensive and push forwards until easily-defended positions were reached. Once the men in the east were dug in, the freed-up troops made available by the lesser demands of defense could be brought west again, utilizing the already-proven strength of the German railway system to rapidly move them from one front to the other. It was expected that the French, with much of their industry and population unavailable to them, could not match the results of a German rejuvenation during this "winter break", forcing them to either attempt further attacks with their depleted forces or rely on Russian attacks to redirect German forces to the east to give them further time to recover.

    ***

    Morale Over Men
    [Note: This is the secondary PoD, which is chronologically first but has a lesser total impact. Because of that and the more direct bridge between the Ulster Crisis and the Great European War, I waited until this one became relevant to get into it.]

    By 1905, Conrad von Hötzendorf could already look back on a successful career. Various commands, and several years as an influential teacher at the k.u.k. War College, gave him great weight in the Austro-Hungarian military, combining with his reputation as an innovative commander to further enhance the influence his ideas had on the doctrine and individual decision-making of those serving as officers in the k.u.k. Army. Contributing greatly to the development of the local form of the 'cult of the offensive' that had taken root in militaries across Europe, his ideas blended together apparent concern for the material conditions of the units under his command with a readiness to plunge them into the attacks which were by the end of the Russo-Japanese War clearly going to be quite costly.

    The answer to this apparent contradiction lay in a different view of what made up the fighting power of a military unit. Rather than viewing the individual men, and thereby the losses taken in an attack or other combat, as the source of its strength, von Hötzendorf placed that role on the morale of the group as a whole. A well-motivated smaller force could prevail against a larger, poorly-motivated one. Attacking allowed this difference in morale to be utilized to the fullest, finding its ultimate expression in the bayonet charge, an attack which demanded complete commitment and promised to scatter any enemy not equally willing to clash in the most direct, physical sense. From there his decisions as a commander arise; cantines offering proper meals to the men strengthen their morale, quartering officers together builds camaraderie, maneuvers outside the parade grounds ensured the men would be confident in the field. Attacks would keep the morale of the men high, making them something between a ends in of themselves and a sheer necessity for maintaining the fighting ability of the army.

    It was in the years between 1905 and 1914 that, as von Hötzendorf rose yet further within the military hierarchy, he made critical changes to his theories. The morale of any formation remained the decisive factor, and the attack a critical component of bringing this advantage to bear against the enemy, but what could be considered a concession to the physical body of the army was made. New recruits would require significant effort to 'pull up' to the level of morale already instilled in the other troops, officers time to establish the connections needed to operate within the unit. And so, a heresy emerged in the cult of the offensive, growing especially significant in the face of the threat of war with Russia: the idea of limited defense. It was hardly a new one, in many ways it was simply the old Prussian doctrine of parry-and-riposte, utilizing robust rail networks to supply and move a force into position for attack against a bloodied enemy.

    These new ideas would bloom rapidly in the face of a reorganized Austro-Hungarian mobilization, when Moltke the Younger informed his counterpart of German plans. Following several rapid attacks against the still-mobilizing Russian forces near Galicia, culminating in the near-capture of Lublin, Austro-Hungarian forces prepared for a defensive battle in expectation of a new offensive to come after the fall of France.
     
    Winter 1914/1915
  • The Alliance Dilemma

    As the new year began, two armies gazed at one another from the trenches neither had expected to need to build. The hope for rapid victory had faded, but while the German forces were expanding the ever-growing field fortifications meant to allow smaller forces to repel any French offensive that might begin before reinforcements from the Eastern Front arrrived, the French were confronted with a two-headed dilemma. The first was the obvious fact that they were inside their borders almost everywhere along the front, with the Germans holding many of the more industrially developed cities and worsening the already-existant problem that France alone could not win a war of attrition against the German Empire's larger population and larger industry. Thus the second dilemma emerged: if France could not win alone, Russia would need to make the knockout blow in the East, while the French kept the German Army's main force bound in the West.

    But the steamroller had already failed to start once, and the fall of Warsaw brought a nightmare scenario into the minds of the French leadership - if Russia sustained a string of such stinging defeats, without hope that the French Army could turn the tide or sufficiently weaken the pressure on Russian forces, they may simply cease fighting. Whether this worry played a role in the decision to begin what would be known alternatively as the "Battle of Poix" or "First Battle of Somme" is unclear, though the attacks were envisioned partly as a means to relieve pressure on Russia by forcing further German forces to be diverted to defense of their western gains. Instead, it served as a blood-soaked teacher, giving insight at the cost of deeply bleeding an already-weakened French Army which had already attempted insufficiently-supplied attacks in the previous months.

    Russia faced a similar, if different, dilemma - while the ability of the Russian Empire to raise and equip a force able to decisively defeat or grind down its Austro-Hungarian and German foes was not questioned, the significant setbacks and heavy (if far more easily-absorbed, compared to France and even Germany) losses of the first months of war had led to the conclusion that even the great Russian steamroller could not expect quick or easy victory. This raised further worries - even without the pressure from the Tsar, a collapse of France had to be avoided, lest the entirety of the German Army be assembled in the East. Thus, even as it became clear that the Russian Army was not sufficiently equipped for a major offensive, attacks to relieve France were begun as word came that the Germans were once again shifting troops.

    And so, as the cold began to ebb, spring saw all of the war's combatants battered by recent fighting, whether attacking or defending. For the moment, however, it was the German Empire which emerged from winter in the strongest position of the competing powers, with only a few small areas of Alsace-Lorraine under the control of enemy forces, its own industrial regions safe far from the fighting and its ports open for the many resources demanded by its war economy. What remained was the leveraging of this advantageous position.

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    The Channel Dilemma and the Irish Blockade

    At the outbreak of the Great European War, France's northern and western coasts were at best weakly defended - a previous naval agreement with Britain, in 1912, meant that French naval forces were concentrated in the Mediterranean Sea. Once the fighting began, a dilemma centered on the English Channel arose. Some in Westminster had argued that the agreement, even non-binding as it was, gave an obligation to Britain to defend France, but entering a continental war just days after an armed uprising had taken place on the British Isles was far outside of what the government was willing to risk. Instead, based partly on proposals already made by high-level figures in the British Admiralty, a policy of neutralization would be undertaken, blocking off access to the Channel by warships of belligerent powers as part of a broader effort to decisively end the flow of new arms and ammunition into Ireland, especially Ulster. After a period of one to three months, the areas further from Britain's coast would be "opened". For the French, this meant an opportunity to move their fleet before their German counterparts could exploit the lack of protection of the northern coast, mixed with disappointment at the lack of further British support and hope that the measure would still draw them into the conflict on the French side. In Berlin, the news was received with less hope, but less disappointment as well. The phrase "Pause statt Dreizig", literally "Break/Rest instead of Thirty", describes the German response - it was seen as the cost of keeping Britain out of the war entirely, the 'Thirty' being a shortened reference to the 29 ("around thirty") dreadnoughts of the Royal Navy.

    For Ireland, the Royal Navy patrols in the English Channel were generally at most a minor concern. Ulster was to be cut off entirely, blockaded by the Royal Navy and facing barricades on all land routes that might be used to bring supplies in from southern Ireland, which was itself affected by a less total but still significant reduction in imports, to primarily consist of searches for hidden weapons or ammunition. The blockade and decision to fortify land routes was envisioned as a means by which a potentially fatal test to the army and navy could be avoided: if orders to bombard or attack the Unionists of Ulster carried the risk of desertion, splintering forces and mutiny, they would simply be avoided. It was also a means to avoid large-scale fighting; even if the blockade carried its own costs, surely the leadership of the Ulster Volunteers would see the futility of holding an isolated, starving province and be moved to surrender. Even if the worst came to pass, and it would be necessary to "storm the Ulster fortress", as it was worded in one document, a period of blockade would both weaken the defenders and allow for the most reliable, carefully-screened British forces to be brought to bear.

    This move was not popular in Ireland. Already stirred up by the events of July, the news that Westminster was responding to the uprising by effectively cordoning off Ulster seemed to many like little more than recognition of the rebellion as something almost legitimate. If the Irish had revolted for Home Rule, it was asked in many a gathering, surely the response would be far more heavy-handed than a blockade - and in such a scenario, surely the Unionists would not have to see their own ships checked for smuggled arms. The Bachelor's Walk massacre had already been taken by many as a sign that the rebellious Unionists were in higher regard than the Irish merely seeking to protect the rights granted to them by the United Kingdom's own laws; it could then come as no surprise that the Irish Volunteers prepared themselves to do more than wait in their homes or at best stand watch at a barricade at the border to Ulster. Especially not as word spread, whether resting on the reports of those who slipped through one of the inevitable holes in the Ulster Volunteers' patrols or on fictional accounts or embellished tales even today remains unclear, of firefights, murder and arson within Ulster. There were, after all, Catholics even in the north, whether in the countryside or living along the same streets as the recruits of the UVF; trusting those willing to rise up in armed rebellion to keep themselves from being part of a majority-Catholic region with Home Rule with their safety hardly seemed wise even if one put no stock in these specific claims.

    If Ulster would fight, well - so would the Irish.
     
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