Victorian Era British Army With Continental Commitments

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by SealTheRealDeal, Jun 9, 2018.

  1. SealTheRealDeal Well-Known Member

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    For much of its history England/Britain have had significant continental territories which it had to defend. Throughout the eighteenth century British possession of Hanover necessitated that it became a major participant in the land campaigns of the Cabinet Wars. The coronation of Queen Victoria and the corresponding break with Hanover meant that Britain was free to rely almost exclusively on the Royal Navy for its major defence needs, allowing for it to get by with a somewhat smaller army, much of which was tied down in colonial garrisons.

    So, what if the UK somehow remained in union with Hanover? How would the British army evolve with much greater impetus to keep pace with the continental Great Powers?
     
  2. raharris1973 Well-Known Member

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    Wonderful question-
     
  3. alexmilman Well-Known Member

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    How the issue of a possible German unification would affect this union? Clearly, unless Victoria is keen on an idea of being somebody's subject or, an option excluded from your premise, is willing to give Hanover away, the British troops available for the continental engagements should be somewhere on a scale of at least 150 - 200,000 by 1866 to be able to act as a force capable to change an outcome of the Prussian-Austrian War (both Austria and Prussia had been raising 400K+ sized armies). It seems that by 1861 there were approximately 220,000 of "other ranks" in all British territories serving for 21 years.

    How about division- and corps-level organization?
     
  4. vortiger Well-Known Member

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    i don't think Britain would change its policy in anyway. Britain was not responsible for the monarchs German possessions and i doubt parliament would suddenly decide to invest in the army unless British interests were directly affected.
     
  5. Tonifranz Well-Known Member

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    Wouldn't the Crimean War count as a continental commitment? The Crimea is a part of the continent of Europe.

    And that is after the personal union with Hanover.

    Besides, before 1837, how did the British Army evolve to defend Hanover?
     
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  6. El_Presidente Are you a rebelde?

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    Maybe the British recognize to potential of an united Germany and decide to do whatever they can to prevent that. Then, an alternate 1848 occurs that ends with the Prussian King deposed and the kingdom taken over by national liberals (with a puppet king). The king of Hannover is almost overthrown during said revolution and asks for help to Queen Victoria, who reluctantly accepts. After the revolution is over she must keep the troops there to prevent a prussian takeover.
     
  7. Peg Leg Pom Well-Known Member

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    Unless there's an actual Act of Union joining Hanover to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. If that's the case then I can see Parliament being forced to introduce conscription into the Militia. The Army would also be forced to opt for a counter to the Dreyse Needle Gun instead of the Enfield Rifled Musket without the Royal Navy standing between British territory and the Prussians.
     
  8. Fabius Maximus Unus qui nobis cunctando restituit rem

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    Crimea was a choice, in that Britain wasn't obliged to go to war. If Hannover was in a union with GB, on the other hand, Britain would be obliged to defend it. Hence the latter is considered a "commitment" whereas the former isn't.
     
  9. alexmilman Well-Known Member

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    Yes, but it was related to the British international policy, had nothing to do with Hanover and made it clear that the British military system has serious problems with raising the numbers needed even for a limited war on the continent. In OTL there were serious reforms addressing these issues but a need to defend Hanover would pose very serious demands which may go beyond these reforms.
     
  10. SealTheRealDeal Well-Known Member

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    Good to see this thread come to life.

    So they would probably need a total increase of at least 50%? Could Hanover pitch in? (Though OTL it only contributed a little under 22 thousand men to the German Federal Army so it might not count for much...)

    That's a good question, where the British particularly behind in this regard?

    While Parliament wasn't officially responsible for Hanover in any way, I think Britain's military history in the 1700s sets a fairly clear precedent for Britain defending Hanover as part of its empire.

    The Crimean War was a choice, iirc there wasn't even any formal alliance with the Ottomans prior to war's outbreak. Having Hanover means that land wars in Europe could be forced upon the UK, and it creates the possibility that the UK could have to face another Great Power alone on the land (in the Crimean War there were about three frenchmen and one and a half turks for every British soldier).

    I'm not sure what the British Army planned between 1815 and 1837, and that would be the important period as prior to the French Revolution European wars were on a much smaller scale.

    Would it necessarily have to do so?* I've seen a few arguments that infantry doctrine (aimed fire vs volley fire) was a bigger factor than the weapons (Dreyse Needle Gun vs Lorenz rifle) at Königgrätz.

    *as early as the Prussians, they'd definitely have to switch over to breach loaders by the time of metallic cartridges
     
  11. alexmilman Well-Known Member

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    Probably even more than 50%: 220K goes for all British troops all around the world but for you schema they'd either to have approximately that number need in Britain (on a permanent basis) or some reasonably strong army in Hanover to have enough time to bring reinforcements from the remote points of the empire (which would deplete their garrisons and create its own problems). As you already noticed, Hanover hardly could be expected to keep an army close to 100K (or even have of that number) so there would be a need for some very effective mobilization system, etc.

    How about the universal conscription in Britain? At some point volunteer (part-time?) service became popular but it is not the same. Not sure that this could be pushed through just for Hanover's sake but I'm not a specialist in the British domestic politics.


    I know that they had division and corps structures by the end of the Napoleonic Wars, there was definitely a cavalry division during the Crimean War but it seems that in the reforms prior to the reform of 1907 the changes were only of the regimental structures. Which may or may not mean that division as a standard military unit did not exist (or existed just as something purely administrative).
     
  12. Peg Leg Pom Well-Known Member

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    I'd say yes, simply because of the increased rate of fire allowed by the use of the Needle Gun. In tradition linier warfare the side that is able to put the greatest number of rounds down range in a given amount of time usually wins. Being in a situation where the potential enemy can theoretically fire two or three shots to every one of yours is something no general will accept willingly. (This is why the rifle wasn't universally issued until the mine ball allowed it to match the rate of fire of the musket despite its advantages in range and accuracy).
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2018
  13. vortiger Well-Known Member

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    i think Britain saw Hanover as an ally rather then part of its empire, but my point is still the same. Britain would act the same way it did during the 18th Century and leave Hanover to organise is own military and defense.Granted Britain would probably come to Hanover's aid, but there would be no backing to fund a large standing army for the sole purpose of defending Hanover.
     
  14. Fabius Maximus Unus qui nobis cunctando restituit rem

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    IIRC, most Continental armies adopted breech-loaders during the 1860s, the same decade Britain did. So it's not like Britain was lagging behind particularly IOTL, and I don't think things would be different ITTL.
     
  15. Peg Leg Pom Well-Known Member

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    My thinking here is that if Hanover is part of the Union then the British Army can no longer assume that there can be no surprise land attack. Having seen the needle gun in action during the German Revolutions of 1848-9 this may cause them to opt for a breach loader instead of the P53 Enfield. It wouldn't be the Dreyse, the Army had tested it and found it too fragile but there were alternatives. It would most likely be a cap lock breach loader as one of the criticisms the army had of the Dreyse was the fragility of the needle and Britain lacked the ability to manufacture metallic cartridges. As a result the British Army would go into the Crimean War with the P51 Minie rifle before introducing the new breach loader towards the end of that war. This in turn would soon be adapted to take metallic cartridges and be bought in quantity by both sides in the US Civil War.
     
  16. raharris1973 Well-Known Member

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    So that advances British military tech, but will not change the outcome of any wars on the continent without further PoDs.

    When would the next situation come along where having breech loaders they did not have yet in OTL would make a difference for the British? I would guess it would be something outside of Europe.
     
  17. Peg Leg Pom Well-Known Member

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    The Indian mutiny. The Indian Army will likely still be re-equipped with Rifled Muskets, so the stories about the grease used with the cartridges will still do the rounds and the mutiny still happens. The mutineers lost badly otl, this time facing British troops armed with Breach Loaders they'll be literally murdered.
     
  18. RodentRevolution Chewer of Wires

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    The thing is that following the introduction of the Minie and later Enfield Rifles the British went into one of their bouts of elite marksmanship, in fact it is when the Hythe School was first started. Aimed fire it was swiftly recognised was far more devastating than simply banging rounds down range...it is worth noting that the British did forget this lesson to their cost when they themselves adopted breech loading infantry arms and had to relearn it the hard way in the 2nd Boer War. So while there was a transitional period by the time the Prussian Army was fully equipped with Dreyse guns the British were not fighting in traditional linear lines but open order with an emphasis on long range marksmanship and individual aimed fire at all ranges.

    Thus we cannot assume the British would necessarily go to breech loaders much quicker than OTL...more so if the need is there for a mass army or even continental deployable militia...the Enfield P53 rifles and beyond were designed with mass production in mind, something the Deryse company struggled with. With this in mind you need to remain aware of the fact that some rifle in your hand is far superior to a better rifle still in bits at the factory.
     
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  19. RogueTraderEnthusiast You are like little Pronoia.

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    Honestly, a Victorian Era British Army with continental commitments is a massive about turn IMO, so much so that in order to prevent causing severe economic problems (labour shortages primarily, as well as fiscal costs) the British will have to turn to India and the colonies. Which changes everything.

    I agree with the idea of introducing better guns earlier, but needing to effectively move from "Rule" to "Play Nice" with the subcontinent demands significant changes to the Empire, as much from the need for large, loyal, British-Indian regiments that are less costly, to the demands of India as a result.

    Lets just say that we have the British resort to forming new Indian Forces for deployment. Usefully, they aren't going to side with Germans in Germany - unhelpfully reinforcements are quite far away.

    However, whilst forming new Indian forces that can be deployed in Germany is cheaper than British forces, this still impacts India - who'll have more influence via the dependence on their people for troops. More self-government, etc. Which could undermine the British economic model without a shift to effectively treating India as a Tax Colony rather than a Resource Colony.

    A weird aside is that this would likely reduce the impact of future famines, because not only is there more self-rule, so better policy and the ability to prevent money-famines, but there is also the impact of soldiers sending money home to reduce money-famines as well - and the political impact of having soldiers families starving should be obvious.

    So yeah, the biggest impact of Hanover being a British commitment IMO would be the large-scale transformation required to effectively supply troops in numbers capable of intimidating the French and Prussians, a shift to a form of Federal Empire around Tax Colonies rather than OTLs Empire.
     
  20. Gannt the chartist Well-Known Member

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    They would use the Prussian Army.

    The UK and Prussia are friendly powers, major trading partners, and generally on very good terms until after the Franco Prussian War and Prussia is the only threat to Hanover. Prussia has threats from France and Russia both of which are British Rivals and Austria ( at least theoretically) which is not.

    What you would have to do is unwind the German Confederation, no Hanover or have the world accept that the UK is part of it. Both Schesvig Holstein wars pan out differently - The UK is a neighbour that can arbitrate or a participant that can put a massive battle fleet off Copenhagen which kinda decides things in favour of the confed and in any event all of Bismarks OTL actions are against the background of both the Question and of Prussia being alone, in this situation it would be allied to a Great Power or its actions bringing it into conflict with Two Great powers, whoever and the UK.

    Essentially a different 19th century entirely.

    If the Marriages work out the same Frederick III has a much bigger voice in Prussian politics and the UK has a the Hanoverian Division and a free trade area including Oldenburg Mecklenburg and the North sea cities.

    But underlying it all is the only threat to Hanover is Prussia, our scholarly German Cousins.