WI: WW1 happened in the 1860s/1870s over German unification?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Taxationistheft, Nov 10, 2019.

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Which war would be most likely to escalate?

Poll closed Nov 22, 2019.
  1. Austro-Prussian War 1866

    16 vote(s)
    30.8%
  2. Franco-Prussian war 1870

    33 vote(s)
    63.5%
  3. Other (please specify in thread)

    3 vote(s)
    5.8%
  1. Taxationistheft Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2019
    Prussia conquered Germany without multiple powers banding together against them. But what if this wasn't the case? I envision two scenarios:
    a) The Austro-Prussian war escalates. France and/or Russia intervenes. It is worth bearing in why they didn't- Russia was to continue to focus on the Black Sea and gain a "friendly" stronger neighbour in Prussia (they were still bitter over Austrian intervention in Crimea) and France was promised some vague bit of the Rhineland and Napoleon III saw Austria as the key enemy. Maybe Napoleon III would be assassinated and France pursued a sane foreign policy?
    b) The Franco-Prussian war escalates. Perhaps the peace settlement with Austria would have been harsher, and therefore Austria signs an agreement with France? Perhaps Russia sees the clear and present danger and intervenes?
    Would Britain ally with Germany (despite the fact Disraeli correctly identified it would harm her position the most) to stop a French/Russian victory? Who would win? If anyone is a military historian, perhaps they could help (I know very little about military policy, but I do know about political history)

    P.S.- It is conceivable that the Danish war would have escalated also, but less likely (the British might save the key location as a method of containing Prussia, I guess)

    UPDATE 1: Summary post on 1870 timeline (I know @Mrfanboy also came up with a list, I'm just using this one because it has explanations on it:

    From what I can see, there are two clear blocks:

    Prussian block:

    Prussia (Franco-Prussian War)
    Russia: Austrian involvement convinces them to seize the initative in the Balkans by weakening Austria- they smell weakness by Hungarian insurrection and the failure of the compromise of 1867 following Austrian involvement, because the Hungarians believe the war is a ploy to roll back the Hungarian compromise. Hoping to gain Galicia and a free hand in the Balkans.

    Possible members:

    Britain (I think this is unlikely, but some have argued otherwise. Prussian expansionism did not sit well with British public opinion. The Russo-Prussian alliance means that the English probably wouldn't join, as it would directly enable Russian expansion- after Crimea, it was paramount for the british to avoid this)
    Italy (again, I think this is unlikely. They could use the war to seize irredentist claims against Austria and France. BUT they would probably sit neutral to try and extract concessions. Remember, they JUST unified Italy and were keen to garner international acceptance of their Rome annexation, by far the most important. They would not risk it all in a foreign war)

    French Block

    France (Franco-Prussian war)
    Austria (In this timeline, let's say the Treaty of Prague was harsher and Austria was forced to give up Bohemia. Austrian opinion is outraged and they are looking to rectify their position and regain prominence within Germany and undo the humiliation)

    Possible:

    The Ottoman Empire- To stop an ascendant Russia in the Balkans
    Britain- to safeguard the balance of power, both in Germany and in the Balkans (see several earlier posts)

    UPDATE 2: Summary of 1866 vs 1870 debate, relevant for the poll above.

    1866 (Austro-Prussian War).

    Merits: France would have to intervene, which is much easier than imagining Austria intervening in 1870
    Bismarck and others believed there was a real possibility of escalation if the Prussians attempted to march on Vienna. France was apparently ready to join. It's possible that Wilhelm I ignores his advice, Bismarck quits and France intervenes. Wilhelm I and Moltke were both keen on continuing the advance.
    If Prussia is more seriously pan-nationalist, they may attempt to unite Germany in the course of this war, perhaps with Austrian Germany included. This would certainly stoke French intervention.

    Cons:
    As pointed out by @cjc, France was hardly in a shape where it could fight Prussia effectively in 1866. It would be an almighty gamble.
    Domestic situation within France- Napoleon III did not need a foreign conflict to shore up his position in France, but he certainly did in 1870 (something like 3.3 million votes cast in favour of opposition candidates)
    Russia would be less likely to intervene than in a Franco-Prussian war, so in terms of "World War" the possibilities of escalation are more limited.

    1870 (Franco-Prussian war)

    Merits: There's a more realistic chance of France holding out for longer, and thus prompting Austrian intervention
    A harsher treaty of Prague where all of Bohemia (no, I'm not talking about little strips of territory...) is ceded to Prussia or the like, or significant indemnities are incurred, could easily prompt Austrian intervention.
    Russia might use this opportunity to retake the title of defender of Christians within the Ottoman Empire from Napoleon III, and to neuter Austria as a threat to the sphere of influence (see multitude of earlier posts for clearer explanation).

    Cons:

    There is a slight Catch-22 in that Austria can't intervene if the Treaty is too harsh, but wouldn't if the treaty was moderately more severe. I personally don't agree with this; Austria was close to intervening in the OTL, but some have raised this concern
    Russia might also not intervene (not wanting to help Austria or create a strong Prussian power)

    UPDATE 22/11: CHAPTER 1: THE WAR BEGINS:
    ‘The Balkans aren't worth the life of a single Pomeranian grenadier!’- Otto Von Bismarck, 1866.

    Chapter One of the European Tragedy: The Treaty of Prague.

    The War with Austria in known as Prussia as the ‘Kriegsprobe’ (War rehearsal) was swift and seemingly decisive, much in contrast of the conflict to come. Engineered by Otto Von Bismarck, this war was intended to drive out Austrian influence in Germany, to make sure that Prussia is not incorporated into some Greater German State. If German unity was to be inevitable, it must unite under Prussia, and not Austria; this war would pave the way for that, whilst making a ‘Kleindeutschland’, where Prussia- and more broadly Prussian Junkers- could dominate, possible. And at first it seemed as if the gamble worked. Although most of the German Confederation lined up against Prussia, Bismarck’s skilful diplomacy kept foreign powers out of the struggle. Prussia’s efficient and disciplined troops crushed the Austrians, already weakened by the 1859, decisively at Sadowa. But it was after that success, only 3 weeks into the war, that ruptures began to emerge.

    The fruits of victory were showered too fast onto Prussia. The victory at Konnigratz opened the door to the occupation of Vienna, and after all they’d only been at war three weeks. But Bismarck already agitated for a ceasefire. The terms of this ceasefire would see Venetia ceded to Italy and Austria kicked out of German affairs entirely, but not a foot of territory would be taken from the Hapsburgs. The military and monarchical authorities both questioned this; why should Prussia respond to complete victory with such a tepid peace? Moltke was strongly against it and urged the King to continue on his advance. Bismarck implored, pleaded and supplicated; breaking down into tears and smashing objects in the room, Bismarck insisted that the King would be responsible for a horrible and bloody escalation of the war if he was to continue to advance. In what many consider to be the turning points of Prussia’s fortunate, Wilhelm I did not listen. “Any peace with the Austrians must constitute a victor’s peace, not this strange political concoction. It is insulting to Prussian honour to accept otherwise.”. Thus Moltke won out and Prussia pushed for an annexationist war against Austria and decided to continue onto Vienna, much to the incredulity of the French. Bismarck, traumatised and distraught that Wilhelm I had destroyed his intricate plans, was forced to resign. The war continued.

    the war lasted only a month longer, but it set in motion a horrible chain of events. Wilhelm I got his little occupation of Vienna; the Austrians couldn’t muster enough troops to defend the city. The Prussian march through the city, memorably photograph, was to provide a permeant scar on the honour of the Austrian state. The peace treaty was harsh, both to German states that had so fatefully sided with the Austrians and to oppose Prussian expansion. Saxony and Hanover were annexed into the Kingdom of Prussia, along with Hesse-Kassel, Hesse-Darmstadt, Nassau, Saxe-Meiningen, Frankfurt, Reuss-Greiz, and Holstein. States that backed Prussia were forced into the “North German Confederation”. The South was left broadly alone. Prussia also annexed the “Saxon Corridor from Austria- a strip of territory running across Bohemia which included the town of Karslbad and Austrian Silesia. These are annexed into Prussia as the province of "New Silesia"- harking back to the days of Fredrick the Great. Venetia and some of Istria are lost to Italy.

    [​IMG]
    This Treaty caused international outcry. This railroading of tradition and vast annexations suddenly meant that the “lesser Global power” was a threat to national security for the Great Powers, especially France. France was promised a part of the Rhineland which she never received and was infuriated at this vast expansion of Prussian power; although the French army was too weak to intervene in 1866, a series of reforms initiated in 1867 onwards began to stabilise and modernise the army. The Austrian emperor, Franz Joseph, was force to sign the compromise of 1867 under domestic pressure, turning his empire into a dual monarchy. The British were worried by this upstart power too and concerned at the annexation of Hanover. Only Russia seemed to take Prussia’s side; although there were Pan-Slavic objections to this strong German power, their co-operation over Poland had conviced the Tsar that they were a better partner that the Hapsburgs, who had betrayed them in the course of the Crimean War. Moreover the Tsar was more preoccupied with the Balkans that Central Europe, and he knew a weakened Austria would give him a free hand in the Balkans. Prussia and Russia continued to work constructively.

    By 1869 the French and Austrians have agreed a mutual defence pact, clearly pointing the empires towards war. The French are dead set on containing Prussia; the domestic troubles convincing Napoleon III that he needs a foreign enemy. The situation in Austria is more complex. The Hungarians lobby against war, but German liberals, who are concerned about the triumph of an illiberal Prussia, and aggravate nationalist minority who want to row back the 1867 compromise and rectify national honur after the humiliation of 1867. It’s a hard decision for Franz Joseph, but the pro-war lobby wins out. The territorial loses are too hard to bare; they will be rectified. The large indemnity payment is also causing economic suffering, fuelling worries about a revolutionary collapse of the empire; the common enemy, Prussia, is needed to bring Austria together.

    The Spark for the war comes from Negotations that attempted to form the German Empire in 1870. The background to the Bavarian crisis was the Spanish Crisis, where a Prussia Hohenzollern was nearly crowned King of Spain, before backing down in the face of French pressure. Tensions were still simmering because Wilhelm I had not given a personal guarantee that he'd never endorse a Hohenzollern candidacy again, but the crisis humiliated Prussia. National opinion with Prussia was outraged. As Moltke commented wryly: "How could a nation that could defeat the Austrian Empire in 6 weeks back down to a Napoleon doppelganger's every little demand?". Wilhelm I was growing increasingly frustrated with the Franco-Austrian demands. And this brings us back to the Negotations with the Southern German states. France made it very clear during 1866 that annexations of these states would lead to war, and thus they were not incorporated into the North German Confederation. But Wilhelm I, needing a victory after the Spanish humilliation, re-opened the issue. A communique sent on the 12th September 1870 to Bavaria and the other Southern German states offered some autonomy (greater than the Northern members) if they'd agree to be part of the German Empire. However, France stepped in. France stated that they were willing to guarantee the independence of the South German states, with Austria adding that "The Austrian government, which has always shared a spiritual connection with fellow Southern German states, stands wholeheartedly in defence of Catholic Germany in response to Northern Prussian aggression". As a result, each of the states rejected membership. This was too much for Prussia. Wilhelm I summed the situation up.

    "Gentlemen, I will be cowed by the Bonaparte family no longer. For all of my childhood, the French rampaged through our homeland, took our resources and starved us dry. But Prussian honour and ingenuity won the day at the miraculous victories at Leipzig and Waterloo. It was because the German people united together against common aggression, and I believe that spirit still exists. The German people will rise to this challenge. We will not accept Bonaparte's dictat."

    Thus, after the failure of Negotations at London, Wilhelm I sent troops to occupy Munich, overwhelming the Bavarian forces, helped along by popular support. France declared this an attack upon her people and declared war on the 4th October 1870. Austria followed on the 7th October, saying that it would 'defend to the death the kinsmen of the Austrians', despite Hungarian opposition. The Great European War had begun.

     
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2019
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  2. Mr_Fanboy Well-Known Member

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    Jul 17, 2016
    Obviously, if you play around with the timeline for a few events, you could have this conflict occur more-or-less simultaneously with the American Civil War. Merging those conflicts would essentially give you a world war.

    Heck, even without that, there was some tension between the United States and the United Kingdom in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War (for instance, the Alabama Claims), so it would not outside the realm of possibility for a war to break out between these two countries at around the time that the Austro-Prussian or Franco-Prussian war escalates.
     
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  3. Roosevelt Mayor Mike

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    Personally I think it's more likely during the Franco-Prussian War. Have some battles go in France's favor, slowing down Prussia's advance into France. France and Austria-Hungary forge an alliance to go after Prussia/NGC, now Prussia is fighting a two-front war. I'm not sure about Russia, but its not impossible that Bismarck works to bring the Tsar in, perhaps offering some territorial concessions in Austria-Hungary if Prussia defeats France and AH?
     
  4. Taxationistheft Well-Known Member

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    @
    Yes. It is extremely possible that if a weakened Austria joins, Russia will seize their moment and attack. There are 2 reasons why maybe this wouldn't happen though. 1) By this point, Russia was growing aware of the dangers of a United Germany on their periphery 2) They'd probably use the chaos to attack the Ottoman Empire. Russia was too fixated on getting ships back into the Black Sea and the Balkans to see the danger.
     
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  5. Mr_Fanboy Well-Known Member

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    Jul 17, 2016
    So, possible coalitions...

    Column A

    Prussia
    Russia
    United States (maybe)

    Column B

    Austria-Hungary
    France
    United Kingdom (maybe)

    How might other countries, such as the Ottoman Empire and the nascent Kingdom of Italy, factor into such a conflict, if at all? In the case of the latter, Column A would seem like the only logical team for the Italians, as most of their irredentist claims were against Austria-Hungary and France. I suppose that one could also even things out by placing the Ottomans in Column B.
     
  6. Taxationistheft Well-Known Member

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    I think Italy would stay neutral. They got what they wanted- Rome- just because the French troops had to leave to fight the war. They would not risk aggravation of either side to maintain that considerable gain.

    UNLESS Austria does really badly. Then they would probably seize the last of the contested territories and take Trieste, Istria, Dalmatia etc. and get to sit at the table with the victors.
     
  7. Cryostorm Monthly Donor

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    Don't forget that they have some claims on French territories, the fact they they gave them in exchange of support being easily forgotten in nationalist fervor, and designs on the Ottomans so they may go the other way if those two do poorly. Of course it may just be called the General Western/European War since Asia, Africa, South America, and Oceania are mostly left out
     
  8. KingOnTheEdge Vive La Revolucion

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    Actually, what were german/chinese relations like at this time? Pretty sure the Anglo-Japanese alliance was instated by now and Japan was likely eyeing up a piece of the middle kingdom
     
  9. Cryostorm Monthly Donor

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    Nope, the alliance only happened in 1902. This is just after Japan exited the isolationist period and the Meiji Restoration had either yet to or had just occurred, depending on timing, so they weren't the asset they would become later.
     
  10. Taxationistheft Well-Known Member

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    Although I believe that the claims over Savoy and Nice were rather secondary because they were traded for Milan. It really kicked off what the Scramble for Africa and Tunisia, didn't it? For whatever reasons the Italian thought they had a historical claim to it and France frustrated that, causing them to join the Triple Alliance for German protection. But even the Savoy and Nice claims could be hammed up a lot if they want to join the war, so the government could make the claims on both their neighbours and join (remember, they are allied).
     
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  11. Cryostorm Monthly Donor

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    Ah right, it would be France, Austria, and the Ottomans together. Pretty much a dream come true for Italian revanchists and nationalists if they win.
     
  12. Mr_Fanboy Well-Known Member

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    Which brings us to the crux of the matter: in an early 1870's general conflict that pits Italy, Prussia, Russia, and the United States against Austria-Hungary, France, the Ottoman Empire, and the United Kingdom, all other factors being equal, which faction is most likely to win?
     
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  13. Cryostorm Monthly Donor

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    Honestly this is pretty much a toss up and likely depends on how successful Prussia and the United States are in the early days. If the US can drive hard enough into Canada to take up most the the UK's attention and Prussia does well enough to give Russia the time it needs to gear up then I think Prussia's alliance can pull it off.

    Two things are going to be crucial though, one is where do the South German states, especially Bavaria, align. Second is if this stays mostly a war of honor or unification with limited gains or if it becomes the total war and nothing less than unconditional surrender that WWI became because both change the calculus of how far each side will go before sueing for peace.
     
  14. Mr_Fanboy Well-Known Member

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    It would be interesting to see maps depicting what a peace treaty roughly as harsh as Versailles would look like in the event of either side winning.
     
  15. Mr_Fanboy Well-Known Member

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    Of course, one of these scenarios could have very well fulfilled several popular alternate history tropes (American Canada! Russian Constantinople! Greater Germany! Greater Italy!), whereas the other would have less going for it in that sense.
     
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  16. KingOnTheEdge Vive La Revolucion

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    The US didn't really keep a standing army till after otl's ww2, so the US would have to scrape up volunteers and would take heavy losses. I don't know if an anglosphere war is possible
     
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  17. M79 Well-Known Member

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    Have Russia back the US over the UK and France recognizing the CSA after the Trent Affair. Prussia sides with the US while AH decides this is her chance to hit Prussia and maybe retake Silesia. Prussia drags in much of northern Germany while Southern Germany lukewarmly backs her Vienna friends. Low Countries play neutral while almost-Italy decides France might be forced to hand over Rome and let the Eternal City rule Italy once more.
     
  18. Cryostorm Monthly Donor

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    But this is right after the Civil War so there are a lot of veterans who could be brought back in or used to train newer recruits if they are too old. Plus it would take the me for the UK to actually bring a lot of men to Canada since the vast majority are going to be in the home country or more restless parts of the empire. It would also take them a while to transport those same troops since no one really had the capacity to move large numbers of men, in the Crimean war the UK only fielded about 100,000 men. I honestly see the UK doing a Zimmerman and trying to get Mexico involved, and they might be more successful since they could actually support them with money and supplies which are a lot easier to move in bulk than people.

    What is really interesting is how the UK handles the wrench that just got thrown into world trade since both Russia and the US were two of the major grain exporters and also huge suppliers of raw materials. This is also the decade that the US overtook the UK in industrial production but this war could either speed it up or reverse the trend.
     
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2019
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  19. Mr_Fanboy Well-Known Member

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    Heck, if the British get really desperate on the North American front, they could also try to funnel weapons and supplies to various Indian tribes on the Great Plains in the hopes of tying American troops down in the West, potentially moving the Great Sioux War up a few years as essentially another front in this conflict.
     
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  20. RMcD94 Well-Known Member

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    How is that correct?