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Author Topic: Historical "What ifs"  (Read 1191 times)

Langenator

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Historical "What ifs"
« on: March 26, 2020, 06:14:08 pm »
Something to distract from the current unpleasantness...imported from another (local) board.

What is your favorite historical "what if" scenario?

My contribution was this:
Quote
What if Germany reversed their WWI strategy, so that instead of playing defense against Russia while they attacked France, they adopted the strategic defensive against France while they went on the offensive against Russia?

In the actual events, the French army launched attacks into Alsace-Lorraine while the German main effort on the right wing was marching through Belgium. Those attacks were soundly defeated by the economy of force German army troops that were tasked with holding the line there. So we know that the Germans could have successfully defended against French attacks.

At almost the same time (late August and early September 1914) the lesser forces the Germans had left to face the Russians destroyed to Russian field armies at Tannenberg and First Masurian Lakes. If the Germans commit the bulk of their forces to fighting the Russians, can they inflict enough losses on the Russians to force them to sue for peace, while the French are still beating themselves bloody against the German defenses in the west?

Russia had a lot more available manpower, yes, but their poor transportation system would make massing forces difficult, especially if the Germans were continually attacking along the front to keep the Russians off balance. How many defeats could the Russians handle before the either cried Uncle or they collapsed?

Without the Germans attacking neutral Belgium, does England still enter the war? (Probably, but probably not as quickly, and only after a lot of domestic political argument.) If England doesn't enter the war, that means no blockade of Germany, and thus no U-boats, and thus most likely no U.S. entry into the war. What does that mean for world history?

This would also probably put Germany in a better position at the world political level, since they could claim that they were only aiding an ally (Austria-Hungary) who was being attacked by another country (Russia) that was not party to the initial Austrian-Serbian conflict. This would especially be true if they didn't launch any major offensive against the French.

If the Russian state did collapse, or even dissolve in a vaguely orderly manner, do the Bolsheviks still come out on top? Especially if the Germans have no need to inject the Lenin virus into Russia? And if the Bolsheviks don't come to power in Russia, there's no USSR, and what does that mean for the world as we know it?

And of course, if Germany were to adopt this strategy, and the war ends with any kind of successful outcome for Germany, where does that leave Corporal Hitler? Hopefully selling crappy watercolors on a street corner in Vienna, while regailing people with tales of his wartime exploits in some Gasthof in the evenings.

A couple of additional thoughts that occurred to me since the wrote the above:
- Germany was able to turn back the French attacks into Alsace-Lorraine in August 1917 fairly easily.  How much more effective would those defenses have been, if their war plan had called for a sustained strategic defensive in the area?

- It took roughly 2.5 years (August 1914 - Feb 1917) for the Tsarist government to collapse under the weight of the war, with the Russian front being a secondary effort for the Germans.  How much might that have been accelerated if the Russian front was Germany's main effort, and their focus placed on destroying as much of the Russian army as they could, as fast as they could?
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    kunkmiester

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    Re: Historical "What ifs"
    « Reply #1 on: March 26, 2020, 08:03:33 pm »
    So you suggest doing it earlier?  IIRC they did this later, pushing in on Russia, especially after letting Lenin out an disrupting Russia politically.
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    Langenator

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    Re: Historical "What ifs"
    « Reply #2 on: March 26, 2020, 10:49:33 pm »
    Not just earlier - straight from the get-go.  Let the French beat themselves bloody against prepared defenses in Alsace-Lorraine while they chew up the Russians.  There's also a chance (probably small, but still there) that if Germany doesn't actually invade France, that it's easier to come to a negotiated peace with France.  (One of the immovable obstacles in attempting a negotiated end to the war as it occurred was the fact that Germany insisted on retaining territory that it had occupied in France, and France insisted on getting it back.  There were lots of others, but that was a big one.)

    Remember, the Russian empire fell apart after 2.5 years of fighting against a largely defensive (at least at the strategic level) economy of force mission by the Germans (and an Austro-Hungarian army that was pretty much useless for anything offensive against anything resembling a peer competitor).  If the Germans make the Russian front their main effort, they would have had a lot more troops and resources available for an 'offensive defense' type campaign.  I'm not suggesting they march on Moscow.  Rather, conduct the kinds of flanking and encircling movements that the Prussians and their German descendants have excelled at since Fredrick the Elector, in order to chew up and destroy as much of the Russian army as possible.  The faster your beat up the Russian army, the faster the tsar falls.
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    coelacanth

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    Re: Historical "What ifs"
    « Reply #3 on: March 27, 2020, 02:14:31 am »
    Interesting speculation.   :hmm   I agree that if Germany had adopted a strategic defense posture against France and not invaded Belgium the British would have been hesitant to enter the war.  There was considerable distaste for Kaiser Wilhelm among the British - perhaps even animosity - but military adventurism is costly.   If the military situation in western Europe devolved into a stalemate with Germany turning its attention to Russia in the east and the Austro-Hungarian Empire and also the Ottoman Empire in the south they may have let well enough alone.   Especially if the thought of Germany bringing Tsarist Russia to its knees in short order meant it gave them free rein in the far east.

    Imperial Japan was considered an ally in WWI and even had a squadron of the Imperial Navy stationed in the Mediterranean to assist in patrol duties with the other allied powers.  If that alliance could have been strengthened both Russian and German influence in the far east would have waned to the point of insignificance.  Not an inconsiderable development considering the British Empire's presence there and the with the Germans keeping the French busy on the continent they would have less inclination and resources to consolidate colonial holdings in the area.

    Without British involvement in Europe early in the war there might never have been any American involvement there either.  In that event it is unlikely that Germany suffers the indignity of total defeat and the disaster that was the Versailles Treaty.  No Weimar Germany means no Adolf Hitler - at least not as we know him.  The rationale for WWII may have been largely absent in that event.  So, no WWII - no Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, so maybe some sort of nascent communism somewhere in the Balkans or central Asia or perhaps Spain but obviously a much different scenario than what we know. 

    No Soviet Union and a functioning alliance between Britain, Imperial Japan and the United States means the far east and the Pacific looks completely different as well.  Manchuria and the Korean peninsula might well have remained Imperial Japanese protectorates or at least areas of strong influence. The Japanese fear and loathing of Marxism/Communism would likely mean no such entity as the Communist China we know today.   A British Empire that never suffered the mauling of two world wars in rapid succession would be force to be reckoned with also in terms of global dominance. 

    No Soviet Union and no Communist China means Marxism/Communism might well have been confined to Latin America and the Caribbean.   :hmm
     

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    RMc

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    Re: Historical "What ifs"
    « Reply #4 on: March 27, 2020, 02:26:19 pm »
    Or...

    If the US had stayed out of the war the 1918 flu pandemic would have forcibly ended the conflict.    And perhaps limited the spread of influenza in the western hemisphere.   :coffee
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    ksuguy

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    Re: Historical "What ifs"
    « Reply #5 on: March 27, 2020, 07:07:28 pm »
    I have to wonder what the 2nd half of the 20th Century would have looked like if we had just nuked the s___ out of the Soviets between 1945 and 1949 before they got their own bomb.     
    Kansas

    Langenator

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    Re: Historical "What ifs"
    « Reply #6 on: March 27, 2020, 08:33:31 pm »
    Or...

    If the US had stayed out of the war the 1918 flu pandemic would have forcibly ended the conflict.    And perhaps limited the spread of influenza in the western hemisphere.   :coffee

    Actually, the "Spanish" Flu started in Kansas...Camp Funston was one of the epicenters, IIRC.  But, due to wartime censorship, the American press didn't report it.  The doughboys took it to Europe, where the Spanish press was the first to report on it, because they weren't involved in the war.
    TexasFortuna Fortis Paratus

    RMc

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    Re: Historical "What ifs"
    « Reply #7 on: March 29, 2020, 12:49:11 am »
    Actually, the "Spanish" Flu started in Kansas...Camp Funston was one of the epicenters, IIRC.  But, due to wartime censorship, the American press didn't report it.  The doughboys took it to Europe, where the Spanish press was the first to report on it, because they weren't involved in the war.

    It seems the question origin is not yet settled.  There are several possibilities, one of which is:

    "Historian Mark Humphries of Canada's Memorial University of Newfoundland says that newly unearthed records confirm that one of the side stories of the war—the mobilization of 96,000 Chinese laborers to work behind the British and French lines on World War I's Western Front—may have been the source of the pandemic."

    https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/1/140123-spanish-flu-1918-china-origins-pandemic-science-health/


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