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Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 802
Joined: 2005
What if...
7/29/2021 10:02:16 AM
Brian G was generous enough to compliment me on a short post I made on the 'this day in history' thread about the death of the Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius II.

It got me thinking about the narrow margins of history, in that a single battle, death or random occurrence can reverberate right down through time. For example, had Theodosius' joint expedition in 442 A.D against the Vandals gone ahead, I believe the Romans would have recovered North Africa and Carthage from the recently arrived Vandals. With the tax base that would have brought back into the fold, I also believe the core of the Western Roman Empire would have survived for at least another hundred years (and possibly beyond). This would have completely changed the course of western European history. A combined Roman response to the Islamic invasions of the 7th century may have had world-changing consequences.

I know we kinda covered this before, in the 'decisive battles' thread, but does anyone wish to discuss any of those 'what if' moments of history where the outcome stood wholly in the balance? All examples or hypothetical scenarios welcome.

Cheers,

Colin
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"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5271
Joined: 2004
What if...
7/29/2021 3:18:36 PM
A brilliant idea, Colin !

That old expression of “ things turning on a sixpence”....maybe I’ve got the wrong one there, but you know what I mean.

What if the chauffeur of Francis Ferdinand hadn’t taken a wrong turning and driven down that road in Sarajevo, where a dejected Gravilo Princip was contemplating his predicament in a cafe, and took his chance when he saw the Archduke and his wife presenting a target ?

Of course, many will insist that the conflagration was bound to happen anyway , but I always prefer to argue for the contingencies , the chances and the choices that people make.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 3968
Joined: 2004
What if...
7/29/2021 6:34:11 PM
Colin, Phil, I think I like the idea, but I’m not sure whether we’re all thinking about the same idea! There are certainly differences between the examples each of you has offered, at least IMHO.

In the past, I’ve argued consistently against “what ifs” when discussing military history, or for that matter history in the broader sense. At the same time, I have often allowed myself to speculate about alternatives to actualities.

I think we could have a lot of fun with the idea, but would ask the following questions before hand:
• would the discussions be limited to military history?
• would arguments be confined to conscious decisions which, if differently determined, would have a likelihood of changing history dramatically, or would accidents of history (such as Phil’s example) be equally accepted?

To be honest, I can see some interesting concepts being bruited about. But I can also see long, often convoluted and contentious points of discussion, depending on how many members understand the issue. I could offer some commentary on Phil’s WW1 issue, e.g., but could offer not a single sensible word on Colin’s.

Anyone got any thoughts on where we might hang such a threat? Brian W, do you have any thoughts on the matter?

Cheers. And stay safe.
Brian G
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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 802
Joined: 2005
What if...
8/2/2021 9:34:10 AM
Hi Phil and Brian,

Thanks for your responses!

Brian asks:

Quote:

• would the discussions be limited to military history?
• would arguments be confined to conscious decisions which, if differently determined, would have a likelihood of changing history dramatically, or would accidents of history (such as Phil’s example) be equally accepted?


I'm open to discussing any aspect of history, but given it's a military history website, we might feel more comfortable focusing on that, at least initially?

I was thinking more about changes in decision making or alternate outcomes, but also happy to consider those happenstances along the lines of the intriguing example Phil suggests.

First up - familiar ground for most of us:

What if Horace Smith-Dorrien chooses to not to stand and fight at Le Cateau, but instead tries to continue the retreat from Mons without stopping. His corps is caught in the open and annihilated. Does the BEF pull out of the line? Will France survive the war in 1914 without the British actions at Ypres?

Cheers,

Colin
----------------------------------
"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."
scoucer
Berlin  Germany
Posts: 2924
Joined: 2010
What if...
8/4/2021 5:30:33 PM
Colin,

August/September 1914 - I think there is probably the largest collection of "what ifs" in history.

Trevor
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`Hey don´t the wars come easy and don´t the peace come hard`- Buffy Sainte-Marie Some swim with the stream. Some swim against the stream. Me - I´m stuck somewhere in the woods and can´t even find the stupid stream.
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 3968
Joined: 2004
What if...
8/4/2021 9:19:33 PM
I gotta say, Colin, that would send me back to my studies of August 1914 in a hurry! I haven’t looked at that for so long there are probably a whole new set of “must reads”.

One of my favourite questions involves Munich in 1938. What would have happened had Daladier and Chamberlain found spines and honoured their treaty with Czechoslovakia? German troops were not yet sufficiently numbered or motorized to defend two borders, and France had the largest army in Europe, with the Ruhr not far over the border. Poland, with what has been argued to be the second largest army in Europe, faces the north-eastern German border, and has aggressive tendencies herself. Could the German military of 1938 have prevailed in a simultaneous confrontation with France, Poland, Czechoslovakia and – belatedly, for obvious reasons – even a relatively small contingent of BEF? Would Il Duce support Hitler, under the terms of the Pact of Steel?

Cheers. And continue to stay safe.
Brian G

----------------------------------
"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 3968
Joined: 2004
What if...
8/4/2021 10:42:36 PM
Just BTW, Colin, I raised the issue of whether you were thinking general history or specifically military because the concept was posted in the General History forum.

Cheers. I still mask in public.
Brian G
----------------------------------
"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 802
Joined: 2005
What if...
8/5/2021 5:31:15 AM
Quote:
I gotta say, Colin, that would send me back to my studies of August 1914 in a hurry! I haven’t looked at that for so long there are probably a whole new set of “must reads”.

One of my favourite questions involves Munich in 1938. What would have happened had Daladier and Chamberlain found spines and honoured their treaty with Czechoslovakia? German troops were not yet sufficiently numbered or motorized to defend two borders, and France had the largest army in Europe, with the Ruhr not far over the border. Poland, with what has been argued to be the second largest army in Europe, faces the north-eastern German border, and has aggressive tendencies herself. Could the German military of 1938 have prevailed in a simultaneous confrontation with France, Poland, Czechoslovakia and – belatedly, for obvious reasons – even a relatively small contingent of BEF? Would Il Duce support Hitler, under the terms of the Pact of Steel?

Cheers. And continue to stay safe.
Brian G



Hi Brian,

Alongside the re-occupation of the Rhineland in 1936, this is a moment where history could well have changed. We know that some elements of the German army were not willing to commit Germany to fighting in 1936 or 1938, and were planning steps to remove Hitler if that moment came. I understand some tried to alert the western allies as to how precarious Germany's military situation truly was, but this fell on deaf ears. Much like poor George McLellan in 1862, British and French leaders had an unfortunate habit of overestimating the strength of their enemies.

You correctly identify most of the key players, but consider also that the Czechs were allied to the Soviet Union. The Poles had no intention of letting the Red Army march across its land (lest they never leave) to assist the Czechs, but surely a way could have been found to get military assistance to them. The Czech border with Germany is mountainous, the Czech army well supplied with decent motorised vehicles and small arms. I don't think the Germans would have been able to sweep through there like they did against Poland.

Germany, facing real fighting simultaneously on almost all sides, plus a blockade from the Royal Navy, would have been in a perilous state. Hitler's gamble at Munich is astonishing in hindsight; it's easy for us to lambast Britain and France now, but little attention is paid to how good a card player Hitler must have been to hoodwink the two remaining major colonial powers.

So, the 'what if'; Hitler's bluff is called, fighting begins. Italy reneges on the 'Pact of Steel' Il Duce sees the ridiculous odds against Germany. The German army is spread thin, pushed back on all fronts. The French advance over the Rhine, taking casualties but making steady progress. The Poles fight the eastern command of the German army in some 'back and forth' engagements with no decisive outcome. Supplies of raw goods become almost instantly scare (due to the blockade) as the Nazi regime hasn't stockpiled much yet. The United States nominally stays neutral, but extends huge credit lines to the British and French as they fund their war effort. For Germany, the situation is worse than 1918 and murmurs of discontent become shouts. Hitler is arrested and deposed by senior army officers. The allies impose a provisional government upon Germany and set about dismantling the Luftwaffe, which performed well, even in its small numbers.

A world moving into the 1940s with no Nazi Germany offers endless alternative history!

Cheers,

Colin
----------------------------------
"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."
Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 802
Joined: 2005
What if...
8/5/2021 5:32:19 AM
Quote:
Just BTW, Colin, I raised the issue of whether you were thinking general history or specifically military because the concept was posted in the General History forum.

Cheers. I still mask in public.
Brian G


No problem Brian. I only posted here as it tends to be more active than the general military history forum and also wanted to include possibilities of non-military history, but I appreciate in hindsight I should have perhaps posted elsewhere.

Cheers,

Colin
----------------------------------
"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5271
Joined: 2004
What if...
8/5/2021 8:01:42 AM
Quote:


What if Horace Smith-Dorrien chooses to not to stand and fight at Le Cateau, but instead tries to continue the retreat from Mons without stopping. His corps is caught in the open and annihilated. Does the BEF pull out of the line? Will France survive the war in 1914 without the British actions at Ypres?

Cheers,

Colin


That's a difficult one to wrestle with !

I reckon that SD's Corps was dissolving so quickly through straggling, exhaustion and demoralisation that the stand was forced upon him. A case of making a virtue of necessity ? The losses were frightening, but they comprised, in the main, of men captured. Had the retreat continued without attempting the stand, it's my opinion that the command would have withered away, with most of them behind wire in German camps.

Regards, Phil
----------------------------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5271
Joined: 2004
What if...
8/5/2021 8:05:46 AM
Quote:
Hitler's gamble at Munich is astonishing in hindsight


Colin


Gamble, or calculated risk ? I think that there's a difference. That sounds pedantic : but, as you say, Colin, Hitler was shrewd and knew how to exploit weakness in others. OTOH, did he believe that Lady Luck favoured him, with hair breadth escapes in the trenches of the Great War and one or two failed assassination attempts ?

Regards, Phil
----------------------------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 3968
Joined: 2004
What if...
8/5/2021 9:02:56 PM
Neville Chamberlain was, of course, praised for bring “peace in our time” back from Munich, with a piece of paper as proof. Daladier received even higher praise in France. Could either of them have been rejected by their electorate for returning with at least the threat of war as their legacy from Munich? We argue after the fact about policies of appeasement, but appeasement reflected majority values in both France and GB until the Czech region was overpowered and the Slovak rump was dissolved. On Sept 30, 1938, going to war was not a majority option of choice.

So Hitler does not necessarily commit troops to Czechoslovakia, but continues Fifth Column activities in Sudetenland. If the French/GB attack Germany over his activities, they become the aggressor states, which IMHO was seen by both governments as worse than selling out national honour. Elections are held in both GB and France, leading to the election of avowed appeasers, or at least least leaders more prepared to deal with Germany through peaceful negotiation. WSC, already considered a “hawk”, would not be an issue; Chamberlain would have reduced whatever popularity he has. Halifax has strong support in both Houses, and has demonstrated his belief in diplomatic solutions to the rising strength of Germany. He is one obvious choice as PM for GB.

Those are just a few alternatives to your alternative, and that’s without considering the military capabilities of the nations involved. The RN, e.g., certainly could have generated a blockade, but to be totally effective that would have brought RN into conflict with US maritime and naval values. RAF BC capabilities, never very good in the first 2+ years of the war, would be weakened further, as would BEF access to German territory without Dutch and Belgian entry into any conflict.

I’m certain that, had Germany instituted conflict with Czechoslovakia they would have beaten them; however we view the matter in hindsight, there was strong upport for German demands in the Sudeten. I’m also prepared to agree with Colin that the Luftwaffe, however incrementally weaker in 1938 than it might be in 1939, had enough training in SCW to make them a major factor against Czechs, French, British or Polish armies.

Anyway, I could probably create scenarios which are widely divergent with no real stretch of the military/diplomatic situation at the time. Sadly, I can argue with some strength that 1940 could have seen a strong Germany holding economic, diplomatic and social power across Europe from Denmark to the Balkan states. I wouldn’t be happy with such a scenario, but that’s another matter.

Cheers. And continue to keep yourself safe.
Brian G


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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
scoucer
Berlin  Germany
Posts: 2924
Joined: 2010
What if...
8/6/2021 2:42:21 PM
Quote:
Quote:


What if Horace Smith-Dorrien chooses to not to stand and fight at Le Cateau, but instead tries to continue the retreat from Mons without stopping. His corps is caught in the open and annihilated. Does the BEF pull out of the line? Will France survive the war in 1914 without the British actions at Ypres?

Cheers,

Colin


That's a difficult one to wrestle with !

I reckon that SD's Corps was dissolving so quickly through straggling, exhaustion and demoralisation that the stand was forced upon him. A case of making a virtue of necessity ? The losses were frightening, but they comprised, in the main, of men captured. Had the retreat continued without attempting the stand, it's my opinion that the command would have withered away, with most of them behind wire in German camps.

Regards, Phil



Just as a matter of info. Coincidently, on 16 August at 8pm (UK time), The Western Front Association are doing a free online Lecture - "The Battle that Saved the BEF: Le Cateau, 1914 by Dr Spencer Jones".

Trevor
----------------------------------
`Hey don´t the wars come easy and don´t the peace come hard`- Buffy Sainte-Marie Some swim with the stream. Some swim against the stream. Me - I´m stuck somewhere in the woods and can´t even find the stupid stream.

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