The Kaiser's World,
By Jim Stear
Second World War at Sea: The Kaiser’s Navy starts a series of alternative-history games and supplements based on the premise that the First World War ended in late 1916 with a negotiated peace. Developer Jim Stear lays out the premise of this Second Great War.
When Mike started this project, he sketched out a single time line in which the Kaiser, Tsar Alexei, young Kaiser Karl’s Austria and a version of Ottoman Turkey would have survived into the mid-20th century. I will confess I was against the idea, as I don’t like the idea of single alternatives when it comes to alternative history. However, if we can acknowledge there can be many outcomes to history’s challenges, and we are exploring but one possible alternative in some depth as compared to our own path, I can get on board with that. However I will still design scenarios assuming some gray around the course, as players will find. Call those, “alternate” alternate history.
Let us assume the nations of Europe fought for just under two and half years on the battlefields of Europe, and the world’s oceans, before settling down to an uneasy peace brokered by Woodrow Wilson of the United States. That in and of itself would have been a major blessing to the planet in the short term, saving the lives of some 15 million people. And depending on the nature of the peace, a second conflagration might have been avoided entirely, which took another 60 million lives. Take a moment and reflect on that: the souls extinguished, the contributions that might have been, from the simple happiness of a family welcoming home a son, brother or father, to the potential contribution of an Einstein or Salk not cut down in his youth. It’s a shame that we even assume there would be yet another convulsion between the world powers in the late 1930’s or early 1940’s, but humanity finds creative ways to destroy itself, and this time line is to prove no exception.
We skip ahead twenty-odd years, and find trouble brewing once again. While some would challenge the idea that we would have a global economic downturn in this time line, the seeds are there: like other crashes in 1873, 1893 and 2008, that of 1929 had its roots in massive fraud and corruption. The unemployed masses of France and Italy find solace in the idea that somehow, the old foes of Germany and Austria-Hungary are responsible for their hardship. On the global scene, Japan is making inroads in China, and eying German and Dutch (and French, and British) territories in Southeast Asia, much to the consternation of the Crown and the United States. Italy is picking up real estate in Africa with tacit support from France. Germany, France and Britain squabble over colonial trade; Britain takes an especially dim view of continued German intrigues in the Middle East and India. Imperial Russia harasses its former territories of Poland and the Baltic States, and also makes increasing demands on the Ottoman Turks, for access through the Bosporus. There is always trouble in the Balkans, between the small states, Austria-Hungary and the Ottomans. Italy nurses the long-standing grudge with Austria over the Italian communities still under the double eagle. The United States, trading partner to all, yet cautious with overseas alliances, watches nervously as the storm clouds gather once more. The disarmament treaties of the 1920’s begin to fall by the wayside by the mid-1930’s, as Europe, Japan and eventually, a concerned America, once again begin to prepare for war.
For this particular path, the trouble starts in Eastern and Southern Europe. Tsar Alexei, egged on by elements of the Kerensky group, pushes Poland and the Baltic States for territorial concessions, and threatens force if the demands are not met. To the south, Alexander of Serbia pushes claims against all his neighbors, while Romania and Bulgaria eye each other warily. And Mussolini, the self-styled loud-mouthed Il Duce of Italy, tired of just ranting against the fact that the Tyrol and Austrian Littoral are not part of the Kingdom, decides it is time to act.
So it begins. On August 1, 1940, Russian troops, mobilized during the previous month over border disputes, begin their advance into Poland. Warnings and ultimatums from Germany and Austria go unheeded, so within days, those empires declare their support for the Poles (and Latvians, who the Russians also aim to sweep up in the bargain), and begin to mobilize. This triggers a response from France and Italy, who likewise begin to make preparations, along with their Serbian allies. In the minds of some, the hour for crusade is fast arriving.
Ten days later, the first clashes occur between the Luftstreitkrafte and the Imperial Russian Air Force, and the War in the East begins in earnest. The German general staff begins to put into motion the cantankerous plans dealing with a war with Russia, while the Austrians do the same. Eyes to the west, however, reveal build-ups of French and Italian troops, and the every-present dagger held by Serbia stands poised over the southern provinces of the Austrian conglomerate. England declares her neutrality, as does the United States (which has her attention diverted to the Pacific). German ground forces make contact with their Polish counterparts, and by the end of August, are heavily engaged with the Russians, falling back under the weight of the assault plus confusion over Russian armored tactics and tactical air support.
On September 10, French armored forces smash toward the Ruhr, with Belgian assistance, while the Italians move against Tyrol and the Austrian Littoral. Excuses vary, but the fact remains: Russia’s western allies have struck first. The Germans and Austrians give way; in particular, the Austrian fleet heads south, under constant attack from Mussolini’s bombers. Panic in Germany ensues, as the French reach, and then cross, the Rhine.
On the high seas, the Kaiserliche Marine goes into action, unleashed by the All Highest in his hour of need. The Imperial German Naval Air Force is pressed into combat, while the heavy ships of the Hochseeflotte make nighttime runs down the coast to hurl shells into the territory of the enemy. Needless to say, Britain watches the Kaiser’s ships with some trepidation. On the high seas, Darlan sends his fleet against the Germans, seeking to disrupt their Atlantic trade, and further isolate the Boche from the world markets. In the Mediterranean, the German cruisers Goeben and Breslau lead the Entente forces on a merry chase, first striking at Italian and French colonies in Africa, before winding up together with their Austrian allies at Corfu.
This chapter sets of the stage for the opening of the Second Great War at Sea. By Fall 1940, Germany and Austria Hungary are fully engaged with Imperial Russia, Republican France and Fascist Italy, with desperate fighting across the continent. Meanwhile, the United States stands forth as the defender of neutrals and their rights, while England watches, concerns over German moves on the high seas weighing heavily in government circles.
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