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 continues the premise of this Second Great War. You can read Part One here and Part Two here.
May of 1941, and what some are starting to call the Second Great War has been raging for ten months. Starting in the east in August 1940, with Russian moves against independent Poland and the Baltic States, the conflict quickly expands with Franco-Belgian and Italian lightning moves in the west against Germany and Austria-Hungary, with Serbia, Romania, Ottoman Turkey and Bulgaria added to the mix over the following months. And by April 1941, England has aligned herself with the Entente powers.
The addition of the Royal Navy to the Entente greatly changes the dynamic of the Second Great War at Sea. Whereas the Kaiserliche Marine held the upper hand on much of the world’s oceans, driving the French and Russians to seek shelter and adopt the raiding strategies of the Jeune Ecole, the entry of England into the conflict adds a powerful sea-going foe to Wilhelm’s enemies, one that need not fear confronting the Kaiser’s fleet.
Though early summer, the Atlantic becomes a free-for-all, as German and British ships both strike at enemy commerce and attempt to protect their own. Several dramatic engagements between capital ships, modernized battle cruisers as well as newer fast battleships, quickly heighten the sense of conflict. Curiously, in the North Sea no major moves are initially made beyond exploratory probes with limited numbers of aircraft, carriers and torpedo craft, not to mention mines and submarines. A British carrier raid stings the High Seas Fleet in Wilhelmshaven, quickly avenged by a Zeppelinträger strike against British bases at Scapa Flow and the west coast of Scotland. In the meantime, the British Army completes its mobilization and begins the move to the continent, to reinforce the French along the front in occupied Germany (and also along the Dutch border).
The months of April and May prove trying for Germany and Austria-Hungary, as the armies of Tsar Alexei strike with new spearheads, driving just beyond the southern Oder in Poland and Germany. Königsberg continues to starve under siege, reinforced only by sea. Danzig on the Vistula finally capitulates under the weight of Russian artillery and aerial bombardment. The Russian steamroller, modernized by the ambitious young Tsar, is accomplishing all the territorial gains desired by Alexei in his quest to restore Imperial Russia as a first-rank power and to keep the masses busy with either military work or the industries that support them.
Less optimistic news for the Entente comes from the South, where innovative Austrian tactics in the north together with pressure from Bulgaria in the south have forced the Serbs into a defensive stance. Austrian ports in Dalmatia are secure, the Serbs are driven back from the mountains overlooking Cattaro, and elements of the Austrian army and marines advance into Montenegro and Albania with little opposition. An effort by Il Duce to land troops at Bar to reinforce his southern European allies ends in disaster, leading to frustrations at home.
At sea, fierce battles take place between the Imperial and Royal Navy and the Regia Marina, with significant losses on both sides. While the Austrians benefit from the presence of a German zeppelin carrier and elements of the Luftstreitkräfte in the Mediterranean, the Italians have the benefit of their own submarines (and fast attack craft, in the confines of the Adriatic) and those submersibles of the Marine Nationale, along with a now-engaged Royal Navy based at Malta. Ottoman moves in the eastern Mediterranean further hurry British efforts to reinforce Il Duce.
June bears witness to several major events, all of which shake the course of the war. On June 3, 1941, old Wilhelm II dies suddenly, perhaps hastened along by the trials of the times. His eldest son, Frederick William Victor Augustus Ernest, is crowned Wilhelm III. Thanks to his constant engagement in the war effort, the transition is accomplished fairly smoothly. Tsar Alexei’s Eighth Army manages to separate Bulgaria from her Black Sea Coast, but still fails to deliver the Golden Horn to the Entente.
Pressured by First Sea Lord Sir Winston Churchill, the Royal Navy undertakes landings in Greece and an attack on the Dardanelles. These fare no better than they did some 25 years earlier. George II of Greece, son of Constantine and Sophie, orders his troops and naval forces to oppose the Entente, with the end result that by July, Austrian and German air and naval forces are in place in Crete. The Serbs find themselves surrounded on all fronts, while the Ottomans threaten Egypt and Arabia and the Russian Army is no closer to taking Istanbul (not Constantinople). But the most significant of all, is the Japanese move into Mongolia and Siberia, from their puppet state of Manchukuo.
Japanese and Russian puppet forces clash in late May. Long having had designs on Russian holdings in the Far East, the more radical members of the army faction in the Japanese government do not hesitate to let this crisis go to waste. They quickly arrange to use it as justification for moves against Imperial Russia. This is in contrast to the navy faction, which promotes a move south into the resource-rich islands of the Dutch East Indies, especially while the majority of the European colonial powers are struggling with one another.
In June, the Imperial Japanese Army strikes into Mongolia and Siberia, cutting the Trans-Siberian Railway and isolating the port of Vladivostok. The Russian Pacific Squadron is quickly dealt with by the Imperial Japanese Navy, leaving Vladivostok besieged. Tsar Alexei, stunned by this turn of events, orders the Imperial Army to reinforce the Far East and recover the lost territory. The British and French make noises of sputtering condemnation but are not willing at this point to commit against Imperial Japan, given the focus of the current conflict in the west. Harsher, borderline hysterical words come from Australia and Canada (the governor of French Indochina stays silent, but orders preparations made), and the United States takes as very dark view of these developments. The Central Powers make no significant comment on the Japanese move, as on the one hand they are thankful to have another power at war with the Russian juggernaut, while on the other, Japanese moves in Asia may indicate a coming reckoning with other European holdings in the Pacific including those still under German control.
The summer of 1941 gives way to some of the bitterest fighting seen since the end of the Great War some twenty years prior. Aerial warfare rages over the Western (Anglo-French-German) and Southern (Italian-Austrian fronts), while the North Sea finally sees the battle fleets of Germany and Great Britain clash, followed by extensive mine and submarine warfare.
June sees the largest naval engagement yet to take place in the war, as the Royal Navy charges south after a German coastal raid and comes to blows with the main elements of the High Seas Fleet. Much to the chagrin of both sides, battleships prove very resilient in the face of enemy gunfire, even the refitted veterans of the Great War. The real damage is done by flimsy torpedo planes by day, and fast-moving destroyers at night, along with the occasional lucky shot by a submarine.
The Kaiserliche Marine leaves the Royal Navy in possession of the field; however there are moderate losses on both sides. HMS Hood suffers a bad fire in her after turrets, while the old battleships Royal Oak and Barham are sunk by torpedoes, and the carrier Ark Royal by air arrack. The newer British warships Prince of Wales, Lion and Temeraire all suffer heavy damage. On the German side, the battleship Bayern is abandoned after being crippled, Tirpitz grounds outside the Jade and is a total loss, while Baden, Königin Luise, Mecklenburg and Zahringen will all spend extensive time in the yards. Two of the Zeppelin carriers of the German Naval Air Service are destroyed, and a third damaged beyond repair.
July sees a new Entente offensive in the West, as the French, reinforced by British troops, attempt to break across the Rhine and Lippe towards Münster. In a two-week free-for-all of armor, aircraft and poison gas (six months after Wiesbaden, this time first employed by the French, then reciprocated by the Germans), the French spearhead manages to cross the Rhine and advance some 10 miles before being halted by furious German counter-attacks and air strikes. Another rebuke, this time to both sides, comes from President Roosevelt, while the Dutch make furious protests to Paris after a French night aerial gas attack lands upon Enschede by mistake. Living in such close proximity to the horrors of “modern” warfare is wearing upon the people of The Netherlands, and as the western front fighting was precipitated by the French invasion of Germany, rumblings from Dutch ultra-nationalists over Entente aggression begin to resonate with the population at large. The Dutch army and navy are brought to a state of readiness, a move watched carefully by the combatants on both sides.
Frustrated with German use of Iceland, in early August Sir Winston pulls off a quick amphibious operation, much more successful than his ill-timed Greek intrigues, racing several transports to Reykjavik. German refueling locations in the Azores are dealt with within the month in a similar fashion. German commerce is beginning to shelter in what neutral ports remain, while the Kaiserliche Marine finds itself steadily turned out of the Atlantic.
Despite the danger posed by modern aircraft to slow-moving airships, the Marine Luftschiff Abteilung makes several daring nighttime raids over England, however the British ability to locate the monsters in the dark gives credence to the idea that the British have the technology to see in the dark.
The vast spaces of the Eastern front are surprisingly quiet through the summer, as the Imperial Russian Army consolidates its hold on Poland and the Baltic States. Unofficial reports of peace overtures from the young Tsar are greeted with hysteria in London, Paris and Rome. Fears surface that Russia, having accomplished much of what Alexei set out to do, might abandon its Entente partners, in order to concentrate in teaching Japan a lesson. And perhaps ramp up for a determined move against the Ottoman Turks.
The fall of Vladivostok and the opening of Russian Siberia to Japanese incursions by August are furiously discussed in the Duma, and a petition sent to the son of Nicholas II to do something. Bending to pressure from the Kerensky faction, Alexei orders Baron (later Count) Tukhachevsky, pioneer of Russian combined armored/aerial deep battle tactics, to prepare to deal with the Japanese. In the meantime, the Imperial Russian Air Service and those of Germany and Austria-Hungary continue to strike at key economic and military targets. Surprisingly, gas has yet to enter into the equation on this side of the war.
Late August sees the Royal Navy, having largely driven the German surface fleet from the Atlantic, playing a more active role in the Mediterranean. The close battles of the Adriatic have taken their toll on the Italians, while the French, can do little to supplement the Regia Marina against the Austrians. With Greece now sympathetic to the Central Powers, and General Udet’s planes in place in Crete, British convoys to and from Suez begin to face an interesting run. Towards September, it is apparent that Turkish forces are gathering for an attack into Egypt, while another Ottoman army in Kurdistan is gearing up for a move towards the Persian Gulf. While the aerial forces under Balbo and Nobile continue to battle those of the Dual Monarchy, the Regia Marina is content to remain in port for the most part. Getting convoys across from Gibraltar to Alexandria will fall to the Royal Navy, in the face of stiff opposition from the Central Powers.
We conclude our third chapter of the Second Great War at Sea, one year into the fight. Russia, France (with tiny Belgium), Italy, Romania and Britain make up the major players of the Entente, while Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Ottoman Turkey constitute the Central Powers. Poland and Lithuania are largely under Russian occupation. Iceland sits under British control, and the Germans have largely retreated from the Atlantic. Mindful of the war raging about them, the Dutch consider their options. Half-way around the world, Imperial Japan, firmly entrenched in China, has now struck at Russia’s Far East while the Tsar is occupied in Europe. Old Kaiser Wilhelm II, patron of the Hochseeflotte, has passed away. The Royal Navy shifts to the Mediterranean while keeping a watch upon the North Sea. And the British Admiralty begins to scheme to bring a quick end to the war using sea power.
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