|Black: German Empire. Grey: German client states.|
Though Hitler’s initial gains were more spectacular, the first Great War, far more than the second, was a close-run thing. In Hindsight, Germany’s strategy was exactly backwards. Their plan was to knock out France before Russia had fully mobilized, then turn and take on Russia. They should have knocked out Russia before it had fully mobilized, then taken on France.
Why? Firstly, Russia was more committed to war than France. While Germany was dealing with Russia, French attacks might have been less than vigorous, as happened in WWII. Once Russia and Serbia were knocked out of the war, France might have had little incentive to continue. They might have sued for an honourable peace; and Germany had no further territorial interests in the West, except perhaps for Luxembourg. Secondly, this might have kept England out of the war: they came in because of the violation of Belgian neutrality, and in fear of losing the balance of power between Germany and France in the West. No attempt to take out France quickly means no invasion of Belgium, and so perhaps no British entry. They had no love of, and much rivalry with, Russia. Thirdly, going after Russia immediately would have taken a great deal of pressure off of Austria and Turkey, who were both engaged with Russia in the East, but had no front with France. They needed the help; in the event, both collapsed during the war. Fourthly, defending in the West would have been much easier than Germany realized at the time. With the machine gun, defense was far cheaper and offense far more expensive than had previously been the case. Let France take all the awful losses of charging machine guns and completed trenchworks; meanwhile, the vast distances and Russia’s unreadiness still favoured a war of movement in the East. Fifthly, Russia was Germany’s main objective and main concern from the beginning: they wanted war now because they feared that Russia would be able to militarily overtake them in a few years. They had no similar quarrel with France. Sixthly, we know from actual events that Russia was politically weak and would probably not withstand well the shock of early defeat. The French Republic had sufficient popular support that it was strong and resilient.
So, in our alternative history scenario, Germany concentrates on Russia, and England stays neutral. Italy, acting purely out of self-interest at the time, has a treaty obligation to join the Central Powers. It stayed neutral, then joined the Entente, because it saw which way the wind was blowing. With England, its traditional ally, out, the wind might have looked better the other way. Italy would then have stayed neutral or even joined the Central Powers. The Italian reward might have been Tunisia, Corsica, Albania, even Savoy. Without Britain’s involvement, in turn, Germany would not have needed to be so active against shipping on the high seas, which means the US too would almost certainly have stayed out. Japan, like Italy out for the main chance, would have stayed neutral or allied with Germany.
Given that the whole war was a very close run thing anyway, this should have been enough to give Germany a clear victory. It could have knocked out Russia and taken Poland and the Baltic States as its own, kept its own possessions in Africa, China, and the Pacific, then, if France was not interested in a status quo ante peace, could probably have marched into Paris. As reward, Germany might have taken over France’s African possessions, for what they were worth.
|German cavalry on parade, Berlin.|
Having accomplished this, had there been, as is likely, a later collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Germany could have marched in unopposed and taken its various lands as her own. Turkey would be yet more solidly a German sphere of influence. Then, had war later come with England, Germany would have had the upper hand.
It really was close.