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"Ideas for alternative reality naval focused WWI campaign" Topic

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Zookie11 Jun 2019 3:37 p.m. PST

I am trying to cook up an alternate reality campaign for WWI that was naval focused as opposed to land focused. Please feel free to make recommendations to make this scenario more realistic and/or interesting.

Here is the basic premise. In 1914 the Archduke of Austria-Hungary is assassinated. Instead of Germany supporting an Austria-Hungarian invasion of Serbia, it urges restraint and WWI as we know it is avoided. Germany and the UK continue their naval arms race. Russia and Germany become more friendly following German's protection of Serbia.

In order to fund the UKs naval building program it becomes increasing aggressive in controlling international trade alienating it from continental Europe. An increasingly frustrated USA chafes under the UK's domination of international trade, even as its economy outstrips the UK. Germany and Russia become increasing jealous of the UKs colonial empire.

In 1919 a several revolts break out in British India (this is historical) and Afghanistan invades British India triggering the 3rd Anglo-Afghan war (also historical). The British Empire brutally puts down the rebellions and counter attacks Afghanistan.

Without the pressures of WWI the Government of India Act is never passed and with UK troops busy in Afghanistan widespread revolts breakout across India.

Germany seeing a chance to strip the British Empire of its prize possession and Russia seeing a chance to revive the "Great Game" both declare support for an independent India.

What becomes known as the "Indian War" breaks out in 1920. Russia begins shipping weapons overland to support Indian rebels and the German navy begins to interdict transports of military supplies to India.

Japan honors its alliance with the UK in hopes of gaining control of Russian far east holdings in in the course of the war
In time the American population is shocked by the UKs brutal attempts to put down the revolt and India sympathize with the desire of a colony, particularly a British colony, to be independent. Also, the entry of Japan into the war aroused American suspicion of Japan threatening its hegemony in the Pacific.

The final result in a naval war where the UK tires to hold on to its control of India with support from Japan. While German, Russia and the US try to block British sea access to India so the colony can achieve independence. Though secretly both German and Russia have designs on carving up a post war India in a similar fashion to China at the time.

Thoughts? Too far out there? Any recommendations to make it a better campaign? Do you think that any other great powers would enter into such a conflict?

Dynaman878911 Jun 2019 4:09 p.m. PST

Usually I ignore alt-hist out of hand but this one sounds like it would be interesting and not toooo far out there.

Yellow Admiral11 Jun 2019 4:55 p.m. PST

Too far out there. Do it anyway. grin

I might suggest it would better serve your wargaming purposes and credulity to posit a series of smaller wars rather than one big war. E.g., Russia beats the UK in a fight for Afghanistan/Pakistan/Kashmir/etc. (but loses a naval war in the Baltic), then Japan beats Russia in a war over Manchuria (with a naval war in the Sea of Japan), then Japan beats the US in a war for the Philippines, then with Russia weakened the UK tries to take back Afghanistan but Germany jumps in and the big North Sea fight between dreadnought fleets can happen, then with the UK *and* US weakened they can fight a cruiser war over global trade lanes… and so on.

Until the Great War broke out, this is the way wars were fought by the great powers, and it's actually not much of a stretch to posit them doing it more.

I'm not sure how you keep France and Italy and Austria-Hungary from jumping in and widening the conflict, unless you posit that if France is at war with Italy (over Mediterranean islands and/or North African colonies…?) they will be too busy or worn down to join another war somewhere else. The Franco-Italian naval contest in the Mediterranean is actually one of my favorite "Great War What If" scenarios – lots of stuff to fight over, lots of ships to fight with. In fact, that contest might be worth 2-3 wars separated by ceasefires and short peaces in the 1910s and 1920s. A brief Anglo-Italian war over Malta could be a really fun episode to throw in too. Until Mussolini was overthrown, "Italia Irredenta" was a big plank in Italian politics.

- Ix

Zephyr111 Jun 2019 9:03 p.m. PST

I'd start the 'war' in 1900-ish instead of 1914. (That way you'd still have a pre-Tsushima Russian fleet.) Not sure how to initiate it 'politically' to get everybody to fight everybody, but it would be easier to mobilize fleets instead of massive land armies.

Bozkashi Jones12 Jun 2019 2:36 a.m. PST

Hang on – are we the baddies?!

GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP12 Jun 2019 3:17 a.m. PST

I'm not sure that just assuming that WW1 didn't happen would justify such a massive shift in policy and alliances.

The USA was not at all keen in 1917 to join an existing war in which it had taken losses at sea so public opinion there would have to make a bit shift to do as you say.

Russia was already falling apart in 1914, could it really have been able to mount such a costly expedition 5 years later ? Shipping supplies to the Afghans would have been no easy task either not only were communications poor but they passed through areas that were often in revolt.

France doesn't fit comfortably into your altered history either, technically an ally of both Russia & Britain and more likely to support Britain if Germany was opposed to them.

It is certainly an interesting idea but I think you may need to work the altered history back a bit further to make it feasible – not that it really matters but I always find that fun.

Jcfrog Supporting Member of TMP12 Jun 2019 4:43 a.m. PST

Easiest closest to possible:
Italy sticks to the triplice alliance and fights on central side. Austro italian but not cooperating wEll vs Fr, Uk, Japanese(!!) in the med.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP12 Jun 2019 6:18 a.m. PST

The USA hated the Anglo-Japanese naval relationship and made sure to wreck it post-WW1. I'd suggest therefore that a good counterfactual might be a Pacific campaign with the RN / IJN on one side, the USN on the other and Germany as a wild card somehow.

Japan's military objective would be to capture America's Pacific colonies, i.e. the Philippines and Guam. Britain would be drawn into this war by strict treaty obligation, meaning Japan would have to have first been attacked by the USA.

I'm not sure what would make the USA attack Japan, but something can be thought of. Maybe the IJN sends a squadron somewhere, the USA objects and the USN then mines it in? Technically that is perhaps a blockade, which is an act of war. So WW1 starts with America sinking the Shikishima….

You then have fleet actions, Australian infantry landings and by 1918 you have carriers.

Back in Europe, the RN still has to keep an eye on the HSF, but the latter can't realistically intervene anywhere outside the North Sea, even if at peace with the UK, because coal. So it stays in the North Sea, meaning much of the RN can move east. But you'd still need France and Italy onside as counterweights to the HSF and KuKM.

Maybe what happens there is that, to ensure the HSF is outnumbered, Italian frogmen attack Austria's battleships in port. This aims to allow the Italian battle fleet to sail to Scapa Flow because there's no capital ship threat left in the Med.

* What if that attack goes wrong?
* What if Goeben's in the Med – what does she then do?
* What if Imperator Nikolai I is in the Med – what does she then do?

Sounds quite fun to me!

Zookie12 Jun 2019 8:32 a.m. PST

I agree that a Russo-German alliance is probably the most far fetched aspect. Perhaps more of a cobelligerents situation. If India was in full revolt the Russians couldn't do much, its not like the infrastructure of central Asia at the time would allow for Russian divisions to sweep south. But a few thousand rifles with ammunition and technical advisors would be possible and I think would have a noticeable, though not large impact.

I don't think that Russia was on the verge of collapse pre WWI. In the real war it was able to mobilize without problems and even after the massive losses of 1914 it fought on for another 3 years. So I think it could have realistically supported a uprisings in South Asia.

This discussion has now got me interested in the idea of a UK/USA conflict with Germany as a wild card instead of vice versa. I'll have to think on that more.

I don't think it is was out of the question. There were war tensions building between the two prior to the American Civil war and afterwards boarder disputes with Canada continued until the later 19th century. The creation of War Plan Red in the 30s also indicated that it was not an unthinkable situation to American minds.

I am not sure that the UK would go to war with the US on behalf of the Japanese if the Japanese started the war. But perhaps if the US started it.

What situation could lead to an aggressive US in Asia? (the US was non-interventionist in European affairs, but it had no issues meddling in Asia at the time). Could a dispute of access to Chinese markets trigger a conflict with Japan or the UK?

Or could desires to annex parts of Canada be stoked in the US?

Yellow Admiral12 Jun 2019 9:00 a.m. PST

Easiest closest to possible:
Italy sticks to the triplice alliance and fights on central side.
Totally agree. I used to game this scenario all the time. It still holds a lot of fascination for me.

I think one of the points of the OP was to move the dates later than WWI.

- Ix

Yellow Admiral12 Jun 2019 9:08 a.m. PST

What situation could lead to an aggressive US in Asia? (the US was non-interventionist in European affairs, but it had no issues meddling in Asia at the time).
The US was interventionist in Asia, but after the Philippines, lost the taste for imperial conquest. Japan kept going until overreaching into WWII. I think it's far more plausible that Japan starts the war with the US, and I imagined a sneak attack on Manila as the opening move in a made-up Japanese-American War in order to have an excuse to fight with pre-dreadnought fleets (1908ish). The way Japan was behaving historically, you could move this same timeframe out to the 1910s or 1920s. Both sides developed war plans (e.g. War Plan Orange) based on a Japanese-American Pacific conflict, so it's really plausible.

- Ix

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP12 Jun 2019 9:27 a.m. PST

According to one writer,

(President) Wilson believed that

if Britain would not come to terms [on naval limitation], America would ‘build the biggest Navy in the world, matching theirs and exceeding it … and if they would not limit it, there would come another and more terrible and more bloody war and England would be wiped off the face of the map'…by the end of March 1919 relations between the naval officers of the two sides had degenerated to such an extent that the admirals threatened war and had to be restrained from assaulting each other.

- Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916–1931 (London: Allen Lane, 2014), p. vii.

So a war between the USA and GB was not unthinkable at all. Unlikely, but then so was WW1 itself.

There is quite a good wiki article on the Anglo-Japanese naval alliance.
Broadly it said that either party could do as it chose if threatened, and that each would support the other if at war with "more than one power". It explicitly excluded Japan from being obliged to assist Britain in defence of India, and Britain likewise vis a vis Korea. Japan joined in on Britain's side in WW1 because Britain was also at war with Austria-Hungary = "more than one power".

This makes it quite an interesting trigger from the standpoint of your campaign. If somehow Japan attacks in Indochina 25 years early, and ends up at war with say China and the USA, then GB was technically obliged by treaty to join in on her side. It's not at all hard to envisage how Japan gets to be at war with China and the USA, since in 1941 she was. Maybe Japan just attacks Korea, then the USA and China step in. The treaty kicks in, so China attacks India, as being at war with Britain she might as well. Japan does not have to join in. So the upshot is that all Japan's forces would be in the Pacific and SE Asia.

It's not too clear how the Germans get involved if not at war with Britain. They couldn't sail a fleet east because where would it operate from? One possibility might be a German battlecruiser squadron turns up and operates on the RN/IJN side from Japanese bases – not unthinkable given that Kaiser Bill was King George V's uncle. Germany's war goal is to acquire a decent port, a sort of German Singapore. Britain's goal is to thwart this while assisting Japan. Japan's goal is to relieve the USA of the Philippines, the Marshalls and perhaps Hawaii.

Interesting campaign if you are simulating WW1 era comms accurately!

Zookie12 Jun 2019 10:12 a.m. PST

Kaiser Wilhelm was the arbiter of a territorial dispute around the straights of San Juan (in the Pacific Northwest). He came down in favor of the Americans in 1872. Later there were border disputes on the Alaska/Canada border.

What if waterway disputes in the Pacific Northwest got tense and some low level British official shoots off his mouth about place mines to enforce the boundaries. It is just talk but then a US civilian ship has a coal fire explosion in the Puget Sound. Like the Spanish American War US newspaper raise the specter of British mines and the US declares war on the UK with the intent of seizing British Columbia and the Yukon to "End British Piracy!"

The Kaiser is deeply insulted that the British did not abide (in his perspective) with his prior arbitration declare support for the US (though does not officially declare war). British and US ships clash in the North Atlantic as the USN tries to prevent shipments of weapons and troops to Canada. To flex its naval muscles and gain international prestige the German Navy begins escorting civilian ships through the warzone of the Atlantic. The UK accuses German of using this as a cover to provide war materials to the US in the process and relations get tense. Then a German destroyer is misidentified (perhaps intentionally…) as a US warship and is sunk in the Mid-Atlantic by a British cruiser. Outraged Germany joins the war with the US and then Japan joins the war with on the side of the UK to honor its treaty (and to grab German and US outposts in the Pacific).

So, there is a two-ocean naval war with some minor ground combat in the west coast of Canada and pacific outposts. Japan attacking targets of opportunities in the Pacific. The threat of Germany keeps much of the Royal Navy stuck near home waters and the US and UK are in a slug fest in the Atlantic with commerce raiding by all 4 sides across the globe.

What do you think? Better than the first scenario?

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP12 Jun 2019 10:55 a.m. PST

Better than the first indeed, and feels plausible, although the North Sea end of the two-ocean war is going to play out much like 1914-1918 I would guess.

Although someone would probably grab Iceland. That would bring Denmark in. What would that lead to?

I think a Pacific campaign with WW1-era navies, i.e. no aircraft and no dedicated assault ships, would be great.

GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP12 Jun 2019 11:49 a.m. PST

But what about the various 'secret' treaties the UK has with France & Russia ? A French attack on Germany would not be out of the question but I still contend that, by 1919, Russia would be in the throes of revolt if not revolution.

I find it implausible that USA would take the risk of naval conflict with Britain, a much more industrially advanced nation, Germany, had tried that already and failed miserably. Britain could beat Germany while holding on to the Med & her colonies in 1914-18, against the weaker navy of the US it would have been easier.

Wilson could only make that threat because the whole of Europe was impoverished by WW1 and only the US had been able to make a profit from the war. I'd accept that naval limitation wasn't a popular subject with the RN or the British public but the British government was a lot more realistic about it than some historians seem to think.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP12 Jun 2019 12:13 p.m. PST

America does not and never did tolerate rivals or competitors. What better way to eclipse the Royal Navy than to destroy it in war?

The interesting thing about RN+IJN vs USN is the 2-ocean war it implies!

HMS Exeter12 Jun 2019 12:52 p.m. PST

A guy ran a campaign based on the premise that the US electorate, appalled by the excesses of the US military in suppressing the Philippine insurrection, elect the isolationist W.J. Bryan president in 1904, who orders the US out of the PI completely.

Being a plump prize, but not worth the deployment of large land forces, basically Japan and everyone with a base on the Chinese coast, makes a play to fill the power vacuum. Everyone gets their China squadrons, and can deploy other ships from their home fleets. Alliances can be made and broken. Anybody could end up fighting anybody. Each island gets one port, none of which are under anybody's control at start. First country to run a convoy to a port controls it. The first turn the holder can't run a supply convoy to their port, they lose it. Jump ball. First country to control 60% of the ports, wins. Even Spain should get a shot.

Since this is a limited conflict far from home, there is no shooting in Europe.

Much will turn on sorting out balance of forces that can be sent out. The US wants none of this. Japan cant be seen trammeling their European rivals for fear they will send massive reinforcements. They can only dare to commit just so much.

It's too far from home to bother sending mines or subs.

Russians in Manila. Brits in Davao. Spaniards on Palawan. Chinese on Leyte. Maybe the US come back as spoilers, trying to ensure the PI stay independent.

Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes… The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!

You know, a standard round of colonialist mayhem.

Zookie12 Jun 2019 1:07 p.m. PST

It is important to note that the UK joined the FWW because of Germany's invasion of Belgium, not out of obligation to France. France and the UK had a positive relationship in the early 20th century but I would not have called them allies pre WWI. I am not so sure France would get involved in a Anglo-German war unless their interests were directly threatened.

Also I am not sure that Germany was more industrialized that the US in even 1914. I found a figure the US had a GDP (in 1990 dollars) of 517,383,000,000, in 1913, compared to Germany's 265,354,000,000 and the UKs 347,850,000,000. By the 20th century the USA was an economic power house. Europe just was just slow to acknowledge that.

It is true that the USN was about half the size of the Royal Navy in 1914 and that number would not have likely been that different over the next ten years, but might have narrowed some. But with 1920 logistics the UK would have been hard pressed to wage offensive operations in American waters.
Especially if the US goal was not to destroy the Royal Navy in a decisive battle but to hamper transport to Canada. The Atlantic is a big battlefield, unlike the North Sea and the US could pick it battles carefully.

Also, we should not operate under the assumption that nations go to war only when it is logical or a good idea :)

GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP13 Jun 2019 11:22 a.m. PST


It might also be important to note that the British and French had a complete deployment plan already agreed and with staff trained to operate it AND an agreement in principle on the mutual deployment of naval forces to prevent duplication and wastage of effort.

France would not have supported Britain in a war outside Europe but they may well have taken an opportunity to attack Germany if they were distracted by other conflicts.

I don't think that the US was in any way underestimated by the European powers but most of its large production was for domestic use so the effect on Europeans was limited.

Remember also that the US had a long way to go to catch up with the European arms industries. In small arms they did excel to some extent but most of the other kit they used came from Europe or were European designs.

It is undoubtedly true that they had the capacity but did they have to will to divert all that wealth (almost all in private hands not under government control) to a long-term increase in military power ?

I'm not saying that your ideas are beyond the bounds of possibility only that they are a deal further from the more likely possibilities than you seem to think.

They do sound as if they'd make an interesting campaign.

Zookie13 Jun 2019 4:35 p.m. PST


Alternative history is sticky business. I suppose I am putting more thought into this that is really warranted, but I suppose that is half the fun.

What would you imagine for a more likely scenario for a large scale naval conflict in the Dreadnought era?

I've always thought it was interesting that for all of the money and effort that went into the early 20th century naval arms race, WWI never had the decisive naval combat envisioned by prewar theorists.

Yellow Admiral13 Jun 2019 11:07 p.m. PST

Tsushima freaked out the naval establishment. Battleships became too valuable to risk in combat. Nobody wanted to be the next Tsar, in bankrupting debt to a fleet on the bottom of the ocean.

We can argue all year about what would or wouldn't happen (and have fun doing it grin), but I'll say again that a series of smaller RJW-scale wars is easier to imagine, easier to rationalize, and the limited scope and physical area of a "little" war makes a better wargame campaign anyway.

For ideas, I recommend studying short wars and limited theaters, like the RJW, the Baltic theater in WWI, the Adriatic/Alpine theater of WWI, and the various War Plan games in the Avalanche Press GWAS series.

- Ix

w4golf27 Jun 2019 10:45 a.m. PST

The one I am wanting to play through is the traditional Italy sticks to the triple alliance. Setting up the Germany, Austria, Italy vs. UK, France, Russia but with some build up scheming before hand to alter probabilities of secondary powers entering the war and on which side, etc, having resource points to allocate to things.

Examples South American ship selling Chile, in particular, but also possibly Argentina, Brazil as the arms race down there cools due to resources.

Ability to sell off ships (and actually deliver them) to minor countries, or buy for quick, even if outdated resources, etc. This will also affect overall relations with those countries.

Responses to events that may alter timeline and relations. That way many factors could change, but hopefully in a semi-realistic manner. Turkey, Japan, US, others could remain neutral, while others may not or may alter their level of participation as things flow to make it more likely for an overall balance. It would be huge, but the range of battle from massive engagements, to small ship skirmishes would be fun and I'd like to focus on the Med where an initial Italian/Austrian + German Squadron fleet would have an advantage while events elsewhere could alter how quickly reinforcements could be sent by the UK.

A more likely to get off the ground would be a Franco-Italian scenario with all those strangely designed ships getting to clash head to head.

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