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Peter G. Tsouras - ed.

Spencer Jones - ed.


Sub-Title: Alternate Histories of the First World War - frontline Books, London, 2014, 210 pgs. maps, illustrations, bibliography, notes. The editors are also the principle authors


Reviewer comments: Another fine addition to the Tsouras production of imaginative 'what if' literature focused on military scenarios. In this one he has collaborated with British authors for some essays on British topics. Tsouras is especially strong on the Russian episodes as he is a scholar on Russian military affairs. We can forgive him for throwing in a very imaginative story centered on the Greek capture of Constantinople. The maps are excellent. I especially enjoy the deft use of the typical vocabulary one reads in accounts of actual military history. In each case the authors do not simply launch into a revisionist account, but rather create an altered 'historical' background of sufficient depth to make the subsequent account of the events plausible. And they follow through with some theoretical results. Then they bring the readers back to earth with a short summary of what really happened.


Chapter 1 - Der Tage: The German Decision to Go East in 1914 - Peter Tsouras - This 'alternate' relies on the German logistics - transportation - general being able to convince the Kaiser and Chief of Staff that there was a mobilization plan for war against Russia comparable to the Schlieffen Plan to invade France via Belgium. It turns out that there indeed was such a plan, but it was ignored. And the Schlieffen Plan itself was faulty at the operational level as well as political level.


Chapter 2 - Vormarch! The Breakthrough at Ypres, 1914 - Spencer Jones - Rather than the tactical victory described in this 'alternate' the German attack at Ypres failed. And this failure was critical in upending the entire Schlieffen plan. The British victory was remarkable and hinged on contingencies that are the characteristic of history.


Chapter 3 - Kitchner of Arabia - Stephen Badsey - This 'alternative' describes what might have happened if the British had executed a plan that was actually discussed for a landing at Alexandretta (located near the bend in the shore where Turkey and Syria meet).


Chapter 4 - The Queen of Cities Beckons - Peter Tsouras - In this one our author describes the real 'ethnic cleansing' the new Turkish regime conducted against the historic Greek population in Anatolia. Then he creates a scenario in which the Greeks are able to attack Turkey through Thrace . One contingency that might have changed things is that Greek King Alexander (who was aggressive) was bitten by a monkey and died, and the new monarch and politicians failed.


Chapter 5 - Germania Delenda Est: America Enters the War, 1915 - Peter Tsouras - This 'alternate' is based on the contingency that T. Roosevelt won reelection as President in 1912 and was much more aggressive for war than W. Wilson. The result would have been American entry into the war in 1915 and those 2 years would have doomed Germany sooner.


Chapter 6 - Britannia Rules the Waves: The Battle of Jutland, 1916 - Spencer Jones - I especially like this essay for its graphic description of naval warfare using all the typical rhetorical style one finds in actual historical accounts. The 'alternative' depends of British development of their modern battleships sooner and then deploying their two fleets more effectively at Jutland.


Chapter 7 - The Brusilov Offensive, 1916 Russia's Glory - Peter Tsouras - For this one the author finds his key contingency much before the event. Namely that Pyotr Stolypin survived the assassination attempt at the Kyiv Opera in 1911. From this Tsouras weaves a lengthy scenario in which the real Stolypin, had he survived, would have been able to effect significant reforms in the entire Imperial Russian political and military command. Granted this, the excellent and detailed description of what the imaginary Brusilov Offensive would have accomplished versus what that offensive actually did achieve becomes quite realistic. The author throws in the names of may real Russian generals, giving some alternate commands. He slips once on page 133 by positioning Brusilov, Denikin and Yudenich as commanders of his three fronts, when elsewhere he designates Gurko rather than Denikin in one of those roles and assigns Denikin to command the main army in Brusilov's main attacking front. We can ignore this minor slip. Tsouras is a master at military language and fills his day by day and even hourly descriptions of the unfolding scenario with perfect pitch reporting. He also provides remarkably detained Order of Battle tables for both Russian and Austro-Hungarian forces.


Chapter 8 - The Somme Steamroller - Stuart Mitchell - Back to the Western Front - The contingency for this 'alternate' scenario for the British attack at the Somme in July 1916 is that General Rawlinson commanding the field force was able to employ his favored tactics more effectively. While the real scenario was a critical event in the war, the proposed alternate would not have been as decisive as in some of the other examples


Chapter 9 - 'From Mud Through Blood to the Green Fields Beyond' The Great Allied Tank Offensive of 1917 - Spencer Jones - The key contingency for this 'alternate' is that the British developed their 'tank' earlier and then were able to deploy them in critical mass rather than piecemeal. The result might have been Allied victory months sooner than what actually occurred.


Chapter 10 - German Strategic Raiding, the Murder of David Lloyd George, and the Rise of Lord Northcliffe - James Pugh - This is an unusual 'alternative'. For one thing it is about inner British politics involving characters Americans don 't know and event they have not heard about. The story is that Lord Northcliffe was a perennial critic of official British defense policy, especially relating to air power and British preparations for defense against air attack. Moreover, he owned and had editorial control over the major British news media. So the contingency is that the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, was killed in a German air raid in 1917, enabling Northcliffe to become Prime Minister and institute his favored air policy, strategic bombing of Germany. The real and 'alternate' scenarios cleverly illustrate the power of public opinion in war, the power of the press to influence public opinion, the political contention between air power enthusiasts and others, and the role of individuals, their personalities and private goals for power.


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