Take 4 (to now be called - Don’t wake the lion )
This is my first attempt at Fiction so please go easy on me. As some of you may know I have been developing this timeline on and off (mostly off because of real life) for about 10 years and decided that I ought to go into print rather than wait to flesh out the whole scenario - this timeline is 'under construction' -apologies if you’ve seen before but was some time ago
I’m now at a crossroads which will probably result in a major/complete rewrite so shared before I do so -will post a second post with the options after any comments on style etc so that I can include them in re-write
Please suspend for one moment the plausibility of any POD issue
Cabinet Rooms - Whitehall May 1941
The Prime Minister looked around the room at his colleagues. These men were faced with a decision that would affect the lives of a whole country. They had known that the risk of war had grown over the last ten years, indeed even the '10 year rule' had been quietly dropped as Britain had rearmed to face a new enemy at its gates.
Actually he thought to himself it wasn't so much a new enemy but an old one, indeed arguably the historical one - France. Tensions had grown since the rise to power of the quasi fascist PF (France First) party in the early 30s, France had aligned itself with the Axis powers and had looked north and west rather than east. For the second time in 30 years Belgium was to be a battleground. This time one of its own making as the ethnic divisions between the Flemish and Walloons became more and more violent drawing in France and the Netherlands to support their 'brothers'.
He looked to the CIGS and asked "well to business, CIGS can you apprise us of the military position in Belgium and then I'm sure we'll have some questions for you." The Chief of the Imperial General Staff rose to speak.
"As many of you know Belgium is divided almost in half with Brussels forming a 'bulge' of French speaking people into Flanders [ at this point he pointed to a map of the low countries on the wall behind] . Over the course of the past month the underlying tensions have escalated into violence and two weeks ago the state of Belgium effectively ceased to exist when the Walloons seceded from the federal government and sought 'union' with Greater France - effectively turning the clock back to Napoleonic times. The Belgian army which until then had stood aside disintegrated and the former colleagues turned against each other with Flemish units moving north and digging in to defend their homes."
He paused knowing some of those listening were thinking of the horrors of the mud of Flanders which they had known 20 years ago.
" Last week the situation became significantly worse when we started to see regular units - well 'volunteers' officially - of the Dutch and French armies 'assisting' their 'fraternal brothers' . It didn't take long for them to come into contact and some significant little skirmishes to take place. As you know this led to war being declared between the Netherlands and France two days ago."
The Foreign Secretary interjected " as you are all aware we extended a guarantee of territorial integrity to the Dutch two years ago - the key question here is whether this should be extended to include Flanders I am also conscious that we did not honour our guarantee to Poland in '39"
"thank you for cutting to chase foreign secretary " said the PM " pray continue with the background CIGS" who continued " from a military position the Dutch have a much smaller military in the homeland than the French and their army is a fraction of the size. However they do have an excellent set of defences and lots of water obstacles !". The opinion of the War Department is that - without support - it is highly likely that a serious French offensive could and would overwhelm the Dutch within a month purely through force of numbers. The Dutch have excellent equipment and since their rearmament a first class navy (spread between the NEI and NWI and a small Home Fleet) and a small but excellent air defence force."
" Yesterday on its way north to bombard Dutch/Flemish positions near Zebrugge the French 1st Bombardment Squadron made up of the old battleships Paris and Coubert plus escorts 'bumped into' a convoy of coastal freighters escorted by two destroyers from the Dover Patrol. In what we can only assume this was a mistake believing them to be Dutch they opened fire sinking the two destroyers and two freighters"
He could see the cabinet weighing up the possible end games - he turned to the foreign secretary and asked him to articulate the options.
The Foreign Secretary extracted a piece of paper from a folder and said "the possible scenarios are seen to be at a high level:
1. Stalemate with both sides electing to recognise the new position and incorporate Wallonia into France and Flanders into the Netherlands.
2. French tactical victory - Incorporate whole of Belgium into France and seek reparations from Netherlands
3. French Strategic Victory - same as 2
4. French total victory - conquest of Netherlands"
He could see the cabinet digesting the possibilities and thinking about what each meant for Britain. The thought of the economic wealth of the NEI/NWI falling under the influence of the axis powers made them all distinctly uneasy.
"What about Germany?" asked one of the cabinet members who had served throughout the Great War. " The foreign secretary responded before CIGS could "the intelligence that we have is that open conflict between Germany and Russia is imminent and that Germany would do anything to avoid a two front war and thus would position itself as technically neutral in the Franco Dutch conflict albeit more friendly to France"
"Even if the Dutch were allied with Britain?"
"The Foreign Office considers that yes this would still be the case - Germany cannot afford a two front war" but yes that is a risk that must be considered".
The PM turned to the group and asked " well you have heard the position now what are our options ?"
CIGS looked to the Foreign Secretary who continued
" As war is the extension of diplomacy by other means we ought to consider the diplomatic options open to us first - firstly as you may know have spent most of the last 48hrs attempting to mediate between the two parties and I am afraid to advise you that I see no possibility of a peaceful resolution to this issue. The key question therefore is whether we can use our influence to manage the impact of the likely outcome (a French victory). My experience is that this French Government has internal political pressures which it is seeking to camouflage by a call to arms to support its French speaking cousins and return them to the Greater France of Napoleon." He continued "will France listen to us - well it will listen but it won't hear or act, French prestige will demand a victory and there is a real danger that they will seek a total victory to allow them a seat at the same level as Germany. If you turn to your briefing pack at Flag A you will see our analysis of the options and our recommendations"
He proceeded to outline the other diplomatic options available all of which were felt to have low probability of success.
"what about a blockade ?" asked a junior member of the cabinet " that would be tantamount to a declaration of war " replied the Foreign Secretary. The PM summed up the options and said "it would seem therefore that we ought to consider the unthinkable - War, what are the military options?"
CIGS stood and paused for a minute knowing that what he said could cost thousands of British lives. "Well the Army has confirmed that an Expeditionary Force of up to 6 Divisions could be transported to the Netherland in a week, the Navy confirms that they would guarantee the safe delivery of the BEF as far a naval interference is concerned although the RAF would need to keep the sky clear." "What then ?" asked the chancellor.
"If you could turn to flag B in your briefing pack there is a summary of the position both in Europe and around the world." He proceeded to run through the options and the implications for the Empire.
The PM spoke first "thank you for that and the briefing papers - what we are about the decide is of the utmost importance, I would ask you all to look inside yourselves for a quarter of an hour, re-read the briefing and then I will ask you all to debate the way forward following your conscience and we will put it to the vote".
Four hours later they had reached a consensus, the PM turned to each member of the cabinet and said " so we are agreed then ?" one by one they nodded, " then its war… the War Department have our authority to execute Plan Wellington".
The Straits of Dover 0601
The French 1st Bombardment Squadron was on its way back to Cherbourg after completing its bombardment mission. The Admiral held a message in his hands that had just been received " be advised that as of 0600 a state of war exists with Britain - take all necessary actions" - he looked at it and looked at his position on the chart just north of the straits of Dover He sighed and said " merde"
'Iron Duke' Battery near Dover 0605
The six 13.5" guns from the decommissioned HMS Iron Duke had been in position for over a year now as part of the strengthening of British Coast Defences. They were in single mountings with the latest in spotting equipment and radio location equipment. They had been tracking the French ships for over 10 minutes and had the all clear to open fire when in range. By a stroke of fate guns from a ship named after a victor over the French would have the honour of firing the first shots in this new war against France.
The speaker in the gin mountings crackled into life, "all guns free to engage target bearing 160 degrees 20,000 yds - good shooting and good luck - open fire"
Almost simultaneously the 6 guns opened fire and six 13.5" AP projectiles started their 30 second one way journey into history
This is the timeline to the start
of hostilities and a high level overview of the WOBTL world in 1941.
Please remember this is (1) AH and (2) Fiction. Hopefully with the backstory filled in I will be able to start the actual story. Would welcome any thoughts/comments suggestions for fiction in this universe.
Thanks once again to all those who have contributed ideas.