Up to 1914 As OTL
1914 - the war to end all wars starts OTL
1914 to 1917 as OTL - Exception United States is strongly neutral and will not become entangled in this European war in any circumstance.
Point of departure
French Army Mutinies spread throughout the western front. French troops refuse to undertake offensive action and in many cases threaten to withdraw if attacked. German spies quickly convey this to the High Command who gambles that this gives them the best chance for victory since August 1914. The germans having recently straightened their lines seemed to be on the strategic defensive but within days an all or nothing offensive is planned to separate the allied armies and drive them apart. Using newly developed storm techniques and supported by a local concentration of fighters the offensive is a complete surprise and the allies in their newly occupied positions are completely surprised and unprepared for defensive warfare.
The BEF and French Armies are forced apart as a 100km gap opens in the front line. The BEF is forced to withdraw (in good order) to the channel ports where an evacuation begins with the intention of re-embarkation south of the breach. The High Seas Fleet, itself almost mutinous is pressured into action by the German High Command seeing an opportunity to drive Britain out of the war by destroying the BEF. Room 40 is aware of the sortie and the Royal Navy gets the
Opportunity to 'make up' for Jutland. It proves to have learnt the lesson well and the HSF, a shadow of its former self is destroyed in the Sothern North Sea.
The French Army reluctantly comes to arms and stabilises the position as the German offensive runs out of steam. The French suspicions of perfidious Albion always close to the surface appear to have been realised, the British are seen to be a maritime power and unable to convince the French to trust them again the BEF is withdrawn to Kent to re-arm and regroup. The Germans realise they have thrown their last dice and the destruction of the HSF means that the effects of the blockade will be magnified. In the east Russia descends into Revolution and sues for peace.
All sides realise that they are exhausted and that victory is unachievable. The US President is asked to mediate a peace, and an armistice/cease fire is quickly agreed.
The Treaty of Berne is signed which largely returns Europe to the status quo in 1914. The war to end all wars becomes the war that everyone lost in popular minds. Only Britain of the major powers will avoid huge political upheavals and revolution to a greater or larger extent as the people in Germany, France and Russia protest against the old order. The Czar falls, closely followed by the Abdication of the Kaiser. The French government falls to be succeeded by a succession of weak coalition governments.
Europe enters economic depression exacerbating the political pressure on the old order. In both Germany and France the right wing parties steadily gather support with disillusioned veterans looking to them for leadership. In Italy the fascist party comes to power demonstrating to other right wing nationalist movements that political power is possible.
1933 - Hitler elected chancellor
1934 - France finally lurches from weak democracy to right wing nationalist government. The support of the veterans organisation finally proves the straw that breaks the proverbial camel's back. France falls under the control of " le directeur" Loius Marlet. The France First Movement of which he is the leader starts to gets its 'fortress france' message transalated into policy. Start to see exodus of French Socialists and communists. Start of building of French Frontier defences along all borders and the coast. French defence spending increases, particularly on the Navy & its bases.
1935 - Anschluss - Austria joins with Germany.
Abyssinia - Italy looks to expand its colonial possessions.
1936 - Spanish Civil War breaks out - lasts significantly less than OTL as French government actively supports the nationalists - French volunteers seen in Spain alongside German and Italians. Republicans flee to the Balearics. Although shorter than OTL the war is as bloody an Spain is exhausted. Franco comes to power and dream of a resurgent Spanish Empire but that may have to wait some time.
1938 - Czech crisis - British attempt to support Czechs politically but without continental support and implicit French support for Germany there is little that can be done. Knowing military resistance is futile the Czechs concede to German demands. France is happy that Germany continues to look East.
1939 - Poland - Again Germany looks east. Britain is again powerless to act as the German Blitzkrieg overwhelms Poland within a month. Border clashes between German and Soviet Troops as the Soviets take opportunity to make some 'border adjustments' at the expense of Poland.
1940 - Italy decides that territorial gains in the Adriatic should be pursued and invades Greece. The offensive quickly runs out of steam and a stalemate exists with neither side able to make any gains.
1940 - Further Border tensions between Germany and Soviet Union as the Baltic States come under the influence of the Soviet Union.
May 1940 - Germany launches Operation Barborossa the invasion of the Soviet Union - progress similar to OTL (albeit 12 months earlier than OTL).
April/May 1941 - Tensions continue to rise in Belgium as the Flemish and Walloons become increasingly hostile towards each other. King Leopold the only factor keeping the country together is assassinated with both sides claiming that the other murdered the king. The country disintegrates with two states proclaiming themselves now in existence. It doesn't take long for violence to break out with what would in later years be called ethnic cleansing taking places and huge streams of refugees travelling north and south. Both France and the Netherlands turn a blind eye to volunteers who travel into former-Belgium. The Belgian army which had stayed aloof from the violence finally self destructs with the ethnic division of the army proving the core of the new armed forces for Flanders and Wallonia.
French and Dutch forces come into contact and a series of brief but violent clashes erupt. The Wallonian government formally appeals to France for 'union' and the French army moves into Belgium to protect its new borders. France emboldened by Germany's preoccupation to the east sees an opportunity to expand in the only direction it can - north.
The France sets in train plans for a three stage offensive to consolidate Wallonia, to conquer the remainder of former Belgium by force and to invade the Netherlands with the objective of either conquest or forcing the Netherlands to the negotiating table and obtaining valuable colonies as part of a peace treaty.
The Wider World in 1941
Fully engaged to the east, friendly to the French but not adversarial to the Dutch or the British at this point. The opening stages of barabrossa were going well. Germany was nervous of blockade and in 1940 had engineered the election of a quasi fascist government in Denmark which then sought German 'protection' thus securing the entrance to the Baltic.
Saw War with Britain as inevitable but the planning assumption was that this would be not until much later in the 1940s. Wanted to avoid at all costs a two front war.
German ally as OTL
Exhausted by the civil war. Large numbers of republicans fled to the Balearics where the republican government still claimed to be the legitimate government in exile. Broadly friendly to France (although suspicious of potential French expansionism). Desirous of Gibralter but anxious not to provoke Britain whilst still in its weakened state. Small number of volunteers serve with Germans in Russia.
Actively neutral although surprised the world in 1939 when they agreed to lease the Azores to Britain who saw the potential for the future loss of Gibraltar and sought an alternative for the RN. British assurances of non intervention is Portugal's African colonies seen as political valuable as counterbalance to the Azores lease
Opportunistic as ever Mussolini sees the outbreak of hostilities between Britain and France as an opportunity to remove/reduce British influence in the Mediterranean and Africa. Frustrated by the stalemate in the Adriatic Italy sees the chance to strike. Plans are drawn up for action in the Mediteranean (invade Malta) and North and North East Africa. High level exploratory talks are opened with France to discuss military 'co-operation'. Small number of volunteers serve with the Germans in Russia.
Confident that are able to continue to resist the Italian offensive. Nervous of politics in neighbouring countries which may threaten its flanks and suspicious as ever of turkey. Will become allied to Britain when Italy declares war.
Crippled by internal politics Yugoslavia remains neutral, historically aligned with fellow Slavs in the Soviet Union but wary of the Axis powers on its doorstep.
As OTL friendly to Germany and active ally in Russia. No desire to become involved in Balkan conflict.
As OTL - desirous of NEI. Tension with both Britain and US. Wary of the small British Eastern Fleet at Singapore.
Isolationist and aggressively neutral. Pacific facing and although leaning towards Britain as fellow democracy anxious to stay out of European War, likely to become allied with Britain in Pacific is tensions with Japan escalate.
Allied with Britain as dominion but facing severe internal pressures with Québec regarding war with France. Quebec itself divided as many socialists/republicans who left France after the right came to power were living in exile there. Saw war with Britain as potential route to overthrow of the fascist regime.
Australia/New Zealand/India -
Contributed to commonwealth forces in the Mediteranean. All nervous of ability of the mother country to defend them in the event of hostilities with Japan.
The outbreak of hostilities with Britain will lead to conflict in Africa. Britain faces a challenge as Freetown likely to fall to French troops leaving the whole of West Africa hostile. South Africa contributes troops to operations in East Africa as OTL.
Greater Curacao - the NWI (the Antilles and Venezuela which was formally annexed in the the early 1900s when the Dutch engineered the overthrow of the Dictator Gen Gomez) forms a key part of the economic strength of the Netherlands. It is one of the major oil producers in the world and as such is a key prize for France in its conflict with the Dutch. The interdiction of this trade will be a key feature of the naval conflict as submarines and commerce raiding from well defended and supplied French Caribbean bases mean that trade protection is crucial. The likelihood for combined operations to capture French bases (as in the Napoleonic wars) is high. America is uncomfortable with military action in what it sees as its backyard but tries to balance the Munro doctrine with its isolationist stance.
WOBTL - the main players - Context
The following is an attempt to set some historical, strategic, geopolitical context for the War Over Belgium Timeline (WOBTL). There are some significant assumptions with respect to the pace of technological advancement in the absence of war, explicitly that the pace would be as OTL even without the acceleration that is caused by war. There are also some 'extras' purely because I want them and it's my AH ! (such as the armoured trains and the Dutch CD ships)
Exhausted by the Great War, Britain reluctantly was party to the treaty of Berne in 1918 which restored all parties to the status quo prior to the outbreak of war. Unlike the other major signatories Britain was not subject to major political unrest and although financially exhausted the forces of democracy held firm. The strong pacifist movement and the revulsion at the huge number of casualties for what was seen to be no gain created an ongoing policy of appeasement and negotiation. Thus when first Germany and then France lurched to the right politically the British policy was ' live and let live'. Despite this, defence spending began to increase in the 30s as Britain looked to strengthen its defences.
The first priority was defensive assets with modernisation of the RAFs fighters, the coastal defences around major ports, and the creation of the AA Command as part of an integrated Air Defence network using the new and still secret radio location technology.
RAF Bomber Command also was the beneficiary of modernisation with the genesis of the large four engine aircraft that would be seen over the skies of Europe over the decade of conflict. However the policy imperative towards defence meant that Coastal Command were also big beneficiaries both with Long Range Patrol Aircraft and as an extension of the coast defence ethos dedicated modern anti shipping strike aircraft.
The army was still small although well equipped and professional. The lengthy coastline was seen to be vulnerable and the strategy was to guard the ports strongly and retain mobile forces able to rush to any threatened point. Accordingly the British Army was significantly more motorised than the French. Mobilisation to war strength had started with the Territorial Army becoming an integral element of the order of Battle.
The Royal Navy's prestige had been rescued following the criticism post Jutland and the importance of a strong Battle Fleet to protect the UK had been reinforced. It had also seen changes with one major change being the creation of the fleet air arm in 1930 which was given the mandate to develop a modern air arm to defend its bases and the Home Fleet both at sea and in port. Although the numerical superiority of the British BBs over the combined French (& Italian) BBs was clear the qualitative superiority was more in question accordingly the Lion class was accelerated as it was believed that these were a match for the Richelieu class.
In essence Britain reverted to its traditional policy, that of a maritime power although updated to reflect a strong air force as well as a traditionally strong Navy.
The crisis in central Europe in the 30s and the fall of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany with France standing to one side leaving Britain unable to do anything and was the turning point when Britain realised that ultimately "something had to be done". When in 1939 Germany turned to Poland, Britain felt helpless as it could again do nothing to protect a victim of aggression.
The main threat to Britain however was closer to home and a resurgent and revivalist populist right wing France.
The peace of 1918 left France bled white, bankrupt, exhausted and politically divided. The mutinies of 1917 and the retreat and evacuation of the BEF unable to hold the line against the final thrust of the German Army left a bitter taste in French mouths. The underlying suspicion of perfidious Albion was exacerbated by what they saw as the desertion of the British and even though the Royal Navy had crushed the High Seas Fleet turning possible victory into stalemate the French blamed the British for the peace that satisfied no one.
The rise of the France First movement rode on the back of the sense of betrayal by the existing political establishment, their allies, and the cultural memory of the France of Napoleon. Although still fearful of Germany the similar nationalistic government meant that although France maintained a strong passive defensive system along its eastern borders that it began to view its former ally as a potential threat.
The French Government also looked to an all round defence and there was a increase in defence spending particularly on the MN and the modernisation of coastal defences. France realised that its strong submarine force was vulnerable to long range bombers and British agents reported that large concrete structures of unknown purpose were being built in Brest, La Rochelle, St Nazaire and Lorient.
France retained a strong conscript based army which retained much of the strategic lessons from the 1914 war, tanks were seen as infantry support tools. The limited frontage and numerous water obstacles of Flanders and Southern Netherlands that were to be seen in the Franco-Dutch war meant that the 'cavalry' role of the tank was less important than the 'bulldozer' role. Early experiments in specialised equipment such as mine ploughs and bridging equipment were vigorously progressed as the expectation of a northern offensive with its many water obstacles became more likely. The period from 1939-41 saw significant replacement of the 75mm AA guns by the 90mm Mle1939 particularly around key locations. A small number of heavy fortress tanks (FCMF1) were purchased recognising the strength of the Dutch fortifications. The SAu40 with its hull mounted howitzer was progressed as the potential for a direct fire support was recognised. The infantry received a few 75mm AT guns but a larger number of 47mm self propelled/motor towed guns replaced the ubiquitous 25mm. Fundamentally however the French army retained a large 'foot' infantry flavour supported by 'infantry' tanks.
The French air force was modernised with a strong 'autarkic' underlying policy with purchasing focused on buying French equipment with a view that offshore purchases may be imperilled in the event of future conflict. The focus was on reducing the multiplicity of types of aircraft by standardising on a few types in each category. Although the prime ethos of the airforce remained to support the army the strategic bombing arm was the beneficiary of accelerated development with the four engine Bloch 162 beginning to enter squadron service in 1940. France also saw the opportunity for long range maritime patrol and the French navy drafted plans for the use of such planes in this role. France evaluated the Me110 as a potential licence built escort for the heavy bomber but eventually chose the home grown Potez. It also evaluated the Ju88 but the German requirement for aircraft for the struggle with Russia meant that no progress had been made on either sale of Ju88 or licensing assembly by 1941.
The French navy was the beneficiary of significant expansion and on the outbreak of war four brand new 15" battleships were in service. One area of growth in recognition of the new perceived threat was in coastal forces with torpedo boats and MTBs being built in a crash programme to enable the channel to be contested. The French also developed a small number of river craft recognising that the unique geography of the low countries meant that the waterways would be an important strategic route.
The new Joffre class carriers were provided with a range of new aircraft including the D790 (navalised D520), the twin engine D750 and the L299 . The naval air force also began to equip with Bloch 175 strike aircraft as well as long range flying boats.
The Dutch economy is significantly stronger in WOBTL that in OTL due not insignificantly to colonial wealth flowing from the Netherland West Indies as well as the NEI. The Dutch has reviewed their policy of neutrality and had revised this as the fascist threats of the 30s surrounding them grew. The new position was of armed neutrality similar to that of Sweden rather than passive neutrality. All three armed services were beneficiaries of increased spending.
The Navy had three main missions; to protect the overseas possessions, protect trade to/from the colonies, and to protect home waters. These missions required different force structures with the Home Fleet largely comprised of light forces with two brand new coastal defence battleships with 11" guns and strong AA battery (to replace xx and xx) with a dual role as mobile coast defence batteries and fire support to the Army. These were heavily influenced by the Finnish CD ships which were designed by a Dutch design bureau. A number of modern sloops were rapidly built together with a strong force of MTBs and license built British MGBs. The defensive attributes of the home fleet were boosted by modern minelayers and some of the best submarines in service anywhere in the world in 1940. The naval base of Den Helder was significantly fortified with strong AA and Coastal defences. Additionally new coastal defence batteries were put in place at Vlissingen, Ijmuiden and Hook of Holland. The MTB and submarines bases were fortified and given overhead concrete protection for the pens. The use of torpedo batteries was also under investigation as well as controlled minefields.
In addition to the coastal forces a new 'river' force was created with river monitors, AA craft and mortar carrying craft. A small number of armed and armoured ferries were also built to facilitate the protected movement of vehicles and troops along and across waterways.
The NWI Fleet and the NEI compromised the bulk of the heavier units of the Navy. The three brand new battle cruisers were split between the two squadrons and the recent conversion of two liners into aircraft carriers added further strength to these areas. The air group of Grumman Fighters and Fairey Albacores was considered well balanced and suitable for the desired requirements of fleet and anchorage defence, scouting for the battle line and anti shipping attacks with torpedoes. The navy plan called for two large modern battleships and Britain had been sounded out if they wanted to build a modified version of the later KGVs with 3 x triple 15" rather than 10 x 14" when the accelerated Lion class came into service and Anson/Howe cleared the slipway.
The conversion of the aging Java & Sumatra into Floatplane carriers (similar to the Swedish Gotland) with Northrop N3PB floatplane scout/bombers for use in the NEI was seen as a useful addition to the fleet and the challenges faced in the NEI archipelago.
The Dutch army was increased in size and its re-equipment with modern technology accelerated. A large number of AA guns both 75mm and 40mm were purchased as Fortress Holland gained a roof. Dutch armoured forces were equipped with the DAF M39 and a small (but growing number) of licence built Swedish tanks which used the same turret as the armoured cars. To boost the manoeuvrability of the excellent 47mm bohler anti tank weapons a number of solutions were investigated including a fixed 'tank destroyer' based upon the Belgian T15 as well as half tracked/fully tracked/Trado tractors. The Dutch also planned to use the 75mm AA gun in a fixed mounting when an appropriate vehicle was identified. The artillery arm was also modernised with fully motorised tractors for the 10-veld field guns.
The infantry were not ignored as long overdue re-equipment took place with the purchase of Bren LMGs replacing the Lewis Gun which was retasked to provide additional AA defences in twin mounts on trucks/river craft and at key points such as Bridges and airfields.
The Army strategy remained the strategic defensive but the increasing tension with France and the likely battleground in Flanders forced a strategic re-think.The orientation of Belgian defences remained East towards Germany rather than south but politics and the port of Antwerp demanded that the French be engaged forward of the existing Dutch Border defences (which had already been strengthened along the dutch-belgian border). The Dutch solution was typically innovative - there would be no time for concrete fortifications along key lines so improvised alternatives would be required. A series of armoured trucks was developed some with firing ports and MMGs to act a mobile forts these would be backed up by armoured trains to take advantage of their tactical flexibility and the dense rail network in Holland and Belgium. Additionally several improvised prefabricated casemates were developed which could be quickly emplaced alongside even more improvised steel shields to strengthen earthworks.
There were several types of armoured trains (heavily influenced by Polish refugees) - the railway guns with 11" guns taken from the replaced coastal defences used both for fire support and mobile coast defences (to pre-surveyed and constructed emplacements), the armoured troop trains with infantry carriers and 47mm AT guns, the scout trains with dismountable M38/9 armoured cars, the 'cruiser' train armed with 120mm naval weapons and AA guns and the AA trains of which there were two types which could provide additional mobile reinforcement to strategic locations the HAA train which mounted 75mm guns and the Medium AA trains which mounted twin 40mm mountings designed for the Navy.
The Airforce saw a significant increase in size with a well balanced fighter force predominantly equipped with Dutch aircraft. The air defence fighter arm saw the DXXI being replaced by DXXIII, FK58, and G1 heavy fighters, the army support arm getting additional D8A3N light bombers. The medium bomber force consisted mainly of Fokker TV and T9 but a small number of Wellingtons had been purchased from Britain as an embryonic heavy bomber force. The Naval Air Arm mirrored the strategic ethos of the Navy and its belief in the offensive power of the torpedo with the Fokker T.VIII the predominant type albeit with a small number of Beauforts purchased as fast strike force .