- Point of Divergence
**This alternate history has its point of divergence in 1917, so reference historical sources for any and all information before that point.
In March 1917 (February by the old Russian calendar in use at the time) one of the worlds oldest and most redoubtable monarchies collapses in revolution. The Romanov dynasty, headed by Tsar Nicholas II, abdicates the throne. A provisional government is established in Saint Petersburg under the control of Alexander Kerensky, a republican.
Opposition is swift. A rival government under communist control arises throughout Russia’s cities where the ideology has become increasingly popular with the poor workers. These “soviets” seek to bring an end to the bourgeois revolution of the republicans and bring about a true people’s revolution led by factory workers and peasants. Their chance would never come.
The provisional government, fearing this “people’s revolution,” sues for peace with the Central Powers. Russian negotiators are told to give Germany everything they ask for as long as the war ends. And end the war did.
On 1 April 1917, the fighting ceases on the Eastern Front and Russia begins the long process of recovery. Still wary of the communist presence the government of the new Russian Republic embarks on a series of drastic and progressive reforms designed to bring Russia into the 20th century. Massive land reforms and centralization bring the all-too-common famines to an end and appease the peasants, many of whom are veterans of the the war with Germany. Finally, the imminent threat of a communist revolution is over, the leaders of the soviets are jailed or exiled, and the Russian Republic is stable.
II. Der Kaiserschlacht - 1917-1918
The German Empire’s peace treaty with the Russians, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, allows Germany to send a million soldiers, freshly rested and reequipped from weeks of truce during the treaty negotiations, to the Western Front. A core force of German troops is left in each occupied territory surrendered by the Russians in the treaty. These forces cooperate with local authorities to establish provisional authority until the end of the war, when a fully-functioning government can be maintained.
On the Western Front, the German General Staff is planning a massive final offensive to bring the war to an end once and for all. This offensive, known as the “Kaiserschlacht,” or Kaiser’s Battle, will involve an initial breakthrough accomplished by the elite and highly trained storm troops. The strong points will be taken with traditional infantry and artillery, supported by air power and tanks. This method will be repeated until the German forces reach Paris.
The offensive begins on 1 May 1917 with a breakthrough along the front Vimy - La Fere. This is followed by an attack and breakthrough on the front La Fere - Reims, immediately to the south of the original breakthrough, thus widening the salient and protecting the flanks of the German army. These attacks were supported by masses of light tanks built for the purpose of exploiting breakthroughs by the infantry. By August 1, the German front was firmly established along the line Continy - Compiegne - Châteux Thierry, at its closest point, only 53 miles from Paris.
Before the next drive of the main offensive could begin, the General Staff, to ensure that the French armies in the center of the Allied line are not reinforced, order smaller offensives to the north and south of the main drive. In the north, an attack is made in the general direction of Calais and Dunkirk against the British Expeditionary Force and what is left of the Belgian Army in Flanders. In the south, two attacks are made. One to close the French salient around Verdun and Troyon and a second in the direction of the heavily defended line of the Moselle River, from Toul to Épinal. These attacks make modest progress. They do not reach their stated goals, but accomplish the task of preventing any substantial reinforcement of the central front.
On 1 September, the main German drive, reinforced and resupplied, resumes with a two pronged offensive. The Nordgruppe attacks northwest along the River Somme, pounding the flank of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), with the ultimate goal of reaching the coast at Dieppe and cutting off the BEF from their French allies. The Südgruppe attacks southwest along the Rivers Oise and Ourcq with the ultimate goal of surrounding Paris and severing the link between the French armies defending Paris, and those defending the Moselle.
The French and British are somewhat better prepared for this renewed attack, but morale is extremely low. The Allies are able to slow, but not stop, the German offensive. After a month of steady and relentless attacks by the Germans, the French Army in the center of the front is spread thin and desperately in need of reinforcements. However, the French populace is exhausted and the industrial northeast of the country, along with its priceless coal supply, is completely in German hands.
By 1 November, the Germans look unstoppable. The Südgruppe has in its possession, the towns of Chantilly on the Oise and Meaux on the Ourcq. The Nordgruppe has taken Amiens on the Somme and is approaching Abbéville. The BEF, under General Haig, are faced with the decision of slipping south of the Somme to protect the French left flank, thus forfeiting any realistic chance of evacuation, or abandoning their allies and trying to escape north of the Somme to Calais and Dunkirk, where they may be able to hold the Germans long enough to evacuate the Continent.
General Haig postpones the decision for as long as possible hoping against hope that his demoralized and depleted forces can make a stand and stop the German northern offensive. But, on 12 November, with the Germans threatening Abbéville and beginning their drive to take Dieppe and encircle the BEF, Haig gives the order for a full retreat to defensive positions around Boulogne, Calais, and Dunkirk. The Royal Navy begins organizing its resources for the massive evacuation effort that must now take place.
Refusing the British offer to be evacuated after the BEF, the Belgian forces, under King Albert, resolve to fight the Germans on the last corner of Belgian soil they possess. After being surrounded and battered by the Germans for a week, the Belgians surrender on 20 November 1917.
The British populace, exhausted from the war, loses all faith in the government following the announcement of the withdrawal of the BEF. Massive protests flood the streets of every major city, strikes completely halt the production of war matériel, and Ireland is in open revolt. Fearing colonial uprisings, the last act of the government of Prime Minister David Lloyd George is to request for peace with the Central Powers. The following day, the House of Commons takes a vote of no confidence and Lloyd George resigns.
The French are furious when they hear of the British plans to evacuate. They have no choice but to order a full retreat to the Seine. Even the French forces in the east, defending the Moselle, are forced to pull back to the Seine in order not to allow a gap to develop between the French western and eastern forces.
The rest of the month of November is spent preparing the final French defense along the Seine and crushing mutinies in the ranks. Not enough men can be spared to anchor the French line against the English Channel, so the extreme left, formed by the Reserve Army of General Fayolle, prepares to defend Rouen, with orders to pull back south and west, tightening in a circle south of Paris as the Germans pressure the flank. The center of the line is formed by the remnants of General Franchet d’Espèrey’s North Army, shattered by months of retreat and pursuit by the Germans, and the somewhat fresher Center Army, under General Maistre. Together, these forces form the French line from the confluence of the Seine and the Oise in the west, to Nogent in the east. The French right is formed by the East Army, under General de Castelnau. His forces are spread thin along a wide front from Nogent to Troyes to Châtillon. De Castelnau has the same orders as Fayolle: if pressed by the Germans, pull back to defend Paris. The four French armies are opposed by four German armies.
With an armistice in place between Germany and Britain, pending formal peace negotiations, Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria’s army allows the British to safely evacuate the Continent and moves southwest to begin the assault on General Fayolle’s Reserve Army. He forms the German right flank from just north of Rouen to Chantilly. The center is formed by the armies of Crown Prince Wilhelm and General von Gallwitz. Their line is densely packed from Chantilly to Arcis Sur Aube. The German left is formed by General von Albrecht. He is spread from Arcis Sur Aube to Longres, but is mainly concentrated between Arcis Sur Aube and Bar Sur Aube.
After a period of positioning, the German armies are prepared for the final phase of the offensive on 2 January 1918. According to plan, the German assault begins with attacks all along the French line to prevent reinforcements from being transferred from one section of the front to another. The main attack, however, is directed against the French center. As the French left and right wings begin to retreat to prevent an encirclement of Paris, disaster strikes.
Unable to hold, the exhausted remnants of Franchet d’Espèrey’s army crumbles at Melun and Fontainebleau, two strong points of the Seine defensive line south east of Paris. The immediate center of the French defenses, anchored on the left against the River Oise at Pontoise and on the right against the River Ourcq at its confluence with the Seine, holds fast. This is the part of the line responsible for the immediate defense of Paris. However, the line the southeast cannot follow suit. The initial German breakthroughs at Melun and Fontainebleau, accomplished by storm troop elements of Crown Prince Wilhelm’s and von Gallwitz’s armies, are widened and exploited by regular infantry.
By 20 January, hundreds of thousands of German troops have poured through the widening gap in the French line southeast of Paris. These troops split to the northwest and southeast of the breakthrough to cut off and surround the French Reserve and East Armies. By now, these armies, making up the French left and right flanks, respectively, are nearly perpendicular to the Seine due to stronger than expected German attacks by Prince Rupprecht’s and von Albrecht’s armies. The troops that have broken through attack the French left and right from the rear while Rupprecht’s and von Albrecht’s armies continue their previous frontal attacks on the French forces. The two French armies naturally form circles which are surrounded by the German attackers. On 12 February the Reserve Army under General Fayolle surrenders. On 19 February the East Army under General de Castelnau follows suit. These victories are met with elation in the streets in Germany. The German press nicknames these battles, “the Twin Sédans,” after the decisive German victory in the Franco-Prussian War.
The remaining French forces under Franchet d’Espèrey and Maistre form a circle around Paris and await the final German push while Paris comes under an intense bombardment by the approaching Germans. Before the German attack can begin and the French capital, along with its historical treasures, are irreparably destroyed, the French government requests an armistice. For the first time in four years, on 1 March 1918, at 10 AM, all is quiet on the Western Front.