Friday 25th January

Bismarck orders the bombing of Paris, 1871 Meanwhile, in Alternate History....the birth of Jacky Fisher, 1841
The French capital city had been directly threatened by the Prussian Army since the previous summer, but it was the catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Sedan that finally opened the door to Paris.

In the highest echelons of the Prussian Government, there was sharp disagreement about how to capture the city.

The High Command wanted to prevent a resumption of hostilities, proposing to annihilate the French Armies and starve Parisians into surrender. Whereas Prime Minister Bismark preferred a quick resolution through bombing.

King Wilhelm Hohenzollern had already been proclaimed German Emperor at the Palace of Versailles and inevitably favoured the expedient option, ordering Chief of Staff von Moltke to follow Bismarck's direction. The city fell three days later.

"Chatfield, there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today", Admiral Beatty said to his flag captain when one of his battlecruisers after the other blew up under the fire of Hipper’s Schlachtkreuzer during the Battle of Jutland. On Jacky Fisher’s 172th birthday the question might suggest itself – what if Fisher did not pursue his concept of “Battlecruisers” in the early 1900s.

Whatever made Sir John "Jacky" Fisher reconsider his plan of fast and heavy armed, but weak-armoured warships with speed as their best protection, it seemed to leave Great Britain in a decisively weak position at the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914.

Not only had the Royal Navy to rely on large armoured cruisers to protect the long trade lines of the Empire and the German Admiral von Spee’s squadron’s consisting of the two battlecruisers “Moltke” and “Goeben” that broke through into the Pacific and later the Indian Ocean gave them quite a headache until they were finally brought to bay by the Imperial Japanese Navy.

However, Fisher had an ace up his sleeve with his “New Model Fleet”. Following up from the design of HMS Dreadnought in 1906, he pursued the design of the liquid (i.e. oil) fuelled “Fast Battleship” type with a vengeance. But even though Fisher predicted the outbreak of the war with Germany for August 1914, his chef d'oeuvre and swan song, the “Nelson”-class were not ready for action at that time. Mid-1915, HMS “Nelson”, the type ship, and her sisters “St Vincent”, “Collingwood” and “Howe” were ready for sea, the other four followed in spring 1916. Their superior design, speed, armour and armament paid off on May 31st when Jellicoe’s “Grand Fleet” and the German “Hochseeflotte” met off Jutland.

Commanded by David Beatty, the “New Model Fleet” squadron matched Admiral Hipper’s battlecruisers in speed, while their 6’’ deck and 14’’ midships’ armour protected them from critical hits by German 12’’ shells, while their new 16’’ guns quickly broke their enemy’s resistance. Joining Jellicoe’s main battle afterwards, Beatty and his new fast battleships played a decisive role in making the Battle of Jutland an overwhelming Royal Navy victory. 

What followed was that the remains of the German Hochseeflotte remained bottled up in their harbours until the end of the war, January 25th 1918, that was brought about (among other reasons) by the tight British naval blockade that could not even been broken by the German U-boat offensive.

Today's dual post follows the structure of our weekly collaboration: Alternate Historian writes about a real event in German History, whilst Dirk writes about a fictionalized event in English Alternate History.

Wilhelm I proclaimed German Emperor

Wilhelm I
18th January

One hundred and forty-two years ago today, the King of Prussia Wilhelm Hohenzollern was proclaimed Emperor of the Second German Reich. This new imperium was formed by armed might and comprised twenty-seven constituent territories most of which were also ruled by royal families. One of those territories was Alsace-Lorraine, which included an ethnic French population living on the west bank of the River Rhine.
Outwardly, this transformative outcome of German fortunes was in equal measures a realization of the nationalist aspiration for a unified country, a dynastic triumph for the House of Hohenzollern (and their strategic architect Otto von Bismarck) and a disaster of the highest order for the Second French Empire. 

And to add insult to injury, the ceremony was conducted in the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles. This stigmatized the French as a powerless, defeated nation in the recent Franco-Prussian War, a series of conflicts against the powers who sought to provide unification. Less well known is the conflict within the highest echelons of the Prussian Government. Bismarck objected to the occupation of Alsace-Lorraine, arguing that it would cause unending enmity with the French state. Even though he was later proven correct, he was however overruled Helmuth von Moltke the Elder and other Prussian generals who demanded westward expansion. 

This reversal of hegemony was so punitive that it had the amazing effect of forcing an alliance between the French and British, who had been sworn enemies that had fought for on and off for centuries. And so at the very moment when the struggle for the mastery of continental Europe appeared to have been settled, even larger forces came into focus and the seeds of the world crisis were planted. They were to bear bitter fruit in 1914 by when Helmuth von Moltke the Younger was Chief of the German General Staff.

Dead as a Dodo

Dodo von Knyphausen

11 January 1636

On this day three hundred and seventy-seven years ago, Field Marshal Dodo von Knyphausen was killed in a minor engagement of Swedish regiment and Imperial troops little known to history as the Battle of Haselünne. While issuing orders to his troops, he was shot by a stray ball and fell from his horse, "dead as a dodo" at the age of fifty-two.
He had played a historically significant part in the Thirty Years War fought by most of the countries of Europe (it was one of the longest and most destructive conflicts in European history, and one of the longest continuous wars in modern history). Although he was a German professional soldier from Lütetsburg, East Frisia he rose to his high rank as a reward for his remarkable service to the Swedes at the Battle of Lützen. Royal secretary Philipp Sattler wrote that Knyphausen had contributed greatly to the final victory, having "done the most to sustain the wavering battleline". Also, he raised several German regiments for the Swedish crown. Because of these well-regarded contributions, he was transferred from the Ems country on a ship and buried in copper splendour.

Birth of Jacob Grimm

Jacob Grimm
4th January, 1785

On this day two hundred and twenty-seven years ago the German philologist, jurist and mythologist Jacob Grimm was born in the Hessian town of Hanau (at that time the outlying district of Main-Kinzig-Kreis was under Austrian domination being part of the Holy Roman Empire governed by the Habsburgs).
He and his brother Wilhelm (the Brothers Grimm) were editors of folklore. They gained international renown for the Grimms Märchen, the collection of eighty-six illustrated stories commonly known today as Grimm's Fairy Tales which included Snow White and Hansel & Gretel (the second volume added a further seventy stories). 

Adapted into films, many languages, animations and various age appropriate editions the books are widely recognized as founding works of Western culture. Ironically, the most significant criticism was that although they were called "Children's Tales", they were not regarded as suitable for children. 

The brothers also produced the monumental Deutsches Wörterbuch and Deutsche Mythologie, respectively the largest and most comprehensive dictionary of the German language and a mythology and beliefs of the Ancient Germanic peoples from their earliest attestations to their survivals in modern traditions, folktales and popular expressions. 

What is even less well known is that Jacob Grimm was more than just passionate about advancing German culture, he (and his brother) were unswerving advocates of a united Germany. 

When a spirit of Pan-Germanism was kindled by the revolution of 1848 he was enthustiatically elected to the Frankfurt National Parliament. But he soon resigned and returned with great relief to his studies, a move that perhaps revealed the idealistic nature of his system of thinking. At the age of seventy-eight, he died in Berlin in 1863, just four years before the unification of the North German Confederation and eight years before the creation of the German Empire.