The Great War of 189—: A Forecast

This summary was originally posted on 2018-08-17.

This future history book (published in 1892 and updated in 1895) was recently uploaded to Project Gutenberg. Somewhat interestingly, actual historians (Philip Colomb and John Maurice) are included in its list of authors.

In the following narrative an attempt is made to forecast the course of events preliminary and incidental to the Great War which, in the opinion of military and political experts, will probably occur in the immediate future. The writers, who are well-known authorities on international politics and strategy, have striven to derive material for their description of the conflict from the best sources, to conceive the most probable campaigns and acts of policy, and generally to give to their work the verisimilitude and actuality of real warfare.

The story is related in a slightly confusing fashion, progressing for a few weeks in one theater and then jumping backward in time to look at the events of another theater in the same time period.

Quick summary

It starts on April 2nd, with the attempted assassination of Prince Ferdinand of Bulgaria by two Russian spies in the town of Samokov. Russia has been encouraging revolutionary sentiment among the Macedonians against their Bulgarian and Turkish overlords, and this serves to inflame the tension. Within a week, tens of thousands of Bulgarian, Ottoman, and Serb troops have been stationed in the area. Within two weeks, fighting breaks out on the Serbia-Bulgaria border. Bulgaria has the situation well in hand, but Austria takes this opportunity to chastise the wanton aggression of Servia and occupies Belgrade within the space of a day (to the Bulgarians' annoyance).

The attempts of the Russian and French ambassadors to speak with the Ottoman Grand Vizier about the matter were rebuffed (though the British ambassador was allowed to speak with the Sultan), and this seems to have been the straw that broke the camel's back. Apparently: Ottoman handling of the Valkovich assassination (along with failure to help Bulgaria in this most recent incident) has alienated Bulgaria; Ottoman involvement in the 'Urabi revolt has alienated Britain, France, and Egypt; Russia doesn't care about stepping on the Ottomans' toes in the course of dealing with Austria; and:

By his foolishly near-sighted policy of pandering to the wishes of whatsoever Power bullies him with most brutal persistency, at the risk though it be of injuring a friendly State, the Sultan has, as he is beginning to realise, succeeded in alienating, for the moment at least, the sympathies of all his legitimate friends.

60 000 Ottoman troops are stationed on the Ottoman coast, from Istanbul (or, as the authors of this book persist in naming it, Constantinople) to the Bulgarian border.

On April 19th, Russia, having received an evasive, or, as other telegrams put it, a flatly negative reply to her peremptory demand for the immediate evacuation of Belgrade by the Austrians, invades Bulgaria with 60 000 troops and occupies the Black Sea coast, besieging Varna and Burgas. This aggressive action triggers the Dual Alliance between Austria and Germany. By April 21st, Russia is massing troops on the Austro-German border and conducting blatant incursions into Austrian territory. By the 29th, there are over half a million Austrian troops on the border with Russia; fighting starts on the 30th, and France (with the Parisian mob in a patriotic fervor) declares war on Germany and Austria on May 1st in accordance with its alliance with Russia.

On May 3rd, Arthur Balfour makes a speech in Parliament to the effect that: (1) Germany has a secret treaty with Belgium to violate its neutrality and use its railroads to circumvent the French defenses (as has become obvious, since Germany is massing troops on the Belgian border); (2) Belgium told Britain of this treaty, and in exchange Britain demanded and received the right to occupy the fortress of Antwerp; and (3) 15 000 British troops have been prepared and will be on their way to Antwerp within 48 hours, in support of Germany. Some of the Belgian populace is not happy to hear this news and invokes the late Adelson Castiau as having been prescient in his opposition to the updating of Antwerp's fortifications to modern standards as a standing invitation to invasion and handing over the country to the first comer. Soon afterward (a date isn't given), in a naval battle off the Jade Bight, fourteen French and Russian ships are easily defeated by a force of ten German ships and twenty-two British ironclads.

On May 2nd, Russian forces are repulsed from Erzurum by the Ottomans, who advance to Kars. By the 18th, after decisively losing various battles, the Russian armies on the Austro-German front are retreating to Warsaw. Elsewhere, Italy (which entered the war against France when France joined) has finished mobilizing. Switzerland, in accordance with Article XCII of the Congress of Vienna's treaty, has occupied otherwise-neutral northern Savoy, so most of the Italian troops take the Riviera route rather than braving possible political entanglements in the Alpine heights. Though victorious at the Battle of Costebelle (around May 30th), the Italians are stymied by the fortifications of Toulon.

On May 14th, Lord Salisbury finally announces Britain's willingness to defend the Ottomans against Russia, despite widespread opposition to defending Muslims against Christians, to adhering to the Cyprus Convention even though it has been abrogated by the Ottomans (though I'm not sure how), and to using troops on defending Turks when they may be needed in defense of the actual British Empire:

We have never professed ourselves ready to support the Government of the Sultan against his Christian subjects, should that contingency arise. But there is one thing on which I think it is well that Europe should understand, that not only this House, but the whole of England, is agreed. We do not desire to see the independent Balkan States crushed beneath the heel of Russia. We do not desire to see the population of Asia Minor pass from the Government of the Turk to that of the Czar.

Swayed by Salisbury's eloquence, Lord Rosebery expresses complete confidence in Salisbury's plan, and only some obstreperous pacifists and Parnellites vote against a bill to assume ten million pounds of debt for the war. In response to Britain's sending troops to Trebizond, Russia declares war on Britain on the 16th, and Britain declares war against Russia on the 18th.

The British encounter some problems with their militia:

The general embodiment of the militia has shown serious defects in our system. These are glaring enough among the English and Scotch militia regiments, but among the Irish they are appalling. Many of the Irish militia battalions are now in the neighbourhood of Aldershot in a special camp. Some of them, like those of Antrim, Tipperary, Tyrone, are a splendid body of men. The great deficiency in some of the battalions is in the correspondence between their numbers and the muster rolls. One correspondent reports having ascertained that there are not a few Irish militiamen who have been in the habit of belonging to as many as five different corps at one time. The way the thing has been done is this: It has never been the practice to call out simultaneously the militia battalions for training; it would interfere inconveniently with the labour market. Certain men, taking advantage of this fact, have made a regular trade of getting the money allowed for one battalion after another as it has been called out. Indeed, so well has the fact been known that it is reported that not infrequently the Sergeant-Major has requested the adjutant of certain battalions to beg that the time of muster might be postponed till after the end of the training of another battalion, in order to ensure a full attendance. Now, however, that the battalions are gathered together the effects are visible enough. I am told that in some battalions nearly half the proper strength is wanting. Some steps are certainly required to cure this evil. The men, it must be observed, don't desert their proper battalion because they attend all their drills. Perhaps now that the militia is embodied it might be possible, legally, to try these men as deserters from the corps with which they do not appear. That, however, is a question for the military powers, not for your humble correspondent. What I am quite certain of is that they will not be tried. Our already slender numbers would be most formidably reduced if all these men were treated as criminals. Moreover, they are not at bottom bad fellows many of them. The idea that it is a crime to get a little more pay out of the public in return for doing a little more drill never entered their minds. The general effect of their action, of course, does not affect them at all. Why, yer honour, didn't I put in me toime honest for me pay? one of them with whom I was expostulating said to me the other day. They are, of course, the best drilled men we have. They have had so much of it. For this war, at all events, it is too late to devise a remedy for this sham.

In the Mediterranean, a combined Anglo-Italian fleet is sufficient to beat France's Toulon fleet at the Battle of Sardinia (while, as you will recall, an Anglo-German fleet is in the North Sea fighting a combined Franco-Russian fleet), allowing the British troop transports to proceed to Trebizond.

On the Franco-German front, the Germans advance without much trouble. The Battle of Machault, on May 12th, is a decisive German victory, and drives a wedge between two five-corps slices of the French army (with three more corps in the middle, ready to assist either slice). By the 31st, the French army has been routed. On June 28th, as the German army nears the city, Paris is temporarily taken over by communists and declares an armistice, but the rebels are soon executed, and, on the next day, the advance is repelled by General de Négrier, as the Germans have overextended between the two flanks of the French troops. General de Galliffet completes the rout of the German forces.

Indian and Australian troops capture Vladivostok on May 18th. On June 7th, Australia receives permission to send a squadron to capture New Caledonia; however, the French fleet sent to meet it forces it to beat an ignominious retreat.

It turns out that sending British troops to Trebizond was a feint—their actual purpose was to relieve the siege of Varna. The Russian army in Bulgaria is routed at the Battle of Kosluji, on June 18th. When English troops are exchanged for Indian ones in Egypt, Mahdist forces in Sudan take the opportunity to attack Egypt, but defeated at the Battle of Wadi Halfa on the 20th.

Back on the eastern front, Germany and Austria declare their intention to set up a Polish buffer state in soon-to-be-former Russian territory, as they respectively siege Warsaw and Ivangorod. Polish troops captured in Bulgaria form the core of a recruitment drive for the German army. With British help, the Ottomans conquer Kars. Russia causes the assassination of the Emir of Afghanistan, but its troops cannot advance past Herat amid the ensuing civil war.

Peace terms on December 31st: