An Alternate History of the Netherlands is a little something I've been working on since 2008, and it follows the evolution of a world in which the Dutch were not divided along religous lines during the Dutch Revolt of the last 16th Century. Along with An Alternate History of the Netherlands, some of my other projects, such as the Stardust Sequence (since 2000) and the Wing Commander reboot (since 2010) may make appearances.
On the morning of June 30, 1913, the
USS Swordfish, a Salmon-class submarine, patrolled along the shores of Manitoulin
Island. The day was sunny and half the crew loitered on the submarine’s deck
while it cruised along Lake Huron’s surface. A few of the all-Irish crew tried
their hands at fishing while others cleaned the 50mm deck gun and other
maintained a vigilant watch over the lack. Though war had been declared against
Britain a week earlier, the Swordfish
had yet to encounter anything fiercer than a Canadian freighter which was
quickly sent to the bottom.
It was not until 1113, that morning
did Seaman Conrad O’Donnell inform the boat’s skipper, Lt. Commander Edmund
Fitzgerald that he spotted smoke almost directly ahead. Fitzgerald, like all submarine
commanders in the Great Lakes, knew the Royal Navy planned to sortie from Owin
Sound to strike before the American fleet could leave the confines of Lake
Michigan. When exactly it sortied was not known, and was the purpose of the Swordfish’s, as well as several other
Standing orders were to determine
the size of the enemy fleet along with position and course. As the British
struck at Mackinac Strait in the Second and Third Anglo-American Wars, their
destination was obvious. Fitzgerald gave the order to submerge and his crew
manned their battlestations. The Submarine spent more than an hour tracking the
Royal Navy once they intercepted the fleet. The Anglo-Canadian fleet consisted
of three battleships and battlecruisers, three cruisers, nine destroyers and
ten smaller vessels.
Instead of following orders,
Fitzgerald made an attempt to reduce his report by one battleship. At 1442, the
Swordfish launched two torpedoes
towards the HMCS Leopard, scoring two
hits on the battlecruiser and reducing its best speed to 10 knots. Immediately
after the attack, Royal Navy destroys began to fan out from the battleships and
cruisers, searching for the American submarine.
Had Fitzgerald fired only one
torpedo, the British and Canadians might have first suspected a mine, giving Swordfish time to escape. As it
happened, sharp-eyed watchmen on the HMCS Lancer
spotted the wake from the torpedoes and spread word of the enemy submarine’s
general vicinity. Fitzgerald had little hope of outrunning determined
destroyers and before he was forced to try, he ordered his boat brought close
enough to the surface for its antennae to touch the sky. His warning over the
wireless telegraph was short and memorable. Taking a page from Paul Revere,
Fitzgerald informed Chicago simply that the British were coming.
Whether or not Revere said ‘British’
or ‘regular’ or ‘redcoat’ remains unclear to this day, but what is known is
that the Anglo-American struggle for the Great Lakes dates back to the founding
of the United States of America. Though action on the lakes was light during
the Revolution and occurred mostly after the Treaty of Paris when American
forces took control of forts on the southern shore, fighting between the United
States and Great Britain spread across all the lakes during the Second
Anglo-American War (1812-14).
During 1812 and 1813, the British
and their Indian allies attacked and captured numerous forts along the American
shores of the lakes, including Fort Mackinac, Fort Dearborne and Detroit. In
the case of Mackinac, the American commander of the garrison surrender with
next to no resistance offered. The British sweep through the Great Lakes during
that war was one of the most humiliating defeats in American history. Only the
Battle of Lake Eire fought on September 10, 1813, saved face with a decisive
American victory and control over that lake.
Actions on the Great Lakes during
the Third Anglo-American War (1882-85) offered far stiffer American resistance
yet resulted in almost the same number of British victories. The greatest
battle on the Lakes during that war occurred on July 18, 1884, when the British
and American Lake Ontario squadrons faced off near Galloo Island. The bloody
three hour battle cost the United States dearly as its naval squadron on the
lake was all but annihilated in a decisive British victory. With the United
States Navy effectively erased from Lake Ontario, Royal Marines raided
Rochester, Oswego and Niagara with impunity.
Seven months before the disastrous
battle, British forces landed again on Mackinac Island, laying siege to the
island. American reinforcements attempted to reach Mackinac from Chicago, but
were forced to turn back during a winter’s storm, leaving the soldiers of Fort
Mackinac to fend for themselves. Unlike previous wars, the British could no
longer call upon Indians to aid them as the natives were either expelled from
the region decades before or assimilated into American society.
Nevertheless, with the hope of aid
dashed, Colonel Maxwell Eddington was forced to surrender the garrison, making
it the second time in the fort’s history that the colors were struck, giving
the British as much control over Lake Huron as they would have over Lake
Ontario. The Third Anglo-American War ended poorly for the United States, forcing
them to make territorial concessions to Britain and Canada in the Pacific
Northwest. After falling twice in a century, the United States Navy was
determined that Fort Mackinac would never fall again.
During the 1890s, after a slight
economic depression, both the Army and Navy’s budgets grew in size. Though the
Great Lakes were of great importance, the region saw on a fraction of the naval
dollars that both the Atlantic and Pacific received. Between 1895 and 1905,
Fort Mackinac underwent renovation, refitting and expansion. The previous
garrison of three thousand grew to eight thousands, and new 253 mm short
batteries pointed out towards Lake Huron. Two squadrons of torpedo boats were
delivered to the fort on June 8, 1907. Two minelayers found new homes in
Mackinac’s small port.
Mackinac was not the only location
to receive new batteries. All of the important ports of the Great Lakes saw
rings of fortifications erected in the decade leading up the Great War. Similar
improvements occurred between 1903 and 1913 on the Canadian shores of the
Lakes. After handedly defeating American forces in two previous wars, the Royal
Navy made the mistake that most chronic victors eventually make. They forgot
the axiom ‘always assume you enemy is as least as smart as yourself’. The
United States Navy, as well as Army, was still viewed as a largely amateur
force by the British and other European powers. By not taking their foe
seriously, Britain made a costly blunder before the first shots of the Great
War were fired in 1913.
Both the American and Anglo-Canadian
Admirals in overall charge of the 1913 campaign were obscure characters before
the Great War. Both sides reserved the men believed to be their most able
admirals for the war at sea. This did not mean than Charles Vreeland or Walter
Cowan were inexperienced or incompetent. Far from it. Both ranked high in their
academy days and both severed on numerous ships over the years. So why were
these men stationed at what was to be a sideshow for the Great War? Vreeland
with to serve out the remainder of his naval days in a quiet place and Cowan
made more than one enemy in London that saw him exiled to Ontario.
Charles E. Vreeland was born March
10, 1852, in New Jersey. At the age of 14, he joined the United States Navy as
an apprentice, eventually winning political appointment to the United States
Naval Academy. From his graduation in 1873 to 1911, when he was appointed
commander of the Great Lakes, Vreeland saw service on numerous warships and
watched first hand as they evolved from sail-and-steam to all big-guns. With
the exception of a tour of Europe as a naval attaché between 1894 and 1896,
Vreeland spent virtually his entire career at sea. He rose through the ranks
slowly at first, only becoming an executive office of the USS Delphi in 1897.
Vreeland was given command of the
battleship Kansas on April 7, 1906.
Vreeland remained in command of the Kansas
during its 1905-8 tour with the Atlantic Fleet before his transfer to the USS Oregon, based in Chicago. He gained
overall command of the Great Lakes fleet in 1911, with his promotion to Rear
Admiral. The posting was not the most glorious of naval commands nor sought
after, but as he approached his sixtieth year, Vreeland decided Chicago to be
the perfect posting to remain at until his retirement, planned for 1913. As
tensions with Britain grew and the situation in Europe intensified, the Navy
Department convinced him to delay retirement for one year.
One of the more capable officers
serving under Rear Admiral Vreeland was one Captain Robert Doyle, commander of
the USS Columbia. Doyle was born in
Cleveland, Ohio in 1870. Unlike his commanding officer, Doyle’s rise through
the ranks paralleled that of a rocket through the stratosphere. He was accepted
into the Naval Academy in 1889, graduated in 1893, and saw his first posting on
the armored cruiser USS Boston. By
1900, he earned the rank of Lieutenant Commander and was appointed XO to the
USS Hull, a newly commissioned
torpedo boat destroyer. Following the Tierra del Fuego War, in which Chile
successfully deployed torpedo boats to cripple an Argentine fleet, navies of
the world rushed to produce ships capable of counteracting the small and
As captain of the USS Des Moines, Doyle was on the fast track
towards admiral’s stripes until, in 1906, he ran afoul of a Senator from Massachusetts
who was known was harboring grudges. After pulling some strings, Doyle found
himself relieved of command on the open sea and transferred to Chicago for a
staff assignment at the Great Lakes Fleet headquarters. When Vreeland took
overall command of the fleet, he assigned the veteran sailor as commander of
the battlecruiser Columbia,
ultimately saving Doyle’s career from oblivion.
Commanding the eight thousand
Marines garrisoned on Mackinac Island was one Major Thaddeus Monroe. Monroe was
born in Wyoming Territory in 1873, an unlikely start for any United States
Marine. He tried his hand on the family ranch for several years, until he grew
tired of the same daily routine. Monroe left home at the age of 19 to enlist in
the army, but opted for the Marine Corps when he learned that most of their
postings were tropical paradises. After three years of fighting various wars in
banana republics like Nicaragua, he soon learned that paradise and sweltering
jungle went hand-in-hand. He earned a battlefield commission during his time in
the 1897 Dominican Intervention.
Two tours of duty in Guatemala
proved Monroe a brilliant tactical commander, although he continued to struggle
with overall strategic pictures. Monroe was more a hand’s on leader, preferring
to lead his men from the front line than draw on maps fifty kilometers from the
front line. He loved a good fight, and looked forward to action in the Bahamas
when a fourth war against Britain appeared inevitable. He would see action on
the front lines, but unfortunately for him, the Corps decided his skill would
be put to better use defending Fort Mackinac, which was certain to come under
attack. Monroe took the assignment, organized defenses and trained his men to
repel an invasion. He also spent the better part of the winter of 1912-13
complaining about the weather.
Commanding the join Anglo-Canadian
Great Lakes fleet, Vice Admiral Walter Cowan lived a far more exciting career
than his American counterpart. Cowan lacked much of the education that his
fellow flag officers took for granted, never attending any fancy English
school, but nonetheless entered the Royal Navy in 1884. As a midshipman, he saw
action in the Medditerrean and Nigeria, at the latter location contracting
malaria which invalidated him back home.
He returned to service after a full
recover in 1887, against serving on the Nile River, Indian Ocean and fighting
pirates in Malaysia. Unlike Vreeland, Cowan had plenty of combat experience as
both underling and commanding officer. At a banquet in 1910, Cowan entered a
heated argument with a higher ranking admiral, insulting his superior and
landing in a world of trouble. Only his many years of distinguished service
prevented his career from ending. Instead, like the American Robert Doyle, he
found himself exiled to as remote a posting from the open sea as a navy man
could ever see.
Cowan’s Army counterpart, Lieutenant
General Reginald Wingate, was one of the few high ranking officers of the Great
Lakes Campaign to actually volunteer for the backwater posting. Wingate was
commissioned into the British Army in 1880 as a Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery.
With British influence growing fast over Africa and Southern Asia, Wingate saw
action against numerous opponents in locales ranging from the Sudan to East
Africa to Malaysia to the conquest of Burma.
By 1905, Wingate’s career in the
field was coming to an end as he was appointed Governor-General of British
Sudan. After six years of administrative duty, Wingate hungered for a good
fight, and lobbied London for a field posting. When he was offered command of a
Canadian Army in 1912, he jumped at the chance. As a general, Wingate was privy
to some strategic planning in London, and knew that both the United States and
Great Britain were preparing for another war. Though the United States armed
forces were viewed as amateurs by their British foes, Wingate still looked
forward to testing his mettle against a civilized foe as well armed as him.
Wingate planned not only to take Fort Mackinac like his predecessors for the
two previous wars, but he intended to complete their work. When he took
Mackinac, Wingate had no intention of returning it.
With success in the Third
Anglo-American War, the British opted to change their war plan very little. The
Royal Navy would sortie against Mackinac Island where they would secure the
waters around the island. At such a time, ground forces would land and capture
Fort Mackinac. With the island firmly in their possession, Britain and Canada
could bottle up the bulk of the US Great Lakes Fleet in Lake Michigan. Plans
for 1913 did vary from the 1880s in that the United States Navy split its main
fleet, basing a detachment on Lake Superior. With Michigan bottled up, the
Royal Navy would effectively divide-and-conquer Vreeland’s command, first
eliminating the fleet London assumed would immediately sortie from Chicago,
then hunting down the ships on Lake Superior. Squadrons of ships on Lake Erie
and Ontario would be dispatched after the neutralization of the main fleet.
An actual invasion of the United
States, beyond raids conducted by the Royal Marines, remained on the table.
However, with the British Army divided between commitments in Europe and North
America, their initial plan was a holding action until enemies in Europe were
defeated, much to the objection of their Dominion in Canada. Australian and New
Zealander contingents would be rushed to North America to bolster the defense.
Outright conquest was out of the question; the United States were too large.
Not only was the population greater than Britain itself, but also better armed.
Half the population owned firearms, and even if only a fraction had any
military training, the rest would still be a menace.
In the 1890s, the United States
developed a serious of color-coded war plans in dealing with foreign and
domestic enemies. War Plan Red was the course of action against the British
Empire. Though the plan called primarily for military action in both oceans and
Canada, it did allow for intervention in Britain’s colonies, such as smuggling
weapons into India in hopes of fermenting a major uprising. A three-prong invasion
of Canada was scheduled from Day One, with attacks across the Columbia, north
out of the Great Plains, and an invasion of Ontario.
The plan for the Great Lakes
centered around holding Fort Mackinac. In terms of controlling the Lakes, the
primary objective to the plan would be Lake Huron, with Lake Erie secondary and
Superior and Ontario both tertiary. Control of the lake would cut Canadian
trade on the lakes in half, and force them to rely upon solely on railroads to
connect the industrial east with the agrarian west. Control of Huron would also
allow the US Navy to support the US Army advancing across the York Peninsula.
The naval guns themselves would only be of marginal assistance to an otherwise
vast Army artillery corps. The main benefit of control of the lake is allowing
a greater flow of war material to the front.
Additions to War Plan Red by the
United States Marine Corps call for possible amphibious assaults across the
Great Lakes in the form of flanking maneuvers on the York Peninsula. Such
assaults would only be launched if the advance across such a narrow front
grinds to a halt, as it frequently did. British and Canadian war planners
predicted such maneuvers in their worst-case scenarios. The result was years of
constructing additional fortified lines, as well as naval guns watching any