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This History of Europe covers the period after this timeline's POD in 1914. History to that point is identical to OTL.
After the relative peace of the 19th Century, the rivalries between European powers came to a head in 1914. Following the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by a Bosnian Serb Austrian citizen, Austria invaded Serbia. This in turn set in motion a series of events which predicated full-scale war on the European continent. Germany and Austria-Hungary had a long-standing alliance, and were joined by the Ottoman Empire in a war against France, Russia and several smaller powers.
The most prominent nation to remain neutral in the war was the United Kingdom, which was struggling with a difficult Home Rule bill in Ireland. The internal dissent in Ireland between Catholics and Protestants threatened to tear the country apart, which is why Asquith, the British Prime Minister, was somewhat relieved when he received assurances from the German Emperor (Kaiser) Wilhelm II, himself the cousin of Britain's George V, that Germany would not invade Belgium. Had it done so, Britain would have been treaty-bound to declare war on Berlin. Instead, Germany concentrated its attacks on Russia and France, while Austria-Hungary pummeled Russia with Turkish assistance. The war was also fought in Africa with German colonial forces attempting to annex French colonial settlements.
With Britain carefully neutral, it was in a prime position to negotiate an end to the conflict. In the spring of 1915, German forces under General Erich Ludendorff entered Paris. The French government of René Viviani was forced to the bargaining table after a further series of humiliating losses throughout northern France. After the initial talks broke down, Viviani immediately resigned and his successor, Clemenceau, was more successful in negotiating a peace settlement with the Kaiser. The armistice of June 1915 stated that Paris would be returned to French control in exchange for territory north of the Seine.
In the east, the Russian army struggled to hold its western border against a three-pronged assault. Due to its vast size, harsh winters and skilled tactics, Russia remained in a deadlock with the Central Powers (as they became known) throughout most of 1915 and 1916. In France, Clemenceau's government collapsed and anarchy took hold in April 1916 - after rogue French forces crossed into German-occupied France, Berlin responded with force and the armistice was broken.
By 1917, the United States and its President, Woodrow Wilson, had tired of the effect the war was having on international trade. He found an ally in British Prime Minister David Lloyd George (who had replaced Asquith early that year). Wilson and Lloyd George began to open talks with both sides in the conflict with the objective of finding a negotiated settlement to end war in Europe.
Meanwhile, internal forces in Russia were causing continued dissent. In April 1917, the Romanov family were overthrown and replaced by a provisional government led by Alexandr Kerensky. However, Kerensky's government was even more unstable and was soon replaced by the Marxist, or Communist, movement of V.I. Lenin, who seized power in St. Petersburg and immediately began overtures towards peace.
The Treaty of Versailles, jointly negotiated by Wilson and Lloyd George, saw the map of Europe radically redrawn. Key points of the treaty included:
- The partition of Poland between Germany and Austria-Hungary
- Formal retention by Germany of all the areas of northern France it had occupied, with the exception of Paris.
- The Netherlands and Denmark to be made German protectorates (they would eventually be formally annexed), while Belgium was to be divided between Germany and France as a 'buffer' state and turned into a demilitarized zone.
- The Caucasus region to be ceded by Russia to the Ottoman Empire.
- The creation of a unified European Customs Union to foster greater co-operation in Europe.
- War reparations to be paid by Germany and Austria-Hungary to France and Russia.
A New Europe
After the Treaty of Versailles, a "New Europe" (a term first coined by Lloyd George) emerged. The Europe of the post-war period, between 1920 and 1940, was dominated by German and Austro-Hungarian interests. One of those interests was the creation of a European customs and monetary union, which was the personal pet project of Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm. Other European nations, notably France, Italy and especially Great Britain, remained hostile to the idea. The Kaiser's vision, which he outlined in a speech to the Reichstag on September 12, 1920, was of a Europe united, under German leadership, with a single currency, a single trade policy and a single foreign policy. His speech was lauded as visionary in Berlin but labelled 'imperialist' in Moscow and 'absurd' in London. It seemed that the Kaiser was the only person who believed in European Unity. He would find an unlikely ally, much later, however, in the person of Winston Churchill. Churchill, who had served in several British governments, became 'converted' to the cause of European unity and publicly called for a 'United States of Europe' as early as 1920, though it would take another fifteen years for his principles to be put into practice.
In Russia, V.I. Lenin died on May 26, 1922. He had been under significant stress due to the failure of the Bolshevik government to recover territory lost to Germany and the Ottoman Empire during the war. His government increasingly found itself resorting to heavy-handed tactics to control an unruly population, plagued as they were by famine and great poverty, especially in the war-ravaged west. In Levin's honour, the city of Petrograd, formerly St. Petersburg, was renamed Leningrad in his honour. However, it would not take long for the power struggle to succeed him to begin. The conflict was essentially between Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky and their respective supporters. In mid-1923, Trotsky emerged as the rightful successor to Lenin, though critics in the West pointed to his command of the powerful Red Army as his essential base and that his rise to power amounted to little more than a military coup. Stalin, for his part, fled to the West and settled in London, eventually becoming a prominent writer and returning to the priesthood.
France, severely weakened by the war, faced internal problems of its own. After the war, Clemenceau and Millerand had formed a coalition government to concentrate on rebuilding, but tensions between Socialists, Radicals and other factions in the group led to the total collapse of the French government in May 1918. President Raymond Poincaré had no choice, after talks to form a new government failed, to send in the army to restore order. Poincaré was concerned that Germany might attempt to take advantage of the situation to annex more French territory. Since the end of the war, Poincaré had been convinced that there would be another one, sooner rather than later, and his determination to prevent that led to the foundation of the French Fourth Republic with greater powers for the President. Poincaré effectively cemented himself as a lifetime President - though he was democratically elected and would remain so in fair and free contests, Poincaré held the office of President until his death. The Fourth Republic's main priority was re-armament in preparation for any German, Austrian or Turkish threat to either continental France or its colonial possessions in Africa and the Far East.
In 1922 an Italian former journalist, Benito Mussolini, seized power in Rome. His movement, the Fascists, supported nationalist sentiments such as a strong unity, regardless of class, in the hopes of raising Italy up to the levels of its great Roman past. The Fascisti, led by one of Mussolini's close confidants, Dino Grandi, formed armed squads of war veterans called Blackshirts (or squadristi) with the goal of restoring order to the streets of Italy with a strong hand. The blackshirts clashed with communists, socialists and anarchists at parades and demonstrations, all of these factions were also involved in clashed against each other. The government rarely interfered with the blackshirts' actions, due in part to a looming threat and widespread fear of a communist revolution. The Fascisti grew so rapidly that within two years, it transformed itself into the National Fascist Party at a congress in Rome.
Under Mussolini Italy began a process of increasing its military budget and transforming the country from a second-rate European power (it had been untouched by the war) into a military and industrial powerhouse. The Italian dictator, who styled himself il Duce, thus brought himself into conflict with France and the United Kingdom over his empire-building aspirations. France, weakened by the war, had lost its grip on some of its colonies, particularly in Africa. After almost a decade in power, during which time Italy had built up a formidable military force, Mussolini attempted to seize French colonies in Africa and the Far East in the summer of 1930.