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The French Civil War was a conflict that began in the late 1930's and ended with the execution of Francois Baptiste and Desmond Guillont on May 4th, 1944. The war was fought between a number of factions struggling for power within the French Empire at the time, but the primary billigerents were the forces of Emperor Edmond Bonaparte following his coronation in 1939, and his younger brother Sebastien Bonaparte, who would eventually become Emperor in October of 1943. A number of regional conflicts occurred at this time as well, all seeking to exploit the conflict of the ruling French. While the Empire needed foreign aid and a decade to recover, historians agree that the French Civil War made the Empire stronger, especially into the late 1950's and 1960's, when Emperor Sebastien was at his peak of power.
Buildup to Civil War: Turmoil in the Twenties and Albert I on the Throne
Ascension of Napoleon III
On June 8th, 1922, Louis II - who had ruled for 32 years to usher in the 20th century - died at the Bonaparte family's home in Nice. He was only 70 at the time, most of his adult life marked by the fate of both preceding Emperors, Louis I and Philippe; to take the throne young, and to die young. Louis II had developed France into a major trading power in the late 1800's and early 1900's, but the emergence of the Pacific Powers in the late 1910's created an economic slump in the final years of his life that he would die trying to avoid. He had a severe brain aneurysm in Nice only days before planning to speak to the King of Portugal about the problems with the European economy.
Napoleon III was Louis' eldest son, but many felt that younger Albert was a more capable leader. Coronated hastily on June 12th, the new Napoleon was thrust into the middle of a growing economic and internal crisis in the Empire. With the major companies that used overseas trading as their income suffering, Napoleon III struggled to resurrect the economy his father could not. Similarly, he was constantly being undercut by his brother Albert, who was trying to use his position in the State Ministry to influence decisions made by the Grand Assembly.
As the Pacific War broke out in 1924, only two years into his reign, Napoleon made the maligned decision to keep the Empire neutral. Despite overwhelming military strength and the possibility of economic opportunity in Asia or North America depending on the side Napoleon III could choose, he decided to attempt to regulate the economy with a series of laws designed to streamline and curtail industrial corruption and waste.
Iron Revolution and Ascension of Albert I
See: Iron Revolution
The Empire's elite politicians and military leaders had had enough by 1925. The economy worldwide was worsening in the wake of a steep, devastating depression in the Empire. Starvation and grumblings of revolution stirred in the eastern provinces, and there was a popular revolt in Berlin ending with the public hanging of Napoleon's appointed governor, Desmond Eunaire. State-minister Albert Bonaparte recognized a necessity for change and on August 19th, 1925, launched what became known as the Iron Revolution.
That morning, members of the Churat - the secret society sworn to protect the Empire - killed the Guard Elite protecting the Emperor at his home in Paris and murdered Napoleon III in his sleep. They were then discovered by reinforcements of the Guard Elite loyal to Albert, and promplty killed in return. News of the Emperor's assassination spread like wildfire throughout the Empire; no Emperor had ever been assassinated before, even though many suspected Louis I had died of malignant causes.
Albert immediately seized control at the State Ministry, shutting down Paris and announcing immediate martial law. Three hundred people were killed in an ensuing day of riots, but the Iron Revolution had already begun.
On August 23rd, Albert ordered the immediate suspension of Grand Assembly activities and for a roll-call in Paris of the Grand Army's primary leadership. On August 27th, fearing that the Grand Assembly would counter his measures, Albert ordered the dissolution of the Grand Assembly and the arrest by the Churat of all Assembly members found in non-compliance. More than half of the sitting Assembly fled to the Papal States, Portugal and England; many would wind up in America.The Roll Call of Generals occurred on August 30th, and by this point the Empire understood that a coup was occurring right beneath their noses. There was a massive revolt in Bordeaux that evening, and in the morning, the city had been bomber and burnt nearly to the ground.
The Roll Call ended up with Albert stripping seven generals he believed to be loyal to the fallen Emperor of their rank, and only two of the "Seven Bastards" managed to escape the Empire alive in the ensuing days. Between September 1st and 4th, the other five members of the military's highest command were killed in a variety of ways by Churat agents. Most famously, General Pierre Tital gunned down six Churat agents in his apartment and on the roof of his building before finally being killed in the gunfit by a sniper across the street. A book, Tital, was published three years later and is considered one of the seminal pieces of French literature from the pre-Sebastienite era. It was a bestseller and twelve film adaptations have been made of the book in four different countries, but only once in the Empire itself, as it was banned until 1981.
The generals found loyal to Albert, many out of fear, were charged with purifying the officer ranks of "Gatonists" - called so after another murdered general, Francois Gaton - and the bloody Purge that followed, in the early half of September, earned Albert the anger of many officers for the next decade, which would eventually come to hurt him and his successor in the long run.
On September 9th, Albert felt comfortable enough in his position to announce his coronation as Emperor of France. He was coronated on the 10th, and so ended the most effective coup in history. The "Iron Revolution" would continue into the fall and winter months, as Albert was far from done purging the Empire of his enemies, of which he now had many.
Albert went about his early reign trying to re-establish stability after his bloody coup, and his sons Edmond and Sebastien, working in the Internal and Foreign Ministries, were essential to this. Edmond reorganized the Internal Ministry to create a body more easily regulated by the Emperor's own office, and made parlays to the new State-Minister, Charles Blomkamp (half-German), to rebuild a suspended Grand Assembly. Since many of the new changes made to the Imperial bureaucracy were made during the period when the Grand Assembly was suspended (August 23rd, 1925-February 14th, 1926), many argued that legally, they had no weight in the Empire. On Valentine's Day, 1926, the Grand Assembly was reinstated, although it was filled with "interim" members handpicked by Albert and Edmond. The term "Valentine's Assembly" was a derogatory term used by citizens of the Empire to denote the puppet Assembly that answered to the Emperor, and not to the people. For the first time in the history of the Empire, the Grand Assembly was not democratically elected as a check to the Emperor's power.
Rule of Albert I, Oktoberkreig and Burning of Grand Assembly
Albert I restored some sense of order to the Empire and his bold economic plans were far more effective than those of his deposed brother. In 1926-27, the French economy showed marked improvement from the government's direct investment in industry, infrastructure and the military. Despite calls to enter the Pacific War, Albert managed to avoid the conflict, recognizing that the war was drawing to a bloody, inconclusive result and that France would emerge stronger thanks to the belligerents hemorrhaging each other into stalemate. While the Pacific War would not end officially for another two years, the Empire had already turned its attention towards continuing its light military campaigns against colonial insurrection in Hindustan and French Africa, semi-autonomous states run by local rulers but in reality French companies and Foreign Legion soldiers.
Nevertheless, discontent was growing in the East. Fearing an impending purge, a group of rebels in the Ukraine led by Nikolai Bukharin and Leon Trotsky started an uprising to counter the Imperial "Eastern Plan," which attempted to massively overhaul the organization of labor and farming in the Ukraine and other parts of Russia. Their initial success caught the Empire off guard, and in October 1928 what became known as the "Oktoberkreig" started in western Ukraine and all the way into old Prussia.
Albert was not prepared to fight a mass rebellion in the East; he had been under the misguided belief that his economic approaches were favored. The response of the Grand Army to the Oktoberkreig was swift and brutal; for the first time in European history, military aircraft - pioneered in the Colonial Wars and Pacific War - were used to bomb European targets. Albert commissioned an airship fleet of blimps to drop flaming explosives upon towns known to harbor "Oktoberists," killing thousands.
His son, Sebastien Bonaparte, led the internal charge to broker a diplomatic agreement with the Oktoberists, sensing that such a vicious response against a part of the Empire that had been violently purged before in the past would only darken the somewhat illegitimate ruler's regnal capacity.
Sebastien's measures were met with moderate and surprising success; Bukharin and Trotsky tenuously agreed to a peace agreement on February 1st, 1929, which called for the immediate ceasefire of all Oktoberists sponsored by the leadership. Sebastien urged his father not to brutally murder the two in order to save face; Albert disagreed, however, and arranged for Bukharin's assassination. Trotsky fled to Persia and later America, where he would die in 1942 after becoming a revolutionary and fiercely anti-Imperial writer.
The Oktoberkreig had very muddled results. The combatants had been defeated in the field of battle, had their homes bombed to cinders and their leaders cowardly appeased Albert only to die or flee the Empire. The survivors grudgingly accepted the established order of the Empire as it was and returned to their lives.
For this reason, Albert championed his victory over the Oktoberkreig, although the whole episode had only proven his deepening unpopularity and the lasting questions about his rule's legitimacy. But as the economy began to improve in early 1929, the elite began to celebrate his rule and the working class found his generous labor reform policies to their liking.
On August 1st, 1929, the Grand Assembly was set aflame, killing fifteen members and two policemen who tried to put the fire out.
Albert was unsure who would so brazenly attack his government, but he responded by indefinitely suspending the Grand Assembly and assuming powers himself. His inner circle of old State Ministry allies began to plot a massive purge across the Empire to dispel discord within the populace.
The New Reign of Terror
From November 8th, 1929, to June 17th, 1931, the New Reign of Terror was in full swing. Orchestrated largely by Francois Baptiste, one of the architects of the Iron Revolution, anyone and everyone suspected of disliking the government was targeted in sweeping arrests and swift extrajudicial executions. Among those who were killed were famous authors Yves Cartres (who had just submitted his book for publication) and Jean Reane, newspaper owner Tomas Linnes, and musician Karl Koecher. Artist Adolf Hitler, who was at the height of his popularity, was arrested but managed to escape to America with his wife and three children before the Churat could return for him. Following the purge, popular opera singer Benito Mussolini relocated to Rome, fearing a second wave of purges imminent.
The New Reign of Terror resulted in the deaths of nearly 1,500,000 people across the Empire, the bloodiest civilian purge since Death Week in 1885. Towards the end of the Terror, Albert decided that some of his allies from the Iron Revolution had grown to comfortable in their positions and were now trying to manipulate him. Several of his staunchest friends were systematically rounded up and hauled away to camps in the French and German countryside where they were murdered, burned and buried.
"The air literally stank of the burnt flesh of the Empire's enemies," General Eduoard Jopin would later recall in his memoir. He was a soldier at the time and personally witnessed the throat-slitting death (the method of choice) of Desmond Aumange, who had been integral to the rise of Albert.
With hundreds of thousands dead and his enemies for the time being removed, Albert continued his brave economic policies that were, for the most part, very successful in reinvigorating the French economy and militarizing the nation. Still, throughout the 1930's, he conducted systematic extrajudicial murders often with the assistance of the military and Churat, and between 1932 and 1937 as many as 10,000,000 are estimated to have died through forced slave labor on the various construction projects throughout the Empire, cultural "cleansing" or simply purges to remove suspected political enemies.
Foreign Relations and Interference in Ireland
Albert was a career State Ministry man - he had very little experience in foreign relations. His son, Sebastien, was charged primarily with dealing with foreign governments. In this regard, he was very successful; while the Albertine regime was very unpopular around the world, Sebastien helped normalize relationships with foreign countries.
His primary goal was to tie himself closely to the Americans. Knowing that they had just emerged bloodied, but not defeated, from the Pacific War, Sebastien maintained a cordial relationship with President Robinson, and established a legitimate friendship with his successor, Herbert Hoover. Hoover distrusted Sebastien enormously, and considered Albert a danger to world peace, but needed French aid to help dig out of the massive debt that the Pacific War had left America in. When America's economy rebounded heartily in the early 1930's, Hoover shared the wealth back to Sebastien; the Trans-Atlantic Alliance of old was as strong as ever, despite deep mutual distrust. France understood that alongside the Chinese-Japanese bloc, America was one of the few countries that could realistically oppose him militarily.
The Chinese Emperor Wa liked Sebastien, and respected France's ability to balance its relations with China and America without taking sides in the ongoing, now non-military struggle.
The primary threat to the Albertine regime, however, was England - which following a tumultuous start to the 20th century had centralized under the Socialist rule beginning in 1920 and was now, in fact, a rapidly growing economy and regional power. The new Socialist Premier, Francis Cumberland, had his eye on invading Scotland and, potentially, Ireland, to reassert Socialist rule in the British Isles.
Sebastien argued that Cumberland was a lone danger out of more level-headed members of the Socialist Party in England, and while he quickly sent Irish President Michael Collins (a former general and respected leader) enormous amounts of military supplies, he still did not believe that attacking England was in France's best interest. When England launched a preemptive attack on Ireland in 1935, Sebastien was overruled by his father, who sent a massive invasion force to Ireland to help fight the English and, in 1936, invaded southern England itself and surrounded London, despite heaving fighting.
Albert wanted to annex England, and Edmond agreed with this plan - there would never be a better time. Sebastien knew that despite open military defeat, the time was not ripe for such a maneuver. He cut a backroom deal with English diplomats to call a truce on December 1st, 1936, and contacted Socialist Party members about ousting Cumberland, who was forced to resign in early 1937. Sebastien also suggested to his counterparts in Ireland, and even directly to Collins, that England be forced to pay massive reparations and be stripped of colonial possessions, most of which would be handed to Ireland under French supervision.
Edmond was enraged when he learned that Sebastien had brokered a deal that Albert and himself had not approved of. Nevertheless, Cumberland was gone and Neville Chamberlain pleaded for mercy from the French, who had ravaged southern England and bombed London heavily. Sebastien came under heavy criticism from all corners of the government for not sticking the dagger in England's heart when he had the chance, but Sebastien recognized as well that something very dangerous was brewing in the East and that France could not keep its eye away from an increasingly volatile internal matter too long. The fear of a second Oktoberkreig was very real, but the State and Interior Ministries were largely ignoring the issue. Not only that, Albert's tyrannical reign was beginning to catch up to him, and deep divisions were growing in the Parisian government. Something was about to happen.
Sebastien's Flight to Russia and European Alliance
Flight to Russia
Baptiste and an Albertine ally who emerged in the mid-30's, Gaspard Thibeau, saw a growing "Sebastienite" camp as a direct threat to Albert, who despite clout in government and military was starting to show early signs of Parkinson's disease and some feared that his weakness would expose him to a coup from Sebastien, whose disagreement on foreign and internal policy was almost unbridgeable in comparison with that of Baptiste, who was the primary advisor to Albert and Crown Prince Edmond.
Baptiste approached Albert in May and directly questioned Sebastien's loyalty. Albert weighed his options; his son was ambitious and had spared countless French lives in what could have been a bloody war to stabilize and control England, but he had also gone behind the regime's back and cut a deal without approval and openly criticized his father's policies and practices, especially the New Reign of Terror. Sebastien was a liability.
His decision was largely made for him, however, on June 10th. Sebastien was in contact with a group of native Russian generals and was debating the ability to seize Moscow in case of a national emergency - such as a second Oktoberkreig. However, Albert was led to believe by members of the Churat that the proposal of a seizure of Moscow and potentially Kiev was designed for Sebastien to take control in Russia and use Eastern patriotism against the Empire (which wouldn't be far from the truth in less than a year).
Albert sided with the Churat and on June 17th issued a warrant for his son's arrest. Sebastien had his own allies within the Churat who had tipped him off and so on June 18th, he began his infamous Flight to Russia.
Sebastien arranged with his most loyal bodyguards to transport his pregnant wife Annabelle and son Maurice to his private Alpine home in Geneva, beyond the Empire's borders. He himself was going to flee to Berlin, where he knew he could trust his old ally Konrad Greine.
However, Sebastien's chaffeur was arrested by the Churat en route to his apartments in northern Paris, and Sebastien himself was forced to flee down a back ally as Churat agents broke into his home. The Foreign Minister of France finally encountered Edgar Tollerie, whom he bribed a significant sum of money to drive him to safety. Sebastien periodically hid in the back of Tollerie's truck as they traveled overnight to Dusseldorf. Sebastien attempted to contact Greine, but the Dusseldorf segment of the Churat found him in time. Sebastien managed to escape, and Churat agent Lucien Sartre shot and killed two policemen in his pursuit of Sebastien. In turn, Sebastien overpowered Sartre at a barn outside of Dusseldorf and stole the Churat agent's car after strangling him to death, and drove east with all haste.
When the car ran out of gas, Sebastien stole another car, and when that one ran out of gas, he stole a horse and rode it for three days before stealing a second horse, which he rode to a rural train station, where he snuck into the freight container of an east-bound train. Finally, on June 26th, he arrived, haggard and starving, at the farm of Sergei Milov in western Russia. Milov took care of the barely-living Foreign Minister, but when he realized who he was, he nearly shot him. It was Milov's wife, Anastasiya, who argued that Sebastien may be of some value to them. They agreed to take him to Vasily Pitorskin, the local Russian strongman. Sebastien's Flight to Russia was over.
Increasing Political Tension
Back in Paris, Albert was furious and instantly ordered the Churat's highest-ranking operatives in Germany executed - a bloodbath of thirty capable agents. Sebastien had been alone and outnumbered for several days in central and eastern Germany and nobody had managed to catch him. Baptiste instantly threw together a hastily-assembled media report announcing the disappearance and death of the traitor Sebastien, who had been shot and killed fleeing to the East.
This propaganda release came back to bite Baptiste. Furious members of the Foreign Ministry demanded a reason for the accusations of treason, and to present Sebastien's body. The majority of the Foreign Ministry had seen Baptiste's machinations before, and his penchant for releasing completely unsubstantiated and false information. Baptiste's own slogan was, after all, "It's not a lie if the government tells you it is true."
French Imperial propaganda worked wonders in France and much of Germany, however, because of the comfort most there lived in compared to Russia. In Russia, many high-ranking officers of the Grand Army were curious if Sebastien had made it to the East, and immediately sent out their own hired agents to turn up information on his whereabouts - not to turn him in to Albert, but to see what use they could find for him.
On July 2nd, twenty-two high ranking members of the Foreign Ministry resigned in light of the questions over Sebastien's death. Six were arrested promptly, and the rest fled East as well - this would be an important component of Sebastien's early political infrastructure. Questions arose in the Grand Assembly over Albert's handling of the situation, and many members were skeptical of his appointment of Thibeau, a career State Ministry goon, to the post of Foreign Minister. An inquiry into the Foreign Ministry began shortly thereafter to determine loyalty, and in classic Albertine fashion, another roll call of generals was considered in lieu of the heightened political tension.
Unlikely Allies: Sebastien Builds a Coalition in Russia
Vasily Pitorskin was like most bureaucratic Russian criminals - he was rich, controlled businesses and, effectively, land in a large swath of territory the local governors had appointed him, and was more or less a gang lord with allegiances for sale. The Russia of the 1930's was a violent, impoverished place, with French bureaucrats rarely leaving the safety of Moscow, Petrograd and Kiev and leaving the rest of the Department to be run by local criminals.
Pitorskin saw the value in Sebastien and invited him to be his guest. Sebastien was recruited to help Pitorskin put down a rival gang that questioned his rule, and Sebastien reluctantly complied. A month earlier, he had been the Foreign Minister of the French Empire, and now he was a common thug fighting for a Russian crime boss.
However, Sebastien soon found that the web of loyalties between the Russian bosses was intricate and ever the politician, Sebastien also found that they were easy to manipulate. In September of 1937 he met Feodor Iosefevich Kristunov, easily one of the most respected bosses of rural west Russia. Kristunov and Pitorskin had an uneasy alliance, and Sebastien pointed out to both how a common cause - the toppling of a vicious and corrupt local governor and East Department strongman, Evgeni Akayev - would benefit them both.
The subsequent assassination of Akayev on September 30th, 1937, and the massive firefight that began between Akayev's Russian soldiers and Kristunov's men, is considered by many to be the first shots fired in the French Civil War. Akayev had been directly subordinate to Iosef Bikholkin, the Governor of Smolensk District, who immediately rounded up a mixed French and Russian Grand Army division stationed in Smolensk to crush the rural gangs who had killed off his hated, but loyal, enforcer.Sebastien termed the fight against Bikholkin a "second Oktoberkreig" when trying to arouse support. Sebastien's knowledge of Imperial missives and the structure of the Grand Army in Russia proved invaluable to the rebels, who engaged Bikholkin's men at Subitin on October 12th, 1937, after avoiding them through the forest for three days. The Grand Army force of 8000, complete with vehicles, was routed and embarrassed by about 2500 guerrillas.
Upon hearing the news of Sebastien and a pack of Russian criminals led by the infamous Kristunov having killed Bikholkin's enforcer and then embarrassed the puppet governor's private army under overwhelming odds, many of the disenchanted Grand Army commanders in the Eastern Department mulled throwing their support behind the rebels. Sebastien, in a secret meeting with a group of captains stationed in Smolensk, pointed out that it was the officers who had lost favor with the Grand Army elite in Paris who were typically sent to Russia. "The Emperor's favorites go to state dinners and complain about trivial matters such as fine art and sailing. You are here in Russia, in the cold, forgotten and uncared for."
Sebastien's experience as a Parisian insider was invaluable in brewing discord within the ranks in the Grand Army, discord which eventually reached several higher commanders. While many had often resented the practice of graft in the Grand Army, it was considered a tradition for elite families to earn preference, but never had it been as rampant as in the late 1920's and early 1930's. As Sebastien himself said in late October, "The deserving officers should be the generals making policies in Paris, not the richest ones."
Bikholkin attempted another attack against Sebastien's small coalition, which this time had recruited almost 4,000 young men, most of them criminals, near Smolensk itself. Once again, a much smaller force defeated a Grand Army contingent 10,000 strong, and Sebastien commandeered two French tanks which he rode into Smolensk. The Battle of Smolensk raged for three days from November 4th to November 7th, and on the 8th, Bikholkin was executed personally by Pitorskin. The French Civil War had truly begun.
Parisian Reaction and Winter of 1937-38
Albert had largely ignored the assassination of Akayev - it was such a non-issue, in his mind, that when told of the obscure enforcer's death he had said "Who?" and ignored his advisor. Baptiste sensed that something was wrong, however, and immediately ordered a freezing of public information coming out of the Eastern Department until he could deduce what was going on.
Edmond sided with Baptiste, fearing his father's age and clear ailments were affecting his judgment. He asked a group of his personal advisors, separate from Baptiste (whom he did not fully trust) to begin an inquiry into the political situation in Russia, assisted largely by the Churat. Here another internal conflict arose - Edmond did not trust the Churat in the least, believing that they sought to run a shadow government of sorts and that Fredric Valence, the Minister of the Churat, sought to manipulate him once Albert had passed on.
It fell to high-ranking Churat agent Heinrich Himmler, one of the few survivors of Albert's vicious purge of German operatives, to look into the matter. Himmler, like most German Churat agents, felt that they were treated like second-class citizens by the government, despite their secretive organization's proud history of all peoples within the Churat being treated as equals. The Albertine regime had been one of the most prejudiced in the history of the Empire, and Himmler's loyalty was wavering - he found the fact that he had survived the initial purge a miracle, and attributed it largely to his personal favor with Valence.Albert was ambivalent towards the mobilization of the Churat and the Interior Ministry by Baptiste and his son, but he was more concerned with growing discontent within the Grand Assembly. When Bikholkin was embarrassed by Sebastien's ragtag rebel army and later killed during the Battle of Smolensk, the Grand Assembly caught wind of the incident (allegedly due to the Churat breaking Baptiste's orders on withholding information) and demanded answers. Albert, furious, ordered the XIV Corps of the Grand Army, stationed in Minsk, to move against Smolensk immediately. General Luc Essielle, the commander of the XIV Corps, was reluctant to set out against rebels in the cold of winter. Nevertheless, he set out for Smolensk, but upon arriving on November 20th found the rebels having retreated from the city. They had, however, left behind numerous booby traps in all the important government buildings, and conducted night raids from bases outside of the city. About 400 Grand Army troops were killed in a three-week period against fifteen rebel losses. Essielle disobeyed a direct order from Paris and pulled three-fourths of his 40,000 strong XIV Corps out of Smolensk, stationing pieces of his army strategically in the surrounding countryside.
The result was predictable - an emboldened rebel army, which had only increased in strength thanks to the victory of Smolensk, escalated raids against the XIV Corps throughout December. The Christmas Eve Raids were a mass-scale offensive by Kristunov's forces to wreak havoc, using explosives, deception and the cover of night. Numerous patrols from Essielle's troops chased the rebels into the forest, where they were routinely massacred and picked off.
By early January, having lost nearly 2500 men in and around Smolensk, Essielle pulled out completely, despite protestation from Paris, and holed his entire corps up in Orsha. From there, he requested the use of the Air Command to bomb the still-vibrant city of Smolensk in order to clear a path for his XIV Corps.During December, the Churat had figured out that Sebastien was the ringleader of the growing "Smolensk Movement," and agents reported this information directly to Himmler. On January 6th, 1938, Himmler made the infamous decision to burn the report containing vital intelligence collected on the Sebastienites and soon thereafter he shot two Albertine agents and drove to Smolensk, unarmed, without bodyguards. Once there, he pledged his support for Sebastien and suggested that he help him uncover the inner workings of the Churat. Sebastien did not trust Himmler, and Pitorskin, now one of Sebastien's right-hand men, wanted to kill him, but the Emperor's son allowed Himmler to stay on as a nominal advisor, although he was not permitted to be present at meetings of strategy.
What Sebastien sorely lacked was intelligent military commanders - when Essielle began his bombing campaigns and received his requested tank support later on in January, he realized that the Smolensk Movement might, in fact, be in real danger. Kristunov's work in uniting the rural bosses of western Russia and Belorussia had earned him an army nearly 30,000 strong, but they were mostly criminals and farmers going against trained soldiers with air support and heavy armored cavalry.
It was Pitorskin who offered the most obvious suggestion - if Sebastien could prove his strength against the Grand Army, then Russian conscripts may begin to defect. Albert had ordered the XXIII and XVII Corps in Moscow to move against Smolensk, and Sebastien had duly noted how slow they had been to mobilize. He figured that disenchanted French commanders and their mostly-Russian soldiers had little interest in acting on the orders of a capital so far from home to crush an upstart leader that they sympathized with. On the flip side, Essielle's mostly French XIV Corps had little qualms about shooting Russians in a land they did not live in and had not lived in long (the XIV Corps had been moved to Minsk as per the Military Reorganization Act of 1936).
On January 27th, 1938, the Sebastienites launched an ambitious attack against Essielle at Goryany, where the XIV Corps won a sort of Pyrrhic victory - the rebels were repelled, but with minimal losses. Sebastien ordered his forces to move around Goryany and attack Korobki instead, drawing Essielle's attention away from the Dnieper. This feint allowed a larger force of rebels to move down the Dnieper valley towards Orsha, where Essielle himself was holed up with the bulk of his reinforcements from Minsk.
On February 2nd, 1938, Sebastien launched a lightning-campaign using retrofitted civilian trucks and vehicles and the few tanks the rebels had commandeered at Dubrovno, where the XIV Corps was forced to retreat. On the 4th, they were struck again at Pirogi, where the Grand Army suffered losses of nearly 5000 compared to 1500 rebels and retreated back to their fortifications at Orsha. Hundreds of farmers from the Dnieper valley joined Sebastien after the Battle of the Dnieper and the Sebastienites struck against Orsha on the 10th. Essielle was assassinated by an associate of Pitorskin on Valentine's Day and the XIV Corps moved west towards Baran, feeling Orsha was too difficult to properly defend.
With control of a significant portion of the Dnieper river valley following fighting in the freezing cold, Sebastien set up his main offices in Orsha while Kristunov and Himmler began eyeing a push east from Smolensk.
The Great Defection
In Russia, there was an enormous reservoir of untapped personnel. The industrial capabilities were minor compared to those of France and the Rhineland, but Smolensk was a valuable catch for the Sebastienites in that there were factories that could produce weapons and tanks. All through the early months of 1938, the rebels began to produce hard materials and the rebel government solidified its position. Still, the goal was Moscow - while the Smolensk Movement was a minor enough episode that Albert would probably just move another division in the XIV Corps' stead, a mass uprising across Russia would be impossible to ignore.
Ten years since the Oktoberkreig, most Russians were equally disenchanted by their poor, agrarian economy that benefited primarily the "dirty westerners," as most Imperials were called. Sebastien recalled his experiences in the late 1920's and recognized that the Oktoberkreig had posed a true threat to the stability of the Empire - the issue, however, was that it was a factionalized peasant uprising with little clear leadership. In order for the Smolensk Movement to be effective, he needed the support of the Eastern (French-descendant) elites and the Grand Army. In his vision, he was embarking upon a combination of the violence ten years prior as well as the War of Napoleonic Succession - he was deposing an unpopular family member with a corrupt government from the East.
Sebastien recognized the differences between himself and his ancestor Louis I, however - he was leading rebels in the forests of Russia, not inspiring armies and nations to follow him through Germany and into Paris. However, the comparisons were valid - he saw himself as a 20th century Louis I, and Francois Baptiste and his State Ministry cronies as vile, manipulative puppetmasters similar to Laurence D'Villieon and the Churat of the 1840's.
With the victory at Orsha, Sebastien now had legitimacy in the eyes of many reluctant Russians - the rural and township bosses who had doubted his strength were the ones now flocking to Kristunov, asking how they could apply their small personal armies to the cause. Throughout late February, Sebastien worked to consolidate his power in Byelorussia and the Smolensk region, and everywhere, local bosses were being told to either join rank or face the consequences. One of the most famous assassinations of this period was the ambitious murder of Vladimir Subatov, who was killed when his car was smashed by a piano dropped onto it by a construction crane.
Beginning in March, Sebastien's campaign to attract the interest of the rural bosses expanded eastwards, where he knew he had three targets he would need to sway - Moscow's Grand Army commander, Ricard Sault; the German-born governor of Petrograd, Friedrich von Hessel; and Novgorod's Mikhail Tomarovsky, one of Russia's most powerful bosses, who ruled a swath of territory larger than Belgium as his personal kingdom.
Rural bosses even in the Moscow area and almost as far south as Kiev were gathering strength, believing that a push to Kiev and Moscow would be imminent. Grand Army leadership throughout the Eastern Department patiently watched and waited, curious to see how Sebastien would handle the growing tides of discontent. While sympathetic, few wanted to get involved if a massive Imperial crackdown were to begin.
Himmler recognized that Hessel was the lynchpin of their problem - he was a favorite in Paris due to his vicious rule in northern Russia, having killed half a million Russians through forced starvation and murder since the Oktoberkreig. Himmler contacted an old Churat friend of his in Petrograd to announce his intentions, and arranged for Hessel's immediate assassination. The cruel governor was killed as he ate in a restaurant, surrounded by his bodyguards and his mistress, gunned down by five of Pitorskin's best killers. The Churat covered up the event and calmly passed it off to Albert in Paris as a "gang slaying".
The death of Hessel and his actress mistress caused a huge uproar in Paris, where he had been one of the symbols of security in the Eastern Department. With Hessel gone, members of the Imperial bureaucracy in Petrograd either fled to Helsingfors or Stockholm as the major bosses of Petrograd began a violent battle to seize control of the city.
The emergent Petrograd boss was Grigoriy Rozkov, who had experience from the Oktoberkreig and was a ruthless killer. As many as 25,000 of his enemies in and around Petrograd are estimated to have died between the March 9th assassination of Hessel and his pledge of allegiance to Sebastien on April 4th. Most Russians fled the lawless city, and members of the Grand Army were killed as much by civilians and gang members as the other way around.
Marshall Sault in Moscow was contacted by Himmler on March 10th, and the warning was that the same could soon happen to him if he did not either immediately demilitarize Moscow and move his three Corps stationed in Moscow south to Odessa. His other option was to defect and join Sebastien, and commit Moscow's massive industrial base towards the cause. Sault conferred with his top commanders, who all were sympathetic towards the Sebastienite cause. On March 12th, Sault resigned his command as Grand Marshall of the Eastern Department and boarded a train headed straight for Konigsberg.
The Great Defection began with Sault's resignation. Tens of thousands of Grand Army troops stationed in the Eastern Department, from as far away as the Persian Frontier, defected and headed straight for Moscow to amass. Seeing this, Tomarovsky in Novgorod travelled personally to Smolensk and told Sebastien that his criminal empire was, for what it was worth, his to use. Tomarovsky controlled numerous factories, refineries and other necessary infrastructure in his territory, and with that Sebastien had taken control of almost all of Russia.
European Alliance Founded and Russette War
Sebastien's allies within the Russian divisions of the Grand Army from before the Flight to Russia included Jean-Patric Alons (the father of future Marshal Emmanuel Alons), Georgiy Lukov, Sergey Simionev, and Dmitri Ivanov. The loyal corps flanked Moscow as Sebastien moved his base of operations east from Smolensk. There was a tentative, wary alliance formed between the rural bosses and the Grand Army leaders, who had often turned a blind eye towards the criminal activities in Russia for a cut of the profit. Sebastien himself described his makeshift army as "an alliance of the corrupt, the crude, the violent, the scoundrels, and the thieves." Still, with the now-mighty Kristunov on his side as well as Tomarovksy (whom some called "Czar Tomarovsky"), Sebastien held the Moscow Congress on April 26th to strike up a plan on how to move forward. Sebatien was not quite ready to go on the offensive against his father and brother, despite his recent successes.
The Moscow Congress resulted in a tentative union known as the "European Alliance." The Supreme Allied Commander was Sebastien, and men such as Kristunov, Pitorskin, Himmler, and Tomarovsky were granted the titles of General, alongside Grand Army commanders already with that rank. Sebastien deferred to Lukov, the most senior and highly-regarded Russian-born general, on matters of organization within the Army of Europe, the name given to Sebastien's force of over 750,000 men throughout central and western Russia.
The Moscow Congress also provided what were called the Allied Accords, a stated goal by Sebastien: the formation of an independent Empire, whether through the breakoff from Paris itself or the forced overthrow of the Albertine regime. Sebastien's vision was a new French Empire to replace one he believed was stagnant - he painted an image for the Russians of an Empire in which they would share equally in the wealth of the entire nation. While many Russians were apprehensive about following Sebastien blindly into battle, especially with ominous news of a rapidly mobilizing Grand Army force in the Polish counties, Sebastien's outline of four semi-autonomous Departments of the Empire operating under one Emperor was one they could get behind - a looser Imperial Union.
The main problem facing Sebastien as May of 1938 began was the question of French settlers in Russia. Since the 1830's, the tide of settlers to the region had resulted in intermarriages and a symbiant culture - the Franco-Russian subculture, which at the time had a population as high as 35,000,000 in Russia, which in total was home to about 100,000. In many cities, the Franco-Russians, called russettes, outnumbered the ethnic Russians. The russettes were generally worried about what they feared would be a popular rebellion to drive them out of Russia, where most of the families had lived for generations. Renee Rosimou was one of the most highly-regarded russettes, due to his history of promoting equality with the ethnic Russians. He met with Sebastien in May as violence between russettes and ethnic Russians began to escalate to levels even beyond those of the Oktoberkrieg and expressed his concerns for his people.
Sebastien was unable to initially convince Rosimou that he could control the Russian people long enough to prevent any serious ethnic violence in the countryside, and so in the summer of 1938 the Russette War, as it came to be called, began. About 50,000 russettes were killed alongside 34,000 Russians - few on either side were members of Sebastien's coalition. The violence became a thorn in the paw of Sebastien as a powerful group of Russian rural bosses who had never bent to Kristunov's will began waging a campaign of ethnic cleansing against russette communities, hoping that the Army of Europe would soon follow. Finally, on June 27th, Sebastien attacked the rural bosses' militia outside of Dalin and the result was a massacre, with almost 27,000 deaths against Sebastien's 900. While the Russette War would continue into early September, the bloodiest parts were over and Sebastien had proven his commitment to respecting the rights of the russettes. Rosimou recruited almost 100,000 young russettes to the fold by August as the Grand Army mobilized, and the stage was set for one of the greatest campaigns in the history of warfare.