Alternate history or “alt hist” has long been a favorite of authors. Essentially a form of science fiction predicated on a “What if” scenario. This exploration of a changed timeline could be based on large scale events, like “what if Nimitz had been defeated by Nagumo at Midway” or upon smaller, seemingly insignificant happenings, like “what if William Walker had defeated the Central American Coalition in 1856?.” These catalyst events are usually referred to as a POD, or “Point of Departure” from the real history we know in our world. Not surprisingly, most alternate history fiction is in some way related to warfare.
This leads to entirely different maps, changed politics, and (usually) a drastically altered timeline.
The popular television series Man in the High Castle (itself based upon the novel by Philip K. Dick) is an example of alt history, as is the forthcoming Maelstrom Rising (Triarii) series by author (and Breach-Bang-Clear contributor) Pete Nealen.
This article will be updated with additional material.
Cover photo, above: KMS Bismarck passing Abd al Kuri en route to Suquotra, May 12, 1943. The battleship and accompanying vessels, including KMS Seydlitz (an Admiral Hipper class heavy cruiser) were assigned the task of supporting landing operations on the island by MSK (Marinestosstruppkompanie) troops and elements of II Division Indigini commanded by Hamid Idris Awate. The assault, conducted against the highly motivated but badly outnumbered No. 3 BN, 14th Punjab Regiment, was successful and the Fliegerführer Sokotra was emplaced.1
It’s always good to find a new author or book you enjoy, and better still if you find an anthology that recommends new authors to you in its collected tales. Happily, such is the case of Those in Peril, book 1 of the Phases of Mars series. Better still, not only is it full of good stories, it features one of our crew in it: Phil Bolger!
There are fourteen stories in the Chris Kennedy/James Young edited series, with stories occurring from as far back as Edward “Blackbeard” Teach to as recently as WWII and many others besides. As with any collection of this kind, it contains a few good tales and a handful that aren’t quite such, but overall it’s an excellent lineup of mostly military-related alt-history fiction.
An example of the good stuff is Palmerston’s Ironclads, by William Stroock, wherein the UK makes common cause with the Confederacy and sends elements of the Royal Navy to the eastern seaboard.
I sat in the House of Commons and watched the Parliamentary debate…The Moralist man wondered by Great Britain, a nation that spends so much to stop the evil slave trade, would make common cause with the slavers of the Confederacy. The Middle Class man fretted about sending his sons to die in North America. The Historical Man remembered the previous two wars with the Americans from which Britain profited little and wondered what good could come of such a conflict. The Paranoid Man worried about the ever-scheming French, or Russian designs on India’s Northwest Frontier. The Pacifist Man asked after the Crimea and the Mutiny, did Britan really need another war?
In that story, an expeditionary force comprised of the 9th Royal Regiment of Foot and several warships, including HMS Warrior and others of the North American Station under Admiral Milne set out from Halifax to harry the American coast. First, they all but raze Portland, then move on to Boston and thence to New York and the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
There was much idle speculation below decks, with some positing that the squadron would sail right past New York and make for Washington. But in the darkest hours, the fleet steamed west and then turned north. As the morning sun rose, we sailed past Sandy Hook and the Verrazano Narrows and into New York Harbor. It is a truly impressive anchorage, even more so than London, with a massive dockyard…
…The city boasted formidable defensive works. The harbor was protected by two island forts. On the right, at the entrance to the East River, lay Governor’s Island and Fort Columbus. On the left, Bedloe Island and Fort Gibson defended the Hudson River. Behind them on the tip of Manhattan was Castle Garden and the Battery. This was a devil’s triangle of massive guns. Later, we learned that the ordnance native to these fortifications was reinforced by a dozen batteries of Federal Artillery. No naval expert was I, but even I could see that sailing into that triangle would mean certain destruction for our squadron.
Later comes the attack on New York Harbor and an encounter with USS Monitor.
There followed a long cannonade of almost unimaginable force. Fort Gibson wilted before the onslaught; masonry, ramparts, and guns all blew to pieces. As the ironclads blazed away at Fort Gibson, Trafalgar and Nile followed in their wake. We stayed back and guarded Himalaya. When Admiral Milne decided that Fort Gibson had had enough, he signaled the four ironclads to steam east-southeast. Gradually, the battle-line snaked around Bedloe Island. As it did so, guns from Manhattan’s Battery opened fire at 2,000 yards. Fort Columbus’ guns joined in. The ironclads closed with Governor’s Island, as did Trafalgar and Nile. As they did so, Duke of Wellington built up steam and went north-northeast toward Governor’s Island’s west side and the East River.
I’ll leave it to you to read the story and see what happens.
USS Vellamo, a Galena class wood-hulled broadside ironclad, after an indeterminate encounter with HMS Trafalgar off New Shoreham. Vellamo, Mystic-built like Galena, was assigned first to the Coast Blockading Squadron, then later with the Marlor and Sons-built Varuna and several other vessels to Conant Station near Boston. Arriving too late to from Hampton Roads to help USS Monitor, she and her attendant squadron successfully defended Block Island Sound and the New York-New Jersey Bight, albeit briefly. She was ultimately sunk during the Battle of Hoffman Island by HMS Nile, leaving the Hudson River open to the depredations of British warships.2
Another one of several engaging stories in the anthology (and not the only to take place during WWII) is Corsairs and Tenzans, by our own Phil Bolger. (Shameless plug: you can find more of his work on the Philip S. Bolger Amazon author page.)
Bolger’s story begins in the early morning hours of January 5, 1944, in the cockpit of an FW200 Condor off the coast of Italian Somaliland.
In this story, Allied ships of the Oahu Pact (most prominently comprising the United States and its senior partner, the Empire of Japan) are en route to the Horn of Africa to confront a combined German-Italian fleet. Among the ships of the latter fleet are both the KMS Bismarck and the KMS Tirpitz (both of them. Command of the former fleet is held by IJN Admiral Isokuru Yamamoto.
“What do we think the Germans have, sir?” Bailey asked. “Intelligence seemed confused when they briefed me.”
That is something common for both of us, Admiral Yamamoto thought as he considered the question. The man wished he had a better answer, but intelligence was unclear on what, precisely, was coming, besides a combined force of German and Italian ships.
“We can expect them to also have a sizable battleship presence,” Yamamoto replied. “Thankfully neither of our opponents invested heavily in carriers, but we are close enough to their African colonial holdings that they may have shore-based aircraft that come after us.”
Bailey nodded again. The admiral was one of the only Oahu Pact leaders to have seen heavy combat—he cut his teeth at the battle of Tsushima Straits, fighting the Russians. It cost him two fingers on his left hand. He had a role quelling the rebellions in the 1930s, as well—it was Yamamoto who ran down the naval cadets who had attempted to assassinate the Prime Minister, and Yamamoto who testified at the 1936 Army Treason Trials. Some of the Americans had seen action in the Great War, as had some of the Japanese officers, but none of them had been part of a fleet action before.
Yamamoto, in many ways, was the only logical commander of the joint force.
USS Alabama is sailing in the same division as the Japanese battleships Musashi and Yamato (USS Maryland, BB-46, having been sunk by the Dutch). There are of course several carriers, including the IJN’s Soryu, and the USS Yorktown. Much of the story takes place in the air and involves aircrews from both navies.
American pilots from Yorktown fly escort to the Japanese aircraft:
Even as the German fighter fell away in flames, Leibowitz saw two more flights of Germans joining the fight. The next sixty seconds were total chaos, as the second wave of Zeewolfes split their attention between the escorting Corsairs and vulnerable Tenzans. Realizing they had the single flight of Corsairs temporarily outnumbered, the Germans struck and moved away. The tactic worked briefly, as the Tenzans were vulnerable targets. Two of the Japanese craft tumbled from the sky, their wings shorn by German cannon. The remainder, including Yoshida’s, conducted evasive maneuvers as they attempted to make room for the American pilots to intercept.
It was at that point that the rest of VF-42 arrived, Commander Hart having made the decision to abandon Yorktown’s dive bombers in order to help his Blue Flight. Striking two of the Germans in the bounce, the tables were quickly turned as three Zeewolfes spun down into the Indian Ocean.
Leibowitz felt sweat pouring down his spine as he reached the top of his Immelmann turn. Spotting a Zeewolf closing in on a Tenzan, he traded altitude for speed to bring himself down on the German’s port side. Just as with Leibowitz’s last victim, the Zeewolf was focused on the Tenzan in front of him, its tail gunner firing ineffectively back at the closing German.
Boy, is this bastard in for a surprise, Leibowitz thought angrily. He pulled the trigger on his joystick, and six fifty caliber machineguns barked at once, spitting streams of tracers. The three-second burst arced behind his target, and Leibowitz skidded desperately to add more lead. Belatedly realizing his danger, the German panicked and broke to port, greatly easing Leibowitz’s gunnery problem. Nearly stalled, the German’s vulnerable underbelly rolled towards Leibowitz at barely one hundred yards.
While for their part the Japanese bombers attempt to strike the German-Italo (Italo-German?) fleet:
He looked again at the reference picture on his dashboard, before looking back up. Through the broken clouds, punctuated by plumes of fire and smoke, Yoshida saw it. His heart raced. The mighty battleship had been damaged by an earlier attack by American dive bombers—its rear turrets appeared to be inoperable, with one smoking, badly. The radar mast was shorn off, as were a number of communications antennae.
Yoshida knew he was here to deliver the killing blow. Just to be sure, he checked the profile against his target card, before looking back to make sure he was still flying on target. “That’s Bismarck,” he said, as Matsui notified the squadron. The six remaining B6Ns dropped low and level, over the water. As they did, they invited fire from Bismarck’s escorts. The beast’s screen opened up with everything they had, tracers snaking out towards Yoshida and his comrades. One of the rounds slammed hard into Yoshida’s windscreen, startling him with the impact. The rush of slipstream through the cracks made an eerie whistling sound as Yoshida leveled off.
Now comes the hard part, Yoshida thought. Off to starboard, one of his wingmen suddenly splashed into the water as flak blew out the B6N’s engine. Far above, he saw the American Corsairs stop a sudden rush from enemy fighters.
If you want to see if Bismarck fares any better in the Arabian Sea than she did in the North Atlantic, you’ll need to read the book.
More alternative historiness to follow. Meanwhile, if alt history warfare interests you, I don’t think you’ll go wrong buying or borrowing Those in Peril: Phases of Mars Book 1.
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1 This isn’t actually a part of a specific story. I wrote the caption as a nod to Bolgers Corsairs and Tenzans.
The artist: www.deviantart.com/asarigoddess/art/KMS-Bismarck-539189725
2 This isn’t part of anything from the anthology either. This was done in an effort to echo the flavor of Palmerston’s Ironclads.