Alternate history bifurication point?

With some minor but plausible changes on the Austrian side, could Prussia have lost the Sadowa battle in 1866? And, had they lost it, could it have ended their claim to preeminence among the German states, along with the ability to take on France in 1871? How would that world have looked by 1914?

Or was the Prussian advantage in rail communications and small arms too decisive for the more minor factors to have prevailed?

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4 Responses to Alternate history bifurication point?

  1. Christopher Cook says:

    Ludwig Von Benedek. He missed the chance to disrupt the Prussian concentration of forces on 22 June and during the battle failed to use his advantages of Defensive Position, Size of Force and Longer Effective Engagement Range.
    He falls off his horse or develops food poisoning… A more aggressive overall commander takes his place. Prussia goes down. Austria also had a better cavalry force… post battle pursuit would have been a good idea… and shattered an already weakened Prussian force.

  2. Odysseus says:

    I have to wonder wither the easy spoils of fractured German states might have just as easily led to a series of continental wars.

  3. Garrett Lee says:

    I had to look up Sadowa – I’ve always heard it referred to as the Battle of Koeniggraetz. (Curse the lack of an umlauted keyboard!) That being said, however, yes, I think Austria could have won that battle. Won the war? Don’t know. I’ll look at this from a few different perspectives based on differing outcomes. (Note: All of this is just a series of WAGs. If you’re writing a story, or helping someone write a story, _please_ do better research than I’ve done.)

    1) As Cook says above, something happens to Benedek and a competent and lucky general replaces him and falls on the Prussian Second Army in late June. I predict heavy (but approx. equal number of) casualties on both sides, with the result that the Second Army falls back into Silesia, covered by the First and Elbe armies threatening a flank attack on the Austrians. At this point, the Prussians fully combine their forces and a pure slugging match between the Austrian and Prussian armies takes place. Assuming (again) that the Austrians have a competent and lucky general, I think the best they can hope for is a Pyrrhic victory over the Prussian forces (with the Prussians on defense, the Austrian advantage in longer range, greater numbers and better cavalry and artillery are pretty well nullified by the Dreyse behind field fortifications). At this point, other countries start having a major effect.

    Italy, having lost at Custoza and later losing at Lissa (I assume that doesn’t change), and with their major ally not doing so hot either, decides to take its ball and go home by abandoning its efforts to claim Venetia and begins defensive efforts. Napoleon III sees what he expected to see; namely, the Prussians losing, and demands territorial concessions along the Rhine.

    1a) If he demands Mainz and gets it without attacking, and it remains Prussia vs Austria, then it settles in for a long war between the two, with Prussia eventually coming out on top due to the excellent Krupp breech-loading artillery coming into service and far superior logistics arrangements. However, at this point, Prussia has to take a serious pound of flesh, and gets Bohemia and (maybe) Moravia as well as its Kleindeutschland Loesung, with the result being that the Austrian Empire ceases to exist as a coherent whole at this point, shattering into several different countries. However, Prussia is not in any shape to take a war to France in 1870 (heck, by the time the war is over, it’s probably already 1872 or so). The Franco-Prussian War gets pushed back a decade or so, and probably won’t go nearly as quickly, with French and German fortifications on either side of the Upper and Middle Rhine. England still stays out of it, Russia probably does as well. Italy joins up with Prussia again to kick Napoleon’s troops out of their capital and finish the reunification. End result is real nasty fighting on a narrow front, with Napoleon III trying to break the stalemate by going through Belgium, and ending up captured a la Sedan. The Second Empire falls, and is replaced by the Third Republic, but Germany doesn’t get to besiege Paris. Germany gets back the Rheinland, but doesn’t get Alsace and Lorraine. Italy gets Rome.

    Differences from our history along this branch? The wars turn nasty a lot earlier than 1914, but they never get quite that nasty. There’s a lot less popular support for wars by the 20th century. After a couple of nasty examples, the concept of “home by Christmas” is forgotten by Western and Central Europe. Russia may still do something stupid, though.

    1b) If he attacks, he makes excellent headway for a couple of weeks until the Prussians use their excellent railway system to muster their reserves (which measure another quarter of a million men) and hammer the French somewhere probably around Mainz. (At this point, the Chassepot rifle has yet to be adopted in any significant numbers, and the power of the Dreyse on defense against Minie-type rifles will be significant.) Napoleon III gets captured. (This is a constant.) Prussia uses the disorder in France and Austria to sue for peace – basically getting a return to the status quo ante. Italy takes Rome now that it’s not defended by Napoleon. End result is nothing really changes, except that there’s a lot of ill will between all the countries. Treaties start getting signed left and right for the next war, which I think will be fought similarly to the Eastern Front of WWI – i.e. downright mean and with a voracious appetite, but fluid and not characterized by trenches except around fortresses. (This is a gut feeling – trench warfare requires an absurd concentration of force that is very rarely achieved on the grand scale.)

    2) The battle of Sadowa (as you insist on calling it) does take place, with heavy casualties on both sides, but ends inconclusively. The differences between this future and 1) above is that Italy sticks with the war, as Prussia isn’t obviously losing, just not winning, and Prussia definitely flips the bird to Napoleon when he asks for Mainz, so 1a) never happens. If Napoleon attacks, he gets captured, and Prussia gets a bit more than the status quo ante when the war ends, but not as much as they did in our timeline. Without Germany taking over all of France after Napoleon’s capture (they are still in a slugfest with Austria, after all), there is no great Franco-German emnity. Otherwise, Prussia slowly overcomes Austria via advantages in weapons and logistics. See 1a) above for result, with the distinction that the Franco-Prussian War of 1880 is not as static of a war due to the Rhine not being the border between the two countries.

    3) Crown Prince Frederick never shows up at the Battle of Sadowa, and the Prussians take heavy casualties. The Austrians use their cavalry advantage to harry the Prussian troops, with the end result being the effective destruction of the Prussian First and Elbe field armies, albeit at a somewhat high cost. This scenario is a lot worse for Prussia than 1), as political considerations will probably keep them from being able to use their many advantages that would allow them to win in the long haul. In the peace treaty that ends it, Silesia returns to Austria for the first time since the War of Austrian Succession. The question of Schleswig-Holstein is settled against Prussia. France extracts their pound of flesh. Italian unification gets pushed back for decades. However, the concept of the Grossdeutschland solution doesn’t occur, as Prussia’s economic clout with the Zollverein is enough to prevent it.

    The end result is severe emnity on the part of Prussia against Austria and France, and a second Prussian-Austrian war within ten years. How it goes depends on whether Bismarck is still chancellor or not. If he is, Prussia gathers more allies and wins handily. If not, Prussia still wins, but it’s more difficult. The Austrian Empire collapses in its defeat. (Its survival in our history as the Austro-Hungarian Empire was surprising enough.) Either way, Prussia and France will duke it out afterwards, with Napoleon III getting captured (is it too obvious that I don’t have much respect for him?) and things ending up very similar to the actual Franco-Prussian War. Then France seeks Russia and the Ottomans as allies and Germany seeks Great Britain (this is before the massive German naval buildup, so England isn’t spooked yet) and Italy, along with Austria (not the vanished empire, just Austria) as its allies. WWI ends up being very interesting. I want to pull out my copy of Diplomacy and figure out how this would work out…

    In any case, that’s what I think would happen.

    Personally, my favorite turning point is what would have happened if the SMS Goeben never reached Constantinople in 1914. Would the Ottoman Empire have joined with Germany and Austria-Hungary without the gift of Goeben and Breslau to counter the English seizure of the Sultan Osman/HMS Agincourt and the Reshadieh/HMS Erin, and Konteadmiral Souchon’s attack on Sevastopol? If not, what would that have meant for the war? Could the Central Powers have survived for nearly as long as they did? Would the Battle of the Somme ever have happened? Would the Dolchstosslegende ever have taken hold? Who knows?

    And now I need to get some sleep.

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