Excerpt for Gray Tide in the East: An Alternate History of the First World War (2nd Edition) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


An alternate history of the First World War

2nd Edition

Andrew J. Heller

Published by Fiction4All at Smashwords

Copyright 2017 Andrew J. Heller

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Introduction to the 2nd Edition

When Gray Tide in the East was originally published in 2013, it did not turn out to be the book I had envisioned when I started, and soon after it appeared, I wanted to make changes and additions. Three years have passed since then, and I think it is about time finally go ahead.

In this 2nd Edition I had the opportunity to correct errors in the original version pointed out by some of my sharp-eyed and knowledgeable readers, further explain certain matters that some readers found confusing, and add new textual material in the Afterwords, including coverage of the effects of the historical changes in World War One on the Ottoman Empire, and a new essay on military technology and the war.

However, I do not consider these changes sufficient reasons to justify a new edition. What I believe does justify it are the illustrations. I had collected numerous photographs of people, places and things described in Gray Tide, and these photographs were an integral part of the book as I had originally conceived it. For various reasons, they were not included in either the e-book version or the paperback as published. I am pleased to be able to present them here, so that what you hold in your hands is the Gray Tide in the East as I intended it to be. I look forward to your comments on this new edition.

Andrew Heller


I would like to acknowledge the tireless efforts of my wife Carol, who encouraged me to write this book, then took time from her overcrowded schedule to painstakingly proofread and edit it. Without her, there might have been a Gray Tide in the East, but it would have been a very different, and much inferior book. Any remaining mistakes were made by me, during one of my many revisions.


On August 1, 1914 Germany struck the first blow of what would later be called the First World War by sending 750,000 troops flooding through the small neutral countries of Luxembourg and Belgium into northern France. The invasion of Belgium had the immediate consequence of bringing the British Empire into the war against Germany, which would not have otherwise happened. The violation of Belgium therefore was the direct cause of the British blockade of Germany, which in turn led to the German counter-blockade by the use of unrestricted submarine warfare (meaning that the submarines would sink any vessel, British or neutral in the waters around the British Isles). BY 1917, unrestricted submarine warfare proved to be the main reason the United States joined the coalition that finally defeated Germany in 1918, after more than 4 years of the bloodiest war in modern history.

The invasion of Belgium almost did not happen. Kaiser Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany, had a shrewder political sense than his advisors and generals. Fearing the invasion would result in Great Britain's declaration of war against Germany and put Germany in the position of the aggressor in the opinion of the world, the Kaiser cancelled the invasion on his own authority, and urged his commanding general to scrap the entire war plan, suggesting that the troops be sent East instead, against France's ally, Russia. The Chief of the General Staff, General Helmuth von Moltke persuaded the Kaiser to withdraw his stop order, and the invasion went ahead as planned.

But what if things had gone a little differently that day between the General and the Kaiser…?

(All photographs in public domain. The author wishes to thank the Library of Congress, the Imperial War Museums, the United States Navy and the Deutsches Bundesarchiv)

The Eastern Front, August, 1914

It is equal to living in a tragic land

To live in a tragic time.

Regard now the sloping, mountainous rocks

And the river that batters its way over stones,

Regard the hovels of those that live in this land.

It was the battering of drums I heard,

It was hunger, it was the hungry that cried

And the waves, the waves were soldiers moving,

Marching and marching in a tragic time

Below me, on the asphalt, under the trees.

It was soldiers went marching over the rocks,

And still the birds came, came in watery flocks,

Because it was spring, and the birds had to come.

No doubt that soldiers had to be marching,

And that drums had to be rolling, rolling, rolling.

Wallace Stevens

Dry Loaf

Chapter One: Berlin, August 1, 1914

General Helmuth Johann Ludwig von Moltke marched down the corridors of the Hohenzollern royal palace, looking neither to the left nor to the right. A Colonel followed, carrying his briefcase. One look at the General’s face, with its deeply furrowed brow, its mouth that turned downward in a thin line and droopy gray mustache, would be sufficient for any reasonably impartial observer to conclude that here was a man who took a serious view of life. Nor would this same observer be surprised to learn that General von Moltke was known to his subordinates on the German Imperial General Staff (behind his back, naturally) as der traurige Julius, which might be rendered into English as “Gloomy Gus”. In truth, the Chief of the General Staff was a pessimist by nature, and the day’s events had done nothing to brighten his outlook.

Moltke had only this morning issued the orders that would set the Imperial war machine into motion, sending the right wing of the German Army sweeping across the fields of Belgium and on into northern France, beginning the march of three-quarters of a million men that would land a knockout punch on the left flank of the unsuspecting French Army.

In a few hours, elements of the 16th Division of the Fourth Army were scheduled to cross the border of Luxembourg to serve as the hinge for the main movement of the First, Second and Third Armies farther to the north. These three armies would deliver the key blow to the flank and rear of the French Army, a maneuver that would, if all went as planned, win the war in six weeks, in a single titanic battle of annihilation.

The movements of the Imperial Army had been calculated on a precise schedule, but suddenly a wrench had been thrown into the gears at the worst possible moment, by Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Emperor had halted the invasion, completely bypassing the Table of Organization and disregarding the General Staff by sending an order directly to the commander of the 16th Division, ordering him to stop until he received an order to proceed from the Kaiser himself. He had then summoned Moltke to the palace, no doubt to explain this new brainstorm, the latest and worst timed instance of Imperial meddling in military affairs.

The operational plan for the invasion of Belgium had not originated with Moltke. He had inherited it from his predecessor, Count Alfred von Schlieffen. Schlieffen developed his plan in 1905, after the Russo-Japanese War had exposed some of the glaring deficiencies in the corrupt and ineffectual Czarist military establishment. Schleiffen’s approach was designed to take advantage of the Russian weaknesses revealed during the fighting against the Japanese in Siberia, particularly their slow rate of mobilization and poor logistics.

By 1905, the opposing military alliance systems of the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy against the Dual Entente of France and Russia had been in place for a decade. Ever since, all of these Great Powers had steadily built their armies and navies in preparation for a future great war, although no one knew when the next war would come, nor why.

Under these circumstances, it was not surprising that the German General Staff had assumed that whenever the war finally did start, it would be fought on two fronts: against France in the West, and Russia in the East, foes who presented very different strengths and weaknesses.

Modern, industrialized France was a reasonably compact nation, with an extensive railroad system, a good road network and an efficient military organization. She could be counted on to mobilize her army quickly - as quickly as Germany, in fact.

Russia, on the other hand, was an enormous, sprawling country, with fewer miles of railway than her ally (and far fewer in proportion to the area served), primitive roads, and a notoriously corrupt and incompetent military establishment. The Russian Army, moreover, had been thoroughly humiliated by the Japanese in the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05. For these reasons, German war planners calculated that the Russians would be at least eight weeks behind both Germany and France in mobilizing their forces after the war broke out.

The military geography of the East and West provided another stark contrast. Germany’s border with France stretched from the thickly forested and nearly roadless Ardennes in the north, through the rugged Vosges Mountains down to the Swiss border. This terrain was unsuitable for the rapid movement of large armies, and the border was protected by a series of fortresses on the French side from Verdun to Belfort, fortifications built for the express purpose of meeting and repelling a German invasion. In this country, defenders would have all the advantages and attackers none. Progress there would be measured in meters rather than kilometers and the meters would be purchased with blood. Schlieffen, like his predecessors, concluded that attacking here would be folly, and he refused to consider it.

In the East, however, the rolling farm country of Russian Poland and the Ukraine offered plenty of scope for maneuvering great masses of men, and even more for utilizing Germany’s greatest military asset: its Krupp artillery, the finest in the world. Moreover, with such a vast country to attack, it would be relatively easy for the invaders to find weak points to break through the Russian lines, as they could not be strong everywhere, especially if they were as slow to mobilize their forces as expected.

Therefore, the obvious thing to do was to take advantage of Russia’s presumed inability to mobilize quickly, by sending the bulk of the mobile striking forces East, to knock the Czar’s huge but disorganized armies (the so-called “Russian steamroller”) out of the war before they could become effective, or at least dislocate her mobilization. Indeed, this had been the basis for the German war plans as prepared by the Imperial General Staff before 1905, when Schlieffen was appointed.

The new Chief rejected this approach. Russia might be slow, its army inefficient and its General Staff incompetent, but there were two factors that weighed against the possibility of a quick decision in the East.

One was the sheer size of the opponent. There were just too many kilometers of Russia, endless kilometers over which an invading army’s supplies had to be hauled by mule-drawn wagons on abysmal roads (where there were any roads at all), or over the inadequate rail network. As invaders had discovered over the centuries, campaigning in Russia was all too likely to become a logistical nightmare.

The second factor was the presence of the Russian General who had defeated some of the greatest military geniuses in European history, including Charles XII of Sweden and Bonaparte: General Winter. Schlieffen had not forgotten the fate of Napoleon’s Grande Armeé, which lost two-thirds of its men during the retreat from Russia in the terrible winter of 1812. Although all generals hoped to emulate Napoleon, Schlieffen had no desire to follow the great Corsican’s footsteps in that respect.

All things considered, it was clear to Schlieffen that France was the more dangerous foe and, paradoxically, the one who could be defeated more quickly. Since France was a comparatively small country, its armies would be concentrated in a relatively small area. They were sure to be in the north and east at the outset, in position to be enveloped and destroyed in a short, sharp campaign.

Schlieffen therefore proposed that the German Army put its muscle into an overpowering mobile striking force on the right wing, in the north, then launch it along the natural invasion route that had been used by invading armies marching to and from France for centuries: through the Low Countries, specifically Belgium. The weight of this invasion would pivot on Luxembourg and stretch across Belgium to the sea, so that the right wing would overlap the French left before it wheeled inward towards Paris. Schlieffen directed, “Let the last man on the right brush his sleeve in The Channel.”

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