The Let's Play Archive

Al Andalus Paradox Mega-LP

by Hashim

Part 101: The Great War, Part 1

Chapter 21 - The Great War - 1916 to 1917

Europe had been at peace for a quarter of a century — a fragile peace, admittedly, with those twenty-five years dominated by arms races and diplomatic jostling and scrambles for power, but it was still a respite from the devastating wars and ruinous conflicts that had raged across the continent in previous decades, including the Continental War, the Rhine Crisis, the Iberian War and Unionist War and Tirruni Wars. It was a hard-won peace, a deserving peace, and at the height of the summer of 1916, that peace finally came to an end.

And the beginning of the end, of course, came with the proclamation of the Iberian Union.

Civil war had swept large parts of the Iberian peninsula into two years of fractious fighting and violent revolution, but a broad alliance of communists, socialists and radical liberals had emerged from that civil war victorious, with Sultan Khuzaymah Zulfiqar and his Majlisi puppeteers all garrotted in a series of gruesome public executions.

That would not be the end of the fighting, however, with the leader of the revolution — Maz Mazin — turning around and declaring himself the “Supreme Leader” of the Iberian Union, in direct violation of his alliance with the socialists and liberals, who promptly banded together against him.

So the summer of 1917 began with Maz Mazin embarking on a campaign to restore order all across Iberia, marching his 20,000 veteran troops from city to city, suppressing dissent and crushing opposition wherever they were found, with tens of thousands of “traitors to the revolution” garrotted in the weeks and months that followed.

This short and bloody campaign culminated in a vicious battle in the capital of Al Andalus and the Iberian Union — Qadis. There, in the very same streets and thoroughfares where dozens of royalty and viziers were garrotted just weeks before, former allies turned their guns on each other and battled for control of the city.

Of course, the largest and most disciplined force in Iberia at the time was the Red Army, the right hand of the revolution. So despite their numerical inferiority, the communists prevailed over the moderate and liberal elements in the government, seizing the economic and political centres of Qadis before cornering, surrounding and executing the last vestiges of any resistance.

And with that, the Iberian Revolution finally came to an end.

Or so they thought.

Whilst brother turned on brother in Al Andalus, Idris Tirruni had been negotiating with representatives from Morocco, Russia and the Dual Monarchy in his well-fortified capital of Barshaluna. There, the four powers drew up an agreement in which they would launch an invasion of Iberia, topple the radical government, and install Tirruni as the restored Sultan of Al Andalus. And with civil war having wrought disaster and devastation across Iberia for the past two years, this campaign was certain to be short and decisive.

When ministers in Paris, Smolensk and Marrakesh declared their intention to “restore order and stability in Al Andalus”, however, the other Great Powers didn’t just stand by.

The Republic of Germany immediately denounced these attempts to dominate Al Andalus, and threatened both Russia and France with war if they didn’t back down. The Congressional Coalition refused to concede defeat, however, and the crisis only escalated from there…

On 2 August, Maz Mazin declared the end of the Iberian Revolution. On 5 August, Paris issued an order for partial mobilisation, quickly followed by Morocco and Russia. Germany countered by ordering a full mobilisation on 6 August, whilst the Republic of Provence and Kingdom of New England did the same on 8 August, honouring their alliances with France. The United Republic was last to join the fray, declaring their support for Germany and Iberia on 9 August, followed by their own complete mobilisation.

And with that, in the early morning hours of the 10th of August of 1917, the Great War finally began.

In Iberia, a series of rebellions and revolts immediately erupted in the days that followed, with liberals and socialists and moderates all assuming that the French and Moroccans were coming to topple the dictator and save them.

The Supreme Leader didn’t have the time or resources to squander on these rebellions, however. The strength of the Red Army had dwindled towards the end of the civil war, and they needed to fill their ranks with fresh bodies as quickly as possible, so Maz Mazin issued an order for the mobilisation of every man and boy they could get their hands on, every worker and labourer who could hold a gun, every herder and farmhand who could take a bullet.

The revolutionaries wouldn’t have long to prepare, however. Whilst they had been desperately grappling for dominance in the peninsula, their enemies had been drawing up meticulous plans and offensives, debating the strengths and weaknesses of older strategies, even negotiating the partition and division of the Andalusi Empire.

So the first duels between the two alliances erupted just hours after war was declared, with the navy of New England audaciously sweeping into Iberian waters, crushing a numerically-inferior Celtic fleet, and landing an expeditionary force in Shant Yakub.

And a scant few days later, the first of many armies crossed the Pyrenees, with almost 70,000 Frenchmen besieging the string of fortresses that made up the Pyrenaic Wall, an impressive series of concrete fortifications, weapons installations and ammunition dumps that stretched across the width of the French-Andalusi border.

The Pyrenaic Wall would hinder the enemy advance for a few months, at the very least, whilst Maz Mazin desperately recruited an army capable of challenging them.

The French were only one of many enemies that surrounded Iberia, however, and the Supreme Leader was forced to divert his attentions and resources to the south — where the vengeful Sultanate of Morocco prepared for offensives of their own.

Fortunately for the revolutionaries, however, they wouldn’t have to sacrifice too many bodies to the southern front, not when they had a formidable navy of their own.

The Andalusi Navy had been entirely dominated by loyalists at the outbreak of the civil war, with warships shelling the coastal cities of northern Iberia on a regular basis. But with the victory of the communist revolution, large parts of the admiralty surrendered to Maz Mazin, begging for mercy… the Supreme Leader wasn’t known for his mercy, however, and those same admirals were promptly garrotted.

With true-bred radicals now dominating the command, the rest of the fleet quickly fell in line, with Maz Mazin rebranding it as the “Red Navy”. A series of naval training and tactical exercises were scheduled to turn these green seamen into seasoned admirals, but before they could begin, the continent had already plunged into war.

The Supreme Leader immediately deployed the navy to secure the straits, where they quickly butted heads with a small reconnaissance force dispatched by the Almoravids.

The Red Fleet engaged the numerically-inferior force, expecting a short but decisive skirmish, only for another fifty warships — the entire strength of the Provencal Navy — to flood into the straits in the hours that followed, transforming the skirmish into a full-fledged battle.

Fortunately, the Provencal navy wasn’t all that impressive, comprising mostly of older ironclads and obsolete monitors. And so the Red Navy, ill-trained and ill-staffed as it was, still managed to seize an inspiring victory in the battle of the Straits, sinking and capturing the vast majority of enemy shipping, and seizing control of the key waterway for the time being.

At the same time, battles had erupted in theatres of war that stretched all across Europe, from the arid south and rainy north to the muddy west and freezing east.

Starting in the north, the fighting that raged across the island of Britain was inconclusive so far, with Celtic gains in Wales offset by their losses in northeast England. Despite that, there was little hope of the United Republic actually emerging victorious in this struggle, with their 200,000-strong army having already lost a series of engagements to the 180,000-strong French-English expeditionary force.

The Franco-German theatre, on the other hand, had witnessed the surrender and capture of dozens of cities and vast swathes of farmland over the past few weeks, with the Germans executing a meticulously-prepared warplan that saw 180,000 Germans engage and immobilise 120,000 Frenchmen along the northern half of their border, whilst another 150,000 Germans shattered through the southern defenses and poured into Lorraine, Provence and Occitania.

Astonishing progress thus far, and that wasn’t even the entire strength of the German Army, with another 100,000 soldiers dedicated to the eastern front, where Germans and Russians had clashed in a series of indecisive battles. The key to any victory in the east lay in the Vienna Corridor, with the German-Russian border located in this narrow pocket of land, making it the site of countless battles in the months that followed.

Even if the Germans couldn’t capture the Vienna Corridor, simply holding the Russians there would be enough, allowing their armies on the western front to storm across France and Provence with ease.

The high command in Paris obviously realised that much, because they pulled back their invasion of Iberia in October of 1917, leaving a few thousand soldiers to garrison and guard their hard-won seizures along the Pyrenaic Wall.

Just three months into the war, and the odds were gradually sliding in favour of the Revolutionary Bloc — as the press had dubbed the makeshift alliance between Iberia, Germany and Celtica.

Emboldened by the recent string of allied victories and enemy withdrawals, Maz Mazin finally felt confident enough to actually engage his foes on the battlefield. The mass conscription implemented in recent months had allowed the Red Army to balloon in size, with 60,000 revolutionaries marching on the New English troops besieging Lishbuna, where they scored their first victory against the invaders.

There were another 12,000 troops besieging Shant Yakub, so Maz Mazin immediately ordered his officers to march on their positions, with the subsequent battle ending in another morale-raising victory for the Iberians.

These victories were tempered by decisive defeats in the colonies, however, although the government in Qadis couldn’t exactly enforce their rule in their African and Indian possessions by 1917. Nonetheless, thousands of Berber troops surged across the Land Corridor of Central Africa from the very moment that war had erupted, overwhelming their sparse opposition and seizing vast tracts of Kilwa, Zambezi and Mozambique in the months that followed.

And the same happened in the remnants of the Andalusi Raj, with almost 50,000 Indian conscripts surging into the Bengal Delta in late August, and squashing the last pockets of resistance by year’s end.

Apparently, when Maz Mazin was informed of these losses, he simply scoffed and asked for a report on the Pyrenaic front. The Supreme Leader evidently didn’t place much stock in his colonies, but the same could not be said for his allies in Germany, with dozens of imperialist politicians in the reichstag in uproar over their meek surrender of Libya.

It was only in the dying days of 1917 that they could retaliate, however, when a decisive breakthrough on the western front opened up Provence to German troops. With thousands of Germans flooding through the rugged mountains and gaping valleys of Occitania, some 35,000 soldiers were dispatched on an expedition to North Africa, with the force rushing across of Iberia, crossing the straits and invading Morocco.

Perhaps the German command were expecting the Iberians to reinforce their invasion, but Maz Mazin couldn’t afford to gamble his troops on a foolhardy expedition, not over Libya, of all places.

That said, if anyone had troops to spare, then it was the Germans. By the early days of 1918, they had manage to reinforce their seizures in France and Occitania, with their occupied territories stretching from Verdun in the north to Marseille in the south. Four months into the war, and the French were firmly on the retreat.

A laudable feat, but the same couldn’t be said for the eastern front, where the sheer number of Russians matched the Germans tit-for-tat. The fighting was thicker and bloodier here, concentrated in the Vienna Corridor, which seemed to swap hands every few weeks.

By February of 1918, however, almost 100,000 Russians had managed to breach the German lines, besieging and capturing Vienna whilst another 70,000 pinned the better part of the German army in vicious battle around Kraków.

It was on these bloody fronts where international attention had been fixated thus far, but on the 28th of February, the eyes of the world swung southward — towards the Straits of Gibraltar, where the Almoravid Sultanate of Morocco had finally gone on the offensive.

The full strength of the Almoravid Navy swept into the narrow straits, determined to wrench it back from the Iberians in preparation of an amphibious landing, but Maz Mazin refused to surrender without a fight. And with that, the second battle of the Straits began.

And from the very beginning, it could only get worse. Steel battleships were the bread and butter of the Andalusi Navy, allowing Al Andalus to overwhelm the Almoravid Navy and seize mastery over the seas in the Continental War of 1886, but naval technologies had developed rapidly since those days. Now, whilst Iberian ironclads and battleships desperately fired torpedoes and shells, Morocco’s battlecruisers and dreadnoughts responded with overwhelming firepower and devastating projectiles.

The Iberians had lost the battle on that very morning, but these duels between destroyers and battleships and dreadnoughts would wreak havoc across the straits for almost three days, with the damaged and ruined warships of the Red Navy desperately retreating into safe harbours and ports, their enemy nipping at their heels.

By the 5th of March, the waters of the straits were calm and tepid once more, but with Berber warships patrolling and prowling them now. The Red Navy only just survived, with a miserable seven ships escaping the massacre, out of almost fifty ironclads and battleships that had once ruled the seas and oceans of the world.

Meanwhile, on the British front, a series of brilliantly-executed manoeuvres had slowed, then halted, then reversed the advance of the French-English armies. Despite significant losses in the Irish Sea, the influx of Irish troops was enough to turn the tide, with the armies of the United Republic besieging York, retaking large parts of Wales and pushing into England.

The western front, on the other hand, hadn’t really shifted or moved over the past few months. Apparently, the French retreat had ended a scant few miles from the front, where they began digging traversed trenches, fortifying their positions with artillery and barbed wire, and even mining the ground ahead of them in anticipation of the Germans. They would not surrender another inch of French soil, not under any circumstances and regardless of the cost.

And with that, trench warfare had well and truly begun.

The eastern front had only grown bloodier and more complicated in the meantime, with the high command in Hanover rerouting an army from the French front to repel the Russian advance from Vienna, whilst simultaneously trying and failing to defeat the Russian armies around Kraków, even crossing into neutral Bohemia in a futile attempt to outflank them.

At the same time, a large party of diplomats arrived in Qadis, ostensibly travelling under a neutral flag. This was the second time that a delegacy from Belgrade was dispatched to meet with Maz Mazin, but they weren’t received so graciously this time, especially when they brought up the reason for their visit — to demand that the communist party of Iberia submit to orthodox socialism, bow to the law of the International Presidium, and join forces with Serbia in permanent revolution.

All this, whilst Al Andalus was embroiled in its largest and deadliest conflict since the Tirruni Wars.

Of course, the demand was immediately refused and the delegacy was expelled, but Maz Mazin took it one step further. In a public broadcast that would make headlines across Europe, the Supreme Leader insisted that the international revolution would stem from Iberia, condemned the Serbian government as a corruption of socialism, and denounced their leaders as “capitalists in red masks”.

Needless to say, he wasn’t invited to attend the Second International, organised a few months later in Sofia.

The first few days of this grand conference of socialists and anarchists went through the usual ropes: reiterating traditionalist thought, insisting on extensive social reform, calling for world revolution and so on. Only after these debates and arguments and disputes come to a close did the Presidium, the ruling government of Serbia, finally take to the stands, where they unveiled their ambitions to unite the communist governments of the Balkan peninsula into a single federation — for the “furthering of permanent revolution”, as they put it.

The workers and labourers of Bulgaria and Greece were firmly in favour of such a federation, if the 99% approval plebiscites were of any indication.

And with that, just as winter gave way to spring, the Balkan Federation was born.

This proclamation would take the papers by storm, but just weeks later, the headlines were blaring something else entirely — the Battle for Iberia.

In the early days of April, once their dominance in the straits was assured, the Berbers finally began crossing the channel en masse. Within the week, a combined force of 158,000 Berber and Provencal troops were marching on Qadis, chasing the German expeditionary force northwards and quickly overcoming the sparse resistance in their way.

Of course, Maz Mazin had been preparing for just that, with his efforts only intensifying in the months following the crushing defeat in the second battle of the Straits. And by April of 1918, the Red Army stood at an impressive 110,000 soldiers, with every last man desperate to taste combat after almost a year of training and preparation.

Maz Mazin was initially cautious, but when the enemy divided their forces into two separate armies, his decision was made for him. The order was given, and the Red Army began marching on the Almoravid force.

The early hours of the battle were uncertain, with both sides probing for weaknesses and testing for frailties. This tenuity quickly gave way to thick fighting all along the front, with Andalusi and Berbers wrestling for the control of outlying villages and towns, strategically-placed to bombard and seize the capital itself. It was in these skirmishes where the Iberian seized the upper hand, gradually pushing their enemy back towards the straits.

These skirmishes were also where the Berbers suffered most of their casualties, gradually but intentionally retreating southward, pulling their enemy out of formation, and drawing them into a trap…

And just as they reached the outskirts of Qadis, the trap was sprung. Aeroplanes fitted with machine guns swept across the skies, artillery began to barrage Iberian positions from every direction, infantry units all along the front counter-attacked in force — and just as the order to advance was given, tens of thousands of shells containing tear gas, chlorine and phosphene were propelled into Iberian ranks.

The Berbers had poison gas…

…and the Iberians did not.

This was the first use of poison gas on the battlefield, and in those next few hours, its legacy would be transfixed in the shell-shocked minds of thousands of survivors.

Dense green clouds and shrill screams filled the air around Qadis, screaming soldiers abandoned their posts and fled their positions, hysterical boys attempted to escape the battle and seek refuge, only for the Berbers to pursue them in strength, bombard them with artillery and unleash their gas canisters as they viciously drove them northwards.

Needless to say, the battle quickly devolved into a rout, and the rout into a massacre.

The next day, a delegation arrived from Paris, prepared to begin negotiations for peace. Maz Mazin was nowhere to be found, however, with the Supreme Leader having fled to a command post further north, where he declared his intention to continue the fight — fight until the French were on their knees, fight until the Berbers were driven from Iberian soil, fight until the revolution was finally secured. There would be no surrender.

This refusal to negotiate provoked an uproar in Paris, where politicians and generals alike vowed to end the war by razing Qadis to the ground.

And in fairness, Maz’s refusal to make peace after his crushing defeat in Qadis mystified even his own supporters, but his intentions quickly became clear in the weeks that followed.

The Dual Monarchy was barely holding its own against Germany, so what he needed was another ally, one that could help him in repelling the Berber advance. So the Supreme Leader dispatched a large embassy to Egypt — which boasted the largest navy in the world — with an offer of alliance…

Only to be swiftly denied. The Egyptians had little interest in being drawn into the deadliest war in human history.

Or, to be more accurate, they had little interest in being drawn in by the Iberians. When diplomats from Paris arrived mere weeks later, they proved to be far more amenable, with an alliance drawn up between the two powers before the month was out.

Desperate for a counterweight against the Almoravid and Egyptians navies, Maz Mazin then turned to the second-largest force at sea — the Berber Union.

Again, however, any efforts to foster an alliance were met with stern denial. The only compensation was that the French were also spurned, with their pompous party of envoys promptly expelled from Imariz. The Union of Berber Sultanates would maintain their neutrality in the Great War, it would seem.

With his situation becoming increasingly hopeless, the Supreme Leader was forced to abandon any hope of retaking the straits, instead shifting his attention closer to home. Over a series of expensive diplomatic missions, Maz Mazin managed to reignite the old ties that once bound Qadis to Benin and Kongo, offering large monetary subsidies, extensive military expertise and immense territorial concessions to the King of Benin and the Khedive of the Kongo in his attempts to entice them into joining the war…

And at long last, the endeavour met with some success. Both powers agreed to forge alliances with Iberia, but only on the condition that they be granted seats in the post-war partition of Morocco, Russia and the Dual Monarchy, effectively giving them equal status to Iberia and Germany in the negotiations.

The Supreme Leader was desperate for allies, however, and both Germany and Celtica telephoned their agreement to the terms. And before the month was out, both Benin and Kongo had declared war on the Congressional Coalition.

A few days later, another group of diplomats arrived in Medina al-Gharb, the capital of the Revolutionary Republic of Ibriz — albeit a republic only in name. Maz Mazin didn’t have the luxury of antagonising the fascist dictatorship in Ibriz, however, what he needed was a counterweight to New England, whose ships and expeditionary forces were wreaking havoc across Europe.

And in return for their surrendered territories east of the Mississippi, Ibriz also established a temporary alliance with Iberia, issuing an order for general mobilisation a few weeks later, quickly followed by a declaration of war.

The next few weeks were spent in earnest discussions with other powers, as embassies were dispatched to Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, Balkans, Armenia, Arabia, Khwarezm, China and Japan in an effort to lure them into the war. Most of these negotiations ended in failure, but both Armenia and Arabia agreed to join forces with Qadis, in return for rich territorial and economic concessions from Egypt.

China and Japan were also receptive to Mazin’s charms, but it would take several more months and much greater compromises to earn the support of one of those eastern powerhouses.

Unfortunately, however, the Iberians weren’t the only ones to make desperate promises and ambitious assurances over the summer months of 1918. Politicians and ministers from Paris had been doing the exact same, looking to form the cordon sanitaire — a defensive alliance that would surround Germany in every direction.

At the same time, to counter the alliances forged in the Middle East, viziers from Marrakesh had managed to establish pacts with the Moroccan spherelings of Vali and Khwarezm, tempting them into declaring war on Armenia and Arabia.

And finally, the Russians made a few moves of their own, though they were far less… diplomatic. For them, the chief obstacle to victory against Germany was undoubtedly the narrow, concentrated battlefields of the Vienna Corridor, where tens of thousands of lives were sacrificed for every inch of land lost or gained.

That couldn’t be allowed to stand.

So the Smolenskian government turned their gaze further northward, to Poland, where the monarchy was recently overthrown in an anarchist revolution.

The radical government in Poland was issued an ultimatum — open their border, surrender their fortresses and allow the Russian Army to operate freely. There was no alternative.

The Poles, refusing to be drawn into the war, dismissed the ultimatum. And two days later, Russia declared war.

This world-spanning conflict had begun in what was meant to be a short campaign, to topple a precarious government, establish a stable regime and be home by Christmas. That would prove to be a costly lapse in judgement, and one that will certainly have devastating consequences as the war progressed, with millions of youngsters on the frontlines growing increasingly disillusioned as their conditions declined, as their battles became bloodier, as their brothers died alongside them.

Scarcely a year has passed, and the Great War is only just beginning.