I did a panel at Capricon with a theme of alternate history outside of World War II a few years ago. I decided to do a brainstorming session where I came up with as many alternate history mini-scenarios for a given letters of the alphabet as I could, emphasizing non-western venues as much as possible. When I finished with one letter I planned go on to the next. I ran out of time before I got done with the ‘B’ but there are still some good scenarios seeds and a few saplings in here. I'll try to get at least as far as C before we're done.
And we’re off, starting with the “A’s”
Argentina without Evita. Eva Peron never reaches national prominence or dies before she is able to gain significant power. What changes in Argentina? A more competent fascist-influenced regime in Argentina? Argentina remains a wealthy first world country? Who takes power in Argentina, and what do they do with it?
Angola captured by the Dutch or Spanish or Brits in the 1600s. Holland munched most of the Portuguese overseas empire and made an attempt to add Angola to its list of trophies, starting in 1641. The Dutch held parts of Angola until 1648, when a large Portuguese fleet from Brazil drove them out. What would have happened if the Dutch had succeeded in holding part or all of Angola? Would Britain have eventually taken the Dutch areas like they did South Africa? Would we have seen Dutch settlers moving inland from Angola like they did in South Africa? Or maybe we would have seen Portuguese settlers playing the role of the Boers, moving inland to escape Dutch domination and setting up an independent state or states. If the Dutch maintained control of part or all of Angola, that would probably cause enough ripples to abort the rise of Napoleon and both of the World Wars, at least in their our-timeline form, so there isn’t much point in speculating on how a Dutch-held Angola would influence World War II.
Angola caught up in the scramble for Africa. In the 1880s, the European powers engaged in a scramble to grab as much of Africa as they could. Boundaries were established as lines on maps in conference rooms in Europe, with little reference to the geography, ethnicity and power on the ground. Those lines got modified somewhat by power on the ground, but generally power or influence in Europe was more important than historical ties or power on the ground in Africa. There were some exceptions to that. By the 1880s Portugal was no longer a great power in Europe, but the Portuguese had held colonies in Africa since the 1500s and had a considerable population there. They ended up with slices of Africa out of proportion to their remaining power in Europe. That didn’t have to be the case. The Portuguese expanded their control in Angola and Mozambique considerably as the scramble for Africa ramped up. The Great Powers tolerated that, but they could have forced Portugal to limit their control to the areas they already settled, or even taken parts of historical Portuguese control away from Portugal and given the land to colony-hungry Europeans. An Italian colony in part of what is now Angola? Not out of the question.
Ashanti grab their coast. The Ashanti were a powerful West African empire centered in what is now Ghana. They were a minor group until the 1700s, when they became early adopters and effective users of firearms. They conquered a wide area and at some points had a centralized army bigger than that of the better know Zulus. What they didn't have, though they tried very hard to get it, was control of the coast of their empire. The British allied with various coastal groups to keep the Ashanti from gaining control of a strip of coast, over which the British established a protectorate.
The Brits and Ashantis fought a number of wars, with the earlier ones pretty much stalemates, but repeating rifles and machine guns tipped the balance in favor of the British and they beat the Ashanti decisively in 1873-74 and again in 1895, when they exiled most of the Ashanti royal family and annexed the territory. The Ashanti revolted in 1900, but unsuccessfully.
So if the Ashanti were able to extend their control to the coast before Britain could project power there, does that change much? Probably not. The neighboring kingdom of Dahomey held their coast, but France had little trouble taking them over. The key factor here was that the Europeans had a near monopoly on repeating rifles and machine guns for the crucial period when they took over most of Africa. Muskets and spears versus repeating rifles and machine guns wasn't a winnable fight. If the Ashanti had been able to control their coast AND find someone to supply them with modern rifles, that would have been another story, but with few exceptions the Europeans had a common interest in not supplying Africans with modern rifles--most European countries had designs on pieces of Africa, so there was generally common interest in not doing a trade that might bring retaliation in areas that they coveted.
There were exceptions to this, and one exception to the general refusal of Europeans to supply weapons to African powers is significant: The Russians supplied both arms and advisors to Ethiopia, where they played some role in allowing the Ethiopians to defeat the Italians in their first attempt to conquer Ethiopia in the late 1890s. In the key battle of that war, the Ethiopians armed 70,000 men with modern rifles from various sources.
Mussolini belatedly avenged that defeat in 1935-36, which set the Italians on a course toward becoming an Axis junior partner.
So, back to the Ashanti: If they controlled their coast, they would also need to find some source of modern weapons. They did have gold to pay for those weapons, but historically could only trade directly through British-controlled territory. The neighboring kingdom of Dahomey, which did control its coast, was able to buy four to six thousand reasonably modern carbines from German merchants, along with some machine guns and even some Krupp cannon, neither of which the Dahomey kingdom was able to use effectively when the French invaded and took over the Dahomey kingdom in 1894.
So it wouldn't have been impossible for the Ashanti to buy modern rifles and even machine guns and cannons. Keeping them supplied with ammunition in the event of a war wouldn't have been easy though, and evolving modern tactics can't be assumed. The Ashanti were pretty good at using their muskets and had reasonably good tactics, but were vulnerable to British bayonet charges historically. Even a few modern rifles would have made bayonet charges a very bad idea.
So let's say the Brits try to take over the Ashanti empire as part of the scramble for Africa, but the Ashantis have used their gold to buy a stockpile of modern rifles, etc, with some ammunition. They prove that the Ashanti empire can't be conquered on the cheap, like most of the African conquests were. Does Britain go to the expense of fighting a real war over the area? Probably not, though they could, in an era of battleships, probably take the Ashanti coast, cutting the Ashanti off from resupply and eventually making their investment in modern weapons useless unless the Ashanti could make their own ammunition. All of this would take a while though and could easily run into other conflicts that would distract Britain, like the Boer Wars, the last of which historically was fought at about the same time as the British annexation of the Ashanti.
So maybe Britain tries an on-the-cheap war in the 1890s, discovers that the Ashanti will take more force to beat than they want to invest for the time being. They grab areas of the coast under cover of their navy and wait. Then, before they can do the coup de grace, World War I comes along and makes the Ashanti a very low priority. By the end of World War I, Britain no longer has much imperialist steam left, so by default the Ashanti remain independent, at least for a while. What impact, if any, does that have on the inter-war years and on World War II?
* * *