Almost History articles

. It’s the summer of 1953, and, across East Germany, angry people take to the streets. This isn’t a polite protest. This is a furious, red flag ripping, police beating, office burning rampage. The crowds demand: better living conditions; the reunification of Germany; and free elections. Instead, they would get: Trabants; the Berlin Wall; and another 35 years of hardline Communist government. Could the 17 June […]

Opening the Iron Curtain – the East Germany’s day of dissent

According to Field Marshal Montgomery, rule number one on the first page of the book of war is ‘do not march on Moscow’. In April 1945, Winston Churchill ordered the British Chiefs of Staff to rip up the rule book and plan for an attack on their wartime ally, Russia. It was audacious, inconceivable and incredibly risky. So, fittingly, it was codenamed Operation Unthinkable. Just how […]

Operation Unthinkable – Churchill’s plan that would have started World War 3

. In August of 1216, the King of Scotland rode down the entire length of England to pay homage to a new English king at Dover. The Scottish monarch bent his knee to a warrior prince who was the pride and hope of his dynasty. His name was Louis and he was the eldest son of the King of France. Louis is overlooked in most lists […]

Louis of England – history’s forgotten King of England

In the summer of 1550, Princess Mary, the eldest daughter of Henry VIII, was packing her belongings and preparing to flee her home. Her Tudor brother was the figurehead for an increasingly Protestant regime. Mary clung to her mother’s Catholicism. She feared for her life and, as the pressure on her to conform grew, she turned to her powerful relatives abroad. She could be safe again, […]

Princess Mary Tudor’s flight to freedom

. In 1647, the new Puritan government tried to cancel Christmas. People in Canterbury protested in a peculiarly English way, with a destructive game of football followed by a mass brawl. The city’s Plum Pudding Riots led to a royalist revolt throughout Kent and the second round of the Civil War. With Parliamentary armies fighting in Wales and Scotland, could this have marked a revival in fortunes […]

Canterbury’s cancelled Christmas and the Plum Pudding Riots

In 1822, Gregor MacGregor committed what The Economist newspaper has called the ‘biggest fraud in history’ and ‘the greatest confidence trick of all time’. Investors, many of them Scottish, put forward vast sums towards creating a colony in central America. They were told it was a sure bet, a land of milk and honey – another paradise on the isthmus. Sounds familiar? If you listened last […]

The Prince of Poyais – settling in the country that never was

. Towards the end of the seventeenth century, Scotland sank a huge chunk of its national wealth into an audacious scheme to colonise central America. By building its own colonial empire, a still independent Scotland planned to become a more equal partner with England under the Stuart crown. This is the first in a two part series looking at Scotland’s colonial disasters. In both cases, huge […]

A wonderful paradise on the Isthmus of Panama

. In the first half of 1940 only one question mattered in American politics. Would Franklin D. Roosevelt break with tradition and run for a third term as President of the United States? The New York Times proclaimed it as ‘the all-absorbing political riddle’. Roosevelt kept the country guessing right up until the Democratic National Convention held in Chicago in July 1940. On the second day […]

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s third term and the voice from the sewer

. Everywhere you turn, you see the unmistakable face of Adolf Hitler. His voice echoes in your head, broadcast from a thousand loudspeakers. His wild, gesticulating speech is reaching its foam speckled crescendo. Nazi television is everywhere. Looming over city squares, above the concourse of the railway station, on the factory floor and in every home. It is George Orwell’s 1984 made real, and it was […]

Achtung! Achtung! Nazi Germany’s dystopian experiments with TV and radio

In 1941, Adolf Hitler issued orders to Nazi Germany’s railway officials. He wanted them to develop a new type of railway. It was to be bigger, far bigger, than anything that had ever been seen. Trains the height and width of a suburban house and the length of the Empire State Building would hurtle across the Greater German Reich, from Brest in the west to Bucharest in […]

Hitler’s plan for monster railways across Europe

Scores of people died when the airship burst into flames. It crashed into the ground just over 50 miles away from one of the world’s most important cities. Its demise marked the end of a national programme of airship construction and the death of an imperial dream. But this is not about the Hindenburg disaster. Just under seven years earlier, the British faced a similar tragedy […]

A dream that burst into flames – the British Hindenburg disaster

California is one of the most iconic of America’s 50 states. Its film industry has shaped world culture and ensured that one of the most enduring images of America is the golden sands and rolling waves of its Pacific coastline. But what if America had been thwarted in its westward expansion? Could California, Oregon and Washington have become the 11th Canadian province of New Albion? . […]

The State of California or the Province of New Albion?

At the end of the nineteenth century, it looked likely that the age of imperialism would reach its apogee with the carve up of China. The world’s most populous and once most powerful state faced colonial rule, as Western powers considered ‘carving the Chinese melon’ following their ‘scramble for Africa’. In the end, China retained her sovereignty, but this was not the most obvious outcome.  I’m […]

China’s colonial escape

In the nineteenth century, Rome was troubled by its river. The Tiber had produced the Great Stink of 1855 and had flooded the Eternal City in 1870. What should the dynamic leaders of a newly unified Italy do with the fetid river that ran through its capital? Giuseppe Garibaldi had a radical solution. He wanted to remove the Tiber from the city completely. . Tiber rolls […]

Garibaldi’s plan to divert the River Tiber and change Rome forever

On 23 May 1915, Italy declared war on its former ally, Austria-Hungary. The Triple Alliance was reduced to an alliance between Germany and Austria-Hungary and Europe no longer seemed quite as finely balanced into two opposing camps as it had at the outbreak of war. But why did Italy abandon the Central Powers?  Italy had always been the shakiest member of the European alliance system. By […]

Why did Italy join the Allies in 1915?

After the defeat of the Confederacy, thousands of Americans decided to emigrate to Brazil. They dreamed of building a new slave-owning society in a country almost as large as continental America with plenty of undeveloped land. Ironically, their presence would highlight slavery as an issue and lead to its eventual abolition in Brazil. The Economist’s 2013 Christmas Special tells the story of the murder of Joaquim […]

Deporting Dixie to Brazil

Few spy thrillers have plots that are as implausible as the reality presented to French military intelligence in 1904. A German officer presented himself and offered to sell top secret war plans. He called himself “The Avenger” and met his handlers with his face entirely wrapped in bandages. The facts were so implausible that it was dismissed as a German ruse. If they had taken the […]

Vengeance denied

In the heart of the Dutch capital stands a gothic wonder set in immaculate grounds. It has the lofty bell tower and intricate brickwork that conjures images of the handsome guild houses and town halls of the prosperous trading centres of the low countries. But this is not an ancient building; it is the home of the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of […]

Opening the Peace Palace on the eve of war