Alternative History

About once a month, the Fiend Mr. Free Market sends me listings of guns which he (rightly) thinks will make me drool.  Here’s one, from Holt’s Auctions, an exquisite double rifle in .303:

However, what grabbed me was not the gun, but an anecdote and observation (bold) from its onetime owner the Duke of Portland:

The Portlands received Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria at Welbeck Abbey for a week in 1913 when the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne visited England. During the stay he took the Archduke shooting on the estate when, according to Portland’s memoirs, Men, Women and Things:

“One of the loaders fell down. This caused both barrels of the gun he was carrying to be discharged, the shot passing within a few feet of the Archduke and myself.  I have often wondered whether the Great War might not have been averted, or at least postponed, had the Archduke met his death there and not at Sarajevo the following year.

Fascinating thought.


  1. Could the Great War have been averted? I doubt it. Could it have been postponed? Maybe for a short time. Europe and the Balkans in particular was a major war just waiting to start and all that was needed was an excuse, almost any excuse, to set it off.

  2. “What if” is a fun game, but it really should be renamed to “What if X occurred and everything else remained the same?”, which of course is not possible. Europe in 1914 was a smoldering brush pile waiting for a spark. I think another spark would have ignited it, especially considering that the actual spark was a relatively minor assassination of a relatively obscure fellow.

    People often talk about going back and throttling Hitler or Marx in the womb, but they neglect that their particular histories reflected the times, and while they played important roles, it’s likely that someone else would have filled their vacuums had they not been around.

    1. Otto von Bismarck once said that the next war would be fought over “some damn thing in the Balkans”. In 1872.

      1. Weren’t there two Balkan wars and then the Great War? That’s three flicks of the Bic, and the 20th Century was roaring.

      2. Hiram Maxim once heard an acquaintance remark that “a fellow could get rich if he could figure out a faster way for these Europeans to kill each other”. He followed up on the idea and made a name for himself.

  3. Yes, the asassination was merely the excuse. If the Archduke had died as a result of the described “Hunting Accident”, The headlines may very well have been Archduke Ferdinand assassinated by Welsh Terrorist ( or whoever the gun carrier was ) at English estate. But the result would have been the same.

    If not that, then something else would have set it off. From reading the History of the time it seemed pretty inevitable.

  4. The hell with the Archduke. For just one second I thought you had selected a new offering for the Boomershoot raffle !!!!!!!!

  5. OK would take a SMLE every time HOWEVER –
    Presume it was that 303 or given the idea of a loader a 12G
    Loader falls down and “both barrels of the gun he was carrying to be discharged”
    At least things like a STEN would normally only fire one

    Having said that I have seen a M60 run away from the standing postion (on the range), firer goes over backwards and drops it Cue:
    M60 behaving like loose hose, 200 people attempting to become 2 dimensional while a 80 rd belt empties

    Funny now as drinking story – not so amusing at the time

    1. Hated the damn things. We had one Lt who had crudely torched off the barrel just in front of the gas port and removed the butt attachment. He held the action cover down with electrical tape. He claimed it ran, but I couldn’t see how.
      Ma-Deuce for me. Good for what ails ya.

      1. I was with the 101st when we first fielded the M240. I believe it was the only time in the Army where the troops were actually happy to exchange a lighter piece of gear for a heavier piece of gear. I once read that the Army created the M60 by taking the MG42 and making it worse. Maybe the ones we had were just old and worn out.

  6. War tends to greatly speed up technologic development. Just compare the flimsy kites they called aircraft at the beginning of the war with what they had at the end. The technological lifetime of a particular design was a year or so, maybe. I do know one thing though. WW II stopped the Bell System’s research on materials wherefrom we got the transistor. See especially John Bardeen. Maybe if not for WW II, we’d have had the internet but not the A-bomb

    1. We would then have faced a world where the A-bomb was developed to deal with the Internet…..and it might still be useful in dealing with our Tech Oligarchs.

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