From: Fairbanks, Alaska
Negotiations on the Washington Naval Treaty stall. The signatories eventually come to a compromise, but the result is a weaker treaty than what was signed historically. Key differences include the US keeping all six of their six planned Lexington battle-cruiser hulls, finishing four of them as carriers and two as battle-cruisers, and the provisions for flight-deck cruisers, which both the UK and the US pursue. The carrier tonnage of the treaty also allows France to lay down four additional Bearn-class carriers.
Japan embarks on an ambitious modernization program, encouraging their armament and aircraft manufacturers to adopt assembly-line techniques. Along with the modernization of their manufacturing techniques, Japan begins to quietly amass large quantities of steel.
Japan gives formal notice that it will terminate its participation in the Washington Naval Treaty, and immediately thereafter embarks on ambitious ship-building program with the intention of matching the combined naval power of Great Britain and the United States.
The scope of what Japan is attempting to do stuns other nations that have an interest in the Pacific, the Dutch, British, Americans and French all begin to invest in arming their territories there.
With Japan's invasion of China, France sees the threat of not only Germany invading France, but also the threat of Japan invading French Indochina and eventually threatening French Caledonia and even French Polynesia. With that in mind, French warships and base forces are dispatched to French Indochina, New Caledonia and to French Polynesia.
Due to the difficulty supplying their forces half a world away, France encourages the development of light industry in French Indochina, Pondicherri and French Polynesia, as well as expanding the ports, airfields and shipyards in their territories.
It becomes apparent to the French Air Council that domestic manufacturers can not equip the Armee de l'Air with enough airframes. In addition to contracting other countries to produce foreign designed aircraft to help fill the void, French Aircraft manufacturers are encouraged and subsidized to license their designs to foreign manufacturers, especially in the US. American companies begin manufacturing French aircraft, some of which make their way to bases in French Indochina, New Caledonia, Pondicherri and French Polynesia.
With the success of the air program, France also looks to the U.S. to augment their ship-building, contracting with US ship builders to produce some of their vessels.
Officers of the Dutch army and navy meet to discuss the threat of Japan in the Dutch East Indies. The conclusion of the meetings is that the Dutch are woefully under-prepared to defend their colonies, even with US and British assistance. As a result of these talks, the Dutch begin building two modern battle-cruisers and a squadron of modern destroyers, all of which arrive in the the DEI in the fall of 1941. They also lay plans for the modernization and mechanization of their ground forces. As was the case historically, the Dutch leaders see France as Germany's target and don't make the necessary preparations in Europe until too late.
France begins retrofitting their aging Bearn-class carriers to contemporary naval standards, and rushes production on their two Joffre class fleet carriers.
America's eventual entrance to WWII seems inevitable. Aircraft factories and shipyards ramp up production, which have already expanded considerably to fill French orders.
In June, Japan invades Northern French Indochina. During the invasion, French intelligence obtains documents that were to be presented at the Konoe Cabinet in Japan later that year that listed French Polynesia as one of Imperial Japan's eventual targets. This information is made known to French naval command, including Admiral Marcel-Bruno Gensoul.
In July, British Captain Cedric Holland gives the French fleet under the command of Admiral Marcel-Bruno Gensoul at Mers-el-Kebir an ultimatum to surrender their ships, sail to Martinique for interment, or be fired upon (Operation Catapult). In tense negotiations, Britain agrees to let France evacuate the bulk of its fleet, naval personnel and naval aviation assets to French Polynesia as an alternative to Martinique. The agreement allowed the British to achieve their goal of removing French naval forces that might fight for Vichy France from the Atlantic, Med and Suez, and gave an opportunity for the French Navy to maintain their autonomy and still defend French colonies. This precedent from what came to to be called the Mers-el-Kebir accords is honored for the remaining French Naval forces in the Western Hemisphere.
French carriers Joffre and Painleve are launched along with the battleships Gascoigne and Clemencau. Unfinished, they sail to Tahiti to join the bulk of the French Navy and to avoid capture by the Germans.
Later in July, France signs the Armistice, while the French Bearn-class carriers are docked on the East Coast picking up their order of Curtiss P-36s, SBC Helldivers and Brewster Buffalos. The precedent set by Admiral Gensoul at Mers-el-Kebir allows the Bearn carriers to avoid internment at Martinique and instead sail to French Polynesia to join the French fleet. As a whole, the French fleet survives the Armistice nearly intact.
French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Chad, the French Congo and Cameroon, join the Free French along with France's Indian colony, Pondicherri. The French navy, now mostly operating in the Pacific, joins the Free French forces. Free-French naval command transfers to Tahiti. Unable to participate in the Atlantic due to the accords, the Free French navy dedicates itself to the Pacific.
The U.S. allows aircraft manufacturers to continue their French contracts, but with the airframes delivered to the Free French colonies. Free French colonies around the world receive deliveries of aircraft.
Free French ships, including the Bearn, support Free French operations off the coast of Equatorial West Africa, French Somaliland and Madagascar. With British and Commonwealth support, Free French forces continue to build up infrastructure in the Pacific and Pondicherry India.
In July, Japan invades South Indochina with 140,000 troops. While French forces in French Indochina were nominally under Vichy control, the remaining French forces there choose to evacuate to Free-French held Noumea and join the Free French.
The US War Dept. moves up the timeline for reinforcing the Philippines, and men, aircraft and material arrive in the fall of 41.
Frustrated with Operation Typhoon's stalled offensive against Moscow, Germany encourages Japan to attack the Soviet Union in the East, and Japan plans a surprise attack on the key Soviet port of Vladivostok along with Pearl Harbor. Germany pledges to help support Japan's war in the east as well. German Q ships, u-boats and surface combatants begin to run British blockades and enter the Indian Ocean.
December 7th, The United States enters the war. Desperate for naval strength in the Pacific, the United States offers to finish the construction of the carriers Joffre and Painleve, as well as the other hulls that had been laid down in US shipyards.