What If? – The War of 3039


We’ve all done it. At some point in our lives as BattleTech fans, each one of us has taken a look at how something played out and asked, “What if….?” This series of articles will attempt to take a look at both pivotal and seemingly unimportant events in the BattleTech timeline and ask this very question. My take on how events might have happened might be different from yours. Please, feel free to share in the comments how you think an event might have played out.

The War of 3039. It is sometimes forgotten as a pivotal war in the Inner Sphere. Post Fourth Succession War and pre Clan Invasion, this little war manages to fill a pocket niche in the BattleTech timeline that, while on the surface may seem unimportant, ended up as potentially the most critical event in the Inner Sphere leading up to the Return of Kerensky.

Imagine with me, if you will, what the Inner Sphere might have been like should the War of 3039 had never happened. If Hanse Davion had not decided to pursue his bitter rivalry with Takashi Kurita and launch a full scale invasion of the Draconis Combine, perhaps the Clans would have found a very different Inner Sphere when they arrived at the Periphery ten years later.

So what might have changed?

Well, the obvious change would be the stark lack of Free Rasalhague Republic conveniently located in the center of Clan Wolf’s invasion corridor. But let’s get back to that in a moment.

I want to focus first on the two main players of the War of 3039, House Davion and House Kurita.

The Draconis Combine is a bit of a tough nut to crack on this one, as their relatively late access to the Helm Memory Core was partially offset by ComStar’s deal to provide them with Star League era technology to have a fighting chance in the War of 3039. Takashi’s bluff that stalemated the war, even while Hanse Davion was unwittingly within weeks of breaking the Dragon and winning the war, was only possible due to ComStar’s intervention. A decade later, the arrival of the Clans would find a Draconis Combine that was even less prepared to handle the invasion.

As for the Federated Suns, an extra decade of research and development using the Helm Memory Core without the strain of rebuilding from the War of 3039 would have put the Davion run state in a great position to help out the Lyran Commonwealth when the Clans arrived.

Meanwhile, border skirmishes between the Federated Suns and the Draconis Combine would have continued going poorly for the Combine, and the Suns may very well have eaten up a planet here or there without triggering a larger scale conflict.

With no Free Rasalhague Republic serving as a buffer between the Combine and the Lyran Commonwealth after 3039, border skirmishes would have continued on that front as well, with the Fed Suns supported Lyrans gaining the same technology advantage over the Combine over the next decade.

Additionally, because both the Lyran and Combine states were not weakened by the formation of the Free Rasalhague Republic originally, if there was no FRR, the states’ respective military forces would have been even more spread out and hard pressed to repel the Clan invaders. In basic, the Free Rasalhague Republic’s existence actually ended up taking some of the pressure off of the other realms in terms of defense resources.

Things could just get more complicated from here, so I’ll stop this “What if….” right about here with a simple assertion, submitted for your approval. Without the War of 3039, the Clans would have found:

  1. A significantly less technologically advanced Draconis Combine. Without the opportunity to reverse engineer the ‘Mechs and technology given to them by ComStar, the Combine would have fallen behind the Federated Suns and Lyran Commonwealth by a wide margin in terms of battlefield technology.
  2. Both the Lyran and Combine territories would have fallen faster, plant by planet, without the doomed FRR to help blunt the Clans’ invasion.
  3. The Lyran front may have found itself in a slightly better position to fight the Clans with the help of the Federated Suns due to the Fed Suns not needing to rebuild from the War of 3039.
  4. ComStar may have been ultimately unable to act fast enough to stop the Clans at Tukayyid. The unique situation in which the FRR found itself allowed ComStar the opportunity to swoop in and be the heroes. Without the FRR wanting special help from ComStar, the Lyran and Combine states would have had to find themselves asking for the same help, which I find unlikely.

Asking “What If….?” can sometimes lead down a rabbit hole that you never saw coming. Other times, it leads to a brand new universe of possibilities limited only by the bounds of the question itself.

So, what do you think might have changed if the War of 3039 never happened?

Interested in reading more about the War of 3039? Check out these BattleTech Sourcebooks:

BattleTech: Historical: War of 3039 on BattleCorps
BattleTech: Historical: War of 3039 on DriveThruRPG

15 thoughts on “What If? – The War of 3039

  1. Clan Wolverine

    I must respectfully rebuff you on a number of points:
    1) The Free Rasalhague Republic was formed five years prior to the War of 3039.
    2) Purely as an academic point, it was Theodore’s “bluff”, not Takashi. Takashi favored an all-out counter-assault, while refusing to concede an inch at the defensive end. Theodore effectively usurped Takashi during the war, with the help of the ISF, the O5P and ComStar.
    3) Regarding the FedSuns rebuilding, the AFFC actually built dozens of RCTs and march militias between the War of 3039 and the Clan Invasion. Now most of these were still green, second-line troops by the time the Clans hit – like the March Militias – and since most of them weren’t getting the best equipment, they weren’t much of a detriment to the Clans. Still, the combined FedCom had the resources to build a boat load of new units without breaking a sweat. So i don’t look at that as the issue.
    4) Understandably, you consider Houses Davion and Kurita as the two main players in the ’39 conflict. But you ignore the woefully underestimated faction that was working behind the scenes : ComStar. Myndo Waterly had a hard on to stop Hanse Davion at all costs. She wouldn’t let them take down the DC, even in small pieces. She’d find some pretext to interfere.

    Having said all that, your overall premise seems sound.

    Of course, your fourth point regarding ComStar could have been addressed entirely if Focht or Waterly thought to actually ASK the Clans what their goal was when they first met. *face palm*

    Good article!

  2. Dave Martin Post author

    *Facepalm on the FRR bits. No excuse there. My final edit failed to mention why I went with it that way, and that’s now led to a mistake it will take a while to live down.

    Theodore was able to make the most of Takashi’s mistakes in the War to be able to come out on top politically, and perhaps I should have mentioned that more. Without the War of 3039, we might very well not have seen Theodore in a position to join with Victor in their efforts against the Clans, and other enemies, in the years following.

    “What if….?”s are always perilous. Better editing helps, though, eh?

  3. Light Brigade

    The question should be ‘What happened if the FedSuns joined Lyran attack against the Draconis Combine during the 4th Succession War instead of pursuing Hanse Davion’s feud with Max Liao?”

    If both the LyrCom and the FedSuns would have attacked the Draconis Combine (instead of the LyrCom attacking the Combine and the FedSuns attacking the Confederation), the Draconis Combine would have had a very rough time, leaving the Free Worlds League and the ConCap at the FedCom’s mercy.

  4. marcw52

    If not for the ’39 War, there would not have been an opportunity for the Inner Sphere to familiarize themselves with the lostech that was developed form the Helm Core and in the case of the Combine, the ComStar mechs. This experience was vital in the later Clan Invasion because for some of them such as Phelan Kell, Kai-Allard Liao and Hohiro Kurita, it gave them some idea of how to counter the extreme range advantage of the Clan weapons. Also, if the Lyran Commonwealth had not fought a largely losing effort against the Combine, this would have taken a huge propaganda weapon from the Isle of Skye separatists. They blamed the Steiner-Davion alliance for the majority of the Commonwealth’s problems. The 39 War and its largely negative gains gave the Skye agitators another arrow to use against the FedCom alliance and to recruit more supporters

  5. Ojibobo

    does this mean that Miraborg wouldn’t have crashed the fighter into the ilkhans flagship, thus halting the clans temporarily?

  6. ArkRoyalRavager

    If the War of 3039 did not happen, it would be of the greatest benefit to the Fed Com. Several points:

    Draconis Combine:
    – The DCMS would have grown unabated and faced the Clans with more regiments without the need to rebuild from a 3039 war. Theodore would still have his chance to galvanize the DCMS against the Clans rather than during his counterattack in the War of 3039.
    – The Black Dragons would take stronger root in the Combine, gaining much more supporters by appealing to them about the untried Theodore and his untested new doctrines.
    – ComStar will likely execute more Operation Rosebuds to strengthen the DCMS against the continually-strengthening AFFC, so the end result is a much higher percentage of Lostech in the Combine forces.

    Free Worlds League:
    – Without the War of 3039 as a distraction to the AFFC, they won’t be able to launch their raids and minor liberations of several Sarna March planets.
    – The War of Andurien Secession will still happen, so in any case they are tied down in that.

    Federated Commonwealth:
    – Instead of the expensive proposition of invading the Combine, the wily Hanse Davion would definitely take advantage of the weakened Capellans(from the Andurien/Canopian invasion) to finish off his smallest and weakest enemy. “Hitting them while they’re down”. This time, the odds are even more in favor of the AFFS, as they have one less long border to garrison(the FRR border), allowing the LCAF to only garrison the Periphery/FWL/Sarna March borders and re-deploying the free units to the Suns’ Combine border.
    – This will avoid a repeat of the 4th Succession War, where the AFFS was forced to leave the Combine front mostly-unprotected and led to the loss of key planets. In this scenario, almost the entire AFFS can invade the Confederation and achieve a much-higher concentration of units due to the shortened front they now have against the Romano’s rump state. By 3045, the Confederation would be no more, and they do not have the benefit of ComStar providing them with Lostech. The AFFS also has the benefit of the numerous quality mercenaries at their disposal such as Wolf’s Dragoons, not needing to fend off Theodore’s counter-thrust as historically happened means they can add their weight to the invasion of the Confederation.
    – Conquering the Confederation gives the Fed Com one less major enemy to contend with, and they can support the Andurien/Canopians as a client state to distract the FWL.
    – By the Clan Invasion, the Fed Com will have the benefit of many more industrial worlds such as Sian, Capella, Ares, Grand Base, Betelgeuse and worlds that did not fall against the DCMS such as Quentin, affording the AFFC a massive boost in manufacturing and lessening the need to depend on FWL industries for resupply.
    – Without a Confederation to foment rebellion in the Sarna March, the Fed Com can concentrate much more on the Clan Invasion. Operation Guerrero would never happen, or if it did, the AFFC can easily deal with only the FWLM as an opponent. Katherine Steiner-Davion would not be able to use it as an excuse to form the Lyran Alliance, and the FCCW will not take on the massive scale it did in the main timeline.
    – The Word of Blake would still form, but without a Free Worlds salient into a non-existent Chaos March, they would not be able to launch their sneak attack on Terra, and the Jihad would be averted in the short-term.
    – When the Clans fight their Wars of Reaving, the AFFC will be able to take the chance to wipe the Jade Falcons and Crusader Wolves out while making the Hell’s Horses an ally(via Exile Wolf intermediaries) to balance out the Dominion(which still serves as a buffer state against the Combine).
    – House Steiner-Davion would have a better chance and more time to fully establish itself and consolidate the Fed Com into a viable realm. In the much-longer term(a few centuries), the Inner Sphere would be united under the Steiner-Davions into a new Star League.

    1. Clan Wolverine

      I gotta disagree on some points :

      Draconis Combine
      Theodore needed the War of ’39 to justify his reforms to the bulk of the DCMS. It was easy for him to point to the failures of traditionalist units and successes of his reformed units after that. If he tried to push through his reforms without that justification, he’d have faced the kind of revolt he saw in the Ronin War. You can’t simply wait ten years for the Clans to attack.

      Free Worlds League
      Question : How many Sarna March worlds did they liberate? Can you name one?

      Federated Commonwealth
      For 20 years, Hanse Davion had the chance to finish off a still-dangerous Confederation. He didn’t. He didn’t even take a few more planets. Know why? Because Candace Liao wouldn’t have allowed it. It would have re-unified the Confederation under her banner, and considering her husband was the Intelligence Chief, it would have been very, very messy. It simply wasn’t worth it. Besides, an attack on the CC would have opened the FC up to attacks from Marik and Kurita, re-deployment be damned. Thomas and Theodore are not their fathers. They wouldn’t make the same mistakes Takashi and Janos made during the fourth war. Further, Waterly interdicted Davion for taking half the Confederation. If he wanted to take the remaining half, nothing would have stopped her from intervening.


      Regarding the rest, you’re missing the Butterfly Effect. (Yeah, the movie sucked, but the concept is sound.) The voiding of the War of 3039 would have changed things in ways that can’t be predicted. You can’t assume Guerrero would have happened, and you certainly can’t assume the Wars of Reaving.

  7. Argent

    Historical counterfactuals aside, I think that even if the War of 3039 hadn’t happened, the Draconis Combine would have ended up achieving technological parity with the Fed Com in some other way, simply because the game writers and developers wouldn’t have wanted to marginalize Kurita that much. The nature of the game is that none of the sides can really ‘win’ definitively or permanently — it’s fundamentally a wargame, and if there’s no conflict, there’s no game — and House Kurita was obviously popular with players, who would resent if they were demoted to second-class status for long.

    From an in-game perspective, if the war hadn’t occurred, ComStar might still have ended up fortifying the Combine, albeit perhaps not quite as obviously as supplying them with Com Guards equipment. Given Myndo Waterly’s intense antipathy towards Hanse Davion, ComStar was unlikely to allow the Federated Commonwealth to enjoy too much of a technological advantage for too long. ComStar might either have given Kurita technical information under the table or arranged to do so through the Free Worlds League, particularly after Thomas Marik (who as I recall was a ComStar double) took power. In fact, Marik sort of did that anyway — didn’t the Free Worlds League sign some kind of vague “mutual assistance” agreement with the Draconis Combine prior to the Clan invasion?

    Basically, a lot of parties really didn’t want Davion to steamroll everybody, and thus would probably have taken steps to level the field, up to and including engineering some more formal Kurita-Marik alliance or assassinating Takashi to put Theodore on the throne. Kurita and Marik may not have been on the same page philosophically (and Romano Liao may have been too paranoid to make a serious alliance with anyone), but seeing your ambitious foe bolstering his forces and reintroducing advanced technology is a heck of an inducement to cooperate or try something daring. The periods between the major wars in the game continuity have always been marked by complex intrigues and I doubt this would have been the exception.

  8. Eye

    How about a swing in the opposite direction – how do you think things would have gone if the Davions hadn’t fallen for Theodore Kurita’s bluff and successfully pushed forward with their invasion of the Combine?

  9. Alex Ward

    Would the Clan Invasion even have occurred? If Natasha Kerensky had reported a FAR stronger and Star League tech equipped DCMS and FedCom the Wardens would be able to argue far more convincingly that the IS was pulling itself out of the rut it had been in since the 2nd Succession War.

    1. Argent

      Even if the Wardens’ case had been bolstered for a time, in the absence of a common enemy it probably wouldn’t have taken the technologically resurgent Inner Sphere powers much time to make a thorough mess of things again, at which point the Crusaders could again have argued, “Look, we have to save these people from themselves.” So, it might have delayed the invasion five or 10 years, but not necessarily prevented it.

      Also, I notice that the canonical background and ‘fluff’ text seems to be of two minds about the actual technological and industrial state of the Inner Sphere after the dissemination of the Helm Memory Core. Some material (like Technical Readout: 3050) gives the impression that even by the 3020s, efforts to re-fortify the various powers’ industrial base were bearing significant fruit, later making it possible to reintroduce some rather challenging-to-make Star League stuff like Endo Steel (which if I recall correctly requires zero-gee manufacturing facilities). Other material tries to hew closer to the original “LosTech” model, which implied that the Inner Sphere’s industrial base is a jerry-rigged shambles running on ancient machinery that nobody really even fully understands anymore. Those sources imply that the revival of Star League technology amounted to hasty kludges of advanced equipment on the same old half-alive machinery — sort of like wiring a modern off-the-shelf GPS navigation unit into the cockpit of a battered old P-51. (Admittedly, the first round of refitted Inner Sphere ‘Mech designs fit that description pretty well, although later ones were notably more polished.)

      So, I think it sort of depends to which interpretation you subscribe. If it’s the former, then yeah, one could make a case that the Inner Sphere was finally turning itself around after 200 years of backsliding. If it’s the latter, then one could also argue, “Great, these barbarians have managed to recover just enough advanced technology to overcome any sense of caution and restraint they’ve developed.”

      Which is pessimistic, but not necessarily ill-founded. Look at it like this: If you’re the leader of one of the major powers and you discover that your rival is on the verge of reintroducing some piece of advanced technology, but only on a few shaky production lines in one ramshackle factory, do you sit back and let them do it or do you wonder if maybe it’s worth thumbing your nose at the Ares Conventions just so you can set your rival back another decade? That was the kind of logic that led to the technological losses of the Second Succession War, and it’s not altogether unlikely that it would have seen a resurgence in the absence of a unifying common enemy. (Facing that kind of mentality, ComStar’s reactionary desire to suppress the Helm Memory Core makes some sense, loathe as I am to admit it.)

      Conversely, if industrial development in the Inner Sphere was becoming increasingly robust overall, that would probably mean somewhat less incentive for that sort of mayhem. If you know destroying a rival’s industrial site is only probably going to set whatever technological reintroduction back a few months rather than indefinitely, it’s not quite so tempting to do something drastic that’s just going to worry your allies and alienate neutral powers; you might be better off stepping up your own production to maintain a balance of power. So, a general resurgence of the technological and industrial base seems more likely to make a case for political and social stability.

  10. CF

    [NOTE: I am eliding “game concepts” like “if Davion wins the ’39 War, who’s going to play as Kurita?”; I am working as much as possible with “what the characters know”.]

    I have a hard time believing Hanse Davion was behind the War of ’39 to begin with — he had exactly none of the advantages he had over Max Liao (Justin Allard and Alex Mallory, for ex.), and while Hanse wasn’t exactly friendly with Kurita, he certainly didn’t have a reason to try crushing the Combine like he did with the Confederation. IMO: The War was started by elements in the Draconis March (who demanded lost worlds be reclaimed) and Lyran Commonwealth (who were embarrassed enough at their usual ham-fisted incompetence in the 4th S.W., but then saw any gains they had made casually handed over to Rasalhague). The only way to shut the whiny brats up was to let them have their head — if FedCom wins, so much the better; if not, it discredits the elements whining about “when is our folks a-gettin’ our worlds back?”.

  11. CM

    I think that the key thing to think about is that the FedCom and the DC would both still be prepping for their War in 3049. Remember that the DC knew that at sometime the FedCom was going to turn to war with them – too much bad blood between both sides. The big difference is how big their cold war would get. Remember the Cold War between the US and Russia back in the 60’s through the 80s. Both sides just building up and replacing new tech with old tech as they could. This is what these two would be doing.

    If there was no war of 3039 then the DC would have just kept building up their forces quietly. Units like the Ryuken might have gotten larger. There would be more Ghost regiments. There would be more units designed to combat the RCTs that the FedCom would be building up. When the clans show up they would have the same quick successes the first two or three waves but then they would have had a hard counterinvasion that they did not see. Those regiments that would have been built to fight eachother would have been set to take back the worlds that the Clans invaded. Remember the battles of Twycross and Luthian. Think about the entire Ryuken hitting Alshain to take it back. You would have been able to see those battles being fought. I am not saying the Clans would have won or that the Inner Sphere would have either but it would push that line back on those two fronts and the rise of the Wolf Clan would have been more pronounced without those two IS opponents to fight against.

  12. Jason Weiser

    Let us say Hanse calls Theodore’s bluff. We can postulate the Combine has the guts torn out of it, while the forces Teddy sent to launch raids into the Suns are cut off and left to die on the vine.

    Most of Dieron district falls, with good chunks of the other districts as well, the Combine falling back on a Pesht that is pretty much all that remains of the Combine. This is going to leave the Combine in a lurch, economically and militarily,

    The Fedcom is now very powerful, and Comstar may only stop Hanse driving on Luthien itself by the threat of interdiction I don’t think Hanse is that insane though, and to be honest, the coup on Luthien, probably led by Marcus Kurita, will suffice to get a favorable cease fire for the FC.

    But how will this affect the Clans?

    First off, the Crusaders are going to freak out. The FC now has a good chunk of the Inner Sphere’s industrial might behind them. Even if they are the usual blinkered alpha male clanners we all know and love, they have some understanding of numbers. And they realize better to fight the war in the Inner Sphere, than on the Clan Homeworlds. It will be hard to read the Wardens in this situation. Clearly, the FC could be a vehicle to reform the Star League…but Hanse is upsetting the apple cart to do it…

    I predict there will still be a vote to invade, but the invasion corridors will be weighted towards the Lyran end of the Periphery, with more clans being able to participate. Tharkad might even become a secondary target with the idea of destabilizing the FC. Is there a climactic battle of Tharkad that supplants Luthien in this timeline? Could be…

    Also, here is another thought, the Combine and Rasalhague collapses could be a lot faster, as there might be less forces available in those regions. If so, this presents Hanse with a problem. Does he drive deeper into a collapsing Combine and all that goes with it, just to give the Draconis March a buffer?

    1. Clan Wolverine

      Respectfully, I must point out that Marcus Kurita was dead long before 3039.

      There would have been a problem for the FedSuns even if they had pushed onward : ComStar. Waterly had a hard-on for stopping Hanse Davion. She created a pretense for interdicting him in the Fourth War. She must have been chomping at the bit in 3039. Obviously, Focht and other moderates held her off, but she would have had her way if any of the District Capitals had come under attack.

      Further, you assume the collapse of the Dieron district. You have to remember that even if Hanse calls the bluff, the Steiner advance had utterly fizzled after most of their leadership was taken out.

      The AFFS would have had to deal with the DCMS, the ComStar interdict, possibly ComStar “mercenaries” (ComGuards masquerading as mercs) and Drac partisans on the occupied worlds.

      I don’t like those odds.


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