Italy – Thinking Beyond Lepanto

by Rod Walker

The “Lepanto Opening” for Italy is wonderful, but it only goes so far. It is only an opening; it gives Italy a certain tactical advantage in the east, but it guarantees neither success then nor victory later. To make anything of it, Italy has to be thinking ahead all the time.

The Lepanto is described in the Gamer’s Guide to Diplomacy but let us recap it here. It is, simply, the standard opening attack on Turkey for Italy. Ignoring Army Venice (which can do a variety of constructive things), the “Lepanto” goes:

Spring 1901: A Rom—Apu, F Nap—Ion.

Fall 1901: A Apu—Tun, F Ion C A Apu—Tun.

Build F Nap.

Spring 1902: A Tun H, F lon—Eas, F Nap—Ion.

Fall 1902: A Tun is convoyed to Smyrna or Syria. A common variant of the Lepanto is to order F Ion— Aeg instead of to the Eastern Mediterranean (with a subsequent convoy to Smyrna, Constantinople or even Bulgaria). Alternately, the 1901 Lepanto moves can be used as a screen for a massive stab of Austria. Such a stab can have three advantages: 1) it may yield more and quicker gains; 2) it surprises Austria more than the Lepanto would have surprised Turkey (now that the Lepanto is so widely used); and 3) it results in a more compact position on the mapboard. Its prime disadvantage is that it is likely to leave a fairly powerful Turkey in Italy’s rear.

In any game Italy is forced to make all sorts of difficult strategic choices. The 1901 moves for the Lepanto mean that Italy has made a choice to concentrate on the east rather than the west. Having made that choice, Italy must now make several others. Will he pursue the Lepanto and seek to eliminate Turkey or will he stab Austria? If Turkey is eliminated, will he then go after Russia, stab Austria, or turn west? Will he try for the eastern “Grand Slam” of eliminating Turkey, Austria and Russia?

The “Grand Slam” could give Italy a victory (3 Italian centers, 3 Austrian, 3 Turkish, 4 Balkan, plus Tunis, Sevastopol, Moscow, Warsaw and one other) without a significant attack on the west. It pre supposes no difficulties with France, good luck, fantastic timing, and probably some help from Germany and/or England. Not likely, but possible. If Italy in tends to pursue this eastern strategy, he will have to plan his diplomatic moves from the very start. He will need to know in what order he hopes to dispatch his victims. Above all, he will need to be able to keep the western powers off his back until he has enough strength to put defensive units in his western approaches.

If Italy’s plans do not include an eastern Grand Slam, then an Italian victory means taking at least some centers directly from the western powers. Sharing the east with Austria, or even Russia, or with both means picking up a noticeable number of centers in the west. This creates a problem of timing.

Getting a significant number of western centers usually means getting through the Straits of Gibraltar. The exit from the Mediterranean can be blockaded with almost ridiculous ease using F Por, F Mid, and a Fleet in the North Atlantic or Irish Sea or English Channel. This means that Italy needs to get naval power westward as fast as possible. This is unlikely while the battle to eliminate Turkey is raging. It is further delayed if Italy is obliged to help Austria eliminate Russia—or help Russia eliminate Austria. Italy compensates for the delay by gaining additional strength, but no amount of strength is going to get through the western blockade just mentioned. It is true that a Russian alliance could result in naval help from the rear of the blockade line. How ever, by the time Russia is able to give that help, he is likely to be pretty close to eighteen centers himself and, consequently, less given to listening to your plans.

Italy’s best bet is to find some way of keeping the western powers in turmoil until his fleets can get through Gibraltar. One tactic is to use the Army that started in Venice as a sort of “equalizer”. A common pattern among the western powers (England, France, Germany) is two-against-one. Italy can use his northern army to support the one, or harass the two; with a little help from Russia, he can keep the western pot boiling for quite sometime. His aim should be to keep things that way until he has tidied up affairs in the east to the extent that he can send naval strength westward.

Getting a fleet into the Mid-Atlantic does not guarantee victory, of course. But the Italian player who does not achieve that goal is not likely to win unless he undertakes to conquer the entire East. If there is considerable turmoil in the west after Turkey is gone in the east, Italy may be able to slip into the Mid-Atlantic on the pretext of helping out, say, the French. And once il cammelo has his nose in the Strait..The Lepanto Opening must, thus, always be seen only as a beginning for which there is to be a definite end. Even as he convoys his army to Tunis, the Italian player must be looking east, or west, or to defeat.

Reprinted from The General Vol.19 No.6