by Stephen Agar
Long ago, Richard Sharp promoted the theory that Germany usually thrives when Austria thrives (or at the very least Germany does well when Austria manages to stick around for a while), and the available statistics appear to bear this out. However, is this really the full story? The purpose of this article is to suggest that Germany in fact does well when Russia does badly and while Russia doing badly and Austria doing well may be different sides of the same coin, that is not always the case. I would doubt if a Turkish invasion of Austria holds quite the same long-term horrors for Germany as a successful Russian invasion, while a successful attack on Austria by Italy is probably only bad for German prospects if it is accompanied (as it so often is) by Russian gains in Austria as well. This slightly different approach would have some ramifications for Germany strategy over and above the Anschluss which we all know and love.
Having GM’d 30+ games of Diplomacy, after a while you do start to notice patterns creeping into the games. One common situation is to see Germany and Russia slagging it out for control of Berlin and Warsaw by about 1904, sometime Germany is victorious and (unlike Hitler) reaches Moscow, on other occasions Russia triumphs and the whole of Germany falls. Often the victor is the Power who strikes first. Conflict between Russia and Germany is, in my view, generally inevitable once mid-game is reached. That being the case, I would argue that a successful strategy for Germany will take this into account from day one.
The Polish Battleground
Few Russias open with A(War)-Sil and even fewer Germany’s try A(Mun)-Sil or A(Ber)-Pru. After all, there are the neutrals to pick up and there is a need to sort out an alliance structure amongst near neighbours. But once the initial land-grab is over, where does Germany get the next few centres from?
If all is going well for Germany he will be in an alliance with either France or England against the other. In the event of a Franco-German alliance you would expect to see Germany build F(Kie) to threaten English interests in Scandinavia and the North Sea, while France tackles England direct. While England is slowly taken out, France moves into the Mediterranean and Germany goes… where? Well, intervening in Scandinavia may already have brought Germany into conflict with Russia and if you’re building A(Mun) and A(Ber) it is just ever so easy to order A(Ber)-Pru, A(Mun)-Sil and you’ve got a supported attack on Warsaw. On the other hand, sometimes Germany is so determinedly anti-English that he assists Russia in Scandinavia in order to get the extra Russian fleets needed to crack open the North Sea, but this tends to plant the seeds of Germany’s downfall in the mid-game, for reasons discussed later.
Anglo-German alliances aren’t much different in practice. England sends fleets against France and probably puts an extra couple of units into Scandinavia. Germany pours armies through Burgundy and gives the English some support in the north. By 1903-4 France is effectively out, England has the outlying French centres and maybe even St. Petersburg and yet again German armies built in Mun and Ber look east for the next few centres. After all, it is difficult for Germany to build fleets quickly enough to take on England single-handed, so it is easier to build armies instead. Of course, this strategy can be fatally flawed as a few years later Germany will be very vulnerable to an English stab.
The Russian Perspective
The fact that Germany often looks to Russia for the second tranche of supply centres once the Western triangle is settled is quite logical when you consider the proximity of the Russian centres, the fact that Germany is essentially a land-based power, and the influence of Switzerland and the stalemate lines on geography. In particular, in order to win the game without crossing the stalemate line Germany needs two or three Russian home centres to stand any chance of victory.
And of course the converse also applies. Russia needs to secure her frontiers in the early game and will be looking for assistance from neighbours to get a foothold in the Balkans or Scandinavia. This is certain to bring her into conflict with either Austria and/or Turkey in the south and with either England and/or Germany in the north. If Russia strikes a good deal in the Balkans and makes early gains, then it is likely that in the short term Russia will keep sending armies southwards. But once Russia has got as far as she can easily get (usually the Vie/Bud line) or as far as she has agreed with her ally, where else can Russia seek growth? It has to be in Scandinavia and Germany. By this time either Germany will have let Russia into Scandinavia, there will be an uneasy balance in the area or England will have monopolised the situation, perhaps even taking StP.
The usual Russian game plan in the north would be to take Scandinavia, the North Sea and maybe the odd English centre while eliminating Germany through encirclement. And of course if Germany assists Russia in taking Scandinavia he is just speeding up the process. A continued Russian presence in Scandinavia coupled with Russian success in the Balkans will, in my opinion, inevitably lead to a Russian attack on Germany. Indeed, if you consider where Russia is to get 18 centres from, you have Mos, StP, War, Sev, Con, Ank, Smy, Rum, Bul, Gre, Vie, Bud, Tri, Ven, Swe and Nwy for 16. To win Russia must take mainland Italy (difficult without a large naval presence), take England (possible with German help, but Russia can’t build fleets that fast) or take Germany. Of these three options, Germany is the easiest, especially with help from Russian units in Scandinavia and Austria. Of course, if Turkey is still in the game, then the need to take the German centres for a victory becomes overwhelming.
So what does this all mean for Germany? I believe that the mid-game interests of Germany and Russia in Diplomacy are almost always incompatible and that for real and lasting success one must take the home centres of the other. Therefore, that Power which is first able to mount such an attack effectively will have a decisive advantage and that early strategy for both Powers should be directed at putting themselves into that position.
There’s More To It Than Just Threatening Italy
If there is any substance in this analysis, it follows that Germany should try to keep Russia weak, by denying her Sweden in 1901 and at the very least maintain a balance of power in Scandinavia to keep the Russian genie well and truly bottled up in the north. On the premise that my enemy’s enemy is my friend, Germany should support Austria (to deny Russia early builds) and do all in her power to discourage the emergence of a Russo-Italian alliance or a Juggernaut. The aim must be to keep Russia isolated and weakened, so that she spends her early game defending the homeland. If Russia manages to achieve a secure southern flank then Germany is in trouble. This means that Germany should not neglect to maintain effect diplomatic connections with countries such as Turkey and Austria, because by the time the mid-game comes around their position in the game will directly influence the ability of Russia to wage war on Germany.
I would go on to say that I think, save for desperate circumstances, that it is a tactical mistake for Germany to do much by way of supporting Russia against England. Once Russian fleets get to Norway and the Norwegian Sea it will be impossible for Germany to push them back on her own. Even when Russia gets into trouble in the south, all too often a rump Russia can survive in the north for years and years, denying Germany the Scandinavian centres. If Russia reaches the North Sea, then Germany is encircled and the odds of Germany withstanding a determined assault from Russia are slim, especially once a Russian fleet gets into the Baltic.
Germany must aim to resolve the western triangle before matters settle down in the east, so that she can build armies to attack east before Russia is in a position to build spare armies in Warsaw. Essentially, it doesn’t matter how Germany resolves the E/F/G conflict – an alliance with England makes things difficult for Russia right from the start, but leaves Germany open to a stab later; an alliance with France may allow Russia to break out in the north, but may prove more secure in the longer term. Only remember this: Russia is not really your friend.
Russia, on the other hand, should do all in her power to achieve influence in Scandinavia and hopefully prevent an Anglo-German alliance that could see StP coming under pressure. If Russia can spare A(Mos) in S01, then the move to StP must hold out the prospect of increased influence in the north and hence an early ability to strike west. However, any influence gained in Scandinavia will be irrelevant in the face of a determined A/T alliance and it is the struggle for power in the Balkans which must be uppermost in Russia’s thoughts. Just as Germany benefits from an isolated Russia, Russia also benefits from an isolated Germany, provided the end result isn’t an over-mighty England.
To conclude: if you’re Germany it isn’t enough to support Austria. Far better to fix the real enemy – Russia – as soon as possible.
First published in Spring Offensive 36