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Strategy Article


Black Sea Strategy


Stephen Agar


Spring Offensive #64


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This is the first in a series of articles about flash-points on the Diplomacy board. This time I will be considering the old question which troubles Russia and Turkey alike – “do I move to the Black Sea in Spring 1901?” – as well as considering the strategic importance of the Black Sea as the game progresses.

In normal circumstances, without control of the Black Sea, neither Russia nor Turkey can successfully stab each other. Therefore the significance of the Black Sea arises from its central role as a launch pad for the stab. Both Turkey and Russia start with one fleet bordering BLA, so once one side takes it, it can never be forced to relinquish it without the other building a second fleet. Yet for either side to have to build a second fleet in the very early stages of the game can be a significant drain on resources. That is why if both sides can’t trust each other not to move there, then the arranged stand-off is very common, even if the intention is to ally.

The View from Constantinople[]

For Turkey to feel secure with Russia then ideally the southern Russian fleet needs to be disbanded – a simple return to Sev will not give Turkey much security in the long run, and would be a wasted unit for a Russia which didn’t intend to stab Turkey. However, it can be difficult to arrange the destruction of F(Sev) as it is usually done in either Con, BLA or Rum. In the first two examples, Turkey always has the worry that Russia will resist the disbandment at the last minute, whereas in the latter case Russia has to consider the possibility that Turkey will keep Rumania. Some players try to negotiate the passage of F(Sev) out in to the Mediterranean.

If Turkey is to reach 18 centres without taking a Russian home centre and the usual Russian neutral of Rumania, she would need to get as far as Paris or Berlin - but if the Russian centres can be taken, Turkey need go no further than Italy to reach 18. Given the difficulties that Turkey is likely to face in the Western Mediterranean, with the easily constructed stalemate lines which run through the Tyrrhenian Sea, there must be a lot to be said for taking out the Russian centres when the opportunity arises.

On the other hand, if you choose to work with Russia in the early stages of the game, can you afford to let Russia occupy BLA? The answer according to Richard Sharp is “yes”. Richard’s analysis is that Turkey should occupy BLA if he is sure the move will succeed, but that if he knows Russia is going to go there he usually has little to fear. Richard’s analysis is that if Russia goes to BLA he will almost certainly need the fleet to make sure of Rum in the Autumn, rather than use it on a 50/50 shot at a Turkish home centre. However, his view is not universally accepted and Richard Hucknall has certainly put forward the opposite view that neither Russia nor Turkey can afford to let the other occupy BLA in S01, so the best option is really a stand-off.

The traditional all-out attack on Russian is F(Ank)-BLA, A(Smy)-Arm, A(Con)-Bul. This is not an ambiguous opening! Assuming Russia has let you into the Black Sea, you can make a supported attack on either Sevastopol or Rumania, while using your third unit to cut support. If Russia is left with an army in Warsaw (as a result of a stand-off over Gal) and if Austria does not intervene against Turkey, you can be confident of picking up Rumania or Sevastopol. Therefore, at first sight the Russian Attack has a lot to recommend it provided you are sure of taking the Black Sea and Russia and Austria are both ordering to Gal. On the other hand, if Russia stands you out of the Black Sea then although you won’t pick up Rum or Sev, you should be able to deny Russia a build from the southern centres. That might be sufficiently attractive in its own right, provided you are certain of a strong alliance with Austria and do not expect to be on the receiving end of a Lepanto. However, a Russian Attack effectively surrenders Greece to Austria and may result in allowing Austria to obtain a stranglehold over the Balkans, unless Italy can be relied on to keep her busy.

The ideal situation for Turkey would be a promise from Russia not to move F(Sev)-BLA, an alliance with Germany (to deny Russia Sweden), a northern opening from England, a tactical alliance with Austria, but an expectation that Italy will attack Austria from the start and the knowledge that Austria and Russia have agreed a stand-off over Gal. If all these are present, I’d say go for it!

The long-term prospects for a Russian Attack depend primarily on what happens to Russia in the north. If Russia faces aggression from England over Scandinavia, or even an attack from Germany, then Russia can be eliminated very quickly. However, an early bath for Russia may not entirely suit Turkey who may find that Rum and Sev are all she may get out of it - German armies can sweep across Russia with surprising speed. The aim must be to take Moscow, which is the key to War and StP, as well as being the eastern edge of most stalemate lines. If Turkey builds armies early on to break into Russia, there is a real danger that she will surrender control of the Mediterranean to Italy with the possibility of an attack on the Turkish homeland. Therefore a careful balance must be struck in order to retain influence in the Med.

The View from Moscow[]

In the early moves, a Russo-Turkish alliance has a lot going for it. A swift deal over the Balkans can be combined with a crushing attack on Austria. In the first view moves Russian gains are likely to be solid which can release builds for use in the north. Eventually Russia normally does better out of Juggernauts than Turkey, especially when the knife is slipped between Turkey’s shoulder blades. If the alliance with Turkey is retained to the end of the game, then it is likely that Russia would have to reach England and the Low Countries before it would be possible to make 18 centres. But if Turkey is taken, then Venice and Berlin will be sufficient. If Russia were to make a massive break out in the north, getting in to the North Sea, then it is feasible to win without taking on Turkey at all - but such an outcome is unlikely. The sad truth is that Juggernauts usually come to grief.

One thing all commentators seem to agree on is that it is bad news for Russia to let Turkey into BLA in S01. That would tend to suggest that if Russia has any doubts about Turkish intentions then she should cover BLA (and remember that 70% of all Turks order to BLA in S01, while only 53% of Russians do likewise).

The all-out Turkish attack is F(Sev)-BLA, A(Mos)-Sev, A(War)-Ukr, and if the move to BLA succeeds, it can be a strong set of moves. On the other hand, if the move to BLA fails, then Russia may not get a build in the south if Austria and Turkey combine in A01. That is why Richard Sharp has said “…reserve this one for the occasions when you are at least 90% that Turkey is an idiot, and when you are also reasonably confident that Austria will come in on your side.”