Official History of the Campaign for North Rivett Posted on 6 Apr 00:40 , 0 comments
Now that the dust has settled, at least for the moment, on our recent World in Flames Campaign for North Rivett, it might be a good time to discuss the strategies, tactics, and execution of the war, and the lessons learnt thereof, with my usual concise, insightful and humble objectivity.
Before delving into the game itself, if you are interested, you can download all the individually customised builds charts for each major power here (zipped xl files). Each chart also includes key events, and options relevant to or chosen by that major power during the game, in the notes column.
You are very welcome to use these modified and updated builds charts (with the built units themselves changed to your builds of course) in your next game.
One spur to play the game was a point of view that China was too vulnerable to conquest. Although this is possible and happens in perhaps 5% of games, it is very rare and nowhere near the likelihood as claimed by some players.
This chance is modified by the options chosen and the Chinese defence. In terms of options, the Axis made it much easier for the Chinese by not playing divisions, fractional odds, 2d10 table or (at least initially) Cadres (options 2, 26, 27 & 36 respectively). These options make the game more aggressive because it lessens the losses of a failed attack meaning more attacks and more losses to the defenders than in the option-free Classic game.
But the most critical factor is the initial Chinese defence. If ever China is going to be conquered, it is usually early and due to a flawed Chinese set-up.
Chiang and Mao's United Front broadcast the planned Chinese Weave defence several weeks before we started playing when we posted it in the blog and also sent an earlier version to Hirohito. But the Emperor thought it was a perfidious and cunning Chinese trick and didn't study it closely prior to the game.
Not that it would have made too much difference as the whole point of the Chinese weave defence is that by using terrain and unit ability to the best advantage, you don't allow the Japanese to attack you anywhere at better than 2-1 odds.
.China, Manchukuo, Mongolia and Siberia, September 1 1939
At 2-1 there is only a 30% chance of success (both defenders destroyed) unless the Japanese disrupts Chinese defenders by ground strikes before the land attack. Initial Japanese bombers leave a lot to be desired. Their best tactical value is 2 and there is no surprise so Japan has only a 32% chance of disrupting one Chinese defender and 4% of both. Even if Hirohito gets both (like his first ground strike) his odds only go up to 50% and only 10% of not disrupting of his own units.
There is a kink in the Chinese lines at set-up so if Hirohito is successful on his first attack on Sian, Chiang simply folds his line back a hex. Furthermore both Chinese HQs are still in reserve so if Hirohito is successful again, Mao and Chiang can throw themselves into the breach to stem the tide. It's only if Hirohito rolls a 10, 9 and 10 in his first 3 attacks (the inverse of Hirohito's actual result) that the Chinese will start to have a somewhat ragged defence line.
It's September/October 1939, so Hirohito is unlikely to get more than 3 good blows in before winter closes things down, minimising his chances of an early counquest of China.
But of course Hirohito rolled nothing like that, his luck was hideous, a 1 then a 2 then a 1 in his first 3 attacks, 5 destroyed Japanese armies worth 14 build points for no Chinese losses. Rolling two 1s and one 2 in your first 3 combat rolls happens in 0.6% of games.It's actually very unfortunate as it wasn't a full test of the China is conquered 80% of the time theory since obviously 99.4% die rolls in favour of the defender clearly lies outside this margin.
Suffice it to say that with the Weave defence, no matter what options you are playing with, you maximise Chinse resilience (option 36, cadres was implemented starting Jan/Feb 1941 and back-dated to include the 5 Japanese losses but this was far too late to conquer China).
Apart from the set-up, Chinese play was more or less set and forget. With Hirohito's poor luck, Chiang and Mao moved maybe a unit every second impulse average.
During the entire game (end of 1942) Hirohito only destroyed 1 Chinese Infantry corps (defending Nanning) and that not until 1941 and only after the expenditure of 11 offensive points. Even though it was successful it cost the Japanese another army and ultimately didn't lead anywhere except into more mountains. It also meant that Hirohito didn't have the offensive points to launch a naval-land action on the surprise impulse against the USA and/or Commonwealth (to maximise surprise invasions).
Furthermore, by not taking Sian and hex A0539 early, it cost Japan 2 build points a turn (Sian, and allowing the Japanese controlled resource in A0438 to rail to a factory). Thus Japan was down 27 build points (3 and a half carriers) by the end of 1941 and 60 build points by August 1945.
By holding Sian, China gained a net 13 by the end of 1941, 19 by the end of 1942 and 35 by the end of the game. So just these two hexes cost a net turnaround of 95 build points during the game from Japan to China.
Hirohito did recover from this disastrous start somewhat and started sliding round China's southern flank to the west via French Indo China. This almost caused a disruption in the Chinese line which may have been sundered permanently if Hirohito had taken a chance and attacked the weakened defence but he was sufficiently chastened by his early bad luck to rely on manouver alone which came close but not quite close enough.
China ended up losing 2 units total by the end of 1942. Apart from the Infantry army lost defending Nanning, a garrison army was lost in a fruitless communist attack on A0540 late in the game (3 build points total Chinese loss after cadres, and no aircraft losses, all game).
By the end of 1942, China military strength was huge. They were building Maoist mech corps and Nationalist Paras and naval bombers, the latter to start pounding Japan's convoys in the south china sea escorted by Thunderbolts in 1943 and Mustangs in 1944.
Zombie China (an affectionate nickname denoting that even if China gets knocked down, she nearly always gets back up again sooner or later) usually only starts to bite Japan in 1944 but as Hirohito had such heavy losses early to China's few, China would be counter-attacking in earnest through 1943.
Not that it would have been easy. The same lack of aggressive options (along with Chinese attack weakness) would make it very hard going to start driving Japan back out of the mountains and into the sea.
China, Siam and Burma 31 December 1942
Hirohito proved a far superior naval strategist when he finally recovered from his Chinese shock and attacked the Commonwealth. His initial assault was flawless taking his perimeter (Rabaul. Singapore and the NEI) in the minimal time possible, two impulses, and followed up by filling it in (Philippines) a turn later all for the loss of only 1 unit, a terrific result to a well planned campaign.
Japanese invasion of Rabaul March 1942
Conquest of Singapore and Dutch East Indies, March 1942
Hirohito's hunter sense was also on full display when he smashed FDR's impudent move of transports and aircraft in the North Pacific, and followed that up by destroying a transport in the South Pacific.
Quickly discharging his duties to take his perimeter Hirohito then launched a brilliant assault on India. Churchill had few units in the Indian Ocean and with his hideous naval losses and heavy pressure on his convoy lines in the Atlantic, wasn't about to reinforce India anytime soon.
Japanese Invasion of Ceylon July 1942
That Hirohito failed to back it up (although this may have only been temporary) was inexplicable. All those luscious Indian factories and resources ripe for the taking. Marines to walk across, transports to reinforce. Greg should have been able to scrape together 10 armies which with tactical air support and truddlers (4 mover battleships) off the coast with the occasional CV support would have seen India quickly subdued.
Hirohito stated that he needed his navy to face the US. While true about his CVs and fast BBs and CAs (with the CLs on his convoy lines) its not true of the truddlers that are just an encumbrance (minimises the Sea box your CVs can be in if they want support).
Hirohito's final decision to split his fleet to hunt down a few of Nimitz's cruisers was not only inexplicable, it was inexcusable. Jomini and Clausewitz would have shaken their heads at this one. Dividing your force in the face of a superior enemy is frowned upon even in the meanest of military training schools.
FDR's plan to goad Hirohito with his CAs was hardly subtle and should have been met with the contempt it deserved. At most (and probably least) Hirohito could have concentrated his Bettys and Nells escorted by his magnificent Zeros, all in the 4 box, where he could kill FDR's impudent cruisers 50% of the time (being in the 4 box +1 for land-based naval bombers) for no loss.
Guaranteed no-risk, CA sinking, killer defence.
Instead Hirohito splits his navy and relies on Adolf rolling a 7 or less to end the turn, another Clausewitzian no no. He was unlucky too here of course, FDR finding his fleet, Nimitz rolling a 10 search roll (to Yamamoto's 3) and also rolling to sink all 3 of his CVs with only 3 X results (should have lost only 2 average).
The great Marianas turkey shoot, Dec 1942
But still it wasn't luck that Hirohito was out there in the first place and as the Guinness world record world's most successful coach Ric Charlesworth has said "there is no such thing as luck, its preparation and opportunity". Hirohito gave FDR that opportunity.
Note that if we were playing in the presence of the enemy (ITPOTE) FDR would have been in a lot lower box and wouldn't have found the Japanese carriers. ITPOTE is played by most groups precisely because it doesn't allow this impudent virtually risk-free deep raiding by enemy fleets late in the turn.
USA did well after a shaky beginning. All the right units were being built at the approximate time except perhaps a couple more CLs and the odd convoy point could have been laid down earlier to cope with the staggering CW convoy losses.
But the key stuff like the Essexes turned up as early as possible and of course they were decisive in turning the tide of the war, the very turn after they arrived.
US entry was very unlucky for FDR but the USA was still going to come in Mar/Apr or latest May/Jun 1942 even without Hirohito's January 1942 declaration of the war on the Commonwealth.
The operation to lure out Japan's navy was textbook and discussed in Japan above. It left FDR in an excellent position in 1943 with 65 build points per turn (all 3 axis powers in 1943 are 74 assuming full production and no losses) gearing up to a massive 86 build points per turn by 1945 even without taking any more factories or resources.
They still could have suffered if they got too cocky as Yamamoto still ruled the skies (3000 navs and fighters on the pacific front against the US's 600 ancient Bolos and Catalinas) but the production would have seen a steady stream of reinforcements that would have made 1943 an uncomfortable year for Japan and of course another 6 Essexes late in 1943 would most likely have been the beginning of the end.
Worldwide military production 1 November 1942
To be frank our defence of France was excreable, there is no two ways about it. Yes Adolf was lucky with the weather, but his operations were flawless conquering Poland in 2 impulses and still having enough in the west to take Netherlands and Belgium and then be poised to take Paris in November which would have been a hideous embarrassment.
Our too cute by half placement of Georges in the south of the country to get the transport to bring the Algiers Inf to France in September as well as the Syrian inf was in hindsight nuts. France only has 5 reorganisation points in its 2 HQs (Georges and Billotte) and we should have used them all in the north to reorganise the reserves and rush them to the Belgian border.
Not only did it leave France wide open to German assault in November but meant that Georges had to spend that month railing to Paris knocking out his reorganisational ability that turn too. Overall a failed play that nearly cost the Allies the game before it had barely begun.
Western Front November 1 1939
If the weather had been mild in Nov/Dec and we had lost France that turn we would be rightly laughed out of wifschool for our gross negligence and incompetence. Doesn't bear thinking about except suffice to say the Axis would be very close to winning the game as they could then do a 1940 Operation Barbarossa, something I had done no study on and wouldn't like to face.
Luckily Adolf didn't and we Allies managed to hold on by our fingertips until early May when more less than stellar defending and some well used offensive points saw Adolf jackbooting through Paris with most of a balmy summer of opportunity ahead of him.
Even with the Japanese difficulties in China, you would have to say the Axis were ahead at this point. Late desperate French counterattacks only mitigated the pain, it far from erased it and the European Axis had the world at their feet.
Gibraltar (not Vichying France until Germans and Italians have walked across Algeria to set up a marine/para one/two on Gib)? Suez? Sea Lion? Balkans? Even a possible Barb 40 (altho I dont think it was viable with increased Soviet production, reserves and far fewer German units, but still would have been nip and tuck for a long time if he had)?
So what does Adolf do? Not a great deal. He lets the British evacuate Dunkirk for no loss, then moves east but instead of attacking the Soviets which, admittedly, would have been a very provocative gambit, he turns the Wehmacht south to attack Greece in an attempt to align Yugoslavia.
I certainly breathed a sigh of relief. Gave us Allies some desperately needed breathing space to ready for the onslaught.
This is not to say that it was foolish strategy to attack Greece, just if you do, do it with paras and marines on the first (surprise) impulse invading and landing close to Athens reinforced by tanks that can blitz in the clear terrain around Athens. Italy's historic campaign is a stark warning of the likely ourtcome of fighting across the country over the mountains during winter.
The Axis next mistake was not to seal off the Mediterranean. Germany and Italy have numerous superb land-based naval bombers and they had built several. However they didn't have enough of the 4 range fighters (like the Focke-Wulfes) to escort them in the 2 box (30% chance of finding every impulse) to allow them to reach the critical mass that would have overwhelmed the British navy,
Churchill was allowed to reinforce Greece and ally Yugoslavia forcing Adolf to attack It as well (of course this ended up being beneficial for the Axis in US entry terms as it cost Churchill a chit to ally Yugoslavia meaning the Axis didn't need to pay the cost of declaring war themselves).
Balkan front late December 1940
This mired Germany and Italy into Greece and Yugoslavia for months which (as per historical) delayed Adolf's invasion of Russia, in this case until July '42, losing a crucial 2 months (or more if you already in March/April).
North Russia, July 1 1941
South Russia, July 1 1941
It did make July and August very long and tense, but the Soviet 4 line defence held until the end of the turn (which was exactly average, 5 clear weather impulses each) and September was average kind weather wise (2 clear impulses, 2 bad weather impulses) which brought Adolf's assault for the year to a reasonably early close (as you can see by the cadres in the Soviet Build chart, high losses early then rapidly tailing off).
Adolf's main impediments was starting too late, not having offensive points to bust the Dnieper on the first or second turn of invasion, not include Balbo's flying circus (Balbo with a gaggle of lend lease Stukas escorted by Italian fighters to maximise ground strike attacks on Soviet units each impulse), and too few fighters to escort too many bombers meaning many were forced to remain idle or face enemy fighters unescorted..
The Wehrmacht's attack was hardly disastrous though, and in fact due to Adolf's caution, Germany had a historically large army and airforce at the end of 42 and was going to be difficult to reduce. Furthermore Soviet losses were far greater than Germany both in air and land units.
Certainly my Soviets for all their strength weren't going to be the one to break Germany quickly and 1943 would have actually seen Germany and Russia at about equality with superior German airforce and land factors per hex actually still making Germany the tad stronger side.
Finally Adolf's air defence of German factories relied too much on single-engined fighters (ftr2s) which should have been in Russia or the med (if range 4), and not enough on the longer-range 2-engine zerstroyers (ftr3s, preferably night fighters like the Bf-110 G4) which are more effective when facing unescorted bombers.
German air defence December 1942
Overall a dazzling start that petered out a bit by the end. Adolf however is a very good defensive player and we were playing with defender friendly rules, so would have been interesting seeing Adolf defending the Reich in the latter half of the game.
Soviet play was competent, effective but not very inspiring. Land defence is the easiest job in WiF which is why I like doing it. But I hadn't done any tricky things (apart from building the Mar to force Finland to liberate the Finnish borderlands) although i was planning to start soon (honest!).
For example I was going to move my partisan to Minsk late in the Jan/Feb '43 turn and on the same impulse land a Para or mountain unit there. Hopefully storm or blizzard next impulse so Adolf cant get back to attack it in time, then the turn end and build reinforcements there (after moving the partisan back out) turning it into a behind the lines hero city.
After my amphibs were built, (early '44) I planned to do the same in Odessa and reinforce it by sea to actually create a new front behind the lines. But these are all might have beens and might have been easily dealt with by Adolf.
Also Adolf's plan to exploit my weak cavalry in the swamp south of Murmansk by attacking it with the FInns in the borderlands, was a glaring mistake on my part that would have caused quite a few difficulties for my Soviets in early 1943 with Finns behind Leningrad.
My biggest flaw is I tend to be too defensive and don't see opportunities to attack quickly enough to exploit effectively making my transition from defence to offence slow and ponderous.
But overall defence is what I'm good at and my Soviet defence was never truly stressed. I start with 13 units, with my land unit heavy build I had 47 units when Adolf attacked in July 1941, 40 of which are on the Europe map.The Soviets get 17 reserves and built 12 Mil and 2 Garr that turn, the mil of which turn up in Sep/Oct. Thus at the start of that turn (the second of the war) my 40 units had grown to 64 units (including 2 Mot built in Mar/Apr) even after the 7 losses in Jul/Aug.
From then on each turn the Soviets got more units than they lost such that by the end of 1942 they had built 51 land units and lost only 28. By December 1942 they had a total of 87 land units, 78 in Europe. The Soviet airforce increased too but more slowly, from 8 in Jul/Aug 41 to 13 by Jan 1st 1943 (7 x ftr2, 3 x lnd2, 2 x lnd4, nav2).
North Russian front Dec 31 1942
South Russian front Dec 31 1942
1943 was still going to be tough and the best the Soviets could expect was equal losses with Germany with not much ground taken by either side.
Benito's play was very competent, probably the most consistent of the Axis. The Italians challenged the Royal navy continuously in the Med and often came out on top.
Mussolini was challenged in this task by the lack of 4 range fighters which could have completely changed the war in the med, particularly on those key turns like when Churchill was desperately reinfoing Greece. He shouldn't have been able to do that without facing the Regia Aeronautica and Luftwaffe in both the eastern and western med in the 2 box, and with all their navs, getting a 30% chance of finding the CW each impulse. Even if the Royal Navy had got through it should have been at the cost of both transports and carriers and ultimately the med should have been an axis lake.
Perhaps the one flaw in Italian play was not staying at sea with at least a CA or CL so that the CW couldn't return to base with units at the end of the turn, or sneak through in the first impulse next turn.
Adolf was very generous with resources to Italy which is an optimal (if far too often rare by greedy Hitlers) strategy as it maximised Italy's contribution to the war which is exactly what the Axis need and want.
But by far the best aspect of Italian (and German) play was their Battle of the Atlantic. This was consistently outstanding giving great rewards throughout the entire game. The sub war was so effective I thought there were 9 German and Italian subs in action but they only ever built 4 which added to their 3 at start gave them 7 in total. And with that they destroyed 87 convoy points and damaged dozens more!
So for a total expenditure of only 16 build points to build the 4 subs they destroyed 87 bps of convoys or more than 5-1, by far the most cost effective arm of any country in the game. Sure they cost more points consistently repairing them but this too was money well spent as they also took out heaps of escorts and damaged lots of convoys so the end result was still around the 4 or 5-1 ratio that dramatically reduced Britain's ability to start building offensive weapons against them and they still had 6 subs operational, only one ever sunk.
Battle of the Atlantic December 1942
Their strategy and the execution of this strategy was superb and a ringing endorsement of the Australian (U-boat) school of WiF (as opposed to the incompetently myopic anti-soviet totallerkrieg German school). The Commonwealth would have been 4 to 5 turns production ahead without having to build back all those convoys and it reduced Germany and Italy by less than 1 turn's production, an excellent return on Axis investment.
The Commonwealth is the hardest country to play and Churchill played it very well, probably played the best of all of us. He was very aggressive, simultaneously defending his convoys, sending expeditionary armies to France and then Greece, helping to hold both effectively, defending Suez and then conquering Tripoli and invading Sicily and then Sardinia.
British troops invade Sicily June 1942
If Hirohito had continued his offensive in India that might have been a campaign too far for Churchill's stretched resources and not taking an undefended Ethiopia and Italian Somaliland was probably a mistake as it allowed Hirihito to use them as bases against South Africa and the Red sea.
But overall the CW kept itself together after extremely heavy convoy and escort losses and was in an excellent condition to continue to take the war to the Axis in 1943 with strong US support. It would have been very interesting to see how a 1943 D-Day might have worked out with the vast majority of the wehrmacht mired deep in the Soviet Union.
Close exciting game but I think the Allies were ahead at the end. The production in 1943 would be maximum Axis 74 (Germany 38, Japan 23, Italy 13) to the Allies 135 (USA 65, USSR 36, CW 28, China 6). That's almost double which would become irresistible before too long. It would only get worse in 1944 and '45.
The options made it easier for the defenders (the Allies in the first half of the game) and next time we will try a far more aggressive suite of options to make every turn cut-throat. Particularly cadres, divisions, 2d10 and fractional odds really reward aggressive play and each turn is edge of the seat time for both sides.
Limited overseas supply, in the presence of the enemy (ITPOTE), air-sea search and spotting fleets does the same to the naval war as it makes finding enemy fleets easier and you usually have to spend less surprise points to avoid aircraft, making naval combat more bloody all around. Its also easier to cut supply to units on islands/secondary supply sources (eg Australia for the US fleet) as you simply kill the convoy point (finding it being 10% easier as its a cp), disrupt the cut-off units and then destroy them out of supply.
Finally divisions and SCS transport make every coastal hex every turn a potential invasion hex for you or your enemies. thus making any defence 10 times more difficult.
Thanks to everyone for the game, it was lots of fun and I hope it gave all World in Flames gamers a few ideas for your next game.
Good luck and good gaming.
Harry "Uncle Jo" (and Chiang and Mao) Rowland