The Lepanto Opening

Edi Birsan

Originally printed in Hoosier Archives No. 43 (6 November 1971),
later reprinted in Spring Offensive 30

By most means of statistical analysis, Italy is the weakest power on the Diplomacy board. This could be attributed to several factors, including a weak position between Austria and France, and perhaps the ineffective development of trust between the Austrians and the Italians due to the unusual situation of adjacent home centres. More often than not, the Italians are unable to overcome the Turkish position quickly and fall prey to a combination of Turkish resistance and back-stabbing by a western power.

A possible reversal of the Turkish domination of the southeast is an alliance between Austria and Italy which uses an unusual opening by the Italians to quickly secure the fall of the Turks. The principal problem in attacking Turkey is that players find its corner position very difficult to crack. Italian initiative combined with Austrian pressure can remove the Turks to gain the corner advantage by the emplacement of an Army deep behind the Turkish position in Syria! While it may be an unusual position for an Italian army, it is the most effective manner to turn the Turkish flank and to threaten the Turkish mainland. The trick then becomes to get there before the Turks block you.

The Spring 1901 moves for Italy should not reveal an open bias toward Austria and should indicate instead a kind of calm wait-and-see attitude. Thus, the Spring should see the Italians moving Fleet Naples to the Ionian sea, Army Rome to Apulia and Army Venice holding. This position gives the Italians a secure position in case of Austrian or French threats. Note that the Italians can support themselves in Venice from Apulia if a threat does materialize. Hopefully, the French will be involved in the west and the Austrians will be moving to Albania with their fleet and occupying Serbia.

Then in Fall of 1901, the Italians make the initial set-up for the drive to the East. This is done by convoying the army in Apulia to Tunis. This leaves the Austrian-Italian alliance with two fleets that can threaten the Aegean and provides Italy with the flexibility provided by the army in Tunis, which can be convoyed back to Italy or to Albania if plans go wrong. The Italian army in Venice holds and is thus able to provide some security in the North. Note that should the Russians and the Turks combine, the Austrians will be in desperate need of an extra army to fend off Russians attacks.

After a Winter build of a fleet in Naples -- the traditional build of Italy in the first winter -- the Italians order the following for the Spring: Fleet Ionian to the Eastern Med., Fleet Naples to the Ionian, and Army Tunis and Army Venice hold. This secures the convoy route, for in the Fall the Italians are clear to convoy Army Tunis straight to Syria. The fall of the Turks is now a certainty. The positional advantage of moving to the Eastern Med. is enhanced by the existence of the Austrian fleet in Greece. When the Italians make their move to the Eastern Med., the Austrians should also attempt to force their way into the Aegean, more to keep the Turks out than to gain it for themselves. In the Spring of 1903, the Austrian-Italian alliance will have three fleets that can come to bear on the Aegean as well as an army that can threaten Smyrna. For those who wish to fantasize, visions of the Italians moving on Sevastopol can be conjured up by the movement of the eastern army to Armenia. or, in the event that the Austrians are to be stabbed, the army could be used to very effectively turn against the Austrian position in Constantinople.

While this opening is very effective, crushing the Turks caught unaware, it is futile to attempt it if the Turks move their fleet to Constantinople in the Spring of 1901, for they will surely move it to the Aegean in the Fall and build a fleet in Smyrna in the Winter with Spring orders bringing it to the Eastern Med. Here we see the flexibility of the opening moves, as the army in Apulia could be used for other things, because such a Turkish opening usually means that the Austrians are in for a lot of trouble from the Russians. But then that is another battle and another article.

Edi Birsan

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