Azure Three Bezants: The Balkan Campaign

For various technical and organisational reasons we had a short session on the 19th, but we did manage to get all the nations played and advance to April 1938.

The liberation of Africa left me with a pleasant problem: What was I going to do with all these troops that had just become available? I had two main options: Another invasion across the Black Sea, to get into the rear of the Danish and German armies holding the Caucasus Front, or alternatively, to cross the Med to liberate Greece. The first had the advantage that, if it worked, it might be a war-winning blow; reach the Caspian, cut off something on the order of fifty divisions from supplies, free up our own forces on the Caucasus front to charge into the Ukrainian plans, and likewise cut off, or at least force to retreat, the enemy armies holding the Urals against the Indians. The least that could be expected from such a stroke was to move the fighting line well into Poland – if it worked. I had, however, tried it before, and bogged down in a swarm of suddenly-appearing German divisions. It appears to me that although the Commonwealth players are curiously sloppy about guarding their actual ports, they do keep a strong central reserve, at least in crucial places like the Ukraine, ready to fling against breakthroughs or landings.

The Greek landing was less ambitious, but did offer the possibility of reaching the Black Sea and cutting off the thirty-or-so divisions besieging Constantinople, and freeing up the defenders of that city. Having done so I’d be faced with a slog through the Balkan mountains, but I’d be that much closer to Italy and Germany; additionally, Greece has a reasonable amount of industry which I’d like back, and enough Venetian cores that I’d no longer be one major defeat away from forced surrender. Further, its success would not be an all-or-nothing matter like reaching the Caspian; even just taking the Peloponnese would give me naval and air bases to improve my grip on the Eastern Med and start getting back into the Adriatic. Holding the Crimea, on the other hand, would be useless – just another place to occupy my limited troops; if I went across the Black Sea I would either reach the Caspian or I’d be evacuating and back to square one. (Or, worst case, lose my port and my invasion force.) All things considered, I decided to go with the lower-risk, lower-reward option:

The invasion plan. I used multiple embarkation ports to keep the planning time to a single week.

A third possibility was to form my armies into a reserve in the Caucasus, and ask my allies to retreat a bit in the face of the continued Danish attacks on our right flank there, which had been slowly pushing down the Caspian shore. The idea would be to draw in a large number of enemy troops into what would look like a possible breakthrough into my Mesopotamian and Persian lands – a victory that might knock Venice out of the war. Then, when they had been drawn out, punch through their line in the north using my cleverly-husbanded army, reach the Caspian shore, and kill the breakthrough troops; with a bit of luck, the whole Caucasus front could be thrown north into the Ukraine, threatening the rear of the Ural Line as before. However, this would rely on, firstly, the other side actually doing that attack; and, secondly, that we could in fact force our way through several mountain provinces to reach the Caspian, and fast enough to prevent Fivoin from just pulling his spearhead back. I reached the conclusion that this conceded too much initiative and also didn’t have a high enough chance of working, and went with the Greek plan.

Landings in Greece, creating a well-supplied beachhead. I also landed some troops outside the ports to boost my push for the Black Sea coast, intending the supplies to catch up to them later.

The landings went without a hitch; however, at this point the German navy showed up for the first time in the game. This was rather disconcerting; I had been assuming that the Eastern Med was now our lake – but as the heavily-fortified strip in Morocco was still holding out, the Commonwealth controlled the Gibraltar Strait, and our German player had apparently decided that there was no use in keeping the conversion navy in reserve any more. That would be a sensible choice; the longer the game goes on the more carriers and high-level ships there are, and the level-1 destroyers and capital ships from Victoria are a wasting asset. To lose a number of them, perhaps even all of them, in stopping an invasion – better still, stopping half an invasion, trapping the other half on its landing beaches, and restore some of the balance lost in the African campaign by crushing the beachheads – would surely be a worthwhile exchange. I was, therefore, rather unsettled to see those destroyers – fifty of the things, gah! Nonetheless I decided to take the chance, for two reasons: First I had a battlecruiser and nearby air support and they didn’t, and second, I had allies with carriers. So I launched the followup waves anyway – damn the torpedoes!

Foxy tanks have rushed to the Adriatic, creating a pocket around Ulcinj.

Fortunately my allies were awake, and landed their own troops to support me; some Foxy tanks charged right across the peninsula to cut off the Greek defenders from their friends – although not from supply, as they still held Ulcinj. This is the same port that supplied my Albanian Front after the evacuation of Italy, whose disastrous loss caused the twenty-division Forza Italia, which I had deftly extracted from the collapsing defense of the peninsula, to surrender for lack of supplies; I may have smiled a bit when I saw that. If so, I should not have allowed myself to be distracted; while I was chuckling over the irony, the German player launched a savage counterattack with troops pulled (I assume) from the siege of Constantinople, and chopped off the spearhead I was trying to get up to the Black Sea to break the siege.

Heavy German counterattacks attempt to rescue the Ulcinj pocket; they succeed in cutting off the spearhead going for the Black Sea coast, and even in retaking Thessalonica.

In spite of the loss of the spearhead, the mountains allowed us to stop the counterattack, and the increasingly heavy attacks all along our northern front as the German and English players got their reserves mobilised, and grind away at the pocket around Ulcinj; when the port fell, just as happened with my Albanian Front, it was all over. As with Achab in the previous session, I opine that the subs were perhaps a little too ready to fight doomed last stands; once it was down to a single port and the counterattacks were clearly bogged down, that pocket should have been evacuated forthwith, rather than allowed to collapse. Something between one and two dozen divisions were caught in this manner – not a good exchange rate for the Commonwealth against my seven spearhead divisions, even if they were elite infantry and tanks.

Successive stages of the battle for the Eastern Med, in which my two capital ships held off swarms of light German raiders long enough for the transports to get across, sinking many of them, then retreated in good order before superior numbers.

Dun-dun-dun-dundundun-dundundun… The Imperial battlefleet arrives with an ominous blare of brass instruments.

The Balkan fighting has now settled down to another grinding attritional struggle through mountains, which we already had quite enough of, thanks; but the naval situation has developed somewhat in our favour. While all this pocketing and counterattacking was going on, there was a constant naval battle in the Dodecanese. My battleship, the Vittorio Veneto, apparently developed into something of a sniper with its fourteen-inch guns, hitting and killing no less than twelve (!) destroyers; my battlecruiser got another six, and my lone Trento-class heavy cruiser sank three. My own screens took some losses as well, to be sure, but it appears that sending in destroyers against capital ships was something like the massacre it ought to be. Eventually the German battlefleet showed up, three battlecruisers, and I decided that enough was enough and pulled my ships out… but meanwhile my allies had been maneuvering their own fleets. The Imperial Japanese Navy converted with fifteen battleships, and has added some carriers (and a bunch of screens) since January 1935. The Germans escaped without, so far as I know, losing any capital ships; but perhaps it will be a while before they are seen in the Eastern Med again.

Eurasia, April 1938. The only major change from February is that Greece is once again in Venetian blue.

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Filed under Azure Three Bezants, One With Nineveh and Tyre, Recessional

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