Jocher pmed for help so I’ll oblige. I haven’t played 42 in a while so I may as well write up what I know before I forget it.
Big part of winning with the Axis is making solid attacks on the first round. Japan starts off the game. There are many schools of thought on J1.
IMO the key objectives are the fleet in sz 35 and the fleet in 53. Hit 35 and 53 with everything possible. 4 figs 1 ac 1 bb can reach 35. 1 ss 1 ca 1 dd 1 fig 1 bomb can reach 53. Don’t send the AC to 53; you want it in 62. There are many opening buys but I suggest 1 dd 3 tpt to start. The transports are for quickly shuffling men into Asia and the dd is for naval support. Usually you will clear 53 with just the fig and bomber or perhaps the cruiser alive. The bomber lands in Carolines and the fig on 62.
Beyond that I’d hit Fuk (use an inf arm from Japan via the tpt) and Sui, and usually Hup too. You should only have 2 figs left over for China–you can use them to support attacks on Hup and Sui. Don’t worry about defending Manchuria–charge into China and destroy them in a few turns. If Russia moves into Manchuria they are easily countered. As a rule…China first, then Siberia and India–the transports will help you spread your men out efficiently as you rotate between French Indochina and Manchuria/Buryatia.
An IC in Sumatra is not really the way to go imo unless USA is ignoring Japan. So you won’t know whether to build it until J2 or J3. Then it might be useful to reinforce your position through India. But realistically, the best place for a Japan IC is India, then perhaps Manchuria, then either Burma or Sumatra if USA is KGF, or FIC if USA is KJF. Max out the Japan factory via transports before buying ICs–the transports are mobile and help you dominate the Pacific war. That’s why i suggest buying 3 tpt to start and maybe 1-2 more on J2 if USA is going Atlantic. If USA goes Pacific, you will need those transports to retake islands even if you’re buying mostly naval. Don’t let China play any kind of role in the game–crush them ruthlessly and keep marching on into Russia. Infantry and armor coming off transports from Japan are the fastest way to do this.
As far as Germany goes, buy a mixture of infantry and armor at first. I prefer 6 inf art 3 arm. It sounds like your opponent may have gotten lucky dice if he takes all 4 Eastern front territories R1. Sometimes that aggression might backfire. Either way, definitely counter him at Baltic States and Ukraine. Attack Karelia too–get all 3 NOs every single turn. Always use all of your air power on every turn on attacks. Turn 1, your main priority is clearing SZ12 so your Italian fleet is safe. 1 dd 1 ss 1 bmb 1 fig at a minimum. Send a sub or 2 to sz1 or sz10 and hope for a lucky break. Don’t attack SZ2. Reinforce Libya with the land units on France. In ncm, set up your air power so you are in position to hit Egypt with alot of air G2 if UK keeps its units there. Send 2 inf to the Balkans for added threat. G2 is a great time for an Egypt hit. And if Italy gets control of the Suez it will be able to buy enough units to turn the tide. As far as the Western front goes, I don’t even defend France G1, I’m moving everything eastward except for the 2 guys going to Balkans. Italy retakes France Italy 1 and then Germany reinforces the position.
Re. Italy, its main role is to buy infantry to protect France, but it should keep its navy alive as long as possible as an annoyance. Go for the Italy NOs as long as possible and try to get them with Japan when you can no longer get them with Italy/Germany.
It takes a while to learn the game and forum chatter is no substitute for experience. But a stronger opening should put you in a better position.