Saburo Sakai's AAPacific Essays - #6 Japan's Futile Battles

  • There are roads which must not be followed,
    armies which must be not attacked, towns which must
    not be besieged, positions which must not be contested,
    commands of the sovereign which must not be obeyed.

    Sun Tzu - The Art of War

    The Battles Japan Should Not Fight

    Although Sun Tzu may have said it first, every good commander must know those battles that are worth risking and those battles that, even if they go well, will not help win the war.  In AAPacific, Japan starts the game as the aggressor, just as occured in the real Pacific War, but the Japanese commander must not be so blinded by aggession that he becomes the victim of “Victory Disease” and strays into unwise confrontations.

    There are several battles that Japan must avoid.  Some are the result of quirks in the AAPacific rules while others are those risky low odds attacks that leave your units exposed to counterattack that should be avoided in any version of Axis and Allies.  While this list is not intended to be comprehensive, here are the battles I think Japan should avoid and why.

    Sea Zone 5

    On J1, some players just cannot resist the temptation to attack sz5.  It seems so easy.  Japan has six fighters in range and the US forces defend on a 1.  Wouldn’t it be great to wipe out both the US Hawaiian fleet and the Pacific Fleet in one turn?  Maybe, but in my view, this is one of Sun Tzu’s “roads which must not be followed”.

    Here’s why.  Japan can get 8 fighters, 2 subs and 3 ACs into battles in sz9 and sz5.  If more than 4 fighters are committed to sz5, then the ACs cannot be involved in the attack on sz9 and it reduces the total number of fighters that can be used in the attacks.  So, the Japanese player must divide his forces between the sz9 and sz5 attacks.  It is of no use to Japan to wipe out the fleet in sz5 while leaving the sz9 fleet intact.  Even 1 BB surviving in sz9 can completely alter the game.

    Let’s assume then that Japan attacks sz5 with 4 fighters and sz9 with 4 fighters and 2 subs.  In sz9, two of the fighters come from Caroline Islands and will land on the ACs moving either to sz9 or sz7.  Two of the fighters attacking sz9 come from sz20 and will land in Marianas or Caroline Islands.  The 4 fighters attacking sz5 will land on the ACs in sz7 or sz6.

    The odds of winning the sz9 attack are quite good - well over 99% with the most common result being taking the sea zone with 1 sub and 4 fighters.  On the other hand, the odds of winning the sz5 attack are not as good - only about 70% with the most common result being taking the sea zone with 1 fighter.  Remember also that you can’t kill the US sub because without a spotting Destroyer, the sub can’t be hit by aircraft.

    So, at the end of J1, the most common result sees Japan win both the sz5 and sz9 battles with 3 ACs, 5 fighters and 1 Sub.  On many ocassions, the results will be worse for Japan.  In order to consolidate his carriers and fighters, Japan must move them to sz7 or sz4, otherwise the Caroline Is. fighters cannot land.  This leave 3 ACs and 5 fighters exposed to a US counterattack.

    On US1, the Americans can attack with 2 Subs, 1 Trn, 6 Fighters, 2 Bmrs against 3 ACs, 5 Ftrs.  The battle favours the US by about 75% and the US should win with 2 fighters and 2 bombers surviving.  If Japan fared worse on J1, the odds are the US will do better on its turn.

    So, you’re now wondering why this was a bad battle for Japan.  Japan has inflicted far greater casualties on the US then it has suffered.  That’s a good thing, right?  Well, yes but the US can replace what it has lost in two rounds, while Japan would need 4 or 5 rounds to replace its loses and that’s assuming it does not build anything else.  More likely Japan does not rebuild its carriers and replaces only a couple of the fighters lost.  Without those ACs, Japan’s surface fleet is a sitting duck for US bomber and submarine forces by US 4 or 5.  Even if the battles go much better for Japan and it’s carriers survive to J2, they can’t escape.  They’re too far from support by other Japanese units and not next to any controlled ports, so even if they can escape, they can’t hook up with other Japanese units until at least J4.

    This is a battle Japan should not fight because even if it goes well, Japan has likely lost the war.

    Hawaii and Szechwan

    When discussing Hawaii and Szechwan I am not really saying that this is a battle Japan should not fight so much as it is a battle Japan should not win or, more specifically, a battle where Japan should not capture the territory.  In AAPacific, unlike AARevised, SBR attacks are not limited to the IPC value of the territory attacked (see Essay #5).  This means that any territory with an IC that is owned or captured by Japan can be SBRd by the Allies.  As Japan loses one VP for every 10 IPCs it loses to an SBR attack, capturing territories that makes it easier for the US to conduct an SBR means long term death for Japan.  Hawaii is especially bad for this.

    Japan can usually set up to capture Hawaii on J2.  Hawaii can be attacked on J1 by fighters from sz20 which land back on the carriers.  A couple of infantry from Bonin Is. and Marianas will usually combine with a fighter or two to take Midway and are in position to attack Hawaii with air support on J2.  The US player will usually leave Hawaii undefended if any units there (usually a heavy US1 bomber purchase) would be wiped out on J2.  The Japan player can often have Hawaii at no cost.  No cost on J2, at least.  After that, the US will be able to bomb Japan endlessly.  Hawaii is within SBR range of the US.  Therefore, if the US purchased 5 bombers on US1, their first job is an SBR attack against an undefended Hawaii, typically causing 10 to 20 IPCs damage and costing Japan 1 or 2 VPs.  The bombing will continue until the US decides it has built up its forces enough to wipe out the Japanese naval units in sz9 and any defending units on Hawaii, without retaking it.  Japan will continue to be subjected to SBR attacks until the game ends, with the US building several bombers every turn to replace loses to AA guns or defending fighters.

    Szechwan is similar.  Japan is usually in a position to capture Szechwan by J3 and the Allies are typically busy defending in Yunnan so that Szechwan is lightly defended.  There is another reason that Szechwan is lightly defended.  If Japan takes it, any US bombers in range will be able to SBR Japan.  By US3, there are often 2 bombers in range.  By US4, there are as many as 7.

    In some ways, Szechwan is less bad for Japan to capture but in other ways it is worse.  For example, by capturing Szechwan, Japan deprives the Allies of any Chinese infantry reinforcements and can easily reinforce the territory with other infantry units and fighters.  The bad thing is that, unlike Hawaii, Szechwan is vulnerable to UK strafe attacks that will eliminate defending fighters before the US SBR attack.  The only time Japan should capture Szechwan is late in an India Crush game where VPs are not going to matter to the game’s outcome.  In that case, taking Szechwan, if the units are available to do it, will not hurt Japan’s chances at victory.

    Large, Early Round, Close Odds, Air Only attacks

    I am of the view that Japan should avoid large, air only attacks early in the game, unless they are directly tied to a India Crush or Australia Crush strategy that will see the game end by US4.  Japan needs to conserve it’s strength for the later rounds of the game.  There will be a number of ocassions during the game where an Allied fleet is vulnerable to an air attack but can’t be reached by any naval units.  This will usually happen in sz14, sz29 or sz32 by J2 or J3.  If the odds of winning this battle favour Japan by only 75% or less, it is a fight that is not worth the risk, in my opinion.  As is the case with all A&A games, naval units typically defend as well as or better than they attack.  The only reason an attack is sometimes better than a defence is if you can bring large numbers of additional fighters or bombers into the battle.  Since Japan typically plays the game with only 2 bombers and with smart use of CAP can get almost as many fighters defending in a sea zone as attacking, it does not often pay for Japan to fight the low odds battle early in the game.

    This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of battles that Japan should avoid because each game will present it’s own unique circumstances but it should provide some clues as to the battles Japan should not fight.

    Saburo Sakai

  • I really like your essays, :-DThey have helped me a lot in AAP games with my friends.

  • '10

    I have to agree. The essays are insightful and informative. I started reading the older posts out of curiosity in an attempt  to fill my experience void. I havent seen any SS postings recently. I would like to know his positions  and thoughts for the other games.

  • I still come around once in a while.  I claim some expertise for AAPacific but none at all for the other A&A games.  I have played most of them, but there are many players more able than me who you should look to for strategy tips on AAR, 2nd Edition or the other versions of the game.


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