Here’s another idea for an off-the-beaten-path grand strategy: kill Britain first (“KBF”) in Axis & Allies 1942: 2nd Edition. This version of KBF relies on the strong starting Japanese economy to produce bombers that can whittle away at Britain’s income while the strong starting Germany navy gathers for a relatively early Sea Lion-style attack on London.
When to use the Strategy
Look for a weakly defended Karelia on R1. If Russia stacks its entire army in West Russia, then KBF might not be viable. Ideal positioning for a KBF is when Russia attacks Ukraine in earnest and also suffers a couple of casualties while taking West Russia, leaving the Russian army thin on forward-deployed infantry without wiping out the German infantry stack in Belorussia.
What to buy with Germany
On G1, buy 3 inf, 1 art, 2 carriers – one for the Baltic fleet and one for the Mediterranean fleet. On G2, buy 2 transports in the Baltic sea, and put the rest into infantry. Starting in G3, buy 1 artillery a turn and as many infantry as you can afford. Depending on what the US is throwing at you, you may want to occasionally replace a fighter or drop a pair of destroyers in the Baltic to reinforce your main fleet, but try to average at least 8 inf per turn – you need inf both to hold off Russia and as fodder for invading Britain.
German Sea Lion strategy
If you sink the British navy on G1, then both of your fleets will be safe for a couple of turns, because the British air force (3 fighters + 1 bomber = 4 HP, 13 pips) isn’t in any shape to blow up, e.g., 1 BB, 1 CV, 2 fighters (5 HP, 14 pips). Make sure to leave the Mediterranean fleet standing in place on G1 (you can ferry troops from Italy to Libya) so that your carrier group and your battleship reinforce each other.
Ignore the American navy on G1 – it often gets used to bring troops to Morocco, which is a trap for the USA in KBF, because those troops are much more urgently needed in London, and you need to reliably sink all of the British boats (except the Canadian DD and transport) without losing any of your own ships.
Unless both the UK and the USA are alarmingly blase about countering your navy, you need to link your fleets up by G3 somewhere near the English channel. This will buy you several more turns of regional naval dominance – the British aren’t in a position to rebuild their Atlantic navy with your carrier groups parked in their backyard, and the Americans will need several turns to build a fleet that can launch a meaningful attack against 2 CV, 4 ftr, 1 BB, 1 CA (9 HP, 27 pips on defense).
Note that you do not have to (and probably should not) launch a serious invasion of London on G3 – the purpose of linking up your fleet early is just to keep it healthy and intact. It is unlikely you will have much infantry to spare for a London invasion on G3, because the bulk of your G1/G2 income went into the navy. Depending on what is defending London, you probably want to make a token attack with 2 inf each on G3 and G4 (the supporting cruiser and battleship mean that you’re rolling 9 pips, meaning that your 6 ipc investment costs Britain about 4.5 ipc in defending infantry. You can bring in the airforce and artillery and so on for a full assault with 4 fully loaded transports starting in G5 (5 inf, 2 art, 1 tnk, 4 ftr, 1 bmbr, 1 BB, 1 CA = 13 HP; 37 pips). Obviously it’s OK to sacrifice the airforce if that gives you a high chance of sacking London – even if you can’t hold it against American reinforcements, the IPC swing is huge, and sacking the capital prevents Britain from building any additional defenders. On the other hand, if the attack’s not going well, don’t be afraid to withdraw the air and try again with fresh troops on G6 – trading 5 German inf, 2 art, 1 tnk (29 IPC) for, e.g., 4 London infantry (12 IPC) is a recoverable error, because you can rebuild the ground troops in one turn, and the whole point is to gradually wear down London’s defenses – whereas if you sacrifice your army and your air force and still don’t take London, it’s pretty much game over.
German defense of the Eastern Front
Where most KBF strategies go wrong is that the German player tries to duke it out with Russia on even terms, even though Russia is outproducing them in the region. You can’t afford to spend more than about 15 IPC per turn on the eastern front, whereas Russia can spend about 24 IPC per turn to fight you until Japan is knocking at the gates of Moscow. More to the point, there are no strategic targets for Germany in eastern Europe other than Karelia. Warsaw is not a victory city in this edition, and it really doesn’t matter how many 2 IPC territories you control on the eastern front – what matters is how many turns you can hold off Russia while still diverting the bulk of your income to Operation Sea Lion.
Instead of pressing as far east as you possibly can, pre-emptively retreat to a more defensible line of territories that you can stack with infantry, forcing the Russians to both (a) buy more expensive offensive units to assault your core territories, and (b) wait more time for those units to travel over to your side of the fence. Minimize the expense of your casualties by attacking almost exclusively with infantry and fighters, lightly trading any territories that you can afford to grab. If a 2 IPC territory is heavily defended, you don’t need it.
An aggressive German front line in KBF might be Karelia - Baltics - Poland - Romania. A more conservative line in KBF might be Karelia - Germany - Southern Europe, with Poland and the Baltics as lightly traded dead zones. It seems scary or weak to allow the Russians to enter Poland as early as R3, but if the Russians aren’t in position to hold Poland, let alone do anything exciting with their Polish stack, then it really doesn’t matter how far the Russians penetrate into your turf.
To see why, suppose the Russians (a) control West Russia, Ukraine, Baltics, and Rumania, (b) are trading Poland and Southern Europe, and have lost Karelia, Buryatia, and the Soviet Far East. That puts the Russian income at 32 – enough to buy 6 inf, 2 art, 1 tnk each turn. With 15 IPC for the eastern front, Germany can only buy 5 inf of defense each turn. But to attack, e.g., Poland with ground forces, the Russians have to march from Moscow to West Russia to Belorussia to Poland – three spaces away from their industrial centers. By contrast, Poland is only one space from Germany. This means that on, e.g., R6, Russia can reach Poland with starting troops plus three turns’ worth of purchases – whereas Germany can reach Poland with starting troops plus five turns’ worth of purchases. 5 * 5 inf = 25 inf defending (25 HP, 50 pips) vs. 3 * 6 inf, 2 art, 1 tnk = 18 inf, 6 art, 3 tnk (27 HP, 45 pips). Retreating toward your supply lines greatly magnifies the power of your purchases. True, eventually Russia will catch up with you – but before they do, your goal is to seize Britain, dumping its loot right into Berlin just in time to turn the tables on an over-extended Russian stack. Any surviving carrier-based fighters can also come straight home to Berlin after a London conquest, because the Kriegsmarine is much less important once you’ve successfully forded the Channel.
To help support this long-supply-line strategy, you need to take and hold Karelia very early on. Taking Karelia gives you a convenient place to build infantry, and more importantly, it denies the Russians any flexibility for their infantry – all of their forces will have to march from Moscow or the Caucuses, which are equally far away from the German front lines. Karelia is also very important for the Japanese bombing campaign. As an added bonus, with Britain on the ropes and Karelia under German control, Norway, Finland, and to a lesser extent the Baltic States become ‘safe zones’ that produce German income without needing defenders.
German Invasion of Africa
To make KBF work, you obviously want to start sucking up as much British income as you can as early as possible. However, you also need to reinforce your Mediterranean fleet, which makes taking Egypt on G1 a non-starter. So, stack up in Libya, take Egypt on G2, take French Equatorial Africa and Italian East Africa on G3. Then, on G4, circle back into the Sudan via Rhodesia and the Congo. The Japanese will be able to help you pick up South Africa and Madagascar, so it’s not as important to get to those territories.
The Americans may land in Morocco and then start marching east across north Africa – let them! You don’t need to hold Africa long-term; you just need to keep the British from collecting its income during the crucial early turns, so that they run short on funds to defend London. If the Americans go up 3 IPC from taking German North Africa, it will have zilch effect on your opening strategy. Leave a token guard in Egypt of one or two infantry so that the American tank can’t blitz into Egypt, and then the Americans won’t take Egypt until A4. Meanwhile, you can re-occupy Egypt with both tanks and the bulk of your African ground forces on G5, which comes before B5 – so the British never get any benefit at all from the American ‘liberation’.
What to buy with Japan
Buy a total of five bombers on J1 and J2 – your starting transports and island infantry garrisons are plenty to help you make modest gains in east Asia for a few turns, your starting navy is adequate to fend off the USA for a couple of turns even if it goes all-out KJF, and you don’t have any urgent strategic goals in the opening. Your role is to support Germany’s assault on London by diminishing Britain’s income with strategic bombing runs. Starting on J3, if the USA is coming for you, you can switch to infantry and fighters to defend the homeland. Otherwise, on J3 and J4 you can build transports and artillery to help you take eastern British colonies (Madagascar, ANZAC, etc.).
Japanese Strategic Bombing Campaign
There’s not a whole lot of nuance to the Japanese bombing campaign – build as many bombers as you can, send them to Karelia as soon as Germany can take and hold it, and then launch from Karelia, bomb London, and land in Germany. Landing in Germany rather than Karelia gives Germany a little more flexibility if it needs to pull out of Karelia in the mid-game.
If you can’t land safely Karelia, sometimes you can tactically bomb a target of opportunity in the Indian Ocean and then land in Egypt, but keep in mind that Egyptian-based Japanese bombers can’t actually reach London in one turn. Losing Karelia slows your bombing offensive by an entire turn, so if Russia is in position to take and hold Karelia on R2, then you may need to abort the KBF altogether and use your bombers to launch a strategic bombing run against Moscow. If you switch to a KRF on turn 2, the German Mediterranean fleet heads for the Caucuses, and the German Baltic fleet stays in the Baltic to help trade Karelia. Good early bases for an Russian Japanese bombing campaign include Anhwei, Kwangtung, or even Egypt (for a run against the Caucuses).
Japanese Mainland Strategy
Again, there’s not too much nuance to the Japanese invasion of east Asia – you start with 11 inf, 2 art, 2 ftr on the mainland, and you will keep at least one transport to help you bring in the 5 inf, 2 art, 1 tnk stored in Tokyo and Manila as reinforcements, for a total of 16 inf, 4 art, 1 tnk, 2 ftr. On a typical J1 you can kill 4 American infantry with minimal losses – if you only go one round of combat, you should expect to lose about 1 Japanese infantry. That leaves you with 15 inf, 4 art, 1 tnk, 2 ftr against Anglo defenders of 6 inf and 2 ftr – and it’s basically impossible for the Anglos to coordinate their defense in the territory, since the remaining Americans are in Szechuan, 3 spaces away from British India. This is basically a rout in favor of the Japanese – you can finish off the Americans on J2, and then start heading after the British on J3. Just make sure to avoid reckless assaults – you’re not gunning for Moscow in KBF, so trading armies for space is a bad deal; there’s no hurry to mop up all the 1 IPC territories in central Asia.
True, the British can spend IPCs to reinforce India – but that’s the whole point, is to make the British spend their money. Try to keep trading Burma so that the British don’t have a chance to expand beyond India and gain income, and Britain becomes very unlikely to turn a profit on its eastern colonies – at most, India is protecting Burma, India, Persia, and Trans-Jordan, for a total of 6 IPC per turn – but they’re going to have to buy at least 2 infantry a turn to maintain that sphere of influence.
You can afford to ignore the Russians for the first few turns – even if they stack all 5 infantry in Buryatia, they have no tanks in range. (If they try to send a tank into Sinkiang, destroy it.) At worst, the Russians can take and hold Manchuria, for 3 IPC a turn – but that would take about 4 turns for the Russians to yield a profit vs. just sending the Buryatian stack west as reinforcements, and by J6 you will have had plenty of time to deal with the Russians.
Japanese Naval Strategy
Japanese naval strategy in KBF depends entirely on what the Americans are doing. On J1, you want to launch a Pearl Harbor attack, using your Caroline islands carrier and Tokyo fighter in lieu of the Tokyo bomber (which must head to Karelia immediately for strategic bombing duty). If the Americans rebuild the Pacific fleet, then you can just consolidate your entire navy in the inner Tokyo sea zone to protect your transports, and focus on building a survivable fleet that keeps the Americans busy. Assuming at least two of your capital ships survived the opening round, you probably want a mix of submarines and destroyers.
Don’t actually attack the main American fleet unless the Americans make a major blunder – you want a standoff so that the Americans keep dropping boats into the Pacific and don’t save enough IPCs to reinforce Britain. If the Americans manage to sneak a well-guarded transport into the Philippines, that’s not the end of the world – you can start reclaiming victory cities after Britain falls. On the other hand, if the Americans show signs of developing a credible shuck-shuck from San Francisco to Tokyo, i.e., two well-positioned groups of at least three transports each, plus enough warships to guard them, then you need to start building infantry and fighters in Tokyo itself, even if that costs you your fleet. Consider kamikazing one of the US transport groups with your fighter stack if that seems like a good trade – you don’t need to make any particular progress in Asia, so once you’ve secured Buryatia, China, and Burma, your fighters (and carrier!) are expendable. Taking out 3 transports off the coast of Hawaii can delay the US invasion by a full 2 turns, giving you time to generate an enormous stack of infantry in Tokyo.
On the other hand, if the Americans abandon the Pacific, then you need to prepare to invade Hawaii and then San Francisco, to force the Americans to divert at least some IPCs to the Pacific front. If America is left free to ferry even two transports worth of infantry per turn to Britain, then Germany is going to be stuck without good options. If the Anglos leave Western Canada empty with no tanks in Western/Central US, you can often seize Alaska and build an industrial complex there – you probably won’t hold it, but it’s a great way to force the US to divert serious manpower to a second front. If you take Alaska on J4, build an Alaskan IC and take Western Canada in J5, then even when you inevitably lose Western Canada on A5, you can still build, e.g., 1 inf, 1 AAA in Alaska on J6 and fly in your fighter stack as reinforcements.
Try to strike a balance between striking America quickly enough to affect the outcome of Operation Sea Lion and striking America hard enough that the Americans can’t get away with ignoring you. The Americans don’t actually need Hawaii, Mexico, or Panama, for example, so sending forces there won’t distract a skilled American player from defending London. If the Russian Siberian army retreated westward in the opening, consider returning the bulk of your Asian ground forces to the coast on J3 and building 3-4 new transports on J3, so that by J5 you can land in San Francisco with 10+ units. You will lose a few IPCs in China and Buryatia, but the point is to take London out of the game, not to maximize Japanese IPCs.
Once you’ve got London, what do you do with it? Nothing too fancy.
If the Americans are in the Atlantic, build infantry and fighters in both Berlin and London to help hold the capitals, and to support a strike of opportunity against the American fleet – if you can take out the only major Allied fleet on the board, it’s well worth sacrificing both the German fleet and the German air force. Watch for ‘can-opener’ attacks where the Americans use fighters and marines to knock out a German screening force to let a stack of Russian tanks through into, e.g., Italy. Meanwhile, you can send the Japanese to take Honolulu (first!) and then Calcutta second, winning the game (London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Leningrad, Calcutta, Shanghai, Tokyo, Honolulu). The Americans can land fighters in Honolulu to protect it if they see your invasion coming, but Russia can’t afford to build enough tanks to meaningfully protect India against an all-out Japanese invasion.
If the Americans are in the Pacific, you can try landing in Eastern Canada with the Germans to distract the Americans, but that may not be fast enough to prevent the fall of Tokyo and may not be damaging enough to compensate for Tokyo’s loss. A better idea is to swing your navy counter-clockwise through the Mediterranean to the Caucuses (only two turns away!) and build 100% tanks to try to blitz into Moscow and India. If you followed the earlier advice about building mostly infantry, this should give you a balanced offensive army that can take both Moscow and India before American reinforcements arrive. Even if you lose Tokyo and the money islands, you will have London, Berlin, Moscow, and Calcutta, leaving the US with about 65 IPCs / turn vs. 80 IPC / turn for Germany. The US will have to either pause to build ICs on the east Asian coast or be capped at 8 units per turn in Japan, whereas Germany can build 8 units in Moscow, 4 in Stalingrad, and 3 in India.