Photo courtesy of Gareth Jones.

Photo courtesy of Gareth Jones.

Axis and Allies Spring 1942 : Soviet Strategic Defense

Written by Hobbes on 24-04-2011 at Axis and, assembled and edited by Rorschach of I Will Never Grow Up Gaming

Welcome Comrade! Here you will find a guide to understand the Soviet Union (USSR)’s position and role in the game.

Part 1 – Soviet Strategy

There are 3 factors that make the Soviet Union the weakest country in A&A:

  • Its position in the middle of the two Axis powers, forcing it to play a defensive two front war.
  • It has the lowest starting income of all powers, limiting its purchases to ground units and the occasional plane/sub.
  • It is the best target for the Axis to achieve victory due to the conditions above.

However the USSR also possesses 2 key advantages to balance its initial disadvantages:

  • Russia is at the center of the board and is the only country with easy land access to all of its starting territories, plus several key map areas. This allows it the benefits of quick reinforcement of its defenses and the ability to easily switch armies between fronts.
  • Russia plays first – it can take advantage of any opening created by the UK against Germany or any opportunity created by an US attack on Japan. And any Soviet moves against Japan can also create openings for the UK to explore against Japan. The UK-US-R combination against Germany and the US-R-UK combination against Japan can be one of the Allies’ greatest assets, if you know how to use them.

Within these conditions, the Soviet Union’s objectives are here defined as:

  • Defend the Russian Motherland against the combined aggression of G/J.
  • Increase its income by conquering Axis territories and liberating Soviet ones (with UK/US assistance).

These 2 objectives are the center of the Soviet strategy presented on this article. It is a defensive strategy but that requires an aggressive attitude towards the Axis. Or, in other words, mess with the bull, you’ll get the horn. By itself, it does not assure an Allied victory but it can make an Axis one long and costly.

Objective 1 – The Motherland

The Motherland consists of the territory of Russia and the six territories adjacent to it (its main line of defense). Control of that line will protect Russia from any attacks on Moscow and give it a combined income of 21 IPC. If the Axis move an invincible stack into any territories of the defense line it is usually bad news for the Soviets.

The six territories of the main line of defense are:•Caucasus – Usually the main target of the Axis thrusts against Russia. It can be attacked by either Germany or Japan from several land territories (Ukraine, Kazakh, Persia) and SZ16 (with the Dardanelles open). If captured it allow either G/J to build units right next to Russia, if the Allies don’t recapture it.

  • West Russia – The pivot territory of the Eastern front, giving access to six land territories, including Russia. German control of this territory will allow it to directly threaten Russia/Caucasus and to force the USSR to abandon Caucasus.
  • Kazakh S.S.R. – Kazakh is very similar to West Russia, although a less important because of the different Asian geography. Due to the ICs on Russia and Caucasus, Kazakh can be transformed easily into a ‘dead zone’ for the Axis – any stack of units moved there will be destroyed by the Allies.
  • Novosibirsk – While it can be harder to turn it into a ‘dead zone’ than Kazakh, Novo is the key territory to block Japanese advances through Yakut/Sinkiang.
  • Archangel – Besides its value this territory is strategic to any Allied reinforcement of the USSR.
  • Evenki National Okrug – Sometimes may not be worth the effort of being retaken by Russia, however it can be used as a gateway for Japanese tanks to strike into Russia.

Objective 2 – Increasing Income

The 2nd aim for the Soviet Union is to raise its income to 30 or more, at the expense of all other powers. The higher the number, the lower the Axis income and the more units G/J will have to spend to retake territories away from the Soviet Union. Besides keeping the Axis units away from the main line of defense, the higher production will also allow the Soviets to replace destroyed units and build up its forces, specially armor.

The main territories for the USSR to increase its income are:

  • Karelia – 2 IPC. This can be the easiest since either the UK/US can liberate it through an amphibious assault after Germany has taken it.
  • Ukraine S.S.R. – Its 3 IPC value makes it important, however its position makes it easier to be fortified by Germany/Japan against a Soviet counterattack.
  • Yakut/Buryatia/SFE – 1 IPC each, for a total of 3. Bur and SFE are very unlikely since J usually takes those territories on the first turns and it is not worth it to send units just to retake them. Yak is more possible to maintain/retake, depending on the number of Japanese units on the area.
  • Norway – 3 IPC. Norway is usually taken by the UK/US but you might want to reconsider it, especially since Germany tends to leave it empty of units after the first rounds. If the German transport on the Baltic has been sunk then a single Soviet tank in Arc/WR can take Norway after the US/UK liberate Kar.
  • Belorussia – 2 IPC. The Soviets will need to have available forces on WR, although attacks from Kar/Ukr are also possible.
  • Eastern Europe/Balkans – 3 IPC each. Not that uncommon, depending on dice results, the overall situation and the position of Soviet/German units.
  • Manchuria – 3 IPC. A long shot, depending if the USSR has massed its 6 infantry on Buryatia on R1, if J does not attack that stack on J1 and how much units are left there at the end of J1. Usually the best chance to take Manchuria happens on R2, after which any Soviet units on Buryatia face destruction by Japanese amphibious assaults.

Imagining on R3 that the Soviets have lost the 3 Far East territories (-3 IPC) but has control of Kar/Nor/BR/Ukr (+10), it will receive 31 IPC. Of course if G/J are pushing hard against the Soviet Union this number might be impossible to obtain but the ’30’ should be kept as a reference.

Finally, one very important thing to remember is that any Soviet infantry moved into those territories is effectively removed from the defense of Soviet territory for one full game turn.

Secondary Objectives

Finally, the following are the territories that the USSR can conquer/liberate, in case the opportunity presents itself. They can greatly help the overall Allied strategy but most are special/rare occasions where it is necessary to weight the benefits/cost for Russia.

  • India – While it may not look worthwhile for the USSR to spend units, specially armor, to liberate it, there are very good reasons to do so: the UK will receive critical income from it and Japan will not be able to place an IC there on the next turn.
  • Persia – Like Evenki it may not be worth the effort of being liberated by the Soviets, however it can be used as a gateway by Axis armor on India against Caucasus.
  • Trans-Jordan- Rare for the Soviets to liberate it, usually happens to prevent the Axis from using the Suez channel.
  • Sinkiang/China – Unless Japan can’t retake them, it is useless and a waste of units for the USSR to liberate any of them, since the US will never receive any income from it because Japan plays before the Americans. But if Japan has left the corridor empty them it can be used to threaten the Japanese coastal territories.
  • Southern Europe – 6 IPC. Somewhat rare for the Soviets to take it, usually happens when the UK/US take Balkans and Soviet armor blitz to S. Eur.
  • Kwantung/French Indochina – 3 IPC each. Rare, unless the Allies are pushing Japan hard.
  • Germany – 10 IPC. Very rare situation, unless the combined UK/US assaults will fail but there’s a Soviet armor stack within range to conquer Berlin.

Like the previous territories, Soviet units moved into those territories will be most likely unable to assist in defense of the Motherland during the next game turn(s).

With the objectives defined, I’ll now go over the geography to explain the dynamics of Eurasia and how the USSR can achieve its goals.

Part 2 – The Gameboard

Looking at the illustration provided on the bottom of this post, the first map shows the attack routes used by the Axis towards Russia (full arrows primary routes, dotted arrows secondary paths). Achieving the 1st Soviet objective depends on the Allies’ ability to stop/delay Axis advances through those lines and disrupt the coordination between both Axis powers.

There are five main Axis attack fronts, two in Europe (through Karelia and/or Ukraine) and three on Asia (Sinkiang, Yakut and Persia), each with a lenght of four spaces from the starting grey/yellow territories and Moscow. Caucasus is the only Motherland territory that is on the path of both German and Japanese routes. As long as Russia can turn any of main line of defense territories into dead zones (spaces where the enemy can’t move a force large enough to defend itself against counterattacks) it will be able to stop the Axis before they reach Moscow.

The second map shows the key areas for Russia to hold back the Axis advance and perform counterattacks into German held territories. The full arrows show the custom Soviet attacks on Europe, to slow the German advance and to achieve the 2nd objective, raising income. The dotted arrows should secondary options to raise income or to strike at other important territories.

Finally, the third map shows the usual positions for Axis stacks (defined as a pile of units that can’t be crippled/destroyed by an Allied attack) as they advance towards Moscow and reach the outskirts of the main line of defense. Soviet survival depends on how the Allies manage/react to the presence of Axis stacks on those locations and the level of initiative and coordination show between the German/Japanese forces. Each position offers special challenges and the presence of 2 or more stacks in those locations can and most likely will limit the Soviet response(s).

Even though the defense of the USSR should be considered as a whole, there are major differences between Europe and Asia.

European Theater

  • Germany is the strongest threat to the USSR at the beginning, due to its starting power and units.
  • Allows Soviet income to significantly increase by the capture of several original German territories.
  • Axis units can easily switch units between both the Karelia/Ukraine routes.
  • Expected UK/US assistance with amphibious landings.
  • Karelia – Allows German attacks on Norway, WRus and Archangel. Can shut off Allied reinforcements to Russia landing on Karelia/Archangel (the blue arrows). Secures victory city for Axis.
  • Ukraine- Allows German attacks on Caucasus and WRus. If combined with a Japanese stack on Persia/Sinkiang it can effectively lock the Red Army in defending the Caucasus, at the expense of abandoning the other territories of the Motherland.

Notes on Europe:

  • The ideal situation at the beginning is that Germans keep their stack on Eastern Europe, either by German ‘combat shyness’ or the Soviets turning Karelia/Ukraine into dead zones. Later this can be achieved through the threat of an UK/US invasion in Europe.
  • However, against an experienced or aggressive German player this won’t happen. His main goal will be exactly to create a stack in either position and be looking into advancing further.
  • The Allies completely stop the German advance if they are able to move a stack to Eastern Europe, freeing the Soviets to deal exclusively with Japan.
  • The first step to this usually involves creating an Allied stack on Karelia. The Soviets should help, if possible by contributing with its armor and fighters. However, it will divert the armor from the line defense line for 1 turn.
  • Karelia can and should be liberated by the UK/US, to allow the USSR to conserve and redeploy forces.
  • On the beginning of the game the USSR should keep a stack of its own on West Russia to contest Karelia, Belorussia and Ukraine from the Germans and try to turn those territories into dead zones, slowing the German advance.
  • There are two ways to deal with German stacks on Ukraine or Karelia. The first is to create a stack of your own in front on it, either West Russia or Caucasus. The second is to turn the territory into a dead zone for the Germans.
  • If West Russia has to be evacuated, it may be possible to redeploy some units from those territories, in order to deal with Japanese stacks that were able to move into the Motherland – or to trade away territory while dealing with more close threats or to crush unsuspecting Japanese units.
  • However, the Germans may be able to move a stack strong enough to West Russia, defended by Japanese planes, preventing the creation of a dead zone. If this happens, the Axis are very close to controlling the entire Eastern front.
  • Regarding Caucasus, it’s the same lesson the Germans learned at Stalingrad during WW2 – you shouldn’t hang the entire fate of the war on a single city. If the Germans move a stack to West Russia, retreat. If a combined G/J attack can take it or Moscow is about to fall, retreat. As long as the Soviets can turn Caucasus into a dead zone and the Allies keep contesting it, it won’t be as bad as seeing the Axis producing units there.
  • Archangel can be usually overlooked but it can be a crucial territory on occasion. If the Germans have a stack on Karelia they may be able to move it to Archangel, forcing the Soviets to call units to its capitol. It will also completely block any land reinforcement of Russia by the UK/US.
  • G1 naval/air purchases are good news for the USSR – those units will be used also against the UK/US. Naval purchases are the best, since those are IPCs not spent on ground units that will have limited or zero effect on land and most likely will be destroyed by the other Allies.

Asian Theater

  • Japanese aggression against the USSR is limited during the initial rounds due to geography.
  • The Soviets can trade space on Asia for time against Japan, with a smaller loss of income than in Europe.
  • Japan’s armies are limited on their strategic moves by the impassible territories present, creating 3 axis of attack that cannot support one another on the middle.
  • UK/US assistance restricted to the starting units, reinforcements brought in from Europe or ICs built on India/Sinkiang.
  • Yakut – The easiest route for Japan to use (and usually the 1st one), by landing units into Buryatia. Allows attacks on Evenki/Novo.
  • Sinkiang – Usually used by Japanese units on Manchuria/Kwantung/FIC. It is usually the least effective to use since Japanese units built/landed on FIC will have to be split between it and Indian. It allows attacks on both Novo/Kazakh.
  • Persia – The longest route, until Japan builds an IC on India. A Japanese stack in Persia can turn into a big threat to Caucasus, especially if the Germans move a stack to Ukraine. On the other hand, Japan can also use the route to hit Africa, diverting units that would go otherwise to Caucasus/Kazakh.

Notes on Asia:

  • Asia is almost useless to the Soviets regarding income, as long as they keep control of Kazakh/Novosibirsk. The other territories are all worth 1 IPC but the distance and proximity to Japan make their liberation unlikely, except for Evenki. And conquering any of the Japanese territories on the coast is usually very hard and dependent on being prepared if the occasion presents itself.
  • The liberation of UK/US territories on Asia is usually not worth if the liberating Soviet units will be destroyed in counterattacks, since the money goes instead to the UK/US.
  • Not depending on territories for income actually give the Soviets more options on Asia. They can afford not to attack isolated Japanese units on Yakut/Sinkiang/Persia or further away from Russia. However, if they do attack them it needs to serve a higher goal than retaking the territory.
  • The more efficient way to deal with the Japanese is to let them advance piecemeal through the 3 routes and destroy them when they advance to Kazakh/Novo with a force that can’t be destroyed in a counterattack.
  • The UK/US shouldn’t never build ICs on India/Sinkiang unless the Japanese are being defeated on land and the sea. Building ICs during the first round can be specially bad because: 1) The Allies can’t lose them – they are on the middle of the Japanese advance on Asia and will give Japan the ability to cut by half its travel time. 2) They extend too much the Soviet defense line and place a burden on its defensive flexibility. 3) They can’t support one another and Japan can choose to direct its strength against a single one – once it is conquered, the other usually falls afterwards.
  • The presence of a Soviet stack on either Kazakh/Novo will also can stall the Japanese advance in two of those routes and if units in Russia are also able to create dead zones on Yakut/Sinkiang/Persia they will force Japanese units to retreat, delaying them even further.
  • If Japan is able to create a 1 stack on any of the territories above that projects a dead zone on Kazakh or Novo, the Soviets can prevent it from creating a 2nd one by moving a stack to the other Motherland territory. Example: a J stack on Yakut creates a dead zone on Novo. USSR creates a stack on Kazakh that prevent Japanese units from advancing on the Sinkiang/Persia ones and also contributes to Novo becoming a dead zone for the Japanese stack on Yakut. Japan has to reinforce those routes and Yakut.
  • Japan’s actions against the USSR will be dependent on two factors: its need for income and the presence/absence of the US on the Pacific.
  • Soviet ability to be on the offensive against Japan is limited by the geography and the distances involved. As long as there are Japanese transports operating on SZ60 and/or ICs on Manchuria/Kwantung/Indochina it can be impossible to reach the coastline.

Finally, the Soviet player needs to take into consideration events on both theaters when planning his/her moves.


Part 3 – The Two-Front War

One way to picture the USSR is to imagine a boxer standing on the middle of the ring, surrounded by two opponents on each side. By himself he can hold out against one of them but if both advance at the same time he’ll have problems.

Next, I’ll describe a series of possible situations of Russia against one or both Axis powers, illustrating them on map sequences and explaining the rationale behind them.

Example 1 – Forcing a Japanese Retreat

  • Germany has 1 stack on Karelia, while Japan has moved 2 smaller stacks to Yakut/Sinkiang. Russia has 1 stack on West Russia facing the German one – both can’t attack one another.
  • The Soviet player looks at the board and realizes that the Germans won’t be able to advance the Karelia stack into West Russia because it will lacks both enough attack power against its stack and it is possible to create a dead zone on West Russia.
  • On Asia the situation is more worrisome because if both Japanese stacks merge in Novosibirsk it will force the Soviets to destroy them, taking away its initiative by forcing it to react to Japan.
  • The Soviets decide to deal with the Japanese first – they attack both Belorussia and Ukraine for the income and to destroy German units but move their armor to Novosibirsk to join the infantry from Russia to create a stack there. It also pulls back its infantry from West Russia/Caucasus to prevent their destruction since the movement of the armor to Novo turns the area into a dead zone for the Soviets.
  • Germany wants to advance its stack into West Russia but it is unable to do so, because there’s not enough defense against the Soviet inf/art on Russia/Caucasus and the armor on Novosibirsk. The Japanese could land some fighters to help but the territory would still be a dead zone for the Axis. Germany decides instead to retake Ukr, Belo, WRus and Archangel while waiting for further reinforcements to arrive its stack on Karelia.
  • Japan now has a problem – even though it can reinforce Yakut/Sinkiang both territories are now dead zones. The Soviets cannot attack both but they can destroy all units or make a strafe attack on one of them. Japan decides that it can’t lose the units so it attacks only Kazakh and retreats to Buryatia/China.
  • Due to its movements the USSR has now temporarily delayed the Japanese advance by 1 turn, at the expense of Europe, but on the next turn it can refocus against the Germans and retake the territories it lost, with the exception of Belorussia.

Example 2 – USSR Gets Cornered

  • The UK/US have managed to land a stack on Karelia and turning the territories around Russia into dead zones, stopping the Axis advance. Control of Novo/Kaz/Evenki has been contested between the Soviets and Japan for a couple of turns and the Japanese have been able to steadly move reinforcements to Sinkiang/Yakut.
  • Soviet options are limited since the presence of the German stack on Ukraine pins most of the Red Army to the defense of Caucasus. It prevents them from performing a similar move to the one on the previous example, to move a stack to Kazakh and turn Sinkiang into a dead zone, forcing the Japanese units there to retreat or preventing them from conquering Kazakh.
  • Instead, the Soviet Union can only retake West Russia, Kazakh and Novosibirsk. It doesn’t retake Evenki or Persia because it would cost too much precious attacking units for the gains.
  • Next round, Axis keeps the pressure on the defense line, taking back the territories lost to the Soviets on the previous turn. But due to the reinforcements and most of the Soviet army being on Caucasus, Novosibirsk is no longer a dead zone for Japan.
  •  Japanese units pour into Novosibirsk, creating a stack, while armor produced/landed moves in to Yakut/Sinkiang and position itself to strike into Moscow.
  • The Soviet player discovers that Japan has turned his/her capitol into a dead zone. It will have to move part or all of its army back to Russia. And that can also create a dead zone for any Allied units on the Caucasus because of the German stack on Ukraine. It can possibly retake West Russia and Kazakh
  • The USSR can possibly retake West Russia and Kazakh but it is facing now a combined Axis death grip. Its income will drop below 20s and the Japanese will keep the pressure until they are able to conquer Moscow. Unless a major change happens, the Soviet Union is now limited to contesting the former defense line territories and waiting that the rest of the Allies can achieve victory.


Part 4 – Game Progression (WORK IN PROGRESS)

Finally, this part will describe the possible actions for the Soviet Union during its first turns.

1st Turn Purchase Options

  • 3 inf, 3 arm – Replaces armor used to attack Ukraine on the first round and gives the Soviets some attacking power to prevent the Germans from creating a stack in Karelia on G1. 2 armors can also be placed on Caucasus to liberate India in case of a successful J1 attack.
  • 5 inf, 1 art, 1 arm – Less offense, more defense and 1 more unit than the previous buy.
  • 4 arm, 1 art – All offensive buy. In case you really want to prevent a German stack to be formed on Karelia on G1.
  • 1 ftr, ground units – To augment the airforce and threaten the German Med fleet or to replace a fighter used to attack Norway on R1.
  • 1 sub, ground units – To be placed on SZ16 (if the Dardanelles are open) and attack the German Med fleet on R2.
  • 8 inf – All defensive buy. If you are attacking Ukraine on R1 you shouldn’t do this purchase since you’ll be left with few attacking units for the 2nd round.

Subsequent Purchases

  • It is useful for Russia to always have at least 1 artillery when trading WR/Belo/Ukr to preserve armor.
  • Armor is crucial – the objective is to create a growing strategic fast reserve that can be used afterwards to switch quickly between the European and Asian theaters and/or to be used in specialized strikes (against India, Norway, etc.).
  • The submarine purchase on the 1st round can be very helpful in sinking the Med fleet and/or preventing the Germans to amphibiously attack Egypt on G2. However, this means that the Russian fighters will not be available to clear out Karelia/BR/WR, requiring instead art/armor. The Germans can also react to a sub/plane purchase in several ways, such as a strong push on the Eastern front to try to overwhelm the Russian response (see the Case Blue Axis strat article for more details).
  • Finally, when deciding between buying infantry or armor you need to decide the number of attacks you’ll make, how many units you’ll use and whether they can be counterattacked. One good benchmark is to be able to begin your next round with the same number of units or attack/defense power that had on the previous round. There are also a few ways to do this already described above: use the UK/US to liberate Karelia to lower the number of attacks Russia has to make, apply overwhelming force on Asia, etc.

1st Turn Combat Options

West Russia-Ukraine

Russia attacks WR with at least 11 units to kill the German units and position a stack to contest Belorussia/Karelia (reinforced with an AA during non-combat). It also uses all of the units on Caucasus plus 3/4 armor/fighters to clear Ukraine of German units and conquer it.

West Russia-Norway

This attack aims to kill the German fighter to prevent the sinking of the UK BB on SZ2. The fighter from Russia is sacrificed, either taking it as a loss or by landing it on Karelia. Regarding WR, the Soviets usually needs to keep some forces back to evaluate the situation after combat is resolved and reinforce either WR/Caucasus against a German counter attack.
West Russia-Belorussia

This is safest of all combinations, destroying part of the German army and saving the starting Russian armor. However, it also allows the 2nd largest pile of German units at start to be spared from destruction by not attacking Ukraine.

West Russia-Ukraine-Belorussia

This attack has very high odds if playing with low luck but if playing regular dice there’s about a 2/3 odds that at least 1 attack will fail. Which can leave the Russians units at West Russia vulnerable to a German counterattack.

West Russia-Ukraine-Norway

If successful, this combination of attacks destroys 2 German fighters and prevents the sinking of the UK Battleship on SZ2. However, it only has 1/3 odds of all 3 attacks being successful. And it may also be possible that Germany retakes all the 3 territories again on its counterattack.

Note: there are quite a few more choices for the Russians. I’ve seen twice Russia opening the game by making strafing attacks on Norway and West Russia and then retreating everything to Karelia and landing the fighters there. Either you are very lucky or the entire German army and airforce will wipe out the Russian forces at Karelia on G1.

1st Turn Non-Combat Moves

  • Submarine from SZ4 to SZ2
  • Infantry to Soviet Far East and Yakut to Buryatia – puts pressure on Japan to defend Manchuria, let it fall to Russia or try to destroy the Russian units. Or you can also retreat those units back to Russia.
  • Infantry on Novo/Evenki to Russia, on Kazakh to Caucasus – to form a strategic reserve of infantry to use against the bigger threat of Germany. Or you can send them to try to stall Japan as much as possible.