by John Dennett
The Russian opening A(War)-Sil is comparatively rare, but provided the right factors are in place, underrated. The pundits' advice over the years has been to advise Russian players to forget about the centre and concentrate on the eastern triangle of Austria, Russia and Turkey. Many articles that have been written go into great detail offering a wealth of options for each Great Power in S01, but none favour the German attack.
Don Turnbull, the father figure of British Diplomacy, suggested that Russian openings should avoid an attack on the central front, because it would extend Russia's geographical disadvantage by leaving captured territory open to attack from the north, south and west. Rod Walker, the esteemed American Diplomacy scribe, offered no more than this: "This is an anti-German opening." Richard Sharp, author of The Game of Diplomacy wrote, "Russia's most promising attitude to Germany is one of frank cowardice; secure Norway and Sweden, if possible, and stop at that." So much for the thoughts of our tutelaries. The problem is of course that everyone has read the same advice and these have become sciolisms!
For those statistically minded, perhaps the most influential guide is the Openings Survey for Russia contained in issue 15 of The Numbers Game. This shows that 106 varieties of Russian openings have been used over the years, the most popular being the Southern Defence of A(War)-Gal, A(Mos)-Ukr, F(Sev)-BLA and F(StP)sc-GoB? which has been used 31.1% of the time (three times more often than the next most popular opening). By comparison, the German Attack of A(War)-Sil, A(Mos)-Ukr, F(Sev)-BLA and F(StP)sc-GoB? was only played a mere 2.12%, while even on its own A(War)-Sil was only played 5.86% of the time. All of this is probably not surprising, as German players were advised not to expect aggression from Russia, nor were the Russians expected to provide it!
The premise that Russia must be entrenched in the Eastern Triangle is so firmly fixed, the members of the Western equivalent would not consider Russia as a suitable ally so early on in the game. England wants Norway and that's about it, especially as there are so many supply centres convenient to the North Sea. St. Petersburg is possible, but beyond that would be over-stretching the Royal Navy's resources. Germany could make the very rare Barbarossa Attack by opening to Silesia, but most players have never seen this played (although 4.36% of Germany's do have a go). Germany has so many easy targets within reach, that an eastern campaign would only leave the Low Countries going begging to rivals. As Richard Sharp wrote, "But why, for Heaven's sake, pick a fight in this [Silesia] particularly slow-burning area?" France often opens with moves simply to scoop up Spain and Portugal, while making up her mind on the choice of ally. France rarely allies with Italy at this stage, but more usually chooses either England or Germany; never Russia! Perhaps it is because Russia is perceived as having nothing to offer France, strange really as Munich is all that separates Burgundy from Silesia.
From Russia's point of view a move to Silesia means that the decision to choose, if at all, between Austria and Turkey for an ally can be postponed, with an army in Ukraine and the southern fleet on stand-by. Turkey may be coerced into the dreaded Juggernaut and may even assist Russia's quest for Rumania. The transfer of Russia's third unit away from the southern struggle may mean that the conquest or retention of Rumania need help from one of Russia's neighbours - provided such help was available, the question whether it was Austria or Turkey (or both) may help determine the ally question. A stand off in the Black Sea with Turkey is so much part and parcel of most openings that it can easily be dismissed as a ruse to deceive.
The all-important analysis of the Spring 1901 letters should tell the Russian player something of what to expect, especially if he receives a nasty little letter from Germany about not getting Sweden! the possibility of making the German Attack relies on getting the right signals. Sooner or later, all the right signs for a successful attack must come together. Firstly Austria and Turkey must distrust each other totally; this shouldn't be too difficult, as the two countries are ill-suited as allies. The main point here is that Austria must be steered away from Galicia. If this cannot be achieved, then the better move would be to use the Southern Defence with an agreed stand-off and, possibly try A(War)-Sil on the Autumn turn. Austria's opening is certainly the deciding factor. Italy can help by making the most popular opening, the Tyrolean Attack, with A(Ven)-Tyr, A(Rom)-Ven and F(Nap)-ION. Alert Austria to Italy's intentions and perhaps the Viennese army will be held for home defence. An Italian army in Tyrolia may even be used for a joint attack on Munich.
Germany can be relied upon to order A(Ber)-Kie as this is the natural follow-up to either F(Kie)-Den or Hol. With the Russian army in Silesia able to strike at Berlin or Munich, the question for Germany's autumn move is whether to protect Berlin or Munich with A(Kie)? Statistically, Germany moves A(Mun)-Ruh 56.34% of the time and the A(Ruh) is now in a dilemma of whether to press on into Holland or Belgium (usually Holland) or to protect Munich. To send one army back for defence is humiliating enough, but to send two armies back, well my guess is that Germany would take pot luck and run for Holland.
The autumn presents an opportunity for Anglo-Russian diplomacy, as the Russian fleet sails, not into Sweden (if Germany is in Denmark, you haven't a hope of getting Sweden now), but into the Baltic. An Anglo-Russian offensive is possible as Germany would have moved up into Sweden unopposed, leaving Denmark naked.
No doubt the risks are great when making the German Attack, but the element of surprise and novelty would appeal to those willing to try something adventurous. I wonder how German players would react to this unexpected attack and it would be interesting to find out! Why not try it? If you have been stood out of Sweden for no other reason than schadenfreude, this tactic might tempt you to let Germany take Sweden while you take Berlin. But Munich is the real goal with a joint attack from tyrolia or Burgundy. A further A(War)-Sil in spring 1902 (if you can afford it) should secure the early gain.
First published in Spring Offensive No.5 (October 1992)