The Triple Alliance
by Stephen Agar
The S01 Stampede
Thanks to the machinations of Bismarck, the secret Triple Alliance was formed between Germany, Austria and Italy in 1882. In the end the failure of Italy to stand by this alliance, leading to her eventual declaration of war on Austria on 23rd May 1915, was a significant factor in the eventual victory of England and France in 1918.
Much the same is true of Diplomacy. It is too easy to see the opening stages of a Diplomacy game as a E/F/G triangle and an A/R/T triangle, with Italy somewhere ineffectually in between. This is a very short-sighted view. The initial dash for neutral s.c.'s inevitably leads to a concentration on the Low Countries, the Balkans and Scandinavia. But no player can win a game just by taking Belgium, Holland and Denmark! After all there are only 12 neutral s.c.'s on the board.
Therefore a player's medium-term plans must include a committed attack on at least one other player, if not two. All things being equal (which of course they never are) the geography of the board suggests that some combinations of allies and some combinations of targets can make a lot of strategic sense. I believe that had Bismarck been a Diplomacy player he would have been hard pushed to come up with a better medium term alliance structure than that suggested by the Triple Alliance.
How can Austria Survive?
Austria is without doubt the most vulnerable country on the Diplomacy board, often taken out of the game in 1903 through a combined attack by Russia and either Italy or Turkey. If Italy successfully orders A(Ven)-Tyr, A(Rom)-Ven, then Austria is in trouble. If, in addition, Russia takes Galicia, an early bath for Austria is on the cards. Yet, to defend against this initial aggression can mean ordering F(Tri)-Ven and A(Vie)-Gal which often means that Austria may sacrifice more than its fair share of the neutral s.c.'s and may end up accidentally antagonising Italy and Russia if they do not attack. Life is full of such predicaments.
What Austria really needs is peace of mind, a pause in which to strengthen her position - in other words Austria needs a deal which will forestall the Italian attack. Can Italy be persuaded?
Why should Italy forego the Austrian Attack?
A carve up of Austria tends to favour Russia more than Italy, as Russia is not likely to give Italy a chance of taking much more than Trieste and Greece in the short term. By the time Italy gets a grip on the Turkish centres he's probably been stabbed. To win Italy will need to pick up the whole of the Mediterranean, that is all of Austria, Turkey, half of Russia plus Marseilles, Spain and Portugal. A strong Russia, drunk on the pleasures of Vienna and Budapest can put an immediate break on Italy's ambitions.
There is also the Anschluss. As Richard Sharp ably demonstrated in his book The Game Of Diplomacy (1978) the German/Austrian alliance was made in heaven. Richard's thesis was that Germany rarely prospers when Austria does badly - usually because this allows Russia or Turkey to dominate the Balkans and dispatch the other, growing to 10-12 units, while Germany may still be trying to resolve the E/F/G triangle. A strong Russia can send armies north and even attack across the no-man's land of Silesia and
Prussia if needs be. Therefore, Germany needs Russia to be contained and his back protected. The Anschluss requires that Germany state quite unequivocally that he will use his A(Mun) to intervene on the side of Austria if Italy attacks. This can be done by arranging a stand-off with France in S01 between A(Mun) and A(Mar) over Burgundy, leaving A(Mun) in Munich for the A01 season. Italy should be left in no doubt that this army will move against Tyrolia in the autumn if needs be.
If Germany makes his pro-Austrian intentions clear to Italy, it may well be that Italy can be persuaded not to attack Austria immediately. Italy is thus left with a "wait and see" strategy, hoping that an opportunity will present itself, or of allying with Austria. If the latter course is followed, why no go all the way and form a Triple Alliance.
Let's assume that Italy buys it. In essence that leaves him two options, an attack on France or a variation of the Lepanto. The anti-French opening is F(Nap)-TYS, A(Ven)-Pie, A(Rom)Std. A quick convoy into Tunis, build F(Nap) and a move into the Gulf of Lyons in S02. This may work well if Germany, re-assured by the Italian S01 orders feels safe to order A(Mun)-Bur in A01 and the move which succeeds due to France's interest in Belgium and Spain. However, even with Germany's help Italy's gains may not be swift. Furthermore, if Austria is facing the Juggernaut of Russia and Turkey then Austria will need more than passive support from Italy if Italy is not to concede the eastern mediterranean to Turkey. Therefore the attack on France is a gamble.
The other option for Italy is F(Nap)-ION and A(Rom)-Nap. Italy convoys to Tunis, builds F(Nap) and then heads east. The traditional Lepanto is F(Nap)-ION, F(ION)-EMS, with a convoy to Syria in A02. The other possibility given Austria should already have Greece is for F(ION) to take the Aegean (with the help of F(Gre) if required) and then convoy to Bulgaria or Smyrna or support AUSTRIAN F(Gre)-Bul(sc) with F(ION)-Gre to make sure that Italy gets a build if Austria is successful. There are other possibilities, but everything depends on how well Turkey and Russia have got their act together. Of course this all depends on what else is happening and it is difficult to speculate that far in advance.
But what should Italy do with A(Ven)? It can just stand, but this will just worry Austria and does not accomplish anything. At the beginning of the game units are worth more for the simple reason that there are less than 34 of them - it seems a terrible waste for A(Ven) just to stand around. The answer is A(Vie)-Pie with a promise from Germany to attack France in A01 and support Italy into Marseilles when appropriate. It may not be nice, but I think that it is worth making an enemy of France at the beginning. Italy will need the Western Mediterranean and thus has a strong interest in preventing France from building any fleets in Marseilles. The move to Piedmont means that if France still has a unit in Marseilles after the Spring 1901 moves, then Italy cannot fail to prevent France from getting a build that she would probably have achieved and prevents a build in Marseilles. If Germany has arranged the stand-off over Burgundy mentioned above the move to Piedmont will work. On the other hand if France has ordered A(Mar)-Spa in S01, then Italy has a 50/50 gamble, with a chance of taking Marseilles in A01 if Italy guesses right.
Austria Heads East
OK, assume Austria trusts Italy and does not feel the need to defend Trieste. A big assumption, I know. It must still be sensible to order A(Vie)-Gal. Galicia is a key space, bordering four supply centres and crucial in the defence of Austria. The other obvious moves are F(Tri)-Alb and A(Bud)-Ser. Irrespective of whether the move to Galicia succeeds or not Austria can be certain of 2 builds in A01. If Austria takes Galicia he is in a powerful position indeed.
Although Germany will be caught up in the E/F/G conflict, an Italian move to Piedmont will probably only be bought by a promise to attack France in 1901. Thus, Germany must do all in his power to force England into conflict with France from the beginning and yet remember to build fleets in order to take the North Sea. Whether or not Germany stands-off Russia over Sweden is a question of judgment depending on how badly Russia is doing. A Russian collapse will not help Germany, but if the Juggernaut is on the cards then there is no merit in permitting Russia an extra build in A01. Assuming the Burgundy stand-off or an immediate attack on France, Germany should thus order F(Kie)-Den, A(Ber)-Kie and A(Mun)-Bur.
Will it Work?
Of course there are risks. Italy may think that Austria does too well in the first couple of years, Austria may think that Italy does too well after a couple of years. It is unlikely that Germany will rock the boat directly. The need for 18 supply centres being what it is, it is likely that sooner or later Italy will stab Austria or vice versa, unless Italy can break out into the Atlantic. The Venice/Trieste border will always guarantee sleepless nights. Germany and Austria may never need to stab each other as they are only likely to come into conflict in the end-game, being either side of the stalemate lines. There is no optimum strategy in Diplomacy. Too much depends on personalities and chance. Articles like this can only provide ideas, not solutions.
Tyrolia is obviously a key space in this alliance, with few exceptions if any one of the three takes it, the other two should assume the worst. It is often forgotten that between 1915 and 1918 over 650,000 Italians died and more than 1 million were wounded fighting over Tyrolia. The Italians and the Austrians appreciated the strategic significance of the area then and in that respect Diplomacy also mimics history.
Reprinted from Spring Offensive No.1 (May 1992)