That Silver Strip of Sea

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That Silver Strip of Sea

Postby Nibbler » 05 Mar 2017, 13:40

The Channel is that silver strip of sea which severs merry England from the tardy realms of Europe.

I'm not sure about the "tardy realms of Europe", and it isn't the only sea that separates Britain from Europe, but it has been an important defence for Britain throughout history. Since 1066, when William, Duke of Normandy, crossed the Channel to, well, conquer England and Wales the Channel has only failed to protect English and British people once.

It isn't that the Channel can't be crossed or that it wasn't safely navigable. Of course, the Armada might disagree with the latter; the 1588 invasion force was blown out of the Channel by south-westerlies. But the larger armada of the Prince of Orange had better luck one hundred years later. Then, the wind scattered the English fleet of James II, allowing William of Orange the freedom to invade.

Yes, the Norman Invasion wasn't the last successful invasion of British soil.

The Channel
In Dip, the Channel is a serious cause of angst for England and France. Both have fleets bordering it; both worry about the other occupying it. It isn't necessarily true that both want to occupy it themselves, however.

The French fleet is more likely headed west into the Mid-Atlantic Ocean. From there the freely available Iberian SCs beckon. It is perhaps 1902 when France is more likely to turn her attention to moving into la Manche. A second fleet built in Brest is not what England wants to see.

For England, the Channel in 1901 is a better space to be in. Whether seeking access to Brest - what France fears - or Belgium; whether aiming to convoy or invade itself, the fleet is useful. Yet England also looks towards Norway as the one SC she can guarantee. The problem is that, to guarantee that precious single build, she needs both fleets - and neither can be in the Channel in 1901.

So England and France may well want the same thing: neither want to be in the Channel but neither wants the other there. This leads, logically, to negotiations over making the Channel a demilitarised zone (DMZ). Usually quite frantic negotiations; often tinged with distrust.

Come 1901 Builds, England is reinforcing the supposed agreement that France doesn't build a fleet in Brest. France, on the other hand, has less reason to demand that England doesn't build a fleet in London. If they are, indeed, going to work together, England will be building a fleet to sail against Germany. Although Edinburgh is just as good a place to build that fleet, France really doesn't want to see a fleet built in Liverpool; allowing it to be built in London is better.

Besides, there's some trust between the two by now, isn't there? Neither moved to the Channel, after all. Sure.

Richard Sharpe, in The Game of Diplomacy, famously (infamously?) wrote:
I am convinced it is better to let France into the Channel than to risk a stand-off there. Fortunately, the initial move to the Channel is not very good for France, and if he says he won’t go there, there’s a fair chance that he may mean it. I do not play to the Channel as England unless I am convinced France will let me in - either by arrangement or by accident.

In Chapter 10 of this book, the chapter on France, he writes:
if England wants to to go to the Channel you do far better to let him in! If you stand him off, what happens? Either you have to do it again in the autumn, thus preventing yourself building in Brest, or you let him in ... in which case, why bother in the first place? He is much more likely to go for Belgium than Brest if you do let him in; and even if he takes Brest it won’t be a disaster.

Can it really be true that both England and France would be better to let the other into the Channel if they are being stubborn?

Sharp's argument is that England is better to avoid a stand-off in the Channel. If both England and France move to the Channel in 1901, England faces a choice: "Do I move there in F01, bouncing again, or do I let the France in?"

A stand-off in the Channel obviously prevents F(Lon) moving. This is a wasted move. It may prevent France gaining the Channel but what has this achieved beyond this narrow objective?

Should France occupy the Channel, what is he going to do? Move on London? This is easily covered by either of the S01 moves A(Lpl)-Wal or A(Lpl)-Yor. The former defends London, the latter both London and Edinburgh. Defending Edinburgh is a waste of time in the early game; assuming that England keeps control of the North Sea, Edinburgh is unlikely to be under threat. The advantage of Yorkshire over Wales is that the former allows a convoy through North Sea.

France may well be more tricksy than that, however. F(Bre)-ENG may be to encourage England to cover London. When England orders A(Wal/Yor)-Lon in F01, France merrily sails away or holds. England then can't build in London. The immediate threat is done with, especially if France moves his fleet to Wales or Irish Sea! Still, is this worth it for France? Effectively he is allowing an SC to remain free in order to prevent England building in London.

England, then, has nothing to fear from allowing France into the Channel. The best France can do is move to Wales or Irish Sea. If France is going to do this, then a build in Liverpool covers it. France is still weaker than he ought to be; he potentially has one build (unless he orders F(Bre)-ENG and A(Par)-Bur/Pic in which case he is making a play for Belgium) instead of two. Yes, France can afford to leave one from Spain or Portugal until 1902 but a four-unit France is not a major concern for anyone in 1902.

England doesn't need to build in London in 1901. An army in London is not a problem - in other words, A(Wal/Yor)-Lon succeeds - unless England is planning to attack France first... in which case, England should probably be throwing everything at occupying the Channel in 1901, anyway!

Does England need to be in the Channel? Three reasons suggest that he should be.

First, he's attacking France. There's a strong suggestion that this is the best way for England to go. Germany is possibly a better ally than France, based on pure tactics. It is more difficult for Germany to stab England - Germany building fleets is an obvious signal. England concentrates on fleets, Germany on armies.

But this ignores the players controlling Germany and France. What an alliance depends on, more than tactics, is that you can build it with the person behind the power. If France is being played by someone who is a better choice of ally than the person controlling Germany, that's the way to go. It may be more dangerous, it may limit England more, but perhaps France is the better ally.

Second, he's making a strong play for Belgium. A Southern Opening - F(Lon)-ENG, F(Edi)-NTH - indicates England is likely (though not certain) to be looking to gain Belgium. Unless England believes he has a cast iron support agreement, there's no way he has a hope of gaining Belgium in 1901 without this combination.

Third, he's attacking France. The problem with this is that occupying the Channel is a good indicator of this, especially if England has broken a DMZ agreement with France to gain ENG. A much better indicator is F(Lon)-ENG and A(Lpl)-Wal. This gives England options but it warns France with a glowing red sign.

Again, England could be being tricksy. It serves England well to have a French unit in Brest at the end of 1901. It prevents a potential fleet being built there. Perhaps England is bluffing; perhaps he's intending to land in Picardy rather than Brest.

The fact is, from England's perspective, letting France into the Channel isn't a disaster - on its own. If he's facing a dedicated Rhineland Alliance of France & Germany, or the William and Mary opening (involving F/G/R), then England has problems anyway. If he let's France into the Channel, he can cover London and not being able to build in London isn't an insurmountable problem anyway.

What it does do is prevent England from attacking France. If England is aiming to make France his first target, then letting France into the Channel will prevent that, for the time being. Although a fleet built in Liverpool gives England a chance to slip into French attack mode more subtly, France being in the Channel, and having the freedom to build in Brest, is a way to counter this.

Perhaps this is the biggest issue for England: if she lets France occupy the Channel, she is allowing France to build in Brest. This second northern fleet is a major issue.

An English fleet in the Channel is not a great thing. It means France has two options: defend Brest or make an alliance with England.

Having to defend Brest is problematic. Having allowed England into the Channel, the French fleet is likely in MAO, Picardy or Brest itself (there's nothing to be gained by F(Bre)-Gas, is there?). The fleet can then cover Brest but at the expense of capturing an SC. If in Picardy, the fleet will likely be accompanied by an army in Burgundy. If France hasn't occupied Burgundy in 1901, then she's not taking Belgium anyway! Better to offer it to England (at least England isn't going to be in Brest that way).

If in MAO, France has to cover Brest and return the fleet there or else use an army to cover it. Either way, she is missing out on one from Spain or Portugal.

If holding in Brest - you know, just in case - then why not move to the Channel? If you bounce there, you're still in Brest and England isn't in the Channel, either.

The other alternative is to make an alliance - true or otherwise - with England by allowing him into Brest if this is where England wants to go. If offering the alliance, insist on F(ENG)-Bre; an army - F(ENG) C Wal-Bre - is more potentially dangerous. It allows England two units defending Brest should England prove aggressive towards France.

The problem with allowing England into Brest is that it leaves France with only one build or, depending on what has happened elsewhere, no builds. The latter is definitely a disaster; the former is problematic. France really ought to be aiming for two builds in 1901 if she wants to cement her position.

What is England going to do with a fleet in Brest? Frankly, not much. If it means France and England can work together, then it is probably worth it. It is certainly a good way to camouflage the Entente Alliance. Germany will be rubbing his hands with glee no matter what France has succeeded in doing in 1901 - he has a great chance of securing the English alliance OR the French alliance... or both!

If England is aggressive, a fleet in Brest will need to be defended. This ties down another fleet - he has to build a fleet in London and move that into the Channel. This then means England has backed herself into a cul-de-sac.

In the long-term, it is difficult for a stabbing England to hold onto Brest. It will take France making a concerted effort to regain the space, however, if he and England can't reach some sort of agreement. Given England having units in Brest and the Channel, France needs three units to regain Brest.

Should France find England sitting prettily in Brest in 1901, then it is better to sort something out with England if it wasn't part of a prior arrangement. Call it a fait accompli; shout about it if you want, but accept it. Just point out that England really can't afford to tie down one or even two units to hold Brest if she is going to grow. Offer to leave Brest English - at least until it becoming French again is required to balance the two powers. The idea about balance is widely accepted as being a pre-requisite for a successful alliance so this is more likely to succeed than not. Nothing wrong with playing on foolish assumptions!

Should France attempt to move to the Channel offensively? I'm not convinced an offensive move against England is a good idea unless France is drawing at least one other English neighbour with him. The only situation which is worth the bet is to convoy an army into Wales. Liverpool or London can be covered and - possibly - both. But it causes England more to defend against this than it does France to attack. And the S02 order of A(Wal)-Yor will cause almost as much confusion as anything else France could do.

Is it worth defending?
There are some advantages in moving to the Channel for both France and England. If nothing else, it causes the other player discomfort and will tie down his units. If this doesn't happen, if the attacked player doesn't defend, it is a good bet that the Entente alliance is at work - and other players will be looking for this. However, an opportunist occupation of the Channel will almost certainly not be productive. If you're going to move there, have a plan... with options.

The ideal for both France and England is that the Channel is neutral. A DMZ can accomplish this but relies on trust. A stand-off will also accomplish it but that means both are wasting a move: those fleets are better off being used progressively.

Personally, if I doubt the power across the Channel, I wouldn't consider the stand-off. If I'm England, I'd move A(Lpl)-Yor/Wal: either will defend London. If I'm France I'd move A(Par)-Pic/Gas: the former will allow me to offer to support England to Belgium as an alternative to Brest, the latter allows me to cover Brest if need be.

Perhaps France has more to fear from an English fleet in the Channel than England has to fear from a French fleet there. England has more aggressive options from the Channel than does France.

Either power, though, should work to turn the unwanted occupation of the Channel by the other into a positive thing while planning to prevent the worst happening. And, of course, that means carrying your diplomacy further afield than the occupying power. Using the betrayal as a tool to persuade other players about the disloyalty of that evil player is a must. If he can't be trusted in Spring 1901, when can he be trusted - by anyone?

Sharp's ideas about the Channel may be controversial but not necessarily as insane as they may sound. Of course, the fact that Sharp hadn't been playing Diplomacy long when he wrote his book (he started playing - in the Hobby, at least - in 1973 and his book was published only five years later) needs to be considered. In fact, Sharp himself admitted that he'd changed some of his ideas later in his playing "career" - experience is a great teacher! But that doesn't mean he was writing nonsense.

The Channel is a key space. It is certainly true that having it occupied by the player across it is uncomfortable. But it isn't the end of the game - it's the springboard for a more considered strategy.
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Re: That Silver Strip of Sea

Postby Cardlinger » 06 Mar 2017, 00:29

Thanks for this, interesting read!

Will be more interesting if in post-confirmation of my next game I am England or France. Up till now I've only ever been R/T/A. This may prove useful reading in a day or two if I get cast as a Western power!

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