On a recent family vacation to Hawaii, I took the time to visit the USS Arizona Memorial. Pearl Harbor itself was bustling with activity, and I struggled to imagine what it was like on that lazy Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941. As we stood in line at the Visitor Center waiting for the introductory film, I tried to give my family a sense of the immense historical importance of this place. The Japanese attack put in motion a chain of events that changed the United States of America from an isolationist, inward-looking country on the periphery of world events into the world’s first super-power. What started at Pearl Harbor wasn’t finished until the United States ushered in the atomic age with the final chapter of WWII.
It’s rare when you can experience history from the perspective of a participant. I guess that’s why I’ve always been drawn to wargames – to learn by making choices in the context of a game. When it comes to World War II in the Pacific Theater, Victory in the Pacific is a game that gets played for this very reason. It is the only game I know that covers the entire Pacific War and can be completed in one afternoon or evening. It offers a wide variety of strategic options for both sides, which is testimony to the genius of the game’s designer, Richard Hamblen. In the following article I’ll lead you on a tour through the thirteen strategic sea areas from a wargamer’s point of view, highlighting many strategic choices of which players need to be aware to make their best command decisions. Before we start our tour, here are a few choice terms and definitions to help you follow along if you’ve never been here:
So, step on up the gangplank to our water taxi, and let’s start the tour.
So much has been written about the early game issues in the Hawaiian Islands that it almost seems superfluous to add anything here. There are many IJN openings that focus on either the capture of Pearl Harbor through encirclement by Turn three or the annihilation of the USN trying to defend it. Most games see the IJN attempting to control the Hawaiian Islands in the opening turns because this is their strongest strategy after December 7, 1941. There are basically two options the IJN can implement for the conversion of Pearl Harbor, operation “Capture the Pearl.”
The first and most straight-forward option is to send lots of ships and CVs to the Hawaiian Islands and sink any USN forces that dare contest the area. This approach will weaken the IJN carrier arm through battle casualties, but is worth it if 1) the USN and allied LBA are decimated, and 2) Pearl Harbor can be held for a while.
The second option requires the use of the Yokosuka SNLF to threaten Johnston Island on turn two, hopefully capturing it as a base and allowing for Japanese LBA to assist converting Pearl Harbor on turn three. One feature that detracts from this strategy is that the IJN must still send robust fleet units to the Hawaiian Islands on Turn 3, and will lose flexibility of LBA deployment along the perimeter. This may not be too bad, however, if Indonesia was IJN-controlled on Turn 2 and is an IJN exclusive area Turn 3. The IJN can then strip all the LBA from Indonesia, ostensibly sacrificing it’s POC for turn three while Pearl Harbor falls. On Turn 4, the IJN returns to Indonesia and solidifies its hold on the Hawaiian Islands.
Another feature that detracts from the second option is that Yokosuka is unavailable for other important opportunities that present themselves on Turn 2, like the capture of Guadalcanal. Strategically, the first option is the most flexible way to go, as it allows the Japanese LBA and SNLF forces freedom to tackle important areas and bases other than the Hawaiian Islands. It therefore seems that the employment of Yokosuka in operation “Capture the Pearl” is a waste of force when the IJN is at its strongest.
For the USN, the Turn 2 and Turn 3 decisions regarding the defense of Pearl Harbor are most difficult, and the game can turn on any mistake the USN makes here. In many instances, the abandonment of the Hawaiian Islands is the only alternative to incurring unacceptable casualties in its defense. However, six allied LBA in the Hawaiian Islands on turn three can, with luck, defeat operation “Capture the Pearl” (I’ve seen it happen!). The decision whether or not to make this commitment rests on the capability of the rest of the USN. If the IJN can be harassed elsewhere, the IJN casualties inflicted by the allied LBA may be worthwhile even if Pearl Harbor falls. It’s a tough call for the USN.
If Pearl Harbor is captured by the IJN, the USN must decide how and when to launch the counter-offensive to get it back. It will be difficult if the IJN wants to make a big stand here. A good way would be to send some marines and raiders into the Hawaiian Islands on turn five, break IJN control, take Johnston Island, and go for control with LBA on Turns 6 and 7. If you have three or four carriers left on Turn 5, you could even go for control on Turn 5 as well, moving the whole timetable of the operation up a turn. In a game like this, the USN must battle tenaciously to keep the IJN POC lead in the low twenties because of the difficulty in gaining POC and opening up the Central Pacific in the endgame while mopping up Pearl Harbor. It’s also tough to threaten Indonesia at the same time. But by all means, do not throw in the towel just because Pearl Harbor has fallen. It is definitely possible to win from Samoa if you’ve got a fleet left and can keep the IJN POC lead low. In many instances, the IJN takes Pearl Harbor on turn three only to lose it again on turn five due to IJN losses and USN successes elsewhere. So, take a lesson from the Brits and keep a stiff upper lip. They didn’t quit when Singapore fell, did they? Fight on!
The key turn here is always Turn 2. Can the USN control the area, thereby screening the Hawaiian Islands from IJN patrollers based at Truk? If so, the IJN better forget about taking Pearl Harbor on Turn 3 unless they have substantial forces based at Midway. This is not as bad as it may seem for the IJN, however, because the IJN is probably working on the “TKO in Three” opening (a la Alan R. Moon, in The General, Vol. 17, No. 4). It still allows the IJN to wreak all kinds of havoc in the U.S. Mandates and the Coral Sea. But if the IJN is determined to go for the throat and take Pearl Harbor, the USN can bet that two, or possibly three, IJN LBA are going to show up in the Marshall Islands on Turn 2. In this case, the USN better forget about the Marshall Islands if they are going to preserve their precious CVs.
In the midgame, the USN may find an opportunity to pounce on a weakly-held Marshall Islands. The USN must think this over very carefully. Assuming you are going to face a flag defense (a carrier and an LBA), you must weigh the advantages of controlling the Marshall Islands against the reality that some USN CVs will go down in the attempt. The deciding factor should be whether or not you have a reasonable chance to take Kwajalien or Maleolap. You can bet the IJN will make it expensive. That’s the downside. The upside is that you will have another base for your LBA to take on the IJN fleet and LBA. As a perimeter-busting measure, it is lukewarm, because it only allows the USN to penetrate as far as the Marianas Islands, and not the Japanese Islands. This is okay if it happens on Turn 4 or 5, because you can then “island hop” with any “extra” marines based on Kwajalien or Maleolap into the Marianas Islands on Turn 5 or 6, threatening Saipan or the Philippines. This is a tricky operation, and must be supported by USN forays into other perimeter areas if it is to succeed. But if the IJN has lost some LBA, it can work, putting the IJN into an uncomfortable spot and giving the USN some much-needed POC as well. The difficulty with all this is the delicate timing and basing requirements that are necessary to pull it off. It may be much easier and more economical to simply break the IJN perimeter on Turn 5 in a more lucrative area.
For the IJN, this perimeter area is one of diminishing importance as the game wears on. By Turn 5, a large enough POC lead may dictate the abandonment of the area if it was controlled along with the South Pacific on Turn 4. This screens the Marianas Islands for Turn 5, and still gives the IJN a raiding lane into the Coral Sea and U.S. Mandate. Kwajalien and Maleolap can still be protected by sacrificing a CV for anti-invasion duty, allowing the IJN to concentrate forces in more important perimeter areas. But by no means should the IJN expend forces to hold the Marshall Islands in the midgame if it means losing Midway or Lae. These bases far exceed the importance of Kwajalien or Maleolap.
Welcome to the only sea area named after a Broadway Musical! But forget Bali Hai… this is probably the toughest perimeter area for the IJN to hold, and it is definitely the easiest one for the USN to exploit. Two critical issues surface when discussing the South Pacific: 1) the strategic importance of the two key bases of Lae and Guadalcanal, and 2) the area’s status as a raiding lane from Samoa to Indonesia, a key component for USN strategic planning in the midgame.
Let’s look at the first point. In the early game, the IJN must convert Lae if it expects to clean up Indonesia with minimum patrols. The most economical way to hold Indonesia is with LBA. If Lae is not captured by turn two, the IJN will experence migraine headaches due to the potential infiltration of allied LBA into Indonesia (possibly aided by the British CVs). IJN flexibility will be quite strained, and the USN will be able to dictate a partial defensive stance for the IJN. Likewise, a US-held Guadalcanal allows allied LBA to contest the South Pacific. This is by no means as serious as a US-held Lae, but by taking Guadalcanal the IJN can build a solid perimeter and lock out all enemy LBA. An aggressive IJN commander would like to have both bases fly the rising sun by the end of turn two, capturing Lae by encirclement and landing Yokosuka at Guadalcanal. The problem with this is that Midway and Dutch Harbor must be ignored by Yokosuka in the opening turns, entrusting IJN reinforcements to mop up those bases. Realistically, Lae and Guadalcanal can be taken early by the IJN if they pursue aggressive patrol postures on turns two and three, thus either forcing allied LBA to defend key home areas or locking out the USN due to control flags. At this stage of the game, a US trade of Pearl Harbor or Samoa for safeguarding Lae is a mistake, so the outgunned USN will usually see Lae (and possibly Guadalcanal) slip away in the early going.
The USN must recapture Lae if it is to have any hope of winning the game. Lae’s importance in the endgame stems from the fact that it borders two crucial areas (Indonesia and the South Pacific), allows USN patrollers based there to enter the Japanese Islands if Indonesia can be freed of IJN control, allows allied LBA into Indonesia, and provides an “up front” base for the slow USN battle line. Of course the IJN knows this, and will make capturing Lae a formidable task. If the Turn 3 marines were destroyed in the Hawaiian Islands, Turn 5 is the earliest point at which the invasion of Lae can be attempted, and you can bet that the IJN will send whatever force is necessary to blow your marines out of the water. It is for this reason that I recommend paving the way for Lae by going after Guadalcanal first. Attempt to invade Guadalcanal on Turn 5 via the Coral Sea while simultaneously patrolling the South Pacific with a small force of expendable ships. In the raid phase, the USN can either make a full-blown effort in the South Pacific (thereby breaking the perimeter), or it can reinforce the invasion troops in the Coral Sea. Either way, the USN position regarding Lae is improved for Turn 6, especially if reinforcements are arriving at Samoa. The IJN can thwart this move by sending suicide CVs or LBA into the Coral Sea, but your control flag there will give the USN a decent chance for a night action. If Lae can be taken on Turn 6, the USN is in great shape. If not, the USN must try again on Turn 7 unless they managed to recapture Midway and can base some ships there. (It is doubtful that Saipan or the Philippines will fall before Lae). The reason for this is due to the fact that the USN needs to threaten the Japanese Islands (preferably through high-POC Indonesia) with patrollers in the endgame, and Lae is the best base for this.
Now let’s look at the second point. The USN desperately wants to keep the South Pacific controlled (or at least out of IJN clutches) in the midgame to enhance the movement options and flexibility of the fleet. If the South Pacific is open, the USN forces based at Samoa can threaten to raid all the way to Indonesia. This puts the IJN on the defensive, and makes it all the more difficult for the IJN to avoid losing POC/ships/LBA in either Indonesia, the South Pacific or even the Marianas Islands. If the USN can’t threaten Indonesia from Samoa, the IJN has a much easier task of protecting it and the rest of the perimeter as well. This turns the South Pacific into a hub around which each side must thrust, parry and dodge to maintain its own mobility while restricting the enemy’s. It is a testimony to Richard Hamblen’s brilliance that this game design feature works so well in not only simulating the historical battles in this area, but the intricate game decisions both sides must evaluate from turn to turn.
This area is a buffer zone for the IJN, and they must be sure from the outset that it doesn’t turn into a “Bufferin” zone as the game progresses. The best base in this area is the Philippines, and safeguarding it is really more important to the IJN than the two POC awarded for controlling the area itself. The IJN has to take the Philippines early in the game, and keep it out of US hands. Mark my words: if the Philippines are liberated by the USN at any point in the game, the Marianas Islands will become the host of lots of allied LBA. So of course the IJN will take great care to use the minimum force necessary to conquer the Philippines and lock the USN out of the Marianas Islands early in the game.
By Turn 5, the USN has to worry about busting a hole in the IJN perimeter, so it is really not until turn six that the IJN has to worry about defending the area. The Marianas Islands are much easier to defend if USN Pearl Harbor-based forces can be locked out due to IJN control flags. That means that the Australia/Samoa-based forces must divide their attention between Indonesia, the South Pacific, and the Marianas Islands. A premature allied move into the Marianas Islands can really backfire on the USN, because all forces committed must relocate outside of the perimeter if they fail to capture Saipan or the Philippines, leaving the USN with all sorts of potentially nasty basing and movement problems for the next turn.
The best way for the USN to take the Marianas Islands is to threaten the area with a small task force that includes a “spare” marine unit, providing it can be reinforced during the raid phase. For example, it is Turn 6, and strong USN forces are committed to Indonesia and the Central Pacific, with a marine unit in each. A third, smaller task force goes into the Marianas Islands, with the “spare” marine unit, launched from Guadalcanal. The IJN can conceivably send units to defend all three areas, but places his forces at the mercy of USN raiders. This is like a reverse TKO. The IJN needs to preserve Lae, Midway, and the Philippines, but may find that one of theses will fall at the end of the turn due to allied luck or strength or both. If the USN can take any one of these bases and sink some IJN CVs, the IJN will be hurting. On Turn 7, USN forces will mop up the outlying areas and place LBA from the newly-acquires base, freeing the USN CVs to raid into the Japanese Islands or Indonesia. Another version of this is a “backdoor” invasion of the Philippines, with USN patrollers and marines in both the Marianas Islands and Indonesia. The IJN is not only confronted with losing the Philippines, but both sea areas and a host of ships/LBA/POC. Either way, it’s no picnic for the IJN.
This area can be crucial to both players, because it lies between the Japanese Islands and Pearl Harbor (If the IJN takes Pearl Harbor, the importance of this area diminishes drastically, of course). The USN would like to force the IJN to use a SNLF to capture Midway, thereby precluding its use elsewhere. It is difficult for the USN to stop an amphibious invasion Turn 2, and practically impossible to stop it on Turn 1. However, if the IJN foregoes an invasion and attempts to encircle the island in the early turns, the USN must look for an opportunity to stifle the IJN plan. The reason for this is the fact that Midway is very tough for the USN to retake in the midgame, and requires a division of effort if it is to be taken in the endgame. Because Midway lies so far from Australia, any fleet units based there cannot threaten it, thereby making it that much easier for the IJN to defend. And since all returning SNLF units arrive at Yokosuka Naval Yard, the IJN can have a SNLF in the Central Pacific virtually every turn as an insurance policy for the encirclement mission. But, if the USN can hold on to Midway through Turn 4, the IJN is in serious trouble because then the allied LBA will have a good chance of holding on to the Central Pacific for the duration, or to at least cause some IJN CV casualties. The downside to all of this for the USN is that a fairly large effort is required to pull this off, and although the strategic advantage of holding the Central Pacific is great, the POC rewards are not. It’s really tough for the USN to hang on to Midway, but it has been done before!
Therefore, if (or when) Midway needs to be retaken by the USN, it is more economical to attempt it by encirclement on Turns 5, 6 or 7 and concentrate the marines in the more POC-rich areas to the south. This will force the IJN to battle the USN in the Central Pacific for two turns at a probable disadvantage, and on the turn of capture the USN can base at Midway, ready to strike into the Japanese Islands. If you do find yourself with an “extra” marine lying around on Turn 5 or 6, you may consider a gambit into the Central Pacific with an invasion force, hoping to weaken the IJN perimeter defense elsewhere while they dispatch ships and planes to subdue the Marines.
For the IJN, the capture of Midway is critical primarily to deny it as a US LBA base. It is definitely worth sacrificing a CV here on Turns 4, 5 and 6 if you can deny it to the Americans, thereby keeping allied LBA out of the battlefront, and hopefully screening the heart of Japan from Pearl Harbor with IJN control flags. The absolute best way to do this of course is to “simply” take Pear Harbor on Turn 3. If that cannot be accomplished, the IJN must take care that the Central Pacific does not become a “meat-grinder” for weak patrols that are at the mercy of USN raiders. If the IJN has a high enough POC lead, they can abandon the area on Turn 7 if it was IJN-controlled on Turn 6 and let the USN have it without a fight, thereby conserving the fleet and LBA for a big climactic battle in the Japanese Islands, Indonesia, or both.
The bottom line is that this area poses tough strategic questions for both sides. The question of just how much force is enough to either defend or to capture the area is perhaps more difficult here than anywhere else in the game.
Interesting area. How can a sea area with two bases always be relegated to the negligible role of “sideshow”? Well, look at the POC value for starters and you get a clue. This area is just not worth a major effort for either side. The USN can use this frozen pathway to Japan with raiders from Dutch Harbor or Attu, but once gone, they can’t return. A definite one-shot deal. Now, if you really want to spice up a game of VITP, and the oft-ignored northern sea areas in particular, try allowing the USN and/or the IJN to return some units to Dutch Harbor as if it were a major port at the end of a turn. Guaranteed, the Aleutian Islands would no longer be a sideshow.
As it is, the fate of Attu is to fall to the IJN on Turn 2 through encirclement, and Dutch Harbor usually follows suit on Turn 2 or 3 (or even 4) via amphibious invasion. Control of the Aleutian Islands is obviously important to the IJN due to the fact that this area screens the Japanese Islands from attack. But if the Imperial homeland can be screened by IJN control of the Central Pacific and North Pacific, there will be no patroller in the Aleutian Islands. The Kodiaks will be lonely. Eventually, the Americans will come and liberate the place if it’s not too much trouble.
Anyone ever fight a critical VITP battle here? Me neither. This area DEFINES the word “sideshow.” The IJN can steal this POC fairly easily if they control Midway and launch a northern amphibious operation early in the game, converting Dutch Harbor. Then, a flyweight cruiser can base there and sortie next turn to grab a POC. If the IJN does not take Dutch Harbor early, it becomes a much tougher nut to crack in the midgame because allied LBA will undoubtedly be protecting it (both in the North Pacific and the Aleutian Islands). After all, the North Pacific is also quite a trek from Truk…
As stated previously, Dutch Harbor’s importance stems from the fact that from here, the USN can threaten the Japanese Islands through the Aleutian Islands. If the IJN takes Dutch Harbor, this threat is eradicated. But looking at the big picture, this base’s importance (and that of the entire North Pacific, for that matter) is severely diminished if Pearl Harbor falls to the IJN. So, any IJN effort to conquer Dutch Harbor at the expense of operation “Capture the Pearl” makes no sense. The same holds true for the USN defense — it does little good holding on to Dutch Harbor if Pearl Harbor is lost.
In the endgame, the USN will be faced with the prospect of liberating Dutch Harbor (unless, of course, it was liberated in the midgame… if so, the USN is probably cruising for a win). This is a tougher decision than it seems. The USN must be very careful to avoid taking Dutch Harbor (and controlling the North Pacific) too late, thereby losing POC to the IJN. The USN must also avoid using (and not losing!) too much force at the expense of other, more important theaters. Judging just how much effort is worth expending to control Dutch Harbor and the North Pacific is the real key to this area and its one POC. Usually, this area is controlled by the side that holds the initiative in the struggle for the Central Pacific.
Question: So, just how important is Singapore to the IJN?
Answer: More important than any other allied port or base.
How can this be? Why would a Japanese commander who fails to take Singapore on Turn 2 pull out his sword and contemplate the hari-kari treatment?
The reasons are pretty obvious. On Turn 3, the Royal Navy (remember them?) coupled with allied LBA will swarm all over Indonesia like a bunch of angry hornets, and while the IJN tries to put out that fire, USN raiders will pounce on the other perimeter areas. And a USN control flag in Indonesia on Turn 3 threatens to convert Saigon! All of a sudden the Japanese have lost the initiative, the security of the Japanese Islands, and most likely, the game. Therefore, the IJN must do everything in its power to ensure the conversion of Singapore at the end of Turn 2. For all you USN commanders who have read (and ascribe to) the excellent article “TKO in Two” (The General, Vol.22, No. 2, which details an allied strategy of sending everything into Indonesia to save Singapore), please be aware that the big fight for Singapore could easily be playing right into the IJN’s hands. Sure, maintaining Singapore and controlling Indonesia are worthwhile…up to a point. If the USN places all available LBA units into Indonesia on Turn 2, the IJN gets to shoot at them there with their own LBA rather than shoot at them defending the Hawaiian Islands with IJN CVs on Turn 3. That’s a big advantage for the IJN. And to make things even worse, if the IJN maintains control of Indonesia on Turn 2 despite the Royal Navy’s heroics, Singapore falls and the IJN can then strip the area of all forces on Turn 3 and use them to close up the perimeter, beat up on the Americans, and possibly take Pearl Harbor, especially if Johnston Island was captured on Turn 2. Jujitsu, baby.
Historically, Indonesia was the treasure trove of the IJN pirates. The Indonesian oil reserves were the prize the Japanese military establishment had coveted once President Roosevelt and Congress placed the trade embargo on the land of the Rising Sun. The sneak attack on Pearl Harbor was only a part of Japan’s overall strategic plan. One reason VITP is such a great game is that it simulates, albeit in an abstract manner, this historical reality. To win, the IJN must be able to control the POC-rich waters of Indonesia for the balance of the game. It is strategic suicide for the IJN to adopt any course of action that doesn’t take this into account. The IJN needs to build up a big lead by the end of Turn 5, and then needs to carefully manage a strategic withdrawal that allows the IJN to safely fall back upon the high POC areas, namely, Indonesia and the Japanese Islands.
Well, what happens after a “normal” opening, one where Singapore falls? What kind of action occurs in Indonesia, anyway? More than any other area, this can be the scene of any imaginable encounter. The game system provides for a myriad of possibilities in combat, and Indonesia is the site of more types of encounters than anywhere else. With two major ports and two adjacent bases, Indonesia possesses many strategic targets. Lots of amphibious invasions are attempted here, and lots of ships and planes come out of the woodwork to join the party. And because of Indonesia’s high POC value coupled with its nearness to the Japanese Islands, control of the area is not only lucrative, but severely hampers the movement options of the enemy fleet. In a “normal” close game, the IJN will probably trade a few shots with the British CVs, control Indonesia up until Turn 5, and use LBA to keep the USN CVs away. The USN commander simply cannot afford to take on the patrolling IJN LBA early in the game with his few precious carriers. The entire game can pivot on the IJN’s Turn 5 deployments in Indonesia and the USN’s threat to them. If Indonesia is an IJN exclusive area after Turn 5, and the USN has only one or two CVs capable of threatening the area on Turn 6, the USN is in trouble. With a big enough lead, the IJN has a POC gravy train on its hands for Turn 7. With IJN control flags in Indonesia (and the Marianas Islands, let’s assume) screening the Japanese Islands from attack, the IJN can evacuate Indonesia. On Turn 8, all of the ships and planes saved by evacuating Indonesia patrol the Japanese Islands and prepare to defend it to the last man. It is almost impossible for the USN to control the Japanese Islands on Turn 8 if it has to go up against all six IJN LBA and the entire enemy fleet. To avoid this, the USN must plan to at least threaten Indonesia by the end of Turn 5. The fleet needs to be flexible enough to send enough carrier power to blow a hole in the perimeter, and to threaten the POC in Indonesia. Any USN strategy that fails to consider these two points for Turns 5 and 6 misses the boat, and yes, the pun was intended.
Some people, like Robert Harmon in his “Commander’s Notebook” (The General, Vo. 23, No. 5), talk about a “Far East” strategy for the IJN. They point out that once the IJN sends the Royal Navy to Davy Jones’ locker there is little left to protect Ceylon and the bundles of POC waiting to be picked up at little or no risk in the Bay of Bengal. Instead of contesting the Allied Home Areas, the IJN concentrates on locking the USN out of the Bay of Bengal (and the Indian Ocean) for the majority of the game. I myself have never had the guts to try it, figuring that I’d never be able to maintain a perimeter against the rampaging Americans, much less take and hold key bases such as Lae, Guadalcanal and Midway.
I suppose the “Far East” strategy could work if the USN could be kept at bay in the Coral Sea and out of the South Pacific, but the whole strategic concept boils down to how much freedom of maneuver the IJN can afford to give the USN and still wind up with more POC at game’s end. Sound arguments can be made on both sides of this issue (again, see Robert Harmon’s article for this discussion), but I will not go into the details again here. Suffice it to say that the Bay of Bengal will be relatively quiet if the IJN opts for a “TKO in Three” or “Capture the Pearl” opening, which are the most popular (for good reason, I might add) IJN strategies.
The Royal Navy can have trouble controlling the Bay of Bengal even if a small, escorted IJN carrier group decides to raid the area, because the USN is usually based so far away and can’t help out. But this is usually only an irritant to the allied cause. The real danger lies in the threat of IJN patrollers in the area. Luckily for the USN (and the Brits), IJN returns from the previous turn to Saigon (or Singapore) will telegraph these intentions well enough in advance to give the allies some ability to parry the threat, usually with an LBA commitment. In the later stages of the game, allied LBA may well be the sole garrison for the area, and this is as it should be. Send the Royal Navy into Indonesia if you are fortunate enough to have it survive into the mid-and-endgames. Maybe they can avenge the Repulse and the Prince of Wales.
This area is also important if the IJN adopts the “Far East” strategy. By controlling the Indian Ocean and Indonesia, the IJN can completely lock the USN out of the Bay of Bengal. However, the Indian Ocean is even more important if the IJN is contemplating operation “Down Under,” the plan to capture Australia. If this is the case, the Indian Ocean will be the scene of a vigorous Commonwealth defense—you can bet that the IJN will be tangling with any Brit afloat. Despite the numerous ships that will slug it out here, the struggle for the Indian Ocean will ultimately be decided by LBA. The IJN really only have a chance to prevail if they control Port Moresby and can spare some LBA to combat the inevitable allied LBA. This is not easy to arrange, and it is even tougher when you consider that to capture Australia, the IJN must control both the Indian Ocean and the Coral Sea for two consecutive turns. It is exceedingly difficult to accomplish this mission plus protect the perimeter and gain POC, but operation “Down Under” is a real (if risky) alternative to the more popular “Capture the Pearl” or “TKO in Three” strategies. The key point for the IJN to remember when attempting this is that there will be no element of surprise. To patrol the Indian Ocean, the IJN will have to base its potential patrollers in the ports of Saigon or Singapore, or in nearby bases other than Truk. This tips the IJN hand, and the USN will respond accordingly. Alas, most games see the IJN go for Pearl Harbor, and consequently very little action will occur in this area.
The Coral Sea is weird. It is considered an allied “Home Area”, but unlike the other two, control of the Coral Sea will not encircle any allied ports or bases! So that means that the Coral Sea should be strategically worth less than the other two, right? WRONG! The Coral Sea is critical to both sides because of the enormous potential its bordering bases possess. For example, the IJN can seriously consider operation “Down Under” if they control Port Moresby. The IJN can seriously threaten Samoa as well as impede USN movement options if they control the New Hebrides. The USN can open up the perimeter through the South Pacific if they can base at Guadalcanal. All of these bases possess large strategic possibilities for the side that controls them.
The Coral Sea is also a traffic bottleneck for the USN. If the IJN controls it and the South Pacific, the USN is effectively split in half, because any ships based in Australia will be unable to link up with those based at Pearl Harbor, Samoa, or other northern bases. This can completely derail any USN plans to break the IJN perimeter or raid the interior, thus keeping the initiative away from the USN for one more crucial turn. But the IJN should definitely think twice about trying to hold the Coral Sea for two consecutive turns in the midgame, especially if trying to isolate Australia. The patrollers are bound to encounter stiff LBA resistance, and heavy casualties are likely to be incurred by the IJN. The IJN must make controlling the Coral Sea worth the price in planes and ships.
The Coral Sea is also a critical area in the endgame. If the USN is holding it with a small LBA commitment or one or two battered battleships (a likely scenario), a strong and fast IJN raid force (the Tokyo Express?) coming through the South Pacific or Marshall Islands from Truk can eliminate the patrollers and then get away, denying some critical POC from the USN. A late raid such as this either forces the USN to lose POC, or to divert some carrier power away from the main battlefronts. The IJN wins in both instances.
Obviously, the most important base in this area is Samoa, but the New Hebrides takes a close second. The New Hebrides, along with Johnston Island, are arguably the most important “green” bases the USN must protect in the opening turns. It’s much easier to defend Johnston Island from amphibious invasion, however, because it can only be attacked from one sea area, the Hawaiian Islands. The New Hebrides are vulnerable to amphibious invasion from both the Coral Sea and the U.S. Mandate, making this base seem much harder to defend. The flip side, of course, is that if the IJN threaten to take Samoa by encirclement, the New Hebrides are safe as long as the Coral Sea is uncontrolled by the IJN and no SNLFs are around to come ashore. Samoa is a great place for the USN to base in the midgame because raiders based there can reach Indonesia if the South Pacific is open, creating lots of tough decisions for the IJN. The New Hebrides is an even better location, allowing raiders there to cruise all the way to the Bay of Bengal or to the North Pacific.
The U.S. Mandate is often overlooked by both players in VITP. After all, the game starts at Pearl Harbor, and most of the opening moves revolve around the USN’s defense of its best port. Sometimes, both sides commit so much mental energy to the Hawaiian Islands that the opportunities in the U.S. Mandate are overlooked. In fact, the only opening that seriously threatens the U.S. Mandate is the “TKO in Three.” But make no mistake: the fall of Samoa to the IJN is just as grave as the loss of Pearl Harbor. The USN is split in half, and the loss of Samoa as a base cripples USN mobility. And the IJN can go for Samoa almost as easily as it can go for Pearl Harbor.
Much has been written about the USN being "able to win from Samoa" if Pearl Harbor falls. This is undoubtedly true, primarily because Samoa is a good location from which USN reinforcements can sortie against the IJN. If you must “win from Samoa” as the USN, you have to keep the IJN POC as low as possible (due to the POC gains the IJN get for controlling the Hawaiian Islands) and you must preserve as many bases as possible for your growing LBA arm. Be patient, conserve your strength, and then blow a hole in either the Marshall Islands or the South Pacific on Turn 5. On Turn 6, pour your USN reinforcements through the hole, send your LBA against any IJN patrollers it can find, send the marines out, and try to destroy the IJN while picking up a base somewhere and hopefully some POC as well. Then on Turn 7, knock down all the IJN LBA you can (so they won’t be around on Turn 8), and position the USN for making up the POC in order to win. That’s how you "win from Samoa."
Anyone ever take Okinawa as the USN commander? Me neither. If the IJN is playing a solid game, not much happens here before the endgame. The IJN will patrol the Japanese Islands with a single ship as long as the perimeter is secure and the F-Boat is unavailable. If there is a hole in the perimeter in the midgame, the USN may be able to raid into the Japanese Islands, but the IJN shouldn’t over-react. Do your best to plug the hole so you can make the area exclusive on the next turn. If you are the IJN commander, don’t forget to place two ships on patrol here once the F-Boat comes into play: there’s nothing worse than losing 3 POC and a favorable control flag DRM on a lucky shot.
If the game goes down to the wire, most likely the POC for the Japanese Islands will be the decisive factor on Turn 8. Both sides need to count POC and think ahead on Turn 7. If the IJN conserves its LBA and places all six units plus the remainder of the fleet into the Japanese Islands, it will be exceedingly difficult for the USN carrier arm to wrest control from the IJN. Therefore, the USN must seek out the IJN LBA on Turn 7 and destroy it if at all possible. When the big battle for Japan takes place on Turn 8, it’s like the seventh game of the World Series. It’s toe-to-toe, no-holds-barred. Neither side will retreat before they concede. After the smoke clears, congratulate your opponent and get some ice for your sore dice-rolling wrist.
Well, that about does it. I hope you enjoyed your tour. Please watch your step as you exit the water taxi, and enjoy the rest of your day. I welcome any comments you may have on the ideas presented here. I can be reached at [email protected]