Aggressiveness: 10. Ferocity: 10.

Aggressiveness: 10. Ferocity: 10. Come visit his country …

As some of my readers know, I have been having fun conquering the world as Japan in Hearts of Iron 2, and that I’m reporting it all cynically in the tone of a Japanese leader forced to war to defend Asia against colonialism. Before I played Japan I had a go as Germany and didn’t do very well – the Soviets declared war on me in 1942 (I can’t think why!) and I got wiped out because my army was busy trying to secure oil in Africa.

Something noticeable about Hearts of Iron (HOI) and its successors is that there is no genocide option, even though some people believe the Holocaust was crucial to German war aims and so should probably be in the game. I understand that there is some debate about whether the Holocaust was a net benefit for the Nazi war machine, but some historians argue that the Holocaust policy developed slowly, piece-by-piece, in response to changing economic and industrial demands, and was actually primarily driven by the need to secure economic resources, especially food. Taking this as the basis for the Holocaust, it’s easy to imagine that a mechanism to represent it could be included in the game, to make it easier for certain countries to develop rapidly in the run-up to total war, or to respond to war needs.

The easiest way would be to incorporate a slider, that runs from 0 to 100 representing just how horrific your intended genocide is. Maybe 5 just means marriage and employment restrictions, while 100 is the fully mechanized destruction of entire races. The process is abstracted, and essentially represents a transformation of money, manpower and transport capacity into a reduction of supply needs and an increase in industrial capacity (or even an increase in supplies). This is pretty much what the historians I linked above argue: that the Holocaust was designed the way it was in the steps it was because it was aimed initially at seizing the economic assets of European Jews, to make production more efficient, and then at restricting their food consumption in order to ensure that other Germans didn’t starve. This is also what Stalin was doing with his “dekulakization” in the 1930s – forcing small, unproductive landholders off of their smallholdings into large collective farms, and because these farms were intended to feed many more people than those who worked in them, the excess population of smallholders would have been an economic deadweight – hence they were sent to the camps to die. Plus of course, when Germany invaded Eastern Europe they expropriated huge amounts of food and money, and essentially instituted a policy of starvation to ensure that no untermenschen used food that could have been feeding Germans. Under this analysis of the Holocaust, it was beneficial for the German war effort. If so, it should be modeled in the game in the interests of historical plausibility[1]. Wouldn’t it be great if when you were starting to lose you could slide your slider up to 100 so that you weren’t vulnerable to blockades? The computer could even use the demographic composition of your empire to give you options about which race to exterminate. We’re all about historical plausibility, right?

Suggesting such a process sounds kind of sick, doesn’t it? Which is why Paradox Interactive made a specific, explicit decision not to model this in the game. I remember somewhere a statement from Paradox about this, but I can’t find it any more – maybe it was in the Hearts of Iron manual that I no longer have. Anyway, we can find this on their forum rules for HOI3:

NOTE: There will not be any gulags or deathcamps (including POW camps) to build in Hearts of Iron3, nor will there be the ability to simulate the Holocaust or systematic purges, so I ask you not to discuss these topics as they are not related to this game. Thank You. Threads bringing up will be closed without discussion.

NOTE: Strategic bombing in HoI3 will be abstracted and not allow you to terror bomb civilians specifically. Chemical weapons will also not be included in the game. Any threads that complain about this issue will be closed without discussion.

Not only did they decide not to model these things, but they make very clear that they aren’t going to talk about their decision. We all know why: games that model the holocaust are beyond poor taste, and any gaming company that included such a mechanic in their wargame would be toast pretty fast.

It is, however, okay to model genocide in Europa Universalis 3. Yesterday commenter Paul pointed me to this post in which someone trying the game for the first time talks about how uneasy the colonization process makes her feel. I agree with a lot of this writer’s criticisms of the way the Native Americans are portrayed in the game, and I would like to add two.

  1. Terra nullius: by making colonizable land grey and devoid of units or cultural structures of any type, the game essentially buys in to the legal fiction of terra nullius – that no one owned the land or had a use for it before white people came. This legal fiction was overturned in Australia in 1994, and where not openly declared the general principle often underlay the willingness of white invaders to breach treaty agreements (as they did again and again, for example, when dealing with native Americans). In the game, although the natives are known to be there (you get a count in the colony window), they are not represented as unit types and structures the way Europeans are – the land is not owned in the sense that European land is owned, it just has some people on it. Terra nullius is a pernicious and evil concept that does not reflect the actual state of indigenous life, only the racist perceptions of the colonizers, and it’s sad to see it being reflected so clearly in this game
  2. Elision of native struggle: A common phenomenon in western popular and academic depiction of colonization is the minimization or dismissal of indigenous struggle. This is very common in Australia, and until the publication of Blood on the Wattle, popular understanding of Aboriginal history was that they didn’t really fight back, a belief that derives from early 20th century racial ideas of Aborigines as “weak.” Obviously in the US this is not so readily done, but for example the Sand Creek Massacre used to be referred to as the “Battle of Sand Creek,” though there were very few Indian soldiers involved, and popular lore about Custer’s Last Stand doesn’t usually include awareness that he was attacking a civilian camp at dawn when he was beaten. In the game, native struggle is implied in the aggressiveness and ferocity statistics for each province, and the effect they have on colony growth, but it is not actually visible or witnessed through the need to coordinate military actions against active opponents as happens in any European conflict between even the most irrelevant powers – it is a low background noise to your successful colonization, mostly

I think these two points show that the designers of Europa Universalis haven’t just implemented a game with a colonization strategy; they have implemented a game with a colonization strategy that implicitly reinforces common modern misconceptions about how colonization worked that tend to underplay its genocidal and military aspects (see also the way natives are absorbed into your population once it becomes an official province – this takes about 20 years and is in no way reflective of how colonization absorbed real native populations – such absorption took more than 100 years in Australia, for example, and only occurred at all through massive force and state coercion). I don’t really think this is a moral decision, but I also don’t think it’s defensible. There are lots of other ways that the game could have been designed, from making America the same as Asia to having a single Native American “state” and a different conquering mechanism – or, as April Daniels suggests, just a better and richer experience playing the Natives. There is DLC for this, but that’s not a defense, and neither are the butthurt bleatings of the gamers in the comments. It’s also noteworthy that the people attacking Daniels in comments of that blog are tending to subscribe to the same misconceptions that are buried in the game itself – there wasn’t much war, might makes right, smallpox did it not us!, natives really did get merged into the colonial population without a fight! This kind of response just shows that the west hasn’t come to terms with its colonial past yet.

So here’s what happened: Paradox spent years developing a game set in Europe in which they explicitly avoided modeling a genocide that occurred in Europe and that was crucial to the historical plausibility of the game; they also spent years developing a game set in Europe in which they explicitly developed a model for genocide that occurred outside Europe and that is crucial to the historical plausibility of the game. The former decision was probably (to the best of my recollection) made for moral and political reasons; defenders of the latter decision want me to believe it was for game mechanical reasons, even though the model they developed happens to reproduce some common misconceptions about how the native American genocide unfolded. I’m unconvinced. I think the designers didn’t consider one genocide to have the same weight as the other. Which isn’t to say that they consciously made that decision, but neither did all the cowboy movie directors in the 1980s who made multiple movies that included the Sand Creek Massacre, but didn’t ever get around to depicting Babi Yar from the Nazi perspective. Our culture makes some stories acceptable even though they are steeped in evil, and some stories unacceptable. Many people reproduce those stories without thinking, and that is what the designers did. (It’s also worth noting that Paradox is a Swedish company, and Sweden was not a colonial country in recent time; maybe for them the horrors of world war 2 are much closer than the horrors of genocidal America, and everything that happened in that period in those far-flung places is just a story).

I think there are some big questions buried in EU3, which we also need to ask when we play GTA or watch some nasty slasher pic, and April Daniels asked some of those questions in her blog post. Those questions are also relevant to the genocide issue in EU3 but they’re bigger than that. Why do we make games about war and killing at all? Why do we think it’s okay to drive around LA killing cops but we universally object to rape stories? Why are we so complacent about the destruction of whole cultures in Australia and America, but so touchy about mass murder in Europe? And why do some fanboys get so stupidly butthurt when people who enjoy the game (or the movie) analyze it a little more critically than wow!wow!wow!? My Ottoman Empire has begun its colonial project, in Cameroon and Cayenne and St Helena, and I’m playing that part of the project with the same sarcastic amusement with which I describe the Empire’s “reclamation” of knowledge in Northern Italy; I will probably kill a lot of natives if I have to, and convert the rest[3]. I’m not particularly fussed about this. But I’m also aware that this game is racist on many levels, and it includes genocide as a central mechanic. Some people may not be comfortable doing that, and they may want to write about it. I think it’s possible to simultaneously enjoy the game and accept these things, but I also think the game could have done better on this issue. If I’m going to kill natives and steal their land, why should it be different to the way I kill Germans and take their land – is there something the designers want to say here? There is a long, long way to go before people in the west can accept and understand the genocide that made America and Australia possible, and the deep wounds colonialism left on Africa. Until we do, I guess we can expect that games like EU3 will fall short of genuinely trying to describe the histories and cultures of the people who were exterminated.

fn1: though actually a very interesting experiment would occur if paradox were to include the Holocaust as a single historical decision that was actually bad for the German war effort, and secretly spied on players[2] to find out how many clicked “Yes, do it!” even though the decision is negative.

fn2: or used NSA data

fn3: actually since I westernized[4] I’m so far on the “open-minded” slider that I can’t actually generate missionaries, so I can’t convert anyone. I’ve conquered so much of Europe that my culture is more christian than Muslim. What to do…?

fn4: racist much?

Chongching after necessary urban renewal, 1952

Chongching after necessary urban renewal, 1952

Since I began reading Antony Beevor’s The Second World War I have returned to my old Hearts of Iron 2 campaign. When last I played I had just defeat the perfidious USA, establishing am empire stretching from the east coast of the USA to Yemen, stretching as far North as the Canadian arctic and as far south as New Zealand. The only major powers still outside my control were the UK, Germany, the USSR and Nationalist China. The USSR has been largely ignoring me, but very soon after I had annexed the USA – in fact, before I had had a chance to repatriate my troops – that devious Generalissimo, Chiang Kai-Shek, declared war on me! I made several failed attempts to win that war, but gave up sometime in 1950 with a large portion of my army stuck on the eastern seaboard of mainland China, and being pushed back from my previous holdings in India and Burma. Many of my troops were still moving around the USA, and no matter what I did I couldn’t seem to defeat the Chinese. So, like all good gamers everywhere, I gave up and moved on to something else.

Having had my interest in the war reignited by Beevor’s book I thought I’d give it another go. I decided to use a new strategy, at least for the short term: consolidate my holdings so that there was no risk of losing the parts of China I had gained, and then build a huge fleet of missiles that would destroy China’s industry, rendering them incapable of fighting, while I shifted my armies around and built new ones. I realized I was woefully short of land-based aircraft, tanks, mountain troops or for that matter unit attachments – a consequence of fighting the war in the Pacific. So, I would rebalance my army by building it up, while laying waste to Chinese industry and reorganizing my forces.

China’s defense in depth and the role of strategic bombardment

China’s armed forces basically consist of three types of unit: infantry, mountain infantry, and militia. It has vast numbers of all three, but limited industry with which to support them. To give a sense of contrast, when the war started China had perhaps 3-5 tank divisions, maybe 150 divisions of various forms of infantry, one obsolete air arm (soon eliminated) and total industrial capacity (IC) of 100. I had perhaps 80 divisions including marines, tanks, cavalry and mountain troops, three or four land-based air arms (also soon depreciated) and a total industrial capacity near 300 (I think). I could run a large productive enterprise, maintain an excess of supplies, and fully reinforce all those troops while upgrading them and fighting an aggressive war. China at 100 IC was already incapable of balancing all those tasks. When it started the war it was largely neglecting upgrades, but even a small drop in IC would force it to choose between income, supplies and reinforcements. Low income means growing dissent; low commitment to supplies can lead to complete social collapse very rapidly if not addressed; and low reinforcements means the slow attrition of forces, especially those in mountainous or jungle areas with poor supply – like a lot of the Nationalist Chinese troops who had waged an unjustifiable war of aggression on my peace-loving troops in Thailand and Burma.

The Chinese strategy for deploying these soldiers appeared to be one of defense in depth: multiple layers of large armies all mutually reinforcing one another. This makes encirclement and destruction close to impossible, because although you can win against an army in a province, by the time you have moved troops there another army attacks from the rear and cleans you up. Fighting wars of encirclement and destruction is the only way to make headway against your enemy in the start of a war, but is extremely difficult to do if you don’t have the troop numbers, since you need to be able to advance, protect your flanks, and have reserves to smash the encircled army.  This is particularly difficult when you have poor infrastructure and tough terrain, so movement forward is slow – never a problem for defenders with reserves in depth. With my troops spread out from Rangoon in the south to Beijing in the north, and under attack along the entire front, it just wasn’t possible to make headway. I think around Beijing I tried encirclements of the province of Datong perhaps five times in one year, and every time I was beaten back before I could complete the snare. This is dangerous when you’re up against numerically superior but inferior troops, because if you destroy your own troops’ morale you can suffer highly effective counter-attacks, and when you are defending a strip of land only three provinces wide with the sea at your back, you don’t have much space to retreat.

So, the simple solution in the short term was to hold what I had gained while I built up and reorganized forces; and simultaneously to destroy industry so that Nationalist China suffered growth in dissent, reduction in supplies, and the inability to reinforce troops. Even if in the short term I couldn’t gain ground from this, it would force the enemy to pay dearly for each province they recaptured, and prevent them from growing their forces while I grew mine. Then I could run a couple of counter-attacks once my forces were bigger.

1950: reorganization, entrapment and strategic bombardment

During the first year of the war I had to move troops from the far coast of the USA to China, then deploy them inland. I also needed to build specialist troops (mountaineers) and tanks to help me through the tough terrain of inland China. Later in the year I realized that China had no air force but that I lacked the planes to take advantage of it, so I established a large aircraft construction program, and I also needed to modernize and update much of my equipment. This is because for Japan the first stage of the war is naval and not land-based, and infantry power tends to be neglected compared to having an advanced (and huge) fleet.

While I engaged in all this reorganization I tried to lay a few traps to whittle away my enemy. This involved withdrawing from attacks and letting my enemy penetrate inward by multiple provinces, then smashing into their rear lines to encircle the invader. This is a risky move because they can recapture key strategic areas, and I had to play this game near Nanjing or Beijing, both places I didn’t want to lose. The game never worked in the Beijing area – they would attack across too wide a front and I would have to repulse the entire front before I could do encirclements. But it worked just south of Nanjing, where I lured maybe 5 or 6 divisions into such a trap and manged to destroy them, though it took time and lost me a front line area in the process of relocating troops. Unfortunately, against an army the size of Nationalist China, five divisions isn’t worth the expenditure of reinforcements. By the time mid-1951 came around I was down to 400 manpower and losing 1 more a day in reinforcements, and it was looking like I wouldn’t actually be able to enlarge my army suffiiciently if I also had to bleed my population to reinforce brave divisions.

Simultaneously with this tactic I also tried strategic bombardment. I built ICBMs 10 at a time and launched them at all China’s major industrial centres, usually managing to knock its base IC down by 40 in one night. There’s a lesson here for war planners in long wars: distribute your industry. One ICBM can do 10-12 points of IC damage, but if you only have 3 or 4 IC in a province you limit their effectiveness. Amongst China’s 80 points of base IC, 10-12 were in Chongqing, 6 in Chengdu and 6 in Urumqi, so three missiles could knock off a quarter of its value easily. This didn’t cause the collapse I hoped for, and Chinese IC seems to grow back ridiculously fast, but it is satisfying nonetheless to restart the game as China after one of these attacks and to see the lines of red in their production tab: no production of new soldiers at all, no reinforcements, no upgrades, and all industrial output committed to supplies and money. I compounded this by nuking Chonqing twice in two years (destroying 10 IC each time and slowing down its rate of regrowth) and also Xinyuang once. Nuking Xinyuang destroyed 3 points of IC but also wiped out 10 divisions of soldiers who were inconveniently perched there. By this time China could not replace lost units, so that was 10 divisions I would never have to face again. Nukes also cause an automatic 10% of dissent, which is extremely useful because it puts a further dent on IC and reduces the effectiveness of soldiers.

Nonetheless, for this whole year I made no progress. Just gathered an enormous army in eastern and northern China, and watched as the Chinese army slowly recaptured parts of southeast Asia that I thought would be mine for eternity.

1951: regaining the initiative

From mid-1951 my armies from America and my newly-produced planes and tanks began to flood the eastern areas. I deployed them in the south near Sichuan, in the middle to protect my possessions around Nanjing (a very important area) and somewhat further north to try and trap large numbers of soldiers around Beijing. I also deployed tactical bombers and later close air support fighter-bombers into these campaign areas, and by the end of 1952 I had enough of these planes to be able to rotate them out when their strength began to wane. It’s a testament to the obstinacy and ferocity of the Chinese army that even though they had no functioning anti-aircraft guns and no air force, I still had to rotate my airplanes out or lose them (in fact I did lose a couple of divisions over the year). During this time I also continued my strategic bombardment. This was to prove useful for an unexpected but important subsidiary reason: with all its available IC constantly diverted to supplies and reducing dissent, the Chinese government could not build anti-tank or anti-aircraft attachments for its units, even though they are cheap and quick. With functioning industry it would have been able to flood its units with these counter-measures, which would have led to the very rapid destruction of my (still quite small) tactical support air wings. Unfortunately my strategic bombardment had forced the Chinese to put all military production of any kind on hold for a year.

Once my forces were in place I began the long, slow process of encircling and destroying armies while gaining ground. This didn’t work so well in the south on the road to Chongching, with continual set backs and frustrations, but I had some success sealing off peninsulas and advancing down one side of a great river to the north. In each encirclement I would tend to liquidate 3-5 divisions. During this year I lost maybe 10 divisions of my own, who were trapped and destroyed before I realized (multi-tasking all this stuff can lead to slip ups). Progress was slow, grinding and frustrating, but the lack of Chinese reinforcements meant that over this year their armies weakened and became increasingly disorganized. They also began to spread more thinly as I chewed off smaller armies, and the defense in depth tactic began to weaken.

1952: the big push

By the beginning of 1952 I had managed to reorganize and assemble a spare army, which I used to recapture Rangoon in an amphibious assault. From there I pushed out north through the jungle with the Irawaddy River on my right, stomping Chinese units as I went. In the mountains of Burma and India isolated units of Chinese mountain troops were being destroyed by a combination of exposure, lack of supply and constant aerial attack. In mid-1952 I landed a second expeditionary force in western India, using new motorized units with rocket artillery to push rapidly across the sub-continent and completely separate the Indian armies from supply lines over the Himalayas. I soon ruthlessly put them down and moved to attack towards Calcutta, while simultaneously redeploying a huge army of marines to capture Chittagong and cut off more troops between my Irawaddy armies and the marine invasion. Within two months a horrific jungle war that had tied up 20 or 30 divisions for 2 years – including the complete annihilation of 5-10 – became a rout, with whole Nationalist armies being torn apart in the high mountains. Meanwhile the defensive line around Chongching collapsed and in one month I managed to surround 20 divisions in the capital area, eliminating all of them while capturing most of China’s industrial heartland. In the north, the Beijing front finally got encircled with a huge pincer movement into the Mongolian desert, and the Chinese army was finished as a fighting force. My newest nuke didn’t have to be deployed, and in three months the war had changed from a stalemate to complete destruction. With the simultaneous collapse of Indian, Burmese, Manchukuo and Sichuan fronts the Chinese lost their will to go on, and offered unconditional surrender.

Of course I took it. I now possess an Empire of unparalleled size: from the Azores in the Atlantic through America and Asia to Oman, including all of India and China, Canada, every piece of land in the Pacific and all of Oceania. All that remains of foreign possessions in this Greater Co-prosperity Sphere is a ragtag group of starving British soldiers in Hong Kong. Only two allies stand between me and the complete destruction of the colonial powers: Britain and France. I have already destroyed half the British navy – can I conquer them before Germany does? And do I dare to take on the Soviet Union?

Where next for the Empire of the Eternal Sun?

Image credit: that picture is actually PLA soldiers entering North Korea at Yalu, but it looks like I imagine much of China looked after this 3 year war was over…

Manifest Destiny

Returning to Hearts of Iron 2 after a long hiatus, I finally struck the motherlode and annexed the USA after months of trans-atlantic hide-and-seek. The forces of imperialism and racism refused to surrender, showing much more bravery and persistence than my top social researchers had credited them with, and after I captured all of mainland USA they moved their capital to their offshore imperial holdings: first some godforsaken place on the Atlantic coast of latin America, which of course I liberated; then Greenland, which is easy to invade because there is nowhere for US soldiers to hide; then their colonial possessions in Iceland. Getting to Iceland required that I declare war on Portugal and capture the Azores, sinking the Portuguese Atlantic fleet in the process. This was unfortunate, but ultimately my continental European campaign will be made easier by the availability of a second front – I am after all at war with Republican Spain, and a second leaping-off point for the invasion of Britain will be handy.

Once I had overrun Iceland the USA continued its flight, like Gaddafi or Hussein; they moved their capital step by step across the Aleutians and the Manchukuo 8th Division followed them, in concert with one of my more hardened units of marines; after the Aleutians had been entirely occupied they disappeared for a month or two, but I finally discovered them cowering on a slip of land in the Pacific called Tinian Island – right under my nose, in fact, because the neighbouring islands were garrisoned by my home guard. So, in went Manchukuo’s famous 8th, once again, and the final battle was joined. This was a battle of bureaucrats as much as anything else, because the US lacked soldiers, industry or equipment, and was hiding in what was essentially a coral atoll. The president himself, his family and the few retainers and functionaries of the surviving government of the USA were all that remained and, I’m sad to say, they fought to the last family member. Or so the grizzled veterans of the Manchukuo 8th told me. Only the most barbaric of peoples would force even primary-school aged children to fight! Such a shame they all had to die … though I hear there was rejoicing on the streets of America (or what’s left of them, in most cases) after 6 years of war were finally brought to an end.

So now I find myself facing off against China, who declared war on me 2 years ago and in the first heady stages of that war managed to seize huge amounts of territory from me – all of India, Burma, Nepal and Tibet, in fact. I hold them in a line from the border of Burma through Guangzhou and up to Qingdao, and also the northern areas around Beijing, but it’s been a desperate slog for both sides, as huge numbers of my soldiers have been tied up in the USA and getting them back can take months of reorganization. I’ve now started landing forces around Qingdao and western Thailand ready for the big counter-attack: my aim is to cut off huge chunks of the Chinese army at Tianjin in the North and Sittang in the south, and then destroy them, before pushing into the inland from Beijing and Guilin and working an encirclement the size of a continent.

In many ways China have been harder than the US, because they US focused its industry on naval and airforce units, and when I finally landed on the mainland they had very little infantry for me to roll up – in fact a good 3-6 month period of the war on the west coast was taken up with defeating a large Canadian land army. But the Chinese have an enormous land army, that is fielded in great clots of men – 100,000 here, 200,000 there, maybe a million in total camped around Beijing and Tianjin and constantly trying to break through that poor beleaguered city. Every victory is followed by a defeat, and battlezones like the plains south of Beijing or the karst landscapes of Guilin have seen our armies crossing and re-crossing the killing zones for months. The nature of the Chinese campaign, with so many soldiers, makes it very hard to conduct encirclement operations, because they have so many soldiers that they have an excellent defense in depth. I have to wait for them to push a salient towards the sea, then snap it off in counter-attacks that are costly in time and men. So far I think I’ve captured about 100,000 men (10-12 divisions) at the loss of 20,000 of mine, and I have the enemy teetering on the brink of collapse. I regularly devastate their industrial centres, and their capital is a smoking, radioactive hole – Chengdu and Chongqing have both been nuked, and thrice hit with conventional missile attacks, as have many of their industrial centres. I’ve captured Nanjing, Guangzhou and some of the mountain approaches to the South, and hope soon to overrun Guilin. I know that they’re unable to maintain reinforcements for their army, feed their populace and keep dissent under control without abandoning all other industrial tasks. I think soon they will lose the ability even to control dissent and reinforce their troops.

In anticipation of this, I’m now reorganizing my naval forces to start starving the British, with a naval blockade of Britain itself and a submarine force set to prowl the Caribbean. China is going to take another year to beat, and I’m going to need to leave a huge force there in readiness for any aggression by the Soviets, but I think in a year’s time I’ll be in a position to start attacking Western Europe. I hold the Azores and Iceland, so a simultaneous attack on Portugal and the UK is a distinct possibility. But first I’m going to clean up the UK’s Caribbean territories, to ensure there is no way they can stage counter-attacks on the US.

The big problem I’m having with this game is that the computer never surrenders. Even when I have reduced it to a rump of two provinces, with no military or industry, it still refuses to surrender. This drives me crazy, because it means I waste months trying to find and capture every single territory the enemy possesses, even coral atolls like Tinian. I even once tried starting the game from a saved game as my enemy, and suing for peace with myself, but the computer wouldn’t accept my generous offer. This makes the endgame of every war unrealistic and is going to be a particular pain in the arse with Britain – conquering Africa is sooooo tedious.

Other than that, though, I’m having  a great time. The main question I have to put to my readers: what shall I call America? It’s clearly no longer the USA, so what should I call it?

Bye Bye Hollywood!

The hardest battle of my war so far has been the occupation of Pearl Harbour, which took just over a year and was bitterly fought on both sides. Final victory came after a year of fruitless land battles, a near-successful starvation campaign on my part, the death of probably 30000 merchant seamen, the near total destruction of the US surface fleet, and ultimately the complete annihilation of Los Angeles and San Francisco. By February 1948 I had lost about 6 divisions of soldiers, 6 submarine flotillas, 6 transport flotillas, a single aircraft carrier, perhaps 50 or so convoy ships and a couple of light cruisers. The US had lost about 30 divisions of soldiers (including advanced marines, motorized divisions and heavy armour), about 10-12 carriers, 5 or so battleships, its entire complement of troop transports[1], all supply convoys operating in the Pacific and their cruiser escorts, probably 40-50 destroyers, and its entire complement of mid-sized ships. By the end of the Pearl Harbour campaign, with its supply lines disrupted by nuclear attack and dissent, a force of 3 advanced carriers would be so weak that in one instance it was annihilated by a group of interwar heavy cruisers escorting my transport ships. I estimate the total human cost of this for the USA to be quite staggering – 300,000+ soldiers, 30,000+ merchant sailors, possibly upwards of 30,000 sailors, and the entire populations of Los Angeles and San Francisco.

A long campaign proceeds from a very simple mistake

The campaign dragged out for so long because I lacked sufficient transports to safely invade two Hawaiian islands simultaneously. Concentrating on the key island (Pearl Harbour), I managed to win a brutal amphibious assault, but I didn’t realize that the soldiers on that island could island hop without ships, so they skipped over to the neighbouring island without losing any significant numbers. My own forces, exhausted and worn down after an amphibious assault that took several days, could do nothing to pursue the enemy while it was in tatters, and I hadn’t organized a second set of reserves to bring in to the fray quickly. I had, in essence, failed to prepare for the invasion properly, fielding a force of only 8 divisions of marines and having nothing in reserve for a second attack. By the time I got my act together, the US had consolidated some 15 Divisions on the neighbouring island, and was attempting to land more. It’s just not possible to attack a force of 15 Divisions when you have to cross a narrow channel to do it, and worse than that, US soldiers are excellent fighters. When they’re well supplied you’re lucky if you can beat one division of well dug-in modern soldiers with all 8 Divisions of your marines. Dug into mountainous Kauai, with more troops landing on nearby Niihau, there was no chance I was going to complete the conquest of Hawaii. There followed a short period of stalemate before I was able to capitalize on a tactical error to capture all the more eastern isles (Hawaii and Maui), but the problem remained. America was facing its own Iwo Jima here, and any assault on it would be disastrous for all involved, but probably unsuccessful for me. A different approach was me.

A campaign of starvation

The main method for defeating overwhelming forces is to cut them off and starve them into a condition of weakness, so I decided that, with my navy in command of most of the high seas and only one significant carrier group still functioning on the US side, I could probably attempt to shut down the US army on Kauai by a blockade. I set my main carrier group (a force of 15 carriers plus screen ships) to work in the northeast Pacific, and set other smaller fleets to work immediately around Hawaii. I also redeployed ballistic missiles to Hawaii, in anticipation of the development of my first atomic bomb. During this campaign I also starved out the smaller US forces on the Line Islands and, eventually Wake Island – the latter was proving a considerable problem, since its naval bombers were disrupting my naval activities, and its capture in late 1947 left the US with nowhere left to base aircraft anywhere in the Pacific.

This starvation policy worked well in some respects. I quickly reduced the US to a very small number of convoy ships, reproducing results like the Disaster of PQ17 very regularly. This means that the US would be unable to supply other forces, to import materials from distant outposts, or to trade properly. However, somehow the convoys continued to get through my cordon, and the soldiers never properly starved. The US also introduced a similar scheme on me, operating from Diego Garcia in the Indian ocean to reduce my Indian Ocean convoys.This had the same effect on me – diverting supply ships away from Pearl Harbour. In late August 1947 my Samoan expeditionary force was disbanded due to lack of supplies, and I suddenly realized a huge problem. Troops in Hawaii were now out of food for large periods of time, and I couldn’t supply my ballistic missile squad, so I couldn’t operate my planned nuclear attack. I had to act fast to divert production to convoys, but it wasn’t until December 1947 that I finally restored regular supply to Pearl Harbour. This was potentially disastrous – had the US attacked at that time I probably would have lost the defense. Perhaps they didn’t attack for the same reason as me – lack of reliable supply. But I think they didn’t know my situation, and saw the numbers of troops on Pearl Harbour as too difficult to break. In fact these numbers were part of the problem – I had so many troops and ships in the area that I couldn’t supply them fast enough with my available convoys (or even when I doubled my convoy force!) This is a big problem for Japan in the Pacific, because holding all these scattered islands and possessions (in my case, from Oman to New Zealand) requires huge reserves of convoys that are very vulnerable to attack.

So, I redistributed some of my troops to other islands (Midway, Wake, Kwajalein) and rebalanced supply by December. I then decided to strike the final blow in my policy of starvation before shifting to the attack – a nuclear strike.

Nuclear apocalypse comes to America

At this point I discovered that I’d misunderstood the game interface, and had probably been in possession of a bomb since May some time – my next bomb would be ready in December. So I had one to play with in November, and another coming a month later. My first attack was on the highest value target on the West Coast, Los Angeles. I reduced the entire city to ash, setting all its productive, industrial and infrastructure capacity to 0. A month later I followed up with San Francisco, and also a conventional missile attack on San Diego and Portland. By January dissent in the US was running at 10%, which is a huge drain on their fighting ability, supply effectiveness and industrial capacity. After this attack I think the masterminds of the US war effort decided to redouble their efforts to supply Hawaii and recapture Pearl Harbour, because my carrier fleet in the East Pacific intercepted several larger fleets, all of which met a similar fate to the rest of the ill-fated US navy. The remains of the US’s carrier fleet went to the bottom of the sea, and I now possess the largest, most powerful navy in the world, in control of the largest empire. But, the US still controlled half of Hawaii, and remained a threat to my installations there. I began reshuffling my forces to strike the final blow, beginning with the naval capture of Niihau. Still lacking sufficient transports, I was again reduced to shuffling forces one at a time, but due to the supply restrictions I was now basing my marines in Midway Island.

The final battle: grasping the chance of a desperate error

While I was shuffling my forces around the US launched a desperate attack from Kauai against Niihau to try and recapture it. Were this to work, I would lose some 12 Divisions of troops to the US aggressor, and given their supply situation I doubt the survivors of that battle would be treated according to the laws of war. I had to launch a desperate counter-attack, which I did first of all by flank-attacking them from the neighbouring island of Pearl Harbour. Even throwing 12 more Divisions into the battle didn’t turn the tide though, just slowed down the inevitable destruction. But I had a force of semi-battle ready marines in Midway, which I sent in to attack the island on which the US was based – an enveloping attack that, in my past experience, was still not a very reliable tactic against a large and dug-in US force. I also dispatched my central carrier group to bombard the island, and threw more soldiers from Pearl Harbour into the battle to prevent the US from achieving a preliminary victory in Niihau. The extra troops delayed the inevitable just long enough for my marines to hit the beaches, and this turned the tide. The defenders in Niihau repulsed the US attack, and then my marines slaughtered them on the beaches. Some 12 infantry and 3 armoured divisions were cleaned up in that final, desperate battle, and all of Hawaii had fallen into Japanese hands.

The aftermath

First I want to make it clear that Japanese forces won’t treat our prisoners with the same callous disregard that the US were willing to show in those final twilit hours of their illegal occupation of Hawaii. They will be treated with honour as prisoners of war, and given the situation in their homeland now I suspect they’ll be glad of the rest and recuperation that time in a Japanese prison camp has to offer them. I now control all of Asia from Oman to Hawaii, Korea to New Zealand, with the exception of Nationalist China and Australia (which is in any case a puppet of mine after its earlier conquest). For now I’m leaving Nationalist China while I finish off the US, because capturing China opens a huge border with Russia. I will have another nuclear weapon ready in May, and I’m confident that by then I will also have several ICBMs built. My plan is to strike New York, which will probably throw the US into such disarray that they will suffer a coup or collapse to barbarism (partisans). I will then invade through Seattle.

Some lessons learned:

  • Dissent is a powerful tool: Not only does it weaken armies, but it reduces industrial capacity (10% dissent in the US equates to 40 points of IC – I only have 230). Reduced IC can only be recovered by increasing the amount of money produced[2], but liberal democracies[3] require a lot of consumption to reduce dissent. This means that the US not only loses IC from dissent, but then has to devote more IC to quelling it. Once my third strike pushes dissent up higher, I aim to destroy other industrial centres, and capture the remaining West Coast centres in Seattle. Then it will be virtually impossible for the US to stifle its dissent and thus to continue to fight the war
  • Starvation is difficult: Even with complete control of the seas it’s very hard to blockade an island like Hawaii that sits at the juncture of several ocean regions. This, I suppose, is why it’s strategically important
  • Nuclear weapons turn the tide: There was a noticeable degradation of combat ability after I nuked the US. Dissent, loss of supply capacity all worked to prevent effective combat
  • Watch your convoys and supply load: As your territories expand – especially across many scattered islands – your supply convoy load increases dramatically. If you cluster too many troops on one island they will inevitably lose supply, and you open the risk of the entire lot of them being wiped out in one mistimed battle. As your empire grows, your convoys need to grow in accordance. Convoys don’t develop, so are perfect beneficiaries of gearing. Set a train of 9 or 10 running when you start expanding, and you’ll be fine. And if you see lots of little messages saying they’re being sunk, send one of your navies out to deal with it. And if you aren’t tough enough to protect your convoys, give up – you’re done for.

From here on I just have to work out how to capture the whole USA without marching across it, which will take forever. I’m thinking of a strategy of spies and launching a coup, but I really don’t fancy my chances. In the meantime I need to capture Diego Garcia to prevent attacks on my flank; and then I need to decide whether to head into Europe through the Suez canal, or deal with the last part of Asia that isn’t already mine – China.

With nuclear weapons at my disposal, these decisions are a lot easier than they were before. Unless someone else gets them too … and there’s only one way to make sure that doesn’t happen…

fn1: which, if they were sunk while carrying troops, means that the US may have lost an additional countless number of soldiers. I don’t know how many transports I sank, but if they were all populated with troops in movement, I may have killed another 200-400,000 soldiers by this means.

fn2: Hearts of Iron 2 uses the George W. Bush approach to controlling dissent during war – higher consumption!

fn3: Ha! It is the twilight of their age. From here on the world will see only Shogunates.

India, Indonesia, Burma, Bhutan and Nepal have all been freed from British, Dutch and French colonial tyranny, and in payment for generations of their crimes, the Dutch nation no longer exists. From Saigon to the eastern border of Persia stretches a single, uninterrupted coastline from which the myriad peoples of Asia can look out at a sea free, for the first time in 200 years, of the navies of their hated colonial oppressors. In the place of old tyrannies, a new and enlightened rulership has asserted its right to guide the peoples of Asia into the future; the clouds of imperial oppression have been blown away in just a year of war’s tempest, to allow the glorious light of Japan’s Rising Sun to shine over the whole region. Soon the last remnants of colonial oppression in Asia – Australia’s territories in Papua, and Sri Lanka – will fall and a Greater Asian Prosperity Sphere will be in place. After that, American meddling in Asia through its puppet nation – the Philipines – and its dubious activities in China will have to be dealt with. It pains me as the leader of this great military endeavour to have been forced to wait so long to deal with the American menace, but my first and greatest concern has always been to free the people of Asia from the direct tyranny of colonialism. Next, America’s “modern Imperialism” will be shown for the anachronism it is, and Asia will be truly free. Even Australians will welcome my enlightened rule.

Last night was my last chance before the Golden Week national holiday to indulge in a good round of anti-colonialist imperialism via Hearts of Iron 2. I tried two brief attempts to start war with Holland last week, but one crashed and then the other – oh how hideous – went disastrously wrong after Nationalist China declared war on me. So this time I set about spending money on the Chinese before I commenced my war. Make no mistake, the Chinese are the albatross around Asia’s neck, holding it back from its proper advancement and refusing to cooperate with that which is best for the region, but dealing with them is tricky, and I hope to convince them to change their ways peacefully rather than through war. It’s hard to believe from the way they side with foreign powers, impede my righteous military efforts, and refuse to recognize the benefits of Japan’s plans for Asia, that once they were the cradle of civilization in this region! So, currently I’m buying them off and getting them to look the other way while I stomp my way across Asia. I haven’t had a full-blown naval battle with Britain yet, but I’ve encountered their Indian fleet a few times and now it’s a lot smaller than it was. I think they ran into a bit of trouble early in the piece, when they tried to sneak 13 transports into Singapore (right at the beginning of the war), but I sank the lot. No one tries to sneak empty transports into Singapore. Wikipedia tells me that a division consists of about 10,000 men; I think I drowned 13 divisions of British and Australian soldiers in the first week of the war, that is 130,000 men. I think this slowed down British attempts to stop my relentless march across Asia, and so did my subsequent use of marines to outflank the entire Burmese army at Chittagong. Another 100-150,000 soldiers mopped up there, and then the remainder of India was trivial. What to do with all these soldiers? I note there isn’t a lot of transport infrastructure in India, maybe I’ll build some railways…

I also discovered that the Dutch had their capital in the Dutch East Indies. Why was this, I wondered, and checking found that Germany has conquered all of Western Europe except Republican Spain[1], so the Dutch had to flee to their colonial territory. Every province in Indonesia that I conquered, that little red capital dot would move one province over. So, after a campaign that lasted just a few months, I landed some marines in Hollandia (in West Papua) and captured the last meaningful territory in the Dutch East Indies. I then annexed Holland, my first conquest of a European power. Annexing Holland earned me a massive stockpile of every resource, but especially of money – I now have 30 times more money than I had a year earlier. I’m spending this liberally to keep the Soviets and Chinese off my back.

With India captured I am now able to put one of my fleets into the Red Sea and destroy any British ships attempting to escape – or return – via the Suez canal. I think they might be tied up fighting the Germans in the atlantic anyway, but attempts to retake India are going to be extremely difficult at present, because they need to come via South Africa or they run into a fleet of 6 Advanced Carriers, 4 Advanced Battleships, 4 Advanced Battle Cruisers, about 6 Light Cruisers, and 10 advanced Destroyers. This is a larger and more modern fleet than the Japanese were ever able to field in the real war, it’s significantly more advanced than anything the British have, and it’s just a third of my total naval power. It’s also soon to become just a quarter of my naval power – I have another whole fleet – 4 battleships, 6 carriers, 6 escort carriers, 4 battle cruisers and 10 Destroyers – half complete, and will be deploying that in the next few months to patrol the Indian Ocean. This will free up my larger fleet to destroy the Australian navy, and whatever British remnant is lurking down there, and to capture Australia. With Australia out of the way there will be no way the British can return to their colonial possessions without coming through the Suez canal. I still also have to take Sri Lanka, which is a holdout base for the British at the moment – this won’t be hard, though I’ve noticed that capturing a port city by sea is tricky, because once you land troops the enemy fleet has to flee, and the first thing they do when they flee is meet your transport flotilla. This has happened to me twice so far:

  • First time, the entire Dutch fleet, escaping the capture of Batavia, ran into my transport fleet, which was just leaving the area after the assault. The Dutch fleet consisted of 4 capital ships and about 8 destroyers. My fleet: 6 transports, 2 interwar-era destroyers, a light cruiser and a battleship. The Dutch fleet lost everything but 2 destroyers and a capital ship. This should give some sense of how much tougher the Japanese navy is than those of most other developed nations
  • Second time, the British Indian fleet, when escaping Calcutta, ran across my transports, again just leaving after a successful landing. This pitted the same transport fleet against a fleet of 20 or so interwar-era ships, including four or five battleships. For the loss of 4 transports and a destroyer, I managed to take out a British light cruiser and a destroyer, and escape to Rangoon.

That same British fleet, fleeing the area, ran into my main battle fleet and got eviscerated. After the fall of Karachi they did another runner, and got caught at the mouth of the Red Sea. All that remains of them now are a battleship and a few light cruisers, limping home in disgrace. There have been no other significant naval battles, except some skirmishes with Australia (inevitably disastrous for them). Actually, so far I have only lost any land engagements twice, once in Rangoon before I had a proper force in place and once in the Spice Mountains near Kerala. The Spice Mountains are the only time a small force has managed to hold me off – and of course, they were Australians! Bloody ANZACS…

Which brings me to my plans for the immediate future. It’s mid-1944 and after one year of war the only places remaining to be captured in the region are Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka. I have to take Sri Lanka soon so I can remove British naval power in the Indian Ocean, and I will simultaneously also deal with Australia, which I suspect currently holds a large expeditionary force. Australia is a bad place to take, it’s big and worthless. But I have a workaround. I have 4 or 5 brigades of Ballistic Missiles, with a range of 2400 km, currently based in Taiwan, Hanoi and Batavia. The Batavia missiles reach Western Australia. So, I’m going to capture Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne – the main industrial centres of Australia – and possibly Brisbane simultaneously and then wait to see where the Australians move their capital to. Then, I’m going to hit their capital with a significant ballistic missile attack, reducing them to almost no industry. Once this is done I’ll offer them a surrender they can’t resist, and move on to New Zealand. This ballistic missile option, incidentally, is my main deterrent against China. I’ve been building land fortifications in the North of China (Beijing, which I hold) and the border with Indochina, and I now have a force of ballistic missiles sufficient to wipe out industry in Chongqing, Guangzhou, Nanjing and Shanghai simultaneously. If China declares war on me I can eliminate half of their industrial base on the first day, and tie them down trying to storm my maginot line while I land marines on the coast.

Marines! They’re the gift that just keeps on giving!

The ballistic missile option is also the main means by which I aim to reduce the British, as well. I am currently nearly finished researching Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and nuclear waste bombs, which I expect to have working by mid-1944. With this combination, I will nuke London. I have read that not only does this cause massive infrastructure damage but it adds a large amount to your “warscore” (by which you force people to surrender) and increases dissent in the targeted territory. Once I’ve done this, I’m hoping that Britain will surrender and allow me to annex them. This has two immediate consequences – it gives me control of the Suez canal, and frees Germany up to invade Russia. That frees me to concentrate on the USA, which is going to be a challenge. My spies tell me the USA has 22 battleships and 15 carriers, so they have a navy almost as powerful as mine. They’re currently researching Heavy Advanced Carriers, so their carrier force is not as advanced as mine (I’m currently deploying the first of this design), but it’s big and they have almost limitless resources to make more. Of course, by then I’ll have nukes and ICBMs, so it’s possible that the whole issue of naval warfare will become irrelevant. But I want to defeat the US at sea and deploy nukes later, when the land war starts. Also I don’t know how long it takes to make a nuclear bomb once the designs are in, so I may need to rely on conventional war for a year. Anyway, at this stage it looks likely that the entire Pacific will be mine by 1945, with my empire stretching from Korea in the North to New Zealand in the South, and from Papua New Guinea in the East to the border of Persia in the West. If my nuclear plan works, I will also have possession of large parts of the middle east, Africa and the UK. Truly, a global order will emerge and we can hail the beginning of the Asian century!

fn1: a couple of iterations of this game have passed me by recently, and in every one of them Republican Spain trounces Nationalist Spain. I think this is because the Germans don’t try to help Nationalist Spain. It could even indicate British help – I think they’re part of the alliance against me!

So, my previous efforts to revoke the Meiji Restoration through militarism floundered in late 1943, when the Russians joined the party. Damned Soviets. By this time I had captured Nationalist China (and all other forms of China, actually) and all of the Dutch East Indies, and had triggered the Pearl Harbour Event, bringing me into war with the USA and Britain. Things were going quite well, with decisive naval victories happening regularly, all of Indonesia (and its resources!) in my possession and Singapore and Burma next to go. Unfortunately, my belligerence score was up in the stratosphere, no one would trade with me and all my neighbours were a little wary, to say the least. The effort of production to maintain reinforcements and a good supply of soldiers for China had chewed up a lot of industrial capacity for 2 or 3 years, so my navy and airforce were a tad underdeveloped and I didn’t have enough money to throw away on buying off the Russians. Invading Nationalist China hadn’t provided the benefits I thought – once you annex a country you only get 40% or less of its industrial capacity (IC) and resources, and China was basically a barren wasteland so I had only gained about 20% industrial capacity (at most), though my resource stockpiles were much bigger than I needed due to seizing China’s. However, to maintain the occupation of these suppliers, I had to expend large amounts of industrial capacity on garrisons to place around the country (to suppress partisan activity). The partisan activity was significantly hampering my supply efficiency, and I had to maintain at least 3 sizable military forces to deal with partisan flare-ups (which garrisons can’t handle). I had also opened up a huge front with both Russia (all the way from Xinjiang to the Sea of Japan) and the UK (Burma). Spending all that productive capacity on the war effort meant I also had no money to arrange alliances, so I had no land border with British-occupied Burma or Singapore, and no trading partners willing to do profitable deals with me.

And then the Russians attacked, through the area around Vladivostok and Xinjiang simultaneously, while the British invaded through Burma. I found myself fighting a war on three fronts, all badly supplied across the mass of partisan-infested China, while attempting to beat down the USA and Britain in the area around the Phillipines so I could get access to its oil and supplies. This was all too much for my feeble powers, so I threw in the towel.

So now I’m trying a different approach, more culturally appropriate, of building Japan’s industry and resources through trade, completely ignoring China as a military target, and focussing on simultaneous strikes against resource-rich states (i.e. the Dutch East Indies and Singapore) simultaneously while fighting the USA. I have also decided to avoid the Pearl Harbour trigger, because it’s not a good idea to pull it. As I write this, it’s March 1943, 1.5 years after the original start of hostilities against America, and I’m about to turn nasty using my new trade-focussed buildup strategy.

The Devious Asian Gangster Approach

This new approach basically involved spending the 5 years to 1941 (the original deadline for war with America) building up my industrial capacity and resources. Increasing your IC by 1 point costs 5 points of IC and takes 1 year; but you can do serial runs, which take about 4.5 years to produce 5 points of IC, so if you use all your IC in 1936 to do this, you can set up about 5 chains of 5 points of IC. Each year you then get 5 points added on to your IC (as the first factories are complete); you can use these 5 points to set up another 4 point chain; then in the second year you get 9 points, so you set up another 2 3 point chains; and so on. Following this cascading effect, we get the following results:

  • The original state of Japan in 1941 when it attacked America, as estimated by the scenario in the original Hearts of Iron 2 install: 126 points of base IC
  • Me in 1943, after a long and vicious campaign against Nationalist China that turned the Yellow River red with precious Japanese blood: 135 points of base IC
  • Me in 1943, after a 5 year build up period and the capture of Peking (my only military adventure): 151 points of base IC

However, under the third strategy, I got the extra 15 base points of IC by 1941, and spent them on a carrier fleet and massive Destroyer expansion program, so that now my fleet is very high quality, and capable of defending the home islands while projecting power in 4 different regions, and possibly also guarding my colonial possessions. It’s also due to get even bigger in 1-2 years, so that any small setbacks will be repaired by 1945. Japan lost the Battle of Midway with 4 carriers and 2 battleships, most of both types of ship being from the interwar period. I intend to fight the battle of midway with at least 3 modern carriers, possibly as many as 8, and a fleet composed entirely of 1941-vintage ships. Because the USA is not expecting war, under the original game settings it doesn’t start building its fleet up until after the Pearl Harbour event; but still, even before this in 1943 under my current plan we estimate they have 15 carriers and 15 battleships, but I expect most of these are older models.

A comparison of my current navy with the Imperial Japanese Navy when it attacked Pearl Harbour is shown in Table 1. The proportions presented in brackets are the percentage of the total fleet that are “advanced” models, that is built after 1940.

Table 1: The Forces of Good under Two Development Models

Ship Type Devious Asian Gangster Land War in Asia
Carriers 16 (60%) 12 (50%)
Battleships 10 (40%) 10 (0%)
Battlecruisers 4 (0%) 0
Heavy Cruisers 14 (0%) 18 (11%)
Light Cruisers 21 (25%) 20 (25%)
Destroyers 188 (>40%) 108 (approx. 10%)
Submarines 90 (approx. 20%) 68 (approx. 0%)

As can be seen clearly from Table 1, my plan is to focus on destroyers and carriers in the first round of conflict. Japanese Carrier technology and fighting techniques were universally accepted as superior to those of the allies, and their Destroyer technology also supposedly superior, so a focus on these two ship types at first seemed sensible. In addition to what is listed there, I have a major naval expansion program in train:

  • 6 new carriers (more advanced than the current 16)
  • 2 new battleships
  • 4 heavy cruisers (1941 model)

Additionally, my 10 most advanced current carriers are 1943 variants (not 1941) and I have researched light carriers to the 1941 level; I aim to start building a long train of these shortly. By 1945 I should have a fleet of the most advanced carriers in the world that rivals the entire US carrier fleet in size, and the most powerful destroyer fleet the world has ever seen. I’ve avoided going down the path of the super heavy battleship (the Yamatos and similar) because although they look like death on waves, and are clearly very cool, they take ages to build and are a technological dead end (in-game); there is no option for a nuclear-powered Yamato (though maybe in Hearts of Iron 3 they will have the possibility of a space-faring variant). My general goal is to have nuclear submarine and carrier technology by 1945, so I can extend my range.

The Basic Strategy

In the 5 year buildup period I’ve also established rocket technology and nuclear power; I have access to strategic rockets (V2s) which I aim to build a nest of for installation on Taiwan; if the Nationalist Chinese take issue with my newfound belligerence I’m going to waste Guangzhou. The next stage from these rockets is the ballistic missile, which I aim to stick nuclear weapons onto. I need to start developing strategic bombers for this purpose soon. I think nuclear weapons are essential in this game because of a big bug in the computer – it just refuses to surrender, even on quite good terms, but apparently the use of nukes adds considerably to your favour in the balance sheet. I suspect I won’t be able to make a puppet of the USA without nuking it, and I don’t want to fight a land war across all the USA in order to annex it. I don’t have forever. Ditto Nationalist China.

I think the key to victory is to not trigger the Pearl Harbour Event. This event gives initial advantages to the Japanese navy, but also leads to a massive reorientation of the US war effort (including an increase in IC, I think) towards its navy – within about a year they are swamping Japan with carriers. Pearl Harbour was probably a huge strategic error in real life, and probably also in the game. But if the computer goes on its own merry way, it will produce a much smaller, more realistic fleet, and I will have a chance of defeating the USA.

So, this is the plan for the immediate future of the world. If I avoid triggering the Pearl Harbour Event, I can hopefully annihilate the entire US and UK navies within 6 months, and have a good year and a half in which to stomp my way over the Pacific before the US recovers. The plan then is to occupy their Pacific population centres, cutting off their industrial capacity and preventing them from fielding their fleet against me, and then nuke New York.

How could such an optimistic battle plan possibly fail?

This is not happening to you or me

They go together really, don’t they? All this Hearts of Iron 2 slaughter has led me to that most honourable of late night activities, the Wikipedia Wander, and in this case I find myself trawling through the combat histories of the battleships I’m building. The Japanese involvement in world war 2 is famous primarily for its naval component, and there is something about naval conflict that is inestimably cruel and heartless. There is no tale of naval combat where someone rushes out of the trees and drags you back to your fellows; instead there is the tale of floating in the sea for hours waiting for a rescue that may never come; there is exposure or the horrible death by oil-fire or drowning. The iconic pictures of the naval engagements of world war 2 (in this post we see the famous Yamato, desperately manoeuvring to avoid her inevitable end) depict a loneliness and desperation in every way as cruel and inescapable as the scenes from the battle of Britain, in which the person in control of the camera relentlessly destroys their target plane, watching it shred into a thousand pieces far above the ground, its pilot doomed. But in the naval case it is not a single man who dies, but a whole village worth of people, sometimes trapped far out on the open ocean with nowhere to go but down. Or they are the Special Attack Squadron (kamikaze) of historical fame, whose fate is so coolly described in the histories of the war but so hotly contested, to such pointless end, at the time.

Of course, as nerds interested in wargames and role-playing games in the early 21st century, far removed from the military troubles of previous generations (at least, if we’re not Americans) we can afford to joke about and amuse ourselves with games set in this time and place, as I’m doing now with Hearts of Iron 2. We can “appreciate” the “realism” of the fantasy stories we read (such as those of Bernard Cornwell) which draw on these or other histories. But I think it’s good occasionally to reflect on how ultimately these tales that we enjoy playing in are built on something that is fundamentally completely and utterly wrong, usually of no value to those who instigate it, and completely destructive for the international order it intrudes upon. This is as true now for the “small” wars of Iraq (a million dead), Afghanistan (no one’s counting) or Libya, as it was of the unfathomable catastrophe that was world war 2. Rest assured I have every intention of nuking America (preferably Seattle, after they develop “advanced computers,” so I can pride myself on killing Bill Gates), but let’s not make any bones about it – these games we play are reflecting on a time whose repetition needs to be avoided at all costs.

They used to belong to the Dutch, but at some point all empires must fall (except mine). Perhaps they should be renamed to the “Japanese South Ryukyus,” but I’m saving that name for the Phillipines (which, sadly, will involve killing a lot of Americans, which is why I’m enhancing my fleet). I’ve found an excellent series of posts by some chap (I suspect an Australian) who successfully took over the world as Japan; I’m thinking of asking him how he managed to get such a huge industrial capacity by 1941, since I was lied to and have nowhere near as much benefit from China as I was expecting. The result of this is that I need a few provinces with oil, and who better to take it from than the perfidious Dutch? Tall, waffle-ated bigots the lot of them. Even their fascists are gay. They don’t deserve colonial possessions. Especially colonial possessions that offer excellent views of Australia, a launching point for rapid assaults on both French Indochina and the Phillipines, and a lot of oil and rare materials.

It’s not like the Dutch have anything to fear, anyway; Germany is about to be annexed by the Soviet Union and no amount of colonial resource flows is going to save Holland from the red tide that’s about to roll over them. Maybe I’ll offer the survivors a squalid village in Lombok where they can swelter and labour under the whip of their Sumatran overlords.

The Netherlands will fall fast, basically as fast as I’m willing to do amphibious assaults, and they are fairly resource rich. After that, unless I turn on Siam (who seem to be allied with too many people) my next step is America. In September 1943 the Pearl Harbour event will be triggered, but I’m expecting that before then the USA will go to war with the USSR, in which case I will avoid the Pearl Harbour event and build up my fleet for another year before I do anything; I suspect that the Pearl Harbour event triggers a massive frenzy of carrier construction by the US, which they won’t do if I just quietly invade their western seaboard after I destroy their Pacific fleet. I need them to be deeply embroiled in an unwinnable war with the Russians for this to be achievable, though.

Last time I fought America I managed to capture chunks of the Western seaboard (California, etc.) but ran out of manpower. This time I have invested early in manpower improvements; I just need to ensure my fleet survives to protect my transports. Then I need to get nukes early, but I’ve delayed building my powerplant for a year while I try to build up a decent industrial capacity, a tactic that hasn’t really worked because Chinese partisans are stopping me at every turn. So… to the Netherlands…

It’s 1943, and in honour of the Japanese recovery from the Great Hanshin Earthquake I have installed my first nuclear reactor at Fukushima. We are, of course, talking Hearts of Iron 2 here. I’ve captured China and established the Empire of the Sun God (better names accepted) and I’ve also installed a rocket research facility in Niigata, and managed to gain access to the ICBM technology option. My plan, obviously, is to beat the USA to nukes. I figure that if the USA develops “electronic computer technology” and I develop a nuclear capable ICBM, then nuke Seattle, I can interpret that act as nuking Microsoft.

Which would be a good thing.

In 1943 I’m struggling to produce enough supplies and raw materials, and my oil stocks are dwindling – this despite owning all of China – so I’ve decided the only rational option is to invade the Netherlands. They’re colonialists, so it’s cool. Only bad people will die. Bad dutch people, even. What have they ever done for you? Sadly I’ll never be able to annex the Netherlands, because I don’t have transports with that kind of range, but I can capture Indonesia and West Papua. In the real world I would liberate them both, but in the game I can’t do that, but capturing the territory gives me access to their oil, plus a jumping off point for Australia, and a possible redeployment point for my V2 missiles (which are worthless; which is why I only made 1). I’m not sure if it’s worth bothering with the Phillipines, but I probably will.

The big problem arose on 21st September 1943, when the computer offered me the option of a surprise attack on Pearl Harbour. This gives me the benefit of a short term advantage in naval conflict, but in the long term leads the US to gear up for war. I would have decided against this option, and gone for war against the Netherlands only in the short term, but alternate history has turned in my favour. In this instance of Hearts of Iron 2, the USSR invaded Germany in 1940 (which justifies Germany’s real-life decision in 1942, clearly). They annexed Germany in 1943, which is further proof that you shouldn’t rouse that particular bear. France declared war on the USSR a few weeks later and their allies followed, so currently the USA, UK and France (my key enemies) are embroiled in a war with the USSR. This means that I have a good 3 years before the USA can turn its sights entirely on me, and if the lessons of history are any guide, France is completely and utterly doomed. With the collapse of France on the continent I can capture their territories in Asia – I wonder what happens then? Anyway, this should neutralize the USA’s traditional industrial and supply advantage, and if I join a military alliance with the USSR I’m guaranteed to win the game. Alternatively, if I quietly develop nukes and ICBMs, I can destroy the USA’s infrastructure and take them from the flank while they’re embroiled in a continental war of stupendous proportions.

Unfortunately, my naval forces have proven weak and this is a big problem against the USA, who are right now building about 15 aircraft carriers with the express purpose of destroying my navy. But they have some tough decisions to make with Russia about to stomp France, so maybe they’ll change direction and leave me to capture the Phillipines, Indonesia and PNG. Then I’m going to have sufficient oil and troops to do the dirty and capture England and Vietnam…

Interesting times in WW2. Stay tuned for the tale of Japan’s development of nuclear weapons…

I can’t find much information online about how to win Hearts of Iron as Japan, so I thought I’d try it again for myself. I played once before, and got all the way to 1944 before it all collapsed in a heap. The reason that time was that I failed to plan certain things properly from the beginning, and didn’t understand the territorial conquest system properly, so I ended up in an industrial- and manpower contest with the USA. That’s not an easy contest to win.

So, last week I loaded up Hearts of Iron 2, and decided to try again. For those unaware of this fine game, it’s a strategy war game that pits all the major nations from world war 2 against each other, starting in 1936 and running until 1953. It’s an enormously detailed system, in which the player has to choose policy settings, research technology, do trade deals, plan intelligence operations, build and plan units and even take control of supply convoys and unit leaders. The player can choose the level of control, but managing all the details requires a specially compartmentalized brain. I play with some settings – particularly convoy management and choice of unit leader – mostly automated, and tend not to fiddle with the policy settings or government ministers (much). I mainly focus on balancing industrial capacity and research, trade, and building new units. Combat alone in this game takes most of my attention, since you can’t beat another nation – even a weak one – without careful attention to supply lines, who is supporting who, and where your armies should go next. Basically, if you want to destroy your enemy you need to encircle chunks of their army, destroy them, bite off another chunk, and so on.

So, this time around I wanted to play Japan as a kind of benevolent Asian power, possibly even aiming to ally with the comintern against the Nazis, but things sadly didn’t go quite according to plan. It’s very clear that the liberal democracies of the inter-war years are a fickle and untrustworthy bunch, heavily involved in colonialism, and in fact the region around Japan is infested with British, Dutch, Portuguese and US colonies or puppet kingdoms. Through the 20s and 30s, of course, we know that the colonial powers – especially Britain and the US – were increasingly infringing on Japan’s rights, and had aggressive plans for the region. For example, if you look at the map in 1936, you can see the French possessions stretching right up to the southern Chinese border. Is this the behaviour of responsible citizens?

So, both to protect Japan from colonialism and to ensure the continued peaceful growth of the region I felt that Japan could play a leading role establishing a kind of Asian alliance, that might stave off the western powers. I could see a kind of zone of free commerce and peace in the region, a co-prosperity sphere if you will, and hoped that this would be sufficient to protect both my own nation and the region under my benevolent guidance. Unfortunately at every turn the Chinese stymied my plans, sending spies to my nation and attempting to turn world opinion against me – I think they even saw the presence of a few militia units in Manchukuo as provocative, rather than simply in the interests of my ally’s internal security, and the Chinese began arming up. But they were also playing cosy with the USA, and I could see that in the long-term the conflict would undoubtedly end badly for Japan (and by extension the region) unless I could increase Japan’s industrial capacity, and secure a greater range of supplies.

Given the instability on its borders, and the threat of incursion from the south by an aggressive communist insurrection within China, I figured the best way to make everyone in the region safer was to send a security stabilization force into Shanxi, a kingdom between my colonial possession my ally Manchukuo and Nationalist China. This force wasn’t even mainly Japanese, being at least 50% divisions from Manchukuo. Unfortunately the Chinese misread this as a sign of colonial intentions, and reacted by annexing Shanxi, invading the Guangxi Clique on their Southern border[1], and declaring war on me!  Fortunately I had a rapid reaction naval force in Dalian, and I responded to this act of naked aggression by landing it in Shanghai and fighting Northwest towards Shanxi.

This pincer movement weakened the Chinese in my region, but I subsequently discovered that their weakness was partially due to overreach – they had also declared war on and invaded Yunnan to the Southwest, and Sinkiang to the West. So, my suspicions were proven correct all along – they planned to expand their own territory, obviously counter to any plans for peace and prosperity in Asia. They also seemed to have become embroiled in a war with France, which seems a bit stupid, but also confirmed my suspicions that the colonial powers had designs on the two unconquered great powers of Asia. The only solution to Chinese aggression was to overthrow their illegitimate leadership, and the only language that liberal democracies understand is force, so I had no choice but to prosecute a war against China to the fullest extent of my powers. So, I adopted a policy of rapid amphibious strikes on the Chinese coast, with the incursion forces pushing inland to encircle Chinese resistance and mop it up, and simultaneously pushing Northwest to meet my forces as they descended from Shanxi. In the first year, large numbers of Chinese divisions were cut off and destroyed this way. Of course, I’m a benevolent power, so the survivors are treated well, and are being held in facilities where they are educated daily in the benefits of a greater Asian unity under my leadership.

Throughout this process, the Americans have been trying to destabilize me, and the Germans have been subject to considerable international pressure, even being forced to annex certain territories to their immediate East, such as Czechoslovakia, in order to ensure their security. This proved remarkably foresightful, as the USSR declared war on the Germans in 1940. I haven’t joined a full alliance with the Germans yet, but I had a hard and protracted fight against Communist China, and I can see how the Germans must be scared of the Soviet Union, so again I need to consolidate my hold on fractious China before the situation in Europe stabilizes.

Currently, however, the war has become somewhat bogged down. I have established a huge pincer on the southern and northern sides of China, with forces stretching as far as the border of Mongolia to the north, and as far as the southern foothills of Sichuan to the South, where Chengdu is in sight. In the middle stand some 30 or 40 divisions of Chinese troops, who have put up bitter resistance against my forces. There is a river that flows between the old Communist China and Xi’an, and the battle has reached something of a stalemate there, with the Chinese defending the ancient capital of Xi’an ferociously. I think I have finally established a foothold on the southern side of that river, though, and captured Xi’an. The battles to cross the river have been huge, spanning multiple provinces and involving tens of divisions on both sides, only to end every time in a bloody stalemate. To the south the battle proceeds valley-by-valley through the mountainous regions near Chengdu, and in the hills to the East of the mountains has been slowed by dogged resistance. However, I am confident now that I have strangled much of China’s access to resources and industry, so that they no longer have sufficient capacity to reinforce their soldiers and supply their civilian populace; and the tide of battle appears to have turned recently after I developed the technology for modern infantry, and upgraded my battlefield divisions. I am also pressing a new unit of modern motorized infantry into the fray, and think I can complete a massive pincer movement cutting off some 20 or so Chinese divisions within a few months. From there only mopping-up operations will remain, and I can annex the entire territory.

This is necessary, because it is now mid-1941 and the tide of history suggests that within a year or two I will be at war against the most vigorous and acquisitive power, the USA. They may not have many colonial possessions now, but their intent towards the Pacific is clear. I need to be able to shift my industry – and the newly captured industry of China – to the production of coastal fortifications, radar stations, and aircraft carriers for the long war to come. Plus, I have a nuclear reactor and a rocket research facility to build, and as yet my armoured divisions are very backward and in need of upgrades. I am confident though that if I can capture China I will be well-placed to turn its industrial capacity to the task of conquering America.

This game has one cheat that I really hate, that makes things a lot harder and which I think doesn’t reflect historical realities. Basically, you can’t gain access to a nation’s industrial capacity until you annex the nation, which means capturing all its key regions (which have “victory points”). So, when you get close to capturing one of China’s puppet nations (e.g. Shanxi, which would have increased my industrial capacity by 15% or more), the computer annexes that nation. This eliminates the nation from the diplomacy board, and prevents you from annexing it. You then have to conquer all of China before you can free up the industrial capacity of those regions that were in the puppet nation. I don’t think this is a realistic model of conquest, but the computer’s use of this trick has denied me access to the industrial capacity of two whole nations for about 3 years (I captured all the regions of Shanxi and the Guangxi Clique in about 1938). So, although I’m going to try a legitimate victory, if the battle drags out in China’s huge western provinces I’m going to use a reverse trick. Every time you load a saved game you can start as China instead of Japan. So I’m going to load a saved game as China, and then make a peace offer to Japan on ludicrous terms that reduce China to only a handful of useless provinces. Then, I will save, quit, enter that game as Japan, and annex the regions I have been ceded by China. I can then invade the remnants of China and take my time about it, having siezed the key industrial capacity ahead of the looming war with the US.

Last time I lost this game due to a sudden collapse of manpower, and the inability to out-produce the US. Part of the reason for this was that I failed to adequately capture all of China (in fact, I don’t think I even tried), and so spent a lot of time and industrial capacity without gaining any long term benefit. This time I shan’t be so foolish. Once I have captured China I will commence my nuclear power program (in 1941!), build a super-fleet of carriers, and aim to have troops on the US mainland within 3 months of going to war – this is the only way to prevent its productive capacity from completely swamping me.

Perhaps then we can begin to consider a co-prosperity globe, rather than merely a region…

fn1: Which, fair enough. No nation with the word “clique” in its name can mean well, can it?