The Sealion Opening in Action

Bif Smithson


I don't know about the rest of you, but if I had to list the main reason I read The Pouch, it is to get ideas for future Dip games. Therefore, I was very interested to read Edi Birsan's The Sealion Opening in the Spring 97 Movement issue.

Fortuitously, Edi's theme also happened to coincide with my own preferences: that France and Germany's best interests are served when England dies quickly.

Not to say that I was buying into Sealion without reservations. Edi didn't go too far in covering English responses, nor did he investigate how Italian and/or Russian intervention might affect the plan.

I decided that I had to actually try out the Sealion myself. A few weeks later I signed up for a new game and asked for France as my first preference, with Germany second. When the game filled up, I found I was France. I resolved to write to Germany first, and ask if he was interested in the Sealion. Much to my surprise and delight, less than two hours after countries were assigned I got a letter from Germany listing the URL to the Sealion article, asking if I wanted to try it. Needless to say, I wrote back immediately stating that I had had the same idea, and committed to the Sealion.

Pre Game Maneuvering

With the main decision already made, the rest of the pre-Spring 1901 time period was given over to misdirection. I asked Italy to DMZ Piedmont, and said that if it worked out, we could also DMZ North Africa, the Western Med, and the Guld of Lyons. Italy agreed to the DMZ with no conditions attached.

England was trickier, if only because I was lying to him from the word go. We decided to DMZ the Channel, and England stated that he wanted to work with me to take out Germany. However, nothing progressed beyond this statement -- we didn't even discuss who would get Belgium in Fall of 1901. I must confess with some guilt that I didn't want to write a lot to England. I intended to use the lack of writing as a partial excuse for my forthcoming move into the Channel.

The Game

Spring 1901 arrived with only one problem -- Italy moved to Piedmont.

Actual game moves

I decided to use my army in Spain to defend Marseilles, risking the chance of not gaining Spain if Italy stood pat.

England wanted to know why I had sent a fleet to the Channel after we agreed to DMZ it. As planned, I told him that since we hadn't written that much, and no firm plans were made, I hadn't been sure if he was serious about an alliance, or if he had been setting me up. I also said that I had heard a rumor that he was going to the Channel, but implied that Italy had sent me the rumor in order to set me up for his move of Ven-Pie.

Spring 1901 also brought the first "what-if" of the Sealion. In our game, England opened Lvp-Edi. This meant that London could only be covered by the fleet in the North Sea; he could not order the fleet to Belgium and cover London, as would be the case if he had ordered Lvp-Yor.

Hindsight is 20-20, but if the Sealion becomes the Opening du jour, I think that more Brits will order Lvp-Yor in the Spring, and Yor-Lon, Nth-Bel in the Fall.

The Fall move was perfect; Germany and I dislodged the North Sea fleet, and my order of Spa-Mar bounced Italy's Pie-Mar. Germany built two fleets, I built two fleets, the English built a fleet in London, and Italy built a fleet in Rome. That was unusual, because the Russian had gotten into Vienna in Fall of 1901, and I had thought that after bouncing in Marseilles, Italy would give up the anti-French campaign and go help Austria (in fact, I wrote Italy and mentioned that).

Fall 1901 moves

Russia had three builds and built an army in St. Petersburg. This was the second "what-if." Despite the very good Russian start, it was obvious that Germany and I were allied -- I had supported the German move to the North Sea, after all. It seems to me that a fleet build in St. Petersburg (on either coast) would have been a better decision. The fleet can be brought into play against a strong F/G alliance faster than an army could.

The Sealion calls for a double convoy of Bel-Wal and Hol-Yor in Spring of 1902. Germany and I agreed to keep on with the plan. I had my army in Spain and my fleet in Marseilles to hold the Italians at bay, with my Brest fleet free to go to either front as required. Germany was slightly worried about War-Sil, and so was I, truth be told.

England pulled out probably his best possible move in Spring of 1902, and used two fleets to dislodge Germany from the North Sea. In doing so, though, he left Edinburgh open, and that's where the German fleet retreated. Italy ordered Pie-Mar for the second straight turn, along with Tun-Wes and Rom-TyS. My thought at the time was that he decided against helping Austria. My convoy to Wales succeeded. The feared Russian move to Silesia did not materialize.

Spring l902 moves

In Edi's article, he says that no matter what happens in Spring 1902, one convoy will go through, and England will be destroyed. From my perspective, I was much less enthusiastic about the situation. True, one convoy (mine) had succeeded. On the other hand, Belgium was open, and the only unit to cover it was my English Channel fleet, itself needed for the attack on London. Also, England had very viable defense options. He could order Nth S F Lon, Yor-Lvp, which would successfully defend both his centers no matter what I did. He could order Nth-Bel. I was afraid that England would concede Edinburgh to Germany, and concentrate on sandwiching me with Italian help.

In fact, England did have plans along these lines. He wrote me and said that he was in a good position for defense, and that he had every intention of sticking it to either me or Germany. It was implied that I would be better off changing my course of action; nothing specific, merely hints.

This was another "what-if," this time for me. England's letter displayed a certain je ne sais quoi, if I may use that overworked phrase. Reading between the lines, I felt that if I abandoned the Sealion I would be able to trust England and we could make an E/F alliance work. Let me state that I had total trust in Germany. If I got out of the Sealion, it would be because of Italy, not a lack of faith in Germany. Italy refused to answer letters and had sent three units against me. Should I cut my losses and abandon the Sealion? Germany had three fleets and only his army in Holland was anywhere near France. If I left the Sealion, there would be no immediate retribution, and I could concentrate on Italy.

If there is one thing that I've learned about Diplomacy, it is that there has to be overwhelming concerns before you change course 180 degrees. Abandoning Sealion meant no gains and at least a year redeploying F Eng and A Wal to the Mediterranean. I wrote to England and explained that I had a certain investment going, and I needed to go a bit further before I left it. However, I left the door open, and explained that if circumstances changed, I was willing to explore an alternate course of action. I also thanked him for keeping the lines of communication open. I was totally honest about this -- if my invasion of England stalled, I would want a truce in a hurry, and it would come faster if we had been talking all along.

Sending in orders for Fall 1902 was the period of greatest doubt and apprehension for me. I had decided to issue unsupported attacks on London and Liverpool. I left Belgium wide open to the English in the North Sea -- I almost never leave centers open to enemies. A letter was sent to Berlin making sure that the North Sea fleet would not be dislodged by German fleets. The last thing I did before the deadline was to play the Russian card.

Prior to the Spring, the Russian had sent out anti-German feelers, but at that time I told Russia that I had England and Italy to deal with. Then, in the Spring, Germany had ordered Ber-Bal, and the Tsar appeared more worried. Again, the Tsar wrote to me, asking about Germany. With crunch time against England coming, I had to do something. I told the Tsar my hands were still tied with England and Italy. I did ask that Russia use his armies in St. Petersburg and Sweden to take Norway, using the old "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" rationale. Russia agreed to help out in Norway to speed the English demise and free up my forces.

Edi's Comments

All openings done by Edi have as their basis the domination of the player through diplomacy tied with a tactical offensive flare. The fact that Bif was able to pull off the Sea Lion as France while having to fend off Italy and while Germany was making the provocative and unnecessary play to the Baltic at the same time does go far to validate the opening as another viable alternative.

What this means is that the English players who have overwhelmingly gotten lazy in their consistent play of Army Liverpool to EDInburg have another option to consider.

Further, note that even with the Franco-German cooperation in Fall 1901, diplomatically the French and the Germans can still maintain fairly viable diplomatic approaches to the parties that could otherwise disrupt the operation. With the Russians, the French can apply the concept of "Germany is between us, let us make this go away." And for the German there is the approach of "our backs are clear, let us move south together."

The idea that everyone on a board who sees the Sealion should stop what they are doing and jump on F/G is false advice. The issue, as in all Diplomacy games, is what are the players up to. What can be gained by the fall of England and what is the nature of the structure of relations between F/G.

The real problem for the Sealion on a diplomatic front is that the F/G do not neutralize the Russians or get them to turn vulture on the North. Russian intervention to support England is the most dangerous to the goal of the plan to take the English out.

Again it comes down to diplomacy ...which is the name of the game.

Fall 1902 saw the Germans ejected from Edinburgh, while I took Portugal and Liverpool, and Russia grabbed Norway. Italy bounced in Marseilles for the third straight turn (kids, don't try this at home), and also dislodged my Gulf of Lyon fleet -- I retreated it to Tuscany. I held onto Belgium. The Supply Center count was eight for Russia, seven for me in France, five for both Germany and Austria, four each for Turkey and Italy, and two for England.

Fall 1902 moves

Now I was prepared to say that England was mortally wounded, although there were still places where we were in danger. Russia had a build and St. Petersburg was open. I could lose Marseilles to the Italians, although Italy would lose Rome in the process. With Marseilles at risk, I built an army there, so I could retreat it if necessary.

Russia again built an army in St. Petersburg; don't ask me why. True, I did write and tell Russia that I would be very upset if he built a fleet, but my nearest fleet was still in the Channel and there was nothing I could do to Russia if he had built a fleet.

Prior to 1903, Italy finally wrote and started negotiating for a deal. I was rather abrupt and told him that since he was the aggressor, he would have to pull back before I would deal. Amazingly, he did just that. Not only that, but he pulled back in such a way that I would be guaranteed either Rome or Naples. Remember what I said about changing course for no gain? Italy not only had to stop his French offensive, but would have to remove a unit at the end of 1903. That was a very big break for me.

With no outside assistance, England could do nothing to stop Germany and me from taking London and Edinburgh in 1903. At the end of 1903, the Supply Center chart read: Russia and France 9, Germany 6, Turkey 5, Italy 3, Austria 2, England 0.

1903 moves


Does the elimination of England in 1903 in an actual game validate the Sealion? I would have to agree that it was a spectacular success. However, the other players had numerous opportunities to band together and stop us. The Sealion requires F/G to declare their alliance in Fall 1901 and the other five players should start in Winter of 1901 to try and stop F/G. Russia should have built a fleet in St. Petersburg, and should have ordered War-Sil in Spring of 1902. Italy sent a lot of units west, but shouldn't have kept bouncing in Marseilles for three turns. Italy and Russia had armies in Tyrolia and Bohemia at the end of Spring of 1902, but they were used that Fall to attack Austria. Those armies should have been used in a supported attack to take Munich. In writing to me in 1903, the German said that he thought the biggest threat to Sealion was Russia allying with England, and I have to agree with that.

Edi's article was succinct, but he explored the issue only from an offensive standpoint. In the end, I'd have to say the Sealion will work, but not if you are not faced with savvy players. If I saw two players trying to pull off a Sealion, I would drop everything and try to organize the other five players to stop it.

Bif Smithson
(a nom de guerre)

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