The Blue Water Lepanto

by Manus Hand


It is a little bit surprising to me that openings still seem to be a fertile field for innovations in Diplomacy. It is even more surprising that it sometimes happens that I myself have something to contribute in that field. I mean, even if there are indeed tactical openings to be discussed anew, I am no Edi Birsan, whose credits include the Lepanto (the prototypical Italian opening) and the Sealion (which has become something of a fad in e-mail play since its initial publication in these pages).

My own contributions to the body of openings knowledge are far less impressive. I took it upon myself to completely categorize and catalog the openings and make them available in The Diplomatic Pouch Library of Diplomacy Openings, and in doing so, I took the liberty of naming some of the unnamed openings. More in the way of original contribution, I developed the Slingshot Juggernaut, a Russo-Turkish feint.

I cannot take full credit for the opening that is the subject of this article. This opening, which I call the Blue Water Lepanto, was the result of my study of a position created by others. In a game I am Mastering, the Austrian and Italian opened as described below, and I saw in this an excellent Austrian tactic. (Or at least excellent fodder for a Pouch article!) [As it happened, the Austrian had not contemplated a plan like I describe below, and so the game did not progress along these lines, but it didn't stop me from thinking that it could have....]


For a very long time -- virtually since its development in the 1960's -- the Lepanto was almost assumed for Italy. Every Turk worries about the Lepanto; so much so that variations (such as the Key Lepanto) have been formulated to hide the Lepanto. In a sense, the Blue Water Lepanto that I describe in this article could perhaps be seen as yet another of these variations.

Recently, though, Italian opening technique has been studied quite a bit. The near total reliance on the Lepanto has come under some scrutiny, and indeed the current trend in e-mail play is away from the Lepanto. This reassessment seems to have been spurred by the publication of Leif Bergman's Go Fasta Go Fasta method for winning as Italy, and more recently, Paul Windsor's study of the board (in his article Geography Is Destiny) reinforced some of Bergman's practices.

With the trend, then, towards a quicker-starting Italy, the Blue Water Lepanto can be seen as a way to counteract this a bit, working in the interests of the player most threatened by an assertive Italy. For the Blue Water Lepanto is not an Italian opening; it is an Austrian opening.

Actually, the Blue Water Lepanto (as you may have realized just from its name) is an Austro-Italian opening, but I call it an Austrian opening because it is conducted entirely by Austria. In fact, it is crucial to the opening that Italy be kept in the dark about Austria's pro-Italian intentions.

Yes, that's right. It's an opening meant to benefit both Austria and Italy, but one in which all the decisions are Austrian, and Italy is kept unsure about Austria's true aims.

The First Year

In the Blue Water Lepanto, the first task for Austria is to ensure that Italy opens with a classic Lepanto. This is usually not a difficult task, but it is of paramount importance that Italy agrees to open with A Ven H, A Rom-Apu, F Nap-ION (or any minor variation, such as a Western Lepanto or an anti-Hedgehog Lepanto).

Austria should be talking in very definite terms about a strong Austro-Italian friendship, promising or at least hinting that he will open with a Balkan Gambit (F Tri-Alb, A Bud-Ser). When the time comes to move, however, Austria opens otherwise -- with a Blue Water Opening (F Tri-ADR, A Vie-Tri)!

Spring 1901

Obviously, Austria will need to come to some arrangement with Russia over Galicia; vague anti-Turkish talk is a safe course of action for this. However, Austria would probably not wish to intimate to anyone on the board that he will open to the Adriatic Sea.

Italy will of course be unhappy at this turn of events, and how Austria deals with the Italian unhappiness is very important.

We see now why this is an Austrian show. The Austrian holds all the cards going into Fall 1901. Italy's moves are virtually forced. The Venetian army must stay in place and be supported by the other Italian army. This means that Italy must take Tunis with his fleet.

Austria will want to discuss virtually nothing with Italy before the Fall moves. He could perhaps briefly reiterate that (despite the opening to the Adriatic) he still wishes to form a strong alliance with Italy. However, he should perhaps do so in such a way that he would not be surprised (or disappointed) if his words were not believed by the Italian. The fact is that Austria wants Italy to be unsure of Austrian intentions. It is important that Italy feels forced to defend Venice and vacate the Ionian Sea.

Yes, Austria wants Italy to feel forced to defend Venice, but he also wants him confused. As I say, diplomacy should be kept to a minimum -- Austria might even wish to be seen as avoiding conversation with Italy -- but what diplomacy does occur should perhaps include lines like, "Why would I convince you to open with a classical Lepanto, holding in Venice and moving to Apulia, if it was my intention to launch a supported attack on Venice?" Italy's answer can only be what Austria wants it to be: "Because you thought you could convince me not to defend Venice that way."

There may be other diplomatic concerns. Italy may dislike the move to the Adriatic Sea so much that he actively courts Russian, Turkish, and German assistance against what looks to be a hostile Austrian. Austria will need to manage these reactions a bit, but the fact that the game is still in its opening stages (and assuming Galicia is left vacant) will preclude Russia and Germany from making any commitments to come to Italy's defense.

As for Turkey, we will discuss him in depth a bit later. If Italy obtains Turkish sympathy after the Adriatic Sea is occupied, Austria should not need to be too concerned if things run to plan.

As to the Fall moves, Austria follows Italy into the Ionian Sea, moves Serbia to Greece, and either holds Trieste or moves that army to Albania or Vienna.

Fall 1901

Even now, Italy is probably not ready to embrace Austria. An Austrian fleet in the Ionian Sea is something that no Italy is really crazy about.

Still, though, Austria does not mind Italian confusion and should do nothing to help end it. The reason for this is simple -- just as Italy's Fall moves were forced, so is his build. Italy now has to be concerned about things like the Tyrrhenian Sea, and it has got to be near the front of his mind to expel the Austrian from the Ionian Sea. A new fleet in Naples is virtually forced.

As it happens, a fleet in Naples is just the build that Austria wants to see. Therefore, talking to Italy in concrete terms of what the future holds can only risk making Italy feel less forced into the build decision. So, again, near silence would seem to be the rule -- at least until the builds are announced.

The Austrian build is probably an army in Budapest (or Vienna), but if Trieste was vacated, Austria can indeed find a Trieste build useful. However, if the opening develops as described below, two Austrian units will be committed to it, with the other two left free to defend the north of Austria and develop separately. So the build decision for Austria is not crucial to the opening described here, and can be based on events elsewhere on the board.

It may seem to be rather odd to call an opening both pro-Italian and pro-Austrian even though the opening nets each party only a single build in 1901. However, Austria has exchanged his often-given 1901 acquisition of Greece for a very advantageous position. With an army in Serbia and a fleet in the Ionian Sea, Austria still has the upper-hand in the battle for Greece. Italy, for sure, feels a bit less than secure about his neighbor, but after the build, Austria can open up about his plan, and Italy will likely find reason to be happier.

The Second Year

After the 1901 adjustment phase, Austria explains to Italy that his intention in forcing his way into the Ionian Sea was to make himself part of Italy's Lepanto fleet convoy and attack plan. He should make this explanation very long, detailed, and convincing (because it's true). The length of the explanation should contrast markedly with Austria's recent silence toward Italy, and in this way Italy should be convinced of the truth of the words.

Making the explanation long should not be difficult, since there are quite a few good things to say about this plan. In a standard Lepanto, Italy must commit both his fleets to creating a convoy chain to Syria. While this is being done, Austria's fleet (which is near useless throughout the game) is sitting around watching and doing its best imitation of an army. With the recent articles (discussed above) arguing that Italy should not necessarily commit so much effort to an anti-Turkish operation early in the game, Austria's offer to provide half the naval force for such an effort should be welcome. Austria should explain to Italy that by Austria providing one of the two fleets that will convoy an Italian army into Asia Minor, Italy can keep his other fleet nearer to Rome where it is able to defend or wander the west.

There is another, equally good reason why Italy should come to welcome the Austrian fleet's help. In a standard Lepanto, assuming Turkey builds a fleet in Smyrna (and most Turks who have been warned of a Lepanto will do so), Italy must guess in Spring 1902 whether the Eastern Mediterranean or the Aegean Sea will be undefended by Turkey. With Austrian help, though, the guesswork disappears!

Spring 1902

Italy uses his fleet in Tunis and his new fleet in Naples to dislodge Austria from the Ionian Sea. Austria then gets to use the retreat phase to move into whichever eastern body of water is left open by Turkey! And voila! not only is Austria no longer a threat to the boot, but the convoy chain is ready on the standard Lepanto schedule, and the Turk is probably very surprised by Austria's choice of retreats.

After this move, Italy and Austria can pick and choose their targets. They should make it a goal to get Greece for their alliance by the end of 1902. This should not be difficult with the position they have obtained. Austria could hopefully do so single-handedly (with units in Serbia and Albania), and if so, the convoy chain can be used immediately. Alternately, a supported attack on the Aegean Sea might be in order.

The Turk

How would you, as the Austrian, handle Turkey? It would seem that there are many possible answers to this question, each of which has some good points and bad points.

The Russian

To begin the game, the only important issue for Austria to discuss with Russia is Galicia. However, if Turkey is to be the target, Russian help should not be refused, and should probably be solicited as soon as the plan is revealed. An Austrian would probably want to talk long-term with Russia about working together in Germany after Turkey is dispatched, and doing other things to avoid the possibility that Italy and Russia will share a sandwich made of Vienna sausage.

One of the benefits that a Lepanto brings to Austria is that Italy gets the eastern position to allow a joint attack on Russia to follow the Turkish demise. Without the Lepanto, an A/I/R alliance almost always cuts out the Austrian. With the Blue Water Lepanto, Italian help against Russia is still possible, but the number of Italian units in the east that cannot attack Russia is reduced, and Italy is subtly encouraged to find his post-Turkish enemy either in Russia or the west.


This article presented the Blue Water Lepanto as an Austrian opening that becomes a joint A/I Lepanto. However, it is always best, of course, to keep one's options open. Although this opening can nicely be used to gain an eastern position for an Austrian fleet (through a forward retreat), the fact is that with Austria virtually guaranteed the Ionian Sea by this opening, he could at least entertain the possibility of working with Turkey (and France?) rather than with Italy.

Even with the Italian informed going into 1902, Austria could choose to retreat his dislodged Ionian Sea fleet not towards Turkey but to the Tyrrhenian Sea. However, this course of action is probably foolhardy (and Italy should see that, and thus be more secure with the Spring 1902 moves proposed for him) unless significant Turkish and/or French moves toward Italy can be expected.

At the very least, though, an Austrian who is active diplomatically (and all Austrians need to be) should at least keep his mind open to the various possibilities.


With the Blue Water Lepanto, Austria takes an active role in an opening attack on Turkey. By doing so, Austria, the traditional land-power in an Austro-Italian alliance, gives his armies more mobility by putting his single fleet into a convoy chain. By forcing Italy's hand through 1901, Austria ensures that Italy builds a fleet and therefore sees himself, despite limited mobility in the east, as a sea-power (which is less of a threat to Austria). When the new Italian fleet appears, Austria immediately gives it something useful to do (again, reinforcing in Italy that Austria is indeed friendly after all, and that Italy should concentrate on the sea and not the land). Finally, the arrangement is good for Italy in that it allows him to commit less force to the east while offering him the same results. This in turn can only serve to encourage Italy to sail west, and Austria can be very satisfied all around.

Manus Hand

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