In Diplomacy there are a number of spaces on the board which are key to the game. Some are SCs, some aren’t. Many are land spaces, a few are sea. The North Sea is extremely important to England’s survival.
England can – and almost always does – occupy the North Sea in Spring 1901. This isn’t surprising; in 1901 all the powers are looking for somewhere to expand. England has to wait until the Fall turn to occupy a new SC and the North Sea is the only space from which she has any chance of guaranteeing a gain.
Norway is the target, the North Sea is the key. It doesn’t matter whether England moves into Norway from NTH or from the Norwegian Sea (the sea space to the north of NTH, not labelled on the picture); if England doesn’t have a fleet in the North Sea then Norway isn’t guaranteed.
The problem is Russia. The map below shows how Russia can cause England problems:The map is a potential situation at the start of F01. Russia has moved her Moscow army north into St Petersburg. From here, she can order A(StP)-Nwy. Should England use only one fleet from either NWG or NTH to try and occupy Norway, she will fail. She needs to use both fleets to guarantee it.
So, the North Sea is important to England’s early chances of expansion to Scandinavia. However, just have a look at the SCs surrounding the North Sea: Norway, Denmark, Holland and Belgium are all in reach. Norway isn’t the only destination.
Admittedly, neither Denmark nor Holland are likely successes:It isn’t unusual for Germany to be in this position in Fall 1901. Denmark is occupied already, and there are one or – in this case two – armies bordering Holland. That sole English fleet isn’t likely to gain either… unless Germany orders F(Den)-Swe and succeeds, Russia failing to move her fleet there. Should England occupy Denmark, however, she’s going to face two German units (Swe and a new build in Kiel) ready to boot her out.
Belgium is more realistic and – again – the North Sea is the key. To capture Belgium, though, England is likely to need help from either France or Germany, and she’s likely to need a fleet in the English Channel as well:Here, England can use the fleet in NTH to support the fleet in ENG to Belgium, or support the army in Wales to Belgium, convoyed by the ENG fleet. This looks like a safe bet – Germany can only attack Belgium with one army (from Ruhr) and France with one army (Burgundy, east of Paris and not labelled). The question is: does either France or Germany want England in Belgium? If not, can they work together to prevent it?
It is also possible that England will face this situation:Only a slight change: Germany now has a fleet in Holland – in S01 she ordered F(Kie)-Hol. But this now means that Germany can use two units to attack Belgium so England would not be guaranteed Belgium no matter what she did – she would need French support.
There opening moves aside, the North Sea continues to be important to England. If there is one space on the board England must occupy it’s North Sea. Whether for defensive or offensive purposes, it provides the basis for success.
Offensively, the early game is when North Sea is most important, as we’ve seen. England isn’t going to gain anything unless she occupies this space in S01. Well, OK, there are exceptions: the opening known as the Splits sees England in this position in (or something similar, depending on what her army does) in S01:Well and good but next to useless. She is working on a wing and a prayer here.
The point is, the North Sea allows her to create a solid empire in Scandinavia and north-western Europe. Once that is achieved, England is difficult to defeat.
It’s also true to say that, offensively, the North Sea is limited from that point on. While it can provide an important convoy point to throw armies into northern Europe, it is divorced somewhat from other sea spaces England needs to move on and win the game. At this stage, England needs to be looking to Mid-Atlantic Ocean.
However, defensively the North Sea retains its importance while Russia and Germany are strong enough to challenge her. If either of these powers gain the North Sea, England is in trouble.
And, should France ever occupy the North Sea, England is beaten.
Of the two, Russia is more dangerous than Germany if she gets into the North Sea. This isn’t because of the fleet in the space itself but rather because she will have other fleets waiting to move into the space too. If Russia has a fleet in North Sea, she will likely have another fleet in Norway or, even worse, the Norwegian Sea… or both! It will mean Russia is secure in her south, certainly enough for her to have allowed her to build in St Petersburg.
It isn’t unusual, on the other hand, for Germany to occupy the North Sea with one rogue fleet. This is troublesome enough for England but it can be covered. However, if this has been a planned attack, Germany must either have another fleet supporting her NTH fleet or be able to build another fleet soon enough.
In either situation, England has failed. She won’t win if she loses control of the North Sea, although she may still survive. It all depends on whether she can cover both Edinburgh and London. Should another power take any of England’s home SCs, she is beaten and can only hope to survive the game at best. Everything she does must be aimed at this objective from that point on.