Cardboard Wars

War is the continuation of politics by other means

Marita-Merkur: The Italo-Greek War, 1940 – Prelude to War

The Inferiority Complex

In the fall of 1940, Italian strongman Benito Mussolini was feeling down. He had dreams of creating a new Roman Empire, and his dreams started with a bang when he invaded Ethiopia in 1935.

Initial setup, mainland Greece - November, 1940 (click image to enlarge)

Initial setup, mainland Greece – November, 1940. The Engineer II was moved prior to the start in order to build an airbase closer to the front more easily. (click image to enlarge)

However, Germany, quickly conquered seven nations in the course of 10 months: Poland,  Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Belgium and France, and succeeded in driving the British from continental Europe. The attention of the world was now focused on Nazi Germany.

While Italy did a get a small slice of France after they joined the fight in June, 1940, Mussolini felt an inferiority complex coming on. Spurred by his dreams of empire, he ordered two simultaneous attacks; an incursion from Libya into Egypt, and an attack on Greece from Albania, across mountains.

In both cases, the Germans would have to come to the rescue of the Italians, who were poorly trained and equipped, and had very poor leadership. Hitler could not tolerate British Commonwealth forces on his southern flank, especially where they could threaten his oil supplies in Ploesti, Romania.

The game is named after Operation Marita, the German blitz of Greece, and Operation Merkur (Mercury), the taking of the island of Crete.  This is one of Europa’s older games, and the rules are still very young and raw, It is interesting to see how the rules have evolved over time. The rules remind me more of Narvik than they do of modern day Europa. AA is still based on combat strength (as in Narvik) instead of points, air missions are flown in waves of 3 (rather than 5 as in Narvik), armor effects use a limit of 1/4 instead of 1/5 as was later developed (and later evolving into 1/7), and roads can be cut in addition to rail lines. The air-to-air combat is also done as combat ratios, instead of individual aircraft counters.

AEC really isn’t a big deal in this game, as there are very few armored units. The Yugoslavs have a battalion, and the Italians have a light tank division at the start of the game.

Yugoslavia intial setup - November 1940 (click image to enlarge)

Yugoslavia intial setup – November 1940. The 4-6 infantry division deployed in Albania, north of Tirane, must stay put unless, and until, Yugoslavia has a coup. (click image to enlarge)

At the beginning of the campaign, Yugoslavia is technically neutral. On what would be the March II 41 turn,  Regent Prince Paul signs the Tripartite Pact, which aligns Yugoslavia with Germany. Two days later (on the same Mar II 41 turn) a coup overthrows the Prince Regent and the new government denounces the Tripartite Pact. Historically, this coup triggers German intervention. This action does not guarantee German action, but it greatly increases the chances intervention.

The Germans may intervene in the form of assistance to the Italians, or just come in and take over the entire show. If the Allies have more VPs than the Italians (up to twice the VPs), the Germans may send assistance. However, if at the end of any game turn, the number of Allied VPs is twice or more than Italian VPs, a check is started to see if the Germans invade. The chances of this happening is greater if the Yugoslavs stage a coup.

In order to stage a coup, there are two requirements. 1. The Allies have scored at least 30 VPs, and 2. the VP total is at least twice the Italian VP total. A coup means that the chances of a German invasion increases from a 1 in 6 chance, to a 2 in 3 chance per turn.

As a gamer, I have always found that the Allies have the easier time in this campaign. The Italians must fight through the mountains, where the Greeks have a strong advantage, and really, the Greeks just have to sit back and wait until the threat of German intervention has passed. German intervention has an expiration date.

As the Allies, this means that their VPs must be carefully managed. The Allies score VPs not only for eliminating Axis units, but for territory gained in Axis controlled territory. Historically, this is a reflection of the Greeks chasing the Italians back into Albania.

For each hex in Albania that is occupied by the Allies, they score 2 VPs per hex, per turn. This can add up quickly. In addition to that, they score 6 VPs for eliminating the Italian light armored division, and 10 VPs per air unit eliminated. The trick is to have more VPs than the Italians, but never more than twice that amount. This prevents a German intervention check, and will prevent a coup in Yugoslavia.

The Italians get similar awards for hex occupation of Greek territory and shooting down enemy aircraft.

Greek Initial setup, the Aegean, November 1940 (click image to enlarge)

Greek Initial setup, the Aegean, November 1940 (click image to enlarge)

So, the Allied goal is to stay out of Albania, but if German intervention is somehow triggered, to try to delay the Germans so much that they can’t withdraw on time, eventually delaying/disrupting Barbarossa.  If they can be delayed as long as June II 41, that is a 500 VP penalty to the Axis.

Along the Adriatic coastline, there is a potential opening for the Italians to exploit and break through, the terrain being not so mountainous, and the Greeks are weak there. There is also Corfu, just off the coast, and although there are no causeways, the Italians do have a marine regiment which will allow an amphibious invasion of the island.

The Greek & Yugoslav setup are static. The Italian setup is free and flexible. I have set up the Italians with the idea of taking over Corfu early (3 VP per turn), but also prevent the Greeks from sweeping around my eastern flank and into Albania/behind my lines. The Allies also have no special forces to speak of, so there is no airborne threat to the Italian rear areas.

One thing that I have to correct as soon as the Greeks get their turn is that there are at least 2 hexes that start the game overstacked, in violation of the games rules. That will have to be fixed.

Initial Greek Setup, southern Greece & Crete, November, 1940 (click image to enlarge)

Initial Greek Setup, southern Greece & Crete, November, 1940 (click image to enlarge)

Many years ago, when I was much younger, I had decided to write on my maps, names of rivers, regional locations, etc. I wanted more information on my maps. You may see this from time to time in the photos I put in this blog.

While setting this up, there are three regions of Yugoslavia, The Backa, The Banat and the Baranja. I labeled one of these areas on the map so I wouldn’t have to refer to the rules anymore. The problem is, I labeled the wrong area. Probably why I didn’t label the other two. I also know of one river which was misidentified.

With all of that, we are ready to go! Let the Italian invasion begin!





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5 thoughts on “Marita-Merkur: The Italo-Greek War, 1940 – Prelude to War

  1. 29delta on said:

    Wow, this thing goes back in time. As I remember the solution I was examining had to with sending all Commonwealth units to Crete. I’m note even sure that is legal, comments?


  2. Leaving the British on Crete is a way to avoid surrendering victory points triggered by an Allied evacuation. To be certain, the Allied air forces have to be left in the rear to prevent them from killing too many Italian planes, thus achieving the 30 VP threshold quickly. The Greek air forces consist of a hodge-podge of various fighters and bombers, shown as Mixed counters. I have no data on the Greek air force in 1940, which is odd since the book that I have lists the Yugoslav air force, and even Latvia and Lithuania have entries. But, from what I can gather on the internet, the Greek air force was not the most modern, being formed from an assortment of various bi-planes in various roles.

    Overall, I think the Allies, much like Narvik, have the easier time.


    • 29delta on said:

      Thanks for the reply. I was looking at Brits in Crete to be a stop for German’s in Crete. And the chance for their survival is far higher. Can’t remember if any of this stops Axis VP’s. Far too long ago.


      • As I am looking over the rules, the Axis do not need to possess Crete at all in order to win a decisive victory. The Allies can have it, as far as the rules go. If Britain holds Crete (with no Axis units on the island), AND they are winning the game, then their victory level increases one level (say from a marginal to substantial victory). The same goes for the Germans. If the game is a draw, then the owning player wins a marginal victory. If I remember correctly, Crete is a tough nut to crack if the Allies are allowed to set up shop there, especially considering that they can interdict the island, and the hopes of the Axis landing any troops in any of the ports there is pretty much gone.


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