Well a few weeks ago I decided it was time to try something new(ish). Given my tastes for strategy I was drawn to Hearts of Iron IV. The reviews seemed reasonable and what I could see made it look interesting. Even better it was on special offer at the time, so I paid up and installed it.
After a number of false starts and abject failures I feel that I can now report on my current game’s progress.
Italy always seems like a good starting point in this game. As the “weak” major power it offers a combination of aggression as well as the ability to ramp things up and perhaps become a power-house without feeling too over-powered at the start. Starting in 1936 also allows time to make some serious changes to history before the major clashes take place. Italy also starts out at war (with Ethiopia) giving you a chance to practice your troop control hopefully without serious losses.
My previous failures had given me the knowledge that I should always be planning for the next war whilst in the current one. But also that if you are in a war, you need to win it with the lowest amount of manpower losses possible. So, right at the start I ramp up my production – maximising factories in Italy whilst sending all my North African forces along with my three mobilised divisions into the conflict at Ethiopia. Moving the majority of my forces into a single point I was able to push an Ethiopian division out of my way and then leap-frogged forward, my flank protected by French Somalia and then the British Somalia.
Falling back in northern Italian Somalia I lured the enemy into advancing into the empty territory – pulling their eastern force further away from the north and also their capital. By now my northern force was adjacent to their capital. A single division appeared to be holding it, so whilst I held that in place with an attack from a single division, I poured around the city, only stopping when confronted by other enemy divisions.
Now the attack began in earnest, with my troops hitting the capital from four different angles – the land grab I had made with my other divisions, whilst had strung me thin, prevented any Ethiopian reinforcements reaching the city. By the time my tanks landed in Italian Somalia and reached the front it was all over. The capital fell, the remaining enemy clustered together and I settled for encirclement and starvation.
Final losses: 46 troops!
So it was time to puppet Ethiopia – annexing would be pointless given lack of factories and infrastructure in the territory and at least this way they could provide divisions for garrison duty if nothing else when the next wars came.
Now whilst the advance into Ethiopia was on it was time to plan my next expansion. Yugoslavia and Greece are both ripe for the picking in these early years, and if you can get in early enough you can get them before one of the other major powers guarantees their protection. Once that happens – watch out! Its WWII! So as soon as possible I push for war claims on both of them. Abandoning the French border my remaining army marches to the Yugoslavian border at Trieste. Their threatening look soon draws the bulk of the Yugoslavian forces into line across from them.
My African forces have now finished their job, so I order their relocation to Zara.
Whilst on their way, the Spanish Civil War breaks out. Naturally I am looking to the future and a Republican controlled country will be of no use to me – whilst a weak Fascist country may be easy pickings once my current wars are over – and Spain is certainly of interest if nothing else because of their easy access to the Portuguese Tungsten – a resource I know I will need soon and have little of.
So I break two division off of my Great North Army and, allocating them a general offer them to Franco. He greedily accepts and a couple of weeks later they disembark at Asturias in northern Spain. At this point it seems that the Fascist are having a hard time. Whilst my two divisions hardly represent a huge investment they are able to swing east, reducing the Basque pocket before pushing the Republicans back into Aragon and besieging Zaragoza. I have one eye on their progress and the other on the timer – as it looks like my invasion of Yugoslavia will take place in only a few weeks time.
After advancing into Zaragoza, the divisions rest whilst the line continues to fluctuate wildly around them. But then Yugoslavia calls!
The declaration of war occurs at the first opportunity and with my northern army remaining on the defensive my mountain troops push out of Zara heading east. Resistance is negligible and within a couple of days my tanks are over the mountains and turning north, racing for the Hungarian border.
A solitary division blocks the route, so without even making contact I bypass it leaving my infantry divisions the task of containing it. Reaching the border, my tanks turn west, pushing rapidly up against Yugoslavian army now in disarray. With 18 divisions trapped just east of Trieste, it is over for them. Without a further offensive shot being fired, infantry divisions reach the outskirts of Belgrade to find it undefended. They surrender the next day.
It is still December 1936 and I know I wont be able to attack Greece until March 1937, so I use the time repositioning my troops. My northern army heads back to the French border whilst my African army heads south to the Greek border. I dither on whether to send troops back to Spain but decide not to until after I have defeated Greece as the war appears to have stalemated and it doesnt look like Republicans will surrender too quickly.
The increase in factories from Yugoslavia are helpful and I can increase my military production. My divisions are enhanced to include artillery and field hospitals and engineers. The extra load on production is just about evened out in time for the Greek war – but some divisions were still short of their full complement.
With the onset of March came the onset against Greece. A brief foray by some of their submarines resulted in their loss and the rest of the fleet remained bottled up for the duration. Here I made a mistake. I let the AI follow my plan and it cost me dearly. In the first days of the war I lost over 14,000 troops – with the Greeks taking the same number of casualties. This was not acceptable, so I cancelled the army’s orders and took manual control. Pushing quickly into Thessaloniki, I left a rear-guard to hold the Greek army now trapped in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace whilst the bulk of my forces raced south along the coast. The weak division blocking the road (remnants of the force defending Thessaloniki) were shoved aside by my tanks and with the infantry holding the road open my tanks raced for Athens. The war ended with my having taken some 16,000 casualties – and me kicking myself for losing so many in the early battles.
Time to look to Spain again. It’s letting me send three divisions now (as my armed forces have grown), so off they go and within a few weeks are settled into Huelva in southern Spain. It looks like the tide has turned on the Fascist’s. They have lost Zaragoza (again) which I had recaptured for them last year, lost a number of divisions in pockets around Aragon and Catalonia and all up it’s starting to look shaky.
My one chance to turn the tide is to try and encourage the pocketing of the southern Republican forces. Pushing up along the coast to Murcia I tempt the Republicans into sending forces behind me, then anchoring just south of Valencia I swung inland aiming to join up with Franco’s forces to the south of Madrid. I dont have enough forces to hold the territory, so it becomes a game of cat and mouse keeping one step ahead of the Republicans until the rest of the Fascist forces push into the territory I had captured. It’s not a decisive victory but we had managed to pocket at least 5 divisions – something that in Spain may lead to a victory. More importantly it has brought the front far further north and pulled Republican forces south away from Catalonia allowing further advances there.
At the same time I was able to announce the formation of the “Italy First” faction, which Bulgaria eagerly joined. I’m tempted to try and entice Romania into the fold, however at this point I feel it is sufficient to remain neutral with them (and just trade for their oil). I’m concerned about their border with the Soviets and certainly dont want to be dragged into a war with them! Further south Ethiopia is now starting to build up some divisions. They will be weak, but at least I can draw on them if needed in an emergency and if nothing else if I end up in a war with the UK or France they can act as an annoyance to them in Africa.
The next war looks like it will be with Spain, so its time to tee-up the divisions necessary to carry out the invasion. Preparing them now means I will be able to invade the moment that the fascists win the civil war and also when my justification for the war is complete. I stuffed this up previously getting my justification ready but then it expiring by the time the civil war was over. So this time I’m being more cautious. I need to make sure that Madrid or Barcelona have fallen before I start justifying my war.
In the mean time I am building factories like mad in Italy. Not worrying about Yugoslavia or Greece at this point. I need to build up my core – I think that once I get to about 60 or 70 civilian factories I will have enough to be able to start pushing air defences around my border, improving the infrastructure and making those needed military factories. Radar coverage is in the plan as well – now that I have Greece it will be critical for covering the Baltic’s and the eastern Mediterranean.
My longer term plan will be to be opportunistic with regards to Germany. I have positioned what is left of my African army on the Austrian border (as almost half of it is preparing for a Spanish invasion). I am hoping that once the anschluss with Austria has occurred and Germany then attacks Poland (pretty much guaranteed events), that the Allies will get involved allowing me free rein and hopefully a quick invasion of Austria and southern Germany. I am also hoping that if the timing is right that the Soviet’s will also attack Poland pushing them into a conflict with the Allies – leaving me on the sidelines able to pursue territorial gains as opportunity arises – dependant upon the situation I will be hoping to annex Austria and some of southern Germany and hopefully make a puppet of the rest.
Research is currently focused almost exclusively on industry at the moment, with advances in fighters, tanks and support equipment happening in between. I am producing enough military equipment to meet my current needs, with the exception of fighters, torpedo bombers and close air support which I am seeking to stockpile. I have learnt the value of those torpedo bombers in previous games and want to make sure I have them ready in case I need to lock down the Mediterranean. My navel ports are almost exclusively pumping out destroyers. I have one dockyard set to produce convoy’s and a couple of others working on light cruisers in order to help support the destroyers. Sea battles can get a bit like playing scissors/paper/rock, and I know I need to have something with a little more punch just in case my destroyers get jumped by the British Fleet.
I also like getting maintenance support added to all my divisions. Adding them gives you a surprising amount of captured equipment in the larger battles – and can be very useful for keeping units at full strength. They will be added as time allows. Currently my infantry divisions are still weak though. I’ve added most of the support units I need but still need to add more artillery to them. Also I need to convert those cavalry units to motorised units with more light tanks – but again I will need to wait until I have enough capability to do it without impacting my front line divisions. I have the L6 under research at the moment and will be aiming to add a second tank regiment to each cavalry division when that hits the production lines. Most of the articles I have read suggest keeping your division width’s to a multiple of 20. Given my limited manpower and the amount of terrain I am expecting to cover I am going to keep mine at that width. They may be smaller than some of my enemies, but hopefully will be able to pack a good punch.
My Spanish invasion is set to land just south of Barcelona. In hindsight this is a mistake. It seems the bulk of the Spanish forces are actually in the north of the country, so it makes the first week a bit of a challenge. The landing is unopposed, but the fight for Barcelona takes place with my beachhead under assault from Spanish forces. Luckily with the 10 divisions I have landed they outnumber, out-gun and out-manoeuvre the locals and quickly I establish myself in Catalonia and secure the front. I manage to push a division south across the river preventing what could be a bloody engagement later on. However I am surprised by the amount of resistance I am seeing. My initial reports indicated about 10 enemy divisions, yet I have more than that facing me on the front already, with more moving up. Time for plan B.
The African army gets reallocated from the Austrian border to Spain. I know its going to take a while for them to get there, so I dig in and decide to wait, holding what I have got and conserving forces rather than risk losing troops in the mountains of northern Spain. As they arrive I start pushing south. The single division holding there gives way and the bulk of my army follows. My tanks race forward and, reaching the plains turn west and head for Madrid.
The Spanish are holding the northern mountains. Keeping me close to the coast. It doesn’t bother me though as I dig in along that front and simply expand the front westwards as my tanks progress towards Madrid. A couple of enemy division attempt to cut my line but are thrown back by concerted infantry assaults. Madrid falls without battle and the capital shifts south to Seville. Here I have a cunning plan. Rather than seeking to destroy the enemy in the north I decide to starve them out. Their supply route will be through the Atlantic ports, so rather than fighting them there I decide to take all the southern ports isolating Seville. I shuffle divisions around to free up my tanks and they begin the drive south directly towards Seville. Meanwhile a couple of infantry divisions have been advancing down the east coast and have finally taken all the ports in the Mediterranean.
There are only about 5 or 6 Spanish division now isolated inland in a huge pocket stretching from north-east of Seville almost all the way to Valencia. Surrounding Seville is easy and my tanks rest facing the frantically advancing Spanish. The pocket slowly shrinks and after a futile attack towards Seville the Spanish forces group together for a break-out attempt towards the Mediterranean.
Then disaster strikes. I’m not sure how it happens, but suddenly Spain moves its capital to Zaragoza! I have been neglecting the north letting the Spanish forces there waste away but now they are getting supplies again! Frantically I throw my infantry forward into the gaps that now exist in the front in an effort to surround Zaragoza. Quickly its isolated and the capital shifts again out to the western point of Galicia. My only saving grace is that the lack of supply has caused Spain to pull some of its divisions together leaving yet more gaps in the front, so taking the opportunity my divisions advance north parallel with the Portuguese border and racing for the Atlantic.
It becomes a race to the coast. Just short of my goal my single leading division is attacked by two Spanish divisions. Luckily they are still shattered and in poor supply so they don’t hold me for long before I pull away from them leaving them in my rear. Then its all over. Its a complete surrender and I annex all the Spanish territory. My 15,000 losses a lesson in picking the correct invasion point.
Time to re-plan and prepare. My African Army is allocated back to the Austrian front (now German following the anschluss). My invasion force is renamed the Spanish Army and remains in Spain guarding the border with France, whilst my Rapid Relocation Army (not that rapid yet and only 3 infantry divisions strong) is assigned the long Romanian border.
Looking at the clock I am hoping that I have the best part of a year before Germany starts something, so I decide to disband all my colonial divisions. I think this will work out cheaper than trying to turn them into front-line divisions. It is going to weaken my armies for a while, but the improved front-line infantry divisions that will replace them will be stronger. I also beef up my mountain divisions adding the remaining missing support units and some artillery.
So we are heading up to Christmas 1938 and the situation in Europe looks very good for Italy. We control the Mediterranean from the Spain to Greece. We threaten France on two fronts. Ethiopia is building infantry divisions (over 20 now) and I have enough resources to supply my rapidly growing army. Research is going well and my early radar stations will hopefully be coming online soon.
Well its all gone to pot. My plans for quiet domination have gone completely wrong. The German/Polish conflict broke out in November 1939 and was followed the following month by declarations against the Netherlands which led to Allied intervention. I waited until mid 1940 before making my declarations against Germany. However, by the time came to be able to invade they had reinforced their forces on the Austrian border and it turned into a cold war on that front.
Their Polish campaign and assaults on the Netherlands ground to a halt. It seemed to be a stalemate all-round. My only hope was to build sufficient forces that I could force the issue in 1942.
1941 came around quickly. Denmark joined the Allies and in a stunning move captured Berlin. With the German’s new capital at Vienna it seemed to good an opportunity to miss, so I launched attack after attack – which, whilst gained me some ground (including the capture of Vienna) ended in another stalemate. It did however cause the German’s to pull out of the Netherlands. It seemed I was in for another missed year.
Then, in late 1941 Poland surrendered! Their faction disbanded and Germany annexed Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia along with Poland. This disaster for me was slightly reduced by Romania turning fascist and asking to join my faction. This gave me a new front with Germany which I was able to quickly exploit pushing forces towards Lwow (in what was previously Poland). The USSR which had up to that point been very quiet suddenly declared war on Finland. Nervous I checked the eastern situation just in time for them to also then declare on Romania – dragging me into a two front war against the Soviets.
Within a few weeks that had rampaged across eastern Romania and into Bulgaria. My forces were forced into a frantic retreat, attempting to build a new front stretching from Bucharest to the Hungarian border. Reinforcements were rushed from Spain and from Ethiopia in a hope to stem the red tide.
Then just to keep me on my toes Hungary joins the Axis and declares war. I frantically pull troops out of Vienna to prevent them getting surrounded whilst rushing more troops east to try and block the new Hungarian threat. Romania collapses, luckily my troops are already retreating so they are not trapped and I am hoping to stabilize things behind the Danube.
It’s getting worse. My lines didn’t even get time to form before they were over-run. My Romanian and Bulgarian fronts were encircled – a quarter of a million casualties in one major battle (can you really visualise that? A quarter of a million! Where I live has a population of about 30,000… kind of makes it staggering… thank God its only a game… anyway….). Italy is back where it started holding the line against Austria with a small foothold in what was Yugoslavia. Half of Greece has fallen – now being held by the remnants of my armies from the east. In just two weeks I have lost over a dozen divisions and the cream of my army. If I have a blessing, its that the bulk of the infantry losses were from Ethiopian and Romanian troops that were under my command.
A side effect of my rapid retreat into Greece allowed Hungary and Germany to advance through the Balkans and take most of the front facing me in Greece allowing the Soviets only a single territory to attack from. With peace between the Soviets and Germany it is making things very nerve wracking. It also means I can minimise my troops facing the combined Germany/Hungarian forces in Greece to face the growing Soviet threat. I’ve thrown most of my air-force fighters into airbases in Greece but am still outnumbered 2 to 1. They have amassed over 2000 fighter’s to try and crush me. Luckily I don’t have to do any manoeuvring but rather let them throw themselves time and time again against my divisions dug into the mountains.
In Austria however things have turned for the better. Germany has been forced to thin their forces across Austria giving me the opportunity of incremental gains. My focus has returned to minimising losses whilst taking territory where I can. The Yugoslavia front is static and I am expecting to remain so with strong enemy forces there preventing me from reallocating any divisions. However my opportunistic approach in Austria has worked and with the weakened forces I have managed to push Germany almost completely out of the mountains and back across the Danube. They are stretched thin, but so am I. I have divisions in training but am concerned that throwing green troops into the battle may cost me more than waiting and seeing what happens – especially as battles rage in other parts of Germany.
My new divisions are coming on line and easing the pressure on the Austrian front. A new army is in building, taking over sections of the front south of Munich allowing me to concentrate more forces opposite Vienna. This has helped so much so that I have now almost completed the conquest of Austria. Yugoslavia remains in stalemate – a situation I am happy to maintain as I am eyeing the rapidly numbers of Soviet divisions that are appearing on their shared front with the Germans across the Balkans. I get the feeling that the Soviets are about to make a move against Germany, and if they do I will need to keep my frontier tight as once they smash through the Germans and Hungarians unless they engage the Allies I will be fighting them across the whole of Eastern Europe.
On the home front I am increasing the production of aircraft -specifically fighters at the expense of a lot of other equipment. I am hoping that any equipment captured will be able to be used if necessary -but I need those fighters, especially in Greece where I am still out numbered by 2 to 1. I’ve increased my air defences, starting to throw up more radar and loading up on static anti-aircraft in the core states but am starting to take serious damage from Soviet bombers that are coming in from Bulgaria. The internal damage isn’t serious at this point, but its building, so I need to make sure I can prevent it reaching a critical condition.
Well the war with Germany is over and oh boy am I in trouble. Germany has gone socialist (along with France) so now there is communist threat for me from the Atlantic to the Urals! I got nothing out of the peace conference – but at least Romania did. I am hoping that they will be able to hold back the Russian horde for a little whilst at least! In the meantime the Soviets are powering through the rest of the Balkans. I am just hoping that my defensive lines will hold them.
The Storm is Coming!
So what happens? The moment the peace conference is over Germany joins the Comintern and the USA declares war on them! Romania is now guaranteed by France and the UK so I am hoping that they will now join in and declare against the Soviets. If they do I will need to let them access to my land in order to defend my borders. The only other hope I have is that the get drawn into another conflict with Germany and the Comintern which will then protect my northern flanks.
And that’s it. February 1943 and it’s fully on between the Allies (which the USA has now joined) and the Soviets. Within two months whilst the physical situation hasn’t changed I am hoping that the damage that the Soviets are taking will make some difference. They were at 350,000 casualties by the time Germany exited the war – now only two months later they are sitting on just under 1.9 million. They are throwing themselves against my troops – but, I am holding tight. Sitting on mountains or behind the major rivers, letting them throw themselves against me whilst I keep building more divisions and gaining equipment. I know they can out produce me, but they can’t out produce the Allies and its their advance through Germany that I am going to rely on to relieve pressure on the Balkans.
The storm lasted through to October when the USA started invading through Finland. Suddenly the divisions facing me in Greece didn’t seem to be getting any reinforcements, so I struck. First pushing them back and thinning their line before launching a number of enveloping manoeuvres that were lucky enough to pocket about 30 Soviet divisions. They threw reinforcements against my Yugoslavian line but my light tanks were able to break out from Greece and race for the Turkish border before turning north along the edge of the Black Sea and heading for Odessa. This turned the Soviet retreat into a rout – catching me by surprise. It turned into a race to the Soviet border with my tanks leading the charge. But the Soviets seemed to have wings on their feet for however quickly I advanced the bulk of their forces were ahead of me – so I ended up settling for encircling a few dozen divisions in small pockets across Romanian territory before reforming my front for the advance into Russia. December 1943 ended with me facing the Soviets on their homeland – but with me already in possession of Odessa.
The reason for my rapid advance now became clear. The USA and France were pushing down towards Moscow from the north. They bypassed the Belorussian Republic (the light blue at the top right of the above image) and seemed to be heading directly for the Crimea. With my push up from the south-west this led to the Soviet forces in Europe being supplied only by ship apart from a narrow corridor that I managed to cut after a number of days ferocious fighting.
With the bulk of the Soviet forces now isolated in Europe I began a second race – this time to try and stay ahead of the USA/French juggernaut. The plains of Southern Ukraine were empty and I was able to push forward almost to the Don without meeting any pressure. Sevastopol fell without a fight and whilst the Soviets started building up forces along the Don I pushed south into the Caucuses over-running the entire region, reaching Bacu in the south and Astrakan in the north. But I was stretched too thin. Two divisions had even reached, taken and advanced past Stalingrad. I attempted to pull back, but lost divisions as they were isolated, out of supply and worn-out from the long march.
It was about now that communist Germany surrendered. This left the Soviet army locked in three ever decreasing pockets along my front with no supply. Rather than lose troops needlessly, I withdraw the smallest of my armies and moved it east to form a defensive line protecting the Crimean Peninsula. Forming just it time as Soviet reinforcements had recaptured most of the Caucuses and pushed up to my new front.
The USA/French war machine was now rapidly approaching Astrakan, so I decided that further advances into Russia were pointless, and with other foreign divisions now appearing along my fronts, I moved my armies to the rear and embarked them for the return trip to Italy. By the time the armies had returned the Soviet pockets in Germany were gone and hence all my troops were able to rest and resupply. I disbanded all my foreign divisions, returning them home. My air-force was rehoused closer to home and production shifted to suit the needs of the next conflict.
With the Soviet surrender mid 1945 I became the proud owner of the puppet nation of Mongolia. Not sure what good that is going to do me! But the whole world is in a mess with countries all over the place. The whole of India has fallen to the Japanese. What still exists of China is now allied with them and by the looks of things they are pushing against Singapore again. The Allies are engaged in the struggle against the Japanese, so I need to turn this to my advantage.
France is politically weak as I have been encouraging their fascist party for some time now, making serious gains against the ruling communists. I guess its time to encourage a civil war. This will give me opportunity to provide them with support and hopefully get them to leave the Allies and join with me without engaging in an all-out war with the Allies.
My first squadrons of jet fighters are also now in service and the first squadrons of piston-engine fighters are being decommissioned. I’ve taken the quiet time as an opportunity to design some new divisions with completely “modern” equipment. They are filling slowly. My older divisions are being reinforced with a mixture of old and new equipment. I still need vast quantities of light tanks for my older infantry divisions to replace their captured equipment, but I need to balance that with producing modern armour and mechanised infantry for the new divisions. My available manpower is hovering just under a million which I feel comfortable with given the situation – especially with the losses that some countries have taken – the last war with the Soviets I know cost France over two million casualties and the UK close to one and a half million. Whilst my own losses are not trivial they are small compared to the others, but I also need to be careful to ensure I keep enough for a reserve.
My fleets have also been enjoying over six years of continued growth and I now possess a huge number of destroyers. Most are of an older vintage as I needed to prioritise my air-force and army over their development, however newer models are now coming online. Either way they will act as a good deterrent and also a great lure for pulling enemy fleets into range of my navel bombers – nearly all of which are currently sitting in storage!
Suddenly I realise that the Allies have basically taken over the world whilst I have been sitting on my backside building up my forces! Japan has surrendered and the game seems to have settled into an uneasy peace with little action that isn’t instantly squashed by the Allies. Whilst my new Roman Empire stretches across the Mediterranean, there is little chance of improvement without making serious inroads against the Allies, so I decide to try and cause a civil war in France with the hope that a new regime will leave the Allies and join me.
So pushing hard against France I succeed in causing a civil war. The fascists set up a new government in the south of France (great!) – but before I can offer them material support they join the Comintern and the current Soviet war! So here I have a communist government of France fighting with the Allies and a fascist government joined with the communists! What is worse is the Soviets are hardly able to field an army and are being annihilated on every front. The fascist rebels in southern France sit and let the rest of their territory be over-run by the USA & the UK – and then Marseille gets nuked ending it for them.
At this point I realise I have managed to bring myself to a halt with this game. Whilst I have a stable position in the Mediterranean I am pinned there and unable to move out. If I attack the Allies with their current strength I can’t see myself holding all my fronts – which means I would either lose the Iberian peninsula or Bulgaria and Greece. It would turn into a long drawn out war with borderline opportunity to turn to my advantage. So rather I decide to resign myself to the gains I have made. The new Roman Empire whilst not as global as I wanted stands strong. Its thousands of jet fighters proudly dominate the skies of southern Europe. The Mediterranean, whilst open for global trade is now the playground for the might Italian fleets and its battle hardened armies stand guard on the frontiers.
Seems like a good place to end it.
Next game I think I might need to be a bit more aggressive!