You are playing Risk. Due to your starting position, bad luck with dice or bad luck with other players picking on you, you find yourself in a position where you are one of the weakest players in the game. What would you do now? Should you stay put where you are and hope that your luck turns? Should you concentrate on fortifying your continent so then you can have a stronger foothold in the game? Would you try to use diplomacy? What should be your main strategy?
To answer these questions, let’s have a look at an interesting battle that took place recently, in World War II.
By 1940, the war had reached north of Africa. The British had secured Egypt and were planning to move west all the way to Tripoli in Libya. Their plan was to force the Italians out of the area and then launch a major offensive against the Italians.
In 1941, Hitler sent General Erwin Rommel to North Africa with a simple mission; protect Tripoli and do not let the Italians to be forced out. Rommel came to Tripoli with Afrika Korps to reinforce the Italians. Rommel had a much smaller force than the British and was ordered only to defend their position. Put yourself in place of Rommel. What would you do?
What happened next led to one of the most interesting battles of WWII. Instead of taking a defensive position against the British, Rommel immediately launched a fully-fledged offensive despite what Hitler had ordered him. Rommel broke his small force into columns of mechanised armour and sent them to attack the British line of defence. The mechanised lines moved incredibly quickly, in several directions, sometimes advancing at night with dimmed lights and appearing to come from many directions. The British were constantly surprised not knowing where and when to defend.
As a result, the British were forced to retreat. To General Wavell, who was leading the British forces, this was shocking and somewhat humiliating. Rommel had a much smaller force, but General Wavell was forced to constantly retreat and within a few weeks the Germans had advanced all the way to the border of Egypt, 90 miles away from Alexandria!
Rommel had turned the tables. Rather than adopting a defensive posture or worrying about having a smaller force, he had taken advantage of mobility, speed and surprise to win against a much larger force. Effectively, he was using the same principles of blitzkrieg. Rommel’s intention was to create chaos and appear larger than usual. For example, he used trucks along with the tanks to kick up lots of dust. This created the illusion that the incoming force was much larger than it really was. He moved the columns quickly and approached the opponent from unusual directions. Since the British had to guess and second guess what was happening, they made several mistakes. It was these mistakes that Rommel was counting on so he could attack again at the right moment and with devastating results.
In the end, Hitler’s Russian campaign deprived Rommel of valuable supplies and Tripoli was captured by the British in 1943.
The moral of the story is simple. By making the first move against your opponent you will totally change the dynamics of the game. If your opponent is stronger than you, your attack and their potential loss would disorient him and put him on the defensive. For example, you can sneakily attack a stronger player’s continent or critical strategic point just as he starts an offensive somewhere else against you or others. This will immediately change the dynamics of the game as he needs to make new moves to address it. You can then carry on with your surprise moves to keep him guessing not knowing what to protect next. By being forced to protect all borders at once, you reduce the strength of his borders. This makes it easier for you to punch a hole in his line of defence and further weaken him by putting him into a totally defensive position. Now, you have the initiative despite having been a weaker player. If you continue with similar surprise moves you would reach a tipping point where others might join and help you turn the strong player into a pretty weak one. The rest is then easy.