July 22, 2024

History to Wargame – Operation Attila: The 1974 Invasion of Cyprus

RockyMountainNavy, 7 July 2024

I constantly seek to expand my knowledge of the Falkland War of 1982 in part because that war was amongst the first times I really payed attention to world events. As a wargamer it also has provided many hours of game play material. In a recently acquired book, there appeared a line in the forward that stated:

I concur with the authors that this operation should be seen as comparable to more famous military events such as Operation Chromite (the Inchon Landing, 1950), Operation Corporate (the British operations in the Falkland Islands, 1982), and Operation Urgent Fury (the U.S. invasion of Grenada, 1983). (Erickson, J. and Meset Uyar (2020) Phase Line Attila: The Amphibious Campaign for Cyprus, 1974. Quantico: Marine Corps University Press)

What is this other, less famous, invasion? Operation Attila.

A newly acquired book from Marine Corps University Press not only tied into my Falklands War studies but also grew my curiosity of amphibiosity. Phase Line Attila: The Amphibious Campaign for Cyprus, 1974 by Edward J. Erickson and Meset Uyar published in 2020 focuses the one of the few contested amphibious campaigns to take place post-World War II. As the back of the book describes itself:

Phase Line Attila is a study of amphibiosity with a view toward examine how the Turks successfully conducted a post-Second World War amphibious campaign in a contested environment. Phase Line Attila details the Turkish amphibious invasion of northern Cyprus in July 1974 and the follow-on breakout operation in August. Sometimes erroneously called Operation Attila, the operation was actually Operation Yildiz Atma-4 (Operation Star Drop-4), and it was a carefully planned and well executed joint operational level amphibious assault against a defended island. Attila was the name of the phase line associated with the campaign termination. Arguably, Operation Yildiz Atma-4 is one of only two deliberate amphibious campaigns conducted since 1945 against a well-armed enemy who actively contested the landings. (Erickson & Meset, back of the book)

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Via Marine Corps University Press (photo by RMN)


Intrigued, I knew I also wanted to play a wargame on this topic. I dutifully went to BoardGameGeek to search for a title; there were none, however, to find. Well, almost. If you search using the key term “Attila” or “Cyprus” you won’t find a wargame about Turkey’s 1974 invasion of Cyprus. Fortunately, I am a fan of wargame designer Brian Train that, shall we say, “specializes” in small or irregular wars. I am fortunate to have in my wargame collection Train’s 2019 wargame title Brief Border Wars. This quad-series of modern wargames from Compass Games includes, “Operation Attila: The Turkish Invasion of Cyprus, 1974.”

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(photo by RMN)



Erickson and Uyar start Phase Line Attila by defining “amphibiosity:”

Amphibiosity is a recently derived word that is increasingly popular among the professional practitioners of amphibious warfare in the United States. In the military sense, it describes the extent to which an organization exhibits an expeditionary mindset and an ability to conduct amphibious operations (Erickson & Uyar, p. 3).

Phase Line Attila further characterize Operation Attila as a deliberate amphibious campaign. As the authors explain, “A campaign is a series of battles and engagements designed to achieve a strategic purpose (Erickson & Uyar, p. 4). They go on to state:

Campaigns fall broadly into two types—offensive and defensive—and within these a campaign may be deliberate (a doctrinal term meaning operations that are preplanned and preresourced in a long-term planning cycle) or hasty (a doctrinal term meaning operations that are taken expeditiously in response to a window of opportunity with the resources at hand conducted with a short planning cycle) (Erickson & Uyar, pp. 4-5).

The authors in Phase Line Attila contend:

Yildiz Atma-4 was a deliberate amphibious campaign conducted against serious opposition. Its only read near-peer rival was Operation Musketeer, the Anglo-French landing at Suez in 1956. However, Operation Musketeer terminated incompletely for political reasons after only 43 hours of ground combat and was strategically unsuccessful. There were four other operational-level landings after the Second World War, the largest of which was the Chinese Communist assault on Hainan Island in 1950, which was heavily opposed and the assaulting force carried over a narrow strait supported by field artillery fires in an improvised fleet of more than 2,000 Chinese junks. The remaining operational-level campaigns include Inchon in 1950 and the Falklands in 1982, both off which were hasty operations and literally unopposed landings, and Grenada in 1983, which was also a hasty operations and very lightly opposed. In truth, since the ending of the Second World War, amphibious assault continues to be a viable form of warfare but is rare at the operational level of war (Erickson & Uyar, p. 5).

I’ll pause a moment to comment that calling Inchon or the Falklands “literally unopposed” ignores that there was some opposition. Maybe not “serious” in the eyes of the authors of Phase Line Attila but so say “unopposed” is to figuratively dismiss, at the very least, the valor of those who went across the beaches in 1950 and 1982.


Study material

Erickson and Uyar are quick to point out in Phase Line Attila that there have been many tactical level amphibious landings since the end of World War II; in fact table 1.2 lists six with the 1965 Operation Starlite in then-South Vietnam considered the most successful and representative of a tactical level amphibious operation. Yildiz Atma-4, the authors contend, is different from not only the tactical landings but also other operational level landings and worthy of study:

Beyond the fact that it is the only example of a militarily and politically successful contested amphibious assault at the operational level since 1945, Yildiz Atma-4 was a textbook case of the application of deliberate amphibious planning as it existed in the postwar era. As a campaign, Yildiz Atma-4 served to fulfill the strategic purpose of preventing Greek Cypriots from politically unifying with Greece. Moreover, the campaign was expeditionary in the sense that the invading forces were self-sufficient logistically only by using sea-based supply. Finally, in terms of the principles of war, the campaign demonstrates how surprise, maneuver, and unity of command can overcome risk and enemy actions (Erickson & Uyar, p. 8).

A brief summary of the actual campaign as described in Phase Line Attila is as follows:

On 20 July 1974, The Turks assaulted a beach with two Turkish Marine battalions and reinforced it with an army infantry regiment to establish a beachhead. At the same time, they dropped a commando brigade by helicopter to establish an airhead. The Turks then, in a three-day period, consolidated the beachhead and airhead into what is called a lodgment, Three weeks later, reinforced by two infantry divisions, the Turkish VI Corps (under the name Kibris Turk Bans Kuveti [Turkish Cyprus Peace Force] planned and executed a breakout to what they had designated as Phase Line Attila to secure the northern one-third of the island (Erickson & Uyar, p. 8).


Wargame brief

The Introduction to the Brief Border Wars System Rules describe the game thusly:

Brief Border Wars is a series of four small military simulation games for two players exploring short border conflicts between countries during the twentieth century. Player represent the local military leaders of these respective governments. The time covered by an entire game may represent days to months, depending on events within the game; the number of combatants involved in the conflict is also variable (Train, B. (2019) Brief Border Wars. Compass Games, System Rules 1.0 Introduction).

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Brief Border Wars Operation Attilla setup (photo by RMN)


The introduction in the Exclusive Rules for “Operation Attila: The Turkish Invasion of Cyprus, 1974” explains:

Operation Attila is a military game for two players exploring the invasion of Cyprus in the summer of 1974. Players represent the local military leaders of these respective governments. The action begins on July 20, 1974. The time covered by an entire game may represent up to two months, depending on events within the game. Historically, there were four days of activity in July for the initial invasion, then a break of three weeks marked by building up and skirmishing, then a final three days of fighting before a ceasefire imposed by the United Nations (Train, Brief Border Wars, Operation Attilla Exclusive Rules, 1.0 Introduction).

Brief Border Wars is a card-driven game (CDG) where, in a given turn, “both players will draw a number of cards from a deck of Action Cards, then will expend them alternately to conduct different activities with their counters on the map” (Train, Brief Border Wars, Operation Attilla Exclusive Rules, 1.1 General Course of Play). The game map uses a map divided into areas instead of hexes. While the Operation Attila game uses the System Rules, the Exclusive Rules add Special Action Event 6.33 Turkish Invasion to represent the initial (or even later) amphibious landings as well as rule 9.3 The Turkish Airborne Brigade to simulate the airborne commando brigade landing. The game also recommends the following Optional Rules be used to represent the better trained and equipped Turkish forces:

    • 9.11 (Organizational Ability). The Turkish player gives up any number of their six Special Action Cards for 2 victory points (VP).
    • 9.12 (Formation Agility). The Turkish player is allowed to make Reaction Moves, but with defensive air units only.
    • 9.13 (Intelligence Advantage). The Cypriot player must play their Action Cards face up.
    • 9.14 (Poorly Trained Staff). The Cypriot player must play each Action Card for the highest movement or combat value only.
    • 9.15 (Skilled Guerrillas). NOT USED. See Exclusive Rule 9.2 Irregular Units instead.
IMG 5848
Action Cards (photo by RMN)


Attila Attestation

Operation Attila in Brief Border Wars delivers an above-average representation of the historical campaign. Let us review Erickson and Uyar’s claims in Phase Line Attila about the war and how each is depicted, or not, in Brief Border Wars Operation Attila:

“As a campaign, Yildiz Atma-4 served to fulfill the strategic purpose of preventing Greek Cypriots from politically unifying with Greece.” DEPICTED? In Brief Border Wars this factor depends on the performance of the players. Victory in Operation Attila is determined strictly by control of territory; the number of units destroyed or disrupted is not a consideration. There are a total of 28 VP on the map and, per Exclusive Rule 8.0 Game End and Victory, the Turkish player is graded based on the number of VP occupied as follows:

    • 0 to 4: Major Cypriot victory
    • 5 to 9: Minor Cypriot victory
    • 10 to 15: Draw
    • 16 to 22: Minor Turkish victory
    • 23 or more: Major Turkish victory.
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Top number in each area info is VP value; lower is terrain (photo by RMN)


“Moreover, the campaign was expeditionary in the sense that the invading forces were self-sufficient logistically only by using sea-based supply.”DEPICTED. The Exclusive Rules for Operation Attila include an important note that modifies System Rule 6.2 Combat. In Operation Attila, a Turkish regular ground unit must be “in supply” to attack. To be “in supply” that attacking unit must be able to trace a supply chain of one or more adjacent areas back to the Beachhead marker; each area cannot contain an undisrupted enemy ground unit without a friendly undisrupted ground unit also present.

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Amphibiosity marked with a Beachhead… (photo by RMN)


“Finally, in terms of the principles of war, the campaign demonstrates how surprise, maneuver, and unity of command can overcome risk and enemy actions.” DEPICTED. Let us break out the depiction of each principle a bit further.

    • Surprise – The timing of the amphibious and airborne assaults are chosen by the Turkish player by using a Special Action Card (Exclusive Rules 6.33 Turkish Invasion).
  • IMG 5856
    Amphibious and airborne assaults are GO (photo by RMN)


    • Maneuver – In addition to the regular movement rules, which include Retreats (System Rule 6.23 Retreats) and Exploitation by mechanized units (System Rule 6.24 Exploitation), Operation Attila includes rules for Turkish amphibious and airborne assaults (Exclusive Rules 6.33 Turkish Invasion and 9.3 The Turkish Airborne Brigade. Further, Exclusive Rule 6.12 Moving from the Rear Area explains how Turkish units move from the Rear Area to the Transit Box and thence onward to the Beachead. Additionally, Exclusive Rules 6.12 and 9.2 Irregular Units explain how reinforcing Irregular units in the Rear Area are placed directly on the map without a need for transit.


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Maneuver to battle (photo by RMN)


    •  Unity of Command – The Turkish advantages from their unity of command are most directly demonstrated in the Optional Rules for Operation Attila. In particular, 9.12 Formation Agility, 9.13 Intelligence Advantage, and 9.14 Poorly Trained Staff (effecting the Cypriot player) emphasize the command and control advantages that resulted from Turkish unity of command.
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Cypriot player playing hand face up and only for highest value certainly limits their decision space (photo by RMN)


Attila atrocities

There is, however, one aspect of Operation Attila that is acknowledged in Train’s Brief Border Wars wargame but downplayed, if not all-but-dismissed, in Erickson and Uyar’s book Phase Line Attila. The final paragraph of Train’s Designer’s Notes for Operation Attila talks about the atrocities of the conflict noting that, “There were numerous atrocities committed by both communities during the fighting and while large numbers of displaced people shifted themselves to one side or the line or the other” (Train, Brief Border Wars, Operation Attila, Exclusive Rule 10.0 Designer’s Notes).

The displacement of persons is given barely a mention in Phase Line Attila. As far as atrocities go, Erickson and Uyar make the case that the Turkish forces went out of their way to avoid civilian casualties. As the authors discuss the outcome of Operation Victory, the Turkish offensive in the last days of the war, they make note of this “accomplishment:”

Operation Victory was an unqualified success that was completed in three days. It might of been accomplished earlier, but the reader should remember that Cyprus was crawling with civilians, UN peacekeepers, and the press. What we now call collateral damage (the unintentional killing of noncombatants) was potentially a disastrous cause celebre for the Turks. Moreover, the Turks probably didn’t not want to lose any more men than they already had, and time was on their side. Bringing overwhelming combat power to bear in order to avoid casualties was likely more important for them than concluding the operation a day or two early (Erickson & Uyar, pp. 203-204).

“…crawling with civilians, UN peacekeepers, and the press.” That is an interesting use of the verb “crawl.” If you find a room in your house “crawling with bugs” you are almost certainly going to exterminate them. Am I to draw the conclusion from the authors that the same should be done for civilians, UN peacekeepers, and the press? If we define “the press” as mainstream news media in America today I can see the authors point but as far as civilians and UN peacekeepers go, well, I strongly disagree.

At this point I would be remiss not to mention that Phase Line Attila co-author Meset Uyar, PhD, might be a bit biased towards the Turkish version of history. Reading their online academic profile is interesting:

Graduate of Turkish Military Academy in 1991. Got MA on politics and Ph.D. on international relations from Faculty of Political Sciences Istanbul University. Specialized on war studies, particularly on operations other than war. As a career officers he served at platoon leader and company and battalion commander positions in various infantry units and several tours of peace support operations duties as military observer at UN mission in Georgia and as staff officer in Afghanistan. He was wounded twice in action. He served as assistant professor of international relations at the Turkish Military Academy for ten years. He was also the curator of the Military Academy Archive and Museum Division for five years where he started his research about Ottoman military history. He spent one year as an instructor and academic advisor at the Peace Support Training Center in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He worked as an associate professor of Ottoman military history at the University of New South Wales, Canberra-Australia for five years. He is currently working as a professor of international relations at the Antalya Bilim University.

Frankly, I find it a bit hard to believe that a scholar specializing in the study of operations other than war who served the UN mission in Georgia and in Afghanistan, and one who was an instructor and academic advisor that the Peace Support Training Center in Bosnia and Herzegovina could be so coldly dismissive of civilian horrors in conflict. Maybe the editor cut out those references? Who knows…

While Train mentions atrocities in the Designer’s Notes for Brief Border Wars Operation Attila, there are no rules in the game to simulate or otherwise show the impact of nor existence of those events. Admittedly, that might be too much to ask for in a wargame focused on military operations. Train’s mention of atrocities, however, certainly makes me wonder if there should be some rule reflecting the unfortunate realities of war. It apparently was important enough to the designer to mention…


Phase Line Attila as a Brief Border War

Reading Phase Line Attila and playing the Operation Attila wargame in Brief Border Wars is one of the better History to Wargame explorations recently undertaken by myself. The book and wargame complement one another, both reflecting the others main points as well as exposing intellectual or design blind spots. For myself, mixing reading and wargaming is one of the best ways to explore a topic. Phase Line Attila and Brief Border Wars proved an excellent, thought provoking mix.

If you find Brief Border Wars an interesting game, at the time of this post Compass Games offers Brief Border War Volume II for pre-order. Per the ad copy the second volume will cover four new conflicts including:

  • 1913: Second Balkan War (also known as “The Interallied War”)
  • 1919: The Seven-Day War (also known as “Teschen”)
  • 1939: The Nomonhan Incident (also known as “The Battle of Khalkin Gol”)
  • 1940: The Italo-Greek War (also known as “The Balkan Defiance”)

Personally, I am going to wait to order until Compass runs their Kickstarter campaign as they usually do just weeks before publication. YMMV 🤷‍♂️ .

BBW2 gamebox top 062022
Courtesy Compass Games


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One thought on “History to Wargame – Operation Attila: The 1974 Invasion of Cyprus

  1. Gee, if I’d only known.. I was working on this game in 2019, when their book came out the year after. But I still think “Operation Yildiz Atma-4 ” might not have fit as neatly into the box art.

    About atrocities: my purpose in writing about these was to reflect back on the escalating violence between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities throughout the 50s and 60s that gave Turkey the casus belli to invade.
    Also, the reference to atrocities during the 1974 fighting is made with reference to the communities involved.
    I have not implied, nor did I intend to imply that the Turkish regular armed forces did such things.
    However, the irregular armed forces on both sides, essentially small militias set up and armed in their respective enclaves, were not under the firm control of either government and there were incidents of fights where only one side showed up with guns (which is a common pattern of modern warfare, once you think about it).
    If I had been inclined to do a long and detailed game about the conflict with political and social prologue and epilogue I might have put in rules for something like that.
    But I didn’t, and as the only wargame currently existing on the conflict (to my knowledge anyway), it will have to do.

    As for Brief Border Wars Volume II, up until recently it was promised as coming out “mid-2024” – that is, about NOW… but I have recently been told it will not appear until 2025.
    And I worked so hard to finish it in 2021/22….

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