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Playing Axis & Allies 1941, I encountered a situation concerning stranded defending fighters that I have a hard time adjudicating with the rulebook.

The problem is that an aircraft carrier is attacked and destroyed, and a defender's fighter plane remains as stranded. It is unclear to me whether or not an adjacent friendly territory is a valid safe landing place for that plane, when at the time it is occupied by a hostile plane (the attacker's) which afterwards has to leave during non-combat move.

How do I adjudicate this situation according to the rules?

A good answer would either present adjudication step by step, deducting it from the individual rules used; or it would cite official clarification for this situation.

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The stranded fighter can land safely, no combat is triggered and the attacker's plane returns home

When attacking and destroying an aircraft carrier, defender's fighters may remain in play after combat (if the attacker cancels the attack before all fighters are destroyed or no more units remain that can attack each other). These fighters are then considered stranded and, at the beginning of the Non-Combat Move Phase before the active player's moves, get the chance to move 1 space to a safe landing place. A safe landing place is either a friendly carrier or a friendly territory.

The rules define three states for territories: friendly, hostile and neutral. A territory is considered friendly when it is under your or your allies' control and control changes by capturing territories. This implies that a friendly territory with hostile planes "attacking" it is still considered friendly.

Furthermore, air units are allowed to attack hostile territories in the Combat Move Phase but it cannot be captured without land units there. The rules do not state anything forbidding that air units attack an empty hostile territory, even though it cannot be captured and no actual combat will happen. In the Non-Combat Move the air units have to return to friendly territory.

All combats triggered in the Combat Move Phase and all movements in the Non-Combat Move Phase are considered to happen simultaneously. Order of execution for individual events within these phases is irrelevant.

The result of this situation: before the attacker does any of his non-combat moves, the defender moves his stranded fighter. As the adjacent territory which is currently occupied by a hostile air unit, is still considered friendly, it is allowed to move there and be safe. No combat is triggered, as per the rules the defender's move into and the attacking plane's non-combat move out of the territory happen simultaneously and they never actually meet. The attacker's plane returns home, the defender's fighter remains in play.

This interpretation has been confirmed by Kevin Chapman, one of the game's developers, at the BoardGameGeek Forums.

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A hostile plane cannot "occupy" a friendly land territory (as of the beginning of your turn); only a hostile land unit can do that. The hostile plane can "bomb" your land zone, that is attack units that were stranded there. But ultimately, it has to leave to refuel. Moreover, since it is flying "in" from another zone, its "window" over your friendly zone is much shorter than yours (as the Germans found out at the Battle of Britain).

Basically, your fighter can stay over the friendly land area longer than the hostile bomber, and land when it leaves, even on the "same" turn.

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