Saturday, December 11, 2010

The battle of East Kokoda, part 1

 Jap standard bearer 144th Regt of the Nankai Shitai & local commander, Lt Col Yokoyama 
(Photo courtesy of Greg Blake)

The battle started slowly.  We knew the Japs were there because of the incessant bombardment that went on all night.  In the dark the Japanese started to assemble around 1500 hours in the light jungle to the north of the Australian positions.  A heavy mist rolled in, further reducing visibility for the tired defenders.

 The Japs of the Nankai Shitai amass over the other side of the river. 
(Photo courtesy Greg Blake)

The Australian forces were actually pulled out by Bde commander Lt Col Owen who, realizing his mistake rushed them back to the airfield in the nick of time.  Consisting of D, B & E Coys, 39th Btn ('D' under Capt. Bistrap comprised of two platoons each of three sections of nine) they barely had time to dig in around the Administration buildings on the northern edge of the airstrip and on the plateau on the other side of the creek next to the native village. Each section is equipped with an antiquated Lewis light machine-gun (WWI vintage) and Stens with the occasional Thompson SMG for the NCOs.

 39th Btn Australian militia 
(photo courtesy of Greg Blake)

After the disastrous ambushed patrol previously (an entire section and LMG were lost), the Australians are on edge, realising that a large force of Japanese, at least a company and possibly battalion strength, is rapidly heading their way.

Behind them, facing the airstrip and dug in along the edge of the plateau is the remainder of the Papuan Battalion under Major Watson and Australian NCOs.  After battle casualties and desertions it consists of three small sections, one equipped with a Lewis LMG.  'Man long Yapan ekom' they mutter to each other in trepidation - most of their 'wontoks' and kin in the village have long fled into the jungle.  Many of the PB have since joined them.  The Australians, many former police or government administrators have to work hard with their native constables to keep the terrified remainder together.

 Major Watson's Papuan Battalion 
(photo courtesy of Greg Blake)

Attached to the Australian defenders to give them a little clout is the 39th Headquarters Coy HMG support section consisting of a Vickers HMG and a mortar (1 x tube plus observer team).

39th HQ Support - Vickers & mortar - Maj Watson & his Papuans in the background 
(photo courtesy of Greg Blake)

On the other side of the creek along the edge of the plateau facing north are Templeton's B Company consisting of three platoons, one understrength from the clash at Oivi just a day or two before: they have the only Bren and three Lewis guns.  Thinking (correctly) that the main Jap attack will come right at them, they have the HQ heavy weapons support behind them.  

Shrouded in a heavy mist, the Australian forward defences at Kokoda 
(the yellow marker is the first of the incessant Japanese star shells that were used to light up the Aussie positions)

Jap 3" mortar and 70mm Mountain guns of the type that kept the defenders awake all night! 
(Photo courtesy of Greg Blake)
The Japanese were the veterans of the South Seas Detachment - the Nankai Shitai - mainly the 1st Btn, 144th Regiment consisting of three full strength companies, each of  four platoons and with their own HMG.  The 3rd Coy also have knee mortars.  Attached also was the 15th Independent Engineers (3 x rifle platoons) So, at least four companies with artillery support coming right at us in the dark out of the mist and jungle. Terrifying not just for the native Papuan troops but for tired and inexperienced young Aussie militia too! 

The 1st Coy of the 1st Btn, 144th amass to the north directly in front of Templeton's position
- the Aussies can hear something, but can't see them. 
(Photo courtesy of Greg Blake)

The Japs, hidden by the mist, close in on the Australian positions from the north

Soon the Australian positions on the northern edge of the plateau and at the end of the airstrip (part of Bistrap's platoon) were coming under increasingly accurate mortar and artillery fire.  The Aussies night vision was not helped by the incessant star shells which did help the Japs zero in on the Australian positions every time we opened fire.

Note the red 'suppressed' marker on the Aussie position - 
this became a constant problem with the continuous Jap mortar, gun and HMG fire 
(photo courtesy of Greg Blake - made 'misty' by me!)

The defenders faced rapidly mounting problems, not the least of which was the only 10% chance of acquiring a target firing into the dark and mist (only on the roll of a 1 on a D10).  This only got better for the Japanese as the game went on and the Australian positions, revealed by our firing, became continually lit up by b%*#$y star shells! 

From L - R: Andrew, Doug & myself: 
Andrew cunningly hiding in the jungle with his command while Doug and I try to figure out 
(unsuccessfully as it turned out) how we can actually get to shoot the buggers
(Photo courtesy of Greg Blake)

So that sets the scene for the battle:  the Japs have bombarded all night and are now getting their attack under way.  We know they're there - but we can't see'em!  Every time we shoot it attracts increasing volumes of fire of all sorts from the hidden Japanese.  

Diabolical scenario Andrew! 

Our opponents Greg and Ian who replaced Cameron for this round are veteran WWII gamers and know how to use all the tools in their well-equipped toolbox - particularly artillery, mortars and... snipers!   How they did so will be revealed in Battle of East Kokoda Part II!

All the figures and the scenery are Andrews' - take a look at the native huts he put together from cardboard and kebab skewers only a day or two before the game!  Amazing!  Being a former Papua resident I can attest to their accuracy: dispela man emi gut bikpela 'skills' - emi makim haus lon Papua tru!

I also have to thank the Jap commander Greg for sending me some of his marvelous photos to use.  I'm particularly impressed with the close-ups which put my old Fuji digital workhorse to shame (and a pending trip to the photographic equivalent of the knackers yard!)  

Hope you all enjoyed it - more on Kokoda in a few days.