Saturday, March 19, 2011

Battle for Kokoda West Part 2.

Headquarters section, Kokoda
(Photo courtesy of Greg Blake, foggy bits etc, by Doc)

It’s been so long since the last post on the Kokoda campaign that I should have included a short history and synopsis of it so far for those new to the blog or perhaps not familiar with this as it was one of the more obscure military campaigns of WWII.  I have to say that it may be remote and tiny in terms of geographic location and numbers involved (initially under 20,000 all told - 13,000 Japanese faced by less than 4,000 Australian and local Papuan militia), but it is of immense and increasing historical importance to many Australians. In my opinion it now equals that of the better known Gallipoli campaign of WWI, and rightly so as it was on our doorstep and involved incredible heroism and sacrifice by a generation that is still with us.

Jap patrols pushed through the mist shrouded jungle and native gardens,
probing towards the Kokoda escarpment

The Japanese task force, the Nankai Shitai, has landed on the north coast of Papua and and advance force of over 1,000 Japanese veterans has rapidly pushed inland from the coast with the immediate aim of capturing the vital airstrip at the old colonial administration outpost of Kokoda, located on a flat plateau jutting out from the foothills of the formidable Own Stanley mountain range.  The Australian forces in Papua New Guinea at the time consisted only of the inexperienced, barely trained and badly equipped 39th Militia  battalion, commanded by a leavening of experienced AIF officers led by Col. Owen.  They were augmented by a few companies of the native Papuan Infantry Battalion, local recruits and former native constabulary led by Australian officers and NCOs - most of them also former police and colonial administrators.

 39th Bttn militia, Kokoda.
(Photo courtesy of Greg Blake, foggy bits etc, by Doc)

Aggressive Japanese tactics have seen an advance patrol under the gallant Templeton wiped out at Ovi river and Templeton killed.  Papuan militia help the survivors escape.  Owen has withdrawn most of his forces to Deniki in the mountains behind Kokoda but soon realises his mistake and force marches his exhausted troops back.  A second smaller patrol is ambushed and also destroyed, shortly afterwards the assault on Kokoda East begins. The Australians just have time to dig in - temporary trenches called 'scrapes' - they give the bare minimum of cover.  At first they inflict heavy casualties on the Japanese but numbers and firepower, in particular mountain guns, mortars and heavy machine guns start to take their toll.  The Australian advance platoon is cut off and the Aussies, attempting to withdraw across open ground lit by star shells are cut down, almost to a man, ending the battle for Kokoda East [for full story and lots of pics, see earlier posts on Kokoda East, parts 1 & 2 in Dec last year, links on LH side].

Much the same fate has now befallen the Australian command at Kokoda West under Owen (both historically and in the game he was killed by a sniper!)  Heavy Japanese assault on the Aussie positions in front of the native huts at the top of the Kokoda escarpment have wiped out several sections.  As is the familiar pattern, Jap assaults initially suffer heavy casualties: one section wiped out and a second decimated and forced back.  But the Japs can afford to absorb these casualties (Jap platoon sections are 15-18 men while Aussie sections range from 6 to 8 men) as the Japs have two+ full strength companies, as apposed by a weakened company of three under strength militia platoons. Once again the Japanese threaten to cut off most of the Australians defending the far end of the escarpment.

The determined Jap assault reaches the foot of the escarpment.

The first Jap assault was stopped in its tracks but at a very heavy price.  It was followed by second and then third waves, each one becoming increasingly hard to hold off.  As before the defenders were hugely disadvantaged by their positions being exposed and targeted once they opened fire, lit up by constant star shells.  The Jap commander Greg held off his third and final assault, keeping his men outside of visible range while using his numbers and firepower to suppress the Australian positions - a very effective tactic.  Meanwhile, at the other end of the escarpment Jap C-in-C Cameron's men got within visible range of my positions so by Turn Three I was forced to open fire.  


The action at the end of the village.  The Japs attack through deteriorating visibility  with a light drizzle adding to the mist and gloom. The conditions were NOT conducive to good shooting. The Aussie automatic weapons failed completely, the blasted Owen gun jamming yet again (red marker).  The Jap section on the left is suppressed (green marker), having passed its gut check.  Repeated attempts to get them to charge failed, so I could not use grenades on them.  I eventually wiped out one section and with the support of one of Doug's sections, most of another but the Japanese used concentrated fire from mortars and HMGs in the clump of jungle in the top LH corner to completely obliterate the first section at the end of the village.  The third Jap section held back and used its superior firepower to shoot up the second Aussie section.  Time for the beleaguered Aussies to withdraw - 'shoot & scoot'!

   Doug adds his reserve to my own diminishing firepower 
to hold off the Japs long enough to pull out

The idea was for one section to cover the other, retreating in stages.  But the star shells lit up our position and Cameron rolled consistently well on shooting to decimate my troops.  Two eight man sections were soon reduced to just four men.


My two sections pull back - the surviving Bren gunner heroically shoots and scoots three times
all the way back to the edge of the table, where he tried just one more parting burst...

After own East Kokoda experience, we tried to pull back in plenty of time but were frustrated by the rules not allowing the dug in section an overwatch (covering) capability which would have seen them cut down the Japanese as they appeared at the top of the escarpment.  The Japanese lost one group but brought up another and two HMGs which they used to cut us down.  And the Jap snipers once again acquired and killed all our officers almost as soon as they exposed themselves to order the withdrawal.


The Australians withdraw
(Photo courtesy of Greg Blake)

As the Aussies withdraw through the village 
they are once again lit up by another star shell

Victorious Japs enter Kokoda - just next to Doc Vernon's 1st aid hut.  
After this my brave Bren gunner cut down all but the flag bearer from the lead group!

The thing that finally did us in was the proximity of the Japs to our one exit point at the other end of the village.  Greg persisted and got enough men into a position where they could concentrate their fire on the remaining Australians as they attempted to get off the board.  Apart from the cooks and clerks section - who picked up the Vickers in the process - nearly everyone was cut down by Japanese fire as they tried to escape.

The Japs finally cut off the Aussie withdrawal - didn't get it all their own way: the group at the top 
were virtually wiped out by grenades - the only time the Aussies managed it during the entire game!

Historically of course the Japs found getting up the escarpment extremely difficult, suffering heavily from Australian grenades and the Australians successfully withdrew.  A Bren gunner stayed behind to cover the withdrawal, hiding about 50 yards from Doc Vernon's fist aid hut.  He emptied a full clip of 30 rounds into celebrating Japanese, killing about 20 of them.  He casually remarked to an officer as he withdrew "you couldn't miss!"  My intrepid Bren gunner kind of paralleled that feat (but the rules only give you a measly 3 dice for shooting - not thirty!) - tried a burst into the Japs at the end of the table - the only time he missed - and paid the ultimate price. 

Well folks, that another disaster for the Allies even though once again they inflicted a huge number of casualties on the Japanese.  Both sides lost about four sections which meant the Japs lost more than twice as many as we did but we probably needed to inflict three times the casualties to have any chance of success.  

It was enormous fun to play and we will have to tinker with the Disposable Heroes rules to get a fairer and more historically accurate result - they are incredibly bloody - but you are guaranteed a result in about five turns!  The next stage of our campaign will be the Allies defence of our next outpost along the Kokoda track - Deniki - where the remains of the 39th will try to hold out, but I believe help may be on the way for us.  We certainly need it!

Cheers,
           Doc