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  Owen has withdrawn most of his forces to Deniki in the mountains behind Kokoda but soon realises his mistake and force marches his exhausted troops back.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!


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Battle of West Kokoda Pt.1

After much unavoidable delay we finally finished our initial Kokoda battles for the airfield with the fight for West Kokoda. These battles are following an increasingly familiar outcome: determined and ferocious attacks by overwhelming numbers of Japanese in the most difficult of conditions resulting in the annihilation of the Allied forces (after some fierce resistance of course).

The Japanese night attack with HMG fire overhead and a ubiquitous star shell drifting down as they 
advance through native gardens towards the Aussie positions at the top of the escarpment.
(Photo courtesy of Greg Blake)

After the debacle of the East Kokoda fight, the Allies (Australian militia with some local Papuan constabulary) under the command of C-in-C Doug (who played Col. Owen, the ill-fated Aussie commander of the 39th) and myself now faced at least two companies of veteran Japanese.  At our disposal for West Kokoda we had three under-strength platoons of militia, one of which was the Headquarters platoon made up of the battalion’s cooks and clerks and supported by one Vickers HMG – our only heavy weapon. 

The Japanese assemble and advance through the mist shrouded native gardens below the escarpment.

Our opponents were the redoubtable Greg and Cameron commanding the South Seas Detachment – Nankai Shitai – (the 144th Regt) of Japanese veterans.  Apart from several HMGs of the Woodpecker variety they were accompanied by numerous mortar tubes and a mountain gun - more freaking star shells!  Now a less experienced opponent may have just relied on their overwhelming numbers and thrown them against us in virtual human wave attacks (not too far removed from what happened historically!) but not these two.  I'm afraid they were rather stingy in offering their troops opportunities to die for the Emperor.

The next wave of Japs makes it to the base of the escarpment directly blow the village
(Photo courtesy of Greg Blake)

Greg’s first attack was on the centre of the Aussie line located along the edge of a tall escarpment, the Japs advancing through the native gardens, cleverly created by Andrew (the game adjudicator and Master of Terrain) to the base of the escarpment and (temporarily) out of the Allied fire.  Like all previous attacks, these were made in the dark of early morning, visibility also hampered by mist and heavy drizzle.  The Japs weren't visible until they closed within 15” of our positions.  Bearing in mind that firing would expose the location of our positions and although dug in, they were only ‘scrapes’ – shallow emergency trenches – and only one pip's worth of cover!

By Turn 2 the first Japanese sections managed to climb the escarpment and 
were into our positions before we could cut them down. 

Being once again at night with mist and rain made the Allied job of acquiring targets amongst the advancing Japanese extraordinarily difficult.  Our rolling for shooting did not help either - the lone HMG did some long range execution once - then failed to inflict any significant damage and was repeatedly under return fire.  We ended up trying to withdraw it on about Turn 3 and only managed to get the crew wiped out.  In the end it was the brave cooks and clerks platoon who managed to carry it off to safety.  We also made a rather costly blunder (in my opinion) by failing to grenade the Japs at the bottom of the escarpment.  Historically the Japs suffered grievous losses from Aussie grenades while scrambling up the near vertical slope.  We fired everything off but failed to kill more than half of the lead section who slightly outnumbered us in the subsequent hand-to-hand.  The end result was the total loss of the two sections of the 1st platoon - and I whined about grenades for the rest of the game!  

Doc's dilemma - now I've stopped whining about grenades, should I shoot again or just run away?
Andrew's helpful advice - you can do both - and so we'll attempt to 'shoot 'n scoot'!

To be fair we did get to use them once and they were remarkably effective, causing about four casualties on a decimated Jap section which then routed - the only time I can recall it happening so far this campaign!  Mind you they did manage to rally but the usual experience is Jap units that fail their Gut Check (morale) immediately BANZAI!!! right at you! 

The ominous view from Maj Callow's position at the end of the village: 
the Japs close in through the mist and rain.

At the other end of the village at the furthest point on the escarpment was Major Callow's depleted platoon of two 7-man sections.  Here I deliberately held fire until the Japanese were in visible range so didn't open up until Turn 3.  The idea was not to reveal my positions and invite an overwhelming response from over three times the number of advancing Japs.  But either way you were going to cop it as the Japs lit up our positions anyway with repeated star shells which meant of course Japs outside of normal visible range (but well within shooting range) could also range in on you once you fired but without you being able to see them and effectively fire back!  

The Aussie positions are lit up once again by the ever present Jap star shells.

How the heck you are supposed to defend a position in those circumstances is beyond me - the Allies have tried three times so far and failed completely each time!  I even invited my Jap commander Cameron to fail his Gut Check - the idea is to provoke a charge and grenade 'em at close range -  but in spite of his best efforts he passed every time!  Nothing seemed to be working for the Allies.

How will they stop the Japanese hordes?

Will anybody survive?

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Battle for West Kokoda!