Friday, August 19, 2011

Kokoda Campaign: Pitoki patrol & Deniki Hill action

Its been ages since my last post but for some reason winter has been as hectic as anything - barely time to finish painting my Prussians! (which I will and post the results)  But of course, there's always time for a decent wargame.  We have patiently awaited our Allied commander Doug to return from foreign lands so that we can resume the Kokoda campaign.  Herewith is the next instalment of the action. 


Following the previous patrol actions at Naro and Fela, the battered 39th, ordered by Allied Headquarters in Australia (now also known as ‘Fantasyland HQ’) to retake Kokoda, attempted to fulfil those orders without getting wiped out in the process. We started with patrols carefully probing Jap positions around Pitoki village, the scene of the previous near-disastrous attempted ambush of the Japs advancing from Kokoda.  A depleted company of the 39th of three platoons with attached PIB (Papuan Infantry Battalion) acting as guides led by Michael, Ian and me under the overall command of Doug, cautiously approached Pitoki village from three directions.

The Pitoki table - all the action took places in the jungle at the corners! 
And yes, those are conifers - we had to dragoon foliage from everywhere to pad out the jungle patches.

The Japanese under Greg, Cameron and George had time to dig in and so were awaiting us in prepared positions rather than the usual scrapes we had used when they were attacking us.  Our Papuan scouts had told us that there could be up to a company of Japs now entrenched in and about Pitoki but concealed in thick jungle, the well-prepared Japs were difficult to spot even with our redoubtable PIB scouts.  And moving through the jungle no matter how cautiously, there was the real risk that they would spot you first.  The first contacts occurred when we were practically on top of one another.

I think Michael's patrol made the first contact - note the Papuan scout diving for cover!

Ian to the north of Pitoki (and on the other side of the river) had great difficulty locating the entrenched Jap positions in the jungle but Michael to the south ended up getting spotted by the Japs who immediately opened up on his lead patrol (with PIB scout).   Originally he had intended to cut across open ground to the native gardens opposite the village but luckily his platoon never got that far, encountering and exposing dug-in Japs ringing the edge of the jungle in front.  Had his men stepped out into the open Greg revealed later he had one of his dreaded snipers lying in wait to pot the officers and NCOs.  Fortunately for the Allies, this was the first of our encounters where we didn’t suffer officer casualties from snipers. 

Having probed the defences and provoked a reaction (forces equal to or greater than theirs) both Ian and Michael’s platoons conducted a reasonably secure withdrawal.  On the other side of the table south of the village, it was a very different story.

I had intended to stagger my advance with one rifle section, LMG and PIB scouts going first, followed by the platoon headquarters section (with our precious radios) and the second rifle section with the Bren LMG following up the rear.  C-inC Doug insisted that they all sweep forward in a single or joined group so that (sensibly) if any element were attacked, one of the others would be close enough to support it.  

Rifle section with HQ section behind (eventually) find a Jap foxhole

After three turns my HQ section came under fire (George’s Japs spotted them first) but my PIB scouts and leading section finally spotted other entrenched Japs to our left.  In the thick jungle actually hitting your target is extremely difficult and it took the concentrated fire of the entire rifle section three rounds to wipe out just two foxholes of Japs – we never found a third right in front of us.  

2nd section advances while the 1st eliminates a second Jap foxhole 
(red marker notes the position is 'suppressed')

At this point George advanced a section to our right, threatening my flank then at the same time advanced a full platoon directly behind me (from the direction we had come from in fact), effectively trapping the Australians between them and threatening to cut my platoon off completely.  The ongoing fire-fight had been confusing but the honours up till that point in our favour (1 dead to 3 Japs).  Then all Hell broke loose.

 Georges' cunning Nipponese sneak up behind - note the 2nd foxhole in front has been eliminated

We couldn’t spot the Japs behind us but they spotted our HQ section just in front of them and a murderous volley at close range virtually wiped it out.  While we knew we were being fired at from behind as well as in front, we just couldn't spot the Japs in the thick jungle.  Another intense round of shooting left just the officer, who managed to join the section in front of him.  At this point there was no question of continuing to push towards the village, but rather of cutting our way out of the Jap forces who all but encircled us.

The surviving Japs from the nearest section BANZAI!!! - a desperate hand-to-hand ensues.

After the HQ section were cut down, the next Jap section opened up on the closest Militia rifle section.  Fortunately this time their shooting was off and for a loss of two or three, we returned fire, accounting for all but four of the 15-man section.  But rather than flee into the jungle, the Japs once again (predictably) failed their 'Guts' test and decided to die for the Emperor - BANZAIIII!!!!  

Here's where it got really nasty - in the hand-to-hand for the loss of one rifleman and a PIB scout, three of the surviving Japs were taken down which left just the officer.  With his Samurai sword he then proceeded to slice and dice teppenyaki-style through the remainder of the Aussie squad.  Four times I rolled to cut him down and four times failed - that's four D8's in a row!  At long last the remaining PIB took him out - he must have been worn out from all that chopping as Papuans normally don't mix it hand-to-hand. But just as I was just about to promote the brave chappie to corporal, he may have disappeared into the bush, never to be seen again!  

The stunned survivors of the 1st section have cleared the way for our withdrawal - only just - and in the nick of time from the converging Japs

With less than half my platoon left alive and hordes more Japs closing in from front and behind, it was time to bug out as best we could.  We used our LMG to cut down more Japs from Georges HQ section that tried to interdict and managed to use the jungle to cover our hasty retreat back to Deniki.  Big George's clever ambush/encirclement very nearly came off - only the steady courage of the Aussies and some good shooting when we needed it most that saved us.


Meanwhile at Deniki our PIB scouts had reported finding lots of tracks behind our lines.  They led up a hill near Deniki and a force of tired militia from the depleted company at Deniki were dispatched to hunt down the Jap patrol.  Ideally, we should have taken prisoners to find out what the Japs were up to - but we found out just how difficult that is with Japs determined to die for the Emperor!

Doug took command of one platoon and HQ section on one side of the hill while Michael and I took the other two sections with attached PIB scouts to sweep around the other side, with my section edging around the base of the hill to (hopefully) cut off the Jap's remaining avenue of escape.  Campaign referee Andrew also told us that the Japs had dug in overnight. Great. After what we'd just experienced with dug-in Japs at Pitoki, we weren't too happy at the prospect of entrenched Japs waiting somewhere on a jungle clad hill to bushwhack us, so we proceeded with great caution.

Papuan scouts out front, my section cautiously moves around the base of the hill at Deniki

After a few turns of finding nothing (Jap commander Dom had hidden his boys well), the first contact came all at once - a Jap squad in a string of foxholes directly in front of us - both sides opened up simultaneously!  What happened next I think I will dine out on for some time during this campaign.  Having a full section of nine with a Bren LMG I got 14 x D10 to roll.  Dom's rifle-armed squad got 7 x D10.  Result - Aussies: seven hits and seven kills, Japs 0.  After my crap rolling earlier I felt vindicated - until Doug 'Blamey' informed me I was meant to take prisoners!  Bit difficult if they insist on dying for the Emperor SIR! 

Empty emplacements show where we cleaned out the Japs - the more important officer and his radio on top of the hill has just been spotted by Michael's Papuan scout - now if we can just get him to surrender...

I swear we tried to take some prisoners, but Dom's Japs just weren't interested!  We got into a fire-fight with the Jap command squad on top of the hill, rather than get into a hand-to-hand and then try to affect a capture, with the predictable result.  Doug's endeavours were not much better - those Japs just didn't want to come quietly!

Doug's and Michael's sections converging on the remaining dug-in Japs who predictably died for the Emperor.

We were told by Andrew that the Japs didn't have any documents for our intel boys - just a radio - so that to find out what they were up to or what they knew we had to capture them.  Somehow I think if we didn't capture the officer or radioman we wouldn't have found out much anyway.  On the plus side the  use of the PIB - splitting them up amongst the militia units in a scouting role - has proved to be  much more effective.  For all the fighting and even further losses, only one seems to have deserted permanently - a remarkable achievement.  

Deniki Hill was the most successful action of the campaign so far for the Allies in terms of casualties - I think 1 Aussie/PIB for an entire section of Japanese.

It was a fun way to end an afternoon's long-awaited gaming - having both the best and worst of the dice rolls that day too.  The poor 39th are slowly but inexorably being ground down - but a shadow of the inexperienced young men who started out from Port Moresby only a few short weeks ago.  But they have become experienced, forged in the crucible of the merciless battles of the Kokoda campaign.  

The Japs emerge from the jungle south of Pitoki village, attempting to pin the Aussie militia's left flank, sandwiching us between the rest of the Jap platoon coming from the Deniki direction and cutting off our line of retreat.

Things are going pretty much for us as they did for the original Aussie militia in 1942; at this stage, not so good!  

Anyhow, I'm reliably informed that Japanese spies may read this blog - so I can't give  too much away.  As usual thanks go to Andrew for running the campaign and refereeing the games, Doug for the venue, table (and the rations!) and of course the rest of the boys for as ever, congenial company and gentlemanly gaming.  And for not hanging too much crap on my dice rolling and mutinous mutterings - except 'Blamey' Doug that is! ;-)

My next post will hopefully not be so long after this and will likely be my finished FPW Prussian army. Just one battalion of Rhineland contingent infantry (Hesse-Darmstadt) to go.  Yippee!

As always, click on the pics for an enlargement and feel free to leave a comment or two, they are gratefully appreciated.