Monday, 21 July 2014

From Bautzen and Barossa to... Burma?

It took a long time for me to decide whether to post this here or not.  It is definitely not Napoleonic-related, but doesn't really fit in with any of my other blogs- and I am not going to bother making a new one for me to ignore! So I crave the indulgence of all you Grognards out there as I now set the clock 130 years forward, from 1814 to 1944. 

But it does explain why things have been quiet on this blog recently! 

I confess to having been (somewhat surreptitiously) working on a 28mm Imperial Japanese Army for some time now.  

It's something I've always wanted to do, having played with the plastic 1/32 Airfix figures as a kid, and the increasing number of excellent 28mm miniatures and choice of vehicles for the period eventually pushed me into it.  

My Japanese infantry will represent the 4th (Sendai) Regiment of the 2nd Division, IJA. They served from China, Guam, and then on to the Solomons where they were part of the Aoba Detachment.  This force played a big part in the Guadalcanal battles which pretty much gutted the regiment, although it went on later to serve in Burma and to garrison Singapore.    

It was also the regiment my late Father-in-Law served in during the war, so I thought it would be a good choice- not that the uniform would be that different from any other infantry regiment at the time! 

It didn't take a lot of work to twist Matt's (rubber) arm into doing some British for the Burma theatre, so in due course Matt and I played our first Bolt Action game yesterday at the monthly meeting of the West Tokyo Wargamers this past Sunday.  And it was a lot of fun!   

We had long been anxious to give the rules a go.  I had some figures finished and ready for gaming with, but decided I couldn't wait to get them all painted before playing a game (and gaming is always an incentive to paint more!).  I didn't want to use unpainted figures on the table, so I decided to make do with those figures in my collection that were at least 80% finished, which turned out being enough for me to organize a game.  

Matt, on the other hand, has always been a prolific painter and his squads were all ready- right down to having their individual names painted on the bases (the squad of nineteenth-century pugilists were to do particularly well!).

First impressions are very positive.  The game moved quickly, despite us being totally unfamiliar with the rules, and it had just the kind of "Commando Comics" feel to it that we were looking for.

I grew up in Canada where I never saw them in any bookstore, but I first came across the Commando comic books when I bought my first ones on a trip to Bovington Tank Museum way back during a visit to the "Auld Countrie" in 1973.  I remember having devoured them all on the trip back to Brighton.  My grandparents took due notice, and would regularly send us bundles of these small comic books. Must have had about fifty during the years.
IIRC, "politically-correct" they most certainly weren't by the standards of today.  But I read each one cover to cover until they fell apart!  

Now as history, I find the Pacific War pretty dark reading (as can be most wars, but even more so in this case as it was just so brutal).  As a game I therefore want to keep things light.  So I look to Commando, Valiant and Warlord comics- not to mention Hollywood- as my muses for this period.

For the game I set up a simple scenario, set somewhere in Burma, 1944. I had two squads of IJA infantry and command, a heavy mortar and sniper team.  In addition I had a MG-armed Type-94 tankette, which I also refer to as the "Two-Man Mobile Crematorium (Tracked)".  This was a resin model I picked up from Kazu's Warlord Games' shop here in Tokyo.
Kind of like cooking a roast; hours of preparation only to be eaten in a blink of an eye.
These were to face off against Matt's three larger squads of British, a Boys A/T rifle, and a light mortar.  Pretty balanced forces, actually.
We already had the river pieces, and Giovanni had made loads of jungle vegetation bases for a future Darkest Africa project, so terrain wasn't a problem (although we have lots more to make after raiding the local pet shop for fish tank accessories).  

The hut was one of the Sarissa Productions MDF kits from Warlord Games.  It was quick and easy to assemble, and the only change I made was to cover the rather uninspiring planked roof with teddy bear fur that was then soaked in PVA and combed into shape while still wet. I haven't painted it yet, as I was unsure how to go about painting an MDF kit, and anyway it looked natural enough on the table. I might give a light wood stain later, but it's not a priority.

My Japanese infantry and support weapons are metal models that I have bought over the last couple of years from a variety of manufacturers; Warlord Games (their jungle fighters are just fantastic), The Assault Group (TAG), and Brigade Games.  Matt's British are from the Perry Twins' North Africa range, painted jungle green.

Back to the game, and the objective was a wounded British intelligence officer who had sought refuge in the hut, which was situated next to a tea plantation (what better place for a British officer to meet his fate). A detachment from the Royal Loamshire Regiment was given the order to rescue him- or at least prevent him from falling into Japanese hands- while the Japanese in their turn were on their way to find and deliver him to the tender mercies of the Kempeitai.
They started off closer to the hut, but had less cover than the British who were advancing through jungle- slowly, but unseen. 

The game was going well for the Japanese until the third move. 

My beloved Type-94 tankette didn't last long; it managed to put a pin on a squad of riflemen who were hiding at the edge of the jungle, only to fall victim to a Boys A/T rifle team, who lucked out with their die rolling.
It has been written that woes come not in single spies, but in battalions, and this proved to be the case.  Shortly after my tankette was carbonized, I ordered the squad nearest the hut to leave the cover of the jungle along the bank of the stream, and to race directly across the open field to the doorway. 

In doing so, I learned that you really, really don't want to get caught out in the open by British riflemen.
In what proved to be an absolute turkey-shoot, I lost most of my squad in single shake of the dice. Being Japanese with the fanatic rule, they did manage to stay around to fight it out but what with the losses they suffered, this squad was pretty much no longer capable of inflicting any really significant damage on the enemy. 

I had been warned.  I had read online that in Bolt Action with a Japanese army you need large squads- ten or twelve rifles rather than the seven-man squads I was fielding- and I could see why. The Banzai! rule makes the Japanese pretty fearsome, but units need to be large enough to absorb the inevitable casualties they will take as they charge into close combat.

All this time, the mortars were blazing away at each other ineffectually, but I think I was doing something wrong- a re-read of the rule book is called for.

Over at the hut, the third British squad was infiltrating the jungle, and boldly charged the Japanese to their front- my force headquarters! The Japanese C/O drew his katana and along with his bugler charged into the foe- with predictable results. 
In the midst of all the carnage, my sniper team had managed to slip undetected into the hut, where they began a desperate search for the Intel officer. To do this, we assumed that he would be hiding in some cupboard, and that the Japanese would find him on a roll of six per soldier in the hut.
Well, either the officer was hiding in a Tardis, or the snipers had spectacles the thickness of coke bottles as they failed to find him before the victorious British squad climbed the stairs and dispatched the snipers with nary a care in the world.
The Intel officer was thus spared the cruel fate of being in the clutches of the kempeitai, and was escorted back to the British lines for debriefing and a good hot cuppa.
It was all over bar the shooting. My other squad had learnt its lesson about crossing over exposed terrain, and aside from taking potshots at the British who were taking out the hut, they spent their time lurking more or less ineffectually along the riverbank for the rest of the game, until they were wiped out after being assaulted front and flank.

Pretty gutless behavior for a Japanese commander, it has to be said.  Mea Culpa.
After making short work of my infantry, the British ended an absolutely topping day's sport by wiping out the Japanese to the last mortar crewman, who was sent to join his comrades at Yasukuni when the British C/O himself, along with the company sergeant, splashed across the stream to take him out in a burst of tommy-gun fire.
Bolt Action was a blast. We really liked the order dice system- it kept the game going back and forth without having to herd gamers back to the table because of long periods of inactivity. The basic mechanics were simple and easy to remember and the game could have gone either way (had I not thrown away half my infantry!)

The game took less than three hours, making one this size ideal for club play.  Most importantly, there was much laughter all round, so time well spent.

Really looking forward to the next game.  I have some US Marines waiting in the wings as well, so that if Matt can't make it with his Commonwealth troops, then maybe there may be some Solomon Island actions looming in the future.


Lest it be thought that we haven't been keeping the Faith, there was indeed Napoleonics being played at the club on Friday.  

Giovanni and Sada had this rather spectacular looking game, the French trying (unsuccessfully it turned out) to seize La Haye Sainte from its Kings German Legion and Hannoverian defenders.  Here are some pictures, so please call off the hounds and put away any pitchforks!

We have another games day scheduled for August, but being the summer holiday season for a lot of people we've no idea what will be on the agenda yet.