Sunday, 6 September 2015

They Don't Like it Up 'Em!

In with the bayonet!
The last Saturday of August, Matt and I had another Bolt Action game after a very long break from having played anything at all.  

It was good to be "back in the saddle" again, and it was also the first game at my place using the new table.   The Geisha-in-Chief had gone downtown for a work function, leaving us alone with just the cats- who took this disruption to the normal rhythm of their lives as well as could be expected. I had prepared lunch (a good Toad-in-the-Hole, diet be damned) and beverages, and the day proved to be a lot of fun.

As is often the case. the scenario was cobbled together at the last moment as most of my free time had been spent on getting more figures painted in time for the game.  But it proved a good one, and made for a tense game. 

The Arakan, 1944, and deep in the jungle the Japanese command had detailed a company of of the 4th Infantry Regt. to garrison a small settlement that held supplies of ammunition, petrol, rice and -essentially- sake.  

Most of the company were now away on a punitive expedition north along the river, where reports had come in that local tribesmen had surprised and massacred an isolated detachment that had been posted as pickets, far in front of the regiment's right flank.  

Left behind was a small platoon of two veteran grenadier squads, an MMG, a medium mortar, a recce Type-94 tankette, and two tanks- a Ha-Go and Chi-Ha- recently overhauled and waiting to be assigned to new duties.
The Japanese set up on the east side of the river, with one recce tankette, a mortar observer, and some suicidal A/T sentries on the other side. 
The British had learned of this from captured and dispirited survivors of what had been a series of successful night probes by long-range patrols of Gurkhas all along the length of the Japanese front lines (it was these, not any local tribesmen, who had in fact waylaid the unfortunate pickets in the very first of these raids).

When the news got back to regimental HQ, it was decided to send three squads of the King's Regt. of Royal Academicals  on a mission to attack and destroy the supplies at the settlement.  They were to be assisted by a Grant tank and Daimler armoured car detached from a supporting tank regiment, and by a battery of 25 pdr. field guns.

The original plan had called for them be joined by a squad of the same Gurkhas who had contacted the Japanese further north earlier that week;  however, it would take another day for the Gurkhas to reach the village as they would have to cross the river further upstream, a detour necessary to avoid a strong Japanese bunker.  

It was decided that it was essential to attack the weak Japanese defenders before the return of their comrades, and that the attack would have to proceed without the help of the Gurkhas. 

Or- more accurately- Matt had forgotten to bring his recently-completed squad of Gurkhas- along with their wicked kukris and tough fighter attribute- with him.  Most thoughtful chap, that Matt.

This is the list I made on my iPad for the Japanese using the Battlescribe program- just under 1000 points.  

The spelling mistakes aren't mine- the program is riddled with them.  It's a very useful tool, but I do wish the designers would go back and spend a little bit of time and have someone read things over for blatant typos and basic grammar errors- or at least allow an edit function.  Surely if something is worth doing, its worth doing well.

Rant over; anyhow my selection was light on bayonets, and although I could call on three AFV's, overall I had a force without a lot of A/T capabilities.  But if you want decent armour in your games, the IJA isn't for you.  Japan had been fighting the largely tank-poor Chinese for years, so their own tanks were basically designed to smack down the opposition's infantry rather than go toe-to-toe with any armoured vehicle incorporating post-1927 technology.

Strictly speaking this is not a "legal" list.  There are too many tanks for a Japanese force, which should be fielding just one.  But we aren't competition gamers, and we use the lists just to provide us with a rough guide (assigning points in the first place is artificial anyway- and advantageous terrain and good luck with the dice make for great force multipliers).  Besides, we simply had to go to war with what we had available in our collections.  I didn't have any more infantry painted up that I could use in the game, so I opted for armour to make up the shortfall.

I do have another couple of squads in the wings, so next game I should be able to field a lot more infantry.  The important thing for me was that everything on the table was painted- bar a few infantrymen that I needed to bring two platoons up to a decent strength.   

It will be evident from the photos that I also need to spend a weekend to finish painting and flocking the terrain as well.  But the priority right now is getting another dozen infantry done, along with a few artillery pieces I have still in their bags.

The game set up was something like this.
Click on map to enlarge.
The river could be crossed with no penalty at the ford, and it took a full move to cross elsewhere from one bank to the other on a run order.  We roughly designated line-of-sight areas, and dense jungle where no run order could apply.  Overall though, we could have used more cover, and during and after the game we got to thinking about ways to better replicate jungle warfare.  

I could have checked with the source; Alessio Cavatore was visiting Giovanni here in Tokyo again last week, but we only had a brief time to chat- and I'm sure he wouldn't have wanted to spend all his time talking shop- so I didn't mention it.  Next time I'll toss him some pin markers and pump him for some ideas.

As it was, firing was mostly at medium or short ranges and I have no problem with Bolt Action weapon ranges given the kind of games we play.  But I feel we need to take more account of the difficulties of both moving and seeing through, as well as firing in, jungle terrain.  I do have some ideas- more on that later.

Initial set up for the Japanese
The objectives; I had ordered some crates and oil barrels from Warlord, and added tarps from epoxy putty. I made two sets on 60mm round bases. The third stand is none other than the elephant model I finished earlier. A good way to work it into a scenario.
For the purpose of the game, the elephant was immobile .  Here it is with my recently completed medium mortar.
Platoon command
Two against one isn't fair; should have been 10:1.
The game got off to a roaring start as the British infantry worked their way through the jungle and into the clearing.
I had decided that while supply dump #1 was up for contention  on the opposite bank of the river closer to the British advance, I had a very likely chance of hanging on to #3 as it was on my side of the river, and would be hard to take out. 

Stand #2 was also fairly easy for the British to reach, but I felt I could cover it sufficiently from a defensive position my side of the river, as it was out in the open and the British would have to risk shot and shell as they tried to approach it. 

To destroy the dump the British would have to spend a full turn in contact, and with a fire order. If I could get my mortars, a Nanbu MMG and a veteran squad lining that side of the river and within Banzai charge range of them, I felt I could keep the supplies safe.

This proved to be the case, but only just- it would be close.
In response to the Academicals moving up on their right flank, supported by the Daimler, I sent ahead my Ha-Go, the first time it has been used in combat. 

I'm convinced the Daimler with its two-pounder A/T gun was pretty much a match for the Ha-Go, and normally I wouldn't have advanced it so boldly out into the open.  But Matt, after having drawn the previous order die, had just opted to order an artillery barrage smack-dab in the middle of my left, placing the aiming point right next to my tank.  
Fortunately the strike was delayed, but it was very apparent that the treeline by the south-east bank of the river was about to become a pretty unhealthy place to be hanging about.  So instead of just having the crew enjoy a few cups of green tea and smoking captured Lucky Strikes while waiting for Tommy to walk into an ambush, having the Ha-Go advance into the open seemed less risky than having it smothered in a rain of 25 pdr. shells...

So forward it went, and I used its (puny) cannon to teach the A/C some caution; in response, the Daimler ran speedily backwards the second its clutch could engage itself into reverse. Run, rabbit, run.

Simultaneously I had the hull-mounted MMG strafe the treeline where Matt's right-flank infantry squad had taken shelter. This forced them down, and added a couple of pins; every little bit helps, and this would slow down their advance quite nicely. A good bit of work for the little Ha-Go.

But when your number's up, your number's up.  Sure enough, the next draw of the dice saw the appearance of The Beast; Satan's Steamroller; the Devil of Detroit... a.k.a. Nemesis, in the hulking form of an M3 Grant tank.

As expected, a well-placed 75mm round made very short work of the tiny Ha-Go.
 "Ha-Go" clearly being an abbreviation for "Hapless Goner"
One, now-vulnerable, supply pallet, just begging to be pilfered.
A less-than-optimum outcome for the Japanese.  But revenge, as they say, is a dish best served cold; and what was to follow was to prove a veritable Frozen Daiquiri of Karma.

Remember that artillery barrage?  That turn Matt rolled again, only to see the barrage delayed, much to my intense relief.  The following turn, on his first draw of the order dice, Matt tried yet again; well, communication between the Royal Academicals and the Royal Artillery were clearly not as good as they could have been.

To make a sad tale of shit-poor dice-rolling short, by the time we went through the mechanics the barrage came down, but the target point ended up being moved- at the enemy player's discretion.  

Guess where I placed it.

Truly, someone 'ad blundered.

I actually should have moved it closer to the middle of the table where it might have taken out his A/T rifle team as well, but hey- I wasn't complaining.

And this time the rounds came a' tumblin' down. Pins galore and a few more casualties, much to Matt's disgust (if not mine).  In fact, it was all very reminiscent of what had happened in a previous game we had played, and I fear the already shaky relations between the King's Academicals and the Royal Artillery may well be permanently shot (no pun intended).  

But it was early in the game, and the Fat Lady was still just putting on her make-up in the dressing room.  With the demise of my Ha-Go, Matt wasted no time in sending his Grant to winkle out my squad of infantry that was lurking in the undergrowth along the south-west bank of the river, and to secure the supplies there.

Ideally, his right-flank infantry would have come up in support, but the effects of my tank fire and his own artillery effectively left them stuck along the treeline for most of the rest of the game  Matt was to really regret this later, but it wasn't evident at the time, and it was my turn to start chewing on my fingernails.

Unfortunately for me, the Grant appeared on my left and as I was behind the coconut grove I was unable to shoot at him on the way in, having no line of sight.  

Not that I had much to throw at him anyway; I was supported only by an A/T rifle, an MMG on the other side of the bank and- unbeknownst to Matt- my "real" suicide A/T team (I had three of them placed on the board, but only one was in play- the other two were blanks).  Unfortunately, the MMG fire has no effect on armoured vehicles, and the A/T rifle was on the wrong side of the copse along with my suicide team.

Matt drew his order dice first, and his Grant at once got cheerfully into the task of rolling up my line with considerable- nay, unseemly- relish; in Bolt Action a tank like the Grant, with its turret gun, hull-mounted 75mm, and MMG's at its disposal, is ideal for this kind of work- a virtual dreadnought.  

It set to its work like a tracked Pacman.
Chomp, chomp, stomp!
The next two turns were a truly unpleasant gaming experience; in order to have a chance at any survival at all my troops went down; but as a result they could neither fight nor run away as I desperately searched for something to fight back with. I was able to move up the A/T rifle to take a shot at point blank range; it missed, the gunners in their funk clearly fumbling with their cartridges.

My next draw of the dice, I called in the suicide A/T team to make the supreme sacrifice for the sake of the Emperor. Never mind all this life-shattering-like-a-beautiful-crystal nonsense; in giving closing fire, the Grant's .30 cal shredded him into khaki-clad Alpo.
Dulce et decorum est...
New turn, I draw the first cube, and the A/T rifle remarkably got off another shot. It hit, but no effect. It, too, was promptly blown to oblivion by the Grant.
A sadly-depleted Japanese left flank
So out of desperation- the urge to do something- anything- rather than just wait for the inevitable, I ordered a Banzai charge, with no real hope of success.
Not much hope, is there?
You may as well just give up, and go fix me some supper...
I didn't expect much in the way of results. I really just wanted to hold him up for a few turns while I shifted my defense on my right flank.   
Race for the river- both to get away from that Grant, and to cover the supplies in the centre.
Well, instead this was to prove a game changer, and while the Japanese may have crap tanks, rabid infantry is where a Japanese force really comes into it own.

Faced with death or dishonour, my plucky squad chose death- under the Banzai! rule they just shrug off their six pins, and go straight at the Grant with little more than bayonets, bare hands and plenty of seishin.
"Come out!  We have you surrounded!"
The first assault was unsuccessful, but as we were too close for closing fire the infantry survived the attempt. And with Matt's nearest infantry still stuck back on that treeline, failing order test after order test, he was unable to support the tank. 

We then drew the first order dice for the next turn, and it was Banzai!, again.

This time Matt again rolled just about the worst sequence of rolls he could have possibly have rolled. Result- tank catches fire, crew fails morale, and hops it.
Tea's up!
I have to say,  Matt had some really appalling bad luck with his dice rolling this day.  Still, cue howls of joy, triumph and derision from the Japanese.   

It would be thankful offerings of sake and sweet cakes to the Dice Gods at their makeshift shrines afterwards.
While all this was going on, Matt had sent his command team up to take the supply stand themselves, seeing as his infantry was sitting on their rears doing diddly-squat.  Not helped by having had lost their NCO to fire from my medium mortar.
With the Grant to deal with and no other assets available in the area, there was nothing much the Japanese could do to stop them taking the supplies. So shoganai- this was one for the British.   

Once they had destroyed the stores (it took a fire order dice to do this) Matt had the command section work its way around the copse to try and help his by now well-besieged tank. They were too little, too late. They took out a rifleman, but were cut down by the rest of my squad now drunk with victory and quite thoroughly full of themselves.
In fact, this day was to take a heavy toll on officers and NCO's on both sides alike.  Matt's own sniper team managed to extract a heavy toll of my squad leadership as well.

To make matters even worse for him, the burned-out hulk of the Grant gave me good cover from any incoming infantry fire. My squad was pretty much burned out itself in the fighting, but they managed to hold my left for the remainder of the game.
My heroes...

All this had effectively neutralized the threat to my left, but I had lost one supply stand even if it was likely I would hold on the stores on my elephant. But elsewhere there had also been plenty of activity, and the outcome of the game would depend on who controlled the remaining supply stand.

Over on my right, and after leaving the Grant to sort out my Ha-Go, Matt's Daimler had driven over to his own left flank, where my little tankette had been giving his men some grief.
The recce rule saw Matt's Daimler and my tankette constantly running into and back out of trouble throughout the game.  We discovered that recce vehicles could, in fact, be quite useful.  They would dart in, and hope to do some GBH in a quick hit-and-run.
This tactic allowed me to use my (usually useless) tankette to considerably slow down the advance of Matt's squad on his left flank with a succession of nagging pins.  
Later I switched targets. I had moved my other infantry squad up to the river bank, and was waiting in ambush under the trees. Matt had set up his his Vickers MMG team on a small hill, and from long range was hosing them down- not inflicting any casualties, but pins were starting to accumulate, which was not a welcome development.  That Vickers had to go...
A good opportunity for making those "rat-a-tat-tat" noises.
.303 calibre mosquitos...
With Matt's armoured car busy trading blows with a Chi-Ha, I sent up my tankette to try and deal with the Vickers team. Over the next few turns I would move it up and- if I was lucky- I could score hits or at least pins. Even if not, I would force him to go down and unable to fire that turn.  Whenever the A/C returned to try and take a pot-shot at me with its 2-pdr., I would simply evade.

On Matt's part, the appearance of my Chi-Ha bearing down from my right flank was causing him some concern, as it flanked the approaches both to the river and- essentially- to the supplies.
Come and get 'em, Tommy...
His Daimler darted in out from behind hill and copses to take opportunity shots at its flank. The little two-pounder gun succeeded in effectively damaging and putting the wind up the Chi-Ha crew. They only received a few pins, but I had to roll for them to carry out any order- a roll they consistently failed.
The only bright side here was that by having to deal with the Chi-Ha, the Daimer would have to leave my tankette alone; I could then continue to harass his MMG team as well as his infantry, and prevent them from tormenting my own men too much.


In the centre the game had become something of a sniper duel. Matt was in the process of redeploying his own A/T rifle from his right flank- where further British anti-tank weaponry was no longer needed, thank you very much- over to his left to deal with the gadfly that my Type-94 tankette had become. In doing so the team revealed itself to my cunningly camouflaged sniper, who took it out with ease. 

What followed could have come straight from the pages of a Commando Comic. 

Enraged and infuriated, Matt settled on a soldiers' justice; Major Bloodnock, his unfortunate, short-sighted, and arithmetically-challenged artillery spotter had been forgiven for being responsible for one friendly fire incident. Two such incidents- well, old bean, bad form- that's just not on. 

Stricken with remorse, and ashamed/ afeared to face his comrades, Bloodnock took it upon himself (most likely at his commanders urging) to leave the hut where he had set up his OP, and to cross the short distance across the grass to hurl himself at my sniper team, firing his tommy-gun from the hip. His sacrifice would atone for his sins...
...or would have done if he had not been gunned down in a hail of pistol fire well before he could pull the trigger. Nevertheless, Matt drew the next dice, and his own sniper drew a bead on my own team- and the Japanese were down one more order dice. 

Here was wargaming life imitating art- like Danilov sacrificing himself in order to reveal the position of Maj. Koenig to Vassily Zaitzev in Enemy at the Gates, Bloodnock had found redemption, and had gone to his death like a Soldier.

With his tank gone, one of his squads having lost its collective bottle, and another having been slowed down by accumulated pins and hits from my tankette, Matt now made a thrust with his remaining healthy platoon.
He stormed the building that stood between the ford and the supply stand.  
Unfortunately, the spotter stand for my mortar was inside.  They fought it out with pistols, but went down in a hail of Lee-Enfield fire.
"You'll never take me alive, copper!"
From there, the British exchanged fire with my MMG team, who was firing from the building across the river, and with my infantry lining the other bank.  But there they were stuck; to leave the building to try and reach the supplies would expose them not only to mortar and machine-gun fire in the open, but also to a banzai charge.  Nevertheless, my own forces were reaching exhaustion, with one squad no longer an effective fighting force, and the other coming under increasing pressure.

But the coming of night lent a hand to the Japanese;  we were running out of time, so it was decided that the attackers had in turn run out of steam.  

Result- while one of the supply stands had been destroyed, the other two remained under Japanese control.  So yet another Japanese victory for the record books.  Banzai!, indeed!   

Had Matt brought his Gurkhas, it may well have had a different ending- they would certainly have made me wary about getting into close combat.  Furthermore, he had decided to try out the Tough as Boots special rule for his British infantry.  As it turned out, his infantry never came to blows except for wiping out my spotter team.  

But to be honest I am much more fearful of the Rapid Fire special rule, which had caused me grievous harm in previous encounters, and I'm pretty sure it could tear the guts out a Banzai! charge during closing fire given even average luck on the dice roll.

So this game was very close, and could have gone either way but for fate and timing- as every good wargame should. 
I'll end it here as this post is long enough already. It's probably way too wordy for most people, but I enjoy keeping a detailed record of our games as something I can go back to months and even years later.  But the next post will discuss the modifications we are considering for future games set in the deepest, darkest jungle.

Later this month my troops will see action again, this time an infantry fight (no AFV's) against US paratroopers in Northern Burma along the Chinese border. It should prove interesting.