Golden Journal No. 29:
Long before I designed games, I designed game variants. I wasn’t even in high school yet, but I pulled out my felt-tip markers and I made extra pieces for my games. I still have a fondness for game variants, and our Golden Journal is our conduit for them.
Golden Journal No. 29: Ancient Armor is different from most of the other subjects we’ve covered in a Journal. Given the chance to do it over, I might have let it stand alone as a little expansion set instead. Instead of the usual cool weird stuff plus a couple of scenarios, it has cool weird stuff (old American tanks that really existed, but were melted down instead of being sent into battle) and a sequence of eight scenarios organized into two chapters, each with a battle game.
I went with Road to Dunkirk as the base game for one chapter, but instead of my initial impulse to send the ancient armor to Flanders to oppose the blitzkrieg I sent them to Ireland to fight the British. I wanted them to have tank battles against equally crappy tanks, and no one has crappier tanks than the Japanese, so the other chapter pits them against Japan’s tankers on the island of Guam. It also brings the Guamanian Insular Guard into play, who only see action in one scenario in all of Panzer Grenadier so we can redress that.
Defenders of Guam
Mostly demilitarized by treaty, the American-ruled island of Guam had a garrison of just over 200 troops in December 1941: 150 U.S. Marines and 80 combat-capable members of the Guam Insular Guard. They proved unable to stop the much larger Japanese force that landed on 10 December, and the island’s governor quickly surrendered.
By late 1941, it had become obvious to the U.S. government that war with Japan would come soon. Unwilling to provoke that moment any sooner than necessary, the Roosevelt administration held to the treaty limits and did not fortify or reinforce Guam.
In our small scenario set, a small reinforcement has been sent: a battalion of U.S. Army infantry, and two battalions of aged tanks. Perhaps they’ll be enough to slow the Japanese onslaught and buy time for more reinforcements to make their way to the Philippines.
Beaches of Guam
The Japanese landings on Guam met with brief resistance from the Insular Guard (the territory’s equivalent of the National Guard) and the small garrison of Marines. The actual fighting lasted about an hour before Governor George McMillin ordered the troops to surrender. A stronger garrison might have forced the Japanese to conduct opposed landings.
In the actual invasion of Guam, the Japanese landed without opposition. Japan’s “marines,” called “Special Naval Landings Forces,” did not have the same amphibious mission and training as the U.S. Marines. They might be better considered as “landing parties” – well-armed and -trained landing parties, but not intended to storm a defended beach. Unless the beach were defended.
Japanese SNLF troops storm ashore to be met by the Guam Insular Guard, backed by light tanks. Old and slow light tanks, with little armor or firepower. The Japanese have a new of these too, but they’re not as slow.
Tanks of Guam
The U.S. Army assigned independent tank companies to its Hawaii garrison, but not to Guam, where the Washington naval limitations agreements also prevent fortifying the island outpost. A strengthened garrison, including tanks, would have been able to strike back against Japanese landings.
The American attempt to drive the Japanese into the sea would be complicated by their armor’s slow speed – and these were the fast tanks. The Japanese 37mm anti-tank guns might not have been able to do much against the Sherman tanks of 1944, but they were perfectly adequate if not devastating against the M1917 light tanks.
The Japanese have forced their way ashore, and now the Guamaniacs counter-attack with the aid of a U.S. Army infantry battalion (still armed with Springfield bolt-action rifles) and a light tank battalion. They’re trying to drive the enemy into the sea, and the defenders have only a limited anti-tank capability.
Armor of Guam
Deploying the heavy tanks to counter-attack the Japanese beachhead would have been enormously time-consuming. The fast-moving Japanese obliged by moving on the encampment south of Agana where the reinforced American garrison had its headquarters including its tank battalions.
The Liberty tank still wielded impressive firepower, but even with its refurbished engines and additional armor, it remained much to slow for just about any offensive use. The Japanese tanks with their stubby 57mm guns and tin-can armor had no better guns or protection, but did have considerably more speed.
It’s a battle of the crappy tanks, with the ancient American armor squaring off against Japanese tanks that are almost as bad. The American tanks are slow, but they compensate with poor anti-tank capability and a tendency to break down. The Japanese tanks have weak protection, but at least they have bad coordination to go with it.
Defenders of Guam
Once the mobile phase of the battle came to a close, the lumbering American armor – should it somehow survive that mobile phase of the battle – could make its weight felt. Against an enemy infantry force without tanks of its own, the ancient armor might be, possibly, better than no armor at all.
Against an immobile enemy in fixed positions, the Liberty tanks could show their worth – as long as they stayed away from enemy anti-tank guns. Or enemy infantry chasing after them and attacking them bare-handed. And if they didn’t break down. But apart from all that, they were fearsome engines of war.
It’s an American tank attack, with all of their light and heavy tanks against a force of dug-in Japanese defenders. Their 37mm anti-tank guns, so useless against modern tanks, are deadly against ancient armor – not only can they penetrate the tin foil cladding the old tanks, they enjoy a range advantage as well.
The Emerald Isle
In September 1939, the Ireland declared its neutrality in the new war (this really happened). Faced with both British and German threats, the Dail, or Parliament, requested protection from the United States (this part did not really happen). A brigade of Marines landed at Cork in November 1939, followed by an infantry division in February and two tank brigades in April.
The mission orders clearly stated that the American Expeditionary Force was to resist all foreign invaders. The troops prepared to help the small Irish Army defend the newly-declared republic against German landings, not expecting that the first such threat would come from the British Army.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill believed that his fellow “former naval person” Franklin Roosevelt had winked and nodded when he ordered the U.S. Army and Marines to defend Ireland, the former Irish Free State, from all potential enemies. Surely those enemies only included the Axis, and the Americans would not resist a British occupation of the Free State. Once again, someone had blundered.
The initial British probes met with stout resistance from the American Expeditionary Force and the small Irish Army. The Americans had no battle experience, but neither did the British. Rather than back away and brush off the skirmish as a misunderstanding, the Prime Minister ordered the troops to press on.
Just a little scenario, with a mechanized British recon force probing against a couple of American infantry companies backed by tanks. Old tanks, really slow and weak tanks, but still tanks.
The presence of American and Irish troops so near to the city of Derry could not be tolerated, and Churchill had demanded an offensive into Donegal to eliminate the enclave the county formed north-west of Ulster. Maj. Gen. Walter Short’s division had just received enough of the new semi-automatic rifles to equip several battalions, a rude surprise for the invading British.
Another rude surprise greeted the British, as the American Expeditionary Force proved battle-ready and backed by armor. Not very new armor, or very good armor, or very fast armor, but armor all the same. The Liberty tanks were much too slow to have a decisive impact on the battlefield, but the GI’s found their firepower very welcome against the waves of attacking enemy infantry.
A decidedly second-line British division launches a wave of infantry against a much smaller but high-morale force of American defenders. And the Americans have tanks – ancient, slow and vulnerable Liberty heavy tanks, but they have a lot of firepower and the Brits can only stop them with hand-to-hand assaults (or by running away from the tanks – foot soldiers can out-run the Liberties – and letting them break down trying to chase them).
With the initial British attacks repulsed, reinforcements flowed into Northern Ireland from Britain, indicating that a new offensive could be expected. Roosevelt offered a cease-fire and negotiations, meeting a firm rejection from the Churchill government. The American president reluctantly authorized an American-Irish offensive to eliminate the British foothold in the North.
After receiving some help from the tanks in overcoming the first British outposts, the Americans ran into trouble. The British had placed their main line of resistance some distance back, forcing the Americans to either mark time while the tanks trundled forward or attack without them. The Big Red One Division waited for no one, and achieved its objectives mostly with truck-borne infantry.
The Americans are on the attack, backed by their slow-moving tanks lumbering across the Irish countryside. It’s a fairly large scenario, and a fairly slow-moving one unless the American player ditches the tanks and uses his or her trucks to use the infantry without their dubious armored support.
The American advance into Northern Ireland met staunch resistance from both the British garrison and much of the local population. While the Americans strictly followed their rules of engagement, their Irish allies well recalled how the British had executed uniformed soldiers during the Anglo-Irish War and now sought vengeance. That made for a fluid front line, through which major British forces could sometimes slip.
Without their well-trained, well-armed infantry to support them, the American tanks were terribly vulnerable. The British cruiser tanks had not been adequate in the just-ended campaign in France but were more than sufficient to dispatch the ancient armor of the American Expeditionary Force.
We wrap up with a little scenario, nothing but tanks on the board as British tanks ambush an American armored column. The British have better weapons, better armor and better speed. The Americans have . . . more targets? It’s going to be a long day for the U.S.A.
And those are the scenarios for Golden Journal No. 29: Ancient Armor.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.