Leyte 1944:
Scenario Preview, Part One

Back in the day, I used to develop a lot of games. Just what “develop” means varies between “editing” and “ghostwriting,” depending on the submission, but at Avalanche Press we expect the developer to take charge of crafting the best possible game. The developer should be the advocate for the players, assuring that the game is fun and as easy to play as possible.

Panzer Grenadier: Leyte 1944 is the first game or expansion I’ve developed in a while. It’s an expansion book, drawing on Saipan 1944 and Marianas 1944 for maps and pieces. It’s pretty straightforward, with scenarios covering the campaign on Leyte from the initial American landings in October 1944 to the collapse of resistance in late December.

That made it a perfect candidate for the story-arc format we’ve been using for a while now, where each chapter advances the story of the campaign through the scenarios, and the scenarios are then tied together with a battle game. Following a suggestion from Mike Perryman, I went with shorter chapters than in previous games, to make the battle games easier to play. And in addition to the usual re-working of the scenarios, I made sure that all scenarios in a given chapter used the same type of victory conditions, to make the battle games easier to play.

So let’s take a look at that first chapter.

Chapter One
The X Corps Landing
The two front-line divisions of the American X Corps were both seasoned formations that had conducted amphibious landings before, with 1st Cavalry Division assaulting the Admiralty Islands in the spring of 1944 and the 24th Infantry Division had landed at Hollandia, New Guinea during the same time-frame.

Their task on Leyte would be to secure the vital Tacloban Airfield and the island’s capital city, Tacloban, with the cavalry landing on the north flank to strike for those objectives while 24th Infantry Division landed on its left flank to provide cover and move inland.

Opposing these two divisions (with the Texas National Guard’s 112th Cavalry Regiment in reserve), the Japanese cold deploy just one infantry regiment. They backed it with some coast-defense artillery and had several months to construct trenches and prepared positions. But it was a very thin defense that awaited the invaders.

Scenario One
The Return Begins
20 October 1944
The Americans came ashore on Leyte meeting little opposition in most places. First Cavalry Division’s Second Brigade landed on White Beach, the northernmost of the landing sites, where the 7th Cavalry Regiment met opposition in the small town of San Jose, barring the path to the crucial Tacloban Airfield. The cavalry - fighting in the Pacific campaign as infantry - proceeded to clear out the concrete pillboxes.

The 7th Cavalry knocked out two pillboxes, cleared the town of San Jose and sealed the Cataisan Peninsula from the Japanese forces. They killed only 24 Japanese soldiers in the process, but White Beach was in their hands and so was the Tacloban Airfield. By that afternoon, engineers had begun work grading and repairing the airstrip.

It’s an amphibious landing scenario, with the Americans wielding floating firepower in the form of amphibious tractors plus massive naval guns. The Japanese are badly out-gunned, but in any landing operation the invaders are vulnerable at the water’s edge. The Americans must not only get ashore, they have objectives to meet that force them to quickly move inland.

Scenario Two
Red’s Beach
20 October 1944
While the Japanese put up little resistance to the American landings at most locations, the 24th Infantry Division came under heavy fire at its assigned Red Beaches south of the 1st Cavalry Division’s landing sites. The two American regiments came ashore tangled together, only to be pinned down by the enemy. The 34th Infantry’s commander Col. Aubrey “Red” Newman, stalked through the fire shouting at his men to “get the hell off the beach!”

American firepower steadily made a difference, with the Japanese unable to stop the M8 Scott assault guns - a light tank mounting a 75mm short-barreled gun in an open-top turret. By nightfall the Americans had reached Highway 1 and the Japanese had begun to pull back into the hills behind the beach.

Now we have a much larger landing; the second wave of Americans have to come ashore in landing craft instead of armored tractors, and they have a lot more to accomplish once they do so. This is going to be a tough one for the Americans.

Scenario Three
The Ballad of Francis Wai
20 October 1944
Capt. Francis Wai, the 34th Infantry Regiment’s popular intelligence officer, came ashore with the fifth wave. He found the first four waves still pinned to the beach, with at least one company commander already dead and the men frozen and unwilling to move. The former UCLA quarterback picked up a Browning Automatic Rifle and proceeded to show the way forward.

Having received word that his wife had just delivered a baby, 12 months after he had last seen her, Francis Wai landed on Leyte determined to die - but not without taking as many Japanese with him as he could. He personally knocked out four Japanese pillboxes before a burst of machine-gun fire cut him down. Racist military policies kept him from being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor; that wrong was righted more than fifty years later and he remains the only Chinese-American ever awarded his nation’s highest decoration for battlefield valor.

The original set of scenarios lacked one specifically for Francis Wai, and I felt he deserved one. It’s just a little scenario, focused on the attack he led.

Scenario Four
Hill 522                
20 October 1944
During the months leading up to the American landings, the Japanese 16th Infantry Division’s command staff had impressed the entire population of the nearby town of Palo to turn a rise just north of the town into a fortress with concrete pillboxes, trenches and tunnels. Hill 522, as the Americans named it, dominated the routes inland and the Japanese could hold up their advance for some time if given the opportunity to reinforce the hill. The American timetable demanded that the hill be taken before the Japanese could move more troops there.

The Japanese actually came off the hill to fight the 19th Infantry’s 1st Battalion during the approach to the objective, apparently hoping to catch them unawares. They had some success, but American naval guns blasted the hill and the infantry fought their way through the ambushes and small-scale counter-attacks. Scouting parties found a way up the hill and the Americans reached the crest, where they engaged in a sharp fight with Japanese troops coming up the other side to meet them. The action cost the Japanese fifty dead and the Americans 14 dead and 95 wounded, but left the hill in American hands.

This time the Americans have to move inland to fight the Japanese for a large fortified hilltop complex. The Americans bring a lot of firepower to the playground, but the Japanese are very well prepared for them.

And that’s Chapter One. Next up, Chapter Two.

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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published eleventy-million books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children, his dog Leopold and Egbert the pet turkey.