Scenario Preview, Part Two
One of the very first two games published by Avalanche Press was titled MacArthur’s Return. It was a battalion-scale game of the 1944 American invasion of Leyte in the Philippines, with hexes four kilometers across. It was a good game, and we printed it just as the wargame industry faced an apocalyptic, dinosaur-killing event, the release of Magic: The Gathering which sparked a decade-long boom in collectible card games and snuffed out the distribution system that had supported wargame sales since their origin in the early 1970’s.
And now it’s time to return. Panzer Grenadier: Leyte 1944 is a completely different game, from a completely different game series at a completely different scale. But a lot of similarities carry over in terms of the story. The Americans bring overwhelming firepower to the battle, yet the Japanese match it with stout infantry and a surprising amount of firepower of their own. This is the site the Japanese high command selected for the climactic battle of the Pacific War, and so they poured troops and support weapons into the fight from not only across the Philippines but as far as Manchuria.
That story unfolds in Leyte 1944 through 48 scenarios, organized into ten chapters. Let’s have a look at Chapter Two.
X Corps Advances Inland
After landing on the northern beaches, the two divisions of X Corps drove to the north-west. First Cavalry Division would to clear the Leyte side of the San Juanico Strait separating Leyte from the neighboring island of Samar, while 24th Infantry Division captured the Leyte Valley and the small port of Carigara at the valley’s northern end.
The same communications nexus (the road net and the port at Carigara) made the area the Japanese 35th Army’s choice for the main effort of its planned counter-attack. The over-confident Japanese, misled by their own intelligence reports, believed that they faced but one American division in this sector and hoped to concentrate the equivalent of at least three of their own divisions against it. The invaders would be annihilated.
While American air support remained haphazard at best, the Japanese had none at all (what planes did fly targeted the fleet offshore). The Americans continued to land artillery reinforcements, and the big guns would begin to tell during this phase of the campaign.
21 October 1944
On the second day of the invasion, Col. Walter Finnegan’s 7th Cavalry Regiment headed for the island’s capital, Tacloban. He sent his 1st Squadron into the small city itself, where the Filipinos welcomed the troopers with fruit and flags. The 2nd Squadron, reinforced with the regiment’s anti-tank and weapons troops, received a different reception on Hill 215 south of the town.
The Americans pushed the Japanese off part of the hill, but could not secure all of the height before night fell. Reinforcements infiltrated into the Japanese lines under cover of darkness and the Americans had a fresh fight on their hands on the next day before they finally ejected the defenders. The Japanese had started with about 200 men on the hill and left 335 dead behind.
This is just a small scenario taking place on one map, and were Leyte 1944 a stand-alone game rather than an expansion this would be a good candidate for an intro scenario. There’s not a lot of subtlety here: neither side has enough troops to do everything that needs doing, but they’re going to have to figure out a way anyhow.
21 October 1944
On the first night of the invasion, Col. Tatsunosuke Suzuki of the Japanese 33rd Infantry Regiment assembled three companies for a counter-attack along Highway 2 leading from the north coast port of Carigara toward Palo, a town in the shadow of Hill 522 taken by the Americans on the first day. Just a sliver of the waxing moon gave a dim light, as the Japanese advanced as close as they could to the American positions without being spotted before unleashing mortar and machine-gun fire to support the attack.
Private Harold Moon of the 34th Infantry’s Company G was a grifter. During the voyage to Leyte he fleeced his comrades of over $1,200 at cards, stole a Navy uniform to allow access to ship-board luxuries forbidden to soldiers, and at least once impersonated an officer. But when the Japanese appeared in front of his outpost, he called in the spotting report, picked up his Thompson submachine gun and rose out of his foxhole to go utterly berserk. Alternately gunning down Japanese and using his field telephone to call in mortar fire, Moon’s single-handed resistance lasted until a Japanese bullet finally found him. But he had broken the Japanese, who left 200 dead in front of his outpost. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
This is a larger scenario, in which the defenders (the Americans) actually outnumber the attackers (the Japanese) - and that’s before figuring in the inherently greater firepower of American units. But the Americans have a broad front to cover, and the Japanese get to pick where they’re going to attack.
The First Ridges
23 October 1944
On the invasion’s fourth day, the 34th Infantry’s 1st Battalion and a platoon of tanks started the task of opening Highway 2 leading into the Leyte Valley. A rise known as Hill C dominated the road, and before the attack commenced Navy planes worked it over to prepare for the assault. But before they could reach their objectives, they Americans found the Japanese unexpectedly dug in along two smaller ridges blocking the way to Hill C.
A single, unknown Japanese machine-gunner broke up three American attacks through the course of the day, aided by grenade showers tossed by his comrades. After the repeated failures the Americans pulled back to call for artillery fire; understanding the tactic, the Japanese immediately attacked to remain in close contact with the Americans and. The Americans managed to break away, while the Japanese abandoned the ridge before the shells fell on it, leaving it for the Americans to occupy on the next day.
It’s another small-scale but nonetheless bitter battle, just a single map with a handful of units on both sides. The Americans have a little artillery and an airplane, but if they want to win they’re going to have to close with the Japanese and fight them.
30 October 1944
The Japanese 35th Army command designated the port of Carigara on the north coast as the assembly point for reinforcements. One brigade would arrive by sea, while a division marched there by land. The American Sixth Army command, aware of these intentions, sent Col. Aubrey “Red” Newman’s 34th Infantry Regiment to seize Carigara before the Japanese could arrive.
When his leading company faltered, Col. Aubrey “Red” Newman took the point himself. The freshly-arrived Japanese troops put up fanatical resistance, with suicide squads destroying several tanks that moved forward without protective infantry. When shell fragments felled Newman he continued to direct the advance as a medic sewed his abdomen closed. The colonel tried to continue commanding his regiment until his orderly dragged him away from the front. Having lost their colonel, the regiment’s attack fell apart and the Japanese held their ground.
This is one of the bigger scenarios in the set, and it’s going to be tough for the Americans to force their way to victory. The Japanese are, as usual, outmanned and outgunned, but they have terrain on their side plus good leadership and morale. Since the Americans have to come to them, those factors are going to matter.
Drive for Carigara
31 October 1944
In the afternoon of the 30th the 34th Infantry tried again with another battalion joining the assault, and this attempt likewise failed. The 24th Infantry Division staff committed three battalions of artillery plus long-range heavy howitzers from X Corps to plaster the hills with a night-long heavy bombardment. When morning came, the 34th moved forward again.
The overnight bombardment failed to suppress the Japanese defenders, who enthusiastically greeted the Americans with a curtain of rifle, machine-gun and mortar fire. The Americans countered by deploying M7 105mm self-propelled howitzers directly at the front, but the Japanese seemed unimpressed. At nightfall most of the hill country remained in Japanese hands, but now they pulled out on their own lest they be trapped there by the 1st Cavalry Division’s advance along the coastline.
The Americans make another attempt across the same ground, this time bringing another Battalion into a flanking attack. The Japanese have shifted their defense and a fresh division has taken over - in the middle of a massive artillery bombardment - and they’re just as battle-hungry as the last crew. The Americans have more men and more firepower, but they also have a higher bar for victory this time.
And that’s Chapter Two. Next up, Chapter Three.
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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.