Scenario Preview, Part Three
In most of our game series, the scenarios (what we used to define as “separate game situations,” but if you’re reading this you already know that) are the heart of the game. We use them to tell the story of the war, campaign or battle that’s the game’s theme.
Panzer Grenadier: Leyte 1944 wasn’t designed to fit our story-arc format, though due to the large number of scenarios it already included most of what was needed. Re-framing it to fit that format meant re-working some scenarios, replacing some, and adding a few. The result is a comprehensive story of the American campaign on Leyte and the Japanese defense, one that unfolds through the scenarios. It’s a unique approach, one that’s never been used in wargames to my knowledge (in structure it’s closer to the campaigns featured in some role-playing games, though here we’re telling about events that actually happened).
So with that, let’s have a look at the third chapter of Leyte 1944:
A Veteran Division
Seventh Infantry Division had taken Attu from the Japanese, invaded the unoccupied island of Kiska, and fought at Kwajelein and Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands. After a few months of refresher training in Hawaii, including a visit from the president, the 7th Infantry Division would shift from the Marine-led V Amphibious Corps to the newly-established XXIV Corps for the invasion of Leyte.
The southernmost landings on Leyte had the most ambitious objectives. Seventh Infantry Division would have to seize Dulag Airfield and protect the exposed southern flank of Sixth Army. The division would also face the only serious opposition the Japanese mounted to XXIV Corps’ landings and then have to force its way inland to take the airfields around Burauen at the foot of the mountain chain dividing Leyte.
20 October 1944
The beaches in front of Dulag Airfield were an obvious invasion site, and the Japanese had built improved positions including concrete pillboxes to defend them. But with only a single division to cover the entire island, the Japanese would by necessity be spread thin almost everywhere. The beaches at Dulag were the one place where they were not.
The invaders met increasing resistance as they moved inland, but Sherman tanks from the 767th Tank Battalion arrived to aid the advance. A Japanese anti-tank gun destroyed one Sherman and knocked out another’s main gun, but the Americans managed to push the Japanese out of their prepared positions. The resistance kept the Americans from meeting their A-Day objectives, but the Japanese had paid a heavy price.
It’s an invasion scenario, and this time the Japanese are ready and waiting. They may regret that; there’s an awful lot of American firepower aimed at them. The Americans also bring tanks ashore, something that doesn’t figure in most Panzer Grenadier amphibious-landing scenarios (not that we’ve published all that many of them).
Tanks in the Night
20 October 1944
The Americans reached the edge of Dulag Airfield on the 21st, and dug in as night fell. Captain Kono’s 7th Independent Tank Company had been using its outdated Type 89 medium tanks to pull rollers across the sodden airfield at Burauen. The captain set out with his eight serviceable tanks soon after nightfall, and needed six hours to coax six of the worn-out machines the six miles to Dulag.
The American official history would claim that two separate waves of tanks attacked during the night, but this was simply Kono’s company wandering about, repairing their balky machines and returning to harass the Americans again. At one point a small group of Japanese infantry joined his quixotic assault, losing 35 dead to the alerted defenders; the Americans also destroyed six of the eight Type 89 tanks that attacked.
This is a very small scenario, and it’s in here solely because of the strangeness of the events. Kono appears to have decided all on his own that he wouldn’t be left out of the fighting. Some of his tanks had no ammunition for their main gun; at least one had no main gun at all. It does make for a very quick play.
24 October 1944
During the American campaigns against the Japanese, armor support usually consisted of platoon-sized packets of tanks attached to infantry companies or battalions. Maj. Gen. Archibald Arnold decided to use his attached 767th Tank Battalion in what he called a “flying wedge” aimed right at San Pablo, its airfield and the town of Burauen. The Japanese met them with suicidal anti-tank squads bearing explosive charges and anti-tank mines.
The tanks initially had some success, but the operation quickly showed why other commanders had deployed their tanks by the platoon or at most the company. The Shermans had trouble maneuvering in the jungle, rice paddies and wet fields, and were confined to the road and the hard ground on either side of it. With the armor funneled into a predictable corridor, the Japanese rained down artillery fire and deployed their suicide attack teams. The tanks managed to overrun Bayug Airfield, but without infantry support they withdrew before nightfall.
While the Americans deployed tanks against the Japanese in the island battles, they usually did so with only one or two platoons at a time, attached to infantry companies or battalions. And so Saipan 1944 only has one M4 piece, with another Sherman in Leyte 1944. That’s not enough for this battle. Since I served as both developer and publisher for Leyte 1944, I abused that position to expand the pieces used in this scenario (and another one, too). As designed, the scenario just included the fighting at Burauen, where only a few tanks took part. But I thought the “flying wedge” tactic much more interesting, so I expanded the scenario to cover it, which means you’ll need extra M4 Shermans from either An Army at Dawn or Elsenborn Ridge. Someone will have a conniption fit over that, but I thought it necessary to properly tell the story (and it’s more fun that way, too). Besides, it’s Archibald Arnold’s fault for massing all his tanks in one place, and it didn’t work.
Failure at Buri Airfield
24 October 1944
While the “flying wedge” attacked toward Burauen, Maj. Gen. Arnold of 7th Infantry Division fired the commander of his 32nd Infantry Regiment and ordered his replacement to take the nearby Buri Airfield. Without armor support - the tanks had been sent away to join the flying wedge - the regiment’s reinforced 1st Battalion soon met a well-prepared line of trenches and concrete fighting positions.
American confusion and Japanese resistance stalled the advance, with heavy casualties among the American officers adding to their disarray. The Japanese added to the misery with a well-timed counter-attack. The new regimental commander ordered his 3rd Battalion to advance on 1st Battalion’s flank, but they became mired in swampy ground and did not arrive until the attacking force had already been repulsed.
The Americans are on the attack against a surprisingly stout Japanese defense, with minefields and entrenchments. They have no more artillery than the Japanese, and thanks to the flying wedge tactic they don’t have any tanks to help out.
Progress at Buri Airfield
25 October 1944
After sorting out his new command, Lt. Col. John Finn renewed the attack against Buri Airfield on the next morning, this time with two battalions in line. A 30-minute artillery bombardment made little impression on the Japanese, whose fortifications suffered only minimal damage. Finn pleaded for armor support, but the tanks remained committed to the flying wedge.
With added troops and artillery but no tanks, the second American attempt had some limited success, but still could not take the airfield. Third Battalion penetrated to the edge of the airfield, and rather than pull back for the night the Americans retreated only a short distance and fought off the inevitable counter-attacks without loss to themselves. With a stronger starting position, they would make a third attempt when daylight returned.
The Americans didn’t do much on Day One, so they’re back on Day Two with more artillery but still no tanks. None of the secondary sources delve into what went wrong with 32th Infantry, and the official history of course glosses right over it (as it does every American failure of command or leadership), but something went bad wrong with this regiment during this battle.
Success at Buri Airfield
26 October 1944
During the early-morning hours, First Battalion replaced Third Battalion for the final assault. Tanks had finally been assigned to support 32nd Infantry, and the M8 Scott assault guns of the Regimental Cannon Company would join in as well. With Second Battalion moving on their flank, the fresh troops attacked through the jungle for a third time, and once again met fierce resistance.
Command and discipline problems continued in 32nd Infantry; while Finn had secured armor support, Second Battalion appropriated the tanks as they passed through its positions and Lt. Col. Glen A. Nelson insisted that they all accompany his own troops despite his new commander’s order. First Battalion made it to the edge of the airfield, where Japanese machine guns pinned down most of the troops. When the tanks finally arrived, they shot up the Japanese pillboxes - by now well-identified after three days of failed assaults - and the Americans secured the soggy airstrip.
This time the Americans get to start closer to their objective, and they’ll eventually get tank support. While the have two battalions, one starts well behind the other and the American player will have to choose whether to go right at the Japanese or wait for the rest of his or her force to catch up.
Road to Dagami
28 October 1944
Prisoner interrogations revealed that the Japanese planned to make a stand at Dagami, a crossroads town where troops retreating from several directions had gathered. Seventh Infantry Division moved northward up the road from Buri with its 17th Infantry Regiment in the lead with tanks, engineers and heavy chemical mortars in support.
Lt. Col. Francis Pachler sent his battalions up the road in column order, one following another, with all of the support elements attached to the 2nd Battalion in the lead. The tanks raced off ahead of the infantry, which made them vulnerable to Japanese anti-tank guns though in this battle the Japanese did not employ their suicidal anti-tank teams. The Americans faced a determined enemy defending a narrow front, but berserk heroism by the grenade-tossing Private Leonard C. Brostrom and BAR-wielding PFC John F. Thorston helped break the fortified line. Brostrom collapsed after multiple bullet and bayonet wounds, still throwing grenades as he died, while Thorston threw himself on a Japanese hand grenade to protect his squad-mates. Both received posthumous Medals of Honor.
The Americans face a situation more common on European battlefields, having to advance on a narrow front while initially outnumbered. They do receive two waves of reinforcements, which will help a great deal, and they have tanks, which will also help. But they have a lot they need to get done, and the Japanese have the firepower to make their opinion known.
And that’s Chapter Three. Next up, Chapter Four.
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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.