Scenario Preview, Part Five
By October 1944, the Japanese had little chance of defeating the United States; one could argue that this had been true in December 1941 as well, but after nearly three years of war this should have been as clear in Tokyo as it was in Washington. Yet magical thinking prevailed in Japanese military circles, not the last time a major power would base its policies on delusion.
The American landings on Leyte in the central Philippines represented an opportunity to engage and defeat the enemy, and the Japanese poured reinforcements into the island. Leyte is a fairly large island, and that made for a campaign more like those taking place in Europe in terms of scope, with eight American divisions facing five Japanese divisions plus parts of a six and several independent brigades.
That commitment made for intense combat, and that combat is the theme of Panzer Grenadier: Leyte 1944. Let’s look at more of its 46 scenarios.
The Northern Flank
With the Leyte Valley secured, the action moved to the Ormoc Valley on the west side of Leyte. The Japanese had poured reinforcements into Leyte and now had sufficient troops to mount a determined defense of the valley, though not enough to drive the Americans off the island.
The American X Corps would have the task of driving along the northern coast of Leyte and thereby skirting the nearly-impassable mountains that formed the island’s spine. Once they reached the northern end of the Ormoc Valley they would turn south and drive toward the port at Ormoc where the Japanese unloaded their reinforcements and supplies. The Japanese had brought fresh troops into the line and were well-prepared to resist, aided by an American pause to await a non-existent Japanese amphibious landing behind their lines.
West of Carigara
3 November 1944
The first Japanese reinforcements to arrive on Leyte came from the 102nd Infantry Division, formed at Cebu just three months earlier from an independent mixed brigade. Several battalions landed on Leyte’s north coast, prompting American commander Walter Krueger of Sixth Army to pause his advance in case more Japanese landed behind his lines. By the time the Americans moved forward again, the newly-arrived Japanese had had time to prepare for them.
The 34th Infantry Regiment’s advance began easily, and they encountered no resistance. When they did finally encounter the Japanese, they were in far greater force than anticipated, in well-prepared positions. Attempts to outflank them simply ran into more prepared positions manned by fresh troops. Even the heroism of 19-year-old Sgt. Charles Mower, who would be awarded the Medal of Honor after his death, could not bring the Americans through the Japanese positions. The Americans withdrew and applied a day-long artillery barrage to the Japanese positions, but they had already slipped away.
The Japanese have some to fight, digging in with fresh troops well-supplied with support weapons and even artillery. The Americans can’t count on their own big guns to pry the enemy loose, and they’re going to have to fight at close quarters.
7 November 1944
The Japanese 1st Infantry Division’s staff considered their outfit the best in the Imperial Army, despite not having seen large-scale combat since the Russo-Japanese War (though it did try to overthrow the government in 1936, earning it exile to Manchuria). The Americans did not detect its movement from Manchuria to Leyte until they encountered its troops dug in along a feature dubbed Breakneck Ridge that commanded the northern entrance to the Ormoc Valley. Several days of attacks brought no success, and the Americans tried again with a fresh regiment (21st Infantry), tanks and flamethrowers.
First Infantry Division had used the pause granted by the American command’s obsession with amphibious landings to fortify what they called the “Yamashita Line” in the rough terrain of the ridge. The Japanese would hold Breakneck Ridge for another week, repelling repeated American attacks. The Americans deployed their heavy artillery, but for once the Japanese answered with surprisingly strong artillery support of their own.
Fortunately for the American plyer, the Japanese 1st Infantry Division will never be as tough as it is in its first real battle in decades. The Japanese have superior morale and initiative, plenty of heavy weapons, and actual artillery support. The Americans have brought lots of heavy guns to the battle, and they’re going to need them.
8 November 1944
On 8 November a typhoon lashed Leyte with heavy winds and rain, grounding all aircraft, flooding roads and trails, limiting visibility on the ground and bringing general misery to both sides. It did not stop the fighting, as the 21st Infantry Regiment renewed its attack on the Yamashita Line.
Unable to deploy tanks across the sodden ground, the 21st Infantry brought up additional flamethrowers to give their attack added punch. That made little difference, as the Japanese held their ground and rained down machine-gun and mortar fire on the Americans until they withdrew without having dented the Yamashita Line. First Infantry Division had suffered enormous casualties but held its ground; 24th Infantry Division had been ground up in the attempt and was withdrawn from the front to give way to a fresh division, an option the Japanese did not have.
This is just a small scenario, but it’s an intense one with the Americans forced to come to grips with the Japanese on their turf - a commanding height riddled with fortified caves and entrenchments and manned by determined defenders with IDF-level morale. Without tanks and without their usual crushing edge in artillery, the Americans have another tough task ahead of them.
17 November 1944
With the 24th Infantry Division rendered ineffective the U.S. Sixth Army fed the newly-arrived 32nd Infantry Division into its place. The National Guard division traced its heritage to the Wisconsin and Michigan regiments of the Civil War’s Iron Brigade and so far had lived up to that lineage, spending the previous two years in Australia and New Guinea and seeing a great deal of jungle combat. Its next task would be to break the Japanese 1st Division holding Corkscrew Ridge.
Part of the 128th Infantry Regiment’s 3rd Battalion ran into stout opposition that stopped its advance cold, but other companies found the Japanese positions’ open flank and filtered past. After another day of futile assaults, the American regimental command chose to bypass Corkscrew Ridge and mop it up later. Not until 10 December was all resistance on the ridge eliminated.
Samurai morale meets Iron Brigade morale. It’s a small battle again, between two very good formations. It’s going to end badly for someone.
28-29 November 1944
Kilay Ridge stood to the south of Breakneck and Corkscrew Ridges, astride the road leading down the Ormoc Valley to the port of Ormoc itself. Repeated attacks against the ridge failed to dislodge the Japanese, who resorted to evening counter-attacks in hopes of catching the Americans while they were tired from the day’s fighting and seeking their dinner and sleep.
A night of fierce close-quarters fighting including hand-to-hand struggles with bayonets found the Japanese in possession of about half of the ridge and the Americans clinging to the rest. American ammunition parties could not get through the Japanese ring of fire, but somehow the cooks bearing Thanksgiving dinner made it to the front lines, unaware of the Japanese assault. The Japanese lung to their gains for days, until the Americans applied large-scale reinforcements and a great deal of artillery fire to finally eject them.
This time the Japanese are on the attack in the dark; First Infantry Division has lost a little of its edge so the odds are even in another tough infantry fight. We missed our chance to include a turkey counter.
Texas Horse Soldiers
30 November 1944
Despite the arrival of 32nd Infantry Division, X Corps’ strength continued to ebb and Sixth Army finally released the last corps reserve, the Texas National Guard’s 112th Cavalry Regiment, an independent unit and one of the last cavalry regiments to give up its horses. The regiment advanced past the ridges only to meet a well-prepared Japanese position perhaps three miles further on.
The Japanese 1st Infantry Division had suffered enormous losses but remained fully capable of combat, and it stopped the Texas cavalry cold when the dismounted horsemen reached their fortifications in the rough ground about a mile east of Highway 2. Night-time harassment by patrols and sporadic artillery fire kept the cavalry from on its heels, and it would be another 10 days before they dislodged the Japanese from their jungle fortress.
The Texas horse soldiers are asked to attack without artillery support, which is going to make this another tough assignment for the Americans. The Japanese don’t have any either, but they do have the fearsome 1st Infantry Division.
And that’s Chapter Five. Next up, Chapter Six.
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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.