Scenario Preview, Part Six
Saipan 1944 is one of the most popular titles in the Panzer Grenadier line, and for good reason. It features American soldiers and Marines, has beautiful map artwork, and intense scenarios. We expanded it with Marianas 1944, a book that pretty much gave more of the same. And now we’ve added Panzer Grenadier: Leyte 1944.
Leyte 1944 doesn’t add maps, like we did with Marianas 1944; the heart of the book is its set of 46 scenarios and the nine battle games that link them together. Let’s take a look at Chapter Six.
The Southern Flank
While the Japanese pressed their forces north to mass against the American X Corps, the U.S. 7th Infantry Division had pushed a regiment across a mountain road to the south of the Japanese lines and reached the opposite coast of Leyte at Baybay. The march proved difficult, even without opposition, but eventually the Americans assembled sufficient force to march on Ormoc from the south. The newly-arrived Japanese 26th Infantry Division rushed south to stop their advance and drive them back.
The fighting would center around rough ground known to the Americans as “Shoestring Ridge.” With the U.S. Navy hesitant to advance into the waters west of Leyte - a force of destroyers made a brief raid, but he heavy ships remained in Leyte Gulf on the island’s eastern shore - and air support still limited, the American advance had to depend on the artillery batteries that could be coaxed across the single narrow mountain road.
23 November 1944
Until newly-arrived paratroopers of the 11th Airborne Division could take over the 7th Infantry Division’s positions on the eastern slopes of the Leyte mountain chain, only one American regiment advanced up the west coast toward Ormoc. That gave the Japanese an opportunity for a counter-attack, though they don’t seem to have realized the extent of American weakness during this brief period.
Attacking on the evening of Thanksgiving Day, the Japanese hoped to catch the Americans distracted by their special dinner - which would not arrive for several more days. The American company holding the front had orders to withdraw if faced with a superior force, but they became confused under fire and the carefully planned retreat became a rout.
It’s a small scenario, with the Japanese on the attack through the darkness. This is one of the rare occasions where the Japanese actually have artillery superiority. They also have a good edge in numbers, and they’ll need both of these to accomplish a very tough set of objectives.
24-25 November 1944
Following a heavy artillery barrage, at least by Japanese standards, the 13th Infantry Regiment went forward in an effort to throw the Americans off the feature they had named “Shoestring Ridge.” Under the eerie light of a full moon, the Japanese probed for American weak points.
The Japanese flung a reinforced battalion at a single American company, while the rest of the regiment made probing attacks elsewhere to keep the Americans from reinforcing the threatened sector. The Americans held, but the Japanese continued to probe for an opening, succeeding in infiltrating multiple groups through the American lines. They did not reach the American artillery, but Japanese counter-battery fire destroyed an entire American 105mm howitzer battery.
This is the largest scenario in the book, with the Japanese attacking (in the darkness, of course) with a lot of troops and artillery - they have significant advantages in both, with better initiative and morale, too. With all that force, they’re expected to drive across three boards and wipe out the American artillery batteries emplaced on the third one, which is not going to be easy.
The Bamboo Thicket
27 November 1944
An American infantry company had occupied a bamboo-covered hill that overlooked the coastal plain behind Shoestring Ridge, but then precipitously abandoned it in an unprovoked panicked retreat. The Japanese followed up, taking over the American positions and extending them. Now the “Bamboo Thicket,” as the troops named the hill, would have to be retaken.
After some consultation, the American artillery and infantry officers agreed to allot 200 of the 500 remaining 105mm howitzer shells to the Bamboo Thicket; the American mortar teams were allotted 400 rounds of 81mm and only 60 of 4.2-inch. The Americans took the hill at the cost of heavy casualties; once the heavy weapons ran out of ammunition, the Japanese positions had to be taken by rifle and grenade.
This time the Americans are attacking, with limited support against a prepared enemy. The Japanese are ready and waiting, but also outnumbered. It’s just a small scenario, but it’s going to be tough on everyone.
6 December 1944
Hill 380 anchored the inland flank of the Japanese line facing south against the advancing U.S. 7th Infantry Division. The Japanese 35th Army emphasized its defense not only as the position’s linchpin, but to protect the road leading inland across the mountains to the American-held airfields around Burauen. The American 17th Infantry Regiment approached the hill to meet a storm of machine-gun fire.
The Japanese held their ground, driving off the Americans in some confusion. Even as the Japanese finally launched their airborne counter-attack, the Americans landed yet another fresh division on the coast between Ormoc and the Japanese blocking position. Now in danger of encirclement, the 26th Infantry Division had no need for Hill 380 and pulled out quickly. When the Americans attacked again on the 7th they found the hill occupied by a dozen Japanese soldiers too badly concussed by artillery fire to accompany the withdrawal.
The Japanese have been knocked around by this point, but they still have good artillery support (unlike most Japanese formations, 26th Infantry Division managed to get all of its guns to Leyte). The Americans have to drive them out of hilltop positions that they want to hold, so it’s going to be another hard fight.
And that’s Chapter Six. Next up, Chapter Seven.
Click here to order Leyte 1944.
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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.