Scenario Preview, Part Seven
A while back, most Panzer Grenadier development tasks fell back onto my desk. I initially intended to pass it on to a new development team, but ultimately ended up keeping it. Since I’m also the publisher, there are certain things only I can do, and some responsibilities that can’t be delegated (well, they can be, but probably shouldn’t).
Panzer Grenadier: Leyte 1944 was an older game design, pre-dating the story-arc format we use now for most of our game series. So I did a lot more to it than I could have asked of an outside developer, re-casting some of the scenarios and replacing others to bring the set into the format. That meant a lot of extra work researching the campaign, but I think the final product was worth it. Let’s have a look at more of those scenarios:
The Japanese high command believed retention of the Philippines essential to maintaining sea communications with the Empire’s sources of food and fuel in South-East Asia. Retention of the Philippines, in turn, rested on the retention of Leyte. Holding Leyte required that the Americans be ejected from the vital airfields on the east side of Leyte, and thereafter from the entirety of the island.
Thus 14th Area Army headquarters in Manila pressured the 35th Army on Leyte to re-capture the airfields, and provided two elite parachute regiments to spearhead the counter-attack. Originally scheduled for 26 November, the operation was continually delayed by weather and by difficulties assembling the troops and aircraft who would undertake the mission. But eventually it went forward in early December, by which point the battle for Leyte had already been lost.
6 December 1944
The complicated operation included a ground element, with the remnants of the 16th Infantry Division attacking from their mountain positions in concert with the airborne landings. The attack was scheduled for 5 December, but poor weather grounded the transports and 14th Area Army issued yet another delay order, moving the assault to the 7th. Sixteenth Infantry Division never received the order, but moved out late. Their attack on 6 December still came a day before the paratroopers arrived.
Gen. Shiro Makino organized the thousand-odd starving survivors of his 16th Infantry Division into a single battalion and led them on a harrowing march through the jungles and mountains. Led by a Filipino guide, they emerged to catch the Americans by surprise. They killed many of the rear-area troops still in their beds around Buri airfield, captured the strip and then dug in to await the American counter-attack. By nightfall it still had not come; unknown to the Japanese, the Americans had written off the airfields as useless and stopped their efforts to repair them.
The Japanese don’t get any paratroopers yet, just a pack of ragged, starving survivors storming out of the jungle. They do have surprise on their side, but no artillery, and the Americans do get paratroopers. It’s a strange little scenario.
“Hello, Where Are Your Machine Guns?”
6-7 December 1944
As the Americans recovered from the excitement of Makino’s attack and awaited their dinner, Japanese planes appeared over several of Leyte’s American-occupied airfields. Some of them attacked the airfields, but 49 of them dropped paratroopers bent on causing as much destruction as possible. Seeking to sow confusion, many shouted nonsensical English-language phrases as they attacked.
By early morning the Japanese controlled Buri Airfield and contested Bayug and San Pablo airfields. They did not find the fields teeming with aircraft that they expected, but blew up a handful of liaison planes that used the soggy strips and destroyed some small supply dumps. The Americans began a concerted counter-attack the next morning.
In theory, the Japanese have plenty of force to achieve their goals - but they have to get that force on the ground and organized. The Japanese get some help from those starving survivors of the last scenario, but the Americans start with paratroopers on hand and get a lot more of them later.
The Ballad of Ova Kelley
7 December 1944
The Japanese paratroopers represented little threat to the American position on Leyte; a few hundred men were not going to toss eight American divisions into the sea. They still needed to be eliminated, and reinforcements poured in to join the counter-attacks. The Japanese put up fierce resistance, aided by the piecemeal nature of the American response.
While the Americans held San Pablo Airfield at the end of the day, the Japanese still clung to parts of the other two. Buri Airfield almost fell to the crazed attack of a single American, Private Ova Kelley, who charged the Japanese alone, armed with an M1 Garand rifle and a handful of grenades. Kelley was killed, but so were many Japanese and his company took most of the airfield. He would later be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
This is a wide-ranging scenario, with the Americans forced to chase the Japanese all over a large playing area trying to take and secure all of the airfields. At this point the Japanese are just trying to make it difficult for the Americans, and they certainly have the means to do that.
The Last Airfield
10 December 1944
Fighting for Buri Airfield continued for days, as the Japanese made use of captured weapons and received reinforcements in the form of a single battalion of the 26th Infantry Division that staggered over the mountains to join them. Though the Japanese had to be aware by now that the airfields were of little use, they continued to try to secure this last airstrip still within their grasp.
This last gasp effort by the Japanese paratroopers caused some panic among the American rear echelon, but they finally held and drove off the attackers. Thirty-Fifth Army ordered the operation broken off so the troops could help defend Ormoc, but few if any made it back to the west coast. The handful of Japanese survivors melted back into the jungles where some of them would hold out for years to come.
The Japanese are in bad shape by this point, but the Americans aren’t really taking the threat seriously so they don’t have overwhelming force on hand to stamp them out. The paratroopers are still willing to fight, but the others are longing to return to their jungle hideaways.
And that’s Chapter Seven. Next up, Chapter Eight.
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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.