Scenario Preview, Part Eight
We like to do things a little differently at Avalanche Press, but our publishing model is taken straight from a very old and very common system in game publishing. We make two essential types of products: “core games” and “supplements.”
A core game includes everything needed to play; you can fire it up right away, so to speak, and get to the playing without any input from other games or expansions. A supplement adds to the core game; in our case with more maps, pieces and/or scenarios and sometimes all three. You can’t play a supplement by itself. It’s an enhancement for the core game, adding to your fun.
Panzer Grenadier: Leyte 1944 is a supplement, for the core game Saipan 1944. You’ll also need Marianas 1944, another supplement, to play the Leyte scenarios (plus a handful of pieces from Elsenborn Ridge to play one, just one, of the Leyte scenarios). With 46 scenarios and 88 pieces, it turns Saipan into a brand-new game. Pretty cool!
So let’s look at more of the Leyte scenarios:
The Old Bastards
Lt. Gen. Sosaku Suzuki of the Japanese Thirty-Fifth Army had been obsessed with the idea of a counter-attack against the American invaders: at first a multi-division offensive to throw the invaders into the sea, and then an airborne assault that would destroy their air support and as a result somehow force them to surrender. Some of his staff pointed out that the Americans still possessed the ships to make another landing, this time on Leyte’s west coast, and the Japanese had little with which to stop them. Not until American ships were spotted in Ormoc Bay did Suzuki finally establish a defense command for the crucial port of Ormoc. But by then the American 77th Infantry Division was already coming ashore.
The “Old Bastards” were an Army Reserve unit from New York State, older than the average Army enlisted man (thus the nickname) with combat experience from the Marianas Campaign. They landed at Deposito south of Ormoc on 7 December, on firm sand beaches under clear skies, and met no resistance. After landing their supplies, they began to move northward toward Ormoc, bringing their rear echelon with them to shelter within a defensive perimeter in a 20th Century version of a Roman army’s march.
9 December 1944
The Japanese Ormoc Defense Command, built around an Army logistics staff, included everything from sailors who’d lost their ships to elite paratroopers. They dug in along the approaches to Camp Downes, a former Philippine Army post, with their headquarters in the old base’s central command post. Machine guns, anti-aircraft guns and field artillery surrounded the command post, which commanded the road to Ormoc.
The motley collection of defenders put up surprisingly strong resistance, but the American division threw in all of its reserves including amphibian tanks and heavy chemical mortars. The Japanese yielded ground only reluctantly, but by nightfall the Americans had secured the old base and the stocks of small-arms ammunition stored there.
There’s a little bit of everything in the Japanese force; unfortunately for the Emperor’s men the emphasis is on the “little bit” part. The Japanese are outgunned here, and the Americans have plenty of firepower, but they also have to accomplish plenty if they want to win.
10 December 1944
Ormoc was by no means a major port, but it boasted a concrete pier that made unloading troops and supplies enormously faster than bringing them over the beach. That had made the town a supply hub for the Japanese, and now the Americans coveted it for the same reason. The Navy provided rocket-firing landing craft to assist the advance, but the Japanese had rushed reinforcements of their own to the town.
The Japanese defenders forced the Americans to clear Ormoc street by street and house by house; fortunately, it was not a large town and by the next day the 77th Infantry Division declared Ormoc secured. The Japanese had suffered heavy casualties in their defense, but the Americans had deployed heavy firepower and taken relatively few of their own.
The Americans get to use their rocket-firing gunboat and they have airplanes and swimming tanks while the Japanese have . . . a couple of anti-aircraft guns and not nearly enough men. But they do have a town to hang on to, and the Americans have to not only take it but get past it.
Up the Valley
11 December 1944
Immediately after taking Ormoc, 77th Infantry Division pushed one regiment to the west along the coastal road and another north up the strategic Highway 2. The Japanese 35th Army was now surrounded in a pocket centered on the highway, with only a handful of small fishing ports available to land reinforcements and supplies. No one spoke of evacuation; the last fresh regiment landed on Leyte on 9 December and Suzuki planned further counter-attacks. But the Americans would have to be stopped before that could happen.
The Japanese had dug in along the Antilao River with a formidable number of machine guns - as their infantry battalions suffered steady losses, the Japanese salvaged their heavy weapons, and the survivors were now very heavily armed. Even the point-blank fire of tank destroyers, Scott assault guns and amphibious tanks couldn’t breach the Japanese position.
The Americans are squeezing lots of firepower and lots of troops into a very narrow front, where the Japanese positions are well-manned and well-fortified. It’s going to be a very bloody affair.
11-12 December 1944
Among the emergency reinforcements rushed to Leyte by Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita at 14th Area Army was a force of Special Naval Landing Force troops including tanks and mortars. It’s unclear whether the Japanese thought Ormoc was still in their hands, or if they were trying to surprise the Americans with a nighttime landing right in the port. The Americans were not fooled.
The Japanese came directly for the concrete pier at Ormoc, and the Americans met them with a torrent of fire. At least one Japanese sailor yelled “Don’t Shoot!” but the Americans ignored him. Japanese landing barges continued to appear throughout the night, and at least some of them disgorged troops and vehicles that slipped away from the Americans to join the ever-weakening Thirty-Fifth Army.
Now the Japanese get to make an amphibious landing, but it’s a weak one and right into the teeth of a strong American defensive force. The Japanese don’t have to do much to win, which is a good thing for them.
14 December 1944
The Japanese position along the Antilao had defied American attacks for days. A three-story concrete building had been turned into a fortress which withstood all types of fire including a concentrated bombardment by all four of the 77th Infantry Division’s artillery battalions. Maj. Gen. Andrew Bruce, commanding the American division, had been saddled with a War Department “observer” who he now sent to the front to command a special attack force to take out the seemingly-impregnable blockhouse.
In what amounted to a brutal frontal assault, the Americans fought their way forward practically yard by yard. Col. Paul Freeman, tossed into the front lines, brought his ad hoc force to the edge of the entrenchments surrounding the concrete building but could not break in. At that point Lt. Robert Nett rose and led his men in a wild bayonet charge through heavy machine-gun fire and into the Japanese trenches where he personally bayonetted seven Japanese. Wounded three times, Nett shot and stabbed his way into the building, where his men wiped out the Japanese. Freeman gave him a direct order to seek medical treatment, but the lieutenant refused a stretcher and walked away unaided. He would receive the Medal of Honor and a promotion to captain.
We have another instance of insanely-fought close-quarters fighting, with both sides pouring in the troops and weapons. The Americans have enough artillery firepower to sink half of the island, but the Japanese are determined to hang on and have almost as many men on the battlefield, counting their strong counter-attack force, as the attackers.
14 December 1944
While the American 77th Infantry Division tried to push up Highway 2 past the deadly blockhouse, the 32nd Infantry Division attacked southward in an effort to crush the Japanese between them. The crack Japanese 1st Infantry Division still had the will to resist, and now it had armored support. The Americans had a 29-year-old private with a bazooka.
The approach of Japanese tanks took the Americans by surprise. While his comrades scrambled for cover, Private Dirk J. Vlug picked up a bazooka and six rockets and stood in the middle of the road to await them. The Japanese blazed away at him with machine guns and cannon but left him unscathed. He put a rocket into the first tank, and when the second apparently stalled trying to back up he gunned down its crew with his pistol as they bailed out. The then knocked out the rest of the tanks with bazooka rockets (for six total, counting the abandoned machine), and would be awarded the Medal of Honor.
The Japanese finally get some armored support, but it’s not very frightening (one full- and one half-strength platoon of Type 95 very light tanks). This is just a small scenario, and the Japanese need to use those tanks to bop their way past a small American force blocking their path.
And that’s Chapter Eight. Next up, Chapter Nine (the last one).
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, and his dog Leopold.