Scenario Preview, Part Nine
I made a deliberate choice some time back to focus our games on the stories they tell, following a lesson the rest of the specialty game industry (role-playing, collectible card games etc.) learned at least a decade before us. It’s a concept particularly well-suited to historical games like our, that by their very nature tell a story about something that actually happened.
Game expansions like Panzer Grenadier: Leyte 1944 are a key part of that story-telling process. They let us tell more of the story, or perhaps a related story. Leyte 1944 picks up the narrative of island warfare that began with Saipan 1944 and continued in Marianas 1944. Leyte is a bigger island, and Philippine geography allowed the Japanese to pour in reinforcements using the inland waters of the archipelago. That led to two months of heavy fighting, ending with the Japanese utterly crushed. Let’s look at the last of those battles.
Self-Sufficient, Sustained Resistance
On December 15th, Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita learned that the Americans had detached troops from Leyte to land on the island of Morotai. The defense of Leyte, he realized, was no longer even tying down American forces and they would soon land on the main island of Luzon. It was time to cut his losses; no further reinforcements would be sent to 35th Army on Leyte. He ordered Suzuki to conduct “self-sufficient, sustained resistance” with the forces still on the island.
“Our end is near,” a Japanese soldier wrote to his family in a letter that would never be delivered. “Hundreds of pale soldiers of Japan are awaiting a glorious end and nothing else. This is a repetition of what happened in the Solomons, New Georgia and other islands.”
The Last Ditch
17 December 1944
Now officially abandoned, Leyte’s last Japanese defenders sought to delay the American juggernaut while they erected a final defensive line around the last tiny port still in Japanese hands. With his dreams of a glorious counter-attack finally scotched, Suzuki committed a unit of parachutists to ground combat, apparently expecting their elite status to translate to defensive prowess. He was mistaken.
The Japanese paratroopers had not dug themselves in, simply occupied whatever structures they could find. At first, they put up stout resistance against the Americans approaching from the west. The southern prong of the American advance took them by surprise, and they withdrew quickly.
Jump wings aren’t enough to make a unit elite, and these paratroopers are no better than the usual run of Japanese infantry plus they won’t dig in. The Americans only have a slight edge in numbers, so it still won’t be easy to eject the Japanese from their positions.
17 December 1944
While American infantry divisions fought their way up and down the Ormoc Valley, the 11th Airborne Division marched directly westwards over the mountains. The paratroopers were considered ideal for the light infantry mission, but they began to run out of food as they pressed westwards and soon the 2nd Battalion of the 511th Parachute Infantry became isolated on a hilltop known as Rock Hill.
When troops of the 32nd Infantry Regiment finally broke through, the paratroopers had been 10 days without food and had been scavenging rice from Japanese dead and boiling banana leaves for soup. By this point the campaign was clearly over, and the sacrifices of the airborne had done little to speed the end of Japanese resistance on Leyte.
Both world wars are replete with “lost battalion” stories, and in this case it’s one from the 11th Airborne isolated in the middle of nowhere as other American forces try to fight through the Japanese to bring them their spam and crackers. We included pretty 11th Airborne pieces for the Angels with their own divisional symbol and it seemed like we needed to use them some more.
Road to Palompon
19 December 1944
Yamashita ordered Suzuki to abandon Leyte and organize the defense of the other islands of the central Philippines. Suzuki ignored the order, and prepared to hold a perimeter around Palompon, a small fishing port on the north-western corner of Leyte. He had fresh troops that had arrived just before Yamashita’s decision to write him off, and, perhaps inevitably, hoped to use them to counter-attack.
The Americans pushed the Japanese back, but could not clear the road to Palompon despite inflicting heavy losses on them. These new troops had not experienced the repeated defeats of the other Japanese formations on Leyte, and remained well-fed, healthy and willing to fight. The Americans would have to try again.
Before the Americans can declare Leyte completely secure, there are still some fresh Japanese troops ready to fight them. The Japanese are dug in and well-supplied with heavy weapons plus artillery support, not what the Americans expect at this state of the campaign.
20 December 1944
The Americans brought up more troops overnight, with more artillery support, but the Japanese did as well, frantically digging in and creating more palm-log firing positions. When the 307th Infantry Regiment attacked again, they found an even more resolute Japanese defense facing them.
The Americans drove the Japanese back, but still could not break them. Repeated small-scale Japanese counter-attacks left hundreds of dead behind but could not roll back the American gains. The Japanese could not sustain this level of loss, and by the next day the road to Palompon had been opened and Thirty-Fifth Army was doomed.
The Americans have just about the strongest attacking force they can muster, given the mix of pieces in Saipan/Marianas/Leyte, but the Japanese almost match them in terms of numbers (though not in firepower). They have to scrape together the remains of three divisions to do it, but they can fling a regiment of their own into battle against the regimental-sized American force, allowing us to wrap up the Leyte scenario set with a pretty intense infantry action.
And that’s the last chapter.
Click here to order Leyte 1944.
Sign up for our newsletter right here. Your info will never be sold or transferred; we'll just use it to update you on new games and new offers.
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.