Scenario Preview, Part Two
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
A little less than five years after the close of World War II, American troops were at war again, in a “police action” in Korea. North Korean invaders faced serious opposition from the South Korean, or ROK, Army. But the ROKs were outgunned and outnumbered and had no answer for the North Korean People's Army’s T-34/85’s. American troops rushed to the scene from Japan, but when they arrived the soft and slack garrison soldiers performed terribly. Their Air Force comrades weren't a whole lot better at their jobs.
Designer Jay Townsend brings the Panzer Grenadier series to the conflict with Korean War: Pusan Perimeter. Here’s a look at ten more of its scenarios. You can see the rest of the scenario previews in Part One, Part Three, Part Four and Part Five.
Ch’unch’on Day 3
27 June 1950
The first days of the North Korean offensive revealed that when accompanied by armor, the NKPA could push the ROK troops around pretty much at will. Without their T-34’s, they could sometimes still get their way, but often the South Koreans would rally and stand their ground. On the third day of the battle for Ch’unch’on, the 7th Division entered the battle with a small spearhead of nine T-34/85 tanks the NKPA planners hoped would be enough to make a difference.
As their Soviet advisors could have warned, the North Korean II Corps’ commitment of nine tanks did not represent armor support. The South Koreans devastated the attacking NKPA formations, inflicting massive casualties on the 2nd Division (though far fewer on the tank-supported 7th Division). The NKPA did take the city, but only after units on the flanks of the ROK 6th Division collapsed and it was forced to withdraw.
While the North Koreans are advised and equipped by the Soviets, their experience comes from the Chinese Civil War. The Soviet concept of concentration of force appears to have eluded them, and here we have one of several examples where the Norks split up their awesome armored force into tiny slices that are far less awesome. Here the ROKs have better morale and are well-prepared for battle; if they can handle the tiny tank force the North is in trouble.
27 June 1950
Initial North Korean probes into the Seoul suburbs had been repelled by heavy fire, but South Korean resolve to hold the capital was wavering badly. During the night a lone North Korean tank and 50 to 60 infantry managed to slip into the Secret Gardens at Chang-Duk Palace in the northeast section of Seoul. Their stealthy entry into Seoul didn’t go unnoticed as police units reported the development and soon a small force of the capital’s heavily-armed and battle-tested police responded to destroy them.
With the help of some ROK infantry, the police destroyed the tank and drove off its accomplices. No arrests were made. While the cops were still willing to dispense justice, at ROK Army headquarters staff officers began neatly packing up their belongings as soon as word arrived that a North Korean tank had entered the city limits. Their panicked bosses meanwhile issued orders to blow up the bridges over the Han River just south of the capital, even though the troops defending the city had not yet withdrawn.
This is an odd little scenario, with a small force of South Korean police tracking down and trying to knock off a single reduced T-34/85 (with a little infantry support). There are surprisingly few night actions in this game, and the darkness makes this one into a hunter-and-hunted game, though it’s never quite clear who is who.
28 June 1950
For three days and nights the ROK 1st Division fought hard, though its command staff had little idea of the bigger picture. When they tried to send trucks south for more ammunition they returned with news that the sole vehicular bridge leading south to Seoul over the Han River had been blown up by friendly forces and capital was occupied by enemy forces. Cut off and short of artillery ammunition, the division commander, Col. Paik Sun-yup, decided to withdraw across the Han River. Right about that time the headquarters staff spotted an enemy cavalry unit, indicating that the 1st Division’s eastern flank had been turned.
The South Koreans held off the flanking cavalry while pushing south to get out of the trap. They could not find any bridge over the river, but they did discover a few small ferries. First Division ended up abandoning 150 vehicles and all their artillery; Army headquarters staff estimated that only 30 percent of the troops retreating southward still had their personal weapons. Meanwhile, the first American airstrike of the war hit the South Korean 1st Division with a devastating rocket barrage. “You did not think the Americans would help us,” Paik told his staff. “Now you know better."
The American aircraft may be the North’s secret weapon: there’s a good chance it will attack the ROKs, and the South Korean player may not decline the “assistance.” The ROKs are trying to withdraw, with the Norks hot on their heels but without their unstoppable tanks they are stoppable.
The Outskirts of Seoul
28 June 1950
South Korean military leaders agreed that they would only blow up the bridges leading out of Seoul after retreating ROK units and civilian refugees had escaped across them. But the charges went off while the main bridge over the Han River was packed with up to 4,000 people. As many as 800 died in the blast and collapse. The ROK Army’s Chief Engineer was quickly court-martialed and executed; the American advisors attached to ROK headquarters believed chief of staff Chae Myung-shin gave the order and had his underling killed to cover up this act of cowardice. Despite disintegration at the top, scattered ROK units still put up spirited resistance.
While the rest of the South Korean troops who had defended the approaches to Seoul tried to find a way out of the doomed capital, one company of infantry dug in on South Mountain and fought until all were killed. The head of the ROK engineering school sent out teams with demolition charges strapped to long poles to attack North Korean armor, managing to knock out a few tanks at the cost of many dead volunteers. By afternoon two NKPA divisions occupied all the key positions in Seoul.
This time the North Koreans get that whole “armored fist” thing right and bring many tanks to the battle, and even have air power, while the ROKs have all sorts of problems and just want to go home. The bar for victory is therefore set pretty high for the Norks, but they do have a great deal of force with which to accomplish their goals.
Across the Han River
30 June 1950
Eager to resume their offensive, the North Korean I Corps sent their best unit, the 4th Division, forward to cross the Han River by any means they could find. At the river’s edge, they became embroiled in an artillery duel with the Capital Division, the ROK Army’s showpiece unit that had been held out of most of the first days’ fighting as Army Chief of Staff Chae considered them “fit only for the parade ground.”
The 1st Cavalry Regiment had all of what passed for “armor” in the ROK Army when the fighting began. Douglas MacArthur’s visit on the 29th to the ROK lines along the Han River appears to have genuinely inspired the South Koreans, who now had visible proof that American aid would be forthcoming. But many hard battles, defeats and retreats lay before them.
This is another odd scenario, a river crossing in which neither side is really interested in crossing the river, just in inflicting casualties on the other. It includes horsed cavalry, and that always makes for a fun game. Always, no exceptions.
Across the Han
1 July 1950
While the South Koreans hoped the blown bridges would delay the NKPA along the Han River line at least a little while, the North Korean command had other ideas. Signs of coming American support made it imperative to continue the offensive southward. On the last day of June, 3rd Division troops crossed the river in large assault boats prepared for that purpose while others waded or even swam across. The main effort began the next day, with the 4th Division – considered the best unit in the NKPA – attacking the south-bank Seoul suburb of Yongdungp’o.
The mixed ROK units held Youngdungp’o, despite their tangled organization. North Korean assaults continued two full days before Youngdungp’o finally fell at the cost of over 2,300 NKPA casualties. The 4th Division had scored great successes in the first days of the war, but always with tank support – and none of the heavy vehicles could be brought across the river to help take Younfdungp’o. Finally on July 3rd NKPA engineers finished replacing the spans of a railroad bridge over the Han River and the T34/85’s could resume their place at the point of the North Korean advance.
No more playing around: this time the Norks are coming over the river for real, and they have landing craft to help them. They have no tanks, but the 4th Division is the NKPA’s best and sports high morale and some artillery support.
Retreat to Suwan
4 July 1950
The ROK remnants that had held the Han River line fell back toward Suwon, home of a large airfield where American C54’s were just starting to land fresh supplies of artillery ammunition and other vital items. With their tanks finally over the river, the North Koreans launched a hot pursuit of the fleeing ROK forces. Near Anyang-in a column of T-34’s with infantry riding aboard crashed into a retreating ROK convoy.
The ROK troops formed a defensive perimeter, but could not hold it against the T34’s and suffered heavy casualties. An American recon plane mis-identified a ROK column as the advancing North Koreans, which was then thoroughly strafed by American and Australian planes. Acting on the same report, the American advisory headquarters staff panicked, destroying their radio gear with a thermite grenade and burning down the building in the process, forcing the ROK Army headquarters to evacuate Suwon as well.
The North Korean force is made up of nothing but tanks and tank riders, and hell is coming with them. The South Koreans have a bunch of weak units running around in circles screaming in terror. All that and there’s a 50:50 chance that the “friendly” air support will turn on them, too.
Task Force Smith
5 July 1950
On the evening of June 30th, Lt. Col. Charles B. Smith received orders to take two companies of his battalion of the 21st Infantry Regiment, plus some support weapons, and fly to Pusan to “block the main road as far north as possible.” They made their way north by truck and train, watching Australian planes shoot up ROK ammunition trains and American jets devastate ROK truck convoys. Finding a suitable position near Osan, Smith told his men to dig in. The North Koreans arrived soon afterwards.
The T34’s drove directly at the American positions, and the mostly-inexperienced Americans opened up with a barrage of fire from their bazookas and recoilless rifles – all of which seemed to bounce off the tanks’ thick hides. Three or four of the tanks were knocked out by 105mm artillery pieces firing high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) rounds at them over open sights, and the rest trundled through the American lines and continued southward. When a second force of mostly infantry appeared, Smith ordered his troops to pull back but the inexperienced soldiers panicked, leaving behind weapons, helmets and even some of their wounded.
The Americans are here! And now they’re running away! This is not a stellar moment for American arms; their morale is low and they’re facing the NKPA’s best, well-supported by tanks. The North Koreans needs to crush the Americans quickly and roll on, and they have the force to do just that but initially have no infantry support.
6 July 1950
With little idea what had befallen Task Force Smith, only that the news probably wasn’t good, the newly-activated 8th Army ordered the 24th Infantry Division to send its 34th Infantry Regiment to set up a new blocking position north of P’yongt’aek and Ansong. The 34th was no better-prepared for war than the 21st had been, with minimal training, weak leadership and very little anti-tank capability. When troops of the crack North Korean 4th Division arrived at their position, the NKPA infantry promptly fanned out to attack.
Backed by the fire of their tanks, the North Korean infantry waded the stream and proceeded to turn both American flanks. Ordered to withdraw, the Americans broke and ran instead, once again littering the battlefield with weapons and equipment and even parts of uniforms. Overcast skies prevented air support from intervening, but given the performance of American and Allied pilots to date that may have been a blessing. The North Koreans repaired the blown bridge, and resumed their advance.
The Americans get to dig in behind a river, and there aren’t as many Nork tanks this time, but it may not help. The U.S. Army still has reasonable leadership, but their morale is on par with that of the Hyderabadis or Ecuadorians of older Panzer Grenadier modules. That’s not going to help them when the crack NKPA 4th Division gets into Assault range.
The Battle for Ch’onan
8 July 1950
Furious over the repeated collapses, the 24th Infantry Division’s commander, Maj. Gen. William F. Dean, fired the 34th Regiment’s commander and replaced him with his newly-arrived close friend, Col. Robert F. Martin. As North Korean troops entered Ch’onan, the American regiment’s 3rd Battalion began to pull back without orders, causing Martin to ask a staff major if the troops would take orders from him. Assured that they would, the bazooka-toting Martin attempted to personally lead them back into Ch’onan to resist the North Korean advance. Only about 80 soldiers followed.
With his junior officers clearly unwilling or unable to lead their troops into contact with the enemy, Martin and his small group of GI’s engaged the North Koreans in bitter street fighting. Dodging from building to building, Martin stalked a North Korean tank until he obtained the shot he wanted. His bazooka round fizzled and bounced limply off the T34; the tank’s return fire blew the colonel in half. With Martin dead the American defense collapsed, and once again the North Koreans advanced through piles of abandoned American weapons and equipment.
Weak-morale troops are at a significant disadvantage in close-range battles in Panzer Grenadier, and that’s exactly what the American player is facing here. The North has to accomplish a lot in order to win, but the Americans are not in a great position to stop them.
And that concludes the second segment.
Click here to order Pusan Perimeter.
Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.