Scenario Preview, Part One
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Long ago, we looked at Saipan as a possible topic for a Panzer Grenadier game since the campaign featured many different types of fighting including a tank battle. I decided it couldn't be done without mapping the entire island, which would make the cost prohibitive, and set the project aside. Jay Townsend proved that wrong with his masterful design, Panzer Grenadier: Saipan 1944. Here’s a look at the first eight of its scenarios, to give you an idea of the excitement within the box:
15 June 1944
The opening invasion of Saipan targeted the southwestern coast of the island where the beaches where the least obstructed and suitable for amphibious operations. Red Beach 1, 2 and 3 encompassed the northern landing areas, while Green Beach 1, 2, and 3 paralleled them to the south, followed by Blue 1 and 2, and Yellow 1, 2, and 3 furthest to the south. The 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions hit the beaches aboard 300 LVTs, but Red & Green Beaches saw the most heated resistance while nearly a dozen ships softened up the beach area with covering fire.
The initial thrust of the 6th Marines stalled 100 yards from the water’s edge, the ribbon of sand littered with the hulks of knocked-out Amphibian Tractors. Intense enemy fire from the higher ground slowed progress, but the Marines plunged into the thickets along the coastal highway determined to achieve their beachhead. On a happier note, the underwater demolition teams had done a pretty good job of clearing mines and blowing holes in the reef for the landings.
We’ve done some beach landing scenarios in Panzer Grenadier before, but never on this scale. Two beach maps are in play, with a regimental-sized Marine landing force including amphibious light tanks. The Japanese defenders are dug in with casemates and ample support weapons and off-board artillery. Both sides have sky-high morale. This is going to be one of the best-loved scenarios in the entire series.
15 June 1944
The 8th Marines expected Afetna Point to present a significant defensive position for the Japanese defenders on Green Beach. It straddled the boundary between the 2nd and 4th Marine Division landings. Therefore, the area received particular attention from the naval support fire, getting two days of heavy bombardment. What would the Devil Dogs find waiting for them?
Despite two assault battalions landing on the same beach boundary, miraculously the Japanese defenders destroyed very few LVTs. However, some of the amphibian tanks became engaged in extended firefights within Chalan Kanoa, slowing the advance of the troop-carrying Amtracs behind them.
This is a very similar scenario, with a huge wave of Marines coming ashore in their amphibious personnel carriers and trying to drive quickly inland. Marines hitting the beach is one of the iconic images of World War II, and this scenario captures the feel very well.
Probing the Marines
15 June 1944
Once the main elements of the Marine force were ashore, the Japanese command flung nearby elements of the 9th Tank Regiment forward in a series of disorganized attacks to probe the Red Beach boundary and test American resolve. Although still organizing their force on the beach, the Marines accepted the challenge.
The appearance of Japanese tanks caused great excitement among the Marines, but they responded quickly to the threat. Bazooka-wielding Marines from A and G Companies of 6th Marines wiped out all but one of the offending vehicles before they penetrated the Marine lines. That last tank rolled to within 75 yards of Col. James Riseley’s command post before it, too, succumbed to a Marine rocket.
The Japanese strike back – with tanks. Okay, there aren’t many tanks and they aren’t very good. The Marine cannon-armed LVT’s are easily a match for them. But it’s a fun, small and short scenario with the high-morale Japanese on the attack.
Blue Beach Push
15 June 1944
Moving inland from Blue Beach 1, a small battle-group from the 23rd Marines tried to pass Chalan Kanoa and bolted onto a road to establish a perimeter on a hill top astride the O-1 Line. Lieutenant Colonel John J. Cosgrove led the way against scattered Japanese riflemen who fought back from roadside ditches and continually tried to infiltrate behind the advancing amphibian tanks and tractors while calling down very accurate fire from a nearby mountain artillery battalion.
The column exchanged shots with the Japanese soldiers until the LVT’s halted at the base of the hill and refused to advance any further despite Cosgrove’s angry exhortations. But his Marines had massive firepower at their disposal, and advanced without the vehicles. The Japanese, with no friendly support forces, were ordered back to their battalion lines.
The Marines push inland in this small scenario, to be met by a small Japanese force dug in defending tough terrain. The Marines have an edge in morale and leadership, but their artillery has not yet arrived ashore so they’re actually out-gunned by the Japanese.
Punishment on Yellow Beach
15 June 1944
The 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment landed amid a heavy barrage of high explosives. However, the Devil Dogs pushed inland to the railroad embankment roughly 700 yards inland, driving the Japanese infantry back until the Japanese artillery and dual-purpose antiaircraft guns, firing over open sights and augmented with mortars, unleashed a wicked bombardment to stop the Marine advance.
In contrast to the behavior of the amphibian crews in the Blue Beach sector, here the LVT(A)’s of the Army’s 708th Amphibian Tank Battalion spearheaded the Marine advance and deliberately tried to draw Japanese fire away from the riflemen and the troop-carrying tractors. But the Japanese position held until the Marines called in Navy planes to destroy the Japanese heavy weapons. Under incessant air attack, the Japanese riflemen and surviving gunners fell back.
It’s just one map, but it’s one filled with action. The Marines are trying to press inland, but the Japanese are well-supplied with heavy weapons that can shred their lightly-armored amphibian APC’s if the American player is even slightly reckless.
Agingan Point Stinger
15 June 1944
Another Japanese force attacked from Agingan Point, attempting to roll up the narrow beachhead called Yellow Beach 3. Small groups of Japanese infantry began to filter
over the ridge toward the Marines’ right flank while excellent shooting by Japanese artillerymen began to exact heavy casualties on the Devil Dogs. If the battalion were to be saved, it would have to move quickly and hope for some help from its friends.
Lieutenant Colonel Hollis W. Mustain, the battalion commander, called for an air strike and naval gunfire to help repel the attackers. A devastating barrage by the battleship Tennessee inflicted massive casualties on the attacking Japanese. With this significant assistance, Mustain’s riflemen and tanks wiped out two Japanese companies and sent the rest fleeing into the brush.
The Japanese have a strong attacking force backed by a good array of artillery, both on- and off-board. And the Marines are right up against the shoreline, where they really can be pushed into the sea. They have their awesome infantry firepower, high morale, and a battleship. Those 70-strength artillery barrages will do some damage to the deepest samurai spirit.
Throw Them Into the Sea!
15-16 June 1944
After launching a series of probes to assess both the American dispositions and the invaders’ fighting spirit, a large number of Japanese formations marched down the hills to unleash a battle they hoped would throw the Americans back into the sea. This mix of SNLF and Japanese Army units, with the majority of the tanks coming from the SNLF, would launch their attack in the dark of night.
The American artillery still was not set up on the island and ready to support the infantry, so the call went out for naval support. The answer came from the battleship California. The fire support, along with some armor reinforcements and some star shells to light up the night, hammered the Japanese. The Type 2 KA-MI tank was a Japanese amphibious tank, but on Saipan it never got to be used in that manner against the Americans.
A tank battle! Not much of a tank battle, but tanks on each side nonetheless. The Marine Sherman tanks might as well be M1A2 Abrams, given the lightweight Japanese tanks flung at them by both the Imperial Army and Navy. The Japanese actually do care about casualties, but they can suffer a lot of them before it triggers the American victory conditions. The Americans, meanwhile, have Marine morale and firepower – and another battleship.
Mopping Up Afetna Point
16 June 1944
The die-hard Japanese soldiers sheltering in Afetna Point had continued to inflict damage on the Marines’ flank: sniping, probing, and harassing Marine moves. With 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines having lost both its commander and second-in-command on D-Day, the task of eliminating the strongly-fortified positions fell to the neighboring 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines.
The Marines cleared Afetna Point area without too much difficulty, and pushed into the Lake Susupe area. As they maneuvered they noticed that artillery fire kept raining down on them, even though they were out of view, hidden by the O-1 ridge. However, once they eliminated a Japanese observer who’d been watching from the smokestacks that towered over the ruined Chalan Kanoa sugar refinery, the artillery fire stopped.
Another small scenario, this time the Marines are hunting down Japanese remnants, who aren’t quite ready to give up the fight. The big Japanese off-board artillery increments are their best asset, as their troops have been worn down by combat, but Japanese infantry in tight terrain is always dangerous.
Get in the game! Order Saipan 1944 right now!
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.