Scenario Preview, Part Two
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Once upon a time, we released a Panzer Grenadier game set in the Pacific theater. “How the %$^ am I supposed to sell a Panzer Grenadier game without panzers?” asked our exasperated sales manager. And so we stayed away from the Pacific for years afterwards: it seemed too difficult to craft a fun game in that setting. A historically accurate game, sure. But could such a game be both good fun and good history?
Jay Townsend solved that riddle with Panzer Grenadier: Saipan 1944. The game has invasions, infantry fights in town and jungle, cave fighting, and tank battles. Yes, tank battles. Let’s continue our look at the scenarios:
Dying on O-1 Ridge
16 June 1944
Division headquarters ordered the Marines to destroy a quartet of heavy antiaircraft guns dug in on the reverse slope of the O-1 ridge. These well-served guns were making the approach to the Aslito airfield very difficult. Due to their reverse slope position, artillery fire had little effect on them, so the poor bloody infantry had to be sent in to dig them out.
Despite repeated attempts and their very active tank support, the Marines could not dislodge the enemy. The anti-aircraft guns laid down grazing fire along the crest of the ridge, while well-directed machine-gun fire did enormous damage to the attackers. The Marines had clawed to within a half-mile of the Aslito airfield when they finally dug in for the night.
This is a small scenario, with just one board in play as a battalion of Marines assaults a hilltop position manned by about two companies of Japanese. The Japanese are, by Japanese standards, lavishly equipped with support weapons and are entrenched on their hill. The Marines have a handful of tanks, some flamethrowers and engineers, and their Marine-ness: high morale, extreme initiative and great leadership. This is going to be a tough little fight.
Tanks in the Jungle
16-17 June 1944
The Japanese counter-offensive began in the late night hours of June 16th and continued into the dawn of the 17th. One of the biggest tank battles in the Pacific broke out as the Japanese deployed their newest medium tanks, the Shinhoto Chi-Ha armed with a high-velocity 47mm gun. The Japanese Army and SNLF worked together in an attempt to drive the 2nd Marine Division back into the sea in one great effort.
As dawn crept through the foliage, the rising sun found that 24 of General Saito’s tanks were burning wrecks, and 300 of his infantry were killed in exchange for 100 Marine casualties and a few Marine 105mm and 75mm guns knocked out by counter-battery fire. Overall, the counterattack resulted in a total Japanese defeat. Marine bazooka teams, 37mm anti-tank guns, M3/75mm halftracks and some M4 Sherman tanks all helped to shatter the enemy armor. Had the Japanese launched this attack the night before when chaos still reigned on the beach, the result may have been different.
Jay promises tanks in the jungle, and that’s what he delivers. This is a pretty big scenario, with a fair number of tanks involved even by European standards (though it’s no Kursk in the Pacific). It’s going to be a bloody fight: the Japanese can’t win without driving through the American positions, and the Americans might not have as many tanks as the Japanese but they have plenty of weapons that can hurt tanks. Like Marines.
Foothills of Mount Tipo Pale
17 June 1944
When units of the 8th Marine Regiment pushed forward, they found themselves mired in a bog between a swamp by Lake Susupe and a hill on the O-1 Line. Japanese snipers in the adjacent palm groves inflicted 80 casualties on the floundering Marines, including Lieutenant Colonel Tannyhill who was soon replaced with Lieutenant Colonel Rathvon M. Tompkins. The new commander swiftly commandeered four medium tanks that came thundering down the only good road in the area and put them to work.
The Marines cleared the cave after the tanks had poured dozens of 75mm rounds into its opening at point-blank range. But when the Marines tried to set up an 81mm mortar position, a torrent of bullets came out of a nearby coconut grove. To keep the Japanese suppressed the Marines placed three M3/75 halftracks on top of the hill to stand guard.
This is another small scenario, with a small force of Marines trying to winkle an even smaller – but very tough – force of Japanese out of prepared positions in swamps and caves. The Marines have some good support, and they’re going to need all of it.
Aslito Airfield: The Army Arrives
17 June 1944
The U.S. Army’s 165th Infantry Regiment landed on Saipan at about 0330 on the morning of 17 June, and were attached to the 4th Marine Division. The Marine staff immediately ordered them to capture Aslito airfield. Through the morning hours the Army troops made slow progress, and they finally halted to allow naval preparatory fire to soften up the defenders. The heavy bombardment appeared to have cleared the way for an easy walk down to the airfield, but the surviving Japanese appear to have had other things in mind for them.
The Japanese counter-attacked and drove the Americans back down the slope to a better defensive position for the night, even though a Marine scout thought the airfield might be abandoned. A slow start for the Infantry, with 15 killed and 57 wounded on their first outing.
Like the header says, it’s the first appearance of Army troops in Saipan. It’s a pretty simple scenario: the American player sets up, the Japanese then sets up right on top of the Americans, and attacks madly. In the dark. It’s actually pretty cool to play out in cardboard, but was probably a lot less fun in person.
The Marines Try Aslito Airfield
17 June 1944
The 1/24th Marines moved toward Nafutan Point en route to the airfield but began receiving heavy antiaircraft fire. They responded with a call for artillery support, but the 15-minute bombardment didn’t silence the enemy guns. Nevertheless, the attack went forward as planned.
Taking casualties form the anti-aircraft guns as they advanced, the Marines nevertheless moved forward rapidly and swarmed into the Japanese positions. With the help of LVT(A)s and mortars, the Marines overwhelmed the light opposition and secured their objectives.
There aren’t many Japanese standing in the way of the Marines, but they do have a few anti-aircraft batteries on their side, which can be devastating against infantry and the lightly-armored LVT’s acting as light tanks.
Third Time’s A Charm?
17 June 1944
The Marines continued their advance around the Aslito Airfield and Nafutan area, and the Japanese responded with increasing resistance. They reinforced the area with still more antiaircraft units and elements of the 47th Independent Mixed Brigade. The Marines fighting against this force were not helped by friendly fire from their own terrifying 4.5-inch rockets either.
Caught in the open by both their own fire support and Japanese riflemen, the Marines fell back with 53 casualties. The MK7 Multiple Rocket Launcher Truck would be the new close-support weapon for the Marines, starting with Saipan and going forward for the rest of the Pacific campaigns. Used correctly it was a very effective tool. The men called the MK7 the Shoot & Scoot, as once it fired, all the smoke it created usually highlighted its position and brought a fast counter-battery response from the enemy artillery.
It’s another small scenario, with the Japanese pretty weak outside of their anti-aircraft guns. This time the Marines have rockets. If they manage to hit the Japanese with them instead of their own guys, it’s going to be a long day for the Emperor’s men.
17–18 June 1944
In another attempt to break through to the western beaches, the Japanese 1/18th Infantry loaded 35 landing craft with troops and set out to hit the American forces from the rear. The American command had been very aware that any beach on which American forces landed could also become a landing place for the Japanese, and detailed significant forces to guard the vulnerable logistics and command infrastructure from just such a daring move.
Of the 35 landing craft participating in the amphibious end-around operation, patrolling U.S. warships and land-based artillery sank 13 of them. The rest scurried back to Tanapag. During this action, it just so happened that the Japanese Army Air Force also attempted an anti-shipping raid in the area but hit nothing, luckily for the American gunboat. A similar amphibious end-around tactic was tried on the 25th of June, with 11 barges attempting to reinforce Saipan from Tinian; the craft were turned back by Navy destroyers.
This time the Japanese are trying to land on American-held beaches, which is going to be tough since the Americans know they’re coming. It’s going to be even tougher because the Americans have a gunboat prowling around looking for their landing craft. But if they get ashore – and they do have an airplane that can try to neutralize the gunboat – they have the numbers to do some damage. And they don’t need to do much damage to win.
Slopes of Fina Susu
18 June 1944
With 4th Marine Division preparing for a general attack to sweep across the island to its east coast, the strongly-fortified Japanese positions on Mount Fina Susu first had to be cleared. The 23rd Marine Regiment formed a composite battalion led by Lieutenant Colonel Cosgrove of the 3rd Battalion to spearhead the attack. Deep within their caves, the Japanese awaited them.
The assault was stalled by accurate Japanese machine-gun and mortar fire. Later in the day, while firing into a cave with the 75mm halftrack, a picric acid cloud was produced. The highly explosive fumes started a small panic among the Marines, but they returned once the cloud evaporated.
Another assault on Japanese dug in on a hill with a cave to help hide them. No big anti-aircraft guns this time, but they are well-supplied with mortars.
On to Magicienne Bay
18 June 1944
The Marines drove across the island to the Magicienne Bay area but some of the 24th Marines were fighting off a desperate counterattack. Immediately afterwards their armor support retired to take on more ammunition and gasoline. To make matters worse a nasty surprise arrived on one of their flanks.
Two Japanese tanks drove up to the American lines and raked the Marines with cannon and machine gun fire. The armor was driven off by bazookas and artillery fire, but not before the Marines accumulated 15 casualties. The balance of the Marines reached Magicienne Bay on the island’s eastern shore with the rest of the regiments later that day.
This time the Japanese have tanks, and the Marines just have Marines. But they tanks aren’t very good, while the Marines are. The Japanese are out to inflict casualties, and that will mean using their armor support, such as it is.
The Fighting Sixty-Ninth
18 June 1944
The 165th Infantry, National Guardsmen out of New York, gained fame in the American Civil War as the “Fighting 69th” (a moniker bestowed by no less than Robert E. Lee during the Battle of Malvern Hill in 1862) and later as the subject of the well-known 1940 movie starring James Cagney. Already battle-hardened in the hell of Makin Atoll a year previously, the famed regiment now attacked the ridge on their right flank as the first step to securing Aslito Airfield.
The Americans had some difficulty with the dual-purpose guns until they called in artillery support. After that, they had little problem clearing the areas around the airfield. In a few days, this same airfield would be used by Army P-47s loaded with rockets, bombs and napalm to provide support to the continuing ground battle of Saipan.
The Fighting Sixty-Ninth! James Cagney and Pat O’Brien, with soundtrack by Dropkick Murphys. How many scenarios have their own theme music?
Exploring Hill 790
19 June 1944
Second Marine Division spent most of the day in aggressive patrolling. Marine scouts sought enemy positions and supply routes to support future planned advances. As Marines moved cautiously up Hill 790, they expected to find the carefully-fortified position strongly held.
The Marine patrol found Hill 790 unoccupied, and 2/6th Marines hurried to seize the important position. Other Marine patrols did run into dug-in tanks and fanatic defenders, which the Marines expected to find in great numbers on the hill. Why the Japanese pulled out was never explained; whoever knew the tale did not survive the battle.
The Japanese are dug in around their immobile tank; it can still shoot but can’t move. The Marines must destroy it, because that’s what Marines do.
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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.