Scenario Preview, Part Three
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
A tactical game like Panzer Grenadier is an opportunity to tell the story of an event, not just through the details of an individual scenario, but through the progression of scenarios as the campaign continues. Panzer Grenadier: Saipan 1944, a game that follows the American invasion from the initial landings through the very last gasps of Japanese resistance, allows the story to unfold. Playing through the scenarios in order gives an understanding of growing Japanese desperation and the frustration of the Americans at the continued stubborn resistance. Here’s a look at 11 more of Saipan’s scenarios. You can see the rest of the scenario previews in Part One, Part Two and Part Four.
Rockets & Smoke
20 June 1944
With the Marine lines now having reached the island’s eastern shore, Lt. Gen. Holland M. “Howlin’ Mad” Smith now directed his two Marine divisions to swing northward to conquer the rest of Saipan. The pivot temporarily compressed the front held by 4th Marine Division, allowing a concentration of force against the heavily-fortified Hill 500. The Marines were surprised to find the heights with riddled with caves. It remained to be seen how well-defended they were.
Lieutenant Colonel Justice M. Chambers – who would win the Congressional Medal of Honor on the beaches of Iwo Jima a year later – led his Marines forward under a thick smoke screen while a rocket bombardment softened up the defense. Once they were in position, the Marines found the caves inter-connected but very thinly manned; had the Japanese chosen to fully garrison the hill it would have been far more difficult and costly to capture.
The Japanese are starting to lose some of their cohesion: these defenders are not as eager to die for the Emperor as those in previous battles, and they have fewer heavy weapons to support them. But they do have a whole complex of caves, and some rough hilltop terrain. The Marines get to shoot rockets at them, and have flamethrowers, too.
20 June 1944
While Chambers’ men were clearing Hill 500, Lieutenant Colonel Rothwell’s Marines of the 24th Marine Regiment were racing through a new defensive line thrown up by the Japanese. Most of the Japanese forces had only just withdrawn to these new positions and were still working to dig in. But the area represented “exceptionally good tank terrain,” and 4th Marine Division assigned Rothwell comparatively heavy armored support.
Rothwell executed what the battalion’s action report termed “the best coordinated tank and infantry attack of the campaign.” The flame-throwing M3A1 Stuart Tanks, nick-named Satan, were very successful in the Saipan and the Mariana Islands campaign. This success led to the adaptation of Sherman tanks with bigger fuel storage units for use in later campaigns.
It’s another comparatively small clearing action, with the Japanese well-fortified in a hilltop position with caves to help strengthen their defenses, and plentiful support weapons this time. But the Marines can call on the aid of Satan. They have two platoons of the flame-throwing tanks, plus a couple more of conventional Shermans plus LVT’s serving as light tanks to help out.
22 June 1944
At the base of Mount Tipo Pae, a wooded height overlooking Saipan’s western beaches, determined Japanese defenders had already turned away one probe by a battalion of the 6th Marines and another by the regiment’s Scout-Sniper platoon. A battalion of the 2nd Marines moved up to try their luck at clearing the small, wooded ravine concealing Japanese riflemen and machine-gunners. As the battalion slowly advanced, they discovered that the Japanese had tunneled into the slopes on either side of the ravine.
While the Marines driven off earlier in the day watched from the summit of Tipo Pale, the Marines of 2/2nd cleared a few positions but soon found themselves under a deadly crossfire and had to withdraw. The Japanese would hold on to this area for two more days before pulling out to avoid being surrounded.
There aren’t many Japanese dug in on this hilltop, but they are very determined to stay there. The Marines have a flamethrower platoon but otherwise just Marines. But they are never just Marines.
Barring the Way
23 June 1944
A small force of Japanese supported by several machine guns put up a lively resistance in the foothills of Mount Tapochau. They were trying the keep open a gap between the two Marine divisions for later exploitation. The 1st Battalion of the 8th Marine Regiment drew the short straw to go drive them out.
The small but determined Japanese force put up a veritable wall of lead. Their well-sited and entrenched machine guns succeeded in halting the Marine battalion’s advance. After a few abortive attempts to flank the position the Marines withdrew and spent the remaining daylight hours blazing away at the Japanese positions with all the support weapons they could bring to bear, to no discernible effect.
There aren’t all that many Japanese standing in front of the Marines this time, but over half of them are machine gunners. The Marines are going to have to be careful here, and the Japanese player should pay careful attention to all the special powers this game system grants to machine gun units.
23 June 1944
Howlin’ Mad Smith of V Amphibious Corps tasked the Army’s 27th Infantry Division with responsibility for the center of the corps area. They relieved the 25th Marine Regiment, whose commander judged the combination of the terrain and enemy forces within the zone to be “about the worst he had run into yet.”
Colonel Ayres’ 106th was stopped cold at a strongpoint called Hell’s Pocket. At the same time, the 165th were brought to a standstill at a place later called Purple Heart Ridge. This lack of progress, delays in start times, miscommunications, and missed orders soon blew up into a major controversy when Marine Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith relieved Army Major General Ralph C. Smith. Later findings by a board of inquiry (composed solely of Army officers) found nothing wrong with Smith’s leadership of the 27th Division. The men were fighting in the worst terrain on the whole island. H.M. Smith later acknowledged the conditions, but Ralph Smith was still replaced and never led troops in combat again.
This is a bigger scenario than the previous few, with larger forces on both sides, including strong support weapons for the Japanese defenders. The Army is on the attack, and this scenario should give the players at least a little sympathy for Ralph Smith – the Japanese have a strong position, great morale and a liberal issue of heavy weapons.
Armor After Dark
23-24 June 1944
A day of fierce fighting in “Death Valley” led to little progress for the 27th Infantry Division, contributing to Howlin’ Mad Smith’s fury. While the Marines’ Smith held the Army’s Smith responsible, the Japanese also had something to do with it. As soon as night fell, a half-dozen tanks came trundling down the road leading through Death Valley backed by infantry.
The Americans failed to spot the tanks until they were right on top of their positions, and the first one burst through unscathed with the following five tanks were subjected to a furious barrage of artillery and bazooka fire that quickly destroyed them all. But the lead tank blithely cruised up and down the American front line, shooting up foxholes, command posts and a captured Japanese ammunition dump. The resulting explosions panicked much of the 3rd Battalion, which fell back in disarray. The tank clattered on into the lines held by the 23rd Marines, who promptly dispatched it with a bazooka round.
Tank attack! Not a very big tank attack, but when you have high-morale Japanese infantry charging in the tanks’ wake, stuff can happen. The U.S. Army doesn’t have their usual massive artillery backing, and it’s at nighttime, so the Japanese have a fair chance of doing some damage here.
Overlooking Radio Road
24 June 1944
Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines had advanced to a spot overlooking Radio Road just outside of Garapan. The Japanese began ill-considered attempts to eject the Marines. First, a doomed platoon-sized banzai charge attempted to drive back the regiment’s 1st Battalion. Then as 3rd Battalion began to dig in for the night seven Japanese tanks charged from the ruins of the town unsupported by infantry.
The pair of Sherman tanks and the 75mm-armed halftracks destroyed six of the seven Japanese tanks in short order, without losing any of their own. The seventh Japanese tank skedaddled back the way it had come. The 2nd Marines would remain in their positions for the next several days.
A tiny force of Marines is attacked by an even smaller force of Japanese tanks. This isn’t going to end well.
25 June 1944
Mount Tapotchau towers 1554 feet above the rest of Saipan, its flanks covered in cliffs and jungle. The Marines needed to control this ultimate high ground lying in the middle of the island. The 1/29 Marines, the “Bastard Battalion” formed from shore parties, would hit the summit supported by the 2/8 approaching from the eastern slope and some supporting artillery.
At first the Bastard Battalion bogged down in the jungle from enemy fire. But once they coordinated behind some covering smoke, they ascended a cliff at the eastern end and took the Japanese position. Meanwhile, the 2/8 pushed rapidly to the cliff face but was forced to fall back from the exposed position by accurate enemy mortar fire.
Japanese morale is starting to slip, while the Marines are starting to apply a serious numerical edge in their attacks against them. Even so, the Bastard Battalion (that really should have been the scenario title) has a pretty high bar to meet for victory.
26 June 1944
“Death Valley” lies between Mount Tapotchau and Purple Heart Ridge. Regiments of the 27th Infantry Division had been struggling with Japanese defenders in the basin since the 23rd of June. The previous day, the 2nd Battalion of the Army’s 106th Regiment had fallen back to its original starting point under the cover of darkness after suffering numerous casualties and making little progress. On the 26th, it was the 1st Battalion’s turn to take their shot.
The 106th Infantry’s attack commenced with a confusion of orders and avenues of approach among the units. By the end of the day the Japanese had chased them out of the valley carrying their dead and wounded. Nearby, the 2d and 3d Battalions enjoyed better success attacking the western slope of Purple Heart Ridge. But for the 1st Battalion, Hell’s Pocket and Death Valley were still major challenges yet to be overcome.
Against a canny Japanese player, this is going to be a very tough fight for the U.S. Army, which has good numbers but not the firepower or morale of the Marines. The Japanese can force the Americans to come the length of the board and then engage in a series of close assaults, and if they place their delaying forces carefully, the Americans aren’t going to win easily.
Seven Lives for One’s Country
27 June 1944
The battle for Saipan had moved north, but in the quiet south Captain Sasaki gathered over 1,000 surviving soldiers and sailors from various units to break out from the Nafutan Point pocket they’d been forced into. Their surprise attack first passed through a thin Army line which dealt the Japanese 27 killed with the loss of only 4 soldiers before they hit a Marine bivouac area.
The Japanese stormed across the Aslito Airfield and destroyed one P-47 and damaged two others. They continued on until they ran into the 25th Marines and 14th Marines (an artillery outfit) who both held firm. As dawn spread over the island, little remained of the attacking force. The Nafutan Point action might as well been fought on another planet, as it was doubtful that General Saito in the north was aware that over 1000 of his troops had perished over the last two days.
It’s not in the special rules that the Japanese player must shout Banzai! when playing this scenario, but it really should be. A mass of Japanese Army and SNLF infantry fling themselves on the Marines, seeking only to burst through them and onward to the American rear areas.
28 June 1944
The initial American advance had bypassed Hell’s Pocket after the difficulties encountered there. Now, days later, the 106th Infantry pushed forward into the area once again, hoping the Japanese had moved out. But General Saito’s men were not ready to give up these positions just yet.
The 106th advanced and crushed most organized resistance until the troops were pinned by accurate mortar fire and charged by two enemy tanks firing cannon and machine guns. The fire stunned the soldiers and it took almost ten minutes before the Americans were able to fight back effectively. The tank charge killed 12 soldiers including Colonel Mizony, Captain Tarrant, and 1st Lieutenant McGreger, and wounded another 61 soldiers before the tanks were destroyed. The advance was done for the day.
The U.S. Army is advancing and the Japanese must stop them across a broad front, not merely by hanging onto hilltop positions. They have a small contingent of weak tanks to help out, but it’s a pretty tough assignment for the Emperor’s men.
And that’s the third segment of Saipan scenarios; we’ll wrap up our look at them in the next episode.
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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.