Chui (Lieutenant) Tamagotshi Shitake raised his field glasses but even then he could see nothing but green. It mattered not. The Australian positions had been revealed to him yesterday morning when his men of the Nankai Shitai had probed the track towards Isurava. He had chosen not to attack immediately, but rather had taken time to infiltrate his men onto the ridge and into the valley below. It was his plan to not just fight the Australians, but to move to their rear to cut any line of retreat and obliterate them entirely. Such was the fate of those who opposed the forces of the God-Emperor in Kyoto.
Our third game in the Kokoda Track campaign saw the Japanese launch a planned attack; very different to last week’s general probe by the lead platoon. Having failed to defeat the Australians last week, the Japanese took comfort from the fact that they identified the Australian positions so were able to commit to a full on attack this week. The successful recce ‘won’ the Japanese a red dice and also allowed them to select six points of support. They chose a Type 92 MMG and a ruse to use during play. More importantly, they delayed their attack in order to infiltrate wide around the Australian flanks, allowing them to turn the table so rather than attacking from end to end, they were able to attack on the broader six foot frontage, going across the table.
This was not a disaster for the Australians of the 39th battalion as it successfully delayed the Japanese; in itself a minor win in. the the campaign setting.
The patrol phase favoured the Japanese who were able to expand over a much broader frontage than the Australians due to their superior jungle training. This is well illustrated by the image below. However, the Japanese objective was not simply to by-pass the Australian position. They wanted to move past the Aussies but also to pin them in place so that they could be isolated and then destroyed. To achieve this the scenario demanded that they get one unit off the enemy table edge but also oblige the enemy to deploy all three of their sections. If they could do this they would secure a major victory and help denude Isurava of potential defenders.
The Japanese ended the Patrol Phase in an advantageous position with the Australians quite unable to respond to moves on either flank. Next, the Jump-Off Points were placed. This saw the Australians quite unable to deal with the widely placed Japanese JOPs. However getting men off the table was not the whole objective; the Japanese needed to get the Australians to deploy their troops in order to encircle them and remove them from the campaign.
The game began with the Japanese player deploying Scouts. Not just one group but THREE; one from each squad. Jungle Trained troops are much more efficient at scouting in that activating and ever rallying them can be done more readily. With that particular skill, the Japanese player was determined to put pressure on the Australians to deploy but putting pressure on their Jump Off points whilst keeping the flexibility to deploy the bulk of his force wherever he wanted.
The Australian player at this stage was unaware of the Japanese objective and very concerned about his enemy’s ability to infiltrate around his flanks. His briefing stressed the importance of delaying the enemy and causing casualties, but ensuring that his platoon could withdraw safely to defend the Isurava perimeter. He kept his powder dry for several phases, watching the Japanese scouts make their way forward, then a double phase encouraged him to deploy a section under Sergeant Bruce Border and Corporal Bruce Marsh. Moving forward cautiously they were able to engage the enemy scouts but the jungle terrain made visibility difficult and some desultory firing occurred before the scout team withdrew out of range, their job done. The Australians, to my surprise, withdrew back above the eastern spur of track. Personally I would have been inclined to push them forwards to try to destroy the scouts, but moving in the jungle is a risky business for troops who are not used to the conditions as exhaustion can rapidly reduce combat effectiveness.
The next image shows the tactical situation as the Aussies withdrew and the Japanese, almost simultaneously, rushed their scouts forward to shut down the central Australian jump off point.
In a surprising and rather clever move, the Australian commander now played a Chain of Command dice to move his JOP. Dropping it back 8″ he then deployed a section from it whom opened fire on the scout team pinning it. However, the Japanese commander had played his own Chain of Command dice and rushed forward his own JOP to a position 6″ to the rear of the scouts and from this he now deployed a Type 92 MMG team and a squad of infantry. The jungle again reduced the effectiveness of the fire in terms of the number of hits but of a somewhat meagre eight hits over two phases of firing, the dice determined that six Australians were dead! .
It was too much for the Australians and they decided that it was time to up stumps and head back to the Isurava pavilion for an early tea. They will lose six men dead, but it was key that they had not deployed all three of their sections and the Japanese had not got a squad off the Australian base table edge. As such Lieutenant Shitake could not claim to have encircled them and the Australians are able to withdraw to Isurava without penalty. Casualties are higher in this campaign than in a usual campaign using At the Sharp End as the conditions are particularly unpleasant, but this was something of a lucky escape for the Diggers. Had the Japanese not pushed so hard in the centre they could have enticed the Aussies to deploy their final section by pushing harder with their scouts. As it was the Australians were careful to keep their troops near their jump off points so they could withdraw at any time.
The good news is that we will be playing again today, so expect to see more soon