Back to the Track. Kokoda Part 2

After the disaster that was the first game in the campaign, both in terms of the result for the Australians and my rather disappointing scenario design, I took stock and essentially made this game the one we should have had first; a Japanese advanced party attempting to advance up the track with the intent of by-passing light resistance or, if the enemy were stronger, identifying their positions in preparation for a planned attack. As such, the Japanese had a platoon of infantry and no support. The Aussies had the same, but of course the platoon composition for the two sides was very different indeed.

The Japanese field three large LMG squads with an LMG team of four men and nine riflemen plus an NCO. On top of that, they have a Grenade Discharger squad with three teams capable of providing very effective close support. Their own ‘in-house’ artillery barrage, if you like. What is more, the Japanese are very much at home in the jungle terrain. The fore is commanded by a Lieutenant and his Platoon Sergeant who, whilst being an inferior Senior Leader is scary enough to drive the men forward with a bit of corporal punishment when needed.

The Australians are a Militia formation which has just three rifle sections. A three man Bren team and a rifle team with six men is the core of the platoon although one rifleman has a Thompson SMG which beefs up their firepower. Sadly, they have no 2″ mortar in the Platoon HQ but they do have the Lieutenant and the Platoon Sergeant. This force has no Jungle training whatsoever and is rated as being very uncomfortable in such terrain. Their discomfort was also reflected in their Force Morale tracker, but that’s for another article. Suffice to say, if under threat they will start drawing in their defensive perimeter before withdrawing.

Again the table was chiefly dense jungle with patches that were impenetrable and with an area of long Kunai grass towards the bottom of the image in the valley. It is worth noting that this is an attempt to reflect terrain that cannot really be represented perfectly on the table. The track, very visible here, is actually under the canopy and is we were in a helicopter flying above this terrain in reality all we would see would be dense canopy. However, this is as good as we can get it. It’s actually very east to do, but more on that in another article.

The Aussies began with their Patrol markers anywhere on the table up to 18″ in; the Japanese on the track on the right hand table edge. The Japanese could have had up to three ‘free’ moved before the Patrol Phase started, but the fluffed it and rolled a 1. So just one move.

So we begin with the Patrol Phase, as usual. To reflect the Japanese superiority operating in this terrain, they benefitted from being able to keep their Patrol Markers 14″ apart with the Australian restricted to 10″. This allows the Japanese to play a wide game, much wider than the Australians can manage. On a narrow table like this that is not the end of the world for the Australians, but it is an inherent advantage. Suffice to say that after all was done and dusted, the two sides looked like this.

Games in jungles can be frustrating as the terrain clearly hamper movement. Ditto games on steep hills. Here we have a game with jungle on steep hills. As an insight into the contours, here’s an image of the hills that we put under the cloth.

Such hills are not actually necessary for the campaign, but I made the ridiculous things so I may as well use them as they do reflect the terrain rather well.

Anyway, back to the game. I think that it is worth pointing out that where gaming over such terrain can present it’s own issues, the advantage of the Patrol Phase is that we have at least advanced our troops to the point where they are at first point of contact with the enemy. Having to slog from one end of the table to the other would be a tedious game but with Chain of Command we avoid that as we are really gaming the last fifty yards once we get on the table.

Turn One. The Japanese moved forward deploying one squad from the central JOP by the fork in the trail. Deploying on Overwatch it was a strong opening gambit as the Australians know that the enemy are close enough so that they cannot ignore them. Even with the heavy terrain. one double phase and the Japanese could be shutting down their jump off points and tearing holes in their defensive perimeter.

It was down to the Australians to respond and they did so with some aplomb. First Corporal Bruce Marsh deployed along the track, enfilading the Japanese whilst avoiding their Overwatch.

“Get the bastards!”

The Corporal Bruce Bradman deployed higher up the slope and fired from the Japanese front. In what was a pretty good stab at an L-shaped ambush by the Aussie Militia, the Japanese lost two men and Hari Tosis took a wound reducing his command abilities. Let’s see that on the Tactical Plan, please excuse the shoddy images, but they will, I hope, serve their purpose.

Under this pressure and equally importantly being wounded, Hari Tosis found himself sufficiently unwell that he could not keep his squad in action whilst also calling in support from the Grenade Discharger squad. In this uninvidious situation, the Corporal withdrew his squad down the hill. Fortunately for him the Australian section under Bruce March that attempted to follow up found themselves tangled up in the undergrowth and failed to catch the retreating Japanese.

“Advance the the rear!”

The Japanese now tried to be a bit more sophisticated and clever in their approach. On both flanks they sent forwards scout teams to threaten the Australian jump off points.

If the battering ram doesn’t work, try a bit of infiltration. The blue dotted lines represent the Japanese scouts advancing forwards.

Again, the Australians were reminded of why they cannot afford to ignore any threat from their wily opponent. What may appear to be a few men in the jungle can turn out to be more significant.

Moving forward on the Japanese left, the scout team pushed up and, using a Chain of Command dice, pulled forward their left-hand jump Off point.

Cheeky, Cheeky!

But, as with all well-laid plans, there was more. In an instant, Corporal Ichi Nakkas deployed onto the areas just off the track to fire into the rear of the Australian ambush party.

But to no avail! In the dense terrain they couldn’t see their target and their fire went wildly into the foliage.
Let’s see that on Tactical Plan.

It looks good, but in the dense jungle the target was badly obscured and the fire was a damp squib.

“Blimey Cobber” cried Corporal Bruce Hughes “Braddo has got Japs in his rear!” and with his famous fast right arm, much beloved by crowds at the Melbourne Oval, he deployed to bowl a couple of No.36 Mills bombs down the wicket and his men opened fire around him.

“Strewth! Hughesey has got the Corporal!”

Ichi Nakkas was bowled middle stump, going down in a hail of shrapnel and several of his men were killed in the fusilade. As the Australians under Corporal Bradman higher up the track turned and added their fire the Japanese squad broke and fled back to the Kunai grass.

Aiyeee! (Text copyright War Picture Library 1968)

For Lieutenant Kendo Nagasaki it had not been a good day. However, it was not a disaster. He had identified all of the enemy’s core sections and that would assist in making a more formal attack. “Sound the bugle” he ordered and, as if controlled by a master puppeteer, his platoon instantly responded, falling back and breaking contact with the enemy.

From a campaign perspective this was a win for the Australians who lost, after the force morale differences were considered, nobody. The Japanese lost five men dead and two men will not return for the next game but that is a moot point as the Japanese will now circulate their lead platoon into reserve.

This was really what the first game should have been, with the Japanese feeling their way forward to identify the Australian defences. The took some losses in doing so but that will give them certain advantages in the next game. The Australians put up an excellent fight but their commander said t the end “Blimey I never thought we stood a chance”. Which is good as that’s pretty much how the “Chocos” of the 39th felt.

Some thoughts. Far from slowing the game down, the jungle actually turns it into a rapid and exciting knife fight. At this stage of the war the Australians (and British, and Americans, and Indians etc) simply cannot ignore any Japanese threat which can turn into a full blow and very violent attack at any moment. In this game the Japanese made an aggressive opening which could have cowed a frightened Australian commander, but he was able to get two sections putting in fire and win the local firefight. This was repeated after Ichi Nakkas launched his rather disappointing flank attack when once again, the Australians were able to get two to one superiority locally. Had the Japanese hung on for one more phase and been able to shut down the Jump Off Point that Bruce ‘the Swerve’ Hughes deployed from and immediately put “three for no runs” on the scoresheet, things could have been different. As always, Chain of Command is a game about decision making and sometimes small decisions have big consequences.

Finally, my apologies to our Australian chums. I had no time to think up any clever names for the Australian Leaders so what emerged with a combination of Monty Python and great Australian cricketers, two of whom I saw play (at Lords, if it matters) and enjoyed and admired hugely. I will try to do better next time.

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