As soon as Richard called for suggestions for the theatre for the next TFL Games Day, I knew it had to be Kampar. This battle from the Malaya/Singapore campaign of 1941/2 had the Japanese attacking a British-held central position from three different directions, with each “direction” having its own distinct theme.
The main thrust, which would form Table One (T1), had a massive Japanese attack against the central British position along the trunk road running through a valley. The Japanese would have tanks and potentially overwhelming numbers; the British would have the position and grid-fired artillery, but largely poor quality troops.
Table Two (T2) was the other side of the mountain that formed the impassable right flank of T1. There the terrain was too poor for vehicles, and the Japanese would have to attack British positions on foot on a series of ridges running perpendicular to the road that traversed its length.
Table Three (T3) was perhaps the most fun. Historically, unable to break through on T1 and T2, the Japanese had floated troops down the river to the south west of the British position in an attempt to outflank and surround the Kampar position. Totally surprised by the arrival of the Japanese, a small number of British troops, training and resting in the area, had conducted a desperate fighting retreat, holding the enemy for long enough for the Kampar position to be evacuated.
I quickly scamped out how the game would run, and e-mailed it off to Richard along with a whole series of references to where he could find the information he would need to actually construct the scenarios to be run on the day. Two minutes later my ‘phone rang: “Why’ve you sent me this?” said Richard, “you’re running the game: I’m just a table referee!”
Although I wanted to maintain the history and keep the day an accurate simulation of Kampar, I needed to make it a game that could actually be played in one day. The time and distances involved were therefore compressed so that the three Japanese attacks would go in simultaneously rather than over a week or so and, if all went well for the Nipponese, converge on a small hut at the back of the British position. This would also provide plenty of opportunity for moving troops between the three tables: a fun part of any big game and giving the British the advantage of internal lines.
I also needed to disguise the action as much as possible, so that no clever clogs with a text book could work out what was going on. Kampar was therefore rechristened Lardak, and all other villages and the river named after various items of Malayan cuisine. Although the British units kept their original designations (e.g. 12th Indian Brigade), they were a straight “battalion equals company” scale down, and had all their Big Men re-named after TV Detectives. The Japanese force was designed to complement the British force, and consisted of the fictional Hokusai battalion: experts, presumably, in wave attacks!
In contrast to the laughs that could come from the British Big Men (Egg did a lovely Scottish accent for Lt-Col Taggart: it was “mudda” on the tabletop!) Japanese Big Men were named after soldiers who fought in the Burmese campaign. I wanted to stay away from giving them silly names as the Japanese army was, at the time, certainly more professional than the British.
The only thing that remained to be decided was how to simulate the surprise appearance of the Japanese on T3. Thus although the Japanese were given maps of the table and told all about it, the British players were told only about T1 and T2. T3, they were told, would be a “virtual table”: with any players and forces assigned to it having to complete a series of Krypton Factor like tests before their troops could be deployed onto the two fighting tables! Although this sounds a bit thin, it worked like a dream: with the British commander’s face an absolute picture as he realised that his eyes weren’t deceiving him and there were three not two tables set up in the hall. One of the British players who had been assigned to, as he thought, virtual T3, also told me afterwards that he had resigned himself to a morning of enviously watching other people playing as he worked through some complicated brain teaser. I was just pleased that the secret had been kept safe for so long!
The day itself was fantastic: well worth all the work that had gone into it. I’ll try and give a roughly chronological account of what I saw happening.
T1: The Japanese arrive in strength, and quickly push forward to the river that blocks their way into the valley held by the British. This, they find, can only be crossed at one ford, so a traffic jam forms. The British keep their positions hidden, rather than trying to slow the Japanese down with long-range fire, but call in artillery strikes directly onto the ford that does some damage to the unfortunate Japanese infantry trudging through the water.
T2: The British first line of defence is quickly overwhelmed by the Japanese: who advance through the jungle to flank attack the Gurkha-held trenches. Things look grim for the British, and a somewhat panicked British C-in-C orders a platoon of Indian infantry to shift from T3 to T2. All is not lost on T2, however. Not only have the Japanese lost a disproportionate number of casualties, but a single section of Gurkhas refuses to be budged and the Japanese advance grinds to a halt. Now would be the time for the British to drop artillery on the stalled Japanese, but T2’s battery is busy firing onto T3 in an attempt to slow down the Japanese assault on the village near the river.
T3: The surprised British react quickly to the enemy landing. A platoon of Japanese infantry charges into the village near the river to be met with a hail of fire from the Independent Company’s SMG’s and armoured cars. The Japanese first attack is repulsed, but there are truly vast numbers of Rising Sun Blinds now on the table. The British call in artillery from T2’s guns, which strikes with devastating effect (T2 was moving at a faster rate than T3, bogged down by colossal close quarter combat calculations, so the artillery barrages were coming in thick and fast) but will this be enough to stop the Japanese advance?
T1: The Japanese hit the British at two points. On the right hand side of the valley (from the British point of view) a platoon of Japanese engineers charges up the hill and smashes a Punjab platoon from the table: the unfortunate Indians just crumble away! In the centre, the Japanese advance hits the main line and stalls. The Japanese bring up their tanks and try again. Another Indian platoon is entrenched on the left of the valley, apparently waiting for the Japanese to go past before revealing their positions. Again, why aren’t they shooting now?
T2: The British on T2 get their artillery back, and start hammering the Japanese. Without reinforcements, the Japs are going nowhere. What looked like the dodgiest table for the British is now looking the most stable.
T3: The Japanese charge again and again: finally taking the village and dispersing the Independent Company into the jungle. The British have, however, now had time to bring up the Argylls, and the Japanese are heavily punished by the jungle-canny Scotsmen.
T1: The Japanese tanks and infantry overwhelm the first British line, and head towards the next. Some Japanese tanks have now been hit, and a lot of infantry killed, but the Japs still have the momentum to drive forward. The British realise that their centre is denuded of men: let’s hope their flanks can hold!
T2: The Japanese receive reinforcements from T1, but have difficulty in generating the momentum to drive forward again. The Gurkha’s have taken heavy casualties, but the second British line of defence has stopped the enemy in its tracks.
T3: The Japanese push forward with everything they have, hurling Banzai! Charge after Banzai! charge at the Scots in front of them. The Argylls begin retreating down the table, each position leapfrogging backwards. The final Indian platoon, behind them, gets ready for combat: although one section is sent to T1 to prop up the British centre.
T1: The Japanese overwhelm the next British line of defence, hurling the British platoon out of their positions with Banzai! charges and close quarter tank attacks! The Indian platoon on the left flank finally reveals itself, but cannot get into a position to do much good: if they go forward they hit the main Japanese force; if they stay where they are, they cannot fire on the Japs now intermingled with their own men. In the end, they try to get back to the British base line via a flank: but now the terrain that has protected them up to now works against them! The British have been driven back to their gun line: the climax of the battle approaches.
T2: The Japanese commander, recognising that his attack is stalled, loads a platoon onto the trucks belonging to his support units, and slams forward in an amazingly desperate attempt to crack the British line. Two trucks are KO’d as they hurtle over the rough ground, but one reaches the Gurkha trenches. Out pour the Japanese, out come the kukri’s: the Japanese attack is stalled once again!
T3: The Argylls can do no more. Having held up the Japanese advance for as long as possible, they now find themselves bypassed by at least one Japanese platoon. All that is left for them to do is to melt away into the jungle in order to fight again another day. The Indian platoon at the back of the table takes one look at the approaching Japanese, and crumbles: fleeing back to T1 only a heartbeat in front of the pursuing enemy! One Indian Pattern Carrier is actually on fire as it moves between the tables!
T1: The Japanese hurl attack after attack in at the final British position. It starts to crumble. At that moment, the troops from T3 arrive, letting everyone know they have more Japs right behind them. Realising that the day is lost, the British flee to the south…let’s hope someone remembers to tell the Gurkhas on T2!
A great game where the passing hours were marked by the distance the Japanese had travelled down each table. Both commanders looked edgy and nervous throughout the day, worriedly clutching the cards of the troops they wanted to move from one table to another as if unable to actually let them go! Individual players are all to be congratulated: the Japanese for just doggedly grinding forward, the British for refusing to give up ground without a suitable tax in enemy blood!
It was also great to see so many beautifully painted figures on the table. We were almost a little short of Japanese and Indian infantry (some of my squads were recycled three or four times!) but, in the event, no troops were misrepresented by incorrect figures: apart from the Argylls’ Lanchesters…and no-one makes them in 15mm anyway! Much kudos must go to the terrain makers as well: the jungle looked fantastic and was ultimately practical as well.
Historically, the battles on T2 and T3 played out much as they did in 1942: the Gurkha’s holding the Japs through a combination of fierce hand-to-hand combat and accurate artillery strikes; the Independent Company and Argylls slowly giving ground against overwhelming numbers.
T1, however, was where things were different. Historically, the British put their better quality troops in front of the poor quality Punjabis; defended the valley right up to the northernmost hill; and opened fire at long range as soon as the Japanese were spotted. The Sikhs also carried out a devastating counter-attack on the advancing Japanese: hurling them back off the foremost ridge but leaving the brave Sikh company with only 30 men standing! Did this reversal (putting the Indian troops in front of the better quality British troops instead of vice versa) give the Japanese too much of a chance to get a foothold in the valley? Who knows! All that is certain is that Kampar, or rather Lardak, fell once again!