With regulars Dave and John now properly blooded on early war France and a complete run through of the Vyazma or Bust! Barbarossa scenario pack, it was time to turn our attentions further east and work our way through the Fall of the Lion Gate supplement (FOTLG) covering the Japanese invasion of Malaya and Singapore starting in December 1941.
It was only whilst writing this game up that I noticed that this was the first time I had had my Japs on the tabletop since 2010: far too long. The question was whether all that time in their carrying cases would have reduced their effectiveness!
Ban Sadao is the second scenario in the FOTLG supplement. Here's a quick summary of the background: part of the British plan for the defense of Malaya consisted of an advance across the border into Thailand, known to be sympathetic towards Japan, in order to deny the Japanese unopposed landings and access to the many airfields there. Operation Matador, as the plan was known, would involve elements of 11th Division advancing along two axes: towards the port of Singora and towards a defensive position on the Kroh-Patani road. The force heading towards Singora crossed the Thai border at about 1500hrs and had reached the village of Ban Sadao before stopping for the night.
The Ban Sadao force, known as ‘Laycol’ and commanded by Brigadier W.O. Lay, DSO, consisted of two companies and the carriers of 1/8 Punjab Regiment, with some Breda anti-tank guns (captured from the Italians in Italian east Africa) and engineers attached. On the tabletop, FOTLG translates this into a three-platoon company of Punjabis, two AT guns, two Indian Pattern carriers and a single Marmon Herrington armoured car. There's also a section of Engineers tasked with being ready to blow a backstop in case of retreat. All the Punjabi troops were Green: meaning they had a maximum two Actions when activated and were absolutely rubbish in Close Combat.
A message dropped from a reconnaissance aircraft had however alerted the Japanese in Singora to the British Indian advance, and they wasted no time in responding. Acting under his own initiative, Colonel Masanobu Tsuji, Staff Officer in Charge of Operations, collected together some medium tanks and a field gun, and headed south. There he met up with the forward detachment of 5th Division, who had been ordered to protect the disembarkation of the main force. Their commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Shizuo Saeki, immediately volunteered to advance to meet the British column and, with no further delay, set off along the only road leading towards Malaya and the enemy.
FOTLG translates the Japanese force into a four-platoon infantry company (with the fourth platoon consisting of two large MMG teams) supported by two Chi Ha medium tanks, two Ha Go light tanks, and a single Type 92 70mm infantry gun. The Japanese infantry were well trained (three actions maximum) but were also Fanatical, which would mean they were pretty hard to stop and very nasty in Close Combat.
As, historically, the Japanese reached Ban Sadao at about 2100hrs, all the action would take place at night, with much reduced spotting and shooting effectiveness at anything other than close range (9") unless the target was illuminated in some way.
Following his success with the Germans in Vyazma, John volunteered to play the Japanese, with Dave very happy to take on the role of the British. Victory conditions were fairly simple: the Japs had to take the village, the British had to hold the village. The Brits could, however, achieve some sort of a draw if they were forced to retreat but managed to blow the backstop...provided they didn't leave any of their men on the wrong side of the obstruction. The game would begin with the Japanese off table, and the British in the positions that they occupied historically: two platoons and the AT guns forward dug in on either side of the road, the rest of their men in the village in reserve.
First moves were therefore down to the Japanese. Following historical precedent, they disdained any subtlety and headed straight down the road towards Ban Sadao. The British watched their headlights getting closer and closer, finally spotting that the lead elements on the road were the tanks, and that there was an infantry platoon threading its way rapidly through the rubber on the left hand side.
Once the lead elements of the Japanese force had been spotted, the British opened fire with everything they had. The AT guns, which historically had almost immediately disabled two Japanese tanks, were having a bad night, and managed only to knock out one medium tank's main gun. The Punjabi platoon on the left of the road, with three sections up, one back, managed to kill a couple of enemy infantrymen, but were in no way close to stopping the Japanese advance.
One thing the British did notice was how fast the Japanese moved through the terrain. They had been told that the jungle was impenetrable, and the rubber plantation pretty damn bad too. The Japs, under Blinds, and who hadn't been told anything of the sort, were losing only one die of movement per turn, and shot towards the Punjabi positions really, really quickly.
So quickly, in fact, that the Brits had time for only one round of shooting before the Japs were upon them. More enemy Blinds were revealed as another infantry platoon on the other side of the road, and both then charged forward and assaulted the Punjabi line.
On the British left, the AT gun crew were wiped out and two sections of Punjabis smashed backwards. Although Japanese casualties were also quite high, it didn't stop them charging again with their third platoon, and this time the left-hand Punjabi platoon was effectively obliterated. One thing that did happen was that the Japanese Big Man leading their first platoon was killed leading the charge, which would have consequences later on in the game.
On the British right, it was even worse. The Japanese knew what they were doing this time, and the Punjabis were bounced back 18": effectively fleeing into the village chock full of Shock. They would play no further part in the game.
As the pictures below show, this first phase of the battle was all Japanese success.
Now the importance of having a reserve came into play. The Indian carriers and armoured car pushed their way through the fleeing second Punjabi platoon and poured fire into the Japanese infantry milling around on the road after their successful charges. This was carnage, with one Japanese infantry squad being utterly wiped out.
Where were the Japanese tanks, I hear you cry? Well they had managed to get themselves into a right tangle in the rubber and jungle and on the road. Punjabi anti-tank rifle teams had caused them Shock, and this combined with the bad terrain, the darkness etc, meant that they just couldn't get forward to support their infantry.
Another round of carrier-fire did more damage to the Japanese infantry before they managed to sort themselves out and charge the (open top) British vehicles with grenades and the like. The Marmon Herrington was destroyed, either by the infantry or a lucky shot from a Ch Ha, and the two carriers driven back into the village itself, where they took up positions in support of the third and final Punjabi platoon and single remaining AT gun.
The Japanese were still trying to sort themselves out: the lack of Big Men (by now half had been killed in charges), the terrain and the darkness not helping at all. The only units seemingly able to move towards the village were the Company HQ and the fourth, machine gun, platoon.
This latter snuck round (i.e. still on a Blind) one of the hills near the entrance to the village, got themselves all set up, and absolutely mullered a section of Punjabi infantry from third platoon (killed them all!) and managed to destroy the truck that the AT gun crew were using as a tow.
By now the British had decided to play for the draw, taking advantage of the now tortoise-like advance of the Japanese to rush their men out of the village and past the engineers waiting to blow the backstop.
With a huge "boom" the backstop was blown, and the game ended: a win for the Japanese, but a draw for the British!
A cracking game, and a very suitable introduction to wargaming the early war Far Eastern theatre.
The British just could not believe how quickly the Japanese were able to advance through the jungle. They had thought they might get a couple of rounds of fire in before sedately retreating to the village. As it happened, they got off half a volley before finding themselves in hand-to-hand combat and either being killed on the spot or routing backwards as fast as they could go.
Likewise, the Japanese were surprised at how effective their troops were, meaning that they suffered badly at the hands of the British carriers, and despite going through the British advanced position like a tanto through butter seemingly had no second-stage plan for assaulting the village. Their tanks got utterly bogged down, especially when they started taking Shock, and really did almost nothing for the entire game.
Next game, we'll see if any lessons have been learnt!