Scenario #10, Slim River, is one of my favourite battles from the Fall of the Liongate scenario pack for I Ain’t Been Shot, Mum. Taking place on 7th January 1942 (i.e. a month after Pearl Harbour), the Japanese have been hammering down the centre of Malaya, smashing most British Indian troops aside, and slowed only by the efforts of some Gurkha regiments and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. To continue their advance, they launch a sudden thrust down the single road that leads to the village of Trolak, their objective being the bridge there over the otherwise impassable Slim River.
The Forces Involved
The road (which runs through dense rubber plantation that is passable only by light tracks and men on foot) is protected by a small company of Punjabi troops: two platoons of reasonable quality infantry, each platoon being two sections strong. In support, they have two Italian anti-tank guns (captured in the Western Desert during Operation Compass and shipped out to Malaya), two Indian Pattern carriers, and a couple of anti-tank rifles. The Punjabis have laid an anti-tank minefield across the road, and placed concrete cylinders as further blocks to tank movement.
In the village, the remains of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders are enjoying a much deserved rest: the truck with their breakfast having just arrived from further south. The Argylls are also a two platoon company, with two sections and an anti-tank rifle per platoon, but are very good quality troops with the additional benefit of being classed as Stubborn in defence and having the magic “Skirl o’the Pipes” card in the pack as well. The Scots have a couple of Universal Carriers parked up amongst the huts, and roaming around off-table are a couple of Lanchester armoured cars which will arrive on the third appearance of the “Turn Card” after the shooting starts.
The Japanese are attacking in force. Their column is lead by six medium Chi-Ha tanks which, although limited to travelling down the road, are heavier than anything the British have at their disposal. Behind them is a company of infantry: an HQ squad, and three platoons each comprising four squads of ten men. Their infantry are good quality and also Aggressive in close combat. In support, they have two MMGs and two medium mortars. On top of this, they have managed to sneak four light Ha Go tanks down trails through the rubber, not marked on British maps, which will appear on the road behind the Punjabi positions: a nasty surprise for the Brits!
Bevan and John played the Japanese; Dave played the British, with me umpiring and helping out with the Argylls.
Objectives and Victory Conditions
Key to success for both sides is the bridge.
The Japanese need to get at least four tanks over the bridge and off-table to the south to achieve victory.
The British, on the other hand, win by holding the bridge intact, but can achieve a draw if they have to blow the bridge…provided there are none of their men on the wrong side of the river. Well, the scenario rules actually say “no reasonably effective friendly units”: something that would cause some debate towards the end of the game!
The Punjabis had placed a platoon of infantry on either side of the road, dug-in to the edge of the rubber. Their anti-tank guns were placed on the left (west) side of the road, also dug-in, and just near where a small trail not marked on their maps led off into the jungle! Their two carriers were on the right-hand (eastern) verge of the road in between the main infantry position and the anti-tank guns.
At about 0500hrs, all hell broke loose! The six Japanese Chi-Ha tanks appeared at the end of the road and roared towards where the Punjabis had laid the minefield. This proved a nasty surprise for the Japanese tankers, with one tank being blown to bits and another two being immobilised as mines took out their tracks. The other three, however, managed to squeeze past/through unscathed.
At the same time, the four Ha Go light tanks burst onto the road from the trail through the rubber: literally right on top of the two Punjabi-manned, Italian anti-tank guns. Somehow one of the Punjabi crews managed to slew their gun around and fire a round into the flank of the leading Ha Go, brewing it up, but the second tank rammed into the gun, causing its crew to scatter as it was knocked across the road. The tank’s machine guns took care of the other gun’s crew before they could fire, and the third tank mowed the initial gun’s crew down before they could right their weapon and carry on the battle.
In minutes, the Japanese had taken out both anti-tank guns and gotten across the Punjabi minefield!
At the same time as the above, Japanese Blinds concealing infantry platoons had arrived at the end of the road, with one heading towards the Punjabis to the left of the road, one heading through the rubber towards the village, and one (with the machine guns) heading towards the Punjabis to the right of the road.
Punjabis Under Attack
The Japanese platoon on the left (west) of the road attempted to charge the Punjabis in front of them. Unfortunately, they had miscalculated how dense the rubber was in front of them, and they ended up just outside close combat distance.
This left them packed into a dense column of march (i.e. just deployed from a Blind) under fire from the two Punjabi infantry sections, who took full advantage of the situation. Their opening volley killed four Japanese soldiers and Pinned the rest, preventing them from either resuming their charge of moving out of their column and into a firing line where their superior numbers (40 vs 16) could start to tell.
For almost the whole of the rest of the game, the brave Punjabis, intermittently under fire from the Chi-ha’s as well, would hold their position and keep the Japanese in front of them pinned down. It was only right at the end of the battle that they were finally whittled down to the extent where they just couldn’t do enough damage to stop the Japanese in front of them charging home: an event that wiped the remaining Punjabis out. About half the Japanese platoon had been killed, and some of the three remaining Chi-ha’s damaged as well.
The Japanese Advance Through the Rubber
Despite all the noise and gunfire, back at the village the Argylls were still sleeping peacefully! In game turns, this was because the British Blinds card had not yet turned up, and not just because the deck was stacked with Japanese cards: for some reason, the card had decided not to come out and play yet. This was particularly disturbing as one of the Japanese Blinds concealing an infantry platoon was heading full speed towards the village and the vital bridge.
Fortunately for the Brits, the Japanese platoon got a bit too enthusiastic in its advance, and rather than halting at the edge of the rubber to spot into the village and see what was what, they shot straight out of the plantation’s cover and ended up spotted, in march column, half way across the open ground paddy fields that bordered the hut-space itself.
One section of Argylls, the nearest to the Japs, had been auto-spotted onto the table and, from within their hut, opened fire, causing carnage to the front ranks of the enemy platoon: a 4D6 Great Shot at Close Range.
For a second, it looked as if this section could hold the Japanese back on their own, but the Japanese mortars, now set up on the edge of the table and unable to fire at the Punjabis because of minimum range problems, let loose: with rounds immediately falling directly onto the Argylls’ hut. Fortunately the men inside suffered nothing more than a bit of Shock, but the hut collapsed, forcing an interruption to the British fire whilst they sorted themselves out from the wreckage and took cover amongst the pile of wood and leaves that was all that remained.
The Japanese platoon gathered itself to charge forward, but at that moment the British Blinds card finally appeared, the rest of the Argylls woke up, and the enemy platoon was hammered back into the treeline with heavy casualties. Phew!
The Other Punjabis
Meanwhile the other Punjabis were heavily engaged with the third Japanese platoon supported by machine guns and intermittent fire from the remaining Chi-ha’s.
They fought bravely, inflicting more casualties than they were taking, but enemy numbers and quality were just too much for them. They were finally finished off by the remains of the Japanese platoon that had taken out the other Punjabi position: three squads of which had charged across the road and hit them in the flank.
Armoured Clash on the Road
If you remember from above, three Japanese light tanks had survived their encounter with the British Indian anti-tank guns. For some inexplicable reason (something to do with believing their orders to try and take the bridge superseded all other considerations perhaps?) they ignored the Punjabi Indian Pattern Carriers right under their noses and headed down the road towards the village.
They had just reached the edge of the plantation when roaring up behind them, in reverse gear, came the two Punjabi carriers. Opening fire at point blank range with their machine guns at the rear of the Ha Go’s, they managed to riddle one of them so full of lead that it brewed up. Using the fact that they had a Big Man on board (Colonel Deakin of the Punjabis) they then did the same to a second and permanently immobilised a third! The Japanese certainly paid the price for leaving an active enemy behind them.
Unfortunately for the Punjabi carriers, the remaining three Chi-Ha’s then arrived on the scene, almost immediately blowing one carrier to pieces. The second, Colonel Deakin’s, had it’s machine gun taken out and its wheels damaged, and could do no more than limp back over the bridge and eventually head off table to the south.
The Japanese commanders were very happy at this point: surely the three Chi-Ha’s could now sweep down into the village and attack the Argylls.
Unfortunately, however, their three burning light tanks had been positioned just in the gap on the road where the plantation ended (they had paused to spot into the village) so that there was no way that the Chi-Ha’s could get past them without going off-road and into the plantation itself…and the plantation itself wasn’t passable for medium tanks. Cue some not very happy Japanese commanders!
The three Chi-Ha’s spent the rest of the game trying to ram or push their destroyed light tanks off the road.
With the Punjabis now annihilated, the Argylls reluctantly decided that their only option was to retreat across the bridge and then blow it up. Colonel Deakin jumped down from his wounded carrier as it went past, and assumed position at the dynamite-plunger. The other Argylls on the wrong side of the river (two sections of infantry and two carriers) headed for the bridge at top speed, with one section and one carrier quickly making the other side.
The other section took a bit longer to get there and, worse, the other carrier had track damage, so could only limp towards safety.
Meanwhile the Japanese had realised what was going on, reorganised their infantry into attack columns and, throwing caution to the wind, hurled themselves forward towards the bridge. Although they took heavy casualties, two squads of Japanese infantry actually got onto the bridge before the wounded carrier!
How would the cards fall now?
First out was the carrier’s card and, within a mighty (and probably final) roar of its engine, it shot forward and barged its way across the bridge through the somewhat surprised Japanese soldiers heading towards Colonel Deakin with murder in their hearts.
Next out was British Big Man One i.e. Captain Timothy Turner, the commander of the Argylls, in his Lanchester armoured car in position next to the bridge.
Captain Turner lent out of the Lanchester’s turret and screamed at Colonel Deakin to blow the bridge…which he did…and with a very satisfying “bang” the bridge and the Japanese soldiers on it went up in a cloud of fire and smoke!
A cracking game that literally came down to the final card drawn/dice rolled.
The Japanese understood how they had come to lose the game: they had spent too much time and effort trying to wipe out the Punjabis rather than just pinning them in place with a small force and then launching a strong and co-ordinated attack on the Argylls in Trolak. A couple of tactical decisions had been wrong as well e.g. the light tanks not pausing for a turn to dispatch the Punjabi carriers.
As for the Brits, the Punjabis had put up resistance well above and beyond what could be expected of them, compensating for the long sleep of the Argylls for the first half of the battle. There was some thought that they should have tried to hold the bridge from the right bank, but it wouldn’t have been that long before the Chi-Ha’s pushed their way into the village and, more to the point, there were several squads of Japanese infantry already on the damn bridge anyway!
Historically, the Japanese blew through the Punjabis with ease, although losing several tanks to the minefield. They then managed to get infantry and the light tanks (bursting out of the jungle in surprise) into the village and over the bridge despite fierce opposition from the Argylls. The bridge was captured intact because, according to the Japanese account, a staff officer jumped down from a tank and cut the demolition cord with his sword or, according to the Argylls’ account, rain had got into the charges. Whatever actually happened, the Scots had to melt away into the jungle as the Japs marauded down the road towards Slim itself, only halting when their lead tank was blown away by the last round available from a 4.5” howitzer from…but that’s another story!
Another great game of I Ain’t Been Shot, Mum!