Chain of Command – Saipan Day 2

Game 4 and the 2nd turn of day 2 on Saipan. The first battle turn had seen a voluntary Japanese retreat and automatic Marine victory. The next battle is a probe. By the rules book this should be fought across the table but for this game play goes along the table length. The Marines need to get a unit off table; breaking through the hedge line behind the railway tracks. An added blow is that the pre-game barrage is not allowed in a probe battle. The image below shows the patrol markers and jump off points in place. The Japanese are planning to hold the hedge line. The Marine support is an off-table mortar unit and 2 teams of MMGs. The Japanese buy 2 anti-tank guns, neither entirely useless against infantry in a case such as this where they do not encounter any tanks.

The mortar choice proves a game changer due to pure luck and a mis-read of the rules.. A single barrage is guaranteed to come in but will end with the turn end. To call an additional barrage requires a 5 or 6 on a D6, on a 3 or 4 another attempt to call a barrage can be made on the next spotter activation. On a 1 or 2 no further barrage will come in. The Marines were able to call in 3 barrages in this game. The relatively narrow Japanese defensive area made it almost impossible to miss a target unit even if the barrage deviated. There are few counters to the barrage effects. Not deploying would allow the Marines to march off the board. Entrenchments might have been some help as they would be some protection against HE. When the barrages came the Japanese damage was severe. This was because each team under the barrage rolled for hits with a reduction of cover for HE. A better reading of the rules revealed that although under a barrage each time still has to roll to be targeted and again for the effect of the hits. Getting this right would have halved the number of effective hits. Also although HE does reduce cover a unit under a barrage is pinned and this increases cover by one level so the HE cover effect would be cancelled out.

The Marines moved in with a single section and the Japanese manned the hedge opposite with one of theirs. The Marines deployed the mortar observer and a senior leader so the observer could activate on a 1 (observer team) or 4 (senior leader). A barrage comes in pinning the Japanese infantry and racking up their losses. To counter the Japanese deploy an anti-tank gun and shoot at the observer. He takes a shock but the nearby leader is killed. The Marines deploy another section, their 2nd senior leader and a MMG team. The gun scores no more kills and there is nothing much the Japanese can do until the barrage lifts. The Marine section stay outside the barrage area.

Eventually the barrage lifts. The Japanese deploy a mortar section but have to shuffle them outside of minimum mortar range.

The Japanese deploy a section in the centre of their line. A new barrage catches part of a section and the nearby gun. Marines move up to the railway embankment and blaze away. Other sections move up and give supporting fire.

Close combat is somewhat random in Chain of Command. There is too much risk in charging in if you can get away without it. The Japanese deploy another gun to support their defense. The original Japanese squad holding the line has broken but another has deployed to fill the gap. The 2nd barrage ends but a 3rd catches the centre section and eventually wipes it out. A fresh Marine section moves up on the empty Japanese left wing.

The Marines lift the barrage so they can charge through and get off board. The Japanese manage to move their jump off point so it is not overrun and gather their remaining forces around it. The Marines will not be able to move far enough to get off board on their next phase and the Japanese voluntarily withdraw. They were close to a rout and a a game loss through Marines exiting the board. All that remains of a full Japanese platoon can be seen below.

The Marine platoon has taken only limited losses but the Japanese are running out of men. The Japanese fill out their 1st platoon with survivors from the 2nd and field it at full strength. None of the Marine platoons are weak enough to disband so the 3rd platoon goes in again. The Marines take a Sherman and pre-game barrage as support, the Japanese an anti-tank gun and 4 sets of entrenchments. The patrol markers and jump off points are shown below. The Japanese markers are deliberately further back to prevent them being overrun. The objective is to break the opposition’s morale while keeping your own above 3.

The first dice roll includes 4 sixes so the turn ends and the Marine pre-game barrage is never used. Some good news is that the random event bring on rain so the Marines are out of sight of the Japanese on the back row. Unfortunately the turn has ended swiftly again and with it the rain. The Japanese have deployed 2 more sections well back and inflict losses on the leftmost flanking unit forcing to fall back into cover. The entrenchments are a cover bonus to the Japanese but do make the defense less mobile.

The Japanese mortar section comes on too far forward and is taking hits before it can sort itself out. The Marines make better use of cover which slows their advance but keeps them in the game. The Sherman shows up and tries to keep out of trouble.

The Japanese deploy their anti-tank gun opposite the Sherman and the familiar gun-tank duel is off again. The tank takes some shock which it shakes off and the gun loses some crew. The initial Marine sections have been taking steady losses. A 3rd section deploys and moves up to the side of the Sherman.

The Sherman loses its main gun and has a wounded leader but carries on. It is the accompanying infantry which eventually assaults the Japanese gun, breaking the crew. The Marines end the turn and the Japanese morale drops to 2 due to the routed gun team and accompanying senior leader. The Japanese had sent a section to advance and overrun the exposed Marine jump off points. With a minimal chance of holding out that long the Japanese pull back and voluntarily withdraw.

The games so far have featured lengthy gun and tank duels. Where possible it is best for the tank to avoid or overrun the gun. In the last game the gun hit the tank with almost every shot but did not knock it out. The gun rolled 6 dice for effect and the tank 6 for armour. In each case a 5,6 was a success and the surplus of hits against saves affects the possible damage. For a good chance of a knock out a surplus of 3 is required and the odds are against that.

This is the final scenario with the play at game 4 of day 2. The Marines are only 1 game behind schedule but this looks a tough nut to crack. All ground to the right of the row of scrub is a steep hill and impassable to vehicles. Most of the board, excepting the courtyard around the buildings offers some sort of cover. This will put an end to the strategy of running over the Japanese with a tank. Instead the Marines rely on an off-table mortar battery and pre-game bombardment to do the job.

The Japanese deploy a squad with entrenchments in the centre jump off point. The Marines bring on the mortar battery. Despite getting the rules right this time and rolling to hit and to damage the Japanese still take massive damage. Meanwhile the Marines move up on the rightmost objective but the Japanese deploy an infantry and a mortar section. The Marines go to ground with 2 sections but still take heavy losses. The 3rd Marine section is in the building. This is also pouring fire into the section on the centre jump off point, together with the effect of the mortar barrage the Japanese holding the centre are wiped out.

The Marines need to lift the barrage to hopefully move onto the jump off point and capture it. The Japanese deploy their final infantry section in the now empty entrenchments. The Marines cannot shift their forces forward to make any progress and with steadily mounting losses and dropping morale withdraw. The Japanese had bought a field gun, this could have gone into the bunker but was never deployed.

The Marines have failed to pull off an early win. Day 3 will begin with a night attack by the Japanese.

Chain of Command – Saipan Day 1

The four first 4 turns of a WW2 Pacific campaign running with the free Saipan rules covering day 1 of the campaign and the beginnings of day 2 in 3 battles. To properly play the campaign it also needs ‘Chain of Command’ for the battle rules and ‘At the Sharp End’ for campaign tracking. The beach landing and night attack scenarios are run with full units and no campaign options so could run with the main rules alone. The Saipan force lists could also be run with other rules such as Bolt Action.

The 1st game is a beach landing. Marine losses are not carried over to subsequent games. Multiple failures would however use up campaign time and lead to a Marine campaign loss. There is a video playthrough on YouTube which goes some way to explain how the scenario plays. This and the other Saipan campaign games on YouTube are a useful reference on the table terrain but may be using older versions of the scenarios so the support points in play may vary here. Having run it through the beach landing several times making fewer rule mistakes each time it seems that success is heavily based on the supports chosen by either side. The Marines do well to take Amtraks; their entire base force will load onto a single LVT-4 and LVT(A)-2. These will roll over any wire obstacles and are relatively impervious to the Japanese defending fire. The field guns available to the Japanese are relatively low powered. The only other options against the Amtraks being to drop mortar shells into the open topped transports and fire LMGs in the hope of doing some damage; both are low probability options. Even when hits are scored the effect on vehicle and crew is limited. Put shock on the Amtraks faster than the Marines can strip it will cause the vehicle crew to bail. There are no rules to assault armoured vehicles but if an Amtrak has been immobilised it is reasonable to treat it as a building assault and bodge some sort of mechanism. The high transport capacity of Amtraks makes even this option unattractive. When choosing their defending supports the Japanese need some sort of big gun. Otherwise they are relying on light machine guns to drive off armour or the unlikely chance of dropping a mortar round inside an open topped Amtrak. For stopping infantry wire is a good option. It won’t stop the Amtraks but if the Marines begin or end up on foot wire will force them to go round.

The maps are laid out in the scenario book and have been reproduced as well as possible on the gaming table. This is the beach assault. The undergrowth by the beach is a steep bank which tracked vehicles can just about get up. There is a deliberate gap onto the open ground beyond. Be warned that 2 of the 3 Amtraks have been proxied. The single real Amtrak in use is from Anyscale. With limited game use buying enough to move an entire Marine army is an expense that is hard to justify. The Marines run with their standard platoon and one each of LVT-4, LVT(A)-2 and LVT(A)-1; the latter for some fire support. They also buy a pre-game barrage and ‘red’ Chain of Command die (5s and 6s are ignored). To win the Marines must get 2 units off the table. This encourages pushing all possible activation dice onto a single Amtrak to get it off table before the Japanese sort themselves out at the possible and unlikely expense of leaving others back on the subs bench.

The Marines lose the LVT-4 to an unlikely hit from a mortar shell. One of the two sections inside takes significantly more damage than the other. Chain of Command movement is based on D6 rolls and with some above average numbers one of the squads from the LVT-4 has caught up with the LVT(A)-2. That vehicle was halted by a tank barrier which the transported section hops over and gets as far as the wire line. The Sherman is acting as a LVT(A)-1. It has advanced towards the Japanese gun in the tree line, both trading shots with limited effect. The pillbox is not occupied.

The Marines end up occupying the 2 houses while a 3rd section breaks through and runs off board. The remaining Japanese close the line behind it. Marine victory is achieved by getting 2 units off-board but is a section 1 unit or 3 (for the 3 Marine squads in the section)? To make sure the LVT(A)-1 speeds past the Japanese gun and drives off board. As the vehicle gets close to the gun it is better off driving fast than stopping and shooting because it can move more easily than the gun can be turned to face.

The Japanese should have kept their losses for the next game. Although these can be worked out from the photos the mistake was not realised until after the following scenario was played. So the Japanese get a (free) fresh platoon in scenario 2. Knowing that losses will not be replaced would influence the Japanese to only make a limited defense in the beach assault. The Marines will get a fresh platoon in scenario 2 so the only benefit in putting up a vigorous defense is to gain a ‘campaign day’ and slow the Marines down. This could be a winning strategy but only if casualties are minimal and that is unlikely. If the Japanese are just going to run away then game 1 in the campaign could be skipped.

Here is the set up for game 2, an assault on a makeshift airstrip. The patrol markers have been left in place to show how the jump off points worked out. To win the Marines must take and hold the rearmost Japanese jump off point.

The Marine supports are a Stuart tank, preliminary barrage and MMG team. The simple plan is to belt the Stuart forward and capture the jump off point before the Japanese can deploy. It almost works. A preliminary barrage means that a Japanese unit must roll 4+ on D6 before it can deploy. It ends with the beginning of the 2nd turn. This is the situation at that point. There are Marines all over the shop and only a single Japanese gun has deployed. On its first shot it knocked out the main gun of the Stuart but the little tank kept on coming.

The Japanese manage to sort themselves out and put up some sort of resistance. This includes a tiny tankette which can’t hit much but with the Stuart gun out of action can’t be easily damaged either. The Japanese have used a Chain of Command point to pull their jump off point out of the wooden house which the Marines now occupy.

The Marine section in the wooden house trade shots with the Japanese in the trees while another section moves up on the jump off point. That section is in the open and takes significant losses. The Japanese crew abandon their gun after immobilising the Stuart.

The Japanese move their tankette to overrun the Marines in the open. As the Marines are heavily ‘shocked’ they can’t all get away. They take losses and break. The Japanese use a Chain of Command point to end the turn and the Marine squad routs off table. The game is called with a Japanese withdrawal at that point. It should continue through the remaining Japanese and following Marine turn but neither would have a significant impact on casualties and given time the Marines would take the objective and win. The casualty list was about the same for both sides, the best part of an entire section. Below is the Japanese view before they bug out.

On to game 3 and the first face to face game with a human opponent for 16 months. The Marines have to take and hold the 3-storey stone building. For support they bring a Stuart, bazooka team and the ‘always popular’ pre-game bombardment. The Japanese spend all their support on a ShinHo To Chi-Ha; it proved to be worth every penny. The Marines field a new full platoon. One of the Japanese sections is down to a single LMG team, the rest of the force is up to strength.

The tanks and bazooka trade shots but eventually the Marine tank, bazooka and the senior leader directing it are all taken out; Marine morale drops to 5. At a morale of 4 a force starts to lose activation dice.

The Marines push on closing in on the objective building but take fire from the Japanese mortar and HE from the tank. The mortar team proved its worth. They don’t put out a lot of shooting dice but firing indirect allows them to cover most of the table and to set up behind another section giving a bonus defense in depth. A carefully placed senior leader can activate the infantry and mortar sections on a command die roll of 4.

The Marines move up a jump off point and get a 2nd section close to the objective. The first squad almost broke but moved out of sight behind a building. A senior leader and section junior leader put the kettle on and passed around Mars bars and gradually peeling off the shock.

The Japanese defend the objective building with the lone LMG section and a full section. Both take heavy losses but Marine progress is slow. They can’t lay down fire and move quickly at the same time. The Japanese move their tank closer for a possible overrun and shift troops from the far side of the table towards the objective. To win the Marines would need to run quickly enough to get into the building and hold it until Japanese morale breaks. With the precarious Marine morale and prospect of HE coming in from the tank and mortars and little chance of neutralising either the Marines decide to pull out before they are forced to rout.

A Japanese victory buys them a campaign turn. It is day 2 and they are now eligible for a new platoon of replacements. The Marines also have a full fresh platoon as well as the 2 blooded platoons. Both sides could go in again with the same forces to conserve their replacements for future battles. The Marines get an extra 2 points of supports to help them out. The Japanese could field what is left of this platoon or bring in a fresh platoon. Although this is a good board for the defense the Japanese pull back and the following game is fought on the next campaign board. Assume that the Marines have pulled back, regrouped and gone in cautiously on day 2 to find the Japanese gone. The campaign allows the Japanese to fight a night attack on the last board won by the Marines. As this would need a reset of board 2 they will wait and launch the attack on the night of day 2.