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Friday, January 24, 2014

Bolt Action - AAR: Battle of Attu, Chevesy Pass

For the last year I have been yapping my mouth (nonstop - Judson) about playing Bolt Action games based on the US Attu Campaign, in the Aleutian Islands.  Finally, I got some friends together for the first, in what I hope is a series, of Attu themes scenarios.    Attu was one of the first major amphibious operations in the Pacific, but often overlooked by most gamers. Unlike the warm, tropical conditions that defined the Pacific campaign, Attu was a barren, wind swept island, covered in wet, marshy low lands and rocky, snowy mountains.  Fog and bad weather were a nightmare for troops fighting in the battle as well.  

The terrain was rugged and US troops had to dig out the Japanese troops in brutal hand to hand fighting. Like most other battles fought between the US and Japan, casualty rates where high. In fact, total casualties almost mirrored each other, the closest of any Pacific campaign. It was also the first time US troops had to deal with Japanese troops that fought to the last man.  Finally, the campaign ended with Colonel Yasuyo Yamasaki, the commanding officer of the Japanese force, leading 800 men in a furious and terrifying Banzai charge. (Total MarkDawg, that Col. Yamasaki. - J)

As an Alaskan, I have a personal interest in Attu.  It was one of only a handful of battles fought on US soil.  As a gamer, it presents many challenges; first is terrain.  GIs on Attu used to say there was a woman behind every tree. That was because there are no trees on Attu.  Trying to find a terrain balance so that games don't devolve into one side charging the other across open ground will be tough.

The next challenge is accurately representing the forces.  Most troops were equipped with small arms, which means no tanks and few heavy guns.  This means it's hard for troops attacking dug-in positions to kill the enemy.  In Bolt Action, troops in trenches are killed on a 6 (like a building).  It's nice to have weapons with good pen value to help kill them.  Sadly, those weapons are limited, and because of this it will require close fighting.

Last is victory conditions:  In a campaign which was essentially a battle of attrition, where the US literally had to kill every Japanese solider on the island, I'll need to come up with victory conditions for scenarios that are not just kill more enemies than you lose.  This is where resources come in handy.  For these details I am using the Capture of Attu.  This book looks at the Attu campaign through the eyes of the soldiers who had boots on the ground.  My hope is that this will give me the details about the campaign to come up with balanced games with good objectives.

Battle of Chevesy Pass

After landing troops in Massacre Bay, US troops began the long slog and fight to rid the island of Japanese troops.  This required the men of the 17th Infantry Division to fighting their way up the steep, snowy slopes of of the island.  One of the first major engagements of the campaign took place in Chevesy Pass, which was defended by Japanese troops with small arms.  This was the first line of defense for one of the Japanese bases on the island.

Japanese Force (all dug-in, in trench lines and gun pits)
1st Lt + 2 Men (Reg)
Japanese Infantry 5 Men (Reg)
Japanese Infantry 7 Men + LMG (Reg)
Japanese Infantry 6 Men (Reg)
MMG (Reg)
MMG (Reg)
70mm Howitzer + Spotter (Reg)

US Force
1st Lt +1 Man (Reg)
10 US Infantry + BAR + SMG (Reg)
10 US Infantry + BAR + SMG (Reg)
10 US Infantry + BAR + SMG (Reg)
10 US Infantry + BAR + SMG (Reg)
MMG (Reg)
MMG (Reg)
81mm Mortar (Reg)
Medic (Reg)
Artillery Observer - Two Barrages (Reg) 

Terrain notes
All white and brown terrain was considered open ground.
The green brush was considered brush and provided soft cover
The area with large rocks provided hard cover
Small rocks were just for looks
All Japanese troops were in trench lines that provided hard cover; and troops inside were killed on 6's
The creek was rough ground
Troops on the reverse side of hills use the ridge as soft cover

The US greatly outnumbered the Japanese. Their objective was to eliminate the Japanese defending the pass.  US troops could deploy up to 18" onto the board and they could also deploy troops in Outflank.  The US decided to put one squad in Outflank.  The Japanese started with about half their units in ambush.

US troops begin their attack

Japanese officer observes the field of battle

Japanese troops on the left ambush the advancing Americans.

US mortar tries to range in on the Japanese

Japanese 70mm misses their shot

Japanese MMG ambush Americans who come over the opposing hill

The American attack unfolds

An artillery barrage causes Japanese troops to dive for cover and kills the 70mm's spotter

The 81mm mortar scores a direct hit killing 4 Japanese troops in the trenches

Another Japanese MMG opens up on the Americans

US .30 cal provides covering fire

US troops caught in the open by the Japanese defenders

US troops try to charge, but fail to muster up the courage

So the Japanese Banzai into combat, but fail to score a hit.  The US wipe them out to the man when they strike back.

This leave the Japanese left flank open for the taking

The US groups its .30 cal MMGs together to mass their fire

US troops begin to cross the creek

They draw fire from Japanese infantry

The second artillery barrage hurts the Japanese moral

More shots are taken at the Americans in the open, but only cause minor damage.  The Japanese dice have been cold and the troops are thinking they might have wet ammunition.

US troops arrive on right flank, drawing fire from the Japanese infantry

US troops dive into trenches occupied by dead Japanese

Japanese troops Banzai at the attacking Americans

The Japanese only get one hit, the Americans get seven

US troops assault the 70mm

The three survivors occupy the gun pit

The US mortar snipes one of the Japanese MMGs

The remaining Japanese troops hold on, but barely

US troops running down Japanese trench lines

Americans close-in on the Japanese

The Japanese come under intense fire

They begin to receive fire from friendly positions, now occupied by Americans

The MMG keeps up its fire

So does the infantry, but bullets fly wild

The Americans assault the Japanese officer, overrunning his trench

The American grip tightens

US troops assault again, taking out the Japanese MMG -

- but are counter-assaulted and wiped out by the last two Japanese soldiers defending the pass.

The 81mm then ranges in and eliminates the last of the Japanese. (Crazy mortar rolls! - J)

This game went seven turns and was brutal.  The Japanese could not hit a thing all day; we even had a friendly fire incident at one point.  Most turns the US squads took one casualty, if any at all, while the US mortar and rifle fire was shredding the Japanese.  In hand to hand the Japanese forgot their bayonets.  There were times when the Japanese never scored a hit in the assault, while the Americans would score four to six on average.

Even though the Japanese got creamed, it was still a lot of fun.  Next time I will add LMGs to all the Japanese squads.  The dice odds were also lopsided.  That being said the US side played great.  I found the game very cinematic and somewhat historical.  In the real battle for Chevesy Pass, US troops were initially stalled, but ended up overwhelming the Japanese with artillery fire.  After making an initial breakthrough, the Americans were able to outflank Japanese positions and clear the trenches.  Since this is essentially how the game played out, it felt good to relive history, even though I lost.  Plus, I got to use Japanese troops in the snow. How many of you can say you have done that?

(Not me but man, it looked awesome! Have any war stories to share from your own historical games? Interested in learning more about running your own? Join the discussion on our forum by clicking the tab below! - J)

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