CH21 A RIDGE TOO FAR

This scenario features a seaborne evacuation of marines being chased by the Japanese. The short background is that a marine force lands behind a Japanese force that is being attacked frontally by other marines. Instead of blocking the Japanese retreat, the landing marines find themselves surrounded by unexpected Japanese forces. It takes place in September of 1942 on Guadalcanal. This scenario is designed by Mark Porterfield; he also designed the popular tournament scenario CH6 AMORED PROBE.

I wrote an article comparing this scenario to HS09 Ambitious Plans, which covers the same action, so I won’t do a detailed comparison here. Suffice to say this version has more troops, more toys and more maps. The two scenarios have anecdotes that are slightly different, which I did not remark upon earlier. HS09 speaks of a marine using signal flags to communicate with naval OBA. CH21 speaks of marines using their T-shirts to spell out “HELP” on a beach to trigger the rescue landing craft being sent. These are not related, of course; just two different interesting anecdotes from the same action. I had the Japanese in this playing. The victory conditions require the Americans to exit 50 VP off the north edge; they also specify that the landing craft are worth 3 VP each (ten LC for a total of 30 VP).

The Japanese have three groups of forces. The first group can setup on boards 36 and 37 (the beach board and the board adjacent to the beach). This group has the most powerful assets for hurting the landing craft and/or the marines on the beach: a Type 94 37mm AT gun and a Type 93 twin mount 12.7mm AA gun (IFE 12). Also in this group are four squads, two leaders, a HMG, a LMG, twenty concealment counters and two light mortars.

The Playing Field

I believe that there is only one hex that might be hidden from both of the American OBA modules: 36C7, in the northeast corner (lower left in image). That is where I put the AT gun. The American shipboard observer can be in any north edge hex, so I believed almost any other east hex near the beach would be under observation. I put the AA gun in 36C4. I knew that American land OBA would not be able to see there, but the naval OBA probably would see it. The other choice that occurred to me during this writing is in the sand, where there would be a halving of the OBA FP. The emplacement TEM would be only +1, however, which is the same net TEM of being emplaced in the jungle. The rest of the units/dummies were set up to cover the quickest paths to the beach (shown below). I made a mistake with the light mortars; either I forgot it was dense jungle, or I forgot that mortars cannot fire from dense jungle.

Elements of 2nd Bn, 124th Infantry Regiment set up first

My intention was to fire the AA gun at infantry on or near the beach and to fire the AT gun at the LC. I didn’t analyze which target (infantry or LC) was a better choice for the AT gun because of probabilities; I do it now. Without calculations, I know the LC are easier to hit as vehicles, but harder to eliminate because of their damage points. Assume a range between 13 and 18 hexes. The base TH for a vehicle is 8 (72%), for infantry is 6 (42%). The LC are harder to hit while moving; the infantry are easier to hit when moving. The AT gun would roll against infantry on the four column (two column in sand), so would need six or less to inflict a NMC giving a final probability of 17.6% (less in sand) to possibly have an effect. Of course the marine unit might pass whatever MC comes up. The LC are large, but will be in motion for most shots, so I’ll ignore those modifiers. Firing AP on the vehicle target type, the AT gun needs a TK roll of [(9 – 0)/2] less than five (28%) to obtain one Damage Point. That is a final probability of 20%. Three DP will immobilize an LCVP. Hitting a loaded LC might also inflict collateral damage on the passengers.

The Americans set up after the first Japanese group, except for their 75mm OBA (HE and WP) observer and their shipboard observer for the 120mm naval OBA (HE and WP). The American troops consist of six 5-5-8 and eighteen 4-5-8 marine squads. They have an 81mm mortar, a .50 cal HMG, two regular HMG, four MMG, and two 60mm light mortars. They all must set up on Hill 621 of board two. Their rescuers are ten LCVP landing craft (39PP with a ramp and 8FP AAMG). The Americans also have air support; a ’42 FB with only an 8FP MG. Here is the American setup.

Companies A, B, D of 1st Bn, 7th Marines set up second

Some of the unit dispositions surprised me, particularly the .50 cal HMG being behind the peak. I would have had it and all three mortars on the hilltop. I think I would have tried a more focussed attack. Following the American setup, the Japanese receive a second force that sets up on any map, but east of the stream. This force has five 4-4-7, three 3-4-7, two leaders, one HMG, one MMG, two LMG, one light mortar and six concealment counters.

I put two squads way south to attack whatever supporting force was left on the ridge. I didn’t have high hopes for them, but I felt I needed to at least threaten those marines. I put a stack with a leader near the ford to try to speed to the middle of the map. The HMG is positioned to shoot at a number of units as they leave the hill, but still be out of sight of the 81mm mortar. Two squads will go into the stream and take up crest status.

12th Company, 124th Infantry Regiment set up third

The last group of Japanese enter on turn one from the west side (right side, in the image). They add five 4-4-7, four 3-4-7, a crew, three leaders, a MMG, two light mortars and three LMG.

The Americans have a schedule to keep. The landing craft enter on/after turn one. It takes them three game turns to reach the beach, so three to exit as well. The troops need at least part of one turn to load onto the LC. Therefore the latest the LC should leave the beach is turn nine. This, in turn implies that the Americans need to be on or close to the beach no later than turn seven. This also makes it plain that the LC do not need to enter on turn one to accomplish their mission. Arriving early, however, would allow them to support the marines with their eight FP AAMG.

On turn one, the Americans deploy some and get their OBA going. I see we made a mistake allowing the shipboard observer to start a mission with no enemy in its sight. The troops attack on a broad front. The 81mm mortar shoots its one and only WP round in turn one. Japanese defensive fire is average, breaking or pinning a couple of units, but overall the marines have a decent advance. One Japanese squad rolls boxcars during FPF to become a broken HS. The LC do not enter.

During Japanese turn one, the reinforcements enter mostly along the road to get where they need to be quickly. I have a scare when a leader stack with two squads takes fire through a lot of hindrances; fortunately the result is only a TC that all units pass. Another leader with two squads moves in from the south west to try to be behind the Americans. The American 70mm OBA blocks the Japanese approach to the middle from the west. A surrounded Japanese squad in the middle of the map is reduced to a HS, but still goes for CC against two American squads. Amazingly, the HS manages to kill one of the squads and survives the return attack.

End of game turn 1

The LC enter on American turn two. The land OBA stays in position to block the center from the Japanese  coming from the west. Both the .50 cal and the 81mm mortar try to hurt the central Japanese HMG, but obtain only a pin result. The .50 cal malfunctions as well. The remainder of the Americans move, mostly through the center of the map. The Japanese do not have a lot of good shots and do not have good net results; only one broken American leader. The center hand-to-hand melee between a marine squad and a Japanese HS goes for the Japanese, giving that unit its second victim. On the western jungle path, another Japanese HS ambushes a marine squad and eliminates it.

Japanese turn two sees the malfunctioned .50 cal leave the game. The two southern Japanese squads approach the American ridge, but the 81mm mortar was the only asset left to be attacked there. A small banzai of a leader with two squads against the most western American troops (leader, squad, MMG) goes poorly. Only one conscript HS remains in the American location after the DFF. The Japanese forces in the western jungle all move one step back from the marines, except for the 10-1 led kill stack of two squads with two LMG; they move to challenge a marine HS. The eastern Japanese move closer to the center of the map. The lucky Japanese HS goes after its third victim, a HS. The 81mm mortar eliminates the center Japanese HMG position. The land OBA shifts to attack the eastern Japanese, but catches only one unit which it does not affect. There are two CC to resolve. One is the lucky HS, but it develops into melee. The other CC involves the banzai remnant, which dies for no gain.

End of game turn 2

The American air support arrives by dr on their turn three. The land OBA corrects onto two Japanese units to eliminate a squad and break a HS and malfunction a LMG. Through the central corridor of open ground, the first few American units reach the beach. Only two Japanese units are able to fire at them; they obtain only one pin. The AA gun comes on board to shoot at the marines near the beach, but has no effect. The marines to the left and right of the central area started shifting to it. They lose a HS during their moves. During routs, one broken American unit is able to rout towards the beach. The H-t-H CC between to the two HS ends in mutual destruction.

Turn three Japanese prep fire steals another HS from the marines. Some of the troops in the western jungle head for the beach with their light mortars. The two south Japanese squads manage to get adjacent to the two remaining American units on the ridge. One of them dies to a KIA from SFF. The eastern Japanese troops mostly move towards the central corridor, but directly threaten only one squad by moving adjacent. The American land OBA draws its first red card. The naval OBA corrects towards the AA gun. The air support tries to protect the 81mm mortar crew, but fails to bother the enemy squad adjacent to the crew.  A marine squad adjacent to the Japanese 10-1 and two squads decides to voluntary break rather than risk CC. Japanese initiate CC with the mortar crew and with the easternmost squad in 37N1. A Japanese HS moves adjacent to the marines to DM a squad. An 8+1 leader goes into 37S7 for CC but really to DM the closest marine leader to the beach. The CC with the mortar crew becomes a melee. The marines in 37N1 ambush the Japanese and then withdraw without attacking. The 8+1 leader rolls snake-eyes to dispatch a marine HS and then rejoin the squad he left behind.

End of game turn 3

The American rally phase does not go well for them on their turn four. Their land OBA does however pull a black chit to get back into business. There is only one prep fire to break that enemy HS that had to nerve to move adjacent. Everyone else moves. The AA gun breaks a marine squad when it moves adjacent to the beach, but the gun doesn’t keep rate. A leader squad combination recover the Japanese HMG on their way north. Most Japanese either can not see the moves, or have shots through hindrances. In CC, the mortar crew dies, but takes the enemy squad with it.

In Japanese four, the Americans have a good rally phase, bringing back an 8-1 leader (near the beach) and three squad equivalents (in the jungle far from the beach). The Japanese rallies are bad, but during prep fire they encircle a stack of 2.5 marine squads and obtain a K/something result that eliminates a squad equivalent and breaks the remainder. The Japanese then lose a HS trying to approach the marines nearest to the beach. The Japanese 10-1 with two squads (one concealed) assault moves next to a marine stack (one squad plus MMG, one concealed unit) hoping for some advantageous CC. Advancing fire pins a marine HS to set up a small CC in the rear of the corridor. The 10-1 led shot has no effect. A banzai there might have done better.  During rout, the encircled broken marines have the nerve to rout towards the beach! The 10-1 stack leaves the concealed squad next to the marines, but advances away with the other squad. A striped squad advances adjacent to a marine rally point near the beach to keep them DM. The CC between two HS is fatal for both of them. 

End of game turn 4

The Americans have three DM broken HS to bring back; only one is successful. The land OBA hits a 4-4-7+LMG near the evacuation corridor and stripes it. The naval OBA goes after the AA gun and hits it but the crew passes the MC. Some marines push straight towards the Japanese line. Other marines reverse direction out of the jungle to head for the central corridor. A Japanese light mortar near the beach breaks a marine squad that approached it, but a concealed unit assault moves next to it. The Japanese HMG team lays a firelane across part of the corridor nearest to the beach, forcing some marines to move through the jungle instead of open ground or palm trees. While crossing the road between two jungle hexes, Japanese DFF causes a marine HOB to generate a hero. The LC move slowly towards the beach. Two of them run aground three hexes out. The Japanese AT gun comes on board. Its first shot misses and has no rate. The concealed marine squad goes for CC against the Japanese light mortar squad near the beach. It misses the ambush, but kills the squad without loss. The marines press the Japanese jungle defensive line from the south and from the east.

The next marine rally phase in Japanese five goes poorly, but their rally point seems safe from becoming DM again. The AT gun has a run of four shots to inflict 2 damage points on an aground LC, but then the gun malfunctions. That was a tough moment for my personal morale. I had high hopes for that gun to dish out LC carnage. The AA gun breaks a marine squad adjacent to the beach. An innocuous 12 FP shot against a marine HS brings a bonus when the MC DR is a twelve to eliminate the HS and open up a jungle hex adjacent to the marine rally point. The 10-1 directing a MMG team eliminates another HS with a KIA result. Marine land OBA keeps pounding the same target down to a HS. The naval OBA  keeps trying to harm the AA gun without success. The air support attacks the Japanese HMG team, wounding the 9-1 leader. The attack triggers a sniper that hits a rear marine stack and wounds a leader. Several marine shots reduce a Japanese unit in a hut near the evacuation corridor to a broken HS. The Japanese use the advance phase to tighten the marine corridor, in the process putting a DM on their rally point and initiating a squad to squad CC (but 4-4-7 vs 5-5-8). The Japanese ambush the marines, but then roll eleven on the CC roll; the marines roll snake-eyes to rub salt in that wound.

End of game turn 5

Putting the DM on the marine rally point pays off for the Japanese in American turn six. The Japanese have been attrited pretty well, however. They have only eight squad equivalents remaining, with three crews, but four leaders. The Americans have fifteen squad equivalents and four leaders and a hero. The naval OBA scores only a TC on the AA gun crew, but they fail it. The land OBA draws its second red card to end its existence. The marine prep fire eliminates a HS near their evacuation corridor as well as an adjacent 9-0 leader. The southern pair of marine squads move carefully forward, but one breaks. The LC start to beach this turn. One of the aground LC becomes fast aground; the other frees itself. Two of the remaining eight run aground next to the beach; the rest make it. A lot of the middle marines head towards the beach. Three Japanese firelanes stop them from going too fast. In defensive final fire, the AA gun breaks another squad, despite the crew being pinned. The marine rally point receives a shot that breaks the leader there; then it receives a second shot that eliminates two broken HS.

The Americans fail to rally anyone in Japanese six. Prep fire encircles 1.5 marine squads in 37R5 again and eliminates a HS in that hex. A striped squad moves adjacent to the encircled hex; DFF turns it into a HS. In the west jungle, some Japanese move towards the corridor and some move towards the beach. The AA gun crew survives another naval OBA induced MC. The American sniper breaks the most northern Japanese HS in the west jungle. The encircled marines break the adjacent Japanese HS; other marines eliminate it. The Japanese sniper eliminates the only leader with the marines at the south end of the evacuation corridor; it puts DM on a broken squad in the same hex as well. A 4-4-7 tries to CC a stack having a CX HS and a Hero. No ambush, but it kills the HS and keeps the Hero in melee.

End of game turn 6

American seven sees a marine leader and a squad fail to rally while the Japanese bring back one HS. The naval OBA finally succeeds at eliminating the AA gun crew with a “K” result. The marine commander realizes that he doesn’t need all the LC that are beached because of the small number of troops left to evacuate. As marines move to the beach, two Japanese MMG malfunction trying to stop them; at least the HMG lays a firelane. The most southern marine squad breaks trying to run through open ground. The Americans shoot into the melee of the Hero and 4-4-7. The squad stripes, but still wins the CC.

During Japanese seven, their troops move closer to the beach (picking up some American SW on the way) and receive fire from the marines and LC. The DR are mostly good, but so are the Japanese MC DR. The Japanese sniper eliminates a broken HS in the south. Marine air support attacks a HMG team near the beach and eliminates both the crew and the leader. During the rout phase, some American units in hinterland close to the beach voluntarily break to rout onto the LC. Clever marine commander. The Japanese advance several MG close to the beach.

End of game turn 7

No American units rally in their eighth turn. The units on the LC cannot make the attempt; it is not an allowable action for LC passengers and they do not need to rally to count. The naval OBA wants to target the Japanese near the beach and near the marines. This requires an extra black chit pull, which happens. The marine commander opts for a SR to guarantee hitting the right units later. The other only American prep fire is from two LC. The rest of the marines want to load onto the LC. All are successful, leaving only two broken units on the beach that must wait for the rout phase. A light mortar targets them, getting a MC that they pass only because they are fanatic on the beach. In the rout phase, they join their comrades in a LC. So the Americans have how many VP? Nine LC give 27 VP by SSR. They have eleven squad equivalents for 22 VP, and three leaders that give 5 VP; a total of 54.

End of American turn 8

This situation begged the question: do the Japanese have any remaining options? We had to do some research to conclude that a MG firing as ordnance could affect the passengers by collateral damage, even though the chance of achieving damage points was very small. Firing as ordnance, a MG obtains a specific collateral attack if they hit an LC with a Final TK DR of equal to or less than its Final TK#. Rule G12.67 says a MG will roll on a column of half its normal FP. A HMG rolls on the two column, a MMG on the two column, etc.

After figuring out I will be firing machine guns at the LC, I miraculously repair the AT gun in Japanese turn eight. All it does in this turn, however, is double acquire a LC. Three MG fire at the LC doing no damage, but the leader-directed MMG malfunctions. The air support can’t find the AT gun. The naval OBA repositions its SR to where the Japanese will probably advance. LC AAMG fire eliminates the 10-1 leader and reduces a striped squad to a HS. After the advance phase, there are five MG and two light mortars on or near the beach that can fire at the LC.

End of Japanese turn 8

In American nine, the Japanese are fortunate that the naval OBA pulls a red chit. During the MPh, a MMG forces a MC on a leader and half squad that they both fail, removing 3 VP. A LMG also hits a second LC and rolls snake-eyes for the TK, causing MC for two squads. They both fail, removing another 2 VP which gives a Japanese victory by bringing the total available American VP to less than 50.

I enjoyed this scenario more than HS9. Both sides have more to stuff to use to achieve their goal. HS9 has the advantage of taking less time to play. As the Japanese, I wish I had kept the Banzai possibility in mind more, at least for moving the units farther in a turn. I think the AA gun is better off in a sand hex to halve the effect of the 120mm naval OBA; plus now I know the naval OBA cannot target that unit until it becomes known. I needed to set up the light mortars better as well; having them in dense jungle where they cannot fire is obviously not the right choice.

I believe the American player chose a good area to push through. The limited LOS meant that the Japanese couldn’t easily mess up American routing. Had I been American, I would have designated a bunch of HS and a leader as stay-behind forces with the 81mm mortar, two light mortars and the three HMG. I would have left some on the ridge and moved some to the center jungle (overlay) on the map to hopefully stop the eastern Japanese from moving west. Another thought for the Americans: bring the LC on in two or three waves to start evacuating some units earlier.

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