AAR by: Michael Rodgers
Advanced Squad Leader AAR – Ambitious Plans (HS9)
Here’s the historical situation:
Date: September 27, 1942
Location: Point Cruz, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands
Attacker: Japanese (2nd Battalion, 124th Regiment)
Defender: American (USMC) (1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division with ad hoc Landing Craft Flotilla)
After a series of Bloody Ridge engagements earlier in the month, General Vandegrift knew that a sizable Japanese force was operating from Matanikau village east of Point Cruz. A series of ambitious offensives in regimental strength were planned to clear out the enemy. Forces under the command of Colonel Edson and Lt. Col. Lewis “Chesty” Puller attacked the Japanese from the east, but met with heavy resistance. A message sent to Edson led him to mistakenly believe that the Marines were making good progress. In order to exploit this misinterpreted success, Edson sent Chesty Puller’s 1st Battalion, 7th Marines to land west of Point Cruz and attack Matanikau from the rear, supported by fire from the destroyer Monssen. No sooner had the first ridge been gained when two Japanese columns attacked the flanks of the battalion and cut it off from the shore.
The PTO scenario HS9, Ambitious Plans, is probably the only official seaborne evacuation scenario. This scenario was in the Operation Watchtower module, released in 2001. This Brian Youse design actually dates from 1995, when it was published in the second issue BackBlast magazine. The version HS9 has one more game turn (13 instead of 12) than the version BB16.
The scenario takes place on the island of Guadalcanal at Point Cruz in 1942. Guadalcanal was the first time in WW2 that American marines attacked the Japanese. Not unusually, the scenario has smaller forces than actually took part in the battle. The marines landed two companies that encountered unexpected strong Japanese forces not long after leaving the beach.
The marines have thirteen squads, three leaders and a hero. The hero has an unusual purpose, although he has his normal abilities as well. A SSR allows the hero to direct a Naval OBA module of 120mm. He must have LOS to level one of the ocean hex designated for the Naval OBA. This is possible from the ridge, but much safer from the woods near the beach. Once the hero makes “contact”, there are no more contact DR if he stays put; he also has automatic Battery Access. If the hero is eliminated, or after the hero evacuates (the only time a hero counts for VP), a shipboard observer can take over control of the Naval OBA.
The Americans also receive Air Support in the form of one FB with only MG. It has a random arrival and its arrival turn affects the Victory Conditions. This worked against me in our game because the plane came in on the earliest possible turn, but broke its MG soon after. At least it did a little bit of damage before leaving.
Boards 37 and 39 make up the map. PTO is in effect with Light Jungle. The scenario “starts” just after the marines have crested a ridge and encountered the Japanese. The American forces set up on level two and three hexes of board 39 with a restriction to place them not on the beach side of the ridge. As the American player, I was a bit concerned about the Japanese racing to the beach before the Americans can get there. I believe they have this possibility on the west flank. Despite my concern, I did not see any way to cover that approach because of the setup restrictions combined with the terrain. While writing this AAR, however, I saw that hex BB8 was legal and useful for that. There is also two north-south paths in the center to cover against a Japanese thrust (the center path is a SSR transformed gully).
It is very useful to determine the turn in which the landing crafts will hit the beach in a seaborne evacuation or assault. In this scenario, the LC enter the map on turn two and will hit the beach on turn five with a couple of spare MP to load somebody, if the LC do not bog in the shallow ocean hexes (two hexes adjacent to the moderate slope beach. This also tells one that the LC need to leave the beach no later than turn eight to be able to exit the map and satisfy the Victory Conditions.
The Victory Conditions require the Americans to exit a total of 35 VP, including the VP of the landing craft. Each landing craft is worth 4 VP (one, plus one for functioning MA, plus one for the inherent crew, plus one for its PP capacity). The six LC are worth 24 VP if they all exit, so 11 additional points of infantry are required for the Americans to win. As mentioned, this number is affected by the arrival turn of the Air Support.
I set up three squad equivalents with each leader to run fast and to be difficult for the Japanese to reach quickly. The remainder guarded the paths and one flank. Magnus decided to go center and left with the Japanese. He thought that the right flank would take too many turns to be able to do anything useful. A leader -led stack could reach the beach in three turns. It would need a further couple of turns to obtain a useful position from which to interfere with the evacuation. Most likely, that position would take a lot of low FP firepower from the LC during their run-in and eventually that position would also be hit by the Naval OBA. Magnus told me the he seriously considered sending everything up the middle.
The Japanese have ten squads and two crews to interfere with American evacuation. An SSR does an abstract representation of flanking fire that the Japanese had historically affecting the beach. The scenario specifies PTO with light jungle.
The Japanese first turn went well for them, I thought. Of my two flank guard squads, one was smoked and the other cowered on a long range shot and left no residual fire marker. This allowed a lot of Japanese troops to run freely. One stack of Japanese approached the nearest American stack. Another went up the center right path. During the first American turn one two stacks ran and one stayed to give a point blank attack to the adjacent Japanese stack; this wounded a leader and striped a crew and pinned a squad so the return fire was ineffectual. I decided that the hero was going to direct the Naval OBA from near the beach. I thought he would survive longer there with the other marines nearby.
The next turn had Japanese smoke again on a flank guard, but they also broke a mortar. Some more troops went around that flank while some pushed on up the hill. American turn two saw the Air Support arrive and all the marines moving towards the beach, except for the path blockers. Some ineffectual fire was exchanged.
Japanese turn three saw more movement towards the beach, although the center Japanese stack left the path to head towards a vantage point that overlooks the beach. A stack containing a 10-1 and two squads received a lucky shot from the FB that eliminated one squad, striped the second and wounded the leader. In American three, the marines continued running to the beach without casualties, except for the two squads that I left on the hill; they crept up on the Japanese stack that overlooks the beach. The hero was now in position in a woods hex next to the beach. Next turn he starts waving signal flags at the destroyer.
No Japanese prep fire during their turn four. The hill stack adjusted position and the rest moved closer to the marines. The landing craft took some shots to no effect. The FB attacked a moving squad and broke its MG; no repair possibility for aircraft, so the plane is done. The marine hero makes contact with the Naval OBA on his first try. He brought a spotting round down between him and the Japanese. The hill stack split in two for defending against the approaching marines. In American four, the hero converted the spotting round to an FFE in hexes near the beach; it cut off one approach aspect for the Japanese. This turn saw the first time Japanese fire broke a marine squad on its way to the beach. I positioned a couple of squads in huts and adjacent bamboo as a rearguard. The Japanese hill position did poorly; a defending squad lost its concealment to a bump. Its defensive fire was ineffectual. Return fire striped it. Then two marine squads eliminated it in close combat. All that was left is a crew with a MMG.
The Japanese mostly moved to close in on the marines during turn five, except for their hill MG team, which unsuccessfully tried to defend itself, but survived the return fire and advanced away. The hero shifted the Naval OBA a little bit and eliminated a wounded leader. He was trying for squads. In American five, the hero shifted the Naval OBA again to attack three squads in kunai. One of them is unaffected, but the other two became half squads. The hill marines attacked the MG team; one squad broke. A leader and a squad ran towards the beach. I have nine points of troops on the beach at this time with twelve points within one movement phase. The LC approach the beach and start taking their bog checks. One bogs. One reaches the beach but cannot load. A second bogs! The next one reaches the beach and can load a unit. The next one bogs! The last one reached the beach. When I was imagining how this scenario would play out, having three of six LC bog was not a thought that I had. At the end of the turn, the Americans had four squads, three half-squads and two leaders on the beach ready to load next turn. On the hill, the Japanese MG team survived a 4 to 1 CC to tie up a marine squad in melee.
The Japanese moved to attack the marine rearguard of two squads and a MMG. Their defensive fire was mediocre. The Naval OBA attrited some more Japanese, including the elimination of the last Japanese leader. Three Japanese squads entered into CC with one of the rearguard squads. The marines won the ambush and withdrew. The hill melee ended in mutual destruction. In American six, the hero decided it was time for a cruise, which gave a pause to the Naval OBA. More marines loaded onto LC. One of the bogged LC became fast aground, meaning it can never leave that hex. A second bogged LC freed itself and then bogged in the next hex. The third bogged LC freed itself, but expended all MP. Japanese fire broke one squad.
During Japanese seven, two marine MMG firelanes made it tough for them to approach the beach. I forgot to start using the Naval OBA with the shipboard observer, a pretty serious oversight. In American seven, three LC departed the beach carrying 20 exit VP for a total of 32 points. They have their unarmored rears facing the Japanese, however, and the Americans need 38 points to win. Two more LC hit the beach. The rearguard headed to the beach. Japanese fire broke and reduced one squad.
In Japanese eight, their troops managed to get adjacent to the rearguard and go in for CC, which eliminated another marine squad at the cost of one Japanese squad. I had the unique experience of routing onto a LC. While playing back the log for this AAR, I saw that we went from Japanese 8 to American 9, skipping an entire game turn. I am not impressed. The Japanese force was down to only one squad with an American MMG, two half-squads with one LMG and further from the beach, one crew with a MMG. In American nine, the last marines at the beach loaded onto LC, leaving one squad back on the hill armed with a Japanese MMG. So there were five LC moving in the water for 20 VP. They are carrying 27 VP of personnel, so more than the required 38 Exit VP. Can they make it off board in the remaining turns?
I could have done the calculations at the time, but I did not; we just kept playing until turn 11 when things became more obvious. While writing this AAR, I decided to project the exit turns of the LC, shown below.
The projection shows one LC not making it, because of the skipped turn. With personnel, that LC is worth 7 VP, bringing the marines down to 40 VP. This assumes the Japanese do not cause casualties. In case you are wondering, LC moving in reverse pay double the 1MP cost of an ocean hex.
I do not have a log for the remaining turns, but I have end-of-turn save files to consult. I saw that during Japanese turn 10, they caused three CVP by shooting into the unarmored rear of an LC. In American ten, I finally remembered the Naval OBA. It reduced the Japanese to one good order half squad with an LMG. The Japanese did not inflict any more casualties, but the Americans lost a point because of a malfunctioned LC MA. On turn 11, the Japanese are out of range, so Magnus and I figured out which landing craft could exit with how many VP. We get 36, two shy of 38. Does A.2 cover missing a whole game turn? Now that I know about the missed turn, I put this in my game log as an American victory.
.END OF BRIEFING.
Original Words/Video Content © 2021-2022, Michael Rodgers. All rights reserved.
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