ASL Map Spotlight: Sugar Loaf Hill, Okinawa

Orsogna was part of the larger Moro River Campaign

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Bitterest Day Front
Bitterest Day Front (BFP)

The ASL fanatics over at Bounding Fire Productions recently released Bitterest Day, a historical module depicting the bitter fighting between the U.S. Marine Corp and the IJA on the island of Okinawa. This particular action concerns the taking of a complex of hills near Shuri Castle. It’s a PTO slugfest without a lot of PTO terrain. Securing of Okinawa was one of the last actions by the USMC in the Pacific Campaign.

Let’s take a closer look at the design of the map that represents part of the Japanese Shuri Line as well as a short history less on The Battle of Sugar Loaf Hill.

Bitterest Day: The Battle for Sugar Loaf Hill contains:

  • 9 action packed scenarios in full-color print covering actions, plus a 6-date Campaign Game
  • 180 full color, die cut 1/2″ counters
  • 64 full color, die cut 5/8″ counters
  • One 27″ x 35″ HASL map sheet representing the historical situation around Sugar Loaf Hill on Okinawa, Japan in May, 1945
  • Pages describing map terrain, special rules and play of the Campaign Game
  • Campaign Game and Cave Play Aids
  • A Bitterest Day divider card for quick reference

You can order Bitterest Day here.

The Map

Finding historical maps, or ariel photography from World War 2, for a given HASL module is sometimes an exercise in frustration. Research material either doesn’t exist or is hidden behind cryptic (and semi-hidden) government/university vaults maintained by people who have never heard the term “user experience”. But that’s a whole other topic!

But sometimes I stumble across a map that looks like the exact one used to make the HASL map I’m spotlighting (see Critical Hit’s Wake Island spotlight). In this case, I’m not sure if this is the map BFP used to produce the Sugar Loaf Hill complex map, but it’s pretty close, at least from an elevation, road, rail point of view.

Ariel Photo Of Surrounding Area (Looking South)

In the image below, notice the two small villages in the NE (Makabe) and SW (Asato) highlighted in the blue shaded areas (right map). On the HASL map they are represented by the corresponding clusters of huts in the same general areas. The road/rail infrastructure and elevation look well represented on the HASL map. My only question is the terrain. Photos of the area show it be mostly open ground, either because there was no terrain (ie. woods/jungle/brush/etc), or most of it was blown to fragments from combat and artillery. See the images lower on the page to see the terrain conditions around Sugar Loaf Hill.

Sugar Loaf Hill Map Comparison
Sugar Loaf Hill Map Comparison

The SLH map depicts an almost absence of cover for both sides as verified by the photos. The USMC were often left with little terrain, and the IJA were hidden in complexes of caves, trenches, and pillboxes in/on the hills. The historical combat that took place around SLH looks well represented in this module.

The Battle for Sugar Loaf Hill

In the spring of 1945, among the numerous confrontations, one particular struggle stood out for its intensity and the sheer will of the combatants: The Battle for Sugar Loaf Hill.

As dawn broke on May 12, 1945, the U.S. Marines of the 6th Marine Division looked upon a seemingly insignificant rise in the terrain on Okinawa that would prove to be anything but. The hill was part of a trio, including Half-Moon and Horseshoe hills, forming a defensive complex that anchored the western end of the Japanese Shuri Line. This complex overlooked the open country leading straight up to the Japanese main line of resistance near Shuri Castle

The Marines, a mix of seasoned veterans and green recruits, had been tested by fire near the Motobu Peninsula and were now facing the formidable Shuri defenses. The task seemed straightforward: capture the small complex of hills and advance towards Shuri Castle. However, the unassuming Sugar Loaf Hill concealed a network of deeply entrenched Japanese forces determined to hold their ground. The Marine veterans had poured their hard-earned combat experience into the new troops before landing on Okinawa, and it was about to be tested.

The Marines initially underestimated the strategic importance of Sugar Loaf Hill. They saw it as just another objective, something to roll over, a quick objective to take in a day or less. However, they soon realized how wrong their assumptions had been. Yet, as they ascended the slopes, they were met with a ferocious resistance. The Japanese had fortified Sugar Loaf with a labyrinth of caves, tunnels, and firing positions, turning the hill into a killing fortress that repelled repeated assaults.

The battle for Sugar Loaf Hill turned out to be a grueling eight-day fight. For days, the battle raged with relentless intensity. The Marines launched charge after charge, each met with a hail of bullets and explosions. Major Henry A. Courtney, Jr., in a moment of stirring (some said foolish) leadership, rallied his men for a daring charge, encapsulating the spirit of the Marines’ determination to seize Sugar Loaf Hill at all costs.

The fighting was brutal and unforgiving. The Marines faced not only a tenacious enemy but also the challenges of the open terrain and the psychological toll of constant combat. The battle for Sugar Loaf became a microcosm of the larger struggle on Okinawa, reflecting the immense cost of the campaign … and foreshadowing the possible carnage that awaited Allied forces if they were to make an attempt to take the Japanese main island.

After days of bitter fighting, with casualties mounting on both sides, the Marines finally secured Sugar Loaf Hill. The fight for the seemingly insignificant little hill had cost the 6th Marine Division over 3,000 casualties. An untold number of Japanese were killed in, on, and around the defensive complex of Half-Moon, Horseshoe, and Sugar Loaf. Yet, the capture of Sugar Loaf Hill marked a significant moment in the Battle of Okinawa, paving the way for the eventual capture of the Shuri Line and bringing the Allies one step closer to final victory in the Pacific.

GET TO THE CHOPPA…!!! Get To The Choppa...!!!


© 2024, Neal Ulen. All Rights Reserved. Copyright & Fair Use Notice.
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