Victory was so close I could taste it. No, screw that; victory was so close I had swallowed it but then Ivan stuck a tube down my throat and pumped my stomache. Leaving aside the disgusting imagery for a moment I shall begin at the beginning which, as somebody once said, is an excellent place to begin.
In 1937 China and Japan were fighting what would have been a war if the Japanese army had bothered to get the permission of their government before starting it. The Japanese had overrun large chunks of northern China and had crushed the Chinese army whenever it looked like objecting.
The Chinese leader, Chiang Kai-Shek had a number of problems. China was struggling to emerge from a period of chaotic anarchy (or, if you prefer, anarchic chaos). The government was corrupt and incompetent, the army was corrupt and incompetent and every layer of the command structure was riddled with corruption and incompetence. The result was that although vast the Chines army was badly armed, badly trained, badly led and badly equipped. To add to this embarrassment of poverties there was (perhaps unsurprisingly) a communist uprising underway.
Faced with these difficulties Chiang pulled his armies back, trading space for time while the German advisers he had hired attempted to chip some of the rust of China's war machine. It was probably the only practical option but it created a new bunch of problems. Chiang depended on foreign assistance to equip his armies but foreign powers are not famous for backing losers and China looked perilously like a loser. Additionally the Chinese people, and particularly some of the more influential, were getting sick of defeats and Chiang's apparent acquiesence in the Japanese occupation of a broad swathe of their country. In short Chiang desperately needed a win and he needed it somewhere the foreign powers would sit up and take notice. That somewhere was Shanghai and Chiang committed his best, German trained, troops to the task.
This is Scenario A145; Shanghai in Flames which I sat down to play with Ivan Kent at the last Bears meeting. Chiang's gamble failed and now only the remnants of one of his best divisions holding the Four Banks Warehouse keeps the Chinese flag flying over Shanghai. I commanded the Japanese attacking through a burning city trying to capture this last symbol of Chinese defiance. Burning buildings essentially split the board in two leaving me with the choice of attacking along the direct route on my right or taking a long loop around to the left. I chose both.
There are no tanks, no guns, no bombs. Just infantry of varying degrees of enthusiasm and some machine guns. Each of us got a hmg and I got a pair of mediums as well.
Ivan set his troops up well back and thus virtually invisible to the bulk of my attackers but also conceding a fair amount of covered ground for my approach. Rather bravely he garrisoned the burning building in the centre and left a scattering of forces on my left. Most of his force was set up in front of the warehouse on the right. As the handsome picture (assuming I can figure out how to attach it) shows I set up most of my force on my right with a smaller flanking force to take the left. All three of my supporting machine guns were set up on the second floor of building X2 peering over woods and buildings to (hopefully) place fire in vital hexes near the factory. They started the attack by taking a shot at the defenders of the central building and of course failed to do any harm. With that as an overture the remainder of my troops rushed forward.
On my left the flankers led my an expendable half squad rushed for the first defended building, the half squad was broken but the remaining four squads got in, two to hit his guys in close combat and two to continue moving. In the centre another half squad died horribly attempting to clear a path for two follow up squads who made it to the road outside the building but both pinned before they could enter right next to a pair of elite Chinese squads. On the right my force veritably sprinted most of the length of the board to arrive panting and largely unscathed a couple of hexes away from the warehouse. They would stay there for several turns.
It took a couple of turns but my flankers destroyed a pair of Chinese squads (at a cost of one of their own) and pushed forward helped by the fact that Ivan was pulling his outlying troops back to defend the warehouse. In the centre my two squads finally got into the building and killed another squad only to have to break and flee with their hair on fire as the building burnt down around them. Down at the sharp end near the warehouse things weren't going too well as fire and casualties were exchanged but I couldn't inflict appreciable damage on Ivan's men now happily ensconsed in fortified locations in the warehouse. I did manage to capture his hmg abandoned by a broken squad but in return one of my guys went beserk and charged into 20-2 fire in the street. He was reduced to a greasy red stain in short order and I started to get anxious. My casualties were mounting, my flankers were tardy and time was starting to run out.
Things looked up a bit as my flankers surged to the stone wall that was the last barrier before the warehouse itself and the surviving units in the centre finally made it through the smoke without more than superficial burns. Leaping over the fence into a house defended by a single squad my flankers prepared to rout the defenders and press on to victory. Of course it didn't happen like that. That single Chinese squad tied my attackers up for three CC phases and suddenly I was desperately short of time.
Finally I decided on a desperate expedient. Ivan had been defending the warehouse by shooting during my turn and skulking back out of sight in his own. Scraping together my, now somewhat tattered, right wing force I advanced them all out into the street in a row of hexes adjacent to the factory. Now Ivan had a choice, he could skulk in his turn and allow me into the warehouse or stand his ground and try and wipe out my force. He chose option two without success. His point blank shots battered me a little but most of my sturdy troopers hung tough and shattered him with their return fire. To make matters better I finally wiped out the Chinese squad in the building and pushed a pair of squads into the rear of the warehouse.
Ivan was essentially surrounded, most of his troops were broken or dead and I had a turn and ample troops to destroy the rest. I honestly thought I had it won but Ivan didn't quail. Scraping together the remnants of his firepower he destroyed my troops in the fortified hex I had captured and advanced back in himself. Now things were a little less certain but I still had the firepower to finish the job. I poured a mass of fire into one of his few defended hexes and rolled boxcars. The failure of the subsequent, less impressive attacks was almost irrelevant. One more turn would have won it for me but alas I had fallen with my nose an inch from the finish line.
This was a great scenario. On two separate occasions both Ivan and I thought we were definitely going to win or were certain to lose but it still came down to the last turn and almost the last roll of the dice with Ivan maintaining his personal morale to pull off a win. I on the other hand collapsed weeping under a table, and that was before we started.