Major Wu Tang Clan gazed approvingly as his men deployed under the protection of what definitely weren't palm trees. Pride swelled within him, it was an honour to be commanding some of the toughest and most dedicated troops in the Chinese army. He did a quick headcount, most of them had actually turned up and a significant percentage hadn't sold their weapons on the black market. The Japanese would pay for their arrogance this day. There was just one fly in the ointment.
Right on cue Lieutenant Peng Yuen arrived and saluted eagerly.
"I've posted the artillery observer sir. He says its difficult to see anything through the trees but he'll do his best."
Major Wu was about to ask why the observer had been placed somewhere he couldn't see anything when a sudden explosion rocked the ground.
"What the hell was that?"
"Our air support," replied the lieutenant. A second explosion somewhat more distant followed.
"They're miles off target."
"I may have had the map upside down."
So this is our next game scenario WO26 - Phoenix Rising. Here I command the brave troops of the Chinese 116th division as they attempt to evict the Japan from the city of Tengchong. Key to said eviction being the capture of three guns on a nearby hill. My sole objective is to capture or eliminate all three guns. Victory can come no other way.
It has to be said that the Chinese have given me their best (obviously they didn't check my record). I have twenty six elite squads led by five officers including an inspiring 9-2. Coming along for the ride are a pair of medium machine guns, four light machine guns, two early model bazookas, a pair of flame throwers and four demo charges. An offboard observer guides a module of 70mm artillery with a pre-registered hex to aid in accuracy. A pair of American fighter bombers turn up at some point (but not earlier than turn 2) to add their own fire power to the attack.
That's a pretty impressive force, what can Dave put against it? How about thirteen squads split between first and second line, an hmg and an mmg with the crews to go with them plus three light machine guns and two 50mm mortars. Three leaders command including a none too shabby 9-1, six trenches and two pillboxes aid in protecting the defenders from the vengeful Chinese and of course there are the three 75mm guns which by SSR must set up on level 2 and not in the pill boxes. The whole force can also set up concealed.
I made my first cock-up before we even started. Despite there being no mention on the scenario card I assumed that PTO would be in effect with dense jungle thus not giving my offboard observer a particularly good view. Therefore I placed it with LOS to the west half of the board which was more open but with not too much a view of the east. Naturally because the west half of the board was more open Dave concentrated his defences in the east.
The hill (and the gun intensive second level) stretch across the north part of the board. Thus despite the fact that it was obvious Dave had set up his main defence in the east I had to allocate some troops to clearing out the west. There was always the possibility that a gun may have been hidden there away from the main action (there wasn't). It was also the only place I could use my artillery.
I allocated a decent but definitely secondary force to the west. It would advance under cover of the orchards and sweep up (and hopefully over) the western side of the hill, taking out Dave's token defenders and reassuring me that there wasn't a gun hidden anywhere sneaky. In pretty much the only multistory building in my set up area I placed both mmgs with accompanying squads under the command of the 9-2. It was their job to suppress, kill or gently persuade his squad in the pagoda to take less of an interest in proceedings. The bulk of my force would head for the forest (not jungle you idiot) in the east and start making a slow and exhausting climb to where the bulk of his defences were located. Flamethrower squads would lurk in the rear until more expendable forces had made contact with the enemy. On the far right I would send a few squads plus my least impressive leader (the redoubtable Lt. Peng) to try and work their way around that flank but really just to discover what he had in the vicinity.
Things went well at first. My artillery crashed down dead accurate and striped a pair of Japanese squads on the left including an ELR for the pagoda dwellers who suddenly found themselves to be conscripts at the worst possible time. The Chinese panting under their CX markers made for the hill pretty much without loss. I say pretty much, I did get a couple of squads broken. Why? Because I completely forgot about my own artillery and advanced into open ground being pounded with 70mm shells. Frankly two broken squads was a small price to pay for such idiocy.
|End of Chinese turn 1. The Japanese diversionary forces on the left turned out to be just that.
In his turn Dave tried to pull back his diversionary forces on the left and dropped a white phosphorous shell on a squad which was menacing his pagoda dwellers. My squad fled for the safety of some trees but the smoke provided a little extra cover and nullified what was essentially a non-existent threat to the left flank of my main force. Now all they had to worry about was the threat to their right flank and front. Their job done my 9-2 led kill stack dropped down and prepared to join their comrades on the hill who had persuaded a couple of Dave's units to drop their concealment by dancing around in front of them. On the right a Dare Death squad charged for the nearest enemy and was vapourised by snake eyes on a 2-2 shot, not even cowering could save them.
|End Chinese turn 2. The left hill is mine for what that's worth
Some lucky shooting on my part cleared a trench on the hill summit of defenders and I gleefully occupied it thinking it would make a fine base for further attacks. Whereupon Dave promptly unveiled one of his 75mm guns and took the position under fire. I was edging forward but at the price of revealing his fortifications Dave shot my advanced troops back again.
|Hmm, that trench might not be an ideal location after all
Sadly for Dave he broke the gun on the next turn. This is bad for the Japanese because a botched repair roll eliminates the gun and makes my job easier and if he doesn't try and repair it that makes my job easier. Dave botched the repair roll, one gun down. I was at his main line of resistance now. He had a pillbox holding the hmg and a trench with a 75mm gun in the same hex. The third gun's location was still a mystery (but options were running low).
|One gun down due to sloppy Japanese maintenance, two more to go.
Things stabilised for a couple of turns at this point. I would edge closer he would break my units and they would retreat back again. However return fire from the uninvolved was gradually whittling down his force. My air support turned up, did nothing worthy of mentioning and left again. My artillery observer was unsighted and my air support was gone. Any victory would have to be won in the old fashioned way. I could imagine the ghost of Field Marshal Haig nodding approvingly.
This didn't happen without losses, there was a regular stream of Chinese troops fleeing the sharp end in terror but I had a solid rear area and my 9-2 (Major Wu himself) swiftly rallied those who needed encouragement.
|Of course getting the others wasn't quite so easy
Eventually I managed to gather sufficient force to simply overwhelm his forces. Breaking a flamethrower didn't help but the other toasted his troops nicely. His final gun was sitting in the trench to the rear as the Chinese swarmed over his main position. Dave was now in a desperate position, most of his forces were dead things looked good for the Chinese but I wasn't over confident. The final gun sat in a trench in open ground with what was left of Dave's troops around it and there were only a couple of turns to go. Then Dave broke his final gun. He was prepared to concede at that point but I pointed out that as long as he didn't try and repair it technically it was still in play and I would have to capture it. Dave however was desperately short of troops and felt he needed the firepower from the gun to give himself a fighting chance so he tried to repair it, and rolled a six.
So that was it. Victory to me slightly anticlimactically but it has been a long time since I had enough pride to want to win purely on my own merits. This scenario was pretty balanced on ROAR but Dave and I had a tough time figuring out how the Japanese could win. The Chinese have so many bodies and plenty of time. There were plenty of Chinese casualties but at the end there were virtually no Japanese left on the board and enough Chinese to pretty much restart the scenario from scratch. Maybe hiding one of the guns way over on the left side of the board is the answer, just to make the Chinese spend the time hunting it.
|Endgame. The red circle marks where Dave's last gun used to be
Thanks to Dave for the game. It is his choice of scenario next time and he's picked At the Point, published by Critical Hit but designed by our Paddington Bears comrade Dave Longworth. Just for the record pretty much every second guy I know is named Dave. Our generation's parents were not terribly imaginative in their choice of first names.
"Victory," the unfamiliar word rolled off Major Wu's tongue like nectar. Surely there could be nothing better than this. But he was wrong. Even as he savoured the triumph a sergeant reported Lieutenant Peng's timely death, shot several times by snipers and finally drowning in his own blood. Major Wu's cup ran over.