GAMING THE PACIFIC WAR IN 28mm by dfsiopmhy6




One of the subjects which I have been interested in for a very long time, but
have never actually got around to gaming until now, has been the island-
hopping campaign in the Pacific in World War Two. Even though WWII has
always been one of the most popular periods among wargamers, the Far East
is still a relatively neglected theatre of that conflict. One reason, I suppose, is
fairly obvious - not enough tanks for the 20mm and 1/300 players, who always
seem to end up concentrating on massive armoured battles. But I am
basically a 25/28mm fan, and this subject is ideally suited to the sort of
"skirmish" games involving relatively small infantry forces which lend
themselves best to this scale. So, not surprisingly, the main factor in
rekindling my own interest has been news of the forthcoming 28mm range
from The Assault Group, which promises to supply everything we will need to
build up American and Japanese forces for this campaign.

The general outline of events is well known, but it may be a good idea to
survey it briefly, if only to explain exactly what I mean by the "Pacific War".
During the early part of 1942 the Japanese had rapidly overrun almost the
entire Western Pacific from the Aleutian Islands to New Guinea, until they
eventually ran out of steam after the defeat of their navy at Midway, and the
failure of a rash attempt to cross New Guinea on foot and threaten the north
coast of Australia. But although their conquests covered a huge area on the
map, more than ninety percent of this area is ocean. The perimeter actually
consisted of scores of scattered islands, which were individually strongly
garrisoned, but were separated from each other by hundreds of miles of
water. So once the Japanese Navy started to lose control of the seas, the
Americans were able to concentrate against the islands and capture them one
at a time by a series of amphibious assaults. A lot of them were actually
bypassed and left to rot until Japan finally surrendered, but the less lucky
ones, regarded as useful for US air bases or simply as "stepping stones" on
the way to Japan, became the scenes of possibly the most ferocious fighting
of the war. Even though from a strategic point of view their position was
hopeless, the Japanese garrisons obeyed literally their orders to resist "until
the last man". The Americans - spearheaded by the Marines, with increasing
involvement from the US Army as time went on - became engaged in
desperate close quarter fighting almost everywhere they landed, with
operations originally planned to be over in a couple of days regularly dragging
on for weeks or months.

The first of these island battles took place late in 1942 on Guadalcanal in the
Solomon Islands, east of New Guinea. It was a close run thing, because the
Japanese Navy was still powerful and was able to reinforce the defenders, but
after that the balance of power swung steadily in favour of the Americans.
This did not make individual islands any easier to take, though. The next
major landing, on the tiny atoll of Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands in November
1943, ran straight into fanatical resistance on the shoreline, and resulted in a
horrific casualty list which forced the Marines to re-evaluate their tactics.
Throughout 1944 islands like Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Saipan, Guam and Peleliu
witnessed the same pattern of ferocious fighting, often culminating in suicidal
charges by the last Japanese survivors - though by the time of the Peleliu
landing in September the defenders had abandoned these "banzai" tactics in
favour of stubborn defence, which only made the Americans' task harder.

Meanwhile the Japanese Army was being defeated in what turned out
eventually to be more decisive theatres of war, in the Philippines and Burma,
but as the enemy closed in on their homeland they only fought more
desperately. The last two island invasions took place early in 1945 on
Iwojima, and finally Okinawa, which was the largest - and by all accounts the
nastiest - battle of the whole campaign. The final stage was to be the invasion
of Japan itself, planned for 1946. Of course this was overtaken by events and
never took place, but if it had it would certainly have been a bloodbath
unprecedented even by Pacific war standards, and is an obvious subject for a
"what if?" alternative history wargames campaign.

There are several reasons why the "Pacific War" is perfect for gaming in this
scale. Both sides' troops lend themselves to some wonderful character
figures, which in my opinion do not really work in smaller sizes. Most of the
fighting was done by infantry, with enough tanks and artillery to provide a bit
of variety, but seldom enough to dominate the battles completely. The terrain
made it difficult to control or manoeuvre large formations, so operations
regularly broke down into a series of small scale fights, which can be easily
reproduced on the table without requiring hundreds of figures. And the
opposing infantry - especially the US Marine Corps and the Japanese Army -
were among the toughest fighters of the war, with an enthusiasm for getting
stuck in which should satisfy the most aggressive wargamer. The battlefields
themselves were also generally small enough to make it possible to represent
significant features on the tabletop. For example the Umurbrogol "Mountains"
on Peleliu, where the Japanese held out for more than two months in late
1944, covered an area of about 800 yards by 500, and soared to the dizzy
heights of 550 feet above sea level. Using a ground scale of say 1:200, you
could build the whole thing on a good sized table.

In fact the terrain of the typical Pacific island (if there was such a thing) is
quite easy to reproduce. Much of it was either fairly flat or consisted of a maze
of small hills, ridges and gullies. Built-up areas did exist and were sometimes
fought over, but were less frequently encountered than in most other theatres
of war. Airfields, however, were very common objectives, and a control tower
and a couple of runways - perhaps with a few wrecked planes scattered about
- would make an excellent centrepiece for a game. There were none of the
hedgerows, and very few of the roads, that make European terrain such hard
work to construct. Battlefields in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands were
often covered with a patchwork of forest and tall grass. Vegetation on the
smaller islands was usually scrub or coconut palm plantations rather than the
tall rainforest seen in Burma and New Guinea, and after a few days of battle
most of it was blown away by gunfire or burned off by napalm, leaving a bare,
uneven rocky terrain littered with fallen trees and patches of tangled
undergrowth. Iwojima and Okinawa were more mountainous, as well as more
built up and cultivated, but they were also more heavily bombarded, and in
most wartime photographs they resemble the Western Front in World War
One. So if you've got terrain suitable for Darkest Africa, the Sudan, Vietnam,
or even the American West (though you might need to buy a few palm trees),
you can do the Pacific. On the other hand, if you really wanted to go to town
on building some truly spectacular terrain, there is plenty here to inspire you:
coral reefs; palm fringed beaches; the almost impenetrable forests of the
Solomon Islands; the craggy heights of Mount Suribachi on Iwojima - scene of
the famous flag raising by the US Marines. And once you have made your
terrain, you can fight and fight again over the same patch for months - after
all, they had to do that all too often in the real thing!

One other feature which needs to be considered is the very extensive bunker
and cave systems which the Japanese built wherever they could, and which
were a vital factor in the defence of most of the islands. Parts of Iwojima were
described as "perhaps the most intensively fortified small area ever
encountered in battle"; in places there were 100 bunkers and pillboxes to the
square mile. (In fact Pacific battlefields were often incredibly crowded; on
Tarawa in 1943, for example, 18,000 US Marines and 4,000 Japanese Naval
Landing troops fought for three days over an area of less than 300 acres. On
Okinawa, American battalions each held a frontage of less than 600 yards.)
Bunkers etc. are readily available nowadays from terrain manufacturers, but
they might need a bit of customising for the Pacific. Fortunately, what made
the Japanese defences so distinctive (and so deadly) was the fact that they
were very inconspicuous. They were usually dug deeply into the ground,
roofed with logs and covered with earth, so that all an attacker could see
above ground would be a small mound with firing slits in it. Hidden beneath
there might be miles of tunnels and caves from which the defenders could
emerge unexpectedly through hidden exits to cause havoc behind the lines.
(This is an obvious way for an umpire to introduce some uncertainty into a
game scenario - perhaps by infiltrating some extra Japanese troops onto the
table via a tunnel mouth cunningly disguised as a bush.)

So, assuming that I have convinced you that the subject is worth trying, what
figures will you need? These organisation lists concentrate on platoon level
forces at a figure to man scale of one to one, because not only does this
approach seem most appropriate for figures in 28mm scale, but it also reflects
the sort of small-scale close range fighting which was typical of the Pacific
campaign. They are based on the troop classification system used in my own
WWII skirmish rules, "A Corner of Hell", because they are what I am familiar
with, and because they are designed for forces of this sort of size, rather than
the maximum of ten or a dozen figures to which some very detailed skirmish
rules restrict you. In fact it would be quite feasible to control a company,
especially in a multi-player game, and I have included some brief notes on
company organisations in case people want to try this. But of course the
figure range is not tied to any particular set of rules, and the lists should
translate easily enough to whatever set you prefer to use.

There were three basic types of Japanese infantry division, designed for
different roles and distinguished mainly by varying complements of heavy
weapons. This is not likely to make much difference at the level of combat
which we are interested in here, but this list is based on a typical Type B army
infantry division with some extra support weapons, as deployed in defence of
most of the Pacific islands. It is interesting to see how the organisation of the
opposing infantry units reflected their tactical doctrine. With its large numbers
of fanatical riflemen with bayonets, and small complement of automatic
weapons, a Japanese platoon is obviously designed for close combat. Even
the light mortars, of which there are a lot more than in other armies, are better
suited to searching out defenders hidden in cover than to mowing down
waves of attackers. Tactically the Japanese are always associated with
reckless "banzai" charges, but they were far from stupid, and in the course of
the Pacific War they modified their approach in the face of overwhelming
American firepower. Thus we see a progression from Tarawa in 1943, where
the defenders hurled themselves at the Americans as soon as they hit the
beaches, to Peleliu in the following year - where Japanese tactics were mainly
defensive and what counterattacks they did undertake were fairly cautious - to
Iwojima in 1945, where they were actually forbidden to counterattack, in order
to conserve manpower.

An infantry platoon is made up of three sections, plus an HQ with:

       1 Platoon Leader with sword + pistol.

       1 Deputy Platoon Leader with rifle.

       Each section looks like this:

       1 Section Leader with rifle.

       1 Deputy Section Leader with rifle.

       1 Machine gunner with Type 96 or Type 99 light machine gun.

       1 Loader with rifle.

       1 Mortarman with Type 89 50mm light mortar.

       9 Riflemen with rifles.

All figures are Fanatics in the "A Corner of Hell" system. All rifles are bolt-
action. Each man can carry two offensive or defensive hand grenades in
addition to the weapons specified above. All Japanese light machine guns are
classed as magazine-fed LMGs.

A "heavy" company would consists of three platoons, plus an HQ, a section of
two 20mm anti-tank rifles, and a section of two tripod-mounted rifle-calibre
MMGs (see under Support Weapons, below). Not all infantry battalions'
companies had these integral support weapons, but in the defensive fighting
which characterised most of the Pacific Island battles after 1943, elements
held at battalion or regimental level were usually allocated to individual
strongpoints rather than specific units. So sections and platoons holding these
strongpoints would often benefit from the presence of heavier weapons.
Japanese doctrine always emphasised the deployment of such weapons in
the front line, and it seems reasonable for us to include a few of them in our
skirmish games. This will also help to counterbalance the superior firepower
of the equivalent American infantry units. Such support elements might

      1 or 2 Type 92 7.7mm "heavy" machine guns. (Classed as tripod-
      mounted rifle-calibre MMGs), each with 3 crew.

      1 to 3 Type 97 20mm anti-tank rifles, each with a gunner and a loader.

      1 Type 94 37mm or Type 92 70mm battalion infantry gun, with 3 or 4

Also used in support of the ground troops were various 13.2mm and 25mm
anti-aircraft guns, and even 20mm cannon salvaged from damaged aircraft.
Up to 1 of these (classed as a single-barrelled HMG or cannon depending on
calibre) could be deployed on the table in a bunker or similar strongpoint.


The "Rikusentai" were the Japanese Navy's "Special Landing Forces";
although often described as Marines, their role was actually rather different
from that of the Royal Marines or the US Marine Corps. They were mainly
intended for the defence of naval bases and islands, and although they were
trained for amphibious operations they were not considered to be particularly
good at assault landings in the face of opposition. They were accustomed to
operating in small units, but were even more lightly equipped than the army
and less well trained in infantry tactics. However in the later stages of the
Pacific campaign they were usually found defending island strongholds, which
they did with just as much fanatical courage as the army units. This is just one
of several possible organisations for them.
A platoon consists of an HQ:

       1 Platoon Leader with sword + pistol.

       1 Deputy Platoon Leader with rifle.

Plus four sections. Three of these are organised as follows:

       1 Section Leader with rifle.

       1 Deputy Section Leader with rifle.

       1 Machine gunner with Type 96 or Type 99 light machine gun.

       1 Loader with rifle.

       1 Mortarman with Type 89 50mm light mortar.

       8 Riflemen with rifles.

       The fourth section comprises:

       1 Section Leader with rifle.

       1 Deputy Section Leader with rifle.

       1 Machine gunner with Type 11, Type 96 or Type 99 light machine gun.

       1 Loader with rifle.

       3 Mortarmen with Type 89 50mm light mortars.

       6 Riflemen with rifles.

All rifles are bolt-action. Each man can carry two offensive or defensive hand
grenades. The light machine guns are classed as magazine-fed LMGs. The
notes on support weapons for army units also apply here. All "Rikusentai"
figures are classed as Fanatics.


This list is based on the order of battle of the 81st Infantry Division, which was
probably fairly typical of the formations raised early in the war from conscripts
and sent into action during 1944. As this division's training for jungle warfare
had been pretty sketchy, all figures should probably be classed as Raw, but
by 1945 it would be reasonable to upgrade all Army units to Regular.
A section consists of:

       1 Section Leader with M1 rifle.

       1 Deputy Section Leader with M1 rifle.

       1 Gunner with Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR).

       1 Rifleman with M1 rifle + M7 rifle grenade launcher.

       8 Riflemen with M1 rifles.

Each figure may have 2 defensive hand grenades. The M1s are self-loading

The BAR is treated in "A Corner of Hell" as a squad automatic weapon, which
reflects the fact that it was designed to be used for "marching fire" on the
move, rather than providing sustained fire support from a static position like
the light machine guns of most other armies.

A platoon consists of three sections, plus an HQ:

       1 Platoon Commander with SMG.

       1 Deputy Platoon Commander with M1 rifle or M2 carbine.

       1 Bazooka operator with anti-tank launcher and M1 rifle.

       1 Loader with M1 rifle.

Actually there were five Bazookas allocated to each company for distribution
among the platoons as required, so it would be possible for a platoon to have
more than one. A company consisted of three rifle platoons, plus a weapons
platoon with 2 .30cal tripod-mounted MMGs and 3 60mm light mortars. A
machine gun and a mortar could therefore be plausibly attached to one of our

If you insist on using tanks, they would be M4A1 (75mm gun) Shermans, in
platoons of five. Of course it would also be realistic, if your rules allow for it, to
give your American platoons a limited amount of on-call artillery or air support
by off-table elements. Admittedly too much of this can easily spoil a game,
and many players will prefer to do without, but if you do you risk making the
attackers' job even harder than it was in real life.

Based on 1st Marine Division, as reorganised in June 1944 before the Palau
operation. All figures are classed in my rules as Aggressive.

       1 Section Leader with M1 carbine or Thompson SMG.

       1Flamethrower operator with M1A1 flamethrower.

       3 fire-teams, each with:

       1 Fire-team Leader with M1 rifle + M7 grenade launcher.

       1 Rifleman with M1 rifle + M7 grenade launcher

       1 Gunner with BAR.

       1 Assistant Gunner with M1 carbine + M8 rifle grenade launcher, or
       Thompson SMG.

The M1s are self-loading rifles or carbines. Each figure may have 2 defensive
hand grenades. The flamethrower is optional. It was not actually part of the
company organisation, but a battalion was supposed to hold enough of these
weapons (27 of them) to issue one to every section if required. Presumably a
specialised (and dangerous) weapon like this would come with its own
operator, rather than being issued to one of the ordinary riflemen.

A Marine platoon consists of three sections, plus a Platoon Commander with
an SMG, a Deputy with an M1 rifle or carbine, a Bazooka operator with anti-
tank launcher and M1 carbine, and a loader with a carbine. An optional extra
would be a T20 60mm mortar, of which 1st Marine Division had a total of 100
in late 1944 for issue to the rifle platoons. This peculiar weapon was fired from
the shoulder like a Bazooka, but was inferior to the Bazooka in just about
every way. It only had a relatively feeble HE round, rather than a shaped
charge which would have been needed for anti-tank and anti-bunker work, but
the recoil was strong enough to batter the operator senseless after firing only
four or five rounds. The T20 is included here for completeness, but is not
likely to appear on the table very often. In "A Corner of Hell" terms I suggest
treating it in most respects like an ordinary light mortar. It only needs one man
to operate it, but it takes a full turn to reload after every shot, like an anti-tank

A company is made up of three platoons, plus a machine gun platoon with 6
.30cal MMGs, and a mortar section with 3 60mm light mortars. A fair
allocation would therefore be two machine guns and a mortar per platoon.

From April or May 1945 (ie. just in time for the Okinawa campaign) each
Marine battalion contained an Assault Platoon consisting of three sections,
each of two squads. A detached squad would be assigned to support an
infantry platoon in an attack, and consisted of:

      1 Squad Leader with M1 carbine or Thompson SMG.

      1Flamethrower operator with M1A1 flamethrower.

      1 Bazooka operator with 2.36" Bazooka.

      1 Loader with M1 rifle or carbine.

      3 Riflemen with M1 rifles and satchel charges.

All figures are Aggressive. Each man may also carry up to 4 defensive hand

Tanks, if used in support of the Marines, would be M4A2 Shermans with
75mm guns. For some reason the Marine tanks now came in platoons of
three rather than five, which made them a bit more flexible as infantry support
weapons, but seriously reduced the effectiveness of the platoon as soon as
one was knocked out. Alternatively, towards the end of the Pacific campaign
and especially on Okinawa, LVT(A)4 Amtracs armed with 75mm guns could
be used instead of tanks, though they were less well armoured than the
Shermans. A glance at these tables gives one possible reason for the
perceived superiority of the Marines over US Army units in the Pacific
(something that was strongly believed in by the Marines, if not always by the
Army). A Marine section has a lot more firepower - three BARs instead of one,
for example - as well as better trained and more highly motivated personnel. It
is also better designed for small unit actions, with its three fire teams each
with its own leader, which are trained to manoeuvre to some extent
independently. On the other hand, Army units had the benefit of more heavy
fire support, especially at Divisional level.

I hope this brief introduction has inspired a few more people to have a go at
gaming the Pacific War, and has at least given an idea of what figures you are
likely to need to get started. In future articles I plan to look at some of the
island battles in a bit more detail, and present a few scenarios based on
historical small unit actions.

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