Thursday, January 23, 2014

Rising Sun: Operation Watchtower: The Goettge Patrol

Last night, I played the first scenario from Britton Publishers' "Rising Sun: Operation Watchtower", The Goettge Patrol.

***** Historical Background *****

The historical action took place on August 12, 1942. A small patrol consisting of Lt. Col. Frank Goettge, some 24 marines and a surgeon set out to land west of Matanikau where, according to a Japanese prisoner, there were soldiers in dire straights and willing to surrender. Originally intended as a combat patrol, Goettge had changed the mission to a humanitarian one - and this change caused excessive delay; the patrol did not depart until night had fallen.

Things went to Hell, thereafter. 

The Marines landed at the wrong spot. Their amtrac which had gotten stuck on a sandbar, had, according to some sources, alerted the Japanese to their presence.
When Goettge and 2 marines made a reconnaissance patrol down a path into the jungle, they encountered Japanese soldiers, Goettge was shot and killed. 

The two Marines managed to escape back to the beach to join the main body of the patrol which would spend the rest of the moonless night being picked off one by one by the Japanese.
Three men survived - two who had tried to reach the American lines to bring reinforcements (it was too late to save the patrol), and one who retreated into ocean to swim (4 miles!) back to the American lines, when he was the last man left.

***** The Set Up *****

The Britton Publishers scenario begins with the 2 squads of marines and a platoon HQ on the beach and a company of Japanese in the jungle making their way towards the marine position. The Japanese have 4 turns to eliminate the marines.

One key point, 4 turns is in terms of Britton's MicroMelee game for company level actions, which allows units 1-6 actions per "phase." Having no idea what this means, I decided on a 12 turn limit for David Newport's Tactical Combat WWII rules, which are my preferred company-level rules.

Tactical Combat, like, from what I have gathered, MicroMelee, uses 1 base per squad. However, it seems to me that, if you have the figures for it, you could play this 1:1 with Nuts! or Disposable Heroes or any other 1:1 set of rules. 

Britton provides a handy map of the table, which I duplicated to the best of my ability - although I reduced the table size to 3' x approximately 2' 33"  (the water is craft foam sheets that are 9" x 12").

I deployed my Marines in the center of the beach near the water's edge per the historical situation and then placed the Japanese by platoon, using a d6 1-2 = left, 3-4 = center, 5-6 = right. I placed the mortar squad with the company HQ in the same way.

Rather surprisingly, I ended up with the Japanese in a line from end to end - which almost never happens when I distribute forces by die roll.

MicroMelee has some sort of quality rating for each squad, so I translated that into Tactical Combat WWII terms.

The rifle squads range from TQR2-4 in MicroMelee, so, I interpreted that as Green to Elite in Tactical Combat WWII and then rolled a d6: 1-2 Green, 3-4 Average, 5-6 = Elite.

  • Platoon A (right): 1st Squad: Elite, 2nd Squad: Average, 3rd Squad: Average
  • Platoon B (center): 1st Squad : Green, 2nd Squad: Elite, 3rd Squad: Average
  • Platoon C (left): 1st Squad: Average, 2nd Squad Elite, 3rd Squad: Green
  • The mortar squad is Green.

The USMC squads are both Average.

The marines would start with fox holes dug, which would give them soft cover and force a +1 on the Japanese attack rolls  (in Tactical Combat WWII, the higher the number the worse the result when attacking).

Because the scenario is set at night, I decided that long range fire was at +2, normal to long range was at +1, and within one move was at +/- 0.

The marines couldn't see into the jungle and thus I wouldn't allow them to fire at the Japanese until the Japanese had moved onto the beach (if they did).

To control the Japanese, I set up the following:
  • If they are out of range or no line of site, move up to range/LOS.
  • At t long range, roll 1d6:
    • 1-2 Fire
    • 3-4 Light Mortars fire, all others advance 1 move
    • 5-6 Advance 1 move
  • In normal range but more than 1 move, roll 1d6:
    • 1-2 Fire
    • 3-4 Light Mortars fire, all others advance 1 move
    • 5-6 Advance if Marines in cover, else Fire
  • Within 1 move, roll 1d6:
    • 1-2 Fire
    • 3-4 Advance to close combat if enemy is paralyzed or suppressed, otherwise Fire
    • 5-6 Advance to close combat
Although historically the Japanese didn't swarm the beach until the marines had been, to their knowledge, completely eliminated, that seemed really boring from a wargame perspective, hence why there's so much movement on those tables. 

Also, before the game started, I had decided that the Marines would sit tight and try to use their limited cover to increase their chance of survival, so I did not include an option where the Japanese would hold their action in order to use Opportunity Fire (only squads that do not activate/attempt activation can fire during their opponent's Movement phase).

The Japanese were the attackers, and so they would go first each turn. 

***** The Game *****

Turns 1 and 2 were simply advances made by the Japanese. The first move got them to the edge of cover, the 2nd allowed them to break out onto the beach. Marine rifle fire from the squad on the right managed to suppress a Japanese squad (B1, right most squad, center platoon).

Turn 3 saw more rifle fire exchanges.

In Turn 4 the first Japanese squads charged in for close combat. The marines made a strong showing and beat back the attacker with minor injury. Turn 5, they continued the close assaults, supported by fire from some of the squads.

Unable to hold out against the continued onslaught, by the end of Turn 5, the USMC squad on the left is driven back into the shallows of the water.

Still, they fought on despite having 2 hits (3 eliminates the stand), and in Turn 6, they took out the 1st Japanese squad.

The Marine squad on the right, which started the turn in perfect health was completely destroyed by the close assaults.

On into Turn 7, the Marine squad defended against attack after attack - eliminating THREE Japanese squads before finally succumbing to the superior numbers.

***** Thoughts on the Battle *****

I made it past the half-way point, and took out 4 Japanese rifle squads and 1 Japanese platoon HQ, so I don't feel too badly about my performance here.

If I were to play this again, with the same distribution of Japanese platoons evenly across the table, I would hold my Marines until the Japanese had committed, and then sweep out to one or the other side, to flank them. 

The idea would be to buy time by distancing my squads from the bulk of the Japanese force and limit the number of enemy squads that could engage them. Continued motion, rather than staying in any one spot, might increase the chance of survival.

Close combat, with the fox hole defensive advantage, slight as it was, may have extended the life of the Marines. That advantage would be lost if I used the fight-move-fight method above. But, the right Marine squad had two hits and won 3 rounds of close combat in turn 7 before being eliminated, so I'm not convinced that cover advantage meant all that much.

I lucked out that the Japanese mortar stand was useless - I rolled 9s and 10s every time it attacked.

Had it struck home it would have been disastrous for the Marines. 

Before I remembered it was night, I had planned to use it to lay down smoke, to give the advancing infantry some cover, but that was of no advantage at night and even if it had been day, it would only provided limited cover as it was just one single mortar stand. A handful of stands might make a big difference however in a daylight battle.


  1. Interesting AAR and scenario, but what a sad little story - sounds like Goettge was a bit of a rookie LT and paid the price for it. :(

    1. Hi Michael,

      Thanks for commenting. It is indeed a sad story and I thought a strange inclusion in a book of scenarios. Not that battles have "happy" endings but it seems an unusually tragic situation.

      The thing is, Goettge was WWI vet, and according to Wikipedia at least, was a 1st Lt. in 1918. I think he and his staff just bought into the prisoner's story, for a variety of reasons - which in hindsight was undoubtedly a lie.


  2. Interesting. WEB Griffin used the Colonel Goettege, his patrol (and it's unhappy result) in one of his "The Corps" series novels about Uncle Sam's Misguided Children in WWII.

    1. Hi Rod,
      I am not familiar with WEB Griffin's novels. It looks like I have some items to add to my to read list. Thanks!

  3. Very nice, great job!

    1. Hi Phil,

      Thank you for the comment!