Sunday, December 12, 2004

War in the Pacific Mini-AAR: Japanese Sweep Burma

I continued playing War in the Pacific. It is February 17th 1942.

The game is developing much faster mostly because Japanese have achieved most of their initial goals and are unwilling or unable to conduct major operations in all of the theatres at the same time. That doesn't mean they aren't active and unable to strike at Allies very hard. Allies, on the other hand, are definitely not in position to do anything more than simply delay their advance. Any kind of counter-offensive is unlikely to be conducted in near future.

Burma took the brunt of Japanese power. With their holdings in Malaya secured, Japanese land forces have turned westwards and began to seriously jeopardise British hold of India. Japanese 33rd Division was deployed in the theatre and pushed 1st Bruma Brigade out of Moulmain before joining the assault on Rangoon itself. Japanse also brought armour – 6th Tank Regiment – and one engineering unit was deployed from sea. Needless to say, with Japanese aircraft patrolling from Victoria Point and Tavoy, Bay of Bengal became Japanese lake and British naval reinforcements in Bombay and Colombo – couple of antiquated battleships – could hardly challenge them. Even the presence of escort aircraft carrier Hermes was of little use. With 12 antiquated bi-plane Sea Gladiators as air cover that vessel is most likely to hit the bottom if she ever ventures into Bay of Bengal.

Under such pressure, British air defences of Rangoon were first to crack. After weeks of intense and ultimately futile attempts to protect the city from relentless Japanese bombing, two exhausted fighter squadrons have retreated to Akyab and Imphal, respectively. The city itself fell on February 3rd and less than 10000 of its defenders were driven westwards, far away from the road that would lead them to safety. That led to Operation White Tiger – some sort of mini-Dunkirk which is still in progress. So far, at the expense of some 3-4 cargo ships, British have managed to extract some of those troops, mostly engineering units. One of them is stationed on Andaman Islands, although not in shape to do much of anything if Japanese land by any chance.

General R. Pierse, who became the head of British forces in Southeast Asia, oversaw a disaster. With Rangoon safely in their hands, Japanese began with intense bombing of Chadhpur, Akyab and Diamond Harbor. Their land forces continued push northwards – Pagan fell on February 8th, Taung Gyi a day later, but the worst disasters happened in Mandalay on February 11th. Japanese have overrun the airfield before all of Tomahawk fighter planes belonging to AVG could be evacuated. It is estimated that some 45 aircraft were destroyed on ground. AVG, unlike mauled British fighter squadrons, still exists and can operate, but it would take time to recover from this loss. Even more serious was the fall of Lashio on February 14th , but the worst disaster was the fall of Myitkyina. This has interrupted the communication between British forces in India and China. All British managed to do was to strengthened the defence of Akyab – there are two Indian brigades there with an armoured brigade to come later. They could try to make some kind of push southwards to Rangoon in order to relieve the pressure northwards.

Chinese, on the other hand, reacted by sending huge amount of troops towards Myitkyina. They also managed to liberate Nanning, although Pakhoi seems to be out of their reach. Chinese 12th Group Army could be in trouble on Chinese-Vietnamese border.

South of Malaya Japanese are again on the roll, although not as spectacular as in first month or so. Island of Sumatra, however, is likely to be completely in Japanese hands by month or so. On January 29th they have taken Palembang, although British and Dutch troops managed to conduct some sort of orderly withdrawal towards Padang, from where they are supposed to find sanctuary in India and Java, respectively. On February 6th Japanese have taken Bankha. Not all things turned well for Japanese on Sumatra – for quite a few days one US bomber squadron equipped with B-17s is conducting nightly raids on Palembang. They scored some hits on airfield and also managed to knock the turret out of one Japanese light cruisers anchored at the harbour. Japanese retaliated by sending battleships to make a devastating bombardment of Dutch airport at Merak. Dutch air force again made history by scoring first hit on Japanese battleship during the course of war – but the bomb failed to do any damage and simply ricocheted out of the vesssel's thick armour.

Elsewhere in Indonesia, things weren't as active. On the island of Borneo Japanese have taken Tarakan on February 9th. They didn't make much of Celebes, though. Their base at Menado is regularly being hit by Australian Hudson bombers stationed at Amboina. They managed to sunk few cargo ships and a patrol boats and even destroyed few transport planes at airfield. A Dutch-US naval task force under Rear Admiral Furlong even managed to conduct successful bombing run, although they had one of their destroyers heavily damaged by Japanese bombers from Philippines when they made a mistake of venturing into Celebes Sea. Thankfully, all ships managed to limp to the safety of Balikapan.

In Philippines, things are looking very bad. On January 23rd Japanese have taken Clark Field. Anticipating that, I organised evacuation of US and Filipino air force resources to Borneo. US and Filipino ground and naval forces, on the other hand, are less likely to be survive the gauntlet of overwhelming Japanese air power. Operation Mandrake – half-hearted attempt to extract at least some units to safety – has resulted in enormous casualties and only one engineering unit in relative safety of Balikapan. Bataan is about to fall and all of its defenders are going to be in Japanese captivity in a day or two. Manila would last slightly longer, though.

In Southwest Pacific, Japansese have begun to consolidate their holdings. They landed on Salamau, New Guinea and established bases on Buka and Shortlands. Australian forces retreating from Rabaul have found sanctuary in Gasmata. Theere they were attacked by Japanese force. In the meantime, Australian engineers have finished an airfield on Guadalcanal which allowed a unit of US transport planes to be flown to Gasmata. That was the start of Operation Black Tiger – evacuation of Australian forces to Port Moresby. The operation seems to be a success – two squadron of Hudson bombers are pounding Japanese at Gasmata while Dakotas managed to extract one engineering units. There are two battalions left and if they hold for a week, they could be extracted too. Port Moresby itself is strengthened with an arrival of 30th Australian Brigade.

In South Pacific, certain logistical problems, namely the lack of fuel, are impeding Allied operations. Halsey's Enterprise task force is currently stuck in Noumea. But elements of New Zealand's 5th Division have began to garrison Noumea and Luganville. Two US engineering battalions have built an airfield at Nanoma Atoll from where a B-17 bombing squadon should begin pounding of Tarawa in a month or two.

Central Pacific is place of hectic logistical activity. Baker Island and Palmyra Atoll have combat troops as part of their garrison. Baker Island also got fighter cover and squadron of Mitchells began with reconnaissance operations against Japanese garrisons on Apamama at Gilbert Islands. US Navy is also conducting its first major surface action against Japanese – bombardment of Tarawa Atoll; two carriers – Lexington and Saratoga – are about to provide air cover.

Of course, I couldn't resist the temptation to save the best for last. February 17th was one of the most beautiful for Allies where many things that would otherwise go wrong went right. Weather was anything but fair in Bay of Bengal, allowing for Operation White Tiger to go unimpeded and British troops to reach safety.

Even better things happened in Balikapan. Japanese conducted a bombing raid with 6 Nell bombers escorted by some 17 Zeros. In normal circumstances they would have made a minced meat of Dutch and their Brewster fighters. But this time they slammed into 21st and 24th FG US Army, just evacuated from Philippines. Some 42 US Tomahawk and Warhawk fighters caught them with their pants down and, at the expense of 1 of their planes, downed 10 Zeros and 1 Nell, effectively ending their run. This is, so far, the most spectacular air victory of Pacific War. FO W Cullen of 24th FG is now Allied top gun with 9 victories. One of the aces – FO Wilborn – was killed in the meantime, and another was wounded.

This victory might not mean much in the long term, but it would help with the morale. Currently, with rubber of Malaya and Burma and oil from Sumatra and Borneo in their hands, Japanese look like they are going to win the war. But the price is getting higher and higher and statistics are showing certain shift in Allied favour. For example, for the first time during the war, Allied air force has slightly higher number of sorties than Japanese.

But even more delightful is the number of ships sunk during course of entire war. For the first time, this number is in Allied favour – they lost 96 ships to Japanese 99. Of course, this statistics could be slightly deceiving. Unlike Allies, Japanese haven't lost anything more valuable than a light cruiser. Most of their losses are cargo ships, sunk by US and Dutch submarines, which are about to lose their bases in Philippines and Indonesia. But if this trends persist, Japanese are about to experience some major logistical problems and have their further expansion impeded.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But if this trends persist, Japanese are about to experience some major logistical problems and have their further expansion impeded."

In other words, just like OTL.

What's happening on Java, BTW? OTL it fell in just nine days, March 1-10 '42. Horrible, but means you can't possibly do worse. And OTL the Japanese had to capture the Celebes and Bali first, in late February. How's that looking?

Doug M.

9:06 AM  
Blogger Dragan said...

Hard to tell whether Japanese can do something against Celebes, Bali and Java. They have a foothold in Celebes, but they aren't finished with Borneo yet - there is very strong Allied air presence in Balikapan. Japanese are also busy in Sumatra where some British units took shelter from Malaya.

Rapid Japanese advance in Burma is more worrisome.

7:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Holding Java would be great! Very different from OTL. If the game is an accurate simulation, then the more fronts you can open, the better. A nice long struggle for Java would be a good thing, even if you end up losing.

Burma... um. Well, keep throwing in units. Their logistical situation can't be good. OTL they used sea transport a lot, so it might make sense to get some subs into the Bay of Bengal. Or even that carrier escort, if you really want to live dangerously.

Doug M.

12:20 PM  

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