Thursday, January 06, 2005

War in the Pacific Mini-AAR: Onward To Vietnam

I continued playing the game. The date is May 11th 1942.

Unlike previous months, late April and early May saw relatively little activity throughout the Pacific. There were some rather spectacular actions, but they were limited on very specific areas. For example, hardly anything of importance happened in North and Central Pacific. The only exception might be the arrival of 27th Infantry Division at Baker Island. Those forces are going to take part in liberation of Gilbert Islands. One of its targets might be Makin Island where Japanese had finished their airport. But before this happens, Lexington must be repaired in Pearl Harbor – only two carriers (Lexington and Hornet) might provide sufficient air cover for future invasion fleet.

Southwest Pacific was much more eventful area. Operation Meatgrinder was next to complete success. Australian naval engineers and New Zealand infantry that had garrisoned islands in previous months have been relieved by US forces - 31st Naval Base, 2nd US Marines Raider Battalion and, last but not least, complete 2nd US Marine Division. The airport at Lunga has been expanded and the port is going to follow suit. Price for that success was relatively minor – one cargo ship sunk by Japanese Betty bombers and couple of Aircobra fighters.

The second aim of Operation Meatgrinder – exhaustion of Japanese air forces in Rabaul – has also been achieved. Halsey's carrier force with its 45 Wildcat fighters proved to be too much not only for Bettys, but also for Zeros. Japanese have been conducting air raids on Lunga since mid April, but the intensity of the attacks has declined with the apparent loss of available bombers. Whenever Halsey's force was around, the air raid was repulsed with heavy casualties. At the end, Japanese bombers didn't need much convincing to quit – unlike mid April, when Halsey's fighters used to down 20-30 Bettys, now it takes only 5-6 downed Bettys for Japanese bomber crews to see error of their ways and flee back home.

However, in order to protect Lunga, Halsey's force had to stay docked there. Japanese used this opportunity to conduct landing on nearby Munda Point on May 4th. Halsey punished them very hard – two destroyers, one minelayer and at least one cargo ship from that convoy were sunk. Later Hasley started Operation Postal – endeavour that could be described very simply – sail in North Solomons, down anything Japanese that flies and sink anything Japanese that floats. Operation Postal is still in progress and it had some success – it struck two Japanese convoys near Vella Lavella very hard, causing immense casualties among 6th Kure SNLF.

Westwards, at New Guinea, Japanese fortunes were slightly better. On April 27th 1942 Japanese 4000-strong force has landed on the beach at Dobodura and pushed NVGR Battalion westwards. However, supplying those forces proved to be difficult because RAAF planes from Port Moresby were very active. Every day they manage to hit at least 2-3 Japanese cargo ships and troop carriers, and they sank at least one of them, which doesn't include a destroyer and patrol gunboat. Australian presence at New Guinea is strengthened with the arrival of legendary 7th Division which is deployed in Port Moresby and Gili Gili. The latter has recently got an airfield which should improve on logistical situation. One Australian cargo ship was sunk by Rabaul-based Japanese bombers while loading supplies there.

Place where Japanese can still inflict considerable damage to Allies is Dutch East Indies. They more-or-less finished with moping up of the area. They captured Sinkep Island with few hundred Dutch soldiers. Jesselton on Borneo is taken without shot fired. All Dutch bases on Sumatra are taken, but some British and Dutch forces are still on the coast, waiting to be evacuated. Dutch garrisons at Celebes, although chased from Kendari and Macassar are in relatively good shape. Amboina, thanks to its very active air defences, still holds. Dutch Basilan Regiment from Pamakasn has just been evacuated to Dili, Timor.

Koepang proves to be the centre of Japanese attention. Intercepted radio messages indicate that Japanese 1st SNLF and 58th Brigade are planning attack. Before that, Dutch base was bombarded by Japanese battleships twice. First such raid, on April 26th, proved to be disaster for Alies – 1 destroyer, 1 minesweeper, 1 cargo ship, 3 PT boats and 1 tanker were sunk, some 22 planes destroyed on ground, some 3000 casualties inflicted and port and airfield damaged. Japanese, however, didn't got out of there unscathed – a day later Dutch and British torpedo bombers caught Japanese squadron on its return to Kendari. Ise received a torpedo hit – the very first Japanese battleship to do so during the entire campaign. Bad weather prevented Allied air forces to finish off that capital vessel in next few days.

Japanese conducted another bombardment on May 9th with Kongo and Haruna. This time tiny Dutch naval forces were scrambled – only one cargo ship and US submarine Seadragon were lost, together with 1500 casualties and around 20 planes. Enough planes remained for Kongo to receive a minor hit on its way home.

Thanks to large air force presence in Lautern and Koepang, Allies are enjoying limited air superiority over the waters separating Celebes and Timor. Every night B-17 bombers are conducting raid on Kendari, destroying Japanese airplanes and hitting Japanese battleships in harbour. The position of Timor is, however, very precarious and significant infantry presence is necessary to successfully fend off eventual Japanese invasion.

On the north, Operation Purple Panther – the boldest move Allies had conducted during the war, is going so far very successfully. Hermes, joined by Formidable, provided an air cover and also hit a convoy carrying Imperial Guards Division to Sabang, Sumtra. British engineering unit has landed on Nicobars and is building a port, aided by Dutch engineering unit which had been evacuated from Sumatra.

In Burma there were some minor fighting north of Myitkyina – Japanese 56th Divison has pushed Allied forces north towards Ledo. Westwards, 2nd UK Division and 14th Indian Brigade has begun the attack on Akyab where they are greeted by strengthened Japanese 18th Division. With more troops arriving to support the attack and with couple of Wellington bombers hitting Japanese on ground, this operation could go smoothly.

The most spectacular Allied success is liberation of Hanoi. After receiving additional division, Chinese have ceased to bombard the city and launched an attack instead. On May 8th Hanoi was liberated. Japanese forces – 21st Division, two engineering units and one division of Vietnamese collaborators – have retreated to Haiphong. There they would be pursued and, hopefully, destroyed. This was, however, a great success for Allies – for the first time, they carried the war to the enemy and captured one of its strategic areas.

It is probably too early to tell that the tide has turned, but some sort of balance has been achieved. Japanese are still able to conduct offensive operations and they might cause great deal of damage on Timor, but Port Moresby and Guadalcanal remain safe and more than able to withstand their pressure. With few extra troops, situation in Burma might improve. Another British carrier due to arrive and fresh supply of Fulmars can easily change the equation in Bay of Bengal. It also seem that the Japanese suffer from poor logistics and that their air forces aren't what they used to be – Allies on average have 3500-3800 sorties compared to their 2500. Number of aircraft destroyed is in Allied favour – 1521 to Japanese 1755. Number of ships sunk is also in Allied favour – 181 to Japanese 203. Among the latter are more and more destroyers, which should gradually tilt the naval balance in Pacific.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's over. You've won.

Doug M.

12:07 PM  

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