Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Peninsula Wargames Group: Bolt Action @ Tarawa

@ Lindsay Hall 2016
Photograph courtesy and copyright of Lindsay Hall

The Cape Town-based Peninsula Wargames Group recently played a large Bolt Action game based on the landings on Tarawa. The event was organised and umpired by David Davidson, who compiled the following After Action Report:

Historical background

Following the final US victory at Guadalcanal, both sides targeted Tarawa in the Gilbert Island as the next battle, due to its strategic location en route to the Marianas and the Philippines. The Japanese spent almost a year fortifying the island, which the US attacked on 20 Nov 1943. The battle raged for four days, during which time almost the entire Japanese garrison of around 4 700 were killed, with US force suffering almost 3 800 casualties (almost half killed). These figures caused shock in the USA, and led to the development of new equipment and different tactics.

Map of Betio Island (USMC, Wikepedia)

The Game

Based on Scenario 8, Bloody Tarawa, in the Bolt Action Empires in Flames supplement, we simply placed two tables in close proximity, representing two of the three Red beaches (on the northern side of the island). Each table had around 4000 points of US forces, and 2000 points of Japanese. As in the scenario, the Japanese got 5 bunkers, 9 linear obstacles and a minefield for each (free) landing craft taken by the US players. The US forces on each table comprised three platoons, each of around 1300-1400 points, and the Japanese, two platoons, each of around 1000 points.

The game started with an umpire-specified reef modifier of -1, representing the neap tide, with a number of US landing craft being delayed on the reef. (This reduced to 0 and then +1 in turns 2 and 3).  The US forces were fortunate that none became permanently stuck on the reef. The Japanese forces on both tables had a field day on the first two bounds, destroying a number of landing craft and unarmoured[1] LVT-1 “amtracs” as they struggled to make the beach. Bounds three and four saw further pain for the US as the infantry struggled ashore under heavy fire from bunkers and trenches. However, by bound five the US forces were started to move off the beaches (the scenario did not include the sea wall which historically trapped the amtracs on the beach, but also provide the Marines with some cover) and the US flamethrowers were making their presence felt – each table had 6 manpack flamethrowers and 2 flame throwing tanks/amtracs. The players on Red Beach 3 completed 7 (of a planned 9) bounds before we called time after about 8 hours of playing (including a lunch break), with the Japanese really starting to take strain, and the Red Beach 2 table finished on bound 6. Interestingly, the Japanese minefields proved relatively easy for the US forces to avoid, other than one amtrac which executed a rather over-enthusiastic turn  (but then survived the ensuing blast in any case).  

Copyright David Davidson 2016 All rights reserved
Red Beach 2. Photograph courtesy and copyright of David Davidson

Copyright David Davidson 2016 All rights reserved
Red Beach 3. Photograph courtesy and copyright of David Davidson

As noted below, the Umpire made a call (due to the shortened game) to increase the US victory points for getting units off the beaches, which resulted in a US victory on one beach, and a draw on the other. Overall, it was the most marginal of US victories however, with 75 points for the combined US forces vs 70 for the Japanese, and really captured the feel of this terrible battle.

Copyright David Davidson 2016 All rights reserved
Photograph courtesy and copyright of David Davidson

Copyright David Davidson 2016 All rights reserved
Photograph courtesy and copyright of David Davidson

Copyright Lindsay Hall 2016 All rights reserved
Photograph courtesy and copyright of Lindsay Hall

Copyright Lindsay Hall 2016 All rights reserved
Photograph courtesy and copyright of Lindsay Hall

Players and results:

Red beach number 2 (western beach)

US: Mike, Tony, Greg, Henning
Japanese: Quinton and Chris
Played 6 bounds.


Japanese VPs

Destroyed Japanese units
Destroyed US units (including landing craft)
US units in Japanese deployment zone



Red beach number 3 (eastern beach)

US: Anthony (also overall US commander), Bobby, Dean
Japanese: Graham and Lindsay
Played 7 bounds.


Japanese VPs

Destroyed Japanese units
Destroyed US units (including landing craft)
US units in Japanese deployment zone


US victory

Overall result: US 75 vs Japanese 70 – a (very, very!) marginal US victory.

Copyright PWG 2016 All rights reserved
The usual suspects:  From left, back: Quinton, Greg, Mike, Lindsay, Anthony, Graham, Henning, Dean, David, Chris; front, Tony and Bobby

Tarawa – special rules


  • As per usual Japanese special rules, all hidden Japanese forces may start the game in ambush.
  •  Japanese FOOs, spotters and other indirect fire may fire when in ambush until the US forces hit the beach, after which the usual rules apply.  (This simulates the Japanese lying in wait, and should also speed up the the first few bounds).
  •  Bunkers (as in BA rules): confer -4 hard cover modifier. May only be close assaulted from entrance doors (usually at the back).
  • Japanese indirect fire weapons remain hidden even after firing. (Simulates excellent siting and camouflage, as usual with Japanese island defenses).
  • All Japanese units, even vehicles, may start hidden even if not dug in – but lose this as usual once they fire etc. (Simulates camouflage).
  • If a 1 is rolled for a Japanese artillery FOO, this is instead counted as the telephone wire having been destroyed by US naval fire, and the artillery strike is forfeited.

  •  Until the first US forces hit the beach, no US forces may be given “down” orders until all “advance” and “run” orders have been issued. (This is to speed the first couple of bounds up).
  • US forces: may not re-allocate forces between tables until bound 5. 
  • Amtracs: they may continue to fire their weapons even after their loads disembark. (Historically, these were manned by US Navy personnel at this time. Landing craft however may not – these should be trying to re-float off the beaches, not engaging in running gun fights.)
  • Bazookas fired at bunkers: should they hit, count as a light mortar for effect on occupants.
  • US FOO – artillery and air – “friendly fire” may not be targeted at US units on the beach or in the water (there are no historical accounts of the Navy accidentally targeting such units, which would clearly by US in all probability). If a 1 is rolled, and there are no valid US targets inland, the strike is instead forfeited.

Umpire-eyes only:

  • Reef crossing modifiers: bound 1, -1; bound 2; 0; bound 3 and later, +1. (Simulates actual conditions).
  • Japanese HQ: from bound 3, any turn the US commander scores a 0 on a D10, the Japanese HQ is hit and destroyed. No further communication between Japanese forces on different tables, no re-allocation of forces between tables. (Historically, the Japanese HQ was hit and destroyed when re-locating).
  • US forces entering an bunker: on a 6, they trigger a booby trap.
  • Due to shortened game, US claimed 2 VPs per unit in Japanese deployment area

[1] After Tarawa, the LVTs were armoured.

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