I will most probably repeat myself, but Memoir’44 is getting better and better with every expansion. Not only it allows you to explore new theaters of war, add new play formats – like regular, breakthrough, overlord, multi-map – but you can also enrich your armies with many specialized units. The game becomes deeper, more versatile and simply speaking, interesting. In this area the Pacific Theater Expansion is one of favorite Memoir’44 add-on’s.
My fellow buddy in the world of this title – Lukasz – was busy lately so I approached another Commands & Colors type games veteran – Marcin. He gladly agreed to familiarize himself with the new game and new format for him. Unfortunately, due to the lockdown limitations, we had to play online via Vassal but as soon as it will be possible we plan to have couple of sessions face-to-face.
Fellow Readers probably remember my first, breakthrough format campaign played with Lukasz: Battle of Guadalcanal – Japanese 1942 attack. That was an epic, 3-battles, very close engagement, narrowly won by Lukasz US forces 27-26.
Other prominent Memoir’44 session reports:
With Marcin the idea was to play a breakthrough format Guadalcanal 1943 scenarios, featuring The Gifu, The Sea Horse and Hornet’s Nest clashes. They can be combined into a multi-map game giving a really great and epic experience.
As first time, we decided to organize it in kind of mini-campaign, me leading the US Marine Corp while Marcin being in charge of Imperial Japanese army. Those two formations have very interesting and unique characteristics, important to know before reading through the session reports:
As you might see above, Japanese forces are deadly in close combat and when at full strength. Sometimes they can be pretty inflexible as they often cannot ignore flags. On the other hand, US Marine Corp is much more flexible, being able to activate almost always one additional unit. Our first campaign shown that those characteristics very well depict the true, historical strengths of both formations.
General Guadalcanal battle historical background:
The Japanese did not expect an invasion of Guadalcanal in 1942. On August 7th, the 1st Marine Division landed unopposed and occupied the partially built airfield. The Japanese defenders, caught by surprise, fled into the jungle. From there, Japanese commanders on Guadalcanal began planning a counterattack to recapture the strategic airfield. It would become known later as Henderson Field.
The counteroffensive began in October. The Japanese buildup finally matched the strength of the invaders. The Marines were ready, but the ferocity of the Japanese Banzai tactics came as a surprise. The Japanese onslaught was finally stopped by close range artillery fire and the firepower of the Marines in their final defensive positions.
By December, the weary 1st Marine Division was withdrawn for recuperation, and over the course of the next month the U.S. XIV Corps took over operations on the island. This corps consisted of the 2nd Marine Division and the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry and 23rd “Americal” Divisions. On 18 December, Allied forces began attacking Japanese positions on Mount Austen. A strong Japanese fortified position, called the Gifu, stymied the attacks and the Americans were forced to temporarily halt their offensive on 4 January. The Allies renewed the offensive on 10 January, re-attacking the Japanese on Mount Austen (scenario NS13) as well as on two nearby ridges called the Seahorse (scenario NS14) and the Galloping Horse (scenario NS15). And that is where our campaign begins.
The January 1943 US offensive historical background:
Behind the beaches, Guadalcanal rose from jungled ravines to rugged highlands crisscrossed with ridges and gullies. West of Mt. Austen, the Japanese prepared defensive positions on a series of hills known as the Galloping Horse. The defenses were anchored with bunkers dug into coral rock hillsides and camouflaged with Kunai grass. The Marines called it a “hornet’s nest.”
The January offensive would be the largest American ground operation on Guadalcanal since the landing. The job fell to the US Army and Major General “Lightning Joe” Collins. H Hour for Collins and his men was set for 0635, 10 January 1943. To make the offensive a success, Collins had to carry out two missions: capture the Gifu strong point, thus eliminating the last enemy force east of the Matanikau River; and then capture the high ground south of Hill 66. The plan would extend the American linesfar enough inland to envelop the Japanese and make the western advance a clean sweep.
Collins ordered Colonel William McCulloch and his 27h Infantry “Wolfhounds” across the Matanikau to the Galloping Horse. On the 10th of January, McCulloch’s regiment assaulted the Hornet’s Nest. At the Gifu, surrounded Japanese defenders continued their fierce resistance.
Another epic and iconic clash of Guadalcanal – The Gifu. Japan army lead by Marcin is well entrenched while my forces – check carefully – are encircling them (special rules are in place here). Let us see the key actions of the game:
- My US Corps army starts very strong on right wing, attacking and capturing one of the bunkers. Unfortunately, Japanese counter-attacks recaptures the position and destroys three US units.
- It did not well on right, so I switch to the left, attacking both from top and bottom of the map. A bloody melee ensues which is inconclusive.
- What is worse, Marcin gets Medics & Mechanics, replenishes his forces and executes well-timed attack. My losses starts to sky-rocket.
- It is time for last push – I fiercely assault on my left flank, also moving the top-board units. My troops have some successes but the Marcin’s advantage, built in first part of the game is enough to easily win.
- Marcin (Japan) 10 – Michal (US) 5
NS14-Guadalcanal-The Sea Horse
So the first scenario taught me the hard lesson – do not even think of unprepared, isolated attacks on strong Japanese position. Use the “meat-grinder” approach, meticulously softening the enemy with artillery and mortar fire. And only then attack. Key actions of the game:
- I am slowly progressing in the center to make sure I can use the full fire-power when the time comes. Then, having good cards to assault and progress, I am moving forward on right, to take the woods directly next to the hill in the center.
- Japanese soldiers scream Banzai and counter-charge my units. They are being repulsed and eliminated in the end.
- Then I am trying on left, all the time using mortars against main hill in center, supplemented by timely Barrage card.
- Next I play Dig In, entrenching my forces in a favorable position – just in time for last counter-offensive of Marcin.
- In the end, the hills in the center – despite multiple MGs and bunkers there – are being overrun by my forces, who dispatch some of the routed enemies just to win the game.
- As planned, my tactic of gradually softening the enemy with mortars worked. Still, the losses were pretty significant on US side.
- Marcin (Japan) 7 – Michal (US) 10
In that scenario my main enemy will be the dense jungle in the middle of the map, with well entrenched Imperial army around it. There is also additional, temporary medal for Water Hole on the right of the map. What happened:
- Having good cards I immediately attack on the right. The initiative brings some successes but then is stopped by a great play of Enemy Behind the Lines by Marcin – targeted at one of my precious mortars!
- Again, the slow approach in center ensues. My supply tracks are really useful, replenishing some of the depleted units.
- Ok, now I am ready for big show – Infantry Assault in center activates over 10 units. But one of my attacks is completely surprised by timely play of Japanese Ambush. What a disappointment!
- Additionally, Marcin plays Barrage and wipes out another unit.
- Still, my steady, planned and meticulous advance slowly but steadily kills all the enemies in the jungle and I am reaching the open terrain.
- I am completely infiltrating and encircling Marcin’s positions on my right and then in the center the fight ensues which I win thanks to – surprise! surprise! – Ambush!
- Marcin (Japan) 6 – Michal (US) 10
Campaign score: Marcin (Japan) 23 – Michal (US) 25
What a close campaign! 2 VP victory by me and US Marine Corp. Those scenarios are really tough and you need to plan well not to get too excited (see our first play). What is more, all those 3 battles can be played as one – then the full scale of operations is clearly visible on combined map:
The Memoir’44 Breakthrough format becomes one of my favorite. It allows for interesting maneuvers, gives space to redeploy units and has great deck of cards. In last two games we used Combat Cards which additionally enhance our experience.
I hope to play more in that format! You can count on further session reports!