The second IABSM game on our inaugural Burton Beer & Lard Day, Slim River, was taken from the Fall of the Liongate scenario pack that covers the invasion of Malaya and fall of Singapore to the Japanese in 1941 and early 1942.
It is January 1942, and the Japanese have just pushed the British Indian army out of the Kampar position (see the Malaya Games Day reports for when we played that one). The British and Indian troops have fallen back to the village of Trolak, site of a vital bridge across the otherwise impassable Slim River. The British and Indian troops must hold the bridge for as long as possible, giving troops elsewhere time to retreat, then retreat and blow it behind them (just blowing it immediately was not an option, as the Japanese had demonstrated previously in the campaign their ability to repair blown bridges at lightning speed).
The Indian contingent (two small platoons, a couple of anti-tank guns and a couple of Indian Pattern carriers) are manning a barricade a short distance north of the village, and the remnants of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (another two small platoons, two Lanchester armoured cars and two carriers) are holding the village itself. An enormous Japanese force, the Ando Detachment, headed by a column of tanks enters the table from the north, determined to smash through the roadblock, break into the village and capture the bridge intact.
The game began with the appearance of some Japanese Blinds on the road leading from the north. The Indian troops spotted what was under the Blinds: revealing a column of seven Chi-Ha medium tanks. Meanwhile more Japanese Blinds had appeared in the jungle either side of the road.
The Japanese tanks slammed down the road as fast as they could. In practice, as none of the tanks had radios to co-ordinate their actions, this meant that individual tanks pushed pedal to the metal whenever their card came up, leading to an uncoordinated series of traffic-jam inducing rushes! Finally one tanks got close enough to attempt to barge through the roadblock, only to discover there was a small minefield newly-laid in front of it.
Also a mine was detonated, the tank was undamaged, at least until a two-section platoon of Punjabi troops stood up from their positions behind the roadblock and attacked it with whatever they had to hand. The official history of the campaign states that many of the Indian troops involved in the Malaya campaign had never seen a tank before, but these chaps were obviously in possession of some very sharp regimental tin-openers as the Chi-Ha was quickly disabled.
Whilst this was going on, however, one of the jungle-based Japanese Blinds had been moving up through the lighter rubber plantation terrain alongside the road. Having avoided their own badly driven tanks, this Blind charged the Punjabi troops manning the roadblock on a Banzai-i-i-i card, revealing itself as a full platoon of Japanese infantry. Forty Japanese verses sixteen Punjabis was a bit of a foregone conclusion, even with the Punjabis defending a position. The first Punjabi platoon effectively ceased to exist, with the lone Punjabi Big Man finding himself alive, but surrounded by Japs!
Reinforcements were on their way from the village, however, in the form of a British and a British Indian Blind that concealed the Lanchester armoured cars and two Breda anti-tank guns respectively. As they moved north along the road towards the roadblock, however, they were surprised by four Japanese Ha-Go light tanks emerging from a previously unknown track through the rubber trees.
Meanwhile, the Japanese infantry platoon that had won the roadblock had slammed down the road and overrun the Punjabi Company HQ and the two Indian Pattern carriers. They were on their own, however, as behind them an unholy traffic jam around the roadblock and minefield had completely clogged up the route to the south. The Japanese just couldn't coordinate their actions to get their medium tanks through the narrow gap: especially as one of their number was on fire half-way through the minefield.
The Lanchesters and anti-tank guns engaged and destroyed the lead Japanese light tank for the loss of a couple of anti-tank gunners, but then an uneasy stand-off developed as the remaining Ha-Gos and the British force waited on either sides of the corner, effectively waiting for the other to pop his head out first so that it could be blown off!
Finally the intervention of another Japanese infantry platoon cleared the roadblock, and the Japanese medium tanks began to pour down the road…well, continue their uncoordinated advance in one's and two's! Not wanting to mix it with tanks supported by infantry, the British Lanchesters withdrew into the village.
Also not wanting to mix it with tanks supported by infantry, the remaining Punjabi platoon made its way through the jungle to where the three remaining light tanks were waiting on the track in column. A sharp fight took place at incredibly close range, leaving all three Japanese tanks either destroyed or disabled, but the Punjabis were now effectively finished as a fighting force.
Meanwhile, the remaining British Indian-manned anti-tank guns had been overrun by the leading Japanese infantry platoon, who now went on to assault the village itself. Three squads charged forward, but the perimeter of the village was lined by Argyll's, who smashed them backwards despite being severely outnumbered.
The Japanese advance paused for a second as they brought up more troops. The British took advantage by withdrawing the battered Argyll platoon that had withstood the Japanese charge over the bridge in the middle of the village, with the British CO preparing to destroy the bridge by setting off the charges that had been laid along its length.
Before the remaining Argyll platoon could withdraw, however, they were charged by a fresh platoon of Japanese soldiers, again bursting from the jungle under a banzai-i-i card. Although horrendous casualties were done to the Japanese platoon, the Argyll platoon was largely destroyed.
Grimly resolute in the face of having to leave the survivors on the wrong side of the river, the British CO pressed the plunger. Nothing! Water had got into the fuses.
The Japanese regrouped and prepared to charge the bridge. On the other side, the few remaining British troops prepared to re-cross the bridge and sell their lives dearly to give time for the wires to be checked, fuses to be changed etc. The British CO's card came up again. He ordered his men to wait one second before going to their doom, and again he pushed the plunger.
This time everything worked as planned (a roll of 10 on a d10!) and the bridge was blown to smithereens, leaving the angry Japanese on the wrong side of the river to call up their engineers as the British disappeared down the road. Victory conditions were checked, and the game was declared a draw: the British Indian troops had failed to hold off the Japanese troops, but had managed to blow the bridge before it could be captured. This game didn't quite reflect history: in 1942 the Japanese tanks got into the village and managed to get across the bridge in the face of withering fire from the Argyll's for long enough for their infantry to come up and secure victory.
A truly excellent game played with great enthusiasm and sportsmanship by two veteran wargamers new to IABSM but who had played Far East games before. Both players agreed that they were now completely exhausted, as the action had been fast-moving and intense almost throughout the battle. As one said, that was the "longest, shortest 3˝ hours he had ever gamed"! The key to the British success (comparative to 1942, that is) was the traffic jam that developed at the roadblock. The Japanese tanks just couldn't coordinate their actions well enough to get through in time to properly support their infantry. The British were, as in history, eventually overwhelmed, but managed to keep their shape as they retreated. A great game.