Last weekend, I was able to have my first proper wargame in a long time. Matt came over, and with social distancing enforced by the gaming table between us, we christened (well, it was more of a baptism of fire) his new Japanese Bolt Action army.
To do this week headed to 1939 and the somewhat obscure Khalkin Gol campaign, which ostensibly began as a border skirmish between the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo, and the Soviet satellite state of Mongolia but rapidly escalated.
When it came to setting up the table, Google Earth images of the battlefield presented a view which certainly challenged some of the conventions of wargaming, such as cover, and so I introduced a bit of artistic license, which included a dry river bed, a few hills and a scattering of scrub and bushes.
It would still be an unusually barren battlefield, but given that the Japanese objective was to cross the board, it at least offered on protection. Which would potentially be helped by the attack happening at night. However, as it happened the scenario rules said that each round there was a 50/50 chance of lightning removing the cover of darkness.
It must have been one hell of a storm, because all but one turn was lit up.
Our armies were a bit mismatched too. I've been adding to my Soviet force for several years, whilst Matt has only had his Japanese a couple of months. Combining this with the requirement that I include three Inexperienced units meant that I had a distinct numbers advantage.
HQ: Senior Lt, Captain, Commissar
Infantry: 3x Inexperienced Squads, 3x Regular Squads, MMG team
Artillery: 45mm Light AT Gun
Armour: BA-6, T-26a
HQ: Second Lt, Captain, Medic, Artillery Observer
Infantry: 2x Regular Squads, 1 Large Veteran Squad, 2x Lt Mortar Teams
After two turns featuring little more than movement and some desultory shooting, the third turn saw the conflict heat up in a big way.
The Japanese objective meant that they had no option but to head directly for the Soviet hordes.
A task that was made even more daunting when the Soviet line was stiffened by the arrival of almost all their reserves, including two armoured vehicles - however, neither the Soviet BA-6 and T-26, nor the Japanese Chi-Ha would prove decisive, as all would suffer from dreadful accuracy.
Despite the big guns misfiring, the large Japanese veteran squad was subjected to massed Soviet rifle fire producing a somewhat offensive number of casualties, taking the sting of this threatening unit.
With their numbers being whittled away, one Japanese squad got into charge range, hoping to get the jump on the Soviets at the start of the following turn.
But it was the Russians that took the initiative and swarmed into a furious assault with a significant numbers advantage, and when the dust settled...
...thing had not exactly got their way.
The lone survivor scurried into the cover of the river bed, but was mercilessly gunned down by the Russian Captain...
Meanwhile, on the left flank things were going the Soviets' way. Supported (to an extent) by the MMGs of the T-26, a squad of Siberians drove the Japanese off a hill. However, having done this, the squad then refused to do anything else for the remainder of the battle.
Unfortunately, the Japanese didn't know that this was the end of Siberian involvement and so the Chi-Ha advanced cautiously, all too aware that the unit on the hill was bristling with anti-tank grenades.
The Japanese line stalled in the cover of the river bed, lacking the firepower to severely impact the Soviet line, whilst the Russians were only able to chip away at the entrenched Japanese.
Faced with this impasse, the Japanese commander and his attendant launched what would surely be a suicidal charge...
...but no, again the Soviets met their match in the ferocity of the Japanese blades. However, the rampage was eventually brought to an end by the Commissar, posthumously awarded Hero of the Soviet Union after losing his life whilst killing the sword wielding captain.
In what passed for an armoured engagement, the Chi-Ha's light howitzer immobilised the T-26, which lacked the armament to do anything in return. Meanwhile, the Siberians, who definitely equipped to deal with the lightly armoured Japanese tank, looked on from the safety of their hill.
Despite the almost successful thrust of the Chi-Ha, weight of fire had mopped up almost all of the rest of the Japanese army. The Red Army had clinched victory and would retain control of eastern Mongolia.
This game was a tough ask for Matt, who had stretched his small army to the limit to get to 1200 points, but had to advance towards my firing line. To add injury to insult, his task was made nigh on impossible by the lighting exposing his forces to my full weight of fire. I'm pretty sure that with a more infantry heavy force and a bit more darkness, I might have found more of my units on the point end of a bandai charge.
I'm looking forward to playing some more games on this theatre as the terrain gave a very different feel to the game, forcing us to think differently about how to preserve units. It was also nice to play a game where there was a distinct lack of monster tanks dominating the battlefield.
What's more, the Khalkin Gol campaign offers some interesting options for scenarios, including cavalry clashes, unsupported tanks and heroically fighting overwhelming odds to the last man.
There's more to come.