Modelling Japanese in Crossfire

Imperial Japanese Army Battle FlagAs mentioned in by blog entry Time To Do ‘The Pacific’ with Crossfire I have been inspired by the release of “The Pacific” by HBO to finally build a Japanese force for Crossfire, to game the early Pacific Campaigns of 1942-44 and the Burma/Malaya Campaigns. As I have a sizeable force of 1/72nd scale Japanese coming, I thought I would give some thoughts to how Japanese Battalions & Regiments were organised historically, what peculiarities and special weapons they had, and how these are best represented in Crossfire (i.e. as defined by the rules or by an alternate method). As a result these are my current thoughts on representing Japanese forces and most especially the presence of their main support weapons at Battalion level, over and above HMGs…

Differences Between a Standard A and B Infantry Regiment

The first thing to look at is the most common, and fundamental, differences between the different types of Japanese Army Infantry Regiments, and those of the Marines and Naval Infantry.  Early war most Infantry Regiments (Japanese Army) are B Standard and as the war progressed A became more prevalent (i.e. reduction in Rifle Companies from 4 to 3 and generally a decentralisation of Infantry Guns – i.e. less held at Regimental level).

redarrow_bullet Regimental Anti-Tank Gun Company: While both had 6 x 3.7cm ATGs in 3 Platoons of 2-Guns, some low priority (unfavoured?) units had only a Regimental ATG Platoon of just 2-Guns!

redarrow_bullet Regimental Gun Company: A had 4 x 7.5cm Howitzers;  whereas B had 6 x 7.5cm Howitzers; in both cases in 2-Gun Platoons. A few very rare B Regiments had an enlarged 8-Gun Company, while a few low-priority (second line) B Regiments actually had only a single Platoon of 2-Guns!

redarrow_bullet Battalion Gun Platoon or Company: A had a Company of 4 x 7cm IGs (2 Platoons of 2); whereas B had either just a Platoon of 2, or a Company of 4 x 7cm IGs plus in battalions of favoured regiments 4 Anti-Tank Platoons of 2 x 2cm ATR each (these 2cm ATRs were expensive and therefore very very rare for a battalion to actually have). It was however usual for probably the majority of the B Regiment’s to have battalions with only a lone 2 x 7cm IG platoon (and hence probably why B Regiments usually have a larger Regimental Gun Company above).

redarrow_bullet Battalion Rifle & MG Companies: A had 3 Rifle & 1 MG Company; whereas B had 4 Rifle & 1 MG Company. Note: A number of Regiments of both types only had 2 MG Platoons per MG Company, not 3. Note contrary to the Crossfire Rule Book Japanese Companies did not have large HQ’s, so remove the additional Rifle Stand accompanying the CC in the CHQ from the organisation table.

redarrow_bullet Company Weapons Platoons: A few B Regiments (that actually had the 2cm ATR’s present) actually broke up most of their MG Company in each Battalion and with the ATRs from the Gun Company created and permanently assigned a mixed “Weapons” Platoon (in Crossfire terms of 1 x HMG & 1 x 2cm ATR Stand) to each Rifle Company – The ATR stand represents 2 actual ATRs (not 1) so for AT Fire give it +1 ACC to represent the multiple weapons. However this was apparently uncommon (i.e. rare) so the 1943-45 organisation in the rulebook should be treated as such and not considered a typical organisation. In these cases usually one MG Platoon (of 2 Crossfire HMG Stands) would have presumably been left in the MG Company (of Battalions with 3 MG Platoons) and remained under BHQ control (but all 2cm ATRs would be issued out – i.e. 2 to each of the 4 Rifle Companies in a ‘B’ Battalion).

redarrow_bullet Marine Battalions & Companies  (Japanese Navy): I am still looking into the specifics of Japanese Marine units – it’s probable they were organised the same as Japanese Naval Infantry below, and simply were more appropriately equipped – Japanese Marines wore a variant of the Army Uniform but in Olive-Green, with knee high black-leather boots and other minor equipment differences. In Anthony Mollo’s “The Armed Forces Of World War II” one is depicted also wearing an early type of bullet proof vest and wielding a SMG; the Japanese only producing one very poor SMG in limited numbers during WW2. (I will update the marines once I have more detail of any organisational variances).

redarrow_bullet Japanese Naval Infantry (Japanese Navy): These were essentially based around very large semi-independent Companies.  Each Company consisted of a HQ, 4 Rifle Platoons (in CF each 1 PC, 3 Rifle Squads, 1 5cm Knee Mortar Squad), and 1 HMG Platoon (in CF 1 PC, 2 HMGs). These companies may have occasionally operated on independent missions, otherwise anything from 3 to 6 of these Companies could be combined under a “Special Naval Landing Force” HQ (essentially a Naval Infantry or Marine ‘Battalion’). For support each full size SNLF typically had only a single Infantry Gun Company (of either four Type 92 7cm Infantry Guns or four Type 41 7.5cm Mountain Guns); a single AA Platoon (of four, probably 13.2mm, AAMG); and a small Pioneer Platoon. It’s suggested by Dr Niehorster that later in the war a second gun company may have been added to some SNLFs and that this had 3.7cm (or even 4.7cm) ATGs. There were 4 main Navy Bases for the SNLFs & Marines, and each of these had 2-4 SNLFs (see Dr Leo Niehorster’s “World War II Armed Forces: Orders of Battle and Organizations” for more detail). Naval Infantry are depicted usually wearing the standard sailor’s navy coloured  ‘square rig’ uniform with white knee-high gaiters and a Naval pattern Helmet (later replaced by Army pattern ones); and are equipped with a basic ammo belt at waist and infantryman’s canteen & shoulder slung haversack.

Type 10 & Type 89 5cm “Knee” Mortars

Technically Grenade Dischargers (their official designation), the Type 10 was a smooth bore weapon designed to literally fire grenades, while the Type 89 was rifled and in addition to an increased range had a custom mortar bomb (the Type 89 ‘shell’) in addition to firing the same Grenades as the Type 10. The T89 ‘shell’ especially was a particularly heavy bomb for a Light Mortar (as heavy as many 8cm Medium Mortars) but like the Italian 45mm Brixia lacked killing power (the Italian Bomb did not fragment well, while the Japanese Bomb lacked explosive force to propel it’s shrapnel). As a result performance was similar or perhaps inferior to the comparable 5cm Light Mortars used by the British Commonwealth, Soviet, and German forces. The story of the ‘knee mortar’ nickname, due to the curved spade base plate and the habit of strapping the barrel to the leg for transport is of course well known.

Japanese Infantry initially deployed these 3 to a Rifle Platoon – this was effectively 3 times as many as any other Nation (who typically had either a section of 3 per Company, or in the British Commonwealth’s case, 1 integral to each Platoon). This may seem a lot but it is important to realise the Japanese did not have any Medium Mortars normally within their Infantry Regiments or Battalions, instead each Infantry Battalion had to rely solely on a pair of (or sometimes 4) Type 92 7cm Infantry Guns for it’s fire support. Even at Regimental level there was typically only 4-6 x 7.5cm Type 41 Mountain Guns to support the 3 Battalions of the Regiment! This represented about one-third the fire-power available to most British Commonwealth, U.S, Soviet, and German Infantry formations of equivalent size. The Japanese Army finally realised the issue and subsequently increased production of modern 8cm Medium Mortars* but these were invariably issued to dedicated Divisional Mortar Companies or Battalions which were only present in any numbers from around late 1943 in favoured Divisions.

* The other 9cm and similar sized mortars were all very heavy and immobile, and primarily used in static defences by dedicated Mortar units, and not suitable for field use by Infantry Combat Units. The Type 98 5cm Light Mortar also fits into this category, a heavy and not particularly mobile weapon, rarely used by combat units in the field.

So the importance of the 5cm ‘Knee’ Mortars, and the reason for their high numbers, can be seen, they gave the Battalion’s combat troops their own integral form of fire support. As a result in CF a full 5cm ‘Knee’ Mortar Squad should be present in every Infantry Platoon up until mid/late-1943 or in fresh units post-1943 that have not previously been in combat. However the ‘Knee’ Mortar Section (Squad), being fairly large (13 men) was usually stripped of manpower as replacements for casualties in the 3 Rifle Sections (Squads), especially when replacements from Japan were limited or non-existent. Most units would therefore gradually strip out the superfluous men to strengthen the Rifle Sections (Squads) and then eventually reduce the number of Mortars in use to free up more men for use as Riflemen. Ultimately they would presumably eventually end up with only 1 mortar (or occasionally none) manned in each Platoon as their period in combat lengthened, and the lack of replacements made the need for Riflemen more desperate (Note: I’ve seen no evidence in all the texts I’ve read that the mortars were taken into Rifle Sections, the mortar section seems to have been specifically stripped to become riflemen – the Japanese actually seem to have had a habit in many of the early Allied island campaigns of abandoning their heavy weapons and such as units deteriorated or became isolated from resupply or reinforcement, or if the opposing air or artillery power made counter battery fire highly likely).

So how to model this in Crossfire?

redarrow_bullet As mentioned, and as per the Crossfire Rule Book, each Japanese Army Rifle Platoon should have its own integral Light Mortar Squad. Given the minimal Indirect Fire Support (no Medium Mortars and few Infantry Guns) and the poor performance of Japanese HMGs this helps alleviate their fire-power worries.

redarrow_bullet As per the Rule Book & Japanese HMGs they can also initiate Close Combat and count as normal Infantry Stands for Close Combat (not Crew Served Weapons as stated in the Rule Book).

redarrow_bullet Additionally Japanese Light Mortar Squads (in 1941-43) should also be permitted to fire direct fire as a reduced Rifle Squad with 2D to represent the relatively large number of accompanying Riflemen as ammo bearers (on paper 13 men manning 3 x 5cm Light Mortars). Note: Once a Battalion has been in combat (or on campaign) for some time (typically 1943, e.g. actively on campaign and involved in multiple battles or on Garrison duty overseas for 2 years plus) this added function should be dropped to represent the stripping of surplus manpower from the Squad as rifleman replacements.

redarrow_bullet Japanese Knee Mortars fire with 3D and 0 kp in a ±45º arc as per other Light Mortars (not 2D + 1 kp as in the Rule Book which is effectively pointless since you need 3D for kp to count).

redarrow_bullet Consideration be given to limiting their ammunition either, (a) abstractly by them not being allowed an outright Kill with indirect HE (so treat 3 Hits as a Suppression); or (b) alternately by assigning 4-6 FMs per game (contrary to the Rule Book’s unlimited fire missions) and tracking FM expenditure as normal. I prefer the former (no paperwork and perhaps captures the general performance better – there HE bomb performance was variable and as noted ammunition supply was often limited).

redarrow_bullet Japanese Knee Mortars can fire Smoke (again contrary to the Rule Book), however their smoke was somewhat less effective (and sometimes in short supply) so either, (a) only allow them 1 stand of smoke not the 2 normal Light Mortars get, and/or (b) optionally roll 1D6 pre-game and on a 1-2 no smoke is available, or (c) alternately only allow each stand to fire smoke once each game – but getting a normal 2 stand screen – however this latter requires some tracking so in my opinion possible isn’t ideal. My current preference is just for option (a) on its own.

redarrow_bullet Japanese Knee Mortars must always have LOS to the target, contrary to the rules the Platoon PC may not act as a FO for them.

redarrow_bullet In prolonged campaigns (basically Guadalcanal onwards) any battalions/companies still represented at full strength (i.e. 3 Platoons of 3 Rifle Squads per Company) will in real terms have reduced manpower within those formations/units. Therefore they should have the number of Light Mortar Squads potentially reduced in each Company randomly to represent the internal ‘stripping’ of these squads to bolster Rifle Squads (due to casualties, sickness, and lack of replacements). In reality each Platoon may have a Light Mortar Squad, but no longer a full strength Light Mortar Squad, or may have disbanded it and absorbed the men & mortars into their 3 Rifle Squads. So in effect the company combined may only have the equivalent of 1 or 2 ‘full strength’ squads in it’s 3 Platoons. The simplest way to do this game wise, rather than try and model reduced numbers of mortars integral to Rifle Squads, is to roll 1D6 for each Platoon and note the result:

1 – Light Mortar Squad is removed if unit being modelled had previously been in action in the campaign the scenario is set in.

2-3 – Light Mortar is removed if unit being modelled has been on campaign for some time or has suffered heavy casualties.

4-6 – Light Mortar Squad is always present.

If the Squad is noted as removed temporarily remove it from that platoon for the duration of the game, thus providing a slightly variable factor to the fire-power of Japanese Platoons (if designing a scenario I suggest this is determined before hand and presence/non-presence be specified in the scenario Order Of Battle). Note: Units may be deemed heavily depleted outside of the date ranges suggested due to intense campaigns – one example being the final stage of the Guadalcanal campaign, after the last major Japanese attacks in October, when their fleet carrying reinforcements (38th Division, replacements, & supplies) was sunk in early November – so have a higher chance of not having full strength Mortar Squads present (apply -1 to die roll above).

redarrow_bullet In 1944-45, or when units have been in heavy combat and are depleted (as above), the Light Mortars that are present will likely have minimal manpower, so reinstate treating them as Crew Served Weapons (as per the Rule Book) for Close Combat (however they may still initiate it as per HMGs).

Obviously the above arbitrary years (in the last 2 bullets) could be changed instead to a unit that’s seen some combat, seen a  lot of combat, and seen a lot of combat and been on campaign or deployed in the pacific for several years….

In Summary

State Chance of Lt Mortar
Squad in Platoon
Direct Fire Close Combat
Fresh Always LM: 3D 0kp ±45º
Rifle Fire: 2D 360º
May Initiate: Yes
Count As: Rifle Squad
Some Combat 2-6 on D6 LM: 3D 0kp ±45º
Rifle Fire: 2D 360º
May Initiate: Yes
Count As: Rifle Squad
Heavy Combat or
Sometime on Campaign
4-6 on D6 LM: 3D 0kp ±45º
Rifle Fire: No.
May Initiate: Yes
Count As: Crew Served
Heavy Casualties or
Isolated/Heavy Campaign
5-6 on D6 LM: 3D 0kp ±45º
Rifle Fire: No.
May Initiate: Yes
Count As: Crew Served

Indirect HE: Japanese Knee Mortar Squads only cause a Suppression on 3 Hits (not a Kill).
Smoke Screens: Japanese Knee Mortar Smoke only generates a 1 Stand wide screen.

Battalion & Regimental Anti-Tank Platoons (2cm ATR)

On paper every Japanese Infantry Regiment and/or Battalion should have had a couple of integral ATR (Anti-Tank Rifle) units rather optimistically named Anti-Tank Platoons! In reality only a handful did due to the cost & complexity of manufacturing (the quite ineffectual) weapons. For those privileged(?) Regiments that did get them the Anti-Tank Platoons consisted of about half the men of a normal Rifle Platoon (i.e. 24 vs. 54), but lacked any LMGs and instead operated 2 x Type 97 2cm Anti-Tank Rifles (Each ATR had a Squad of 11 men plus there was a Platoon HQ of 2 men) . In Type B Regiments there were 4 of these Platoons (8 ATRs in total) in the Battalion Gun Company alongside the 1 or 2 Platoons of 2 x Type 92 7cm Infantry Guns; Type A Regiments apparently never were lucky(?) enough to get any.

The Type 97 2cm was notoriously underpowered and performed no better than the British 0.55” Boys ATR despite weighing (and costing) considerably more, the German 7.92mm PzB’s and Soviet long barreled 14.5mm PTRD & PTRS, significantly outperforming both of these weapons.

I intend representing these in Crossfire as a Platoon of 1 x PC and 2 x 2cm ATR Stands, modelling 2 such platoons as likely the most any 1 battalion might ever field at any one time in a Crossfire game if they are lucky enough (is that an oxymoron?) to have them! It’s also sufficient to do the special mixed weapons platoon [see below] for 2 Rifle Companies by adding 1 x HMG stand to each.

redarrow_bullet The ATR Stands will (as per the rulebook – see the “1943-45 Leg Infantry” TO&E) be assumed to have a 3D Rifle Fire ability in addition to their AT capability (to represent the large number of riflemen present – the stand representing up to 11 men manning the ATR), and will be considered a Rifle Squad for firing arc in all cases (including the ATR fire). As with Japanese HMGs they can initiate Close Combat, and count as a normal Rifle Squad for Close Combat (i.e. Not a Crew-Served weapon).

redarrow_bullet As with Light Mortars above when a unit has been in heavy combat or depleted by sickness or campaigning and/or not had casualties replaced they will have their 3D Rifle Fire reduced to 2D, and be considered a Crew-Served Weapon in Close Combats due to that depletion of numbers.

In Summary

State Squads per Coy ATR Direct Fire ATR Close Combat
Normal (1 PC &) 2 ATR Stands
+1 HMG in some cases
Arc of Fire: ±360º
Rifle Fire: 3D
May Initiate: Yes
Count As: Rifle Squad
Depleted or Exhausted
(1 PC &) 2 ATR Stands
+1 HMG in some cases
Arc of Fire: ±360º
Rifle Fire: 2D
May Initiate: Yes
Count As: Crew Served

NOTE: PC optional if you want ATRs to operate as own Platoon – ATR Squads can instead be assigned to Platoons (or operate directly under the CC of) the Company they are supporting. The +1 HMG is if you are modelling a unit with the “Company Weapons Platoon” Structure rather than the separate Anti-Tank & HMG Platoons.

Selected List of Sources

  1. Japanese Army in World War II: Conquest of the Pacific 1941-42 (Osprey Battle Orders No.9) – Gordon Rottman.
  2. Japanese Army in World War II:  The South Pacific and New Guinea 1942-43 (Osprey Battle Order No.14) – Gordon Rottman.
  3. Japanese Army of World War II (Osprey Men-At-Arms No.20) – Philip Warner.
  4. Dr Leo Niehorster’s “World War II Armed Forces: Orders of Battle and Organizations” Website.

Recommended Books & Video (Blu-ray & DVD):

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