At Lake Khasan in 1938 and Khalkhin Gol in 1939 the Red Army decisively stopped Japanese expansion in continental Asia. It proved decisive: the Japanese instead focused on the Pacific and, ultimately Stalin had reinforcements he could pull from another front when Moscow looked about to fall.
OK: that’s an oversimplified historical take … We tried it with PBI …
And more or less by the book (rather than fully worked out as a historical scenario) … my Winter War/Early Barbarossa Russians vs Trebian’s basic PBI Japanese.
We both tried to attack, but the Russians gained a considerable edge in the recce game, so the Japanese started as the on table defender … and after working through the pre-game, the table looked a bit like this …
Fortunately, the Russians had defined (1) as the key objective and hoped to use the terrain to work around the flank and attack from several sides. Across the more open front I lined up for a speculative advance.
The Japanese had 2 big-ish platoons on table, plus an MG platoon defending Objective (1) and some light tanks at the back. They had another platoon plus a Coy Cmd platoon dicing to arrive.
The Russians one rifle platoon on table plus an MG platoon and Coy Cmg group. There were 2 armoured attachments, 1 supporting the CC and one supporting the rifle platoon.
A further full size rifle platoon was dicing off table.
In the early turns the attacks went very well and the Japanese firepower was of low lethality.
I hoped to follow historical tactics and use the shelter of tanks to get my infantry across the open ground ..
(in PBI vehicles make Open squares Partial Cover so this might work, as long as I can avoid 1s and 2s in my saving rolls)
On the flank, the tanks moved up in the open squares while what little infantry there was used the full cover.
All this got them up into the threat zone with few losses and with Russians being able to assault for 3APs there was a fair chance I could get some numbers into an assault (preferably taking the vehicles in with them for a few more dice to roll) …
The CC’s attached AA truck went up, worryingly indicating that the Japanese could hit things after all, and I had to grab everything I could before the luck swung (as it often does in PBI) …
Meanwhile, the Japanese moved their light tanks into the open to get some shots in.
Two of them stayed wisely out of range of the Russian flamethrower tanks … but one got too close and went up in a ball of flame.
The flame tanks are really there to help infantry tackle dug in defenders but their anti armour capability is fearsome if enemy vehicles get close (these early ones have a downside however and are unable to shoot back at all against armour that stands off – a fault fixed on later models, but in game terms at least these simple ones are cheap to employ) …
The first line of defenders fell quite quickly to a moving combined arms attack. But on the right, a swift counter attack saw the Japanese bayonets set about their work and casualties began to undermine Russian resolve.
This left the flamethrower tank isolated and it did little thereafter other than survive (albeit immobilised).
The turn counter was rattling down and it was clear that although the key objective (1) was secured, (2) was out of reach.
(3) might just succumb, however – especially when those Japanese assaulting out of it were gunned down before they could slip back into their buildings. So although most of the platoon was still straggling, I rushed my reinforcements on to snatch the objective (which was actually unoccupied by the time they got there) …
The Russians had lost quite a few groups but no units, and just one truck from the vehicles. The Japanese had fared worse and only held one objective.
We rarely ‘score’ games but playing more by the book, we went through the ritual tallying (which for the attacker involves some die rolling so is far from certain – but this had all gone well)
A closely fought encounter, but by and large a historical result: advancing sheltered by tanks worked, and the Japanese proved under-gunned and not quite tough enough to withstand a combined attack.
Another couple of turns and maybe the Russians would have run out of steam, worn down units might have headed for home …
A decent game of the fuller version of PBI which certainly vindicated the area movement and firefight/assault model of the game (even if it had its usual ups and downs on the dice) …
Historically, the Japanese pushed their luck on the Manchurian frontier because they believed the Red Army was operating too far from their rail head to be able to sustain armoured warfare. They were wrong. Surviving the purges, Georgy Zhukov was refining his craft.