Japanese Strategy in Guadalcanal Campaign

by Stephen Van Osdell
NAME:Guadalcanal Campaign
SYSTEM:Apple II 48K Applesoft
# PLAYERS1 or 2
AUTHOR:Gary Grigsby
PUBLISHER:Strategic Simulations
465 Fairchild Dr.,
Suite 108
Mountainview, CA

It is August of 1942 and the first American offensive of the war is under way. The recent footholds gained in the Solomons has marked Japan’s farthest advance to date in the eastern half of the Pacific. Since Pearl Harbor, the Japanese have appeared unstoppable. The Japanese army has pushed the Americans off the Philippines and the British out of all areas of China and Southwest Asia. Their next obvious objective is the mainland of Australia. Earlier in the year, the Japanese seized the port of Rabaul in New Britain and now are using it, and the more northern port of Truk, as a base of operations for further southern penetrations leading to the invasion of the Australian mainland. If an operational airfield can be established in the Solomons. then the fate of Australia will be sealed. With such a foothold. the Japanese will quickly be able to threaten and cutoff the shipping lanes between the U.S. and Australia. thus cutting Australia’s precarious life line.

To date, the Japanese have almost completed the construction of an airfield on the island of Guadalcanal in the Solomons and have captured the British port of Tulagi. The Americans. in an effort to thwart this Japanese threat. have hastily assembled men and material at the port of Wellington in New Zealand. Because of the priority of the war in Europe and the Middle East. the American planners have had to plan their offensive on a ‘shoestrlng’. Approximately 19,000 Marines of the 1st Marine Div., under the command of Maj. Gen. Alexander Vandergrift, have been assigned the task of seizing, and holding Guadalcanal and Tulagi. The transports carrying their supplies have been loaded hastily. and in such a way that will later severely hinder their orderly unloading.

It is now August 7th, 1942. and you. as the Japanese commander in charge of the Imperial Japanese Forces. have just received an urgent radio message from your forces on Guadalcanal that a large number of American ships have been sighted off the coast and invasion is imminent. Your job, as you begin to play SSI’s new game, GUADALCANAL CAMPAIGN, is to throw the Americans off the island and thereby maintain Japan’s foothold in the Solomons….


Before getting into the Japanese strategy. I feel that it is important to comment on the four levels of difficulty that are offered in the game. I believe that they were derived primarily by solitaire playtesting. This is based on the fact that the Japanese are much easier to defeat in the solitaire game: you will find them to be a reasonably competent player in the two-player version. I have been able to consistently defeat the Japanese in solitaire play at levels 2 & 3. In solitaire, level 4 (the easiest) is not much of a challenge. Level 3 gets pretty interesting, with level 2 forcing the American to be very careful. I have not tried solitaire level 1 yet. but suspect that it may put victory almost out of reach for the U.S. All of this changes, however, in the 2-player version. Except for those cases in which there is a great degree of disparity between the two players. the 2-player version should usually be played at level 4 and never above level 3. Even though level 3 is supposed to simulate historical accuracy. level 4 comes closer to achieving a more balanced game.

The Japanese player has several factors strongly in his favor. First. his surface gunfire and torpedo accuracy is at least two to three times better than that of the Americans. This is probably the greatest advantage the Japanese have: but by no means the only one. The Japanese Bettys (twin engine medium bombers that were very vulnerable) from Rabaul decrease the endurance of TF [Task Force] to 10. This is in contrast to the American B17s which do not affect endurance of a TF unless the attack range is 7 or less. Third, the Japanese subs are twice as likely to hit with torpedoes as the American subs. And, finally. the Japanese carrier-based planes are half again as accurate as their American counterparts. How well the Japanese player puts these advantages to use is the key to his winning the game.

The objective for the Japanese is to retake Henderson Field (he can’t hope to keep the Marines from initially taking it. and really shouldn’t try). To retake Henderson he must negate the American supply there. There are two ways that this can be accomplished. He can knock it out with bombardment missions after the supply has been deposited, or he can prevent it from getting there at alt by sinking or badly damaging the American ships that are capable of carrying it. Which of these tactics he selects will depend somewhat on the way the American player handles himself during the first few weeks of the game. Basically. if the American carriers are successful in damaging several of the Japanese battleships early in the game, then the Japanese player should shift his emphasis to sinking the American cargo ships and let bombardment play a secondary role.

This brings us to discussing the type of missions that the Japanese player should assign to his TFs. This is the most critical factor in the game. If he really wants to plaster the American ships, then he should assign a large percentage of his TFs to a combat (C) or fast combat (FC) mission. This type of TF should minimally consist of two CA’s (heavy cruisers) and about eight DD’s (destroyers). These should always be loaded with the desired amount of troops and supplies. of course. The TF should usually be started out so that they will arrive at Guadalcanal on a night turn. This is so it will not be subject to air attack if it is an FC mission. and also because the American player will usually prefer to be at Guadalcanal during the night so as not to be subjected to attack by Bettys. It would, of course, be wise to mix in a few combat missions that arrive on a day turn, so that the American won’t start relying on your always being there during night turns only. A TF of at least the minimum make-up mentioned above will be able to handle just about any American TF that it encounters. The Japanese player should be looking to catch those American TFs that contain APD’S, DMSs, and TRs, (i.e. cargo carrying destroyers and transports) especially the TRs. With most of his TRs damaged or sunk, the Americans will not be able to win!

I should mention, that if the American ships are on any kind of combat mission, then they will always fire first. Fire is not simultaneous. Ships which are damaged in the first round of fire will have reduced capabilities when they fire back. However, with the deadliness of the Japanese torpedoes, the American ships can get their first shot and still be seriously damaged or sunk by the Japanese return fire. You should note, however, that ships do not sink until the combat round is over. If a ship has sustained enough damage to be sunk, it will continue to fire with what guns it has left and then sink when combat is over. Also, if you send in a bombardment (B) mission, the Americans can slip in with a transport (T) mission at the same time and unload their supply after you have carried out your bombardment thus avoiding a surface action. It is therefore a good policy to leave any fast bombardment (FB) mission TF at Guadalcanal for one turn after it has bombarded. These TFs automatically convert to fast combat (FC) missions after the bombardment and can hang around the extra turn to engage in a surface action and still have the endurance to make it back to Rabaul. The key thing to remember is not to do the same thing with such consistency as to allow the American player to be able to predict your actions! Also, remember that a TF with an endurance of 7 or less will not initiate combat, so don’t hang around with it past that point.

There will usually be two or three squares where the American will stop his ships at the end of the move just before they make it into Guadalcanal. Look for these patterns during your searches, and when you feel the time is right, slip into one of these with a good combat mission and surprise him. He will usually do this with his TRs so that he can move them in and out of Guadalcanal when he needs supply. These squares will often be the ones north and east of San Christobal. These are also excellent locations for your subs.

In the area of land combat, good advice is not to start attacking the Marines until you have at least 12-15,000 troops. This will usually take you until mid-October to build up. Past this point, be sure to attack the Marines if you are fairly certain (due to the empty craters on a recent bombardment mission) that they are out of supply. In this case their losses will be doubled. Your early attacks should be made at levels 1, 2 and maybe 3. Do not start attacking at levels 4 or 5 until late in the game (middle to late November) when you are sure that you outnumber the Marines by odds of at least 2 to 1.

As for the effective use of your battleships, it is strongly recommended that you not get trigger happy and send them in on combat missions. You will be disappointed with the long range results. These should be reserved exclusively for bombardment missions or possibly as escorts for your carriers. The Japanese CAs, Cls (light cruisers) and DDs are entirely capable of severely damaging any American TF, even if it has one or two battleships in it.

Concerning the Japanese carriers, you should never send them out separately, unless it is to perhaps finish off a crippled American carrier. One possible tactic is to send out the two large carriers along with one of the CVLs. Use all the fighters from the CVL as CAP (combat air patrol) and send the fighters as escorts. The American carriers can put up a very powerful CAP, and you will be hard pressed to get through with enough bombers to count. The best advice I can give is to avoid prolonged engagements with two or more American carriers. Hit them once, hope for a little damage, and get the heck away. This will lower their endurance and put them back in the repair and refit pipeline for awhile. Since the biggest drawback of your carriers is their shortage of planes, you might consider keeping the Ryujo dedicated to continuously training carrier pilots.

Following are some short suggestions and points that should lead to better Japanese play and should be obvious enough so as not to need further explanation. Only attack Henderson field with Bettys When there are no American TFs within range. Don’t be too afraid of getting attacked by aircraft from Henderson field. Do try to be careful with your slow BBs when they are going in to bombard. Since they can’t avoid getting in and out without being within air range, try to plan these missions when you feel there are few planes and little supply at Henderson. If your BBs get any kind of damage, take the little extra time to get them back to Truk. The time saved in repair will be worth it. If they are undamaged, always get them back to Rabaul before they reach 50 endurance. You might transfer some of your Bettys to Truk occasionally. This will give you the chance of getting more Bettys at Rabaul as reinforcements. After you are reinforced, transfer the ones at Truk back to Rabaul. You can build up some pretty powerful Betty forces this way. Never worry about B17s attacking your TFs. I’ve yet to see one score a hit, and they don’t decrease your endurance unless you’re within seven squares of Espiritu Santo. Make it a habit to send some Bettys out on sub search about every other day turn. You will usually spot an American sub just southeast of the Shortlands.

Guadalcanal is a great game, however I must offer a few minor criticisms. The American player should have been allowed to transfer planes from Brisbane to Espiritu Santo. This was done historically via Noumea in New Caledonia. I feel the accuracy of B17 bombing was historically more accurate than portrayed in the game. This is based on first hand accounts from several former B17 pilots I know. I also feel that air attacks from Bettys and B17s alike should have reduced endurance by some percentage rather than knocking it all the way down to 10 in one swoop as the Bettys do. As to whether American torpedoes were really as bad as they are in the game. I don’t know. But it is hard to see how they could have been that bad. There should have been some provision for distinguishing carrier qualified planes from ground planes. If you transfer carrier planes off to the land, then they are mixed with the others and have to be retrained. I would like to have seen the ability to carry over odd movement points to the next turn. It would also have been nice if the player had to specify which direction his search planes were being sent out in so you could concentrate search out in the direction where you figured the enemy was. Searching, as it is, seems to be a little too accurate. Except for when the weather is bad, it is very hard to surprise anyone, especially it seems, for the American.

In closing, if you’re any kind of wargamer or armchair strategist then by all means, this game is a must for you. It is the game that I, for one, have waited long to see. I hope that it will receive the support it deserves so that more programmers and software companies will be motivated to produce games of a similar nature and level of complexity. To an avid boardgamer, this game alone can justify the purchase of a computer system.

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