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The Battle of Tarawa - A Frontline Campaign

The Battle of Tarawa (20.-23. Nov 1943) - The Tarawa Campaign

We thought it would be a great idea to replay this outstanding battle, the three days of combat on Tarawa, with our new frontline ruleset. A day in history: A special three days campaign, three days of fierce battle.

Tarawa of our range from the Frontline Battle Organizer Books contains most of the needed information. With our campaign we add some more depth to this and it is still interesting to find out more details. Well, all this needs a bit of preparations.

Just for a short introduction, Tarawa is a very small tiny atoll of the Gilbert Islands in the middle of nowhere of the Pacific Ocean, and it was the location of the first battle of the famous US Island Hopping Campaign. The plan from the US was to throw the Japanese out of their Pacific strongholds. The whole operation was planned after the battles of Guadalcanal where the Japanese saw their first defeat in a land battle. But it took many month to start it. In November 1943, the day for Operation Galvanic has come ...

For the Japanese it was important to hold a strong outpost to control the west Pacific. Tarawa was invaded in 1941. They built an airfield on the little island of Betio and secured it with heavy entrenched artillery, bunkers and an elite garrison of the 6th and 7th Yokusuka Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces. These troops were definitely ready to die, they were battle hardened, well equipped and were 100% convinced to hold back any kind of attack.

The US Force, the 2nd Marine Division, knew that they had a small timeframe for success and needed a strong military force to smash this entrance door of the Japanese strategic hemisphere. The plan to conquer Tarawa was divided in four steps: A major bombardment from warships and air, a landing operation, a final push to clear the island from all enemies and finally to get hold of the airfield.

The Tarawa Campaign

To refight the battle we decided to divide it into three parts (according to history) and use the lists for both forces of the Frontline Tarawa Book.

Each day makes one battle with 1500 to 1820 points for about 2 to 3 hours battles.

The Scenario Mission is the "Landing Mission" of the Tarawa Book.

Day 1: Night attack with bombardment and landing on Tarawa

For the first day the US player creates a typical landing force list with LVT's 1s, 2s and Higgins boats to get ashore. To make it a bit more interesting we decided to add one platoon M1 Stuarts and one platoon M4A2 Shermans to the force as they were also historically landed with many difficulties on day one. The battle lasts 10 complete battle rounds.

The Japanese could choose to add the big guns (8 inch Vickers and or the 127mm) to the force. These guns were very effectively used against the LVT's and the Higgins boats.

To add the tide effect, at the beginning of the game the US players had to roll a die if the tide is high to overcome the reef with the Higgins boats and the LVT's more easily (Dice 6, a roll of 1-3 is low tide and 4-6 is high tide).

The battle starts with a pre-bombardment of the ship artillery and airpower.

On our battlefield, which represents the landing operation on Beach Red along the central pier, we added the destroyed Japanese transport ship "Saida Maru" north of the pier, which hosted hidden Japanese HMGs.

The objectives are for the US to reach the beach and create a bridgehead on the pier to win 3 points or even to wipe out the complete beach forces for 5 points. Each destroyed big gun is one point extra. Each destroyed Japanese platoon is an extra point.

For the Japanese it is important to pin down the forces in the water and destroy the US platoons. For each destroyed US platoon the Japanese get one point. If the US player has no troops on the beach at the end of turn 10 they get 3 points.

Short battle report:

We used the lists from the Tarawa book, each about 1820 points.

The Japanese setup was along the beach, the Anti-tank guns on the beach, placed the HMGs on the "Saida Maru" wrecked ship and hold the tanks a bit in reserve. The big guns were placed in bunkers right and left.

The tide was high (die roll of a 4-6) and the Higgins boats could land on the beach and it was no problem to overcome the reef.

The US started with the pre-bombardment, but they were not too successful: only one of the 127mm guns and 2 infantry units were destroyed and one tank had to pause for 2 battle rounds due to a minor engine problem.

That meant that the first wave of LVT‘s and one Higgins boat ran into the heavy MG fire of the hidden troops on the "Saida maru" ship. They nailed two of them and switched them out.

The ships artillery and the planes could not do damage on the Japanese HMGs.

In the next rounds these HMGS on the ship were really a pain and even the big guns. The vickers on the beach started blasting the LVT‘s and the Higgins boats and could damage many of them.

But after 5 rounds the first US Marines could make it to the beach, always under the brutal heavy fire from the beach. Nonetheless two stuarts and a Sherman M4 landed on the beach.

The stuarts were knocked out after some rounds by the Anti-tank guns and some of the Ho-Go tanks. The Sherman took little damage, but could fight on until the end.

The US could hold a part on the beach and won 3 + 1 points for the damaged 127mm gun and 1 for the wiped out ant-tank guns, makes in sum 5.

The Japanese won 1 point for the Stuarts and 1 point for damaging that many Higgins and LVT‘s, makes in sum 2 points.

Special rule hints: Don't forget to handle pre-bombardment on tanks like usual artillery bombardment rules, the planes use their HMGs and bombs, the Higgins boats or LVT‘s are handled like this: On a normal hit (if not armored), they sink with their troops if hit within the sea zones. The troops leave the LVT‘s or boats only in the beach zone and may wade slowly through the water. A destroyed US platoon on the sea returns in the next wave.

The first wave of the US landing force ready to attack. F4Us attacked the "Saida Maru".

The first Stuart tanks were hit in the water.

At the end of the day the Marines could hold a nest on the beach.

Day 2: Pinned at the beach

The second day started with the US Marines still pinned down at the beach and the Japanese could hide inside of wrecked LVT‘s. We used some models to represent them. The US had half of the platoons on the beach but can pull in reserves each round. They start only with infantry and artillery on the beach. The tanks may arrive later on a successful communication roll.

The objective for the US was to capture the main bunker or the airfield for each 3 points. The Japanese get 3 points when they can defend both against the US attacks successfully until the end of battle round 10. Each lost platoon gets one point for the opponent.

The US and the Japanese used the standard lists from the Tarawa book.

The US and the Japanese set up all their platoons on the table, except the US player can land the tanks from turn one only on a successful communication roll (D6 3+).

Short battle report:

The battle started with Japanese fire from the hidden snipers left and right in the wrecked LVT's to pin down the US Marines on the beach.

Fortunately - for the US - they could not do too much damage.

To reach the main bunker and the airfield one Marine platoon started to launch an attack to the nest on the right flank and to pin down the Anti-tank guns and a bunker in the center. But both attacks without tank support had not much success. After a few rounds Shermans entered the beach to open up the front. The Japanese needed a few shots to stop the tanks and one of the Shermans exploded after two lucky hits into the engine. The battle ended with a draw as the Marines could not reach the airfield or the bunker and the Japanese could hold the Marines but could not destroy the threat.

Points: US 2 points and Japanese 4 points as they could defend the airfield and the bunker.

Hidden Japanese snipers in the wrecked LVT's.

Too many lucky hits from Japanese artillery hit two Shermans. One has got a hit into the tracks and cannot move anymore,
the other got a more serious hit and was totally knocked out.

Marines hiding behind a hill with a knocked down Vickers 8 inch heavy gun.

Knocked out Japanese Ha-Go tanks.

The Bazooka helped to hold down Japanese tanks and some fire from behind the sea wall.


Day 3: Final assault

On day 3 the Japanese tried to launch a final direct banzai charge to throw the Marines back into the sea while they bring more equipment on the island.

In our third scenario the Japanese player gets a special ambush and reserve in round three of the battle. They may throw in all Japanese platoons from reserve without a successful communication roll.

We used the US Construction platoon, the Seabees and the Japanese Pioneer lists of the Tarawa Book with the Soko tanks.

Short battle report:

The last battle was the hardest to fight! Pioneers against pioneers and that was very exciting until the very end!

After some short successes the Marines could gain some ground but in round three the final banzai charge messed up all their plans. After many rounds of heavy combat the Marines and Japanese seemed to loose the battle each but on the right flank the small US Marines Recon  platoon could hold the line.

But the Japanese had power enough and could blow up the last Sherman tanks with the Nikuhakus. This was a bad surprise. In the end, one of the flamethrower Soko tank tried to burn the Marines out of a small nest on the right flank without luck. But in round ten the battle was over and the final result was this:

The Japanese lost 4 platoons but could make it to the end.

The Marines lost three platoons but could not capture either the bunker nor the airfield.

Results: US 4 points and Japanese 3 points.

End result of three days of combat:
US 11 points and the Japanese 9, that makes a good US victory on Tarawa!


The Marines and LVTs are ready for the attack.

Japanese Soko tanks and Troops Carriers on the island.

The M4 Sherman was hit by a very lucky hit and was damaged in the turret for the rest of game.

Sherman M4 knocked out by close combat against a Japanese Nikuhaku unit.
The Result was exploding ammo and the end for the tank.

HMG fire from the Ha-Gos and the dice results (4-6 a hit) ...


Youtube Video - DAY 1 - Frontline Campaign Tarawa:

Youtube Video - DAY 2 - Frontline Campaign Tarawa:

Youtube Video - DAY 3 - Frontline Campaign Tarawa:

Dailymotion Video - Inspiration, explanation and ideas/Tutorial: How to play the Battle of Tarawa:


dmmsdev has reacted to this post.

Exiting reports nice AAR

dmmsdev has reacted to this post.