Saturday, September 30, 2017

Tarawa today

Today Tarawa is part of the country of Kiribati (pronounced, Ki-ri-bus) which is one of the poorest countries on the Pacific. Kiribati is a smattering of small coral atolls scattered across an area of ocean the size of the continental United States The highest point in the islands is a whole 3 metres above sea level and whenever there is a tsunami warning many locals on South Tarawa go to the highest point of the island, the sports stadium for protection!

Tarawa has a large lagoon of approximately 500 square kilometres (193 square miles) and a wide reef. Although naturally abundant in fish and shellfish of all kinds, marine resources are being strained by the large and growing population. Drought is frequent but in normal years rainfall is sufficient to maintain breadfruit, papaya and banana trees as well as coconut and pandanus. North Tarawa consists of a string of islets, with the most northern islet being Buariki. The islets are separated in places by wide channels that are best crossed at low tide.On South Tarawa, the construction of causeways has now created a single strip of land from Betio in the West to Buota in the Northeast.

Most I-Kiribati live on South Tarawa (on the map North Tarawa is in yellow, South Tarawa in red).Today, approximately 50,000 people call South Tarawa home making it one of the most densely populated places in the Pacific. The land area of South Tarawa is 3,896 acres (1,577 ha) or 15.76 square km. However, much of this land is not available for use including the water reserve and runway, the causeways, and a large area of reclaimed land at Temwaiku while the eastern corner of the atoll is too swampy and low-lying for settlement. If these areas are excluded, the land area of South Tarawa is only just over 1,000 hectares (10 square km or 2,500 acres) and the population density of 49 people per hectare or 4,905 per square km is almost equal to the density of London (5,100 people per km2) and twice the density of Sydney, Auckland or New York.

Kiribati has few natural resources and is one of the least developed Pacific Island countries. Economic development is constrained by a shortage of skilled workers, weak infrastructure, and remoteness from international markets. The public sector dominates economic activity, with ongoing capital projects in infrastructure including road rehabilitation, water and sanitation projects, and renovations to the international airport, spurring some growth.
South Tarawa is the economic hub of Kiribati, the location of the main port and airport and of most of the State Owned Enterprises and private businesses. Copra produced on the outer islands is processed on Betio, producing copra oil for the international market and other products which are sold locally. There is also a fish processing plant producing tuna for export. However, imports far outweigh exports, and most households on South Tarawa rely on Government employment and remittances from relatives working overseas for their income. Unemployment and under-employment are a serious problem; in 2010 only 34% of urban adults (over 15) were engaged in cash work; the remaining two-thirds are either out of the labour force, unemployed or engaged in subsistence activities. Young people are especially likely to be unemployed and this is a growing problem.

As well as South Tarawa the other main population centre is the eastern island chain of the Line Islands of which Kiritmati  Island (Christmas- no not the one in the Indian ocean full of refugee detained by Australia) is the largest island and is several hundred kilometres to the east.

Causeway linking atolls in South Tarawa
Kiribati is well of the usual beaten track for most tourists and it is experiencing first hand the impact of climate change and is experiencing all sorts of problems due to sea level rise and rapid population growth. Some settlements have been abandoned due to frequent flooding and fresh food, especially fruit and vegetables, are often in short supply due to the salination of the soils, meaning a lot of food needs to be imported. So Kiribati is not your typical South Pacific paradise. In fact the country has purchased land in Fiji in case they are forced to leave their homeland for good!

Why the interest in Kiribati/Tarawa?
So why the sudden interest in Tarawa and Kiribati? Well, as alluded to in the previous post, apart from my general interest in World War Two history, it is because I’m off to live there for a year! I’ve accepted a role with New Zealand’s Volunteer Service Abroad and will be living there for twelve months. It is not going to be easy, no doubt there will be many, many challenges and struggles ahead but I am hoping that the experience will be a life changing one. I've never been a fan of the corporate treadmill so see this as an opportunity to branch out and do something completely outside my comfort zone. I’ve been wanting to do a VSA assignment for many years but it is only now that my kids are nearing the end of high school that I feel the time is right. So recently I applied for a role in Kiribati and am pleased to say that I have been accepted for the one year posting.
I’ll be leaving my wife and kids back home in NZ but due to the isolated nature of Kiribati volunteers have to leave the island every 4 months or so for a week or two break either back home or elsewhere in the Pacific so plan on meeting up with my wife in Fiji every four months or so and hope that other family members will take the opportunity to pop out for a visit to one of the more remote corners of the Pacific.

I’m not sure when I will be going yet, I have a four day briefing in Wellington in a couple of weeks but still have to pass medical checks etc before going so it is still quite a process. I am hoping some time in early January so I can give my current employer plenty of notice and as I’ve some work to do around home first but we will see.

No doubt the year ahead will be fraught with challenges and it will be a very difficult one, but I am really looking forward to the experience, it is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long, long time and intend to create a blog to about my experience.

So, in the next twelve months things will change dramatically for me and wargaming will not really be on my regular radar for quite some time.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Battle of Tarawa

The island atoll of Tarawa lies in the heart of the Pacific Ocean in the Gilbert islands approximately 4000 km (2500 miles) southwest of Hawaii and 2100kms east of Truk Island in the Caroline islands.The island was scene of a bloody battle during World War Two.

Prior to the outbreak of war New Zealand had a 18 coastwatchers stationed on the island, most of whom were civilian volunteers from the NZ postal service. 

The Imperial Japanese Navy occupied the Gilbert Islands three days after the attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1943. They built a seaplane base on Makin and dispersed troops along the coastlines of the atolls to monitor the Allied forces' movement in the South Pacific. 

 After the arrival of the Japanese forces these coast watchers were captured and most were later executed by the Japanese.
John Jones was one of seven coastwatchers on Butaritari atoll in the north of the group. He was captured and taken to a prison camp in Japan. Seventeen others were beheaded by the Japanese on Tarawa atoll in August and September 1942 in retaliation for an American raid on the atolls. An eighteenth, Ron Third, was based on Ocean Island, now called Banaba, died in captivity after the island was captured by Japan in the August of that year. Five other civilians - three Britons, an Australian and a New Zealander - were also killed in the Tarawa massacre. 

All those executed received a posthumous mention in dispatches and the civilian coastwatchers were retrospectively given military rank in 1944 so that their dependants could claim pensions and other rights. In 2014 their sacrifice was finally officially recognised in New Zealand with a memorial dedicated to them was unveiled in Wellington.  John Jones, the last surviving Coastwatcher, then 94 years old, was able to finally pay tribute to his fallen friends and colleagues

However, the fate of the coastwatchers remained largely unknown here in New Zealand until recently and it was a long forgotten chapter of our wartime history. After having waited for so long for recognition of his comrades sacrifice,  John Jones passed away earlier this year at the age of ninety-six

The Americans put up a memorial to the murdered coastwatchers after their forces retook Tarawa  and this memorial was replaced in 2012 by a new memorial. It is interesting to note that is memorial was provide by the Australian government, not the New Zealand one!

The Battle of Tarawa Nov 20-23rd 1943

Tarawa was to become the southerly point of Japan’s defensive shield, and so its capture was seen as being important in keeping the lifeline between Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand open for the allies.

 Like most islands in this region, Tarawa was actually a coral atoll and consists of 38 islands surrounded by coral reef. Betio island is the largest island group and lies at the southernmost reach of the lagoon, and it was here that the majority of the Japanese troops were based. Shaped roughly like a long, thin triangle, the tiny island is approximately 3.2 kms (2 miles) long and only 730m (800 yards) wide at its widest point. A long pier was constructed jutting out from the north shore onto which cargo ships could unload cargo while anchored beyond the 500-metre (550 yd)-wide shallow reef which surrounded the island. The northern coast of the island faces into the lagoon, while the southern and western sides face the deep waters of the open ocean.

Tarawa was selected for the site of one of the first amphibious landings to pierce the Japanese defensive shield, and as it turned out to be the first one where the beach landing was opposed by Japanese forces. Unfortunately for the marines who landed the planners had ignored the advice of a New Zealand expat who had lived on the islands for 15 years who had told them that the lagoon would be less than 3 feet deep at the time of the landing. Although the Am tracks were able to navigate the lagoon the Higgins boats and other landing vessels were unable to and so many marines found themselves floundering ashore and having to cross up to 1200 metres of lagoon, under heavy fire the whole way, to even arrive to the beaches. Many of them did not make it. Indeed about half of all US casualties were among those struggling to cross the lagoon. 

The main value of the island was its airfield. Rear Admiral Shibasaki Keiji defended Betio with 4,836 troops of whom 2600 were of the Special Naval Landing Forces and about 1,000 were Japanese construction troops. There were also 1,200 Korean labourers on the island. At Keiji's disposal were also 14 large coastal defence guns, 50 field artillery pieces, over 100 machine gun nests, and 500 pillboxes dotted the landscape. To further deter landing attempts, the Japanese constructed a huge wall across the lagoons to the north.

The American 2nd Marine Division landed on 20 November and were met with fierce resistance from the Japanese defenders. indeed at the end of the first day the marines toehold was extremely precarious but luckily the Japanese commander had been killed while vacating his bunker to allow it to be turned into a hospital and this meant the Japanese were disorganised and did not launch a night counter attack, which could have had disastrous consequences for the Americans. 

On the second day the Americas were able to consolidate their position and secure the beaches for reinforcements. By the end of the day, the entire western end of the island was in U.S. control though the position was still far from secure but the tide had turned in the Americans favour.

The third day of battle consisted primarily of consolidating existing lines along Red 1 and 2, beaches an eastward thrust from the wharf, and moving additional heavy equipment and tanks ashore onto Green Beach. During the morning the forces originally landed on Red 1 made some progress towards Red 2 but took casualties. Meanwhile, the 6th Marines which had landed on Green Beach to the south of Red 1 formed up while the remaining battalion of the 6th landed.

By the afternoon the 1st Battalion 6th Marines were sufficiently organised and equipped to take to the offensive. At 12:30 they pressed the Japanese forces across the southern coast of the island. By late afternoon they had reached the eastern end of the airfield and had formed a continuous line with the forces that landed on Red 3 two days earlier. By the evening the remaining Japanese forces were either pushed back into the tiny amount of land to the east of the airstrip, or operating in several isolated pockets near Red 1/Red 2 and near the western edge of the airstrip.

That night the Japanese forces formed up for a counterattack, which started at about 19:30. Small units were sent in to infiltrate the U.S. lines in preparation for a full-scale assault. The assembling forces were broken up by concentrated artillery fire, and the assault never took place. Another attempt, a large banzai attack, was made at 03:00 and met with some success, inflicting 173 casualties, including 45 dead. 

The next day the island was finally secured. The Japanese fought almost to the last man, exacting a heavy toll on the Marines. The 2nd Marine Division suffered 894 killed in action, 48 officers and 846 enlisted men, while an additional 84 of the wounded later succumbed their wounds.  A further 2,188 men were wounded in the battle.   Of the 3,636 Japanese in the garrison, only one officer and sixteen enlisted men surrendered. Of the 1,200 Korean laborers brought to Tarawa to construct the defences, only 129 survived. All told, 4,690 of the island's defenders were killed. 

As well as the Americans and Japanese losses the islands were home to an indigenous population who also suffered extensive losses during the battle, which, as so often in military history, is often overlooked.  


Friday, March 10, 2017

HC: Celteberians vs Carthaginians

The Battle for Gallaecia
Having successfully routed the Celteberians in the previous two battles the Carthaginans marched into the Celteberians stronghold of Gallaecia to end the campaign once and for all. With their final bastion threatened the Celteberians were forced into a corner, this was a must win battle to prevent the Carthaginian’s capturing their homeland and ending the war.  After much pondering the Celteberian general reorganised his commands, making two powerful warbands each with a screen of light infantry to protect them. His cavalry was tasked with protecting the flanks and possibly turning the enemy line, all going well that is…

Craig’s Celteberians
Left Division
Right Division
4x Med Warband
2x Lusitanian Light Infantry
4x Med Warband
2x Lusitanian Light Infantry
2x Med Cav
2x Light Cav
Kent’s Carthaginians
Kent organised his on force as follows (or similar to this)
Left Division
Right Division
1x Libyan longspear
2x Italian Hill tribes
2x Gallic Warband
2x Skirmishers
1x Libyan longspear
2x Italian Hill tribes
2x Spanish Scutarii
2x Skirmishers
1x Med Cav
2x Light Cav
1x Italian Hill tribes
1x Spanish Scutarii

The Celteberian's assemble for a prematch pep talk. 

Turn 1: The Celteberian warbands surge forward screened by their light infantry.

On my right flank the light horse advance to pepper the opposing light horse.

Not to be lulled in by the light horse the Carthaginian line marches forward en-mass.

On the Carthaginian right the Spanish and Italian infantry flank the Celteberian light horse and pepper them with javelins disordering one unit which retreats.

Turn 2 the warband remain stationary while the light infantry moves forward to harass the Carthaginian line.

The Celteberian light horse pulls back out of the Carthaginian noose.

In the Carthaginian turn their line unleashes a hail of missiles which manages to destroy one of the Lusitanian light infantry- grrr...

While on the far left my light infantry are harassing the Gallic warband, inflicting a few hits on them.

Kent sends forward his own skirmishers to deal with my light infantry and protect his main battle line while his elephant lumbers forward.

On the right flank one of my light horse units rolls badly for a break test and is destroyed.

The battle lines close in the centre. Kent charges with his Libyans who win the combat forcing my warband back. The Libyan heavy infatry are close to being shaken in the melee but follow up the retreating Celteberians.

On my turn I throw forward my centre command to try to destroy Kent's centre. The arrow highlights where the second Libyan heavy infantry unit got its wired crossed (a blunder) and retreated back two turns, leaving he flank dangerously exposed. If only I can capitalise on this...

Arrghhh! In my own turn rather than listening to their general the Celteberians stood round discussing the latest goings on in their Gallaecian homeland (poor command roll) and so missed the opportunity to roll up the Carthaginian flank.

The opportunity is lost. Kent rolled well for his command roll and the Libyan spears and Italian infantry double timed it back into position shoring up the exposed flank but I did manage to flank and destroy the Italian infantry. In the centre though it si not going so well, Kent's Libyans win the combat and destroy two of my warband units and other units are thrown back in disorder! My centre is starting to crumble.

On my left I throw my warband are disordered.

In Kent's turn his infantry fell just short of my warband's exposed flank. However, my centre command has all but broken (3 units destroyed) and my battle line is "slightly" exposed.

This is not looking good! I've sent over a unit of medium Spanish cavalry to bolster the line as I try to rally my centre but unfortunately lose another unit this turn and the Celteberian centre collapses.

 I really need to destroy Kent's central command! He's lost one unit, another is shaken if I can kill the elephant unit I might still have a glimmer of hope, so I throw my cavalry forward to engage the Nellie's and manage to win the combat and break his centre!

Unfortunately though the Libyan Heavy infantry on the Carthaginian left destroy my warband and break my other large unit. The surviving Celteberians melt away and their leaders sue for peace.
Game and campaign to Kent!

Another great game, I had my chances but again Kent used his troops well and I learned a lot. I really don't like trying to grapple with the Libyan heavy infantry so was trying to pepper their supporting units with javelins to disorder the and remove their supports, which kind of worked. My sending forward my light infantry to harass tactic nearly worked too and if anything showed I need more light infantry! I think 1 per warband would do well! My plan was to send the light infantry a couple of moves forward so they could retreat, fire javelins (or evade) then retreat again before the Carthaginians struck my line, I probably needed two more units of light infantry to do this a bit more successfully but was sound in theory.

A good fun game once again and very enjoyable.

Next time Kent, next time....


Saturday, March 4, 2017

HC: Rebased Seljuks

The rebasing of my Seljuk/Syrian/Arab army continues. The majority of the force is now rebased, just have to do 2 more stands of light horse and an additional heavy cavalry, as well as some command units to be able to field 500 points worth. I still need to touch up some of the figures but the rebasing part of the project is done- though I am now considering upsizing it by getting a few more heavy cav units (another 2-3), and some more infantry (I've 2 bases of light horse to paint up)

All the figures are from the Perry's lovely Crusades ranges.

5x units of heavy cavalry

 6x units of light horse

3x units of light infantry with bow
2x light/medium infantry (Javelins)
2x light infantry/ Ghazi fanatics (depending on the game)

So a busy last few days


Numidian Medium Infantry

I rebased these a few weeks back, just wanted to post a photo of my medium infantry basing. 10 figs on a 12cm x 5cm deep base,. i slightly staggered the figures on the bases as I liked the look, one rank stright behind the other didn't quite look right- and maybe one reason I never really liked these particular Crusader Miniatures poses.


Friday, March 3, 2017

HC Seljuk Turks- WIP

A couple of the guys at the cub are keen to get an crusades game of Hail Caesar going soon, so I've started rebasing (the third time I think) my Seljuk army to my current basing conventions.

One of the reasons I don't like selling/getting rid of armies. You'll need them one day! I rebased the light cavalry a couple of nights ago, the medium cav units were done today, the permafilla went on an hou or so ago  and I'm waiting for it to dry so I can get started on painting.

 I like having my light cavalry units based diagonally as though they are crossing the front of the opposing army, makes them nice and easy to distinguish on table too.

There will be more photos of this force in the next few days as I complete rebasing units.


Sunday, February 26, 2017

More Ancient Spanish

Kent commented last game that he was forgetting which units were my light infantry units, or words to that effect, as I was using my medium infantry units to represent the light infantry and so they weren't always easy to distinguish. So the past few days I've been working on 4 stands of light infantry. To make them easier to tell apart from the medium infantry units I am only basing them with 6 figures per base and mainly using round shields to help them stand out a bit more on the table top.

Rebasing/finishing my Spanish medium cavalry
Also, I've rebased my Spanish medium cavalry (again). I wasn't happy with the look of the two ranks deep and wanted a more "dynamic" look. In the end I decided to go with 12cm x 10cm deep bases with 6 cavalry per base. So 2 fewer figures than I had been using by I like the dynamic look that this style basing gives. 

I've also just painted up the last 4 cavalry figures and completed the second cavalry unit. So a box of Victrix Spanish Medium cavalry will make 2x units for Hail Caesar. 

All these troops will be used in this weeks "must win" games vs the Carthaginians.