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Tuesday 25 October 2022

Banzai at Basra – Japanese in Iraq

This is the latest Chasing the Soft Underbelly scenario testing game played at the club on Sunday. Thanks to Graeme for indulging me in this somewhat unusual setting.

The story of the Iraq revolt and the daring British response is relatively well known. Less well-known is the role played by Imperial Japan. The Tripartite Pact between Germany, Italy, and Japan had not clearly defined spheres of influence outside Europe and the Far East. The Japanese believed that Asia extended far enough to include the Middle East to reflect their economic interests in the region, not least the oil supply. They had partly financed the coup and promised military supplies. While the Germans refused to cooperate with Japanese plans, not wanting to upset the Japanese may have been a factor in the limited German and Turkish responses to the coup. The British took this seriously, with the foreign secretary Anthony Eden expecting Japanese landings in Aden, which he was doubtful the British could resist. 

In this scenario, we assume that the Japanese took their support for the Iraqi coup a stage further and provided military forces. Iran was neutral at this time, with strong economic links to Germany. This means that, unlike the Germans, they had naval options for intervening, which didn’t require the capture of RAF bases. A Japanese carrier force could have sailed up the gulf and landed at Basra. Therefore, they likely would have joined the Iraqi Army in resisting the 20th Indian Infantry Brigade, which waved had sent to secure Basra.

For this scenario, we assume the Japanese made a beach landing on the Shatt al-Arab waterway after the 20th Indian Infantry Brigade had secured the docks and airfield. The Japanese priority would have been to capture the port. To stop this advance, the 7th Gurkha Rifles are ordered to intercept them while the 11th Sikhs hold the docks against an attack from the Iraqi Army. Contact is made on the outskirts of Basra between the Gurkhas and the Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces. The Japanese would have had carrier-based air support so that they would have had effective control of the skies. The RAF had ancient Vickers Vincent ground support aircraft (244 Sqn) and around ten Wellington bombers at Shabaih.

The Japanese are on the left with the objective of seizing the Basra Road on the Gurkha baseline (right).

The Japanese and allied Iraqi Army squads assemble on the hill, while their armour covers the left flank. Another infantry squad successfully holds the right flank.

The Gurkhas (actually British as we haven't got any Gurkhas) skulk behind the mosque. Wary of the Japanese armour and Iraqi armoured car, although they had no need to worry as neither hit a thing all game!

The Japanese were lacking the banzai spirit for most of the game. The main infantry force sat on the hill, not moving until late in the game when they made some progress. Time ran out with the Gurkhas having lost more units, but the Japanese no where near their objective. 

It needs a few tweaks, but it does offer something a little different.


  1. Interesting looking game- could the Japanese have projected their forces that far forward?



    1. They had no problem attacking Ceylon, so I think it was doable. The problem would have been sustaining a force there. It would have been a very long supply line and few fuelling points until they got to Italian ports in Somalia. Hence the importance of capturing air bases and oil supplies. Later, under Operation Orient there was a plan to link up German and Japanese forces somewhere in the Middle east, although that was predicated on the Japanese capturing India.

  2. A pretty poor performance from both sides. I wonder, however, if it’s still sufficient that you frustrate your opponent and prevent them from achieving their objectives?

    1. I think that is a fair point in many game scenarios. But on this occasion the Japanese really needed the port. Holding a strip of land on a waterway, even one as large as the Shatt al-Arab, would not have been sustainable long term.