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Guadalcanal Designer's Notes
A Guadalcanal Diary
By Larry Harris

Editors Note: What follows is the Designer's Notes from the upcoming Axis and Allies: Guadalcanal game, due in stores November 16th, 2007. Larry's own words provide a great introduction to our upcoming previews of this game.

Some of you know that my father was an infantryman in the South Pacific and fought in the Solomon Islands as well as New Guinea and the Philippines. I usually don’t miss an opportunity to write or talk about this whenever I have an audience. I’m sure my pride in my dad comes shining through each time.

On the surface, the South Pacific was nothing short of paradise. Think of what it must have been like. . . . An 18-year-old kid from New England, back in the 1940s when the world was a much bigger place, was getting a tropical vacation all paid for by Uncle Sam. All the transportation, food, and ammo you would need would be provided. There were white sandy beaches, palm trees, and lush jungles. It was just like in the movies. It must have been confusing when the enemy artillery and bombs began to fall.

My father kept a wartime diary of his experiences. His diary was just a small book with probably two hundred or so, now yellowed pages. Nonetheless, it is a big book in so many other ways. It is amazing that it has survived after so much and for so long. Many of the pages show wear. On a couple of them, rain drops that fell many years ago formed blue spots where the ink and water met. They serve as a testimony of a rainy day on Guadalcanal. This small book is now one of my most cherished possessions.

Axis & Allies: Guadalcanal is indeed a very special game to me. It of course takes on a deeper meaning. The islands and the names on the map take on more significance than usual. They now have a more personal context. Guadalcanal is a place where Japanese war ships and planes bombarded my father’s position. A quote from his diary:

“At night and especially under the full moon, the bombers came over and dropped their bombs and the Jap destroyers came down the slot and poured their huge shells into us. A shell coming in sounded just like a freight train.”

The island of Rendova and the town of Munda, both part of the New Georgia Islands group, were places where Corporal Harris made two of what would prove to be many beachheads.

“It was dawn when we went over the side of our transport, down the landing nets, and into our Higgins boats. Before we headed in, our ships bombarded the beach with 16-inch shells and scores of rockets. Our planes were swarming in over our heads strafing the beach. The thoughts running through my head were: ‘This is it. . . . When that ramp goes down, you’ll probably run right into a Jap machine gun nest. If you live through today, nothing can ever worry you again, because you will be living on borrowed time.’”

Being bombed by enemy aircraft is always, I’m sure, a terrifying experience. For the Americans, new to the war in the Pacific, this happened with a certain painful regularity. The Guadalcanal and Solomon Islands campaigns were among the few campaigns in which the two opposing forces could be considered on an equal par. After this battle the Japanese would never again be equal to the American air force, but for the moment the contest for air supremacy had not yet been resolved.

“I was looking up to what was thought to be low-flying American bombers. Suddenly I spotted the Jap rising sun markings. That’s when all hell broke loose. The bombers came flying in low, hopping over a small mountain that hid their approach. The planes were strafing and bombing our beachhead. They were doing a devastating job of blowing up everything. In addition to the blast of the bombs, the stacks of ammunition and shells were exploding. The drums of gasoline were bursting into flaming liquid, shooting high into the air. Hundreds of men were running every which way and being cut down by the explosions.”

Manning the jungle perimeter during the rainy season, when the nights were so black that one could not see his own hand in front of his face, the sounds of the killing were muffled by the falling rain and everything seemed to move in slow motion.

“We tied the empty ration cans together and strung them out and around our foxholes so if the Japs were moving around us in the dark they would rattle the cans and then we could open up with our rifles and machine guns. This happened almost every night because the Japs were strongly entrenched in the jungle and were all around us. They tried to infiltrate our perimeter at night and bayonet our men. You could swear that every bush around you was moving with a Jap behind it.”

The diary also speaks of more uplifting events. It talks about when his troop train crossed the country from the east coast to the west coast and how at every small town and railroad crossing local people came out to wave at the soldiers . . . how they tossed cases of cold beer and cola onto the slow passing train . . . how there were more cookies and cakes then they could eat and more books and magazines they could ever read.

The diary talks about crossing the Pacific on an unescorted troop ship filled to capacity with 5,000 people and tons of equipment badly needed on Guadalcanal. Upon entering a channel to the island of Espiritu Santo the ship suddenly shuddered and shook. Not once but twice. The ship had hit two mines in the harbor and sunk within minutes. With but a handful of casualties, 5,000 U.S. Army troops found themselves shipwrecked with no equipment and late for their scheduled appointment at Guadalcanal to join the Marines already fighting there.

Axis & Allies: Guadalcanal and the other games in the Axis & Allies series are what could be called an artistic interpretation of the historical battles they represent. I use the word artistic because I’m a designer and sincerely see games to be an art form. If these games were paintings they would have been painted with a broad brush indeed. Nonetheless, they bring information and often shine a bright light on the subject.

All the games are a result of a sincere effort on my part to recapture the significance and meaning of the struggles they portray. It is my hope that they honor your friends and relatives that may have participated in these epic events.

It is my hope that once you have played Axis & Allies: Guadalcanal, you will have a better understanding and appreciation for what occurred on that great battlefield of ocean and jungle. I think this game offers something different from the written text of a dedicated book on the subject. When such a text is combined with the playing of this game, a greater insight of the subject can be had. Historical games permit you to be in the drivers seat and steer the events. You can experiment with them. You can study “what ifs.” You are in charge!

I for one have learned much about the struggle for the Solomon Islands while designing this game. This has been a personal voyage of discovery as well. Being better informed, I walk away from this project even more proud of my father then I was before. How could that be possible? Enjoy!

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