Monday, May 28, 2012

The Battle of Goose Green -- 28 May, 1982

Battle of Goose Green from 2 Para Falklands by Maj. Gen. John Frost
The final act in the Falklands drama opened at Goose Green on May 28, 1982, as the British 2 Parachute Battalion, supported by fire support from the frigate HMS Arrow and half a battery of 105mm field artillery attacked the Argentine garrison at the settlement of Goose Green, which lies on the narrow isthmus connecting the northern and southern portions of East Falkland Island.

At first glance the two sides appear evenly matched. 2 Para was comprised of three para companies, a "patrol" company and a support company. This totaled about 450 men.

The Argentine garrison was largely comprised of the 12th Infantry "regiment" (actually battalion sized) with three infantry companies and support company. Attached in support were some air force personnel, some AA guns and half a battery of 105 mm howitzers. The fighting men in the Argentine garrison totaled about 600, with another 900 logistics, air force ground personnel and others present.

In land combat, however, numbers can be very deceiving and, in fact, the British force was far more powerful than the Argentinians. In Clash of Arms South Atlantic War Second Edition supplement there are rules for resolving ground combats based on the work of Col. Trevor N. Dupuy and his Quantified Judgment Model for predicting the outcome of ground battles.

Dupuy's work was -- and is -- controversial in its methodology, but the fact remains that Gulf War predictions based on the QJM method were far closer to the actual result than most other predictions that appeared in the media.

The Ground Combat Strengths of the supplement were calculated using a modified version of the QJM and those GCS figures show an enormous superiority for the British. In fact, the Base GCS of the British force of 15.95 is more than 2 and half times greater than the 6.30 of the Argentine defenders. This implies are fairly quick and decisive victory for the British with relatively light casualties and so it proved in the actual event.

The Argentine garrison was defeated in a day's fighting and the entire lot captured. The British lost 17 killed and 33 wounded while 55 Argentinians were killed and 86 wounded with the balance of the force -- more than 1,000 -- captured.

A notable casualty was the 2 Para commander, Lt. Col. "H" Jones. In fact, the ratio of leader casualties to private soldiers lost between the two forces is very suggestive as to the difference in quality between these elite British troops and their regular Argentine opponents.

Out of the 17 British killed in action, no fewer than a dozen were leaders ( 5 officers and 7 NCOs). In contrast the vast majority of the Argentinian soldiers killed were lower ranking enlisted soldiers -- 43 of them. Coincidentally the Argentinians also had 12 leaders killed -- three officers and nine NCOs.

This quality difference would manifests itself again during the final climactic battle at Port Stanley in a little more than two weeks time.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Bringing out the big guns -- Interesting video

War at Sea session report

Check out this excellent session report.

A sample

Game 1 Turn 6

At this point, it was pretty clear this was going to be the last turn; Seth advanced both Prince of Wales towards the center, and the crippled Tirpitz could not get away. In the end, I managed to get enough torp hits to sink one more battleship, but alas a final salvo from the lesser damaged Prince of Wales sent the Tirpitz to the bottom. British victory!

Well, yeah, I picked the game I won. If you want to see the game I lost, see Andy's blog!

Friday, May 25, 2012

All out effort on Independence Day -- Falklands 1982

Stunning photo from the HMS Broadsword showing two A-4 Skyhawks on a low-level bomb run through flak attacking the ship on May 25th, 1982.
The Argentinian high command decided to cap off a week of raids against the ships in San Carlos waters with an all-out effort on May 25th, Argentina's Independence Day.

The raids were not as large as the first ones a few days earlier, but they were just as intense, and in the end just as deadly for the British fleet, with the destroyer HMS Coventry and the container ship-turned aircraft transport Atlantic Conveyor sunk and the frigate HMS Broadsword damaged.

Sadly for  the Argentine war effort, however, this level of effort was unsustainable. Three more jets were lost on May 25th, which, when added to the four lost the day before and two lost on May 23, left the Argentine land-based air arm well and truly decimated. There would only be a handful of raids for the rest of the war, as reflected in the loss rates. Only six more high-performance planes would be lost before the final surrender.

Explosions rip through the HMS Coventry after several bombs hit the ship on May 25th. The photo was taken from the HMS Broadsword.
Perhaps even worse for the Argentinians, the May 25th attack that took out the Atlantic Conveyor used up the last of their small stock of highly effective Exocet missiles. Despite strenuous efforts by the Argentinians to somehow find a few more of the air-launched versions of the missile from sources as diverse as Iraq, Libya ad Peru, British counter efforts helped all those efforts fall short. Given that the British were losing a ship for every 2-3 Exocet missiles expended, having a few more of them could have proven decisive.

The loss of the Atlantic Conveyor meat the loss of all but one of the task force's heavy lift CH-47 helicopters, which would soon be felt keenly.

With the Argentine Navy and Air Force largely neutralized, the war was about to move into its final and decisive phase as the British and Argentinian ground forces confronted each other. Despite all the high technology of guided missiles, high-performance aircraft and advanced warships, the war was about to be decided, as wars usually are, at the end of a bayonet wielded by riflemen.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Flopping "Battleship" to torpedo Hasbro?

Rihanna? Really?
 Probably not, although this Forces article suggests that the venerable toymaker can;t help but be disappointed by the failure of the high-budget Aliens vs. Navy flick to wow critics or audiences.

Hasbro has had high hopes that movie based on classics like Battleship, Clue and Monopoly might boost interest in their sagging board games, much like how the transformers movies have juiced that toy line.

I've wondered since I heard about the projects how this could possibly work, knowing the way Hollywood treats outside intellectual properties like books, plays and short stories. I think, for the most part, Hollywood adaptations of non-original screenplays do violence to the creative vision that's responsible for their success. This is why people were so pleasantly surprised by how well Peter Jackson handled The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I think I can speak for most fans when I say we were very relieved when the first movie came out because he didn't screw it up. Yes, yes, yes, the fans can quibble about decisions here and there, but everybody realized that there was no way to make a literal translation of Tolkien's dense books into movies. But Jackson understood and respected the books, and so was able to make changes that kept true to the good professor's vision, even when he had to depart from the story.

Battleship, however, is much more typical of Hollywood's treatment. They basically just kept the title and created a regular special-effects dominated aliens movie. Now, "battleship" the game, is hardly some high concept product, so there was a lot of room to work with. But it's not an alien themed game.

The key thing, I think, is to recognize that the heart of "Battleship" is the guess and outguess interplay and a movie that captured that dynamic might succeed. I think it would be possible to make a Monopoly movie -- but not  as a  remake of Wall Street.  No, the movie would need to highlight the wheeling and dealing of the game in the context of a cinematic treatment. I think of the way the musical Chess successfully captured the drama surrounding international chess matches during the Cold War to make an entertaining story.

Essentially, however, the classic Hasbro board games don't feature a strong in-game narrative that would translate well into a Hollywood style movie. Among the Hasbro game properties that DO have strong narrative potential would be Dungeons and Dragons, Diplomacy and even Axis & Allies, but none have the kind of wide public name recognition of Battleship or Monopoly and probably can't attract Hollywood interest.Some of the old AH titles like Monster Menace America might work.

I think Hasbro fundamentally misunderstood why the Transformers movies worked. The transformers are cool visual toys and the movies were able to  parlay that into a cool visual movie. Board games are more like books in that the action tends to be in the mind, not the eye.

I think Hasbro is barking up the wrong tree.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Operation Sutton -- 1982


HMS Ardent after being hit

Operation Sutton

30 years ago today the British commenced Operation Sutton, the landing of troops to retake the Falkland Islands, seized by Argentina seven weeks earlier. That the British were able to organize and execute such an operation over such an enormous distance and on such short notice is a testimony to the professionalism of their military. It’s probable that the only other country capable of doing something like this is the United States – and possibly France.

The British plan was to land a brigade’s worth of troops in the protected anchorage of San Carlos Bay, which lies between West and East Falkland Islands. After securing a beached the British would move across East Falkland Island to capture Port Stanley and end the war.

While the Argentinean Navy had been neutralized in the wake of the Belgrano sinking and the Argentine Army had little ability to interfere with the British landings, their air force and naval aviation were a significant threat and wasted no time in reacting vigorously to the British landing. The first British troops came ashore about 4 a.m. and by dawn the landing ships were already being attacked by light aircraft based in the Falklands.

The most significant air attacks, however, came from the mainland, arriving in three waves.

The first wave, eight Daggers and six A-4 Skyhawks arriving around 10:30 a.m., damaged the frigates Argonaut and Antrim. In both cases the ships were hit by bombs which did not explode, but still caused important damage to the ships. Apparently the Argentine planes attacked at such a low altitude that the bombs didn’t have time to arm properly. The frigates Brilliant and Broadsword were also damaged less seriously by cannon fire.

The second wave of 14 Skyhawks, which came in around 1 p.m., didn’t actually succeed in making it to the anchorage. Eight of the planes aborted due to weather or mechanical problems and the other six were intercepted by Sea Harriers which shot down two and damaged a third.

The third wave, 11 daggers and six Skyhawks, succeed in landing several hits on the frigate HMS Ardent, sinking her.

While the Argentine airmen were valorous and did significant damage to the British force, including sinking one ship, the cost was heavy, with five Daggers and five Skyhawks from the mainland shot down. Four of the Daggers were brought down by Sidewinder missiles from Sea Harriers, while the fifth was shot down by a missile from one of the frigates. All five of the Skyhawks lost were downed by Sea Harriers as well. The Argentines also lost four other aircraft that day, and the British two.

As I recall, the intensity of the air-naval battle caught the world by surprise and was a sobering lesson in how bloody modern warfare can be when waged full-out between first-class opponents. Most warfare in the last five decades and been either between third world combatants or between a first world military and third world or non-state actors. In either case, the public in first world countries is not prepared for the kinds of losses that are likely if there’s a future high-intensity conflict between capable modern militaries. It’s quite possible that the casualty toll for a United States war with China over a Taiwan, for example, would exceed the total losses of both Iraq Wars and Afghanistan within hours.

By the evening of May 21st, both sides knew they were in for a tough and costly fight, although the most important fact was that the British were firmly established ashore and the Argentine air attacks, while damaging, had not been severe enough to threaten the landing. At a 10 to one ratio of bombers lost to warships sunk, the Argentineans would run out of planes before the British ran out of ships. Tactics would need to be adjusted.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Ain't it the truth

Very true

Pebble Island Raid -- Falklands 30 years ago

The cratering of the runway and some destroyed aircraft are visible in this post-raid damage assessment photo.

The raid on Pebble Island was a textbook commando raid by the British, who pretty much invented the  modern commando in World War II (the very word 'commando' comes from the ground-breaking Commando units formed by the British in the Second World War). The raid was conducted by the S.A.S. (Speical Air Service) another British speical forces unit that traces its origins to Worl dWar II.

Pebble Island is one of the smaller islands in the Falklands group, just north of West Falkland Island. It's importance lay in a two-runway grass airstrip that the Argentinians had taken over. They established a small air presence at the strip, with a half-dozen Pucara ground attack aircraft, four T-34C trainers, which also had ground attack capability and a transport plane. There was also a radar site. All this presented an obvious threat to the British invasion fleet which was planning to pass just a  few miles away on its way to land troops at San Carlos.

About 45 SAS troopers, supported by naval gunfire from two frigates were given the task of landing near the airfield and attacking it to neutralize the radar site and aircraft.

The raid was a complete success, with all 11 aircraft, the radar site destroyed, runway cratered and the SAS extricated with no fatalities or serious injuries.  At least one Argentinian officer fell leading his troops, but total Argentinian personnel losses aren't reported.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Ogre crush! Kickstarter ends at over $900.000!

The Ogre Kickstarter project was simply an amazing episode in the history of the hobby.

For those who don't know, Ogre was a small, pocket-sized game first published in 1977 for, I think $2.95 -- which is about $11.17 in today's dollars, according to the CPI calculator.

The basic premise of this classic game is that warfare of the future features, besides tanks, hovercraft and power-suited infantry, these enormous robot tanks called Ogres. The basic scenario pits one of these against a more conventional force ina classic one-against-many situation. Sequels called G.E.V. (for Ground Effect Vehicle -- what the hovercraft are called) and Shockwave added more units and maps and scenarios.

Later editions included a deluxe version and a miniatures game, but all of it has been out of print since the late 1980s as Steve Jackson moved on to other projects such as GURPS, Illuminati and, most famously, Munchkin.

People have been pestering Jackson for years to come out with a  new edition and  he finally decided to move on the project this year after years of development work and running the numbers. Notably this was always going to be a real "deluxe" or "designer's" edition with lots of extra stuff in it, including basically all the material from the base Ogre plus GEV and Shockwave. Jackson's game company doesn't have a pre-order system set up and so, in order to gauge the level of interest, he used the Kickstarter system.

Kickstarter is a cloud financing system geared mostly toward creative projects that has been used by some game designers. Probably the most well-known before Ogre was D-Day Dice.

Jackson was thinking he could sell 3,00 copies at $100 dollars apiece. In order to create a pseudo-preorder system he set a  goal of $20,000 to get the project going with what are called "stretch" goals in Kickstarter for additional  "swag."

By the end of the 30-day drive the Ogre project had more than 5,500 backers and raised more than $925.000!! Wow.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Battle of McDowell -- 150 years ago

May 8 also saw a significant engagement during the American Civil War as Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson defeated Union Gen' Fremont in a small, but  important fight at McDowell bear the beginning of his classic Valley campaign.

The two sides were evenly matched with around 6,000 troops each and Confederate losses were actually somewhat higher -- but Fremont's force retreated, freeing Jackson to turn on the other federal forces in the valley and defeat them in turn, later in the month.

The Other Shoe drops -- Lexington sunk 70 years ago

USS Lexington afire after being hit during the Battle of Coral Sea on May 8, 1942.
On the morning of May 8 both carrier forces spotted each other and launched strikes, and while both strikes found their opponents the more experienced Japanese aviators got the better of the exchange.  Both the USS Yorktown and the USS Lexington were hit, while only the Shokaku was hit in return.

While the Shokaku and the Yorktown ended up surviving their hits, the Lexington was hit by at least two bombs and, more critically, by two torpedoes. As it turned out in the Pacific war, torpedoes were the bane  of American aircraft carriers. Every US fleet carrier that was lost was lost after receiving torpedo hits.

While the Japanese got the better of the tactical exchange, however, from a strategic standpoint things were quite different. The Americans hurriedly repaired the Yorktown and it was available for the Battle of Midway less than a month later. Meanwhile the Shokaku's damage took much longer to repair and the Zuikaku, while undamaged, had taken such heavy losses in its air group that it also missed out the key Battle of Midway. Overall, the Japanese would have been much better served by skipping the whole affair. Having all six fleet carriers for Midway would have been a big advantage, even if the Americans retained the Lexington. The US Navy in mid-1942 had not developed doctrine or experience in operating carriers together (indeed, the pairing of the Enterprise and Hornet at Midway was an innovation for the Americans) so having four carriers would have been an awkward situation. In contrast, the Japanese had highly honed their capability to operate all six fleet carriers as a unified force. A 6-4 edge in carriers would have been much better than the 4-3 advantage they had in the actual event.

In June a new Essex-class carrier being built in Massachusetts was renamed the Lexington (CV-16) in honor of the lost ship. The other three fleet carriers lost later in 1942 -- the Yorktown, Hornet and Wasp -- would likewise be memorialized by new Essex class ships (CV-10, CV-12 and CV-18, respectively).

Monday, May 7, 2012

Battle of Coral Sea - 1942

The Shoho under attack during the Battle of Coral Sea, May 7, 1942

The Battle of Coral Sea started on this date, 70 years ago. Notable as the first naval battle in history where the opposing ships never sighted each other, the first day was marked by a number of blunders by both sides that included attacks on friendly ships, massive strikes launched against minor targets and even confused aircraft trying to join landing patterns on opposing carriers.

The score ended up being in the US favor as the sun set. While the fleet tanker Neosho and destroyer Sims were sunk, the Japanese lost the aircraft carrier Shoho and called off their planned amphibious landing at Port Moresby.

The Shoho was attacked by more than 90 aircraft that gave the Americans some dramatic photographs and the catch phrase "Scratch one flattop!'

Coral Sea is well covered by wargames, among them are SOPAC from the Second World War at Sea, The Fires of Midway and the classic Avalon Hill game Midway through its Coral Sea expansion kit.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Stonewall and Little Mac, a study in contrasts from 150 years ago

Battle of Williamsburg from The Civil War Preservation Trust

During the first week of May, 1862, 150 years ago, two military campaigns were unfolding in Virginia that offer and interesting study in contrasts. Although about 175 miles apart as the crow flies -- and considerably further as the soldier marched -- Maj. Gen. George B. "Little Mac" McClellan's Peninsula Campaign and Maj. Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's Valley campaign were intimately related and, before the campaigns ended, became intertwined.

Detail from OTR map showing the area around Williamsburg
The two campaigns are each the subject of a game in the classic Great Campaigns of the American Civil War series from Avalon Hill. Stonewall in the Valley, Volume IV in the game series, covers "The Full Campaign in the Shenandoah from March to June 1862. On to Richmond, Volume VI in the series, covers "The Peninsula Campaign April-July 1862.

The first thing one notes about these two game is the extraordinary length of time they cover in a game system that otherwise typically deals with campaigns measured in a few weeks. While each contains a number of scenarios depicting specific phases and incidents in the long campaigns, the grand campaign game needs to cope with not just a long period of time, but also the fact of the other campaign. One solution is to play both games simultaneously and that is an option covered -- but that takes up  a lot of space (five 22" by 32" maps) and time (SIV up to 14 hours and OTR up to 2 days).

More practical is to play each game on its own and use the in-game rules that account for the influence of the off-map campaigns.

Jackson's valley campaign is generally considered a masterpiece of maneuver warfare, as he tied down larger Union forces for most of the time and in the end was able to redeploy to the Richmond are to take part in that campaign as well. While Jackson didn't win every fight and he didn't always live up to expectations once he arrived with Lee's army, for the most part the key characteristic of his conduct was energy

In contrast, McClellan's defining characteristic, I think, was not so much lethargy as detachment. One thing that has always struck me about McClellan's conduct on the battlefield was how rarely he seemed to actually be near the fighting. I see no reason to think that this had to do with a lack of never but instead I think it reflected McClellan's view of his role -- as an overall coordinator and policy setter rather than a tactical commander. I don't think he was necessarily wrong in this as he was overzealous about it.  He usually seemed to be too far from the action to properly do the coordination part of his job and his corps commanders were, as  a result, pretty much on their own. The Battle of Williamsburg on May 5 illustrates this. While his subordinates fought a sharp fight, and several of them started to make their reputations here (Hooker as a division commander, Hancock "The Superb" as  a brigade commander) Little Mac was miles away and had little control over what was happening. As a result the Rebel arny managed to extricate itself from what could have been a tight spot.

In early May, however, these defining characteristics had not yet manifested themselves entirely.  Jackson was just starting his series of marches that would take the breath away from his opponents and earn his troops the sobriquet of "foot cavalry. And, while McClellan was already showing the "slows" that would come to define him to posterity, it wasn't yet clear how many opportunities it would cost him and the nation. After all, Johnston retreated from Williamsburg and McClellan's plan to get to Richmond seemed to be working.

Stay tuned.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Argentina strikes back -- The Sheffield hit 30 years ago

HMS Sheffield hit, May 4, 1982

Any illusions that the war would be entirely one-sided for the British were shattered on May 4 when word came that the HMS Sheffield had been hit by an Exocet missile. While the ship remained afloat, it had to be abandoned ad a fire raged out of control and it would eventually sink under tow. Twenty crew were killed and another two dozen wounded.

The loss came as the Sheffield was on radar picket duty west of the British task force. Radar picket duty is a necessary, but very dangerous, duty, as the US Navy discovered during the closing months of World War II when dozens of escorts were damaged and destroyed by Kamizake attacks.

Fortunately for the British , the Argentinians didn't have dozens  of Exocets. Indeed, they had just five of the air-launched versions and just five Super Etendard attack planes to carry them. This was another negative consequence of the Argentinian decision to rush the start of the war. Had they waited until September they would have had a total of at least 10 Exocets and 14 planes to carry them.

In  a very well-planned and executed mission the Argentinian Navy aviators in two Super Etendard, supported by a Neptune recon plane, were able to fire two missiles and escape without being engaged. One missile apparently failed to find a target but the second w=one hit the Sheffeild, which wasn't prepared properly for defending against a missile attack. It's shipboard radars and air defenses never spotted the threat and the only warning it got was from voice shouts after Mark 1 eyeballs spotted the incoming missile just seconds before it hit. 

It seems evident that the missile did not explode, but rocket fuel and other combustibles combined to fuel a fire that burned out the ship.

It's interesting to go back and read the accounts from the time of the incident. I have the Osprey special editions on the Falklands War (Men-At-Arms No. 133-135) and the Sunday Times of London's "War in the Falklands -- The Full Story," all published in 1982 shortly after the close of the war. While not bad, considering how quickly they were done, they do make a number of claims that turned out to not be true -- and suffer from minimal input form the Argentinian side.

The Harpoon4 supplement South Atlantic War 2nd Ed., which is my main source, was published in 2002 and had the advantage of much better information and much more information from the Argentinian side. One difference, for example, is the supposed role of the Argentinian submarine sin the incident.  At the time, the British ships reported "torpedo wakes" near the stricken Sheffield. The Osprey book asserts that "It seems probable that both of the Argentine Type 209 submarines were in the vicinity. Some reason exists to believe that one of them may have been hit, and perhaps sunk, by a Stingray torpedo released from a Sea King helicopter.

We now know that there were in fact no Argentinian subs present that day and, in fact, only one of the Type 209 submarines was even operational. A nice illustration of the news truism that the first reports are always wrong.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

More losses for Argentina in the Falklands War 30 years ago

The damage to the Alferez Sobral bridge area

 The first few days of serious fighting were costly for the Argentinian military, especially the Navy. Besides losing more than 300 men when the ARA general Belgrano went down on May 2, a small Argentinian warship called the Alferez Sobral suffered disproportionate casualties from some non-fatal hits from Sea Skua air-to0surface missiles fired by Btitsh helicopters when it was spotted while searching for downed aircrew from earlier fighting.

A total of four Sea Skua were fired and it appears three of the hit. One did not serious damage, as it hit the Sobral's lifeboat and blew it to bits. But two of the missiles hit near the bridge and killed 8 men, including the captain, and wounded at least 8 more -- for a loss rate of nearly 20%.

One thing this episode points out is the limitations of a wargame, even a very detailed one such as Harpoon4. According to the Harpoon4 rules, each Sea Skua should do 6 damage points so three hits should have left the 24-damage point Sobral nearly crippled with 75% damage before considering the effects of any critical hits.

In fact, though, one of the "hits" destroyed an accessory of the ship, its lifeboat, and did no structural damage at all. The effect of the two hits on the bridge also seems to be less than expected, as well. This reminds me of a discussion in a Harpoon Sitrep a few years back where Larry Bond discussed the surface-to-surface missile hit by Palestinian militants on the Israeli patrol boat INS Hanit in 2006. According to the Harpoon4 models the ship should have been devastated by a hit from the powerful missile used. While four crew were killed and there was a fire, the ship seemed to have escaped serious  structural damage.  Bond's analysis of open source photos led him to believe that the missile struck an exposed crane on the deck, which was missing in post-attack photos. He admitted that this sort of fluke hit  was hard to model in Harpoon4 and said that he basically just ignored that sort of thing in the game -- a not entirely satisfactory answer.

When I've run Harpoon4 scenarios I've experimented with various random reductions in effectiveness (While a better-than-expected result is also possible, I assume that is generally accounted for by the critical hit rules and in my opinion most weapons perform worse than expected and that's the bias I introduce into the game.)

Based on the photographic evidence and the lack of any apparent reduction in the ship;s speed, it appears that the actual damage done to the Sobral was less than 6 damage points in Harpoon4 terms. This implies that the Sea Skua's did less than half the expected amount of damage, even discounting entirely the lifeboat "hit" which might have been a "miss" in game terms.

In any case, a lesson worth bearing in mind when considering the likely effectiveness of any new weapons is that the most likely outcome is disappointment.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Belgrano sinking -- how to properly use a submarine

Famous photo of the ARA General Belgrano sinking, taken by a crewman in one of the orange inflatable life rafts. note that the bow of the cruiser has been blown off. While a grievous blow, this was not the fatal one. A second torpedo hit midships aft, killing more than 200 sailors instantly and causing flooding damage that led to the sinking.

Thirty Years ago today the Falklands War took a dramatic and serious turn as the British nuclear submarine HMS Conqueror successfully torpedoed the ARA General Belgrano (formerly the USS Phoenix). The General Belgrano soon sank, with the loss of  321 men.

There was considerable, if misplaced, controversy at the time over the sinking, as the Argentinian ship was outside the declared exclusion zone and the heavy loss of life was a shocking development in what, for most of the world, had seemed a rather odd war between two unlikely combatants. Up until this point the war had seen few casualties and the media portrayal of the whole affair seemed to downplay the seriousness of what was at stake -- or so I thought at the time. For weeks the media had been filled with acoc8unts of the shuttle diplomacy of Alexander Haig and various talking heads had dismissed the idea that these two American allies could actually, you know, fight.

I thought this attitude was quite bizarre, and once the first elements of the British task force set out for the war zone I was absolutely certain it would come to fighting. Both sides were committed and neither could back down at that point. The Argentinian Junta could not possibly retreat from the islands and survive -- and Thatcher's government likewise would have been instantly doomed had it ordered the task force to turn around.

The Belgrano incident revealed to the world what a serious affair the Falklands War was -- and always had been. To its credit the Thatcher government seems to have been very clear-eyed about what was at stake and the order was given to sink the Belgrano despite some murkiness about the exact situation.

And the sinking of the Belgrano was hugely significant, signaling, in effect, the defeat of the Argentinian Navy. In the wake of the Belgrano's sinking the Argentinian surface navy returned to port, never to return. Just a few hours before there had been the real possibility of the first carrier battle in almost 40 years as the Argentinian aircraft carrier ARA Veinticinco de Mayo closed within 200 miles of the British fleet. Light winds thwarted the Argentinian attack as its A-4 Skyhawks would have had to launch with just two 500-pound bombs instead of the planned six and the Argentinians decided that wasn't good enough. Hindisght suggests this was a mistake, as even one bomb on a British carrier would have changed the complexion of the war.

Instead it was the pair of torpedoes that the Conqueror sent into the Belgrano that ended up being the game changer.. It was evident that the Argentinians had no tools to cope with the British nuclear sub force and rather than risk any more ships they abandoned the field. The rest of the Argentinian effort against the British fleet would rely on land-based aircraft and a single submarine. This proved not to be enough.

Unlike the Argentinian misuse of the Sante Fe a few days before, the British dedicated their submarine force to the critical mission of  winning the sea battle. On May 2 they didn't have many resources -- in addition to the HMS Conqueror the HMS Spartan and HMS Splendid were in the area. This wasn't a lot to cover such a huge are and in the event only the Conqueror actually made contact with one of the three Argentinian task forces. This was sufficient, however.

For more on the sinking of the Belgrano there is this site.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Amazing Raid on Port Stanley 30 years ago

One should never underestimate the ingenuity of man when it comes to warmaking.

On May 1, 1982 the British launched one of the longest distance air raid ever when they bombed Stanley Airfield from Ascension Island, 3,750 miles away.

As shown in this graphic, taken from Clash of Arms' South Atlantic War 2nd Ed.  the raid involved a complicated dance of refueling tasks to pull off. It took 11 tanker aircraft to support the one Vulcan bomber that conducted the actual bomb run. (That bomber was the "spare" aircraft assigned to the mission, the primary aircraft had to abort.)

The bomb run did some key damage to the airfield, closing it to high performance aircraft. (The light Pucara attack plane and C-130 transports could still use it).  Things might have been tougher for the British if the Argentinians had been able to base jets at Stanley.

While the Vulcans conducted their mission without loss, other attacks that day were a harbinger for things to come for the the Argentinian airmen. Three Pucara aircarft were destroyed on the ground by attacking Sea Harriers from the British task force. Meanwhile, Argentinian attacks on the task force were costly. Three Argentinian aircraft were shot down by Sea Harriers -- a Mirage III, a Dagger and a Canberra bomber. Another Mirage III damaged by a Sea Harrier was lost when downed by friendly fire. The British frigate Arrow was damaged.

Hasbro disappointed

Apparently Hasbro had  a bad quarter, the company said.

This can't be good news for fans of niche Hasbro game products like Magic: The gathering, Dungeons & Dragons or Axis & Allies.