Tuesday, August 6, 2013

'Worst Case Scenario' #7: SAS vs The Exocets - The Battle for the Falklands, 1982

SAS in Falkland-era uniforms and kit - 28mm Gripping Beast Miniatures
Back in the day I really enjoyed playing TSR's espionage role-playing game 'Top Secret'. I know many who played the game liked James Bond themed scenarios but I preferred to create environments that were based on historical or current events. So, for a little nostalgia, I decided to put together a small TS campaign for my old role-playing pals that focuses on the time in which we were playing these games back in the 1980s and thought I'd share it with you as one of my 'Worst Case Scenarios'.

It's May, 1982. The setting is the Falklands War. The scenario is based around a set of actual planned SAS operations which were to be conducted on Argentine soil. I have adjusted the premise somewhat and extrapolated the forces from information I managed to gather from various sources.

The player characters are members of a four-man SAS Patrol from Mountain Troop, B Squadron of the 22 Special Air Service Regiment (SAS). 


BACKGROUND
On May 4th 1982, a Royal Navy destroyer HMS Sheffield was attacked by two Argentinean Dassault-Breguet Super Etendard strike fighters each carrying a French made Excocet air-to-surface missile. One missile missed the destroyer but the other struck and fatally crippled her.


The British military was completely stunned by the attack, discovering that the point defence systems of the entire British naval force involved in the Falklands was unable to provide an adequate screen against these surface-skimming missiles. To underline the situation: The British military found itself facing a potentially fatal technology gap with their opponents.

Diplomatic discussions with France had revealed that the French had delivered 5 Exocets to the Argentinians  (with 2 used on the attacks against HMS Sheffield) and were about to close a deal with Peru (an Argentine ally) for several more. Prime Minister Thatcher strongly requested that the shipment be cancelled or at least delayed until the end of hostilities. After a few heated exchanges the French reluctantly agreed to interrupt their deal with the Peruvians. Nonetheless, even with the additional French missiles out of the picture the MOD knew that there were several other powers which were willing to sell Exocets to the Argentineans and it was assumed that these additional missiles were either en route or already in place in Argentina.

It was estimated that if the Argentineans could mount a successful Exocet strike against either of the two British aircraft carriers (HMS Invincible or HMS Hermes) it would almost certainly place the entire Falklands mission in jeopardy of failure. As such the SAS was tasked to remove the Exocet threat by whatever means possible, no matter the cost.

The location of the Exocets along with the Super Etendards was known to the SAS due to the size of airfield required by the fighters and their operational range. From this it was deduced that they were located at an airbase near the small regional city of Rio Grande on the southern tip of Argentina. The SAS were tasked to strike the airfield in order to remove the Exocet threat. 


OPERATION PLUM DUFF
On May 16th the SAS flew a observation team from HMS Invincible into the Tierra del Fuego area. Their mission was to observe the airfield, determine locations/targets and report their findings. It was understood that it was a one-way mission as the Westland Sea King's operational range would not allow it to return to the carrier. The plan was for the helicopter to set down the SAS team and then fly into Chile where the chopper would be destroyed and the aircrew surrender to Chilean authorities claiming that they were on an anti-submarine mission and had been blown off course. 

The Sea King managed to reach the Argentine coast but ran into bad weather and had to put down just across the border in Chile. The SAS team decided to continue on but the aircrew surrendered to Chilean military forces. Interestingly, the fate of the SAS team is still a guarded secret by the Ministry of Defence. I think this is a great scenario in of itself (and the one our group is currently playing out).


SAS on the assault.
Argentine Commandos not having any of it.
While Operation Plum Duff was being played out two plans were drafted for the main effort, one was a virtual suicide mission while the other was only marginally less insane. Thankfully neither plan had to be implemented as the war drew to a close before the Exocet threat fully manifested itself. Nonetheless, we, as ghoulish wargamers, often like to ponder on these little 'what ifs' of history and so I present an outline of the two plans below. 


OPERATION MIKADO
Similar in concept to the 1976 Israeli raid on Entebbe, the first plan (codenamed 'Operation Mikado') called for a direct assault the Rio Grande airfield, with two teams of SAS operators (55 men in total) being deployed by a pair of C-130 Hercules transport aircraft. Both Hercules would approach the airfield under radar, land directly on the tarmac at Rio Grande Airfield and the SAS personnel would storm the airfield to pursue their missions (hopefully) in a coup de main.


Once on the ground the SAS had three objectives in descending order of importance:

  1. find and destroy the remaining Exocet missiles;
  2. disable/destroy the Super Etendard strike fighters;
  3. kill the Super Etendard pilots.
The assault troops would then board the C-130s and fly to a nearby Chilean airfield. If the C-130s were unable to take off (a highly likely possibility) then the SAS were to disperse and make their way to Chile on foot.

Note: In test flights over Scotland it was discovered that the C-130s were frequently spotted by surface radar, no matter how low they flew. In fact the overall sketchiness of the plan ultimately forced one sergeant to resign in protest and the squadron commander to be replaced by the Regiment's second in command. 


OPERATION ONYX
Ultimately it was admitted that Mikado would have a slim margin for success and so British planners reworked the operation so that the SAS teams would be taken near the Argentinian coast by submarine (HMS Onyx), paddle ashore by inflatable boats and then conduct the same assault. Again, after the assault was concluded the SAS men were to yomp for Chile.

No matter which plan was pursued, it is now understood that the Argentineans had up to four battalions of Marines in the Rio Grande area, some of whom were trained by the SBS in the UK. Admittedly they probably wouldn't have been all based at the airfield but I think we can safely assume that one battalion would have been stationed nearby (if not onsite) and the others available within an hour or so.

Argentinian Marines
Pretty crazy stuff, eh? As I mentioned before I've opted to recreate Operation Plum Duff as it's quite contained and well suited to the role-playing aspect of 'Top Secret'. Nevertheless, I think any of the above operations would make an excellent scenario for 'Force on Force', 'Skirmish Sangin' or even a modified version of 'Bolt Action'. 

For figures, I picked up a bunch of 28mm Gripping Beast castings from their Mo-Fo range. These are excellent models, very nicely sculpted, with great animation and a pleasingly chunky feel to them. I'm not a modern uniform expert by any means but I managed to muddle my way through them all, though the British camo scheme was a bit of a challenge. For the groundwork I decided to try to reflect the tall grass and scattered snow terrain that we saw in many of the photographs and footage taken during the conflict (assuming the ground conditions between the Falklands and the Tierra del Fuego would be similar).

Another pic of the Argentinean Commandos
Thanks for reading!

53 comments:

  1. Sounds like it'll be a fun game Curt, the figures look very nice as well. And thanks for the history lesson!

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    1. Cheers Ray! We'll see how it all plays out in the end.

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  2. Excellent work and well thought out scenarios are a pleasure to play. especially if they are based in historical context.

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    1. Thanks Grimsby, yes, I find scenarios with some sort of historical context often work best as we can better identify with the time, environment, politics, etc.

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  3. Very nice figures, Curt. Looking at them I remember my old MLR 20mm figures and the really difficult task to find useful information for a game, many years ago.
    Really interesting history; fortunately for the SAS (and the aircrews), the war ended soon...

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    1. Yes, indeed, I think it may have gone very poorly if the mission had proceeded but you never know. Crazier schemes have been hatched and managed to stagger their way to success (and the Brits are masters of this).

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  4. Nicely done Curt I have those SAS some where lovely figures. Nice background adds a lot to the game.

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    1. Thanks Simon! Yes, I agree, the figures are great and a real joy to paint up.

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  5. A great read, really enjoyed that, and nice figures too.

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  6. I love a good 'what-if' story! The Falklands War was one that I recall vividly as a kid waiting for the news to see what happened. One of the first moments when I realised war WASN'T like the movies!

    Great figures and great backstory, Curt.

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    1. I remember those days as well - it was both very exciting and disturbing. I remember the news of the sinking of the General Belgrano (with 323 dead) and it all seemed so terrible and surreal. Nonetheless, the absence of a nuclear 'option' seemed to make it a bit more palatable somehow.

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  7. I LOVED Top Secret. Great game. I had all of the scenario books at one time (may still actually). I had a hard time getting my gaming group to play it though. What a great idea. Always played the James Bond things and never thought about an SAS type of thing. Great job with this.

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    1. It was (and still is) a great game. I was luck to have 3 players who really enjoyed it and we played it to death. It was great fun and kept my nose in the books and papers, which I think is great for any kid.

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  8. Curt

    All of the above options look desperate - but there are some great game ideas. I too recall the Falklands vividly. Mostly I think about how I might well have been on one of the RN ships involved if my mum and I hadn't relocated to Canada.

    Cheers
    PD

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    1. Thanks Peter. Yes, I was thinking that you would have been in the perfect demographic for participation if you had remained in the UK. Gives you a little pause, doesn't it?

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    2. Not only the right demographic but the right genetics. My dad is ex-RN and went through Dartmouth with Adm Sandy Woodward. It would have been hard for me not to join up.

      Cheers
      PD

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  9. Stunning looking figures! Like the scenario too.

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  10. Well thought out Curt old boy on the scenarios but the figures are fecking outstanding!

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    1. Cheers Francis, much appreciated!

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  11. Really interesting scenarios offered but this, particularly due to the mystery still surrounding the whole affair! After 30 years, I wonder if the full truth will ever be released.

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    1. Thanks Phil. Oh, I'm sure most things will come to light eventually but I'm sure there are some old spies and lies that will be very reluctant to be fully exposed. Cripes, we're still learning some very scary things about the Great War and that was almost a century ago!

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  12. Very interesting. We did sort of James Bond it with Top Secret when we played. Unfortunately it always devolved into a running gun battle, not much spying. I had plans to do a Iran/ Contra solo mission but got bogged down in re-reading the TS rules. Someone made the comment somewhere about how it was interesting that as kids we played such horribly complex games. I'm not sure, it's just all there was.

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    1. Thanks for you comments Sean! Yes, it seemed that in comparison to today's 'wired' youth we had it tough but in reality I remember it to be very rewarding to do the reading, research for each of our games. AND we all physically got together to play as opposed to, say, the xBox Live online environment which, even though I have fun playing on it, somehow seems rather cold and oddly detached to me.

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  13. Excellent idea on the recreation of these operations and I also concur, the miniatures look fantastic.

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  14. Look forward to see how it pans out.. I am a sucker for the the desperate gamble game... You can always go for who does least worst!

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    1. Absolutely! Yes, I too like the forlorn hopes of history. They make such great drama and potential for cliff-hangers.

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  15. Hello Curt, Nice to see someone else gaming the Falklands in 28mm. Nice interpretation of the terrain on your bases too. Over on my "Hurry Up and Wait" blog I've been gaming the whole campaign 30 years on but I haven't tackled this particular "what if." I can't wait to see how your "Top Secret" mission goes. Aye, Rusty

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    1. Hey Rusty, thanks very much for your comments. I love your blog and applaud your dedication to focus on a single period/campaign - I'm far too much like a 3 year old to keep on target that long. I'll try to remember to put up a post on how it all unfolds for the SAS detachment from Plum Duff.

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  16. Great looking figures with very nice background info as well! Looking forward to seeing how this plays out!

    Christopher

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  17. Fascinating scenario Curt, and I must admit it was one aspect of the Falklands campaign, that I was never aware of...

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    1. Yeah, it came as a surprise to me as well. It's funny what you can unearth by following up on a few obscure footnotes and page seven news articles.

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    2. I'd love to find out what happened to those troops, but I guess there will be a 50 year 'secrets period' to wait before they can be released?

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    3. Yeah, I think you're probably right. As a corollary, in 2017 the French government will release the archival records detailing the 1917 French Mutiny on the Western Front. Yup, records kept in confidence for a hundred years. It tells you how sensitive information like this can be perceived.

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  18. Dang, that would be fun to play. I wish our group was as into well thought out and interesting scenarios. Your gaming pals are spoiled Curt!

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    1. Thanks Millsy. We'll see how it all pans out in the end - all my plans may go down the drain if they decide to do something completely off the wall!

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  19. Beautiful figures dude! Modern camo is always a pain in the ass...

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    1. Thanks bro! Yes, camo often leaves me scratching my head and I frequently just end up with an quasi-impressionistic interpretation of what it should look like. Oh well, long as it looks alright from 3 feet away!

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  20. Great post, I found it a real interesting read. Nice figures as well.

    John

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  21. Fantastic work, Curt. The troops look good indeed. Great background too. Best, Dean

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    1. Cheers Dean. I find it's always easier to paint figures if I have some sort of background story to set them in. (I'm a bit of a 5-year old that way.)

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  22. Fascinating post and scenario! The figures look great too!

    I bought a used copy of Top Secret for $4 in 1985 and to this day has been the game that I got the most fun per dollar spent by a long shot! We played it exclusively for over a year. I seem to recal my friend had an adventure ("Operation: Rapidstrike?") that was pretty much a Special Forces Direct Action mission - assaulting some Island compound where you had to track every minute! It was madenss! I don't think we ever played it... but it looked wicked fun!

    I think after Top Secret we moved on to Recon! Since that's pretty much what we were doing with Top Secret Anyway...

    I read Michael Paul Kennedy's "Solder 'I' S.A.S." over twenty years ago, but I seem to recall at some point during the Falklands campaign he was loaded onto a Hercules at Ascension Island with the rest of his squadron and were told they were going to do some 'coup de main' strike. I thought their destination was Stanley Airfield... But maybe it was... somewhere else...? Anyway, after sitting on the Herc for a while, it was cancelled at the last minute.

    I like youre interpretation of DPM. I did a "how to" over on my blog a few years back showing how I do it:

    Painting DPM


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    1. Thanks for your comments Tim!

      Yes, our group in the 80s really got our dollar-per-play value out of the TS game as well. The combat system, which breaks everything down into 2-second turns, has a very Sam Peckinpah/Wild Bunch feel to it. With it your mind's eye easily imagines the brass casings somersaulting through the air, matching the slo-mo staccato of the muzzle flashes. Its designed to be very cinematic. We loved the combat aspect of it so much that we basically used it for straight tactical wargaming because it was pretty easy to run yet very visceral.

      Thanks re: the DPM. Its a hellish camo to replicate - I wish I had run across your how-to earlier!

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  23. Amazing as always Curt.
    Loved all of this.

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  24. They look amazing great colours as always

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    1. Hey Kent, thanks a bunch! Its nice to get some 'airplay' on an old post.

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