A hell of a lot happened over the 36 hours of Operation Darkwater, organised by The Bolsheviks and run at UCAP’s The Sandpit…this is going to take your entire commute and possibly your lunch break too!
Task Force Voodoo – my team – and The Bolsheviks – our OPFOR – are no strangers to each other. We’ve crossed swords on a number of 8 hour games hosted by Frozen Conflicts. This time, however, it was the big one; a full on 36 hour milsim and to say that both forces were motivated would be an understatement.
We were to be operating behind enemy lines to locate and destroy an unknown number of anti-aircraft emplacements. These, the scenario explained, prevented aerial intelligence gathering in the area and consequently left us operating with limited resources.
It was known to us that we were outnumbered approximately 2 to 1 and that local forces were supported by armour and indirect fire capabilities. Furthermore, the AO was a hive of activity with enemy forces openly dominating the area with both patrols and fortified positions.
Given the intelligence available it was clear that we would have to operate small unit tactics and try and keep a low profile. Going toe to toe with the platoon sized armoured unit The Bolsheviks operate would not have ended well, and certainly would have taken considerably less than 36 hours.
This played to our strengths. Recently we have refocused Task Force Voodoo, enabling us to for operate long durations on the ground; not relying on an FOB or Base of Operations. That being said, I was still more than a little concerned that this event would be the first acid test for our new found direction.
The strategy was devised in key stages, so as not to try and undertake too much at once, being ever conscious that we were in a hostile Area of Operations (AO) and wouldn’t have the opportunity to deliver grand sweeping maneuvers.
Stage 1: Reconnaissance activities. Gather and collate information to complete the battlefield intel and facilitate stage 2
Stage 2: Assume tactical, discrete, positions and lay up and await night time. It was a new moon and particularly cloudy, so we were counting on a dark night.
Stage 3: Execute coordinated nocturnal strikes to maximize our technological advantage (Night Vision) and take out as many objectives as possible, in quick succession to prevent significant reinforcements.
Stage 4: Exfil against a backdrop of inevitable significant enemy counter action.
All good on paper.. right?!
As mentioned above, we were comfortable operating in small section sized units and this was to be the flavour of the Op. The initial plan was run with 5 x 8 man sections with command and coordination being delivered by section leaders, supported by 2IC’s.
However, due to various reasons, we had a significant reduction in manpower last minute and had to change to 4 x 5 man fire teams with myself operating in isolation in a command role. Whilst this made it easier to envision a total battle picture, it did mean that boots on the ground would have to put in longer hours due to less rotation options. An early strain on what was already a challenging scenario.
Pre-Deployment: Staging Area
We tried a little something different for this Op. With the knowledge that time in the field would be precious and our mobility was key, we decided to hold a pre-deployment day. We used this time to ensure kit was good to go, stowed away and all accounted for before we hit the ground.
Thanks to S23Gearmonkey75, we were able to get use of Elite Action Games’ Dorking site which was ideal for what we needed and only about an hour away from UCAP’s Sandpit. Given we’re located all over the UK, having this coordination point was a solid start.
It was without doubt useful, and certainly took an admin / coordination burden out of the game day. It was good for moral (with many laughs had) and good to get the guys fed, watered and rested before the big day.
If I was to do it again, and I seriously think we will, then more emphasis will be put on how useful this day is and try and get the whole team down to maximize its effect and polish some drills.
We set off to site in convoy, stopping off for the obligatory McDonald’s breakfast on route. Already the atmosphere was changing and the guys were noticeably amped up for the task ahead.
We arrived on site in good time and feeling fresh. It was a gloriously sunny day and there it is in front of you…The Sandpit. This was my first visit to this particular site and I can’t seem to put into words how unique it is in both size and terrain. It’s almost like stepping into a completely different world, just a stone’s throw from the M25.
Sweeping hills, cliff faces, scrubland, wooded areas, swamps and a lake which is bordering on an ocean. It was commented on, more than once, that in parts it looks like it’s straight out of “Lone Survivor”. A great location for the days ahead.
Cars unloaded and last minute prep done, we formed up ready to go. A last minute brief was conducted just to get everyone on the same page with the particulars of our mission, then we prepped for infil.
We formed up, and awaited our chinook (for chinook read 4 tonner, affectionately referred to as the Heli-DAF). 10 men loaded with kit and she was full, we’d deploy in two chalks…prolonging what was one of the most nervous parts of the Op for me, when I felt our force was particularly vulnerable.
Chalk 1, (Spear 1 and Voodoo 4), dispatched and quickly secured the LZ with an all round defense allowing Chalk 2, (Voodoo 2 and 3) to deploy and handle the chinook full of bergens (suddenly this light op didn’t seem so light!).
Recon / Establishment Patrols
Ground secured patrols were sent off in Northernly, Easternly and Westernly directions (directly south was the aforementioned lake) to clear the immediate area, allowing me time to survey the immediate area, orientate and mark up maps.
It was at this point the plan went out of the window as a number of things became immediately clear:
1) To our South, on the other side of the lake atop the highest hill visible was a manned enemy location with views over our Landing Zone (element of surprise: zero)
2) Location atop said hill was actually the relay station and one of our primary objectives (ok so we found one, but man that would take one hell of an assault!)
3) Arguably most crushing, the area directly to our east was inaccessible due to flooding / excessive water meaning that we now only had one viable route for the whole operation, and it took us right through the heart of enemy strongholds… worst case scenario!
Thankfully we’d not relied on the use of an FOB so what was initially only an LZ, on an exposed flat area of hardcore and scrubland, quickly became my home for the foreseeable. Which meant stowing bergens out of sight and keeping the patrols moving whilst I took limited cover under a thorn bush with map and sharpie in hand and Spotting Scope set firmly on the Relay Station atop of the hill.
Patrols slowly fanned out further and further, establishing safe routes we could take from our improvised position. Still trying to remain low key (ever conscious of eyes on us) we observed a number of key locations fairly quickly, allowing us to focus patrols on key strategic areas.
First targeted was the plateau directly to our west offering a position overlooking our LZ and a key point to establish some control. Three sections proceeded to clear and secure the area with minimal small contacts, nothing sustained or unmanageable. In turn they were replaced by the forth section to perform a holding roll. Allowing two sections to push further forwards and one to return to the LZ.
Not long after, the holding section was bumped by an enemy section assault and our first encounter with Bolshevik armour (a BMP amphibious vehicle and an armoured personnel carrier) and 8+ enemy personnel made short work of our holding force; pushing them back to the LZ and leaving the over-watching spectre of the BMP sat atop of the plateau, hemming us quite firmly in place. Thankfully the two forward sections (Spear 1 and Voodoo 2) were on the other side of our newly appointed guard and continued in there tasking to locate and identify objectives.
Voodoo 4 persistently probed the plateau looking for any other viable route, with little success. They did however do enough to see the enemy withdraw and suddenly the prison door was left unlocked. All the while Voodoo 3, frustrated with being penned in, attempted the impassable eastern route…vanishing off into the scrub rifles in hand.
At this point the command net chirped to life. Spear 1 has located not one, but 2 of the AA launchers and positively confirmed our primary objectives. However, they were not equipped with the demolition equipment required to destroy them. So I find myself with two of our objectives in hand, but no means to achieve them. Spear 1 was asked to hold position whilst Voodoo 4 was dispatched with the ever critical demolition equipment.
Some time later – what seemed like an eternity – and a tense sitrep request came in from Spear 1. Still overseeing objectives and precariously holding deep in enemy territory. It transpired that Voodoo 4 had encountered another one (of the apparently many) waterlogged areas preventing them from RVing with Spear 1. Essentially leaving them isolated.
The gut-wrenching decision to withdraw Spear 1 was made and they returned to the LZ. At this point I thought we’d blown it, but unperturbed the Spear 1 lads quickly collected the required charge equipment and turned around, determined to seize what had been so close yet so far.
Off they went, through what we’d quickly identified as the main service route for enemy forces and suddenly everything was very quiet at the LZ. Voodoo 2 and 4 were conducting security, clearance and probing patrols in between getting fed and watered.
Some 45 minutes plus had passed, and I was now concerned for the two patrols out in the field. I was acutely aware that no less than 50% of my force was currently exposed. As if to heighten the tension, a loud percussive blast was heard drifting in over the lake. This was followed in no less than 5 minutes by a second and equally loud blast. Reports shortly followed and, with a smile that you could see even on the other end of the radio, Spear 1 positively confirmed the destruction of 2 of the 3 AA sites. Not only that but they had managed to return all men intact. This was the first, and most needed, good news of the event for us and a very tangible weight lifted from my shoulders.
Objective: Relay Station (Day)
With no time to bask in reflective glories, the bright glorious sunshine was almost instantly replaced by relentless pounding rain, making our ever exposed position even more precarious. Bashas were hastily erected and cover was sought…that is by those that were back. Voodoo 3 were still unaccounted for and not responding to comms.
The guys stood down for some hot food whilst a concerned number now gathered around the spotting scope hoping to catch a glimpse of Voodoo 3. They’d been out on the ground for almost 3 hours with no contact and in rain that would encourage Noah to consider a career change. Then someone called it. Just shy of the ridge line, there were our guys barely visible through the scope (bear in mind this is at 40+ x magnification) approaching the target relay station.
By this time we’d got a little too familiar with the two visible guards at the relay station and their routine of wandering around, building shelters, popping heads up now and then and generally pulling sentry duties as effectively as anyone would with 4 hours of inactivity…but less than 50 meters away our guys, tired, strung out and wet through were approaching with the metaphorical knife between their teeth!
We struggled to follow the action as a firefight broke out, there were casualties on both sides, but what we could make out was the untimely arrival (from our point of view) of a change of guard. As it transpires the guard had just changed over and put in their first clearance patrol (as anyone would when taking over an area). They stumbled on our guys and all hell ensued.
Sadly, and genuinely heartbreaking for all on the task force, Voodoo 3 were over run and the Relay Station was successfully defended. Forty five minutes later they finally returned from their epic endeavours, we found out exactly what it took for them to even get there… wading through waters, clinging to cliff faces and inclines fit only for mountain goats… only to get bumped on a shift change. Gutted isn’t the word.
The mood changed in camp, if we could call it that. The bad weather had brought with it equally bad fortunes. But the callsigns responded in the only way they knew how: with a renewed vigour to get the job done.
It’s fair to say that Spear 1 were almost consumed by locating the elusive 3rd AA launcher and as such increased their patrol duration and scope to cover as much ground as possible; putting in hard hours on the ground. They wanted the trifecta of all three and they wanted it bad!
Meanwhile Voodoo 2 were continuing in reconnaissance style operations, feeding intelligence back in regards to routes and enemy movements; and serving as early warning – alerting us to any closer than comfortable encounters. Then, Voodoo 4 responding to concerns, engaged the enemy as a deterrent and held a steady and diligent defense of our position.
The light was fading quickly. Thankfully the rain had ceased and now the night was clear, with strong winds whistling through the AO. This made it a bitterly cold experience for our guys out on the ground, for approaching 12 hours. It would have been easy for heads to drop and morale to be lost but the guys were so focused and on task that it wasn’t considered even for a second, with guys eager for taskings to turn the momentum around in our favour.
At this point a rather timely intervention from our friendly CIA contact on the ground, who looks suspiciously like the Chinook pilot, informed us that it appeared the defending forces had abandoned the FOB structure to our South West. A quick court was held and it was decided to cease the opportunity to move into the structure and for the first time allow the guys to set up sleeping kit and get warm and dry. We finally had a home.
Relay Station (Night)
FOB established and light all but gone, we got the team leaders together for the briefing we’d all been waiting for. Night ops were green lit, guns hot with all targets considered viable along with any targets of opportunity that may arise.
It’s worth pointing out here that at least 95% of our force was equipped with Night Vision, Thermal Capability and associated Infra-Red targetting that made night time the right time. All sections, 20 bodies, deployed to the ground patrolling out to leverage what felt like the only advantage we had having being battered by nature, and Russians, relentlessly all day long.
I remained in the FOB, manning the radios and watching Callsigns vanish into the darkness with a renewed purpose and a sense of anticipation and giddiness. The time passed me by particularly slowly as I wished I was out there bathed in the same green glow that makes for epic war stories…which it did.
Relay base was promptly disposed of, found completely unguarded (shame that wasn’t the case earlier for Voodoo 2) but that was the first victim of the night. Other tales of engagements, building clearing, vehicle encounters and general sneakiness now filled our FOB as sections returned victorious. It’s fair to say we did as planned and owned the night. For tales of these you’ll have to ask the guys as they tell them much more vividly than I could (apparently there’s a few key moments reminiscent of Zero Dark Thirty so I’ve been told… once or twice!!!!)
Lads were stood down and told that stand to was to be at 05:30…oh, it was 03:30 at this point… I was not very popular!
Objective: Command Position
Everyone stood to, looking like zombies and debating whether staying awake would have actually been a better option than two hours kip (trust me it wasn’t any better). We began the routine clearance patrols to ensure our FOB hadn’t been compromised. It hadn’t and we were getting a little more comfortable in our environment now, even more so when Spear 1 returned from their patrol with a captured enemy mortar in hand.
We figured that no one in their right mind would expect a follow up assault from us at dawn given our prolonged night activities…so that’s exactly what we did. Again all four sections patrolled out to the enemy stronghold taking 2 routes (2 sections on each), 1 section assaulting and the other acting as a mobile QRF and reinforcing element.
Our efforts paid off as we caught the enemy sleeping (literally) and had free reign in the stronghold, which being the caring guys we are, we took full advantage of. We killed everybody we encountered (knife kill heaven) including the enemy command element. We routed the based!
There were a few hairy moments with QRF (mounted in a WMIK) but the guys handled themselves well. Some even taking the opportunity to seek cover in the back of an enemy vehicle (a selfie opportunity missed!!).
Contact: FOB Assault
Callsigns returned and routine duties began, which meant Spear 1 combing the site for the still elusive AA launcher, Voodoo 2 and 3 conducting thorough probing and reconnaissance patrols and Voodoo 4 holding the fort.
As it transpired they had something to hold it against…The Russians, re-organised and certainly re-motivated, were knocking at our door. A swift and coordinated attack saw them surround our FOB with interlocking fire from all angles; myself and the 6 guys inside scrambling as best we could to put up a meaningful resistance.
This included the now legendary Naked Warrior, Jake. Sleeping after a hard night’s work, Jake was awoke by the assault and crawled out of his doss bag, into his boots and plate carrier and returned fire like a boss. Sadly even his resistance was futile as the Russians swept through the building…
…to be met, in a timely return from patrol, by Spear 1. They quickly established a baseline and laid down effective fire but the weight of numbers was with the Russians, as they shifted the momentum and rolled over Spear 1’s hasty ambush.
We had a brief period of quiet where we re-org’d. We’d gathered intelligence from earlier in the morning that had located the elusive AA. Turns out we were struggling to find it due to it being mobile. At this point it was decided that this particular objective was secondary, having already destroyed the other two and the control base, meaning we were going back to the stronghold.
This time defenses were resolute and positions were dug in, leading to a much more drawn-out encounter than we were able to sustain. This in turn led to a failed assault, instantly countered by a BMP assault on our FOB; causing its destruction. Seeing a column of Russians on foot behind a BMP is quite a sight to behold… unless you’re commanding the defending forces at the time, that is!
At this point the decision was taken to pop smoke and call for exfil. We’d been successful in the execution of our objectives. Now the enemy was aware of our exact location and number, it was only inevitable that we would be overrun.
The mid-morning silence was broken by the sound of the Hel-DAF as we exfilled. I was the last man to leave the FOB, with a sense of achievement that was hard fought by sheer persistence, steadfastness and grit from each and every member.
After endex, with kit stowed away, we finally got a chance to be face to face with our opposition. Throughout the whole operation both sides were kept isolated from each other only seeing each other through sights, hatches and that spotting scope.
Hearty handshakes were exchanged, smiles plastered on faces that were clearly drained but still enthused. Photographs were taken and the journeys home began.
It was an event like no other for me. Acting as Force Commander, I felt a whole different kind of pressure and responsibility, but likewise experienced a whole different sense of achievement and pride in the work that every section put in.
Moreover, looking at the bigger picture, the work that the Bolsheviks had put in place to coordinate the event, and to pull it off with their unique and undeniably Russian style was just epic! Without exception everyone I spoke to enjoyed the event and can’t wait to go at it again!