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). 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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!