Monday, May 9, 2016

When it's time to leave

It took quite a while to learn the lesson and, to be frank, it wasn't ever really taught.  How do you leave a fight?  Most training flight engagements end with "Knock it off!", "One knock it off", "Two, Knock it off".  Somehow, I don't think "Knock it off", "Phantoms, Knock it Off", "Migs, Knock it off" is going to work.  So, how do you leave a fight?  

In the late 70's, early 80's there was a 4 v 4 that was the stuff of legends (page 159).  4 F-15s vs 4 F-5s.  The Eagles were loaded with 4 Aim-7 radar guided missiles and 4 Aim-9L heat seeking missiles.  The F-5s were loaded with Aim-9Ls also.  The fight took place on one of the first Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation (ACMI) ranges.  ACMI allowed the entire engagement to be recorded and replayed from any viewpoint, a birdseye view from above, from any of the cockpits from the side.  Additionally, it recorded when a weapon was employed and based on the parameters when shot would fly the missile to the target and if in parameters, would display a "coffin" around the target.  It was a very handy resource to have in reconstructing a madly swirling many vs many engagement.

Anyhow, back to our 4 v 4.  The engagement has been going on for a while, and it's down to 1 Eagle and 1 F-5 still alive.  The F-5 is out front of the Eagle, and the Eagle takes a Radar shot.  Tail shots with a Radar Missile will have a time of flight of up to a minute,  meaning the Eagle has to keep the F-5 within 60 degrees of the nose to keep the radar illuminating the target. The F-5 quickly turns and points at the Eagle and fires an Aim-9 just prior to the Aim-7 impacting him.  The heater guides and kills the final F-15. 

Numerous Red Flag and Cope Thunder missions confirmed this phenomenon.  Many Kills were taken after the "furball" broke up as players were attempting to exit the fight.  My general tactic was to avoid the furball completely.  Take a shot from outside the fight and then hold the furball off to one side of the nose while the missile timed out.  Failing that, my F-4 tactics stood me in pretty good stead.  I'd get going as fast as I could, then figure out the point in the circle where the bad guy was going to be and point at that spot.  I'd take a high angle gun shot and hopefully blow him out of the sky, but if not, the crossing angle should be such that he'd have to turn 90-135 degrees to be pointed at me, and I'd be a couple of miles away, going the speed of snot.  It worked.

Some of the time.

So, that's how you leave a fight in a fighter.  

I suspect that leaving a fight is also a problem for the Navy.  As a boy, I read a lot of books about flying fighters, but I also read a lot of books about Submarine warfare in the Pacific.  The question was very relevant there also.  It was comparatively easy to get into a firing position. However, once you'd announced your presence and intent to do battle by firing a torpedo, extracting yourself from the engagement seemed to take cunning, patience, deception and frequently a lot of luck.

I remember being on the Blue Ridge in a teleconferenced briefing between the 7th Fleet Commander and the USCINCPAC Commander during an exercise.  At one point, USCINCPAC advised the Admiral to make sure he kept lots of "Sea Room".  I didn't understand the term, but kind of understood the concept.  I asked my Navy counterpart to explain it.  Which he did.  I'm sure the Navy readers can do a better job summarizing the concept, but basically it involves how fast ships move versus how fast threat weapons move.  One should probably avoid getting into weapons range of the enemy.  

I never had the opportunity to get around to pondering this question from the point of view of land forces.  I don't remember even discussing the issue at the Army's Command and General Staff College or School for Advanced Military Studies.  It's entirely likely it was discussed and I missed it, because I didn't really understand the problem from the Army's perspective.  Time to get out of weapons parameters in my world was measured in mere minutes, if not seconds.  To a grunt walking on the ground, getting out of weapons parameters could be days if not weeks.

I started thinking about this while visiting Te Papa on our New Zealand trip.  The museum had an outstanding exhibit on the ANZAC participation in the invasion of Turkey at Gallipoli during WWI.  (Actually, outstanding is a bit of an understatement, mere words do not describe the exhibit.  Go and Visit it, you've still got a couple of years.  Go!)

The Gallipoli operation was full of errors, setbacks and disasters.  Casualties, through combat and disease, were enormous.  In the end, it was all for naught.  In November 1915, Lord Kitchener, the British War minister, decided to cancel the invasion and ordered a withdrawal. When I saw that order in the exhibit, I thought "Hmmm, probably a good idea. Righty-O lads, off to the boats now."

Later that day, as I was relaxing on the poop deck with an adult beverage in hand, watching a beautiful New Zealand sunset and pondering the exhibit, I was struck with the thought "What happens to the last guy out?"

The forces on both sides were fairly evenly matched.  Certainly, moving the first forces out could be comparatively easy, but as more and more combatants left the beaches, the ratio of good guys to bad guys moves in the bad guys favor.  Do you just plan on sacrificing the last "x" percentage of troops?  If that's your plan, how do you stop a mutiny? 

Since it was obvious from the exhibit that given all the mistakes made during the operation, the evacuation wasn't one of them.  I told myself to look into how it was pulled off.

Turns out there were several good sources of information.  This one ( had some interesting background info on the subject. This site ( provided some operational level insights into the Deception operations which contributed to the successful evacuation.  Finally, this site ( provided insights from the individual soldiers from letters home and the like.  

So, I'd asked myself " did they just plan on sacrificing "X" percentage of troops?"  Turns out that Sir Ian Hamilton thought that the evacuation was a terrible idea and would result in 50% casualties. Evidently that negative thinking resulted in his replacement by Sir Charles Monro.
Sir Charles Monro

Given that the official casualty count for the evacuation was 3, (that's right three, as in 1,2,3) Sir Charles must have done a pretty good job.  Churchill did say of Sir Charles' efforts "he came, he saw, he capitulated", but there were probably a very large number of Australian and New Zealand troops who thought differently.  Sir Charles was successful, but how did he pull this off?

Part of the factor was the nature of the war.  The battle, as was the case in almost every theater in the war, was fought in trenches.  Actually seeing the enemy was infrequent and usually by accident and typically resulted in the death or injury of said enemy.   So, great effort was made to avoid being seeen.  Another factor was the weather (no, not in the climate change sense).  It was winter time and the weather that particular year up to this point had been cold, miserable and with frequent poor visibility. 

“I believe our Boys are having a frightful time in Gallipoli just now owing to the intense cold & snow. The rain too fills the trenches with mud & water & these poor chaps have to remain there. Scores of them die from pneumonia before they have a chance of any attention whatever.”  Captain Harry D. Dansey, M.C., NZ Pioneer Battalion, in a letter to Miss Winifred P. Barter, 22 November 1915. 
That weather was taken into account by the Australian officer in charge of planning the evacuation, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Brudenell White.  His plan involved leading the Turks to believe that the Allies weren't leaving, merely hunkering down for the winter.  While never completely ceasing, weapons fire by the ANZAC forces would have periods of time where no Artillery or Sniper fire would come from their lines.  This would reinforce the idea that the Allies were just preparing to wait out the winter.  These battlefield preparation operations took place before the order to actually evacuate was given. 

Once the execution began, the plan was to be executed in three phases.  While waiting for the British Cabinet to approve Lord Kitchener's order (AHH, Bureaucracy....even in war!), men and equipment would be moved off the front lines as they would be if preparing for a winter garrison operation.   Phase 2, the "Intermediate" phase, troops would be evacuated at night, to reduce the forces on the lines from 41,000 to about 26,000.  That number was thought to be enough to hold off a Turkish attack for about a week.  Once that phase was complete, the final troops (20,277) would be evacuated over the course of two nights, the nights of the 18th-19th and the 19th-20th December 1915.
Final Evacuation Order

The final element of deception was the use of "DripGuns", rifles wedged into place with a small tin applied to a lever.  A water source was placed over the tin and slowly dripped water into it.  At some point, the weight was sufficient to trip the lever, firing the rifle.  The water was dumped out and the process began again.  This allowed the operation to look like just another one of the Allies' firing pauses.

 "We had left rifles with the sights knocked off, wedged in position with slowly filling water or sand tins tied onto the triggers and heard these going off as we filed down the trench. It was a long walk down to the North Beach below Walker's Ridge, but by 4:30 a.m. we were aboard and heading for Lemnos. All were busy with their thoughts. It was hard to leave Anzac where so many friends were sleeping their last sleep. 'C' party landed at Lemnos during the afternoon, marching to camp through thousands of wildly cheering troops, Tommies and Anzacs - a reception we will never forget."

Colonel J.B. Davis, 

That answers my question.  How do you leave a fight?  It takes a well thought out plan, precise execution and quite a bit of luck.

Te Papa Museum's Gallipoli site is very well done and worth a visit.


  1. Another instant classic.

    Great post!

  2. Thanks for that.
    Now there is one less thing about which I am curious.

    One pint I could make is that it probably required some cooperation and coordination with a navy to pull it off.

    1. That is a good point, and "some" is an understatement. There was discussion (with Pictures) of the role of the Navy on the site. Naval gunfire support was to be their primary role should the evacuation be discovered, and every ship they had was being used as a troop ships. The gunfire support ended up being shelling the Allies supply dumps to keep the Turks from capturing them.

  3. Never thought of that - the strategy of leaving - but of course it makes sense. Always remember something an Army Sgt told me during a training class - he was a sniper in Vietnam - that being a sniper was one of the most dangerous things because once you give your position away (first shot) everyone and their uncle is looking for you.

    Gettinkg away can be difficult unless thought out.

    1. Having a plan for leaving before you start the fight is better than trying to come up with one on the fly.

      Incidentally, while the F-15 pictured is firing a live missile, it's not a war shot (the patch of blue in front of the forward fins is a telemetry package). He's making a tactical error. As soon as he fired the missile, he should be moving his aircraft. He's tethered to that missile via the radar as it is. No sense in also giving the target a visual by staying in proximity to the smoke trail. We were holding waiting for our chance to fire a live missile on a deployment to the PI. We were > 25 miles behind the shooters and could make out their smoke trails with ease.

      As you say, everyone and their uncle is looking for you.

  4. Please excuse the ignorance. Why isn't it possible to make smokeless missile propellent?

  5. Good question, and I don't know the answer. Perhaps the energy needed to propel the missile exceeds that which can be produced smokelessly. You want them to go fast and go fast quickly and have sufficient energy to travel a fair distance after motor burnout, so that would be my guess, but it's only that. A guess.

  6. Sea room is enough room to maneuver the ship and not get 'caught' against a land mass, island or other restriction. In a battle sense, it's room to maneuver to bring your weapons into play, while 'hopefully' not getting in range of the enemies weapons. Another sea room issue is the ability to get into an attack position and have maneuvering room to get out with minimal chance of counter detection (e.g. submarine fires torp from as far away from destroyers as possible...) Nice post, and there was a LOT of cooperation there!!!

    1. That's kinda what I figured and what my counterpart said. Just didn't think I could describe it with authority, so thanks.

      Lot's of cooperation, all round!

    2. Amazing cooperation, to put it mildly!!!

  7. Drip guns. eh? When drips are outlawed only outlaws will use drips!

  8. Ah, another great post Juvat.

    The first part reminded me of the great stories I've heard about AIMVAL/ACEVAL, a couple from the great Hoser Satrapa himself. Shutting down the motors at 10NM to take away the forward quarter heater shot among other gems. Wonder if that spirit is allowed to openly exist these days?

    I'd never thought about the details of the Gallipoli withdrawal before, though I know that such things are fraught with peril. Brings to mind the Marines left behind on Koh Tang.

    1. The "Towering Inferno", as that fight became known, was an AIMVAL/ACEVAL engagement. Actually shutting down the motors at 10NM was generally not considered a good idea. However, my squadron's standard at 10 miles was throttles to idle (try not to pull up on them else you shut them down, I'm sure it has happened), VCR to HUD (to record what's happening there vs the radar scope and Head out of the cockpit. At a minimum of 1000K closing velocity, you were a max of 45 seconds from the merge. Things get very exciting very fast in those few seconds.

    2. I meant to add in the above that pulling the throttles to idle with the high bypass design of the engine, effectively eliminated head on heat shots until very close range. You'd know when the other guy did it, because your nice, loud, steady tone from the missile would go completely away and the HUD would show the missile seeker drifting around looking for something to lock on to. We discovered that a lot of clouds got killed when we reviewed the video.


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