Category Archives: The Lighter Side

Maritime and naval stories with a dash of comedy.

Celebrating the Definitely True History and Future of the Top Gun Franchise and Carrier Aviation

By Billy Mitchell

Yes, it’s me. Billy Mitchell, Army officer, airpower advocate, and Father of the U.S. Air Force. I am writing today because I am finally confident enough to reveal the details of my long-term plan to integrate naval aviation into the U.S. Air Force. I know it’s time to buzz the tower because Top Gun: Maverick is finally in theaters and reviews are in – it’s a hit!

What’s that you say? You never heard that the Top Gun franchise is an Air Force info-operation to render the U.S. naval aviation community ineffective by failing to change its culture or adopt unmanned technology? What I’m about to tell you is classified. It could end my career – and no, this isn’t the worst dogfight you’ve ever dreamed of….

Given the hopes that Top Gun: Maverick will inspire a similar recruiting boom as its 1986 predecessor, I know that Congress and naval aviators will never get rid of their carriers or the people in their strike fighters. So once the People’s Liberation Army Air Force and Rocket Forces render your community and service impotent with “Great Balls of Fire,” just remember boys, there’s no points for second place in service parochialism or great power conflict.

Back When I Was the Top Gun

If you look at the Wikipedia page of 1986’s Top Gun, some people might have you believe it’s a Paramount Pictures production at the height of the Cold War and Reagan/Lehman-era 600-ship Navy build-up. But the history goes back way further to the interwar period. And me? I didn’t feel the need for speed, only victory.

You see, I fought in the Spanish-American War and World War One (as you all seem to call it). I was an Army aerial observer in France and saw what aviation could become, so when I got back to the U.S. in January 1919, I was appointed the Director of Military Aeronautics. I knew that airpower would become the predominant force of war, so our country would need an independent air force equal to the Army and Navy.

I was the maverick in 1919 who wanted floating bases of aircraft to defend the country, but your senior naval aviators thought I’d never understand sea-based aviation requirements, so used Assistant SECNAV Franklin Delano Roosevelt to block me. FDR can thank me later for projecting forward the technology that won World War Two. But as I’m sure you historians remember, I got the Navy to commit to demonstrations of aviation against battleships by working the press like I am today. “1,000 bomber aircraft could be built and operated for the cost of one dreadnought and my airplanes could sink that battleship,” which is something you still seem to have forgotten today with your Ford-class carrier embarking F-35s compared to the B-21 Raider…But I digress.

As we remember now, SECNAV Josephus Daniels rigged the initial demonstrations in an attempt to show battleships could survive the bombing attempts. But in July 1921 with bombs I personally oversaw in designing, we sunk the old German warship Ostfriedland with a total of six bombs. Thankfully for the Navy, this exercise gave Bill Moffat enough authority to start building the carriers you would use to win in the Pacific in World War Two. But the only reason you used them was because the Japanese were so successful at sinking your battleships in Pearl Harbor (using airplanes).

There was some real genius in their flying – from the development of the Thach weave, to Dick Best sinking two Japanese carriers at Midway, or Pappy Boyington’s exploits throughout the Pacific – but I couldn’t say that here, to my Army Air Corps and Air Force brethren. I’d be afraid that everyone reading this would see right through me – but I know after World War Two, everyone had fallen for manned carrier aviation.

I never got to see it in person though. After a September 1925 crash of the helium-filled rigid airship Shenandoah that killed 14 and destroyed three seaplanes, I issued a statement accusing Army and Navy senior leaders of “almost treasonable administration of the national defense.” And to think I could have saved that line for your post-Cold War shipbuilding policies! Anyway, that statement got me court-martialed, and I resigned from the Army as a colonel. In short, how did I end up here? Well, the list of people I pissed off is long, but distinguished.

“Here” is the ‘Wild Blue Beyonder,’ the Aviator Afterlife I came to after my coronary occlusion in 1936. It’s here that I’ve been able to watch, far above you all, the advancements of aviation and try to help the Air Force absorb naval aviation. How can I do this, if I’m directly above you? Because I’m inverted. And it’s classified. I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.

After World War Two and the Need for a Movie

I watched as your admirals and SECNAV James Forrestal opposed unification to create a separate Air Force after World War Two. Their fitness reports said it all – they led by the seats of their pants, totally unpredictable. But it takes a lot more than just fancy grandstanding to win a long-term interservice rivalry. Despite the innovation of nuclear weapons and the B-36 Peacemaker, the admirals whined about the cancellation of the USS United States, and justified carrier-based strike-fighter-launched nuclear weapons to stave off the budget cuts you’d actually enact 50 years later.

That “Revolt of the Admirals” really taught me something though – I can’t get the Air Force to beat you at your culture, so I needed to let you beat yourself. It wasn’t until Howard Hughes, the Aviator-actual, arrived in the Wild Blue Beyonder, and we chatted about his film directing experiences, and how disappointed he was the Spruce Goose never made it to use in World War Two. That’s how I gave him his callsign “Goose” after the kangaroo court. He hated carrier aviation just as much as I did, given that the U.S. Navy gave up on seaplanes 60 years ago at the time of this writing.

As we were writing the movie, we got nervous. We thought for sure that the 1982 Falklands War would teach the U.S. Navy the enduring need for long-range strike capabilities, given how even small numbers of Argentine fighters carrying Exocets could sink ships and push carriers out of effective range. I turned to Howard and said, “Talk to me Goose – will this movie even work?” He nonchalantly responded, “Oh yeah, these bro-culture aviators will lap it up. Just a walk in the park for us.” So we worked through the traditional Hollywood seances to pitch Tony Scott, Don Simpson, and Jerry Bruckheimer. Thanks to Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse, we can now just plug into the internet, but thankfully Paramount loved the idea.

They did think it was a little on the nose to have our two main characters be a maverick aviator named Mitchell who doesn’t fit into the system and a lovable and awkward counterpart with the name Goose who disappears from life halfway through. I remember Jerry Bruckheimer screaming at the Ouija Board: “You don’t own this movie! Paramount does! Mitchell, your ego is writing checks your lack of a body can’t cash!” Which was fair – but the movie was a huge success!

Over $350 million at the box office; cemented Tom Cruise as a star; convinced people across the country that being shirtless with jeans was a legitimate volleyball uniform, and led a whole generation of naval aviators to join the community just as the Soviet Union collapsed. Without that threat requiring them to innovate, they could just live off the vapors of Maverick, Goose, Viper, and Ice Man at Tailhook, while occasionally bombing Eastern Europe or the Middle East. That was some of the best flying I’ve seen to date – right up to the part where their cultural inertia ensured they’ll get killed in this century. And thanks to the Navy pulling all non-strategic nuclear weapons off non-SSBNs by 1991, that whole argument for carriers from the Revolt of the Admirals went right out the window!

Heck, the original Top Gun was so impactful over so many decades that Goose and I finally were able to convince John Paul Jones and Willis “Ching” Lee as a practical joke that the SWOs needed their own movie. They pitched Hollywood on what became 2012’s Battleship. It was a box-office bomb, but it helped take Navy surface forces out of the Air Force’s long-range strike game in three ways:

  1. It validated that toxic leadership should be maintained through nepotism or special privileges, and that the fire of battle will ultimately fix these cultural issues.
  2. Rihanna’s character served as an operations specialist, gunner’s mate, and various other roles, validating the optimal (minimal) manning constructs that were so successful with the Littoral Combat Ship and Zumwalt-class destroyers.
  3. And lastly, the climactic battle is premised on the USS Missouri, a museum battleship, getting underway in mere hours through the capabilities of septuagenarian veteran maintainers with limited financial investment or detailed explanation. I believe this is the current NAVSEA policy for leaving American shipyards, as I’ve seen it explained in the Balisle Report, Comprehensive Review, and the regular pictures of rusty combatants traversing the world’s oceans.

And to think the SWOs killed the Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missile (TASM) in 1994 only to bring it back three decades later as an improved “Maritime Strike Tomahawk”? What a run for Top Gun.

This is what the Chinese call a “Target-Rich Environment” – the Need for a Sequel

Even after the PLA lost that lovin’ feelin’ during the 1996 Third Taiwan Strait Crisis, those reckless U.S. carrier aviators put their crew and their plane first. The PLA on the other hand couldn’t live down having multiple American aircraft carriers nearby and interfering in the China/Taiwan issue. In the following generation, they “fielded, and [are] further developing, capabilities to provide options for the PRC to dissuade, deter, or if ordered, defeat third-party intervention during a large-scale theater campaign such as a Taiwan contingency.” And look, I get it – you don’t have time to think up there in the Pentagon, developing the future of carrier aviation over a generation. If you think, you’re dead. People know the F-35 works just like the F/A-18 works just like the F-14 worked.

Except Goose and I started to get worried again. When the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile reached initial operating capability in 2010, we thought, “Surely these naval aviators will clamor for the aircraft ranges necessary to operate from beyond that missile’s danger zone.” But ride into the danger zone they did, continuing to do ineffective presence while the South China Sea was militarized, and providing free OPFOR training to the Chinese. Within three years naval aviation was landing the X-47B drone aboard a carrier – an unmanned reconnaissance system with such accuracy it would dent the carrier deck with its consistency. Surely you Cruise-wannabes would acknowledge the future and transition it to a program of record for an unmanned strike fighter, enabling far longer ranges and time-on-station than manned fighters. Right?

Even in the think tank world, experts started asking: Is the carrier obsolete? Why has the air wing’s range diminished dangerously? How could air wings transform to do long-range sea denial in support of a Taiwan counter-intervention scenario, now seen as the pacing challenge for American geopolitics this century? And all of this while the Chinese fielded the DF-26 “Guam Killer,” DF-17 Hypersonic Missile, and tested a Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS)/Hypersonic Glide Vehicle hybrid with potentially global conventional strike range? It was as if senior aviators were screaming at future wars, “I will adapt to new technologies when I’m god$%& good and ready! You got that?”

We knew it was time for a sequel. If the U.S. naval aviation community could once again fall in love with manned carrier aviation, they would never adopt the unmanned systems at the speed or scale needed for modern threats. A sequel, loved by all, would pave the way for a single service with conventional and strategic long-range maritime strike capabilities able to take it right into China’s danger zone: The U.S. Air Force. Will thousands of sailors die and billions of dollars of American treasure sink for these facts to be realized? Probably. The defense department will regret to inform many that their sons and daughters are dead because their predecessors were shortsighted.

So yeah – we got Top Gun: Maverick made. It’s great. Was it a bold, ironic move to open the movie with Tom Cruise shredding a government boondoggle manned aircraft trying to fly at Mach 10 when that could very easily be unmanned? Sure – but goodness that anthem is iconic, so don’t think about the force structure implications. And you know what the best part is? We probably didn’t even need the sequel. The Winged Luddites of carrier aviation ensured that X-47B was killed in 2015. The replacement MQ-25 Stingray won’t reach IOC until 2025 and is slated to provide only tanking to the long held-dreams of putting Top Gun’s finest right to the edge of the envelope – not even going Mach 2 with their hair on fire. Probably going Mach .9 max conserve to make the whole trip for blue water ops.

All this while my Air Force actually is succeeding with multiple autonomous drones and developing greater autonomy so that as DARPA’s AlphaDogfight trials showed, drones never get too close for missiles to switch to guns. They just always win. But the Air Force’s airfields don’t move– so they’re easy to target right? Sure – but the Navy’s newest moving airfield was bought in 2008, and will deploy in 2022. So are you going to tell me that your crippled maritime industrial base will replace a carrier during the length of the entire world war? It’s like Meg Ryan once said, “Take me to war and lose me forever!”

Where does this leave carrier aviation? You want to say this is fine. But really, it’s so bad it would take my breath away. If I were in fact a corporeal junior naval aviator looking at the long-term direction of my community in the face of growing threats, I’d want to find anyone – Congress, senior community leaders, or acquisition professionals from the past three decades and just scream: “Guys, it’s not your leadership, it’s your attitude and acquisition execution. The enemy’s dangerous, but right now you’re worse. Dangerous and foolish. You may not like who’s enabling airpower with you, but whose side are you on?”

So as I sit up here in the Wild Blue Beyonder, all I can say is: The Air Force will be your wingman anytime. Mostly because you can’t stay out at these ranges anyway. Looking forward to taking your aircraft and dollars next POM cycle. Watch the birdie!

Colonel William (Billy) Mitchell, US Army, Retired, is an incorporeal spirit, airpower advocate, and unlisted executive producer of military films in Hollywood. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily state or reflect those of the United States Government or Department of Defense.

Featured Image: Top Gun: Maverick movie poster by Paramount Pictures.

Buying Time: A Whole-Of-Government Approach for Postponing a Taiwan Invasion

By LCDR Obvious, USN

To Thwart a Chinese Invasion of Taiwan, the US Must Slow Walk Their Request Chit

The Taiwan Relations Act (hereafter “TRA”; Pub.L. 96–8, 93 Stat. 14, enacted April 10, 1979; H.R. 2479) requires that the People’s Republic of China submit a request chit to the United States Congress at least 14 business days prior to an invasion of Taiwan. When the TRA was first drafted in 1979, US military planners believed this was ample time to allow the US to pre-position forces in order to deny, deter, defeat, disrupt, degrade, destroy, distend, or discombobulate PRC forces before they were able to successfully seize Taiwan. Since the PRC began its military modernization in the mid-1990s, Western national security experts have raised the alarm that the 14-business-days-advance notice required is no longer adequate to ensure that the US military has complete and total dominance over PRC forces in the Western Pacific at the start of combat operations. 

Two attempts have been made by Congress to extend the 14 business day requirement to 21 and 30 days in 1988 and 2005, respectively, however both of these efforts failed in the Senate. What is less well understood is subclause 16:7 of the TRA which states that “Congress will make every effort to respond to a PRC request for ‘reunification’ with Taiwan promptly upon receipt of ‘The Chit.’” So much hangs on one’s interpretation of “make every effort” and “promptly.” This article will explore ways in which the US can employ a whole-of-government approach to adhere to the spirit of the TRA while still buying valuable time to pre-position US forces in the theater for victory against the PRC. 

The most obvious way for the US to delay official Congressional recognition of The Chit is sadly already off the table. In 1979, then-PRC Premier Zhou Enlai cleverly ensured that language requiring a prompt response even if Congress was in recess was added to the final language of the TRA by US Permanent Shadow SECSTATE Henry Kissinger. During Congressional recesses, each ranking member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee is required by the TRA to nominate a lead and alternate Senate page from their offices to remain in Washington, DC, to be on standby to receive a PRC invasion request chit in the event one is generated by Beijing. Senate pages performing this task are provided a per diem allowance for this service amounting to $257 USD. 

To successfully slow walk delivery of The Chit to Congress, we must start earlier in the approval chain. The TRA specifies three offices that must receive, review, sign, and forward The Chit in sequential order before it is delivered to Congress. Adding delays at each of these steps can buy the US military critical hours and even days of preparation. The first stop for The Chit is the SHELLBACK Listening Station, a Navy cryptologic station located on a small rock outcropping 57 nautical miles north of Guam. Rising sea levels and significant coastal erosion following the opening of a Subway Restaurant on the outcropping in 2003 have threatened the operation of SHELLBACK Station, however, at great expense to the taxpayers it remains fully operational today and is manned by one Navy Warrant Officer, two Navy Senior Chiefs, one Navy Chief and one Petty Officer First Class. 

SHELLBACK’s operations are run out of a single Quonset Hut seized from the Japanese in 1943. Other than the Subway and a small collection of radar towers, this is the only facility on the outcropping. SHELLBACK was built for a single purpose – to ensure the United States lived up to its commitments under the TRA by rapidly processing any PRC invasion request chits they received. Having never received a chit, SHELLBACK is currently rated as one of the most efficient units in the INDOPACOM theater of operations. Failure to immediately process The Chit would threaten SHELLBACK’s efficiency rating to the point where they might fail to be awarded INDOPACOM’s “Battle E” commendation for the first time since 1981. 

If the United States receives indications and warnings that the PRC is about to formally request permission to invade Taiwan, the US Navy should immediately select the Petty Officer First Class stationed at SHELLBACK for promotion to Chief Petty Officer. This will kick off a 6-to-20 week Chief Induction Season, involving the entire SHELLBACK command. A study by the Rand Corporation in 2017 indicated that interjecting a Chief Induction Process into an otherwise high- functioning command could reduce operational efficiency by over 85%. For our purposes, assume The Chit routing process — which under normal circumstances should take an hour — could be delayed by as many as three days. This might not seem like a lot but three days would give the US government ample time to evacuate all US citizens from Taiwan, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, the Hawaiian Islands and the US West Coast in preparation for a conflict with the PRC.

After SHELLBACK, The Chit is routed to the INDOPACOM PRC Relations Office in Mililani Mauka, a suburb of Honolulu. The PRC Relations Office (PRC-RO, pronounced “prick-ro”) is purposely-designed to facilitate the transfer of any PRC invasion request chits from Guam to the State Department in Washington, DC. Since its creation in 1979, PRC- RO has been manned by a single government civilian, Mr. Daniel Peterson. The language in the TRA establishing PRC-RO and hiring Mr. Peterson was specifically requested by Senator Barry Goldwater (R-Arizona), Mr. Peterson having previously served on Senator Goldwater’s 1964 Presidential campaign. After 36 years of flawless government service, Mr. Peterson retired in 2015 and went on to found Eagle-Dragon Communication Associates, a private company which was awarded the exclusive contract to operate PRC-RO in the 2015 NDAA. 

Mr. Peterson (“just call me ‘Dan’”) maintains the same working hours as a civilian contractor as he did while in government service. However, Mr Peterson has requested and received permission from INDOPACOM N15 to leave a little early on Fridays so he can beat the traffic on the H-1 and get to his great granddaughter’s lacrosse game on time. If SHELLBACK Station can hold release of the Chit until 1400 Friday Honolulu time, Mr. Peterson will have already departed for the weekend, buying the US government two and a half days to create and release the 2019 NDAA-mandated TikTok videos explaining to Zoomers what a fallout shelter is.

After The Chit is released from PRC-RO, it travels to the US State Department. The author is a career US military officer, is unaware how the State Department works and frankly couldn’t be bothered to learn for the sake of this article. He assumes that The Chit will be processed like a passport application, slowly but within a realistic amount of time. Moving on…

Once released from the State Department, The Chit is driven to Congress by the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in a white 1974 Plymouth Fury Sport Suburban station wagon. The requirement to use this particular automobile is specified in the TRA language and is believed to have been added by then-Michigan Senator Carl Levin (D) in an effort to support the Detroit auto industry. The State Department is required to keep two well-maintained white Suburbans wagons on site in perpetuity for this purpose, costing the taxpayer approximately $26,000 per annum in maintenance.

Following the steps outlined above may add almost a week of processing time before Congress receives The Chit, the point when the formal 14 business day approval process specified in the TRA begins. Given the pace and scale of the PRC’s preparation for a conflict with Taiwan, including the construction of hundreds of new warships, bomber aircraft, spy satellites, and land-based conventional and nuclear ballistic missiles, this week of preparation may mean the difference between victory or defeat for the US in the Pacific. We must take every reasonable, legal step to slow walk the processing of this required form before it is too late. Fortunately, this plays into a crucial U.S. asymmetric advantage. If there is one thing the whole of the US government excels at, it is processing routine paperwork incredibly slowly.

LCDR Obvious is a serving US Navy officer in the Indo-Pacific region. He has read the recent crop of articles promising One Weird Trick to deter China from invading Taiwan with a combination of mirth, skepticism, and alarm.

Featured Image: Chief Logistics Specialist Daniel Hamar from Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) verifies inventory paperwork with Navy Expeditionary Logistics Support Group (NAVELSG) Logistics Specialist Second Class Darius Threat from Columbus, Ohio during a Supply Management Inspection (SMI). (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Edward Kessler/Released)

Real Time Strategy 4 – Command and Conquer: Generals

RTS_Logo2The RTS crew kicks off 2016 with a discussion of the Command & Conquer series with a focus on “Generals.” Join us as we dive into how the geopolitical environment of 2003 shaped the game, what makes the C&C series so great, and how one of our members potentially looted his copy during Hurricane Katrina.
 
“Real Time Strategy,” is a discussion on the lessons and non-lessons of the simulations we use to both learn and entertain in the realm of military strategy, tactics, and history.
 

 

Re-Fighting the Battle of Hoth: An Engineer’s Perspective

By Angry Staff Officer for CIMSEC’s “Movie Re-Fights Week”

Anyone familiar with the late Galactic Civil War will remember the outstanding triumph by the Rebel Alliance at the Battle of Hoth. Many had considered that this would be a last stand by the Alliance, or at the very least a mere draw if enough transports were able to get away before the Imperial Fleet bore down on them. However, the Alliance was able develop a battle plan that was built on an analysis of the Imperial ground forces’ tactics, techniques, and procedures from years of fighting. This plan emphasized the Alliance’s maneuverability and the terrain that they had chosen for the engagement.

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Prior to the engagement, the general staff for the Rebel Alliance had wargamed possible enemy avenues of approach and strike group composition. Because they had effectively shielded their base on the snow-bound planet of Hoth, they knew that the Empire would have to land a strike force on the planet to try to knock out the shield generator. Attempts to enter the battlespace with air assets could be nullified by the Alliance’s Ion Cannon. Additionally, early warning sensors were placed both on the planet’s surface as well as in the atmosphere.

Echo Base Rendering, Courtesy https://echostation57.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/hoth-player-map.jpg?w=640&h=405
Echo Base Rendering, Courtesy https://echostation57.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/hoth-player-map.jpg?w=640&h=405

The Alliance’s Echo Base and shield generator were safely harbored inside a draw with only one ground avenue of approach. This site was carefully selected after a thorough intelligence preparation of the battlefield by Alliance engineers and intelligence officers. They could thus canalize any approaching ground force between two ridges of ice and rock. Analyzing the Imperial task organization from past battles, Alliance intel officers theorized that they would most likely attempt to infiltrate with heavy All Terrain Armored Transport (AT-AT) Imperial Walkers and dismounted ground troops to exploit gaps. This would leave them vulnerable on their flanks and rear to air sorties from Alliance T-47 snowspeeders.

Additional preparations included the development of an engagement area in the draw, with obstacle emplacement and fields of fire picked out for concealed heavy weapons. Deep pits were dug and camouflaged with hologram imagery to make the ground appear level. These were offset between lanes of massive tanglefoot: lengths of wire attached to deep stakes sunk into the ice that would impede vehicular movement. Additionally, two belts of landmines were placed in the expected Imperial landing area to disrupt the attack at its outset. Heavy weapons emplacements were dug into the slopes of the surrounding hills to strike at any vulnerabilities in the AT-AT’s armor. In the enemy’s immediate front, several dummy gun emplacements were created to draw the Imperial troops into the trap. The goal was to create as much havoc as possible to the Imperial heavy armor to degrade the morale of their dismounted troops.

The ground forces commander established his heavy weapons fields of fire and coordinated with the Alliance air wings of snowspeeders, specifically Rogue Squadron, to define their flight patterns, where they would infiltrate the battlefield, and where they would exfiltrate, thus avoiding any friendly fire. They gambled that they would have immediate air superiority as the Empire would wait until the shield was down before sending in any air assets. Final protective fires were set at the entrance to Echo Base, where Alliance planners hoped that they could at the very minimum establish a choke point with destroyed Imperial vehicles. Rather than commit to a linear defense, the Alliance relied on a defence in depth, which allowed greater freedom of movement for their dismounted infantry to avoid the heavy guns of the AT-ATs.

The Alliance commander on Hoth, General Carlist Rieeken, assumed a certain amount of risk committing his forces to the battle. He maintained his contingency plan of escape from the planet via transports to assuage his conscience that was still plagued by the loss of Alderaan. Princess Leia Organa emphasized that Hoth was the ideal place to deliver the empire a dramatic defeat that would resound throughout the Galaxy, and Rieeken reluctantly went along with the plan.

Upon the Empire’s discovery of the Rebel base on Hoth, Lord Darth Vader devised a plan whereby the Imperial fleet would come out of hyperspace at some distance from Hoth and bring its heavy weapons to bear upon the planet. However, when Admiral Kendal Ozzel, commander of the Empire’s Death Squadron, brought the his ships out of hyperspace, they immediately triggered the Alliance’s early warning systems in planetary orbit. The shield was activated and Vader was forced to commit to a ground attack. As predicted, the Empire landed heavy armor along with several battalions of the 501st Legion’s snowtroopers on Hoth, at the only available entrance to Echo Base.

Major General Maximilian Veers had overall command of the Imperial ground force. An armor officer by trade, Veers had been stuck at the rank of colonel for some time. His last assignment had been as an instructor at the armor schoolhouse; with the destruction of the first Death Star, so many senior Imperial commanders had been killed that Veers was elevated to major general. Thus, he was entering his first major ground operation with little field experience in the current operating environment. This was perhaps why he walked right into the trap that the Alliance had lain for him.

Imperial Walkers deploying in line, entering the engagement area on Hoth (Lucasfilm, Ltd)
Imperial Walkers deploying in line, entering the engagement area on Hoth (Lucasfilm, Ltd)

He deployed his AT-AT’s in line abreast into the draw, with the dismounted 501st troopers behind them. Because of this, his first line of armor suffered significantly from the first two mine belts. Veers then moved two companies of infantry forward of his armor, to check for additional traps and mines. As the terrain constricted them into the draw, the infantry bunched up, and were immediately engaged by Alliance crew served weapons concealed on the flanks, causing heavy casualties amongst the snowtroopers. Veers ordered his lead AT-AT’s forward to knock out the Alliance weapons positions, but two were immediately lost when they stumbled into the pits. The top-heavy nature of the Imperial armor caused the walkers to completely collapse when they encountered the pits, rendering them useless and causing severe casualties to the troops trapped inside. In frustration, Veers ordered all his infantry to dismount to get eyes on the Alliance positions.

The dismounted infantry surged forward, encountering the tanglefoot. Company commanders reported obstacle locations back to Veers, who put his armor into single file as Imperial engineers began to slowly breach their way through the obstacles, taking catastrophic losses from Alliance positions. With his armor’s linear firepower thus limited, Veers could only watch in horror as Rogue Squadron struck from his left, their cannons decimating his ground troops. The second wave of snowspeeders were able to neutralize the rear AT-AT with the cables on their speeders, pinning the entire Imperial task force inside the engagement area. Veers panicked and ordered his armor to fan out to engage the targets that they could identify. This decimated the entire armored force, as they could not maneuver out of the engagement area. The armor took 90% losses, with the entirety immobilized inside the engagement area. Veers’ command vehicle was decapitated by concentrated Alliance firepower and he died in flames.

From space, Vader’s rage increased by the second as he monitored the battle below. When he lost communications with Veers, he flew into a fury and committed two more battalions of ground troops. These arrived to observe the last moments of the first task force, which disappeared under sustained blaster fire. Rather than walk into certain death, these two battalions elected to defect from the Empire in their transports.

Vader ordered the planet blockaded and called for reinforcements. However, word of the Imperial disaster on Hoth spread like wildfire around the galaxy. Revolts erupted in nearly every system, tying down all available ground troops and star destroyers. The Imperial blockade winnowed away due to attrition from small Alliance strike groups that ate away at it. In frustration, Vader abandoned the blockade and retreated to where the beginnings of the second Death Star were taking shape. Superior Alliance intelligence tracked him there, and the Death Star was destroyed before it could ever become operational. Battle damage assessments calculated that Vader was on board when it was destroyed, but could not confirm his death. His body was never found. The Empire vanished in the fire and destruction of the insurgency that began with the victory on Hoth.

Angry Staff Officer is an engineer officer in the Army National Guard with an enlisted infantry background. He has blogged under the name ‘Angry Staff Officer’ since 2014 and is a member of the Military Writer’s Guild. He has served in multiple positions in both staff and line units, at the company, battalion, and division levels, and served one tour in Afghanistan. Angry Staff Officer holds his master’s degree in history. He enjoys snark, satire, cynicism, history, and over analyzing foreign policy. He writes at www.AngryStaffOfficer.com and can be found on Twitter @pptsapper.

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