Sunday, August 1, 2010

Operation Clusterfrak

In January 1987, a number of foreign citizens were kidnapped in Lebanon. There were approximately 3,000 American citizens in Lebanon. The order was given for American warships in the Sixth Fleet[1] to move closer to Lebanon and prepare for an evacuation of all Americans willing to leave.

The experts in that sort of operation are the Marines, who are embarked on amphibious landing ships. They are the ones with the landing craft and the skills to go ashore in a potentially hostile situation, evacuate civilians and kill anyone who gets in the way. The Navy's job is to get the Marines to the beach, to provide fire support from destroyers and airplanes and to drink copious amounts of coffee while doing so.

There was a slight problem: The amphibious ships were conducting an exercise on the Atlantic coast of Spain with their Spanish counterparts. Even if the Marines and all of their gear could re-embark on their ships immediately, it would take at least a week for those ships to get to Lebanon, as amphibs are not fast ships.

There were ships in the Eastern Med, though, a carrier task group, TG 60.2, if I remember correctly.[2], which was comprised of a carrier, two cruisers (a conventional Terrier shooter and a nuke Tartar shooter), some destroyers (both AAW shooters [DDG-37s and DDG-2s] and not [Spruance-class DDs]), and some frigates (both 1052s and FFG-7s). The order was given for those ships to move towards Lebanon and to prepare to evacuate American citizens.

And so was born Operation Clusterfuck, and this is no shit.[3]

First, the ships were told how many evacuees they might have to carry. None of the ships, other than maybe the carrier, had more than a few empty racks in any one berthing compartment. Only a few had the capability to handle mixed-gender passengers. How they were going to do it was left entirely in their hands,[4] which was a real sign that nobody in the stratospheric reaches of the command structure had any clue what to do.

Second, the ships were told that they would have to make their ships' boats available to both transport evacuees to the waiting ships and to patrol the area of operations. Those boats were to be armed and commanded by either a junior officer or a chief. Direction on that was similarly lacking; whether the boats had M-60 machine guns mounted or made do with rifles was up to the ships. The boats did not have machine gun mounts, but between the deck apes, the HTs and the MRs, those ships that wanted to mount machine guns on their boats figured out how.

Third, the ships were required to supply manning for landing parties to control the beach head. Here the ships had some direction, they were told how many sailors and officers to supply. If I remember correctly, most had to supply twenty or so sailors, with a division officer as a platoon leader. The cruisers had to supply more sailors, maybe 30, a division officer and a department head to act as a company commander. Other than "give them weapons", the details were left to the ships.

You have to imagine the head-scratching and expressions of "what the fuck" that transpired throughout the task group. At best, the ship's crews' small-arms training was limited to 30 rounds through a .45, five rounds through a shotgun and 30 rounds through a M-14 on a yearly basis. Nobody had ever trained at sending a landing force ashore. Hell, the only people who had ever seen a landing force were those who had watched either the Sand Pebbles or the Wind and the Lion. (It probably wouldn't have been like this..)

But they drew up their teams. The landing forces from each ship were made up of a real mixture of sailors and officers. Some of the ships drew the teams mainly from the Weapons Department. Others went more widely and selected men based on known familiarity with firearms and temperament. The officers sent were chosen both on their abilities and on whether they had subordinates strong enough to act in their places on the ships.[5] The officer in charge of the planning was either the Senior Watch Officer or the Weapons Officer.

The XOs, Supply Officers, Corpsmen and Master-at-Arms planned for how their ships were going to house, feed and care for civilians. If a berthing compartment was going to be emptied out, then the sailors living in that compartment would have had to hot-bunk with other sailors elsewhere, but it was far more complicated than that. The ships were planning how to deal with injured or pregnant civilians, how to provide care for children and what to do in the event of a lot of casualties.

Off the ships, the shore staffs were trying to figure out where the ships could go (and quickly) to offload the evacuees. The closest friendly port was Haifa, but that was deemed not to be diplomatically practicable.

As the carrier task group steamed closer to Lebanon, a "cordon sanitaire" was declared and published by way of issuing Notice to Mariners. This basically said that any unknown vessel or aircraft which came too close or interfered with a USN ship was liable to be attacked without warning. Warnings were given to aircraft on the guard frequency (121.5MHz), though I was told that at least one small jet that had been chartered by some reporters was almost shot down by one of the missile ships before the jet turned back towards land.

In the end, though, the evacuation plan was never put into effect. I would imagine that somebody probably explained to the Reagan Administration the hazards of sending a few hundred sailors ashore into a potentially hostile situation where the sailors would be doing things for which they were not trained.

[1] A/K/A the Mediterranean Fleet.
[2] There were normally two carrier task groups in the Med, 60.1 and 60.2, so I have a 50% chance of being correct.
[3] My term for it. The blog title differs as at least one blog which blogrolls this one is "fambly friendly" and that blogger has requested that I not use nasty words in the titles of posts.
[4] Probably the first time on record that the "we have plenty of helpful guidance for you, Skipper" staffs, both afloat and ashore, were silent on anything.
[5] Marital status was also taken into account by some ships, a sign that few expected the operation to go very well.


Frank Van Haste said...

Dear Miss Fit:

Re: Note [3]; you're lookin' at me. I thank you for your courtesy.

(Good story. In the manner in which a train wreck is fascinating, it would have been...umm...interesting to watch had the operation been allowed to unfold.)

Best regards,


Boss Hog said...

If you're in the mood there's a pretty good novel the describes just about exactly this sitution. It's called "the Med" by Dan Lenson.

Some of his more recent books have devolved into superhero fantasy, but his earlier books are excellent.

He's ex-surface warfare and his books are taught at the Naval Academy to illustrate command decsion-making.

Boss Hog said...

I am a moron. The novel I referred to in the previous post contains a character named "Dan Lenson."

The AUTHOR of said book is named David Poyer.

I'm surprised anyone got any sleep last night, since there was someone wrong on the internet!