***This next post is actually covering two short sections dealing with Will Boucanier as he conducts his Recce of the road leading into the James Bay region. Since they bracketed Bill Whitefish’s briefing and were relatively short, I’m dealing with them together right here.***
So we’re back in Radisson with Bill the Pirate as he sets off in a rental truck to scout out his intended battlefields and meet with some of his troops. No, not Joe Neetha or any of the unnamed Ranger leaders whom he ordered to wait for him out in the bush. Today, Will Boucanier is conducting further reconnaissance. No need for any locals to be involved:
“…Will loaded his pickup and drove out of town at 0624, exactly at sunrise, for another loos at the approaches to the generating facilities. Part way there, he turned off the main road for a thorough check of an unassuming little cross-country dirt trail that in a few days, by his estimation of the Council’s plans, would be central to his assault plan, and his secret reaction plan if things went off the rails during the La Grande operation. Satisfied that his rec. Had given him a complete feel for the ground, Will swung the truck around and headed out of town south on Highway 109 towards Matagami.”
As has already been noted in the comments section here, the operation would run a lot smoother if Will Boucanier simply used the Indigenous workers at the dam to seize the facility from the inside. Also, without any locals to advise him, he won’t know just how deserted this unassuming little dirt trail really is, how it might be effected by adverse weather, or if the local cops know about it. Still, he got a look at the ground, which is something.
“The basic idea was to lure “reaction forces” towards the James Bay complex, then trap them on the highway so they could not be used for other purposes. Several patrols or cells would independently stake out sections of the norther 600 kilometres of the 1,400-kilometre Radisson-Montreal highway, demolish structures, and harass police and military convoys on that road to cause confusion and delay any rescue of Radisson. Ideally, police and military commanders would send an initial force towards Radisson. Will’s units would then trap it on the way to the La Grande by means of demolitions placed on or near the roadway before and behind it, and subject it to harassing fire, causing the police and military to send another force to rescue the first one. Small native units would then simply repeat the tactic, trapping the rescue unit itself on another, more southerly section of the road. Eventually the army’s rescue of Radisson would become a mission to rescue the rescuers: a series of traps sure to draw in ever larger numbers of the troops and helicopters that neither the police nor the Canadian Forces had in abundance.”
The surprising thing about this situation is that Bland has actually presented us with a realistic plan that could plausibly do some real damage. The plan is to lure a major body of military and security forces into Northern Quebec and ‘trap’ them there in an escalating series of delaying actions and small-scale firefights. Essentially James Bay would become a manpower sink for the Canadian Government while the NPA opens another front out west. As much as it shocks me to say it, this could actually work.
Part of this would depend on the forces being sent north being small enough or under-gunned enough so that these small scale hit-and-run ambushes would be a threat. Obviously, if a Battle Group type formation with LAVs and engineer vehicles was sent as the first reaction force, then they would be in trouble…
“…The army, with its Light Armoured Vehicle III – the LAV III of Afghan fame, capable of all-weather, day and night surveillance – and its helicopters and infantry patrols with night-viewing scopes, would make short work of anyone caught in the open. Yet the surrounding terrain left police and army units little choice but to fight their way along the road…”
Oh…so he is planning for a mechanized Battle Group. Well…that’s problematic…
So if the story featured a plan to trap bodies of SQ and RCMP units as they raced north to re-take the Robert Bourassa Dam, that would be workable. Any given police force may be pretty formidable under most circumstances, but, as the North Hollywood shootout proved, getting caught in a military-style firefight can leave even the best of them back on their heels.
But this isn’t the plan that Bland has envisioned.
Now, Bland could have wrote a story about the NPA planning to trap police units on Highway 109 as they raced north to re-take the Robert-Bourassa Dam. The plan then goes hideously wrong when the government sends a large mechanized CF force, leading to an unexpectedly bloody confrontation along Highway 109 as shit goes sideways.
But that’s not the plan that Bland envisioned either. His protagonists (specifically the people he presents to us as being the smart ones) are actually planning to have these cells to confront a mechanized Battle Group on Highway 109. He’s confident that they’ll be able to trap such a force on the road and run circles around them while picking off soldiers one at a time.
There’s a bunch of stuff in this section praising the Viet Cong and other guerrilla movements. I’m going to let that cook for the moment and instead focus on some hard details.
“At around 0920, Will stopped his truck on a small bridge on Highway 109. Stepping out, he walked to the railing, looked over, and checked the structures. An ideal spot for demolition, much harder to repair than a mere hole in the road. But a hard target, he thought, one that would take a lot of explosive or very careful…A smart “thwack” on an adjacent pond startled Will and drew his attention to his unknowing allies, a pair of beavers swimming directly away from the dam they had constructed just upstream from the target bridge. The pond stored hundreds of tons of water. An expertly released, extremely sudden flash flood would sweep this bridge away in moments – the beavers’ revenge on man’s slaughter of their ancestors for hats, and the people’s revenge, using the white man’s dull national symbol.”
***Okay just as a personal note, I think the beaver’s a pretty remarkable creature, and makes for an excellent national animal. Also, on behalf of the R22ieme (the Van Doos) and the Royal Canadian Engineers, and any other CAF regiment that has a beaver included in their crest: Fuck you, Will Boucanier.***
I am going to mention here that while I’m not an expert, I do have my Basic Demolitions Course so I got some idea what goes into blowing things up with C4. I’m fairly certain you’re going to need several separate charges to blow the entire beaver dam at once (which is the only way you’ll get a catastrophic flood). Just saying, you’re not likely to save that much on C4 if this is your plan.
“Simply flooding the roadway, without an accompanying firefight or even a smashed bridge, would pose a significant tactical problem for any convoy hurrying along a single road to James Bay. As soon as a couple of vehicles tried to cross a flooded road and fell into craters previously blown then hidden by the water….or were blown up on mines hidden in the water, the whole expedition would slow to a crawl.”
Also, while the flood water would wash away the road, it’s not necessarily going to create a lake right there where the road used to be. The whole idea behind a stream is that it moves water from a higher elevation to a lower one, so unless the road is passing through a depression that could sustain a new lake, the water is likely to drain away pretty quickly.
We’ll come back to this in a moment, but let’s take a look at the people who are going to be carrying out these attacks!
Will made four stops that day, as far south as the road off the highway to Waskaganish. Each time, he visited cell leaders who were unaware of the others’ instructions or even, supposedly, their identities. In a community like this, though, it wasn’t hard to guess who else was likely to be a committed militant. But it didn’t matter now, so there was no point in worrying about it. In any case, his instructions at each stop were the same: “Get your people ready. Watch for a courier who’ll come by with cases of explosives, C4, fuses, detonators, detonating-cord, and small arms and weapons. He’ll know who you are but be ready to be approached. When the courier arrives,” he told each leader, “so will a small team, four or five guys. You take them wherever they want to go. Ask no questions, make no arguments.”
Then he gave each road patrol leader a set of cellphones, codes, and maps. Finally, he gave them all a pep talk and, in case it didn’t take, a veiled threat about what happens to traitors. “Last year a cell leader went over to the other side; they promised protection and money. He didn’t get the protection and his widow didn’t get the money. You know, boys, you can’t trust whitey or the frogs.1”
This is a point that is frustrating for a number of reasons. First off, he never gives hard numbers for the cells and their membership, or how they’re going to be meshing with ‘the couriers’ and their teams of specialists. Is he talking about a cell of four to five members, plus maybe one NPA courier with explosives and a four to five man NPA team? That would be workable if the plan just called for a program of sabotage and IED attacks: A couple of locals acting as guides and lookouts, enabling the bombers to plant their devices and trigger them when needed.
In fact this would be in keeping with what was frequently seen in Afghanistan. A cell of local yokels, receiving weapons and direction from a distant central authority, planting a bomb and hoping to cause a few casualties against a much stronger force.
The problem is that the Taliban was fighting a war of attrition. If their IED caused massive casualties that threw ISAF plans into chaos, then good for them. If the device failed or missed then there was always next time. The scale of the strategy was defined in years, with a tactical bound being measured in an entire fighting season.
This is the main problem with Boucanier’s (and Bland’s) planning here. He’s not planning for slow, painstaking harassment to gradually bleed out a superior force. He wants to physically bottle up this force up in Norther Quebec; to deny a superior force it’s ability to move. The passages quoted in this section seem to imply that these tiny cells would also be engaging in open warfare with the relief column, in the form of ambushes to supplement their IED attacks.
For this to be believable, Bland is going to need to provide a lot more detail here. A half dozen NPA warriors can definitely stage a nasty ambush as a follow up to an IED attack, but not a lot of them are going to live through the experience. ‘Even if they inflict serious casualties?’ you may ask. ‘Especially if they inflict serious casualties!’ I’d reply. Bland knows enough to mention the LAV III as a likely vehicle for the relief column. Well, it may not be that hard to build an IED powerful enough to cripple a LAV, or even destroy it utterly. But the LAV following behind it is likely to survive which puts your follow on ambush on the receiving end of a 25mm chain gun. Never mind the troops pouring out the back of said LAV who have just seen their buddies go up in flames and are going to want to return the favour.
This is exactly the kind of fighting that Canadians got very good a during Afghanistan, particularly during a nasty series of battles that came to be known as OP MEDUSA.
So you’re going to need more than half a dozen cell members if you seriously want to wage this kind of a war and actually live to tell the tale. Now if we were looking at a ‘Battle of Algiers’ situation where every cell member was themselves in charge of their own separate cell, this could increase our potential numbers to 12-20 committed members for each of this four communities. Slightly better odds. While they’re not getting away without some losses there’s at least some chance that the force could find a way to come back after their first effort and launch a second attack.
But how will they do this?
Imagine: Your force of twenty managed to blow up a LAV III, causing about half a dozen casualties. Your ambush maybe picked off a few more and you managed to break contact and get clear of the column, but now you’ve got casualties of your own…
How are these cells going to regroup to launch their next attack? It could be hours before all surviving members reach whatever rendezvous point they’d agreed upon, which means it could be hours before a full assessment of their casualties could be done. What if key members were killed? What if their weapons (such as Blowpipes and Carl-Gs) were lost with them? What if some of the surviving cell members (being new to combat) are now frightened and don’t want to continue?2
On top of that, all of this will have to happen fast.
Keep in mind that the NPA fighters are going to be working on a very tight schedule if they want to trap that rescue column before it reaches Radisson. The post-Afghan War CF is an army that knows how to re-organize and push through regardless of casualties. The wounded and dead will be evacuated, the debris will be cleared from the road, and a way through will be found in a matter of hours. Whether it’s as simple as using a bulldozer to fill in the blast crater or sending out a troop of Engineers to build a temporary causeway, a path will be found.3
In order to hit the column again, those NPA fighters are going to have to shake off their losses, redistribute weapons and ammo, reformulate their plans to account for their new numbers, then make a very wide loop around the column to get ahead of them again in order to set up the next ambush.
Not saying it can’t be done. But if Bland wants me to suspend disbelief, I’m going to need more details.
Commanders would begin to call forward engineers to check each flooded section. “Mine fright,” a psychological phenomenon, would cause soldiers to creep slowly forward, fearful that their next step would be their last: expecting to have your balls blown up your ass does that to people, even to the female soldiers of the modern Canadian Forces.”
Another problem with Boucanier’s (and therefore Bland’s) assessment of his delaying action, is the concept of ‘mine fright.’ Yes, this is a thing, and anyone who’s been to the Balkans or worked with a Bosnia veterans knows it. For a period of time, parts of the former Yugoslavia were the most heavily mined regions in the world and early on in my military career it wasn’t uncommon to hear a crusty old NCO’s growl “Don’t step off the road!”
But to have mine fright you need…mines. Simply put, the NPA failed to steal any anti-personnel land mines from their raids because the CF no longer holds any anti-personnel land mines. Back in 1997 we signed this thing called the Ottawa Treaty against the use of anti-personnel land mines. While anti-tank and command-detonated mines (such as claymores4) are legal, they are not going to serve the purpose that Bland is envisioning here.
Again, if we’re talking four local cells supporting four ambush sites meant to delay the arrival of relieving forces, a few hundred mines might be enough (although flooding the area runs the risk of washing those mines away or otherwise exposing them to observation)5. So the attack site could be mined and dangerous, but not far beyond that the ground is likely to be clear and safe. Given that the relief convoy could easily take up more than a kilometre of road space (a single LAV company is likely to include a dozen LAVs, as well as several more trucks transporting fuel, ammo and food), we’re not talking about a threat that could seriously impede it’s ability to counter attack.
And this isn’t me being hypothetical either. The basic textbook response to an ambush is for elements not caught up in the kill zone to immediately push out and attack the ambushing forces from the outside. So literally the least creative response would see the ambushing forces facing rapid and aggressive mechanized counter attack.
To keep an enemy force bottled up on even a relatively short stretch of road requires thousands of mines, and for a road as long and desolate as the road to Radisson, that number would have to be in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Even if in Bland’s world the Ottawa Treaty never happened, there is no way that the NPA could have carried out more than a few hundred anti-personnel mines back from their raids. If there are no mines waiting to blow off a foot then the soldier will not fear stepping off the road.
Mines also take time to deploy. So in addition to constructing an IED large enough to blow up a LAV, the NPA cells are going to have to lay dozens if not hundreds of anti-personnel mines, and do this in a way that will not attract the attention of any aerial reconnaissance.
Again, not saying it can’t be done. But if Bland wants me to suspend disbelief, I’m going to need more details.
“After a long day on the road, Will circled back to Radisson and his hotel late that night. As he pulled in, he saw Bob Ignace leaning against the side of his patrol truck in the parking lot.
“How’s the fishing, Boucanier?” Ignace called out as he walked towards the vehicle. “Never knew you were much of a fisherman. Take some lessons in the army? Doesn’t look like your rods even got out of the cases.”
“Never had to take any lessons, Bob. Don’t you know, we traditional natives have a natural sense about these things. Why, we can catch fish without a line and hook, just call them out of the water and they jump into the boat. Isn’t that what we tell the government inquiries6?”
Will collected his kit and walked towards the hotel.
“Real smartass, Will. Tell me, since when have you been so interested in beaver ponds?”
Will paused, then without reply or turning around, walked on. Mission accomplished so far. He was getting out there and being seen. That was his prime directive, as they say in TV-land.
Bob Ignace suspects what Will Boucanier is up to, and is probably going to report this up his chain of command. That is part of the plan…
…Because if they don’t suspect your plan in advance, there’s no way that they could be goaded into sending troops north…
Meanwhile, in the real world, threatening a major piece of infrastructure like the Robert Bourassa Dam is one of those things that would automatically force the Government’s hand. Millions could be left without power just weeks away from the first temperature drop of the Canadian winter, meaning that if the Government didn’t act fast, a lot of people will die. The government will have to act. Except that Bland seems to think any government effort to rescue the dam would be a mistake, and that the only way to force Canada to blunder into it is by telegraphing the move in advance.
Uh…no…telling your enemies about your plans in advance is only going to give them a chance to head you off before you can execute them. It’s almost like Bland is forgetting that the dam provides power to millions of Canadian homes! If the first warning the country gets that the NPA is in Norther Quebec comes when the power goes out in Quebec City and Montreal, that’s going to be more than enough to make them shit themselves and race north!
The sense that I’m getting is that Bland intended these scenes to build tension and demonstrate the brilliance of another of his protagonist. Instead, it seems to drive home the fact that the only way for these plans to work would be for the government to be under the control of a pack of jabbering knuckleheads.
Fortunately for Will and Alex and Molly, that’s exactly the enemy that Bland has provided for them. It’s going to be a while before we meet them, but it’s going to be something when we do.
1 There’s a weird kind of duplication in this passage, where Boucanier mentions explosives and C4, small arms and weapons. Odd enough, but then he warns against whitey or the frogs. So I guess French Canadians aren’t ‘white?’
2 And this doesn’t even begin to take into account the fact that, since most of these cell members are coming from a small Indigenous community, they’re all likely to be close friends if not relatives. How do you plan a second ambush when the first one just killed your childhood friend and you’re now contemplating informing his mother? This is another thing that Bland utterly fails to provide more information on.
3 One of the wilder exercises I’ve ever been on was in Norway, where we literally drove a Battle Group’s worth of troops and vehicles through a mountain range as part of a manoeuvre that came to be called the ‘right hook.’ The Engineers were working overtime cutting down trees and building ramps and clearing paths for our vehicles, and while it was slow (a 48 hr move took nearly 72) we fucking got through.
4 While the claymore was originally designed to be both command and trip wire operated, the ones used by the CAF today are modified versions that literally have the trip wire connection point physically removed.
5 This was actually a major concern in the flooding in Mozambique in 2000 when rescue work was hampered by the fear that old minefields may have been moved by the floodwaters.
6 So…Bob Ignace has been described as a well dressed native, but he’s not a traditional native? And Will ‘twenty years of army service’ Boucanier is?