For those of you keeping track, we’re just reaching the first hundred pages of the novel and we’ve already had the following: A briefing at the SIR room, another one at the Akwesasne Complex, another one with the CDS and the Defence Minister, then now another one at Stevenson’s Winnipeg headquarters. And that’s not counting a large chunk of expository text during Gabriel’s raid and Boucanier’s recce. Forget radio plays, I’m seriously wondering right now if there’s any way to present the story of Douglas Bland’s Uprising in some experimental, avant guard Power Point® format.
Like, that would be the most controversial Noble Prize for Literature ever.
Stevenson lays out the basics of the plan, which essentially consist of taking over everything and fighting everyone everywhere, until told to stop.
“Never mind. I’m sure you’ll do fine, and like I said, I’m glad to have you. In fact, you’re here because I specifically requested you, before the raid on Petawawa. You have a fine record, brains, guts, and experience. That’s what I need, and frankly I don’t have enough of it here. They’re keen, Alex, and they’ll die for the cause, but they’re not all soldiers and there isn’t time to make them into soldiers. You’re going to hold them together, Alex. I’m giving you a big job: I’m giving you command of the Winnipeg battle group, the garrison in effect.
“Here’s the outline. Soon, when the operation begins, your mission will be to create a major disturbance, draw police and army units into the centre of the city, and then hold them there, pin them down, while we move the larger units from the north into the cities and vital points across the province. It’s a diversion within a diversion, Alex.”
Alex held out a hand. “Hold on please, colonel. With respect, you’re suggesting that we’re going to launch a full-scale attack on a major Canadian city, a city of some 700,000 people, with small groups of untested, so-called warriors, and intentionally invite the army and the police to counterattack us! Do you expect, one, that we’ll be able to hold on until the other untested warriors come to our rescue, and, two, do you expect any of us to survive the experience?”
“Well, Alex, yes, I do expect you will be able to hold until relieved, mainly because we have been preparing the teams you will lead for many months. They’re not all untested, as you say; the key sub-unit commanders are mostly trained soldiers with experience in the Canadian army and the U.S. Special Forces. And two, I’m not sending anyone on a suicide mission. You’ll have plenty of backup, and once we draw the army and the police into the centre of the city – get them committed there – you’re going to pull out.
“Remember, Alex, we have surprise on our side, and the army here is just the local militia, no better trained than our young people. As for the police, they’re simply not prepared for the kind of action we’re going to put them in.
“Let me give you the bigger picture, put things in context. After that, and once you’ve completed your recce of the area, if you have doubts or see a need to change the outline of the plan, well, we’ll discuss the details and make whatever changes fit the bigger strategy. Fair?”
“Fair enough, sir. It just seems rather too bold. I mean, I can’t think of many civilians who would believe the scenario even if we told them about it in advance.”
“That’s our major advantage, Alex, here and in the whole country The Ottawa politicians just assume that the outrageous things they do can go on without any organized response from us, and they think, too, that we’re too lazy or drunk to figure how to organize a nationwide resistance movement. Complacency and prejudice is a deadly combination in politics and war.”
Just so we’re clear, the last two decades of Canadian history had seen multiple First Nations occupations of ‘white’ territory. Most famously there is Oka (and the blocking of the Mercier Bridge), Ipperwash, and Caledonia. On a broader, international level there is OP Medusa, the Canadian operation to crush a major offensive by the Taliban to infiltrate and seize Kandahar. This is totally something that should be on the government’s radar, particularly since they’ve just had multiple CFBs invaded and robbed.
Also, days before the Winnipeg operation, NPA forces will launch similar actions in Montreal and Quebec. That’ll be a bit of a hint too.
Gabriel frames his objections with the classic backhand ‘with respect,’ but it’s not particularly convincing. Although Gabriel has paid some mental lip service to the idea of backing out of the Uprising, the fact remains that he joined with little motivation or personal drive and has essentially drifted through the Movement to this place in Winnipeg. For all his fretting over his status as an NPA believer, there never seems to be any doubt that he will dutifully carry out any orders or instructions.
So the plan here is basically seize the down town core of Winnipeg and draw in as many government forces as possible so that these troops can themselves get surrounded by forces coming in from the outside. Okay. In theory that’s not a bad idea. Right away though comments about ‘key sub-unit commanders’ having experience and ‘you’ll have plenty of backup’ immediately puts my back up.
Professional leadership is important, but it’s not going to make up for having amateur troops, and Stevenson’s made it clear these are very amateur troops. I’ve trained recruits. They take supervision. Eventually, they become soldiers and in time they can become excellent soldiers. But until then, you need to watch them closely.
And as for ‘plenty of backup?’ What back up is this? If it’s so great, why isn’t it front and centre to begin with?
Well, not to worry! All arguments are to be laid to rest before the altar of the greatest of all authorities: Properly formatted written orders!
‘Stevenson opened his well-worn map folder and flipped through several pages. “Okay, Alex, here’s the staff college estimate of the situation, and so on. You read the concept of ops and then we can talk about the details.” He dropped the thick document onto the table.
Alex ran his fingers through the table of contents: “Concept of Operations”; Allocation to Tasks”; “Logistics”; “Command and Signals”; “Annexes.” There were also lists of code words and nicknames; descriptions of the ORBAT – the order of battle; target lists; and maps. Complete enough, at least on the surface. He started with the “Concept of Operations,” the heart of the document.
Aim: To capture southern Manitoba and install a provisional First People’s government by no later than 30 September.
Phase I: Battle Group Riel, seven combat teams, three Special Forces sections, four combat engineer sections, and a headquarters and communications section capture Winnipeg’s inner city and establish control over the downtown core bordering on Portage Avenue, Memorial Boulevard, the River Assiniboine at the Osborne Bridge to the Forks, north to Alexander Avenue and the Disraeli Freeway south to Ellis Avenue and Balmoral. Battle Group Riel will hold the area until relieved by Battle Group Winnipegosis advancing from northern Manitoba. Most important target it the legislative buildings, to be fortified in two lines: outer perimeter on the grounds to the River Assiniboine and inner strong point within the building.
In Phase II, Battle Group Metis assembles combat teams in outlying areas north and west of the city and moves on the airport to capture Canadian Forces Base Winnipeg, destroy Canadian Forces aircraft, damage runways, and secure terminals. Security patrols would control the airport and deploy Blow Pipe anti-aircraft teams to defend against any air attacks or airborne attempts to reinforce the Canadian Forces in the area.
The whole “Western Territory” operation in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta is under the command of Colonel Stevenson, first from HQ at the old CPR station in Winnipeg, then after the assault from a hangar on the military base at the airport.
Rules of Engagement: All troops, police, or other armed force not identified as NPA units to be engaged with deadly force within assigned areas. Civilians held as captives to be treated according to the Laws of Armed Conflict on pain of severe penalty to commanders. Other civilians to be escorted to the perimeter and released unharmed.
Yeah I wasn’t kidding about the micromanaging. Stevenson’s put himself in command of the entire Western Territory but he still has time to detail how many layers of defence one specific building is going to have.
Also, just to be pedantic, establishing AORs (Areas of Responsibility) usually goes under the headings of Control Measures or Scheme of Manoeuvre. Composition of forces usually goes in under Groupings and Tasks, especially since Battle Group Riel is apparently a formation put together from smaller units for the specific task of seizing Winnipeg. Concept of Ops is supposed to give the big picture, or overview. The last thing you want to do is clutter it up with details.
So…There’s a lot to get into here. I’m thinking this is going to call for another bullet points list:
- Operation Middleton? I’m not going to call myself an expert, but I wouldn’t expect a angry rebel movement to name themselves after the General who crushed Louis Riel’s North-West Rebellion. Also, the North-West Rebellion mostly took place in Saskatchewan, not Manitoba. That was the Red River Rebellion (named after the river that…you know…flows through the city of Winnipeg) and the General that quashed that one was Garnet Wolseley.
- Battle Group Riel? Seven combat teams? Special Forces sections? Combat engineer sections? What exactly are these formations? I know what these terms mean in the modern Canadian Armed Forces, and it seems to imply that Alex Gabriel could be commanding upwards of a thousand troops. But what does this mean for the NPA? Later in the novel, during the one battle that’s (kind of) described in detail, a platoon of NPA troops is depicted as four technicals manned by (I think) three to four men each. Making a platoon 12-15 troops(?). So an NPA combat team could be fifty men or less. Putting the total manpower of Battle Group Riel at well under five hundred.
- On a side note, are the engineer sections demolitions experts, or do they include heavy equipment like tractors or bulldozers? It’s not as sexy as demolitions but probably a lot more practical in an urban battle space.
- The orders mention Battle Group Riel and Battle Group Winnipegosis. Who else is out there? What are the other Battle Groups involved and what are their AORs? Who’s leading them and when will Alex Gabriel meet them?
- Along with these control measures we get a freakish amount of micromanaging. I sure as hell wouldn’t be trusting this commander to give me a free hand if his original op plan was this specific.
- Rules of Engagement? Bland probably didn’t want to go there. ROEs are complex things requiring extensive training even for professional soldiers, and even then breakdowns can occur. The less training, the greater the risk. Now, I’m going to assume that there are more detailed ROEs disseminated elsewhere, but just going off of what we have here, I’ve got some uncomfortable questions.
Shit. This is turning into another list. Okay, enough with the bullet points. It’s going to be questions this time!
- What kind of control measures are in place to identify these and separate police and armed forces from the civilian population? So Police and armed forces are to be engaged with deadly force? Okay then. If an NPA warrior spots movement at a window that overlooks their position, are they cleared to fire or do they need to see a uniform or weapon? What if the cop is escorting/evacuating civilians? What about fire or ambulance services?
- Putting ‘armed forces’ in lower-case and talking about detaining civilians seems to suggest Stevenson/Bland is expecting ‘white’ civilians to be joining in with the resistance. Is this the case and what would constitute enemy action? Now Stevenson is at least correctly emphasizing that civilians will be detained in accordance with the laws of armed conflict, but what will the criteria be? Is a terrified civilian hiding in a closet calling 911 a frightened innocent, or are they an enemy OP relaying troop movement information?
- There’s no mention about taking police or military prisoner. Why is there no mention of taking police or military prisoners?
- Battle Group Riel doesn’t seem to have any kind of military police, intelligence, or other prisoner handling group. Who will take possession of detainees in order to free up the front line troops to keep fighting? Where is the detainee holding area going to be? This is also a vital process to prevent violence against prisoners of war. Troops on the front lines are the most likely to be wired up and angry. The most likely to snap at a moment of stress and lash out at a defenceless captive. Quickly evacuating detainees from the front lines, and putting them into the custody of different troops is a vital step to prevent atrocities.
- As for escorting non-combatant civilians to the perimeter and releasing them…well that’s actually a problem too. You actually can’t forcibly evacuate a civilian population from an area which is under your control. At least, not under the Laws of Armed Conflict. Under these laws civilians can be kept away from the front lines and military installations (not that many of them will actually want to go near these usually) and they can be ordered to keep away from vital communication and supply routes (such as key roads running through the AOR). In most cases most civilians will want to leave anyway, and they will basically evacuate themselves. But if you take over a chunk of a city, you cannot go door to door and kick out the civilians living there. As a matter of fact, the exact opposite is the case. An army taking control of a civilian population is now responsible for the wellbeing of that civilian population. Ideally, they should be leaving the existing civil authorities in place to continue to serve the people. If not, the army is then responsible for caring for the civilian population.
- Who is observing the Combat Teams and sections to make sure that these ROEs are being followed? As much as Bland loves his headquarters, we will never really see Alex Gabriel’s command team or really get to know any of his sub-commanders during the operation. How much does any given commander know about the troops under their command? How can they find out? For all Alex knows, some of his troops could be carrying out mass executions a block away and he will never know about it.
Now the area specified for Battle Group Riel is predominantly the down town core of Winnipeg, consisting mainly of businesses and commercial districts that won’t be open when the operation begins. That doesn’t mean that nobody lives there, and it certainly doesn’t mean that there won’t be thousands of civilians either in or passing through the area in the morning who will need to be dealt with.
Still, the fact that the OPPLAN consists of keywords that Alex Gabriel recognizes seems to be enough to reassure him that the plan is airtight. Still, he’ll want to take a look at the ground before the fighting begins:
‘Alex was partly relieved by the briefings, which were mostly clear and concise. Obviously this small staff had been trained somewhere and by professionals. When they were done, Stevenson offered Alex a couple of guides to show him around the city, but he refused them.
“I can manage, thanks. A group of Indians in old clothes walking about with maps taking notes might attract attention. I’ll just take a cut out of the centre of the map for reference and see you back here early this evening. Can I meet with my own people, say around eighteen hundred?”
A few people at the table looked at Stevenson in surprise, but the colonel understood and appreciated Alex’s independent style. “Sure. Matt here will be your chief of staff and you can begin your own battle procedure right now. Okay, folks, that’s it for now. Planning meetings as usual at seventeen hundred. Alex, you can see your people after that.”
So much like Will Boucanier, Alex Gabriel isn’t interested in hearing from anyone who’s been on the ground for the last several months. He doesn’t want a chance to maybe take a walk with one of his officers and informally get to know the guy while they check out key features and he fills Alex in on the troops they will soon be leading. He’s just going to take a cut out of the map that contains the key objectives, then wander the streets alone in a city he hasn’t visited in years.
He is an officer known to be AWOL from the CF, he should be a suspect in the Petawawa raid, and he will be wandering the streets of a strange city with a map of all the upcoming objectives for Battle Group Riel.
***Featured image of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly circa late 1960s. Government House in lower right foreground. Image courtesy of Historic Sites of Manitoba source.***
 Killing Fred McTavish, let’s not forget!
 A battle group is essentially an infantry battalion beefed up with the engineer and artillery assets of a brigade, giving it a lot of firepower for its size. A combat team is the scaled down version of this, where the central unit is an infantry company (or armoured squadron) with similar augmentation. So a Battle Group could be as many as a thousand troops, with a combat team as large as a hundred and fifty.
 This would actually be a plausible number for holding the city against all comers. To put things into perspective, when ISIS decided to fight it out over the Iraqi city of Mosul (population 1.2 million), they were able to hold off the Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga for months with a force of approximately 3,500. Of course this was a fight to the death using human shields and suicide bombers, but the numbers are in the ball park.
 This is something that’s going to drive me crazy as this deconstruction continues: We almost never get actual numbers for how many people are involved for any given operation, making an assessment of their plausibility almost impossible.There will be one exception to this later in the novel when Chisasibi finally goes off. I will be deconstructing the shit out of that section.
 The Geneva and Hague conventions specify that any parties to an armed conflict must be clearly discernible from the civilian population, which would make fighters in civilian clothes unlawful. However, there is an explicit category for civilians who spontaneously take up arms and join a battle alongside formal militaries. The rule is that they are to be treated as lawful combatants so long as they are either a) captured at the moment of spontaneous action or b) have taken steps afterwards to identify themselves as combatants. This can be a simple as tying on an arm band or something similar.
 Actually we don’t even need to ask this question. Something like this will actually happen later on in the novel to Battle Group Winnipegosis. It won’t even have to happen behind the scenes and will receive the explicit approval by Stevenson himself. But we’ll get to that later.