As has been the case before, this post is going to hop back and forth in relation to the chronological order of the novel. This is something that Bland seems to do as well, since Alex Gabriel hops around from one location to another another without a lot of consistency. To counter this, I’ll be referring to various maps of down town Winnipeg courtesy of Google Maps:
Alex Gabriel takes these parameters, and begins to modify the plan based on his ground-level Recce. This is perfectly normal and acceptable within the realm of Battle Procedure, and should be expected within any healthy military organization. It is telling, however, that Stevenson expects Alex to build his own plan within his established boundaries, but seems unconcerned that Alex isn’t consulting with his own subordinates.
This is the approximate outlines of Battle Group Riel (BG Riel from here on) that Alex Gabriel eventually decides upon. For this post, I want to focus on that triangle in the north, which I am going to call the Northern Boundary Triangle (NBT) to keep things simple.
Okay! So! Now that we have a common reference point, let’s get down to business!
The short summary of this section is that Alex Gabriel is walking around his AOR, studying the terrain that many of his subordinates have been studying for months or even years. Presumably the phrase ‘reinventing the wheel’ was not in vogue when Douglas Bland was in the service:
‘He began to construct his plan, asking himself, then answering a series of related, complex questions he had been taught in staff college and in real operations. Where is the key terrain, the ground that must be held if the mission is to succeed? Where are the approaches to the key terrain that must therefore be defended? Where are the killing zones into which attackers could be funnelled? Where is the “dead ground,” the possible avenues of attack we won’t be able to see – behind buildings, for instance – from the natural defensive firing positions? Where are the best sites for which weapons and how many people will be needed in each location? What’s the logical allocation of scarce weapons and people to tasks? How can the scattered its best support each other?
Bland’s quoting textbook questions from Battle Procedure, but he seems to be hung up on studying terrain rather than anything else. To build quickly on previous articles, Battle Procedure breaks down into five primary sub-headings: Situation, Mission, Execution, Service & Support, Command & Signals or SMESC (rhymes with ‘desk’). Terrain falls into the Situation sub-heading, but shares that sub-heading with topics like friendly forces, commander’s intent, and most importantly, enemy forces.
Who is your enemy? That is the first question that Alex Gabriel should be asking himself. What are they armed with and what’s their training? What are their likely tactics going to be? What’s their morale going to be like? These questions are crucial because they will determine what kind of terrain you’re going to need in order to achieve the commander’s end state. Now on paper, the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) have approximately 1,400 sworn members with another 500 unsworn. If we generously assume 25% would be needed to fulfill some kind of support role, you’re still looking at over 1,000 armed police officers (and another 350 unsworn members) potentially available on short notice to oppose the NPA. This isn’t necessarily so bad, since only a fraction are likely to be on duty and on the streets at any given time, and most officers aren’t likely to be carrying more than their personal side arm for firepower. So an army of 500+ materializing on the streets could leave the cops stunned and disorganized.
It could be hours before a proper response could begin to come together, and if Alex seizes a large enough chunk of the city, it may take even longer as the Police struggle to develop a coherent picture of what’s happening. So it could be a fair assumption that he’ll be able to seize the element of surprise and have several hours (maybe even a day) during which time he can expect to be able to work with impunity before he can expect the police to open negotiations.
Except there’s this:
After reconnoitring the approaches to city hall, he made a detour over to Dagmar and Notre Dame to check out the large fire and medical service centre there. His plan involved getting as many “first responders” as possible along with their pieces of large equipment, deployed and stuck in separate street locations, not trapped in the station house. That would probably force the second wave of “rescuers” to find and extract the first responders who would be stuck all over the downtown area, further disorganizing the response. Besides, crippled fire trucks would become both convenient obstacles to military operations trying to retake the downtown, and potent symbols of chaos. He made another note on his map and headed to the next major target, Lombard Square, and the famous junction of Portage Avenue and Main Street.
Bland generally tries to sugar coat this, but there’s no way around it. BG-Riel’s part of Operation Middleton is going to kick off with a whole bunch of civilian deaths that’s going to paralyze Winnipeg’s emergency services and put even more lives at risk. And make no mistake, people will have to die to achieve this goal. You don’t rush fire and ambulances towards a scene where a man is firing a gun harmlessly into the air, you send them towards the scene where people are bleeding on the ground. So ambulance and fire personnel are going to run to the rescue of civilian dead and wounded, only to be pinned down, wounded and dead with their vehicles disabled. Which means a lot of people are going to die.
Which means that the cops are going to lose their shit.
This is important to emphasize because Bland (and, by extension, Alex) seem to think the police will just quietly draw back, form a perimeter and start negotiating. That will not be the case if the uprising opens with a lot of civilian deaths. It might still be hours or even a day before a coherent response will come, but when it does the cops (and any military supporting them) will be out for blood.
This may seem like a statement of the obvious, but it seems to be something that escapes Douglas Bland. He seems to envision scenes like Oka or the more recent Caledonia standoff, where a brief eruption of violence is followed by frantic efforts by the police to contain and negotiate in order to avoid further violence. What he doesn’t seem to realize is that the violence in both of these standoffs occurred in limited – and more importantly containable – circumstances. The SQ backed off at Oka because the shooting had stopped, and they didn’t want another Cpl Macel Lemay. At Caledonia, the OPP was operating under the shadow of the Ipperwash debacle, and so long as no shots had been fired they were very motivated to keep things like that.
The strategy Alex Gabriel is describing here will necessitate an immediate violent response that will eventually lead (intentionally or not) into a prolonged urban battle.
He seems to think that the WPS will run away and stay away. That’s not just my opinion but something he’ll state explicitly later. He doesn’t think the police will fight back even to save their own lives.
The next major part of Battle Procedure’s Situation sub-heading which Alex is ignoring, is Local Civilians. In some cases, this is a problem that largely takes care of itself as the civilian population in conflict zone either flees the area or learns to hide themselves whenever the fighting flares up, but in Winnipeg this is not going to be the case.
This compiled chart shows information from the
2011 household survey (compiled data of the 2011 Census and 2011 National Household Survey – apologies to the research team!) for the City of Winnipeg, specifically the numbers and breakdown for the areas that Alex Gabriel has been assigned to hold. As you can see, a major chunk of his AOR is considered a commercial district with effectively no permanent inhabitants, but there are still a few pockets of people living here and there that totals nearly 8,500 men, women, and children that will have to be evacuated. That doesn’t take into account the thousands more who are likely to be commuting through the AOR at the time who are likely to get caught up in the NBT when the Operation starts.
Dealing with these people is going to be a huge drain on manpower. Some of these people are likely to see NPA warriors on the streets and immediately high tail it out of there, but lot more will take cover and find somewhere to hide, under the assumption that the warriors will be leaving or that the police will rescue them.
There’s a lot of places in a city for a person to hide. These people are going to have to be found and chased out of the AOR.
I’m guessing you can see where this is headed.
The NPA’s takeover of downtown Winnipeg is going to heralded by the deaths of a lot of people, and a flood of refugees fleeing the area on foot. When measured against the total population of Winnipeg, this number isn’t going to be a whole lot, but the images of frightened families fleeing their homes (and of desperate spouses and parents trying to get back in) is going to light up the news feed. Especially in a city where as much as 5% of the population has some degree of Indigenous heritage.
Now we’ve already seen that Bland is a believer in ‘Sheeple.’ That ugly and clueless slur which suggests that, when threatened by danger, the average civilian will simply bleat helplessly and wait to be eaten (unless the sheep dogs rescue them).
Here’s the thing: The problem with racism is that it assigns negative characteristics to an entire population based on a handful of preconceived notions. The problem with the ‘sheeple’ belief is that it denies negative characteristics for an entire population based on a handful of preconceived notions. Human beings are a lot uglier than Bland wants to pretend, and liberal human beings have got just as much ugliness as everyone else.
If a group of armed natives take over downtown Winnipeg, the average ‘white’ resident is going to be eyeing their native neighbours with suspicion. If those armed natives begin kicking ‘white’ residents out of their homes and turning them in to refugees in their own city?
Yeah, that refugee stream is going to become a two way street.
So while Alex Gabriel may be delighting over his plans to throw Winnipeg into chaos, there’s a better than equal chance that the city’s going to throw it’s own chaos right back at him.
This is going to be important in analyzing Alex Gabriel’s brilliant plan to hold Winnipeg. He has a lot more on his plate than he thinks. Manpower is going to be a crucial factor. So let’s take a look at his Northern Boundary Triangle to see what’s in store:
‘Alex looked first at the east-west railway line where it crossed Main Street. That, he told himself, would be the northern boundary of his defensive position. With a few snipers and anti-tank weapons, it would be easy to barricade and defend the north Main Street approach where it passed under the tracks. Walking along Higgins, he decided he would have to barricade the Slaw Rebchuk Bridge at Salter, and the Disraeli Freeway as well, probably where they passed over Sutherland Avenue.
I can use buses and trucks, there and there, Alex thought, and support the roadblocks with a few well-placed gunners in the high windows of the Centre, in the tower of the abandoned fire hall at Maple and Higgins, and in the north-facing buildings on Higgins and Henry avenues. I’ll also need to secure my western flank with snipers and build hasty barricades around Isabel and Logan.
He looked again at the core of his position, the Aboriginal Centre. It was a perfect strongpoint to close north Main Street and provide some security for his headquarters in city hall a few blocks away. The city hall, he reasoned, wasn’t crucial to the overall plan, but from a military standpoint it was a useful outpost for protecting his main position, and moreover, the optics of a native flag of revolt flying from it on the TV news would help ensure a rapid rush by the Canadian authorities into the downtown. So he walked the back streets along King and Notre Dame to recce the city hall area, continuing to mark on his map the high buildings and narrow streets near the site, the ready-made firing points and spots for roadblocks.
***Quick side note, I am going to agree with Bland with something! Specifically where his plan is to block streets but have the warriors defending these barricades from concealed positions at a distance behind them. The barricades blocking the street don’t have to be manned directly. Obstacles needs to be covered by observation and fire, but not necessarily by people on top of the obstacle itself. This is one of the few areas where Bland does get something right.***
Now it’s true that the railway yards make a pretty good barrier, although it’s hard to see how the responding Winnipeg Police are going to be funnelled into it. A wide open space is dangerous to cross, but at the same time there’s nothing there to force someone to cross at one particular place.
But here’s where we start running into trouble. A few snipers and anti-tank weapons? What exactly does this mean? Are these professional snipers operating in proper detachments or does he just mean regular soldiers who are good shots? If he means formally trained snipers does he mean actual sniper detachments (hint: CAF snipers don’t actually work alone like you see in the movies, but in teams of four)? By anti-tank weapons, does he just mean just a two-man Carl-G team or multiple teams coordinating their efforts to surround and attack armoured vehicles from multiple angles?
Here’s the thing, once the fighting properly gets underway, the government forces can be expected to deploy snipers and sharpshooters of their own, and a giant, wide open killing zone is a playground for snipers on both sides. These NPA teams are going to need to relocate regularly as their positions are uncovered and come under threat. This means they’re going to need additional troops to secure these positions and protect their lines of travel. Too keep a sniper detachment safe at the top of a large building is going to require a number of troops protecting the base of the building. And as we’ve already discussed, just keeping enough people awake to watch all directions becomes very complicated very quickly.
One other point, this is a picture of the abandoned fire hall at Maple and Higgins. It’s actually been rebuilt into a museum now, however the tower is still there and should still offer a good view of the rail yards. And…yeah…don’t ever plant a sniper in the obvious tower that overlooks a wide-open battle field. Unusual objects attract fire, so hiding inside one isn’t a good idea…
This is where Bland’s lack of details becomes really problematic. BG-Riel is supposed to be made up of seven combat teams. If his combat teams are, in fact, modern CF-scale combat teams (120+ troops with support elements), then one of these should be enough to hold the NBT. On the other hand, if we’re talking 50-75 man forces (which seems to be implied in parts of the novel), this one anchor point could eat up more than a quarter of his forces!
Okay here’s a point where I have to generalize a bit. I don’t know if this is an across the board reality, but in my experience manpower is one of the huge blind spots that young officers often have when it comes down to accomplishing a task, whereas the NCO is all about how fast numbers can run out when jobs pile up. Consider what’s going to have to happen just to lock down the NBT:
- First round of tasks:
- Seize vehicles at the planned obstacle points (all three of them) and manoeuvre them to block their respective streets. They will need covering forces to protect them in case police show up too soon, and to drive off civilians.
- Concurrent to this, teams will have to seize the Fire Hall and Aboriginal Centre, deploy snipers and observers, and begin the fortification process (this will take time and involve heavy lifting).
- Concurrent to this, a clearance patrol is going to have to move through the streets and buildings to evict anyone they don’t want in their AOR. The fact that the takeover is going to happen during morning rush hour the means that the patrol will have to roust hundreds of commuters from their vehicles and forced to leave on foot.
- Concurrent to this, there will have to be a force of NPA fighters on standby as a QRF to respond in case of an unexpected attack (because you have no way to predict if something might go wrong).
- The NBT’s headquarters will have to deploy and begin setting up their gear to make sure they have comms and security.
- Second round tasks:
- Once this first round of tasks are complete (or underway) the NBT warriors will have to link up with City Hall and the other formations to the south.
- Concurrent to this, defensive positions to cover the major entry points will have to be constructed.
- Concurrent to this, abandoned vehicles will have to be moved so that key routes are open and the NPA warriors can move about unimpeded (it will later be established that many of the NPA warriors travel in technicals, so congested streets must be cleared).
- Routes will have to be established between strong points, and between the NBT and City Hall to the south. Observation Posts (OPs) will need to be established to ensure there are eyes on key routes, as well as possible infiltration routes.
- Communications must be established and tested.
- The third round of tasks will involve settling themselves in for a long term siege:
- All troops will have to be briefed in detail about their defensive positions, and where to go in the event of a stand to order. Rehearsals will need to be conducted (no matter how carefully planned, the reality of what gets built will never match what the plans called for).
- A detailed search of each building will need to be conducted, to find any civilian hold outs who may have avoided previous sweeps.
- A schedule for sentry rotations and clearance patrols must be established and begun (this may happen in an earlier phase if other tasks take too long).
That’s a lot to take care of, and all of this assumes that nothing is likely to go wrong, and no outside threat is likely to impose a sudden demand on NPA manpower. By the end of the first 24 hrs, the NPA warriors are likely to be both physically as well as emotionally exhausted.
There is a term in the CAF called ‘deployment surge.’ It refers to that initial rush of adrenaline that comes when the troops first hit the ground and go into action. It typically results in an excess of energy and enthusiasm that a smart commander can harness to get more than a standard number of tasks accomplished. But there’s a danger that goes with deployment surge, and that comes towards the end of the first 24hrs or so when the adrenaline wears off and the troops start to feel the last day’s worth of work.
This becomes doubly important because twenty four hours or so is likely to be when the first organized response will come. Bland is operating under the assumption that the takeover of Winnipeg will achieve complete surprise, which is a dangerous assumption but one that we’ll allow for the sake of argument. So an unprepared police force is likely to be thrown into complete chaos on a city-wide level, but on the local level the story will be different.
Just like the fire fighters and paramedics that Alex Gabriel is planning to trap, some cops will be utterly blindsided by the uprising and die within the opening hour. Others (in the absence of any coherent orders from higher) will react to their local situation and do the best they can where they are. They will likely be outnumbered and outgunned by the NPA, so this will likely consist of rescuing civilians and emergency workers, and trying to connect with other officers who were caught outside the NPA perimeter. Bit by bit individuals and small groups will link up, and leaders will either regain control or else emerge from the ranks.
Depending on how ugly the violence might be, the last of the casualties might not be cleared until nightfall. Long before then the local RCMP should be joining in and the local reservists should be reporting in to their armouries (the regular force will be under attack at CFB Winnipeg, so they’re not likely to be involved in Winnipeg proper). The militia will bring a healthy chunk of manpower and a lot of weapons, but will be initially hampered by a shortage of ammunition. Sorting out who’s who and what’s what is likely going to take several hours, meaning that a coherent picture isn’t likely to emerge until well into the night.
That means, given Bland’s worst case scenario assumptions, the first coherent response to BG Riel’s actions are likely to come at dawn, twenty four hours into the Winnipeg operation. In other words, a counter attack could be possible right around the time that the NPA’s deployment surge is wearing off.
This back and forth seesawing of initiative and morale is part of what’s meant by the terms Battle Rhythm or Operational Tempo.
Whether this means that BG Riel is doomed to destruction starting on day two of their operation would largely depend on how many government troops escaped in the initial action and what kind of weapons they managed to retain. If it’s just a bunch of regular patrolmen supplemented by reservists who are light on ammo, the response isn’t likely to be more than some small, localized skirmishes at first. If the WPS Emergency Response Team (ERT) got out, then things could be pretty desperate for isolated concentrations like the NBT. Most likely they’ll hold on for a while by sheer numbers, but it could very easily be bad news for any units caught in an isolated locations.
The point I’m trying to make with all of this is that, far from being an overwhelming force BG Riel is going to be stretched thin and hard pressed on multiple fronts. It’s easy to just look at the order of battle and declare we have numerical parity and fire superiority. But when you’re one half of a two man OP, out on the perimeter as exhaustion sets in and the government forces in the city finally start to respond…
…things are going to get hairy.
***Featured image: I was looking for a still from the final moments of the original 2002 Resident Evil movie (Constantin Films) and I came across a blog called Best Movie Cars where the author systematically pours over various movies to identify every car in them. Like many things on the internet, it’s not something I’d ever thought of or asked for, but regardless you can’t help but be amazed by the effort.***
 The uprising will hit Montreal and Quebec City before it reaches Manitoba, so in theory the Winnipeg police should be ready for when Alex Gabriel’s people take to the streets. I’m willing to allow Bland a bit of leeway since complacency and arrogance are a real thing, and a lot of tragedies are prefaced with the phrase “I never thought it could happen here.”
 Although even then Alex’s Battle Group is more likely to trap police than firefighters and paramedics. I’m not sure what it’s like in Winnipeg, but Ottawa EMS teaches the phrase “Never run past the dead cop!” as a warning for young paramedics not to throw themselves into danger they’re not trained to handle.
 I’ll be getting to the Caledonia standoff (and Ipperwash, which can’t be separated from it) eventually. It’s a heavy and complex topic so it’s taking a while.
 And this is to say nothing about 500 or so reservists, RCMP constables, and any random knucklehead with a gun who might join in or otherwise try and protect themselves.
 Somewhere around 1,500 of those people will have some Indigenous background. This raises the question of whether they will flee to escape the violence, or stay to remain with ‘their side?’
 Just something that occurred to me: the NPA doesn’t actually have its own flag. Molly Grace made her TV proclamation in front of a Mohawk Warrior’s flag, but that’s not necessarily going to be a flag that resonates out west, especially given how things will eventually work out for the Mohawks.
 Currently Google Maps shows a lot of buildings in the area that would reduce the railway’s natural advantage as a barrier. Much of this is new construction (the area has been undergoing a bit of a renaissance) and would not have been present when Bland was writing the novel.
 This is where things like ‘forced rest’ become absolutely essential, and commanders (or NCOs, more likely) will have to start ordering troops to stop working, lay out their sleeping kit and go to ground for a few hours. Otherwise, there’s a very serious risk of an across the board crash as the deployment surge wears off.