***This is another case where I’m going to be talking in detail about fighting a war in a Canadian town, specifically the towns of Chisasibi and Radisson in Norther Quebec.  Obviously, this brings up several serious morale issues which I discussed at length here.  The nature of the text requires me to get into the weeds here, so I’m going to do my best to treat this subject with the seriousness it deserves.***

One of the most infuriating things in Uprising is Bland’s tendency to hand wave away vital details about how his rebellion takes place.  Frustrating especially since it’s upon these details that a story like would succeed or fail.  Humans don’t just launch themselves into all-out war like the Warhammer Orks.  In real life they need motivation and organization and even then it’s going to be a throw of the dice.  Douglas Bland explicitly claimed that his novel is a realistic portrayal of how a war like this could happen.  It isn’t, but all too often there aren’t enough details presented to properly refute his claims.

Luckily for us, that’s all about to change.  Much like Alex Gabriel in Winnipeg, our friend Bill the Pirate Will Boucanier is going over his plans to take and hold James Bay.  In his case, his anticipated enemy is CSSR (the Canadian Special Service Regiment), so the challenge will be that much greater.

Calls made, he unfolded his map case and rechecked the chart of the main area of operations, the La Grande Riviere corridor from the airfield at Chisasibi to the Hydro works at Radisson.  The cells on the road southward and along the Hydro-Quebec installations there were mostly in place to support Operation Thunder.  His mission was to isolate the Robert-Bourassa generating facilities and literally turn off Montreal and New York City.  But the mission behind the implied mission, the one he kept to himself, was to support operations elsewhere about which he knew very little, except that they had targets somehow much more important than La Grande.

Once again, it’s time for a Map Recce!

Uprising's Chisasibi-Radisson Map
The Map in Uprising of the Chisasibi-Radisson area.  Although a bit over-simplified, it’s still accurate enough for our purposes here.

Yes, just like our breakdown of OP Middleton  and our examination of a street fight in Winnipeg, this is one of the other occasions in Uprising in which Bland provides a detailed outline as to how the NPA is going to fight it out with the police and army.  As such, it deserves a more detailed breakdown.

Just like the rest of this novel, the upcoming section is bad.  But this particular section is instructively bad.

I’ve already mentioned this a couple of times, but Bland has set up OP Thunder to be a diversion from the main targets of OP Middleton out in Winnipeg.  The idea being that the police and army will foolishly race into northern Quebec, leaving the real prize unguarded.  This ignored the fact that the James Bay Hydro Electric project provides power for literally millions of Canadians (and some Americans too).  The capture of the dam is a threat that no government – whether left wing or right – could possibly ignore.

Uprising's Quebec Map
The map of Quebec provided in Uprising.  For some perspective, most of the communities shown here receive at least part of their electricity from James Bay..

That wasn’t his problem.  His problem, and his plan, was quite simple.  At H-hour his A Team of thirty warriors, under his command,would seize the main operating room, plant explosives near the turbines, detain the workers in a secure location, and establish a security perimeter around the site and on the roads leading into it.  He assumed the local police would react first, probably carelessly, in which case he intended to capture as many of them as he could.  The SQ was bound to show up eventually, but he’d been warned that the Committee would issue a statement and ultimatum to the premier of Quebec as soon as the action started, which meant the SQ might come running early.  He wasn’t worried if they did.  

We met self-hating racist cop Bob Ignace waaay back, but there’s still no information on exactly what police force the man belongs to.  At the time, I speculated maybe SQ or RCMP, but in real life, Chisasibi has its own Band police force called the Eeyou Eenou Police Force (EEPF).  Now the EEPF only came into existence in 2011, but that’s just as their current incarnation.  Cree self-government (sorry, modern Cree self-government) goes back to 1974 with the election of the Grand Council of the Cree, and was expanded in 1978 with the formation of the Cree Regional Authority.

Doing a quick scan of the Grand Council’s history doesn’t give me a definitive date as to when the Cree nation started policing themselves, but their Facebook page lists 1998 as the year of the ‘Local Police Funding Agreement,’ so it’s safe to assume that the proto-EEPF was at least a decade old when Bland wrote Uprising.[1]

So while it’s possible that Ignace is RCMP, it’s most likely he’s whatever version of the EEPF was patrolling back in the early 2000s.  This means it’s going to be members of the Band itself that are being ‘captured‘ by Boucanier’s A-Team.[2]

Thirty people rushing the Dam should have plenty of time to seize the facilities, secure the people inside, then set themselves up for the not-EEPF to show up.  Such an attack is also probably more than the local police would expect (funny how no effort seems to have been made to co-opt them into the NPA), and besides which, it’s nearly a hundred kilometres from Chisasibi to Raddison, so we’re looking at an hour’s response time at best.  If they did indeed rush heedlessly in response to a disturbance at the dam, they could probably be snapped up in short order.

Canadian Rangers, performing drill.  Those are their issued service rifles, not rifles kept purely for ceremonial purposes.

Part of this depends on the Rangers having received a better class of weapon than the .303 Lee-Engfield bolt-action rifles that were standard issue when Uprising was being written.  I don’t know the details of what the EEPF carry, but based on pictures from their Twitter account, it looks like we’re talking semi-automatic pistols for day-to-day carry, with shotguns are rifles available as needed (more for animal control that defence, but still).  So assuming the NPA Rangers got an upgrade to something like the ARs, AKs and FNs we’ve seen so far, they should have a pretty solid upper hand even in a pitched firefight.[3]

EEPF-pistol qual
EEPF officers conduct their regular pistol re-qualification.

The SQ would be a different matter, given that it’s a large, modern police force and the element of surprise would be lost.  Now we know that Boucanier’s already contacted the cells hidden in the various communities along Highway 109, and he expects them to not only delay the SQ response, but to trap them completely.  We broke down the numbers on this here and I already explained how I have my doubts about his, but Boucanier isn’t worried.

Will had placed his C Team under one of his best leaders, and gave her his strongest warriors and orders to take control of Radisson, bring up the trucks to join Will’s A Team once they had secured the generating station, and then to guard the town and the approaches to the station.  The team would ambush the SQ without warning if they appeared on the roads anywhere near the town or the station.  But Will expected the SQ to behave like their comrades had in other fights with the warriors.  At Oka for instance.  SQ tactics were very simple: “They came, they saw, they ran away.”  But if by chance some stayed to fight, they’d lose.  There just wouldn’t be many prisoners afterwards.  

So we’ll see later on how the poorly defined bands of warriors along Highway 109 will somehow prove pretty effective at jamming up the relief force when they try to relieve Radisson.  This will be especially surprising since the SQ won’t even try to respond to the attack that has shut off the power for most of their home Province.  It’ll be the CF that responds and (inexplicably) proves incapable of forcing a path up the Highway against inexperienced opposition.

Nevertheless, this is a hell of an assumption to make: that the SQ would be incapable of responding effectively and would likely travel hundreds of kilometres into the North only to run away (another several hundred km) at the first shot fired.

SQ Raid
An SQ officer during the 11 July 1990 raid advances as tear gas is fired.  Image from Alanis Obomsawin’s documentary Kahnesetake: 270 years of resistance.  Still frame taken from the NFB Youtube channel.

That’s also, like, not what happened at Oka.  At all.  The SQ raid on the protest camp at the Pines was ill-conceived and badly executed, but cowardice did not factor into the equation.

So that covers the A and C Teams.  Now what about the Bs?

While the A and C Teams were securing the La Grande and Radisson, his B Team under Joe Neetha would take Chisasibi and environs, blocking the road to Radisson and capturing the local police.  Neetha was to hold the town and surround the airfield, securing the approaches and key firing positions, but leaving the airfield open to lure the army onto the field.  The idea was to keep his guys out of the obvious target areas, during the initial landing, but as soon as a few Hercs were on the ground, they were to open up harassing fire, disable the planes, and pin the troops on the airfield.  If that failed, or to be honest even if it worked initially, he was to fall back along the road to Radisson, join C Team and hold the road, or at least delay the army’s drive toward the La Grande as long as possible.  

…and now we have a huge problem…

Chisasibi Airport-Marked 2.png
Satellite view of Chisasibi Airport.  Source.  According to the SkyVector website, the runway is 3,793′ x 100′ (1,156m x 30m).  The expected approach route is to come in from the South West (over the town) then turn and come in for an east-to-west landing.
Chisasibi Runway
A cockpit view of the approach to the runway.  At the time of year that Uprising is set, there wouldn’t be snow on the ground yet.

This is a real life satellite picture of Chisasibi Airport, and a cockpit view of the runway on final approach. As you can see, it wouldn’t be too hard for Neetha’s men to stay clear of “the obvious targets” because there isn’t anything there!  Just going off of a Google Maps estimate, the southwestern tip of the runway is more than 500m from the edge of the town itself.

While there’s certainly a treeline to provide cover, that’s only going to be from naked-eye observation and small arms fire from the troops disembarking from the plane.  The air component supporting an airmobile attack however, is likely to include a lot of enhanced optics and (at the very least) 20mm cannon fire from CF-18s.

The absence of any civilian housing means that whatever CF commander who’s command on the airfield is unlikely to hesitate to deploy air power to blast the crap out of anybody firing upon his aircraft.  Hell, if the commander’s really bloody minded, he might even have a couple of CF-18s strafe the tree line before he lands, just to be safe.

It’s a war, after all.  No one should be there unless they’re hostile, right?

Putting a couple of fire teams in the terminal might work for a while, since the CF commander would probably want to capture the building intact in order to facilitate further landings.  But with open ground around it, escape would be impossible. Those warriors would be fighting to the death.

Then there’s the question of retreat.  The James Bay Highway is the most likely route (I’m assuming there’s all kinds of back woods trails that could be travelled by ATVs) but as the only actual road between Chisasibi and Radisson, it’s just screaming for a cut-off group.[4]

Based on the fact that Bland named the NPA operation OP THUNDER, and expects the CSSR to brazenly land in their Hercs without any fire support, it sounds an awful lot like he’s trying to re-create the famous Raid on Entebbe.  In 1976 Israeli commandos launched a mission halfway across the African continent to the airport at Entebbe, Uganda in order to rescue the Israeli passengers of the hijacked Air France flight 139.  Although later re-named Operation Entebbe (or sometimes Operation Jonathan after LCol Yoni Netanyahu, the sole IDF casualty), the original code name for this rescue was Operation Thunderbolt.

Raid on Entebbe-Charles Bronson
Although rushed into production and released later that same year, The Raid on Entebbe starring Charles Bronson actually did a decent job portraying the complexities of planning such an audacious mission on such short notice. (20th Century Fox Television, 1976).

There’s a couple of problems with trying to recreate a historic mission like Thunderbolt and shoe-horning it into a very different fictional narrative.  At Entebbe, the Israelis were able to physically land their Hercules transport planes[5] at the airport because the runway started more than one and a half kilometres from the new Terminal building, and the hostages were being held at the old Terminal building, which was located even further away behind the new one.

This had the effect of muffling the noise of their arrival (the airport was still in occasional use despite the hostages being held there) and leaving the Ugandan forces unsure as to what was happening.  To maximize their element of surprise, the Israelis used a civilian Mercedes similar to the staff cars used by Ugandan Generals to make their approach on the old terminal building, before killing the Ugandan sentries with silenced weapons.[6]

A move like this is not likely to work at Chisasibi for the simple reason that the airstrip is too short, and the incoming planes will have to pass over the town to reach it (in Entebbe, the Hercs could fly in low over Lake Victoria).  Landing undetected by plane is likely to be impossible.

Keeping in mind I’m no special forces operator (not by a long shot), but it seems to me that, if you can’t be sure of taking the airport without having your planes damaged, you need to change your plans.  Either go in with air support blazing (as I already described above) or else find another way to land and seize the airport while keeping the element of surprise.

Like…I don’t know…a parachute drop?[7]

An airstrip is a long, open, flat piece of ground.  There may be plenty of ways to prevent an airborne landing there, the fact is Bland doesn’t even consider the possibility that the CSSR might try to jump in.  Say, perhaps, under cover of darkness?  Have the attacking forces use night vision and superior training to overpower the inexperienced defenders?

Like I said, I’m not an operator or anything.  But…you know…it seems like this could work.

But let’s play by the rules Bland has established for his novel.  Let’s say that a parachute drop onto the airstrip is legitimately out of the question, and that the CSSR will attempt to land there openly, without the covering firepower of some CF-18s.

For starters, covering the airfield is only one of Neetha’s challenges. In addition to this, he would have to hold the key facilities in Chisasibi just in case any of the locals decided they wanted to side with the government instead of the NPA.  This is another point that Bland doesn’t seem to have considered.  If the police force is against them, how much of the population is as well?  Don’t those cops have spouses and children?  Friends?

He’s also going to need to detach a force to patrol the road to Radisson and secure his line of escape.

I’ve covered this before, but through the course of his career, Bland doesn’t seem to have ever organized something as basic as a Fire Picket.  This became obvious in our look at the upcoming Battle of Winnipeg where he seemed to assume that barricades could build themselves.  A patrol group to cover the town of Chisasibi, plus another one to keep an eye on the Highway are going to take substantial chunks out of his available manpower.  Maintaining an around-the-clock watch on the airfield will cut the number of troops available even further.

So that pits Joe Neetha’s much-less-than fifty or so warriors against upwards of two hundred paras who are going to be very mad at having their planes shot out from underneath them (remember, he’s supposed to let several planes land before opening fire).

Assuming that his warriors weren’t caught by surprise and managed to stand-to their defensive positions prior to the landing, the fight would probably start off heavily in favour of Neetha’s warriors and might even resemble gory the opening minutes of the beach assault in the movie ‘Saving Private Ryan.’  It would likely end like the final minutes of that same beach assault, right down to victorious paras, wild with adrenaline, shooting down those who don’t surrender quickly enough.

In other words, while the paras might be hurting at the end of it, Neetha’s forces will probably come off a lot worse.

Will knew this was a big gamble for several reasons.  Not only was almost half his force exposed at Chisasibi, far from the crucial power complex, but he couldn’t be sure the army would even try to fly in a force to retake the La Grande from the ground; they might get bold and just parachute straight onto the site at Radisson.  He was betting on an air assault on Chisasibi airfield, then a forced march up the hundred kilometres to Radisson, even though it was slower, because jumping into the La Grande site would be a hard-assed tactic.  If they did go the para route and took the station, he had a nasty surprise ready for them.  One way or another, the army would eventually have to take Chisasibi, if only to support the operation.  And Joe Neetha’s job was to make that necessity as costly as possible.  

So Bland/Boucanier is considering the possibility of an airborne drop, just not at Chisasibi.  Alright then.

R-B Dam
Aerial view of the Robert-Bourrasa Dam.

So while there are some wide open spaces around the Dam, not very much of it is flat.  Again, I’m not an expert here, but you don’t have to be one to know that jumping into a place like this would be nasty.

In Bland’s world, jumping in to Radisson would be the only option since the CF here has no heavy lift helicopters like the Chinook that could ferry the troops over the long distances.  The fact that, even as he was writing Uprising the Canadian Forces were in the process of re-acquiring Chinook helicopters seems to have been overlooked by him, so let’s leave it at that for now.  Even though we have Chinooks today, and could easily drop a company of troops right next to the dam itself if necessary.

Whatever.  We’ll do it Bland’s way.

So to sumarize: A-Team’s job should be pretty straightforward, but only because Gen Bishop has ignored the implied orders from his Prime Minister and isn’t warning the local police forces.  There definitely can’t be a helicopter assault, and if the CSSR plans to jump into Radisson, he has a non-specified ‘nasty surprise’ for them.

C-Team is covering A-Team’s back, locking down Radisson and setting up a defensive position along Highway 109 against a planned police response from the south.  They know that snapping up the local not-the-EEPF police force will be easy, because there’s no possible way that the (local?) cops might get tipped off.  Also, there’s no risk of the NPA warriors flinching or hesitating when they engage the cops.  And the inevitable SQ response will fall to pieces because reasons.

Finally, the B-Team is in charge of covering the airport, which (in this universe) is the only way to get a large number of troops and supplies into the region quickly.  There’s no chance of an airborne drop here (so no need for a similar nasty surprise under Neetha’s control) and Boucanier’s confident that B-Team will have no trouble securing a town of 3,000+ and a 100 km road.   Neetha can reasonably be expected to bring all fifty warriors to bear on the disembarking paras, then retreat in good order to join Boucanier at Radisson.

The reality was that Will had to count on the fifty warriors at Chisasibi to hold the airfield area for several hours and then withdraw slowly up the road to Radisson and pin down any rescue force on the road, with luck, for several days.  The thirty warriors of C Team would take the Radisson police station and radio station, and control the population, and then on his order move a section down the road to Chisasibi, to meet up with Neetha.  Will was sure the importance of the target and his obvious actions, which he expected the army to track on satellites, would force the politicians and the army commanders to stick their heads into Molly’s noose.  

And it was quite a noose.  On his southern flank, his cells would knock down transmission lines and towers to add considerably to the problem caused by the stoppage at the generating facilities themselves and heighten the risk and anxiety for government planners and rescuers.  Once rescue columns moving from the south – he assumed first the SQ and then army units from Valcartier – were committed on the Highway 109 from Val-d’Or through Matagami, his teams along that route would create havoc by blowing up bridges and beaver dams and cratering roads.  The more noise and action, the bigger the reaction in the East.  And that, though he didn’t know the details, was a key part of Molly’s game plan.  

So…this is what the James’ Bay Highway looks like.  Source.

At first glance, I may be tempted to agree with Bland that yes, there are indeed lots of places to stage an ambush of any troops marching(?) up the road.  Lots of featureless tree lines, and enough turns and hills to prevent long range observation.  There’s also no houses, civilians populations, or vital infrastructure to guard, and that’s where the problem is.  Those troops marching up the road?  They won’t hesitate to employ heavy weapons or air power to win whatever firefight they might encounter.

Just moving in the area probably wouldn’t be as hard as it might first appear.  If my experiences in Northern Ontario are anything to go by, there’s usually all kinds of back roads and trails that don’t show up on any map but will be well known to the locals.  ATVs and dirt bikes (and skidoos in the winter) could allow Neetha’s warriors to travel parallel to the highway at speeds comparable to normal traffic.[8]

If Neetha splinters his command up into tiny groups and has them take separate routes in their retreat to Radisson, then he can probably get them there in one piece.  Or at least, whatever survivors who managed to flee the battle for the airstrip.  A bit of sniping might be possible to slow the CF advance, although for a lot of those men it would be a suicide mission to buy time for their comrades to escape.  IEDs would be a better bet, but that would involve visible activity along a road that would be under heavy surveillance.

So Neetha’s B-Team can either escape intact, or oppose the landing at Chisasibi.  Doing both is not going to happen.

The purpose of a Map Recce is to take a look at the map (and any other readily available information sources) in order to get a big-picture idea of what an upcoming mission will entail.  In plotting out his defence of Chisasibi and Radisson, Douglas Bland insists that, not only can such an operation be carried out easily, but almost bloodlessly as well.  I don’t know if he ever visited the region, but I have difficulty believing he paid attention if he did.

Could a force of native radicals seize James Bay and threaten the entire eastern seaboard?  Well, just looking at the map I’d have to say yes, it’s entirely possible.  What followed would be an entirely different story than what we have here.


[1] Aaaaand now I’m realizing that I never did any real studying of the history of the James Bay Region or the Cree Nation.  Damn.  And it would have made total sense to compare that timeline to the fictional history of Will Boucanier’s life!  I mean, Chisasibi itself didn’t exist until 1981 (when the community had to be relocated from Ft George Island), so the abusive world of his childhood would literally have vanished by the time he returned at the beginning of the novel.

[2] Assuming that everything goes smoothly and nobody flinches and fires off an accidental round or something, touching off a needless firefight that causes unnecessary casualties and makes a peaceful resolution impossible.  Cause that’s never happened before…

[3] Too bad nobody from NDHQ is bothering to warn anyone about an impending attack.  Breaking into the Robert Bourassa Dam when it’s been barricaded and the police are in there waiting for you would be a bit of a challenge for the A-Team.

[4] A cut-off group is an element of the attacking force that infiltrates or fights its way through to cover the likely in/out route to the main force’s target.  In this case, the Highway leading to the Airport.  Their job is to destroy any surviving enemy as they retreat, or else ambush reinforcements on their way to assist.

[5] The IDF used a variant of the C-130E Hercules for their mission.  At the time, Canada was using a modified version of the same plane called the CC-130H (the extra C is for Canada).  At the time Uprising was being written, the CAF was in the process of upgrading to the C-130J Super Hercules, a re-designed and substantially bigger plane.

[6] This is one of the points where the mission almost went horribly wrong.  One of the sentries was wounded, and other Israeli soldiers used an un-silenced weapon to finish him (and another sentry) off.  As luck would have it, if they heard the shots, the terrorists hesitated to respond.  Just goes to show how easily things can change on a dime.

[7] The force Will Boucanier expects to respond is the CSSR (Canadian Special Service Regiment), Bland’s fictional version of the real-life CSOR (Canadian Special Operations Regiment).  Both the real and fictional regiments are the reincarnation of the Canadian Airborne Regiment.  You know…the guys who jump out of planes?

[8] On exercise one winter in Moosonee Ontario, we discovered that a person travelling by skidoo on the trails could get to Cochrane (the nearest town with an actual paved highway) faster than we could by driving down the logging roads (where even 50 kph was dangerous).

6 thoughts on “50-Chisasibi Map Recce!

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