Operation Linebacker
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by Marcus Wheeler

For those participating, or merely interested In Saturdays Vietnam Air War game I have worked through the Battlefield Damage Assessment (scores) and losses to arrive at some conclusions (we have a result).

This game followed on from one last year which I shall refer to now as "Rolling Thunder". Last time out the forces were a little (but not much) smaller. The Vietnamese People's Air Force (VPAF), consisting of something like 2 flights (a flight consists of 2 aircraft) of MiG-17's (4), 2 flights of MiG-21's (4), 1 flight of J-6's and 6 SAM batteries (SA-2) narrowly defeated a largely USN force. Naturally, the US force was a little more substantial with regard to aircraft numbers on that occasion. USN forces consisted of a flight each of F8 Crusader's, F4B Phantoms and A4B/C Skyhawk's. In addition the navy also provided 2 flights of A7 Corsairs (4) and reconnaissance by a lone RA-5 Vigilante. The USAF contingent consisted of a flight of F105's (2) and two strikes by individual F-111 bombers (2).

If I recall correctly, the game was won by the US side (Marcus/Mike) by the narrowest margin (one point) following decisive strikes by the F-111's late in the game both sides having just exceeded their victory point requirement. The SA-2 batteries were relatively effective, certainly downing the sole US reconnaissance asset early in the game.

The game, based on the "Thud Ridge" rules from Tumbling Dice was also notable for some early difficulties with the energy management/action point system concept. A simple, even elegant system, but the way it was written did cause some early head scratching. But a some insight from Mike enabled us to get our heads around it.

A year later and we were playing our second game (with a cancelled mission in between!) and the forces available to both sides have expanded. They would have expanded a lot more if I hadn't realized the day before that i had run out of "stars and bars" decals for the USN forces i had painted up - about 20 additional aircraft including a Skywarrior and lots more Crusader's, Phantoms and Skyhawk's to choose from.

However, the USAF contingent increased with the addition of 2 more flights of F105's to make a total of 6 (although I believe 7 or maybe 8 were deployed on the day through recycling downed aircraft!), 2 flights of USAF F4's (4) an EB-66 EW aircraft and OV-10 Bronco Forward Air Controller (FAC). In addition, an F-111 was also recycled into action for a third strike. The US victory point target given the asymmetrical victory conditions, was 33. However, I didn't work this out until after the game!

The VPAF forces had an expanded number of planes, with 3 flights (6 ) MiG-17's, 3 flights (6) MiG-21's and 1 flight (2) J6's (Chinese built MiG-19 copies). However, the number of SAM sites dropped to three (newly acquired models of launchers/radars rather than the previous markers).

The game started out with VPAF (Marcus) and US Forces (Dave), which was the reverse of the previous encounter. Mark joined the US side early on. The US initial reconnaissance effort identified 3 strategic targets (the maximum for 1 recce. plane, the RA-5). Marcus placed 3 bridges on the board, and the closest two of these to the US table edge were immediately the subject of an intense bombardment. This bridge in the centre took an early and abject hammering from the USAF F105's and subsequently some F-111 strikes too, resulting in as many as seven hits early in the game. The VPAF responded sluggishly bringing down only one F-105 early on. The SAM batteries were also slow to open up and were subsequently inhibited by the arrival of the EB-66 which cast a long electronic shadow over the battlefield making US attempts to "breaklock" on SAM target acquisition almost assured (when the players could work out the bizarrely worded rules after another bout of head scratching). By this time further US reinforcements arrived (Steve and eventually a genuine US visitor to the club!) had also joined the US side, clearly mirroring the historical escalation of US commitment to 'Nam!

On the VPAF left flank the USN also landed some hits on a bridge, with the Corsairs and Skyhawk's doing the damage. The USAF FAC OV-10 in the centre of the board seemed absolutely intent on contributing virtually nothing to US reconnaissance efforts, while on the VPAF left, the RA-5 seemed intent on tooling about in the weeds detecting a number of tactical targets (two of which subsequently received hits) and a SAM site. This was valiantly destroyed in a subsequent strike by Steve's F-105's although some went down as a consequence of their brave low level approach). However, the Navy was to lose 2 Corsairs to MiG's and finally an F-4 escort to the otherwise poorly performing SAM's as the EB-66 continued to pump out its unhelpful "white noise" on the Fan Song fire control radar frequency.

To counter, there was some genuine tension as the EB-66, flying a lazy patrol pattern at the US rear was put under threat by a lone MiG-21 in mottled green camo. As the USAF struggled to intercept the situation looked critical not only for the ECM plane, but a lone F -111 about to lose the benefit of its electronic cover. However, the MiG just couldn't turn onto the EB-66's tail, clearly a failure for the comrades in the People's GCI centre. Subsequently an F-111 was shot down, but after delivering it's payload on it's bridge target, probably to a J6.

In the heat of the battle, it wasn't clear who had the upper hand. However, the US force total meant they required a notional 33 victory points for a clear victory and the VPAF 18, both calculated on the forces deployed. It transpired that although neither side reached these elusive targets, the US players with 14 effective airstrikes and 6 MiG's downed came very close with 31 points. The VPAF went back to base, those that survived, to rocks as pillows if not re-education - 7 US planes downed for a miserable total of 8 points.

An enjoyable game, but some re-writes and a few more additions to the rules may be in order! Maybe "Check Your 6" for a bit of variety next time the jets make an appearance, although Linebacker 2 must be on the (blue) horizon somewhere.

(Comments by Dave Sime) Damn good game Marcus, many thanks.

The battle on the USN side of the board became quite intense. At one point there was USN F-4 Phantoms and A-7 Corsairs criss-crossing above and below a pair of Mig-17s, who were being chased by F-8 Crusaders! The USN did manage to bag three VPAF aircraft but it was a hard fought battle. Twice we ended up making a head on attack without results. I recall at least three times I fired sidewinders or sparrows without success. As Marcus remarked energy management is crucial. I found that it was better to concentrate on managing 60 turns with climbing/diving/braking to get a close rear shot rather than tight 120 turns. Ex: a F-8 pair bagged one Mig17 with a climb, 60 turn, dive, 60 turn, brake, straight ahead, 60 turn, brake, even then only one of the F-8s was lined up for a shot.

The A-7s and A-4 Skyhawks played it straight by bombing the primary target from flight level 3 which minimised losses but reduced potential hits, which seemed to work well as we got quite a few hits including a couple of secondary targets. However avoiding the triple AAA puts you at risk of the SAM-2 (after we mastered the breaklock rule !!!). On reflection I think it works well and does mimic that aspect.

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