Stirling Airsoft’s Operation Halcyon Spear – A Personal After Action Report

The annual August role-play event with Stirling Airsoft is one that I’ve taken part in for many years now… Over the last few years these have taken place at a military training area just across the Severn bridge in a little A-road village called Caerwent.

Caerwent was once a Royal Navy propellant factory, the manufacture of Cordite for naval artillery and near the end of its service… Missiles. Now the history of Caerwent actually has a significant bearing on its use as an Airsoft site, the reason being that a munitions or propellant factory has to take certain steps to mitigate the potential damage caused if a building should let’s say… Blow Up.

The majority of buildings around Caerwent training area have earth banks around them, certainly anything that was designated as either a manufacturing or storage site has a degree of environmental protection. What this does from an Airsoft point of view is cut down the sight lines to a level where you can sneak around and keep the terrain between you and your opposing force.

It’s one of the reasons why Caerwent works well for this type of game, OPFOR needs the ability to hit and run… Taskforce need the ability for their vehicle movements to be screened until the last moment, allowing for rapid snatch and grab raids or full assaults on certain sectors.

Overall, it’s a great site to play… the buildings (whilst generally sparse inside) offer that real dystopian look and give you somewhere sheltered to rest if playing a weekend-long game. It’s also the home of Dragon Valley Airsoft who use a small area of the eastern site for a monthly walk on game. The total training area is just shy of 1200 acres with the perimeter road working out at around 7 miles long. Generally, Stirling Airsoft will use either the Eastern or Western half of the site leaving the other side free for other users such as the MOD or Car Clubs.

So, Halcyon Spear… Lets get the obvious question out of the way. Why did the night section of the game get cancelled at such short notice? There have been a number of rumours circulating around but the most likely one is exactly what the guys hosting the event put across to us…

Landmarc Support Services (who look after the majority of the MODs training areas in the UK) advised Stirling during their organisers brief on the day of the event that due to local backlash regarding overnight noise, all activities were to be suspended between 22:00 Saturday and 06:00 Sunday with a further noise limiting “pyro ban” from 21:00 to 08:00 to ensure that the locals had no issues getting their sleep… To add insult to injury they had a firework display at literally 22:05 which caused more than one or two people to grumble about fairness…

This news was met with quite a bit of backlash, understandably in some cases… For many guys on both sides the night section is the deal breaking element of a weekend game, kicking down doors at 3am or patrolling with “green eyes” throughout the night is an experience that you just can’t get at the majority of games in the UK. Stirling have continuously offered for 15+ years the opportunity to be the bad motherfucker you dream of, admittedly even if it’s LARPing under a different name.

A few guys dropped out, whilst it’s easy to take the piss, I can absolutely understand the reasoning for many of the guys who called it off and went in search of other thrills at Longmoor (Co-incidentally Legion Airsoft were hosting a day “battlesim” at the FIBUA site on the Saturday) or even said fuck it and decided to play Battlefield/Squad/CoD/Fortnite… Whatever.

As I said, for some guys the night parts are overwhelmingly the main reason to attend… Without this element it’s not worth a possibly long distance drive during a Friday afternoon towards a wet and windy site with no idea how many others are going to drop out. I’ve left games early before and regretted it, I’ve made a personal pledge to never quit it leave a game early again… Plus Caerwent is only an hour and a half up the road.

It wasn’t just us that was affected though, apparently a night exercise for some UKSF guys was also given the same news… The word was that they’d decided to just say fuck it and have a BBQ… although I suspect they probably went back home and put some holes in paper at the killhouse instead of sitting in a sheep shit covered FOB while your sausages get rinsed.

So, the game itself… well there’s a core element of the OPFOR side with Stirling that prides itself on going “full terry” which is to say, we give the TF guys a lot of difficult to react to situations. We usually start off by chatting shit with a TF Patrol and work out how switched on they are, be very wary you wannabe SEALs… nothing makes us happier than capturing a TF guy that has managed to become separated from his Patrol.

After “dicking” around Patrol Base (PB) Archer which is an open and hard to guard outpost to the south of the training area, we decided that we should probably test their QRF and stand-to drills. I went back to my “home” at building 315 and loaded up a couple of TAG rounds in the M203 and decided that a little test was in order.

We were close to the PB and had worked out that unless they had patrols out on the ground we could push up close enough to arc a couple of frags onto their position.

Now the key to OPFOR is the ability to conceal a weapon… I can tell you now, an M4A1 with an M203 grenade launcher is pretty much impossible to hide. Somehow I managed to use a large shemagh as a kind of sarong and my waterproof jacket over the whole lot to conceal the whole thing.

With my buddy “Weeman” covering me with his freshly rejuvenated TM 416 we pushed hard left. I got into position about 150 metres away from the TF compound and pulled the trigger… massively overshooting the TAG it blew up about 60 feet in the air. I tried to casually walk back with the weapon held by my side but by sheer chance, a small Dutch callsign has started to push out towards us without us seeing them leave the PB. We came under fire and pushed back to the next available buildings. We held firm for about 5 minutes with both sides not wanting to give up their hand… eventually TF pushed the building and after a brief firefight with casualties on both sides we withdrew back home.

Our actions hadn’t gone unnoticed and within an hour, TF had started to sweep through all the buildings looking for the guys who’d hit them. With our weapons hidden and our clothing changed we were left alone to enjoy a quick bite to eat… Hotdogs and coffee. A great way to prepare for what was to come.

After this we decided to have a wander across the whole in game area… a trip to the main OPFOR village on the other side of the map with only pistols and grenades to keep our covert profile intact led to a 3 hour walk across flat but rough grassy terrain in some of the wettest and windiest conditions I’ve played in.

Meeting up with some of the other OPFOR guys we’d worked out that with a pyro ban from 21:00 we needed to hit their PB before this time.

The rest of the afternoon we were kept busy and we carried out a few minor taskings for Zulu (Stirling’s OPFOR command element) and withdrew back home to get geared up for the main evening attack.

Whilst we prepared for the evening attack we heard a massive firefight kicking off at PB Archer, we’d somehow managed to take and then lose the Patrol Base in under 15 minutes. We grabbed our gear and went to join the fight knowing that TF would be eager to hold onto the base until endex at 22:00 we found a firing position that was concealed from the sangers and left them open to attack, after launching a brace of tags into their compound myself and Weeman hotfooted it into a narrow track to avoid being overwhelmed by a patrol that was surely being dispatched.

After another 20 minutes or so we made it to the main OPFOR village around building 163, a full force attack was being prepared for the Patrol Base with guys already in position within grenade throwing distance of the TF sangars and relating troop numbers and positions back to the main assault force.

We moved out on the back of land rovers, Toyota hiluxes and “technicals”, armed to the teeth we were going to take back that PB or all of us were dying.

I positioned myself about 150 metres away and prepped my M203, once the lead elements had kicked off their own assault I joined the fight with some surprisingly accurate TAGs into their PB… The other guys laying down such a weight of fire and smoke that we quickly breached their compound. After that the handful of survivors were picked off and photos taken to confirm the casualty count, heavy on both sides with TF not wanting to give up that PB without expending all their ammo.

Then came a mildly frustrating moment when most of us were told to exfil from the area, having fought hard for the ground it’s disappointing to have to give it up again without a fight. I know most organisers state they don’t script the game to go in a certain direction but it was pretty obvious that this was happening to allow TF to retake the PB.

I don’t actually have an issue with games being nudged in a certain direction… certainly with the odds stacked in TF’s favour with their bigger numbers we’d have been stomped into the ground within a couple of hours if Stirling didn’t let the game unfold to their planned script.

We decided to exfil separately as our accom was a short walk away and as we left, a huge TF convoy rolled under the bridge on our way home. Even a token TAG reaper round launched over the lead vehicle didn’t fully compensate for the feeling of inevitable defeat.

The rain had died down by this point but the wind was still battering those left exposed, with under an hour to endex I decided that a BBQ was the best way to round off the day. Somehow I managed to keep it alight long enough by hiding it in a brick enclosure outside our door to flame grill a couple of burgers for Weeman and myself, fed and watered we retired to bed for an early sleep. Although having forgot my sleeping bag like a knob, I had to resort to a homemade duvet made from shemaghs, jackets and a towel.

Waking up early the next morning I’d already realised that without being able to hit us at 3am, TF would be coming for us early doors. We had a high value target occupying a building near us and I knew that we would be first in line for a dawn raid. Ready for action and leaving Weeman to get some much needed beauty sleep I strolled across to find out what his exfil plans were… at exactly 06:00 the TF Patrol moved out, hearing that Alvis Saracen starting up is a sound that fills most of OPFOR with both dread and anticipation… with a pyro ban still in place and the majority of TF vehicles invulnerable to TAGs anyway, I was armed with my newly acquired TM Recoil SBR.

My fears of them coming for us were confirmed when I saw the convoy round the berm to our row of houses… as I previously mentioned, Caerwent has an ability to mask even the loudest sounds until the convoy is right on you. Luckily, I’d already found an ideal hiding spot halfway up a berm hidden by a rather dense tree. The HVT and his pals managing to escape through the back door of their building and into the fields behind, using the thick foliage as cover whilst I stayed behind, oblivious to the fact that I was alone.

Five of the lead vehicles had passed me by when I started to hear the inevitable boots on ground noise of rapidly approaching TF soldiers. I then heard someone say a phrase that I’ll long remember, one that ensured that one way or another I’d be getting lit up like a Christmas tree.

“Bring up the gun truck!”

Fuck… It was at that moment I realised that there was no escape, within a minute or two I’d be spotted and probably shot by a couple of dozen eager beaver spaceshuttle door-gunners with itchy trigger fingers.

One of the dismounted callsigns started trotting up the road towards me, weapons down and feeling emboldened by the zero incoming fire and their overwhelming numbers. I waited and waited… Closer and closer they came, I couldn’t believe they wouldn’t be looking out for danger but were too busy focusing on the buildings themselves instead of the threat in the green green bushes and trees.

I was waiting for that golden moment where I could take as many of them out as possible before being pinged myself. When they got to about 5 metres away I lined up on the hardest to hit target at the back of the group and gently squeezed my trigger…

The first three rounds hit the guy at the back square on the shoulder… I managed to crack off another two 5 round bursts before they even reacted to the sudden contact erupting within feet of their position. By that time I’d claimed at least 6 hits, with weapons being drawn upwards and the signature of my SBR being easy to locate…

A few more fell to the short bursts from my rifle but once the GPMG on the gun truck swung round it was game over… it was so close that the barrel was touching the same branches concealing my position. Luckily for me the tree was shielding me from his cyclic rage… The sheer amount of ammo he went through was astonishing but in an almost merciful manner I was hit by one of the few guys that I’d managed to apparently miss on my initial bursts before the GPMG managed to punch through the foliage.

The whole firefight lasted 6/7 seconds at most, but it was a text book example of OPFOR being able to punch way above their weight, choosing my fight allowed me to divert them from assaulting the HVTs building for just long enough for them to escape whilst inflicting maybe 10 casualties for the cost of my one single life.

After bleeding out and re-spawning at a nearby friendly vehicle I kept a visual on the convoy and reported its movement to Zulu command, managing to grab a ride to the main village we joined the main battle. This lasted about an hour and a half before TF withdrew on their vehicles, I then moved to building 163 where I managed to meet up with a couple of local mates, Kornel and Kamil… both regular OPFOR players and eager to take the fight to the enemy we decided to check out PB Archer again and see what the state of play was in that area.

Sneaking around to Archer and then back to our building, we picked up Weeman and planned on rejoining the fight. We could see activity on the North Eastern side of the site around Building 280 and made our way on foot to see what was happening. After a brief firefight where I managed to take the left flank, TF pulled back and were looking to counter our movement with a flanking manoeuvre of their own.

We took up positions in a hedge line and waited, sure enough… five or so minutes later they pushed. The lack of situational awareness punished them once more… we let them huddle up in open ground and only when they were looking directly at us, working out what those strange shapes in the bushes were did we open fire. A whole Patrol of at least a dozen soldiers fell to our guns.

I then pushed back and circled around to the right of one of the big berms, hoping to cut off any squirters or a possible counter attack… I needn’t have worried… waist high ferns and the possibility of big holes underneath would have stopped any lightning quick attacks. I then heard more radio chatter and the sound of an idling snatch Land Rover. Moving low and slow through the ferns, I managed to get about 50 metres away from a dozen or so TF soldiers who were guarding the western approaches of building 215 in the middle of the map. Creeping forward I’d decided to wait until they spotted me or moved to start engaging them… All of a sudden there was fire coming from my left and a few OPFOR fighters started to lay down a textbook fire and manoeuvre assault on their position.

We quickly routed them from 215 only to be met with an incoming TF convoy, I tried again to hook around to the right but managed to get taken out by some well placed rounds from a support gun.

After bleeding out and the rain hammering down, I re-genned and grabbed a lift with the JD Airsoft Guys (Regular OPFOR players and a great bunch) back to their accom. Now some day that lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice but there I was in building 110 with a minigun equipped snatch at one door and a plain land rover to the rear.

Due to engagement rules I couldn’t shoot anyone until they had two feet on the floor so I was pretty buggered… after 10 minutes of patiently waiting for my chance, I ran out the back door like an idiot and got lit up. It did however cause TF to thoroughly search an empty building and cost them time and manpower. After yet another bleed out I went back to building 470 to regen back into the fight. I managed to meet back up with a few guys from Dunzo Gunfighters and we made our way towards building 381 where we were told TF were planning an attack.

Making my way on foot towards the building, I noticed a shallow gully that seemed to lead right up to the building and parallel to the road. Just in time too as a TF Snatch with minigun atop as well as the Saracen and a WMIK (Armed Landrover) came hurtling down the road, from out of nowhere a TAG reaper round took out the rear WMIK and with my face in the dirt I kept still until the TF guys had dismounted and moved past my position.

Waiting for a couple of minutes as I was still unsure about any possibly stragglers in the vehicle I moved forward towards the fight, right behind the TF attackers. With a TAG67 unpinned and my rifle loaded with a fresh mag I sprinted towards the rear of the TF stack. A lone soldier turned just as I launched the drag his way… he focussed on the drag just long enough for me to shoulder my gun and put a burst into him as the frag detonated a foot behind him.

Rushing further forward, I grabbed another frag and lobbed it towards a TF gun-truck, not with the intention of killing it’s occupants (not that it could) but to divert their attention from the guys he was hosing down.

I then charged the rear of the building hoping to drag a downed OPFOR fighter into cover, TF did t like this one bit and started to rush both sides of the building I was hiding behind. I picked a corner and moved… right into the path of a Sabre callsign. I traded rounds with their point man and we both stood there, waiting for help.

I was then pulled back and a medic brought me back into the fight, with literally minutes till endex, we came back in with many of us having close to no ammo left. Weeman rejoined the battle and stormed the left hand side of the same building g I’d assaulted minutes before, unluckily for him, some plank decided to blind throw a TRMR round the corner and smack him straight in the face. Whilst he’s no Brad Pitt, a BFG to the face isn’t anyone’s idea of a good day out. Without so much as an apology, the culprit rejoined the fight whilst Weeman was getting a bandage applied to his blood soaked face.

Game over was called seconds after and mags were emptied… with the result unclear for myself at least, we rejoined the pack and traded stories.

The typical Stirling debrief having a little victory for both parties but with OPFOR taking the moral victory. Quite some going as estimates placed TF outnumbering OPFOR by 2.5/1.

So, lessons to be learned? Well from a personal perspective there’s a lot I took away from the weekend. For the first time I didn’t tick off my kit list from a sheet and forgot a vital bit of kit… My sleeping bag. I’m lucky that it was mild and I could compensate with other clothing.

  • I also could learn to pack considerably less stuff, I always end up taking too much to Caerwent… This time I literally took 3 primaries, 2 compact guns and a pair of pistols. I could have got away with half of what I took.
  • Comms, something I never seem to get nailed despite spending decent money on a set of comtacs and a PTT. My Baofeng appears to have a mind of its own and might be suffering from rain induced dementia from a few years ago during a wet game at the trees. I might be looking to change out my comms set up soon, we shall see.

    Fitness, I’ve let my phis drop over the last few months and it’s really punished me. My knees are not in the best of shape after a teenage falling out a land-rover related injury but the additional kilos I’m carrying is maki g the issue worse. The number one upgrade I could give my Airsoft load-out at the moment is a diet.

    Lessons for Stirling? Do I have the experience to tell an established event organiser what I feel could be improved? Maybe not, but any business needs to self review every so often… And customers have free have an insight that you simply don’t get when it’s your business.

    Vehicle rules… making the Snatches invincible is a stretch, but one that I understand from a balance point of view… I spent a whole weekend lobbing TAGs around a few years ago at Caerwent and on one occasion held off a whole convoy by deploying tags at a range they simply couldn’t get me back from.

    But leading the convoy with a snatch basically makes the whole convoy invulnerable, hitting the middle vehicle with a TAG round whilst purposefully not aiming directly at a vehicle is tricky and often causes the shooter to not take the shot.

    Team Balancing, I understand that a lot of people want to play task force and play with the fancy gear. But TF shouldn’t really outnumber OPFOR, certainly not by a wide margin. Limiting the amount of places on TF until an OPFOR threshold has been reached would not only make balancing a lot easier but also might give TF a fair crack at the whip. Almost every OPFOR player I know got into at least a dozen tasty firefights, I know of a few TF guys who said they barely pulled their triggers all weekend… By the time they got near the action, TF had won the fight or was on the way back out of the area.

    Miscommunication between different staff caused half of the guys on the ground to be told there was a pyro ban in place from 20:00 not 21:00 as was previously agreed in the brief, in the 10 minutes or so it took to get the message clarified I know there was some missed opportunities to knock out vehicles… A shame, and one that could have been avoided by marshals paying attention to their own briefing.

    Overall though, Stirling Airsoft did what they always do. They gave all the attendees the opportunity to have a great time. Despite those minor niggles and the lack of a night game, I heard very little disappointment from those who stayed till the end. I for one thoroughly enjoyed myself, it wasn’t the best game they’ve put on but it was certainly one I’ll be telling stories about for a few years to come.

    The next Stirling Airsoft op for me will almost certainly be “The Trees” in November… Whether I stick to OPFOR or go with TF as I tend to do at The Trees, I’ve not decided yet…

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