Sunday, 8 November 2015

2015 - Leadership in Offensive Conventional Warfare Operations

Leadership in Offensive Conventional  Warfare   Operations by Major (Ret) Mike Seear

                                                        EDUARDO C. GERDING

Tao (leadership) is what causes the people to have the same purpose as their superior.
Thus they can die with him, live with him and not deceive him.”

                                                – Sun Tzu, 6th Century BC
                       (The Art of War, Chapter 1 – Appraisals)

On 9 October 2015 a meeting took place at the Health Centre of the Argentine Armed Forces ¨ Malvinas´ War Veterans ¨ which is led by Argentine Army Colonel and 1982 War Veteran Esteban Vilgré La Madrid. 

It was a private meeting with a significant audience which gathered together 1982 war veterans of different units and hierarchies in a friendly and professional environment. More than 60 persons attended the event. 

That evening Major (Ret.) Mike Seear, former Operations and Training Officer of the 1st Battalion, 7th Duke of Edinburgh´s Own Gurkha Rifles during the 1982 war and also active member of the Nottingham-Malvinas Group, gave a 150-minute lecture on leadership in offensive conventional warfare operations.

Mike Seear was educated at Whitgift School, South Croydon (1959-1966) and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (1966-1968).

He works as a Senior Associate for Kenyon International Emergency Services, and had just completed a week-long assignment with Aerolíneas Argentinas in Buenos Aires. Together with his colleague, Kenyon Associate Irma Alcazar, they had presented four emergency response courses to the airline in the period 5-9 October.

His point of contact in Aerolíneas Argentinas was Captain (Ret.) Juan José Membrana, the Safety Instructor in charge of the airline’s emergency response team.

However through an extraordinary piece of fate, Membrana is also a 1982 war veteran and Naval Aviator who performed 11 missions with a Grumman S-2E Tracker aircraft between 28 March and 14 June 1982. Half of those sorties were flown from the aircraft carrier ARA 25 de Mayo, and the remainder from Río Gallegos. He served both as a Commander and Signaller.

                     Captain (Retd) Juan José Membrana

Grumman S2 Tracker

Amongst the distinguished audience we appreciated very much the honourable English presence in the front row of La Madrid´s mother, 92 year-old Mrs. Meryl Spencer Talbois from Cumbria (UK) whose father was a volunteer during the First World War.

      Colonel Esteban Vilgré La Madrid `s mother Mrs Meryl  
      Spencer Talbois. 

After a few introductory words from Colonel La Madrid who referred to a Brotherhood of War, Mike Seear began his presentation which I had the honour of translating into Spanish. Seear displayed and talked about some very interesting images and maps of the 1982 war while de-mystifying some battlefield actions of both sides and extolling the leadership performances of a number of Argentine and British veterans of the war.

Colonel VGM Esteban Vilgré La Madrid and Major (Ret.) Mike Seear. Post-war La Madrid (who in 1982 was an Army Sub-Lieutenant) was subsequently awarded the Medal for Effort and Abnegation. Seven of his platoon were killed on Tumbledown and eight wounded.

Argentine leaders

Apart from Colonel Esteban La Madrid and his courageous actions on Tumbledown with his 3 Platoon of B Company, 6th Infantry Regiment, two Argentine names emerged as leading exponents of leadership during the war of 1982. These were the then Commander (later Rear Admiral) of the Marine Corps 5th Marine Infantry Battalion, Carlos Hugo Robacio who died on 29 May 2011 at the age of 76, and Acting Marine Corps Sub-Lieutenant Manuel Vázquez (later Captain).
About Robacio, who was awarded the Argentine Nation’s Medal of Valour in Combat, Seear said: I have calculated that Robacio’s ¨impossible mission¨ was to defend a total frontage of 14 kilometres with his 5th Marine Infantry Battalion. This compares very unfavourably to the average defensive frontage of 2.2 kilometres for British Army Battalions in the Second World War. In other words, the Tumbledown, Mount William and Sapper Hill area should have been defended by a Brigade and not by a Battalion.

Marine Corps Rear Admiral (Retd.)

Carlos Hugo Robacio (General Paz, Corrientes 

1933-Bahía Blanca 2011)

Acting Marine Corps Sub-Lieutenant Carlos Daniel Vázquez, 
(later Captain (Retd)) 

Acting Marine Corps Sub-Lieutenant Carlos Daniel Vazquez, commanded 4 Platoon of the 5th Infantry Marine Battalion’s Nacar Company. Located on the west end of Tumbledown, his platoon withstood the attack of the 107 Left Flank Company Guardsmen (one of three rifle companies of the 2nd Battalion, Scots Guards).

Mike Seear said:

Vázquez made a number of decisions to make life much more difficult for the Scots Guards. He deliberately fired all fifty-four remaining mortar bombs of his single 60mm mortar onto his platoon defensive position, reasoning that his men were in cover (in their foxholes). He then repeated this tactic by requesting that the Marines’ 81mm Mortar Platoon fire on his position, and finally that the Argentine artillery fire directly on his position. Vázquez kept his platoon together under the most trying of circumstances. He was isolated (Mino had withdrawn his platoon to the east end of Tumbledown), and one of Vázquez’s section commanders refused to fight. So Vázquez took over command of his section, while simultaneously having to cope with an officer of the 12th Infantry Regiment who was totally traumatised throughout the battle and sat at the bottom of Vázquez’s trench unable to speak. It was Vázquez’s leadership that enabled his platoon to keep together and hold out for nearly seven hours against what was, in effect, the entire Scots Guards Battalion. This was indeed a mini-version of General Custer’s ‘last stand’ at the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876. 

Vázquez was awarded the Medal of Valour in Combat after he had provided proof on Tumbledown of possessing exceptional bravery in combat. He also set an outstanding example to the troops under his command as they remained at their posts while repelling at least three enemy attacks and inflicting heavy casualties on the latter. 

Left Flank Company who fought against 4 Platoon had 7 men killed in action and 21 wounded (of whom 18 were hospitalized)

The actions of both men and the characteristics of the battle have been described and analysed in Seear´s latest book Return to Tumbledown: The Falklands-Malvinas War Revisited (2012). This and his first book With the Gurkhas in the Falklands: A War Journal (2003) and second book Hors de Combat: The Falklands-Malvinas Conflict in Retrospect (2009 – with co-editor and 1982 war veteran Diego F. Garcia Quiroga) will be translated soon into Spanish. 

Regarding combat techniques Colonel La Madrid said:

The infantryman possesses one characteristic: he obeys simple techniques but requires great creativity, coordination and synchronization. A fighter can be prepared in a short time, but infants with capital letters require something more: "The spirit of the infantryman" that will result in a lethal precision. A leader knows he must get his men to give their lives in fulfilling the mission, and succeeds only through personal example and affection. His men will learn that through hard training. It creates amongst them a sense of "unity" in the true sense of the word which leads them to feel invincible with an heroic contempt for life itself (without being foolhardy), and transforms its members in the closed nucleus of a brotherhood under the word "camaraderie". (Un relato de Malvinas) - 

British leaders 

Major John Kiszely, Officer Commanding Left Flank Company, 2nd Battalion, Scots Guards, was awarded the Military Cross for his leadership while attacking the west end of Tumbledown. He led the final bayonet charge up the hill to take Vázquez’s platoon position. It was a wonderful example of ‘I do, you do’ leadership.

  Major John Kiszely 

Lieutenant Robert Lawrence, 3 Platoon Commander of Right Flank Company, 2nd Battalion, Scots Guards was also awarded the Military Cross for his ‘up front’ leadership during Right Flank Company’s final attack on the east end of Tumbledown. Lawrence was shot in the head towards the end of the battle by a high-velocity 7.62mm round and lost 48 per cent of his brain. But he survived this awful wound and is now married to his second wife.

Lieutenant Robert Lawrence 

Lance-Sergeant Clark Mitchell of 15 Platoon, Left Flank Company displayed exceptional courage in engaging the enemy at close quarters during sniping duels on Tumbledown’s west end. He was shot and killed near the end of the battle, and was awarded later a posthumous Mention in Dispatches.

Lance-Sergeant Clark Mitchell with his wife Theresa on their wedding day


Mike Seear also described the Royal Navy firepower directed against the defending Argentine forces on Tumbledown and Mount William. The exploding 4.5 inch calibre shells, which were fired at the rate of one every two seconds, left huge craters in the soft peat. But even now, more thirty-three years after the war, it is impossible to convey to those who had not there the unbelievable noise and destructive firepower of these computed-guided automatic guns together with Argentine and British artillery and mortars firing into a concentrated area of eight square kilometres on, and in the vicinity of, Tumbledown and Mount William. It is calculated that more than 16,000 projectiles landed in this particular area during the battle.

There were three Royal Navy ships operating from the northern Berkeley Sound gun line and firing onto Tumbledown. These were:

  • HMS Yarmouth – a Type 12 frigate armed with 2 x 4.5 inch Mark 6 guns.
  • HMS Active – a Type 21 frigate armed with 1 x 4.5 inch Mark 8 gun.
  • HMS Avenger – a Type 21 frigate armed with 1 x 4.5 inch Mark 8 gun.
  • HMS Yarmouth and HMS Ambuscade – a Type 21 frigate armed with 1 x 4.5 inch Mark 8 gun) were also firing on Wireless Ridge in support of the 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment attack on this objective.

Of the eighteen artillery 105 mm Light Guns firing in support of the Scots Guards attack on Tumbledown, one went ´rogue´ early in the battle. The term ´rogue´ is often used for dangerous and crazy elephants. The gun´s fall of shot was unpredictable and threatened to hit the Scots Guards Left Flank Company attacking Vazquez´s 4 Platoon. Indeed this gun probably killed Scots Guardsman Derek Denholm with a direct hit on a boulder under which he was taking cover. Much time was lost in attempting to correct the problem. Later the ´rogue´ gun certainly fired on the 406-strong Gurkha Battalion which had advanced in file along the north-west slopes of Tumbledown before being ‘ambushed’ in an hour-long Argentine artillery and mortar bomb bombardment that caused eight Gurkha casualties.

HMS Yarmouth provides assistance to the Type 21 frigate HMS Ardent which was bombed and sunk by Argentine aircraft during the British amphibious landings at San Carlos on 21 May 1982.

The British 105 mm Light Gun

The attendees

Former Army Captain (now Colonel), Tomas Fox 

Former Army Captain (now Colonel), Tomas Fox was a liaison officer in the 4th Artillery Regiment. His mission was to coordinate fire support for his unit. From Mount Harriet, he assisted the 155 mm howitzer located near Sapper Hill in directing its fire against the Gurkhas dug in on Wether Ground between 10 and 12 June 1982. The Battery Commander was Lieutenant Luis Alberto Daffunchio.

Argentine Army- 155mm howitzer

From left to right: Mike Seear, Colonel La Madrid and former Soldier Carlos Alberto Di Santo of A Company, 6th Infantry Regiment. 

Mike Seear and war veteran soldier Germán Estrada 

Air Defense Artilley (Mar del Plata)

Oscar Teves author of Goose Green who

reconstructed the 12th Regiment´s participation.

Among the attendees was Divisional General (R) VGM Jorge Halperin who, with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, fought in the 1982 war as the Commanding Officer of the 6th Infantry Mechanised Regiment General Viamonte and Marine Corps Captain (Ret.) Waldemar Aquino of the 5th Marine Infantry Battalion who also fought in the war. Aquino was awarded the Medal of Honour for Valour in Combat of the Argentine Navy, Medal of the Argentine Nation for Valour in Combat awarded by the Executive Powers, Steel Medal of the Honourable Congress of the Argentine Nation and the Medal of the Province of Tierra del Fuego.

Mike Seear’s Fifty Guidelines for Leadership in Offensive Conventional Warfare Operations.

  1. Leadership starts at the top and depends on circumstance. 
  2. Be proactive with pre-emptive training. 
  3. Use foresight with `in-theatre´knowledge. 
  4. Reorganise and realign to the mission´s requirements. 
  5. Counter peacetime´training mindsets. 
  6. Intensify focus on ´individual needs´training. 
  7. Emphasise demanding ´team maintenance´training. 
  8. Aim high with realistic (night) training. 
  9. Exploit reputation strategically. i.e psyops. 
  10. Energise esprit de corps by a ´can do´belief. 
  11. Maintain (an innovative) training momentum. 
  12. Effectively manage the transition from training to operations.  
  13. ¨A leader is a dealer in hope¨ 
  14. Maintain the ¨will to win¨ 
  15. ´Mission impossible` requires dynamic leadership. 
  16. ¨That´s all very well, but is he lucky?¨ 
  17. ¨A plan is nothing, planning is everything¨ 
  18. Exert responsibility of command. 
  19. You need correct and detailed intelligence on the enemy. 
  20. Accept that a ´pre-battle stress inoculation´can be beneficial for your men. 
  21. Murphy is a logistician: he will impact time and your plan. 
  22. Inform and ´lead´embedded media. 
  23. Communications is both the mother and father of ´Command and Control´. 
  24. Focus on accurate and detailed operational coordination. 
  25. Be prepared to take calculated risks. 
  26. To prevent contagion, keep you malcontents near you. 
  27. Ensure your casualty evacuation plan will work. 
  28. Minimise personal kit for the attack. 
  29. ¨The military is a Tao (way) of deception¨ 
  30. ¨No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the main hostile force¨ 
  31. Well led, snipers can be a ´game-changer´. 
  32. ¨Ask of me anything but time. I will lose a man but never a moment¨ 
  33. ¨The simplest thing is very difficult …¨ 
  34. If necessary, exercise moral courage. 
  35. 35. You (the commander) are not exempt from existential authority kicking in. 
  36. 36. Be aware (as a commander) that instances of battlefield powerlessness will occur. 
  37. When push comes to shove, use ´I do-you do´leadership (plus bayonets). 
  38. Inspirational leadership is an infectious multiplier. 
  39. Get your battlefield ´ground appreciation´right. 
  40. Leadership must have built-in flexibility. 
  41. Trust ´Mission Command´will overcome ´Fog of War´and ultimately prevail. 
  42. Use decisive leadership to inspire effective teamwork. 
  43. Take the initiative (by using the unconventional) to maintain the momentum of the attack. 
  44. If the enemy is within range, so are your men. 
  45. Ammunition is cheap, your men´s lives aren´t. 
  46. Advantage of weight of fire vs. disadvantage of the weapon system´s weight for your men is a commander´s eternal dilemma. 
  47. Remember even near the battle´s end that incoming fire always has the right of way. 
  48. Friendly fire isn´t: but it´s always part of battle. 
  49. Never underestimate Murphy´s Law. 
  50. ¨Therefore, 100 victories in 100 battles is not the most skilful. Subduing the other´s military without battle is the most skilful¨ 

Final toast

Silvia Barrera

At the end of the barbecue, war veteran Silvia Barrera offered a chocolate cake to Mike before the toast. Barrera was one of the Army´s civilian surgical scrub nurse who served aboard icebreaker ARA Almirante Irizar (Q-5) (RHAI).