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Dom Mooney's Website

May 2010

Two Decades to Reach the Top

Two decades ago, after I finished my A Levels, I went on holiday with three of my best friends at the time to North Wales. It wasn’t an expensive holiday; we borrowed my mum’s Mini (a proper Mini, not the BMW bloated thing) and crammed Caro, Liz, Liz and myself in with the luggage and a set of Youth Hostel memberships. We spent a week travelling around seeing the sights and generally enjoying ourselves. In my memory, there are three big standout things from that holiday; an argument (less said the better), a manic moment at the beach by Harlech Castle in a storm, and climbing Snowdon.

Summit of Snowdon

The climb was memorable for a number of reasons, one of which was the fact that we didn’t actually make it to the top! We had started on the Watkin Path, which begins close to sea level and ends in a dodgy scramble up a scree slope to the summit of Snowdon a kilometre or so higher up. It was a glorious day until we came within 50m or so from the top, at which point a storm came in and the people coming down told us that there was an advisory to get off the mountain. Anyway, as the cloud was descending quickly we turned around, thwarted at the last.

I’ve never been back until last week, when I went on a work team building exercise.

As you can see from the picture above, this time the weather didn’t stop me! It was a great feeling of achievement to get to the summit. There was a part of the walk (which was along the Miner’s Path and the Pyg Path) when I thought that I wouldn’t make it. The general deterioration in my fitness post Nathan’s arrival was visible. Aerobically, I was fine, but my thighs were burning with near cramp for a good long stretch which really slowed me up. However, if anything, that made the completion of the climb all the more sweet. I certainly need to get some more exercise in my life!

Below is the route we followed from our first stop shown in Google Maps, tracked by Motion-X GPS on my iPhone. It stops just as we reached the bottom again by the lake, mainly as my iPhone was about to run flat. We actually started from and returned to the nearby Youth Hostel, so the route shown is shorter than we actually did! All in all, it was a great feeling of achievement.

View Snowdon Climb in a larger map

Where there is Discord: 3 Days in May.

I recently bought myself a copy of "Where there is Discord", a board wargame of the Falklands War in 1982. It's a gorgeously made game (I videoed the components as I unboxed it so you can see it for yourself on YouTube if you like) and operates at a number of levels. You have the political game (you can lose by having Domestic Opinion turn against you and can have your capability seriously degraded if you lose International Support), a strategic game where you decide how fast to approach the Falklands (which determines how long the task force is in harms way), and the tactical game where you try to fend off Argentinian attacks.

The game is a solo one, and assumes that you take the side of the British forces. It is ideal for a gamer who doesn't get that much of a chance to play. As a final nice touch, the designers are donating the profits to the veteran's organisations in both Argentina and the UK.

Anyway, having looked at it for two days I finally cracked and set it up for a few turns play once Jill & Nathan had gone to sleep. It had to be set up and taken down in the same session, as we'd need a house extension to accommodate the board. Or rather, we'd need the dining room table that we got rid of once Nathan arrived to make more space.

Each turn takes a full day in the scenario, which runs across the whole of May. Initial set up took perhaps 30 minutes, and the game materials are well written so I'm certain that you could be playing turns very quickly once you get more used to it.

I deliberately pushed the Task Force towards harm's way, just to see what would happen.

The 1st of May was a grey day in the South Atlantic, but immediately, Margaret Thatcher was put on the spot by the Chilean Government who were supporting the UK with intelligence. They reminded us that we had committed to transfer an RN warship to them in the immediate future. The choice was to offend an ally, or lose a ship from the reinforcements due later in the month. I took the decision to hand the ship over as the intelligence was important, and I didn't want to be losing international opinion easily.

Beyond choosing the arrangement of the task force (with a CAP and a vessel screening in all of the quarters), little happened militarily beyond
HMS Spartan getting a brief sonar suggestion that the Argentinian Submarine Santa Fe was in coastal waters out of port. More disquieting was the fact that the Argentinian Task Force with the Belgrano was readying for sea.

The next day started with trouble at home; news of planned cuts at Devonport had been leaked and the dock crews which had worked 24 hours a day to get the task force out went on strike. Never one to back down, Mrs Thatcher's resoluteness (and absolute determination to preserve domestic opinion) cost another vessel being ready in the time frame of the game. There was no significant action at all that day, as neither the Argentinian airforce or navy left port due to the misty weather prevalent at the time.

The 3rd May 1982 was more dramatic. News broke of the possibility that there may be nuclear devices present in the task force, which posed a potential risk if conflict broke out. The MoD issued a 'refuse to confirm or deny' statement out, and the decision was taken not to transfer the nuclear devices out from the task force, as this could take some of the vessels off station for up to 4 days. Realistically, this could have been done as it was early days, but with the
SS Canberra full of troops from the Royal Marines and Paras it was decided not to risk it with the knowledge it could bite us if a ship with nukes was sunk in the combat. But this was the Royal Navy, for goodness sake, fighting a second rate dictator's Navy so it was decided to brazen things out.

This nearly went pear-shaped straight away. Although the Argentine Navy continued to stay home, the improvement in the weather back towards the grey skies of the 1st day of the campaign resulted in an initial probing attack by 2 Canberra Bombers operating from the base at Trelew. The Task Force had early intelligence from an SAS team observing the airport, and from the Chilean Government and a further 3 Sea Harriers were scrambled to join the six already deployed in the CAP. These provided cover in all the outlying sectors and over the main task force itself. Unfortunately, the old, slow, Canberra's tried to maximise their survival chance by circling around the fleet, attacking from the east instead of the more likely west. As the Nimrod operating out of Ascension Island didn't detect the raid, the airborne defence was spread thinly rather than focussed.

The two bombers approached the Type 21 frigate
HMS Alacrity, which was on a lonely patrol to the east of the main task force. The lone Sea Harrier attacked the incoming raiders, shooting one down, but the other pressed its advantage. The Alacrity tracked in the raider, impotent to do anything until it reached 10 miles of range, at which point it fired Sea Cat missiles at it, which unfortunately missed. Emergency evasive manoeuvres were instigated, resulting in the bombs from the Canberra exploding in the sea some distance from the Alacrity. A sigh of relief went up as the Task Force survived its first serious challenge. I wrapped the game up there.

The tension when the airstrike came in was fantastic; even though I knew statistically that it would run into a wall of Harriers and Missiles if it came the most likely route (it didn't) I was nervous, as any aircraft getting through and hitting will knock a ship out. In the end, the attack blindsided me and I was fortunate that it was only Canberras (with a less than 10% chance of a hit) that came in. Your mind races ahead when the rolls go against you, and I was thinking especially about the nuclear decision I'd made earlier. However, that decision, if taken the other way, would probably have meant that I had no naval cover in this outer sector and the attack would have hit the main task force.

I love the way the different levels of the game interact, and hope to find the space to set this up and play a full game rather than an hour or so noodling around.