By popular request I’m doing my first overview/review of an event rather than a piece of gear, so bear with me. To begin with, this won’t be a blow by blow account of every second of the weekend, but the highlights of what made a highly unusual and extremely good event. N.B. It turned into a blow by blow, so sorry for that.
Normally I wouldn’t have signed up for a game that involved sleeping outside in the middle of February, but with the turbulence of Op Atar and our subsequent cancellation, my friends and I were left thirsty for a longer event to sink our teeth into. As a result we booked on for a game at Stirling Airsoft’s the Trees site, in the middle of the flooding season and fully expecting to battle the weather as much as the other team.
If you’ve never attended an event at the Trees, then I would definitely recommend it. As far as my experience goes it is a unique site in that it’s absolutely massive and features the most vicious hills you’re likely to come across in British airsoft. Situated around an active lumber yard the site is traversed by a maze of tracks that vary from stony drivable lanes to disused mud paths that disappear into the undergrowth at random, with many of them having steep slopes on their sides that make for excellent cover (more on that later).
Accommodation on the site consists of what you can sling up between the trees, with one “FOB” location that consists entirely of a high walled wooden paddock that offers a little protection from horizontal weather, but absolutely none from above. Needless to say if you are not used to living outside, then maybe the Trees isn’t the site for you.
Day 1 – 0300-1700
Now I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the drive down to Op Littlewood as it was by far the sketchiest part of the weekend. Travelling down on the day of a Stirling event presents its own challenges, mainly in that you are awake a damn sight sooner than is enjoyable in order to get to the site, and this is complicated even further by the underwater conditions that Herefordshire is currently enjoying. After a rather uneventful drive down we encountered what can only be described as a torrent coming down the road about a mile from the site. Luckily I wasn’t driving, as I undoubtedly would have pussied out, but DC expertly sailed his Vauxhall Insignia down the road and after a few sphincter-clenching moments we were through and giggling about our friend who would shortly be making the crossing in a lowered RS5.
After arriving on site it was kit on, bergen in the back of a pickup and off up to the FOB. Now this is the first point that made Op Littlewood a departure from normality, as I was playing on the green team who normally have to rough it somewhere in the muddy slopes of the site. Having seen where the TF side were encamped I think we definitely got the good end of the deal. Ponchos up, safety brief nipped and on to the meaty bit of the weekend.
Personally I don’t buy into the roleplay/story side of Stirling events. I get why they exist, and I’ll admit they do serve a purpose in planning the next events, but I can never really take them too seriously. With this in mind the objectives of the weekend when stripped of the story telling looked like this:
- Find, secure and hold/extract a neutral VIP (could be grabbed by either team), referred to throughout the event as “The Asset”.
- Locate and capture a live enemy HVI, callsign “Double Sausage” (don’t ask).
- Protect a friendly HVI who wasn’t even aware that he was a marked man.
All in all quite a normal mission set for a game at the Trees, and the first is pretty much the only negative I could pick up from the event, but again, more to follow.
Once game on was called our callsign were sent to search the west and northwest areas of the site for the asset and en route we decided to split the callsign and stick in an ambush at the spooky house junction. For those that have never played the Trees, spooky house is the only road between the north and south sides of the site, making it a key piece of terrain to hold, especially as the entirety of the green team were moving about north of the junction. This is where the steep slopes mentioned before came into play.
DL and I set up our little ambush atop a high natural wall next to the main track out of spooky house. The rocky face on either side of the road meant that once the first vehicle was stopped none of the others could slip around it, and any dismounts would immediately be fighting up a sheer wall. The natural trench effect also meant that a well placed TAG into the rear vehicle would essentially trap the convoy making for a neat little fish-in-a-barrel type solution. That was the plan anyway.
This is a good spot to mention the weather, as I sat in it for a couple of hours manning the ambush. Somehow, despite being out during storm Jorge, we didn’t get rained on. This is a very big part of what made a potentially terrible weekend absolutely gleaming. We were treated to calm winds and glorious sunshine for around half an hour, then a grey five minutes followed by a combination of gale force winds and snow for ten, then back to the glorious sunshine. This pattern repeated all morning, but despite this, being sat on that elevated position was actually quite a pleasant experience.
Anyway, a few rotations of the seasons later people were being retasked from the ambush to go and assist with a contact down the hill, eventually winding up with me sat holding a clacker by myself. As sods law would have it this is when the message finally came through that “2 vehicles” were coming up into my area. When they did eventually arrive, as should have been expected, the IED didn’t go off on the first clack meaning that I blew the middle vehicle in the convoy which happened to be just after the gun truck, whose gunner pretty quickly traversed onto me. Realising that I had just made a huge mistake I crawled down my raised track towards spooky house blindly throwing frags into the road. I did eventually get away, but being a fucking idiot I walked straight into the back of the convoy again and got totally minced by an MG.
So first death out of the way, and I’d already used more pyro than I’d expected to use all weekend but that was barely even the start. Shortly after getting back in we set up on another ambush, again near spooky house (are you seeing a pattern here?), this time with the vast majority of the green team set up in killing positions. Sure enough when TF tried to come back through the crossing they were hit again with an IED taking out the first vehicle and the convoy stopping behind. Some of our side tried putting a flank attack in but were quickly repelled by the gun truck and made it necessary for DL to pull off the single best TAG shot I’ve ever seen. Somehow from a distance of 50/60 meters, through several tree canopies, and at a completely guessed angle DL dropped a round directly at the feet of a TF guy dismounting the gun truck’s driver’s side, meaning that not only he but also everyone inside the vehicle were very much aware that they had been taken out. Classic thread-the-needle shot, but with a toy grenade launcher and cold bore to boot it was fucking impressive.
That unfortunately was the last of the excitement on the first day. After this little engagement DL and I went to rejoin the rest of our callsign, who were still searching the slopes in the northwest. Those who play the Trees regularly will know the steepness of these hills, and to be honest it makes for a shit day thrashing yourself up and down. This is where there was a definite slump in enjoyment. I’ll be honest it was shit, and the exact same thing happened last time I played this site, spend all day walking up and down what feel like 90 degree hills searching for something that probably isn’t there. For me, I wish the Stirling guys would drop this kind of objective. It’s very effective for driving two sides into each other, having them search the same area, but TF had already found the asset at this point, and so we just ended up wandering around all afternoon in the ever changing weather.
Night – 1700-0300
After the afternoon stroll we were back to the FOB for a bit of hot scoff and a sit down. As the sun went down a plan was formed to take the entire green team out and slap the TF boys (and girl) in their FOB. I’d like to comment on what happened here, I borrowed a set of ANVIS and got excited for my annual “moons out goons out” moments, but after walking about 20 meters the hardwear began to fall off my borrowed helmet, and so to prevent the team waiting around I just walked back to the FOB and told them to go on. By all accounts the little excursion went well and WhatsApp lit up with pictures of TF in sleeping bags looking not in the slightest bit arsed that they’d been shot.
While this excitement was going on I was helping (watching) the attempt to get the BBQ lit. I’ll be honest I’m glad I did. There is a member of the Zulu team who is absolutely crackers and an all round pleasure to be around. Watching a grown man get repeatedly told off for picking up hot coals and glowing hot grill racks is quite funny, but the excitement on his face when throwing petrol into a fire was better. BBQ lit and hot dog consumed, I went and got my head down.
Day 2 – 0300-1100
When I left the Army I promised myself I would never do stag again, well I sort of still haven’t. “Stag” for myself and DC consisted of keeping the fire outside the FOB going for over 2 hours. Basically we just got into the burn trance that comes from having a roaring fire and a massive pile of wood. This went on from 03 to 05-and-a-bit.
Another feature of the weekend that made it very enjoyable was TF only coming to knock on the front door at first light, meaning they provided us with a perfectly timed wakeup call and a bit of excitement to start the day. They shot the guys on stag, but I think quickly realised trying to break in would be a bad idea, and so they fucked off. After a spot of breakfast and packing my shellscrape away it was back out on the dreaded search mission. Luckily it wasn’t long before DC and I decided to search the lumber yard and ended up getting stuck in.
Not long after getting into the yard the call came through that TF were rolling out of their harbour and towards us, so could we stick in a hasty OP and observe where they went? Well as it turns out they “went” right onto the top of us. DC and I had set up in a raised position in the yard overlooking the entry road and sure enough the wagons rolled in, stopped, dismounted and the entire TF made their way right up to us. Unfortunately there was no way we wouldn’t be discovered so DC initiated with rifle and a frag and I did my best whack-a-mole impression over a log pile. All told we actually hit a good 4/5 people, including “Double Sausage” but were eventually steamrollered. What was most annoying is that while we stood watching TF clear through our position, we also saw one of their guys stroll right up to a point meters away from us, and pick up the asset. Fucks sake.
After getting back in we knew there was no point in searching for the objective anymore but couldn’t tell anyone, so splitting the callsign those of us who knew where the asset was decided to go and have a look at getting it back. Walking brazenly down the MSR through the site we began to hear about the remainder of our side coming together for a big final attack into the enemy harbour. Luckily we had positioned ourselves to be an excellent flanking fire element. Hustling down to the field that marked the LD for the attack we got in place and launched. Upon looking up into the field we saw two vehicles including the gun truck positioned to repel an attack. DC and myself moved into the open and DC dropped 2 TAGs slap bang into the middle of the vehicles clearing the way for the rest of the team. After pushing TF back into their woodblock a two sided assault took place with the majority of the team hitting high and fighting down, with our 3 man team entering the lower gate and creating a 90 degree point of fire, with TAGs, because fuck it why not. This was the end of my weekend because, being the hero that I am, I got shot first. But the remainder of our team did a sterling job rolling through the enemy camp and comprehensively searching for Double Sausage and the asset. With minutes to spare they found them both in the same location, and as 1100 came around endex was called with the green team enjoying the rare situation of having achieved all their objectives and having given the TF side a good kicking.
All told our little callsign fired 12/13 TAGs, threw 4 frags and 1 IED, with the rest of the green team throwing a shit load more. For me that’s what Stirling games are all about, use the toys that you can’t normally use at a Sunday skirmish and get a bit too excited considering you’re still running around a field with a toy gun.
As this is a gear blog I’d better talk about some of the gear that I’m very glad I took. Firstly, I bought an Arcteryx RHO beanie shortly before this event, and I’m very glad I did, I didn’t take it off the entire time. If you’re in the market for a warm hat, buy one. It’s light and thin but bugger me sideways it keeps your head warm. The only downside to it is that it makes your head look like a black sperm cell, but fuck it you’re a warm sperm cell.
In a similar theme of keeping warm, I was in two minds about taking my DPM “SAS” smock, but again I don’t think my weekend would have been as fun without it. The constantly changing weather meant that getting a Goretex on and off repeatedly would have been a pain in the arse, so something like a smock is perfect. While they’re not waterproof, it is another layer to absorb moisture before you do, and dries out very quickly, this meant that the intermittent snow did absolutely nothing to cause me a chill, and the smock kept the entirety of the vicious wind out.
Finally it wouldn’t be a Geardo Crow blog if I didn’t jizz my pants over Platatac, for this event I was running the ever impressing Peacekeeper Mk4, which as usual was flawless, and my new Bullock daysack. One thing that is definitely required for games at the Trees is a daysack, but in the past I’ve ended up overpacking because I can. The Bullock is a perfectly sized jacksack that carried my Goretex, warm hat and gloves (when not on my person), a full meal, snacks and had enough room to quickly stuff my dems kit into when on the run. I was really impressed with it, and so were the two friends who I attended with who are now after them themselves. Expect a full review of this to come but at this point I’m bloody impressed with it.
Games like Op Littlewood don’t come around too often, but low numbers and good(ish) weather helped to make a game where everyone got stuck in, and for once the baddies won. I would like to say a massive thanks to all the guys on the TF side, who despite camping in an absolute bog all weekend stuck it out and were good sports when they got slapped round the face with IEDs and TAGs, and were perfect gentlemen(and lady) when shooting our side. Gameplay was solid all weekend and that’s what makes or breaks an event!
A huge thanks also has to go to the Stirling boys for putting the event on. I’ve not played at a Stirling game since July 2019, but Op Littlewood has left me wanting to make sure I do more in 2020. Special thanks to Dave for the sausages and to the special fire gremlin for getting them cooked.
And a final shoutout to the Dutchies, who turned up for their first game in Britain and absolutely smashed it, despite spending the first day going up and down hills! I’ll leave a link to their team IG here: @ghostrecongroup.
Just drop the search objectives please, thanks.