It’s been a while since I last sat down to recap an event, or to write anything for that matter, and once again it’s an unusual trip out to Stirling Airsoft’s “The Trees” site that’s given me the strength to cringe while writing words like “enemy” and “callsign” in reference to what is simply a bunch of men running around with toy guns.
With the fact that airsoft is just a game in mind, I’d like to point out now that the following is my opinions of what happened to me in my own little bubble and if you read this as a member of the other team who was there, and you disagree with words like “steamrollered” just remember its all in good spirits and from my point of view.
Op BARHAIL was the first Stirling event for me this year and is one I’ve been looking forward to for a long long time. The only downside in the build-up to the event was the clear and present danger of being washed down a hill in a torrent of south Welsh rain. Luckily that didn’t happen, but it made a bloody good go of it.
The event plan itself wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, just a regular combat mission pitting a sea of multicam and C8s against the naughty fictional forces of Azerian State and their freedom to make trouble in Presteigne. By endex however the event had taken a turn away from the usual combat mission of wander around all day looking for an item that’s probably already been lifted, and towards being the most kinetic experience I’ve had with Stirling Airsoft to date.
Unlike Op Littlewood this adventure to the trees didn’t involve sailing a Vauxhall Insignia into the site like Jack Sparrow into Port Royal, but from arrival onwards it set the tone of being a fucking wet one. After minimal pissing about in the rain bergens were loaded and we climbed into the pickups ready to head up to camp. This turned out to be in the familiar north eastern corner of the site.
What wasn’t so familiar was the river of mud formerly known as the top track that we soon found ourselves sloshing through en-route to the campsite. For those who have been through ITC Catterick and beyond, just think of the chocolate factory in Warcop with less crawling through it.
Once up at the top the usual pre game admin took place, getting ponchos set up, batteries in guns and comms up and running. This was made all the more interesting by the ever present rain, and the fact that on either side of the track it was a pretty severe slope, so those of us without hammocks were in for a night of sliding down hill.
Finally just before game on there was the familiar safety brief of “don’t be a twat”, and quick orders for each callsign.
The first tasking for our group was (drumroll please) ….. a go here and search for something job. This is normally the point where I have a moan but in this instance the site had been divided into manageable chunks, and we had around double the numbers we had had for search during Op Littlewood. These extra numbers meant that we were paired with the lads from “256”, and had been given a comparatively simple area to search.
Our element had been told to search the “drooping dick” area of the site for any sign of a flight recorder, dropped as part of the scenario by a supposedly crashing airplane. Being bright orange and pretty big it proved to be quite simple to locate, just not by us.
We split our two callsigns with 256 taking the high ground from blue B to blue H, while GRE took blue A, blue F to blue G eventually meeting up at blue H.
After making our way down on tracks from blue B to blue A we then moved to traverse through the woodline on a sheep trail that leads around the central lumber yard. While on this track we were looking for signs of the flight recorder, and sounds of any clashes taking place within the hardstanding below us.
What we instead found was a lot of stuff going on around us, but nothing we could observe. Coming off the sheep trail we had intended to carry on up through our planned route to blue F, but instead got grabbed to provide support to the command element “Zulu”. They rolled up to our position in a pickup and off we went, right round the lumber yard, left at red G, and right back to where we had dropped off into the woodline half an hour earlier.
As we turned up towards blue A those of us in the back spotted some multicams in the trees on the hill descending from the FOB. Giving the shout of “don’t fucking stop” we of course came to a halt and hastily bailed out into the cover on either side of the track. This is where things got a little silly.
Unbeknownst to us there was another green team callsign coming up the hill out of the lumber yard and directly towards us, the first we knew of it was them opening up on us in a spectacular blue on blue. This distraction took a few seconds to sort out and in that time the TF guys we had originally spotted got us sighted in. One of them, who I must congratulate for making a fucking mint shot that was at least 60m with a toy gun, managed to clatter me with a single hit to my fist mic, which then proceeded to bounce up and hit me in the face.
Part 2 of our cock up was it transpiring that although we had a stock of medic tags in the team, no one had actually opted to carry them, meaning those of us that had been hit either in the blue on blue or by the airsoft version of Bob Lee Swagger had no options to be brought back in on the spot and so must “bleed out” and head back to be brought back in as a reinforcement.
Shortly after this the offensive on IED alley (blue A to red G) ceased and the remainder of the GRE callsign met us dead folk, and we headed back up the hill to resume our search following in 256’s footsteps, and to go via the camp to get the all important medic tags.
At this point we had entered the lunchtime lull which is normally occupied by the manning of an IED, but in this case was just spent waiting for the callsign to reassemble. During this time we learned that the flight recorder had been found (mercifully early), and our next tasking was to head back down into the lumber yard to set up an OP on route black coming up from the south of the site.
Taking the top track round to avoid going near IED alley again, GRE and 256 combined then dropped off and slid down the slope towards the area we had been picked up from in the pickups earlier in the day, and into our OP at 344 661. No sooner had we arrived than again Zulu came on the net saying leg it over to somewhere else to provide support.
This time however we had lucked out, and continuing our run through the lumber yard we pulled up to the plateau at red F just in time to help a couple of guys from a different callsign who had at least 5 TF coming down at them from the hills to the south east, directly from the FOB. Arriving first GRE set up along the road between red F and red G and started to trade with the TF callsign. While we were setting up a baseline, and peeling east along the track as more TF arrived, 256 got themselves into the woods above and behind the enemy, and began to push into them from a perfect 90° point of fire.
As both our callsigns put the squeeze on the task force elements we found ourselves fighting up and downhill respectively and cleared out the remaining multicams with no permanent losses to our side. Crucially during our lunchtime reorg one of the team had ditched his rifle in favour of an LMG, which gave us a stronger base of fire combined with much better albeit lower down cover.
With death photos taken our elements moved off towards our second tasking for the day which we had to hit for 1500. This was to protect a Rapier missile site located in the southernmost part of the map. Taking red F to red C seemed like the logical choice, until we ran into a major contact at red C and turning around finding we had been followed by a TF reinforcement element that was armed with the ever controversial gun trucks. The only options left to us were to stand still and be laced up and down by the inevitably trigger happy invincible gunner living out his fantasy of being THAT door gunner from Apocalypse Now, or to live out our own fantasies of falling down a really steep fucking hill like we’re in Lone Survivor.
Gravity won the toss, and we very quickly found ourselves descending a hill we wouldn’t normally have shaken a stick at, while being fended off by the fucking Terminator on his mounted gun determined to meter out some simulated justice – despite the threat of TAG rounds launched at him (again, gun trucks are controversial, my advice for anyone attending their first Stirling event is to turn around wherever you see one and let the gunner just get bored).
Unfortunately for us Mr Full Auto Fantastic at the top of the hill managed to pick up a couple of our lads, and thereby used up the last of our medic tags before rolling himself off to join in the skirmish at red C. We found ourselves at the edge of the treeline between route red and route black, and decided to continue towards the SAM site via the lower, flatter route black.
After what was an eventful start to the day our second tasking was to stag on a SAM site located in the southernmost woodland of the site. We had a very uneventful 2 hours, with rain hammering down and sun shining through in equally confusing measure. I myself spent the majority of this time with another member of GRE in the top left corner of the woodblock, to catch anyone trying to sneak in using the ever so slightly out of bounds path seen just north of the field.
Just as our tasking was drawing to a close at 1700, a message came through from the GRE elements further down in the woodblock, saying that at least 6 task force were making their way across the top of the field towards us. The 4 of us who had been placed in the top of the woodblock turned and set up a hasty ambush, watching the TF callsign drop in from the path behind us.
Unfortunately at this point the heavens opened again and my radio decided it was going to start screaming “LOW VOLTAGE” into my ear, unfortunately for the task force callsign one of our lads fired a TAG round right into the middle of them shortly after we opened up on fully automatic. With the initial casualties from the initiation of the ambush, and those who had been in excellent cover apart from the grenade fired directly into it, there weren’t many left to oppose our small team now backed up by 256 from assaulting back up hill towards them and clearing through, leading to our second uphill success of the afternoon.
As soon as we had finished taking photos of those we had ambushed the net came alive with the GRE element lower down the hill in contact, and now down to one man alone. Turning and topping off mags the rest of us raced back down through the woodblock and out over the fence into the open field, where luckily our relief callsign were on their way over.
Picking up the fresh bodies in tow GRE , 256 and “Wolfpack” (I think, sorry if it was one of the other callsigns), mounted a massive downhill L shaped attack into the 5 or 6 task force players who had managed to break into the lower woodblock. In perfect fairness to them they had given a good account of themselves, causing quite a few casualties on our side, but unfortunately didn’t see the other half of our team coming down the hill behind and beside them.
With these guys now efficiently and properly steamrollered and the SAM site handed over to the replacement callsign GRE and 256 headed back into camp for the evening, expecting to get an early nap in ahead of a night out on the ground.
2300 – 0200
Alarms set for 2300 went off and myself and H rolled out of bed ready to gear up in a bad mood and wonder why on earth anyone would pay to get up in the middle of the night, walk out into the rain and go to shoot some other people who were also asking themselves the same questions. Then it became apparent those people had made the effort of walking all the way to us, and were in the middle of attacking the camp.
Quickly shoving batteries into night vision H and I ran off into the woods to go and repel the unwelcome enemy players. Luckily either due to either a poor or a total lack of a cordon we could get up the hill behind the TF callsigns, and start to fire down onto them while blacked out. While not enough to completely displace the other team, it was very satisfying to see people cutting about in the open and opening up on them from a very dark concealed position.
When the other side had had their fill Zulu started arranging blokes for a counterattack, and the other two GRE members with superpowers got kitted up ready to go for a midnight stroll.
At around 0100 the 20 or so strong force of AS players debussed at red D, and began the stroll up towards the FOB. As some of the few with night vision, our 4 strong group led up the hill and eventually right into the enemy FOB. Either there weren’t any sentries placed out along our route (which was pretty much just straight up the MSR), or we just got lucky that none of the ones awake could see in the dark, but we were stood among bashas before seeing the first member of the task force up and moving, and I think just exiting the shitter.
Using our opening up on him as the call for everyone to start shooting everyone threw on white lights and spread out into the outer task force camp, yelling at blokes to surrender and firing into bashas that were shooting at us. One of these bashas when questioned contained a bloke who at the last minute pulled his rifle up to fire, and I’m sorry to say he got pumped with 5 or 6 shots to the top of the head at point blank (sorry again if you’re still picking BBs out of your scalp).
As soon as the camp was awake battlelines were drawn where the attackers could only go so far before being beaten back by the now alert gunners. With the element of surprise firmly gone and no facility to gain a real foothold the attack faltered, this effect was then compounded for our 4 man group by one of our own coming up behind us and expertly shooting each of us in our woodland camouflaged and shooting at the FOB backs.
Not long after this the last bit of momentum went from the attack. With the dead players walking down the road and the live players scurrying back out through the woods the AS element reorged at the vehicles and congratulated ourselves on at least making sure the outer TF camp wouldn’t be enjoying a nice long sleep.
0600 – 1100 Endex
Following on from a Saturday filled with really hard and fast ground work by both sides meeting to form some really interesting scraps, Sunday for our callsign was the return of the gun trucks. The mission for the day was simple, to hold the SAM site as TF made one last push towards it to claim some form of victory for the weekend.
As the last out of camp our lift ran down route black and right into the Sabre cordon around the field in front of the SAM site. Shockingly we were made short work of thanks to some early morning TAG shells and a pair of mounted guns.
Falling back to regen we then made another attempt on the higher route between red C and red A, only to get caught again by another truck and complement of foot mobiles. Putting up something of a struggle, we got summarily whackamoled and sent packing again.
The last attempt at getting through to the SAM site was to regen and climb the hill between the two routes we had tried previously and give being sneaky a chance. Unfortunately this didn’t pan out as we proceeded to run headfirst into a TF element with a similar idea, some of whom gave up the high ground in favour of speed and made it to the road and back to their lines, and another pair who got the drop on myself and another GRE member before being caught stuck between an MCX and a really steep hill.
After this little skirmish we continued on towards the SAM site until I walked directly into a burst that I’m still not sure where it came from, and that then continued to take out the others behind me. This concluded our attempts to get through the cordon which, credit where credit is due, was airtight compared to their night time antics.
After something of a disappointing morning for us GRE headed back up to camp to at least get a headstart on packing up, and to put the cherry on the cake I proceeded to stack it an hour before endex, 10 feet away from my basha. Now limping, that was officially the end of Stirling Airsoft’s Op BARHAIL for us.
To be honest every bit of gear I used for this weekender performed well, with my rural setup actually now being pretty much optimised for my needs. As usual the Platatac Peackeeper was flawless throughout carrying everything but the kitchen sink and my remote det kit, which remained in my daysack for the entire weekend. The notable difference for this event was running my Platatac Bullock daysack partially attached to my chest rig’s harness in a way that meant there were no traditional shoulder straps, but I could still easily gain access or remove it myself.
As far as weaponry goes, I of course was running my Systema PTW based BD / Gordy carbine which having just been for a spa at Tackleberry’s house was running flawlessly.
The only real standout pieces of kit were my gaiters, standing out because I normally don’t bother with them, my hammock, because fuck sliding down a hill when its raining and my new Arktis A310 rainshield which was invaluable, thanks to it being really REALLY fucking wet.
It’s been a long one, and there are a few thoughts I want to finish with. I always cringe when writing these articles as to anyone outside of our community who reads this, especially my former colleagues going on actual operations, describing what are essentially your airsoft war stories is pretty sad but there’s actually a reason why I like writing them.
Events like Op BARHAIL are few and far between for those of us who enjoy the really nerdy side of tactics and moving as a team. There are few events in such a large area where actions like peeling, effective use of section support weapons and passively aiming while blacked out have a real effect on live opponents who are equally armed and were often in better positions.
For me even the simple fact that in our night time FOB attack we waited to go loud until we were in amongst the bashas was really enjoyable, as this allowed us to hit multiple lines of enemy at once, and cause a massive shock factor to those sleeping in the outer camp.
My closing thoughts for an event like Op BARHAIL is that it’s exactly what I wanted out of airsoft/milsim when I left the forces. The ability to still do the fun and legitimately adrenaline fuelled attacks, without the bullshit of having to sit wet, damp and cold at 3 in the morning on exercise waiting for an attack that isn’t coming, while training for a war that isn’t ongoing.
Thanks for reading my “AAR” of Stirling Airosft’s Op BARHAIL. If this is the sort of article you want to read more of then let me know and I’ll sit down to do another one after my next particularly interesting event.
I’d also just like to say thanks to the Stirling crew for putting on a solid albeit soggy event.
If you’ve got any questions about anything I’ve said, or if you simply want to call me a flapping thundertwat, then head over to my Instagram @thegeardocrow.