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Subject: Gaming Operation Just Cause (December 20th, 1989) rss

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Juan Valle
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Hi Folks,

For a long time I have been toying about the idea of create/design (am not a game designer BTW) a wargame about the US Invasion to Panama, codenamed Operation Just Cause and executed on Dec.20, 1989.

The main reason for my interest in this obscure conflict is personal: being a national Panamanian, I was there when this invasion took place, and believe it is not an experience I wish for anyone to deal with. We had some tough and chaotic days back then. Not far from my house several firefights erupted and on the first 3 nights the artillery and mortar shells explosions were frightening, not to mention the horrific experience of listening an USAF AC-130H Spectre gunship opening fire. My home was in top of a hill and not far from the American bases; the OH-58 and AH-1 Cobras flew so low you could distinguish the pilots flight helmets.

Personal reasons aside, I am kind of confused whether this topic could make for a pure tactical game at platoon level or something more in the 'strategic' arena, I mean at company/battalion level. Here are my points:

1-At tactical level, I feel there is enough fodder for a squad/platoon level game here. The US forces committed several air assets, fixed wing units like the above mentioned AC-130H Spectre, F-117 Stealth(2 units bombed Rio Hato but with no effect), C-130/C-141 transports, A-7 Corsair from Michigan ANG, AC-37 Dragonfly, Phantom F-4 (I saw one orbiting during the second day of the invasion, but do not know whether it used any kind of ordinance against a ground target or not) and rotary wing assets like AH-64 Apache, AH-1 Cobra, OH-58 Kiowa,MH-6 and AH-6 Little Bird, UH-60 Blackhawk, CH-53 and CH-47 transport helos. The Panamanian Air Arm consisted of old US surplus Huey helicopters, one single Super Puma unit, some Chilean made T-35 Pillan trainers and a few Spanish made CASA C232 transports; this non offensive air arm saw no action during OJC.

For land operations the US 82nd AA got involved together with 1/75th Rangers (not sure if this is the correct regiment), the 7th Light Infantry and elements from the 193rd Inf Brigade already deployed in the country, plus small contingent of SF. During OJC the US forces used in combat for the very first time the SAW (squad automatic weapon) and the R-4 antitank rocket, plus the small arms already known like M-16, M-60 GPMG and .50 HMG. During OJC US forces employed (specially during the opening hours) artillery fire from 105mm howitzers and then 82mm mortars. The mechanized assets included M-551 Sheridan Light Tanks, M-113, LAV-25 and MG mounted Hummers. The Panamanian Defense Forces had 38 Cadillac Gage Commando V-100 and V-300 APC's (half of them equipped with HMG and the other half with a Belgian built 90mm gun) plus military trucks and old US made Jeeps. Although these APC saw no action, it is known 4 of them were destroyed by Hellfire missiles fired from AH-64. In regards to ground forces, the PDF had one elite battalion(mechanized) and one elite status counterinsurgency company, plus several other regular infantry units; months before OJC a paramilitary force was created (the infamous Dignity Battalions) but in reality these were no more than a band of thugs, a sort of part time militia with very basic military training. The small weapons were an assortment of M-16, AK-47 and Korean made T-65 assault rifles. The PDF support weapons were primitive: no modern missiles, just very few LAW, .50 HMG and M-60 GPMG, some obsolete US made 3.5 inch bazookas and a handful of Chinese made recoiless rifles; the RPG-7 were available too and although I understand the PDF was still new with their usage, it is credited to have damaged one UH-60. The PDF had also several ZPU-4 AAA and Israeli made 60mm light mortars; the 'heaviest' weapon in their arsenals were several French made 120 mm mortars.

The PDF had a naval arm equipped with (again!) surplus US patrol boats, but neither these or the US naval units in station got engaged in any kind of naval combat (some US naval assets were used to transport SEAL elements and to disembark US Marines in some coastal areas, but mostly as support operations).

2-Strategic level: this operation was conducted almost exclusively FIBUA. Several actions took place at the same time and across the country; maybe the more relevant were the US Rangers parachute assault against Rio Hato (located some 65 miles from Panama City), the assault at the PDF headquarters 'The Comandancia' (a 1930's era building which occupied a full block at Panama downtown area), the seizure of Paitilla airfield and Tocumen International Airport, the combats in Old Panama area, and a little know struggle where a group of Delta operators held the bridge over the Pacora river when a convoy of the elite mechanized unit (named Batallon 2000) was trying to access Panama City. The PDF had an OOB of 3 batallions plus 8 companies and small SF capable quick reaction units.

Perhaps the folks from GMT, LnL or any other well known publisher could in the future print a game about OJC, but am doubtful if too many people might be interested on it. After all OJC was an operation whose outcome was never in doubt and after the first 48 hours the US forces were devoted mostly to mop up small pockets of resistance.

My idea is to take some units from other tactical games I already have (MBT/IDF from Avalon Hill, Battlefield Europe from GDW, Fire Team from West End Games) and maybe create or design some sort of maps and then see what happens.

Sorry for the verbose comments here, but any opinions or comments are more than welcomed.

Thanks,

Jumval

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Wendell
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pete belli wrote:
Interesting.

One option:

Two players control the US forces (in simple terms, a player controls the American units along one coastline plus the adjacent sectors) and these two players compete to accomplish their missions against the PDF. The actions of the PDF forces would be determined by event cards. The US commander who performs at the highest level of efficiency is declared the winner.

Good luck with your project!


That's a good idea. And it could also make it easier to design this as a solitaire game too.
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Juan Valle
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wifwendell wrote:
pete belli wrote:
Interesting.

One option:

Two players control the US forces (in simple terms, a player controls the American units along one coastline plus the adjacent sectors) and these two players compete to accomplish their missions against the PDF. The actions of the PDF forces would be determined by event cards. The US commander who performs at the highest level of efficiency is declared the winner.

Good luck with your project!


That's a good idea. And it could also make it easier to design this as a solitaire game too.


Folks,

Thank you very much for your ideas; that is exactly what I was looking for, some brainstorm on this matter.

Regards,

Jumval
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K G
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Juan, I think you`ve hit the nail on the head with your comment: "After all OJC was an operation whose outcome was never in doubt and after the first 48 hours the US forces were devoted mostly to mop up small pockets of resistance."

That said, while I`ve studied the politics of American "interventions" in Latin America, I know very little about the armed forces used or the capabilities of the defenders. I`d like to know more.
 
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Bill Eldard
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Jumval wrote:
. . . but am doubtful if too many people might be interested on it. After all OJC was an operation whose outcome was never in doubt and after the first 48 hours the US forces were devoted mostly to mop up small pockets of resistance.. . .


You're right about that. But then, I never thought the Alamo would make for an interesting wargame, yet several have been published, so who knows?
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Juan Valle
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Kluvon wrote:
Juan, I think you`ve hit the nail on the head with your comment: "After all OJC was an operation whose outcome was never in doubt and after the first 48 hours the US forces were devoted mostly to mop up small pockets of resistance."

That said, while I`ve studied the politics of American "interventions" in Latin America, I know very little about the armed forces used or the capabilities of the defenders. I`d like to know more.


Hi K G

Thanks for your message.

I am not an authority in this topic, and said my interest is personal for the reason that I was living there when OJC took place, plus the fact that am a geek of military history and wargaming as well.

The defenders during OJC were the Panamanian Defense Forces, an entity which combined both police and military duties. Founded in 1916 under the name of Guardia Nacional (National Guard) it changed its name to PDF in 1983 by request from its commander in chief, the infamous General Manuel A. Noriega; without getting too deep into the political side, one of the main objectives of OJC was his capture. As happened too often in Latin America, the PDF (former NG) got heavily involved in local politics, with the military ruling the country on several ocassions.

In the specific case of PDF, an indispensable qualification for officer promotion was the degree of loyalty to Gen. Noriega; the best PDF units with better equipment and training, obviously were led by loyal Noriega officers. Gen. Noriega survived two coup d'etat attempts, in March 1988 and then in October of 1989.

At the moment of OJC the PDF accounted for some 15,000 personnel and an OOB of about 3 batallions and 8 companies, which included a police force, an air arm and a naval arm as well. In addition Gen. Noriega sponsored in 1988 the creation of the so called Dignity Battalions (DB) which had on paper a strength of about 10,000 elements. However the DB were no more than a rabble of thugs and low income government employees forced to join under threat of loosing their jobs. The DB were a part time para military force with a very basic and rudimentary military training, provided by retired PDF officers.

Back to the PDF, I am giving you here a very useful link which will give you the whole order for battle for the PDF:

http://www.history.army.mil/documents/panama/pdfob.htm

In other hand, Osprey Publishing has a very complete book about OJC while also I can recommend you another title: Just Cause: The Real Story of America's High-Tech Invasion of Panama by Malcom McConnell.

If any other observations or comments, please let me know.

Regards,

Jumval
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michael connor
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I do remember 'Battalion 2000', wonder if that was some kind of elite unit or something? A friend of a friend who participated in the operation said something to the effect that: 'It was a very bloody operation' and that a lot of what happened there has been covered-up and that the fighting was much more intense than what was reported.
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Juan Valle
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xmfcnrx wrote:
I do remember 'Battalion 2000', wonder if that was some kind of elite unit or something? A friend of a friend who participated in the operation said something to the effect that: 'It was a very bloody operation' and that a lot of what happened there has been covered-up and that the fighting was much more intense than what was reported.


Hi Michael,

You're right, Batallón 2000 (2000 Battalion) had elite status; it was a mechanized infantry unit equipped with a mix up of 19 Cadillac Gage Commando V-100 and V-300 IFV; 4 of them were armed with HMG while the remaining 15 with a Belgian made Cockerell 90mm gun; in addition they had several heavy military trucks and HMG armed US made Jeeps. They were based at Fort Cimarron (a jungle area some 20 miles to the NE of Panama City); nowadays those installations are a prison named La Joya (The Jewel).

This 2000 Battalion was the unit which hastily organized an 18 vehicle convoy and while on its way to Panama City, got ambushed by a small contingent of Delta Force operators, supported later by an AC-130H Spectre. The gunship fire was so devastating that 9 out of the convoy 18 vehicles were destroyed, with the survivors returning to their base.

Definitively I agree that combat although brief at OJC was much more intense than media news reported. Some PDF units simply routed and fled away, while others stood their ground and put up a serious fight, being overwhelmed by the firepower, surprise and ruthlessness of the US attacks. At the end, this 'heavy blow' from the US armed forces contributed to shorten up the fighting step of the operation, saving lives from both sides.

Compared with other countries in Central America like Nicaragua, El Salvador or Guatemala, Panama did not have any previous experience of what an armed conflict at medium/major scale was; I agree for those of us never used to it, those firefights, explosions and dozens of fixed and rotary wing aircraft hovering in the air, plus formations of APC and tanks in the streets, was shocking. But since I have some knowledge on the military, have tried to be impartial and do not exaggerate what happened during OJC.

It is known the 'B plan' for PDF/BD in case of an US invasion was to mingle with the civilian population and conduct sort of hit & run guerrilla style attacks. However, after their terrifying experience fighting against the Americans during the first hours of OJC, most PDF personnel have had enough and those which were not captured donned civilian clothing and went back home.

I need to address also, the American forces conducted in a professional way avoiding to fire back in some cases and helping both civilians and PDF personnel when required. This conduct kept what was a volatile and 'easy-to-get-out-of-control' situation firmly in their hands; the very few and sparse incidents with civilians, were mostly due to the civilian themselves.

Jumval

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michael connor
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Thanks Juan,

Very interesting info. I'm glad there was some effort to limit collateral damage, which people tend not to forget. Our family still remembers Dublin 1916.
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Juan Valle
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xmfcnrx wrote:
Thanks Juan,

Very interesting info. I'm glad there was some effort to limit collateral damage, which people tend not to forget. Our family still remembers Dublin 1916.


You're welcome, Michael.

I know for some people what I said about collateral damaged seemed wrong, since in the neighborhood around the PDF headquarters 'The Comandancia' the devastation was total; over the years accusations have been done against the USA, against the PDF/DB, etc.

IMHO this is what happened: The neighborhood around 'The Comandancia' was named 'El Chorrillo' due to an old nearby water spring and it was built in the first years of the XX century by the workers from the Caribbean islands (Jamaica, Barbados, Martinique, etc.) which came to Panama for the canal construction; once the work was over most settled there and in other areas of Panama City. El Chorrillo was a poor neighborhood with wooden houses in all shades of bright colors built back then, about 80 years ago. The Comandancia and several PDF dependencies and offices were in El Chorrillo as well, so when OJC started due to the intensity of the combats and the firepower, all needed was a single spark to set ablaze the whole area as unfortunately it happened.

In other hand, any kind of war except if waged in a remote area, brings some property destruction.

BTW I read once about Dublin in 1916, and definitively was terrible.

Regards,

Jumval
 
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