Naval Base San Diego Operation Skedaddle
Jason Lee, Frederick White
Mr Lee: My role in CMCCP was to create chaos at Naval Base San Diego. It was deemed by the planners as too difficult to actually control the base due in part to the number of entrances to the facility. Logistically, it would require too many people with the most likely probability being that they would be quickly neutralized.
The overall intent of Operation Skedaddle was to make the base functionally impotent 72 hours following “the big day.”
Mr White: My role was mission support. The planners gave us a highly executable plan with acceptable risk and high probability of success.
Mr. Lee: The plan, like all good plans, had simplicity as its most important element. The biggest fear of the commander of a naval bases is another Pearl Harbor. No one wanted to be the next Rear Admiral James O. Richardson! While It was Richardson’s view Pearl Harbor was highly vulnerable to attack and although he expressed that concern directly to President Roosevelt on multiple occasions, Richardson was relieved of command following the attack. Sad really but a reality nonetheless.
My mission was to create the impression that an attack on the base might be imminent. There are two carriers based in San Diego — the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) and the USS Barack Obama (CVN-70) which was recently renamed from the USS Carl Vinson. Additionally, Naval Base San Diego homeports eight cruisers, nine Littoral Combat Ships, 15 destroyers including the USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) as well as a number of small ships.
The planners also expected immediate reactions from Submarine Squadron 11 and whichever of the five Los Angeles-class submarines that happened to be in port. Since it’s pretty easy to know when a submarine is about to sail on a routine mission, we expected the USS Scranton (SSN-756) and the USS Hampton (SSN-767) to be in port along with the USS San Francisco (SSN-711) which is currently undergoing a refit. USS Pasadena (SSN-752) and USS Alexandria (SSN-757) were both believed to be operating in the Middle East.
The objective was simple — create enough fear of the possibility of a Pearl Harbor event that anything that was able to fire up and leave San Diego would do so. I never particularly like the mission name of “skedaddle” but I admit that it’s entirely appropriate. Fred, would you go over the logistical plan, please?
Mr. White: On “the big day,” we were to receive the go/no order via pager at approximately 1630. We were told just to watch FoxNews for confirmation that the president was dead and that the Vandenberg operation had begun. Once we had both of those, we were to respond to the go code and execute the mission. If everything had gone in the dumper, we would have just folded up our tent and gone home.
There were quite a few bits and pieces to the operation but since we had four months to prepare, test, and pre-deploy the actual equipment, we were all very confident that we could pull it off.
We referred to all the explosions we were going to set off as “hoots and whistles.” The hoots consisted of commercial grade fireworks which came to us via friends in Tijuana, Mexico. As directed, we set up a company with all of the proper paper to import fireworks. We called the company “Hoots and Whistles Fireworks.” One of the biggest problems we had were the number of requests for the company to do fireworks shows at various events. The racetrack in Riverside was particularly insistent and we ultimately actually drove out there to make a presentation. We laughed our butts off after we won a $52,000 contract for a fireworks display at a NASCAR event the coming year!
Whistles were five large explosions that would do a bit of real damage, would give lovely video for the media. and would keep the local police occupied for a good long while. We were delighted that our friends from Mexico arrived in five suitable generic, white Chevy Express 3500 vans. It also turned out that they knew a bit about explosives. Actually more than a little bit! They were five of the most badass people I ever ever met. I think the one señorita had the most intense, workmanlike look and work ethic I have ever encountered. I was in love! [Laughter]
Mr Lee: Quite obviously none of what Fred described was any real threat to ships at San Diego. However, there was no obvious downside to leaving port and the biggest career risk imaginable if you didn’t.
Mr White: The hoots, I mean the fireworks, weren’t just any fireworks. They were three times the size of a normal commercial firework which made them roughly 6 feet tall and about 1.5 feet wide. They used standard gunpowder as the propellant and all used iron to give the fireworks a yellow look.
We used COBRA 18R2 Pro Remotes and 18M Firing Modules with optional 2.5 Watt Booster. One of our concerns was out ability to purchase these without leaving a paper trail. The planners messaged just to order them on Amazon.com. Who knew?
The firing system was tested extensively and operated flawlessly over a distance of 0.5 miles. We were able to achieve 1.7 miles over water. Since the plan called for firing the fireworks at a quarter mile, we felt confident that the entire system was entirely over-designed for the task. It kind of offended my engineering sensibilities but Jason told me to “deal with it.” [Laughter]
The total number of fireworks was to be ninety of the large mega-shells which were all intended to explode at roughly one hundred feet above the Naval facility. The ships themselves were not targets. We did directly target them but Fred will describe that part of the operation in a bit.
We purchased three flatbed trailers and equipped them with plywood sides. The mortar tube racks were built on metal skids so they could be loaded totally assembled onto the flatbed. Each skid held 36 rounds arranged as three by twelve. Once loaded the skids were bolted to the floor of the flatbed. Four (one as backup) old but reliable pick-up trucks to pull the trailers into position were also purchased.
The señorita particularly liked the 1997 Ford 250 XLT which she referred to as a “cowgirl Cadillac” and mentioned her brother in Senora could make this almost like new for very little money. She had spoken maybe a dozen words up to this point. I was wonderingl how far Las Vegas was! [Pause]
We used three sites for the launches. The first was G Street near the Marine Group Boat Works with a firing point on Marina Parkway. The second was at the Synergy Electric lot near the base softball field with a firing point from the Anchors Conference Center. The third location was behind SA Recycling at Main and S. 32nd street with a firing point at the nearby Church’s Chicken. All of the locations were in industrial areas where truck movement with odd looking objects would be the norm rather than the exception.
Once all of the rounds were fired, the last sequence would detonate gunpowder bombs in four locations on the trailers blowing them all to smithereens. A grand finale indeed!
Mr. Lee: There is considerably more technical detail but suffice it to say that our friends from Tijuana did an outstanding job.
Mr. White: [Expletive deleted]. Oh, sorry.
Mr. Lee: Skids were constructed for the the five vans as well with twelve rounds per skid arranged three by four. One skid per van. The explosive power wouldn’t be anywhere near the Oklahoma City bombing but it would make one hellacious boom. Five simultaneous explosions would rock the city.
We utilized spots for three of the vans that were within a quarter mile of the launch sites allowing the same team to activate the van’s explosive package. These were UTC Aerospace Systems, the Naval Training and Support Center, and the Navy Federal Credit Union. The two remaining vans were positioned at the City of Coronado City Hall and General Dynamics on E. Harbor Drive. In the last two instances, the drivers would simply park the vans, walk to a prescribed location and fire the explosives. We did it this way so should something change, we could re-purpose these two vans. As it turned out, we didn’t need to use this contingency.
Our drone force consisted of three Dragon x12 RTF U11 heavy lift drones with a lifting power of 100 lbs. We packed the drones with 100 lbs of C-4 and planned to land them on the flight deck of the Barack Obama. it certainly wasn’t enough to disable the vessel but it would make one heck of a big boom and definitely get their attention.
An interesting side note is that the C-4 was the British version known as PE4 and I was a little surprised that our friends from Mexico had British C-4. I would have thought that American C-4 would have been more available but it just crossed my mind for a split second. What did I care where it care from as long as it went boom!
We were, by the way, well aware that what we were doing was a terror tactic and not a war tactic. The damage we were going to inflict was quite minimal. We also were under no illusions that this would fool anyone in the Navy for very long.
What we were confident of was that all hell would break loose in San Diego, the police would be strained to their limit, the base would be in general chaos, and, most importantly, the media would engage in wild speculation. An entire team was positioned to take photos and tweet them immediately along with speculation such as “Smells funny. Bio attack??” We spent days working through just the right wording and creating bots that would help spread the fake news as quickly as possible.
Go ahead sum of the results, Fred.
Mr. White: It was a thing of beauty. The two “extra” vans were exploded at 2030. Spotters in elevated positions reported significant damage around the blast sites. Lights came on all over base so we knew we had their attention. Our Twitter bots lit up Twitter and we were almost instantly trending.
At 2045, the fireworks barrage began. The entire “show” lasted 22 minutes. One detail we liked was that the timing of each rocket appeared to be random giving everything a feeling of anticipation.
At 2100 and 2105, the remaining three vans were detonated. By now spotters reported that San Diego looked like a sea of flashing emergency lights. I don’t know how anyone on the base could even think with all the sirens and alarms going off! It was clear that a large number of ships were preparing to make way.
At 2125, the three trailers were detonated. The trailer near the Marine Group Boat Works failed to detonate. We learned from a police source some days latter that a wire to the first bomb had worked its way loose. In retrospect, we should have wired all of them in parallel and used a different battery pack.
The heavily lift drones were deployed at approximately 2145. One was destroyed by small arms fire and two made it to the deck of the Obama where they were detonated. As expected, due to the unfocused nature of the C-4 charges, the explosion created a huge fireball but did very little actual damage to the vessel.
By 2400, anything that had an engine and fuel had left Naval Base San Diego.
Mr Lee: We’d like thank everyone in the this room as well as those who lost their lives in the in the pursuit of our new found liberty! While we played but a small part, it was a great honor and we are proud that we participated in bringing California to this new beginning.
D’Un océan à l’autre!