In this mid-series episode from Babylon 5, we see the culmination of a number of plot threads leading to a climactic battle between the forces of a corrupt central government, and an ad-hoc group of freedom fighters. In the episodes leading up to Severed Dreams, the staff of Babylon 5 had discovered proof that the current Earth Alliance president, William Morgan Clark, was responsible for the death by explosion of his predecessor, President Luis Santiago. This information was released, leading to investigations, riots, and the declaration of martial law. The Earth Senate is suspended when Earthforce troops forcibly seize the chamber and capture members not loyal to Clark. The military is split, with a faction loyal to President Clark fighting a rebellious faction led by head of the Joint Chiefs, General Hague.
At the start of this episode, General Hague's ship, the EAS Alexander, is fighting its way to Babylon 5 for refuge, repair, and support. General Hague is killed in this battle, and command is assumed by his aide, Major Ryan. Upon arrival at Babylon 5, he is given sanctuary to complete repairs. Shortly afterwards, they are joined by the EAS Churchill, commanded by Captain Sandra Hiroshi. She informs Captain Sheridan and Major Ryan that she's intercepted orders to an Earth Force task group to seize control of Babylon 5, arrest its command staff, and place the station under the direct control of President Clark. Major Ryan offers to flee, and hopefully draw away the heat from Babylon 5, however, the two ship captains and the Babylon 5 staff agree that the best course of action is to stay and fight.
Order of Battle
2 Omega Class Destroyers (EAS Roanoke, EAS Agrippa)
2 Hyperion Class Heavy Cruiser (names unknown)
Multiple squadrons of fighters (Thunderbolt)
At least 1 breaching pod
GROPOS (ground force) in at least company strength, but likely higher.
2 Omega Class Destroyers (EAS Nimrod, EAS Olympic)
1 Hyperion Class Heavy Cruiser (names unknown)
Babylon 5 Defense Grid
2 Omega Class Destroyers (EAS Alexander and EAS Churchill)
Multiple squadrons of fighters (Starfury and Thunderbolt)
Babylon 5 Security Force (mixed Human and Narn, in company strength)
1 White Star cruiser (White Star)
3 Minbari Sharlin Class War Cruisers
Seize control of Babylon 5 and arrest its command staff, and place the station under the direct control of President Clark and the Nightwatch. Destroy or compel surrender of EAS Alexander and EAS Churchill.
Prevent conquest of Babylon 5. Avoid capture by Loyalist forces.
Deliver ultimatum to rebel forces. If ultimatum is not accepted, take Babylon 5 by force. Use shipboard and fighter weapons to disable Babylon 5 defense grid, and deliver a breaching pod to the station. GROPOS on board the breaching pod will attempt to seize control of the station. Opposing capital ships will be destroyed by shipboard weapons and fighter weapons unless they surrender.
Oppose all attempts to take Babylon 5 by force. Use shipboard and fighter weapons to disable or destroy opposing force. Babylon 5 security forces will engage any attempt to forcibly board the station.
The Loyalist faction drops out of hyperspace and broadcasts an ultimatum to the rebels to surrender and prepare to be boarded. Captain Sheridan broadcasts his intent to resist and declares President Clark's orders to be illegal. All rebel ships deploy fighters -- the Loyalist fighters had already been launched while in hyperspace. Captain Sheridan orders his fighters to hold fire until fired upon. This happens quickly as the loyalist ships open fire on Babylon 5, the Alexander, and the Churchill. The rebel ships respond in kind, and the two factions of fighters quickly engage in combat. The two sides appear to be roughly evenly matched. During the melee, a breaching pod of GROPOS is launched, and manages to breach the hull of Babylon 5 in Brown Sector. They are cut off by the Babylon 5 security force and a firefight ensues. Outside of the station, the EAS Churchill sustains heavy damage. Unable to get to lifepods before the ship blows up, Capt Hiroshi decides to ram the Churchill into the EAS Roanoke, destroying it. On board the EAS Alexander, Major Ryan decides to take the initiative and orders his ship to close on the EAS Agrippa, and uses his cutting beam to severly damage the Agrippa. Additional damage is caused by fire from Starfurys and Thunderbolts from the rebel fleet, as well as long range fire from the Babylon 5 Defense Grid. The EAS Agrippa refuses to abandon ship and is destroyed by explosion. Back on board the station, the Babylon 5 Security Forces defeat the GROPOS boarding party, but with heavy losses among the Narn.
Although the battle appeared to be won, a loyalist reinforcment group consisting of two Omega class destroyers (EAS Nimrod and EAS Olympic and an unknown Hyperion class frigate), arrives and demands the surrender of the diminished rebel forces. At this moment, a Minbari task force of three Sharlin class war cruisers arrive, led by Ambassador Delenn in the White Star. She declares the station to be under her protection and orders the loyalist task force to retreat with the memorable line: "Only one human captain has survived combat with the Minbari fleet. He is behind me, you are in front of me. If you value your lives, be somewhere else." Faced with these odds, the loyalist faction retreats.
Earth Defense Force:
EAS Roanoke (rammed by EAS Churchill)
EAS Agrippa (cutting beam from EAS Alexander)
EAS Churchill (Massive fires, committed kamikaze death by intentionally ramming EAS Roanoke)
Multiple Thunderbolts and Starfurys (30% of B5 Starfurys destroyed or disabled)
Rebels maintain control of Babylon 5.
This battle provides the first significant check to President Clark's power and his efforts to suppress the rebellion on the colonies. Because of this, the station will be a focus of plots by Clark and his minions (e.g. Psi Corps) for the remainder of the 3rd and 4th seasons. Also of signficance, the open rebellion by the station provides a rallying point for other Earthforce ships willing to defect. Later in the 4th season, the EAS Agamemnon (Sheridan's old ship) will join the cause. The EAS Alexander will leave the station and attempt to find and rally other Earthforce ships to the cause.
After the battle, the station will come under the protection first of the Minbari, and later, other alien races. And with the station in open rebellion, Sheridan and his crew can more openly move to support the Army of Light resistance against the Shadows.
Now let's start the critique...
Strategy and Operational Planning
The key issue wrt strategy is the decision on both sides to seek battle. President Clark is basically carrying out a coup d'etat by declaring martial law and suppressing the Senate. In order to seize total power, it's essential that he seize control of all of the major population centers and military bases. Babylon 5 counts as both, and in addition is a major point of interaction with the alien races. It's absolutely essential that Clark seize control of Babylon 5 to limit the resources available to the rebel faction. And to be successful, he needs to move quickly before the rebels can rally at Babylon 5 in significant force, and possibly enlist the support of alien races. Typically, speed is of the essence in a coup, and it helps to have your people in the right places. Clark had done this, and thought he had Sheridan in his pocket (he was selected to replace Sinclair just for this reason), but events in the last few episodes gave him reason to doubt Sheridan's loyalty.
Likewise, the rebels need Babylon 5 as a secure base of operation to assemble and build their forces. They need to buy time for more Earthforce units to defect to their side. And the longer the conflict goes on, the more likely they are to win. And let's not forget the symbolic value of John Sheridan as a hero of the Earth-Minbari War and the Mars Rebellion. He's well respected among humanity in general, and Earthforce in particular. Keeping him free and in charge of the rebellion is invaluable to the freedom fighters. So the rebels must stay and fight.
Now let's look at the operational plans. Earthforce sent two waves of forces to capture Babylon 5. However, rather than concentrate their forces in one overwhelming attack, they committed their forces piecemeal. In the first attack, they actually operated at a numerical disadvantage -- 2 Omega class destroyers vs 2 Omega class destroyers, and 1 Hyperion class destroyer vs Babylon 5. I would expect the rebels to have a numerical advantage on fighters as Babylon 5 should carry more fighters than a Hyperion. So it makes no military sense for Clark's forces to attack when they did. The smart move would have been to wait for reinforcements. True, that would have delayed the attack until Delenn showed up with Minbari reinforcements, but that could not have been forseen. In that case, Clark's forces would have avoided the senseless loss of two Omega class destroyers, many Thunderbolts, and the boarding party. Perhaps the decision to engage was driven by the political urgency, the knowledge that the EAS Alexander was damaged in the fight with the EAS Clarkstown, and perhaps the military commander was overruled by a political officer.
With respect to the rebels, I think they played this well. Despite Brave Sir Robin, er, I meant Major Ryan's offer to "draw away the enemy" from Babylon 5, the smart move was to concentrate their forces in the face of the attack to get the most favorable odds. As a result of this, they actually had numerically advantage and achieved a 2 to 1 kill ratio for capital ships.
Tactics, Techniques, Procedures (TTPs)
Since this is a civil war among forces from the same military, TTPs are expected to be the same for each side. Capital ships will slug it out among themselves with heavy weapons, while fighters will target the defensive systems of enemy capital ships so their own capital ships offensive weapons will be more effective and try to keep the enemy fighters from doing the same to their own capital ships.
Fighters did appear to specialize in roles. Ivanova gave an order for one squadron of Starfurys to sweep an approach lane clear for another squadron of Starfurys to attack the enemy ships. In addition to the strike package, there seemed to be another group of Starfurys hanging around Babylon 5 to provide defensive CAP.
One item that wasn't talked to was the problem of IFF (Identification Friend or Foe), or in layman's term, how to avoid "Friendly Fire." Both sides were using similar equipment, and it would seem to be very difficult in the heat of battle to identify which Thunderbolt belonged to which side. This is compounded by the fact that both sides were essentially ad hoc forces thrown together hours before battle, so it's not like you had a chance to memorize your allies paint schemes. In addition, consider the problem faced by defensive batteries on B5 and the Omega Class Destroyers, trying to sort out friendlies from enemies. One possible answer is the spacecraft might have carried electronic IFF systems. There was mention in prior episodes of Earthforce vessels transmitting authentication signals in a subchannel for their communications systems, so it's likely they addressed IFF as well.
A quick note on electronic warfare -- it's clear electronic support measures are being used. Lt Corwin reported a "mode change", i.e., enemy sensors switching from a search mode to a target track mode. No mention is made of electronic attack being used.
With respect to fight with the GROPOS boarding party, I noticed two problems: 1) the failure to use grenades to repel the boarders, and 2) the decision by the Narns to make a frontal attack against the GROPOS. Grenades are very useful in urban combat, as shown by the Germans during World War II. Perhaps they weren't used because they wouldn't be necessary for station security. With respect to the Narn attack, it was an unnecessary loss of life. The B5 security team had the breach contained, had numerical superiority, and when the space battle ended, the breaching party would be cut off from support. True, it added drama to the story, but it didn't make sense from a pragmatic standpoint.
Overall I thought this was an excellent episode, possibly the best in the series. Although one can find fault with the decision by Clark's forces to engage the rebels when they did, there didn't seem to be anything unreasonable in how this played out.
Now, let's consider the issue of Major Ryan. For a guy who's supposed to be an aide to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he seems to lack aggression. Most general's aides I've met seemed to have an excess of testosterone. But this guy 1) delayed firing on the Clarkstown, 2) offered several times to "draw fire away from Babylon 5" by running from the fight. I'm suspecting a little bit of PTSD from the Earth-Minbari War. The other thing that's odd is he seems to be a bit "above the zone" to be a General's aide. These guys tend to be "below the zone"--young people promoted early. Definitely miscast for this role. JMS admitted he wanted Everett McGill (Stilgar from Dune), not Bruce McGill--the casting director messed up.
Another noteworthy omission is we didn't see much of the Hyperions during the battle. One came in with the initial force, but we didn't see it during the battle. In addition, when the 2nd wave retreated, we only saw its Hyperion retreat, so I assume the 1st wave Hyperion was also destroyed.
Finally, I'd like to commend JMS for the post-battle scene with the GROPOS showing the suffering among the ground troops. True, it isn't Saving Private Ryan in terms of authenticity, but neither is it the post-battle scene in Star Wars where everybody is celebrating with high-fives despite a 90% battle attrition. War is hell, and kudos to JMS for acknowledging it, even if it was done with a PG rating.
Next, we look at The Battle of Cimtar.