The Executor & the Operations of Death Squadron [WIP]

Galactic Imperial Navy Star Dreadnought/Super Star Destroyer

Executor (along with three escorting star destroyers) operating as the flagship of Death Squadron.

NOTE: THIS ARTICLE IS CURRENTLY A WORK-IN-PROGRESS, BUT I WANTED TO AT LEAST GET SOMETHING OUT FOR MAY THE 4TH. I’LL BE REVISING AND UPDATING THIS POST THROUGHOUT THE MONTH.

Introduction

In honor of May the 4th (be with you), I thought I’d do a fun post on a Star Wars topic.

Star Wars has been something of a feature in my life since the early-1990s when I was first introduced to the original trilogy as a kid. I loved learning about the Jedi Knights, the Sith, the Rebels, and the Galactic Empire. I mean, who didn’t want to use the Force, wield a lightsaber, fly a starfighter, or fight in the epic space and ground battles in a galaxy far, far away?

Star Wars experienced a resurgence in popularity in 1997 with the re-release of the Special Editions which allowed me to finally see the original trilogy in theaters (as opposed to on VHS tapes at home) provided that you were willing to stand in lines that wound around the cineplex. My friends and I collected toys and action figures and brought them to school, much to the annoyance of my 4th-grade teacher, no doubt. While I’ve only read a few of the Expanded Universe (as it was then known before becoming Legends) novels, I did read Star Wars books that focused on the world-building and lore of the galaxy because I’m a huge NERD!

Staples of my Star Wars library were:

  • The Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels by Bill Smith
  • The Essential Guide to Characters by Andy Mangels
  • The Essential Guide to Weapons and Technology by Bill Smith
  • The Illustrated Star Wars Universe by Kevin J. Anderson & Ralph McQuarrie

These were the original publications, mind you, and not the “new” editions which were published after the release of the prequel trilogy, and which sadly eliminated the original drawings and schematics in favor of computer-rendered designs. When I read these books, I look back on this time as the “good old days” before George Lucas gave us the clunky prequel trilogy and before Star Wars went completely downhill with the Rey Skywalker saga. I just want to be entertained by a fun sci-fi fantasy story, not have some weird social agenda foisted on me!

In any case, since this is a maritime/naval history blog, let’s take a look at the Executor super star destroyer and the operations of Death Squadron.

Specifications

Executor star dreadnought/super star destroyer

Ship classExecutor-class (lead ship) star dreadnought/super star destroyer
RoleDreadnought/Fleet flagship/Command ship
BuilderKuat Drive Yards
Length19,000 meters
Propulsion13 thrusters
Hyperdrives: Class 1 (primary), Class 10 (backup)
Max Speed100 kilometers per hour (in atmosphere)
Armament750x twin heavy turbolaser batteries
1000x turret-mounted twin light turbolaser batteries
100x twin battleship ion cannons
125x concussion missile launchers
250x turret-mounted quad-laser cannons
SensorsLong-range sensor suite
Complement280,784 officers, enlisted, and pilots
38,000 troops and support staff
Embarked ships144x TIE-series starfighters (TIE/ln space superiority fighters, TIE/sa bombers, TIE/IN interceptors)
200x Assault shuttles, transport shuttles, support craft (Y-85 Titan dropships, 24x All Terrain Armored Transports, 50x All Terrain Scout Transports)
2x IM-455 modular garrisons
Docking baysat least 1
Cargo Capacity105,000 tons
Consumables6 years worth
Cost325,000,000,000 credits
Ships in classExecutor (lead ship), Annihilator, Arbitrator, Eclipse1, Ravager (possibly as many as 12 according to Rebel Alliance Intelligence)
Front and side schematics of the Executor (from Star Wars Legends material).2

Imperial II-class star destroyer

Ship classImperial-class star destroyer
Rolecarrier/command ship
BuilderKuat Drive Yards
Length1,600 meters
Propulsion3 thrusters
Hyperdrives: Class 2 (primary), Class 8 (backup)
Max Speed975 kilometers per hour (in atmosphere)
Armament60x turbolaser batteries
60x heavy ion cannons
8x octuple turbolaser barbettes
10x tractor beam projectors
SensorsLong-range sensor suite
Complement37,050 officers & enlisted crew
9,700 stormtroopers
Embarked ships72x TIE-series starfighters (48x TIE/ln space superiority fighters, 12x TIE/sa bombers, 12x TIE/IN interceptors)
2x Gozanti-class armed transports
20x All Terrain Armored Transports
30x All Terrain Scout Transports
8x Lambda-class T4a shuttles
Docking baysat least 2
Consumables2 years worth
Cost150,000,000 credits
Ships in class
Top, front, rear, and side schematics of an Imperial-class star destroyer. (From Star Wars Legends material. Not to scale with the above image.)3

Executor-Class Design Characteristics

Many times the size of a standard Imperial-class star destroyer, these massive dark arrowhead-shaped dreadnoughts were some of the largest warships ever constructed by the Imperial Navy and meant to serve as fleet flagships. Yet another example of the Tarkin Doctrine of “rule through fear,” the Executor-class ships were designed to make a strong statement and force enemy worlds into surrendering by their mere presence in orbit.

Apart from its enormous size difference, when compared to the more wedge-shaped hulls of the Imperial and Victory classes, the Executor resembled an elongated arrowhead in hull shape and length. The dorsal side was covered with a sprawling cityscape that was dotted with cerulean blue lights and featured a trapezoidal command tower near the aft-end of the ship. Unlike the gray-white hulls of the more standard star destroyers, the armor plating of the Executor was a dark gray color which arguably gave it a far more menacing and authoritative appearance. The ventral side of the vessel was also notable for having 13 massive thrusters at the aft end that propelled the ship through space. The sheer amount of energy being put out from these thrusters caused them to glow a vibrant red.

Operational History

Constructed at Kuat Drive Yards, the Executor became the flagship of Death Squadron and replaced the Devastator as Darth Vader’s flagship, with Admiral Kendal Ozzel in command.

Following the destruction of the first Death Star by Luke Skywalker, the Rebel Alliance abandoned its base on Yavin 4. Imperial forces then began a galaxy-wide search (codename: Project Swarm) for the relocated Rebel base using hundreds of thousands of Viper probe droids to search planets for signs of the Rebels. In 3 ABY (3 years After the Battle of Yavin), one such probe droid landed on the icy planet of Hoth in the system of the same name in the Anoat sector of the Outer Rim Territories. Eventually, it located the partially exposed shield generator of the Rebel’s Echo Base and reported back. The probe’s intel was received aboard the Executor and the rest of Death Squadron which, at the time, consisted of the Executor (flagship), along with the escorting Imperial-class star destroyers Avenger, Devastator, and Tyrant.4

Despite Captain Firmus Piett’s insistence, Admiral Ozzel was skeptical of the existence of the Rebel base on Hoth. Vader, however, was obsessed with tracking down Luke Skywalker and the rebels overruled Ozzel and ordered the squadron to the Hoth system.

Set your course for the Hoth system! General Veers, prepare your men!

Lord Darth Vader upon receiving information from the probe droid.

The Battle of Hoth

While Han Solo destroyed the probe droid, Rebel Alliance General Carlist Rieekan correctly deduced that the location of Echo Base had been discovered and ordered the base to be evacuated.

Hoping to catch the Rebels by surprise, Admiral Ozzel had the Executor and Death Squadron emerge from hyperspace close to the Hoth system. This action promptly alerted the Rebel forces at Echo Base who raised the base’s defensive energy shield to protect against the Imperials using an orbital bombardment to bring the battle to a quick end before they could escape. This tactical blunder prompted Vader to order General Maximillian Veers to deploy his forces beyond the shield and proceed with a drawn-out ground assault using AT-ATs and snowtroopers.

He is as clumsy as he is stupid.

Vader, regarding Ozzel’s incompetence, to Veers.
Death Squadron approaches Hoth.

Vader subsequently executed Ozzel and promoted Piett to command of the squadron.

You have failed me for the last time, Admiral. Captain Piett, make ready to land our troops beyond their energy field and deploy the fleet so that nothing gets off the system. You are in command now, Admiral Piett!

Vader, as he executes Ozzel for his tactical failure and promotes Piett.

As the Executor and Death Squadron moved to blockade the planet and land ground forces, the Rebels began their evacuation. Upon launching one GR-75 medium transport escorted by two T-65B X-wing starfighters, Echo Base’s v-150 planetary ion cannon fired several shots to clear a path into space. These ion blasts hit and disabled the Imperial-class star destroyer Tyrant allowing the transport to slip through the blockade.

Meanwhile, Blizzard Force, led by General Veers, used AT-ATs to assault and destroy the shield’s power generator which allowed snowtroopers of the 501st Legion to enter the base, along with Darth Vader. However, despite the Imperial victory in the battle, a majority of the Rebel forces managed to escape. Among those included Han Solo and Princess Leia aboard the Millenium Falcon and Luke Skywalker in his X-wing.

The Pursuit of the Millennium Falcon

“Well, we can still outmaneuver them!” The Millennium Falcon (right) evades three star destroyers of Death Squadron, causing two of them to nearly collide with each other.

With its hyperdrive damaged, the Millennium Falcon fled into the nearby asteroid field with the Executor and the destroyers of Death Squadron in pursuit. The Falcon managed to evade its pursuers by briefly hiding in one of the larger planetoids, TIE fighters and TIE bombers began scouring the asteroid field while the escorting destroyers sustained damage from collisions with the asteroids.

An asteroid collides with the command tower of an Imperial-class star destroyer with the Executor in the background as the squadron navigates the asteroid field near Hoth. (The captain was apparently killed since their transmission with the Executor cuts out after this.)
“Move the ship out of the asteroid field so we can send a clear transmission.” The Executor breaks off the pursuit and moves out of the asteroid field to send a transmission to the Emperor.

The Executor broke off from the pursuit to contact the Emperor and later brought aboard numerous bounty hunters to assist in the search. Eventually, the Millennium Falcon was forced to flee from its hiding place due to having inadvertently landed inside of an exogorth space slug. The star destroyer Avenger pursued the Falcon, but it managed to evade again by attaching itself to the aft section of the command tower where there was a blind spot in the ship’s sensors. As the squadron dumped their garbage and jumped into hyperspace, the Falcon detached and made its way to Cloud City on the planet Bespin. Unbeknownst to them, the bounty hunter Boba Fett was pursuing them aboard the Slave I; having hidden in the garbage discharged by the Avenger. Fett informed the Death Squadron of the Falcon‘s whereabouts which allowed them to arrive early at Bespin and capture Han Solo.

The Millennium Falcon maneuvers to “attack” the star destroyer Avenger before hiding on the aft side of its command tower.

By torturing Solo and freezing him in carbonite, Vader attempted to lure Skywalker into a trap. However, Lando Calrissian, the city’s administrator, escaped aboard the Falcon with Chewbacca, Leia, and Skywalker after having failed to rescue Solo from Fett. While the Imperials had disabled the Falcon‘s hyperdrive and were about to capture it with the Executor‘s tractor beam, R2-D2 fixed the hyperdrive at the last second which allowed the Falcon to escape.

With TIE fighters in pursuit, the Falcon flies toward the Executor in orbit over Bespin.
The Falcon (large white area in the lower center), with TIE fighters in pursuit, flies along the side of the Executor. The sheer size of the super star destroyer is apparent.

The Battle of Endor

Now serving as the flagship of the Imperial Fleet, the Executor and Death Squadron were ordered to the location of the Death Star II which was still under construction above the Forest Moon (AKA Sanctuary Moon) of Endor. This new battle station was also protected by a planetary shield generator which was on the surface of the Forest Moon. While the Rebels were under the belief that the second Death Star’s superlaser wasn’t operational, little did they know that the Emperor intentionally leaked this false information to lure them into a trap. A Rebel strike team, led by General Han Solo, used a stolen Imperial Lambda-class shuttle to land on the Forest Moon so they could destroy the shield generator. Meanwhile, Emperor Palpatine ordered the Imperial Fleet to hide on the far side of the moon to surprise the Rebel Fleet as it arrived to attack the battle station.

When the Rebel Fleet arrived, they didn’t realize that the Imperial forces were jamming their sensors which nearly caused the Rebel Fleet to careen into the defensive shield around the Death Star. General Lando Calrissian, leading the starfighters in the Millennium Falcon, correctly deduced that the Empire was anticipating their attack and that the shield was still active. After rapidly taking evasive action, the Rebel Fleet came face to face with the Imperial Fleet which had emerged from behind the Forest Moon.

The Imperial Fleet, under the command of Admiral Firmus Piett, was initially not ordered to directly engage and was only there to keep the Rebels from escaping while the TIE fighters dealt with the Rebel starfighters and the Death Star’s super laser targeted the Rebel capital ships.

In a desperate maneuver, General Calrissian advised Rebel Fleet commander, Admiral Gial Ackbar, aboard his flagship Home One, to close with and engage the star destroyers at point-blank range. Eventually, General Solo’s strike team was successful in destroying the shield generator which allowed Calrissian and the fighters to fly into the Death Star’s superstructure to take out the main reactor. Meanwhile, Admiral Ackbar ordered all fire to be concentrated on the Executor.

Penetrating the Executor‘s defensive screen, a pair of RZ-1 A-wing interceptors strafed and knocked out the shield generators on the Executor‘s bridge superstructure. With its defenses down, Admiral Piett ordered the fire from the forward turbolaser batteries to be intensified to prevent further attacks from starfighters. Shortly thereafter, an A-wing piloted by Green Leader, Arvel Crynyd, was hit and critically damaged. Using what control he had left, Crynyd steered his wildly spinning fighter toward the command tower and kamikazed his craft directly into the bridge, causing critical damage and the death of Admiral Piett and his command staff. Listing to port and caught in the Death Star’s gravity well, the Executor plummeted towards the battle station. Before backup control systems could be brought online, the ship impacted the surface of the battle station and exploded on contact.

The destruction of the second Death Star and the Executor, along with the deaths of Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader, greatly weakened the Galactic Empire and scattered the Imperial Fleet. While the New Republic gradually formed from the Rebel Alliance, the remaining star destroyers and super star destroyers would find their way into the hands of various rogue warlords, some of who were no doubt, former Imperial officers. Several of these were Executor-class vessels, but how efficiently they could be crewed is debatable.

Criticisms

Note: It should be made clear that some amount of negative bias is obvious in the evaluation of the antagonists of a film series since the audience is nominally rooting for the “good guys” and hoping they defeat the “bad guys”. Additionally, comparing a science fiction military to the modern-day U.S. military is not the most realistic or fair of comparisons, but certain principles arguably hold true no matter what galaxy you’re in.

For all of its impressive strengths, Death Squadron and the Imperial Military did have issues that were arguably prevalent in most authoritarian governments and organizations. Several modern military thinkers and analysts point out a number of serious flaws with the Imperial Military ranging from the composition of the Imperial Fleet to the poor leadership and toxic culture prevalent in the chain of command.

Death Squadron, the Imperial Fleet, and Officer Training

Regarding Death Squadron’s operations during the Battle of Hoth, BJ Armstrong, a U.S. Navy Commander, notes that the squadron had too few ships to carry out an effective blockade of Hoth. Additionally, the large size of the vessels in the squadron made them easy to identify when they emerged from hyperspace in such close proximity to the planet and also made them vulnerable to the Rebel’s anti-access weapons (the v-150 planetary ion cannon), as the star destroyer Tyrant found out the hard way when it was disabled while attempting to stop a Rebel transport from escaping. Armstrong further notes that the Imperial Fleet itself was composed of large vessels specifically outfitted for squadron-to-squadron and fleet-to-fleet engagements. Lacking any constabulary force of smaller, more numerous, and more agile vessels (apart from fighters and attack craft that lacked long-range and hyperdrives), the Imperial Navy possessed the wrong fleet for the job of policing the vast Empire.5

The Empire’s emphasis on large ships also had a detrimental effect on combat readiness in relation to personnel. The lack of smaller vessels in the Imperial Navy (at least as seen in the films) also meant that there were few chances for junior and mid-career line officers to develop their command skills. Thus, by the time they reached the rank of Captain, near the end of their careers, officers would suddenly be thrust into command of a star destroyer with some 40,000 crew and a vessel with a large price tag. It would be a tremendous responsibility for which they would’ve had little experience. Additionally, a naval doctrine that focused on fleet engagements meant that it would be safer for officers to develop rote memorization and procedural compliance at the expense of individual initiative and an understanding of operational and strategic objectives. Given that officers would’ve had so few opportunities in smaller commands earlier in their careers to practice such skills needed for understanding the larger objectives and practicing those important decision-making skills, the result would be poor judgment and decision-making abilities once the officer was put in charge of a star destroyer. As is seen, officers were regularly relieved or executed for failing their objectives, but where they may have followed procedures exactly.6

Poor Command and Toxic Leadership

Jonathan Bratten writes that for all of Vader’s personal qualities as a warrior (i.e. Sith Lord/former Jedi Knight and a starfighter pilot), he was very poor when it came to command of joint operations involving the Imperial Navy and Army. It’s unclear as to what sort of training Vader had in staff and field operations, but Bratten identifies several of Vader’s failures when it came to the principles of mission command. First, the command climate he inculcated was one of fear rather than trust. After all, why would Imperial officers take the risk of personal initiative when Vader already force choked Admiral Ozzel and Captain Needa to death for their failures. Instead, we see subordinates wait for direct orders from their superiors before taking any action, hence much time is wasted when initiative could’ve been taken. Second, with Vader juggling two different missions of destroying the Rebel forces and tracking down Luke Skywalker, he failed to provide his command with a clear intent and unity of purpose. Instead, he became myopically obsessed with the latter at the expense of the former. Third, regarding the issuing of mission orders, Vader only gave orders verbally which slowed down their dissemination and what orders he did give were extremely vague. As seen in the above quote, his orders to Piett upon arriving in the Hoth system were simply to, “make ready to land our troops beyond their energy field and deploy the fleet so that nothing gets off the system.” While his orders are concise and somewhat clear, they are in no way comprehensive. Fourth, Vader’s pursuit of the Millennium Falcon following the Battle of Hoth showed poor risk management skills. Vader ordered Death Squadron’s star destroyers into an asteroid field where they lost track of the Falcon and sustained damage as a result. Finally, by placing himself on the front lines and personally leading assaults, Vader deprived other elements of guidance. Instead, Vader should’ve remained in a position where he could’ve maintained a clear understanding of the big picture.7

Another odd thing to note is the chain of command in Death Squadron itself. Specifically, it’s unclear as to who is in overall command of the squadron. It’s obvious that captains (such as Captain Needa) are in command of their respective star destroyers, but when it comes to the flagship (the Executor), there seem to be multiple people in command of both the ship and the rest of the squadron. For example, Admiral Ozzel, and later Admiral Piett, appear to exercise tactical command of the squadron, yet both of these officers take orders from Vader on multiple occasions. Ostensibly, Vader has the final say in what Death Squadron does, but this would make the position of admiral completely redundant. It’s established that Vader is more or less the Emperor’s enforcer and that he operates outside the Imperial military’s chain of command (i.e. he’s not a part of the officer corps); however, this still presents the issue of high-ranking officers giving one set of orders, only for Vader to be displeased with their judgment and executing them on the spot for carrying out their duties. Vader’s aforementioned vague orders certainly weren’t helping the situation. If he had a better plan or communicated his intentions more clearly, then perhaps he wouldn’t need to execute so many men. It would be easy to see how Vader could say one thing and then the admiral(s) could say another which would result in a lot of confusion in the ranks. Should the men follow Vader’s orders or the orders of their superior officers? This is why “sharing” command is a bad idea.

From a larger perspective, the Galactic Empire had all of the problems inherent in a dictatorship. From a military standpoint, the biggest issue was one of toxic leadership. Theresa Hitchens identifies several serious flaws with the Galactic Empire’s military leadership. One, in particular, is that the Empire had a very top-down, micromanaging, and insulated leadership and decision-making process. Ultimately, this type of leadership created a toxic environment where the initiative wasn’t valued, and in fact, could end up being a lethal mistake to anyone who exercised personal judgment. Furthermore, we see both Vader and General Veers personally go down to the planet of Hoth during the assault when there was really no reason for either of them to do so. Instead of micromanaging their respective attacks, they should’ve stayed in a position where they could’ve directed the overall battle. Had Vader stayed in orbit above Hoth, he may have stopped some of the rebels from escaping.8

Notes

1. Not to be confused with the Eclipse-class dreadnoughts.

2. Bill Smith, Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels: Original Illustrations by Doug Chiang (New York, NY: Del Rey, 1996), 55.

3. Bill Smith, Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels: Original Illustrations by Doug Chiang (New York, NY: Del Rey, 1996), 189.

4. Andrew Liptak, “The Battle of Hoth: A Critical Analysis,” in Strategy Strikes Back: How Star Wars Explains Modern Military Conflict, edited by Max Brooks, John Amble, ML Cavanaugh, and Jaym Gates, (Potomac Books, 2018), 146.

5. BJ Armstrong, “The Right Fleet: Starships for Strategic Purpose,” in Strategy Strikes Back: How Star Wars Explains Modern Military Conflict, eds. Max Brooks, John Amble, ML Cavanaugh, and Jaym Gates, (Potomac Books, 2018), 80-82.

6. BJ Armstrong, “The Right Fleet: Starships for Strategic Purpose,” in Strategy Strikes Back: How Star Wars Explains Modern Military Conflict, eds. Max Brooks, John Amble, ML Cavanaugh, and Jaym Gates, (Potomac Books, 2018), 84-85.

7. Jonathan Bratten, “Darth Vader and Mission Command,” in Strategy Strikes Back: How Star Wars Explains Modern Military Conflict, eds. Max Brooks, John Amble, ML Cavanaugh, and Jaym Gates, (Potomac Books, 2018), 137-142.

8. Theresa Hitchens, “Why the Empire Failed,” in Strategy Strikes Back: How Star Wars Explains Modern Military Conflict, eds. Max Brooks, John Amble, ML Cavanaugh, and Jaym Gates, (Potomac Books, 2018), 197-198.

Bibliography

Armstrong, BJ. “The Right Fleet: Starships for Strategic Purpose.” In Strategy Strikes Back: How Star Wars Explains Modern Military Conflict, eds. Max Brooks, John Amble, ML Cavanaugh, and Jaym Gates, 80-86. Potomac Books, 2018.

Bratten, Jonathan. “Darth Vader and Mission Command.” In Strategy Strikes Back: How Star Wars Explains Modern Military Conflict, eds. Max Brooks, John Amble, ML Cavanaugh, and Jaym Gates, 137-142. Potomac Books, 2018.

Hitchens, Theresa. “Why the Empire Failed.” In Strategy Strikes Back: How Star Wars Explains Modern Military Conflict, eds. Max Brooks, John Amble, ML Cavanaugh, and Jaym Gates, 196-204. Potomac Books, 2018.

Liptak, Andrew. “The Battle of Hoth: A Critical Analysis.” In Strategy Strikes Back: How Star Wars Explains Modern Military Conflict, eds. Max Brooks, John Amble, ML Cavanaugh, and Jaym Gates, 143-149. Potomac Books, 2018.

Smith, Bill. Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels. New York, NY: Del Rey, 1996.

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