Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
Disclaimer: Although this article is being published during a time of great upheaval, this is by no means an endorsement by the author or publication of any of the actions described in this article. This article is purely for academic purposes and to allow law-abiding citizens to make more informed choices regarding the defense and security of their communities. This is part 2 of our look at guerrilla warfare. (Click here to read part 1.) A rather timely, though hopefully not prophetic topic for our current age. The first part looked at WHY a guerrilla force may be deployed or arise. In this article, we are going to spend some time looking at the HOW.
Keep in mind these are very brief and surface-level looks, and as always, I’ve tried to include a ton of links to help those interested learn more.
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“At the outset, the essential task of the guerrilla fighter is to keep himself from being destroyed.” – Che Guevara
Some Basic Tactics and Strategies of Guerrilla Warfare
- Small Unit Organization
- Stealth, Blending in, and Route Planning
- Urban Structures and Associated Tactics
- Enhance and Deny Mobility
- Basic Tips for Keeping a Low Profile in Urban Environments
- A Brief Summary
- Where You Can Learn More
Some Basic Tactics and Strategies of Urban Guerrilla Warfare
There is way too much to cover in a single article. Many of these topics have been broken down into more specific issues in other pieces on our site. We will also put a list of military and private defense sources at the end of this article. There should be enough here to keep you learning for a long time.
To start, it should be noted that guerrilla warfare is different from merely surviving in urban terrain. As a guerrilla, one has a goal past survival. However, survival is necessary. To begin, you should first understand how to get food, water, and shelter.
Click here to learn about Getting Food and Water in Urban Conflict Zones or Click here to learn about Getting shelter in Urban Conflict Zones. Once survival is covered, a guerrilla force can begin to conduct offensive operations.
The main goals of any guerrilla operation will be to cause damage through sabotage, ambush, or theft. Guerrillas do not win through capturing territory, but mainly by increasing the cost in lives and material for the enemy.
Small Unit Organization
Guerrilla forces in dense urban environments almost always employ small unit tactics. This structure is probably easiest explained using the IRA as an example. While there’s an overarching organization and command structure, they are usually only in direct contact when designating a high priority target or mission.
Typical local commanders in charge of multiple fireteams (not the term they use) will decide day to day operations. An IRA fireteam is generally made up of four guerrilla operatives who know each other but have no natural (no family or neighbors) connection. This allows for a deal of trust but makes it more difficult to track their origins.
There’s a reason you always hear about terrorists “cells,” small independent units that know enough to conduct their mission, but not enough to jeopardize those in charge or allied forces should they be captured. These groups are provided enough supplies and leadership to allow them to operate effectively with little outside input.
Note: We covered the overlap between guerrillas, terrorists, and other irregular forces in part 1.
Stealth, Blending in, and Route Planning
Unpredictability, blending in, and stealth movements are necessary. Avoid distinct clothing, using the same routes and, if possible, vary the locations you are returning to. Study your local area, even if you are a local, and know multiple routes to and from most essential sites. The most direct way, especially when the possibility of surveillance or tail is possible, is often not the best one.
The same general concept comes from barricading and fortifying your home. You want to ensure that if anyone tries to enter your building, they are slowed and dissuaded, but you don’t want security measures to draw undue attention. It is better to be out of sight than to be in a hard target when dealing with overwhelming force.
When you are considering a good observation post or a place to stay, be aware of what the walls are made out of and whether or not the building is providing any ballistic protection.
Don’t be seen until you plan to be, and disappear back into the city as soon as you arrive.
As basic as it sounds, part of this will be learning how to move in an urban environment with your required gear tactically. You can see in these photos from military manuals that operating tactically in an urban environment requires a different way of moving and thinking.
Urban Structures and Associated Tactics
Buildings and cities provide a much different challenge than the ones found in a more natural environment. Using buildings that have long fields of fire, allow for good concealment, and a fast egress can greatly enhance the effectiveness and lifespan of a guerrilla team.
Combatants should avoid apparent places, like church steeples and rooftops, but should remain as concealed as possible in an area with light traffic.
To put it simply, urban environments provide innumerable opportunities to think outside the box and use terrain to your advantage. It can also offer complications and difficulties for certain operations. Guerrilla forces must learn to utilize these unique environmental aspects to their advantage.
Also, understand the calibers of the typical weapons in the area and how well the buildings surrounding you will withstand fire. Some structures may need to be reinforced with sandbags or bullet-resistant metals and materials.
We go into further detail about defensive measures, booby traps, alarms, and other urban tactics in this article.
Enhance and Deny Mobility
The one advantage that guerrilla forces have over more traditional military ones is their ability to move quickly and strike surprisingly. A guerrilla must be able to get into and out of conflict before the enemy knows what is going on, and the guerrilla must be faster than the enemy should a chase ensue.
Well-positioned egress vehicles and pre-planned routes will help to avoid encirclements (the only way the enemy can force a guerrilla band into an unfavorable conflict).
One tactic favored by guerrillas is called the minuet, named for the dance. Guerrillas encircle an enemy patrol, who then move to surround the guerrillas, only to find that they have been led into an even larger and sophisticated guerrilla ambush.
As it is described: “Small bands of men are presumably surrounded by the enemy when suddenly the enemy is surrounded by stronger contingents; or men located in a safe place serve as a lure, leading to the encirclement and annihilation of the entire troops and supply of an attacking force.”
Another way of employing the minuet is to have four or five small teams of men play keep-away with the enemy patrol and force them to waste time, ammunition, stay immobilized, and become demoralized. This is done by:
- Positioning small teams at the four compass points around an enemy force.
- Having one team ambush and engage the enemy.
- As the enemy engages this team, they withdraw; at the same time, another team initiates the attack from another point.
- Both groups repeat these actions.
Che Guevera roughly described an example Guerrilla attack as: “Starting with surprise and fury, irresistible, it suddenly converts itself into total passivity. The surviving enemy believes the attacker has departed; he begins to relax when suddenly a new attack bursts forth in another place.”
There are many variations of this style of ambush and associated hit and run tactics. But, as you can see, these types of tactics can only be employed if the guerrilla forces are well-drilled and highly mobile.
Somewhat less mobile forces can make up for this by denying mobility to the enemy.
A city itself is an obstacle since it canalizes movements. “Field-expedient” obstacles such as cars, light poles, and so on can be quickly placed and can funnel enemy forces into planned lines of attack and ambush.
Basic Tips for Keeping a Low Profile in Urban Environments
Operating in a city will generally include extended periods of time where you are merely trying to get from A to B and must blend into the surrounding area. Most of these little tips are from advice given to embassy workers, but the principles remain the same. Avoiding observation and keeping a low profile will significantly enhance your lifespan.
Keep a Low Profile
- Don’t show off supplies, money, or luxury items.
- Avoid public disputes or shows of political opinion.
- Do not divulge information about yourself or your family to anyone.
- Vary your route to work and other places.
- Exit buildings through different doors and at different times.
- Don’t exercise alone.
- Control keys to access points strictly.
- Park your car in a locked garage.
- Shut the curtains in a room before turning on lights.
“It is necessary to distinguish clearly between sabotage, a revolutionary and highly effective method of warfare, and terrorism, a measure that is generally ineffective and indiscriminate in its results.” – Che Guevara
A Brief Summary
This two-part series looked briefly at guerrilla warfare and how it is conducted. Mobility is key, and hit and run tactics and sabotage are the methods with which to maximize results. Guerrilla forces must win over the populace while making further conflict too costly for the main military force.
As stated earlier, the main goals of any guerrilla operation will be to cause damage through sabotage, ambush, or theft. Guerrillas may not need to capture territory, but must increase the cost in lives and material for the enemy to the breaking point.
The specifics will change based on the politics and cultures involved, but much can be learned from looking at past examples. While the political viewpoints of most 20th century guerrillas are detestable, they are worth reading for the tactical insights they provide.
Where You Can Learn More
- U.S. Army Field Manual: Urban Operations
- Marine Corps Field Manual: The Guerrilla and How to Fight Him
- Guerrilla Warfare Tactics In Urban Environments by Major Patrick D. Marques
- Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain (MOUT) Marine Corps Manual MCWP 3-35.3
- Civil War Preparedness – Protecting Yourself
- Civil War Preparedness – Food and Water
- Civil War Preparedness – Shelter
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