Guerrilla Warfare Tactics: A Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) soldier is waiting for the enemy to engage, Kosovo 1999, Credits: by Visar Kryeziu
Battle Tactics

Guerrilla Warfare Tactics in Battles

By on April 5, 2017

“Guerrilla” means “small war” and small war tactics are not an appropriate method to win battles.

The Guerrilla usually avoids bigger engagements with the enemy. However, in the last phase of a protracted war, bigger battles are inevitable if the Guerrilla army wants to achieve its strategic goals.

During the battle of Dien Bien Phu and the battle of Saigon, ”Guerrilla” armies have won decisive victories, but if one takes a closer look at their structures, it becomes obvious that these Guerrilla armies had evolved into quasi conventional forces and were fighting their end game with heavy weapons, using conventional and not Guerrilla warfare tactics.

Countries rarely apply Guerrilla warfare tactics. Guerrilla warfare is the weapon of choice for insurgents and liberation movements, while recognized states usually field conventional armies and apply conventional tactics when they go to war.

KLA in urban area

KLA in urban area

There are exceptions: when a bigger part of a conventional military force is cut off from the main force and decides not to surrender, but to continue the struggle as a Guerrilla force. This has happened several times during World War II, for example in Russia after the German invasion.

And during the “Winter War” (1939–40) between Finland and the Soviet Union, the Finnish army successfully applied guerrilla tactics against the much stronger Soviet aggressors.

Another example are the Merrill’s Marauders, a US special warfare unit that fought the Japanese in Burma, using Guerrilla tactics.

Guerrilla warfare tactics are not much different from regular infantry small unit or commando tactics. Ambushes, sabotage, small sized surprise attacks or assassinations are also trained by special forces or commando units in conventional armies. The difference is that conventional armies make only very limited use of these unconventional tactics, while for the Guerrillas, these tactics is all they have : their tactics are their strategy.

A Guerrilla army might be able to assemble their smaller units to form bigger formations and fight a big battle, but this is usually avoided as it makes their forces very vulnerable. Anyway, they won’t apply small unit tactics in this situation.

Most countries have none or only very limited guerrilla warfare capabilities and their Guerrilla capable forces (for example the US Army’s Special Forces) are only deployed to train and sometimes support non state actors (for example the US support for the Contras in Nicaragua in the 1980’s).

Two Kosovo Liberation Army soldiers during a break in battle, 199. by Roland Bartetzko

Two Kosovo Liberation Army soldiers during a break in battle, 199. by Roland Bartetzko

Guerrilla warfare rarely is a weapon of choice, but is chosen, because a side lacks the means and opportunity to possess a conventional army. Therefore, countries with regular military organizations make only limited use of Guerrilla tactics.

If a military force has the choice, it will not resort to Guerrilla tactics, especially if it wants to win a bigger battle.

Photo: A Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) soldier is waiting for the enemy to engage, Kosovo 1999, Credits: by Visar Kryeziu

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