During the Revolutionary War, the guerrilla legacy was reflected in Col. Ethan Allen's capture of Ticonderoga (1775); Col. Francis Marion's operations against Col. Bonastre Tarleton's cavalry (1780); and Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan's victory at the Battle of Cowpens (1781). Gen. Nathanael Greene even developed principles of guerrilla warfare in his successful campaign against the British in the South (1780–81). During the Civil War, the outnumbered Confederate forces featured several guerrilla leaders, including Col. John Singleton Mosby and Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. A particularly fierce guerrilla war was waged in the border states of Kansas and Missouri, where Southern sympathizers organized into partisan bands that attacked Federal supply trains and harassed Union sympathizers. The more prominent partisan leaders were William Quantrill and William “Bloody Bill” Anderson. The former is best known for his daylight raid and destruction of the city of Lawrence, Kansas (1863), and the fact that his followers included Frank and Jesse James and the Younger brothers, destined to become prominent outlaws in the postwar years.
After the Civil War, the much‐reduced regular army was fully engaged in supporting the westward expansion of the United States, a mission that entailed years of fighting against American Indian tribes that opposed encroachment. Considered one of the premier practitioners of guerrilla warfare, the American Indian proved a formidable and elusive foe. Before being ultimately defeated, the Indians occasionally inflicted stunning reverses on units of the regular army—in the Fetterman fight (1866) for example, and the defeat of Custer's 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn (1876). Those army officers who were most successful at countering the Indians did so primarily through their adoption of unconventional tactics. Among these innovators were Gen. George Crook, who pioneered the use of pack mules to enhance the mobility of his columns and employed Apache Indian scouts against hostile Apache clans led by Geronimo; and Gen. Nelson Miles, who struck at hostile tribes during the winter months when the warriors’ mobility was restricted by deep snows and lack of forage for their ponies. Significantly, although the Plains Indians Wars lasted well over thirty years, the army regarded this sort of warfare as a temporary condition and never developed a coherent doctrine for countering a guerrilla foe. Even protracted operations against Philippine insurrectos in the Philippine War (1899–1902) and Mexican general Francisco “Pancho” Villa's irregular forces (1915–16) failed to engage the interest of army theorists.
It was the U.S. Marine Corps, engaged in a number of expeditionary missions in Asia and Latin America during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, that began to codify the techniques, tactics, and procedures necessary for conducting counterguerrilla operations. The Marine's efforts culminated in the publication of the Small Wars Manual (1940), a work that is still issued to Marine officers.
In World War II, some U.S. servicemen in the Philippines retreated into the hills after the Japanese conquest, set up guerrilla organizations, and continued to harass the enemy throughout the occupation. At the same time, the army and Marine Corps began to form and train units for irregular or guerrilla war operations, most notably Brig. Gen. Frank Merrill's “Marauders” and Col. William “Wild Bill” Donovan's Office of Strategic Services. The latter fielded a number of three‐man “Jedburgh Teams” (contrary to more romantic theories, “Jedburgh” was selected from a series of randomly generated code names), who were inserted behind Axis lines in Asia and Europe to perform covert operations, organize and advise resistance groups, conduct acts of sabotage, and collect military and political intelligence.
After World War II, the American military gave little thought to guerrilla war theory, despite the examples of the French in Indochina and Algeria, the British in Malaya, and the defeat of the Huks in the Philippines. Even the brief involvement of U.S. military advisers from the fledgling Special Operations Forces (formed by direction of President Eisenhower in June 1952) in the Greek civil war made little impression on American military thought. It was not until the United States had become engaged in Southeast Asia that military planners began grappling seriously with the problem of guerrilla warfare and counterinsurgency. The immediate result was President John F. Kennedy's decision to expand the U.S. Special Forces (1961). Called “Green Berets” because of their distinctive headgear, these are carefully selected and highly trained troops organized into ten‐man operational “A‐Teams” (logistics and other support activities being handled by larger “B‐Teams”). Each soldier was required to be an accomplished parachutist and capable of speaking at least one foreign language. Additionally, each team member was cross‐trained in two military occupational specialties (e.g., a radio operator might also be certified as a demolitions expert). Special Forces operational teams were organized and trained to act as advisers and planners for indigenous guerrilla units and achieved some measure of success, especially among the Hmong and Montagnard tribesmen of the Vietnamese highlands. These minor successes were not enough to turn the tide of battle, and with the end of the Vietnam War (1975), the Special Forces were relegated to a secondary status in the armed forces.
In the 1980s, in response to increased guerrilla activity in Central and South America, the U.S. military experienced a resurgence of interest in the problem of guerrilla warfare, now under the rubric of Low‐Intensity Conflict (LIC)—in turn superseded by Operations Other Than War (OOTW), and then by Military Operations Other Than War (MOOTW), encompassing peacekeeping, peace enforcement and humanitarian assistance, or stability and support operations—which resulted in the formation of a separate Special Operations Command (SOCOM), and the establishment of a separate source of funding to support special operations missions, training, and equipment.
[See also Caribbean and Latin America. U.S. Military Involvement in the; Counterinsurgency; Covert Operations; Terrorism and Counterterrorism.]
NAVMC 2890 , Small Wars Manual, 1940.
Robert Utley , Frontier Regulars, 1973.
Robert Asprey , War in the Shadows, 1975.
U.S. Army Field Manual 90‐8, Counterguerilla Operations, 1986.
U.S. Army Field Manual 100‐20, Low‐Intensity Conflict, 1990.
Joint Publication 3‐0, Joint Operations, 1994.
Joint Publication 3‐7, Military Operations Other Than War, 1995.
U.S. Army Field Manual 100‐5 (Draft), Stability and Support Operations, 1997.
Frederick J. Chiaventone
"Guerrilla Warfare." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/guerrilla-warfare
"Guerrilla Warfare." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Retrieved April 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/guerrilla-warfare
Guerrilla warfare relies on hit-and-run tactics by highly mobile, lightly to moderately armed units that feature deception, speed, and flexibility. Usually conducted by indigenous antigovernment forces, not the regular armed forces of a state, its characteristic attacks include ambushes, raids, sabotage, and blocking of enemy lines of communication. Examples of guerrilla warfare, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003, increasingly feature the use of road mines and suicide attacks. Guerrilla warfare is classically considered a weapon of the weak to fight a much stronger enemy, such as the state, an occupier, or a colonial power, and is directed not so much at defeating the enemy’s regular forces on the battlefield as at eroding the enemy’s will and capacity to sustain its control.
The first documented record of this kind of irregular warfare occurs on a Hittite parchment from fifteenth century BCE. Since then it has been used among others by the Gauls against Julius Caesar’s (100–44 BCE) Roman army, the Incas against the Spanish conquerors, and the Apache Indians in the U.S. Southwest. Guerrilla warfare became especially prominent during the twentieth century and may be increasingly seen in the twenty-first century, reflecting the great asymmetry in the physical capabilities of the military establishments of modern industrialized states and those of anti-state and revolutionary movements.
Secure bases, internal or external sanctuaries, and good intelligence are important ingredients for the success of guerrilla warfare, as is popular support for the insurgency. It is vital for the success of the guerrillas that the larger population of the area being contested, at minimum, acquiesce to guerrilla activity. In fact, winning the hearts and minds of the people is frequently the goal of both the guerrillas and the anti-guerrilla forces. When guerrillas are able to secure the support of the larger population and are hidden or protected by it, anti-guerrilla forces find it difficult to distinguish between friends, foes, and neutrals and easily slip into punishing the entire population to deter it from supporting the guerrillas. In a famous case in South Vietnam, a U.S. officer seeking to deprive the Viet Cong of its sanctuary ordered an entire village to be burned, commenting that “we had to destroy the village to save it.”
The success of Mao Zedong’s “people’s war” has served as a model for modern guerrilla warfare for many other guerrilla leaders and counterinsurgency theorists. Mao transformed guerrilla warfare from operations that involved only irregular military tactics to warfare that also featured social, psychological, economic, and—crucially—political components. Mao envisioned insurgency as a protracted social and political revolution, where guerrilla warfare was the means to survive in the initial phases of the struggle before a regular conventional army could be fielded and used to defeat the government.
The process would take place in three phases. The goal of the first phase, strategic defensive, was to expand the communist party organization and establish the infrastructure necessary for further development of the revolution. Party workers were to generate public support and infiltrate the state’s political apparatus. The first period was understood to be a long one, with only a limited resort to force to intimidate the population and create a climate of dissent, civil disobedience, and economic unrest. Once sufficient support, or at minimum acquiescence, among the population was achieved, the second phase, strategic stalemate or strategic equilibrium, was to be launched. In this phase the expansion of terrorism into guerrilla warfare would take place and revolutionary administration—more capable than that of the government—would be established. Finally, in the third phase, strategic offensive, the balance would have clearly swung in the direction of the revolutionary movement and regular units would be introduced and engage in near conventional warfare while the incidence of guerrilla warfare would decrease. The marked feature of Mao’s concept was the emphasis on political and psychological elements as the key to victory, not simply military factors. Mao’s principles have been applied in many guerrilla struggles since, and not only by communist rebels, including in Malaya (1948–1960), the Philippines (1946–1954), Algeria (1954–1962), Angola (1962–1974), Rhodesia (1972–1980), Oman (1965–1975), and Peru (1980–1994).
The foco theory of insurgency and revolutionary warfare developed as an alternative rural guerrilla approach, inspired by the success of a relatively small number of revolutionaries toppling the Batista regime in Cuba in 1959 and hoping to compress the protracted struggle envisioned by Mao into a swift victory. Among its most prominent theorists were Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928–1967) and Jules Régis Debray (1940–). In contrast to Mao, who stressed the importance of political structures and in fact the dominance of the political, Guevara and Debray argued that the guerrillas themselves were a fusion of the military and the political authority. Instead of a protracted struggle, they argued that a minimum level of discontent with the government could be translated into conditions favorable to revolution. By military action alone, an elite group could provide the focus, or foco, for the revolution. Inspired by the actions of the elite, progressively greater and greater number of sympathizers, alienated by the corruption and brutality of the state, would attach themselves to the revolutionaries and rebel, thus provoking an even more brutal reaction on the part of the government and alienating even more people. Although foco was applied in Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, Guatemala, and Ecuador throughout the 1960s and 1980s, it proved a manifest failure.
The dismal success record of the foco guerrilla theory contributed to the development of urban guerrilla warfare. Carlos Marighela (1911–1969) was among its most influential theorists. Like Guevara and Debray, Marighela rejected the need for a prolonged preparation for revolution. However, instead of the countryside, Marighela situated the center of the revolution back to the cities. The urban guerrillas would be a small band of highly dedicated individuals, who through the use of terror, such as parcel bombs and ambushes, would provoke the authorities into overreaction, thus alienating the population and creating the revolutionary situation. Actions were to be spectacular and aimed at not just the government but also foreign multinationals, with the intention of weakening the economy. In practice, urban guerrilla warfare becomes rather difficult to distinguish from terrorism. The urban guerrilla approach has been applied, for example, by Michael Collins (1890–1922) during the Irish Republican Army struggle against the British in the 1920s, in the latter phases of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) insurgency in Peru in the early 1990s, in Iraq since 2003, and may likely be a prominent feature of twenty-first-century conflicts.
SEE ALSO American Revolution; Vietnam War
Debray, Régis. 1970. Strategy for Revolution. Ed. Robin Blackburn. New York: Monthly Review Press.
Debray, Régis. 1975. Che’s Guerrilla War. Trans. Rosemary Sheed. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin.
Griffith, Samuel B., ed. 1978. Mao Tse-tung on Guerrilla War. New York: Anchor Press.
Guevara, Ernesto. 1969. Guerrilla Warfare. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin.
Marighela, Carlos. 1971. For the Liberation of Brazil. Trans. John Butt and Rosemary Sheed. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin.
O’Neill, Bard E. 2005. Insurgency and Terrorism: From Revolution to Apocalypse. Washington, DC: Potomac Books.
Zedong, Mao. 1963. Selected Military Writings. Beijing: Foreign Language Press.
"Guerrilla Warfare." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/guerrilla-warfare
"Guerrilla Warfare." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved April 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/guerrilla-warfare
guerrilla warfare (gərĬl´ə) [Span.,=little war], fighting by groups of irregular troops (guerrillas) within areas occupied by the enemy. When guerrillas obey the laws of conventional warfare they are entitled, if captured, to be treated as ordinary prisoners of war; however, they are often executed by their captors. The tactics of guerrilla warfare stress deception and ambush, as opposed to mass confrontation, and succeed best in an irregular, rugged, terrain and with a sympathetic populace, whom guerrillas often seek to win over by propaganda, reform, and terrorism. Guerrilla warfare, also known as unconventional, irregular, or asymmetric warfare, has played a significant role in modern history, especially when waged by Communist insurgencies in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.
In the American Revolution and the Nineteenth Century
Large-scale guerrilla fighting accompanied the American Revolution, and the development of guerrilla tactics under such partisan leaders as Francis Marion, Andrew Pickens, and Thomas Sumter has been called the great contribution of the American Revolution to the development of warfare. The term guerrilla itself was coined during the Peninsular War (1808–14), when Spanish partisans, under such leaders as Francisco Mina, proved unconquerable even by the armies of Napoleon I. From Spain the use of the term spread to Latin America and then to the United States.
During the U.S. Civil War, William C. Quantrill, who operated in Missouri and Kansas, was the most notorious of the Confederate guerrilla leaders, but John S. Mosby, in Virginia, was undoubtedly the most effective. During the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) the Germans suffered so much from French partisans, or francs-tireurs, that Field Marshall von Moltke ordered the shooting of all prisoners not fully uniformed and led by regular officers. In the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, the U.S. Army conducted a long campaign against Filipino guerrillas, such as Emilio Aguinaldo, and Moro bands. There has been frequent guerrilla warfare in Latin America. Notable among early 20th-century Latin American guerrillas are Francisco (Pancho) Villa, Emiliano Zapata, and Augusto C. Sandino.
World War I to World War II
In World War I the most spectacular theater of guerrilla operations was the Arabian peninsula, where, under the leadership of T. E. Lawrence and Faisal al-Husayn (later Faisal I), various Arab guerrilla bands fought superior Turkish forces. In the late 1920s and 30s the Chinese Communists under the leadership of Mao Zedong, perhaps the world's leading theorist of modern guerrilla warfare, conducted a large-scale guerrilla war, along with mobile and positional warfare, against both the Kuomintang and the Japanese in N China. Mao saw the People's War, as he called it, progressing from minor skirmishing to a conventional conflict as he led the Communists to victory.
Guerrilla tactics, aided by the development of the long-range portable radio and the use of aircraft as a means of supply, reached new heights in World War II. The Germans failed to establish a complete hold on Yugoslavia because of the guerrilla resistance, which was led by the Communist partisan leader Tito and supplied in part by Allied airdrops. In the Soviet Union guerrilla warfare was included in instruction at the military academy; in the field it was so brilliantly organized that it constituted a continual threat to the German rear and contributed greatly to the German disaster on the Eastern Front.
In Western Europe the Allies organized guerrilla forces in France, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Italy, and Greece. These forces (known collectively as the "underground" and, in France, as the maquis) were supplied by Allied airdrops and coordinated from London by radio. The resistance forces in Western Europe, led mainly by British- and American-trained officers, conducted not only guerrilla operations but also industrial sabotage, espionage, propaganda campaigns, and the organization of escape routes for Allied prisoners of war.
By the end of World War II resistance forces had played a major role in the defeat of Germany. Throughout the war the United States and Britain also carried on guerrilla warfare in the Philippines and Southeast Asia, and in China large-scale guerrilla operations were conducted against the Japanese by both Communists and Nationalists.
Since World War II
Since World War II guerrilla warfare has been employed by nationalist groups to overthrow colonialism, by dissidents to launch civil wars, and by Communist and Western powers in the cold war. There have been dozens of such conflicts.
Just after World War II large-scale guerrilla warfare broke out in Indochina between the French and the Communist Viet Minh, led by Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap. After the French defeat at Dienbienphu (1945), France withdrew from the conflict; but the 1954 Geneva Conference brought no permanent peace, and Communist guerrilla activity continued in Laos, Cambodia, and South Vietnam. In the subsequent Vietnam War the United States fought in support of the South Vietnamese government against local guerrillas (Viet Cong) aided by North Vietnamese troops. In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge waged guerrilla warfare to win control of the nation and, after being ousted by the Vietnamese army, again resorted to it until the group's disintegration (1999).
In Algeria guerrilla warfare against the French was begun by the nationalists in 1954 and conducted with ever-increasing violence until Algeria won its independence in 1961. Greek nationalists in Cyprus carried on guerrilla warfare against the British from 1954 until that country gained independence in 1959. Fidel Castro and Ernesto (Che) Guevara in 1956 launched a guerrilla war in Cuba against the government of Fulgencio Batista; in 1959, Batista fled the country and Castro assumed control. This success gave encouragement to rebel guerrilla bands throughout Latin America. In 1967, Guevara was killed by the Bolivian army while leading such a rebel band in the jungles of Bolivia.
In the late 1960s, Palestinian Arab guerrillas intensified their activities against the state of Israel. In 1971, after a full-scale war with the Jordanian army, they were ousted from their bases in Jordan. However, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and other groups continued their raids on Israel from other Arab countries. After the PLO was forced to leave Lebanon (1982, 1991) its fighters were again dispersed, but it continued to mount attacks until peace negotiations in the early 1990s. Since the late 1980s, terrorism—long an element in conflict and a hallmark of many Hamas attacks—and other tactics (see Intifada) have increasingly marked the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The United States has sponsored guerrillas, most notably anti-Castro Cuban forces and Nicaraguan contras. Modern "urban guerrilla" activities such as hijacking and kidnapping are frequently inspired by ideology rather than patriotism and are often tinged with elements of terrorism. The Irish Republican Army (late 1960s to mid-1990s) and Peru's Shining Path engaged in both attacks on government forces and various forms of terrorism. Since the 1990s many nations experienced some degree of ongoing societal disruption due to persistent unconventional warfare, among them Afghanistan, Algeria, Burundi, Cambodia, Colombia, Iraq, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Turkey (in Kurdish areas).
See Mao Zedong, On Guerrilla Warfare (tr. 1961); L. H. Gann, Guerrillas in History (1971); W. Laquer Guerrilla Reader (1977); G. Chaliand, Guerrilla Strategies (1982); E. Guevara, Guerrilla Warfare (1985); M. Mazower, Invisible Armies (2013).
"guerrilla warfare." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/guerrilla-warfare
"guerrilla warfare." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved April 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/guerrilla-warfare
GUERRILLA WARFARE. "Guerrillas" is a term originally applied to quasi-military and irregular groups of Spanish partisans who fought against Napoleon in the Peninsular War (1808–1814), but the type of warfare implied by the term is found everywhere in history, from the most ancient times to the present. The spectrum of guerrilla activity runs from conventional military operations by organized groups to uncoordinated, spontaneous, individual acts of sabotage, subversion, or terrorism carried out against an enemy. Guerrillas normally operate outside of constituted authority.
American guerrilla warfare during colonial times, the Revolution, and the War of 1812 was based to a large degree on knowledge of the Indian tactics of hit-and-run raids, ambush, and cover and concealment. During the Revolutionary War, for example, Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox" of the southern campaign, used these techniques against the more traditionally organized British forces. In the war with Mexico (1846–1848), enemy guerrillas caused the U.S. army much trouble. The 1850s saw the rise of partisan bands on both sides of the border-state issue, who carried on guerrilla activity that was more often banditry than support for a cause. This activity continued through the Civil War, enlarged by deserters on both sides who raided for profit. Many of these groups—the James and Younger gangs were the most notorious—continued their brigandage well after the war ended.
Until 1917, American troops engaged in guerrilla and partisan activities while fighting Indians in the West and while aiding those fighting for independence in Cuba. They also fought Boxers in China, insurrectionists in the Philippines, and bandits on the Mexican border. Not until World War II were Americans again involved in guerrilla warfare. In the Philippines especially, many American soldiers and civilians, finding themselves cut off, fought with Filipino guerrillas against the Japanese. In all theaters, troops furnished assistance to partisans fighting their homeland's invaders. Most often, the Office of Strategic Services carried out this aid.
In the Korean War, Americans participated in a number of activities either directed at the enemy's guerrilla campaign in the south or in support of South Korean guerrilla operations in the north. In the Vietnam War, commanders directed a major part of the pacification effort at eliminating communist guerrilla activities in the countryside. Small numbers of insurgents effectively tied down major elements of both U.S. and South Vietnamese military forces in every province and district in the country. The ability of the insurgents to blend into the populace and the terror tactics used to ensure their security made their dislodgment and elimination extremely difficult.
Appleman, Roy E. South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu; June–November 1950. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1961.
Morton, Louis. Decision to Withdraw to Bataan. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, U.S. Army, 1990. Originally published in Greenfield, Kent R., ed., Command Decisions, Center of Military History, U.S. Army, 1960.
Zook, David H., and Robin Higham. A Short History of Warfare. New York: Twayne, 1966.
John E.JessupJr./c. w.
"Guerrilla Warfare." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/guerrilla-warfare
"Guerrilla Warfare." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved April 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/guerrilla-warfare
"guerrilla warfare." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/guerrilla-warfare
"guerrilla warfare." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved April 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/guerrilla-warfare