Guerrilla Warfare

views updated Jun 11 2018

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 enemys regular forces on the battlefield as at eroding the enemys 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 Caesars (10044 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 Zedongs peoples 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, andcruciallypolitical 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 states 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 administrationmore capable than that of the governmentwould 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 Maos concept was the emphasis on political and psychological elements as the key to victory, not simply military factors. Maos principles have been applied in many guerrilla struggles since, and not only by communist rebels, including in Malaya (19481960), the Philippines (19461954), Algeria (19541962), Angola (19621974), Rhodesia (19721980), Oman (19651975), and Peru (19801994).

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 (19281967) 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 (19111969) 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 (18901922) 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. Ches 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.

ONeill, Bard E. 2005. Insurgency and Terrorism: From Revolution to Apocalypse. Washington, DC: Potomac Books.

Zedong, Mao. 1963. Selected Military Writings. Beijing: Foreign Language Press.

Vanda Felbab-Brown

Guerrilla Warfare

views updated Jun 27 2018



Carl von Clausewitz wrote in On War (1832) that a people's war (Volkskrieg) in "civilized Europe" was a phenomenon of the nineteenth century. He recognized that it was a function of the popular nationalism unleashed by the great French Revolution; it meant that war was no longer merely the business of generals and armies, limited by the rules, conventions, and laws of war. Instead ordinary people would fight with whatever weapons they had, however bad the military odds, to preserve the "soul" of their country. Clausewitz had seen this happen in Russia and in Spain, where the partisans, or partidos, had conducted protracted struggles against Napoleon's armies in what would become best known as guerrilla warfare, la guerra de guerrillas (literally, war of little wars). It would recur several times during the nineteenth century, notably during the American Civil War, the Franco-German War of 1870–1871, and the British invasion of the Boer republics (the so-called Second War of Independence) of 1899–1902. In all these cases, as in Spain and Russia, guerrilla warfare was a defensive reaction to foreign invasion, a product of international conflict; such reactions would recur in Europe in the twentieth century as well. But more striking still would be the proactive, insurgent form in which guerrilla warfare became the vehicle of internal revolution. This had been presaged by the Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini, though his inspirational tracts on guerrilla fighting never succeeded in generating an effective guerrilla campaign—his dream of Italian national liberation was only realized by conventional military action.

The first modern European guerrilla insurgency in the cause of "national liberation" was launched in Macedonia at the beginning of the twentieth century. The Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO) faced the task of building up a sense of nationality as well as conducting a military campaign and was strikingly successful in both enterprises until it took the premature decision to shift from guerrilla to conventional operations. This problem, of grasping the exact potential and limits of guerrilla methods, would recur in many subsequent attempts at insurgency. The technique became better understood at the end of World War I. The war in Europe was almost entirely "regular," though there was some guerrilla resistance in Serb territory occupied by the Habsburg army, and the German army used sporadic Belgian franc-tireur activity as the pretext for violent reprisals against civilians. In German East Africa, however, a remarkably successful guerrilla campaign was conducted by a regular German officer, Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, with a small force of local askaris—the opposite, in fact, of a "national liberation" struggle. But Lettow's achievement in holding off a vastly larger (albeit very second-rate) British imperial army for the whole duration of the war demonstrated the potential of the strategy and may have added credibility to T. E. Lawrence's contention that the Arab revolt of 1916–1918 was a decisive guerrilla victory. The actual performance of the Arab forces that Lawrence and other British advisors helped to organize has been disputed, but the impact of Lawrence's writings about the campaign was indisputable.

Lawrence proposed a reversal of conventional military wisdom, contending that "granted mobility, security, time, and doctrine, victory will rest with the insurgents" (1920). Guerrilla forces that could hit and run, striking only in favorable situations, could outlast the power of regular armies. The key requirement was "doctrine," or ideology, and this might be either socialism or nationalism, or indeed both. The numbers of active insurgents might be very small—as few as 2 percent of the population, Lawrence suggested, provided 80 percent were sympathetic. This would ensure that the incumbent forces could not get the intelligence information they would need to locate the guerrilla forces. The theory was revolutionary, and if some people still questioned the relevance of the Arab campaign—"a sideshow of a sideshow"—from the European standpoint—its publication coincided with an Irish republican guerrilla campaign inside the United Kingdom in which a few hundred fighters defied the British army for long enough to bring about political concessions. The Irish Republican Army's (IRA) achievement was psychological as much as military; it convinced the British government that it had the backing of the Irish people and that purely military repression would be pointless. It never needed to develop the capacity to take on military units larger than a company fifty to one hundred strong. It demonstrated that survival was as important as the ability to inflict damage. The question of whether a government less ready to compromise than the British could be defeated by guerrilla methods remained unanswered. The experience of the Russian civil war, however, in which a skillfully led anarchist guerrilla army was ultimately overwhelmed by the Red Army, indicated that Lawrence's claim might have been overstated.

Certainly the Bolshevik leadership seems to have drawn this conclusion. Leon Trotsky called guerrilla warfare "the truly peasant form of war," and in Marxist terms this was at best a limited endorsement. It was primitive, and though it might sometimes be necessary it was not inherently revolutionary. Joseph Stalin, originally a more enthusiastic "guerrillaist," soon lost his enthusiasm in the aftermath of the civil war. Its anarchic potential was increasingly unattractive, and in the Spanish civil war there was no Soviet support for a form of warfare that might have been expected to play a major if not decisive role in the struggle between nationalists and republicans. Despite the impression created by some visiting litterateurs, guerrilla activity was fleeting and disconnected. The overriding necessity of defending the main cities, and the fact that the Nationalist armies were less vulnerable to disruption, forced the republic's defenders—even the anarchists—into static trench warfare. It was left to Mao Zedong, in very different circumstances, to educate his fellow Marxists in the revolutionary potential of what he (who also warned against the propensity of "guerrillaism" to degenerate into banditry or anarchy) labeled "protracted war."

The Second World War, unlike the First, saw widespread guerrilla fighting. But it remained largely improvised and uninformed by theory. Stalin's army, in line with earlier priorities, had not drawn up any plans for partisan activity. It was only the staggering scale and speed of the German advance into the USSR in 1941, leaving thousands of Red Army troops cut off in a vast occupied zone, that made a revival of the partisan tradition almost unavoidable. On 3 July Stalin broadcast a call to all patriots to form partisan units and "make life intolerable for the invader," and formal orders were issued by the Central Committee a week later. The response was slow, with the number of partisans gradually increasing over a two-year period from perhaps 30,000 at the end of 1941 to some 250,000 in the summer of 1943. In the terms sketched by Lawrence, even the smaller of these numbers was enormous, but of course so was the expanse of territory involved. Much of the occupied zone was unsuitable for guerrilla operations, being flat and open, and most activity was concentrated in the (still huge) Bryansk forests and central marshlands of Byelorussia. From the start the main value of the partisan campaign seems to have been political as much as military, and it is clear from the tiny forces deployed on antipartisan operations by the German army that the threat was never vital. The German response was nonetheless extraordinarily violent. Antipartisan units repeatedly reported failing to find partisans, but nevertheless razing unfriendly villages to the ground and killing all their inhabitants, including women and children. Even before the invasion was launched, Wehrmacht forces were specifically exempted from the normal legal rules in using "collective measures of violence" against civilians, on the grounds of the large expanse of operational areas in the East, and, perhaps more significantly, the "special nature of the enemy" (Heer).

In the USSR guerrilla resistance remained auxiliary to regular military operations, but elsewhere, notably in the Balkans, it appeared independently and became the vehicle for a revolutionary transfer of power. In Yugoslavia, under an outstandingly determined and resourceful guerrilla leader, Josip Broz (Tito), the Communist Party was able to transform itself from a small underground opposition into the dominant political authority by the end of the war. From the summer of 1941 Tito assembled a formidable army, claiming a strength of 150,000 by late 1942, and 300,000 by the end of 1943, by which time a significant area of the country, some 50,000 square kilometers, had been liberated. Almost uniquely in modern history, this liberation was achieved with virtually no foreign support; by the time the Allies decided to supply Tito with arms, he was effectively self-sufficient. But he still insisted on the primacy of guerrilla methods and avoided a potentially terminal showdown with the occupying German forces. The Germans launched a series of large-scale antipartisan offensives, of which only the last and smallest—but most accurately targeted—came close to capturing the partisan commanders.

The Greek Communist Party (KKE) also formed the backbone of the resistance movement that began in Greece in 1941, though in this case its potential was picked up more rapidly by outsiders. British aid, through the instrument of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a bureau set up to support resistance movements, led to a significant sabotage operation, the destruction of the Gorgopotamos gorge viaduct (part of the supply line for Rommel's army in North Africa) in November 1942. The British chiefs of staff decided to "give all-out support to guerrilla warfare, even to the extent of prejudicing the activities of secret groups." But by contrast with Yugoslavia, there was a finer balance between the communist EAM (National Liberation Front) and the monarchist EDES (National Democratic Greek League). Both deployed substantial guerrilla forces, and though they cooperated in early operations like the Gorgopotamos viaduct, they were also fighting an internal struggle for power. ELAS (the National Popular Liberation Army, the military wing of EAM) had some capable commanders, but the party as a whole did not have the kind of charismatic leadership supplied by Tito in Yugoslavia. Its acceptance of Stalin's policy of detaching Macedonia from Greece was a serious handicap. But its resistance campaign had put it in a strong position by the end of the war, and its decision to launch an offensive early in 1946 seemed logical; by the end of that year ELAS, now known as the Democratic Army, had some 13,000 members operating inside Greece, with another 12,000 in cross-border sanctuaries in Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. Unusually, women formed a large proportion of these forces; equally unusually, a large proportion was conscripted by force. The National Army was weak and poorly organized when the civil war began and spent years in wasteful and ineffective attempts to round up the guerrillas. But the injection of American aid in 1948 tilted the balance decisively. The insurgents' premature transition to open military operations in 1947 speeded up the defeat of the KKE, though whether persistence in guerrilla action would have done more than perpetuate a bitter and destructive conflict is doubtful.

The defeat of the communist insurgency in Greece by 1949 indicated that what may be called "classical" rural guerrilla warfare in Europe was no longer viable. Terrorism, sometimes (misleadingly) labeled urban guerrilla war, would be employed by both nationalist organizations like the IRA and the ETA (Basque Homeland and Liberty) and revolutionary socialist groups like the Italian Brigate Rosse (Red Brigades) and the German Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Faction). But none of these approached the military dynamic laid out by Lawrence, or by Mao Zedong. The most effective integrated campaign appeared in one of Europe's smallest countries, Cyprus, where EOKA (National Organization of Cypriot Struggle, an off-shoot of the Greek royalist Khi organization) fought for reunion of the island with Greece. Its leader, Colonel Georgios Grivas, was a regular soldier with a precise grasp of guerrilla techniques. To Archbishop Makarios III's objection that Cypriots were not brave enough to fight an insurgent campaign he replied, "No one is born brave; he becomes brave, given the right leadership." EOKA's part-rural, part-urban campaign (1955–1959) demonstrated that an irresolute imperial power could be persuaded by ruthless violence to abandon its colonies. Where the imperial power was more deeply entrenched, as in Algeria, which had been made a French département, guerrilla methods proved inadequate. The Front de Libération Nationale's (FLN) organization in Algiers itself was crushed by French military measures, and the key to the eventual achievement of Algerian independence (1962) was the reaction of French public opinion against those measures. The use of torture by a Western democratic state was, at that point in history, still felt to be deeply shocking.

See alsoCounterinsurgency; Lawrence, T. E.; Partisan Warfare; Tito (Josip Broz).


Primary Sources

Lawrence, T. E. "The Evolution of a Revolt." Army Quarterly 1, no. 1 (1920): 55–69.

——. Revolt in the Desert. London, 1927.

Secondary Sources

Beckett, Ian. Modern Insurgencies and Counter-Insurgencies: Guerrillas and Their Opponents since 1750. London and New York, 2001.

Foot, M. R. D. Resistance: An Analysis of European Resistance to Nazism, 1940–1945. London, 1976.

Galula, David. Counter-insurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice. New York, 1964.

Greene, T.N., ed. The Guerrilla, and How to Fight Him: Selections from the Marine Corps Gazette. New York, 1962.

Heer, Hannes. "The Logic of the War of Extermination: The Wehrmacht and the Anti-Partisan War." In War of Extermination: The German Military in World War II, 1941–1944, edited by Hannes Heer and Klaus Naumann. New York, 2000.

Holland, Robert F. Britain and the Revolt in Cyprus, 1954–1959. Oxford, U.K., 1998.

Laqueur, Walter. Guerrilla: A Historical and Critical Study. Boston, 1976.

Talbott, John E. The War without a Name: France in Algeria, 1954–1962. New York, 1980.

Townshend, Charles. The British Campaign in Ireland, 1919–1921: The Development of Political and Military Policies. London, 1975.

Charles Townshend

Guerrilla Warfare

views updated May 09 2018

Guerrilla Warfare. Guerrilla warfare (the word guerrilla comes from the Spanish meaning “little war”) is often the means used by weaker nations or military organizations against a larger, stronger foe. Fought largely by independent, irregular bands, sometimes linked to regular forces, it is a warfare of harassment through surprise. It features the use of ambushes, hit‐and‐run raids, sabotage, and, on occasion, terrorism to wear down the enemy. Typically, a small guerrilla force seeks to concentrate its strength against the weaker portions of the enemy's forces, such as outposts or lines of communication and logistics, to strike suddenly, and then to disappear into the surrounding countryside. In the American experience, this type of warfare has been used since the French and Indian War (1754–63), when colonists adopted American Indian tactics to strike back against French forces and their Indian allies. Maj. Robert Rogers of Connecticut, considered a founder of the guerrilla tradition in America, organized Rogers's Royal American Rangers in 1756 and trained them to carry the war deep into enemy territory. His doctrine, published as Rogers’ Rules for Ranging (1757), is considered a classic and is still issued to all soldiers attending the school for U.S. Army Rangers (Fort Benning, Georgia).

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

views updated Jun 11 2018


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.

See alsoBooby Traps ; Special Forces ; Terrorism ; Vietnam War .

guerrilla warfare

views updated May 11 2018

guerrilla warfare Small-scale, ground combat operations usually designed to harass, rather than destroy, the enemy. Such tactics are often employed by insurgents or irregular soldiers. The tactics are especially suited to difficult terrain, and rely on lightning attacks and aid from civilian sympathizers. In the 20th century, many nationalist and communist movements, such as Tito's Yugoslavian partisans in World War II, used guerrilla tactics.