Guerrilla Warfare

By Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Wilkins U. S. Army Reserve

Du Guesclin simply refused to attack the English. Instead he raided them at night, ambushed their convoys, harried their fortified camps and towns. He made no effort to drive them from France—he merely made it uncomfortable for them to stay! This type of military activity greatly encouraged the French, disgusted and discouraged the English. The English gradually lost most of what they had won in battle, without ever having a chance to fight. It was an ungentlemanly, unknightly way to wage war, this system of not fighting, and it found little favor with the medieval warriors of either side. History, that marvelous storehouse of forgotten battles, lost opportunities, and neglected lessons, noted briefly the success of Du Guesclin. It would be many a century before his methods were again employed.

American colonial warfare developed some excellent irregular fighters, such as the celebrated Rogers Rangers. We had an outstanding guerrilla fighter in Marion "the Swamp Fox," and various of the Eastern Indian chiefs waged skillful irregular combat. There was a slightly tainted view held by the military of the day, and the irregular fighter was looked upon as neither necessary, decent, nor skilled. The best way to win a battle was to have a firm, steady line of Regulars, able to move in with a bayonet and take their losses without flinching.

It was not until the Spanish campaigns of 1808-1814 that the name and methods of the guerrilla were fully developed. When the French invaded Spain, they easily defeated the regular Spanish troops. They captured cities and towns and shattered army after army, but they never were able to dominate the countryside. Spain, was mountainous, then densely wooded; roads were few and poor. Communications between French garrisons was difficult, and the French began to suffer from the actions of irregular civilian bands. A few peasants gathered and ambushed a wagon train and fled to the hills. A courier was killed on a lonely mountain road. Cavalry patrols were lured to death in the woods. The French used cruel methods to stop these attacks, and the irregulars had even harsher answers.

It is estimated that the French lost as many as a hundred men a day to the irregulars; it was unsafe for less than twenty-five armed soldiers to venture across country; even large forces were attacked. When the irregulars became bold enough to fight pitched battles they were beaten, but they seldom offered to fight. This form of fighting the Spanish called —"guerrilla —"littlewar"—and so we know it today. As the guerrillas achieved local success they began working with bands in other provinces; the Spanish people took heart, and the flame of resistance, which might have died, burned brighter each year. French forces were tied up in futile marches and searches; they lost men and achieved no results, and the loss of equipment and arms was a heavy drain on French finances.

As the war dragged on the guerrilla leaders began cooperating with the English forces in Portugal and Spain. They began training for combat as regular troops, and when the final battles were being fought the Spanish guerrillas fought side by side with the English through Spain and into France. Wellington gave them great praise. It is doubtful if the English, despite their fine infantry and the not always inspired tactics of the French, could have won had not the Spanish guerrillas sapped the strength of the French over the years. Had the French been able to concentrate all their forces they would have driven the English from Portugal, however inept their tactics.

So, here was the first modern guerrilla campaign and one of the most successful. With Wellington delivering the final coup the Spanish guerrilla part in the fight was largely overlooked. The experts of the day made much the same mistakes we have made in recent years and looked on the guerrilla as a man for a local fight; he was good enough for a tactical advantage, but not to be considered in strategical planning.

Between 1814 and World War I guerrilla campaigns were waged in many parts of the world. Mexican guerrillas seriously hampered Scott's movements in the Mexico City Campaign; there were fine guerrilla leaders on both sides in our Civil War; the winning of the West was a lengthy guerrilla fight; the British fought such bands in several out of the way corners of the Empire, and the Russians engaged the Turkoman tribes in various guerrilla battles. Not one of these guerrilla campaigns had any hope of eventual success, and they all gave way after local tactical victories. At the time no one saw that these failures were due to faulty, or lacking, over-all plans. Guerrilla combat was a measure of desperation, not a planned strategical scheme. For that reason all guerrilla campaigns were eventual failures, even though the guerrillas often won many local battles.

What guerrillas can accomplish with a proper strategical plan was shown by T. E. Lawrence in the 1916-1918 campaigns in Arabia and Palestine. This is not the place for a discussion of Lawrence; that has been done before and will be done in the future. One Englishman dismissed him as a "comical little bastard," and others have been lost in beauties of his prose and word portraits of Arab life. Whatever the truth about Lawrence may finally be, he was the first man to reduce guerrilla warfare to a set of rules. Where others had fought because it was all they could do under the circumstances, he adopted guerrilla warfare after careful thought. He was the first leader to see that the true objective of guerrilla warfare is not necessarily fighting.

While not a trained military man, Lawrence had read all the military classics and was convinced of the soundness of the Clausewitz doctrine that the enemy field army must be destroyed. Sent to Arabia to organize the Arab tribes and lead a revolt against Turkey, Lawrence and his Arabians had a measure of success at first. Mecca was captured, but efforts to take Medina failed. The Arabs were beaten in open battle, and the rebellion seemed in danger of collapse.

When he was recovering from an illness Lawrence began trying to find the cause for their failure. Clausewitz might be a good guide for European war, but they were not in Europe. It began to dawn on Lawrence that they were trying to fight a European war in a non-European theater. He was trying to fight regulars with irregular troops. No matter how much the British instructors tried to build an Arab army they would never be able to stand against the Turkish forces in open battle. When Lawrence decided that this was not necessary, he went on to evolve a plan for guerrilla warfare that has been the model ever since.

In Seven Pillars of Wisdom Lawrence explained the plan that eventually defeated the Turks in Arabia. "In the Turkish Army materials were scarce and precious, men more plentiful than equipment…the aim should be to destroy not the army but the materials." Eventually 35,000 Turkish casualties resulted from the new change in methods, but they were incidental to the attack on enemy material. The plan was to convince the Turks they couldn't stay, rather than to drive them out.

Using English demolition specialists Lawrence had the Arabs blow railway bridges and tunnels, cut rails, harass fortified railway stations. Medina was no longer the primary objective; the railway to the city was the target. Isolated posts and garrisons were threatened, so that the Turks reinforced them. No further attacks were made, as the heavily reinforced garrison sat about and ate up their rations. In a short time the Turkish troops had additional supply problems. No open battles were allowed by Lawrence. Whenever the enemy concentrated to crush the rebellion he had his tribesmen scatter and avoid raids. Lulled into a false feeling of security the Turkish forces would resume their garrison positions—whereupon the raids would start again.

The Turkish position gradually became impossible in Arabia. Garrisons withered and the effectiveness of the Turkish field force was largely on paper. Lawrence even wanted to keep it in being in Arabia, as the necessity for feeding the scattered units placed a heavy drain on the already burdened enemy supply system. As they had local success the Arab tribes were gradually joined into one unit, or such was the plan. That it did not ever come to final accomplishment was no fault of Lawrence. In the final victorious sweep of the Allied forces through Palestine and Syria the necessary ground work done by the Arab guerrillas was lost in the clash of combat. Allenby and Syria was much like Wellington and Spain. Despite this parallel Lawrence had made too much of a name to be forgotten. He wrote an article for one of the leading reference works and reduced his views on guerrilla warfare to final form. He almost converted the tactics of the guerrilla to a science and claimed that no enemy could occupy a country employing guerrilla warfare unless every acre of land could be occupied with troops.

His work, however, was appreciated more in Russia and China than among his own people. The spread of Communism saw his methods copied in two major theaters of conflict and in many lesser fights. To his basically military system the Chinese and Russians grafted economic and political concepts that have radically expanded and altered guerrilla warfare.

Shortly after Lawrence, Lenin was writing on the best methods for revolutionary movements to use. Like Lawrence he advocated avoiding the enemy strength and adapted guerrilla warfare to the business of world revolution and destruction. Intelligence of enemy movements, while keeping your own plans hidden, is a basic guerrilla—and Communist—tactic, perhaps the one prime tactical secret. By employing small, rigidly controlled units the Communist—or guerrilla leader—can out-maneuver larger, less mobile forces. By concentrating on vital objectives the guerrilla—or revolutionist—weakens the enemy, while encouraging his own people. During the time actual physical attacks are being made, the enemy is being slowly weakened by creating disunion, distrust, and loss of morale among his forces, whether military or civilian. The non-military emphasis is on talk and discussion, rather than action. The entire Communist movement was reduced to a giant guerrilla campaign. One new feature was added to earlier ideas—the use of fear. The deliberate use of terror as a means of breaking down resistance, while keeping your own people under control.

Lenin was not the only Red leader to write on guerrilla warfare. A soon-to-be famous Chinese wrote a short discussion of guerrilla warfare in 1937 that is one of the classics in this field. At the time he wrote, Mao Tsetung was somewhat less to be feared than today, which qualifies him as the prime example of the local guerrilla making good. Mao's work is a blend of Communist party line, his own field experience, and the writings of Sun Tzu, a Chinese writer of about 500 B.C. Mao made one major contribution to guerrilla strategy, only partially developed by Lawrence. This was the view that a guerrilla force would eventually grow to a regular army. This was largely due to the long period Mao and the Chinese Communists had been fighting and the Asiatic contempt for time.

A few leftists appeared when the Manchu Empire was breaking up at the turn of the century; by the twenties and the struggle between the war lords in China a definite Communist Party was active. At first they actually cooperated with Chiang, but when it was clear that he was destined to win control, they broke and became his bitterest foe. Open war started in 1927, and between 1931 and 1934 Chiang fought four major campaigns against the Reds and finally drove them on the famous long march to Chansi Province. Chiang was never able to completely destroy the Communist Army in China, as internal troubles and the Japanese kept him from making an all out effort. So, on the edge of the nation, the Chinese Communists managed to establish a firm base. The people who knew the real nature of this settlement naturally didn't talk, and the world came to look on Mao and his people as "agrarian reformers."

The Japanese invasion gave the Reds a chance to play the part of patriots. In 1937 Mao issued his pamphlet on guerrilla warfare, which was widely read throughout China. This study is a fine blend of military advice, Red preaching, political guidance, and economic control. It is a lot plainer now than in 1937 just how connected the fields are and were in the Chinese guerrilla forces. Mao carefully explained the nature of his guerrilla forces, answering the charges of the Nationalists that his men were no more than bandits. However his politics may be taken, Mao had correctly estimated the Chinese situation and the Japanese weakness. Certain selected portions of his work will show his main points.

"In a war of revolutionary character guerrilla operations are a necessary part…these guerrilla operations must not be considered as an independent form of warfare. They are but one step in the total war; one aspect of the revolutionary struggle…"

"During the progress of hostilities guerrillas gradually develop in to orthodox forces that operate in conjunction with units of the regular army…"

"What is the relationship of guerrilla warfare to the people? Without a political goal guerrilla warfare must fail, as it must if its political objectives do not coincide with the aspirations of the people and their sympathy, cooperation and assistance cannot be obtained…"

"Because guerrilla warfare basically derives from the masses and is supported by them it can neither exist nor flourish if it separates itself from their sympathies and cooperation."

"All guerrilla units must have political and military leadership. These…must be well educated in revolutionary technique, self confident, able to establish severe discipline, and able to cope with counter-propaganda…"

"What is basic guerrilla strategy? Guerrilla strategy must primarily be based on alertness, mobility and attack…"

"An opinion that admits the existence of guerrilla war but isolates it is one that does not properly estimate the potentialities of such war."

Isolated quotes, however honestly selected, are not a substitute for the whole, but these contain the main points of Mao's work on guerrilla warfare. In his tactical discussions, which are brief and subordinate to political guidance, Mao leans heavily on Sun's ancient book, even to exact phrasing. All guerrillas have used the ancient teachings of Sun, for this is the only way a guerrilla band can fight—with deception, speed, surprise.

Mao did devise a strategical plan to fit the Chinese topography and military capabilities, as well as the Japanese weakness. He estimated that the Japanese could only spare a certain force for China and must win a victory as quickly as possible. As long as the invaders could concentrate their forces and had good communications they could probably defeat any force the Chinese could put in the field. Therefore, the guerrilla strategy would be to fight them on a broad front, forcing them to disperse, while attacking their communication and supply systems.

In order to pose as patriots the Communist forces had to fight the Japanese—this also afforded a practice ground for their future conflicts with Chiang when the Japanese had been defeated and gave them secure control over provinces they liberated from the Japanese. The Chinese Red Eighth Army and the New Fourth Army fought largely as regular troops, though they did assume the role and tactics of guerrilla bands when necessary. These regular troops established guerrilla districts and areas and set up control headquarters. They screened the local population for friendly and unfriendly civilians and organized regular guerrilla bands. Ranking below the organized guerrillas were "armed peasants," who fought as guerrillas, though without a definite organization. No accurate reports were kept, but it is estimated that the Eighth Army had nearly a half million guerrillas and armed peasants in its area. The New Fourth Army controlled something over a hundred thousand.

These groups were given training in the use of weapons, sabotage, demolitions-and political science, Russian style. As weapons were brought in or captured military operations were stepped up. Careful propaganda made it appear that only the Red guerrillas were fighting the Japanese; they did playa large part, though not as much as the world was led to believe. On a few raids they struck massive blows. During August, 1940, a concerted series of raids blasted two hundred miles of vital railway track and five hundred miles of highway; bridges and telegraph systems were blown up. Japanese communication throughout North China was largely shattered for a considerable period.

Like the Arabs the Chinese guerrillas made no effort to fight a pitched battle. The Japanese were weakest in their equipment and communication fields, and the guerrillas struck at the material side of the Japanese invaders. They were a steady drain on the Japanese homeland, while preventing the invaders from consolidating their mainland conquests. The invasion of China was to have had a profitable return for the Japanese; the guerrillas not only kept them from showing a profit, they made the whole affair a financial loss. And while all this was going on Mao and his guerrillas were training and getting ready for the day when the Japanese would leave and the final showdown with Chiang would come about.

It came with the end of the war. The Russians took over the Japanese forces in Manchuria and turned their arms and equipment over to the guerrillas. When the Nationalists adopted a policy of static defense, much as had the Japanese, the guerrillas cooped them in the towns, cut communications, and began their change from guerrillas to field armies. Province after province, city after city, China fell to the Reds. The old time guerrillas had developed into the rulers of the new China.

Russian leaders had influenced the course of the Chinese guerrilla movement. In World War II they organized a campaign second only in size to that of the Chinese. The Russian Partisan Directive of 1933 laid down the general plan of guerrilla warfare in the event Russia was invaded. Despite this planning, there was very little guerrilla action during the initial stages of the German invasion. The massive blows of the Panzer formations smashed the Russian border units and drove deeper into Russia. German combat units, initially, acted as occupation troops in the overrun areas. While they were strict enough, they were fair and generally treated the Russians as human beings; on the whole there was not too much resentment among the civilian population. In the Ukraine the Germans were accepted as friends.

When the German combat units moved deeper into Russia, the occupation mission was turned over to political troops. To these troops the Russians were nothing more than slave labor; they seemed to do everything possible to create resentment. After the initial shock of invasion, thousands of by-passed Russian troops began raiding as guerrillas, operating in the extensive forest and swamp areas. The Russian high command was not slow to take advantage of this new feeling. The local civilians were aroused against the invaders. Actual terror acts were blamed on the Germans; if there were no incidents, they were staged. The Russian civilians shifted from their previous hands off stand to one of aid and comfort to the growing guerrilla bands. By late 1941 sniping and sabotage were common in the German rear areas.

Russian propaganda seized on the Partisans as heroes, which many of them were. The leaders were written up in the press as unselfish men and women, leading their children against the foe. Actually the typical guerrilla leader was a pretty hard character. If a civilian, as most were at first, he rose to command through strength of character, guts, and luck. Within a short time commanders with tested military background began taking over many bands. Political advisers began joining; it became just as important for the guerrillas to be politically correct as to be militarily successful. In doubtful areas, such as the Ukraine, it was more important.

Party doctrine and discipline was ruthlessly enforced by the guerrilla leaders. Once a person was in a partisan group he was in for life. Suspected traitors were slain without mercy. The local civilians were used as spies and for food supplies; any village that did not cooperate was destroyed. Civilians were used as decoys and as shields when attacking German bases. In time the guerrilla fight became a simple matter of survival, with the poor villager caught between the Russian and the German, each determined that he would not help the other.

Russian tactics were much the same as all guerrilla tactics. They operated in small groups, at least initially, using bases in the swamps and forests. The Russian road net was poor, and German supply was by means of the railways. These became the chief Partisan objective, with communications and German command posts secondary targets. The Russian guerrillas planned to slow the German supply system and disrupt troop movements by cutting the railroads. Attacks on the communication centers would bring about confusion and lack of cooperation among German troop units, while the attacks on command posts would further disrupt control. As these attacks increased it would be necessary for the Germans to pull back front line troops to protect their rear areas.

These plans were quite successful. By 1942 Russian guerrillas were fairly well organized and under some top level control, though many smaller bands operated independently. Air drops became common, and the capture of German supplies enabled more men to take the field. During 1943 the Russian guerrillas became a serious threat and the Germans began giving thought to the best way to stop this menace. Special hunter groups were formed and extensive "round ups" of suspected areas were made. The movement was too extensive by now, and during 1944 the German rear area troops spent more time fighting guerrillas than they did in their normal missions. All forms of transport and communication were seriously hampered. Some of their actions were carefully coordinated. The night of June 19-20, 1944, Russian guerrillas placed 15,000 demolition charges in the sector of German Army Group Center and managed to explode over 10,000. Besides the actual damage, the confusion resulting from such a mass attack can well be imagined.

Not all of the guerrillas' missions were successful, however. Like most individuals the groups could not stand success and were destroyed attempting missions too ambitious for their capabilities. Some bands grew to such size they could not hide or move fast and were hunted down. Some large bands tried to fight it out with the Germans in the open and were destroyed. Often the guerrillas tipped the Germans to planned attacks by their actions in a quiet sector. Though they had severe losses at times and listed failures with their victories, the Russian guerrillas made a substantial contribution to the final victory. In the last stages of the Russian counter offensive they cut off stragglers, ruined roads, made lateral communication difficult, and caused units desperately needed at the front to be diverted for protection of command posts and railways.

The end of World War II did not mean the end of guerrilla action. With a battle tested technique available the Reds started guerrilla campaigns in many places, following Mao's teaching of a widespread war. Greece, Malaya, the Philippine Islands, Indo-china and various lesser guerrilla actions show how well the Reds have used the guerrilla method to undermine their enemies.

There is a sameness about these campaigns, however much they may be separated geographically. The very fact of separation is also part of the plan-if the West tries to help all at the same time a serious economic burden is placed on a system that the Reds believe is already tottering. If we do not help, then they can win the countries. All of these guerrilla campaigns have taken place or are taking place in rough country, whether the Greek mountains or the jungles of the Far East. A great claim to be representing the people has been made, whether the native against the European, as in Malaya and Indochina, or the patriot against the oppressive tools of the foreign Capitalists, as in the Philippines and in Greece. In all cases the war has been waged with a callous disregard for life and property and guerrilla actions have been little more than a campaign waged by bandits. In only one place, Indochina, have the guerrillas made a serious effort to drive the outsiders from the country.

It would be the most dangerous kind of thinking to minimize these movements for this reason, or to fail to recognize them for the vital danger they are, simply because they seem to partake more of the nature of robbery and arson than regular warfare. What the Communist leaders have done is make a simple military estimate of the situation and launch an attack on the part of the West that offers the best chance of success, with the least cost and effort. Some of these guerrilla actions have been going on for seven years; only the Greek guerrillas have been crushed.

Had Greece fallen to the Reds the Balkans would have been solidly Communist, and Turkey would have been in a dangerous pincers. Despite American and British aid, the Greek Communist guerrillas waged successful war against their fellow countrymen for several years. They were well supplied by Red agents north of the border and could move into Bulgaria and other Balkan countries whenever they needed to rest and refit. The guerrillas were well armed and had high morale, the result of combat success and constant Red training and teaching. At the height of the guerrilla movement there were some 73,000 guerrillas in action. They completely wrecked the national life of a nation of seven million and forced over seven hundred thousand people to flee from their homes; entire regions of Greece were devastated and the economic life of the country was ruined.

Red tactics were based on a destructive process—as they are in Asia. The two main strongholds were in the northern mountains, but the guerrillas had scattered bands operating throughout Greece. These pockets kept the nation disturbed, ruined crops, forced people to leave their homes, raided small villages and towns, and kidnapped people to be held as hostages. The failure of the National Government to stop these attacks cast discredit on Athens and bolstered guerrilla prestige. While the people as a whole opposed them, the guerrilla managed to get cooperation in many areas by fear of reprisal.

After extensive British and American aid and advisers had been brought in, a major effort was made to defeat the guerrillas. Local defense forces were organized to protect the villages and curb the fear of reprisal. A minimum field force was established to contain the guerrilla forces in the northern mountains, while a major cross country sweep was made to eliminate the bands in southern Greece. Suspected and known Reds were rounded up, so that the guerrillas would not have intelligence of the coming attacks. Then the guerrilla pockets were attacked night and day, with field forces moving on a broad front and giving no opportunity for the beaten guerrillas to rally, or slip northward. The Vitsi sector was reduced and then the Grammos Mountain area, the attacking forces giving the beaten Reds no chance to rest or reorganize. This all took longer than the telling, but a winning military formula had been evolved.

Unfortunately, this formula cannot be so readily applied in Asia. The guerrilla war in Indochina has grown into full scale combat with the guerrillas making the change from raider bands to regularly organized divisions. Extremely difficult terrain in Malaya and the Philippine Islands hampers anti-guerrilla works in these lands. Political and economic factors in Europe have prevented the all out war that was possible in Greece. The Greek guerrillas were well established and occupied definite areas. The Malayan guerrilla may be a farmer today, a merchant tomorrow, a guerrilla at night.

At no time have more than 5,000 guerrillas been active in Malaya; the British and native police forces have probably killed this many, but the Reds are able to recruit new fighters, or slip them in from China. This small force ties up many times its own numbers in troops and costs over a million dollars each week to fight. They stir up resentment between the British and the local rulers and try to split the Malay and Chinese into rival camps. And they make raids on the tin and rubber mines and plantations, killing, burning, driving away native workers, killing white leaders. This is more than banditry. It is a well planned campaign to destroy British economic wealth. Rubber and tin are major British offerings in the world of trade; without Malayan tin and rubber the British position worldwide is seriously weakened.

As long as the Chinese in Malaya believe they are being treated as an inferior race they will support and aid the guerrillas. If the Malays believe they have nothing to fight for they will not take a major part in defending their country. The answer is not a military one alone. Killing bandits is not enough—seven years of bandit killing have not solved anything. The British now realize this, just as the Philippine government is now fighting guerrillas on a different plan. The guerrilla has a weakness, just as those he fights.

When there are no economic and political foundations for the guerrilla movement there will be no guerrilla movement. The bulk of any guerrilla force joins out of belief in what it is doing; the hard core of leaders keeps going because of political beliefs. If the bulk of the band find they can live as decent human beings, do not have to rob to live, and can have land and homes, they will be poor guerrillas from then on. If the great mass of the population knows it will be protected by a strong, just government, it has no reason to cooperate with the guerrillas, and the system of intelligence and supply that sustains all guerrilla movements breaks down. Without popular support the mopping up of the hard core die-hards is fairly easy.

The West will have guerrilla campaigns to combat as long as East and West sit on opposite sides of the fence. We have a serious situation in Korea today. North Africa and the Middle East offer possibilities for a half dozen vicious guerrilla movements. There areas are vital to the West, both economically and geographically. We must be prepared to fight the guerrillas in two ways—militarily and politically. We can contain guerrillas temporarily by force, but the only lasting way to destroy a guerrilla movement is by removing the foundation upon which it stands. The belief that only out of the way corners of the world offer shelter for guerrillas must be changed to a more realistic view. A guerrilla band can fight just as well in a large city as in the Malayan jungle. It would be well if we did not forget this.

Guerrilla warfare is a two edged sword. While we are perfecting tactical techniques for military destruction of the guerrilla, we must make plans for actually taking the guerrilla campaign to the enemy. Guerrilla warfare is no longer a poor relation in the military family.

A graduate of Southern Methodist University, Colonel Wilkins is a professional writer of historical fiction and articles. A student of guerrilla warfare, he had his first article published on that subject in the Cavalry Journal in 1941.


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