Was guerilla warfare possible before the 20th century?

Jul 2016
8,718
USA
#31
And yet… that is from where the term was born and applied
They weren't an organized army, open, just so happening to use unconventional means. That comment is directed to those who think Fabius Maximus led a guerrilla force because he was smart enough to not be baited into ambushes or battles he didn't choose. Same for Sertorius, or countless other generals, who used novel and controversial tactics, completely outside the box, but who still were fighting conventionally.

Small groups of Phase 1 and 2 insurgents in the Peninsula War were actual guerrillas. That was the ONLY WAY, at the time, they were capable of fighting.
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,197
Portugal
#32
During the Peninsula War, Portuguese and Spanish guerrillas definitely fought in Phase 1 and 2 but not 3, because by that point their national armies or those of other nations (Brits) were carrying most of the water. More so they didn't want or need a Phase 3 peasant army to do what they were doing, they preferred them stay smaller and continuing to do what they were good at.
Like you so well stated that is modern (meaning today’s) parlance. Not the contemporary language.

In the Peninsular War we even saw two completely different types of Guerillha organization. The Portuguese guerilhas (earlier) were official, based on the Ordenaças, ie military men, the Spanish guerrillas (later) were more popular based, depending much more of local leaders than from a centralized hierarchy, in part due the turmoil of the country.

They weren't an organized army,
The Portuguese were mostly based on the Ordenaças. So they were an (semi-)organized army acting either unconventionally or often behind enemy lines.
 
Jul 2016
8,718
USA
#33
Like you so well stated that is modern (meaning today’s) parlance. Not the contemporary language.

In the Peninsular War we even saw two completely different types of Guerillha organization. The Portuguese guerilhas (earlier) were official, based on the Ordenaças, ie military men, the Spanish guerrillas (later) were more popular based, depending much more of local leaders than from a centralized hierarchy, in part due the turmoil of the country.

The Portuguese were mostly based on the Ordenaças. So they were an (semi-)organized army acting either unconventionally or often behind enemy lines.
Just because I used today's parlance doesn't mean it doesn't apply to historical periods. They didn't use many other terms we use now, tactics, operational arts, strategy, but they still as applied. Look when the term infantry came into use, but would Roman milite not be considered such just because they were called pedites?

Also, most insurgencies are formed around a professional officer corps or class at high to mid level cadre level. Them being involved doesn't disprove anything, it actually reinforces it.
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,197
Portugal
#35
Just because I used today's parlance doesn't mean it doesn't apply to historical periods. They didn't use many other terms we use now, tactics, operational arts, strategy, but they still as applied. Look when the term infantry came into use, but would Roman milite not be considered such just because they were called pedites?

Also, most insurgencies are formed around a professional officer corps or class at high to mid level cadre level. Them being involved doesn't disprove anything, it actually reinforces it.
Fully agree. Some of those aspects were a part of my perspective about the theme.
 
Feb 2014
222
Miami
#36
I believe the last sapa Inca of Tahuantinsuyu was well known for using guerrilla tactics against the Spanish from the Amazon rain forest until his capture and execution which marked the final end of the empire
 
Mar 2018
669
UK
#37
In Vietnam, for the first five years if its conventional deployment, US doctrine was Search and Destroy. Enter regions thought to be full of main force VC and NVA, find them, fix them, finish them (primarily with artillery and air strikes). Leave and do it again someplace else. Needless to say they weren't trying to hold ground, it was about body count and attritional warfare.

Were US forces acting as guerrillas because they didn't try to hold ground? No.
But the US still had military bases that they would prevent the Vietcong from entering, right? Did the Vietcong do the same in return however?
 
Jul 2016
8,718
USA
#38
But the US still had military bases that they would prevent the Vietcong from entering, right? Did the Vietcong do the same in return however?
The Vietcong were a South Vietnamese insurgent group. It was led, funded, equipped, totally supported by North Vietnam, but its core strength was made up of resident South Vietnamese (besides some units that contained large numbers of "volunteer" North Vietnamese, who had to make up for significant South Vietnamese casualties). This force included Phase 1-2 insurgent cells, operating in a rather rigid communist insurgent cell structure, with numerous Main Force battalions and regiments that served full time and fought rather conventionally (at least as conventional as a force can get without armor, artillery, any sort of actual tactical mobility, nor air support). They were an insurgent group, guerrillas, ranging from Phase 1-3.

The North Vietnamese Army/People Army of Vietnam (NVA/PAVN) was a foreign force that invaded South Vietnam to assist the Vietcong once the United States militarily intervened to stop the South Vietnamese govt (Republic of Vietnam) from potentially collapsing because of the intense VC insurgency in the early to mid-60s. While the NVA directly supported the VC, they were themselves indirectly supported by the Chinese and the Soviet Union. The NVA, and VC Main Force from North Vietnam, infiltrated into South Vietnam sometimes through the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ), or more commonly through routes from North Vietnam through Laos and/or Cambodia, which not only served as safe havens for recuperating after destructive battles, major logistics supply regions, but also invasion routes into strategic areas of South Vietnam.

The larger early US counter guerrilla/COIN strategy for victory was dictated by President Johnson and SECDEF McNamara, being attrition warfare, it led to the overall US Army dictated doctrine of Search and Destroy. Reliant on small units, generally company sized and occasionally battalion sized, and very occasionally brigade sized, conducting intelligence based (usually not good) air mobile insertions using helicopters into areas where large concentration of Main Force VC and NVA were thought to be located. For much of the war, the US Army in particular didn't focus at all on Phase 1-2 VC groups, which encompassed most of them, believing them to be unimportant and not worth American emphasis, essentially handing it all off to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), who had already largely been overwhelmed and couldn't handle them alone, nor could they get much US support fighting them. US doctrine of air mobile deep "vertical envelopment" search and destroy missions meant they'd have problems of range. A air inserted infantry force would operating in an environment where they will typically be outnumbered by an enemy, or the enemy would be on the defensive, defending a major supply hub or staging area, heavily dug in because they expected Americans to show up eventually, usually were tipped off. Needless to say, the US forces were absolutely reliant on fire support. In order to support its long range air mobile tactics based on firepower US forces needed firepower that came in two forms.

For air strikes, they had attached forward air controllers whose job was to call in air strikes, either on the ground or overflying areas where reported firefights were occurring, they'd vector in strike aircraft, but accuracy wasn't consistent and sometimes it could take a while to get them. Aircraft were stationed in major air bases inside Vietnam (most in and around Saigon area, or off shore in carriers in the South China Sea). Air strikes varied by door gunners in helicopters, or Huey rocket attacks, 20mm gun runs or rocket strafing runs by fighter bombers, the ever famous naphalm, high explosive or white phosporous bombs, cluster bombs, etc. Potentially, with a good pilot, a good observer, good visibility, and a rather static enemy, it was possible to be quite accurate. But usually it wasn't, this was the day before close air support was reliant on precision guided weapons, so it had limited effectiveness, especially when the enemy purposely would close with American infantry, "hugging the belt" in order to stop American from calling in air strikes especially, being too close to friendly troops to risk it in anything short of threat of being overrun.

Artillery support, which is far more easy to call in than air strikes, something every infantry officer is trained for, and many NCOs too, not counting attached platoon and company level school trained Forward Observers, nonetheless the biggest problem was range. At best, considering the limited size of artillery that were air transportable by sling loading underneath a helicopter (typically a 105mm gun), infantry units needed to be close by to an established Fire Base, usually a battery sized artillery unit teamed up with an infantry battalion. Typically these would be built on good terrain features, like hilltops that dominated the areas. They'd fly in, clear an LZ, move in infantry companies who'd build a patrol base, then a push a perimeter out. Artillery would be moved in, engineers would come in and bulldoze out the area, help build defenses. A million sandbags would be filled and "hooches" created to live in. Fields of fire cleared, concertina razor wire and mines laid out on the perimeter, mortars and artillery registered for accuracy, and then the battalion would start running operations out of that fire base in the surrounding area, inside the artillery's range.

That worked very well, as artillery is easier to call in it is already teamed up with the maneuver unit it is supporting, its on call, with numerous gun teams 24/7 on stand by just waiting for fire missions. It was so successful, a common technique for locating one's unit when lost in a nasty woodland or jungle environment was to call in an artillery spotting mission on some terrain feature that one could see, that they definitely weren't on, that they believed they were nearby to, and that the artillery could hit, in order to see the impact or hear the sound, to get a bearing on their own location. Against enemy, even a single battery of artillery could do devastating effects on enemy, unless they were heavily dug in (which the VC and NVA usually were. Note: If you fight Americans, bring a shovel).

However, if the infantry force was operating too far outside the artillery's range, or in a position where firing would be difficult (like on line with the OT gun line), they'd have to either not use any fire support or else rely solely on air support, fixed or rotary wing (attack helicopters), which could be very dangerous.

Larger unit operating bases had more artillery units on it, more infantry on them, sometimes even included tanks. Sometimes these fire bases/forward operating bases could only be reached by helicopters, sometimes they also had road access. However, just like in current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and Syria, reliance on roads for logistics in an area where the surrounding countryside isn't firmly in control of the govt forces, can lead to serious problems in the form of small arm ambushes, but especially Improvised Explosive Devices.

Stop the supply of a firebase, it withers and dies.
 

Haakbus

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
3,664
United States
#39
The Korean guerrillas at least during the Imjin War (1590s) were basically like normal soldiers but acted independently of (but with official recognition from) the court and resorted to raiding, hit-and-run, attrition, etc., since they couldn't meet the Japanese invaders head-on.
 
Jul 2017
2,273
Australia
#40
A relatively early instance of "guerrilla warfare" being used systematically rather than sporadically by Spanish tribes is the Sertorian War, where Sertorius, a rogue (in the context of the current Senate) Roman general who used guerrilla style tactics methodically on a number of Roman generals, including Pompey and Metellus Pius.
 

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