- Oct 24, 2012
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One of the oldest trick on any Military Handbook, ambush as a tactics have been around for thousand of years, dating back to ancient warfare. Ambushes gives commander a way to attack his/her enemy with both concealment and element of surprise. It is a great tactic especially when you are outnumbered.
This tactic have been in used for thousands of years and amazingly, have not change much since the concept inception during ancient warfare, however, as today warfare tend to break down big unit into smaller unit for Small Unit Action, today the use of ambushes are almost exclusively toward small unit between a fire team and a platoon, large scale ambushes are rare, but they do exist.
Ambush is a 3000 + years old tactics, it was seen many time in ancient warfare, from Battle of Trebia during the Second Punic War, up to the modern day war of terror, Ambush have been an integral part of Vietnam Communist and North Vietnamese People Army war with the United States.
Ambush is a tactic that can be used in both strategic level or tactical level, it is a common strategy that basically every sort of command share, and it have been used by any discipline and any type of war.
Perhaps the one thing that stands out about ambush is that it require no fix amount of resources to pull one out, and the execution is quite easy, that contribute to the tactic stand against the test of time.
There are several playbook developed by military leader over time on Ambush, most of them written to fit their own military doctrine.
What is an Ambush?
Ambush is a tactic that a force is using a concealed position and engage and defeat an enemy that both surprise and firepower. The side that initiate an ambush is going to set the time and place for it, and either entice the enemy into the ambush or observe the enemy routine and set the ambush accordingly.
There are a few different type of Ambush, strategic and tactical ambushes, in a strategic ambush, the side that initiate the ambush would have to figure out the enemy attacks route and their strategic and/or operational goal, and set up a strategic ambush accordingly.
Tactical ambush is a way for a unit to attack and ambush another unit, either it have no strategic value (eg ambush your enemy in a nightly/regular patrol) or do have strategic and operational value (eg, ambush your enemy in a rear guard action)
In Tactical Ambush, it can also break into 2 categories, Close and Far. Close (Quarter) Ambush and a Far Ambush, Close Ambush is defined as Small Arms range ambush, usually within 50-100 meters, where as Far Ambush usually involve support range, ir about from 100 to 400 meters
When a forward unit (can be from a platoon size to fire team size) laid an ambush, it is then said to be an tactical ambush.
As previously mentioned, Tactical Ambush could and does some time have strategically implication, a unit set an ambush can either be simply on a routine patrol, or serve a certain purpose for other unit.
In a tactical ambush, the ambusher will separated into 3 different sections, the ambush team, the command team and the security team. A tactical ambush can then be laid in different terrain and different setting. depending on the end result.
There are virtually unlimited variation of tactical ambush, but the most common uses of Tactical Ambush is as followed
1.) L - Shape Ambush
2.) Linear Ambush
3.) C or U Shape ambush
4.) 360 degree ambush.
5.) Z Shape Ambush
L Shape ambush would probably the most common of all ambush, where an ambush force laid on the terrain forming an "L" shape, the L would be anchoring by the short edge, which basically in enfilade to the kill zone. The Kill Zone will then be cut off from behind, or "blocked" Then retreat is impossible.
Linear Ambush would be the second most common on tactical level, where a troop form a rough line parallel to the kill zone, and when the enemy enter the kill zone, The maximum fire angle would be done to the single file. This is popular not because it was the best ambush tactics (Which would be L) but rather for its simplicity and easy to carry out, also easy to disappear after ambushed your enemy.
C or U shape ambush would be the next one on the list, basically it form a cauldron which engulfed the whole enemy into your Kill Zone, usually start with an "L Shape" Ambush, by adding an extra arm (an extra flank) to it and make it a U or C Shape, depending on how the ambush anchoring
360 Degree Ambush is probably one of the hardest to pull out, it basically have your enemy surrounded by all size, and since you are surrounding your enemy with it, you run a risk of actually firing into your own troop by pulling a 360 degree ambush, usually used with BUNT or BUMM Line (Build Up Natural Terrain and Build Up Man Made).
Z Shape ambush is the holy grail of ambush, and once you can successfully pull out a Z Shape Ambush, most likely than not, you will be decimating your enemy. Z shape ambush hence is by far the HARDEST to pull out, but the most effective. Z shape ambush in reality is 2 L Shape Ambush or 2 V Shape ambush joined together by the end, and hence when the enemy eventually broke thru a L or a V, there would be another one to greet the enemy immediately, to pull out a Z shape ambush, you would require 2 overlapping Kill Zone.
Not that PS4 game, a Kill Zone is a zone where you use your overlapping fire power to trap and destroy your enemy, a perfect kill zone would have a Machine gun on both end, lay on a enfilade to the direction of your enemy movement.
A Kill Zone is essential for an Ambush to be effective, a Kill Zone can be a natural path, or a engineered path.
You can multiply the killing effect on a kill zone by using supportive equipment. A Machine Gun can pin down enemy troop within a kill zone, a supporting mortar fire would make destroying your enemy a bit easier.
A Kill Zone can be open end or closed end, which means a kill zone can be extended or fixed by the number of troop, a zone can also be of polygon shape, depending on the terrain.
When a unit go on to ambush another unit, such unit usually accompanied by a security detachment which laden on the side of the ambushing unit, in order to protect its flank.
Had the ambush been revealed or detected, the enemy will try to outflank the ambushing force, which where these security comes in handy.
The Security also can provide movement report or act as an LP/OP if they are well hidden, report back enemy traffic and activities, and the command element can then readjust the ambush
As with all other military action, Ambush comes with a command element, a commander and its subordinate would be in the Command Element and organise the ambush, they would be best to have an unobstructed view on the enemy progress and also an unobstructed view on your own troop.
Command Element decide when and where to attack, or how to conceal your own element. Command element also responsible for the overall layout of the ambush, intelligence gathering and egress route when everything go south.
When a large unit (Such as Company, Battalion, Brigade or even Division) used to ambush your enemy as a whole, that ambush plan is said to be a Strategic Ambush
The key for Strategic Ambush is concealment and speed. Both of which is needed to move a large force into an area unnoticed. A good intelligence and counter intelligence network, a good command and control structure also help carry out Strategic Ambushes
A large scale ambush would usually involve a diversion or deception to begin the opening gambit. The uses of smaller force to try and entice the entire unit to step into a larger unit. Or simply allowing a prepared unit to engage and destroy an advancing unit (such cases like what the German did to the Roman in the Battle of Teutoberg Forest ) Where it allow a prepared force to disrupt and ultimately destroy an incoming enemy formation.
Each strategic ambush have its own strategic value, usually goes with a current operational demand. A Strategic Ambush can be used to start or end a change of objective.
Reacting to an Ambush
There are only one way to break an ambush, and that is to punch thru it before it is too late, however, if chances allow a withdraw, it could also be a consideration.
For Close Ambushes, as the kill zone is too close to you, you will take more damage trying to retreat then trying to punch thru it. So, for a standing close quarter ambush, the forces that inside the kill zone will try to assault the ambush force on the anchor point and get behind them and roll the ambush over.
For a Far ambush, units in kill zone can try to withdraw from the area if the range allow you to call for air/ground support. Another way is to assault the flank of the Ambushing force and either blow thru or disengage from the ambush.
The key to break out from an ambush is to try and maintain unit cohesion and integrity, where the goal of an ambush is to destabilise your own formation and the ambushing force can engage and destroy you one by one as you ceased to be a cohesive unit, and is not in mutual support position to each other. They Key to counter an Ambush is to fight your way out concentrating your firepower at one single point
The 5 steps for reacting to Ambush is as follow
-Face the incoming fire
Sometimes, when you have to react to it, it would have already been too late, so it would be wise to prevent and avoid being ambush in the first place. There are a few factors a commander can notice with the incoming ambush.
To predict an ambush, intelligence are quite important. Troop movement, civilian movement, previous engagement are all good indicator on how or where your enemy is going to ambush you. The more you know the more completed picture you will hold. And chances are you will see an ambush coming your way from far away.
There are only a few spot anywhere that is suitable for an ambush, to ambush you, they will need to find a clearing to set up a kill zone, a concealment to conceal their troop, a vantage point to know you are coming and also an exfil route to get out after they ambush you. If you look at a map and you think that is a good place to ambush someone, chances are they are already there to ambush you.
Not a sign saying "Ambush here". If there are no traffic on a busy day, that is a sign of something not right, a good commander always know what's different than the atmospheric in the area, Something is not right then chances are something is going to come down. If things seems out of place, usually because it WAS out of place, and that is the sign you need to look out
-Things going your way.
Usually, an enemy will stop you from getting into your way, and if you know there are enemy present in the area and they are not actively trying to stop you, that also means something is wrong. In the army, we have an old saying, there are no such things as going your way in war, when stuff is going all your way in war, you are being ambushed.
Battle of River Trebia - 218 BC
In the battle of River Trebia, the Cartage ambushed the Roman near the water plain close to the River Trebia.
The ambush, laid by Hannibal's brother Mago was considered one of the military classics. Mago led 1000 cavalry and 1000 infantry into the river and conceal their encampment under the cover of darkness.
What happened was, when Hannibal open up their flank and pushing in a gap between their first and second line, Roman general Longus think that is a tactical error by the part of Hannibal, and move in between the first and second line to try and roll up the first infantry line from behind.
However, this is actually a trap for Hannibal to trap and destroy the Roman army from all side, once the Roman infantry enter the gap, the Mago Ambush closes the door and attack and surround the Roman from all sides.
What followed is a massacre.
Battle of Long Tan - 1966 AD
Battle of Long Tan is an engagement in Vietnam War, during which, a company (D Coy) of 6 Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR) was ambush in the plantation in Long Tan, Phouc Tuy province.
D Coy, 6RAR, commanded by major Harry Smith, start the day with a company size combat patrol into the woods West of Long Tan Plantation, after SIGINT element detected Heavy Enemy movement in the area. D Coy, 6RAR move alone the ridges called "Nui Dat 2" where the Vietcong D445 Battalion located.
Upon drawing in the 11 Platoon, lead by Lieutenant Gordon Sharp, the lead element open fire on 11 Platoon. Cutting down a whole section of Australian Troop. Thinking it was a platoon size enemy force, little do the Australian know, they were the forward element of a whole Battalion, 1100 men.
At this point, Smith move 10 Platoon, were moved to support 11 Platoon from their left flank, hoping to be able to pull 11 platoon back into Company Defensive position. That is not successful however, as D445 element started to encircle the newly moved up platoon, fearing the same fate as 11 Platoon (Which was being pinned down) Smith halted 10 platoon and move them into a Defensive Position
Artillery was called to Support the front of 11 Platoon position as well as East of 10th Platoon, at this point, a regimental fire support was called. 18 guns pound the area at a rate of 6 rounds per minute. It help stabilising both 11 and 10 platoon. However, with 11 platoon depleting their ammunition, A break out from 11 platoon is put into primary mission.
Smith then send 12 platoon, which was kept as company reserve to move up and relief 11 platoon. 12 platoon reach up to 200-250 meter away form 11 platoon, unable to move forward. now 12, 11 and 10 platoon form a triangle facing all direction.
The ties changes when 11 Platoon, now reduced to a single section of men (from 30 to 12 men) ran out of ammunition, 11 Platoon request artillery to fire at their position, so they can retreat toward 12 platoon. Artillery drop 25 and give the men of 11 platoon a danger close (a fact that gunnery officer Lt Morrie Stanley disputed as Sgt Buick observed artillery came "very close" to their position
At this point, RAAF resupply D Coy, and couple with the fact that 11 platoon radioman was shot and kill, Sgt Buick, now in charge of the platoon, decided to withdraw. And they ran 150 meter into 12 platoon position, upon reaching 12 platoon. 11 platoon have only 13 men out, 5 wounded 8 able bodied
D company, now with only 10 and 12 platoon as a effective fighting force, form up in a crescent shape anchoring with the HQ platoon and face the enemy onslaught, at the same time B Coy, 6RAR and A Coy 6RAR both ordered to support D Coy position in Long Tan, With B Coy moving in from the west on foot, A Coy boarded APC and travel all the way around and enter and broke the encirclement from the south.
The supporting element reached D Coy at 1910, at this point B Coy's 25 men reached D Coy as D Coy shrink their perimeter in preparation for the final NVA/VC assault. After the reinforcement broke through D445 battalion decided to disengage and melted back into the jungle.
Uzbin Valley Ambush - 2008 AD
Uzbin Valley ambush involve element of 3 Taliban Units and French ISAF force with support from USAFSOF and ANA.
The Taliban consist of 3 unit, around 100 soldier each, ambush and motorize French Company on the mountain passes on Uzbin Valley, toward the summit at Sper Kunday. The advance unit of the French Force, call sign Carmin-2 was ambushed by the local element of about 50 insurgent fighters at 15:30 zulu
While at the village of Sper Kunday, the Taliban have surrounded the forward element of Carmin-2 whom made it there, The vehicle section of Carmin-2 started firing their Heavy Weapon to support the Ground troop of Carmin-2 which dismounted and entered the village.
After Action report suggested that the French troop requesting Air Support at 16:10, Approximately 40 minutes since the Ambush started, and the USAF send ahead 2 F-15 Strike Eagle to support the French Troop, now being trapped in the summit of the Uzbin Valley pass.
Close proximity prevent Air Support from carry out Close Air Support. Taliban force also setup a blocking force to prevent the ground element of the remaining French/US troop to support the ambushed Carmin-2 Element up in the mountain.
Reinforcement finally arrived to secure Sper Kunday by air at 18:15 roughly 3 hours into the ambush, by now, the ground element stuck at Sper Kunday are seriously out of Ammunition. The reinforcement then together with Carmin-2 pushes the remaining Taliban out of their position at Sper Kunday.
At 00;10, 9 hours from the beginning of the ambush, the area is secured by Carmin-2, Carmin-3 and Rouge 3, both of which were send as an reinforcement.
Author : Gary Locke, BA International Affair CU Boulder, MPhil Strategic Studies, Australian National University, Captain US Army, 3d Infantry Division
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