A Tactical Fiction: Patrol Contact!

The Arctic Patriot: Rapid Fire!- My Take on the Book
October 16, 2012
The Social Context of Warfare in Anglo-Saxon England
October 16, 2012
Here is a little foray into some tactical fiction. The idea is to tell a little story in a fictional setting to bring out some tactical lessons:
A Tactical Fiction: Patrol Contact!
The sixteen man foot patrol had been out for a week now. They were cold, wet and hungry. There were two squads of eight fighters, with a headquarters element of two; the patrol leader and the medic. Yesterday morning they had accomplished their mission, after lying in position overnight to accomplish the ambush of a supply convoy, and they had moved rapidly away before continuing to patrol out on their route through the fall forest. Yesterday afternoon, they had identified a suitable patrol base on the map so that they could rest up and administrate themselves before continuing the extraction. They were not following a trail, but instead they were ‘hand railing’ a small creek, keeping it a hundred meters to their right as they moved. The patrol leader had signaled for a ‘snap ambush’ and they broke track, moving off left at ninety degrees to their trail and then peeling back into a line covering the route they had come. They had not seen any evidence of a tracker, but they took precautions all the same. The patrol leader had taken a small party away and found a suitable patrol base in the deep cover of the trees. A buddy pair returned to the ambush party and led them into the occupation of the base.

The patrol leader had decided to occupy in a linear formation, with the two squads parallel to each other in two lines, Alpha to the north side and Bravo to the south, headquarters between the two squads. There were two sentry posts, one at each end of the line, each squad responsible for one of the posts. The patrol occupied the base in buddy pairs, with four pairs per squad. As part of the ‘work phase’ of the ‘occupation’ each pair dug a ‘shell scrape’, a shallow (twelve inches deep) rectangular hole large enough for two men to sleep in with their rucks. Each pair faced out of the patrol base with sectors of fire allocated by the patrol leader. A track plan was cleared behind the scrapes, with communications cord strung between the trees to allow for hand rail movement at night. A latrine was dug under the watchful eye of one of the sentry positions and each time it was used the fighter would pile a little dirt back in over his leavings, to cover it up and reduce smell.

Once the work phase was complete, the patrol went into routine. They were on ‘hard routine’ after the ambush and this close to the enemy and there was no cooking, but weapons were battle cleaned and food was eaten cold. Socks were changed and feet powdered. Following evening stand to, in the dark, ponchos were put up over the scrapes. Throughout the night the sentry rotation went on. There were always two sentries at night per sentry position. Each man was woken ten minutes before his duty and he would quietly and without use of light put all his gear away in his ruck, save taking down the poncho. All gear not in use was always stowed, in case of the need for rapid movement. In the night it started to rain but by morning the rain had stopped. It was fall, and it was cold out there in the woods with a hint of the coming winter. The rain didn’t help.

Prior to dawn, the sentries woke the patrol for stand to. In the cold pre-dawn the fighters crawled out of their bags and packed their gear away. They took down the ponchos and removed excessive warm clothing, donning their body armor arrayed with their ammunition pouches. It was cold, and some of them shivered uncontrollably as they adjusted to the temperature outside of their sleeping bags. The rain still dripped down out of the trees and the worst part was putting on their cold sweat-damp helmets with wet chinstraps. Before dawn the patrol was silent, laid in their scrapes covering their sectors. There was a light mist on the forest floor, with the rain dripping down out of the trees. Yes, they were cold wet and hungry, but that did not impact their morale. They would bitch and moan, but if they weren’t moaning, that was when you had to worry. They were hardened fighters, with a deep motivation unaffected by the temporary hardships of their situation. Their morale was born of self-discipline, coming from a hard place deep inside, unbreakable.

The sky began to lighten but the dawn was delayed in the deep woods. The fighters shivered in their scrapes and waited for the end of stand to. Bravo squad was covering the sectors to the south, where they had come from the previous day. Loud in the silence came the snap of a twig and they tensed, staring into the lightening forest. Slowly the silhouettes of a skirmish line came into view, maybe fifty meters away, as they came on through the woods. The enemy did not know exactly where they were, but they knew they were in the woods somewhere. As the enemy closed to twenty five meters the Bravo squad leader opened fire, shooting a silhouette in the chest, immediately followed by the rest of his squad opening fire. The gunfire was harsh in the silence of the dawn and several of the enemy skirmish line were immediately hit. The enemy was well drilled and immediately went to ground and started to return fire, the harsh orders of their squad leader competing with the screams of one of his men who had been badly wounded. The firing increased to a crescendo and fire control orders were ringing out on both sides. The enemy managed to bring a SAW in to action on the left flank and high velocity rounds went cracking through the trees in both directions. Luckily for the patrol, they were in hard cover in their scrapes and most of the rounds were passing overhead; they were also able to take advantage of the shock effect their initial weight of fire had on the enemy skirmish line. Some of the enemy had been hit, most were well drilled veterans, but a few had frozen and were not yet responding to calls for rapid fire from the enemy squad leader.

The patrol leader was assessing the situation. Alpha squad was still covering the rear, to the north, in case of an enemy flanking attack. Having been ‘bumped’ by the enemy it was now paramount for the patrol to bug out and extract to the ERV. However, the nominated ERV was to the south and was no longer accessible. The patrol leader was reading the battle and listening to the sounds of the firefight. The ground was generally flat but to the left of Bravo squad was a small depression where the ground sloped away in the beginnings of a draw that ran down to the right flank of the enemy force. It was not a significant feature really, the very beginnings of a creek, but he could anticipate how the enemy platoon leader would see it. He could hear the shouted orders from the remainder of the enemy platoon behind the point squad that was engaged. He gave orders of Alpha squad to move up to the left of Bravo squad. Bravo gave rapid fire and threw smoke while Alpha peeled out from their scrapes and back on to line covering the small draw. Normally they would have bugged out with their rucks but the situation was too serious so they just grabbed their daypacks. From now on, if they got out of this fix, it would be ‘travel light, freeze at night’. Alpha peeled in to the left of Bravo, getting on line. The patrolm leader had the medic observe to the north, just in case. However, he was right in his assessment; the enemy commander had identified the depression as a route to the patrol base and rapidly moved a second squad up to the patrols left, to try and flank and roll up the patrol. As the enemy flanking squad moved through the trees, jogging in single file, they ran into a hail of fire from Alpha on the left side and rapidly took cover, returning sporadic fire from fire positions behind trees as they tried to regain their balance. .

The situation was now the two squads of the patrol facing two enemy squads. The patrol had taken the initiative and inflicted casualties on the enemy. The enemy platoon leader was organizing his reserve squad and relaying the situation back to his Company Commander to the rear. The enemy was gaining momentum, the pressure was going to build, but they would be unable to bring down indirect fire while the two forces were so close. The patrol leader gave shouted orders for the two squads to prepare to break contact. The drill was for each squad to fire and move as fire teams, keeping both squads roughly on line as they moved north back away from the enemy. If they stayed in place, the enemy would roll them up from the flank. They threw smoke to the front, and on orders the whole patrol started a rapid weight of fire to knock the enemy back before beginning to bound back, fire and maneuvering north, away from the enemy. They only had the ammunition they carried, so they slowed the rate of fire to deliberate whenever rapid fire was not called for; they aimed at positively identified enemy or fired steadily into cover where they knew the enemy to be. The enemy platoon leader had by now deployed one of his 240 gun teams up to his left flank and the gunner brought the 7.62 machine gun into action just after the patrol had completed its first couple of bounds back. The deep staccato beat of the gun rang out and the rounds cracked through the trees, tearing off chunks of wood and felling leaves and branches.

Bravo was fire and moving back and as one of the guys bounded back he was hit in the rear ballistic plate and thrown off balance into a face plant, winded. He rolled over and got up, adrenaline pushing him to finish the bound. Another fighter was hit in the thigh as he ran, he leg kicked out from under him as the round smashed his femur and tore open his femoral artery. He went to the ground with bright red arterial blood pumping out of the wound. As his buddy was running back, he grabbed his harness and dragged the wounded man with him on his bound back, the wounded leg bouncing agonizingly on the ground, until he could get him into cover behind a tree. He grabbed the wounded fighters CAT tourniquet and whipped it onto the leg over the BDU pants, right up in the groin ‘high and tight’. He cinched the windlass down mercilessly until the bleeding stooped. The rest of his team had paused to cover this and the fighter pulled the wounded man up onto his back in a Hawes carry, running back and continuing the move north, covered by the rest of the squad as they bounded back. The medic joined the wounded group and they moved north looking for a suitable rally point as the squads continued to bound back in teams. The patrol leader maintained a position between the two squads as they moved.

They continued in this way for about 300 meters. As they were about halfway they heard the whop whop whop of helicopters passing overhead, but they could not get a good view through the tree canopy. The enemy platoon was just starting to regain its balance and cautiously move forward by bounding overwatch. The patrol had temporarily broken contact and on reaching the medic and the wounded man the patrol leader called “Rally, Rally, Rally!” The squads got into an all-round defensive position and leaders checked on their fighters. The lightweight stretcher was broken out. Bravo took charge of moving their casualty, four men at a time carrying the stretcher, the other four providing security and ready to changeover as necessary. The patrol leader did a quick map check and they continued to move off north, with Alpha split into front and rear security teams to cover the casevac in the center.

As they moved north they came to a fire break that had once been used as a vehicle track. Rather than cross it or walk on it, they veered off to the north west and hand railed the feature, keeping it about seventy five meters to their right. The patrol was moving at a fast walk, the two teams of Alpha to the front and rear, with Bravo in the center carrying the stretcher with the wounded man. The patrol leader moved just behind the front team and they all moved in single file through the trees. There was something nagging at the patrol leader. The helicopters! They had passed over headed north, following the contact with the enemy platoon to the south. He had a pretty good idea that they were facing an enemy hunter-killer company, probably based off one of the old Ranger Companies from before the civil war.

Hand railing the feature, which was an obvious egress route from the patrol base, meant that the patrol avoided the main kill zone on the track, but walked into one of the flank protection/cut off groups belonging to the Airborne Reaction Force’s platoon hasty ambush. The enemy ARF had been landed by the helicopters in a clearing just off the trail to the north in response to the sweep platoon making contact with the rebel patrol base. They were to act as a blocking force (or cut off group) across the patrols expected line of exfiltration. They had expected the patrol to move along the track, and as such the main kill group was oriented in a line facing north east to cover the track.  Their right hand cut-off group was a fire team sized component and they had also been concentrating on the track, where they expected the enemy to come from the south east. The patrol leader heard the shout of ‘”Contact Front!” from the lead team just as a fusillade of firing went off at the head of the patrol. The lead team had the drop on the cut-off group and had walked pretty much on top of them, opening fire at a range of fifteen meters as they saw them. The lead man opened fire on rapid and as he did so the other three in his team stepped left and right to get on line. They began to buddy move back, firing as they went, having hit at least three of the enemy cutoff group. The patrol leader moved back and Bravo, the stretcher squad, moved rapidly back while the rear team from Alpha moved back ahead of them as security and to establish a rally point. The main kill group of the new enemy platoon was trying to move out of their ambush position in order to maneuver on the patrol, but before they could do so the lead team managed to break contact in the trees.

The patrol moved back several hundred meters to a rally point and the patrol leader got them into a wedge formation, each squad forming a side of the wedge in a hasty ambush position so that each of the squads faced the last known direction  of the two enemy platoons. Some of the guys provided rear protection. It was effectively a hasty triangular ambush with the third side missing, just covered to the rear by a couple of guys. The medic was working on the casualty in the center. The patrol leader was running out of options. He was still pretty close to the enemy and with the confusion in the woods it would be hard for them to bring in indirect fire. The team leaders got around and checked on the men, redistributing ammunition and ‘bombing up’ during the lull. The patrol leader was doing a map estimate and reckoned that their best bet would be to head off the high ground in a westerly direction, getting into one of the draws or ravines that ran down off the ridge, exfiltrating from the current trap. As he was about to give the order to move out they were contacted again by the enemy ARF platoon following up from the north. They were effectively in an ambush position and were able to hit the enemy lead squad with accurate effective fire, forcing them to go to ground. However, shortly after they were contacted by the original enemy sweep platoon moving up from the south east. Then a worrying thing happened: having fixed their position, the enemy pulled back. The helicopters had obviously dropped off an 81mm mortar squad and shortly after the mortar rounds came screaming in on their position: crump, crump, crump. Some of the rounds hit the trees, effectively air bursting and sending both shrapnel and wood splinters down onto the patrol. The fighters were hugging whatever cover they could find as the rounds impacted around them. Luckily, indirect fire is an area weapon and none of the patrol was hit in the first barrage. They were however, effectively suppressed. It was either dig in and die in place, or get the hell out of there.

The patrol leader gave the preparatory order: on his order, rally 300 meters west of their location. He waited for a lull in the fire and gave the order; the patrol ‘bomb burst’ out of their positions and ran like hell out of the killing area, Bravo team sprinting with the stretcher. As they ran, one of the fighters was hit with shrapnel in the upper back, puncturing his lung. He kept running, aided by a buddy, and the patrol got into yet another rally point. They got into a defensive formation again and the medic slapped an occlusive dressing on the sucking chest wound. The casualty was starting to suffer progressive respiratory distress, indicating a tension pneumothorax, so the medic put in a needle chest decompression in his upper chest below the collar bone, which alleviated the symptoms and given the exigent circumstances allowed the fighter to keep moving. They got themselves back into formation and started to move rapidly away west towards where the ground fell away down the steep sided ridge into the valley. As they moved, one of the fighters noticed the sound of a distant helicopter engine and passed the information on up the line. They reached a place where at some point the trees had been felled and it was an area of thinner tree growth extending about a hundred meters before the forest started again. It was a linear danger area but they did not really have much choice but to keep going.

As they headed across out of the forest canopy in their patrol formation, the Apache gunner picked them up on his thermal imager. He had been tracking what he thought was the hunted patrol for a few minutes, but given the close combat in the woods he had been unable to clearly identify the patrol from his own forces. The pilot maneuvered on station in order to give the gunner the best shot. The hydra 70 rocket burst in the air before it hit the patrol, sending 96 flechette darts into the center of the patrol where the stretcher party was jogging along. The casualty on the stretcher as well as the four others surrounding him disintegrated into a red mist under the impact of the flechette darts. As the patrol roiled from the shock the patrol leader screamed ‘RUN!”. Meanwhile the apache gunner switched to 30mm cannon. The cannon aimed where he looked and he decided to roll up the patrol from the rear. The 30mm M789 HEDP cannon rounds exploded around the rear security team as they were running for the tree line. The gunner chased them all the way with the cannon rounds exploding around the rear team. They didn’t make the tree line. The patrol leader had lost half his force, with just half of both squads left. They kept running into the trees. The apache could still see and track them, but there was a little more cover from the TI in the trees and some of the explosions from the 30mm rounds were absorbed by the trees. A shame it was fall: as the leaves continued to fall, the cover was reduced.

There was no ability to go back to the downed members of the patrol. It was something they had learned since the civil war began: the old rule of ‘never leave a fallen comrade’ just never worked any more when you were on the run and didn’t have the overwhelming force and assets to get them back. Sometimes fighters went down and there was nothing you could do for them. The patrol ran into a ravine and followed it as it steepened down towards the valley. In an area of the ravine with steep sides and good tree cover they went static. They each carried thermal blankets made up from poncho liners lined with mylar blankets, covered with loose cloth like a ghillie suit, designed to reduce their heat signature. They deployed the blankets and got under them, still covering their sectors and using sticks to keep the blankets up away from their bodies so they did not heat them up from underneath. The Apache had struggled to follow their move into the ravine and despite continued circling was unable to find the patrol while they were both in the ravine under the tree cover and under the blankets. After a time of searching, the Apache had to return to base to refuel, and luckily the exigencies and scarcities of the ongoing civil war meant there was no back-up to replace it on station. After a while of listening watch, the patrol determined that the Apache had gone. There was still the problem of the dismounted hunter-killer company. The patrol packed up their gear and started to head down into the valley to the west.

Then they heard the baying of the tracker dogs from the east…

16 Comments

  1. Outstanding realism: “Neither Hope nor Fear”. This man can fight…and write.

  2. idahobob says:

    Whew!

    Sphincter tightening!

    Bob
    III

  3. You’ve pretty well stacked this scenario against the patrol. They conducted an ambush after six days inside enemy-controlled territory, which means this action is their first defensive fight. They apparently have no machine guns, not even a SAW. They apparently have no AA protection, not even a MANPAD. They are said to be on the way to an extraction, but from the sound of things, it’s really an exfiltration on foot. Now they’re being chewed up by an Apache, and dogs are leading the enemy to the survivors.

    At this point I’d have to ask, was the ambush worth losing the patrol? Was the mission all that important? The most important duty of a rebel force is to SURVIVE. As long as they’re still in the field, they’re not beaten. But putting a patrol in that situation, for a mission that doesn’t seem all that important, is not the way to SURVIVE.

    If I had any message for their higher command, it would be, DON’T DO THAT AGAIN!

    • Max Velocity says:

      @ Joseph Martino: Yes, you are right, it is stacked against the patrol. The article was designed as a fiction to be a ‘vehicle’ to incorporate some TTPs, which in the end made for a very bad day for this patrol.

      It was an exfiltration (‘extraction’) = semantics = Brit lingo. They were not intended to have Manpads and the Apache was to illustrate the threat from the air and TI, when you are the insurgent.

      Although, the interplay of the enemy ‘hunter-killer’ force after the patrol was compromised was not unrealistic, with the various elements of the maneuver between the two sides playing out. I simply declined to mention support weapons in the description of the patrol’s armory.

      As you read it there are lessons to be learned, not all the patrol actions are designed to be ‘the right answer’. One of the points to be considered is the overall scope of the mission and the size of the patrol. However, I wanted to incorporate some battle discipline and the patrol base etc. Whether you would dig in (shell scrapes) or not on such a covert patrol is also debatable. It was food for thought.

      It was a first foray into a fiction ‘battle scenario” and I will do some corrective PT and try harder next time 😉

  4. No, the fiction was fine (I say that as a published science fiction author). My concern was that it’s difficult to learn something from getting killed. That patrol never had a chance.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Max,
    Its good stuff and I appreciate the use of fiction as a vehicle. I would love to expand on it and start spreading that concept far and wide.
    My take aways were many from this peice.

    As to the points of Joseph.
    Sometimes you can do everything right and still get squished.
    C’est la guerre

    Grenadier1

  6. gideon says:

    As one who was not a soldier, but a sailor, I thought it was great. This is what us ignorant folk need. Just got my copies of “Contact” as I was writing this. Keep it coming Max. You are having an impact here. As the man said, “Warriors want to learn”.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Moral of the story: Destroy all assets not under Patriot control. Air/ground – sea.
    Tyroneb

  8. gideon says:

    Seems to me, that if these guys had just attacked a convoy, the next phase of the mission would be to put as much distance between you and the enemy as quickly as possible. They were cold, wet and hungry. So stop and eat, hydrate(creek/stream) and tend to personal needs, maybe rest for an hour then move. Seems like the basics, Shoot-MOVE-Communicate, were violated.

    • Max Velocity says:

      Gideon: I’m not following this comment. The ambush they conducted was inserted as a ‘reason’ to justify them being out there, for the rest of the fiction to follow. But the ambush was that morning, before they exfiltrated out that day, putting in the distance, before going into the patrol base overnight. The idea of a patrol base is to lie up and administrate/rest. It can also be to conduct further patrol operations from, but in this case they were laying up and resting.
      The idea of the article was to concentrate on the basics; good solid battle discipline on the move and in the base, plus contact drills when the SHTF.

    • gideon says:

      Forgive my ignorance. I read, the patrol had accomplished their mission. Just finished chapter 3 and figured part of planning the mission would have included, extraction/exfiltration. They stopped and setup camp/base. Stayed the night. They rested the night before. Just seemed a little careless. Again, I was NOT a soldier. Why waste time and energy digging “shell scrapes” to rest for the night? If it is a Base Camp, then why only “shell scrapes”? The story is GREAT, just trying to understand the actions of the patrol leadership. As for the men in the patrol and their actions, I think I should learn to “crawl” before I try to “walk”. 🙂

    • Max Velocity says:

      ‘Shell Scrapes’: the idea here is that they were setting up a temporary patrol base, to rest up overnight. They were not digging a defensive position, which would require foxholes (battle trenches), with overhead protection etc. The idea of a ‘shell scrape’ is that it can be dug relatively quickly in order to get people below ground, helping with indirect and direct fire protection. A patrol base is supposed to be defended mainly by it concealment, so it’s a ‘just in case measure’. You may or may not dig them. They take time and the digging makes noise. It depends on the threat and how close you are to the enemy. Generally, a smaller recce type patrol probably wouldn’t do it, they would just lay up in the woods or wherever.
      So the ‘shell scrape’ is more of a ‘general war’ thing, where the saying goes that if you are static for more than 15 minutes, you should be digging! For insurgency warfare, possibly or maybe not, depending on the scenario. I wanted to put them in to bring up the subject.
      Thanks for the feedback.

  9. Anonymous says:

    …do you think it would be advantageous for the evading group to employ pursuit-deterrence devises to slow the hunter force? Would they have the time to do so? What are the advantages and disadvantages with their use?
    Thanks for your time and your patience Max… -G

    • Max Velocity says:

      You reminded me that I had not put that aspect into the passage, even though I had written about it in Contact. I am just now editing Patriot Dawn and having incorporated this tactical fiction story in a amended format into the story I have just added a bit on using an improvised claymores.
      I think that the use of hasty ambush and deterrence devices is a good idea. Anything the slows the pursuit. What you do would depend (as always!) on the exact circumstances.
      What kind of booby trap you used would be relevant to how pratical it was. If you had either actual claymores or some other form of IED or improvised clayymore, even a greande, you can set it up as a booby trap, perhaps with a tripwire. If you have such a device ready, it would not take long to set it up over your back trail and thus deter and slow pursuit.
      Setting up a mechanical booby trap or punji pit type device would however take longer and may not be practical.
      If the enemy is using ‘fireforce’ Rhodesian style tracking techniques then they will be attempting to estimate your line of travel and get in ahead of you to establish blocking ambush positions, so in those circumstances the tracker follow up may not be your main problem, more the ambush set ahead of you. Unpredictable routes and changing direction will help to evade this kind of blocking force. In southern african conflicts use was made of various techniques such as motorbikes, parachuting and helicopters to get troops in ahead of fleeing insurgents once the line fo travel was estimated.
      Of course in those situations the ‘terrs’ were more often than not high tailing it for an international border.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Max,
    It would seem the patrol is acting as a ‘Raiding Force’ as in the 75th Rangers or Para’s but as written are actually a part of an organic insurgency, wouldn’t it be better if they broke up into 4 man teams on exfil, this way they are not a large noticable group (16 men is a lot and much easier to track and hunt) addtionally, I would have thought it would be better for them to didi mau the hell out of the vicinity of the ambush asap, and if that means moving all night then so be it…
    It would seem these guys are working as a standard fighting patrol who normally would have certain assets (GPMG, SAW, LAW, Art, Mortars, Fixed Wing/Rotary overhead assets) as someone said the purpose of an insurgency is to survive, to slowly and methodically wear down the occupier reducing his advantage is numbers and technology, not to play into his hand with fixed pierce engagements where he has the advantage

    • Max Velocity says:

      True. The piece was a bit of ‘tactical fiction’ to bring in some aspects but not necessarily be a the answer to everything – it is very ‘conventional’ in description. There was no real context to it. I have since taken that piece of fiction and incorporated it in a re-worked way into Patriot Dawn, where some of it is shown as a ‘how not to do it’ example. That said, there is still a lot of good in terms of how they operate in that short piece i.e. it’s not all bad. Patriot Dawn shows different ways of exfiltrating as part of the storyline.