A Tactical Fiction: Patrol Contact!

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…