Book recommendation (Lots of light infantry lessons (re)learned)

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    • #76493

        For those interested in the tactical/operational (i.e, not “strategic”) level of military operations, I’d recommend an excellent book by Daniel P. Bolger, “The Battle for Hunger Hill”. It details his view as a battalion commander (1-327th (Air Assault) of the 101st Airborne Division) during two rotations of his battalion to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, LA, in 1994-1995. He was fortunate to be battalion commander long enough to lead his battalion in his second rotation there, and he took a number of lessons learned (or reinforced from lessons originally learned a couple thousand years ago) with him after the first go-around.

        Both deployments were brigade-level exercises, with his battalion being one of BLUFOR’s three in each rotation. For reference, the training in the thick woods at Fort Polk (at least back in the mid 1990s) was full force-on-force using MILES-simulated kills.

        The scenarios involved a BLUFOR fight against “Cortinian Liberation Front” guerrillas operating in US-friendly “Republic of Cortina”. CLF is supported by the big bad “People’s Democratic Republic of Atlantica”, which is about to launch a full-scale combined-arms invasion of Cortina. BLUFOR is tasked to neutralize the CLF, then destroy the PDRA invasion of Cortina. Note well that the BLUFOR brigade is tasked with neutralizing/destroying a BATTALION of CLF–a fight which doesn’t go the way you might think.

        Basically, this was a light infantry fight. Yes, it included artillery, mortars, mines, (some) armored units, helicopter gunships, and air mobility via UH-60/CH-47, etc., but the scenario outcome depends very heavily on how well the light infantry fight goes. Most of BLUFOR is light infantry, the CLF is light infantry, and many of the PDRA units attack as light (dismounted motorized) infantry. (And the PDRA’s heavy [armor/mech] battalion must be stopped by (largely) light infantry units, albeit frequently as the “eyes” for gunships and artillery.)

        I think there are a number of lessons that still apply, even accounting for the fact that this was a quarter-century ago, and 1) neither BLUFOR nor OPFOR wore soft armor or hard plates; 2) OPFOR did not use night vision, except for their “special operations forces”; 3) OPFOR (well, CLF anyway) had NO encrypted communications capability; 4) GPS was a new thing, and accurate navigation was much more “old school”; and 5) Drones? What are those?

        One example is the CLF “guerrillas'” austere logistical train, which included the use of ATVs, tiny hidden patrol bases, and (again) small hidden supply caches. A closely-related lesson learned was Bolger’s trimming down his own battalion’s soldiers’ load to keep his light infantry more mobile against the (very) lightly-loaded CLF guerrillas.

        If there’s interest, I’ll post some things from my notes on the book.

        P.S. As a humorous aside, the author also points out why the US Army’s 1-32nd Armor is informally known as “The King’s Own”.

        P.P.S. Holy crap–just saw that this book is going for over $60 USED online. Well, there are still public libraries and inter-library loans, right?

      • #76494

          Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll have to add this to my reading list.

          After reading Max’s MVT Tactical manual and reading some mil historical books post MVT Tac Man. The neglect by leadership in small unit tactics can be quite disastrous and having major historical implications.

          As far as the 90s vs today. Its still applicable, gear and tech may not be available to you due to price point or other reasons. Gear changes over time but the basics still hold true (also helps keep Murphy from messing with you).

        • #76495

            I’ve been to JRTC too many times already.

          • #76496

              Post more anecdotes, please. Good stuff.

            • #76497

                Following up (#2)
                Comments on Bolger’s observations of CLF OPFOR field operations and individual soldiers’ load

                (One correction from previous post: After looking at my notes, I find that the CLF did use some NVGs. However, they were only available in small numbers (18 per company) and so were not issued to each CLF guerrilla.)

                Background on the CLF OPFOR, in general:
                The units deployed as OPFOR played in multiple consecutive rotations against sequential (new) incoming units. Bottom line, this meant that the CLF guerrillas had developed (or relearned) very effective tactics against the BLUFOR units and continually reinforced their skill at executing these TTPs. This impacted casualty ratios in a major way, as you would expect. And remember, this is against BLUFOR’s regular Army (air assault) light infantry-trained units–but with a very different ratio of garrison-to-field experience.

                In addition, CLF OPFOR effectively had distinctly better “marksmanship”–marksmanship in quotes here because JRTC units zeroed their rifles to the MILES lasers used for kill scoring. With continuous time in the saddle with their MILES gear, OPFOR kept their weapons better zeroed than the BLUFOR units rotating in for the training exercises. This also had a significant impact on the relative casualty ratios.

                As noted in the original post, the CLF force essentially was a battalion of light infantry (which included a heavy weapons company and platoon-sized units of sappers and recon/intell). The two 85-man “assault companies” were based around platoons with 8-man squads, and the squads were further broken up as individually-deployed 4-man fire teams (which Bolger nicknamed as “quartets”, perhaps to keep it clear that these were OPFOR fire teams or to emphasize how autonomously these tiny CLF units operated).
                A key takeaway on CLF doctrine: each CLF quartet was given a substantial area to patrol at will–to detect, report, and engage BLUFOR units within this area at their discretion. Looks like “mission-type” orders and very decentralized execution, down to the E-4s commanding the quartets.

                Bolger says each quartet patrolled 25 square kilometers–that’s 25 grid squares, or 9 square miles if you think in civilian units. You can pull up a map of your own AO to get an idea of the size of this area. My personal reference: the entire Manassas National Battlefield Park is about 20-21 square kilometers.

                At 18 “quartets” per company times 2 companies, that’s a lot of eyes covering a lot of area to find BLUFOR.

                Notes on CLF OPFOR soldiers’ load:
                CLF OPFOR would keep a small, well-hidden patrol base within their assigned area, and from this base would roam to find BLUFOR.

                Bolger emphasizes just how light the CLF patrol kit was: Fighting Load of about 38 pounds and Subsistence Load of just 8 pounds. Fighting load included no armor, not even a helmet: Uniform, LBE (1990s-era, i.e., ALICE), Rifle/Bayonet, 7 loaded mags, 2 quarts water, 2 grenades, MILES system. Subsistence load was just poncho, poncho liner, and 1 MRE (all in a buttpack). (Yes, northern Louisiana climate, but still…)

                This light load is noteworthy: Bolger points out that the CLF quartets executed their well-practiced small-unit tactics at running speed.

                By contrast, deploying BLUFOR units typically patrolled with subsistence loads alone at over 40 pounds (in rucksacks), adding up to total loads of 80-90 pounds. One of Bolger’s key takeaways from his earlier rotation was to unburden his light infantry. In his later rotation, his battalion patrolled almost as light as the CLF OPFOR, the only differences being helmets (vice CLF boonie hats) and added NVGs (vice Mk I eyeball).

                Comments on CLF OPFOR tactics:
                Recall Bolger’s observation that OPFOR executed these at running speed. Stuff happens to BLUFOR fast. (Cue Max for “PT, PT, and more PT”.)

                Bolger notes that the CLF OPFOR had only 3 basic tactics in their playbook, executed as necessary:
                1) Break contact: Retrograde fire/movement by buddy pair, after popping a tear gas grenade between themselves and BLUFOR
                2) Box ambush: One buddy pair shoots to “fix” BLUFOR, the other pair SPLITS, with each one going on opposite sides of BLUFOR to engage from sides/rear
                3) Baited ambush: One buddy pair shoots while second pair sets up ambush, then first pair pulls back to draw BLUFOR into kill zone.

                Recall that the CLF battalion included a sapper company (think “mines”) and a heavy weapons company with 82mm mortars, heavy machine guns, and SA-14s, any/all of which can contribute fun surprises for a BLUFOR unit detected/engaged by a CLF quartet.

                Sounds simple and basic… but Bolger wrote (from experience) that the outnumbered and outgunned CLF battalion “almost always” wrecks the BLUFOR brigade rotating through JRTC. Regarding the baited ambush tactic, Bolger wrote that a single quartet “can destroy an entire rifle company using this method.” (I read “wreck” and “destroy” as “combat ineffective”, not necessarily 100% casualties.)

                Bolger says that the CLF typically initiates 90% of all contacts, with the kind of effects you’d expect (when your first warning is your guys getting hit). Bolger quotes CLF kill ratios (gleaned from training summaries from not only his battalion’s rotations, but from others as well), with 6:1 (BLUFOR:OPFOR casualties) being “typical”, 10:1 is not unheard of, and under 3:1 is rare.

                Another thing to keep in mind is that the CLF (at least in these 1990s rotations) kept to daylight operations due to low availability of night vision gear. Bolger noted that even if BLUFOR tried to operate at night, the CLF had “gone to ground”, and their tiny patrol bases in remote thickets were incredibly hard to find, even in daylight.

                During his rotations, the CLF sapper and mortar units would hammer BLUFOR units using major lines of communications (roads, choke points, buildings, etc.). One of Bolger’s major lessons learned was to get OFF these targets and operate off-road (even his logistics and heavy weapons HUMVEEs).

                Bolger also writes that OPFOR would build fake supply caches as lures to BLUFOR units, with the approaches mined and mortars sited to target the cache, its approaches, and stalled BLUFOR units. He also mentions–without a lot of detail–that OPFOR made effective use of deceptive positions (especially gun positions), complete with fuel-heated thermal markers to make life difficult for the Apache gunships.

              • #76498

                  Following up (#3)
                  Comments on (then-LTC) Bolger’s observations of his own lessons learned and corrective actions

                  Bolger listed his “10 commandments” to his battalion for their second rotation, based on hard lessons from the previous rotation:
                  1. Kill the enemy.
                  [Comment: In the 1st rotation, Bolger had incorrectly believed that the CLF supply infrastructure was their “center of gravity”. CLF’s intell used this intent to bait BLUFOR and pound their units when they fixated on CLF logistics. Bolger revised his “commander’s intent” in the 2nd rotation to concentrate on (find/fix/finish) the CLF fire teams.]

                  2. Win over the civilians (role players as villagers in the JRTC scenarios).
                  [Comment: The intent here was to eliminate ability of the CLF clandestine civilian cadre (a fraction of the civilian population indistinguishable from the non-hostiles) to support OPFOR military operations. Unhindered, this cadre would provide the CLF with logistical support (moving supplies and casualties in civilian vehicles), propaganda operations, incitement of provocations, occasional direct (lethal) action, as well as intell (Bolger said this was frequently *60% of OPFOR’s intell*).]

                  3. Act on contact… Secure flanks/rear… Squads fix, platoons attack… always a 90-degree bold flank
                  [Comment: Reinforcing light infantry fundamentals, which Bolger found were somewhat lacking in his battalion’s 1st rotation.]

                  4. If you fight somewhere, don’t stop there–move out.
                  [Comment: Stalled units quickly became mortar targets.]

                  5. Never lose contact with our dead and wounded–no more Hunger Hills!
                  [Comment: In the 1st rotation, Bolger’s battalion suffered heavily when units overextended and had their resupply/medevac lifeline cut.]

                  6. Security is a must, moving or sitting–front, flank, and rear.
                  [Comment: More light infantry fundamentals, on Bolger’s list because these were *not* adequately practiced in the 1st rotation, and BLUFOR units paid for these mistakes.]

                  7. Major roads are off-limits; make combat trails to be where the mines are not.
                  [Comment: Reiterating the danger of staying on main (and therefore predictable) travel routes.]

                  8. Night-vision goggles are worn in head/helmet mounts.
                  [Comment: Do NOT use them like binoculars…]

                  9. Daily duties: Zero weapons, maintain weapons/commo, hasty fighting position at halts, “safe” when not shooting.
                  [Comment: “Good soldiers take up fighting positions at the halt.”]

                  10. Live and fight light–Earth Pigs!
                  [Comment: This is Bolger’s implementation of the reduced “soldier’s load” for BLUFOR light infantry.]

                  With this revised command guidance, Bolger’s battalion performed far better in their second rotation than in the first. In their second rotation, Bolger’s infantry squads were able to initiate contact with CLF guerrillas first more often than not, inverting the usual contact ratio. Loss ratios became much better in the second rotation

                  To expand on #3…
                  In the 1st rotation, Bolger saw that BLUFOR squads (9 guys, 2 fire teams) were too small to assault (fire and movement) even a single CLF quartet–the two CLF buddy pairs frequently could chew up a BLUFOR squad without serious loss. For the 2nd rotation, Bolger, his officers, and senior NCOs chose to implement the “squads fix, platoons attack” doctrine and adopted the “Lipke V” (named after one of his senior NCOs), a “hunting formation”, “built for tracking and killing”. Bolger writes that this formation was similar to the Chinese “one point, two sides” formation used very effectively in the Korean War.

                  Instead of a column of squads, the Lipke V put a full platoon in a V-shaped hunting formation to defeat CLF quartets in detail. This formation put two widely-spread squads line abreast (individual fire teams in wedge formation, each squad with its fire teams echeloned) as two “prongs” at the front of the platoon. A squad in contact with a CLF fire team became the base of fire to “fix” the CLF unit, while the other lead squad was in a position to immediately execute a squad-sized BOLD FLANK attack against the CLF fire team. The third squad (traveling as fire teams line abreast) provided rear security, and this trailing squad as well as the platoon heavy weapons were available for additional fire support as well as rear/flank security for maneuvering after contact.

                  And with a triangle of squads, this platoon formation presents “two prongs” to the flanks as well, if initial contact comes from the flank. Basically, this gives you an ENGAGED squad, a MANEUVER squad, and a SECURITY squad, with roles dependent on the initial direction of contact.

                  This new formation came with the directive that BLUFOR battle drills must be DECISIVE and OVERWHELMING (ACT, don’t REact), mandating a 90-degree BOLD FLANK (with flankers and trailers to maintain security) against the “fixed” CLF fire team as part of the battle drill. In the 1st rotation, Bolger saw that CLF quartets would easily avoid a “straight up the middle” counterattack, by sidestepping and slipping down the flank(s) of the assaulting unit to hit them from the side(s). (Again, all this sounds like good light infantry tactics, reinforced.)

                  Bolger also directed that the two best marksmen in each of his squads be equipped with magnified optics. (This is in the iron-sight Army of the 1990s–and I believe this predates any Big Green directives relating to “Squad Designated Marksman” doctrine as well.) Bolger’s instructions to his designated marksmen were to “target the CLF’s radio operator”, which would cripple the CLF ability to direct mortar fire.

                  Bolger reports that his battalion used the Lipke V to “unravel” the CLF’s tactics. It broke the CLF’s “box ambush” technique and made it difficult for the CLF to execute the “baited ambush”. The Lipke V turned CLF’s routine, rehearsed drills into an unexpected two-direction fight. Interesting comment from one of the CLF OPFOR officers: “If we see a leader take a knee and call on the radio, we know we’ll win. If he’s running and talking, we’re in trouble.”

                  One more thing:
                  Learning from the first rotation, Bolger made some major changes to his battalion’s command and control procedures (Tactical Operations Centers / command posts, and more) that paid big dividends in the second rotation. Essentially, he greatly tightened up the battalion’s OODA loop, focusing less on making Powerpoint slides and more on keeping track of the fight and adapting as the situation developed. (Adopting General Patton’s guidance that the order should be only 5% of the task, while the other 95% is supervising the execution (i.e., operating).)

                  However, I’m not sure how much interest there is on this forum for battalion-level command and control lessons learned.

                • #76499

                    The ‘Lipke V’ he is talking about is simply a two-up satellite patrol. They chose to do it with a platoon sized element. At MVT with less numbers, we do it with team of four. This is also downsized from a standard platoon action on hasty contact drill.

                    He is also talking about the assault cycle and using the flank.

                    Nice how he had to reinvent standard British tactics…..

                  • #76500

                      That was one of the surprises (to me) from the book–that his air assault battalion (and many others) initially weren’t executing effective tactics against the CLF teams, and that the “two-up satellite patrol”/”Lipke V”/”one point, two sides” concept wasn’t already known and practiced.

                      On the first issue, I got the impression that his small-unit commanders kinda-sorta knew that flank attacks were a good idea, but hadn’t practiced it and didn’t have it pounded into their heads until the 10 commandments made sure they practiced fundamentals.

                      I suspect one big US-v-UK difference in practice/retention of fundamentals was individual rotation policies. Someone can chime in about US Army replacement/rotation in 2018, but Bolger made a point that 1990s Army policies were pulling away individual soldiers and dropping in new replacements so frequently that his 2nd-rotation battalion personnel were substantially different from those in the 1st rotation. Many (though not all) key leadership positions had turned over, and this filtered down to junior enlisted as well.

                      I know (though not in detail) that the army personnel policies are much different in the UK. You’d know first hand how the UK approach affects core competencies.

                    • #76501

                        Marketgarden some very good information and break down on Bolger re-discovering light infantry tactics.

                        Provided me some reading material during my morning coffee. :good:

                      • #76502

                          JRTC OPFOR

                          I found this on the YouTube. Its an army training film from the same time as the book. It hits a lot of the high points of the book regarding OPFOR tactics. Bonus points for awesome 90s military fashions. Woodland BDUs FTW.

                          HEAT 1 2017
                          Intro to CQB 2017
                          Texas HEAT 2 2018
                          Operation TeaSinker 2019
                          Combat Leader Course 2019
                          Team Coyote
                          Team Rekkr
                          Team Cowbell

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