Tactical Mobility – how it may affect you
In the military sphere, one of the problems that any kind of air deployed dismounted force faces is a lack of tactical mobility. Such forces, deployed by parachute or even dropped off after an amphibious landing, have great strategic mobility but once on the ground they are limited by how far and fast they can march. This also has far reaching logistical implications. The use of helicopters has mitigated this somewhat due to the ability to pick up and redeploy those forces from one location to another, as well as conduct resupply and casualty evacuation.
A prime example of this was the Allied ‘Operation Market Garden’ in 1944 which was later made into a film called ‘A Bridge Too Far’. The operation called for Allied troops to jump into and secure several bridges in order to allow ground forces to make a lighting assault towards the Rhine and Germany and thus hopefully end the war rapidly. British Paratroopers were to jump in and secure the farthest bridge, at Arnhem. The operation on the Arnhem bridge was primarily conducted by parachute but gliders were involved, mainly to land heavier equipment, supplies and mobility assets such as Jeeps.
Following an intelligence assessment on air defenses the drop zone was chosen some ten miles away from the bridge. This was a huge mistake, among many made for that operation. Airborne forces need to land on or next to the objective to be successful. After utilizing great strategic mobility to fly from England, the paratroopers found themselves on the ground with minimal tactical mobility, having to move ten miles on their feet, and facing a Wehrmacht armored force that intelligence estimates had said was not present. To cut a long story short, the majority of the force did not make it to the bridge and were forced into a defensive perimeter in the village of Oosterbeek. A Battalion did make it to the bridge and secured it at one end. To be successful seizing a bridge, you must capture it at both ends.
The plan called for the paratroopers to hold out for 48 hours until the ground forces were able to link up. The American paratroopers had seized the bridges leading towards Arnhem, not without mishap and with at least one being blown by the enemy. The ground forces never made it to Arnhem. The Paras held the bridge for 48 hours before being practically wiped out by Wehrmacht armored forces. The perimeter at Oosterbeek held out for some five days before they withdrew across the river. Only about 3000 of the 10,000 Brit paras made it out.
That ten mile march later became the cornerstone as one of the selection tests for British Airborne forces; ‘The 10-miler’. This is a ‘tab’ of 10 miles with rucksack and rifle over hilly terrain in 1 hour 50 minutes. A ‘tab’ or ‘tabbing’ is the Brit word for ‘rucking’ or ruck marching, which comes from ‘Tactical Advance to Battle (TAB).’ This is less of a tactical activity when done as a selection or training event, and is more about a squadded speed march/run/shuffle over the distance. 10 mile tabs, sometimes switched up with ‘heavy carries’ of support weapons and equipment, were routinely conducted in Para battalions on Friday mornings before dispersing for the weekend.
Part of the technology for airborne and special operations missions has always concentrated on how to land asserts that will increase tactical mobility. Heavy dropping in light 105mm artillery means you need to ‘heavy drop’ in vehicles to tow them and carry the ammunition. If you look at the famous story of ‘Bravo Two Zero’, the SAS patrol in the first Gulf War, you will see that they chose to go into their observation post in the desert by helicopter, and get dropped off on foot. This was frowned upon and most other patrol activity was being conducted as ‘mobility’ patrols in vehicles. In the desert, you need vehicles to get about and carry sufficient resupply. This was shown and pioneered by the LRDG (long range desert group) when compared to early SAS activity in the North African desert in WWII. When compromised, the Bravo Two Zero team had to E&E on foot.
So much has been looked at, including use of ATVs and similar, to increase range and mobility and load carrying ability of infantry and in particular dismounted troops. This does not mean you should discount the use of marching to get from A to B, you just have to be aware of the tactical mobility handicap that you will have – but you will gain advantages in areas such as stealth and routes available. In fact, since the 1970s there has been an annual competition among units of the Royal Signals in the British Army. It is known as ‘The Lanyard Trophy’ and it originated in the 1970s during the cold war in an Airborne Signals unit. I know this because it was my father that started it all off.
The idea behind the Lanyard Trophy was to have a ruck march competition over hilly terrain with 40lb rucksacks, over a route of 40 miles. It would be done as teams. The genesis of the idea came from the situation in cold war Germany and the anticipated armored battles; when considering the movement of tracked armored formations in Germany in the cold war, it was something different from simply getting on the autobahn and driving 40 miles. Units had to be mustered, laagered, fueled, move through checkpoints and choke points and all that. The point of the competition was initially to prove that dismounted units could compete with such speeds of movement in the whole, rather than as specific speeds of infantry marching versus APCs/Tanks driving at max speed on a road.
So how does this apply to you? I can’t tell you exactly what situation you will find yourself in following a collapse. You may have to bug out from one area to another, maybe some time after the crisis when supplies run out at your retreat or marauders make your suburban hide-out untenable. You may have to patrol an area around your retreat. You may be engaged in patrol operations defending an area from dangerous marauders, you could be fighting a domestic or foreign invader, all the way up to being an active resistance member as the country fights for survival and liberty.
If you want to increase your tactical mobility beyond walking, then you may want to consider various means of transport. Various factors apply to all of these means and I will list some below. Some means of transport you may want to consider are:
Horse and cart
Mules – for equipment carriage (a small wars resistance force favorite!)
When you consider a means of transport, you will want to think about how it will affect you tactically and thus whether it is a sensible option or not. You can think in terms of the following factors, which are related to each other and sometimes mutually exclusive:
So let’s look at some transport factors:
Routes and freedom of maneuver/constraints: any kind of vehicle will limit routes available. This may have an impact on the utility and safety of such a means, and will be related to the kind of terrain you are operating in. In a desert environment there may be little restriction in where you can drive in an SUV, but in other areas you will be strictly limited to roads, even if you are using dirt roads. You have to consider whether you want to be out on the roads in vehicles, depending on the tactical environment, and if so how many vehicles and what tactical posture to maintain, along with drills to mitigate contact situations.
Recovery methods: tied in with routes is the type of transport you use and how easily it will get stuck. If you are moving heavy gear via mule, then you can go anywhere you can walk. If you are using off-road SUV style vehicles you will be limited and you will need to be able to extract those vehicles if they get stuck. You will need to consider off-road tires, vehicle mounted winches, the use of multiple vehicles, high-lift jacks, shovels and all the assorted accouterments of off-road driving.
Terrain and Weather: closely tied together with terrain is weather, which may make certain types of transport suitable or not. What may be good in the summer is not good in the winter. What impact will snow and ice have? What about a heavy summer thunderstorm soaking dry ground turning it into instant mud.
Fuel/feed: how are you going to continue to fuel that vehicle or feed that animal while on the trail? This also has implications for range and how much fuel you have or can carry. Are you just out riding round your property on patrol, looking for sign of hostiles or movement, using a horse or an ATV, or are you going on multiple day missions?
Range/speed: how far and how fast can you travel, which ties in to routes available and has tactical implications.
Noise: if using an ATV to patrol, then it has noise implications. Are you going to move a certain distance on the four-wheeler, then stop short in a draw and move forward on foot?
Numbers: do you have enough transport to move your team, and if so what are the tactical implications and formations for movement? What are your reaction to contact drills and is it practical for you to react in those vehicles?
Tactical posture: are you able to carry your weapons in any sort of ready position and react if on that vehicle? What about bikes and motorbikes/ATVs? You will have to sling weapons and bring them up if contacted. How will that work and what will your drills be? What is the situation and threat- are you going to try and look innocuous on the road but have weapons ready, or are we in a ‘Mad Max’ world where it does not matter, and you have ‘guns up’?
Load carrying: what are you using the vehicles for? Foraging? Going on a mission? Patrolling? Can you carry what you need in the vehicles? Do you need trailers, even for ATVs? Do you want to be able to carry stretchers on the back for casualty extraction? ATVs are excellent infantry support vehicles that can carry ammunition forwards and casualties back.
For the tactics of vehicle convoys I have covered this in detail in ‘Contact!’ One of my observations with vehicles is the use of them tactically in contact situations. This is where the combination of firepower/ protection/ mobility becomes important. Note how military vehicles, starting with the humble Humvee, have become massively up-armored and turreted since 9/11? One of the lessons learned is that unarmored vehicles do not do well in a contact, and having a machine-gun mounted on top has limited utility unless you can use the ground to protect the vehicle and crew. This is called going ‘hull down’ as used by tanks when they get behind ground so only their turret is visible to the enemy.
If you have unarmored vehicles, then you are best off utilizing the vehicles to increase your range and speed and load carrying ability. If you are going to fight, or deploy weapon systems from the vehicles, then best move into cover, stop short of the objective, dismount the personnel/weapons and move them up to a fire position. Alternatively move into a ‘hull down’ position. Against an enemy with inaccurate fire, such as AK weapons in Africa or the Middle East, unarmored vehicles with unprotected crews do have a certain survivability in combat. Against accurate rifle fire sitting in a vehicle in a firefight is not clever. If you insist on doing it, then other than use of ground, range is also you best friend; if you can get out of effective range yet still have weapons systems with the range to reach out and touch the enemy.
Do you want to up-armor your vehicles, in any sort of crude way to protect the occupants? Create a steel box inside, perhaps to protect kids when you are forced to do a vehicle movement through potentially hostile territory, and you have to travel by road?
Of course, you may not just be using vehicles for tactical missions. You may be using them for the chores of survival. But if that is the case, them make sure you combine the tactical with the chore. I was discussing this recently with a class, and talking about how there is a drinking water spring in the Gap west of Romney WV where a lot of people fill up water. Many others have wells but have not considered that they will not work when the electric goes off. So, as an example, let’s say that you don’t have a well and have to go down to the Gap, which is where Route 50 runs west of Romney through a steep wooded defile, and get water (yes yes, you may be better prepared than that, but it’s an example….):
There could be all sorts of threats, just like there is at a waterhole in a nature show! Given that Route 50 is a main route, there could be checkpoints on it in a martial law situation. There could be predators at the spring, or even as per Sarajevo (Bosnia) snipers in the woods waiting take people out when they fill up water. You have to take vehicles down there, whether ATV or SUV (or horse and cart…), in order to carry the water. You may not have a team, you may just have a couple of you. How to do it?
This is where you need to tactically plan the mission according to your available intelligence from the local area and the situation you are experiencing. Consider how you are going to do it? Night time, daytime? If nighttime, go with lights out? Take out the bulbs on your brake lights and your internal cab lights…etc. Recon in advance if possible.
Here is a suggestion on a possible way to do this, depending on the circumstances, based on two people doing the mission. Let’s also assume that you have invested in at least one set of NVGs (PVS 14) along with a DBAL laser for your rifle, and you have also invested in a handheld FLIR. If you haven’t, you may be best sticking to daylight where you will not be disadvantaged by lack of observation against those who may have this equipment.
First, depending on the distance, send out your night vision equipped scout with plenty of advance. Either he goes out on foot, or is dropped off by vehicle and the vehicle waits in cover for him to get into position. The scout uses his night observation equipment to move into a position of overwatch, looking over the spring and the surrounding hillsides. He scans with the FLIR to pick up heat sources. Remember that with an NVG, if you can hide by day, you can hide by night, which is why the FLIR is so good for observing to pick out heat sources. Once he decides that the place is safe, he uses a prearranged short signal on the cheap VHF/UHF radio, of the type sold in hunting stores, to signal the water vehicle. He gets a double click acknowledgment. The darkened vehicle drives up, fills the water containers, and then moves out, covered all the while by the scout in his position of overwatch.
In any of this, the exact plans depends on the factors of: Mission, Enemy, Terrain & Weather, Troops (resources) Available, Time available and Civil Considerations (METT-TC). The important point is that if you decide that you have a valid reason for the use of a means of transport, you should plan it tactically to ensure that you stack the odds in your favor. The example of what not to do is load the water jugs in the car, with the kids and roll down blithely to the spring on Route 50, straight into ….whatever it might be. Have a tactical plan, keep your assets safe, and make sure you have planned and rehearsed ‘actions on’ drills.
When you are dealing with vehicles or other means of transport, you have to factor in different ‘actions on’ (immediate action drills) than you would for a dismounted move. They are all still based on the same principles of security and fire & movement, simply adapted to the fact that you have vehicles, or mules, or whatever. If you are using vehicles, then you need to adapt your movement, your halts, and have security drills for vehicle centric activities such as changing a flat tire or refueling from your jerry cans. Yep: defensive position, circle the wagons (or box), its all been done before! I’m no cowboy, but if you are riding horses, then have a plan for if one loses a shoe, busts a saddle girth, or whatever horses do to force a halt.
Live Hard, Die Free.