Thursday, January 06, 2011


Lt. Col Scott McMichael is a retired U.S. Army officer who is a profligate writer on military issues in general and light infantry in particular. I have always really enjoyed his works on the latter subject. His Historical Perspective on Light Infantry is a particularly well-done analysis. I just ordered his Stumbling Bear, although I have not yet read it.
I suppose he retired as a colonel and not a brigadier general because he dared to blaspheme the Party Line of technology fixes and overwhelming firepower and instead spoke of those pesky old-fashioned concepts of good training and good men. Afghanistan in particular bears out his theories, but the American military institution is incapable of learning from the past nor deviating from the Party Line.
At any rate, I happened to stumble across an old article of his from Military Review on Light Infantry Proverbs. Responses to it by "professional" officers were pretty vicious in some cases. When I first read it, I too thought it was a bit overdone, making light infantry out to be a cross between Special Forces and Superman.
Mulling it over, I came to realize that it was something that could very well be done. In the past, the American military was capable of producing and training such units...The First Special Service Force, the Marine Raiders, Army Rangers and the 10th Mountain Division in WWII, Merill's Marauders, the Alamo Scouts, LRRPs, Hackworth's Hardcore Bn., modern Special Forces, etc.
Other nations have done it as well with specialized mountain troops (Gebirgsjaeger, Alpini, Chassuers Alpin, Cazadores de Montana, Vanatori de Munte, etc, etc, etc) Commandos, the Chindits, the Long Range Desert Group, Popski's Private Army, Gurkhas, Sissi, the Rhodesian Light Infantry and Sealous Scouts, the Brandenberger Regiment, 502nd SS Jager Bn Mitte, Royal Marines, etc. Need I go on?
So, if it could be done in the past, why not today?
The reasons are too numerous to even get into, but it all boils down to high-level leadership, or the lack thereof. The "professional" military has always stoutly resisted any kind of special forces. Conformists get promoted; non-conformists win wars and then get the boot. Infantry training isn't glamorous, doesn't get the big bucks the techno projects do, and doesn't provide you with a six-figure income as a "consultant" for a defense contractor after retirement. Moreover it requires work, and an even dirtier word, change. In a zero defect environment, no one benefits from lessons learned in training, as no mistakes are allowed and any training tough enough to do some good on the battlefield could cause a training casualty, leading right back to the zero defect thing. Check all the boxes, cross all the t's, and make the training numbers all "good to go" on's the only safe way.
Additionally, all Americans are guilty, myself of course included, to some degree of impatience, laziness, and looking for the "quick fix". That quick fix is usually expected from high technology.
A Finnish veteran of the Winter and Continuation Wars, Lt. Col. Erkki Lahdenpera, called us on this even before the Vietnam War.
“It is vital to have good equipment, but too much time, effort, and funds have been devoted in the past to testing and experimenting with new items of equipment and clothing at the expense of combat training [original emphasis]. In extreme environmental conditions it is far more important to have well-trained troops with satisfactory equipment than average [or mediocre] troops with excellent equipment. First-class training with a high state of morale is the foundation for successful operations in rugged terrain and extreme climates. This is not to say that we do not need the best possible equipment, but the primary effort must be on tough, realistic combat training. Wartime experience showed that success depended more upon the knowledge of how to use available equipment than upon the equipment itself.”
Over the centuries, the "professional" military experts and theorists have pronounced the Infantryman "dead" on far too many occasions in light of technological advances...the modern magazine-fed rifle [Mauser!], the machine gun, modern artillery, the tank, the airplane, the Atomic bomb, sensors, precision-guided munitions, etc. Yet there he still stands on the streets of Baghdad, the mountains of Afghanistan, and the DMZ in Korea.
So, without further ado, here are some of McMichael's Light Infantry Proverbs and examples of how such goals are indeed possible. There are examples of the use of high-tech to enhance the soldiers' capabilities, but while extremely useful in some cases, gadgetry in lieu of strategy still can't replace those boots on the ground. Perhaps we could yet reverse our priorities around to quality over quantity over technology.

1. There exists a “light infantry attitude” which can be described in a few characteristic words offensiveness: initiative, surprise, improvisation and total self-reliance.
“When he has finished his course, the mountain soldier is one of the best trained soldiers in the German Army, and from that time on he is likely to be one of the best equipped. Because each mountain unit is largely recruited from one mountain district, mountain soldiers are likely to add local pride to their pride as select troops. The final result is high morale and esprit de corps, although these attributes are likely to find expression in an individualism that conceals the high degree of self-discipline imposed by each man upon himself. This attitude is probably the natural outcome of training designed to prepare the mountain soldier for a virtually self-sustaining role in combat.”
German Mountain Warfare, 29 February 1944
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
Robert A. Heinlein
2. Light forces are undaunted by terrain. Terrain is viewed as an ally, a combat multiplier for the light infantryman. Light forces are terrain-oriented. Very little terrain is impassable to true light infantry.
“Stress night cross-country movements and night attacks. Don’t allow the units or individuals to use an road, path, trail or other easy route of advance: in every case have them move by only the most difficult and inaccessible terrain in the vicinity...Make the men regard the most difficult ground as the natural route of advance and it will save many casualties.”
Colonel Harry B Sherman, 7th Inf., Italian Campaign

“No type of terrain is considered an obstacle, and full advantage is taken of routes over cliffs and other terrain features normally considered by the enemy to be impassable.”
Soviet Infiltration Units in Mountain Warfare
“The Taliban used Afghanistan’s varying terrain to their advantage when defending against Coalition offensives. In the mountainous Gumbad valley of northern Kandahar, insurgents fought from behind piles of rocks on a mountain face, fled through irrigation ducts designed to channel snowmelt, and disappeared over the ridgeline into a nearby mountain range totally inaccessible to Coalition forces except by air. In Bulac Kalay in Zabul province, insurgents fired heavy weapons from the cover of an orchard, with small teams ensconced on the ridgeline above. Near the village of Chalbar in northeast Kandahar, insurgents fought through airstrikes by taking cover beneath large boulders on the side of a mountain. In Kandahar’s lush and heavily cultivated Panjwayi valley, the Taliban fired from the cover of fields and orchards, and moved unobserved through the valley’s many irrigation canals.”
CNA Strategic Studies
3. Light infantry does best when it lives on, in and off the land. It must be comfortable “in the bush.”
“Living in the field under adverse circumstances should be taught. This means that the men should know how to cope with cold, rain, snow, mud, and ice, when they are on the front line for many days. The men should know how to put a shelter half over a fox hole or slit trench, leaving a small hole through which to observe and to fire. They should know that they must remove the shelter half and re-camouflage the trench or hole whenever the weather clears. They should also be trained to remove their shoes and socks each day and massage their feet. Such training will really pay dividends.”
Captain Robert C. Gates, Infantry, Italian Campaign
“They may, by choosing a circuitous path through difficult country, attempt to overtake and cut the line of retreat of a force withdrawing along a road, but mobility does not end there; if the chances of living off the country are small, troops may carry as much as seven days' rations with them, thus freeing themselves during this period from the encumbrance of an administrative tail. Impressed local inhabitants, with carts or boats, if the country is suitable, supplement their carrying powers, while opportunities to seize local supplies are never neglected.”
U.S. Intelligence Report, Japanese Operations in China.
4. Good intelligence is vitaI to light infantry. Intelligence is obtained by the light infantry from every source from the national level to the use of local inhabitants, reconnaissance and patrolling.
“So what enables an intelligent government and a wise military leadership to overcome others and achieve extraordinary accomplishments is foreknowledge.
Foreknowledge cannot be gotten from ghosts and spirits, cannot be had by analogy, cannot be found out by calculation. It must be obtained from people, people who know the conditions of the enemy.”
Sun Tzu
“The areas were selected after a meticulous intelligence profile was made. Every intelligence profile was made. Every intelligence source available to the battalion was used, from the super-secret black box in the delta-winged jet to the wrinkled brown farmer who tilled the rice paddy. When completed, the intelligence profile blinked like a neon light that pointed a bright red arrow at the enemy. The guerrilla companies conducted the same exacting pre-operation preparations as the ambush companies. Nothing was missed.”
Lt. Col. David Hackworth
5. Conventional tactics are no good for light forces.
“War with insurgents, partisans, and bands is a new type of war, new in its intensity and old in its origins, a war that uses infiltration rather than attack, a war where victory is achieved by taxing and exhausting the forces of the opponent rather than by destroying him. It requires new strategy and tactics, specialized forces and new forms of combat.”
President John F. Kennedy
“Red Chinese operations were a vanishing act on the grand scale… In the attack, their individuals were furtive, light of foot and highly elusive; ours were not.”
General S.L.A. Marshall
“Adherence to dogma has destroyed more armies and lost more battles and lives than anything else in war.”
General J.F.C. FULLER
6. Light forces need high-quality communication to coordinate decentralized efforts into a coherent whole.
“To unify people’s ears and eyes means to make people look and listen in concert so that they do not become confused and disorderly. Signals are used to indicate directions and prevent individuals from going off by themselves.”
Sun Tzu
“The utilization of Sat phones undoubtedly enhanced the platoon's ability to communicate effectively. The multiple methods of communication enabled the platoon to negotiate the terrain that would have otherwise been comms dead zones. Sat phones should undoubtedly be used as communications fail safe on all missions outside of built up areas.”
Cpt. Sean Trenholm, PPLI, Afghanistan
7. Light infantry forces must be masters of improvisation, familiar with all kinds of weapons, vehicles, landing craft, and so forth.

“The idea that no type of operation is unusual is inculcated in the men. At a moment's notice they should be able to ride bicycles or motorcycles; drive automobiles and trucks of unfamiliar types; ride horses and camels; and travel in aircraft, ships, and boats of any sort, all depending on the nature of the operation, the availability of means of transport, and the terrain in the various theaters of war. Commandos are sometimes carried as air-borne troops and receive special training for air-borne operations.”
British Commandos, Special Series #1, August 9, 1942
8. Light infantry forces make use of whatever is at hand to improve their combat capabilities.
“The use of a few riflemen at the ravine exit was sufficient to halt an entire division. The Italians subjected this handful to heavy machinegun and artillery fire. The riflemen were well dug-in and the fire did little harm…Large fires provided the necessary illumination during the night fighting at Fae, and the ensuing lack of ammunition was made good by rearming with captured Italian guns and ammunition. Both were accomplished under the strongest hostile fire, a remarkable achievement by the mountain troops.”
Field Marshall Erwin Rommel

“In New Guinea the morale and spirit of an Allied unit advancing under covering fire of friendly artillery was seriously affected by this ruse. Every time our guns opened up to provide covering fire for an advance, or fired on any target, the one known Jap 70-mm gun in the Government Gardens area also opened up and placed its rounds among our forward elements. The Japanese timed the activity of their own gun to coincide exactly with that of our supporting artillery. This made the troops imagine that they were being fired on by their own guns.”
U.S. Army Intelligence Bulletin, WWII
9. Light infantry must remain flexible in mind and action, capable of reacting quickly.
“So a military force has no constant formation, water has no constant shape: the ability to gain victory by changing and adapting according to the opponent is called genius.”
Sun Tzu
“It may be of interest to future generals to realize that one makes plans to fit the circumstances, and does not try to create circumstances to fit plans.”
General George S. Patton, Jr.
“Our most important need is resourcefulness in individuals and in leaders of small groups—squads and platoon. They must be taught throughout their training—especially their early training—to visualize and plan several ways to handle any situation before them, and to be ready to act decisively and promptly according to whichever of these plans is found most promising.”
General Walter Krueger
10. Light infantrymen rely on camouflage.
“At night, when these groups [Taliban] heard a Predator or AC-130 coming, they pulled a blanket over themselves to disappear from the night vision screen. They used low-tech to beat high-tech.”
General Franklin Hagenbeck

“The camouflage instinct is strongly developed in the Russian, and his inventive ability is astounding. This gift is systematically encouraged by thorough camouflage training which begins on the first day of military training and is continued throughout the whole period. Camouflage discipline is good even among troops who otherwise might be well below the average as regards weapon training. Infringements of camouflage discipline are severely punished.”
German Army Report on Red Army Camouflage, WWII
“Individual enemy riflemen and observers were supplied with hooded camouflage capes, which were made of light, rain-repellant tan paper. The capes were about 9 by 6 feet, and were tied with tie strings. Behind and under these capes, riflemen and observers could sit for a day at a time, dry and protected from wind and rain and indistinguishable from the tundra.”
Intelligence Report, Operations on Attu Island, WWII
11. Light infantrymen must be abIe to climb, crawl, swim, ski, snowshoe, rappel, stalk, run and hide.
“The Germans set out minimum standards of proficiency which all mountain soldiers must attain. They must practice until they can make any kind of ascent (Steigen)' on a road or path free of snow. They must also learn to walk on easy wooded, grass, and scree slopes, until they can master fairly difficult terrain which requires easy to moderately hard climbs. In the snow they are required to walk with snowshoes on roads, over easy and difficult terrain, and through woods and low, protected draws. They must also be able to get over icy stretches and make moderately hard climbs. The Germans teach that individual training in mountaineering attains its goal only when the regular mountain soldier under normal conditions of marching and combat.”
German Mountain Warfare, 29 February 1944

“Force members received rigorous and intensive training in stealth tactics; hand-to-hand combat; the use of explosives for demolition; parachuting; amphibious warfare; rock-climbing; mountain warfare, and as ski troops.”
History of the First Special Service Force
12. Light infantrymen must be able marksmen, proficient in the use and maintenance of many weapons.
“In training the individual rifleman, the most important thing
is marksmanship. The various firing positions will be practiced with and without skis. Training as sharpshooters with rifles equipped with telescopic sights, and with semiautomatic rifles, will be particularly stressed. Every man must be trained in the use of the light machine gun and the submachine gun. A knowledge of the most common infantry weapons of the enemy is desirable.”
German Ski Training & Tactics, 31 January 1944
“IA [Immediate Action] Drills are of little value unless the standard of weapons handling and marksmanship is high…The best plan, the best leadership and the most skilful fieldcraft will avail nothing if the men cannot shoot to kill when they meet the CT [Communist Terrorists].
British ATOM Manual, Malaysia
“You don’t hurt ‘em if you don’t hit ‘em.”
General Lewis M. “Chesty” Puller, USMC
13. Light forces rely on pioneer skills at all levels, beginning with the squad, to properly exploit terrain.
Even in the attack the spade is as important as the rifle.”
Field Marshall Erwin Rommel
“Terrain appreciation, to teach the men advantages and disadvantages of terrain features. Teach them to visualize how the ground on which you are located looks from the enemy’s viewpoint, i.e., what he can see and what you can’t see; where you can take positions unobserved, etc.”
Cpt. Robert C. Gates, Italian Campaign, WWII
14. Light infantry rarely uses roads or trails

“The main principles of combat procedure are-
(1) To get off the roads into the snow, and approach the enemy cross country.
(2) To get out of the villages and march through woods.
(3) To remain mobile.”
German Ski Training & Tactics, 31 January 1944
"We have learned that when we get off the beaten trails, it seems to confuse the Japs, and we have better success."
Gunner E. S. Rust, 5th Marines, Guadalcanal
“Although extremely limiting in some respects, the Chinese dependence upon the backs of animals and soldiers liberated them from roads and permitted troops to fight anywhere they could walk, whether in front, on the side, or behind the enemy lines. UN forces, on the other hand, were tied to the roads because their supplies arrived by truck. The roads, therefore, were vulnerable to being cut by roadblocks.”
Enemy Tactics, Techniques, and Doctrine, Korea
16. Physical conditioning and mental strength are absolute musts.
“The squad or platoon leader must have great physical strength and initiative. He must frequently depend entirely on his own judgment when the main body of his unit is distant and his personal example has a decisive influence upon the conduct of the men.”
German Ski Training & Tactics, 31 January 1944
“Excellent physical fitness is a requirement for all infantrymen. Human interaction ultimately requires dismounted manoeuvre with weapons and equipment in all types of terrain and climate for extended periods of time by day and night. A high standard of physical fitness breeds infectious optimism and offensive eagerness—physically fit individuals are more prone to take offensive action, and not to back down from a potentially dangerous situation.”
Lt. Col. Wayne D. Eyre, RCR, Afghanistan
“The unskilled man in the Services, as in industry, is losing his utility. Quality outweighs quantity on the modern battlefield.”
Sir B.H. Liddell-Hart

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