Infiltration tactics

Infiltration tactics

In warfare, infiltration tactics involve small, lightly-equipped infantry forces attacking enemy rear areas while bypassing enemy front-line strongpoints and isolating them for attack by follow-up troops with heavier weapons. These tactics were used by the stormtroopers of the German Army in 1917 during World War I, where they were also called Hutier tactics, after General Oskar von Hutier, who used these tactics to great effect during "Operation Michael" in March 1918.

The first use of German infiltration tactics occurred on 3 September 1917 when the German Eighth Army decisively ended the long siege before the Russian (now Latvian) city of Riga. The Germans employed the same tactics to break through Allied lines during the Battle of Caporetto in October 1917, in which the future Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel fought as a battalion commander.

The idea for infiltration tactics was first proposed by French Army captain Andre Laffargue. [ [ CSI Report No. 13: Tactical responses to concentrated artillery: Introduction] (Combat Studies Institute, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth).] Laffargue published a pamphlet "The attack in trench warfare" in 1915, based upon his experiences in combat that same year. He advocated that the first wave of an attack identify hard-to-defeat defenses but not attack them; subsequent waves would do this.

The French published his pamphlet "for information", but not implemented. The British did not even translate it. Germany captured copies of the pamphlet in 1916 and put its ideas into practice.

The Russian general Aleksei Brusilov developed similar tactics and used them to great effect during the Brusilov Offensive of 1916.

Hutier tactics

Infiltration attacks began with brief and violent bombardments of the enemy front lines, to suppress and demoralize the soldiers stationed there. Unlike previous World War I bombardment strategies, the bombardment also targeted the enemy rear areas to destroy or disrupt roads, artillery, and command units. This was done to confuse the enemy, and reduce their capability to launch effective counterattacks from secondary defense lines. For maximum effect, the exact points of attack remained concealed until the last possible moment.

Light infantry led these attacks. They would attempt to penetrate enemy weak points to bypass and isolate heavily-defended positions in the front line. Infantrymen with heavier weapons would then follow-up and have a great advantage when attacking the isolated enemy strong points. Other reinforcements would then enter these breaches, and the entire enemy line would shortly collapse. The attacks relied heavily on speed and surprise.

This tactic initially worked well and saw heavy use. However, because of this extensive implementation, the enemy quickly developed effective defenses. Also, as in the case of the more traditional mass attack, reserve troops following the assault units had to consolidate any gains against an enemy counterattack. One of the problems of World War I was that even when a breakthrough was made, the ground was so devastated that moving up reserves and material was difficult, allowing the enemy time to regroup. Thus, even with the new tactics and their relatively light use of artillery, attacks would tend to bog down sooner or later, and no massive breakthrough was possible. However, the new tactics, applied consistently over time, were much more effective than the old ones.

Infiltration tactics led to the creation of the modern military formation of the fire team, a small group of soldiers with a certain degree of , capable of penetrating enemy territory on missions of sabotage and misdirection. Similar methods were used by other armies in the Second World War where they became standard infantry tactics.

Dien Bien Phu

At the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, Major Marcel Bigeard, commander of the French 6th Colonial Parachute Battalion (6th BPC), used infiltration tactics in an attempt to defend the besieged garrison against the Viet Minh trench warfare tactics. Bigeard's parachute assault companies were supported by concentrated artillery and air support, and received help from tanks, allowing two companies (1st under Lieutenant René Le Page and 2nd under Lieutenant Hervé Trapp) numbering no more than 180 men to recapture the important hilltop position of Eliane 1 from a full Viet Minh battalion, on the early morning of 10 April 1954. Other parachute battalion and company commanders also used similar tactics during the battle. [Davidson, "Vietnam at War", page 265.]



* Davidson, Phillip B. "Vietnam at War: The History, 1946–1975". New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. ISBN 0-19-506792-4, ISBN 0891413065.

Further reading

* House, Jonathan M. "Toward Combined Arms Warfare: A Survey of 20th-Century Tactics, Doctrine, and Organization". U.S. Army Command General Staff College, 1984. [ Available online] (5 February 2005) or through University Press of the Pacific (Honolulu, Hawaii, 2002). ISBN 1410201597.
* Pope, Stephen, Elizabeth-Anne Wheal, and Keith Robbins, eds. "The Macmillan Dictionary of the First World War". London: Macmillan Reference Books, 1995. ISBN 033361822X.

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