Find a Security Clearance Job!

Military

NIGHT ATTACKS


"Most attacks seem to take place at night, during a rainstorm, uphill, where four map sheets join."
- Anon. British Officer in WW I

COMBAT EXPERIENCE

No one on the battlefield is more vulnerable than a dismounted infantryman in the open during daylight hours. He is exposed to all the firepower the enemy can shoot at him. The infantryman must often attack at night to reduce that vulnerability and improve his chances for survival and success.

LESSON LEARNED

Night attacks by dismounted infantry can save lives and accomplish the mission at minimal cost.

WW II: EL GUETTAR AND THE BIG RED ONE

In North Africa in March 1943, the II Corps under LTG George S. Patton Jr. ordered MG Terry Allen, Commander, 1st Inf Division, to take the hills east of Elguettar. Allen decided that the strong enemy positions would be too costly to assault in the daytime and resolved upon a night attack. The 1st ID had been training for months in night operations. The 26th Infantry Regiment followed up the attack and drove the enemy forces farther to the east. The 18th Infantry achieved surprise in both of their attacks. At Djebel Berda they managed to seize a toehold on the high ground and maintain it in the face for strong counterattacks. At Djebel Moheltat, the enemy was quickly routed and the hill seized with very few friendly casualties.

THE RANGERS LEAD THE WAY

In Allen's own words, "complete surprise was effected." The night movement protected the attack from enemy observation. The Rangers moved secretly over the hills to the north of Djebel el Ank during the night of 20-21 March and by dawn were able to launch an attack which completely routed the Italians of the Centauro division. Over 200 prisoners were taken. The 26th Infantry Regiment followed up the attack and drove the enemy forces farther to the east. The 18th Infantry achieved surprise in both of their attacks. At Djebel Berda they managed to seize a toehold on the high ground and maintain it in the face of strong counterattacks. At Djebel Moheltat the enemy was quickly routed and the hill seized with very few friendly casualties.

THE "FORWARD PASS" OF THE INFANTRY

Night attacks were the key to success in every instance. MG Allen has even called the night attack the "Forward Pass" of the Infantry. "Properly used," he said, "it will gain yardage at minimum cost. Improperly used, the assault units will get a bloody nose, with nothing to show for it." [7]

LESSON LEARNED

Night attacks can accomplish missions that are not always possible during daylight hours. They require detailed planning, close coordination within combined arms, and violent execution.

ITALY: THE 10TH ID ATTACK ON MT. BELVEDERE

During the Italian campaign in early 1945, the Germans were strongly entrenched in a series of defensive positions in Northern Italy called the Gothic Line. A key position was Mt. Belvedere which dominated one of the passes into the wide-open terrain of the Po River valley. The mission of taking this mountain was given to the men of the 10th (Mountain) Division. MG Hays, the Commanding General of the division, ordered a night attack to achieve surprise. Accordingly, the units performed extensive day and night reconnaissance over the routes up to the assault positions on Mt. Belvedere. On the night of 19 Feb, they moved secretly along these routes. The men went into battle with unloaded weapons and were not to fire without specific orders. They attacked the mountain with fixed bayonets and steady determination. Total surprise was achieved and by 7 A.M. the key position was in the hands of the men of the 87th Regiment of the 10th Division. This tactic prevented the Germans from detecting the attack or directing artillery fire against it and insured success. Even an enemy commander, General Kesselring, was forced to admit that the 10th was a "remarkable division." [8]

LESSON LEARNED

Well trained and disciplined troops are essential for successful night attacks.

FALKLANDS

British forces in the Falklands began all their ground attacks during the hours of darkness because of the open terrain, little air support (due to bad weather), and long fields of fire for the Argentinians. As one commander noted, this was not an easy job. "There is no greater task of even highly trained troops than to ask them to continue an attack under heavy fire in darkness--the tendency towards inertia is greater by night than by day." [9]

LESSON LEARNED

Keep night attack plans simple.

WW II: THE 357TH REGT OVER THE SAAR

The 357th Regiment, 90th Infantry division, was to spearhead the XX Corps attack across the SAAR River in Germany in early December 1944. The regimental mission was to cross the river, assault a triple line of pillboxes of the Seigfried line, take a hill to their rear and hold onto a vital road junction as the left flank of the corps' attack. The 1st Battalion of the 357th, under the command of then MAJ William DePuy (later Commanding General of TRADOC), had a key role to play in the attack. MAJ DePuy's orders were simple. He told his men: "Get in the boats and cross the river. If you are shot at from the pillbox, go to one side or the other of it. Don't stop and don't go back. Go to the right or or go to the left, but go inland and cross the railroad track. Don't stop to fight anybody. When you get to the road turn right and move south until you come to the end of the wood line. When you get to the end of the wood line wait until at least a platoon is there and then go up the hill to the road junction and wait. Get yourself set up for defense and wait until we all get there. Then we'll organize. If you are the only one who gets there, the mission is to block that road. If we all get there, we'll all block that road. If only one company gets there, fine. But block that road junction!"

CENTRAL PLAN: DECENTRALIZED EXECUTION

MAJ DePuy personally briefed his Company commanders, his platoon leaders and every squad leader. As a result, the battalion made it to the objective with only two losses. The mission was made clear to everybody because it was a simple, direct order with a maximum degree of flexibility. It kept just enough control to counter the confusion inherent in night operations. [10]

FALKLANDS

42 Commandos, the Royal Marines, mission was to secure Mt. Harriet, one of the key features dominating the approach to Port Stanley. Intelligence reports indicated that the 4th Argentine Regiment occupied the objective and they had had plenty of time to strengthen their defensive positions. From their location on Mt. Challenger, 42 Cdo conducted extensive night reconnaissance. Based on the factors of METT-T the commander decided to attack at night. Knowing the difficulties of commanding and controlling a night attack, 42 Cdo kept their attack plan simple to ensure every soldier understood the mission. At 0100, 12 June 1982, 42 Cdo begin their move to their line of departure for the attack. A diversionary attack on Mt. Wall by J company occupied the attention of the defenders on Mt. Harriet as K and L Companies began their attack. M84 MAWs and M72 LAWs eliminated machine gun positions as the two companies used fire and movement to close with the enemy. Before first light stubborn resistance was overcome. The defenders either fled or were captured. [11]

LESSON LEARNED

The element of surprise is still attainable despite the defenders' use of sophisticated night vision devices.

FALKLANDS

The mission of the 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment (2 Para), was to attack Argentine forces at the settlements of Darwin and Goose Green. 2 Para's attack began just after midnight. Despite the Argentinians' extensive array of the latest night vision devices, the attack achieved surprise. The attack progressed well against heavy resistance but by daybreak the objectives had not been secured. 2 Para found themselves in open terrain where the defenders were able to engage the paratroopers with accurate direct and indirect fires. As one company commander put it, "up to first light, we were definitely winning. After first light, it was dawning on people that we were doing the grovelling." The momentum then shifted from the attacker to the defenders. Only the death of the unit commander in the ensuing action gave the Para the added spark to continue the attack and seize the objective. [12]

LESSON LEARNED

Night attacks can achieve surprise and upset carefully planned enemy defenses.

IRAN / IRAQ

On 26 September 1981, the Iranian army surprised the Iraqi forces by conducting a dismounted infantry night attack along the Bahomsheer River side of Abadan Island. The Iranian attack was well planned and organized. The night infantry attacks were made over a broad front to find and penetrate weak spots while pinning down Iraqi forces in strongly held areas. Iran then followed up its initial success and quickly concentrated its combat power. Iraqi troops on the other hand, "tended to freeze in position and await orders." The Iranians' bold use of night infiltration tactics was particularly upsetting to the rigid, position-oriented Iraqi defenses. [13]

REFERENCES

These references provide the guidance for planning, coordinating, and executing the night attack.

FM 7-10, The Infantry Rifle Company, Jan 1982, has an in-depth discussion in chapter 3 on how to plan and conduct a night attack.

FM 7-20, The Infantry Battalion, Dec 1984, Chapter 4, Section VIII, covers the advantages, disadvantages, and general considerations for a night attack.

FM 90-13, River Crossing Operation, Nov 1978, provides techniques, tactics, and procedures for a night river crossing.

FC 90-1, Night Operations, Nov 1985, contains detailed information on offensive and defensive operations, night training, and practical how-to techniques.

BOTTOM LINE

Night attacks, properly planned and executed, achieve decisive results. Units must train extensively at night unless they want the night to belong to the enemy.


Table of Contents
Snipers
Reverse Slope Defense



NEWSLETTER
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list