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A fighting position is a place on the battlefield from which troops engage the enemy with direct and indirect fire weapons. The positions provide necessary protection for personnel, yet allow for fields of fire and maneuver. A protective position protects the personnel and/or material not directly involved with fighting the enemy from attack or environmental extremes. In order to develop plans for fighting and protective positions, five types of weapons, their effects, and their survivability considerations are presented. Air-delivered weapons such as ATGMs, laser-guided missiles, mines, and large bombs require similar survivability considerations.


Direct fire projectiles are primarily designed to strike a target with a velocity high enough to achieve penetration. The chemical energy projectile uses some form of chemical heat and blast to achieve penetration. It detonates either at impact or when maximum penetration is achieved. Chemical energy projectiles carrying impact-detonated or delayed detonation high-explosive charges are used mainly for direct fire from systems with high accuracy and consistently good target acquisition ability. Tanks, antitank weapons, and automatic cannons usually use these types of projectiles.

The kinetic energy projectile uses high velocity and mass (momentum) to penetrate its target. Currently, the hypervelocity projectile causes the most concern in survivability position design. The materials used must dissipate the projectile's energy and thus prevent total penetration. Shielding against direct fire projectiles should initially stop or deform the projectiles in order to prevent or limit penetration.

Direct fire projectiles are further divided into the categories of ball and tracer, armor piercing and armor piercing incendiary, and high explosive (HE) rounds.

Ball and Tracer

Ball and tracer rounds are normally of a relatively small caliber (5.56 to 14.5 millimeters (mm)) and are fired from pistols, rifles, and machine guns. The round's projectile penetrates soft targets on impact at a high velocity. The penetration depends directly on the projectile's velocity, weight, and angle at which it hits.

Armor Piercing and Armor Piercing Incendiary

Armor piercing and armor piercing incendiary rounds are designed to penetrate armor plate and other types of homogeneous steel. Armor piercing projectiles have a special jacket encasing a hard core or penetrating rod which is designed to penetrate when fired with high accuracy at an angle very close to the perpendicular of the target. Incendiary projectiles are used principally to penetrate a target and ignite its contents. They are used effectively against fuel supplies and storage areas.

High Explosive

High explosive rounds include high explosive antitank (HEAT) rounds, recoilless rifle rounds, and antitank rockets. They are designed to detonate a shaped charge on impact. At detonation, an extremely high velocity molten jet is formed. This jet perforates large thicknesses of high-density material, continues along its path, and sets fuel and ammunition on fire. The HEAT rounds generally range in size from 60 to 120 mm.

Survivability Considerations

Direct fire survivability considerations include oblique impact, or impact of projectiles at other than a perpendicular angle to the structure, which increases the apparent thickness of the structure and decreases the possibility of penetration. The potential for ricochet off a structure increases as the angle of impact from the perpendicular increases. Designers of protective structures should select the proper material and design exposed surfaces with the maximum angle from the perpendicular to the direction of fire. Also, a low structure silhouette design makes a structure harder to engage with direct fire.


Indirect fire projectiles used against fighting and protective positions include mortar and artillery shells and rockets which cause blast and fragmentation damage to affected structures.


Blast, caused by the detonation of the explosive charge, creates a shock wave which knocks apart walls or roof structures. Contact bursts cause excavation cave-in from ground shock, or structure collapse. Overhead bursts can buckle or destroy the roof.

Blasts from high explosive shells or rockets can occur in three ways:

  • Overhead burst (fragmentation from an artillery airburst shell).

  • Contact burst (blast from an artillery shell exploding on impact).

  • Delay fuze burst (blast from an artillery shell designed to detonate after penetration into a target).

The severity of the blast effects increases as the distance from the structure to the point of impact decreases. Delay fuze bursts are the greatest threat to covered structures. Repeated surface or delay fuze bursts further degrade fighting and protective positions by the cratering effect and soil discharge. Indirect fire blast effects also cause concussions. The shock from a high explosive round detonation causes headaches, nosebleeds, and spinal and brain concussions.


Fragmentation occurs when the projectile disintegrates, producing a mass of high-speed steel fragments which can perforate and become imbedded in fighting and protective positions. The pattern or distribution of fragments greatly affects the design of fighting and protective positions. Airburst of artillery shells provides the greatest unrestricted distribution of fragments. Fragments created by surface and delay bursts are restricted by obstructions on the ground.

Survivability Considerations

Indirect fire survivability from fragmentation requires shielding similar to that needed for direct fire penetration.


Nuclear weapons effects are classified as residual and initial. Residual effects (such as fallout) are primarily of long-term concern. However, they mayseriously alter the operational plans in the immediate battle area. The figure below of tactical nuclear weapons shows how the energy released by detonation of a tactical nuclear explosion is divided. Initial effects occur in the immediate area shortly after detonation and are the most tactically significant since they cause personnel casualties and material damage within the immediate time span of any operation. The principal initial casualty producing effects are blast, thermal radiation (burning), and nuclear radiation. Other initial effects, such as electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and transient radiation effects on electronics (TREE), affect electrical and electronic equipment.


Blast from nuclear bursts overturns and crushes equipment, collapses lungs, ruptures eardrums, hurls debris and personnel, and collapses positions and structures.

Thermal Radiation

Thermal radiation sets fire to combustible materials, and causes flash blindness or burns in the eyes, as well as personnel casualties from skin burns.

Nuclear Radiation

Nuclear radiation damages cells throughout the body. This radiation damage may cause the headaches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea generally called "radiation sickness". The severity of radiation sickness depends on the extent of initial exposure. The figure below shows the relationship between dose of nuclear radiation and distance from ground zero for a 1-kiloton weapon. Once the dose is known, initial radiation effects on personnel are determined from the table below. Radiation in the body is cumulative.

Nuclear radiation is the dominant casualty producing effect of low-yield tactical nuclear weapons. But other initial effects may produce significant damage and/or casualties depending on the weapon type, yield, burst conditions, and the degree of personnel and equipment protection. The figure on Tactical radii shows tactical radii of effects for nominal 1-kiloton weapons.

Electromagnetic pulse

Electromagnetic pulse (EMP) damages electrical and electronic equipment. It occurs at distances from the burst where other nuclear weapons effects produce little or no damage, and it lasts for less than a second after the burst. The pulse also damages vulnerable electrical and electronic equipment at ranges up to 5 kilometers for a 10-kiloton surface burst, and hundreds of kilometers for a similar high-altitude burst.

Survivability Considerations

Nuclear weapons survivability includes dispersion of protective positions within a suspected target area. Deep-covered positions will minimize the danger from blast and thermal radiation. Personnel should habitually wear complete uniforms with hands, face, and neck covered. Nuclear radiation is minimized by avoiding the radioactive fallout area or remaining in deep-covered protective positions. Examples of expedient protective positions against initial nuclear effects are shown on the chart below. Additionally, buttoned-up armor vehicles offer limited protection from nuclear radiation. Removal of antennae and placement of critical electrical equipment into protective positions will reduce the adverse effects of EMP and TREE.


Toxic chemical agents are primarily designed for use against personnel and to contaminate terrain and material. Agents do not destroy material and structures, but make them unusable for periods of time because of chemical contaminant absorption. The duration of chemical agent effectiveness depends on-

  • Weather conditions.

  • Dispersion methods.

  • Terrain conditions.

  • Physical properties.

  • Quantity used.

  • Type used (nerve, blood, or blister).

Field Manual 21-40 provides chemical agent details and characteristics. Since the vapor of toxic chemical agents is heavier than air, it naturally tends to drift to the lowest corners or sections of a structure. Thus, low, unenclosed fighting and protective positions trap chemical vapors or agents. Because chemical agents saturate an area, access to positions without airlock entrance ways is limited during and after an attack, since every entering or exiting soldier brings contamination inside.

Survivability Considerations

Survivability of chemical effects includes overhead cover of any design that delays penetration of chemical vapors and biological aerosols, thereby providing additional masking time and protection against direct liquid contamination. Packing materials and covers are used to protect sensitive equipment. Proper use of protective clothing and equipment, along with simply avoiding the contaminated area, aids greatly in chemical survivability.


Fuel-air munitions and flamethrowers are considered special-purpose weapons. Fuel-air munitions disperse fuel into the atmosphere forming a fuel-air mixture that is detonated. The fuel is usually contained in a metal canister and is dispersed by detonation of a central burster charge carried within the canister. Upon proper dispersion, the fuel-air mixture is detonated. Peak pressures created within the detonated cloud reach 300 pounds per square inch (psi). Fuel-air munitions create large area loading on a structure as compared to localized loadings caused by an equal weight high explosive charge. High temperatures ignite flammable materials. Flamethrowers and napalm produce intense heat and noxious gases which can neutralize accessible positions. The intense flame may also exhaust the oxygen content of inside air causing respiratory injuries to occupants shielded from the flaming fuel. Flame is effective in penetrating protective positions.

Survivability Considerations

Survivability of special purpose weapons effects includes covered positions with relatively small apertures and closable entrance areas which provide protection from napalm and flamethrowers. Deep-supported tunnels and positions provide protection from other fuel-air munitions and explosives.


Before designing fightingand protective positions, it is important to know how the previously-described weapons affect and interact with various materials that are fired upon. The materials used in fighting and protective position construction act as either shielding for the protected equipment and personnel, structural components to hold the shielding in place, or both.


Shielding provides protection against penetration of both projectiles and fragments, nuclear and thermal radiation, and the effects of fire and chemical agents. Various materials and amounts of materials provide varying degrees of shielding. Some of the more commonly used materials and the effects of both projectile and fragment penetration in these materials, as well as nuclear and thermal radiation suppression, are discussed in the following paragraphs. (Incendiary and chemical effects are generalized from the previous discussion of weapons effects.) The following three tables contain shielding requirements of various materials to protect against direct hits by direct fire projectiles, direct fire high explosive (HE) shaped charges, and indirect fire fragmentation and blast . The table below lists nuclear protection factors associated with earth cover and sandbags.


Direct fire and indirect fire fragmentation penetration in soil or other similar granular material is based on three considerations: for materials of the same density, the finer the grain the greater the penetration; penetration decreases with increase in density; and penetration increases with increasing water content. Nuclear and thermal radiation protection of soil is governed by the following:

  • The more earth cover, the better the shielding. Each layer of sandbags filled with sand or clay reduces transmitted radiation by 50 percent.

  • Sand or compacted clay provides better radiation shielding than other soils which are less dense.

  • Damp or wet earth or sand provides better protection than dry material.

  • Sandbags protected by a top layer of earth survive thermal radiation better than exposed bags. Exposed bags may burn, spill their contents, and become susceptible to the blast wave.


Steel is the most commonly used material for protection against direct and indirect fire fragmentation. Steel is also more likely to deform a projectile as it penetrates, and is much less likely to span than concrete. Steel plates, only 1/6 the thickness of concrete, afford equal protection against nondeforming projectiles of small and intermediate calibers. Because of its high density, steel is five times more effective in initial radiation suppression than an equal thickness of concrete. It is also effective against thermal radiation, although it transmits heat rapidly. Many field expedient types of steel are usable for shielding. Steel landing mats, culvert sections, and steel drums, for example, are effectively used in a structure as one of several composite materials. Expedient steel pieces are also used for individual protection against projectile and fragment penetration and nuclear radiation.


When reinforcing steel is used in concrete, direct and indirect fire fragmentation protection is excellent. The reinforcing helps the concrete to remain intact even after excessive cracking caused by penetration. When a near miss shell explodes, its fragments travel faster than its blast wave. If these fragments strike the exposed concrete surfaces of a protective position, they can weaken the concrete to such an extent that the blast wave destroys it. When possible, at least one layer of sandbags, placed on their short ends, or 15 inches of soil should cover all exposed concrete surfaces. An additional consequence of concrete penetration is spalling. If a projectile partially penetrates concrete shielding, particles and chunks of concrete often break or scab off the back of the shield at the time of impact. These particles can kill when broken loose. Concrete provides excellent protection against nuclear and thermal radiation.


Direct and indirect fire fragmentation penetration into rock depends on the rock's physical properties and the number of joints, fractures, and other irregularities contained in the rock. These irregularities weaken rock and can increase penetration. Several layers of irregularly-shaped rock can change the angle of penetration. Hard rock can cause a projectile or fragment to flatten out or break up and stop penetration. Nuclear and thermal radiation protection is limited because of undetectable voids and cracks in rocks. Generally, rock is not as effective against radiation as concrete, since the ability to provide protection depends on the rock's density.

Brick and Masonry

Direct and indirect fire fragmentation penetration into brick and masonry have the same protection limitations as rock. Nuclear and thermal radiation protection by brick and masonry is 1.5 times more effective than the protection afforded by soil. This characteristic is due to the higher compressive strength and hardness properties of brick and masonry. However, since density determines the degree of protection against initial radiation, unreinforced brick and masonry are not as good as concrete for penetration protection.

Snow and Ice

Although snow and ice are sometimes the only available materials in certain locations, they are used for shielding only. Weather could cause structures made of snow or ice to wear away or even collapse. Shielding composed of frozen materials provides protection from initial radiation, but melts if thermal radiation effects are strong enough.


Direct and indirect fire fragmentation protection using wood is limited because of its low density and relatively low compressive strengths. Greater thicknesses of wood than of soil are needed for protection from penetration. Wood is generally used as structural support for a survivability position. The low density of wood provides poor protection from nuclear and thermal radiation. Also, with its low ignition point, wood is easily destroyed by fire from thermal radiation.

Other Materials

Expedient materials include steel pickets, landing mats, steel culverts, steel drums, and steel shipping consolidated express (CONEX) containers. Chapter 4 discusses fighting and protective positions constructed with some of these materials.


The structure of a fighting and protective position depends on the weapon or weapon effect it is designed to defeat. All fighting and protective positions have some configuration of floor, walls, and roof designed to protect material and/or occupants. The floor, walls, and roof support the shielding discussed earlier, or may in themselves make up that shielding. These components must also resist blast and ground shock effects from detonation of high explosive rounds which place greater stress on the structure than the weight of the components and the shielding. Designers must make structural components of the positions stronger, larger, and/or more numerous in order to defeat blast and ground shock. Following is a discussion of materials used to build floors, walls, and roofs of positions.


Fighting and protective position floors are made from almost any material, but require resistance to weathering, wear, and trafficability. Soil is most often used, yet is least resistant to water damage and rutting from foot and vehicle traffic. Wood pallets, or other field-available materials are often cut to fit floor areas. Drainage sumps, shown below, or drains are also installed when possible.


Walls of fighting and protective positions are of two basic types-below ground (earth or revetted earth) and aboveground. Below ground walls are made of the in-place soil remaining after excavation of the position. This soil may need revetment or support, depending on the soil properties and depth of cut. When used to support roof structures, earth walls must support the roof at points no less than one fourth the depth of cutout from the edges of excavation, as shown.

Aboveground walls are normally constructed for shielding from direct fire and fragments. They are usually built of revetted earth, sandbags, concrete, or other materials. When constructed to a thickness adequate for shielding from direct fire and fragments, they are thick and stable enough for roof support. Additional details on wall design are given in FM 5-35.


Roofs of fighting and protective positions are easily designed to support earth cover for shielding from fragments and small caliber direct fire. However, contact burst protection requires much stronger roof structures and, therefore, careful design. Roofs for support of earth cover shielding are constructed of almost any material that is usually used as beams or stringers and sheathing. The first two tables present guidelines for wooden roof structures (for fragment shielding only). A third table is converting dimensioned to round timber. The tables on Maximum Span are pertaining to steel pickets and landing mats for roof supports (for fragment shielding only).

When roof structures are designed to defeat contact bursts of high explosive projectiles, substantial additional roof protection is required. The table on defeat contact bursts gives basic design criteria for a roof. Appendix B of this manual describes a procedure for overhead cover design to defeat contact burst of high explosive projectiles.


Seven categories of fighting and protective positions or components of positions that are used together or separately are-

  • Holes and simple excavations.

  • Trenches.

  • Tunnels.

  • Earth parapets.

  • Overhead cover and roof structures.

  • Triggering screens.

  • Shelters and bunkers.


Excavations, when feasible, provide good protection from direct fire and some indirect fire weapons effects. Open excavations have the advantages of-

  • Providing good protection from direct fire when the occupant would otherwise be exposed.

  • Permitting 360-degree observation and fire.

  • Providing good protection from nuclear weapons effects.

Open excavations have the disadvantages of-

  • Providing limited protection from direct fire while the occupant is firing a weapon, since frontal and side protection is negligible.

  • Providing relatively no protection from fragments from overhead bursts of artillery shells. The larger the open excavation, the less the protection from artillery.

  • Providing limited protection from chemical effects. In some cases, chemicals concentrate in low holes and excavations.


Trenches provide essentially the same protection from conventional, nuclear, and chemical effects as the other excavations described, and are used almost exclusively in defensive areas. They are employed as protective positions and used to connect individual holes, weapons positions, and shelters. They provide protection and concealment for personnel moving between fighting positions or in and out of the area. They are usually open excavations, but sections are sometimes covered to provide additional protection. Trenches are difficult to camouflage and are easily detected from the air.

Trenches, like other positions, are developed progressively. As a general rule, they are excavated deeper than fighting positions to allow movement without exposure to enemy fire. It is usually necessary to provide revetment and drainage for them.


Tunnels are not frequently constructed in the defense of an area due to the time, effort, and technicalities involved. However, they are usually used to good advantage when the length of time an area is defended justifies the effort, and the ground lends itself to this purpose. The decision to build tunnels also depends greatly on the nature of the soil, which is usually determined by borings or similar means. Tunneling in hard rock is slow and generally impractical. Tunnels in clay or other soft soils are also impractical since builders must line them throughout to prevent collapse. Therefore, construction of tunneled defenses is usually limited to hilly terrain, steep hillsides, and favorable soils including hard chalk, soft sandstone, and other types of hard soil or soft rock.

In the tunnel system shown, the soil was generally very hard and only the entrances were timbered. The speed of excavation using hand tools varied according to the soil, and seldom exceeded 25 feet per day. In patches of hard rock, as little as 3 feet were excavated per day. Use of power tools did not significantly increase the speed of excavation. Engineer units, assisted by infantry personnel, performed the work. Tunnels of the type shown are excavated up to 30 feet below ground level. They are usually horizontal or nearly so. Entrances are strengthened against collapse under shell fire and ground shock from nuclear weapons. The first 16½ feet from each entrance should have frames using 4 by 4s or larger timber supports.

Untimbered tunnels are generally 31½ feet wide and 5 to 6 1/2 feet high. Once beyond the portal or entrance, tunnels of up to this size are unlimbered if they are deep enough and the soil will stand open. Larger tunnels must have shoring. Chambers constructed in rock or extremely hard soil do not need timber supports. If timber is not used, the chamber is not wider than 6½ feet; if timbers are used, the width can increase to 10 feet. The chamber is generally the same height as the tunnel, and up to 13 feet long.

Grenade traps are constructed at the bottom of straight lengths where they slope. This is done by cutting a recess about 3½ feet deep in the wall facing the inclining floor of the tunnel.

Much of the spoil from the excavated area requires disposal and concealment. The volume of spoil is usually estimated as one third greater than the volume of the tunnel. Tunnel entrances need concealment from enemy observation. Also, it is sometimes necessary during construction to transport spoil by hand through a trench. In cold regions, air warmer than outside air may rise from a tunnel entrance thus revealing the position.

The danger that tunnel entrances may become blocked and trap the occupants always exists. Picks and shovels are placed in each tunnel so that trapped personnel can dig their way out. Furthermore, at least two entrances are necessary for ventilation. Whenever possible, one or more emergency exits are provided. These are usually small tunnels with entrances normally closed or concealed. A tunnel is constructed from inside the system to within a few feet of the surface so that an easy breakthrough is possible.


Excavations and trenches are usually modified to include front, rear, and side earth parapets. Parapets are constructed using spoil from the excavation or other materials carried to the site. Frontal, side, and rear parapets greatly increase the protection of occupants firing their weapons. Thicknesses required for parapets vary according to the material's ability to deny round penetration.

Parapets are generally positioned as shown below to allow full frontal protection, thus relying on mutual support of other firing positions. Parapets are also used as a single means of protection, even in the absence of excavations.


Fighting and protective positions are given overhead cover primarily to defeat indirect fire projectiles landing on or exploding above them. Defeat of an indirect fire attack on a position, then, requires that the three types of burst conditions are considered. (Note: Always place a waterproof layer over any soil cover to prevent it from gaining moisture or weathering.)

Overhead Burst (Fragments)

Protection against fragments from airburst artillery is provided by a thickness of shielding required to defeat a certain size shell fragment, supported by a roof structure adequate for the dead load of the shielding. This type of roof structure is designed using the thicknesses to defeat fragment penetration given in the table on Indirect Fire Fragmentation and Blast. As a general guide, fragment penetration protection always requires at least 11/2 feet of soil cover. For example, to defeat fragments from a 120-mm mortar when available cover material is sandbags filled with soil, the cover depth required is 1½ feet. Then, the Maximum Span table shows that support of the l½ feet of cover (using 2 by 4 roof stringers over a 4-foot span) requires 16-inch center-to-center spacing of the 2 by 4s. This example is shown below.

Contact Burst

Protection from contact burst of indirect fire HE shells requires much more cover and roof structure support than does protection from fragmentation. The type of roof structure necessary is given in the following table. For example, if a position must defeat the contact burst of an 82-mm mortar, the table provides multiple design options. If 4 by 4 stringers are positioned on 9-inch center-to-center spacings over a span of 8 feet, then 2 feet of soil (loose, gravelly sand) is required to defeat the burst. Appendix B outlines a step-by-step design and reverse design analysis procedure for cover protection of various materials to defeat contact bursts.

Delay Fuze Burst

Delay fuze shells are designed to detonate after penetration. Protection provided by over-head cover is dependent on the amount of cover remaining between the structure and the shell at the time of detonation. To defeat penetration of the shell, and thus cause it to detonate with a sufficient cover between it and the structure, materials are added on top of the overhead cover.

If this type of cover is used along with contact. burst protection, the additional materials (such as rock or concrete) are added in with the soil unit weight when designing the contact burst cover structure.


Triggering screens are separately built or added on to existing structures used to activate the fuze of an incoming shell at a "standoff' distance from the structure. The screen initiates detonation at a distance where only fragments reach the structure. A variety of materials are usually used to detonate both super-quick fuzed shells and delay fuze shells up to and including 130 mm. Super-quick shell detonation requires only enough material to activate the fuze. Delay shells require more material to both limit penetration and activate the fuze. Typical standoff framing is shown below.

Defeating Super-Quick Fuzes

Incoming shells with super-quick fuzes are defeated at a standoff distance with several types of triggering screen materials. The first table below lists thicknesses of facing material required for detonating incoming shells when impacting with the triggering screen. These triggering screens detonate the incoming shell but do not defeat fragments from these shells. Protection from fragments is still necessary for a position. The second table below lists required thicknesses for various materials to defeat fragments if the triggering screen is 10 feet from the structure.

Defeating Delay Fuzes

Delay fuzes are defeated by various thicknesses of protective material. The table below lists type and thickness of materials required to defeat penetration of delay fuze shells and cause their premature detonation. These materials are usually added to positions designed for contact burst protection. One method to defeat penetration and ensure premature shell detonation is to use layers of large stones. The figure below shows this added delay fuze protection on top of the contact burst protection designed in appendix B. The rocks are placed in at least three layers on top of the required depth of cover for the expected shell size. The rock size is approximately twice the caliber of the expected shell. For example, the rock size required to defeat 82-mm mortar shell penetration is 2 x 82 mm = 164 mm (or 6½ inches).

In some cases, chain link fences also provide some standoff protection when visibility is necessary in front of the standoff and when positioned as shown. However, the fuze of some incoming shells may pass through the fence without initiating the firing mechanism.


Protective shelters and fighting bunkers are usually constructed using a combination of the components of positions mentioned thus far. Protective shelters are primarily used as-

  • Command posts.

  • Observation posts.

  • Medical aid stations.

  • Supply and ammunition shelters.

  • Sleeping or resting shelters.

Protective shelters are usually constructed aboveground, using cavity wall revetments and earth-covered roof structures, or they are below ground using sections that are airtransportable.

Fighting bunkers are enlarged fighting positions designed for squad-size units or larger. They are built either aboveground or below ground and are usually made of concrete. However, some are prefabricated and transported forward to the battle area by trucks or air.

If shelters and bunkers are properly constructed with appropriate collective protection equipment, they can serve as protection against chemical and biological agents.


For individual and crew-served weapons fighting and protective position construction, hand tools are available. The individual soldier carries an entrenching tool and has access to picks, shovels, machetes, and hand carpentry tools for use in individual excavation and vertical construction work.

Earthmoving equipment and explosives are used for excavating protective positions for vehicles and supplies. Earthmoving equipment, including backhoes, bulldozers, and bucket loaders, are usually used for larger or more rapid excavation when the situation permits. Usually, these machines cannot dig out the exact shape desired or dig the amount of earth necessary. The excavation is usually then completed by hand. Descriptions and capabilities of US survivability equipment are given in appendix A.

Methods of construction include sandbagging, explosive excavation, and excavation revetments.


Walls of fighting and protective positions are built of sandbags in much the same way bricks are used. Sandbags are also useful for retaining wall revetments as shown on the right.

The sandbag is made of an acrylic fabric and is rot and weather resistant. Under all climatic conditions, the bag has a life of at least 2 years with no visible deterioration. (Some older-style cotton bags deteriorate much sooner.) The useful life of sandbags is prolonged by filling them with a mixture of dry earth and portland cement, normally in the ratio of 1 part of cement to 10 parts of dry earth. The cement sets as the bags take on moisture. A 1:6 ratio is used for sand-gravel mixtures. As an alternative, filled bags are dipped in a cement-water slurry. Each sandbag is then pounded with a flat object, such as a 2 by 4, to make the retaining wall more stable.

As a rule, sandbags are used for revetting walls or repairing trenches when the soil is very loose and requires a retaining wall. A sandbag revetment will not stand with a vertical face. The face must have a slope of 1:4, and lean against the earth it is to hold in place. The base for the revetment must stand on firm ground and dug at a slope of 4:1.

The following steps are used to construct a sandbag revetment wall such as the one shown.

  • The bags are filled about three-fourths full with earth or a dry soil-cement mixture and the choke cords are tied.

  • The bottom corners of the bags are tucked in after filling.

  • The bottom row of the revetment is constructed by placing all bags as headers. The wall is built using alternate rows of stretchers and headers with the joints broken between courses. The top row of the revetment wall consists of headers.

  • Sandbags are positioned so that the planes between the layers have the same pitch as the base-at right angles to the slope of the revetment.

  • All bags are placed so that side seams on stretchers and choked ends on headers are turned toward the revetted face.

  • As the revetment is built, it is backfilled to shape the revetted face to this slope.

Often, the requirement for filled sandbags far exceeds the capabilities of soldiers using only shovels. If the bags are filled from a stockpile, the job is performed easier and faster by using a lumber or steel funnel
as shown on the right.


Explosive excavation is done by placing charges in boreholes in a particular pattern designed to excavate a certain dimensioned hole. Boreholes are dug to a depth two thirds that of desired excavation. The holes are spaced no farther apart than twice their depth, and no closer to the desired perimeter than the depth of the borehole.

The boreholes are dug with posthole diggers, hand augers, or with 15-or 40-pound shaped charges. The holes are backfilled and tamped. Borehole sizes made with shaped charges are listed in the first table below. Boreholes made with shaped charges may need additional digging or partial filling and tamping to achieve a desired depth. When setting explosives, the charges are placed in the borehole with two thirds of the charge at the bottom and one third halfway down. The charges are then tamped. The second table below lists the pounds of explosive needed in a sandy clay soil per depth of borehole.

Because soil type and explosive effectiveness vary, the quantity of explosive required may differ slightly from the amounts given in the previous table. A test hole is detonated to check the accuracy of the table in the specific soil condition. After tamping and detonating the charges, the loose earth is removed and the position is shaped as desired.

Rectangular Positions

Borehole and charge location in rectangular position excavation shown below in the diagram is as follows:

  • The outline of position is marked on the ground.

  • Holes are located a borehole's depth inward from each of the four corners.

  • Additional holes are spaced along both sides at distances not exceeding two times the depth of the boreholes.

  • Inner rows are spaced equal distance from the outer rows at distances not exceeding two times the borehole depth.

  • Each row is staggered with respect to adjacent rows.

  • The calculated charge weight is doubled in all holes in interior rows.

Information concerning the calculation of charge weights and the use of prime cord or blasting caps is contained in FM 5-34 and FM 5-25.

To create ramps for positions in relatively flat terrain using explosives, the lower portion is excavated as a rectangular position, as shown, and the upper end is excavated by hand. Charges are not placed closer than the borehole depth from the desired edge, and not farther than twice the borehole depth apart. Portions of the position less than 2 feet deep are usually excavated by hand.

Circular Positions

Circular positions are prepared with a circular arrangement of boreholes surrounding a borehole at the center of the position. Several concentric rings of holes are needed for large positions, and one ring or only one charge for small positions. The charge layout shown on the right is as follows:

  • The radius of the desired circular position is determined.

  • The borehole depth is subtracted from the radius and a circle is inscribed on the ground with the new radius length.

  • The new radius length is divided by twice the borehole depth to determine the number of rings within the position.

  • Each additional ring is positioned at equal distances between the outer ring and the center of the position.

  • Boreholes are spaced equal distance along each ring. Each hole should not exceed twice the borehole depth from another hole on the ring.

  • The charge weight is doubled in all holes in the interior rings.

When the position diameter does not exceed twice the borehole depth, a single charge placed at the center of the position is enough. When the position diameter is between two and four times the borehole depth, space three holes equal distance around the ring and omit the center hole.

Positions in Frozen Soil

In frozen soil, blasting requires about 1.5 to 2 times the number of boreholes and larger charges than those calculated for moderate climates. To determine the number of bore-holes needed, testing is performed before extensive excavation is attempted. For frozen soil, hole depth (d) should equal required depth of excavation. The required charge weight (w) is w = 0.06 d 3 pounds, where (d) is in feet.

Positions in Rocky Soil

Boulders and rocks are removed by using blasting methods described in FM 5-25 or FM 5-34.These manuals also described similar activities for stump and tree root removal.


Excavations in soil may require revetment to prevent side walls from collapsing. Several methods of excavation revetments are usually used to prevent wall collapse.

Wall Sloping

The need for revetment is sometimes avoided or postponed by sloping the walls of the excavation. In most soils, a slope of 1:3 or 1:4 is sufficient. This method is used temporarily if the soil is loose and no revetting materials are available. The ratio of 1:3, for example, will determine the slope by moving 1 foot horizontally for each 3 feet vertically. When wall sloping is used, the walls are first dug vertically and then sloped.

Facing Revetments

Facing revetments serve mainly to protect revetted surfaces from the effects of weather and occupation. It is used when soils are stable enough to sustain their own weight. This revetment consists of the revetting or facing material and the supports which hold the revetting material in place. The facing material is usually much thinner than that used in a retaining wall. Facing revetments are preferable to wall sloping since less excavation is required. The top of the facing is set below ground level. The facing is constructed of brushwood hurdles, continuous brush, poles, corrugated metal, plywood, or burlap and chicken wire. The following paragraphs describe the method of constructing each type.

Brushwood Hurdle. A brushwood hurdle is a woven revetment unit usually 6½ feet long and as high as the revetted wall. Pieces of brushwood about 1 inch in diameter are weaved on a framework of sharpened pickets driven into the ground at 20-inch intervals. When completed, the 6 ½-foot lengths are carried to the position where the pickets are driven in place. The tops of the pickets are tied back to stakes or holdfasts and the ends of the hurdles are wired together.

Continuous Brush. A continuous brush revetment is constructed in place. Sharpened pickets 3 inches in diameter are driven into the bottom of the trench at 30-inch intervals and about 4 inches from the revetted earth face. The space behind the pickets is packed with small, straight brushwood laid horizontally. The tops of the pickets are anchored to stakes or holdfasts.

Pole. A pole revetment is similar to the continuous brush revetment except that a layer of small horizontal round poles, cut to the length of the revetted wall, is used instead of brushwood. If available, boards or planks are used instead of poles because of quick installation. Pickets are held in place by holdfasts or struts.

Corrugated Metal Sheets or Plywood. A revetment of corrugated metal sheets or plywood is usually installed rapidly and is strong and durable. It is well adapted to position construction because the edges and ends of sheets or planks are lapped, as required, to produce a revetment of a given height and length. All metal surfaces are smeared with mud to reduce possible reflection of thermal radiation and aid in camouflage. Burlap and chicken wire revetments are similar to revetments made from corrugated metal sheets or plywood. However, burlap and chicken wire does not have the strength or durability of plywood or sheet metal in supporting soil.

Methods to Support Facing

The revetment facing is usually supported by timber frames or pickets. Frames of dimensioned timber are constructed to fit the bottom and sides of the position and hold the facing material apart over the excavated width.

Pickets are driven into the ground on the position side of the facing material. The pickets are held tightly against the facing by bracing them apart across the width of the position. The size of pickets required and their spacing are determined by the soil and type of facing material used. Wooden pickets smaller than 3 inches in diameter are not used. The maximum spacing between pickets is about 6½ feet. The standard pickets used to support barbed wire entanglements are excellent for use in revetting. Pickets are driven at least 1½ feet into the floor of the position. Where the tops of the pickets are anchored, an anchor stake or holdfast is driveninto the top of the bank and tied to the top of the picket. The distance between the anchor stake and the facing is at least equal to the height of the revetted face, with alternate anchors staggered and at least 2 feet farther back. Several strands of wire holding the pickets against the emplacement walls are placed straight and taut. A groove or channel is cut in the parapet to pass the wire through.



The easiest and most efficient method of preventing the targeting and destruction of a position or shelter is use of proper camouflage and concealment techniques. Major considerations for camouflage use are discussed in appendix D. Following are some general guidelines for position construction.

Natural concealment and good camouflage materials are used. When construction of a positions begins, natural materials such as vegetation, rotting leaves, scrub brush, and snow are preserved for use as camouflage when construction is completed. If explosive excavation is used, the large area of earth spray created by detonation is camouflaged or removed by first placing tarpaulins or scrap canvas on the ground prior to charge detonation. Also, heavy equipment tracks and impressions are disguised upon completion of construction.

Fields of fire are not overcleared. In fighting position construction, clearing of fields of fire is an important activity for effective engagement of the enemy. Excessive clearing is prevented in order to reduce early enemy acquisition of the position. Procedures for clearing allow for only as much terrain modification as is needed for enemy acquisition and engagement.

Concealment from aircraft is provided. Consideration is usually given to observation from the air. Action is taken to camouflage position interiors or roofs with fresh natural materials, thus preventing contrast with the surroundings.

During construction, the position is evaluated from the enemy side. By far, the most effective means of evaluating concealment and camouflage is to check it from a suspected enemy avenue of approach.


Positions and shelters are designed to take advantage of the natural drainage pattern of the ground. They are constructed to provide for-

  • Exclusion of surface runoff.

  • Disposal of direct rainfall or seepage.

  • Bypassing or rerouting natural drainage channels if they are intersected by the position.

In addition to using materials that are durable and resistant to weathering and rot, positions are protected from damage due to surface runoff and direct rainfall, and are repaired quickly when erosion begins. Proper position siting can lessen the problem of surface water runoff. Surface water is excluded by excavating intercepted ditches uphill from a position or shelter. Preventing water from flowing into the excavation is easier than removing it. Positions are located to direct the runoff water into natural drainage lines. Water within a position or shelter is carried to central points by constructing longitudinal slopes in the bottom of the excavation. A very gradual slope of 1 percent is desirable.


If water is allowed to stand in the bottom of an excavation, the position is eventually undermined and becomes useless. Sumps and drains are kept clean of silt and refuse. Parapets around positions are kept clear and wide enough to prevent parapet soil from falling into the excavation. When wire and pickets are used to support revetment material, the pickets may become loose, especially after rain. Improvised braces are wedged across the excavation, at or near floor level, between two opposite pickets. Anchor wires are tightened by further twisting. Anchor pickets are driven in farther to hold tightened wires. Periodic inspections of sandbags are made.


If the walls are crumbling in at the top of an excavation (ground level), soil is cut out where it is crumbling (or until firm soil is reached). Sandbags or sod blocks are used to build up the damaged area. If excavation walls are wearing away at the floor level, a plank is placed on its edge or the brushwood is shifted down. The plank is held against the excavation wall with short pickets driven into the floor. If planks are used on both sides of the excavation, a wedge is placed between the planks and earth is placed in the back of the planks. If an entire wall appears ready to collapse, the excavation is completely revetted.


In almost all instances, fighting and protective positions are prepared by teams of at least two personnel. During construction, adequate frontal and perimeter protection and observation are necessary. Additional units are sometimes required to secure an area during position construction. Unit personnel can also take turns with excavating and providing security.

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias