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U.S. Marine Corps - Small Wars Manual (1940 Edition)




General considerations			9-18
Strategic (distant) reconnaissance			9-19
Tactical (close) reconnaissance			 9-20
The infantry mission			9-21
Special combat mission			9-22 

9-18. General considerations.-The employment of reconnaissance aviation in small wars situations follows generally the tactics prescribed for major operations. The principal difference lies in the common usage in small wars of the reconnaissance airplane in the dual missions of scouting and attack operations against ground targets. The habitual employment of scouts in pairs or small formation, primarily for mutual protection, favors the dual mission for this type.

b. Reconnaissance may be classified as strategical or tactical as to mission; visual or photographic as to method. Visual reconnaissance will be the principal method of obtaining information in the typical small wars operation. The type of country, unusually densely wooded, and the fleeting nature of the contacts to be expected with hostile forces, will probably limit the use of photographic observation to mapping operations. c. The effectiveness of air reconnaissance is dependent upon: the nature of the terrain, whether open or densely wooded jungle; the habits of the opposing forces with respect to concealment from aircraft; and, to a greater extent than any other factor, upon the skill and training of the observer. Generally speaking, a trained observer will detect the movement in open country of small groups, while in densely wooded country he will have great difficulty in locating a force the size of a company or larger. However, it will be very difficult for a hostile force of any considerable size to move in daylight without disclosing some indication of its presence, while the mere presence of airplanes in the area will be a deterrent to guerrilla operations. Intensive low altitude reconnaissance over restricted areas will seldom fail to discover the presence of hostile forces, although aviation cannot be expected to always furnish reliable negative information with respect to the hostile occupancy of dense woods, towns, and villages. In small wars, as in major ones, air reconnaissance supplements, but does not replace, the normal measures of security.

9-19. Strategical reconnaissance.-a. Prior to the initiation of the land campaign, the commander should dispatch such reconnaissance aircraft as may be available to make a general air survey of the proposed theater of operations. This mission may include aerial mapping, verification of existing maps in the location and disposition of hostile forces, their methods of operation and supply, location of airdromes and bivouac sites, and the scouting of possible routes of advance into the interior. During this period the flying personnel will familiarize themselves with the terrain and climatic conditions of the country.

b. Strategical reconnaissance may precede the initial landing of troops, if patrol seaplanes, shipbased seaplanes, or carrier-based aircraft are available. Where time is an important factor, much strategical information can be secured in a single flight, although a period of several days may be needed for a comprehensive air survey. Landplanes or amphibians should be used for inland reconnaissance when available, although the urgency of the situation may require the dispatching of seaplanes on such missions. In any event, the importance of a thorough air reconnaissance prior to the advance inland will justify the employment of whatever type of aircraft might be available.

9-20. Tactical reconnaissance.-a. After a general picture of the situation has been obtained and the ground forces have started their movement inland, reconnaissance becomes more tactical in nature. When contact becomes imminent, reconnaissance aviation maintains a close surveillance over local hostile activities, keeps the ground commanders constantly informed, and furnishes such combat support as may be urgent. The principal task of aviation operating in close support of an advancing column is to supplement the normal security measures taken by the ground forces against the possibility of surprise. Ambush by guerrilla bands is a constant menace. Airplanes should reconnoiter ahead of the ground columns, paying particular attention to those localities recognized by the skilled observer as being dangerous ambush sites. This precaution will protect the ground units from surprise by a large force. It must be remembered, however, that detection of small forces of irregulars, not in uniform and with no distinctive formation, in heavily wooded country, or in a jumble of mountain boulders, is extremely difficult and largely a matter of luck for even the most skilled air observer. The habitual presence of airplanes in the vicinity of our column will discourage operations of guerrilla forces, even though they escape detection, hence it is advisable to conduct more or less continuous reconnaissance throughout the hours of daylight over the area occupied by our advancing forces. Flights at irregular intervals may accomplish the same purpose with more economy of force.

b. Tactical reconnaissance immediately prior to combat becomes more intensive and is centralized to a definite locality. Detailed information of the hostile positions, strength, movement, and dispositions will be sought out by aircraft and communicated to the friendly ground units without delay. Ground observation will usually be very limited because of the nature of the terrain, and observation of the enemy position from the air may be absolutely essential for the formulation of plans and for the conduct of the action. Airplanes engaged in close reconnaissance missions may participate in combat. by employing bombs and machine-gun fire against objectives particularly dangerous to ground troops, especially when requested by the ground commander. It should be borne in mind, however, that combat is secondary to reconnaissance, and attacks which are not coordinated with the ground force action should generally be avoided.

9-21. Infantry mission.-a. In small wars there does not exist the same line of demarcation between the tactical reconnaissance mission and the infantry mission as is prescribed in air tactical doctrine for major operations. The functions of each merge into the other. Perhaps the best definition of the term "Infantry mission," as understood for small wars, refers to a daily or periodic air patrol which flies over a given area and contacts all the ground patrols ancl station garrisons located within this area. Tactical reconnaissance is conducted by these air patrols incident to their passage from one ground unit to another, and they are prepared to attack hostile ground forces upon discovery. Their primary mission, however, is to maintain command liaison with detached units of friendly ground forces, and to keep these forces informed of the situation confronting them. The infantry airplanes may be used for the emergency transport of men and supplies, or they may be called upon to assist some ground patrol in a difficult situation by attacking the hostile ground force. In short, the airplanes assigned to the infantry mission, operating habitually in pairs, support the ground forces in whatever manner is expedient, regardless of their normal function in major warfare.

b. Occasions may arise where it is desirable to dispense with air support for some special operation. Considerations of secrecy of movement for some ground unit may justify the responsible commander in making such a decision. Should it be decided that air support will not be furnished a ground patrol, the patrol commander should be so informed, and pilots instructed not to communicate with this unit, nor to disclose its presence in any way. However, to avoid being fired on, the ground patrol should display an identification panel whenever possible. While the infantry airplanes may disclose the position of a ground patrol to the enemy through efforts to establish a contact, it is likewise possible to deceive the enemy as to the true location of our forces by having the airplanes simulate contact with fictitious units in various other places.

c. Contacts between the infantry airplane and ground units are established by means of panels and drop messages, and where open ground is available, by message pick-ups. The use of radio will be more prevalent in the future than has been the case in the past.

9-22. Special combat missions.-Airplanes engaged in reconnaissance missions will be prepared to attack hostile ground forces, in order that emergency combat support may be rendered friendly ground units without delay. In small wars operations targets are apt to be fleeting and time may not permit the dispatch of regular attack units. If the enemy is to be struck while he is most vulnerable, he must be attacked immediately by the air patrol which discovers him. When time permits, a contact report should be made, but the patrol leader must make the decision in each case. This doctrine is applicable mainly to jungle warfare, against small groups of irregulars, where the offensive power of a pair of scouting airplanes would be of some avail. In more open country, against larger and better organized forces, search-attack missions by small air units are not generally recommended. In any event, it must be remembered that the primary mission of reconnaissance airplanes is not combat, but the procurement of information, and the mere existence of offensive armament should not encourage their needless diversion to combat tasks.

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