The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW


Fighting At Night
AUTHOR Major Walter J. Wierzbicki, USMC
CSC 1991
SUBJECT AREA - Warfighting
                   EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
  I.  Purpose:   To review United States Marine Corps Doctrine
      pertaining  to  the  conduct  of the night attack and to
      make  recommendations  as  to reguirements for change or
 II.  Problem:    The proliferation of night vision technology
      on  today's battlefield has essentially turned the night
      into  day;  in addition, the tempo of combat may lead to
      extemporaneous  night fighting necessitating a review of
      our current night attack doctrine.
III.  Data:   USMC doctrine describes a very lock-step formula
      for  the  successful  conduct  of  a night attack.  Even
      though   the   doctrine   is  formulated  from  numerous
      historical  examples,  the  doctrine does not advance or
      take  into account the changes we have seen or expect to
      see  on  today's  battlefield.    Foremost  among  these
      changes  is the superior advances that have been made in
      night  vision  technology.    Also  the fact that extem-
      poraneous  night  fighting may occur on the battlefield,
      that  is, night fighting that may be conducted without a
      detailed  reconnaissance, rehearsals and proper dissemi-
      nation  of the order will have a major impact on the way
      we  approach  the night fight and the way we prepare for
      it.     History  is  replete  with  the  successes gained
      through  the  use  of  night  combat.   From the British
      experience   in  the  Falkland  Islands  in  which  they
      employed   their  forces  almost  exclusively  at  night
      conclusions  can be drawn that the doctrine developed is
      applicable with modifications.
IV.    Conclusions:    The   night  attack  doctrine contained in
       FMFMs  6-3  and  6-4   is  valid  and   should be used but
       modified  based  on   the  commander's   evaluation of the
  V.  Recommendations:    Training  for the night fight should
      be  conducted  at least fifty percent of the time and it
      should include the hasty or impromptu night attack.
                               FIGHTING AT NIGHT
Thesis  Statement:    Unlike tacticians of old, today's tacti-
cian  has  no  choice.    Modern  armies  can  and  will fight
effectively  at  night,  and  the  force that cannot cope with
darkness  will  lose  the  battle.    Given  the  unquestioned
validity  of these circumstances, our current doctrine for the
conduct of an infantry ground night attack is outdated.
  I.  Purposes for the Conduct of the Night Attack
      A.  Historical Overview of the Night Attack
      B.  Command and Control
 II.  Night Operations and Its Effects
      A.  Psychological and Physiological Considerations
      B.  Night Vision Technology Advances
III.  Extemporaneous Night Fighting
      A.  Adequate Training for Night Operations
      B.  Selection of terrain--maximize cover and concealment
IV.   Doctrinal Approach to Night Operations
      A.  Principles/Essentials of the Night Attack
      B.  Control Measures Required for the Conduct of the
      C.  Planning the Night Attack
  V.  The British Experience in the Falklands War--1982
 VI.  Deduced Modifications to the Doctrine
VII.  Implications for USMC Doctrine
                      FIGHTING AT NIGHT
    "The  more  that  darkness  is  avoided,  the better.
    Daybreak  is  favorable because you can recognize one
    another.    You  do not risk killing your own men and
    the  cowards,  who  think  they  can  run away in the
    shadows,  are  not  able  to  do  it as well when the
    officers  are  able to distinguish them.  In general,
    I  believe  that night attacks are only good when you
    are  so weak that you do not dare attack the enemy in
    daylight. "  (6:13)
    This  military  philosophy  was  voiced  by  Frederick the
Great,  universally  recognized  as  one  of  history's  Great
Captains.    Other  such  notables  as Napoleon and Clausewitz
have  cautioned  that  night  operations  should be undertaken
only  under  very  unusual  circumstances,  and  then only for
limited  objectives.    United  States  Marine  Corps doctrine
states  that night attacks are employed to achieve one or more
of the following purposes:
    (1) To achieve tactical surprise.
    (2) To complete or exploit a prior success.
    (3) To maintain pressure against the enemy.
    (4) To avoid heavy losses.
    (5) To compensate for an inferiority in combat power.
    (6) To  seize  terrain  considered vital to the conduct of
subsequent daylight operations.  (4:152)
Past  tactics  and  technology  permitted commanders to forego
night  operations  if  they  so chose.  Darkness was a time of
rest   for weary  soldiers.  Commanders leisurely  planned the
following   day's  activities,  confident  that  no  civilized
opponent  would  spoil  their  sleep  by  initiating  a  night
action.    Today's tactician has no choice.  Modern armies can
and  will  fight  effectively  at  night,  and  the force that
cannot  cope  with  darkness  will lose the battle.  Given the
unquestioned  validity  of  these  circumstances,  our current
doctrine  for  the  conduct of an infantry ground night attack
is outdated.
    When  one  thinks of conducting a night attack the command
and   control  of  the  attack should immediately come to mind.
Upon   reviewing   the  inherent  problem of controlling a night
attack,  one may be inclined to agree with Frederick the Great
and  just  not  do  it.    The  need  for  additional  control
measures,  a  reliance  on  navigation skills, the requirement
for  rehearsals,  all weigh heavily on a commander.  Moreover,
the  anticipation  of  a  unit  moving across hostile terrain,
encountering  obstacles,  taking  enemy fire from unidentified
locations,  and finally assaulting an enemy that is dug-in and
capable  of  shooting  anything  that  moves is enough to faze
even the strongest commander.
    Troops  must  compensate  for  the  uncertainty  and chaos
encountered  in  controlling  a  night attack.  Night training
and  constant  rehearsals are essential to a unit's success at
night.    However,  in sustained combat operations, rehearsals
will  sometimes be conducted completely devoid of the two main
ingredients  for  success:    a detailed reconnaissance of the
terrain  and an understanding of the enemy situation.  (13:26)
These  two  requirements  are key in any attack but take on an
even  greater  importance  at  night and if not conducted will
lead to failure.
    Most  likely,  when  one  considers  operating  at  night,
psychological  and  physiological considerations must be taken
into   account.    Man  is  not  nocturnal  by  nature.    Our
instinctive  reaction  to  darkness is to find a secure place,
rest,  and  wait  for  daylight.   Simple tasks take longer to
perform  at night.  Fatigue seems more debilitating.  An enemy
felt  but  unseen is more sinister than one whose presence and
activity  can be observed.  Men charged with confidence during
the  day  may  become  tentative  at  night.   Of course these
difficulties  of  the  night  apply to the enemy as well.  But
here  we  must  realize that a defending enemy, even though he
feels  the  effects of the night, has the advantage because he
is  familiar  with  the  terrain and has fixed positions which
provide him with a sense of security and confidence.
    With  the  advances  in  night vision technology some long
established   principles   of   night   fighting  have  become
obsolete,  thus  antiquating those principles alluded to by B.
H.  Liddell  Hart  in a 1955 article where he states, "a cloak
of  invisibility is the best means of surprise and better than
any  armor as a means of protection.  Moreover, the cloak that
nature  provides  nightly has the advantage of being more con-
sistent  and  predictable  than  any  artificial one."  (6:13)
Only  a  few  years ago the commander who could train men to a
high   state   of  light  and  noise  discipline,  and  follow
accurately  a  compass  azimuth  was  well  on  his way toward
successful  night  operations.   This is not to say that these
skills  should  not  continue  to  be  developed, but with the
proliferation  of  night  observation  devices on the field of
battle,   stealth   and  accuracy  cannot  assure  success  or
survival.   Attacking units must be judicious in the selection
of  the  terrain,  maximizing  cover  and  concealment and not
relying  on  the  straight  line  approach  from  the  line of
departure  to  the  objective.    Current  doctrine  fails  to
address this salient issue.
    Considering  future  war,  or  for  that matter the war in
which  we  were  recently  involved  wherein  extensive  night
ground  action  was  planned,  night attacks in some instances
became  a  continuation of the day's action into the period of
darkness.    This type of extemporaneous night fighting may be
the  most  difficult  of all to execute properly, for planning
will  be  rapid,  support will be that which is available, and
selected  units  will  be  those  already  in contact, or most
nearly  so.    These circumstances will not fit the concept of
the   meticulously   planned  night  attack  as  our  doctrine
currently  addresses.    But  today's  battle  may likely deal
harshly with the theories of classic warfare.
    Our  operational  forces do not train adequately for night
operations,  neither  does USMC doctrine address this training
even  though  this  same  doctrine  describes such training as
essential  to  battlefield  success.   Training is the respon-
sibility  of  the  commander.    He  is  the  one who sets the
objectives  and  ensures they are met through supervision.  It
is  here in the supervisory aspect that all too often the link
is  broken.    Simply going through the motions is inadequate.
Individuals  learn the skill of night navigation by navigating
at  night; they become familiar with night observation devices
by  using them, and they attain confidence with their weapons
and  each other  at  night  through  the conduct of live fire
exercises and  combined  arms exercises, not by simply paying
lip service to these necessities.
    The  proliferation  of  night-vision  equipment and modern
weaponry  has  increased  the  advantages  gained  from  night
operations  but  it  has not substantially reduced the psycho-
logical  effect  of  darkness  on  humans.    We must realize,
however,  that  we  are  confronting or will confront an enemy
with  equal  capabilities,  necessitating  modification of our
doctrine  and  an  examination of those purposes for which the
conduct of  an infantry ground attack is made.  And given the
situation  in  Southwest Asia where complex ground maneuver at
night  was extensively planned for, we must recognize the time
for change is now!
    History  is  replete with examples of the successes gained
through  the  conduct  of  the  night  attack.    The  success
achieved  has  been  directly  proportionate  to  the  lessons
derived  from  each  occurrence and our doctrine aptly commun-
icates  those  recurring themes.  Those underlying or founding
principles  of  night  warfare  contained  in the Marine Corps
FMFM  6-3 and FMFM 6-4 dictate that the essentials for a night
attack are:
    1.  Training/leadership
    2.  Detailed information on the enemy and terrain
    3.  Preparation time
    4.  Simple concept--detailed plan
    5.  Designation of the objective
    6.  Secrecy in preparation (3:229-235)
    To  expand  on  these principles for the night attack they
each  need  to  be  looked  at  both  separately  and in total
because a  successful  night attack depends on the aspects of
training  and  leadership  and  should include both individual
and  unit  training.   To become more confident and aggressive
in  our  night operating abilities, our night training must be
more  than  superficial.   In addition to emphasizing squad or
platoon  size training (as is so often the case), we must also
gain experience in company and battalion-size night attacks.
    Detailed  information  remains  paramount  to a successful
night  attack and if any one aspect is critical to the success
of  its  operation  it  is having detailed information on both
the enemy  and terrain.  The particular emphasis should be on
the  routes  to  and the nature of the objective.  In conjunc-
tion  with  this  information,  the  value of preparation time
comes  to  the  forefront.  Allowing for ample time to conduct
reconnaissance,  formulate the plan, and above all disseminate
the plan becomes paramount to success.
    In  a  seeming  paradox,  doctrine  calls  not  only for a
simple  concept  but  also for a detailed plan when developing
the  scheme of maneuver.  But the paradox is only superficial;
control  and  coordination  are  that  much  more difficult at
night.    Understandably  then  the simpler the plan, the more
attention  to  detail  may  be  realized.    This  concept  is
relative  though as doctrine dictates complexity in developing
a  plan  due  to  the  number  of  control  measures  that are
required to complete the plan for the night attack.
    Most  doctrine  describes  the objective as easily identi-
fiable,  limited  in  size,  and singular.  In other words, it
cannot  be  a  simple plan if we have a problem in identifying
the  objective.    There  must  be  no question as to what the
objective  is.    The  criteria  describing the objective of a
night  attack  appear  to  be terrain dependent but will it be
possible  to  maintain  our  focus  if  the  objective  is the
enemy?  That remains to be seen.
    Secrecy  in  preparation,  the  last  of  the  principles/
essentials,  relates  directly  to  the degree of surprise one
will  achieve  in  executing  a night attack.  Therefore it is
reasonable  to  assume  we  should  not do anything out of the
ordinary  to  tip  our hand in both preparation and execution.
A  "business as usual" attitude should prevail and nothing out
of the ordinary should be done to reveal our intentions.
    When   planning   a  night  attack  control  measures  are
required  by  doctrine to assist in the command and control of
the  attack.    Points  of  departure (PD), start points (SP),
release  points (RPs), directions of attack, probable lines of
deployment  (PLD),  and limits of advance (LOA) are all neces-
sary  to  better  define the battlefield and control forces in
the  attack.     Certainly  the  requirements for this dramatic
increase  in  control measures will impact on the simple plan;
just  remembering to use them is complex enough but all have a
relative use.
    The  discussion  thus  far  has  a  direct  bearing on the
development   of  the  plan for attack.  Broadly speaking, when
one  thinks   of the night attack one will usually find oneself
thinking  in  terms of two types:  either the non-illuminated,
non-supported,   or   the   illuminated,   supported   attack.
(4:152)    But there are other factors that must be taken into
account:    the  form of maneuver, type of formation, and time
of attack all lead to the scheme of maneuver.
    After  completing  our  initial estimate of the situation,
i.e., METT-TS-L, and after our objective selection one of the
first tasks  in  developing the plan will be to determine the
form  of maneuver we will employ.  Here our primary concern is
the disposition  of  the enemy and the nature of the terrain.
For simplicity in planning, doctrine alludes to the selection
of  the  frontal  attack  as  the  easier  form  of  maneuver.
Obviously  this  form may meet the heaviest resistance and it
may  be  more prudent to attempt to develop the envelopment or
a  flank  attack.  But these forms are inherently more complex
and  neither would lend itself to the admonishment of doctrine
to "keep it simple."
    In  considering  the  formation  that  we  will use in the
night  attack,  we  must  look further at the requirements for
the  assault  echelon and consider the mission of the reserve.
The  size  of  the  objective  and  the  strength of the enemy
should  be  directly  proportionate to the size of the assault
echelon.    Doctrine  implies  the need for a relatively large
force  as  the  makeup  for the assault echelon because visual
contact  must be maintained between individuals throughout the
assault.    (4:156)    What does that do to the normal mission
assigned  to  the force that has been given the responsibility
of  handling  the  reserve mission?  It surely hampers it as a
force  of  exploitation  and once again violates the principle
of a simple but detailed plan.
    The  timing of the attack may actually be broken down into
two  broad  categories:    attacks to be conducted before mid-
night  and  attacks  to  be conducted after midnight.  Attacks
made  before  midnight  will be made to strike the enemy while
he  is  reorganizing  or  to preempt his plans to attack.  The
attacks  are  also  made prior to midnight if we plan to seize
and  hold  terrain.  Attacks are launched after midnight if we
plan  to  continue  the attack at daylight with the purpose of
denying the enemy time to launch a counterattack.
    These  factors  just  discussed all have a major impact on
our  scheme  of  maneuver for the night assault.  And all must
and  should  be  weighed  by  the  commander  just  as  is his
decision  even  to conduct a night attack.  But, none of these
factors   are  absolute  and  they  must  be  applied  to  the
situation  at  hand.    In  the final analysis, it will be the
commander's own best judgment that governs the situation.
    Now  that  we've  formulated  an understanding of what the
basics  are  for the conduct of a night attack, some questions
remain unanswered.
    l.  With  the advent of technological advances can a night
attack achieve success?
    2.  Does  the  night  attack really require the prolifera-
tion of control measures required by doctrine?
    3.  Do  more  options  exist  for the type of night attack
than    the   standard   unsupported-nonilluminated   or   the
supported-illuminated attack?
    4.  Can  we  utilize  a  scheme  of  maneuver other than a
frontal attack?
    5.  Can  the focus of the night attack be the enemy rather
than the terrain?
    Perhaps  to best answer these questions we need to look at
the  British experience and their attack on Mt. Harriet in the
1982  Falklands War.  42 Commando combated advanced technology
(first   generation  night  vision  technology)  quite  nicely
through  the  use of extensive patrolling, deliberate prepara-
tion  and a diversionary attack.  Even though the Argentinians
maintained  an  advantage in terrain that favored the defender
due  to  its  lack  of  vegetation,  the  commandos managed to
prevent  being  discovered  until  the attacking units were at
the Probable Line of Deployment.
    The   second   question  pertaining  to  control  measures
appears to be answered by the following quote:
    There  was  now enough information to plan the attack
    in  detail.    We  had  established  a  route; we had
    identified   a   forming   in  position  and  we  had
    determined a start line.  (9:27)
Although  the  terms used are unfamiliar in our doctrine, they
are  synonymous  to  our  attack position, direction of attack
and  probable  line  of deployment.  It appears from review of
the  schematic  of  the  attack  that  a  minimum  of  control
measures were used to simplify things.  (2:1-10)
    Concerning    options   other   than   the   nonsupported-
nonilluminated  and  supported-illuminated  it appears that 42
Commando  used  a combination of these types of attack to gain
success.    These  variations  ranged  from using diversionary
attacks  to focus the Argentinian attention to another area on
the  battlefield,  to  the  use of illumination in combination
with  their  Milan  missile  to suppress or silence identified
machinegun positions at a preplanned time.  (9:28)
    The  scheme  of  maneuver  used  by  the British, although
simple,  was  unique  in  that  it presented several different
pictures  for  the  defenders avoiding the frontal assault and
instead  taking  the  indirect  route  to  achieving  success.
Their  focus  was  on  a  piece of terrain but their objective
always remained the enemy.
    As  you  read other accounts of the almost exclusive night
fighting  that took place during the Falklands War of 1982 and
in  doing  a  quick study of the British night attack doctrine
one  quickly  realizes  that  these  units  did not completely
discard  their  doctrine  but only modified it in some form to
meet  each  differing  situation.   (2:1-56)  Perhaps the best
description  of  their  application  of  doctrine  can be best
described  by  the  commander  of  Co  L.  42 Commando were he
stated.    "Well, I found myself at the start line, doing what
I  had  done  a  hundred  times  before  in training but never
believed I would actually be doing it in combat."  (11)
    So  then,  what  can  we  gain  from this review of only a
small  element  of our doctrine as we know it today?  First of
all,  the  constant  that when employing a ground night attack
things   become   twice  as  difficult,  and  only  repetitive
training  can  overcome  the  fear of the night at all levels.
Secondly,  there  appears  to  be a great deal of value gained
from  the  conduct  of  the  night  attack.  Surprise can, and
will,  remain  a  factor;  maybe not in relation to whether or
not  our  forces  will  use the night but when, where and from
what  direction  will  we  use  it.    As for our doctrine and
whether  it  is  outdated  or  not, it appears that it remains
basically  solid,  but  modification should take place to meet
the  situation  at  hand.    Remember,  doctrine  provides the
foundation  upon  which  we  build;  it  is  not  the finished
product.    Today  innovation  is at its highest level ever in
the   Marine   Corps   but  it  should  not  prevent  us  from
understanding the basics.
1.  Day, John H., "Night Vision Technology."  Marine Corps
      Gazette, December 1982, 18-20.
2.  Drummond, R. J., "The Night Attack--British Style as
      Taught and as Practiced in the Falklands."  U.S. Army
      Infantry Center and School, December 1982, 1-56.
3.  FMFM 6-3, "Marine Infantry Battalion," September 1981,
      Chapter 3, Section III, 229-240.
4.  FMFM 6-4, "Marine Rifle Company/Platoon," February 1978,
      Chapter 3, Section IV, 152-161.
5.  FM 100-5, "Operations," May 1986, Chapters 5-7.
6.  Hart Liddel, B. H.  "Development of Night Action."
      Marine Corps Gazette, March 1985, 13-18.
7.  Hicks, R. C., "Our Night Attack Doctrine is Outdated."
      Marine Corps Gazette, May-June, 1972.
8.  Jeppeson, R. N.  "Night Firing--Time for Progress."
      Marine Corps Gazette, April 1984, 18-20.
9.  Klemp, Jack W.  "Commando Night Attack."  Marine Corps
      Gazette, October 1983, 25-30.
10. McQuerry, T. O.  "A Modernized Night Attack."  Infantry
      Officers Advanced Course 3-83, RN:18l, October 1983.
11. "Night Attack on Mt. Harriet," British Royal Marine Corps
      Video, July 1983.
12. Osipenko, V.  "Night Combat Operations."  Soviet Military
      Review, 11, October 1983.
13. Mason, Ott R. M.  "Modern Night Operations,"  Asia-
      Pacific Defense Forum 2, June 1974, 25-31.

Join the mailing list

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