Fighting At Night AUTHOR Major Walter J. Wierzbicki, USMC CSC 1991 SUBJECT AREA - Warfighting EXECUTIVE SUMMARY TITLE: FIGHTING AT NIGHT 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 modification. 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 situation--METT-TS-L. 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 OUTLINE 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validity of these circumstances, our current doctrine for the conduct of an infantry ground night attack is outdated.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 Attack 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. Bibliography 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.
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