There are many who will argue that light forces do not have a role on a mid- or high-intensity battlefield against a mobile enemy. Time and again history has demonstrated that heavy-light combined arms forces can engage and decisively defeat such a force when employed properly.
On 10 April 1941 the German Africa Corps, under the command of Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel, attacked the British Garrison at Tobruk, Libya to capture a much needed deep water port. In four days of battle, the Africa Corps suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of a largely non-mechanized force. Rommel believed that the garrison force could not withstand the onslaught of his battle proven armored corps.
Facing one German and two Italian armored divisions, the garrison at Tobruk consisted of soldiers of the 9th Australian Infantry Division, the 18th Brigade, 7th Australian Infantry Division, British 3rd Armored Brigade, and a few thousand troops of other nationalities. The total fighting strength of the garrison at the beginning of the battle was about 19,000 soldiers. The combined German and Italian combat strength was slightly over 24,000.
The Allied forces, organized as a combined arms team, was able to defeat the superior enemy force by using the capabilities of both light and heavy forces to exploit the limitations of the enemy armored force.
Rommel, after the defeat, reflected that; "In a mobile action, what counts is materiel, as the essential complement to the soldier. The finest fighting man has no value in mobile warfare without tanks, guns, and vehicles. Thus a mobile force can be rendered unfit for action by destruction of its tanks, without having suffered any serious casualties in manpower. This is not the case with position warfare, where the infantryman with rifle and hand grenade has lost little of his value, provided, of course, he is protected by anti-tank guns or obstacles against the enemy's armor. For him number one is the attacking infantrymen. Hence position warfare is always a struggle for the destruction of men . . . in contrast to mobile warfare, where everything turns to the destruction of enemy materiel."
The key to effective employment of heavy and light forces as a combined arms team is to maximize the capabilities of both parts of the force and use the advantages offered by each to offset the vulnerabilities of the other within the frame work of METT-T.
The following pages reflect more recent heavy-light lessons and experiences from the Combat Training Centers and validated by unit experiences in every theater.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|