Tuesday, July 17, 2012

EOW skirmish combat 6: Surprise, surprise, surprise

We have been working our way through all sorts of apocalyptic scenarios.  We have been cannibals, wild dogs, the maurauding hordes of Mecklenburg, North Carolina,  cannibals, and others.  So what new post-apocalyptic role should we start with?  The title of course comes from the old TV character Gomer Pyle (short youtube), and of course noone expects the Spanish Inquisition (short youtube).  But neither of those are particularly apocalyptic in tone.  I think today we are going to be those David-like (as in First Samual  17 David verus Goliath) characters that swing well above their weight.  Because women buy more books than men, a lot of them are young ladies.  I don't find this too implausible.  Men are generally stronger than women (something like 60%), but that shouldn't matter much with firearms, and even with archery, todays young women fed on a high protein diet certainly have the potential to be much more athletic than was historically the case.
In any case, one  of the key characteristics of these youngsters is that they people let them get the drop on them.  They use surprise to their advantage.  Whatever the normal outcome might have been in a battle, the "weak" win through surprise.

Surprise is...well it is surprise. Nothing fancy about it. The unexpected happens to you. In the case of combat, it is unexpectedly bad. Surprise is very closely associated with, and can often lead to shock..
The most important factor in deciding battle is surprise. It is easily the largest multiplier effect to a combat unit/ combatant.
The Human Face of War
Jim Storr, Birmingham War Studies, London, New York, 2009

The achievement of initial and multiple surprise has the same effect as a force ratio of 2,000:1 on average, in terms of their impact on achieving a breakthrough at the beginning of a campaign, 2:000:1! It also has the same effect as a force ratio of 260:1 (on average) in terms of overall campaign impact. These figures are averages. But in 95 per cent of all occasions where surprise was created, the effect was at least as great as that of a force ratio of 10:1 p50.

The effect of surprise attacks on enemy's flanks and rear is considerable. HA [Historical Analysis] of a representative selection of infantry battles showed that in a company- or battalion-level attack, the attacker's casualties tend to be about twice those of the defender if the attack is frontal. Where the attacker manages to find an exposed flank...the defender typically takes slightly more than twice as many casualties as the attacker. When an attack strikes the defender’s unprotected rear, attacker tends to inflict almost four times as many casualties as he suffers p85.

Surprise occurs in about 40 percent of infantry attacks. It has three main effects. It increases the probability of success, reduces the attacker's casualties, and increases the probability of shock. The probability of success in the attack in an armored battle typically ranges from 40 to 54% when there is no surprise. Where surprise occurs, the probability of success is about 75%. This increase is independent of force ratios, whereas when surprise is not achieved, it is very dependent on force ratios. In other words, if there is no surprise, you are going to have to slowly attrition your way through the defense. In infantry attacks, casualties were 42 % lower (excluding effects of shock) with surprise. Using the same source:

Surprise will normally [95%+]  have a greater impact than a force ratio of 10:1. The creation and exploitation of surprise was central to German tactics in the Second world War. It does much to explain the difference in battlefield performance between the German and US armies described by van Creveld. As the Canadian military historian John English put it 'the German Armey was, in fact, an army saturated with surprise. Mobility and maneuver were but the respective means to effect it in time and space' p86.

What does this mean?  There are three parts.  Since attackers usually control the timing of a fight.  It is easier for attacker to surprise defenders than the other way around.  Second, you must excute to take advantage of the surpise.  There are numerous instances where one force is completely surprised, but does not lose.  A clear case of this would be the opening of the long Irag- Iran war.  The Iranians were completely surprised, but did not loose the war.  In fact the Iraqi gains were relatively limited.  Why?  Because in order to take advantage of a surprise, you must be able to execute.  Finally, there is almost distance, no expense, no cost that is not worth paying to achieve surprise.  The only other force multipliers that even come close to those for surprise are those for shock (temporary psychological incapacitation) and surprise is one of the major causes of shock.  Concurently, there is almost nothing more important than preventing your own forces from being surprised.
In our apocalyptic fiction,  lot of the surprise at the small unit skirmish level seems to be of the rather obvious nature. The roadside ambush is not only good a few weeks into the dangers, but in some cases months as well. While I sometimes wonder what these ambushers are doing in between the waits for the automobiles that either aren't running (EMP), or are out of fuel (economic crash), but that is a rather limited form of surprise. In fact, experienced troops can train so well for the trail side ambush that they can train their reactions to a point where they can turn that advantage.
In Vietnam
Lieutenant General Julian J. Ewell, Major General Ira A. Hunt, Jr. Departement of the Army, 1995
When snipers came into their own, it became apparent that aimed rifle fire was killing Viet Cong. In thinking about this, the thought occurred that the Viet Cong basically could not shoot and our men could. By that time (December 1968) the Viet Cong were beginning to fragment and we had many contacts which were essentially meeting engagements between small groups of men. By polling the commanders, it was found that the contact ranges were much closer than we had imagined in such open terrain-on the order of 10 to 25 meters.
We then decided, more on faith than conviction, that we would go for aimed shot kills rather than fire superiority. We devised a very simple training drill to teach men to shoot under these conditions:
a. Quick kill technique
b. Short range
c. Single aimed shots (quick kill)
d. No full automatic mode
e. Quick reaction (seconds)
The battalion commander...would determine what his normal opening range was and how quickly a soldier must fire to beat the enemy to the draw.  We will say that a battalion commander set 25 meters and 8 seconds as his criteria. Each company, every third or fourth day during stand-down, would have the riflemen shoot at anything (tin cans, targets, whatever) until they could get a first round hit at 25 meters in 8 seconds. By repetition, this became an automatic reflex action. This one idea in combination with good night ambushes made it possible for our small rifle units to wreak heavy damage on the enemy with low friendly casualties. One reason it worked so well was that the average Communist soldier was not trained to shoot and could not afford to expend the ammunition necessary to learn. This idea has been termed the "15-Second War." Chart 13 shows why...this idea paid off manyfold on the battlefield in the Upper Delta and III Corps area during all of 1969. From Chapter 6, page 123.
The Fifteen Second War:  Chart 13: Fire Power versus Time Conception

Note that the overall firepower level is lower, but response time is much quicker.  Although the author isn't really saying it.  The men were being trained, within a very narrow phrame of reference to mitigate against both surprise and shock.   The soldiers did not become sharpshooters.  Truthfully, I doubt many of their initial return rounds hit.  But they were close enough to supress the enemy, and given the natural advantage in training, once surprise/shock was avoided,  the American could be expected to win the battle.  It is the perfect example of the effective use of doctrine, and effective training of that doctrine.


Anonymous said...

Did I miss #5? Sorry about the double post. Server getting laggy.

Something I'm sure all of us are lacking. Firearm practice. If not shooting at paper targets, then dropping to cover, firing type shooting.

Another good thing about 556, somewhat cheap to practice with. Somewhat...

russell1200 said...


No I missed when I went to scheduling. I posted it now.

I look at this mix of fonts, and have to shake my head and wonder. It don't think it previewed that way - oh well.

556 is cheap - sort of - is right. I some 556 myself, so I am not one to talke, but if were going to stockpile and wanted cheap, I would consider the Russian 545.