Guerrilla Warfare From Ancient Times to the Present Age.
Guerrilla warfare is the hit and run tactics by highly mobile, lightly to moderately armed units that incorporate deception, speed, and flexibility. The strategy is protracted harassment accomplished by tactics designed to wear the enemy down.
The time gained is necessary either to develop sufficient military strength to defeat the enemy forces in orthodox battle or subject the enemy to internal and external military and political pressures to cause him to seek peace favorable to the guerrillas.
Guerrilla warfare has been practiced throughout history and we would go through a few cases.
Guerrilla Warfare in the Ancient Times-
The use of guerrilla warfare was first suggested in the 6th century BC by Chinese general and strategist Sun Tzu in his classic book, the Art of War where he said:
“Know when to fight and when not to fight. Avoid what is strong and strike at what is weak. Know how to deceive the enemy: appear weak when you are strong and strong when you are weak.”
The earliest description of guerrilla warfare is a battle between Emperor Huang and the Myan people in China.
· In 512 BC the Persian king Darius I who had the largest empire and the best army in the world had to bow to the hit and run tactics of the nomadic Scythians and he left them to their lands.
· Alexander the Great(356–323 BC) had to face guerrilla opposition which he overcame by winning important tribes to his side.
· In the 3rd century BC Quintus Fabius Maximus, regarded as the father of guerrilla warfare, from whom the term Fabian tactics are derived used the strategy to a great effect against general Hannibal’s army who faced considerable guerrilla opposition in crossing the Alps into Italy.
· The Romans fought against guerrillas in their conquest of Spain for more than 200 years before the foundation of the empire.
Guerrilla Warfare in the Medieval Period-
· The Mongols invaded Europe(1220–1240) and the guerrilla tactics of the people of Croatia preventing them from getting a permanent hold of their territory and ultimately succeeded in driving them away.
· George Skanderbeg led very successful guerrilla campaigns against the Ottomans. In 1443 he rallied the Albanian forces and pushed back the Turks in warfare where the enemy army was 20 times larger than his own army. The tactics which he deployed were hit and run with small forces and then retreats followed by sudden counterattacks and this kept the Turks at bay for 25 years preventing them from crossing over to Europe.
· The Valachian prince Vlad III(1463) was unable to prevent Turks from entering Wallachia so he resorted to guerrilla war and organized attacks and ambushes on the Turks and pushed them away.
· In the 100 years’ war(1337–1453) between England and France commander Bertrand used guerrilla tactics against the English invaders.
· Shivaji in India(1657) used guerrilla tactics against the Mughals and established his own Maratha state.
Guerrilla Warfare in the last 200 Years:
The American rebellion-
The US was founded as a result of the successful insurgency and the Northern states managed to put down the insurgency ninety years later. It is notable that a poor colony was able to win against the powerful British Empire. No doubt there was French support in all this but guerrilla insurgency did the most damage to the British as the native population turned against them due to their brutality. The Americans successfully projected the British as the villains while establishing the American forces as friendly.
The American Revolution(1765–1783) is an example of a successful guerrilla movement. The Americans successfully managed the political situation, winning sympathy from the French, the British public, and other European elites.
In the end, the British public opinion ended the war after the defeat at Yorktown. The British had sufficient military ammunition to last for a long time but the military is just one factor in such a large effort and politics did them in.
Napoleon invasion of Russia-
Two things can be observed from Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812 which can relate to guerrilla tactics. The burning of Moscow after it had been occupied resembles a guerrilla tactic as it was a direct attack on the available resources and deprived the French of a shelter in the city.
Field marshal Kutuzov ordered Lieutenant Colonel Davydov to open war against the French communications. The winter was on and the French troops were unable to fight or even move due to food and ammunition shortage.
South African War-
Guerrilla tactics were used by the Boer republics in the first and second Boer wars in South Africa in 1881 & 1902. The Boers relied on speed and stealth and could easily snipe at the British from a distance. In the third phase of the second Boer war after the British defeated the Boer Army and occupied Pretoria, the Boer commandoes harassed the British and attacked railway lines and encampments.
The British in turn burnt Boer homes and fields. Finally, the Boers surrendered in 1902 and the British granted them generous terms to bring the war to an end. This shows how guerilla tactics can be used to extract concessions from a militarily more powerful enemy.
The Mexican revolution-
The Mexican Revolution took place between the years 1910 to 1920 and revolutionary leader Zapata employed guerrilla tactics. His forces comprised of peasants who wore no uniform and would hurl explosives into the enemy barracks and then blend with the general population. This strategy was successful for a while but soon it backfired as the government troops could not distinguish between his soldiers from the civilians and waged a brutal campaign against the latter.
World War I-
German commander Paul Von Vorbeck fought against the numerically superior allied forces in East Africa. He was cut off from Germany, had few German officers under his command, but still managed to exhaust the allies. He was undefeated until his acceptance of a ceasefire after the end of the war in Europe and returned to Europe as a hero.
Another guerrilla war was fought by the Arabs against the Ottoman Turks during the Arab Revolt(1916 -1918).
World War II-
The resistance movements in many countries intensified after the German occupation. These organizations began to be formed by 1939 after the defeat of Poland to carry out the guerrilla activity.
A guerrilla movement was formed in Ethiopia in 1935 to throw out Italian forces.
By 1944 the Polish resistance had around six lakh members and the Yugoslav Partisans were thought to number around five lakh members.
Guerrilla tactics were employed in the Pacific also. When the Japanese forces invaded the island of Timor in February 1942 they were resisted by a small force of military unit comprising of personnel primarily from Australia and the United Kingdom.
Bangladesh Liberation war-
The Bangladesh Liberation army also called the Mukti Bahini was formed in 1971 to fight against the Pakistani army. It was formed by former members of East Pakistan armed forces and the civilians continued to support it. The Mukti Bahini acted as a guerrilla force to keep their enemy on the run.
Soviet occupation of Afghanistan-
In late 1979 the Soviet army invaded and quickly occupied many Afghan cities but they were confronted by the Afghan resistance fighters known as the Mujahidin who fought with rifles. Slowly the USA and United Kingdom began to equip these fighters with anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons and the Soviet army had to retreat after a decade of occupation.
There are just a few of the movements in history which are mentioned. There are in fact many more. Some inferences can be drawn from the guerrilla warfare observed in the modern era-
· All over the world guerrilla warfare has been the war of the weak.
· In the last two hundred years, the most important development affecting guerrilla warfare has been the rise of public opinion.
· The conventional tactics generally don’t work against the unconventional threats.
· Establishing legitimacy is vital for any insurgency or counterinsurgency operation to succeed.
· Guerrillas are most effective when they operate with outside help, particularly from armed units.
When asked what motivates guerrilla warfare, Cuban Revolution leader Che Guevara gave this famous response:
“Why does the guerrilla fighter fight? We must come to the inevitable conclusion that the guerrilla fighter is a social reformer, that he takes up arms responding to the angry protest of the people against their oppressors, and that he fights in order to change the social system that keeps all his unarmed brothers in ignominy and misery.”
The guerrilla warfare can occur due to many reasons- it may be for liberating a country from the status of a colony; to the peasants, it may be freedom from serfdom, and to the middle class, it may be the restoration of representative government as opposed to dictatorship.
The insurgency fails whenever there is a lack of a visible goal and continues till the insurgency is not tainted by extreme elements. Some insurgent leaders recognize this and try to keep the revolutionary activities to their traditional purposes.