Large-scale guerrilla fighting accompanied the American Revolution, and the development of guerrilla tactics under such partisan leaders as Francis Marion, Andrew Pickens, and Thomas Sumter has been called the great contribution of the American Revolution to the development of warfare. The term guerrilla itself was coined during the Peninsular War (1808-14), when Spanish partisans, under such leaders as Francisco Mina, proved unconquerable even by the armies of Napoleon I. From Spain the use of the term spread to Latin America and then to the United States.
During the U.S. Civil War, William C. Quantrill, who operated in Missouri and Kansas, was the most notorious of the Confederate guerrilla leaders, but John S. Mosby, in Virginia, was undoubtedly the most effective. During the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) the Germans suffered so much from French partisans, or francs-tireurs, that Field Marshall von Moltke ordered the shooting of all prisoners not fully uniformed and led by regular officers. In the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, the U.S. Army conducted a long campaign against Filipino guerrillas, such as Emilio Aguinaldo, and Moro bands. There has been frequent guerrilla warfare in Latin America. Notable among early 20th-century Latin American guerrillas are Francisco (Pancho) Villa, Emiliano Zapata, and Augusto C. Sandino.World War I to World War II
In World War I the most spectacular theater of guerrilla operations was the Arabian peninsula, where, under the leadership of T. E. Lawrence and Faisal al-Husayn (later Faisal I), various Arab guerrilla bands fought superior Turkish forces. In the late 1920s and 30s the Chinese Communists under the leadership of Mao Zedong, perhaps the world's leading theorist of modern guerrilla warfare, conducted a large-scale guerrilla war, along with mobile and positional warfare, against both the Kuomintang and the Japanese in N China. Mao saw the People's War, as he called it, progressing from minor skirmishing to a conventional conflict as he led the Communists to victory.
Guerrilla tactics, aided by the development of the long-range portable radio and the use of aircraft as a means of supply, reached new heights in World War II. The Germans failed to establish a complete hold on Yugoslavia because of the guerrilla resistance, which was led by the Communist partisan leader Tito and supplied in part by Allied airdrops. In the Soviet Union guerrilla warfare was included in instruction at the military academy; in the field it was so brilliantly organized that it constituted a continual threat to the German rear and contributed greatly to the German disaster on the Eastern Front.
In Western Europe the Allies organized guerrilla forces in France, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Italy, and Greece. These forces (known collectively as the "underground" and, in France, as the maquis) were supplied by Allied airdrops and coordinated from London by radio. The resistance forces in Western Europe, led mainly by British- and American-trained officers, conducted not only guerrilla operations but also industrial sabotage, espionage, propaganda campaigns, and the organization of escape routes for Allied prisoners of war.
By the end of World War II resistance forces had played a major role in the defeat of Germany. Throughout the war the United States and Britain also carried on guerrilla warfare in the Philippines and Southeast Asia, and in China large-scale guerrilla operations were conducted against the Japanese by both Communists and Nationalists.Since World War II
Since World War II guerrilla warfare has been employed by nationalist groups to overthrow colonialism, by dissidents to launch civil wars, and by Communist and Western powers in the cold war. There have been dozens of such conflicts.
Just after World War II large-scale guerrilla warfare broke out in Indochina between the French and the Communist Viet Minh, led by Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap. After the French defeat at Dienbienphu (1945), France withdrew from the conflict; but the 1954 Geneva Conference brought no permanent peace, and Communist guerrilla activity continued in Laos, Cambodia, and South Vietnam. In the subsequent Vietnam War the United States fought in support of the South Vietnamese government against local guerrillas (Viet Cong) aided by North Vietnamese troops. In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge waged guerrilla warfare to win control of the nation and, after being ousted by the Vietnamese army, again resorted to it until the group's disintegration (1999).
In Algeria guerrilla warfare against the French was begun by the nationalists in 1954 and conducted with ever-increasing violence until Algeria won its independence in 1961. Greek nationalists in Cyprus carried on guerrilla warfare against the British from 1954 until that country gained independence in 1959. Fidel Castro and Ernesto (Che) Guevara in 1956 launched a guerrilla war in Cuba against the government of Fulgencio Batista; in 1959, Batista fled the country and Castro assumed control. This success gave encouragement to rebel guerrilla bands throughout Latin America. In 1967, Guevara was killed by the Bolivian army while leading such a rebel band in the jungles of Bolivia.
In the late 1960s, Palestinian Arab guerrillas intensified their activities against the state of Israel. In 1971, after a full-scale war with the Jordanian army, they were ousted from their bases in Jordan. However, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and other groups continued their raids on Israel from other Arab countries. After the PLO was forced to leave Lebanon (1982, 1991) its fighters were again dispersed, but it continued to mount attacks until peace negotiations in the early 1990s. Since the late 1980s, terrorism—long an element in conflict and a hallmark of many Hamas attacks—and other tactics (see Intifada) have increasingly marked the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The United States has sponsored guerrillas, most notably anti-Castro Cuban forces and Nicaraguan contras. Modern "urban guerrilla" activities such as hijacking and kidnapping are frequently inspired by ideology rather than patriotism and are often tinged with elements of terrorism. The Irish Republican Army (late 1960s to mid-1990s) and Peru's Shining Path engaged in both attacks on government forces and various forms of terrorism. Since the 1990s many nations experienced some degree of ongoing societal disruption due to persistent unconventional warfare, among them Afghanistan, Algeria, Burundi, Cambodia, Colombia, Iraq, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Turkey (in Kurdish areas).
See Mao Zedong, On Guerrilla Warfare (tr. 1961); L. H. Gann, Guerrillas in History (1971); W. Laquer Guerrilla Reader (1977); G. Chaliand, Guerrilla Strategies (1982); E. Guevara, Guerrilla Warfare (1985).
This term means "little war" in Spanish and was created during the Peninsular War. The concept acknowledges a conflict between armed civilians against a powerful nation state army. This tactic was used by the Viet Cong and North Vietnam Army in the Vietnam War. Most factions of the Iraqi Insurgency and groups such as FARC are said to be engaged in some form of Guerrilla warfare.
Guerrilla means small war, the diminutive of the Spanish word Guerra (war). The Spanish word derives from the Old High German word Werra and from the middle Dutch word warre; adopted by the Visigoths in A.D. 5th century Hispania. The use of the diminutive evokes the differences in number, scale, and scope between the guerrilla army and the formal, professional army of the state. The word was coined in Spain to describe their warfare in resisting Napoleon Bonaparte's French régime during the Peninsula War, its meaning was broadened to mean any similar-scale armed resistance. Guerrillero is the Spanish word for guerrilla fighter, while in Spanish-speaking countries the noun guerrilla usually denotes guerrilla army (e.g. la guerrilla de las FARC translates as "the FARC guerrilla group"). Moreover, per the OED, 'the guerrilla' was an English usage (as early as 1809), describing the fighters, not only their tactics (e.g."the town was taken by the guerrillas"), however, in most languages guerrilla still denotes the specific style of warfare.
The latter phase came to fullest expression in the operations of Mao Zedong in China and Vo Nguyen Giap in Vietnam. In between are a large variety of situations - from the wars waged against Israel by Palestinian irregulars in the contemporary era, to Spanish and Portuguese irregulars operating with the conventional units of British General Wellington, during the Peninsular War against Napoleon.
Modern insurgencies and other types of warfare may include guerrilla warfare as part of an integrated process, complete with sophisticated doctrine, organization, specialist skills and propaganda capabilities. Guerrillas can operate as small, scattered bands of raiders, but they can also work side by side with regular forces, or combine for far ranging mobile operations in squad, platoon or battalion sizes, or even form conventional units. Based on their level of sophistication and organization, they can shift between all these modes as the situation demands. Successful guerrilla warfare is flexible, not static.
In China, the Maoist Theory of People's War divides warfare into three phases. In Phase One, the guerrillas earn population's support by distributing propaganda and attacking the organs of government. In Phase Two, escalating attacks are launched against the government's military forces and vital institutions. In Phase Three, conventional warfare and fighting are used to seize cities, overthrow the government, and assume control of the country. Mao's doctrine anticipated that circumstances may require shifting between phases in either directions and that the phases may not be uniform and evenly paced throughout the countryside. Mao Zedong's seminal work, On Guerrilla Warfare, has been widely distributed and applied most successfully in Vietnam, by military leader and theorist Vo Nguyen Giap, whose "Peoples War, Peoples Army" closely follows the Maoist three-phase approach, but emphasizing flexibility in shifting between guerrilla warfare and a spontaneous "General Uprising" of the population in conjunction with guerrilla forces.
Some jihadist guerrilla attacks for example, may be driven by a generalized desire to restore a reputed golden age of earlier times, with little attempt to establish a specific alternative political regime in a specific place. Ethnic attacks likewise may remain at the level of bombings, assassinations, or genocidal raids as a matter of avenging some perceived slight or insult, rather than a final shift to conventional warfare as in the Maoist formulation.
Environmental conditions such as increasing urbanization, and the easy access to information and media attention also complicate the contemporary scene. Guerrillas need not conform to the classic rural fighter helped by cross-border sanctuaries in a confined nation or region, (as in Vietnam) but now include vast networks of peoples bound by religion and ethnicity stretched across the globe.
Guerrilla warfare is distinguished from the small unit tactics used in screening or reconnaissance operations typical of conventional forces. It is also different from the activities of bandits, pirates or robbers. Such criminal groups may use guerrilla-like tactics, but their primary purpose is immediate material gain, and not a political objective.
Guerrilla tactics are based on intelligence, ambush, deception, sabotage, and espionage, undermining an authority through long, low-intensity confrontation. It can be quite successful against an unpopular foreign or local regime, as demonstrated by the Vietnam conflict. A guerrilla army may increase the cost of maintaining an occupation or a colonial presence above what the foreign power may wish to bear. Against a local regime, the guerrilla fighters may make governance impossible with terror strikes and sabotage, and even combination of forces to depose their local enemies in conventional battle. These tactics are useful in demoralizing an enemy, while raising the morale of the guerrillas. In many cases, guerrilla tactics allow a small force to hold off a much larger and better equipped enemy for a long time, as in Russia's Second Chechen War and the Second Seminole War fought in the swamps of Florida (United States of America). Guerrilla tactics and strategy are summarized below and are discussed extensively in standard reference works such as Mao's "On Guerrilla Warfare."
Guerrilla operations typically include a variety of strong surprise attacks on transportation routes, individual groups of police or military, installations and structures, economic enterprises, and targeted civilians. Attacking in small groups, using camouflage and often captured weapons of that enemy, the guerrilla force can constantly keep pressure on its foes and diminish its numbers, while still allowing escape with relatively few casualties. The intention of such attacks is not only military but political, aiming to demoralize target populations or governments, or goading an overreaction that forces the population to take sides for or against the guerrillas. Examples range from the chopping off of limbs in various internal African rebellions, to the suicide bombings in Israel and Sri Lanka, to sophisticated manoeuvres by Viet Cong and NVA forces against military bases and formations.
Whatever the particular tactic used, the guerrilla primarily lives to fight another day, and to expand or preserve his forces and political support, not capture or holding specific blocks of territory as a conventional force would. Below is a simplified version of a typical ambush attack by one of the most effective of post-WWII guerrilla forces, the Viet Cong (VC).
Ambushes on key transportation routes are a hallmark of guerrilla operations, causing both economic and political disruption. Careful advance planning is required for operations, indicated here by VC preparation of the withdrawal route. In this case - the Viet Cong assault was broken up by American aircraft and firepower. However, the VC did destroy several vehicles and the bulk of the main VC force escaped. As in most of the Vietnam conflict, American forces would eventually leave the area, but the insurgents would regroup and return afterwards. This time dimension is also integral to guerrilla tactics.
Guerrilla warfare resembles rebellion, yet it is a different concept. Guerrilla organization ranges from small, local rebel groups of a few dozen guerrillas, to thousands of fighters, deploying from cells to regiments. In most cases, the leaders have clear political aims for the warfare they wage. Typically, the organization has political and military wings, to allow the political leaders "plausible denial" for military attacks. The most fully elaborated guerrilla warfare structure is by the Chinese and Vietnamese communists during the revolutionary wars of East and Southeast Asia. A simplified example of this more sophisticated organizational type - used by revolutionary forces during the Vietnam War, is shown below.
For successful operations, surprise must be achieved by the guerrillas. If the operation has been betrayed or compromised it is usually called off immediately. Intelligence is also extremely important, and detailed knowledge of the target's dispositions, weaponry and morale is gathered before any attack. Intelligence can be harvested in several ways. Collaborators and sympathizers will usually provide a steady flow of useful information. If working clandestinely, the guerrilla operative may disguise his membership in the insurgent operation, and use deception to ferret out needed data. Employment or enrollment as a student may be undertaken near the target zone, community organizations may be infiltrated, and even romantic relationships struck up as part of intelligence gathering. Public sources of information are also invaluable to the guerrilla, from the flight schedules of targeted airlines, to public announcements of visiting foreign dignitaries, to Army Field Manuals. Modern computer access via the World Wide Web makes harvesting and collation of such data relatively easy. The use of on the spot reconnaissance is integral to operational planning. Operatives will "case" or analyze a location or potential target in depth- cataloguing routes of entry and exit, building structures, the location of phones and communication lines, presence of security personnel and a myriad of other factors. Finally intelligence is concerned with political factors- such as the occurrence of an election or the impact of the potential operation on civilian and enemy morale.
Relationships with civilian populations are influenced by whether the guerrillas operate among a hostile or friendly population. A friendly population is of immense importance to guerrilla fighters, providing shelter, supplies, financing, intelligence and recruits. The "base of the people" is thus the key lifeline of the guerrilla movement. In the early stages of the Vietnam War, American officials "discovered that several thousand supposedly government-controlled 'fortified hamlets' were in fact controlled by Viet Cong guerrillas, who 'often used them for supply and rest havens'. Popular mass support in a confined local area or country however is not always strictly necessary. Guerrillas and revolutionary groups can still operate using the protection of a friendly regime, drawing supplies, weapons, intelligence, local security and diplomatic cover.
An apathetic or hostile population makes life difficult for guerrilleros and strenuous attempts are usually made to gain their support. These may involve not only persuasion, but a calculated policy of intimidation. Guerrilla forces may characterize a variety of operations as a liberation struggle, but this may or may not result in sufficient support from affected civilians. Other factors, including ethnic and religious hatreds, can make a simple national liberation claim untenable. Whatever the exact mix of persuasion or coercion used by guerrillas, relationships with civil populations are one of the most important factors in their success or failure.
Such situations occurred in Israel, where suicide bombings encouraged most Israeli opinion to take a harsh stand against Palestinian attackers, including general approval of "targeted killings" to kill enemy cells and leaders. In the Philippines and Malaysia, communist terror strikes helped turn civilian opinion against the insurgents. In Peru and some other countries, civilian opinion at times backed the harsh countermeasures used by governments against revolutionary or insurgent movements.
Guerrillas must plan carefully for withdrawal once an operation has been completed, or if it is going badly. The withdrawal phase is sometimes regarded as the most important part of a planned action, and to get entangled in a lengthy struggle with superior forces is usually fatal to insurgent, terrorist or revolutionary operatives. Withdrawal is usually accomplished using a variety of different routes and methods and may include quickly scouring the area for loose weapons, evidence cleanup, and disguise as peaceful civilians.
Guerrillas typically operate with a smaller logistical footprint compared to conventional formations; nevertheless, their logistical activities can be elaborately organized. A primary consideration is to avoid dependence on fixed bases and depots which are comparatively easy for conventional units to locate and destroy. Mobility and speed are the keys and wherever possible, the guerrilla must live off the land, or draw support from the civil population in which he is embedded. In this sense, "the people" become the guerrilla's supply base. Financing of both terrorist and guerrilla activities ranges from direct individual contributions (voluntary or non-voluntary), and actual operation of business enterprises by insurgent operatives, to bank robberies, kidnappings and complex financial networks based on kin, ethnic and religious affiliation (such as that used by modern Jihadist/Jihad organizations).
Permanent and semi-permanent bases form part of the guerrilla logistical structure, usually located in remote areas or in cross-border sanctuaries sheltered by friendly regimes. These can be quite elaborate, as in the tough VC/NVA fortified base camps and tunnel complexes encountered by US forces during the Vietnam War. Their importance can be seen by the hard fighting sometimes engaged in by communist forces to protect these sites. However, when it became clear that defence was untenable, communist units typically withdrew without sentiment.
Guerrilla warfare is often associated with a rural setting, and this is indeed the case with the definitive operations of Mao and Giap, the mujahadeen of Afghanistan, the Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres (EGP) of Guatemala, the Contras of Nicaragua, and the FMLN of El Salvador. Guerrillas however have successfully operated in urban settings as demonstrated in places like Argentina and Northern Ireland. In those cases, guerrillas rely on a friendly population to provide supplies and intelligence. Rural guerrillas prefer to operate in regions providing plenty of cover and concealment, especially heavily forested and mountainous areas. Urban guerrillas, rather than melting into the mountains and jungles, blend into the population and are also dependent on a support base among the people. Rooting guerrilleros out of both types of areas can be difficult.
Foreign support in the form of soldiers, weapons, sanctuary, or statements of sympathy for the guerrillas is not strictly necessary, but it can greatly increase the chances of an insurgent victory. Foreign diplomatic support may bring the guerrilla cause to international attention, putting pressure on local opponents to make concessions, or garnering sympathetic support and material assistance. Foreign sanctuaries can add heavily to guerrilla chances, furnishing weapons, supplies, materials and training bases. Such shelter can benefit from international law, particularly if the sponsoring government is successful in concealing its support and in claiming "plausible denial" for attacks by operatives based in its territory.
The VC and NVA made extensive use of such international sanctuaries during their conflict, and the complex of trails, way-stations and bases snaking through Laos and Cambodia, the famous Ho Chi Minh Trail, was the logistical lifeline that sustained their forces in the South. Also, the United States funded a revolution in Colombia in order to take the territory they needed to build the Panama Canal. Another case in point is the Mukti Bahini guerrilleros who fought alongside the Indian Army in the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971 against Pakistan that resulted in the creation of the state of Bangladesh. In the post-Vietnam era, the Al Qaeda organization also made effective use of remote territories, such as Afghanistan under the Taliban regime, to plan and execute its operations.
Able to choose the time and place to strike, guerrilla fighters will usually possess the tactical initiative and the element of surprise. Planning for an operation may take weeks, months or even years, with a constant series of cancellations and restarts as the situation changes. Careful rehearsals and "dry runs" are usually conducted to work out problems and details. Many guerrilla strikes are not undertaken unless clear numerical superiority can be achieved in the target area, a pattern typical of VC/NVA and other "Peoples War" operations. Individual suicide bomb attacks offer another pattern, typically involving only the individual bomber and his support team, but these too are spread or metered out based on prevailing capabilities and political winds.
Whatever approach is used, the guerrilla holds the initiative and can prolong his survival though varying the intensity of combat. This means that attacks are spread out over quite a range of time, from weeks to years. During the interim periods, the guerrilla can rebuild, resupply and plan. In the Vietnam War, most communist units (including mobile NVA regulars using guerrilla tactics) spent only a limited number of days a year fighting. While they might be forced into an unwanted battle by an enemy sweep, most of the time was spent in training, intelligence gathering, political and civic infiltration, propaganda indoctrination, construction of fortifications, or stocking supply caches. The large numbers of such groups striking at different times however, gave the war its "around the clock" quality.
Foreign forces intervened in all these countries, but the power struggles were eventually resolved locally.
There are many unsuccessful examples of guerrilla warfare against local or native regimes. These include Portuguese Africa (Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau), Malaysia (then Malaya) during the Malayan Emergency, Bolivia, Argentina, and the Philippines. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), fighting for an independent homeland in the north and east of Sri Lanka, achieved significant military successes against the Sri Lankan military and the government itself for twenty years. It was even able to use these tactics effectively against the Indian Peace Keeping Force sent by India in the mid-1980s, which were later withdrawn for varied reasons, primarily political. The mutual attrition on both sides in the island led to a ceasefire following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Guerrillas in wars against foreign powers may direct their attacks at civilians, particularly if foreign forces are too strong to be confronted directly on a long term basis. In Vietnam, bombings and terror attacks against civilians were fairly common, and were often effective in demoralizing local opinion that supported the ruling regime and its American backers. While attacking an American base might involve lengthy planning and casualties, smaller scale terror strikes in the civilian sphere were easier to execute. Such attacks also had an effect on the international scale, demoralizing American opinion, and hastening a withdrawal.
In Iraq, most of the deaths since the 2003 US invasion have not been suffered by US troops but by civilians, as warring factions plunged the country into civil war based on ethnic and religious hostilities. (See also: Sectarian war in Iraq) Arguments vary on whether such turmoil will succeed in turning American opinion against the US troop deployment. However, the use of attacks against civilians to create an atmosphere of chaos (and thus political advantage where the atmosphere causes foreign occupiers to withdraw or offer concessions), is well established in guerrilla and national liberation struggles. Claims and counterclaims of the morality of such attacks, or whether guerrillas should be classified as "terrorists" or "freedom fighters" are beyond the scope of this article. See Terrorism and Genocide for a more in-depth discussion of the moral and ethical implications of targeting civilians.
Article 44, sections 3 and 4 of the 1977 First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, "relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts", does recognize combatants who, because of the nature of the conflict, do not wear uniforms as long as they carry their weapons openly during military operations. This gives non-uniformed guerrilleros lawful combatant status against countries that have ratified this convention. However, the same protocol states in Article 37.1.c that "the feigning of civilian, non-combatant status" shall constitute perfidy and is prohibited by the Geneva Conventions. So is the wearing of enemy uniform, as happened in the Boer War.
Lawrence wrote down some of his theories while ill and unable to fight the Turks in his book The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. There, he reviews von Clausewitz and other theorists of war, and finds their writings inapplicable to his situation. The Arabs could not then inspire fear in their enemy, nor would a pitched battle result in 'the effusion of blood' in other than a Turkish victory.
So instead Lawrence proposed if possible never meeting the enemy, thus giving their soldiers nothing to shoot at, unable to control anything except what ground their rifles could point to. Meanwhile, Lawrence and the Arabs could ride camels into and out of the desert, attacking railroad lines with impunity, avoiding the garrisoned train stations.
The widely distributed and influential work of Sir Robert Thompson, counter-insurgency expert in Malaysia, offers several such guidelines. Thompson's underlying assumption is that of a country minimally committed to the rule of law and better governance. Some governments, however, give such considerations short shrift, and their counterguerrilla operations have involved mass murder, genocide, starvation and the massive spread of terror, torture and execution. The totalitarian regimes of Hitler are classic examples, as are more modern conflicts in places like Afghanistan. In Afghanistan's anti-Mujahideen war for example, the Soviets implemented a ruthless policy of wastage and depopulation, driving over one third of the Afghan population into exile (over 5 million people), and carrying out widespread destruction of villages, granaries, crops, herds and irrigation systems, including the deadly and widespread mining of fields and pastures. See Wiki article Soviet war in Afghanistan. Many modern countries employ manhunting doctrine to seek out and eliminate individual guerrillas. Elements of Thompson's moderate approach are adapted here:
Some writers on counter-insurgency warfare emphasize the more turbulent nature of today's guerrilla warfare environment, where the clear political goals, parties and structures of such places as Vietnam, Malaysia, or El Salvador are not as prevalent. These writers point to numerous guerrilla conflicts that center around religious, ethnic or even criminal enterprise themes, and that do not lend themselves to the classic "national liberation" template. The wide availability of the Internet has also cause changes in the tempo and mode of guerrilla operations in such areas as coordination of strikes, leveraging of financing, recruitment, and media manipulation. While the classic guidelines still apply, today's anti-guerrilla forces need to accept a more disruptive, disorderly and ambiguous mode of operation.
The victory of the Basque forces against Charlemagne's army in the Battle of Roncevaux Pass, which gave birth to the Medieval myth of Roland, was due to effective use of a guerrilla principles in the mountain terrain of the Pyrenees. Mongols also faced irregulars composed of armed peasants in Hungary after the Battle of Mohi. In the 15th century, Vietnamese leader Le Loi launched a guerrilla war against Chinese. One of the most successful guerrilla wars against the invading Ottomans was led by Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg from 1443 to 1468. In 1443 he rallied Albanian forces and drove the Turks from his homeland. For 25 years Skanderbeg kept the Turks from retaking Albania, which due to its proximity to Italy, could easily have served as a springboard to the rest of Europe. In 1462, the Ottomans were driven back by Wallachian prince Vlad III Dracula. Vlad was unable to stop the Turks from entering Wallachia, so he resorted to guerrilla war, constantly organizing small attacks and ambushes on the Turks. During The Deluge in Poland guerrilla tactics were applied. In the 100 years war between England and France, commander Bertrand du Guesclin used guerrilla tactics to pester the English invaders. The Frisian warlord, folk hero, legendary warrior and freedom fighter Pier Gerlofs Donia fought a guerrilla against Philip I of Castile and after him against Charles V.
During the Dutch Revolt of the 16th century, the Geuzen waged a guerrilla war against the Spanish Empire. During the Scanian War, a pro-Danish guerrilla group known as the Snapphane fought against the Swedes. In 17th century Ireland, Irish irregulars called tories and rapparees used guerrilla warfare in the Irish Confederate Wars and the Williamite war in Ireland. The Finns guerrillas, sissis, fought against Russian occupation troops in the Great Northern War 1710-1721. The Russians retaliated brutally on civilian populace; the period is called Isoviha (Grand Hatred) in Finland.
Works such as “La Vendée” by Anthony Trollope (http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext04/8vend10.txt ), G.A. Henty’s “No Surrender! A Tale of Rising in the Vendée” (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/20091/20091-h/20091-h.htm) detail the history of the revolt.
The wars between Ireland and the British state have been long, and over the centuries have covered the full spectrum of the types of warfare. The Irish fought the first successful 20th century war of independence against the British Empire and the United Kingdom. After the military failure of the Easter Rising in 1916, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) resorted to guerrilla tactics involving both urban guerrilla warfare and flying columns in the countryside during the Irish War of Independence of 1919 to 1921. The chief IRA commanders in the localities during this period were Tom Barry, Dan Breen, Liam Lynch, Seán Mac Eoin, and Tom Maguire.
The IRA guerrilla was of considerable intensity in parts of the country, notably in Dublin and in areas such as Cork, Kerry and Mayo in the south and west. Despite this, the Irish fighters were never in a position to either hold territory or take on British forces in a conventional manner. Even the largest engagements of the conflict, such as the Kilmichael Ambush or Crossbarry Ambush constituted mere skirmishes by the standards of a conventional war. Another aspect of the war, particularly in the north-eastern part of the province of Ulster, was communal violence. The Unionist majority there, who were largely Protestant and loyal to Britain were granted control over the security forces there, in particular the Ulster Special Constabulary and used them to attack the Nationalist (and largely Catholic) population in reprisal for IRA actions. Elsewhere in Ireland, where Unionists were in a minority (as in the Dunmanway Massacre in Cork), they were sometimes attacked by the IRA for aiding the British forces. The extent to which the conflict was an inter-communal one as well as war of national liberation is still strongly debated in Ireland. The total death toll in the war came to a little over 2000 people.
By mid 1921, the military and political costs of maintaining the British security forces in Ireland eventually proved too heavy for the British government. In July 1921, the UK government agreed to a truce with the IRA and agreed to meet representatives of the Irish First Dail, who since the 1918 General Election held seventy-three of the one hundred and five parliamentary seats for the island. Negotiations led to a settlement, the Anglo-Irish Treaty. It created the Irish Free State of 26 counties as a dominion within the British Empire; the other 6 counties remained part of the UK as Northern Ireland.
Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army split into pro- and anti-Treaty factions with the Anti-Treaty IRA forces losing the Irish Civil War (1922-23) which followed. The partition of Ireland laid the seeds for the later Troubles. The Irish Civil War is a striking example of the failure of guerrilla tactics when used against a relatively popular native regime. Following their failure to hold fixed positions against an Irish Free State offensive in the summer of 1922, the IRA re-formed "flying columns" and attempted to use the same tactics they had successfully used against the British. However, against Irish troops, who knew them and the terrain and faced with the hostility of the Roman Catholic Church and the majority of Irish nationalist opinion, they were unable to sustain their campaign. In addition, the Free State government, confident of its legitimacy among the Irish population, sometimes used more ruthless and effective measures of repression than the British had felt able to employ. Whereas the British executed 14 IRA men in 1919-1922, the Free State executed 77 anti-treaty prisoners officially and its troops killed another 150 prisoners or so in the field (see Executions during the Irish Civil War). The Free State also interned 12,000 republicans, compared with the British figure of 4,500. The last anti-Treaty guerrillas abandoned their military campaign against the Free State after nine months in March 1923.
In a successful campaign in German East Africa, the German commander Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck fought against the numerically superior allied forces. Even though he was cut off from Germany and had few Germans under his command (most of his fighters were African askaris), he won multiple victories during the East Africa Campaign and managed to exhaust and trouble the Allies; he was undefeated up until his acceptance of a cease-fire in Northern Rhodesia three days after the end of the war in Europe. He returned to Germany as a hero.
Another guerrilla war opposed the German Occupation of Ukraine in 1918 and partisan and guerrilla forces fought against both the Bolsheviks and the Whites during the Russian Civil War. This fighting continued into 1921 in Ukraine, in Tambov province, and in parts of Siberia. Other guerrillas opposed the Japanese occupation of the Russian Far East.
Many clandestine organizations (often known as resistance movements) operated in the countries occupied by German Reich during the Second World War. These organizations began forming as early as 1939 when, after the defeat of Poland, the members of what would become the Polish Home Army began to gather. Other clandestine organizations operated in Denmark, Belgium, Norway, France (Resistance), France (Maquis), Czechoslovakia, Slovakia, Yugoslavia (Royalist Chetniks), Yugoslavia (Partisans), Soviet Union, Italy, and Greece. Many of these organizations received help from the British operated Special Operations Executive (SOE) which along with the commandos was initiated by Winston Churchill to "set Europe ablaze." The SOE was originally designated as 'Section D' of MI6 but its aid to resistance movements to start fires clashed with MI6's primary role as an intelligence-gathering agency. When Britain was under threat of invasion, SOE trained Auxiliary Units to conduct guerrilla warfare in the event of invasion. Even the Home Guard were trained in guerrilla warfare in the case of invasion of England. Osterly Park was the first of 3 such schools established to train the Home Guard.
Not only did SOE help the resistance to tie down many German units as garrison troops, so directly aiding the conventional war effort, but also guerrilla incidents in occupied countries were useful in the propaganda war, helping to repudiate German claims that the occupied countries were pacified and broadly on the side of the Germans. Despite these minor successes, many historians believe that the efficacy of the European resistance movements has been greatly exaggerated in popular novels, films and other media.
Contrary to popular belief, in the Western and Southern Europe the resistance groups were only able to seriously counter the German in areas that offered the protection of rugged terrain. In relatively flat, open areas, such as France, the resistance groups were all too vulnerable to decimation by German regulars and pro-German collaborators. Only when operating in concert with conventional Allied units were the resistance groups to prove indispensable.
All the clandestine resistance movements and organisations in the occupied Europe were dwarfed by the partisan warfare that took place on the vast scale of the Eastern Front combat between Soviet partisans and the German Reich forces. The strength of the partisan units and formations can not be accurately estimated, but in Belorussia alone is thought to have been in excess of 300,000. This was a planned and closely coordinated effort by the STAVKA which included insertion of officers and delivery of equipment, as well as coordination of operational planning with the regular Red Army forces such as Operation Concert in 1943 (commenced 19 September) and the massive sabotage of German logistics in preparation for commencement of Operation Bagration in the summer of 1944.
In the late 1960s the Troubles began again in Northern Ireland. They had their origins in the partition of Ireland during the Irish War of Independence. They came to an end with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. The violence was characterised by an armed campaign against the British presence in Northern Ireland by the Provisional Irish Republican Army, British counter-insurgency policy, and attacks on civilians by both loyalists and republicans. There were also allegations of collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and British security forces, and to a lesser extent, republicans and both British and Irish security forces.
Although both loyalist and republican paramilitaries carried out terrorist atrocities against civilians which were often tit-for-tat, a case can be made for saying that attacks such as the Provisional IRA carried out on British soldiers at Warrenpoint in 1979 was a well planned guerrilla ambush. However media coverage of the attack was overshadowed by their killing of Louis Mountbatten and three other people on a fishing boat in Sligo on the same day. The Provisional Irish Republican Army, Loyalist paramilitaries and various anti-Good Friday Agreement splinter-groups could be called guerrillas but are usually called terrorists by governments of both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland governments. The news media such as the BBC and CNN will often use the term "gunmen" as in "IRA gunmen" or "Loyalist gunmen". Since 1995 CNN also uses guerrilla as in "IRA guerrilla" and "Protestant guerrilla". Reuters, in accordance with its principle of not using the word terrorist except in direct quotes, refers to "guerrilla groups".
Currently, the National Front for the Liberation of Corsica (FLNC) continues to exist.
The ongoing war between pro-independence groups in Chechnya and the Russian government is currently the most active guerrilla war in Europe. Most of the incidents reported by the Western news media are very gory terrorist acts against Russian civilians committed by Chechen separatists outside Chechnya. However, within Chechnya the war has many of the characteristics of a classic guerrilla war. See the article History of Chechnya for more details.
In Northern Ireland, the Real Irish Republican Army and the Continuity Irish Republican Army, two small, radical splinter groups who broke with the Provisional Irish Republican Army, continue to exist. They are dwarfed in size by the size of the Provisional IRA and have been less successful in terms of both popularity among Irish republicans and guerrilla activity: The Continuity IRA has failed to carry out any killings, while the Real IRA's only successful strikes was the 1998 Omagh Bombing, which killed 29 civilians, and a booby trap torch bomb in Belfast, which killed a British Army soldier.
Irregular warfare in the American Civil War followed the patterns of irregular warfare in 19th century Europe. Structurally, irregular warfare can be divided into three different types conducted during the Civil War: 'People's War', 'partisan warfare', and 'raiding warfare'. The concept of 'People's war,' first described by Clausewitz in On War, was the closest example of a mass guerrilla movement in the era. In general, this type of irregular warfare was conducted in the hinterland of the Border States (Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and northwestern Virginia), and was marked by a vicious neighbor against neighbor quality. One such example was the opposing irregular forces operating in Missouri and northern Arkansas from 1862 to 1865, most of which were pro-Confederate or pro-Union in name only and preyed on civilians and isolated military forces of both sides with little regard of politics. From these semi-organized guerrillas, several groups formed and were given some measure of legitimacy by their governments. Quantrill's Raiders, who terrorized pro-Union civilians and fought Federal troops in large areas of Missouri and Kansas, was one such unit. Another notorious unit, with debatable ties to the Confederate military, was led by Champ Ferguson along the Kentucky-Tennessee border. Ferguson became one of the only figures of Confederate cause to be executed after the war. Dozens of other small, localized bands terrorized the countryside throughout the border region during the war, bringing total war to the area that lasted until the end of the Civil War and, in some areas, beyond.
Partisan warfare, in contrast, more closely resembles Commando operations of the 20th century. Partisans were small units of conventional forces, controlled and organized by a military force for operations behind enemy lines. The 1862 Partisan Ranger Act passed by the Confederate Congress authorized the formation of these units and gave them legitimacy, which placed them in a different category than the common 'bushwhacker' or 'guerrilla'. John Singleton Mosby formed a partisan unit which was very effective in tying down Federal forces behind Union lines in northern Virginia in the last two years of the war.
Lastly, deep raids by conventional cavalry forces were often considered 'irregular' in nature. The "Partisan Brigades" of Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Hunt Morgan operated as part of the cavalry forces of the Confederate Army of Tennessee in 1862 and 1863. They were given specific missions to destroy logistical hubs, railroad bridges, and other strategic targets to support the greater mission of the Army of Tennessee. By mid-1863, with the destruction of Morgan's raiders during the Great Raid of 1863, the Confederacy conducted few deep cavalry raids in the latter years of the war, mostly because of the losses in experienced horsemen and the offensive operations of the Union army. Federal cavalry conducted several successful raids during the war but in general used their cavalry forces in a more conventional role. A good exception was the 1863 Grierson's Raid, which did much to set the stage for General Ulysses S. Grant's victory during the Vicksburg Campaign.
Federal counter-guerrilla operations were very successful in preventing the success of Confederate guerrilla warfare. In Arkansas, Federal forces used a wide variety of strategies to defeat irregulars. These included the use of Arkansas Unionist forces as anti-guerrilla troops, the use of riverine forces such as gunboats to control the waterways, and the provost marshal military law enforcement system to spy on suspected guerrillas and to imprison those captured. Against Confederate raiders, the Federal army developed an effective cavalry themselves and reinforced that system by numerous blockhouses and fortification to defend strategic targets.
However, Federal attempts to defeat Mosby's Partisan Rangers fell short of success because of Mosby's use of very small units (10–15 men) operating in areas considered friendly to the Rebel cause. Another regiment known as the "Thomas Legion," consisting of white and anti-Union Cherokee Indians, morphed into a guerrilla force and continued fighting in the remote mountain back-country of western North Carolina for a month after Lee's surrender at Appomattox. That unit was never completely suppressed by Union forces, but voluntarily ceased hostilities after capturing the town of Waynesville on May 10 1865.
In the late 20th century several historians have focused on the non-use of guerrilla warfare to prolong the war. Near the end of the war, there were those in the Confederate government, notably Jefferson Davis who advocated continuing the southern fight as a guerrilla conflict. He was opposed by generals such as Robert E. Lee who ultimately believed that surrender and reconciliation were better than guerrilla warfare.
In the third phase of the Second Boer War, after the British defeated the Boer armies in conventional warfare and occupied their capitals of Pretoria and Bloemfontein, Boer commandos reverted to mobile warfare. Units led by leaders such as Jan Smuts and Christian de Wet harassed slow-moving British columns and attacked railway lines and encampments. The Boers were almost all mounted and possessed long range magazine loaded rifles. This gave them the ability to attack quickly and cause many casualties before retreating rapidly when British reinforcements arrived. In the early period of the guerrilla war, Boer commandos could be very large, containing several thousand men and even field artillery. However, as their supplies of food and ammunition gave out, the Boers increasingly broke up into smaller units and relied on captured British arms, ammunition, and uniforms.
To counter these tactics, the British under Kitchener interned Boer civilians into concentration camps and built hundreds of blockhouses all over the Transvaal and Orange Free State. Kitchener also enacted a scorched earth policy, destroying Boer homes and farms. Eventually, the Boer guerrillas surrendered in 1902, but the British granted them generous terms in order to bring the war to an end. This showed how effective guerrilla tactics could be in extracting concessions from a militarily more powerful enemy.
The Jewish forces were composed of spontaneous groups of civilians working without formal military structure, fighting the British Empire, which had just emerged victorious from World War II. Some of these groups were amalgamated into the Israel Defence Force and subsequently fought in the 1948 War of Independence.
In the Mexican Revolution from 1910 to 1920, the populist revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata employed the use of predominantly guerrilla tactics. His forces, composed entirely of peasant farmers turned soldiers, wore no uniform and would easily blend into the general population after an operation's completion. They would have young soldiers, called "dynamite boys", hurl cans filled with explosives into enemy barracks, and then a large number of lightly armed soldiers would emerge from the surrounding area to attack it. Although Zapata's forces met considerable success, his strategy backfired as government troops, unable to distinguish his soldiers from the civilian population, waged a broad and brutal campaign against the latter.
In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Latin America had several urban guerrilla movements whose strategy was to destabilize regimes and provoke a counter-reaction by the military. The theory was that a harsh military regime would oppress the middle classes who would then support the guerrillas and create a popular uprising.
While these movements did destabilize governments, such as Argentina, Uruguay, Guatemala, and Peru to the point of military intervention, the military generally proceeded to completely wipe out the guerrilla movements, usually committing several atrocities among both civilians and armed insurgents in the process.
Several other left-wing guerrilla movements, sometimes backed by Cuba, attempted to overthrow US-backed governments or right-wing military dictatorships. US-backed Contra guerrillas attempted to overthrow the left-wing elected Sandinista government of Nicaragua, though most of these groups should be considered mercenary juntas rather than rooted guerrillas. The Sandinista Revolution saw the involvement of Women and the Armed Struggle in Nicaragua.
The National Liberation Front (NLF), drawing its ranks from the South Vietnamese peasantry and working class, used guerrilla tactics in the early phases of the war. However, by 1965 when U.S. involvement escalated, the National Liberation Front was in the process of being supplanted by regular units of the North Vietnamese Army.
The NVA regiments organized along traditional military lines, were supplied via the Ho Chi Minh trail rather than living off the land, and had access to weapons such as tanks and artillery which are not normally used by guerrilla forces. Furthermore, parts of North Vietnam were "off-limits" by American bombardment for political reasons, giving the NVA personnel and their material a haven that does not usually exist for a guerrilla army.
Over time, more of the fighting was conducted by the North Vietnamese Army and the character of the war become increasingly conventional. The final offensive into South Vietnam in 1975 was a mostly conventional military operation in which guerrilla warfare played a minor, supporting role.
The Cu Chi Tunnels (Ðịa đạo Củ Chi) was a major base for guerrilla warfare during the Vietnam War. Located about 60 km northwest of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), the Viet Cong (NLF) used the complex system tunnels to hide and live during the day and come up to fight at night.
Despite the aggressiveness of the Vietnamese forces, the VietCong failed to achieve their objective. The defeat of the VietCong outlined the flaws of large scale guerrilla warfare over an extended time. These lessons were later exploited by SAS and Delta Force units during the Gulf War who worked in small teams instead of armies.
Throughout the Vietnam War, the Communist Party closely supervised all levels of the conflict. The bulk of the VC/NLF were initially southerners, with some distinctive southern issues and sensibilities. Nevertheless, the VC/NLF was associated with the Northern Lao Dong Party which furnished it with supplies, weaponry and trained cadres, including regular NVA/PAVN troops. The Southern Communist party, the Peoples Revolutionary Party (PRP) organized in 1962, to participate in the insurgency, and COVSN, Central Office for Southern Vietnam, which partially controlled military activity. The general replacement of CV irregulars with NVA troops supplanted the original VC goals with those proposed by the NVA. As the 1968 Tet Offensive was primarily a VC operation in which large numbers of VC fighters were killed, increasing the role of the NVA in the war effort.
This is a set of tactics which were used frequently in the Vietnam War by the NVA.