Artwork: “Marine Recon” by Huy Nguyen
In February of this year I wrote an article about the history of Jägers and light infantry. In that article I advocated that American patriots become students of light infantry tactics and operating methods. However, over the last several months it has come to my attention that there are several misconceptions floating around about what light infantry is, what role they play, and what roles they don’t. This article seeks to clear up some of the confusion and clarify exactly how and when light infantry tactics should be applied.
In this article I will include references to William S. Lind’s excellent “4th Generation Warfare Handbook.”
What is light infantry anyway?
The US Military claims to have several formations of “light infantry.” The claimed distinction is that these units are not “mechanized infantry” (that is, infantry that operates out of armored fighting vehicles), and are therefore “light.” However, the absence of vehicles alone is not enough to make a true light infantry unit. The tactics, training, and even mission set of these units are often very similar if not the same as their mechanized brethren, which technically makes them line infantry. Lind writes;
“…the essential difference between [line and light infantry] remains. It is not easily observed because it is an intangible factor: the mentality of the light infantrymen.”
“…the correct meaning for the term “light” is not the American notion of weight, but the European concept of agility and operational versatility.”
Lind goes on to say that light infantry does not rely on supporting arms or overwhelming firepower. Stealth, mobility, and adaptability are the hallmarks of true light infantry. Their operations are characterized by deep penetration into enemy rear areas, operating (at least for a time) mostly independent of any logistical trains. True light infantry will resupply off the land whenever possible to stretch their packed rations and water.
By these criteria, the only true light infantry units in the US Military today are US Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, and USMC Force Reconnaissance Companies. However, the Commandant of the Marine Corps is taking steps towards converting entire Marine regiments into true light infantry (in the form of “Marine Littoral Regiments”) to prepare for fighting a numerically superior Chinese force.
The role of light infantry
Let’s take a look at how light infantry has been used throughout history.
- The first light infantry units were probably the Greek Hoplites, who in ancient times would harass an enemy’s flanks and rear while the line infantry went to work on the main enemy formations.
- In the Seven Years War, the American Revolution, and Napoleonic Wars, light infantry and Jägers were used in addition to regular infantry to skirmish with enemy outposts and draw resources away from the main fight.
- The intent for the new Marine Littoral Regiments is to conduct shaping and supporting operations enabling a successful naval campaign in the Pacific.
Noticing a trend? The role of light infantry is to conduct aggressive harassing and shaping operations in support of a main effort conducted elsewhere by conventional forces.
The bottom line is that the conventional, military use of light infantry is to shape the battlefield such that the main effort can do their job better. In order for Jägers to conduct missions behind enemy lines, someone must be in a foxhole holding those lines in the first place.
Relevance in a WROL scenario
Now that we know what light infantry is and that they exist to support a main effort, we can begin to translate this to the paradigm of an armed prepared citizen. If you are at your homestead/farm/bug-out location, the defense of that location (more specifically, the defense of your family) is your main effort. You must have a “conventional force” of defenders dedicated to accomplishing that mission. Once you have that in place, you can begin to use your own “light infantry” to leave your perimeter and conduct operations that support your mission of defending your loved ones. Here are some examples of supporting missions that your “Jägers” could conduct:
- After setting up defensive positions you notice a hill that overlooks your location. You regularly send a security patrol to the hill to ensure nobody is observing your defenses from there.
- You send out a patrol to make contact with the folks holed up in the trailer park down the road so you can collaborate on area defense (note how this operation is non-combative in nature, but still supports your mission).
- After receiving intelligence on a gang that is using a farmhouse as a base for raiding local homes, you send a scout team to establish an observation post to confirm the information so you can ambush the raiders.
You get the idea. Sitting static in a defense is not a smart way to accomplish your mission. You need to be proactive in conducting reconnaissance of your area to engage bad actors before they get within rifle range of your family. In so doing, you are conducting shaping and supporting operations that support the main effort of defense.
Today we looked at what light infantry actually is and how it is used in a conventional sense. Then we took the concept of light forces supporting a main effort and applied it to a WROL scenario. It is important to note that although we can draw certain parallels between professional light infantry and our “light infantry,” we must remain aware of the differences. All military doctrine is written within the paradigm of “acceptable” numbers of casualties, so use discretion when applying it. I strongly recommend Joe Dolio’s Tactical Wisdom book series for an excellent guide that balances proven military techniques with the reality of operating as an unsupported group of civilians.
That said, simply reading about tactics is not enough to master them. You need to get training in person with your people so you can practice working as a team. If you would like to know how to run your own training events, I have a class for that. My Team Leader Class series gives you all the tools you need to run your own training, plan missions, and lead a group of riflemen in a tactical environment. The window is closing to register for Team Leader I on October 1-2, so email me to reserve your spot!