Light Infantry; Context and Relevance

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.

Summary

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!

Published by vonsteubentraining

Mike is the owner and chief instructor of Von Steuben Training & Consulting (VSTAC). A self-described “Tactical Scholar,” he spent 6 years in the Marine Corps as a radio operator and small-unit tactics instructor. He has dedicated his life to honing the tactical prowess of himself and his fellow patriots, guided by the wisdom of his commanding officer, Jesus Christ. He can be contacted via email at vonsteubentraining@protonmail.com

13 thoughts on “Light Infantry; Context and Relevance

  1. I was in a well known British instructors SUT course several years ago and he constantly droned on and on about how the Brits were the only ones doing proper SUT, Light Infantry… how they had invented it etc…..I finally said, “Well, I guess the Boers taught you well”….. He didn’t care for it much…..Some people DO study history…..

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  2. One small nit to consider? I think light infantry in ancient Greece were called “peltasts”–Hoplites were the “heavier” line infantry. I could be mistaken, tho.

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      1. Well, thank you for the article–it has more important info that the distinction between archaic terms for different types of Greek infantry. Besides, before I made my comment I had to look the term up to be sure that a “peltast” was not someone barred from being within 1000 feet of a schoolyard…

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  3. The newest iteration, operating on both sides in the current Ukrainian conflict, goes by the initials “DRG.”
    This stands for “Diversionary Reconnaissance Group.”

    Recon needs no further explanation, but Diversionary does. In Soviet/Russian terms, Spetsnaz is a “Diversionary” group, top to bottom. That is to mean, in their nomenclature, a group that is not intended to win a decisive battle, but a group that is meant to cause the enemy to divert their forces toward a feint. Even if the mission of the feint is pretty important on its own.

    Anyway, “DRG” is the new term of art in Ukraine, not far perhaps from what our elders knew in Vietnam as MACV/SOG (strategic level) or LRRP (division level). (Just spitballing from memory. 0

    https://en.topwar.ru/201021-ukrainskuju-drg-blokirovali-i-likvidirovali-v-odnom-iz-rajonov-hersona.html

    Another great source: “Bushwhackers” about CW1 in Missouri. “The Outlaw Josey Wales” was just a tiny taste. My favorite of the genre, with timeless lessons for all rural CWs, is this book. One shot rifles or 30, this is not important, not compared to the lessons learned from actual Missouri CW veterans. Even on the losing side.

    If you are prepping for a possible CW2, get this book. Sam Hildebrand weren’t no saint, that’s for sure. But this book is a graduate degree in doing Dirty War in the America South.

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  4. I would also include the 101st screaming eagles as a light infantry division, since modern light infantry are best-employed as airborne/air assault.

    Mr. Lind is a good example of Wedemeyer’s statement that “if it is true stupidity, then the laws of probability say that at least something will work out in our favor.” Mr. Lind is stuck in a 1980s mentality, particularly his slavish obsession with the Wehrmacht as “da greatest army ever,” and poorly grasps anything that changed after 1944. He has some good ideas, but usually by accident.

    Two excellent resources that I’ve found on light infantry are the army publications: “A historical perspective on light infantry,” which has a great compare-contrast appendix, and the 1981 “Dismounted Patrolling” manual. One of the biggest (and least glamorous) lessons of the Cold War is that light infantry must be excellent planners to compensate for reduced firepower. Mr. Lind, like the Wehrmacht, believes in the notion of improvising everything, and this is why the Germans kept losing after 1943 even when they had sufficient resources (there’s a good book on that, too: “When the Odds Were Even” about the Vosges Campaign in 1944).

    Another example is the VC/NVA in Vietnam: they chose most of their battles (thanks to LBJ forbidding Westmoreland from cutting the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos), yet still relied heavily on planning and got their asses kicked when things didn’t go according to plan and they had to improvise solutions.

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    1. Thank you for the recommended reading, I’ll certainly look into some of those. The VC/NVA failed because they were using purely light infantry. As I stated in the article, light infantry is best used supporting more conventional forces. There are notable historical exceptions to this, but they tend to be that; exceptions. The Finnish during the winter war, for example, saw incredible successes using purely light infantry against the Soviet combined arms army, but they had a lot of factors on their side (terrain, weather, and training to name a few).

      As for your take on Mr Lind, I’m interested on what books of his you have read that lead to your conclusion. My only exposure to his work so far has been the 4th Generation Warfare Handbook, which I found to be excellent.

      Thank you for the productive discussion. This community could benefit from a lot more of it. Semper Discens.

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      1. Vietnam was pretty similar to Finland in terms of how favorable the terrain was to light infantry. The main reason America could repeatedly bring more firepower into a light infantry fight was the helicopter; that level of operational mobility was something the Reds couldn’t match on the ground, either by foot or truck. Thus, American companies and battalions could be lifted/leapfrogged across the battlefield (avoiding road/trail ambushes) and between provinces faster than the French could in 1954. America would do well to convert the National Guard into Air Assault units and invest in a fleet of helicopters.

        Mr. Lind has written few books, but does write articles for “Traditional Right” under the title “The View from Olympus.” His theory of the 4 generations of modern warfare are based off of a series of 7 books (of which I have read 4), and it was from reading these books that I came to see he was getting things right by accident. “When the Odds Were Even” was written as a critique of “Fighting Power” (one of the 7 books) by Martin Van Creveld, an Israeli historian who shares Mr. Lind’s philosophy and assumes that the German Army was superior to the American Army in every aspect except resource quantity. Mr. Lind and Mr. Creveld have also written some silly things about the Battle of Fallujah and Yom Kippur War, respectively, with Lind suggesting that Fallujah would become “an American Stalingrad,” and Creveld saying that the Israelis should have “drawn the Egyptians deep into the Sinai,” despite the fact that the Egyptians knew they could only advance 15-20 miles and never planned to (which bit them in the ass when Syria blundered their attack on the Golan Heights and begged for another attack to relieve the pressure- read “Arabs at War” for the full story). Lind also thinks that Russia had a better army than the USA and when Ukraine started thrashing them, he dismissed the notion that Ukraine learned any useful lessons from NATO because “America uses attrition warfare from France’s WW2 Army!” While not as silly as the “Tigerwolf” tank concept, Mr. Lind sticks to a one-dimensional theory of war and has yet to look any further.

        Mr. Lind’s “Maneuver Warfare Handbook” is a good distillation of his theories and worldview. He subscribes to an attrition-maneuver false dichotomy that was popular from the 1960s-1980s, but makes no sense when one considers that guerrilla/partisan warfare is both maneuver- and attrition-based. Mr. Lind does not consider Shock as Maneuver’s opposite, and consequently downplays non-maneuver methods of winning, as if throwing men armed with obsolete weapons at problems is somehow superior to throwing shells and money at problems. He also proposes replacing every tactical formation with a simple recon-pull tactic, demonstrating his belief in improvisation over planning and rehearsals. His best idea in the book was an addition to the 5-paragraph order (“Commander’s Intent”), which he does deserve credit for.

        In many ways, Mr. Lind is the anti-S.L.A. Marshall. Marshall used fire as a marketable, measurable linchpin to drive reforms in staff work, training, communication, and reviving the infantry’s reputation in the atomic age. Mr. Lind’s faction, meanwhile, demands everything else bend over backwards to LARP the German Army, to the point of willful ignorance about how Korea, Vietnam, and Yom Kippur show the rules of the game are changing.

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