Originally posted on American Partisan on July 16, 2022
In “The Long Road Home,” we have another very hairy situation. Our convoy has taken several security measures and still has fallen victim to an ambush. This is an example of a situation where, despite us doing everything right, we still end up on the short end of a gunfight. Combat is like that. We can increase our odds through training, sound judgement, and good doctrine, but every time we go out we are still rolling the dice, and even a 20-sided die will sometimes roll a 1.
Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, the enemy has successfully initiated an ambush against our convoy and 1st squad is unable to move. Fortunately, we used good tactics by dispersing our vehicles such that only one of them is in the kill zone of the ambush. This grants our squad freedom of maneuver so that we can choose how best to react.
I want to use this session to talk about the concept of battlefield initiative. In any engagement, one side initiates hostilities. The side that starts shooting first normally has the upper hand because they have taken an action which forces the other side to react. This is called having the “initiative” in a fight. Once your enemy is reacting to you, you should seek to take more actions which force more (ideally predictable) reactions in rapid succession so that you dictate how the fight goes. He who keeps the initiative and directs the fight usually wins. He who is constantly reacting will eventually be backed into a corner. This rings true from the chessboard to the battlefield to political posturing.
That said, there will be times when we don’t have the initiative at the start of an engagement, either through bad tactics or bad luck. This does not mean that we have already lost, it just means that we should try to find ways to take the initiative away from our enemy. There are many ways to take the initiative on the battlefield, not all of which involve shooting. Simply maneuvering can be enough of an action to provoke a reaction from our enemy. Once we have taken an action that forces our enemy to react, we have taken back the initiative and should continue taking actions to maintain it.
Back to the tactical problem at hand. We are currently reacting to the enemy’s act of ambushing our convoy. However, because we are not in the kill zone, we are free to react in a manner of our choosing. We should seek to regain the initiative by taking an action that forces a reaction.
Wait for the QRF
Some have argued that since we have the precious cargo, we should not involve ourselves in this fight. We should provide our own security and allow the QRF to handle the situation when they arrive. However, it will take them several minutes to arrive, and a lot can happen in 5 minutes when you’re under fire. This ensures our survival, but likely at the expense of all six men in 1st squad. Further, when the QRF arrives, we will not be in a position to support them, and they could themselves be ambushed.
Dismount and flank
The majority of answers had some variation of dismounting our vehicle and maneuvering into a position to lay down fire on the ambushers. The wooded terrain to the North of the road offers the best cover and concealment, and depending on how firm the ground is on that side of the road, we may even be able to drive our vehicle off-road on the North side of the treeline a ways before we dismount. This would ensure that we get into position as quickly as possible.
We must weigh this course of action against the possibility that there may be enemies in those trees that 1st squad hasn’t seen yet, in which case taking the vehicle any closer could be hazardous. But at the same time, if we can use our vehicle to maneuver quickly without an unacceptable level of risk, we should take advantage of the speed it offers so we give 1st squad a better chance at survival.
Our sudden appearance from an unexpected angle would no doubt force a reaction from the ambushers, possibly even force them to break contact. Even if they merely shift their focus away from the van, it would be enough of a reaction to possibly enable another action on our part towards rescuing 1st Squad.
Drive up to the van to conduct a hasty rescue
This is certainly an action we could take. However, if we consider that the enemy is already oriented on the van, our action of driving into their kill zone is not going to take the initiative for us because it doesn’t force a reaction from the enemy and restricts our options for further decisions. It is also a very bad idea because we are very exposed in soft-skin vehicles, and will find ourselves in the same boat as 1st squad.
The ability to make sound decisions under stress is the mark of an effective combat leader. When we are under stress our mind tends to make shortcuts. If we are accustomed to playing it safe this will often result in inaction, leaving the initiative in the hands of our enemy. But if we develop a bias for action, building the habit of looking for ways to take back the initiative, we can train our minds to look for actions we can take that turn the tide of the battle in our favor.
One final point is that you cannot take a conventional military mindset into unconventional warfare. This scenario was based on a video clip of a Ukrainian vehicle convoy that was ambushed by Russian infantry. Watch the decisions that were made in the video below and observe what happens when you take habits from conventional military training designed for armored vehicles and try to use that training with thin-skinned cars.
One thought on “TDG 16 Recap and Analysis”
Good analysis and summary of the options. It’s easy to talk about initiative but it has to be trained in some sort of competitive manner, whether it’s force on force training, sports, or martial arts. Learning how to get inside of someone’s OODA loop is a great skill and fundamentally important for every small unit leader.