Small Team Tactics pt1



“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” –Sun Tzu


I. Intro

II. Team Makeup

III. Movement

IV. Enfilade vs Defilade

V. Overlapping Fields of Fire

VI. What is a flank?

VII. Raids and Ambushes


IX. Special Weapons

X. How does this fit in with the rest of the website?

XI. Further Study and Training


I. Intro


Small teams, to me, include anything from two people to a platoon (say 30-40 shooters)  The first thing to realize is that as we increase the size of a unit, their combat effectiveness increases not as a linier function but as a logarithmic function.  For example, if X is the combat power of a single trained individual, the combat power of two individuals is X^2 not X+X.  This relationship only holds if they understand group tactics and as long as the area of contact is large enough to employ the number.  This relationship is most evident in the 480BC Battle of Thermopylae, where hundreds of thousands of Persians could not dislodge a few thousand Greeks (with 300 Spartans.)  This was mostly due to the ability of the Spartans to work as a team and the narrow nature of the battlefield, which prevented the Persians from bringing their full power to bear.


This page is meant only to provide the most basic of information on the actual mechanics of small team tactics.  At the end there will be comments on what other parts of the website are important, directions for further reading and ideas on how to train tactics.


II.  Team make up


The most basic of terms you need to understand is that of the “maneuver element.” If there are two people on the team then each is a maneuver element, each individual.  The number of maneuver elements in a small unit should be two or three.  One provides cover fire while the others move.  So, as the team gets bigger more people will make up the maneuver elements.  But each element should still act as an individual - up and moving at the same time.  A squad can be made up of 6-12 people in two or three fire teams.  The fire team is the maneuver element of the squad.  The squad is the maneuver element of the platoon, the platoon is the maneuver element of the company and so on.


In squad and larger elements the leader will be between the maneuver elements.  This will allow him to direct the actions of both.  Any special weapons or personnel should remain with the leader so that he can direct them.


III. Team Movement


How does a combat team move from place to place?  That is going to depend on various things, mainly the terrain and the likelihood of contact.  An important element to consider with all of these is that your people should be able to see the person next to them, but if they can see two or three people away easily they are probably to bunched up.


It is important that the team practices these movement formations together and can move in and out of them with no directions.  Hand signals for each one need to be learned.

A. Wedge

The wedge is when the team moves in a “V” formation with the closed end of the V pointing in the direction of movement.  A wedge consists of the point man and at least two men behind him on the flank, typically no more than five people or one maneuver element.  Other maneuver elements should be behind or on line with the first wedge depending on the objective.  Leaders should be between the wedges of the maneuver elements.

The wedge is good for open terrain.  Other formations similar to the wedge are the diamond (useful when there is no other maneuver element behind) or the box.  The wedge and similar formations are the most secure way to move as they provide the best all around fire to all member and it is most difficult to have the entire maneuver element in a field of fire.


B. Column and staggered column.  

The column is exactly as it sounds, a single file line moving in the direction.  If at all possible the column should be staggered.  This is how you might move along a road when contact with the enemy is unlikely.  The column is a particularly vulnerable way to move and should only be used when very close terrain demands it.  It should be opened up in to the wedge as soon as possible.  Larger units might move in a column if they have flank elements out to each side, and very small units might use it because it is very discrete.


C. Skirmish line

The skirmish line is when a maneuver element is perpendicular to the line of march.  This is useful when you want to move forward with the maximum firepower directed to the front and you are trying to make contact with a numerically inferior enemy.  The skirmish line should always be backed up with another maneuver element because it is possible to get surprised and have the first unit cut in half.  Pay careful attention to the picture for “enfilade” below.  The bad guys being decimated are in a skirmish line.


Our YouTube video on moving as a team

D. Bounding (Bounding Overwatch)
Bounding is when two maneuver elements move forward providing support.  One unit will be halted and facing the direction of the enemy (giving cover) and one will be moving towards the enemy.  Bounding is done when contact has been made or is very likely.  Some people call bounding fire and maneuver, although technically this would only be while in contact with the enemy, where as bounding can be done while not actively engaged.

IV. Enfilade -vs- Defilade

These terms describe exposure to hostile fire.  To be enfiladed means that you are online facing the enemy.  Flanking enfilades are when you are online and your side/flank is to the enemy.  This is the worst position to be in.  To be in defilade means that you are in a depression, the backside of a hill, behind a building and are not exposed to enemy direct fire.  This is the best position to be in.

If you have the enemy in enfilade you are able to engage multiple targets at the same time and they are not able to engage you because they would be firing at each other.  If you are in a defilade the enemy cannot engage you except with indirect fire.  The art of small unit warfare is to stay in defilade while catching the enemy in enfilade.

I need to note that cover and defilade are not the same thing.  Cover is when you are protected from enemy fire.  Defilade is when, due to terrain etc, the enemy cannot even shoot at you.


The troops in position A do not have the enemy in enfilade, the troops in position B do, and have a far superior position.  They are able to bring fire on the entire body of the enemy at once while most of the enemy cannot engage them without firing over others in their unit.  The opposite is true for position A.


When in the offense you avoid being enfiladed to the enemy and try to stay in defilades.  When in the defense you try to do the opposite, set up positions to catch the enemy in enfilade and be aware of defilades.   I conventional units defilades will be covered by indirect fire (grenade launchers, mortars, artillery.) A poorly equipped guerrilla force must devise other methods, such as booby traps.  You must train your eye to spot positions that can provide enfilading fire and defilades.

Part 2