Captain B.H. Liddell Hart’s lead article in the June 1956 issue of Military Review makes an interesting point when he discusses defence strategy for Europe:
Yet, basically, the defending side, operating in its own territory, should not need as high a scale of supply and transport as an attacker coming from a long distance away and should be able to make effective defensive use of “local” types of force which require relatively little transport. It would be far better if a large proportion of the ground forces of the continental countries were built on a local militia basis, organized to fight in its own locality and maintain itself from local stores distributed in numerous small underground shelters.
Such forces, a superior form of “Home Guard,” would provide a deep network of defense, yet need much less transport than the present NATO type (conventional divisions), be much less of a target, be less liable to interception and become effective with far shorter training thus relieving the present burden of conscription. A portion of these type forces in rearward areas might be moved up as reinforcements to the forward layers of the defense if, and as, conditions allowed. With suitable planning, this can be achieved and such forces will not need the large scale of organic transport and equipment that makes the existing NATO-type divisions so vulnerable, as well as so costly.
The “local” type forces should be backed by mobile forces composed of professional troops, mounted entirely in armoured cross-country vehicles, streamlined in organization and trained to operate in “controlled dispersion” like a swarm of hornets. With such quality and mobility, fewer troops would be required than in the present NATO divisions and they would be better fitted for guerrilla-like war as well as for atomic war wherein mobile action would only be practicable for relatively small forces.
The threat of military invasion from the east may have decreased in Europe but many countries still face such threats, so let us consider this idea a little further.
The concept of a modern militia can be associated with the concept of a “true defence” force, i.e. one that is mainly concerned with the protection of a nation’s people and territory.
The basic idea is for most of the relatively static components of a defence to be undertaken by militia, freeing “conventional/ professional” forces for more mobile formations. The large stocks of supplies that the militia districts will maintain will also allow the mobile forces to operate with less logistical tail.
The term “static” is probably a little misleading in this context. Militia infantry in reality will move around their area of operations quite a lot to evade the enemy’s firepower and keep him off-balance. Artillery assigned to a militia district will also move frequently. Several companies offer howitzers that can be mounted on truck-beds and these would be a useful form of SP artillery, especially if the carriers can be disguised as normal trucks to avoid enemy surveillance.
The term “militia” often conjures up images of second-rate or antiquated equipment but wherever possible this force should have the same equipment as conventional military formations, not least for purposes of morale and confidence. This does not rule out the use of certain older items of equipment when its use is suitable and it does not cause extra logistical complication. For example, in a fixed position M101 or M102 howitzers can be used in place of M119 if they have sufficient range to control the required area.
A militia force operating in its own territory has several potential advantages.
A militia “division” would be closely tied to a geographic area so there can be no realistic “standard” structure. In very open country the majority of militia forces may be artillery, reconnaissance and fire-direction forces. In mountainous country, light infantry and heavy mortars may be more useful. In an industrialized area or near an airfield, a large proportion of the defensive troops would be SAM batteries.
An important element of the militia will be CSS elements, both to support the combat elements of the militia and any armour, mechanized, airborne and airmobile brigades from the “professional” forces. This is a further argument in favour of using the same equipment for both the militia and conventional units.
A militia division/ district might include a Special Tactical Battalion. This would be a light-infantry formation that serves as a counter insurgency, special reconnaissance, raiding, police support and quick reaction force. Probably this unit will be made up of regular or volunteer reservists rather than militia. It may consists of three rifle companies with a strong support element of engineers, mortars, automatic grenade launchers, recoilless rifles, ATGMs. This battalion includes an organic transport element that can move the companies by truck if necessary. In some areas this unit may also have APCs.
The militia division/ district may also have a local tank battalion including infantry and artillery components. This will also most likely be regular or volunteer reservists.
All divisions are likely to have a large pool of trucks. In peacetime these may be placed under local government control and used for public benefit: civil engineering, cheap transport of supplies for hospitals, etc. Militia drivers and their trucks may be leased to haulage and construction companies.
Other militia units may also see peacetime applications such as civil defence and disaster relief. Chemical defence units would be located in industrial areas so they are available to assist in the event of a large-scale accident.
A militia system will also protect communities against counter-insurgency. It takes several acres of land for an individual to support himself by “hunter-gathering”, so living of the land is usually not possible for any guerilla unit of more than a couple of men in size. Such units also cannot grow munitions, so need supply lines just like conventional forces.
A competent militia can patrol and search to prevent a guerilla units re-supplying and armed communities can resist guerillas taking materials by force.
In his book “Race to the Swift” Richard E. Simpkin expands on the militia concept with a suggestion of a strategy the Germans call a “sponge” (schwamm) but Simpkin calls a “net”:
“(p300) the net ...is to exploit the hindering terrain, urban and otherwise, which lies on enemy thrust lines. This net consists of light infantry, reinforced by gunner and sapper detachments down to platoon level, and deployed at 5 per cent, never more than 10 per cent, of normal infantry density. This makes a platoon responsible for a sector 2 to 3 kilometres wide and up to 7 kilometres deep.
Within this, the platoon employs quasi-guerrilla tactics while having call through its gunner on artillery and air support. In typical rural hindering terrain, it might employ two sections to put out four to six tank-hunting patrols, and deploy the headquarters (which has an extra fire team) and the third section in an ambush, into which the bulk of the sapper support would probably go. There is in fact a need for a “network of nets”, so that they can pull back through one another on foot, avoiding the main battle.
The net’s task is not attrition, but mobility denial in the broadest sense, based on the blocking of routes. The aim is to pose a sufficient threat to force the enemy to move up massed infantry, dismount it, and clear through the hindering terrain on foot. Quite apart from the repercussions on his movement plan, nobody with experience of clearing through under threat of opposition will be in any doubt of what this would do to the attacker’s tempo.”
Simpkin is probably basing his platoon structure on that of the 1980s British Army. This would have three eight-man rifle sections and an extra fire team with the HQ section. The HQ fire team had two GPMGs and a 51mm light mortar. To reflect their primary role as tank-hunters it is likely the rifle sections would mainly be armed with rifles and anti-tank systems. The platoon mortar would be very useful for laying HE and smokescreens and would probably see extensive use illuminating the enemy for the tank-hunter teams.
The gunner detachment (Forward Observers) and possibly the sappers would be volunteer reservists, the equivalent of the TA (Territorial Army).
In rural terrain the mission of the militia as outlined above by Simpkin suggests that a militia unit could make considerable use of a fire-team-level ATGW with a range of around 1,000m. The M47 Dragon appears to fit this description, particularly in some of its updated forms. The Israeli Shipon-2 and possibly the French Eryx and Anglo-Swedish NLAW may also be suitable. These ATGW would be supplemented by large infantry anti-tank weapons such as LAW-80 and M136/AT4. In more urban conditions the militia unit is likely to have greater numbers of shorter-ranged anti-tank weapons that are capable of launch from confined spaces. Snipers, heavy rifle grenades and flamethrowers may also see more use in urban operations.
Militia would be backed up by regular forces. Where terrain allows the regular force would be mechanized. Enemy forces slowed by the militia sponge would be attacked by manoeuvring regular forces or attacked with aircraft or artillery. If a milita unit is over-run it goes to ground and then conducts guerrilla, sabotage and information gathering operations in the enemy’s rear, exploiting its knowledge of local terrain and supply caches.
Also of interest are Simpkin’s suggestions for a “true defensive” policy for the UK. An enemy attempting to establish a sizeable military presence will probably need to move it into the country by transport aircraft so success will depend on which side controls the landing areas. Simpkin suggests that the number of military, civilian and sporting airfields be decreased and these activities more centralized into a smaller number of easily defensible areas. Unused fields will be rendered inoperable and in time of war other likely landing areas such a long roads will be blocked.
By the Author of the Scrapboard :
Attack, Avoid, Survive: Essential Principles of Self Defence
Available in Handy A5 and US Trade Formats.