Being Americans, in combat we generally have had one or more advantages. Be it numbers, better weapons, air superiority, etc. Unfortunately we can’t always rely on having such an advantage. There may be a day when we don’t have that advantage.
While I was in the Corps, I spend about half my enlistment playing the opfor bad guy. I got to practice fighting the Marines in training. That was a very fun and informative experience. Not so fun when I was in Iraq, on a patrol, and thinking about how if I were attacking what I would do and then releasing that we were extremely vulnerable.
Every strength the enemy has is also a weakness. If they work in groups that out number you, you can move faster and be more flexible than them. Etc, that is a discussion in it self.
Lets look at a tiny subset of fighting a superior force with small arms.
There is a major difference in tactics between fighting as an individual or fighting with a team. Either way there are various considerations for making that attack.
I recall getting a chuckle reading Rifleman Fred’s publications, full of good advise and training, when he would suggest riflemen taking out armored vehicles by shooting the view finders from 600 yards. I don’t think he realized that the thermal optics on those tanks could see those men in the woods at 2000 meters and that they could be hit by that computer stabilized tanks coax machine at that range.
So you gotta pick the right target and engage it appropriately. In the above example, tanks are taken out by mines, IEDs, Molotov cocktails, etc, not small arms fire.
So what can the rifleman do?
One example is harassment. I read constant stories of some lone Afghani taking pop shots at our guys from 1200+ meters with a Enfield .303 and our guys not being able to effectively respond. I’m not going to talk about what our guys did wrong, but this is a good example of harassment. This, while generally ineffective at causing casualties, can be demoralizing, annoying, etc. In Iraq, it was not uncommon for someone to fire a burst from an AK or belt fed from a few hundred meters away, then run away. Since they tended to fire from a window or corner, they could fire and immediately take cover and relocate. That minimized the chances of them getting hit by the responding fire, and gave them a chance to exfil or blend back into the crowd before the larger force could respond with a patrol or quick reaction force. This isn’t going to destroy the enemy, but it can make them expend their resources.
Ambush. The lone rifleman can still ambush and destroy a larger element. While people forget that Sgt. Alvin York had support, that is a classic example of a small element defeating a superior force. I heard of a less fun example where a squad of Marines were taken out by a single enemy marksman. The squad was moving though an alleyway when the enemy first shot their radio operator, then the squad leader, and then down the line. In the chaos they were unable to call for help, the chain of command was eliminated leading to more confusion, and that element was wiped out. A lone rifleman or a small team can inflict devastating ambushes. But this requires discipline, knowledge of the area, knowledge of the enemy, etc.
Striking higher value targets. I was going to say assassination, but that term doesn’t really fit what I want say. I’ve heard from a few sources that the USMC Sniper Schools used to teach only loading 3 rounds into the sniper rifles. That if the sniper fired all three that they should break contact and relocate. A lone rifleman becomes more vulnerable with each shot that they fire. Every gunshot makes it easier for them to be located, and accurate fired returned to their position. Therefore, the lone rifleman may wish to engage a single target that will cause more harm to the enemy, then quickly “get the hell out of Dodge”. An early Sharpshooter, Tim Murphy shot British General Frasier disrupting the British ability to rally. This helped us win that revolutionary war battle. Even if you are not taking out significant figures, taking out higher value targets reduces the enemies effectiveness. Another example would be the unit I deployed with. All our platoon level radio operators in my Company got shot. Needless to say, juniors Marines were not volunteering to be replacements for the position (probably more because it is a shit job where you get treated like shit), and replacements were often untrained. This reduced unit effectiveness.
Even in our modern world with aerial drones, thermal optics, directional gunshot detection systems, and the like, a long rifleman can still strike terror into the hearts of their enemy and reduce their ability to fight. But that rifleman has to work a good deal smarter.
Humpth. I was going to talk about specific tactics, but I guess I had to write about the generalizations more. I’ll come back to this subject.