Shawn asked me to write about what to do when you and an enemy have a surprise encounter. A case when neither of you had the opportunity to ambush the other.
Well, this is kinda awkward. For this to happen you and your enemy need to have immediately realized you ran into each other and started engaging each other. An example might be a military patrol in the woods walking right into an enemy patrol.
A surprise encounter will tend to be at very close range, leaving little to no time to assess the situation or issue orders. This is why the military has “immediate action drills”. The “immediate action” is a trained and prepared response to various situations. Having been prepared and trained prior to the event allows the individuals in the group to react to the situation per the respective “immediate action” with out an order or signal being given from the higher ups.
A common response to a surprise enemy encounter would be an “Immediate Assault”. This immediate action drill would be to respond to unavoidable enemy contact. If your group has encountered the enemy up close, your group would automatically adjust formation to engage to the enemy, and assault though their position.
For example, one group may have their immediate action be something like:
- For their troops to pass along the command, “CONTACT!”
- Immediate respond to the enemy with overwhelming fire
- Quickly move into a line formation
- assault though the enemy position
- Wait for an order from the patrol leader to either pursue and destroy the enemy, or break contact.
These will vary. Some units might choose to leave a portion of their force as a rear element covering the rear from other enemy units. Some might set a distance. For example 50 meters. If the enemies position is closer than 50 meters assault through their position. If they are farther than 50 meters, break contact.
Depending on the group and the mission, the default choice might be to break contact. If you have a force loaded out for direct combat, and you are looking for an enemy force, you are going to assault though them and finish off anything that remains. But imagine if you were a reconnaissance team, your default choice might be to break contact. If you are moving through an area with a purpose, attempting to assault though an enemy force might cost you resources that you would need for your main mission. That might be another time you would rather break contact.
Breaking contact can be done a number of ways. Often it is just using fire and maneuver to have elements of your group provide covering fire as other parts move. Another common way tends to be a variation of the “Australian Peel” AKA “Center Peel”, “The Tunnel of Love”, etc. The version of the peel we used involved the person at the end of the formation (often the person closest to the enemy) firing all remaining rounds in their magazine (preferable a fresh magazine) as fast as they can. Then they would run to the rear of the formation, reload, and continue providing covering fire.
This accomplished several things. A larger volume of fire was generously shared with our enemies. A individual could hear the person to the right or left of them do their higher volume of fire and then when it stopped, they would know it was time for them to perform a mag dump. Because we could listen to each of our team mates shooting, we knew when it was time for us to move. In theory, performing a version of the peel helps prevent the enemy from knowing how many troops you have and ideal it makes it seem like you have more than you really do.
It is my understanding that a proper peel is done in a diagonal. A small unit might have individuals run to the other end. A larger unit might peel from the enter to the edges.
The units I were in tended to have our SOP to be peeling straight back. Progressively moving the firing line rearwards until the entire group could break contact.
It really just came down to two options to deal with a surprise engagement. If you ran into the enemy unexpectedly, you either charge right in and kill them, or you run the fuck away. Fight or flight. The decision might come from the distance you are to the enemy, or what the initial engagement appears to be. If as the first shots are fired your group immediately gains fire superiority, it might be far easier to destroy the enemy. If instead you appear to be up against a superior force, breaking contact might be the preferable choice. If you are a 4 man team and you just ran into an enemy company, it might not make sense to assault though. Or it might, it could be the last thing they would ever expect. Pushing though their line and breaking contact from the other side.
We can sit around and discuss “what ifs” all day. Every real world situation is going to be different, and a large portion of how well it goes for you depends on how well you have trained for it.
Ideal, on contact, your force automatically orientates it self to have its’ strong side to the enemy and gains superiority (generally though firepower). At that point, the patrol leader decides to press in, or to break away.