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Tactics: surprise simultaneous encounter.

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:

  1. For their troops to pass along the command, “CONTACT!”
  2. Immediate respond to the enemy with overwhelming fire
  3. Quickly move into a line formation
  4. assault though the enemy position
  5. 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.

By first, second, I mean individuals in the group. Using this to represent a 4 man team.

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.

In this example, the peel is being done from the right side to the left, progressively moving the firing rearwards.

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.

Musing on dealing an ambush

There was a post over on ARFCOM where someone was asking if there is Civil War 2.0, how to deal with ambushes. They brought up the military doctrine dealing with an ambush and asked how it would apply in that situation. But, because the forum was ARFCOM, responses tended to most all be jokes and sarcastic remarks. Stuff like, “hurr der hurr, if you be in da ambush, you be already dead.”. Ad nauseam.

Whom ever started the post had some good questions.

“How do we know we’re in an ambush?”

“Is it still relevant to differentiate near/far ambushes?”

“Contemporary wisdom says a react to near ambush is an immediate assault through, but what should that look like?”

“How useful is initiating everything with a bit of Drake shooting?”

AR15.com forum response was an argument of if it should be called the “boogaloo” or “the great hootenanny”.

So let’s think about this. What is an ambush?

An ambush is a surprise attack by fire from concealed positions on a moving or temporarily halted enemy unit. It combines the advantages and characteristics of the offense with those of the defense.

An ambush is a surprise attack against you while you were moving through an area from an enemy that is in a prepared position.

So if you are in a static position. Either from your fighting hole, or sleeping in your bed at home, and you get attacked. That is a standard attack, not an ambush. But if you are walking to your car, or patrolling an area and get attacked, that is an ambush.

How do you respond to an ambush?

The writer asked if we still need to differentiate near or far ambushes?

If you have been ambushed, you are in the “kill zone”. Not a good place to be. In a “near ambush” this kill zone is close enough to the enemy that you can assault into their position to make it harder for them to attack you. In a “far ambush” this kill zone is far enough away that you can’t just immediately assault into the enemy position. In the far ambush you can attempt to break contact or use fire and movement, or fire and maneuver, to close with and repel or destroy the enemy.

Let’s pause for a moment. This military doctrine assumes you are talking about two groups of disciplined warfighters. In an insurgency, civil war, or you being ambushed by some thugs/robbers, that may not be the case.

A military unit caught in an ambush may be perfectly willing to take some casualties to route or destroy an ambushing enemy force. If you are with your family, you may not feel the same way.

The first thing to do when ambushed is survive. Generally the best way to do that is to get out of the kill zone. You might only be able to get into cover, but that would be far better than staying in that kill zone.

Once you have survived that initially attack, there is a hard decision that has to be made instantaneously. Do you attempt to press on and attack your attackers, or will you try and break contact and retreat? There is no simple answer to this as the possibilities of what you could encounter are nearly infinite.

What would assaulting though a near ambush look like?

Let’s imagine the simplest possible version of this. Two bad guys are standing out there and start shooting at you. You realize you are close to them and this is a “near ambush” so you decide to assault through. While engaging these two baddies, you run in between them. Now you three are in a line.

Bad guy 1 You Bad guy 2

Hypothetically, if either bad guy shoots at you now, they might hit the other bad guy. Hopefully, that discourages them from shooting long enough for you to engage both of them with the necessary level of ultra-violence so that you can go home safe.

Let’s now look at an alternative version of that. They attack, you run up so that you three are in a line.

Bad guy 1 Bad guy 2 You

In this case, bad guy 2 had a clear line of sight on you, but you are using bad guy 2 as a shield from bad guy 1. Hopefully bad guy slows down or stops shooting at you, giving you the chance to engage both bad guys from your location.

That is the very simplest example of assaulting into a near ambush.

What about using a “Drake Shoot” to respond to an ambush?

The goal in life is to first to survive, than to thrive. If you have survived being in that kill zone, you then have to decide if thriving means getting out of there, or attempting to repel the enemy or destroy them.

A “Drake Shoot” is when you are taking fire from an unknown location. You (and your group) engage potential locations where that fire might have come from with 2 rounds.

I like the idea of a Drake shoot, but it has various limitations and I don’t think I really applies well to an ambush.

Imagine your group takes sniper fire from an unknown location in a building. So your group then engages the building with a “Drake Shoot” firing a few rounds into each window, door way, visible “mouse hole”/”loop hole” where a shot might have come from. I think that makes a great deal of sense. I think firing 40mm grenades into the windows makes even more sense. Just as long as you are doing the Drake Shoot with out concern of civilian casualties or secondary damage.

I think if the enemy is performing an effective ambush against you, you far more likely to know where they are attacking from. Should you not know where the ambush is coming from, you are probably pretty well fucked. If you don’t know where the fire is coming from you don’t know where to take cover from it. You can’t effective return fire to your attackers, or attempt to attack or assault their position.

That might be a time when a death blossom might be an appropriate response if collateral damage and civilian casualties are not a concern.

So what is the big picture?

Being ambushed sucks so try to avoid it. If you end up being caught in one, expect to have to rapidly respond and DO SOMETHING proactive. Doing nothing will leave you in the kill zone, which will likely lead to your demise. Better to do a wrong response with violence of action than to do nothing.

Two takes on the “contact mag”

First time I heard the of the concept of the “contact mag” it was actually the “contact belt”.

The M240 gunners, carrying an somewhat large and awkward gun, would carry it with a short belt of 5-10 rounds. That way, when foot patrolling and running into unexpected enemy contact, they could fire off a burst or two as they moved to cover or a better firing position. At that point, the assistant gunner would hook up a full belt and they would rock and roll.

Later I saw two different takes on the concept for use with the rifle. Opposite ideas.

Back in the good ol’ days we all had the same mags. Either all 20s, or all 30s. When I was in Iraq, we all carried 30 round magazines. It was so simple.

Now we have everything from 150 round drums to sleds for single loading rounds in competetion shooting.

One group says that you need a light handy rifle capable of engaging an enemy that has briefly exposed them selves as well as you only need a few rounds to provide a little covering/suppressing fire as you move to cover. If the engagement lasts long enough to expend the rounds in your light & handy contact mag, then you switch to your standard mags for the rest of the combat encounter.

Imagine if you are using a 20 round mag in your rifle. If an enemy tries to take a pop shot at you from a 3rd story window, you can quickly engage them with a few rounds from your light handy rifle. If you get ambushed by a superior force, you can dump those 20 rounds as you move out of the kill zone. Then once you are in cover and or concealment, you reload and continue to fight.

The other school of thought is to have as much ammo in the weapon as possible. The highest capacity mags. When you encounter the enemy, you respond with overwhelming fire. The idea is to immediately gain fire superiority. Hopefully, you will route or destroy the enemy with the fire power from that first magazine in your weapon. If you end up depleting this extra high capacity magazine, you dump it to free your self of that weight and you continue on with your normal magazines. You will likely lower your rate of fire during this transition in order to ensure you can continue to fight no matter the duration of the fight. They recognize that carrying a bunch of drums or giant magazines may not be practical, so they advocate having a single drum or very high capacity mag in the weapon, and the rest of your load out being standard magazines.

Which idea is correct?

They both are. Mission, environment, terrain, time, and the situation dictate which you use.

In any event, I need my weapon to be maneuverable. Either I make it light enough so that I can move it fast enough to make what ever shot I may need to. Or I become strong enough to be able to manhandle the weapon the way it needs to be employed.

If I know that I am moving to make intentional contact with an enemy force. I want as many rounds as I can stuff in my weapon. If I am just doing a long presence patrol in a low hostility area with plenty of places I can take cover. I can use a lighter, smaller, magazine to help prevent fatigue and ensure I don’t snag on the environment, can move faster, quieter, etc.

You might transition between the two. If you are assaulting an enemy position, you might have a smaller mag in your weapon to stay lighter and quieter in the movement to the staging area. Then switch to your highest capacity magazine in the staging area to have superior fire capacity for the initial assault.

Still, all of this relies on you have a variety of options and choosing which one fits your situation and tactics. Something to think about.