MOUT, FIBUA, OU, OBUA, all contemporary acronyms referring to the conducting of operations in an urban environment. But whilst “Military Operation in Urban Terrain”, “Fighting in Built Up Area” and so on do the job, nobody has yet to find a better term than the British Army’s colloquialism “Fish & Chips”; Fighting in Someone’s House and Causing Havoc in People’s Streets. If nothing else it proves that it isn’t just TooFatLardies who can apply somewhat quirky titles, it’s a British disease prevalent at all levels!
In this series we have looked at the standard military axioms of “Find, Fix, Flank, Finish” and “Pin, Pivot, Punch”. These apply just as much to small unit tactics when clearing buildings and strongpoints, but clearly these types of operations require certain specific tactics to develop the general principle to suit the task in hand. As the manual states:
“Fieldcraft does not apply to the open country alone. Int must also be used in villages and towns… The clearance of buildings may be a costly undertaking and it will end in disaster unless every man knows what he is doing and how to do it. A drill is therefore essential.”
Buildings can readily be adopted as strongpoints offering, as they do, relatively solid cover. However, as well as providing some aspects of strength, buildings also have inherent weaknesses, as the following diagram shows.
Troops within the building are limited to how many men can fire from each point. What is more, their field of fire is limited if they are to remain inside the building as opposed to leaning out and exposing themselves to danger. Assuming an eight man section or squad is manning each of the two houses show, for on each side, only targets within the yellow area can be fire on by all eight defenders, and if one looks to the corners of the buildings it is clear that a man could move up from the side and post grenades through the windows there with almost no risk to himself. It is this weakness which determines the mode of building clearance, whether it is a single isolated house or a street in a town or village.
Fighting in Someone’s House
Clearing a house is a task for a single section or squad. To do the job as efficiently as possible the most covered route of approach should be selected and one which falls outside the arc of the defender’s defensive fire. In the image below, we can see that the section has deployed in two teams; the LMG team and the Rifle team. They have been joined by a sniper as these troops are the perfect support for such an operation.
As can be seen, the LMG team and the sniper are firing on the front elevation of the house, covering the advance of the Rifle Team as it manoeuvres to a flanking position.
In the next image, we see that the Rifle team are now safely through the danger zone and the Bren has now begun firing for effect alongside the Sniper. The Rifle team manoeuvres to the rear of the house and attacks it with grenades before moving in to clear the building.
In Chain of Command these tactics are replicated perfectly. The LMG team should deploy outside 18” as it is critical that they keep their casualties to a minimum. As the rifle team advances tactically through the danger zone, they can fire Covering Fire from their position, whilst the sniper team can fire for effect. The great thing about deploying a sniper team in this situation is that the defenders of the house are unlikely to want to waste time scanning for a sniper when there are two other dangerous targets in the area. That allows the sniper to fire without risk. Sniper fire can also be targeted specifically at one team, so the LMG team in the house will bear the full brunt of its fire. The covering fire will, obviously, protect the Rifle team while there is risk, but the LMG can then fire for effect once the Rifle team is safe.
Finally, the grenade is the perfect weapon against troops in a building where, in confined spaces, its effects are multiplied. A couple of well placed grenades can knock the stuffing out of any position, but from their position of relative safety, the Rifle team can always choose the best moment to launch their final attack.
Causing Havoc in People’s Street
“Buildings will always, if possible, be cleared from the back gardens and yards, because these provide the best covered lines of approach”
Extending this up a level, we can apply basically the same tactics to clearing a whole street; however, this should be a platoon task. In the image below we can see that No.1 Section has established itself in a position from which to cover the main street and the frontages of the houses. If any enemy attempt to leave the buildings they will immediately be in a killing ground. In Chain of Command this section can be placed on Overwatch to dominate the street.
With No.1 Section in position, No.2 and No.3 sections being their house clearing drill. The LMG teams move to positions of cover from which they can cover the rear elevation of the house to be cleared. With them in position, the Rifle team can assault the building with grenades.
With the first house on each side cleared, the LMG team moves up to cover the next house, allowing the Rifle Team to repeat the process. This continues until the street is cleared. Again, we can see that the grenade is the key weapon to be used with the Bren either providing covering fire when required or firing for effect when able.
By placing No.1 Section to cover the front of the houses the enemy are fixed in place. The LMG team at the rear of the buildings stops any retreat in that area and the grenades overwhelm the defenders.
The principles of fire and movement are used in every tactical situation. To become bogged down in a firefight with men in a house by tackling them head-on is dangerous and unnecessary. There should always be safe lines of approach which negate the strength of any fixed position, use covering fire to protect your attacking party in order to allow them to close safely. The grenade, followed up with the bayonet against a shaken enemy, is the key to unlock even the strongest position.
The guerrilla war in Spain is oft times referred to, both in historical accounts and literary adventures, but generally, for the English speaking reader at least, this is through the prism of the British experience in the Peninsular and firmly within the context of what was achieved by Wellington and his forces. As a rule,