Irregular warfare

As Boyd would say, “Why would you fight any other way?”

Here’s a quote from a review in today’s WSJ [paywall]:

[Charles] Lee was awarded the honorary rank of major general in the Polish army and observed the Russians campaigning against the Ottoman Turks and Polish rebels, witnessing how small bands of irregular fighters could seriously disrupt and impede unwieldy regular forces. Combined with what he had already seen of frontier warfare in America, this experience did much to convince him of the superiority of guerrilla tactics over conventional ones.  “Book Review: ‘Renegade Revolutionary’ by Phillip Papas & ‘Charles Lee’ by Dominick Mazzagetti” by Stephen Brumwell.

I don’t know that Boyd would have claimed that guerrilla tactics are superior to conventional ones, particularly if the conventional forces are using maneuver warfare. It’s more a matter of what you’re trying to accomplish: Defeat another state, or take over the government of a state from inside that state. That is, state-vs-state warfare or insurgency, where the guerrilla tactics will eventually shift over to maneuver warfare (Patterns, 90). In fact, Boyd considered maneuver warfare (or using his terminology, “blitzkrieg”) and guerrilla warfare to be manifestations of the same underlying principles applied to different objectives:

Blitz/guerrilla theme


Avoid battles—instead penetrate adversary to subvert, disrupt, or seize those connections, centers, and activities that provide cohesion (e.g., psychological/moral bonds, communications, lines of communication, command and supply centers …)

• Exploit ambiguity, deception, superior mobility, and sudden violence to generate initial surprise and shock followed by surprise and shock again, again, again …

• Roll up/wipe out the isolated units or remnants created by the subversion, surprise, shock, disruption, and seizure.


• Exploit subversion, surprise, shock, disruption, and seizure to generate confusion, disorder, panic, etc., thereby shatter cohesion, paralyze effort, and bring about adversary collapse. Patterns 98

[On chart 101, he explains why this theme works.]

As I’ve said before, amazing how well this stuff works.


2 thoughts on “Irregular warfare

  1. The alternative would be a frontal assault or an attrition style conflict. Truth be told, in either a frontal assault or a maneuver type of warfare, the most critical component is going to be the quality of your troops versus those of the opponent. People first!

    I think that in this regard, our culture is somewhat out of touch on what really “works”. The big battle and going on the offensive are considered glorious. 3rd generation warfare, when the truth about Blitzkrieg comes out, not so much. Almost Machiavellian in the way that it is portrayed.

    Then again, what works is not always portrayed as such. Drones and strategic bombers, along with stealth aircraft are glorified. Simpler close air support A-10 like aircraft do not get anywhere near as much glory, nor do lighter fighters.

    – Chris

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