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History of guerrilla warfare

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History of guerrilla warfare

The history of guerrilla warfare stretches back to ancient history. The Chinese general and strategist Sun Tzu, in his The Art of War (6th century BCE)or 600 BCE to 501 BCE, was the earliest to propose the use of guerrilla warfare.[1] This directly inspired the development of modern guerrilla warfare.;[1][2] Communist leaders like Mao Zedong and North Vietnamese Ho Chi Minh both implemented guerrilla warfare in the style of Sun Tzu,[1] which served as a model for similar strategies elsewhere, such as the Cuban "foco" theory and the anti-Soviet Mujahadeen in Afghanistan.[1] While the tactics of modern guerrilla warfare originate in the 20th century, irregular warfare, using elements later characteristic of modern guerrilla warfare, has existed throughout the battles of many ancient civilizations.


  • Ancient 1
  • Medieval 2
  • Long 18th century (1700-1815) 3
    • North America Colonial Wars 3.1
    • American Revolution 3.2
    • Vendéan Counter-Revolution 3.3
    • Napoleonic Wars 3.4
      • Napoleon's Invasion of Russia 3.4.1
      • Peninsular War 3.4.2
  • 19th century (1815-1914) 4
    • American Civil War 4.1
    • South African War 4.2
    • Philippine-American War 4.3
    • Mexican Revolution 4.4
    • Brigandage in south Italy 4.5
    • Others 4.6
  • World Wars (1914-1945) 5
    • Irish War of Independence and Civil War 5.1
    • World War I 5.2
    • Second Sino-Japanese War 5.3
    • World War II 5.4
  • Cold War Era (1945-1990) 6
    • Baltic anti-soviet campaigns 6.1
    • Vietnam War 6.2
    • Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan 6.3
    • Operation Gibralter 6.4
    • Bangladesh Liberation War 6.5
    • Northern Ireland conflict 6.6
    • Latin American insurgence 6.7
  • Since 1990 7
    • Europe since 2000 7.1
    • Iraq (since 2003) 7.2
    • Israel 7.3
    • Naxal Insurgency 7.4
    • Khalistan Movement 7.5
    • The Taliban uprising 7.6
  • List of historical examples 8
    • Successful guerrilla campaigns 8.1
    • Unsuccessful guerrilla campaigns 8.2
  • See also 9
  • Notes 10


The Chinese general and strategist Sun Tzu, in his The Art of War (6th century BC), was one of the first proponents of the use of guerrilla warfare.[1] The earliest description of guerrilla warfare is an alleged battle between Emperor Huang and the Miao in China.[3] Guerrilla warfare was not unique to China, nomadic and migratory tribes such as the Scythians, Goths, and Huns used elements of guerrilla warfare to fight the Persian Empire, the Roman Empire, and Alexander the Great.[4] Guerrilla warfare was a common strategy of the various Celtic, Iberian and Germanic tribes that the Romans faced. Caratacus, the British (Anglo-Saxon) war chief, employed guerrilla warfare against the Romans for approximately 8 years, mixed in with occasional set piece battles. Despite ultimately being captured by the Romans, Tacitus writes that many Romans respected him. Other leaders of the time who employed guerrilla warfare to some effect included Viriathus, Arminius and Vercingetorix. In the Classic Ancient world, this kind of warfare was indirectly mentioned by the Greeks in Homeric stories, but usually as hit and run acts of foraging or booty in enemy territory, pretty much as later Vikings piracy. The Romans and Carthaginians learned of these tactics more as intended warfare by the Iberians before Viriathus and Hamilcar Barca in campaigns in Sicily against them.


The Mongols faced irregulars composed of armed peasants in Hungary after the Battle of Mohi. In the 15th century, Vietnamese leader Lê Lợi launched a guerrilla war against Chinese.[5]

One of the most successful guerrilla wars was led by Ottomans. In 1443 he rallied Albanian forces and drove the Turks from his homeland. Skanderbeg fought a guerrilla war against invading armies up to 20 times larger than his, by using the mountainous terrain to his advantage. He harassed the vast Ottoman army with small "hit and run" units, as well as using feint retreats followed by sudden counterattacks, and other tactics unknown in warfare up to then. For 25 years Skanderbeg kept the Turks from retaking Albania, which due to its proximity to Italy, could easily have served as a springboard to the rest of Europe.[6]

In 1462, the Ottomans were driven back by

  1. ^ a b c d e Leonard, Thomas M., Encyclopedia of the developing world, 1989, p. 728. "One of the earliest proponents of guerrilla war tactics is the Chinese master of warfare, Sun Tzu."
  2. ^ Snyder, Craig. Contemporary security and strategy, 1999, p. 46. "Many of Sun Tzu's strategic ideas were adopted by the practitioners of guerrilla warfare."
  3. ^ Western Political Science Association. The Western political quarterly: Volume 15, 1962, p.180. "We might note that the first guerrilla war had been carried on in 360 BC in China, when Emperor Huang was fighting the Miao race under Tsi Yao"
  4. ^ Robert Brown Asprey (2008). "guerrilla warfare".  
  5. ^ "Le Loi and the Le Dynasty". Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  6. ^ Scanderbeg
  7. ^ Dr. Elizabeth Miller. "Vlad The Impaler". Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  8. ^ "Introduction and the events of the Swedish Deluge: 1655-1660". Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  9. ^ Geldersche Volks-Almanak Published 1853
  10. ^ Kalma, J.J. (1970). (ed.) de Tille, ed. Grote Pier Van Kimswerd. Netherlands. p. 50.  
  11. ^ Kok, Jacobus (1791). "Pier Gerlofs Donia". Vaderlandsch Woordenboek. 24. (P–R).  
  12. ^ "Geuzen". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  13. ^ John Grenier. The Far Reaches of Empire: War In Nova Scotia (1710-1760). University of Oklahoma Press. 2008. p. 148
  14. ^ John Grenier. The Far Reaches of Empire: War In Nova Scotia (1710-1760). University of Oklahoma Press. 2008. p. 177-206
  15. ^ Horn, Bernd The Canadian way of war:serving the national interest, Dundurn Press Ltd., 2006, 21.
  16. ^
  17. ^ "Captcha". Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  18. ^ Guerrilla Warfare by John Talbott, Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 1978 Issue
  19. ^ "Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace: Book Fourteen: 1812 - Chapter III - Free Online Library". Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  20. ^ Gates, David (1986), The Spanish Ulcer: A History of the Peninsular War, Pimlico (published 2002), ISBN 0-7126-9730-6, pp. 33–34.
  21. ^ Chandler, David G. (1995), The Campaigns of Napoleon, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0-02-523660-1
  22. ^ John Ellis, A short history of guerrilla warfare, p.83
  23. ^ Khatyn" - Genocide policy - Punitive operations""". Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  24. ^ Marek Szymanski: Oddzial majora Hubala, Warszawa 1999, ISBN 83-912237-0-1
  25. ^ Ivan Bajlo. "Armies". Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  26. ^ "Poland - World War II". Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  27. ^ "WW2 history - Thepartisanwar". Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  28. ^ Министерство обороны Российской Федерации | 19 сентября в военной истории России
  29. ^ WorldHeritage editors (2012-05-16). Battle of Timor. WorldHeritage. Retrieved 2012-06-03.
  30. ^ WorldHeritage editors (2012-05-07). Wendell Fertig. WorldHeritage. Retrieved 2012-06-03.
  31. ^ a b Peers, William R. and Dean Brelis. Behind the Burma Road: The Story of America’s Most Successful Guerrilla Force. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1963.
  32. ^ Volckmann, Russell W. We Remained Three Years Behind the Enemy Lines in the Philippines. W. W. Norton & Company, 1954, page 157.
  33. ^ Central Intelligence Agency. Behind Japanese Lines in Burma: The Stuff of Intelligence Legend (2001). Retrieved 2012-05-30.
  34. ^ WorldHeritage editors (2012-06-02). Chindits. WorldHeritage. Retrieved 2012-06-03.
  35. ^ Could the Baltic States have resisted to the Soviet Union?; Crimes of Soviet Communists—Wide collection of sources and links about Guerrilla war in the Baltic states against Soviet occupation
  36. ^ WHY THE MOVEMENT FOR BANGLADESH SUCCEEDED: A military appreciation by Mumtaz Iqbal
  37. ^ "CAIN: Issue: Collusion - Details of Source Material". Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  38. ^ "BBC NEWS - UK - Northern Ireland - Army 'colluded' with loyalist killers". Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  39. ^ "BBC NEWS - UK - Northern Ireland - Stevens Inquiry: At a glance". Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  40. ^ "BBC NEWS - UK - Northern Ireland - IRA 'collusion' inquiry launched". Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  41. ^ "BBC NEWS - UK - N Ireland - Unresolved deaths: A question of collusion?". Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  42. ^ "BBC ON THIS DAY: 27 : 1979: Soldiers die in Warrenpoint massacre". BBC News. August 27, 1979. Retrieved November 19, 2005. 
  43. ^ "BBC - History - War and Conflict". Archived from the original on January 14, 2006. Retrieved January 14, 2006. 
  44. ^ "CNN - Almanac - 27 November 1996". Retrieved November 19, 2005. 
  45. ^ "CNN - IRA splinter gang kills top Protestant guerrilla - December 27, 1997". Retrieved November 19, 2005. 
  46. ^ "§ion=news". Archived from the original on November 25, 2005. Retrieved November 19, 2005. 
  47. ^ Reason to hope Canadians don't repeat history in Afghanistan, Alan G. Jamieson, The Edmonton Journal, July 31, 2006
  48. ^ See, for example, the guerilla operations in the cordillera of Northern Luzon led by then-COL Russell Volckmann, United States Army, who escaped from Corregidor in the last hours before the capture of the rest of its military defenders, and who wrote a memoir, (1954) [We Remained]. Volckmann was later promoted a general.
  49. ^ The Irish Question: Two Centuries of Conflict by Lawrence John McCaffrey (ISBN 978-0-8131-0855-1), page 152


See also

Unsuccessful guerrilla campaigns

Successful guerrilla campaigns

List of historical examples

The Taliban uprising took place after Afghanistan's invasion by Allied forces in 2001. As in the earlier wars against the British and Soviets, Afghan resistance to the NATO intervention took the traditional form of a Muslim "holy war (Jihad) against the infidels".[47] As with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan 20 years earlier, the Taliban took refuge in the Pakistani Mountain areas and continue to move across the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, often evading Pakistani and NATO forces. The Taliban have now become a dominant role in the Afghan life once again. The Pakistani Government have been accused of supporting and/or turning a blind eye to the Afghan Taliban, while the Pakistani Government has accused NATO of doing the same.

The Taliban uprising

One of the proponents of the ideology are the Khalistan Zindabad Force

Khalistan movement was a movement initiated by the Sikhs of the Indian Punjab. The Punjab region is of historical and religious significance for Sikhs and was contested during the separation of United India. Khalistan movements downfall begun with the now notorious Operation Blue Star in which the Indian Army attacked the most holy temple of the Sikhs i.e. the Golden temple at Amritsar. The army was also alleged to have captured and tortured Sikh youth. The Khalistan movement still has supporters across the world, mainly in Canada, and the British Sikh Community.

Khalistan Movement

The Naxal insurgency in West Bengal was the beginning of the rising of Maoists in eastern India. The Naxals, begun their People's War through radical students in the city of Calcutta, however it continues today, having its bases in rural India and an area which now covers half of the country. The area under maosist control has been viewed as a war zone and the group itself has been called the biggest threat to Indian Security by the Prime Minister.

Naxal Insurgency

The Jewish irregular forces were fighting the British Empire, which had just emerged victorious from World War II. Some of these groups were amalgamated into the Israel Defense Forces and subsequently fought in the 1948 War of Independence.

European Jews fleeing from anti-Semitic violence (especially Russian pogroms) immigrated in increasing numbers to Palestine. When the British restricted Jewish immigration to the region (see White Paper of 1939), Jewish immigrants began to use guerrilla warfare against the British for two purposes: to bring in more Jewish refugees, and to turn the tide of British sentiment at home. Jewish groups such as the Lehi and the Irgun - many of whom had experience in the Warsaw Ghetto battles against the Nazis, fought British soldiers whenever they could, including the bombing of the King David Hotel. They also conducted attacks against Palestinian civilians, and prepared the infrastructure for the coming 1948 conflict.


Many guerrilla tactics are used by the Iraqi insurgency against the U.S.-led coalition. Such tactics include the bombing of vehicles and human targets, suicide bombings, ambushes, sniper attacks, and traditional hit and run raids. Although it is unclear how many U.S. casualties can be attributed to insurgent guerrilla action because of the high numbers of non-combat related injuries and deaths being included in all available statistics of total coalition casualties, it is estimated that they have injured more than 18,000 coalition troops and killed over 3,900, including more than 3,000 U.S. soldiers. In addition the Sunni insurgents established de facto control over the Al Anbar Governorate and Diyala Governorate, over a third of Iraq's land [7]. Insurgent control was maintained despite a series of coalition campaigns; the worsening violence in Baghdad led to the recall of coalition forces, ensuring continued insurgent control. [8] [9][10]

Iraq (since 2003)

In Northern Ireland, the Real Irish Republican Army and the Continuity Irish Republican Army, two small, radical splinter groups who broke with the Provisional Irish Republican Army, continue to exist. They are dwarfed in size by the Provisional IRA and have been less successful in terms of both popularity among Irish republicans and guerrilla activity: The Continuity IRA has failed to carry out any killings, while the Real IRA's only attacks resulting in deaths were the 1998 Omagh bombing, which killed 29 civilians, a booby trap torch bomb in Derry which killed a former Ulster Defence Regiment soldier, and a 2009 attack on a Northern Ireland military installation which killed 2 British soldiers and wounded several others.

The ongoing war between pro-independence groups in Chechnya and the Russian government is currently the most active guerrilla war in Europe. Most of the incidents reported by the Western news media are very gory terrorist acts against Russian civilians committed by Chechen separatists outside Chechnya. However, within Chechnya the war has many of the characteristics of a classic guerrilla war. See the article History of Chechnya for more details.

Currently, the National Front for the Liberation of Corsica (FLNC) continues to exist.

The 17 November disbanded around 2002 following the capture and imprisonment of much of its leadership.

Europe since 2000

Since 1990

Several other left-wing guerrilla movements, sometimes backed by Cuba, attempted to overthrow US-backed governments or right-wing military dictatorships. US-backed Contra guerrillas attempted to overthrow the left-wing elected Sandinista government of Nicaragua. The Sandinista Revolution saw the involvement of Women and the Armed Struggle in Nicaragua.

While these movements did destabilize governments, such as Argentina, Uruguay, Guatemala, and Peru to the point of military intervention, the military generally proceeded to completely wipe out the guerrilla movements, usually committing several atrocities among both civilians and armed insurgents in the process.

In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Latin America had several urban guerrilla movements whose strategy was to destabilize regimes and provoke a counter-reaction by the military. The theory was that a harsh military regime would oppress the middle classes who would then support the guerrillas and create a popular uprising.

Latin American insurgence

Although both loyalist and republican paramilitaries carried out terrorist atrocities against civilians which were often tit-for-tat, a case can be made for saying that attacks such as the Provisional IRA carried out on British soldiers at Warrenpoint in 1979 was a well planned guerrilla ambush.[42] Anti-Good Friday Agreement splinter groups could be called guerrillas but are usually called terrorists or dissidents by governments of both the British and Irish governments. The news media such as the BBC and CNN will often use the term "gunmen" as in "IRA gunmen"[43] or "Loyalist gunmen".[44] Since 1995 CNN also uses guerrilla as in "IRA guerrilla" and "Protestant guerrilla".[45] Reuters, in accordance with its principle of not using the word terrorist except in direct quotes, refers to "guerrilla groups".[46]

In the late 1960s the Troubles began again in Northern Ireland. They had their origins in the partition of Ireland during the Irish War of Independence. They came to an end with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. The violence was characterised by an armed campaign against the British presence in Northern Ireland by the Provisional Irish Republican Army, British counter-insurgency policy, and attacks on civilians by both loyalists and republicans. There were also allegations of collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and British security forces, and to a lesser extent, republicans and both British and Irish security forces.[37][38][39][40][41]

Northern Ireland conflict

Pakistan Army during the Bangladesh Liberation War. It was dynamically formed by (mostly) Bengali regulars and civilians after the proclamation of independence for Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) on March 26, 1971. Subsequently by mid-April 1971 the former members of East Pakistan armed forces formed the "Bangladesh Armed Forces" and M A G Osmani assumed the command of the same. The civilian groups continued to assist the armed forces during the war. After the war "Mukti Bahini" became the general term to refer to all forces (military and civilian) of former East Pakistani origin fighting against the Pakistani armed forces during the Bangladesh Liberation War. Often Mukti Bahini operated as an effective guerrilla force to keep their enemies on the run. It has been compared to the French Maquis, the Viet Cong, and the guerrillas of Josip Broz Tito in their tactics and effectiveness.[36]

Bangladesh Liberation War

Pakistan Army Regulars disguised as locals together with local militias carried out a 6 months long Guerrilla campaign in Indian Occupied Kashmir for the Independence of The State of Kashmir, it came to an end after an all out war between Pakistan and India in September 1965.

Operation Gibralter

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan started with a rapid takeover of the major cities but then turned into a decade-long guerilla resistance. The Afghan side was a collection of tribes who initially fought with obsolete weapons such as rifles from the 19th century or the First World War. The resistance fighters were known collectively as the Mujahideen. The United States started to support the Afghanistan resistance with gradually more potent weapons and eventually anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles which then would cause so much damage to the far larger Soviet army that the Soviet Union abandoned its occupation and retreated back to the Soviet Union.

Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan

This is a set of tactics which were used frequently in the Vietnam War by the NVA.

Throughout the Vietnam War, the Communist Party closely supervised all levels of the conflict. The bulk of the VC/NLF were initially southerners, with some distinctive southern issues and sensibilities. Nevertheless, the VC/NLF was associated with the Northern Lao Dong Party which furnished it with supplies, weaponry and trained cadres, including regular NVA/PAVN troops. The Southern Communist party, the Peoples Revolutionary Party (PRP) organized in 1962, to participate in the insurgency, and COVSN, Central Office for Southern Vietnam, which partially controlled military activity. The general replacement of CV irregulars with NVA troops supplanted the original VC goals with those proposed by the NVA. As the 1968 Tet Offensive was primarily a VC operation in which large numbers of VC fighters were killed, increasing the role of the NVA in the war effort.

The Cu Chi Tunnels (Ðịa đạo Củ Chi) was a major base for guerrilla warfare during the Vietnam War. Located about 60 km northwest of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), the Viet Cong (NLF) used the complex system tunnels to hide and live during the day and come up to fight at night.

Over time, more of the fighting was conducted by the North Vietnamese Army and the character of the war become increasingly conventional. The final offensive into South Vietnam in 1975 was a mostly conventional military operation in which guerrilla warfare played a minor, supporting role.

The Ho Chi Minh trail rather than living off the land, and had access to weapons such as tanks and artillery which are not normally used by guerrilla forces. Furthermore, parts of North Vietnam were "off-limits" by American bombardment for political reasons, giving the NVA personnel and their material a haven that does not usually exist for a guerrilla army.

The National Liberation Front (NLF), drawing its ranks from the South Vietnamese peasantry and working class, used guerrilla tactics in the early phases of the war. However, by 1965 when U.S. involvement escalated, the National Liberation Front was in the process of being supplanted by regular units of the North Vietnamese Army.

Within the United States, the Vietnam War is commonly thought of as a guerrilla war. However, this is a simplification of a much more complex situation which followed the pattern outlined by Maoist theory.

Vietnam War

After World War II, during the 1940s and 1950s, thousands of fighters in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (see Forest Brothers, Latvian national partisans, Lithuanian partisans (1944–1953)) participated in unsuccessful guerrilla warfare against Soviet occupation.[35] In Lithuania guerrilla warfare was massive until 1958 and the last fighter in Estonia was discovered and killed in 1978.

Baltic anti-soviet campaigns

Cold War Era (1945-1990)

The Chindits – officially in 1943 77th Indian Infantry Brigade and in 1944 3rd Indian Infantry Division – were a British India "Special Force" that served in Burma and India in 1943 and 1944 during the Burma Campaign. They were formed to put into effect Orde Wingate's newly developed guerilla warfare tactic of long range penetration.[34]

Others included Col. Aaron Bank, Col. Russell Volckmann, and Col. William R. Peers.[31] Volckmann commanded a guerrilla force which operated out of the Cordillera of Northern Luzon in the Philippines from the beginning of World War II to its conclusion. He remained in radio contact with US Forces, prior to the invasion of Lingayen Gulf.[32] Peers, who later became a general, commanded OSS Detachment 101 in Burma. Because it was never larger than a few hundred Americans, it relied on support from various Burmese tribal groups. In particular, the vigorously anti-Japanese Kachin people were vital to the unit’s success.[31][33]

When the United States entered the war, the US Imperial Japanese Army, Filipino guerillas banded together and fought the Japanese throughout the war. They became a very important force during the liberation of the Philippines.

Squad of Kachin Rangers employed by the U.S. Army as guerilla fighters in Burma

Guerrilla tactics were employed in the war in the Pacific as well. When Japanese forces invaded the island of Timor on 20 February 1942, they were resisted by a small, under-equipped force of Allied military personnel— known as Sparrow Force—predominantly from Australia, United Kingdom, and the Netherlands East Indies. Although Portugal was not a combatant, many East Timorese civilians and some Portuguese colonists fought with the Allies as guerrillas (criados), or provided food, shelter and other assistance. Some Timorese continued a resistance campaign following the Australian withdrawal.[29]

All the clandestine resistance movements and organizations in the occupied Europe were dwarfed by the partisan warfare that took place on the vast scale of the Eastern Front combat between Soviet partisans and the German Reich forces. The strength of the partisan units and formations can not be accurately estimated, but in Belorussia alone is thought to have been in excess of 300,000.[27] This was a planned and closely coordinated effort by the STAVKA which included insertion of officers and delivery of equipment, as well as coordination of operational planning with the regular Red Army forces such as Operation Concert in 1943 (commenced 19 September) and the massive sabotage of German logistics in preparation for commencement of Operation Bagration in the summer of 1944.[28]

Australian guerillas during the Battle of Timor

Contrary to popular belief, in the Western and Southern Europe the resistance groups were only able to seriously counter the German in areas that offered the protection of rugged terrain. In relatively flat, open areas, such as France, the resistance groups were all too vulnerable to decimation by German regulars and pro-German collaborators. Only when operating in concert with conventional Allied units were the resistance groups to prove indispensable.

Osterly Park was the first of 3 such schools established to train the Home Guard. Not only did SOE help the resistance to tie down many German units as garrison troops, so directly aiding the conventional war effort, but also guerrilla incidents in occupied countries were useful in the propaganda war, helping to repudiate German claims that the occupied countries were pacified and broadly on the side of the Germans. Despite these minor successes, many historians believe that the efficacy of the European resistance movements has been greatly exaggerated in popular novels, films and other media.

A guerrilla movement in Special Operations Executive (SOE) which along with the commandos was initiated by Winston Churchill to "set Europe ablaze." The SOE was originally designated as 'Section D' of MI6 but its aid to resistance movements to start fires clashed with MI6's primary role as an intelligence-gathering agency. When Britain was under threat of invasion, SOE trained Auxiliary Units to conduct guerrilla warfare in the event of invasion. Even the Home Guard were trained in guerrilla warfare in the case of invasion of England.

Many clandestine organizations (often known as Poland, the members of what would become the Polish Home Army began to gather. In March 1940, a partisan unit of the first guerrilla commanders in the Second World War in Europe under Major Henryk Dobrzański "Hubal" completely destroyed a battalion of German infantry in a skirmish near the village of Huciska.[24]

Polish guerrillas from Batalion Zośka dressed in stolen German uniforms and armed with stolen weapons, fighting in the Warsaw Uprising, the largest anti-Nazi guerrilla warfare in Europe.
Soviet partisan fighters behind German lines in Belarus in 1943. At least 5,295 Belarusian settlements were destroyed by the Nazis. In total, one-quarter of the Belarusian population were killed in the war.[23]

World War II

Despite a common misconception, both Nationalist and Communist forces maintained active underground resistance in Japanese-occupied areas during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Even before the outbreak of total war in 1937, partisans were already present in Manchuria hampering Japan's occupation of the region. After the initial phases of the war, when large swaths of the North China Plain rapidly fell to the Japanese, underground resistance, supported by either Communist sympathizers or composed of disguised Nationalist soldiers, would soon rise up to combat the garrison forces. They were quite successful, able to sabotage railroad routes and ambush reinforcements. Many major campaigns, such as the four failed invasions of Changsha, were caused by overly-stretched supply lines, lack of reinforcements, and ambushes by irregulars. The Communist cells, many having decades of prior experience in guerrilla warfare against the Nationalists, usually fared much better, and many Nationalist underground groups were subsequently absorbed into Communist ones. Usually in Japanese-occupied areas, the IJA only controlled the cities and railroad routes, with most of them countryside either left alone or with active guerrilla presence. The People's Republic of China has emphasized their contribution to the Chinese war effort, going as far to say that in addition to a "overt theatre", which in many cases they deny was effective, there was also a "covert theatre", which they claim did much to stop the Japanese advance.

Second Sino-Japanese War

Another guerrilla war opposed the German Occupation of Ukraine in 1918 and partisan and guerrilla forces fought against both the Bolsheviks and the Whites during the Russian Civil War. This fighting continued into 1921 in Ukraine, in Tambov province, and in parts of Siberia. Other guerrillas opposed the Japanese occupation of the Russian Far East.

A major guerrilla war was fought by the Arabs against the Ottoman Turks during the Arab Revolt (1916–1918).

In a successful campaign in German East Africa, the German commander Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck fought against the numerically superior allied forces. Even though he was cut off from Germany and had few Germans under his command (most of his fighters were African askaris), he won multiple victories during the East Africa Campaign and managed to exhaust and trouble the Allies; he was undefeated up until his acceptance of a cease-fire in Northern Rhodesia three days after the end of the war in Europe. He returned to Germany as a hero.

World War I

Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army split into pro- and anti-Treaty factions with the Anti-Treaty IRA forces losing the Irish Civil War (1922–23) which followed. The partition of Ireland laid the seeds for the later Troubles. The Irish Civil War is a striking example of the failure of guerrilla tactics when used against a relatively popular native regime. Following their failure to hold fixed positions against an Irish Free State offensive in the summer of 1922, the IRA re-formed "flying columns" and attempted to use the same tactics they had successfully used against the British. However, against Irish troops, who knew them and the terrain and faced with the hostility of the Roman Catholic Church and the majority of Irish nationalist opinion, they were unable to sustain their campaign. In addition, the Free State government, confident of its legitimacy among the Irish population, sometimes used more ruthless and effective measures of repression than the British had felt able to employ. Whereas the British executed 14 IRA men in 1919-1922, the Free State executed 77 anti-treaty prisoners officially and its troops killed another 150 prisoners or so in the field (see Executions during the Irish Civil War). The Free State also interned 12,000 republicans, compared with the British figure of 4,500. The last anti-Treaty guerrillas abandoned their military campaign against the Free State after nine months in March 1923.

By mid-1921, the military and political costs of maintaining the British security forces in Ireland eventually proved too heavy for the British government. In July 1921, the UK government agreed to a truce with the IRA and agreed to meet representatives of the Irish First Dail, who since the 1918 General Election held seventy-three of the one hundred and five parliamentary seats for the island. Negotiations led to a settlement, the Anglo-Irish Treaty. It created the Irish Free State of 26 counties as a dominion within the British Empire; the other 6 counties remained part of the UK as Northern Ireland.

The IRA guerrilla was of considerable intensity in parts of the country, notably in Dublin and in areas such as County Cork, County Kerry and County Mayo in the south and west. Despite this, the Irish fighters were never in a position to either hold territory or take on British forces in a conventional manner. Even the largest engagements of the conflict, such as the Kilmichael Ambush or Crossbarry Ambush constituted mere skirmishes by the standards of a conventional war. Another aspect of the war, particularly in the north-eastern part of the province of Ulster, was communal violence. The Unionist majority there, who were largely Protestant and loyal to Britain were granted control over the security forces there, in particular the Ulster Special Constabulary and used them to attack the Nationalist (and largely Catholic) population in reprisal for IRA actions. Elsewhere in Ireland, where Unionists were in a minority, they were sometimes attacked by the IRA for aiding the British forces. The extent to which the conflict was an inter-communal one as well as war of national liberation is still strongly debated in Ireland. The total death toll in the war came to a little over 2000 people.

The chief IRA commanders in the localities during this period were Tom Barry, Dan Breen, Liam Lynch, Seán Mac Eoin, and Tom Maguire.

The wars between Ireland and the British state have been long, and over the centuries have covered the full spectrum of the types of warfare. The Irish fought the first successful 20th century war of independence against the British Empire and the United Kingdom. After the military failure of the Easter Rising in 1916, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) used guerrilla tactics involving both urban guerrilla warfare and flying columns in the countryside during the Irish War of Independence of 1919 to 1922. Many were inspired by the fabled exploits of the 1799-1803 guerilla campaign by Michael Dwyer after the failed 1798 rebellion.

IRA Flying Column during the Irish War of Independence.

Irish War of Independence and Civil War

World Wars (1914-1945)

  • In 1848, both The Nation and The United Irishman advocated guerrilla warfare to overthrow English rule in Ireland, though no actual warfare took place.
  • The Poles and Lithuanians used guerrilla warfare during the January Uprising of 1863-1865, against Tsarist Russia.
  • In the 19th century, peoples of the Balkans used guerrilla tactics to fight the Ottoman empire.
  • the north African Muslims uprisings against the colonial powers after second world war.
  • the guerrilla warfare tactics were first applied in India by Sher Shah Suri or even before The Khuwar zam Shah against the Mongol.


After the Italian unification in 1860, many bands composed mainly by paesants emerged in South Italy. The sources of the trouble were the carelessness of the new government toward the problems of the southern laborers, higher taxes and higher prices of basic necessities, mandatory military service who subtracted youths from the workforce and the economical benefits reserved only for the bourgeois society. In this period thousands of poors took the way of brigandage. The most well known brigand was Carmine Crocco, a former soldier in the service of Giuseppe Garibaldi who formed an army of two thousand men. Crocco was renowned for his guerrilla tactics, which were enhanced by the same royal soldiers who chased him. His warfare included cutting water supplies, destroying flour-mills, cutting telegraph wires and ambushing stragglers.[22]

Band of south Italian brigands in Basilicata, during the Italian unification

Brigandage in south Italy

In the Mexican Revolution from 1910 to 1920, the populist revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata employed the use of predominantly guerrilla tactics. His forces, composed entirely of peasant farmers turned soldiers, wore no uniform and would easily blend into the general population after an operation's completion. They would have young soldiers, called "dynamite boys", hurl cans filled with explosives into enemy barracks, and then a large number of lightly armed soldiers would emerge from the surrounding area to attack it. Although Zapata's forces met considerable success, his strategy backfired as government troops, unable to distinguish his soldiers from the civilian population, waged a broad and brutal campaign against the latter.

Mexican Revolution

At the start of the Philippine-American War, even with the recommendation of the able General Antonio Luna, guerrilla warfare strategy was viewed by the Philippine side only as a tactical option of final recourse. This led to subsequent defeat of the Filipino forces in the early stages of the war mainly due to superior American weaponry and troops. Guerrilla warfare was only used as a main strategy on November 13, 1899 which made American occupation of the Philippine archipelago all the more difficult over the next few years. This can be greatly seen by the Moro insurrection at the southern province of the Philippines wherein Moro rebels will conceal themselves in the thick Philippine jungle and will charge American troops with only bolo knives in overwhelming numbers at the opportune time. These led the American weapons manufacturers to develop the famed M1911 pistol.

Philippine-American War

To counter these tactics, the British under Kitchener interned Boer civilians into concentration camps and built hundreds of blockhouses all over the Transvaal and Orange Free State. Kitchener also enacted a scorched earth policy, destroying Boer homes and farms. Eventually, the Boer guerrillas surrendered in 1902, but the British granted them generous terms in order to bring the war to an end. This showed how effective guerrilla tactics could be in extracting concessions from a militarily more powerful enemy.

In the third phase of the Second Boer War, after the British defeated the Boer armies in conventional warfare and occupied their capitals of Pretoria and Bloemfontein, Boer commandos reverted to mobile warfare. Units led by leaders such as Jan Smuts and Christian de Wet harassed slow-moving British columns and attacked railway lines and encampments. The Boers were almost all mounted and possessed long range magazine loaded rifles. This gave them the ability to attack quickly and cause many casualties before retreating rapidly when British reinforcements arrived. In the early period of the guerrilla war, Boer commandos could be very large, containing several thousand men and even field artillery. However, as their supplies of food and ammunition gave out, the Boers increasingly broke up into smaller units and relied on captured British arms, ammunition, and uniforms.

Guerrilla tactics were used extensively by the forces of the Boer republics in the First and Second Boer Wars in South Africa (1880–1881; 1899–1902) against the invading British Army. In the First Boer War, the Boer commandos wore their everyday dull-coloured farming clothes. The Boers relied more on stealth and speed than discipline and formation and, being expert marksmen using smokeless ammunition, the Boer were able to easily snipe at British troops from a distance. So the British Army relaxed their close-formation tactics. The British Army had changed to Khaki uniforms, first used by the British Indian Army, a decade earlier, and officers were soon ordered to dispense with gleaming buttons and buckles which made them conspicuous to snipers.

South African War

See also Bushwhackers (Union and Confederate) and Jayhawkers (Union).

In the late 20th century several historians have focused on the non-use of guerrilla warfare to prolong the war. Near the end of the war, there were those in the Confederate government, notably Jefferson Davis who advocated continuing the southern fight as a guerrilla conflict. He was opposed by generals such as Robert E. Lee who ultimately believed that surrender and reconciliation were better than guerrilla warfare.

However, Federal attempts to defeat Mosby's Partisan Rangers fell short of success because of Mosby's use of very small units (10–15 men) operating in areas considered friendly to the Rebel cause. Another regiment known as the "Thomas Legion", consisting of white and anti-Union Cherokee Indians, morphed into a guerrilla force and continued fighting in the remote mountain back-country of western North Carolina for a month after Lee's surrender at Appomattox. That unit was never completely suppressed by Union forces, but voluntarily ceased hostilities after capturing the town of Waynesville on May 10, 1865.

Federal counter-guerrilla operations were very successful in preventing the success of Confederate guerrilla warfare. In Arkansas, Federal forces used a wide variety of strategies to defeat irregulars. These included the use of Arkansas Unionist forces as anti-guerrilla troops, the use of riverine forces such as gunboats to control the waterways, and the provost marshal military law enforcement system to spy on suspected guerrillas and to imprison those captured. Against Confederate raiders, the Federal army developed an effective cavalry themselves and reinforced that system by numerous blockhouses and fortification to defend strategic targets.

Lastly, deep raids by conventional cavalry forces were often considered 'irregular' in nature. The "Partisan Brigades" of Great Raid of 1863, the Confederacy conducted few deep cavalry raids in the latter years of the war, mostly because of the losses in experienced horsemen and the offensive operations of the Union army. Federal cavalry conducted several successful raids during the war but in general used their cavalry forces in a more conventional role. A good exception was the 1863 Grierson's Raid, which did much to set the stage for General Ulysses S. Grant's victory during the Vicksburg Campaign.

Partisan warfare, in contrast, more closely resembles Commando operations of the 20th century. Partisans were small units of conventional forces, controlled and organized by a military force for operations behind enemy lines. The 1862 Partisan Ranger Act passed by the Confederate Congress authorized the formation of these units and gave them legitimacy, which placed them in a different category than the common 'bushwhacker' or 'guerrilla'. John Singleton Mosby formed a partisan unit which was very effective in tying down Federal forces behind Union lines in northern Virginia in the last two years of the war.

Irregular warfare in the Quantrill's Raiders, who terrorized pro-Union civilians and fought Federal troops in large areas of Missouri and Kansas, was one such unit. Another notorious unit, with debatable ties to the Confederate military, was led by Champ Ferguson along the Kentucky-Tennessee border. Ferguson became one of the only figures of Confederate cause to be executed after the war. Dozens of other small, localized bands terrorized the countryside throughout the border region during the war, bringing total war to the area that lasted until the end of the Civil War and, in some areas, beyond.

American Civil War

19th century (1815-1914)

This war saw British and Portuguese forces using Portugal as a secure position to launch campaigns against the French army, while Spanish guerrilleros bled the occupiers. Gates notes that much of the French army "was rendered unavailable for operations against Wellington because innumerable Spanish contingents kept materialising all over the country. In 1810, for example, when Massena invaded Portugal, the Imperial forces in the Peninsula totaled a massive 325,000 men, but only about one quarter of these could be spared for the offensive—the rest were required to contain the Spanish insurgents and regulars. This was the greatest single contribution that the Spaniards were to make and, without it, Wellington could not have maintained himself on the continent for long—let alone emerge victorious from the conflict".[20] Combined, the regular and irregular allied forces prevented Napoleon's Marshals from subduing the rebellious Spanish provinces.[21]

"It is manifest that, though a great army may easily defeat or disperse another army, less or greater, yet it is not in a like degree formidable to a determined people, nor efficient in a like degree to subdue them, or to keep them in subjugation–much less if this people, like those of Spain in the present instance, be numerous, and, like them, inhabit a territory extensive and strong by nature. For a great army, and even several great armies, cannot accomplish this by marching about the country, unbroken, but each must split itself into many portions, and the several detachments become weak accordingly, not merely as they are small in size, but because the soldiery, acting thus, necessarily relinquish much of that part of their superiority, which lies in what may be called the engineer of war; and far more, because they lose, in proportion as they are broken, the power of profiting by the military skill of the Commanders, or by their own military habits. The experienced soldier is thus brought down nearer to the plain ground of the inexperienced, man to the level of man: and it is then, that the truly brave man rises, the man of good hopes and purposes; and superiority in moral brings with it superiority in physical power." (William Wordsworth: Selected Prose, Penguin Classics 1988, page 177-8.)

In the Peninsular War Spanish guerrillas tied down tens of thousands of French troops and killed hundreds of thousands. The continual losses of troops caused Napoleon to describe this conflict his "Spanish ulcer". This was one of the most successful partisan wars in history and was where the word guerrilla was first used in this context. The Oxford English Dictionary lists Wellington as the oldest known source, speaking of "Guerrillas" in 1809. Poet William Wordsworth showed a surprising early insight into guerrilla methods in his pamphlet on the Convention of Cintra:

The Third of May 1808 by Francisco Goya, showing Spanish resisters being executed by Napoleon's troops.

Peninsular War

In Napoleon's invasion of Russia of 1812 two actions could be seen as initiating guerrilla tactics. The burning of Moscow after it had been occupied by Napoleon's Grand Army, depriving the French of shelter in the city, resembled guerrilla action insofar as it was an attack on the available resources rather than directly on the troops (and insofar as it was a Russian action rather than an inadvertent consequence of nineteenth-century troops' camping in a largely abandoned city of wooden buildings). In a different sense, the imperial command that the Russian serfs should attack the French resembled guerrilla tactics in its reliance on partisans rather than army regulars. This did not so much spark a guerrilla war as encourage a revengeful slaughter of French deserters by Russian peasants.[19] Meanwhile, Fieldmarshal Kutuzov permitted than-Hussar Lieutenant-Colonel Denis Davydov to open the Partisan War against the French communications. Davydov, Seslavin, Figner and others are since known in Russia as the 'Partisan Rangers of the Year '12' (Russian: Партизаны [Отечественной войны 18] '12-го года). They were successful in their operations making the French troops unable to fight or even move, because of food and ammunition shortage, and not just because of the Russian Winter as is usually stated.

Napoleon's Invasion of Russia

Siege of Saragossa : The assault on the San Engracia monastery.

In the Napoleonic Wars many of the armies lived off the land. This often led to some resistance by the local population if the army did not pay fair prices for produce they consumed. Usually this resistance was sporadic, and not very successful, so it is not classified as guerrilla action. There are three notable exceptions, though:

"Wherever we arrived, they disappeared, whenever we left, they arrived — they were everywhere and nowhere, they had no tangible center which could be attacked."
— Prussian officer during the Peninsular War, while fighting with French regulars against Spanish guerrillas[18]

Napoleonic Wars

Works such as "La Vendée" by Anthony Trollope,[16] G.A. Henty's "No Surrender! A Tale of Rising in the Vendée"[17] detail the history of the revolt.

From 1793-1796 a revolt broke out against the French Revolution by Catholic royalists in the Department of the Vendée. This movement was intended to oppose the persecution endured by the Roman Catholic Church in revolutionary France (see Dechristianisation of France during the French Revolution#The Revolution and the Church) and ultimately to restore the monarchy. Though ill-equipped and untrained in conventional military tactics, the Vendéan counter-revolution, known as the "Royal Catholic Army," relied heavily on guerrilla tactics, taking full advantage of their intimate knowledge of the marsh filled, heavily forested countryside. Though the Revolt in the Vendée was eventually "pacified" by government troops, their successes against the larger, better equipped republican army were notable.

Vendéan Counter-Revolution

Although many of the engagements of the riflemen, and over mountain men. All these American guerrilla fighters did their part by using unconventional tactics to fight the British and loyalists. Nathanael Greene used a guerrilla strategy very effectively against Lord Cornwallis. First, Nathanael Greene would keep retreating to lure the British far from their supply lines, then send out his forces to fight in small skirmishes and engagements with British detachments to weaken them. Then fighting the conventional battle, Nathanael Greene fought Lord Cornwallis at Guilford Court House and gave him a severe blow. Although Lord Cornwallis was the victor, his victory was pyrrhic as he had too many casualties that he could ill afford. After the British surrender at Yorktown and America gaining their independence, many of these Americans who used guerrilla tactics and strategies became immortalized and romanticized as time passed by. Although guerrilla warfare was not the factor that won the American Revolution, it was one of the factors that helped the Americans gain independence. But a lot of the time, the Americans also fought conventionally in linear formation against the British. So the Patriots would use guerrilla tactics to skirmish and weaken the British, then fight the conventional battles when the British became vulnerable. The American Revolution should be seen as more of a hybrid war since both conventional and guerrilla warfare were used throughout the American Revolution.

American Revolution

During the French and Indian War La Petite Guerre came to front stage when the Ohio valley Indians defeated Braddock's expedition near the forks of the Ohio in the Battle of the Monongahela. In Nova Scotia, French Officer Charles Deschamps de Boishébert led the Mi'kmaq and the Acadians in a guerrilla war while the British expelled the Acadians from the region.[14] In the Northeast, a New Hampshire backwoodsman, Robert Rogers, began to make a stir in the British military establishment for his success using the tactics of the "little war". British military leaders like Jeffery Amherst, John Forbes and Henry Bouquet understood they needed to learn and adopt the techniques and tactics of the little war, or be consumed, like Braddock. The British military establishment began adopting some of the tactics of La Petite Guerre as "light infantry."[15]

Led by Major Benjamin Church, New Englanders had also been adopting Indian scouting and raiding tactics since King Phillip's War. Throughout the four French and Indian Wars, starting in the late 17th century Canadiens, the Wabanaki Confederacy, and some Acadians brought La Petite Guerre to New England and the Ohio Valley. In present-day Maine, Father Sebastian Rale led the Wabanaki Confederacy in a petite guerre along the New England/ Acadia border. A generation later, in Nova Scotia, Father Jean-Louis Le Loutre led the Mi'kmaq and the Acadians in a petite guerre behind Anglo-American lines in the lead up to the last French and Indian War.[13]

In the mid 17th century the Colonists of New France were in conflict with the Iroquois Confederacy. Iroquois forces used hit and run tactics, harassment and avoided costly pitched battles. The colonists of New France began calling these Indian tactics La Petite Guerre because the tactics were meant for raiding as opposed to pitched battles. Under the tutelage of Wendake, Wobanaki, Algonquin and Ottawa tutors the habitants of New France learned La Petite Guerre and successfully used them against the Iroquois.

In North America, one of the earliest recorded instances of guerrilla warfare was Apalachee resistance to the Spanish during the Narváez expedition in 1528 in present-day Florida.

North America Colonial Wars

Long 18th century (1700-1815)

During the Dutch Revolt of the 16th century, the Geuzen waged a guerrilla war against the Spanish Empire.[12] During the Scanian War, a pro-Danish guerrilla group known as the Snapphane fought against the Swedes. Shivaji started guerrilla warfare against the Mughals and other powers in 1645 leading to establishment of the Maratha state in 1674, sowing seeds of what would become the last great empire(Maratha empire) in pre-British India. In the 17th century Ireland, Irish irregulars called tories and rapparees used guerrilla warfare in the Irish Confederate Wars and the Williamite war in Ireland. Finnish guerrillas, sissis, fought against Russian occupation troops in the Great Northern War, 1710-1721. The Russians retaliated brutally against the civilian populace; the period is called Isoviha (Grand Hatred) in Finland.

[11][10].Charles V against Wijerd Jelckama and with his co-commander [9]Philip I of Castile fought a guerrilla against Pier Gerlofs Donia freedom fighter warlord and Frisian used guerrilla tactics to pester the English invaders. The Bertrand du Guesclin between England and France, commander 100 years war In the [8] in Poland guerrilla tactics were applied.The Deluge During [7]

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