React To Ambush, “A WAY”, Not “THE WAY”

100_0188-2Mason Dixon Tactical

In the world of small unit tactics training there’s a lot of good info out there regarding Immediate Action Drills (IAD) for the multitude of scenarios you might find yourself in. Unfortunately, some trainers like to say if it’s not “Their way”, it’s not a “Valid way”.  Along with that, there’s a lot of “Trainer worship” out there. It stands to reason that the inexperienced individuals (worshipers) looking to “That guy” as their guiding light, will probably lose out, simply because they discount the input of another trainer, because “That guy” says it ain’t so.   

     False is the premise that “One guy knows it all”, and, if you come across a trainer that acts like he does, RUN! I get a kick out of some of the responses to the below post like “Then, we’ll _________________(throw grenades, use the grenade launcher, use the belt-fed, etc.).”.  Where these guys expect we’ll get these items initially, one can only guess. Obviously, depending on the scenario, you might be up against a military squad, or it might just be gang bangers. Coming up with good IAD SOP’s for your group is perquisite to surviving surprise encounters, and can not be over stressed or over trained (remember, immediate action drills are supposed to be second nature).

     DTG wrote a post here which, among other things, espouses some of the principles endorsed byHJ Poole. in “The Last Hundred Yards”. React to ambush  (Battle Drill 4) is one of the most important IAD’s to practice, and for obvious reasons.

     While in the Light Infantry, we taught, that in a near ambush, the personnel in the kill zone would immediately return fire, take cover, and throw grenades (HE and/or smoke), then get up and assault through the ambush. The personnel not in the kill zone would immediately identify the enemy positions, placing suppressing fire on those positions, until it was time to shift fire, due to the assault element rolling through the enemy position.

     In a far ambush, the personnel in the kill zone would immediately take cover, and place suppressive fire on priority positions, such as crew served weapons, etc. first, and fire smoke from the M203 to obscure the enemy seeing the assault element (personnel not in the kill zone) moving to a flank for the assault. Upon the assault element reaching the enemy position, the Support By Fire element (group in the original ambush kill zone) would then start shifting their fire, so as not to hit the assault element, as they passed through the enemy position. 

     You’ll notice it looks like what is listed below. This is “A Technique” we used in the light infantry to deal with an ambush. I learned a few different ways to “skin that cat” while I was in, and the variations were usually based on the SOP of the unit, not whether it was valid or not (a 6 man recon team will probably do thing a little different than a 9 man LI squad).  No matter how old I get, I’m still willing to learn more. Why? Because that’s how you get better (tools in the toolbox).  

     As I said “The Technique” (whether it’s for battle drill 4, or clearing a bolt override malfunction) does not exist, and anyone saying it does is  ignorant of the realities inherent dealing with any problem,  and is probably playing the second lieutenant game of “In my experience.”  Some might be better than others, but seriously, when you thinkin’ about it from a civilian SHTF perspective, you are responding with what……SEMI-AUTO RIFLES, right? I’ve told you many times, that the hardest thing for me as a SUT trainer, was adapting combat tested military techniques to “civilians in contact” scenarios. You have no belt-fed’s, grenade launchers, grenades, or claymores, so taking those advantages out of the equation is a real game changer (some guys can’t get past the “‘I did it this way in the military’ think”, to come up with rational solutions for non military personnel).  If in doubt, BREAK CONTACT! it’s that simple.

     One of the reasons I show and teach the Linear and L Shaped ambush, is not only to teach the students how to set it up, but to also give them the needed info on how to respond to an ambush placed by those who know how to do it right (we’re not talkin’ about a gang banger gaggle). My students ambush (everyone gets to be the team leader and set it up, and also man every different position) , and are ambushed (usually as a buddy team, since that’s what I think is a realistic group size on most movements during SHTF. Am I wrong? and if so, where’s your crystal ball? learn how to do it as a buddy team, and everything else will be easier).

     I’m not a big advocate of the “Move and shoot” techniques (a lot of square range tacticool stuff being taught), but in this situation, I tell the guy who is moving (as they bound out the way they came in) to fire at likely ambush flank security element positions to suppress a possible response  (which they have learned about, and actually been in those security positions), while the stationary guy is suppressing the ambush elements they know about. Is it wrong to teach this? Is it stupid to think they’ll still be alive after the initial volley from the ambushers? Maybe, maybe not.

     I’m about teaching for the “Possible”, not the “Probable”, simply because the premise of civilians training to take on “trained troops” in and of itself, is about possibilities, not probabilities, and I think it’s worth a shot. I remember hearin’ about some guys a while back takin’ on the best trained army in the world (at that time), and they ended up doing pretty good (very steep learning curve though). Was what they did probable? Maybe, but probably not. Was it possible? Apparently so. ’cause we ain’t Limeys are we?

     Learn what you can, from whom you can, as soon as you can. We don’t want the learning curve to be a cliff, do we? Enjoy the post below, read it, and if you don’t understand something, ASK! The man who posted this has more experience in doing and teaching this stuff than most trainers you’ll come across, and for what it’s worth, apparently Dan Morgan, and SF Medic, among others “in the know”agree with his assessment. 


DTG’s Post

“In the spirit of the Dunning-Kruger Effect Mosby details here.  If NPT members are to get better at what they do to protect their families and communities, they must objectively look at their corporate ‘knowledge’ and improve on what they believe is ‘good enough’.


Noob’s question during patrolling class:  “So, what do you do when you think you’ve been ambushed?”

A good, valid question.  A new member of the team/patrol should be taught effective immediate action drills for this, as well as other common situations encountered in a SHTF situation.  Let’s check out the conversation for a moment:

Older, more experienced teacher:  “Well, the way we did it back in the day was to have everyone in the kill zone immediately assault the ambush position screaming and yelling and shooting.  They told us that’d give us the best chance at survival.”

Noob:  “How did you know it was an ambush and not a perimeter or something?”

Older, more experienced teacher:  “Son, when all hell breaks loose without warning, and the shooting is coming from one side, it’s an ambush!”

Noob:  “So did it work?”

Older, more experienced teacher:  “In training it did.”

Noob:  “Oh….”

syrian ambush

First, as the above photo indicates, a well executed ambush will ensure very few, if anyone, inside the kill zone survives, and unfortunately, in many AO’s today, a common assumption of indigenous teams participating in counter-ambush immediate action drills (IAD) (and previously standard doctrine of all US forces prior to the adoption of MW) is anytime a team/patrol is engaged without warning they are in an ambush and have only one of two options for survival:

  • If the incoming fire is judged to be 50 meters or closer to the patrol, it is presumed to be a‘Near Ambush’.  All members of the patrol immediately turn into the ambush and assault (rush) upright through the enemy ambush.   In more contemporary times, this is where you hear the shrill yells of ‘contact left/front/right/rear’ along with the obligatory catapult into the depth of the kill zone.
  • If incoming fire is judged to be 51 meters or more distant from the patrol, it is presumed to be a ‘Far Ambush’.  The members of the team/patrol within the kill zone take cover and return fire forming a base of fire while the patrol members not in the immediate kill zone rendezvous, form a maneuver element and attempt to flank and assault through the enemy position.


Stn Pt Def


No consideration is given to the very real possibility that the patrol may have encountered an enemy LP, OP, sentry post, or prepared perimeter defensive position.  See above graphic.

Little or no employment of returning fire, taking cover, and returning aimed fire is typically employed, or taught (with very few exceptions), especially by indigenous teams demonstrating their expertise on ‘the net’.

In order to apply the principles of maneuver warfare consistent with indigenous team capabilities, changes from the attrition warfare style of reacting to ambushes must be adopted for a team/patrol to have the possibility of surviving the encounter.  Especially if that encounter is not comprised of an ambush, but is instead a prepared enemy defense.   With that in mind, consider the following base line for developing effective Ambush IAD’s.

Why modify traditional anti-ambush IA drills?

  • Worth repeating:  The patrol coming under fire may be in an ambush or it may have come into chance contact with an enemy sentry post, listening post, or a prepared position.
  • If the ambush is any further away than just a very few yards, the best chance for survival members in the primary kill zone have for survival is to drop to the ground, fire, move quickly by crawling to cover and again return fire on visible targets.  From there, they can either move to a pre-determined (rehearsed IAD to movement to designated Rally Point Enroute (RPE) rendezvous, move to flank the ambush position once it is known the enemy occupied site is not part of a larger enemy perimeter, or break contact and move to an RPE for regrouping activities.
  • If the team/patrol attempts to assault a prepared position, it will most likely (99% chance) be destroyed.
  • If the team/patrol attempts to assault through a well prepared ambush in an upright position (running, firing, and screaming as taught in AW teams/groups) that has mines and belt fed weapons to employ, the team/patrol will (100% chance) be destroyed.  The odds of ‘old school’ ambush IAD aren’t very good.
  • If the patrol attempts to  maneuver on the “ambush” and finds it is attempting to flank a prepared  position, it could find itself attempting to assault the perimeter of a prepared defensive position sited in-depth with interlocking fields of fire and mutual support, and again, the patrol will (100% chance) be destroyed.

Note:  The following distances are provided for training use only; like anything in the world of SUT, everything should be flexible to meet the current situation.

MW concepts provide a new Near Ambush Definition:  An ambush initiated at a range 23 feet (7 meters) or closer to the team/patrol.  Basically, their right on top of you when they open up.  (This can be described as one of those, “Oh, SHIT!” moments in life that must have an instantaneous reaction in order to come out the other side more or less in one piece, but know that the odds aren’t very good.  Nevertheless, any chance is better than no chance.)

Suggested IAD modifications for all ambushes initiated at ranges of 23 feet (7 meters) or lessfrom the team/patrol (again, when your team is hit this close, your actions must be immediate, violent, and overwhelming–that’s why IAD’s must be practiced until they’re second nature).

  • If you can see a target, immediately engage (remember, they’re 23 feet or closer to you) as fast and as accurately as you possibly can while at the same time attempting to get to a less exposed position.  Your primary mission now is to put as many rounds into the Zombie position as you can, change mags and repeat.  Remember, you’re in the kill zone here, and you may be hit already, but not possibly out of the fight yet.
  •  Members outside the immediate kill zone, but in near proximity, should fire immediately into the suspected enemy position (anything that looks like it would or could hide an enemy), then drop, take cover and then employ well aimed shots at exposed enemy troops.  Make sure IFF procedures are followed; fratricide is a bad thing.
  • If no enemy are exposed, but the vegetation around the ambush site indicates that there is a good chance of hitting hidden enemy, shoot low (5 to 10 inches from ground level) to help members caught in the immediate kill zone increase their survivability.
  • Guide fire on the leading  members of the patrol within the kill zone and shift fire as they move forward.  No signals are necessary.
  • Members caught in the immediate kill zone should move attempt to gain fire superiority into the enemy shooting “controlled pairs” on enemy soldiers as seen.

It follows then, that a new Far Ambush definition would be an ambush initiated more than 7 meters away from the team patrol.

IAD modification for all ambushes further than 7 meters (23 feet) from the patrol (terrain and vegetation dependent) could be:

  • Drop to ground, crawl to cover, ie, that which will stop enemy rounds from penetrating your body (could be a small depression in the ground-your NPT should be trained in the identification and use of micro-terrain).
  • The PL and team leaders should not attempt to ‘bound’ through the ambush/position for the same reasons listed regarding prepared positions.
  • Return fire only when a target is seen and only when you are sure you can drop the target.  Immediately determine if you should crawl to different cover as the report of your shot will provide the enemy with your general or specific  location.
  • Move in the direction of the last designated RPE or as instructed by the PL, assemble with remaining team/patrol members, and wait for the senior member issue a FRAG order, which could be anything from continue to break contact to a hasty attack.

MW differences:

Bounding through an Objective does not work when under fire  (especially when the patrol is facing belt feld weapons, interlocking fields of fire, and other sundry goodies)  therefore, it is not used unless only sporadic, un-aimed fire is encountered.

  • Patrol members choosing to “rush” will only do so from cover to cover, and only for 3 seconds or less duration.
  • Each patrol member has the authority to determine how and when he will move; he is in the best position to see what cover is available.  Ordering a man to rush or assault into belt fed weapons does not do anything but hasten his death and the weakening of the team/patrol.

AO and/or Team Specific Modifications:

Once all patrol members have learned and rehearsed above to the point that it’s second nature, all participants will be given the opportunity to suggest improvements and modifications so that at least 3 alternatives are rehearsed and ready for use.”


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