Using the Flank

Max Velocity Tactical

I received the following comment on my recent post ‘There Will Be No Theme Music‘ from Mt. Top Patriot (MTP):

Amongst all the outstanding education and wisdom’s, the experience and examples you extend, to an inexperienced civilian such as myself, there is one aspect to effective fighting with a rifle in small unit techniques that is becoming evident to me that is essential to dominating and dictating the course of a firefight.  

Getting on the enemies flank.

And maybe out flanking your enemies efforts to outflank you also.

The more I learn the more it seems out of all the tactics of UW and small unit warfare, the flanking maneuver embodies every concept of disrupting your enemies OODA loop, increases your survivability in combat, is the exemplification of moving forward in battle, demoralizes your opponent, and is in a manner a force multiplier, or is utilizing the partisans meager manpower and materiel to the greatest advantage and effect.

Can you expound further on the concept and techniques of attacking the flank?

You used the flank in your books. Mentioned it in your postings. I have reread those parts many times and hopefully am beginning to grasp the fundamental truths of this tactic.

It just feels like working the flank has quite a bit going for it in respect to fighting on your terms and keeping ones enemy reacting to your actions.

As MTP mentions, this is not a new topic for my blog or my books. In fact, I covered it a month or so back in this post: ‘Tactical Use of Terrain & Ground‘. On my CRCD classes I initially teach various methods of fire and movement, both going forwards, backwards and peeling. This is the basis of all movement under fire and also the break contact drills. However, at the end of the class we run through a choreographed squad hasty assault on a bunker position. The reason for this is to show use of ground, use of the flank, and also to give an idea of how this could be used against you; the need to anticipate such an action by an enemy.

The use of the flank has various advantages:

1) It will hopefully take you out of the enemy’s direct field of fire as you close with his position.

2) It may give you tactical surprise.

3) It may psychologically unbalance the enemy.

4) It best allows use of support fires as your assault element closes with the enemy position.

So why are we going to the flank? We are doing so because our aim is to close with and destroy the enemy position. As such, this is an infantry fighting task that you may or may not be interested in doing. If you ever find yourself in need of closing with an enemy position, whether that be enemy in the woods, in a trench or bunker, or in a building, then you will need to consider the use of covered approaches to the flank. For those who are ‘CQB’/urban oriented, if you wish to breach and make entry into a building, you have to first approach that building. To do so you must suppress the objective with support fire and approach via a covered route to get your breach team up to the planned point of entry. To that extent, a rural/woods approach to an isolated building or small cluster of same, transitioning from rural to urban, is no different from an assault on a defended location such as a bunker – all the principles apply, you simply have to make sure you have suppressed the enemy firing points, depth and mutually supporting positions, before sending the assault/breach team via a covered approach to the objective.

Conversely, if you are defending a location, you need to be aware of the potential enemy use of the flank approach so you can anticipate and counter such an action. If you become focused on trading fire in a gun fight with what is in fact the enemy’s support by fire position, back in the treeline or whatever, you will not realize that they are simultaneously approaching via a covered approach to the flank and next thing they are breaching through the side of your retreat.

Using the flank really is a magic thing. It’s the key to success in small unit infantry fighting. However, to be able to use the flank you have to have a keen eye for the ground, a soldiers eye for the ground/terrain. You have to identify where the enemy is in relation to your troops and then relate those together, considered with an eye for the ground, in order to assess the best places for a support by fire location and a covered approach and suitable final assault position(s). You need a logical practical mind that can visualize and sequence how you will flow through the enemy objective. This is part instinctive and part trainable.

This is what the combat estimate is about. You need to assess the available approaches to the objective and sequence your forces to allow a flow through the various enemy positions. It may be excellent to go right flanking, for example, but then when doing the estimate you realize that once the first position is taken there is no way for fire support to be provided onto a depth or mutually supporting position. This is just an example to illustrate that each course of action will have advantages and disadvantages and they need to be looked at with a view to the next few moves. A little like chess – it’s not just this move, but how you will sequence the rest of the moves that makes a better plan. But of course that plan may well go to pieces anyway once in contact with the enemy!

A classic squad is eight or nine men, which is two teams for a standard squad hasty attack. One team in fire support while the other assaults. Switch as necessary. FLEXIBILITY! That squad may, for example, be reorganized into 3 x three man teams. I say that because at platoon level, you will want to consider the assault cycle where your sub-units (squads) rotate and sequence through the roles of ASSAULT – FIRE SUPPORT – RESERVE. You may, at platoon level, have additional elements like an additional  fire support group (i.e. 2 x 240’s) under control of the platoon leader that is available to be thrown into the mix to favorably influence the battle. My point is that you will plan your attack as a sequence (echelon) of pushing the elements (squads) through those roles in a mechanistic scheme to achieve the suppression and assault of each enemy position that needs to be destroyed.

With a squad attack, whether deliberate or hasty, you only have two elements, which are your two teams. No reserve element. This means you have an assault and a fire support element, and these can be switched as the first objective is taken. The USMC has a twelve man, three team squad of 3 x four man teams. This is the same as the British half-platoon ‘multiple’ which is used for counter-insurgency patrolling and allows the use of the ‘satellite’ patrolling technique using the three teams. The classic British squad is eight men, and the drills are very similar to the US Army classic squad of nine men (also two teams or four). My point is that if you have a squad or half-platoon of three teams, you have the flexibility to utilize the assault cycle, having an element in assault, fire support and reserve at any one time. You then echelon (i. e. sequence in series) your elements through the objective, ensuring that any element moving/assaulting is always covered by another element in fire support.

Back to flanking: clearly, if you want to close with an enemy position, you don’t want to be moving, however good your fire and movement is, across open ground into the enemy guns. This is why the straight up, ‘two up, bags of smoke’, approach is largely rejected unless very close to the enemy or when you can truly suppress them with your fire. You will seek covered approaches to the flanks. If you are mounting a deliberate attack or raid, you will do the combat estimate in advance after concluding the recce of the enemy position. You will look for a fire support location and an assault location, from where the assault elements will cycle through the objective in sequence. If you are contacted by the enemy and trying to do a hasty attack, you will do the estimate on the fly. This is where you will hand over control of the firefight to your 2 I/C and sit back to assess the situation and do the combat estimate.

You will asses the relative strengths of the two forces. You may decide, at this point, that you have to break contact and withdraw. If you decide to assault, you will need to move your elements to adjust positions to set up a fire support element (not in the open on the X) and identify a covered approach to a flank. When doing this, you will assess the enemy in relation to the terrain, identify a covered or at worst concealed approach, and move around to a flank using that approach.

Using a flank is not always appropriate. If you are in a jungle or ‘bush’ type environment, when there is close vegetation, then if you move to a flank it is possible that your fire support element will lose situational awareness with the assault element. This can led to fratricide. What is generally effective in such a bush fighting environment is a skirmish line where your elements will ‘get on line’ and fight forwards in buddy pairs. This is particularly effective when facing a less proficient enemy because the use of good fire and movement, use of cover, and accurate covering fire will allow you to get forwards and overwhelm the enemy. This type of attack is successfully used in places like bush fighting in Africa and can even be used as a reaction to ambush drill where you will fight through the position. Simply because you are way better than the enemy you are up against – you are indeed the toughest guys in the valley! ‘Cover’ is concealment provided by the vegetation and things like termite mounds etc.

In places with thick vegetation environments such as the bush/jungle, flanking can be effective if you are assaulting places that are in open clearings. An example would be a classic ‘camp attack’ where you can use tree lines and the flank to conduct a more classic deliberate attack.

When assessing the ground to plan your flank attack, you need to give careful consideration to the spacial relation of your final assault position, or forming up point, to the fire support element. If you are coming in from the flank, you will want to come in at as close to a ninety degree angle, a right angle, to your fire support element as possible. So, effectively you are sweeping across from the left or right depending on which flank you went to. The fire support element will switch fire to the left or right accordingly as you assault over the enemy position, until they are simply watching the opposite flank to suppress any depth or mutually supporting positions if they reveal themselves.

If you don’t go all the way to the flank, like if you only went out to a 45 degree angle, as you assault forward you will begin to occlude your fire support element as you start to get between them and the objective. Similarly, if you go too far to the flank, like a 120 to 180 degree angle, as you assault towards the enemy position you will eventually be coming onto your own fire support. That is why at such a micro tactical level, surrounding the enemy is not a good plan, just like you don’t set an ambush from both sides of a road firing towards each other. At a squad or platoon micro-tactical level, you will assault from a right angle so that your support fire passes across the front of the assault element and is switched away from them as they progress across the objective. The only way to get around this, for example if putting out cut-off groups in depth to support a raid, is to use terrain to protect the elements in depth of the fire generated from fire support position. But of course, if you do this the fire support element, logically, cannot support them.

If the terrain does not allow you to get fully to a flank, then an option is to use double envelopment. This is where you first move your fire support element out to one flank to an approximate 45 degree angle. This has the added benefit of getting them off the X. Their move will initially be supported by fire from the future assault element. Once they are in place, you send the assault element 45 degrees the other way. So, you got your 90 degree angle for the assault and also moved your elements off the X. As part of the react to contact at the beginning of a squad hasty attack, as part of getting off the immediate X and pre-positioning the fire support for the assault, you will likely have to do some movement, even if it is just guys in the fire support team getting up on line, or back or to a flank to cover, so they don’t get shot up on the X. If this is truly a squad hasty attack and you just came under fire by surprise on the X, then be ready for a wounded screamer left on the X – your job at that point is to suppress the enemy, not run out and get shot tying to treat him.

When you do your assessment (combat estimate) of how to approach and assault the enemy, be flexible. Don’t just think: left, center, right. There may be near and far approaches on both the left and right, and you need to consider the merits of each before deciding which way to go. Distance, quality of cover, can I achieve surprise, use of smoke as deception, uphill or downhill assault, distance from the forming up point onto the objective, the sequencing of elements in echelon through the enemy position etc. How does the schematic look if you use those various approaches?

When you go to the flank, the move is broken up into: the approach, the assault and the fight through. The approach is where you move up the covered approach i.e. the creek bed or whatever, to get to your forming up position (FUP) for the assault from the flank. The assault is where you move from the  FUP towards the enemy position. The fight through is the actual enemy position itself, until you stop at the far side at your limit of exploitation (LOE). Hopefully, when you moved to the flank using a covered approach, you were able to use some form of deception and cover/concealment so that the enemy did not know you did that. The whole time you are moving, the enemy must be suppressed by the fire support element anyway. You may thus achieve temporary tactical surprise when you actually leave the FUP to assault the enemy. Don’t forget to fix bayonets!

On of the key considerations when planning this assault is the location of depth and/or mutually supporting enemy positions. If you pre-identify them then you must make a plan to suppress them. This will impact on where you place your fire support and which flank you go to assault. It may be that you have not identified all the enemy positions, and you may run into an additional contact as you are going to the flank. What is really useful is to drop off a couple of your guys as a ‘point of fire’. These guys can either be dropped off as you move to a flank, such as half-way up the creek bed you are moving up, to provide further close fire support onto the enemy position, or they can be taken with you and used to cover the flank/depth as you assault onto the enemy position.

But if you are a four man team, and you drop off a point of fire buddy pair, that only leaves you with two men to assault the enemy position. So whether you can do that or not depends on what you are assaulting:

If you are having to fight through a group of enemy in the open, hidden behind various pieces of cover etc., then you will most likely have to take your whole team with you to the FUP, get them lined up and oriented onto the enemy position, and assault forwards in a skirmish line to fight through the enemy.

If the enemy position is a trench, bunker or even a building window, then you can take two men up to it with the enemy position suppressed by precision rifle fire as your assault team gets right up onto it, grenade it if possible and assault to clear it. Your other two guys in the assault team can thus provide either close fire support or flank protection – i.e. looking outwards to depth. If you are breaching a building, then the assault pair are the breach pair, given support by the close support pair and overall fire support from the fire support team. The breach pair make the initial breach through the window or wall covered by the close support pair – remember as you move up onto the objective angles will open up and other firing points may be able to get an angle on you so you need to cover/suppress these. Once the breach team make entry, the close support team moves in. You then have a team in the building and a team in fire support with the option of leaving the team out in fire support to cover depth, or bring them in to give you two teams to clear the building with. METT-TC. A factor is the limitation of numbers with just a squad – really, twelve men or a platoon would be better, but who has that SHTF?

You must remember that for success this requires that you identify covered approaches to the enemy position. But what is absolutely vital is the quality of suppressing fire. It has to be accurate deliberate precision fire. If the enemy is in a bunker or a window, (assuming they are behind effective cover and shooting through the wall is not working) then you can only kill or suppress them if your rounds pass through the bunker slit or window opening. Anything passing overhead or striking around will not stop them fighting for their lives. Remember that these attacks are not about speed. Granted, if you have a poor approach and not enough suppressing fire you may end up sprinting across open areas, but if you can suppress effectively and use a covered approach, the attack should take on the character of a steady operation. It is thus about momentum rather than speed. Keeping the pressure on the enemy as you steadily maneuver, eventually making it to the flank and effectively choking the enemy off.

A squad is only realistically going to attack a single enemy position, maybe two or three guys behind cover or whatever. Maybe one bunker or a small building. If you are so much better than the enemy then you may be able to take on more. If there are two positions, such as two bunkers, in depth and/or mutually supporting each other, then you organize it so that you can suppress them both while you assault the first one, then roll through and assault the second. You can either use the same assault team on both, or the first assault team can go into fire support on the first position while the original fire support team is launched through onto the second.

The vital thing here is that if you can’t suppress the enemy, then you will die doing this. You can’t suppress them because you:

1) Can’t generate accurate suppressing fire

2) Have not identified all the enemy positions and are getting sniped from somewhere

3) Have taken on more than you can chew and need to think about breaking contact.

You are more likely to be making these mistakes and failing to suppress the enemy if you have been taken by surprise and are trying to run a hasty attack. A hasty attack needs to be trained as a drill but is conventionally run as an action taken when receiving contact as a squad/platoon conducting an ‘advance to contact’. Such an advance is done by infantry troops to deliberately bump into the enemy, on ground of the enemy’s choosing, in order to then roll into a hasty attack. As a resistance fighter you are not paid to do that. Effectively, an advance to contact means getting dressed up to party and going out looking for a fight, but doing so where you are giving the initiative to the enemy and being forced to try and seize it back. That is a fairly negative way of looking at it, and there are ways to mitigate the threat, such as observation and bounding overwatch, but you get the idea. Not clever for SHTF. As a small group of fighters you are better drilling to break contact resulting from a surprise bump into an enemy, and living to fight them another day.

In a hasty attack it is unrealistic to expect, in reality, to effectively suppress the whole of the enemy position and allow unimpeded safe movement. You are still going to be shot at! You also don’t know the extent of what you are getting into until you get into it. You move to a flank to take out the enemy bunker, only to find it is the sentry bunker of a company sized enemy force, all now getting out of bed and stretching!

Intel, and planning. Yep.

If you plan a raid or deliberate attack, you will recce/OP the enemy and identify their positions, numbers and routines. You will then pick how to deploy your forces to best take down the enemy position. You can place a support by fire element and move up the assault elements as you choose, so long as you avoid detection on the approach into start positions. You can place out snipers and overwhelm the enemy with an immediate weight of accurate fire, by surprise. You are more likely to achieve effective suppression if you do it this way, and it means you start with the initiative.

I have put this video up before, It the best example I can find to illustrate the assault cycle. It is from the Platoon Sergeants’ Battle Course in the UK. This is basically an infantry course at Platoon Sergeants Level – it is a leadership/tactics course, so similar to a platoon sergeants level Ranger School. There is also a Section and Platoon Commander equivalent, the section commander’s course being an earlier career progression to the platoon sergeant’s course. You can see they are conducting a company advance to contact, with the sergeants all playing roles as parts of the company. You can see them rolling through the assault cycle as they destroy positions. They are using the flank and also the covered approach of the creek bed.

(There are also some good examples of battle belts (full webbing) set up in the video).

There are lots of examples of tactical application of the flank in here, written for the purpose:

And the manual:

Live Hard. Die Free.



One thought on “Using the Flank

  1. Those uneducated in military tactics should keep in mind that this (as explained) is designed for engaging forces of similar size. If the opposing force is substantially larger the only time you should flank is in an ambush or counterflank situation. Keep in mind, guerrilla tactics are successful for a reason. When the badguys are bigger and better equipped you should default to guerrilla fighting as a general rule. I suggest reading the book “Resistance to Tyranny”.

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