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Close Infantry Assault


The key to Army’s success on our next battlefield will be ensuring we pay adequate attention now, and applying enough resources to institutionalise these lessons so we don’t have to learn the hard way. LTCOL N [1]

The survivability of the infantry section is paramount. Its ability to execute the close assault is crucial to survivability. The final two stages of the close assault are to neutralise and destroy (reduce) the strong point occupied by the enemy. The rifle section must be capable of reducing that strong point in isolation from its parent sub-unit and supporting arms (armour, engineers, artillery, and aviation).

Our Combined Arms Breaching Doctrine ‘is sound.’[2] SOSRA (Suppress, Obscure, Secure, Reduce, Assault) is taught, trained and executed doctrinally at the combat team and battle group level. For the isolated infantry section the principle remains the same; however, what they lack is the means (resources) to reduce the strongpoint occupied by the enemy.

2nd Battle of Fallujah, 8th of November, 2004

“The attack of all attacks was fundamentally a battle between squads. [3]

1st Platoon, Lima Company (1st Marines) crossed the Task Force line of departure at 0300 h.[4] Engineers reduced the obstacle belt outside the city with mechanical firepower (Mine Clearing Line Charge). The gap was open, the attack commenced. 200, 000 rooms were cleared in 12 days.

A tank or D9 Dozer could not be on every street corner of Fallujah. Combat engineers and Marine Assaultmen were attached to the company, but, their availability could not be relied on at section and platoon level, especially during back clearing tasks – not deemed the main effort by the battle group.

The enemy had occupied strongpoints deep inside buildings. They knew the Marines and Army would enter the rooms using grenades and entry drills. These were techniques coalition forces had perfected in years of blank fire training at home. In a testament to the discipline and courage of those infantry squads (sections) they entered the strongpoints; however, the enemy, camouflaged deep inside hardened structures, was made impervious to the impact of hand grenades and small arms fire by a mixture of narcotics.

Early in the battle a desperate demand was made by the sections and platoons for high explosives, to create improvised Bangalore Torpedoes. The first time they were used in this quantity since World War Two. The Marine Assaultmen teaching soldiers on the move became invaluable to 1st Platoon, employing a combination of placed explosive charges and when available the 83mm SMAW (with a thermobaric round).

“Using the Bangalore marked the turning point in the platoon’s tactics… Lieutenant Sommers had the option of blasting the building rather than risking marine lives to clear it…Rockets and bangs go where we shouldn’t”

This was not counter-terrorist ‘roll-up’ door charges made famous by YouTube videos. Instead they used satchel charges and improvised Bangalores, the kind employed in complex terrain engagement during World War Two.

These explosive charges reduced to dust the solid mud brick structures of the city of Fallujah. Hundreds of lives were saved.

Immediate Lessons Learned from Mosul

The need to use explosives within the Infantry Section in the close assault has not degenerated since Fallujah. In fact, the section can become more isolated and requires more organic manoeuvre support than ever.

LTCOL N articulated in his article, released to the Land Power Forum in June, ‘every urban movement is a breaching operation[5].’ The principles of SOSRA can and must be applied ‘from the corps to the fire team level.’

The Future Terrain

The physical terrain that our infantry sections will fight in requires a capability beyond the reach of its infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) and 7.62mm machine gun. These weapons suppress the enemy and enable the section to close with a strong point but these weapons do not reduce the position and they cannot conduct the assault. The tried, tested and long surpassed hand grenade is not enough to deal with the terrain and threats the section will face. The enemy’s ability to occupy the terrain is stronger than the section’s ability to reduce or neutralise it at the lowest level.

The infantry section has leadership. It has the ability to supress, (with IFV/7.62mm), obscure (smoke and/or carefully selected approach routes), secure (2nd fire team), but it cannot reduce without an expert to employ explosive charges at the critical point of an enemy’s defences. Assaulting without the availability of the fourth step in SOSRA becomes nothing but courageous suicide.

“The most effective response to this paradigm is delegating authorities as low as possible within a mission command system, founded upon developing mutual trust, a shared understanding, of the environment and the commander’s intent, disciplined initiative and accepting prudent risk. This allows junior commanders deployed forward on the battlefield to see an opportunity and exploit it, rather than waiting for direction that will probably be too late[6].”

Assault demolition specialists, who reduce enemy strongpoints at the section level are critical to future employment in complex terrain. To reiterate – “We must pay attention now, and apply enough resources to institutionalise these lessons so we don’t have to learn the hard way.”


About the author

Captain Ted Taber is the OI Assault Pioneer Cell at the School of Infantry.


Endnotes

[1] LTCOL N, Immediate Lessons Learned from Mosul, https://www.army.gov.au/our-future/blog/land-combat/immediate-lessons-from-the-battle-of-mosul (accessed 03 Aug 17)

[2] Ibid.

[3] PK O’Donnel, We Were One: Shoulder to shoulder with the Marines who took Fallujah, (Cambridge: Da Capo Press) p. 105.

[4] Ibid. p. 73.

[5] LTCOL N, Immediate Lessons Learned from Mosul, https://www.army.gov.au/our-future/blog/land-combat/immediate-lessons-from-the-battle-of-mosul (accessed 03 Aug 17)

[6] Ibid.


Disclaimer
Grounded Curiosity is a platform to spark debate, focused on junior commanders. The views expressed do not reflect any official position or that of any of the author’s employers – see more here.

2 thoughts on “Close Infantry Assault

  1. Great article to generate discussion of the future of Pioneers. This highlights that the skill set they possess is critical to SOSRA however the way they are utilised is sub-optimal to achieving the desired effect.

  2. Absolutely right – the lesson of history is that we don’t learn the lessons of history. On my bookshelf I have a self-published pamphlet from 1940 where the author was advocating the use of explosives within the Infantry Section (based on Spanish Civil War experience) for exactly the above reasons. It is not an esoteric special forces skill – it is basic urban warfare stuff.

    Yep, there can be risks associated with use of larger demolitions without considerable training – however they pale into insignificance against the risks of assaulting an unbreached stronghold in the kind of combat described. The key to safety is confidence – which is only fixed by experience. The British Infantry in the 1970’s and 80’s regularly used camouflet charges to dig in with. As I remember the soldiers prepared/buried the charges and we Platoon Commanders came along and put the primer and det on an fired them. Was all very routine and meant that everyone was pretty relaxed about dems.

    A possible way forward that manages the risk is for all INF soldier to be trained in assembling and blowing a simple dual initiation 100g charge (for confidence purposes) and then we create a set of standard charges that can be assembled under PNR supervision. INF practise using training versions of them on exercise and see them demonstrated live on the range from time to time. We accept that in the heat of battle from time to time somebody is going to wear the debris/blast

    In the 80’s I developed a standard assault and anti armour charge – 1.5kg of PE on the end of a 600mm plastic pipe with a 25m firing cable wound up inside the pipe and electrical initiation with a 7 sec delay. Could be dropped, thrown (about 15 m), pushed on a pole or, especially, propped against a wall. Was quite exciting to use but with good contact would breach most walls encountered – including lighter ferro-concrete. We never got to drop one on an actual live tank – but I tested it on an old turret and it took a lovely 15cm dia scab off the inside. It was sometimes a tad dangerous to go into any surviving enclosure after the bang had gone off – but that was because the structure had lost wallls and might come down on you – it would clean up boobytraps and certainly spoil the day of anyone in the room – or behind a breached wall. …………..and there are lots of well proven charge designs out there

    PS …the Soviets used to push bangalores (with a small sledge) in front of tanks – originally to clear mines but a great technique to clear both entries and the path to it.

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