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16 May 2010

Defence League’s Fighting Groups as the local experts

CPT Rene Toomse, Martin Plaser, “Luure kui pusle II: Kaitseliidu võitlusgrupid on paiksed eksperdid” – Estonian Defence League magazine “Kaitse Kodu!” no 1 [85/531] 2009, pp 14-18 at 

It was a cool rainy afternoon. The village appeared to be abandoned. Gray and somber streets were empty. It was the third week of occupation and no-one dared to leave their house unless it was absolutely necessary. The electricity was lost weeks ago and the people sat at their homes at candlelight. Only the school building, occupied by enemy’s rear unit, shone in bright light produced by a rumbling generator. They were here for the second week, getting used to the calm environment. The battles were fought in far west and the locals – mostly elderly, women and children – did not seem dangerous. A few men had tried to ask for job to support their families with food. These guys were naturally suspected but probably as harmless as the rest. After all, it was nice and comfortable if someone did the dirty job for you, and just for a disgusting ration pack.

Tonight is a party, the sergeant’s birthday. Up to today, the men have suffered the dry law but now have decided to take it easier. The hall is filled with long rows of school tables, at which the whole unit is boozing. Two youngsters left at the guarding post are feeling lonely but then there needs to be someone watching the only entrance at the high fence of barbed wire. These guys, as the youngest at the unit, have been assigned the shitty task of the sentry.
For the fourth hour, Priit has been watching the scene through his binoculars, lying down a hundred meters from the schoolhouse. It is early in the morning and according to the voices he heard, three-four “heroes” are still emptying the bottles in the hall. The rest of them should be in the occupants’ dreamland by now. Two sentries at the gate are looking unhappy, no doubt, but at the same time indifferent towards the noise coming from the compound. Clearly, nobody is going to release them before the next morning when the guys in the house have woken up.
Cold dampness has crawled between his skin and clothes but Priit does not notice that. The adrenalin level in his blood vessels is rising steadily when the time approaches the start of the operation their fighting team has been planned during the last week. Everything is thoroughly planned and rehearsed. Priit is checking the time. He knows exactly that a hundred meters east from his hideaway, their two machine gunners, Tõnu and Aksel, are setting up their positions. Their task is to cover the front and north side of the school building.
Priit checks quietly his sniper rifle, to make sure that the cartridge was in the barrel. It is the third time tonight but it has become a routine procedure and makes him confident that nothing was left to chance. Then he removes the cover that has protected the optical sights from rain. It is time. Priit feels overwhelming tranquility as he aims at one of the sentries. The outer world disappears. With the left eye, he catches a glimpse of a few dark silhouettes crawling quickly towards the fence at the back of the building.
3rd Lt Maasikas, the commander of the fighting team, crawls quickly towards the hole cut in the fence. Before slipping through, he glances over his shoulder to make sure all his men are following him. Less than half a meter his eyes meet the big anxious eyes of Juhan, the youngest member of the team. Maasikas gives him an encouraging nod which appears to calm Juhan. He smiles back and grabs his rifle as if defying his fear.
With his left eye, Priit watches six dark figures lining up against the back wall of school house. Within a few seconds, they slide forward like a bunch of ghostly shadows. Reaching the corner, they stop for a moment. This is the signal for Priit. He closes his left eye, focuses his attention to the one of the sentry and pulls the trigger. The shot blasts through the quiet night and within a second, an antitank rocket slams into the compound wall from other side. Priit does not pay any attention to that but instead focuses on taking down the other sentry who has been frozen at the sight of his dead comrade. Smooth triggerwork, and gone is the other one. Opening his left eye, Priit sees the attack team disappear into the building. Double taps start to echo from inside, intercepted by a few grenade explosions. Priit points his rifle at the fallen sentries and checks carefully through the sights to make sure they are posing no harm to his team. Only a few minutes are left before the engineers place the packs of explosives under the supply containers waiting to be delivered to the front line. Everything is going smoothly, according to the plan.
Previous chapter has not been written into war history yet and hopefully never will be. Having this type of men, as described above, it could be the worst nightmare of our enemy – never knowing when and where his soft assets will be attacked form the darkness. In Estonia that can be done by Defence League (Kaitseliit) via fighting teams approach.
The concept of Defence League’s fighting groups (DLFG) is nothing quite new but to get their purpose and utilization within state defence concept is essential. These units should prepare the environment for the maneuver units of the (conventional) defence forces and weaken the enemy in already occupied territories. In the following paper we try to describe the potential nature and tactics of the DLFGs, as well as to link these to the activities and tasks of the other reconnaissance units such as long-distance recce, scout recce and maneuver units recce.

The advantages of the home field
The DLFG consists of defence leaguers, and thus performs as a domain-based unit. Due to its nature, it can significantly shape the situation in its AOR and influence the higher operational picture. The following is the authors’ vision about how a DLFG would look like by its composition, mission profile, support requirements and training. In addition, the authors raise a question whether the guerrilla tactics should be the main field of expertise for DL.
The tactics of a DLFG is to attack the vulnerable targets in enemy territory, weakening and tiring out its main forces. The era of frontal attack on the battlefield is irreversibly over, as it can be seen in case of ongoing conflicts. If the weaker counterpart aims to survive and achieve tactical as well as strategic advantage, it needs to wear out the bigger, stronger and better-equipped intruder. This means every possible method, from disturbing the logistic support to attacking the HQ’s, as long the main goal is to maintain the independence of the home land.
For several reasons, DL with its fighting teams is the best choice for this kind of operations. DL is divided into regional units whose areas of responsibility mostly coincide with the borders of Estonian counties. The members of a single regional unit are people living in this area, knowing each other and being aware of the aspects of the local terrain. Comparing to the rest of the reserve army, they have better opportunities to perform unit-based training since they live close to each other and regular training sessions are organized by DL. Often they form teams and participate in military competitions, in order to maintain and increase their fitness and cooperation.

The formula for a small but successful unit
What is required to success as a small unit? The task is much more complicated than for an ordinary infantry squad that functions as a part of a platoon, being supported and commanded by even a bigger unit. Operating in an enemy-occupied territory requires ingenuity, flexibility, skillful concealment, but first of all – excellent teamwork. The prerequisites for long-time survival are the support from the local inhabitants, functioning information network, experiences obtained during peacetime training and the system of caches, dead drops and safe houses. All of these prerequisites are met in DL subunits. Proper command and military training are critical for these units. If you recall from the history, during the WWII, the only successful guerrilla groups where those who managed to maintain their military discipline, organization and combat routines.
As a rule, the DLFGs avoid contact with enemy maneuver units, except when they have been told otherwise in order to support a bigger operation. In the times when there are no specific tasks or limitations assigned by the HQ, the groups operate independently on their determined territory by „search-and-destroy“, using their knowledge about the terrain and situation, as well as the principles of surprise, speed and aggression. Simultaneously, the groups should avoid disturbing or harming local inhabitants whose support for them is crucial. The DLFGs are essential gatherers of information – in addition to constant observation they obtain their information from local supporters as well as from the enemy, in the form of materials collected from the attack sites.
The members of DLFG not known to the enemy’s intelligence, may live and work in the region, organizing the logistic support of the group, as well as collecting the information. The group meets for rehearsing and conducting the planned operation. The members who can not be seen in the public for several reasons, use safe houses to plan the operations. However, the safe houses change often, since the intelligence analysts of the enemy may detect indicators and start creating patterns based on these.
From the operative point of view, the main task of DLFGs would be disturbing the enemy’s command and support systems and collection of physical intelligence materials from the occupied territory. These so-called phantom units are the worst nightmare of enemy. Each of its units needs higher command, food, ammo and fuel. Without the fuel, no tanks will move, without the food and ammo no soldiers will fight. In combats, these deficiencies destroy moral and fighting spirit, which directly and negatively influences the power of the enemy.

The importance of preparations
A well-prepared DLFG forces keep the enemy units to remain in constant alert, increase the security of its logistic support at the expense of its combat units. It all increases the combat stress of the enemy. Attacking the communication sites, HQ elements and logistics compromises most directly their combat effectiveness against our maneuver units.
In addition, the DLFGs can be excellent collectors of intel materials. Every ambush or attack site contains remnants of the enemy’s communication devices, maps, documents etc. These items may give us further information about enemy’s plans and can often be of higher value than systematic observation of the enemy activity. The DLFG can deliver these materials into the dead drops where other recce units can pick them up and deliver to the HQ.
Carefully made preparations, peacetime training and rehearsals form the basis of a successfully functioning DLFG. Structure wise, it would be reasonable to compose a DLFG from the district inhabited by its local members. This gives them more opportunities to conduct independent training outside the schedule of the larger exercises planned by DL regional HQ. Moreover, it is easier to establish the local contacts for information, supply and safe houses.
Due to limitations of communication systems, it is important to note two aspects. First, each DLFG should be assigned a specific area of operations, in order to avoid accidental friendly fire. Second, establishing standing orders with expected results and limitations in case there are no higher orders or the command link between the unit and the HQ is missing.

The composition of DLFG
In order to remain covert and mobile, a single group should be 13 to 16-strong. On the other hand, unit of this size possesses enough fire power to conduct smaller attack operations and extract from unexpected fire contacts.
The composition of the DLFG could be as follows:
  • Command team (group leader, team sergeant, signalman, medic);
  • Machine gun team (team leader/forward observer, machine gunner, his assistant/engineer);
  • Anti-tank team (team leader/forward observer, AT gunner, his assistant/engineer);
  • Sniper team (team leader/intel expert, sniper, spotter/forward observer);
  • Mortar team (60 mm);
  • Anti-Air team (Manpads).
Such multifunctional but relatively small unit has relatively high fire power and can maintain high mobility on terrain, while being difficult to track. However, neighboring DLFGs should practice cooperation in order to conduct larger-scale attacks. On the other hand again, a single group has to be able to split in order to decrease its footprint on the terrain even more.
In addition to the aspects of mobility and concealment, another advantage of a small unit is their cohesion. The men know each other’s strengths and weaknesses which allow them to support each other at all times and thus complete a successful mission.

Missions of DLFG
The DLFG should mainly focus on four kinds of missions: recce, ambush, raid and sabotage.  
- Recce includes three types of activities: tactical reconnaissance of compounds, areas and routes. The goal of recce patrols is to provide the commander with timely and accurate information about the enemy and terrain. Recce should be conducted before each attack and in order to secure movement. In addition, a DLFG may get a specific task approaching the area occupied by regular army, preparing assembly areas or gathering information from the attack target areas. The DLFG will be integrated into every single COA, contributing substantially to common operational picture. The recce teams must be kept small to guarantee their maximum concealment but it is necessary to keep support units nearby in case there is a need to assist the recce team with extraction.
- Ambush is a surprise attack in which the moving or temporarily stopped enemy is striked from a covert position. The distance between the attackers and the target must be short (15-50m), in order to achieve the maximum concentration of the fire power. A full ambush (including searching the killzone) is conducted against an enemy unit two or three times smaller than the attacker unit (the criteria depend on the training level of attackers and combat assessment). Against a larger or equal enemy only fire is used (the distance according to the assets, no movement through the kill zone will follow). Considering this type of operations, the size of a DLFG is optimal, putting to use the contribution of every single member in the unit.
- Raid is a surprise attack to an enemy position or object, following a quick retreat prior to the enemy forces being able to respond or formulate a counter-attack. The DLFG will not conduct an independent attack against a secured enemy position. To accomplish the mission, the higher HQ will unite two or three teams under a joined command. In terms of force concentration, it is recommended to achieve at least 3:1 advantage against enemy’s temporary object or camp, and at least 5:1 advantage against a permanently secured enemy (prior to that, recce must be conducted in order to find out the probable combat effectiveness of the enemy).
- Sabotage is a maneuver that is not attacking the enemy directly but still weakens him. It may be disconnecting a power lines, destroying a railway connection or unattended logistic supplies etc. DLFGs need to be aware of the enemy’s support structures at their AOR and plan operations targeted to hampering their use. While doing that, they must remember not to harm the local inhabitants.

Important principles in the training and activities of a DLFG
In all times (including peacetime) the unit must avoid losing the support from the local people. This means no harm should be caused to the inhabitants of their AOR. Also, information operations should be conducted, to explain and calm down, increase the number of supporters and aim to recruit new members into the unit.
In times when there is no signal connection between the HQ and the unit, or the unit has not been assigned a specific task, the groups operate in their AOR by the principle of „search and destroy“. Whenever possible, the plan should be coordinated with the HQ but the HQ may as well give the unit freedom to decide on their own when keeping connection becomes too risky.
The unit engages into fire contact only when it is beneficial for them, ergo, meeting an equal or superior enemy, the unit must extract itself from the contact immediately. The lives and health of the fighters must be spared as much as possible because proper medical support may not be around for a while. The principle of sparing must not outweigh the unit’s combat goals, thus the unit commanders have a high responsibility in planning the best and safest tactical solutions.
The skills are not inborn; therefore a number of courses should be started at DL School, mainly regarding the patrolling techniques and survival skills. The training should peak with control exercises conducted at the AOR of the unit. The completed units concentrate on subsequent training on the support of the DL regional HQ, and whenever possible, take part of exercises conducted by Defence Forces in their home region.
The main focus of the training should be on patrolling skills. In these, DLFGs should be excellent. The units must develop and act in accordance with the principles of Special Forces, being independent and flexible in the framework of changing environment.

Cooperation with others
A system of dead drops and caches was mentioned above. These are the places where gathered information materials could be stored in order to be delivered to the HQ. To the long-range recce units located in their AOR, the DLFG can deliver food, water etc. In addition, the DLFG should prepare and maintain the system of safe houses which may also be used for the resting and recovery of long-range recce units.
Also, the DLFGs can support the long-range recce teams by means of medical aid, and assist them with extraction when they have completed their mission. Necessary concepts and procedures should be developed in the course of joined exercises.
DLFG as a permanent inhabitant of an AOR is the main gatherer of information for the maneuver units before their arrival to the area. They perform as the guides at the operations, guaranteeing the best route choice on a terrain. In addition, they may be assigned a task of hosting, securing and supporting specialists sent by the HQ to gather specific information from the area.

C2 and logistics of DLFG
The DLFGs are commanded by a regional HQ which receives its orders from a Defence District HQ or plans its own operations according to the directives given to it earlier. The regional HQ may join a number of DLFGs into a platoon or even company in order to accomplish a larger-scale operation.
It is reasonable to develop an independent signal scheme which may be doubled with help of the long-range recce teams located in the area. The lack of high tech signaling devices and operational security may require the use of dispatches and preset mailboxes.
Ammo and weapons supplying will be organized mainly from enemy’s resources. Enemy equipment not needed by own forces would be destroyed or disabled permanently.

Even the lack of equipment, communications and continuous command will not hamper the unit’s ability to cause damage to enemy, as long as it has clear directions, proper training and high morale. This unit can actually cause more harm than a same number of men belonging to a bigger unit on a foreign terrain. The knowledge of the home region is the most significant advantage the DLFG has before any regular unit, making them invaluable in terms of weakening the enemy and gathering intelligence from their area of operations.

The DLFGs already have the advantages and possibilities to fulfill such tasks. All they need is directives set by higher HQ, as well as the development of support and training system. By creating a network of small but strong units, we pose significant threat to the enemy because unsecure rear area is the most important compromising factor of their combat effectiveness and morale.