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Biography and History

Guerrilla Warfare

Part 1: The Beginnings of Army Special Operations

What is Guerrilla Warfare?

Special Ops Units are elite forces that engage in unconventional (i.e., guerrilla) warfare. Today the US military relies heavily on elite units like the Rangers, Green Berets, Delta Force, and SEALs to accomplish missions requiring smaller, more highly skilled and specialized units.

Guerrilla is Spanish for "little war" and it originated with the actions of small bands of Spanish soldiers who fought against Napoleon's French army in the Peninsular War (1807-1814).

Sun Tzu argued that the way to defeat a more powerful enemy is to employ your strength to exploit his weaknesses. Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong described his tactics: "The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue." 

The Swamp Fox -- General Francis Marion
The Swamp Fox -- General Francis Marion

The Beginnings of Army Special Operations in America

During the 17th Century, European wars were fought by assembling large formations and meeting the enemy on open ground--tactics that were unsuitable for America's limited manpower and vast wilderness areas. 

The history of US Special Operations Units begins with the French and Indian Wars (1754-1763), where France and it's colonial allies fought against England and it's colonial allies. France and England had been battling each other off and on in Europe for centuries. In the new world, France laid claim to most of the US west of the Blue Ridge mountains"land that was later sold to the US as the Louisiana Purchase. France claimed the land, but couldn't control the vast territories and when English colonists began settling there it led to war.

Early in the war, the objective was to harass the enemy till he decided to leave an area. Small independent units were much more effective in pursuit of this goal.

Rogers' Rangers

The first and most famous of these units was known as "Rogers' Rangers" after their commander Major Robert Rogers. The Rangers wore distinctive green outfits and practiced tactics called "Rogers' Rules of Ranging," that the British considered unsporting, if not downright cowardly because they included sound advice such as, "If you are obliged to receive the enemy's fire, fall, or squat down, till it is over; then rise and discharge at them." Major Rogers hired men solely on merit and shocked regular commanders with his use of Indians and freed slaves

Rogers Rangers roamed the countryside between the New England states and Detroit attacking French army supply convoys and small units. They also sacked and burned French colonial homes and farms. These tactics were effective in forcing the French and their allies to abandon the countryside and concentrate their forces in Quebec, Montreal and Detroit. The British and their colonial allies then concentrated their forces to lay siege to each city in turn until it fell and they could move on to the next. By the time Detroit fell the British had control over all of North America

The Swamp Fox

The greatest guerrilla fighter in the American Revolution was General Francis Marion. He formed Marion's Brigade in 1780, with one hundred fifty tattered and penniless patriots. None received pay, food, or even ammunition from the Continental Army, but they terrorized the British Army in South Carolina and Georgia with a series of hit and run raids in the face of overwhelming odds. Marion and his men would strike swiftly and then vanish into the swamps. His tactics were so effective that he was nicknamed "The Swamp Fox" by one very frustrated British general.

Later in the war, Marion and his men combined with the larger regular army forces operating in the area to attack and defeat the British in South Carolina's big cities. In 1781, he rescued an American unit that was surrounded by British forces at Parker's Ferry, South Carolina, and received the thanks of Congress for his efforts. His victories eventually drove British forces out of South Carolina entirely.

For more guerrilla warfare, see Guerrilla Warfare Part 2: The Civil War 



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