You’re moving through hostile territory, so you stick close to each other. The boss is a real leader man, and he’s as good as they come, brave as a fighting Rhode Island Red rooster, liked and held in high respect by his men, which is why he’s right up front, doing the leadership thing.
The afternoon drags on. It’s a long, hot, sweaty patrol that just sucks all the energy out of you. Without any warning, the jaws of the ambush suddenly snap shut around you. The leader and his radio man behind him, are the very first ones to get cut down. You go to cover and try to establish a perimeter. Everyone is shouting and screaming and doing some outgoing, but there just isn’t any decent cover; you start taking casualties. It’s all red and green streaks flying through the evening air, but pretty soon the RPGs start raining in as well.
The casualties begin to mount up all around you. Man, this is bad. Please Lord, get me through this one. You might be able to make your escape but that simply ain’t gonna happen. When you’ve got men down, everyone mans up, because they’re your buddies. No way you’ll di di mau the hell out of there.
The crap rains in on you. Nobody is going to ride to the rescue, because nobody knows you’re in trouble. There’s no chance of anyone calling in some fire support, because nobody knows for sure their exact position, even if there was a radio man left alive or even a radio intact. Nobody even knows the fucking call signs. You start dragging the bodies of your dead friends over the wounded, to protect them from further harm; it’s got that bad already and it’s just the start of what’s going to be a long night’s dying, and you know that for sure. You think about your Mom and your Pop and your family, but all around you are your immediate family, and they’re hurting badly, so you dig in deep fucking deep, burying your own fear to do your best for them.
The thing grinds on mercilessly through the night. As the dawn approaches, the defensive fire gradually peters out. The ambushers carefully move in. They lob a few grenades in ahead of them, just to make sure. Anyone left alive is too badly wounded to offer any real resistance. They shoot them. The bodies are stripped of anything useful, fitting boots and cigarettes being especially prized, and they move out. You stayed with them right down to the bitter end, so that’s okay.
That’s how brave young men can die stupidly.
Let’s rerun it.
You’re moving through hostile territory. You’re with a good team, so you can do it right. There’s a man walking point, which is always rotated until you start moving into a piece of terrain which looks exactly like somewhere you’d lay an ambush, then your best man quietly takes over. You sorta asked him, but you know he was already getting twitchy anyway. He walks thirty or so steps in front.
Some distance behind him, you have the slack. He’ll be carrying a lot of grease, because, if it all comes raining down, his job is to lay down a shit load of fire, to give the point a chance of getting out alive. Some way behind the slack, is the main body of the unit and trailing behind them, is what’s called the drag. He basically spends most of his time walking backwards and trying not to fall over, because he’s watching their six. Depending on the territory and the number of men you have, you put a flanker out on each side, walking in line with the slack.
It’s a very basic formation, that ensures the main body of troopers don’t walk into any ambushes, just the guys on the periphery of it. It makes them concentrate.
It interlocks. The point knows they’re relying on him not to walk them into death but at the same time, he knows his life depends on them. The slack knows his life depends on how good the point is, but he also knows the point is totally reliant on him to keep him alive if the cookie starts to crumble. The troopers rely on the guys on the edges, but they know if it all turns to shit, those same guys will need them rushing to their support. Everybody is working for each other, because that’s the one way everyone stands a chance of getting home alive.
If you want to execute the perfect murderous ambush on that formation, you have to let the point and slack walk straight through it, just so you can get the main body of troops into the kill zone, before snapping the trap shut around them. If you’re the point, your job is to watch for that and make sure it’ll never happen, because if it does, you’ve just let all your friends die. When you do it right, you become the nearest thing to a bit of meat on the chopping block. It’s one of those comradeship things that are difficult to communicate.
You have to work with the slack, because no matter how good you are, you sometimes spot the thing just that few footsteps too late, and now your life more than ever depends on him. Little signals. Signals the watchers won’t notice. A fist up in the air will get you killed. You pause to take a slow swig from your canteen, which you’d never do up front. Sometimes you can’t even see them, but you just know they’re there; you can nearly taste their need to kill you. You can feel the pressure of all those intent eyeballs on you. The slack picks up the signal and lets the company know there’s trouble up ahead, which means you’ve done your job. They won’t be walking into the meat grinder.
You’ve done your duty for them and now you can afford to get selfish; all that’s left is that tricky problem of getting your ass out of there in one piece. There’s still that little bit of the normal human being left in you, who is terrified, which is what makes you a good point, but at the same time, the soldier you’ve become is still fully functioning and riding high on that big electric bitch of contact.
You’re thinking about cover now and a way back to safety, but the thing you never do, is look behind you for the route back to it. You do that and they’ll know you know, and let rip straight away. On they way along, you’ve been spotting every decent piece of cover and know exactly where the nearest piece is.
If it’s an X ambush and you’ve walked into the centre of it, with fire going to come at you from four directions, you’re going to die, and you’ve probably got the slack killed as well. If you didn’t get too far in, you dive to cover and they immediately start blasting.
You wait. Your head is down, you can’t see a damn thing, you’re doing some blind return of fire, but you know exactly what’s going on around you. At the very first shot, a lot of things happen simultaneously.
The slack went to cover and is laying down an arc of fire from side to side over you, to keep their heads down and give you a chance. The flankers have also started laying down enfilade fire on the sides of the ambush, even if they can’t see a damn anything. At the same time, the team who’ve got the heavy machine gun are charging forward, to join the slack and flankers putting out fire. Soon, the rooster crows and the ambusher’s heads are very definitely down now. Firepower baby, raw naked firepower. If you’re on the receiving end of it, it’s totally fucking impressive.
The main body has herring boned, with alternate guns covering each flank of the advance and a react squad has split off from each side. They’ll get far enough out, well beyond the flankers but in line with them, find good cover and wait.
The leadership, who is safely tucked away in the main body, is already on the radio, and he’s calling in an arty fire mission, which will lay a curtain of explosions perpendicular to the line of march but behind the ambushers, cutting off their natural line of retreat. He can do this immediately, because he doesn’t have to look up the co-ordinates. Before the patrol had even started out, he’d identified all the likely locations of ambushes, marked the fire mission co-ordinates against them on the map and has also been marking on it, exactly where they are as the patrol advanced. Dot, dot and boring dot in guaranteed water erasable marker.
He’s planning for the eventuality of himself becoming combat ineffective, which is a nice way of saying he’s badly wounded or dead. If he goes down, he’s made sure every man in the unit knows all they have to do, is pick up the map and they’ll know exactly where they are, what the call signs are and the exact co-ordinates for the fire mission.
As elements of the main body move forward to pour even more fire on them, the ambushers realise that it hasn’t worked out, so it’s time to get out of there while they still can. If they won’t disengage, the leadership will gradually creep the barrage towards them. If that makes life difficult for the point, it’s the classic imperative of first the mission, then the men. Hard days. Their choices are by this stage limited. There’s no way they’re going to run through a screen of exploding artillery fire or charge the main body, so they’ll use the only two lines of retreat left.
They’ll retreat under fire, and just when they think they’re in the clear, they’ll run into the ambushes set by the two waiting react squads, who’ll kill most of them. Those who were intent on killing you, have just been killed themselves, and the whole action has barely lasted five minutes.
They’re just stories, simple stories, but the lesson to be drawn from them is as old as humanity. Any group of people working together in a coordinated fashion, will always do better than a group which does not. More succinctly expressed, united we stand, divided we fall.
In the year 9 AD, a Roman nobleman called Publius Quinctilius Varus, led a force consisting of three full legions, six cohorts of auxiliaries and three companies of cavalry, eastward of the Rhein and into a territory known only by the vague name of Germania. It wouldn’t actually become a country for another eighteen centuries or so. He had about thirty thousand men under his command and although there were various propaganda justifications for the invasion, everyone knew exactly what it was all about.
The Roman empire was expanding eastwards from its toeholds across the Rhein. The scattered tribes who lived there and who might be unwise enough to resist the invasion, were going to be butchered, and all for the expansion of the empire and greater glory of Rome. Of course, everyone also knew the tribes were going to defend their lands because they had no choice, but pit a large well-equipped full-time professional army up against a bunch of farmers, who only fight occasionally at the behest of their tribal leader, and you know what the result is going to be – a slaughter. The Romans had done exactly that so many times before and Varus had a well deserved reputation for the barbarity with which he dealt with defeated enemies. He was renowned for crucifying them.
Things did not look good for the tribes. Although their numbers are hard to estimate, they were most probably outnumbered but their problems ran a lot deeper than that. It was farmers up against three legions of battle-hardened veterans. The tribesmen were drawn from dozens of different tribes who had never fought together, and even if they could be persuaded to do so, would simply be no match for three legions in a set piece battle. Varus, no doubt aware of all those considerations, didn’t appear to have deployed much in the way of a reconnaissance screen around his force.
Comes the day, comes the man, and for the tribesmen, that man was Arminius of the Cherusci tribe. He did two things, both of which most onlookers assumed were quite simply impossible. He not only put together a secret alliance of nearly all the bickering tribes to fight the roman invaders but also came up with a strategy, which would allow each tribe to fight in its own way that would still beat the Romans, without engaging in the type of formal pitched battle they’d certainly lose. Like all effective planners, he worked imaginatively with what few assets he actually had to hand.
He offered nothing but light resistance to Varus’ advance, just enough to draw him deeper and deeper into the area of Germania he wanted him to reach, stretch his supply lines and put him well beyond the range of any possible relief force. Eventually the Romans reached the vast Teutoburg forest, the way through which was so muddy and narrow, the Roman column had to break formation and straggle to get through it. The column eventually stretched out for nearly ten miles as it squeezed its way through.
That was exactly what Arminius was waiting for and he was prepared.
On command, one tribe attacked the middle of the column, and having massive local superiority and fighting on their own turf and in their own style rather than the Roman style, easily cut it in two. Liabilities, intelligently utilised, can become assets. Progressively, the same thing happened along the entire length of the column. Irresistible and massive local superiority, guaranteed a win every time. Like a snake, they chopped it into easily handled pieces, and then annihilated the isolated pieces.
A few survivors tried to break out but ran into heavily defended barricades erected in advance to stop exactly that. It was a complete massacre, with an estimated twenty-five thousand Romans killed. The last person who’d given the legion a hammering like that was Hannibal of Carthage, and that was two hundred years earlier.
In the shocked aftermath of what came to be known as the Varian disaster, the Romans, ever practical, evacuated all settlements east of the Rhein, burned them to the ground, and having got everyone across the Rhein bridges, burnt every bridge behind them. Apart from a few punitive expeditions across the river, the Roman’s seemingly irresistible advance eastwards across Europe stopped there for good.
Imagine if you will, George Armstrong Custer’s defeat at Little Big Horn by the hand of Crazy Horse and the Sioux, freezing the present day USA’s western border in Montana rather than the Pacific, and you’re in the picture. For once and almost uniquely, the natives permanently stopped a more technologically advanced culture devouring them.
The outcome of the battle of the Teutoburg forest had a massive impact on European history but in the context of the current discussion, that’s not an aspect I wish to pursue. It is the strategy employed by Arminius which is pertinent. The Saxon tribes, from any aspect, were the smaller less powerful force but they were deployed in ways to maximise their strengths and in areas the Roman invaders were weak. They could fight in forests, whereas the legions had been trained to fight in open ground.
You can easily overwhelm a much stronger force which has been spread out, by concentrating your own weaker forces on a narrow front, achieving local numerical superiority. Two millenia later, a distant son of Germania called Heinz Guderian, did precisely the same thing in the Ardennes, but the tactic was named schwerpunkt und aufrollen; hard point and rollout, which was at the cutting edge of the Blitzkrieg or lightning war.
The three things which carried the day at Teutoburg were; the different tribes acting in a concerted manner, concentrating forces to achieve irresistible local superiority and then deploying them in ways that played to their strengths against areas in which the enemy was weak. They picked the time, the place and the manner in which they’d fight – and that’s why they won. Basically, they seized the initiative.
The tide of the climate war is now turning in our favour. Hitherto, climate realists have played an essentially reactive role to whatever the alarmists were doing. As each harebrained scheme or science paper was floated by the alarmists, we pointed out the flaws in it or just shot it down. We’ve nearly always allowed them the first move but now I think the time is right for us to start seizing the initiative in areas of our own choosing.
In terms of finance and any support from the political, media or scientific establishment, we are still heavily disadvantaged but the public opinion numbers are slowly turning our way. We are in the same situation as those Saxon tribes facing the might of Rome, but by using similar tactics, I believe we can dish out the equivalent of more than a few Teutoburgs to the alarmists.
Working together, we can accomplish more. One way or another, we all can get in touch with each other and talk through some options. Think about it in your quiet moments. We in the developed world are the lucky ones, who enjoy the privilege of voicing our concerns. There are people out there with no voice, suffering because of bad policies and nobody will ever know they existed or note their passing. Their names will be gone and their graves will be unmarked and while the wind of history may perhaps cry Mary, it’ll blow over their graves without ever recording or knowing their names – but we’ll know they lived.
We owe them our best shot.
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