Origin and Features of the Guerrilla Warfare

Purpose

The purpose of this briefing note is to present information on the nature and characteristics of guerilla warfare. The briefing note will specifically focus on:

Definition of Guerilla Warfare

  1. Definition of Guerilla Warfare
  2. History of guerilla warfare
  3. Formation of Guerilla Units
  4. Organization of Guerilla Warfare
  5. Can Victory be attained by Guerrilla Operations?

The origin of guerilla warfare can be traced back to the era of Napoleon Wars in the 18th century. Aaron Young defines guerilla warfare as a combative technique adopted by a tactically weaker side in various places, times, and forms. In other words, guerilla warfare is typically preferred by small bands of irregular fighters to wage war against a strategically superior army to deflate the latter’s dominion over disputed territory.1 Thus, guerilla warfare is a preferred mode of operation by a military weaker nation against a technically superior aggressive nation. For example, when the aggressor invades and occupies the territory of a weaker country, the latter may take advantage of the knowledge of its climate, terrain, and society to wage unconventional war against the former. In a nutshell, guerilla warfare exhibits unique characteristics in terms of method of application and development. These fundamental characteristics, key to successful guerilla warfare, are summarized as follows:

  1. Provoking and uniting the masses
  2. Attaining internal political unity
  3. Creating operational bases
  4. Arming forces
  5. Weakening aggressor’s military power
  6. Reclaiming lost territories

Thus, successful guerilla warfare must be crafted along with a political goal that is in line with the aspirations of the masses. This will make it easier to gain their support, co-operation, and sympathy. Any successful guerilla warfare should be well organized. Both military and political leadership are essential ingredients in all guerilla units. These leaders should be selected from both the civilian and military wings and must exhibit undivided loyalty and devotion towards the military goal.2 In a nutshell, guerilla warfare is a strategic instrument employed by masses in an organized manner to inflict defeat on the aggressor and reclaim the lost territory.

History of guerilla warfare

The origin of guerilla warfare is not entirely attributed to China since it has featured prominently in many wars fought across the world by all manners of people against their aggressors.3 For instance, Russia was forced to form guerilla units when it was attacked by a powerful military army led by Napoleon in 1812. The Russian guerilla units, comprising peasants and a regular army, decimated the once-powerful Napoleon army, taking many hostages and capturing military hardware. Although Russia was a poorly organized and corrupt country with limited experience in guerilla warfare, it succeeded in decimating a powerful army led by a renowned military soldier in Europe.

A similar scenario was witnessed in China in the early 20th century. During this period, the Chinese Red Army adopted a guerilla warfare strategy effectively against the Japanese despite their limited military capacity. The Red army adopted a positive policy that combined both military tactics and political affairs. The guerilla bands developed into fully trained regular armies that transcended numerous challenges during the anti-Japanese war. There are positive lessons that can be gained from China’s unconventional military strategies against the Japanese. Key among them is that effective guerilla warfare principally stems from an influential political class that is devoted to bringing about the internal union. A successful leader must conceptualize the right policy that is acceptable to the people and adopted against the aggressor.4

Formation of Guerilla Units

There are various ways to form guerilla units5. For example, it can be formed from ordinary civilians. Leaders in the society may summon the people to raise arms against oppression by the enemy. In this case, the most courageous members of the society are gathered and armed with all manners of weapons resulting in the formation of a guerilla unit. In areas where there is a leadership vacuum, it is usually the responsibility of educators, professors, teachers and students to assume the leadership role and organize guerilla units to wage war against the enemy. A guerilla unit can also be formed from a military unit that is provisionally detached to engage in guerilla warfare. For instance, a regular force can be separated from brigades or the army temporarily to engage in guerilla operations. A case in point is the Chinese Eight Route Army which was formed to coordinate guerilla operations. A guerilla unit can also be formed when local guerilla units merge with regular military detachments. This happens when the regular military force, assigns a company or squad to the local guerilla unit. Finally, home guards, police, and local militia can join to form guerilla units which are now common in North China province.

Organization of Guerilla Warfare

The organization of guerilla activities entails not only specific units but also the entire guerilla operations.6 For instance, a guerilla organization based in an area under the enemy’s control can be segmented into several battalions with each assigned to a particular region of the enemy’s territory. Political and military leaders are then appointed to oversee operations in each military region. Further, medical staff, supply officers, and aides are assigned to each military base. The entire staff reports to the chief of staff who performs his duties under the orders of the commander. A political chairman is also appointed at the political headquarters to oversee units of propaganda organizations and miscellaneous matters.

The military regions are further split into smaller localities based on the state of guerilla development, local geography, and the situation of the enemy in the area. A military leader and some political representatives are appointed in each of these localities to oversee operations. To ensure smooth operations of the entire guerilla outfit, a committee comprising of about eight members is usually formed to oversee different guerilla troops and harmonize political affairs and military operations in each region. The committee, which comprises members chosen by local political leaders and military personnel, organizes forums for deliberating on the political and military matters of the unit. In addition, the locals in each area usually form two groups. One of the groups is a combat unit while the other is a self-defense entity with partial military experience. The regular military unit usually collaborates with local units to gain information about the enemy, local terrain and employ their military strength.7 On the other hand, the self-defense units are specifically formed to instill political and military knowledge to the locals as well as support the regular military regiments.

Can Victory Be Attained By Guerrilla Operations?

Several issues need to be considered to answer the question above. First, China is an economically, militarily and politically underdeveloped country. In addition, it is characterized by a complicated terrain, massive resources, high population and poor communication infrastructure. Therefore, guerilla warfare is an ideal military operation under these conditions.8 The formation of numerous Chinese bases behind the Japanese line will compel the enemy to wage simultaneous wars in many areas thus depleting his resources. China has a large but disorganized population, a major weakness that must be addressed immediately. Consequently, there is the need to unite the nation and pursue the strategy of resistance to defeat the Japanese murderous and voracious policy of wiping out the Chinese. These efforts should be channeled toward waging war against the Japanese to reclaim the territory occupied by the enemy.

Conclusion

As noted above, guerilla warfare is a combative technique adopted by a tactically weaker side in various places, times, and forms. In other words, guerilla warfare is typically preferred by small bands of irregular fighters to wage war against a strategically superior army to deflate the latter’s dominion over disputed territory. Successful guerilla warfare must be crafted along with political and military goals that are in tandem with the aspirations of the masses. This will make it easier to gain their support, co-operation, and sympathy. Any successful guerilla warfare should be well organized. Both military and political leadership are essential ingredients in all guerilla units. Guerilla units can be formed from various sources. These include local militias, police, and detachment from regular military units. Finally, a successful guerilla operation depends on the internal organization, national policy and support from the local people.

Bibliography

Aaron Young, “Insurgency, Guerilla Warfare and Terrorism: Conflict and its Application for the Future,” Global Security Studies 2 no. 4 (2011): 68-76.

Guevara Ellis, Guerilla Warfare. USA: BN Publishing, 2007.

Martin Walker, “Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present,” The Wilson Quarterly (2013): 1-6.

Polk, William. Violent Politics: A History of Insurgency, Terrorism & Guerilla War, From the American Revolution to Iraq. New York: Harper Perennial, 2008.

Kuperman, Alan. “The moral hazard of humanitarian intervention: Lessons from the Balkans.” International Studies Quarterly 52, no. 1 (2008): 49-80.

Wheeler, Scott. “It pays to be popular: A study of civilian assistance and guerilla warfare.” Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 8, no. 4 (2005).

Footnotes

  1. Aaron Young, “Insurgency, Guerilla Warfare and Terrorism: Conflict and its Application for the Future,” Global Security Studies 2 no. 4 (2011): 68.
  2. Martin Walker, “Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present,” The Wilson Quarterly (2013): 1.
  3. Guevara Ellis, Guerilla Warfare (USA: BN Publishing, 2007), 5.
  4. Polk William, Violent Politics: A History of Insurgency, Terrorism & Guerilla War, From the American Revolution to Iraq. (New York: Harper Perennial, 2008), 2.
  5. Walker, 2.
  6. Kuperman Alan, “The Moral Hazard of Humanitarian Intervention: Lessons from the Balkans.” International Studies Quarterly 52 (2009): 49.
  7. Aaron, 1.
  8. Wheeler, Scott. “It pays to be popular: A study of civilian assistance and guerilla warfare.” Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 8, no. 4 (2005): 1.