Home Forums Modern Rules of thumb in combat Reply To: Rules of thumb in combat

John D Salt

We seem to have wandered off the topic of rules of thumb on to the question of behaviour under extreme stress — also an interesting topic, but I’ll make a separate post it. Returning to the original topic:

Rules of thumb I took to mean rough and general numerical performance estimates or norms, whereas Just Jack has put more emphasis on things to do when it’s not otherwise clear what you should be doing (arguably closer to what the OP was asking for).

More numerical rules of thumb, which I didn’t call to mind last time:

For casualty production, an MG is worth nine rifles, and an 81mm mortar is worth 3 MGs [Dave Rowland]
A platoon is typically about a quarter “gutful men” who will go anywhere and do anything, a quarter who will make themselves scarce as soon as the fighting starts, and a half “sheep” who will follow the example of others [Lionel Wigram]
An infantry platoon carries only enough ammunition for about five minutes of rapid fire

The suppressive effect of artillery shell bursts is felt about 40% further than the casualty-inflicting effect [“War on the Mind”, Peter Watson]

An anti-tank gun will on average account for two enemy tanks until it is itself destroyed [WW2, Biryukov and Melnikov]

Defensive minefields should be laid with sufficient density to achieve 70% field stopping power
An obstacle loses at least half its value if not covered by fire
A wet gap crossing requires at least two crossing points, each with at least two bridging vehicles [British Army]

Some “what to do” rules of thumb I’ve met:

In the attack, keep close enough to your own artillery fire that 10% of your casualties are from that cause [French Army, WW1]
“Don’t put everything in the shop window” [21st Army Group]

Always keep an all-round defence [British Army, at least since “The Defence of Duffer’s Drift”]

In mobile operations, up to a third of the force can be devoted to the counter-recce battle [Red Army]
“Hold ’em by the nose and kick ’em in the pants” [George Patton], or, equivalently, “Pincers and bags make the Fascists squeal” [Red Army WW2]
The side that wins an encounter battle is the first to smother the other with fire [Erwin Rommel]
The side that wins a meeting engagement is the first to bring its artillery into action [Red Army]

Battalion mortars should be centralised in attack, decentralised in defence
Always keep an anti-tank reserve of 10% of A/Tk weapons under the hand of the senior commander [Red Army]
Shoot people, and especially tanks, from the flanks
“One slow, four quick”: Slow preparation, quick advance, quick attack, quick reorganization, quick withdrawal [PAVN]

Some rules of thumb seem subject to the vagaries of fashion:

If ambushed at close range, assault directly into the ambush without waiting for orders [British Army, sometimes]
If ambushed at close range, throw smoke and move out of the kill zone by fire and movement [British Army, some other times]

Under air attack, all arms should enagage the attacking aircraft with all available weapons [British Army, sometimes]
Under air attack, only specialist air defence troops should engage attacking aircraft [British Army, some other times]

It occurs to me that if there are rules of good things to do, there are also rules of bad things to do, or good things not to do. We might call these “rules of hammer on thumb”.

Some “what not to do” rules of thumb:

“I must do something; this is something; therefore I must do it”
“Order, counter-order, disorder”
Don’t take obvious cover (see Monty Python’s “How not to be seen”)
Don’t run away — reinforced by a particularly robust WW1 French rule to shoot runaways, because “The example of the runaway is infectious, the example of the wounded is not” [“Les Leçons du Fantassin”, André Laffargue]

All the best,