Guerrilla warfare is a term that refers to irregular warfare in which a small group of combatants like armed irregulars or civilians use military tactics such as sabotage, petty warfare, mobility, ambushes and raids to fight a less mobile and larger traditional military.
In Spanish, the term means ‘little war’ and has been used since the 18th century for purposes of describing the concept. There are also indications that the term was used before the 18th century. It stemmed from campaigns carried out by Duke of Wellington during the 1808 to1814 Peninsular War in which Portuguese and Spanish guerrilleros helped drive the French from Iberian Peninsula.
Practitioners of guerrilla warfare over the centuries have been referred to as irregulars, partisans, mercenaries and rebels. Commanders of the military forces who are frustrated have damned them consistently as savages, brigands, bandits, barbarians, outlaws and terrorists.
Henri baron de Jomini, the French military writer (1779-1869) classified operations carried out by guerrilla fighters as ‘national war’. Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), the Prussian theorist and general reluctantly admitted the existence of guerrilla fighters by picturing them as some ‘kind of nebulous vapoury essence’.
Writers in later years referred to their operations as ‘small wars’. The popularity of the term increased during the Peninsula War when Spanish people rose against Napoleonic troops fighting against an army that was far superior through use of guerrilla strategy.
In English, the term ‘guerrilla’ was in use as early as 1809 and it was used to describe fighters or to denote a band or group of such fighters. In most languages though, the term is used to denote the same thing which is a specific warfare style.
The tactics and strategy used in guerrilla warfare tends to focus around use of small, mobile forces that compete against larger, unwieldy forces. Guerrilla focus is on organization of small units depending on the local population and the support it offers. It also involves taking advantage of the terrain available in order to accommodate smaller units.
Tactically, this kind of army avoids confrontation with enemy troops that have large units and seek to eliminate smaller groups of soldiers in order to minimize losses and at the same time exhaust opposing forces. They don’t limit their targets to personnel as enemy resources are preferred targets as well. This makes it possible for them to weaken the strength of the enemy making sure the enemy is unable to prosecute the war thus forcing them to withdraw.
Often it is misunderstood that this kind of warfare involves disguising as civilians in order to ensure enemy troops cannot tell friends from foes. However this is not the case as this kind of warfare can take place anywhere there are locations for combatants to cover themselves.
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