Saturday, May 28, 2011

Military Terms Part I

This entry is inspired by a good friend of mine after he left a comment on one of the facebook entries: "Hull down!  Defilade! Enfilade! Flank!  Grazing fire?  Why don't we just shoot right at them?"  Well, Brian, this ones for you!  And a warning, although this is inspired by his entry, he knows his stuff and is a heck of an opponent (who I don't get to play often enough.  When you going to make it to Co, Buddy?).

There are many words or phrases used to describe the types of fire available.  There are many terms used to describe various common military positions.  Knowing these terms allows a quick description of a complex situation.

Enfilade is the French word meaning "to skewer".  In military parlance, enfilade is when a unit receives fire along its longest axis.  Another way to visualize it is to imagine a line of troops standing shoulder to shoulder and the firer is firing along the line of solders so one bullet could travel in a straight line and hit multiple soldiers.
Blue is in Enfilade from the Green Tank

So, Enfilade Fire is simply 'Flanking Fire'?  No, flanking fire means attacking just from the side of a unit.  In Napoleonic times, soldiers would marching in long columns.  If, while marching in column, they suddenly came under fire from the front the unit is in enfilade, but they are not flanked.

Proper grammatical use of Enfilade is almost backwards thinking for English speakers, but critical to understand.  Enfilade is used to describe the position the enemy is in, not the firing unit.  Adding to the confusion of the use of the word is a position is only in enfilade when it is fired on, thus, some unit must be providing the 'enfilading fire'. Thus, in the diagram above, the blue troops are in enfilade by the green tank which is providing enfilading fire.

Defilade is another French term meaning "to scroll".  A unit is 'in defilade' if it uses natural terrain to shield or conceal its location.  

In modern terms, defilade is also used to describe a position where a unit uses a natural depression, or the reverse slope of a hill, to reduce its exposure.  For tanks, this is the same as 'hull down' or 'turret down'.  Unlike enfilade, a unit does not have to be under fire to be 'in defilade'.  Units may move along the backside of a ridge to remain in defilade.

Three tank positions: Upper is "Exposed".
Middle is "Hull down" and the tank's main body is 'in defilade'.
Lowest position has the entire tank 'in defilade'.
Suppressive Fire
Suppressive fire is the concept of reducing the enemy units ability to return fire by shooting in their general direction.  NATO has a more definite term, including creating distractions, which reduce the enemies ability to complete its fire objectives.  Simply put, this means creating enough distractions to keep the enemy busy.  Typically, a unit only remains suppressed for as long as the suppressive fire is maintained.

British forces used the term 'neutralized' with the same meaning as 'suppressed'. NATO defines neutralized as the unit being reduced to ineffectiveness over a longer time period. 

Suppressive fire is a critical piece of modern military doctrine.  For me, suppressive fire differs from 'pinning fire', in that it limits the ability of the unit to return fire, but the unit may retain the ability to move.

Pinning Fire
Pinning fire is bringing enough firepower to an area to limit the units ability to move from its current position.  Usually, a pinned unit is also suppressed, unable to return fire.  Pinning units is critical for holding the unit in place while other units move into position to finish the unit off.  A unit unable to move because of enemy fire is said to be 'pinned'.

Overwatch is related to the above to items.  Basically, it describes when some unit supports another unit by being available to provide suppressive fire or pinning fire while the supported unit moves into position.  This is similar to the artillery "leapfrog" tactic, except that artillery provides supporting fire to other units, not to each other. 

Bounding Overwatch 
Bounding overwatch is the official name for 'leapfrogging'.  Part of the unit stops and fires while the rest of the unit moves.  Bounding Overwatch is used mostly in infantry and close terrain (forests, cities, etc.) in modern warfare.  In WWII, tanks often used bounding overwatch since the ability to fire on the move was unlikely to produce any results.  Prior to WWII, the concept was known, but not practical to implement since communications and coordination of units was difficult prior to the introduction of radio.
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