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Posted on Jul 8, 2007 in Front Page Features, Tactics101

Tactics 101: 017 – Breaching Operations

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland


As we all know, nothing goes as planned! However, if it did, a successfully executed breach would look something like this:

1. A lead element (preferably your scouts) locates the obstacle. If it is an obstacle not already known; you are likely executing an in-stride breach. If it was already known, then the unit is likely conducting a deliberate breach. This lead element will provide as much intelligence as possible to assist in executing the breach. This lead element will also look for a possible bypass route of the obstacle. (We will discuss bypass later in the article).

2. Once the commander decides a breach is required, the support force moves into locations (normally support by fire positions) overwatching the breach site.


3. The assault force moves to a covered and concealed position in anticipation of its task. The assault may also assist the support force in overwatch if they are needed.

4. Smoke begins building between breach site and the enemy. This is normally started with field artillery generated smoke. It is controlled by the support force.

5. Artillery begins suppressing enemy on far side of obstacle. This is again controlled by the support force.

6. Smoke is maintained through the use of mortar generated smoke if needed.

7. Breach force moves to the breach location.

8. Breach force begins reducing obstacle and preparing the required number of lanes for the assault force to move through the obstacle. If the breach force has the available assets and the time, they will proof the lanes. This will ensure they are free of mines.

9. As lanes are breached, the breach force marks the lane to assist the assault force in moving through them.

10. If wind direction is right, the breach force will emplace smoke pots at the far side of the breach to aid in concealing the assault force movement through the breach lanes.

11. The support force shifts direct fires away from the far side of the obstacle as the assault force is ordered to move. This is critical to ensure there are no friendly fire incidents.

12. Indirect fires are shifted away from the far side of obstacle as the assault force is ordered to move. Again, a critical task.

13. The assault force moves through designated lanes to objectives on the far side of the obstacle. Once these objectives are seized, the support force, breach force, and remaining elements pass through the lanes.

14. Unit continues mission to accomplish its’ mission.

Looking at it graphically


Throughout our series, we have emphasized the necessity to conduct all operations in a combined arms manner. Certainly, breaching operations are no different. Below we will provide some keys on how your battlefield operating systems can assist in making a breach successful.

Intelligence – It goes without saying how vital intelligence is during a breaching operation. Below are some key intelligence requirements your assets should obtain to assist in planning and executing a breach:

* Obstacle locations and the orientation of the obstacles

* Location and types of enemy weapon systems covering the obstacles

* Gaps within the obstacle system bypasses around the obstacle system

* If mines are used – types (anti-personnel, anti-tank, etc.), depth, anti-handling devices

* Soil condition around mines (determines if mine clearing blades can be used)

* Is wire used?

* Tank ditches? Depth and width

* Gaps between obstacles in an obstacle system

As in any intelligence requirement: if it is important to know use redundant assets to gather the information


* Have attack helicopters prepared to disrupt enemy counterattacks.

* Just as in every operation, have a reserve ready to assist in accomplishing the operation.

* Ensure all units have graphics of the operation and understand the breaching plan. This can be an extremely chaotic operation, which can lead to tragic fratricides.

Air Defense

* Ensure air defense assets cover breach site and the far side of the obstacles. These are prime locations for enemy air attacks.

Fire Support

* Use indirect fires to isolate the breach site and assist in ensuring the enemy does not adversely effect the breaching operation.

* Use CAS to disrupt any potential enemy counterattacks during breaching operations.

* Plan for artillery and mortar delivered smoke to assist in obscuration. Place smoke between the breach site and the enemy. Putting smoke right on the breach side only adds to the confusion.

* Must continually adjust indirect and smoke support based on actions by the maneuver forces. Do not lift fires too early on the far side of the objective. This may enable the enemy to focus his fires on the assault force once it reaches the far side.


* Utilize scatterable mines to prevent enemy repositioning and disrupt counterattacks.

Combat Service Support

* Have resupply of ammunition available to units who use much of theirs during the breach. This is especially true for the support force, who may be required to use much of theirs supporting the breach.

* Resupply of field artillery and mortar smoke may be necessary.

* Transportation may be required to transport some breaching assets.

Command and Control

* Some one must be in charge at the breach site to orchestrate operations. So who’s in charge? At the breach site it is recommended that the senior engineer is it. A good unit will also designate support and assault force commanders.


One of the most difficult parts of the entire breaching process is deciding what to do once you encounter an obstacle. The one thing a commander can not do is freeze up at the obstacle. The choices are fairly cut and dried. You will either breach the obstacle or you will bypass it. We have talked extensively about the breach. Now let’s briefly discuss the bypass. When a unit executes a bypass, it begins moving on a route that avoids the obstacle. Certainly, bypassing the obstacle will assist the unit in continuing the momentum of the attack. After all, you are not conducting the physical task of breaching the obstacle. The commander must ensure that the act of bypassing the obstacle does not become more hazardous to his unit than conducting the breach itself. Devious commanders in the past have laid in wait at the bypass route and quickly defeated their opponent. The obstacle was simply used to mentally guide the opponent into the bypass kill sack

So how does a commander make the right call? This is truly art of command stuff! The key is obviously in reconnaissance. The commander must get an accurate read on information such as the limits of the obstacle and the physical aspects of the bypass route, including location, availability of cover and concealment, and key terrain influencing the route. He then gathers this info and uses his experience and knowledge of his opponent to make a decision – a timely decision! The commander, who can not make a decision, soon finds that enemy indirect and direct fires will soon force him to make a decision. Unfortunately, at this time it will be a decision he will necessarily like.


1. Breaching an obstacle is not an ends in itself. It is a means to an end.
2. The fundamentals of breaching are fairly basic. However, executing them successfully can be very difficult.
3. Task organization of your assets is critical. You need the right stuff at the right time to set the conditions for success.
4. Reverse plan to ensure you are setting the conditions to achieve your ultimate objective.
5. Expect the unexpected. Chaos is normally the order of the day during a breach.
6. Bypass or breach? Make a timely decision!


We will continue on our obstacle theme, only next month it will be of the water type. Next month – River Crossing Operations.

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1 Comment

  1. Hello!!!! I am First Lieutenant Christian Mondine of Argentine Marines. I am in a military school and I need your help. you know same historical example of breaching operations in recent conflict or from the past because i am making a work Classroom. Thank you very much.