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Posted on Jan 9, 2008 in Front Page Features, Tactics101

Tactics 101: 023 – Defense of a Built Up Area

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland

“…Get close to the enemy’s positions: move on all fours, making use of craters and ruins: dig your trenches by night, camouflage them by day; make your build-up for the attack stealthy, without any noise; carry your Tommy Gun on your shoulder; take ten to twelve grenades. Timing and surprise will then be on your side. …Two of you get into the house together – you, and a grenade; both be lightly dressed – you without a knapsack, and the grenade bare; go in grenade first, you after; go through the whole house, again always with a grenade first and you after…There is one strict rule now – give yourself elbow room! At every step danger lurks. No matter – a grenade, then on again! Another room – another grenade! A turning – another grenade! Rake it with your Tommy Gun! And get a move on! …Inside the Object of attack, the enemy may go over to a counterattack. Don’t be afraid! You have already taken the initiative; it is in your hands. Act more ruthlessly with you grenade, your Tommy Gun, your dagger, your spade! Fighting inside a building is always frantic. So, Always be prepared for the unexpected. Look Sharp!…”


Gen Chuikov, Cdr, 62d Army, Stalingrad, September 1942

Chuikov’s description of attacking in the city, delivered over six decades ago, remains remarkably accurate today. How can that be? Because city fighting is primal. The urban terrain is a great equalizer and in many ways inhibits all but the most basic warfighting tactics, techniques, and procedures. City fighting brings the combatants together, up close and personal. It minimizes the advantages of technology and forces combatants into brutal, close in, killing. War is about killing and military operations on urban terrain (MOUT) is particularly bloody. There are no MOUT ‘silver bullets’. It takes men going toe to toe to settle the dispute.

The US hasn’t fought a truly large scale MOUT defense since the 101st held Bastogne during the Bulge earning the nickname ‘the battling bastards of Bastogne’. In the post WWII era we have been mostly on the offense in cities; Seoul, Hue, the Thunder Runs of Baghdad, and the two Fallujah fights for example. That is not to say that there haven’t been urban defenses such as the Marines in Khafji or the Rangers in Mogadishu. Both were hasty and both exploited the urban environment against superior numbers. Both were also tactical victories. This article discusses how they did it.


Bloodshed in street fighting is a common component of conventional and irregular war. Cities are where people live and trade. They are a visible display of wealth and power. Fights there are intense and consuming. They mitigate the strengths of large armies, minimize the impact of technology, and take away weapons stand off. Urban battles decrease operational tempo and increase logistics consumption. It puts our troops in close proximity with civilians, which is unpleasant. MOUT allows weaker opponents to ‘grab the stronger opponent by the belt’ and hug him. MOUT can demand up to triple the combat power normally used in a given mission. The MOUT battlefield is a complex three-dimensional challenge. The enemy is on the rooftops and at ground level. They are in the sewers and basements and engagement areas are small and intense. Recon is difficult and terrain analysis is nearly useless. Welcome to the city!

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