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Posted on Mar 12, 2013 in Tactics101, War College

Tactics 101 082 – Infiltraton in History and Practice

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland

Infiltration in History and Practice

“When you’re on the march, act the way you would if you was sneaking up on a deer.
See the enemy first.”

– Major Rogers standing orders for his Rangers in 1759

In our last article, we focused our discussion on the assembly area.  Before reading the article, many probably thought this is a pretty rudimentary operation.  However, we hope after completing the article you realized that assembly area procedures are very complex.  In our discussion, we addressed the following areas: 1) The selection of an assembly area. 2) Actions of the quartering party.  3) The maneuvering from the release point to the assembly area. 4) Occupying the assembly area. and  5) Maneuvering out of the assembly area.


This month we will key on one of the forms of maneuver – the infiltration.  In earlier articles, we have highlighted the infiltration, but not in any great detail.  This article will provide the detail.  As our title suggests, we will delve into the history of the infiltration and then discuss the doctrine of infiltration.  Let’s move out (quietly)!


Infiltration is a form of maneuver in which combat elements execute an undetected movement into and through enemy occupied territory in order to occupy terrain or conduct an attack of a position in the enemy’s rear area.  Infiltration involves the stealthy movement of principally small, lightly equipped, infantry forces through and into enemy rear areas.  The infiltrating force uses stealth to slip through front line positions in order to attack lightly defended support activities such as command and control, artillery, logistics, and transportation.   This isolates front line enemy forces for attack by more heavily equipped follow-on forces. An infiltration can also be focused in other areas which we will highlight shortly.  It is a maneuver that can be conducted via land, sea, or air (and any combination).

** For the purposes of this article, we will focus on infiltration on land.  In future articles, we will address the intricacies of infiltration via sea and air.

Infiltration has been a part of military operations since the dawn of time, but it became a form of maneuver during World War I when the old fashioned, tried and true, frontal attack became a pointless meat-grinder in the face of trenches and machine guns.

World War I.   The riddle(s) of the trenches, machine guns, and armies too big on fronts too long with no open flanks should have been foreseen by any astute historian paying attention to military affairs.  The tale begins with the Siege of Petersburg 1864 – 1865; the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and the Defense of Mukden in 1905.  All three saw massed armies, entrenchments, and rapid fire weapons.  In 1898, Jan Bloch, a Polish banker and student of modern industrial warfare wrote Is War Now Impossible? to address the increasingly lethal battlefield.  He concluded that:

  • New technology like smokeless powder, rifling, and machineguns had made open ground maneuver obsolete.
  • Conflict would devolve into war of entrenchment.
  • Warring parties would be forced into stalemate.
  • Armies would number in the millions rather than the historic norm of tens of thousands.
  • The front would be enormous.
  • War would be predicated on industrial might becoming a matter of attrition.
  • War would cause economic and social crises triggering disease, famine, and revolution.


 Not a bad prediction of things to come sixteen years later; Bloch looked like a genius.  What he missed is that there’s always a solution given time and ingenuity in the face to war.  Infiltration began to emerge as a solution in 1916 during the Russian led Brusilov Offensive.  In 1917, came the British Battle of Arras and the German Siege of Riga and Battle of Caporetto.  The real breakthrough emerged later in 1917, on the Eastern front, under the dynamic duo of Hindenburg and Ludendorf.

In 1915, a French Army Captain, Andre Laffargue, became the first to introduce infiltration tactics in a pamphlet titled The Attack in Trench Warfare.  The booklet was based on his experiences in trenches and they advocated that the first wave of an attack find, but not attack strongpoints, leaving them for following waves.  The French published Laffargue’s pamphlet, but ignored it. The British did not even translate it.  The Germans however, translated and issued it in 1916 to augment tactics already being developed.  The new German tactics required new formations of specially trained and equipped troops known as storm troopers.   The new tactics became known as Hutier tactics, named after General Oskar von Hutier who made them famous during OPERATION MICHAEL in 1918.  Infiltration now possessed doctrine and doctrine that had been executed in combat.

General Oskar von Hutier

 In Hutier Tactics, infiltration attacks began with brief and violent artillery preparation of the enemy front lines in place of the traditional week’s long barrage.  The new artillery purpose was to suppress enemy positions rather than destroy them.  The new artillery preparation would shift to the enemy rear area to disrupt lines of communications, artillery, logistics, and command and control nodes.  The goal was disruption at the critical moment.  The resulting confusion would degrade the enemy’s ability to launch credible counterattacks, concentrate fires, and shift units to fill gaps or block penetrations.

Light infantry led infiltration attacks.  They would evade and bypass frontline fortified positions, thus identifying gaps in the front line.  The infiltrating light infantry units would “pull” the larger, more heavily equipped, units through.  More heavily armed units would follow and attack the bypassed and isolated enemy strong points.  Other follow on forces would enter the gaps to reduce the strongpoints and precipitate the collapse of the entire front.  These infiltration attacks relied on surprise and speed.

1918 WW I Germans create Storm-troop units and infiltration tactics

Organization:  Divisional and Regimental assets pushed to squad and platoon
Command:  From command push to recon pull
Training:  Storm-troop training
Outcome:  Broke the stalemate

Storm-troopers were special troops formed in the last year of World War I.  They employed the “infiltration tactics”.  Pre-1918 attacks began with an artillery barrage followed by massed infantry assault. The new strategy employed new phases:

Began with a short concentrated artillery bombardment to neutralize front lines not destroy them.
Storm-troops infiltrate under a creeping barrage, avoiding combat whenever possible, destroying or capturing enemy headquarters and artillery positions.
Regular units followed on narrow fronts, attacking bypassed strongpoints and clearing resistance.

The new tactics were to; achieve tactical surprise, focus at weak points, bypass strongpoints, and abandon operations controlled from afar.  Junior leaders exercised on the spot initiative.  This was the key to the success of infiltration tactics—small unit leaders were expected to lead autonomously rather than be led.


There are numerous reasons why you may want to conduct an infiltration.  Below are a few:

  • Direct attack against lightly defended positions.
  • Enveloping attack from the flank or rear against strongly defended positions.
  • Secure key terrain in support of follow-on operations.
  • Disrupt or harass enemy preparations and/or operations.
  • Reposition forces around planned engagement areas or posture for future operations.
  • Reposition to attack key facilities or enemy forces from the flank or rear.
  • Recon known or suspected enemy positions.
  • Conduct surveillance on critical locations.
  • Covertly breach obstacles.

Planning an infiltration is really no different than preparing any other operation.  The key is understanding your strengths and weaknesses and those of your enemy.  With those known, you can determine how you can surprise your opponent and achieve the purpose and task you have been assigned.

In your planning, there are several key decisions you will make to execute the infiltration.  Let’s address them below:

Size of Force
You want to assign the smallest force possible to conduct an infiltration.  Obviously, the bigger the force; the more risk at being compromised.  In the end, you want a force that possesses the following:

  • Has trained together and has established command and control.
  • Is small enough to be stealthy.
  • Is large enough to get itself out of trouble.
  • Is the right size to achieve the purpose and task asked of it.

Infiltration Lanes
One of the key decisions to be made is how many infiltration lanes will be utilized by the force.  The choices afforded the commander are to use a single infiltration lane or to utilize multiple infiltration lanes.  The decision to be made is predicated on things such as the size of the force, the terrain available, what the mission is, and how much time is available to conduct the mission.  Let’s discuss the nuances of each:

Single Infiltration Lane –

  • Aids in command and control during maneuver.
  • Should facilitate easier navigation to the objective.
  • Reduces chances of being detected (smaller area of maneuver).
  • Only need one gap to maneuver through.
  • Increases time to maneuver through force.

Multiple Infiltration Lanes –

  • Tougher to command and control.
  • Harder to navigate (find multiple lanes).
  • Reduces the chances for the entire force to be compromised.
  • Increases the chances for a portion of the force to be compromised.
  • Need multiple gaps to maneuver through.
  • Decreases the time to maneuver through force.
  • Need to establish more contingency plans because in theory more things may not go as planned.

Rally Points
One of the things that must be planned thoroughly is establishing rally points throughout the execution of an infiltration.  In basic terms, a rally point is an easily identifiable (as much as possible) on the ground where a force can assemble/reassemble or reorganize if they become dispersed.

Below are some basics on rally points:

  • Used so forces can assemble and reorganize if dispersed during movement.
  • Can temporarily halt to reorganize and prepare prior to actions on the objective.
  • Force can temporarily halt to prepare for departure and reentry of friendly lines.
  • Rally points should be:

­—Large enough for the force to assemble in.
—Easily recognized on the ground.
—Have cover and concealment.
—Defensible for a short period of time.
—Away from normal routes of troop movement

Within the world of rally points, there are several varieties (all that can be utilized in an infiltration).  These are:

Initial Rally Point. An initial rally point is a place inside of friendly lines where a unit may assemble and reorganize if it makes enemy contact during the departure of friendly lines.  It can also be used if needed prior to the force reaching the first en route rally point

En Route Rally Point. The leader designates en route rally points based on the terrain, vegetation, and visibility.  There is no minimum or maximum number of en route rally points that you should plan for.  They are determined by the factors of METT-TC.

Objective Rally Point (ORP).  The objective rally point is a point out of sight, sound, and small-arms range of the objective area. It is normally located in the direction that the force plans to maneuver after completing its actions on the objective. The ORP is tentative until the objective is pinpointed.  An ORP can be used before or after conducting operations on the objective.  Actions at or from the ORP include:

­— Issuing any final orders.  In essence, staying on plan or executing a contingency.
— Disseminating information from reconnaissance if contact was not made.
— Making final preparations before continuing the mission.
— Accounting for Soldiers and equipment after actions at the objective are complete.
— Reestablishing the chain of command after actions at the objective are complete.

Reentry rally point. The reentry rally point is located out of sight, sound, and small-arms weapons range of the friendly unit through which the force will return. It should be located outside the final protective fires of the friendly unit and occupied as a security perimeter.

Near-and far-side rally points. These rally points are on the near and far side of danger areas. If the force makes contact while crossing the danger area and control is lost, Soldiers on either side move to the rally point nearest them. They establish security, reestablish the chain of command, determine their personnel and equipment status, and continue the mission.

Control Measures
As always, control measures are a necessity to execute any mission.  In an infiltration, at a minimum you will establish the following:

  • Designate the area of operations for the force.  This is their terrain.
  • As discussed, define infiltration lane or lanes.
  • Line of Departure for the force.
  • Maneuver (infiltration) route with a designated start and release point.  It is imperative the force utilizes this designated route.  Friendly forces must know where infiltration forces are on the ground.  If the force changes the route, this must communicated throughout.
  • All rally points (as discussed).
  • Assault position (if required).
  • The force’s objective (objectives).
  • Limit of advance for the infiltration force.
  • Checkpoints and phase lines as needed.

Considerations that must be Addressed
Within an infiltration, there are several specific considerations that must be addressed in planning to set the conditions for success.  These include:

  • Indirect fires must be planned to not only support accomplishing the mission, but to get the force out of trouble if required.  Because of the need for highly responsive fires; mortars are always an excellent weapon system.  Don’t forget air support – fixed and rotary.
  • In the area of logistics, casualty evacuation is the most critical.  The nature of the infiltration usually means that a resupply of classes of supply and ammunition will not be needed.  However, any casualties taken during an infiltration can be extremely challenging to evacuate.
  • If you have the resources and the time, deception can be effective in diverting the enemy’s attention from the infiltration objective (s).
  •  The communications plan must be wired tight.  This includes areas such as recognition signals and contingencies are addressed.
  • Determine an abort criteria if events on the ground do not go as planned.  These criteria must be understood by all and when the criteria are reached, the mission must be aborted. Abort may be necessary  because of any of the following:

­—Lost combat power.  This could be because of many reasons.  This include: enemy action, an accident, maintenance issues, navigation issues, etc…
—Change in enemy situation.
—Detected by enemy.
—Change in friendly situation making the infiltration no longer required.

  • Use the terrain to your advantage during your maneuver.  Utilize terrain that your enemy does not believe you will maneuver through.
  • Of course, conducting the mission in limited visibility will be an advantage to the force.  This is especially true if they possess an advantage in night vision technology.
  • As we always stress – plan for contingencies and the “what-ifs”.

An infiltration is no different than any other mission in regards to preparation.  In other words, you must make use of every single minute available for prep.  Key actions should include:

  • The infiltration force must conduct pre-combat checks to standard.  You must ensure every Soldier has the equipment/supplies/ammo required for the infiltration.  This is especially critical because the force will likely have only the “stuff” they can physically carry to conduct the mission.  There’s no going back to the vehicle to retrieve something you forgot.
  • Rehearsals are imperative in any mission.   An infiltration force must rehearse several key areas.  These include actions on contact and actions on the objective.
  • Reconnaissance must continue throughout planning and preparation.  While the force is preparing for the infiltration, assets must be dedicated to gather intelligence of the objective.  As always, if you are operating on old information; you will be executing a mission you have truly not planned for.
  • During the preparation phase, detailed coordination should be conducted between all units involved in the infiltration.  Information should be shared and the plan should be understood by all.


In relative terms, the execution of an infiltration seems pretty simple on paper.  You maneuver from one area to your objective, take care of business there, and then maneuver back to friendly lines.  Obviously, things are much more difficult on the ground.  Below we will discuss the key components of executing an infiltration. We will focus on an infiltration conducting on land.

  1. Maneuver out of the Assembly Area – Planning and prep are complete and execution begins.  As we discussed last month, maneuver out of the assembly area can be a challenge.  It must be conducted to standard to set the conditions for the infiltration.
  2. Initial Rally Point – Prior to maneuvering out of friendly territory, the force may make a brief halt at an initial rally point.  This is typically the case if it is limited visibility or there is some distance from the assembly area to the forward passage of lines.  If an initial rally point is utilized, a small force will move from the rally point to the area of the forward passage of lines.  The force will conduct final coordination and ensure the passage of lines is executed seamlessly.
  3. Forward Passage of Lines – Prior to departing friendly lines, the infiltration force will conduct a forward passage of lines through the forward line of troops.  The force should not stop at this area.  It should be a continuous maneuver by the force.  Once the passage is complete, the force will maneuver via the route they have planned.
  4. Enroute Rally Points – Within the route, the infiltration force will have designated some enroute rally points. They will be utilized if required.  This could be to rest the force, relay information, or even change parts of the plan.  Many times, the force will occupy an enroute rally point prior to maneuvering on the designated infiltration lanes.  This is especially true if the force will utilize multiple lanes.  This rally point simply provides the force an area to get things right prior to things ratcheting up.
  5. Maneuver on Infiltration lanes – Forces now maneuver through enemy positions to their objective/objectives.  Of course, stealthiness is crucial.  You do not want to compromise yourself this late in the game!
  6. Actions on the Objective – The specific actions on the objective will vary depending on the purpose and task.  Thus, these actions could range from conducting surveillance on the enemy or terrain to conducting a small scale attack of the enemy.
  7. Objective Rally Point (ORP) – Once the purpose and task have been accomplished, the force will begin exfiltration.  Key in this is the ORP.  Prior to rearward maneuver, the infiltration force will all link-up at the ORP.  Here the force, will conduct a quick consolidation and reorganization.  At the ORP, the force will mentally and physically prepare for maneuver.  This cannot be a long stay since you are right in the middle of enemy territory.  The potential for enemy contact in the ORP is always there.  This probably increases if the force has just conducted an attack. If the purpose and task was less lethal, then enemy contact may be less likely.
  8. Enroute Rally Points – The force departs the ORP and begins maneuver back to the assembly area.  Depending on the terrain, they may utilize the same routes as before or may maneuver on different routes.  Again, the force will identify enroute rally points to use if required.
  9. Reentry Rally Point – Prior to entering friendly lines, the force will occupy the reentry rally point.  Here, coordination will be conducted to execute the rearward passage of lines.  A small contingent from the infiltration force will move from the rally point to meet with friendly forces at the rearward passage.
  10. Rearward Passage of Lines – After coordination, the infiltration force maneuvers from the reentry rally point through the designated passage points.  Again, forces will not stop.  They should be met by their own Soldiers (who did not take part in the mission) if at all possible and escorted to the assembly area.
  11. Maneuver into the Assembly Area and Occupation – The maneuver and occupation of the assembly area should be similar to our discussion in our last article.  Two actions that we did not address in that article, but pertinent to the infiltration are the debrief and patrol order.  Let’s touch on each below.

Debrief.   The leader of the infiltration force should conduct a debrief with the entire force once they occupy the assembly area.  This can also be called a “hot-wash” or “after action review”.   The debrief enables the infiltration leader to gather information on the mission while memories are fresh and the information is still relevant and timely.  This could include information on the enemy, terrain or even what things went well and what things did not go so well.  The debrief will be of tremendous value for the infiltration leader as he prepares for the next action – the patrol report.

Patrol Report.   The patrol report is given by the infiltration leader to his immediate commander.   The report can be verbal or written depending on the situation and the unit standard operating procedures.  The commander may have the infiltration leader render his report to the intelligence officer or duty officer at the command post.  The report will include various information that the commander wants.  Below is an example of a patrol report.  Again, they are unit and commander dependent.


  • Keep your recognition signals simple.  It is likely they will be needed sometime during an infiltration (link-ups, passage of lines, etc.)  Just as importantly, make sure they are known by all.  This goes for challenge and passwords as well.
  • Make sure you possess equipment needed for obstacle breaching.
  • Rehearsals are imperative.   Soldiers must be confident in their knowledge of the plan and their ability to execute it.  This includes actions on contact, breaking contact, actions on the objective, and signals.
  • In maneuver to the objective, utilize terrain which masks you from the enemy.  The infiltration force should maneuver on terrain which the enemy wants no part of (swamps, thick woods, large inclines, etc…).  Rule of thumb— the worst ground is the best ground to conduct an infiltration.
  • Maneuver at night and in bad weather.  Best case – no illumination in a rain storm!
  • If you face a well-trained and equipped foe; you may have to be a little creative.  This can include deception and diversionary tactics.  Of course, this requires significant planning and preparation in itself.
  • Command and control is critical and challenging in an infiltration.  Leaders must be in locations to command and control.
  • When the plan goes awry; good units will rely on their training and standard operating procedures to succeed in their mission.
  • Develop control measures which facilitate executing the mission, conducting contingencies, or reacting to the unknown.
  • Have indirect fires immediately available.  Mortars are the most responsive.
  • Noise and light discipline are crucial.  Neglect in this area usually translates to compromise.

An infiltration can have a powerful impact on the battlefield.  It can rob the enemy of critical assets and can have a huge psychological effect as well.  In this article we focused in three areas.  First, we provided a brief history of the infiltration focusing particularly on World War I.  Second, we looked at the doctrinal aspects of the infiltration and critical aspects of the planning, preparation, and execution.  Finally, we touched on some of keys to success in conducting an infiltration.


1 Comment

  1. An excellent and wide ranging account.

    However it should be added that there is of course one very good reason to suspect inflitration tactics – as they involve fast moving, lightly armed soldiers penetrating what are by definition of infiltration, areas sufficiently heavily armed to justify non-frontal tactics. And therefore when things go wrong (as with the Rangers at Anzio in 1944) or even when they go right (as with the German attack on the British 5th Army in 1918) casualties may be so high as to discount any apparent success.

    Expanding on the 1918 case – that which is supposed to prove the success of Stoss/Hutier tactics – the losses among the storm troops proved to be very serious, especially as they represented men selected from most divisions in the German Army and concentrated in far fewer storm divisions. In some cases, especially as they moved ahead of artillery support against machine-gun and tank rearguards they even matched those of some British and Commonwealth divisions on the Somme.


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