MODERN BATTLES FOR URBAN TERRAIN
Urban warfare is as old as war itself. Since man began building villages, he has fought battles in and around them. Geography, politics, and economics dictate that cities will continue to be the objective of armies in warfare. From the armies that fought in Europe twice during the twentieth century, to the forces that fought in Korea and Vietnam, to our most recent battles in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, the basic principles of combat in built-up areas have essentially remained unchanged this century. However, the introduction of helicopters, fixed wing aircraft, armor, and precision guided munitions have altered some techniques of fighting within the city.
The study of modern urban battles shows clearly the relevance of the principles of war as found in FMFM 6, Ground Combat Operations. Analysis presents patterns of success and failure. Furthermore, it shows that urban fighting is more often than not an arena for imaginative improvisation, and provides insight to what successful urban fighting might require or might have to avoid.
The following 22 urban battles identify trends and dominant factors from which sound principles can be drawn:
Ban Me Thout
Beirut Port/Hotel (I)
Beirut 1982 (II)
Quang Tri City I
Quang Tri City II
A brief description is provided in order to understand the significance of each battle. Military casualties are provided when known. Civilian casualties are not provided, but of the battles listed are in the millions.
Stalingrad (1942-43): The tenacious Soviet defense of Stalingrad cost the attacking Germans dearly in every way and set up conditions for a decisive counteroffensive. This classic urban battle involved large forces and resulted in innovative urban combat techniques and creation of the highly successful Storm Groups (task-organized assault units). Length of battle: greater than 30 days. Casualties: 1,630,000 plus.
Ortona (1943): In this Italian twon, determined resistance by a battalion of the elite German 3rd Parachute Regiment against Canadian Army attackers demonstrated the difficulty of overcoming a well-prepared defense. The Canadians were unfamiliar at the time with urban combat and had to develop urban fighting techniques during the battle. After the town was largely destroyed and the defender had extracted a high cost in time and casualties to Canadian forces, the Germans withrew. Length of battle: 6-13 days. Casualties: estimated in the hundreds.
Aachen (1944): The battle for Aachen, Germany, in the fall of 1944, developed during the U.S. First Army's offensive to breach the Westwall fortifications and the vaunted Siegfried Line. Aachen, as the ancient capital of Charlemagne, had symbolic political and psychological significance to both the Germans and Americans. Furthermore, it was the first city on German soil to face an assault by the Allies. Thus, this first major battle on German soil ensured bitter resistance against the American attackers in subsequent battles. The German defenders surrendered only after the city was destroyed. Although the U.S. Army had achieved a clear tactical victory, the German defense of Aachen cost the U.S. Army valuable time and delayed the planned attack to the Rhine river. Length of battle: 14-30 days. Casualties: 8,000 plus.
Anhem (1944): On 17 September 1944, Operation Market-Garden, the largest airborne operations in history, was launched in the Netherlands. The plan was to land three airborne divisions to seize key bridges along a 100 kilometer-long corridor through which mechanized forces would pass as the first step in a decisive final offensive into Germany. The British 1st Airborne Division made a surprise landing near the Dutch city of Arnhem to seize a bridge over the Rhine for advancing British forces. An unexpected German armor force counterattacked and elminated all footholds, virtually destroying the British division before a linkup could occur. Length of battle: 6-13 days. Casualties: estimated in the thousands.
Cherbourg (1944): By 17 June 1944, U.S. forces advancing toward Cherbourg from the Normandy beachhead succeeded in cutting off defending German forces in the Cotentin Peninsula. Four German divisions withdrew to a perimeter surrounding Cherbourg. After much fighting, particularly in strong points outside the city, the German garrison surrendered to the Americans. However, the port facilities were destroyed, preventing planned early use by Allied forces during a critical period of time. Length of battle: 6-13 days. Casualties: estimated in the thousands.
Berlin (1945): The long, bloody Soviet offensive to seize the German capital city effectively concluded the last batttle of World War II in Europe. Bitter fighting occured, but the defense was never well coordinated due in part to poor preparation by the Germans. Length of battle: 14-30 days. Casualties: estimated in the thousands.
Manila (1945): Japanese Army troops evacuated Manila under pressure from advancing American forces, but the local Japanese naval commander independently decided to hold the city at all costs. Despite defending Manila with poorly trained and equipped personnel, a determined resistance resulted in a high number of casualties to attacking U.S. forces as well as the destruction of the city and much of its population. Length of battle: 14-30 days. Casualties: 22,000 plus.
Seoul (1950): Following the Inchon landing, U.S. and Republic of Korea (ROK) forces recaptured the South Korean capital from the North Koreans. The fighting was unusual in that the combat was largely centered on seizure of street barricades rahter than buildings. Length of battle: 6-13 days. Casualties: U.S. Marines 2,383, others unknown but estimated in the thousands.
Jerusalem (1967): Israeli forces seized Jerusalem in a well-prepared and executed operation. Despite an uncoordinated Jordanian defense, Israeli casualties in this battle were the highest encountred during the Six Day War. Regular Jordanian forces withdrew during the latter stages of the battle, effectively ending organized resistance. Length of battle: 48 hours to 5 days. Casualties: Israeli forces 400 plus, Jordanian forces estimated in the hundreds.
Hue (1968): On 31 January 1968, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Viet Cong (VC) forces launched their Tet Offensive at targets throughout South Vietnam. As part of this operation, two NVA/VC regiments and two sapper battalions conducted a surprise attack and seized part of the walled city (Citadel) of Hue. The NVA/VC held this part of The Citadel for about 3 weeks against determined U.S. and South Vietnamese attempts to retake it beforing succuming. The battle for Hue is considered to be one of the most intense and savage battles of the Vietnam conflict. Length of battle: 14-30 days. Casualties: U.S. Marines 433, others 5,000 plus.
Quang Tri City I and II (1972): An objective of the North Vietnamese winter-spring offensive was the capture of Quang Tri, the northernmost major city of South Vietnam. The NVA overwhelmed the Army, Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) defenders (I), but later the city was recaptured (II) by a smaller ARVN force, albeit with extensive artillery and air support. The large conventional forces involved on both sides make theese the major urban battles of the Vietnam conflict. Length of battle: Quang Tri I 6-13 days, Quang Tri II 30 days or greater. Casualties: battles combined 30,000 plus.
Suez City (1973): Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) atempted to seize this Egyptian city before the anticipated United Nations (UN) ceasefire to end the Yom Kippur War. IDF armored shock tactics led to disaster against a well-prepared Egyptian defense. High casualties forced the IDF to withdraw. Length of battle: less than 24 hours. Casualties: IDF estimated 100-500, others unkown.
Ban Me Thuot (1975): This South Vietnam highlands town was the first strategic city to fall in the final, decisive North Vietnamese general offensive. South Vietnamese forces were surprised and overwhelmed. The fall of Ban Me Thuot resulted in a rout that the North Vietnamese exploited to achieve total victory in Vietnam. Length of battle: 24-48 hours. Casualties: estimated in the hundreds.
Beirut I (1976): When the Lebanese civil war broke out in the spring of 1975, combat in the capital city of Beirut assumed a central role. The battle for Beirut I was a series of small, local operations between largely irregular Christian and Muslim forces fighting over control of the hotel and port districts. Combat was not decisive, but led to changes in the boundary, called the "Green Line," separating the antagonists and subsequent stagnation of the Lebanese conflict. Length of battle: greater than 30 days. Casualties: estimated in the hundreds.
Tel Zaatar (1976): Lebanese Christian attackers encircled and leisurely besieged this Palestinian camp before overcoming its defenders with a final assault. Length of battle: greater than 30 days. Casualties: estimated in the hundreds.
Ashrafiyeh (1978): The Syrian forces occupying portions of Lebanon faced a complex political situation in which the power of the Christian militia was seen as a clear threat to stability. In an attempt to weaken the Christians by an attack on their center of power, the Syrians laid seige to the Christian stronghold of East Beirut (Ashrafiyeh)> This urban battle was essentially an artillery bombardment without air attacks. Syria failed to break the will of the defenders and final positions remained unchanged. Length of batle: greater than 30 days. Casualties: estimated in the hundreds.
Khorramshahr (1980): Iranian regular forces initially evacuated this port city in the face of an Iraqi offensive. Irregular Iranian forces, however, continued to fight. They offered prolonged resistance and inflicted heavy casualties. Iraq eventually won this battle, but at a high cost in time and resources that ultimately served to halt the entire offensive against Iran. The battle for Khorramshahr was later referred to by both combatant forces as the "City of Blood.: Length of battle: 14-30 days. Casualties: Iraqi 3,000-9,000, Iranian estimated in the thousands.
Beirut II (1982): The siege of Beirut culminated the Israeli campaign to evict the palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) from Lebanon. Fighting under domestic and world political pressures, the IDF besieged the PLO, selectively applying heavy ground and air firepower in conjunction with pysychological warfare and limited-objective ground operations. The fighting resulted in a negotiated PLO evacuation from the city. Length of battle: greater than 30 days. Casualties: 2,300 plus.
Sidon (1982): Israeli forces easily seized this PLO southern headquarters during the invasion of Lebanon. The IDF was fully prepared for major urban combat using lessons learned from earlier battles, but resistance was unexpectedly light as PLO forces had largely withdrawn from the city. Length of battle: 48 hours to 5 days. Casualties: unkown.
Tyre (1982): The Israeli attack on the PLO in this Lebanese coastal city was well- planned and with excellent intelligence on the target. All branches of the IDF participated in an operation that included naval fire support and amphibious landings. PLO resistance was uncoordinated and relatively easily overcome. Length of battle: 48 hours to 5 days. Casualties: IDF 120 plus, others unknown.
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