The foregoing parody of the Three Little Pigs, who respectively built their houses of straw, sticks, and bricks, applies to urban combat on a grander scale. Some hamlets, villages, towns, and cities are more difficult to seize and secure than others if inhabitants strongly resist, but modern munitions can quickly reduce the best built settlements to rubble. Rational reasons to blow cities up or down, however, have been scarce for 2,500 years, since Sun Tzu proclaimed that, "The worst policy is to attack cities." Aggressors who do so deprive themselves of valuable assets, defenders who do so destroy precious possessions and well-meaning friends who do so wound their allies. The anonymous U.S. Army major who blurted, "It became necessary to destroy the town (of Ben Tre, South Vietnam) to save it" spouted nonsense. Urban combat moreover disrupts unit cohesion, complicates control, blunts offensive momentum, and causes casualties to soar on both sides.
Most military doctrines the world over consequently advise land force commanders to isolate or bypass built-up areas, but the subjugation of political, industrial, commercial, transportation, and communications centers even so may sometimes decisively affect the outcome of battles, campaigns, even wars. Military commanders in such events face an endless variety of structures and facilities the seizure or control of which demands esoteric plans, programs, and procedures, since no two cities are quite alike. Urbanization moreover plays an imperative part in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations as well as deterrent strategies that hold cities hostage and war fighting strategies that seek to break the will of stubborn enemies by bombing them back into the Stone Age.
Urbanization, for purposes of this appraisal, connotes plots of land where population densities equal or exceed 1,000 persons per square mile (about 3 square kilometers) and buildings average at least on every 2 acres. That definition embraces small towns and suburbia as well as cities of assorted sizes and shapes, close together or widely separated, superimposed upon flat, rolling, or rough topography. The mixture of manmade and natural features is more complex than sparsely inhabited deserts, swamps, and jungles, which contain fewer distinctive terrain features.
Town and City Configurations
Some towns and cities emphasize governmental affairs, physical security, industries, commerce, business, or services, while others accommodate two or more primary functions. Every agglomeration is uniquely configured with regard to horizontal and vertical dimensions, structures, building materials, street patterns, access routes, bypasses, parks, recreational facilities, rural enclaves, in otherwise urban settings, and undeveloped lands. Original layouts occasionally remain intact over long periods of time but often expand willy-nilly in response to new needs. Urban centers in North America and Western Europe toward the end of the 20th century, for example, tend toward lower average population densities per square mile as municipalities expand, more freestanding construction as opposed to solid blocks, grater use of glass, fewer buildings with basements, and a dearth of subways in suburbia where private automobiles abound.
Urban environments consequently differ drastically in several military relevant respects. Castles, cathedrals and solid medieval buildings flush with narrow, crooked streets mark the midst of many European cities, whereas downtown Washington, DC, features construction astride a wide, rectangular mall that runs for 3 miles (5 kilometers) from Capitol Hill to the Lincoln Memorial. Affluent suburbanites sometimes encircle metropoli loaded with slums, shantytowns elsewhere surround prosperous inner cities, and the rich mayhap mingle with poor. Building designs and materials reflect urban functions, available resources, climatic conditions, and cultural proclivities. Construction in heavily forested parts of frigid Siberia favors lumber, easily obtained adobe is popular in relatively warm arid regions, and structures elsewhere variously emphasize reeds, sod, reinforced concrete, or stone. Assorted street patterns also are observable. Main thoroughfares run the gamut from unpaved threadneedle alleys to broad, hard-surfaced avenues abutted by open spaces that not only permit two-way traffic several lanes abreast but allow off-the-road vehicular movement.
Utilities, Facilities, and Services
Modern towns and cities could not perform major functions or sustain present standards of living without lights, power, electricity, food, and potable water, together with supply, storage, distribution, maintenance, and waste disposal systems. Community life would slow to a crawl or stop if denied public transportation, police, fire departments, hospitals, telephones, and news media (newspapers, radio, and television).
Engineers, logisticians, and civic action forces are intensely interested in the current condition of urban infrastructure, restoration requirements in wartime, total capacities, and percentages that could be diverted for military use without dangerously depriving civilian inhabitants. Typical considerations include:
The number, type, and capacity of water purification plants, reservoirs, and aqueducts.
Garbage, trash, sewage, and industrial waste collection,, dumps, incinerators, and processing facilities.
Food processing plants and bakeries.
The number of hospitals by type, plus number of beds.
Electric power, gas, and central heating plants, along with distribution lines.
Open, covered, and cold storage, POL tanks, arsenals, and ammunition dumps.
Public transportation facilities, including conveyances, parking lots, car barns, garages, and repair shops.
Potential military billets (hotels, motels, schools, churches, barracks, auditoriums, parks, and other open spaces).
Historical and cultural landmarks to be preserved.
Recreational facilities, such as cinemas, gymnasiums, stadiums, and swimming pools.
Half of all people on Planet Earth live in urban communities, but that number will reach two-thirds by 2025 if expectations prove correct. Forecasters predict that more than 40 cities then will exceed 10 million residents, of which Europe, the United States, and Canada will contribute only two – New York and Los Angeles. Each complex covers far more area than forerunners did during the Middle Ages, when most centers generally consisted of a castle surrounded by shacks on a few acres, whereas Los Angeles within its incorporated limits occupied almost 500 square miles (1,300 square kilometers) in 1997.
Mighty cities moreover are coalescing to form enormous urban walls in many places on all continents save Africa and Australia. Seoul, which has swollen from 1.1 to more than 11 million since war erupted in 1950, included most of the lower Han River Valley as far west as Inchon in 1997 and was swallowing Suwon to the South. The Ruhr and Rhine-Main complexes stretch almost 200 miles (320 kilometers) from Bonn to the Hook of Holland and continue to spread while Frankfurt-am-Main, Darmstadt, Mainz, Mannheim, Karlsruhe, Hanau, and Stuttgart are starting to form one megalopolis. Loosely linked villages, towns, and small cities a mile or two apart are common. The same could be said for the U.S. eastern seaboard from Boston, MA, through New York City, Newark, NJ, Philadelphia, PA, Washington, DC, and Norfolk, VA.
Urban obstacles would seriously constrain 21st century adaptations of General Count Alfred von Schlieffen's grand plan to sweep across the North German Plain through Holland and Belgium into France. Blitzkriegs would be difficult to sustain and secure supply lines hard to maintain under such conditions. Rapid movement through suburbs seems feasible at first glance, because population densities are low and structural impediments few compared with urban cores, but urban sprawl sooner rather than later probably will impose barriers and chop high-speed avenues into short segments.
Conventional urban combat began perhaps 6,000 years before Joshua assailed Jericho and "the walls forthwith fell down" between 1300 and 1200 BC. Three options are open to present day policy makers whenever armed forces cannot bypass cities because so doing seems geographically infeasible, politically improvident, or militarily imprudent: they can spare selected centers if attackers and defenders both agree; attackers can lay siege while defenders try to survive; or attackers can try to seize control from opponents in possession.
Defeat in olden days was a life or death crapshoot for city dwellers who never could be certain whether fate would be kind or cruel if they capitulated quietly, because winners ordinarily took as many liberties as they liked. Benevolence was a rare exception to that rule. "Open city" declarations that deliberately preserve urban areas for political, economic, military, aesthetic, or humanitarian reasons remain few, and degrees of success differ considerably.
Hitler permitted Field Marshal Albert Kesselring to vacate Rome on June 3, 1944, largely because that ancient city was the capital of his Italian ally, Benito Mussolini; it housed the Vatican, which was revered by Bavarian Catholics; and historical treasures therein were irreplaceable. German forces streamed out, and allied troops who streamed in the next day found that all key bridges over the Tiber River as well as other valuable structures were still standing. Triumphant generals assembled fearlessly for photo opportunities at Piazza de Campidoglio on Capitaline Hill.
French Commander in Chief General Maxime Weygand officially declared Paris an open city on May 11, 1940, after sporadic fighting. Victorious Germans took possession peacefully three days later, but low-key opposition continually marred their 4-year occupation. Hitler personally designated General Dietrich von Choltitz as fortress commander when allied divisions neared Paris in August 1944, vested him with full powers of a Befehlshaber (commander in chief), and directed him to ruin that symbol of French resistance. His handpicked destroyer, however, refused to comply and, in direct defiance of der Fuhrer's orders, implicitly designated Paris an open city. Sharp clashes occurred, but that action by General von Choltitz saved the heart and soul of France.
Manila fared less well the following year when General Douglas MacArthur made good on his promise to return. Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita informally declared the Philippine capital an open city and planned to evacuate all but a handful of stay-behind forces in January 1945, but diehards under Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi refused to obey his orders. Fierce battles raged until March 3, by which time more than 17,000 military men on both sides and 100,000 civilians lay dead (nearly 15 percent of the population); thousands more had been seriously wounded, and Manila's ancient walled center along with everything in it had been torn to shreds.
Sieges involve prolonged military blockades that isolate cities until supplies run out, attackers breach defenses, reinforcements break the ring, or morale cracks and occupants surrender. Partial encirclements, however lengthy, fail to satisfy that definition if the defenders never are isolated from essential sources of sustenance.
Siegecraft was popular well into the 19th century when most cities still were rather small, artillery was primitive by present standards, bombers had not yet been invented, and patience was a virtue. Those circumstances, however, no longer pertain. Few modern military commanders currently seem anxious to instigate sieges, even if competing missions and time permit, and few of their civilian supervisors seem willing to pay the political and economic costs of "sedentary" confrontations with no end in sight.
Some dramatic exceptions nevertheless have occurred in relatively recent times. Most of them, typified by the siege of Singapore (1941-42), featured desperate efforts to fend off enemy armed forces. German General of the Airborne Forces Bernhart-Hermann Ramcke won Hitler's highest decoration, the Knights Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds, for his brilliant defense of port facilities at Brest, France, which U.S. VIII Corps isolated and battered from August 12, 1944, until the one-division garrison capitulated on September 20. The most horrific siege in history took place at Leningrad, where more than a million civilians (one-third of the population) became battle casualties, froze, starved to death, or died of disease between September 1941 and January 1944. Survival instinct provided the strongest possible incentive to persist, as local Communist Party Chief Andrei Zhdanov bluntly explained, "The working class of Leningrad (would) be turned into slaves, and the best of them exterminated" if Nazi representatives of the "Master Race" overran their city.
Besiegers with time to burn may invest urban centers without expending bullets or bombs to see how well armed opponents might respond to pressure. Stalin did so in 1948-49, when he ordered Soviet and satellite forces to block all roads and rail lines into politically combustible Berlin, which lay deep in East Germany, 120 miles (195 kilometers) from the nearest friendly frontier. The United States, which then possessed the world's only nuclear weapons, might have been threatened to use them but elected instead to mount a massive airlift that supplied Berlin with food, fuel, and other essentials for 11 months until the disgruntled Generalissimo backed down rather than risk a ruinous war.
Street fighting ensues whenever armed forces try to wrest urbanized terrain from stubborn defenders. It can be brutal but brief in villages and a lengthy, agonizing struggled between small, isolated units in cities where concrete canyons and culs-de-sac degrade technological advantages, severely limit vehicular mobility, render tactical communications unreliable, complicate intelligence collection, and swallow troops wholesale. Restrictive rules of engagement designed to reduce collateral damage and casualties may further decrease benefits obtainable from aerial firepower as well as artillery and magnify dependence on foot soldiers.
Urban Avenues and Obstacles. Street fighting problems are similar regardless of locale, as battles for Stalingrad (1942-43), Seoul (which changed hands four times between June 1950 and March 1951), and Hue (1968) bear witness. Motorized troops must stick to streets and open spaces, whereas infantrymen fight the three-dimensional wars at ground level, on rooftops, and in subterranean structures such as subways, sewers, and cellars, creeping over, under, or around each structure, blasting "mouse-holes" through walls, ceilings, and floors when more convenient avenues are unavailable. Mines, booby traps, barbed wire, road blocks, rubble, and other obstacles abound.
Every inner city building becomes a potential strong point, particularly those that overlook key intersections or open spaces. Clear fields of fire or flat-trajectory weapons seldom exceed 200 yards (185 meters) even in suburbs, where ornamental shrubbery and sweeping curves often limit lies-of-sight. One lucky French gunner at the Arc de Triomphe may have established a world's record during combat in August 1944, with a first-round hit, he defanged a German Panther tank 1,800 meters (more than a mile) away at the opposite end of the Champs-Elysees.
Armored Firepower. Tanks and other armored vehicles inch through inner cities at a snail's pace, find little room to maneuver on narrow or rubble-clogged streets, cannot turn sharp corners, and are vulnerable beneath enemy-occupied buildings unless they "button up." which limits visibility and invites ambush. Many lucrative targets remain beyond reach, because most range-finders produce fuzzy images close up, tank turrets cannot swivel freely in cramped quarters, and main guns on level ground can neither elevate nor depress enough to blast upper stories or basements nearby. Tank-killer teams armed with short-range weapons commonly seek sanctuaries in resultant "dead spaces," from which they can attack soft spots such as gas tanks and treads with relative impunity. Conventional urban combat consequently calls for few rather than many tanks, mainly to furnish close support for frontline infantry. Exceptions to that rule normally involve opponents in disarray or other special circumstances, as demonstrated on August 25, 1944, when French General Jacques-Philippe Leclerc's 2d Armored Division led Allied liberators into Paris.
Artillery. Urban jungles, like their leafy analogs, discourage artillery. Chemical warfare (CW) munitions in one sense are well suited, since they can seep into crannies, retain required concentrations longer than CW strikes in the open, and neutralize opponents without damaging structures, but inimical consequences could ensue if lethal chemicals caused mass casualties among friendly civilians. The effects of high explosives are easier to control, although detonations are hard to adjust in densely populated areas and buildings reduced to rubble provide better protection for enemy troops than those left standing. High-angle artillery fire in urban areas thus is often used mainly to clear rooftops and target troops in the open while mortars, which are more maneuverable and less destructive, handle most close support missions. Medium and heavy artillery projectiles, however, perform superbly at low angles and pointblank range, as the senior German general in Aachen discovered on October 21, 1944. He waved a white flag as soon as the first U.S. 155mm shell hit his command center, with the wry comment, "It's time to quit when artillerymen turn into snipers."
Recoilless and Wire-Guided Weapons. Urban combat inhibits lighter crew-served arms as well. Backblast makes it dangerous to emplace recoilless weapons in small, unvented rooms or other cramped spaces where loose objects, glass, and combustible materials must be covered or removed. Enclosures so amplify explosive sounds that personnel without earplugs become deaf after a few experiences. Minimum feasible ranges and limited abilities to elevate or depress launchers severely restrict the utility of wire-guided missile systems in towns and cities, where such obstructions and entanglements as buildings, rubble, walls, fences, trees, brush, telephone poles, power lines, and television antennas are abundant. Firing positions on roofs or lofty rooms allow clearer fields of fire than sites at street level, but long-range shots even so are scarce.
Combat Service Support
Logistical requirements in cities differ significantly from those in open terrain. The dearth of vehicular traffic reduces petroleum consumption, except for engineer and power generating equipment. Reliance on artillery munitions declines as well, although troops in compensation expend prodigious amounts of small arms ammunition, machine gun bullets, hand grenades, mortar shells, and plastic explosives. They also wear out weapons, equipment, and uniforms at abnormally rapid rates. Route clearance is a high priority task that requires bulldozers wherever offensive forces find rubble in the way, whereas defenders demand materials with which to build barriers. Both sides use sandbags to shore up positions in and around buildings.
Commanders in densely populated centers often must divert military supplies, other resources, and manpower to sustain life among noncombatants, who need food, water, and some sort of shelter along with medical assistance for the sick and wounded. Early control over endemic diseases and septic threats becomes doubly important if civilian health and sanitation systems break down. Stringent security measures, such as identification cards, curfews, restricted areas, restraining lines, checkpoints, and road blocks, may be required to prevent pilferage, looting, and actions that interfere with military operations. Refugee control can assume immense proportions if panic-stricken civilians, young and old, many of them infirm, pour out of cities by the thousands on foot and aboard automobiles, bicycles, horse-drawn wagons, ox carts, or baby carriages, together with all possessions they can possibly carry (General "Lightning Joe" Collins never forgot one elderly Korean man who, during the first exodus from Seoul in 1950, carried on his back an A-frame laden with rice bags "atop which sat his wizened old mother").
Research and Development
Military trappings intended primarily for use in wide open space are liabilities in cities, where short-range weapons are more valuable than those with long reaches and inexpensive, durable, or disposable items are preferable to costly accouterments. Ready markets consequently await innovators, as the following samples suggest.
Tank guns and artillery would be more useful if higher and lower angles of fire were feasible. All armored vehicles engaged in urban warfare would benefit from sprint capabilities, greater all-around visibility, and better protection for soft spots that are particularly vulnerable during close combat. Richer defensive suites, increased agility, and stealthiness would help helicopters survive at window level between high-rise buildings. Sensors able to "see" around corners and in pitch black sewers would be infinitely more advantageous than those that rely on ambient light. Engineers need the wherewithal to raze multistory structures on short notice without undesirable collateral damage.
Several categories of nonlethal weapons, exemplified by adhesives ("stickums"), anti-traction substances ("slickums"), thermal barriers, foams, calmatives, and odiferous agents, perhaps could reduce fatalities among belligerents as well as noncombatants and limit unplanned damage to urban property. Street fighters also would welcome wheeled, tracked, and walking robots, remotely controlled or with artificially intelligent computers for brains that could operate for long periods without sustenance or sleep and remain emotionless under fire. Assorted automatons, each with specialized skills, could reconnoiter, spearhead attacks, clear obstacles, breach minefields, and perform other hot, heavy, hazardous, humdrum, or repetitious (H4R) missions.
Ingenious insurgents, resistance movements, and transnational terrorists thrive in labyrinthine cityscapes that amplify their capabilities and frustrate technologically superior adversaries who find it difficult to acquire timely, accurate intelligence and quickly discover that conventional military tactics are marginally useful in urban games of "cat and mouse."
"People's Wars," as expounded by Mao Zedong, Che Guevara, and Vo Nguyen Giap, are mass insurrections that open primarily in rural areas and work their way toward cities. Urban insurgencies, which take a different tack, start in cities where most people reside and, if successful, pay off faster.
Recipes for Urban Revolutions. French General P.-G. Cluseret penned the original recipe for urban revolutions in his Memories of 1887, which Lenin adapted in 1905 and published in the Bolshevik newspaper Vperid. Hit or hold real estate, he advised, because ruling classes "will sell any government you like, in order to protect their property." Paralyze police stations at the onset, seize buildings that command key intersections, blow up or burn down whatever cannot be captured, block subterranean approaches, build barricades, cut telephone lines, disable utilities, and strike before dawn while most cities sleep.
Carlos Marighella, an aging Brazilian firebrand who authored the Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla, emphasized how easy it is for revolutionaries familiar with the streets, alleys, byways, impasses, straits, shortcuts, parks, underground passageways, and other peculiarities of their own city to move surreptitiously, appear by surprise, strike with impunity, then fade away like specters. "It is an insoluble problem for the police," he asserted, "to get someone they can't see, to repress someone they can't catch, to close in on someone they can't find."
Rhetoric Versus Results. Correlations between the foregoing rhetoric and real-life results are tenuous. The Russian Revolution of 1917, which involved brief, spontaneous uprisings in Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg), developed overtly without recourse to serious violence, ousted Tsar Nicholas II, and terminated 300 years of Romanov rule. Geographic factors scarcely influenced that cataclysmic upheaval, which would have achieved all objectives if neither General Cluseret nor Lenin had ever written a word. The 7-year Algerian struggle for independence from France (November 1954 to March 1962), which was well planned and protracted, proceeded in a very different vein. Climatic actions took place in crooked corridors of the Casbah, where 80,000 wretched souls were cheek to jowl on 75 isolated acres. The revolutionary Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN), which hit public buildings, police posts, communication centers, cafes, and shops, made all the right moves according to Cluseret and Marighella. French troops savagely suppressed passive supporters along with active participants, but ultimately lost the war because President Charles de Gaulle saw no way to keep a tight lid on the cauldron indefinitely. The influence of geography on urban uprisings, in short, varies radically from time to time and place to place.
Resistance movements, as contrasted with revolutionary uprisings, aim to evict occupying powers, "puppet" regimes, or well meaning domestic meddlers whose intrusion they resent. Those who make best use of urban terrain invariably fare better than those who do not, even if they lose.
The handful of heroes in Berlin who attacked Soviet tanks with Molotov cocktails and stones (1953) and Hungarian freedom fighters who battled in Budapest 3 years later were quickly outclassed, whereas unconventional urban brawlers armed with antiquated weapons were formidable in Somalia, despite unfavorable odds. Wily warlord Aideed's lightly armed militia ambushed unwelcome Pakistani peacemakers under a UN banner in Mogadishu on June 5, 1993, killed 25, wounded 53, and escaped unscathed. U.S. Special Operations Forces captured several of his lieutenants on October 3, but the ensuing fire-fight caused 91 serious casualties on the U.S. side (18 dead) and mangled maybe 1,500 Somalis. The resultant UN military "victory" became a major psychological defeat. President Clinton, in response to adverse public opinion at home and abroad, soon withdrew all U.S. Armed Forces from Somalia. Aideed thereafter was free to run his own show without foreign interference.
Sabotage, a subtler, less risky form of resistance, can pay off handsomely provided personnel involved are well informed about the locations, characteristics, overall values, and vulnerabilities of potential targets. Teams armed with timely, accurate information can prioritize intelligently, strike targets that promise the most lucrative payoffs, and avoid those that would put sympathizers out of work, deprive them of public utilities, or otherwise impair popular support. Ignorant saboteurs, on the other hand, may do more harm than good, as one feckless French team discovered in a Paris sewer during World War II: its members leveled and flooded more than a city block and left many friends dead or wounded when they detonated a charge to sever telephone service with Berlin, unaware that the lines lay next to gas and water mains.
Transnational Terrorism Urban centers are the main milieu of transnational terrorists, whose operations in foreign cities aim to spread panic and cause such turmoil that authorities comply with their sociopolitical demands to avoid further suffering. Atrocities against innocent bystanders make warped sense when seen in that light.
U.S. experience indicates great potential for the escalation of transnational terrorism since one small bomb killed 12 persons at La Guardia Airport in 1975. Suicidal assailants buried 220 U.S. Marines, 18 Navy Bluejackets, and 3 U.S. Army soldiers in their barracks on the outskirts of Beirut in 1983. Greater property damage and repercussions followed an enormous explosion that shook New York City's 110-story World Trade Center on February 26, 1993. Perhaps 55,000 employees and thousands of visitors were trapped for hours in pitch black, smoke filled fire-wells; a monstrous traffic jam in lower Manhattan impeded police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances en route to rescue them; many banks, businesses, brokerage houses, law firms, and other tenants were displaced for a month and lost about $1 billion as a direct result; and city police investigated 34 bomb threats during the first 5 days after the blast (5 or 6 per day previously was average). Other potentially lucrative urban targets for consideration by transnational terrorists include air traffic control centers, information storage and transfer sites (computerized banks, commercial houses, and stock exchanges), transportation nodes (airport, bridges, tunnels, switching centers), nuclear reactors, and petrochemical plants. Calamities could ensue if commuter service ceased, ventilating systems failed, and perishable products spoiled.
The President and Secretary of Defense in 1996 consequently issued unusually urgent security directives designed to protect urban infrastructure and occupants against terrorist acts. Those steps came as no surprise, because counter-terrorism specialists have not yet devised countermeasures that credibly cover worst case contingencies. They would convert critical installations into fortresses across the country, and U.S. allies could do likewise, but budgets would balloon, mission effectiveness would suffer, and free societies would become less free. Creative solutions consequently are required.
The MOUT Homepage Hot Links:
|HOME||CONCEPTS||DOCTRINE||OPERATIONS 1||OPERATIONS 2|