Περί Ελαφρού Πεζικού – Μέρος Α’

9ο Τάγμα Ευζώνων - Μανωλιάσα, Φεβρουάριος 1913

Μία πρόσφατη αναφορά στο Εν Κρυπτώ στις Ελληνικές Ειδικές Δυνάμεις ως «ελαφρύ πεζικό» ξεσήκωσε έντονες αντιδράσεις από καταδρομείς, ιδιαίτερα παλαιότερους καταδρομείς, που θεώρησαν εαυτούς θιγμένους από αυτόν τον υποβιβασμό. Είναι μια αντίδραση κατανοητή όταν προέρχεται από (παλαιότερους, κυρίως) εφέδρους καταδρομείς. Δυστυχώς, φαίνεται ότι παρεμφερείς αντιλήψεις υπάρχουν και σε μόνιμα στελέχη, ή τουλάχιστον εκφράζονται προσχηματικά, και αυτές αποτελούν έναν από τους βασικούς λόγους της οργανωτικής κάμψης τους.

Αν και η έννοια του ελαφρού πεζικού είναι παλαιά και καλώς ορισμένη, υπάρχουν συχνά παρεξηγήσεις σχετικά με αυτήν, που πηγάζουν κυρίως από την στρεβλή της κατανόηση από τις αμερικανικές ένοπλες δυνάμεις, οι οποίες τις αντιλαμβάνονται ως «ελαφρά εξοπλισμένες», με βασικό χαρακτηριστικό την στρατηγική ευκινησία.

Για τη διευκρίνιση της έννοιας του ελαφρού πεζικού, της φύσης του και του ρόλου του, θα παραθέσουμε τρία χαρακτηριστικά κείμενα σχετικά με αυτό. Δυστυχώς, τα κείμενα είναι στα αγγλικά, καθώς ο χρόνος δε μας επιτρέπει να τα μεταφράσουμε. Ζητούμε εκ προοιμίου συγγνώμη από όποιον αναγνώστη δεν έχει τη δυνατότητα να τα διαβάσει.

Το πρώτο κείμενο, είναι του αμερικανού στρατιωτικού αναλυτή Michael Lind, και προέρχεται από μία εξαιρετική εργασία του 2007.

Το 1ο Κεφάλαιο της εργασίας, που αναρτάται σήμερα, ορίζει τι είναι ελαφρύ πεζικό, αφ’ ενός ανατρέχοντας στην ιστορία, αφ’ ετέρου προσδιορίζοντας τα βασικά του χαρακτηριστικά.

(Στο κείμενο, η έμφαση είναι δική μας).

DEFINING LIGHT INFANTRY

1. An historical approach to the concept of Light Infantry

Due to the different meanings of the word “light” the LI concept has been understood in diverse ways around of the world. These interpretations can be grouped into two similar, but at the same time different points of view. The present American concept of LI is related to “weight”. On the other hand, Europeans understand light as agility or operational versatility. Even though both interpretations are related to each other, an analysis of the historical evolution of IL will enable the reader to determine which one of these points of view best matches the original concept of LI.

The distinction between regular or line infantry (RI) and IL goes back to ancient Greece. At that time, RI was the phalanx, a formation that based its success on the execution of well rehearsed techniques and procedures by hundreds of hoplites and the firepower of their spears. Their tactics consisted of evolutions performed by the phalanx as a whole in which each warrior contributed to group survivability by adhering to carefully executed individual drills.

In contrast, the classic LI did not fight in rigid formations, nor adhere to any type of prescribed methods. Its usual mission was to provide flank protection to the phalanx, widely dispersed throughout a large area, their soldiers lacking the usual bronze armors that the hoplites wore. LI survivability was based on speed and the availability of a great number of projectiles and light hand-thrown weapons. LI tactics consisted mainly of individual actions or barely coordinated group maneuvers, like executing a march forward or withdrawing. The Romans applied the same concept to their legions, using auxiliary troops to support the RI line formations. However, the rise of cavalry blurred the noticeable difference that used to exist between RI and LI.

The Spanish Tercios of the XVI and XVII centuries signaled the return of infantry’s dominance, and especially LI’s. The development of light forces in Europe, like the French Chasseurs, the Prussian Jaegers, or the Austrians Grenz regiments, followed the old Greek concept: in contrast to the rigid maneuvers of the RI, the light units were agile, fast and able to operate independent from the army. The LI was employed in a decentralized way to protect the flanks of larger forces, executing raids and ambushes in restricted terrain and avoiding direct contact with the enemy. When it was wisely employed, LI prevailed over the enemy’s RI, thanks to its adaptability and reliance on creative tactics other than a standard doctrine. These capabilities were achieved by selecting high-quality troops to serve on LI ranks, usually those more familiar with the hard life in the country.

In spite of the proven superiority of LI over RI, the former was not developed as a permanent formation in Europe. LI only prospered during war times and was usually dissolved when the conflicts ended. Nevertheless, the catastrophic defeat in 1755 of the British forces under General Edward Braddock’s command by one small American LI force that employed unusual tactics and took advantage of terrain, speed, and loose formations, convinced England and France about the need to develop LI units as part of their permanent forces. This event led to the creation of the Roger’s Rangers and the Royal American Regiment, refined British counterparts of the American revolutionary LI.

Although LI disappeared in America afterwards, it definitively re-appeared in Europe during the peninsular campaign of Wellington at the beginning of the XIX century. The LI stopped being just an “undisciplined group of irregulars» and become professionally trained units, able to maneuver in a fast and organized way. Between 1790 and 1815 light forces proliferated, even evolving into light artillery and cavalry units, and assumed a more significant role on the battlefield. Like their Greek predecessors, the European light infantrymen covered RI’s advance or withdrawals and harassed the enemy by executing ambushes in their deep rear.

The appearance of the breech-loading rifle and machine gun contributed to the evolution of RI. To reduce the effectiveness of these new weapons RI developed lighter equipment and more flexible formations. These changes in RI organization and equipment defined the most important differences between both original concepts, that of agility, operational versatility, capability to live off the land, and decentralized command and control for LI. The Boers, the Jaeger battalions, mountain units and stormtrupp of the German army of World War I, General Wingate’s Chindits and both parachutist units from the Israeli Defense Forces and the British army are examples of contemporary LI.

Chindits

2. The LI concept

As previously indicated, the appearance of semi-automatic and automatic weapons broadened the differences between LI and RI. Until then, distinction between both was usually related to their organization or equipment, upon which the roots of the present American Armed Forces’ mistaken concept are based. The essential difference between RI and LI actually relied on an intangible factor: the mentality of light infantrymen.

The light infantryman characterizes himself by his mental strength. Their inborn capabilities (and the reason they were chosen to integrate LI units), reinforced by hard training, convinced them that they were able to overcome the most difficult situations that combat could present. The light infantrymen do not feel defeated when isolated or confronted by superior forces. They are able to perform their duties for long periods of time without any type of comfort or logistical support, obtaining what they need from the land or the enemy. They are neither physically nor psychologically tied to the rear by the necessity to maintain open lines of communications. This attitude of self confidence provides LI a great psychological advantage over its enemies. Coupled with the decentralized command philosophy, the LI operates at a high tempo. Despite numerical inferiority, the LI has been able to break the will of its enemies for this reason. This unpredictable ambush-mentality and reluctance to follow a specified method is the essence of IL.

This ambush mentality generates other secondary, but distinctive, characteristics. Among them are the ability and speed with which the LI adapts to the terrain in which it operates. Far from resisting the adverse environment conditions, LI exploits it by turning terrain roughness to its advantage, using the terrain as a shield, a weapon and a source of supplies at the same time. As a result, IL has an incomparable superiority in those terrains that restrict RI operations (especially mechanized and armored forces), usually allowing it to face and defeat larger and better equipped enemy forces. So LI has a distinctive operational versatility, being able to operate alone in restricted terrain or in a symbiotic relationship with line units. As a corollary, IL easily adapts itself to all type of operations, and faces the natural evolution of war with no need to modify substantially the way it operates. This characteristic determines that the LI is the only one able successfully to counter the challenge imposed by the current transition towards the Fourth Generation of War.

Although other specific characteristics of LI will be addressed in detail later, it is easy to realize that the historically appropriate meaning for the term “light” is not related to the American notion of weight, but to the European notion of agility or operational versatility. This nature is the result of a unique, creative, and aggressive mentality.

Ρέιντζερς του Αμερικανικού Στρατού

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