Basic Patrolling Tactics

by The Bunker

 Even on the modern high-tech battlefield, patrols are vital - to gather intelligence, dominate ground, and destroy enemy forces.

The versatility of having good men on the ground must not be underestimated. All patrols, no matter what size or composition, will have a specific aim - usually falling into one of the following three categories:

To obtain information about the enemy and the ground....

* To dominate ground
* To destroy or disrupt enemy forces

The size, operating procedures and equipment carried by the patrol will be specific to the task.

Types of Patrol

There are many different types of patrol, but they all fall into one of the following classifications:

* Fighting
* Escort
* Recon
* Standing

Fighting patrols

Fighting patrols are the largest type of patrol, normally 16 men (two sections plus HQ). They are usually heavily armed so as to allow them to carry out their task. The type of tasks tackled by fighting patrols are wide ranging, but some examples are:

To carry out raids and capture prisoners; to prevent the enemy gathering intelligence or gaining the initiative by aggressive patrolling and ambushing; harassing or disrupting enemy work parties; anti-personnel and anti-armour ambushing.

Standby or quick-reaction patrols are another form of patrol, used for following up on contacts among other tasks.

Escort patrols

These are used to take in specialists who are able to do a task or action which cannot be carried out by normal troops. Size and composition vary depending on the tactical situation. This is the rarest form of patrol.

Recon patrols

Recon patrols normally consist of four men who use stealth and good drills to gain information on the enemy without his knowledge. Good communications are essential to allow rapid passage of 'hot int'. Equipment should be kept to a minimum to allow silent movement. The reduced weight also reduces fatigue, and so prolongs alertness.

Weapons should be small, light and potent, allowing the patrol the maximum firepower available - M203s and Claymores provide a useful edge. (If available)

Some of a recon patrol's tasks could be:

* Locating enemy positions
* Obtaining details on enemy positions, obstacles and minefields
* Gaining information on enemy equipment, habits and movement
* Collecting information on the ground for updating maps
* Locating areas contaminated by nuclear or chemical weapons

Standing patrols

Standing patrols are usually as small as possible, typically 2-8 men, with 4 being the norm. They are used to provide warning of enemy approach or movement. Their tasks therefore include:

* Covering dead ground around defended positions
* Covering minefields and obstacles not covered by main positions
* Establishing long-term surveillance OPs

Standing patrols operate with stealth to avoid detection, but they must be armed well enough to give them a chance if compromised and forced into a firefight or a 'hot extraction'. Often LAWs or LSWs are the only extras available. Ideally, though, weapons such as M203 40mm grenade launchers and M18A1 Claymore mines should be carried. These increase small unit firepower substantially, and are good 'force multipliers'.

Due to their positions, standing patrols are ideal for controlling artillery and mortar fire. Good communications are obviously essential.


Whichever type of patrol you are engaged in, there are a number of points to bear in mind for your own security and that of the patrol:

* Good personal discipline - maintain spacing and vigilance, observe arcs.
* Stick to drills - don't cut corners.
* Avoid leaving sign - anything that reveals your presence.
* Avoid telegraphing your presence - move with stealth.
* Don't use tracks - they are prone to ambush.
* Don't halt or move on topographical features - if they're easy to use, the enemy may use them too.
* Don't form routines - vary routes and techniques.
* Don't switch off - it could be the last thing you ever do.

Four-man patrols

Four-man patrols carrying out covert observation and reconnaissance deep behind enemy lines are the most demanding of all patrol tasks. Usually separated from quick or direct support, they rely on stealthy drills and skills of the highest order. Their strength lies in remaining covert - avoiding compromise by the use of well thought-out techniques. These patrols are normally associated with special forces. The duties within such a patrol could be as follows:

Lead scout

Normally armed with M203 or shotgun for aggressive reaction to 'contact front', he is the second most experienced patrol member, but must be rotated with the rear man so as to rest. Lead scout is a physically and mentally demanding position, especially in close country or jungle.
Lead scout's duties:

* To select the safest and easiest route along a line of travel
* Maintaining frequent visual checks with patrol commander
* Preparation of minor demolitions and booby traps as ordered
* Servicing of patrol demolition equipment
* Detecting enemy mines and booby traps on route

Patrol commander

The patrol commander is the most experienced member of the patrol, having done time in each patrol skill/appointment. He will, however, consult patrol members on operational matters, having a 'Chinese parliament', but his decision is final. Armed with rifle such as M16A2 or CAR15.
Patrol commander's duties:

* Conducting all tasks as ordered from above
* Welfare and admin of patrol
* Secondary signaller
* Navigator and pacer
* Thorough knowledge of all SOPs and drills


The signaller is usually the newest patrol member - he gets the heaviest kit to carry! He will be familiar with all the comms used, and is the 'lifeline' to higher formations at bases etc. He must destroy all used codes etc. He carries a rifle, and possibly extra grenades to destroy signals kit if close to capture.

Signaller's duties:

* Operation, servicing and distribution of all patrol signals equipment
* Maintaining communications with higher formations
* Ensuring correct encoding and decoding of all messages, in conjunction with patrol commander
* Have full knowledge of report formats and procedures
* Security of all codes and crypto
* All patrol members must know location of codes for quick retrieval in emergency (ie signaller dead)
* Check pacer


The medic is expected to be able to sustain a trauma injury for at least 24 hours, as well as the day-to-day tasks of dispensing routine treatment such as plaudrine tablets to prevent malaria in the jungle, etc.
Medic's duties:

* Health of patrol
* Servicing of patrol medical pack
* Secondary lead scout
* Check navigator
* Carries GPMG or M249 if applicable

General duties

As well as the specific duties and equipment outlined above, patrol members are responsible for other items of patrol equipment such as Passive Night Vision Goggles, TACBE radios, etc.
The members are also expected to possess skills over and above the norm. For example, the signaller may be able to transmit and receive morse code at speeds of 12-18 words per minute, and the medic should be familiar with minor field surgery and dentistry techniques. Patrol members may also have knowledge of languages suitable for the theatre in which they are deployed - Spanish might be useful, for instance.