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Defending the City: An Overview of Defensive Tactics from the Modern History of Urban Warfare - Modern War Institute

๐ŸŒˆ Abstract

The article discusses the importance of urban defense in future wars against peer or near-peer enemies, and provides historical examples and tactics that can be used to strengthen urban defenses.

๐Ÿ™‹ Q&A

[01] Importance of Urban Defense

1. Why is urban defense important for militaries?

  • Any future war against a peer or near-peer enemy will contain some measure of urban combat, so militaries must be prepared to conduct both urban offense and defense operations.
  • Urban terrain contains unique characteristics that allow for a very strong and lethal defense to be conducted, such as density, construction, and complexity of the physical terrain.
  • A well-planned and -constructed urban defense could determine the success or failure of achieving a strategic objective, and could influence the outcome of a war.

2. What are the key characteristics of successful urban defenses?

  • Preparation, security, disruption, massing effects, and flexibility
  • Primary types of defenses such as area, mobile, and retrograde
  • Sequencing and different schemes of maneuver like area defense, defense of key terrain, and defense of an urban strongpoint
  • Seven steps to engagement area development

[02] Tactics for Strengthening Urban Defenses

1. Building Strongpoints

  • Reinforce buildings or use preexisting structures that are already hard to destroy, like heavy-clad concrete structures, to create mini-fortresses within the city.
  • Harden the structure and create numerous bunkers within the fortress using materials like sandbags, lumber, steel girders, and create an obstacle network around the building.
  • Example: Pavlov's House in the Battle of Stalingrad

2. Rubbling Buildings

  • Purposefully destroy structures to produce rubble that can block avenues of approach, funnel attacking forces into engagement areas, and constrain their ability to maneuver.
  • Example: German engineers in Ortona, Italy extensively rubbled buildings to support the defense of the city.

3. Concrete Barriers

  • Use existing concrete barriers for vehicle checkpoints or infrastructure protection as ready-made field fortifications.
  • Example: ISIS fighters used concrete barriers left behind by coalition forces to defend Mosul, Iraq.

4. Interior Building Heavy Weapon Systems Positions

  • Disassemble and reassemble large weapons on higher floors of buildings to provide superior lines of sight and angles of fire, and create bunker-like protection.
  • Example: Japanese naval defense forces and German defenders in the Battle of Ortona.

5. Concealment Techniques

  • Use simple solutions like wood, tin, tarpaulins or cloth sheet coverings to hide obstacles, weapon systems, battle positions, and personnel from aerial observation.
  • Example: Civilians in Aleppo, Syria and ISIS in Raqqa, Syria used this technique.

6. Mouseholes and Tunnels

  • Create holes in interior and exterior walls of buildings (mouseholes) and utilize tunnels and subterranean spaces to enable hidden movement and force protection.
  • Example: ISIS fighters in the Battle of Marawi and German soldiers in the Battle of Berlin.

7. Caches

  • Pre-position ammunition, medical supplies, water, and rations in hidden, protected, and concealed locations to support multiple battle positions.
  • Example: Germans at the Battle of Ortona and Japanese naval defense forces at the Battle of Manila.

8. Rapidly Emplaced Hasty Obstacles

  • Use readily available urban objects like vehicles, furniture, and debris to create obstacles that channel, divert, or halt enemy movement.
  • Example: Mahdi militiamen in Sadr City, Iraq and North Koreans in the Battle of Seoul.

9. Hit-and-Run, Antiarmor Ambushes

  • Use mobile antiarmor ambushes by small, lethal teams to achieve momentum-stopping effects on enemy forces.
  • Example: Chechen separatists in the First Battle of Grozny.

10. Snipers

  • Leverage the urban environment's many protected hide sites and concealed firing lines to employ snipers as a force multiplier.
  • Example: Soviet snipers in the Battle of Stalingrad.
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