Also known as a ‘Delaying Action.’ Recent discussions here, and WRSA and at Max Velocity’s place regarding react to contact drills (incorrectly termed, ‘ambush’) led to thinking about a comment left at this site that said, in part, “…What happened to the tactical retreat as a response to contact or ambush? “patrol being destroyed” is unacceptable, and if they clean up, prepares the ground for the next patrol to do it again without info (other than “where is Beta team?”).”
As we’ve not covered that particular tactic, this post will give you something to think about and practice.
Taken straight from the manual, “the intent of a delay is to slow the enemy, cause enemy casualties, and stop him without becoming decisively engaged. This is done by defending, disengaging, moving, and defending again.”
In our context, fighting a delaying action can be more simply defined – the element ordered to delay an enemy is simply trading space for time. Let’s break that down even more:
- Trading Space – Giving ground to the enemy, slowly, with tactical and operational goals in mind, like possibly getting away from them.
- Gaining Time – Slowing the enemy advance to buy time for the main element or elements to conduct their particular mission, again, like possibly getting away from them to a more protected area or other friends who can help.
Group size is not relevant to the conduct of delaying actions. These actions can be conducted by fire teams to battalions. No matter the size of the delaying element, there are certain principles that must be adhered to for effective execution of the delay:
- Delays are not usually conducted independently. The delay element fights as part of the larger element, ie, a single fire team member closely coordinates his delaying action with the rest of the fire team and fights as part of the fire team. This can get really tricky if you’re not training together regularly.
- Delays can be done by a sector or by positions, that is, the delaying element may operate with varying degrees of latitude over an extended area that the enemy will be moving through, or may move away from the enemy from prepared defensive positions to other prepared positions.
- Sector delay is usually conducted when multiple avenues of approach or a wide sector of operations is encountered and you have the people.
- Position delay is usually conducted when there is only one or two avenues of approach the enemy can use to engage due to terrain, area denial initiatives, and enemy disengagement is not projected. For SHTF/RWOL situations, and your numbers are limited, you might want to disengage as quickly as feasible in order to survive the contact.
- When conducting delays along sector lines, times for occupation and holding can be pre-determined. Delaying elements must keep the enemy forward of that line for the time specified. That means the element in position has to hold, basically stay and fight.
- Delaying actions are most successful when the primary threat faced is infantry—armored pursuit elements can only be engaged with appropriate anti-armor weaponry. In which case, you and your team should un-ass the AO faster than you ever thought possible. Unless, of course, you have anti-armor capability….but let’s get back to reality here.
The delay, however, must be conducted over a front wide enough so that the enemy cannot bypass or envelop the delaying force or penetrate and subsequently prevent the successful execution of the delaying mission. What this boils down to is the delaying element must be keenly aware of the enemy’s activity and remain able to break contact and move to another more viable delaying position with no notice to avoid being flanked or enveloped, especially when operating in a small team. When planning a delaying action, include the following factors in the operational plan:
- Make Maximum Use of Terrain. Use every terrain feature possible that will help delay the enemy. When battle positions must be used, they should be located on terrain that controls likely enemy avenues of approach.
- Force the Enemy to Deploy and Maneuver. Use terrain to exploit firepower. Engage the enemy at the maximum range of all weapons. You may be able to trap the enemy if he moves within close range (don’t count on it; this will be one of those moments where seizing the initiative provides a tactical advantage, and is extremely rare). This causes the enemy to take time consuming measures to deploy, develop the situation, and maneuver to drive the delaying force from its position. Repeated use of this technique will slow the forward progress of the enemy and will trade space for time.
- Make Maximum Use of Obstacles. Use man-made and natural obstacles to canalize and slow enemy progress, and provide security to the flanks. To be effective, obstacles must be covered by observation and fire.
- Maintain Contact with the Enemy. Conduct continuous reconnaissance to establish and maintain contact with the enemy. Maintaining enemy contact requires visual observation of the enemy, observation and correction of fires (if at all possible with your organic firepower), and freedom of maneuver to avoid decisive engagement or to break contact on order. Enemy forces with freedom of maneuver and mobility will try to bypass or envelop the flanks, or penetrate between units conducting the delay. To prevent penetration or envelopment, maintain contact with the enemy forces.
- Avoid Decisive Engagement. In a delay, occupy positions long enough to force the enemy to deploy; then, develop the situation and maneuver to attack each position. A delaying force moves to the next delaying position before becoming decisively engaged. If it remains in position as the enemy launches his attack, it will become decisively engaged, the mission will fail, and the unit will sustain unnecessary losses.
Types of Delay
The types of delay are outlined below:
Delay in Sector. The team boss selects initial and subsequent delay positions for his teams. He defends and withdraws by teams, leap frogging (bounding) them to the rear. Delay positions should have long-range fields of fire to the front and covered withdrawal routes to the rear. And that can be tricky, because when you get to the next line of delay positions, they need to have long-range fields of fire to the front and covered withdrawal routes to the rear, also. So, this is going to take some poring over your topographical maps or intimate knowledge of the AO.
Delay from Delay Positions. The AO top kick assigns the smaller group the mission to delay from delay positions, when:
o The primary threat is armor or motorized units and they have anti-vehicular capabilities!.
o The AO network is delaying in an armor-restrictive area where the enemy can be canalized into selected areas.
o Terrain is available that dominates armor avenues of approach, or the battalion sector is narrow.
The AO top kick (or leader, if you wish) assigns the smaller group a series of delay positions from which to delay. The group moves from one delay position to another as directed by the AO leader. The initial delay position is where most of the position preparation is made and where the AO leader normally wants to hold out the longest.
If a delay is conducted over a long distance, delay in sector or delay from delay positions may be used. The leader picks the team positions and the routes to them. If there is terrain that is defendable forward of a delay line (set by the AO leader), the team leader may decide to defend there for the required time stated for that line. The teams fires can be supplemented by supporting fires, smoke, and obstacles in both types of delays, all depending on your manpower and resources available.
o Delay operations are often more decentrally executed than other defense missions. Because the team must gain an advantage to be successful, reconnaissance and the rehearsal of movements is critical. It is even more important because of the speed and depth of maneuver and less supporting fires will be available, especially if you have a small team.
o Your team resupply points are located on the next subsequent delay position to ensure ammo/suply availability.
o The company team field trains remain co-located with the battalion task force field trains.
You must also consider the time required to move to the next subsequent position, and alternate means of communications, both audio and visual, to be used in the event that radio communications is disrupted.