Basic Patrolling Concepts & Principles – Part IV

Night Operations

Foot Movement – Section B

 In Foot Movement – Section A, we reviewed in depth the primary principles of movement a PL must adhere to, techniques of movement, leaving and reentering friendly areas, route selection and land navigation considerations as related to patrolling.  In this installment, we’ll tackle “the rest of the story” on movement.  Buckle your seatbelts, get a good cup of coffee, and get ready for some fun!

The PL has many tasks and responsibilities once ordered to conduct a patrol.  As we’ve seen in preparation and rehearsing as well as in movement of the patrol to its objective.  While on the move, the PL must always be aware that the success of the patrol, meaning the mission, will depend in large part on how well the PL controls its actions.  He must control its direction, speed of movement, the starting, stopping, or shifting of fire.  He must also be able to order immediate actions to either engage or break contact with an enemy and have instantaneous response from the patrol members.  To do this, he establishes and employs control measures.  The following are some of the types available to the PL:

  • Signals – Audio, visual, and physical signals all can work to the advantage of the PL and the patrol      depending on the immediate tactical situation.  It is imperative that the PL and that patrol employ the appropriate signal at the appropriate time to avoid mission compromise and/or discovery by an enemy.
    • Audio:
      • Voice is a very good means of communication, but must always be kept to a whisper.  Remember, sound travels fast and long, especially at night and especially when you don’t want anyone to hear you.   So, if you use voice, keep it very low, and whisper right into the ear of your listener.  It has been said (and it’s true) that on world-class patrols, no voice is used  whatsoever – just visual signals, so factor that into your training.
      • Radios are good for control, especially in a large patrol, but remember to maintain and enforce good radio discipline.  You can be “DF’d” (have your transmissions intercepted and then have the patrol found by Direction Finder technology and subsequently enemy troops) very easily if you       transmit anything more than the shortest possible times!  Additionally, the PL must count on the  RTOs (Radio/Telephone Operators) to use the radio only when absolutely necessary.  Radios are superb for conducting raid operations because the PL can signal support element teams to execute their tasks instantaneously.  Remember, radio discipline is vital, and once a fight is joined, the need for short, unobtrusive transmissions has not necessarily passed, especially if your enemy has a stand-off weapon capability in conjunction with DF equipment.  During a fight, the radio needs to be used as aggressively as necessary to assist the patrol in breaking contact or winning the fight, if that’s the mission.  Just know that you may have to ‘hit and git’.
      • Whistles are great secondary means of signaling such actions as withdrawal from an ambush or raid site or other objective.  Obviously, it’s not a good device to use when stealth or secrecy is required.  It can also be difficult to hear over the sound of weapons fire and therefore may be ineffective in shifting or halting fire.  The best whistles out there that we’ve found at DTG are the old school USGI green whistles.  They’re loud, they work all the time, and when you can find them, are relatively inexpensive.  As with other signals, you must work out what the various blasts mean and the patrol members must memorize them.  Be cognizant of the possibility that if your enemy can figure out what the signals mean, they can mimic them causing your patrol to take an action out of sequence or compromise their position.
    • Visual:
      • Pyrotechnic devices such as flares are good for signaling, but they attract everyone in the area’s attention and can be seen for a long way away helping an enemy to pinpoint your objective.   If he can do that, he can project your possible routes of withdrawal and make getting back to friendly areas very difficult.  Even so, when used, they should be of varying types and used with no pattern.
      • Light from weapon mounted or hand-held lights can also be used, but have some drawbacks as well.  If these are to be used, try to have small, LED type lights possessing colored lenses that may not be picked up as quickly as a white light signal.  Just as with whistle blasts, the signal meanings must be worked out in advance with the patrol members.
      • Arm and Hand signals should be used whenever possible instead of voice or radio, especially when close to any known or suspected enemy position.  In addition to standard hand and arm signals, the PL should encourage his men to devise any additional hand and arm signals that   make communication more clear providing they are easily learned and are universal among the patrol members.
      • Luminous tape on a patrol cap or bush hat can be used for more than just identification of swimmers and non-swimmers, as well as the luminous markings on a  compass can be used at night, over short distances, as signals.  Be aware of their advantages and disadvantages.
      • If available, and the NPG can afford them, infrared sending and receiving devices such as commercially available night vision scopes or monocular or even an infrared flashlight filter can be used to send and receive signals.  Take the same precautions with this kind of signal as you would with radio and pyrotechnics, because if you have an infrared receiver, you can bet an     enemy will.


      • Tug lines are a reliable and secure method of signaling.  By tying a string, cord, rope or wire        from one man to another, signals can be passed along quickly and quietly by pulling on the wire in a prearranged code.  Tug lines are difficult to install but in a static position, such as a semi-permanent patrol base or ambush site (24 to 36 hours), they can be very effective as a control measure.
      • Units of time, or specific times are a good secondary means of control.  By giving a precise time schedule for certain actions, the PL can control their execution.
      • Personal alertness of each patrol member and actively passing signals and instructions on to others is also a good control measure.  Subordinate leaders moving with and controlling their elements  are also good control measures.  Don’t become so controlling, however, that you’re telling your patrol members what individual movement techniques to use when executing their assigned mission tasks.  Leave that up to them; they’re the ones dealing with what’s in front of them.
  • Accounting for Troops – An important aspect of control is the accounting for troops when a patrol is moving over long distances toward or away from an objective.  The PL must not lose any of his men!       The PL should account for each man after crossing danger areas, after enemy contact, after crossing obstacles, after halts, and periodically while moving.  If a man becomes separated, and after determining that actions designed to pick up a separated patrol member haven’t worked, the PL must make the command decision to either delay or abort the mission to find the missing man, or continue the mission without the missing man.  Each choice has its pros and cons; this is why the PL should be experienced in both patrolling and      leadership.  The mission must always come first.
    • During Night Movement – Depending on the size of the patrol , the PL may find it necessary to order a halt and have his subordinate leaders make a report.
    • During Day Movement – Another method that may be used, depending on terrain, interval, and the tactical situation is ‘counting off’ by having the last man in formation move up to the next closest man, tap him on the shoulder, and whisper or signal with pre-arranged hand/arm signals, “one”.  The man tapped moves up and taps the next man and says/signals, “two”.  This continues until all men have been counted, and the report is given  to the PL.  The PL can also pre-arrange times or at various RP’s to subordinate leaders on when to send up the count so the PL doesn’t have to ask for it.
  • Control of the Point Man      or Team – This is essential for frontal security.  If the point man/team is KIA without the knowledge of the PL, the patrol will be subjected to ambush and possibly subsequent annihilation.  The point team has two primary missions; both of which can be executed simultaneously to a greater or lesser degree depending upon the mission and the capabilities of the patrol:
    • Provide Frontal Security       – The Point Team Leader (if there is a full fire team functioning as point) can be responsible for navigation of the main patrol body.  If there is only 1 or 2 point men, the frontal security they can provide is limited due to their limited armament and manpower.  However,       they provide initial scouting and security of rally points when the PL  orders their establishment, danger area crossing points when encountered, and other missions as related to their function and the PL’s       instructions.
    • Provide Early Warning – This is executed by placing the point man/team far enough ahead of the patrol so that when the point man/team warns the patrol of danger or comes into contact with the enemy, the patrol has sufficient room to  maneuver during the engagement or to break contact.

 Maintaining control of the point team is primarily accomplished through visual contact between the point man/team and the main patrol body.  Through hand and arm signals, the PL can pass instructions to the point man/team.  Additionally, the point man/team may have radios with which to receive their instructions.  It cannot be stressed enough that radio contact should only be used in emergencies due to potential enemy radio direction finding equipment that could easily pin point the patrol and compromise its mission.  Rally points, phase lines, and check points coupled with time requirements are also a method of controlling the point man/team if he/they are out of visual contact with the patrol.

Selection and Use of Rally Points (RP), as mentioned previously, is one method of controlling the patrol or elements within the patrol.   When defining exactly what a rally point consists of, one must understand that a RP is a place where the patrol can:

  • Reassemble and reorganize if dispersed
  • Temporarily halt to reorganize or prepare prior to action at the objective or prior to re-entry to friendly areas

Additionally, a RP should have the following characteristics:

  • Be easily recognizable
  • Have cover and concealment
  • Be defensible for the amount of  time the patrol must occupy it
  • Be located away from natural lines of drift

When planning a patrol, the PL makes a thorough map reconnaissance to pick areas containing potential RP’s.  The following types of RP’s are designated in the patrol order and then used in the execution of a patrol:

  • Initial Rally Point (IRP) –   The place within friendly areas the patrol will depart from to travel to the friendly area departure point.  Again, whether or not the  situation provides for the IRP’s use, all patrol members must know of its  location.
  • Objective Rally Point (ORP) – The place the patrol halts, reorganizes, and prepares to execute its      mission.
  • Rally Point Enroute RPE) – There may be one or more of these rally points designated in the patrol order depending on the length and distance of the patrol.  RPE’s may be used for reorganization and picking up patrol members who may become separated from the patrol, reorganization points when the patrol breaks contact with the enemy, such as after experiencing an ambush, and so on.
  • Reentry Rally Point (RRP) – This RP is just outside the friendly area and is where the patrol will wait until a guide is contacted to bring them inside either the perimeter or other friendly area boundaries.

The following principles should be employed with all rally points:

  • All patrol members should know where all RP’s are located
  • Tentative RP’s are designated if the patrol is dispersed and unable to assemble  at a previously designated RP
  • If the enemy precludes the use of the last designated RP, the patrol reverts to the previously designated RP as its alternate.
  • RP’s are usually designated by their outstanding terrain features that allow for easy identification by patrol members.
  • In any case where tentative RP’s or RPE’s have not been designated, the ORP will be used as the rally point for reassembly & reorganization if the patrol becomes dispersed.
  • If any separated patrol members reach a designated RPE after the time limit has elapsed for the use of the RPE, he should make all attempts to meet the patrol at the ORP moving in such a manner as not to compromise the mission, his position, or the patrol’s presence (this is why a good working knowleddge of map and compass are essential to a successful patrol for all members.)

The following techniques should be employed for designating and informing all patrol members of rally point designations (remember, these techniques can be modified as the PL sees the need):

  • If visibility permits, the PL designates rally points by hand and arm signals.  This is an optimum technique for small patrols.
  • If the patrol is spread out so that not all patrol members can see the PL’s hand/arm signals or other visibility factors make the use of the PL’s hand/arm signals impractical, the following technique may be used:
    • The PL stops the patrol and recalls the point team leader and the APL to his location.
    • The PL informs the point team leader and the APL that he has designated the spot as a RPE location.
    • The APL stays at the position and informs the patrol members as they pass through his position that the location is now a RPE.
    • The point team leader returns to his team and informs them of the RPE designation.

Usually, RPE’s and known danger area RP’s are planned for and designated while moving.

Danger Areas – Types and Crossing Techniques:  There are four types of danger areas the patrol must be concerned with:

  • Linear – Characterized by roads, trails and small streams where the flanks of the patrol are exposed to      narrow fields of fire.  At night, these linear danger areas can be used by observing enemy as ‘false horizons’ that will help to silhouette crossing patrol members.
  • Small Open Areas – Characterized by size that would indicate an enemy could hit the patrol in one flank or from the front.
  • Large Open Areas – Characterized by size that would place the lead team of the patrol beyond the effective fire of the overwatch element while crossing or when the lead team arrives on the far side of the area.
  • Combined Series – Similar in character to a large open area, but can be made up of several small area or linear areas in sequence and proximity so that the patrol is never completely invulnerable while crossing.

Crossing a danger area, like all other patrol tasks, is executed by completing a series of sub tasks:

  • The PL designates near and far side RP’s if not already designated in the Patrol Order.
  • The PL directs reconnaissance and securing of the far side of the danger area.  Depending on enemy activity,      terrain, and the PL’s judgment, the PL may opt for a visual reconnaissance rather than sending men to the far side.
  • Remove evidence that the patrol has crossed the danger area (footprints).

The reader should note that there are many other tasks to crossing danger areas and they modifications to techniques are limited only by the ingenuity, skill and intelligence of the PL and his subordinate leaders.  It is useful to develop these ‘plays’ in your standard training, and incorporate them into the patrol rehearsal.

Additionally, actions at the objective will depend on the patrol’s mission, time available, fire support, adjacent unit activity, and other mission factors.  For those who are just learning, this series has been just the start of the journey to be taken in learning effective, successful patrol execution.  To the experienced, this series will have met the requirements for a light refresher.  To all:  The preceding parts of “Basic Patrolling” have all been presented from the “text book” perspective; the trick for you and your group will be to modify your current Attrition Warfare (top-down group lock-step blind obedience, supply chain, reinforcement, suppression fire dependent) mindset to one of Maneuver Warfare that once your people master the “basics” of tactics, encourages self-initiative and judgment and requires group critique of anything put into the rehearsal “play book”.  A couple of good references on this subject is, “The Tiger’s Way” and “The Last Hundred Yards” by H. J. Poole.

Depending on interest and feedback, future installments may include actions at the objective for combat & reconnaissance patrols.  It’s up to you.

See you in the field.


3 thoughts on “Basic Patrolling Concepts & Principles – Part IV

  1. Pingback: DTG: Basic Patrolling Concepts & Principles, Parts II-IV | Western Rifle Shooters Association

  2. Pingback: DTG: Basic Patrolling Concepts & Principles, Parts II-IV | Woody Creek Farmer

  3. Pingback: Got the Winter Doldrums? Use the down time to your advantage…. | The Defensive Training Group

Feel free to comment! Debates are welcome, so long as they add to the discussion. Ad hominem attacks, accusations, uncontrolled vitriol, thread hijacks, personal threats, or any comment that otherwise detracts from DTG's stated mission will not be approved or posted. Repeat violators will be banned.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s