Re-Post: Principles of Tactical Defense – Part III: “Digging In,” Also Known As, “Field Fortifications”

Originally posted 1 Mar 14.

There’s an extremely good reason why each buddy team in a NPT should have a sturdy, collapsible shovel (E-tool) between them (nothing wrong with each member having their own, provided the fitness level balances against the added weight in the ruck).  Simply put, when your security patrol is required by its mission or necessity to stop for over a few hours, prudence dictates the NPT should begin to dig in.  Prepared defensive positions will increase life expectancy of all team members if attacked away from your safe zone.

Digging in will provide both cover and concealment from observation in most situations, even if the NPT digs shallow ‘hasty’ positions.  In such a case, the position becomes part of the ‘micro terrain’ and just a few inches of depth may help make the team member invisible to an observer.  A lot of what follows is rehashed from various field manuals with some additional thoughts thrown in, however, even though you may find it a bit dry, it is sound in principle and works in application.  Let’s start with what your position must do minimally.

In any situation you find yourself, your position must:

  • Protect (cover) you from direct and indirect fire
  • Allow you to effectively fire your weapon
  • Conceal you from observation, and if at all possible, the position itself must be concealed from identification as a prepared position.

COVER – (Cover is always concealment, i.e., you can’t be seen when behind or under cover, but it doesn’t mean that your enemy doesn’t have a good idea where you are!)

The cover your fighting position provides must be strong enough to protect you from small arms fire, indirect fire fragments, and the blast wave of large explosions (nuclear in this instance is not an issue, because you’re dead anyway if you get hit with a tactical or larger nuke), say from a self-propelled gun or other large, indirect fire weapon. The position should have frontal cover to give protection from small arms fire from the front. Natural frontal cover (trees, rocks, logs, and rubble) is best, because it is hard for the enemy to detect a position that is concealed by natural cover. If natural cover is not available, use the dirt taken from the hole you dig to build additional cover. The cover can be improved by putting the dirt in sandbags and then wetting them.

Here’s an example right out of the field manual of what a prepared two person prepared defensive position should offer:

2 Man Position Shown from the Rear

2 Man Position Shown from the Rear

Now, from the front, which is from where you want to fight off the local zombie horde, you need the cover to be very strong.   It needs to be:

  • Thick enough (at least 18 inches of dirt-the more tightly packed or tamped, the better) to stop small arms fire.
  • High enough to protect your head when you fire from behind the cover.
  • Far enough in front of the hole to allow room for elbow holes and aiming stakes so that you can fire to the oblique without danger of shooting into another of your positions.
  • Long enough to give you cover and hide the muzzle blast of your rifle when you fire to the oblique.

Dig and build your position so that when you come under direct fire from your front, you can move behind the frontal cover for protection and still fire to the oblique (angle).  This illustration will give you a good idea of what you just read:

Position Capable of Taking Direct Fire While Allowing Occupants to Fire from the Oblique

Position Capable of Taking Direct Fire While Allowing Occupants to Fire from the Oblique

For all-round protection, to include protection from shrapnel from indirect fire weapons (mortars, rockets, etc), your position should also have overhead, flank, and rear cover. The dirt from the hole can also be used to build that cover, which protects against indirect fire that bursts overhead or to the flanks and rear of the position. Cover also guards against the effects of friendly weapons supporting from the rear, such as small arms fire. You should leave crawl spaces in the rear cover. This lets you enter and leave the position without exposing yourself to the enemy.

To increase your chances of survival from any sort of large detonation, you should insure that your fighting position has rounded walls hold up better against a blast wave than square or rectangular walls, and rounded walls are easier to dig.

Here’s an illustration of a text book prepared defensive position once complete:

Completed Prepared Defensive Position

Completed Prepared Defensive Position

Now let’s look at staying hidden.

CONCEALMENT (Concealment is not always cover…. and cover for lighter projectiles may just be concealment for heavier or penetrator projectiles…think about it.)

If your position can be detected, it can be hit by fire from someone who wants to kill you. If it can be hit, you can be killed in it. Therefore, your position must be so well hidden that the enemy will have a hard time detecting it even after he is in hand-grenade range (that’s pretty close; not many people can throw a grenade farther than 25 or 30 yards…). Think Maneuver Warfare here! Assaults at night are rarely done with weapons fire! Natural, undisturbed concealment is better than man-made concealment because:

It is already prepared.

It usually will not attract the enemy’s attention.

It need not be replaced.

While digging your position, try not to disturb the natural concealment around it. Put the unused dirt from the hole behind the position and camouflage it.  Here’s an example:

Camouflaged...except for the idiot silhouetting himself in the hole opening....

Camouflaged…except for the idiot silhouetting himself in the hole opening….

While digging your position, try not to disturb the natural concealment around it. Put the unused dirt from the hole behind the position and camouflage it.  Camouflage material that does not have to be replaced (rocks, logs, live bushes, and grass) is best. You should not use so much camouflage that your position looks different from its surroundings.  Your position must be concealed from enemy aircraft (think drones here) as well as from ground observation. If the position is under a bush or tree, or in a building, it is less likely to be seen from above. Leaves, straw, or grass placed on the floor of the hole will keep the fresh earth from contrasting with the ground around it. Do not use sticks, as they may stop grenades from rolling into the grenade sumps  (grenade sumps work against improvised zombie IED’s, too).  Remember, if you’re using man-made (burlap, camouflage nets, commercial material, etc.) concealment must blend with its surroundings so that it cannot be detected.  Yeah, that super tactical looking 7X8 sheet of camouflage might be all the rage, but if your position looks like you’ve covered it with a sheet, you’ve just marked yourself as low hanging fruit…ripe for the picking.

Here’s what a drone should see if it were flying over this text-book illustration of a prepared position:

Field Fort 5


In the next installment, we’ll get into determining fire sectors, setting them up, clearing fields of fire, and various types of positions that are all able to be improved by something called, ‘progressive development’.


12 thoughts on “Re-Post: Principles of Tactical Defense – Part III: “Digging In,” Also Known As, “Field Fortifications”

  1. Pingback: DTG: Field Fortifications | Western Rifle Shooters Association

  2. Daniel K Day

    Having looked at a cheap, fragile-looking folding shovel at a gun show recently, I’d like to hear your recommendations of specific shovels.

  3. SemperFi, 0321

    If you can ever find one, the US M1956 E-tool w/pick is the finest folding shovel ever issued by any army. The new tri-folds are crap compared to the earlier VN issued shovels. Got mine new in 1968.
    Next would be the German Bundeswehr wood handled w/pick. About $25 and still available.
    Then the Swiss model of the WW2 German folder, another Rolex of shovels. Absolute high quality steel and wood.
    Try ebay for any of these, however, don’t spend too much,I’ve found most of my etools under $25, some of the current prices are outrageous! surplus stores rarely carry anything except cheap trifolds these days.
    After that they go downhill in size and quality.
    Or do as the Brits do, find a stout steel D-handle shovel of about 3′ length, carry it along with a short pickaxe. That will move some earth.

  4. cultcha tourista

    Vintage shovel (WWI-style, Swiss mil-surp until 1960’s, Solid wood handle/folding blade/folding pick ), or if you have the scratch, a titanium shovel. Agree with the uselessness of flimsy tri-fold shovels (often poor Chinese copy of US mil tri-fold). Late-model Chinese Red Army shovel/multi-tool is interesting.

  5. cultcha tourista

    Local Best! Hardware store selling full-length fiberglass-handle shovels (round or flat blade) for $6.50. Leather palm gloves (L only) $2.49 pair. Hunnert bucks equips 11 digging teams.

    Maybe not perfect as a ruck-carry tool (heavy/big), but if they could “appear” with a length of cord per team (buddy lift of full shovel) in a local woodshed near the entrenching requirement, deep bunker hole-digging gets easier than with the short-handled shovels carried by soldiers.

  6. SemperFi, 0321

    Agree on the NEW Chinese one. Looks very practical.
    Asked some friends in HongKong to find me one, no luck yet.

  7. Pingback: DTG: Principles of Tactical Defense – Part V: Fully Prepared Positions and Improvements | Western Rifle Shooters Association

  8. Pingback: Defensive Formations: | The Defensive Training Group

  9. Pingback: Nine Months: Principles Of Tactical Defense | Western Rifle Shooters Association

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