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An ambush can be defined as a surprise attack on a moving force. Setting up and surviving ambushes are two basic combat scenarios taught to all soldiers in the first phases of their training.

For simplicity's sake, I'll illustrate with a case of one squad (8 men) ambushing another single squad. In real life things tend to be more complex.

Setting Up an Ambush

The squad leader can choose to set up an ambush if he receives intelligence indicating that the enemy is on its way along a known path. In an ideal situation, the ambushing group has days to prepare its position, but in these days of satellite imaging and motorized infantry an advance notice of even 15 minutes may be a luxury; a simple ambush can be set up in one minute if a moving squad's scouts spot an enemy force heading their way.

So. For a simple ambush, the group leader will array his men along one side of the expected path, 5-10 meters between soldiers, perhaps some 50 meters away from the road. Each soldier will prepare his fire position so that he can see towards the road but is not visible from the road.

Then, the squad leader will usually designate a fire trigger (a point beyond which firing is allowed). The trigger is usually set relatively far back, allowing the enemy's scouts to pass and the entire squad to move into view before firing starts. Alternatively, the squad leader may choose to open fire himself at an opportune moment, after which all other squad members will follow. The squad leader will also designate a withdrawal rendezvous point, for reasons that will be explained later.

The primary targets in an ambush are the enemy's squad leader, usually first in the file, and the assistant squad leader, usually the last. After the "brains" of the squad have been eliminated, the rest tend become disorganized and panicked and are thus easy prey. (Yes, any wartime unit will have a theoretical chain of succession, but seeing half their buddies dead tends to upset people a bit.)

Surviving an Ambush

Ideally, your scouts will spot the ambushers before they attack, but this just isn't going to happen every time. Thus, an ambush will usually be revealed by gunfire and the sudden violent deaths of (at least) 2-3 squad members. This is largely unavoidable -- the attacker in an ambush always has a significant edge over the defender.

But all is not yet lost. What every soldier who wants to get out of an ambush alive should do is:

  1. Drop to the ground as fast as humanly possible -- better a bruise than a bullet. Keep your legs tensed to prevent them from bouncing back up. There are approximately 2 seconds between the squad leader's opening shot and the ensuing bullet storm, use them.
  2. Fire 2 shots in the general direction of the enemy, no need to aim. This may convince them to keep their heads down and/or scare them into missing, and give you a few extra seconds of time.
  3. Move quickly and stealthily towards better cover.
Pretty intuitive so far, but the next step is a surprise for many: according to (field-tested) military doctrine, the next thing to do is to attack the enemy positions as a group. Basically, the thinking behind this is that the enemy knows the terrain and where you are, while you don't; if you stay where you are, or attempt to run away, you become sitting (or running) ducks for the enemy's shooters.

Modern infantry has an another advantage on its side when ambushed: air and/or artillery support is only a radio call away, and one of the first duties of the squad leader in an ambush is to order some. This means that the attackers have about one to two minutes of effective firing time before the bombs start dropping, and they know this; the ambushing squad leader will usually call for withdrawal some 30 to 60 seconds after the attack has started. If the defenders have managed to remain a coherent force, they can assault while the ambushers retreat, and with some luck turn the tables.

Tricky Tactics

Alas, ambushers have a few more tricks up their sleeve. First of all, it is by no means necessary to line all your men on one side of the path; quite the contrary, it is common to place some men (say) ahead and some on the left, making it quite difficult to find shelter or to assault the enemy's dual position. (Ganging up from three sides, however, is usually not done because of the risk of friendly fire.)

An even more evil -- but effective -- tactic is to employ a decoy. One soldier hides on the right side of the road and fires the opening shot; the ambushed squad drops, finds shelter for fire from the right, and starts advancing. Then the rest of the squad pops up on the left, behind the backs of the victims, and the carnage begins. (I've tried this a few times in laser-aided combat simulation, and it really is just too easy to zap all the poor fools scuttling away with their backs beautifully exposed to you.)

Am"bush (#), n. [F. embuche, fr. the verb. See Ambush, v. t.]


A disposition or arrangement of troops for attacking an enemy unexpectedly from a concealed station. Hence: Unseen peril; a device to entrap; a snare.

Heaven, whose high walls fear no assault or siege Or ambush from the deep. Milton.


A concealed station, where troops or enemies lie in wait to attack by surprise.

Bold in close ambush, base in open field. Dryden.


The troops posted in a concealed place, for attacking by surprise; liers in wait.


The ambush arose quickly out of their place. Josh. viii. 19.

To lay an ambush, to post a force in ambush.


© Webster 1913.

Am"bush (#), v. t. [imp. & p. p. Ambushed (#); p. pr. & vb. n. Ambushing.] [OE. enbussen, enbushen, OF. embushier, embuissier, F. embucher, embusquer, fr. LL. imboscare; in + LL. boscus, buscus, a wood; akin to G. bush, E. bush. See Ambuscade, Buh.]


To station in ambush with a view to surprise an enemy.

By ambushed men behind their temple ai, We have the king of Mexico betrayed. Dryden.


To attack by ambush; to waylay.


© Webster 1913.

Am"bush, v. i.

To lie in wait, for the purpose of attacking by surprise; to lurk.

Nor saw the snake that ambushed for his prey. Trumbull.


© Webster 1913.

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