The anglophone obsession with infantry patrols

One thing kept me puzzled for years: Why are anglophone soldiers so obsessed with infantry patrols?

I remember almost no reference to infantry patrols in German military literature. Some hunting patrols meant to hunt partisans were known by '42, the German infantry company manuals were amended with chapters dedicated to patrols in peacekeeping missions and the germanophone Jagdkampf tactic (guerrilla-like infantry platoon actions) may occasionally come close as well. Other than that, I almost exclusively remember few platoon-sized cavalry Fernpatroullien.

Somehow germanophone infantry seemed to have been able to accomplish its jobs with patrols being limited to close scouting, very often 2-3 men patrols with very few km depth as well as a bit more firepower-rich walks between entrenched positions to keep an eye on the front-line.

I wonder why every time anglophones discuss infantry, they appear to focus on infantry patrols, while Germans tend to focus on the Stoßtrupp (a platoon assault) or Jagdkampf instead.

William F Owen even drafted an entire doctrine approach for infantry called "Patrol Based Infantry Doctrine".*

It may be due to the influence of small wars, of course. Small wars / "peacekeeping" is what drove the term into German field manuals, after all.

related: An anglophone field manual on infantry patrols, old enough to not be tainted by post-2002 small wars.

P.S.: The funny thing about this is that back when I was in uniform, it was common to quip that GI's couldn't find out of a forest without GPS. Despite all that patrol emphasis. ;)

*: Infantry Magazine, January-February 2006


  1. Well small wars is kind of point of view, but certainly aspects of that go back pre-2002. Just look at a generic Vietnam movie and the cliche activity of infantry platoons is to walk around the entire day. I am not saying, this was how that war was being fought per se, but certainly that strange aspect of keeping troops busy just patrolling was present.

  2. Not trying to be definitive, but the American interest in scouting (usually done by one or two people) clearly came from the Indian Wars, and the hit and run ambush attacks that were common back in the 17th century with matchlock weapons and bows.

    Some very good work on it was done up into the 1920s, but as the small wars escalated the size of the patrolling unit got larger.

  3. The stranger thing than walking around in the veldt all day long is always coming back to home base in the evening. Being out is good, but the way it's typically done these days is awfully predictable.

  4. As an wholly uneducated guess, my take would be that it's in the anglo "way of war" DNA, though it might have been nurtured by a favorable environment over the last decades/century.

    Both the UK and the USA are "empires" on their own, having either subjugated/incorporated their own insular landmass through internal expansion, and are so left without (serious) military competitors immediatly surrounding/threatening them.

    Use of military force would then be biased toward expeditionary "small wars" forces, mostly projected outside for the UK, and first inside, then outside for the USA, as ambition grew along power.

    Rather than anglophone, patrolling (on foot, horse, vessel) might thus be rather a thalassocratic obsession.


  5. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/9653497/British-have-invaded-nine-out-of-ten-countries-so-look-out-Luxembourg.html

    It seems that this is an ego-stroking article, (check comments), can't say if the book is too or is some chest-beating sob story - very lax criteria for "invading", still.
    And as an aside, no mention of being invaded by quite a few others, though, notably the Saxon, French (ok, the brits ***INSIST*** they were Normans...) and Dutch, who really had a defining and long-lasting influence.

    In any case, prefect illustration of how a thalassocracy sees war : export stuff only.

    Patrolling would make sense then, move around to grab/do what you want and leave, or let yourself be seen so the natives know who the boss is, or shuttle around trying to find those pesky natives who hide from you, etc, etc...

    And, so, an ingrained or innate "trait? A bit like the US seemingly ingrained preoccupation with the "rifle" and "rifleman" (even if the US infantryman overall quality never seems to have been overhelming to allies and opponents alike), that one might see distantly mirrored in the modern US milblogging/gear queens scene?

    Whereas other military traditions, notably the Russian and German ones seem to have been less centered on the tool and the individual, and more on the doctrine and the whole?

    Also, I wonder if the so-called West adopting that "anglophone way of war" en masse since the USA became the dominant, shaping power is not a major contributing factor to its military decline - how many "Western" victories since 1945, despite overhelming material advantages?
    Thanksfully, no real, existential war since, but, still, you've got fools clamoring for China to become the next Big Bad Enemy of the day...

    Anyway, I'm stopping here, and leave room again for real commenters.
    All the best,

    1. Kevin: as for invading England, you forgot the Italians, the Danes & Norwegians, the non-Norman French (cf King John), and of course the perennial invader, the Scots!

    2. Ok, thanks - if only for not pointing out the flaws in my "theory"!

      Note that while my historical knowledge derives mostly from half-remembered bits from my school daze, I didn't forgot the vikings, I just believe, quite possibly wrongly, that they imposed a nobility that went away without leaving much impact.
      And as for the French, again, I just didn't feel the need to differentiate between the "Normans" and the French, because it was all the "French" anyway (IIRC, the bulk of Guillaume/William's army was Picards barons and their retainers), just as the conquered land was "England", and not really England, if I'm not being confusing.
      Which is why the Telegraph article above is silly, looking at the past by super-imposing a modern-day view.

      The Scots, I brushed aside (read : forgot, my bad). Weren't the Scot-Irish more like seasonal raiders and permanent "rowdy frontiersmen" type neighbours, rather than invaders, btw?

      As for ther Italians, well, in all fairness, I didn't know! Are you refering to the Romans? If so, it's "Italians" again, same thing.

      All the best,

    3. Dear Kevin, they indoctrinate us at school, especially in history classes. The Irish were conquering new land in the Dark Ages, just like the Germanic tribes from the West. When did this Germanic conquest stop and the Viking Age begin or was it just one big onslaught? The Irish (called Scots and ever since Scotland has stolen the name of Ireland) and the Germanic invaders settled on the biggest Bristish Isle and fought with each other over control. These fights for control kept going for a long time until Normandized Frenchmen created the militaristic state of England that was even capable of fighting France, an opponent with several times their population and wealth.

      I have no idea why they commit to infantry patrols, but each institution has their quirks.

  6. Some have pointed to the 18th and 19th century influence of North American warfare, but I suspect the focus on patrolling (which we call enabling operations, as opposed to offensive or defensive operations) goes back to the start of modern infantry tactics. The Western Front of the First World War was a stalemate, where Germany adopted a defensive posture in the West while it cleaned house in the East for a few years. The biggest weapon for the British Army was the trench raid - aggressive patrolling into no-mans-land. There are signs that this was carried into the Second World War when offensives slowed down - General Hube referred to the Canadians as well versed in "Indianerkrieg". Korea, once the stalemate set in, was a war of patrols on the DMZ while all the small wars of the Cold War were fought by patrols looking for locals to pacify.

    So, in essence, its in the genes....