Tactics 101: 019 – Attacking in the Blind – Movement to Contact
"Get there first with the most."
Nathan Bedford Forrest
What happens when you’re ordered to attack, but you do not quite know where the enemy is or what he is up to? How do you plan, prepare, and execute a mission with no clearly defined opponent? Believe it or not, this situation is not unusual. In fact, it is routine. Therefore, dealing with it, is critical to success over the long haul. Battles and engagements may succeed without a movement to contact, but campaigns do not.
A movement to contact is an offensive operation executed in order to develop the situation and to gain or regain, and then maintain contact with the enemy.
In the summer of 1943 the German High Command targeted a troublesome and distinct salient on the eastern front for destruction. It was to be crushed in a classic ‘pincer movement’. The pocket would be cut off and its encircled inhabitants would be annihilated. The Red Army High fully expected the attack and made counter plans. They would accept the Hitlerite attack and exhaust it on a dense and multi-layered defense. Both sides planned to close the deal with an armored coup de grace. Both husbanded substantial tank reserves to that end.
The Germans launched their Panzers when it became apparent that a breakthrough would require an armored thrust. The Red Army launched their tanks on the same day. Neither knew the others disposition, composition, or strength. The resulting engagement was perhaps, the largest movement to contact in history.
On July 12th the II SS Panzer Corps advanced on Prokhorovka. The Soviet 5th Guards Tank Army launched the same day as part of a counteroffensive. The Panzers and the Guards collided west of Prokhorovka in open country. Some 1200 opposing tanks collided on terrain that favored neither side. No one could seize a dominant position so both attacked from the march. The Red Army lost between 150 and 300 tanks while the Germans lost half that number. The Germans couldn’t afford the losses.
A movement to contact is an offensive operation executed in order to develop the situation, gain or regain, and maintain contact with the enemy. You’ll execute this mission when the situation is vague or the enemy has slipped out of your grasp. If you plan on succeeding, you have to remember some basic rules of thumb.
1. Focus on finding the enemy. This is an enemy oriented mission. Don’t get distracted by juicy terrain objectives or irrelevant sideshows. Find the enemy and stay on him.
2. Make initial contact with the smallest force possible. It doesn’t pay to pile into the enemy with everything you’ve got only to find yourself trapped in a larger ambush. Make contact with a small force that does not equate to full commitment on your part. Allow them to develop the situation. This is not only force protection, it is common sense. Look before you leap!
3. Make initial contact with a mobile, self-contained force. Your lead element should not only find the enemy but, if required, should be able to hold its own with them for a while. This is how you develop the situation and maintain contact. The lead element should be as mobile as the enemy at a minimum and more mobile if possible. The lead unit should also have a full compliment of combat support; indirect fires, close air, attack helicopters, tanks, air defense….
4. Avoid decisive engagement of the main body on ground chosen by the enemy. Do not allow the enemy to select the ground for the fight if you can avoid it. Your lead unit finds the enemy, the next unit fixes them, and the main body finishes them.
5. Task-organize the force and use movement formations to deploy and attack rapidly in any direction. Create company teams and battalion task forces composed of infantry and armor. Plan and rehearse contact battle drills that enable your unit to respond to a number of situations. Remember that a movement to contact is based on uncertainty.
6. Keep forces within supporting distances to facilitate a flexible response. Each force should be within direct support of the one following it. You can achieve separation by time or distance while ensuring support through the assignment of combat multipliers that fix and suppress the enemy long enough for the next echelon to close in on the developing fight. Remember Chamberlain at Gettysburg. He couldn’t defeat Heth’s infantry division in the town, but he could hold them long enough for the rest of the federal army to close.
7. Maintain contact. The point of this mission isn’t simply to find the enemy. It is to stick to him. Once you’ve found him, stay on him one way or another. If you lose the enemy, then you are back to square one.
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