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guerrilla warfare(gərĭl`ə) [Span.,=little war], fighting by groups of irregular troops (guerrillas) within areas occupied by the enemy. When guerrillas obey the laws of conventional warfare they are entitled, if captured, to be treated as ordinary prisoners of war; however, they are often executed by their captors. The tactics of guerrilla warfare stress deception and ambush, as opposed to mass confrontation, and succeed best in an irregular, rugged, terrain and with a sympathetic populace, whom guerrillas often seek to win over by propaganda, reform, and terrorism. Guerrilla warfare, also known as unconventional, irregular, or asymmetric warfare, has played a significant role in modern history, especially when waged by Communist insurgencies in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.
In the American Revolution and the Nineteenth Century
Large-scale guerrilla fighting accompanied the American Revolution, and the development of guerrilla tactics under such partisan leaders as Francis MarionMarion, Francis
, c.1732–1795, American Revolutionary soldier, known as the Swamp Fox, b. near Georgetown, S.C. He was a planter and Indian fighter before joining (1775) William Moultrie's regiment at the start of the American Revolution.
..... Click the link for more information. , Andrew PickensPickens, Andrew,
1739–1817, American Revolutionary soldier, b. near Paxtang, Pa. He moved (1752) to South Carolina and took part (1761) in frontier warfare against the Cherokee.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Thomas SumterSumter, Thomas,
1734–1832, American Revolutionary officer, b. near Charlottesville, Va. He served with Edward Braddock (1755) and John Forbes (1758) in their expeditions against Fort Duquesne in the French and Indian War, and later he fought against the Cherokee.
..... Click the link for more information. has been called the great contribution of the American Revolution to the development of warfare. The term guerrilla itself was coined during the Peninsular War (1808–14), when Spanish partisans, under such leaders as Francisco Mina, proved unconquerable even by the armies of Napoleon INapoleon I
, 1769–1821, emperor of the French, b. Ajaccio, Corsica, known as "the Little Corporal." Early Life
The son of Carlo and Letizia Bonaparte (or Buonaparte; see under Bonaparte, family), young Napoleon was sent (1779) to French military schools at
..... Click the link for more information. . From Spain the use of the term spread to Latin America and then to the United States.
During the U.S. Civil War, William C. QuantrillQuantrill, William Clarke
, 1837–65, Confederate guerrilla leader, b. Canal Dover (now Dover), Ohio. In the Civil War his band of guerrillas was active in Missouri and Kansas. He was given the rank of captain in the Confederate army. On Aug.
..... Click the link for more information. , who operated in Missouri and Kansas, was the most notorious of the Confederate guerrilla leaders, but John S. MosbyMosby, John Singleton
, 1833–1916, Confederate partisan leader in the American Civil War, b. Edgemont, Va. He was practicing law in Bristol, Va., when the Civil War broke out. Mosby served brilliantly in the cavalry under J. E. B. Stuart until Jan.
..... Click the link for more information. , in Virginia, was undoubtedly the most effective. During the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) the Germans suffered so much from French partisans, or francs-tireurs, that Field Marshall von MoltkeMoltke, Helmuth Karl Bernhard, Graf von,
1800–1891, Prussian field marshal. Following his graduation from the Royal Military Academy of Denmark, he entered the Danish service, but resigned his commission in 1822 to join the Prussian army.
..... Click the link for more information. ordered the shooting of all prisoners not fully uniformed and led by regular officers. In the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, the U.S. Army conducted a long campaign against Filipino guerrillas, such as Emilio AguinaldoAguinaldo, Emilio
, 1869–1964, Philippine leader. In the insurrection against Spain in 1896 he took command, and by terms of the peace that ended it he went into exile at Hong Kong (1897).
..... Click the link for more information. , and Moro bands. There has been frequent guerrilla warfare in Latin America. Notable among early 20th-century Latin American guerrillas are Francisco (Pancho) VillaVilla, Francisco
, c.1877–1923, Mexican revolutionary, nicknamed Pancho Villa.
His real name was Doroteo Arango.
When Villa came of age, he declared his freedom from the peonage of his parents and became notorious as a bandit in Chihuahua and Durango.
..... Click the link for more information. , Emiliano ZapataZapata, Emiliano
, c.1879–1919, Mexican revolutionary, b. Morelos. Zapata was of almost pure native descent. A tenant farmer, he occupied a social position between the peon and the ranchero, but he was a born leader who felt keenly the injustices suffered by his people.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Augusto C. SandinoSandino, Augusto César
, 1895–1934, Nicaraguan revolutionary general. A farmer and a mining engineer, he joined the liberal revolution (1926) against the conservative government headed by Adolfo Díaz and Emiliano Chamorro. He protested against the new U.S.
..... Click the link for more information. .
World War I to World War II
In World War I the most spectacular theater of guerrilla operations was the Arabian peninsula, where, under the leadership of T. E. LawrenceLawrence, T. E.
(Thomas Edward Lawrence), 1888–1935, British adventurer, soldier, and scholar, known as Lawrence of Arabia. While a student at Oxford he went on a walking tour of Syria and in 1911 joined a British Museum archaeological expedition in Mesopotamia.
..... Click the link for more information. and Faisal al-Husayn (later Faisal IFaisal I
or Faysal I
, 1885–1933, king of Iraq (1921–33). The third son of Husayn ibn Ali, sherif of Mecca, he is also called Faisal ibn Husayn. Faisal was educated in Constantinople and later sat in the Ottoman parliament as deputy for Jidda.
..... Click the link for more information. ), various Arab guerrilla bands fought superior Turkish forces. In the late 1920s and 30s the Chinese Communists under the leadership of Mao ZedongMao Zedong
or Mao Tse-tung
, 1893–1976, founder of the People's Republic of China. Mao was one of the most prominent Communist theoreticians and his ideas on revolutionary struggle and guerrilla warfare have been extremely influential, especially among Third
..... Click the link for more information. , perhaps the world's leading theorist of modern guerrilla warfare, conducted a large-scale guerrilla war, along with mobile and positional warfare, against both the Kuomintang and the Japanese in N China. Mao saw the People's War, as he called it, progressing from minor skirmishing to a conventional conflict as he led the Communists to victory.
Guerrilla tactics, aided by the development of the long-range portable radio and the use of aircraft as a means of supply, reached new heights in World War II. The Germans failed to establish a complete hold on Yugoslavia because of the guerrilla resistance, which was led by the Communist partisan leader TitoTito, Josip Broz
, 1892–1980, Yugoslav Communist leader, marshal of Yugoslavia. He was originally Josip Broz. Rise to Power
The son of a blacksmith in a Croatian village, Tito fought in Russia with the Austro-Hungarian army in World War I and was captured by
..... Click the link for more information. and supplied in part by Allied airdrops. In the Soviet Union guerrilla warfare was included in instruction at the military academy; in the field it was so brilliantly organized that it constituted a continual threat to the German rear and contributed greatly to the German disaster on the Eastern Front.
In Western Europe the Allies organized guerrilla forces in France, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Italy, and Greece. These forces (known collectively as the "underground" and, in France, as the maquis) were supplied by Allied airdrops and coordinated from London by radio. The resistance forces in Western Europe, led mainly by British- and American-trained officers, conducted not only guerrilla operations but also industrial sabotage, espionageespionage
, the act of obtaining information clandestinely. The term applies particularly to the act of collecting military, industrial, and political data about one nation for the benefit of another.
..... Click the link for more information. , propaganda campaigns, and the organization of escape routes for Allied prisoners of war.
By the end of World War II resistance forces had played a major role in the defeat of Germany. Throughout the war the United States and Britain also carried on guerrilla warfare in the Philippines and Southeast Asia, and in China large-scale guerrilla operations were conducted against the Japanese by both Communists and Nationalists.
Since World War II
Since World War II guerrilla warfare has been employed by nationalist groups to overthrow colonialism, by dissidents to launch civil wars, and by Communist and Western powers in the cold warcold war,
term used to describe the shifting struggle for power and prestige between the Western powers and the Communist bloc from the end of World War II until 1989. Of worldwide proportions, the conflict was tacit in the ideological differences between communism and
..... Click the link for more information. . There have been dozens of such conflicts.
Just after World War II large-scale guerrilla warfare broke out in Indochina between the French and the Communist Viet MinhViet Minh
, officially Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh [League for the Independence of Vietnam], a coalition of Communist and nationalist groups that opposed the French and the Japanese during World War II.
..... Click the link for more information. , led by Ho Chi MinhHo Chi Minh
, 1890–1969, Vietnamese nationalist leader, president of North Vietnam (1954–69), and one of the most influential political leaders of the 20th cent. His given name was Nguyen That Thanh. In 1911 he left Vietnam, working aboard a French liner.
..... Click the link for more information. and Vo Nguyen GiapGiap, Vo Nguyen
, 1911–2013, Vietnamese military leader and government official whose strategies helped drive the forces of Japan, France, and the United States from Vietnam.
..... Click the link for more information. . After the French defeat at DienbienphuDienbienphu
or Dien Bien Phu
, former French military base, N Vietnam, near the Laos border. It was the scene in 1954 of the last great battle between the French and the Viet Minh forces of Ho Chi Minh in Indochina. The French occupied the base by parachute drop in Nov.
..... Click the link for more information. (1945), France withdrew from the conflict; but the 1954 Geneva ConferenceGeneva Conference,
any of various international meetings held at Geneva, Switzerland. Some of the more important ones are discussed here. 1 International conference held Apr.–July, 1954, to restore peace in Korea and Indochina.
..... Click the link for more information. brought no permanent peace, and Communist guerrilla activity continued in Laos, Cambodia, and South Vietnam. In the subsequent Vietnam WarVietnam War,
conflict in Southeast Asia, primarily fought in South Vietnam between government forces aided by the United States and guerrilla forces aided by North Vietnam. The war began soon after the Geneva Conference provisionally divided (1954) Vietnam at 17° N lat.
..... Click the link for more information. the United States fought in support of the South Vietnamese government against local guerrillas (Viet CongViet Cong
, officially Viet Nam Cong San [Vietnamese Communists], People's Liberation Armed Forces in South Vietnam. The term was originally applied by Diem's regime to Communist troops (about 10,000) left in hideouts in South Vietnam after the Geneva Conference of 1954,
..... Click the link for more information. ) aided by North Vietnamese troops. In Cambodia, the Khmer RougeKhmer Rouge
, name given to native Cambodian Communists. Khmer Rouge soldiers, aided by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops, began a large-scale insurgency against government forces in 1970, quickly gaining control over more than two thirds of the country.
..... Click the link for more information. waged guerrilla warfare to win control of the nation and, after being ousted by the Vietnamese army, again resorted to it until the group's disintegration (1999).
In Algeria guerrilla warfare against the French was begun by the nationalists in 1954 and conducted with ever-increasing violence until Algeria won its independence in 1961. Greek nationalists in Cyprus carried on guerrilla warfare against the British from 1954 until that country gained independence in 1959. Fidel CastroCastro, Fidel
(Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz) , 1926–2016, Cuban revolutionary, premier of Cuba (1959–76), president of the Council of State and of the Council of Ministers (1976–2008).
..... Click the link for more information. and Ernesto (Che) GuevaraGuevara, Che
(Ernesto Guevara) , 1928–67, Cuban revolutionary and political leader, b. Argentina. Trained as a physician at the Univ. of Buenos Aires, he took part (1952) in riots against the dictator Juan Perón in Argentina, joined agitators in Bolivia, and worked
..... Click the link for more information. in 1956 launched a guerrilla war in Cuba against the government of Fulgencio Batista; in 1959, Batista fled the country and Castro assumed control. This success gave encouragement to rebel guerrilla bands throughout Latin America. In 1967, Guevara was killed by the Bolivian army while leading such a rebel band in the jungles of Bolivia.
In the late 1960s, Palestinian Arab guerrillas intensified their activities against the state of Israel. In 1971, after a full-scale war with the Jordanian army, they were ousted from their bases in Jordan. However, the Palestine Liberation OrganizationPalestine Liberation Organization
(PLO), coordinating council for Palestinian organizations, founded (1964) by Egypt and the Arab League and initially controlled by Egypt.
..... Click the link for more information. (PLO) and other groups continued their raids on Israel from other Arab countries. After the PLO was forced to leave Lebanon (1982, 1991) its fighters were again dispersed, but it continued to mount attacks until peace negotiations in the early 1990s. Since the late 1980s, terrorismterrorism,
the threat or use of violence, often against the civilian population, to achieve political or social ends, to intimidate opponents, or to publicize grievances.
..... Click the link for more information. —long an element in conflict and a hallmark of many HamasHamas
[Arab., = zeal], Arabic acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement, a Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist organization that was founded in 1987 during the Intifada; it seeks to establish an Islamic state in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip (the former
..... Click the link for more information. attacks—and other tactics (see IntifadaIntifada
[Arab.,=uprising, shaking off], the Palestinian uprising during the late 1980s and early 90s in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, areas that had been occupied by Israel since 1967. A vehicular accident that killed four Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in Dec.
..... Click the link for more information. ) have increasingly marked the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The United States has sponsored guerrillas, most notably anti-Castro Cuban forces and Nicaraguan contras. Modern "urban guerrilla" activities such as hijacking and kidnappingkidnapping,
in law, the taking away of a person by force, threat, or deceit, with intent to cause him to be detained against his will. Kidnapping may be done for ransom or for political or other purposes.
..... Click the link for more information. are frequently inspired by ideology rather than patriotism and are often tinged with elements of terrorism. The Irish Republican ArmyIrish Republican Army
(IRA), nationalist organization devoted to the integration of Ireland as a complete and independent unit. Organized by Michael Collins from remnants of rebel units dispersed after the Easter Rebellion in 1916 (see Ireland), it was composed of the more
..... Click the link for more information. (late 1960s to mid-1990s) and Peru's Shining PathShining Path,
Span. Sendero Luminoso, Peruvian Communist guerrilla force, officially the Communist party of Peru. Founded in 1970 by Abimael Guzmán Reynoso as an orthodox Marxist-Leninist offshoot of the Peruvian Communist party, the Shining Path turned to
..... Click the link for more information. engaged in both attacks on government forces and various forms of terrorism. Since the 1990s many nations experienced some degree of ongoing societal disruption due to persistent unconventional warfare, among them Afghanistan, Algeria, Burundi, Cambodia, Colombia, Iraq, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Turkey (in Kurdish areas).
See Mao Zedong, On Guerrilla Warfare (tr. 1961); L. H. Gann, Guerrillas in History (1971); W. Laquer Guerrilla Reader (1977); G. Chaliand, Guerrilla Strategies (1982); E. Guevara, Guerrilla Warfare (1985); M. Mazower, Invisible Armies (2013).