War Fighting: Patrol Bases

Patrol Bases

The intent today is to pass on a little more in formation on patrol bases. I was out on the Interwebz again and saw some of the usual re-posting of basic FM stuff. That’s all very well, but you need to add context, experience and common sense to give realistic background to what you are putting out there.

What is a patrol base? It is a concealed location which you will establish to conduct routine, rest and, as the name suggests, further operations in line with your reason for being out there (the mission), such as patrolling (recce, raid, ambush, OP etc). There is much put out there on the Interwebz that is inaccurate. For example, a patrol base may not necessarily be for only one night. If you move into an area and establish a base, well concealed, why move it, particularity if by constantly moving you are increasing your signature? If you can successfully move into an area and establish a base in deep cover, from which you can conduct your further operations, then that is perfectly fine. You won’t be there forever anyway, just for the duration of the mission.

A patrol base is not a defensive position, although it should be sited with a mind to the principles of defense. It is also not a fighting position, such as a combat outpost (COP). You would not fortify a mountain top and call it a patrol base. Neither is it a fire base of Vietnam vintage, aimed at drawing in the enemy for a fight.

Patrol base procedures also need to be adapted to the situation and terrain. You may not be a dismounted infantry unit in the woods. You may be establishing a patrol base in an urban area (see above about combat outposts!) If you are vehicle mounted, you may be establishing a temporary rest position, which may not be well concealed (think desert) and therefore more of a Rest Overnight (RON) position, perhaps choosing dominating ground over concealment (or alternatively concealed in a wadi – relatively). Or, you may be able to incorporate those vehicles into a concealed patrol base plan.

Given that I have been banging on about the use of mobility/logistics assets such as ATVs/Trucks/Horses/Mules/Boats etc., it may be that you incorporate the use of such assets into the resupply plan for such a base. However, the more classic interpretation of a patrol base involves dismounted soldiers rucking into a concealed location, and conducting operations out of that location. This is not to be confused with more permanent locations, such as Guerrilla Bases, where you may be more successful at using those aforementioned mobility/logistics assets to resupply, or at least move the supplies closer to a cache/dead drop location where they can be further man-packed in to the G Base itself (particularly if you have auxiliary folks bringing the gear in, when a cut out would be useful, in case they are followed, otherwise tracked, or captured and interrogated). In this sense then, a patrol base can be more thought of as an independent base, carried out by a patrol that is carrying in all its gear for the duration of the operation.

Therefore, the primary factor in the selection of a patrol base is: CONCEALMENT.

There are other factors: it needs to be proximate to where you are conducting your further operations. It needs to be situated for defense, as much as possible. However, if a patrol base is discovered and attacked, the priority is to break contact and bug out – you are only defending it temporarily in order to prevent being overrun, and give you enough time to create breathing space to withdraw; you are not dug in to hold that base at all costs.

When siting a patrol base, you will do an  initial selection off the map/air photo, and then you will recce it (see below). You will need to consider the following when selecting it:

  • Concealment: ground and air
  • Cover: from ground and air
  • Layout: Linear vs. triangular

In this previous post ‘Patrol Class: LUP vs. Patrol Base’ I discuss some of the factors that are used in classic patrol base selection, and how they need to be adapted to the concept of avoiding both ground and aerial thermal surveillance.  A classic patrol base would be situated off lines of drift, in a non-obvious location, on relatively level ground, and accessible to a water source, in good cover/concealment. If we bring in terrain masking as a factor, that changes things a little, and we may change our preferences to more defile/ravine-like locations. You could argue that being in a small defile puts us at a defensive disadvantage, but only if we are discovered, which leads me back to the priority being CONCEALMENT. One of the balances that you will struggle with when doing this is the trade off between defensive fields of fire, vs. terrain masking and concealment. Remember what you are doing: patrol base, not COP.

Once you have decided what your priorities are, and what sort of site you want to establish, you should do so as best as possible following the principles of defense:

  • Depth
  • Mutual Support
  • All-round defense
  • Offensive spirit
  • Reserves
  • Deception & Concealment

Although some of these will be limited by the need for concealment. The best way to remain true to the principles of defense is with the adoption of a suitable formation. This can be either triangular or linear. A platoon in a triangular base will have a squad on each side of the triangle. A 13 man squad will have a four man team on each side of the triangular base. In each case, HQ will be in the center.

A linear formation, which may suit a hidden defile better, is to have perhaps two lines, giving you in effect a cigar shape or rectangle. An advantage of a triangular position is that machine  guns situated on the apexes can fire down the frontage of the squads that make up the sides of the triangle. That however, may not be your priority. The triangle is an excellent defensive formation, but may not suit the ground you are trying to hide in. Compromise.

The procedure for establishing a patrol base is as follows:

  • Selection
  • Occupation
  • Clearance Patrols
  • Sentries
  • Work Routine
  • Routine/operations

Selection:

As stated above, this is where you conduct a map recce in order to find the outline location, the vicinity of, where you want to put the patrol base. Your circumstances will dictate how much specific effort we put into this. If we are moving into an area of operations (AO) specifically to establish a patrol base and conduct further operations, then the initial patrol in will be all about the patrol base. Alternatively, you may be conducting a multiple day/night patrol and need a place to lay up – an LUP. For example, you may be moving and need to rest up. You will then be looking for a suitable location for a temporary LUP, perhaps just to stay in overnight, or overday if you are moving by night. Something you can consider here is a pre-patrol base security stop, stopping in a location, establishing security, and eating. Then, once you have done any cooking, move on and establish the LUP where you will sleep, before moving on again once rested. Good for a small recce patrol: a good jungle tactic when you are mostly moving by day, stopping short to eat, then moving into an LUP before last light.

If you are  larger force, or you are establishing a patrol base for multiple day occupation, you will conduct rest and routine in the patrol base (PB), so you will worry less about stopping short for cooking (i.e. heating food/water). If you think that cooking will alert any enemy then you will go onto ‘hard routine,’ with no cooking. That would suggest a badly selected patrol base, but of course there is always the chance of enemy patrols. Hard routine is something more suited to a long term ambush or OP position, where you are closer to the enemy and cooking may give you away.

Occupation:

Once you are in the vicinity of where the PB will be, you will conduct the following:

  • Hasty Ambush: you will break track and put in a hasty ambush on your back trail. You will stand-to in the hasty ambush for a suitable amount of time
  • Leader’s recce group: will go and find the PB, leaving the hasty ambush in place. This group may go several hundred yards away to site the actual PB. You need to leave someone in charge of the hasty ambush, and have contingency plans for either group getting bumped.
  • Siting of squad/team positions, guns (if any), HQ: this will involve a decision on the shape of the PB: triangular or linear.
  • Guides for main body: send back a minimum of a buddy pair to fetch the main group from the hasty ambush. They must remember their route (turn and view to the rear when walking), and crucially not walk through the hasty ambush! Recognition signs etc.
  • Main body occupies.

For a triangular PB,  the drill is usually to occupy from the 6 o’clock position, which is one of the points of the triangle. The others are at 10 and 2. Whether you are a platoon (3 squads) or 13 man, three team, squad, each squad or team will peel in along their frontage, as per your SOP, until you have gone all the way around the perimeter and back to the 6. For any other PB shape, you need to have an SOP.

The main body will be placed down in buddy pair groups where their positions will be. This will be silent. Rucks will come off and you will be on 100% alert, everyone watching out. This is a form of stand-to and will last as long as the leader feels is necessary. Battle discipline. Silence, listening and watching. A lot of this will be SOP and covered in pre-patrol rehearsals. You may have  a way of peeling into the hasty ambush, peeling out and then peeling back into the PB site.

Clearance Patrols:

Small patrols will then be sent out to clear the frontage of the PB/LUP. These may be two man patrols and will not go out of sight of the PB. Bear in mind that you should be in relatively thick cover. These may discover any lurking enemy, or useful info such as a water source or similar. Remember that an Emergency Rally Point (ERP) will be established for the patrol base, somewhere to bug out to, and a useful place could be found on the clearance patrol. In the meantime, depending on your SOP, usually the ERP at this point will be the hasty ambush location, by default. The stand-to continues throughout, with the clearance patrols being covered by those remaining in the PB.

Sentries:

These are the sentries for the work phase. These may not be the final sentry positions. The following needs to happen:

  • Post them beyond the limit of noise from the work phase
  • Sentries should cover all around the position. For a triangular PB, push them out from the apexes. On a linear PB, you may just push them out off the ends of the rectangle. Use your common sense.
  • If you have the numbers, best to double up sentries. If you can spare them from the work phase. If you are a very small team, perhaps 4 men, you may only be able to spare one man for sentry. Or you could go to 50% and have either both facing the most likely direction of enemy threat, or have them facing opposite ways. The ground/situation will dictate. Clearly it is best to have all round defense, but you may not be able to under all circumstances.
  • Method of comms to alert the leader? Radio? Comms cord strung out?
  • Orders and ROE.
  • Passwords.
  • Make sure sentries are posted in cover and concealment. They should not be standing around. Battle discipline is vital.

Work Routine:

Once the sentries are posted, the main group can stand down. That’s not time for a cigarette and a general chit chat. Battle discipline applies. Nothing more than  a whisper of talk.  The following needs to be considered:

  • Shell scrapes: are you digging them? If you face a threat of direct or indirect fire, you should dig them. Unless the covert nature of your recce mission prevents the digging (sound of E-tools hitting rocks etc).  Scrapes are 12 inches deep and large enough to get two men in sleeping side by side. They face out, When living in your scrape, you should always sit facing out, when cooking etc, in case you see anything out there. Sleep with your head facing out, so you can grab your rifle and immediately start firing from inside the scrape if attacked. A tip is to not make the scrapes larger than your poncho, or they will fill with water quicker when it rains.
  • If you are using thermal tarps, then you should put them up over the shell scrapes. Normally, you would only put bashas up after dark, but thermal detection trumps that so live under them all the time in the PB. The thermal shields will augment the natural terrain masking you have sited yourselves in.
  • In my post ‘Combat Patrol – LUP Sleeping Positions’ I describe digging sleeping shelves in the sides of a ravine for an LUP on  my Combat Patrol Class. You may need to do those, both as sleeping and scrape positions, if you are on steep ground.
  • If you are gong to be in a PB longer, and you are subject to a lot of rain, you can dig the shell scrapes as stand-to positions on the perimeter and then put your basha hooches up inside of them on the inner side of the track plan. Otherwise you will be swimming in your holes.
  • Claymores/trip flares: if you have them, site them on ingress routes. Claymores are command detonated and trip flares will cover routes in, but friendlies must know where they are so they don’t trip them. Any obstacle or booby trap must be covered by fire, so the trip flares should be under the eye of the sentries who will of course be covering those same ingress routes.
  • Perimeter wire – if you are carrying defense stores, you may put some up – or more likely, low wire entanglements to slow an enemy assault.
  • Track plan: a track must be cleared around the inside of the perimeter, running behind the shell scrapes and including a route to HQ in the center, the sentry positions, and the latrine(s). String comms (para) cord at hip height to be followed as a hand rail at night. All forest litter and branches must be cleared off the track and up above head height (no sticks in the eyes). Put sticks in the paracord behind each shell scrape position so that you can find them at night and wake the next sentry up.
  • Comms cord must also be run between the sentry positions and the HQ.
  • Bashas (ponchos) or even rudimentary shelters can be created, either at the scrapes or as mentioned, behind them inside the track plan.
  • Latrines: deep cat holes will be dug, a daytime one outside of the wire under the gaze of a sentry, and night time one inside (next to HQ!). When you take a dump, you will be in the security sector of the sentry so you don’t get snatched. Use the pile of dirt next to the hole to cover your leavings and keep down smell/flies. Hand sanitize!
  • Confirmatory orders: including the emergency rally point and any warning orders for follow on operations.

Routine:

Once the work phase is complete, you will move into the routine of living in the patrol base and carrying out operations.

  • Sentries: usually you will have a day and night position. Day is pushed out further, night is pulled into  the perimeter. Daytime you can get away with one person on each sentry position. Nighttime you need two, both to keep people awake and also so one can go wake the next sentry while another stays on watch. How many men you have, how many sentry positions, will determine how much sleep everyone gets. Don’t compromise security, but don’t be ridiculous. Part of the purpose for a PB is to get rest. Try and get down to 25% or less on duty at any one time, depending on numbers. Its easy to be over-zealous, which is the opposite of complacent, and then no no one sleeps, ever! Strike a balance. You will probably have one or two sentries per squad, on a position at that squad’s apex. For a smaller group, and a different (linear) formation, you will have to decide if you go to two or maybe only one sentry position. Terrain and situation will determine
    • If you send out a patrol, and plan on coming back, you need to guard the patrol base. With less numbers, they may need to consolidate the sentry positions.
    • No effing talking!
    • The only talking should be to find out who is next on sentry, and wake them up, in a quiet whisper. Believe me, that guy will hear you coming down the track plan for him, in the dead of night. He knows it’s him on duty next, even if he tries to deny it! You need to have the sentry roster (stag list) written down so it is non-negotiable. Anyone causes trouble or shirks gets a kicking in their bag from the squad leader!
    • No effing lights! Light discipline is essential.
    • The sentry roster is staggered. Try and keep duty to an hour, no more than two hours, particularly in the cold or when people are tired.
    • Wake the guy up 10 or 15 minutes before his duty. Remain there for a couple to make sure he is actually awake, then go back to the sentry position. He will come up when he is ready. When going on duty, you pack away all your gear, in case you are bumped while you are on sentry duty. Everything into your ruck, pouches done up. You need to do this by feel in the dark, no lights. Leave the basha up.
    • Two men per fighting position, under one basha. Put another on up over the sentry position, for both thermal shielding and rain protection.
    • You need proper sentry orders, ROE, orders for when to open fire. You need passwords, challenge procedures, and recognition signals for when a patrol comes back in. Arms held akimbo?
  • Wear your boots loosely in your bag, and don’t wear all your snivel gear, or it will give you no benefit when you get out. Never wear goretex inside you bag! If the weather is balmy enough, have some sort of Teva sandal that you can wear when sleeping, to air your feet out. You have to be prepared to fight/bug out in them.
  • You need to look after personal administration in the PB. Dry and powder your feet, change into dry socks, and hit the hot spots like your groin with wet wipes and powder. Battle clean your rifle, one buddy pair at a time, to ensure it is functional. Keep the rust off it and ensure it is lubricated. Make sure you reapply face camouflage cream. It does not have to be all perfect, just splotch it on to break up the shape of your face: too much, too little, just right.
  • The sentry routine will roll on throughout whatever you are doing. At dawn and dusk, the whole PB, or whoever is there, will stand-to for 30 minutes across the change from day to night/night to day. This marks the change between day and night routine, even if you don’t believe in dawn attacks. You will change single/double sentries and positions as appropriate.
  • At the end of dawn stand-to, before it is ended, clearance patrols will go out, again. Once they are complete, you go into your morning routine. Get your stove going to heat water/make a cup of tea (or coffee, if you must). Heat up some breakfast/boil water for dehydrated rations. As you do this, re-apply camouflage cream. Battle clean your rifle. Concurrent activity is the key. When using a stove, like a solo stove or hexamine cooker, it must be dug into a little hole to reduce the flame signature.
  • Any time you leave your scrape/basha area, you are garbed for war. You wear your LBE/LBV, carry your rifle. Your rifle is never more than an arms reach away. If you leave your basha, all your gear is packed away and all your pouches done up.
  • If you are going on any patrols, there will be a warning order (WARNO). This will start battle procedure and concurrent activity. You will have an orders group in the center of the PB, around  a sand table model constructed on the ground. Then, rehearsals will happen. After the patrol, there will be a debrief, followed by administration and rest. Back on sentry. Enjoy!
  • Any trash will be bagged and carried out. When you leave a patrol base, you will do your best to make it disappear. NO TRASH! Latrines will be filled in. Scrapes filled in, if you had them. Comms cord removed. Track plan erased with forest litter. Yes, a tracker will see it, but there will be no information left and most people won’t notice. A skilled tracker will see how you set up the patrol base and get an idea of numbers/formations etc.
  • Related to the above point, what I did not cover above is the nature of the threat and the potential for IEDs. If there is an IED threat, you need to conduct 5 and 25 meter checks (searches) before occupying a patrol base. Clearance patrols will also look for evidence of IEDs. If people are in the habit of leaving sign (litter etc.) and have the habit of reusing positions, then that is setting up for an IED, perhaps command wire or victim operated, to be put there. Even without IEDs, it sets you up for ambush, if you are detected moving into the area and they know where you tend to go.

I’m sure I forgot plenty, but questions usually uncover those aspects. I have CRS: Can’t Remember Shit – stuff keeps falling out of my head ;-)

Legio Maximus. Valeria Victrix!

Max

HERE to

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