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Title: Night Operations For Infantry - Compiled for the Use of Company Officers
Author: Dawkins, Charles Tyrwhitt
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  Night Operations
  For Infantry


  Brig.-General C. T. DAWKINS,
  C.B., C.M.G.



  Obtainable from all Booksellers.




  P. 3,093.  (_All Rights Reserved_).



  The Importance of Careful Training in Night Operations       1


  Elementary Instruction                                       8
    Training of Vision                                         8
    Training of Hearing                                        9
    Finding Bearings                                          10
    Moving in the Dark                                        11
    General                                                   14


  General Remarks on Night Operations                         16
    Definitions                                               16
    Importance of Careful Preparation                         17
    Plan of Operations                                        20
    The Framing of Orders for Night Operations                21
    Protection during Operations                              22
    Maintenance of Connection                                 24
    Rifle Fire in Night Attacks                               25
    Caution necessary in planning Night Operations,
       but Resolution Essential in their Execution            25

  Defence against Night Attacks                               26
    Passive Defence Useless                                   26


  Training a Company for Offensive Action                     29
    Instruction in Reconnaissance                             29
    Night Marches                                             30
    Night Advances and Night Attacks                          32
    Guiding Troops across Country at Night                    37
    The Assault                                               39

  Training for Defensive Action                               41
    Outposts                                                  41
    Position of Piquets at Night                              43
    Readiness for Action                                      44
    Cover for Groups                                          46
    Marking of Route to and from Piquets                      46
    Sentries Challenging                                      46
    Sentries Firing                                           47
    Action of Outposts in a Night Attack                      48


  Miscellaneous                                               50
    Training and Employment of Scouts                         50
    Searchlights in Attack and in Defence                     53
    Flares, etc.                                              54
    Hand Grenades                                             55
    Luminous Discs                                            56
    Pocket Electric Lamps                                     56
    Connecting Ropes                                          56
    Passing Fences                                            57
    Entrenching by Night                                      58
    Wire Entanglements                                        59
    Halts at Night                                            59
    Recognition of Friends at Night                           59
    Knowledge of the Moon and Stars                           60
    Constant Practice the only Means of acquiring Knowledge   62
    Conclusion                                                63




Although in recent years there has been a marked increase in the
practice of night operations, yet I doubt if the majority of officers
have realized that the changing conditions of war tend to make night
fighting a much more common occurrence in the future than it has been
in the past. A brief study of the accounts of the Russo-Japanese War
shows that, as time went on, both combatants evinced a growing tendency
to resort to night attacks, and to employ in their execution forces
of considerable strength; it is, therefore, reasonable to assume
that in future wars similar circumstances will compel the adoption
of similar methods. Moreover, if we consider the results which are
likely to follow from the facilities for the acquisition and the rapid
transmission of information offered by airships and wireless telegraphy
respectively, and from the increased efficiency of fire-arms, we are
compelled to realize that in all future wars operations carried out
under cover of darkness, not only for the purpose of massing troops
in a favourable position for further action, but also for the actual
assault of particular localities, will become a matter of constant
occurrence. Indeed, as a French officer, from whose book[A] I have
gathered many hints on night training, points out, night fighting can
no longer be regarded as something abnormal and exceptional, but as the
power of fire-arms increases, so will combats in the dark become more
frequent and necessary.

    [A] “Guide pour le Chef d’une petité unité d’infanterie opérant
        la nuit, par Le Commandant Breveté Niessel.”

For this reason it seems to me to be most important that we should
establish a systematic method of training our men. It is an axiom
that in order to master any subject properly the student must first be
instructed in its elementary details, and it is in this respect that at
present our system fails. During the annual course of training a few
night operations are carried out by companies, by battalions, and by
brigades, but during the rest of the year little attention is paid to
night work, and, in many units, at any rate, no attempt is made during
the winter to give the soldier that elementary instruction which is
indispensable to fit him to take an intelligent part in operations in
the dark.

It must be remembered that many of our men up to the time of their
enlistment have passed their lives entirely in large towns, and have
rarely been beyond the range of street lamps. Such men, when first
taken out in the dark, are helpless; they start at every shadow,
stumble even on level ground, make a terrible amount of noise, and are
generally in such a state of nervous excitement that they are hardly
responsible for their actions. Yet these same men, by a short course
of careful, individual instruction, can be trained to work together
with confidence on the darkest night, and when once they have gained
confidence their further instruction is comparatively easy.

If in daylight the moral is to the physical, as three is to one, there
can be no question that at night the proportion is many times greater.
Indeed, I doubt if the true ratio can be estimated at all. History
furnishes many instances of night fighting, in which the success
achieved has been out of all proportion to the number of the victors,
but it also teaches us that, in most cases, at any rate, the defeat
of the beaten side was due to disorganization through panic. Now it
is unquestionable that the best troops, if suddenly called on to face
conditions to which they are not accustomed, are liable to panic,
and it is to make sure that night fighting shall not be a strange
occurrence in our Army that I advocate closer attention to training in

I am aware that some officers maintain that it is a mistake to risk the
chances of a night attack, because, even if the attack is successful,
the want of light will prevent it being followed up. This may be a
sound argument against making a night attack, but it is obviously no
argument against training men for night fighting. Whether we attack
by night ourselves or not, it is quite certain that our enemies will
sometimes attack us, and, unless we are prepared to be taken at an
enormous disadvantage, we must train our men to meet them in the dark.
Besides, even the opponents of night-fighting do not dispute the value
of an attack delivered with the first appearance of daylight, and
an attack at dawn necessitates an advance during what are often the
darkest hours of the night, with the possibility of its interruption by
a counter-attack at any moment. To carry out such an operation with any
prospect of success, even in the most open country, it is essential
that both officers and men should have the highest possible training.

In our Army, with men enlisted for a term of seven years with the
Colours, we have far greater opportunities of accustoming our troops
to night-fighting than most nations have, and, if we choose to do so,
we can bring our training to a high state of efficiency. It seems to
me to be folly to ignore our situation, and not to take every pains to
train our men to carry out operations by night, since, in view of our
comparatively weak numbers, efficiency in night-fighting may be of the
utmost value to us in any future war.

It is with the object of inducing officers to pay closer attention to
this branch of their men’s training, that I put forward a few hints on
a progressive method of instruction, which I have personally proved
to produce useful results. In order that it may be made clear that
training for night operations is a normal and necessary part of the
soldier’s education, a training which is to be carried on continuously
throughout his whole service, and not confined to the short periods
of company and battalion training, I advocate the commencement of the
elementary instruction while the recruit is still at the depôt.



The first thing to be done is to accustom the soldier to darkness, to
teach him to overcome the nervousness which is natural to him, and to
train his powers of vision and hearing to suit conditions which are
strange to him.

_Training of Vision._

Two or three men, under an instructor, should be taken out to ground
with which they are perfectly familiar. The instructor will direct
them to notice the different appearance which objects present at
night, when viewed in different degrees of light and shade; the
comparative visibility of men under different conditions of dress,
i.e., in khaki, in a tunic, in shirt-sleeves, etc., when viewed against
different backgrounds; the ease with which bright objects are seen,
especially if in movement. If there is rising ground in the vicinity
the difference in the visibility of men standing on the sky-line or on
the sides of the slope should be noted. Experiments in the distance at
which a match struck in the open and also under cover of some object,
or a man smoking, can be seen should also be made. Blank cartridges
should be fired, and recruits taught to judge the direction in which
the rifle was pointing and its approximate distance from them.

_Training of Hearing._

To train their powers of hearing, men, placed a few yards apart,
should be made to guess what a noise heard is caused by, and the
approximate position of it. The rattle of a mess tin, the working of
the bolt of a rifle, the movement of a patrol, the throwing down of
accoutrements, low talking, or any noise likely to be heard on outposts
may be utilised. Special pains must be taken to impress upon the
men the penetrating power of the human voice. The distance at which
men talking, even in a low voice, can be heard on a still night is
astonishing, and as it is a sound which cannot be mistaken for anything
else, and which disturbs birds and animals more than any other, it is
most important that the recruit should be shown the absolute necessity
of keeping perfect silence.

At this stage it is a good practice to post the men in pairs at
intervals along an alignment which the instructors endeavour to cross
unnoticed. The instructors should cross from both sides, so as to
compel the recruits to watch in every direction.

_Finding Bearings._

When the recruit has become accustomed to the dark, and entirely
overcome his nervousness, he should be taught to find his bearings by
the pole star, to check the direction of his advance by means of stars,
landmarks, or even the wind, and conversely by the same means to find
his way back to the point from which he started. He should also be
taught to recognise the phases of the moon, and to judge whether it is
rising or setting.

To test a man’s ability to keep a given direction when moving at
night, the following plan is useful. Having chosen a spot from which
no prominent landmarks are visible, the instructor, accompanied by the
recruit, will advance towards it from a distance of not less than 200
paces. While advancing the recruit must take his bearings. On arriving
at the spot chosen the instructor will turn the recruit rapidly round
two or three times, and then order him to continue his advance on the
same line as before.

_Moving in the Dark._

For this exercise three or four recruits, with the instructor on the
directing flank, will be placed in line at about one pace interval.
Some clearly visible mark, such as a lamp, should be placed as a point
for the directing file to march on. The instructor will impress upon
the men the importance of lifting the feet up high and putting them
down firmly and quietly, also of keeping in touch with their neighbour
on the directing flank, and of conforming to his movements without
sound or signal. The pace must be very slow, and frequent halts made to
test the quickness of the men in working together. As the instruction
progresses, each man in turn will take the instructor’s place on the
directing flank, and the light on which they are marching should be
obscured at intervals, in order to test their ability to maintain the
original direction.

When the recruits have thoroughly mastered the foregoing principles
they should be taken to more difficult ground, and gradually advanced
to work together in larger numbers. They must be taught to turn into
single file for the purpose of passing obstacles, and to form up
rapidly in single rank again without noise or confusion. It must
always be remembered that the rougher the ground, the darker the
night and the longer the line, the slower must be the pace and the
more frequent the halts. After passing any obstacle, such as a ditch,
hollow road, etc., which does not necessitate turning into file, it is
always advisable to halt and make sure that the alignment is correct.
After passing an obstacle men instinctively line up parallel to it;
consequently, if the obstacle does not lie exactly at right angles to
the line of advance, the direction is lost. I remember seeing a brigade
thrown into complete disorder by the neglect of this precaution, after
successfully advancing for about 1,000 yards on a very dark night. In
this case one flank of the line crossed a hollow road, lying at an
angle to the direction of the advance, and forming up parallel to it
advanced across the front of the rest, and altogether broke up their


During the earlier exercises the men may be taken out without arms,
but, as the instruction progresses, they must be trained to work in
full marching order. Each man must be taught to note carefully those
portions of his equipment which are likely to cause a noise under
special circumstances, such as lying down, rising up, crossing an
obstacle, etc., and to take precautions accordingly. Bayonets should
always be fixed, but to avoid accidents the scabbards should be on
them. Special attention must be paid to seeing that the rifles are
carried at the proper angle to prevent the bayonets clashing.

From the commencement of the training the instructor will not fail to
continually impress upon the men that it is absolutely criminal to fire
during a night attack, and that the bayonet is the only weapon the
assailants can use with advantage to themselves and safety to their

Except during a brief period in the middle of summer, it is generally
possible to carry out these elementary exercises before 10 p.m., and
in the short winter evenings they can take place immediately after the
men’s tea. It is always advisable that the men should have had a meal
shortly before starting to work in the dark, and if the weather is
cold, or they are kept out late, they should be given soup or cocoa on
their return.




In the Field Service Regulations, night operations are divided into
three classes—night marches, night advances, and night attacks—which
may be briefly defined as follows:—

A night march is a movement along roads, or well defined tracks, in
normal march formations, undertaken for the purpose of transferring
troops under cover of darkness to some desired point.

A night advance is stated in the Field Service Regulations to be a
forward movement of which the object “is to gain ground from which
further progress will be made in daylight, and not to deliver a
decisive assault during darkness.” During the advance the troops will
either be deployed or at any rate will move in formations which admit
of rapid deployment.

Night attacks are delivered for the purpose of gaining possession of
some point or locality which is held by the enemy or of surprising “an
ill-trained, ill-disciplined, or semi-civilised enemy.” (Field Service

A night march may be a necessary prelude to either a night advance or a
night attack, but in that case the march is considered to have ended on
the arrival of the force at the position of assembly.

_Importance of Careful Preparation._

Whatever may be the nature of the operation, the most careful
preparation is essential. The success of all operations in the dark,
up to the moment of collision with the enemy at any rate, depends on
the care and thoroughness with which the preparatory arrangements have
been made, and these arrangements are just as necessary in the case
of a night march, carried out at some distance from the enemy, as in
that of a night attack. It is impossible to lay too much stress on
the importance of this preparation, no detail is too trifling to be
considered, every eventuality, whether probable or improbable, should
be thought out and provided for, and nothing must be left to chance.

The first and most important step in the preparation of any night
operation consists in obtaining accurate information concerning the
ground to be traversed and the position of the enemy. This necessitates
as close a reconnaissance as is possible, and the reconnaissance should
be made by night as well as by day. Ground presents such a different
appearance at night that it is often difficult to identify a spot which
has only been seen previously in daylight, moreover, small accidents of
the surface which may not attract attention in daytime are sometimes
sufficient to throw troops into disorder, if they come upon them
unexpectedly in the dark.

The chief points on which information is required being set forth in
the Field Service Regulations, it is unnecessary to recapitulate them
here, but the following details should be attended to as well:—

    (1) The spots selected both for the position of assembly and
        position of deployment must not only be places which can be
        easily identified at night, but must also afford sufficient
        space for the troops to form up.

    (2) Both the position of obstacles, and the direction in which
        they lie, must be accurately reported, and it must be noted if
        their direction is constant throughout.

    (3) In reporting on the enemy’s position every effort must be made
        to discover the extent to which patrols are used, and the
        distance beyond the line of the advanced posts to which they

_Plan of Operations._

The plan of operations will be based on the information gained during
the reconnaissance, and in preparing it the following maxims should be
borne in mind:—

    1. It is the quality and not the number of the troops that counts.

    2. The larger the force the greater the difficulty.

    3. Every detachment increases the risk of failure.

Though No. 3 is undoubtedly true, yet it will often be necessary to
move in more than one column. In that case each column must be given a
separate objective; each objective must be distinct from, and situated
some distance away from, any other, and every possible precaution must
be taken to prevent an accidental collision between any two columns,
either before or after reaching their objectives.

The Field Service Regulations direct that lateral communication is to
be maintained between columns, so that the assaults may be delivered
simultaneously, and recommend the use of telephones for the purpose.
The maintenance of lateral communication is very important, but each
column commander should understand that if his column is discovered he
must press on to the assault without waiting for the others.

_The Framing of Orders for Night Operations._

The rules for framing orders are clearly laid down in the Regulations,
but, as the orders will only be communicated beforehand to those
officers who are required to make the preliminary arrangements, it is
necessary that extracts, containing those portions which are to be read
to the troops at the position of assembly, should also be prepared.
These extracts will probably have to be read in a very feeble light,
and it is, therefore, important that they should be very clearly and
legibly typewritten. Nothing is more trying than to have to try to
grasp the meaning of a blurred hektograph copy of orders by the aid of
an indifferent lamp, which probably has to be held under a coat.

In all operations which commence with a night march the selection of a
suitable starting point is important. This point should be so situated
that it is possible for the whole force to be drawn up in its order of
march before the movement begins, and a staff officer must be detailed
to ascertain that every unit is present, and in its proper place before
the column moves off. This is an obvious precaution; but, as I have
seen it neglected in South Africa, with serious results, I think it
well to lay stress on it.

_Protection During Operations._

The general principles governing the protection of forces during
operations are the same by night as by day, except that at night both
the strength of the protecting bodies and their distance from the
troops they cover will be much reduced.

In night marches small advanced and rear-guards will be employed, but
in night advances and night attacks these will be replaced by lines of
scouts at a distance varying from 50 to 100 yards, according to the

To protect the flanks during a night march in close country the
Regulations advise the use of flanking piquets, posted by the advanced
guard, and withdrawn by the rear-guard. I have never seen this system
tried at night, but I doubt its success; even if the advanced guard
commander is able to identify quickly the points at which the piquets
are to be left, there will be a certain amount of delay while they are
quitting the column, and the rear-guard will be constantly delayed by
waiting for them to withdraw. Thus the rear-guard will gradually fall
further and further behind, and, unless the column is frequently halted
to allow the rear-guard to close up, the rear companies will melt away
into a long string of connecting files.

If flanking piquets are used, and it seems to be the safest plan, they
should be found by a special unit, and, having taken up their positions
before the march commences, should not be withdrawn till it is over.

In open country at all times, and in close country in the case of night
advances and night attacks, the only _moving_ protection which can
safely be given to the flanks is that afforded by scouts, who must keep
quite close to the column.

_Maintenance of Connection._

The maintenance of connection between the various portions of a force
when engaged in night operations is a matter of supreme importance.
The facility with which units go astray when connection is lost is
extraordinary, and when once they have gone astray it is often very
difficult to find them. I have myself seen a whole brigade of infantry
disappear and be lost for nearly two hours in an area which hardly
exceeded a square mile.

_Rifle Fire in Night Attacks._

It cannot be too strongly impressed upon all ranks that to fire during
a night attack is not only useless, but to use the words of General
Dragomirov, is absolutely criminal. The Regulations lay down that
rifles are not to be loaded, but the magazines are to be charged
and the cut-offs closed, and this order must be rigidly adhered to.
Personally, I am against having the magazines charged; the proper
weapon for the infantry soldier to use at night is the bayonet, and he
should be taught to rely on that alone.

_Caution Necessary in Planning Night Operations, but Resolution
Essential in their Execution._

Although it is necessary to act with caution, and to weigh well the
chances of success and failure before deciding on an offensive night
operation, yet, when once the undertaking has been commenced, it must
be carried through with the utmost resolution. It is exceedingly
unlikely that the enemy will be completely surprised, but every
second of delay between the discovery of the attacking force and the
delivery of the assault is of priceless value to the defence; it must,
therefore, be impressed upon all ranks that when the enemy opens fire
the only course open to them is to press on to the assault, and decide
the issue with the bayonet.


_Passive Defence Useless._

Unless the defenders are protected by an impenetrable obstacle, a
passive defence is suicidal. Artillery and machine guns may be laid so
as to sweep a particular area at night, but no reliance can be placed
on the effect of rifle fire unless the rifles have been mechanically

I do not overlook the fact that instances are on record of huge losses
inflicted by rifle fire at night, but I maintain that the effect
obtained is merely a matter of chance, and any officer who puts his
trust in chance is likely to have to pay dearly for his mistake.

Every infantryman must be imbued with the idea that at night the
bayonet is the only weapon which he can trust, and that the more
promptly he uses it the better his chance of success will be. In the
dark every advantage lies with the side that takes the initiative;
numbers are of little account, for a resolute bayonet charge, delivered
by even a single piquet may, if it comes unexpectedly, demoralise and
throw into disorder a strong attacking column.

In short, when the attacking column reaches the outposts it must be
received with vigorous local counter-attacks delivered with the bayonet
by the nearest bodies of the defenders. If a counter-attack comes as a
surprise, the chances of success are all in its favour, but any success
gained must not be followed up, the outposts should be withdrawn to
their original positions, and patrols sent out to keep touch with the
retiring enemy. It is most important that all ranks should realise
that to wait to receive a charge is fatal; the only course open is to
advance boldly with the bayonet; even if the counter-attack is not
successful, the outposts will still have fulfilled their duty and have
gained a few minutes’ time for the supports and reserves to form up.



_Instruction in Reconnaissance._

The instruction of officers and selected non-commissioned officers and
men in the art of reconnaissance for night operations must be carefully
carried out, and the following method has proved to be useful.

The Captain takes his class to the ground chosen, and, after explaining
the tactical scheme, and pointing out the kind of information which is
required, allows them a certain time to go over the ground and make
their notes. At first the class should be allowed to move freely over
the ground; but, as the instruction progresses, flags may be put out to
mark the position of hostile posts and the class forbidden to approach
them. When the notes are finished they should always be criticised on
the actual ground.

When the class thoroughly understand what to observe and how to report
it, they should be ordered to reconnoitre by night ground which they
have already reported on by day. The two reports should be compared,
and any differences noted, and then the Captain should go over the
ground with them _by night_, so as to actually check on the spot the
accuracy and sufficiency of their observations.

To make a reconnaissance suitable for the execution of night operations
requires a great deal of practice, and it is only by constantly testing
_in the dark_ the value of the reports sent in that one learns what are
the points which it is essential to observe with accuracy.

_Night Marches._

In carrying out night marches, the company should be practised as an
advanced guard to a column, and as a company acting alone.

In close country an advanced guard will consist of scouts, the
point, and the main guard. The provision of a vanguard at night is
undesirable—it lengthens the column without giving any practical

The scouts should be started two or three minutes ahead of the point,
and should keep in the shadow on the side of the road. They will
march at a quick pace, halting at cross-roads and suspicious places
to listen, and will move on again when they hear the advanced guard
approaching. They must be trained to use their ears as much, if not
more than their eyes. If they discover the enemy, one of them will
return to warn the advanced guard; the others will conceal themselves
and watch. It must be impressed upon them that they are on no account
to fire unless for the purpose of warning the column, and then only if
there are no other means of doing so. It is useless to attempt to keep
connection between the scouts and the point, as the distance between
them will constantly vary.

The point may consist of one section, and will march on one or both
sides of the road, covering itself in front by a file at about 30 paces

The main guard will follow the point at a distance of from 50 to 100
paces, according to the light; it also should march on the sides of
the road. If there is a main body it will follow the main guard at
about double the distance which is kept between the latter and the
point. Communication between the point and the main guard, and between
the main guard and the main body, will be kept by means of connecting
files, within clear view of each other.

A company marching alone on a road should move in the same formation as
when forming an advanced guard, but will also cover its rear with a few

_Night Advances and Night Attacks._

The formations adopted in night advances and night attacks will vary
with the ground, the nature of the operation, and the activity of the
enemy; it is, therefore, necessary to train the company to move at
night in all possible formations, both in double and single rank. The
men should be constantly practised in forming company, platoon, and
sections in single rank to either flank, when moving in file or single
file. In a close country like England it is constantly necessary to
move in fours or file, and it is essential that the company should be
able to form up with rapidity and precision. When moving in line in
double rank it is advisable that a distance of about five paces should
be kept between ranks, otherwise if a front rank man stumbles his rear
rank man will fall over him.

When a company is acting alone, even in open country, it is best to
keep it fairly well concentrated until the position of deployment is
reached, and in a close country, where fences have to be passed at
intervals, it is generally necessary to move in fours or file.

The following formation has proved to be handy, and, if the men have
been well trained, they will have no difficulty in forming up rapidly
on the darkest night. Two platoons, each in single file, advance side
by side, followed at about 20 paces distance by the other two platoons
in the same formation. In the event of alarm, the platoons form up on
the right and left respectively, and the company then stands in column
of half companies in single rank at about 60 paces distance.

Whatever formation is used, the front, flanks and rear must be covered
by scouts, whose distance away will vary with the light. Protection in
rear is very important, yet is often neglected. I have on more than
one occasion seen a night operation completely disorganised by a bold
attack delivered against the rear of the column by a party of the
enemy, who, in the absence of scouts, had approached unnoticed.

The Field Service Regulations direct that before the position of
assembly is quitted the orders are to be clearly explained to all
ranks, so that everyone may know:

    1. The object in view and the direction of the objective.

    2. The formation to be adopted at the position of deployment.

    3. The part he has to play.

    4. His action in case the enemy is not surprised; also that the
       warnings against firing, talking, striking matches, smoking,
       etc., are to be repeated two or three times.

In training a company the prohibitions here alluded to will, of course,
be most rigidly enforced at all times. It must always be remembered
that as men are trained in peace so will they act in war, and the
officer who, from carelessness or good nature, allows his men to
disregard these obvious precautions may inculcate habits of slackness
calculated to have most serious results on service.

The situation of the position of deployment will depend on the strength
of the attacking force, and the alertness of the enemy; the smaller the
force the nearer to the enemy’s position will this point be fixed. A
company can usually get within 300 yards of the enemy’s posts without

The Regulations advocate that when the position of deployment is
reached the force should be formed in three lines, but with a company
it is rarely advisable to have more than two. The company may be formed
with two platoons in each line, or with three in the front line and one
in the second, according to the extent of the position to be attacked;
the front line, at any rate, should be in single rank. When deciding
on the formation officers should remember that no more men should be
put into the front line than are necessary for the object in view, and
that the maintenance of a reserve to meet eventualities is of paramount

_Guiding Troops Across Country at Night._

Instructions governing the guidance of troops at night in open country
are to be found in the Field Service Regulations, and in the Manual of
Map Reading and Field Sketching.

On a very dark night a modification of the system described in section
71 of the latter book may be employed with advantage. Half a dozen
assistants, with luminous discs, both on their chests and backs,
are provided, and, when the guide has determined on the line, these
assistants are placed on it facing towards the guide and covering
each other. As the force advances each assistant in turn moves to the
far end of the line and covers again on the others. With well-trained
assistants a rate of advance of about half to three-quarters of a mile
per hour may be counted on.

In enclosed country if the fences run parallel to the line of advance
they are a great help to the guide, otherwise they increase his
difficulties. Fences, as a rule, must be passed at gateways or gaps,
and this necessitates moving in a zig-zag direction. On a starlight
night the following method has been used with success. A star to march
on having been chosen, the company is halted, and an officer, with a
couple of scouts, each provided with a pocket electric lamp, are sent
on to find the best point of passage in the fence; when this point is
found an electric light is shown, and the company marches on it. In
broken ground it may sometimes be necessary to post one of the scouts
with a light as an intermediate point. If the lamps are carefully
handled there is but little risk of their being observed from the
front. Provided that a suitable star is visible, the direction can be
maintained without difficulty.

If there are no stars, and the fences do not run parallel, the only
means of guiding a column is as follows:—

The company is halted while the guide moves on to the next fence by
the method previously described for open country. On reaching the
fence one assistant is posted to mark the spot, while the guide and
the others search for the best point of passage. The company is then
brought up to the selected spot, passed through the fence, and again
halted. The guide then returns to the point at which the assistant was
left, and from it lays out his line to the next fence. This is, of
course, a very slow method, but it gives accurate results. Special care
must be taken to see that the company is protected by scouts during the
whole operation.

_The Assault._

If, after the position of deployment has been reached, the enemy opens
fire, the company must continue its advance until near enough to
charge; under no circumstances must the fire be replied to.

When the actual assault takes place the second line—and the third
line, if there is one—will be halted to await developments; should
their assistance be required they will act in prolongation of the
first line, and strive to envelop the enemy.

If a force is formed in two lines only the commander must beware of
allowing the second line to be drawn into the fight, unless it is
absolutely necessary. The retention of some portion of the force intact
and ready for instant action is quite as important at night as in the
daytime. The commander himself must remain with his reserve.

Should the assault succeed, no attempt to pursue is to be permitted;
the reserve must be at once disposed to meet the counter-attack, and
the remainder reformed under its protection.

Whether the attackers should cheer at the moment of the assault or not
is a moot question. The arguments in favour of it are:—

    1. It encourages your own men.

    2. It discourages the enemy.

    3. It notifies the assault to neighbouring columns.

Against it:—

    1. It gives warning to the enemy.

    2. It gives an indication of the strength of the attacking force.

Personally, I am in favour of training men to deliver the assault
at night in silence, for the following reason: Sudden outbursts of
fire without any due cause occasionally occur in all armies, when the
outposts are near those of the enemy, and it is quite possible that the
enemy’s supports and reserves will not move until they have obtained
information of what is happening. If, however, the assault is delivered
with cheers they can be in no doubt as to what has occurred, and will,
therefore, act at once.



The first brunt of a night attack necessarily falls on the outposts,
and unless they receive timely warning they will undoubtedly be
overwhelmed; it is, therefore, a matter of supreme importance that the
training in outpost duty should be thoroughly carried out.

In our Army outpost duty was for many years almost entirely neglected,
and even now it is not treated with sufficient seriousness. At
manœuvres, and at field operations lasting more than one day, an
armistice is often declared at night, and it is but rarely that the
infantry are practised in outpost duty under service conditions. It
is true that this duty, if strictly performed is extremely harassing,
but in view of its importance it is, I think, unwise to allow any
opportunity of gaining experience to pass.

In carrying out the training of a company in outpost duty the strictest
discipline should always be maintained, no irregularity, however
trifling, should ever be passed over, and all duties carried out with
great care and thoroughness.

With the weak companies which we often have it is sometimes difficult
to find sufficient men for the complete service of outposts, and when
this is so the position of piquets, and even of groups, may be marked
with flags. The one service which should never be dispensed with is
that of the reconnoitring patrols. It should be impressed upon all that
the protection afforded by groups and piquets, unless supplemented by a
regular system of reconnoitring patrols, is altogether inadequate, and
every commander should invariably satisfy himself that the proportion
of men told off for patrol duty is sufficient to carry out the work

_Position of Piquets at Night._

Unless a piquet is protected by obstacles, its best means of defence at
night lies in a resolute counter-attack, and to carry out this a clear
space is necessary. The Regulations lay down that the first duty of
outposts is to strengthen their position as much as possible, and in
open country the usual course followed is to entrench the groups and

Now a shelter trench affords fair protection in the day time and may be
useful at night if the ground immediately in front of it is illuminated
by searchlights, but in the dark it loses a great deal of its value,
and it is obviously a very bad place to receive a bayonet charge in.
For this reason it is better at night to withdraw the piquets about 30
yards behind the trench; this latter will then form an obstacle likely
to break the ranks of an assaulting enemy, and the defenders will have
room for the counter-charge.

_Readiness for Action._

It cannot be too strongly insisted on that piquets must always be ready
for action. The men should sleep with their rifles beside them, in the
positions they will occupy in the ranks, and must not be allowed to
cover their ears when lying down. Either the commander, or the next in
command, together with a proportion of the piquet, must always remain
awake, and when the commander lies down he should do so close to the
sentry over the piquet.

This readiness for action is often neglected; it is, of course,
necessary that officers and men on outpost duty should sleep, but
arrangements must be made to ensure that some of the piquet are always

At manœuvres I have often seen an entire piquet peacefully asleep,
trusting to the protection afforded by one or two groups 200 or 300
yards away, and the single sentry over the piquet. Any one who has
had experience of the heavy sleep which overtakes tired men will know
the difficulty there would be in quickly rousing a piquet under these
circumstances. I remember on one occasion witnessing a night attack on
a piquet by a company of the enemy, which charged, with loud cheers,
yet some minutes after the assault had been delivered, two or three
members of the piquet were found to be still fast asleep, with their
heads enveloped in their blankets.

_Cover for Groups._

When groups are posted in front of a piquet in open country, they
should always have cover in rear to protect them from the fire of their
comrades. Groups will remain out with much greater confidence if they
feel that they are safe from the fire of their own side.

_Marking of Route to and from Piquets._

The route from the support to its piquets, and from the piquets to
their groups, should always be clearly marked; scraps of paper, or even
green sticks, with the bark peeled off, may be used.

_Sentries Challenging._

The Regulations provide that sentries shall challenge at night, but it
is desirable to avoid any noise likely to disclose their position. It
is easy to arrange a system of signals by which patrols, etc., can be
recognised. The signal should be made by the sentry first and replied
to by the patrol, but it must be an invariable rule that after the
signal has been made one man, and one only, of the patrol shall advance
up to the sentry to be recognised. If the signal is not replied to,
the sentry will challenge, but in no louder tone than is absolutely

_Sentries Firing._

Sentries must be taught always to allow persons to approach fairly
near to them before challenging, and never to fire, except when it
is absolutely necessary to give an alarm, unless they can clearly
distinguish the object they fire at and can be fairly certain of
hitting it. Every officer who has been on service knows well that at
the commencement of a campaign sentries are continually firing at
nothing, but as they gain experience shots at night become rare; it is
really a question of training, and the training should be given during

In the French Army serving in Algeria there is a rule that any sentry
who fires at night must produce a corpse, or, at any rate, be able to
show by blood marks that he has hit the person he fired at, failing
this the sentry is dealt with for giving a false alarm. This is an
excellent rule, for unnecessary firing causes a great deal of fatigue
and annoyance to the troops on outpost duty.

_Action of Outposts in a Night Attack._

If due warning of the enemy’s advance is received and searchlights are
not available, the groups should be withdrawn, and the enemy allowed
to approach without any indication that the defenders are aware of his
movement being given. When he gets within 30 yards, or on dark nights
even less, he should be received with one round from every rifle,
followed immediately by a bayonet charge.

The round should be fired by word of command, like the old volley,
and great pains must be taken to impress upon the men the necessity
of aiming low. In the dark the natural tendency is to fire high, and
the men must be trained to overcome it. Firing from the hip has been
suggested as being likely to bring down the line of fire, but I have
never seen it tried at night, and experiments conducted in daylight
have not proved it to have any effect in that direction.

If adjoining bodies of the outposts are able to deliver an attack
simultaneously against both the front and flanks of the enemy, it will
probably be successful, as troops are quite as sensitive to flank
attacks at night as in the day.

In defence, as in attack, it is imperative that a portion of the force
should be held in reserve as long as possible.



_Training and Employment of Scouts._

The selection and training of Scouts for work in the dark cannot be too
seriously undertaken, since the success or failure of a night operation
depends in a great measure on their efficiency. They must be men of
good constitution, active, able to bear great fatigue, and to sleep
at any hour of the day or night; they must also have acute powers of
vision and hearing, be able to make a rough map, to find their way by
the compass and the stars, and be absolutely without “nerves.” They
should be thoroughly well acquainted with the appearance of the moon in
all its phases, and have a knowledge of the rate of its movement, so
that they can at any time form an estimate of the time the moonlight
will last. They must be capable of moving across country in line with
considerable intervals between them, and of consistently maintaining
the direction of their line of advance. Each scout should carry a
luminous compass and a piece of card, covered with luminous paint, for
use under a tracing of the map. If possible, they should be supplied
with rubber soles to their boots or, at any rate, the heel pads, which
are to be found in most shops.

No scout can be considered efficient if he cannot pass through any
ordinary outpost line at night whenever he pleases; if he is really
well trained, nothing short of a continuous chain of sentries can keep
him out.

This power of traversing the lines at will affords great opportunities
not only of obtaining information, but also of harassing the enemy’s
outposts. Two or three small parties of well-trained men can keep a
whole section of an outpost line in such a state of nervous tension
that sleep will be impossible, and the resulting fatigue will greatly
diminish the efficiency of the troops composing it during the next day.

In night attacks selected men should be employed to surprise and
disable the sentry groups on the line of advance. They should attack
the groups from the rear, and the best weapon for them to use is an
ordinary life preserver, well weighted and covered with rubber, or a
small leather bag filled with sand and securely fastened to the end
of a short stick. A blow on the side of the head from either of these
makes very little noise, and, as the injury caused by them is not
necessarily fatal, they can be used with less compunction against an
unsuspecting man than more lethal weapons.

In addition to disposing of the groups, scouts should be detailed to
creep close up to the enemy’s piquets and supports, and to remain there
ready to throw hand grenades among them when the attack develops.

Suitable men soon become keenly interested in their work, for the
sporting chances offered by night operations have an undoubted
fascination for adventurous spirits.

_Searchlights in Attack and in Defence._

Even in open ground it is rarely possible to arrange searchlights so as
to illuminate the whole of the area covered by their beams since small
irregularities in the surface of the ground produce patches of shadow.
When fixed lights are exposed the attackers must endeavour to utilise
these dark patches when crossing the zone of light; if travelling beams
are used they must lie down before the light reaches them and remain
perfectly still till it has passed. Unless their clothing affords a
marked contrast to the colour of the ground it is difficult to detect
troops if only they remain motionless.

Should the enemy’s artillery open fire on the area covered by the
light, the attacking column must continue to advance, and if necessary
assume more open formations. The guns will probably have been laid by
daylight, and it is not easy to make accurate alterations in the dark,
consequently the quicker the attackers advance the less loss they are
likely to suffer.

In the defence, if searchlights are provided, the officers on outpost
duty must endeavour to ascertain what portions of the ground in their
front the beams do not light up, and take special measures to watch

_Flares, etc._

When piquets are protected by obstacles an arrangement of flares for
lighting the ground in their immediate front is often useful. Empty
barrels, with both ends knocked out, are stuffed with straw, rags, or
even paper, which has been saturated with paraffin or covered with
tar; they should be placed about 50 yards in front of, and a little to
the side of, the piquet, and if a bold man is available to wait till
the enemy is close up before lighting them, they will prove of great

I have seen short sticks, with rags dipped in paraffin, tied round one
end, used with effect; when set on fire they can be thrown 25 or 30
yards, and are hard to extinguish, but there is always a risk of the
enemy throwing them back again.

_Hand Grenades._

These ancient weapons, having been improved, are likely to be largely
used in future, and would be specially suitable to issue to scouts.
A well-trained scout would have no difficulty in getting close up to
hostile piquets, and the sudden explosion of a hand grenade could not
fail to have considerable moral effect even if it did little material
damage. Against columns advancing to make a night attack they would
also be very useful weapons.

The confusion which is caused among troops at night manœuvres by the
explosion in their ranks of a few ordinary crackers is strong evidence
of the advantage to be gained from the use of hand grenades at a
critical moment.

_Luminous Discs._

Luminous discs are required to mark the directing flank of companies;
they should be made of thin board, coated on both sides with luminous
paint, and mounted on a pole about 5 feet long. In shape they may be
either round or square, but it is useful to have one of a special
pattern to mark the directing guide. They may be from 12 inches to 15
inches in diameter.

_Pocket Electric Lamps._

The pocket lamps used by many officers for reading maps at night answer
well as points to march on. They should be provided with a cardboard
hood extending about three inches beyond the bulb, to check the lateral
spread of the rays.

_Connecting Ropes._

If ropes or tapes (entrenching tapes do well) are used for keeping
connection, they must be held up by men placed at intervals of three or
four yards. Unless this is done the rope is sure to catch in bushes or
stones, and will probably break.

_Passing Fences._

When possible a gateway will be used for the passage of the troops, and
if the gate cannot be taken off its hinges a man should be detailed to
hold it open till the column has passed; if no gateway exists a gap
must be made.

To make a gap in a hedge, choose a weak place, and cut away the wood
with saws or knives; axes and billhooks should not be used, as the
sound made by them can be heard a long way. Walls, if built of loose
stones, must be carefully pulled down and the stones piled up at the
sides of the gap; if the stones are laid in mortar the wall must be
climbed. Wire fences should have a length of wire between two posts cut
right out and removed; the cuts should be made about two feet from the
posts, and the ends of the wires twisted back round the posts. Before
cutting a taut wire see that it is firmly grasped on both sides of the
point where the cut is made, otherwise the wire when cut will spring
back with a loud, ringing noise. As sound travels a long way up a wire
fence, great care must be taken to avoid jarring the wires.

_Entrenching by Night._

If trenches which have been dug at night are examined in daylight, it
will often be found that owing to the faulty shape of the parapet a
good deal of ground close in front of the trench is dead. To obviate
this it is advisable to place white objects or electric lamps about 30
yards in front of the trenches, in order that the men, when finishing
off the parapet, may so shape it that when firing over it the line of
sight will cut the ground at that point. It must also be remembered
that in the dark men instinctively fire straight to the front, _i.e._,
at right angles to the parapet, consequently if it is desired to bring
fire to bear in an oblique direction some means of marking the required
direction are necessary.

_Wire Entanglements._

In making wire entanglements for the defence of posts any attempt at
neatness or regularity is to be avoided; the stakes should be unevenly
spaced, and the wire left rather slack with occasional loose loops in
it. An entanglement made in this way is harder to pass and to cut than
one of the regulation pattern.

_Halts at Night._

Unless a halt is to last at least an hour, its duration should not
exceed five minutes, otherwise some men will certainly fall asleep,
and the operation of waking them causes noise and delay. If a march is
to last all night, a halt for a couple of hours, to allow the troops
to sleep, is of great benefit, and will diminish but little the total
distance covered.

_Recognition of Friends at Night._

In repelling a night attack the defenders are always embarrassed by the
difficulty of distinguishing between friend and foe, and a previously
arranged code of signals is essential if collision between bodies of
our own troops are to be prevented. The Russians for this purpose
adopted the practice of chanting their National Anthem, and, although
the tune of “God save the King” may perhaps be too well known to be
safely used, it would be easy to select some simple English song which
could not be sung by our enemies.

_Knowledge of the Moon and Stars._

An elementary knowledge of the names and positions of the principal
constellations and stars is very useful in night work, as without such
knowledge there will often be difficulty in pointing out the particular
star chosen for the column to march on, and any mistake may have
serious consequences. The Manual of Map Reading and Field Sketching
states that the lateral movement of a star will not exceed 5° in 20
minutes, and that it is safe to march for about a quarter of an hour on
the same star.

If neither the tables given in Appendix III. of the Field Service
Pocket Book, nor an Almanac are available, it will be impossible for
the ordinary man to calculate accurately the times of the rising and
setting of the moon, but a rough knowledge of its phases enables us to
estimate approximately the duration of moonlight. When the new moon
is first seen it rises in the morning and sets soon after sunset, but
as its hours of rising and setting become later each day, by the time
it reaches its first quarter the moonlight lasts from sunset to about
midnight, and at full moon all night. When the moon begins to wane,
and its hour of rising becomes later than the hour of sunset, there is
a daily increasing period of darkness between sunset and moon-rise.
Consequently, when the moon is growing, moonlight may be expected in
the early hours of the night, but after the last quarter not till after

The number of well educated persons who cannot distinguish between
the moon when in the first and last quarter is astonishing, but I
have found the old plan of taking a biscuit to represent the moon, and
biting pieces out of it to show the different phases, a simple means of
explaining the matter to recruits. They soon realise that if, as you
look at the biscuit or the moon, a piece is wanting on the left side,
the moon is growing; if on the right side, it is waning.

_Constant Practice the only Means of Acquiring Knowledge._

The old proverb, that an ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory,
is specially true of night operations; neither intuition nor books
can ever replace actual experience. The accidents that may, and do,
happen are so numerous, and the consequences of trivial mistakes so
far-reaching, that unless they have been seen they cannot be realised.
The only means of gaining knowledge is to constantly practise Night
Operations on all sorts of ground, and in all sorts of weather. My own
experience of night work, both on service and in peace, is probably
above the average, but I do not believe that I have ever returned from
any night operation without feeling that I had acquired some fresh item
of knowledge.


In conclusion, I wish again to lay stress on the fact that although
in planning any night operation it is necessary to proceed with the
greatest caution, yet, when once the undertaking has been commenced, it
must be carried through with the sternest resolution. In the dark the
boldest course is generally the best, and every moment of hesitation
diminishes the chances of success. To the junior ranks of the Army
night fighting affords chances of gaining distinction which cannot
occur in daylight, but these chances are fleeting ones, and must be
seized the moment they occur. The secret of success lies in acting
boldly and in acting promptly, and young officers, when engaged in
night operations, will do well to adopt the motto attributed to the
great leader of the French Revolution, Danton:—

_De l’audace, encore de l’audace, toujours de l’audace._

Transcriber’s Note

Occurrences of inconsistent hyphenation have not been changed.

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