[Lone Sentry: WWII Tactical and Technical Trends]
  [Lone Sentry: Photographs, Documents and Research on World War II]
Home Page | Site Map | What's New | Intel Articles by Subject

"British Street Fighting Tactics" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following U.S. military report on British street fighting tactics in WWII was published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 36, October 21, 1943.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


The latest tactics and technique used by the British in training for combat in villages and towns indicate a rather definite consolidation of the lessons learned in the present war. Much of the procedure which is at present practiced throughout the United Kingdom is based upon intelligence coming out of Germany and Russia. Experience gained from these sources coupled with lessons learned in North Africa, should provide useful lessons for street fighting procedure.

In a general way, basis of present British instruction in this subject is movement covered by fire, for the most part irrespective of the apparent cover offered by buildings or other town construction. The theory of attack, which contemplates the thorough cleaning out of a particular area in a defended town, presupposes that none of the enemy can be expected to withdraw until he is driven out by the force of infantry arms. Such a theory is analogous to methods used by American troops in cleaning out areas infested by Japanese on Guadalcanal. It can be seen that the burden of the attack lies with the junior commander. Even the platoon leader is often required to make his own plans and decide upon his own sub-objectives entirely separate from those of the company commander.

The British infantryman uses a face net or veil made in a manner similar to the helmet net worn by United States troops. However, the face veil of the British soldier is sufficiently large to cover the helmet, the face and part of the shoulders. The mesh is somewhat finer than that of the helmet net. It is not attached to the helmet, but is removable and can easily be folded and carried in a pocket of the uniform. Such a veil assists in breaking the facial outline which is so easily distinguishable, especially when the wearer stands in front of a window or exposes his head above a regular skyline.

The British teach individuals who are fighting from the inside of buildings to stand back from an open window, even though this may narrow the field of fire considerably. The theory is that fighting within a town or city does not require the broader field of fire usually necessary in open country.

Where an automatic weapon is mounted to fire from within a building, a special preparation is required to prevent dust from rising from the improvised base. One method used is to spread a carpet over the base, or some other piece of compact flexible material, before setting up the weapon. A second method envisages the setting up of the tripod, followed by a thorough wetting of the surface on which the tripod rests.

When crossing streets which may be covered by enemy fire, a platoon leader requires his unit to move by squad rushes across the open area rather than to go individually. The thought here is to prevent enemy snipers from picking off members of a squad in rear of the first one or two who attempt the crossing.

The soldier is taught never to cross a street unless it is necessary for him to do so. Progress along the street should be from door to door, and at the double, keeping as near the wall as possible. In this instance, progress should be made by individuals and not by groups, since sufficient cover for only one or two men in each doorway can be expected. Should a man be hit and fall, members of his squad are instructed not to pause to effect a rescue, since the sniper causing the original casualty is almost certain to be in a position to kill anyone who pauses in the immediate vicinity.

While cleaning out the interior of large buildings, it is believed that the best procedure, where possible, is to proceed from top to bottom; it is easier to throw hand grenades downstairs or through holes made in floors of upper stories than it is to attempt to throw them upstairs.

In most instances where a room is about to be entered, a hand grenade is first thrown into the room by opening the door, throwing in the grenade and closing the door quickly. The instant after the grenade has exploded, and while the results of the concussion from the explosion are still in effect, the clearing party rushes into the room with a light machine gun or rifle ready for action. The drill usually prescribes the movement from room to room or from floor to floor in two groups, evenly divided, the rear group covering the advance group by fire. For instance, at the foot of a stairway one or two men will cover the progress up the stairs of what might be called an advance searching party. After the advance group has arrived at the top of the stairs, the rear group then follows. When a room has been searched and found to be free of the enemy, the forward group calls out. "Clear". This is the signal for the covering group to enter the room. With the complete party assembled, the search is then continued from room to room and from floor to floor. The importance of searching a particularly well-defended building from top to bottom appears to be taken into special account. This naturally requires the progress from the roof top of one building to that of another. Once a particular building has been cleared, the searching party then returns to the roof, from which they move to the top of the next building, and so on.

In order to perfect this drill until it becomes a matter of second nature, the British have instituted a battle drill called Street Fighting. In this drill, a street of a town is established as a training ground and a complete infantry platoon runs the course described below:

(1) The platoon divides itself into its three sections (U.S. Squads) in such a way that one section may cover the right-hand series of buildings, while another takes care of those on the left-hand side. The third section splits itself into two groups in order to cover the rear of each series of buildings which form the street. This latter section remains in firing position in the rear of the buildings until a considerable portion of the street has been cleared by the first two sections. The supporting section then advances to positions from which it may cover the rear of the buildings farther along the street.

[British Street Fighting Tactics]

(2) As to the action of the two sections which clear the houses paralleling the street, the section on the right side moves forward a predetermined distance, covered by fire from the left section. After the right section has reached its sub-objective, it takes up a firing position which will permit it to cover the advance of left section up its side of the street. This maneuver is then continued along the street until the entire allotted area has been cleared, see sketch.

(3) As to the progress of the individual section in its movement up one side of the street, the rifle group normally goes first, covered by the Bren-gun group. After the rifle group has reached its sub-objective, it then covers the movement of the Bren-gun group while it rejoins the section. As was described above, the entire movement of this section (squad) is covered by the fire of the opposite section from an echeloned position.

In case the enemy fire is so intense and his resistance so stubborn as to cause a definite pause in the progress of the platoon, the 2-inch mortar is brought into play, either for HE fire or for smoke-bomb screening purposes.


[Back] Back to Articles by Subject | Intel Bulletin by Issue | T&TT by Issue | Home Page

Web LoneSentry.com