Carl von Clausewitz wrote in On War (1832) that a people’s war (Volkskrieg) in ‘‘civilized Europe’’ was a phenomenon of the nineteenth century. He recognized that it was a function of the popular nationalism unleashed by the great French Revolution; it meant that war was no longer merely the business of generals and armies, limited by the rules, conventions, and laws of war. Instead ordinary people would fight with whatever weapons they had, however bad the military odds, to preserve the ‘‘soul’’ of their country. Clausewitz had seen this happen in Russia and in Spain, where the partisans, or partidos, had conducted protracted struggles against Napoleon’s armies in what would become best known as guerrilla warfare, la guerra de guerrillas (literally, war of little wars). It would recur several times during the nineteenth century, notably during the American Civil War, the Franco- German War of 1870–1871, and the British invasion of the Boer republics (the so-called Second War of Independence) of 1899–1902. In all these cases, as in Spain and Russia, guerrilla warfare was a defensive reaction to foreign invasion, a product of international conflict; such reactions would recur in Europe in the twentieth century as well. But more striking still would be the proactive, insurgent form in which guerrilla warfare became the vehicle of internal revolution. This had been presaged by the Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini, though his inspirational tracts on guerrilla fighting never succeeded in generating an effective guerrilla campaign— his dream of Italian national liberation was only realized by conventional military action. The first modern European guerrilla insurgency in the cause of ‘‘national liberation’’ was launched in Macedonia at the beginning of the twentieth century. The Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO) faced the task of building up a sense of nationality as well as conducting a military campaign and was strikingly successful in both enterprises until it took the premature decision to shift from guerrilla to conventional operations. This problem, of grasping the exact potential and limits of guerrilla methods, would recur in many subsequent attempts at insurgency. The technique became better understood at the end of World War I. The war in Europe was almost entirely ‘‘regular,’’ though there was some guerrilla resistance in Serb territory occupied by the Habsburg army, and the German army used sporadic Belgian franc-tireur activity as the pretext for violent reprisals against civilians. In German East Africa, however, a remarkably successful guerrilla campaign was conducted by a regular German officer, Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, with a small force of local askaris—the opposite, in fact, of a ‘‘national liberation’’ struggle. But Lettow’s achievement in holding off a vastly larger (albeit very second-rate) British imperial army for the whole duration of the war demonstrated the potential of the strategy and may have added credibility to T. E. Lawrence’s contention that the Arab revolt of 1916–1918 was a decisive guerrilla victory. The actual performance of the Arab forces that Lawrence and other British advisors helped to organize has been disputed, but the impact of Lawrence’s writings about the campaign was indisputable.
Lawrence proposed a reversal of conventional military wisdom, contending that ‘‘granted mobility, security, time, and doctrine, victory will rest with the insurgents’’ (1920). Guerrilla forces that could hit and run, striking only in favorable situations, could outlast the power of regular armies. The key requirement was ‘‘doctrine,’’ or ideology, and this might be either socialism or nationalism, or indeed both. The numbers of active insurgents might be very small—as few as 2 percent of the population, Lawrence suggested, provided 80 percent were sympathetic. This would ensure that the incumbent forces could not get the intelligence information they would need to locate the guerrilla forces. The theory was revolutionary, and if some people still questioned the relevance of the Arab campaign—‘‘a sideshow of a sideshow’’—from the European standpoint—its publication coincided with an Irish republican guerrilla campaign inside the United Kingdom in which a few hundred fighters defied the British army for long enough to bring about political concessions. The Irish Republican Army’s (IRA) achievement was psychological as much as military; it convinced the British government that it had the backing of the Irish people and that purely military repression would be pointless. It never needed to develop the capacity to take on military units larger than a company fifty to one hundred strong. It demonstrated that survival was as important as the ability to inflict damage. The question of whether a government less ready to compromise than the British could be defeated by guerrilla methods remained unanswered. The experience of the Russian civil war, however, in which a skillfully led anarchist guerrilla army was ultimately overwhelmed by the Red Army, indicated that Lawrence’s claim might have been overstated.
Certainly the Bolshevik leadership seems to have drawn this conclusion. Leon Trotsky called guerrilla warfare ‘‘the truly peasant form of war,’’ and in Marxist terms this was at best a limited endorsement. It was primitive, and though it might sometimes be necessary it was not inherently revolutionary. Joseph Stalin, originally a more enthusiastic ‘‘guerrillaist,’’ soon lost his enthusiasm in the aftermath of the civil war. Its anarchic potential was increasingly unattractive, and in the Spanish civil war there was no Soviet support for a form of warfare that might have been expected to play a major if not decisive role in the struggle between nationalists and republicans. Despite the impression created by some visiting litterateurs, guerrilla activity was fleeting and disconnected. The overriding necessity of defending the main cities, and the fact that the Nationalist armies were less vulnerable to disruption, forced the republic’s defenders— even the anarchists—into static trench warfare. It was left to Mao Zedong, in very different circumstances, to educate his fellow Marxists in the revolutionary potential of what he (who also warned against the propensity of ‘‘guerrillaism’’ to degenerate into banditry or anarchy) labeled ‘‘protracted war.’’
The Second World War, unlike the First, saw widespread guerrilla fighting. But it remained largely improvised and uninformed by theory. Stalin’s army, in line with earlier priorities, had not drawn up any plans for partisan activity. It was only the staggering scale and speed of the German advance into the USSR in 1941, leaving thousands of Red Army troops cut off in a vast occupied zone, that made a revival of the partisan tradition almost unavoidable. On 3 July Stalin broadcast a call to all patriots to form partisan units and ‘‘make life intolerable for the invader,’’ and formal orders were issued by the Central Committee a week later. The response was slow, with the number of partisans gradually increasing over a two-year period from perhaps 30,000 at the end of 1941 to some 250,000 in the summer of 1943. In the terms sketched by Lawrence, even the smaller of these numbers was enormous, but of course so was the expanse of territory involved. Much of the occupied zone was unsuitable for guerrilla operations, being flat and open, and most activity was concentrated in the (still huge) Bryansk forests and central marshlands of Byelorussia. From the start the main value of the partisan campaign seems to have been political as much as military, and it is clear from the tiny forces deployed on antipartisan operations by the German army that the threat was never vital. The German response was nonetheless extraordinarily violent. Antipartisan units repeatedly reported failing to find partisans, but nevertheless razing unfriendly villages to the ground and killing all their inhabitants, including women and children. Even before the invasion was launched, Wehrmacht forces were specifically exempted from the normal legal rules in using ‘‘collective measures of violence’’ against civilians, on the grounds of the large expanse of operational areas in the East, and, perhaps more significantly, the ‘‘special nature of the enemy’’ (Heer).
In the USSR guerrilla resistance remained auxiliary to regular military operations, but elsewhere, notably in the Balkans, it appeared independently and became the vehicle for a revolutionary transfer of power. In Yugoslavia, under an outstandingly determined and resourceful guerrilla leader, Josip Broz (Tito), the Communist Party was able to transform itself from a small underground opposition into the dominant political authority by the end of the war. From the summer of 1941 Tito assembled a formidable army, claiming a strength of 150,000 by late 1942, and 300,000 by the end of 1943, by which time a significant area of the country, some 50,000 square kilometers, had been liberated. Almost uniquely in modern history, this liberation was achieved with virtually no foreign support; by the time the Allies decided to supply Tito with arms, he was effectively self-sufficient. But he still insisted on the primacy of guerrilla methods and avoided a potentially terminal showdown with the occupying German forces. The Germans launched a series of large-scale antipartisan offensives, of which only the last and smallest—but most accurately targeted—came close to capturing the partisan commanders.
The Greek Communist Party (KKE) also formed the backbone of the resistance movement that began in Greece in 1941, though in this case its potential was picked up more rapidly by outsiders. British aid, through the instrument of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a bureau set up to support resistance movements, led to a significant sabotage operation, the destruction of the Gorgopotamos gorge viaduct (part of the supply line for Rommel’s army in North Africa) in November 1942. The British chiefs of staff decided to ‘‘give all-out support to guerrilla warfare, even to the extent of prejudicing the activities of secret groups.’’ But by contrast with Yugoslavia, there was a finer balance between the communist EAM (National Liberation Front) and the monarchist EDES (National Democratic Greek League). Both deployed substantial guerrilla forces, and though they cooperated in early operations like the Gorgopotamos viaduct, they were also fighting an internal struggle for power. ELAS (the National Popular Liberation Army, the military wing of EAM) had some capable commanders, but the party as a whole did not have the kind of charismatic leadership supplied by Tito in Yugoslavia. Its acceptance of Stalin’s policy of detaching Macedonia from Greece was a serious handicap. But its resistance campaign had put it in a strong position by the end of the war, and its decision to launch an offensive early in 1946 seemed logical; by the end of that year ELAS, now known as the Democratic Army, had some 13,000 members operating inside Greece, with another 12,000 in cross-border sanctuaries in Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. Unusually, women formed a large proportion o these forces; equally unusually, a large proportion was conscripted by force. The National Army was weak and poorly organized when the civil war began and spent years in wasteful and ineffective attempts to round up the guerrillas. But the injection of American aid in 1948 tilted the balance decisively. The insurgents’ premature transition to open military operations in 1947 speeded up the defeat of the KKE, though whether persistence in guerrilla action would have done more than perpetuate a bitter and destructive conflict is doubtful.
The defeat of the communist insurgency in Greece by 1949 indicated that what may be called ‘‘classical’’ rural guerrilla warfare in Europe was no longer viable. Terrorism, sometimes (misleadingly) labeled urban guerrilla war, would be employed by both nationalist organizations like the IRA and the ETA (Basque Homeland and Liberty) and revolutionary socialist groups like the Italian Brigate Rosse (Red Brigades) and the German Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Faction). But none of these approached the military dynamic laid out by Lawrence, or by Mao Zedong. The most effective integrated campaign appeared in one of Europe’s smallest countries, Cyprus, where EOKA (National Organization of Cypriot Struggle, an offshoot of the Greek royalist Khi organization) fought for reunion of the island with Greece. Its leader, Colonel Georgios Grivas, was a regular soldier with a precise grasp of guerrilla techniques. To Archbishop Makarios III’s objection that Cypriots were not brave enough to fight an insurgent campaign he replied, ‘‘No one is born brave; he becomes brave, given the right leadership.’’ EOKA’s part-rural, part-urban campaign (1955– 1959) demonstrated that an irresolute imperial power could be persuaded by ruthless violence to abandon its colonies. Where the imperial power was more deeply entrenched, as in Algeria, which had been made a French de´partement, guerrilla methods proved inadequate. The Front de Libe´ration Nationale’s (FLN) organization in Algiers itself was crushed by French military measures, and the key to the eventual achievement of Algerian independence (1962) was the reaction of French public opinion against those measures. The use of torture by a Western democratic state was, at that point in history, still felt to be deeply shocking.
Primary Sources Lawrence, T. E. ‘‘The Evolution of a Revolt.’’ Army Quarterly 1, no. 1 (1920): 55–69. ———. Revolt in the Desert. London, 1927. Secondary Sources Beckett, Ian. Modern Insurgencies and Counter- Insurgencies: Guerrillas and Their Opponents since 1750. London and New York, 2001. Foot, M. R. D. Resistance: An Analysis of European Resistance to Nazism, 1940–1945. London, 1976. Galula, David. Counter-insurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice. New York, 1964. Greene, T. N., ed. The Guerrilla, and How to Fight Him: Selections from theMarineCorpsGazette. NewYork, 1962. Heer, Hannes. ‘‘The Logic of the War of Extermination: The Wehrmacht and the Anti-Partisan War.’’ In War of Extermination: The German Military in World War II, 1941–1944, edited by Hannes Heer and Klaus Naumann. New York, 2000. Holland, Robert F. Britain and the Revolt in Cyprus, 1954– 1959. Oxford, U.K., 1998. Laqueur, Walter. Guerrilla: A Historical and Critical Study. Boston, 1976. Talbott, John E. The War without a Name: France in Algeria, 1954–1962. New York, 1980. Townshend, Charles. The British Campaign in Ireland, 1919–1921: The Development of Political and Military Policies. London, 1975.