ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Guerrilla Warfare

Updated on December 18, 2016

The term 'guerrilla warfare' is one of several terms used to describe the efforts of small, unstructured bands engaged in irregular warfare against a stronger military opponent.

Guerrilla forces often achieve success by combining surprise, unorthodox aggressive tactics, sabotage and psychological warfare. They are strengthened by their speed and mobility, knowledge of terrain and participation in conflicts in which the odds of success are heavily weighted in their favor. They are generally loosely knit and spread over a large area and do not have the disadvantages of fixed camps, nor are they reliant on supply lines. In previous centuries, guerrilla warfare was a common means of fighting larger, heavily armed armies or repelling invaders. In recent times, it has often been used for deposing established governments. In the twentieth century Asia, Africa, South America and the Middle East have been the main centers of such warfare.


The first to formulate doctrines on guerrilla warfare was the German theoretician Karl von Glauswitz. In On War (1833) he formalized the tactics involved in guerrilla warfare and stated that success in such conflicts depended upon a number of factors, including support for 'guerrillas' by the indigenous population and repeated victory in many small skirmishes rather than in a protracted battle. Communist leader Mao Tse-tung is recognized as the originator of modern guerrilla tactics.

In Guerrilla Warfare (1937) and On the Protracted Conflict (1938) he described the guerrilla war as having three phases. The first phase is the 'strategic defensive', in which the irregular forces initiate strikes and draw the fire of the superior forces; constant surprise strikes lead to a tiring and weakening of the opponent's morale. In the 'stalemate' phase, the guerrillas increase the force and number of attacks against the weakened army and begin to claim victories. In the final phase or 'strategic offensive' the guerrillas band together to overrun and defeat the shattered adversary.

Later, revolutionary strategist Che Guevara formulated the urban guerrilla tactics that have become more common in recent decades.

History of Guerrilla Warfare

Guerrilla warfare has been used for centuries.

One of the most successful guerrilla wars was the one that resulted in the liberation of Scotland by Robert Bruce in the early fourteenth century. Modern guerrilla movements date from the period 1780-1814 when Napoleon's occupying army in Spain encountered repeated small skirmishes with the scattered forces of the defeated national army and Spanish civilians.

The term 'guerrilla', from the Spanish guerra meaning 'war', originated during this conflict. The consistent efforts of Spanish irregulars, aided and funded by England under the duke of Wellington, eventually led to the Peninsula War and Napoleon's defeat. Examples of later applications of guerrilla tactics are the Greek insurgent raids against the Ottoman Empire (1821-27) and those of the Boer nationals against the British (1898).

Female Soviet partisans in Nazi-occupied Ukraine.
Female Soviet partisans in Nazi-occupied Ukraine.

Twentieth century

The Chinese Civil War (1926-49) saw the employment of Mao Tse-tung's strategies to conquer China and establish a communist regime. During World War II, the Soviets formed a 150,000-strong guerrilla movement against the 1941 Nazi invasion.

In recent decades, the threat of nuclear war has prompted major world governments to adopt guerrilla tactics to control rivals without direct confrontation. The communist regimes have extensively used this ploy in Asia, particularly during the early stages of the Vietnam War. In the United States in 1964 there was a public outcry at the revelation that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had paid and trained Cuban exiles to invade Cuba and attempt to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro.

Urban guerrilla movements have become more common in recent years. Such bands as the Symbionese Liberation Front in the United States, the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland and the International Red Army have brought guerrilla activities to many countries, despite the efforts of highly trained counter-guerrilla agencies.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • joanveronica profile image

      Joan Veronica Robertson 

      6 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi again, this is a really good, well written article! I learnt a lot of things I did not know, like the origin of the word. I never associated it with the Napoleonic era, I thought it was brewed in Latin America! Also, reading through these concepts, brought to mind so many experiences! I was actually in the US for the Bay of Pigs, and I witnessed JFK's address to the nation on TV after it failed. Awesome! And of course, I lived through the unrest in Chile, from 1970 up to 1989, during the Socialist (Allende) and Military (Pinochet) governments.

      Also, I would think the French Resistance during WW2, would be considered as "guerrilla" tactics? Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts. Voted Up.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)