From the Book of
"Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down
his lifecovering fire for his friends"
Instead of giving ones life for his friends, couldn't one work with them in a coordinated retrograde action in order to get everyone out of the trouble they find themselves in? Not that I wouldn't have taken a bullet for anyone I have served with or anything like that...maybe not in the chest for all of them...but you get the idea.
In a tactical environment "covering fire" (aka "suppressive fire") is that fire used to suppress an enemy (keep his head down) in order for a friendly unit to maneuver. It is often used to fix an enemy so an adjoining force may outflank them and engage their weaker side defenses, and ultimately sweep over them and destroy them. If you have ever watched Saving Private Ryan the term and command is used several times in the movie. I remember many, many hours practicing as a a member of rifle teams, squads and platoons the art of maneuvering in 3 to 5 second rushes or laying down fire and shifting fire off to the opposite end of the objective from where the friendlies would come from in order to catch the enemy as they tried to escape the charging unit. Its use can be scaled from large combat team forces at division level (remember the "Hail Mary" attack in the first Gulf War) down to a few soldiers against each other.
This concept is part of the "bread and butter" of maneuver warfare as taught in the military. It seems pretty common sense once its pointed out to you but how many times have we seen movies where soldiers just blindly charged ahead into oncoming fire...well, a lot of WWI was fought like that I guess. Think of it like this, you want to have chicken for dinner but no way that chicken is just going to sit there and let his head get chopped off. The suppressive fire is the hand that holds the chicken down while the maneuver force is the ax that comes down and puts the clucker in the stew pot. In a way, fire and maneuver utilizing suppressive fire is kind of a "fix all" type solution to most field problems when encountering an enemy. It can be used for both offensive and retrograde operations as well as for other specialty scenarios. The only other generally as useful tactic I can think of is the "hey diddle diddle, everyone up the middle" tactic, where you just focus all of your efforts on a single point in the enemies line or defense as quickly and violently as you can.
A couple of German Maxim machine gun crews on high ground...a Tommy and Doughboy's nightmares were made of things such as this....
The tactic really got its modern start when the machine gun appeared on the battlefield and a weapon was capable of producing such a withering amount of fire while still conserving manpower. No longer would an entire company of riflemen staged in box formations or a single long line be required to lay down fire so another unit could maneuver around its large perimeter to engage the enemy up close. Now that job could be done by as little as 2 or 3 soldiers. Over time as the weapon developed and more smaller and compact versions of it became available it was integrated lower and lower into the hierarchy of the units. At first the heavy, water cooled and cumbersome machines were only available at the battalion or company level in fixed positions, but air cooled and smaller versions of these weapons (like the famous M1919 .30 MG compared to the M2 .50) enabled them to be attached to the company and then platoon. The Germans really took the concept forward before and during WW2 by basing the squad element around their lighter machine guns instead of the rifle and the US followed suit after the war by the introduction of the M60. Later even smaller weapons, like the M249 SAW, meant that even the individual fire teams (3 or 4 soldiers) had at least one fully automatic weapon for a base of fire to suppress the enemy with. Neat-O.
The way that obtaining covering fire is done varies slightly from unit type to unit type...an Armored unit may have a different SOP than an infantry unit...but the same basic principle is maintained...pin them down and then bum rush them once you outflank them. The method for actually employing covering fire is pretty straightforward.
- Initially you put an large amount of rounds downrange to get the enemy to stop firing at you.
- You start engaging likely areas of return fire as you identify them with beaten zone fires
- You then selectively engage any shown positions and targets
- Once and if the enemy size is determined and positions pinpointed individual weapons or platforms can be assigned to each target to engage until destroyed using precise, aimed fire.
Many times you will not get much beyond #2 above, depending on the pace of the battle and speed in which units may maneuver unhindered.
If you read this and think that I have given you a nugget of tactical knowledge, well, you're partially right. This isn't super secret tactical knowledge only given to Rangers and SEALS, its freely available on the internet for anyone to find. I just had an itch to talk about it and I did. This is not intended as, nor should it be implied as, training or used in any way other than just recreational reading. That is all....seriously, end.