Urban Warfare – A war in a city

It is a combat conducted in urban areas such as towns and cities. Urban warfare is very different from combat in the open field at both the operational and tactical level because of the presence of civilians and the complexity of the urban terrain.

To understand the term urban warfare, we first look at the components of an urban environment and then the components of a city. How these two interact with eachother to form the startegy of a war explains the true essence of ‘Urban Warfare’

These urban elements becomes the strategy of a war; the roads are used to make booby traps, the parapets walls act as a shield and the rooftops becomes the bases for snippers.

Different levels in an urban environment which are used for the war strategy. To understand this better we look at different examples of the wars from the history to study how are the elements of a city used in each case.

Battle of Monterrey is an Mexican – American war which took place on September 21–24, 1846 . Monterrey is a city which is located in Mexico. U.S armies attacked on this city to break the unity of people and to force Mexican people to leave the city. As a strategy U.S army commender, knew the city well enough to attact efficiently for the north east direction. Monterrey was protected to the south by the Rio Santa Catarina and the mountains of the Sierra Madre. There was a citadel in the north part of the city, while the northeast approach to the city was covered La Teneria while the eastern entrance was protected by Fort Diablo. U.S. armies aimed to strike on the city’s eastern defense to take the control of the Saltillo road.

During the battle, US Army widened and improved the roads to provide supplies. They understood that the army needed to “mouse hole” through each house. This is a tactic used in urban warfare, in which soldiers create access to adjoining rooms and avoid open street battle. Therefore, they are not easily targeted by machine-gun and sniper fire.

How were the urban elements used:
– The Mexican defenders hid on rooftops, shot through loopholes, and stationed cannons in the middle of the city’s streets.

– The houses at Monterrey were made of thick adobe, with strong double doors and few windows which acted as a shield.

– The rooftops were lined with a two-foot-tall wall that acted as a parapet for the defending soldiers. Each home was a fort unto itself.

The Battle of Stalingrad (23 August 1942 – 2 February 1943) was a major battle on the Eastern Front of World War II in which Nazi Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad (now Volgograd) in Southern Russia.

Nazi armies attacked at Stalingrad because of two reasons. Firstly, it was a major industrial city on the Volga River – a vital transport route between the Caspian Sea and Northern Russia. Secondly, its capture would secure the left flank of the German armies as they advanced into the oil-rich Caucasus region – with a goal of cutting off fuel to Stalin’s war machine. The Red Army, at this stage of the war, was less capable of highly mobile operations than the German Army; however, the prospect of combat inside a large urban area, which would be dominated by short-range firearms rather than armored and mechanized tactics, minimized the Red Army’s disadvantages against the Germans.

Hitler ordered to go into the city with the tanks. However it was a disadvantage to do that because there were rubbles and it was hard to move with the tanks. Meanwhile Russians being the defenders of the city detected some buildings to make them fortified because they knew the city well. They detected some buildings such as factories, government buildings, train stations and covered them, which are the landing points from Volga River.

How were the urban elements used:

German military doctrine was based on the principle of combined-arms teams and close cooperation by tanks, infantry, engineers, artillery, and ground-attack aircraft. To counter this, Soviet commanders adopted the simple expedient of always keeping the front lines as close together as physically possible. Chuikov called this tactic “hugging” the Germans. This forced the German infantry to either fight on their own or risk taking casualties from their own supporting fire; it neutralized German close air support and weakened artillery support. Soviets were good at detecting the potential buildings that can be defended because they knew the city . They turned the points which are the landing place into fortification with military forces

The multi layered defense system formulated by the Russians to defend their city resulted in their victory over the Germans.

The Battle of Grozny took place between Chechens and Soviet Russia in 1995 and it lasted for three months. The main factor for attacking the city (Grozny) was that the city was aggregation point of humans and political decision making center.

Grozny is situated in the open territory north of the mountain so when the Russians attacked the city, they thought that Chechens would defend in linear form, but the complicated urban form was used as a defending strategy by Chechens. When Russians used fixed attack points in the city, Chechens used mobility strategy which is called “Asymmetric War Strategy”.

How were the urban elements used:

Chechens used complexity in the city and complex coordination with small unit defenders. They collaborated with city planners and they used buildings – especially high-rise buildings – as a component of the defense. They thought that especially in urban warfare, “We are underground because this is guerilla war; the enemy that you can see is less dangerous than the enemy you cannot see. We are nowhere and we are everywhere.”

They changed architectural function of the buildings by diging underground shelters under the buildings and they used basements for armory and food supplies. They blocked the first floors because of tank attacks, left the top floor empty because of air strikes and they used intermediate storeys to attack Russians.

Russians were thinking they could destroy city and Chechens in one week, but the complexity of urban form and its usage and change of building functions extended the war to three months. The United Nations called Grozny the most destroyed city on the earth in 2003.

Battle of Nablus was fought from April 5 to April 8, 2002 in the Palestinian city of Nablus between the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and Palestinian forces. It resulted in an Israeli victory.

IDF used a very different strategy to attack on this city. The technique used was described as “inverse geometry,” which is explained as the re-organization of the urban syntax by means of a series of micro-tactical actions. Friends! If until now you were used to move along roads and sidewalks, forget it! From now on we all walk through walls!” says the commander, Brigadier General Aviv Kochavi – the commander of IDF.

How were the urban elements used:

The Soldiers moved within the city across hundred-meter-long “over-ground-tunnels” carved out through a dense and contiguous urban fabric. Although several thousand soldiers and hundreds of Palestinian guerrilla fighters were manoeuvring simultaneously in the city, they were saturated within its fabric to the degree that most would not have been visible from an aerial perspective. Soldiers did not use the streets, roads, courtyards, the external doors, internal stairwells, and windows that constitute the order of buildings, but moved horizontally through walls, and vertically through holes blasted in ceilings and floors. Moving through domestic interiors this manoeuvre turns inside to outside and private domains to thoroughfares. Fighting took place within half-demolished living rooms, bedrooms and corridors of poorly built homes.

General Aviv kochavi believed that there is a considerable overlap among the theoretical texts considered essential by military academies and architectural schools. His words in this regard sheds a great light on a how the elements of a city are used as the war strategy.

He said: ‘this space that you look at, this room that you look at, is nothing but your interpretation of it. […] The question is how do you interpret the alley? […] We interpreted the alley as a place forbidden to walk through and the door as a place forbidden to pass through, and the window as a place forbidden to look through, because a weapon awaits us in the alley, and a booby trap awaits us behind the doors. This is because the enemy interprets space in a traditional, classical manner, and I do not want to obey this interpretation and fall into his traps. […] I want to surprise him! This is the essence of war. I need to win […] This is why that we opted for the methodology of moving through walls.’

Surici – Urban warfare:

Suriçi is located south-east part of the Diyarbakır and it is the earliest settlement since Roman Period in Diyarbakır.

In general cities are considered as models of stability; so taking hold of them plays an important strategic role and they are considered as an index to prove the military position and operational authority of the invading forces. So Suriçi was seen like such a model and was attacked. The area was chosen because the attackers used the narrow streets and the tunnels present; as these elements made it easier to prevent Turkish military from defending the city. Generally, unpredictable network and permeability between structures provide advantages for defenders, but in Suriçi, it was the opposit of this.

When we talk about how urban form was used in Sur, firstly we can talk about its tunnels which exist since Roman Period. Attackers enhanced the tunnel area by adding new sub-tunnels. They used these tunnels as explosive contrivances (düzenek) and with these tunnel routes, they were invisble above the streets.

The other components of the area are buildings. Attackers used buildings which are connected with their specific storeys for transition and placement of snipers on the roof. If there is no transition between buildings, they created a hole on the wall or they demolished the wall between houses to move between thebuildings.


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