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Mountain warfare refers to warfare in the mountains or similarly rough terrain. This type of warfare is also called Alpine warfare, named after the Alps mountains. Mountain warfare is one of the most dangerous types of combat as it involves surviving not only combat with the enemy but also the extreme weather and dangerous terrain.

In combat, high ground gives a great advantage in both defense and offense . Attacking a prepared enemy position in mountain terrain requires a greater ratio of attacking soldiers to defending soldiers than would be needed on level ground. Mountains at any time of year are dangerous – lightning, strong gusts of wind, falling rocks, extreme cold, and crevasses are all additional threats to combatants. Movement, reinforcements, and medical evacuation up and down steep slopes and areas where even pack animals cannot reach involves an enormous exertion of energy.

History

Early history

The term mountain warfare is said to have come about in the Middle Ages after the monarchies of Europe found it difficult to fight the Swissmarker armies in the Alps. This was because the Swiss were able to fight in smaller units and took vantage points against a huge unmaneuverable army. Similar styles of attack and defence were later employed by guerrillas, partisans and irregulars who hid in the mountains after an attack, making it challenging for an army of regulars to fight back.

World War I

Mountain warfare came to the fore once again, during World War I, when some of the nations involved in the war had mountain divisions that had hitherto not been tested. The Austro-Hungarian defence repelled the Italians as they took advantage of the mostly mountainous terrain, where more people succumbed to frostbite and avalanches than to bullets. During the summer of 1918, the Battle of San Matteo took place on the Italian front, this battle was fought at the highest elevation of any in the war. In December 1914, another offensivemarker was launched by the Turkish supreme commander Enver Pasha with 95,000-190,000 troops against the Russiansmarker in the Caucasus. Insisting on a frontal attack against Russian positions in the mountains in the heart of winter, the end result was devastating and Enver lost 86% of his forces.

World War II



Kashmir conflict



The most dangerous and volatile of all mountain conflicts involves the ongoing one between Indiamarker and Pakistanmarker over the Kashmir regionmarker. Since the partition in 1947, both countries have been constantly locked in skirmishes and wars mainly in this Himalayan region with the highest mountains in the world. The first hostilities between the two nations in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947 showed that both were ill-equipped to fight in biting cold, let alone on the highest altitudes in the world.

During the Sino-Indian War of 1962, hostilities broke out between the Republic of India and People's Republic of Chinamarker at some of the highest altitudes over the Himalayan mountains.

Later wars between India and Pakistan were mainly fought on the valleys rather than in the mountains, although several major mountain battles took place in all these conflicts. This changed in the Kargil War when Indian forces were faced with the huge task of flushing out intruders and disguised Pakistani soldiers who had captured high mountain posts. This proxy warfare became the only modern war that was fought exclusively on mountains. Since Pakistani forces held the high ground and battles took place in peaks as high as 7,000 metres, it proved an immensely costly task for the Indian Army, supported by massed artillery and the Indian Air Force, to vacate the Pakistani troops. As a result of its experiences in Mountain Warfare in Kargil, the Indian Army now conducts courses on specialized Artillery use in the Mountains, where ballistic projectiles have different characteristics.

On a related note, the Siachen Glaciermarker was named the highest battleground in the world with both the countries holding their respective positions at nearly 7000 m above sea level. Over ± 3000 Pakistani troops have died in this inhospitable terrain, with weather extremes and the natural hazards accounting for higher casualties than combat.But the Indian number of casualties were less due to a step ahead in technological advancement & mountain warfare experience.

Falklands War

Landscape of South Georgia


Although most of the Falklands War took place in the Falkland Islandsmarker themselves, on hilltops in semi-Arctic conditions, during the earlier stages of the war, there was some action in the bleak mountainous island of South Georgiamarker. South Georgia is a Peri-Antarctic Island, and since the War took place during the southern winter, Alpine conditions prevailed almost down to sea level. It was unusual, in that it combined aspects of deep water long range expeditions, Arctic Warfare and mountain warfare.

Operation Paraquetmarker was ordered by British Admiral Fieldhouse on 12 April 1982. It was to involve Mountain Troops from D Squadron SAS in Ascension, 150 Royal Marines on the tanker Tidespring, 2SBS on Plymouth and 6SBS in the submarine Conqueror. Conqueror was first on the scene and carried out a survey of key areas of the South Georgia coast. The operation was originally supposed to involve both SASmarker and SBSmarker forces being infiltrated onto South Georgia by helicopters from the Tidespring and Antrim, but the plan had to be changed when the two Wessex helicopter transporting the SAS troops to an ambitious location on the west coast crashed in atrocious weather conditions on Fortuna Glaciermarker; the troops and aircrew were rescued by Antrim's Wessex helicopter, the last remaining to the expedition.

Mountain warfare training

The expense of training Mountain troops precludes them from being on the order of battle of most armies except those who reasonably expect to fight in such terrain. Mountain Warfare training is one of the most difficult and arduous there is and in many countries is the exclusive preserve of special forces, elite units or commandos who as part of their remit should have the ability to fight in difficult terrain, for example the Royal Marines in UK. Regular units may also occasionally undertake training of this nature.

Austria and Germany

Gebirgsjäger is the German word for mountain infantry (Gebirge meaning "mountain range", and Jäger meaning "hunter" or "ranger"). The word Jäger is the traditional German term for light infantry.

The mountain infantry of Austria have their roots in the three "Landesschützen" regiments of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The mountain infantry of Germany carry on certain traditions of the Alpenkorps (Alpine corps) of World War I. Both countries' mountain infantry share the Edelweiss insignia. It was established in 1907 as a symbol of the Austro-Hungarian Landesschützen regiments by Emperor Franz Joseph I. These troops wore their Edelweiss on the collar of their uniforms. When the Alpenkorps came to aid the Landesschützen in defending the Austro-Hungary's southern frontier against the Italian attack in May 1915, the grateful Landesschützen honoured the men of the Alpenkorps by awarding them their own insignia: the Edelweiss.

Today the traditions of the Austrian mountain infantry (Gebirgsjäger) are maintained by the 6th Jägerbrigade in Innsbruck, subdivided in three battalions (Jägerbataillon 23, Jägerbataillon 24 and Jägerbataillon 26)

Honouring tradition, upon the creation of the Bundeswehr in 1955, the mountain infantry returned as a distinctive arm of the German army. Until 2001, they were organized as the 1. Gebirgsdivision, but this division was disbanded in a general reform. The successor unit is Gebirgsjägerbrigade 23 which has its headquarters in Bad Reichenhallmarker (Bavariamarker). Battalions of these mountain infantry are deployed in southern Bavaria.

The soldiers of the mountain infantry wear a grey cap (“Bergmütze”) with an Edelweiss on its left side. This distinguishes them from all other German army soldiers who wear berets. The formal uniform, which is based on traditional skiing outfits, is also different from the standard German military uniform, and consists of ski jacket, stretch trousers and ski boots.

The “Kaiserjägermarsch” (March of the Kaiserjäger) from 1914 is the traditional military march of the German and Austrian mountain infantry.

France

Until 1859, Italy wasn't yet a unified state but a sum of kingdoms and independent republics (Kingdom of Naples, Republic of Venice, Papal States, etc.). The situation changed with the unification of Italy. France saw this geopolitical change as a possible threat from the other side of the Alps border, partially as the Italians were the first to have mountain warfare specialized troops.

The French solution was to create its own mountain corps in order to oppose a possible Italian invasion through the Alps. By December 24, 1888, a law created a troupes de montagne ("mountain troops") corps. 12 of the 31 existing Chasseurs à Pied ("Hunters on Foot") battalions were selected to be converted. These first units were named Bataillons Alpins de Chasseurs à Pied ("Hunters on Foot Alpine Battalions"), later shortened to Bataillons de Chasseurs Alpins ("Alpine Hunters Battalions").

Since 1999 they have been (with other units) part of the 27th Mountain Infantry Brigade (Brigade d'Infanterie de Montagne), and are currently organised into three battalions:

  • 7th Battalion, Bourg-Saint-Maurice
  • 13th Battalion, Chambéry
  • 27th Battalion, Cran-Gevrier (Annecy)


All three battalions are based in cities in the French Alps, thus the name of the units.

The Chasseurs are easily recognised by their wide beret (when not in battle uniform), named tarte (= pie). The British Army adopted the beret in the 1920s after having seen similar berets worn by the 70th Chasseurs Alpins (now disbanded).

India

The Indian Army is among the most experienced in mountain warfare, having fought numerous conflicts in the Himalayas in Arunachal Pradeshmarker and Jammu and Kashmirmarker. Major conflicts include the 1962 Sino-Indian War and the Kargil War in 1999. Siachen Glaciermarker is the world's highest battlefield, with about 3000 Indian troops on an around the year deployment. For over two decades, India & Pakistan have fought numerous battles in one of the most inhospitable mountain territories in the world, at altitudes over 6000 meters (20,000 feet) and the mercury dipping to -50 Celsius.

Due to the instability in the region and need for permanent deployments in the mountainous regions, the Indian Army has some of the most extensive and well developed Mountain Warfare capabilities in the world. India's mountain warfare units were vastly expanded after the 1962 war, with the creation of 6 Mountain Divisions. The Indian Army presently has 10 Army Divisions dedicated to mountain warfare (8 Mountain Divisions and 2 Mountain Strike divisions) and another infantry division earmarked for high altitude operations. Each division has a personnel strength of 10,000-13,000 troops and consists of 3 brigades with 3,000 to 4,500 men each, including support elements such as signals, provost, and intelligence units.

In 2008, the Indian Army proposed plans to raise two additional mountain divisions, with goals to be operational in five years. The two divisions will also have air assets, including Utility helicopters, Helicopter gunships and Attack helicopters.

Training:

The Indian Military Academy (IMA), Dehradunmarker conducts preliminary mountaineering and mountain warfare training for all Officer Cadets. Discontinued in the late 1980s, the Bhadraj Camp was revived in 1999 after the Kargil War. The culmination is a course of a 40 km run and climbing a 5500 feet cliff with a fully loaded pack at night.

For more specialized training, the Army operates the Parvat Ghatak School (Hindi: पर्वत घातक, Mountain Strike or Mountain Warrior) at Tawangmarker, Arunachal Pradeshmarker. This high-altitude commando school is the highest of its kind at 15,000 feet. With the mercury dipping to minus 20 degrees providing a freezing tougher terrain to impart training in conditions similar to Siachen.

Another school, the High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS) is located near Gulmargmarker, Jammu and Kashmirmarker. Set up in 1948 as the 19 Infantry Division Ski School, HAWS has over the years become the Indian Army's nodal center for "specialised training and dissemination of doctrines" in high-altitude, mountain and snow warfare. HAWS Mountain warfare courses are conducted in the Sonamarg area, and snow-craft & winter warfare training in the Gulmarg area. HAWS played an important role during the Kargil War by conducting crash courses for troops prior to their deployment.

Given the extensive experience of the Indian Army in mountain warfare, troops from other nations regularly train and conduct joint exercises at these schools. Because of its experience in fighting wars in mountain regions for over 50 years, as well as its history of recruitment of natives from the Himalayan regions of India and Nepal (such as Gurkha, Kumaon), Indian Mountain Warfare Units are considered among the best in the world. Numerous army units across the world are now implementing training modules modeled after Indian Mountain Warfare training systems. These include forces from UK, US, Russia, etc. In 2004, US special forces teams were sent to India to learn from Indian Army experiences of the Kargil War prior to their deployment for operations in Afghanistan. Russian troops also trained at the High Altitude Warfare School in Gulmarg for operations in Chechnyamarker. They also visited Siachen and other Army posts.

Italy



The Alpini, meaning "the Alpines", are the elite mountain warfare soldiers of the Italian Army. They are currently organised in two main operational brigades, which are subordinated to the Alpini Corps Command. The singular is an Alpino (an "Alpine").

On June 7, 1883, the Alpini were awarded the "fiamme verdi" (green flames) collar patch. Also adopted was their distinctive headdress; the "Cappello Alpino" with its black feather, which led to them being nicknamed "Le Penne Nere" or "black feathers".

Originally formed in 1872, their mission was to protect Italy's northern mountainous borders. In 1888 the Alpini were sent to their first mission abroad, in Africa, during the First Italo–Ethiopian War. They distinguished themselves during World War I when they fought against Austro-Hungarian soldiers in what has since been called the "War in snow and ice". During World War II, the Alpini fought together with Axis forces mostly on the Eastern Front being tasked to hold the front in the Don river plains.

In the 1990s, after the end of the Cold War, three of the five Alpini brigades and many support units were disbanded due to the reorganization process of the Italian Army. Currently, despite having some of the best trained and best equipped mountain troops in the world, the military role of Alpines is seen in terms of peacekeeping missions and minor disputes interventions.

The 4th Alpini Regiment is a SOF (Special Operations Forces) unit of elite mountain infantry specialized in the airborne assault role. It originates from the Alpini Paracadutisti platoons of Alpini Brigade founded in the '50s, then merged, on the 1st of April 1964, in the Alpine Paratroopers Company.

The "CENTRO ADDESTRAMENTO ALPINO" Aosta (MOUNTAIN TRAINING CENTRE) is the Army school responsible for the Alpini corp officers training and graduation.

Romania

The Vânători de Munte ("Mountain Hunters/Rangers", ) are the elite mountain troops of the Romanian Land Forces. They were first established as an independent Army Corps in 1916 during World War I, and became operational in 1917 under Corpul de Munte designation.

Thought as of being elite troops, the Romanian Vânători de Munte saw action in World War II on the Eastern Front in some of the harshest battles - including the battles of Sevastopol and Stalingrad - where their performance lived up to their reputation: virtually all their commanders from brigade level and up received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.There are currently two brigades operational, one subordinated to the 1st Territorial Army Corps (the 2nd Mountain Troops Brigade), and another one subordinated to the 4th Territorial Army Corps (61st Mountain Troops Brigade). Often, mountain troops units are participating in peacekeeping missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Pakistan

In the Pakistan Army, mountain training is considered part of overall training and all soldiers and units are expected to be proficient at it. Almost all units of all arms serve tours in Kashmir and Northern Areasmarker, often in active duties on the LOCmarker or Siachin. The Pakistan Army’s High-Altitude School, at Rattu in Northern Kashmir, is an ideal location on the confluence of the Hindukush, Himalayas, and Karakorum ranges. The school conducts training throughout the year and includes mountain climbing on peaks ranging from 15,000 to 20,000 feet and survival on glaciated terrain and in snowy and icy conditions.[147759]

Poland

Podhale rifles (Polish: Strzelcy podhalańscy) is a traditional name of the mountain infantry units of the Polish Army. Formed in 1918 out of volunteers of the region of Podhale, in 1919 the smaller detachments of Podhale rifles were pressed into two mountain infantry divisions, the 21st Mountain Infantry and 22nd Mountain Infantry Divisions, as well as into three brigades of mountain infantry. Considered an elite of the Polish Army, the units were roughly equivalent to the German Gebirgsjäger troops.

Former Soviet Union

The USSRmarker maintained several thousand mountain troops and used them to good effect in the Caucasus and in Afghanistanmarker.

Spain

Spain has a Brigade of Mountain troop:

  • Brigada de Cazadores de Montaña "Aragón" I (1st Mountain Brigade)
  • Regimiento de Cazadores de Montaña "Galicia" 64 (64th Mountain Regiment)
  • Regimiento de Cazadores de Montaña "America" 66 (66th Mountain Regiment)
  • Grupo de Artillería de Montaña I (1st Mountain Artillery Battalion)
  • Grupo Logístico de Montaña I (1st Mountain Logistic Battalion)
  • Batallón de Cuartel General I (1st Headquarters Battalion)
  • Unidad de Zapadores de Montaña 1 (1st Mountain Sapper Company)


Sweden

Mountains constitute almost half the area of Sweden, including its northern border. Winter and mountain warfare skills were therefore always important to the country. Between 1945 and 2000 Sweden trained and deployed several companies per year at the Army Ranger School and later the Lapland/Arctic Mountain Ranger regiment (I22) in Kiruna (located some 150 kilometres north of the arctic circle in Lapland). The school/regiment drew on experiences gained during World War II from guarding and patrolling the mountainous northern borders and uninhabited inland mountain regions, as well as from light infantry and ski fighting in Finland in the wars against the Soviet Union. Later the army as a whole benefited from the Army Ranger School, as commanding and training officers as well as complete fighting units undertook training there. Exchanges were also organised with similar units in, for example, Finland, Norway, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, the UK, and the USA.

As part of major armed forces reductions in 2000 the Lapland ranger regiment (I22) in Kiruna was disbanded, and its several trained and equipped battalion and company sized field units were deactivated. More recently the army has created a dedicated mountain platoon. This is now based at Bodens Infantry regiment's (I19/P5) ranger detachment in Arvidsjaur (located 100 kilometres south of the arctic circle). The task for this single platoon is to guide other smaller units in the mountains besides taking on reconnaissance and fighting tasks.

Turkey

Turkish Army has a mountain warfare specialized brigade (Bolu Commando Brigade) located at the city of Bolu in northwestern Turkey, which actually operates at the province of Hakkari and northern Iraq. The Hakkari Mountain Commando Brigade mostly performs counter-terrorism operations in this extremely rugged region of south-eastern Turkey, with an average elevation of 3500 meters and winter time temperatures below -30 degrees Celsius. The officers and soldiers of this brigade as well as other troops are trained in Egirdir Mountain and Commando School in Egirdir, near the city of Isparta. The training and facilities offered by the school are utilized by other members of NATO, and non-NATO countries such as Pakistan, Azerbaycan and some Eastern European countries.

Hakkari Mountain Commando Brigade has been at the forefront of counter-terrorism operations against PKK terrorist organization since late 1980s, and has participated in several cross-border operations and incursions into Iraq in hot pursuit of PKK militants. Most recently, in February 2008, the brigade has participated in the Operation Sun, in which 10,000 troops Turkish Armed Forces has entered and temporarily seized Iraqi territory utilized by PKK. The entire operation took part in the region of northern Iraq near Qandil Mountains in extreme winter conditions.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom the Royal Marines are the principal regular unit trained in mountain and cold weather warfare and have a specialised instructor cadre: the Mountain Leader Training Cadremarker. The capability is fielded by 3 Commando Brigademarker. The British Army also have the Mountain Troops of Special Air Servicemarker squadrons. During the Cold War the Royal Marines were assigned to the NATOmarker Northern Flank, their task was to be part of the force defending the mountainous Nordic region from the Soviet Union.

United States

The US has a history in mountain warfare, the 10th Mountain Division served in the Italian Apennine Mountainsmarker in World War II.In the United States there are three training facilities dedicated to preparing for mountain and cold weather warfare. The Army Mountain Warfare School located in Jericho Vermont, the Northern Warfare Training Center located in Black Rapids Alaska and the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Centermarker located in Pickel Meadows California. These facilities offer challenging training in the most austere of training environments. The men assigned to these training establishments are extremely fit and highly trained. American experience in mountain warfare continues to the present: see Operation Anaconda.

Other countries

At present the following armies have specialised alpine units or Mountain troops:

Besides those mentioned above: Armeniamarker, Bulgariamarker, Russiamarker, Turkeymarker and Ukrainemarker are also among the nations that field units specialized in mountain warfare.

Notes

References

  • Frederick Engels, (January 27, 1857) "Mountain Warfare in the Past and Present" New York Daily Tribune MECW Volume 15, p 164


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