Insurgency weapons and tactics

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Insurgency weapons and tactics are weapons and tactics, most often involving firearms or explosive devices, intended for use by insurgents to engage in guerrilla warfare against an occupier, or for use by rebels against an established government. One type of insurgency weapon are "homemade" firearms made by non-professionals, such as the Błyskawica (Lightning) submachine gun produced in underground workshops by the Polish resistance movement. Another insurgency weapon is a sanitized weapon, which is a weapon of any sort that has had normal markings, such as the manufacturer's name and/or serial number, omitted or obscured in an attempt to hide the origin of the weapon.

A weapon that is part of the conventional military arsenal, but which has been taken up to great effect by insurgents, is the RPG. Two examples of an improvised weapon used by insurgents would be the improvised explosive devices used in Iraq and the Molotov cocktails (glass bottles filled with gasoline) used against vehicles and tanks. Two tactics used by many insurgents are assassinations and suicide bomb attacks. The latter tactic is used when an insurgent has a bomb strapped to them or in their car, which provides a low-tech way for insurgents to get explosives close to critical enemy targets.

Purpose-designed weaponsEdit

A fairly recent class of firearms, purpose-designed insurgency weapons first appeared during World War II, in the form of such arms as the FP-45 Liberator and the Sten submachine gun. Designed to be inexpensive, since they were to be airdropped or smuggled behind enemy lines, insurgency weapons were designed for use by guerrilla and insurgent groups. Most insurgency weapons are of simple design, typically made of sheet steel stampings, which are then folded into shape and welded. Tubular steel in standard sizes is also used when possible, and barrels (one of the few firearm parts that require fine tolerances and high strength) may be rifled (like the Sten) or left smoothbore (like the FP-45).

The CIA Deer gun of the 1960s was similar to the Liberator, but used an aluminum casting for the body of the pistol, and was chambered in 9×19 mm Parabellum, one of the all-time most common handgun cartridges in the world. There is no known explanation for the name "Deer Gun", but the Deer Gun was intended to be smuggled into Vietnam, attested by the instruction sheet printed in Vietnamese. It was produced by the American Machine & Foundry Co., but was a sanitized weapon, meaning it lacked any marking identifying manufacturer or user. Details of the manufacture of insurgency weapons are almost always deliberately obscured by the governments making them, as in the designation of the FP-45 pistol.

Other insurgency weapons may be sanitized versions of traditional infantry or defensive weapons. These may be purpose-made without markings, or they may be standard commercial or military arms that have been altered to remove the manufacturers markings. Due to the covert nature of insurgency weapons, documenting their history is often difficult. Those that can legally be traded on the civilian market, like the Liberator pistol, will often command high prices; although millions of the pistols were made, few survived the war.

These examples are all arms that were either used as insurgency weapons, or designed for such use. Purpose-built weapons were designed from the start to be used primarily for insurgent use, and are fairly crude, very inexpensive, and simple to operate; many were packaged with instructions targeted to speakers of certain languages, or pictorial instructions usable by illiterate users or speakers of any language. Dual-use weapons are those that were designed with special allowances for use by insurgent troops. Sanitized weapons are any arms that have been manufactured or altered to remove markings that indicate point of origin. RPGs are weapons from the standard military arsenal that have been used to a powerful effect by guerrilla forces. IEDs are improvised explosive devices.

FP-45 Liberator

The FP-45 Liberator was a single-shot .45 ACP derringer-type pistol, made by the U.S. during World War II. It was made from stamped steel with an unrifled barrel. The designation "FP" stood for "flare projector", which was apparently an attempt to disguise the use of its intended purpose by obscuring the nature of the project. It was packed with ten rounds of ammunition, and was intended to be used for assassinating enemy soldiers so that their weapons could then be captured and used by the insurgents. The instructions were pictorial, so that the gun could be distributed in any theatre of war, and used even by illiterate operators. The country in which the largest quantity was used was the Philippines.

Deer gun

The CIA Deer gun was a single-shot 9×19 mm Parabellum pistol, made by the U.S. during the Vietnam War. It was packaged with three rounds of ammunition in the grip, and packed with instructions in a plastic box. If air-dropped into water, the plastic box containing the pistol would float. Like the earlier FP-45 Liberator, it was designed primarily for assassination of enemy soldiers, with the intention that it would be replaced by an enemy soldier's left-over equipment. The instructions for the Deer Gun were pictorial, with text in Vietnamese.

Although various submachine guns were manufactured in Northern Ireland with "Round Sections" (Round shaped receivers) and "Square Sections" (Square shaped receivers), the Avenger submachine gun which was used by Loyalist Paramilitaries was considered one of the best designs for its type. The bolts were telescoping with a forward recoil/return spring with in the rear, a heavy coil spring that acts as a buffer increasing accuracy and recoil handling. The barrels were usually found lacking rifling but this can in some cases possibly increase ballistics at close quarters. It used Sten magazines and had the capabilities of adapting suppressors.[1]

During the 1970s–80s, International Ordnance Group of San Antonio, Texas released the MP2 machine pistol. It was intended as a more compact alternative to the British Sten gun (although in its components and overall design have nothing directly similar to the STEN), to be used in urban guerrilla actions, to be manufactured cheaply and/or in less-than-well-equipped workshops and distributed to "friendly" undercover forces. Much like the previously mentioned FP-45 "Liberator" pistol of World War 2, it could be discarded during an escape with no substantial loss for the force's arsenal. The MP2 is a blowback-operated weapon that fires from an open bolt with an extremely high rate of fire. A more common weapon of Guatemalan origin is the SM-9. Another example is the Métral submachine gun designed by Gerard Métral intended for manufacture during occupation and undercover circumstances.[2][3]

A unique example is the Soviet S4M pistol, designed to be used expressly for the purpose of assassination. It was a simple break-open, two-shot derringer, but the unique features came from its specialized ammunition, designed around a cut-down version of the 7.62mm rounds used in the Soviet AK-47. The casings of the round contained a piston-like plunger between the bullet and the powder that would move forward inside the casing when fired. The piston would push the round down the barrel and plug the end of the casing, completely sealing off any explosive gases in the casing. This, combined with the inherently low-velocity round resulted in a truly silent pistol. The nature of the gun and ammunition led to it being wildly inaccurate outside of point-blank range. To add further confusion and throw possible suspicion away from the assassin, the barrel rifling was designed to affect the bullet in such a way that ballistics experts would not only conclude that the round was fired from an AK-47, but that the round was fired from several hundred feet away. Due to the politically devastating nature inherent in this design, the S4M was kept highly secret. Information on the pistol was not known by western governments until well after the end of the Cold War.[citation needed]

Clip of Hillberg's patent for the 4 barrelled Liberator shotgun design.

The Winchester Liberator is a 16-gauge, four-barrelled shotgun, similar to a scaled-up four-shot double-action derringer. It was an implementation of the Hillberg Insurgency Weapon design. Robert Hillberg, the designer, envisioned a weapon that was cheap to manufacture, easy to use, and provided a significant chance of being effective in the hands of someone who had never handled a firearm before. Pistols and submachine guns were eliminated from consideration due to the training required to use them effectively. The shotgun was chosen because it provided a high hit probability. Both Winchester and Colt built prototypes, although the Colt eight-shot design came late in the war and was adapted for the civilian law enforcement market. No known samples were ever produced for military use.

More specifically, this invention relates to a four barrel break-open firearm which has a minimum number of working parts, is simple to operate even by inexperienced personnel, and is economical to manufacture.
—Second paragraph of U.S. Patent 3,260,009, by Robert Hillberg granted 1964

Dual-use weaponsEdit

A Welrod 9mm pistol

Some purpose-designed insurgency weapons were designed for a dual use–that is for use by both insurgents and conventional soldiers. The Welrod pistol was a simple, bolt-action pistol developed by the SOE for use in World War II. It was designed for supplying to foreign British-aligned insurgents and for use by covert British forces. The pistol was designed with an integral sound suppressor, and was ideal for killing sentries and other covert work; the bolt-operated action meant that cocking the gun produced almost no noise, and the bulky but efficient suppressor eliminated nearly all of the muzzle blast. Welrod pistols included a magazine that doubled as a hand-grip, and were originally produced with no markings save a serial number.

The Sten was a 9×19 mm Parabellum submachine gun manufactured by the United Kingdom in World War II. Although not designed as an insurgency weapon, it was designed at a time when Britain had a dire need for weapons and was designed to be easily produced in basic machine shops and use a readily available round, it was therefore the ideal weapon to be produced by resistance groups in occupied territories. Towards the end of the war, the German were in need of weapons and they produced both a version of the Sten, the MP 3008, to arm the Volkssturm and near identical copies of the Sten down to makers marks to arm the Werwolf insurgency force.

Other insurgency weaponsEdit


Due to the widespread use of the shotgun as a sporting firearm, it is used in guerrilla warfare and other forms of asymmetric warfare. Che Guevara, in his 1961 book Guerrilla Warfare, notes that shotgun ammunition can be obtained by guerrillas even in times of war, and that shotguns loaded with heavy shot are highly effective against unarmored troop transport vehicles. He recommends that suburban guerrilla bands should be armed with easily concealable weapons, such as handguns and a sawed-off shotgun or carbine.

Homemade or improvised firearmsEdit

A crude but effective improvised 12-gauge shotgun used during the Bosnian War

The Błyskawica (Lightning) was a simple submachine gun produced by the Armia Krajowa, or Home Army, a Polish resistance movement fighting the Germans in occupied Poland. It was produced in underground workshops. Its main feature was its simplicity, so that the weapon could be made even in small workshops, by inexperienced engineers. It used threaded pipes for simplicity.

In some cases, Guerrillas have used improvised, repurposed firearms. One example is described by Che Guevara in his book Guerrilla Warfare. Called the "M-16", it consists of a 16 gauge sawed-off shotgun provided with a bipod to hold the barrel at a 45-degree angle. This was loaded with a blank cartridge formed by removing the shot from a standard shot shell, followed by a wooden rod with a Molotov cocktail attached to the front. This formed an improvised mortar capable of firing the incendiary device accurately out to a range of 100 meters.[4]

Flare guns have also been converted to firearms. This may be accomplished by replacing the (often plastic) barrel of the flare gun with a metal pipe strong enough to chamber a shotgun shell, or by inserting a smaller bore barrel into the existing barrel (such as with a caliber conversion sleeve) to chamber a firearm cartridge, such as a .22 Long Rifle.[5][6]

Sanitized armsEdit

The Yugoslavian Zastava M48BO (for bez oznake, 'without markings') rifle was manufactured with no markings save for a serial number. These were made in Yugoslavia for delivery to Egypt prior to the Suez Crisis of 1956. Yugoslavia was technically a neutral country, and by sanitizing the rifles sold to the Egyptians, it hoped to distance itself from the conflict between Egypt and Israel. Only a few hundred of the few thousand made were delivered to Egypt, the rest remaining in storage in Yugoslavia until recently rediscovered. They are currently being sold to civilian collectors.

Plausible deniabilityEdit

In the present day plausible deniability allows the supply of arms by governments to insurgents without the need for over elaborate ruses. For example, the sheer number of AKM (an upgraded version of the AK-47 rifle) manufacturers and users in the world means that governments can supply these weapons to insurgents with plausible deniability as to exactly from where and from whom the guns were acquired.


A rebel in northern Central African Republic with an RPG

Rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) were used extensively during the Vietnam War (by the Vietnam People's Army and Vietcong),[7] Soviet invasion of Afghanistan by the Mujahideen and against South Africans in Angola and Namibia (formerly South West Africa) by SWAPO guarillas during what the South Africans called the South African Border War. Twenty years later, they are still being used widely in recent conflict areas such as Chechnya, Iraq, and Sri Lanka.

The RPG still remains a potent threat to armored vehicles, especially in situations such as urban warfare or jungle warfare, where they are favored by guerrillas. They are most effective when used in restricted terrain as the availability of cover and concealment can make it difficult for the intended target to spot the RPG operator. Note that this concealment is often preferably outdoors, because firing an RPG within an enclosed area may create a dangerous backblast.

In Afghanistan, Mujahideen guerrillas used RPG-7s to destroy Soviet vehicles. To assure a kill, two to four RPG shooters would be assigned to each vehicle. Each armor-vehicle hunter-killer teams can have as many as 15 RPG.[8] Afghans sometimes used RPG-7s at extreme range, exploded by their 4.5-second self-destruct timer, which translates to roughly 950m flight distance, as a method of long distance approach denial for infantry and reconnaissance.[9]

During the South African Border War, the Soviet RPGs used by SWAPO guerrillas and their Angolan supporters posed a serious threat to South Africa's lightly armored APCs, which could be easily targeted as soon as they stopped to disembark troops. During the First (1994–1996) and Second Chechen Wars (1999–2009), Chechen rebels used RPGs to attack Russian tanks from basements and high rooftops. Chechen fighters formed independent "cells" that worked together to destroy a specific Russian armored target.

Using RPGs as improvised anti aircraft batteries has proved successful in Somalia, Afghanistan and Chechnya. Helicopters are typically ambushed as they land, take off or hover.


This Cougar in Al Anbar, Iraq, was hit by a directed charge IED approximately 300–500 lbs in size.

An improvised explosive device (IED), also known as a roadside bomb, is a homemade bomb constructed and deployed in ways other than in conventional military action. It may be constructed of conventional military explosives, such as an artillery round, attached to a detonating mechanism.

IEDs may be used in terrorist actions or in unconventional warfare by guerrillas or commando forces in a theater of operations. In the second Iraq War, IEDs were used extensively against US-led Coalition forces and by the end of 2007 they had become responsible for approximately 63% of Coalition deaths in Iraq. They are also used in Afghanistan by insurgent groups, and have caused over 66% of the Coalition casualties in the 2001–present Afghanistan War.[10]

IEDs were also used extensively by cadres of the rebel Tamil Tiger (LTTE) organization against military targets in Sri Lanka.[11][12]

Molotov cocktailEdit

The Molotov cocktail is a generic name used for a variety of improvised incendiary weapons. Due to the relative ease of production, they are frequently used by amateur protesters and non-professionally equipped fighters in urban guerrilla warfares. They are primarily intended to set targets ablaze rather than instantly destroy them. A Molotov cocktail is a breakable glass bottle containing a flammable substance such as gasoline/petrol or a napalm-like mixture, with some motor oil added, and usually a source of ignition such as a burning cloth wick held in place by the bottle's stopper. The wick is usually soaked in alcohol or kerosene, rather than gasoline.

Improvised mortarsEdit

IRA improvised mortar tube.
Improvised mortars in Batey ha-Osef Museum, Tel Aviv, Israel.

Improvised, or "home-made", mortars have been used by insurgent groups, usually to attack fortified military installations or to terrorize civilians. They are usually constructed from heavy steel piping mounted on a steel frame. These weapons may fire standard mortar rounds, purpose made shells, re-purposed gas cylinders filled with explosives and shrapnel, or any other type of improvised explosive, incendiary or chemical munitions. These were called "Barrack Busters" by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). They are known as "Hell Cannons" in the Syrian Civil War, where observers have noted that they are "wildly inaccurate" and responsible for hundreds of civilian deaths.[13]

Insurgency tacticsEdit

Agents and sympathizers in placeEdit

Insurgent organizations may recruit members of the government's civil and security forces to their cause or to have their own members join them. In addition to being able to provide intelligence and possibly provide direct and indirect aid, doing so allows insurgent members to gain military training and skills which they would not otherwise be able to access, these members may then serve as a cadre to train other insurgents, those who rise high enough may become agents of influence.


Often grouped together with propaganda as agitprop, agitation is the use of agitators to stir up discontent both real and imagined with the regime and to propose a course of action to right these perceived wrongs. The traditional targets of agitators have been the shop floor, students' unions and the junior officer's mess halls of the military.


Insurgent groups have often employed assassination as a tool to further their causes. Assassinations provide several functions for such groups, namely the removal of specific enemies and as propaganda tools to focus the attention of media and politics on their cause.

The Irish Republican Army guerrillas of 1919–21 killed many RIC Police Intelligence officers during the Irish War of Independence. Michael Collins set up a special unit – the Squad – for this purpose, which had the effect of intimidating many policemen into resigning from the force. The Squad's activities peaked with the killing of 14 British agents in Dublin on Bloody Sunday in 1920.

This tactic was used again by the Provisional IRA during the Troubles in Northern Ireland (1969–1998). Killing of RUC officers and assassination of RUC politicians was one of a number of methods used in the Provisional IRA campaign 1969–1997. The IRA also attempted to assassinate British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher by bombing the Conservative Party Conference in a Brighton hotel. Loyalist paramilitaries retaliated by killing Catholics at random and assassinating Irish nationalist politicians.

Basque terrorists ETA in Spain have assassinated many security and political figures since the late 1960s, notably Luis Carrero Blanco, 1st Duke of Carrero-Blanco Grandee of Spain, in 1973. Since the early 1990s, they have also targeted academics, journalists and local politicians who publicly disagreed with them.

The Red Brigades in Italy carried out assassinations of political figures, as to a lesser extent, did the Red Army Faction in Germany in the 1970s and 1980s.

In the Vietnam War, Communist insurgents routinely assassinated government officials and individual civilians deemed to offend or rival the revolutionary movement. Such attacks, along with widespread military activity by insurgent bands, almost brought the Diem regime to collapse before the U.S. intervention.[14]

Bank robberiesEdit

Bank robberies have been used by insurgents and revolutionaries in order to fund their activities, for example the 1907 Tiflis bank robbery, using violence in excess of that needed to achieve the aims of the robberies helps contributes to a climate of fear.

Group participation in atrocitiesEdit

As an initiation new recruits, especially forced ones, will be encouraged or forced to participate in atrocities, such as torture, rape and murder, unwilling recruits will be forced to do this against their own communities and families or be killed themselves. The goal of these atrocities is to divorce the new recruit from his or her previous life and bind them to the insurgency; criminals in their own eyes and in the eyes of society, such recruits will be led to believe that they cannot go back to their previous lives and have no other family other than the insurgency. In order to break the hold the insurgency may hold over such members, the authorities may offer amnesties and pardons for crimes committed.


Insurgents kidnap and take hostage members of the general public for ransom in order to fund the activities of the insurgents. The kidnapping of family members may be used to coerce co-operation, the provision of information, use of a property as a safe house, a copy of a key etc. High value hostages may be taken in order to force the release of captured comrades and as media spectaculars. At all levels creating a fear of kidnapping reinforces a message that the state and its security forces cannot protect you.

Law and orderEdit

Insurgents may attempt to create a parallel system of "justice" with punishment beatings and killings of criminals in order to ingratiate themselves with the populace. Especially in corrupt and failed regimes where there is a deficit of true justice people's and revolutionary courts aim to legitimize the insurgents as a government in waiting. This is doubly so if insurgents are seen as bringing order in failed regimes, ones with weak central control, and ones in which the security forces are as bad as would be thieves and bandits.


Propaganda is used to sell to the populace the legitimacy, morality and ability of the insurgents, whilst at the same time portraying the government and its security forces in a negative light. This propaganda can be of the deed, spectacular acts of assassination, sabotage and violence, relying on the mass media to spread the insurgents message. If the state seeks to starve the insurgents of the "oxygen of publicity" the older means of disseminating the insurgents message is by pamphletting (e.g. Thomas Paine's Common Sense) and through use of the oral tradition of stories, rebel and revolutionary songs, modern insurgents use the internet.


Sabotage against infrastructure, for example power stations, airports and reservoir at the upper end, and for example electricity pylons, substations, telephone exchanges and railway tracks at the lower end make real to the populace that an insurgency is underway; and if sustained can affect the quality of life of the populace. In order to protect all the possible targets that the insurgents may attack government forces may be stretched to the point where they become vulnerable to a defeat in detail.

Suicide attacksEdit

Hezbollah's attacks in 1983 during the Lebanese Civil War are the first examples of the modern suicide terrorism.[15] Workers Party of Kurdistan (PKK) used its first suicide attack in 1996, and al-Qaeda in the mid-1990s.[15] The number of attacks using suicide tactics has grown from an average of fewer than five per year during the 1980s to 180 per year between 2000 and 2005,[16] and from 81 suicide attacks in 2001 to 460 in 2005.[17] These attacks have been aimed at diverse military and civilian targets, including in Sri Lanka, in Israel since July 6, 1989,[18] in Iraq since the US-led invasion of that country in 2003, in Pakistan since 2001 and in Afghanistan since 2005 and in Somalia since 2006.[19]

Suicide bombings have also become a tactic in Chechnya, first being used in the conflict in 2000 in Alkhan Kala.[20] A number of suicide attacks have also occurred in Russia as a result of the Chechen conflict, notably including the Moscow theater hostage crisis in 2002 to the Beslan school hostage crisis in 2004.[21] The 2010 Moscow Metro bombings are also believed to result from the Chechen conflict . During the Sri Lankan Civil War, which raged on and off from 1983 to 2009, between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), The LTTE pioneered the use of suicide bombing and perfected it with the use of male/female suicide bombers both on and off battlefield; use of explosive-filled boats for suicide attacks on military shipping; use of light aircraft filled with explosives for targeting military installations.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "08 - May - 2009 -". Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  2. ^ The Do-it-Yourself Submachine Gun: Its Homemade, 9mm, Lightweight, Durable And Itll Never Be On Any Import Ban Lists!. Paladin Press (September 1, 1985) English, ISBN 0-87364-840-4, ISBN 978-0-87364-840-0
  3. ^ "Métral Clandestine SubMachineGun 9x19mm". Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  4. ^ Ernesto "Che" Guevara (1961). Guerrilla Warfare. Praeger.
  5. ^ US Department of Justice, District of Connecticut. "Project Safe Neighborhoods" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2004-07-25.
  7. ^ CCB-18 Memorial Fund Archived 2014-10-06 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Hearst Magazines (March 2004). "Weapons of the insurgents". Popular Mechanics. Hearst Magazines. p. 67.
  9. ^ Harnden, Toby (2011). Dead Men Risen: The Welsh Guards and the Defining Story of Britain's War in Afghanistan. Quercus Publishing. p. 608. ISBN 978-1-84916-805-2.
  10. ^ "". Archived from the original on 2012-03-14. Retrieved 2012-05-11.
  11. ^ "Suicide Terrorism: A Global Threat". Retrieved 2009-10-18.
  12. ^ "13 killed in blasts, arson in Sri Lanka". Chennai, India: 2006-04-13. Retrieved 2009-10-18.
  13. ^ Oliver Holmes (December 12, 2014). "Syrian rebel 'hell cannons' kill 300 civilians: monitoring group". Reuters. Yahoo! News. Retrieved December 13, 2014.
  14. ^ Viet Cong – Pike, Douglas, The MIT Press; New Ed edition, Wednesday December 16, 1970
  15. ^ a b Kurz, Robert W.; Charles K. Bartles (2007). "Chechen suicide bombers" (PDF). Journal of Slavic Military Studies. 20 (4): 529–547. doi:10.1080/13518040701703070.
  16. ^ Atran (2006) Figure 1, p. 128
  17. ^ Atran (2006) Figure 2, p. 129
  18. ^ גדות, יפעת (2009-07-06). פיגוע אוטובוס 405 (in Hebrew). News1. Retrieved 2009-07-06.
  19. ^ "Suicide Bombing Marks a Grim New Turn for Somalia". Time. 2009-12-03.
  20. ^ Pedahzur, p. 112
  21. ^ "Factbox: Major Terrorist Incidents Tied To Russian-Chechen War". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty 2004-09-06. Retrieved 2010-05-19.

External linksEdit