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Petty Warfare (Russian: малая война, also transliterated as malaya voyna) is a form of irregular warfare where small units attack the enemy's support operation to ensure that the main force enjoys favorable conditions for decisive battles. Petty warfare can be used in both ground and naval combat.[1] The term first appeared during the eighteenth century, and was subsequently developed by Russian and Soviet tacticians.


The term "petty warfare" (German: Kleinkrieg or kleiner Krieg), was first adopted in early modern period by German people, and later on used in Russian literature of the 18th and 19th centuries, to refer to a particular form of warfare in which small units – avoiding collisions with larger military forces – attack communication and small fortified posts, enemy convoys, armories, etc.

Petty warfare is similar to the later-born Spanish term guerrilla (literally, "little war"), but differs from it by its sole use of special military forces, whereas guerrilla warfare includes armed civilians and irregular military. During the Napoleonic wars when the use of civilians in military actions became widespread, the term “little war” or petty warfare in Germany was superseded by “people’s war” concept (German: volkskrieg).

It was common for writers of the nineteenth century to write about a people’s war against Napoleon, describing the events that took place on Russian territory. In Russia during the beginning of nineteenth century a number of books on the theory of petty warfare were published, which later on were included as part of officer examinations.

The term “little war” was created at the time of a cumbersome system of arsenal supply during the early modern period, when the main means of transport were horses and carts.

Events of the Seven Years’ War were full of examples of how the supply troubles often arose due to the capture of transports and stores' destruction. These attacks led to the breakdown of planned large-scale military operations. For example, for this reason, a new expedition of Russian troops to Berlin in late 1761 failed after Prussian Lieutenant General von Platen on September 15, 1761 captured a Russian convoy of 5,000 wagons and burned a number of stores that were prepared for the expedition. Similarly around the same time, a Prussian garrison surrendered because Serbian hussars under the command of Peter Tekeli intercepted their convoy that went from Stetina to Kohlberg (now Kolobrzeg, Poland), which was full of gunpowder stocks and bombs.

The development of theories of guerrilla and petty warfare continued during the 1920s and 1930s in USSR. In 1931 M. A. Drobov wrote a book called “Petty warfare: partisan and sabotage” that summarized the views of military-political leadership of USSR on the methods of petty warfare. “Petty warfare. Organization and combat tactics of small units” book is the most recent literature in Russian dated 1998.[2][3]

Ground petty warfareEdit

Ground petty warfare includes reconnaissance, sabotage, guerrilla and terrorist tactics used by small combat groups.[4][5] These combat groups are usually part of special purpose units and militia.[6][7]

During the early modern period the main petty warfare forces on ground were regular and irregular parts of light cavalry, hussars. In Austria they were Croatian and Pandurs, in Russia they were Cossacks, Kalmyks and Bashkirs. King Frederick II (aka. Frederick the Great) considered these ground forces to be one of the main advantages of Russian army during the early modern period.

Naval petty warfareEdit

In 1920s petty warfare theories were part of official Soviet Navy concepts. These naval petty warfare tactics included rapid surprise attacks on ground enemy units from shores with air forces’ support and coastal artillery.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Voienaya Enciklopedia (Military Encyclopedia)
  2. ^ V.V. Kvachkov Chast' vtoraya. Specyal'nye deistviya v voennom iskusstve sovetskogo vremeni. 2.1.Teoriya i praktika specyal'nyh deistviy (V.V. Kvachkov. Second part. Special tasks of soviet art of war. 2.1.Theory and practic of special tasks)
  3. ^ Teoriya maloi voiny (Small war theory) Archived 2014-03-27 at
  4. ^ Malaya voina: Partizanstvo i diversii (Small war: partisan and diversion)
  5. ^ Malaya voina: Organizaciya i taktika boevyh deistviy malyh podrazdeleniy 1998 г. (Small War: Organization and tactics of small unit's military actions 1998 year)
  6. ^ Strachan Hew European Armies and the Conduct of War. — New York: Routledge, 1983. — ISBN 0415078636
  7. ^ Taktika malyh podrazdeleniy (Small units' tactics)


  • Groznoe oruzhie. Malaya voina, partizanstvo i drugie vidy asimitrichnogo voevaniya v svete naslediya russkih voennyh myslitiley. Sostaviteli Aleksandr Savinkin, Igor Domnin, Izdatelstvo: Voennyi universitet, Russkiy put, Seriya: Rossiiskiy voennyi sbornik, 2007 g.
  • M. A. Drobov. Malaya voina: partizanstvo i diversii.
  • Taras A. E. "Malaya voina" (Organizaciya i taktika boevyh deistviy malyh podrazdeleniy)
  • Kvachkov V. V. Chast vtoraya. Specyalnye deistviya v voennom iskusstve sovetskogo vremeni 2.1. Teoriya i praktika spevyalnyh deistviy.
  • Taktika malyh podrazdeleniy (iz polegogo ustava SSO armii UAR).
  • Strachan Hew European Armies and the Conduct of War — New York: Routledge, 1983. — ISBN 0415078636.
  • Pravila maloi voiny i upotrebleniya voisk. Obyasnennye primerami iz francuzkoi voiny maiorom Valentini.
  • Engelgardt A.E. Kratkoe nachertanie maloi voiny dlya vseh rodov orujiya SPB. 1850. 112 str.
  • Vuich I.V. Malaya voina S.-Peterburg 1850.(Ch1 Ohranenie voisk ot vnezapnogo napadeniya, Ch2 O deistviyah otryadami)
  • Liprandi И. П. Некоторые замечания по поводу двух сочинений, вышедших под заглавием <малая война>. СПб., 1851. 75 стр.
  • Srazheniya. Malaya voyna. Kurs po voyennomu delu. B.m.: Lit. Il'ina, 1855. 76 s.
  • Novitskiy N. D. Lektsii maloy voyny, chitanyye v Yelisavetgr. ofits. kav. uch. Odessa. 1865
  • Peritsonius G. Prikladnaya taktika. Razdel D- Malaya voyna. Voyennaya biblioteka. 1872. str. 544—563.
  • Teoriya bol'shoy voyny pri pomoshchi maloy ili partizanskoy i s uchastiyem Landvera. Per. s nem. V serii: Voyennaya biblioteka. Tom 4. 1872. str. 493—607.
  • Rodzishevskiy. Kurs taktiki. M. 1877. Otdel IX. Deystviya maloy voyny. str. 359—390.
  • Gershel'man F. K. Partizanskaya voyna (issledovaniye). S.-Peterburg, 1885. 423 str.
  • Fiedler, Siegfried: Taktik und Strategie der Kabinettskriege. 1650—1792, Bechtermünz-Verlag, Augsburg 2002
  • Groehler, Olaf: Die Kriege Friedrichs II.,Brandenburgisches Verlagshaus, Berlin 1990

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