Break Contact

Break Contact

A battle drill is a collective action rapidly executed without applying a deliberate decision making process. The reference for the Battle Drill of “Break Contact” can be found on page 8-10 and A-5 of your Ranger Handbook. 

Let me familiarize you with the "20 Board" above. The board shows the squad executing the Break Contact Battle Drill. On the left side, there are some administrative notes to help you follow this period of instruction. On the lower right side, there is a 12-man infantry squad in squad column, fire team wedge. Above that, I have an example of the lead team in contact with a three man enemy element. To the right, the team not in contact sets up a Support by Fire (SBF) / Overwatch position. Notice that my board is color coded but not personalized. Remember while at Ranger School and Sapper Leader Course, you will color code and personalize all of your boards.

The Break Contact Battle Drill usually takes place after a squad has taken initial contact from an enemy force. If you have not read it already, the React to Contact Battle Drill can be found here. After initial contact, the Squad Leader (SL) assesses the situation by determining the following:

  1. The ability of the Squad to move out of the engagement area
  1. The ability of the Squad to gain and maintain suppressive fire
  1. The actual location of the enemy
  1. The size of the enemy force relative to his squad.
  1. The type of weapons the enemy has and if they have crew served weapons.
  1. Potential vulnerable flanks of the enemy’s position.
  1. Potential covered and concealed routes to the enemy’s flanks.

The SL also has to consider using indirect fires prior to maneuvering the squad. Some considerations are:

  1. Priority / availability
  2. Type and amount of support (60mm Mortar – max range: 3,500m / 81mm Mortar – max range: 5,800m / 120mm Mortar – max range: 7,200m)
  3. Location of enemy in relation to the squad
  4. Squad's location on map
  5. Danger close (600m for all mortar systems) and whether indirect fires positively or negatively affect the mission.

The SL assesses the enemy’s most probable course of action based on the information he has gathered from his assessment and experience.

The SL also considers reasons the squad might need to break contact, such as:

  1. They encounter an enemy sniper in an unknown location.
  1. The squad’s mission calls for avoiding contact.
  1. The squad is outnumbered or in a vulnerable position.
  1. The enemy has overwhelming firepower, such as crew served weapons.

If the SL determines through his assessment that the squad needs to break contact, he orders the squad to “Break Contact.” In this example, the SL decides to use the lead team as the initial Support by Fire or Base of Fire Element. The SL tells the lead Team Leader (TL) that his team is the Base of Fire Element. The lead TL must now increase his team’s rate of fire in an attempt to suppress the enemy and gain fire superiority. This enables the trail team to maneuver.

The SL must also consider whether to send the M240B forward to help the team in contact to gain fire superiority. Keep in mind that if the SL sends the M240B forward to the team in contact:

  1. The squad’s most casualty-producing WPN may go forward and become decisively engaged.
  1. It is harder for the gun team to break contact than it is for a fire team.
  1. If the enemy maneuvers quickly, there is a good chance the M240B and gun team can be lost.

The SL moves back to the team not in contact, which in this example is the trail fire team. He informs the trail TL that the trail team is the initial Maneuver Element for the break contact. Ideally, the SL leads his teams to their Overwatch/SBF positions. However, if the tactical situation does not allow this to happen, the SL directs the trail TL where to move his team. The SL gives a Direction, Distance, and Identifiable Feature so the maneuver element can move to and establish an Over-watch/SBF position. The SL can give this information over FM, verbally, or with hand and arm signals. An example directive is, "4 o' clock, 100 meters, that big white oak tree / large rock".

Notice that the SL must set his SBF position in a location where they can effectively engage the enemy. The SBF must suppress the enemy to enable the team in contact to break contact. The SBF CANNOT effectively do this if their fires are masked by friendly elements or if they cannot see the enemy's positions. If the squad is in open terrain with minimal cover and concealment, the maneuver element may have to use smoke grenades to mask their movement. You must be careful using smoke because if the wind blows in the wrong direction, the billowing smoke might hinder the squad's ability to break contact and increase the chance of fratricide due to reduced visibility between friendly elements.

Once the trail team reaches the position the SL designated, the TL immediately deploys his team on line and assigns each soldier a sector of fire. During periods of limited visibility, the TL assigns sectors of fire by going to each soldier and utilizing tracers and the PEQ-15 or any other laser target designating devices available.

The TL then tells the SL that his team is ready to support by fire. The TL can communicate this over FM, with a “thumbs up” to the SL, or by having his team engage the enemy positions. The TL then attempts to gain and maintain suppressive fire by directing his team's fires with fire commands until the SL gives him further guidance.

Ideally, the M240B goes with the maneuver element and sets up between the team in contact and the team not in contact. As a general rule of thumb, the M240B should be in the Overwatch/SBF position farthest from the enemy's position. However, the SL can position the MG wherever he deems necessary based on the tactical situation and where he can best control his element. The SL assigns the MG limits of fire, where to direct their fires, and the rate to fire.

The SL and RTO move wherever the SL can best control the squad. In a perfect world, the SL moves with the maneuver element to lead them into their Overwatch/SBF position and direct their fires. However, the tactical situation might not permit this.

Once the maneuver team establishes the Overwatch/SBF position and effectively suppresses the enemy's positions, the SL signals the team in contact, the base-of-fire element, to break contact. Some signals are radio, verbal, smoke, hand and arm signals, or any prearranged signal issued in their OPORD.

This base-of-fire element then becomes the maneuver element. The SL gives a Direction, Distance, and Identifiable Feature to enable this team to move. An example is "6 o'clock, 150 meters, pile of logs". When the lead TL receives the “break contact” signal, the team begins to bound back to the designated position. If the team has smoke available, they throw it and use it to mask their movement. When they reach the designated position, they establish an Over-watch/SBF position.

The team must break contact in a controlled manner. The TL controls his team by having them IMT by buddy team using fire and maneuver techniques to the position the SL designates.

Once in position the TL immediately gets his team online, assigns sectors of fire, and prepares to Support by fire to allow the remainder of the Squad to Break Contact. The SL continues this process of bounding his teams away from the enemy until the Squad is:

  1. No longer receiving effective fire from the enemy
  1. Passes through a higher level of support-by-fire position
  1. The squad reaches its assigned location for its next mission. 

After contact has been broken, the Squad will move 300 meters or a major terrain feature away. The SL should consider changing the direction of movement once contact is broken. This will reduce the ability of the enemy to place effective indirect fires on his Squad. Once the SL has moved the appropriate distance, the SL conducts a security halt to consolidate and reorganize.

  1. Establish 360-degree security. Once the entire squad has halted, the SL establishes a security perimeter and emplaces the Machine Gun (MG) team to cover the most likely direction of the enemy’s attack, or high-speed avenue of approach. This has to be done quickly in preparation for an enemy attack.
  1. Gather ACE Reports. Once 360-degree security has been established, the SL calls for ACE reports. The TLs move to each man and physically check each of their men to gather ACE reports and verify sectors of fire.
  1. Re-establish the chain of command / key positions. Based on the ACE report, the SL designates personnel to replace any key leaders / personnel who were wounded or killed (TLs, RTO).
  1. Re-man key weapons. If a SAW or M203 gunner is down, the SL designates a rifleman to assume those positions. Any casualties in the MG Team will be handled team internal if possible.
  1. Re-distribute ammunition and mission essential equipment. TLs cross level their own teams, SL directs the cross leveling between teams. Mission essential equipment is taken from casualties and distributed within the Team, then Squad. BTL prepares an emergency resupply request if necessary.
  1. Report the situation to higher authorities. The SL produces a SALT report and sends it higher along with his ACE report thru the RTO. The RTO also calls in the emergency supply request when finished with the SALT / ACE report.

After reporting the situation to higher authorities, the SL continues the mission.

One thing to note is that throughout Break Contact, the SL should always consider using indirect fires. While at Ranger School or Sapper Leader Course, if you have someone who is EXTREMELY competent on calling for fire, use this to your advantage. 

This was a summary of how you will be expected to perform Break Contact at Ranger and Sapper School. The other option would be to break contact. 

Squad Attack can be found here.

If you have already read Squad Attack, you can continue learning by reading React to Near and Far Ambush.

React to Near and Far Ambush can be found here.

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