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British commandos watch as an ammunition dump burns, Vågsøy 27 December 1941.
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Raid, also known as depredation, is a military tactic or operational warfare mission which has a specific purpose and is not normally intended to capture and hold terrain, but instead finish with the raiding force quickly retreating to a previous defended position prior to enemy forces being able to respond in a co-ordinated manner or formulate a counter-attack. Within the tactical mission, a raiding group may consist of personnel specially trained in this tactic (such as commandos or guerrilla fighters), regular soldiers, or any organized group of combatants.
The purposes of a raid may include:
- to demoralize, confuse, or exhaust the enemy
- to ransack or pillage a location
- to obtain property or capture people
- to destroy goods or other things with an economic value
- to free POWs
- to kill or capture specific people
- to gather intelligence.
Development of raiding warfare
Among many tribal societies, raiding was the most common and lethal form of warfare. Taking place at night, the goal was to catch the enemy sleeping to avoid casualties to the raiding party. Cattle raiding was a major feature of Irish society in the Iron Age and forms the central plot of the historical epic Táin Bó Cúailnge (English: Cattle Raid of Cooley).
Small scale raiding warfare was common in Western European warfare of the Middle Ages. Much of a professional soldiers' time could be spent in "little war", carrying out raids or defending against them. Typical of this style of warfare was the mounted raid or chevauchée, popular during the Hundred Years War. Chevauchées varied in size from a few hundred men to armies of thousands, and could range in scope from attacks on nearby enemy areas to the devastation of whole regions, such as that carried out by the Black Prince in Southern France in 1355. This last is notable not just for its success and scope but the fact that the raiders deliberately captured records in order to carry out a post-operational analysis of the impact of the raid on the enemy economy.
The largest raids in history were the series undertaken during and following the Mongol invasion of Central Asia. Examples of lesser scale raids include those staged by the Cossacks of the Zaporizhian Sich, the Grande Armée, and cavalry raids that took place during the American Civil War such as Morgan's Raid, and numerous examples of small group raids behind enemy lines that have taken place throughout all periods of history.
In the early Middle Ages, Viking raiders from Scandinavia attacked the British isles, France and Spain, attacking coastal and riverside targets. Much Viking raiding was carried out as a private initiative with a few ships, usually to gain loot, but much larger fleets were also involved, often as intent on extorting protection money (English: Danegeld) as looting and pillaging. Raiding did not cease with the decline of the Viking threat in the 11th century. It remained a common element of the medieval naval warfare. Extensive naval raiding was carried out by all sides during the Hundred Years War, often involving privateers such as John Hawley of Dartmouth or the Castilian Pero Niño. In the Mediterranean, raiding using oared galleys was common throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance and was particularly a feature of the wars between the Christian powers and the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. Raiding formed a major component of English naval strategy in the Elizabethan era, with attacks on the Spanish possessions in the New World. A major raid on Cadiz to destroy shipping being assembled for the Spanish Armada was carried out by Sir Francis Drake in 1587.
During the Second World War, the British set up the Combined Operations Headquarters to organise harassing raids against the Germans in Europe. The first operation conducted by a "commando" formation, known as Operation Ambassador, took place in July 1940, but it was a small-scale operation that resulted in negligible success. The next major raid was Operation Claymore, which was launched in March 1941 against the Lofoten Islands. Throughout the war there were many other operations of varied size, ranging from small scale operations like those undertaken by Z Special Unit against the Japanese in the Pacific, such as Project Opossum, to Operation Chariot – a raid on Saint-Nazaire – and the Dieppe Raid, which was a large scale raid employing about 6,000 soldiers, over 200 ships and 74 squadrons of aircraft intended to take and hold Dieppe sufficiently to cause sufficient destruction to the port.
Paratroopers and glider-borne troops have been landed by aircraft on raids, including offensive counter-air missions such as those carried out by the Teishin Shudan and Giretsu Kuteitai commandos. In the modern era, the helicopter, allowing for both insertion and extraction, offers a superior method of raid transportation, although it comes at the cost of noise. During the Second World War, several air-landed raids were undertaken, including the German glider-borne raid on Fort Eben-Emal in Belgium in 1940, and the British Operation Colossus and Operation Biting, which were raids in Italy and France in 1941 and 1942.
The Royal Air Force first used the term "raid" in the Second World War when referring to an air attack. It included those by one aircraft or many squadrons, against all manner of targets on the ground and the targets defending aircraft. "Raid" was different from "battle", which was used for land, sea, or amphibious conflict. An aircraft "raid" was always planned ahead of time. Aircraft patrols (against U-Boats) and defensive launches of carrier aircraft (against recently detected enemy ships) are differentiated from raids.
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