The term ‘guerrilla warfare’ might evoke images of small bands of rebel soldiers stealthily moving through a dense jungle, executing surprise attacks on a more powerful enemy, then disappearing back into the forest as quickly as they emerged. 

You’re not too far off if that’s what you’re picturing. 

Guerrilla warfare, a form of irregular warfare in which small groups of combatants use military tactics like ambushes, sabotage, raids, and hit-and-run tactics, has long been the weapon of choice for the underdog.

Guerrilla warfare during the Peninsular War (Wikimedia Commons)

But why is this strategy so effective? Why do outnumbered, outgunned fighters often resort to these unconventional methods? And why do mighty, well-equipped armies find them such a pain in the neck to deal with? 

Strap in, dear reader, as we venture into the wild, unpredictable world of guerrilla warfare and dig deep to understand the intricacies of its effectiveness.

The Origins of Guerrilla Warfare: A Story as Old as War Itself

Guerrilla warfare has been nearly as long as humans have fought each other. However, the term’ guerrilla’, meaning ‘little war’ in Spanish, was first coined during the Peninsular War in the early 19th century. 

In this conflict, the Spanish and Portuguese rebels grew fed up with Napoleon’s forces occupying their countries. They then adopted these ‘little war’ tactics to resist the French invaders. 

Rather than confront the French head-on, these local fighters, or guerrillas, opted for hit-and-run tactics. Using their intimate knowledge of the terrain, they struck swiftly and disappeared before the French could react. It was like a frustrating game of whack-a-mole for Napoleon’s forces.