T. H. Wintringham & Bert ‘Yank’ Levy

Guerrilla Warfare


Source: Guerrilla Warfare, by ‘Yank’ Levy, UK edition, Penguin Special S102, 1941, pp. 5-10.
Transcription: Phyll Smith
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

Transcriber’s note: The book from which this introduction comes, was written by Tom Wintringham, based upon the experience of both Wintringham and Levy, but calling heavily upon Wintringham’s historical and theoretical knowledge. This introduction, not published in American post-war reprints of the book, acknowledges Wintringham’s authorship of the book.



MANY thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of the Home Guard know my friend “Yank” Levy. For those who have heard him, at the Osterley Park Training School for the Home Guard, at the first War Office School for Instructors of the Home Guard, or at the lectures he has been giving from one end of the country to another, “Yank” needs no introduction. This Canadian is without question the best lecturer—most convincing, most detailed and most practical—on the tactics of guerrilla warfare available in Britain.

But many of those who have heard him, and others to whom this booklet will come, may not have realized the basis of experience from which he talks and writes. As soon as he was old enough to handle a weapon he was, to use his own words, “mixed up in Mexico”. He fought in the last Great War, in Palestine and in the desert beyond Jordan. He has taken part in some of the little “troubles” that have occasionally occurred south of Mexico; I shall not be more specific about these troubles, because I gather that a thirty years’ sentence for gun-running still makes him occasionally pensive. He served with the Inter national Brigade in Spain as an officer, and a very good one, in the battalion which I commanded. He was captured south of Madrid and spent about six months in General Franco’s prisons. Released by an exchange of prisoners, he had to be restrained by his friends from returning to Spain, and wrote to me from Canada a little later with the request that I should use my influence to get him a passport, so that he could come back to Spain. He volunteered to join the Canadian Army as soon as this war broke out, and was turned down for flat feet or hammer toes—or perhaps, more seriously, for his reputation as one of the most obstreperous leaders of Canada’s unemployed.

But “Yank” was not going to be kept out of it. At a time when our war had not really started, early in 1940, he worked his passage over here as one of the “black gang”, a stoker on a tramp steamer. Finding that there was no interesting fighting to get into, he continued to work at this job, possibly because it was the most dangerous he could then find. One of his ships went down a week after he left it. He left it to find some sort of war job in Britain. After trying such a job he came to help me at Osterley, and has been teaching the Home Guard ever since. He is still looking for a more interesting and exciting thing to do; any offers sent to him, care of the publisher of this book, will be given due consideration.

So much for the man. Now for the subject on which he writes. I believe guerrilla warfare to be an absolutely vital element in any formula for our victory.

“Yank” is a practical man and not a theoretician. Guerrilla warfare is a very practical business. But same of those who read this may have in their minds objections of a theoretical sort, doubts about the effectiveness of guerrilla warfare under modern conditions. Some soldiers trained on text-books of the past or influenced—quite correctly—by the convincing theorists of mechanized warfare, and by the even more convincing Nazi achievements in mechanized warfare, may think of guerrilla warfare as something of secondary arid minor importance, some thing that cannot “really count now”. And because there are such persons, soldiers and civilians, it may be useful for me to give a little of the theory of the thing.

Those who believe that the tank is the dominant arm in modern warfare are correct. Those who see in the plane, and particularly in the dive-bomber, the decisive supporting arm that must be linked closely with the tank—are also correct. As a matter of fact, and not of theory, these weapons used in masses have secured decision in enough campaigns to establish the Nazi power from Madrid to near Moscow. But because these things are so, because these facts have happened, because these campaigns have been won, we dare not say that it will always be so, that campaigns will always be won mainly by these weapons, that there is no chance of ever defeating a superior force of tanks and planes. To do so would be to consider Nazi methods of warfare the final unchangeable top limit in the development of the art of war. It would be to neglect the fact that war is always changing and can always be changed. And I believe that the direction in which war is changing to-day can be seen in fact and action, can be understood and further developed. That direction, as I see it, is towards the combination between the methods and tactics of mechanized warfare and those of guerrilla warfare.

There are many reasons for this belief of mine. One is that the Red armies of the Soviet Union have for months been resisting, without disaster, the forces of almost all Europe, organized with German thoroughness and flung into battle with Nazi for loss. Their way of resistance has clearly proved effective and dangerous to Hitler’s armies. And part of the method of the Red armies of the Soviet Union has been the use of the tactics of guerrilla warfare, not only by peasant snipers and bands of civilians turned guerrillas, but also by units, large or small, of Russian infantry surrounded by or passed by the swift man of German armoured and unarmoured vehicles.

Another reason for my belief is more theoretical. Mechanized military force has an armoured spear-head very hard to check or destroy. It backs that spearhead with masses of planes and with infantry and artillery whose fire-power protects them against most weapons. But this formidable combination has behind it a weak point: it needs more supplies that any previous type of armed force, and these supplies cannot normally be brought close to the armoured spearhead by railway, but must be spread over a network of roads and carried mainly by relatively unprotected convoys of lorries.

It is the communications of an armoured force, the roads and the lorry-convoys that it needs, that are most vulnerable. But they are not easily vulnerable to our normal infantry and artillery. They are vulnerable to two types of force: our own defending armoured force, with aeroplane support, and our guerrillas.

Those who rightly say that we must make tanks and planes in vast quantities, sometimes wrongly think that these machine should be opposed directly, head-on, to the enemy machines of similar types. Tank should hunt tank, they think, and plane should shoot down plane. Which is like trying to use a pair of nutcrackers to put out of action another pair of nutcrackers. Nutcrackers should be used against nuts. Our air-tank combat teams should be used against the most sensitive, most vulnerable parts of the enemy’s forces. Blitz needs to be answered by counter-blitz. But it is not possible for any defending force continually to exert this type of pressure against an attacker. The guerrilla, on the other hand, can exert against the communications of any enemy force, against his dumps as well as his lorries his headquarters as well as his stragglers, a continual pressure a threat that wears out men and forces. And guerrilla warfare is a method of fighting—a useful method, that will, I believe, in future campaigns become absolutely essential to success—that can be achieved and developed by democracies and by socialist societies, but cannot be developed by Fascism, particularly in the areas where Fascism rules by force against the will of the population.

Successful guerrilla fighting needs the self-confidence and initiative of millions of free men, the support at risk and at heavy sacrifice of almost all the population, and a feeling of close comradeship and solidarity between the guerrilla troops and any regular army and air force supporting them. The Nazis cannot get these qualities at their service, in any of the occupied countries of Europe, even in Italy. We can. And therefore we should not think of guerrilla warfare only in terms of the present heroism of the Soviet Union, or a possible future resistance to invasion in this country. We should think of it also in terms of our own invasion of the Continent. We should be looking for ways of fighting, and combinations between ways of fighting that can enable a democratic force invading Hitler’s Europe to mobilize and use the enormous power of the “hundred million allies” who can be ours.

“Yank” Levy and myself, with others who helped us at Osterley and elsewhere, have been preaching the principles of guerrilla warfare, and teaching its practical details, since June, 1940. We did not learn these principles and details from Crete; and we have been rather amused since the fighting in Crete to find things advocated officially as “lessons of Crete” that we had been advocating nine months before as lessons of common sense.

Fully three-quarters of this book had been written before June, 1941, when the Nazis attacked Russia and guerrilla war came into the newspapers in a big way. The book was delayed because I had to work on another, a hook on mechanized warfare. It was not until this study of “official” war was out of the way that I could turn to the “unofficial” type of warfare described here.

The book on mechanized warfare, on the Nazis’ tactics and the reply to them (Blitzkrieg, by F. O. Miksche), answers those friends and critics who have protested that we who are advocates of guerrilla war give too much importance to this form of warfare.

We are not advocates of guerrilla warfare as opposed to, or in contrast to, mechanized warfare. We are advocates of a combination between the two, in defence and in attack. We have been advocating this combination of two very different methods of fighting since the formation of the Home Guard. And I do not understand those who say that our only way to win this war is by making more tanks and more planes than the Nazis can make. The Nazis have a start in the arms race; it is by no means clear that our production in 1941, even with America’s help, was enough to reduce that start. It seems quite possible that, at the moment when I write this, Nazi Europe is making more tanks and planes than are being made by Britain and America. And while we try to catch up on the Nazis, or try to wake up enough to begin to overhaul them, the Nazi armies conquer new territories. They gain new sources for steel, for other metals out of which to make planes and tanks. I do not see where this process ends, or that it necessarily has an end that is pleasant to contemplate it seems to me that those who rely solely on this race to pile up materials are pessimists, and blind to the main hope that we can have now and in the future. That main hope is, to put it in another way, the hope that men can still beat machines, that materialist simple addition of tank to tank and plane to plane is not the measuring rod of warfare, that to-day as in the past Napoleon’s words hold true: “the moral is to the physical in war as three to one.”

Guerrilla warfare is warfare against the enemy’s morale and his material. It hits at morale where morale is weakest, behind the picked units and the men securely armoured. It hits at material when that material is not in a state to hit back. In a later chapter, for which I am partly responsible, this book tells some of the past of guerrilla warfare. There have been “invincible” armies in the past. There have been the legions of Rome and the proud chivalry of the Middle Ages. And at the same time there have been forces despised by all professional soldiers, barbarians with battle-axes or churls with long-bows, who have met and destroyed utterly the proudest and most heavily armoured “modern” armies of their day. This is some thing that can happen again. I may be optimistic to believe that it can happen soon, next year. But I believe it is happening now, on a limited scale, spontaneously, almost inevitably. If we can make the process conscious, if we can understand what is happening to us, and join our understanding and our will power to press it forward and improve it, then I believe that this war can be won far more quickly than by any other way. That is why I recommend this book not only to every member of the Home Guard but to every soldier who understands that we may need to do a little thinking for victory, and to every civilian who wants to understand what is happening and can happen in this war, how to help if invasion comes to this country, how the Nazis are going to be defeated.

Surrey, November 1941.