Monday, 9 June 2014

The Fangs of the Lone Wolf - Dodge Billingsley

The information presented was written by Chris Buckham; however, it was published in The Canadian Army Journal. Therefore, the material is reproduced here by the author with the permission of the journal. If you would like to republish this information or refer to excerpts please contact the Editor Canadian Army Journal ( Website for the Journal is:

Title: The Fangs of the Lone Wolf
Author: Dodge Billingsley
ISBN: 978-1-909384-77-4
Pages: 181
Photo's/Maps: 11/30
Publisher: Helion Publishing

Between 1994 and 2009 the Russian Federation and the Chechen fighters fought two distinct wars over the question of independence for Chechnya. These wars were interesting in that, while they were both fought between the same adversaries, the nature, doctrine and skill sets evident in each conflict were, in fact, unique and gave each conflict a very individual character. The author, an experienced conflict reporter, was embedded regionally during the fighting and was able to interview a number of Chechen combatants on how they planned and executed operations.

One of the most evident and consistent conclusions drawn by the author was the critical limitations imposed upon the Chechen's by their lack of a coherent or reliable logistics system. Throughout both wars they were utterly unable to hold territory for any length of time due to their inability to resupply and maintain their forces. Thus, during the initial fighting in 1994/1995, while Chechen forces had artillery, tanks and other advanced weapons systems, they quickly became ineffective due to a lack of munitions, spares and recovery capabilities. 

The Chechen’s were also hampered by their ad hoc fighting and command and control structures. Units were formed around individuals from common towns or villages and were loyal only to their elected leaders. Often they would depart a battlefield for personal or clan reasons without notification to their central command. Orders from the centre were extremely general, often only outlining roughly where they were to deploy. Individual unit leaders would then determine tactics and plans without consulting neighbouring sections. This often resulted in fractured responses and a lack of confidence between units in the reliability of others.

Nevertheless, as the author relates, the Chechen’s were not lacking in courage or tactical capability. Employing advanced defensive techniques, they were regularly able to counter Russian offensive doctrine and inflict significant damage upon armour and air assets. They were also able to take advantage of local support for food, shelter and information depending upon the region within which they were operating. This changed as the second war dragged on and fatigue amongst the civilian population for the conflict combined with Russian success at promoting interse conflict between Chechen groups sapped sources of local support.

Another area that strikes the reader, where the Chechen's excelled, was their ability to improvise weapons systems out of everyday parts. Thus, despite the fact that they lacked access to formal weapons systems such as rocket launchers, they were able to maintain stocks by building their own. For example, they would salvage the driveshaft covers from MAZ trucks to serve as the launch tube for 57mm S-5 rockets and similarly, the driveshaft covers from Ural trucks for 80mm S-8 rockets. Sites for these weapons were developed by utilizing half -binoculars or something similar. The rockets themselves were usually salvaged from shot-down helicopters.

Billingsley has drafted his text in a series of vignettes, each accompanied by a colour map, that serve to highlight a different aspect of Chechen techniques in asymmetric warfare. He emphasizes Chechen strengths and weaknesses under different fighting scenarios providing a detailed account of the battles as recounted by individuals present on the field, followed by a commentary that encapsulates the lessons to be drawn for the encounter. His chapters are broken out by operational type such as 'Defense of an Urban Area', 'Raids', 'Ambush and Counterambush' and 'Defense of Lines of Communications' and may thus be read as a collective or individually without breaking the flow of the narrative.

I liked Billingsley's style of writing and the methods he used to summarize the chapters. I found that it provided a quick and accurate synopsis of the lessons to be gleaned from the Chechen experience. While the book is focused exclusively upon the Chechen's themselves, it is evident as one reads of the later battles of the 2000's, that the quality and professionalism of the Russians had also improved dramatically. Included with the book is a good bibliography of books and video's for additional reading. 

Helion has produced another quality book worth, to the reader, the investment of time and money. The authors unique insights, enabled by his close working relationship with the Chechen's, makes for a technical but interesting read. His narrative is blunt, honest and balanced and he does no shy away from critical conclusions of the Chechen efforts where warranted.


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