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Hedgehog defense

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Hedgehog defense

For the chess pawn structure, see Hedgehog (chess).


In warfare, the hedgehog defence is a military tactic for defending against a mobile armoured attack, or blitzkrieg. The defenders deploy in depth in heavily fortified positions suitable for all-around defence. The attackers can penetrate between these "hedgehogs", but each position continues to fight on when surrounded. This keeps large numbers of attacking troops tied up, attacking the well-defended strongpoints, while allowing the defenders to successfully counterattack against the units that bypass these strongpoints with their own armored reserves by cutting them off from their supporting elements.

The tactic was proposed by General Maxime Weygand during the Battle of France in 1940. However Allied forces in 1940 were unable to successfully apply the tactic before they sustained heavy losses and France capitulated. The remaining forces which did apply the tactic were simply bypassed.

On the Eastern Front the German army used the tactic successfully during the Soviet winter advances, notably in the Battle of Moscow in 1941, in the Second Rzhev-Sychevka Offensive in November 1942, and in the battle around Orel during Operation Saturn in February 1943. On the eastern front, Germans adopted the additional feature commonly associated with hedgehog defence—resupply of the strongpoints by air: particularly in the winter of 1941-42, the advanced "hedgehogs" effectively surrounded by the Soviets, such as the Demyansk pocket, were supplied mainly by air. Although casualties were heavy, these strongpoints held up large numbers of attacking Soviet troops and prevented them from being deployed elsewhere—the successful defence of the Demyansk pocket, for example, helped stem the Soviet counteroffensive following the Battle of Moscow. Although aerial resupply reduced reliance on vulnerable ground transport, it inflicted enormous strain on the Luftwaffe. The successful holding of forward positions in these battles led Adolf Hitler to insist for the remainder of the war that static positions be held to the last man, but growing weakness of the Luftwaffe and increasing combat capabilities of the Soviet Air Force made resupply of isolated strongpoints by air difficult. In particular, Hitler had hoped that the surrounded Stalingrad could be turned into a giant hedgehog, tying up vast numbers of Soviet troops. After the Battle of Kursk in 1943 the German army lacked the essential components of the tactic, the mobile armoured reserve and an air combat capability necessary to secure local air superiority for keeping open aerial supply corridor, thus losing the war.

Following the end of World War II, this tactic was successfully used in Southeast Asia by the French against the Viet Minh in the Battle of Na San. The French suffered a disaster in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu when General Giap deployed unexpectedly heavy concentrations of anti-aircraft artillery around the French garrison and successfully disrupted aerial resupply. Hedgehog defence was central in U.S. Marines' successful defence of Khe Sanh against the PAVN.

A notable example of modern hedgehog defence is the Battle of Vukovar during the Croatian War of independence, in which a small, ill-armed but determined Croatian resistance kept a larger, heavily equipped — but less-motivated - Yugoslav army at hold; buying precious time for the fledgling Republic of Croatia to organize their own armed forces. Another, ultimately less successful application, was the Iraqi military strategy during the first Gulf War to fortify Kuwait and create an extensive 'hedgehog' defensive position. These forward defensive positions were staffed by its elite Republican Guard. The dug-in forces complemented in-depth defence features such as minefields, tank traps, fire trenches and other trench and bunker warfare.[1]

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