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Massed professional armies do not always win wars. Irregular troops sometimes win; whether volunteer forces or specialists trained in unconventional ways of war. They are fought with deceit, outwitting their opponents. These are eight wars where irregular forces brought trained armies to grief.
Spain and the Birth of Guerrillas
The term “guerrilla warfare” comes from the Peninsular War (1807-1814). Napoleon used a combination of political and military maneuvering to take control of Spain and place his brother on the throne. It was unpopular with many Spaniards, who attacked the occupying forces and supported the British as they arrived to fight Napoleon. Attacks by irregulars were often brutal, as were the reprisals against them, which included massacres by French soldiers. The word “guerrilla,” meaning “little war,” entered the English language through the troops who heard it in the Peninsula.
The Haitian Revolution
The Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) was unique in being a revolution which was both successful and not driven by the desires of the middle class. This massive slave uprising saw the inhabitants of Saint-Domingue throw out the colonial French and cast off white slave-owners. In a reversal of the usual pattern, the irregulars were massive armies of freed slaves, rather than small bands fighting a guerrilla war. The bitterness caused by slavery resulted in brutality and destruction on both sides. The death toll was immense. After throwing out their colonial masters, the rebels founded the nation of Haiti. It shocked the established powers of Europe.
The Thousand in Italy
Giuseppe Garibaldi’s campaigns to unite Italy were always fought using irregular forces. He was a nationalist relying on volunteer patriots to form the armies with which he turned the country upside down...
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