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An ambush is a long-established military tactic, in which the aggressors (the ambushing force) use concealment to attack a passing enemy. Ambushers strike from concealed positions, such as among dense underbrush or behind hilltops. Ambushes have been used consistently throughout history, from ancient to modern warfare. An ambush predator is an animal which uses similar tactics to capture prey, without the difficulty and wasted energy of a chase. Ambushes also afford a degree of security for the ambushers, making the concealed attack more desirable than an outright fight.



During ancient warfare, an ambush often might involve thousands of soldiers on a large scale, such as over a mountain pass. Ambushes appear many times in military history. One outstanding example from ancient times is the Battle of the Trebia river. Hannibal encamped within striking distance of the Romans with the trebia River between them, and placed a strong force of cavalry and infantry in concealment, near the battle zone. He had noticed, says Polybius, a “place between the two camps, flat indeed and treeless, but well adapted for an ambuscade, as it was traversed by a water-course with steep banks, densely overgrown with brambles and other thorny plants, and here he proposed to lay a stratagem to surprise the enemy”. When the Roman infantry became entangled in combat with his army, the hidden ambush force attacked the legionnaires in the rear. The result was slaughter and defeat for the Romans. Nevertheless the battle also displays the effects of good tactical discipline on the part of the ambushed force. Although most of the legions were lost, about 10,000 Romans cut their way through to safety, maintaining unit cohesion. This ability to maintain discipline and break out or maneuver away from a killing zone is a hallmark of good troops and training in any ambush situation. See Ranger reference below.

Another famous ambush was that sprung by Germanic warchief Arminius against the Romans at Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. This particular ambush was to have an impact on the course of Western history. The Germanic forces demonstrated several principles needed for a successful ambush. They took cover in difficult forested terrain, allowing the warriors time and space to mass without detection. They had the element of surprise, and this was also aided by the defection of Arminius from Roman ranks prior to the battle. They sprung the attack when the Romans were most vulnerable- when they had left their fortified camp, and were on the march in a pounding rainstorm. They did not dawdle at the hour of decision but attacked quickly, using a massive series of short, rapid, vicious charges against the length of the whole Roman line, with charging units sometimes withdrawing to the forest to regroup while others took their place. The Germans also made use of blocking obstacles, erecting a trench and earthen wall to hinder Roman movement along the route of the killing zone. The result was mass slaughter of the Romans, and the destruction of 3 legions. The Germanic victory caused a limit on Roman expansion in the West. Ultimately, it established the Rhine as the boundary of the Roman Empire for the next four hundred years, until the decline of the Roman influence in the West. The Roman Empire made no further concerted attempts to conquer Germania beyond the Rhine.

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