Stop Fossil Fuels

The Art of Guerrilla Warfare: excerpts for activists

In the lead-up to World War II, Colin Gubbins of Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) wrote The Art of Guerrilla Warfare. The pamphlet provided guidance to resistance forces behind enemy lines in occupied Europe, to assist them in guerrilla attacks and sabotage.

The conditions of partisans in Nazi-occupied territories differ in important ways from those for today’s would-be ecosaboteurs:

Characteristic World War II Today
Occupier Nazi Germany Industrial system
Popular allegiance to Occupied nation Industrial system
Resisters defending Occupied nation Global human and non-human life
Popular attitude to resisters Friendly Hostile
Resistance targets Enemy troops and support Critical infrastructure—not humans
Size of resistance Often large Tiny
Finding other resisters Fairly easy Difficult and dangerous
Strategic goal Tie up enemy troops, sapping their ability to conduct regular war Shut off fossil fuel flows, making industrialism impossible

Nonetheless, many of Gubbins’s principles could be relevant to today’s resisters; here are excerpts from his pamphlet, with Stop Fossil Fuels (SFF) comments in italics:


#2. There are three main types of guerrilla warfare:
  (a) The activities of individuals, or of small groups working by stealth on acts of sabotage.
  (b) The action of larger groups working as a band under a nominated leader, and employing military tactics, weapons etc., to assist in the achievement of their object, which is usually of a destructive nature.
  (c) The operations of large guerrilla forces, whose strength necessitates a certain degree of military organization in order to secure their cohesion and to make and carry out effectively a plan of campaign.

SFF: Modern ecosaboteurs would mostly be limited to individuals and small affinity groups. They could accomplish more with large networks, but those would be difficult to organize within today’s surveillance state.

Objectives of guerrilla warfare

#8. The whole art of guerrilla warfare lies in striking the enemy where he least expects it, and yet where he is most vulnerable.

Methods and Principles

#9. The methods and principles of guerrilla warfare must be based on a proper estimation of the relative advantages and disadvantages enjoyed by the enemy on one hand, and the guerrillas on the other, in armaments, mobility, numbers, information, morale, training, etc.

#11. It is in mobility, in information, and in morale that the guerrillas can secure the advantage, and those factors are the means by which the enemy’s superior armament and numbers can best be combatted. The superior mobility, however, is not absolute, but relative—i.e., the use of railway systems, the possession of large numbers of motors, lorries, armoured cars, tanks, etc., of large forces of cavalry, etc. By the judicious selection of ground, however, and by moves in darkness to secure surprise, the guerrillas can enjoy relatively superior mobility for the period necessary for each operation.

SFF: Government and private security are unlikely to deploy the cavalry these days, but they do have planes, helicopters, drones, and the ability to mobilize forces from any direction. Surprise movements and pre-planned routes for withdrawal remain important.

#12. The enemy will usually be in a country where the population is largely hostile, so that the people will actively co-operate in providing information for the guerrillas and withholding it from the enemy.

SFF: Unfortunately, almost all people now identify with the enemy—the industrial system—so the situation is now reversed.

#14. Guerrillas must obtain and make every effort to retain the initiative. To have the initiative confers the invaluable advantage of selecting the place of operations that most favour success as regards locality, ground, time, relative strengths, etc. The initiative can always be secured by remaining completely quiescent until the moment for the commencement of guerrilla activities arrives, and then suddenly launching out against an unsuspecting enemy.

#15. The immunity of partisans from enemy action is a most valuable moral factor; to inflict damage and death on the enemy and to escape scot-free has an irritant and depressing effect on the enemy’s spirit, and a correspondingly encouraging effect on the morale of the guerrillas; in this sphere of action nothing succeeds like success.

#16. The aim of the guerrillas must be to develop their inherent advantages so as to nullify those of the enemy. The principles of this type of warfare are therefore:

  (a) Surprise first and foremost, by finding out the enemy’s plans and concealing your own intentions and movements.
  (b) Never undertake an operation unless certain of success owing to careful planning and good information. Break off the action when it becomes too risky to continue.
  (c) Ensure that a secure line of retreat is always available.
  (d) Choose areas and localities for action where your mobility will be superior to that of the enemy, owing to better knowledge of the country, lighter equipment, etc.
  (e) Confine all movements as much as possible to the hours of darkness.
  (g) Avoid being pinned down in a battle by the enemy’s superior forces or armament; break off the action before such a situation can develop.
  (i) When the time for action comes, act with the greatest boldness and audacity. The partisan’s motto is “Valiant yet vigilant.”


#24. Modern developments, particularly in aircraft, mechanized forces and wireless, have profound influences on guerrilla warfare, enabling the enemy rapidly to concentrate in opposition to any moves of guerrillas that have been discovered. Concealment from aircraft, therefore, becomes one of the most important factors and inevitably curtails the possibilities of large forces of guerrillas moving at will throughout the country. In effect, such large forces, if they are to remain undiscovered, can only move by night and must conceal themselves by day or else move by routes—i.e. through thick forests etc.—which afford concealment from reconnoitring aircraft; such routes however themselves offer some difficulty to movement.

SFF: No “large forces” of ecosaboteurs will be moving through the country, but even at night, small groups would still need to be careful of drone and security camera surveillance. They would stay hidden by day by melting back into the general population, their best cover being the persona of a regular citizen.

Arms and Equipment

#35. It is most important that every opportunity to seize arms and ammunition from the enemy should be grasped. It will sometimes be necessary to organize raids whose primary object is the seizure of arms; every partisan must always have this matter uppermost in his mind, and be prepared to grasp any opportunity that offers.

SFF: Gubbins is concerned with ammunition for killing people. Modern resisters would be looking for explosives and other tools which might be used to damage infrastructure.

Information and Intelligence Service

#40. The guerrillas must impress on the people the vital necessity of withholding from the enemy all information about them however harmless it may seem; the people must be convinced that their refusal to cooperate with the enemy in this respect is of the greatest importance for the redemption of their country from the enemy’s grasp, and for the safety of their friends and relatives. They must be warned never to discuss the activities of the guerrillas in any circumstances whatever.

In every community will be found certain individuals so debased that for greed of gain they will sell even their own countrymen. Against this contingency close watch must be set, and wherever proof is obtained of such perfidy, the traitor must be killed without hesitation or delay. By such justifiably ruthless action others who might be tempted to follow suit will be finally deterred.

SFF: Most people will happily assist investigation against people stopping fossil fuels, but those sympathetic to the cause should never talk to cops. To ensure underground activist safety, the movement may need to impose harsher penalties than mere public shaming of people like ELF heroin addict and snitch Jake Ferguson.

#42. Guerrillas themselves must be trained to give away no information if captured. The enemy intelligence officers will be adept in leading prisoners into indiscretions, in installing listening sets and ‘pigeons’ in prisons, concentration camps, reading prisoners’ ingoing and outgoing mails, etc.


#44. All means of communication that are open to interception by the enemy must be used with the greatest discretion, as any code and ciphers used by guerrillas must of necessity be simple or only infrequently changed, and their solution by the enemy will not be a difficult task. Such devices therefore only give a very relative security.

#45. The passing of information verbally and direct is clearly the safest and in many ways the most reliable means.

SFF: Correctly implemented modern encryption is mathematically unbreakable, but metadata can be analyzed, and software and operating systems can be compromised. In-person communication, away from electronic devices and from locations which may be bugged, is still the safest. Take a walk in the woods!


#48. Any guerrilla who has a background of military training is ipso facto a better partisan. The object of military training is to make any recruit of whatever calibre into a reasonably good soldier, so that it is based on the lowest common denominator. Guerrillas on the contrary will usually be recruited from those who have a natural aptitude or a fondness for fighting, who are accustomed to the use of weapons, to hard sleep, to movement in the dark, etc.

Their training, therefore, should first be directed to the use of their basic weapons, and to the use of the various destructive devices such as bombs, road and rail mines, etc., which are such a special and useful feature of guerrilla warfare.

#49. For these devices knowledge of electrical equipment is of great value; leaders must therefore endeavour to include in their bands a few people with this experience; if they do not exist, suitable people must be trained. The actual placing of these devices, and even their firing, can often be carried out in emergency by untrained personnel, but the risks of inefficacy and failure are great and should not be run for want of a little time spent in training.

#52. Training in defensive action against modern weapons is of importance, more particularly in the following aspects:
  (a) Aircraft: Partisan leaders must impress on all their fighters that the surest way of attaining success in their operations is by remaining undetected. Concealment from aircraft is of the greatest importance, and people must be trained to take cover quickly, to lie face downwards, and to remain absolutely still until the aeroplane has passed.

SFF: Actionists may need to take countermeasures against security cameras, drones, and other modern technology.

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