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Book Review: Total Resistance – A Layman’s Guide to Guerilla Warfare

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The enemy will not make any distinction between soldiers and civilians. Experiences of the recent past have proved that annihilation of the conquered may be expected sooner or later. Sometimes, this process is only delayed…

We believe it is better to resist until the last. We believe that every Swiss woman or man must resist. We believe that the enemy cannot be allowed to feel at ease for even one minute in the conquered territory. We believe that we have to inflict damage upon him, fight him wherever and whenever we have the opportunity!

– Total Resistance

I have an enthusiastic interest in the Cold War. You could probably attribute that to my experiences as an Air Force ICBM officer, but that’s beside the point. As an extension of that interest, I collect manuals and books dealing with the era. I want to take a closer look at one of those books today. I find this particular one relevant to the topics of community defense and working with a team to provide security.

If you aren’t sure where I’m coming from with that, then no worries.

As part of the series on load carriage options, I set up a fictional emergency scenario. In this situation, a natural disaster knocked out power and infrastructure across your region. The dense urban areas have sucked up government and law enforcement attention, leaving your suburban neighborhood on its own. Local criminal elements are venturing closer and closer to you and your neighbors, and you’ve all decided to establish a neighborhood security system.

How does that relate to today’s book? I’m getting there.

Total Resistance by Major H. Von Dach

Total Resistance by H. Von Dach

I picked up this book several years ago when I heard that Paladin Press was liquidating inventory prior to shutting down. My edition is a reprint of the original manual.

A Swiss military officer wrote the original book in 1957, the peak of the Cold War. The authors believed that the Soviet Union was ready to steamroll through Switzerland, and they wanted to prepare the population to survive an occupation. Major Von Dach’s work is the written portion of that effort.

The book came around during a flurry of interest in guerilla warfare. Other classic works include Robert Taber’s 1965 book, War of the Flea and “Yank” Bert Levy’s Guerilla Warfare. Each of those deserve their own reviews.

So are the lessons contained in these works still valid? Well, that remains to be seen. But I think there is a lot we can learn.

About the Author

Major Hans von Dach was a Swiss military theorist. He passed away in 2003 but was an influential thinker largely due to his efforts in this book. During the Cold War, he served in the training department of the Swiss Military.

The United States and much of the Swiss government focused on conventional warfare preparation in the event the war ever went “hot.” Hans focused on the tactics of guerilla warfare and sought to involve the population at large in his tactics.

Officially, the Swiss government distanced itself and Hans. It went so far as deny promotion to Major Von Dach and refuse to publish his work later in life. However, the book retained significant private support from other military leaders. They believed, rightly in my view, that such writings and training contributed to an overall deterrence effect.

Aside from military life, Hans was an active contributor to his community by working with the Salvation Army to help the homeless.

Inside the Book

The book breaks into two parts, each with their own set of chapters. The forward, written by Colonel Wendell Fertig praises the work for its focus on the civilian cause. Colonel Fertig, for context, organized and commanded the Philippine-American guerilla forces on Mindanao during the Japanese occupation of WWII.

After the forward, Hans lists important guerrilla actions of resistance and fighting spanning from the Vendée Uprising of the French Revolution to the work of Lawrence of Arabia, and on to the Anti-Communist efforts in Poland.

Part I: Organization and Conduct of Guerilla Warfare

What’s interesting about this book is the emphasis on two separate functions: fighting and support.

It’s a common trope about warfare that amateurs study tactics while experts focus on logistics. Von Dach breaks the book into two major segments. The first emphasizes the tactics and fighting. The second portion is about support and logistics.

Winning a long-term fight requires both, and it’s impressive that they both appear.

I. Purpose of Guerilla Warfare

The purpose of guerrilla warfare is to continue resistance in those parts of the country occupied by the enemy, or to continue the fight after the defeat of the regular army.

This opening chapter lays down the definition of guerilla fighting, the types of targets and activities it comprises, and what such warfare might look like. It’s a short chapter at only one page, but it’s potent.

The goal, as outlined by Von Dach, is to create enough unrest in occupied territory so that no invader may move about alone and unarmed. Conventional units, he argues, gain supplies from the factories, warehouses, and supply depots of their logistics chain. Guerrilla units, on the other hand, live on the conflict itself as they disrupt these chains.

II. Organization of Guerrilla Warfare

Guerilla units, in Von Dach’s estimation, spring up around experienced fighters and leaders. These veterans provide the training and leadership to the committed and willing.

These groups form the core of guerilla units.

He is quick to point out two truths, though:

  • Guerrilla warfare can never be waged near front lines
  • Without the support of the civilian population, guerrilla warfare will fail in the long run

Von Dach emphasizes that this kind of warfare is not stagnant. It remains mobile, constantly changing location and terrain. Guerillas don’t hold territory permanently. Doing so draws unwanted attention.

Building strength, he argues, is important to limiting the movement of the enemy. However, there is a point of diminishing returns. If a guerilla unit grows too large, such as regimental size, there is too much temptation to engage in open warfare. The ideal unit size is a battalion equipped with heavy weapons capabilities.

The chapter goes on to discuss the equipment, headquarters, organization, and leadership of guerilla elements. There’s a very interesting portion about supply through caches and how to camouflage them. Lastly, it covers building relationships with local populations for both goodwill and passive support through observation and sabotage.

III. Tactics of Guerilla Units

This chapter opens with an aptly titled segment, “Your First Guerrilla Operations.”

This portion provides a framework to build on. Early operations are small and easy in order to build morale and small wins. As these wins add up, so do acquired supplies and equipment. Also, as personnel gain experience the fighters increase the complexity of each operation. Each one yielding greater rewards in terms of equipment and experience.

Aside from this, the chapter discusses maintaining operational security (OPSEC). Emphasized here are espionage and observation. Radio capabilities, both for monitoring and communication factor heavily into this. Above all else, secrecy is the key to safety.

Also discussed is combat behavior, to include choosing when not to fight. Again, the importance of mobility and changing locations stealthily is a prominent feature. Part of this is a discussion on primitive communications that do not draw attention.

The rest of the chapter focuses on the conduct of guerilla operations like sabotage, roadblocks, ambushes, sieges, and occupations. Some of the material is certainly dated since there really isn’t much reliance on wired comms and railways anymore. But it’s still interesting.

IV. How an Enemy with Modern Equipment will Operate Against Your Guerrilla Detachment

This chapter discusses how Major Von Dach expected Soviet occupiers to deal with guerilla insurgents. His depiction follows a progression of relatively small “pursuit unit” all the way up to dedicated airborne assets.

The focus here is avoiding detection and getting out of the area.

Remember, avoid open fighting.

Part II: Organization and Operation of the Civilian Resistance Movement

Small segment of a resistance network
Von Dach’s depiction a segment of a resistance network

This portion of the book focuses on cultivating the resistance. The guerilla group exists outside the population, whereas the resistance exists within it.

The resistance exists to collect intelligence, support communications, provide logistics, and passively hinder efforts of the occupying forces.

I. Organization

Hans outlines that the resistance has several vital roles in the support of guerilla action. These might be care and feeding of the sick and wounded fighters, or collection and hiding of enemy weapons. At larger scales, the resistance might be the ones responsible for supplying hidden caches.

Von Dach also discusses where to target recruitment efforts. For example, law enforcement, military members, public official, or any prominent individuals are not suitable to the resistance. Soviet occupiers were more likely to arrest public officials and interrogate them, so it was better that they have no knowledge of the underground. Instead, this group should go straight to the guerillas.

All of those who by nature of their descent, profession or ideology are considered potential enemies and thus risk deportation or execution, had best immediately join a guerrilla detachment or the resistance movement.

Contact and work with individuals of similar conviction. If one remains alone and isolated his morale will deteriorate. The isolated member of the resistance is subject to the same threat of fear and desperation that a soldier may feel when isolated from his unit during conventional warfare.

From here, Von Dach describes the actual organizational structure of the resistance. The resistance has segments dedicated to different functions.

Some of these include:

  • Information and propaganda
  • Training
  • Finance
  • Police
  • Sabotage
  • Recruiting
  • Communications
  • Transportation
  • Counter-propaganda

I found this very interesting, as it looks like an old spy network. People really only know who is directly above them or below them, but not the broader organization at large. This protects the whole movement from compromise if any one person is captured or flipped.

II. Enemy Operations

This chapter focuses on the things that an occupying force will do to discourage or root out a resistance movement. Everything wiretapping, mail monitoring, arbitrary arrests, and a litany of other Cold War-era tropes appear.

The enemy will arbitrarily arrest completely harmless people in order to spread the rumor that they have become victims of his surveillance net. He wants to create the impression that his net is closely knit and effective. Do not fall for this trick but make some estmate of its capabilities and limitations.

The enemy does not punish according to the law but according to political requirements. As a result seldom is the same sentence decreed for the same offense. Thus, you always have to expect the worst. You may be sent to a forced labor camp for an indeterminate period or even executed for the slightest offense, if you are unlucky enough to be apprehended at a politically unfavorable moment. Expedience dictates enemy action.

Von Dach also describes the various famous state-police agencies the occupier might establish like the infamous Gestapo of Nazi Germany.

Also in this chapter is a discussion of how and why the occupier will attempt to subvert the youth. They would leverage the natural conflict between generations as a way to set up a “you versus them” attitude, and then appear to be the better option.

Likewise, the occupier will seek to create distrust and resentment between classes and groups of people. For example, city dwellers against rural areas, working class against middle class, etc. Going even further, the enemy would disrupt organizations such as clubs, churches, and associations.

Finally, Von Dach describes how particular groups or classes will be dealt with and “liquidated” over time.

III. Operations of the Resistance Movement

total resistance safe house meeting
The books depiction of securing a safe house meeting

Like the first part of the book about guerilla operations, the second part discusses how a resistance movement grows over time.

The first phase, as Hans discusses it, is a period of observation and evaluation. The key is being patient. Use this period to learn about how the enemy behaves, who can be considered for recruitment, who hesitates, who is passive, and who has joined the enemy ranks.

Phase 2 is organization of the passive resistance. This is the time for building networks and cells. No cell should be more than ten people. Group a few cells under a single leader. When enough leaders are present, this is the inner circle and Phase 3 begins.

Only in Phase 3 do resistance operations begin. All of the functions discussed in the earlier chapter come to fruition, from information gathering to sabotage.

The remainder of the chapter offers practical advice for 1957 on how to carry out these resistance operations.

Some of the topics include:

  • Collecting and concealing of munitions
  • Manufacture and distribution of propaganda
  • Conditioning resistance leaders to tactics and methods used during home searches
  • Basic tradecraft for communications, symbols, and hideouts
  • Selection and development of human intelligence assets
  • Conducting raids


Interestingly, the last portion has a “what to do it all goes wrong” section. In this circumstance, Von Dach talks about what the occupier will do about the arms and munitions owned by resistance fighters.

A certain cut-off date will be set for turning over weapons, ammunition, explosives, and hand grenades; until then people are assured of not being punished if they turn over these weapons. This guarantee will be adhered to at least in the beginning so as not to frighten anyone away.

Should you be so trusting and turn over your weapons you will be put on a “black list” in spite of everything. The enemy will always need hostages or forced laborers later on and will gladly make use of the “black lists.” You see once again that you cannot escape his net and had better die fighting.

After the deadline, raids coupled with house searches and street checks will be conducted.


The closing remarks of Total Resistance are a somber reminder that two enemies fighting each other to the last, as is often the case with ideology, guerilla warfare and civilian resistance are inevitable.

The closing is a reminder that to discount the effect of guerilla fighters is a mistake, as it is discounting the strength of the human heart.

Total Resistance

So here’s the question, should you buy this book?

Hell yes.

Even though the subject matter is somewhat a relic of the 1950s, there are a lot of fantastic lessons throughout the writing. The biggest takeaway for me continues to be the importance of a team, a tribe, or any group of individuals committed to the cause.

In the case of our fictional natural disaster, there’s a lot of practical information here. You could use these lessons to build a communications network or logistics supply systems. In dire emergencies, there’s even a bit of tradecraft for security.

Should Red Dawn happen, well then all the better that you did your studying.

In all seriousness, though, I also took a troubling note from the historical fear of Communism and the Soviet Union. There are some of the parallels between Major Von Dach predictions and the behaviors of certain political elements within our country today. History may not repeat, but it certainly rhymes.

One more important lesson: Right in the beginning of the book, the six basic principles which must be present for a resistance to succeed and achieve victory:

  1. Loyal people who support the effort at great risk to themselves
  2. Favorable terrain and organization to fit the terrain needs
  3. A source of adequate finances
  4. Good communications
  5. An adequate supply of food
  6. Support from an outside power

Even though Paladin is gone and the edition I’ve got is no longer available, you can still find the book on Amazon for a great price through other publishers.

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Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's a former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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Oldest First
Newest First

Thank you very much for the review! I wonder how many of the tactics and principles would have to be changed with today’s exponentially greater surveillance & intercept capabilities.

Replying to  The Marksman

“minimizing electronic signature”

That’s the vein I was mainly thinking in. Folks seem to go to “computers” right off the bat, but as a former Electronic Warfare Officer, I’m thinking of signatures from all sorts of equipment and the intercept ability against simple things like walkie-talkies. No doubt GPS would be unusable, whether due to spoofing or due to overall shutoff or degradation.

Colorado Pete
Colorado Pete
Replying to  The Marksman

“Among the skills I want to dig into are land navigation with classic map and compass. Even if GPS never dies, there’s a lot to be said for knowing how to do it the old way that doesn’t rely on batteries.”

Amen brother. That’s why I’m a big fan of things like hammers, hatchets, metal files, and basic compasses. Those things never need to be plugged in or recharged or have a battery stockpile. The more complicated a gadget the greater the chance of failure.

Cj p
Cj p

They mention air rifles many times in the book. Do you know what specific rifle they are talking about?

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