The twin CH-47’s roared across the night sky. Laden with infantrymen, the two Chinook’s were tasked with dropping these men off on the southern outskirts of a town called Buhriz. The men had orders to assault a compoud believed to house high value targets of the terrorist organization AQIZ (al-Qaeda in Iraq-Zarqawi). The operation was conducted under the cover of darkness, a common strategy utilized by the American armed forces.
Darkness was the American infantryman’s friend. Equipped with the most modern night vision devices the darkness gave the American the edge. Their opponent lacked similar equipment which made the night a dangerous place for anyone opposing the United States. The AQIZ leadership never knew what hit them. The darkness triumphed again, and soon the CH-47’s were returning home with their crew of infantryman who had just dealt a crucial blow on AQIZ.
For centuries the darkness of night meant the end to hostilities for the day. Being able to conduct large scale operations under the cover of darkness was largely overlooked. The logistical and strategic nightmare of trying to move men quietly through the dark was a determining factor in avoiding night combat. While there is historical documentation of small unit exploits under the cover of darkness, the larger conventional use of the night remained relatively avoided until the 20th century. Night fighting really came into its own during World War II. Both the Axis and Allies utilized night fighting strategies on the battlefield. The use of bombing targets at night also developed the need for fighter/interceptor aircraft to engage these night bombers. Again both the Axis and Allied forces developed their own night fighters. Many of these units sole designation was conducting operations at night, which meant that the training for these units differed from the more conventional forces that only conducted operations during the day.
For the men fighting on the ground the use of night vision on regular operations occurred during the Vietnam War. This equipment has been defined as Generation I, and were largely attached to weapon systems and armored vehicles, as opposed to the Generation III night vision that can be carried by the individual soldier. As each generation has evolved, from the very first use of night vision devices by German troops in World War II, to the modern night vision goggles worn by American servicemen, significant technological gains have occurred. On today’s battlefield, night vision devices have continued to evolve, getting smaller and correcting difficulties seen in prior devices, such as the lack of depth perception. The night vision device will remain a mainstay in the arsenals of armies around the world, and the night will never again be a safe haven on the battlefield.
Look for more information regarding the history of night vision devices on the modern battlefield in the upcoming World at War issue #44 with the article “Night Fight: German Army Night Operations” and join the conversation on Facebook!