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Some Notes on Sentry Neutralization–Per Request

January 28, 2014

(I’ve suffered a rather severe case of “I-don’t-give-a-fuck-itis” recently. Hopefully, as HH6 and I were discussing recently, getting back to writing for the blog will help provide me a serious dose of FIDO—Fuck It, Drive On—that needs to occur. The following article is on a subject I’ve been loath to write about, since it screams of Sho Kosugi ninja fantasies. Nevertheless, it is a request from a reader, who I know is a serious student and actually trains. I will get back to the Tribalism series shortly. –JM)

Sentry neutralization is an area of study and tactical knowledge that hold a fascinating allure to many people. I don’t know if it’s related to the cultural heritage of Indian and frontiersman skulking through the woods with knife and tomahawk, or a fascination with William Fairbairn’s combatives teaching during World War Two, or perhaps too many Ninja movies out of Hollywood in the 1980s (paging the Sho Kosugi and Michael Dudikoff fan club!!!), but the idea of possessing the skills needed to sneak up and silently kill someone, while his friends and companions are sleeping nearby, is something I get asked about with an interesting frequency.

The first thing to consider with the subject of sentry neutralization (under which heading I am going to include the general skill set of killing someone without alerting his friends nearby in general, not specifically sentries), is one that is actually of importance in the classical guerrilla warfare paradigm, whether you’re looking at it as John Poole 4GW, or just the historical and prehistoric tribal paradigm of the oldest type of raiding conflict.

Too often, as in so many cases, people’s ideas of what is inherently included in this topic is formed by bad Hollywood movies. The reality is, killing someone quietly is not easy, is not simple, and is certainly not spontaneous, regardless of what your sifu or sensei has told you.

The old Army Combatives manual, FM21-150 is decent place to start:

Killing a sentry is completely different than killing an enemy soldier while engaged in a firefight. It is a cold and calculated attack on a specific target. After observing a sentry for hours, watching him eat or look at his wife’s photo, an attachment is made between the stalker and the sentry…At such close quarters, the soldier literally feels the sentry fight for his life. The sights, sounds, and smells of this act are imprinted in the soldier’s mind; it is an intensely personal experience…

This is a severe enough issue that the special operations community has long searched for ways to depersonalize the issue. From the use of “silent” distance weapons like crossbows (does anyone remember the Barrett advertisements in Soldier-of-Fiction magazine back in the 1980s?) and traditional bows (I’ve heard legendary stories about SF and SEALs carrying bows and arrows for the purpose on missions in Vietnam, but I’ve never met anyone who would admit to it themselves), to the more contemporary use of suppressed firearms. The first time I tried to discuss sentry neutralization methods with a squad leader at the Regiment, it was quickly pointed out to me that we had suppressed firearms for that shit.

Unfortunately, the Ninja mythology of all of these outweighs the reality. Neither crossbows or traditional bows are sure sources of a quick, let alone quiet demise for the victim. Ask any deer hunter who hunts with archery tackle of either type about tracking blood spoor of fatally wounded animals. It’s bad when you have to spend the night searching for a wounded deer (especially in bear and cougar country…). It’s a whole other ball of ‘fuck this noise’ when you wound an enemy sentry with a crossbow or arrow. Suppressed weapons offer an increased opportunity for success, but as anyone who has actually fired suppressed weapons can attest, even a sub-sonic .22LR round, with a very well designed “can,” while quiet, still makes a very distinct, very audible sound, and claiming “it’s all about shot placement” is true…but doesn’t change the fact that .22LR is still sub-optimal in the anti-personnel role.

Ultimately, when you start discussing sentry neutralization, you’re beginning to discuss the more primitive aspects of warfare, which of course ties in quite handily to the idea of “unconventional” guerrilla warfare is really 1st Generation warfare. The methods that have worked for centuries have worked for centuries for a reason. Because they work.

Unfortunately, in order for them to work, you have to be able to move past the psychological and social barriers to going hands on with someone and causing them physical harm. It’s a lot easier to imagine sitting back at 500 meters and shooting at a silhouette than it is to wrap your head around grabbing a dude a intimacy-close distances and feeling his blood wash over your hands as you punch a knife into his neck or groin. It’s a lot easier to think about doing a mag dump at 10 meters than it is to think about holding a guy down and choking him until he’s not just unconscious, but dead.

Planning Considerations

It’s no secret that I’m a firm believer in the adage that “Failing to plan is planning to fail,” and “Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance.” FM21-150 offered the following information on planning considerations.

A detailed schematic of the layout of the area guarded by sentries must be available…Mark known and suspected locations of all sentries. It will be necessary–

a. To learn the schedule for the changing of the guards and the checking of the posts.

b. To learn the guards’ meal times. It may be best to attack a sentry soon after he has eaten when his guard is lowered. Another good time to attack the sentry is when he is going to the latrine.

c. To post continuous security.

d. To develop a contingency plan.

e. To plan infiltration and exfiltration routes.”

f. To carefully select personnel to accomplish the task.

g. To carry the least equipment necessary to accomplish the mission because silence, stealth, and ease of movement are essential.

h. To conceal or dispose of killed sentries.

As anyone who has actually studied the troop-leading procedures that we all discuss as so critical to actual operational planning will recognize, all of these details should be easily acquired as part of your leader’s reconnaissance and planning. Other aspects, like categories f, and g, are TRAINING issues. If you’re not training in combatives, or you’re not physically fit, no amount of planning for “silent dispatch” is going to do you a fuck-all bit of good.

A lot of the skills necessary for sentry neutralization, as far as infiltration and stalking, have been covered at various times over the history of this blog, and they are touched on in classes. From the necessity of an overwatch element for the maneuver element, to the need to plan a route that maximizes cover and concealment as long as possible.

In the context we’re discussing however, there are a couple of additional considerations that are seldom covered in the typical “I’m a ninja! I’m a master of sentry neutralization” courses….

The impact of technology

NODs and even hand-held thermal imaging devices are not particularly expensive anymore. They’re certainly not rare. I often have students ask me, “what if we don’t know if they have NODs or thermals?” My answer, unequivocally, is: assume they DO. NODs are not particularly difficult to hide from, as I’ve demonstrated in classes regularly over the last two years, and even before. Thermals are harder to hide from, but still not impossible. Planning your routes with the threat of thermals and NODs in mind will go a long, LONG way towards mitigating their threat.

In a worst case scenario, you’re compromised during your infiltration because the enemy has NODs and/or thermals (honestly, if you get compromised because of NODs, you deserve to die just to cleanse the gene pool of your stupidity…thermals are more understandable), if you have an overwatch element that is doing their job, they can still save your ass. Your mission of silently neutralizing the sentry may be ruined, but you can survive if they do their job and protect you by smoking the dude that spotted you or is trying to sound the alarm. If it’s a sentry in an overwatch position, rather than the guy you’re trying to eliminate, then it may not be the end of your tasking, but your overwatch HAS TO DO THEIR JOB! A single designated marksman, with a suppressed weapon, at 200 meters out can provide an effective defense against compromise by thermal-equipped sentries if necessary, it’s just not going to be as quiet as most people tend to think. It doesn’t have to be though, as long as it’s not drawing immediate attention to the maneuver element that is trying to infiltrate past the sentry.

Ditching Equipment

My fighting load is set up in a tiered system. Beyond the normal Survival Load, Fighting Load, Sustainment Load, I’ve broken my fighting load echelon into tiers as well. Fully kitted up, I’m wearing a RACK chest rig over a slick plate carrier, with a war belt below it. My war belt has run the gamut from a fully-loaded patrol kit, to just carrying a couple of spare magazines, a pistol, and a knife. The reason I run this tiered system is for when I do need to be all “sneaking Pete, the ninja dude.” I can move pretty quietly with all of my kit on. When I dump my RACK though, or even my RACK and war belt, I can still be armed with a pistol, a knife, and my rifle (METT-TC) and still have ballistic protection from my plate carrier, while being extremely light-loaded. This allows me to be particularly quiet when necessary, as well as increasing my agility and mobility. Do I want to get engaged in a gunfight while loaded that light? Abso-fucking-lutely not.

In the old days of the ALICE LBE, the standard was to ditch your LBE and do your stalk with just your knife or garrote or hatchet, or whatever tool you were using. Of course, in that case if your stalk goes wrong, you’re REALLY fucked. While a sidearm is a piss-poor choice in an infantry fight, it beats the shit out of throwing your knife at a guy equipped with a rifle, because all your other gear is with the rest of your team 20 meters away where you started your final stalk. At a minimal level, I don’t personally believe there’s any sense in performing a stalk without at LEAST a pistol and two or three spare magazines for it on your person.

Tools of the Trade and Applications

The Knife

The most popular method for the silent elimination of sentries in the popular imagination has to be the knife. From Fairbairn’s tutorials on stabbing the throat or subclavian arteries in the World War Two texts, to the FM21-150 instructions of stabbing to the kidneys or heart; from the depictions of O’Neill teaching the 1st Special Service Force in “The Devil’s Brigade” to every 1980s commando action movie, the knife seems to be the ultimate sentry neutralization tool. It makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s man’s oldest tool. We have almost an instinctive ancestral memory of using knives.

Unfortunately, following the letter of Fairbairn’s methods today is a pretty good way to either end up seriously injuring yourself, or failing in your task. Using a knife in the anti-personnel role is retarded simple: “Put the pointy part in the soft spots.” Yes, you can make arguments about slashing attacks, blah, blah, blah. Ultimately, the surest way to stop a threat from being a threat quickly is to penetrate his vital organs and cause damage. Fairbairn of course, would agree. Unfortunately, the prevalence of body armor means that stabbing someone in the heart, kidneys, or subclavian, isn’t a realistic option much of the time (as with NODs/thermals, I ALWAYS operate under the assumption the other dude will be wearing body armor). Our selection of targeting points is limited by the protection offered by the armor. Realistically, this means we’re looking at the throat and the groin as targets.

(Important reminder: I’ve never killed anyone with a knife. This is portion of the article is predicated on training and a basic understanding of human anatomy and physiology…)

For sentry neutralization with the knife, the most secure way of attacking the throat is a stab inward to the side of the neck, followed by a pushing cut forward. The theory behind this is that you’ll penetrate the carotid artery and/or the jugular vein during the stab. If you happen to miss, you’ll cut one or the other—probably both—as well as the esophagus, during the cut forward. The drawbacks to this method are numerous: a) someone with a cut throat is NOT particularly quiet, as they aspirate blood and air. b) it’s not a particularly quick way to die, meaning there is ample time for the victim to trash around either in death throes or resisting your attack. c) It requires a relatively high level of complex motor skills to pull off hitting a target that small against a resisting opponent, and if you don’t think he’s going to be resisting, you’re a fucking retard. d) The level of complex motor skills and spatial awareness required means there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to stab yourself in the arm as well as/instead of stabbing the enemy in the neck. e) it definitely requires going hands-on with the victim. This means you need a solid base of wrestling/grappling skills to even get to the point of putting the knife in.

The second “best” way of taking out an armor clad target with a knife is probably stabbing to the heart, under the armpit. This of course, requires gaining exposure the armpit, which means a wrestling match. Dude is not particularly likely to remain silent when he finds himself suddenly wrestling against some scary apparition who just appeared out of the shadows.

Finally, you could stab him in the femoral artery, but I can’t even begin to imagine the howling that getting stabbed in “the dick” would elicit….

Ultimately, the knife, while a potential method, is far from the ideal sentry neutralization tool it’s been made out to be in legend and lore.

(INCIDENTAL PARENTHETICAL NOTE: If any of the readership is an established knifesmith of good repute, please email me. I’m looking for a custom knife to be built for shits-n-giggles. HH6 has offered me that as a birthday gift this year)

La Garrotte

The garrotte, or the “assassin’s cord” is another popular method of sentry neutralization, and one I was actually taught in the military. Like the knife, I’ve never actually killed anyone with a garrotte. Thankfully, because I have serious doubts as to the actual efficiency of the method (and no, I don’t care what your sifu has assured you of its effectiveness, unless he’s killed someone with it). Even with the quintessential piano wire garrotte, I can’t see it being particularly fast, and while it would probably preclude the victim from screaming, he’s going to make some noise. The method I was taught involved looping the wire around the neck, turning your back to the victim and lifting him off the ground as if you were going to execute a hip-throw variant. Meh….I don’t know. I certainly don’t carry a chunk of piano wire for the purpose and never bothered.

Unarmed Combat Takedowns

Unarmed combative methods of sentry neutralization range from the fabled neck breaks (if you’ve never actually, you know, broken someone’s neck, or at least watched someone else break someone’s neck with these methods, it’s a fucking fable, period), to the Belgian takedown described in FM21-150, to simply grabbing the dude from behind and choking his ass out. Of all of them, the ONLY one I would put real faith in is grabbing the dude from behind and choking his ass out. Properly applied it doesn’t take very much time, even on a thick-necked dude, and there’s not going to be any yelling involved, in my experience (I HAVE choked more than a few dudes out). While done incorrectly, it could allow the guy to thrash around, simply lifting him off the ground, or falling backwards into a back mount and sinking your feet in as hooks will go a long way towards preventing it (Wait! What!? I need to train!?). The best way to master this is to, you know, train in a grappling system of combatives.

A popular misconception of unarmed sentry neutralization methods revolves around the edge-of-hand blow to the side or back of the neck. Could it work? I suppose. Would I be fucking dumb enough to try it? Not in this lifetime.

Other methods

The other methods I’ve seen, heard, or read espoused as effective all tend to revolve around the same basic principle, applied with different weapons: a heavy blow to the back of the neck or skull with a heavy striking or chopping weapon. The two most obvious examples are a club—like a sand-filled sock (which I have been told by someone I trust that they used in World War Two to great effect) or a chunk of wood—and the infamous Ghurka Kukri. The latter of course, has a great deal of legend and lore surrounding it, ranging from stories of Ghurkas using it to behead foes (including a recent case of a Ghurka beheading a deceased HVT in Afghanistan when it became obvious that they were not going to be able to extricate the target’s entire corpse) to the story a few years ago (since revised to slightly more realistic facts) of a single Ghurka taking on 40 AK-armed bandits with his Kukri….

Can you split a skull or behead a man with one blow from a Kukri? Fuck if I know, but it seems like it would work, and even if you didn’t sever his head, I’d bet good money on the fact that a solid chop, aimed at the base of the skull would at least cause enough damage to the cervical spine to stop pretty much any conscious actions on the part of the victim.

Another tool used for sentry neutralization in the popular American imagination is distinctly more American. If you listen to the advertising, lots of manufacturers will insist on the rebirth of the popularity of the tomahawk in the special operations community. I’ve never met anyone who would admit to having used a tomahawk against enemy personnel, although I’ve known a lot of guys (myself included) who had one tucked away in their gear at various times. We know there is a long history of the tomahawk being used as an effective weapon. Would it work for sentry neutralization? Fuck if I know, but it would be cool as shit to give her hell trying, no? Going all Mel Gibson on the bad guys?

The final weapon in this category that I’m going to discuss is one I’ve heard rumored to be carried by a couple of SF guys in Afghanistan, and used to good effect, although I’ve not been able to track down the source to verify…the lowly, humble carpenter’s hammer. Supposedly, as the legend I’ve heard goes (and I qualify it as a legend until I hear the story firsthand from whomever supposedly pulled it off, or at least someone who actually witnessed it), dude was carrying it tucked into his kit specifically for anti-personnel use in close-quarters combative situations. At some point, he needed to drop Talib boy, so he smoked the dude in the back of the head with the head of the hammer. Nighty-night, for good. (If this is just fable—as I suspect—I really wish it would have been a tomahawk. It would make the story way cooler…)

Putting it Together

In essence, sentry neutralization is going to suck. It’s hard, there’s no sure-fire way to guarantee success or silence, and you’re going to be less than fully equipped for the ensuing firefight if you get compromised. While theoreticians like Poole can discuss his homo-erotic fascination with ninja skills all he wants, the fact is, silent sentry neutralization is probably largely a figment of the imagination. Has it happened? We know it has. Was it as quiet and effective as believed? Personally, I doubt it.

If I were planning a sentry neutralization, how would I go about it? I’d have a buddy team that were expert stalkers. One would be armed with a big fucking knife, machete, or axe. His partner would armed with a suppressed pistol or rifle. If ANYTHING even SEEMED to be going wrong with the stalk, they would be instructed to err on the side of aggressiveness and just shoot the motherfucker.

A Relevant Side Note of a Heretical Nature:

I am a big fan of, if I have to fight, I want a rifle, and I want a bunch of well-trained buddies with rifles. At the same time, photos of the current goings-on in the Ukraine point out an interesting side thought. I’ve seen photo after photo of rioter and policemen armed not only with firearms, but improvised shields and melee-type contact weapons. This came up in conversation with a friend the other night. Do I think you should take up Society for Creative Anachronism sword-and-shield fighting? No. I do however, think there might be some application for expanding combatives training beyond the typical unarmed and knife training. Whether out a desire to conserve ammunition for absolute necessities, to the oft-mentioned on this blog goal of getting close enough that the enemy cannot bring superior weapons to bear, to the idea of running dry on ammunition in the middle of a crowd, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to know how to pick up some other tool (yes, even if it’s a bayonet on the end of your rifle…), to fight your way out. What weapon? Fuck if I know, I’m just tossing out something that’s been in my mind lately. Personally, I’m thinking of joining HEMA or Wurstic and learning to fight with sword-and-shield (not really, but it sounds cool as shit!). This is going to be the subject of a forthcoming article, but I’m still working through my thoughts and theories on the subject…while scouring my hatchet like a good little Ranger.


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  1. Hobo permalink

    Good to have you back… It’s been too quiet.


  2. I am a member of ARMA ( and we take a very physical and martial attitude towards the study of those ancient fighting skills. There are a lot of skills taught in the ancient fight books of Europe that are very applicable today–including a good deal of unarmed and knife combat. Matt Lawson (MACP) worked with the Director of ARMA (to what extant, I’m not sure) on some things as well. Anyway, there’s my plug.

    AK in TN

    • I’ve looked at some of the ARMA and HEMA material over the last seven to ten years, just out of idle curiosity. There’s probably a lot more applicable stuff than we initially think, considering the return of the prevalence of armor and helmets….I don’t always agree with all of what the reconstructionists come up with, but it’s always interesting.

      • Rioters with shields and clubs are interesting but I would submit a stick fighting escrima type skill set might be more useful.

        As to sword fighting well it would be nice to know but seems like the martial equivalent of apprenticing yourself to a buggy maker.

      • Maybe. Ferdinand Magellan comes to mind…But, a dude with even an improvised shield and a baton or edged weapon can do some serious fuck-you damage to a dude with just a club or stick. I have zero use for swordplay, other than the historical shits-and-giggles, “I’m beating on someone with a sword and shield, how fucking cool is this!?” effect.

    • Attack Company 1/75 permalink

      “Matt Lawson (MACP)”

      Do you mean Matt Larsen?

  3. My father is a personal friend of Gil Hibben. If you’re interested, I’ll check and see if I can set something up.

    Stuart Harris

    If any of the readership is an established knifesmith of good repute, please email me. I’m looking for a custom knife to be built for shits-n-giggles. HH6 has offered me that as a birthday gift this year


  4. Great read! Hollywood makes it look so easy. I’ve once heard from a “ninja-warrior” that knifing straight through the kidney creates enough pain to freeze the victim, keeping them from screaming. Something I wouldn’t want to risk my life on. Any science behind that or just urban legend? I personally like the hammer suggestion.

  5. Muddyboots permalink

    Like so many things, HEMA and Hurstwic could teach you to use a lamp and a laundry basket more effectively. Learning to use a staff, shillelagh or spear is translatable, like a good H2H stance for shooting… This stuff has a long tradition. People fight the way they were trained (LCD!) all the Walking stick techniques of Bartitsu ( see Holmes 😉 ) are just saber techniques. Decades ago my Anglican priest, pentatomic ARMY aged pop defended himself and his young son (me) from a guy with a knife. He used an umbrella as a rifle and bayonet. When the guy jabbed, my father parried, butt-stroked and then center punched the grounded guy. He then scooped me up and ran like hell. I learned years later that this was a basic technique that he learned with an M1. When pop went through Dix ( that long ago! ) the DIs were ALL combat vets with little humor. The point is that learning to fight the “old ways” with the old tools could help a lot. I’m not saying to become a fencing master, I’m saying learn how to use a shield(ing object) to your advantage. Or how to use a cricket bat effectivly, or a length of pipe. These are all relatively similar to older weapons that were used for keeps. For current practical example, how do you break the shield wall of the Kyev “Household Guard”? Our tribal forbearers knew how… Boar’s snout with spear and axe, mixed! Nothing really new here. Also, swinging a broad sword and holding up a shield is good PT! stay away from SCA warfare, it’s a game. Find reenacters like Regium Anglorum, or Hurstwic (Bill’s a good guy!) or any western Sallee d’armes that does real Historical European Martial Arts aka “HEMA.” I have personally ended several situations with walking sticks and the like. In this day and age we forget that meat doesn’t grow in plastic wrapped trays and people put it there. The thought of laying hands apon others is out of most peoples experiential envelopes, let alone butchery… Especially of other people. Lastly, you are suggesting that a technique that can be practiced, tested and repeated is more effective than Sifu’s secret teaching? Dat’s crazy talk!

    Keep it up!

  6. Bret permalink

    Your comments on the level of self injury with a knife were interesting. I have an older cousin who happened to study directly with Fairbain and Sykes and helped instruct the first rangers in silent killing. They seemed to be quite efficient at removing Germans with those silent killing methods and my cousin did not mention any self injuries of note. He did however mention that German sentries were very nervous due to their success. Also examine the garotte historically. I am referring to the thugee cult of India that worshipped Kali. They seemed to be so successful at their craft the British had to mount a campaign against them.

  7. What about a katana to decapitate a sentry?

    • That’s a lot of steel to be carrying for one specific purpose…but it would definitely be in the spirit of Sho Kosugi!

  8. Jason permalink

    Great post with lots of things to think about. Glad that you are back.

  9. QuietMan permalink

    The story I know from the ‘Stan was it was a 32 oz. dead blow hammer. I know one guy who carried one, but don’t think he got to use it. Knowing him, it wasn’t for lack of trying.

  10. “E-tool to the head series, MOVE!”.

    Or you could go totally hands-off with The Kill Face:

  11. Attack Company 1/75 permalink

    Did someone call my name? 🙂

    • Attack Company 1/75 permalink

      During my youth I knew a few acquaintances that were SF back in the 70’s. Some of them talked about being at a “H-T-H and special weapons course” ran by Michael Echanis in the mid-70’s (I know… loved him or hate him, he did impressed some of the SF dudes back in the 70’s based on my interactions with them). One of the things they said he taught at Bragg was sentry removal. They mentioned how he talked about not thinking bad thoughts when stalking, because he had a belief that the sentry would be able to sense the attack. I don’t know how true this was but one of these guys (and I not sure if I can remember the whole details since it was over 30 years ago) said that they were taught to think of “happy thoughts”. Anyway, if you can find some of these old guys that went through this class maybe they can explain what was taught.

      • I grew up hearing stories about Echanis and reading Soldier-of-Fiction articles about him. I’ve even heard stories firsthand from some older guys I served in SF with about him. I don’t know what to believe and what not to believe about his legend anymore. I’d like to hear if Dan Morgan or Sparks, or Frank Pinelander or the Team Sergeant had any experiences with him and what their takes on it were. There’s a lot of information out there on him, and most of it is wildly conflicting. The legends are pretty cool though.


      • Attack Company 1/75 permalink

        LOL! Anything you write always gets my attention.

  12. Your note that silenced weapons would rule this are relevant. I think, legal considerations aside, making a suppressor out of an oil can and an adapter that can be purchased online is pretty easy.

    Moving onto primitive non firearm methods.

    Yeah too many archery hunting stories go something like “Champion shooter makes the perfect shot out of his awesome bow, hits the animal just right and the animal walks off to be found 6 hours later and a mile away” for that to be a good option.

    I suppose I would look at 3 criteria for evaluating different methods:

    Effectiveness- Self explanatory. Will the method, if used correctly, offer a high likelihood of success.

    2nd strike opportunity- If the initial shot misses can you quickly strike again. If not before a person made a single sound before an isolated grunt turns into 30 seconds of screaming.

    Utility- Priority would go to items that are dual use and thus more likely to be around and pressed into this rare secondary task when needed.

    In order of priority in my opinion:

    Large chopping blades- Kukri, bolo’s, etc. I put these first because they are really lethal, offer considerable 2nd strike utility via slashing, stabbing, etc and are useful items to have around the rest of the time.

    Small axes, hatchets and hawks. I put these second because they are really lethal but not so good for a quick up close option since stabbing and slashing are limited. They are also handy things to have around in their own right.

    Large knives (say K Bar to silly tacticool bowie range)- You would probably have to rely on a grab and stabby the neck routine. This seems less likely to get a 1 shot stop than the first 2 though I do think the 2nd attempt up close is a good one. That being said these are often the most viable option that will be found in the typical gear of a light fighter and thus the best option available. (I carry a machete now and a hawk/ hatchet in other environments but for field use not fighting.)

    Impact weapons. My concern about these is simply that too many guys I know have been knocked in the noggin with some sort of blunt instrument to have confidence it’s a reliable one hit wonder. Also it is absolutely impossible to convince me that a blunt weapon is more lethal than a pointy one of roughly comparable dimensions (say framing hammer vs hatchet). These do have the advantage that they can readily be improvised if needed, just find a stick or whatever. Better than your bare hands but just barely.

    Strangulation- I really like that you can legitimately train on this and many folks, like you and I, have actually choked people out. I also like that since it only requires your body it could be used under less than ideal conditions.

    The downside is that it is not instantaneous and there are surely more people who know how to counter a choke than reattach their head after the neck is severed by a big blade.

    To loosely paraphrase MSG (ret) Paul Howe “I want to be involved in a shooting, not a fight.” Having the plan be for my guy to choke their guy, even from a position of surprise, seems dangerously like a fair fight. Unless a beast of a guy who is also a professional level fighter happens to be in my squad we will avoid this course of action

    An additional problem with strangulation (not even touching the neck break, judo chop, etc) is that if it goes south our boy is probably wrestling around on the ground with a dude, who is certainly trying to bring a weapon into the fight/ escape/ scream. That means it is going to be a lot more complicated to have the partner with a silenced gun shoot the guy than say if Stalker A has a kukuri or an ax, takes a swing and misses or it doesn’t work.

    I agree with all of your planning considerations. I would also say that violence of action combined with a short period of time between silencing the sentry and the operation being ready to go is important. Example, silence the guards then breach the wall 30 seconds later while a support by fire group is covering them and the assault force is just waiting to move through the breach(s). Worst case the sentry silencing goes loud and you rock on with the mission at a slight disadvantage. On the other hand if the plan is to silence a sentry or two in order to maneuver a support by fire element waiting nearby into place THEN the breach element moves up. In the second scenario if you mess up killing the sentry the SBF element is left flapping in the breeze and the whole operation is totally screwed.

    Stay safe

  13. Thor permalink

    Maybe the “carpenters hammer” was something like this? -

  14. Interesting subject and an amusing read. I do carry a tomahawk in my three day patrol ruck but never thought of it actually being used in a close quarters fight – Defensive or offensive. I have found it useful for woods work. I pray that I will never have to neutralize a sentry but thanks for your article as at least I will now have thought about it. Thanks

  15. CPB permalink

    The above link is for your knife, just check the site out and watch the vids!!!

    And last but not least, its not a simple carpenters hammer, it was a ball-ping hammer….

    • Those are some pretty bad ass looking, ridiculously large knives. That’s awesome, from a strictly, I dig knives point-of-view.

  16. Walktall permalink

    What, you mean all the adventures of Sylvester and Arnold taking down sentry after sentry with their big knives was all BS? Say it ain’t so. I hope this topic is nothing I ever have to do or even think about doing and frankly not in my personal realm of reality but I am glad to be a little more educated on the subject.

  17. B-Dog permalink

    I think the best method of silently taking out a sentry would be to do so while the sentry is not on duty. Since you are already doing the recon (assuming you are not trying to get inside the wire in the next 10 minutes), find the time when they are vulnerable, yet accessible: showering, eating, sleeping, pissing, jerking off, cleaning their disassembled weapon, digging up grubs for fishing later, etc.

    A long barreled .22LR BOLT ACTION rifle with a quality suppressor and quality subsonic ammunition is quieter than an airsoft rifle. Some buddies could not hear it at all from 50 yards forward of the muzzle. Of course, you still need to be dead nuts accurate to actually be effective. Stand-off is still desirable whenever possible.

    • Uhm….the point of sentry neutralization is to bypass a guard, thereby allowing an otherwise impossible penetration of a targeted facility, so while the idea is not bad, per se, it’s also not rooted in reality, which IS bad. And no, in some cases, stand-off is not the most desirable course of action. Can YOU hit someone in the eye at 50M? I’m fucking good with a rifle, and I can’t pull a one minute of angle shot on a moving target, with a .22LR….Yes, standoff is good, but sometimes, you’ve just got to nut up and get intimate.

    • Attack Company 1/75 permalink

      Back in the day, I remember someone putting a .22LR conversion on a M-16 and then putting an empty plastic 2 liter coke bottle over the flash suppressor. It worked pretty good.

  18. Koldsteel permalink

    Great to have you back. Sho Kosugi and ruck the hell on !!! Thats what I’m talking about.

  19. permalink



    • Walter Mitty permalink

      No offense, but can you back off on the language a little bit.

  20. Sam permalink

    I read that a trauma surgeon in a big city said that of the people that die from knife wounds, most die from multiple wounds to the neck or abdomen.

    • Koldsteel permalink

      I can tell you from an old trauma nurse/paramedics perspective, the abdomen wound might kill you from a couple of minutes to a couple weeks out. Even if you hit the aorta, I would think that there is ample time for the sentry to fight and/or raise an alarm. The neck is chock full of vessels and nerves. My money is on the neck personally.

  21. Dbrady permalink

    I love the info you provide. Informative and fun to read. You motivate me to move my ass and do PT etc…one day hope to have enough dough for a class u teach. Anyway great work and thank u and thank HH6 for us too.

  22. Wes permalink

    “Stab inward to the side of the neck, followed by a pushing cut forward” holy shit ha ha, that is gruesome as fuck. I bet if done without hesitation would be effective as hell too. Seems like you could take them to the ground pretty easily afterwards to muffle any gargling sounds. But damn… I think personally I’d go with just a choke because that’s the only thing I’m experienced with, once the lights are out you could always finish the job with a knife.

  23. Brad permalink

    One of my knife instructors always suggested a downward stab behind the left clavicle to target the aorta. J.M., any thoughts on this? Plates don’t usually cover that attack vector, it’s accessible from behind (especially if you are proficient left-handed), and a cut aorta will quickly drop internal blood pressure, which should lead to quick incapacitation.

  24. Brad permalink

    First, sorry to post twice, but there’s only one thing on me shorter than my attention span, so I have to write things down immediately.

    For the “choke the shit out of a dude” method, a Judo style rear naked is windpipe, not blood like the BJJ kind. My first judo instructor, a red/white that actually trained at the Kodakan, said that if you set in the rear naked, kuzushi him backwards, and then belly flop to the mat, his neck will break in an elongation move.

    If anyone reading this comment gets a chance to do that, please post the results here, I’ve always been curious about it.

    • The Army used to teach that. Perhaps they still do. I’d never rely on it…and I’ve been doing judo a LONG time.

      • Brad permalink

        Fair enough, scratch that one from the “Sentry Neutralization” list, but move it into the “Quisling Neutralization” list to save ammo and satisfy your curiosity.

  25. hill, jack permalink

    Thank you. While we were “taught” sentry removal in the corps, i was glad it was not needed in SEA. And thank you for your insight on this as well as your interesting and, maybe life preserving instructions.

  26. SplitHoof permalink

    After treating quite a few knife and gunshot wounds on the civilian side in a large, gang-infested shit-hole city, I have seen a number of solid attempts to penetrate necks, throats, and torso’s with a variety of bladed weapons. Many folks make quite a bit of noise from thrashing around, attempting to fight back, or just plain escape. I watched an older woman slither on her back across a residential street with a 10″ carving knife penetrating through from side to side, and despite a partially severed windpipe actually survived. Lots of bright red blood too.
    I would ponder that the best way to remove a sentry is done by two teammates, one grabs and attempts to take down while the other injects a healthy dose of morphine or two in the groin or stabs prison style. Unconventional, but worth considering.
    I keep a tomahawk as an extrication/breakout tool in the center console of each vehicle; could be used as a weapon if my sidearm goes away.

    • the fukkn A-team permalink

      I’ve been on the recieving end of one of those 10″ Rambo saw-toothed survival knives “on the civilian side in a large, gang-infested shit-hole city” back in the day. I was stuck at the rear of the left armpit and it penetrated about an inch before I reacted and deflected the blow from entering any deeper. Had I not been drinking, it wouldn’t have got me at all. Using a knife is a crap-shoot.

  27. I emailed this guy about his Knives / combat swords- never heard back from him. He makes some pretty nice looking swords. If I had the $$ I would pick the two handed Abaddon Tactical Sword. Put Tactical in front of anything and it is much cooler, plus chicks dig it.

    P.S. kinda feel let down JM, no poison dart blow guns, WTF -Over ?

  28. John permalink

    My grandfather told me stories about his time in Korea…they would use the 10″ long bayonet from their M1 Garand and stab downward between the clavicle and scapula to reach the heart. On more than one occasion he showed me the effectiveness of this method when killing domestic hogs(400lbs. and up) on his farm…though the mechanics are slightly different. It seems that this method would also bypass many common body armors.

  29. James permalink

    No mention of the DeLisle carbine?

  30. Matt in K.C. permalink

    For an example of an attack with hammers see the below link. The damage to the heads and bodies of the crew are horrific, yet they still fought back and prevailed. That “will to survive thing” kicking in. Might want to use more than just a hammer to take on that sentry.


  31. 0007 permalink

    I’ve got an integrally supressed Savage .22. With standard velocity ammo the only sound when shooting it is the clickof the bolt and the tearing sound of the paper target 50 feet down range. Personnly I’d go with a subsonic 9mm in and integrally supressed set up. Decent range and good solid hit with very low noice level.

  32. Millwright permalink

    A carpenter hammer would not be a sure deal. A few years back two local
    rough characters had a dispute at the Quik Trip. One went out and got
    a carpenters hammer out of his truck, went back in, and proceded to beat the other in the head. It did not kill him, it wasn’t silent or quick, but it was bloody.On the flip side I have killed hogs for slaughter with a hammer. It seems mental attitude and the will to live have a lot of weight in the matter, plus the fact that some people operate daily on their lizard brain and use no higher cognitive functions. Watch out for the fuckits John. Thanks for the info.

  33. Attack Company 1/75 permalink

    I will be starting a ninja clan and have everyone work on sentry removal just like in the movie “Enter The Ninja” where Cole (Frank Nero) takes out Mr. Venarius’ 20 sentries in the dark with just his hands.

    How’s that for cross-thread points (ie. clans) 😉

  34. Dennis permalink

    In WW 2 Canadians in Italy would take out sentries while they waited for the Americans to land and take out Rome. Great post, thank you. Question of all the methods you mention, would a 5′ 6″ man really be able to do?

  35. Pvt.Joker permalink

    If memory serves, (for a change) Soldier of Fiction printed an article by Peter Kokalis (Battle Blades column, I think) on sentry removal.
    In this article, the Kukri was held up as the pinnacle of the sentry-removal tool pile.
    The specific technique was an simple over hand chop to the skull, resulting in death followed by serious injury to the medula oblongata, via the delivery of a “splitting headache”.

    Don’t know if that rings a bell to anyone, but it seemed worth mentioning, if only because I remembered it…

    • I’m pretty sure that was actually when Bill Bagwell was their editor for the Battle Blades column (damn, am I aging myself or what?). Kokalis was never–to the best of my recollection–ever the editor for BB. It was David Steele really early in the 80s (maybe even the late 70s), then Bagwell, and then Greg Walker, with maybe one other guy in there somewhere.

      Bagwell is, or was (does anyone know if that dude is still alive?), an ABS smith who specialized in BIG bowie knives (like minimum 12″ blades and shit), and was a very loud exponent of “bigger is always better” in a knife. He also stated–more than once in his writing–that the Kabar was a piece of shit, and the F-S dagger was not a good fighting/killing blade. While I think the dude definitely built some absolutely amazing Bowie knives (if shorts swords are your thing…and they are my thing, sometimes, even if just for shits and giggles), taking his advice on combative edged weapons is right up there, in my mind, with the “never shoot a pistol that doesn’t start with at least .4” and “anything less than .30 caliber is a mouse gun that wouldn’t hurt a flea.”

      (In the interest of honesty though, I must admit, I’m pretty sure I’ve read everything Bagwell ever published, and I own Bowies, Big Knives, and the Best of Battle Blades. I should probably dig that fucker out of the boxes and toss it on the shelves.)

      • koldsteel762 permalink

        Bagwell moved from Marietta, Tx ( home during his SOF column days ) to the New Orleans area probably 15-20 years ago. Don’t know if he is still alive but he made some monster Bowie knives.

  36. Swamp Fox permalink

    A good article on a interesting subject.

    I use to teach this subject at SERE. We practiced it a lot, trained it before every class.

  37. Daniel permalink

    In “Total Resistance” von Dach says the dull end of a hand ax beneath the neck between the shoulder blades does the trick.

  38. As someone who is very familier with cervical spine anatomy, thank you for mentioning that the “ninja neck snap” is pure fantasy. Even if the sentry was not fighting back, it ain’t gonna happen.

  39. blair permalink

    Personally, if you walk up behind sentry unheard, a large ty-wrap or several connected can be dropped over the head. With one quick rip, the windpipe is sealed, the wrap is so dug into the skin, it won’t be easily cut. The sentry will be clawing at their neck and it should be just a manner of quietly easing him to the ground and out of sight.
    You can get them in stainless steel as well…

  40. Animal capture stick.
    stalk to range, reach out with stick and drop loop over sentry’s head then pull tight and back. Mod the stick so once tightened it will not release until released directly.

  41. Dan permalink

    I did take a ‘hawk on OIF1.

    SCA fighting is a game (we joked it stands for Sex, Combat, and Alcohol), but there are chapters all over the place which there are not necessarily for ARMA or the more serious steel associations. Gear requirements are minimal, most chapters have loaner stuff, and you can show up as a newbie and get a feel for the subject without a major commitment. I’ve been involved with it on and off since 1991, most seriously from 2000 to 2003, and it is useful.

  42. I always wondered why the Fairbairn-Sykes sentry removal methods always went for something really bloody and potentially noisy like stabbing them in the neck (although the reverse grip heart stab(s) seems like a good one pre-body armor) instead of coming around a bit with the point (after the left hand does that nose/mouth grab) and putting it into the brain through the right eye socket, then wiggling the blade around a bit. I’m sure there’s room to screw that up, but what’s perfect? And if you got it done, I’m not imagining anyone making much noise with the blade scrambling their brains. I think it would have to be a blade like the F-S though, can’t see using a monster blade to pull that off.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mosby: Some Notes On Sentry Neutralization | Western Rifle Shooters Association
  2. I’m a Writer, Not a Psycho | The Daily 400

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