The term is usually, though not necessarily, applied to forces less than the strength of a brigade. As mobility is its raison d'être, a flying column is accompanied by the minimum of equipment. It generally uses suitable fast transport; historically, horses were used, with trucks and helicopters replacing them in modern times.
Boer kommando in 17th–20th-century South Africa, may be regarded as a form of flying column (unlike commandos in the more recent sense). The mobile columns employed against Boer forces, by British Empire forces in the South African War of 1899–1902, were usually of the strength of two battalions of infantry, a battery of artillery, and a squadron of cavalry, almost exactly half that of a mixed brigade.
Flying columns are mentioned by Sun Tzu in his Art of War in such a fashion that indicates it was not a new concept at the time of his writing. This dates to at least the middle 500's B.C.E, and possibly the late 700's B.C.E.
Mention is also made of flying columns in a number of Irish ballads, notably "The Galtee Mountain Boy" by Patsy Halloran and Christy Moore.
- BBC staff (2011). "A Short History of Ireland: Terror and Reprisal". BBC Northern Ireland.. http://www.bbc.co.uk/northernireland/ashorthistory/archive/intro224.shtml. Retrieved June 2011.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911) "Flying column" Encyclopædia Britannica 10 (11th ed.) Cambridge University Press p. 585
- Jim Maher (1988). The Flying Column – West Kilkenny 1916–1921. Geography Publications.
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