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Seán Hogan's #2 Flying Column, Third Tipperary Brigade, during the Irish War of Independence.

A flying column is a small, independent, military land unit capable of rapid mobility and usually composed of all arms.[1] It is often an ad hoc unit, formed during the course of operations.[1]

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.[1] 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).[citation needed] 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.[1]

During and shortly after the Anglo-Iraqi War of 1941, British forces employed flying columns code-named Kingcol, Mercol and Gocol. Kingcol advanced into Iraq from Jordan and Palestine.

Flying columns have also been used in guerrilla warfare, notably the mobile armed units of the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence 1919–21.[2]

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.

See also



  •  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 

Further reading

  • Jim Maher (1988). The Flying Column – West Kilkenny 1916–1921. Geography Publications. 

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