Trapped Behind Enemy Lines
“All units must get used to having Japanese parties in the rear and, when this happens, regard not themselves, but the Japanese, as surrounded.”
— Lt. General Bill Slim, 14th Army, Burma, WWII
An elite unit of soldiers is cut off behind enemy lines and has to fight their way to safety. It's usually the result of hubris either on the part of the unit or (more often) their higher command.
- An attack went too far, or didn't get sufficient support from other troops, and the enemy cut off their line of retreat.
- Did not retreat quickly enough from an overwhelming attack, and the enemy cut off their line of retreat.
- Transport failure dumped them in the middle of nowhere.
- A raid went awry, cutting off their escape route.
- Prisoners of war escaped.
- In the case of mercenaries (like Xenophon), the sudden loss of an employer can do this as well.
- An individual version often occurs with downed pilots. These can be especially problematic as pilots are generally less well trained at surviving in such scenarios.
May lead to a You Are in Command Now
situation. Usually contains at least some Field Promotion
. You Shall Not Pass
may be required — or worse, a Last Stand
. If an escape is made, it may be by means of Vehicular Turnabout
See also Fighting for a Homeland
- Peanuts: During one of Snoopy's many Imagine Spots where he's a World War I Flying Ace, he gets trapped behind enemy lines and is rescued by a French girl (really Peppermint Patty).
- Xenophon's Anabasis (on which The Warriors is loosely based), making this at least Older Than Feudalism. The alternate English title for the book provides the trope's name.
- Also Andre Norton's novel Star Guard (1955)
- Also Harold Coyle's novel The Ten Thousand (1993)
- Also David Weber and John Ringo's Prince Roger series of novels, beginning with March Upcountry (2001), in which the titular prince is stranded on Marduk by a failed assassination attempt as part of a coup plot.
- The Ciaphas Cain novel Death or Glory starts with the titular protagonist and his faithful aide Jurgen landing in the middle of an Ork-infested continent, half a world away from the front lines. In Cain's attempts to find friendly forces to put between himself and danger, things snowball until he's cobbled together a small army of soldiers, civilians and militia cutting its way out from the heart of Orkish territory and turning the tide of the whole war.
- Honor Harrington's fate after the break-out from the State Sec ship Tepes, at the end of In Enemy Hands. Followed in the next book by probably one of the biggest prison breaks in all of history, fictional or Real Life, escaping with roughly half a million prisoners and a squadron of large warships.
- This basically takes Up to Eleven a similar (but much smaller) exploit of Horatio Hornblower (of whom Honor is an Expy) in Flying Colours. He brought home twenty men and a tiny cutter.
- The Reynard Cycle: This happens to Reynard and Hirsent after a particularly disastrous battle in The Baron of Maleperduys. Somewhat ironically, they end up having to fight a group of mercenaries that were originally on their side.
- The story of Guan Yu's journey through five passes in Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
- Happens in just about every Sven Hassel novel, including an obligatory scene where Sven and his colleagues find themselves in the midst of enemy troops and either get mistaken for a special unit (e.g. Volga Germans or Foreign Legion), or saved by Porta's quick-thinking chatter.
- At the end of the Wing Commander novel Action Stations, Max Krueger's ship is shot down over a Kilrathi-held human world during a raid on Kilrathi assets in the area.
- One episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has Nog and Jake in a shuttle, inside Dominion space, about to be blown up... and then the Valiant, which has been trapped in Dominion space since the start of the war (because of their captain's ego more than anything else, it's a crew of cadets, one of whom was given a field promotion to acting captain and ignored the common sense/orders to return home), shows up and rescues them. The rest of the episode deals with their self-designed mission behind enemy lines.
- The Polish WW2 series Czterej pancerni i pies had this as a recurring plot device. The titular tank crew would find themselves behind enemy lines either because an enemy counterattack managed to cut off their position or because their mission was to move around the enemy and attack them from behind.
- Parodied in Monty Python's Flying Circus. The "Ypres 14" sketch had a group of World War One British soldiers trapped behind German lines. Since there were five of them and only rations for four, they had to decide who would stay behind and "take the other way out" (commit suicide rather than be captured).
- MechWarrior 3, not so much "Behind Enemy Lines" as it is "Stuck on Enemy's Planet".
- The last mission of Halo: Reach is this. The player character is the last surviving member of Noble team on Reach. The mission is a desperate Last Stand.
- Shadow Company: Left For Dead begins with your employer abandoning your mercenary group in the middle of enemy territory after a mission goes awry.
- Subverted by Tales of the Abyss. It could've been played this way, but Tear uses her "I'm from the Order of Lorelei" card, which ropes Jade (who should've been skewering Luke since their nations are at war) into helping out instead. (And Jade's reasonable enough to ask some questions first anyhow.)
- FreeSpace 2 has a bonus mission that drops a small group of starfighters at an unknown jumpgate deep inside enemy space to explore where it leads to record anything they can. The extraction ship drop from hyperspace exactly 15 minutes later and leave immediately if the pilots are not back by then.
- Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare has the missions "Hunted" and "Death from Above" where the player's SAS Squad must fight to the evacuation point after their helicopter is shot down. Ironically, they were heading home after rescuing someone else from enemy hands. The missions "Heat" and "One Shot, One Kill" also count.
- Modern Warfare 2 does this with the Escape from the favelas mission.
- The main story of Valkyria Chronicles has this happen to Welkin and Alicia after a mortar causes them to fall of a cliff. One of the DLCs has this happen to Edy Nelson and some of the squad after she goes Leeroy Jenkins on some Imperials and Marina gets distracted by a puppy, pulling them even further in.
- Operation Flashpoint : And how ! Nearly in every other mission of the campaign...
- Diplomacy, a pre-WWI simulator (sort of): subversion. If this happens to one of your units, it can actually strengthen your position.
- Happens quite a bit in the first book of The Salvation War, seeing as everyone who dies ends up in Hell. Leads to the formation of La Résistance, with the odd historical character or twelve joining, no less.
- The 1st Marine Division at the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War.
- The Czech Legions escape from Siberia during the Russian Civil War
- And on a smaller scale, other RCW operations and escapes, including the Ice March and the evacuation of various allied contingents at the war's end.
- The Battle of Mogadishu, which was the direct basis of the aforementioned Black Hawk Down.
- Xenophon and the 'Ten Thousand' after the battle of Cunaxa.
- World War II's large-scale airborne invasion Operation Market Garden. It pretty much caused twice the losses to the Allies than the Axis.
- To a (somewhat) lesser degree, the airborne landings during the Battle of Normandy. Due to the transport pilots attempting to avoid anti-aircraft fire (or sometimes failing to avoid it), Allied paratroopers were scattered all over the French countryside, lost and confused. The fact that they were able to rally and improvise (and generally cause massive confusion to the Germans trying to figure out just what the equally confused paratroopers were trying to accomplish), led to the military concept of Little Groups of Paratroopers (LGOPs for short), describing the resulting units as "A bunch of nineteen year olds, poorly supervised, pissed off, armed to the teeth, and vaguely recalling their orders as "Shoot anyone who is dressed differently."" Those troops that managed to link up with Allied forces moving inland from the beaches were able to pass on valuable intel, in addition to delaying German counter-attacks against the beachheads.
- And occasionally nabbing unsuspecting Germans who didn't expect Americans behind their lines. The commander of the German 91st Infantry Division was ambushed and killed by one such group of paratroopers, for example.
- Several of the Wehrmacht's 'moving pocket' operations on the Russian Front.
- This is the basis of the "hedgehog" system of defense, which has long roots in siege warfare, but modernized during World War II with the introduction of the possibility of resupply by air. Defending troops would be concentrated at strategic locations that are easily defensible, even if they can also be easily surrounded. Supply would be conducted by air and large numbers of enemy troops would be tied down and exhaust themselves besieging these positions. If done well, this can be very effective—for example, the Demyansk pocket during World War 2. If the defenses cannot hold, they can be a disaster, as the surrounded troops would have nowhere to retreat and are certain to be annihilated—eg. Dien Bien Phu during the French War in Vietnam.
- The 101st Airborne and 10th armored divisons in Bastogne, Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge. Their success at holding the town stifled the German advance because all the important roads in the region went through Bastogne. They kept the enemy back until Patton's Third Army broke through German lines to relieve them (note the word "relief" is used because no Bastogne defender will ever say they needed rescuing). The defense of the town combined with Patton's attack towards Bastogne from the south were key in defeating the German offensive.
- The Battle of Timor in 1942, in which several hundred survivors of the Dutch/Australian defense of the island (mostly commandos from the 2/2nd Independent Company) fell back into Portuguese East Timor and held out there, eventually being withdrawn in January 1943 after keeping an entire Japanese division busy for ten months.
- The man who trained the Australian commandos, Freddie Spencer Chapman, was himself trapped behind enemy lines in Malaya for over three years. Like the Australians on Timor, he was presumed dead, but lived out the war with Communist guerrillas and wrote a memoir, The Jungle Is Neutral.
- The trope probably applies to commando operations in general, as these troops are usually trained to infiltrate behind enemy lines and conduct sabotage—essentially, trapping themselves behind enemy lines intentionally, with the expectation that they may not be extricated easily if at all.
- The British 14th Army under Bill Slim turned this concept into a science. When cut off in its first major battles at Kohima and Imphal, the British forces held out against attack, supplied by airdrop, until the Japanese - who had not provided for supply - were worn out.
- The rescue of Bat 21 Bravo was a somewhat controversial case of this in the Vietnam War in which eleven rescue crew members died, two were captured and one ended up being rescued alongside the original pilot. It was worse that this also led to a massive reduction in air support for the South Vietnamese due to the amount of resources that were used to rescue the American.
- This was dramatized into the film Bat 21, itself based on a written dramatization of the same name (the main rescue pilot was a Composite Character).