Known in the US Army as MOUT (military operations in urban terrain) and in the British Army as FISH (fighting in someone's home).
Urban warfare is very different from conventional combat in the open. Clearing a city full of determined defenders is a very difficult task, as the urban environment negates the effectiveness of many of the most powerful weapons of modern militaries (such as tanks and aircraft), leveling the playing field somewhat for not-so-well-equipped forces that might oppose them. Any building can be turned into a stronghold and pose a major obstacle. Armored vehicles have difficulty maneuvering in tight streets and are vulnerable to attack from above, and artillery and air support won't do you any good if the enemy keeps changing positions, not to mention the high potential for collateral damage. Forget the rules of "gentlemanly warfare." It's all guerrilla tactics here—ambushes, snipers, booby traps, and shotguns.
As an unfortunate side effect of the dirty, casualty-ridden, and momentum-killing nature of the fighting, armies are often forced to simply leave the job half done by avoiding it all together (usually due to political implications of such a prolonged, bloody conflict). At other times, they simply flatten as much of the city as possible before/while/instead of fighting over it, thereby neutralizing the "urban" aspect, and usually rendering the place strategically worthless in the process, as well as being, shall we say, problematic to any remaining citizenry. Yet another option is to besiege the city. After all, it's very difficult to grow adequate food supplies in an urban area, and breaking the defending force's spirit is preferable to a drawn out conflict.
Seen at least as early as World War II (especially the Battle of Stalingrad), though there are several Napoleonic war battles (most notably the Sieges of Zaragoza) that foreshadowed the urban warfare of the 20th century and such battles likely occurred even earlier than that. Unfortunately this kind of warfare still takes place in various conflicts around the world.
Urban warfare is a nightmare in modern times. Even untrained militia can stand against highly trained troops in the confusing twists and turns of a high population center. It is war at its dirtiest, with collateral damage difficult to avoid and a high potential for confusion. Units often find themselves in a confused tangle of friend and foe.
This kind of setting is likely for an action-heavy video game as the aspects of urban warfare's terrain goes from nerve-wracking and difficult to fully control for an attack in real life, to adrenaline-filled and unlikely to stall due to multiple approaches to advance (helped by windows or high floors being much less readily available than would be realistic) from being difficult to lock down fully with a video game's usually more limited participant count. The close proximity of walls and buildings in a video game can also cover up how their weaponry is modeled as being only capable at a much shorter range than they would be in real life.
Keep in mind that a battle for a city doesn't necessarily count as urban warfare. In urban warfare, the city streets and buildings themselves are the primary battlefield.
Not to be confused with the online game.
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Anime and Manga
Gasaraki: There are a couple of scenes in the city complete with urban tactics in full use.
Battle Royale: During the first Program of Shogo Kawada, his class were forced to fight in an abandoned urban ghetto.
Dominion Tank Police is kind of an object lesson in the problems with armored vehicles in urban combat. In particular the collateral damage.
Used, sort of, in Girls und Panzer where the tight city streets of an evacuated urban area are used by Oarai to even the odds for their outnumbered and outgunned team in their first and last matches.
Many comic books based on WWII have urban combat scenes.
The Siege of Crassus begins with a four day battle outside the city. When the Covenant Loyalists breach the city on the fifth day, one of the characters realizes that none of that prepared him for "the horrors of urban warfare".
Unsurprisingly, the German war movie Stalingrad, named for one of the most brutal urban battles in history. And the Russian film with the same title, which naturally focuses more on the Russian experience defending Stalingrad.
A Bridge Too Far: Features the British attempting to hold on to the town of Arnhem during Operation: Market Garden.
The German 1960s film Die Brücke (The Bridge) has a group of Hitler Youth defending a strategically unimportant bridge against American tanks. They manage to hold off multiple Shermans for 24 hours with little more than a day of professional training. Sure, all but one tragically die, but it does prove how much urban warfare can differ from conventional combat.
All of Battle: Los Angeles takes place in the streets and buildings of Los Angeles during an Alien Invasion. Many of the traditional problems of urban warfare are omnipresent; multiple times the human soldiers are taking fire from unknown directions, the buildings herd them into lines of fire and killboxes, they have to take rooftops to get clear lines of sight, and combat damage destroys roadways and limits mobility. The urban terrain is eventually used to the humans' advantage later on, with them using the sewage systems to sneak up on an alien installation and the broken landscape as cover while holding a position against an attack.
In the Worldwar series by Harry Turtledove Sam Yeager remarks that during WWI, he thought trenches were the worst and most nightmarish place to fight possible, but after a taste of city fighting, he's not so sure anymore.
Harry Turtledove provides another example of this in the Timeline-191 series, with the Battle of Pittsburgh. It's modeled after the Real Life Battle of Stalingrad.
Red Storm Rising sees the Battle of Alfeld turn into this. To make things worse, the civilians weren't done evacuating when the 20th Guards Tank Division rolls into town complete with trademark Soviet artillery spam, making the battle an absolutely confused and very bloody mess. Relatively unusual example of the trope in that it involved large-scale tank-on-tank combat within the confines of the city.
Beachwalker takes place in the middle of a war between an unnamed army and similarly unnamed rebellion. The protagonist is forced to dodge firefights in the streets of her hometown several times.
The final book of The Hunger Games (Mockingjay) features this heavily as rebel forces from the former districts attack the Capitol. The Capitol defenses include pods which can spawn any type of horror such as mutated creatures to automatic weapons fire.
There are several instances of this in the Belisarius Series including the suppression of the revolts in Constantinople and Alexandria, Belisarius' stand in Charax, and Damadora's final conquest of Kausumbi. In the last case there was little resistance, though the stand of Damadora's and Rana Sanga's families against the Malwa is a miniature version.
In the Star Wars Expanded Universe novel Star by Star, the newly-minted EliteMecha-Mooks, the YVH or Yuuzhan Vong Hunter droids, are demonstrated excelling at a variety of combat situations in a mocked-up city. This is given a darker Call Back later in the novel, when a Jedi strike team discovers that the Yuuzhan Vong's own secret weapons, the Hero Killervoxyn, were trained under similar circumstances. In the cramped quarters of the city proving grounds, the Vong ambush the Jedi party, leading to their first (living) casualties and devastating the invaders' morale.
Firefly had a flashback to an urban battle, the main setpiece appearing to be the ruins of a Buddhist temple.
Warhammer 40,000 has a supplement rule book just for urban combat. Cities of Death. Also, all of the urban terrain sold by Games Workshop for Warhammer 40K is imperial buildings, of which about 1/4 of the parts are used to show where the building took a direct artillery round.
The Mordheim and Necromunda supplements, for Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40k respectively, are all about small squads of troops fighting in cramped, run-down cityscapes.
Urban environments are available in BattleTech. Being based on Humongous Mecha warfare, it's a fairly messy affair. For example, if there's an enemy hiding behind a building, you have several options. The most common is to walk around the building, or climb/jump on top of it. If you have enough firepower, you can simply demolish the building to get at the enemy. Or, simply plow your 'Mech through the building and tackle the enemy.
Monsterpocalypse takes this to Kaiju levels, opposing monsters fight each other in urban areas with lots of buildings, and they can demolish buildings by tossing each other at them.
Several classic tabletop wargames, notably Simulations Publications Inc, Sniper. As well as any of the few Tactical level siege simulations(siege games are rare because there is little maneuvering and the gadgeteering which can actually be quite interesting is hard to simulate)once the wall is breeched; Avalon Hill's Siege of Jerusalem(about the Jewish Revolts) for instance has a city map which allows quite a bit of space for Urban Warfare.
Several standard enemies in the New World of Darkness, including most mortal factions that the player is likely to run afoul of (Police, SWAT, Paramilitary groups, and Hunters) are specifically designed around this, with standard gear and skills based around coordination, exploitation of urban terrain, and covering each other with firearms at all times. This is a big part of why the New Wo D has a "soft" masquerade rather than a "hard" masquerade: in the old Wo D you kept the secret basically because your fellow vampires/mages/werewolves told you to, and would kick you around for breaking it. In the new version, you don't reveal your supernatural nature because the humans can and will get a posse together to hunt you house to house, use tactics to prevent your escape, and then shoot you until you stop twitching the moment you become a verifiable threat.
Seen in the first chapter of Metal Gear Solid 4. Depending on your perspective, a few examples in chapters 2 and 3 as well.
Represented in the Hearts of Iron series by incredible negative combat modifiers and high attrition from attacking an "Urban" province. Most brigade types suffer heavy combat penalties, with armor and artillery taking the worst, while infantry take the least. Adding combat engineers to a division greatly reduces the penalties. As an added bit of unpleasantness associated with urban environments, most such provinces also count towards victory points, meaning that in order to force a country to surrender, you have to take them. The only real way to take urban environments without a costly battle is to surround them, cut them off from supply, and let the defenders break down, but that takes quite a while, as a division can hold out up to thirty days if fully supplied before they are cut off, and still take time to break while being attacked.
Nintendo Wars:Cities(and bases) are tied with mountains for cover rating, meaning that any unit placed on one has takes far less damage. Add onto this that units on friendly cities are substantially healed every turn, mix in some artillery, and battles to capture cities can become very bloody.
The end of Mass Effect 3 takes place in mostly-destroyed London, with brutal fighting from building to building trying to clear the streets for vehicles to get through.
Assaulting a city in the Total War games leads to the medieval version of this, and is suitably bloody even after taking the walls. The narrow streets and limited routes available render the classic field tactics of flanking and cavalry charges nearly useless, and the buildings frequently force archers to use indirect barrage fire that inflicts a fraction of the casualties of direct fire. Frequently, your troops are stuck slugging it out with enemy soldiers face-to-face until one side breaks due to attrition, which is why heavy infantry is a must for urban combat. Other good troops for urban combat are javelin-throwers who can stand behind the fighting infantry, and light/missile cavalry who can take unguarded streets quickly and flank defenders or fire over your troops' heads. Another good option, when used properly, are pikemen or other long polearm units, as the city streets force enemy units to take on the pikes head-on.
In the games that allow for the garrisoning of buildings, dislodging an enemy unit from the building can extremely hard and even elite units will suffer loses when assaulting the building. It is usually preferable to bring in canons and bombard the building till the defenders have to abandon it.
Urban combat is frequent in Fallout 3 when you're roaming the streets of Washington DC. Super Mutants, Raiders, Talon Company mercenaries, and eventually the Enclave love to engage you from overhead cover in the bombed-out buildings. The outskirts of DC also have their share of urban combat, and the few decent-sized ruined towns in the Wasteland itself feature this as well. The Pitt DLC also has this in the ruins of Pittsburgh.
Fallout: New Vegas has far less urbanized warfare going on, as the only heavily built-up areas are around New Vegas itself, and that area is well-secured by Mr. House's Securitrons and the New California Republic. Nonetheless, the ruined urban area west of Camp McCarren is overrun by the drugged-out Fiend raiders, and provides some fairly vicious urban combat if you go after their leaders and the Vault housing them.
The MechWarrior series often provides urban levels. In Living Legends, urban levels are brutal meat-grinders; battlearmor turn from minor nuisances to Demonic Spiders because of their ability to quickly traverse industrialized areas, climb onto rooftops, and in some cases, hide inside buildings, making them very difficult to flush out.
Urban combat in Mercenaries 2 varies from the odd skirmish in Maracaibo to a guerrilla incursion into Merida—both of which are later topped by an all-out AN-PLA battle in Caracas. Enemy troops tend to spawn from public buildings, and the only way to stop them is to risk collateral damage by demolishing these structures with C4, tanks, rockets or good old-fashioned air/artillery strikes.
Xenonauts feature terror missions in cities around the world. Some other maps, like fan-made desert villages, also require similar tactics.
The same can be said about its more famous predecessor, the X-Com series.
In the newer XCOM: Enemy Unknown, almost all abduction maps take place in urban locations. With Enemy Within expansion, UFO can now crash in the cities themselves.
In Drowtales, the Nidraa'chal War sixteen years before the start of the main story took place entirely in the city of Chel'el'sussoloth, and resulted in heavy civilian casualties. This was especially devastating because the rules of clan warfare had been, until that point, designed to minimize civilian casualties as much as possible, but the Nidraa'chal threw this out the window not only through their choice of battlefield, but by also using the civilians as weapons by forcibly tainting them and turning them into demons that they sicced on the warriors sent to fight them.
In Chapter Eight of Eclipse, Eighinn Stossuhl launches an assault in a country that leads into Urban Warfare, where his marines pushed back the soldiers and successfully took out one of the enemy barracks.
Large portions of World War II were fought in cities, mostly in Europe.
It's interesting to note that in the German/Soviet situations in city fighting earlier in the war, such as at Stalingrad, the Germans had superior firepower and air support while the Soviets were underequipped and fighting desperately for their lives, were totally reversed in its late stages, such as in Berlin in 1945. Stalingrad is probably the most infamous example. Nicknamed "Rattenkrieg" ("Rat War") by the Germans, some would bitterly joke about capturing the kitchen but still fighting for the living room and the bedroom. Buildings were literally cleared out room by room, floor by floor.
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the Jewish resistance that arose within the Warsaw Ghetto in German-occupied Poland. The resistance was so successful, even with almost no supplies and after being starved for years, that the Nazis resorted to systematically burning houses block by block using flamethrowers and blowing up basements and sewers.
To further prove the point, the Ghetto resistance in one district lasted nearly as long as the entire Polish military did against the Wehrmacht across the entire country!
The Warsaw Uprising the following year lasted more than twice as long. The Germans responded by flattening almost the entire city.
Knowing the difficulty of this style of warfare, in the later stages of WWII, American forces would often attempt to avert it. They would approach (relatively strategically unimportant) German towns and villages, and before entering, demand the surrender of any defenders. If the offer was accepted, the defenders would be disarmed, a small garrison left behind, and they would move on to the next objective, leaving the village unharmed. If the defenders refused and fought back, US forces would level the place from long range using artillery and aircraft, and move on to the next objective. For instance, in the attack on Aachen, US forces did creditably well, although their opponents fought with nowhere near the fanaticism of the Berlin defenders. Special note goes to the use of the 155mm self-propelled howitzer, in direct-fire◊, to reduce German strongpoints. The Red Army used tracked203-mm howitzers in a similar role in the Battle of Berlin in 1945. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDxCMuQhegs at about 2:44 minutes.
Manila rivals Stalingrad for the worst urban fighting of the war. Intense resistance from the dug-in Japanese was countered by heavy firepower despite limitations on artillery and aerial bombing meant to protect the city and its inhabitants. The civilian deaths alone are comparable to those in the Tokyo firebombing and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and the city's rich cultural heritage—Spanish, Asian and American art, literature and architecture—was almost completely annihilated. The liberation of Manila, one of the few urban battles between American and Japanese troops in the Pacific War, is considered a Philippine national tragedy.
This kind of warfare was used by the Israelis during the War of Independence to hold off the (then better-equipped) Jordanian Arab Legion in Jerusalem. Because of this, before 1967 the IDF had a reputation in some quarters for only winning wars by sheer willingness to take casualties.
In What Every Person Should Know About War, war correspondent Chris Hedges points out that as the populations move towards the cities, so do the battles. He predicts that in the future, there will be more Regulars vs. Guerrillas battles in cities than Regulars vs. Regulars battles on open terrain.
During the Tet Offensive, the city of Hue saw furious combat. Though the Marines and ARVN inflicted serious losses on the North Vietnamese and Vietcong, Hue was virtually reduced to rubble, and over 5,000 civilians died, most of them massacred by the PAVN and VC. The Tet Offensive—and the Battle of Hue in particular—proved to be a turning point for American involvement in Vietnam.
The Battle of Mogadishu, popularized in the movie and book Black Hawk Down, was the modern American military's first real experience with urban warfare.
Not to mention the ongoing battle for Mogadishu between militias and African Union peacekeepers, which have turned parts of the city into what can best be described as piles of concrete dust.
In the face of serious setbacks in rural South American insurgencies, Carlos Marighela wrote the Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla. However, to date urban guerrillas don't seem to have much success.
During the conquest of Constantinople, several neighborhoods were spared the rigors of a sack by barricading themselves in and making a separate peace when the Turks showed up. This was less urban warfare than survival by the threat of urban warfare.
One of the earliest examples of United States troops fighting gun battles in urban terrain came during the Mexican-American War during the Battle of Monterrey. Mexican defenders used firing holes and rooftops to great effect and used the narrow streets to channel US troops into cannon fire. Since the buildings were built out of sturdy adobe, shooting through the walls with cannon and small arms was difficult. US troops eventually improvised house-clearing tactics by chipping down the adobe walls with pickaxes and then barging in with revolvers.
There was a tradition in The Laws and Customs of War as understood pre-nineteenth century that if there was no surrender after the wall was breached, then the invaders had three days to sack it without it being considered a war crime, because Urban Warfare was feared so much that preventing it by intimidation was considered justified.
To some degree, this was simply taking advantage of circumstances. Generals knew that by the time they got into the city, some soldiers would be too crazy to act in a rational manner (and military police systems were extremely crude) so they might as well make sure to remind the city of the fact.
The Siege of Zaragoza in the Napoleonic Wars was an example of what would happen on such occasions when surrender was not forthcoming. The French got in and found the populace willing to continue resisting. The result was a long and costly mess which cost the French dearly. In this case it was an ideological war whereas in the eighteenth century at least it was often just a job for soldiers, and just something to avoid for civilians.
In the Siege of Lucknow during the Sepoy Rebellion a number of English residents barricaded themselves in a school and held it against rebel soldiers until relief arrived.
The Boxer Rebellion had a group of foreigners in Bejing defending the diplomatic quarter against a siege, while the relief force fought their way into the city and rescued them.
The 1915 Siege of Van in Ottoman Turkey took on this kind of character, after local Armenians refused to allow their able-bodied men to be drafted and most likely massacred, as had already happened in surrounding villages. Though minorities in the empire were banned from owning guns, the Armenians resorted to defending Van, a city already surrounded by walls, from the Ottoman army with antiquated rifles and pistols that had been stashed away, and other Improvised Weapons until invading Russian forces liberated them.
During the Texas Revolution, Texian forces opposed to President Santa Anna (at this point of the war, they were fighting for a restoration of the 1824 Mexican Constitution, rather than independence of Texas), besieged the city of San Antonio de Béxarnote Now simply known as San Antonio in what would be known as the Siege of Bexar. The Texan forces managed to seize the city after several days of house-to-house fighting, with the Mexican forces either withdrawing from the city or retreating to The Alamo before agreeing to surrender. A few short months later, the Mexican army would retake the city after defeating the Texians in the much more infamous Battle of the Alamo, where nearly all of the Texian defenders were killed.
The concept of an "open city" is meant to avert the kind of destruction and suffering this trope can bring onto a city and its many inhabitants. In short, if the defenders declare it, they will no longer fight within the city—in exchange, the attackers are expected to simply march in and refrain from attacking any part of it. This idea has pretty much been only used in World War Two—Brussels, Oslo, Paris, Belgrade, Singapore, Manila, Rome, and Athens were all declared open cities when their defense became untenable. The idea hasn't been employed since (for several possible reasons—the Geneva Conventions being expanded, more wars being fought by groups in the same country, wars in general taking on a more personal character and therefore refraining less on collateral damage, 24-hour media coverage of any large-scale conflict imposing major PR penalties for any side caught committing atrocities, etc.), though several cities in Japan are considering legislation that would mandate such a move if they were ever invaded.
In the days of city-states, vendettas would often take place within cities between various factions. This was taken to the point that Italian families would often build what amounted to castles within the city for themselves and their clients.