Follow TV Tropes


Trapped Behind Enemy Lines

Go To

"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. Sometimes they are even intended to fight their way back home.

Common causes:

  • An attacking force was counter-attacked and encircled.
  • A defending force was attacked and encircled.
  • Transport/navigation 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.
  • They are commandos, long rangers or guerrillas who are assumed to fight their way back to their own lines.

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. This will sometimes to a siege situation in case the soldier/soldiers are boxed in by the enemy during an escape.

See also Fighting for a Homeland. Many stories with this will follow a basic plot of The Homeward Journey for the soldiers trapped as they will usually be attempting to get to safety. When the stranded individual is a spy rather than a soldier, it's Trapped Undercover.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • The first half of Mobile Suit Gundam revolves around the heroes’ Cool Ship, carrying refugees and Super Prototypes alike, making landfall deep within Zeon-controlled territory on Earth when their re-entry from space is sabotaged, and fighting off constant attacks as they try to reach Earth Federation lines.

    Comic Books 

     Comic Strips 
  • 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).

    Fan Works 
  • A Crown of Stars: In chapter 45 Asuka and Shinji's military force was being transported through a portal when it got shut down. The two of them, their friends and a little fraction of what was supposed to be a huge military force were cut off in the middle of enemy territory with no way to return or ask for reinforcements. Everybody decided to fight despite the odds and fulfill their mission.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • '71 is about a British Army recruit getting separated from his unit and lost in Belfast during The Troubles.
  • Bat*21
  • Battleground (1949) is about American soldiers besieged in Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.
  • Behind Enemy Lines and its sequels.
  • Black Hawk Down - Based on Real Life.
  • A Bridge Too Far - Based on Real Life. The Allied paratroopers who capture Arnhem are cut off, and eventually forced to surrender, when the ground advance that was supposed to meet them can't make it.
  • Centurion
  • Desperate Journey : An Allied bomber is shot down over Nazi-occupied Poland. The crew has to go on a long, well, desperate journey all the way across Nazi German, trying to avoid capture and possible execution.
  • In Eastern Condors, a squad of Boxed Crooks is dropped behind enemy lines in Vietnam to provide a distraction while an elite special ops team infilrates and destroys a weapons cache. However, the plane carrying the special ops team is shot down: a fact the Condors don't learn until after they jumped. Now their only hope for extraction is to complete the original mission.
  • Flight of the Intruder, both the book and the movie.
  • The Long And The Short And The Tall began as an atmospheric stage play, centering on the tensions and and in-fighting among a British Army unit that realises it has been by-passed by the Japanese advance, and is now a long way behind Jap lines. The film was released in 1961.
  • The Lost Battalion features the eponymous unit of American soldiers surrounded by the Germans in the Argonne Forest.
  • The German film Stalingrad (1993), where an entire German army is encircled and trapped inside Stalingrad by a Soviet double-envelopment offensive from both flanks. Based on Real Life.
  • The Warriors is about a gang trying to run through rival gang territory back to their home turf while all of New York City's gangs are gunning for them.
  • The Wild Geese: a group of mercenaries is sent to Africa to free a captured rebel leader. After they succeed, their patron cuts a deal with the local government, cancels their transport home and abandons them to their fate.

  • Xenophon's Anabasis (on which The Warriors is loosely based), making this at least Older Than Feudalism. The alternate English title for the book, “The March Upcountry”, is another common name for this trope.
    • Also Andre Norton's novel Star Guard (1955)
    • 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.
  • Author Harold Coyle seems to enjoy this trope:
    • The Ten Thousand, another modern day retelling of Anabasis, involving a US armored corps that suddenly finds itself deep in enemy territory when a resurgent Germany turns hostile.
    • Team Yankee at one point sees the eponymous team defending a hill behind Soviet lines when its plan of attack goes drastically awry.
    • Gods Children, while not having a front line in the traditional sense, sees the infantry platoon at the center of the story cut off from other friendly units and forced to fend for itself.
  • 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 exaggerates 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.
  • Much of the story of Rats, Bats and Vats is a squad's worth of conscripts accidentally getting left behind when their section of the line collapses. Amusingly, since they are no longer being micromanaged by their incompetent officers or being forced to adhere to their army's ineffective doctrine, they are actually more effective while cut off behind the lines than they were before, and proceed to blow a gap into the enemy's defenses, allowing the first counteroffensive of the war.
  • 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.
  • In The Tomorrow Series, the protagonists are almost always operating behind enemy lines.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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 I 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).
  • Happens in Space: Above and Beyond on several occasions:
    • "Choice or Chance" sees the 58th escaping and evading after their Trojan Horse Chig bomber is shot down.
    • "Stay with the Dead" sees all but one of the 58th given up for dead on an enemy held planet, with the "sole survivor" struggling to convince his superiors the rest of the squadron is still alive.
    • "Who Monitors the Birds?" sees Hawkes alone in enemy territory when a mission to assassinate a Chig officer goes wrong.
    • "Pearly" has the 58th encounter a British Major who has been hiding behind Chig lines long enough to begin to decipher their language.
    • "Sugar Dirt" sees the 58th and 25,000 other Marines marooned on an enemy planet when the Saratoga and the rest of the fleet must suddenly leave orbit.
  • Band of Brothers has a few instances of this, which double as Real Life examples.
    • Episode 4 focuses on Bull Randleman getting separated from his comrades in the heat of battle and trapped behind the German line after Operation Market Garden goes south for the Allies. He manages to make it back, but not after killing a German soldier before he can reveal his location.
    • Episode 5 features Easy Company participating in Operation Pegasus, where they help evacuate a group of British paratroopers who had gotten stuck behind the German line during Market Garden.

  • The Long And The Short And The Tall was an atmospheric stage play, premiered in 1959, which centred on the tensions and and in-fighting among a British Army unit that realises it has been by-passed by the Japanese advance and is now a long way behind Jap lines. It was later turned into a movie.

    Video Games 
  • Bloody Wolf have your commando being assigned to rescue the President and evacuate him from enemy territory, which happens halfway into the game. Then the rescue chopper arrives, but it turns out there's only one extra seat available, so your commando allows himself to be taken by the enemy while the President leaves. Cue the second part of the game, the second commando trying to extract the first.
  • Brothers in Arms is about 2 squads of paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division who are constantly forced to operate behind German lines in order to achieve their objectives.
  • An old arcade shooter, Caliber.50 have you playing as an army chopper pilot whose chopper gets shot down in the middle of hostile territory. You then remove the Cal. 50 machine-gun from your downed transport (see the title?) and began shooting your way out.
  • Last Train Home: The CRPG game is based off the Czech Legion's escape from Siberia during the Russian Civil War (mentioned under Real Life), with resource management in-between combat ops on the way back west.
  • Medal of Honor:
    • Medal of Honor (1999) and Medal of Honor: Underground: Virtually all of Lt. Jimmy Patterson's and Manon Batiste's missions take place deep within German or German-occupied territories, with both of them being heavily outnumbered and outgunned each and every time. Their objectives usually revolve around sabotage, espionage, and the gathering of vital enemy intelligence.
    • Medal of Honor: Frontline: Most of Lt. Jimmy Patterson's missions following the first level are set deep behind German lines, from Occupied France, to the Occupied Netherlands, with the penultimate levels being set deep within Germany itself. Oftentimes, Patterson's only allies are either a handful of Paratroopers or members of the French and Dutch Resistance, providing him with weapons, ammunition, vital intelligence, and even first aid.
    • Medal of Honor: Allied Assault: In the base game, the vast majority of the levels have Lt. Powell, a Ranger and OSS agent, deployed deep behind German lines, often with the task of stealing or sabotaging German intelligence or equipment. At one point, he's even assisted by Manon's Resistance cell during a mission in France.
    • Similarly, in the Spearhead expansion, due to Barnes being a paratrooper and later an OSS agent, he's often tasked with accomplishing his objectives while being outnumbered and outgunned. The two aversions to these are during the second and third Bastogne levels, where he fights in or near American lines.
    • In the Breakthrough expansion, Baker is forced into this situation quite a few times, with the most notable cases being the raid on Bizerte, landings at Gela, the Battle of Monte Cassino, and finally at Anzio.
    • Medal of Honor: Vanguard has this happen to the protagonist, Corporal Frank Keegan and his Squad during Operation Neptune as the result of a plane crash, fittingly this happens on a mission called 'Behind Enemy Lines'.
    • Medal of Honor: Airborne not so much as "trapped behind", but more of "dropped behind". Travers and his fellow paratroopers are outnumbered some 5 to 1 each and every time against the Axis forces they're pitted against, and are forced to fight tooth-and-nail in order to achieve their objectives.
  • 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 (known) 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...
  • Red Alert 3: The final Soviet mission against the Empire starts with a massive paradrop operation, waves after waves of bombers releasing troops at the very heart of Japan's Imperial palace on Mt. Fuji... that ends with one (1) conscript and a War Bear reaching the ground alive. The other commanders try to tell you it's not that drastic, clearly not believing a word of it, and then you need to use the conscript to kill the Emperor. Which he does, shortly before it's revealed it was Actually a Doombot. Then the mission begins in earnest, and you can actually rescue the conscript later, where he thanks you from saving him from the horrors of an all-fish diet.
  • The WOPR mission in Hong Kong in WarGames Defcon 1 have the player being tasked to retrieve a drone unit, trapped behind a NORAD naval base in Victoria Harbour, which players must collect with their amphibious APC and bring back to base for analyzing its memory banks.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Diplomacy, a pre-WWI simulator (sort of): subversion. If this happens to one of your units, it can actually strengthen your position if you play you cards right because there can often be opportunities for the unit to make a mad dash for your adversary's likely-undefended Supply Centers which they can take for themselves. Hell of a dagger to have pointed towards your rival.

     Web Original 
  • 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.

    Real Life 
  • 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.
  • This is the chief aim of Soviet 'Deep Battle' and German 'Modern Warfare' (dubbed 'Blitzkrieg' by their enemies) doctrine. The chief difference is that 'Deep Battle' viewed artillery as essential to prevent losses among the attacking troops and tanks, whereas 'Modern Warfare'/'Blitzkrieg' considered artillery obsolete/unnecessary. In practice, 'Modern Warfare'/'Blitzkrieg' only worked against enemies with little-to-no artillery and aircraft.
    • 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, or suffer disruptions to their rear mounted from these bases. If done well, this can be very effective—for example, the Demyansk pocket during World War 2 and Na San during the French War in Indochina, as well as innumerable "firebases" in various counterinsurgency campaigns. 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. the Germans at Stalingrad and Tunis and the French at Dien Bien Phu, all of which were originally envisioned as giant hedgehogs supplied by air that became disasters eventually.
  • 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).
  • This is the basis of the 28th Stratagem: to lure the enemy into dangerous terrain, cut off his support lines, and take away the ladder once he has ascended to the roof. There are consequences, though; if he invokes Pity the Kidnapper, your forces will be forced to waste valuable resources on him, and not entirely on your terms. If he manages to clear your forces and terrain (which he can also force in this manner), he will likely have allies ready the next time you cross paths.