Tactics
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By William S. Frisbee Jr.

 Individual Tactics

The Reinforced Squad

Battle Team Tactics

Mechanized Squad

Fireteam Tactics

Platoon Tactics

Squad Tactics

Company Tactics

 

Tactics are of the utmost importance before and after the battle as well as during the battle. Proper tactics before the battle can give a warrior a critical edge when the fighting starts and poor tactics could cost him his life. Good tactics after a battle can prevent the enemy from counter attacking effectively. It can also keep the good guy from getting killed by a bad guy he/she missed or failed to notice during the battle.

For example, if a warrior walks through a large empty field with short grass he is begging to be shot. When the firing does start he will have no cover and while he cannot see that every possible hiding place is empty the enemy will have no problem spotting him in the open. If the hero goes around the big open field and sticks to cover he will have someplace to hide if someone starts shooting at him. Tactics is almost always common sense and this is where most amateurs make their mistakes, they don't think things through.

Tactics begin with the individual and the military doctrine of his nation or military branch. In reality, the individual is more concerned with survival. First (in most cases, not all) is the individual's survival, then (if he likes them) his comrades survival. National survival is not always at the top of his list.

A nation's doctrine on the subject is often a matter of the type of government. A democratic government is more likely to encourage the soldiers to survive first and foremost. Dead soldiers make bad public relations because that soldier has a mom, dad, brother or sister somewhere who can raise a lot of hell for the government.

A more oppressive nation tries to teach that survival of the state is more important than the individual and the lowly soldier should be more than willing to die for his country. This is drilled into the soldier until he is almost brainwashed in some cases.

Regardless of national doctrine however, most militaries do not want their troops to drop like flies when fighting the enemy. A nation wants its military to win gloriously. When a military designs its doctrine, it must consider what kind of troops it uses. Are they smart, resourceful and tough or are they perceived as rugged, dimwitted peasants. Are they conscripts or volunteers.

With this in mind unit tactics are devised to maximize those advantages and minimize the disadvantages. Next, technology needs to be considered. Then maybe logistics and capabilities. Finally, the tactics must be able to mesh with all the weapons available so the maximum effect can be imposed on the enemy.

A machine gun is a weapon that can lay down a high volume of fire on enemy positions. This makes the enemy put their head down so riflemen can advance on enemy positions and enter them or throw in grenades. Machine guns are the backbone of the infantry. The disadvantage of the machine gun is often the weight and ammunition required. For this reason not every infantryman is armed with a machine gun.

The key to winning a fire fight is often fire superiority. Whoever has it, wins because they have outgunned the enemy. Fire superiority does not necessarily mean a higher volume of fire. Fire superiority means that one side has forced the other side to seek cover, in effect fire superiority is fire intimidation. This can be accomplished by using a high volume of fire, or accurate fire. For example, a Marine named Carlos Hathcock gained fire superiority over an entire north Vietnamese company with only a sniper rifle. The enemy could not effectively return fire and Hathcock kept them suppressed because they knew that if they were to show themselves they would die. The entire Vietnamese company was eventually wiped out by this sniper, his spotter and the use of a radio.

Individual Tactics

Tactics at the individual level are as complex as tactics at higher levels. The individual usually has little say in whether or not combat is initiated and is more concerned with not getting killed, killing the enemy is secondary.

Firefight

Individual tactics, more than any other level of tactics are extremely common sense. If the enemy doesn't know you are there he's not likely to shoot you. If he does know you're there and is firing at you, he can't hit you if there is something in the way that his bullets can't go through, unless of course you stick your head up to shoot back. If you don't stick your head up and shoot back he is going to move into a position where he can shoot around your cover or throw a grenade at you.

This is what it is all about and it is amazing how commonly people mess it up. Amateurs (like Rambo) will stand out in the open (believing they are bullet proof?) and try to mow down the opposition. What usually happens is that one of the bad guys takes aim from behind cover and ventilates the 'hero.'

Some other common mistakes an amateur makes are taking cover behind something that does not stop bullets. Plywood does not stop bullets, neither do leaves and bushes. Leaning up against a wall is a bad thing too because bullets will ricochet off it and travel along the wall, about one to six inches parallel. Bullets do not ricochet off objects in perfect angles. Laying on concrete is not a good idea for this reason.

Another thing that amateurs do is keep sticking their head up to fire from the same spot. Eventually the enemy gets a chance to aim and when the amateur does get predictable and stick his head up again he gets shot because the enemy was waiting for him. A professional will vary his firing location and he will look around cover instead of over it because it is easier to silhouette yourself by looking over something.

It is never easy to figure out where the enemy is when he is shooting at you because nine out of ten times he is shooting from cover or concealment and you are trying to avoid getting hit rather than finding the enemy. A muzzle flash is not very visible in the light but at night it is a good indicator of where the enemy is. Bullets cannot be seen as they fly overhead, the human eye cannot track something that fast. Bullets do make a crack as they zip by because they are breaking the sound barrier. This crack can sometimes be mistake for the firing of the weapon. At longer ranges this can make things confusing because a crack can be made by shooting past a large hill. This makes the target thing the shot came from that hill.

It is very difficult to pinpoint one single shot (which is why snipers prefer firing only once) and the more shots the easier it is to figure out which direction the shooter is in.

Also, despite what most people see on the movies, bullets do not make cute little explosions when they hit something. If they don't penetrate the object and leave a little hole, they ricochet, usually unpredictably. Although they lose much of their velocity when they hit an object and ricochet, they can still be very deadly.

The movies are usually pretty good about having the good guy leap behind cover made of dry wall and receive protection. Dry wall does not protect against bullets. A trailer, in a trailer park is unlikely to stop bullets, some of the furniture inside probably will but usually not the walls, floor or ceiling. Concrete stops bullets, along with heavy metal. The type of round is also important, an armor piercer will very likely go right through a car door which will stop a lesser round but an armor piercer will also punch a hole in the bad guy that is much smaller and less dangerous than another round.

Another important aspect of individual tactics is presenting as little a target to the enemy as possible. This is one reason for crouching, or laying prone. An amateur will show a lot more of his body than a pro when firing from cover. For instance, when a pro fires around the right side of a corner, he/she places his right foot at the corner and leans over, this presents a very small target area for the enemy. An amateur will step to the side exposing everything from his head to his foot. Ricochets make it easier to hit this type of amateur.

When an individual fires it is usually his intent to hit and kill the enemy. This is not done by 'throwing bullets' at him, aiming is the most effective way of hitting the enemy. Aiming is also best accomplished when the weapon is braced. Anyone who has handled a weapon and used the sights will have noticed that the sights don't sit still on the target. Even something as little as breathing will cause the aimpoint to keep moving. This becomes even more important at longer ranges when the target is smaller.

Consider the size of everything. Bullets are very small, even a 30mm cannon round is small when you compare it with the area it is being shot at. Bullets do not home in on living targets, they go where they are aimed at and where gravity helps guide them to. This means that it is much easier to miss a target than hit it, unless the target is close enough to count pimples.

That is why professionals do not run and fire at the same time, even with a machine gun. If the weapon sight is wavering when the shooter is motionless and concentrating, it is going to waver a hundred times more dramatically when the shooter is moving. Even slowly walking forward and aiming it is difficult to keep the weapon aligned on a target at further than fifteen feet. Try aiming sometime with a toy gun and you will see how difficult it would be to hit a target at about fifty to sixty feet. Rifles are easier to aim and have a longer range, pistols are the worst and anything beyond twenty feet is usually a waste of ammunition. Pistols are good for close range where speed and ease of movement is important.

A pro is going to aim his weapon, even a machine gun, an amateur is going to spray and pray. Machine guns put out more rounds than a regular rifle, they are not more accurate. The advantage of a machine gun is that by firing a larger number of bullets at the enemy the shooter is more likely to hit OR force the enemy to take cover.

If the enemy takes cover he can't fire back effectively because it takes time to aim, time he no longer has. Of course the spray and pray practitioner might get lucky but chances are he won't. Spray and pray was the method preferred in Vietnam and thousands of bullets were expended to just get one single hit, and that was not always fatal. Explosives and shrapnel scored most of the kills.

Another reason a person will get in the prone, or behind something is because he/she can then brace his/her weapon and fire more accurately. Fox holes usually have the edge of the hole carved out to brace their weapon and expose as little of the shooter to the enemy as possible. Fox holes (or fighting positions as the Marines call them) are not just holes in the ground, when properly built they provide cover, concealment and a brace for their weapon so the shooter can kill the enemy with a minimum of personal danger.

Firing from the hip is also stupid, even firing a machine gun from the hip is something only an amateur will do. Some machine guns, however, have too much kick to fire from the shoulder and must be fired from the hip in an emergency. When Rambo mowed down all the bad guys with an M60 machine gun in one hand I realized that the producer had no clue as to what he was doing. Hip firing is not accurate at all and is a great way to waste ammo. The only way it might be accurate is if the gunner 'walked' his rounds into the target by observing where they hit and adjusting his hold. Walking rounds into a target is only effective if the shooter has all the time in the world and the target is not firing back. Machine guns come with bipods and tripods for this reason, they are not meant to be firing without being braced on something solid.

Moving under fire is also important. The shooter wants to get closer to this target because it is easier to hit him. Running across the open is stupid, the runner is a big target and very hard not to see. Running is fast however and is most effective when the individual has to cover a small distance. Crossing a long distance (like thirty or more feet) is suicide unless the individual's buddies are keeping the bad guys from looking.

Zig-zagging is good when running toward the enemy and he is aiming at you, it only makes you move slower when you are running across his front. Zig-zagging can also be bad if you are zigging or zagging in front of a buddy behind you who is trying to provide covering fire, he might accidentally shoot you in the back.

It is always important to move unpredictably when the enemy is firing at you because he will try to anticipate your movement and aim at where you will be. Shooting at a moving target is not as easy as it sounds, especially at longer ranges, don't forget the bullet is very small compared to the target area.

Another thing that is important about movement is the person should know where he is going before he moves and it shouldn't be far away. Solid cover should be chosen before the person even gets up.

On Patrol

When a unit is on patrol people do not just blindly follow the person in front of them. Everyone has a job and everyone has a sector to cover. When an individual is on patrol it is in his better interest to assume that the enemy will start firing at him any moment. For that reason a professional will carry his weapon ready to be fired, and will continuously be looking for cover and concealment (in addition to looking for the enemy.)

Each person in a patrol is responsible for a certain arc that overlaps with another persons. Before the patrol everyone should know their area of responsibility because they will be responsible for watching that area for enemy activity. The pointman is not the only one looking for the enemy because an enemy patrol can stumble into the center of a patrol, and a point man can miss an enemy ambush.

There are three types of ready positions that a pro can use. One is the pro holds the weapon near his right shoulder and pointing down toward his left foot (but not AT his left foot) so he can bring it up, into his shoulder, quickly and fire accurately. Another ready position is to have the butt stock in or near the right arm pit and the weapon pointing off to the right of the right foot. Again this allows the shooter to bring his weapon up quickly into an accurate firing position. One variation of the first method, is the weapon is not brought into the shoulder but is placed near it against the chest, below the firer's eye. This helps with accuracy and the shooter is trained to fire with both eyes open. The third method is to have the butt stock near the hip and the muzzle up near eye level. The trooper would then be looking over the muzzle and wherever he looked he would be looking over the muzzle. When he sights a target the muzzle juts forward at the enemy and the buttstock comes out and into the shooter's shoulder. This method is best for urban combat because the shooter will most likely be firing over something and the muzzle is already over the object to be firing over. The disadvantage is the muzzle sticks out and can tip off the enemy if he see's the muzzle coming around the corner, also the shooter is likely to fire high initially and it is always better to fire low (because of ricochets).

The first method is the best because it is quick, efficient and during long patrols, the easiest to maintain. The second method can be awkward for long periods of time. Another important factor when carrying a weapon in the ready is the finger is completely OFF the trigger. The other hand, holding the rifle, has the trigger finger pointing down the barrel. This helps because all the shooter has to do is point at his target with his finger and so will the barrel, this is a very helpful method because it is more natural for a person to point his finger at something than to point a weapon.

Professionals are also trained to point their weapon wherever they are looking. This makes accurate fire quicker, if you are looking at your squad leader, however, this is not a good thing.

In a potential firefight the weapons is kept in the shoulder and aimed slightly down (and the finger OFF the trigger) until a target is spotted and then the muzzle comes up, the thumb engages the safety (if not done already), and the finger pulls the trigger. It is usually better to bring the weapon up to the target instead of down because the shooter will be more likely to shoot low, remember ricochets can kill or scare the enemy, rounds passing by overhead are much less intimidating.

It may seem strange that a lot of emphasis is placed on keeping the finger off the trigger until the enemy is actually identified. This is to prevent friendly fire. It doesn't take long to move the finger to the trigger and it gives the shooter a chance to identify his target. Someone who is scared may shoot movement before he can identify it, that fraction of a second might help him avoid shooting a friend. Also, if the shooter falls and his finger is on the trigger, he is very likely to accidentally fire and possibly injure himself or others. When getting up to move closer to the enemy the shooter takes his finger off the trigger for this reason.

An amateur on the other hand is likely to sling his rifle or carry it over his shoulder like a stick. He might even use it as a walking stick. He will aim it wherever simply because he has little or no respect for what it can do. A pro will NEVER aim his weapon at a friend, even accidentally, or put his hand over the muzzle, unlike an amateur who might do something stupid like use it to scratch his nose. When the firing starts an amateur will waste precious time changing his weapon from the carry to the fire position.

Also, while on patrol, a pro will try to keep a low profile, be as quiet as possible and move from cover to cover, always assuming the enemy is watching him and preparing to fire. Amateurs believe they are superior to the enemy and their superior skills or ideology will allow them to defeat the enemy, (or the are simply lazy). Amateurs will also take the easiest route, simply because they have not been fired at by the enemy in a while and are probably getting tired. This is what discipline is about. A highly disciplined warrior will do everything 'by the book' even when he is tired or believes contact with the enemy is unlikely. An amateur makes excuses for poor discipline, the pro may not like doing things by the book but does it anyway. A fire fight never really begins when a person expects it, now matter how keyed up a person is and that first shot fired is almost always a shocker. The transition from surprise to action is the difference between professionals and amateurs. An amateur will waste time trying to figure things out, a pro will be operating on instinct and training.

Something else that can has more importance in a real battle than a 'Hollywood' battle is ammunition. Firearms are hungry beasts and a magazine can be emptied rapidly. Machine guns are even worse. For example, the specs on an M249 squad automatic weapon say it can fire seven hundred and fifty rounds a minute, a belt of ammunition for it only has two hundred rounds. This does not take into consideration that after so many rounds the barrel will turn cherry red and literally begin to melt.

Sooner than later, the combatants are going to have to reload and when they do they will be vulnerable to a quick rush by the enemy. Professionals are trained to reload behind cover where the enemy can't take his time and shoot them. One method used by pros is the last couple rounds in a magazine are tracer rounds. When he fires a couple tracers he knows he is almost empty. Keeping count of ammunition expended is not practical. When a person realizes he is about to run out of ammo he can always change magazines early. This keeps one round in the chamber of the weapon (for one emergency) and he doesn't have to chamber another round. Revolvers are the worst when it comes to reloading. Several FBI agents were butchered in Florida when they had to reload their revolvers and their enemy attacked.

The Battleteam

Two men make up a battleteam and they will never be far from each other. This is very important on a battlefield. First is the morale factor. A person is much more likely to panic if he is alone. He will feel cut off, in extreme danger and about to die. If someone else is nearby it provides a great deal of support because, if the individual is injured or lost, there is someone to help him or go for help. Other factors come into play also. If someone else is present the individual will attempt to mask his fear and in this way, more easily over come it. (This is one reason military forces do not readily acknowledge a soldier's fear and encourage the 'fearless' attitude). Another factor is that in 'tight' units that the two (or more) are looking out for and relying on each other. When someone knows that someone else is doing their best to protect him from harm it has a very calming affect.

The battleteam is the smallest 'unit' employed for these reasons. When a squad leader does a recon of an area he takes someone with him as 'backup'. Sniper teams usually operate in two man teams, very rarely do they operate alone.

There are exceptions to the 'battleteam rule'. If a squad uses flank security than a single man will be put out on either side. However, the flank security people will not be too far from the rest of the squad if they run into trouble.

Firefight

When the firing starts a battleteam should work together very closely. A pair of professionals will continuously be talking to each other. They will inform each other when and where they see the enemy, what kind of weapon the enemy has (especially if it is a machine gun). They will also tell each other when they are reloading or running low on ammo. Whenever a grenade is thrown a warning will be yelled so friendly forces can take cover. Pro's will use special code words to prevent the enemy from understanding them. Words like 'fire in the hole' let friendlies know a grenade or other explosive has been loosed and is getting ready to explode. The word 'grenade' is very similar in many languages and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out.

A good team will also talk about their own status, especially if one is running low on ammo and/or needs to reload. This way the other person knows to conserve ammunition and keep the enemy from rushing his partner who is vulnerable. A magazine can be dropped from the weapon and abandoned but usually they are recovered for reuse. Also, if there are a few rounds still in the magazine they can be recovered if worst comes to worst.

A pair of pros working together is also more effective than an individual because while one is moving to a better position the other is forcing the enemy to keep his head down or fire less accurately. This is called different things, leapfrogging, fire and movement or fire and maneuver, depending on the 'school'. Regardless of what it is called, the basics are the same.

Movement by a battleteam is like it is for an individual. Everyone moves from cover to cover and keeps the distance short. Many infantrymen are taught to use the phrase "I'm up, he see's me, I'm down" in order to keep distances short. By the time the trooper has recited it, he has gotten up, moved a few meters and taken cover, fast and furious.

Two troopers working together also increase the chance of locating the enemy. Four eyes are always better than two.

On Patrol

On patrol a battleteam is also important. While one man is drinking water, relieving himself, eating or whatever, the other man is covering him. This allows the person to take care of business as quickly and quietly as possible without having to worry about the enemy catching him by surprise.

Two pros working together are also less likely to be surprised because they have different areas to watch for enemy activity. Amateurs might have their attention drawn to a stream or animal or something and everyone might be looking at it when the shooting starts. Regardless of other distractions, pros will try to concentrate on their area of responsibility.

Silent Sentry Take out

Everyone has seen a movie where the good guys sneak up and cut the throat of the bad guy with a knife. This is one of the more difficult methods. Silenced weapons are preferred, bows or crossbows are secondary, knives are used when nothing else is available (like in most infantry units). A garrote can be used also.

Whenever a sentry is designated for 'removal' usually a pair of troopers is assigned the job of removing one or more sentries. One man employs the weapon (usually a knife) and the other man remains ready with his assault rifle (or machine gun) in case things go wrong.

More than two people can be used in a sentry removal team but silent sentry removal will be detailed in another section.

Defense

In the defense a two men are usually stationed together. While one man is digging the hole, the other man is watching for the enemy. While one man is sleeping, the other is watching for the enemy (this is called fifty-fifty, fifty percent asleep, fifty percent awake). When one man is placing booby traps or barbed wire, the other is covering him.

When the fight begins the two remain stationary in their holes and if one is injured he has another person present to help him and/or get help.

The Fireteam

A fireteam consists of three to six men. One member is usually armed with a light machine gun and one is the team leader. In some formations there is also a grenadier with a grenade launcher. In US Marine units the grenadier is usually the fireteam leader, in some Army units the grenadier is just a team member.

A fireteam is usually the smallest unit sent out on patrol and the team relies more on stealth than combat power because of its small size.

A well balanced combat unit, fireteams are designed to be versatile. The fireteam revolves around the light machine gun. The team leader insures the machine gun is positioned where it can do the most damage to the enemy. If the machine gun cannot fire at an enemy because of a dip in the land, a crater where the enemy is hiding or whatever, the grenadier can lob grenades into the enemy's location. If the enemy is protected or some reason from the low angle arc of the grenadier the machine gun can provide covering fire while one of the riflemen gets closer and throws a grenade or places a demo charge.

Because machine gunners are a primary target for the enemy the machine gunner is kept as safe as possible (like he does not usually lead an attack). Also, if the machine gunner is injured or killed, the next (or closest) senior man picks up the machine gun and becomes the new gunner. Regardless of casualties, the machine gun is the most important part of a fireteam. Without the machine gun the fireteam is a whole lot less effective.

The machine gun is also manned at all times. If a machine gunner is digging a hole, eating or relieving himself he gives the machine gun to someone else and takes their weapon until he is done.

In addition to carrying their own ammunition, each member of the fireteam usually carries extra ammo for the machine gun. Rocket launchers (like the LAW and AT-4) dramatically increase the effectiveness of a fireteam. A long range radio also increases the lethality of the fireteam ten fold because if they can't destroy it with their already considerable firepower, they can call in artillery, mortars, strike aircraft or reinforcements.

The Firefight

In battle a fireteam, when properly trained and led, is incredibly effective. Armed with machine guns, grenade launchers, anti-tank rockets, hand grenades and a radio a fireteam is the most lethal, single unit on the battle field.

When a firefight begins everyone takes cover and fires at the enemy. The fireteam leader directs the machine gunner to the best position and directs the fireteam to concentrate fire on certain targets (like enemy machine guns or leaders).

If a target cannot be killed by direct fire weapons, the grenadier opens fire.

If the enemy loses the advantage, the fireteam leader may direct his team to advance on the enemy. Depending on the amount of return fire his team is receiving, he may move his team individually or in pairs. He might even move everyone except the machine gunner and once everyone has moved, then he will move his machine gunner (or vice versa).

Basically, anybody moving is supported by accurate fire, whether the person moving is a single person or several, he has people suppressing the enemy while he finds a better position, reloads or carries out some other combat related task.

Unless the fireteam leader retains control over movement, (not an easy task!) movement is like it is for battleteams and individuals.

On Patrol

Each member of a patrolling fireteam adheres to the basics of individual and battleteam patrolling. In addition to those basics, fireteams move in formations. Each formation has a different purpose and is designated anticipating enemy contact. Since it is tiring to move from cover to cover, getting up and down, formations are used. It should be noted that although a formation looks good on paper (or screen) it is not easy to maintain any formation because warriors have to go around objects and don't pay perfect attention to the formation. Also, when the firing starts most units deploy in a line facing the enemy so everyone can fire freely at the enemy without endangering a friend. Every team leader and squad leader is different so there will be variations according to the whim of the leader. In larger formations more can change so all machine gunners are not on one side, ect. In general, the team leader places himself where he can best see what is happening and so control the unit.

FORMATIONS

Unit formations are used to control the unit so that firepower is focused more effectively on the enemy. Formations are also used to reduce the confusion and place order on the unit so the commander has more understanding of what is going on. Formations are used by all command levels from fireteam leaders on up. All formations are not set in stone and leaders frequently vary them according to the situation or terrain. The easiest formation to control is when everyone is in a line, then the leader only has to worry about the first person is going. When the unit is online, the leader has a much more difficult time controlling everyone because everyone is looking forward towards the enemy so they don't get shot. On line, or skirmisher, formations usually look like wavy lines in practice because of terrain, lack of attention or poor visibility.

Legend

Fireteam WedgesFIRETEAM WEDGE: When a fireteam is unsure of the enemy's location a fireteam wedge is the best formation. It maintains a large amount of firepower to the front and makes it more difficult for the enemy to trap the fireteam in a flank position where it's firepower is severely limited. The machine gun can be placed on either side of the diamond, as directed by the team (or squad) leader. In the five man fireteam the machine gunner is kept in the rear of the formation so he can look over the situation and then deploy to the best location. The machine gunner is never put in front of a formation because the machine gun is heavier and not as easy to maneuver as a rifle. Also the lead man is more likely to come under fire and needs to be more alert, the machine gunner, because of his heavier load, usually tires faster. A tired warrior is not as alert as a fresh one.

Fireteam EchelonFIRETEAM ECHELON: The Echelon is used when the enemy is suspected of being to either side. It can also be used when friendly forces are to the side not being protected against, like when a fireteam is providing flank security for a larger unit. This focuses all available firepower to the side. Firepower to the front is only slightly diminished in favor of protecting against a possible flank attack. When proper spacing is employed, this kind of formation allows each warrior to fire directly forward and to the side without endangering a comrade. Individuals are staggered instead of getting in a strait line to avoid getting in line for an enemy machine gun.

 

 

 

 

 

Online/Skirmisher: When the fireteam is attacking, or knows where the enemy is at, the team leader may deploy the team in a line. This focuses all available firepower to the front but leaves the team vulnerable to its flanks. To minimize the danger to a machine gun getting on a flank and mowing everyone down each individual is staggered. While this diagram looks good in theory practice is not this pretty and a line is never perfect. People take cover behind what is available and try to avoid getting in each other's way.

 

FIRETEAM COLUMN: A Column formation is used when the fireteam is not likely to encounter the enemy. It is also used in thick vegetation or for speed. The column formation is extremely vulnerable to an attack from the front but is well deployed for an attack from either side. Two variations of the column exist. One slightly reduces the vulnerability to a frontal attack so one machine gun cannot kill the entire unit. The other one is best used in very think terrain or at night so people don't get lost or disorganized. The illustration shows the preferred type of column. On a road for instance the rifleman and Assistant Automatic Rifleman would be on opposite sides of the road. In the less preferred formation, each member is directly behind the other.

In each formation, the fireteam members attempt to maintain as much room as possible so one grenade cannot take out more than one person and a machine gun has more space to traverse to target more people. Another side effect of good dispersion is it reduces visibility for the enemy. It is much easier for the enemy to see a group of camouflaged men than it is to see one or two camaflouged me.

Also by maintaining distance between individuals more ground can be covered. If the team walks into an ambush the dispersion may also mean that fewer people are caught in the kill zone.

The Defense

In the defense, fireteam members are deployed in pairs, two to a fighting hole. The machine gunner is carefully placed so that any approaching enemy are more likely to encounter him. Because the machine gunner is the second senior man in the fireteam, the team leader mans a different fighting position. This way, if the team leader is killed, the machine gunner can take command and pass his weapon to the person with him. They are separated so one explosion doesn't kill them both.

The machine gun is of critical importance in the defense. Usually it is deployed along the flattest piece of ground so that it can fire farther along that line effectively. This is called grazing fire. The machine gun bullets graze the ground from one foot up to four feet. Any attackers crossing the machine gun's path is vulnerable to this grazing fire, even if smoke or weather obscure the machine gunner's view.

A stake is also used to designate the machine guns FPL, or final protective line. When the enemy is about to over run the unit, the FPF (Final Protective Fire) command will be given. This means the machine guns especially will create a wall of bullets across the units front. Anyone crossing this line will be in severe danger from the machine gun firing as fast as it can. When two or more machine guns use interlocking fields of fire it creates a near impenetrable wall of fire. This makes it doubly important that machine guns be manned.

When barbed wire is used, a roll can be deployed along the machine gun's path. This way any enemy soldiers who run into the barbed wire will be stopped temporarily in the path of the machine gun. Another strand will discourage enemy troops from getting within hand grenade range of the machine gun position.

The grenadier is placed so he can fire into places the machine gun cannot.

Communication in the defense is just as important as in the attack.

The Squad

A squad consist of two to three fireteams, with two being the average. Some militaries, like the French and British call a squad a section. Not all squads are broken down into fireteams.

A squad usually has a massive amount of firepower at its disposal. However, some squads are little more than a bunch of soldiers following their squad leader. Some militaries discourage squad leaders, or any non-officer from displaying initiative. Sometimes even officers are discouraged from showing initiative.

For the purpose of this book I will talk about two and three fireteam squads. With all fireteams armed with grenade launchers and machine guns a squad is not something to trifle with. The reason a squad has two or more fireteams is because it gives a squad leader a great deal of flexibility. If one fireteam makes contact with the enemy and engages in a firefight, the squad leader can send the other fireteam around to flank the enemy. With his squad already divided into teams, the squad leader doesn't have to reorganize or assign a leader, it's already done. Furthermore, the team is well balanced as far as weaponry goes. When rounds are flying a leader doesn't have time to say "You, Jake, Mike, Kevin and Eric go attack their right flank. You might as well take Jason with you because he has a machine gun. . ."

Organizing a squad into fireteams also dramatically increases the squad leader's ability to control the squad. Instead of directing six or more people, he only has to direct two or three, and team leaders in turn only have to control two or three men. This insures more senior soldiers are in charge, more control is displayed and more initiative is displayed.

Breaking down a squad into fireteams is not always practical for militaries. If the troops are conscripts and only serve for one to two years breaking them down into fireteams may not be as effective because they will not gain nearly as much experience to be very effective. Of course there are always exceptions to this rule.

Another point to note is that in some formations, like US Army or British, the squad leader might lead the first fireteam and the assistant squad leader might lead the second. Other units, like the US Marine Corps, will usually have a designated team leader for each fireteam.

When the firing starts one fireteam can lay down a base of fire while the other fireteam gets closer. Instead of having one man cover another man while he rushes, the squad leader can have fireteams cover each other. With three or more fireteams, a squad leader can direct one fireteam to assist another, thereby doubling the firepower at any one point.

Firefight

When a firefight erupts it usually escalates as combat elements make contact with each other along the battle line. Only in the desert or other open terrain can two large units suddenly start firing at each other.

In the woods, jungle, hills or whatever, usually fireteams start fighting and more units are committed to the battle as the commander makes his decisions. Of course there are exceptions to this rule. If a unit is crossing an open area and comes under fire they will have to adjust. A firefight can quickly escalate from an individual firing at the enemy to a battalion, or regiment firing at the enemy if the two face each other in a line.

When a squad makes contact with the enemy the squad leader has to make several quick decisions. This decisions are based on the mission and the squad's capabilities. He must evaluate what kind of force the squad is facing. Sometimes this can be determined by the how many enemy rifles are being heard and how much of an area those weapons are occupying. A lot depends on the situation. If the squad has been ambushed and has taken casualties he can't extract safely, he might order an attack. What kind of attack varies on the terrain and situation. Most likely he will order a fireteam to try and flank the enemy, or he might bring up the other fireteam to help suppress the enemy while casualties are extracted.

Of course he might order everyone to run for their life. As explained above fireteams are independent units and have a great deal of firepower. It is the squad leader's mission to deploy his fireteams in an effective manner against the enemy. With all the yelling, screaming, gunfire and confusion, a squad leader has a very difficult job controlling his squad and maneuvering it effectively. A squad leader can't always see his entire squad, or even his team leaders. Squad radios are a god send to a squad leader and allow him to receive reports and give orders. If the squad doesn't have radios the squad leader has to yell or use hand arm signals. Usually yelling is of limited value because of all the noise and hand arm signals down work very well unless people are looking at him or it is night time. What ends up happening is he has to run around from team leader to team leader giving directions or receiving reports. Of course yelling sometimes works but not always.

This is why standard operating procedures are so important to a squad. SOP's cover most situations and help overcome much of the confusion. For example, if the SOP calls for first fireteam to lay down a base of fire when they make contact and for second fireteam to envelope (flank) then everyone knows what is going to happen when the shooting starts. First team will automatically move up so they can fire on the enemy and Second team will look to the squad leader for directions on which way to flank the enemy.

Overall, the team leaders have a great deal of control and can spell the difference between victory or defeat if they and their team are properly trained.

Some squads are organized around medium machine guns. For instance, not so long ago British squads were organized with eight men. One had a medium machine gun and the other seven had regular assault rifles.

When the firing began, the machine gunner and his assistant would lay down a base of fire while the six riflemen advanced. When the squad leader was ready for the machine gun to advance, all six riflemen would fire to cover the gunner's advance.

Regardless of organization, poorly trained (or led) squad would operate as one big mob directed by the squad leader. The squad might have a great deal of firepower in the form of machine guns and rockets, but there would often be a lack of initiative among the troops.

The Soviets were a prime example of this. All tactics were based on battle drills or standard operating procedures. The advantage of this method was that everyone knew what was going on and what was expected of them. Only squad leaders knew how to read a map or a radio. If something unexpected happened then the battle drill could rapidly fall apart. To overcome this the Soviets used waves. When wave one fell apart then wave two would move in, or wave three. Eventually, one wave would succeed and the waves that failed could regroup and reorganize. This method of combat was great for the Soviets who relied on quantity over quality.

Soviet soldiers were not encouraged to think or act on their own. In a Soviet type military, the squad leader would be nothing more than a fireteam leader with a lot more men and weapons than usual. The platoon commander, an officer, would be the real decision maker and even then he would always defer to a higher authority.

A Soviet style squad is heavily armed with automatic weapons. Usual doctrine calls for the squad to deploy on line and while standing or crouching, advance on the enemy. As the squad advances a high volume of fire would be maintained so that the squad would have fire superiority and their enemy would be forced to seek cover. With fire superiority, the Soviet squad would advance on line with their weapon in their shoulder or at their hip. When a soldier fired he would 'walk' his rounds into the target, adjusting his aim according to where his rounds hit.

Of course the Soviets did not always do it this way. They would take cover and use finer tactics, but because they didn't trust their soldiers they preferred to keep things as simple as possible and trained their troops accordingly. Most of their soldiers were conscripts and didn't want to be there anyway. This is also a reason nearly all Soviet weapons had the automatic fire capability.

Patrol

A squad is organized very well for a patrol. It has enough organic firepower to hold its own and is small enough to move with some degree of stealth and security. Patrol organization will be covered in another section as this is a primary mission of an infantry squad.

The Defense

A squad in the defense can be a powerful force. A squad leader, as directed and assisted by the platoon leader is assigned a specific area to cover. In turn, the squad leader assigns his fireteam leaders specific areas to cover and they assign individuals specific areas as described in Fireteam Defense.

The squad leader makes sure the machine guns are properly placed and can fire across the squad's front. The squad leader also insures all areas of the squad's front are covered by one or more weapons. More details on the Defense will be covered in another section.

Formations

A squad only uses dedicated formations when it is moving to the attack. During patrols it may use formations but due to the fact patrols usually cover large amounts of area formations are not always practical except in certain situations. The squad uses many of the same formations as a fireteam, with one additional one.

Inside the squad formation, the fireteams are in their own formations. Sometimes the squad leader dictates which formations the fireteams will use but not always. For instance in a squad wedge, the lead fireteam might be in a fireteam wedge and the fireteams on either side might be in echelons.

Squad Wedge: When the squad leader does not know where the enemy is he will likely deploy the squad in a wedge formation. This gives him protection to the front and flanks. It only works with three fireteams however. If a squad leader does not have three fireteam he may employ an echelon, or have the lead team form a wedge and the second team follow in a column. Like the fireteam wedge, this formation is easier to control because nearly everyone can see the lead rifleman and adjust off him.

Squad Echelon: When the squad leader is expecting an attack from the side he will likely deploy the squad in an echelon facing the possible enemy location. This concentrates firepower in that direction and provides protection to the front as well. The squad echelon can be used when protecting a larger unit's flank. Individual fireteams will most likely deploy in echelons to support the squad formation. The lead fireteam may deploy in a team wedge or a skirmishers formation.

Squad Skirmisher/On line: When the squad leader knows his right and left flanks are covered and he knows the enemy is to his front he will deploy his squad on line (also called a skirmish line). This allows him to concentrate firepower to the front but leaves him vulnerable to the flanks. Deploying the squad on line is also a good way to search an area. Fireteams will likely deploy in skirmisher formations, wedges, or echelons depending on the perceived threat. The on line formation is usually very hard to control even under the best circumstances and is used only when contact is imminent or searching an area. At night this is a nightmare because people usually can't see the person to either side very well.

Squad V: The squad V is a reverse of the wedge. This is used primarily to protect the rear of a larger unit's column. Firepower is concentrated to the rear and flanks. One variation of this is to have the two lead fireteams close together. When contact is made, the first two fireteams will lay down a base of fire and the trailing fireteam flanks the enemy.

The Column: The column is used when the squad is more interested in speed. It is always easier to follow the guy in front of you than to make your own trail. At night the column formation keeps people from wandering off and getting separated. The column is also more quieter since one person is making a path and everyone else is following instead of making their own. The disadvantage of a column is firepower to the front and rear is severely limited and the squad is vulnerable to attack. Firepower to the sides is good however.

 

Whenever a squad makes contact with the enemy it usually tries to deploy in a line facing the enemy. This way more squad members are able to fire at the enemy and not risk shooting another squad member. When the unit is on line it is very difficult to control and this is where the team leaders play a big role. If the fireteam leaders are incompetent and not paying attention to the battle they may fail to support another fireteam or be completely ineffective against the enemy.

The Reinforced Squad

Most infantry squads are usually composed of riflemen and a few light machine gunners. Companies usually have a special platoon of special weapons like medium machine guns, rocket launchers and mortars. A battalion will have anti-tank missiles and heavy machine guns in a special company.

What usually happens is a company commander will assign each platoon so many machine guns and rocket launchers depending on the missions and availability. The platoon leader in turn, may assign these units to squads for special missions. There may also be other specialists assigned to squads, like engineers, local guides or translators, scout dogs, sniper teams, anti-air missile team and so on.

A machine gun squad (usually assigned to a platoon) has three gun teams, each one with a medium machine gun. The number of men in each machine gun team can vary from three to five people.

When a squad leader receives such attachments it increases his combat effectiveness a great deal. The squad is then generally reorganized to take advantage of the attachment. Like a fireteam leader deploying his machine gunner, the squad leader deploys the special attachment where it can do the most damage to the enemy. In most cases the attachment leader is intimately familiar with his weapon and can advise the squad leader. This is one reason specialists train separately. For instance a rocket gunner training with other rocket people, learns more than if he was detached and training with a regular unit.

Depending on what weapon is attached to his squad depends on how it is deployed. For instance a medium machine gun is not the best weapon for a rapid, moving assault. A medium machine gun is best employed from an overwatch position where it can provide covering fire while the squad advances. A rocket launcher might be held in reserve until a bunker or some other hard target is encountered. An engineer team might be sent forward to clear a route through a mine field while the rest of the squad provides covering fire.

In general the squad leader remains in command of the unit until the specialist's abilities come into play. In good units the squad leader (or platoon leader) will let the specialist do his job and provide what support he can. In bad units the commander will attempt to supervise the specialist and will refuse to rely on the specialist's abilities.

A US Marine squad leader usually commands up to thirteen men. In a combat environment with attachments he can command up to twenty, or in rare instances, more.

The Mechanized Squad

A mechanized squad operates like a regular infantry squad in many ways. The biggest difference however, is the armored personnel carrier (APC) or Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV). The IFV is usually a lightly armored, well armed vehicle that provides a great many advantages on the battle field. It is important to note that the armor of the IFV is not considered the primary advantage. The IFV can transport troops around the battlefield more quickly and safely than if they were on foot. The IFV also provides an impressive amount of firepower to support the infantry squad.

IFV's also allow a soldier to enter combat more lightly equipped because he can leave his non-critical gear, like food and supplies aboard the vehicle. An armored vehicle also provides some protection from enemy artillery and mortars. It makes a big target for enemy attack aircraft and anti-tank weapons. Most anti-tank weapons were designed to take out main battle tanks and IFV's have nowhere near the amount of protection a tank has.

Mechanized infantry were mechanized so they could keep up with tanks. Without infantry, tanks are extremely vulnerable to enemy infantry.

Doctrine frequently varies from military to military, however, when combat occurs infantry almost always dismount from their vehicle. Some IFV's have gun ports so the troops inside the IFV can shoot out. This looks real good on paper, in practice it is nearly worthless. Visibility from inside a IFV is very poor and by nature, IFV's give the troops a false sense of security. IFV's may be bullet proof but one missile can kill everyone inside. Outside their IFV troops have a much better chance of survival.

When attacking an objective, tactics usually vary on whether or not IFV or infantry lead the way. With the proliferation of anti-tank missiles and rockets it is becoming standard for infantry to lead the way. The IFV will either follow the infantry or take up a position and use its heavy firepower to suppress the enemy and support the infantry attack.

If the enemy is known to have few or no anti-tank weapons, then the IFV's will usually lead the way.

When moving or patrolling, a platoon of IFV's will often use many of the same formations as fireteams but will not have designated riflemen or automatic riflemen. The Wedge, Skirmisher, Echelon, and Column are all used by vehicle platoons (which consist of three to four vehicles). Companies will move like infantry squad formations. All basic infantry formations can apply to vehicles because the formation is about focusing power without endangering other friendlies.

Tracked and wheeled vehicles are often more restricted in their movement because of terrain. In a thickly wooded area or the jungle for instance, vehicles are more of a liability and can only operate on roads. Large trees can stop tanks cold for instance and in some areas (like a swamp) the tank will sink into the muck. Just because a vehicle is amphibious does not mean it can go anywhere. Many vehicles need a gradual slope to safely enter and exit the water otherwise they might capsize or get stuck.

Another important aspect to remember when dealing with mechanized units is they frequently expect to encounter other mechanized units. This means that there will be a higher number of anti-tank weapons organic to the platoon and squad. They are also able to carry more ammunition and equipment than a regular line infantry unit.

The Platoon

The infantry platoon usually consists of two to four squads, three or four being average. The platoon is usually commanded by a junior officer, or if none are available, a senior sergeant. If a platoon is lead by an officer then he will always be assisted by the platoon sergeant. The platoon sergeant will act as the second in command of the platoon and assist the lieutenant in commanding and controlling the platoon. The platoon sergeant will also be responsible for many of the administrative functions of the platoon.

A platoon usually has an incredible amount of firepower and the platoon leader almost always has a long range radio and a radio operator. In addition to what a platoon leader (or in the Marines a platoon commander) has in his regular squads, the company commander may assign special units to him. These units are usually medium machine gun teams and rocket teams. They might also include anti-tank or anti-air teams.

Sometimes the platoon commander will keep these units under his direct control but sometimes he will assign them to squad leaders.

In combat, a well trained and led platoon is very dangerous. Aside from the organic weapons, the radio allows the platoon commander to call for artillery, mortars, close air support or reinforcements. In effect, if the platoon cannot destroy a target with its regular weapons (or even if it can!) it can lay waste to a target area by accurately calling in supporting fires.

The Firefight

When the shooting starts the platoon commander frequently deploys his squads like the squad leader deploys his fireteams. In my opinion the platoon commander has one of the most difficult jobs on the battlefield. The platoon is too large for him to control it from a central location so he must move around giving orders and receiving reports. In addition he must move around and try to figure out what is going on and how he can exploit any advantages. He must also be willing to lead his men from the front.

What this boils down to is the fact the junior officer moves around a lot under enemy fire. To make matters worse, officers are a prime target for enemy shooters. Moving around a lot while the enemy is firing at you tends to be fatal. Trivia devotees will note the very large number of junior officers that did not survive in Vietnam. Platoon commanders usually had a very short life span when the shooting started.

Deploying squads is not like deploying fireteams. For starters a much larger area needs to be considered and in rough terrain, the lieutenant is unlikely to see everyone in a squad, just smaller portions of it. This means the lieutenant has to build a mental picture of the battle field and what is occurring. Frequently this mental picture is slightly flawed because of all the confusion. If a squad leader doesn't know exactly what is going on, how many of the enemy there are, where the enemy is at, he can't pass on that information to the platoon leader. As more information becomes available the platoon commander begins to get a better grasp of what is going on and how he should deal with it.

Then, when he thinks he has figured out what to do, he has to let the squad leaders know so they can carry it out. The best method is if everyone has radios, otherwise he has to find the squad leaders, while they are moving around directing their squads, avoid getting shot and issue his orders. The platoon sergeant can help a great deal by going after one or two squad leaders.

Fireteams almost never separate, squads do so only rarely. In a battlefield environment, with units remaining dispersed, squad members may not see their buddies in another squad for hours, maybe days, even though they are not really far apart.

Platoon Basics

I learned from personal experience that while in garrison NCO's and Officers may have several advantageous perks but on the battle field they more than earn those perks. While most of the squad members are sleeping, the NCO's and officers are planning, briefing each other or checking on their people.

Usually, the platoon leader will try to keep at least one squad in reserve until he knows what is going on. If he doesn't keep one squad back from all the firing he will not have anybody to protect the flanks or attack the enemy's flank. Nor will there be anyone to reinforce a squad that is being overrun.

The radio operator usually stays close to the platoon commander. When the shooting starts higher headquarters needs to be notified. An experienced radio operator can pretty much figure out what is going on and report it but usually the platoon commander has to make the report, in addition to figuring out what is going on, give orders and avoid getting shot. The enemy also likes to target radio operators because the radio can call for all manner of lethal unpleasantness like artillery and reinforcements.

Because of his many responsibilities the platoon commander, like the squad leader, usually does not have time to shoot at the enemy. To the enemy, a platoon commander can be compared to a duck target at the shooting range that goes back and forth until you shoot it down.

Platoons like squads, have standard operating procedures (usually) so everyone usually has some idea of what to do in a given situation. However, figuring out what the situation is can often lead to confusion and errors. For instance, if the SOP calls for first and second squad to lay down a base of fire when the shooting starts, while third squad envelopes the enemy everyone knows what is happening. If third squad tries to envelope and runs into an enemy force that is enveloping then everyone is probably going to start wondering where third squad is until third squad sends back a report. At that time the platoon commander has some decisions to make. Sometimes the platoon commander will lead the flanking maneuver.

Pulling back troops that are under fire is never an easy proposition. The enemy will be happy to shoot the troops in the back as well as in the front. Furthermore, if the enemy sees their targets retreating they are likely to assume their targets are running away and pursue them. This can open up another squad's flank to an aggressive enemy and that can lead to disaster.

A platoon commander will also (in most cases) have special attachments like machine gun teams and rocket launchers. Again this makes his job more difficult because he has to deploy them so they do the most damage to the enemy. By assigning them to a squad leader he lightens his work load, or the platoon sergeant can take responsibility for them.

If (or maybe when) the platoon commander becomes a casualty the platoon still has to figure out he has become a casualty. If one fireteam sees the officer go down, they still has to pass it up the chain of command. This can take time and during that time the enemy is not going to be sitting still just returning fire.

The platoon sergeant is the next in the chain of command to lead the platoon. If the platoon sergeant is on the ball and knows what is going on the fight can continue effectively. In formations where NCO's are not encouraged to display initiative the loss of an officer can bring the attack to a grinding halt if it doesn't already have orders.

Unit morale comes into play here. If the unit is composed of unwilling conscripts they will likely remain in place and return fire, or more likely run away if there is nobody to stop them. Soldiers with high morale, or conscripts who really believe in their cause will usually be more aggressive and willing to stand and fight. Well trained, and motivated leaders will be aggressive and use every little advantage to get the drop on the enemy.

For example. A good fireteam leader may notice a ditch leading into enemy lines that is not covered by enemy fire (maybe because the team leader directed his team to take out the person guarding it). He will notify his fellow team leader, or squad leader if possible and then lead his squad as they low crawl through this ditch and into enemy lines. With a fireteam popping up among them the enemy will have to readjust to the new threat and more gaps will open in their battle line, gaps others can exploit. The fireteam leader could also have his saw gunner cover the rest of team while they crawled into enemy lines. A squad leader might send in his whole squad. This is one way major firefights can be won by aggressive action. During one of the World Wars a German squad managed to fight its way across a river and breach the French lines. Because the squad leader continued the attack instead of waiting for reinforcement, the French (Battalion or Regimental?) Commander feared the Germans had penetrated his line in force and retreated when he could have held the line.

A poor unit might notice the route into enemy lines but would be unwilling to try and exploit it because of the many dangers. They might also mistrust their fellows ability to provide covering fire. Unmotivated troops would find a great many reasons not to exploit such a weakness, like 'it might be booby trapped, what if someone else is guarding it, it is too exposed, ect."

It is a well know fact that warfare is about risks. Nothing is ever risk free and usually, the bigger the risk the bigger the gain. Sometimes the risk is greater than anticipated and sometimes it is less than anticipated. Either way, someone must make the decision and carry it out. If the person is an unwilling participant in the war he will be more interested in survival than anything else and getting such a person to take risks will require more than kind words.

A combat officer is usually more educated than his troops. Officers are usually heavily indoctrinated to believe in the cause (like the Soviet military), or they are dedicated professionals. Most militaries have a combination of the two. Either way, the officer is responsible for commanding his troops. If the officer is good he will motivate his troops, whether they are conscripts or not, and encourage them to fight well. If the troops really like the officer they are more likely to take risks for him. If the troops dislike the officer they might 'have an accident' that insures he does not survive the fight.

In a platoon, the lieutenant has, perhaps, the greatest impact on his troops. He is with them almost constantly. The troops will see him inspecting their lines, talking with their leaders, and giving orders. Company commanders and up are frequently little more than voices on a radio, especially on a battle field. It is the platoon commander that frequently gives his troops morale courage because he is the most visible authority figure.

As a marine I served under good lieutenants that I would die for and at least one lieutenant I wished would die. While a company commander might be highly visible in garrison, it was the Lieutenants that would have the most impact on a platoon. As the most senior man, all NCO's would defer to him (even if he was younger and less experienced then them). As professionals the NCO's would enforce his rules and regulations regardless of how they felt about it. As the mouthpiece of higher ranking officers, if the troops didn't like the lieutenant anything he said would not be trusted and that mistrust would extend up the chain of command in most cases. Troops would not be willing to go that extra mile that could often spell success or defeat on the battlefield.

Loyalty is a two way street. Not all officers (or NCO's) realize this. If the troops are not taken care of they will not strive to maintain anything other than minimum standards. NCO's are people too, and if they are poorly lead they will frequently lead their troops poorly (but not always!)

This is one reason it is so important to have good, quality officers. Good officers can train good NCO's and good NCO's can train good troops.

A great deal goes on at the platoon level. Combat platoon commanders are frequently junior officers, fresh out of training. They have a very difficult job and no amount of training in the world can fully prepare them for it, their responsibilities and duties are enormous. Any military with a poor officer corps is bound to be defeated. If it is not initially defeated then it is likely that natural selection will mold the officer corps into an effective organization. Bad officers will end up killed, either by their troops or by the enemy, maybe even their commanders. Good officers will lead their men to victory. Politicians will frequently destroy the a military by degrading the quality of its officer corps. Officers, more than enlisted, are more vulnerable to politics, especially as they reach higher ranks. History shows this time and time again, from the Romans to the Russians to the USA.

Because their presence can have such an impact on the regular soldier this is the main reason good officers lead from the front. By willingly shouldering more danger and responsibilities than the regular soldier, the officer earns the respect and trust of his men. By leading from the rear the officer is all but telling his troops they are expendable and he is expending them rather than endanger himself.

Warfare is more about psychology than bullets, especially at the smaller unit levels. Not many people recognize what a powerful effect morale has on combat effectiveness. Morale is not a tangible thing and is usually very hard to understand. For instance in Saudi during Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield I, and many of my fellow Marines believed morale couldn't be any lower. Stuck out in the middle of nowhere with no civilized benefits, we felt like forgotten savages. When the war started however, we couldn't wait to get in there and kick Iraqi butt. Casualties probably would have dampened the mood a bit but we were fired up and anxious for combat despite a poor platoon leader and platoon sergeant, neither of which anybody really respected. The major saving grace was the Company Commander who was viewed as a tactical genius by his men.

The Company

Most companies, whether regular infantry or mechanized, or armored, have an incredible amount of firepower at their disposal. They cover a sizable amount of area when dispersed for battle and can be very versatile in their operations.

Most companies have two to six platoons and are led by an officer, an assistant (usually one grade lower) called an executive officer, and at least one senior sergeant.

Because fireteams, squads and platoons can vary so much, a company in one army can be completely different than a company in another army. For instance, a US mechanized platoon has four vehicles, a Soviet platoon only has three. However, in the big picture the Soviets have many more platoons than the US.

A lot of companies do not have certain organic weapons, like mortars, some do. This means that the availability of certain organic weapons can greatly influence how the company or battalion fights.

For example. A Soviet company does not have organic mortars so they must rely on higher authorities to provide support. This forces the company to rely on orders from the higher authority and can reduce the effectiveness of that company by discouraging initiative.

A US Marine Corps company does have mortars. Usually three of them. This allows the company to exploit an advantage without having to rely on higher authorities. It also allows the company to operate more independently and effectively on its own. While three mortars is not a lot of firepower, it is dedicated to the company and can provide immediate support until higher authorities can authorize additional support. Mortars also allow the company to deploy their own illumination and smoke rounds quickly which can greatly influence a battle.

When a company enters battle the company commander, like the platoon commander, will hold back a reserve. In a three platoon company this means at least one platoon will be held back, maybe two. When an advantage presents itself the company commander will deploy his reserve in an attempt to favorably influence the battle.

A company without a reserve can find itself in severe trouble if something goes wrong (and it usually will). The commander will have no one to reinforce a platoon with, or protect a flank that is under attack. For this reason, the bigger the reserve the better. Of course with the presence of a battalion reserve, the company commander may be more willing to commit his own reserve.

During a battle, the company commander must frequently rely on his platoon commanders to tell him what is going on. The company occupies a large area and it is not always practical to go to the front and see what is going on. A good company commander will go to where the action is so he can see for himself what is going on. Still, this area may not be completely visible to one man. The Company Commander and his staff deploy to where they can best control and influence the battle. If a Company Commander is firing at the enemy with his personal weapon he is nothing more than an over trained rifleman so he usually doesn't want to be too close to the front.

In a 'regular' battle a company commander could theoretically command from the rear but more often than not the company commander will get close to the fighting. If the company has a weapons platoon, he is responsible for deploying it so that it will do the most damage to the enemy. This usually means breaking it up and dividing it among the platoons, but not always. For example. If the terrain is relatively open and the company is attacking an enemy on a hill, he might put one platoon and all medium machine guns on another hill so they can fire over the heads of the other two platoons as they attack. The company might even be assigned a few heavy machine guns from a higher headquarters.

The company commander has a great deal of responsibility because he has more troops and assets assigned to him. How he fights often depends on what assets he has and what his mission is.


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