Mechanized Infantry Squads and Platoons

Let’s have a little fun with some military theory. How do we define a squad?

A squad can be thought of in a few ways. We tend to think of a squad as a basic combat unit, commanded by a single man. Working out span of command issues is a royal pain. Since we’re trying to keep this firmly academic, and since we don’t have a handy lab to test things, we’ll use a simple litmus test: the sports field. For example, American football tends to put eleven men on the field at a time per side. We’ll neatly sidestep any attempt to be dragged into discussions of a heap problem here, and simply check for a sport example as we work on numbers.

Our sports litmus test provides some nice options for us. Since this a mechanized squad, it’s important to think about the parent vehicle as well. Most IFVs hold six or seven men. We’ll take the lower figure, being cynical sorts. It’s also not especially clear what the CV9035’s capacity is; this tends to vary from six to eight based on configuration. Regardless, our first thought might be to take the squad as the sum of the dismounts of the vehicle and the crew needed by the vehicle, which gives us a size of nine or ten. This passes our sports litmus test. However, it’s been tried and rejected by several real-world armies. The issue seems to be that the dismount element is too small. We cannot guarantee that we’ll always have the vehicle to work with the dismount team, and given the realities of the battlefield (casualties, people on leave, casualties, people off on training assignments, casualties), the dismount team is likely to be quite a bit smaller in practice. We’d have to combine dismount teams across vehicles anyway, so we may as well formalize the organization and give the men practice at working together and rapidly forming up from the dismount.

With that settled, we come back to the question of how big the squad should be. Let’s look at some historical examples, bearing in mind we’ll have to fit them into to vehicles. The United States Marine Corps squad is probably the most successful, remaining a standard 13 men for over 70 years. This squad is comprised of three fireteams of four men plus one squad leader. This is also the largest squad that I’ve found good historical record of, so we’ll take it as a rough maximum. Give or take one or two is probably ok, since we’re trying to avoid stupid pedantry about heaps, but much bigger is probably a bad idea if we’re still going with the squad paradigm of a single commander. The US Army has had a couple squads since the Second World War. Until the late seventies, the US Army squad was eleven men: one squad leader plus two fireteams of five men each. Afterwards, the squad was revised downward to nine; the fireteams now consisted of four men. This reduction in size may have been to deal with reduced manpower in the wake of the end of conscription, or to better fight in vehicles.

Both the US Army and the USMC favored keeping the squad leader separate from the fireteams he commands, but not all armies saw it that way. Both the British and the Germans favored keeping the squad leader as an organic component of one of the fireteams. He functions as both squad leader and fireteam leader. The British Army of World War II featured a ten-man squad, though this was before they hammered out the four man fireteam concept. It has since been reduced to eight, again featuring two fireteams of four. During World War II, the Wehrmacht moved from a twelve man squad to a ten and eventually a nine man squad for reasons of dwindling manpower. They tended to feature an asymmetric, ad hoc grouping of machine gun(s) and assistant gunner(s) in one team and the riflemen in another. But we can note that most nations by now have moved to the four man fireteam, and then the squad is some multiple thereof. The Germans also use eight man squads now, usually.

Why the four man fireteam? Well, we might think about how small a team we can get in combat and be useful. One man is entirely too vulnerable. We can start with two, but we can quickly see that three men is a much more useful standard. More support, ability to work with the vast majority of crew served weapons, plus the ability to take a casualty and still be at least semi functional. Several forces have used the three man ‘cell’ as the basis of squad organization. The problem is that it doesn’t take casualties well, and will force frequent reorganization. Four men teams work better in terms of absorbing inevitable casualties, and this is borne out by the historical record. The Marine squad was originally a copy of the circa 1938 Chinese organization of a leader and three cells of three, but inevitable combat casualties forced them to add a fourth man to each team. More than four likely causes more difficulties for low-level, often improvised span-of-command, and doesn’t quite add enough to justify the trouble and logistical expense. The Rhodesian Light Infantry usually used four man squads, since this was all they could fit on their Alouette helicopters. They found this adequate for single taskings and tended not to remain in the field after multiple contacts, so the lack of casualty resistance wasn’t an issue. Fine for COIN, perhaps, but less than ideal for, say, Guadalcanal.

The question now becomes two or three fireteams, and whether we want the squad leader to be a part of a fireteam. We can see a generally downward trend in squad size, with the exception of the USMC squad. The USMC is still a light infantry force, which is to say they march to combat. Most other armies have to deal with some proportion of troops that have to fit in APCs or IFVs for their transport , and armored vehicle capacity isn’t very good, especially once you factor in all the equipment modern have and the body armor that they wear. So let’s return vehicle capacity.

We’ve opted for the CV9035. The CV90 family is highly configurable as we’ve seen. One of the choices is how you configure the interior. Depending on choices for internal layouts, seating arrangements of six, seven, or eight are available. We’ll make whatever internal stowage or secondary systems sacrifices are needed to have eight dismounts, which neatly dovetails with a pair of standard, four-man fireteams. Given that the CV90 is about as big as a PzKpfw VI Tiger I, I don’t see that too much would need to go to accommodate the seats. As we’ll soon see, this means we can have fewer vehicles per platoon, which is a nice win for cost and maintenance. We’ll settle for strapping things to the outside if we must.

Eight man squads also clearly pass our sports rule of thumb check. One fewer than the baseball grouping of nine is very good. From a bureaucratic/cohesion standpoint, we might want to count the IFV and vehicle crew as part of the squad, and expect the dismounts to help with maintenance. In this case, we have eleven men in the squad, which is the requisite men on the field for American football. We’re good regardless of how we break this down.

Accepting an eight-man (dismount) squad, with integrated squad leader, would let us have three squads in a platoon with only three vehicles, rather than the four that the US Army mechanized platoon has for its nine-man squads. We could conceivably go up to four squads, but that’s a more unwieldy platoon for the young lieutenant. As it is, he can opt to give each squad an IFV, or group the IFVs together in a sort of light tank platoon. Here, he has four elements to command, though he might also opt to reorganize the nominally eight man squads, perhaps into two twelve-man units. Squad organization is mostly bureaucratic anyway. Lieutenants are expected to be flexible and aggressive if nothing else.

Later we’ll get to platoon and squad level equipment tables.

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