The Armored Squad

Like many armchair strategists, I like thinking about questions of organization. And this includes examining some unconventional ideas from history. Today, we have a really neat one: The Armored Squad. For reasons that will become clear shortly, I have also dubbed it the “Super Squad” in conversations with Fishbreath.

This squad idea comes out of World War 2, and the question of tank-infantry cooperation. Tanks and infantry are better together, which leads to questions of how this should be organized in order to promote unit cohesion. Some American units organized into Armored squads, where an M4 Sherman tank was paired with an infantry squad in an M3 half track. This gave a tank, with all the armored firepower that entailed, plus ten dismounted infantry who had their own transport to keep up with the tank. On paper the Sherman had a crew of 5, and the M3 half track had a crew of two: one driver and one machine gunner, so this is a total of 17 men.

This wasn’t an ad-hoc formation; particular tanks and particular squads were paired together for training and were kept together. They ate together. They fought together. In the Hurtgen Forest, the tankers took turns in the foxholes with the infantry, and the dismounted infantry got turns in the vehicles to warm up. Training together meant that infantry and tanks were much more intimately familiar with their respective counterparts’ limitations.

Moving up the organization table, we have five armored squads per platoon, and three such platoons per company. There were three of these tank-infantry companies per “Combat Command”, which is another organizational curiosity of the US Army in the Second World War. In brief a Combat Command was basically a brigade sized unit comprised of companies and platoons. There was no battalion-level organizational structure, and this was thought to increase flexibility. So, in the combat commands in question, there would be three tank-infantry companies plus a host of supporting units.

The advantages are the obvious increase in firepower over a regular mechanized squad, and it provides a tank with much more effective close-in protection than it would have otherwise. The disadvantages are on the logistics side. There’s a much larger fuel burden, plus there are two dissimilar vehicles that need maintenance, which increases the burden for maintenance personnel. Where a normal tank or mechanized infantry company would only have one sort of vehicle to maintain, with one set of spare parts to stock, the tank-infantry company has two.

In combat, the armored squad and associated units built from it were very effective. The 5th Armored Division was organized along this model, and it suffered notably fewer casualties than either 6th or 7th Armored Divisions (which were more conventionally organized), all of which were deployed to the European Theater of Operations at about the same time. 6th Armored went in on July 27th, 5th Armored went in on August 2nd, and 7th Armored went in on August 14th. Each division was deployed for the duration. 6th Armored took 5,194 casualties and lost 196 tanks, 5th Armored took 3,043 casualties and lost 116 tanks, and 7th Armored took 4,781 casualties and lost 360 tanks. Combat situations are, of course, not identical, so we should be careful not to read too much into these numbers. But it might suggest some tactical improvements by putting tanks and infantry together for the duration.

We can also see a very similar organization almost 60 years later. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, aggressive divisions driving on and into Baghdad often organized their forces to combine a pair of Abrams tanks with a pair of Bradleys. The force could fit down most streets with the Abramses in the vanguard. The Bradleys and the dismounts provided effective cover for closer threats, or for higher threats the Abramses couldn’t tackle. The Abrams tanks could also use their guns and fronts to breach buildings, which would then be cleared by the dismounts. Plus, putting the Abrams tanks forward meant that they drew the ambushes, and they were much harder to kill with RPG-7s than Bradleys.

In 1944 and again in 2003, the concept has been proven in combat in a variety of environments. To be sure, there is an increased logistics, maintenance, and training burden. But we made it work in 1944 with a conscript army. So we can make it work now with a professional army from a training standpoint. And if the US Army’s long drives with Abrams tanks have taught us anything, it’s that the correct answer to logistics is more trucks. The TO&E should reflect how we fight. And we should train like we fight.

I really like this organizational setup. I’d probably go with three tank-infantry teams per platoon, and three tank-infantry platoons per company. I’m usually a triangular organization kind of guy.

14 thoughts on “The Armored Squad

  1. Checkmate

    And where would the command vehicle be? Part of the three teams, or separate?
    After a lot of reading, the organisation I came up with regarding future armored companies is similar to yours, with a total of nine tanks and nine IFV’s. Where it differs would be: I would use a 57mm armed turret for my IFV’s, to have both some punch against other light vehicles, and some AA capability. And add an extra platoon made up of three teams, each with a breech loaded 120mm automortar and some kind of AA. Such as the Oto Melara Draco with a few Stingers bolted on. (I would get rid of the 20mm and add secondary AT capabilities, such as LOSAT/CKEM).

    The best part is that the three 76’s and 57’s can act as small time artillery for point attacks, with the AMOS serving as heavy hitters (from close range), and create a wall of lead against aircraft (with ranges of up to 6-8km for both the 57 and the 76, plus missiles). The infantry inside the vehicles would have 2-3 javelins for dismounted long range AT (but only one launcher), and two Panzerfausts for shorter range trouble. And the brilliant thing is: the Panzerfaust tube is 60mm wide, which means it can also be used to launch the NAVAIR Spike (3.2 km), thus covering the intermediate distance between the Javelin (5km) and Pzf (900m)

    1. parvusimperator Post author

      Yay links!

      I like it. 57mmm is an interesting choice. And what a fascinating turret design. Commander’s independent HK121 is a little different. How many dismounts per IFV would you want/envision?

      Also, not to totally spoil tomorrow’s post, but the US Army also has thoughts about a bigger gun for their GCV FCS Next IFV.

    2. parvusimperator Post author

      Oh, and yeah, I’d have one of the vehicles in the teams be the command vehicle. I usually start thinking of those as a separate thing around company level, where I actually figure I have to have a headquarters element.

      Personally, I’m not a huge fan of company mortars for a mech-type unit. But to each his own. I certainly don’t object too strongly. They are a part of the Stryker infantry company (great diagram here) and the Israelis seem to love bolting mortars to everything.

    3. Checkmate

      Well, the mortars are the debatable part. I’ve a thing for some kind of organic artillery (because I see artillery as having a major role in near future warfare, due to drones and smarter projectiles and stuff) that pack a bigger punch. A 120mm does well because of having both a big charge and decent precision, and I’m having trouble bringing in a proper howitzer. Maybe something like the older 105 mm Denel G7 equipped LAV-III :
      A 120mm mortar would have less range, but more firepower, and more flexible and cheaper munitions, but I guess it could work.
      The biggest problem I see would be munitions. These vehicles of mine would eat through ammo like crazy. Gonna need some sort of logistics company at the battalion level (I tried to maintain NATO-level tank numbers for the battalion. That would be 6 companies of nine tanks each, per my vision, but I would also add an sapper company for bridgelaying and rapid fortifications, and two mixed AA missile/artillery batteries. The reason I say mixed is because I think the guys at thinkdefence and their universal misssle launcher are on to something:
      especially considering that a light rocket battery with say LAR-160 or ACULAR equipped 122mm rockets, and a NASAMS-2 battery have very similar layouts:
      Thing is, replacing the rockets on the batteries and resupplying the frontline 6 companies even with autonomous stuff is going to require some sort of dedicated logistics company. Which would push the numbers in my super-batalion to over the max 1200. Guess it would be more of a regiment than a batalion….
      Looking forward to the article. Keep up the good work!

    4. parvusimperator Post author

      Ach, logistics. My arch-nemesis.

      Personally, I prefer my maneuver companies relatively pure, to reduce command burden and to try to limit how godawful fuel resupply issues are. Not the only school of thought though. (Related: there’s a chart of fuel capacities here if you need it.)

      If you are faced with terrible supply issues, there are ways to cope. With enough trucks, you can keep things supplied, but you need to be able to keep them not shot by arty. The Red Ball Express was okay at this. In the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, a number of American units were resupplied by C-130s that carried big rubber fuel bladders. That, of course, requires air superiority.

      If you’re going to go heavy on the artillery, I might try either reducing the number of maneuver elements, or assign them to a higher level and attach them as needed.

    5. Checkmate

      Oh, and my IFV of choice would be something like the Achzarit or BMP-55. Basically converted T-55’s, since they are plentiful as hell, cheap, and are already capable of handling the extra weight of armor and turrets. Dismounts….well the BMP-55 should have a crew of three and 10 dismounts, but that seems veeeery optimistic (or could be soviet-style counting, where people are counted but not the space they need to breathe). I would say between 6 and 8. The Achzarit can carry 3+7, but has a strange and somewhat inefficient layout. So I would HOPE 3+8.
      All of the above could also be done with, say, a Puma, Boxer, Namer (though not much sense in using just the Namer and not the MerkIV on which it is based. Commonality is king) or Lynx ofc.

    6. parvusimperator Post author

      It’s a solid choice. I too have my reservations about “Soviet Style” troop counting. Not that the Americans are immune (cf. How many men fit in an M113), and it gets worse with modern body armor and all the stuff we want them to carry. It also depends on what percentile soldier you want to fit.

      Oh, and the old standby of bench seats vs. the newer shock isolated bucket seats. Everything’s a trade-off, of course, sigh.

    7. parvusimperator Post author

      One more thing on this. Love the vehicle choices. Re: Namer, it’s quite heavy, but I’m a huge fan. Also, while it is based on the Merkava IV, they actually use different engines. The Merkava IV uses an MTU 883 license built by General Dynamics. The Namer uses the AVDS-1790-9AR, which is actually the same engine on the Merkava III (and is a Continental design). Without powertrain commonality, I don’t really see only using one of the two vehicles as a big issue. But that’s just me.

  2. Checkmate

    Some good (but pretty heavy) reads on logistics:
    Wonder if the Supacat is the answer to my doubts?:
    In a logistics company, part of a 2 missile, 1 sapper 1 logistics support batallion, integrated into a regiment with my six maneuvre companies (in their own batalion).

    1. parvusimperator Post author

      Woo think defence! He always has good stuff. Looks like I have some weekend reading ahead of me. Thanks. 🙂

      Quite the emphasis on light forces here. Not quite an Armored Squad, but that’s ok. The right answer for that is probably FMTVs/MTVRs and lots of them.

      Supacat is an interesting little unit. What would you see it used for? General utility?

      Also, you might find the Pentomic Division an interesting one. Seems similar to your proposal in some broad ways.

    2. Checkmate

      Well, after some digging, I came to the conclusion that I would require about 6 Supacats to do a full restock of the 3 tank, 3 IFV group. 3 of them would carry fuel, three ammo with things like food and water in whatever places are available. Assuming 2 people per vehicle, that means 48 people resupplying a company using 24 Supacats. Since the battalion has 6 companies, methinks this would require 2 logistics companies. So I’ve split my regiment into the 6 tank/IFV company combat battalion, and a second battalion that has the two missisle, 1 sapper and now 2 logistics companies .
      The number can be decreased if I use something bigger than the ATMP. Using the MTVR I could resupply a tank/IFV group with just 2-3 vehicles/4-6 people. So only one company for the whole shindig.
      The real problem seems to be the rocket artillery battery. I have no idea how they get resupplied.

    3. parvusimperator Post author

      That would depend on your system, I think. I’m most familiar with M270 and HIMARS, which use pods that hold either a six-pack of 227mm rockets or one ATACMS missile. M270 has two pods, HIMARS has one. They also have the necessary winching stuff to help the crew hoist the missiles into position. (That’s what those little overhangs on the front of the pods are for). Carrying the reloads is by truck.

      Some pictures:
      Reloads on an M985 HEMTT and M981 HEMAT (trailer).
      Reloading procedure in progress.

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