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.