Tag Archives: organization

On Split Squads

One of the things that has always confused me is why the US Army mechanized infantry platoon features split squads. It features four Bradleys and dismounts organized into three squads of nine men each. Since each Bradley holds six or seven dismounts, this means squads have to be split to be reconstituted later. While this matches light infantry practice, it always stuck me as needlessly complicated.

It wasn’t always this way. Originally, the Bradley and its six dismounts were considered as a “squad”, with the Bradley acting as a big, tracked, fire support unit. There were problems with the execution. The first was the question of squad leader. There is always the question of whether or not the squad leader should lead the dismount team or act as vehicle commander. The US Army said, BOTH! As a result, the Bradley commander would dismount along with everyone in the back. But this would lead to a suboptimal arrangement with the gunner having to perform double duty as the vehicle commander. So one of the dismount members would be cross-trained as vehicle commander, and he would climb up and take the place of the Squad Leader as vehicle commander.

That’s needlessly complicated, and for once the Army agreed. They decided that while they were in there revising the platoon org chart, they would work for more homogeneity. The Bradley Platoon of four Bradleys got rethought into two pairs. This mirrored U.S. Army thinking in the tank platoon, where four tanks were thought of as operating as two pairs of tanks. Each Bradley pair would get a squad of nine men to account for. Given that early Bradleys had six seats for dismounts, the Army split them into a fireteam of four per Bradley, and one of the two Bradleys in each pair got a (dismount) squad leader. Now, Bradley vehicle commanders could be just vehicle commanders, dismount squad leaders could be just dismount squad leaders, a dismounted squad could perform fire and maneuver on its own, and the dismounted squad was identical to the light infantry squad. The US Army has tended to like the idea that each infantry squad can be capable of fire and maneuver by itself. This also left six empty seats per platoon, which was sufficient for the platoon commander, XO, and any attached extras like radiotelephone operator or medic.

The next step to get us to today happened with revisions to the Bradley itself. A desire for more protection and the realization that the firing ports were useless led to them being plated over as part of the changes for the M2A2 version. Since the troops no longer needed to shoot out of gunports, the seats could be rearranged into more conventional benches along the sides of the vehicle, and the designers were able to squeeze in one more dismount, for a capacity of seven. Applying these to the previous organization chart meant that there were now ten empty seats, or room enough for another squad. This brings us to the platoon of four Bradleys and three dismount squads of nine men each that we know today. The careful reader will note that there is now no longer space for much of a command group or attached extras, but that’s something that the Army has not been bothered by.

Personally, I don’t like it. I’d much prefer to take the original concept of six (or seven) man dismount element and Bradley fighting vehicle as the squad, and skip the place-switching. That’s a lot simpler, removes the requirement of fireteams to “form up” to become squads, and would still allow for a bit of fire and maneuver on its own if we relax the desire to always have four-man fireteams. Australia is going exactly this way in their latest reorganization. I would also point out that while homogeneity is nice, different sorts of units have tended towards different organizations. No one is trying to organize a heavy weapons squad or platoon like the regular rifle squad or platoon over in light infantry-land.

The ACR’s Aviation Squadron

We’re not quite done with examining the circa-early-1990s ACR. In addition to the three Armored Cavalry Squadrons, the ACR had its own organic air support in the Aviation Squadron.1 Let’s take a look. As always, I’ve seen plenty of variation in the support units.

  • HQ & HQ Troop
    • (3) UH-60L Blackhawk Transport Helicopters
    • (3) EH-60L Electronic Warfare helicopters
    • (1) OH-58D Kiowa Warrior Scout Helicopter
  • (3) Attack Troops, each with:
    • (6) OH-58D Kiowa Warrior Scout Helicopters
    • (4) AH-64A Apache Attack Helicopters
  • (2) Heavy Attack Troops, each with:
    • (4) OH-58D Kiowa Warrior Scout Helicopters
    • (7) AH-64A Apache Attack Helicopters
  • (1) Transport Helicopter Troop
    • (15) UH-60L Blackhawk Transport Helicopters
  • Aviation Unit Maintenance Troop
    • (12) M978 Tanker HEMTTs
    • (18) 600 gal. fuel bladders
    • (7) M977 Cargo HEMTTs
    • (7) M35 2.5-ton cargo trucks
    • (6) M923 5-ton drop-side cargo trucks with cargo trailers
    • (18) Fuel PODS
    • (6) Forward Area Refueling Equipment sets

When I first read of this, I was somewhat opposed, on the grounds that helicopters require lots of fuel. On the other hand, attack helicopters are pretty damn awesome, and scout helicopters are super useful. The above is some serious strikebreaking firepower, and I can’t argue with that. Or won’t. Whichever.


  1. Which I’ve also seen referred to as the Air Cavalry Squadron 

The Armored Cavalry Squadron

Moving up the table, Armored Cavalry units can’t use the term “battalion,” because that’s what lame units without horses in their history use. They prefer “Squadron” at that level of organization. Let’s take a look.

  • HQ & HQ Troop
  • (3) Armored Cavalry Troops
  • (1) Tank Company
  • (1) Artillery Battery

We’ve already discussed what’s in the Armored Cavalry Troop (circa 1990). Let’s look at the other components.

HQ & HQ Troop

  • Squadron HQ
    • (4) M998A1 HMMWVs
    • (2) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWVs
    • (3) M939 cargo trucks with cargo trailers
    • (1) M934 Expansible Van with trailer
    • (2) M3A2 Bradley CFV
    • (1) M113A3 APC
    • (3) M577A3 Command Vehicles
  • Troop HQ
    • (1) M998A1 HMMWV
    • (1) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWV
    • (1) M939 cargo truck with water trailer
    • (1) M934 Expansible Van with trailer
  • Battalion Communications Platoon
    • (1) M998A1 HMMWV
    • (1) M934 Expansible Van with trailer
    • (1) M577A3 Command Vehicle
  • Fire Support Element
    • (1) M998A1 HMMWV
    • (1) M577A3 Command Vehicle
  • AVLB Section
    • (3) M60 AVLBs
  • Battalion Medical Platoon
    • (1) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWV
    • (2) M577A3 Aid Stations
    • (8) M113A3 Medevac APC
    • (2) M934 Expansible Vans with trailers
  • Battalion Support Platoon
    • (1) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWV with cargo trailer
    • (6) M939 cargo trucks with cargo trailers
    • (7) M977 Cargo HEMTTs
    • (8) M978 Fuel Tanker HEMTTs
    • (2) M49 tankers with tanker trailers
  • Battalion Maintenance Platoon
    • (2) Cargo HMMWVs
    • (1) Cargo HMMWV with cargo trailer
    • (2) M934 Expansible Vans with cargo trailers
    • (1) M984 HEMTT Wrecker
    • (1) M936 Wrecker
    • (3) M88A2 Armored Recovery Vehicles
    • (5) M939 Cargo Trucks with cargo trailers

Tank Company

  • Company HQ
    • (2) M1A1 Abrams MBTs
    • (1) M113A3 APC
    • (1) M998A1 HMMWV
    • (1) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWV
    • (1) M939 cargo truck with water trailer
  • (3) Tank platoons, each with:
    • (4) M1A1 Abrams MBTs
  • Company Maintenance Section
    • (1) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWV
    • (1) M113A3 APC
    • (2) M934 Expansible Vans with trailers
    • (1) M88A2 Armored Recovery Vehicle

Artillery Battery

  • Battery HQ
    • (1) M998A1 HMMWV
    • (1) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWV
    • (1) M939 cargo truck with water trailer
    • (1) M978 Fuel Tanker HEMTT with M989 HEMAT ammunition trailer
  • Communication Section
    • (1) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWV with cargo trailer
  • Survey Section
    • (1) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWV
  • (2) Firing Platoons, each with:
    • (1) M998A1 HMMWV
    • (1) M1038A1 Cargo HMMWV
    • (1) M934 Expansible Van with trailer
    • (1) M577A3 Command Vehicle
    • (4) M109A6 Paladin Self Propelled Howitzers
    • (4) FAASVs
  • Fire Support Team Section:
    • (4) M981 FIST-Vs
  • Combat Observation/Lasing Team section:
    • (2) M981 FIST-Vs
  • Ammunition Section
    • (8) M977 Cargo HEMTTs
  • Battery Maintenance Section
    • (1) M113A3 APC
    • (2) M934 Expansible Vans with trailers
    • (1) M578 Light Recovery Vehicle

Some things to note. First, it interests me that the 4th company is a tank company. You can’t argue with that armor, I suppose. I’m also really happy to see that the squadron has some organic artillery capability. I rather like this idea. More artillery is always good, and I like having some always available to the squadron commander, on account of being organic to the squadron. My only complaint is a lack of any sort of anti-aircraft capability, but that’s a pretty common failing for US Army TO&Es. It’s also pretty easily fixable.

The Armored Cavalry Troop

Armored Cavalry units had an interesting table of organization that pushed combined arms. These units were designed to hit hard, and a look at a troop (company-level asset) TO&E shows that they brought a lot of firepower to battle. Each troop consisted of a headquarters section, two scout platoons, two tank platoons, a maintenance section, and a mortar section. Let’s break it down and then we’ll provide commentary.

  • Headquarters Section:
    • One M1A1 Abrams
    • One M3A2 Bradley
    • One M577 Command post
    • Three HMMWVs
    • One 5-ton truck with water tank trailer
  • Two Scout Platoons:
    • Six M3A2 Bradleys (each)
  • Two Tank Platoons:
    • Four M1A1 Abrams (each)
  • Troop Maintenance Section (18 men):
    • One M88A2 armored recovery vehicle
    • One M113A3 APC
    • Two 5-ton trucks with cargo trailers
  • Mortar Section
    • Two M106 mortar carriers

Some variation in utility vehicles can be found in tables depending on era. My primary source is Tom Clancy’s Armored Cav which is regrettably light on the details of support units in an early-90s troop.

The first thing to note is that there’s not a lot of infantry here. The M3-series Bradleys have only two dismounts a piece, which gives the troop only 24 dismountable soldiers. On the other hand, the M3s have twice the stowed ammo of an M2, so they bring lots of firepower to the table. This is also one of the few places where a platoon with six subelements (namely the M3s) can be found in an official table.

The troop also brings some form of all three elements of combined arms: infantry, armor, and artillery (the mortars). I really like that. Would that it had more infantry though. It wouldn’t be too hard to replace the scout platoons for conventional mechanized infantry platoons. While I’m talking changes, I’d prefer to replace the M106s with some sort of turreted mortar carrier like the Rak.

I’m also curious how a mechanized infantry platoon might work if it had six IFVs in it. I would probably assume a nominal organization where a “squad” is the IFV and it’s dismount team. But there are other thoughts; the US army has indicated a desire to go this way in the future with the dismounts grouping into larger squads after disembarking.

Overall though, I really like the core concept here. As always, pushing more differing vehicle types to lower levels pushes more logistics and maintenance requirements lower as well. The US Army was able to make it work, at least as long as a plausible serious threat was present. I’ll probably shamelessly crib from this all the same.

Heavy Machine Gun Platoon

While it’s not too terribly difficult to find detailed breakdowns of the regular rifle squad, it’s a lot harder to find tables for the other units. Today, we’ll take a look at the Wehrmacht’s Heavy Machine Gun Platoon, courtesy of Collector Grade’s German Universal Machineguns. A heavy MG platoon meant that its MGs all had tripods and support equipment to maximize the effectiveness of the MGs. This platoon was divided into two groups of two machine guns. The platoon had, of course, a Platoon commander, plus an additional man to take care of the horses used to transport equipment. Each of the two machine gun groups had a group leader, plus a rangefinder and a messenger.

Each machine gun group had two MG “Squads” (for want of a better term). Each squad was based around an MG34/42 and a lot of ammo. They consisted of an MG leader, the MG gunner, MG assistant gunner, and no fewer than three ammunition bearers.

The gunner carried the machine gun, with a 50 round belt in a drum attached to the machine gun, in case it had to be used before the squad got set up. The MG leader carried the MG Z sight, a 300-round ammo can, and a spare barrel. The assistant gunner carried the tripod. The three ammo bearers each carried two 300-round ammo cans, and two of them carried spare barrels.

In terms of secondary weapons, the MG Leader, Gunner, and Assistant Gunner all carried pistols. The ammo bearers each had a service rifle. The MG Group Leaders and MG Platoon Leader had a submachine gun or a pistol. Both rangefinders had pistols, and the messengers and horseman were issued service rifles.

In total, each squad carried 2,150 rounds of belted 8mm Mauser, for a total of 8,600 belted rounds per platoon.

As always, these are the “by the book” figures, and actual platoons may vary.

Generals Balck and von Mellenthin on TO&Es

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the US Army invited two of the best tank commanders of the Wehrmacht, General Hermann Balck and his Chief of Staff General Friedrich von Mellenthin, to come to the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania for several seminars and war games. Balck and von Mellenthin had a great time playing with the huge amount of airpower available to them while playing as BLUFOR. In addition to comparing notes on wargame solutions, the US Army asked Balck and von Mellenthin a number of questions about organizing units. Here’s what they thought was best:

  • Company Strength: Not more than 70-80 men
  • (Rifle) battalion strength: about 300 men
  • Rifle battalion should be broken up into three rifle companies and a machine gun company
  • Panzer division should have three panzergrenadier regiments and one panzer regiment
  • Panzergrenadier regiment should have two battalions
  • 10 tanks per tank company
  • Tank platoons should consist of three tanks

These units are small. But both of the veteran generals felt that small units were easier to lead and more flexible. Plus, these two generals achieved their greatest successes against the Russians when commanding the 11th Panzer Division when the division was so understrength that it was roughly the size of a brigade, at least as far as number of tanks and combat troops was concerned.

That said, I think Balck and von Mellinthin have gone a bit too far in advocating for small, agile units. While they did an excellent job with small units late in the war, no nation has actually gone this far in cutting unit size. Or really, all that close. You end up needing numbers of men to hold terrain, or to fight in cities.

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.

TO&Es for ’44!

Last time, we looked at the result of the German combat testing of the StG-44, and how they thought it compared to the MG-42. Their conclusions were that the StG-44 was very good, but could not completely replace the MG-42.

I’ve chosen to look at the relevant tables for 1944 because at that point (or at least when the tables were written) the situation wasn’t so desperate as to put economy uber alles. Lots of the ’45 tables do just that. Also, keep in mind this is what the planners envisioned, which wasn’t necessarily what was fielded in great numbers.

The difference we’re interested in happens in the infantry platoons. The previous table had squads of nine men: one leader and eight soldiers. It also had one MG-42, and there was a designated gunner and assistant gunner. The gunner and assistant gunner both also carried P-38 pistols for personal defense. The squad leader had an MP-40, and the other six men had Kar 98ks. Moving up the table, each platoon had three squads. It also had a command element consisting of a platoon leader, two message bearers, and a litter bearer.

For the standard rifle squad, total ammunition allotment (i.e ready and reserve rounds) was as follows:

Member9mm Parabellum Rounds8mm Mauser rounds
Squad Leader1,536
Gunner99
Assistant Gunner993,450
Rifleman 199
Rifleman 299
Rifleman 399
Rifleman 499
Rifleman 599
Rifleman 699

Of course, the assistant gunner’s ammunition was in 50 round belts, often carried in drums, and a good portion of his allotment might be distributed to the rest of the squad or left on any vehicle the platoon might have. The gunner was the one who got to carry the MG-42, of course.

The table of ammunition allotments for the new squad was quite a bit simpler:

Member9mm Parabellum Rounds8mm Mauser rounds8mm Kurz rounds
Squad Leader720
Gunner720
Assistant Gunner720
Rifleman 1720
Rifleman 2720
Rifleman 3720
Rifleman 4720
Rifleman 5720
Rifleman 6720

(I’ve left the titles as-is from the previous table for comparison’s sake, but they don’t quite fit when everyone has an StG-44.)

Readers who are interested in the soldier’s load will note that this is a savings of about 13 lbs over the previous one in terms of total load carried for the entire squad.

The new assault platoon had two such all-StG-44 squads. The third squad contained all of the long range support weapons, including two MG-42s and three rifle grenadiers. This support squad consisted of eight men altogether, including the squad leader. Snipers were concentrated in the company headquarters squad.

This new organization was pretty easy to command, a bonus for the Wehrmacht Heer as its supply of well-trained veteran squad leaders dwindled.

A few more things stand out to me, looking back seventy-odd years later. First is that we could replicate this platoon pretty readily with three IFVs that each have a six mount capacity, if we used the IFVs themselves as a “support squad”. While this would be a small, easily commanded platoon, it does tie the IFVs closely to their dismounts, and perhaps that is not desirable.

I would be remiss if I didn’t comment briefly on what the 1944 tables said about the Panzergrenadiers. Panzergrenadier platoons consisted of three identically-equipped squads. Each squad was made up of ten men, including vehicle driver and assistant/gunner. No StG-44s were assigned at this time. Instead, the eight dismounts had two MG-42s, with a third MG-42 remaining in the halftrack.