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  • #90556

    Les Hammond
    Participant

    Is there a British WWII equivalent? Fireteam sounds like something we’ve recently imported from across the pond?

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    #90558
    Mike
    Mike
    Keymaster

    I have a niggling feeling the term goes as far back as the Napoleonic era. Though the name does sound far too modern for that.

    #90564
    Not Connard Sage
    Not Connard Sage
    Participant

    A WWII British fireteam would need rather more SAW than an infantry section typically had I think. The Brits seem to have been a bit slow developing/adapting small unit tactics to 20th century warfare.

    I’ll eat my shorts if ‘fireteam’ existed as a concept or as a word(s) in the early 19th century. I don’t recall reading any contemporary usage. Unless you want to stretch the term to including the pairs of skirmishing riflemen 🙂

    "I go online sometimes, but everyone's spelling is really bad. It's... depressing."

    #90565
    Whirlwind
    Whirlwind
    Participant

    Is there a British WWII equivalent? Fireteam sounds like something we’ve recently imported from across the pond?

    Rifle group and gun group.

    WW1 had a bomber group too.

     

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    #90566
    Guy Farrish
    Guy Farrish
    Participant

    I think (can’t swear to it) the first use of the term was in the 1956 Pentomic phase of US Army development. That increased the squad to 11 men vice 9, introducing the concept of two fireteams. Reorganization Objective Army Divisions (ROAD) regiments (next development in the early 60s) reduced the squad to 10 men but kept the two fireteam concept of 4 plus the squad leader and a spare rifleman to help the SL.

    The concept probably can be traced earlier to WWII and/or Korea but I think the term is from the above period.

    (waiting for a quote from Frederick the Great extolling the virtues of Jäger FeuerwehrMannschaften at Mollwitz – although that might pour coldwater on the whole thing)

    CMH 60-3: Infantry, Part I: Regular Army
    John K. Mahon and Romana Danysh
    The Pentomic Concept and the Combat Arms Regimental System

    #90567
    Whirlwind
    Whirlwind
    Participant

    Fireteam sounds like something we’ve recently imported from across the pond?

    I can’t find anything for the phrase “fire team” before the USMC used the term in WW2, having used the term “fire group” in the few years preceding that.

    See here for details.

     

    • This reply was modified 1 week, 2 days ago by Whirlwind Whirlwind.

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    #90578
    deephorse
    deephorse
    Participant

    Is there a British WWII equivalent? Fireteam sounds like something we’ve recently imported from across the pond?

    Rifle group and gun group. WW1 had a bomber group too.

     

    That’s what it was in my time, 1975-81.

    #90580
    Not Connard Sage
    Not Connard Sage
    Participant

    The concept probably can be traced earlier to WWII and/or Korea but I think the term is from the above period.

    You could argue that the concept can be traced to the final years of the Great War and the German ‘storm troops’. The Wehrmacht certainly seemed to lead in squad tactics, in the early years of WWII at any rate, and the delegation of command to NCOs.

    You’ve probably seen this vid.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDZMJXaADQI

     

     

    "I go online sometimes, but everyone's spelling is really bad. It's... depressing."

    #90588

    Etranger
    Participant

    Fireteam sounds like something we’ve recently imported from across the pond?

    I can’t find anything for the phrase “fire team” before the USMC used the term in WW2, having used the term “fire group” in the few years preceding that.

    See here for details.

    That’s my recollection too, at least at the squad level. The British WWI era ‘gun, rifle & bomber’ groups tended to refer to subunits/squads) within the platoon, so at a slightly higher level. In WWII British practice they were subdivisions within the section.

    • This reply was modified 1 week, 1 day ago by  Etranger.
    #90595
    MartinR
    MartinR
    Participant

    Fireteams were first used by the USMC in 1945, and their main feature was that they were homogeneous ie each team had a SAW (a BAR) in that case. Very different to rifle groups, gun groups etc.

    Modern Armies, British included, can only really be said to be organised that way once each section had a couple of Minimis.

    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

    #90596

    Les Hammond
    Participant

    So there’s no term (except for ‘fireteam’ in modern parlance) for the sub units of sections? (Unless I used ‘rifle group’ as a catch all term).

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    #90597
    Not Connard Sage
    Not Connard Sage
    Participant

    So there’s no term (except for ‘fireteam’ in modern parlance) for the sub units of sections? (Unless I used ‘rifle group’ as a catch all term).

    A section was 10 men including section leader and assistant section leader with (officially) one Bren. Mortar and AT (PIAT) allocated ad hoc from company level.

    The ‘fireteam’ concept didn’t exist, whatever you try to call it 🙂

     

     

    • This reply was modified 1 week, 1 day ago by Not Connard Sage Not Connard Sage. Reason: Edited for clarity. My grammer and puntuashun is bad. :)

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    #90598
    Guy Farrish
    Guy Farrish
    Participant

    Rifle group and LMG group in a section, for the Brits at any rate.

    CS Re the Germans – the Brits were developing ‘infiltration’ tactics at least as early as 1916, used in lots of trench raids and lots of major attacks. They went to ‘blobs’ , formalised in written form by Maxse in 1918. These tended to be sections though rather than smaller units. They were very similar to the ‘Stormtrooper’ tactics of 1918 but they get less mention. This is partly because of the competing linear obsessions of some commanders, the anti-bomb (grenade) and pro rifle movement, and the obsession amongst later commentators with how bad the Brits were.*

    Still not sure this is really ‘fireteam’ material.

    *(The detractors should try and remember who won the Western Front – hint: not the Germans.)

    #90603
    MartinR
    MartinR
    Participant

    Yes, just call them groups. That is what they were called in WW2 although as noted above, the smallest official organisational unit was the section.

    The Germans called them groups too:)

    Don’t call them that postwar abomination ‘bricks’.

     

     

     

    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

    #90640
    John D Salt
    John D Salt
    Participant

    The British term for a small grouping below section level was traditionally “blob”.

    Blobs were part of the “soft-spot” platoon tactics used in the latter part of WW1, as recounted in “The Once and Future Army” in an ancient copy of the British Army Review, 120 or thereabouts. The same idea is reported in use by US Army units in WW1 in “Fine Conduct Under Fire”, where the platoon leader seems to command his blobs directly, without bothering with the section level of command. Both the concept and the term “blob” were still used in the TA at least when I was in, between 1978 and 1983, although the “brick” and “fireteam” terms also existed by then.

    “Brick” originated in Northern Ireland, specfically in the context of multiple patrolling, whereby three or four bricks of four blokes would patrol in a random-looking pattern, so that any band of malevolent Fenians intent on ambushing one brick could never be sure than another would not pop up behind it at an inconvenient moment. The “multiple” has now become a quasi-offical organisation of about half a platoon, thus resurrecting the old-fashioned WW1 section, or “halb-zug”. From his memoirs, it seems that my old pal General Mike Reynolds originated the idea of multiple patrolling on one of his tours in NI.

    While the USMC were the first to popularise the term “fireteam”, the idea came to them in the 1930s from the Chinese, who traditionally organised themselves — especially Mao’s 8th Route Army — on a fairly rigorous “rule of three”. A fireteam (I have no idea what the Chinese term is) consistend of a senior soldier, who would watch over the soldeirs to his right and left. A section woould contain three of these, the section commander watching over the fireteams to left and right as well as the members of his own fireteam. A platoon… and so on in theory up to corps and army level.

    The US Army officially adopted the fireteam idea, initially in asymmetrical form, in the mid-1950s, but, as recounted in his book “Assault Battle Drill”, J C Fry used the concept during WW2 in his 88th Division — which might partly explain why Trevor Dupuy’s operational effectiveness ratings from the Italian campaign seemed to show 88th Division as an exceptionally effective formation.

    There have always been detached groupings of three or four blokes acting as an outguard, patrol, listening post, vedette or picket, but those are not the same thing as a fireteam, brick, or blob. Only since the advent of nitrocellulose propellants and flat-shooting Mauser-type rifles, along with high explosives, has it been necessary for infantry to operate in such tiny and dispersed groupings. I therefore beg leave to doubt the existence of any Napoleonic analogue to the fireteam.

    All the best,

    John.

    #90641
    John D Salt
    John D Salt
    Participant

    Yes, just call them groups. That is what they were called in WW2 although as noted above, the smallest official organisational unit was the section.

    The Germans called them groups too:)

    Mr. Picky is far too lazy to try to find his facsimile copies of early WW2 German Army manuals on “Die neue Gruppe”, but is fairly sure that the subdivisions of the Gruppe (squad, section) were originally referred to as the MG-Trupp and the Schutztrupp. The distinction was I think officially abolished somewhen around 1943.

    All the best,

    John.

    #90644
    Not Connard Sage
    Not Connard Sage
    Participant

    Yes, just call them groups. That is what they were called in WW2 although as noted above, the smallest official organisational unit was the section. The Germans called them groups too:)

    Mr. Picky is far too lazy to try to find his facsimile copies of early WW2 German Army manuals on “Die neue Gruppe”, but is fairly sure that the subdivisions of the Gruppe (squad, section) were originally referred to as the MG-Trupp and the Schutztrupp. The distinction was I think officially abolished somewhen around 1943. All the best, John.

    Mr Pickier would like to point out that the OP asked about British infantry. What those foreign Jonnies did is not relevant if the Plucky Brits didn’t do it. 🙂

    Although Mr Pickier will admit to being rather surprised that the thread has managed to stay pretty much on-topic, and hasn’t wandered off to discuss submarine warfare in the ACW.

     

    "I go online sometimes, but everyone's spelling is really bad. It's... depressing."

    #90658
    John D Salt
    John D Salt
    Participant

    Mr Pickier would like to point out that the OP asked about British infantry. What those foreign Jonnies did is not relevant if the Plucky Brits didn’t do it. 🙂

    That’s all very fine and plump and buttery, but how are we going to achieve any level of confusion at all without pointing out that Brtish “groups” are German “Trupps”, German “Gruppen” and French “groupes” are British sections (but American squads), and French “sections” are British platoons?

    Although Mr Pickier will admit to being rather surprised that the thread has managed to stay pretty much on-topic, and hasn’t wandered off to discuss submarine warfare in the ACW.

    I think I’ve already connected blobs to Mausers, so if you could play Spanish Mausers and the Spanish-American War we would at least be on the right continent, and I reckon we could get to ACW ASW in two more moves with competent batting.

    All the best,

    John.

    #90660
    Not Connard Sage
    Not Connard Sage
    Participant

    Mornington Crescent!

    This has been a good-natured and illuminating discourse, and proof that one can always learn summat. Nice one, everybody 🙂

    "I go online sometimes, but everyone's spelling is really bad. It's... depressing."

    #90671
    MartinR
    MartinR
    Participant

    Indeed, trupp does appear to be a valid German sub division of the gruppe. That is what you get for posting on the Internet without a heap of manuals in front of you.

    At least neither the Germans nor British insist on called their platoons sections, and their sections platoons, like pesky Spanish.

    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

    #90676
    Whirlwind
    Whirlwind
    Participant

    Modern Armies, British included, can only really be said to be organised that way once each section had a couple of Minimis.

    I think the usage in the British Army comes from the time of the adoption of the LSW.

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    #90716

    Les Hammond
    Participant

    I can’t see me adopting ‘blob’ in my rules, to be honest 

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    #90756
    Cerdic
    Cerdic
    Participant

    Is ‘blob’ merely a corruption of the Napoleonic ‘bob’. As in ‘light-bob’, meaning a light infantryman…

    (Mike was maybe not that far off back in post 2!)

    #90786
    John D Salt
    John D Salt
    Participant

    Never check your sources, you might find something inconvenient.

    Having checked “The Once and Future Army” by Maj R N Bryson in British Army Review no. 120, I find that my recollection is at fault, and it makes no mention of “blobs” anywhere. However I didn’t imagine them.

    My copy of Paddy Griffith’s “Battle Tactics of the Western Front” is not to hand, but it must mention them, because “blobs” and “worms” are mentioned in an Amazon review. The Wikipedia piece on infantry tactics describes blobs as “ad-hoc groups of 2-3 men”, and says they were frst used in 1917, but without giving a source.

    http://www.journal.forces.gc.ca/vo8/no3/haynes-eng.asp seems to be talking about something rather different when it refers to “blobs” as a defensive measure, a “blob” here being a single strongpoint with all-round defence in a non-linear defensve layout. Samuels’ “Command or Control?” mentions “blob defence”, but again my copy is not to hand. While the signification of “blob” here is not quite the same, it follows the common theme of linear formations being broken into separate clumps.

    I also discover to my horror that “infantry blobs” are a thing in Company of Heroes, and other PC games, where it seems to refer to a gamey mass of elements moving together and overwhelming all before them by weight of numbers. This suggests to me that the games that suffer from the effect have failed to produce a good model, first, of the difficulty in detecting concealed defenders, and, second, the serious effect of over-concentration in prodcing excessive casualties. If this sort of “blobbing” had worked on the battlefield, the first day on the Somme would have been a walkover for the attackers.

    Finally, Nappy blobs — I also stumbled across an extract from Paddy Griffith’s Osprey on French Napoleonic infantry tactics, which refers to some battles being “…messy attritional affairs, with blobs of infantry and unorganized skirmish lines being the main tactical formations.” No size is stated for these “blobs”, and the image conjoured in my mind is of the typical war film “column of mob” in which soldiers fought, at least in the apparent belief of Hollywood, throughout recorded history.

    The WW2 Fallschirmjaeger “little drops of oil” tactics to be used in combat drops were based on the idea of isolated men, after the drop, forming themselves into small groupings and then joining up with other such to form bigger groupings (a similar analogy was used with GVN’s “oil blob strategy” of pacification, trying to wrest control of the countryside from the VC by joining up areas of government control). Obviously the Fallschirmjaeger were using their method to overcome the atomisation of their organisation brought about by the drop (and in unsteerable chutes, too). I think “blobs” might be seen as a similar organisational reaction to the atomisation of standard organisations brought about by the Melinitie, Maxims and Mausers (or Lyddite, Lewises and Lee-Enfields) firepower revolution. The idea suggests organisation emergent from below to extract order from chaos, rather than order being imposed from above. Small unit leaders are the kernels around which small knots of determined men form effective groups, especially when the leaders are prepared to say “follow me”. As General William E DePuy pointed out, such groups exist only because their members believe they exist — what General Andrew sharp has called the “Small Gods” model of combat motivation, after the Terry Pratchett book, where gods have power in proportion to the extent people believe in them.

    Moving on to the early usages of the term “fireteam”, I have rootled out my copies of Fry’s “Assault Battle Drill” (which I find was 1955, so leading up to the “Pentomic” and “Pentropic” division organisations based on the “rule of five”) and “Fine Coduct Under Fire”, a 2004 MSc thesis by Maj D G Fivecoat on the tactical effectiveness of the US 165th Inf Regt during WW1. I bought my copy from Amazon, who rather naughtily removed the author’s name and the thesis documentation page from the original, available free at http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a428847.pdf

    General Fry’s book makes a great fuss about quite elementary fire and movement by the squad and platoon, endearingly illustrated with badly executed drawings. He uses the term “fire team” (two words) interchangeably with “fire support group” and “fire support element”, and “maneuver team” interchangeably with “maneuever group” and “maneuever element”. These roles do not seem to be expected to switch between the teams making up a squad during the course of an attack, although the “maneuver” elemet is expected to conduct fire and movement within itself — Fry starts off his training ideas at the bottom, with fire and movement by a pair of riflemen. Where both teams are referred to by the same designation, Fry says “the nine-man squad makes two effective maneuver groups”. He shows the squad being divided into a five-man maneuever team, including the squad leader, and a four-man fire team, incuding the assistant squad leader. However, both groups are shown as having an automatic rifleman. This looks tantalisingly close to the current fireteam structure of US squads, without calling it precisely that; the idea seems to have preceded the name.

    Major Fivecoats (who one feels missed his true vocation by joining the Army too late for the Pentomic Division) refers to the tactical methods used by the regiment (the “Fighting Irish”) as “Indian-style tactics”. The term “fireteam” is not used anywhere, but he says (p. 28):

    “The regiment’s smallest unit for fire and maneuver was the infantry platoon, which was made up of a headquarters detachment and four sections. The First Section consisted of three hand-grenade teams of four men — a leader, a thrower, a carrier and a scout. The Second Secton had six rifle grenadiers and three carriers, split into teams of three. Two squads of eight riflemen made up the Third Section. The Fourth Section, or automatic riflemen, was divided into four teams with one automatic rifleman and two carriers. Led by a lieutenant and assisted by a platoon sergeant and four runners, the platoon leader employed the three grenadier teams, three rifle grenadier teams, two squads of riflemen, and four automatic rifle teams in task organised groups or as a platoon based on the situation. Using Indian-style tactics, the platoon would gain fire superiority, fix the enemy, and “strike a flank more or less obliquely in an enveloping attack”. To control actions within the platoon, the platoon leader used voice commands, a whistle, or his four runners. Across no man’s land the Germans utilized three types of squads of eight to nine men — the light machine gun squad, the rifle squad, and the unit squad. Regrettably, the Irish did not develop the unit squad, a standing formation that combined a light machine gun, riflemen, and grenadiers into one unit, preferring to keep the platoon as their smallest integrated unit.”

    Notice that here we have the US Army referring to sections as components of a platoon, with the sections being made up of teams or squads, although it seems the section level of command was skipped by the platoon leader (platoon commander in British English) controlling his teams and squads directly. That seems a very broad span of control, with tweleve elements to handle, so one must suspect that the officer relied on a good deal of initiative and self-organisation from his subordinates. I suggest that this was made possible by the strong esprit de corps of the regiment; Major Fivecoats describes the social cohesion resulting from a shared New York Irish catholic background, the traditions of the 69th New York State Militia from which the regiment was descended, and the character of Father Francis Duffy, the regimental padre and “wellspring of regimental strength”.

    The Canadian forces journal piece referred to previously mentions WW1 Canadian use of a platoon divided into two half-platoons, each with a rifle and a Lewis section. This also shows the existence of two levels of organisation below the platoon, and matches the organisation very common among many armies between the wars of having four sections/squads/groups in a platoon, two armed just with rifles and two with light machine guns. This persisted into WW2 with the Italian Army, who had a platoon divided into two squads (squadra), each split into a rifle group (gruppo fucilieri) and an MG group (gruppo mitragliatore). The two LMGs, each generously manned in WW1 style by four blokes (gun commander, gunner and two ammunition bearers) could be used independently if desired. A similarly square scheme persists in the organisation of British Army and Royal Marine Commandos in WW2, whose troops were divided into two sections each with two sub-sections, although in the spirit of the “unit squad” each sub-section had its own Bren. It might also explain the observation that some WW2 British infantry platoons in action tended to fight with the Brens concentrated in one large gun group, more like the 1918 way of doing business.

    I think all this reinforces Tim’s point that organisation below section level is not by any means permanent, but merely a question of grouping. A look through Wigram’s “Infantry Battle School” shows a wide variety of battle drills, and, while we Brits tend to imagine a rifle section grouped into gun group and rifle group, that is just the grouping to be used in a quick attack. For other drills in other situations, there will be scout groups, demolition parties, wire-cutting groups, tank-killing parties, cut-off groups and so forth, according to the tasks assigned.

    Whirlwind made the point that fireteams only became part of the standard organisation of a British infantry section with the adoption of the IW and LSW in the 1980s, although we did train to work in fireteams before the 5.56mm weapons arrived, and Tony Jeapes had run BATT (British Army Training Team, a cover name for some blokes from Hereford) sections very successfully in the Oman campaign organised as two fireteams of four, each carrying a GPMG and three AR-15s. One of the things that has been rather forgotten since then is that two equal fireteams was only one of the possibilities. Another suggested option was to group the section as a gun group containing both LSWs and a rifle group with the rest of the secton, it being claimed that two LSWs firing 60 rds/min could offer the same degree of suppression of the objective as a GPMG firing 120 rds/min.

    What I think would be rather splendid, but I have never seen, would be a set of wargaming rules that let players choose between old-fashioned linear tactics — still wholly appropriate in some circumstances, such as the line of beaters in wood-clearing — that are easy to control, and new (since the second Boer war) “blob” tactics, using the more chaotic but less vulnerable small knots of determined men. Phil Barker hasI think tried to show this to some extent, but it is clear in his rules which is the right answer, and linear tactics are only to be used by forces too incompetent to do anything else. I would like a game were the trick players would have to master would be using the linear approach to get formed up and over the start line smartly, and dissolving into stealthy blobs or worms when brought under effective fire.

    All the best,

    John.

    #90788
    John D Salt
    John D Salt
    Participant

    Is ‘blob’ merely a corruption of the Napoleonic ‘bob’. As in ‘light-bob’, meaning a light infantryman…

    (Mike was maybe not that far off back in post 2!)

    If we’re going to have a competition in inventing false etymologies, I’m going to say that the term originates from the Spanish-Moroccan war of 1859-60. Harry (later Sir Harold) Blount, war correspondent of the recently-established “Daily Telegraph”, reporting from the vicinity of Aït Bel’arb, a day’s march inland from Rabat, observed Askaris of the Moroccan army exercising in small autonomous groupings making best use of the ground to minimise the effects of Western firepower. In later years, Sir Harry’s “Bel’arb formation” was corrupted to “blob formation”, perhaps because of Sir Harry’s tendency to slur his words after a few glasses of Port.

    All the best,

    John.

    #90790
    Not Connard Sage
    Not Connard Sage
    Participant

    If I know soldiers, it’s probably more likely to be derived from a bunch of bloody clots running around…

    "I go online sometimes, but everyone's spelling is really bad. It's... depressing."

    #90793
    Ivan Sorensen
    Ivan Sorensen
    Moderator

    Adding to the splendid conversation, I’ve seen a few books in the past call question to how much squads/sections really did split up and operate below the squad/section level in practical terms, particularly with inexperienced NCO’s and once casualties and sickness begins to set in.

    I’ll admit in memoirs it doesn’t seem to get mentioned much, but then, maybe it just isn’t mentioned because everyone took it for granted?

    • This reply was modified 5 days, 7 hours ago by Ivan Sorensen Ivan Sorensen.

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    #91013

    Les Hammond
    Participant

    Thanks for the additional info & clarification, John.
    Clearly no discernible limit on post size 

    • This reply was modified 2 days, 16 hours ago by  Les Hammond.

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    #91019
    Guy Farrish
    Guy Farrish
    Participant

    My copy of Paddy Griffith’s “Battle Tactics of the Western Front” is not to hand, but it must mention them, because “blobs” and “worms” are mentioned in an Amazon review.

    pp.96-97 ‘For others the original idea of “platoon training”, as encapsulated in SS 143, was itself an acceptance of fighting in informal section groups, or “blobs”, rather than in lines.

    on p.27 he quotes Captain Alan Thomas, a company commander in April 1917 ‘as the men scrambled in and out of them [shell holes] some of the “blobs” were beginning to straggle…As for our “blobs” they were hardly recognisable. They had in fact opened out of their own accord…’

    • This reply was modified 2 days, 14 hours ago by Guy Farrish Guy Farrish.
    #91061
    Whirlwind
    Whirlwind
    Participant

    One of the things that has been rather forgotten since then is that two equal fireteams was only one of the possibilities. Another suggested option was to group the section as a gun group containing both LSWs and a rifle group with the rest of the secton, it being claimed that two LSWs firing 60 rds/min could offer the same degree of suppression of the objective as a GPMG firing 120 rds/min.

    Yes, somehow that finer point never seemed to trickle its way down.

     

    Many thanks for some very interesting posts, everyone.

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    #91059
    John D Salt
    John D Salt
    Participant

    Adding to the splendid conversation, I’ve seen a few books in the past call question to how much squads/sections really did split up and operate below the squad/section level in practical terms, particularly with inexperienced NCO’s and once casualties and sickness begins to set in.

    I’ll admit in memoirs it doesn’t seem to get mentioned much, but then, maybe it just isn’t mentioned because everyone took it for granted?

    We need to remember that even nowadays, a section or squad is pretty small beer, and in an era of million-man armies you’d probably get eyestrain if you spent too long staring at such bagatelles. The British military tradition, which has probably had a disproportionate influence on the development of hobby wargaming with figures, lays great stress on instruction in section attacks, and lots of wargaming old farts of my generation recall being catechised in the usages of the gun group and the rifle group in school cadet forces or the TA. Even in the British Army, though, the point is always made that a section attack is a pretty unlikely thing to occur outside the context of a platoon attack, and that this low-level stuff was mainly intended to be the elementary building block (I shan’t annoy MartinR by saying “brick”) of larger and more worthwhile tactical enterprises.

    Wargamers mostly seem to concentrate on meeting engagements or hasty attacks, usually in good weather, in open, rolling terrain. How far this reflects the actual experience of the British Army fighting all of its battles on the side of a hill in the pouring rain where two maps meet is questionable, and relatively static phases of war typically take up a lot more time than the mobile operations we like to wargame, but we are deliberately cherry-picking what most wargamers seem to regard as the fun bit. For this sort of combat, it seems to me fair enough to claim that squads or sections would very rarely be purposely broken down into further elements.

    Not all combat is mobile combat in standard formations, though. If we forget the idea of a fireteam as a permanently-established entity — which, as Tim has pointed out, is pretty misleading anyway — and broaden our gaze beyond the hasty attack, the idea that squads or sections are in some way the unfissionable elementary particles of infantrium does not stand up at all well.

    Russian tactics are usually regarded as the very eidolon of doing things mob-handed, but consider a few selections from TM 30-340 “Handbook on USSR Military Forces” (the relevant chapter, on tactics, is freely downloadable from https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1025&context=dodmilintel for those who don’t have their own copy):

    Fig. 52 on p. V-105 shows the groupings used in a night raid across the Vistula on 16 Nov 1944, which, while it includes supporting fire from mortars, ATk guns, and two batteries of artillery, details the actions of a four-man raiding party down to the level of individual man.

    Pages V-112 to V-120 describe the organisation of the components of an assault division making an assault on a fortified zone, and it is clear that specialist groupings are organised, in some cases down to below platoon level, for specific tasks in the assault.

    Page V-122, on “city Warfare”, contains the following text:

    “Subgroups of varying size and composition are detached for separate assault missions on isolated structures. A typical subgroup consists of seven sub-machine gunners, five engineers, three to four heavy machine gun crews, and two antitank riflemen.”

    I have already mentioned General Fry’s “Assault Battle Drill”, and in it he includes patrol drills, which include a 5-man patrol with two automatic riflemen, so a different organisation from the 5-man fireteam he uses elsewhere. Likewise, Wigram’s 1941 battle drills include numerous small parties doing specialist jobs, according to the particular drill being executed — “gun group” and “rifle group” are fine groupings for the simple section attack, but different ones are used for, say, the tank ambush, or storming a pillbox. I have also mentioned the needs that arise from time to time to assign small groups of men to tasks such as recce patrols, listening posts, pickets/outguards, carrying parties, and so forth. Of interest in this regard is Alexander Kawczynski’s translation of the 1934 Polish infantry manual. which gives guidelines as to the size of guard posts as 2 men, and listening posts as 2 or 3 men. Sentry, observer, messenger and marksman duties seem to be assigned to individuals, and for ammunition carriers obviously it depends on the amount of ammunition to be carried. Even in the main body of the squad, the manual states:

    “The private first class must always be ready to assume command over a detached group, an isolated group and even the whole team if the team commander is missing.”

    This makes all the more sense considering that the Polish squad leader has quite a broad span of control; with his second-in-command, he is responsible for a gun group of a gunner (senior private) and two ammunition bearers and a rifle group of 13 men (inlcuding two senior privates) for a total squad strength of 18.

    Despite the manual stating that “The team [squad] is the smallest operational unit within the infantry”, it says in the very next paragraph that “The team [squad] may also be called upon to detach men when called upon to complete specific tasks. In these instances it may have the light machinegun (BAR) and its crew, a small group of riflemen or even a specific rifleman may be detached from the team.”

    It is also perhaps worth remembering that the idea of the squad or section as an organisation existing other than for the length of a specific task assigned to it was a new thing in WW1, as pointed out in Gudmundsson and English’s “On Infantry”, so it should not come as a surprise if squads are regarded as fairly fluid entities within the platoon. Indeed Leland Ness’ “Rikugun” points out that the Imperial Japanese Army never bothered to issue TOEs below the level of company, although there were firm tactical guidelines that a company should have three rifle platoons, each of three rifle/LMG and one grenade launcher squad. In an even freer spirit, the Reichswehr in 1921 (according to Stephen Bull’s “Stosstrupptaktik”) envisioned the company commander having the option of fighting his company not only in regulation platoons (Zugen) but also in specially-organised Kampfgruppen.

    Tim mentioned the allocation of radio callsigns, and, when I was allowed out to play at soldiers at government expense, it was usual for section callsigns to be allocated only to mechanized infantry; foot-sloggers made do with one radio in the platoon. In the absence of the ability to communicate at long distance, and given infantry’s remarkable ability to fade into the scenery for reasons of self-preservation, it may well be that small ad-hoc groups arise largely from accidents of the terrain, with your local “group” being just the people you can see or hear. Nowadays I believe the British Army does allocate fireteam callsigns, but in WW2 it would have been more like the way we did it in 1978, and indeed in many armies it would have been a lucky platoon that got a radio of its own. Another of the things that wargamers like is tanks, and it is perhaps agreeable to be able to think of a rifle section as a piece that can be moved like an AFV, just an AFV with poor speed, armour, and weapons; but infantry’s not really like that.

    Without reliable voice radio comms, you cannot maneouvre sections or fireteams the way you can AFVs. Things have to be much more deliberate, and much more planned. Arguably this is the difference Richard Simpkin had in mind when he compared traditional infantry, who move between locations, with the more swashbuckling Panzergrenadier types, who halt between moves. Especially in deliberate attacks, I suspect that a lot of WW2 infantry organisational grouping was based on their specific tasks in a quite detailed plan of attack. I’m thinking here of things like Monty’s training for Alamein, but the night raid across the Vistula mentioned above had six days’ planning behind it. I think it might be quite fun in a wargame to have a bunch of undifferentiated infantry stands, and have the exact composition and equipment of each recorded by the owning player in accordance with their tactical plan (something like the way players assign strength points to elements in the “Air and Armor” boardgame). Each element might also have a rehearsed task it was intended to carry out, and require new tasking and perhaps reorganisation before attempting something else. Lots of wargamers seem to actively dislike the planning this implies, and almost no amateur wargame I have ever seen reflects the time required for the orders process to work in the absence of telepathy and clairvoyance. I haven’t played “Pandemic”, so I don’t know if its mechanisms could be used to model the ‘O’ group process, but a plan won’t work until sufficient members of the organisation have been infected with it. Changing the plan half-way through execution normally has no ill consequences in tabletop wargaming, but in real life it is an excellent way to ensure a joint and combined cluster-fudge. Likewise, not allowing sufficient time for the plan to filter down to section level is not likely to be a way of gaining tempo, but rather (as described in “Killer Butterflies”) a way of ensuring that everyone comes back to the battalion straggler line once their officer becomes a casualty, because nobody else knows what the plan is. This reinforces the point Monty and Slim often made about the morale advantages of having people know how their bit fitted into the overall plan.

    I seem to have rattled on at excessive length again, but I am wondering if part of the trick to producing a good infantry game is to treat infantry as a wave rather than a particle, or, at least, as a mob of individuals that is only temporarily and contingently solidified into discrete chunks called “platoon”, “section”, “breaching party” or whatever it might be. It is then the job of the planners to create a pattern of tasks that these groupings can realistically achieve, and for the leaders to keep the groups together long enough to complete the tasks before casualties, fear and fatigue reduce them to a formless rabble.

    All the best,

    John.

    #91084
    Not Connard Sage
    Not Connard Sage
    Participant

    I think, and I’m sticking my head above the parapet here, it only matters in ‘skirmish’ (whatever the hell they are) games anyway. Contemplating squad tactics at anything above company level make me feel a bit dizzy.

    Jolly interesting discussion nonetheless.

    As it goes, there’s a Vietnam rulesbook from years ago called Giac My.  Small unit firefights, and numbingly complex. If anyone wants to dabble further 🙂

     

    "I go online sometimes, but everyone's spelling is really bad. It's... depressing."

    #91089

    Les Hammond
    Participant

    I didn’t want to actually attempt to use units/sub-units smaller than sections, just wondered if they had a name.

    6mm France 1940

    http://les1940.blogspot.co.uk/
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/386297688467965/

    #91090
    Not Connard Sage
    Not Connard Sage
    Participant

    No problem, I was speaking in general terms, not to you in particular. This thread has moved a little away from your original question  🙂

    "I go online sometimes, but everyone's spelling is really bad. It's... depressing."

    #91092
    John D Salt
    John D Salt
    Participant

    No problem, I was speaking in general terms, not to you in particular. This thread has moved a little away from your original question 🙂

    Still no discussion of ACW submarines, though. And you would never have got away with that long shunt from Leicester Square if my reference to Spain hadn’t left me knipped at Osterley under the Tom Wintringham rule.

    All the best,

    John.

    #91104

    Les Hammond
    Participant

    It drifted but remained relevant…no bones broken.

    6mm France 1940

    http://les1940.blogspot.co.uk/
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/386297688467965/

    #91879
    Not Connard Sage
    Not Connard Sage
    Participant

    No problem, I was speaking in general terms, not to you in particular. This thread has moved a little away from your original question 🙂

    Still no discussion of ACW submarines, though. And you would never have got away with that long shunt from Leicester Square if my reference to Spain hadn’t left me knipped at Osterley under the Tom Wintringham rule. All the best, John.

    I’m afraid you fell foul of Montague’s Third Revision there old bean. Better luck next time.

     

     

     

    "I go online sometimes, but everyone's spelling is really bad. It's... depressing."

    #91899
    Abwehrschlacht
    Abwehrschlacht
    Participant

    Just to add here that the British army codified the use of different teams within a Platoon in the training pamphlet SS 143 which was produced in February of 1917. It was taken from lessons learned on the Somme the preceding year and also taken from developments of the French army along the same lines. Here’s a facsimile (see pp 20-23).

    https://archive.org/details/instructionsfort00washrich

    It split the platoon down into four teams; riflemen, bombers, rifle grenadiers and a Lewis team (the latter having one Lewis, increased to two in 1918), each of eight men and a section commander. Footage from an attack in the film The Battle of the Ancre shows it in use. The German Stormtroopers used similar tactics, but the men in ST units were the best men drawn together from the rest of the army, diluting the overall force by concentrating them together. The British and French trained all their men in similar tactics across the entire army.

    • This reply was modified 1 day, 15 hours ago by Abwehrschlacht Abwehrschlacht. Reason: grammar

    http://stormofsteelwargaming.blogspot.co.uk

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