Saturday, February 7, 2015

Infantry Basics

The most common toy soldiers are infantry figures. Artillerymen, vehicle crewmen sand support troops are less frequent subjects for miniature soldiers. That being the case, it helps for both diorama makers and those writing game rules to understand the most basic infantry organization.

During the 19th century, the most common infantry unit was a company of 100 men. The 20th Century saw a very different organization. Weapons and methods of warfare made the Civil War type company obsolete. What developed was a different structure wit the company divided into smaller units called platoons. Each platoon was further divided into units called squads.

By the 1930s, the basic infantry squad had three components: riflemen, an automatic weapons team, and a command section. The squad could be divided as needed. For instance riflemen could be divided into two or more teams supported by the automatic weapons crew. They could be used as a single team to defend a position. Squads were versatile.

The basic infantry squad has from 9 to 18 members. German, British and Soviet forces in World War II had ten-man squads composed of a commander, riflemen and a three to four man automatic weapons team. The US Army squad was 12 to 13 men with riflemen, two scouts and a three-man automatic rifle crew. Japanese squads were 15 men and Italians squads eventually grew to 18. The US Marine Corps started the war with a 9-man squad and ended with 13 men. Though not official, US Army and Marine squads increased the number of automatic rifles as the war progressed. By war’s end, most had two or three automatic rifles.

Automatic weapon teams had three to four members

Squads were commanded by a sergeant. His assistant was a corporal.

Depending on the army, three or four squads made a platoon. German and British platoons also had a small mortar team. US units held the mortars at company level. The platoon was normally commanded by a Second Lieutenant.

Three to five platoons made a Company commanded by a Captain, American companies had three rifle platoons, a heavy weapons platoon with heavy machine guns and mortars, and a headquarters platoon.

Here is the monkey wrench in the works. Even in peacetime, units were rarely up to full strength. The organization table of squads, platoons and companies differed from what was really available. During wartime, there were more shortages due to casualties and such. That was reflected in smaller squads, platoons and companies. For instance, German companies in early 1945 were often whittled down to the size of a couple of understrength platoons.

The tendency has been to increase the squad’s firepower as it becomes available. In some ases, modern squads are smaller than their 20tth century counterparts but have more firepower. Grenade launchers, light machine guns and similar weapons have made a modern squad almost as powerful as a World War II platoon.

Infantry organization changed from time to time. In World War II, some armies changed year by year. You can find resources that explain the organization of the armies that fought the Spanish-American war, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and modern times. Always bear in mind that an army took time catching up to new doctrines. Also, units were rarely to full strength.


A problem for Infantry in World War II was the tank. Giving the infantry an effective anti-tank weapon was crucial. One attempt was the anti-tank rifle, a heavy-caliber weapon that fired a steel bullet backed by an oversized powder charge. These weapons tended to be heavy and only marginally effective. Anti-tank rifles had little effect as armor thicknesses increased. Anti-tank cannons issued to infantry battalions also became obsolete. The other solution was the use of the shaped charge. American forces had an anti-tank rifle grenade and the bazooka. Late in the war they received recoilless rifles. German troops used the panzerschreck, a large-caliber bazooka, and the panzerfaust, a portable anti-tank grenade launcher. By the Vietnam er, disposable single-shot bazookas like the M72 LAW and portable anti-tank grenade launchers like the Soviet RPG were the norm.

In American squads, rifle grenades and bazookas were the responsibility of the assistant squad leader.

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