The Rifle Squad/Section - Part 2
The Background :
The modern Rifle Squad/Section was developed by the German Army after the First World War after the Reichswehr conducted a thorough investigation into, and analysis of, the lessons of that war. Between the two world wars, the Reichswehr, and its successor the Wehrmacht, developed a "Gruppe" or Rifle Squad led by a sergeant that consisted of 10-12 men organized around a single machine gun that could be carried and fired by one man. In advance/movement-to-contact, the squad would move in single file (squad column or "Indian File" as infantry learned to do in the first World War), and move into extended line for the assault.
In most circumstances, the squad leader led with the machine gun team (3-4 men) closest to him and the other 6-7 riflemen (including a corporal assistant squad leader) either behind the machine gun team or to one side of it. The squad leader commanded the machine gun team himself and controlled its fires, providing suppressive fire upon the enemy position, ideally at a right angle to the point from which the riflemen planned to launch their assault. The assistant squad leader led the riflemen using cover and concealment to reach a position from which to assault an enemy position from its flank. This use of fire-and-movement coupled with the use of cover and concealment maximized the chances of a successful attack and minimized the potential for losses. Indeed, the German Squad doctrinally was to take advantage of a lull in the enemy fire and assault en masse, firing as it went.
This organization of the rifle squad was made with the following tactical concepts in mind: firstly, that it would require at least an entire squad of riflmen, supported by their own machine gun, in order to successfully assault and destroy an enemy machine gun position; secondly, that that the squad's organic machine gun must be under the direct control of the squad leader who could control its fires in direct accordance with his plans, and that the nachine gun would have a crew sufficient in size to keep it supplied with ammunition and to provide local security (hence its size of 3-4 men); and thirdly, that the riflmen, under the control of the assistant squad leader folowing the squad leaders' plan for the attack, would control a sufficient number of men both to assault and hold the objective of the squad's attack (after sustaining losses in the assault), but also to provide sufficient covering fire just long enough for the squad leader and the machine gun team if tactical circumstances required that it change its base-of-fire position, thus interrupting its suppressive fires until it completed its relocation.
Most other armies around the world eventually adopted by the Second World War a more or less similar organization and tactical concept for their rifle squads/sections, though there were some variations between armies, and in the event, not all performed to the same standards in wartime as others (in part due to differences in leadership and training). The US Army and US Marine Corps were intially still equipped with automatic rifles (the BAR), not light machine guns with removable barrels to minimize overheating and high capacity magazines or belt-feed. Although US troops soon enjoyed the semi-automatic Garand rifle, the BAR simply did not approach the magazine-fed Bren light machine gun, let alone the belt-fed German MG 34 general purpose machine gun (able to be used by one man as a light machine gun in the light role, and as a heavy machine gun with tripod and optical sight in the sustained fire role) in ability to provide a base of fire for the riflemen.
In general, the rifle squad/section of 10-12 men organized into a machine gun team/gun group/automatic rifle team with 3-4 men crewing a machine gun or automatic rifle and a rifle team/rifle group of 5-8 riflemen worked well in the Second World War, and in most armies until the 1980's, this remained largely intact. The most notable exception to this general rule was the USMC, which in the later years of World War II had settled upon a novel rifle squad led by a sergeant who commanded three separate 4-man fire teams, each of which was organized aroung a BAR automatic rifle and commanded by a corporal. The 13 man marine rifle squad was a success, and in addition, enabled each fire team, not just the squad as a whole, to use fire-and-maneuver in alternation with one another. One fire team could provide a base of suppressive fire upon the enemy position while the other two assaulted, either together from the same, or separately from opposite, flanks. In effect, one fire team acted as a machine gun team, whilst the other two combined could act as a rifle team, or vice-versa. The only glaring limitation of this organization was the fact that it was equipped with automatic rifles instead of machine guns. In time, this deficiency was rectified and since then an underslung grenade launcher has been added to each fire team. This organization remains the standard one of the USMC to date.
The US Army took a different course, and since the 1950's has engaged in several changes both in the organization of the rifle squad and in its expectations of what that squad should do. This has had an effect upon the same in other armies, particularly in the English-speaking world, though the full effects were not felt until the 1980's.
During the Second World War, the German rifle squad, diminished in size by manpowers losses from 10-12 men to 9 and finally 8 men, acquired a second machine gun, which towards the end of the war was typically the MG 42 with its fantastic rate of fire. The Germans, in both the MG 42 and its predecessor the MG 34, favoured very high rates of fires in order to deal with fleeting targets of opportunity ("pop-up" sightings of the enemy), whereas the Allies possessed weapons of much more modest rates of fire. As the German capacity for offensive operations was bled away by progressively unsustainable manpower losses in defensive operations, the increase of available firepower had to make up for those losses. The addition of a second machine gun to the German rifle squad substantially increased its defensive strength even as it lost its offensive strength with fewer riflemen being available. A second machine allowed a rifle squad to use interlocking fires, not only covering the opposite machine gun's position, but also sweeping the enemy with fire from both flanks. Though the German army did not develop what would necessarily be called "fire-team tactics", and eschewed the Battle Drill of the Western Allies, the presence of that second machine gun had an influence upon the tactical thought of some other armies, the US Army especially.
This led to the problems that most Western Rifle Squads/Sections face today...To Be Continued in Part 3.