A squad consist of two to three fireteams, with two being the average. Some militaries, like the French and British call a squad a section. Not all squads are broken down into fireteams.
A squad usually has a massive amount of firepower at its disposal. However, some squads are little more than a bunch of soldiers following their squad leader. Some militaries discourage squad leaders, or any non-officer from displaying initiative. Sometimes even officers are discouraged from showing initiative.
For the purpose of this book I will talk about two and three fireteam squads. With all fireteams armed with grenade launchers and machine guns a squad is not something to trifle with. The reason a squad has two or more fireteams is because it gives a squad leader a great deal of flexibility. If one fireteam makes contact with the enemy and engages in a firefight, the squad leader can send the other fireteam around to flank the enemy. With his squad already divided into teams, the squad leader doesn’t have to reorganize or assign a leader, it’s already done. Furthermore, the team is well balanced as far as weaponry goes. When rounds are flying a leader doesn’t have time to say “You, Jake, Mike, Kevin and Eric go attack their right flank. You might as well take Jason with you because he has a machine gun. . .”
Organizing a squad into fireteams also dramatically increases the squad leader’s ability to control the squad. Instead of directing six or more people, he only has to direct two or three, and team leaders in turn only have to control two or three men. This insures more senior soldiers are in charge, more control is displayed and more initiative is displayed.
Breaking down a squad into fireteams is not always practical for militaries. If the troops are conscripts and only serve for one to two years breaking them down into fireteams may not be as effective because they will not gain nearly as much experience to be very effective. Of course there are always exceptions to this rule.
Another point to note is that in some formations, like US Army or British, the squad leader might lead the first fireteam and the assistant squad leader might lead the second. Other units, like the US Marine Corps, will usually have a designated team leader for each fireteam.
When the firing starts one fireteam can lay down a base of fire while the other fireteam gets closer. Instead of having one man cover another man while he rushes, the squad leader can have fireteams cover each other. With three or more fireteams, a squad leader can direct one fireteam to assist another, thereby doubling the firepower at any one point.
When a firefight erupts it usually escalates as combat elements make contact with each other along the battle line. Only in the desert or other open terrain can two large units suddenly start firing at each other.
In the woods, jungle, hills or whatever, usually fireteams start fighting and more units are committed to the battle as the commander makes his decisions. Of course there are exceptions to this rule. If a unit is crossing an open area and comes under fire they will have to adjust. A firefight can quickly escalate from an individual firing at the enemy to a battalion, or regiment firing at the enemy if the two face each other in a line.
When a squad makes contact with the enemy the squad leader has to make several quick decisions. This decisions are based on the mission and the squad’s capabilities. He must evaluate what kind of force the squad is facing. Sometimes this can be determined by the how many enemy rifles are being heard and how much of an area those weapons are occupying. A lot depends on the situation. If the squad has been ambushed and has taken casualties he can’t extract safely, he might order an attack. What kind of attack varies on the terrain and situation. Most likely he will order a fireteam to try and flank the enemy, or he might bring up the other fireteam to help suppress the enemy while casualties are extracted.
Of course he might order everyone to run for their life. As explained above fireteams are independent units and have a great deal of firepower. It is the squad leader’s mission to deploy his fireteams in an effective manner against the enemy. With all the yelling, screaming, gunfire and confusion, a squad leader has a very difficult job controlling his squad and maneuvering it effectively. A squad leader can’t always see his entire squad, or even his team leaders. Squad radios are a god send to a squad leader and allow him to receive reports and give orders. If the squad doesn’t have radios the squad leader has to yell or use hand arm signals. Usually yelling is of limited value because of all the noise and hand arm signals down work very well unless people are looking at him or it is night time. What ends up happening is he has to run around from team leader to team leader giving directions or receiving reports. Of course yelling sometimes works but not always.
This is why standard operating procedures are so important to a squad. SOP’s cover most situations and help overcome much of the confusion. For example, if the SOP calls for first fireteam to lay down a base of fire when they make contact and for second fireteam to envelope (flank) then everyone knows what is going to happen when the shooting starts. First team will automatically move up so they can fire on the enemy and Second team will look to the squad leader for directions on which way to flank the enemy.
Overall, the team leaders have a great deal of control and can spell the difference between victory or defeat if they and their team are properly trained.
Some squads are organized around medium machine guns. For instance, not so long ago British squads were organized with eight men. One had a medium machine gun and the other seven had regular assault rifles.
When the firing began, the machine gunner and his assistant would lay down a base of fire while the six riflemen advanced. When the squad leader was ready for the machine gun to advance, all six riflemen would fire to cover the gunner’s advance.
Regardless of organization, poorly trained (or led) squad would operate as one big mob directed by the squad leader. The squad might have a great deal of firepower in the form of machine guns and rockets, but there would often be a lack of initiative among the troops.
The Soviets were a prime example of this. All tactics were based on battle drills or standard operating procedures. The advantage of this method was that everyone knew what was going on and what was expected of them. Only squad leaders knew how to read a map or a radio. If something unexpected happened then the battle drill could rapidly fall apart. To overcome this the Soviets used waves. When wave one fell apart then wave two would move in, or wave three. Eventually, one wave would succeed and the waves that failed could regroup and reorganize. This method of combat was great for the Soviets who relied on quantity over quality.
Soviet soldiers were not encouraged to think or act on their own. In a Soviet type military, the squad leader would be nothing more than a fireteam leader with a lot more men and weapons than usual. The platoon commander, an officer, would be the real decision maker and even then he would always defer to a higher authority.
A Soviet style squad is heavily armed with automatic weapons. Usual doctrine calls for the squad to deploy on line and while standing or crouching, advance on the enemy. As the squad advances a high volume of fire would be maintained so that the squad would have fire superiority and their enemy would be forced to seek cover. With fire superiority, the Soviet squad would advance on line with their weapon in their shoulder or at their hip. When a soldier fired he would ‘walk’ his rounds into the target, adjusting his aim according to where his rounds hit.
Of course the Soviets did not always do it this way. They would take cover and use finer tactics, but because they didn’t trust their soldiers they preferred to keep things as simple as possible and trained their troops accordingly. Most of their soldiers were conscripts and didn’t want to be there anyway. This is also a reason nearly all Soviet weapons had the automatic fire capability.
A squad is organized very well for a patrol. It has enough organic firepower to hold its own and is small enough to move with some degree of stealth and security. Patrol organization will be covered in another section as this is a primary mission of an infantry squad.
A squad in the defense can be a powerful force. A squad leader, as directed and assisted by the platoon leader is assigned a specific area to cover. In turn, the squad leader assigns his fireteam leaders specific areas to cover and they assign individuals specific areas as described in Fireteam Defense.
The squad leader makes sure the machine guns are properly placed and can fire across the squad’s front. The squad leader also insures all areas of the squad’s front are covered by one or more weapons. More details on the Defense will be covered in another section.
A squad only uses dedicated formations when it is moving to the attack. During patrols it may use formations but due to the fact patrols usually cover large amounts of area formations are not always practical except in certain situations. The squad uses many of the same formations as a fireteam, with one additional one.
Inside the squad formation, the fireteams are in their own formations. Sometimes the squad leader dictates which formations the fireteams will use but not always. For instance in a squad wedge, the lead fireteam might be in a fireteam wedge and the fireteams on either side might be in echelons.
Squad Wedge: When the squad leader does not know where the enemy is he will likely deploy the squad in a wedge formation. This gives him protection to the front and flanks. It only works with three fireteams however. If a squad leader does not have three fireteam he may employ an echelon, or have the lead team form a wedge and the second team follow in a column. Like the fireteam wedge, this formation is easier to control because nearly everyone can see the lead rifleman and adjust off him.
Squad Echelon: When the squad leader is expecting an attack from the side he will likely deploy the squad in an echelon facing the possible enemy location. This concentrates firepower in that direction and provides protection to the front as well. The squad echelon can be used when protecting a larger unit’s flank. Individual fireteams will most likely deploy in echelons to support the squad formation. The lead fireteam may deploy in a team wedge or a skirmishers formation.
Squad Skirmisher/On line: When the squad leader knows his right and left flanks are covered and he knows the enemy is to his front he will deploy his squad on line (also called a skirmish line). This allows him to concentrate firepower to the front but leaves him vulnerable to the flanks. Deploying the squad on line is also a good way to search an area. Fireteams will likely deploy in skirmisher formations, wedges, or echelons depending on the perceived threat. The on line formation is usually very hard to control even under the best circumstances and is used only when contact is imminent or searching an area. At night this is a nightmare because people usually can’t see the person to either side very well.
Squad V: The squad V is a reverse of the wedge. This is used primarily to protect the rear of a larger unit’s column. Firepower is concentrated to the rear and flanks. One variation of this is to have the two lead fireteams close together. When contact is made, the first two fireteams will lay down a base of fire and the trailing fireteam flanks the enemy.
The Column: The column is used when the squad is more interested in speed. It is always easier to follow the guy in front of you than to make your own trail. At night the column formation keeps people from wandering off and getting separated. The column is also more quieter since one person is making a path and everyone else is following instead of making their own. The disadvantage of a column is firepower to the front and rear is severely limited and the squad is vulnerable to attack. Firepower to the sides is good however.
Whenever a squad makes contact with the enemy it usually tries to deploy in a line facing the enemy. This way more squad members are able to fire at the enemy and not risk shooting another squad member. When the unit is on line it is very difficult to control and this is where the team leaders play a big role. If the fireteam leaders are incompetent and not paying attention to the battle they may fail to support another fireteam or be completely ineffective against the enemy.
Most infantry squads are usually composed of riflemen and a few light machine gunners. Companies usually have a special platoon of special weapons like medium machine guns, rocket launchers and mortars. A battalion will have anti-tank missiles and heavy machine guns in a special company.
What usually happens is a company commander will assign each platoon so many machine guns and rocket launchers depending on the missions and availability. The platoon leader in turn, may assign these units to squads for special missions. There may also be other specialists assigned to squads, like engineers, local guides or translators, scout dogs, sniper teams, anti-air missile team and so on.
A machine gun squad (usually assigned to a platoon) has three gun teams, each one with a medium machine gun. The number of men in each machine gun team can vary from three to five people.
When a squad leader receives such attachments it increases his combat effectiveness a great deal. The squad is then generally reorganized to take advantage of the attachment. Like a fireteam leader deploying his machine gunner, the squad leader deploys the special attachment where it can do the most damage to the enemy. In most cases the attachment leader is intimately familiar with his weapon and can advise the squad leader. This is one reason specialists train separately. For instance a rocket gunner training with other rocket people, learns more than if he was detached and training with a regular unit.
Depending on what weapon is attached to his squad depends on how it is deployed. For instance a medium machine gun is not the best weapon for a rapid, moving assault. A medium machine gun is best employed from an overwatch position where it can provide covering fire while the squad advances. A rocket launcher might be held in reserve until a bunker or some other hard target is encountered. An engineer team might be sent forward to clear a route through a mine field while the rest of the squad provides covering fire.
In general the squad leader remains in command of the unit until the specialist’s abilities come into play. In good units the squad leader (or platoon leader) will let the specialist do his job and provide what support he can. In bad units the commander will attempt to supervise the specialist and will refuse to rely on the specialist’s abilities.
A US Marine squad leader usually commands up to thirteen men. In a combat environment with attachments he can command up to twenty, or in rare instances, more.
A mechanized squad operates like a regular infantry squad in many ways. The biggest difference however, is the armored personnel carrier (APC) or Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV). The IFV is usually a lightly armored, well armed vehicle that provides a great many advantages on the battle field. It is important to note that the armor of the IFV is not considered the primary advantage. The IFV can transport troops around the battlefield more quickly and safely than if they were on foot. The IFV also provides an impressive amount of firepower to support the infantry squad.
IFV’s also allow a soldier to enter combat more lightly equipped because he can leave his non-critical gear, like food and supplies aboard the vehicle. An armored vehicle also provides some protection from enemy artillery and mortars. It makes a big target for enemy attack aircraft and anti-tank weapons. Most anti-tank weapons were designed to take out main battle tanks and IFV’s have nowhere near the amount of protection a tank has.
Mechanized infantry were mechanized so they could keep up with tanks. Without infantry, tanks are extremely vulnerable to enemy infantry.
Doctrine frequently varies from military to military, however, when combat occurs infantry almost always dismount from their vehicle. Some IFV’s have gun ports so the troops inside the IFV can shoot out. This looks real good on paper, in practice it is nearly worthless. Visibility from inside a IFV is very poor and by nature, IFV’s give the troops a false sense of security. IFV’s may be bullet proof but one missile can kill everyone inside. Outside their IFV troops have a much better chance of survival.
When attacking an objective, tactics usually vary on whether or not IFV or infantry lead the way. With the proliferation of anti-tank missiles and rockets it is becoming standard for infantry to lead the way. The IFV will either follow the infantry or take up a position and use its heavy firepower to suppress the enemy and support the infantry attack.
If the enemy is known to have few or no anti-tank weapons, then the IFV’s will usually lead the way.
When moving or patrolling, a platoon of IFV’s will often use many of the same formations as fireteams but will not have designated riflemen or automatic riflemen. The Wedge, Skirmisher, Echelon, and Column are all used by vehicle platoons (which consist of three to four vehicles). Companies will move like infantry squad formations. All basic infantry formations can apply to vehicles because the formation is about focusing power without endangering other friendlies.
Tracked and wheeled vehicles are often more restricted in their movement because of terrain. In a thickly wooded area or the jungle for instance, vehicles are more of a liability and can only operate on roads. Large trees can stop tanks cold for instance and in some areas (like a swamp) the tank will sink into the muck. Just because a vehicle is amphibious does not mean it can go anywhere. Many vehicles need a gradual slope to safely enter and exit the water otherwise they might capsize or get stuck.
Another important aspect to remember when dealing with mechanized units is they frequently expect to encounter other mechanized units. This means that there will be a higher number of anti-tank weapons organic to the platoon and squad. They are also able to carry more ammunition and equipment than a regular line infantry unit.