France’s Military Structure – Louis XIV

France’s suffering in the Thirty Years’ War had been more financial than otherwise, since the war was not fought on its soil. Still, the superior performance of professionals had been proven and, after a bit of its own civil war, the government began taking serious measures to upgrade the military. This began at roughly the same time a new monarch came to the throne, Louis XIV. He had the assistance of two able administrators who completely reworked the nature of France’s military structure. In 1668 Michel le Tellier was appointed to the post of secretary of state for military affairs; he was aided and ultimately succeeded in this position by his son, Francois Michel Tellier, better known as the Marquis de Louvois, who orchestrated the transformation of the army into a truly royal force, and became the first great civilian minister of war in any country. One of his major accomplishments (though not completely fulfilled) was to address the corruption among army officers. It was not uncommon to list more manpower in one’s unit than actually existed, in order to be provided with more money and supplies. Limited inspection visits made this easy, even though it could prove dangerous in wartime when one expected to field an army of a certain size when such numbers did not exist. Further, having responsible soldiers (rather than the traditional prison recruits) became a priority. Advancement became possible through merit and not just birth or purchase of a commission.

Up-to-strength units received the best possible training and supplies. In order to accomplish the second item, the ministry developed a system of supply magazines. Regular food on campaign meant no need to pillage, which both maintained positive civil relations and gave soldiers fewer opportunities to leave camp, something that usually resulted in unmilitary activities and behavior. What Gustavus had tried to implement, regular food and pay, became established and successful policy under the French regime, which did much to expand the army significantly as well as increase the number of talented officers through the merit system. Other countries had to follow suit or be completely at France’s mercy.

The infantry made up about one-fourth of the French army. Foot soldiers were organized by the turn of the century into battalions of thirteen companies of 40–50 men each, armed with matchlocks or flintlocks. The transition from the older, heavier, less dependable weapon had not completely taken place by 1700. Indeed, in the French army it almost did not take place at all. For some reason King Louis XIV disliked flintlocks, even for a time ordering they be abandoned, but luckily for him cooler heads convinced him otherwise. The flintlock offered an increased rate of fire, two to three shots per minute as opposed to two shots in three minutes with the matchlock. Without the need to worry about a long, burning fuse, soldiers needed less space to reload, so they could be lined up in tighter formations, increasing the firepower. There was another area in which the French had not advanced, and that was their rejection of the paper cartridge, carrying both powder and ball. Most other European armies had adopted the paper cartridge used by Gustavus. The French continued to deploy their men in five or six ranks, better for resisting attacks but not designed to put as much lead in the air as fewer ranks would have allowed.

Two new things appeared among the French infantry under Louis XIV at the end of the seventeenth century. One was the socket bayonet invented by the fortification-engineering genius Sebastian Vauban, which led to the death of the pike. Earlier attempts at using bayonets resulted in the plug type, which was stuck in the barrel and therefore prevented the weapon from firing. A ring bayonet merely slipped over the barrel and easily fell off. Vauban’s device slipped over a lug that held the bayonet in place once it was rotated. With the bayonet’s ability to provide the sharp points that charging horses did not want to encounter, the pikeman was removed from the field by 1700. Thus, everyone on the line now had a musket, increasing firepower even more. The second was the introduction of the grenadiers, who along with their standard weaponry of flintlock, bayonet, sword, and hatchet carried 12–15 grenades. These were hollow iron shells filled with gunpowder, which had first appeared in the Middle Ages. In 1667 four men from each infantry company were trained in throwing grenades and termed “grenadiers”; four years later one company of grenadiers was assigned to each battalion. Physically large and strong, they became an elite soldiery designated for difficult assignments.

French cavalry was divided into three classes. Louis XIV’s time witnessed the introduction of cavalerie légère or light cavalry, which used to be the heavy cavalry. It was renamed because the new cavalrymen did not wear heavy armor as previously. In 1690 came the introduction of modern light cavalry, the hussars. The third class was the dragoons, or mounted infantry. Each carried a musket, pistol, saber, and shovel. The shovel meant that he could entrench himself just like regular infantry, but with his horse he could also be used in long-distance service such as transport escort. Regular cavalry were equipped with a sword with a three-foot straight blade, two flintlock pistols carried in saddle holsters, and a shorter musket called a carbine. Just as the grenadiers became elite infantry, Louis’s army introduced elite cavalrymen in the form of carabiniers who were given rifled carbines. In October 1690 they were formed into their own company. In late 1693 these companies were grouped into a new unit called Royal Carabiniers, 100 companies strong—a sort of elite reserve cavalry division.

In spite of the return of power tactics with the cavalry of Gustavus Adolphus’s Swedes, the French retained many of the older practices. The French cavalry was not used for shock, as Gustavus had used his, but as mobile musketeers. Just as in the older cavalry, they attacked in the caracole, using pistols or carbines. The main difference was that the horsemen now fired in volleys of three ranks, expanding their firepower somewhat. The French tended to mass their cavalry on the wings with the infantry arrayed in the center. Nothing special is indicated in the early seventeenth-century sources about French artillery, an interesting omission, since artillery became one of the French specialties by the middle of the eighteenth century.

As for French generals, the great ones by this time had passed on. Marshal Count Turenne was the class of his era and certainly Marlborough was glad to have served under his command and picked up some lessons. His immediate predecessor (and rival during the French civil wars) was Louis de Bourbon, the Prince de Condé, also known as “The Great Condé.” Both had risen to high command near the end of the Thirty Years War and had also fought in the various conflicts with the Dutch. The master of siege warfare, both offensive and defensive, was Sebastian Vauban, but he was far more an engineer and master of siegecraft than a combat commander. Still, Louis’s army was not without some talent, although his generals tend to be overshadowed by Marlborough and Eugene. Some, like the dukes of Tallard, Villeroi, and Bourgogne were political appointees with little to recommend them, but some, the duc de Villars and duc de Vendôme in particular, had real talent.

marquis de Louvois, (1641–1691)

Né François Le Tellier. Successor to his father, Michel Le Tellier, as principal military and strategic adviser to Louis XIV. He was the main transformer of the French Army into an instrument of royal authority and foreign policy. In part, he accomplished this by helping his father and Louis establish the Régiment du Roi in 1663 as a model for all French infantry regiments. He also founded the Royal-Artillerie in 1673 as a professional and concentrated artillery arm. These reforms had influence on military developments far beyond France

Following a pattern set by his father, with whom he understudied from 1662 to 1670, Louvois lobbied hard for bullying wars as the main basis of French foreign policy. He did so not least as a means of creating opportunities to concentrate more power and wealth in his own hands. He was centrally involved in reorganization of the French Army away from private regiments and mercenaries to a more professional officer corps and to regular units raised from the king’s subjects. He exercised such strict control over officers, however, that tactical and operational mediocrity was often the result. In logistics he found a calling, notably fully developing the magazine system left in rudimentary form by his father. Among Louvois’ more important innovations was to introduce portable ovens to bake bread during halt days while a French army was on the move. At the onset of the Dutch War (1672-1678), Louvois accumulated in forward magazines enough grain to provide the advancing armies with 200,000 rations per day for up to six months-an unheard of achievement in European warfare since the fall of Rome. This effort is widely regarded by historians as his finest. It ensured Louis XIV early military success that would not be replicated in later, longer wars fought without Louvois at his side. For this material accomplishment, regardless of Louvois’ many and deep moral flaws, he is properly regarded by historians as the first great civilian “minister of war.”

Louis XIV drilled himself as a form of childhood play, and continued to play at war as a man, and then as king. He believed that discipline, rather than bloody mayhem, was what won battles and insisted on constant drill, at least twice per week, even for garrison units. His regiments drilled through the winter and during the rare summers when they were not in the field. Early in his reign, Michel Le Tellier and Louvois helped Louis found a special regiment, the Régiment du Roi (1663), to model and demonstrate proper drill to the rest of the French Army. This regiment, and then all French drill, was overseen from 1667 by inspectors-general.

One of Louvois’ most crucial reforms was to institute musketry drill, upon discovering that many French infantrymen, especially peasant conscripts, went into battle not knowing how to load or discharge their main weapon. The French emphasis on drill thereafter grew so fierce that the intendant responsible for drill in the French Army, Colonel Jean Martinet, original colonel of the Régiment du Roi, became so infamous for fussy, even merciless insistence on the smallest detail of uniform discipline and drill that his name entered the universal military lexicon as a pejorative for inflexible drill instructors.

As for his moral failings, they were many and great. For instance, during Turenne’s march through the Palatinate in 1674, Louvois demanded that the harshest methods be used against German villagers who resisted by any means, or who refused to pay contributions. During the War of the Reunions (1683-1684), he again displayed a penchant for personal cruelty and brutality in punishing villagers. He once ordered fully 20 villages be bombarded and burned in retaliation for the loss of two French barns. Although he was patron to Vauban, the two disagreed about whether to use bombardment as an alternative to siege warfare. John A. Lynn, the leading modern historian of the French Army, maintains that Louvois took a savage approach to war and that, for him, bombardment of towns with mortars during the 1680s “became something of a blood lust.” Nor did his none-too-gentle master in Versailles voice any objection. In 1688 Louvois began to raise new provincial militia to supplement the regular regiments. These were gainfully employed when Louis started the Nine Years’ War (1688-1697) that fall. Louvois planned the 1688-1689 devastation of the Palatinate (1688-1689) on a map, reveling yet again in the destruction of German towns and cities, and even individual chateaux. His death on July 16, 1691, removed from inner policy circles a baleful and brutish influence on Louis XIV, a monarch who needed little encouragement to indulge his own vices and a pronounced preference for war over diplomacy.

Prussian Army at Blenheim 1704

A Prussian dragoon, c. 1704. The dark blue coat with turnback regimental facings was typical of the Prussian troops. Moustaches were popular among German troops, but the British were usually clean-shaven.

Prince Eugene’s Attack

While the fighting for Blindheim went on, Prince Eugene sent his imperial and Prussian squadrons, under command of Prince Maximilian of Hanover, to pick their way across the broken rivulets of the Nebel and engage Count von Wolframsdorf’s Bavarian cavalry on the cornfields between Unterglau and Lutzingen. The marshy obstacle here was apparently more difficult than downstream but their attack was initially successful in pushing back Wolframsdorf’s foremost squadrons. This success could not be sustained and the second line Bavarian squadrons came forward with French support and resolutely drove Maximilien’s troopers back. At the same time, the eleven Prussian and seven Danish infantry battalions, under the robust command of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Dessau, moved to attack the Bavarian and French defenders of Lutzingen: ‘He showed no regard for danger, and did lead on his followers most courageously’. The lines of infantry went forward into a heavy artillery fire from the batteries placed around the village, and at heavy cost Finck’s Russian Brigade forced their way at bayonet point into the gun positions, the soldiers of Margraf Ludwig’s Regiment fighting hand to hand with the Bavarian gunners for possession of the artillery pieces. The Prussians were then driven out by a stinging counter-attack from the Bavarian infantry, led by two battalions of the Elector’s Liebegarde Fusilier Regiment, and had to fall back to reform for a fresh effort. The Bavarians quickly manned their guns once more, and the ranks of Prussian infantry were shredded with heavy canister fire at murderously close range. Their position could not be maintained, and with their supporting cavalry being driven away on the left, they fell back to the Nebel, in the process uncovering the flank of the Danes who were already fiercely engaged with du Rozel’s French infantry in the woods to the north of the village. Eugene’s infantry scrambled back across the stream in some disorder. Losses had been heavy; several Prussian regimental colours were lost in the confusion, and it would be some time before the attack could be renewed with any prospect of success.

Marlborough recalled that: ‘The Elector and M. Marsin were so advantageously posted that Prince Eugene could make no impression on them’. The Prince rode forward to rally the shaken troops, but a fresh attempt by his second-line imperial cavalry led forward by the Duke of Württemberg to force their way across the stream failed to make very much ground under the brutally effective cross-fire of artillery from Oberglau and Lutzingen. A sharp second counter-attack by the Elector’s cavalry was, however, a rather half–hearted affair and was not pressed across the marshy stream in the way it might have been. Eugene’s batteries were now hammering away from a good position near to Weilheim Farm, but a third advance by Eugene’s re-formed cavalry failed to make any progress across the Nebel. Both sides were clearly tiring fast on the northern half of the battlefield, and another attack by Anhalt-Dessau’s infantry at about 4.30 p.m. which inevitably lacked the spirit and energy of their first effort, could not make any impression on the defences of Lutzingen. Anhalt-Dessau exhorted his men onwards, waving a shot-torn Prussian regimental colour over his head, but men were falling fast on either hand, and even though they gained a toe-hold in the Bavarian battery once more, the defence of Lutzingen was as solid as ever. The French and Bavarians stood their ground, and with volleys of musketry beat the attack off once more with heavy losses, ‘The Elector of Bavaria was seen riding up and down,’ it was noted, ‘and inspiring the men also with fresh courage’. Scholten’s Danes also had to fall back on the right, the French Régiment de le Dauphin putting in a slashing counter-attack to restore the security of the left of their line. Prince Eugene had ridden over to add encouragement to the infantry assault, and in the press of the fighting a Bavarian dragoon levelled his musket at him, but was smartly bayoneted by a Danish soldier before he could fire. For all their local success in driving off this fresh attack, Maffei’s troops were themselves too battered to pursue and make the most of their local success, and were unable to take the valuable chance to turn the second Danish and Prussian withdrawal into a rout at the muddy Nebel’s edge. Both sides had clearly exhausted themselves on this part of the field; for the moment neither could attack the other with any real prospect of success, and the battle would now have to be decided on the Plain of Höchstädt.

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In the centre of the field, the Duke of Württemberg led his Danish cavalry across the Nebel, but a smart counter-attack by Marsin’s French squadrons drove them back over the stream to recover their order. Simultaneously, Count Horn’s Dutch, Swiss and Prussian infantry forced their way forward to attack the Marquis de Blainville’s French garrison in Oberglau, and so secured the right flank of Marlborough’s advance against Tallard. Shortly after 3 p.m., the Prince of Holstein-Beck and Major-General Pallandt were directed to secure the village itself, but their Dutch troops were quickly thrown back by the émigré Irish regiments of Clare, Dorrington and Lee. The leading regiments of Goor and Beynheim were routed and dispersed, many being taken prisoner: ‘So warmly received that after a sharp dispute they were forced to retire,’ Francis Hare recalled. The Dutch infantry fought doggedly, but were driven away step by step in a bayonet-stabbing and musket-butt-wielding contest with the Irish. As his troops fell back in increasing disorder towards the marshy ground of the edge of the stream, Holstein-Beck sent a message to Count Fugger, standing near to the Weiheim Farm with a brigade of Imperial Swabian cuirassiers, calling for him to come urgently to support. The Count refused to move, as he had orders to anchor Eugene’s flank at this point and would do no more without instructions; his reluctance to move was understandable, for his cuirassiers ensured the security of Eugene’s left flank as his attacks drove in against Lutzingen. Holstein-Beck was wounded soon afterwards and taken prisoner by the French; although he was released later that day, he died soon afterwards and Count Berensdorf took over the command of his troops at a difficult moment.

Marlborough’s Great Attack

Francis Hare remembered that: ‘The Duke of Marlborough had got the whole of the left wing of the allied army over the rivulet and our Horse were drawn up in two lines fronting that of the enemy, but they did not offer to charge till General Churchill had ranged his Foot also in two lines behind the cavalry.’ The careful balance of cavalry and infantry, supported by artillery, was in place and all was ready for Marlborough to strike at the centre of gravity of the Franco-Bavarian army, Tallard’s almost entirely unsupported squadrons of cavalry. ‘About five o’clock the general forward movement was made, which determined the issue of this great battle, which until then had seemed to remain doubtful. The Duke of Marlborough, having ridden along the front, gave orders to sound the charge.’ The Duke waved his commanders forward – Lieutenant-General Henry Lumley with the British and Prussian cavalry on the left and the Duke of Württemberg on the right with Hanoverian and Danish squadrons. The advance by some 8,000 allied horsemen across the open plain, at a steady trot so as not to tire the horses too soon, supported by some 14,000 infantry, was robustly met by the first-line French cavalry now commanded by the Marquis d’Humieres as von Zurlauben was lying gravely wounded. These squadrons valiantly pushed Marlborough’s cavalry back onto their infantry supports, and Merode-Westerloo wrote that his squadrons ‘charged and flung them back’. The allied troopers could fall back on their infantry while they recovered their order, and once again, the French were exposed to the lash of musketry, emptying many saddles. Hare recalled that the old and outmoded practice of firing pistols from the halt was still being employed by the French: ‘Those of the enemy presented their fusils at some small distance and fired, but they had no sooner done so than they immediately turned about.’ This was the correct drill to reload weapons, but such rearward movements could soon tumble out of control in the press and heat of a mounted action. Now, the fresh second-line allied squadrons, Hessians, Hanoverians, Saxons and Dutch, under command of Graf Reynard van Hompesch and the Count of Ost-Friese, fresh and in fine order, rode forward in full array and it was a battle-winning stroke. Captain Robert Parker remembered that: ‘Our squadrons drove through the very centre of them, which put them to entire rout.’

The ordering of the first line French squadrons crumbled under the relentless allied pressure, and they rode to the rear to attempt to recover but instead disrupted the ranks of their second line that remained in support. The adjutant of the Gens d’Armes wrote afterwards in a letter to the French Minister for War that ‘We had charged twice before the cavalry had approached the enemy, we faced them until six o’clock in the evening. It was in the centre which was thin and weak, where the enemy pierced through.’ Disorder in the ranks of the French squadrons was spreading quickly and the troopers were increasingly looking over their shoulders, while shouted commands and drum rolls were disregarded. With the press of disciplined allied horsemen so close behind, panic quickly took hold, and whole squadrons of French cavalry lost their composure completely, turned about and attempted to ride headlong off the field. Then, Merode-Westerloo recalled:

There was a definite but unauthorised movement to the rear … two musket balls killed my horse beneath me so that he subsided gently to the ground. One of my aides-de-camp and a groom came up with another horse after observing my fall, and they soon had me hoisted onto horseback again.

Meanwhile, abandoned by their cavalry, the nine battalions of young infantry still valiantly held their ground beside the Höchstädt road, only to be shot down in rank and file. Francis Hare wrote that:

Colonel Blood was ordered at the same time to march a battery over the pontoons [across the Nebel] and to bring it to bear on the enemy’s battalions. This was done with good success and made a great slaughter of the enemy. They stood firm, however, for a time, closing their ranks as fast as they were broken, until being much weakened, they were at last thrown into disorder, when our squadrons falling upon them, they were cut down in entire ranks, and were seen so lying after the battle.

As the French cavalry collapsed, and turned to flee from the field, Merode-Westerloo’s horse was born up by the press of panicked riders on either side so that the hooves did not touch the ground for some minutes, before Merode-Westerloo was thrown down a bank with many others and trampled on before being found and remounted once again by his faithful groom. A pontoon bridge across the Danube gave way, and some troopers attempted to swim their horses across the river in their urgent desire to escape, but most who tried were drowned in the fast-flowing waters. A last desperate attempt by the Marquis de Gruignan to pull together some squadrons of Gens d’Armes and mount a fresh counter-attack which was brushed aside, while Tallard sent the Marquis de Maisonelle galloping over to Blindheim to belatedly draw out some of the infantry there to support the cavalry, but the aide-de-camp was never seen again and was presumably killed on the way. The Marshal now rode towards the village, but it was all too late and too little, and not far from the hamlet of Sonderheim he was accosted on the way by a party of Hanoverian dragoons commanded by Colonel Beinbourg. Tallard, whose son had just been killed at his side by a dragoon, was conducted to the Prince of Hesse-Cassell, and sent on to Marlborough, who was then directing the pursuit of the broken French squadrons.

Pallandt’s Brigade (Dutch)

Bynheim Regiment (Dutch)

Schwerin Regiment (Prussian)

De Varenne Regiment (Prussian)

Wulffen Regiment (Prussian)

The Right Wing

Commander: Prince Eugene of Savoy

1st Line Infantry – Anhalt-Dessau Anhalt-Dessau, Leopold, Prince (1676–1747) Prussian officer commanding the Imperial infantry under Prince Eugene. The ‘Old Dessauer’ of Frederick the Great’s wars.

Finck’s Brigade (Prussian)

1st Battalion Grenadier Garde (Kurprinz Freidrich Wilhelm I)

2nd Battalion Grenadier Garde

1st Battalion Margraf Ludwig’s Regiment

2nd Battalion Margraf Ludwig’s Regiment

1st Battalion Anhalt-Dessau’s Regiment

2nd Battalion Anhalt-Dessau’s Regiment

Canitz’s Brigade (Prussian)

1st Battalion Margraf Philip’s Regiment

2nd Battalion Margraf Philip’s Regiment

Lieb-Garde Regiment (Lottum’s)

1st Battalion Canitz’s Regiment

2nd Battalion Canitz’s Regiment

1st Line Cavalry – Maximilian of Hanover

Natzmer’s Brigade (Prussian) Natzmer, Major-General Dubislaw (1654–1739) Prussian cavalry commander defeated with Count von Styrum at Höchstädt in 1703, and taken prisoner at Blenheim. Subsequently fought at Oudenarde (1708) and Malplaquet (1709).

Liebregiment of Dragoons

Margraf Philip’s Cuirassier Regiment

Wartensleben Regiment of Horse

Bayreuth-Kulmbach Cuirassier Regiment

Von Krassow’s Regiment of Dragoons

Sassanian [Sassanid] Army I

Emperor Julian is killed during his failed invasion of Sassanian Persia in June 26, 363 AD. Above is a recreation of Sassanian Persia’s elite cavalry, the Savaran, as they would have appeared during Julian’s failed invasion. Note the heavily armored Sassanian elite guardsman (Pushtighban) whose lance has pierced a Roman infantryman. Further right is a Savaran officer whose sword is drawn in what is now known as the “Italian grip” but Sassanian in origin. To the far right can be seen a Zoroastrian or Mithraist Magus brandishing a Sassanian era symbol. Also of interest are the armored elephants in the background. Armored elephants were especially prized as their cabs afforded very high elevation over the battlefield, which was ideal for Sassanian archery.

The Sassanian spah was notably different from its Parthian predecessor in that it was not simply an all-cavalry force. Cavalry of course retained its elite status and continued to develop until the later Sassanian era, but these were not the only elements in the battle order of the spah. There were in fact important auxiliary units, especially infantry, slingers and the elephant corps. There are also references to a camel corps and even chariots, although the latter would have been long obsolete as a battlefield weapon. The spah also recruited light cavalry auxiliaries to support the savaran. Arab Lakhmid cavalry, equipped and trained much like the savaran, also gained an important role, especially by the early fifth century CE. Women also served in the Sassanian military. Another interesting domain is the Sassanian navy in the Persian Gulf and its role since the founding of the dynasty in the early third century CE.

Sassanian Infantry

As in the previous Achaemenid and Parthian dynasties, infantry units were ranked as second in status to the savaran cavalry. Nevertheless, Kolesnikoff has noted that infantry troops formed a significant portion of the Sassanian spah. Extrapolating from the available sources, Jalali identifies three distinct units of infantry: paighan heavy infantry (i.e. heavily armoured and armed), light infantry and infantry archers. To these must also be added the Dailamites, who were to rise in military importance from the sixth century, as well as the neyze-daran and the peasant infantry. While most Western scholarship has acknowledged the importance and efficacy of the Dailamites, assessments of Sassanian infantry are generally negative. This perspective has been challenged by Howard-Johnston, who cautions that ‘the contemptuous dismissal of the Persian infantryman as an ill-equipped, unpaid, rural serf (Ammianus Marcellinus, XXXIII, VI, 83) should be trusted no more than the grossly exaggerated eastward outreach of Sassanian power which is said to embrace China (Ammianus Marcellinus, XXXIII, VI, 14)’.3 This section endeavours to distinguish between the different types of infantry and suggest that Western assessments may have at least partly to do with the poor combat performance of the peasant levies or infantry.

Paighan: heavy infantry. The commander of an infantry detachment was the paighan-salar. However, the term paigh or payg (foot soldier) requires more research as it is not clear if the description refers to lightly armed peasant levies pressed into service or more professional infantry. This may partly explain why there appears to be some confusion in the distinction between the poorly trained and armed peasant light infantry, paighan and the neyze-daran. Penrose, for example, identifies the peasant infantry as the paighan, but does acknowledge the existence of a separate force of ‘regular combat infantry’. As noted by Jalali, the duties of the paighan-salar’s infantry during peacetime were internal security activities for the empire, not unlike modern day policing. While such forces were most likely drawn from the peasant population, they appear to have been distinct from those strictly peasant levies pressed into service for siege works, baggage handling, etc. (see below). Paighan units in every province would be placed under the command of local regional commanders for deployment as security forces or ‘gendarmes’ in urban centres to help maintain law and order. The paighan-salar could also be placed as the head of prisons as seen in reports of such an officer in command of the prison at Dastegerd in late Sassanian times. For such duties and responsibilities, the paighan must have had at least some rudimentary military training and equipment for combat. This was a task for which the strictly peasant infantry were, according to Roman accounts (see Procopius below) wholly unsuited. Daryaee defines the paighan as having been armed with spear and shield, while Jalali defines such spear and shield-equipped troops as a subdivision within the paighan. Both Jalali and Sami concur that the paighan were the spah’s standard heavy infantry, especially until the rise of the highly effective Dailamite infantry of northern Iran appearing from the time of Khosrow I in the sixth century CE.14 Interestingly, the ‘professional’ infantry aspect of the term paighan has entered the Armenian lexicon as payik.  There are indications that professional heavy infantry troops were registered on state rolls and paid in cash like the cavalry elite.

Sami has noted that paighan formations were usually deployed to the rear of the savaran. According to Jalali, the role of the paighan was to provide combat support for the savaran corps as well as protection for the light infantry and foot archers. In practice, foot archers would first be placed ahead of the paighan to fire their missiles. Once their missiles were exhausted, the foot archers would retire to the rear of the paighan. The light ‘peasant’ infantry performed as logistics, support and siege work personnel; and, since they had very low combat skills, they relied on the paighan and savaran for their battlefield survival.

What is certainly clear is that well-armed paighan armoured infantry were in service with the spah from the early days of the dynasty, especially during the campaigns of Shapur I against the Roman Near East in the mid-third century CE.20 It is possible to reconstruct these paighan thanks to the findings of a Franco-American excavation team that discovered the remains of a fallen Sassanian soldier in Tower 19 at Dura-Europos that had been subject to mining operations by the spah. The paighan wore a ‘T-shirt’ style short-sleeved mail garment reaching to his hips. He was armed with a rectangular shield of wickerwork construction and wore a two-piece riveted ‘ridge’ helmet. According to Zoka, Hekmat and Jalali the paighan were typically armed with swords, daggers and other hand-to-hand weapons such as maces. This equipment would suggest that the paighan were expected to engage in close-quarters hand-to-hand combat against their Roman counterparts, especially in siege scenarios. Nevertheless, Roman infantry would often gain the upper hand in close-quarters combat against the paighan. Lee has correctly noted that despite the Roman edge in infantry, the Sassanians were able to compensate for this weakness with their highly effective cavalry forces (the savaran) and efficient siege warfare. Interestingly, Ziapour reports that the paighan wore leg protection (like the cavalry) in the form of lamellar type armour (made of hardened leather or metals) worn over leather trousers. While certainly possible, this assertion has yet to be corroborated by archaeological finds.

Ammianus Marcellinus provides an interesting description of Sassanian heavy infantry (or ‘gladiators’) at the time of Julian’s invasion of Iran in 363 CE. According to Ammianus: ‘Their infantry are armed like Mirmillos [a type of armoured gladiator] and are as obedient as grooms.’ This observation from the fourth century CE is indicative of two things. First, it is clear that these Sassanian infantry are well armed and armoured. But the same description also raises more questions, especially in the use of the term mirmillos. Why would Ammianus refer to this term as opposed to just ‘heavy infantry’? Perhaps he was applying the term mistakenly, but this cannot be substantiated. Another possibility is that the Sassanians may have attempted to develop a heavier version of their regular Dura-Europos-type combat infantry, like the super-heavy savaran. If that is the case, these troops would have had formidable armour, possibly of the ‘combination’ type of mail (possibly worn over lamellar), and metallic ring armour for the arms as well as greaves to give them a more ‘mirmillos’ type appearance. At the very least these troops were equipped with armour in the Dura-Europos style and carried long straight swords, but whether these resembled those of the savaran in 363 CE with respect to dimensions such as length, etc. cannot be fully ascertained. What is clear, however, is that these Sassanian infantry were engaged, overcome and defeated by their Roman counterparts as Julian drew close to Ctesiphon in 363 CE.

The second point made by Ammianus with respect to the ‘mirmillos’ is that they were ‘as obedient as grooms’. This suggests that these were highly disciplined and trained, consistent with Sassanian training regimens in general. In any case, this particular topic certainly requires further study to help shed light onto developments in Sassanian heavy infantry at this time.

The paighan were also employed alongside battle elephants. In the fourth century, the paighan, for example, are reported as advancing alongside battle elephants (as occurred during Shapur II’s siege of Nisibis in 350 CE). In contrast to the prestige of the framandar savaran however, the paighan-salar was not as highly regarded within the spah military, as the infantry corps was considered inferior in status to the cavalry. Nevertheless, this assertion does require further investigation, at least with regard to the Dailamites of the later Sassanian era.

Dailamites. In contrast to peasant recruits, the Dailamites were among the best professional infantry fielded by the spah, being especially adept in close-quarters combat. These could and did engage the formidably trained and resilient Romano-Byzantine infantry. Dailamite warriors were especially adept in the use of a variety of close-quarters combat weapons such as swords and daggers, and two-pronged javelins (known in Persian as zhupin) used for ‘thrusting and hurling’ in close-quarters combat. The Dailamites actually excelled far more in their face-to-face combat skills in comparison to their archery. As noted by Matofi, the Dailamites were especially renowned for their skills in the use of the tabarzin (battle-axe) and shield in close-quarters combat. The tabarzin was especially effective in helping shatter the enemy’s armour.

Overlaet’s exhaustive report on findings made in northern Iran demonstrates that the Dailamites were armed with the same type of late-Sassanian swords, Spangenhelm helmets and archer’s fingercaps as their savaran comrades in the spah. It is also significant that these finds also include strap mountings, gold ornaments, belt decorations, etc. that were worn by members of the nobility and the elite savaran knights. Note that the Dailamites were using the same type of lappet-suspension system swords utilized by the savaran which, unlike the earlier (prelappet) scabbard-slide broadswords, would not drag on the ground when the infantryman was on the march. The use of such equipment and regalia would suggest that the Dailamites may have had a relatively high status within the spah.

Mobbayen has provided an overview of the origins and characteristics of the spah’s Dailamite warriors. These hailed from northern Persia, living mainly in the mountainous regions with their ethnic cousins, the Gels, mainly inhabiting the Caspian Sea coast of northern Iran. Mention has been made of a certain Barvan or Parvan as the primary township of the Dailamites in Islamic times (c. 816 CE), however the exact location of that locale remains uncertain. A prominent clan cited in early pre-Islamic times is the Jastan. The tough climate of forested northern Persia has been home to generations of warriors who not only served the Sassanians, but also defeated several attempts by the Caliphate to absorb the region after the fall of the Sassanian dynasty. The Dailamites were to become especially prominent during the wars of Khosrow I, especially in the Persian Gulf-Yemen theatre and in Lazica (in modern Georgia of the Caucasus). They were to also engage in the Battle of Qadissiyah against the Arabs in 637 CE.

The neyze-daran. There was also a subdivision within the paighan, identified by Jalali as the neyze-daran (foot spearmen). They appear to have been specialized in spear combat and, like all paighan units, were placed in front of the foot archers. It is not clear how the neyze-daran would have confronted attacking Roman troops. If it is assumed that these were armed and armoured like the heavy infantry, then these could presumably engage in close-quarters combat. It is not clear how their spears would be employed, meaning whether these would be used for thrusting or simply hurled at the enemy. If the neyze-daran were lightly armed and lacked armour, then these may have engaged in the ‘hurl-and-run’ tactic, especially in scenarios where Roman infantry would have been rushing towards them. There have been suggestions that the neyze-daran would at times be able to stand up to Roman infantrymen in close-quarter combat situations. Mention must also be made of javeliners recruited from the Mede highlands of Iran who would employ thongs for both hurling and spinning their javelins in flight which would increase their accuracy and power of penetration. These could prove especially effective as auxiliary forces in blunting enemy infantry or cavalry attacks either in support of the neyze-daran or even the savaran.

Light peasant infantry. Hailing from the lowest ranks of Sassanian society, the light infantry were recruited from the peasant population. Treated virtually as serfs, they were typically unpaid by the state during their term of service. Lacking in military training, Sassanian light infantry were poorly armoured and armed, often only having a short dagger for defence. The light infantry, who often worked as servants for the savaran cavalry, were also utilized in siege operations for manual labour and associated tasks such as the construction of mounds, various military earthworks and the digging of trenches. In this respect these personnel were especially valuable for long, drawn-out siege operations in locales such as Amida or Nisibis. The capture of Dara in 573 CE by Khosrow I (r. 531– 579), for example, was greatly assisted by the efforts of 120,000 light infantry who were essentially labourers for Sassanian military engineers building large mounds.

It would appear that the ‘infantry’ so derided by Procopius are these peasant infantry in contrast to the professional types such as the aforementioned Dailamites or paighan types. Note Procopius’ description of the Sassanian infantry contemporary to the reign of Kavad during the battle of Dara (530 CE):

[F]or their whole infantry is nothing more than a crowd of pitiable peasants who come into battle for no other purpose than to dig through walls and to despoil the slain and in general to serve the soldiers. For this reason they have no weapons at all with which they might trouble their opponents, and they only hold before themselves those enormous shields in order that they may not possibly be hit by the enemy.

Such types of ‘infantry’ were a part of General Firouz’s Sassanian forces and indeed performed poorly as they dropped their shields and abandoned the field in haste. They simply had no chance of survival in close-quarter combat against the professionally trained Romano-Byzantine infantry. This would certainly explain why the Romano-Byzantines took such a heavy toll of these troops.

Sassanian infantry: a new view? Not surprisingly, Roman descriptions of Sassanian infantry troops are logically, if not overwhelmingly negative. The question, however, is the calibration of Procopius’ designation of ‘infantry’. His description makes very clear that these were peasant levies pressed into service as infantry. But Procopius’ descriptions are at variance with the earlier Sassanian paighan warriors seen at Dura-Europos (early third century CE) or the Sassanian ‘gladiators’ seen at the time of Julian’s invasion of Persia (363 CE) who wore armour, helmets and swords. Procopius’ own description makes clear that the infantry he was describing ‘have no weapons at all with which they might trouble their opponent’. Overemphasis upon this reference may lead to linear conclusions with respect to Sassanian infantry in general. Western scholarship has in fact acknowledged the need to revise traditional Western views of Sassanian infantry. Penrose, for example, has noted that negative Roman opinions of Sassanian infantry (as a mass of poorly equipped and incapable serfs) was based on their confusion between peasant-type troopers versus regular Sassanian infantry. Ward concurs by stating that ‘although at various times during the dynasty the Sassanian infantry was reported to have been no more than a levy of peasants with little tactical value, for most of this period they appear to have been a disciplined and skilled force’.

Close-quarter combat was in fact highly esteemed in the ancient military tradition of Iran, as seen for example in the Shahname which describes Bahram Gur as having killed two lions with his tabarzin on foot. Nevertheless, as noted by Sidnell, when it came to face-to-face combat against the formidable and superbly trained Roman foot soldiers, the spah placed its primary focus upon the savaran to defeat them.

The Camel Corps

While information on Sassanian camel corps is scant at best, some units of these appear to have existed, at least in the mid-sixth century CE. Russian researchers have cited a rebel named Anoushzad supported by the ‘Imperial Camel Corps’54 who rebelled against Khosrow I (r. 531–579 CE). More research is required to examine the primary sources for this citation as well as the size, composition and armaments of such corps. Interestingly, camels are not mentioned as a primary battlefield weapon by Classical or Arabo-Islamic sources. Perhaps the Parthian experience of employing camel cataphracts by Ardavan (Artabanus) V in the three-day battle against the Roman forces of Macrinus at Nisibis in 217 CE dissuaded the Sassanian spah from organizing such corps into their regular battle order. At Nisibis, the Romans successfully deployed caltrops to disrupt the attacks of the Parthian camel cataphract corps; the caltrops injured the soft spongy feet of the camels, thus dangerously disabling them on the battlefield. Despite this shortcoming, camel cataphracts could be especially effective, given the warrior’s elevated position on the beast, as well as being an excellent platform for archery.

There are two prominent displays of camels in Sassanian arts. The first is Bahram Gur engaged in archery during the hunt as he rides a camel (Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Inv. S-252). The second is seen in the right side of the grand iwan which depicts the royal hunt of Khosrow II. In this display (on the upper left side of the panel) can be seen five camels carrying off deer already killed by the royal hunting party. Apart from the aforementioned Anoushzad case, the camel corps do not appear to have a primary unit in the spah. Perhaps there were ceremonial units or support units (logistics, etc.) but there is little mention of these being used alongside the savaran, battle elephants, infantry, etc., in battlefield situations.

Chariots: Ceremonial or Military role?

Following his defeat at Ctesiphon in 233 by the savaran led by Ardashir I, Emperor Alexander Severus (r. 222–235 CE) delivered a bombastic victory speech to the Roman senate (25 September 233 CE), which among his many claims, was the alleged destruction of ‘1,800 scythed chariots’ of the Sassanian spah. Iranian military historians often refer to the presence of the arabeh (chariot) in Sassanian armies, which may be partly based on a literal interpretation of the Alexander Severus speech of 233. It is very unlikely that the spah would have been using Achaemenid-era type scythed chariots over 500 years after their complete failure against the invasion forces of Alexander. Western military historians are in general agreement that scythed chariots were not a major element in the battle order of the spah and had no (military) role to play in any of the major battles between the Sassanian empire and the Romano-Byzantines.

It is possible that some type of chariot was retained (or resurrected) for ceremonial battlefield purposes. Mashkoor notes that following a major battle between the spah led by General Razutis and the Romano-Byzantines in 12 September 627 CE, the Sassanians were defeated following the death of Razutis, which resulted in the capture of twenty-seven Sassanian drafsh (banners) and a number of arabehaye jangi (war chariots). Perhaps these were ceremonial in nature as the utility of such vehicles would be dubious at best on the battlefields of the time. Perhaps this ceremonial aspect may have been a throwback to a more proto Indo-European tradition; the Irish sagas for example make references to the Carpat (Old Irish: chariot).

Sassanian [Sassanid] Army II

Arab Contingents of the Spah

Arab contingents were of critical importance to the spah. In practice, the martial abilities of the Arabs were important to both the Sassanians and the Romano-Byzantines. The Arabs were also situated along trade routes, cities and regions that were of vital importance to both the Romano-Byzantines and Sassanian Empires. Arab auxiliary forces played a vital role for the Sassanians in three major ways. First, they were able to protect trade routes, especially those near to or traversing the Arabian Peninsula against Arab raiders. Second, they played a vital role in shielding the cities and villages of southern Iraq (again) against Arab warriors who would launch forays from Arabia towards the southwest. Third, Arab auxiliaries played a vital role in preventing Arabs from entering southern Iran to raid the coastal trading ports of the empire’s Persian Gulf coastline.

While the Arabs had not been trained in regular military doctrines or siege warfare, the Sassanians (as well as their Romano-Byzantine rivals) found two military uses for their Arab recruits. First, the Arabs were masters of the desert and often acted as heralds and guides for Sassanian armies during their campaigns along or across the empire’s southwestern marches. Their mastery of the desert also allowed them to track down political opponents, regular criminals and deserters from the spah. Second, Arab auxiliaries were excellent as light cavalry. The Arabs were able to launch very rapid cavalry raids and pull back just as rapidly before the enemy was able to coordinate an effective response. Often during such raids the Arabs would secure plunder before making good their escape. The spah found this Arab ability of special utility against Roman forces, especially when they would be methodically organizing themselves before the onset of a major battle. Arab warriors recruited for auxiliary roles were presided over by sheikhs and tribal leaders who would cooperate directly with the spah.

Light Cavalry Auxiliaries

The Sassanians also employed Turkic contingents in the role of light cavalry. Depending on battle circumstances these contingents (both Turkic and Arab) provided flank security for Sassanian armies; struck at the enemy’s flanks simultaneous to the main attack by savaran heavy cavalry at the centre of the battle line; and, in the event of a breakthrough by the savaran knights, exploited deep into the enemy’s rear. In general, they operated much like the Parthian horse archers of old, being equipped with light armour only and employing bows as their primary weapon.

There were numerous auxiliary cavalry forces recruited by the spah, including Khazars from the Caucasus, Albanians, and Hephthalites from Central Asia. Iranian light cavalry were also recruited, especially from Gilan in the north, Saka-istanis from southeast Iran and Kushans from Central Asia.

Slingers

Matofi has noted that slings are one of the oldest battlefield weapons of Iranian armies since antiquity. The pilaxan (sling) was as simple as it was effective. Round pellets or stones were placed inside a fur, or a leather belt attached at the two ends by a rope. The pouch or bag was then spun over the head a few times, then one of the ropes was let go to allow for the release of the stones or pellets over a distance.

Slingers were recruited by the Achaemenids and were certainly reported in Sassanian times by Roman sources such as Libanius in reference to the battle of Singara (343 or 344 CE). The Sassanians continued to recruit slingers from the Mede highlands of Iran. These were especially effective as pellets propelled by slings were very difficult to detect due to their high velocity, which contributed to their deadly impact. Slingshots were used to shoot pellets that were often difficult to evade and could kill or injure a whole array of enemy troops, even those with armour and helmets. An attack by armoured cavalry could be disrupted by experienced slingers. This was due to the stones or pellets acquiring power and momentum through the rotating movements of the sling. Slingers often supported archers during sieges, as reported at Amida where the constant barrages of the archers and slingers reputedly ‘never ceased for a moment’. This suggests that slingers combined and coordinated with massed archery could have possibly been highly effective in blunting enemy infantry and cavalry assaults. The sling was also a much cheaper weapon than the bow and did not require as much physical strength to operate during battle. Despite this, the sling was a very difficult weapon to operate and required much training to ensure battlefield effectiveness.

Interestingly the Pahlavi term ‘pilaxan’ has entered the military lexicons of Georgia and Armenia but not specifically as ‘sling’. In Armenian pilikon, pilikwan, piliwan means ‘a large crossbow or arbalest’, while in Georgian pilakvani or pilagani denotes ‘catapult’.80 The sling possibly also acquired a high status by late Sassanian times among the elite savaran. For example, the post-Sassanian ayyaran (persons associated with the warrior class from the ninth through to the twelfth centuries) regarded the sling as one of their favourite weapons.

Women in the Sassanian Spah

Women have appeared in the armies of ancient Iran. A summary of a report made by the Reuters News Agency in 3 December 2004, entitled ‘Bones Suggest Women Went to War in Ancient Iran’ noted that DNA tests made on a 2,000year-old skeleton of a sword-wielding warrior in northwest Iran have shown that the bones belonged to a woman. The time length of 2,000 years would place the warrior-woman in the Parthian era. Alireza Hojabri-Nobari (head of the archaeology team) reported the following in an article appearing in the Persianlanguage newspaper Hambastegi newspaper in Tabriz: ‘Despite earlier comments that the warrior was a man because of the metal sword, DNA tests showed the skeleton inside the tomb belonged to a female warrior.’ Hojabri-Nobari further emphasized that the tomb which included warrior weapons was just one of 109 unearthed in northwest Iran thus far, with DNA tests scheduled for the other entombed skeletons. The article in Hambastegi further mentioned other ancient tombs belonging to Iranian women warriors that have also been excavated near the Caspian Sea in northern Iran.

Tombs attesting to the existence of Iranian-speaking women warriors have also been excavated in Eastern Europe. Cernenko, for example, has noted of the tomb of a Scythian female warrior contemporary to the Achaemenid era of Iran at Ordzhonikidze which had a javelin, spear, gorytos containing a bow and arrows, and a ‘pocket’ in the gorytos containing a knife. Brzezinski and Mielczarek have noted of the presence of female ‘Amazon’ warriors among the proto-Sarmatians in the fifth century BCE carrying short swords, archery equipment and spears. Pokorny has noted that the etymology of ‘Amazon’ is derived from old Iranian maz (combat) resulting in the North Iranic folkname ha-mazan, meaning ‘warrior’. This is certainly disputed as seen in the arguments of Mayrhofer. Sekunda has noted of Greek vase art depicting ‘Amazon’ women warriors in the 450s BCE typically dressed in the Persian manner (short tunic, trousers elaborately patterned, pointed hat with cheek flaps, long neck guard) and carrying Achaemenid-style shields.

Women did continue to appear in Sassanian armies. As noted by Ward ‘Sassanian armies also included substantial numbers of women’ with Dodgeon and Lieu highlighting the fact that ‘the presence of substantial numbers of women in Persian expeditionary forces is often noted by Roman authors’. Zonaras specifies their military role in the third century CE by noting that ‘in the Persian [Sassanian] army . . . there are said to have been found women also, dressed and armed like men’. Women were also hired as merchants to act as sutlers for the Sassanian army during its campaigns. Women were recruited for combat roles at critical times, one example being at Singara (343 or 344 CE), of which Libanius reports that ‘the Persians enlisted the help of their women’. This strongly suggests that Iranian women, like the menfolk, were trained in the arts of war and capable of wielding weapons when called to duty by the spah.

The Shahname emphasizes the role of warrior women such as Gordafarid who, in a combative encounter with Sohrab, (son of warrior-hero Rustam) is described as ‘turning in her saddle, drew a sharp blade from her waist, struck at his lance, and parted it in two’. There are numerous names in Iranian folklore of anti-Arab resistance fighters including Apranik (daughter of General Piran who fell at Qadissiyah in 637 CE), who fought in 632–640 CE; Negan, who led an anti-Arab resistance movement and died in combat in 638 CE; and the Parthian-descended Azadeh Dailam (the so-called Free One of Dailam), who led the military resistance in northern Iran against the expansion of the Arab-Caliphate in the 750s CE (the Dailamite warriors of northern Persia continued to resist the Arabs long after the fall of the Sassanian empire in 650 CE). Mention in this regard must be made of Banu, wife of Babak Kharramdin who fought against the Caliphate for decades before his castle of Bazz in Azerbaijan was captured and sacked by the Caliphate’s Turkish troops in 838 CE.

Württemberg

Württemberg, the dominant power in the Swabian Circle of the Holy Roman Empire, was anomalous in that a traditional representative body, the Territorial Estates, still exercised an authority parallel to that of the ruler in domestic and foreign affairs. Its history nonetheless exemplifies the perils and opportunities that the Revolution presented to German states of the second rank.

Duke Carl Eugen (ruled 1744-1793) advocated neutrality in the war with France, but his brothers, Ludwig Eugen (ruled 1793-1795) and Friedrich Eugen (ruled 1795-1797), had no such reservations, and a decade of conflict proved devastating. Württemberg sued for peace in 1796, and suffered crushing exactions, first from the conquering French and then from the returning and vengeful Austrians. Both the Estates and Duke Friedrich II (ruled 1797-1816) exploited the resultant fiscal-political crisis by flexing their muscles and pressing their versions of reform.

Content to use Austria against the Estates, but humiliated when it dragged him down to defeat and exile in the War of the Second Coalition, Friedrich turned from the weak Habsburg ally to the strong French enemy. He thereby acquired territory and protection, undercut the separate diplomacy of the Estates, and crushed their resistance to centralization. The Imperial Recess of 1803 raised Württemberg to an electorate and exchanged its lost French possessions for German ecclesiastical territories and imperial cities. Overawed by Napoleon in 1805, Friedrich concluded an alliance (solidified in 1807 by marrying his daughter Katharina to Jérome Bonaparte). After Austerlitz, Württemberg was rewarded with Habsburg lands in Swabia and the status of a kingdom in the new Confederation of the Rhine (1806). Friedrich abolished the Estates, imposing an absolutist administration. Modernization was initiated and carried out by the sovereign rather than, as elsewhere, by bureaucrats.

By 1810 Württemberg had doubled the population and territory it had possessed before the Revolution. One price was supplying troops for Napoleon’s campaigns (some 20,000 in 1809 and 16,000 in 1812). One paradoxical result was to instill both pride in service for the Emperor and a new national consciousness that could be directed against France in the “War of German Liberation” of 1813.

Following the Battle of Leipzig (16-19 October 1813), Friedrich returned to the Allied side. The Congress of Vienna confirmed the kingdom’s borders but rejected Friedrich’s attempt to dictate a constitution, forcing him to restore the Estates. Tension between the latter and the crown were resolved in 1819 under the popular King William I (reigned 1816-1864), when a constitution blending elements of the “Good Old Law” and the new order was promulgated.

Württemberg’s elite educational system produced generations of outstanding intellectual talent-including the poets Friedrich von Schiller and Friedrich Hölderlin and the philosophers Georg Hegel and Friedrich Wilhelm von Schelling-whose work, which entered the canon of a German national literature, reflected their encounter with the upheaval of revolution.

The Duchy of Württemberg allied with the French in 1805, as a reward Duke Friedrich was crowned King on 1 January 1806 and Württemberg joined the Confederation of the Rhine on 12 July 1806 (Treaty of Paris) the federal contingent being fixed at 18000 men.

The Württemberg army (12 July 1806)

One Leib Garde squadron

One Fuss Garde battalion

Seven line infantry regiments

Two jäger infantry battalions

Two fusilier battalions

Two chevaux leger regiments

Two jäger zu pferd regiments

One horse artillery battery

Two foot artillery batteries

In 1806 each infantry regiment comprised one battalion of 4 musketeer companies (of 160 men).

In 1806 each jäger and fusilier battalion also comprised 4 companies (of 160 men).

In 1806 each cavalry regiment comprised 3 squadrons (of 160 men).

In 1806 the Württemberg artillery included

2 foot batteries equipped with six 6pdr guns and four 7pdr howitzers manned by 137 men.

1 horse battery equipped with six 6pdr guns and two 7pdr howitzers manned by 61 men.

Between 1807 and 1808, all infantry regiments were gradually increased to two battalions:

The first battalion of one grenadier and three musketeer companies

The second battalion of four musketeer companies.

In December 1807 a third foot battery was raised.

In 1807 the horse battery was transferred to the Household and a new line battery was raised. The strength of both batteries was raised to 78 men.

In 1808 the Household battery was transferred to the Guard, the line battery transferred to the Household and a new line battery raised.

Prior to the 1809 Austrian campaign, all infantry regiments were expanded to an establishment of two battalions, all cavalry regiments to four squadrons and the three existing artillery batteries were renamed “light” batteries and a fourth “heavy” battery was raised and equipped with three 12pdr guns and two 7pdr howitzers manned by 122 men

During the 1809 Austrian campaign the Württemberg forces made up 2 divisions assigned to Vandamme’s Corps:

An infantry division of 2 line brigades (each of 2 regiments) and 1 light brigade (all 4 jäger and fusilier battalions).

A cavalry division.

By the end of the 1809 Austrian campaign Württemberg had raised an 8th regiment of line infantry and a regiment of dragoons.

In March 1809, the newly raised 5th squadrons of the Herzog Heinrich and Leib Chevaux Leger regiments were transferred to the Guard as the 3rd and 4th (Grenadiers Cheval) squadrons of the newly created Horse Guard regiment.

By the end of 1809 the Horse Guard Regiment was at full strength, comprising:

1 squadron of Leib Chasseurs Cheval,

1 squadron of Leib Garde

2 squadrons of Grenadiers Cheval.

During the 1812 Russian campaign Württemberg troops made up 2 divisions assigned to Ney’s III Corps:

25th Infantry Division of 3 brigades (2 line brigades, each of 2 line regiments and 1 chasseur (jäger?) battalion and 1 light brigade with the 2 light battalions).

The Corps Light Cavalry Division (2 regiments of Chevaux Leger and 1 of Jäger zu Pferd (the division was detached from III Corps later in the campaign).

One line infantry regiment was posted to garrison duty in Danzig.

After the 1812 Russian campaign the artillery corps is reorganised to include four horse batteries (1 Guard horse battery and three line horse batteries).

On 23 October 1813 Württemberg deserted the Imperial cause.

References and further reading Gill, John H. 1992. With Eagles to Glory: Napoleon and His German Allies in the 1809 Campaign. London: Greenhill. Sheehan, James J. 1989. German History, 1770-1866. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Württembergisches Landesmuseum Stuttgart, ed. 1987. Baden und Württemberg im Zeitalter Napoleons [Baden and Württemberg in the Age of Napoleon]. 2 vols. Stuttgart: Württembergisches Landesmuseum.

WWII US Army and its Tactics I

Many of the issues that bedevilled development of the British Army and its tactics between the wars also affected the USA. Arguably the position was even worse, and by the end of 1919 the US Army was again entirely volunteer and reduced to about a quarter of a million men. As in Britain, the prospect of a major war was now regarded as extremely unlikely – but in the case of the USA the notional location of any theoretical conflict was also viewed as distant. The most immediate concerns were internal disturbances and the Mexican border: small expeditionary forces and overseas garrisons were furnished essentially by the Marine Corps. The Wall Street Crash and restatement of the isolationist ‘Monroe Doctrine’ by President Herbert Hoover pushed the profile of the army even further into the background. Given the world situation, the US Navy was given preference and the regular army shrank again to below 150,000, and only the maintenance of a larger National Guard lent any credibility to the force. As Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur pointed out, the US Army was now just seventeenth in the world in numerical terms – and many units existed only as ‘skeleton’ in peacetime. Under the catch phrase ‘Fortress America’ it was assumed that the navy and tiny army would be adequate to keep foes at bay until there could be huge expansion. Indeed, it was only in the late 1930s that the seriousness of the world position was really apprehended, and with the outbreak of war in Europe a sum of $8 billion was found for the army – together with an aspiration for expansion to over a million men by October 1941. Major corps and army training manoeuvres were mounted in April 1940.

There were, however, a few potential advantages held by the USA, even though some of these might have appeared as negatives at the time. The first was that in having a small army, few colonial possessions, and relatively little equipment, there was not much to stand in the way of the development of new hardware and doctrine. The numbers of men tied to obsolete equipment were few, and the USA had massive potential both in terms of industrial and human material. It was also the case that ‘Fortress America’ was indeed a long way from potential major enemies and this geographic fact alone would help buy time. A genuine bright spot was a realisation of the importance of military education and staff training, and in addition to the US Military Academy, the Army War College at Washington, and the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, there were thirty-one special service schools for branch training. Particular awareness of infantry tactics was cultivated by the infantry school at Fort Benning, Georgia. This produced the semi-annual publication Infantry School Mailing List, a journal intended to contain ‘the latest thought on infantry’.

Another highly relevant offering of the interwar period was a volume entitled Infantry in Battle, a digest of First World War infantry tactics and lore drawn from the examples of 1914 – 1918. This first saw light of day in May 1934 under the sponsorship of George C Marshall, and was revised and reprinted in 1938 and 1939. Amongst the maxims it offered was the following – something that already sounded as though it might have been loosely translated from the German Truppenfuhrung,

the leader who would become a competent tactician must first close his mind to the alluring formulae that well-meaning people offer in the name of victory. To master his difficult art he must learn to cut to the heart of the situation, recognise its decisive elements and base his course of action on these. The ability to do this is not God given, nor can it be acquired overnight; it is a process of years. He must realise that training in solving problems of all types, long practice in making clear, unequivocal decisions, the habit of concentrating on the question at hand, and an elasticity of mind, are indispensable requisites for the successful practice of the art of war. The leader who frantically strives to remember what someone else did in some slightly similar situation has already set his feet on the well-travelled road to ruin.

Highly pertinent also was the comment of Infantry in Battle on ‘fire and movement’. ‘Fire without movement is indecisive. Exposed movement without fire is disastrous. There must be effective fire combined with skilled movement.’ The format of Infantry in Battle gave concrete examples followed by ‘discussion’ and ‘conclusion’. Hence, for example, Chapter 18 focusing on the ‘Infantry-Artillery Team’ using examples drawn from French experience in 1914 and US experience in 1918. Sage and replete with good examples as Infantry in Battle might have been, it was hardly up to date by the Second World War, and the majority of the sources quoted were in fact written prior to 1930. The Infantry School Mailing List attempted to remain more up to date with periodic articles – and some of these did in fact turn out to be crucial to the direction of US infantry tactics after 1941. In July 1936, for example, the Mailing List carried a particularly important piece entitled ‘The Tactics of the New Infantry Rifle Platoon’. This represented the ‘tentative infantry school teachings on the new unit’, which, for the first time, included riflemen with the new Garand semi-automatic M1 rifle. Significantly, it was recognised that organisations were not fixed, being ‘merely the best machine we can devise for putting certain tactical principles into effect’.

The purpose of the recent changes was to increase firepower, without at the same time, decreasing mobility. As was explained, adopting the semi-automatic rifle was thought to increase firepower by a factor of about 2.5 : 1, whilst a Browning Automatic Rifle had just under half the firepower of the old heavy machine gun. Later training literature specified that the actual rates of fire for the M1 were ‘20 to 30 aimed shots’ per minute and 10 to 15 for the bolt-action Model 1903 rifle. Nevertheless, if semi-automatics replaced bolt-action rifles, and larger numbers of light machine guns (and ‘automatic rifles’) replaced the heavies, the firepower of the battalion increased, whilst its mobility – without cumbersome heavy machine guns – actually went up.

What may have been less apparent at the time was that formations made up of BARs and Garand semi-automatics actually led to units with high firepower quite evenly distributed amongst the team – as the Garands fired faster than bolt-action rifles, whilst the BAR with its twenty-round box magazines fired much more slowly than true belt-fed machine guns. It was also apparent that general issue of the new rifle, and information on how to use it most effectively, took time. In July 1936, for example, it appears that just 3,000 copies of Mailing List were produced, and the fact that some yet remain in pristine condition suggests that it was not universally read, even within a relatively small US Army. Nevertheless, the wholesale adoption of the Garand – what Patton called ‘the greatest battle implement ever devised’ – was an inspired move, especially at a time when the US Army had little slack and other nations had doubts about the wisdom of giving soldiers weapons so apparently profligate in terms of ammunition expenditure. Indeed, it is arguable that it was the Garand – alongside the BAR – as much as the troops themselves that gave the US infantry its unique character.

The invention of leading gun designer John Moses Browning, the BAR was more than twenty years old on the eve of the Second World War, having been introduced in the closing stages of the First. Yet whilst its reputation was not entirely spotless, it had been extremely advanced at the time of its appearance, being a weapon able to provide full automatic fire, at least in short bursts, but still light enough – at just 22lb – for one man to carry. In the event the basic concept remained good enough, and the guns serviceable enough, to be continued in use in one country or another throughout the twentieth century. Initially, it had been imagined that the BAR would be used mainly on the move, providing ‘walking fire’ from hip, or even shoulder, during the attack, but it was really too much hardware to make such an option very practical or accurate. As a result, it was normally fired prone from a small integral bipod – a posture well calculated to be least obtrusive and best protected in battle in any case. Latest thoughts on BAR fire and training were summed up by the official pamphlet Basic Weapons: Marksmanship – the Automatic Rifle of 1937.

The key attributes of the successful BAR gunner were accurate delivery, ‘mechanical skill’ where needed in distribution of fire over targets, and ‘maintenance of fire’ by quick re-aiming and reloading. In training gunners fired from various positions and distances, ‘but the soldier must be taught that the prone position is the normal position, and that he must seek firing positions which will enable him to use the prone position’. When lying down behind the weapon the firer was encouraged to position himself so that his right shoulder and hip bone were in line with the barrel of the gun, and the butt well into the shoulder. Legs were well spread, and the toes could be dug in for additional bracing. Left-handed use was actively discouraged as this impeded ejection of empty cases to the side. The sitting and kneeling fire postures were essentially self explanatory, but the 1937 instructions also continued to feature an ‘assault fire’ position. In this the butt was held under the right armpit, clasped firmly between the body and the upper portion of the arm, the sling being over the left shoulder for support. Soldiers practised quick magazine changes, counting the rounds as they were expended and allowing the box to drop under its own weight on release of the catch. A fresh magazine from the waistbelt carrier was then ‘placed in the receiver with one rapid, smooth movement’. The usual number of rounds to be fired in a burst was five, this being calculated as likely to be effective and about the maximum before the muzzle wandered far from point of aim. This allowed for four such bursts from the twenty-round magazine.

At the end of the 1930s BARs were still considered platoon assets that could be disposed as the commander required, with manuals of 1940 referring to the existence of ‘rifle’ and ‘automatic rifle’ squads within the rifle platoons. The BAR was seen as a ‘reserve of automatic fire for use in the critical emergencies of combat’. By US entry to the war the BAR had become an integral asset of the squad, the automatic rifle ‘team’ being three men providing,

the rifle squad leader with an easily controlled and manoeuvred weapon capable of a large volume of fire. It is used against ground targets in a manner similar to the light machine gun, and also engages air targets. Its light weight permits the automatic rifleman to maintain the rate of advance of riflemen and to fire from any position.

So it was that US practice fell into line with the basic tenets of squad operations as already practised in the German and British armies in which there was one basic type of front-line infantry squad, based around a light automatic support weapon. As of 1940 the small 8-man US squads of yesteryear were reorganised on a strength of 12, being a 3-man BAR team, 8 armed with semi-automatic rifles, including the leader and his assistant, plus the sniper with his bolt-action rifle. Remarkably, the BAR was useful enough during the course of the war that many squads took to carrying two of them, and eventually this practice was formally recognised.

Whilst the BAR had arguably taken time to prove itself and find its optimum tactical niche, it was almost immediately apparent at introduction that the M1 Garand rifle was a significant advance. Designed by Canadian-born John Cantius Garand of the Springfield armoury, the weapon seemed vaguely conventional at first glance, and at over 9lb weighed a little more than German and British manual bolt-action comparators. Nevertheless, appearances were deceptive, since the Garand was in fact the culmination of about half a dozen experimental pieces that the inventor had produced since 1919. At its heart was a gas-operated system working a piston, which, by means of a cam, opened the bolt and recocked the gun. Unlike many previous attempts at the mechanisation of military small arms, the Garand proved reliable and relatively straightforward to produce in numbers, and its drawbacks were few. Perhaps most obviously its eight-round clip could not be topped up, and when empty was ejected from the gun with an audible ‘ping’, but in the great scheme of things these were minor criticisms.

The firepower of the Garand gave the individual US soldier a potential advantage over opposite numbers in other nations. Perhaps unsurprisingly other US Army commentators apart from Patton were not shy about this morale-raising fact. As the Infantry Journal publication How to Shoot the US Army Rifle, of 1943, put it, ‘your rifle is better than the enemy’s’. Besides, ‘the last war proved that if you hit a German in the right place with a caliber .30 rifle bullet, he falls over dead. This is also true in this war. It applies, moreover, to Japs as well as Nazis.’ The 1942 Rifle Company manual took a somewhat more detached view:

The M1 rifle is the principal individual weapon assigned to rifle company personnel. On account of its long range, ease of operation, and light weight it is well adapted for all types of infantry combat. These characteristics enable a rifleman or group of riflemen to deliver promptly a large volume of accurate fire upon any designated ground and air targets within range.

The new M1 cost $80 and was an innately a faster weapon than its competitors, but like all firearms required its user to know what he was doing with it. In How to Shoot the GI was offered a six-stage programme, dealing with aiming; positions; trigger squeeze; rapid fire; sight adjustment; and a final examination.

Practice was key, and ideally there was an element of one-to-one tuition with a ‘coach’ and ‘pupil’ working in pairs. It was not necessarily the case that every coach was a fully experienced expert, and the two could change places. This enabled correction of errors that one could not see in oneself, and at the same time it taught soldiers to teach others – ‘for an army as fast growing as ours, we need men to train new men coming into camp’. There were also some wrinkles that traditional training might otherwise miss, tips such as removing oil from sights and blackening them with lamp or candle black to create a clear and matt-black ‘sight picture’ even in unfavourable glare, careful breath control, and the use of the sling tightly looped around the arm for steadiest aim. Posture advice also stressed steady support, with the arm directly under the weight of the rifle, rather than reliance on stressed muscles. The prone firing position was naturally preferred, but only on level ground, being significantly improved by means of a rest, such as a sandbag. The trainee was taught to sink quickly down, bending both knees, placing butt and elbows to the ground and sliding smoothly but promptly forward into position. As alternatives during combat the soldier could go prone using ‘skirmisher’ or ‘rush’ techniques. In the skirmisher’s method the soldier went down initially by placing the right foot well back and bending the left knee as low as possible. The rush method integrated brief forward rushes with throwing oneself to the ground in a safe and controlled manner, advancing the left foot whilst dropping to the ground with the weapon held to the fore. In a less-tidy emergency variation, the soldier could also execute a ‘cover to cover’ manoeuvre, springing up from a flat position pushing from arms and right knee, dash forward, then fling himself down ‘breaking his fall with butt of rifle’.

Other firing possibilities included sitting, which was good for ground sloping downward to the front; kneeling, good for upward slopes; and standing, a versatile posture, though too obvious to the enemy unless cover was involved. A squat position was recommended as being quick to adopt, and ‘desirable when firing in mud, shallow water, snow, or a gas contaminated area’. One of the most important aspects of the training recommended by How to Shoot was rapid fire, which, to be effective required both timing and good posture. Some exercises were conducted as ‘dry firing’ without live ammunition, and given how quickly the M1 could be emptied in an uncontrolled manner, some of the training appears to have been geared to ensuring deliberation and aim between rounds. How not to do things was illustrated by a character called ‘Joe Jerk’ who ‘sleeps through demonstrations’ and learned his technique on Coney Island shooting galleries. Joe commits errors such as closing his eyes; failure to put himself squarely behind the rifle; poor grip, jerked trigger, and misplaced sling. The antidote to the antics of Joe Jerk was for the soldier to think of his M1 like his girl – something that ‘has habits for which you must allow’.

Training literature of 1940 assumed that what riflemen actually did in battle would be defined by mission, but there were common basics. Cover was expected to be used to best advantage as matter of course – crests for example being only occupied whilst actually firing. On an order to cease the soldier resumed his ‘cover position’, looking to his squad leader for fresh directions. Soldiers were to learn to distinguish between good fire and good cover positions: the former gave good observation and field of fire, the latter protected him from ‘hostile flat trajectory fire’. The ideal spot for a rifleman was one where a cover position was located just behind a fire position – with the two not more than three paces apart, allowing him to duck in and out of complete cover as required. ‘Aimed fire’ was the point of the rifleman, but this did not mean that individual enemies would always be there to be shot at. Fire could be directed at muzzle flashes, emplacements, or cover. The rifleman,

fires his first shot on a part of the target corresponding generally to his position in the squad. He then distributes his fire by aiming at selected points a few yards to the right or left of his first shot. A slower rate of fire than standard for rapid fire practice will often be advisable because of the difficulty of selecting indistinct targets on the battlefield.

When acting as a skirmisher rushes were to be kept short, from one piece of cover to another, as directed by the squad leader. Walking was only possible under cover; creeping and crawling could be used to advantage for short moves, or through partial cover; often the soldier would have to rush as rapidly as possible, combining this with other moves as necessary. Squad rushes would be executed with the rifle locked and loaded, the leader warning the squad with ‘Prepare to rush’, then the command ‘Follow me’. That safety locks should be kept on during movement was seen as important – as the Soldier’s Handbook, 1941, explained, ‘as you may catch your trigger in brush and kill yourself, or a comrade’.

Another semi-automatic seen in the hands of many US soldiers was the M1 Carbine. In theory this should not have seen much combat action, for at the time of introduction in 1941 it was not regarded as an infantry weapon but a defensive arm for specialists such as weapon crews, drivers, cooks, and others, who might have to protect themselves or fight in an emergency. The logic behind the specification for a semi-automatic weapon that weighed only 5lb, and used only a relatively low powered Winchester .30 ‘short rifle’ cartridge, was that pistols proved problematic in the hands of non-experts attempting to engage anything more than a few yards away and had a poor safety record, whilst on the other hand it seemed unrealistic to expect personnel who had other tasks to perform to tote about full-sized rifles. In the event Winchester’s handy little carbine, using a gas tappet mechanism by David M Williams, was designed and built in record time, and fitted the bill almost too well. It was quickly popular on account of its light weight and rapid fire, and was soon being used in many circumstances far beyond the original brief. It saw duty as squad leader’s weapon, parachutist’s arm, and in many other front-line combat situations. Many of its users were perfectly content, but a few complained, unfairly, that it lacked punch. Not many seemed to have realised that the request for its production had required only an effective range of 300yd. Interestingly, there was also an M2 version of the carbine produced towards the end of the war capable of full automatic fire.

According to the 1942 manual FM 23-7, US Carbine Caliber .30 M1, use of the weapon should have been governed by its characteristics,

It is highly effective at close quarters and at ranges up to 300 yards. Its 15 round magazine and semi automatic action, together with its greater effective range, make it much superior to the pistol or revolver as a close defence weapon. Men armed with the carbine are capable of dealing effectively with parachutists landing in their immediate vicinity, and with other hostile personnel encountered at up to 300 yards. Carbineers are not organised into squads or other fire units, but deliver their fire as individuals. However a small group of such personnel may be collected for the execution of group fire in situations where this action promises the best results. Carbines may be grouped with other available weapons, especially automatic rifles.

Commonly, niceties such as target designation were unnecessary for such a close-range weapon and range estimation was ‘by eye’. Nevertheless, users were encouraged to become familiar with, and hold in their minds, the appearance of objects and possible targets at 50 and 100yd distant, as this allowed pointing and shoot naturally and fairly accurately without undue delay or too many first-time misses. Carbine training involved the teaching of a variety of standard firing positions, as for example prone, kneeling, sitting, and standing. Pupils were taught rapid fire by gradually building up speed of delivery, beginning with a fairly leisurely and carefully aimed round every 5 seconds, until finally they were able to fire ‘25 or more accurate shots per minute’.

The opposite side of the close-range combat question was the fact that sub-machine guns were not standard issue to the ordinary US infantry rifle squads, and in contrast to the M1 carbine do not seem to have been particularly popular. The Thompson SMG had great historical reputation, was well made, and boasted massive close-range stopping power: but against this was heavy, old fashioned, expensive, and not of much use in open areas. The M3 ‘grease gun’ introduced at the very end of 1942 was actually disliked by many, though it did what it set out to do tolerably well. A cheaply stamped weapon, it cost less than half the price of the Thompson, also used the powerful .45 round, and had a thirty-round box magazine. So it was that relatively small numbers of SMGs available to the infantry – some accounts speak of a dozen, or less, per company – were used as HQ assets. These could be distributed as and when needed for particular tasks, as for example in street fighting, or to arm patrols at night or in close country. SMGs also saw some use as junior commanders’ arms.

The Browning-designed Colt model 1911A1 semi-automatic .45 pistol was the standard side arm of officers and ‘second weapon’ of many specialists. Adopted before the First World War, it had been trialled against a range of other possibilities including the 9mm ‘Luger’ Parabellum, and a Savage arm. By 1917 the US Army had in excess of 75,000 of the new pistols. The original 1911 model was slightly remodelled in the early 1920s to make it more ergonomic, thus becoming the model 1911A1. Arguably one of the best combat pistols of any nation, it had the valuable characteristics of good stopping power and reliability, combined with a seven-round detachable box magazine integral to the butt, though to shoot such a powerful weapon accurately requires some practice. Like the M1 Garand, the semi-automatic service pistol was seen as sufficiently ubiquitous to be featured in the Soldier’s Handbook and was thus one of a relatively few pieces of equipment that pretty well every soldier had instructions on, whatever his duty or designation.

Good as it was, the Colt 1911 A1 still had many of the faults inherent to most pistols. Its effective range was short, even in the hands of an expert, and it was much easier to have accidents with than long arms. So it was that the 1942 Rifle Company manual described it as ‘an arm of emergency’ intended for ‘individual defense’ at ranges up to 50yd. Whilst the Colt was the main combat pistol, it is often forgotten that there were others that saw at least limited use. Production of pistols was not top priority, and so it was that ‘substitute standard’ arms were used as supplements, though as far as possible front-line troops got the 1911A1 Colt. The additional arms were mainly .38 revolvers by Colt and Smith and Wesson, and these, as well as other second-line pistols and revolvers, were also supplied to Britain during the emergency that followed Dunkirk. Though semi-automatic weapons now predominated, it remained usual for at least one bolt-action 1903 model Springfield to remain part of squad assets. The reason for this apparent anomaly was that there were still a few things that the Garand had not been designed to do, or had not yet been adapted to perform. Chief amongst these were sniping and grenade launching.

Most destructive against close-range targets, especially those within fieldworks and pillboxes, was the grenade. US types included a Mark III ‘offensive’ model with a fibreboard casing and other specialist munitions, but the one that saw most use in combat was the Mark IIA1 fragmentation grenade. It looked very much like a small pineapple, and was sometimes nicknamed accordingly. The parentage of this bomb was French, being derived from a type used in the First World War. The thrower pulled the pin, and the side lever was released as the grenade left the hand, allowing the ‘Bouchon’ or ‘mouse-trap’ igniter to snap initiating the fuse. After 4½ seconds the bomb exploded into lethal fragments. Whilst theoretically antiquated and less than perfect, nothing better was devised before the end of the war, and the fragmentation grenade did most of what was asked of it. Indeed, in terms of sheer destructiveness it was found more potent than the German stick grenade, as 36th Division infantryman Michael Stubinski explained, ‘I captured a German potato masher, my first, and threw it. It went off just like a concussion grenade, not like ours, which we carried on our belts. Ours . . . tears a body to pieces whereas the potato masher shook the hell out of you’.

The key infantry manual at the time of US entry to the war was FM 7-5, Organisation and Tactics of the Infantry: The Rifle Battalion, 1940. This was particularly significant since nothing of such a comprehensive nature had been produced since the 1920s and it superseded a whole raft of other documents. Its publication by the War Department that October post-dated both the invasion of Poland and the Blitzkrieg campaigns in the West, but how much it was able to take note of both latest campaigns and recent home exercises is open to some debate as at least part appears to have been prepared earlier in the year. Nevertheless, in many aspects the new bible was already influenced by European examples and interwar German tactical manuals in particular. Whilst the US had already begun a titanic struggle of rearmament and recruitment, Rifle Battalion accepted that material factors were only part of the problem as, ‘Man is the final and decisive element in war. Combat is a moral struggle, and victory goes to the side that refuses to be discouraged. Numerical factors, armament, equipment and technical training affect morale but at the same time derive their full value from the moral qualities of the soldier’.

WWII US Army and its Tactics II

A typical sequence of events for the US rifle platoon as part of a battalion attack from the approach march. The platoon deploys from the road it has been using and advances in lose columns to the battalion assembly area. In co-ordination with the remainder of the battalion and the covering fire of artillery and other units it crosses the ‘line of departure’, arriving at the firefight with two of its three sections deployed in rough skirmish lines and the third in support. Taking advantage of cover, the enemy is now brought under effective fire until opportunity for close assault. From The Rifle Platoon and Squad in Offensive Combat, 1943.

The development of the foxhole, from squatting, to kneeling, and finally standing cover for the rifleman, as described in FM 21-45 Protective Measures, Individuals and Small Units, 1942.

The infantry was charged with ‘the principal mission in combat’ and decisive results were usually to be obtained by ‘offensive action’, though numbers, materiel, and other factors would often mean that defensive missions also had to be tackled. It was assumed that infantry units could overcome ‘improvised’ resistance, or ‘isolated hostile elements’ unaided, but that ‘co-ordinated continuing resistance’ would be likely to require the assistance of ‘powerful supporting weapons’ for successful outcome. Whilst the three-battalion regiment was the ‘complete tactical and administrative unit’, the rifle battalion was regarded as the ‘complete tactical unit’. It was capable of ‘assignment to a mission requiring the application of all the usual foot Infantry means of action’. All the weapons of the rifle battalion could be ‘manhandled over a distance of several hundred yards’.

The ‘approach march’ was defined as commencing once a battalion came within medium artillery range, or about 10 miles, of the enemy. In daylight it was then assumed that the advancing force would have to abandon ‘the route of march’ and adopt other formations, such as platoon single files or ‘column of twos’, going forward by ‘long bounds’ from one objective to the next. Dispersion did not need to be great where there was cover from fire or observation, and friendly formations in front, but units could cross dangerous areas ‘by infiltration’, gathering together again once an open space was crossed. Within the rifle platoons commanders nominated a ‘base squad’ to which the tactical deployments of the others conformed. By giving personal direction to the base squad the platoon commander could thereby effectively regulate the movement of the whole. Within companies it was usual for the rifle platoons to go first, followed by the weapons platoon. Commanders had to be suspicious of previously shelled areas or isolated features as these were likely to be pre-registered by the enemy and decide whether these should be skirted round or simply moved through as rapidly as possible. The ultimate objective of the approach march was to get the troops close to the enemy ready for action, but with minimum loss. The approach march was at an end as soon as the zone of effective small-arms fire was entered. For an attack of any scale, or had benefit of thorough preplanning, initial advances could be to designated ‘assembly areas’ in relatively safe spots that allowed units to reform before the assault.

When in proximity to the enemy leading rifle units progressed in extended order ‘reconnoitring so as to prevent elements other than patrols being taken by surprise fire by infantry weapons’. Designated reconnaissance teams were allowed freedom of movement, and encouraged maximum use of cover – as for example in crawling carefully to breaks in a skyline rather than wandering over a crest, remaining still to observe and check that no enemy overlooked the path, climbing trees, and keeping back from doors and windows of buildings. Wide detours were fully acceptable in avoiding open spaces or too close a proximity to an enemy post. For the close security of platoons two men per squad were also designated as ‘scouts’. These were more limited in that they were to move ‘boldly’ from cover to cover, usually within 500yd of their parent body. Often they were close enough to give visual signals, perhaps with one a little in front of the other so that the signal from the point could be relayed via his comrade back to the squad. Unlike reconnaissance teams, the main job of which was to collect information on the enemy and details of topography and equipment, platoon scouts performed their task more than adequately if they gave advance warning and prevented ambushes. In doing so they might well trigger enemy fire. As jaundiced squad scout Henri Atkins put it,

A point man needs a willingness to die. He is nothing more than a decoy. When he is shot, the enemy position is revealed. Don’t confuse this willingness with ‘bravery’. A point man is just doing his job, what he has been trained to do. Usually a scout is way out ahead of the attacking forces, ready to signal back enemy contact. He has a chance of survival, but not much of one.

According to Rifle Battalion, weapons were the ‘means of combat’, and the building block of all higher infantry formations was the squad – ‘the elementary combat unit’ – with a rifle squad being defined as a leader, second in command, and a minimum of five riflemen, ten at full strength. Three such squads, plus an automatic rifle squad of leader, second in command, six men, and two or three automatic rifles, made up the platoon. Three rifle platoons and a weapons platoon made up the rifle company. For general purposes, ‘short range’ was defined as anything up to 200yd; ‘close’ up to 400yd; ‘middle’ to 600yd; ‘long’ to 1,500yd; and ‘distant’ anything greater. Ideally, the frontage of a battalion was not more than 1,000yd; a company 500yd; a platoon 200yd; and the squad 75yd. Where wider frontages were required the practice was not to increase the distance between individual troops, but to leave gaps between the elements. An uneven distribution was perfectly acceptable, and could be turned to advantage by using such gaps for the flanking fire of machine guns. The preparation of the battalion-level attack was estimated to take a minimum of 1½ hours, commencing with the commander’s personal reconnaissance, followed by issuance of oral orders to a brief officer-group meeting, transmission of orders to all parts of the unit, and finally the advance.

In developing the attack it was expected that the commander would issue tasks to sub-units in terms of initial positions, directions of attack, zones of action, and objectives, but the smaller the unit the less detailed the instructions would be. A commander ‘prescribes a detailed tactical plan only so far as he can reasonably estimate the hostile resistance to be expected’. However, in attacks against co-ordinated resistance fire plans for support weapons were prepared,

When practicable, fires to dominate located resistance and neutralise areas from which hostile fire would be most dangerous are prearranged. Provision is made for engaging targets revealed during the course of the attack. Each unit seeks necessary augmentation of its own fire support by requesting that higher headquarters provide support from means under its control . . . In the absence of tanks, the fire of divisional artillery constitutes the basis of the fire plan of infantry regiments and battalions. The artillery neutralizes target areas in successive concentrations; it shells the nearer targets until the progress of the attack makes it necessary to transfer fire to a more distant zone. Fires are arranged in consultation with the commander of the supporting artillery.

It was a company commander’s job to ensure that supporting fires co-ordinated with the actions of the platoons ‘in place and in time’, perhaps by designating successive objectives and pushing in his light machine guns close behind the platoons. He was also to look for the ideal places to launch assaults, checking where resistance might be weakening. The infantry support weapons concentrated on targets too close for the artillery to hit safely, point targets revealed during the action, and ‘opportunity’ targets, though heavy machine guns could also be used to reinforce artillery by long-range fire. Mortars were placed as far forward as cover and ammunition supply permitted, with the 60mm type ‘within 400 yards of the front line’. In using them effectively observation was crucial. Light machine guns were used to fire through gaps in depth across the front of their own companies, or to flanks. Frontal fire was regarded as reserved for emergencies. Some weapons were held ready for rapid advance to positions for flanking fire. Others displaced forward as necessary.

The key offensive technique was ‘fire and movement’, and the closest possible co-ordination of the two was required so the infantry ‘may close with the enemy and break his resistance’. Indeed, as was explained in a passage that was but modest rephrasing of a passage from the book Infantry in Battle a few years previously, ‘Fire destroys or neutralizes the enemy and must be used to protect all movement in the presence of the enemy not masked by cover, darkness, fog or smoke. Through movement infantry places itself in positions which increase its destructive powers by decrease of range, by the development of convergent fires, and by flanking action’. Commonly, supporting weapons were well forward, allowing visual observation from emplacements: the infantrymen themselves were assumed to have highly destructive fire potential against ‘unsheltered personnel’ but against those under cover flat trajectory weapons were only of a neutralising effect. In moving sub-units were to take full advantage of broken or rolling terrain, avoiding whenever possible conspicuous or isolated features upon which the enemy might easily focus his fire. The very fact that progress against enemy concentrations was likely to be uneven could be used to advantage by taking flanks as they appeared, as for example by moving machine guns into new positions. As one terrain feature was occupied the advance to the next was organised – ‘fire bases’ being prepared for the next move. In close assaulting the enemy the best technique was to advance to the nearest available cover, then,

The assault of rifle units is usually initiated by units whose close approach has been favoured by the terrain or those which have encountered weak enemy resistance. A heavy burst of fire is delivered by all available weapons, following which the troops rush the hostile position. The assault of a unit is supported by every element in position to render resistance.

On arrival troops securing a lodgement in the enemy position were to turn their automatic weapons onto the flanks of any adjacent resistance, or upon retreating enemy. As far as possible, successful attacks were pushed right through the enemy lines, and the most advanced detachments ‘pushed forward without regard to the progress of units on their flanks’.

Details on tactical movement were filled in by the 1941 Soldier’s Handbook. Some of the advice was fairly obvious, as for example in lying flat and moving extremely cautiously when there was danger of being observed, or taking advantage of hedges, walls, and folds in the ground. However, a number of patrol formations and drills were also included, dependent on mission. ‘Security patrols’ for example might be used as advanced guards, rear guards, or flank patrols. Advanced and rear guards were likely to be disposed on both sides of a track or road, and ‘so arranged as best to let the leader control it, to make a poor target for enemy fire, and to permit all members to fire quickly to the front or either flank’. Such patrols were usually under standing orders to engage any enemy within effective fire range, and to send report of anything seen if they could not. Flank patrols could move alongside the route way at a given distance, or be concealed static protection. Extensive use of patrols was to be made in any direction where a flank might be exposed to the enemy. When in danger areas and until actually engaged, stealthy patrol movement was assumed, with for example streams being crossed one man at a time whilst others covered the ground. Reconnaissance patrols taken by surprise used a drill in which the first man to apprehend the threat called out the direction of the enemy. His comrades could then come to his aid on either side, and by doing so any small or isolated group of the enemy could be flanked. Wherever possible, patrol-squad leaders were encouraged to rush unprepared enemy individuals or small bodies. Night patrols required particular planning, and for these prearranged recognition signals were particularly vital.

Defensive infantry combat might take the form of ‘sustained defence’ or ‘delaying actions’ – these might be adopted deliberately, or be forced by the enemy. In sustained defence the usual infantry mission was to ‘stop the enemy by fire in front of the battle position, to repel his assault by close combat if he reaches it, and to eject him by counter attack in case he enters it’. As defending forces were likely to be weaker than attacking ones that had been concentrated for the purpose, defenders made maximum use of screening and concealment. Protection was not to be sought at the expense of disclosing dispositions as, ‘unmasked defensive positions will be promptly neutralised, if not destroyed, by superior hostile means of action’. Accordingly, the defence acted ‘by surprise’, varying its procedure and making every effort to keep the enemy in doubt about the main line of resistance and its principle elements. The enemy might be misled by camouflage, dummy works, screening by security detachments, and activity ahead of the main position. Whilst defenders relied heavily on fire, they were to remain ‘mobile and aggressive. Weak ‘holding elements’ at the front took advantage of the power of modern weapons to cover large areas and were reinforced by reserves shifted to meet the attacker with maximum strength and counter attacks.

Though main lines of resistance were often selected by higher authority, battalion and company commanders were to pick ‘detailed locations’ for smaller units taking particular account of observation and natural obstacles. Troops were to see, but not be seen, denying the enemy ability to view approaches to the position from the rear. Good communications in the rear were desirable to allow flow of men and materials to vital points. Sometimes reverse slopes would be adopted, with just small posts and machine guns on crests. Salients and re-entrants in the defensive position allowed for flanking fire from machine guns. Defenders were not to be distributed evenly, but to take maximum advantage of terrain and depth of positions and concentrate on key locations. Defending units might usefully be divided into three: the ‘security’ echelon; ‘combat’ echelon; and reserve.

‘Combat outposts’ on the German model formed the main element of security detachments beyond the main ‘battle position’. In larger defensive zones complete battalions could be given over to outpost duty together with artillery and anti-tank weapons. One outpost battalion might be given 2,000 to 2,500yd frontage to cover. Within the battle position itself were concentrated and co-ordinated all the resources required for ‘decisive action’, including a network of ‘fortified supporting points’ prepared for all-round defence. ‘Lines’ were to be avoided unless a defence was regarded as a ‘delaying action’ as a system based on holding successive lines was likely to result in dispersion of force. The ‘holding garrisons’ of points would consist of small groups usually built up around automatic weapons, positioned in depth and in ‘such a manner that the fires of each cross the front or flank of adjacent or advanced elements’. Unoccupied areas were covered by fire and counter attack. Frontages, though based on the ‘general’ figures already given, were varied according to terrain and situation, with narrower unit frontages and greater firepower devoted to vulnerable places where the enemy had benefit of covered approaches allowing them to get closer to the defenders. Conversely, obstacles allowed fewer troops to cover greater distances, and hence wider frontages for given units. Boundaries between units were not, however, to be on critical localities, as this would tend to divided responsibilities and confusion in event of attack.

Defensive fire was crucial,

The skeleton of the main line of resistance is constituted by machine guns and anti-tank weapons. Close defence of the position is largely based upon reciprocal flanking action of machine guns. The direction of fire of flanking defences often permits their concealment from direct observation of the enemy and their protection from frontal fire. They therefore have the advantage of being able to act with surprise effect in addition to that of protection and concealment. Frontal and flanking defences mutually supplement one another and subject the attacker to convergent fires. Gaps in the fire bands of machine guns are covered by artillery, mortars, automatic rifles and rifles. Riflemen and automatic riflemen furnish enough close protection for automatic weapons executing flanking fires and cover frontal sectors of fire. Premature fires from positions in the main line of resistance disclose the main defensive dispositions to the annihilating fire of the hostile artillery.

The best antidote to defending weapons being knocked out by enemy artillery was for them to wait until the enemy infantry got close enough that their supporting guns had to cease fire. At that point defenders could open fire on the attacking infantry, gaining surprise, and without fear that they would be hit in return.

The effectiveness of defensive fire positions could be much improved by the use of obstacles, such as wire, but they were not to be positioned in such a way as to telegraph the location of the main line of resistance. Wire could be disguised by being discontinuous, laid in vegetation, or put in stream beds. Where time allowed the protection of a position was progressively improved, not only by building up physical defences and digging trenches and bunkers, but by improving communications, stockpiling munitions, and protecting defenders against weather. Shell-proof shelters for reserves were regarded as a priority. Trenches were not, however, to be allowed to become conspicuous. Within battle position fire zones were adjusted so as to leave no gaps.

Though Rifle Battalion, 1940 was actually quite a good grounding for action at the time it was introduced, it was largely based on second-hand experience, and produced at a time of great change. As a ‘battalion’ instruction it was also not highly detailed on matters pertaining to squads. All these factors set limitations on its effective shelf life and scope. A number of other manuals and documents were, therefore, used as supplements or updates, especially where new weapons were introduced or new factors encountered. One of the most important of these was FM 21-45 Protective Measures, Individuals and Small Units, signed off by the Secretary of War at the end of 1941, and published in March 1942. This filled in many gaps, notably detail of concealment and cover, camouflage, digging of foxholes and trenches, awareness of booby traps, communications and information security, and protection against aircraft, chemical weapons, and tanks. It was intended to supersede the single chapter devoted to some of these aspects in the 1938 ‘Basic Field Manual’, which was by now pretty much out of date.

Significantly, Protective Measures acknowledged that modern war put a higher premium than ever upon ‘individual initiative’ and stressed both the role of the soldier and the ‘small group’, on whom rested ‘more and more’ the course of battle. It mattered little whether the task was bringing up a truck load of ammunition, preparing a meal, or outflanking a machine gun: if all these could be accomplished intelligently and unseen by the enemy every one of them would contribute to the probability of success and the ‘destruction of the enemy’. As if to emphasise how personal war could be, and the importance to the individual, Protective Measures and the latest soldier’s handbooks now spoke to the US private soldier in person. ‘You’ were told how to protect yourself and handle your weapons – – this was not some exercise in describing someone else in the third person, this was very much as though Uncle Sam was speaking direct to the citizen about his own responsibilities and the best way to stay alive whilst fulfilling them. Of course these manuals could be, and often were, used as teaching materials by others – and it is a fair guess that even the most conscientious and literate only dipped into them in places, but the message was clearer and more a matter of the individual knowing his job than ever before.

Interestingly, some of the material from Protective Measures did also appear in FM 21-100 Soldier’s Handbook of 1941, republished in a revised edition in March 1942. The information on camouflage and concealment was significant, but in many respects repeated that already found in German and British publications. The new material on ‘hasty entrenchments’ was arguably of greater interest, but was not the easiest to impart to reluctant soldiery for whom digging large holes was often not thought to be part of the job description,

In order to provide natural protection against hostile fire by hasty construction you must have a knowledge of the tools available, their use, and the types of hasty entrenchment which will afford cover. Permanent or semi permanent cover requires a long time and many men to construct, and will normally be done under the supervision of an officer. When your mission permits, you should provide or improve your cover by digging. You must know the various types of cover which you can provide and learn how best to construct them by digging them. These types have been developed by survivors of hostile attacks and tested under fire. It is hard work, and requires practice to dig them quickly and properly. Learn how before hostile action forces you to.

Many who did not learn how to dig quickly had indeed very short military careers: but some lazier GIs also found short cuts, for if the enemy had not thoughtfully ploughed up the ground with his weapons of war a small block of TNT purloined from the engineers might be made to fulfil the same function with gratifyingly little spadework.

Protective Measures divided up small-scale field works under the heads of skirmisher’s trench; foxholes; shell holes; slit trenches; shallow connecting trenches and squad positions. The skirmisher’s trench, which had in fact been taught during the First World War, was dug with the soldier prone, head towards the enemy. Naturally, it was best executed with proper digging implements, but under fire anything would suffice, as for example ‘your bayonet, mess kit cover, sticks or any other available object’. Lying on his left, the soldier first scraped a hole for head and body, then rolled into it. Then, lying on his right, excavated to his left enlarging the hole enough to get his head, shoulders and hips well down. Earth was thrown to the front so improving cover for the head and shoulders as quickly as possible. This accomplished the soldier then extended his scrape backwards enough to get his legs under cover.

In average soil you can get fair protection in about 10 minutes and finish the trench in less than an hour. The finished trench will give you protection against flat trajectory small arms fire but only partial protection against high explosive shell or bomb fragments. You should enlarge the forward portion into a foxhole as soon as enemy fire permits.

The foxhole was described as the ‘more usual form of hasty entrenchment’ and gave fair protection against bombs and shells as well as direct small-arms fire. It could be dug prone or crouching but was better made from standing when not under fire. It was dug progressively allowing squatting, kneeling, and finally standing fire positions as time allowed. With full-sized dedicated tools a standing foxhole could be completed in less than an hour, but with infantry implements in cramped conditions an hour and a half was considered more normal. In firm soil the lower portion of the hole could be enlarged to allow the occupant to curl up at the bottom, and so secure the best possible protection, even against tanks driving over. The last refinement was a sump at the bottom, ‘larger than a canteen cup’, to allow for bailing when the hole got wet. Shell holes were a good starting point for battlefield cover as much of the hard work was already done, and the enemy might not be able to distinguish which were being used as infantry cover.

Where a shell hole was purposely converted to best effect it was recommended that the soldier dig ‘2 or 3 feet into the forward slope to get a good firing position and lateral protection from shell fragments and enfilade fire’. Similar improvements could be speedily made to roadside ditches, banks, or other ready made features. In practice and with time it was found that two-man positions were often best, as a buddy allowed one soldier to rest and act as lookout during construction, or both worked together for maximum speed and encouragement. With the double foxhole, pair of holes, or converted shell hole complete it was now possible for one man to sleep whilst the other acted as sentry. In any event, morale was better and nasty surprises fewer with a second man in the hole. As the 1944 Infantry Anti Tank Company manual later explained, the two-man hole gave only slightly less protection, but was used when men needed to work in pairs, or ‘for psychological reasons, battlefield comradeship is desirable’. Once everyone in a unit had cover it was sometimes useful to link the individual positions using the ‘shallow connecting trench’. For creeping, crawling, and occasional use a depth of about 2ft was deemed adequate, though such slender cover was not ideal to fire from or occupy for protracted periods.

The slit trenches also had uses.

It gives excellent protection against all types of fire, air attack, and in firm soil, or when revetted in soft, provides protection against tanks passing overhead. It is excellent type of cover for the immediate protection of gun and vehicle crews and for anti tank lookouts. A slit trench is less visible to ground observation if it is dug parallel to the front and the spoil (dug out earth) scattered and concealed rather than used as a parapet. The cut sod should be saved and used for camouflage. Such a trench can be concealed by methods similar to those used in camouflage of a foxhole. A slit trench should be as narrow as possible and still admit you, and deep enough to permit you to get below the surface of the ground. A standing slit trench may be caved in by concentrated artillery fire. For this reason one dug in soft ground should be well braced and revetted. A single such trench should not be required to hold more than two individuals. When more are to be protected, dig more trenches. Slit trenches in the shape of a chevron or cross, about six feet on a side, will ensure enfilade protection against fire from tanks.

The basics of ‘squad positions’ were not hugely changed, but Protective Measures was far more detailed in its advice, perhaps more so than might be practical under many battle conditions. Ideally, the squad leader deployed each man personally with an eye to ‘all-round defence’. Every soldier was also allotted primary and secondary ‘sectors of fire’ – primary sectors usually being those areas fronting the squad in the direction of the enemy, whilst secondary sectors covered across the flanks to the frontages of adjacent squads at maximum distances of perhaps 200 to 400yd. Supplementary positions were also prepared to allow riflemen to shift to cover the flanks and rear of the squad position.

Fox holes for each primary and supplementary position are started as soon as possible after you deploy your squad and more fully developed as time and situation permit. Individual fox holes should be about five yards apart or they may be placed in pairs. If the position is to be held for some time, have the fox holes connected where necessary by shallow connecting trenches. If your men are to occupy the holes overnight, have them extend the fox holes on each side or deepen the connecting trenches so they can lie prone while sleeping . . . If an automatic weapon, automatic rifle, machine gun or submachine gun is available you should site it in an advanced position near the centre of your group of fox holes so that its fire can cover the entire sector of your squad and adjacent squads. Select an alternative position nearby to which it can move, if necessary, and deliver the same fire. Select a secondary position to permit its fire to cover to the rear.

WWII US Army and its Tactics III

Initial dispositions of platoons for a ‘strong attack’, with the majority of the company forward. This could be developed into an enveloping attack if circumstances allowed. From FM 7-10 Rifle Company, Infantry Regiment, 1944.

Possible arrangements of squads during the approach march from FM 7-10 Rifle Company, Infantry Regiment, 1944.

From mid-1942 the US infantry manuals were comprehensively updated with the appearance of FM 7-10 Rifle Company, Rifle Regiment in June, and a new Rifle Battalion that September. Arguably, the new company manual was significant in that it appeared to suggest greater responsibility at lower levels of command, and that companies might themselves have greater combat significance than had been imagined before December 1941. For whilst the company acted in accordance with the battalion commander’s plan and mission, and was likely to be assigned either to the battalion ‘forward echelon’ or the ‘battalion reserve’, many of the smaller decisions could fall to the company commander. This was especially true when the company was detached,

When the company is acting alone, it is employed as directed by the commander who assigned the company its mission. The company commander will, of necessity, have to make more decisions on his own initiative than he will when operating with his battalion. His major decisions, as well as frequent reports of location and progress, are submitted promptly to the higher commander.

As a matter of course the company commander was responsible for administration, discipline, supply, training and control of his company: but Rifle Company also made it clear that he had an important tactical role. He was to anticipate and plan for prospective missions, supervise his subordinates, and decide on a course of action ‘in conformity with orders from higher authority’. This required a good ‘estimate of situation’ before the issuing of clear orders,

Having decided upon a detailed plan of action to carry out an assigned mission, the company commander must assign specific missions to his subordinate units. Company orders are usually issued orally to the leaders concerned or as oral or written messages. Sketches are furnished when practicable. Prior to combat, subordinates frequently can be assembled to receive the order. This facilitates orientation prior to the issuance of orders and enables the company commander to ensure that orders are understood…. Whenever practicable, the order is issued at a point from which terrain features of importance to subordinates can be pointed out. In attack, this often will be impracticable because of hostile observation and fires. If time is limited and leaders are separated, the company commander will issue his orders in fragmentary form. Leaders of units which are engaged with the enemy will not be called away from their units for the purpose of receiving orders.

Once combat was joined the company commander’s job became complex indeed. He was expected to know where the enemy was, and was capable of doing; keep track of both front and flanks, ensuring ‘all-round protection’; anticipate the needs of his platoons for supporting fire, and ensure that the sub-units supported one another; and check that his orders were carried out, whilst controlling company transportation and ammunition resupply. Nevertheless, he was still expected to find time to make ‘frequent reports’ to the battalion commander. Crucial to the performance of these tasks was the ‘Command Group’, comprising a second in command, first sergeant, communications sergeant, bugler, messengers, and orderly. The second in command, usually a first lieutenant, was expected to keep abreast,

of the tactical situation as it affects the company, replaces the company commander should the latter become a casualty, and performs any other duty assigned him by the company commander. During combat, he is in charge of the command post until he assumes command of the company, or of a platoon. He maintains communication with the company and battalion commanders. He notifies the battalion commander of changes in location of the command post.

The first sergeant usually assisted the second in command, and in combat might take responsibility for aspects of administration and supply, though in extremis he was used as a platoon commander, or as a substitute taking charge of the command post in case of casualties.

The communications sergeant naturally took charge of all aspects of communications, as well as assisting in preparation of sketches. Though often unsung, the duties of the communication sergeants were crucial, and when well performed could give the US infantry an advantage over both friend and foe as US units were usually better equipped in this department. The SCR 300 (‘Signal Corps Radio’) was a conventional-looking 32lb backpack model, giving a range of about 5 miles and was used between company and battalion. It could be operated by one man, but also be carried by one person whilst a handset was used by another. The little SCR 536 ‘handy talkie’ eventually issued down to platoon level was a genuine innovation. First produced in 1941, it weighed only 5lb, had an integral antenna, and a battery life of about a day in normal use. The whole set was held up to the ear and the operator depressed a switch to talk and released it whilst receiving. Though the range of the SCR 536 was less than a mile over some types of terrain, this was often adequate to bridge the gaps between company and platoons. Often at lower tactical levels voice-to-voice communications were used ‘in the clear’ and with no scrambling and only modest use of codes. It was reasoned, probably correctly, that in fast-moving situations swift delivery of accurate information was more important than a high level of security. In any event, when sets were first captured by the Germans in Sicily they were very impressed with them. Taking no chances, Rifle Company, 1942 also prescribes that as soon as a company is deployed each platoon should have a messenger report to company HQ.

In offensive situations it was expected that until the company left the route of march many decisions would be taken at higher levels, but as soon as deployment took place, or the unit was endangered, or under fire, the company commander would have responsibility. His orders, often issued in ‘fragmentary’ form due to pressures of time, would inform the platoons of known dispositions of both enemy and friendly troops; mission, objectives, and directions of march, including landmarks; frontage and reconnaissance requirements, and what actions to take in the event of being attacked. Where his company acted as part of a larger movement his ‘base’ platoon would act in conformity with that of the company designated as ‘base’ company within the battalion. Usually the company commander’s position would be at the front, and he was encouraged to make ‘personal reconnaissance’, but not attempt to tell his platoon commanders what precise formations and dispositions to adopt, unless what they were already doing disagreed with overall objectives and mission. In open terrain it was perfectly acceptable for platoons to be anything up to about 300yd apart so as to make best use of any cover or vantage points, but in close terrain, and especially woods, the platoons were to close up sufficiently that they were in visual contact.

The drill on contact was that only the element under fire would engage where they were – other platoons, and any squads not engaged, attempted to continue toward the objective, taking ‘every advantage of concealment and cover and assuring security of their flanks’ as they did so. By this method and ‘fire and movement’ they worked round the enemy and thereby assisted those held up. Where attacks on specific points were pre-planned the platoon commander had several options; perhaps holding back a part as a ‘manoeuvring element’, or sending forward a few riflemen aided by a BAR able to creep forward under cover and engage the enemy by surprise in a manner impossible for the whole platoon.

In any event, the platoon commander followed his attacking echelon closely, so as to be able to observe and direct his men.

When the platoon comes under effective small arms fire, further advance is usually by fire and movement. The enemy is pinned to the ground by frontal (and flanking) fire, under which other elements of the platoon manoeuvre forward, using all available cover to protect themselves against hostile fire. In turn, the original manoeuvring elements may occupy firing positions and cover the advance of the elements initially firing. The platoon leader hits the weak spot in the enemy position by having his support attack against the point of least resistance, or by manoeuvring his support around a flank to strike the enemy with surprise fire on his flank or rear . . . When fire from other hostile positions situated to the flank or rear makes it impossible to launch a flanking attack against a particular area, an assaulting force is built up by infiltration close to the hostile resistance. This force is protected by the fire of the rest of the platoon and of supporting weapons. One or more automatic rifles may be employed to neutralize the fires of the hostile flank or rear elements.

Having achieved a final jumping off point close to the enemy, this being defined as being as close as the troops were able to get without masking their supporting fire, the assault could begin. Though this might be a ‘general assault’ ordered by a company or battalion commander, it was equally likely to be started ‘in the heat of battle’ on the initiative of a squad, or even ‘a few individuals’. Any such attack warranted the immediate co-operation of every individual or unit within sight. Whilst platoon commanders would give the signal to stop supporting fire as his men crossed the last few yards, the attackers were to ‘assault fire’ during their final progress, bayonets fixed. At this crucial moment they would take ‘full advantage of existing cover such as tanks, boulders, trees, walls and mounds, advance rapidly toward the enemy and fire as they advance at areas known or believed to be occupied’.

Gung-ho as this may sound, the battle of what one Free French commentator in Italy called the ‘last hundred metres’ was often illusive, a fugitive beast, rarely seen, and less often caught on camera. Not infrequently men were nerved for final assault only to find that the enemy had already fled, or were, more or less successfully, attempting to surrender. The empty battlefield was so for a reason, as to linger was to invite death. As a US observer, also in Italy, described,

One never saw masses of men assaulting the enemy. What one observed, in apparently unrelated patches, was small, loose bodies of men moving down narrow defiles or over steep inclines, going methodically from position to position between long halts and the only continuous factor was the roaring and crackling of the big guns. One felt baffled at the unreality of it all. Unseen groups of men were fighting other men that they rarely saw.

What actually happened at such decisive moments in the infantry battle was analysed by Major GS Johns of US 29th Division in Normandy. First a machine gun might be knocked out. A man or two was killed or wounded, then:

Eventually the leader of the stronger force, usually the attackers, may decide that he has weakened his opponents enough to warrant a large concerted assault, preceded by a concentration of all the mortar and artillery support he can get. Or the leader of the weaker force may see that he will be overwhelmed by such an attack and pull back to another position in his rear. Thus goes the battle – a rush, a pause, some creeping, a few isolated shots here and there, some artillery fire, some mortars, some smoke, more creeping, another pause, dead silence, more firing, a great concentration of fire followed by a concerted rush. Then the whole process starts all over again.

Useful as it was, the advice of the 1942 manual was not given in isolation, nor was it regarded as the final word. In addition to two formal amendments, Infantry School offered a series of pictorial supplements, intended not only to keep the subject fresh and up to date but to present what might otherwise be dry and dense material in a fashion accessible to the NCO. Training Bulletin GT-20 of March 1943 for example expanded specifically on the subject of the approach march. By means of cartoon-style sketches, a simplified text, and tactical diagrams it showed exactly how the squad and platoon were expected to look, lined up for inspection, and in a series of tactical situations. Pictures showed how useful the informal platoon column was in moving through woods, fog, smoke or darkness, narrow spaces, and artillery fire, but also how dangerous it could prove if exposed to fire from the front. Also explained were the ideas of the ‘base squad’, tactical movement, and scouting. Platoon formations such as line of squads, and dispositions with one squad forward and two back – or vice versa – were similarly illustrated. As the Training Bulletin was issued on a scale of one per platoon it would appear to have been intended to reach platoon commanders and sergeants, and through them – probably verbally, their men.

The final US statement on small-unit infantry tactics prior to D-Day was the deservedly well renowned March 1944 edition of Rifle Company, Infantry Regiment. A solid 300 pages, this managed to incorporate the minutiae of several previous field manuals with some of the handy pictorial references of Training Bulletin. It encapsulated, so far as they were required for infantry, diagrams of the field works pioneered by the Protective Measures and Field Engineering manuals. Updated information was also given on the role and issue of individual weapons within platoons. Rifle grenade launchers were now widely distributed, ideally three per squad, plus one each to communication sergeants, platoon guides, squad and section leaders in light machine-gun squads, and even to truck drivers. Carbine launchers were also on hand, with one specifically allotted to the company bugler. Launchers were used for both the anti-tank grenade and, by means of an adaptor, the anti-personnel Mark II type. Hand grenades were described as being ‘especially useful’ against weapon crews or other small groups where they were located in places inaccessible to rifle fire, but inside the minimum range of high-angle rifle grenade fire.

For basic fire and movement the squad was regarded as three teams ‘Able’ which was the two scouts; ‘Baker’ comprising four men with the BAR; and the ‘Charlie’ five-man manoeuvre and assault team. The leader initially attached himself to the scouts. Where casualties intervened it was actually often the practice to make do with two teams, the smaller having the BAR. When one team was moving another was the ‘foot on the ground’, much as on the British model. Yet fire was also seen as antidote to many an adverse situation. As George S Patton put it,

The proper way to advance, particularly for troops armed with that magnificent weapon the M-1 rifle, is to utilise marching fire and keep moving. This fire can be delivered from the shoulder, but it can be just as effective if delivered with the butt of the rifle half way between belt and the armpit. One round should be fired every two or three paces. The whistle of the bullets, the scream of the ricochet, and the dust, twigs and branches which are knocked from the ground and the trees have such an effect on the enemy that his small arms fire becomes negligible.

Raids received more detailed treatment than before. Rifle companies were most likely to be committed, day or night, in ‘supported raids’. Ordered by battalion commanders who set the mission, time, and objective, these depended on both the element of surprise and the fire of supporting weapons. Details, however, were left to the company commander, who was usually given discretion regarding training, equipment, and conduct of the raid. His course of action would be informed by a preliminary reconnaissance. Important decisions included the designation of leaders and objectives for each party, and how to deploy the weapons platoon. Given that raids would not generally require heavy weapons to displace forwards, possible options included using its elements to protect flanks, assist in covering the withdrawal, reinforcing support fires, or provide men to carry captured materials or guard prisoners.

Company commanders were also well advised to keep in hand a support party, including rocket launchers, to use against unexpected enemy resistance or counter attack. This was particularly necessary since positions left vacant during the day might well be occupied by enemy reserves at night. Indeed, US instructions on night deployment specifically recommended that platoons close up tighter to each other at night, as this enabled them to keep in touch and reduced the possibility for infiltration under darkness. If a raid proceeded without preparatory fire by support weapons, the company commander had to be particularly careful to plan the timing of ‘protective fires’ by means of which objectives could be ‘boxed in’. Premature shooting roused the enemy, late firing might mean enemy units adjacent joining in the fray. Daylight raids were almost always ‘supported’.

‘Infiltration’, already mentioned in earlier manuals, was further elaborated in Rifle Company, 1944. Not an easy technique to achieve successfully it was defined as, ‘a method of advancing unobserved into areas which are under hostile control or observation. It requires decentralization of control; it means giving a unit, small group, or even an individual soldier a mission to accomplish, unaided. Upon the success of this mission often depends the success of larger actions.’ Infiltrations might be accomplished under any condition of ‘limited visibility’, as for example darkness, fog, heavy rain, very rugged terrain, or undergrowth. How many troops were committed to infiltration depended on the mission: small patrols of two or three might be all that was required for information gathering, anything up to an entire company might make an attempt if the objective was to launch an attack against the rear of a hostile position. In any case, secrecy was crucial, both to success of the mission, and the extraction of any who objectives required that they be returned unseen. In many instances security was better maintained under cover of distractions or ruses such as firing, racing engines, pyrotechnics, or movement of other units.

Extremely useful were infiltrations in conjunction with a co-ordinated attack, and in such tactics the infiltrating unit might be tasked to launch an assault against the enemy rear, single out command, communication, or supply facilities. Ideally, if the main attack was by daylight the infiltrators should complete their movement under darkness at least half an hour before dawn. Infiltrating bodies and those working with them needed careful preparation, as for example an initial assembly area within friendly lines, instructions on passing through friendly outposts, gaps in fronts and information drawn from prior reconnaissance. Standard practice was to have guides leading the infiltrating body to their departure point, and where possible guides into and through the enemy position chosen from previous patrols. Scouts and patrols could usefully screen and protect movement. The main body of an infiltration team moved in column, dispersed as the unit commander saw fit, but with any heavy weapons having to be carried by hand, preferably toward the centre of the column. Speed of movement would necessarily depend on circumstances such as visibility, terrain, and enemy activity, but with infiltration secrecy was more important than haste and allowances had to be made that enemy patrols might appear and cause delays. With this in mind, radios and pyrotechnics were not to be used during an infiltration but men were to have silent weapons to hand such as trench knives, small axes, ‘blackjacks’, and clubs.

Small groups could also perform useful infiltrations during larger attacks or in defence,

When the attack is slowed down or stopped, or when the attack is endangered, infiltrating elements may be able to work their way into enemy controlled terrain to cause confusion, give the impression of an attack from a different direction, disrupt communications or supply, or in other ways confuse or harass the enemy. They may move around organised localities and threaten them from the rear. These elements may consist of two or three individuals, or of entire squads.

It followed that units also had to be vigilant against the possibility of enemy infiltration, with observers covering open ground, and ‘roving combat patrols’ in places that could not be overlooked. Night patrols and ‘listening posts’ might substitute for conventional techniques after dark.

As before, the lighter weight Infantry School illustrated Training Bulletins supplemented the main manual. That of 30 June 1944 dealt with ‘security missions’, and was, in effect, a punchy aide-memoir against being taken unawares, it being ‘inexcusable for a commander to be surprised by the enemy’. The Training Bulletin therefore included not only pictorial refreshers on outposts, advanced, flank and rear guards, and the duties of the ‘point’ during the advance, but handy tips on civilians and sentries. The possibility that civilians might be something other than refugees or innocents was addressed by injunctions on preventing them preceding an advanced guard and prohibiting them from passing through outposts. In the event of encountering large numbers of refugees it was expected that ‘higher authority’ would issue orders on ‘collection and subsequent disposal’.

Given the special conditions encountered in the close bocage of Normandy such reminders were timely indeed. As Lawrence Nickell of 5th US Division recorded, the countryside here was cut into tiny parcels by old walls and hedges,

They were stone walls erected hundreds of years ago as the rocky fields of Normandy were cleared for cultivation. Over the years they had become overgrown with vines, trees had grown up on them and they were often three or more feet in thickness and six feet or more high. The Germans dug deep, standing depth foxholes behind the hedgerows and punched holes in the base of the hedgerows to permit a good field of fire for the machine guns they relied on so heavily.

Multiplied hundreds of times this became a whole new system of defence requiring new methods of attack, as was made clear by a 1st Army report,

In effect, hedgerows subdivide the terrain into small rectangular compartments which favour the defense. With careful organisation each compartment can be developed into a formidable obstacle to the advance of attacking infantry. By tying in adjacent compartments to provide mutual support a more or less continuous band of strongpoints may be developed across the front. Handicapped by lack of observation, difficulty in maintaining direction, and inability to use all supporting weapons to their maximum advantage the attacker is forced to adopt a form of jungle or Indian fighting in which the individual soldier plays a dominant part. The most effective attack proved to be by the combined action of infantry, artillery and tanks with some of the tanks equipped with dozer blades or large steel teeth in front to punch holes through the hedgerows. It was found necessary to assign frontages according to specific fields and hedgerows instead of by yardage and to reduce the distances and intervals between tactical formations. Normal rifle company formation was a box formation with two assault platoons in the lead followed by the support platoon and the weapons platoon.

Often the link between arms of service had to be closer still. Reports of the US 90th Infantry Division for example mention the motto ‘one field, one squad, one tank’. On approaching the enclosure the tank broke through into the field first, under cover of the infantry weapons. Inside it took position to cover the foot soldiers who advanced along the field edges. After initial heavy going the 29th under Major General Gerhardt adopted, and may even have initiated, much the same tactic, going so far as to practise and demonstrate the method at the divisional training centre at Couvains. On occasion the relationship of armour and infantry was reversed so that an infantry battalion was attached to a tank battalion for local security and ground holding. For bigger attacks the new Infantry Battalion manual of 1944 prescribed careful thought as to whether one arm should precede the other into action, or whether in the face of a well-prepared enemy ‘composite waves’ of tanks and infantry, following hard on indirect artillery and direct support fire, was the most flexible option.

Though Normandy was rightly regarded with huge mistrust as a hotbed of enemy snipers, and frequently trees and hedges were riddled by BAR men on the least suspicion of enemy activity, 1944 also saw the ultimate fruition of US techniques with the publication of FM 21-75 Scouting, Patrolling, and Sniping. As this appeared as early as February there was certainly opportunity for it to be seen, if not exhaustively practised, by the time of Overlord. As in earlier British summaries, the link between intelligence gathering, and the arts of stealthy movement, patrols, and sniping was seen as crucial. It brought together many of the earlier summaries of fieldcraft, stressing individual concealment, the need to remain motionless, and the value of observing and shooting through, rather than over cover. ‘Cover’ itself was now differentiated as a matter of course from ‘concealment’: the former protected against hostile weapons, the latter only against observation.

Whilst various forms of diamond arrangement for patrols of 8, 9, 12 or larger numbers were outlined, US patrolling formations were now regarded as ‘fluid and flexible’ with individuals taking their cue from the patrol leader and having regard to their ability to see each other whilst making ‘full use of cover and concealment’. Patrols could indeed change shape as they proceeded, and there was a general intention that should a patrol be fired upon the minimum number would be ‘pinned down’ by the enemy intervention:

Within a designated formation, points and flank groups move in and out as required in order to observe any cover for an enemy up to 100 yards, provided the inside man of the group can maintain visual contact with the patrol leader. Individual patrol members automatically move closer together in thick cover, fog, and at night; and farther apart in open terrain, clear weather, and in daylight. In general however, the lateral movement of flank groups is limited to 100 yards from the axis of advance.

Patrols were divided broadly into reconnaissance and combat missions. As in the British model, the former were the minimum size to achieve the objective, two or three men often being sufficient unless the excursion was expected to be protracted, or spares were needed as messengers. Reconnaissance patrols were not to indulge in combat unless for self protection or out of vital need to complete a mission, but specialists such as radio operators, mine technicians, or pioneers might be included as required. Examples requiring such special skills might include reconnaissance of mine fields, checking of friendly or enemy wire, or missions requiring rapid transmission of information to other units or HQs. Combat patrols could be both offensive and defensive. They might for example be required to screen a position, maintain a presence during darkness, or protect outposts, flanks, or important features and supply routes. Offensively they could be tasked for missions such as the capturing of prisoners or materiel, infiltration, destruction, or the interception of enemy patrols. Specific patrols were also mounted for sniper clearance.

US snipers were now defined as, ‘expert riflemen, well qualified in scouting, whose duty is to pick off key enemy personnel who expose themselves’. Eliminating enemy leaders and harassing the enemy by sniping softened enemy resistance and weakened morale. Snipers could be operated singly, in pairs, or small groups, and might be mobile or operate from stationary ‘observer-sniper posts’.

The mobile sniper acts alone, moves about frequently, and covers a large but not necessarily fixed area. He may be used to infiltrate enemy lines and seek out and destroy appropriate targets along enemy routes of supply and communication. It is essential that the mobile sniper hit his target with the first round fired. If the sniper is forced to fire several times, he discloses his position and also gives the enemy opportunity to escape. Therefore, although the mobile sniper must be an expert shot at all ranges he must be trained to stalk his target until he is close enough to insure that it will be eliminated with his first shot. Stationary observer-snipers: teams of two snipers may work together, operating sniping posts assigned definite sectors of fire. Each sniper is equipped with field glasses. His rifle has telescopic sights. One man acts as observer, designating the targets discovered to the firer and observing the results of fire. Using field glasses, the observer maintains a constant watch. Because this duty is tiring, it is necessary that the observer and sniper change duties every 15 to 20 minutes.

Sniper posts were chosen as good for concealment but offering excellent fields of fire. The exits from the post to the rear were to be well concealed, though covered approaches from flanks were avoided as far as possible. Actual firing points were not to be on skylines or against contrasting backgrounds, and so arranged that the muzzle of the rifle did not project obviously or dust was kicked up when a weapon fired. Snipers could not smoke in the post, and alternative posts were provided so that locations could be changed frequently. Individual snipers were usually armed with the sniper rifle, but for close country carbines might be chosen, and for missions behind enemy lines might carry other weapons such as a pistol or sub-machine gun. British sniper officer Clifford Shore considered the M1 Carbine the ideal mate to a telescoped rifle, with the second man firing the semi-automatic, as ‘for handiness mobility and ease of shooting this little carbine was certainly the finest weapon I ever handled’.

‘Several men’ per platoon were to be trained in the sniper role, though only one or two might actually be needed at any given time. The ideal candidates were already good shots with a sense of fieldcraft, and these were further trained in camouflage, navigation, silent movement, and made ‘physically agile and hardened, and able to sustain themselves for long periods of detachment from their units’. Contrary to popular belief, US snipers were not usually employed at very long ranges, nor did they constantly reset their telescopic sights to various ranges. Normally, sights were left set at 400yd and the sniper adjusted his own aim and sight picture automatically to compensate for distance, movement, and other factors. When the target was at 400yd and stationary the sniper aimed directly at the centre of mass, dropping his aim a foot for closer targets. For further objects he aimed higher, as for example at the top of an enemy’s head at 500yd. At 600yd the point of aim was 52in above the point to be hit, and much more than this was deemed impractical under normal battle conditions where targets were small or fleeting.