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Tactics of the Auto-Rifle Squad
The Infantry School Mailing List
The original (ink-and-paper) Tactical Notebook published a large number of reprints, thereby making available materials that readers of the early 1990s could not easily find otherwise. Thanks to such services as the Internet Archive and the Hathi Trust Digital Library, the need to provide facsimiles has gone the way of the mimeograph machine. Nonetheless, the present incarnation of the Tactical Notebook will, from time to time, publish an article that, while available on the internet, complements some of our other posts. For example, the following piece, from the Infantry School Mailing List of February 1940, sheds light on the material from Battalion: An Organizational Study of United States Infantry that describes the organizational reforms that took place in March and October of 1940.
Tactics of the Auto-Rifle Squad
(An Infantry School Teaching)
Characteristics, Organization, and Equipment
The auto-rifle squad of the rifle platoon is armed with the Browning Automatic Rifle [BAR], M1918 A2.
The auto-rifle is capable of the rapid production of a large volume of accurate, concentrated or distributed fire and offers a small target when in action. Auto-riflemen have the marching mobility of riflemen but not their capability for short bursts of speed. The auto-rifle is not suited for sustained fire for long periods, nor for indirect fire, but, for short periods of time, can produce a volume of fire equivalent to that of several M1 rifles. The auto-rifle is a most effective shoulder weapon against hostile aircraft.
Certain modifications in the BAR M1918 have recently been adopted and incorporated in the M1918 A2 rifle. These are:
1. A metal bipod has been attached to the rear section of the flash-hider. This is so attached that the rifle can be rotated on the bipod head without canting regardless of uneven ground on which the bipod legs may stand. The bipod legs are rigidly locked in a vertical plane for firing. The shoes on the legs of the bipod are rounded to resemble skids and-have been set at angles of ninety degrees to the legs.
2. A hinged butt-plate has been attached to the top of the butt-plate. It is short enough to prevent cramping of the large muscle at the junction of the neck and shoulder.
3. The cyclic rate can now be changed at will from the normal rate of about 600 rounds per minute to a decreased rate of about 350 rounds per minute. This decreased cyclic rate has greatly increased the accuracy of automatic fire. It also enables the gun to be fired automatically from the shoulder in the standing position.
4. A cut away forearm gives better cooling properties.
5. A pistol grip affords better control in firing.
6. A stock rest has been provided to permit laying the gun on a final protective line during daytime. An elevating screw and clamp on the stock rest allow the gun to be laid and clamped for any desired range. Aiming stakes, or improvised stakes driven along the side of the barrel, can be used to control the direction of fire. Thus the gun can deliver automatic fire along a predetermined line under any condition of visibility— regardless of fog, smoke, and darkness.
The organization of the auto-rifle squad is as follows:
1 Sergeant, squad leader.
1 Corporal, assistant squad leader.
Privates or privates first class:
2 Assistant auto-riflemen.
2 Ammunition carriers.
The auto-riflemen are armed with auto-rifles. The two assistant auto-riflemen are armed with pistols. All other members of the squad are armed with rifles. The squad is divided into two auto-rifle teams of three men each, one of whom is designated as team leader.
Tables of Organization effective October 1, 1940 show two automatic rifles per platoon. New Tables of Basic Allowances will provide an extra automatic rifle in each weapon carrier of the rifle company and one reserve, which will enable the company commander to employ habitually three auto-rifles per platoon in defensive situations.
According to the Tables of Basic Allowances dated January 1, 1939 the following allowances of ammunition were prescribed:
*Without the stock rest and cyclic rate reducer.
(NOTE.—No Tables of Basic Allowances have been published since the adoption of the Auto Rifle Squad. However, the figures give an indication as to the amount of ammunition that will be authorized.)
(a) 80 rounds carried by the Auto Rifleman and 120 rounds carried by the Assistant Auto Rifleman, all in magazines.
(b) 300 rounds to be issued prior to combat: 100 to the Auto Rifleman and 80 to the Assistant Auto Rifleman in magazines; 120 to the Assistant Auto Rifleman in bandoleers. 520 retained in the battalion ammunition vehicle as a reserve.
All of the ammunition provided for the automatic rifle is divided into 12% armor piercing, 81% ball, and 7% tracer.
In the Attack
In the attack, auto-rifles are usually employed to support the advance of the rifle squads of the platoon or to assist the advance of adjacent units. They are usually employed under platoon control. However, if attachment to rifle squads results in their more effective employment, they may be so attached.
The auto-rifle squad usually functions under the general direction of the platoon leader. The guns are usually employed together under the direct control of the squad leader so as to simplify control, facilitate supply, and ensure the continuity and increase the density of fire. Frequently, however, the terrain and mission will necessitate the two auto-rifles being employed separately.
The dispositions and movement of the squad in extended order are generally as prescribed for the rifle squad in Infantry Drill Regulations (FM 22-5).
In the advance in route column the auto-rifle squad marches as part of the rifle platoon. Orders for its formation and location normally will be issued by the platoon commander. The usual formation for the squad is squad column or squad wedge. A line of skirmishers or infiltration should be used when advancing across ground swept by hostile fire.
The mission assigned the auto-rifle squad in the attack generally will be one or more of the following:
1. Support, by fire, the rifle squads of their own platoon.
2. Protect the flanks of the platoon.
3. Cover the reorganization of the platoon.
4. Assist the advance of adjacent platoons by flanking fire.
5. Attachment in rare cases to rifle squads.
6. AA [anti-aircraft] defense.
In the approach march the auto-rifle squad also marches with the platoon. During this phase it is the principal platoon weapon for AA defense, and orders for its initial formation and location are issued by the platoon commander.
The squad usually moves under the direction of the squad leader. It normally moves in rear of the center of the leading echelon of the platoon, taking advantage of cover to reach a position where the teams can readily be put into action. When advancing in close proximity to rifle squads, the auto-rifle squad should adopt the formation taken by the rifle squads. Regardless of the formation, the squad leader leads his squad. The squad leader may change the initial formation upon his own initiative to take advantage of cover and to reduce losses.
The auto-rifles constitute a flexible, easily controlled volume of fire in the hands of the rifle-platoon leader. They are put into action when conditions especially favor their employment. The difficulty of ammunition supply restricts the use of these weapons to situations where their support is vital to the success of the platoon and adjacent units.
Situations especially favoring the use of the auto-rifle are offered where an open flank permits flanking fire in support of the movement of the rifle squads. The squad is preferably put into action on a flank of the platoon. Such situations may result from the deployment of the rifle company over a wide front or from the separation of the platoon from adjacent units in the course of battle. When one platoon advances more rapidly than adjacent platoons, gaps in depth occur, making available flanking fields of fire which facilitate the full development of the fire power of the auto-rifles.
The auto-rifle squad intensifies its fires as necessary during periods when any part of it or any squad of the platoon or adjacent units are in movement. During periods when no movement is in progress or impending, it reserves its fires to conserve its ammunition and its fighting power.
At ranges beyond 400 yards, auto-rifles open fire only when other available fire support is inadequate.
Auto-rifles act by fire and movement. They must seek positions that enable them to perform their fire missions. Generally these positions will be: Fire Positions
On a flank of the platoon. In a gap between rifle squads.
Behind an advanced rifle unit, in a position to permit flanking fire across the front of an adjacent unit.
The auto-rifles may occupy primary positions or alternate positions. A primary position is one normally occupied by the auto-rifle and its crew and is the one from which it can best accomplish its assigned mission. An alternate position is one used when enemy fire, or the threat of fire, makes it necessary to move the rifle and its crew from the primary position to protect them and keep them in action. Fire from an alternate position must be able to cover the same target or sector of fire as fire from the primary position. An alternate position should be at least 50 yards from the primary position.
The mission assigned the auto-rifle squad is the primary factor governing the selection of auto-rifle positions. Other factors are:
1. Fields of fire.
2. Safety for the auto-rifles and their personnel (cover and concealment).
3. Time available.
4. Routes of approach for the occupation of the positions and for supply.
5. Contact with the rifle unit being supported.
6. Routes for displacement forward.
Whenever practicable, cover should be available in rear of the fire positions for the shelter of the auto-rifle teams and the weapons when not firing.
Fire direction and control. The platoon leader assigns a general position area and targets or a target area to the squad leader. The squad leader assigns approximate positions and targets or sectors of fire to the auto-rifle teams. Sectors of fire are assigned where targets cannot be definitely located and the teams are too widely separated for target designation by the squad leader. Where a line tar- get is designated, fire may be distributed between the teams by the allocation of a part of the target to each team.
Displacement. After the squad engages in the fire fight, it carries out its movement in close coordination with its own fire and the fires of the rifle squads and the support- ing weapons. Movement is usually effected by team echelons and by bounds from successive fire positions. Teams execute rushes as a unit or as individuals. The auto-rifleman usually leads the rush.
When a position no longer affords an effective field of fire, and other factors of the situation permit, the squad leader orders a displacement. He designates the order of movement of the teams and, when practicable, moves forward to reconnoiter the new position area. He locates the approximate fire position for each auto-rifle and, when practicable, a cover position in proximity thereto. He then signals or otherwise directs the teams to move to the new cover position.
In an isolated attack, where the platoon attacks with unsupported flanks, the auto-rifle squad is usually placed well to the flank where it can cover by flanking fire the advance of the platoon towards the hostile resistance. It again moves forward to an advance position as soon as its fire is masked.
Against an entrenched enemy, the auto-riflemen join the rifle squads of the attacking echelon just prior to the assault and deliver automatic fire at point-blank range. The assault is usually preceded by a volley of hand grenades thrown by the rifle squads.
When the attack halts for any reason the auto-rifle teams should be moved at once to positions from which they can protect the front and flanks of the platoon against counterattacks.
In the Defense
The auto-rifles form the principal fire elements of the rifle platoon in the defense. Where an additional auto-rifle is made available the squad forms three teams. The teams generally occupy separate emplacements so located as to cover the entire sector of fire of the platoon. Where the platoon covers an exceptionally wide front the auto-rifles may be assigned flanking missions leaving the frontal field of fire to the riflemen. Wherever practicable, alternate emplacements are selected for each auto-rifle.
Auto-rifle teams should be located within and attached to the unit comprising the combat group. Each auto-rifle should be assigned a principal fire mission and a sector of fire. The sector of fire should not exceed 90 degrees. Auto-rifles open fire when enemy units arrive within close range and present a remunerative target.
When an auto-rifle team is attached to a rifle squad it covers the entire fire sector of the squad. It should be located to fire across the front of adjacent squads.
When auto-rifles are not attached to rifle squads, their exact locations and their principal fire missions are determined by the combat group commander assisted by the auto-rifle squad leader. The combat group commander coordinates the auto-rifle fire with that of the light and heavy machine guns. The auto-rifles are sited to execute their principal fire mission.
Principal Defensive Fire Missions
Cover by fire avenues of approach not covered by light and heavy machine-gun fire.
Cover by fire gaps in final protective lines of light and heavy machine guns.
Fire in support of adjacent combat groups by placing fire either across their front or along their flanks.
Cover intervals between combat groups.
Protect exposed flanks of the platoon.
The assignment of the same fire mission to both auto- rifles of the squad will result in greater density of fire and more sustained fire. However, the number of fire missions to be performed usually will require that the auto-rifles be employed singly.
In the defense, auto-rifles may occupy primary or alternate positions. The mission assigned the squad is the governing factor governing the selection of primary positions. Other factors are:
1. The sectors of fire.
2. Safety for the auto-rifles and their personnel (cover and concealment).
3. The time available.
4. The routes of approach for occupation and supply.
As soon as the location of a position is determined its preparation is begun. This work is usually accomplished in the following priority:
1. Clearing fields of fire.
2. Assembling camouflage and laying it out ready for use.
3. Digging and camouflaging the emplacement for the primary position.
4. Preparing firing data to critical terrain features and supplying the position with ammunition and other necessary supplies.
All of the above operations may proceed simultaneously, different members of the team being assigned different duties. After the initial work has progressed to include an adequate emplacement for the primary position, an alternate position should be prepared. Covered routes between the positions should be selected, existing rifle or communication trenches and natural cover being utilized for the purpose as far as practicable. Where no covered route is available a shallow communicating trench should be dug and camouflaged. Frequently riflemen will be called upon to assist in this work.
During the time that the primary position is being prepared the weapon should be prepared to fire against the enemy in case of attack.
Defense Against Tank Attack
Riflemen and auto-riflemen generally take cover against a tank attack. Using armor-piercing bullets, the auto- rifles open fire on lightly armored vehicles.
Whenever practicable, auto-rifle squads assigned to AA missions are employed as a unit. Under cover, the auto- rifle squads of the company may be united under the direct control of the company commander in order to obtain concentrated fire effect. Where several auto-rifles are employed under common fire control, fire distribution is prearranged; the leading or right airplane, the next succeeding to the rear or left, and the other airplanes in the normal attack formation are assigned to designated teams.
The auto-rifle squad (or team of the squad) either as a part of the platoon, attached to rifle units, or acting alone may be employed with an advance guard, a flank guard, a rear guard, or as part of an outpost.
When operating as part of an advance, a flank or a rear guard the squad is employed in accordance with the tactics governing the employment of the auto-rifle squad in attack or defense.
An auto-rifle team frequently reinforces a rifle squad on outpost duty. It opens fire at long range on the advancing enemy. On close approach of the attacking troops it withdraws from its position over routes previously selected to avoid masking the fire of the rifle echelon.