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Tank Platoon Leader

Tank Platoon Leader

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A curious daughter, Stacy Houston, views the films of her Vietnam veteran father, Skip Weber, and his tank platoon for the very first time.

Tank Platoon Leader - HISTORY

By John McManus

Inside the shabby tent that served as his command post on Peleliu, a despondent Maj. Gen. William Rupertus sat on his bunk, slumped over with his head in his hands. As commander of the 1st Marine Division, he had expected to take the little coral-reefed island in the Palau chain in a mere three days’ time. He had even been foolish enough to communicate that optimistic expectation during a pre-invasion speech to his men. However, when his three regiments stormed ashore on September 15, 1944, they found a much different situation awaiting them than the one the general had described.

The Japanese “Absolute Defense Zone”

Rupertus did not know it, but at Peleliu the Japanese were unveiling a new strategy. Instead of defending the island at the waterline and wasting their strength on futile banzai counterattacks, they prepared an inland defense amid ideal terrain for such a holding action and resolved to bleed the Marines into nothingness. The new strategy, devised by Japanese premier Hideki Tojo and Lt. Gen. Sadae Inoue earlier that year, was based on the recent string of American successes in the Pacific War. Realizing that Japan simply did not have the resources to stop American advances indefinitely, the pair decided on a plan to make U.S. troops pay dearly for every island they took. Perhaps a negotiated peace was still possible, one that would lock into place previous Japanese conquests in China and Southeast Asia.

Tiny Peleliu, with its operational airfield, was designated as part of the Absolute Defense Zone, a last-ditch protective cordon safeguarding the Japanese home islands. Inoue handpicked an extremely competent and resourceful officer, Colonel Kunio Nakagawa, to take command of Peleliu’s defenses. Arriving on site in April, Nakagawa had immediately set to work strengthening the six-mile-long by two-mile-wide island, which was shaped like a lobster’s claw. The island’s natural topography favored the defenders. While the suspected landing beaches on the southwestern end of the island were fairly level, an imposing chain of craggy hills, abrupt drop-offs, and steep ravines, known collectively as the Umurbrogol Mountains, dominated the center of the island. It was there that the majority of Nakagawa’s veteran 10,000-man force would make its stand. The defense effort was given the optimistic title, “Palau Group Sector Training for Victory.”

The jagged Umurbrogol Mountains, circled, were the key to the Japanese defenses at Peleliu.

The Japanese strategy seemed to be working all too well. Despite three days of thunderous bombardment from four American battleships and various cruisers in Rear Admiral Jesse Oldendorf’s Heavy Strike Force, the Marines had suffered 1,300 casualties on the first day of the invasion. In the following days, the fighting had grown even bloodier as the Marines attempted to take the Umurbrogol, which they nicknamed Bloody Nose Ridge. It was literally hellish work. “Along its center, the rocky spine was heaved up in a contorted mass of decayed coral, strewn with rubble, crags, ridges and gulches thrown together in a confusing maze,” an after-action report explained. “There were no roads, scarcely any trails. The pockmarked surface offered no secure footing even in the few level places. It was impossible to dig in: the best the men could do was pile a little coral or wood debris around their positions. The jagged rock slashed their shoes and clothes, and tore their bodies every time they hit the deck for safety.”

Even under ideal circumstances in peacetime, the ground would have been quite difficult to traverse. “There were crevasses you could fall down through,” Sergeant George Peto recalled. “It was a horrible place. If the devil would have built it, that’s about what he’d have done.” It was difficult to find cover, and the nature of the ground multiplied the fragmentation effect of mortar and artillery shells. “Into all this the enemy dug and tunneled like moles and there they stayed to fight to the death,” an officer in the 1st Marine Regiment wrote.

To the Americans, the Japanese cave defenses were unbelievably elaborate. According to one Marine report, they were “blasted into the almost perpendicular coral ridges. The caves varied from simple holes large enough to accommodate two men to large tunnels with passageways on either side which were large enough to contain artillery or 150mm mortars and ammunition.” Some of the caves even had steel doors. All of them were well camouflaged, with nearly perfect fields of fire. Naval gunfire, air strikes, and artillery only had so much effect against these formidable hideouts. Only infantry and tanks could hope to destroy them, and this had to be done at close range, under extremely dangerous circumstances. It was a recipe for heavy casualties—if not outright disaster.

Operation Stalemate II

From the American perspective, the invasion of Peleliu had been snakebitten from the start. Ironically code-named Stalemate II, the seizure of Peleliu and nearby Angaur Island were aimed at protecting the right flank of General Douglas MacArthur’s long-envisioned return to the Philippines. Disagreements had flared between the Army and Navy over the ultimate goal of the operation. Navy Admiral Chester Nimitz favored bypassing the Philippines altogether to strike at Okinama, Formosa, and the Chinese mainland. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was forced to referee the dispute, coming down on the side of MacArthur. Peleliu suddenly emerged as the red bull’s eye in the center of America’s Pacific map.

Changes in the time frame, command structure, and combined Army-Marine unit cooperation further hamstrung the operation, to such a degree that Nimitz’s righthand man, Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey, commander of the Western Pacific Task Force, recommended canceling the invasion of Peleliu altogether. For reasons never sufficiently explained, Nimitz overruled Halsey. The invasion continued apace.

Under the agreed-upon plan, the 1st Marine Division landed three regiments abreast on the southwestern beaches at Peleliu. The 1st Marine Regiment, commanded by Colonel Lewis “Chesty” Puller, landed on White Beach at the far left (or north) of the assault. The 5th Marines came in on the center at Orange Beach, and the 7th Marines landed farther south. From the outset, Puller’s regiment experienced the most difficulties. Given the assignment of wheeling left and attacking the high ridges of the Umurbrogol, the regiment advanced only 100 yards from shore before striking the 30-foot-high ridge rechristened “the Point” by the Marines.

Major General Roy Geiger, left, and Major General William Rupertus, right, study a map in a captured Japanese building on Peleliu.

The true horror of the fighting was almost indescribable. The ridges were steep, so much so that some were little more than sheer rock faces, dotted only with fortified caves. The rocky, crevassed ground was so unstable that troops could not hope to keep their footing, much less maneuver in any coherent fashion. Under perfect circumstances, it would have been difficult to overpower such a formidable network of caves. Under these conditions, it was a veritable impossibility, even for the gallant Marines. One of Puller’s battalion commanders, Major Ray Davis, who would later earn the Medal of Honor in Korea and command the 3rd Marine Division in Vietnam, referred to the Umurbrogol as “the most difficult assignment I have ever seen.”

“War is Terrible, Just Awful”

As was usually true in any ground attack, the riflemen led the way and faced the greatest dangers. They climbed the hills in small groups, supported at a distance by machine gunners and mortar men who generally fired from fixed positions. “As they toiled, caves and gulleys [sic] and holes opened up on them,” a Marine, observing from the vantage point of a machine gun post, recalled. “Japanese dashed out to roll grenades down on them, and sometimes to lock, body to body, in desperate wrestling matches.”

Many Americans were ripped apart by machine-gun bullets or fragments. Some died instantly. Others bled to death slowly while calling vainly for help. Lieutenant Richard Kennard, a forward observer with G Battery, 11th Marine Regiment, was just behind the lead troops, calling in supporting artillery fire, watching young infantrymen get hit. “War is terrible, just awful,” he wrote to his family. “You have no idea how it hurts to see American boys all shot up, wounded, suffering from pain and exhaustion, and those that fall down, never to move again.” Many times he came close to getting blown to bits by uncannily accurate mortar fire.

For the Marines, there was almost no way to avoid the accurate enemy fire. Anyone spending enough time on the ridges got hit sooner or later. Any movement drew fire. One tank platoon leader from the division’s 1st Tank Battalion watched helplessly as his tank’s supporting infantry squad was decimated by mortar fire. Later, with bitter tears streaming down his face, the platoon leader told his battalion commander: “We couldn’t do enough for them. We couldn’t reach the mortars which killed them like flies all around us.” This was why, in the recollection of another tank officer, “the infantry inspired all who witnessed its indomitable heroism to do one’s damnedest.”

After only a few hours, understrength companies of 90 men were down to half that size. Privates were leading platoons. Squads consisted of a few fortunate stalwarts. “As the riflemen climbed higher they grew fewer, until only a handful of men still climbed in the lead squads,” Private Russell Davis, a member of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, wrote. “These were the pick of the bunch—the few men who would go forward, no matter what was ahead. They are the bone structure of a fighting outfit. They clawed and clubbed and stabbed their way up,” Davis said. “The rest of us watched.”

Marine artillery goes into action in support of the infantry.

Because of the Golgotha-like terrain, the terrible casualties, and the chaotic confusion of the fighting, units lost any semblance of organization, deteriorating into little more than random groups of survivors. “There was no such thing as a continuous attacking line,” wrote Lt. Col. Spencer Berger, whose 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines was also being chewed to pieces. “Elements of the same company, even platoon, were attacking in every direction of the compass, with large gaps in between. There were countless little salients and counter salients.” Commanders measured gains in yards. Anything in triple figures was a good day’s work. At night, Japanese infiltrators, sometimes operating in squads, counterattacked the fatigued Americans. The eerie ridges rang with the desperate, animal-like cries of men struggling to kill one another.

The Inspiring Lewis “Chesty” Puller

On the day of the invasion, Colonel Puller’s 1st Marines had numbered 3,251 men. Even before attacking the Umurbrogol the unit had already lost 900 men. By September 21, after just four days among the ridges, the 1st Marines had taken only a few hundred dearly won yards of the Umurbrogol, at the cost of nearly 2,000 casualties. Companies were down to 10 men. Few platoon leaders or company commanders were still standing. Most of the sergeants were dead or wounded as well. Puller had culled out his rear areas of cooks, bakers, signalmen, litter bearers, and engineers to refurbish his line companies, but the Umurbrogol had consumed them too. The 1st Marine Regiment was being destroyed.

Puller, shirtless in Peleliu’s 100-degree heat, was still carrying fragments from a wound suffered at Guadalcanal. The wound was infected, swelling his thigh to twice its normal size. He walked with the help of a rifle, a cane, or soldiers’ helping hands. Already he was a legend in the Marine Corps, a fire-breathing combat leader who exemplified everything a Marine officer should be. He had come up through the ranks, serving all over the globe with the Old Corps of the pre-World War II era. Basically, he was to the Marine Corps what George Patton was to the Army—a colorful, unforgettable household name who embodied the aggressiveness of total victory. As with Patton, Puller believed in leading from the front. He was a warrior in the truest sense of the word (his detractors saw him as a “warmonger”).

Diminutive and almost gnome-like, Puller always seemed to be wherever the action was thickest, talking to men, joking with them, inspiring them. His command post was usually close to the front lines, especially at Peleliu, where it was probably too near the fighting since his staff officers spent as much time taking cover as doing their jobs. To him, leading troops in combat was the highest calling. He had a special connection with enlisted men like Sergeant George Peto. At one point during the terrible fighting on Peleliu, Peto was feeling downcast, exhausted, and generally dispirited. Then he saw the colonel who greeted him amiably: “Hi son.” Peto instantly felt better. “That encounter did more for my well-being than a good drink of cool water, which I was in bad need of. I would have followed that man to hell and that’s exactly what we did at Peleliu.”

Marines blast away at Japanese defenders hidden in their caves.

Others felt the same way. Pharmacist Mate 3rd Class Oliver Butler, a young Navy corpsman in E Company, 1st Marines, had been struggling for days to save countless numbers of badly wounded men. As the sun set one night, he saw the colonel strolling the front lines as if out for an evening walk. Puller stopped at Butler’s position and actually seemed to know him: “How are you doing, Butler?” Stunned and flattered, Butler replied: “I’m doing fine, Chesty, but we’ve sure lost a lot of men and I hope we get some replacements up here tomorrow.” Puller seemed to understand completely. “I know, son, but hang in there and keep your eyes open and your ass down.” Butler later wrote, “Among the reasons Chesty Puller’s troops liked him and admired him was the fact that he was a leader who actually and personally led and the fact that his personal courage was never in doubt.”

Puller’s Achilles’ Heel: “He Believed in Momentum”

Inspirational though he was, Puller’s leadership at Peleliu left something to be desired. His brother had been killed in another Pacific battle, and he burned with hatred for the Japanese, an enmity that perhaps took away some of his focus. He believed that the best way to win was through the pressure created by constant, unrelenting attacks. “He believed in momentum,” General Oliver Smith, Rupertus’s second in command at Peleliu, commented. “He believed in coming ashore and hitting and just keep on hitting and trying to keep up the momentum until he’d overrun the whole thing [island]. No finesse.”

Some members of the 1st Marines never forgave him for the losses the regiment suffered at the Umurbrogol. “Chesty Puller should never have passed the rank of second lieutenant,” Pfc. Paul Lewis later said of his colonel. Sergeant Richard Fisher thought of him as a tragic caricature of his own aggressive image. “All battles are ‘training exercises’ for men like Puller, and it was just another rung up his ladder. Puller was a man who could not live long without war.” Captain Everett Pope, one of his company commanders, was anything but a fan of Puller, whom he thought of as a mindless butcher. “I had no use for Puller,” said Pope, who would win the Medal of Honor at Peleliu. “He didn’t know what was going on. The adulation paid to him these days sickens me.” General Robert Cushman, who served as commandant of the Marine Corps, believed that Puller was a great combat leader who nonetheless could not understand anything except constant attacks, regardless of the circumstances. “He was beyond his element in commanding anything larger than a company—maybe a battalion—where he could keep his hands on everything and be right in the middle of it.”

After six days of fighting, the 5th and 7th Marines had largely achieved their objectives, but the 1st Marines were still locked in a hand-to-hand fight with Japanese defenders on the Umurbrogol. The legendary Puller was partly to blame. In his mind, the Japanese were no match for his Marines. He would defeat the enemy by overwhelming them. Although this aggressiveness was generally laudable, at the Umurbrogol it did not serve him well. By and large, he simply hurled his regiment into frontal attacks with few adjustments and little maneuvering, “like a wave that expends its force on a rocky shore,” in the estimation of one of Puller’s officers. Chesty did this with utter, sustained ruthlessness and not much in the way of fire support. To be fair, he did not have much of the latter to call upon, especially artillery. He might possibly have sidestepped the Umurbrogol, working his way up the west coast of Peleliu to encircle the Japanese in their caves, but that would have left the beachhead vulnerable to Japanese counterattacks.

Combat artist Tom Lea landed with the Marines at Peleliu and later tried to capture what he saw in a series of paintings. His painting The Two Thousand Yard Stare graphically shows the effect of fighting for Bloody Nose Ridge on one Marine.

Still, with all that taken into consideration, Puller seemed to have little grasp of the impossibility of what he was telling his men to do. Day after day, he cajoled, threatened and coaxed his commanders into launching more and ever costlier attacks. When Puller ordered his 2nd Battalion commander, Lt. Col. Russell Honsowetz, to take a hill one day at all costs, Honsowetz complained that he no longer had enough men. “Well, you’re there, ain’t you, Honsowetz? You get all those men together and take that hill.” Puller clearly wanted quick results regardless of the consequences. Amid the bloodbath, he simply would not admit to himself or anyone else that his regiment could not achieve the impossible. Nor did he have much appreciation for the challenging terrain. He even turned down an opportunity to fly over it for a better look, saying he had plenty of maps.

Sometimes positive characteristics can actually become a weakness. In this case, Puller represented aggressiveness, valor, and inspirational leadership, all ingredients that make the Marine Corps great. But he also demonstrated the tendency of Marine officers to overrely on these strengths to the exclusion of all else. His repeated, mindless frontal attacks were the American version of banzai—almost as costly, and every bit as fruitless.

The Disastrous Orders of William Rupertus

At the Umurbrogol, Puller was only following the orders of Rupertus. To the general went the lion’s share of the blame. “The cold fact,” one officer wrote, “is that Rupertus ordered Puller to assault impossible enemy positions daily till the First was decimated.” Puller might well have protested or demurred, but Rupertus probably would have relieved him. “It was more or less of a massacre,” Puller later admitted. “There was no way to cut down losses and follow orders.”

There seemed to be no end in sight to the carnage, and the longer it persisted the more heavily it weighed on the 54-year-old Rupertus, edging him toward a breaking point. A 30-year veteran of the Corps, Rupertus had once been a champion marksman (he even penned The Rifleman’s Creed). In the 1930s, while stationed in China, he had lost his wife and two of his children to scarlet fever. By most accounts, he was never the same after that tragedy. He grew more reticent, withdrawn, and dour. Earlier in World War II, he had served as assistant division commander of the 1st Marine Division until being promoted to the top job in late 1943. He was aloof from his men and frosty with his staff, especially the able Oliver Smith, whom he treated like an unwanted disease. Rupertus was a poor judge of terrain and tactics. He was rightfully proud of the Marine Corps but allowed that pride to morph into fierce contempt for the Army and the supposed incompetence of soldiers. At Peleliu, his men paid dearly for his interservice chauvinism.

The grim rows of dead Marines attest to the carnage wrought by the savage fighting at Peleliu.

Rupertus was slow to react to the conditions on the ground. Denying the obvious reality that the battle would last longer than three days, he had dispensed unceasing orders to attack, particularly in the Umurbrogol. Because he had broken his ankle in a prelanding exercise, thus limiting his mobility, he was generally confined to his command post. Like some sort of latter-day chateau general, he had been spending much of his time on the phone, snarling at his subordinates to “hurry up” and capture the island. As the casualty numbers piled up, he seemed divorced from reality. One day, during the height of the 1st Marine Regiment’s struggle for the Umurbrogol, a newspaper correspondent came back from the front lines and told the general how many dead Marines he had just seen. At first, Rupertus tried to deny it, but realizing that the reporter knew what he was talking about the general commented, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking the eggs.”

Now, sitting on his bunk, Rupertus looked at one of his staff officers and said, “This thing has just about got me beat.” The general was thinking about stepping down and handing over command to Colonel Harold “Bucky” Harris, commander of the 5th Marine Regiment. But the staff officer, Lt. Col. Harold Deakin, sat down next to Rupertus, put his arm around his commander, and consoled him. “Now, General,” he said, “everything is going to work out.” Rupertus could only shake his head sadly and resume his brooding.

A War of Pride

The general’s main problem was narrow-minded, self-defeating pride. The 1st Marine Division was part of the III Marine Amphibious Corps, under Marine Maj. Gen. Roy Geiger. The other unit under Geiger’s command was the Army’s 81st Infantry Division. Even as the Marines struggled to secure Peleliu, elements of the 81st had overrun nearby Angaur. By September 19, the division’s 321st Infantry Regiment was available to reinforce the Marines at Peleliu. Rupertus knew how badly his division needed the Army’s help at the Umurbrogol. Yet, for days he refused to even consider this option. He was absolutely determined that his division would take Peleliu alone.

Contemptuous of the Army, Rupertus would not ask for help from mere soldiers, even as his own men died in droves. “This reluctance to use Army troops was very noticeable to the Corps staff,” Colonel William Wachtler, Geiger’s operations officer, later wrote. “It is probable that he [Rupertus] felt, like most Marines, that he and his troops could and would handle any task assigned to them without asking for outside help.” One Marine junior officer, writing to his family, put it even more succinctly. The brass, he said, “would never call in the Army like this, for it would hurt the name of the Marine Corps, I suppose, to let the world know that ‘doggie’ reinforcements had to be called in so early!!”

Geiger, however, thought differently. From D-Day onward, he was ashore at Peleliu. Brave and energetic, he roamed the battlefield, constantly gathering information on what was happening. He had a low opinion of Rupertus and had never gotten along particularly well with him. For several days, he watched as the situation at Umurbrogol grew worse. He considered relieving Rupertus but did not like the idea of firing a Marine division commander in the middle of a fight. Instead, on September 21, he finally took matters into his own hands after a visit to Puller’s command post. Shirtless, with a corncob pipe in his mouth, Chesty limped around on his swollen leg while briefing the corps commander. Colonel William Coleman, a member of the corps staff, had the impression that Chesty was completely exhausted. “He was unable to give a very clear picture of what his situation was.” Geiger asked him if he needed reinforcements and Puller “stated that he was doing alright with what he had.” This was a crucial moment when Chesty could have asked for the help he so badly needed but, like Rupertus, he could not bring himself to do so.

General Geiger, back to camera, shakes hands with Colonel Lewis Puller at the 1st Marine Regiment command post. Brigadier General Oliver Smith is behind Puller.

Puller’s condition and his tenuous grasp of reality were the final straws for Geiger. The corps commander believed that Puller should have flanked and enveloped the Umurbrogol rather than attacking it head on. Geiger proceeded immediately to Rupertus’s command post and told Rupertus that the 1st Marine Regiment was finished as a fighting unit. The regiment was to be removed not just from the line but from the battle altogether, and sent back to Pavuvu where the unit could be rebuilt for future campaigns. He told Rupertus he intended to replace them with the Army’s 321st Infantry. “At this, General Rupertus became greatly alarmed and requested that no such attention be taken,” Coleman wrote, “stating that he was sure he could secure the island in another day or two.” Geiger overruled him. The battle was over for the 1st Marines, and the Army would replace them.

The Costliest Amphibious Assault in Marine Corps History

The Marines of the 1st Regiment had literally given everything they could give at the Umurbrogol. They had fought, sweated, bled, and cried. They had performed with a gallantry that was nearly superhuman. Indeed, General Smith later wondered how they were able to capture as much ground as they did. Now, at last, thanks to Geiger’s intercession, their hell on earth was finally over. As they left the line, one of them said: “We’re not a regiment. We’re the survivors of a regiment.” Another one later added: “We were no longer even human beings.”

Geiger’s decision brought an end to the costliest amphibious assault in Marine Corps history. The Marines lost 6,786 men killed or wounded at Peleliu, including a staggering 1,672 casualties suffered by the 1st Regiment in 200 hours of fighting. The 1st Battalion, 1st Regiment alone suffered a 71 percent casualty rate. By the time it was withdrawn, only 74 men were left standing from nine rifle companies. Pfc. Eugene B. Sledge, author of the classic World War II memoir With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa later wrote: “We in the 5th Marines had many a dead or wounded friend to report about from our ranks, but the men in the 1st Marines had so many it was appalling.”

In some ways the divisional commander, William Rupertus, was the final casualty of Peleliu. After the campaign he returned stateside in November 1944 to become commandant of the Marine Corps Schools at Quantico, Virginia. Worn out and shaken by the meat grinder at Peleliu, Rupertus died of a heart attack in March 1945.

Combat Formations

Platoon and squad combat formations are groupings of individuals and units for efficient tactical employment. Combat formations have the following characteristics in varying degrees: security, control, flexibility, and speed of reaction. The factors in fluencing the leader's decision as to the selection of any particular formation are the mission, terrain, weather and visibility, situa tion, desired rate of movement, and the degree of flexibility de sired. This appendix is a guide for the infantry small-unit leader in dismounted, mounted, and integrated combat formations. It covers the various types of platoon and squad formations and prescribes a uniform method of conducting drill in these formations over open 'ground and varied terrain. Figure 40 gives the symbols used in this appendix.

The formation for a mechanized rifle platoon in carriers closely approximates dismounted platoon formations. When going from a mounted to a dismounted formation, the mounted formation should be the same as the anticipated dismounted formation to avoid delay and unnecessary movement. Similarly, when going from a dismounted to a mounted formation, the carriers should be brought forward to the squads in the same formation that the platoon is using on the ground. Tactical considerations and terrain, of course, may prevent the application of this technique.

Training in dismounted formations should be conducted initially on open terrain similar to a parade ground then on varied terrain when individuals and units become proficient in assuming these formations and finally, in integrated mounted and dismounted formations with tank units. On completing this training, units progress to tactical exercises involving Aggressor forces, either actual or simulated.


  1. General

  1. The rifle squad is organized for combat into two fire teams, ALFA and BEAVO (fig. 41). In this discussion, the ALFA team consists of four men the BRAVO team, five men.
  2. The rifle squad combat formations are the squad column, squad file, and squad line. The squad column is the basic formation from which the others are derived. When the weapons squad moves as part of the platoon, it usually moves in column formation.
  3. When the squad moves as part of the platoon, the initial squad combat formation may be selected by the platoon leader. The squad leader may alter his formation to meet changes in the situation and terrain.
  4. The squad leader places himself within the formation where he can best exercise control. The fire team leaders place themselves in the designated formations as directed by the squad leader. Other members of the squad take their appropriate positions based on the location of the fire team leader, or as he directs.
  5. The squad leader controls the squad by oral commands, audible battlefield signals, arm-and-hand signals, and through his fire team leaders.
  6. The squad maintains observation to the front, rear, and flanks. While moving or halted, squad members are responsible for observing in definite directions.
  7. The distances between men within a formation vary, depending on visibility and terrain. While maximum dispersion is desirable to reduce vulnerability to direct and indirect fires, effective control must be maintained. When visibility is good, formations are more dispersed. During conditions of reduced visibility or in close terrain, distances between men are reduced.
  8. In selecting or modifying squad formations to conform to a particular situation, or because of reduced strength, the following fundamentals generally apply:
    1. Fire team integrity is maintained.
    2. The fire team leader is located so as to facilitate control of the fire team, especially in its tactical employment.
    3. The squad automatic weapons are located within each fire team to provide fire to the front, rear, and flanks of the squad.
    4. When changing from one combat formation to another, the automatic weapons should be required to move the shortest distance.

    The squad file (fig. 41) is used for moving over terrain which is so restrictive that the squad cannot adopt a column formation, or when visibility is so reduced that control becomes extremely difficult. Deployment of the squad to the front or rear from this formation is not as easy as from the squad column.

    1. Squad Column with Fire Teams in Column. This variation (fig. 42) is used most frequently in areas where maneuver of the rear (trailing) fire team is unrestricted. The teams may be closed, or the rear team may follow at a specified distance. The squad column may be modified by the squad leader as necessary to conform to the terrain and to provide a greater capability to deliver fire immediately to either the front or rear. Such modification consists of the squad leader instructing those men in the center of the formation to move farther to the flanks. This variation is used most frequently when the squad is separated from other elements of the platoon.

    2. Squad Column with Fire Teams Abreast. This variation (fig. 43) of the squad column is for movement in areas where maneuver of the fire teams is restricted. It is used most frequently when the squad is moving along a road or trail. Here, the enemy may have the road covered by fire which will frequently prevent troops from moving across the road once the squad is under fire. Consequently, fire teams are placed abreast to facilitate their deployment on each side of the road without having anyone cross it. This formation may also be modified.

    The squad line (fig. 44) is the basic assault formation of the squad and provides for the delivery of maximum fires to the front. Specific locations of men within the formation may be changed by the squad leader as desired. In the assault, the squad leader designates a base fire team/usually the team that has been leading.


    1. General

    1. The company commander ordinarily decides on the company formation and allows the platoon leader to select the formation for his platoon.
    2. In the platoon formation, as in the squad, each squad within the platoon observes to its front, flanks, and rear. Squad leaders observe and control their squads, staying within sight of the platoon leader if possible. The leader of the last squad is responsible for keeping the formation closed. The platoon leader goes where he can best control the platoon. The platoon sergeant assists him in the control of the platoon.
    3. Unless otherwise specified, the base squad for the platoon formation is determined as follows: when three squads are abreast, the center rifle squad is the base squad in all other formations, the leading or right leading rifle squad is the base squad. Change of base squad takes place upon completion of formation change. The squad formations within the platoon formation may vary. The platoon leader places the weapons squad where it can best accomplish its mission of close fire support and antitank protection.
    4. The distance between men and squads may be increased or decreased and the men staggered right or left according to the situation and terrain.

    The usual formations employed by the platoon leader are the column (fig. 45), wedge (fig. 46), vee (fig. 47), echelon (fig. 48), and line (fig. 49).

    The platoon will constantly change formations (fig. 50) to tak advantage of the terrain and to accomplish the assigned mission Formation changes should be accomplished without halting. The platoon leader will control formation changes by arm-and-hand signals and the designation of the base squad.

    Platoon Leader

    I can not stress enough how important it is to be true to your efforts to obtain “The Look”. As a devotee to the the mission of portraying the Vietnam Soldier you are representing history. By taking part in re-enactment you are committing to the task of creating living history. The soldiers you will be portraying deserve to have you get it right. Your efforts should not be cheapened by half measures. Now this sounds serious, maybe stern……and it is. If you are looking to just play soldier, then stop reading the page now. Go play airsoft games with your buddies, this page is not for you.

    If you are a member of a living history group, then read on! Are you looking for information to start a group and you want to get it right? Then keep reading! It is my goal to provide a tool that will help you to reach your goals. If you find reason to disagree with something I have placed in these pages, by all means contact me. [email protected] Tell me what you have found to be wrong or in need of improvement.. State your sources, provide photographic proof if you can. Please don’t waste time with “My buddy says….” or “I saw it in a movie….” or something like that. Facts and data, not stories and hearsay. I am striving for absolute fact, for the purpose of creating accurate information for those who have chosen to commit to the task of creating living history for the Vietnam era. Now, enough preaching, let’s get down to business!!

    The Platoon Leader is the most senior leader in the platoon. He is the person everyone else looks to for orders and sets the uniform standards. This makes him a target, so he should appear very much like a rifleman. The differences are very subtle, and the only way you should be able to identify him is by the RTO’s surrounding him.

    This platoon leader is studying his map co-ordinates, his watch strapped to his wrist and he has his RTO nearby. He is wearing poplin jungle fatigues with the shoulder sleeves rolled up. On his back is a lightweight rucksack and frame, the rucksack is hung in the lower position on the frame. Under the webbing straps is a poncho liner rolled in a poncho and tucked in underneath is a M1942 machete. On the frames side is a coil of rope, which partially obscures a M1956 canteen with cover. Around his waist and across his shoulder is a 7 pocket M16 bandoleer loaded with magazines. Off the webbing you can glimpse some M18 smoke grenades.

    In this picture the same Platoon leader is seen, this time from the front. His webbing is not visible. The ammunition pouches are the smaller later variety better designed for the 20 round M16 magazines and hanging off each side of the amo pouch are M26 grenades. He has positioned his compass pouch lower on his suspenders and it rests on the right of his chest. Hung from his left shoulder and under his right arm is the 7 pocket cotton bandoleer. The straps you see that look like part of his webbing are in fact the rucksack shoulder straps. Note that the weapon resting next to him is a CAR-15, which is characteristic of a Platoon Leaders chosen weapon. Official designation for this weapon was XM177, the Air Force called them GAU-5’s. GAU stands for Ground Assault Unit.

    This picture shows a Captain of an Air Cavarly Division, he is probably a Company Commander. He wears the standard poplin jungle jacket, M1 helmet with Mitchell pattern cover and green olive drab t-shirt. He sports standard M1956 webbing with horizontal weave pistol belt. On his webbing he has two compass pouches, one of which is upside down. Both sides of his ammo pouches are sporting grenades and to the front is a pistol ammuniton pouch, suggesting he carries an M1911A1 – standard issue for Officers. Unusually this Captain has a Pilots Survival knife taped upside down on his suspenders. This is a personal preference, no doubt the Captain is hoping to facilitate a quick draw from the sheath, in a downward stroke into on-guard position. He carries a standard M16. Note he is wearing a army issue watch. Further note he has black on white name tapes, suggesting he has been in Vietnam in the early years of the war.

    The final picture is of another Captain wearing an M1 helmet an unbadged jungle jacket, and trousers that are blossomed to his boots. Over his fatigues he wears an M1969 Fragmentation Jacket with 3/4 collar. He has standard M1956 webbing consisting of suspenders, pistol belt, 2 ammo pouches, compass pouch, M7 bayonet in M8A1 bayonet, and probably buttpack and 2 canteens (Although not visible here). Strapped to his left leg is a M18 Gasmask and Carrier, which slightly blocks the bayonet. On his left side is a M1916 holster containing a M1911A1 pistol. Take note that he wears a watch also, it is not threaded through a button hole on his shirt pocket as some troopers chose to do.
    Load & List of Equipment – Platoon Leader

    Here I have listed what I think you should have in your collection to display a typical platoon leader, above and beyound the basic combat equipment issue all the troopers would have in the US Army in Vietnam. Don’t forget, even the LT has personal preferences for what he carries, just like any other troop, but he is expected to lead by example, so…..no Love Beads, Peace symbols, Hippie crap.

    Uniform – Jungle jacket, trousers, M1 helmet with cover, T-shirt, socks, boxer shorts, combat boots.

    Web Gear – standard system M1956 or M1967 webbing: This is belt, suspenders, two ammo pouches, two canteens with covers, buttpack (Optional), compass pouch, E-tool and cover.

    Optional additional system equipment – 5 QT canteen, bayonet, machete

    Existence Equipment – poncho and/or pup tent, poncho liner, mess tin and C-rations

    Firearms & Accessories – Colt M16, M16A1 or XM-177 and at least three loaded cotton bandoliers, M1911A1 pistol, .45 magazine case with two magazines, M1910 holster or shoulder holster, fragmentation grenades, smoke grenade

    Additional equipment – 1 claymore mine bag (to carryyour extra goodies), map case, Army issue compass, Army issue binoculars and case, Army issue wrist watch, lightweight rucksack w/frame, 550 parachute cord, M1952 or M1969 flak jacket.

    10 Lessons from the Battle of 73 Easting

    The enemy scouts had warned Iraqi forces in the village prior to their capture. McReynolds’s wingman, Sergeant Maurice Harris, remained at the limit of advance and scanned into the village through the blowing sand. Sergeant Harris’s Bradley came under 23mm canon and machine gun fire. He reported to his platoon leader, who responded, “well, kill them.” This engagement and the twenty-three minute battle that followed revealed ten essential elements of success in battle that remains relevant today.

    1) Lead from the front. Leaders must be forward to gain a clear picture and make decisions. As Sergeant Harris engaged with 25mm, Lieutenant Gauthier moved forward to assess and further develop the situation. Gauthier fired a TOW missile into the center of the enemy position in the village to orient our tanks. After our gunner, Staff Sergeant Craig Koch, fired a subsequent tank round to mark center, all nine tanks fired high explosive rounds into the village simultaneously to suppress the enemy position. Despite the secondary explosions in the village to its south, First Platoon maintained its primary observation to the east.

    2) Shoot first. If you know where friendly forces are and there is not a danger of civilian casualties, do not hesitate to shoot or conduct reconnaissance by fire. The side that shoots first has a tremendous advantage. Staff Sergeant David Lawrence was the commander of First Platoon’s northernmost Bradley. When his gunner, Sergeant Bradley Feltman, said, “Hey, I’ve got a hot spot out there I’m not sure what it is,” Lawrence responded, “Put a TOW in it see what it is.” Lawrence identified the hot spot as a T-72 as the turret was ripped from its hull in the ensuing explosion. Our troop’s experience was consistent with Erwin Rommel’s observation in his World War I book, Infantry Attacks: “I have found again and again in encounter actions the day goes to the side that is first to plaster its opponents with fire.”

    3) Fight through the fog of battle. Be prepared for confusion and concurrent activity. As we suppressed enemy positions in the village and while Lawrence was launching a missile, the Troop received permission to advance to the 70 Easting. I instructed First Platoon to resume movement east. Lieutenant Petschek did not respond immediately because Lawrence was reporting on the platoon radio net, “Contact! Contact, east, tank!” Simple orders and complete reports are essential to maintaining common understanding in battle.

    4) Follow your instincts and intuition. As Sergeant Feltman launched the TOW missile, I decided to go to a tanks lead formation and instructed Green and White, the tank platoons, to “follow my move.” First Platoon pulled in behind as the tank wedge moved forward and covered the tanks’ rear. Third platoon retained responsibility for flank security. As we began moving forward, First Platoon, responding to the contact report on their platoon radio net, began firing twenty-five millimeter high explosive munitions across the front. It was a little unnerving for the tanks as we moved forward. I gave First Platoon a cease-fire order—“Red 1, this is Black 6, cease fire.” The two tank platoons were slightly delayed. As our tank came over the crest of the imperceptible rise north of the village, Sergeant Craig Koch, the gunner, reported “tanks direct front,” I counted eight T-72s in prepared positions. They were at close range and visible to the naked eye.

    5) Use standard unit fire and battle drills. Aim to overwhelm the enemy upon contact and retain the initiative through speed of action. As Sergeant Koch fired the main gun and destroyed the first tank, I sent a contact report to the troop, “This is Black 6. Contact east. Eight armored vehicles. Green and White, are you with me?” Sergeant Koch destroyed two more tanks as our tank platoons accelerated movement. All nine tanks began engaging together as we advanced. In approximately one minute, everything in the range of our guns was in flames. Fire distribution and control allowed us to destroy a much larger enemy force in a very short period of time.

    6) Foster initiative. Every trooper understood how our platoons and the troop conducted fire and maneuver. Our tank driver, Specialist Christopher Hedenskog knew that he had to steer a path that permitted both tank platoons to get their guns into the fight. He turned 45 degrees to the right and kept our frontal armor toward the first enemy tanks we engaged. He drove through a minefield, avoided the anti-tank mines, reporting on the intercom, “Sir, I think you need to know, we just went through a minefield.” He knew that it would be dangerous to stop right in the middle of the enemy kill zone. Hedenskog saw that our tank platoons had a window of opportunity to shock the enemy and take advantage of the first blows that Sergeant Koch had delivered.

    7) Use tanks to take the brunt of battle. Tanks drove around the anti-tank mines and Bradleys and other vehicles followed in their tracks. Our Squadron S-3’s tank, commanded by Major Douglas MacGregor, hit an anti-tank mine, but the blast damaged the tank only slightly. It continued the attack and made a rapid repair when we halted. We ran over anti-personnel mines, but they sounded like microwave popcorn popping and had no effect on armored vehicles. The rate of fire of our tanks allowed enemy tanks to fire only two errant main gun rounds at the outset of the battle and two later as the troop assaulted. Enemy machine gun fire had no effect on the troop’s advance. The psychological shock of our tanks advancing undaunted toward their defensive positions paralyzed and panicked the enemy.

    8) Be prepared for misfires and degraded operations. Lieutenant Jeff DeStefano’s tank crew came around the village, destroyed an enemy tank, and acquired a second tank at very close range that was traversing on them. A round got stuck in the breech of DeStefano’s canon. The loader grabbed hold of the loader’s hatch, kicked the round in, the breech came up, and the gunner, Sergeant Matthew Clark, destroyed the T-72. In another example, Staff Sergeant Digbie ordered Private First Class Charles Bertubin to reload TOW missiles. Bertubin could not get the cargo hatch open, however. When the lightweight wrestler kicked the hatch release, he sheared it off. Rather than tell his Bradley commander that he could not get the TOWs reloaded, he jumped out of the back door while the vehicle was under small arms and machinegun fire. He climbed onto the back of the Bradley, loaded both missiles, then tapped his Bradley commander on the shoulder while yelling, “TOWs are up.” Staff Sergeant Digbie nearly jumped out of skin because he thought that an Iraqi had climbed onto the Bradley.

    9) Coordinate between platoons and ensure mutual support. The burning tanks and personnel carriers of the enemy’s first defensive line formed a curtain of smoke that concealed enemy further to the east. As our tanks assaulted through the smoke, we saw other enemy armored vehicles and large numbers of infantry running to get back to subsequent trench lines and positions. We destroyed the enemy armored vehicles quickly and shot the infantry with machine guns as we closed the distance with them. Pockets of enemy soldiers threw their arms up. Our soldiers were disciplined turrets turned away from any enemy soldier with his hands raised. Tank platoon leaders asked scout platoons to pick up observation of the enemy infantry as their Bradleys came through the smoke. The scouts saw that the enemy had used false surrender to gain a better position. Enemy soldiers were re-shouldering their rifles and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs). Our Bradleys surprised the enemy and killed them before they could engage our tanks effectively.

    10) Take risk to win. Because Eagle Troop pressed the assault, the enemy could not respond effectively. As we cleared the westernmost defensive positions, our executive officer, Lieutenant John Gifford, broke in on the radio, “I know you don’t want to know this right now, but you’re at the limit of advance you’re at the 70 Easting.” I responded, “Tell them we can’t stop. Tell them we’re in contact and we have to continue this attack. Tell them I’m sorry.” We had surprised and shocked the enemy stopping would have allowed them to recover. As Erwin Rommel observed in Infantry Attacks: “The man who lies low and awaits developments usually comes off second best. . . .It is fundamentally wrong to halt—or to wait for more forces to come up and take part in the action.” Eagle Troop continued to attack toward another very subtle ridgeline on which the enemy positioned his reserve, a coil of eighteen T-72 tanks. Major Mohammed later told one of our troopers that he had not known he was under attack until a soldier ran into his elaborate command bunker yelling, “tanks, tanks!” By the time he got to his observation post, all the vehicles in defensive positions to the west were in flames. He ordered the reserve behind him to establish a second defensive line. It was too late. Eagle Troop’s tanks crested the rise and entered their assembly area. The tanks were starting to move out when we destroyed them at close range.

    Thrown into the Deep End: Tips for New Platoon Leaders

    Lesson one: you should’ve become a warrant officer

    Whoa there, high speed. Look at you, all brand new and shiny, right out of your basic officer leader course, hard-charging to take over your first platoon. Thing is, behind that brash exterior, you’re probably confused as all get-out. After years of training in ROTC or a military academy (you OCS guys know all this stuff already, I’m not talking to you), you’ve finally reached the moment where you’re going to lead troops. You may have noticed that while the Army did a great job teaching you tactics, there is a lot about the day-to-day life of being a platoon leader that you don’t know. Which is fine the first step is admitting that you don’t know much. Now the growth can begin.

    The Army does something unique: it takes twenty-two year olds with no real experience and throws them right into the role of leading troops. It is then up to that person to sink or swim. No matter if you are a National Guard, Reserve, or Active Component lieutenant, these simple steps should offer some guidance as you navigate your way through your first assignment as a leader of troops. Or not, what do I know.

    1. Know Your Resources

    It can be pretty overwhelming when you sit in on your first training meeting and realize that all the acronyms you learned in your commissioning source and your basic officer leader course have nothing to do with day-to-day unit management. Luckily for you, all the answers can be found in various Army databases. Of course, they would never be all in one place that would be too simple. One is the Digital Management Training System, or DTMS. It is imperative that you get access to your unit’s DTMS site from your training NCO in order to view your unit’s mission essential tasks (METs) and training schedules. Use websites for the Army Training Network (ATN) and Combined Arms Training Strategies (CATS) as tools to figure out what key collective tasks to train on, in order to support your commander’s METs. They even break them down to performance standards. Since so much of your job involves planning your platoon’s training, these tools will be an invaluable asset to you. See, in one paragraph you’ve already learned four new acronyms. Congratulations. Have a cookie.

    2. Know Your Doctrine

    Look, as a butterbar second lieutenant, you’re not going to be expected to know everything. But you damn well sure are expected to know where to find the answers. And for that, we have Doctrine Doctrine with a capital “D,” because it will control your life for the rest of your career. In addition to the doctrinal publications that are pertinent to your profession, you need to know the following: ADRP 7-0, Training Units and Developing Leaders (i.e., your job) FM 6-0, Commander and Staff Organization and Operations (how to write doctrinally correct orders) AR 350-1, Army Training and Leader Development (Yes, I know it looks like ADRP 7-0, but it’s actually a listing of all the mandatory training that you will have to do that will take time away from your mission-specific training) and…wait for it…AR 25-50, Preparing and Managing Correspondence (aka, how to write, Army style). Start with that. As you go, you will develop the love/hate relationship that we all have with Army Doctrine.

    Literally none of this is true, but you still need to know it.

    3. Know Your People

    You’re going to hear a lot about the “human terrain” as you move along in your career. And honestly, dealing with people will be about 90% of your job. So learn to read people early on. Learn your platoon sergeant’s strengths and weakness, what motivates them to come to work every day (one of mine loved Mountain Dew I ensured I kept him well supplied). Learn your squad leaders and team leaders figure out which are your rockstars and which need some improvement. Talk to your Soldiers what are their goals? Do they even have goals? How do they see their role in the platoon? Generating this snapshot of the platoon will go a long way towards your success as a manager of people. And you’d better believe the Soldiers will notice their PL taking an interest in their careers.

    4. Know Your Role

    None of this matters if you don’t know your role in the organization. It’s pretty simple, really: you plan training, supervise training, own the platoon’s successes or failures, develop your squad leaders, take care of your Soldiers, and accomplish the mission. I said simple, but none of that is simple. Yes, I know you joined up to lead troops in battle, but guess what, 70% of your job is now paperwork. And it needs to be done, otherwise your Soldiers won’t get the resources, evaluation, or training that they deserve.

    You do less of this…. …And more of this. (Wikimedia commons)

    Your role also encompasses property management (hopefully you got your hands on everything in your property book before you signed for it), supply management (make friends with the supply sergeant), and personnel management (writing awards and NCOERs is a skill that you need to develop early on). You own that platoon, while your platoon sergeant runs the logistical operations of it. Make sure those roles don’t swap at any time. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a good commander who will mentor you along the way. If not…well…hit me up on Twitter and I can feed you a bunch more nonsense.

    5. Know Yourself

    Yeah, I know I’m stealing from the great philosophers here, but it can’t be emphasized enough: self-reflection is a force multiplier. Not until you understand your own strengths and weaknesses can you determine where you need to develop. Granted, a self-aware second lieutenant is a scary thought…

    Almost as scary as whatever this is.

    6. Know Your Time

    As a leader, your available time will shrink down to practically nothing. Especially if you are National Guard or Reserve, and have to juggle a civilian job along with being a military leader. Time management is imperative. You need to know how much time you can allocate for planning and management, while still maintaining a healthy physical fitness schedule, having some semblance of a social life, and indulging in whatever hobbies keep you sane. It is important to develop these habits of time management now, as they will stay with you as you move along in your career. And keep up with those hobbies or interests: people who devote their whole time to the Army can burnout pretty quickly. I’d recommend writing as a hobby, as it builds your critical thinking skills. And lets you pretend that you know what you’re talking about.

    7. Know Your Peers

    File this alternately under “play nice with others.” Having a good relationship with your peers is important. One, they are experiencing the very same things that you are exchanging information can be mutually beneficial. Two, you have a pretty good shot at working with them again at some level in the rest of your career. It is a small Army, so be very careful before you burn a bridge, because that person just might be someone you need to work with closely someday. Third and lastly, you’re going to need friends to help you stay sane. And no, that handle of Jack Daniels does not count as a friend at the end of the day.

    8. Know Your Career

    There’s a lot to be said for focusing on the now and enjoying the moment. And as a platoon leader, all of your energies should be focused on getting the best training for your Soldiers that you can find. However, if you ignore your career, then you will soon find yourself stuck on the backside of the battalion staff headquarters in a windowless room lit only by the glow of a dying laptop. Sound ominous? It is. Now I’m not saying that you need to be a careerist, trying to jump on the coat tails of every passing star that you see, but you do need to be cognizant of the opportunities around you and which duty position you would best like to serve in. This is where a mentor comes in handy. Do you want to go from PL to executive officer, or do you want to spend some time on staff? What are your weaknesses? If they’re in logistics, maybe spend some time in the S-4, honing those. What is your endstate? Do you want to be the battalion commander or do you want to branch out as a strategist? The Army has a myriad of opportunities you just need to know where you want it to take you.

    9. Know Your Profession

    In the Marine Corps propaganda film, I mean, in the popular movie, 300, Leonidas famously asks his Spartans, “What is your profession?” To which they respond with a lot of testosterone-filled grunting, and then presumably went off-screen to beat some of their slaves and then get it on with each other (Sparta is the worst possible model for the American military). What is your profession? Is it infantry, armor, medical, adjutant general corps, field artillery, cyber, or engineer? In order to be that role model in your platoon, that mentor for your squad leaders, and the subject matter expert to your commander, you need to know your profession. And that means hitting the books, kid. The Army wrote all of this stuff down and it’s only a lot of reading if you do it. The Army Publishing Directorate has an online database of all branch-specific field manuals, technical manuals, and data cards. Spend some weekend with a lot of coffee and some Army reading. Your friends may hate you for it, but if you can speak knowledgeably to your subject, you will gain a lot of traction with your Soldiers. Similarly, your NCOs are a wealth of personal knowledge. Speaking with them about their experiences whether deployed or in garrison will help you develop professionally, as well as building valuable relationships.

    Or you could just wing it, in the great American traditions.

    10. Know Your Equipment

    Chances are, you’ve got some trucks in the motor pool and boxes in cold storage that you probably haven’t looked at closely. Depending on your branch, you might have a small amount of gear or a massive amount. As a platoon leader in a horizontal construction unit, I had nearly twenty vehicles in my motor pool, and when I first arrived there, I knew what about three of them were for. Learn your equipment’s capabilities, what it can and cannot do. Learn who in your platoon is licensed for what, when those licenses expire, when they need check rides. Learn your company’s maintenance schedules when will your equipment need to be taken in for services? Carefully review your sensitive items inventory and keep multiple copies of where these items are stored. Want to have a bad day? Lose a sensitive item. Equipment accountability is a joint task between yourself, your platoon sergeant, and your Soldiers. In the end, the commander is signed for everything, so do her or him a solid favor by being organized. At the end of the day, it’s about being ready to accomplish the mission. You can’t do that if your equipment is broken or missing.

    Quite obviously, this list could go on for some time, but I’ll stop here because I finished my coffee (coffee is a force multiplier that maybe should have been my first point). These ten basic points should empower you as a platoon leader to begin finding your way. Of course, as soon as you feel like you’ve got the job figured out, the Army will move you to a new position. They’re nice like that.

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    The Army Vet Who Nearly Gutted His Own Platoon Leader For Cowardice During WWII

    World War II Army veteran Milton Miller says he has never forgotten an act of cowardice by his platoon leader.

    It happened in the Alban Hills south of Rome following the Allied Forces&apos amphibious invasion on the Italian beaches of Anzio in January 1944.

    “I saw these six wounded soldiers lying in the open and I threw my Browning automatic rifle to our new platoon leader. The rifle had a fresh clip in it and he was supposed to provide me with cover,” said the 93-year-old Miller, whose voice filled with force as he shared what happened so long ago.

    He says he managed to pull the wounded to safety beside “a knocked out American tank” where they waited for a break in the fighting.

    “I looked around for the platoon leader and he had taken off,” Miller said in disgust.

    Hours later, after he had helped load the wounded onto a Jeep, he returned to his company and spotted the platoon leader.

    “I was about six to eight feet away from him and I pulled out my knife,” Miller said. “You can&apost put in the newspaper what I wanted to do to him for his cowardice.”

    The platoon leader, he said, ordered other soldiers to hold Miller at bay.

    But with the Allies&apos push to take Rome, there was little time for revenge.

    “We were supposed to be among the first to enter Rome,” Miller said of the 179th Regiment of the Army&aposs 45th Division.

    As it turned out, Miller would be among the very first in Rome, but not as a victor. He had been serving as the point man for his platoon when he was taken prisoner.

    “I had volunteered to be the point man not because I&aposm a hero but because it was the right thing to do. I was way ahead of the platoon,” he said of how he ended up captured.

    In Rome, Miller said he was interrogated by the German Gestapo, which was seeking intelligence on the Allied Forces.

    “I told them I had just joined my company last night,” he said. “I lied.”

    The trip to a German prisoner of war camp started in trucks “that drove right past the Vatican,” Miller said, adding that he and fellow POWs were later packed into box cars for a train ride. The train stopped once on the way to allow them to toss out those who died from inhuman conditions – no food and very little water.

    Toward the end of their journey, they were forced to march, he said.

    “Every time I got near a tree, I stripped the leaves from branches and ate them,” Miller said of how fierce his hunger had grown.

    And the German soldiers showed no mercy, according to the stories Miller shared over the years with his family.

    Douglas Miller, the veteran&aposs son, recalled this story:

    “One prisoner could not go on, so the Nazis ran him over with a tank as a lesson to the others. Other POWs attempted to escape when the guards appeared to go out of the area. However, the guards&apos &aposdisappearing&apos was an apparent ruse since they suddenly reappeared, mowing down the fleeing prisoners who had disregarded orders.”

    At the prison camp, Miller said he volunteered to work on farms because it meant receiving extra food rations. But it was hardly enough to keep the meat on his bones.

    Again, Miller&aposs son shared an insight:

    “The conditions at the stalag were abominable. Body lice was on all the prisoners. Given the weakened state of the prisoners due to the poor nutrition and significant weight loss suffered, the body lice issues were a continual torment.”

    By the time the POW camp was liberated in spring 1945, as the war in Europe was ending, Miller said, “I&aposd gone from about 180 pounds to a little over 100 pounds.”

    Yet that did not stop him from telling his liberators in a tank unit that he wanted to return to his unit.

    “They said, &aposYou look like crap&apos and that I wouldn&apost be able to make it past a couple miles,” he said.

    And so Miller was shipped back to America on a Liberty ship with approximately 300 other former POWs.

    “They sat you down at a table with a half a chicken, ice cream and other food. You couldn&apost leave until you ate. They wanted to fatten you up before we came home. I guess we all looked like a bunch of skeletons.”

    He spent nine days in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York “for relaxation,” before he was assigned to Fort Dix, N.J.

    “When we were there, they allowed us to pick an assignment close to our homes and I picked a hospital in Canandaigua because they couldn&apost get any civilian help,” Miller said. “While we were there, we heard we were going to be assigned to an amphibious unit for the invasion of Japan. They needed a lot of bodies and I probably would have died.”

    But in August 1945, the war against Japan ended abruptly.

    “I was saved when they dropped the atom bombs,” he said.

    Back home in Buffalo after the service, Miller said he suffered from flashbacks from the war and drank heavily to push aside the disturbing memories.

    “I got a break. I went to work for Trico making windshield wipers and became a tool and die maker. You can&apost have flashbacks when you are concentrating on a job working with tolerances of a thousandth of an inch. No psychiatrist could have done better and by the way, there was no therapy back then,” he said.

    He says he caught an even bigger break when he married the former Gertrude Cohen and raised three children with her.

    “I&aposm very fortunate. I picked the right woman. If it wasn&apost for her, I wouldn&apost be alive today,” Miller said. “We&aposre still married 63 years later.”

    Where do I go after TBS?

    After TBS, officers must complete the 133 day Armor Officer Basic Leader-Branch Course (AOBLC) at the U.S. Army Armor School at Fort Benning, GA. The purpose of the course is to provide commanders in the field with Armor Platoon Leaders trained in the fundamentals of tank and reconnaissance platoon weapon systems and tactics, focused in the Current Operational Environment thus instilling in them the warrior spirit and preparing them to assume command of a mounted platoon.

    The Merits of a Four-Tank Platoon in Urban Combat

    In most modern armies, the standard post WWII five tank platoon organization has been changed to either four or three vehicles per platoon/troop. The original concept behind the five tank platoon was to have two separate fire and movement sections, with the platoon leader joining one at will, as required by the combat situation. Postwar developments envisaged not only a shortage of tank crews, but also a significant reduction in funding, both requiring restructuring of tactical sub-units. Moreover, the technological advances made in modern battle tank design have allowed a reduction in the number of vehicles, while maintaining the same, or even superior battlefield performance.

    The Israeli army, which has had substantial experience with tank warfare in the post WWII period, has shifted from five to four and finally three tanks per basic platoon, in order to increase the number of gun tubes deployed per tank company. The original IDF tank unit structure, which was developed for open desert tank warfare, was an 11 tank company (3 tanks x 3 platoons + 2 HQ tanks) allowing IDF tank units to have 8 gun tubes firing and three tanks moving at all times. This structure proved particularly suitable for high attrition tank versus tank engagements. Under the current IDF reorganization program, there have been some thoughts of reducing the Merkava Mk4 companies to seven vehicles. (1 HQ vehicle) This structure, made possible by these tank&rsquos advanced technology and enhanced capabilities, is being considered because it would allow two tank sections to operate autonomously.
    The US Army has adopted the four tank platoon, rejecting the three-tank solution in order to maintain the two sections of two tanks support mode.

    The German Bundeswehr has shifted from four tanks in its platoons and 13 Leopard 2A4 tanks (4 tanks x 3 platoons + 1 command tank) per company used under Army Structure 3, to its new 13 Leopard 2A6 company with only three tanks in each platoon (3 tanks x 4 platoons + 1 command tank) in its latest organization (Army Structure 5N).

    The basic Russian T-72/80/90 tank platoon is still their traditional three vehicle formation, however, there are reports of a new concept being examined, under which a five AFV platoon will be established, with four tanks and a BMPT as the fifth vehicle. The BMPT is an entirely new class of vehicle known as a Tank Assistance Combat Vehicle. The Russians claim that this vehicle, by supporting the MBTs, increases their combat efficiency by 30%. The BMPT deals with all secondary targets, allowing the MBTs to focus on engaging the &lsquoheavy&rsquo targets, which their main armament is designed for. The BMPT, based on T-72/-90 hulls, mounts an array of advanced anti-tank and anti-personnel weapons. These weapons systems include eight launchers mounting a combination of AT-9 Ataka guided anti-tank missiles or Igla short range air defense missiles, 30mm automatic cannon, multiple 30mm automatic grenade launchers and 7.62 machine guns.

    Combat experience in urban fighting has clearly demonstrated the advantages of the four tank platoon. Fighting through narrow alleys, where tanks operate in two tank sections supporting infantry, a three tank platoon would not only be inadequate, but also uneconomical, as the remaining single vehicle would in most cases be left behind, or not effectively used by the infantry commander, making it highly vulnerable to enemy tank killer teams. The alternative would be to use all three tanks of the platoon together, which would probably provide more firepower and more control problems than necessary. In addition, although the infantry commander may have the best intentions, his true function, and the one he has spent the most time training for, is controlling his own troops, not a tank or group of tanks temporarily assigned to his unit.
    From a purely economical viewpoint, reverting to the four tank platoon and 13 tanks per company would eliminate the second HQ tank, leaving a single tank for the company commander. The second HQ vehicle could be replaced by an APC or AIFV, capable of fighting and moving with the company, but with superior C4I facilities on board.

    The British army tank squadron has a 14 tank structure with four troops (platoons) of 3 Challenger II tanks and two tanks in the HQ section. These four troop squadrons give the squadron leaders the choice of forming two-tank sections, although in some cases with the two tanks coming from different platoons, without creating too much degradation in the squadron command structure, or leaving single tanks vulnerable, as might happen with a three-tank by three platoon company.

    The US Army has several basic scenarios for task organizing a small unit combined task force for urban combat.

    The Tank Platoon as a Maneuver Element

    In this scenario, the tank platoon leader is responsible for coordinating the maneuvering of his tanks. Using this task organization, likely missions for the tanks would be to provide fire support or overwatch for the movement of infantry units. This is also the most difficult of these methods to control because of the effort required to coordinate the movements of the two types of units. The tank platoon leader may choose to maneuver his platoon in sections. (Two tanks each from a four tank platoon) This provides greater flexibility in supporting the infantry during combat, but places greater responsibility on the NCO commander of the &lsquolight&rsquo tank section when operating independently with the infantry commander. (The advantage of an experienced NCO in this situation is clear. The availability of tank commanders with the required level of experience in mandatory short-service armies can present a problem.)

    Tank Sections Under Infantry Platoon Control

    In this scenario, tanks platoons are broken down into two sections, each section being placed under the operational control of an Infantry platoon leader. While this technique is very effective in maintaining the same rate of progress for the tanks and infantry, it requires pre-mission training in tank combat control for the infantry platoon leaders. Normally, tank crewmen resent this kind of control, as the infantry commander will, in some cases, prefer to assign single tanks (not co located with the infantry) to provide close support. This endangers the tanks because they are vulnerable to tank killer teams in any kind of terrain that is not open.

    Infantry Squads Under Tank Platoon Control

    In this scenario, the company team commander places one or more infantry squads under the operational control of a tank platoon leader. This technique is very effective in relatively open urban terrain where a tank platoon can operate as a unit, with the infantry providing close-in protection against enemy tank-killer teams. This is the tank commander&rsquos preferred option as it allows the tanks to operate under the most ideal conditions available to them in urban combat, where they are especially vulnerable to close range attacks. This technique requires that junior tank unit commanders be pre-trained in tank-infantry cooperation down to the section-squad level. The platoon commander co-ordinates the unit&rsquos firepower using various methods, the best of which is via the infantry coordination phone mounted on the rear of the tanks. These external phones connect the infantry leader into the tank&rsquos communication system allowing them to communicate directly with the tank crew, or the tank platoon commander even if he is in different tank.

    [23rd Tank Battalion Platoon Leaders]

    Photograph of the platoon leaders of Company A of the 23rd Tank Battalion standing next to a sign mounted on a fence. The man standing to the left of the sign is Lt. Cecil D. "Buck" Walston, and the man to the right of the sign is Lt. Leslie B. Miller. The man seated next to the sign, holding a rifle, is 2nd Lt. Walsh.

    Physical Description

    1 photograph : b&w 13 x 18 cm.

    Creation Information

    Creator: Unknown. Summer 1945.


    This photograph is part of the collection entitled: World War Two Collection and was provided by the 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum to The Portal to Texas History, a digital repository hosted by the UNT Libraries. It has been viewed 425 times, with 4 in the last month. More information about this photograph can be viewed below.

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    Provided By

    The 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum

    This Museum is located in Abilene and serves as a display and teaching museum for the study of World War II and its impact on the American people. It primarily contains 12th Armored Division World War II archives, memorabilia, and oral histories, along with selected equipment and material loaned or donated by others.

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