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"Losses and Consolidation" Topic


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©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP03 Oct 2018 5:47 a.m. PST

Someone posted a query in (I think) September on the point at which units reflected losses by becoming fewer units, and of course now that I have some information, I can't find the thread.
Reading Blumenson's "Breakout and Pursuit" describing the US Army in France, July and August 1944. In describing the losses in the hedgerow fighting, Blumenson says that rifle companies were sometimes reduced to single platoons. Of course the higher organization is described, and I can't find any instance of reduced numbers of battalions in a regiment or companies in a battalion, so evidently US practice--then and there--was to maintain reasonably full strength platoons, but not necessarily full strength companies or battalions.
You know, if someone had a pamphlet or book of such policies in WWII armies, it would be very helpful in scenario design.

Martin Rapier03 Oct 2018 6:10 a.m. PST

The only formal reduced TOEs were Russian, see eg The Red Army Handbook, everyone else was more informal.

The principle adopted in both the German and British army was to maintain viable units and subunits ie to amalgamate subunits together and drop platoons and companies as needed. Tbh I'd be amazed if the US did it differently, although until units were reorganised, rifle strengths could fall very low indeed so you would have platoon sized companies, but that applies to everyone.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP03 Oct 2018 7:40 a.m. PST

Yeah, but a platoon-sized company is different from a company consisting of one platoon. And does an understrength battalion break up companies to keep others at some strength? It's always an interesting question what level of unit you're trying to make viable, and especially so from a wargame standpoint.

For example, I've seen stuff on the French in Indochina saying they shrank the platoons, reducing the maneuver options, and leaving them something they didn't need an officer for. At a 1:1 game, this might look quite different.

Napoleonic British seem to have had a "break point" of about 400. If a battalion shrank below this, it was either sent home to recruit or formed into a consolidated unit. The French had something similar, but I don't have as good a grip on it. And it makes a difference in 1814 when you're looking at 200-man theoretical battalions. In what size unit did they actually maneuver? I'd trade a lot of back and forth over column assaults for a primary source saying "consolidate weak battalions to get units of between 500 and 700."

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP03 Oct 2018 9:13 a.m. PST

Just as a guess I would think that the organization would depend a lot on how many officers and NCOs were available to command the subunits. If they had enough officers and NCOs for two small platoons they'd probably do that. If only enough for one normal sized platoon they'd do that. Considering that casualties among junior officers was proportionately higher than that of enlisted men, I'd guess that fewer subunits would be the norm. Whatever the case, they wouldn't create a subunit of any size without the men to command it properly.

Desert Fox03 Oct 2018 10:39 a.m. PST

+1 to Scott.

I would be interested in firsthand accounts by TMPers of what they did with below strength units in Vietnam, and more recently in Afghanistan.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP03 Oct 2018 10:56 a.m. PST

Quite right, Scott. That was part of that French Indo-China solution. They could promote Viet or Algerian NCO's to command short platoons, but officers had to be commissioned in France and were always scarce. A company with two full-size platoons would need a CO--hopefully a Captain--and two lieutenants. A company with three smaller platoons needed a single officer and three good platoon sergeants.

catavar03 Oct 2018 1:21 p.m. PST

From what I've read the French at DBP had to consolidate several spent formations into single ad-hoc Co's/Ptn's. I'm sure lack of manpower had something to do with it but I think officer casualties was the main reason.

I was under the impression that the US, under normal (most) circumstance, didn't have to that in WW2. As was pointed out above, I think having officers, and/or experienced NCO's, available would be the main reason behind keeping a unit intact versus folding it into another formation.

I don't have anything solid to back this up with at the moment. Just my immediate thoughts on the subject.

Timbo W03 Oct 2018 2:46 p.m. PST

Just re napoleonic Russians, recently someone gave the figures for strength below which 2 battalions of the same regiment got amalgamated, think it was around 300?

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP03 Oct 2018 3:30 p.m. PST

US Army policy was to feed replacements to units in the field, while the Germans kept units in the field until they were bled white, then pulled the whole unit out and the replacements were brought in in a rear area

It could be argued that that the Germans did it right as the casualty rate among US replacements was pretty high

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP03 Oct 2018 6:05 p.m. PST

Frederick, I think US policy was sometimes misapplied. In the Huertgen Forest, they were shoveling them in overnight to front line platoons, and naturally a lot of them didn't last long. But take a look at the 28th ID just ahead of the Bulge. Pumped up with replacements and left in a quiet sector so battalions and regiments could be taken--still in sector--just far enough back to get some training in.
Generally, feeding in replacements in a quiet sector seems to have worked quite well, whereas the German approach tended to kill off the trained specialists who died fighting as inferior infantry. Then you'd have to haul the survivors back to Germany and keep the unit out of action for months rebuilding.
If you ever want to get really depressed over the German system, read the histories of the panzer brigades--divisions worn down until they were hardly decent brigade cadres, then thrown back into combat without time to train up the replacements. It's one of the things which makes me think we weren't entirely out of bounds for prosecuting some of the German high command for criminal prolongation of the war.

Lion in the Stars03 Oct 2018 9:28 p.m. PST

During WW2, The Germans are also pretty well-known for allowing junior officers to command companies or battalions, and allowing NCOs to command platoons. This would indicate a desire to keep a larger unit intact, even if the battalion was down to the size of a company. Or if a Stug brigade was down to a platoon.


US Army policy was to feed replacements to units in the field, while the Germans kept units in the field until they were bled white, then pulled the whole unit out and the replacements were brought in in a rear area

It could be argued that that the Germans did it right as the casualty rate among US replacements was pretty high.


Considering that the US more-or-less follows the German system now in the Sandbox, I think that the Germans were doing it right-ish. US units are deployed to the Sandbox for a year or so, as an entire unit, and then another unit comes in to take over for them and the first unit goes home.

The US was still following the WW2 repple-depple system in Vietnam, keeping Divisions in-country for the entire war while troops and even commanders rotated in and out.

Frontovik04 Oct 2018 12:54 a.m. PST

the Germans kept units in the field until they were bled white, then pulled the whole unit out and the replacements were brought in in a rear area

This isn't always the case. There's an account in War of the Century by Laurence Rees where a German infantryman in Stalingrad describes receiving replacements in his company.

Though he does go on to say that most were killed or wounded within 24 hours because they'd only had four weeks training and there was no time to teach them how to survive.

Starfury Rider04 Oct 2018 3:51 a.m. PST

It is an intriguing question that you rarely see much actual info on. As I recall in Jary's "18 Platoon" he mentions the Rifle Pl he joined as having once been down to two Rifle Sections of six men each, with a small HQ element. I don't think he details whether this deleted the 2-in mortar det or not. Think this was before he arrived.

The problem is in distributing your available force so it remains capable. If your structure is based on threes, the first reduction step is likely to be you go binary. Platoons of two Sqds/Secs, with Rifle Coys of two such Pls and Bns of two such Coys are going to be compromised to an extent, as that third element is your reserve in normal practice, so in the attack you've lost the ability to exploit and in the defence to respond to threats such as break-ins or loss of flank security. And as mentioned above, if your core of NCOs has been severely depleted that in itself may limit your ability to maintain many subunits.

The Red Army certainly did spend a lot of time and effort on devising ways to shrink Rifle Divs. The most extreme I think I've seen to date comes from Mar45 and has a Rifle Division of approx. 3300 men, which was about the size of a pre-war Red Army Rifle Regt. The Rifle Regt in the reduced model was in the 700-800 men bracket, based on two Rifle Bns, each of two Rifle Coys, each of three small Rifle Pls (23 total each with an impressive 5 LMGs). Each Rifle Coy had an HMG, while Bn added 6 HMGs and 6x 82-mm mortars. Overall the Rifle Battalion was just 250 men and still had HQ, Bn Sigs, Med dets and Trains in support.

The only German example I've seen is a staged reduction based on an early 1945 Volks Grenadier Div. With approx. 11370 men it was to maintain a Fus Bn and three Inf regts, each two Bns. When overall Div strength fell to 8800 the Fus Bn was disbanded entirely. Each Gren Bn went down to 500 men from about 650. Regtl troops went from about 600 to 400.

At 7200 men one Regt was effectively disbanded, excepting one Gren Bn. At 6300 they went to two Regts of two Bns each, Bns still 500 strong and Regtl troops dropped to 350. At 5000 Div strength (less than half establishment) each Bn was down to 400 men and Regtl troops to 300. That meant the Gren Regt was down from just under 2000 at full strength to 1100 all ranks. The Regtl reductions were accompanied by Div Supply Tps going down by 10, 20 and 30%.

I've not seen anything similar for Br/US units. Yves Bellanger's book on the US Inf Div mentions a Rifle Squad was deemed functioning if there was a leader, at least one man to operate the BAR and one rifleman. Personally I think once a Rifle Sqd/Sec drops below six men it effectively becomes an LMG post and has lost its ability to perform fire and movement without outside assistance. In a Pl/Coy level action that's probably not a deciding issue as it will be part of a larger whole anyway.

Gary

Legion 404 Oct 2018 6:36 a.m. PST

Generally speaking based on my experience on active duty in Infantry units, '79-'90. We were almost always understrength. Even if just a little.

Skarper08 Oct 2018 11:05 a.m. PST

Very interesting thread. I understand UK and Commonwealth sections often had about 6 men, possibly with 1-2 LOOB.

I think a lot depends on the type of action. In defence you can just man the LMGs and have a few riflemen around. This means you can cover the same ground albeit with less staying power.

In the attack you'd have to form up reasonably sized sections/squads or the first casualty will cause the attack to stall. I recall the idea to put all the brens in one section and all the riflemen in another and just have 2 sections when on the attack.

The Germans must have run out of ammo bearers in their Gruppen when on the attack so what did they do? I'd leave half the MG34/42s at the start line with crews of 2 and piles of ammo then form up the rest of the infantry in groups of at least 6 with 1 or 2 MGs each. If you had say 30 men with 12 MGs this gives you 6 groups of 2 manning an MG each and a reduced platoon of 18 with 2 MGs each.

I read a document somewhere about US PIR squads in Normanday and how they reorganised as squads of 9 in the hedgerows and left the M1919A4s to be used in defence.

We tend to buy, paint and build our units to TOE, but in reality they are individuals and can be organised in many ways.

Lee49408 Oct 2018 12:29 p.m. PST

Actually I started the original query. I've been gaming since the early 60's (dating myself lol) and have published several sets of rules, and played many others. What always got to me was that gamers were always fielding TOE strength units. Not happening in real life!

So I've designed two new scenario generators that specifically allow for Ad Hoc and understrength units. They are generic and can be used with most rules.

I'm in the process of playtesting them with my rules, FoW and Spearhead to start with. Not sure if we're allowed to show email here? But you can submit contact form on my website:

skirmishaction.com

if interested. Cheers!

Mark 108 Oct 2018 2:04 p.m. PST

In the attack you'd have to form up reasonably sized sections/squads or the first casualty will cause the attack to stall. I recall the idea to put all the brens in one section and all the riflemen in another and just have 2 sections when on the attack.

The Italian rifle platoon structure at the start of the war was such that I expect it was constructed based on this thought process.

The rifle platoon (platone fusilieri) of 38 men consisted of two squads (squadra), each with a rifle section of about 8 men, and an LMG section with 2 LMGs and 8 men. (Add in squad leaders and command group to get to 38 men).

The idea (and the doctrine) was that each squad could perform fire-and-maneuver, with the 2 LMGs forming the base of fire and the rifle section providing the maneuver. In a platoon level attack the LMG sections could be combined, with the rifle sections then providing two maneuver elements.

They moved away from this model as their experience in modern warfare increased. The Bersaglieri had already moved to a platoon structure that looked more modern and familiar. In the AS42 platoon, articulated as being for North Africa but adopted in some other formations as well, the platoon and the squads looked far more like their peers, with a platoon of 3 squads, each squad with 1 LMG and a bunch of riflemen.

I've seen several views expressed of why armies all moved, in time, to similar concepts. The most telling, I think, was suggested here in some prior topics. When all squads have the same structure, the platoon is more flexible. Leave a squad as base of fire, and you have two maneuver elements. Leave two squads to form base of fire and you have more suppression and still one maneuver element. Whoever gets wounded, whoever has to lead whichever squad, the drill is the same. There is a base of fire drill, and a maneuver and close drill, and all squads and all NCOs know the drills.

Plus, that way, a squad can fit into one transport, and get out ready to fight. And if a squad is pinned, or rendered combat ineffective, the other squads remain well rounded and capable.

If you had say 30 men with 12 MGs this gives you 6 groups of 2 manning an MG each and a reduced platoon of 18 with 2 MGs each.

I think someone might need to check the math on that one. Or the typing. Something doesn't add up.

If you take 12 MGs, and put 6 groups of 2 with 1 man per MG, there's no one loading. German LMGs were designed as crew-served weapons, and could not be kept in action without a gunner's No.2 to load and change barrels.

Or if the meaning was to create 6 groups of 2 with 1 MG per group, then we are thinking to leave half the MGs sitting on the ground unused. I can't think of a personal account I've ever read that suggests Germans were inclined to leave their LMGs unused.

If the intention was to have 12 MGs in action, and 2 men per MG, then you have to use 24 men for the MGs. Whether that is 12 teams with 1 MG each (instead of 6 as typed?), or 6 MG teams with 2 MGs and 4 men each (instead of 2 as typed?), we are left with only 6 men in the maneuver element, not 18.

Or perhaps something else was intended. Some clarification might be in order…

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

Lion in the Stars08 Oct 2018 5:32 p.m. PST

The Germans must have run out of ammo bearers in their Gruppen when on the attack so what did they do? I'd leave half the MG34/42s at the start line with crews of 2 and piles of ammo then form up the rest of the infantry in groups of at least 6 with 1 or 2 MGs each. If you had say 30 men with 12 MGs this gives you 6 groups of 2 manning an MG each and a reduced platoon of 18 with 2 MGs each.

Don't forget that the Germans considered their MGs as the core of the squad's firepower, and maneuvered the MGs like the Americans used BARs.

They didn't leave their MGs back as a base of fire, necessarily.

Skarper08 Oct 2018 8:58 p.m. PST

I meant this (and it's a thought experiment only)

12 men form 6 mg teams of 2 each and look after the extra MGs..they can provide base of fire or cover a retreat…

18 men form 3 squads of 6…2 mgs per squad with 4 men manning mgs and 2 riflemen to maneuver.

This is based on a very weak company reduced to about 25% strength but still having most of its MGs (12 out of 18 if PzGr) regular infantry might have all 9 mgs but only 30 men in which case 6 hang back with 3 Mgs and you have 24 men in 3 squads also with 2 mgs per squad. I cant see any point in attacking with 3 mgs per squad. 2 has merit or the germans would not have done it….but someone has to be mobile to finish the job.

Like I say, pure conjecture. Sorry for typing..on the ipad.

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