--Platoon Basics-- reprinted from everycitizenasolider.com

I learned from personal experience that while in garrison NCO's and Officers may have several advantageous perks but on the battle field they more than earn those perks. While most of the squad members are sleeping, the NCO's and officers are planning, briefing each other or checking on their people.

Usually, the platoon leader will try to keep at least one squad in reserve until he knows what is going on. If he doesn't keep one squad back from all the firing he will not have anybody to protect the flanks or attack the enemy's flank. Nor will there be anyone to reinforce a squad that is being overrun.

The radio operator usually stays close to the platoon commander. When the shooting starts higher headquarters needs to be notified. An experienced radio operator can pretty much figure out what is going on and report it but usually the platoon commander has to make the report, in addition to figuring out what is going on, give orders and avoid getting shot. The enemy also likes to target radio operators because the radio can call for all manner of lethal unpleasantness like artillery and reinforcements.

Because of his many responsibilities the platoon commander, like the squad leader, usually does not have time to shoot at the enemy. To the enemy, a platoon commander can be compared to a duck target at the shooting range that goes back and forth until you shoot it down.

Platoons like squads, have standard operating procedures (usually) so everyone usually has some idea of what to do in a given situation. However, figuring out what the situation is can often lead to confusion and errors. For instance, if the SOP calls for first and second squad to lay down a base of fire when the shooting starts, while third squad envelopes the enemy everyone knows what is happening. If third squad tries to envelope and runs into an enemy force that is enveloping then everyone is probably going to start wondering where third squad is until third squad sends back a report. At that time the platoon commander has some decisions to make. Sometimes the platoon commander will lead the flanking maneuver.

Pulling back troops that are under fire is never an easy proposition. The enemy will be happy to shoot the troops in the back as well as in the front. Furthermore, if the enemy sees their targets retreating they are likely to assume their targets are running away and pursue them. This can open up another squad's flank to an aggressive enemy and that can lead to disaster.

A platoon commander will also (in most cases) have special attachments like machine gun teams and rocket launchers. Again this makes his job more difficult because he has to deploy them so they do the most damage to the enemy. By assigning them to a squad leader he lightens his work load, or the platoon sergeant can take responsibility for them.

If (or maybe when) the platoon commander becomes a casualty the platoon still has to figure out he has become a casualty. If one fireteam sees the officer go down, they still has to pass it up the chain of command. This can take time and during that time the enemy is not going to be sitting still just returning fire.

The platoon sergeant is the next in the chain of command to lead the platoon. If the platoon sergeant is on the ball and knows what is going on the fight can continue effectively. In formations where NCO's are not encouraged to display initiative the loss of an officer can bring the attack to a grinding halt if it doesn't already have orders.

Unit morale comes into play here. If the unit is composed of unwilling conscripts they will likely remain in place and return fire, or more likely run away if there is nobody to stop them. Soldiers with high morale, or conscripts who really believe in their cause will usually be more aggressive and willing to stand and fight. Well trained, and motivated leaders will be aggressive and use every little advantage to get the drop on the enemy.

For example. A good fireteam leader may notice a ditch leading into enemy lines that is not covered by enemy fire (maybe because the team leader directed his team to take out the person guarding it). He will notify his fellow team leader, or squad leader if possible and then lead his squad as they low crawl through this ditch and into enemy lines. With a fireteam popping up among them the enemy will have to readjust to the new threat and more gaps will open in their battle line, gaps others can exploit. The fireteam leader could also have his saw gunner cover the rest of team while they crawled into enemy lines. A squad leader might send in his whole squad. This is one way major firefights can be won by aggressive action. During one of the World Wars a German squad managed to fight its way across a river and breach the French lines. Because the squad leader continued the attack instead of waiting for reinforcement, the French (Battalion or Regimental?) Commander feared the Germans had penetrated his line in force and retreated when he could have held the line.

A poor unit might notice the route into enemy lines but would be unwilling to try and exploit it because of the many dangers. They might also mistrust their fellows ability to provide covering fire. Unmotivated troops would find a great many reasons not to exploit such a weakness, like 'it might be booby trapped, what if someone else is guarding it, it is too exposed, ect."

It is a well know fact that warfare is about risks. Nothing is ever risk free and usually, the bigger the risk the bigger the gain. Sometimes the risk is greater than anticipated and sometimes it is less than anticipated. Either way, someone must make the decision and carry it out. If the person is an unwilling participant in the war he will be more interested in survival than anything else and getting such a person to take risks will require more than kind words.

A combat officer is usually more educated than his troops. Officers are usually heavily indoctrinated to believe in the cause (like the Soviet military), or they are dedicated professionals. Most militaries have a combination of the two. Either way, the officer is responsible for commanding his troops. If the officer is good he will motivate his troops, whether they are conscripts or not, and encourage them to fight well. If the troops really like the officer they are more likely to take risks for him. If the troops dislike the officer they might 'have an accident' that insures he does not survive the fight.

In a platoon, the lieutenant has, perhaps, the greatest impact on his troops. He is with them almost constantly. The troops will see him inspecting their lines, talking with their leaders, and giving orders. Company commanders and up are frequently little more than voices on a radio, especially on a battle field. It is the platoon commander that frequently gives his troops morale courage because he is the most visible authority figure.

As a marine I served under good lieutenants that I would die for and at least one lieutenant I wished would die. While a company commander might be highly visible in garrison, it was the Lieutenants that would have the most impact on a platoon. As the most senior man, all NCO's would defer to him (even if he was younger and less experienced then them). As professionals the NCO's would enforce his rules and regulations regardless of how they felt about it. As the mouthpiece of higher ranking officers, if the troops didn't like the lieutenant anything he said would not be trusted and that mistrust would extend up the chain of command in most cases. Troops would not be willing to go that extra mile that could often spell success or defeat on the battlefield.

Loyalty is a two way street. Not all officers (or NCO's) realize this. If the troops are not taken care of they will not strive to maintain anything other than minimum standards. NCO's are people too, and if they are poorly lead they will frequently lead their troops poorly (but not always!)

This is one reason it is so important to have good, quality officers. Good officers can train good NCO's and good NCO's can train good troops.

A great deal goes on at the platoon level. Combat platoon commanders are frequently junior officers, fresh out of training. They have a very difficult job and no amount of training in the world can fully prepare them for it, their responsibilities and duties are enormous. Any military with a poor officer corps is bound to be defeated. If it is not initially defeated then it is likely that natural selection will mold the officer corps into an effective organization. Bad officers will end up killed, either by their troops or by the enemy, maybe even their commanders. Good officers will lead their men to victory. Politicians will frequently destroy the a military by degrading the quality of its officer corps. Officers, more than enlisted, are more vulnerable to politics, especially as they reach higher ranks. History shows this time and time again, from the Romans to the Russians to the USA.

Because their presence can have such an impact on the regular soldier this is the main reason good officers lead from the front. By willingly shouldering more danger and responsibilities than the regular soldier, the officer earns the respect and trust of his men. By leading from the rear the officer is all but telling his troops they are expendable and he is expending them rather than endanger himself.

Warfare is more about psychology than bullets, especially at the smaller unit levels. Not many people recognize what a powerful effect morale has on combat effectiveness. Morale is not a tangible thing and is usually very hard to understand. For instance in Saudi during Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield I, and many of my fellow Marines believed morale couldn't be any lower. Stuck out in the middle of nowhere with no civilized benefits, we felt like forgotten savages. When the war started however, we couldn't wait to get in there and kick Iraqi butt. Casualties probably would have dampened the mood a bit but we were fired up and anxious for combat despite a poor platoon leader and platoon sergeant, neither of which anybody really respected. The major saving grace was the Company Commander who was viewed as a tactical genius by his men.

--The Company--

Most companies, whether regular infantry or mechanized, or armored, have an incredible amount of firepower at their disposal. They cover a sizable amount of area when dispersed for battle and can be very versatile in their operations.

Most companies have two to six platoons and are led by an officer, an assistant (usually one grade lower) called an executive officer, and at least one senior sergeant.

Because fireteams, squads and platoons can vary so much, a company in one army can be completely different than a company in another army. For instance, a US mechanized platoon has four vehicles, a Soviet platoon only has three. However, in the big picture the Soviets have many more platoons than the US.

A lot of companies do not have certain organic weapons, like mortars, some do. This means that the availability of certain organic weapons can greatly influence how the company or battalion fights.

For example. A Soviet company does not have organic mortars so they must rely on higher authorities to provide support. This forces the company to rely on orders from the higher authority and can reduce the effectiveness of that company by discouraging initiative.

A US Marine Corps company does have mortars. Usually three of them. This allows the company to exploit an advantage without having to rely on higher authorities. It also allows the company to operate more independently and effectively on its own. While three mortars is not a lot of firepower, it is dedicated to the company and can provide immediate support until higher authorities can authorize additional support. Mortars also allow the company to deploy their own illumination and smoke rounds quickly which can greatly influence a battle.

When a company enters battle the company commander, like the platoon commander, will hold back a reserve. In a three platoon company this means at least one platoon will be held back, maybe two. When an advantage presents itself the company commander will deploy his reserve in an attempt to favorably influence the battle.

A company without a reserve can find itself in severe trouble if something goes wrong (and it usually will). The commander will have no one to reinforce a platoon with, or protect a flank that is under attack. For this reason, the bigger the reserve the better. Of course with the presence of a battalion reserve, the company commander may be more willing to commit his own reserve.

During a battle, the company commander must frequently rely on his platoon commanders to tell him what is going on. The company occupies a large area and it is not always practical to go to the front and see what is going on. A good company commander will go to where the action is so he can see for himself what is going on. Still, this area may not be completely visible to one man. The Company Commander and his staff deploy to where they can best control and influence the battle. If a Company Commander is firing at the enemy with his personal weapon he is nothing more than an over trained rifleman so he usually doesn't want to be too close to the front.

In a 'regular' battle a company commander could theoretically command from the rear but more often than not the company commander will get close to the fighting. If the company has a weapons platoon, he is responsible for deploying it so that it will do the most damage to the enemy. This usually means breaking it up and dividing it among the platoons, but not always. For example. If the terrain is relatively open and the company is attacking an enemy on a hill, he might put one platoon and all medium machine guns on another hill so they can fire over the heads of the other two platoons as they attack. The company might even be assigned a few heavy machine guns from a higher headquarters.

The company commander has a great deal of responsibility because he has more troops and assets assigned to him. How he fights often depends on what assets he has and what his mission is.