Small Wars Journal

Heavy Infantry in the Order of Battle

Heavy Infantry in the Order of Battle

Michael Gladius

CPT Matthew Allgeyer wrote an article on Heavy Infantry in 2018, in which he argued that body armor has made heavy infantry viable again.[i] His analysis is excellent and focuses mainly on their unique equipment and employment requirements, particularly for urban combat. One issue that was not raised, however, was how these would fit into the order of battle. Here, I propose a solution.

When fighting combined-arms warfare, three traditions exist: The French, German, and Russian. In the French Tradition, combined-arms warfare is at the tactical level, with infantry and armor mixed in units as small as companies.[ii] In the German Tradition, this is conducted at the operational level, with separate divisions for infantry and armor. In the Russian Tradition, combined-arms is conducted at the strategic level, with Deep Battle Doctrine designating separate armies for breakthrough and exploitation.

The American Army’s current order of battle for Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (IBCTs) is based primarily on the German model. It has 3 infantry battalions, each comprised of 4 companies, as shown in the image below:

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This system is designed to be self-sufficient, and almost a miniature version of a division, with separate operational-level units for infantry and armor. The current model is highly suitable for light infantry, as light infantry fights best in missions that are unsuitable for cavalry/armor and the 3-battalion ‘triangular’ order of battle enables great flexibility and agility. This also fits with Allgeyer’s argument that our current army is trained to perform historically light infantry tasks, albeit more heavily burdened than true light infantry. Heavy infantry, however, will be employed very differently, and thus warrant a different order of battle.

For a regular IBCT, heavy infantry battalions must be employed alongside lighter, more mobile battalions for screening, flank protection, and to fix the enemy in place. Heavy infantry are for landing knockout blows, and cannot keep pace with a more mobile opponent attempting to dodge said blows. To retain flexibility, a 1:1 ratio of heavy to light infantry battalions within an IBCT would be reasonable. This would be a return to the 4-subunit ‘square’ model that emerged after WWI in response to trench warfare.

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1942 Triangle Order of Battle

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1940 Square Order of Battle

The ‘square’ brigade is ideal for heavy infantry, and especially urban combat. The square divisions of 1918-1940 were designed to handle the trench warfare of World War I, when armies needed to fight through multiple well-fortified defenses arrayed in depth. Once these trench lines were breached, the war of maneuvers resumed, and the agility of the triangle division then became more desirable than the durability of the square division. When World War II broke out, the German ‘war of movement’ (Bewegungskrieg) seemingly proved the combat superiority of maneuver warfare and light infantry. Yet the Germans struggled in urban combat, and the fighting at Stalingrad has many parallels to that at Verdun. In future war, urban combat will continue to be manpower-intensive, and demand formations with great strength in both offense and defense: a battleax, not a rapier.

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Heavy Infantry in the Shock Assault against a Main Line of Resistance (MLR). The Heavy Infantry attacks first, with its own organic Light Infantry providing tactical reserves. Operational reserves are located further to the rear. The Light Infantry battalion behind the Heavy Infantry who successfully penetrate the MLR follow through the gap in order to exploit. The Light Infantry behind the Heavy Infantry who fail to penetrate the MLR follow the successful heavy infantry in order to outflank the enemy and to widen the gap.

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Heavy Infantry Pepper-Potting against a strongpoint defense. The Light Infantry battalions infiltrate or outflank the enemy in order to constrict his ability to maneuver. Once the noose is tightened, the Heavy Infantry battalions advance along whichever axis enables them to inflict maximum damage onto the enemy.

Within a heavy infantry battalion, the French model for combined-arms is best. Heavy infantry companies will almost always be employed alongside armor, both inside and outside of urban terrain. Heavy Infantry battalions will also require their own organic engineering formations, both for breaching obstacles and erecting concrete barriers.[iii] Combining heavy infantry, engineers, and armor at the company level will enable company commanders to operate as a combined-arms force independently, without requiring coordination at higher levels. This will free up company commanders to use their initiative more often, and will be utterly necessary in case of a conventional war with China or Russia, whose heavy weaponry and EW capabilities will force units to disperse and frequently lose contact with their parent units.

Thus, the following organization is suggested,

Heavy/Urban IBCT

  • 2 Heavy Infantry Battalions (3 rifle, 1 weapons company)
  • 2 Light Infantry Battalions (3 rifle, 1 weapons company)
  • Fire Battalion
  • Cavalry Squadron
  • Brigade Engineer Battalion
  • Brigade Support Battalion

Heavy Infantry Companies

  • 2 Heavy Infantry Platoons
  • 1 Armor Platoon (either with Abrams or retrofits with high-elevation guns)
  • 1 Engineer Platoon

In conclusion, Heavy Infantry are the answer to the looming possibility of combat in megacities. America does not have any dedicated IBCTs or Divisions for urban combat, but if these were to be raised, Heavy Infantry would form the core. Armored divisions might also benefit from the addition of heavy IBCTs. The current model for all-purpose infantry is extremely useful for training, but specialized heavy-light infantry enable greater tactical flexibility, both when mounted and dismounted. For a global power fighting in every terrain and climate, flexibility is the indispensable core.

End Notes

Categories: US Army - infantry

About the Author(s)

Michael Gladius is the pseudonym for a budding commentator in the fields of military history and theory. His goal is to blend the lessons of history, principles of human behavior, and practical wisdom in order to draw upon a wide array of factors for optimized solutions and problem-solving. He is currently studying in Europe.