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Rifle Squads, World War II
The Fifty Meter War
221 pages; 29 chapters and 8 appendixes
In World War II, rifle squads fought at the sharp end of the spear. They
suffered the most casualties and were very important members of the
combined arms team. Many of their most decisive struggles were decided
within a fifty meter terrain slice at the sharp end. Rifle Squads, World
War II: The Fifty Meter War reveals the inner workings of, and organization
of Axis (Finnish, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Rumanian, and Ukrainian)
rifle squads and Allied (American, British and Soviet) rifle squads. Many
of the Axis rifle squads were organized and equipped to fight independently
of superior artillery and air support. Of the allied rifle squads only the
Soviet rifle squads were equipped to win the fifty meter war. American
and British rifle squads depended upon strong air and artillery support in
combat. Without it, they were chewed to pieces by Axis machine guns. A
truism of World War II rifle squads was that those squads equipped with
machine guns fared better. American and British squads were against
equipping their squads with machine guns and their frequent losses in
firefights reflected it. Rifle Squads, World War II: The Fifty Meter War
clears up many misconceptions about World War II at the sharp end.
“One light machine gun was allocated to each 20-man rifle squad in a platoon, but Italian squad maneuver was not tied to
that weapon. The machine gun squad was led by the assistant squad leader and included a gunner and three
ammunition bearers. Those support men were all trained to operate the machine gun and protected it.
In the advance, the Italian platoon moved forward in two long squad “worms” with a light machinegun at the head of each.
Upon encountering effective enemy fire, the squad riflemen would fan out to the right and left, seeking to maneuver
around each enemy flank. The Italians envisioned a light machine gun base of fire with a double envelopment executed
by strong infantry assaulting from both sides if necessary. The Italian squads of 20 were further broken down into fighting
groups or cells of 3 riflemen to facilitate better control and more flexible movement. There were sixteen Italian riflemen,
including the squad leader that maneuvered in five cells or teams to the outside flank of the machine gun. Even if two
three men teams were hived off as flak guards or maneuver links, the squad leader and three more teams would be
maneuvering towards the enemy flank.
Throughout the encounter action, the squad light machineguns, supported by heavy machine guns firing over advancing
Italian infantry from the rear, were supposed to keep the enemy pinned down. Italian tactics emphasized that heavy
machinegun suppressive fire was necessary for the infantry to advance at all.
Italian infantry doctrine recommended narrow attack frontages of 50 yards for a platoon and 400 yards for a battalion.
The idea was for Italian infantry to be able to mass at a breakthrough point with sufficient troops to ensure widening of
the breakthrough area and its exploitation.
Of course such maneuvering required aggressive infantry capable of fighting independently. However, most Italian
infantry were not imbued with that spirit.
Foreign experts were critical of Italian tactics. Such attack frontages were, in Liddell Hart’s opinion bound to have a
“corpse-producing effect under modern conditions.” “
Excerpt from Rifle Squads, World War II
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