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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Standard NATO military map symbol for a friendly infantry platoon.
Standard NATO military map symbol for a friendly infantry platoon.

A platoon is a military unit typically composed of two or more squads/sections/patrols. Platoon organization varies depending on the country and the branch, but typically, per the official tables of organization as published in U.S. military documents; a full-strength U.S. infantry rifle platoon consists of 39 Soldiers or 43 Marines (U.S. Army [USA] or U.S. Marine Corps [USMC], respectively). There are other types of infantry platoons (e.g., antiarmor, heavy machinegun, light armored reconnaissance, mortar, reconnaissance, scout, scout sniper, and weapons), depending upon service and type of infantry company/battalion to which the platoon is assigned, and these platoons may range from as few as 18 (USMC scout sniper platoon) to 69 (USMC mortar platoon). Non-infantry platoons may range from as small as a nine-man communications platoon (USA headquarters and headquarters company [HHC], airborne, air Assault, and light infantry battalions) to a 102-man maintenance platoon (USA HHC mechanized infantry/combined arms battalion).[1][2] A platoon leader or commander is the officer in command of a platoon. This person is usually a junior officer—a second or first lieutenant or an equivalent rank. The officer is usually assisted by a platoon sergeant. A platoon is typically the smallest military unit led by a commissioned officer.

Rifle platoons normally consist of a small platoon headquarters and three or four sections (Commonwealth) or squads (US). In some armies, platoon is used throughout the branches of the army. In a few armies, such as the French Army, a platoon is specifically a cavalry unit, and the infantry use "section" as the equivalent unit. A unit consisting of several platoons is called a company/battery/troop.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • ✪ Organization of the WWII U.S. Army Infantry Rifle Platoon
  • ✪ Rifle Platoon in the Attack
  • ✪ Platoons - a natural unit size for a modern army
  • ✪ Infantry Operations ("Rifle Platoon in the Attack") 1961 US Army; The Big Picture TV-513
  • ✪ The Rifle Platoon Dismounted Movement Techniques | Vintage US Army Film


To understand the rifle platoon, you must first understand the organization of its basic building block, the rifle squad, something that was covered in my first video. I consider these organization videos cumulative because I don’t wish to continually rehash the same information, so I am making this video with the assumption that you’ve already seen the previous one. But to briefly refresh (for those who are just too lazy or unreasonably pressed for time), the WWII rifle squad consisted of 12 soldiers, led by a squad leader and an assistant squad leader. There were two scouts, a BAR team, and riflemen. They constitute a security element, a base of fire element, and a maneuver element. By 1945 these teams were officially dubbed Able, Baker, and Charley. Early in the war, squad leaders and assistant squad leaders were sergeants and corporals respectively, but 1944, squad leaders were staff sergeants, and assistant squad leaders were Sergeants, but the rest of rest of the squad remained privates or privates first class. (Specific private grades were not glued to any specific roles. It wasn’t as if the lead squad was always a PFC and the second scout was always a buck private. Anyone in the squad apart from the leaders could hold either of the private ranks, but there were only so many promotions available in a company.) Turnover was very high in the rifle squads so survival was a key to promotion. It was common for a private first class who stayed on his feet long enough to become an acting sergeant when an assistant squad leader position needed to be filled. If he survived long enough, they’d eventually get the full promotion, but by then they may have already been an acting squad leader. During WWII, a rifleman with his head on straight could climb the enlisted ladder rapidly. There were also replacement NCOs, reinforcements who left the States with a few chevrons on their sleeves, but units overseas commanders frankly didn’t want them. They felt experience was the best experience, telling Army Ground Forces they would rather promote within their organizations than receive their quota of noncommissioned officers. Replacement NCOs arrived overseas as veterans of simulated battles, where they had lead squads wearing red or blue cloth bands around their helmets while they fired blanks at other squads. The last time they had live rounds fired in their direction was on the infiltration course. The last time they fired live rounds at an enemy, it was a type E silhouette target. These guys then had to lead squads that had already been through very real conflict of the highest intensity. “Your first thought on meeting your dirty, unshaven squad is ‘these men have all already seen months of combat and each one is better qualified to take over than I, an FM 23-5 Commando.’ As a former IRTC cadre man, I had these very thoughts when my squad came out of their holes to meet their ‘new, fresh from the States’ squad leader while the company was catching a short rest after pushing the Germans off Mt. Altuzzo in Italy. The platoon sergeant introduced me to the men. He wisely told me to make the acting squad leader my second-in-command and to accept his advice until I got ‘zeroed in.’” All members in the squad were armed the semiautomatic M1 rifle, with the exception of the automatic rifleman who was issued the squad’s BAR. (And early in the war, the assistant squad leader, who then served as the squad’s sole grenadier, was armed with an M1903 Springfield rifle equipped with an M1 grenade launcher. By 1944, following the wide adoption of the M7 grenade launcher for the M1 rifle, the assistant squad leader was issued an M1, and each rifle squad was allotted three grenade launchers. (You’ll notice that I’ve given launchers to rifleman 10 and 11 for the purpose of grouping them together in this image, but anyone with an M1 was a potential rifle grenadier, so it would vary from squad to squad.) By the end of June 1944, the T/O&E of the rifle company was amended to officially include submachines and extra BARs, both of which found their way into the rifle squads, but were not organic squad weapons. So while a given squad may have used two automatic rifles on a provisional basis, there was only ever one automatic rifleman, per squad, on paper. Anyone interested in more details on the rifle squad, can go check out that video. The rifle platoon consisted of three such rifle squads (called 1st Squad, 2nd Squad, and 3rd Squad) as well as a command and control element, which was initially called the “command group,” but came to be known as “platoon headquarters.” The platoon headquarters element familiar to most GIs was comprised of five soldiers. The platoon was led by a platoon leader. (The position was sometimes referred to as the “platoon commander,” as it still is in the Marine Corps as well as in other militaries around the world, but US Army settled on the title “platoon leader”. Perhaps they saw a political, psychological, or propaganda value in christening lieutenants “leaders” rather than “commanders.” Who knows? The motto of the infantry school at Fort Benning is “Follow me!” And not “I’ll be behind you!” Confoundingly, the Army T/O&Es, throughout World War II, label him the “platoon commander,” but the field manuals tended to heavily favor “platoon leader”. Anyway: “The platoon leader is responsible for the training, discipline, control, and tactical employment of the platoon. It must be trained to accomplish its combat mission decisively and to function as an effective unit in the military team.” The platoon was the smallest unit led by an officer, either a 1st or 2nd lieutenant. (There were three rifle platoons in a rifle company, and one was commanded by a 1st Lieutenant, the other two by 2nd Lieutenants. There were only three 1st lieutenant ratings in the company; One was the Executive Officer and another was the Weapons Platoon leader. Therefore only one rifle platoon leader could hold that rank. So a 1st lieutenant could have led either the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd platoon, depending on who got the promotion.) The platoon leader was armed with an M1 carbine. There it is; the rifle platoon’s single allotted carbine. 41 men…1 carbine. I’ll digress for a moment to apologize to everyone who calls it a car-bine, and bristles at the car-bean pronunciation. I don’t know if it’s an institutional, national, or regional thing, but car-bean seems to me to be the way all the guys who carried one tended to say it. I’ve heard car-bean too many times to say it any other way. I will concede that “car-bine” may be the official way to go, as it’s the pronunciation used in all the training films: “Most of you are familiar with the M1 Carbine.” “The carbine is gas-operated, magazine-fed, and air-cooled.” “Pretty handy that carbine. Even though it weighs only five pounds, it’s a killer – if you know just when to use it.” But I will continue to call it a “car-bean” like G.I. Joe... Until the adoption of the M1 carbine, platoon leaders had been issued pistols. Once these M1911A1s were replaced, there were no longer any pistols allotted to the rifle platoon. Make no mistake; the Carbine was a pistol replacement. It wasn’t as small or light, but it was easier to shoot, provided longer range, and had a fifteen-round magazine. It didn’t pack the punch of an M1 rifle, though I think tales of its lack of punch are often overstated. (It would punch right through a helmet, for example. There are cemeteries full of guys who were caught on the wrong side of many supposedly anemic weapons.) But, it was not envisioned as some sort of assault rifle when it was adopted. Its primary purpose was to give soldiers who had, up to that point, been issued pistols, a weapon with greater defensive firepower at a longer distances. Modern highly mobile maneuver warfare meant soldier in the rear with the gear, could find themselves confronted by enemy forces in a manner dissimilar to previous conflicts. A pistol just didn’t cut it anymore. Most carbines, including all the carbines in an infantry rifle company, were issued to soldiers whose primary mission was not directly engaging the enemy with it; ammunition bearers of crew served weapons, for example. I won’t say carbines never found their way into rifle squads. Fifteen rounds of .30 Caliber Carbine could be very handy in the close quarters of a house-to-house fight, or it may have been just the ticket during a short range jungle ambush, but it was not without its limitations. It couldn’t drill a hole nor reach out and touch someone like a full rifle cartridge. “I have heard unjustified criticism of the carbine – criticism arising mainly from misconception of its mission. It was most useful in the street fighting in Cassino, where snap shooting out of windows at fast-moving targets at close range was common. But the carbine is definitely meant to be a short-range weapon and is; and too many men waste ammunition and expose their position by firing a carbine at ranges at which it is ineffective. The M1, on the other hand, is popular with everyone.” “Men should learn in training that trees are not cover. The M2 bullet will penetrate two, and sometimes more, coconut trees standing in a grove. A Japanese soldier who takes cover behind one is fair game for a rifleman, though not for the man with a carbine.” “When the carbine is used properly in lieu of the pistol it becomes a dangerous and accurate weapon, but when it is used in place of the M1 rifle, a grave mistake has been made. Always remember that any target that can be hit by a carbine can also be hit by an M1 rifle, but the reverse is not true.” So while you’re old uncle frank may have carried a carbine as an assistant squad leader, the lieutenant was the only man in a rifle platoon officially meant to carry one. His main concern in combat was maneuvering his squads rather than firing on the enemy himself. Most platoon leaders would were not graduates of West Point. They were more often than not graduates of OCS - Officer Candidate School. These were soldiers selected for their command potential and put through an intensive leadership course. You may have heard them referred to, usually derisively, as “90 day wonders.” (Which is a bit of a misnomer as the typical WWII OCS training cycle was actually 17 weeks.) The ROTC had been indispensable early in the war. ROTC is the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, which is a program run out of American colleges and universities. There was a massive call-up of reserve officers after Pearl Harbor, and the vast majority of them, the vast majority of junior officers in total during this stage of rapid expansion, had been commissioned through the ROTC. But the ROTC program was eventually curtailed, as the Army couldn’t wait four years to train new officers. Those men, who were initially draft deferred, were needed in the military sooner rather than later. Consequently, inductees who had received basic ROTC training as students had the opportunity to complete their advanced training at an Officer Candidate School once in the Army. (There was a time in 1943 when OCS spots were almost entirely filled with candidates who’d arrived with a partial ROTC background.) By 1944, once combat operations were in full swing in Western Europe, there was a startling need for replacement officers, and most of these guys were traditional OCS graduates selected from the enlisted ranks. Though this video is not about paratrooper platoons, for fans of Band of Brothers I will mention that Dick Winters was a product of OCS. In fact, it’s where he met Lou Nixon. Buck Compton had been in the ROTC while he attended UCLA, but he left to join the Army and received his commission from OSC at Fort Benning. Back then, each branch of the Army ran its own Officer Candidate School: Field Artillery OCS was at Fort Sill, Armor OCS was at Fort Knox, etcetera, Fort Benning was the home of the Infantry OCS. Russ Cloer joined the 3rd Division’s 7th Infantry regiment as a replacement 2nd Lt. After four years of ROTC he’d reported to OCS in June of 1943. His class was one of the last to be trained under the shorter 13-week training cycle. He wrote: “I remember OCS as being one of the most intense episodes of my life, aside from infantry combat, which of course was what it prepared us for. Our determination to successfully complete the program was the primary goal of our young lives. Our TO (Tactical Officer) jotted down notes about our performance in his little black book, but we were never told how we were doing. Those of us that he decided couldn't hack it were ordered to report to the orderly room, without explanation, at the end of the next daily morning formation. When we returned to the barracks at the end of the day, the space on the floor where their cot and footlocker had been was bare. It was quite motivational!” He went on the write: “I think the Army did a good job with Infantry OCS. The program was carefully planned, well implemented by a trained school cadre and managed by a capable staff of officers. It instilled in the officer candidates an intense need to destroy the enemy and to care for their men. The result was not perfection, but it provided the best possible leadership training in the short time available, while weeding out the unfit and developing good leadership qualities in those who showed promise.” These newly minted platoon leaders, needed a steady hand to guide them while they got “zeroed-in,” which brings us to the next man in line: the platoon sergeant. “The platoon sergeant is second-in-command. He assists the platoon leader in controlling the direction and rate of movement in the advance. During all operations he takes post as directed by the platoon leader so as best to assist in the control of the platoon. He replaces the platoon leader when the latter is not with the platoon or becomes a casualty.” Platoon sergeants, at the start of the war, were staff sergeants, but when squad leaders jumped from sergeant to staff sergeant, platoon sergeants were bumped up to technical sergeants. (For those viewers scratching their heads because they are better-versed with the modern US Army, the rank of technical sergeant was renamed Sergeant First Class in 1948.) The dynamic between the platoon leader and platoon sergeant is well explained by William Meller in his memoir Bloody Roads to Germany: “The platoon leader was supposed to give the orders and the sergeant saw that they were carried out. The platoon leader and the platoon sergeant were closely allied. The platoon sergeant was really the key, as he usually had all the combat experience and general know-how. He did his best to keep the officer out of trouble, which also kept us out of trouble. We learned to depend upon the platoon sergeant. Infantry platoon sergeants were technical sergeants, highly regarded and worth their weight in gold. He was our backbone; don’t leave home without one. The reason for this was simple: a platoon sergeant came up through the ranks. By the time he had earned five stripes, he had had combat experience and been around for some time. He had already been a squad leader and understood the duties. He had been a rifleman and knew the hazards. Just the fact that he was still alive spoke for itself.” They couldn’t all be “Commando” Kelly, but one of them was. (You know how in World War II movies soldiers will grab mortar rounds, pull the pins, strike them against something and then heave them at the enemy? This guy famously did that, among other things.) Talk about climbing the enlisted ladder rapidly; he was Private Kelly when he earned his Medal of Honor in September of ‘43. When he was decorated in March of ’44, he was a 23-year-old technical sergeant. Six months from PFC to tech sergeant. Those familiar with modern platoon organization may be surprised to learn there was once a second NCO in platoon headquarters: the platoon guide. “The platoon guide prevents straggling and enforces orders concerning cover, concealment, and discipline. His position is usually in rear of the platoon, where he observes the situation on the flanks and rear. He checks ammunition expenditure and takes advantage of every opportunity to have ammunition replenished.” He was basically an assistant platoon sergeant, and was sometimes informally referred to as such. So if you ever come across an account in which an “assistant platoon sergeant” is mentioned, what they are actually talking about the Platoon Guide. He held the same rank as a squad leader, so by 1944 the platoon guide was a staff sergeant. Promotion to platoon guide was a lateral promotion, seen as a step up from squad leader if only in terms of responsibility rather than actual rank. So there was no bump in pay, but the platoon guide became the acting platoon sergeant when circumstances caused a vacancy in that positon. When the idea of doing away with the position (or making the guide a private), was being debated in the pages of the Infantry Journal, a sergeant in the first division wrote in to object: “Suppose your platoon sergeant gets hit – who would take over the platoon and see that the men keep in order? They don’t take just any man in the platoon and make him platoon guide – he must know what he is doing, have brains, and how to handle men. There are lots of little things that the platoon guide has to do which don’t seem very important to a person in a noncombat outfit.” He was armed with an M1 rifle and an M7 grenade launcher. I mentioned earlier the startling need for replacement officers, and just replacements in general. In the ETO, the European Theater of Operations (which did not include Italy was part of the MTO, or Mediterranean Theater of Operations), the US Army (not including Army Air Forces) sustained, on average, nearly 48,000 battle casualties per month, including over 10,000 battle deaths a month, the vast majority of these soldiers were in the infantry companies. George Wilson, who on 12 July 1944 assumed command of the 2nd platoon in E company of 22nd infantry regiment, wrote about meeting his headquarters NCOs a month after D-Day: “My first concern was my noncoms. Sergeant ‘Chick’ Reid was the platoon sergeant. The assistant platoon sergeant was Otha Anders. These men had landed on D day and had about one month's combat experience. I was grateful they were both willing and able to give me a lot of useful pointers on what it was like at the front. At least four other officers had already been casualties in my platoon, and only five men of the original forty who landed on D day were still assigned. I was lucky to have a few days with my new platoon before going into battle. Later, I saw many green lieutenants sent up to take over platoons in the thick of battle. They had no chance to meet any of their men or to find out who the noncoms were. I can't imagine a tougher, more demanding job being thrust upon any young man.” The final two members of platoon headquarters were messengers, both armed with M1s, both privates, or privates first class. One messenger usually carried the 536 for the platoon leader, and in case the radio didn’t work, they ran messages back and forth on foot. “When the company begins its development one messenger reports to the company commander and one remains with the platoon leader.” Messengers were often called runners, as they had been in pervious eras. “At first, I was what they call a platoon runner. What I did there, we had a little walkie talkie about the size of a carton of cigarettes and that kept us in communications with company headquarters and possibly with the other platoons, because there is four platoons and then also I was a runner that took messages if you didn’t send a radio. If they wanted to send some word to company headquarters for some reason and also in the squads and in the platoon I would go tell them what the [platoon leader] told me to, what the latest was and so forth.” This brings us to one of the most important tools of the platoon: the SCR 536. US platoons were unique among the world’s armies of the time as they were all issued with a radio as standard equipment. (Well technically, if you check the T/E, these radios were part of a company headquarters organizational equipment, but they were always pushed down to platoon level, that’s what they were for.) So US infantry was capable of routine intra-company wireless communication. The comparatively small 536, smaller than an SCR 300, was not something that could be used to call Gen. Eisenhower at SHAEF, it had limited range, no more than a mile over land, line of sight. Manufactured by Motorola, it was a simple push-to-talk radio that a platoon leader used to keep in contact with his company commander, his fellow rifle platoon leaders, and the weapons platoon. Ray Hood recalled: “The SCR 536, which was about the size of two cartons of cigarettes placed side by side. This radio was supposed to be dependable at distances up to 1 mile. It wasn’t, but it served very well, since we normally used it to communicate at distances of 300 yards or less.” This makes sense. FM 7-10, the rifle company field manual, advises that during an attack: “An interior company will ordinarily be assigned a zone of action from 200 to 500 yards in width.” So, well within the performance parameters of this radio. The ability of the rifle platoon leader to communicate directly with the weapons platoon allowed for nearly instantaneous response from the company’s mortars, with the platoon leader being able to spot rounds himself. Relayed through company headquarters, or an artillery forward observer, a platoon leader with his lowly hand-held 536 could initiate a chain reaction that eventually brought to bear successive echelons worth of artillery support. In fact, it’s how Audie Murphy, won his second silver star on the 4th of October 1944: “First Lieutenant Murphy, carrying an SCR 536 radio, crawled fifty yards under severe enemy machine gun and rifle fire, to a point 200 yards from strongly entrenched enemy who had prevented further advance. Despite machine gun and rifle bullets that hit as close as a foot to him, First Lieutenant Murphy directed artillery fire upon enemy positions for an hour, killing fifteen Germans and inflicting approximately thirty-five additional casualties.” Certain environments such the jungle, city, or mountains, could severely limit its range. Captain William H. Harris, from the 168th Infantry Regiment, probably provided the fairest assessment: “The 536 radio works well in some spots; in others it works very poorly." And, if they were being temperamental, you could always try a little percussive maintenance, which worked at least one time: “Sergeant Peck pounded our 536 radio on the ground and it started working. We crawled about three hundred yards to the edge of the hill. Our radio worked perfectly, and after a few rounds we had all four mortars zeroed on the different patches of woods.” So while reception could be spotty, the 536 was 100% better than the enemy’s platoon radios, because those didn’t exist…Or were considered a real luxury. If a US platoon’s radio died completely then they would then be no worse off than a platoon from any other nation. And when the radio did work well, they had a communications advantage. The US considered wireless coms at this level a vital asset to maintain. So many of these sets had been lost or damaged crossing the channel, that one month after D-Day the reserve stock in theater had completely dwindled, and an immediate request for nearly 6,000 (5,914) radios was cabled to Washington. They were then emergency airlifted from the United States directly to Normandy. The technical manual for SCR-536 dubbed it the “handie-talkie,” rather than “walkie-talkie” which was the moniker given to backpack models which allowed soldiers to both walk and talk. Somewhere along the way the two nicknames blurred and hand-held radios became known as “walkie-talkies.” Honestly, outside of manuals, official histories, and corporate advertising, it doesn’t seem to me as if anyone ever really used the term “handie-talkie” all that much. Another item that there was only one of in the platoon was a sniper rifle. The sniper rifle used by the US Army in WWII was the M1903A4, a variant of the normal ’03 Springfield rifle (the ‘03A3 specifically). The Army never adopted the M1903A1 used by the Marines. That’s the Springfield with the obscenely long 8-power telescope that looks like it could be used to shoot an astronaut out of orbit. The Army’s A4 mounted a much more modest scope with 2.75 times magnification, a military model of the commercial Weaver 330 series. Wartime expediency necessitated the off the shelf nature of the components. The standard scope was the Weaver 330c which was adopted as the M73B1. Consequently, the most common complaint about this sniper rifle was the scope’s apparent lack of ruggedness – it wasn’t sufficiently G.I.-proof. “Opinion seems to weigh heavily against the sniper equipment we are using here. The sniper gun is the ‘03A4, with the 330 Weaver scope. Most of the snipers respect the delicacy with which a scope should be handled and get along all right with it. Others, however, complain that the scope fogs up under weather encountered here, and that ordinary handling under battle conditions results in scope damage. Some officers consider the scope mount satisfactory, but they criticize the scope itself. The commonest physical damage to scopes is breakage of cross hairs. Post reticules have stood up better under battle conditions.” A letter to the editors of the same publication printed five months later echoed that appraisal. “The American soldier must believe in his equipment to use it properly. But too often, I’ve found, he doesn’t believe in the Model 330 Weaver Telescopic Sight. Since we first got the scope in this division – that was way back in training – it has had the highest mortality rate of any of our fire control equipment. And to add to our troubles, the instrument mechanics of the division light maintenance company aren’t equipped to repair broken cross-hairs and chipped lenses.” He goes on to recommend every sniper take the cautions and maintenance hints in TM 9-270 to heart, and offers a brief refresher: “(1) Don’t leave the scope on the rifle during landing operations. Wrap it in a pliofilm tobacco pouch or a rubber substitute, and carry it inside your jacket. You won’t need it in the initial phase anyway.” (2) Take just as good care of your scope as you do your girl-friend’s picture. She’ll understand. (3) Don’t try to be an ordinance mechanic. If your scope fails you, turn it in. Don’t play with it.” The ‘03A4 had no iron sights, but in case your aim was really off, it could still mount a bayonet. For close range it wasn’t unheard of for a sniper to lug around an extra weapon. A sniper in the 99th Division recalling the opening phase of the Battle of the Bulge wrote: “With the enemy coming, I had to move fast. I grabbed two rifles: my sniper rifle (a 1903 Springfield with telescopic sights) and my M-1. I also grabbed some ammunition, C-rations, backpack, and shovel. My duties as a sniper had me often going out alone, thinking for myself in order to fulfill my mission and at the same time stay alive. Once again, my training kicked in.” You’ll sometimes hear that the US Army had no trained snipers during WWII, which isn’t quite true. Sniper training in WWII was a decentralized affair, so depending on how much stock a particular unit put into sniping a sniper’s level of training could vary widely. It is true that the US Army Sniper School was not permanently established until the 1980s, but before then it was up to individual units to select the best shots in the platoons to receive some specialized sniper training. “When selecting men to be trained as snipers, especial care must be taken to obtain individuals capable of acting on their own. This means steady nerves, physical strength and agility, patience and judgment. Above all they must possess good eyesight and be natural marksmen.” Max Gendelman, that sniper who carried the two rifles, joined the 99th as a replacement after being selected for sniper training in the UK. “One morning during our daily training, I was approached by an officer and taken aside. I wondered what I had done. He introduced himself, ordered me at ease, and said my name had been given to him as being a good candidate for further training as a sniper. The training course was six weeks long and given there in England.” Keep in mind, after a few months overseas the sniper rifle may have found its way into quite a few hands, and could end up in the hands of an individual with no sniper training. But there were schools set up to train new snipers in theater. An August 1944 article from The Infantry Journal describes one such school for scouting, patrolling, and sniping: “The instructors were sincere, and the students earnest. These men had all learned that war is a pretty grim business. On exercises, the enemy was represented by school troops completely outfitted in captured German uniforms and equipment. The students had already learned to think of the foe as a German, and this realism heightened the realism of the exercise. Marksmanship was the objective of the sniper’s course. Each student shot his own ’03 rifle. In addition to mastering the technique of his weapon, he learned all the other things a sniper should know. The rifle range was laid out so that both down hill and up hill targets could be shot from the same firing point.” The aforementioned “all the other things a sniper should know” were laid out in the field manual covering the subject, FM 21-75. The relevant section is only 13 pages but it details the conduct of some exercises in camouflage, movement, spotting targets, etc. For example, the WWII iteration of the familiar stalking exercise is described as follows: “In a suitable area, the instructor selects a starting point and places a target visible at 700 yards. The men being trained wear sniper suits or suitable camouflage. They are required to carry their rifles and approach the target using covered and concealed routes. They must move to the nearest cover position from which the target can be engaged (on varied terrain this will normally be at ranges of 200 yards or less). Two observers, one with binoculars, take up positions at the target. Each time the stalker is seen a red flag is waved, the stalker stops, and an assistant drives a stake in the stalker's position. This procedure continues until the stalker reaches a suitable firing position. He then signals the instructors who clear the target area and the stalker fires on the target. The target is marked. The instructor then proceeds with the man to each stake and points out how he exposed himself. This exercise is repeated until the stalker can approach the target without being picked up." This manual identifies two types of snipers: mobile snipers and stationary observer snipers. “Mobile snipers. The mobile sniper acts alone, moves about frequently, and covers a large but not necessarily fixed area. He may be used to infiltrate enemy lines and seek out and destroy appropriate targets along enemy routes of supply and communication. It is essential that the mobile sniper hit his target with the first round fired. …Therefore, although the mobile sniper must be an expert shot at all ranges, he must be trained to stalk his target until he is close enough to insure that it will be eliminated with his first shot.” “Stationary observer-snipers. Teams of two snipers may work together, operating sniping posts assigned definite sectors of fire. …One man acts as observer, designating the targets discovered to the firer and observing the results of the fire. Using field glasses, the observer maintains a constant watch. Because this duty is tiring, it is necessary that the observer and the sniper exchange duties every 15 to 20 minutes.” While the M1C, the sniper variant of the Garand, was adopted by the US Army during WWII, delays meant that they never saw combat. Maybe someone got one on VJ Day… But production had only begun in November of 1944, and by the end of the year a grand total of 11 had been made. To put that in perspective, 11, 320 M1903A4s had been produced that same year, and that program had ended on June 30th, so that was only half a years’ production. So while the M1C is in the late June 1945 T/O&E, remember that T/O&Es could be aspirational at times. Not imaginary mind you. There were some forces with chronic widespread supply shortfalls whose paper organization often bore little semblance to their actual organization. There were always local shortages of certain item at certain times, but generally speaking, US units could rely on their complete allotment of equipment. But in the case of newly adopted items, these could take some time to filter down to the tip of the spear. This video depicts the “by the book” rifle platoon, but as I’ve said before, strict adherence to the tables was not always found in the field. Platoon leader Lee McMillan Otts, of G Company, 328th infantry regiment, shows this when describing the assistant squad leader in his 1st squad: “Warren had been a BAR man, and although as a sergeant he wasn’t supposed to carry one he still wouldn’t give it up. That was all right with me because I believed in every man choosing his own weapon as far as it was practicable. Later he fastened the pistol grip of a German burp gun to the forestock of his BAR so he could shoot it like a Tommy gun.” And it didn’t stop with Sgt. Warren’s BAR: “The table of equipment (TE) called for the platoon leader to be armed with a carbine, but I also carried my personal pistol. Since we were seldom up to authorized strength in men, we usually carried more equipment than the TE called for. My platoon sometimes had two bazookas rather than one and as many as six BARs instead of the allotted three.” While one automatic rifle was enough for many squads, some platoons didn’t stop at two per squad. A platoon sergeant from yet another G-Company, this time in the 119th Infantry Regiment, recalled: “Each platoon of Company G had a slightly different character regarding weaponry preference. Our platoon had no particular love for the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR); it was a 21 pound load to carry and a weapon that required constant maintenance to keep it operational. Each of our three squads was issued a BAR. However, the 3d Platoon thought the BAR was a great weapon and almost every third man in the platoon carried one. Sergeant Frank Wease, the Third Platoon Sergeant, carried one and encouraged the weapons use. …There were about 14 men with BARs in Wease’s platoon and the remainder with M-1 rifles.” Some men proved particularly adept at getting their hands on wish list items. One such man was Fred Gilluly, who was the platoon guide in the Lt’s Otts’ 2nd Platoon. “We started gathering things in case we were ordered to make a push into the next block and I just turned Gilluly loose to get what he could. We ended up with three bazookas, two flame-throwers, nineteen bangalor torpedoes, three one-pound and two forty-pound cone-shaped charges called “bee-hives,” booby-traps, TNT, composition C, cases of grenades, and thousands of rounds of machine gun, rifle, and carbine ammunition. There was only one thing Gilluly didn’t have that he wanted, a tank.” While each company eventually had 15 official automatic rifles, doctrine prevented the addition a belt-fed light machine gun to the rifle squads, as had been done by the Germans. The US Army of that era was obsessed with speed and mobility, and as such they had no desire to place crew served weapons in the rifle platoon. A Military Review article detailing infantry organization, printed at the end of 1945, says of the rifle squad: “This is a highly mobile unit in that it is not armed with anything heavier than the Browning automatic rifle (BAR). Its armament consists of eleven M1 rifles and one BAR. The squad is built on mobility and morale.” The same article goes on the note: “The rifle platoon is just three rifle squads with a control headquarters. Because the platoon has no weapons other than those in the squads, its mobility is the same as a squad – a compact, maneuverable unit equipped to carry out the mission of close combat.” That being said, the platoon was often augmented by attached weapons and personnel. The wartime army was built with maximum modularity in mind (to preserve man-power yet provide flexibility). So, bazookas, machine guns, a light mortar, forward observers for artillery or heavy mortars, engineers, could all be attached to a rifle platoon, depending on its mission. Looking at a US platoon on paper it may seem as though the rifle squads had no machine gun support, and had to rely solely on automatic rifles. But rifle platoons were usually supported by a machine gun section from either the company’s weapons platoon or the battalion’s heavy weapons company (who “not infrequently” used light machine guns on the attack instead of their heavy water-cooled Browning). I won’t get into it here, but long story short, there were enough machine guns in a WWII battalion to have a couple supporting every platoon on the line. (Assuming a typical two-up one-back deployment.) The bazooka situation changed a few times during the war. At one time there were three in each rifle company, all located in the weapons platoon, then those were deleted and five rocket launchers were added to the company headquarters as unassigned weapons that could be attached to the platoons as needed, and that’s pretty much where things stood when the war ended. At the 1946 infantry conference, held at Fort Benning to help determine the post-war direction of the US Army, a member of the Committee of Organization noted: “We habitually in this last war attached light machine guns and bazookas (2.36 rocket launchers) to the rifle platoon. As a matter of fact, in the teaching here at The Infantry School both in the offense and defense, the rocket launchers are habitually attached to a rifle platoon. Frequently the light machine guns are attached to the rifle platoon.” So while there was not a belt-fed machine gun in every squad like its German counterpart, and there was not yet a dedicated weapons squad within each platoon like its modern counterpart, the WWII US rifle platoon could still rely on routine anti-tank and machine gun support, but it was non-organic. MGs and bazookas were not a part of the platoon itself, and will be discussed in detail in separate videos. One frequent attachment I will illustrate in this video is the aid man. Technically, combat medics were part of the company aid group of the battalion medical section, itself a part of the regimental medical detachment. Three enlisted medics were then attached to each rifle company. “The three Medical Department enlisted men serving with the rifle company are known as company aid men. They are attached to the company when it is on the march, in bivouc, and in combat. These "company aid men" were typically parceled out to the platoons. While they could be thought of as the "platoon medic," (and are often labeled as such in memoirs or interviews) they were not an organic part of the rifle platoon. Though, they were more-or-less permanently attached, at least to the company. Aid men were not a part of the rifle company’s T/O, but they lived with that company in the field. “Company aid men are attached to companies of the battalion on the basis of one per platoon. They are all surgical technicians.” I’ve made our medic here a Tec 5 to provide us with an opportunity to discuss technician ranks. Everyone watching this has probably seen enough WWII related media to have spotted rank insignia with a letter “T” under the chevrons. This denotes a technician. For those familiar with modern rank, think of technicians as the specialists of their day. In fact, they were known as “specialists” until they were renamed technicians early in the war, but they served the same purpose: An increase in pay without a corresponding increase in command authority. For example, a 5th grade technician did not hold the same rank as a corporal, but he was in the same pay grade. The number in the technician ranks corresponded with their pay-grade. With their two chevrons, a T/5 may have been addressed as “corporal” (well, the medic would have been university referred to as “Doc”) but while a T/5 may have been addressed as corporal, but he was not a corporal, he was a Tec 5 and outranked by a corporal. These technician ranks rewarded soldiers who had specialized or technical skills with additional pay, but not a “hard stripe” promotion. Medics were armed with a pair of sharp scissors and some pointy safety pins, or equally pointy syrettes of morphine-tartrate, but no rifle, no carbine, no pistol. (For the most part.) On the western front, where all combatants were signatories of the Geneva Conventions, medics were usually unarmed. In fact, a medic found carrying a sidearm there could find himself subject to a battlefield execution at the hands of his irate captors. (Carrying a weapon while wearing a red cross was regarded as underhanded.) The Pacific Theater was often the exception, where the Red Cross insignia provided no protection and some units consequently issued their medics weapons. But generally, medics were unarmed, and officially classified as non-combatants. That doesn’t mean they never participated in “combat-adjacent” activities: “Buckner, our platoon medic, had been put to work replacing rifle parts and reloading BAR and tommy-gun magazines – he was through with treating the wounded.” Even conscientious objector Desmond Doss helped pass a case of grenades up to infantrymen in his platoon once on Okinawa. When the US Army introduced the Combat Infantryman Badge toward the end of 1943, medics were ineligible for the award because they were technically non-combatants. At first this just stung, but it became a real problem in the summer of 1944 when the CIB entitled the recipient to an extra 10 bucks a month. This was obviously infuriating to company aid men who were left out. “The fact that we medics are ‘noncombatant’ seems to be recognized by everyone but the enemy. We dare not display our Geneva Convention flag because it brings mortar and artillery fire down on us. Our aid men can’t wear their arm brassards, because the brassards make a good target.” So the men with the bandages at the front, who took serious risks and faced extreme dangers, saw their pay stay the same, while clerks at Battalion Headquarters were collecting extra pay because they were infantrymen, whereas medics were not. After outcry from both medics and the line units they patched up, this injustice was corrected with the introduction of the Combat Medical Badge at the start of 1945. While their role was “company aid man,” as mentioned their MOS was officially “Surgical Technician,” SSN 861. Some surgical technicians spent the war in operating rooms with doctors in hospitals, others ended up in the mud with the infantry in combat. Some people have all the luck. The aid man’s task was, unsurprisingly, administering first aid: “Their duties are – (a) Give emergency medical treatment on or off the battlefield. (b) Place casualties in marked protected places to await the arrival of litter bearers. (c) Direct walking wounded to aid stations. (d) Keep the battalion surgeon informed of the medical situation by means of messages carried back by litter squads or walking wounded. (e) Fill out and attach emergency medical tags for the dead when time and the tactical situation permit.” The medic was just the first link in a long evacuation and treatment chain that would steward a patient through successive echelons of care, each further and further from the sound of the guns. While he may have had to extricate an immobilized casualty from immediate danger, and he would prepare the wounded for evacuation, the evacuation itself was conducted by other members of the medical detachment. Clearing the field of casualties was the task of dedicated litter bearer squads, but now we are broadening our scope well beyond the rifle platoon, so at this point I think we’ve reached the end.



According to Merriam-Webster, "The term was first used in the 17th century to refer to a small body of musketeers who fired together in a volley alternately with another platoon."[3] The word came from the 17th-century French peloton, from pelote meaning a small ball. The suffix "-on" can be an augmentative suffix in French, but on the other hand is generally a diminutive suffix in relationship to animals, so the original intention in forming peloton from pelote is not clear. Nonetheless it is documented[3] that it took the meaning of a group of soldiers firing a volley together, while a different platoon reloaded. This implies an augmentative intention in the etymology. Since soldiers were often organized in two or three lines, which were supposed to fire volleys together, this would have normally meant platoons organised with the intention of a half or a third of the company firing at once.

The modern French word peloton, when not meaning platoon, can refer to the main body of riders in a bicycle race (as opposed to any riders ahead or behind the main body).

Pelote itself originally comes from the low Latin "pilotta" from Latin "pila", meaning "ball", and the French suffix "-on" derives from the Latin suffix "-onus".

Use as a firing unit

The platoon was originally a firing unit rather than an organization. The system was said to have been invented by Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden in 1618.[4] In the French Army in the 1670s, a battalion was divided into 18 platoons who were grouped into three "firings"; each platoon in the firing either actually firing or reloading.[5] The system was also used in the British, Austrian, Russian and Dutch armies.[6]

Modern usage

On 1 October 1913, under a scheme by General Sir Ivor Maxse, the regular battalions of the British Army were reorganised from the previous eight companies to a four company structure, with each company having four platoons as separate units each commanded by a lieutenant with a platoon sergeant as his deputy. Each platoon was divided into four sections, each commanded by a corporal.[7] Due to a shortage of officers, a non commissioned officer rank of Platoon Sergeant Major was introduced from 1938 to 1940 for experienced non-commissioned officers who were given command of platoons.

Australian organization

In the Australian Army, an infantry platoon has thirty-six soldiers organized into three eight-man sections and a twelve-man maneuver support section. A lieutenant as platoon commander and a sergeant as platoon sergeant, accompanied by a platoon signaller and sometimes a platoon medic (full strength of forty men). A section comprises eight soldiers led by a corporal with a lance corporal as second in command. Each section has two fireteams of four men, one led by the corporal and the other by the lance corporal. Each fireteam (also called a "brick" by Australian soldiers) has one soldier with a 7.62mm Maximi GSMG and the other three armed with F88 Steyr assault rifles. One rifle per fireteam has an attached 40mm grenade launcher; one of the grenadiers is the lance corporal. Fireteam bravo has a HK417 7.62mm for the designated marksman role. More recently, the designated marksman of each Australian fireteam has been issued the HK417 in Afghanistan and possibly afterwards. The platoon may also have three MAG 58 general-purpose machine guns, one M2 Browning heavy machine gun or a Mk 19 grenade launcher at its disposal.

British organization

In the British Army, a rifle platoon from an infantry company consists of three sections of eight men, plus a signaller (radio operator), a platoon sergeant (a sergeant), the platoon commander (either a second lieutenant or lieutenant) and a mortar man operating a light mortar (full strength of 27 men and one officer). This may not be the case for all British Infantry units, since the 51mm mortars are not part of the TOE post-Afghanistan.[8] Under Army 2020, a platoon in the Heavy Protected Mobility Regiments will consist of around 30 soldiers in four Mastiff/FRES UV vehicles.[9] As of March 2016, the British Army is reviewing whether to retain the FN Herstal Para Minimi 5.56×45mm light machine gun and the M6-640 Commando 60 mm mortar at platoon level in dismounted units.[10]

Each section is commanded by a corporal (lance sergeant in the Foot Guards), with a lance corporal as second-in-command and six riflemen divided into two four-man fireteams. Support weapons platoons (such as mortar or anti-tank platoons) are generally larger and are commanded by a captain with a colour Sergeant or WO2 as 2ic. Some sections are seven-man teams – particularly in the case of the Warrior within armored regiments, as it only seats seven soldiers.[citation needed]

An armoured "platoon" is known as a "troop".[citation needed]

Bangladeshi organization

In the Bangladesh Army, infantry regiments have platoons commanded by a major or a captain, assisted by two to four lieutenants (or combination of lieutenants and Junior Commissioned Officers) and at least two sergeants.[citation needed] The platoon strength is typically 30 to 50 soldiers.

These platoons are equipped with at least one heavy machine gun, rocket launcher or anti-tank gun, with the crews of these weapons commanded by a corporal. In addition, there are at least two light machine guns, each commanded by a lance corporal. Each soldier is armed with an automatic or semi-automatic rifle and all commissioned officers carry a side arm.

Canadian organization

In the Canadian Army, the infantry Platoon Commander is a second lieutenant, lieutenant or a junior captain assisted by a platoon warrant (who holds the rank of warrant officer, but can be a Sergeant). It is usually divided into three eight to ten person sections and a heavy weapons detachment which will deploy a GPMG, and a Carl Gustav, depending on mission requirements. Sections are commanded by a Sergeant or Master Corporal with a Master-Corporal or Corporal in the second in command, or 2IC, position; two members of a section will carry C9 LMG's and the remainder will carry C7 or C8 assault rifles fitted with either optics or a grenade launcher. A section is broken into two assault groups, similar to the British and Australian organization.

Three infantry platoons will make up a typical infantry company, sometimes with a heavy weapons or support platoon in addition. Specialist platoons, like reconnaissance, or "recce" platoons, that may be attached to a battalion may be led by a captain and assisted by a warrant officer. Some very large specialist platoons will actually have a lieutenant as the second-in-command. In many corps, platoon-sized units are called troops instead.

Prior to 1940, a platoon might be commanded by either a warrant officer WO III or a lieutenant. An officer was referred to as "platoon commander", while a WO III in the same position was called a "Platoon Sergeant Major" or PSM.[11]

Colombian organization

Within the Colombian Army, a training platoon (in Spanish pelotón) is often commanded by a higher-ranking soldier known as a dragoneante, who is selected for his excellence in discipline and soldiering skills. However, a dragoneante is still a soldier and can be removed from his position if his commander sees fit. For combatant platoons (platoons engaged in combat with guerrilla rebels), a corporal or sergeant would be the most likely commander.

French organization

Under the 1791 regulations a peloton in the French Army was used in the equivalent manner to a company, with the first section led by the sous-lieutenant and the second section led by the lieutenant, a captain commanding the entire group.[12]

In the French military : - A peloton is a mainly a term designating an infantry unit. - An escadron is a unit of battle tank in cavalry or armor but in some Mechanized Infantry regiment (groupe de chasseurs mécanisés), the tank platoon is also called peloton de char de combat ... The peloton or escadron correspond to the platoon, equivalent in size to an infantry section, and commanded by a lieutenant or sergeant. It may also mean a body of officers in training to become noncommissioned officers, sous-officiers or officers (peloton de caporal, peloton des sous-officiers). Finally, "peloton d'exécution" is the French term for a firing squad.

Georgian organization

The Georgian Armed Forces equivalent of the platoon is the so-called Ozeuli. Translated, it means "Group of 20", but has no more connection whatsoever with the number. It has been transferred into modern usage from medieval army reforms of the Georgian king David the Builder. Originally, it was meant to be a small detachment of exactly 20 men to be led by a leader of corresponding rank. Almost all smaller formations are based on the designations of those reforms, which originally suggested tactical flexibility by keeping the size of small units in round numbers (10, 20, 100). Battalions and brigades were not affected by that system. It is unknown whether that usage was abandoned in the 1820s or earlier, but in present days a Georgian platoon still called "Ozeuili" has a similar size to that of other armies. Normally for infantry it has 32 men, but can vary depending on the type of unit.

German organization

Platoon ("Zug" in German) of the German Bundeswehr
Platoon ("Zug" in German) of the German Bundeswehr

The German Army equivalent of the platoon is the Zug (same word as for train, draught, move or streak), consisting of a Zugtrupp ("platoon troop" or platoon headquarters squad), of four to six men, and three squads (Gruppen) of eight to eleven men each. An Oberfeldwebel ("Sergeant first class") is in charge of the Zugtrupp. The Zugtrupp provides support for the platoon leader and acts as a reserve force (such as two additional snipers or an anti-tank weapon crew).

Three Züge make up a Kompanie ("company"). The first platoon, until 2013, used to be commanded by an Oberleutnant ("first lieutenant") or a Leutnant ("second lieutenant"), nowadays it is usually a Hauptmann ("captain"), who is also the Kompanie's second-in-command. The second Zug is nowadays led by an Oberleutnant or a Leutnant, the third Zug is led by experienced NCOs, usually a Hauptfeldwebel ("master sergeant"). In the first platoon, the platoon leader's assistant is a Hauptfeldwebel; in the second and third platoons, the assistant is an Oberfeldwebel. Each squad is led by an Oberfeldwebel, and its size corresponds to the typical passenger capacity of its squad vehicle (either wheeled or armoured). Another of these vehicles is used for the Zugtrupp. Sergeants of inferior rank act as assistant squad leaders in the other squads.

A Fallschirmjägerzug ("airborne infantry platoon") has special operations responsibilities, and has command positions one rank higher than corresponding positions in a standard infantry platoon. A captain (Hauptmann) is the platoon leader, assisted by a first lieutenant and each squad has a second lieutenant or a master sergeant in charge, often supported by a long-service sergeant or skilled senior corporal.

Hungarian organization

In the Hungarian Armed Forces, a Rifle Platoon is commanded by either a 2nd Lieutenant or a 1st Lieutenant, with a Platoon Sergeant (with the rank of Sergeant Major), a Platoon Signaller, an APC driver and an APC gunner comprising the Platoon Headquarters. There is also in the HQ's TO&E a designated marksman rifle - either an SVD or a Szép sniper rifle.

The Platoon is sub-divided into three squads, each with eight soldiers. Each squad is commanded by a Sergeant. His/her deputy has an RPG, there are also two soldiers with PKM machine guns, two with AK-63 assault rifles - one is an RPG grenadier, the other is the Medic - the APC driver and the APC gunner.

Each squad and the platoon headquarters is equipped with an BTR-80 Armoured personnel carrier. In total, the platoon comprises 29 soldiers, of whom eight are vehicle crew.

Israel organization

The Israel Defense Forces uses platoons (Hebrew: "mahlakot", literally "divisions") as the basic unit composing the company and usually consists of 30 to 65 soldiers (or 3-4 tanks in the Armored Corps). Those soldiers are divided into 2-4 "classes" ("Kitot") or teams ("Tzvatim"), each composing of 6-21 soldiers. The platoon is the smallest military unit commanded by a commissioned officer - and all officers graduating from the IDF's Officer's Academy receive a "platoon commander" pin, even if they are not intended to command a platoon. The platoon commander is usually the equivalent of First or Second lieutenant, and is assisted and advised by a platoon sergeant, acting as his replacement. In some elite units, such as Sayeret Matkal, Shayetet 13 or Duvdevan, the teams are usually smaller and themselves commanded by officers, with the platoon is commanded by a higher-ranking officer.

New Zealand organization

In the New Zealand Army, an Infantry Platoon is commanded by a 2nd Lieutenant or a lieutenant, with a Platoon Sergeant, a Platoon Signaller and a medic (where relevant) comprising the Platoon Headquarters. The Platoon is sub-divided into three section of between 7-10 soldiers, each commanded by a Corporal with a Lance-Corporal as the Section 2iC. Each section can be sub-divided into two fire-teams, commanded by the Section Commander and 2iC respectively, as well as normal two man Scout, Rifle and Gun Teams.

There are three Platoons in a Rifle Company, which is commanded by a Major, and three Rifle Companies in an Infantry Battalion, which is commanded by a Lieutenant-Colonel. An Infantry Battalion will also contain an organic Support Company (Mortars, Machine-Guns etc.) and a Logistics Company (Transport and Stores).

Russian organization

A motorised rifle platoon in the Soviet Armed Forces was mounted in either BTR armoured personnel carriers or BMP infantry fighting vehicles, with the former being more numerous into the late 1980s. Both were led by a platoon leader and assistant platoon leader and consisted of three 9-man rifle squads mounted in three vehicles. In both BMP and BTR squads, the driver and vehicle gunner stayed with the vehicle when the rest of the squad dismounted, and one squad in the platoon would have one of their rifleman armed with an SVD sniper rifle. There was either one empty seat in each BTR or two empty seats in each BMP to accommodate the platoon leader and assistant platoon leader.[13]

Tank platoons prior to the late 1980s consisted of a platoon headquarters squad and three tank squads, each consisting of one T-64, T-72 or T-80 tank for 12 personnel and 4 tanks total; platoons that used the older T-54, T-55 or T-62s added another crewmember for a total of 16. However, tank units operating in Eastern Europe began to standardize their platoons to just two tank squads, for a total of 3 tanks and 9 personnel.[14][15]

Singapore organization

In the Singapore Army, a platoon is a Lieutenant's billet. However, in practice, a Second Lieutenant is usually appointed and then eventually promoted. A typical infantry platoon consists of three seven-man sections of riflemen and a machine gun team, both commanded by Third Sergeants, a platoon sergeant and a platoon medic for a total of 27 soldiers.[citation needed] Beginning in 1992, the Singapore Armed Forces has allowed warrant officers to be appointed as platoon commanders.

Thai organization

In the Royal Thai Army, a platoon is commanded by either a Lieutenant or Second Lieutenant, assisted by a Platoon Sergeant, usually of the rank of sergeant major. In infantry units, rifle platoons are generally made up of five squads (three rifle squads, one machine gun squad and the command squad).

U.S. organization

Historical background

From the 1700s up until the late 1800s in what would become the United States, an infantry platoon was a "half company" commanded by a lieutenant, assisted by two sergeants and two corporals (increased in 1861 to four corporals). The sergeants, assisted by the corporals, led the two sections (half-platoons) and the squads (the terms were often used interchangeably until 1891) of the platoon. An additional senior sergeant serving as the "platoon sergeant" (originally designated as "assistant to platoon commander" from 1917 until 1940, and as "platoon leader" until 1943, when officer platoon commanders were re-designated as "platoon leaders") was not authorized until 1943.

Depending on the time period, the platoon could include from as few as 20 privates (with two corporals, two sergeants, and a lieutenant) to as many as 44 (with four corporals, two sergeants, and a lieutenant) with 10 to 22 privates per section. The corporals, and the sergeant, prior to the increase to two corporals per section, led the two squads of the section. The squads were primarily a non-tactical sub-unit used mainly for drill (marching practice, formations, ceremonies, etc.) and "house-keeping" matters, such as interior guard duty, billeting, messing, fatigue details (i.e., working parties), etc.

Indeed, the sections, as well as the platoons, were primarily administrative sub-units of the company, since tactically the company seldom employed in other than as a massed formation. The standard procedure, once the company had marched into its position in the line of battle, was for the company to form facing the enemy as two ranks, by platoon, one behind the other. The commanding officer (a captain), and the one to three lieutenants, serving as platoon commanders (not designated as platoon "leaders" until 1943) and the executive officer (again depending on the time period, but not officially authorized until 1898) would direct the fighting, leading from the front in the attack and on the flanks in the defense. The executive officer, when assigned, or usually the junior lieutenant and the first sergeant were normally positioned behind the battle line so as to assist the company commander in overseeing the company and managing the rear (company trains, including the wagoner and company supply wagon - under the supervision of the quartermaster sergeant, as well as casualties, enemy prisoners, non-combatants, deserters, etc.).

While the officers managed the battle and the staff NCOs (first sergeant and quartermaster sergeant) superintended logistics, the NCOs (sergeants and corporals) served as first-line supervisors and leaders by exhibiting a soldierly example for their privates and encouraging them to maintain proper discipline and to fight effectively. In so doing, the sergeants acted as "file closers", working the line by putting men forward to replace casualties in the front rank, exhorting men to fire, reload, move forward, etc. and, if need be, physically assisting or restraining men who refused to move forward or attempted to flee. The corporals physically led by example (much like modern fire team leaders) by taking their place in the line with their privates, fighting alongside them, and by demonstrating proper soldierly attributes.

Cavalry platoons had a similar organization to the infantry, but with fewer men; platoons rarely exceeded around 33 men, including the lieutenant, sergeants and corporals.

Field artillery platoons, led by a lieutenant (who rode his own horse), with two or three to a battery, normally consisted of two gun sections. Each gun section was led by a sergeant (who also rode his own horse) and consisted of two half sections led by a corporal. One half section contained the gun and its implements, its limber (including one ammunition chest) and four to six horses (depending on gun weight and available horses), and several members of the gun crew. The corporal and one or two privates rode on the horses pulling the limber, while a couple of privates rode on the ammunition chest lid seat. The other half section consisted of the caisson (which carried two ammunition chests, tools, spare parts, baggage, and a spare wheel) with its limber (again with one ammunition chest), pulled by four to six horses, and two spare horses (when available) tethered to the rear of the caisson, and the remainder of the gun crew with the corporal and privates riding the horses or sitting on the several ammunition chests lid seats as described above. In total, the field artillery platoon (at full strength of men, horses, and equipment) consisted of a lieutenant, two sergeants, four corporals, 24 privates, 31 horses, four limbers, two caissons, two field guns, two spare wheels, plus ammunition, implements, tools, spare parts, and baggage.

By the end of World War I in 1918, the rifle platoon had expanded to its largest size in U.S. Army history into a unit of 59 soldiers. This platoon organization included one lieutenant, three sergeants, eight corporals, 15 privates first class, and 32 privates. The platoon was organized into a six-man platoon headquarters (including the platoon commander, a sergeant as "assistant to platoon commander", and four privates as "runners" or messengers) and four sections. The sections were specialized by primary weapon and each contained a different number of men. The "Riflemen" and "Automatic Riflemen" sections were each led by a sergeant and divided into two squads of eight and seven men each, respectively, including a corporal to lead each squad. The "Hand Bombers" (i.e., hand grenade throwers) and "Rifle Grenadiers" sections had a total of twelve and nine men each, respectively, including two corporals each, but no sergeant.[16]


In the United States Army,[17] rifle platoons are normally composed of 42 soldiers. They consist of three rifle squads, one weapons squad, and a six-man headquarters. The headquarters consists of a Platoon Leader (PL)--usually a second lieutenant (2LT), a Platoon Sergeant (PSG)--usually a Sergeant First Class (SFC, E-7), a radio-telephone operator (RTO), a platoon forward observer (FO), the FO's RTO, and the platoon medic. Each squad is led by a Sergeant, who is usually a Staff Sergeant (SSG, E-6). The rifle squads each consist of two fire teams and a squad leader, while the weapons squad consists of two medium machine gun teams, two close combat missile teams, and a squad leader.

Marine Corps

In the United States Marine Corps, rifle platoons nominally (per TO) consist of 43 Marines and are led by a platoon commander, usually a second lieutenant (O-1), assisted by a platoon sergeant, a staff sergeant (E-6). The platoon headquarters also includes a platoon guide, a sergeant (E-5), who serves as the assistant platoon sergeant and a messenger (Pvt or PFC). Rifle platoons consist of three rifle squads of 13 men each, led by a sergeant (E-5). In the attack (especially if part of the assault echelon) or in a deliberate defense, rifle platoons are usually augmented with a two-man mortar forward observer team and are often reinforced with a seven-man machinegun squad and/or a four-man assault weapons squad.

A weapons platoon will usually have a first lieutenant (O-2) and a gunnery sergeant (E-7) due to the generally larger number of Marines (up to 69 in the 81mm mortar platoon) in these platoons (the heavy machinegun platoon being the exception with only 28 members) and the more complex weapon systems employed. A rifle company weapons platoon has a 60mm mortar section of 13 Marines with three M224 LWCMS 60mm mortar squads, an assault section of 13 Marines and six SMAW rocket launchers divided into three squads of two teams each, and a medium machine gun section of 22 Marines and six M240G general-purpose machine guns divided into three squads of two teams each. The infantry battalion weapons company consists of three heavy weapons platoons: 81mm mortar, heavy machinegun (.50cal HMG and 40mm AGL), and anti armor (Javelin missile and Antitank TOW missile). Each of these three platoons is divided into sections. Three sections of two squads each in the heavy machinegun platoon, two sections of four squads each in the 81mm mortar platoon, one section of two squads with four teams each in the Javelin missile section, and one section of four squads with two teams each in the antitank TOW missile section. Marine rifle or weapons platoons would also have from one to four navy hospital corpsmen assigned along with the Marines.

Platoons are also used in reconnaissance, light armored reconnaissance (scout dismounts), combat engineer, law enforcement (i.e., military police), Marine Security Force Regiment (MSFR), and Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST) companies.

In armored vehicle units, platoons consist of sections containing two or three vehicles and their crews:

  • tank and light armored reconnaissance platoons consist of two sections, each containing two tanks/light armored vehicles and crews
  • assault amphibian vehicle (AAV) platoons consist of four sections, each containing three AAVs and crews (Per T/O 4652M.)
  • combat engineer assault breacher sections consist of two CEV assault breacher vehicles and crews

In low altitude air defense (LAAD) batteries, the firing platoons consist of three sections, each consisting of a section leader and five two-man Stinger missile teams.

In artillery batteries, the firing platoon consists of six artillery sections, each containing one gun with its crew and prime mover (i.e., a truck to tow the artillery piece and transport the gun crew and baggage).

United States Air Force

The United States Air Force has a similarly sized and configured unit called a flight. A flight usually ranges from a dozen people to over a hundred, or typically four aircraft. The typical flight commander is a captain. The typical flight chief is a master sergeant. Letter designations can be used, such as Alpha Flight, Bravo Flight, etc.

See also


  1. ^ "Infantry Platoon and Squad ATP 3-21.8" (PDF). Retrieved 28 November 2017.
  2. ^ "Organization of Marine Corps Forces MCRP5-12D" (PDF). Retrieved 28 November 2017.
  3. ^ a b "Definition of PLATOON".
  4. ^ p.250 Curtis, Thomas The London Encyclopaedia: Or, Universal Dictionary of Science, Art, Literature, and Practical Mechanics... Volume 9 T. Tegg, 1829
  5. ^ p.486 Lynn, John A. Giant of the Grand Siècle: The French Army, 1610-1715 Cambridge University Press, 14/12/2006
  6. ^ p.404 Nimwegen, Olaf Van The Dutch Army and the Military Revolutions, 1588-1688 Boydell & Brewer, 21/10/2010
  7. ^ p.25 Gudmundsson, Bruce The British Expeditionary Force 1914-15 Osprey Publishing, 10/12/2005
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-11-08. Retrieved 2016-12-31.
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-04-27. Retrieved 2017-09-10.
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-08-16. Retrieved 2016-12-31.
  11. ^ "Table of Ranks and Responsibilities". Canadian Soldiers. Retrieved August 9, 2012.
  12. ^ Reglement concernant l'exercice et les manoeuvres de l'infanterie. Du ler. aout 1791
  13. ^ US Army, FM 100-2-3 The Soviet Army: Troops, Organization and Equipment, 4-3
  14. ^ US Army, FM 100-2-3 The Soviet Army: Troops, Organization and Equipment, Paragraph 4-15
  15. ^ US Army, FM 100-2-3 The Soviet Army: Troops, Organization and Equipment, Paragraph 4-108
  16. ^ United States Army. Center of Military History. Organization of the American Expeditionary Forces, Volume 1, Washington, DC, 1988, p.347.
  17. ^ "US Army Table of Organization". Archived from the original on 2007-08-26. Retrieved 2007-02-16.

External links

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