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Paul Hansen




Location: The Netherlands
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PostPosted: Mon 28 May, 2012 12:33 am    Post subject: Small unit warfare - Today vs. WW2         Reply with quote

Let me start by stating that I've not been in the military and that I'm not a specialist in the military history of the Second World War either.

I am looking for someone who can point out the differences between small scale warfare in WW2 and today, especially in a jungle environment. Perspectives from intermediate era's, such as the Vietnam War, are also very welcome.

The differences in equipment are somewhat obvious (but perhaps I am mistaken), but I'm more interested in differences between doctrine and training.
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Ralph Grinly





Joined: 19 Jan 2011

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PostPosted: Mon 28 May, 2012 12:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm not in military either..but I suspect one of the main differences is that in WW2 you were normally fighting a recognisable enemy in national uniform whereas today you can't tell the enemy from the native inhabitants with regards to dress.
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Alex Bond




Location: CA USA
Joined: 10 Mar 2012

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PostPosted: Mon 28 May, 2012 5:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I personally have no military experience but my grandfather was part of a Signal Corp Special Forces unit: 72nd Signal Company (Special) during WWII and my father served in Korea as a Specialist during the Vietnam War.

My grandfather served in the European Theater during WWII and his unit took part in Operation Dragoon, the Vosges Mountains, Unternehmen Nordwind, the Colmar Pocket, crossing the Sigfried Line, the fall of Homburg, the Battle of Aschaffenburg, the Liberation of Dachau, and the battle for Munich. He was also in many more smaller engagements along the way to these major battles/events. 72nd Sig Co (Special) lived on the front line and it was their duty to seek out and report enemy positions and movements and also to call in supporting fire from artillery (While in mainland Europe) and from warships (Operation Dragoon).

I would have to say that the use of MASSIVE amounts of artillery, warship ordinance, and bombing raids WITHOUT regard for civilian casualties are the main difference between battles fought now and during WWII. I have a book from the Imperial War Museum in London on D-Day which has an audio CD inside that has the recorded experiences of both Brits and Yanks during the D-Day invasion and on to Liberation of Paris. In the CD there is a Canadian gentleman who recalls Operation Charnwood and Operation Goodwood (two movements to take Caen). He states that allied heavy bombers leveled the entire city to nothing but rubble. 800 civilians were killed in the bomber raid and the infantry assault that followed. Many of the Germans defending the city were killed in the initial bomber raid. The Canadian states that among Allied troops it became a running joke that when Allies "Liberated" a city it really meant they reduced the entire city to rubble regardless of civilian inhabitants.

While battle conditions in the Pacific were much different than in Europe the willingness of Allied Forces to destroy anything and everything is a major difference from battles today which are almost surgical in their precision. Now civilian casualties are also reported by the media as horrible acts and not the result of warfare. Even in WWII raids like Dresden (which were purely meant as acts of revenge and to attack civilian populations in the center of the city) didn't create an uproar in the general American/Allied public after the death of tens of thousands of German civilians. Now a days a couple troops take a picture with a dead suicide bomber or piss on the corpse of their enemy and it becomes a world wide scandal.

Of course the atomic bomb and the proliferation of atomic bombs around the world changed the way war is fought here in the United States against other nuclear states.

"16 September, 1943

My dearest Little Wife,

You will be amazed to read about our bitter fighting in the official Wehrmacht communiques. We are fighting in the Eboli sector. Casualties are ever increasing. To add to the terror, the enemy air forces are bombing us relentlessly and atrociously. And with all that, an uncanny and perpetual artillery fire is scoring hits. Our fight against the Anglo-Americans requires more strength from us than our fight against the Russians. Many of us are longing to get back to Russia, even longing for the conditions as they were in Stalingrad..."
--Undelivered letter found by 45th "Thunderbirds" after the Salerno landing.
The Rock of Anzio by Flint Whitlock pg. 98-99

Wake early if you want another man's life or land.
No lamb for the lazy wolf. No battle's won in bed.
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Sean Manning




Location: Austria
Joined: 23 Mar 2008

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PostPosted: Mon 28 May, 2012 4:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There is a big difference between a counterinsurgency in 2010 and a war between industrialized states in 1942. For a closer parallel to the Afghanistan or Iraq Wars, you might look at the wars of national liberation in the 1940s and 1950s. Alternatively, you could look at the Russo-Georgian war a few years back, or the Afghan civil war in the 1980s and 1990s, which also saw trained armies with comparable weapons fighting each other over territory.
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Mark Shier
Industry Professional




Joined: 27 Mar 2005

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PostPosted: Mon 28 May, 2012 4:57 pm    Post subject: wwII         Reply with quote

I recommend this article highly:
http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/unbound/...ussell.htm

Gaukler Medieval Wares
http://www.medievalwares.com
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Jack W. Englund




Location: WA State
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PostPosted: Mon 28 May, 2012 5:11 pm    Post subject: mmmm         Reply with quote

Having served in units that operated as such ( early 1960s 0 Recon & SF) all I can say is that our "training " started with " the older units developed & then as we had to "apply" for the situations We did.
IMHO, start with "Nam" & study the progression to the present . SO ++
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Robert Rytel




Location: Pittsburgh
Joined: 23 Oct 2011

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PostPosted: Mon 28 May, 2012 6:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lots of good info here, but most posts don't seem to address the topic. He's asking for small unit info.


Todays small unit tactics and orders processes were developed in WW1 and WW2, mostly by the Germans.

They invented things like the 5 paragraph order, fire and manuverer, squad level MGs, immediate action drills, etc.

The biggest difference today vs 60 years ago, or even 20 years ago is the ever increasing mobility of small units and their ability to deploy rapidly. For example, in Vietnam, snipers and recon patrols stalked through jungles often moving barely a few kilometers per day. Today, they ride in hummers hundreds of km ahead of the main troop body, do their business, then drive another fifty km and do it again.

Overall though, todays basic small infantry unit tactics like patroling, defense with interlocking fields of fire, camoflage or even writing a mine-card are pretty much identical to what you would find in a WW2 German field manual. We (The U.S.) even rediscovered German urban combat tactics that replaced our Vietnam era urban doctrine.

I suggest reading the book Shooter by Jack Coughlin. I served with him for a few years and I feel he is exceptionally knowledgeable on the subject. It's a good read.
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Jack W. Englund




Location: WA State
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PostPosted: Mon 28 May, 2012 7:30 pm    Post subject: ?????         Reply with quote

So define " small unit. " (Ranger, commando, Recon, SF, Seal etc All op. dif.
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Bacchus Davis




Location: Seattle, WA
Joined: 19 Jul 2010

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PostPosted: Tue 29 May, 2012 11:00 am    Post subject: Re: Small unit warfare - Today vs. WW2         Reply with quote

Paul Hansen wrote:
...but I'm more interested in differences between doctrine and training.


There are Field Manuals available for "Small Unit Tactics" from the Department of Defense for the entire 20th Century and most of the 21st (that has gone by). You should be able to find most of them online. You are in for several hundred thousand pages of reading. You could research some of the think tanks and corporations that have worked for the DOD (Rand Corp, CATO Institute, Boeing, Halliburton, Jane's Defense, etc.). They have condensed much of the reading and done comparative analysis, but the white papers require you be strongly familiar with the context. Use a library or it will cost you a fortune. These references will be doctrine and training (manuals) from the source.
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Kalle Kylmänen





Joined: 18 Jul 2010

Posts: 29

PostPosted: Tue 29 May, 2012 2:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Alex Bond wrote:
While battle conditions in the Pacific were much different than in Europe the willingness of Allied Forces to destroy anything and everything is a major difference from battles today which are almost surgical in their precision.
I agree that the precision of the equipment has improved, but the surgical precision is an ideal that does not always become reality. The human factor is still present. The picture I have from modern warfare is that the confusion is still there, although communications equipment has evolved. I recommend Generation Kill as a first-hand account on the invasion of Iraq

WW2 was a different situation than wars that are waged today. At least European nations were fighting for independency against the risk of occupation, not to secure natural resources etc. Although being cut off from oil trade with the U.S. was a reason for Japan to enter the war, they ended up fighting on a graver point.
In such a dire situation, the cost of civilian life and any code of honor was secondary. The allied aerial bombardment of German cities raised oppisition among some commanders, but they were executed to reduce the whole nations will to continue fighting.
Western nations have not been involved in such escalated situations where they would be forced to fight for their existence or freedom, so there hasn't been a need to do every possible dirt trick to win a war. If we look at the methods that have been used in Afganistan and Iraq by local resistance (roadside bombs, IEDs etc.) they seem to fall under the category of "every dirt trick to win a war." The political reasons and situation for wars to be fought affect how they are fought and with what equipment. This is also reflected upon smaller unit level warfare, such as rules of engagement.

On the subject of training, I recommend the documentary "the truth about killing" found on youtube.There are 2 episodes, the second discusses the evolution of a part of military training, but the first is just as interesting. I think I stumbled upon this in some other thread around here...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vlGR7S2wcI

Most of finnish men (excluding me) go through 6-12 months of service in the army. I linked an article on german WW2 infantry doctrine to a friend once, and he noted that it felt very familiar, almost identical to what he had been taught just a few years ago.
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Robert Rytel




Location: Pittsburgh
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Posts: 32

PostPosted: Wed 30 May, 2012 4:32 am    Post subject: Re: ?????         Reply with quote

Jack W. Englund wrote:
So define " small unit. " (Ranger, commando, Recon, SF, Seal etc All op. dif.


Platoon size element or smaller, not necessarily elite.
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William P




Location: Sydney, Australia
Joined: 11 Jul 2010

Posts: 1,423

PostPosted: Wed 30 May, 2012 7:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

also maybe note the evolution of warfare practices since vietnam, as well as the experiences of vietnam itself,

every dirty trick id say was used by the viet cong, plus plenty of nasty things used by allied forces (aka agent orange)

and in a way it wasnt unlike whats oing on now in afganistan, same guerilla fighting, same political issues

ive heard it noted about vietnam that, while the deaths of US troops was horrible and not exactly small, (at least a few thousand but i dont know the figures off hand), it was noted that vietcong/ north vietnamese army deaths numbered orders of magnitude larger than american/ australian casualty lists, but what vietnam did through those american casualties was sap political and moral support for the campaign.

add to that , like with afganistan now, the fairly controversial reasons for going to war that also generated protests and political resistance to these wars.
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Neil Langley




Location: Stockport, UK
Joined: 23 Jan 2006

Posts: 112

PostPosted: Wed 30 May, 2012 11:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If you are interested in the use of small special forces tactics in Jungle situations the role of the SAS in Malaya and Borneo shows how western troops can work effectively in this type of environment. In particular the Indonesia/Malaysia (Borneo) campaign was a masterpiece of adaptive tactics in jungle warfare involving, amongst others, the SAS, Ghurkhas and other elites.

Neil.
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Jack W. Englund




Location: WA State
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PostPosted: Wed 30 May, 2012 11:43 am    Post subject: changes         Reply with quote

Up to the early mid 60s Infantry (Rifle platoon training/tactics ) were little Diff. from WWII ( a WWII or Korean USA "grunt " ( or myself - 1960) was equipped/trained basically the same ( issued a M-1. ( latter M-14 ) 101st ABN.) but Nam changed things as to the "philosophy" of the "basic" patrol/ engagement." ( the (IMHO) M-16 philosophy>)
Still have my "old" manuals" ( basic /adv.Inf, Recon & SF + a "young Lady Warrior ( 3rd deployment in the "sand box" , as an Inf.."gunner" ) has sent me HER's)

To ME, it is the Inf. Rifleman (US Army./ Marine that needs to be the "basis" of understanding .no matter what era !They are the "core)
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D. Phillip Caron




Location: Arcadia, FL
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PostPosted: Wed 30 May, 2012 12:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Paul, if you look up "Rodger's Rangers" from the French and Indian war ( Seven Year's War), and read about them you will see that tactics have changed little from then. This is not to say that weapons and support have not. Weapons and support can dictate to some extent how you do what you do, but the tactics are nearly the same. This includes his ten rules.

I did Viet Nam, 68/69 DMZ.

The first casualty of battle is bravado, the second is macho.
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Ben P.




Location: Your Mind
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PostPosted: Wed 30 May, 2012 5:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The following books might be of some help:

SOG by Major (RET) John L. Plaster (Who happens to a US Army Special Forces and SOG Veteran)

Beyond Nam Dong by Captain (RET) Roger H.C Donlon (also a Special Forces Veteran)

Five Years to Freedom by James N. Rowe (also a Special Forces veteran)

Secret Commandos by Major (RET) John L. Plaster.

Inside the Green Berets: The First Thirty Years by Lt. Col (RET) Charles M. Simpson III (also a Special Forces Veteran)

From OSS to Green Beret by Lt. Col (RET) Eric Bank (the man who founded Special Forces)

Special Forces at War (aka Green Berets at War) Southeast Asia 1956-1975 by Captain (RET) Shelby L. Stanton (also a Special Forces Veteran)

Special Forces by Tom Clancy

Shadow Warriors by Tom Clancy
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David Lewis Smith




Location: NC
Joined: 26 Aug 2003
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PostPosted: Wed 30 May, 2012 8:41 pm    Post subject: Re: Small unit warfare - Today vs. WW2         Reply with quote

Paul Hansen wrote:
Let me start by stating that I've not been in the military and that I'm not a specialist in the military history of the Second World War either.

I am looking for someone who can point out the differences between small scale warfare in WW2 and today, especially in a jungle environment. Perspectives from intermediate era's, such as the Vietnam War, are also very welcome.

The differences in equipment are somewhat obvious (but perhaps I am mistaken), but I'm more interested in differences between doctrine and training.


If you want to write me off the thread feel free
25 years in the military
6 years in the 82nd Airborne
4 years in 1st Cav (Mec)
1 Year in 2nd Infantry Div (Korea), Liaison to 25th Div ROK SF on Recon and mine warfare
9 years as part of the 20th Eng BRD, (Combat Airborne) to include a Rough Terrain Jumper, B Company 27th Engineers, Mine Action Cell NCOIC for Bagram Airfield, Route Clearance Squad leader and Platoon Sargent in Iraq and Afghanistan.
SERE Qualified and served for the last 5 years in the special operations community. I have a few other schools under my belt too.

David L Smith
MSG (RET)
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Paul Hansen




Location: The Netherlands
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PostPosted: Thu 31 May, 2012 1:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the replies so far!

First I would like to clarify that the difference between fighting against an organized enemy nation (as in most of WW2) vs. fighting a counter-insurgency war against some un-uniformed irregulars is quite clear. On the other hand, the WW2 era did see a fair bit of counter-insurgency warfare. The one I'm most familiar with is the Indonesian rebellion in the late 40's and 50's (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indonesian_National_Revolution).

I'll try to condense some of the points brought forward:
Alex Bond wrote:
I would have to say that the use of MASSIVE amounts of artillery, warship ordinance, and bombing raids WITHOUT regard for civilian casualties are the main difference between battles fought now and during WWII.


That is a very good point I think. The mindset has changed considerably, perhaps in large part due to television and the media. The Dutch armed forces in Indonesia in the late 40's committed numerous atrocities that today would be unthinkable from a Western army. Also the willingness to incur casualties has changed considerably.

Robert Rytel wrote:
The biggest difference today vs 60 years ago, or even 20 years ago is the ever increasing mobility of small units and their ability to deploy rapidly. For example, in Vietnam, snipers and recon patrols stalked through jungles often moving barely a few kilometers per day. Today, they ride in hummers hundreds of km ahead of the main troop body, do their business, then drive another fifty km and do it again.


Good point, but what about cavalry? I know I asked specifically about a jungle environment, but the Boer Wars do spring to mind...

Bacchus Davis wrote:
There are Field Manuals available for "Small Unit Tactics" from the Department of Defense for the entire 20th Century and most of the 21st (that has gone by). You should be able to find most of them online. You are in for several hundred thousand pages of reading.

My idea behind this thread was more or less to avoid that amount of reading... Wink Big Grin

Nevertheless thanks a lot for the links!
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Lafayette C Curtis




Location: Indonesia
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PostPosted: Thu 07 Jun, 2012 6:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Paul Hansen wrote:
The Dutch armed forces in Indonesia in the late 40's committed numerous atrocities that today would be unthinkable from a Western army.


So did the pro-Independence guerrillas. Not to mention all the violence done by independent agents not affiliated with either the NICA or the Republican side. All said, it was a pretty sordid war and post-war interests in the Indonesian education system have whitewashed it just a little bit too far. (Trust me, I live in Indonesia, and while my sympathies are with the Republican side I'm really uncomfortable with the idea of seeing them as the nationalistic saints that the Department of Education has made them to be).

Going back to your original question, there is one subtle but rather important difference in small-unit tactics between WW2 and today. At the beginning of the War, infantry tactics were based on the squad, which was divided into two sub-sections (a smaller "Gun Group" and a larger "Rifle Group" in British parlance). One sub-section (the "Gun Group") provided most of the firepower with its light machinegun while the other (the "Rifle Group") acted as the manoeuvre element and performed (most) close assault duties. Of course, sometimes the Rifle Group had to cover for the Gun Group while the latter redeployed to a better firing position, but in general there was a fairly specific division of labour between the two.

Eventually, this proved somewhat inconvenient, and several participants in the war experimented with an alternative organisation whereby both sub-sections (or three) were equal in size and equipped with a light machinegun each. This way both sections ("fire teams") can perform both fire and manoeuvre tasks, so squad- and platoon-level attacks become more fluid and more efficient. Today's infantry units are still organised in the manner of these fire teams.

Weapon refinements have also contributed somewhat. In a pinch, modern select-fire assault rifles are much better than WW2 bolt-action/semiautomatic rifles at laying down high volumes of automatic suppressive fire over short periods of time. Modern GPMGs (like the MAG/M240) have also removed the need to have two separate weapons as squad-level light machine guns like the Bren or BAR (portable but quite poor at sustained fire) and platoon/company-level medium machine guns like the Vickers or M1919 (very good at sustained fire, but awkward and heavy), although SAWS (like the Minimi/M249) may have reintroduced the dichotomy in a different form.

Generally speaking, fire team tactics are more efficient than the older squad-based systems, but they require more training and experience -- not a problem for most industrialised nations today. On the other hand, the old WW2 squad tactics are a bit more rigid and slower-paced by comparison but I can't help wondering if they might be more effective for training Third World conscripts, part-time militias, and the like.
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