Platoon Leadership vs. NCO Efficiency

Combat lessons from the troops on platoon leadership and NCO efficiency from Combat Lessons No. 9:

Platoon Leadership vs. NCO Efficiency

Orders Must Be Clear

NCO efficiency and squad accomplishment are materially reduced when combat orders fail to give full information and to specify clearly each assignment. Says an Okinawa report: “Junior officers often complicate combat orders. They forget about intermediate objectives which should be the next terrain feature, whether it be a hill, road, or an edge of a rice paddy. They neglect to tell each squad specifically what to do. They take on the responsibilities of NCO’s and scouts and then, finding it impossible to remain continuously in a control position, encourage bunching which results in needless casualties.

Orders must be Clear

Junior officers often complicate orders.

Leaders Are Not Scouts.

“In one regiment, five platoon leaders were killed because their scouts were not out. The platoon leader must realize that he is not a scout and that if he attempts to do that work, it will be at the expense of his control responsibility.

“Invariably, when trying to do their own scouting, the platoon leaders allowed their support squads to get too close to the leading squads and thus sacrificed the platoon’s maneuverability.”


DUKWs at Salerno

A report on effective use of DUKWs at the Salerno landings from Combat Lessons, No. 3:

DUKWs at Salerno Report of a Quartermaster Truck Battalion (DUKW), Italy: The DUKWs (amphibious 2½-ton trucks) again proved of immense value at Salerno, supplies and equipment being handled over the beaches at a far greater rate than had been expected. The following points regarding their use should be borne in mind when planning for their use:

1. DUKWs must not be used for long trips inland.

2. Relief drivers and crews must be provided.

3. Definite steps must be taken to prevent overloading. Overloading at Salerno resulted in some being lost by sinking. One method of avoiding this would be to develop standard loads, particularly for ammunition. The load should not exceed 3 tons.DUKW

4. Ships to be unloaded should be moved inshore as close as possible, and should take position approximately opposite the beach landing point in order to reduce the turn-around. Unnecessary water travel means unnecessary delay in the discharge of cargo and increases the problem of maintenance.

5. A rigging crew from the DUKW unit should go aboard the vessel prior to unloading and rig the ship with necessary lines and hooks.

6. A great saving in time and labor can be effected if cargo nets are equipped with base plates shaped to fit the cargo space of the DUKW. Where cargo nets are not carried ashore by the DUKW, pallet loads can be used to expedite the discharge of cargo.

7. If possible each DUKW should carry only one type of cargo to avoid wasting time unloading at beach dumps.

Message to Messengers

“Message to Messengers” from Combat Lessons No. 6:

Message to Messengers

From Lieutenant Colonel J. D. Calidonna, Signal Officer, 34th Division, ITALY: “Messengers have to be good to do their job properly. They have to use a great deal of initiative and common sense in locating units to which they must deliver messages. Because they work alone and have to cover much territory, sometimes in forward areas, they have to exercise enough intelligence to keep from being killed or captured. In addition to all this, messengers must be able to report intelligently on what they have seen while making their runs.”

Message to Messengers

Messengers must use initiative in locating units.


OP and CP Security

Observation post and command post security from Combat Lessons, No. 7:

U.S. Army WW2 Observation Post

OP and CP Security

Even at this late date, needless casualties, delays, and expenditures of effort are being caused by breaches of OP and CP security rules. The inevitable results of security carelessness are pointedly illustrated by the three following incidents.

Carelessness Costs Lives

Reported by Technician Fifth Grade Ernest J. Langle, 135th infantry: “We stayed in one CP for 2 weeks without drawing a shell and felt quite secure, for we had been told that the enemy hadn’t been shelling in that particular vicinity for the past 30 days. Eventually, however, a few of the men either forgot or disregarded their instructions. They washed some white towels and shirts and hung them out to dry—an effective signal for enemy artillery fire upon our CP. Three of our men were killed in the shelling that followed this breach of security.”

Learning Security the Hard Way

Reported by an Infantry Battalion Commander, ETO: “After being shelled out of two CP locations (the first time with severe casualties) we reorganized a sadly depleted CP group and opened for business in another building. A third-story battalion OP in the same building could be reached only by passing a large open window on a stair landing. Since the entire village was under enemy observation and direct fire, it was necessary to crawl past this open window. To insure that this would be done, a sentry was stationed in the stairway. All went well until it was discovered that the Sergeant Major had just covered the opening with a huge sheet of tin ‘so that the sentry could be released for work with the wire team.’ We abandoned the CP in haste and moved to an already established alternate CP (the only remaining location in the town). The last men had hardly left the building before it was taken under direct artillery fire and rapidly disintegrated.

“This incident thoroughly impressed our personnel with the folly of signalling OP and CP locations to the enemy by altering the outward appearance of a building after occupancy. That particular error was not repeated.”

One Mistake Is Too Many

Reported by the Commanding General, 1st Infantry Division: “Officers visiting front-line units should be warned against actions that might reveal to the enemy the locations of our installations.

“In one case, an observation post was located in a wrecked building. Inside walls of the rooms had been camouflaged to give a dark background, instruments had been set well back in the rooms, the observers were careful to move about only in the shadows. All went well until the day when some visiting officers stopped by. They moved about freely, even leaning out of the windows with their field glasses. Within half an hour, the building was completely destroyed by enemy fire. One of our observers was killed.”

Officer Observation Post

You sure have a fine view from this OP, Sergeant.


De-Mechanized Warfare

From Combat Lessons No. 6:

De-Mechanized Warfare

In a gesture of protest against the trend toward complete mechanization, the wire team shown at work in the accompanying photo picked up an idle buggy in a front-line town, conscripted a “liberated” horse, and set off to salvage much-needed wire. The horse is garbed becomingly in an air-ground recognition panel. Despite an enthusiastic report on the project, no change in T/O and E is contemplated by the War Department.

De-Mechanized Warfare -- U.S. Signal Troops in Horse and Buggy


Tank Operations in Sicily

Combat Lessons, No. 3 described the fighting on Sicily between U.S. Sherman tanks, Panzer IIIs and Panzer IVs of the Herman Goring Panzer Division, and Tigers of sPzAbt. 504. The Herman Goring Panzer Division lost heavily in the fighting around the Sicily beachheads in July, and sPzAbt. 504 suffered the disastrous loss of 14 of its 17 Tigers.

Tank Operations, Remarks by a Senior American Officer, Sicily: “On the morning of 12 July, at least a company of German tanks with numerous Mark VIs (Tigers) attached, attacked down the Niscemi Road. There was an observation post for our artillery just south of this road from which fire was placed on the tanks with great accuracy by an infantry battalion commander who was the only observer present. At the time he brought the fire down on the tanks they were within 300 yards of his position.

“While this was going on, a company of our Sherman tanks encountered enemy tanks and infantry moving west on the Gela-Ragusa Road and a sharp fight ensued. The Germans lost two Mark VIs, while we lost four Mark IVs (Shermans). The German tanks attacked ahead of the infantry, and without using smoke or reconnaissance. They were stopped by fire from our tanks and artillery.

“In both attacks the Germans followed the roads and were less successful than on the preceding day when they had been deployed and operated cross-country.

“On the Miscemi Road I saw four German Mark IV tanks and a number of Mark VIs and Mark IIIs which had been knocked out. Three of the Mark VIs had been stopped initially by a hit on a track. Another Mark VI had been ditched under conditions that indicated very poor driving and then put out of action by artillery shell fire while immobilized.”

Penalty of Carelessness: “The American tanks lost deserved their fate because they deliberately violated long-standing instructions. They had apparently moved down the valley until they reached a road and then successively moved out on the road to get a view. As soon as they got on the road they came under fire from German 88s at 1500 yards range.

Had these tanks halted under cover on either side of the road and reconnoitered on foot, they would certainly have discovered the German guns which were and still are in plain view.


Don’t Scare Replacements

From “Combat Lessons” No. 7 comes the following notes on leadership and replacement orientation:

Replacement Instruction—the Wrong Kind

A Lieutenant comments on his ominous introduction to front-line existence: “On my way to the front as an officer replacement, I met several individuals who had come back from the line. Invariably they recounted to me their hair-raising experiences—their outfits had been ‘wiped out,’ or ‘pinned down for days’; ‘officers didn’t have a dog’s chance of survival,’ etc. One platoon sergeant went statistical on me; he said his platoon had lost 16 officers in one 2-week period. I expected confidently that I would be blown to bits within 15 minutes after my arrival at the front.

Do Not Scare Replacements: WW2 Combat Lessons

Don't Scare Hell out of Replacements

“Later experience has shown me that enlisted men who come in as replacements are subjected to similar morale-breaking tales. I have tried to get my old men to give the new replacement a break by being careful not to exaggerate their battle experiences or in any way distort the picture of front-line existence. Give the new men a common-sense introduction to the combat zone and there will be fewer men going on sick call before an attack.”

Noncoms and privates of Company “K,” 11th Infantry, ETO, draw attention to the same problem: “Our replacements come to us filled with tenseness and dread caused by stories they have heard in the rear. Special instructors from the front should be used at replacement centers to talk the new men out of this unnecessary panic. Of course, the soundest remedy is to have the replacements occupy a defensive position for a time, but even then the kind of treatment they are given upon arrival at the front makes a big difference in the amount of good they will do their new outfit.”

Comment: Company commanders and platoon leaders should meet, orient, and indoctrinate all replacements so that they gain an authentic picture of current battle conditions. This should be done even though battle indoctrination has been started in replacement centers. Knowing what to expect, even when the expected is bad, is better than not knowing and consequently imagining the worst.


Warning to Observation Post Kibitzers

From “Combat Lessons” No. 6:

Says a Captain of a Field Artillery Battalion, France: “Well-meaning infantrymen who crowd about the OP to observe the results of the firing or to steal a look through the BC telescope should be warned that they are inviting fire from the enemy. OP’s are high on the priority list of enemy targets. The importance of OP camouflage discipline cannot be overemphasized.”

OP - Observation Post - Artillery

"OP's are high on the priority list of enemy targets."


More MG Ammunition at Hand

GI innovation from Combat Lessons, No. 6. Combat Lessons was published by the Operations Division of the War Department to give officers and enlisted men lessons from battle experiences of other soldiers.

GI innovation on M-3 submachine gun.

GI innovation on M-3 submachine gun.

More MG Ammunition at Hand

This innovation was reported from ETO: “Three 30-round magazines, taped together as shown in the photo, give the user of the M3 submachine gun 90 rounds of ammunition immediately available for use. Any one of the magazines can be inserted into the gun without being untaped from the other two.”