Infantry Unit Frontages during WW2

I wanted to get an idea of the ground scale in Crossfire so I started with an analysis of frontages from WW2. In general it seems that defensive frontages were wider than offensive. For example, a company would attack on same frontage as one defending platoon. I’m a bit sceptical of the frontages given in Lucas (1982) – they just seem too narrow compared to those mentioned in other sources. The discussion refers to various Infantry Formations such as line, broad wedge, etc.

Unit Nationality Frontage in Attack Frontage in Defence Source
Division Russian 4 km 50-120 km Erickson (1993)
Battalion German 400-1,000 m Bull (2005)
German 800-2,000 Rottman (2004)
German 1,000-1,100 m U.S. War Department (1995)
British 550 m wide Up to 2,200 Lucas (1982), Medley (1990)
Company Russian 350-1,000 m 700-2,200 m Sharp (1998)
German 500-800 m 400-1,000 m U.S. War Department (1995)
British 275 m Up to 925 m Lucas (1982), Medley (1990)
Platoon Russian 100 m 250-300 m Sharp (1998)
German 100 m 200-300 m Gajkowski (1995)
German 150-200 m 200-500 m U.S. War Department (1995)
British 50-100 m Lucas (1982)
Squad Russian 40-50 m Sharp (1998)
German 30-40 m Gajkowski (1995)

Infantry Division

In 1940 Soviet doctrine was that a rifle division supported by two artillery regiments could break through enemy infantry on a 4 km frontage (Erickson, 1993). This was much more condensed than the defensive frontage on the Soviet border at the time where divisions held fronts of 50 km (on average) with some over 120 km. At the time the rifle divisions had insufficient anti-tank weapons to stop a massed tank attack (100+ tanks per km).

Glantz (1998) mentions the average frontages for the Soviet 9th and 57th Armies defending the southern front of the Barvenkovo salient in May 1942. 57th Army had one division per 16km of frontage. 9th Army had one division per 10km, with most of the forces in defence but also conducting a small offensive operation. The divisions of both armies had no reserves, and were not echeloned, so were deployed only 3-4 km in depth.

General Der Artillerie Walter Hartmann, commander of the 87th Infantry Division in 1943, described the density of men on a divisional frontage. He considered 25 men per 100 meters, including regimental reserves, to be a strong trench complement. In contrast in the less frequently attacked positions the density was lower; for example in swamp positions the numbers were 15 to 20 men per kilometre. Think about that … a couple of squads to cover one km. Hartmann’s division deployed on a front about 15 km across.

Infantry Battalion

Battalions typically comprised three infantry companies, sometimes four, and a heavy weapons company.

The most common attacking formation seemed to be a Broad Wedge, so presumably the battalion frontage would be twice the company frontage, plus space between. U.S. War Department (1995) gives attacking German battalions a frontage 1,000-1,100 m wide (with second battalion following). Lucas (1982) gives a British battalion in Broad Wedge a frontage of 550 m, and indicates there was also 550 m between the front line and the front of the rear companies.

In defense a battalion should have a reserve. According to Sharp (1998) the reserve for a Russian battalion in prepared positions would be a Rifle or SMG platoon, an anti-tank platoon, several heavy machineguns and 45mm anti-tank guns.

Infantry Company

An infantry company generally contained three Rifle and/or SMG platoons, plus a fire group of heavy weapons (mortars, machine guns, anti-tank weapons, and accompanying guns).

Russian Rifle companies attacked on a frontage 350 wide, less at night or in woods, but up to 1 km in rugged mountains (Sharp, 1998). U.S. War Department (1995) shows three German companies’ attack boundaries as varying from approx. 500-800 m wide with the platoons arranged in Blunt Wedge. Another diagram indicates 500 meters for German companies in Blunt Wedge (2 platoons forward, 1-2 back). In contrast, Lucas (1982) gives British companies in the same formation a 275 m frontage.

The defensive sector of a Russian Rifle company was 700 m wide by 700 m deep (Sharp, 1998). Company defensive sectors were meant to border each other, but in difficult terrain there could be intervals of up to 1,500 m between. The U.S. War Department (1995) states a German company defensive position was double that of a platoon, i.e. 400-1,000 m wide given a platoon is 200-500 m wide.

Heavy weapons were positioned on the flanks, and/or to keep the intervals between platoons under fire. Russian 50 mm mortars were located 30-200 m behind the skirmish line, and in mountains all supporting artillery would be 100-150 m from the infantry (Sharp, 1998).

Infantry Platoon

Generally three or four squads per platoon, possibly with attached heavy weapons.

Gajkowski (1995) and Sharp (1998) state that in attack a platoon, whether Russian or German, had a frontage of 100 m irrespective of whether in Skirmish Line or Rhomboid. This is consistent with Lucas (1982) which gives an attacking British platoon in a Broad Wedge a width 50-100 m, and depth of 50 m. U.S. War Department (1995), however, states a German platoon was 150-200 m wide in attack.

In contrast a Russian platoon deployed in a Broad Wedge had a defensive position 250 m wide by 150 m deep. The “Defence Sector” of the platoon was 300 m wide by 250 m deep, and overlapped those of the neighbouring platoons and the platoon was expected have clear fire on a 400 m wide area in front of the main battle line. A German platoon deployed defensively had a frontage of 200-300 m (Gajkowski, 1995) or 200-500 m (U.S. War Department, 1995). Medley (1990) mentions that a British Platoon with two sections forward (Broad Wedge) would deploy with the defensive positions of the forward sections 90 m apart; the third section and Platoon HQ would deploy 90 m behind.

Heavy weapons were positioned on the flanks.

Infantry Squad

When in (Skirmish) Line the the men spread out in a ragged line. In attack the Russians kept 6-8 paces (5-7 m) between men (Sharp, 1998) and the Germans 5 paces (4 m) (Gajkowski, 1995). In defence a Russian squad covered a 40-50 m frontage, and a German squad 30-40 m.

References

Bull, S. (2004). World War II Infantry Tactics: Squad and Platoon [Elite 105]. Osprey.

Bull, S. (2005). World War II Infantry Tactics: Company and Battalion [Elite 122]. Osprey.

Erickson, J. (1993). The Road to Stalingrad: Stalin’s war with Germany: Volume One. London: Weidenfeld.

Gajkowski, M. (1995). German Squad Tactics in WWII. Pisgah, Ohio: Nafziger Collection Inc.

Glantz, D. M. (1998). Kharkov 1942: Anatomy of a military disaster through Soviet eyes. Ian Allan.

Hastings, M. (1984). Overlord: D-Day and the battle for Normandy 1944. Papermac.

Hartmann, General Der Artillerie Walter: Principles And Experiences Of Position Warfare And Retrograde Movements

Lucas, J. (1982). War in the Desert: the Eigth Army at El Alamein. Arms and Armour Press: London.

Medley, R. H. (1990). Five Days to Live, France 1939-40. Dover & Company.

Rottman, G. L. (2004). German Field Fortifications 1939-45 [Fortress 23]. Osprey.

Sharp, C. S. (1998). Soviet Infantry Tactics in WWII: Red Army Infantry Tactics from Squad to Rifle Company from the Combat Regulations. George Nafziger.

U.S. War Department. (1995). Handbook on German Military Forces. Author.

I haven’t actually seen this book, so I am relying on comments made by Bill Own on the Spearhead Discussion Forum.

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