USMC Unit Frontages and Formations in Late WW2

After reading my post on Infantry Unit Frontages during WW2 John Carper kindly sent through his notes on US unit frontages. The material is from a 1950 source, “Landing Party Manual – United States Navy”, but is probably indicative of late WW2 USMC doctrine. The manual presents guidelines from the fire team to battalion levels for employment of riflemen and MGs (unfortunately no other support weapons are discussed).


Fire Team

FT leader, BAR man, assistant BAR man, rifleman.
Prescribed formations are column, wedge, echelon and skirmishers.



Three fire teams plus squad leader.
Formations as above but V added.
Squad columns 60 to 100 yds depth, skirmish lines 60 to 100 yds width.
Scouting fire team(s) lead by 10 to 300 yds in advance.


The skirmish line is only 20 yds wide. Intervals are tighter (two paces) and men without bayonets are kept back. It is adopted 100 to 200 yds from enemy unless enemy outposts require it earlier.


Any size from two men to full platoon, though rarely larger than squad.
The point leads by as much as 100 yds in good visibility, typically one man for a fire team, two for a squad and a fire team for a full platoon.
Single flankers each side within 100 yds, second flankers (typical for a squad patrol) no more than 20 to 25 yds further out. Diagram shows fire teams in this role for a platoon.
Rear point trails the column by 50 yds, single man for a squad, two for a platoon.
Body of the patrol in column, though fire teams (alone or on point/flank security) in wedge.

Broad, Blunt
or Reverse Wedge
or V


Three squads, same formations.


Zone of reconnaissance in advance “may be 300 yards or more in width.” Scouting fire teams and patrols “insure security . . . from hostile fire from . . . 400 to 600 yards.”
Zone of action “should not be less than 100 yards or more than 200 yards.”
Platoon columns maintain 50 yard intervals in approach march.


Maximum defensive frontage 500 yds in open terrain, less than or equal to 250 yds in close terrain. “The frontage physically occupied by a rifle platoon will not usually exceed 300 yards.”
“The depth of the platoon defense area may extend to 300 yards; however, 150 yards may be considered the normal depth.”


Night attacks proceed as lines of platoon columns, deploying into skirmish lines at 100 to 200 yds. If ground permits, may deploy into squad columns at “a few hundred yards.”

Built-up areas

Typical frontage not more than one city block (some 200~300 yds per block in diagram). In attack, typically one squad will advance up each side of a street, the third following split between the two sides.



Three rifle platoons plus MG platoon.

MG platoon may be used as base of fire in open terrain but generally attached to platoons by sections. Two weapons of a section separated by 35 to 50 yds depending on terrain, such that section leader may maintain control by voice and hand signals. In retrograde movements, the two guns of a section leapfrog and cover each other sequentially. MG platoon does not participate in night attacks, staying with support platoon (if any), ready to advance and consolidate pos’n against counter-attack.


Company zone of action in advance 200 to 500 yds wide, with distances between companies also 200 to 500 yds. Company CP should not be more than 400 yds from front line.


Frontage 1000 yds in open terrain, 500 yds in close. Depth ≤500 yds.
Platoons in support at least 150 yds behind rearmost elements of forward platoons, but no more than 500 yds behind MLR. Company CP often within support platoon pos’n.
Outguards and patrols of companies or platoons usually within 400 yds of MLR.

Built-up areas

In attack, usually not more than two city block frontage with reserve one to three blocks back. In defense, two to four blocks frontage and two to three depth.


Defense zone 1000 to 2000 yds, depending on terrain. Reserve companies at least 150 yds behind forward elements but within 500 yds of MLR. Combat outposts from 400 to 2000 yds ahead of MLR (elsewhere stated 800 to 2000 yds).

General outposts under division or corps command may extend from 2000 to 6000 yds ahead of MLR.

Built-up areas

Frontage of four to eight city blocks, depth three to six.


Department of the Navy (1950). Landing Party Manual – United States Navy. Washington: United States Government Printing Office.

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