Topic: Drill and Training
During the First World War, infantry tactics evolved from a system of riflemen in line advancing towards an enemy (doctrinally, in short rushes by company or platoon), ultimately to meet him with a bayonet charge, to a system of fire and manoeuvre and far fewer bayonets in the final moments of assault. As it is well recognized, the former system died hard in the face of well sited machine guns that were ideal for the defensive advantages of trench warfare. Those who continue to portray the war in the overly simplistic terms of "lions led by donkeys" and endless repetition of failing tactics, as easily deny the complex and continuous evolution of infantry weapons and tactics throughout the War.
In the latter system of attack, supporting fire from light machine guns suppressed enemy locations while riflemen and bombers moved to within assaulting distance without unnecessary exposure to the defenders' fire. As the techniques and technology evolved, this saw platoons armed with the Lewis Gun, a "light" machine gun, supported by ammunition carriers. The Lewis Gun sections supported the advance of riflemen and bombers who defeated the assigned enemy trench or bunkers in detail. The assignment of so many men to firing and supporting the platoon's machine guns, and the allocation of bombers, combined with the more fluid system of movement, severely undermined the ability to execute, or likelihood, of concerted bayonet charges in the later years of the war.
Infantry tactics at the end of the First World War established the basis of the way our modern infantry platoons and sections fight; combining fire and manoeuvre to suppress, approach and destroy an enemy. Peace time constraints led to smaller battalions and, therefore, smaller platoon. The Lewis Gun was replaced by the Bren Gun, then the FN C2, and now by the C9 Light Machine Gun (LMG).
Within the Canadian rifle platoon, the use of Lewis Gun sections supporting rifle and bomber sections evolved to a pair of FN C2 LMGs in each rifle section supporting an assault group of riflemen. The principle of distinct integral support and manoeuvre elements remained. Until the late 1980s. In the 1980s, the Canadian Army traded it's FN C1 service rifle and FN C2 LMG for the C7 (a design evolved from the American M16) and the C-9 LMG (a Canadian variant of the FN MINIMI light machine gun). At the same time a new section organization was adopted and a new tactical system evolved that removed both the distinct support and assault organization as well as the training methodologies that accompanied them. The advantages to this wholesale exchange of both weapons and doctrine was debatable.
In examining the evolution of the section attack in Canadian doctrine and training, I completed the following papers:
- The Canadian Infantry Section Attack, Part 1; Attrition Training in a Manoeuvre Army
- The Canadian Infantry Section Attack, Part 2; Initiative is Always an Option
In 2009, I was approached by the Canadian Army Directorate of Land Requirements to again examine the infantry section. The original question posed was to develop the most effective section organization for projected new vehicles, the program for which was advancing toward a selection stage. A deceptively simple question, the project evolved from attempting a singular determination to a somewhat broader examination of the principles which should be taken into account to design an infantry section based on doctrine, tactics, weapons, and command and control considerations. The result, wwith introductory and concluding material prepared by Major Vic Sattler, and reviewed and amended by DLR staff, was published in the Canadian Army Journal, Volume 13, Issue number 3 (Autumn 2010). Despite the issue date, this volume of the CAJ was not finally published and distributed until the first months of 2012.
Organizing Modern Infantry: An Analysis of Section Fighting Power (pdf)
By: Major V. Sattler, CD, and Captain M. O'Leary, CD
The capturing of evolving doctrine and equipments in a digestible format is always a challenge. Throughout the past two decades, the Royal Canadian School of Infantry has begun a number of projects to update the Army's tactical manual for the Infantry Section and Platoon. A draft compiled by the latest project team was available for review by all infantry units in 2012 for which I was able to contribute remarks. As of this writing, I have head of no projected date of issue for the updated manual.