Die Jakkalsgat

Sunday, November 14, 2004

US mechanised infantry battalion structure

There’s been a request over at Adventures of Chester for a basic introduction to unit structures and sizes. I’m not surprised really. I remember last year, a survey in the US during the initial invasion of Iraq suggested people thought the 3-7th Cavalry was a bigger unit than the 3rd Infantry Division. Over the top reporting by the CNN embed with 3-7th was to blame.

I guess the best way to start to explain this is to use a real example. I’ve chosen the sister unit of the 3-7th which is also one of the units engaged in the Battle for Falluja: 2-7th Cavalry.

2-7th CAV (IN) is mechanised infantry battalion equipped with the M1A2 Bradley (BFV). In barracks, it consists of a headquarters and headquarters company (HHC) and three mechanised infantry companies (normally named A thru C). An infantry company consists of a headquarters element and 3 platoons. Each company has 14 BFVs and a number of other assorted vehicles. Each company has about 135 troops and a very limited self-sufficiency. HHC is the largest company of the battalion in respect of manpower, about 250-300 personnel, but only 2 further BFVs. In HHC there is maintenance, medics, scouts, comms and logistics elements.

In total the 2-7th CAV (IN) accounts for about 650-700 personnel, 44 BFV and numerous other assorted vehicles.

However, when deployed on operations, the structure is very different. On operations it takes on the mantle of a Task Force (TF) and has sub-units attached and detached. TF 2-7 CAV is nominally based at Camp Cooke near Taji. TF 2-7 CAF looks a little like this:
· HHC/2-7 CAV
· A/2-7 CAV (IN)
· C/2-7 CAV (IN)
· C/3-8 CAV (AR)
· B/2-162 IN
· B/215 FSB

In otherwords, it has ‘lost’ the 14 BFVs of B Coy, and in return ‘gained’ the 14 Abrams tanks of C Coy of 3-8 CAV (AR), B Coy of light infantry from 2-162 IN Oregan National Guard and B Coy of 215th FSB (supporting elements).

For the Battle of Falluja, I suspect that the National Guardsmen have remained in Taji area as TF 2-7 CAV has been supporting the ‘light infantry’ of the USMC.

I hope this helps, and makes sense. If there is any interest, I can go into far more detail of how the units are structured, light infantry, mechanised infantry, tanks – US or UK military.


  • I appreciate your explanation of battalion structure. I'm a US Civil War historian when the American regimental system was much different, so I'm frequently mystified by current unit designations. The Army's effort to maintain famous units like the 7th Cav. in the service seems to be one reason why the organizational tables seems so scrambled.

    If you have time and are willing, I for one wouldn't mind more nuts-and-bolts information on organization.

    One curious example of continuity between current and nineteenth-century American practice, however, is the fact that American Indian war expeditions in the nineteenth-century were also frequently hodgepodges of company sized units put together for specific tasks, and then dispersed again to isolated posts when that task was completed. The level of organizational sophistication was of course nothing compared to what it is now.

    By Blogger Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh, at 14 November 2004 at 18:48  

  • Archidamus,

    As I'm sure you appreciate all too well, the subject matter has immense scope. Rather than blindly setting off up a path that does not really help you, can you please be a little more precise about what you're trying to get to grips with.

    Please bear in mind that many of the old and famous names still exist, and thus the heritage of those old units is carried on into the 21st century. But the sense of the 7th Cavalry fighting as a whole once again is long gone, the 5 separate squadrons of the 7th now have quite different roles in quite separate locations.

    It is the battalion, or in the case of the cavalry, the squadron which is the organic unit. The 'regiment' is now merely a symbolic or traditional nomenclature. In the UK, the regiment still plays an important role, but that is on the verge of changing too.

    Please let me have a clearer idea of what you're looking for, and I'll do my best to accommodate.

    Die Jakkalsgat

    By Blogger Jakkalsgat, at 14 November 2004 at 19:41  

  • Die Jakkalsgat,

    Actually, your comment that the battalion is still the organic unit answers my biggest question. Its never been entirely clear to me as to what exactly is the basic building-block unit of modern American military practice, and the fact that the task force version of 2-7th Cavalry involved some shuffling of units also threw me off. The continued reference to regiments has also constantly confused me, especially since I know that there are in the US Army Armored Cavalry Regiments that seem roughly equivalent to independent brigades as far as I can tell.

    From my perspective, the command structures of all these mixed units, with both Marine and Army forces working together, seem extremely confused, but its obviously working well enough. One benefit of modern organizational practice, I suppose.

    It was my impression that the regiment still has tremendous cultural importance to the British Army--has their been any resistance to the changes you mentioned?

    Thanks again for the post and your reply to my comment.


    By Blogger Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh, at 15 November 2004 at 16:35  

  • Those Bradley battalions are far different from the older style M113 battalions--Those had 6 compaines, HHC, A, B, C, D, and E, with A-D being line companies and E being a dedicated Anti-Armor company. I suppose with the addition of the TOW launcher on the Bradley, the AA company was no longer needed, and for whatever reason, the 4th line company was dropped.

    The task forcing of company elements dates back to at least WWII, and as was noted, probably earlier.

    I don't know if they're doing it now, but we used to even cross attach platoons--one infantry company would get a platoon of tanks, and one tank company would get a platoon of infantry.

    By Blogger Eric Blair, at 15 November 2004 at 19:28  

  • Archidamus:

    A lot of the organizational confusion of the modern or post-modern army is inherent in a combined-arms military context. In the Civil War era, the term of art would be the "legion" - a small-scale force consisting of a balanced combination of infantry, cavalry, and artillery - usually eight or so companies of infantry, a couple troops of cavalry, and a short battery of artillery. The "legions" generally didn't survive prolonged contact with the bureaucracy of the grand armies, I believe.

    The issue, of course, is that single-arms battalions are organizationally easier to train and operate in peacetime as themselves - mechanized infantry, armor, artillery, MPs, etc - but aren't effective in action without the cross-attachment which makes such a confusing mess for the casual observer. This has been true ever since WWII, but it may be ramping up to new heights of confusion and apparent-chaos as "combined arms" gives way to "jointness", which layers service interaction on top of arms-based brigading.

    Fallujah may be a new record for confusion, given the amazing tangle of Marines, Army Cavalry, Army Infantry, the Black Watch, the Iraqis, and at least four flavors of air support, all converging on a little more than a dozen square kilometers of Mesopotamian slum. I'm very impressed at the lack of friendly fire casualties. Blue Force Tracker must be working miracles out there.

    By Blogger Mitch H., at 15 November 2004 at 20:04  

  • Mitch,

    You're right to say that the few "legions" of the Civil War were quickly disbanded. Wade Hampton's might have hung around for a while, but that would have been more a result of Hampton's distinctive talents than any sort of "combined-arms" concept in Civil War armies. I think the ill-fated Henry Wise also had a legion, but I can't think of any other examples of the top of my head.

    If anything, there's a tendency during the ACW to concentrate single arms--artillery, infantry, and cavalry--in separate organizational structures. Both Henry J. Hunt (the Army of the Potomac's artillery chief) and Phil Sheridan fought tenacious, and in the end successful, intra-bureaucracy battles to assert the organizational independence of the artillery and cavalry arms, even to the point of superceding a local commander's perogatives (Hunt's and Hancock's frictions during Pickett's charge is the best example that comes to mind).


    By Blogger Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh, at 15 November 2004 at 20:21  

  • Archidamus,

    Some would say the basic organic unit is the individual soldier, as it is he/she that pulls the trigger, the cord or presses the button. Others would say it a pair, as you need somone to watch your back. Others say it the section or the platoon. There is a strong case to say that the company is the basic unit, but I still call it the battalion. And here's why.

    It is at battalion level that you have a real sense of self-sufficency. You've got the signals, the medics, the recovery, the planners and so on, You don't get this in smaller units. It is true, that companies are moved around, even platoons too. But they need that battalion level command structure to attach to. I hope that makes sense. In that sense, the battalion is the lowest form of 'parenting', irrespective of how the 'children' perform.

    In combat, the 'barracks' battalion is broken. Companies of armour and infantry swop places in order to provide the 'combined-arms' so necessary on the modern battlefield. But the battalion HHC becomes the Task Force HHC. A family of all girls has sopped a couple of offspring with a family of all boys to create two equal, and balanced, formations.

    It is quite true that there are independent companies, or even platoons, but they either require some larger 'parent' to oversee the admin, or they end up with a bloated HQ structure that is quite disproportionate to size of the unit.

    Am I making any sense?


    For orbat purposes, it is standard practice just to group companies as whole units. With planning for actual operations is required, companies are broken down into task specific 'combat groups' dependent entirely on the objective under consideration. I remember studing some JNA (Yugoslav Army) operations in 1991/92 and they really mixed-and-matched: A section (3) tanks, a company of mech infantry, a section of anti-aircraft vehicles (3 x BOV-3 - a 4x4 with triple 20mm cannons - very effective against infantry!!!), a platoon of military police, a combat engineer platoon - and so on. It worked sometimes, others it failed.

    By Blogger Jakkalsgat, at 15 November 2004 at 23:24  

  • Die Jakkalsgat:

    The family metaphor actually works quite well with me, especially since it is roughly comparable to Civil War regiments on the level of organization/administration.


    By Blogger Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh, at 16 November 2004 at 21:14  

  • I was with B Co 2/162 IN attached to 2/7 Cav during the fight for Falluja. I would just like to let you know that we, 2nd Platoon B Co, were there with the rest of Task Force 2/7 Cav.

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