NOTES ON COMBAT ARMORED DIVISIONS

By General George S. Patton, Jr.,

Third Army

1944

 

The means of securing the data on which to discuss the fighting methods and organization of Armored Divisions are identical to those used for securing similar data for Infantry Divisions.

It should be noted that the Third Army possessed no old type heavy Armored Divisions such as the 2nd and 3rd. Discussion is therefore limited to the new or light divisions. All witnesses were unanimous that this type of Armored Division is deficient in Infantry, Artillery, and Supporting Arms; particularly Supply and Maintenance. An algebraical sum of the various opinions of the organizations interviewed produces the following:

An Armored Division should consist of three Combat Commands (or Regiments). Each Combat Command should consist of two Armored Infantry Battalions, one medium tank battalion, one battalion of 105 self propelled howitzers, one battalion of 155 self propelled howitzers, and one reconnaissance troop, plus the normal headquarters units. Each armored infantry battalion should contain three rifle companies, one heavy weapons company and the headquarters company. The medium tank battalion should consist of three medium tank companies, one light tank company and normal headquarters. The reconnaissance troop should consist of headquarters, three reconnaissance platoons, and a small light plane unit. Each reconnaissance platoon should consist of three armored cars and six peeps with armored windshields (for morale purposes only) plus five similar peeps for troop headquarters.

The foregoing units are organic in the combat command. In addition, the combat command while functioning should have attached to it one company of engineers, one company of ordnance (medium maintenance), one medical company, one antiaircraft battery (self propelled, dual purpose).

In addition to the foregoing, the division should have one reconnaissance squadron consisting of three reconnaissance troops plus one assault gun troop of 105mm guns, one light tank company (M24), and one medium tank platoon with 90mm guns, and a small light plane unit.

Also at the division level should be two QM truck companies, one engineer battalion command of four lettered companies and one bridge company, one antiaircraft battalion, one ordnance battalion, and QM battalion, one medical battalion and one signal company, reinforced. Note that the ordnance, engineer, medical, and antiaircraft elements are attached for combat as above indicated and are taken out for training by their respective battalions. There should be an air-ground liaison detachment with each combat command and at division, the latter to act as an air-ground control center.

The division command should include a Major General division commander, one General Assistant Division Commander, and one General Artillery Commander with appropriate staffs.

In exploitation or pursuit, armored divisions will generally move with two combat commands up and one back. However, they are perfectly capable of moving with the combat commands abreast. Movement in column of combat commands should be avoided due to the length of time required to engage with a long column.

Each combat command should move on at least two roads in which case it should be divided into a heavy and a light column. The heavy column should move on the side where the greatest danger is apt to be encountered or where the ground most facilitates the use of it's heavy proportions of armored vehicles. Normally, the heavy column should have two thirds of the armor, better than half of the infantry and two thirds of the artillery. Probably the 155 battalion would be with the heavy column plus one battery of 105's. In the light column would be the battalion of 105's. The supporting elements are divided on approximately the same proportion, using, however, the best roads for the heaviest loads.

A suitable organization of the reconnaissance and covering detachment of the heavy column is the reconnaissance troop less one platoon reinforced by one medium tank platoon and a company of armored infantry. This force precedes the remainder of the column by fifteen minutes. The main column consists of the medium tank battalion less one platoon of light tanks (with the light column) and less one tank platoon (with the covering detachment). Next come the command group consisting of the combat team commander, the armored battalion commander, the infantry battalion commander, and the air liaison and artillery group commanders. These are followed by one battalion of artillery, probably the 155 battalion, which is followed by the remainder of the infantry and the other attached elements of the command.

The light column is preceded by one reconnaissance platoon reinforced by a light tank platoon and a platoon of infantry. The main body consists of a medium tank company, the column commander with artillery and infantry officers, the artillery and infantry belonging to that column and the remaining elements as the situation commands. The antiaircraft company is split between the two columns.

Before proceeding to discuss actual combat, it should be pointed out that the division reconnaissance squadron either acts to cover a flank or covers the whole command in which case the combat command reconnaissance troops can stay in much closer.

In any reconnaissance movement, whether divisional or combat command, the formation is, with present armament, are one machine gun peep, followed at from 40 to 80 yards by a second machine peep, then an armored car, then a mortar peep, then a second armored car, then light tanks if they are present, then assault guns if they are present. Otherwise, one machine gun peep, two mortar peeps, a third armored car. This unit precedes the covering detachment by thirty minutes.

When time is not vital, the leading vehicle halts and a foot reconnaissance is made around blind curves and over crests. When time is vital, the vehicles go on until shot at when they immediately deploy and open fire. The presence of L4 or L5 planes tuned in on the same wavelength and flying ahead of the column is vital to the maintenance of rapid information. With the combat commands and with the division command post there should be a signal corps monitoring set which can pick up the information turned in by the reconnaissance radio sets and immediately apprise the different commanders of the situation. This continuous information is more necessary to the combat commander than to the division commander.

When, under circumstances which make tank vs. tank fighting inevitable, an armored formation runs into enemy armor fighting according to the German method; that is, very unagressively, our infantry has little value unless woods are present and should, therefore, keep out of the fight and let the armored vehicles come up and shoot it out supported to the maximum by divisional artillery and the tactical air. The presence of this tactical air and the 155 howitzers will give our armor a tremendous advantage. But our armor must remember to seek the flank, to attack from the rear, to use several tanks against one tank, and to use white phosphorus with a view to immobilizing the enemy and then maneuvering to hit him when he comes out of the smoke. When and if the terrain permits, the armored infantry utilizes it's best efforts to get to where it can initiate an attack against the enemy armor through the use of bazooka or antitank grenades.

In attacking fortified villages or other enemy positions the question of whether the armor or the infantry leads depends on the type of terrain. Where there is an opportunity for a rapid advance on a wide front the tanks lead followed by the infantry mounted. If the country is close or full of obstacles the infantry leads followed by the tanks which give close up supporting fire until a break through is created by the infantry for the tanks.

In the attack against villages or small towns by either the light or the heavy column the leading third of infantry and armor and the majority of the artillery establish a pivot of fire. They are joined by the combat engineers for the purpose of locating mines which usually exist along the axis of an advance. While this is going on the remainder of the command under the senior officer with the command executes a wide envelopment with a view of attacking the enemy from his rear. That is, the angle of attack between the axial pivot of fire and the enveloping force must be greater than 100 degrees. When the enveloping force is in position it initiates the attack while the pivot of fire stands fast until the enemy has started to react to the enveloping operation by the movement of his guns, infantry, or armored vehicles. As soon as this takes place the pivot of fire assumes the offensive parallel to, but usually not exactly on, the axis in order to avoid the minefields. When the heavy and light columns are relatively close together the column encountering the resistance can act as the pivot of fire while the other column acts as the enveloping force. This is one of the cardinal principles in tank operations. It is the one-two punch in boxing. But, as before stated, the number two punch (the enveloping movement) must start before the number one punch (the direct attack).

While I am conscious that prescribing specific distances will shock non battle experienced tacticians, the necessity for seeing that the enveloping attack strikes the enemy rear is important. Few such envelopments will go wrong if the enveloping attack leaves the axis of advance one and a half miles in rear of the point of contact and moves on the arc of a circle one and a half miles in radius with it's center, which is the center of the pivot of fire, to a position from which it can initiate it's attack. Obviously, such a statement is going too far, but in order to insure that in the early phases of the next war our envelopments are not, as heretofore, habitually made too close in, the above formula should be used.

In the final assault of the village, the tanks fire at the lower floors so as to drive the defenders into the cellars. Some tanks must enter the village with the infantry. Both the infantry and tanks throw white phosphorus grenades into the basements to induce the enemy concealed there to surrender. An attack of the nature just described by a combat command would probably take three hours to organize. The actual fighting will probably last fifteen minutes. If the show is hurried and the assault starts, say, within an hour, the fight may well last an hour and be much more bloody.

In attacking towns over 10,000 population, it is better to make two direct penetrating attacks at an angle of about 100 degrees apart, break into the center of the town and then fight outward. When moving through woods or high crops, or any other place where the cover permits, or in fog, as much armored infantry as can obtain a place should ride on the tanks to immediately exploit their success and to prevent them from being attacked by bazooka teams. Where there is bright moonlight and the ground has been completely reconnoitered by day, armor can attack at night provided it does not attempt to repeat the operation on the succeeding night because that usually finds the men so fatigued that the attack has no drive.

The normal formation for engaging armored units with tanks leading is to employ two medium companies up, one back, the light company on the flank or prepared to exploit a breakthrough. Each of the leading armored companies has two platoons up and one back. The interval between the tanks of platoons on the line is from 60 to 70 yards. The distance of the support platoon behind this line is about 100 yards. The infantry supporting the tank attack advances mounted behind the two leading companies and in front of the support tank company. If there is more infantry than can be used in such a position the remainder follows the support tank company.

Whether or not an armored attack should be preceded by artillery fire depends on the evidence of organization which reconnaissance has revealed. If the enemy appears well organized then artillery fire must be used, particularly on his CP's. Otherwise, the prepared fires are arranged but not used and the attack, when started, progresses with the maximum speed possible.

In an armored attack with the infantry leading, normal dismounted formations are utilized after the deployment has been made mounted. In this case tanks also act according to supporting tanks operation with a normal infantry division and again seek the first opportunity to break through. When the breakthrough occurs, the infantry near the tanks mount them as the tanks pass through the skirmish line.

It is almost never feasible to attack directly from column. However, the further from the assault line the assembly position can be occupied, the better, because then there is a chance to deploy prior to contact. In all armored engagements marching fire by all guns on the tanks and infantry carriers, including the antiaircraft guns on the tanks, should be commenced as soon as it is reasonably possible to hit. In normal country this is between 600 and 1,000 yards. In very flat country open as soon as you can get the splash of your hits. Marching fire is vital while moving through woods; canister is most useful.

At this time it is desirable to emphasize the necessity of having a second coaxial machine gun in the mantel. One of the two machine guns should be 50mm and the other 30mm, both with the normal rate of fire. Stepped up fire wastes too much ammunition and the tank cannot carry it. At this point it is also well to bring out the fact that the sole purpose of the cannon on the tank is to let the tank get in where it can use it's machine guns to kill the enemy. Avoid tank vs. tank fighting if possible. It is indecisive. Use medium artillery on enemy tanks. If tanks must be fought, use maneuver and attack one enemy with a section or platoon.

Using time fire with 105's and probably 155's, it is possible for the tanks to stay exactly under the concentration. This is particularly excellent as a method of exploiting the tanks through villages, through woods, and for the quick capture of as yet undestroyed bridges.

Violent and rapid attack with the marching fire is the surest means of success in the use of armor.

While it is possible to march armor at night, it is better to halt two hours before dark, attend to maintenance, refueling, feeding the men, and to prepare for a start prior to daylight the next morning. The armored vehicles should be parked so all of their guns can bear outward. The unarmored vehicles, if present, should be inside the circle of the armor. A cordon of infantry in as small a number as possible should be outside the armor at a distance of about 50 yards. One man must be awake at all times in each armored vehicle while the rest of the men sleep in it's immediate vicinity. The remainder of the infantry should sleep inside the cordon formed by their own troops and the armored vehicles. Too much stress cannot be laid on the obligation of officers to maintain constant inspection to see that the men do not go to sleep on their posts.

It is the opinion of those questioned that the great difference between an armored division and an infantry division is that in the latter it is the mission of the tanks to get the infantry forward, whereas in the armored division it is the mission of the infantry to get the armor forward.

Owing to the certainty that in the next unpleasantness the enemy will have the proximity fuse, all armored infantry carriers should be full track and should have overhead cover protecting them from fragmentation. It is highly desirable that each carrier transports a complete squad. It must be arranged so that no machine guns can be fired from the carrier in motion. The question of weight up to 50 tons is now purely academic so there is no reason for us to fool around with light skinned carriers. We must preserve the lives of our infantry for the last hundred yards where nothing but infantry can be successful. The same question of overhead cover applies to self propelled AA guns and to self propelled artillery.

In cold weather armor permits an easy augmentation of night cover for the men. This must be carefully attended to because the danger of fire incident to a few bedding rolls on armored vehicles is far less than the danger of frozen feet or hands from not having them. If we have covered carriers, it is desirable to use heaters similar to those we now have in automobiles. All armored vehicles should have hot plates so the men can warm up something to eat without lighting a fire whenever the vehicle halts.

While this is probably not the proper place to bring it out, it is my opinion that the most important development for armor is not a bigger gun or thicker armor, but better armor which weighs less. It may well be that a judicious combination of armor and plastic will be the answer to this problem.

Replacements: Each armored division should have in it's organic tables of organization one company of armored infantry replacements, one company of armored replacements, one company divided into platoons to contain replacements for all other elements of the division. Authority must be granted to allow for over-strength in grades, ratings and numbers in order to accommodate returned wounded. It is my experience that such over-strength is illusory and in any case does not survive the first day of combat.

THE LENGTH OF COMMAND IS

MEASURED IN TIME, NOT IN MILES

George S. Patton, Jr.

Commanding General

Third U.S. Army

(1944)