This is a useful primer on World War II British, American and German infantry tactics at the squad and platoon level. The author, Dr. Stephen Bull, is a Curator of Military History and Archaeology for the Lancashire Museum. The book's seven chapters discuss the organization, training and implementation of small unit tactics. Supplementing the text with training manual diagrams and a photograph section, Dr. Bull endeavors to explain the tactical evolution of the three principal military forces engaged in European combat operations. A robust appendix section relates the structural composition of the various national elements along with extracts from period training manuals. The use of excerpts from applicable tactical manuals is augmented through the use of secondary sources, after action reports, and personal memoirs.
The author begins by discussing the national character of the participating nations and the effect these factors have on the organizing, equipping, and training of respective military forces. For the Germans, the post World War One period saw them experimenting with a variety of weapons, organizations and equipment to conduct a short, aggressive war. During this same period, the British formed a forced to protect their colonial assets while the United States prepared for no war at all.
As documented by the author, by 1939, the Germans created a superbly trained, mobile force able to conduct complex, swift attacks with relative ease. Their decentralized execution procedures used a simplified orders process to attain decisive battlefield victories. Dr. Bull explains in great detail that the squad and platoons were amply equipped with a proliferation of automatic weapons such as the superb MG-42 machine gun, the quick firing MP-38 submachine gun, and by 1944, an advanced infantry assault rifle. These weapons systems were placed in the hands of highly skilled soldiers who appreciated the science and art of tactical employment. Given their desire to conduct swift combat operations, the Germans created a superb armored force that provided for infantry to accompany them into battle using a variety of armored personnel carriers. Fortunately for the allies, many of these developments came too late to alter the inevitable results of a prolonged war.
From the start, both Britain and the United States faced the daunting task of training and motivating a conscript army to counter the Germans. With a deep appreciation of the contribution that Great Britain made to the transformation of a small army into a robust military organization, the author provides the reader an insightful look into how this alteration took place. The British, with an obviously smaller population base to draw upon, initially relied on manuals, training films and tactical exercise without troops to train leaders. Heavy emphasis was placed on field craft and battle drill. Field craft consisted of physical training, weapon proficiency, forced marches, and navigation skills. Battle drill sought to teach soldiers how to execute assaults using either fire and maneuver or fire and movement to attain battlefield success. Bayonet drill and hand-to-hand combat were employed to create a spirit of aggressiveness.
When the United States entered the war, they had the benefit of observing both British and German forces engage in combat operations. This allowed a detailed analysis of the Army's doctrinal approach to warfare. Dr. Bull reviews the advantages and shortfalls of this process. His conclusion is the American Army used established service schools and an impressive professional publication apparatus to create the environment required to evolve from a small professional army into a large effective military force.
Once again, the author raises several important difficulties encountered by the Americans. For example, the demanding transition from theory to practice was not aided by the Army's entrance examination process, which relegated the lowest scoring individuals to the infantry. To raise morale and encourage infantry soldiers, the Army initiated the awarding of the coveted combat infantryman's badge and combat pay. Augmenting these recognition methods with organizational and equipment improvements enhanced the performance of the force. Common cartridge weapons such as the M-1 Garand, Browning Automatic Rifle and the .30 caliber light machine gun were assigned to squads and platoons easing the strain of resupply. As with the British and German armies, heavy emphasis was placed on field craft, weapons proficiency, and large-scale maneuver exercises to create a confident and competent force.
Perhaps the most thought provoking chapters of the book are to be found in Bull's discussion of anti-tank methods and tank infantry coordination. The employment of large armored formation provided mobile firing platforms that permitted maneuver on a scale previously unknown. To fully exploit this new means, infantry had to attain a degree of mobility to keep pace with the armored force. The Germans appreciated this imperative prior to the initiation of hostilities and developed armored personnel carriers capable of keeping pace with the tanks while carrying a variety of assault weapons in addition to transporting infantry in relative safety. The British pre- war experimentation with armored forces led them to employ the small Bren Gun Carrier to transport soldiers and various supporting weapon systems. The Americans relied on the M-2 and M3 infantry carrying half-tracks to accompany their armored force into battle. All sides also sought to protect themselves from the enemy's armored threat by the use of a variety of anti-tank grenades and gun systems. Several man portable systems were also developed for use by the infantry. These included the heavy British Projector Infantry Anti-Tank (PIAT), the American 2.36 inch Rocket Launcher known as the bazooka, and the superb German Panzerfaust or tank fist. Of all these weapons, the most effective was the German system. This weapon allowed the individual soldier to fire a hollow charged warhead capable of penetrating four inches of armored plating at an enemy armored vehicle with devastating effect. The proliferation of these battlefield weapons added a new dimension to anti-tank warfare that remains with us to this day.
This is a well-written book with excellent graphics displaying the various infantry squad tactics of World War II. It provides a welcomed non-biased outlook on the strengths and weaknesses of infantry tactics of the different countries. The book will be a welcomed addition to a professional reading library and serve as a valuable reference for research on World War II.