Infantry Machine Gunner
The basic weapon of the US Army has always been the individual infantry soldier with his rifle. He is the ultimate weapon. He meets the enemy eye-to-eye, defeats him on the battlefield, and occupies terrain. The structure of the entire US Armed Forces is designed to support this man in the accomplishment of his mission.
It was during World War II that the Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB) was instituted, at the suggestion of General Omar Bradley. The “Soldier’s General” felt strongly that the very special nature of infantry combat deserved unique recognition. Awards of the CIB and its only companion, the Combat Medical Badge (CMB), awarded only to aid men assigned to infantry units, began in 1944. These are the only such “combat” badges authorized. Regulations prescribe that these badges be worn above all other awards and decorations, including the ribbon of the Medal of Honor. Describing why he felt infantrymen should receive such an award, Bradley wrote: “The rifleman fights without promise of either reward or relief. Behind every river there’s another hill — and behind that hill, another river. After weeks or months in the line only a wound can offer him the comfort of safety, shelter, and a bed. Those who are left to fight, fight on, evading death but knowing that with each day of evasion they have exhausted one more chance for survival. Sooner or later, unless victory comes this chase must end on the litter or in the grave.”
THE RIFLE SQUAD (Authorized Strength – 12):
Twelve infantrymen formed the rifle squad, the basic combat unit of the Army. Eleven of these soldiers were armed with the .30-caliber, semi-automatic M1 Garand rifle; one man carried a fully automatic Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) that fired the same ammunition as the M1. A staff sergeant (squad leader) was in charge of the squad, and he was assisted by a sergeant (assistant squad leader). While both NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers) were considered “shooters” they also had major duties to perform in leading the squad as a whole or parts of it, when the squad was divided into teams.
In both defensive and offensive operations, the squad’s actions were geared to the BAR, which provided the squad’s primary firepower. Two of the squad’s riflemen were assigned to support the BAR gunner, one as an assistant gunner and one as an ammunition bearer. In combat, the squad leader and his assistant directed the actions of seven riflemen and the three-man BAR team.
THE RIFLE PLATOON (Authorized Strength – 41):
Three rifle squads and a small headquarters cell together comprised the infantry rifle platoon, which was commanded by a lieutenant — for as long as he survived. In addition to the platoon commander the headquarters was authorized a technical sergeant (platoon sergeant), a staff sergeant (platoon guide) and two messengers (privates), who were also called “runners.”
The rifle squads were numbered 1 – 3, as were the rifle platoons.
It was at the platoon level and above that “attachments” to the authorized strength and structure were commonly found. Each platoon normally was augmented by a medical aidman from the Regimental Medical Detachment. A mortar observer or observation team from the company’s weapons platoon or the battalion’s heavy mortar platoon might be attached for specific missions. In a similar fashion one or both of the company’s two light machine gun (air-cooled .30 caliber) teams or a heavy machine gun section (two water-cooled .30 caliber machine guns) might be attached to the platoon from the battalion’s heavy weapons company. The company commander also had five 3-man antitank rocket (“bazooka”) teams at his disposal, and he attached them to platoons as he saw fit. Under more rare conditions, engineers from the division’s engineer combat battalion might be attached.
THE RIFLE COMPANY (Authorized Strength – 193):
Three rifle platoons (1st, 2nd, and 3rd), a weapons platoon (sometimes called the 4th Platoon), and a company headquarters formed an infantry rifle company of six officers and 187 enlisted men, commanded by a captain. The weapons platoon (authorized strength – 1 officer and 34 enlisted men) contained two light machine gun squads and three 60mm mortar squads. (The 60mm mortar could lob a projectile about three times as powerful as a hand grenade out to a range of 2,000 yards. The great benefit of the mortar is that since its trajectory is very steep, it can be used to drop rounds behind hills, houses, etc. where the enemy would be protected from direct fire weapons.) The weapons platoon commander advised the company commander on disposition of the machine guns and mortars, which could be positioned to support the whole company generally, or to reinforce fires in a particular area of concern. Usually, the three mortars were grouped together in a single firing location. The two machine guns were doctrinally employed in “pairs” so that the fields of fire converged to cover as much of the company front as possible — but this could be done with the machine guns positioned quite some distance apart.
The rifle company was the lowest level at which the unit was usually fielded in echelons, with components of the company not in physical contact with others. The rifle company normally operated in three echelons: the three rifle platoons and a portion of the company headquarters, including attachments; the three light, 60mm mortars of the Weapons Platoon, which tended to operate slightly to the rear of the “front line;” and the administrative portion of the company headquarters (cooks, clerks and supply personnel, totaling about 12 men) which usually operated from positions well to the rear.
At this level, too, attachment of outside resources was habitual. Routine attachments included platoon aid men for the rifle platoons, one or more heavy machine gun sections from the battalion’s heavy weapons company, a forward observer party (normally a lieutenant and two men) from the supporting artillery battalion, and a forward observer party (one or two men) from the mortar platoon of the battalion’s heavy weapons company. On occasion, antitank guns from the battalion’s antitank platoon or the regimental antitank company might be attached to a rifle company. The rifle company was also the lowest level infantry organization to employ a reserve force, usually one rifle platoon. It was at this level that the doctrine of “two up and one back” began (two thirds of a combat unit engaged and one third in reserve).
M1919A4 Light Machine Gun
Weight of gun and tripod: 48 pounds
Effective rate of fire: 150 rounds per minute
Cyclic rate: 450 rounds per minute
Maximum effective range: 1,100 yards
Ammunition: .30 caliber
Method of loading: 250 round cloth or linked belts
The 1919A4 was a recoil-operated, belt-fed, air-cooled light machine gun.
The M1919A4 was the primary light machine gun for more than 30 years. It served in many roles, including as an infantry support weapon, tank machine gun, and in several types of aircraft. Known as the “light .30,” this weapon delivered unsurpassed reliability and firepower across the demanding battlefields of World War II.
The light .30 was the primary machine gun in the rifle company. This weapon was one of the anchors of the company’s fire support. The machine gun squad was the basic unit for the light .30 and its crew. A corporal led the squad and had the following soldiers assigned; one gunner, one assistant gunner and ammunition bearers.
During all campaigns in which it served, the light .30 proved to be dependable and flexible. Soldier appreciated its ease of operation and hard-hitting firepower. Still, it had a few drawbacks. For instance, due to its air cooling and lightweight tripod, the light .30 couldn’t keep up the sustained fire of its big brother, the M1917A1. Nevertheless, it was an important part of the Soldier’s arsenal.