Doughboys: The American Infantry Section in France, 1944

The American infantry section in Normandy is a very different beast to it’s German counterpart covered in our last Devblog. For one, the American section tends to be bigger at 12 men rather than the German 10, and the doctrine of it’s employment very different. From a US field manual first issued in 1944, “The rifle squad consists of a sergeant (squad leader), a corporal (assistant squad leader and antitank rifle grenadier), an automatic rifle team (automatic rifleman, assistant automatic rifleman, and ammunition bearer), and seven riflemen, two of whom are designated as scouts.”

The Section

The American Infantry Section, from an American training manual published in May of 1944

Nominally, on paper, this section has no submachine guns, although in practice section leaders and their assistants would often carry the M4A1 Thompson into combat to augment the offensive fire-power of their section. Nominally, the section support weapon is the Browning Automatic Rifle, or BAR, a steady fire-rate long rifle fed by 20 round clips. In the assault, the Americans suffered from a lack of offensive fire capability despite their semi-automatic M1 Garand rifles, which lead to some sections substituting the BAR for the M1911a1 Light Machine Gun.

American Infantry

American infantry training ‘somewhere in England’ prior to D-Day.

In theory, the section broke into three sections for the attack. The grenadiers and BAR team covered the assistant squad leader or squad leader and manoeuvre section (riflemen) in the advance. This rarely worked, as the above mentioned shortage of offensive fire-power seriously hampered the ability of sections to lay down effective fire to cover the assaulting section. As such, American sections learned quickly that a setup using 2 BARS, spilt into two teams with the Section Leader and his Assistant mutually supporting each other worked far better, with the teams covering each other in the advance.

 

Troops of US VII Corps move over the seawall as part of the assault up Utah beach, June 1944

Troops of US VII Corps move over the seawall on UTAH beach, 1944

American sections in Normandy tended to be inexperienced, as for many (although not all) formations Normandy was the first real action of the war. As such, casualties were relatively high in comparison to their British allies, whose Normandy contingent consisted mainly of battle hardened troops from North Africa and Italy. As such, American infantry were used to shooting at paper targets at known ranges, and their training rarely employed any live fire field exercises to test the initiative of the section leaders. Therefore US riflemen were often unwilling to put fire on all known and more importantly, suspected enemy locations during combat on the off chance their ranging was off. This was overcome to a certain degree, but was never entirely obviated with experience.

Captain Robert C. Crisson briefing his company on their role in the invasion of Europe - May 1944

Captain Robert C. Crisson briefing his company on their role in the invasion of Europe – May 1944

It is also worth noting that the American experience of Normandy was an experience of facing German second-line troops. In Normandy, the Germans considered the British army group the chief danger to their occupation and position, as it was a veteran formation with experience and will to win over that of it’s American counterpart. The US forces were seen as ‘the secondary flank’ and, as such, had secondary troops committed to it.

The first line troops the Germans possessed, such as the SS Panzer Grenadiers and more experienced formations, almost always tended to be employed against British or Canadian formations, and not against the American sector. As such, the American lightning advance so often lauded by Academics as showing American prowess is nothing of the sort, only the sweeping aside of second-line units whilst the real fighting was taking place to the north among the Canadian and British units.

Next time: Terriers and Tea: The British Section in Normandy

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