Infantry Section

The section was the smallest tactical entity in Canadian Army units for the majority of the 20th Century, beginning in 1916.

1900-1916 - The Birth of the Modern Infantry Section

At the start of the 20th Century, the basic unit of maneuver in an Infantry Battalion was the company. In the South Africa War, the Second (Special Service) Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment rarely split into tactical sub-units, according to Captain Michael O'Leary who has studied the question of infantry sections in depth. A company consisted of 125 men, 3 or 4 of whom were officers, with no warrant officers and only four sergeants as senior NCOs. There were four corporals and seven Lance Corporals authorized, but the unit drilled as a company, and went into action as such. The NCOs "had administrative and training responsibilities, but did not exercise independent tactical command over groups of men."

By the First World War, an infantry company was divided into platoons, but tactically, these were not used to any great advantage either. After the Somme battles in the last half of 1916, the platoon gained in importance. The Company was divided into four platoons per company, for the first time on a permanent basis, and the platoons were divided into four sections. Section commanders were permanently assigned, and the sections were divided up into specialties. One infantry platoon would have a Lewis Gun section, a Bombing section specializing in hand grenades, a rifle grenade section, and finally a rifle section. The platoon thus had a variety of weapons to employ against the enemy, rather than simply advancing in line as had been done at Second Ypres in 1915. By Vimy Ridge in April 1917, the Canadian infantry platoon was able to advance and fight in sections, overcoming obstacles on its own using fire and maneuver, rather than relying on weight of artillery or the threat of the bayonet - two methods that had proven all too feeble in the previous years.

From The Face of Battle: A Study Of Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme by John Keegan:

French small unit tactics, perfected painfully over two years of warfare, laid emphasis on the advance of small groups by rushes, one meanwhile supporting another by fire - the sort of tactics which were to become commonplace in the Second World War. This sophistication of tradtional 'fire and movement' was known to the British but was thought by the staff to be too difficult to be taught to the Kitchener divisions (British Army units formed in the midwar period). They may well have been right. But the alternative tactical order they laid down for them was oversimplified:...two battalions each of a thousand men, forming the leading wave of the brigade, would leave their front trenches...extend their soldiers in four lines, a company to each...and advance to the German wire.

From When Your Numbers Up: The Canadian Soldier In The First World War by Desmond Morton:

In the months after the Somme, Canadian infantry battalions rediscovered platoons. Officially they had always been there: thirty or forty men...In practice, pre-1917 tactics and the lack of reliable, experienced officers persuaded Canadian Expeditionary Force battalions to rely on companies....

Now, instead of advancing as companies in line, as most troops had on the Somme, (General) Byng insisted that his battalions organize four platoons per company on a permanent basis, each with four sections...

A permanently constituted platoon with four specialized sections represented a fighting team that an officer might be able to control. Instead of companies advancing in line...attacking infantry could manoeuvre against an enemy post that held them up. An infantry company would have four teams, each capable of fighting its own small battle...

Byng's transformation of his corps's (sic) organization and tactics was hardly unique. By late 1914 the Germans were already feeling their way towards the all-arms teams they called Stosstruppen...So were some French divisions.

1916 to 1918

In 1916, the Infantry Platoon was reorganized permanently into a four section structure. Each platoon had

  • Lewis Machine Gun Section

  • Bombing Section

  • Rifle Grenade Section

  • Rifle Section

Second World War to Unification

By the Second World War, the infantry platoon had been reorganized, into three sections of ten men, with a headquarters element of half a dozen. The three sections were identical in equipment and armament, with the section commander's armament being the only real change between 1939 and the late 1950s. In 1939, the section consisted of

RIFLE TEAM

  • Section Commander (Corporal) - armed with a rifle, but by 1942 with a submachinegun, either Thompson or Sten

  • Six Riflemen - privates, armed with the Lee Enfield rifle (either SMLE, or beginning in 1943 with the No. 4 Mk I)

BREN TEAM

  • Section Second in Command (or 2 i/c) (Lance Corporal) - armed with a rifle, he also commanded the Bren Team

  • Bren Gunner - a private, he fired the Bren Gun

  • Bren Gun Number Two - also a private, he assisted the Bren Gunner by changing magazines, changing barrels, and when necessary obtaining ammunition from other members of the section

Infantry Section
Rifle Group Bren Group
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Section Battle Drills

At its most basic, Battle Drill taught at the section level simply taught men how to react when coming under enemy fire. In an article in Military Illustrated: Past and Present (No. 20, Aug/Sep 1989 issue), section battle drills were described by eminent British historians Ian V. Hogg and Mike Chappell as follows:

On to a limitless expanse of asphalt march ten men, in step, arms swinging, rifles at the slope. The instructor bawls "Under Fire!": the men halt, face the enemy, order arms, and stand at ease. Then, in unison, they shout "Down, Crawl, Observe, Fire!" and snap to attention. "Rifle group, follow me!" - and on the word "Fire" they snap to attention, which indicates that they are firing. The section commander gives his stereotyped orders: "Rifle group engage; right flanking; Bren group over there!" The Bren group stand at ease (no longer firing), turn right, and double off to the flank; they halt, turn to face the enemy; "Down, Crawl, Observe, Fire!"; and snap to attention. "Rifle group, follow me!" shouts the section commander; they stand at ease to show they have stopped firing, and double off behind the commander, around behind the Bren group. They halt - and go through the whole rigamarole again. Finally, having reached the last position, the section commander orders "Charge!" Away go the riflemen, rifles at the hip, bayonets fixed, and shouting (officially...) "Bullets, bullets, bullets!" to show that they are firing.

It sounds ludicrous; but it impressed the system in the mind, until civilians-in-uniform could be relied upon to snap into it when cold, tired, scared, disoriented, and under real fire from real enemies.

The above illustrates several things; firstly, that at its most basic level, Battle Drill could be a parade square exercise. Also note the "Down, Crawl, Observe, Fire!"; more than just a motto, many Canadian regimental histories make mention of this phrase, which was driven home firmly into the minds of infantrymen, who would need to practice it instinctively when in combat:

Upon taking fire from the enemy, infantrymen were trained to:

  • DOWN Immediately drop to the ground, to present less of a target to the enemy.

  • CRAWL Move to a position that offers cover; at the very least, a soldier would want to move away from a spot where the enemy has seen him drop to the ground.

  • OBSERVE Look to see where the enemy is firing from.

  • FIRE Return fire at the enemy.

The section had to be taught to operate in two groups; the Bren group and the rifle group. Ideally, one group would provide cover fire, to distract or inflict damage on the enemy, while the other group exposed itself by moving to close the range. The section commander had to be able to instantly appreciate what cover was available, and order an appropriate maneuver, such as a right or left flanking.

Once the section had mastered basic battle drills, the next step was platoon training, where the platoon commander had to also demonstrate his appreciation of tactical situations and be able to employ his three sections effectively.

LOB

Once in action, the Canadian Army found it best to reintroduce the "Left Out of Battle" (LOB) system that had been developed in the First World War. Key personnel throughout the rifle companies were left outside of "F" Echelon, in order that the battalion could be reconstituted in the event of a disaster. Company, platoon and section commanders would go into an action, and their second in command would stay out (or vice versa). It was not uncommon for infantry sections to go into battle several men under War Establishment (W.E.) strength. In fact, if the after battle questionnaires filled out by Calgary Highlanders officers were any indication, it was actually the norm for them to do so. The following questions and answers may be found in the regimental archives:

Name Did your section go into battle under W.E. strength? If so, what was the average number of ORs in the section?
Major J Campbell Yes 1 NCO, 6 men
Captain RR Bacon Yes!! 5
Major W Lyster Yes Five or Six.

The 1954 Organization

According to an article by Captain Michael O'Leary, CD, of the Royal Canadian Regiment (The Canadian Infantry Section Attack Part One: Attrition Training in a Manoeuvre Army):

By 1954, the section organization was defined as being divided into two groups; the Bren group under the section second-in-command, and the rifle group. The section commander responsibilities following initial contact and response drills were:

"The section commander now assumes control and gets the section on the move again by means of fire and movement. He immediately indicates a suitable fire position to the Bren group, if it has not already found one. According to the ground he then orders the rifle group's "right or left flanking." (Italics added.)

"The rifle group, covered by the Bren group who area now in their fire position, makes its first bound, led by the section commander. The two groups move on in bounds, covering each other until the rifle group has reached the assaulting position with the Bren group ready to support. However the fewer bounds which the Bren group has to make the better, since it cannot give covering fire while on the move and also runs an increased risk of being located by the enemy."

The tactics of the section had been developed to a high standard. The component stages of the section attack would be familiar to any officer or NCO trained before 1990:

  • "The section … comes under effective fire … Down-Crawl-Observe-Sights-FIRE."

  • "The section commander must get his section moving again as soon as he has either found a covered *line of approach or has arranged to continue the advance by fire and movement."

  • "… the section commander indicates to the Bren group a suitable fire position (if possible a surprise position)."

  • "The section commander orders the rifle group "right or left flanking."

  • "The rifle group covered by the Bren group … until the rifle group has reached its assaulting position …"

These extracts demonstrate the balance of battle drills with the need for a comprehensive understanding of small unit tactics. The two elements of success for the Second World War section were the individual soldiers' battle craft and the section commanders' decision-making and command ability under fire. The freedom of the section commander to combine battle craft, musketry, surprise and use of ground to defeat his enemy while minimizing his own section casualties were vital and expected.

Similarly, the relative importance of battle drills had been reinforced. Drills were a basic structure on which to build once the platoon or section commander had located the enemy and executed an appreciation of the problem and the ground:

"Battle drill must be our servant and NOT our master."
"It must be wisely used and applied."
"It must be emphasized that all the drills which follow in this book are the basis on which to work. They are simple guides for the simple soldier. As sections and platoons become expert in these drills, they must learn to modify them and adjust them to the situation and ground. No one drill can suit all circumstances, and variations on those set out in this and other chapters must be encouraged and taught as soon as the "basic stroke" is mastered."

1960s - New Weapons

In the late 1950s, Canadian infantrymen received their first Army-wide issue of a self-loading rifle intended for use as the personal weapon of the line infantryman - the FN C1, built by Fabrique Nationale and firing the new NATO standard 7.62mm (.308 calibre) round from a 20 round box magazine just as fast as a soldier could squeeze the trigger. The venerable Bren Gun was replaced by the FN C2, a fully automatic version of the FN with heavier barrel and firing from a 30 round box magazine. The much hated Sten Gun was replaced with the C1 Sub Machine Gun, a Canadian copy of the Sterling SMG, and its use in the infantry section seems to have varied. Some reserve units seem to have issued them to section commanders, while regular force units seem to have issued them primarily to vehicle drivers, radio operators, rear area troops, sentries, and the like.

The infantry section remained at ten men, now organized with two section automatic weapons replacing the Bren.

  • Section Commander - Corporal, FN C1

  • Section 2 i/c - Lance Corporal, FN C1

  • 2 x Section Automatics - Private, FN C2

  • 6 x Riflemen - Private, FN C1

Infantry Section
Rifle Group C2 Group
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FN C2 LMG (foreground) and FN C1 Assault Rifle.  Seaforth Highlanders on exercise in Fort Lewis,Washington in the early 1980s.  The C2 was a heavy barreled full auto version of the semi-automatic C1.Photo courtesy Steve Marshall

FN C2 LMG (foreground) and FN C1 Assault Rifle. Seaforth Highlanders on exercise in Fort Lewis,Washington in the early 1980s. The C2 was a heavy barreled full auto version of the semi-automatic C1.Photo courtesy Steve Marshall

Unification and the New Rank Structure

After Unification in the late 1960s, the rank of Corporal - which in the post Second World War Army had always signified a soldier qualified to lead an infantry section into battle - was downgraded severely. Two separate types of Corporal emerged, Corporal A and Corporal B, signifying soldiers with and without leadership training, and eventually the appointment of Master Corporal emerged. Section leadership was changed so that Sergeants were to now lead sections. This was a departure to the previous status of a Sergeant, who from before World War One up into the 1960s had always been the second-in-command of an infantry platoon containing three or four sections. The new Master Corporals were tasked with the second-in-command position of an infantry section, putting them on a par with the Lance Corporals of the pre-Unification era.

Pre Unification Post Unification
Platoon Commander Lieutenant Platoon Commander Lieutenant
Platoon 2 i/c Sergeant Platoon 2 i/c Warrant Officer
Section Commander Corporal Section Commander Sergeant
Section 2 i/c Lance Corporal Section 2 i/c Master Corporal

These ranks, however, were the "book solution" to the problem. In many units, particularly reserve units but also in the Regular Force, sections were often commanded by Master Corporals and even Corporals. Also, equipment shortages and personal preferences often meant that the SMG was usually relegated to radio operators, weapons detachments, and troops outside the platoon organization.

The section, however, still used the "old" section drills with the new weapons:

Master Warrant Officer James Smith (Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, 3 RCR, 1st Royal Newfoundland Regiment, Toronto Scottish Regiment):

As to the old Section Drills with the C1/C2. When I went through (Trade Qualification Level One: Infantry) in 1978 with the Seaforths we were still using the old rifle group/ gun group idea. When you got bumped the Section Second in Command and the two C2s became the fire base and the Section Commander with the 5-6 riflemen would do a right or left flanking attack. Frontal section attacks were usually not done.
We also didn’t pepper pot. You walked through the objective, in line abreast, stopping every couple of paces to fire a couple of shots at the shoulder when the Section Commander yelled “bullets.” Eventually when you got close enough to the enemy, you charged home.
Funny though when I went to Newfoundland in 1981 and joined the 1st Royal Newfoundland Regiment they were still using the Rifle Group/C2 Group and “bullets” drills and didn’t switch over to the “newer drills” (see below) for about a year. Different Regimental Support Staff maybe?

1970s - Mechanized Infantry

The M113 APCDuring the late 1970s, units in Germany were the best trained and perhaps most highly motivated soldiers in the Canadian Army. Their mission in Europe was simple - to react to the tangible threat of a Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe, which would include large scale armoured and mechanized infantry assaults, quite possibly in a Nuclear/Biological/Chemical warfare environment. Training, equipment and tactics were all geared to facing this threat, and annual exercises kept the forces battle worthy. REFORGER (REdeployment of FORces to GERmany) was just part of the training cycle for units deployed to the theatre - and their tactical organization was much different than what was being taught in Canada.

The M113 APC

Canadian units began re-equipping with the M113 Armoured Personnel Carrier in the 1970s. While it was Canadians who had invented the fully tracked APC in Normandy in 1944, they did not follow up the concept after the war. The first APCs, called Kangaroos, were made from Priests - Sherman tank hulls fitted with a 105mm gun mount. After the self-propelled units that landed in Normandy converted back to towed 25-pdr guns, the Priests had the guns stripped out. The first use of this vehicle in Normandy was a success, and Ram tanks used for training - similar to the American Sherman - were similarly converted for infantry use by removing the turrets. After the Second World War, some Sherman tanks in Canadian service were similarly converted by removing the turrets. However, no purpose built APCs were on inventory until the 1970s and the addition of the M113 which had been used extensively in combat zones in Vietnam by the US military.


Above, the 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment formed up at Hohenfels, Germany in the early 1980s - the days of plenty for the Canadian Army. Ten years later, the fall of Communism and the end of the Soviet threat to Europe would bring about rapid decline in Canadian defence spending and overseas commitments. Photo courtesy James Smith

As Canadian units began to deploy to West Germany to defend against what was felt to be an impending threat by the Soviet Union, section organization changed dramatically. Manpower shortages (the military was not popular in Canada or the United States immediately after Vietnam) meant that Master Corporals and even Corporals were leading sections in overseas battalions.

James Smith (3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment):

I remember in Germany in 1980 (M Company RCR) our sections were organised as a Section Commander (Sergeant), M113 Driver and two weapons teams of 3 men each for dismounted operations. One with the Carl Gustav and the other with the .50 calibre heavy machine gun. As most of what we were doing was defensive ops on REFORGER against enemy mechanized and armoured formations that organization made sense. Can’t remember working as a conventional, rifle group & C2 group type section over there.

Each section had an 84mm (Carl Gustav and) Platoon Weapons Detachment must have had an 84mm too, and I know they had a C5 GPMG as well as the .50 calibre HMG on the track and probably a 60mm mortar....

Considering the high armour threat it kind of makes sense. ADP Platoon had 18 TOW equipped M-113s. At the time I don’t thing we really had a separate Combat Support or Weapons Company and each of the Rifle Companies had a Support Weapons Platoon attached to them for admin purposes. Mortars with Mike Company, Recce with November Company and ADP with Oscar Company. Papa Company was the reinforcement company that flew over from 2RCR (and may have included the Assault Pioneers, who might also have been attached to Battalion Headquarters.) Mind that was for admin/garrison only. On Exercise the ADP Platoon were broken up and attached to the Combat Teams.

Normal defensive deployment was to have the M-113s in a harbour to the rear and dismount and deploy the 50 calibre on its tripod. Like I said basically half the section were with it and the other with the Carl G. A third “trench” held the Section Commander and one rifleman. C2s were I guess with each “team.” In our section we swapped off support weapons every couple of days on REFORGER so I got to hump both Carl G and Ma Duece. Lot of fun as you also had to hump your personal gear, weapon (C1/C2) and NBCD kit too.

The following is from Sheldon Clare (Royal Canadian Regiment and later Captain in the Reserves):

As I recall the section organization for Mike Company 3RCR for the 1980 Reforger Exercises looked like this:

  • Section Commander Sergeant – FN rifle

  • Section 2iC Master Corporal – FN Rifle

  • Driver for M113 – SMG

  • C2 Gunner

  • C2 Gunner

  • Carl Gustav 84mm MAW No. 1 Gunner – MAW and FN Rifle

  • Carl Gustav No. 2 – FN and Rockets

  • Rifleman – FN Rifle

  • Rifleman – FN Rifle

  • Rifleman – FN Rifle

Our section was augmented with cadets and reservists for REFORGER.

The usual drill was that the section commander would command the rifle section and the 2 i/c would command the C2 Group. Sometimes the Carl G team would act as riflemen depending on the tactical situation. We only dismounted the fifty in defence and remember that humping it about made me glad that I was usually carrying the Carl G! When the section was doing something dismounted we would leave the driver and one other soldier with the track to act as Air, Gas, and Sagger watch and help the driver with maintenance as well as provide fire support if needed. We did a lot of NBCW with gas in the field that summer – the old hands said that this was a new thing to be doing the gas training outdoors there. The driver would trade the SMG when needed for patrols or when he pulled sentry duty and needed to use a rifle, but usually the SMG sat in oily rags under the driver's seat!

The platoon commander also had a light mortar and a GPMG with his track. I never did see the mortar deployed, but the GPMG was used frequently – I suspect that it was partly because we had no blanks or BFAs for the M2 HMG, and thus the GPMG was noisier (and easier to lug around dismounted).

One thing I remember about tactics was that the section commander and a designated fifty gunner often had to do a switcheroo when we were coming in on mounted assault. (This once involved ripping up a field of cabbages - on one night attack the cabbages were thumping the side of the track so hard that we all thought we were under small arms fire! - Everyone felt pretty foolish when we bailed out and fell on our faces in the cabbages...)It was a bit of a concern as there would be a pause in the firepower from the fifty during a critical time while the switch was made. I asked about it once and the rationale was that the section commander needed to see the objective until the last possible moment. We tried some other techniques, such as the Section Commander observing from the cargo hatch with the gunner in place in the hatch, and with the section commander serving as gunner with the 2 i.c commanding the assault. I recall that there was often some confusion with the radio head set! Anyway there was certainly lots of cross-training going on. That’s my recollection anyway…

Photo courtesy Steve Marshall Section Commander, Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, early 1980s.Once battle is joined, the outcome ultimately falls on the shoulders of NCOs like him and the decisions he makes for the handful of men at his command. Photo courtesy Steve Marshall
Photo courtesy Steve Marshall Section Commander, Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, early 1980s.Once battle is joined, the outcome ultimately falls on the shoulders of NCOs like him and the decisions he makes for the handful of men at his command. Photo courtesy Steve Marshall

In Canada, infantry platoons only had 1 Carl Gustav rather than one per section as in Germany. Also, four M72 (also known as the LAW (Light Anti-Armour Weapon) or SRAAW (L) (Short Range Anti Armour Weapon (Light)) were the official scale of issue for a section.

At right, a rifleman of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada on exercise in Fort Lewis, Washington in the early 1980s. The M72 was a disposable weapon that could be used not just against armour, but also bunkers, buildings and other hard targets. The normal method of carry was simply to sling the device, as shown at right. The corporal is lightly equipped, carrying only water and ammunition. Body armour would not be a standard issue for Canadian soldiers in the 20th Century.

"PPCLI Drills" 1979

In 1979, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry - by this time one of only three Regular Force Infantry Regiments in the Canadian Forces - began rethinking infantry section attack drills, and these "new" battle drills slowly made their way throughout the rest of the Land Forces. The following conversation was recorded at the army.ca messageboard and is quoted with minor edits only to capture the rich detail in the dialogue which goes beyond a mere description of the drills themselves:

James Smith:

Around 1979 we started learning the “new PPCLI” section drills. This had the section in two 4 man fire groups; one commanded by the Section Commander and the other by the 2 i/c, each with a C2 and divided into two man fire teams. In other words closer to what we have (in 2004). Frontal attacks using fire and movement were the norm. Hopefully Marshall will jump in here as he taught me all this in the old days when he was my Section 2 i/c and Section Commander.

As for Ammo, a rifleman with C1 was supposed to carry 5x20 round mags and 1x60 round bandolier (in 5 rd clips). If you had 1951 Pattern Webbing you had mag pouches, 64 pattern had no pouches and you were supposed to shove them in your pockets. Most guys I knew either attached the old “bren” pouches from the 51 or rigged US M-14 or M-16 pouches to their belt.

C2 gunners carried 6 mags, 1 on the weapon, 1 in a pocket and 4 in a chest rig or bra that was uncomfortable and really hard to extract mags from in the prone. I speak from experience as small guys with big mouths usually ended up with the C2.

And from Sergeant Steve Marshall (Seaforth Highlanders of Canada):

Up till 1979 we did section battle drills straight out of the book as James Smith stated. The section was organized like this:

  • Rifle Group

    • Sect Comdr- Sgt FNC1 180 rounds 7.62 and a radio

    • Rifleman-Cpl /Pte FNC1 180 rounds 7.62

    • Rifleman-Cpl /Pte FNC1 180 rounds 7.62

    • Rifleman-Cpl /Pte FNC1 180 rounds 7.62

    • Rifleman-Cpl /Pte FNC1 180 rounds 7.62

  • C2 Group

    • Sect 2 i/c - M/Cpl FNC1 180 rounds 7.62

    • Rifleman-Cpl /Pte FNC2 210 rounds 7.62

    • Rifleman-Cpl /Pte FNC2 210 rounds 7.62

In reality we had MCpls as section commanders and a senior Corporal as a 2 i/c. The Sergeants were usually in the Platoon Warrant Officer position, and Warrant Officers were CSMs . We always seemed to be short of senior Warrant Officers and NCOs.

(Ironically) I never commanded a section again after completing my TQ3 ( Infantry Section Commander Course) and being promoted to Sergeant.

In about 1979 the 3rd PPCLI developed the fire team and fire and movement drills and we adopted them as our Regimental Support Staff were PPCLI.

The section was organized into two groups with 4 fire teams:

  • Group 1

    • Alpha Team:

      • Sect Comdr- Sgt FNC1 180 rounds 7.62 and a radio

      • Rifleman-Cpl /Pte FNC1 180 rounds 7.62

    • Bravo Team:

      • Rifleman-Cpl /Pte FNC1 180 rounds 7.62

      • Rifleman-Cpl /Pte FNC2 210 rounds 7.62

  • Group 2

    • Charlie Team:

      • Sect 2 IC - M/Cpl FNC1 180 rounds 7.62

      • Rifleman-Cpl /Pte FNC1 180 rounds 7.62

    • Delta Team:

      • Rifleman-Cpl /Pte FNC1 180 rounds 7.62

      • Rifleman-Cpl /Pte FNC2 210 rounds 7.62

During advance to contact and when recieving "Effective enemy fire" (effective meaning rounds were hitting your area or you took a casualty which we were told was the more likely - it was described as hearing CRACK SPLAT as opposed to CRACK THUMP as a bullet went by.) we did the old "Fire, dash, down, crawl, return fire." The drills progressed from there. Locate the position, win the fire fight, assault, fight through the objective etc. We still did flanking assaults, in fact, all the way up to a Company level attack.

The only new thing was the fire and movement by fire teams. One fired as the other moved a short distance.This was done as a section, as a group or just as a team.. Also we were not restricted on which group did the assault.The one in the best position was given the task. The Section Commander would lead it if possible.

When I went to Aldershot in 1981 for my TQ3 I used these drills for my first Section Attack and they failed me. The staff were all RCR and Nova Scotia Highlanders. The attack was flawless but they told me that it was too confusing and that if I did that in battle with new recruits I would get them all killed. My reply was that they would sure as heck know the drill before we were sent to the real thing.

They gave me another shot, so I reorganized in the classic Rifle group/ C2 group, did the advance, got bumped and put in another flawless attack. Kudos here to all the guys on course with me as they made so easy to do. But then we were all hot to trot young infantry Master Corporals.

From Chris Pook, a subaltern with the Calgary Highlanders:

In Gagetown in 1982 they were teaching us wannabe officers to conduct the section attack with the section organized as Marshall described with the 3 man "guns" group under the 2 i/c and the Rifle group under the Section Commander with two men designated as grenadiers prior to the assault.

The only significant difference that I can see is that rifle group would advance by pepper-potting, either in pairs or teams, while the gun group put down suppressive fire on the objective, firing perpendicular to the axis of advance.

As to the Crack-Thump vs Crack-Splat that Marshall refers to, I remember those lessons. In fact as I recall it our Directing Staff informed us that we would be told WHEN we could react to enemy fire. "Effectively" meant that we were to continue following the last order until the guy in charge decided that we had taken enough hits and something different had to be done.

The Directing Staff were both PPCLI and RCR instructors.

I do remember one curious difference between "The Army of the West" and "The Army of the East". The PPCLI instructors were forever on us for oiling our FNs too heavily. The RCR instructors would then follow up by claiming we were oiling too lightly.

We couldn't make up our minds whether they were just being vindictive or whether it was due to the fact that the RCR generally trained in wet conditions while the PPCLI trained in dusty conditions. General sentiment leaned towards them just being vindictive and nasty.

And finally from James Smith once again:

Oh yeah, I just loved that Army of the West vs Army of the East thing.

Like I said in less than 12 months I went from doing the "2 fire group fire and movement method" (with the Seaforth Highlanders in British Columbia) to the classic "Rifle Group / Gun Group" on the other coast, with a stop in between in Europe using neither and the section used to hump and deploy heavy weapons. No wonder my brain hurt back then.

I know what Marshall means; on the first exercises after I got to Newfoundland and we did the "old drills" I almost died. I was a section 2 i/c and tried to teach the “new” ones and a crusty old RCR WO ripped me a new one. Fortunately by the time I made it to Aldershot for course (1982), they had switched over.

1980s -Reserve Units

From Chris Pook, a Calgary Highlanders subaltern, again:

In the 1980 - 1984 period just as the Grizzlies were introduced to the Highlanders, we were being instructed that the 10 man section was the doctrinal configuration for all applications but in practice we were to prepare to fight a 9 man section (one down due to manning restrictions).

  • Section Commander - Sergeant, FNC1

  • Section 2 i/c - Master Corporal, FN C1

  • Section Automatic - Cpl/Pte, FNC2

  • Section Automatic - Cpl/Pte, FNC2

  • 5 Riflemen, Cpl/Pte, FNC1

How the section was to fit into the Grizzly was a matter of debate.

At one time the dismount element was supposed to be 9 men, with the Vehicle Commander dismounting past the turret basket (he had to keep his webbing off and grab it and his hat just as he exited the vehicle), 6 men sitting in the centre facing outwards and 2 men jammed into the jump seat up against the engine firewall. Fortunately I don't think we ever had the numbers to actually operate that way.

In practice it was more like 2 men mounted (driver and gunner) with 7 men dismounting (including the commander).

I also seem to recall that we had a 3-man weapons detachment equipped with one C5 MMG (the old Browning .30 rebored to 7.62) one Carl Gustav 84mm Anti-Armour weapon and one 60mm Mortar without the Bipod. The company commander would decide which weapons would be carried by which platoons.

Soldiers from the Loyal Edmonton Regiment (4 PPCLI) dismount and go into an attack with fixed bayonets as their Grizzly covers them with the turret mounted weapons (DND Photo)

Soldiers from the Loyal Edmonton Regiment (4 PPCLI) dismount and go into an attack with fixed bayonets as their Grizzly covers them with the turret mounted weapons (DND Photo)

From Ed Storey (The Lanark and Renfrew Scottish):

When I was in the infantry reserves 1978-82 the standard infantry section was:

  • Section Commander C1 SMG

  • 1 x Riflemen/Radio Operator with AN/PRC510 Set and FNC1A1

  • 4 x Riflemen FNC1A1

  • Section 2i/c FNC1A1

  • Section LMG FNC2

The Section 2 i/c and the LMG Gunner formed the LMG group and generally provided a base of fire for all the section attacks.

The Section Commander and Radio Operator usually hung around together for command and control.

The Section also carried a couple of empty M72s that could be 'loaded' with a Thunder Flash and used to simulate firing that weapon.

From a Regular Force soldier:

I was in during the 1970/80s. As a Section Commander I never carried a SMG, always a FNC1. The SMGs were reserved for drivers, certain patrol tasks, communicators, etc. I carried one in Egypt though, when on guard duty at night

1965-1975

Dan Martel passes on the following:

In 1965 there were 13 battalions of infantry in the Canadian Army (Regular). Nine of them had just been reorganized on the new establishment for a mechanized unit equipped with the M-113A1 APC, three were organized as Special Service Force battalions (the 1964-1968 version of the SSF not the 1977-1993 version) and one (3 R22eR) was an anti-tank unit.

The nine mechanized battalions were organized on establishment WE/RCIC/5/1. They had a 10 man rifle section however due to manning restrictions within the total Army establishment each battalion (in Europe and in Canada) was restricted by one man per section. The section armament included 1 SMG, 1 LAR and 8 rifles. There was only 1 MAW in the platoon.

Unfortunately I do not yet have the SSF battalion establishment E/RCIC/12/1 however these battalions were not equipped with MMGs or HMGs so the rifle sections may have had two LARs to compensate. In mid 1965 the establishment designation was changed to WE/RCIC/13/1.

These establishments remained in effect until the 1968 land forces reorganization. In February new CF War Establishments replaced the RCIC versions. The anti-tank battalion was converted to rifle infantry and only the three battalions in Europe were to continue as fully mechanized units. Two battalions were to be disbanded later in the year reducing the overall number to 11. One of the reasons for the disbandments was to provide the manpower positions for the organization of the Canadian Airborne Regiment which brought airborne rifle sections into the mix.

The three mechanized battalions in Germany were established on CFWE 5/1 in May. This unit had 9 man sections which were now commanded by a Sergeant instead of a Corporal. There was a Corporal 2i/c, six Corporal/Private riflemen and one C/P communicator/driver. The section was armed with one SMG, two LARs, six rifles, one MAW and a grenade launcher.

Non-mechanized battalions on establishment CFWE 5/2 (later changed to CFWE 5/5) also had a nine man rifle section. They were organized identically to their mechanized counterparts with the exception of not having a MAW at the section level.

The airborne rifle section found in the CAR establishment CFWE 14/1 had 11 men. It was commanded by a Sergeant, had 2 Corporal detachment commanders, one C/P com/dvr and seven C/P riflemen. It was armed with 1 SMG, 2 LARs, 8 rifles and 1 MAW. As far as I am aware this establishment remained in effect until the CAR was reorganized and relocated to Petawawa in July of 1977.

In 1970 the infantry battalions, mechanized and non-mechanized, were again reorganized with the number of battalions reduced by one to 10. The two establishments (CF WE 5/1 and CF WE 5/5) remained the basis for this reorganization. The rifle section stayed the same with just one exception. On July 1, 1970 the brigade group in Germany became a battle group and the overall size of the two remaining mechanized battalions was reduced. One of the methods used to achieve this was by reducing the rifle section manpower from 9 to 7 men.

The non-mechanized rifle sections were in use until at least 1974 (which I can document) but more than likely until the adoption of the Standard Brigade Group (SBG) which came into effect in the late 1970's. I believe at this time the section strength was increased to 10. The mechanized sections were increased to 10 men during the 1980's - if I recall correctly during 1986.

The 1990s

The 1990s again brought a new "family" of weapons to the Infantry Section. The FN C1 was replaced by the Canadian version of the M-16, called a C7 and offering several dozen improvements over the similar American weapon. Chiefly, it had the advantage of firing fully automatic. It also fired a 5.56mm round, as did its American counterpart; this smaller round became the new NATO standard. The old NATO standard, the 7.62mm, was retained for use with the C6 General Purpose Machine Gun. This weapon was already coaxially mounted on Grizzly APCs, Cougar FSVs, and Leopard tanks and was now destined to replace the Browing GPMG. At the section level, the FN C2 was replaced by the C9, also known as the Minimi, which could be fired either from belts of 5.56 mm ammunition, or in an emergency fed from C7 magazines.

  • Section Commander - Sergeant - C7

  • Rifleman - Corporal/Private - C7

  • Rifleman/Grenadier - Corporal/Private - C7/M203

  • C9 Gunner - Corporal/Private - C9 LMG

  • Section 2 i/c - Master Corporal - C7

  • Rifleman - Corporal/Private - C7

  • Rifleman - Corporal/Private - C7/M203

  • C9 Gunner - Corporal/Private - C9 LMG

According to Captain Michael O'Leary of the Royal Canadian Regiment:

At about the same time (as the C7 replaced the FN) came a fundamental shift to the philosophy and tactics of the eight-man infantry section as the 'normal' tactical group for dismounted tactics. The eight man dismounted section is normally organized into two balanced rifle groups, each with one C9 light machine gun. In the assault, the section commander controls the parallel movement of the two groups toward the objective with each group alternatively providing covering fire for the other. As the section closes and as dictated by the ground, the effectiveness of enemy resistance and by the section's casualties, the section commander will order the groups to commence fire and movement within the groups by fire teams (pairs) supporting each other. Finally, fire and movement by individual riflemen within the teams might be ordered.

The Infantry may have, inadvertently or otherwise, adopted along with these changes some bad baggage. The two-fire-group assault is an effective tactic for trained infantrymen in short intense assaults with plenty of outside supporting fire (infantry fighting vehicles, tanks, artillery, etc.). But, it can only work over very short distances. The nature of the section's movement requires that each of the eight riflemen move from position of fire to position of fire, necessarily within the enemy's view and returning defensive fire. Unless the control of fire within the section is superb, the enemy is sufficiently suppressed, and the attacking soldiers have impeccable discipline to continue moving forward in the face of fire from an entrenched (or at least static) enemy, the attack will fail from loss of momentum or the likely casualty rate). When this assault tactic is used over too great a distance, or by soldiers without the training, experience or discipline to make it succeed, the section (or other, i.e. non-infantry, small unit) will die.

Captain O'Leary's in depth discussion of the history of the Section - its organization, its training, and how it went into battle - can be found at his Regimental Rogue website.


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