Small Unit Tactics: Fire and Maneuver

This graphic, courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons, illustrates a basic fire and maneuver assault.

Fire and Maneuver is a foundational small unit tactic. At its most basic, the tactic involves dividing a squad into a fire element and a maneuver element. In order to attack the enemy, the fire element (which typically includes a medium machine gun and its attendant ammunition carriers and barrel changers) discharges their weapons at the enemy, with the intent of fixing the enemy in position. Scenes in war movies where troops are “pinned down” by machine gun fire depict this portion of the tactic.

The fire element, then, forces the enemy to remain in place, and even more importantly, limits the enemy’s ability to fire back, as most enemies are hesitant to leave cover and return fire when machine gun bullets are whizzing overhead. While the enemy is keeping his head down, the manuever element makes extensive use of available cover to move toward the enemy position, with the intent of attacking from the flank or other unexpected direction.

The fire element ceases firing as the manuever element makes its assault on the enemy position, killing the enemy and moving quickly across the position to the other side. Moving quickly through the enemy position is key at this point; all but the most inept enemies will have artillery or air attacks pre-registered on that position in the event that your forces take it, and a delay by your forces in the area could invite a nasty long-range response from the enemy.

Enemies with low resources may not have artillery or aircraft to pre-register, but they may place booby traps or explosives in their positions to inflict casualties on your forces if they spend too much time in the newly taken position. Most military forces will have personnel trained in safely searching enemy positions following behind the assault troops to remove any traps and recover materials with intelligence value.

Of course, there are variations to this tactic, based upon available resources and number of troops involved in an assault. Since the number of troops in a squad can vary based on the squad’s nationality, prior casualties taken or arrival of reinforcements, Fire and Maneuver can be more elaborate.

A larger squad, for example, may have a fire element that provides suppressive fire, a maneuver element that carries the assault, and a command and support element with a non-commissioned officer, a medic, and a radio operator that coordinate and support the assault.

Another variation has  emerged during more recent conflicts. Rather than deploying only one weapon system for suppressive fire while the rest of the squad serves as riflemen, many modern militaries are creating squads that are subdivided into fire teams of three or four troops each, with each fire team having a primary weapon system for that fire team. Thus, one fire team might employ a medium machine gun, a second would have a sniper or designated marksman, a third may have a submachine gun for close assault, and a fourth may have a mortar or grenade launcher, which can be assigned to either the fire or maneuver elements as dictated by the situation.

It is also possible for forces outside of a squad to provide either the fire or maneuver element for a given mission. For example, A squad may devote all of its weapons to the fire element of an assault, fixing the enemy in place until an air strike can be executed for the maneuver portion of the assault. In that case, the “assault” is conducted by machinery instead of infantry. Similarly, allied artillery could fix the enemy in place as the fire element, while the entire squad devotes its energy to carrying out the maneuver element of the assault.

The small unit tactic of Fire and Maneuver touches upon wargaming with Army Men in two ways. First, this battle tactic can be carried out during virtually any skirmish or tactical-level rule set on the tabletop. Secondly, since most rule sets involving Army Men generally allow players to specifically choose figures based on their armament, players can create squads or fire teams of soldiers with Fire and Maneuver in mind.

In a follow-up post to this one, we’ll discuss selecting troops for squads based upon rule set, terrain, and/or historical accuracy.

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