SQUAD LEADER on the Western Front
Historical Unit Composition in World War Two
Alan H. Yngve


The German Army that faced the Allied Normandy landings was a far cry from the elite force that began the war five years earlier. The Americans, although well equipped and deployed in battle according to "lessons" learned from the Germans, were still a new army, with only limited combat experience as the junior partner in the Mediterranean theatre.

A careful reading of small-unit attacks and counterattacks reveals that most of these actions were initiated by tactical units more or less fresh to battle, and presumably containing close to their official TO&E (table of organization and equipment). The defensive forces, on the other hand, were usually depleted, and were often only holding or covering forces for what was hoped would be a defense in depth. These observations led to the work behind these notes; an attempt to approximate company-level unit compositions through Squad Leader. Some concessions were made to the SL system, as well as certain simplifications to make the unit compositions roughly equivalent in size and game value. From these unit compositions a scenario system has been devised so that a player may select units with which to initiate an attack on a known defending force. The units are generally outlined here, and will form a basis for the historical scenarios to be used in the upcoming SQUAD LEADER tournament.


The basic tactical infantry formation in World War II was the squad (or in some armies, section), which embraced the general organization and infiltration tactics of the German StrossTrupen (Storm Troopers) of the First World War. The major exception to this rule was the Russian Army, which developed a highly centralized small-unit command structure that prohibited operations by anything smaller than a platoon. To varying extents the Japanese and Chinese armies were also exceptions. Test in combat showed that the squad of 9-13 men was the smallest unit that had the staying power to carry an objective; in most armies maneuver by less than a squad was discouraged.

Above the squad level, by far the most widespread and workable organization proved to be a system of "threes." Unit organization by threes (i.e. three squads to a platoon, three platoons to the company, etc.) provides flexibility at each command level, since each commander above the squad leader can deploy two units of his force on the line while holding the third unit in reserve. The reserve unit would then be available for either stiffening the line unit most pressed by the attack, or aiding the force and momentum of an attack. Therefore in virtually all cases, three squads form a platoon, three platoons form a company (nine squads), and three companies make up a battalion. To complement these basic line formations, a fourth platoon of heavier infantry weapons, such as mortars and heavy machine guns, was usually included in each company. These platoons were usually attached to company headquarters and distributed as direct support to the line platoons as needed. The combat effectiveness of these units underwent numerous changes throughout the war.

By 1943, the German squad consisted officially of nine men, while the American Marine squad had a generous thirteen. Early German rifle companies had a complement of 180-200 men, which was reduced to only 80 by 1943, and later in Italy, reduced still further to 40-70 men. It was claimed that bigger losses occurred in the larger. companies without much difference in effect. While this casualty effect seems irrefutable, it is difficult to imagine a platoon-sized company having a comparable effect to the larger company. For the purpose of the unit compositions in this "Western Front" system, company sized units (9+ squads) have been developed, regardless of whether they would have be called such.

At the battalion level support units began to appear. In the early years of the war there was often a fourth, and sometimes a fifth, company attached to a battalion. These additional companies provided support in the form of concentrated automatic weapons (machine guns), mortars, artillery howitzers, anti-tank (AT) guns or anti-aircraft (AA) guns) or a combination of these weapons. In addition, throughout the organization down to the company level, various logistical support units would be found: signals, medical, supply, transport, and maintenance units. These, however, will not be dealt with as they have no direct effect on combat, nor are they represented in the Squad Leader game.

Above the battalion level many organizations were tried, typically two to four battalions per regiment or brigade, and six to nine battalions, plus supporting artillery, in a division. Late in the war it was at the division level that many German units were reduced in strength: many could field only a portion of their official TO&E, sometimes as few as two or three battalions. Some German divisions became but a conglomerate of miscellaneous replacement, rear guard, security, and kampfgruppe forces representing little more than cadre from units decimated in combat. Despite the confusing hodgepodge of units, the German Army after the Normandy breakout owed most of its cohesion to the ability of higher headquarters to absorb and work with what lower-level units were available. The small units benefited most, however, from the German practice of withdrawing a unit from the front for refit and recreation. This system, unlike the American system of inserting replacement troops directly into the front lines, eased the pressure on the veteran survivors and made possible more basic training and integration of raw troops, troops that otherwise often became the first casualties in the next engagement. In both armies, offensive operations were usually initiated by units either brought up from reserves and quiet sectors, or reinforced at the front, circumstances that allowed them to carry the full weight of their TO&E into battle.


The next sections discuss the unit compositions developed for Squad Leader, in conjunction with notes on the weapons and infantry squads from the game. All Infantry units are based upon Company TO&E; armor units are platoon level, or equivalent, while the various support units are mixed groups of approximately platoon size, designed more to give the appropriate "feel" for the unit than to represent a specific portion of such a unit's organization. Reference can be made to the two tables, last two pages, for these Squad Leader based units.

Twelve different units have been developed for both the American and the German forces. A number of basic assumptions have been made when developing these units that can best be enumerated here. Since the basic types of units found as elements of Armored and Infantry divisions often varied a great deal, an Infantry/Armor cost system was devised. Each unit has been assigned a cost according to its game value and approximate availability. If no cost is given for a particular unit within a given division type, that unit would not be found in such a division. Reasonable use of these units requires an initial decision as to the type of division committed, followed by selection of the desired units from those available in that division type. Both the American and German units include 8 component elements which may be selected for either type of division, 4 of which can appear in both division types. The costs of these units will provide a basis for selecting an attacking force in the upcoming tournament, and could easily be adapted to designing your own scenarios.

Some of the Infantry companies provided have two compositions listed, either "company" or "mobile." These companies may be purchased at the same cost either at full complement, or at reduced complement (roughly 2/3 strength) but fully mobile. All of a unit's heavy ordnance, however, is supplied with a vehicle, regardless of whether the unit is mobile. It is intended that only mobile forces be available as battle reinforcements during a scenario of SL, and all supporting units are provided with suitable transport. An effort has been made to assure that any two units could be fielded with the counters of only one SL game, at least insofar as non-vehicle counters are concerned. It is recommended (required in the upcoming tournament) that only one of any unit be used in a scenario. In some cases, difficulties will arise due to limitations in the counter mix; I will try to alert the reader to these problems, although in many cases comparable Russian counters can be used. Some suggested "special rules" have been developed, particularly in regards to artillery and guns, in order to better approximate the tactical "feel" of these units. [These rules follow the text of this article.]


The German RIFLE COMPANY represents the basic fighting unit of the German army late in the war. This unit is actually a composite of Volksgrenadier and 1944 Rifle TO&E. It is somewhat weaker in machine guns (MG), but stronger in terms of panzerfausts ("officially" concentrated in a separate support company), than the 1944 Rifle Company. These units were "old fashioned" foot soldiers, with only horse transport for baggage, field kitchen, ammunition, etc. They were expected to use rail transport to locations within a reasonable march of their destinations. As with all of these units, the infantry support weapons are roughly 1/2 of true complement. These adjustments are necessary primarily due to counter mix limitations, but also follow normal SL scenario practice.

The 4-6-7 German squads of Squad Leader do not inherently include the light machine guns (LMG) that were minimal equipment for every German squad. In fact, elite squads late in the war often included two, and sometimes three LMG, as the excellent German machine guns, the MG34 and M42, were found to be the best squad weapon. The American squads, by contrast, have a higher firepower, presumably due to the standard Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) or later all-M1 equipment. In game terms it would actually be all but impossible for some units to fire, let alone carry, the support weaponry that was supplied them according to official TO&E.

Each Infantry battalion, normally comprising three companies, was provided with a HEAVY WEAPONS COMPANY. This company supported the rifle units with a variety of heavier firepower, and usually contained better-trained men to handle these weapons. The towed AT gun was organic to a regimental support company (as were the panzerfausts included with the rifle company) but has been included here in rough proportion to TO&E strength per battalion, since they were often attached to battalions or companies as the situation demanded. Although three trucks have been provided for the mortars and AT gun, only the AT gun was towed, as horses (outside the scope of SO would have transported the mortars and heavier MGs. Crews have generally been provided not only for ordnance as per game requirements, but also for the heavy machine guns (HMG), weapons normally operated by separate crews. It is interesting to note that the HMG was initially thought of as primarily an anti-aircraft weapon by both armies. The American Army also used bazooka teams. In general, crews rather than squads have been provided for this purpose.

The motorized Panzer Grenadier Division, which I have called a GRENADIER COMPANY as it was in no sense armored (Panzer), normally made up three of ___ four infantry battalions of a Panzer Division and all of the battalions of a Panzer Grenadier Division. Exceptions to this did occur, however, and such organically motorized units could on occasion be found in the infantry divisions. Better equipped than a Rifle Company, these units show the first evidence of German decentralization of heavy weaponry to the smaller units, as each company was provided with its own mortar element and a larger complement of automatic weapons.

The PANZER GRENADIER COMPANY, the only truly armored infantry unit in the German Army was by far the most powerful infantry unit of the war. Although this unit was somewhat smaller than the comparable American unit, it had its own organic 75mm gun support (represented here by the 75mm AT-gun, but normally an infantry gun or cannon of similar caliber), as well as organic mortars, AA guns, and armed and armored personnel carriers. To supplement this already substantial company-level firepower, each Panzer Grenadier Battalion contained an additional complement of 75mm guns and mortars, often mounted on halftracks to form self-propelled elements. It has been claimed that these units acquired their substantial organic firepower due to shortage of armored direct fire support, which could have been better provided by tanks or self-propelled (SP) guns. While this assessment may well be true, the Panzer Grenadier Company indisputably carried sizeable force into battle. These units often fought mounted, and ideally operated in close conjunction with accompanying armor. Normally only one of the four infantry battalions in a Panzer (Armored) Division was armored, some units however, SS in particular, had more. At a cost of 3, this is the most expensive infantry company available for purchase.


The American infantry units were little different from those of the German Army, although they were usually more dependent on higher organizations for the support needed to carry an attack. The American RIFLE COMPANY was a four-platoon organization that had its support weapons concentrated in a heavy weapons platoon. This organic support was limited, since a rifle platoon could almost be said to have more firepower than its support platoon. The extra manpower, however, often allowed these units to sustain themselves well in combat. Leadership at this level was something of a hit-or-miss proposition, as American officers were drawn from a different pool of manpower than the troops, and could not be depended upon to know their jobs any better than those they were leading. Although transport was not organic to these units, enough transport was available to make them mobile for all practical purposes. [Note that only six American trucks are available in the counter mix; Russian trucks could be used to fill out the complement.]

Beyond the inevitable tank and artillery support available to an American unit, various other heavy weapons were available. The HEAVY WEAPONS COMPANY presented here would not always have been found at company strength, it was often split into the component platoons and distributed as needed. At this point it should be mentioned that many American units acquired, while in the field, weapons that were not part of their TO&E: from extra BARs and MGs, to Artillery, and even AFVs. These additions would be supplied by "understanding" logistics troops, the effectiveness of this additional firepower in combat, however, is a matter of conjecture. The American infantry companies represented here are an attempt to approximate the TO&E of such units, as adjusted for SL usage, any "extras" must be obtained from the other forces available.

The American ARMORED INFANTRY COMPANY was closely patterned after the early German armored infantry formations, with a TO&E much lighter than the well-encumbered German units of 1944. The American Army was the only army to place all of its armored infantry in halftracks, as the German production capabilities were unequal to the task. Although each Armored Division was provided with its complement of these units, the question of how they should be used tactically was never satisfactorily resolved. Usually the Armored Infantry fought dismounted, occasionally with support from their organic vehicles. It was said in many circles that the infantry role in the Armor Divisions could just as well have been filled by the regular infantry forces that were much cheaper in materiel and logistical requirements.


Three "pure" armored fighting vehicles (AFV) units are available for both the Americans and the Germans. Those AFVs represented in Squad Leader, although they limit tactical unit composition, bear a certain amount of discussion. Two German AFVs have not been used in any of the unit compositions. The Panzerkampfwagon (Pzkw) IV Fl, or "MkIVF1" in SL, represents the general form of all Pzkw IV from the beginning of WWII to mid-1942. In that year, the Pzkw IV was up-armed with a gun 43 caliber (L43) in length, the "MkIVF2", rather than the short-barreled infantry support gun-howitzer of its earlier versions. By 1944, the howitzer-armed Pzkw IVs that remained had been refitted to the later armament standard. The Brummbar, mounting a 150mm howitzer, was a self-propelled assault variant based on the chassis of a Pzkw IV. Not many of these vehicles were built and most were used on the Russian and Italian fronts.

The American TANK PLATOON of five M4A4 (Sherman) tanks was the backbone of all American Armored Divisions. Organized into three-platoon companies and three-company battalions, American tank units were much like those of other armies. The Americans, however, had enough tanks to spread around, making tanks a common support element in many engagements. The ARMORED (ELEMENTS) of two Shermans allows tank support to Infantry units (at a cost of 2), or as a stiffening force to Armored Division forces (at a cost of 1).

The German PANZER PLATOON contains only 4 MkIVF2 tanks. German tank platoons originally contained 5 tanks, as this was considered the ideal number to assure 3 mutually supporting vehicles in combat. Production difficulties, however, continually plagued the German Army with a shortage of tanks and armored vehicles. Company strengths were gradually pared from 22 tanks (four 5-tank platoons), to 17 tanks (three 5-tank platoons), and finally to only 14 tanks (three 4-tank platoons) by late 1944. Even though the Germans concentrated all of their tanks in the Panzer Divisions, unlike the Americans, short- ages of vehicles and the reduction in company and platoon strengths clearly affected the offensive capability of these units.

Despite the constant shortage of tanks, the Germans produced many SP vehicles that were able to fill some of the lack of proper tanks. These vehicles were of basically two types. The first, not represented in Squad Leader, consisted of either an artillery piece or AT gun mounted upon an obsolete or captured tank chassis. These vehicles were provided with minimal armor, usually having only sides of small-arms resistant plate and an open top. The other type is best described as an assault vehicle, well armored and mounting a limited traverse gun in a low silhouette fighting compartment. Late in the war numerous effective AT vehicle; were built to this general pattern, the first was the Sturmgeschutz (STG) III, late versions of which are included in Squad Leader.

"Sturm guns", in trials since 1937, first participated in combat in the 1940 France campaign, at the time equipped with the same 75mm howitzer of the MkIVFl. These vehicles were designed to provide infantry formations with armored and mobile direct fire support. Ridiculed by the pure tank advocates, these vehicles eventually came under the control of the artillery forces, a status they maintained throughout the war. The main advantage of these vehicles was the ability to mount a gun larger than could be turret-Mounted on the same chassis. Thus the STG III started with a 75mm. gun when the Pzkw III on the same chassis carried only a 37mm: AT gun. As with most German vehicles, the STG III was gradually up gunned. In mid-1942, faced with the same Russian T-34s that precipitated the up gunning of the Pzkw IV, the STG III received first the L43 75mm gun, and later the L48 75mm gun, the STG III (75mm) in Squad Leader. This up gunning provided the assault batteries with the same AT capability as the Pzkw IV, but tended to detract from their initial infantry assault support role. To remedy this, roughly one in eight assault guns built in 1943 and later mounted an L28 105mm. howitzer, the STG III(105mm) in SL. As tank production fell short of demands, assault guns (which were cheaper to produce) were often substituted in the Panzer and Panzer Grenadier Divisions. This expedient served well in conditions of defensive warfare where the tank's 3600 traverse was not as vital.

The STURM ARTILLERIE TROOP of 3 STG 111(75mm) (half of a typical battery, 3 batteries forming an assault gun battalion) is available to all types of units as its service as pseudo-tank, anti-tank SP, and infantry direct fire support vehicle was widespread. The STURM ARTILLERIE (HOW) TROOP of 3 STG III (105mm), although usually an element of each assault gun battalion, was most often used in its designated infantry support role. It is interesting to note that tactical doctrine prohibited the commitment of less than three assault,-, guns into battle, due to the need of flank support dictated by their limited traverse armament.

American tactics and doctrine in armored warfare differed a great deal from that of the Germans. Early M4s (Shermans) mounted a 75mm L37.5 gun and, although they carried armor-piercing shot, were discouraged from engaging enemy tanks. For this role a "Tank Destroyer" was developed, the M-10. This vehicle mounted the better 76mm L52 gun in an open turret with a 360-degree traverse. The tank destroyer, eventually up armed with a 90mm L50 gun, was an effective vehicle that was hampered in its tactical deployment. Although thought of as a tank and expected to "engage enemy armor", it was not as well armored as a tank and was somewhat vulnerable due to the open topped turret. The 4-vehicle TANK DESTROYER PLATOON represents the usual tactical strength of these units and was used to support all arms, even after the better 76mm. gun was mounted in the M4. Only two M-10s are available in the counter mix, substitute counters may be necessary for this unit.


American production largess contributed a great deal to the strength of American support elements. Although the Germans used efficiently what they had, the Americans were able to dominate by sheer strength if not by tactical finesse. All support units of this system are cross-sectional representations of the units, rather than the usual TO&E of their component parts. It is hoped that they will represent the tactical elements, feel, and effect of the larger units. All of the support units are provided with appropriate vehicle transport, whether this transport would be organic to such units or not, thus providing the mobility often required for their best use.

Upon exploitation, many German attacks faltered after running. into an American headquarters unit. These units, represented by the HEADQUARTERS (ELEMENTS), often were sizable contingents of all arms. This unit, along with an assortment of transport vehicles, includes a Priest (or M7, a common American self-propelled howitzer), an AT and mortar element, as well as off board artillery support.

Two assault units, the ARMORED ASSAULT (ELEMENTS) and the MOTORIZED ASSAULT (ELEMENTS) are available to support Armored and Infantry units, respectively. Although German engineer (or pioneer) units were elite troops that were expected to be "combat engineers", American engineer forces were more construction engineers than combat forces. To fill the assault role, American infantry squads were usually specially equipped and trained prior to their anticipated use in combat. The SL 8-4-7 squads are probably stronger than justified for this role (they would better represent a Marine squad), but are used here as the nucleus of the assault units. The armored unit is provided with an "M4M52", actually a fictitious tank containing both the support howitzer and the thicker armor of -two different Sherman tank variants used in the assault support role. The motorized unit, although similar, has a towed 105mm howitzer as direct fire support and a slightly weaker flamethrower complement augmented with satchel charges (Demolition Charges in SL parlance). All 8-4-7 squads of these two units may place smoke.

The SUPPORT (ELEMENTS) unit is a combination of Infantry Regiment level support of AT guns and 105mm artillery. The American 76mm towed AT gun in. Squad Leader was actually very rare equipment. Most of these guns were mounted in vehicles such as the M-10 tank destroyer, itself used extensively in the anti-tank role, relegating the older and very numerous 57mm towed gun to the infantry anti-tank elements. Note the special rules as they pertain to the use and deployment of the 105mm howitzer.

Although the towed 105mm could be used at half-battery strength (a battery being 6 guns) in this system, such units are better represented by the off board support of the headquarters unit. The SP version of this unit, however, the SELF-PROPELLED ARTILLERY (HALF-BATTERY) is more useful for on board tactical deployment and was found in all divisions. Only two "Priests" are available in the counter mix, a substitute counter may be needed for this unit. This artillery unit, the only true artillery support of this system, is provided with an artillery spotter, whose radio can only be used to contact this unit's artillery vehicles, (see special rules).

The American mobile RECONNAISSANCE (ELEMENTS) unit was composed primarily of tank destroyers and wheeled armored cars. Lacking armored cars in the counter mix an M-16 has been substituted. Since these units did not have a. significant infantry contingent like the comparable German units, the M-16 provides the approximate firepower and vulnerability of the armored car elements. The M-16 was actually used primarily for anti-aircraft defense at river crossing sites, although these vehicles could provide very effective infantry support when necessary.


The German HEADQUARTERS (ELEMENTS) usually retained direct control over fewer forces than did the American. With more decentralization and better leadership. in the smaller units, the Germans tended to attach their support directly to the units needing the assistance. This headquarters unit contains an anti-tank gun representing the lower echelon anti-tank unit, an attached "artillery spotter" to provide off board artillery support, and additional infantry support weapons.

German engineer troops, unlike the construction troops, were equipped for combat. Six Flamethrowers were the most notable part of each Engineer Company's TO&E. The German ENGINEER (ELEMENTS) unit is a platoon strength unit supported by one STG III (105mm), a vehicle often attached to engineers for the assault.

German RECONNAISSANCE (ELEMENTS) differs substantially from its American counterpart by containing a sizable infantry contingent, and was well supplied with anti-tank, anti-aircraft, and automatic weapons. These forces were expected to be able to hold off any enemy patrolling force until reinforced by the parent unit. Usually fighting dismounted, they were fully mobile to enable withdrawal before a larger force. In addition to their SP anti-tank vehicles, reconnaissance units were provided with armored cars and halftracks. Since armored cars are not included in SL, the MG-armed halftracks should provide similar support infantry Divisions had reconnaissance elements as well but, in game terms, these units would be nearly indistinguishable from the other infantry units.

Primarily due to their combat experience on the Eastern Front, the Germans devoted a good deal of attention to anti-tank units and warfare. In addition to the various self-propelled vehicles developed, semi-towed AT Battalions represented by the PANZER ANTI-TANK (ELEMENTS) and the INFANTRY ANTITANK (ELEMENTS) were established units of every division. The Panzer Division's battalion contained three companies, two of 75mm SP vehicles and a third of 75mm towed AT guns. In the German Army every anti-tank gun crew was provided with an MG for close defense. To reflect this and to bring this unit closer to comparable combat value to the Sturm Artillerie Troop, a LMG and extra crew were added to the unit. The Anti-tank Battalion of Infantry Divisions also contained three companies: one of 75mm. SP vehicles, one of 75mm towed AT guns, and a third of light (20mm) SP anti-aircraft vehicles; a support role filled bya separate Flak Battalion in the Panzer and Panzer Grenadier Divisions. In game terms this leaves the Infantry anti-tank unit with one SP and one towed AT gun, plus the LMG and extra crew of the other unit.


Numerous as the sources on World War II are, the following volumes were found to contain information that could be corroborated through other source material, a claim that can not often be made with regards to commonly used "popular" references.