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SMALL UNIT LEADERSHIP


"Strong leadership that develops effective teams is the key to success in battle."
- - FM 22-102 Soldier Team Development

COMBAT EXPERIENCE

Success on the battlefield at the unit level depends on the ability of the junior officers and NCOs to exercise initiative, lead and motivate their soldiers, and instill in them the will to win. This truism is well documented throughout history and in today's conflicts around the world. The examples below illustrate a few incidents where leadership (or lack of it) contributed to the outcome of the battle.

LESSON LEARNED

Develop leaders at the lowest level and let them lead.

WW II: A YOUNG "OLD RELIABLE," THE 9TH ID

Leadership on the battlefield relies less on rank than on spirit, initiative and courage. Nowhere was this truer than near Harzegerade in the closing days of World War II in Germany. In April 1945, the 2nd of the 60th Infantry of the 9th Infantry Division (Old Reliables) was attacking NE of Nordhausen towards the center of the Harz Mountains. The division had just received its first black infantrymen and a platoon of these eager volunteers had been assigned to each company. A squad of one of these platoons under the leadership of PFC Jack Thomas attempted to knock out a German roadblock but found itself under fire from a nearby tank. Leading by example, Private Thomas deployed his men and then led the attack on the roadblock. He had thrown several grenades but then noticed that his bazooka man had fallen. Without hesitation, Thomas picked up the bazooka and fired two rockets: one into the roadblock and the other into the tank. Both struck their marks and the roadblock was cleared. PFC Thomas then picked up the wounded man and "under intense fire" carried him to safety. His Distinguished Service Cross was merely a confirmation that Thomas was a superb combat leader. [24]

LESSON LEARNED

Unit cohesion and discipline results from good small unit leadership. These traits instill the will to victory in soldiers.

FALKLANDS

The British victory in the Falklands is a classic example where superior leadership, better soldier training, and tactical proficiency negated an enemy's numerical advantage.

A good example of initiative and small unit leadership occurred during 3 Para's attack on Mt. Longdon. A Company 3 Para, working along the ridge north of Mt. Longdon, secured its objective but then became pinned down by heavy and accurate fire. One British officer described their situation as "Holding on uncomfortably." About the same time, B Company began its advance on the summit of the mountain. A hundred feet below the summit, they began a bitter position-by-position fight. They met fierce resistance from mortars, machine guns, snipers, and recoilless rifles. The battle dissolved into a series of small unit actions by British soldiers, working forward up the hill using 84 mm and 66 mm rockets to blow open enemy positions. Lt. Andrew Bickerdike, commanding 4th platoon, fell, shot in the leg. One of his men, Corporal Bailey, charged the bunker 50 yards ahead, but fell across it, shot in the legs and stomach. The platoon sergeant, Ian McKay, hastily regrouped the men, then leaped to his feet and charged forward, working in and above the bunker to lob in two grenades. The remainder of the company picked up on the momentum generated by the leadership of 4th platoon and secured the Mt. Longdon objective. In the same battle, one of the Argentine soldiers who surrendered to 3 Para reported "When some of the soldiers found themselves alone in the middle of the night in total darkness, they looked for their leaders for support, but couldn't find them, so they retreated." The Argentines fought well, but the outcome of the battle might have been different if the Argentine leadership had been equal to the British. [25]

LESSON LEARNED

Initiative in battle is rare and leaders must encourage and guide it.

FALKLANDS

After the Argentine surrender of Port Stanley, one British officer said, "it was apparent that the Argentine soldiers exhibited the spirit of initiative at all levels, even among the conscripted soldiers, but there was very little attempt by their leaders to point it or guide it in the right direction." However, one example of personal initiative by an Argentine junior officer was observed at the airfield at Port Stanley, according to one Argentine source. During the defense of the airfield, a warrant officer removed a rocket launcher from a damaged Pucara (Argentine aircraft), attached it to an aircraft towing tractor with iron wire, and attacked the advancing British. When the tractor was hit, he salvaged the rocket launcher, attached it to a wood plank and set it up on the reverse slope of a hill. He continued firing until he ran out of ammunition. [26]

LESSON LEARNED

Leadership is a learned skill. Leaders learn only by leading.

AFGHANISTAN

The Mujahadeen possess no central military authority. They are a loose federation of tribes with a common enemy, the Soviets. Traditionally they have been fighting battles in small formations for centuries. The Soviet situation was considerably different during the early stages of the invasion. The Soviets attempted to fight the Mujahadeen using traditional Soviet tactics of rigid and inflexible execution of "cookbook" solutions. From letters taken unmailed from Soviet corpses by Afghan Resistance Fighters, Soviet troops often complained about their leaders clinging to textbook tactics. It wasn't long before senior leader recognized the need for change. In October 1980, Col. Gen. O. Kulishev, Commander, Trans-Caucasus Military District in the Soviet Union, published an article declaring that small, fast moving units led by sergeants and warrant officers who were trained to make independent decisions were the key to success. In the spring of 1981 Gen. Yazov, 1st Deputy Commander in Chief for the Far East Military District, chaired a conference on the qualities and decision-making authority and flexibility of the junior commander. Gen. Yazov stated that the commander of small units must be given more latitude to exercise initiative. The Soviet leaders began to listen to the message being sent. Later in 1981 an Afghan rebel leader reported the Soviet were stepping up small unit operations led by junior officers. These operations have shown a higher degree of success. [27]

IRAN / IRAQ

During the initial stages of the war, Iraqi commanders would not delegate responsibility below company level. Junior officers and NCOs were not permitted to make decisions. Whenever the junior officer or NCO was faced with a situation that was not covered by orders, he would stop (if attacking) or remain in place (if defending) and wait for orders. The Iraqi Army paid a high price in lives and equipment by attempting to lead soldiers from several echelons above. During the battle of Kharromshahr and Abuaben, which cost Iraq well over 5,000 soldiers, Iraqi leaders realized they had not prepared their junior leaders to make the types of decisions to fight decentralized battles in the cities. Later during the war Iraq began to encourage the junior leaders to exercise battlefield initiative and delegate authority down to the lowest level. [28]

LESSON LEARNED

Initiative in combat begins by encouraging initiative in training.

GRENADA

The initiative and quick reaction of two scout platoon section sergeants in Grenada contributed to the success of the scout platoon's mission. On the second day, following the 82D Airborne division landing in Grenada, the scout platoon leader, 2d Battalion, 325th Infantry Regiment, was given the mission to reconnoiter several warehouses in the vicinity of Grand Anse estate. Intelligence reported an undetermined number of Cubans were occupying the warehouses and a Soviet BTR-60 was in the general area. The scout platoon, consisting of three sections with two gun jeeps armed with M60s in each section, neared the vicinity of the warehouse. The platoon leader was in the second vehicle. He recognized the potential danger of the high ground to their right flank and directed the trailing two scout sections to halt in place and cover his dismounted reconnaissance of the warehouse. They found no Cubans in the warehouse, but did see the BTR-60 approximately 175 meters to the front. The scout section fired three M72 LAWs at the BTR-60. All three LAWs hit the vehicle, setting it on fire. At the same time the entire scout platoon came under intense small arms fire from the high ground to their right flank. The scout platoon was in an ambush kill zone. However, thanks to their training, the two scout sections which remained mounted were able to fight their way out of the ambush. The platoon leader and the other scouts were pinned down and could not get back to their vehicles. The section sergeants realized that their platoon leader and the other members of their platoon were trapped and needed help. Acting on their own initiative, the section sergeants aggressively maneuvered their sections back into the ambush area by placing a high volume of accurate machine gun fire on the Grenadians. They were able to keep the Grenadians pinned down long enough for the platoon leader and other scouts to reach their vehicles and move out of the ambush area. The scout section is credited with four Grenadian KIAs and one BTR-60 destroyed without suffering any serious casualties (one scout was grazed across the nose from a Grenadian bullet). The initiative displayed by the platoon and the will to win over the enemy contributed to the success of the scout platoon. Such success does not occur by accident. It must be encouraged by stressing initiative during training. [29]

REFERENCES

FM 22-100, Military Leadership, Oct 1983. This manual is written to assist leaders at the battalion level and below to develop cohesive and disciplined units.

This manual:

- Helps the leader learn what he must BE, KNOW, DO.
- Helps the leader teach, coach and counsel his subordinates.
- Helps the leader develop cohesive, disciplined, well-trained units that can win under the stress of battle.

FM 22-102, Soldier Team Development, March 1987. The purpose of this field manual is to assist leaders at company level and below in developing soldier teams to meet the challenges of combat.

FM 22-103, Leadership and Command at Senior Levels, July 1986. This manual was written for commanders at senior leader level but also discusses techniques and procedures that are equally applicable to battalion and below. It builds on the premise of FM 100-5 that leadership is the most essential element of combat power.

BOTTOM LINE

Better led and motivated soldiers can win even when outnumbered and outgunned.


Table of Contents
Soldier's Load
Battlefield First Aid



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