March 07, 2015

Rifle Platoon Leader - The Approach March


Approach March:  Advance of a combat unit when direct contact with the enemy is imminent. Troops are fully or partially deployed. The approach march ends when ground contact with the enemy is made or when the attack position is occupied.

When organizing your platoon when on the approach march (movement to contact) you should use one of the following platoon formations.  Which to use depends on the terrain you are moving through, your mission, how safe you feel, etc. 

These can be as loose as you wish so use this as a template for proper movement formations, you do not need to rigidly adhere to these formations and the actual use will be highly situationally dependent. 

In the game I tend to instinctively use whatever formation I think is best, though often no formal formation is adhered to at all and the movement is more fluid and takes the shape allowed by the underlying terrain, however the underlying formation adopted will be a derivative of one of the following.

Learn the basics, experiment with them, and you might see that this knowledge leads you to subconsciously apply them or variations of them without thinking.  Or, you might see that what you are already doing is represented here and this will perhaps provide structure and explanation to your in game handling of your platoons. 

Without knowledge action is useless and knowledge without action is futile.
                                                                                 Abu Bakr

NOTE 1:  Ensure you continue to use the proper squad movement techniques as the situation demands.  Regardless of how your higher formations are organized for movement, your lower echelon units (in this case your squads) should still maintain their movement discipline.
NOTE 2: Ensure you maintain good scouting procedures and send a scout team ahead of the formation and perhaps another scout team to one or both flanks if you think the situation warrants.

Platoon Column
"Platoon column" is vulnerable to fire from the front, and requires a change in disposition to employ the weapons toward the front; however, it is easily controlled and maneuvered. It is especially suitable for narrow, covered routes of advance, for maneuvering through gaps between areas receiving hostile artillery fire, and for moving through woods, and in fog, smoke, or darkness. The depth of a platoon column averages 150 to 200 yards.
FM 7-10 – 18 March 1944
Platoon Column Formation
When using this formation, place your squads one behind the other.  I usually place my Platoon Leader somewhere towards the center of this formation to enable it to keep both the front and rear squads in command.  When moving fast or through tight terrain this is a good formation to adopt. 

Line of Squads

"Line of squads" enables the platoon leader to develop the maximum fire power to the front in the shortest time. It is more difficult to control, and lacks maneuverability; but it is less vulnerable to fire from the front. It is suitable for rapidly crossing an area exposed to hostile long-range machine-gun or artillery fire which cannot be avoided.
FM 7-10 – 18 March 1944
Line of Squads Formation - showing two scout teams
As the quote from FM 7-10 states, use this formation when moving across open terrain especially when enemy contact is probable.  I usually place my platoon leader behind the formation and try to ensure all squads are within command range.

Two Squads Forward, One Squad Back
One Squad Forward, Two Squads Back
"Two squads forward, one squad back" and "one squad forward, two squads back" are formations which provide security to both front and flanks, favor maneuver and control, and also provide flexibility in meeting new tactical situations. The factors usually determining which of these formations is to be employed are the terrain, the frontage which the platoon must cover, and the proximity and actions of the enemy.
FM 7-10 – 18 March 1944
Two Squads Forward, One Squad Back - showing two forward scout teams and one flank scout team
I refer to these as the Platoon Wedge (one squad forward, two squads back) and the Platoon Vee (two squads forward, one squad back).
One Squad Forward, Two Squads Back - showing two forward scout teams and one flank scout team
In both of these formations I will place the platoon leader toward the center of the formation either between the trail squads (wedge) or in front of the trail squad (Vee).  These are my preferred platoon formations for most terrain, especially when moving through woods or other close terrain.  These formations ensure that you have a reserve that you can use as a maneuver element in a platoon attack drill.

Squads Echelon Right or Left
A formation with squads echeloned to the right or left rear may be used to protect an exposed flank and permits maximum fire to be delivered promptly toward that flank.
FM 7-10 – 18 March 1944
Squad Echelon Right
I will use this formation for a flank platoon if its flank cannot be secured by another formation or masked by a terrain element.  It ensures that the platoon can quickly return fire to the defended flank if necessary.


Maintain a steady pace as you advance.  Your speed will of course be dependent on the movement technique(s) your squads are using.  Make sure you are using the correct squad movement technique for the situation.
I often will vary the pace of the individual components of the formation so I can better spot for enemy activity.  You can use entire squads for overwatch if you like so your moving squads have some sort of security and your platoon will move faster than if using overwatch within each squad (which will be more necessary once enemy contact is attained). 

Regardless of the formation you should always maneuver your force using the terrain to help mask your force from enemy observation.  It is more important to mask your movement, thus taking a longer more circuitous route than to rush your movement over open ground.  Take extreme care when ordering your movement at all times.  Your opponent will be frustrated as if done correctly he will get some scattered UI contacts but rarely anything firm, and often will never see your movement at all until it’s too late.

Open areas, such as roads, clearings in the middle of woods, etc. should be crossed as quickly as possible or better, bypassed if possible.  Ensure you have units providing overwatch as each unit crosses the potential danger area.  Alternately you can move the entire platoon up on line and cross them all in a rush as one complete formation to keep the time spent in danger to a minimum.


Best practice is to maintain visual contact between your squads and your platoon leader at all times ensuring the entire platoon is within command range.

Top image shows actual positions, the bottom (with the PL  selected) shows that most of the platoon is out of command and the PL can no longer see any of his subordinates except the 2nd Squad
Your scout team(s) should be well in front of your forward squad(s), but within visual range.  If you play Iron mode then it is easy to ensure your formation stays within visual distance of your scouts.  You want your platoon to be able to quickly maneuver on any enemy unit(s) your scout team identifies and this can be difficult if there is too much distance between them.


Often the distance to be traveled can be quite long.  In these circumstances make your movement in a series of bounds to your ultimate destination.   Keep moving through each objective as you reach them, only use them as a means to orient and control your movement.
Keep analyzing the situation throughout your move and determine if and when you might need to slow your pace, change your Approach March formation, or end the approach march.


When an enemy unit fires on an element in the platoon or an enemy contact is identified, I normally stop everything and quickly analyze the situation.  If the element being fired on can eliminate the threat then the rest of the platoon continues its movement while the element in contact deals with the threat.  If the unit in contact cannot deal with the threat on its own then those elements necessary from the platoon will assist by providing fire or maneuver support as required.

I will deal with every enemy contact as they arise and make a decision to either bypass the enemy unit, eliminate it, force it to withdraw, or call up additional firepower if I determine that it needs to be removed from my path and it is too much for my platoon to handle on its own.

If the enemy unit requires a full platoon attack, then this will end the Approach March and begin the Platoon Attack.


The Approach March for the rifle platoon ends when combat begins.

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