Fire Team

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Various nations explored ways to deploy automatic rifles before the cosmopolitan fire team found a permanent home in the U. Marine Corps. For more than half a century, the rifle squads of the U.

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This makes possible a larger tactical repertoire than would otherwise be the case. However, the thirteen-man squad and the fire team that makes it so powerful have their roots in Europe. In fact, over the last century, several very different military forces developed them for different reasons and with varying degrees of success well before the marines.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, a team of engineers working for the Danish army invented a weapon that defied existing categories. At the same time, it was capable of fully automatic fire, the definitive characteristic of a machine gun. Almost immediately, military men began thinking about how best to deploy such a weapon.

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Being classified as a machine gun proved to be a considerable handicap for the new rifle. When armies around the world explored the possibility of acquiring it, they invariably tested it against the full-size machine guns then being offered for sale. The new weapon was not without prominent supporters, however.

In , the man who had built the earliest prototypes of the new weapon, Lt. Madsen, became the war minister of Denmark. The initial concept of employment for the Madsen gun was as unusual as its design. In the first few years of the twentieth century, most armies grouped their machine guns in detachments that were modeled on the horse-drawn artillery batteries of the day. The Danish army, however, assigned its automatic rifles at a much lower level, allocating a squad armed with three Madsen guns to each squadron of mounted troops.

In European armies of the early twentieth century, a cavalry division was a formation of some five thousand horsemen, while a squadron was a unit of roughly one hundred fifty men.

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At first, the Madsen gun squads were bare-bones organizations, with a squad leader, three gunners, and a man to lead the packhorse that carried the extra ammunition. A few years later, four additional men three assistant gunners and a man to lead a second packhorse were added to the table of organization for the squad. This new nine-man squad was more robust than its predecessor; among other things, it could immediately replace any gunner lost in combat and its members could carry twice the ammunition of a five-man squad.

At the same time, as all nine members of the squad were fully occupied with firing or feeding the Madsen guns, they had little ability to provide for their own security. In , Lt. This squad, mounted on bicycles, would consist of a leader and three four-man teams.

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Within each team, one man was the leader; two men would handle the Madsen gun; and the fourth, armed with a bolt-action rifle, kept distractions at bay. He also carried some of the additional ammunition that horse cavalry units loaded on pack animals.

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When an infantry division advanced, its commander would dispatch the Madsen gun platoon to hold bits of key terrain. At the time, most other infantry squads, including squads of bicycle infantry units and those made up of dismounted cavalrymen, were unitary organizations. That is, each consisted of a certain number of men usually between eight and twelve who messed, marched, moved, and fired as an unarticulated group.

To this end, each squad was provided with but one leader, who might not even rank as a noncommissioned officer, and had no permanent subdivisions.

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  • At the same time, it began to convert some of its infantry battalions into bicycle units. Danish commanders could then improvise mobile blocking forces of their own, and saw little need to form a unit that was exclusively concerned with that role. Though Denmark declined to take sides in that conflict, the Danish army devoted the bulk of its efforts to building field fortifications, and there was little energy or attention to spare for improvements related to mobile operations.

    Soon after becoming a footnote to Danish military history, the concept of a squad made up of three four-man automatic rifle teams found a new and highly unlikely home. In the spring of , Erich von Falkenhayn, the de facto commander in chief of the German forces on the western front, concluded that trench warfare might last for quite some time. As a result, he asked one of the more creative members of his staff, an enigmatic Col.

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    Max Bauer, to set up three large-scale experiments. The Ger man word Muskete , however, had been reserved for the heavier members of that category. How the German army managed to obtain a sufficient number of Madsen guns to arm the two Musketen battalions is something of a mystery. The Danish company that manufactured the Madsen gun has no record of sales to the German army.

    Of course, any transfer of weapons from neutral Denmark to a belligerent would have been made under the table. Some argue that the Madsen guns were captured from the Russians, who had used the weapon as a cavalry machine gun for more than a decade. While this was in keeping with the common German practice of collecting, refurbishing, and reusing enemy weapons, documentary evidence of such captures is conspicuously absent.

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