Formations for Bricks
Formations for Bricks
I have already written about Bert Levy’s Filbuster formation in my blog. On this page I look at the idea in more detail and how it works in team or “brick”-sized tactical formations.
“Many authorities on scouting advocate the system of “bounds” when on some form of guerrilla work in which a larger number of men is employed. If you are acquainted with the entire route, you will take note of certain objectives-buildings, copses, etc.- which mark stages in the journey. When the leader and the forward scouts reach these points, they wait for the rest of the party, under the command of another guerrilla, to catch up with them. They plan the crossing of the next stage. This method is still more valuable when you are not well acquainted with the territory ahead of you and will therefore have to plan the route across each stage after you have gained the next point of vantage. This method cannot always be followed on dark nights.
For scouting, my favourite method of progression is the “Filibuster system”, or the “staggered triangle.” This calls for the employment of three men who continuously remain in triangular formation, although their functions may vary from time to time.
These scouts never walk or talk together, but also they never lose sight of each other. The distance they maintain between them depends on the nature of the country; as it becomes flatter, more open, they can increase the distance between them.
This system is different from the “jump” or “bound” system, as outlined above, in which the men have to come together, every once in a while, to hold whispered conversations.
This triangle never breaks up, but the functions of the men at the three points change in accordance with the direction in which they decide to move. In advancing straight ahead; for instance, the leading scout, at the forward point of the triangle, whom we will call Number One, looks to his front, right and left.
Number Two, behind him to his right, covers Number One’s rear well as his own front and right. Number Two, of course, can equally well be to the left of Number One- the triangle can function in any direction, with its apex, Number One, always pointing in the direction in which the men are proceeding. Then, Number Three, from his place- the third point of the triangle- covers the rear of both the others against any flanking movement. If the enemy comes head-on to any of these scouts, the scouts warn their comrades by some prearranged signal. They glance over towards each other every few seconds.
Now, if the enemy were to come towards a point between Number One and Number Two, these two cross-fire, giving Number Three a chance to get away, or to come around the flank to make a diversion, If the enemy approaches between Two and Three, Two and Three will cross-fire, enabling One to get away with his information, if he has already gained any. And so on, with Two, if the enemy comes in between One and Three. The chief aim of the group is to get away without a fight if their presence is discovered.
If the triangle has to change direction, the men change their functions of leading and protecting each other. For example, if they wish to go to the right, Two becomes One, Three becomes Two and One becomes Three. If they move to the left, from the first position, Three becomes Two, One remains One and Two becomes Three. If they retire, One and Three change functions. Each man always retains his relative position but each in turn may become leader, Each man should therefore be as good a scout as the others.
The “bounds” system is that used by the British Army and is therefore the one most likely to be taught to Home Guards. But I strongly recommend the use of the “Filibuster” system, instead of or in addition to the “bounds” system, since in my opinion it is the best suited to guerrilla warfare.
A fighting patrol will usually need more men than a patrol for reconnaissance only. In such cases the “Filibuster” system can still be used, and each point of the “staggered” triangle can consist of two, or even in some cases three, men. Or four men can adapt the system to make a “staggered square”. If there is fighting to be done, and five men are available, one should be ahead, one on each flank, and one in the rear. The fifth man, the leader of the group, should not go ahead of the others, but somewhat behind the first man and to his flank. ”
In reference to the start of the last paragraph, my personal opinion is that a Filibuster formation should be limited to no more than five men.
If the unit is larger than this it should divide into formations of three to five.
Note how Two is positioned so that he can observe One, and Three observes One and Two. This facilitates the use of hand signals and “do as I do” control.
If One stops, Two and Three halt. If One goes prone, so do the others.
A line or file is easily formed from a Filibuster, as the situation requires. These three formations can be adapted to most tactical needs.
The Filibuster is related to the arrowhead and diamond formations. A three-man Filibuster is effectively an arrowhead. A four or five-man Filibuster is essentially an irregular rhomboid and therefore close to a diamond formation. A rhomboid can form an arrowhead if the trailing man joins the end of one edge.
The Filibuster concept of changing direction by changing individual facing can be adapted to arrowhead and diamond formations.
Incidentally, as early as the 1940s some British army manuals recommended that the arrowhead be irregular to avoid regular patterns that are distinctly visible from the air.
Control and Signalling
In practice, a four or five-man formation may continually transition between Filibuster, diamond or arrowhead, the rearmost man and possibly the leader varying their positions to optimize their field of view or fire.
Like the arrowhead and diamond, the Filibuster can be treated as an “intermediate” formation. A unit does not move from file to line or line to file without moving into a Filibuster (diamond or arrowhead).
This greatly simplifies control. If in a line, any signal to change formation causes the unit to form a Filibuster. A signal is repeated if a file is required. The reverse is used if the unit is in file and a line is required.
Formation changes can therefore be controlled by just two basic signals: one to deploy or spread out into a wider formation (hand waved from side to side), the other to close or narrow the formation (hand back and forth over the head). A variation of both could be devised to signal a “double change”, for example, with two fingers raised rather than an open hand.
Use of such signals will often be unnecessary. A Filibuster is compact enough that its members can easily see when a file or line is needed and adopt it automatically. Similarly, whether to use a single file, staggered file or double file can be regulated by the surrounding terrain.
For many applications, the traditional infantry squad formations are unwieldy and oversized. In practice, a squad often operates as two or three fire-teams.
As early as the second half of the nineteenth century, Emory Upton was describing skirmishing and manoeuvre as four-man units.
Bricks and Sticks
In Northern Ireland, the British Army often operated as “bricks” and “multiples”.
A brick was a four-man unit, while a multiple was any temporary unit of two or more bricks.
The Rhodesians used four-man “sticks”:
“Rhodesian stick leaders, usually NCO’s, were given far greater say in immediate combat actions than would be normal elsewhere, and this without apparent conflict with good junior Officers.[sic] While a Troop Officer played a significant role overseeing his Platoon during pre-deployment, it should be recognized that in "stick" sized operations the same Officer had less influence over the actions of the other sticks within his Platoon once they were deployed. This was especially the case when the action of all sticks was directly overseen by a FF Commander. The Troop Officer’s influence however changed dramatically when the sticks reformed to Platoon strength, as for example when on larger sweeps or during full scale Commando assaults of external training camps. It was in these situations that a junior Officer’s overall leadership skills and "field of battle" training came into clear play.”
Other successful uses of three to five man tactical units can be found in other armies.
The Filibuster and the related ideas proposed above have obvious applications for three to five man “bricks”, giving a tactical system that is both flexible and easily learnt.
Three to five is the ideal size to support a weapon such as a GPMG or shoulder-launched munition.
Platoon weapons are allocated or redistributed to bricks to suit intended role. A “heavy brick” carries one or more heavy weapons and can act as a base-of-fire for another brick or multiple. A “light brick” is a more mobile team armed with rifles and light-SLMs.
Use of multiples is equally simple.
Two bricks will either be in line, column or echelon, relative to each other.
With a third brick present the option of a triangle/arrowhead is added.
Bricks move in relation to each other in much the same way personnel within a brick do.
As already stated, five members is probably the upper limit for a brick. If numbers are less than three, the brick should be merged with another and new bricks of no more than five created.
A six-man unit should probably operate as two bricks.
While researching this topic, I came across the illustration below in “Infantry Training Part VIII (1944)”. The topic is formations for reconnaissance and observation.
If a six-man formation is wanted, this is worth considering. Interesting is that this is described as a “diamond”. This reminds us that an arrow, diamond or triangle can be “blunted” rather than having a single individual at the tip.
From the same source as above, this is for a patrol formed from a larger platoon. Essentially this is an arrowhead/triangle in the lead with a file on each side, and therefore illustrates how the brick formations suggested above may work together. This formation is very similar to the platoon “jungle movement” formation recommended in FM 90-5 (p.5-7).
This is effectively the “column of route/column of three”, with the lead part in triangle/arrowhead (or line), and thus easily learnt. If necessary, the outer files can transition to triangle and then line, manoeuvring independently or forming a platoon arrowhead, and then a line, if desired.
As an aside, it is worth noting that platoon-sized patrols in Vietnam often unofficially added a 60mm mortar to their armament.
For moving platoon-sized units of men, the jungle formation should be used for tactical environments and the column of route for non-tactical.