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"The Infantry Lieutenant and His Platoon" from Intelligence Bulletin, January 1944

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]  
The following article on the infantry lieutenant and his platoon is taken from a British Army training memorandum which was published in India. The article originally appeared in the January 1944 issue of the Intelligence Bulletin.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department Intelligence Bulletin publication. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]



The following discussion about the infantry lieutenant and his platoon is reproduced from a British Army training memorandum which was published in India. Although this article was prepared primarily for junior officers who have faced, or will face, the Japanese, it may be read with profit by officers in other theaters.

The article is written in an informal style, and is not intended to represent official British doctrine. Because its contents are highly informative and interesting, it is reproduced here substantially in its original form. The British title for the article was "What an Infantry Subaltern (lieutenant) Really Is."


a. General

In the bad old past, it was a common practice to assign to the infantry all those officers and enlisted men for whom no "better" employment could be found. "You don't need anything special for the infantry" and "Anyone can be made an infantryman" were typical of phrases frequently heard. The result was that many unsuitable officers found their way into the infantry. Subsequent events have proved the fallacy of this policy, and the infantry is now being recognized, not as an insignificant and even contemptible "poor relation," but as a skilled and essential partner on the battlefield.

The purifying flame of battle has wrought many changes in all officer ranks of the infantry, and those men who are temporarily unsuited for exacting duties of infantry work are being removed. The task of developing competent infantry officers also has been greatly aided by the School of Infantry [England], where today's young officer was taught his trade, a trade so exacting, so varied, and so thrilling that it began to attract, not the unwanted, but men with the spirit of adventure, men with a desire to lead their fellow countrymen into battle, and men with a thirst to avenge themselves on our enemies.

In battle the responsibility of the infantry lieutenant is very great indeed. He must draw on his common sense, cool courage, and determination; on his ingenuity, his cunning, and his patience. If he fails, and the enemy breaks through, he has failed those who were dependent on him. If he destroys the enemy, he has done his job properly.

b. Officer Qualifications

In the infantry there can be no such thing as an officer who is "all right, but—" or "a decent chap, but—" or "he'll be all right in action, but—." There is no such thing as a second- or third-rate infantry officer. There can only be the first-class officer who looks after his men, loves his weapons and his job, and is proud of his platoon and its skill, as well as of his own.

To reach this standard must be a matter of training and psychology, each of which plays an equally important part in the life of the lieutenant and enables him to bring his men to a perfect pitch to support him in his craft.

c. Basic Training

There is no room here to deal fully with basic training; however, three aspects must be emphasized—"Weapon Training," "Fieldcraft," and "Waiting." The men must be so trained that, tired or fresh, asleep or awake, they still will handle their weapons with accuracy and speed. In this they must never fail, because close-quarter jungle fighting does not permit second chances. "Fieldcraft" and "Waiting" go hand-in-hand with "Weapon Training." The former instills the ability to move or be still without being seen or heard. "Waiting" is the corollary of both, and this is where the necessity for perfect discipline comes in. Hold your fire until a kill is a certainty. Dead men tell no tales. Those Japanese soldiers who have just appeared out of cover over there, 600 yards away—can you guarantee to kill all of them before they get back to cover? No? Then, wait, wait, and wait. Even at 300, 200, or 100 yards, one of them might get away. At 50 yards the kill is a certainty.

Fire opened too soon is a miss, and a miss discloses your position. This, then, is the third vital point in basic training: the tight discipline which keeps your men calmly waiting for the approach of the enemy.

Much that you must teach will be found in the printed word, and the officer necessarily must read and pass on to his men the knowledge he has gained. But there are many more things imprinted, at least not in standard text books, which should be part of the infantry officer's stock in trade. For example, memorizing maps is an essential to night work of any sort, and night work is a vital part of your training. Patrols, occupation of positions under the enemy's nose, ration and ammunition parties, and reliefs are all night operations. So night-mindedness is essential, but to teach it to your men will require constant and patient practice.

Train your men to conceal themselves. A located position can be a death trap for the men in it. Have your alternate position and your dummy position, and, if you must show yourself, do so at the dummy position. Don't forget those tracks. If they must be there, let them lead past your real position to your dummy. When going into the real position, see that the men step clear off the trail and make no mark at all. It will pay in the end, and the platoon commander who ignores this elementary bit of battle discipline will probably have the lives of three or four men on his conscience, and be rather more than a fool! If he observes it, he will be cunning, which is just as it should be. Therefore train, train, and train again until it is automatic.

"Hey, you! What's going on over there?" Are you in the habit of saying this? Why not climb that tree, or go and have a look over that crest, or, if you like, send two or three reliable men to a point from which they can see ? They will be able to signal back. By the way, do they know the Morse code? Well, you will never regret having taught it to as many men as possible. Information will reach you more promptly, and you won't have to spend so much of your time running about the countryside.

"That was rather a fast one!" Yes, but you must be ready for the fast ones. So train against surprise. The enemy relies on it. If you aren't surprised, you've stolen a lead on him. When your platoon is on the march during an exercise, think what you would do if you were a Jap—and then do it. Ambush your men on the road, and have them attacked from the air and by armored-force vehicles. Set a day when all rations are to be cut off, and work out impromptu messing. Designate casualties, and see how much your platoon knows about first aid and whether assistant squad leaders are really fit to take the place of squad leaders. If you and your men have practiced together, you will automatically react to an emergency, and not become disorganized by it.

Map-reading and terrain estimation are vitally important. When you read a map, you must be able to visualize' the entire countryside at a glance.

It is impossible to stress marksmanship too much. Practice and practice!

Another point to remember is patience. The Jap will do everything he can to make you open fire so that he can locate your position. Don't let your men fire whenever they see the enemy—in other words, don't let them hand him a map of your position. You, too, want to know what the enemy is up to, so wait—wait and watch his plan develop, until he is so close that you are certain of killing him and all his friends. Wait, too, with your automatics. Wait until you have a really good target before firing anything except single rounds. Remember that the Jap observer is waiting for that rat-a-tat-tat to pin-point those light machine guns of yours.

d. Administration

What is the use of training your men to be killers, if they can't be brought to the fight and maintained there? Never rely entirely on others to wet-nurse you. The platoon commander must know exactly what his duties are in looking after his platoon. The soldier gets, and expects to get, a lot—therefore, you must train for your job.

Never take "No" for an answer in the case of your vehicles or equipment, if you know the answer to be "Yes." Be merciless with men who abuse or neglect them. Remember that neglect of clothing and equipment now may mean the loss of lives in battle later on. Therefore, make regular equipment inspections. One day you will have great need for this equipment, this vehicle, and this mule, and if they break down, or are missing at a crucial moment, have a look at the man who was responsible—examine yourself in a mirror.

Don't be helpless if the rations don't turn up. Always have something up your sleeve. It may be some chocolate or cocoa or even some biscuits. It may not be much, but something is better than going into action with an empty belly. What about getting a goat? or even some bananas? or can you shoot a deer?

Don't be afraid to give your men raw food to prepare, if the normal supply fails. You have taught them to cook in their mess tins, or, if you haven't, you should have. So give them a lump of meat and tell them to cook it. They may not know much about it, but they will get a move on if they are hungry. Train yourself to know what to do, so that you can tell them. Don't forget that dried cow manure, if available, is as good as coal, and that the inside of a dead bough is usually dry, even in the wettest weather. Never be in the unenviable position of facing your hungry men with "I'm afraid we shall have to wait until the rations come up."

Don't let the medical officer off until he has taught two men in a squad and one in your platoon headquarters the rudiments of first aid, and until he has taught you advanced first aid. A wounded man will look to you, and expect you to help save his life. You must know what to do, and how to do it confidently. You will never forgive yourself if you lose a man through neglecting your chances to learn. Make up a first-aid kit with bandages, linen, absorbent cotton, iodine, safety pins, and other essentials. Don't take "No" from the medical officer when you ask for these items.

Later you may scrap some of these points in favor of still better ones that you have thought out for yourself. When you do this, you are beginning to be a good administrator.

e. Psychology

This is a frightening word, but few words mean more to the fighting soldier, although he probably doesn't realize it. All training is valueless unless the spirit is in it, and the young officer who can get behind his soldiers' minds is a winner all along the line. So stir them up. They are fighting infantry, aren't they? Breed pride among them in being "the first in action"—"the spearhead of the Army." Write a platoon or company song to a tune that all the men know, one that has a good swing to it. Make your men realize what their job means. Make them realize, and be proud of the fact, that they are the most essential service in the Army, and that the success of the battle depends on them. Make them feel that they are the toughest, most cunning, most skillful killers in the world. When the time comes, they will be just that.

f. Getting Ready and on the Way

When the orders come for your move, you will have plenty to think about. Are your men completely ready as to clothing and equipment? Are their shoes in good condition? If not, get them repaired or get new ones. What about the things that afford comfort and pleasure? Find out. Have you got men trained in purifying water? If not, take decisive action to get it settled. What about a postal address for the future? Ask for one.

Vaccination and inoculation? Any doubtful medical cases or dental or eye cases? All these are a matter for the doctor again, and need immediate attention.

Find out all about your destination, once you have been told where it is, and describe the country to your men, as well as any tricks of fighting peculiar to that area. Practice them, and keep your men absolutely up-to-date with their weapons.

Your men know that from now on anyone who absents himself or contracts a preventable disease deserves a name unfit to print.

Before you will have had time to think, your unit will be on its way by sea, rail, or road. Now is the time to tell your men still more about the country and the people they will see. Tell them all you know about the enemy they are going to meet, what his methods and weaknesses are, what we can do to him, and what we will do. Remember to tell them how to behave toward local inhabitants. Every soldier is judged as a representative of his country, and a country judged by its representatives. One ill-behaved soldier can turn doubt and hesitation into open hostility.

Alert, clean-looking, disciplined soldiers, who are cheerful, courteous, and well-behaved, are the best ambassadors in the world.

g. Arrival and Preparation for Action

You have done everything in your power, and more than you thought you could, to prepare yourself and your men for action. Now you are preparing to reap what you have sown. If it was a good sowing, yours will be rich harvest. You will have realized what your responsibilities are in administration and training for battle. As opportunities occur, you must continue that training, adapting it to the country in which you find yourself.

Now for your job in the forthcoming operations. Whip around and meet the artillerymen, the engineers, and the tank officers—if any—with whom you will be fighting. Get to know them really well, and see that they get to know you better and that they trust you. Listen to their points of view and don't force your own. Although you know the real facts, they all will think that their own job is the most important one, and will continue to think so until they see you in action and realize how much you have done to help them. Remember that you will want supporting fire from the artillery, and that the engineer will get you that bit of wire or those mines. And what about that young antitank gunner? You may have to rely on him a great deal one day. Don't show off—that's fatal. Be confident, not "cocky". Leave that until after the battle. When you have stopped all the Japs, you can indulge yourself a little if you wish.

That is the junior officer's personal preparation for battle.

Now go back to your men. Don't leave them too long just before their first battle. Tell them what grand chaps the artillerymen are and how they are going to help, and how you are going to protect the antitank gunners and the heavy machine gunners. Tell them what the show is all about. Tell them absolutely everything that isn't a breach of security, such as the sort of things the Japs have been doing, what division or regiment they belong to, and the best way of killing them; describe to them the operation and how it probably will be carried out; tell them where and when the operation will start, the part they will play in it, and who will support them.

You must not forget these points. Your chaps are about to meet the enemy, possibly for the first time. No sane man would ask his soldiers to fight blindly, not knowing what it was all about.

h. In Action

Your company commander has given his last word; the company's second-in-command has said his piece about administration, and you are waiting for the fight to begin. You are frightened, but not in the accepted sense. Every healthy man on the eve of his first battle is afraid—not of wounds or death, but afraid of being afraid.

Don't worry. You won't be yellow. You are trained, and so are your men. You will be nervous to a degree before it starts, but once it has started, you won't have the time to be anything but cool and efficient.

Now you are in action. You have placed your squads. You have seen that each man has got an arc of fire and observation. You have given your mortar a task to do. You have camouflaged all your men so that they are completely hidden. You have told them all about the forthcoming battle, where they are, what they are doing, and with whom. They are in the ring, waiting. Now you think of your battlefield discipline. You must dispel the boredom of waiting and the fear of battle. You must keep up the men's morale, as well as your own.

Quite possibly you may be dive-bombed while you are waiting—a particularly unpleasant nuisance. However, it's surprising how few men get hurt, if your battle discipline is right. The bombers probably haven't seen you, and are only bombing an area. Anyway, noise can't kill you—the chances of a direct hit are 1 in 10,000, and if you can't take a bet on that, you shouldn't be a soldier. You have already been told not to let your men move about in their squad positions—remember it—it is battle discipline.

You will be shelled—you will hear the dull thud of the artillery or the hollow pop of the mortar, the whine of the shell getting nearer and nearer, increasing to a roar—and then the colossal burst! You are being shelled, and there will be a lot more of it, so look out.

Whether you are first attacked by bombs, mortars, machine guns, or what have you, you can be sure of one thing: when it comes, you are not an individual at all—you are a commander of soldiers. You can be sure that every man will look straight to you for guidance. Now is the time, once and for all, to make your name. Grin like hell and go on grinning. Don't be too funny; say something casual, or even absurd—anything for a laugh. If you can do this when your men are strained, you are over your biggest hurdle.

Cultivate your platoon "funny man"; he can be a gold mine.

If you are not fighting, take cover. Your men will follow your example.

When you have taken care of your men, you can be an individual again, and think of yourself. Light a cigarette or your pipe; it's a great steadier; but when you are doing it, turn your back to your soldiers because, without knowing it, you will be a little nervous, and your hands will destroy any impression of nonchalance that the men may have gained. While you are smoking, think whether anything you have done, or have failed to do, has been responsible for your being fired on, and, if so, correct it at once—shift to your alternate position unless you are quite satisfied that it was general harassing fire, and not observed fire, to which you were being treated.

You may not always be as lucky as we're assuming you were in your very first experience of being under fire. Later, by sheer bad luck, you will see men killed or badly wounded. Then your men will turn to you not only to see how you take it, but to see what you are going to do about it. It's a grim business; some of your best friends in the platoon are lying dead or maimed. But you have a man's job to do. After you have attended to the wounded, remove the dead from the position. You know first aid because you have been trained—apply it. If some of the wounded are noisy, try to quiet them; if they won't be quiet, remove them to a point where they can't be heard. Nothing is more demoralizing to the survivors' morale than listening to a moaning casualty. The dead you can bury yourself. If no chaplain is available, take his place. Mark the grave, take the map reference accurately, and send all documents and the identity disk [dog tag] to company headquarters. Later, you will, of course, write to his wife or mother.

Without knowing it, you have changed—and your men have changed. You came into action a highly trained and efficient team, but really it was only a job of work to become trained, and destroying the enemy was a vague sort of intention behind it all—but now the enemy has killed or wounded some of your best friends. You are a team awaiting revenge. You are perfect soldiers.


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