Military Organization > United States > U.S. Army Rifle Company (1970-1975)

U.S. Army Rifle Company (1970-1975)

 

The following is an overview of the Rifle Company of the U.S. Army from November 1970 to September 1975. This is what would have been effective during the later half of the Vietnam War, although we will also be going over more practical Vietnam-specific organization changes as the TO&E often went out of the window in country.

 

The next level up was the Infantry Battalion, which at this time consisted of 1 HQ & HQ Company, 3 Rifle Companies and 1 Combat Support Company.

Contents:

  1. Organization

  2. Discussion

  3. Sources

Platoon  post 1970-01.png

Organization (Nov. 1970 to Sep. 1975)

  • Type: Infantry Company

  • Origin: U.S. Army (United States)

  • Time Frame: Nov. 1970 to Sep. 1975

  • Personnel: 6 Officers and 165 Enlisted

Company Headquarters (2 Officers and 11 Enlisted)

  • 1× Company Commander, Captain (OF-2), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle, 1 M203 grenade launcher and 1 M1911A1 pistol

  • 1× Executive Officer, First Lieutenant (OF-1), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

  • 1× First Sergeant, First Sergeant (OR-8), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle
     

  • 1× Supply Sergeant, Staff Sergeant (OR-6), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

  • 1× Communication Sergeant, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

  • 1× Clerk, Specialist 5 (OR-5), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

  • 1× Armorer, Specialist 4 (OR-4), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

  • 1× Field Radio Mechanic, Specialist 4 (OR-4), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

  • 2× Radiotelephone Operators (RTO), Private First Class (OR-3), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle each

  • 2× Wiremen/Switchboard Operators, Private First Class (OR-3), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle each

  • 1× Supply Clerk, Private First Class (OR-3), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

​→ Additional Equipment: Each Company HQ was authorized 2 M151 ¼-ton 4×4 utility trucks with AN/VRC-12 radio set and 1 2.5-ton truck with a 1.5-ton trailer. The armorer and 2 RTOs also acted as the light truck drivers for the Company HQ. Additionally, the Company HQ had a laser rangefinder.

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3× Rifle Platoons (1 Officer and 43 Enlisted each) 

​→ Platoon Headquarters (1 Officer and 4 Enlisted + 1 Attached Enlisted)

  • 1× Platoon Commander, Second or First Lieutenant (OF-1), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

  • 1× Platoon Sergeant, Sergeant First Class (OR-7), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

  • 1× Radiotelephone Operator (RTO), Private First Class (OR-3), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle
     

  • Attached: 1× Combat Medic, Specialist 4 (OR-4), armed with 1 M1911A1 pistol or M16A1 rifle

​→ 3× Rifle Squads (10 Enlisted each)

  • 1× Squad Leader, Staff Sergeant (OR-6), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

  • Alpha Fire Team of:

    • 1× Team Leader, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

    • 1× Automatic Rifleman, Specialist 4 (OR-4), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

    • 1× Grenadier, Specialist 4 (OR-4), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle and 1 M203 grenade launcher

    • 1× Rifleman, Private First Class (OR-3), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

  • Bravo Fire Team of:

    • 1× Team Leader, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

    • 1× Automatic Rifleman, Specialist 4 (OR-4), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

    • 1× Grenadier, Specialist 4 (OR-4), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle and 1 M203 grenade launcher

    • 2× Riflemen, Private First Class (OR-3), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

→ 1× Weapons Squad (11 Enlisted)

  • 1× Squad Leader, Staff Sergeant (OR-6), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

  • 2× Machine Gun Teams of:

    • 1× Machine Gunner, Specialist 4 (OR-4), armed with 1 M60 general-purpose machine gun and 1 M1911A1 pistol

    • 1× Assistant Machine Gunner, Private First Class (OR-3), armed with 1 M1911A1 pistol

    • 1× Ammo Bearer, Private First Class (OR-3), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

  • 2× Anti-Tank Teams of:

    • 1× AT Gunner, Specialist 4 (OR-4), armed with 1 M67 recoilless rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol

    • 1× Assistant AT Gunner, Private First Class (OR-3), armed with 1 M1911A1 pistol

​→ Additional Equipment: The RTO was authorized an AN/PRC-77 manpack radio. The Platoon Commander, Platoon Sergeant, and Squad Leaders were equipped with a PRT-4/PRR-9 squad radio each.

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1× Mortar Platoon (1 Officer and 25 Enlisted) 

​→ Platoon Headquarters (1 Officer and 10 Enlisted)

  • 1× Platoon Commander, First Lieutenant (OF-1), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle and 1 M203 grenade launcher

  • 1× Platoon Sergeant, Sergeant First Class (OR-7), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

  • 3× Forward Observers, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle each

  • 2× Fire Data Computers, Specialist 5 (OR-5), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle each

  • 5× Radiotelephone Operators (RTO), Private First Class (OR-3), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle each

​​

​→ 3× Mortar Squads (5 Enlisted each)​​

  • 1× Squad Leader, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle and 1 M203 grenade launcher

  • 1× Gunner, Specialist 4 (OR-4), armed with 1 81mm mortar and 1 M1911A1 pistol

  • 1× Assistant Gunner, Private First Class (OR-3), armed with 1 M1911A1 pistol

  • 2× Ammo Bearers, Private First Class (OR-3), armed with 1 M16A1 rifle each

​→ Additional Equipment: Each Mortar Platoon Headquarters was authorized M151 ¼-ton 4×4 utility truck while each Mortar Squad was authorized 1 Dodge M37 3⁄4-ton 4x4 truck. Each vehicle was equipped with an AN/GRC-160 radio set and trailers. Each RTO was equipped with an AN/PRC-77 man-portable radio. One ammo bearer served as the light truck driver for the mortar squads, while one RTO did the same for the platoon headquarters.

Unofficial Rifle Platoon Organizations*

 

2-3× Rifle Squads of 5-8 men

  • 1× Squad Leader, armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

  • 2× Grenadiers, armed with 1 M16A1 rifle and 1 M203 grenade launcher each

  • 3× Riflemen, armed with 1 M16A1 rifle each

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2-3× Rifle Squads of 6-9 men

  • 1× Squad Leader, armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

  • 2× Grenadiers, armed with 1 M16A1 rifle and 1 M203 grenade launcher each

  • 3× Riflemen, armed with 1 M16A1 rifle each

  • 1× Machine Gunner, armed with 1 M60 general-purpose machine gun and 1 M1911A1 pistol

  • 1× Assistant Machine Gunner, armed with 1 M16A1 rifle or M1911A1 pistol

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2× Rifle Squads of 5-6 men and 1× Machine Gun Squad of 7 men

2× Rifle Squads of:

  • 1× Squad Leader, armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

  • 1× Grenadier, armed with 1 M16A1 rifle and 1 M203 grenade launcher

  • 3× Riflemen, armed with 1 M16A1 rifle each

1× Machine Gun Squad of:

  • 2× Squad Leader, armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

  • 2× Machine Gunner, armed with 1 M60 general-purpose machine gun and 1 M1911A1 pistol each

  • 2× Assistant Machine Gunner, armed with 1 M16A1 rifle or M1911A1 pistol each

  • 2× Ammo Bearer, armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

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2-3× Rifle Squads of 7-9 men (in fire teams)

  • 1× Squad Leader, armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

  • Alpha Fire Team of:

    • 1× Team Leader, armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

    • 1× Grenadier, armed with 1 M16A1 rifle and 1 M203 grenade launcher

    • 1× Rifleman, armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

  • Bravo Fire Team of:

    • 1× Team Leader, armed with 1 M16A1 rifle​​

    • 1× Grenadier, armed with 1 M16A1 rifle and 1 M203 grenade launcher

    • 1× Rifleman, armed with 1 M16A1 rifle

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2× Rifle Squads of 10-12 men

Gun Team of:

  • 1× Squad Leader, armed with 1 M16A1 rifle
  • 1× Machine Gunner, armed with 1 M60 general-purpose machine gun and 1 M1911A1 pistol

  • 1× Assistant Machine Gunner, armed with 1 M16A1 rifle or M1911A1 pistol

  • 4× Riflemen, armed with 1 M16A1 rifle each

Point Team of:

  • 1× Grenadier, armed with 1 M16A1 rifle and 1 M203 grenade launcher

  • 3× Riflemen, armed with 1 M16A1 rifle each

*As reported in "The US Army in the Vietnam War 1965-73" by Gordon L. Rottman

 
 
 
 

Discussion

Overview

Our inclusion of an "Unofficial Rifle Platoon Organization" section was necessitated by two elements of the U.S. Army's experience in Vietnam: an inadequate doctrine and manpower shortages. Casualties compounded by high rates of separation/retirement and veterans being promoted to billets at the company or battalion level led to rifle platoons being perpetually understrength for most of the war. This meant the ideal ranks per billet were not achieved most of the time (especially for NCO positions).

At the company-level the structure more or less held, with 1 Company Headquarters with the command personnel and some supporting personnel, 3 Rifle Platoons and 1 Mortar Platoon, although there was quite a bit of movement within these subunits in practice as will be discussed. The Rifle Platoon was further subdivided into a Platoon Headquarters, 3 Rifle Squads and 1 Weapons Squad. The Rifle Squads were divided into an Alpha Fire Team and Bravo Fire Team of roughly equal capability (Alpha had 4 men and Bravo had 5). This specific organization represents what was effective after the widespread adoption of the M203 grenade launcher. Previously, the Grenadier had been armed with an M79 grenade launcher and an M1911A1 pistol as a sidearm. With the M203, they finally got a rifle.

To compensate for manpower shortages, often the Company HQ would be reduced in size to the barebones, with only its officers, first sergeant, communications sergeant and attached artillery forward observers.

In terms of attachments, a Combat Medic (aidman) was permanently attached to the rifle platoon HQs from the battalion medical platoon and was typically armed with a pistol. Sometimes 1-2 Kit Carson Scout—North Vietnamese or Vietcong defectors—were attached to platoons as scouts to aid in detecting the enemy and booby traps. Additionally, a mortar observer and RTO for the observer could be attached to each platoon headquarters from the company's mortar platoon. There were enough mortar observers to attach one per platoon. This is assuming the mortar platoons were retained by the company in the field.

 

The use of the company's 81mm mortars varied, with them seeing some use in the field (especially in fire bases which were isolated artillery bases protected by rifle companies) or being shifted up to the battalion mortar platoon. Seldom would mortars or the rear echelon components of the Company HQ be brought on a search and destroy mission or a company patrol. In some units, the company's 3 81mm mortars were replaced with 2 of the less burdensome 60mm mortars.

This structure in theory was pretty similar to what the U.S. Army Rifle Platoon looks like now if not slightly larger, but was wholly inadequate. One reason was because the squads lacked their own true squad automatic weapon. During World War II and the Korean War, each Rifle Squad served 1-2 M1918A2 BARs (only 1 officially until 1953, 2 in practice when possible). As of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the U.S. Army began fielding the belt-fed M249 light machine gun as a squad automatic weapon. Between the 1950s and 1980s, there was no sufficient BAR replacement.

 

When the M14 rifle was adopted in the late 1950s, it was envisioned to replace every weapon in the rifle squad (with the exception of the rifle grenade launchers which would be replaced by the M79 grenade launcher for the anti-personnel role and and eventually the M72 LAW for the anti-armor role). However, the M14's squad automatic weapon variant, the M14E1/M14A1, was not sufficient, although it did have some upgrades for full-automatic operation (bipod, pistol grip, different straight stock). When the M16A1 was adopted for regular infantry in 1967, there was no specialized automatic weapon variant, although a bipod could be used. Every squad member was essentially given the same select-fire capability, whereas before the M14 was mostly useless in full-auto. However, the M16A1 was still not equipped to handle sustained automatic fire, with its barrel prone to warping (1960s metallurgy and pencil barrels was not a good combination). Thus, the automatic rifleman billet was more or less dissolved in practice as there was no practical difference between an automatic rifleman and a rifleman (although in theory the automatic rifleman would be designated as the man to use full auto while the rest used their rifle like rifles).

The Weapons Squad could be dissolved and the M60 machine guns redistributed to the rifle squads with a gunner and assistant gunner (see the unofficial organization variations). The Army preferred and still prefers to operate general-purpose machine guns in 3 man teams (gunner, assistant gunner, and ammo bearer) to allow for the carrying of 800-1000 rounds per gun with reasonable ease. Any amount of 7.62x51mm NATO ammunition is over twice as heavy as the equivalent amount of 5.56x45mm NATO, which at the time of writing is the standard cartridge for the Army's squad automatic weapons.

 

The reservation of GPMGs at the platoon level may also have been influenced by the limitations of the M1919A4/6 (what the M60 replaced) and the platoon-centric method of fire and maneuver that was common during World War II and Korea. Although not a true squad-automatic weapon as per U.S. Army doctrine, the M60 was the only real weapon system available that could provide a base of fire. Thus, there is now the image of the M60 in Vietnam filling the role the M249 now fills with the Army, although it was not intended as such. It has been noted by Sayen that in close terrain (where command and control was challenging and squads couldn't necessarily mutually support each other) squad-level M60s were preferred, whereas in open terrain (where the platoon leader could exercise more effective control) platoon-level M60s were preferred.

Other variation depending on the needs and preferences of the platoon could have included the grouping of the Grenadiers into a special fire support element. The M203 grenade launchers, M72 LAWs (employed by riflemen) and M67 recoilless rifles provided the platoon with a means to engage fortified enemy positions and structures. In the case of the M67 recoilless rifles, these AT sections were either dissolved or moved elsewhere in Vietnam as they were largely not necessary at the platoon level. Often the company mortar platoon would be reorganized to include both a mortar section and an AT section with the M67 recoilless rifles.

Summary of Changes (from 1967 MTOE)

  • The Rifle Squad grenadiers' armament of 1 M79 grenade launcher and 1 pistol was replaced with 1 M16A1 rifle with an underbarrel M203 grenade launcher.

  • In the Weapons Squad, a second 90mm recoilless rifle team was added. Prior to 1967, all recoilless rifles had been held in the Weapons Platoon which also included the mortars. After 1967, the AT Section was dissolved and the AT gunners were transferred to the rifle platoons.

  • Each Mortar Squad's jeep was replaced by a Dodge M37 truck.

 
 

Sources

  • Table of Organization No. 7-18H "“Rifle Company, Infantry Battalion, Infantry Division or Separate
    Infantry Brigade" published 30 November 1970

     

  • Rottman, Gordon. "The US Army in the Vietnam War 1965-73"
     

  • Sayen, John. (2001) “Battalion: An Organizational Study of the United States Infantry.” Working paper, Marine Corps Combat Development Command

"The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious."

      - Marcus Aurelius

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