During the age of pike and shot it became common for commanders to study arithmetic and geometry. Considerable care was given to calculating the size and shape of formations that could be created with the available manpower. The formation kept the infantry safe from the cavalry and if selected correctly maximised the formation’s fighting power.
Modern warfare uses smaller units of men but the formation they are in can still have an influence on their fighting power. Accordingly, my book “Survival Weapons: Optimizing Your Arsenal” includes a section on small unit formations. The sections on teamwork in “Crash Combat” might also be considered to include some aspects of formation.
Someone once told me “The blob and the line are the only formations a squad needs. The lads can work it out from there.” He may have in fact said “blob and file” but “line” seems more logical. We are taught to stand and walk in files in nursery school. Learning the line is more logical for a soldier since the line formation maximises applied firepower. The echelon formation is just a slanted line and the arrowhead is two echelons. To my surprise I have found “blob” using in official WW2 British Infantry manuals. It was used to designate two or three men moving together.
This weekend I read “Yank” Bert Levy’s book “Guerrilla Warfare”. Beginning on page 66 he describes a reconnaissance formation I have not encountered in other works. He calls this the “Filibuster System” or “Staggered Triangle”.
“Filibuster” as a word apparently derives from a Dutch/ Spanish word for “pirate” or “freebooter”. Webster also defines it as “an irregular military adventurer” and “an American engaged in fomenting insurrections in Latin America in the mid-19th century”. The latter is very apt given that Levy’s military career included work in South America.
Below is the illustration from Levy’s book. Levy does not specify the distance between soldiers. He gives the usual advice that distances can be increased in open terrain and reduced where visibility is poorer. My personal impression is that the Filibuster is a more open formation than conventional squad formations. Which man is the point man varies with which direction the triangle is moving. “A” would be the point-man when heading north. “B” would take over the duty if the formation changed course to the east. Each man watches the back of the man or men ahead of him.
If an enemy is encountered the two “corners” nearest him can engage him in a crossfire. In a reconnaissance mission this would allow the “far corner” to escape with any information gathered. Alternately he can fire between his team mates or manoeuvre to execute a flanking attack or diversion.
Levy’s illustration shows an equilateral triangle with “C” directly behind “A”. Shown below is an alternative configuration. In actuality these formations are unlikely to be perfect geometrical shapes. The most that can really be said for them is that they will have three (or four) corners and are unlikely to contain any right angles.
Levy remarks that the Filibuster triangle can also be used for larger fighting patrols with two or three men at each corner. For a four-man formation he suggests a “staggered square” variant of the Filibuster. Unfortunately that term does not tell us much and Levy does not provide an illustration. Below are two conjectures on what this formation might look like. Distances between members are not to scale.
The first illustration resembles a parallelogram. Everyone other than the point man follows the rule that they should be slightly behind the man on their right and to the left of the man ahead. This formation can be thought of as four echelon formations joined together.
The second illustration can be thought of as a modified rhomboid or diamond formation. Each man ensures that he is never level with the man to his side. Each man watches the back of the man or men ahead. This illustration also hints at how easily the Filibuster can change to other formations. It can narrow to form a staggered file or file. It can easily form a line, echelon or arrowhead formation, as needed.
Levy suggests that a five-man unit should use a four-cornered Filibuster. The fifth man should be the unit leader and somewhat behind the point man and to his flank. For formations of more than three men it may be more useful to form a modified arrowhead, the fourth man positioning himself to the outside of the second or third. Changing direction is as described above.
A six-man unit has the option of forming a pair of Filibuster triangles. These will probably move in echelon, each positioned to support the other. Alternately, the “five-man, four-cornered” formation might be used, the sixth man placed with the unit leader. This is a logical position for the unit’s machine-gun. RPG or mortar. Possibly the corner men will take turns in the centre position, giving them a rest from the concentration and vigilance the corner positions require.
The three-corner Filibuster seems to be a useful starting point for teaching small unit formations.
A more detailed article can be found here.