Battle for the Punchbowl: The U. S. 1st Marine Division 1951 Fall Offensive of the Korean War

A Marine rifle platoon in Korea was a superbly balanced tactical unit with
enormous firepower and an eminently sensible fundamental premise: in combat
no one man can reasonably be expected to control directly and effectively more
than three other men. In a firefight, you can't keep tabs on more than three
Marines and still be aware of the enemy. A Marine rifle platoon has three squads
whose squad leaders are trained to maintain contact with the platoon leader.
When he issues orders he issues them not to forty men, but only to these three
sergeants. In their turn, they each control three fire teams, each of which is
commanded by a corporal fire-team leader. They look to the squad leader for
orders, he to them for action. In the fire team the corporal has three men, whom
he controls and who look always to him during a firefight.20
This also meant that the Marine platoon had the greatest amount of organic
firepower of any U. S. rifle platoon. Brady continued:
Army platoons also have three squads, but the squads aren't broken down into
fire teams but remain an unwieldy straggle of ten or a dozen men. There is one
other material distinction between Marine and Army rifle platoons: fire power and
the Browning Automatic Rifle. The BAR is a wonderfully steady, fast-firing, very
accurate weapon. Each Marine fire team is built around the BAR. A Marine
platoon had nine BARs, the Army platoon only three, one to each squad.21
Marines thought very highly of the BAR, its weight was worth the effort required
to haul it around. Said Brady:
The BAR weighed twenty pounds even without ammo, and the ammo belts
weighed that much again, yet it seemed that a stunted little guy weighing about
130 pounds was always lugging it. At Quantico we bitched about being chosen
as BAR men during field problems. Out here you couldn't pry one away from a
BAR man. It was the finest one-man weapon employed in the infantry, a great
weapon. It had a range with a certain type of ball cartridge of 5,500 yards-more
than three miles. BAR men were forever arguing over that, whether you could hit
a man at three miles, or if at that distance he had disappeared below the
curvature of the earth and you couldn't even see him. Marines delighted in
intellectual debates like that, loud and obscene.22
The amount of firepower in the fire team concept and the BAR gave Marine
squads a distinct tactical advantage on the small-unit level over enemies and allies
alike. It also gave the Marine platoon commander and particularly the NCOs, a great
20 James Brady, The Coldest War: A Memoir of Korea (New York: Thomas Dunne, 1990): 80.
21Ibid
22/bid.

20

Montandon, Joshua W. Battle for the Punchbowl: The U. S. 1st Marine Division 1951 Fall Offensive of the Korean War. Denton, Texas. UNT Digital Library. http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc3938/. Accessed December 26, 2014.