Movement Formations

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Movement Formations or Combat Formations are arrangements of elements, naval vessels, vehicles and soldiers on the battlefield in relation to each other. The designations, variety and details of infantry formations show considerable differences from service to service, even within NATO. While the German Army teaches its infantrymen only two basic formations the American and British Armed Services include a greater variety of formations already in their tactical squad formation drills. Still their essential concepts and idea remains the same.

It is important to understand that the scope in the application of combat formations has changed since the time of the great land and sea battles in the 18th and 19th Centuries, when line infantry marched on the enemy in absolute static formations and ships would align in the line of battle. In modern warfare formation drills have to be flexibly applied with great observance more complexity and awareness of the situation and environment METT-T.

The purpose of formations is to arrange elements, vehicles and individual soldiers in regards to METT-T on the battlefield in the way most advantageous. Some of the key functions of formations are:

  • Dispersion of elements to minimize effect of enemy mass fires
  • Arrange elements to maximize speed, control-ability and simplify communication
  • Arrange elements to maximize security and situational awareness in all or specific directions

Movement Formations are used in conjunction with Movement Techniques. This article covers movement or combat formations in their general fundamental base shapes and analyses the resulting general characteristics irregardless of their level of application or force. For the specific unit-level formations refer the respective level article.

Fundamental Formations

The fundamental shapes from which most of tactical movement formations found today are derived from are very simple geometrical shapes. From the most simplified perspective they can be broken down to three ground-laying root formations:

Line

The Line

See Line (Movement Formation) for the full article on the Movement Formation Line.

The line arranges elements perpendicular to its orientation or direction of travel, "abreast of each other". Elements are mainly dispersed along the lateral axis with limited dispersion in the depth of the element. Thus this formation is employed to concentrate firepower to the front in the direction of movement. For thousands of years the line formation has seen use in warfare, but especially since the up-come of firearms units of all sizes used the line formation to assault their enemy in.

Column

The Column

See Column (Movement Formation) for the full article on the Movement Formation Column.

The column arranges elements parallel to its orientation or direction of travel. Elements are mainly dispersed in depth with limited dispersion along the lateral axis. Elements follow each other directly in direction of travel, which allows to travel at maximum speed.

Wedge

The wedge

See Wedge (Movement Formation) for the full article on the Movement Formation Wedge.

The wedge arranges elements in a triangular shape with its tip pointing towards the elements orientation or direction of travel. Elements are similarly dispersed in depth and along the lateral axis.

Analysis

  Characteristics
Formation When normally used Control Lateral Dispersion Depth Dispersion Speed Security
Line Contact front Less Maximum None Slowest More
Column Contact unlikely Most None Maximum Fastest Least
Wedge Contact front/flanks More Medium Medium Faster Most

Derived Formations

Echolon

The Line

See Echolon (Movement Formation) for the full article on the Movement Formation Echolon.

The echolon arranges elements in the left or right half of a vee towards its orientation or direction of travel. Elements are similarly dispersed in depth and along the lateral axis.

Vee

The Line

See Vee (Movement Formation) for the full article on the Movement Formation Vee.

The vee arranges elements in a triangular or letter "V" shape with the triangle's base side pointing to its orientation or direction of travel. Elements are similarly dispersed in depth and along the lateral axis.

Movement Formations on various levels

Reference & Links