Square or triangular - my two Euro cents

Yesterday I wrote that I have very little if anything to add to that old debate, so this is a sorry excuse of "very little to add":

Nowadays battalion battlegroups are important as elements of manoeuvre. This begs the question what would a formation of four such battlegroups and one separate support group (with its own security effort) be? It would be rather too big for a brigade and too small for a (Western style) division.

The triangular or square issue may also be overridden by a completely different consideration.
Think of a brigade/division defined as the forces that operate in an area where the brigade/division support assets can cover entirely. Think of for example one area air defence missile battery, or one anti-J-STARS/ASTOR radar jammer, one field hospital with a radius of acceptable MEDEVAC/CASEVAC delays, or in an extreme case of motorcycle messengers as backup for jammed radio comms. There are support assets and they may be effective in a radius of for example 40 km.
Furthermore, a certain quantity of battalion battlegroups are a given and a certain area of conflict is given (such as Northeast & Eastern Poland + Lithuania for NATO deterrence/defence) as well.
With these fixated variables you might end up needing 20 divisional/brigade support assets of one kind to cover the region, and have only 43 battalion battlegroups of what's determined as ideal battlegroup size before.
The average would be 2.15, not three or four. The entire triangular or square structure debate would be moot in such a situation unless one is convinced that two support nodes per division and four BGs is the answer in such a case. But what if a different threat scenario leads to 15 support and 45 maneouvre elements?

These figures were arbitrary, but they show that once you look at a higher level and the resources constraints, you might end up with a whole different picture than a mere tactical debate about perfect fantasy formations would yield.

One might instead arrive at a doctrine in which the support nodes are kind of predetermined by the areas, and the manoeuvre elements would fluidly shift between benefiting form one node and then from another one.

This mirrors what I wrote about dedicated reconnaissance assets and how they shouldn't be organic, but rather defined by the theatre size and under theatre command.

Back in 2014 I wrote
An unusually blunt way of reinforcing the point of this text: "The demand for area reconnaissance is exogenous and independent of the strength and quantity of manoeuvre combat formations in the area." Think about this, for its consequences are huge!
Indeed, they are huge once you remember that reconnaissance is but one form of support to manoeuvre elements, and the principle may apply (to some degree) to other forms of support as well!

So in other words I'm moving in circles and merely applying an old idea of mine on a different issue. And that's why I have the feeling to not have anything substantially new to offer here.
Or maybe I have a lot to offer, it all depends on how good the old idea (or observation) actually was. I certainly didn't do much research on the voluminous triangular/square debate, so I could hardly debate someone who researched and wrote a master's thesis on the subject.


P.S.: Clarification; battalion battlegroups are not perfect. Regular companies or mixed ad hoc companies may often be sent on independent missions. There's just not nearly as much combined arms integration in such independently manoeuvring units. They would typically not have organic indirect fire support better than light mortars and very little of engineers' capabilities, for example. On a theatre map it makes sense to pay attention to battalion battlegroups, and ignore whatever unit and small unit ad hoc elements of maneoeuvre these battlegroups dispatch temporarily.


  1. One interesting thing in context to this debate is the fact, that very often only 2 of the 3 or 4 combat elements were used at the same time. And often even only one of for example 3. That was one major argument of the us forces to construct there units with only 2 such combat elements, because if you nearly always use only 1 or 2 of them, you can create more big combat units (brigades) and can then do more thinks at the same time because you then have more brigades available. Such a system has of cause no real reserves, but is more offensive. You can then attack more targets which are common targets for an brigade at the same time, but loose reserves if something goes wrong. So a Two-Unit organisation is more efficient in most circumstances. To my knowledge the us today go back to a triangular organisation to reduce staffs and support troops in comparison to combat troops to spare moeny.

    >>One might instead arrive at a doctrine in which the >>support nodes are kind of predetermined by the >>areas, and the manoeuvre elements would fluidly >>shift between benefiting form one node and then >>from another one.

    That is also the opinion of McGregor (he calls this a forward support group (brigade) which then gives combat support for different combat units that are within his area. This results from his idea about a joint structure with plug in units which can then be combined in any way necessary under a joint command.

    Moreover he recommends now new units with a size between a brigade and a division instead of the briagdes and divisions that exist today:

    >>>>It would be rather too big for a brigade and too >>>>small for a (Western style) division.

    But it could do all the work of a conventional division and of a brigade so it would be more flexibel and would have more fighting power and could stand longer in the fight (in comparison to a conventional smaller brigade) because of better sustainability and durability.

  2. One ad on: Mac Gregor for example now uses square formations instead of the triangular ones he recommended in the last decade. The LRSG (Light Reconaissance Strike Group) was an triangular unit, the RSG (Reconaissance Strike Group) which is his actual concept now is a square unit, the structure as follows:

    4 Combat Bataillons, 1 C4ISR Bataillon, 1 Sustainment Bataillon, 1 Strike Bataillon

    which results in an unit of around 5500 soldiers, exaclty what Sven said here, a unit in size between a todays conventional brigade / divison. The sustainment bataillon will then not be split to the combat bataillons but stand alone and every combat bataillon has its own stronger organic support element.

    Several such Groups (there are different types of, not only the rsg) act then in an area which is supported by an joint forward support group.

    So bataillons act in the area of the suppport bataillon and several groups then in the area of the support group.

  3. Human Face of War by Jim Storr cites Dupuy research of 1.72 combat elements per echelon. In other words battalions would have two maneuver companies and a fire support company, brigades two battalions and one fire support battalion of two batteries. single combat support and combat service support companies per brigade, but the fires battalion would have extra transport for all the ammunition. Does it or should it apply today I can't say.

  4. Finnish regional defence brigades have 3-6 battalion battlegroups of 2000-2500 soldiers each. In WW2 finnish divisions had at one point two infantry regiments and one jäger battalion. The jäger battalion was sort of "special forces", better equipped and trained. This organzation change was deemed bad by division commander because it lacked necessary reserves and depth in defence.

    Independent missions require mission dependant organizations and battlegroups have all arms except anti air.

    1. I doubt those figures fit together.
      12,000 is no brigade - it's a division.

    2. Not kidding, those figures are true and official. Finland hasn't had divisions since WW2. No matter how you try to say otherwise it's brigade and we only got three of such brigades. You even have posted video about the new doctrine which explaines the battlegroup composition and finnish sources give rough idea how the brigades are constructed. They're composite brigades and probably each is different from the other. There are four types of battalion battlegroups and battalions of which the brigades are composed of. Shortly put there are defencive, offencive and multipurpose battlegroups and dispersed battalions which have no artillery battalion unlike the others.

      PS. what do you call a formation of 3-4 battalions?

    3. You may use wartime strength figures.
      The Finnish army website publsihes 4,500 and 4,600 as personnel strengths of two specific brigades.
      I also saw org charts tehre sometime.

    4. Those are peacetime units and for most part have nothing or very little to do with wartime units. Even the numbers you cite should be halved because they're the total number of conscripts trained annually. At no time is there 4000 soldiers in Pori or Karjala Brigade, 2000 in the summer intake and 2000 in winter intake.

      FDF wiki lists few key wartime units https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finnish_Defence_Forces

      The readiness brigades are PR05 (Brigade model 2005) https://fi.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prikaati_2005
      Unlike wiki says there's three readiness brigades there's actually only two, Karelian Jägerbrigade and Pori Jägerbrigade, Karelia has CV90+Leo2A6 and Pori has AMV+XA.They're about 5000 strong.

      As a conscript army we don't have standing field army as you very well know. I take it you're rather enlightend in this subject since you quote finnish dispersed battle and conscript system often. All the units listed on that link are peacetime training organizations.

    5. To be frank and honest, what I know is fuzzy because I absorbed way too much. Can't keep details apart any more apparently, just keep connecting dots and spotting interesting things.

      I had two instances of corrupted memory in two days recently. Meanwhile, I was connecting dots on the job like no other. It seems to be my thing now, not accurate memories.

    6. I feel you, when you have over 600 defence related documents and powerpoints on your hard drive it's hard to remember what things are connected and what piece of info was found where.

  5. Off-topic, aber der Spiegel schreibt von einem angeblichen geleakten Dokument der Bundeswehr, was einen ZErfall der EU und NATO bis zum Jahre 2040 prognostiziert.
    Würde gerne wissen, was du darüber so denktst!


    1. They wouldn't wirte such worst case scenarios if they weren't under orders to write worst case scenarios.
      Officers writing worst case scenarios when being ordered to write worst case scenarios is not attention-worthy.

  6. A wise man with combat experience during Korean and Vietnam Wars once told me four battalion brigades was the right size. Two in, two out. He said from his experience the square allowed for more flexibility and continuous operations. I'll take his word for it. With Dupuy's findings maybe four smaller battalions would perform better than three larger battalions. Anyways, I'm starting to get somewhat off topic so I'll end with that.

    1. Lots of lessons learned are context specific. A rotation of forces makes sense only if the conflict is supposed to last for months or years with the same forces.

      A conventional war in Europe would IMO rather see the committed forces getting demolished in days, and replaced at an even quicker rate for several months unless there's a truce. The Mideast wars of '67, '73 and '91 have shown how rapidly forces can melt away. The attrition rates in the Indo-Pakistani wars were bad as well.

      One interesting question is what we would do with the remnants of demolished brigades; those skeleton forces could be the seeds for infantry brigades that use quickly trained infantry that's capable of simple missions only.

    2. Good points. The demolished brigades could much like the infantry battalions in WWI where a certain number were held back to form the core of replacement platoons and companies. I again go back to Dupuy's research and wonder if 1.72 (rounded up to 2.0) maneuver units is a minimum number for a peace time army or short term combat operations? Additional maneuver units added during war - hence the triangular/square debate.

  7. Diggler:

    This is a number for combat, for a very offensive, very aggressive doctrine in which you attack many targets at the same time with many combat units. If you have only two combat/maneuver bataillons per brigade you have much more brigades and can then attack more enemy targets at the same time, and do so more in the same time and so on.

    On the opposite site you need more support units in proportion, and more c4isr and recce units at all and the waterhead of officers is greater (wihich some regard as an advantage because this results in a better and more stable leadership and the units can keep longer up and the supply is better). Moreover such units are smaller and therefore faster with the same combat power as an brigade with more combat units.

    The US tried this in the last decade:

    1 Recce Unit, 2 Combat/Maneuver Units, 1 C4ISR Unit, 1 Supply Unit

    This structure proved to be superior in combat. But although it proved this they now go back to a triangular structure as their future peace time strucuture.

    So it is the opposite: the binary structure was the combat structure and the triangular structure is for a peace time army to spare moeny.

  8. Also good points. From what I've read about transformation the original idea was to create five maneuver brigades per division by only using the division TOE. Each brigade had to have the firepower of the legacy brigades. The army couldn't make the numbers work so instead they went to four brigades - the fourth being the the division arty brigade. Yes, this increased the number brigades in the AFORGEN cycle for deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq, but brigade commanders didn't like it because they lost the third maneuver battalion which effected flexibility. Adding a cab squadron in place of a maneuver battalion just didn't cut it for counter insurgency and stability ops. They also argued the loss of the third battalion would effect future combat ops. The number of trigger pullers didn't increase, but combat support and CSS numbers went way up. Some argued for fewer but larger brigades with four maneuver battalions. More pointy end of the spear and less tail. I read a monograph by an army officer who argued that creating more maneuver battalions was more cost effective than creating whole brigades.

    So, in Iraq instead of 15 BCTs during the surge for a total of 30 maneuver brigades maybe the army would have been better off with eight BCTs with 30-32 battalions.

    The next question: what role will brigade HQS serve in future conflicts? Maneuver formations or simplying C2 nodes for any number of battalions. If it's the latter than maybe Dupuy's research justifies smaller battalions which could add additional companies during a time of war which is cheaper than creating whole battalions.

    Hopefully this reply wasn't convoluted.

  9. The questions are "how much of each function do you need" and "what's your real means to overwhelm the opposing forces"?

    I suppose the answer to the latter is "self-propelled artillery", and seen at it this way the optimisation debate depends on whether the SPGs are organic to manoeuvre formations or non-organic higher-level support.
    More manoeuvre formations per higher level HQ don't help much if they have no arty.

    Historically, regiments and brigades very often had but very limited heavy weapons firepower until the introduction of tank battalions at brigade level. German regiments in WW2 had marginal quantities of 150 mm infantry guns if any, and everything else was at most 76 mm calibre, for example. Meanwhile, the main killing power was with the divisional arty; 155, 105 and sometimes also 75/76 mm arty. But that was a division meant for frontline service; divisional frontages could be covered from one or two arty battery locations. In many campaigns the whole divisional arty could be focused on any one spot 2 km ahead of VRV/FLOT.

    Nowadays we have 30-40 km range SPGs (MRLs are very limited in ammunition choices). Meanwhile, briagdes could be separated by 100 km. The only responsible way to go is to disperse all SPGs into the brigades. The question then is hwo much does the briagde disperse its battalion battlegroups, for maybe they need to have organic arty as well.

    1. I think your first paragraph hits it on the head. In the end who cares if it's 2, 3, or 4 battalions. What matters is how much/many of x do I need to accomplish y.

    2. Well, one has to be careful to not underestimate the importance of manoeuvre. It's not all bean counting.

      Still, the effective radius of support should be an important input factor.

  10. The way I see this problem is that brigades need enough firepower to hold on their own and the division/army corps will provide the extra push during offencive operations. It has been calculated that finnish model 05 brigade needs 5-9 extra artillery battalions and MRL batteries to succesfully attack against russian motorized brigade. During offencive operations the division can have only one axis of advance maybe about 20km wide given artillery would probably be dispersed in large area. The other subunits should hence focus on infiltrating through poorly defended areas and defending against counter attacks to provide the lead brigade freedom to attack.

    A book about finnish artillery tactics from 1930s till this day came out recently and one lesson learnt from WW2 was that square organization for artillery would be beneficial but it was never adopted. Also mixed battalions for modern day was proposed, one heavy 155 battery and two light 122 batteries in a battalion.

  11. One point i want to add especially to the developement of the triangular structure tha was following wwI is, that one main argument was the low quality and low skill of the conscript armies and the rising demands, the more complicated maneuvre and more and different kind of weapons in the same number of soliders. In a conscript army the leadership in the years after wwI one become very fast to difficult in a square structure because of the ratio between officers and soliders. Regiments and Bataillons were in most armies larger than today, the same with companies. And there were fewer officers to lead them that at the same time had to learn to use more and more different kind of weapons that were integrated into the regiment and bataillon (machineguns, grenade launchers, anti-tank, regimental and bataillon (field) artillery and so on.

    One perfect example is again the imperial japanese army which had very few officers in comparison at the bataillon level and relativly large companies. A Typ A Company with a heavy weapon platoon has over 200 soliders. A Bataillon of several such companies exceed 1000, but was still commanded only by one major without staff and only one deputy. A extreme example but it is worth to note, that one major argument in the japanese discussion of triangular vs square in the interwar years was also the question of leadership.

    Much more complicated infantry tactics, especilly infiltration tactics, more and different weapons and the demands on coordination and supply that resulted from this were strong arguments against square units at this time.

    Such Sturmtruppen / Infiltration tactics were also discussed in nearly every other army at this time and were over several years more in the middle of the attention than for example tanks.

    The higher demands for the leadership that resulted from this revolution in infantry tactics was one sprouting factor in the evolution from square to triangular in the interwar time.

    1. Infiltration tactics are not demanding.
      They need individual discipline, good morale and OK (very) small unit leadership.
      The North Koreans were able to pull this off even with non-infantry troops a mere three years after founding their army.

      Sturmtruppen tactics were not really about infiltration tactics. That's one of Poole's questionable talking points.
      They were rather about a combination of proper assault training, selecting healthy & young men only, slightly above average equipment, above average food supply, some combined arms and improved exploitation of microterrain.