Specialised reinforcement formations

There were discussions and experiments during WW2 and discussions afterwards about specialised brigades for reinforcing the combined arms formations (especially the so-called infantry divisions, which combined infantry, artillery and engineers, but lacked tanks).

One (tested) proposal was a pure artillery outfit, usable for creating an artillery concentration without stripping divisions holding the line of some of their artillery. Independent rocket artillery detachments were actually quite common.

21 cm Mörser 18*,
obviously unsuited for
divisional artillery
The employment of an artillery reinforcement is a curious case:
On the offence, you would have difficulty providing the necessary ammunitions tocks and any artillery ordnance that's not common in divisional artillery (such as 21 cm howitzers) would be a tell-tale sign for a coming offensive. The German army was accordingly able to predict most Red Army breakthrough offensives that were founded on massed artillery. It employed very heavy artillery only in independent detachments (one or few batteries, never full regimental strength) itself.
On the defence, artillery reinforcements would have a timetable problem. Early warning of hostile offensive intent would rarely allow for administrative marches of the reinforcements AND delivery of appropriate ammunition stocks.

An anti-tank reinforcement formation (regiment; not the mere assault gun, tank destroyer or heavy tank detachments and battalions) was another discussed option.
It would rather not be used to support offensives, but on the defence it could be decisive. A concentration of some anti-tank power in specialised reinforcements would allow for (and require) a slight reduction of line forces' heavy anti-tank weaponry. This in is not all bad, for some of those forces would be in tank-unfriendly terrain and not need much long-range AT firepower. The concentration of some of the best AT units in a mobile theatre reserve would have met the concept of a Schwerpunkt.
Yet again the employment of AT reinforcements would crucially depend on the timely detection of hostile offensive intent, a quick administrative march and quick choice and creation of camouflaged positions (at night).

The specialise and expensive 57 mm ZiS-2,
a potentially good choice for Soviet
dedicated AT reinforcements (c) Kerim 44

Today's specialised reinforcements mostly avoid these problems:
Helicopters can move their area of activity by about 200 km in an hour, and artillery may shift its long-range rocket/missile fires by up to about 50-500 km within minutes.
The large 'footprint' for the short term employment of such specialised support no doubt made them more attractive, and may have contributed decisively to the huge role such forces play in some of today's Western peacetime orders of battle. It may also lead to an understanding of helicopters and long range artillery as corps or theatre assets, and help to get rid of the stupid  idea of brigade- or divisional-level army aviation.

The position of specialised reinforcement formations in military art and theory is thus nowadays a very different one than during the World Wars. It's still an interesting concept (to me), and may come back to the spotlight if circumstances change suitably.


*: (c) "Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-093-0376-15, Norwegen, Lappland, Küstenbatterie" by Schödl (e)


  1. I dont see a use for "generic" reinforcement forces.

    To my mind, "Corps" artillery and AAC arent so much reinforcements as they are support.
    They dont have persistence
    (my argument against "corps" assets is primarily that we dont fight division level wars, never mind Corps)

    The REFORGER type reinforcements arent really reinforcements, in that they are dedicated troops just based elsewhere.

    Which really leaves only rapid reaction forces like the German Paratroopers who would be dropped to plug gaps in the line.

    But would be dropped too light to sustain.

    1. You may get why I consider corps- and theatre-level assets as reinforcements if you take into account that German military tradition emphasises the Schwerpunkt.
      Hardly any manoeuvre units would receive such support, so it would feel like reinforcements.

  2. After reading the human face of war, I have considered any division founded on the rule of 2 to be optimal reinforcements: Such a formation wouldn't have much staying power, but it would posses excellent reaction times. Timely arrival on the battlefield matters more than anything else, and when their job is done, they can pack up and move to the next critical area, like fire fighters.

    1. Read a couple books more and you'll revise that.
      The case for a 'rule of 4' is about as strong and founded on having more tactical options. Different authors and armies have different preferences.

      And it's really difficult to extricate troops in contact; Eastern Front generals insisted that a 'firefighter' armour division (brigade) must not be extricated before the line was re-established by divisions of the line (infantry divisions), for example.
      Helicopter and artillery reinforcements have the advantage that it's trivial to extricate them; they can hardly be pinned down in their area of action (helicopters might be forced to land by a fighter threat, that's about it).