Innovative infantry defence concepts

edit: It has come to my attention that several foreign readers have misunderstood this text. This is a text about theory, not about what was actual done. Some of the concepts were put into practice, others (the '75 to 90's ones) were not put into practice. Furthermore, there's no error in me writing about interlocking machine gun fires in 1915 when too few machineguns were available to do this everywhere. The concept was there, the equipment not yet.

A simple non-comprehensive list, meant for orientation if you want to look into the topic some more:

Innovative infantry defence concepts

(late 19th century till 1914 state of the art)
single shoulder-to-shoulder line in simple trench

interlocking machine gun fire with elaborate trenches, rifle fire is secondary

1916-1918 German elastic defence
forward trenches weak, if possible two better-manned rear trenches in up to several kilometres depth (out of range of most hostile field artillery)

elastic defence with weak VRV (FLOT), strong HKL (main line of resistance) at up to 10 km depth, some concerns about use of terrain and mines for AT purposes

Finnish motti tactics and first dominant use of ski troops in war

hedgehog defence (company strongpoints) on overstretched front-line (due to inability to man it in depth), if possible one continuous patrol trench at VRV (FLOT), dependence on indirect fire support for domination of gaps between strongpoints

early 1950's (1st West German Heer structure)
network of platoon strongpoints and squad or quasi fire team resistance nests in between

early 1960's (2nd West German Heer structure)
network of platoon strongpoints

1960's U.S. heliborne infantry
extreme mobility in permissive AD environment, allows for truly quick reaction forces to help troops in a crisis, but they were nothing special once on the ground
mid 1960's Austrian (later also German) Jagdkampf/Jagdkommandos
(similar terminology to offensive WW2 counter guerilla patrols, but different concept) reinforced infantry platoon-sized Jagdkommandos as forward, stay-behind or even infiltrated skirmishers
1968 till 1989 Austrian "Raumverteidigung" by infantry militia (Emil Spannocchi)
defence of key locations to slow down passage of invaders (very much related to Jagdkommandos)
(the Swiss were similar, but emphasised fortifications much more)

1975 "Non-battle" (Guy Brossolet)
infantry defends assigned areas, mechanised forces and attack helicopters as mobile reserves - the concept was meant to enable defence against superior mechanised Warsaw Pact forces
mid-1970's "Techno Kommandos" (Horst Afheld)
Small infantry platoons with high tech armament (supported by small squads with ATGMs or ManPADS) cover the entirety of the FRG as local defenders instead of a conventional army. Massively improved tooth:tail ratio compared to a mechanised army.
1980 guerilla-like Jäger (Franz Uhle-Wettler's concept)
Elusive infantry does not stubbornly hold terrain, but persists as a threat. Very little high tech, very cheap equipment. Largely meant to secure easily defended areas that mechanised forces cannot cover (woodland, settlements). High degree of autonomy, extreme tooth:tail ratio in favour of teeth.

1980's Simpkin's network of Uhle-Wettler's concept
expansion in depth of the concept in order to threaten entire regions (Uhle-Wettler was more concerned about how easily difficult terrain can be exploited for flanking movements in mobile warfare if not guarded, see Ardennes 1940)

1990's distributed operations
This concept of dispersed infantry small units morphed over time into a mere buzzword.

2004-today GWOT actual combat
Infantry small arms fires fix the enemy, non-organic supporting fires get tasked with destruction. Deliberate defences = fortified military camps (and platoon outposts) with protection against mortars and suicide bombers.

The trend was clearly towards more dispersion once artillery became to dominate the battlefield. Decisionmaking moved to platoon and squad level (battles as the sum of infantry platoon engagements).

Most concepts involved the incorporation of new technologies.

Most concepts included some mobile quick reaction/strike force or an emphasis on counterattacks (even if I didn't mention it here).


edit: There's a huge discussion on a translated, illustrated and commented version of this at
apparently. On Russian. I did not expect this.
An explanation to them: I wrote "quasi fire team" because there were no fire teams in the doctrine. There were merely fireteam-sized elements to be detached to those positions; a half or third of a squad.


  1. Wow. Just one small note: "Distributed operations" was term borrowed from pre-WW2 era Soviet strategist Grigory Samoilovich Isserson - and like many other borrowed terms (such like Schwerpunkt) largely misunderstood and misused by Americans.

  2. I have a peripheral question about this. Since WW2, what advances have occured WRT the doctrine and theory of land warfare? From my perspective, there has been little real progress: Combined arms has improved, operational art has improved, and thats about it.

    Some theorys have actually done more harm than good, like revolution in military affairs, effects based operations, and network centric warfare.

    1. Many concepts for employment of new weapons and munitions were devised.

      Notable for mechanised warfare is the introduction of armoured bridgelayers and the full acceptance of the night as a regular period for combat (due to night vision, especially since the 1980's).

      There were plenty trends (such as greater dispersion and accordingly squads or evenf ire teams becoming more important than platoons as units of manoeuvre).

      The ability to call for support fires even against moving targets has improved and thus the emphasis on it.

      The whole heliborne thing in Vietnam was in stark contrast to previous warfare.

      Overall, from individual movement to corps command there was very little conceptual advance if one isn't modest in his expectations. Most if not all things that are in theory or doctrine can be traced back to WW2 and earlier.

      My biggest concern is about two points
      (1) still (and especially now in the age of level 4 plate carriers) insufficient adaptation of infantry to the threat of quick (2-4 minutes) and accurate indirect fires
      (2) inadequate theoretical and doctrinal replacement of the front line as stabiliser and deterrent