A platoon is a military unit typically composed of two to four sections or squads depending on the nationality, branch of service, and mission type. In US military organization, the platoon can contain from as few as 9 (e.g., Communications Platoon, Headquarters and Headquarters Company [HHC], Infantry [Airborne, Air Assault, Light] Battalion) to over 100 members (e.g., Maintenance Platoon, HHC, Infantry [Mechanized] Battalion]. Platoons are normally organized into a company, which typically consists of three, four or five platoons. A platoon is typically the smallest/lowest echelon military unit led by a commissioned officer—the platoon leader or platoon commander, usually a lieutenant (O-1/2). However the rank of the officer may range from warrant officer (W-1) to captain (O-3), or even major (O-4), in rare cases. He/She is usually assisted by a senior non-commissioned officer—the platoon sergeant. In some instances, especially whenever the platoon commander ranks above lieutenant, there is a second officer of lower rank assigned as assistant platoon commander (e.g., USMC Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team [FAST] Platoon).
In some armies, platoon is used throughout the branches of the army. In others, such as the British Army, most platoons are infantry platoons, while some carry other designations such as tank, mortar, or heavy weapons platoons. In a few armies, such as the French Army, a platoon is specifically a cavalry unit, and the infantry use "section" as the equivalent unit.
The word is derived from the 17th-century French peloton, meaning a small detachment of soldiers. The word came from pelote meaning a small ball. The suffix "-on" is in principle a diminutive suffix in French, so peloton is a diminutive of "small ball". It then took the meaning of a small group of people, in particular a small group of soldiers, a platoon or, more specifically, a firing squad. The modern French word peloton, when not meaning platoon, refers to the main group of riders in a bicycle race (as opposed to any group or individual rider either well in the lead or trailing the main group). There is no evidence that peloton may have originally meant "volley" (of musket balls). "Pelote", but not "peloton", also means a little ball (used for various games); there is no record that peloton may have originally indicated a single musket ball. It is thus not correct to say that the name corresponds to the original purpose of a platoon which was to be the basic unit for volley firing. Pelote itself originally comes from the low Latin "pilotta" from Latin "pila", meaning "ball", and the French suffix "-on" derives from the Latin suffix "-onus".
Use as a firing unit
The platoon was originally a firing unit rather than an organisation. The system was said to have been invented by Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden in 1618. In the French Army in the 1670s, a battalion was divided into 18 platoons who were grouped into three "firings"; each platoon in the firing either actually firing or reloading. The system was used in the British, Austrian, Russian and Dutch armies as well.
On 1 October 1913 under a scheme by General Sir Ivor Maxse, the British Army was reorganised from the previous eight company to a battalion structure to a four company structure with each company having four platoons as separate units each commanded by a lieutenant with a platoon sergeant as his deputy. Each platoon was divided into four sections each commanded by a corporal. When there was a shortage of officers, a non commissioned officer rank of Platoon Sergeant Major was created in 1938 and ceased in 1940.
In the Australian Army, a platoon has twenty-four soldiers organized into three eight-man sections plus a lieutenant as platoon commander and a sergeant as platoon second in command, accompanied by a platoon radioman and medic (full strength of twenty-eight men).
A section comprises eight men led by a corporal with a lance corporal as second in command, similar to the British Army platoon. Each section has two fireteams of four men, one led by the corporal and the other by the lance corporal. Each fireteam (also called a "brick" by Australian soldiers) has one soldier with a F89A1 light machine gun and the other three armed with F88 assault rifles. One rifle is equipped with an attached M203 grenade launcher for the grenadier's role while another has a C79 optical sight for the designated marksman role.
In the British Army, a rifle platoon from an infantry company consists of three sections of eight men, plus a signaller (radio operator), a platoon sergeant (a Sergeant), the platoon commander (either a second lieutenant or lieutenant) and a mortar man operating a light mortar (full strength of 27 men and one officer).
Each section is commanded by a corporal, with a lance corporal as second-in-command and six privates divided into two four-man fireteams. Other types of platoons (such as mortar or anti-tank platoons) are generally smaller and are commanded by a lieutenant or captain.
An armoured "platoon" is known as a "Troop".
In Bangladesh Army infantry regiments, platoons are commanded by a major or a captain, assisted by two to four lieutenants (or combination of lieutenants and Junior Commissioned Officers) and at least two sergeants.. The platoon strength is typically thirty to fifty soldiers.
These platoons are equipped with at least one heavy machine gun, rocket launcher or anti-tank gun, with the crews of these weapons commanded by a corporal. In addition, there are at least two light machine guns, each commanded by a lance corporal. Each soldier is armed with an automatic or semi-automatic rifle and all commissioned officers carry a side arm.
In the Canadian Army, the infantry Platoon Commander is a Lieutenant or Second Lieutenant, assisted by a Platoon Warrant (who may hold the rank of Warrant Officer, but is often a Sergeant). It is usually divided into three eight man sections and a heavy weapons detachment which will deploy a GPMG, and a Carl Gustav, depending on mission requirements. Sections are commanded by a Sergeant or Master Corporal with a Master-Corporal or Corporal in the second in command, or 2IC, position; 6 of the eight soldiers in a section will carry C7 or C8 assault rifles fitted with either optics or a grenade launcher and two members will carry C9 LMG's. A section is broken into two assault groups of 4 with one LMG and three assault rifles, similar to British and Australian organization.
Three to five infantry platoons will make up a typical infantry company, sometimes with a heavy weapons or support platoon in addition. Specialist platoons like reconnaissance, or "recce", platoons that may be attached to a battalion may be led by a Captain and assisted by a Warrant Officer. Some very large specialist platoons will actually have a Lieutenant as the second-in-command. In many corps, platoon-sized units are called troops instead.
Prior to 1940, a platoon might be commanded by either a warrant officer WO III or a lieutenant. An officer was referred to as "platoon commander" while a WO III in the same position was called a "Platoon Sergeant Major" or PSM.
Within the Colombian Army a training platoon (in Spanish pelotón) is often commanded by a higher-ranking soldier known as a dragoneante, who is selected for his excellence in discipline and soldiering skills. However, a dragoneante is still a soldier and can be removed from his position if his commander sees fit. For combatant platoons (platoons engaged in combat with guerrilla rebels), a corporal or sergeant would be the most likely commander.
In the French military, a peloton is a unit of cavalry or armor corresponding to the platoon, equivalent in size to an infantry section, and commanded by a lieutenant or sergeant. It may also mean a body of officers in training to become noncommissioned officers, sous-officiers or officers (peloton de caporal, peloton des sous-officiers). Finally, "peloton d'exécution" is the French term for a firing squad.
The Georgian Armed Forces equivalent of the platoon is the so-called Ozeuli. Translated it means "Group of 20" but has no more connection whatsoever with the number. It has been transferred into modern usage from medieval army reforms of the Georgian king David the Builder. Originally it was meant to be a small detachment of exactly 20 men to be led by a leader of corresponding rank. Almost all smaller formations are based on the designations of those reforms, which originally suggested tactical flexibility by keeping the size of small units in whole numbers (10,20,100). Battalions and brigades were not affected by that system. It is unknown whether that usage was abandoned in the late 20s of the 19th century or earlier, but in present days a Georgian platoon still called "Ozeuili" has a similar size to that of other armies. Normally for infantry it are 32 men but can vary depending on type of unit.
The German Army equivalent of the platoon is the Zug (same word as for a train), consisting of a platoon headquarters (HQ) squad (Zugtrupp, a literal translation of platoon troop) of four to six men. Three of these squads (Gruppen) of eight to eleven men each function as a platoon. Three Züge make up a company (Kompanie), with the first platoon usually commanded by a company-grade officer (Kompanieoffizier), usually a first (Oberleutnant) or second lieutenant (Leutnant), who is also the company's second-in-command. The second and third Zug are led by experienced NCOs, usually master sergeants (Hauptfeldwebel). In the first platoon a master sergeant is assistant to the platoon leader, with this role filled by a Sergeant I cl(Oberfeldwebel) in the second and third platoons. Each squad is led by a sergeant I cl(Oberfeldwebel) and its size corresponds to the typical passenger capacity of its squad vehicle (either wheeled or armoured). Another of these vehicles is used for the platoon troop itself. The task of the platoon HQ squad is to provide support for the platoon leader and as a reserve force (such as two additional snipers or an anti-tank weapon crew). Another sergeant I cl is in charge of the platoon troop; seargeants of inferior rank act as assistant squad leaders in the other squads.
Fallschirmjäger (airborne infantry) platoons (Fallschirmjägerzug) have special operations responsibilities, and have command positions one rank higher compared to their corresponding position in a standard infantry platoon. A captain (Hauptmann) is the platoon leader, assisted by a first lieutenant and each squad has a second lieutenant or a master sergeant in charge, often supported by a long-service sergeant or skilled senior corporal.
New Zealand organization
In the New Zealand Army, an Infantry Platoon is commanded by a 2nd Lieutenant or a Lieutenant with a Platoon Sergeant, a Platoon Signaller and a medic (where relevant) comprising the Platoon Headquarters. The Platoon is sub-divided into three section of between 7-10 soldiers, each commanded by a Corporal with a Lance-Corporal as the Section 2iC. Each section can be sub-divided into two fire-teams, commanded by the Section Commander and 2iC respectively, as well as normal two man Scout, Rifle and Gun Teams.
There are three Platoons in a Rifle Company, which is commanded by a Major, and Three Rifle Companies within an Infantry Battalion, which is commanded by a Lieutenant-Colonel. An Infantry Battalion will also contain an organic Support Company (Mortars, Machine-Guns etc.) and a Logistics Company (Transport and Stores).
In the Singapore Army, a platoon is a Lieutenant billet. In practice, usually a Second Lieutenant is appointed the platoon commander, and will eventually be promoted to this rank. A typical infantry platoon consists of three seven-man sections of riflemen and a machine gun team, both commanded by Third Sergeants, a platoon sergeant and a platoon medic for a total of 27 soldiers. Beginning in 1992, the Singapore Armed Forces has allowed warrant officers to be appointed as platoon commanders.
In the Royal Thai Army, a platoon is commanded by a Lieutenant or Second Lieutenant assisted by a Platoon Sergeant, usually of the rank of sergeant major. In infantry units, rifle platoons are generally made up of five squads (three rifle squads, one machine gun squad and command squad).
United States organization
United States Army
In the United States Army, Rifle Platoons are normally composed of 42 soldiers. They are led by a Platoon Leader (PL), usually a second lieutenant (2LT), and with a Platoon Sergeant (PSG), usually a Sergeant First Class (SFC, E-7). Rifle Platoons consist of three nine-man Rifle squads and one nine-man Weapons squad each led by a Staff Sergeant (E-6). The Platoon Headquarters includes the PL, PSG, along with the PL's Radio-Telephone Operator (RTO), Platoon Forward Observer (FO), the FO's RTO and the Platoon Medic.
United States Marine Corps
In the United States Marine Corps, rifle platoons are led by a platoon commander, usually a second lieutenant (O-1), assisted by a platoon sergeant, a staff sergeant (E-6). The platoon headquarters also includes a platoon guide, a sergeant (E-5), who serves as the assistant platoon sergeant and a messenger (Pvt or PFC). Rifle platoons consist of three rifle squads of 13 men each, led by a sergeant (E-5). A weapons platoon will usually have a first lieutenant (O-2) and a gunnery sergeant (E-7) because of the larger number of Marines and the more complex employment of the weapon systems included in these platoons. A weapons platoon has a 60mm mortar section of ten Marines and three M224 60mm mortars, an assault section of 13 Marines and six SMAWs and a medium machine gun section of 22 Marines and six M240Gs. Marine rifle or weapons platoons would also have one or more Navy hospital corpsmen assigned along with the Marines.
United States Air Force
The United States Air Force Security Forces have a similarly sized and configured unit called a flight. It is made up of three 13-member squads, a flight commander (a second lieutenant, first lieutenant or captain), a flight sergeant (usually a non-commissioned officer of technical sergeant or master sergeant rank), and three other NCOs (usually staff sergeants) for a total of 44 members. The three additional NCOs are an acting Supply NCO, an acting Communications NCO, and an acting Intelligence NCO.
A motorised rifle platoon in the Soviet Armed Forces was mounted in either BTR armoured personnel carriers or BMP infantry fighting vehicles, with the former being more numerous by the late 1980s. Both were led by a platoon leader and assistant platoon leader and consisted of three 9-man rifle squads mounted in three vehicles. In both BMP and BTR squads the driver and vehicle gunner stayed with the vehicle when the rest of the squad dismounted, and one squad in the platoon would have one of their rifleman armed with an SVD sniper rifle. There was either one empty seat in each BTR or two empty seats in each BMP to accommodate the platoon leader and assistant platoon leader.
Tank platoons prior to the late 1980s consisted of a platoon headquarters squad and tank squads, each consisting of one T-64, T-72 or T-80 tank for 12 personnel and 4 tanks total; platoons which used the older T-54, T-55 or T-62s added an additional crewmember for a total of 16. However tank units operating in Eastern Europe began to standardize their platoons to just two tank squads, for a total of 3 tanks and 9 personnel.
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