The Cold War Brigade

OK, we’ve gone through the WWII division organization. We talked about the disaster that was the Pentomic Division with its “Battlegroups” that sounded the death knell of the regiments in the US Army. We’re going to take a look at the brigade organization in the Cold War era.

Now, understand that we are talking about brigades that are a part of a division. There were also a lot of brigades that were separate units that belonged to echelons at corps or higher levels. Some were combat brigades and some were specialized support units such as MP or Military Intelligence Brigades. For now, let’s stick to the brigade as a fighting unit of a division.

During the Cold War, each division would typically have a structure of three ground maneuver brigades, a brigades worth of artillery, and up to a brigades worth of helicopters. Divisions were classified as either “heavy” or “light.” This told us if the units were mounted on tracked vehicles or not. Let’s start with a brigade in a light division.

Each light division would have 3 brigades and nine infantry battalions. The normal allocation would be for each brigade to have three infantry battalions. While battalions could be shifted from brigade to brigade as needed, units tried to keep the same battalions with the same brigade as much as possible. To boost the combat power of the brigade, there was usually an artillery battalion in “Direct Support.” This meant that while the brigade commander didn’t command the artillery battalion, he did have first call upon its fires. Again we see the combined arms of the infantry/artillery team in action. The division commander would allocate other assets to the brigade as needed to accomplish its mission, such as engineers from the divisions engineer battalion, ground surveillance radar teams from the MI battalion, and helicopters to move or supply the brigade. As you can see, it is a fairly simple structure.

When we look at a heavy division, things get a little more complicated. There were two types of heavy divisions, Armored and Infantry (Mech) divisions. Each division had 3 maneuver brigade headquarters, a brigades worth of artillery, an aviation brigade and 10 ground maneuver battalions. In a Mech Infantry division, there were 5 infantry battalions, mounted in either M-113 Armored Personnel Carriers or latter Bradley Fighting Vehicles. The division had 5 armor battalions with M-60 tanks or later, M-1 tanks. An Armored Division had the exact same structure but there were 6 tank battalions and only 4 infantry battalions.

The normal bridage structure had two brigades with three battalions and one with four. Often, this 10th battalion would be held in reserve by division to either exploit success or reinforce a breach in the lines. Each brigade would have a battalion of artillery in direct support, with the same relationship as in a light division.

Here’s where things get complicated- mech infantry needs armor support and armor needs infantry support. Battalions were kept “pure” through most of their training and garrison life, but when in the field, units would be “task organized” to form a “task force.” Let’s take a look at how this might work. For simplicitie’s sake, let us presume a heavy brigade with 2 tank battalions and one mech infantry battalion. When we’ve task organized, we’ll have two task forces and one “pure” tank battalion.

The tank battalion has 4 tank companies. The mech battalion has 4 infantry companies. The first thing we do is swap two companies from each battalion. That gives each battalion 2 tank and two mech companies.

We carry this out at the next echelon as well. A tank company will swap a platoon with an infantry company. After this swap, these composite companies with both tanks and infantry are called “Company Teams” or just “Teams.”  Now we have a balanced force that is truly combined arms.

Sorry that there’s no powerpoint slide. I’m away from my computer. This loaner doesn’t have any office software and I’m not trying to draw an org chart in MS Paint. If you have any questions, just pop into the comments. I’ll be happy to address them.

6 thoughts on “The Cold War Brigade”

  1. Around this time the national Guard and Army reserve became “strategic reserves”. the average american has the stereotype of NG infantry and tanks, but most are support units. There are NG infantry, artillery and armored brigades, but they are from Texa$ or other wealthy big states.

  2. Chock, while there are a ton of support units in the NG, you have it a little backwards. About this time, the Army Reserves got out of the combat arms business and focused on being combat support and mostly, combat service support units. I can’t think of a single major combat arms unit in the Reserves today.

    And we haven’t even gotten around to discussing the part timers and the whole “round-out” brigade deal. That was something of a goatrope.

  3. Most of the NG units i see at Bliss are support, MP or somesuch. Now the ADA gurad unit from my beloved home in NM is now light infantry and MP. Patriot missile NG units went out in the 90’s. yes there were a few battries here and their but no more. Their are Avenger or they are out of ADA altogether.

    Your are right, the Texas NG had the “Lonestar” division. But most of the time, then the national guard is called upon, it’s the pogues in the rear that show up.

    I forgot the Stryker brigade in PENN. Home of mad jack murtha.

  4. My point is that the Army reserves are out of the Combat business. All the reserve component combat arms units are in the Guard. In addition to a couple of divisions, there are a bunch of separate brigade combat teams.

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