04 March 2012

The Barracks: The Four Fs of Combat

During the First World War, the great armies of Europe were bogged down in bloody trench warfare, and relayed on traditional infantry combat to push forward against new weapons of war. Then came World War Two, when one of the most effective small unit tactics was develop to counter the stagnation of the Great War: the FOUR Fs: Find'em, Fix'em Flank'em, and then Finish'em! This was used by the primarily by United States Armed Forces, specifically, the Airborne troopers. This basic small combat infantry tactic was used on the squad level, divided up into two teams: the Fire Team and the Assault Team. The idea behind this blogpost came during my experiences playing the original Xbox WWII FPS game, Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 and its sequel, Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood. Despite the graphics and some of the AI, both of these games developed by Gearbox Software, are some of the best WWII video games ever developed. The imagines for this blogpost will be from both games.

  • FIND-scouting out the exact position of the enemy
  • FIX-using heavy fire to pin down the enemy
  • FLANK-getting around the pinned down enemy force
  • FINISH-kill the enemy

 The Fire Team
The Fire Team of the World War II would be armed with up of several rifleman wielding M1 Garands and portable machine gun, like a BAR or M1919 Browning .30 caliber, to establish a base of fire on the enemy. Within this team, is the backup quick-reaction-force (QRF) for the Assault team and would have the medic on hot-standby to treat the Assault Team(s). The goal of the Fire Team is to be the "Fix" portion, pouring on the outgoing fire to keep the enemy's heads down and prevent them from seeing the Assault Team(s) getting around the enemy position.  There also could be a sniper (with skill), that could pin down the enemy force under cover, or wound one, sucking the rest into a situation. In a modern small unit, the Fire Team would be armed with a light machine gun, like the SAW, 40mm grenade launchers, and normal assault rifles.  

The Assault Team
The Assault Team is the group of fast-movers, armed to take the enemy in close-quarters. During WWII, the Assault Team would be armed with M1A1 Thompson SMGs, M3 .45ACP Gease Guns and/or M1A1 Carbines, or even Shotguns. Most of these Assault Team(s) would drop their packs, and heavier kit to move fast, to close in on the enemy, and kill. Since most infantrymen use the same weapon, like the M4 or the AK74, the Assault Team in a modern sense would flip their asaault rifles to fully automatic mode.     

During patrol of the area of operation, the good guys are looking for the bad guys, and surveying the region for good fighting positions. This one of the most dangerous times for a small unit. If the "Find" portion last too long, the soldiers become more tired for walking and waiting for something to happen...their sharpness can wear down, and in urban enivorments, there could a sniper, IED, or even enemy force in ambush position for the good guys. Once the enemy is located, the two teams, Fire and Assault must quickly find cover, setup, and use the surrounding terrain to their advantage.  

During this phase, the Fire Team, along with any QRF reserve force is laying down lead at the enemy, trying to get their soldiers pinned down and panicked. The good guys are using their light machine guns, assault rifles, battle rifles and even sniper rifle, to keep the enemy's head down, while the Assault Team readies for the push. This portion of the Four F's could unitize artillery, CAS, or even mortars to force the enemy into a defensive posture, and unable to move.

While the Fire Team has established a base of fire, pinning down the enemy from moving from their current position, the Assault team is moving around the enemy, looking for a good spot to rain down fire on a their position. This maneuver depends heavily on the how good recce of the area-of-operations for the Assault Team to find the pathway around the enemy position. One of the more helpful tools modern warfare for this phase is the UAV, it can provide real-time intel and the local topography.

When it all comes together. The Assault Team is in position to either rush the enemy position with all-guns-blazing or attack them from cover, using grenades, flash-bangs, or even direct fire.This could mean calling artillery/air strike on the enemy, or using their own guns to finish the fight. If the Assault Team rushes the enemy position, then the Fire Team needs stops their base of fire, which would mean good communication between the two teams at all times. If everything is right, the enemy dies, and the two teams reform, re-arm, and return their mission.

Does this small unit tactic still work?
Back when I first starting playing Brothers in Arms: road to Hill 30, I decided to try out the Four F's during a paintball game at DFW Adventure Park. The group that I was with agreed to the experiment, during a speedball game, we met with much success. The other team, mostly rec players, was routed from their backfield position, with two flanking assault teams made up of about three players. I would later learn, that most professional paintball teams use this basic foundation tactic of small unit combat, with names like Backplayers, mid-players, and the frontmen. In the real world of bullets and paint, not paint and bruises, the basic element of the Four F's is still taught in basic, with some of the same titles, but with leapfrogging and overlapping fields of suppressive fire with LMGs and 40mm grenade launchers.  


  1. Your tactics are sound, though a bit dated.
    Current small unit tactics combine both the fix and finish part, mostly because of modern weapons, without the need to have dedicated fire teams - makes the squad more flexible.

    Suffice it to say that modern infantry tactics use platoon medium machine guns (7.62mm) to suppress if needed, but 9-men/2x fire team(4) squads *both* fix and finish the enemy with 40mm GL and 5.56mm SAWs, with light 60mm mortars in support. This is often called bounding overwatch, where fire teams alternate the fix/suppress and flank role.

    Flash forward to the immediate future (ie within the next decade), there are some true "game-changers" in the works. Remember that the infantry tactics you described still focus on direct (flat-trajectory) fire - the goal being to keep the enemy's heads down behind cover so you can flank them.

    Enter the modern airburst munition. The US XM25 25mm, ROK Daewoo K11 20mm but also various 40mm grenades can be timed to air burst behind walls or inside rooms - no need to suppress or flank anymore...!

    1. (continued) The main advantage is obvious; less munitions to be carried and fired.

      Another "game changer" (I hate that term but it's popular) are micro UAVs. Beyond the obvious ISR role, there's a trend to arm them as well with grenade size warheads. Really small (some with inflatable wings) and easy to deploy (think X-box gamepad) these armed MAVs can find and finish snipers and machine guns teams out of range of rifle fire, or hiding on say, rooftops.
      Aeronvironments SwitchBlade is a larger variant, but still very man-packable.
      Not to mention effective.

      One can only wonder what the real Brothers in Arms must think of the modern weapons of the Future War.

  2. Here's a video of the Switchblade - no Four F's needed!

  3. Nice comments, Marcase! Thanks for something new for me to research for an upcoming UAV blogpost! I agree with you, that most infantry tactics until recently where looking at the battlefield in two dimensions, while now, I think military planners are seeing three dimensional. When we add spaceborne weapons, then maybe that will be the forth dimension of combat?
    Micro-UAVs are great upcoming piece of tech! Reminds me of the Hunter-Seeker from DUNE.
    It amazing what future soldiers will use in the next centuries...the Master Chief never had to do any Four F's...

  4. The German army used similar tactics developed from the Stormtroops experiance in 1917-1918. Squad tactics were built around the fire base of the MG-34 or MG-42.