[US Army] Anti-Tank Company – Tactics & Organization – World War 2


Time to cover anti-tank tactics and principles, for this I took a look at the War Departments Field Manual 7-35 from March 1944 that covers the anti-tank company and other anti-tank units in an US Army Infantry Regiment. So let’s examine the company before we dive into the overall defensive setup, tactics and how to properly deploy a defensive position with anti-tank mines.
So let’s get started.


An US Army Anti-Tank company of an infantry regiment consisted of a Company headquarters, 3 anti-tank platoons and an anti-tank mine platoon.
The company headquarters had 35 men, each anti-tank platoon 33 men and the anti-tank mine platoon 31 men.
In terms of equipment, the headquarters company had 2 jeeps, 2 0.75 ton weapons carrier trucks and a 1.5 ton cargo truck. Each anti-tank platoon had 1 jeep, a .50 cal machine gun, 3 trucks, 3 anti-tank guns with 57mm and 3 bazookas. The anti-tank mine platoon had 1 jeep and 2 trucks.
So let’s take a look at the whole company, in total the anti-tank company had 165 men, 9 anti-tank guns, 9 bazookas and lots of other stuff.
American Infantry Division – Anti-Tank Company for Rifle Regiment – 26 February 1944 – Table of Organization 7-19

Relationship to Regiment and Battalions

Note that the anti-tank company was part of the infantry regiment, which also consisted of 3 infantry battalions, which themselves had their organic anti-tank units, namely an anti-tank platoon each.

Now, these battalions had all their own assigned areas to defend, which were themselves located in the regimental zone. Thus, regimental anti-tank company was used to support the anti-tank units of the battalions. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p.92-93)

As stated in the field Manual:
“Frequently, one platoon of the regimental antitank company is employed to reinforce or add depth to the antimechanized defenses of each front-line battalion, and provide protection to its flanks (see fig. 12).” (FM-7-35 March 1944: p.93)

Function & Mission

Hence, the main function of the anti-tank company was to provide protection against enemy tanks in coordination with the battalion’s anti-tank platoons. To achieve this, the primary missions were reinforcing the front-line battalions to deepen the anti-mechanized defense and to protect the flank or rear of the regiment. Secondary missions were attacking enemy observation posts, fortifications, gun emplacements or other enemy positions. Note that if during a secondary mission a primary mission appeared the anti-tank units should switch without order to the primary mission, meaning engaging enemy armored and mechanized troops. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p.13-14)

Firing and Cover Positions

Now, something about how the defense was organized. There are three firing positions, the primary, supplementary and alternate position.
“The primary firing position is the position from which the gun can best execute its primary mission.” (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 14)
So let’s take a look at a specific situation. For instance this could be covering an approach. Now, since there are usually more approaches to cover, supplementary positions were necessary. A supplementary position is a firing position that can cover an area that can’t be covered by a primary position. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 16)

An alternate firing position is an additional position to a primary or supplementary position that covers the same area and thus can conduct the same fire mission. This alternate position allows to perform the mission even if the respective primary or supplementary position is under fire. It must be reachable with the gun drawn by hand, yet far enough to avoid being affected by fire directed at the primary position. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 16)

Additionally there should be cover positions near the firing positions, to provide protection for personnel and equipment not engaged with the enemy. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 16)

The usual construction order is to first build the primary emplacements, then followed by the alternate positions for these and then the supplementary emplacements and their alternates. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 101) Additionally, dummy position should be constructed, these should be located at least 140 meters away from any true position. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 154-155)


Now, if you should ever setup an anti-tank position on your property or somewhere else, the manual contained two interesting bits that grasped my attention. First off, during the excavation of the position you should employ a camouflage net to avoid detection from the air. But as always the devil is in the details, when you use a camo net, be sure that it touches the ground everywhere, because if it doesn’t, it will throw a large shadow that makes it quite visible from the air. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 243) And second, after firing your gun several times, you should consider removing the blast marks in front of your gun. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 247)

Area of Responsibility & Engagement Rules

Now, for better coordination and organization, usually each unit was assigned a sector of responsibility, the size was dependent on the terrain, visibility and proximity of additional units. Ideally, these sectors should overlap with the sectors of adjacent units. The unit leader was responsible for observing the assigned areas. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 124)
In order to provide effective fire and prevent giving away the positions too early, there were several rules in place. First the unit leader defined the ranges at which enemy vehicles should be engaged. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 124-125) Second, approaching hostile recon and decoy vehicles should not be fired upon, unless the superior commander ordered this explicitly, e.g., for an anti-tank platoon the company commander and if the platoon was attached to a battalion the battalion commander. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 124-125) This prevented giving away the positions of the guns prematurely and furthermore, the enemy should be engaged when he had committed his main force.
In order to provide proper ranges, the squad leader for each gun was responsible creating a reference sheet, which he also copied for the platoon leader. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 160-161) Let’s take a short look at an adapted version of such a range card contained in the field manual.
Now, such a reference sheet was rather simple, it contained the position of the gun. An indicator for the magnetic north and various reference points with names and distance from the gun.

Defensive Combat

Let’s take a closer look at the defensive organization and tactics of the anti-tank units. The field manual has a quite interesting view on defensive combat stated under the point “defensive doctrines”:
“The general object of defensive combat is to gain time pending the development of more favorable conditions for undertaking the offensive, or to economize forces on one front for the purpose of concentrating superior forces for a decision elsewhere.” (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 91-92)

As you can clearly see, the defense is seen as a temporary situation until an offensive is possible or as a deliberate action in one area to provide the necessary forces for an attack in another area. Thus, on a strategic scale an offensive stance seems to be the determining factor.
“72. MISSION. The principal mission of the antitank company of a regiment defending a sector of the battle
position is to reinforce or add depth to the antimechanized defense provided by the organic antitank weapons
of front-line battalions, and to protect the flanks, and, if necessary, the rear, of the regimental sector.”
(FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 92)

Anti-Tank Mines

Now, one element in discussions about anti-tank operations that is often commonly neglected is the usage of mines. In defending an area against tanks mines can play a crucial part. Yet, mines are often misunderstood, the most important thing about mines is that they are first and foremost an area-denial weapon. This means, the enemy should be discouraged to use the mined areas and thus divert his approach into an area that is chosen by the defending side, which should allow an effective usage of the anti-tank guns and other weapons. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p.93)
Now, minefields don’t stop a professional army. The manual stated that mine fields must be laid in small arms range (50 to 450 meters) of an organized position. Furthermore:
“A mine field must be defended by fire to be effective. Undefended mine fields delay the enemy only for the relatively short time it takes to bypass them or to remove enough mines to permit passage.” (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 176)

Additionally, there should be a certain safe distance between friendly position and mine fields, furthermore they should not be laid in areas that are assigned for defensive artillery fire. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p.96)

Besides funneling an enemy attack into certain areas, mines could also be used to increase the resistance of outpost, by properly mining the approaches of an outpost the defending units could withdraw and lower the chances of being overrun.
Furthermore, in case of an enemy break through, a properly mined regimental sector would prevent the enemy tanks from moving freely and thus denying them to fully exploit their advantage. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p.95)

Example of a position with road block and mines

Let’s take a look an example position from the manual that uses mines and roadblocks to defend an area.
The road block is covered by the gun and also small-arms fire from infantry. The gun is positioned that it can cover the road and other approaches suitable for tanks. The mines are in range of small arms fire to prevent their removal, furthermore the infantry also protects the gun from enemy infantry. Additionally, rocket teams nearby provide additional protection from attacks on the flanks and rear. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 180)
Furthermore, if during an attack a tank comes within or below a range of 270m, all personnel not serving the gun or already attacking enemy foot troops, should employ rockets or other weapons against the enemy tanks. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 27)
The manual states: “Doors and turrets, if open, offer particularly favorable targets to small-arms fire, as do also vision slits and periscopes. Should tanks succeed in approaching close enough to warrant such action, incendiary grenades, antitank bombs, and smoke grenades may be used. Fire is continued until defenders are forced to take cover to avoid the crushing action of tanks.” (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 27)


To summarize, each battalion defended its sectors with their organic anti-tank defenses, whereas the regimental anti-tank company provided additional protection on the flanks and/or in the depth.
The use of anti-tank mines, natural and artificial obstacles was central in setting up a proper defense. In case of an enemy attack, it was important to wait until the enemy committed its main force. Additionally, firing at lone recon vehicles was performed only in accordance with the commander the anti-tank unit was attached to. These measures ensured that the positions weren’t given away prematurely and that the maximum firepower could be used once the enemy reached an effective firing range.


FM 7-35 Antitank Company, Infantry Regiment and Antitank Platoon, Infantry Battalion

Niehorster – US Army Infantry Division Anti-Tank Company 1944

Nafziger Collection – US Army Infantry Division Anti-Tank Company 1944

US Army Armored Division – Organization & Structure – World War 2 #Visualization


In total the United States raised 16 armored division in World War 2. In September 1943 fourteen of those were reorganized, these are sometimes called the „light“ armored divisions, although this name is a bit misleading, because the main difference was in size and not the equipped tanks. So let’s take a closer look. (Source: Stanton, Shelby L.: Order of Battle US Army World War II, p. 15-20)


Such a “light” division in total consisted of around:
11 000 men
54 M8 Armored Cars
54 M7 Priest Self-Propelled Artillery
460 2 ½ Trucks,
450 M3 Halftracks
465 .30 cal Machine guns
404 .50 cal Machine guns
30 57mm anti tank guns
77 Light Tanks like the M5A1 Stuart(, which were later on replaced by the M24 Chaffee)
168 Medium M4 Sherman Tanks
18 Medium Tanks with 105 mm Howitzers
30 M32 Tank Recovery Vehicles
449 Jeeps


The structure of the September 1943 divisions was without regiments, hence the largest sub-unit is the battalion. The division consisted of 1 Signal Company, 3 Tank Battalions, 3 Armored Infantry Battalions, the divisional Artillery consisting of 3 armored field artillery battalions, 1 Mechanized Cavalry Recon Squadron, 1 Armored Division Trains with a Medical Battalion and an Armored Maintenance Battalion. And 1 Armored Engineer Battalion.

Now every of these Tank Battalions consisted of three Medium Tank Companies and One light Tank Company. Let’s take a closer look.
The Medium Tank Company consisted of an HQ section and 3 Medium Tank Platoons. The HQ Section consisted of two M4 Shermans, one M4 with a 105 howitzer and a jeep. Each of the Medium Tank platoons consisted of 5 M4 Shermans.

The Light Company was quite similar. It consisted also of one HQ section and three platoons. The HQ section consisted of two M5A1 Stuart tanks and one jeep. Each Platoon consisted of 5 tanks. Note that from late 1944 onwards the Stuarts were replaced by the M24 Chaffee Light tank. (Source: Stanton, Shelby L.: Order of Battle US Army World War II, p. 19)



Zaloga, Steven J.: US Armored Divisions, European Theater of Operations, 1944-45 (amazon.com affiliate link)

Stanton, Shelby L.: Order of Battle US Army World War II (amazon.com affiliate link)

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Online Resources

M4 Sherman

US Army Infantry Battalion Structure & Attack Tactics World War 2 (1944)

This is the script for the video, not an article.

US Army Infantry Battalion Numbers

In 1944 an US Army infantry battalion roughly consisted of 900 men.
These were divided up in the HQ Company with 120 men.
Three rifle companies with 190 men each.
A weapons company with 160 men and
a medical detachment with 30 men.

The HQ Company was equipped with

  • 8 bazookas
  • 3 57mm anti-tank guns
  • 2 .50 cal and
  • 6 .30 cal machine guns.

Each rifle company had

The weapons company had

  • 6 bazookas
  • 8 81mm mortars
  • One .50 cal and
  • 8 water cooled .30 cals for supporting the other companies

And finally the medical detachment had bandages, probably.

Tactics: Attack against an organized position

Before we take a closer look at how an infantry battalion attacks an organized position, Some basics: artillery and smoke were used to support the attack. The Field Manual states that “in the presence of the enemy, fire must be used to protect all movements not masked by cover, or by fog, smoke, or other conditions of reduced visibility.”
The attack against the enemy position would consist of a main and secondary attack. Depending on the situation, each of those would be performed by a different set of units. The battalion consisted of 3 rifle companies, let’s call them Able, Bravo and Charlie. In this case Able company carries out the main attack, Bravo company performs the secondary attack and Charlie company is kept as reserve to exploit any breakthrough or to fight off counter-attacks. Finally, the weapons company would support the main attack.

The main attack was usually directed against the weakest point of the enemy defense. In order to increase power of the main attack, it was conducted on a narrower zone than the secondary attack.
The main purpose of the secondary attack is to prevent the enemy from providing a concentrated defensive effort. This could be done in two ways, either by advancing or by simply providing fire support. In this video we only look at the advancing version.

Secondary attack with advance

Here is the situation, the German positions are at the top. The main attack is directed against a position on the left side performed by Able Company, which will be supported by the weapons company with its mortars and machine guns.

Ideally the secondary attack should mislead the enemy, into committing reserves away from the main attack. Thus Bravo Company is assigned a terrain objective which it should attack with full force. Finally, Charlie Company is staying in cover ready to exploit any breakthroughs.
We can assume that the company commanders usually weren’t informed on what kind of attack they were performing, because the Field Manual states: “In attack orders, however, the battalion commander does not distinguish between nor use the terms “main attack” and “secondary attack.” Although, practice and field manuals usually deviate from each other.

The main and secondary attack are performed in conjunction, thus the enemy can’t focus his defense on one point. The narrower attack space of the main attack and the support from the weapons company allow for a breakthrough in the enemy line.

Able Company now attacks the flanks of the enemy line, while Charlie Company is brought through the gap in the line to exploit the situation. Meanwhile the weapons company moves up to continue its support of the attacking units, if necessary. Depending on the situation and objectives the companies would continue to attack the flanks or break into the rear areas.



Amazon.com (affiliate link): Stephen Bull: World War II Infantry Tactics: Company and Battalion
Amazon.de (affiliate link): Stephen Bull: World War II Infantry Tactics: Company and Battalion

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Websites & Online materials

Authorized Organization – 1944 Infantry Division – Infantry Battalion (niehorster.org)

Field Manual 7-20 Infantry Battalion 1944

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