The Polar Bears

The Polar Bears
4th Battalion, 31st Infantry

Friday, April 1, 2011

Building my first company part 2b: Platoon TO&E and Figures

I've finally decided on a basic organization for my marines after going over the various sources out there.  There aren't a lot of sources to look at really... comics, the Aliens novel, the movie itself, and finally the Colonial Marine Technical Manual.  The first two sources I mentioned weren't a whole lot of help, so I'm hanging the whole collection on the CMTM and the movie.  Fortunately, both seem to jive pretty well together.

At first I thought the whole 'binary' organization system was pretty 'fishy'.  It seemed an odd way to organize troops (see my previous blog about that) if not pretty contrived. However, as it turns out, this 'binary' system has some basis in sci-fi and in the real world.  Who'd thunk??

First the real world.  The system about having squads and sections in a platoon was something used in the US Army during the 1920's through 1930's.  The old Square divisions actually had platoons that had two sections of three eight man squads.  I haven't seen any tactical manuals on this so I have no clue how this clumsy system would work in the field, but apparently it worked well enough up to WWII.  In addition, the US Army (and Marine Corps for that matter) used a binary section system in their heavy weapons platoons.  For example, a US HMG platoon in 1944 was equipped with 4 M1917 HMGs which were assigned to a small squad of 5-6 men.  Then two squads were grouped together as a section and so on.  Pretty interesting that.

Also this system isn't unheard of in sci-fi.  It turns out that the Mobile Infantry in Starship Troopers used a World War One style 'square' division format that followed the US Army prewar 'square' division too.  It also had platoons of two sections each with three squads of 7 men (6 marauders and 1 scout). William H. Keith seems to like this system too for that matter. In his "Semper Mars" book the USMC platoon sent to Mars used an almost identical system: two two man fire teams with a squad leader to a squad, two squads to a section, and two sections to a platoon (see p. 33 for details).  I guess there must be something to this.

So I'm going to go on ahead and used the USCMC organization as listed in the CMTM.  So here's what I'll need:

1 LT for Platoon Commander
1 Platoon Sergeant
2 Sections with two four man squads and a section leader.  

That gives me a platoon with roughly 20 models (not counting drivers for vehicles and specialized personnel).  Miniature wise I'll need at the very least 4 Smart Gunners and 16 troopers with pulse rifles... although, if Gorman is any indication, then my platoon commander is not really a 'line trooper' in full armor and fully armed.  He's just another 'support' type in BDUs/Coveralls and maybe a pistol. But on the other hand this guy is voyeur who spends all of his time sitting around in a nice, warm, and somewhat same APC ordering everyone around.  So let's focus on the actual figures that will appear on the battlefield.  

On the section level that amounts to: 

1 Section Sergeant (say an E-6 equivalent) with a pulse rifle
2 Squad Leaders (either E-5s or E-4s) with pulse rifles
2 Smart Gunners (Lance Corporals or PFCs)
4 Pulse Riflemen (PFCs and less).

If the movie is any indicator then all of these guys are in full body armor (modified for the smart gunners) and have pistols in addition to their main weapons. 

So what about support weapons and other heavy weapons?  Great question.  The CMTM and the movie are pretty silent on that part.  The weapons are mentioned but there isn't any clear answer.  However the CMTM does give this brief hint:

"Organic support weaponry available to the platoon usually includes eight M240 flamethrowers, eight UA-571 remote sentry guns, two M78 PIG phased plasma guns or M5 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, eighteen M83 SADAR anti-tank rockets, and a single M402 multiple-launch fire-support mortar."

Jeeze, that's a lot of 'extra' gear.  Certainly too much for roughly 20 guys and gals to tote around on foot.  My guess is that this gear forms a weapons 'pool' that is drawn from depending on the mission.  I guess if you're literally light years from other supporting units that you would really need to carry as much gear as you can stuff into your starship, apc, or pockets for that matter!  Each marine is probably cross-trained to be qualified on as many of these weapons as possible so that the platoon commander can 'task organize' his limited human resources as much as possible.  So then the basic platoon is armed with pulse rifles and smart guns as standard but it can 'kit out' as needed for the mission using the pool of weapons mentioned above.

You actually see that in how the section in Aliens gears out for the initial drop on LV 426.  Here's what I found:

Aliens Marine Section

Msg. Apone. A. - Platoon Sergeant / 1st squad's leader. Pulse Rifle (later takes a flamer)

1st Squad
Pfc. Hudson. W. - Com-tech/Rifleman. Pulse Rifle. Team 1. Motion tracker and computer (?)
Pfc. Vasquez. J. - Smartgunner. Smart Gun. Team 1
Pvt. Wierzbowski. T. - Rifleman. Team 2. Pulse Rifle.
Pvt. Crowe. T. - Rifleman. Team 2. Pulse Rifle.

2nd Squad
Cpl. Hicks. D - 2nd squad’s leader. Pulse Rifle/Shotgun. Motion tracker. Team 1.
Pvt. Drake. M. - Smartgunner. Smart Gun. Team 2. 
Pvt. Frost. R. - Rifleman. Flamer. Team 2. 
Cpl. Dietrich. S. - Medic/Rifleman. Flamer. Team 1.

So what does that mean for me the gamer?  A very small but flexible force!  Excellent!  With all the cross training it wouldn't be hard to imagine missions where I just go with smart guns and pulse rifles.  But when I go 'bug hunting' then maybe I might be better served with flamethrowers and PIGs. I might also want to bring some sentry guns with me to for those hard to scratch places. Tanks a problem?  Then I probably need to grab some PIGs, SADARs, and RPGs.  The mortar is the thing that has me scratching my head.  Maybe it is just a small guy like the British 51mm mortar in use right now?

So what about figures?  Well there are a lot of cool sci-fi 15mm models out there that are CMC like.  The closest, to me, are the Deep Space Marines from QRF.  They have the right mix of weapons and gear to look right for CMCs.  They come in two different 'squad' sets (Deep Space Marines "Alpha" and "Beta"  )

You would think that each pack would be almost enough to make a Colonial Marine section.  But they really aren't.  In fact, I've found that, to use the organization I mentioned above, you need two packs to make a proper section.  With two packs you have enough figures to kit out a complete section and you have a number of spares with flamethrowers, causalities, a Ripley looking civilian, and an odd mix of 'officer' looking guys in soft caps with pistols, a pulse rifle, and a flamethrower.   I guess they are around for the more studly leader types!

So I guess that means, at a bare minimum, that I'll need four Deep Space Marine packs for each platoon.  Not a bad price really.  The only problem with QRF's Deep Space line is that while you get all the basic Colonial Marine weapons you will miss out on other support weapons such as PIGs, RPGs, SADARs and others.  Also, the QRF line doesn't have any sentry guns and they haven't posted a picture for the wheeled Cheetah APC which is part of the line.  I'm thinking about grabbing one just to see what it looks like however $10 is a big much to buy a vehicle sight unseen.  But I'll say this, $10 is a much better price than $20, $30+ for the other 'official' Aliens APCs that I've seen on ebay.  But that's for another post!

I may do another game this weekend with my son.  I'm getting the urge to take my fledgling marine section (Gunny Anderson's boys) out for another test spin but this time against a foe that has guns!  I might do that tomorrow.

Anyway, enough for now.

Semper fi, carry on...

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