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Infantry

Military service branch concerned with combat by individuals on foot

Top 10 Infantry related articles

Soldiers of the ROK Armed Forces 27th Infantry Division, Reconnaissance Battalion, conducting long march exercise, 2009
Infantry of the Royal Irish Rifles at the Battle of the Somme (July–November 1916) during the First World War

Infantry is an army specialization whose personnel engage in military combat on foot, distinguished from cavalry, artillery, and armored forces. Also known as foot soldiers, infantrymen or infanteer, infantry traditionally rely on traveling by foot between combats as well, but may also use mounts (mounted infantry), military vehicles (motorized, and mechanized infantry), watercraft (naval infantry), or aircraft (airborne infantry) for between-combat mobility and logistics. Infantry make up a large portion of all armed forces in most nations, and typically bear the largest brunt in warfare, as measured by casualties, discomfort, fatigue, and both physical and psychological stress.[1]

The first military forces in history were infantry. In antiquity, infantry were armed with early melee weapons such as a spear, axe, or sword, or an early ranged weapon like a javelin, sling, or bow, with a few infantrymen having both a melee and a ranged weapon. With the development of gunpowder, infantry began converting to primarily firearms. By the time of Napoleonic warfare, infantry, cavalry and artillery formed a basic triad of ground forces, though infantry usually remained the most numerous. With armoured warfare, armoured fighting vehicles have replaced the horses of cavalry, and airpower has added a new dimension to ground combat, but infantry remains pivotal to all modern combined arms operations.

Infantry have much greater local situational awareness than other military forces, due to their inherent intimate contact with the battlefield ("boots on the ground");[2] this is vital for engaging and infiltrating enemy positions, holding and defending ground (any military objectives), securing battlefield victories, maintaining military area control and security both at and behind the front lines, for capturing ordnance or materiel, taking prisoners, and military occupation.[3][4] Infantry can more easily recognise, adapt and respond to local conditions, weather, and changing enemy weapons or tactics. They can operate in a wide range of terrain inaccessible to military vehicles, and can operate with a lower logistical burden. Infantry are the most easily delivered forces to ground combat areas, by simple and reliable marching, or by trucks, sea or air transport; they can also be inserted directly into combat by amphibious landing, by air drop with parachutes (airborne infantry) or via air assault by helicopters (airmobile infantry). They can be augmented with a variety of crew-served weapons, armoured personnel carriers, and infantry fighting vehicles.

Infantry Intro articles: 43

Etymology and terminology

Various infantry of the 17th through 18th century (halberdier, arquebusier, pikeman, and mix of musketeers and grenadiers) of Duchy of Württemberg
Infantry of the US 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment enter their M2 Bradley IFV during a combat patrol, Tall Afar, Iraq, 2006

In English, use of the term infantry began about the 1570s, describing soldiers who march and fight on foot. The word derives from Middle French infanterie, from older Italian (also Spanish) infanteria (foot soldiers too inexperienced for cavalry), from Latin īnfāns (without speech, newborn, foolish), from which English also gets infant.[5] The individual-soldier term infantryman was not coined until 1837.[6] In modern usage, foot soldiers of any era are now considered infantry and infantrymen.[7]

From the mid-18th century until 1881 the British Army named its infantry as numbered regiments "of Foot" to distinguish them from cavalry and dragoon regiments (see List of Regiments of Foot).

Infantry equipped with special weapons were often named after that weapon, such as grenadiers for their grenades, or fusiliers for their fusils.[note 1] These names can persist long after the weapon speciality; examples of infantry units that retained such names are the Royal Irish Fusiliers and the Grenadier Guards.

More commonly in modern times, infantry with special tactics are named for their roles, such as commandos, rangers, snipers, marines, (who all have additional training) and militia (who have limited training); they are still infantry due to their expectation to fight as infantry when they enter combat.

Dragoons were created as mounted infantry, with horses for travel between battles; they were still considered infantry since they dismounted before combat. However, if light cavalry was lacking in an army, any available dragoons might be assigned their duties; this practise increased over time, and dragoons eventually received all the weapons and training as both infantry and cavalry, and could be classified as both. Conversely, starting about the mid-19th century, regular cavalry have been forced to spend more of their time dismounted in combat due to the ever-increasing effectiveness of enemy infantry firearms. Thus most cavalry transitioned to mounted infantry. As with grenadiers, the dragoon and cavalry designations can be retained long after their horses, such as in the Royal Dragoon Guards, Royal Lancers, and King's Royal Hussars.

Similarly, motorised infantry have trucks and other unarmed vehicles for non-combat movement, but are still infantry since they leave their vehicles for any combat. Most modern infantry have vehicle transport, to the point where infantry being motorised is generally assumed, and the few exceptions might be identified as modern light infantry, or "leg infantry" colloquially. Mechanised infantry go beyond motorised, having transport vehicles with combat abilities, armoured personnel carriers (APCs), providing at least some options for combat without leaving their vehicles. In modern infantry, some APCs have evolved to be infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), which are transport vehicles with more substantial combat abilities, approaching those of light tanks. Some well-equipped mechanised infantry can be designated as armoured infantry. Given that infantry forces typically also have some tanks, and given that most armoured forces have more mechanised infantry units than tank units in their organisation, the distinction between mechanised infantry and armour forces has blurred.

The terms infantry, armour, and cavalry used in the official names for military units like divisions, brigades, or regiments might be better understood as a description of their expected balance of defensive, offensive, and mobility roles, rather than just use of vehicles. Some modern mechanised infantry units are termed cavalry or armoured cavalry, even though they never had horses, to emphasise their combat mobility.

In the modern US Army, about 15% of soldiers are officially Infantry.[8] The basic training for all new US Army soldiers includes use of infantry weapons and tactics, even for tank crews, artillery crews, and base and logistical personnel.

Infantry Etymology and terminology articles: 32

History

Ancient Greek infantry of the Greco-Persian Wars (499–449 BC): light infantry (left, slinger), and the heavy infantry (middle and right, hoplites)
Rocroi, el último tercio ("Roicroi, the last tercio") by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau, portraying infantry of a battered Spanish tercio at the 1643 Battle of Rocroi
French infantry line performing a bayonet charge in 1913

The first warriors, adopting hunting weapons or improvised melee weapons,[9] before the existence of any organised military, likely started essentially as loose groups without any organisation or formation. But this changed sometime before recorded history; the first ancient empires (2500–1500 BC) are shown to have some soldiers with standardised military equipment, and the training and discipline required for battlefield formations and manoeuvres: regular infantry.[10] Though the main force of the army, these forces were usually kept small due to their cost of training and upkeep, and might be supplemented by local short-term mass-conscript forces using the older irregular infantry weapons and tactics; this remained a common practice almost up to modern times.[11]

Before the adoption of the chariot to create the first mobile fighting forces c. 2000 BC,[12] all armies were pure infantry. Even after, with a few exceptions like the Mongol Empire, infantry has been the largest component of most armies in history.

In the Western world, from Classical Antiquity through the Middle Ages (c. 8th century BC to 15th century AD), infantry are categorised as either heavy infantry or light infantry. Heavy infantry, such as Greek hoplites, Macedonian phalangites, and Roman legionaries, specialised in dense, solid formations driving into the main enemy lines, using weight of numbers to achieve a decisive victory, and were usually equipped with heavier weapons and armour to fit their role. Light infantry, such as Greek peltasts, Balearic slingers, and Roman velites, using open formations and greater manoeuvrability, took on most other combat roles: scouting, screening the army on the march, skirmishing to delay, disrupt, or weaken the enemy to prepare for the main forces' battlefield attack, protecting them from flanking manoeuvers, and then afterwards either pursuing the fleeing enemy or covering their army's retreat.

After the fall of Rome, the quality of heavy infantry declined, and warfare was dominated by heavy cavalry,[13] such as knights, forming small elite units for decisive shock combat, supported by peasant infantry militias and assorted light infantry from the lower classes. Towards the end of Middle Ages, this began to change, where more professional and better trained light infantry could be effective against knights, such as the English longbowmen in the Hundred Years' War. By the start of the Renaissance, the infantry began to return to dominance, with Swiss pikemen and German Landsknechts filling the role of heavy infantry again, using dense formations of pikes to drive off any cavalry.[14]

Dense formations are vulnerable to ranged weapons. Technological developments allowed the raising of large numbers of light infantry units armed with ranged weapons, without the years of training expected for traditional high-skilled archers and slingers. This started slowly, first with crossbowmen, then hand cannoneers and arquebusiers, each with increasing effectiveness, marking the beginning of early modern warfare, when firearms rendered the use of heavy infantry obsolete. The introduction of musketeers using bayonets in the mid 17th century began replacement of the pike with the infantry square replacing the pike square.[15]

To maximise their firepower, musketeer infantry were trained to fight in wide lines facing the enemy, creating line infantry. These fulfilled the central battlefield role of earlier heavy infantry, using ranged weapons instead of melee weapons. To support these lines, smaller infantry formations using dispersed skirmish lines were created, called light infantry, fulfilling the same multiple roles as earlier light infantry. Their arms were no lighter than line infantry; they were distinguished by their skirmish formation and flexible tactics.

The modern rifleman infantry became the primary force for taking and holding ground on battlefields worldwide, a vital element of combined arms combat. As firepower continued to increase, use of infantry lines diminished, until all infantry became light infantry in practice.

Modern classifications of infantry have expanded to reflect modern equipment and tactics, such as motorised infantry, mechanised or armoured infantry, mountain infantry, marine infantry, and airborne infantry.

Infantry History articles: 46

Equipment

Swiss infantry kits arrayed in front of a field kitchen in Spitalacker, Bern during a workers' strike, c. 1918
US Army infantryman c. 1973
US ALICE c. 1973

An infantryman's equipment is of vital concern both for the man and the military. The needs of the infantryman to maintain fitness and effectiveness must be constantly balanced against being overburdened. While soldiers in other military branches can use their mount or vehicle for carrying equipment, and tend to operate together as crews serving their vehicle or ordnance, infantrymen must operate more independently; each infantryman usually having much more personal equipment to use and carry. This encourages searching for ingenious combinations of effective, rugged, serviceable and adaptable, yet light, compact, and handy infantry equipment.

Beyond their main arms and armour, each infantryman's "military kit" includes combat boots, battledress or combat uniform, camping gear, heavy weather gear, survival gear, secondary weapons and ammunition, weapon service and repair kits, health and hygiene items, mess kit, rations, filled water canteen, and all other consumables each infantryman needs for the expected duration of time operating away from their unit's base, plus any special mission-specific equipment. One of the most valuable pieces of gear is the entrenching tool—basically a folding spade—which can be employed not only to dig important defences, but also in a variety of other daily tasks, and even sometimes as a weapon.[16] Infantry typically have shared equipment on top of this, like tents or heavy weapons, where the carrying burden is spread across several infantrymen. In all, this can reach 25–45 kg (60–100 lb) for each soldier on the march.[17] Such heavy infantry burdens have changed little over centuries of warfare; in the late Roman Republic, legionaries were nicknamed Marius' mules as their main activity seemed to be carrying the weight of their legion around on their backs.[note 2][18]

When combat is expected, infantry typically switch to "packing light", meaning reducing their equipment to weapons, ammo, and bare essentials, and leaving the rest with their transport or baggage train, at camp or rally point, in temporary hidden caches, or even (in emergencies) discarding whatever may slow them down.[19] Additional specialised equipment may be required, depending on the mission or to the particular terrain or environment, including satchel charges, demolition tools, mines, barbed wire, carried by the infantry or attached specialists.

Historically, infantry have suffered high casualty rates from disease, exposure, exhaustion and privation — often in excess of the casualties suffered from enemy attacks.[20] Better infantry equipment to support their health, energy, and protect from environmental factors greatly reduces these rates of loss, and increase their level of effective action. Health, energy, and morale are greatly influenced by how the soldier is fed, so militaries often standardised field rations, starting from hardtack, to US K-rations, to modern MREs.

Communications gear has become a necessity, as it allows effective command of infantry units over greater distances, and communication with artillery and other support units. Modern infantry can have GPS, encrypted individual communications equipment, surveillance and night vision equipment, advanced intelligence and other high-tech mission-unique aids.

Armies have sought to improve and standardise infantry gear to reduce fatigue for extended carrying, increase freedom of movement, accessibility, and compatibility with other carried gear, such as the US All-purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment (ALICE).

Weapons

Russian weapons from the 13th to 17th centuries

Infantrymen are defined by their primary arms – the personal weapons and body armour for their own individual use. The available technology, resources, history, and society can produce quite different weapons for each military and era, but common infantry weapons can be distinguished in a few basic categories.[21][22]

Infantrymen often carry secondary or back-up weapons, sometimes called a sidearm or ancillary weapons in modern terminology, either issued officially as an addition to the soldier's standard arms, or acquired unofficially by any other means as an individual preference. Such weapons are used when the primary weapon is no longer effective, such it becoming damaged, running out of ammunition, malfunction, or in a change of tactical situation where another weapon is preferred, such as going from ranged to close combat. Infantry with ranged or pole weapons often carried a sword or dagger for possible hand-to-hand combat.[21] The pilum was a javelin of the Roman legionaries threw just before drawing their primary weapon, the gladius (short sword), and closing with the enemy line.[24]

Modern infantrymen now treat the bayonet as a backup weapon, but may also have handguns or pistols. They may also deploy anti-personnel mines, booby traps, incendiary or explosive devices defensively before combat.

Some non-weapon equipment are designed for close combat shock effects, to get and psychological edge before melee, such as battle flags, war drums, brilliant uniforms, fierce body paint or tattoos, and even battle cries. These have become mostly only ceremonial since the decline of close combat military tactics.

Protection

The Roman testudo performed during a siege, as shown on Trajan's Column.

Infantry have employed many different methods of protection from enemy attacks, including various kinds of armour and other gear, and tactical procedures.

The most basic is personal armour. This includes shields, helmets and many types of armour – padded linen, leather, lamellar, mail, plate, and kevlar. Initially, armour was used to defend both from ranged and close combat; even a fairly light shield could help defend against most slings and javelins, though high-strength bows and crossbows might penetrate common armour at very close range. Infantry armour had to compromise between protection and coverage, as a full suit of attack-proof armour would be too heavy to wear in combat.

As firearms improved, armour for ranged defence had to be thicker and stronger. With the introduction of the heavy arquebus designed to pierce standard steel armour, it was proven easier to make heavier firearms than heavier armour; armour transitioned to be only for close combat purposes. Pikemen armour tended to be just steel helmets and breastplates, and gunners little or no armour. By the time of the musket, the dominance of firepower shifted militaries away from any close combat, and use of armour decreased, until infantry typically went without any armour.

Helmets were added back during World War I as artillery began to dominate the battlefield, to protect against their fragmentation and other blast effects beyond a direct hit. Modern developments in bullet-proof composite materials like kevlar have started a return to body armour for infantry, though the extra weight is a notable burden.

In modern times, infantrymen must also often carry protective measures against chemical and biological attack, including military gas masks, counter-agents, and protective suits. All of these protective measures add to the weight an infantryman must carry, and may decrease combat efficiency. Modern militaries are struggling to balance the value of personal body protection versus the weight burden and ability to function under such weight.

Infantry-served weapons

Early crew-served weapons were siege weapons, like the ballista, trebuchet, and battering ram. Modern versions include machine guns, anti-tank missiles, and infantry mortars.

Infantry Equipment articles: 73

Formations

Ancient depiction of infantry formations, from the Stele of the Vultures, Early Dynastic Period (Mesopotamia), c. 2500 BC

Beginning with the development the first regular military forces, close-combat regular infantry fought less as unorganised groups of individuals and more in coordinated units, maintaining a defined tactical formation during combat, for increased battlefield effectiveness; such infantry formations and the arms they used developed together, starting with the spear and the shield.

A spear has decent attack abilities with the additional advantage keeping opponents at distance; this advantage can be increased by using longer spears, but this could allow the opponent to side-step the point of the spear and close for hand-to-hand combat where the longer spear is near useless. This can be avoided when each spearman stays side by side with the others in close formation, each covering the ones next to him, presenting a solid wall of spears to the enemy that they cannot get around.

Similarly, a shield has decent defence abilities, but is literally hit-or-miss; an attack from an unexpected angle can bypass it completely. Larger shields can cover more, but are also heavier and less manoeuvrable, making unexpected attacks even more of a problem. This can be avoided by having shield-armed soldiers stand close together, side-by-side, each protecting both themselves and their immediate comrades, presenting a solid shield wall to the enemy.

The charge of the French Cuirassiers at the Battle of Waterloo against a British infantry square

The opponents for these first formations, the close-combat infantry of more tribal societies, or any military without regular infantry (so called "barbarians") used arms that focused on the individual – weapons using personal strength and force, such as larger swinging swords, axes, and clubs. These take more room and individual freedom to swing and wield, necessitating a more loose organisation. While this may allow for a fierce running attack (an initial shock advantage) the tighter formation of the heavy spear and shield infantry gave them a local manpower advantage where several might be able to fight each opponent.

Thus tight formations heightened advantages of heavy arms, and gave greater local numbers in melee. To also increase their staying power, multiple rows of heavy infantrymen were added. This also increased their shock combat effect; individual opponents saw themselves literally lined-up against several heavy infantryman each, with seemingly no chance of defeating all of them. Heavy infantry developed into huge solid block formations, up to a hundred meters wide and a dozen rows deep.

Maintaining the advantages of heavy infantry meant maintaining formation; this became even more important when two forces with heavy infantry met in battle; the solidity of the formation became the deciding factor. Intense discipline and training became paramount. Empires formed around their military.

Infantry Formations articles: 7