The years immediately after WW2 saw a major shift in many militaries as they capitalized on the sudden peace to finalize their transition from pre-war doctrines and organization. With the onset of the Cold War and potential conflict between East and West on the horizon, the superpowers sought to apply the lessons learned from WW2 in ways nobody dreamt of just a few years prior by applying newly developed technologies.
Squads in the Soviet Army
Soviet squads during WW2 were equipped with a variety of weapons - the Mosin-Nagant bolt-action rifle, SVT-40 semi-auto rifle, PPSh and PPS submachineguns and DP light machineguns, along with a spattering of other weapons and grenades from various factories across the USSR, as well as heavier machineguns such as the SG-43 and DshK being operated at the company or platoon level. After the war, the Soviet Army sought to replace all of these varied weapons with a standardized family of infantry smallarms revolving around the new 7.62mmx39mm intermediate cartridge. This cartridge was, as the name suggests, an intermediate between the low-powered submachinegun ammo and the full-power rifle cartridges in use since the 19th century, and was designed to provide infantry with a round that could be fired full-auto without requiring the heavy barrels and bracing of a machinegun, but with more power and range than submachineguns. Using this new cartridge the Soviet Union developed the SKS semi-auto carbine, the AK-47 assault rifle and the RPD light machinegun, which formed the nucleus of their infantry arms up until the end of the 1950s. At the same time, efforts to replace all of the varying grenades, explosives, anti-tank rifles and lend-lease anti-tank weapons like the Bazooka and PIAT culminated in the RPG-2 by the mid 1950s, which was replaced by the infamous RPG-7 starting in the early 1960s.
Soviet Army squads comprised two elements - a team of riflemen armed with the SKS initially and then the AK-47, along with a squad automatic weapon in the form of the RPD light machinegun and squad grenadier armed with the RPG-2. As technology advanced, the SKS was removed from frontline service while the AK-47 was replaced by the AKM, the RPD replaced by the RPK as the squad's light machinegun, and the RPG-2 replaced with the RPG-7.
In the 1960s the SVD-63 - Dragunov sniper rifle - was developed and began being issued first to platoons and then to squads, with one squad in every platoon having one Rifleman replaced by a "Sniper" (in reality, a squad designated marksman in modern parlance, given only rudimentary marksmanship training at the battalion level). Secondly, the heavier platoon machineguns like the SG-43 were replaced by the newly developed PK (Pulemyot Kalashnikova - Kalishnikov's Machinegun) General-Purpose Machinegun. Both the SVD and PK utilize the older 7.62mmx54mmR full-powered rifle cartridige, and their introduction marked the return of this now-dated (first introduced in 1891) round.
Soviet Squads were split into two asymmetrical teams or 'elements'; the lighter Maneuver Team comprised the squad's riflemen and the SVD marksman, while the heavier Fire Team operated the squad's light machinegun and RPG. In battle, the Maneuver team, as the name suggests, would be able to maneuver around with their lighter weapons while the Fire Team engaged the enemy from a static position. Overall, standard doctrine during this period saw Soviet infantry grouped into 9-man squads - a number at least in part dictated by the number of passengers the BTR-152, and later BTR-60, could transport. With the introduction of Infantry Fighting Vehicles - APCs given heavier armament to serve not as "battle taxis" but as actual fighting assets from which the squad was expected to fight from - the makeup of these squads changed. Since these vehicles were not supposed to drive away after unloading their squads, the position of driver, gunner and commander were taken over by members of the squad, with the remaining soldiers forming a single 'Disembark Team' of 6 or 7 men who could fight on foot alongside their IFV.
Thus, a standard rifle squad would be comprised of one light machinegunner and his assistant, one RPG and his assistant, one marksman, and 4 riflemen (including the squad leader). A mechanized squad inside a BTR-60PB or BMP would have a driver, gunner, and commander, along with 6 dismountable soldiers (the vehicle commander could also dismount and lead them, as he doubled as squad leader). A standard Rifle Platoon would have 3-4 rifle squads plus an HQ squad with another SVD and an RPG and sometimes a single heavier machinegun. Unlike the US, general purpose machineguns like the SG-43, PKs or even DshKs, were held in their own Machinegun Platoons at the Company level, marking the distinction between the "light" machinegun carried by every squad, and the "medium" or "general purpose" machinegun carried in dedicated MG support platoons.
Squads in the US Army
US Army Squads differed significantly from their Soviet counterparts, and also varied considerably between different branches and even different divisions in the same branch. The Standard US Army Squad was comprised of 10 men, while squads in the USMC usually comprised 14. This section will focus on squads in the US Army.
The primary change from squad organization of late WW2 in the US Army during the post-war years was primarily in terms of armament. During the war, the standard US squad was manned by two Automatic Riflemen armed with the, you guessed it, Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), while usually two men were assigned as grenadiers armed with both HE and anti-tank rifle grenades, and the rest of the squad armed simply with M1 Garands. Each squad would be comprised of two identical 5-man Fireteams each equipped with one Autorifle and one Grenade Launcher. Heavier machineguns and Bazookas were held at the platoon level in special 'Weapons squads' that could operate them in battle, or be assigned to supplment other squads in the platoon. This remained common practice throughout most of the Cold War period, maintaining this template well into the 1970s, with only the actual weapons changing.
In the mid-1950s the vintage WW2 weapons began being replaced by newer designs. The M1 Garand was replaced by the M14 Battle Rifle, and the BAR by a special fully automatic variant of the M14, the M14A1. In the platoon weapons squad, the M1919 Browning .30 cal remained the standard heavy machinegun, and the M67 recoilless rifle became the standard Heavy Anti-tank Weapon (HAW). Thus, a standard rifle squad would have 6 M14 riflemen, 2 M14A1 automatic riflemen, and 2 M79 grenadiers. The weapons squad would be equipped with two M1919s (each with one gunner and one assistant) and two M67 anti-tank weapons (also a gunner and assistant), with the rest of the squad equipped with M14s. Standard organization in US Army platoons was 3 rifle squads and one weapons squad.
The 1960s saw the next big change for US Army squads. First, the M60 general purpose machinegun was introduced in the late 1950s, replacing the awkward M1919 Browning .30 as platoon-level machinegun. Second, the squad grenadiers had their M14 rifle grenades replaced by the now-infamous M79 Grenade Launcher (plus a pistol as a sidearm). Third, the M72 launcher was developed to provide every squad a Light Anti-Tank Weapon (LAW); it was a single-shot, disposable anti-tank weapon that performed a very similar function to the WW2 Panzerfaust, and could be assigned to every rifleman in the squad if contact with enemy armoured forces was expected. Last and certainly not lease, the development of the 5.56x45mm NATO intermediate cartridge eventually led to the introduction of the M16 family of assault rifles.
The M16 first started being deployed in the mid-60s, with priority going to units stationed in Vietnam - the M14 would remain the standard frontline rifle for most units in Europe into the 1970s. Standard practice was for every member of the squad - except for the M79 grenadiers - to be equipped with the M16, making the fully-auto M14A1 irrelevant. In the 1970s, as the M16A1 and its M203 under-barrel grenade launcher were developed, the grenadiers would finally be reunited with a rifle.
Unlike the Soviets, whose squad sizes were dictated by their transport vehicles, the US had the opposite strategy in designing their transports to fit their squad sizes. The primary APC used by US mounted squads was the M113; it was a simple tracked, amphibious design usually armed with a single .50 caliber heavy machinegun and crewed by a driver and gunner/commander, and could hold 10 men in its transport bay. Standard practice was for the M113 to operate as a "battle taxi", transporting squads into battle while laying down suppressive fire before retreating. In Vietnam, the US began developing the concept of the "Infantry Fighting Vehicle" (by copying South Vietnamese troops), and developed the 'ACAV' - the Armoured Cavalry Assault Vehicle. This was an M113 kitted out with extra armour and up to 3 machineguns with gun shields (and occasionally heavy recoilless rifles mounted to the roof), and standard practice was for the vehicles to remain on the battlefield and fight with their infantry inside, thus becoming the first American Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Eventually this concept would culminate in the 1970s with the M2 Bradley IFV replacing the standard M113 ACAV, and the M3 Bradley cavalry vehicle replacing the M113 ACAVs with recoilless rifles.
That does it for this introductory article. I really find the evolution of battle tactics after WW2 very interesting, so forgive me for this little bit of pointless word-vomit. Hopefully I will continue with more articles about interesting factoids of the Cold War.