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Company (military unit) facts for kids

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Company "B"-113th Infantry-American Expeditionary Forces-France. Richards Film Service Inc., 04-1919 - NARA - 533262
Company B of the 113th Infantry, part of the American Expeditionary Force, France, 1919.

A company is a military unit, typically consisting of 80–250 soldiers and usually commanded by a major or a captain. Most companies are formed of three to six platoons, although the exact number may vary by country, unit type, and structure.

Usually several companies are grouped as a battalion or regiment, the latter of which is sometimes formed by several battalions. Occasionally, independent or separate companies are organized for special purposes, such as the 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company or the 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company. These companies are not organic to a battalion or regiment, but rather report directly to a higher level organization such as a Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) headquarters (i.e., a corps-level command).

Historical background

The modern military company became popularized during the reorganization of the Swedish Army in 1631 under King Gustav II Adolph. For administrative purposes, the infantry was divided into companies consisting of 150 men, grouped into regiments of eight companies. Tactically, the infantry companies were organized into battalions and grouped with cavalry troops and artillery batteries to form brigades.

From ancient times, some armies have commonly used a base administrative and tactical unit of around 100 men. (Perhaps the most well-known is the Roman century, originally intended as a 100-man unit, but later ranging from about 60-80 men, depending on the time period.) An organization based on the decimal number system (i.e., by tens, hundreds, thousands, and ten-thousands) might seem intuitive to most, if not also highly logical, based on the common anatomical counting device created by using the ten digits of the human hands in numbering objects, animals, people, etc. Therefore, to the Romans, for example, a unit of 100 men seemed sufficiently large enough to efficiently facilitate organizing a large body of men numbering into the several thousands, yet small enough that one man could reasonably expect to command it as a cohesive unit by using his voice and physical presence, supplemented by musical notes (e.g., drum beats, bugle or trumpet blasts, etc.) and visual cues (e.g., colors, standards, guidons, etc.).

Furthermore, recent studies have indicated that humans are best able to maintain stable relationships in a cohesive group numbering between 100-250 members, with 150 members being the common number (see Dunbar’s number). Again, a military unit on the order of no more than 100 members, and perhaps ideally fewer, would perhaps present the greatest efficiency as well as effectiveness of control, on a battlefield where the stress, danger, fear, noise, confusion, and the general condition known as the “fog of war” would present the greatest challenge to an officer to command a group of men engaged in mortal combat. Until the latter half of the 19th century, when infantry troops still routinely fought in close order, marching and firing shoulder-to-shoulder in lines facing the enemy, the company remained at around 100, or fewer, men.

The advent of accurate, long-range rifle fire, repeating rifles, and machine guns necessitated highly dispersed combat formations. This, coupled with the advent of radio communication, permitted relatively small numbers of men to have much greater firepower and combat effectiveness than previously possible. Companies, however, continue to remain within the general range of 100-250 members, perhaps validating the premise that men fight best (as well as live, work, socialize, play, etc.) in organizations of around 150 members, more or less.

While historically companies were usually grouped into battalions or regiments, there were certain sub-units raised as independent companies that did not belong to a specific battalion or regiment, such as Confederate States of America state local militia companies. However, upon activation and assimilation into the army, several of these independent companies would be grouped together to form either a battalion or a regiment, depending upon the number of companies involved. (Usually two to five would form a battalion, while six to twelve would form a regiment.)

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