World War Z, The Reinforced Square
Would this ancient infantry tactic work against an army of the undead?
“World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War” is a masterpiece of fiction. Author Max Brooks goes into depth describing infantry tactics used against the hordes of the undead.
Specifically, he dissects the ‘reinforced square’ (RS), what is also known as a ‘hollow square’, or an ‘infantry square’. Largely obsolete by 20th century warfare, it is the preferred formation for the zombie combat troops in the novel.
…We started getting contacts from all sides, either coming around the wall or else being drawn in from our flanks and even rear. Again, the brass was waiting for this and ordered us to form an RS.
A reinforced square.
Or a “Raj-Singh”, I guess after the guy who reinvented it. We formed a tight square, still two ranks, with our vehicles and whatnot in the center. That was a dangerous gamble, cutting us off like that. I mean, yeah, it didn’t work the first time in India only ‘cause the ammo ran out. But there was no guaranteetee it wouldn’t happen to us. What if the brass had goofed, hadn’t packed enough rounds or underestimated how strong Zack would be that day? It could have been Yonkers all over again; worse, because no one would be getting there alive.Max Brooks, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, pg. 280. ©2006
But would it work?
Infantry squares can be traced back to Roman warfare, but reached their prominence during the Napoleonic Wars. Rugged in their defense of calvary charges (horse mounted soldiers), they were utilized heavily by the British. The major benefits included cutting off flanks from all sides, and mulitpling your lines of forward facing fire.
Let’s watch a reenactment of the Battle of Waterloo, where the British famously defeated Napleon’s calvary using the hollow square formation.
Spoiler alert. In case you don’t know the outcome, Napleon lost. So if a RS can defeat professional soldiers on swift moving horseback, one could argue that it could easily defeat a swarm of the undead.
While there would be an almost unimaginable amount of details and facets that this would require let’s examine two of the most critical issues: troop discipline and resupply abilities.
One of the key points to the success of an RS is the discipline of the individual solider. If he breaks ranks when the battle becomes ‘sporty’, there will be a gap in the line, and the entire formation may collapse. In layman’s terms, a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link.
Throughout WWZ, Brooks interviews one such infantry soldier on the subject. On pages 278-279 the soldier, Todd Wainio, opens up about what it was like being in an infantry square.
Just before they reached the front range marker… The squad leaders shouted, “Front rank, ready!” and the first line knelt. Then came the order to “take aim” and then, as we all held our breathe…. we heard “FIRE!”
The front rank just rippled, cracking like a SAW on full auto and dropping every G that crossed the first markers. We had strict orders, only the ones crossing the line. Wait for others. We trained this way for months.
Max Brooks, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, pg. 278. ©2006
Clearly, the troops in WWZ are trained and highly motivated. This is a fight to the death after all. Earlier in the novel Wainio recounts a less successful battle waged against the undead. At this point in the Great Zombie War the survivors now grasp the gravity of the situation; they must perform as a cohesive unit in order to defeat the legions of undead.
Wainio continues to discuss the individual infantrymen’s training regime for the reinforced square.
Doctrine calls for one shot every full second. Slow, steady, mechanical like….
On the range we practiced with metronomes, all the time the instructors saying “they ain’t in no hurry, why are you?” It was a way of of keeping calm, pacing yourself. We had to be as slow and robotic as them. “Out G the G,” they used to say.
Shooting, switching, reloading, grabbing sips from your camel pack, grabbing clips from the “Sandlers.”
Max Brooks, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, pg. 278-279. ©2006
Learning from hard-earned lessons, both the grunts and officers in the book opt for the RS. It’s risky, but proves to pay out in the long run. This tactic probably wouldn’t work for warriors who are more prone to guerrilla combat, i.e. hit and run. For large standing armies with ice water in their veins, the RS likely would work. However it would depend on a virtually limitless supply of ammunition.
As mentioned previously, the first time in the book that the RS was attempted (in India) the group troops ran out of ammo. While examining the plan for economic recovery in the book is beyond the scope of this article (DeSTRes, The Department of Strategic Resources. pg. 137), what is paramount to the RS dissection is this; There is plenty of God Damn ammo! Also made clear in the book, is that the US Military still holds the capability of air support. Obviously, zombies have no methods or faculty to attack a gunship.
A practical example of helicopter resupply against fully surrounded soldiers is the ambush at Landing Zone Albany (11/17/1965), during the Ia Drang Valley campaign of the Vietnam War. While not a ‘hollow square’ per se, it clearly demonstrates the ability of resupply from an airborne source.
CPT J. Dallas Henry writes in his historical review of the battle:
At 2146, four helicopters began the evacuation of casualties off LZ Albany. Fighting continued in bursts as reinforcements and medical aid continued to arrive at the LZ throughout the night. Air Force bombers dropped napalm around the perimeter of U.S. forces, allowing LTC McDade time and space to reconstitute his formation into larger masses. ® CPT J. Dallas Henry
A reinforced square, staffed with disciplined troops, support and airborne resupply could defend against a swarm of zombies for some time. Furthermore, if the RS was on the verge of collapse, helicopters (Chinooks) would be able to easily extract the soldiers from mortal danger. Max Brooks’ attention to detail in World War Z is impeccable.
Revitalizing this ancient infantry formation lends another facet of humanism to the chiqué subject of zombies. As Brooks says, “Zombies are the perfect lens to examine societal collapse.” Brooks’ proposed strategy of combating zombies with a infantry square is based on solid ground and would likely be the doom of the undead.