Home Forums WWII WW2 German and British infantry section strengths

Viewing 19 posts - 1 through 19 (of 19 total)
  • Author
    Posts
  • #141944
    John D Salt
    Participant

    Having recently failed to resist temptation in the matter of acquiring my own copy of the housebrick that is “Army Training Memorandum: War, January, 1940 to May, 1945, Parts 28 to 52”, I now persist in my habit of incontinently posting random snippets I have stumbled across for no better reason than that I thought they were interesting.

    How many men in a WW2 British infantry section? A German one? Oh, come on, wargamers have known the answers to these questions ever since they were bloodthirsty schoolboys in the 1970s. Now read on.

    Army Training Memorandum No.28, January 1940

    Para 11, German Army Organization

    “The salient points in the new organization of the infantry battalion are:-
    i. The addition of three anti-tank rifles in the rifle company, concentrated in a section under the company commander.
    ii. The abolition of the half-platoon of two machine guns on heavy mountings in each rifle company.
    iii. The addition of a fourth section to each rifle platoon.
    iv. The arming of section commanders, rifle platoon, and rifle company commanders with machine pistols.
    v. The abolition of the division of the section into a rifle sub-section and a L.M.G. sub-section and the reduction of the strength of the section from 2 N.C.Os. and 12 men to 1 N.C.O. and 9 men.
    vi. The addition of a third machine gun platoon to the machine gun company.”

    Army Training Memorandum No.32, May 1940

    Para 14, Increased Strength of Rifle Sections

    “The reason for the increase of the section from six to nine men, in addition to the N.C.O., lies in the necessity for maintaining a minimum strength of six on all occasions. This increase leaves a margin to cover absence due to leave, sickness, etc.
    There is no intention of increasing the number for the attack, since it is considered that six men are the most that can be controlled by a section leader.
    In defence, the extra numbers can assist in the preparation of the position, provide working parties, and the other duties constantly required of a battalion. If attack by the enemy appears imminent, then it will be normal for the section to be reduced to one and six by the withdrawal of any surplus numbers.”

    Army Training Memorandum No.36, October 1940

    Para 19, Strength of Infantry Section

    “The higher war establishment of an infantry battalion raises the strength of the section from one N.C.O. and seven men to one N.C.O. and ten men.
    A note to this effect will be made in all training manuals that give the size of the infantry section.”

    Army Training Memorandum No.38, February 1941

    Para 28, Strength of Infantry Section

    “The size of the infantry section on the higher war establishment is one corporal and ten men. The battle strength of the section is one corporal and seven men.
    The three additional men were provided by the higher establishment to ensure that the basic strength of one corporal and seven men can be maintained during the absence of personnel, due to sickness, leave, and other causes.
    In battle the size of the section should not exceed one corporal and seven men; the additional men may be employed on working parties and other duties. When battle becomes imminent they may be withdrawn on instructions from formation commanders. No increase has been made in the transport or reserve ammunition carried in units.
    This paragraph cancels para. 19 of Army Training Memorandum No. 36 and para. 14 of Army Training Memorandum No. 32.”

    All the best,

    John.

    #141946
    Nathaniel Weber
    Participant

    Thanks for posting, interesting stuff.

    For years now I have been making my skirmish game squads somewhere from 6-9 men, regardless of army…

    #141949
    John D Salt
    Participant

    For years now I have been making my skirmish game squads somewhere from 6-9 men, regardless of army…

    Very sensible.

    I wish I could remember who it was who said that platoons usually go into action with a strength of about two dozen men, regardless of what it says in FM-E 666/23 “Organization of the Amnesian Ground Forces”.

    All the best,

    John.

    #141950
    Grimheart
    Participant

    Thanks for posting that info.

    I assume the late war memorandums dont change any thing significantly?

    Cheers

    Interest include 6mm WW2, 6mm SciFi, 30mm Old West, DropFleet, Warlords Exterminate and others!

    #141952
    John D Salt
    Participant

    I assume the late war memorandums dont change any thing significantly?

    Nothing more for the British section; indeed as I recall it was still 8 blokes at peacetime establishment plus 2 war establishment in the late 1970s, which is not very different (I think I was once told officially on my recruit’s cadre that as an IS battalion we were supposed to have 13-man sections with two lance-jacks, but I never saw or heard of any such daft suggestion anywhere else).

    Nothing gets mentioned for the Germans either, but the authors of the training memoranda would not have had the advantage of taking a gander at the KStNs splendidly displayed on https://www.wwiidaybyday.com/ which show a gradual decrease in German platoon and section strength, typically down to 9 blokes in a section and three sections in a platoon by 1943, and 8 blokes in a section by the end of the war.

    All the best,

    John.

    #141954
    MartinR
    Participant

    I’ve seen the thing about platoons generally having a strength of 20 men in a number of places, possibly including both Wigram and Jary. It makes sense as sections of less than six men aren’t really viable, at which point it ceases to be a platoon, and you need some sort of HQ or again, it isn’t a platoon.

    Just reading “Lion Rampant”, a KOSB officers Memoir from NWE. He says much the same thing, although after one bloody action during Epsom the platoon strengths for the entire company were, respectively 14, 8 and 6. They were pulled out to reorg fairly soon after that. I’m wondering what a platoon of six looks like, two Brens, a CO and a runner/rifleman?

    I wonder how many people actually field four section 1940 German infantry platoons, they are really quite scary.

     

    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

    #141960
    deephorse
    Participant

    Via Facebook I recently saw a WWII British training film on the composition of an infantry platoon and how it conducts a platoon attack.  It took me back to the section and platoon attack films that we were shown endlessly in the mid to late 1970s.  Anyway, the section strength in the film was a corporal and 10, and the platoon runner was called a servant!

    #141968
    Whirlwind
    Participant

    Interesting stuff John.  I’m not sure I can recall ever reading about this recalling of surplus soldiers to go on work parties and so on – have you ever read of such a thing happening?

    https://hereticalgaming.blogspot.co.uk/

    #141969
    John D Salt
    Participant

    I’m not sure I can recall ever reading about this recalling of surplus soldiers to go on work parties and so on – have you ever read of such a thing happening?

    I’ve certainly heard of people being left out of battle, and I don’t know when the Army ceased this WW1 practice. I don’t imagine that the folks who were LOB were just treated as being on an extended smoke break.

    All the best,

    John.

    #142005
    MartinR
    Participant

    Via Facebook I recently saw a WWII British training film on the composition of an infantry platoon and how it conducts a platoon attack. It took me back to the section and platoon attack films that we were shown endlessly in the mid to late 1970s. Anyway, the section strength in the film was a corporal and 10, and the platoon runner was called a servant!

    I was recently watching what sounds like the exact same film, if the runner had a bicycle. The runner was a servant as it was  Guards platoon. I did enjoy the whole platoon counting off what they were armed with and what their job was.

    You aren’t going to Montys Men 2021 by any chance? (it was the MM2021 FB group where the vid was pointed out to me).

     

     

    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

    #142018
    deephorse
    Participant

    Yes, that’s the same film.  However I came to it via the Wargaming France 1940 FB group.  Not heard of Montys Men 2021, but things get shared around on that website.  Can’t say I agreed with the way that platoon attack was handled!

    #142034
    John D Salt
    Participant

    Assuming that there can’t be an enormous number of WW2 platoon attack training films featuring both an officer’s servant and a push-bike equipped runner, I imagine that the film in question must be “Platoon in the Attack”:

    The accents and profusion of Joneses would I think identify the regiment as Welsh Guards even without the shoulder flashes.

    Notice that at 6:12 the narrator says “Finally, may I remind you that the strength of the infantry rifle section is ten men in addition to the NCO. This increase leaves a margin to cover absence, sickness, etcetera, and should ensure a section going in tso action with seven men and the section leader.” The exercise as filmed uses sections eight strong.

    The film isn’t dated that I can see, but the habit of wearing respirator cases at the ready suggests to me that it is fairly early in the war. Other things I found noteworthy in the film were:

    * The section commanders on the diagram are indicated with three stripes. Since the Army Training Memorandum from early in the war seems to imagine that section leader is a corporal’s slot, I imagine that these are lance-serjeants, an appointment the Foot Guards have still not given up as far as I know.

    * The Boys ATR is carried in a rifle section, rather than in platoon HQ. I have always imagined anti-tank weapons carried at platoon HQ, as was the case with the 3.5-in rocket launcher and the 84mm MAW (before they were issued at section level) after the war. However, a gander at Infantry Training Part VIII for 1944 shows no mention of the PIAT in the standard platoon organisation, although one PIAT is used in the pillbox attack drill and two in the tank ambush drill. I therefore suspect that the situation remained as described in Infantry Training 1937: “The -55-inch anti-tank rifle.— Anti-tank rifles are carried in unit transport ready for issue when required. They are not specialist weapons and all ranks will be taught to fire them.”

    * The platoon commander is carrying a pistol as his personal weapon. I would have thought the lesson had been learned in WW1 not to do that.

    * Everyone with a rifle — including even the leading scout — carries it at the trail. I don’t think this is a Guards habit (although it might be for light infantry or rifles). I don’t know if there is an official “ready” position for the No. 4 rifle, but if not I would have expected them to carry their weapons at the port.

    * The film-makers are not shy about showing friendly casualties. The platoon is stopped when it comes under effective enemy fire that inflicts a casualty, unlike the modern expectation of being able to stop the instant before the first casualty is suffered.

    * In the final assault, we can actually see a Guards officer running! (“In the Guards, we are never late. Therefore, we never run.”)

    * There is no emphasis on using extreme caution when searching enemy bodies, nor of conducting the reorg a safe distance beyond the objective, I suspect due to lack of combat experience at the time the film was made against the wily Japanese booby-trapper and German mortarman respectively.

    All the best,

    John.

    #142086
    Grimheart
    Participant

    The above is very interesting, however I wonder how the motor infantry and Air landing sections managed when they only started with 7 men total per section. Any one on leave, injured or whatever would mean the section immediately dropped below the recommended minimum.

    That must have caused problems and the only real solution would have been to drop down to two sections I assume.

    Cheers

    Stephen

    Interest include 6mm WW2, 6mm SciFi, 30mm Old West, DropFleet, Warlords Exterminate and others!

    #142094
    grizzlymc
    Participant

    Re the PIAT, I can’t remember where or whence it came, but I have an idea in my mind that three were carried at company level without crew and were parcelled out as required.  In action, you’d imagine that each platoon would get one unless one platoon was on the obvious axis of an armoured attack.  Then again, it might have been issued as a form of punishment.

     

    The staggering thing is that, if there is no permanent crewman, presumably the poor sod lugging it around would be expected to lug his rifle around too.  That sounds a bit harsh.

     

    The great enthusiasm with which the infantry replace rifles with heavy weapons leaves me a bit surprised that nobody seems to have got the idea of a section of 2 LMGs, 1 designated marksman with Lee Enfield, 5 men with pump action shotties and assegais.

    #142098
    MartinR
    Participant

    I belive both the ATR and PIAT were issued on an as needed basis and simply given to someone in the platoon to carry around. With a degree of foresight, they might leave their rifle in the platoon truck. Even earlier, the Brens were a issued weapon, and left on the truck when not required. It is a good job the British Army was motorised and had lots of trucks to carry this stuff around. I imagine the bulkiest items were everyone’s large packs with their greatcosts jammed into them.

    Moving with rifles at the trail also seems to have been “a thing”, it is  in Infantry Fieldcraft and Tactics, and also another training film The Fighting Section Leader.

    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

    #142103
    John D Salt
    Participant

    Moving with rifles at the trail also seems to have been “a thing”, it is in Infantry Fieldcraft and Tactics, and also another training film The Fighting Section Leader.

    But aren’t they Rifle Brigade or something weird? They are shown drilling with the uncommanded “at ease” position, which I thought was their thing. I couldn’t find anyone mention a bayonet, but I bet they called them “swords”.

    All the best,

    John.

    #142113
    deephorse
    Participant

    “The Boys ATR is carried in a rifle section, rather than in platoon HQ. I have always imagined anti-tank weapons carried at platoon HQ,”

    I suspect we all thought that.  But note that no.3 section has the ATR ‘because the platoon commander ordered it’.  There are no spare men in the platoon HQ to be dedicated to the ATR, and no.3 section effectively loses two riflemen because of that.  Carrying your rifle at the trail when enemy contact is likely does seem strange to modern eyes.  Heck, it’s strange even to my late 1970s eyes!  Maybe that’s why the SLR had a carrying handle? 😄

    #142123
    John D Salt
    Participant

    Carrying your rifle at the trail when enemy contact is likely does seem strange to modern eyes. Heck, it’s strange even to my late 1970s eyes! Maybe that’s why the SLR had a carrying handle? 😄

    Same age as my eyes. I do remember seeing a film of Gurkhas doing their stuff, and, yes, they did a platoon attack carrying their SLRs at the trail, by the carrying handle. ‘Cos they’re Gurkha Rifles.

    I also seem to recall an OCdt from Exeter UOTC unfolding the carrying handle and carrying his SLR like that, until he was told to stop being a dick.

    All the best,

    John.

    #142174
    deephorse
    Participant

    I have used the SLR carrying handle.  It was the only way to carry more than one SLR in each hand!

Viewing 19 posts - 1 through 19 (of 19 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.