British CHQ in battle.

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yantaylor
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British CHQ in battle.

Post by yantaylor » 12 Mar 2021 22:05

Hi, hope everyone is okay and well.

I have been working on how a WW2 1943/44 British Company would line up in battle, in battle I mean on the attack. The thing that is puzzling me is the HQ and how would they adopt to keeping up with their platoons whilst on foot whilst attacking.

Vehicle wise, a company HQ would have a jeep, a carrier and two trucks and all the divers were CHQ personnel. But would these vehicles along with a storeman, a clerk, a quartermaster sergeant and fiver drivers, be up in the firing line?

Now this is where I am with this, would the personnel moving with the platoons be kept to these men.

Company Co/Major, Captain ***, Company sergeant major, one batman, three orderlies and two snipers. One last soldier may be a radio operator from battalion signals, so would he operate the radio in touch with Bn HQ and the batman run the radio to the three platoons?

***I wanted to ask about the Captain, was he a fighter? Some of the Americans I know, call him a battle captain, which is a term unknown to me. If he was a fighter, would he along with his batman and maybe the CSM, be in the line with one of the platoons?

Well, that’s it, how far off am I with the above and if I have got anything wrong, can anyone fix my mistakes.

Take care everyone and stay safe.
Regards
Ian

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Re: British CHQ in battle.

Post by Sheldrake » 12 Mar 2021 22:33

The British army was organised in echelons.
F Echelon is the "fighting" echelon, i.e., all of the personnel and resources directly involved in executing the combat mission. At the company/squadron/coy group/sqn gp/combat team level, this would be the company/sqn HQ and the rifle platoons (or equivalent). If the organization is a combat team, then it will consist either of an inf coy with att armr (minimum of a half sqn), or an armrd sqn with att inf, usually with FOOs/MFCs, Engr assets, etc. also attached to meet the end state of the CO's and Bde Comd's respective intentions.

The A Echelon contains the pers and resources to immediately support the F Ech. In the advance, the A Ech will normally be split between the A1 and A2 Ech's. The A1 being a "tactical bound" (as determined by the ground and threat) behind the F Ech and the A2 being loc at the unit level. The A1 Ech would include the transport sgt and perhaps the CP (containing the Coy 2i/c) if that is the SOP for that unit, along with immediate resupply capability of combat stores (ammo, rations, water fuel).

The coy/sqn A2 Ech's would be held at the unit (bn/regt) level and from there, the CQMS's/SQMS's would "push" cbt stores forward and "pull" other resources as requested.

The B Ech exists as the link from the unit to the brigade and is located with the other unit B Ech's at the Brigade Services Area (BSA). The B Ech is quite small and exists to get the respective commodities in place and pushed forward to the unit. This occurs in concert with the integral brigade assets and through the efforts of the brigade G3 and G4. Such things as troop replacement (reinforcements) would also use this "pipeline" as the means of getting to their intended destinations (the units).
https://www.militaryforums.co.uk/forums ... php?t=7146

This structure is about maintaining the company in the field, not purely for a single engagement. During the three months of the Normandy campaign a typical infantry unit might lose its entire strength as casualties. My father told me that you could tell a battalion that had a tough time that day when the call over the brigade net was "fetch sunray"(the CO) and some teenagers voice answered: "Sunray speaking."

The company 2IC's job - as per the job description is to be prepared to step in and replace the OC if he becomes a casualty. In the meantime he would maintain the radio link to battalion HQ. He would be a tactical bound behind the OC - perhaps with the carrier and jeep. The CSM might be there as his job is ammunition resupply. On re-organisation after a successful attack or at a tactical pause, the CSM would take ammunition forwards and recover casualties. The armoured carrier would be useful protection from stray rounds or splinters

The CQMS, cooks, water truck etc will be at A2. This might be co-located with other A2 in a brigade admin area. It will be outside the immediate battle area and where there is no immediate danger from stray bullets or splinters from mortars. On a practical level the British sometimes left a proportion of the unit out of battle in to have enough left to rebuild the company after a bad day. This might be 10-20% of F Echelon including a platoon commander a platoon sergeant and some corporals. These would lurk at A2 until after the attack or needed. Rations, water, stores and mail would be brought forwards to where they could be distributed under cover to a party from each platoon.

IRRC B echelon is more at Battalion level, the QMs =- but it a long time since read the precis. This is where the RASC would bring rations ammunition and stores for distribution to the battalion.

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Re: British CHQ in battle.

Post by Gary Kennedy » 13 Mar 2021 18:57

Hi Ian,

As Sheldrake notes there were different Echelons. Infantry Training, Part I - The Infantry Battalion (January 1944) outlined the way these Echelons could be applied to the normal Infantry Battalion.

First Line Transport was made up of A and B Echelons, with A Echelon divided into two parts. A1 was described as "That transport which is wanted to carry stores and equipment actually required in the immediate fighting". A1 Echelon could also be referred to as F (Fighting) Echelon. A2 Echelon was "That transport which is required to carry equipment and stores that will be wanted during the battle but at a later stage". B Echelon was detailed as "Transport carrying stores and equipment that will not be required until there is a pause in the actual fighting".

At a Battalion level the A1 or 'Fighting' Echelon vehicles may be considered as the carriers of the Mortar, Carrier and Anti-tank Platoons, and where attached any MMG Platoons. 15-cwt trucks carrying ammunition for mortars or anti-tank guns could fall into A2. Any vehicles carrying packs, greatcoats, etc for the Rifle Companies or Support Company would likely be B Echelon, along with pretty much everything in the Admin Platoon.

A1 (or F) Echelon was normally under Battalion control, as it was needed to conduct the battle, while A2 could be back at Brigade. B Echelon could be at Brigade also, or even further back with Divisional level transport.

Infantry Training also outlines the four 'Groups' that Headquarters personnel would be likely to participate in;

R (reconnaissance) Group
O (orders) Group
F (fighting) Group
T (transport) Group

These probably come closer to your query, as they refer to personnel in headquarters elements. The example given for the groupings in a Rifle Company in Infantry Training are;

R - Company commander, one batman, 2 runners (orderlies), and commanders of any supporting arms attached to the Company.
O - Company commander, one batman, 2 runners (orderlies), and Rifle Platoons commanders, and the CSM.
F - Company second-in-command, Company HQ and Rifle Platoons.
T - CQMS and all Company transport not required in the F Group.

These groups did not all exist at once. R Group would attend the O Group of its own Headquarters (so Battalion commanders to Brigade O Group, then Company commanders to Battalion O Group), and would then make its own recce of the sector assigned to it. F Group was formed from the remainder of HQ personnel not needed in R or O Groups, while T Group would move to the appropriate Echelon, likely under the direction of the CQMS at Company level.

All in all, I think your take of one officer, the CSM, one batman and three orderlies, plus a Battalion signaller with the No.18 set, is a reasonable estimate. The snipers could be with this party, though by June 1944 they were officially removed from Companies and formed into a separate Section at Battalion level. Also as mentioned above, there was benefit in keeping the Company commander and the 2-in-C apart.

Re 'Battle Captain', I've not heard that in reference to World War Two as far as I can recall. I do remember reading it in an old book called "First Clash", which was a fictional account of a Canadian unit in action against a Soviet invasion of Central Europe, circa the early 1990s. The Battle Captain was an officer in the Squadron HQ of a Leopard tank equipped Armoured Regiment, I think. It was a long time ago...

Gary

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Re: British CHQ in battle.

Post by yantaylor » 13 Mar 2021 21:09

Many thanks to both of you.

So really we could be looking at the CHQ, being split into three groups, one being right behind the rifle platoons, another a little way back and another back at Bn or even Regt.

As you have guessed it, I am trying to assemble the CHQ for a wargame, fought in 1/72 scale, but I also want to keep it real, but this means I want to work from full strength units, which would be rare in the field and keep distances in mind between the two main groups.

I thought that keeping the two company officers apart would be a good thing and give them their own groups.
Would four radios be the norm for an Infantry company, without the signaller from Bn ?

Thanks again to Sheldrake and Gary, who always answer the call, may you both stay safe.
Ian

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Re: British CHQ in battle.

Post by Gary Kennedy » 14 Mar 2021 15:21

The No.38 set was initially issued as one per Rifle Platoon and one for Rifle Company HQ. By mid 1943 that had been reduced to just two per Rifle Company, with a pool held by the Signal Platoon (four sets) allowing for one or two Rifle Companies to be equipped with four sets apiece if required.

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Re: British CHQ in battle.

Post by Richard Anderson » 14 Mar 2021 17:57

Sheldrake wrote:
12 Mar 2021 22:33
The British army was organised in echelons.
So were other armies of course, but they used different terminology. In the U.S. Army the company HQ was split simply into a Command and an Administrative echelon. In the German Heer it was the fechtende Truppen and the Troß.

I was curious though where the British doctrine placed those Left Out of Battle?
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Re: British CHQ in battle. (+LOB)

Post by Gary Kennedy » 14 Mar 2021 18:24

Left Out of Battle is something of an enigma when you try and define it. Below is a post of mine on another forum, easier to copy and paste than type out anew.

"I've posted a few times on the question of 'Left Out of Battle' (LOB) over the years. The central question to my mind has been did units rigidly adhere to LOB, no matter what their starting strength was, and did they have an equally dogmatic system for deciding who was designated LOB (as in 1 man per Section, designated 2-in-Cs for Coy and Bn HQs, etc).

I recently got copies of a brief report on the matter produced in 1943. In it the Directorate of Infantry asked overseas commands for their thoughts, with a view to a cohesive War Office approach to the matter. It also commented on the fact that War Establishments did not leave much room for a residue of troops to be left unused.

A draft letter dated September 1943 outlined the general approach for LOBs going forward;

"The cadres to be "Left out of Battle" should consist of experienced and reliable officers, non-commissioned officers and men. The size and exact composition of these cadres, and the length of time for which they are withdrawn, will vary with the conditions prevailing at the time. Nevertheless, the purpose for which such cadres are required is constant and should be clearly understood.

"The main object of having LOB cadres is to ensure that a unit of formation can rapidly become battle worthy again after suffering severe casualties in an action. These cadres should not be earmarked specifically as an assurance against the total extinction of a unit in battle. It will not always be necessary for such cadres to be formed. Commanders-in-Chief will direct their army commanders as to the necessity for having them, and the responsibility for deciding this point will normally be delegated to divisional commanders.

"The size and composition of cadres, where they are considered necessary, will vary with local conditions and the type of fighting likely to be encountered. The arms normally concerned will be Royal Armoured Corps, Artillery, Engineers, Infantry and Reconnaissance Corps.

In estimating their exact composition it will be apparent that there are certain conflicting considerations.

On the one hand it is necessary for units to go into battle at full strength, properly balanced and able to work as a team. On the other hand it is necessary to leave out of battle a correctly balanced nucleus on which to rebuild the unit after the battle. Manpower limitations do not permit any margin on War Establishments from which this nucleus may be drawn. Therefore, in order to meet these conflicting requirements it is necessary to accept a small diminution of strength as an insurance against heavy casualties."

This doesn't sadly offer any insight on what approach was taken by 21 Army Group, especially in light of the infantry casualties that units within it suffered. Other theatres offered the following on their policy re LOB.

Middle East (ie North Africa)

When required – Only on specific occasions, NOT as normal practice. Div comd should make the decision.

Role – Immediate res(erve) who know their units methods and are available to replace cas(ualties) in a few hours. NOT a cadre for forming a new unit.

Should be taken for short (underlined) periods from within WEs of units.

AFHQ (Italy)

When required – no hard and fast rule, Army should lay down policy. Inf LOBs should be detailed when Div deployed. RE (engr) LOBs should only be detailed for specific attack of def(ence). NOT mob(ile) ops.

Take from inf bns, recce regts, RA, armd regts, and fd sqnscoys of C tps. Personnel on courses should be considered LOB. RA LOB should be a balanced cadre.

India

When required – only required on specific occasions when cas likely to be heavy.

Role – Proportion of all ranks and specialists on whom bn can reform in event of heavy cas.

LOB required generally for inf and armd tps only.

The Middle East theatre was the only one so supply a suggested outline of LOB strength for certain unit types;

Inf and Mot Bns

2-in-C
Four or five officers
Two WOs
Three Sjts
Nine NCOs
Forty-seven rank and file

The 2 WOs and 3 Serjeants look to have been from across the full five Coys of a Bn (so 5 in total per Bn). The 47 R&F noted to include 3 signallers, 6 drivers and 2 mortar men.

A couple of quick comments feature as well. RAC note that they have 'spare crews' built into WEs, which allowed them a natural rotation of personnel. RA note they were unable to create an LOB cadre without leaving guns idle so did not feel it was something they could adopt.

Another concern was on where LOBs would be kept and how quickly this would mean they could be brought forward to undertake their replacement role.

So, not much in the way of answers, but would suggest that LOB was not a universally applied practice, and where it was used depended on local conditions."

I think there may be something on LOB as used in 21AG in the National Archives, whose views would certainly be interesting to know.

Gary

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Re: British CHQ in battle.

Post by Sheldrake » 14 Mar 2021 20:45

Gary,
Thanks for this,
I didn't find anything consistent when researching Gunners in Normandy. I don't think it ever was applied by RA units. Most field artillery gunners were at the gun end and LOB by infantry standards. The BC and OPs party were kept up to strength from the Gun end. The BK (Battery Captain) was in charge of everything not at the OPs and specifically logistics. Officers could be ordered to the OPs, but signalers in most regiments were volunteers.

The OP is researching for a wargame. These are typically tactically oriented affairs to be settles in an evenings play. But my reading of history - tempered with some military experience, is that a company in the field is there for the duration. It is more than collection of men and material. It is a social group - a family. The man who brings the mail is as important as a machine gunner. A good CQMS could make the difference between bare survival and poor moral and comfort and confidence. Few wargames factor any of this in.
Last edited by Sheldrake on 14 Mar 2021 20:55, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: British CHQ in battle.

Post by yantaylor » 14 Mar 2021 20:45

I have never heard of LOB Gary, but as you know I have been mentioning things like this for a year now, mainly to do with drivers, clearks ect.
The British Infantry company had three soft skin vehicles which would have made easy targets if left near the advance so these would I guess, be left behind and left under command of the QM Sgt Maj and the single Corporal who was in the CHQ.

I have also mentioned a similar post to this covering a German Pz Gren Coy HQ, I don't think motorcycles or Kettenkrads and trucks would be brought up with the SDKFZ 251s when they advanced across fields on the attack.

Going back to the British; I was think of placing around ten men in two groups:
Group one;
Major, Batman/Radio Opp + two orderlies and maybe a medic?
Group two;
Captain, Coy Sgt Maj, Batman, Bn Radio opp and one Orderly

I think that may allow me to keep it true and reduce figures in a wargame.
I am still not sure to keep with two radios at CHQ and none in the rifle platoons.

Thanks for your help.
Ian

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Re: British CHQ in battle.

Post by Sheldrake » 14 Mar 2021 21:15

yantaylor wrote:
14 Mar 2021 20:45
I have never heard of LOB Gary, but as you know I have been mentioning things like this for a year now, mainly to do with drivers, clearks ect.
The British Infantry company had three soft skin vehicles which would have made easy targets if left near the advance so these would I guess, be left behind and left under command of the QM Sgt Maj and the single Corporal who was in the CHQ.

I have also mentioned a similar post to this covering a German Pz Gren Coy HQ, I don't think motorcycles or Kettenkrads and trucks would be brought up with the SDKFZ 251s when they advanced across fields on the attack.

Going back to the British; I was think of placing around ten men in two groups:
Group one;
Major, Batman/Radio Opp + two orderlies and maybe a medic?
Group two;
Captain, Coy Sgt Maj, Batman, Bn Radio opp and one Orderly

I think that may allow me to keep it true and reduce figures in a wargame.
I am still not sure to keep with two radios at CHQ and none in the rifle platoons.

Thanks for your help.
Ian
Yan,

Don't forget that the typical British infanty section has eight men not ten. Read To Reason Why by Denis Forman and his story of Lion Wigram. British Battle Drill did not work out in practice and may have been adapted on the lines Wigram proposed. Furthermore, after a while most British infantry were well under strength. The attack on Mont Pincon in early August used infantry battalions with a rifle strengths between fifty and one hundred.

The assaulting company should also have a four man FOO party of supermen with radios to call in Mike Targets - three rounds gunfire from 24 x 25 pounders - and if the enemy were particularly intransigent, after a short delay, Victor Targets from the 72 guns of the division or even Uncle target from the guns across the corps. The real purpose of infantry companies was to escort the FOO across Europe
Last edited by Sheldrake on 14 Mar 2021 21:33, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: British CHQ in battle.

Post by Gary Kennedy » 14 Mar 2021 21:32

This is the reply from the DRA on the question of LOB in RA units.
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Re: British CHQ in battle.

Post by Leros87 » 15 Mar 2021 17:10

I recall the excellent book Men at Arnhem, by Geoffrey Powell. He was OC C Coy 156 Para at Arnhem. The first part covering 18-19 Sept is relevant here. His O Group consisted of him, his officers, CSM and CQMS. During action he would venture forwards with his batman and the 2iC would be keeping Bn HQ informed on the one set (type not specified). The OC, together with his PCs had “walkie Talkies”.

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Re: British CHQ in battle.

Post by yantaylor » 15 Mar 2021 21:53

Well Sheldrake, you have left me in a quandry my friend :lol:

I am thinking along your lines Leros!!!!!

Ian

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Re: British CHQ in battle.

Post by Sheldrake » 15 Mar 2021 22:35

yantaylor wrote:
15 Mar 2021 21:53
Well Sheldrake, you have left me in a quandry my friend :lol:

I am thinking along your lines Leros!!!!!

Ian
This is what you need

“In an OP in normal circumstances, when the rumble of neighbouring artillery or local enemy activity is not interfering with your hearing, there’s a familiar sequence of sounds through which you follow your shells onto target. First comes a distant, faint thumping somewhere back behind you, then nothing for a few seconds. Suddenly overhead there’s a sinister sizzling and crackling, followed by an abrupt, split—second silence, then a fury of cataclysmic flashes erupting in the target area amidst violent black puffs of smoke and dirt. This rapidly builds without pause into a hellish cauldron that gives off the reverberating roar of the wicked, over-lapping thunderclaps that only 25—pounder shells pelting a Mike target can create. Horrifying enough when viewed from a distance of three or four hundred yards, but until you have lived through the terrible screams of 25—pounder shells arriving on target, and experienced the distinctive, jolting whacks of their explosions around you, it is impossible to conceive of the full horror of a Mike Target to which attacking Germans are subjected again and again on a regular basis. (Blackburn, G., Guns of Normandy: A Soldier's Eye View, France 1944 (1997, ISBN 0-7710-1503-8), pp467-8
Quoted in Gunners in Normandy...

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Re: British CHQ in battle.

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 16 Mar 2021 18:35

Another book that you could try is “The Fortress” by Raleigh Trevelyan. He describes the attack across the Moletta river in Anzio in May 44 from the perspective of a platoon commander. It doesn’t seem his Coy HQ made it across the river, and there was considerable confusion when he was trying to get messages back to his Coy CO. He also describes an attack later in the year on a mountain south of Florence (sorry, it’s been a while). Again, not a very coherent tale...

Regards

Tom

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