Military Organization > United Kingdom > ​​​British Air Landing Rifle Company (1943-1945)

British Air Landing Rifle Company (1943-1945) 

By Brendan Matsuyama, Editor

The following was the organization of the Air Landing Rifle Company of the British Army from March 1943 to August 1945 when the air landing troops were dissolved. These were gliderborne troops, and this is the organization that would have been effective for operations in Sicily, Normandy, Holland and Germany during World War II. Here are the links to our articles on the Standard Rifle Company and Parachute Rifle Company from the same era.

The next level up was the Air Landing Battalion, which consisted of a Battalion HQ, 1 Support Company, 4 Rifle Companies, and 1 AA/AT Company. 

Contents:

  1. Organization

    • 1 Company HQ

    • 4 Platoons

  2. Discussion

  3. Merch

  4. Sources

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Organization

  • Type: Gliderborne Light Infantry Company

  • Origin: British Army (United Kingdom)

  • Time Frame: Sicily, Normandy, Holland, Battle of the Bulge, Germany, Norway

  • Personnel: 6 Officers and 128 Enlisted

Company Headquarters (2 Officers and 28 Enlisted)

  • 1× Company Commander, a Major (OF-3), armed with 1 M1911A1 pistol*

  • 1× Company Second-in-Command, a Captain (OF-2), armed with 1 M1911A1 pistol

  • 1× Company Sergeant Major, a Warrant Officer Class 2 (OR-8), armed with 1 Sten Machine Carbine

  • 1× Company Quartermaster Sergeant, a Staff Sergeant (OR-7), armed with 1 Sten Machine Carbine

  • 1× Support Section Sergeant, a Sergeant (OR-6), armed with 1 No. 4 Mk. I Rifle

  • 1× Company Clerk, a Private (OR-1), armed with 1 No. 4 Mk. I Rifle

  • 1× Storeman, a Private (OR-1), armed with 1 No. 4 Mk. I Rifle

  • 2× Batmen, Privates (OR-1), armed with 1 No. 4 Mk. I Rifle

  • 1× Driver-Mechanic, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 No. 4 Mk. I Rifle

  • 2× Drivers, I.C., Private (OR-1), armed with 1 No. 4 Mk. I Rifle

→ 1× Bren Detachment (5 Enlisted)**

  • 1× Detachment Commander, Corporal (OR-4), armed with 1 No. 4 Mk. I Rifle

  • 2× Bren No. 1, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 Bren Machine Gun and 1 M1911A1 Pistol each

  • 2× Bren No. 1, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 No. 4 Mk. I Rifle

 

→ 2× Mortar Detachments (6 Enlisted each)***

  • 1× Mortar Commander, Corporal (OR-4), armed with 1 No. 4 Mk. I Rifle

  • 5× Mortarmen, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 M1911A1 Pistol each (serving 1× 3-inch Mortar)

→ Attachments

  • 2× Nursing Orderlies (RAMC), Private (OR-1) or Lance Corporal (OR-3), armed with 1 M1911A1 Pistol each

  • 3× Signallers (Battalion Signals Platoon), Private (OR-1) or Lance Corporal (OR-3), armed with 1 No. 4 Mk. I Rifle each

→ Additional Equipment

  • 3× 5-cwt Cars, driven by Drivers I.C. and Driver-Mechanic

  • 4× 125-cc motorcycles, driven by Company Commander, Company 2IC, and 2 Batmen

  • 6× Trailers, with 1 Boys Anti-Tank Rifle

  • 4× Hand Carts

  • 4× folding bicycle

* Automatic .45 Pistol allotted for Paratroopers and Air Landing Troops as opposed to standard Webley/Enfield Revolvers

** Brens equipped for Sustained Fire role from tripod.

*** Company Mortar Detachments moved to the Battalion Mortar Platoon in Early 1945

4× Platoons (1 Officer and 25 Enlisted each)*

​→ Platoon Headquarters (1 Officer and 4 Enlisted)

  • 1× Platoon Commander, a Second Lieutenant to Lieutenant (OF-1), armed with 1 Sten Machine Carbine

  • 1× Platoon Sergeant/Platoon Second-in-Command, a Sergeant (OR-6), armed with 1 No. 4 Mk. I Rifle

  • 1× Signaller/Batman, a Private (OR-1), armed with 1 No. 4 Mk. I Rifle
     

  • 1× Mortar No. 1, a Private (OR-1), armed with 1 2-inch Mortar and 1 M1911A1 Pistol

  • 1× Mortar No. 2, a Private (OR-1), armed with 1 No. 4 Mk. I Rifle
     

​→ 2× Sections (8 Enlisted each)

  • Rifle Group

    • 1× Section Commander, a Corporal (OR-4), armed with 1 Sten Machine Carbine

    • Riflemen, Privates (OR-1), armed with 1 No. 4 Mk. I rifle each

  • Gun Group

    • 1× Section Second-in-Command, ​a Lance Corporal (OR-3), armed with 1 Sten Machine Carbine

    • 1× Bren No. 1, a Private (OR-1), armed with 1 Bren Machine Gun and 1 M1911A1 Pistol

    • 1× Bren No. 2, Privates (OR-1), armed with 1 No. 4 Mk. I Rifle

​→ 1× Section (5 Enlisted each)

  • 1× Section Commander, a Sergeant (OR-6), armed with 1 Sten Machine Carbine

  • Snipers, Privates (OR-1), armed with 1 No. 4 Mk. I(T) Sniper Rifle

  • 1× Bren No. 1, a Private (OR-1), armed with 1 Bren Machine Gun and 1 M1911A1 Pistol

  • 1× Bren No. 2, Privates (OR-1), armed with 1 No. 4 Mk. I Rifle

→ Additional Equipment

  • 1× Boys Anti-Tank Rifle, replaced by a PIAT later in war

*Reduced to 3 Platoons by early 1945. Each platoon fit into a single Horsa glider

 

Discussion

The Air Landing Rifle Company was the close-combat element of the British Army's Air Landing Battalions—units specializing in inserting via Horsa Gliders—during World War II. These were originally regular infantry battalions that were converted to be gliderborne, although air landing troops were still volunteers. This organization is what would have applied to the Air Landing Rifle Company during its combat in World War II. One of the more famous of their actions was the mission to capture Pegasus Bridge across the Caen Canal on D-Day (6 June 1944), which was undertaken by the 4 platoons of D Company, 2nd (Airborne) Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry reinforced by 2 platoons of B Company.

The company consisted of 1 Company Headquarters and 4 Platoons, unlike the 3 Platoons typical of regular infantry and paratrooper companies. This was probably to allow for the company to better absorb casualties during risky glider landings. The company was designed to be carried in 5 Airspeed Horsa Gliders, each with a capacity of 25 troops and 2 pilots from the Glider Pilot Regiments.

Company Headquarters

The Company Headquarters was organized similar to any other regular infantry rifle company. There were some distinctive features, however. It had a Support Section Sergeant, which was unique when compared to the regular infantry and paratroopers. The Air Landing Companies had significantly more firepower than the paratrooper rifle company due to the increased flexibility with the gliders, although it would be reduced as the war went on.

 

The Company HQ had a Bren Gun Detachment consisting of a Detachment Commander (Corporal) and 2 Bren gun teams with a Bren No. 1 (gunner) and Bren No. 2 (assistant). These Brens were configured for the Sustained Fire role from a tripod, whereas the Brens in the rifle platoons were configured in the light role. There were also 2 Mortar Detachments, each consisted of 6 personnel, with a Mortar Commander (Corporal) and 5 Mortarmen. Each detachment served 1 3-inch mortar. However, by early 1945, these Mortar Detachments would be moved up to the battalion's Mortar Platoon which also served 3-inch mortars. This would open up room in the Company HQ's glider for more reinforcements or attachments from the battalion.

Rifle Platoons

The Air Landing Platoons were fairly distinctive as its sections were not equal in size and capability. They consisted of 1 Officer and 25 Enlisted personnel, which was just enough to fit into a Horsa glider with a squeeze. It was further subdivided into 1 Platoon Headquarters and 3 Sections.

The Platoon Headquarters consisted of the Platoon Commander (Lieutenant/Subaltern) and Platoon Sergeant (Sergeant). The Platoon Sergeant was the second-in-command (2IC) of the platoon, responsible for administrative tasks (like requisitioning supplies from the Company Quartermaster), discipline, training, and taking command of the platoon if the Platoon Commander became a casualty. The Batman was a personal assistant for the Platoon Commander (as officers in command positions typical had). In the field they would act as a Signaller/Radio Operator. Additionally, like a standard infantry company, the Platoon HQ had a 2-inch mortar detachment, although it was reduced in size from 3 to 2 men by doing away with a Mortar Commander. A mix of high explosive and smoke rounds were carried by the Mortar No. 1 and Mortar No. 2, although smoke was preferred as per doctrine. The mortarman was armed with a pistol on paper, although they probably armed themselves with a Sten or No. 4 Mk. I rifle in the field. As with the paratroopers, the air landing troops were authorized automatic .45 caliber pistols (American M1911A1) as opposed to the standard Enfield/Webley revolvers, although both were used. The platoon also had a Boys Anti-Tank Rifle, replaced by the PIAT by D-Day, in reserve that could be manned if the situation dictated.

As for the 3 Sections, there were two types: 2 larger sections of 8 men and 1 smaller section of 5 men. The larger sections were split into the traditional Rifle and Gun Groups, with the Section Commander (Corporal) leading the Rifle Group and the Section 2IC (Lance Corporal) leading the Gun Group. Both the SECO and 2IC were armed with Sten Machine Carbines. The Rifle Group had 4 Riflemen in addition, armed with the No. 4 Mk. I Rifle, while the Gun Group had the Bren No. 1 (with Bren Machine Gun and pistol) and the Bren No. 2 (armed with a rifle). It should be noted that although the Bren gunners were armed with automatic pistols in the 1943 War Establishments, this practice was typically done away with by the late war. However, as was common with the airborne, pistols were often used in higher quantities than established when compared to regular infantry.

Meanwhile the smaller section consisted of the Section Commander, Bren No. 1, Bren No. 2, and 2 Snipers armed with the No. 4 Mk. I(T) sniper rifle. Likely smaller to fit the platoon into the glider, it is possible that the inclusion of 2 sniper rifles was to compensate for its smaller size, or that it had a specialized role in providing the platoon with accurate fires. The paratroopers by comparison had 1 sniper per rifle section, while the regular infantry fielded them at the company and, later, battalion level.

 

Merch:

Sources

 

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