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Military Organization > United Kingdom > ​British Parachute Rifle Company (1944-1949)

British Parachute Rifle Company (1944-1949) 

The following was the organization of the Parachute Rifle Company of the British Army from February 1944 to September 1949. This would have been the official authorized strength of the British airborne rifle company at the time of Operation Tonga (June 1944), Operation Market Garden (September 1944), and Operation Varsity (March 1945). The next level up was the Parachute Battalion, consisting of a headquarters company and 3 rifle companies.


  1. Organization

    • 1 Company HQ

    • 3 Platoons

  2. Discussion

  3. Merch

  4. Sources

UK Paras 1944-01.jpg


  • Type: Airborne Light Infantry Company

  • Origin: British Army (United Kingdom)

  • Time Frame: Normandy (D-Day), Holland (Market Garden), Battle of the Bulge, Germany (Varsity), Norway (Doomsday), Palestine

  • Personnel: 5 Officers and 108 Enlisted + 4 Attached Enlisted

Company Headquarters (2 Officers and 13 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 No. 4 Mk. rifle**

  • 1× Company Quartermaster Sergeant, a Staff Sergeant (OR-7), armed with 1 No. 4 Mk. rifle

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

  • 1× Storeman (Non-Parachutist), a Private (OR-1), armed with 1 No. 4 Mk. rifle

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

  • 3× Orderlies, Privates (OR-1), armed with 1 No. 4 Mk. rifle each


→ Attachments

  • 1× Nursing Orderly (Corporal), a Corporal (OR-4), armed with 1 M1911A1 pistol

  • 3× Nursing Orderlies, Privates (OR-1), armed with 1 M1911A1 pistol each

→ Additional Equipment

  • 3× Project, Infantry, Anti-Tank (PIAT), technically held at the battalion pool, to be issued to the rifle platoons at CO's discretion

  • 1× 15-cwt truck, driven by 1 of the Batmen

  • 1× 125-cc motorcycle

  • 1× folding bicycle

*M1911A1s and Enfield/Webley revolvers started being replaced by the Browning Hi-Power en masse in 1945.

**The No. 5 Mk. I "Jungle Carbine" was used at times in lieu of the No. 4 Mk. I rifle in the Far East and the ETO after Germany had already surrendered.

3× Platoons (1 Officer and 33 Enlisted each)

​→ Platoon Headquarters (1 Officer and 3 Enlisted)

  • 1× Platoon Commander, a Second Lieutenant to Lieutenant (OF-1), armed with 1 M1911A1 pistol

  • 1× Platoon Sergeant/Platoon Second-in-Command, a Sergeant (OR-6), armed with 1 Sten Mk. V submachine gun

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

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

​→ 3× Sections (10 Enlisted each)

  • Rifle Group

    • 1× Section Commander, a Sergeant (OR-6), armed with 1 Sten Mk. V submachine gun

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

    • Sniper, Privates (OR-1)*, armed with 1 No. 4 Mk. I(T) sniper rifle

    • 1× Mortarman**, a Private (OR-1)*, armed with 1 2-inch mortar and 1 M1911A1 pistol (official) or 1 Sten Mk. V (likely)

  • Gun Group

    • 1× Section Second-in-Command, ​a Corporal (OR-4), armed with 1 No. 4 Mk. I rifle

    • 1× Bren No. 1, a Private (OR-1)*, armed with 1 Bren light machine gun and 1 M1911A1 pistol

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

→ Additional Equipment

  • 1× Bren Gun, held in reserve at the Platoon Headquarters to reinforce one section


*One Private billet was ranked Lance Corporal

**On paper, the 2-inch mortarman carried 6 smoke shells, although it was capable of firing high explosive rounds as well. The mortar was moved from the platoon headquarters to the rifle sections themselves in parachute companies (as opposed to regular infantry companies) to reduce the total amount of men in the platoon by 3 men.



The structure of the Parachute Rifle Company was largely similar to that of its regular infantry counterpart, with the company overall being composed of 1 Company Headquarters and 3 Platoons. However, the Parachute Rifle Company was a slightly leaner operation, with 10 fewer men than in the regular infantry company on D-Day, while at the same time supporting a larger amount of specialist weapons.

The Company Headquarters' complement of officers included the Company Commander (Major) and Company Second-in-Command (Captain). The senior enlisted (other rank) man was the Company Sergeant Major, a Warrant Officer II, responsible for the company's discipline. The Company Quartermaster was a Staff Sergeant—the only one in the company—and he was responsible for supply and mess. The Company HQ's 2 Batmen acted as personal assistants to the officers, while the 3 Orderlies acted as messengers. It also had a Company Clerk, and a Storeman who was not jump-qualified. The Company HQ had a 15-cwt truck, 250-cc motorocycle and folding bicycle, but on a jump typically only the bicycle would be brought. In addition, 4 Nursing Orderlies (one of which was a Corporal) of the RAMC were attached directly to the company and acted as combat medics.

The company's main maneuver elements were its 3 Platoons. Each platoon consisted of a Platoon Headquarters and 3 Sections. The platoon was commanded by a Subaltern, a grade of Lieutenant, who was armed with a pistol on paper, but would have been armed with a Sten gun in practice as well. He was assisted by the Platoon Sergeant, a Sergeant, who was the platoon's Second-in-Command. The Batman was the Platoon Commander's personal assistant (common to have for a British officer) who also acted as a signaller (radio operator). The platoon's Orderly acted as a foot messenger.

As was common for airborne forces at the time, firepower was pushed down to lower levels, both to give smaller units that had the chance of being scattered more capability and to reduce the total amount of personnel in a unit. Whereas the regular infantry platoon had a Mortar Detachment in the Platoon Headquarters with 3 men and a single 2-inch mortar, this detachment was eliminated in the parachute company. One man per section was armed with an airborne variant of the 2-inch which would be used mostly for providing smoke cover. This allowed the parachute company's 2 Mortar Detachments of the early war to be dissolved, and the advent of the PIAT allowed for the dissolution of the Anti-Tank Section as well.


On paper the mortarman was armed with a pistol (the American M1911A1 as opposed to the Enfield or Webley revolvers used by the rest of the Army), although in practice they most likely would have drawn a Sten from the battalion's reserve. Although the mortarman was the only member of the Section authorized a pistol after the British stopped officially issuing them to Bren gunners, there is ample photographic evidence of paratroopers with M1911A1s or revolvers on their hip in addition to their primary weapon.

Another example of the shifting of personnel was in the allotment of snipers. In the regular infantry, until November 1944, the regular rifle companies had 2  snipers in the Company Headquarters allotted No. 4 Mk. I(T) sniper rifles. For the airborne, 1 rifleman per section was designated a sniper and armed with this weapon. Thus, the Company Headquarters also lacked the 2 snipers of the regular infantry.

Each of the Sections consisted of 10 men. It was organized more or less the same as the standard infantry section. It was subdivided into a Rifle Group (the assaulting element) led by the Section Commander and the Gun Group (the fire element) led by the Section 2IC. Unlike the standard infantry section, as mentioned earlier, 1 man in the Rifle Group was a mortarman and 1 was a sniper. Further, the ranks of the Section Commander and Section 2IC were shifted upwards, with the SECO being a Sergeant (as opposed to a Corporal) and the 2IC was a Corporal (as opposed to a Lance Corporal). There were enough Lance Corporals allotted to the company officially for one of the Privates per section to be a Lance Corporal, but it is uncertain who this would go to. It is possible that the most senior man (or multiple), irrespective of what weapon they were entrusted with, could be made a Lance Corporal.


As with the regular infantry, the No. 4 Mk. I rifle was the primary first-line service rifle during the later half of World War II, although it is known that paratroopers from the 1st Airborne Division had been armed with the No. 5 Mk. I "Jungle Carbine" during its occupation of Norway in May 1945. This variant saw combat in the Far East.

A new version of the Sten was introduced specifically for the Paras. The Sten Mk. V had a wooden stock, pistol grip, and foregrip, replacing the standard Sten's metal wire stock and semi-pistol grip. There were 300 Stens held in reserve at the battalion level to issue out as needed. These were enough Stens to issue out to at least every other man in the battalion, including non-combat roles. Thus, submachine guns could be concentrated, and many riflemen could have their No. 4 Mk. I rifles switched out for Stens if necessary. The first candidates for Stens would have been the officers, who were only authorized pistols in the War Establishments, and the mortarmen. There is photographic evidence of mortarmen in airborne units being armed with rifles as well.

Like in the regular infantry, the Bren gun was the base of fire of each Section and the Platoon's primary firepower. Each Section was armed with 1 Bren, controlled by the Section 2IC and manned by the Bren No. 1 with the Bren No. 2 as an assistant. Further, each Platoon had 1 Bren gun held in reserve to reinforce 1 of its Sections (something lacking in the standard infantry platoon). The Brens were jumped on men in an "LMG Valise". This carrying bag was carried in front of the jumper, attached to their neck and legs. The attachments would be disconnected after the canopy opened via a quick release. It would then hang 20 feet below the jumper to allow for a safe landing.


Although on paper 9 PIATs (Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank)—essentially 83mm spigot mortars with a fairly competent HEAT projectile—were held at the battalion reserve, in practice 3 would be held by the Company Headquarters which would then be issued to platoons at the Co's discretion. Thus, in practice, parachute rifle companies had the same number of PIATs as regular infantry companies.

Summary of Changes (from Nov. 1942)

  • In Company Headquarters:

    • 2 Nursing Orderlies were transferred from the 2 company-level Mortar Detachments to the Company Headquarters

  • In the Platoons:

    • The Boys Anti-Tank Rifle contained in the Platoon Headquarters was removed, replaced by the battalion/company level PIAT​

    • The Bren gunners lost their pistol

    • One reserve Bren gun was added to the Platoon Headquarters

    • A sniper rifle was added at 1 per section

    • Prior to February 1944, each section was authorized 2 Stens. In the February 1944 War Establishments, the allotment of non-reserve Stens was not made, with the tables only referring to the 300 reserve Stens for the battalion. It could be assumed that the Stens were issued to the SECO and 2IC.

  • The 2 Mortar Detachments (2-inch mortars) and 1 Anti-Tank Section were dissolved.

  • The overall size of the company was reduced from 136 men to 113 men (not including attached medical personnel). Notionally all jump-qualified personnel and attachments could be carried in 4 to 5 Dakota transports.



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