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

British Army Rifle Company (1943-1945)

The following was the organization of the Rifle Company of the British Army from April 1943 through the end of World War II, with a minor change to the company headquarters noted in November 1944. The next level up was the Infantry Battalion, which consisted of 1 Battalion Headquarters, 1 Headquarters Company, 1 Support Company, and 4 Rifle Companies.

Contents:

  1. Organization

    • 1 Company HQ​

    • 3 Platoons

  2. Discussion

  3. Sources

 

Organization

  • Type: Infantry Company

  • Origin: British Army (United Kingdom)

  • Time Frame (Battles): Sicily, Italy, Normandy (D-Day), France, Holland, Belgium, Germany

  • Personnel: 5 Officers and 122-124 Enlisted

Company Headquarters (2 Officers and 14-16 Enlisted)

  • 1× Company Commander, Major (OF-3)*, armed with 1 Enfield or Webley revolver

  • 1× Company Second-in-Command, Captain (OF-2), armed with 1 Enfield or Webley revolver

  • 1× Company Sergeant Major, Warrant Officer Class 2 (OR-8), armed with 1 No. 4 Mk. I rifle

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

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

  • 2× Snipers (until Nov. 1944**), Privates (OR-1), armed with 1 No. 4 Mk. I(T) sniper rifle each

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

  • 3× Orderlies (2 also Drivers after Nov. 1944), Privates (OR-1), armed with 1 No. 4 Mk. I rifle each

  • 2× Batmen (also Drivers until Nov. 1944), Privates (OR-1), armed with 1 Sten submachine gun each

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

  • 1× Driver, Corporal (OR-1), armed with 1 Sten submachine gun

  • 1× Driver, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 Sten submachine gun

 

→ Additional Equipment

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

  • 3× 15-cwt trucks, driven by the 2 Drivers and 1 of the Batmen

  • 1× 5-cwt jeep, driven by 1 of the Batmen

  • 1× Universal Carrier, armed with 1 Bren light machine gun, 1 2-inch mortar and 1 signal pistol, driven by the Driver-Mechanic

  • 3× bicycles, rode by the 3 Orderlies

*Sometimes a Captain if necessary

**Snipers moved to Battalion Headquarters in November 1944 revisions

3× Platoons (1 Officer and 36 Enlisted each)

​→ Platoon Headquarters (1 Officer and 6 Enlisted)

  • 1× Platoon Commander, Second Lieutenant to Lieutenant (OF-1), armed with 1 Enfield or Webley revolver and 1 signal pistol

  • 1× Platoon Sergeant, Sergeant (OR-6), armed with 1 No. 4 Mk. I rifle

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

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

  • 1× Mortar Detachment

    • 1× Mortar Commander, Lance Corporal (OR-3), armed with 1 No. 4 Mk. I rifle

    • 1× Mortar No. 1, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 Sten submachine gun and 1 2-inch mortar

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

​→ 3× Sections (10 Enlisted each)

  • Rifle Group

    • 1× Section Commander, Corporal (OR-4), armed with 1 Sten submachine gun

    • 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 No. 4 Mk. I rifle

    • 1× Bren No. 1, Private (OR-1), armed with 1 Bren light machine gun

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

 

Discussion

The British Army Rifle Company consisted of 4 elements: 1 Company Headquarters and 3 Platoons (henceforth colloquially referred to as the Rifle Platoon for clarity, although it was officially just "Platoon"). The Company Headquarters housed the company's command and supporting elements, while the Rifle Platoons were its fighting elements.

Company Headquarters

The Rifle Company was commanded by a Company Commander, nominally a Major but sometimes a Captain if necessary. His Second-in-Command was a Captain. The Company Sergeant Major, a Warrant Officer II, was the senior enlisted ("other rank" in Commonwealth parlance) of the company and responsible for its discipline.  The Company Quartermaster was a Staff Sergeant—the second highest enlisted billet after the Company Sergeant Major—and was responsible for logistics and the mess.  The remainder of the personnel included 1 Company Clerk, 1 Storeman, 3 Orderlies, 2 Batmen, 1 Driver-Mechanic, 2 Drivers, and 2 Snipers. Aside from 1 of the 2 Drivers, who was a corporal, all others were Privates.

The 2 Snipers, generally armed with No. 4 Mk. I(T) rifles with telescopic optics, remained in the Company Headquarters until Nov. 1944, when a War Establishments change moved them up to the Battalion Headquarters.  Otherwise, the Company Headquarters looked pretty much the same until the end of the war, although there were minor changes along the way.

The 2 Batmen—essentially personal assistants for the Company Commander and Company 2IC—doubled as drivers for the one of the company's 15 cwt trucks and jeep until November 1944. This duty was shifted to 2 of the 3 Orderlies, as the added responsibilities of driver detracted from their responsibilities as the officers' servants. The Orderlies, meanwhile, acted as messengers for the company HQ and were each authorized a bicycle for the task. As far as vehicles were concerned, the Company HQ had 3 15-cwt trucks, 1 5-cwt jeep, and 1 Universal Carrier (armed with a Bren gun, 2-inch mortar, and flare gun).

Several personnel could be trained in additional skills. One of the Drivers was to be trained as an equipment repairer, while the Storemen were to be trained in some armourer duties by the Battalion's Armourer (a Sergeant in the Battalion Headquarters Company). One man per company was also to be trained as a cobbler, for which they would rate tradesman pay.

The Company Headquarters also had 3 PIAT anti-tank weapons which could be distributed to the Platoons as needed.

Platoons

The company's 3 Platoons were its primary fighting components and each consisted of 1 officer and 36 enlisted soldiers. Each was split into the Platoon Headquarters and 3 Sections (henceforth referred to as "Rifle Sections" for clarity). 

The Platoon Headquarters was headed by the Platoon Commander, a Subaltern or grade of Lieutenant. His Second-in-Command was the Platoon Sergeant, the platoon's one authorized Sergeant. The platoon's Batman—the Platoon Commander's assistant given his status as an officer—generally doubled as a Signaller—Commonwealth parlance for a radio operator. As radio operators are traditionally glued at the hip to whichever personnel they serve, be it a commander or forward observer, this makes sense. The Platoon Headquarters also had 1 Orderly—who acted as a foot messenger—and a mortar detachment.

The mortar detachment served 1 2-inch (50.8mm) light mortar. It was headed by the Mortar Commander—a Lance Corporal—with the Mortar No. 1 (gunner) and Mortar No. 2 (assistant gunner).

Each Rifle Section consisted of 10 enlisted personnel and was commanded by a Section Commander of the rank of Corporal. The Section was further subdivided into the Rifle Group and Gun Group. The Rifle Group was the maneuver element, consisting of the section's 6 Riflemen and led by the Section Commander. As assaulting was considered the more difficult task, the Section 2IC (in charge of the Gun Group) was in an ideal position to observe the entire section and learn while executing the less difficult—but still incredibly important—task of controlling the section's Bren gun.

The Gun Group by comparison consisted of the Lance Corporal 2IC, the Bren No. 1 (the gunner armed with the Bren gun) and Bren No. 2 (assistant gunner). In addition to helping with operating the Bren gun and reloading, the Bren No. 2 was tasked with ammo management. It would be the Bren No. 2 who would scurry around the section collecting extra Bren magazines carried by all personnel and exchanging them for empty ones ready for reloading. Ammo distribution will be covered further in the "Ammo Loads" section. The Bren gun was by far the most important weapon system in the British rifle section, comparable to how the general-purpose machine gun was the most important weapon in the German Army Gruppe at the time. The British section based around the Bren even more than the German equivalent was based around the MG-34 or MG-42, as the ammo load for the British light machine gun was distributed amongst the riflemen more than it ever was for the German squad (at least per doctrine).

Weapons

In the Section, all British riflemen, the Section 2IC and Bren No. 2 (assistant gunner) were armed with either SMLE No. 1 Mk. III rifles or, increasingly so after the campaigns in North Africa, the newer No. 4 Mk. I rifle. By 1944, the No. 4 Mk. I (designated No. 4 Mk. 1 after 1944) would have supplanted the SMLE No. 1 Mk. III as the first-line service rifle of the British Army, although both served concurrently throughout the war. The No. 4 Mk. I used the same action as the SMLE, but featured several simplifications that allowed for easier mass production. The key details remained the same, being a bolt-action rifle chambered in the rimmed .303 cartridge and feeding from an internal 10-round magazine that was reloaded with 2 stripper clips of 5 rounds each.

The Sten gun—a 9x19mm Parabellum submachine gun indigenous to Great Britain—had replaced American-made M1928/M1928A1 Thompson submachine guns as the weapon of the Section Commander. A key exception was with the 8th Army deployed to Italy, where the British continued to use M1928, M1928A1, and the newer M1A1 Thompsons through to the end of the war.

The most important weapon, and that which the Rifle Section was based upon, was the Bren light machine gun. The Bren was a gas-operated magazine-fed light machine gun, iconic for its top-feeding 30-round magazine (doctrinally downloaded to 28 rounds for reliability), chambered in .303. It had be pressed into service in 1938 and replaced the Lewis Gun as the Rifle Platoon's primary automatic fire power. Prior to the Bren's introduction, the Rifle Platoon was split into Rifle Sections, with just riflemen, and the Lewis Gun section, which served the Lewis Guns. With the introduction of the Bren Gun, the two were combined, with each Section being outfitted with 1 Bren gun. Every man in the Section carried magazines and extra ammo for the Bren gunner, which will be covered in the Ammo Loads section.

Officers in the Rifle Company would have been officially authorized the Enfield or Webley revolver. Issuing pistols to officers exclusively had been fairly common up until World War II. The Americans had been officially issuing just pistols to their company-grade officers until its replacement by the M1 Carbine (although rifles and submachine guns could serve as more practical substitutes before hand). By the same token, a British officer could be armed with a rifle or Sten gun (Thompson in the Mediterranean) if the situation dictating depending on availability, their preferences and those of their leadership.

The British Army also introduced a new anti-tank weapon in 1943. The Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank—or PIAT—was an 83mm spigot mortar that, although much derided by some, was reasonably effective against armor threats at relatively close ranges. The PIAT replaced the Boys .55 caliber anti-tank rifle that had been issued at 1 per rifle platoon headquarters prior to 1943. The new weapon would be located at the Company Headquarters and issued out to rifle sections at the Company Commander's discretion. With 3 to a company, there were enough to issue 1 per platoon (or multiple to 1 or 2 platoons depending on the needs of the company). As the weapon weighed a whopping 14.5 kg, or about 32 lb, empty (4 kg more than the Bren gun and about 7-8 kg heavier than the American Bazooka), with each bomb weighing 1.2 kg, the PIAT would undoubtedly need a team of riflemen—and a fit one at that—to operate effectively.

Ammo Loads

 

Section Ammo Load (1944)

  • Section Commander (160 rounds for Sten; 2 Mills Bombs)

    • 5 Sten gun magazines, 32 rounds per magazine​

    • 2 Mills Bombs

  • Riflemen (50 rounds for rifle, 108 rounds for Bren; 1 Mills Bomb)

    • 10 clips of rifle ammunition in 1 Bandolier slung across torso, 5 rounds per clip

    • 2 Bren gun magazines in 1 Patt' 1937 pouch, 28 rounds per magazine​

    • 10 clips for reloading Bren magazines in 1 Bandolier kept in other Patt' 1937 pouch, 5 rounds per clip

    • 1 Mills Bomb
       

  • Section Second-in-Command* (50 rounds for rifle; 112 rounds for Bren)

    • 10 clips of rifle ammunition in 1 Bandolier slung across torso, 5 rounds per clip

    • 4 Bren gun magazines (2 per Patt' 1937 pouch), 28 rounds per magazine

  • Bren No. 1 (140 rounds for Bren) 

    • 1 Bren gun magazine loaded in gun, 28 rounds

    • 4 Bren gun magazines (2 per Patt' 1937 pouch), 28 rounds per magazine

  • Bren No. 2* (50 rounds for rifle; 112 rounds for Bren; 2 Mills Bombs)

    • 10 clips of rifle ammunition in 1 Bandolier slung across torso, 5 rounds per clip

    • 4 Bren gun magazines (2 per Patt' 1937 pouch), 28 rounds per magazine

    • 2 Mills Bombs
       

  • Total: 1,000 rounds for Bren, 400 rounds for Rifles, 160 Rounds for Sten, 10 Mills Bombs​

    *Also carried 2 utility pouches in addition to their 2 basic pouches.

In the Platoon Headquarters, all personnel armed with rifles were authorized 50 rounds of rifle ammunition but did not carry Bren gun magazines. The mortarman, with his Sten gun, was authorized 160 rounds like the Section Commander. If the Platoon Commander chose to arm himself with a Sten, he would most likely have this load. The Platoon Sergeant also carried 4 Mills Bombs while the Orderly/Runner carried 2 Mills Bombs.

 

The recommended number of mortar rounds on hand would be 12 high explosive (HE) and 18 smoke rounds. Illumination rounds could substitute any number of HE or Smoke rounds as necessary. Generally, 18 HE and 42 smoke rounds were kept in reserve. The distribution within the mortar detachment was as follows:

  • Mortar Commander - 3 HE, 9 Smoke

  • Mortar No. 1 - 3 HE, 3 Smoke

  • Mortar No. 2 - 6 HE, 6 Smoke

For the PIAT, each weapon was authorized 18 bombs. Six would be carried on a PIAT team at any one time in 2 containers with 3 rounds each. The remaining would be held in reserve with the company, but could be ferried up to a platoon in combat with the Universal Carrier.

Summary of Changes (from Nov. 1942)

  • In Company Headquarters

    • Batmen increased from 1 to 2

    • Drivers increased from 1 to 2

    • Company Clerk added

    • 2 Snipers added

    • 1 15-cwt truck, 1 jeep, and 1 Universal Carrier added

    • 3 PIATs held at the Company HQ replaced the 1 Boys anti-tank rifle allotted to each Platoon HQ
       

  • In Platoons

    • Each platoon's 1 15-cwt truck was removed, as was the Driver billet

    • A mortar detachment of 3 men was added to the Platoon HQ serving a 2-inch mortar

    • Sten guns replaced the Thompson machine carbine (submachine gun) as the Section Commanders' weapons, although Thompsons remained in significant use in the Mediterranean in this role

    • The No. 4 Mk. I rifle became more common place as a service rifle

 
 
 

Sources

 

"The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious."

      - Marcus Aurelius

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