Military Organization > United States > U.S. Army Parachute Rifle Company (1941-1948)

U.S. Army Parachute Rifle Company (1941-1948)

 

The following is an overview of every organizational change for the Parachute Rifle Company of the U.S. Army from the formation of the airborne in 1941 to through the end of World War II all the way to 1948. This is based off of the official T/Os (table of organization) which are linked in the "Sources" section. 

 

The next level up was the parachute battalion, which consisted of 3 rifle companies and a battalion HQ & HQ Company.

Contents:

  1. Organization

  2. Discussion

  3. Posters/Prints

  4. Sources

us airborne squad late dec 1944 web-01.p
 

Organization (early 1945 to 1948)

  • Type: Airborne Light Infantry Company

  • Origin: U.S. Army (United States)

  • Personnel: 8 Officers and 168 Enlisted

Company Headquarters (2 Officers and 27 Enlisted)

  • 1× Commanding Officer, Captain (OF-2), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 1× Executive Officer, First Lieutenant (OF-1), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 1× First Sergeant, First Sergeant (OR-8), armed with 1 M1 Rifle
     

  • 1× Supply Sergeant, Staff Sergeant (OR-6), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Communications Sergeant, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Radio Telephone Operator, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Clerk, Corporal (OR-4), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Armorer-Artificer, Technician 5th Grade (OR-4), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Bugler, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Mess Sergeant, Staff Sergeant (OR-6), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 3× Cooks, 2 being Technician 4th Grade (OR-5) and 1 being Technician 5th Grade (OR-4), armed with 1 M1 Rifle each

  • 2× Cook's Helpers, Private (OR-1) or Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M1 Rifle each

  • 2× Messengers, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle each

  • 12× Basic Riflemen, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle each [A]

3× Rifle Platoons (2 Officers and 47 Enlisted each) [B]

​→ Platoon Headquarters (2 Officers and 5 Enlisted)

  • 1× Platoon Commander, First Lieutenant (OF-1), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 1× Assistant Platoon Commander, Second Lieutenant (OF-1), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 1× Platoon Sergeant, Technical Sergeant (OR-7), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Platoon Guide, Staff Sergeant (OR-6), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Radio Telephone Operator, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 2× Messengers, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle each
     

​→ 3× Rifle Squads (12 Enlisted each)

  • 1× Squad Leader, Staff Sergeant (OR-6), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Assistant Squad Leader/Demolitions NCO, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Machine Gunner, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1919A6 light machine gun and 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 1× Assistant Machine Gunner, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 1× Ammunition Bearer, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Automatic Rifleman, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1918A2 Browning automatic rifle

  • 6× Riflemen, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle each

​→ 1× Mortar Squad (6 Enlisted each)

  • 1× Squad Leader, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Mortar Gunner, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 60mm mortar and 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 1× Assistant Mortar Gunner, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 3× Ammunition Bearers, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle each

​→ Additional Equipment: Each company was allotted 6 submachine guns (M3 "Grease Guns" for this period) to be issued when needed, although the paratroopers undoubtedly had more than authorized. Each platoon headquarters and company headquarters was allotted 1 M9A1 "Bazooka" each. Each platoon was equipped with 1 sniper rifle to be issued to a capable or trained soldier in the platoon. By doctrine these were M1Cs, in practice M1903A4 Springfields likely filled the role concurrently.

[A] The basic duty riflemen contained in the Company Headquarters were intended to be used as replacements to keep the rifle platoons at full strength.

[B] One medic was attached to each rifle platoon from the regimental headquarters.

Organization (Aug. 1944 to early 1945)

  • Type: Airborne Light Infantry Company

  • Origin: U.S. Army (United States)

  • Personnel: 5 Officers and 125 Enlisted

Company Headquarters (2 Officers and 20 Enlisted)

  • 1× Commanding Officer, Captain (OF-2), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine [A]

  • 1× Executive Officer, First Lieutenant (OF-1), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 1× First Sergeant, First Sergeant (OR-8), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine
     

  • 1× Supply Sergeant, Staff Sergeant (OR-6), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 1× Communications Sergeant, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 1× Radio Telephone Operator, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Clerk, Corporal (OR-4), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 1× Armorer-Artificer, Technician 5th Grade (OR-4), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 1× Bugler, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 2× Messengers, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle each

  • 11× Basic Riflemen, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle each [B]

3× Rifle Platoons (1 Officer and 35 Enlisted each) [C]

​→ Platoon Headquarters (1 Officer and 5 Enlisted)

  • 1× Platoon Commander, First Lieutenant (OF-1) [D], armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 1× Platoon Sergeant, Technical Sergeant (OR-7), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Platoon Guide, Staff Sergeant (OR-6), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 1× Radio Telephone Operator, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 2× Messengers, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle each
     

​→ 2× Rifle Squads (12 Enlisted each)

  • 1× Squad Leader, Staff Sergeant (OR-6), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Assistant Squad Leader/Demolitions NCO, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Machine Gunner, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1919A6 light machine gun and 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 1× Assistant Machine Gunner, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 1× Ammunition Bearer, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 7× Riflemen, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle each

​→ 1× Mortar Squad (6 Enlisted each)

  • 1× Squad Leader, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 1× Mortar Gunner, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 60mm mortar and 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 1× Assistant Mortar Gunner, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 3× Ammunition Bearers, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine each

​→ Additional Equipment: Each company was allotted 6 submachine guns (M3 "Grease Guns" for this period) to be issued when needed, although the paratroopers undoubtedly had more than authorized. Each platoon headquarters and company headquarters was allotted 1 M1/M9/M9A1 "Bazooka" each. Each platoon was allotted 1 sniper rifle to be issued to a capable or trained soldier in the platoon. By doctrine these were M1Cs, in practice M1903A4 Springfields likely filled the role concurrently.

[A] In the TO&E, M1A3 carbines are listed as the standard. However, it is unlikely that these were commonplace. Thus, M1A1 carbines are listed for all billets that were to receive carbines officially.

[B] The basic duty riflemen contained in the Company Headquarters were intended to be used as replacements to keep the rifle platoons at full strength.

[C] One medic was attached to each rifle platoon from the regimental headquarters.

[D] Platoon commanders are prescribed to be First Lieutenants in the TO&E. It is assumed that Second Lieutenants also filled the role.

Organization (Feb. 1944 to Aug. 1944)

  • Type: Airborne Light Infantry Company

  • Origin: U.S. Army (United States)

  • Personnel: 8 Officers and 119 Enlisted

Company Headquarters (2 Officers and 14 Enlisted) 

  • 1× Commanding Officer, Captain (OF-2), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 1× Executive Officer, First Lieutenant (OF-1), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 1× First Sergeant, First Sergeant (OR-8), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine
     

  • 1× Operations (Intelligence) Sergeant, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Communications Sergeant, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 3× Radio Telephone Operators, Technician 5th Grade (OR-4) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 3× Messengers, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle each

  • 5× Basic Riflemen, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle each [A]

3× Rifle Platoons (2 Officers and 34 Enlisted each) [B]

​→ Platoon Headquarters (2 Officers and 5 Enlisted)

  • 1× Platoon Commander, First Lieutenant (OF-1), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 1× Assistant Platoon Commander, Second Lieutenant (OF-1), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 1× Platoon Sergeant, Staff Sergeant (OR-6), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Radio Telephone Operator, Technician 5th Grade (OR-4) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 2× Messengers, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle each
     

​→ 2× Rifle Squads (12 Enlisted each)

  • 1× Squad Leader, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Assistant Squad Leader/Demolitions NCO, Corporal (OR-4), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Machine Gunner, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1919A4/6 light machine gun and 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 1× Assistant Machine Gunner, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 1× Ammunition Bearer, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 7× Riflemen, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle each

​→ 1× Mortar Squad (6 Enlisted)

  • 1× Squad Leader, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Mortar Gunner, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 60mm mortar and 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 1× Assistant Mortar Gunner, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine

  • 3× Ammunition Bearers, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle each

​→ Additional Equipment: Each company was allotted 6 submachine guns (M3 "Grease Guns" or M1A1 Thompsons for this period) to be issued when needed, although the paratroopers undoubtedly had more than authorized. Each platoon headquarters and company headquarters was allotted 1 M1/M9/M9A1 "Bazooka" each.

[A] The basic duty riflemen contained in the Company Headquarters were intended to be used as replacements to keep the rifle platoons at full strength.

[B] One medic was attached to each rifle platoon from the regimental headquarters.

Organization (Feb. 1942 to Feb. 1944)

  • Type: Airborne Light Infantry Company

  • Origin: U.S. Army (United States)

  • Personnel: 8 Officers and 119 Enlisted

Company Headquarters (2 Officers and 14 Enlisted)

  • 1× Commanding Officer, Captain (OF-2), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine and 1 M1911A1 pistol

  • 1× Executive Officer, First Lieutenant (OF-1), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine and 1 M1911A1 pistol

  • 1× First Sergeant, First Sergeant (OR-8), armed with 1 M1 submachine gun [A] and 1 M1911A1 pistol [A]
     

  • 1× Operations (Intelligence) Sergeant, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol

  • 1× Communications Sergeant, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol

  • 3× Radio Telephone Operators, Technician 5th Grade (OR-4) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol

  • 3× Messengers, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol each

  • 5× Basic Riflemen, Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol each [B]

3× Rifle Platoons (2 Officers and 34 Enlisted each)

​→ Platoon Headquarters (2 Officers and 5 Enlisted)

  • 1× Platoon Commander, First Lieutenant (OF-1), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine and 1 M1911A1 pistol

  • 1× Assistant Platoon Commander, Second Lieutenant (OF-1), armed with 1 M1A1 Carbine 1 M1911A1 pistol

  • 1× Platoon Sergeant, Staff Sergeant (OR-6), armed with 1 M1 submachine gun [A] and 1 M1911A1 pistol 

  • 1× Signal Corporal, Corporal (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol 

  • 1× Radio Telephone Operator, Technician 5th Grade (OR-4), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol 

  • 2× Messengers, Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol each
     

​→ 2× Rifle Squads (12 Enlisted each)

  • 1× Squad Leader, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol 

  • 1× Assistant Squad Leader/Demolitions NCO, Corporal (OR-4), armed with 1 M1 submachine gun [A]  and 1 M1911A1 pistol 

  • 1× Machine Gunner, Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M1919A4 light machine gun and 1 M1911A1 Pistol

  • 1× Assistant Machine Gunner, Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol 

  • 1× Ammunition Bearer, Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol 

  • 7× Riflemen, Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol each [C]

​→ 1× Mortar Squad (6 Enlisted)

  • 1× Squad Leader, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 submachine gun [A] and 1 M1911A1 pistol 

  • 1× Mortar Gunner, Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 60mm mortar and 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol

  • 1× Assistant Mortar Gunner, Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol

  • 3× Ammunition Bearers, Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol each

​→ Additional Equipment: Each platoon was equipped with an additional 2 M1919A4 Browning medium machine guns at the platoon headquarters for issue when needed.

[A] The T/O only references a "submachine gun" without specifying the type. It is assumed  to be the M1 Thompson in early- to mid- 1942 and the M1A1 Thompson thereafter.

[B] The basic duty riflemen contained in the Company Headquarters were intended to be used as replacements to keep the rifle platoons at full strength.

 
 
 
 

Organization (July 1941 to Feb. 1942)

  • Type: Airborne Light Infantry Company

  • Origin: U.S. Army (United States)

  • Personnel: 8 Officers and 119 Enlisted

Company Headquarters (2 Officers and 14 Enlisted)

  • 1× Commanding Officer, Captain (OF-2), armed with 1 M1911A1 pistol [C]

  • 1× Executive Officer, First Lieutenant (OF-1), armed with 1 M1911A1 pistol [C]

  • 1× First Sergeant, First Sergeant (OR-8), armed with 1 M1928A1 submachine gun and 1 M1911A1 pistol [A]
     

  • 1× Operations (Intelligence) Sergeant, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol

  • 1× Communications Sergeant, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol

  • 3× Radio Telephone Operators, Technician 5th Grade (OR-4) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol

  • 3× Messengers, Private (OR-1) to Technician 4th Grade (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol each

  • 5× Basic Riflemen, Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol each [B]

3× Rifle Platoons (2 Officers and 34 Enlisted each)

​→ Platoon Headquarters (2 Officers and 5 Enlisted)

  • 1× Platoon Commander, First Lieutenant (OF-1), armed with 1 M1911A1 pistol [C]

  • 1× Assistant Platoon Commander, Second Lieutenant (OF-1), armed with 1 M1911A1 pistol [C]

  • 1× Platoon Sergeant, Staff Sergeant (OR-6), armed with 1 M1928A1 submachine gun [A] and 1 M1911A1 pistol 

  • 1× Signal Corporal, Corporal (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol 

  • 1× Radio Telephone Operator, Technician 5th Grade (OR-4), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol 

  • 2× Messengers, Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol each
     

​→ 2× Rifle Squads (12 Enlisted each)

  • 1× Squad Leader, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol 

  • 1× Assistant Squad Leader/Demolitions NCO, Corporal (OR-4), armed with 1 M1928A1 submachine gun [A] and 1 M1911A1 pistol 

  • 1× Machine Gunner, Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M1919A4 light machine gun and 1 M1911A1 Pistol

  • 1× Assistant Machine Gunner, Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol 

  • 1× Ammunition Bearer, Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol 

  • 7× Riflemen, Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol each

​→ 1× Mortar Squad (6 Enlisted)

  • 1× Squad Leader, Sergeant (OR-5), armed with 1 M1928A1 submachine gun [A] and 1 M1911A1 pistol 

  • 1× Mortar Gunner, Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 60mm mortar and 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol

  • 1× Assistant Mortar Gunner, Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol

  • 3× Ammunition Bearers, Private (OR-1) to Private First Class (OR-2), armed with 1 M1 Rifle and 1 M1911A1 pistol each

​→ Additional Equipment: Each platoon was equipped with an additional 2 M1919A4 Browning medium machine guns at the platoon headquarters for issue when needed.

[A] The T/O only references a "submachine gun" without specifying the type. It is assumed to be referring to the M1928A1 Thompson, as the M1 Thompson was not adopted until 1942.

[B] The basic duty riflemen contained in the Company Headquarters were intended to be used as replacements to keep the rifle platoons at full strength.

[C] The M1A1 Carbine would replace the pistol as the officers' primary weapon beginning in 1942.

 

Discussion

Overview

The concept of parachute infantry was born in the 1930s with large-scale Soviet airborne exercises and battle tested in the early 1940s by the German Luftwaffe. The American application of the airborne was constituted in mid-1941, and with it the parachute infantry rifle company.

Although personnel and equipment changes occurred throughout the war, the parachute infantry rifle company's overall structure remained consistent. That is, 1 company headquarters and 3 rifle platoons. The next level up was the parachute infantry battalion, which had an HQ and HQ company and 3 rifle companies. Above that was the parachute infantry regiment, which had an HQ and HQ company, service company, and 3 parachute infantry battalions. The parachute infantry company experienced a total of 5 organizational changes during World War II, whereas the only major change that befell the conventional infantry was the replacement of the rifle grenadier's M1903 Springfield with an M1 Garand.

 

This was likely down to the experimental nature of the parachute infantry, and for reasons similar to the U.S. Marine Corps' rapid organizational changes. Unlike the conventional infantry, which were more or less constantly engaged in combat, the Marines and airborne were deployed in amphibious (former) or airborne (latter) assaults. After these operations were concluded, units were allowed time to rest and recover prior to the next operation. It should be noted that following the airborne's first combat experience in 1943, each of the T/O changes coincided with a buildup for the next major airborne operation. February 1944 changes coincided with Operation Neptune (6 June 1944), August 1944 changes with Operation Market Garden (17 September 1944), and December 1944 with Operation Varsity (24 March 1945). It should be noted that the T/O change in December 1944 was likely not implemented until 1945 in the buildup for Operation Varsity, partially due to the time it would take to transition as the change significantly increased manpower for the battalions and partially due to the Battle of the Bulge.

The airborne were unique in that they'd be dropped behind enemy lines without any guarantee of support from other ground forces, and were expected to be scattered and to take heavy casualties. Unlike the Germans, heavy casualties were acceptable for the Americans in regard to airborne troops. Further, the airborne were limited by the nature of airborne operations. What would be 75mm howitzers which were even too small for conventional infantry regiments were what the whole division's artillery unit could bring to bear. What the airborne lacked in higher-level heavy weapons support they compensated for with lower-level firepower and redundancy.

 

As will be explained in the "Weapons" section, the parachute infantry rifle squads were armed with belt-fed M1919A4/6 machine guns, while the rest of the Army (except for the Rangers) had the M1918A2 BAR automatic rifle in that role. Further, rifle platoons had their own mortar squads, decreasing the chance of a company losing its entire mortar section and complement of light machine guns if the weapons platoon's plane went down. Except for between August 1944 and early 1945, each platoon had an assistant platoon commander. This decreased the likelihood of a scattered platoon being separated from an officer.

 

The platoon commander and assistant platoon commander would act as jumpmasters. On combat jumps, the company would be carried in 7 C-47 transport aircraft (each with a capacity of about 28 paratroopers plus a jumpmaster). One aircraft would carry the company headquarters and 2 aircraft would carry each rifle platoon. During the period where assistant platoon commanders were absent, the platoon sergeant would fill the role.

Summary of Changes

Feb. 1942

  • Officers were authorized M1A1 carbines in addition to the M1911A1 pistols that they had originally exclusively been armed with in the initial July 1941 T/O.
     

July 1942

  • One rifleman was designated a rifle grenadier, armed with an M1903 Springfield, M1 grenade launcher, and M1911A1 pistol.


Feb. 1944

  • All M1911A1 pistols were removed from the rifle company T/O.

  • All allocated submachine guns were removed. The rifle company was allocated 6 submachine guns in total for issue at the company commander's discretion.

  • The company first sergeant, machine gunners, assistant machine gunners, mortar gunners, and assistant mortar gunners were rearmed with M1A1 carbines.

  • The rifle grenadier's M1903 Springfield and M1 grenade launcher were replaced with the M1 Garand and M7 grenade launcher.

  • One Bazooka was added to each platoon headquarters and company headquarters.

  • The rank ceiling for many low-level billets is raised from Private First Class to Technician 4th Grade.


Aug. 1944

  • The assistant platoon commander billet was removed.

  • A platoon guide (assistant platoon sergeant) billet was added to each rifle platoon.

  • Several billets were rearmed with M1A1 carbines (see "Weapons" section for details).

  • The platoon sergeant billet was promoted from Staff Sergeant to Technical Sergeant. Squad leaders were promoted from Sergeant to Staff Sergeant. Assistant squad leaders were promoted from Corporal to Sergeant.

  • One sniper rifle (M1C on paper, more commonly an M1903A4 Springfield) was added to each rifle platoon.

  • The operations (intelligence) sergeant, 2 radiotelephone operators, and 1 messenger were removed from the company headquarters. One clerk, 1 armorer, 1 bugler, and 6 basic duty riflemen were added to the company headquarters.


Dec. 1944

  • One rifle squad was added to each rifle platoon to bolster the strength of the parachute infantry battalion.

  • The assistant platoon commander billet was reinstated.

  • One M1918A2 BAR was added to each rifle squad.

  • Most billets that were not already issued M1A1 carbines prior to Aug. 1944 changes were rearmed with M1 rifles.

  • A mess staff of 1 mess sergeant, 3 cooks, and 2 cook's helpers were added to the company headquarters.

Weapons

Rifles (M1, M1903)

The standard service rifle of the U.S. Army—and indeed paratroopers—was the M1 Garand from the onset of World War II into the 1948s. The M1 Garand could be carried on the person in an airborne drop, either partially disassembled in 2 pieces in a carrier or assembled slung across the chest. The same was not the case for the German equivalent, the Kar98k, which was dropped separately in German airborne operations in weapons canisters. Throughout World War II, the majority of paratroopers in the rifle company were armed with M1 rifles, although there were exceptions.

 

From August 1944 onwards, 1 sniper rifle was authorized per rifle platoon to be issued to either a capable marksman or soldier with special sniper training in one of the rifle squads. On paper this meant the M1C, a variant of the M1 Garand with an optic. However, it is likely that the M1903A4 Springfield served in this role concurrently (if not being more common before the late 1940s).

 

Machine Guns (M1919A4/6, M1918A2)

From the onset of the airborne, the belt-fed M1919 Browning medium machine gun was authorized 1 per rifle squad. This differed from the standard infantry rifle company at the time, which placed its M1919A4s at the company level in a dedicated weapons platoon that also included mortars. Meanwhile, in the airborne, M1919s were at the squad level and mortars were at the platoon level in mortar squads. This was due to the nature of the airborne. Regular Army infantry regiments as of April 1942 contained integral 75mm and 105mm howitzers and 37mm AT guns while infantry battalions had 81mm mortars and .30 cal heavy machine guns (water cooled M1917 Brownings). In 1943, the 75mm howitzers were dropped and more 105mm howitzers added. Initially in 1941 the parachute battalions lacked a weapons company with 81mm mortars and additional machine guns altogether, although these were added to the battalion headquarters company in February 1942. Meanwhile, the parachute regiment had none of the howitzers or AT guns of the conventional infantry regiment. Rather, 75mm howitzers were divisional assets within in what is now 101st DIVARTY. Thus, lighter armament at higher levels necessitated by the limitations of airborne operations was compensated partially with with heavier armament at lower levels.

 

If a unit were scattered and without heavy support (as was expected in airborne operations), a partially formed rifle platoon would not have to wager on linking up with the company’s weapons platoon to get machine gun or mortar support. Each rifle platoon had 2 M1919s at the squad level until 1945 when the number of squads was increased to 3, and an additional 2 at the platoon headquarters for optional issue until February 1944. In a similar vein to the U.S. Marine Corps, who had 3 M1918A2 BARs at the squad level so as to project the maximum amount of firepower possible in amphibious assaults with limited support, the addition of machine guns at lower levels significantly increased the firepower of the rifle platoons.

 

From 1941 to 1944, the most common of these machine guns was the M1919A4, which was designed to be fired from a tripod. The M1919A6 was introduced mid-war and implemented in the airborne in late 1944 and early 1945. The M1919A6 was more or less a band-aid solution in response to the MG34 and MG42. The German equivalents were belt-fed general-purpose machine guns that could be operated from both tripods and bipods. They were issued at the squad level universally in the German army (although more antiquated machine guns were used more often than people give credit), as well as in other roles suited for medium machine guns. The M1919A6 attempted to replicate some of the MG34/42’s characteristics by adding a buttstock and a bipod to make it more portable and easier to use without a tripod, but it wasn’t even close as far as being a general-purpose machine gun. The M1919 was only removed from the airborne rifle squad in 1948, when a weapons squad was added to the platoons with bazookas and M1919A6s.

 

In addition to the M1919, the M1918A2 Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) was added to the rifle squads in December 1944. Although it is possible that paratroopers had used it in earlier operations, this was the first time the parachute infantry rifle squads were officially authorized the BAR during the war. Prior to this, only the glider-borne troops were authorized BARs, and did not have the squad-level M1919 like the paratroopers. The M1918A2 had been the standard automatic rifle of the Army and Marine Corps infantry. Regular army infantry squads had 1 officially, but often acquired a second in the field. The addition increased the parachute rifle squads’ total firepower to an M1919A6 machine gun and an M1918A2 BAR. The BAR was not allocated to a specific individual in the T/O, although it would have undoubtedly gone to one of the rifleman. In my listing of the T/O above for Dec. 1944 to April 1948, one of the rifleman officially authorized an M1 Garand is labelled as an automatic rifleman to represent this.

 

Carbines (M1A1)

The M1 carbine concept was born out of a need to arm rear echelon troops, weapons crews, and other specialists (such as paratroopers) who needed a more compact weapon that was not necessarily the standard service rifle. Prior to the introduction of the carbine, this job had been left to the service pistol (commonly M1911A1 semi-automatics and M1917 revolvers).

 

Carbines would not be added to the airborne T/O until 1942 when they were introduced. The standard paratrooper model was the M1A1, which had a folding wire stock and a pistol grip to replace the fixed stock of the M1 carbine. It could be carried on the person in an airborne jump, carried in a scabbard around the leg. The first to be authorized carbines were officers: the company and platoon commanding officers and executive officers. The mortar crews and assistant machine gunners in the rifle platoons would continue to be armed with M1 rifles until February 1944 when mortar gunners, assistant mortar gunners, machine gunners, and assistant machine gunners were authorized M1A1 carbines (as well as the company first sergeant). There was a brief period where M1A1 carbines became more numerous in the T/O from August 1944 to December 1944 (actually early 1945 in practice due to the Battle of the Bulge and the needed time to transition). From August 1944 to December 1944, the company commander, company executive officer, company first sergeant, 4 enlisted support billets in the company headquarters, platoon commander, platoon guide (assistant platoon sergeant), assistant machine gunners, machine gunners, ammo bearers, and all of the members of the mortar squad were authorized carbines. In December 1944 this was partially reversed, with platoon sergeants swapping weapons with platoon guide, mortar squad leader, ammo bearers, and all enlisted members of the company headquarters dropping their carbines for rifles. This was the last change to the authorization of carbines until 1948.

 

It should be noted that from August 1944 onwards, the type of carbine listed is the M1A3 variant. However, from the research I have done, it seems more likely that the M1A1 continued its service through the end of World War II while the M1A3 was uncommon in comparison.

 

Submachine Guns (M1, M1A1, M3)

From July 1941 to February 1944, submachine guns were in the T/O of the rifle companies authorized for the company first sergeant, platoon sergeants, and assistant squad leaders. The mortar squad leader was also authorized a submachine gun from February 1942 to February 1944. In the early days of the airborne, these likely were intended to be M1928A1s until the adoption of the M1 in early 1942. However, in February 1944, the platoon sergeants’ and assistant squad leaders’ Tommy guns were removed from the T/O in lieu of M1 rifles, while the company first sergeant was rearmed with an M1A1 carbine. Thereafter, at least on paper, 6 submachine guns were allocated to the company to be distributed at the company commander’s discretion depending on the situation. In early 1944 these may have taken form as the M1A1 Thompson, but by late 1944 and 1945 they were explicitly labelled as M3 “Grease Guns”.

 

However, the paratroopers in particular were notorious for going outside the bounds of the T/O to get equipment. It is probable that far more than 6 submachine guns were available to the average parachute rifle company, if not officially authorized. However, contrary to some misinformed beliefs, some movies and some video games, the M1 “Garand” was 100% the standard rifle and most common weapon for the infantryman in airborne divisions, not submachine guns or M1A1 carbines.

 

Pistols (M1911A1)

Before February 1944, every paratrooper in the rifle company was authorized an M1911A1 semi-automatic pistol chambered in .45 ACP. This was a common practice among airborne forces. For example, the German Fallschirmjäger issued all their paratroopers pistols in the early war. In that example, it was to mitigate the risk of being separated from separately dropped weapons bundles. The joint American-Canadian First Special Service Force (an airborne special operations commando unit) likewise issued pistols to each of its service members in combat units from its formation in 1942 to its dissolution in 1944. Further, prior to February 1942, the officers of the rifle company (platoon and company COs and XOs) were only authorized a pistol. The M1A1 Carbine replaced the pistol as the primary weapon for officers in February 1942, although pistols were retained as secondary weapons until February 1944.

 

The universal issue of pistols in rifle companies was removed with the T/O change in February 1944. Thereafter, pistols were removed from the parachute company T/O entirely (although it is likely that many were kept by service members). The M1A1 carbine universally replaced the pistol as the primary weapon of officers and weapons crews, and a secondary weapon for machine gunners.

 

Heavy Weapons (Bazookas, Mortars)

Each airborne rifle platoon was authorized a mortar squad serving 1 60mm mortar from 1941 at inception to 1948 when the mortar squads were moved to a company weapons platoon. This made for a total of 3 60mm mortars per company. This differed from the conventional infantry rifle company of the time which had 3 60mm mortars in the mortar section of a dedicated weapons platoon. Likewise with the issue of machine guns in rifle squads, the inclusion of 1 mortar squad per rifle platoon was likely so that scattered units could still function and project a reasonable amount of integral fire support. When companies linked up, the mortars could be grouped together and operate as a single battery in support of the company.

 

With the T/O change in February 1944, 1 “Bazooka” rocket launcher was added to each rifle platoon’s headquarters element and the platoon headquarters. This gave each rifle company 4 Bazookas in total - likely the M1A1 or M9 until late 1944, when the M9A1 became more commonplace. This was following combat experience in Sicily and mainland Italy and would have been implemented by the invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944. This was more of a self-defense weapon against armor threats up close rather than a tank-hunting weapon, which was necessary for an airborne force with limited heavy supporting elements.

 
 
 
 
 

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      - Marcus Aurelius

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