Military Organization > United States > U.S. Marine Parachute Battalion (1942-43)

 

U.S. Marine Parachute Battalion (1942-43)

By Brendan Matsuyama, Editor

The following is an overview of the organization of the U.S. Marine Corps' Parachute Battalion, also known as the "Paramarines", from July 1942 to February 1943. This is the organization that would have been effective during the time of the Battle of Guadalcanal.

Each Marine Division was authorized a Parachute Battalion under the D-100 Marine Division. After late 1942, the Parachute Battalions were transferred to the I Marine Amphibious Corps and were grouped into the 1st Marine Parachute Regiment.

Contents:

  1. Organization

  2. Discussion

  3. Sources

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Organization

  • Type: Marine Airborne Battalion

  • Origin: U.S. Marine Corps (United States)

  • Time Frame (Battles): July 1942 to February 1943 (Guadalcanal)

  • Personnel: 23 Officers, 2 Warrant Officers and 540 Enlisted + 18 Navy Attachments

Below is the basic organization of the Battalion. For the in-depth details about the personnel, their ranks and equipment, and discussion on the subunits, click the blue links to the company-level pages.

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1× Headquarters Company (8 Officers, 2 Warrants, 96 Enlisted)

  • 1× Battalion Headquarters

    • 1× Headquarters Section​

    • 1× Communication Section

    • 1× Intelligence Section

    • 1× Maintenance and Supply Section

  • 1× Company Headquarters​

  • 1× Demolition Platoon

    • 1× Platoon Headquarters​

    • 3× Demolition Squads

 

3× Parachute Companies (5 Officers, 148 Enlisted + 6 Navy Attachments each)

  • 1× Company Headquarters

    • 1× Combat Section

    • 1× Supply Section

  • 3× Parachute Platoon​s

    • 1× Platoon Headquarters​

    • 3× Rifle Squads

    • 1× Mortar Squad

 
 

Discussion

The Marine Parachute Battalion was an airborne formation that was formed around the same time as the U.S. Army was raising its first Parachute Infantry Regiments. It was under the command of a Lieutenant Colonel and was 565 men strong (plus 18 attached Navy medical personnel), slightly larger than the US Army's 530-man strong Parachute Battalion. Conceived as an elite unit of paratroopers under the auspices of a Marine Division, the Paramarines were meant to act in support of divisional amphibious operations, provide an airborne raiding and reconnaissance capability to the division commander, and be trained in guerilla tactics. The Paramarines never made a combat jump, largely due to the Navy's lack of transport plans, unfavorable terrain and lack of necessary missions. However, they would serve in combat as elite amphibious infantry from 1942 until 1944 when they were dissolved and their personnel were transferred to the fledgling 5th Marine Division.

The battalion consisted of a Headquarters Company and 3 Parachute Companies. Given its mission, the Parachute Battalion was intended to be able to fight independently for extended periods of time, with both its Headquarters and Parachute Companies teeming with extra support personnel (including one Surgeon per Parachute Company) but lacking any weapon heavier than the 60mm mortar. The medical personnel situation of the Paramarines was more decentralized than in the standard Marine infantry, probably owing to the greater focus on company-level operations. While in standard Marine Battalions attached medical personnel were held in the Battalion HQ and attached to rifle companies, the attached medical were directly authorized to Parachute Companies. The Parachute Company also had a larger Company Headquarters than the standard Rifle Company with a separate Supply Section manned by non-jumpers (although many of the personnel in this section were also in standard Rifle Companies).

 

The Marine's Parachute Battalions were even more independent than their Army counterparts as before February 1943 there was no Marine Parachute Regiment to provide support services. As the Parachute Battalion was not part of a regiment, rather being under the direct control of the Marine Division, it did not have the benefit of having much of the regimental combat support that a standard Infantry Battalion or the Army Parachute Battalion could depend on. Thus, the Marine Parachute Battalion's Headquarters Company was largely administrative and support oriented, lacking the light machine gun platoon and 81mm mortar platoon that its Army equivalent had. At the same time the battalion lacked a Weapons Company standard to regular Marine Battalions. Many of its personnel were not jump-qualified as well, including almost all of the Maintenance and Supply Section and all of its own Company Headquarters. This would change when the Parachute Battalion became part of the Parachute Regiment under the E-Series tables of organization and the LMG/mortar platoons would be added using freed up personnel.

Contrast this with the Army Parachute Battalion that from their conception were integral to Parachute Infantry Regiments and almost always operated within the context of the Airborne Division and even Corps-level operations. If the Paramarines were to make a combat jump, it would be at the company-level or the battalion-level at the highest, and their mission-set would be heavily focused on raiding during island-hopping campaigns. While the Army was much more big battle and grand campaign oriented, the scale of Paramarine operations were to be smaller and special forces-esque (although they, like the Raiders and U.S. Army Rangers, would often be used incorrectly as light infantry).

Curiously, every man in the battalion was authorized an M55 Reising—a folding-stock .45 caliber submachine gun. It makes sense, as it was more compact to jump with than the Thompson and the Marines didn't have a lot of the Thompson to go around anyway (most submachine guns on Guadalcanal were Reisings). It wouldn't be until after Guadalcanal that the Marines figured out the Reising was a subpar weapon for jungle warfare, and upon their withdrawal from Guadalcanal the Paramarines largely turned their Reisings in for M1941 Johnson rifles. This was reflected in the February 1943 tables, which showed the Headquarters Company dumping the Reising for carbines mostly, Parachute Companies' Headquarters dumping them for carbines, and Rifle Platoons dumping them for a mix of carbines, Johnson rifles and, likely, M1A1 Thompson submachine guns.

Working in close concert with the Marine Raiders—the Marine Corps' elite amphibious raiding force, equivalent to the U.S. Army Rangers in role—the Paramarines were pioneers of much of the tactical doctrine that would go on to define the U.S. Marine Corps. Among these were fire teams, then called fire groups, in its Parachute Companies' rifle squads. While the standard Marine infantry squads were running essentially what the U.S. Army was in 1942—a single unit with 1 BAR and a lot of riflemen—the Paramarines and Raiders had developed a fire team system by which each squad consisted of a squad leader and 3 fire groups of 3 men each, each with an automatic rifle/light machine gun and each with its own leader. In the Paramarines' case, the machine gun was to be the M1941 Johnson—likely superior to the standard M1918A2 BAR in most respects, complete with a detachable barrel which was convenient for parachuting. Although the M1919A4 could be issued if they were unavailable. Everyone else was to be armed with the M55 Reising. This would have been more automatic firepower than any standard U.S. Marine or U.S. Army squad at the time if they had all their authorized equipment, although the M1903 Springfield likely served in lieu of the M55 Reising in many cases due to shortages. The experiences of the Paramarines and Raiders with their fire groups heavily influenced the viability of the concept in the eyes of Marine brass and in 1944, the U.S. Marine Corps adopted a fire team system with 3 teams of 4 men each for all rifle squads. This method of squad-level command and control has survived in the Marine Corps to this day.

Sources

 

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

      - Marcus Aurelius

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