Military Organization > United States > ​​U.S. Army Rifle Company (1942-43) 

U.S. Army Rifle Company (1942-43) 

By Brendan Matsuyama, Editor

The following is an overview of the Rifle Company of the U.S. Army from April 1942 to July 1943. This corresponded to Operation Torch, the North African campaign, Operation Husky, and the Battle of Guadalcanal as examples.

In the discussion section we go over the key facts about the company organization, as well as delve into the state of the Rifle Squad at the time and the possible factors behind its organization and drawbacks.

 

The next level up was the Infantry Battalion, which consisted of 1 HQ & HQ Company, 3 Rifle Companies (this) and 1 Weapons Company.

Contents:

  1. Organization

    • 1 Company HQ

    • 3 Rifle Platoons

    • 1 Weapons Platoon

  2. Discussion

  3. Sources

USA Rifle Squad 1942-01.png

Organization

  • Type: Infantry Company

  • Origin: U.S. Army (United States)

  • Time Frame (Battles): Operation Torch, Operation Husky, Guadalcanal

  • Personnel: 6 Officers, 192 Enlisted, 3 Attachments

Company Headquarters (2 Officers, 19 Enlisted, 3 Attachments)

  • 1× Commanding Officer, Captain, armed with 1 M1 Carbine

  • 1× Executive Officer, Lieutenant, armed with 1 M1 Carbine

  • 1× First Sergeant, First Sergeant, armed with 1 M1 Carbine

  • 1× Supply Sergeant, Sergeant, armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Communication Sergeant, Sergeant, armed with 1 M1 Carbine

  • 1× Company Clerk, Corporal, armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Armorer, Technician 5th Grade, armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Bugler, Private/Private First Class*, armed with 1 M1 Carbine

  • 4× Messengers, Private/Private First Class*, armed with 1 M1 Carbine

  • 1× Orderly, Private/Private First Class*, armed with 1 M1 Rifle
     

  • 1× Mess Sergeant, Staff Sergeant, armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 2× Cooks, Technician 4th Grade, armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 2× Cooks, Technician 5th Grade, armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 3× Cook's Helpers, Private/Private First Class*, armed with 1 M1 Rifle

→ Attachments from Battalion Medical Detachment:

  • 3× Company Aid Men (Surgical), Private/Private First Class/Technician 4th Grade/Technician 5th Grade

* Of all of the company's Privates excluding attached medical, 66 would have been Private First Class

3× Rifle Platoons (1 Officer and 45 Enlisted each) 

​→ 1× Platoon Headquarters

  • 1× Platoon Commander, Second or First Lieutenant, armed with 1 M1 Carbine

  • 1× Platoon Sergeant, Staff Sergeant, armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Platoon Guide, Sergeant, armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 2× Messengers, Private/Private First Class, armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 5× Basic Duty, Private/Private First Class, armed with 1 M1 Rifle

​→ 3× Rifle Squads

  • 1× Squad Leader, Sergeant, armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Assistant Squad Leader, Corporal, armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× BAR Man, Private/Private First Class*, armed with 1 M1918A2 Automatic Rifle

  • 1× Assistant BAR Man, Private/Private First Class*, armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Ammo Bearer, Private/Private First Class*, armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 1× Grenadier, Private/Private First Class, armed with 1 M1903 or M1903A3 Rifle and 1 M1 Rifle Grenade Launcher

  • 6× Riflemen, Private/Private First Class, armed with 1 M1 Rifle

* Of all of the company's Privates excluding attached medical, 66 would have been Private First Class

1× Weapons Platoon (1 Officer and 38 Enlisted each) 

​→ 1× Platoon Headquarters

  • 1× Platoon Commander, Second or First Lieutenant, armed with 1 M1 Carbine

  • 1× Platoon Sergeant, Staff Sergeant, armed with 1 M1 Carbine

  • 1× Transport Corporal, Corporal, armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 2× Messengers, Private/Private First Class*, armed with 1 M1 Carbine

  • 2× Drivers, Private/Private First Class, armed with 1 M1918A2 Automatic Rifle
     

  • Additional Vehicles:

    • Before 4 Oct. 1942 — ​One 3/4-ton Truck and One Jeep

    • After 4 Oct. 1942 — 2 Jeeps with Trailers

​→ 1× Light Machine Gun Section

  • 1× Section HQ of:

    • 1× Section Leader, Sergeant, armed with 1 M1 Carbine

    • 1× Messenger, Private, armed with 1 M1 Carbine

    • 1× Basic Duty, Private, armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 2× Light Machine Gun Squads of:

    • 1× Squad Leader, Corporal, armed with 1 M1 Carbine

    • 1× Gunner, Private/Private First Class, armed with 1 M1919A4 machine gun and 1 M1911A1 Pistol

    • 1× Assistant Gunner, Private/Private First Class, armed with 1 M1911A1 Pistol

    • 2× Ammo Bearers, Private/Private First Class, armed with 1 M1 Carbine

​→ 1× Mortar Section

  • 1× Section HQ of:

    • 1× Section Leader, Sergeant, armed with 1 M1 Carbine

    • 1× Messenger, Private, armed with 1 M1 Carbine

    • 2× Basic Duty, Private, armed with 1 M1 Rifle

  • 3× Mortar Squads of:

    • 1× Squad Leader, Corporal, armed with 1 M1 Carbine

    • 1× Gunner, Private/Private First Class, armed with 1 60mm Mortar and 1 M1911A1 Pistol

    • 1× Assistant Gunner, Private/Private First Class, armed with 1 M1911A1 Pistol

    • 2× Ammo Bearers, Private/Private First Class, armed with 1 M1 Carbine

* Of all of the company's Privates excluding attached medical, 66 would have been Private First Class

 
 

Discussion

Following the United States' entry into World War II, the U.S. Army issued new TO&Es for the infantry rifle companies (and the regiments as a whole) in April 1942 that they would more or less keep through to the end of the war. Minor changes were made in 1943 and 1944 and a more major change in June 1945At this time, the Rifle Company consisted of 1 Company Headquarters, 3 Rifle Platoons and 1 Weapons Platoon for a total of 6 Officers and 192 Enlisted personnel. In most scenarios, the company or platoon would be the lowest echelons that would be conducting fire and maneuver at the same time, although there was doctrinal provision for fire and maneuver at the squad level in theory.

The Company Headquarters was the company's command and support section. It contained the Company Commander—who typically ranked Captain but could be a Lieutenant—and the Executive Officer—a Lieutenant who acted as a second-in-command and handled rear echelon administrative matters. It had a small contingent of logistics/maintenance personnel, a Bugler (someone had to wake people up), Orderly (for the Company Commander), and a mess section. The Company HQ was connected to its platoons via 4 Messengers. The Company Commander, Executive Officer, First Sergeant, Communication Sergeant, Bugler and Messengers were armed with the new M1 Carbine, a replacement for the M1911A1 Pistol. All others were armed with the new M1 Rifle. If carbines were not available, they likely would have defaulted to the weapons that their positions were authorized as per the 1940 TO&E, which was pistols for all of the previously stated billets except for the Messengers who were armed with rifles.

The Rifle Platoons consisted of a Platoon Headquarters and 3 Rifle Squads. It was the most changed unit, with 1942 seeing the riddance of the Automatic Rifle Squad and reintegration of the BAR into Rifle Squads. The platoon was led by the Platoon Commander (at this time the Army had not changed to the Platoon Leader nomenclature) who ranked Lieutenant. They were assisted by the Platoon Sergeant, a Staff Sergeant who acted as the second-in-command. They in turn were aided by the Platoon Guide, a Sergeant who essentially acted as an assistant Platoon Sergeant. The platoon had a further 2 Messengers, as well as 5 Basic Duty soldiers. Basic Duty soldiers would be used as replacements in the event of casualties, but would be consolidated in the Company HQ with the 1943 TO&E changes. As all other officers, the Platoon Commander carried an M1 Carbine although a pistol would be issued if a carbine was not available. Everyone else in the Platoon HQ was armed with an M1 Rifle.

Each of the Rifle Squads consisted of 12 enlisted personnel each and led by a Sergeant who acted as Squad Leader. They were assisted by a Corporal who like the Squad Leader was armed with an M1 Rifle. A Rifle Grenadier provided local anti-tank defense for the squads and platoon as a whole. This was brought back from the interwar years because it was found that the 60mm mortar, what had been thought to have been capable of replacing the rifle grenade, was in fact not suitable for the anti-tank defense mission. They were armed with the M1903 or M1903A3 Springfield rifle which had been brought back into service at this level because the rifle grenade launcher for the M1 Garand, what would become the M7, was not ready for issue yet. Meanwhile, a BAR Team contained a BAR Man (armed with an M1918A2 BAR), an Assistant BAR Man, and an Ammo Bearer. At this time, all of these personnel would typically be issued an M1923 cartridge belt to carry BAR magazines, with the Assistant BAR Man and Ammo Bearer also carrying ammo for their rifles. The squad was rounded out by 6 Riflemen. Everyone except for the BAR Man and Grenadier was armed with an M1 Garand.

Although there was provision for simultaneous fire and maneuver at the squad-level, it was rarely done in practice except for on smaller patrols. In theory fire from the BAR Team could be directed to cover the Riflemen and Scouts (just Riflemen who led the formation) in an assault. In practice, as the 1946 Infantry Conference found, this usually did not work effectively (although not in all cases) or was just unnecessary because of the scale of operations in the ETO. A platoon would be moving together, so at the very least squads could mutually support each other in fire and maneuver, but not any lower than that. In the opinion of this author, this probably wasn't so much an inherent fault in the squad organization. The Australians did something very similar to WWII Army squad during the Cold War with their Rifle Sections consisting of a Scout Group, Rifle Group, and Gun Group (equivalent to the US Army's late war Able/Security, Baker/Fire, and Charley/Maneuver Groups). The Australian example worked quite well while the US Army example did not. Moreso the drawbacks of the squad likely more came down to inexperience of junior leadership, the inadequacies of the BAR or at least the doctrine surrounding it, and the nature of operations in the ETO. The first point while perhaps a little controversial because it is a little disparaging was really just the result of attrition combined with a rapidly expanded conscript army. Conscripts, or draftees as Americans call them, are not inherently poor soldiers. However, when a squad's Sergeant and Corporal is killed or wounded and a Private has to step up with no formal training, it can be very difficult to effectively control up to 8-12 men and pull off complex maneuvers like simultaneous fire and maneuver. It is, however, less complex to fire to support another squad, or maneuver all as one. In the Australian example given prior, there was just a greater sense of professionalism surrounding the infantryman trade.

Additionally, there was a lapse where the capacity for simultaneous squad-level fire and maneuver was not a thing for the Army after the M1 Garand entered service in the late 1930s. Between 1938 and 1942 there were no BARs in the Rifle Squads at all (subject to whether units had M1 Garands which can't be taken for granted), with all of the Platoon's BARs being contained with an Automatic Rifle Squad. This was similar to Marine practice until 1943 which they copied from the Army, but the exact opposite of the Marines' interwar testing where they found it preferable to have 2 BARs per squad instead. Getting rid of the Automatic Rifle Squad simplified things for the Platoon Commander by bringing the elements from 3 maneuver and 1 fire down down to 3 maneuver elements with their own squad automatic weapons. However, the Army wouldn't go a step further and authorize more than 1 BAR per squad throughout the war. Rather following June 1944, they would have 6 spare BARs in the Company HQ that could reinforce 6 of 9 Rifle Squads to 2 BARs until the mid-1950s when squads finally got the 2 BARs the soldiers had desperately wanted. This was most likely because the Army valued maneuver and fire equally and had a fetish for their semi-automatic rifles. Brass did not want to sacrifice the mobility of all-rifle squads (something they had had officially from the adoption of the M1 Garand to this TO&E) to add more BARs which pre-war Army viewed as mostly emergency firepower. It was thought that the M1 Garand could make up for an inferior automatic fire capability, a meme which was permeated to today. This is reflected in the fact that the Americans generally treated the BAR as a specialist weapon, with few men in the squad actually receiving formal training on it. Contrast this with the British and Germans who both trained every squad member on the use of the Bren and MG-42 respectively. But then again the British and German sections/squads essentially existed to feed and protect their squad automatic weapons, while the US Army squads much more valued their riflemen. Further contrast this with the Marines who could be argued valued squad automatic fire more than the Army due to the nature of contested amphibious landings and the environment of the Pacific. The Marines ultimately increased the BARs per squad from 1 to 2 in 1943 and to 3 in 1944.

Meanwhile the Weapons Platoon consisted of 1 Platoon HQ, 1 Mortar Section, and 1 LMG Section. The platoon had a much higher concentration of M1 Carbines than the Rifle Platoons, with all personnel except the Drivers, Transport Corporal, Basic Duties, Gunners and Assistant Gunners being armed with them. The Platoon HQ consisted of the Platoon Commander, Platoon Sergeant, Transport Corporal, 2 Drivers and 2 Messengers. The Transport Corporal was armed with a Rifle, while the Drivers were armed with M1918A2 BARs for local anti-aircraft defense of the vehicles. From 1942 they drove a 3/4-ton truck and a Jeep, although these were replaced on 4 October 1942 with 2 Jeeps towing trailers.

The Mortar Section consisted of a Section Headquarters and 3 Mortar Squads. The section overall was led by a Sergeant and served a total of 3 60mm mortars. The headquarters had 1 Messenger and 2 Basic Duties, while the Mortar Squads each had a Squad Leader (a Corporal rather than a Sergeant), Gunner, Assistant Gunner, and 2 Ammo Bearers. The Gunner and Assistant Gunner were armed with pistols rather than carbines and served a 60mm mortar. The Light Machine Gun Section was structured similarly, although only consisted of 2 Light Machine Gun Squads each serving an M1919A4. The Section HQ only had 1 Basic Duty, but otherwise it and the LMG Squads were equipped the same except for of course serving an LMG rather than a mortar. Heavy Machine Guns (M1917A1 water cooled .30 cal machine guns) were served in the Weapons Company rather than in the Weapons Platoon.

In addition to the company's integral personnel, each company would receive 3 Company Aidmen (Surgical), or Combat Medics, from the Battalions' Medical Detachment.

Further, of the company's Privates, 66 would be PFCs (or 45% of Privates).

 

Sources

  • War Department Table of Organization 7-17 “Infantry Rifle Company” (Washington DC 1 April 1942).

  • Sayen, John. (2001) “Battalion: An Organizational Study of the United States Infantry.” Working paper, Marine Corps Combat Development Command

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

      - Marcus Aurelius

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