Military Organization > United States > ​​U.S. Marine Rifle Company (1918) 

U.S. Marine Rifle Company (1918) 

By Brendan Matsuyama, Editor

The following is an overview of the Rifle Company of the U.S. Marine Corps as of September 1918. This applied to American Expeditionary Force (AEF) Marine units, with units elsewhere being organized differently. For comparison non-AEF Marine companies consisted of 3 Officers and 100 Enlisted and were armed entirely with rifles and pistols.

The Marine company was almost identical to the Army AEF equivalent with some minor changes. It consisted of 1 Company Headquarters and 4 Rifle Platoons.

The next level up was the Infantry Battalion, which consisted of 1 Battalion Headquarters and 4 Rifle Companies.

Contents:

  1. Organization

    • 1 Company HQ

    • 4 Rifle Platoons

  2. Discussion

  3. Sources

USMC Automatic Rifle Squad 1918-01.png

Organization

  • Type: Marine Infantry Company

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

  • Personnel: 6 Officers, 252 Enlisted, and 5 Attachments

Company Headquarters (2 Officers, 20 Enlisted, 5 Attachments)

→ Captain's Group

  • 1× Commanding Officer, Captain , armed with 1 Pistol

  • 1× First Sergeant, First Sergeant , armed with 1 Pistol

  • 2× Buglers, Field Music, armed with 1 Pistol

  • 4× Agents and Signalmen, Private, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle

→ Service Group

  • 1× Executive Officer, Lieutenant, armed with 1 Pistol

  • 1× Mess Sergeant, Sergeant, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle

  • 1× Supply Sergeant, Sergeant, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle

  • 2× Gas Sergeants, Sergeant, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle

  • 1× Company Clerk, Corporal, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle

  • 4× Mechanics, Technical Corporal, armed with 1 Sniper Rifle

  • 4× Cooks, Private, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle*

* 2 equipped as snipers

→ Attached from Regimental Supply Company:

  • 5× Drivers, Private, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle
     

  • 1× Rolling Kitchen, pulled by 4 mules*

  • 1× Ammunition Wagon, pulled by 4 mules

  • 1× Rations/Baggage Wagon, pulled by 4 mules*

  • 1× Rations Cart, pulled by 2 mules

  • 1× Water Cart, pulled by 1 mule

* Only 2 mules supplied per vehicle

​→ Additional Equipment:

  • 6× VB Rifle Grenade Launcher

  • 6× M1903 or M1917 Rifles*

  • 40× Trench Knifes

* Spares for automatic riflemen

4× Rifle Platoons (1 Officer and 58 Enlisted each) 

​→ 1× Platoon Headquarters

  • 1× Platoon Commander, Lieutenant, armed with 1 Pistol

  • 1× Platoon Sergeant, Gunnery Sergeant, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle and 1 Pistol

  • 4× Runners, Private, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle

​→ 1× Rifle Section

  • 1× Section Leader, Sergeant, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle

  • 2× Rifle Squads:

    • 1× Squad Leader, Corporal, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle

    • 1× Sniper, Technical Corporal or Private*, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle equipped with telescopic sight

    • 6× Riflemen, Private, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle

* 1 Squad's Sniper was a Technical Corporal while the other's was a Private

​→ 1× Automatic Rifle Section

  • 1× Section Leader, Sergeant, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle and 1 Pistol

  • 2× Automatic Rifle Squads:

    • 1× Squad Leader, Corporal, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle and 1 Pistol

    • 2× Automatic Riflemen, Private, armed with 1 M1915 Chauchat Automatic Rifle and and 1 Pistol

    • 4× Ammo Men, Private, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle

​→ 1× Hand Bomber Section

  • 1× Hand Bomber Team:

    • 1× Section Leader/Team Leader, Sergeant, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle and 1 Pistol

    • 1× Thrower, Private, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle and 1 Pistol

    • 1× Ammo Man, Private, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle

    • 1× Scout, Private, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle

  • 2× Hand Bomber Teams:

    • 1× Team Leader, Corporal, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle and 1 Pistol

    • 1× Thrower, Private, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle and 1 Pistol

    • 1× Ammo Man, Private, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle

    • 1× Scout, Private, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle

​→ 1× Rifle Grenade Section

  • 1× Rifle Grenade Team:

    • 1× Section Leader/Team Leader, Sergeant, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle, VB Grenade Launcher, and 1 Pistol

    • 1× Gunner, Private, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle and 1 VB Grenade Launcher

    • 1× Ammo Man, Private, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle

  • 2× Rifle Grenade Teams:

    • 1× Team Leader, Corporal, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle, VB Grenade Launcher, and 1 Pistol

    • 1× Gunner, Private, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle and 1 VB Grenade Launcher

    • 1× Ammo Man, Private, armed with 1 M1903 Rifle

 
 

Discussion

The Marine Rifle Company as it existed within the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) during World War I was structured identically to its Army counterpart—a pre-requisite for Marine involvement in the war under Army command—with only minor differences. This organization took after the French and British organizations that were present during the mid-war, but which had been improved by 1918 (the Americans did not improve the organization until after World War I).

The company consisted of a Company Headquarters and 4 Rifle Platoons, for a total of 6 Officers, 252 Enlisted, and 5 attachments from the Regiment's Supply Company.

The Company Headquarters was almost identical to the Army counterpart with a Captain's Group and Service Group, the former being the tactical command element essentially and the Service Group being support and service. As has typically been the case in American doctrine, the Company Commander (Captain) acted as the combat commander while the Executive Officer (Lieutenant) was the second-in-command and typically handled administrative and rear echelon functions. A detail would be attached from the Supply Company that included 5 drivers for 5 vehicles: 1 rolling kitchen, 1 ammunition waggon, 1 rations/baggage wagon, 1 rations cart and 1 water cart. Additionally, the company kept 6 rifle grenade launchers (the French VB cup-style launcher), 6 rifles (spares for half of the Automatic Riflemen as doctrinally only 1 Automatic Rifleman per squad was supposed to be armed with their Chauchat, although this was rarely done in practice) and 40 trench knives. The major differences between the Marines and Army included two Gas Sergeants in the Service Group and the arming of two Mechanics as snipers (one ranking as Technical Corporal) within Marine companies.

Each Rifle Platoon consisted of 1 Platoon Headquarters and 4 administrative sections that each served a distinct weapon system and would be task organized into Half Platoons composed of squads. The Platoon Headquarters consisted of 1 Platoon Commander, 1 Platoon Sergeant and 4 Runners. The Marines differed from the Army in that their Platoon Sergeants were of the rank Gunnery Sergeant rather than just being the senior Sergeant in the platoon as was Army practice.

The combat elements of the Rifle Platoon were the Hand Bomber Section, Rifle Grenade Section, Rifle Section, and Automatic Rifle Section. It should be noted that at this time, the British and Americans referred to hand grenades as "bombs" and rifle grenades as "grenades." In the field, it was a given that these sections would be reorganized by the Platoon Commander, with the sections mostly fulfilling administrative, accountability and training functions.

Each section was led by a Sergeant, which different from Army practice. In the Army only the Rifle and Automatic Rifle Sections had Sergeants, so each Marine half platoon had an extra Sergeant. The Rifle and Automatic Rifle Sections were further broken down into 2 squads, each led by a Corporal. The Automatic Rifle Squads were further broken down into two Automatic Rifle Teams with 1 Chauchat automatic rifle each (the 8mm Lebel version). It was originally envisioned that in most situations 1 team per squad would not actually carry their automatic rifle, with the gunner being armed with a spare rifle, but this wasn't usually done as it gave up some automatic firepower.

 

When a platoon was formed into half platoons (the elementary unit where fire and maneuver could realistically occur) the Rifle and Automatic Rifle Sections would cross attach their squads across the half platoons so one half platoon wouldn't be lacking. Meanwhile, the Hand Bomber and Rifle Grenade Sections each had 3 teams. These 2 sections would have each of their 3 teams combined with teams from the other section to create combination Hand Bomber/Rifle Grenade Squads, or alternatively Rifle Grenade/Rifle Squads.

An example task organization for the Rifle Platoon would be as follows:

  • 1× Platoon Headquarters

  • 2× Half Platoons (commanded by the Automatic Rifle or Rifle Section Leader)

    • 1× Automatic Rifle Squad​

    • 1× Rifle Squad

    • 1-2× Rifle Grenade/Hand Bomber Squads (made by combining 1 Hand Bomber and 1 Rifle Grenade Team)

Hand Bombers would often be used as riflemen as the utility of having personnel whose only speciality was throwing hand bombs was dubious. Thus, another variation would be as follows:

  • 1× Platoon Headquarters

  • 2× Half Platoons

    • 1× Automatic Rifle Squad​ (maintained at full strength if possible)

    • 1× Rifle Squad

    • 1× Rifle Grenade/Rifle Squad (made by reorganizing the rifle grenade section from 3 teams to 2 larger teams and adding extra riflemen to each team to create a new squad)

 

It should be noted that although the M1917 Enfield was overall the most common service rifle within the AEF, the Marines held onto their M1903 Springfield. This is because among the first of the Army units to arrive in Europe, the 1st and 2nd Divisions were primarily armed with the M1903 while most other units were armed with the M1917. It was ordered in April 1918 that M1917 rifles be used to replace M1903s that were used elsewhere in the world by the Marines, including permanent installations, while M1903s were prioritized for AEF use. As the AEF was 2 million strong this made the M1903 a minority, but not for the Marines who made up half of the 2nd Division's maneuver elements. Ship detachments at the time also retained the M1903.

In terms of performance, the Marines took among the highest number of casualties for a units their size. Largely due to inexperience on the modern battlefield—having only been committed to battle after the Marine contingent reached brigade strength—Marines took heavy losses during charges across open ground going up against experienced German units with ample supplies of automatic weapons. Initial shortcomings weren't due to the quality of individual Marines, however, but largely due to a 19th century mindset that hadn't yet been rid of. The Marine infantryman was generally better trained with higher morale than their Army counterpart. Marine units were generally kept at higher strength levels than the average Army unit and had a much higher proportion of pre-war volunteers. Unlike in the Army, where duty as an infantry officer was undesirable, the opposite was true for the Marines who supplied their Infantry Regiments with among the branch's best. Additionally, infantry marksmanship was placed at a premium in the Marines—largely a result of relatively lax marksmanship standards in the late 19th century collectively embarrassing the branch into action. As a result, Marines deployed overseas were required to be qualified sharpshooter or expert on their rifles, as opposed to the Army who often had to send men overseas who had unsatisfactory or no trigger time. The Marines further emphasized the importance of marksmanship by introducing snipers into the Rifle Company organization; something the Army did not do. The company had a total of 10 snipers, equipped with an M1903 Springfield rifle and an optic—typically the Warner & Swasey Musket Sight Model of 1908 or 1913 or, to a lesser extent, the Winchester A5. The Warner & Swasey garnered a poor reputation during the war as it would usually shoot itself loose, and was unofficially replaced when possible by the rarer (for the time) Winchester A5—a superior albeit extremely fragile alternative.

 

The Marines also introduced the rank of Technical Corporal to bestow additional pay without additional responsibility upon these snipers as well as certain other skilled trade, akin to the Technician Grades used by the U.S. Army during World War II or the Specialist rank of today. At this time chevron rank insignia were only bestowed on NCOs. Sergeants were 3 Chevrons and Corporals were 2 Chevrons. Privates had no rank insignia, but Private First Class were denoted by crossed rifles as of 1919 (post WWI). Additionally, Lance Corporals—Privates who were fulfilling the duties of a Corporal—were denoted by 1 Chevron although this rank insignia was only worn on the dress blues.

Ultimately the Marines' participation in World War I likely allowed the branch to continue its existence, this being cemented by their integral role in winning the Pacific Theatre of World War II. The Marines were not always a duplicate Army with the added benefit of Navy sealift integration and some less significant but highly symbolic duties, like guarding embassies. The Marines' mission before World War I was distinct and possibly approaching obsolescence. Their participation in a land war, given favourable media coverage for their actions at places like Belleau Wood, injected a much needed ounce of public support for the branch.

New USMC Rifle Squad 1918-01.png
 

Sources

  • Tables of Organization Number 5 (Rifle Company) dated 1 September 1918

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

  • Henry, Mark and Pavlovic, Darko. (1999) "US Marine Corps in World War I 1917-1918" published by Osprey Publishing

  • Marine Corps Orders No. 20 (Series 1918), Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps, published 19 April 1918

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

      - Marcus Aurelius

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