Inf Bn Carrier and Atk Platoon - often deactivated?

Discussion in 'General' started by Gary Kennedy, Apr 23, 2018.

  1. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member

    In trying to pick up on an outstanding project of mine I was reminded of an old quibble.

    Over the years I've seen a fair few repetitions of the opinion that, principally applied to 21AG experience, it was common for Inf Bns to disband their Carrier and 6-pr Anti-tank Platoons as a means of alleviating shortages in the Rifle Coys. This is something I've seen referred to in online forums more often than in print and is generally phrased in the style of 'most units got rid of their carrier and anti-tank guns to fill the rifle companies back up'. It is sometimes further said that neither the carrier nor 6-pr 'was any good/use' so were easily dispensed with.

    When I see something along the lines of 'most of' I do tend to take that literally, which to me means enacted in over half of Inf Bns, which in NWE would mean more than fifty over the full campaign. I then think that such a drastic action taken on a widespread scale would leave a few ripples in various reports and documents. That leaves me to wonder whether this is one of those untested assertions, oft repeated and grown in stature overs the years, that is based in little fact. Or, knowing how much material there is than I'm familiar with, whether it has more than a solid foundation than I would assume.

    So, for those who've viewed numerous war diaries over the years, is there any evidence to support the temporary or permanent disbandment of the Carrier and/or Atk Pls of Inf Bns, and if so does it come across as a frequent occurrence or an isolated one?

    Cheers,

    Gary
     
  2. Swiper

    Swiper Resident Sospan

    I would be very surprised if this was the case.

    Crucially each Corps operates differently (as does each Div to an extent), thus I suspect if we looked for corrolation in these areas more fruit would be obtained than simply looking at Bns in isolation. For example tactics and approaches in use with XII Corps do not always pass to other formations for months, which is again very surprising at times (even more so when two units are side by side.)

    The Carrier Platoon was one of (if not the) Battalion Commander's most popular assets, granting impressive tactical flexibility. Crucially you do note that they get parcelled out (often at Section) strength to cover gaps between depleted Companies.

    D Company was frequently disbanded and then reformed as manpower rose, with some studies pointing to at least some Divs prioritising keeping Companies established of three Platoons of three Sections at any size, even 4-5 men, to maximise Brens' effectiveness and tactical flexibility. Even units that were truly gutted in action (occasionally with three Companies barely functioning above 50 men each for a short period), appear to have retained the Support Company - but probably relied on a much heavier contribution from the Carrier Platoon.

    6 Pounders of course had their integral Bren gun, and I can see reduction of gun numbers to act as inf (which one notes does crop up) but this tends to be in close proximity to the inf they are supporting, often in sticky spots.

    To me.... the assertion that Anti-Tank and Carrier Platoons were frequently disbanded sounds like a complete factoid. Even units that rarely used their 6 Pounders still kept them (a few notable examples come to mind). So I'm deeply spurious of such assertions.

    Sounds like edgelord internettle warrior antics.
     
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  3. ceolredmonger

    ceolredmonger Member

    I think the confusion comes from the word 'Disbanded' which occurs in war diaries. I suggest it is too easily misinterpreted as a permanent rather than temporary thing. It may be a temporary situation at the CO's discretion according to the role at the time however he did not have the authority to change the War Office designation of the unit which set it's formal establishment and role. The most glaring example is the AA Troop in many armoured regiments - not disbanded, just left out of things whilst there is air superiority.

    The 1944 Infantry Battalion was a flexible establishment, it makes sense that when that when some of it's resources were not in use troops and equipment could be redeployed until the tactical situation changed. The Assault on Le Havre, for example, was a set piece assault with secure flanks, there was no role for Anti-tank and mobile reserves.

    That said, I have come across evidence that it was more common to use the Carrier Platoon troops to fill gaps in the Rifle Platoons and that the vehicles were used as ammunition/casualty carriers to supplement the one per Company HQ, than as recce or mobile reserve.
     
  4. Mr Jinks

    Mr Jinks Bit of a Cad

    I have seen many references to a `carrier` section being `dismounted` for various engagements but not disbanded?

    Kyle
     
  5. Swiper

    Swiper Resident Sospan

    Aye, Carrier Platoons frequently dismounted to engage enemy as heavy infantry in the attack.

    Confusion between 'dismounted' and 'disbanded' esp in handwritten documents could well be the answer here.
     
  6. ceolredmonger

    ceolredmonger Member

    I apologise for saying War Diaries, I meant unit histories!
     
  7. idler

    idler GeneralList Patron

    I once spoke to a chap who was too valuable as a mortarman in Normandy to be selected as a volunteer for an infantry task. In Germany they gave him two stripes and a section...
    The use of savvy but under-utilised battalion specialists to stiffen up green reinforcements makes some sort of sense. I'd assume that the specialists were relatively easy to replace as they would be less prone to casualties and, outside the rifle coys, might live long enough to get the hang of things.

    Perhaps there was a difference in the perceived 'usefulness' of the carrier platoon (as a mounted subunit) and the carriers themselves (as battlefield utility vehicles)? A battalion that found it wasn't making much use of the carrier platoon might make better use of the commanders and gunners elsewhere and pool the carriers and drivers at battalion or put 2 or 3 with each coy. If mounted patrols were needed, a full crew could be made up for the occasion.
     
  8. 51highland

    51highland Very Senior Member

    I can only relate my Fathers experiences. He said that if the rifle companies were short, one company, usually D comp, would be 'disbanded' temporarily and shared out amongst the 3 remaining companies. He could never remember the carrier or anti tank being 'Disbanded' for such purposes.
     
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  9. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    I scanned a couple of pages from 'A History of the 58th' (2nd Northamptons of 17 Bde / 5 Div) in connection with a question relating to use of portees but they provide a useful summary of the activities of the carrier and a/tk platoons...No talk of disbanding but frequently used for other duties.

    Afbeelding (302).jpg

    Afbeelding (301).jpg
     
  10. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member

    Thanks for the comments, and the upload from Rich. Interesting to note that the Northants did use their Atk Pl in the role of riflemen at least once while in Italy.

    I can certainly understand a temporary re-role for either carrier or anti-tank personnel as needs might dictate, it's when I've seen it presented as an irreversible one that I find myself pulling a face. In the case of 21 Army Group in particular, the scale of the transfer of RA personnel to help address the replacement needs of the infantry shows there was a recognition that significant changes might be needed and were enacted.

    if it was thought that neither Carr nor Atk Pls were fulfilling an important role I can't fathom why there wouldn't have been a similar reaction to redeploy at least some of their personnel, who were trained riflemen, to the Rifle Coys. The crews of both carriers and 6-prs were though specialists, requiring a good deal of training, and filling out those Pls again at short notice wouldn't be an easy job if they'd become casualties in the Rifle Coys.

    Rich's upload also reminded me of another pet niggle re carriers. I've come to believe there's a school of thought that practically all carriers were festooned with a mixture of .30-cal and .50-cal Browning MGs as a matter of course. When you think how many there were in a single Inf Div, 595, and even if you write that figure down to just those with Inf and Recce Pls and Tps, say 180, then extrapolate that across say 10 Inf Divs, that's an awful lot of 'creatively acquired' machine guns to match the wargamers' estimates, even without the Armd Divs, and we know that 8RB received excess .50-cals at least!

    It's mentioned in 'The Heat of Battle', a collection of accounts from men of 16 DLI in Italy, that their Carrier Pl was 'dismounted' in late 1944 and fought as riflemen proper, no reference to their Atk Pl as I recall. 2NZEF officially reduced their Carrier Pls down to seven machines and the crews basically to just drivers and a few NCOs, suggesting they were acting in a transport rather than a direct fighting role. They kept their Atk Pl but slimmed it down to four guns. Given the terrain in parts of Italy, they may really have found the utility of their carriers compromised.

    Gary
     
  11. Alex1975uk

    Alex1975uk Well-Known Member

    Hi.
    Was D Coy the standard fare for Bren carriers etc etc amongst infantry units? In my grandads unit ( beds and Herts) it appears S ( support) Coy became D Coy. Whenever their dispositions were mentioned D Coy were always separate, and I’ve always wondered why.
    Alex.
     
  12. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member

    The normal lettering was Rifle Coys as A thru D (sometimes W thru Z) and Support Coy as S. Do you know which Bn of the Beds & Herts it was, in case that may offer a clue?

    Gary
     
  13. Alex1975uk

    Alex1975uk Well-Known Member

    Hi.
    He was in the 1st and 2nd but mostly 1st. He was in the Mortar platoon from 1940 onwards.
    I’ve always assumed mortars were in HQ Coy. I’ve never seen a full rundown of battalion strength / make up.
    Alex
     
  14. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member

    1 Bedfs Herts start with 18 Inf Bde in Cairo in Sep39, then transfer to 14 Inf Bde, which was in Palestine Sep39 to May40. The Bn is only shown under the Bde for Dec39 effectively, then returning from Jun41 to Oct44. The Bde was in Crete from Nov40 to May41, shuttling between Egypt, Syria and Libya before travelling to India in Mar42 and eventually going over to the Special Force role. Bn transferred to 16 Inf Bde in Oct44, still under Special Force. I've not seen anything such as a specific WE for an Inf Bn in early war Egypt, so they should have been on the basic set-up of 1938. Given they were on the equivalent of internal security duty while in Palestine then they likely would have made changes to meet the circumstances. I've never found anything for Indian Army WEs, but obviously once they joined Special Force definitely no carriers and the very specific organisation of the Chindits.

    2 Bedfs Herts with 10 Inf Bde for the duration of the war, which was part of 4th Inf Div throughout. There war was BEF 1940, North Africa (via Torch) Mar-Dec43, then over to Italy Feb-Dec44 before a diversion to Greece.

    The abbreviated evolution of the Inf Bn was; 1938 with Bn HQ, HQ Coy (1 Sig Pl, 2 AA Pl, 3 Mortar Pl, 4 Carrier Pl, 5 Pioneer Pl and 6 Admin Pl) and four Rifle Coys (each of three Rifle Pls numbered 7 to 18 Pls inclusive over the four Coys). With the introduction of Support Coy in Spring 1943 this became Bn HQ, HQ Coy (1 Sig Pl and 2 Admin Pl), S Coy (3 Mortar Pl, 4 Carrier Pl, 5 Atk Pl and 6 Assault Pio Pl) and four Rifle Coys (as above).

    Gary
     
  15. Alex1975uk

    Alex1975uk Well-Known Member

    Thanks.
    Do you know if the Inf Bn’s had 6 or 8 mortars in the platoon?
     
  16. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member

    Inf Bn Mortar Pls started with just two 3-inch weapons under the 1938 establishment. This was increased to six during 1941 and stayed at that figure thereafter. I can't offhand think of a variation using eight.

    Gary
     
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  17. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member

    I found an oblique reference to Carrier Pls in a report of Sigs in the Inf Bn (cheers to Psywar for getting it to me so quickly; it has answered a lot of queries on wireless and line equipment in the Inf Bn for me). It's from a series of visits to units in the field in late Nov44 to early Dec44. It's only one line included in an examination on the proposal of making No.19 or No.22 sets available to Inf Bns of Inf Divs. Re 'carriage of set' of such extra sets the report says;

    "This would be solved in different ways in different bns. Some would utilise some of the carriers of the carrier pl which is not functioning as such in the majority of units. Others would install the set in the Coy cmdr's carrier."

    So, it does mention my niggle word, majority, but equally does suggest that Carrier Pls were still there to be drawn on. In trying to resurrect my old website I'm revisiting the British Inf Bn first, and going over all the stuff I've read and forgotten. I'm not sure if the 1941 Carrier Pl MTP is the same, but Inf Training 1943 Part V - The Carrier Platoon, places a great emphasis on the carrier in the attack, with much less on defensive operations and nothing on static periods. The winter of 1944 in Northwest Europe probably didn't lend itself very well to carriers whizzing around the landscape shooting up the enemy with Bren guns and 2-inch mortars. It would still though prove valuable as a vehicle able to move albeit modest numbers of personnel and amounts of equipment around the battlefield while providing protection against small arms fire and mortar shell fragments.

    I've not spent much time on youtube looking for footage, but did happen across these two wonderful films hosted by the Australian War Memorial. First is a general description of the carrier (the latter half being very much for mechanics) while the second shows how to handle its associated weapons (Bren, Boys and 2-inch); note there are no instructions on fitting non G.1098 weapons such as .50-cals, .30-cals, MMGs, Panzerschrecks or death rays.





    Gary
     
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  18. idler

    idler GeneralList Patron

    The reference to the Coy cmdr's carrier is another hint that they weren't being used in the manner intended, 8sn't it? The CO usually had one allocated in the WE, but don't recall ones for the Coy OCs.
     
  19. Swiper

    Swiper Resident Sospan

    Company Commanders usually had a Jeep/Carrier (depends on allocation and if they were able to bring over the latter).

    Used in a variety of roles as dictated by Bn Standing Orders (which don't always survive).
     
  20. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member

    Yes the 1943 and 1944 WEs did include both a carrier and Jeep for the Rifle Coy cmdrs, the former for protected movement and the latter for normal travel.

    Gary
     

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