Left out of Battle system

Discussion in 'General' started by Starfury Rider, Oct 10, 2010.

  1. A query about this regarding British units in WW2 cropped up on another forum today, and reminded me of how vague my knowledge is on the subject.

    The Left out of Battle system (LoB, or LooB sometimes) appears to have begun during the Great War, when a cadre of experienced officers, NCOs and men was held back from a Battalion going into an action. The rationale was they would serve as the core of a new unit in the event the existing one suffered severe casualties, training replacements and passing on their knowledge.

    There are references to LoB during World War Two also, but most seem to come from Commonwealth nations, Canada and New Zealand in particular. The most common mentions of LoB for British units seem to be from Armoured and Tank units, whose establishments already allowed for relief crews, so they would normally rotate personnel out of the action anyway.

    So, the question for those of you sitting atop stacks of war diaries and other contemporary sources of information (!) is, do you recall coming across references to LoB for British, and more particularly, infantry and possibly engineer units? And if so, is there any discussion of the percentage and roles of personnel to be left out of battle, and the implementation in units that were already well below their war establishment strength?


  2. brownvitte

    brownvitte Junior Member

    Hi Gary

    I've only just joined, as I have just finished transcribing his personal war diary. See this thread - Greetings from Wiltshire. Grandad in 4 KSLI

    He served in Normandy with the 4th Battalion KSLI ('A' Company, 7 Platoon)

    Anyway, he has a diary entry which follows:

    D+? [probably 6th August 1944, judging by previous day's entry]
    Next day we saw that our movements above ground could easily be observed by the enemy so we kept as still as possible. I had occasion to go to Coy. HQ for water and passed the still smouldering remains of a bren carrier which had been burning during the night. The body of one of its late occupants still lay beside it.
    We were there perhaps one day or two, during which time reinforcements arrived with the L.O.B.s one of whom happened to be the usual no.2 Bren. Again came the order to move, this time to a position forward of our last. Back we went to the crossroads and turned right. At the well-remembered meadow we turned right, past the grave (just as we had left it) and up through the orchard. There had been a farmhouse there when we left but now it was a ruin, having been burned out as were many vehicles there too, apparently by “moaning minnies”, multi-barrelled mortars.

    Hope this helps

  3. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    I recall the LOBs very well. It seems to me that where possible the most vulnerable were LOB.
  4. Jaeger

    Jaeger Senior Member

    In White's book "With the Jocks" he referrs to a few lads beeing LOB because they were coming close to battle fatigue. They were veterans that took the lions share of the hard duties.

    I recall reading about officers beeing LOB, I think it was from "So few got through"
  5. Cobber

    Cobber Senior Member

    Sorry this is not much help for Brit LOB yet I thought I would share this.

    During the time the Australians were in the Mid East, Greece and Western Desert they used a LOB scheme. The 6th Division's Brigades were rebuilt quite quickly after the fight in Greece and the debacle at Crete.
    I donot know if the 9th Div used the system while at Tobruk yet seem to remember in the Official history or similar mention that LOB officers were being called forward to replace casualties during the second battle of El Alamein.
    I am not sure if they continued with the LOB scheme in the SWP theatre of Operations.
  6. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    as Starfury wrote - LOB's were common in Tank units as there were always spare crews of all trades at Bde HQ - plus officers as we lost Troop leaders regularly owing to the common habit of having their heads above the turret level in order to see what was going on -

    During the month long Gothic Line - we lost all nine of our officers three dead- three wounded- and three promoted to fill gaps - One - Major Jimmy (Norman) Ingram was promoted to squadron leader of "B" squadron- he was killed half an hour after starting his first Battle in Command ! It was tough on the LOB's as they went in cold...our 2nd i/c took over "C" squadron and was wounded gaining an M.C. - tried to ignore it until the Battle finished - he limped ever after....
  7. Thanks for the replies all. I found the various references to LOB in 'With the Jocks', and it mentions the aim was to keep a percentage of personnel back, but operational losses meant it was never implemented in that way.

    The impression I'm forming is that in Commonwealth units, particually Canadian and New Zealand, it was standard procedure to keep a set portion of personnel out of the immediate action. One description of Canadian usage states that if the Coy or Pl CO went into the assault his second would be LOB, and vice versa, and also suggests men could be LOB down to Section level. There's also this reference from the 2NZEF site -

    "The LOB4 personnel consisted of a few officers from Headquarters and the rifle companies plus NCO's and men unfit through injury, or on courses or leave."

    And another NZ one from an interview -

    "Well, um when I came to platoon, other men came with me. The platoon was made up of people who had been there for some time, people who had been through a fair number of actions, people who had never been in action and people who had just arrived. It was a mixed lot. A platoon is made up of 33 men. That's 3 sections of 10 men each and each section has a corporal in charge and a lance corporal as a second in charge. It has 3 sections of 10 men each, that's 30 men. Then it has a platoon headquarters which is an officer, platoon commander and a sergeant, and one what they call them, runner, a dog's body. Does everything, runs here, takes messages here and does all sorts of things. That makes up 35 men we never went into action with 35 men. We were lucky if we had 25, we thought we were well equipped. That's because men got killed, men got wounded and a certain number went on leave. Then in every action we had what they call L.O.B which, stands for Left Out of Battle. You always took 2 or 3 men, probably one from each section, 3, 4, 5, and they were kept out of the fighting. The theory being that if either the platoon got wiped out, you've still had the nucleus to form a new one."

    The best online reference that I've found to date for British use comes from a member of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders in 36 Bde of 78 Div -

    "Since the Battalion lost A Comp a system was introduced that before any battle or going back in to the line, one man from each platoon and an officer per company were rested and remained with B Escholen, so that there were representatives of each unit in the Battalion on which to build on, if there were a lot of casualties. These men were called LOB (left out of Battle). This new battle it was my turn to be LOB, was I so lucky? Our officer’s batman was sick & went to hospital. So yours truly was detailed as runner to the officer."

    That appears to suggest a smaller percentage of personnel LOB than in the Canadian or New Zealand systems. It seems to my mind at least that the British interpretation was more to keep a handful of officers back, plus some personnel who may, as suggest above, just needed to take some time out of the line for a while at least.

  8. idler

    idler GeneralList

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