Left Out of Battle - views form theatres

Discussion in 'General' started by Gary Kennedy, May 6, 2019.

  1. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member

    The subject of 'Left Out of Battle' (LOB) is one I've kept returning to over the years. The central question to my mind has been did units rigidly adhere to LOB, no matter what their starting strength was, and did they have an equally dogmatic system for deciding who was designated LOB (as in 1 man per Section, designated 2-in-Cs for Coy and Bn HQs, etc).

    Thanks to Lee (psywar) I recently got copies of a brief report on the matter produced in 1943. In it the Directorate of Infantry asked overseas commands for their thoughts, with a view to a cohesive War Office policy on the matter. It also commented on the fact that War Establishments did not leave much room for a residue of troops to be left unused.

    A letter dated September 1943 outlined the general approach for LOBs going forward, excerpts below;

    "The cadres to be "Left out of Battle" should consist of experienced and reliable officers, non-commissioned officers and men. The size and exact composition of these cadres, and the length of time for which they are withdrawn, will vary with the conditions prevailing at the time. Nevertheless, the purpose for which such cadres are required is constant and should be clearly understood.

    "The main object of having LOB cadres is to ensure that a unit of formation can rapidly become battle worthy again after suffering severe casualties in an action. These cadres should not be earmarked specifically as an assurance against the total extinction of a unit in battle. It will not always be necessary for such cadres to be formed. Commanders-in-Chief will direct their army commanders as to the necessity for having them, and the responsibility for deciding this point will normally be delegated to divisional commanders.

    "The size and composition of cadres, where they are considered necessary, will vary with local conditions and the type of fighting likely to be encountered. The arms normally concerned will be Royal Armoured Corps, Artillery, Engineers, Infantry and Reconnaissance Corps.

    In estimating their exact composition it will be apparent that there are certain conflicting considerations.

    On the one hand it is necessary for units to go into battle at full strength, properly balanced and able to work as a team. On the other hand it is necessary to leave out of battle a correctly balanced nucleus on which to rebuild the unit after the battle. Manpower limitations do not permit any margin on War Establishments from which this nucleus may be drawn. Therefore, in order to meet these conflicting requirements it is necessary to accept a small diminution of strength as an insurance against heavy casualties."

    This doesn't sadly offer any insight on what approach was taken by 21 Army Group, especially in light of the infantry casualties that units within it suffered. Other theatres offered the following on their policy re LOB.

    Middle East (ie North Africa)

    When required – Only on specific occasions, NOT as normal practice. Div comd should make the decision.

    Role – Immediate res who know their units methods and are available to replace cas in a few hours. NOT a cadre for forming a new unit.

    Should be taken for short periods from within WEs of units.

    AFHQ (Italy)

    When required – no hard and fast rule, Army should lay down policy. Inf LOBs should be detailed when Div deployed. RE LOBs should only be detailed for specific attack of def. NOT mobile ops.

    Take from inf bns, recce regts, RA, armd regts, and fd sqnscoys of C tps. Personnel on courses should be considered LOB. RA LOB should be a balanced cadre.


    When required – only required on specific occasions when cas likely to be heavy.

    Role – Proportion of all ranks and specialists on whom bn can reform in event of heavy cas.

    LOB required generally for inf and armd tps only.

    The Middle East theatre was the only one so supply a suggested outline of LOB strength for certain unit types;

    Inf and Mot Bns

    Four or five officers
    Two WOs
    Three Sjts
    Nine NCOs
    Forty-seven rank and file

    The 2 WOs and 3 Serjeants look to have been from across the full five Coys of a Bn (so 5 in total per Bn). The 47 R&F noted to include 3 signallers, 6 drivers and 2 mortar men.

    A couple of quick comments feature as well. RAC note that they have 'spare crews' built into WEs, which allowed them a natural rotation of personnel. RA note they were unable to create an LOB cadre without leaving guns idle so did not feel it was something they could adopt.

    Another concern was on where LOBs would be kept and how quickly this would mean they could be brought forward to undertake their replacement role.

    So, not much in the way of answers, but would suggest that LOB was not a universally applied practice, and where it was used depended on local conditions.

    If anyone knows of the whereabouts of any 21AG correspondence on the matter I'd be very interested.

    ceolredmonger, CL1, dbf and 2 others like this.
  2. harkness

    harkness Well-Known Member

  3. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    Hi Gary,

    By sheer coincidence I read this last night in the war diary of 1/7 Bn The Queen's Regiment for 1942 (WO169/5052):

    14 August 1942
    Bn. strength 37 officers (incl. M.O. & Padre) & 761 O.Rs incl. attd., moves to Battle posns at ALAM EL KHADIM (leaving KHATATBA at 0110 hrs). Lt. R. Jenkins who was riding a M/C was involved in an accident during the move and taken to hospital.
    Capt. A.S.S. Playfoot, 2/Lt. I.G. Hughes, PSM. WEST (counting as an officer), 1 CSM, 2 C/Sgts & 139 O.Rs left behind as 1st Reinforcements. Officers heavy baggage & stores surplus to G.1098 also left behind. 1st Reinforcements & baggage left behind later proceeded to I.B.D. at GENEIFA.

    Would you regard 1st Reinforcements and LOB as identical concepts; or were LOB in addition to 1st Reinforcements?

    If I find anything else I'll post it up here.


  4. idler

    idler GeneralList

    From the Units on Market Garden thread:

  5. idler

    idler GeneralList

  6. idler

    idler GeneralList

  7. idler

    idler GeneralList

    That clarifies the original distinction between First Reinforcements and LOB.
  8. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member

    Thanks for the responses both. To expand on Idler's post, First Reinforcements were on the WE of certain types of unit, predominantly Inf, Armd, RA and RE. They were intended to be the immediate pool from which casualties could be replaced and were additional to the WE strength. So for example an Inf Bn of 1944 had a WE strength of 36 offrs and 809 ORs, with First Reinforcements of 7 offrs and 157 ORs.

    The Sep43 letter in the documents referred to in my OP to units suggests that units wanting to form an LOB cadre should replace those so designated with an equal number of pers from their First Reinforcements, so keeping a trained pool out of direct action while keeping subunits at strength. I've no idea if this ever happened, though India responded that such an approach was impractical.

    First Reinforcements are referred to in the theatre replies on LOB. Both ME and India reckoned that the C-in-C should issue instructions on the holding and disposal of such; AFHQ stated that they should be held with Advanced Reinforcement Units at around Corps level, while Army issue the general policy to be followed. There's also a letter from a Maj-Gen Steele in GHQ MEF, signing for the Lt-Gen CGS, that tries to disambiguate the use of LOBs from the provision of First Reinforcements.

    There's some discussion from the ME side as to the problem of getting LOB back in order to fill out casualties in the short time envisioned. Reading between the lines by me, I think there was some trepidation that if you sent a large detachment rearward, you lost control over where they might go, be that further up the food chain or worse still to another unit that was desperate for replacements itself. That could be particular to the sprawling lines of communication in the desert though.

    Charley Fortnum likes this.
  9. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    I have from war diaries and an audio interview that when 32 Officers and 741 ORs of the 1/4th Essex boarded the Monarch of Bermuda on 5/8/40 at Liverpool, bound for Freetown (less one sergeant and twelve men to man AA guns on the equipment-bearing vessel, the Aska), a further 6 Officers and 148 ORs were temporarily retained in the UK as 'First Reinforcements'.

    The purpose of the 'First Reinforcements' was said to be to form a nucleus around which the battalion could be reconstituted if the main vessel was sunk.

    The 'First Reinforcements' arrived in Freetown some six days after the main body upon the Asturias, an armed merchant cruiser.

    There was a lot of fussing from 54th Div and the War Office about these figures and a final decision was not reached until the day before departure. A number of men had to return their tropical kit and were dispatched to an ITC at almost the last minute--either a blessed relief (Sierra Leone: 'The White Man's Grave') or a bitter disappointment.

    How do these figure match up against the standard?

    Gary: interesting subject, thank you for the information in your first post.
    Last edited: May 9, 2019
  10. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member


    The above figures are quite close to the WEs for the period -

    Inf Bn on II/1931/12B/4 (Aug40) was 22 offrs and 648 ORs (incl att) + 4 offrs and 128 ORs First Reinforcements
    Inf Bn on II/1931/12F/1 (Apr40, Higher Establishment) was 22 offrs and 757 ORs (incl att) + 4 offrs and 150 ORs First reinforcements

    The latter totals 933 all ranks, which is close to the figures given above. The discrepancy between officers is probably due to the WOIIIs (11 posts in the Bn) that were being replaced by Subalterns.

    Charley Fortnum likes this.
  11. idler

    idler GeneralList

    The impression I get* is that Great War LOB were simply left out of the battle and not 'sent away', with the intention of being on the spot to field their battalion's survivors if necessary.

    * From the pamphlet mentioned above, not anything else.

    I suspect the principles needed to be reiterated during WW2 because of the absence of official guidance in between the wars. The idea lived on but subject to misremembering, misunderstanding and misinterpretation. I've not come across anything on the subject in the manuals I've seen.
  12. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member


    I found the following in the 1/7th Queen's Admin Instr for Op LIGHTFOOT:

    8. L.O.B.
    (a) Personnel as detailed in Op. Inst. No.1.
    (b) Personnel returning from leave, Courses, sick, etc after D – 1 will assemble “B” Echelon as will any reinforcements received.
    (c) O.C. L.O.B. will be called upon for personnel for duty at P.O.W. cage.

    I'll post up what Op. Inst. No. 1 says when I get to it!


  13. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member


    And in Op. Inst. No. 1 issued on 21 Oct 42 it says that:

    8. L.O.B. (a) Officers.
    Capt. P.C. Freeman (O.C.)
    2nd Lt. W.C.F. Cross.

    (b) O.Rs
    10% per Rifle Coy to include leave, sick, Courses.
    HQ Coy leave, sick Courses only.

    (c) L.O.B. personnel will be responsible for evacuation of surplus stores from present area and for leaving area in spotless condition.

    (d) Coys will prepare lists of personnel going forward and of L.O.B. Copies will be taken forward and left with O.C. L.O.B.

    The Bn was withdrawn late on 24 Oct and the war diary records that Capt. P.C. Freeman became Adjutant on 25 Oct.


  14. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member

    Thanks for posting that up Tom. Interesting to note that other absentees, such as sick, on leave or on courses, were not to count towards an LOB percentage. It's actually the first mention of a percentage figure I think I've seen in relation to LOB.

  15. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....

    I think the terminology "Left out of Battle" may have been dropped between 1918 and 1935. There is no mention in Field Service Regulations 1935, nor in the Infantry Division in the Attack 1941.

    The 1939 British infantry battalion had an establishment of 22 Officers and 646 was much lower than the 30+ 977 in its 1914-1918 predecessor.

    The 1939 unit had to man additional weapons and equipment not integral to the 1918 battalion, such as carriers, mortars and anti tank weapons. British inter war doctrine envisaged a small highly mechanised army fighting a war of manoeuvre. The British did not intend to re fight the high intensity positional battles of the War top end Wars.

    There wasn't any fat in the 1939 establishments to leave soldiers out of Battle. Doctrine had to be written to exclude the concept.
  16. idler

    idler GeneralList

    Denis Forman's book To Reason Why includes a lot of information about his mate: Lionel Wigram of Battle School/Drill fame; and a selection of his reports and correspondence.

    It could be a coincidence - I don't think so - but Wigram's report from the front dated 16 Aug 43 has this to say (p204 of the book):
    His last point is disputable as we know section strength was increased in 1940 to provide extra bodies, though in the context of 'odd jobs' rather than LOB by name.

    Intriguingly, he does make an observation that (p199):
    Which suggests three sections of 1+5 plus 4 in Pl HQ (he includes the 2-in mortar in his subsequent examples) - very close to the ATM 32 advice.
    Last edited: May 18, 2019
  17. idler

    idler GeneralList

    I suspect LOB got dropped as a concept with the rise of the specialist platoons. An increasing proportion of a battalion's strength was no longer expected to 'go over the top' making it available to field survivors.
  18. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member

    Section strength gets another mention in a later ATM from February 1941 (I don't have the ATM number to hand). It reiterates, with regard to the Higher Establishment WE for an Inf Bn (issued in April 1940);

    "The size of the infantry section on the higher war establishment is one corporal and ten men. The battle strength of the section is one corporal and seven men.

    "The three additional men were provided by the higher establishment to ensure that the basic strength of one corporal and seven men can be maintained during the absence of personnel, due to sickness, leave and other causes.

    "In battle the size of the section should not exceed one corporal and seven men; the additional men may be employed on working parties and other duties. When battle becomes imminent they may be withdrawn on instructions from formation commanders. No increase has been made in the transport or reserve ammunition carried by units.

    "This paragraph cancels para. 19 of ATM No.36 and para.14 of ATM No.32."

    Arguably that's an LOB in all but name. Presumably if a Section starting with 11 men had one man on sick parade and one man on a working party, it would only leave one further man out of action so it could meet its eight strong target.

    There was a very short-lived WE dated to January 1943 under which the Rifle Platoon went to 1 officer and 44 men. Its three Sections were each 12 men strong, while Pl HQ added a fourth Bren gun with just a No.1 and No.2. On reflection that might have been structured to deliberately allow some elbow room for men to be left out. Certainly the specialist Platoons would find it difficult to follow suit, Signals and Pioneer especially come to mind, while mortar, carrier and anti-tank guns crews were pretty much at the bare minimum anyway.


Share This Page