Machine Gun Battalions

Discussion in 'British Army Units - Others' started by Charley Fortnum, Mar 19, 2016.

  1. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    It's my understanding that a British/Indian division typically had a single machine gun battalion which was split into three equally-sized companies that were attached to each the division's three infantry brigades. Assuming this to be accurate (if not, please correct me), I have several fairly fundamental questions with which to bore you:

    1) Was this standard practice throughout the war?

    2) How were these companies typically composed and equipped? (How many men? Armed with what?)

    3) Were these companies placed entirely under the commands of the brigade HQs or did they retain any kind of independent command?

    4) How would they typically be deployed and employed on the battlefield? One imagines them performing a similar role to a battalion's support company, but this is just guesswork.

    Thanks in advance for spilling your brains, chaps.

    Edit: Skip questions 1) & 2):

    They came into use in early '44 and replaced Support Battalions. They were composed of thirty six Vickers medium machine guns, divided into three Companies, with three Platoons of four MMGs per Company. Also one Heavy Mortar Company with sixteen 4.2-in mortars, divided into four Platoons of four mortars each.
  2. gpo son

    gpo son Senior Member

  3. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Useful in that I now have numbers of men and officers - thank you (search function doesn't...)

    Any input on my third and fourth questions?
    Last edited: May 5, 2017
  4. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    The Vickers MG site on the web has a lot of good information. See .

    Contrary to what was said above, MG battalions existed from 1936 on. The 'Support Bn' concept and organisation only seems to have lasted for about a year (1943) before units reverted back to the 'MG Bn.' At the outset of the war, MG bns were not divisional but corps troops. The 50th Div had no MG bn on its establishment in 1940 and only received Vickers Gun support when it reached the Dunkirk perimeter and some corps units fired for it. MG bns became divisional troops after the first campaigns and the 50th got the 2nd Cheshire. Not having seen any manuals I do not know what the 'standard' practice for employment was, but in Sicily and NWE the 50th generally seems to have had one Vickers company attached to each bde.The 1944 organization (see the Trux pages) allotted no signallers to the MG coys because it was assumed that they would be operating under brigade command and would draw on brigade signal resources. From what the Vickers gun site says, MG platoon organization remained fixed throughout the war at four guns per platoon. Early-war MG bns had four companies of three platoons each for a total of 48 Vickers MG. It seems, then, that the late-war MG battalion was 12 guns weaker than the early war MG bn--not a desirable change, in my opinion, despite the addition of the 4.2" mortar.
    Charley Fortnum likes this.
  5. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member

    Pre-war the aim was to have three MG Bns per Inf Div, the third to be raised with mobilisation. One MG Bn was to support each Inf Bde, with three MG Coys (one per Rifle Bn) and a fourth Atk Coy. That didn't occur, instead the RA took over the Atk role, the MG Bns changed to four MG Coys and got kicked upstairs to Corps Troops. They were allocated roughly on the basis of one MG Bn per Inf Div in the BEF, but there were more MG Bns than Inf Divs. Post Dunkirk one MG Bn was formally added to the structure of the 1941 Inf Div, still four Coys, each with 12 MMGs in three Pls.

    That allowed for one MG Coy to support each Inf Bde, leaving the fourth in reserve, or double up that level with one or two Bdes, leaving nothing in reserve. In 1942 it was proposed to get rid of MG bns and move to Support Bns, which would have three Coys, each with 12 20-mm LAA guns and 8 of the new 4.2-in mortars, but no MMGs. This looks to have been trialled in Home Forces, but not fully on this basis overseas. 8th Army retained MG Bns of four Coys, while the Divs landing for Torch had no MG Bns, instead having 8 MMGs per Inf Bn and having to find the crews from within their own numbers. The Sp Bn was revised in 1943, becoming three Bde Sp Gps, each with an MMG Coy, LAA Coy and 4.2-in Mrtr Coy. They were to serve directly with 'their' Bde and there was a small Bn HQ for admin. 8th Army formed Bde Sp Coys for Sicily on the 1942 outline, but with LMGs instead of 20-mm guns (I think) and kept MG Bns for its Divs.

    The Sp Bns did linger on longer in Italy, though look to have dropped the 20-mm guns ASAP; Canadian records refer to their units retaining a higher number of 4.2-in mortars than called for in the superseding MG Bn org. That was the one referred to above, which reverted to three MG Coys (3 Pls, total 12 guns, all transported by carriers) and a 4.2-in Mrtr Coy (four Pls, 16 tubes). 6th Armd Div formed its own unit in Italy, with two MMG Pls and two 4.2-in Pls, to support its 'extra' Inf Bde.

    As far as I know, the most detailed allocation was one Pl of four MMGs per Inf Bn in any incarnation, in which case they would be wedded into the Bn plan. For massed fires a Coy might deploy two or three MG Pls as part of a Bde scheme, likewise the 4.2-in mortars when they appeared. I'm sure a few folks o here might be able to look through war diaries for examples.

    Charley Fortnum and TTH like this.
  6. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Gary, that's great - thank you for going to the trouble to type it all out. You've pretty much answered all my questions.

    Has anybody viewed or copied a '44 Machine Gun Battalion War Diary? With such dispersal, I wonder what is recorded and in how much detail. I'm interested in the 6th Rajputana Machine Gun Battalion of 4th Indian Division as some elements were - I don't have the details to hand - supporting the 1/6th & 4/6th Rajputanas on and around Point 165 and 1/4th Essex on Castle Hill at Cassino.

    I think it's going to have to join my long list of requests...

    Edit: TTH, thank you, too. My brain or my eyes must be going, because I didn't see your post at first.
  7. DavidW

    DavidW Well-Known Member

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but the concept of a Machine Gun Battalion per Commonwealth Infantry Division in 1940 - 1942 doesn't appear to be universal.

    I can find them present in the 2nd New Zealand, 1st & 2nd South African, 9th Australian. And 4th Indian (but not until June '42)

    But not 6th Australian, 7th Australian, 5th Indian and 10th Indian.
  8. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member

    "Commonwealth Divisions" by Malcolm Bellis lists MG Bns with 6th and 7th Australian Divs, but not continuously.

    6th Aus Div - 2/1 Aus Inf Bn (Oct39-Jan40), then same (Dec40-Nov44), then 2/3 Aus Inf Bn (Nov-Dec44), then same May-Jul45).

    7th Aus Div - 2/3 Aus Inf Bn (May40-Feb42), then 2/6 Aus Inf Bn (Nov43-Jan44), then 2/1 Aus Inf BN (Nov44-Aug45).

    For the Indian Army he has;

    4th Ind Inf Div - MG/6th Rajputana Rifles (Oct39-Aug45)

    5th Ind Inf Div - MG/2nd Punjab Regt (Oct39-Aug45)

    10th Ind Inf Div - 1RNF (Sep43-Aug45)

    Indian Army is a self-confessed blind spot for me I'm afraid, so not sure if MG Bns were as integral on Indian establishments as they were on British.

  9. DannyM

    DannyM Member

    Attached are a few images of the 2nd Bn Middlesex Regt WD from the 1st to the 8th June 1944.



    2  Middlesex (18)  e.jpg 2  Middlesex (20)  e.jpg 2  Middlesex (21)  e.jpg

    2  Middlesex (22)  e.jpg 2  Middlesex (23)  e.jpg 2  Middlesex (24)  e.jpg
    Charley Fortnum likes this.
  10. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    The 9th Australian went to Libya in early 1941 without an MG bn of its own. Fortunately the 1st RNF (an excellent British regular unit) was available to provide Vickers support for the 9th during the siege of Tobruk. The 9th Div did receive the 2/2nd MG Bn post-Tobruk, and the 2/2nd fought with the 9th in all its battles from Alamein onwards. Two-thirds of the 8th Australian Division went to Malaya in 1941, but the 8th did not get an MG bn of its own (2/4th) until it was back on Singapore Island and the campaign had already been decided. I haven't seen any Australian divisional WEs from the early war years, but I suspect that an MG bn may not have been officially organic at that time.
  11. Steve Mac

    Steve Mac Very Senior Member

    Some of this has been referred to by Alan (TTH)...

    The 1st Bn Royal Northumberland Fusiliers (an MG Battalion) was under the command of the 4th Indian Division (from on or before August 1940 to circa December 1940 and thereafter, 6th Australian Division. I am aware that the 1st Bn Cheshire Regiment (another MG Battalion), or parts thereof, also came under command of those two Divisions on or around the same time.

    Around April 1941, the 1st Bn Royal Northumberland Fusiliers was put under the commend of 9th Australian Division and remained so through the siege of Tobruk and until the 9th were withdrawn in the October, when they came under command of the 70th British Infantry Division.

    Captain JJB Jackman of the 1st Bn Royal Northumberland Fusiliers won a posthumous VC at El Duda on 25 November 1941.

    The 50th (Northumbrian) Division did not have its own MG Battalion until February 1941 when the 2nd Bn Cheshire Regiment joined it. They remained with the Division for the duration and the fighting in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Sicily, D-Day and NW Europe.
  12. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

  13. DavidW

    DavidW Well-Known Member

    Thanks all.

    Now some supplementary questions...

    Gary. I can't place 6th Raj in North Africa until June 1942. Have I missed something?

    Nor can I find 2 Punjab in North Africa at all during 1940 - 1942. Ditto.

  14. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member


    I don't know about dates of arrival in theatre, something I know you've done a lot of work on. I just knew I had a potted history of the orbat fo those Indian Divs and that's all it gives. As I mentioned I'm quite weak on the Indian Army, so who's the expert in these parts? I'm thinking Dryan - David Ryan?

  15. idler

    idler GeneralList

    I had a quick look at 2nd Punjab Regiment's history and was unable to find anything on them raising an MG Bn. An e-copy of 5 Ind Div's 'Ball of Fire' is linked on our front page - a text search might throw some light on this?

    The RajRifs did raise one and it appears to have been referred to as the MMG Bn, rather than being numbered.
  16. DavidW

    DavidW Well-Known Member

    I've read ball of fire, and don't recall anything of note regarding 2 Punjab as being in N.A during that timeframe, but I wasn't looking specifically at the time.
  17. idler

    idler GeneralList

    Although it's an interesting interface

    might be worth a look. It is possible to generate a list of Indian MG bns (none listed for 2 Punjab) though it doesn't claim to be 100% accurate. I recall that 13 FFRifs raised more than one MG Bn, as an example.

    I followed my own advice re: BoF and 5 Ind Div had a couple of Sudan Defence Force MMG companies attached after Gallabat. The Indian bns may still have had their own guns at this point.
  18. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    According to The Tiger Triumphs, the 4th Ind Div's machine gun battalion was titled 5th Machine Gun Battalion: Rajputana Rifles.
    At least by 1945. 1/6th and 4/6th RajRifs were both members of the same division as regular infantry battalions - are we confusing numbers?
  19. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member

    Guys, you've got me stressing now, for spreading rumours and false information :eek:!

    I've double checked the entries in the book I mentioned and it definitely says MG/6th Raj Rifles for 4th Ind Div and MG/2nd Punjab Regt for 5th Ind Div; same details are repeated in the index so it doesn't look to be a printing error at least. It may well be the book is simply incorrect, it's from 1999 so not exactly pre internet, but certainly in the era you needed print sources for such info rather than a keyboard and mouse.

  20. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Now I'm confused.

    From Fourth Indian Division (1948) by G.R. Stevens:


Share This Page