Machine Gun Battalions

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

  1. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member

  2. idler

    idler GeneralList

    That's got to be a typo: 5/6 (and 6/6) RajRifs were both in Burma. The (unnumbered) MG Bn is also recorded as 'Motor Machine Gun Battalion, 6th Rajputana Rifles' on some gallantry award entries.

    Back to 5 Ind Div:

    The Fighting Fifth - the short illustrated history of 5 Ind Div has a fairly detailed list of 'units which served with the 5th Indian Division between 1939 and 1945'. This doesn't list any MG battalions, just:
    2 and 4 MMG Coys, Camel Corps
    6 MMG Coy, Sudan Regiment

    However, lists:
    19-Feb-1944 30-Mar-1945 ? MG/12 Frontier Force Regiment
    15-Jan-1945 ? 31-Aug-1945 MG/17 Dogra Regiment

    Still no 2 Punjab!
  3. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    That's got to be a typo: 5/6 (and 6/6) RajRifs were both in Burma. The (unnumbered) MG Bn is also recorded as 'Motor Machine Gun Battalion, 6th Rajputana Rifles' on some gallantry award entries.

    I think you're right. At some time in the next few months, I plan to order their War Diary for '44, so I may or may not be able to confirm this. Just as a wider observation, am I missing somebody obvious or is the forum lacking a resident 'expert' on the Indian army in the North Africa, Italy & Greece?

  4. idler

    idler GeneralList

    Dryan's the man, but perhaps the thread title could have done with a subtle retitling to, say, 'Indian MG Battalions in the Indian Divisions in the Indian Army from India' to draw him out.

    Unless I'm very much mistaken, he's co-authored a series of detailed orbat books of which there are three devoted to the Indian Army. In hindsight, it might have been quicker for me to dig them out rather than reinvent the wheel and pick through the other stuff.
  5. DavidW

    DavidW Well-Known Member

    I laughed out loud at the proposed re-title!
  6. Knouterer

    Knouterer Member

    Some general info on MG battalions early in the war I've been assembling in the context of my Sealion project:

    The Machine Gun Corps, which had numbered 158,796 all ranks at peak strength in 1918, was disbanded in 1922. For a time, infantry battalions had three rifle companies and one MG company, but that did not work so well from a tactical point of view (although other armies seemed to be quite satisfied with a similar setup …). From about 1935/36 inf bns reverted to four rifle companies, except for some 13 (later more) bns (Territorials) which were selected for conversion to MG units.
    As for the guns themselves: at the end of WWI, about 15,000 had been put in storage. It may be assumed that in the following years a number went to countries that received British military aid, such as the newly independent Baltic States, and to the White Russians in the civil war.
    Apart from aircraft and AFV guns, new tripod-mounted ground guns were still ordered in small batches in the 1930s, while at the same time guns in store were repaired and reconditioned. In the course of 1939, for example, Vickers received orders for 950 new guns (plus 132 AFV guns) while Enfield received contracts to repair/recondition 3,700 old ones (Skennerton). New production ran at about 250 per month by July 1940.
    Shortly before the war, a new dial sight for indirect fire was introduced which was graduated to 4,400 yards, and the new Mk VIIIz cartridge with a heavy boat-tailed bullet actually could reach that far, although dispersion must have been extreme.

    Machine gun battalions were fully motorized (enabling them to quickly reach any part of the front where the enemy threatened to break through) and consisted of a HQ and HQ company (No. 1 platoon Signals, No. 2 AA, No. 3 Admin) plus four companies (platoons numbered 4 to 15) with 12 Vickers each. In the early stages of the war some MG platoons were commanded by Warrant Officers. The battalion also had 13 Brens and 18 AT rifles (according to War Establishment, that is …) Companies had three platoons with two sections each. In principle, (defensive) positions were always occupied by at least a two-gun section, so that if one gun ceased firing for one reason or another, the other one could keep covering the assigned target/sector.

    (picture from D. Fletcher, British Military Transport 1829-1956)

    Attached Files:

  7. Knouterer

    Knouterer Member

    According to a 1938 War Establishment the battalion had 3,500 rounds per Vickers with the guns, makes 168,000, plus 216,000 in reserve, for a grand total of 384,000.
    There were some 14 machine gun battalions with the BEF, so even if they had lost all their guns, which was not the case, the loss would have been no more than 700-800 including spares. A report to the War Cabinet from early June, just after Dunkirk (in file CAB 70/1), stated that there were 1,000 Vickers guns in the UK and 314 still in France (with expected monthly deliveries of 250), but that first number looks like a wild guesstimate to me, and cannot be reconciled with Skennerton’s figures re the reconditioning of thousands of old guns in 1939-40. In any case, MG battalions returning from France were issued replacement guns fairly quickly and on a generous scale. By September both the 1st Kensingtons attached to 1st London Division and the 7th Devons with the 45th Division had platoons with 5 guns instead of 4, and companies with 15, judging from their WDs (for ex. 7th Devons, 4.9: “Commanding Officer, Asst. Adjt. Visited “D” Coy. all 15 guns. Conditions good; very much improved.”), which would bring the total per bn to 60. The strength of MG battalions was correspondingly higher than W/E, varying from 60 to 160 men more than W/E of 24 officers plus 721 other ranks.
    “Surplus” guns are also mentioned, for example, in the WD of the 8th Royal Fusiliers (WO 166/4533) for 3 Aug.: “Two N.C.Os and 11 Fusiliers attached to 1st Bn. P.L.Ks (Princess Louise’s Kensingtons – K) to man additional M.M.Gs brought into the area for coast defence.”
    As with infantry units at that time (autumn 1940), the MG battalions apparently enjoyed considerable latitude in how they wanted to organize themselves. The 5th Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders (35 Off 945 Other Ranks as of 30 Sept., according to the General Return of the Strength of the British Army) and the 5th Devonshires (36 Off 875 OR) (both with Brocforce in the Brighton area) had five MG companies, “A” through “E” (“E” Coy of the former attached to 29th Independent Brigade Group and “D” of the latter to the 31st IBG), which presumably means they had 60 (or more) guns as well. Apart from MG battalions, Vickers MGs were also used by the Motor Machine Gun battalions (cavalry regiments without tanks, equipped with Beaverettes) and some other types of units. Some were issued to the RAF for the defence of airfields against ground attack.
    Charley Fortnum likes this.
  8. Steve Mac

    Steve Mac Very Senior Member

    Not sure what you are saying here, Knouterer...

    The British Army selected four regiments (I believe they were press ganged/'volunteered') to form the MG battalions that were in place at the outbreak of WWII. These were the Cheshire Regiment, Manchester Regiment, Middlesex Regiment and Royal Northumberland Fusiliers (RNF). This does not mean that other 'units' did not have the same capability or later developed the capability. Not all of the MG battalions were Terriers.

    I know nothing of the Manchester and Middlesex Regiments in WWII.

    The RNF raised 8 battalions in WWII; 1 to 9 (with 3 missing - this had been a service battalion in WWI). Between 3 September 1939 and 31 December 1942 only the 1st, 2nd, 7th and 9th were MG Battalions. The 4th and 8th were Recce, the 5th were Royal Artillery and the 6th were split into two battalions of the Royal Tank Regiment.

    The 1st and 2nd Bn RNF were regulars (not Terriers).

    The Cheshire Regiment raised 7 battalions in WWII; 1 to 8 (with 3 missing and the 8th later becoming the 30th). All were MG Battalions, with the 5th and 30th being predominantly UK based.

    The 1st and 2nd Bn Cheshire Regiment were regulars (not Terriers).

    Regarding the thrust of Charley F's questions in this thread... I am under the impression (and that is all it is) that the British Army had a good MG capability, at a Corps level initially, in the early part of the war, but I am not convinced yet that the Aussies and Indians did. This could be why the British MG units found themselves put under the orders of Aussie and Indian Divisions in the Western Desert. This is not a criticism of Aussie or Indian Divisions in the Western Desert, as there were no British Divisions present there until the 50th (Northumbrian) Division arrived in the Gazala defences in January 1942. However, it appears that the British MG Battalions may have provided the whole MG support, either that or the Aussie and Indian Divisions needed a better capability/support than they actually had.
  9. Wessex_Warrior

    Wessex_Warrior Junior Member


    For those interested in MG units I can recommend "A Canloan Officer" by R F Fendick who being a Canadian MG officer joined the 2 Bn Middlesex Regiment (the MG Battalion of the 3rd British Infantry Division) in Normandy to Occupation. He was OC No 1 Platoon A Company and there are also some good annexes explaining the weapon system and the platoon orbat. Also very readable and informative.
    Published by MLRS books in 2008 ISBN 978-1-84791-187-2. and 282 pages. The maps and pictures are poor quality but the gist is easy to follow.
  10. idler

    idler GeneralList

    The Indian Army started raising MG battalions around 1940-41. A number of the Indian Regiments (which were multi-battalion 'big' regiments like we have now) formed their own MG Battalions from cadres drawn from their rifle bns. (e.g. even units already deployed in Malaya were milked for this purpose). The lateness of this move may be partly due to expectations of where the Indian Army was likely to serve, and partly due to the Indian rifle bns having retained their Vickers up to that point.
  11. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member

    The original intent was to convert quite a few Inf Bns to MG units, as outlined in this Dec 1935 article (apologies for the dreadful formatting).

    Changes In the Infantry will provide for brigades, each consisting of three rifle and one machine-gun battalions, and two battalions of Foot Guards. Thirteen line regiments will be converted Into machine-gun units, containing anti-tank gun and mechanised reconnaissance companies. The remaining Guards battalions and line regiments will become rifle battalions, each Including a mortar platoon and light machine-gun platoon for the headquarters company. Rifle sections will receive machine-gun training. The following will be converted into machine-gun units:—

    The Third Battalions of the Grenadier and Coldstream Guards, and the Royal Scots, Northumberland, Welch and Scots Fusiliers, City of London, Devonshire, West Yorkshire,Cheshire, Gloucestershire, East Surrey,Middlesex, and Manchester Regiments,and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Home battalions should be converted In 1936 and 1937, and battalions abroad later. India will participate In 1939. Application of the new policy to the Territorials Is being considered.

    The BEF did contain more than four Regt with Bns operating in the MG role; the Cheshires, A&S Highlanders, Manchesters, Middlesex, Gordon Highlanders and RNF.

    I did once find online a detailed newspaper article, actually one of two or three, covering the changes to Army organisation in 1937/38, but of course can't find it again!

    dbf and Aixman like this.
  12. Knouterer

    Knouterer Member

    Not sure what you are saying here, Knouterer...

    The British Army selected four regiments (I believe they were press ganged/'volunteered') to form the MG battalions that were in place at the outbreak of WWII. These were the Cheshire Regiment, Manchester Regiment, Middlesex Regiment and Royal Northumberland Fusiliers (RNF). This does not mean that other 'units' did not have the same capability or later developed the capability. Not all of the MG battalions were Terriers.
    Sorry, little slip-up there ... I was under the impression that (initially) only the territorial battalions (numbered 4 and up) of the regiments selected for conversion became MG battalions, but that is as you say incorrect, the regulars (1st and 2nd battalions) also became MG battalions. However, later on in some regiments only one or two bns were converted to MG units, in the A & S Highlanders and the Devonshire Regiment for example.
  13. Knouterer

    Knouterer Member

    Further to the organization and equipment of the MG battalions, according to a 1937 War Office manual range-finders were issued on a scale of one per two-gun section.
    dbf likes this.
  14. DavidW

    DavidW Well-Known Member

    Hi Guys.

    I'm also struggling to find any trace of 6th Aus's 2/1 MG Bn in North Africa between Dec '40 & their departure for Greece.


    7th Aus's 2/3 G Bn in North Africa after 10th June 1940.

    Can anyone place either of these units within the timeframes above?

    Many thanks,
  15. Miacer

    Miacer New Member

    Ist (bzw. der einzige seriöse 1P-LSD Vendor? Alle anderen sind ja seit dem Ban geschlossen.

    1P-LSD und LSD - 20.06.2016
  16. dryan67

    dryan67 Senior Member

    I just came across this thread and noticed that my name was mentioned in the discussions. I will get back to the thread shortly with some information on the Indian Army Machine-Gun Battalions.

    In the meantime, the war diaries for the 2/1st, 2/2nd and 3/3rd Australian Machine-Gun Battalions are located here:

    The 2/4th Machine-Gun Battalion was captured in Malaya and its war diaries have not been posted at the site.
  17. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Excellent, dryan67 -- I look forward to reading it.

    I now have the Raj Rifs diary, so if anybody is in need of part or all of them drop me a line:

    WO 169/18971: M.G. Bn. Rajputana Rifles (Jan-Sep 1944)
  18. dryan67

    dryan67 Senior Member

    Generally speaking, the nineteen infantry regiments of the Indian Army formed distinct Machine-Gun Battalions titled as follows, as in the case of the 6th Rajputana Rifles, Machine-Gun Battalion, 6th Rajputana Rifles. Not every infantry regiment formed a Machine-Gun Battalion and there was one case of a Machine-Gun Battalion that was formed from a Regular Battalion of a Regiment.

    This latter case was the 3rd Battalion 2nd Punjab Regiment (3/2nd Punjab Regiment). The Battalion had been decimated during the battles around Mersa Matruh and in August 1942 the remnants were collected at Mena and the battalion was reinforced. It then began to convert to a Machine-Gun Battalion as it reformed. It remained in Egypt under British Troops in Egypt (BTE) through December 1942 and then moved to Iraq. It joined the 5th Indian Infantry Division as its M-G Battalion in Iraq in March 1943. Its life as an M-G Battalion was short-lived since it left Iraq with the Division in May 1943, arriving back in Bombay on June 6th. After leave in Meerut, it reconverted to an infantry battalion and served with the Division in the Arakan as the Divisional HQ Defence Battalion through April 1944.

    More to follow on the other Machine-Gun Battalions of the Indian Army.
  19. dryan67

    dryan67 Senior Member

    Here is a list of the other Machine-Gun Battalions along with their raising dates and locations:

    Machine-Gun Battalion, 6th Rajputana Rifles - 15 October 1941 at Delhi
    Machine-Gun Battalion, 7th Rajput Regiment - 15 April 1942 at Fategarh
    Machine-Gun Battalion, 9th Jat Regiment - 15 October 1941 at Bareilly
    Machine-Gun Battalion, 10th Baluch Regiment - 15 April 1942 at Karachi
    Machine-Gun Battalion, 11th Sikh Regiment - 15 January 1942 at Nowshera
    Machine-Gun Battalion, 12th Frontier Force Regiment - 15 January 1942 at Sialkot
    Machine-Gun Battalion, 13th Frontier Force Rifles - 15 January 1942 at Abbottabad
    Machine-Gun Battalion, 14th Punjab Regiment - 1 July 1942 at Ferozepore
    Machine-Gun Battalion, 15th Punjab Regiment - July 1942 at Ambala
    Machine-Gun Battalion, 16th Punjab Regiment - 1 July 1942 at Sialkot
    Machine-Gun Battalion, 17th Dogra Regiment - 15 October 1941 at Jullundur
    Machine-Gun Battalion, 19th Hyderabad Regiment - 15 April 1942 at Agra

    More to follows on these battalions.

    There was one other Machine-Gun Battalion formed from a War-Raised Infantry Battalion: the 9th Battalion 13th Frontier Force Rifles. This battalion was raised as an infantry battalion on 1 April 1941 at Bareilly as part of the 98th Indian Infantry Brigade and served with the brigade through July 1942. On August 1st, 1942 it was converted to 54th Regiment, Indian Armoured Corp at Lahore and was to be equipped with medium cruiser tanks. It was part of the 268th Indian Armoured Brigade in August and received two light tanks in October 1942. On October 1st 1942, the Battalion was converted back to an infantry battalion and the brigade to the 268th Indian Infantry (Lorried) Brigade at Secunderabad. The battalion did not join the brigade for a month since it was doing internal security duty in the Bezwada District. After joining the brigade it trained with it from March to November 1943, when the brigade was called to Calcutta to perform famine relief duties. The brigade operated in an area thirty miles north of Calcutta from early December 1943 until March 1944. At the end of this period the battalion was moved to Ranchi and half the battalion was given leave. Due to this fact, it was left behind in Ranchi when the brigade was rushed to Burma in March 1944. In May 1944 the Battalion was sent to Quetta to train as a Machine-Gun Battalion and remained there in training through December 1944, when it was posted to the 17th Indian Infantry Division as its Machine-Gun Battalion. Here is its service with the division:

    17th Indian Infantry Division – December 1944 to 31 August 1945
    The 9th Battalion moved to Ranchi and joined the division in January of 1945 just as half of the division was about to leave for Burma. It joined the advanced elements of the division south of Imphal in early February 1945, except for ‘D’ Company, which flew into Meiktila on February 4th with the 99th Indian Brigade. During the advance south, ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies served under the Divisional HQ and ‘C’ Company served under the 48th Indian Brigade. The battalion crossed the Irrawaddy on February 16th and reached Taungatha on February 25th. It was then involved in the drive on Meiktila from February 28th to March 3rd. On April 1st, 1945, the battalion was organized with ‘A’ Company supporting the 63rd Brigade, ‘B’ Company with the Divisional HQ, ‘C’ Company with the 48th Brigade and ‘D’ Company with the 99th Brigade. After the Meiktila battles, the battalion moved to Pyawbe with the division. It then fought in the battle of the Pegu Yomas. After this battle, the battalion was dispersed with ‘A’ Company at Penwegong, ‘B’ Company at Daiku and ‘D’ Company at Kanguktwin. It remained in service in Burma with the division until the end of the war.

    More to follow.
    Charley Fortnum likes this.
  20. dryan67

    dryan67 Senior Member

    Machine-Gun Battalion, 6th Rajputana Rifles

    Delhi Independent Brigade Area – 15 October 1941 to 25 May 1942
    The battalion was raised at Delhi on October 15th, 1941. It mobilised on April 22nd, 1942 and left Delhi for Bombay in May 1942. It embarked at Bombay on May 25th, 1942.

    4th Indian Infantry Division – 8 June 1942 to 31 August 1945
    The battalion arrived at Suez on June 8th, 1942. On arrival, it moved to Khataba Camp on June 9th. It remained there until the end of June 1942 training. It joined the 4th Indian Infantry Division in Egypt on arrival in Egypt and remained with it for the rest of the war. After the battle of Alamein, the battalion formed a flying column with 1/2nd Gurkha Rifles and some artillery in pursuit of the Afrika Corps from November 5th-7th, 1942. The column took in a large quantity of prisoners. Battalion detachments accompanied the assaulting battalions of the 4th Indian Division during the battle of Wadi Akarit on April 5th, 1943. It continued to support the division through the rest of the North African campaign until May 12th, 1943, when the division was withdrawn to the Misturata area. On July 1st, the battalion left Misturata for Alexandria, Egypt. It moved to Quastine, Palestine on July 15th, 1943 and to Dejide Camp, Syria on October 16th, 1943
    The battalion arrived in Italy on December 8th, 1943 and moved to Potenza with the 4th Indian Division on arrival. It trained with the division there and then one month later moved to the Orsagna sector. The division moved from there on January 21st, 1944 to the Cassino sector. Two companies of the battalion served under the 7th Indian Brigade in the first attack on Cassino on Point 593 on February 12th, 1944. During the February 24th attack, the battalion was used as porters. It served with the division at Cassino until it was withdrawn on March 25th, 1944. The division returned to the Orsagna sector during the second week of April 1944 and was involved in operations there from May 14th until mid-June 1944. It then was withdrawn to the Campobasso area.
    At the end of June 1944, the division was back in the central front and relieved the 10th Indian Infantry Division on July 8th, 1944 in the Monte Bastiola area. Each brigade had one company of the battalion under command during the remaining operations in Italy. The 4th Indian Division was relieved in mid-August 1944 by the 10th Indian Division and withdrew for rest before the Gothic Line battles. 4th Indian Division fought in the Gothic Line from August 30th to October 5th, 1944 supported by the battalion. It began to be relieved by the 10th Indian Division on October 3rd, 1944 and withdrew to the Lake Trasimene area to rest. Instead the division was designated for operations in Greece.
    The battalion arrived in Salonika, Greece on December 1st, 1944 with the Central India Horse and relieved the 7th Indian Infantry Brigade. The battalion remained with the division in Salonika until the end of the war. It returned to India in January 1946.
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