MMG platoons in Canadian infantry battalions

Discussion in 'Italy' started by JohnB, Dec 3, 2021.

  1. JohnB

    JohnB Junior Member

    Just been reading a couple of memoirs of Canadian soldiers who served in Italy - Fred Cederberg's The Long Road Home and Once a Patricia by C. Sydney Frost - both memoirs quite different in style but both very good.
    Coincidentally both commanded Vickers machine guns - a section of two in Cederbergs case as a Sergeant, a platoon of four (later three) for Lt. Frost.

    Sergeant Cederberg was in the Lanark and Renfrew Scottish Regiment (5th Division), Lieutenant Frost in the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (1st Division)

    The men were drawn from the Carrier Platoon and the organisation of the guns was:

    “Your MMG Platoon has two sections of two guns each, and you'll be lucky if you get three of them to fire at the same time … Each section is commanded by a sergeant; each gun is commanded by a corporal and manned by three men plus the driver of the carrier. Your platoon HQ should be seven, including yourself. I guess that makes 29 all ranks." (Frost)

    “Sited on the regiment's extreme right – attached to Dog Company – we were fourteen men, two Vickers an assortment of Brens, Tommy guns and rifles.” (Cederberg)

    The reasoning for creating an MMG platoon seems a sound one
    "In the fighting in Sicily and southern Italy it was found we needed something right up in the front lines to neutralize the tremendous fire the Jerries were pouring at us with their quick-firing MG42s. We also needed more fire power in the forward companies to break up counter-attacks immediately So the MMG Platoon was formed during the Hitler Line <>
    The role of the MMGs could be expressed in one word – morale. Bolster ours and destroy theirs." (Frost)

    Cederberg's section appears to have done stirling work, vividly described, on the Naviglio canal both in providing suppressive fire and in defeating a counter attack.

    Did other Canadian infantry battalions, or indeed other Eighth Army battalions, also create their own Vickers MMG platoons?
    Were they also found in North West Europe?

    It would seem an intelligent thing to do given the infantry firepower disparity between German and British pattern battalions.
    Chris C likes this.
  2. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member

    It is a development that seems to be particular to the Italian theatre, and is seen in British as well as Canadian Inf Bns.

    The earliest I've seen it detailed is on an appendix regarding the issue of small arms to various units from mid 1943, which was attached to correspondence stemming from the Italian Theatre. "Inf Bns entitled to hold 8 MMGs surplus to WE. Present policy due supply of MMGs restricts this total to 4". There is also a note on a post-war Staff Equipment Table for the Inf Bn that shows 4 'Vickers, .303-in, Mk.1' under the Carrier Platoon with a note that these were "Only for units in the Mediterranean Theatre".

    I know that there was something of a divide during 1942-43 between Inf Divs in 8th Army, which included an MG Bn in their org, and those from 1st Army, which went over to North Africa from the UK. These latter Inf Divs did not include an MG Bn, and Vickers guns were allocated to their Inf Bns, who had to form crews from their existing personnel. As these same Divs then went over to Italy they may have simply 'kept' their MMGs even though the Divs had by now been allocated Support Bns (with MMGs), which then became MG Bns during the latter part of 1944.

    To the best of my knowledge, the same allocation was not extended to British Divs in 21 Army Group. There is a reference to the increased allocation of MMGs in 1st Cdn Inf Div in Aug 1944, detailed in the below linked report (see page 8, para 22).

    Content page -

    It does not state the distribution, but an extra 36 guns would neatly resolve to four per Inf Bn, as outlined in the above quotes.

    I don't think, to date, that I've seen a document that gives a definitive explanation of this allocation of MMGs to standard Inf Bns, and whether it was specifically intended for units in the Med. I've seen mentions of infantry related publications particular to Italy but haven't made any inroads on searching for these.

    stolpi, Chris C and Aixman like this.
  3. idler

    idler GeneralList

    I'm struggling to remember the context, but I have seen mention of battalions holding MMGs as 'trench stores'.
  4. JohnB

    JohnB Junior Member

    Great, so the British may have brought their extra Vickers guns with them from over in North Africa but the Canadians possibly acquired them in theatre.
    Sydney Frost of the PPCLI got the information that his MMG platoon was formed during the Hitler Line battle. He thought the guns were pretty ancient, perhaps Great War survivors, and had a difficult job finding the parts for them to keep all 4 guns in action.
    The PPCLI seem to the have taken the extra guns with them when they moved to Holland in March 1945.

    April 12th 1945
    “Ahead lay the dense woods of Appensche Veld where, the Scouts and Snipers reported, at least 100 enemy lurked. How to flush out these itinerant forest dwellers? The answer was a classic wood-clearing operation, tailor made for Support Company – flamethrowers, carriers and MMGs with an assist from the rifle companies if serious opposition threatened."
    stolpi and Chris C like this.

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