Organisation of an Indian Infantry Battalion - Nov 41

Discussion in 'British Indian Army' started by Andreas, Jan 26, 2011.

  1. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Hi all

    I hope someone is able to help me. How was an Indian infantry battalion in the Western Desert organised in late 1941? Rifle coys, support coys, equipment are all of interest to me.

    Many thanks!

  2. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    Did anyone ever find this out? I'm especially interested in whether there were Anti-Tank platoons with the Bns or whether they were amalgamated into Brigade companies as elsewhere at this time, e.g 70 Division in Tobruk.


  3. dryan67

    dryan67 Senior Member

    This is from one of my books on the Indian Army in the British Armies in WW II: An Organisational History series. This is for an Indian Army infantry battalion 1939-41. Though this is not my contribution to the book rather from one of my co-authors:

    a: Indian Infantry Brigade 1939 to 1941:
    The main difference from early war British practise resulted from the lack of attached machine-gun battalions. To solve the problem ad-hoc arrangements were made within the brigades and battalions. Note that these were ‘unofficial’ in the sense that no formal war establishments were issued, and that they were created using the manpower of the formations.
    1x Infantry Brigade each with
    1x Defence Platoon with
    Platoon HQ (8 men)
    3x Sections (10 men) each with
    10x Rifles
    1x Anti-tank Company with
    3x Platoons each with
    3-4 anti-tank guns
    3x Infantry Battalions each with
    Battalion HQ with
    1x Machine-gun Platoon with
    4x Vickers MMG
    1x Mortar Platoon with
    2x 3” mortars
    1x Pioneer Platoon with
    2x Sections (10 men) each with
    10x Rifles
    1x “Assistance Group” (c25 attached men)
    4x Infantry Companies each with:
    Company HQ with
    1x LMG
    3x Infantry Platoon, each with:
    Platoon HQ with
    1x ATR, 1x 2” mortar
    3x Sections (10 men) each with
    9x Rifles, 1x LMG
    This shows Indian brigades as they operated in the Near East and in the Middle East up to mid-1941. It is also characteristic of Indian battalions and brigades moved from the Near East to Egypt and Libya in 1942.
    1: The LMG was usually the Vickers-Berthier rather than the better known Bren.
    2: Battalions MMG and anti-tank platoons were often converged into a brigade company. In this example there is a brigade MMG company, formed from battalion platoons, while the battalions retain their anti-tank platoons.
    3: The “assistance group” requires some additional explanation. It represents the unarmed followers, usually unarmed, associated with all Indian and a few Gurkha battalions. The number is an estimate, since these were not members of the Indian Army, but only listed on battalion rolls. Their strength shifted as some became soldiers, while others joined as the servants of newly arrived officers.
    Aixman and Owen like this.
  4. DavidW

    DavidW Well-Known Member

    Thank you. That's great. It does however seem to only work out at a total of about 500 or so men, which seems a little low to me. I would value your opinion.

    The info I have gathered on the units of the 10th Division that arrived in mid 1942 seems to indicate the use of Tommy guns, Brens in greater numbers than the earlier type, a carrier platoon, and more 2Pdrs.
  5. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member


    I'll echo that! Many thanks indeed. When I go back to Kew next week, I'll see if I can find any relevant Anti-Tank Company war diaries.

    I've got a couple of Indian Army battalion war diaries as well, I'll see what their Field Returns say about strength.


  6. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member

    Oh, the great untapped reservoir or Indian Army WEs that I always hope exists, but can never find...

    There is a vague snippet from the Indian version of Infantry Training (1944), which gives four example 'wire diagrams', two showing Inf Bns with both Animal and Motor Transport (A & MT) and two showing MT only. There're different versions of each for British and Indian units. As an example;

    Indian Inf Bn (MT)

    Bn HQ - 4 Brit Offrs, 2 VCOs, 51 Indian ORs

    HQ Coy -
    Coy HQ - 1 Brit Offr, 6 IORs
    Sig Pl - 1 Brit offr, 1 VCO, 34 IORs
    Mortar Pl - 1 Brit Offr, 45 IORs
    Carrier Pl - 1 VCO, 22 IORs
    Pioneer Pl - 1 VCO, 23 IORs

    Admin Coy -
    Coy HQ - 1 Brit Offr, 6 IORs
    QM Pl - 1 Brit Offr, 1 VCO, 34 IORs
    Medical Pl - 21 IORs
    Transport Pl - 1 Brit Offr, 1 VCO, 53 IORs

    Four Rifle Coys, each -
    Coy HQ - 1 Brit Offr, 1 VCO, 8 IORs
    Three Pls, each -
    Pl HQ - 1 VCO, 5 IORs
    Three Secs, each - 1 NCO, 11 Sepoys

    Total 15 Brit Offrs, 24 Viceroy COs, 821 Indian Other Ranks

    Vehicles - 12 bicycles, 9 motorcycles, 19 Jeeps, 15 carriers, 1 'Karryall', 23 15-cwt trucks, 1 water truck
    Weapons - 2 twin LMGs, 7 LMGs (Carr Pl), 37 LMGs (other), 90 Thompsons, 12 mortars (2-in), 6 mortars (3-in), 9 Atk rifles

    The table isn't dated, but despite being in a 1944 manual I've always thought the mention of Atk rifles and Tommy guns places it to circa 1942, though possibly earlier.

    I've tried the National Army Museum, the National Archives, the Indian Army and the Indian Archives and came up with nowt every time in trying to track down Indian WEs. If they're anywhere in the UK it seems they're at the British Library. I tried a couple of researchers, but the first one wanted about £200.00 for a recce, and the other just never replied to follow-up emails after showing some initial interest, so I remain in the dark.

    Aixman likes this.
  7. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member


    What makes you think they might be at British Library? I might be able to go there at some point over the next couple of months if I had a good clue as to where to look. I've always wanted to go, and this might encourage me to get along there rather than just think about it!


  8. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Hi David

    I just put this into a spreadsheet using the standard numbers for HQs from what I presume to be Gary's site, and without signals, AA, admin, etc. I get to 667 already, so the total strength would probably be north of 800.

    As for 10 Division, the changes could well reflect the experience of CRUSADER.

    All the best

  9. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member


    I can't recall exactly now whether it was a tip off or a hunch. I did email the BL and must've had a reference or similar as someone took a look and reckoned they had documents that 'looked like' WEs. I tried the two researchers but as mentioned the promising one never came back to me sadly. As to that file or series reference, it got lost in a clear out a long time back.

  10. DavidW

    DavidW Well-Known Member

    Andreas. I seem to think over 850. That figure probably came from Gary himself when I raised a similar query a while ago. I seem to remember that he was most helpful.
    It is good to think that some lessons may have been learnt indeed.
  11. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Interestingly, just came across an entry saying that 11 Indian Brigade in Jan 42 had an A/Tk coy, but also A/Tk guns in the infantry battalions.

    So one would need also battalion war diaries...

    All the best


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