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Basic Organization of the Canadian ‘Infantry (Rifle) Battalion’ on Overseas Service During the Second World War

March 7, 2014

by Mark W. Tonner

During the period of the Second World War, Canada fielded three types of infantry battalions, the infantry (rifle) battalion, the infantry (machine gun) battalion, and the infantry (motor) battalion. This article, is focussed on the organization of a Canadian infantry (rifle) battalion, from the embodiment of the Canadian Active Service Force, in September 1939, to the end of hostilities in North-West Europe, in May 1945.

In September 1939, when Canada embodied the Canadian Active Service Force1, for service overseas, Canadian infantry (rifle) battalions were organized under the then current British War Establishment (WE) II/193l/l2B/3 (of 6 April 1938), which called for the battalion to be organized, and consist of:

– a Battalion headquarters of four officers and 43 other ranks

– a Headquarters company of five officers and 210 other ranks, within

– a company headquarters

– a signal platoon

– an anti-aircraft platoon

– a mortar platoon

– a carrier platoon

– a pioneer platoon

– an administrative platoon

– four rifle companies each of three officers and 97 other ranks, within a company headquarters and three platoons, with each platoon consisting of three rifle sections, of eight other ranks each. 

The anti-aircraft, mortar, pioneer, and two platoons of each rifle company, were led by a Warrant Officer Class III, with the remainder being led by a subaltern (a junior officer) for a total battalion strength of 21 officers and 641 other ranks. Battalions with a Scottish or Irish affiliation, were allowed six additional pipers, each, and battalions of Foot Guards, were allowed two additional Warrant Officer Class II, each. Additionally, Canadian infantry (rifle) battalions, also carried a paymaster and his batman (a personal servant), due to the differences in Canadian and British pay procedure.

Following the initial deployment of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to France, in September 1939, the fact was brought to light, that the infantry (rifle) battalion, required more men then its current war establishment provided for. In March 1940, to meet this need, the British superseded WE II/193l/l2B/3, with a new war establishment for a rifle battalion, WE II/1931/l2F/l, which called for an additional 111 other ranks per battalion (three men per rifle section and three cooks per battalion). This new war establishment was adopted by Canadian authorities as WE II/1931/l2F/l ‘An Infantry Battalion (Higher Establishment),’ effective 15 March 1940 (as promulgated in General Order Number 169 of 1940), under the authority of Privy Council Order PC 84/3896 of 14 August 1940. Shortly afterwards, Canadian authorities decided to replace all Warrant Officer Class III, leading platoons, with a subaltern (a junior officer), which was authorized under Privy Council Order 29/2370 of 4 June 1940, effective 1 May 1940. This step was concurrently taken by the British, under the authority of Army Council Instruction 804. With the adoption of WE II/1931/l2F/l ‘An Infantry Battalion (Higher Establishment),’ the strength of a Canadian rifle battalion, including the paymaster and his batman (a personal servant), was now 33 officers and 753 other ranks.

After a further thorough study of the campaign of the BEF in France, the British decided in October 1940, to retain the basic organization of an infantry (rifle) battalion, but to increase the size of the mortar and carrier platoons. In order to compensate for these increases, the British later found it necessary, in view of the shortage of manpower, to reduce the rifle section by one private, which was incorporated into WE II/1931/12F/2, which superseded WE II/1931/l2F/l , effective 11 September 1941. A Canadian equivalent war establishment Cdn II/1940/12F/1 ‘A Canadian Infantry Battalion (Higher Establishment),’ effective 1 August 1941 (as promulgated in General Order Number 228 of 1941), was authorized under Privy Council Order 77/7841 of 9 October 1941, and superceded WE II/1931/l2F/l. This new Canadian war establishment, provided for an overall strength of 32 officers and 767 other ranks, in a rifle battalion. Each rifle company within the battalion, would now have five officers and 119 other ranks each, with a rifle platoon consisting of one officer and 36 other ranks, and each section consisting of ten other ranks.

To conform to British changes in the organization of a rifle battalion, a new revised Canadian war establishment, Cdn II/12F/2 ‘A Canadian Infantry Battalion,’ effective 3 September 1942 (as promulgated in General Order Number 472 of 1942), was authorized under Privy Council Order 44/3723 of 4 May 1942, to supercede Cdn II/1940/12F/1 ‘A Canadian Infantry Battalion (Higher Establishment).’ Under this new war establishment, a Canadian rifle battalion, was now organized, and consisted of:

– a Battalion headquarters consisting of:

– a signal platoon

– an anti-aircraft platoon

– an administrative platoon

– a Support company consisting of:

– a company headquarters

– a mortar platoon

– a carrier platoon

– an anti-tank platoon

– a pioneer platoon

– four rifle companies each of five officers and 110 other ranks, within a company headquarters and three platoons, with each platoon consisting of three rifle sections, of nine other ranks each for a total battalion strength of 37 officers (inclusive, of a paymaster (Royal Canadian Army Pay Corps), a medical officer (Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps), and a signals officer (Royal Canadian Corps of Signals)) and 782 other ranks.

By the end of 1942, the Canadian Army Overseas2, due to the effects of manpower restrictions, and a serious shortage of shipping, from Canada, decided to completely reorganize, based on British war establishments, in order to facilitate co-operation between formations and units of the British Army, and First Canadian Army3. This reorganization of the Canadian Army Overseas, came into effect on 11 January 1943 (as promulgated in Canadian Military Headquarters4 Administrative Order No. 2 of 1943). As part of this reorganization, and to conform more closely to the British war establishment for an infantry (rifle) battalion, a new Canadian war establishment, Cdn II/12F/3, ‘A Canadian Infantry Battalion,’ effective 1 January 1943 (as promulgated in General Order Number 144 of 1943), was authorized under Privy Council Order 2339 of 23 March 1943, to supercede Cdn II/12F/2 ‘A Canadian Infantry Battalion.’ Under this new war establishment, a Canadian rifle battalion, was now organized, and consisted of:

– a Battalion headquarters

– a Headquarters company consisting of:

– a company headquarters

– a signal platoon

– an administrative platoon

– a Support company consisting of:

– a company headquarters

– a mortar platoon

– a carrier platoon

– an anti-tank platoon

– a pioneer platoon

– three rifle companies each of five officers and 142 other ranks, within a company headquarters and three platoons, with each platoon consisting of three rifle sections, of ten other ranks each for a total battalion strength of 32 officers (inclusive, of a paymaster (Royal Canadian Army Pay Corps), a medical officer (Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps), and a signals officer (Royal Canadian Corps of Signals)) and 741 other ranks.

The rifle battalions, in the United Kingdom, of the Canadian Army Overseas, were directed to adopt this new war establishment, effective 31 January 1943 (as promulgated in Canadian Military Headquarters Administrative Order No. 18 of 1943). The reference number for this new Canadian rifle battalion war establishment, was changed to that of Cdn II/233/1, effective 15 March 1943 (as promulgated under Canadian Military Headquarters, General Staff Branch Letter 77 of 12 March 1943).

In April 1943, the British reintroduced the fourth rifle company, into the organization of an infantry (rifle) battalion (as promulgated in War Office Letter 20/Inf/3502 (Staff Duties (SD) 1), of 11 April 1943). This change was incorporated in a new Canadian war establishment, Cdn II/233/2, ‘A Canadian Infantry Battalion,’ effective 27 April 1943 (as promulgated in General Order Number 466 of 1943), which was authorized pursuant to Privy Council Order 44/3723 of 4 May 1942. Under this new war establishment, a Canadian rifle battalion, was now organized, and consisted of:

– a Battalion headquarters

– a Headquarters company consisting of:

– a company headquarters

– a signal platoon

– an administrative platoon

– a Support company consisting of:

– a company headquarters

– a mortar platoon

– a carrier platoon

– an anti-tank platoon

– a pioneer platoon

– four rifle companies each of five officers and 122 other ranks, within a company headquarters and three platoons, with each platoon consisting of three rifle sections, of ten other ranks each for a total battalion strength of 37 officers (inclusive, of a paymaster (Royal Canadian Army Pay Corps), a medical officer (Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps), and a signals officer (Royal Canadian Corps of Signals)) and 811 other ranks.

The nine rifle battalions, of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division5, which had just been informed of their upcoming participation in the invasion of Sicily, were ordered to immediately reorganize, on this new Canadian war establishment (Cdn II/233/2). However, owing to manpower shortages, the rifle battalions, of the 2nd and 3rd Canadian Infantry Divisions, and those of the 4th and 5th Canadian Armoured Divisions6, temporarily retained the lower war establishment, Cdn II/233/1, which Cdn II/233/2, had superceded. These remaining  rifle battalions, were eventually ordered to reorganize, on this new Canadian war establishment (Cdn II/233/2), effective 1 August 1943 (as promulgated in Canadian Military Headquarters Administrative Order No. 107 of 1943).

Within days, of receiving the order to reorganize, on Canadian war establishment, Cdn II/233/2, the rifle battalions, of the 2nd and 3rd Canadian Infantry Divisions, and those of the 4th and 5th Canadian Armoured Divisions, received word to reorganize, on a new war establishment, for a Canadian rifle battalion, which was that of Cdn II/233/3, ‘A Canadian Infantry Battalion,’ effective 5 August 1943 (as promulgated in General Order Number 466 of 1943), which was authorized pursuant to Privy Council Order 44/3723 of 4 May 1942. This new war establishment, made no changes in the basic organization and strength (37 officers and 811 other ranks), of a Canadian rifle battalion, but provided for all four rifle company commanders, to hold the rank of Major. The nine rifle battalions, of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division, remained organized under Cdn II/233/2, until February 1944, at which time they converted to the new organization of Cdn II/233/3 (as promulgated in Canadian Military Headquarters Administrative Order No. 29 of 1944, dated 26 February 1944, with an effective date of 5 August 1943).

Incorporating numerous minor amendments to war establishment, Cdn II/233/3, a new Canadian war establishment, for an infantry (rifle) battalion,  Cdn II/233/4, ‘A Canadian Infantry Battalion’ (as promulgated in General Order Number 553 of 1944), was authorized pursuant to Privy Council Order 44/3723 of 4 May 1942, and superceded Canadian war establishment, Cdn II/233/3, ‘A Canadian Infantry Battalion,’ effective 15 August 1944. Again, this new war establishment, made no changes in the basic organization and strength (37 officers and 811 other ranks), of a Canadian rifle battalion, but provided for an additional Private (to be employed as a driver), in each of the four rifle companies, of the battalion, serving in an armoured division, which in the case of the Canadian Army overseas, where those of the 10th Canadian Infantry Brigade (4th Canadian Armoured Division) and the 11th, and 12th Canadian Infantry Brigades7 (5th Canadian Armoured Division), thus slightly raising their strength to that of 37 officers and 815 other ranks.

Amendment No. 4, to Canadian war establishment, Cdn II/233/4, ‘A Canadian Infantry Battalion’ (as promulgated in General Order Number 19 of 1944, and authorized pursuant to Privy Council Order 44/3723 of 4 May 1942), added an additional officer (to be employed as the Scout officer) and his batman (a personal servant), effective 30 September 1944, thus increasing the strength of a rifle battalion, in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Canadian Infantry Divisions, to 38 officers and 812 other ranks, while those of the 4th and 5th Canadian Armoured Divisions, increased to that of 38 officers and 816 other ranks. War establishment, Cdn II/233/4, ‘A Canadian Infantry Battalion,’ remained the war establishment under which Canadian infantry (rifle) battalions, were organized, until the end of hostilities in North-West Europe, in May 1945.

Under WE Cdn II/233/4, a Canadian infantry (rifle) battalion in an infantry division, was organized, and consisted of:

– a Battalion headquarters of six officers and 54 other ranks

– a Headquarters company of five officers and 94 other ranks, within

– a company headquarters

– a signal platoon

– an administrative platoon

– a Support company of seven officers and 184 other ranks, within

– a company headquarters

– a mortar platoon

– a carrier platoon

– an anti-tank platoon

– a pioneer platoon

– four rifle companies each of five officers and 120 other ranks, within a company headquarters and three platoons, with each platoon consisting of three rifle sections, of ten other ranks each for a total battalion strength of 38 officers (inclusive, of a paymaster (Royal Canadian Army Pay Corps), a medical officer (Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps), and a signals officer (Royal Canadian Corps of Signals)) and 812 other ranks.

And a Canadian infantry (rifle) battalion, in an armoured division, was organized, and consisted of:

– a Battalion headquarters of six officers and 54 other ranks

– a Headquarters company of five officers and 94 other ranks, within

– a company headquarters

– a signal platoon

– an administrative platoon

– a Support company of seven officers and 184 other ranks, within

– a company headquarters

– a mortar platoon

– a carrier platoon

– an anti-tank platoon

– a pioneer platoon

– four rifle companies each of five officers and 121 other ranks, within a company headquarters and three platoons, with each platoon consisting of three rifle sections, of ten other ranks each for a total battalion strength of 38 officers (inclusive, of a paymaster (Royal Canadian Army Pay Corps), a medical officer (Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps), and a signals officer (Royal Canadian Corps of Signals)) and 816 other ranks.

Sources:

– Army Headquarters Report No. 57, A SUMMARY OF MAJOR CHANGES IN ARMY ORGANIZATION, 1939-1945, dated 22 December 1952, complied by Major R.B. Oglesby, Historical Section (General Staff), Army Headquarters, Ottawa, Ontario.

– General Orders 1940, as promulgated and issued to the Canadian Militia/Army by Order of the Minister of National Defence, by Command, of the Adjutant-General, Militia/Army Headquarters, Ottawa, Ontario.

– Part “A,” General Orders 1941, as promulgated and issued to the Canadian Army by Order of the Minister of National Defence, by Command, of the Adjutant-General, Army Headquarters, Ottawa, Ontario.

– Part “A,” and Part “B,” General Orders 1942, as promulgated and issued to the Canadian Army by Order of the Minister of National Defence, by Command, of the Adjutant-General, Army Headquarters, Ottawa, Ontario.

– Part “A,” and Part “B,” General Orders 1943, as promulgated and issued to the Canadian Army by Order of the Minister of National Defence, by Command, of the Adjutant-General, Army Headquarters, Ottawa, Ontario.

– Part “A,” and Part “B,” General Orders 1944, as promulgated and issued to the Canadian Army by Order of the Minister of National Defence, by Command, of the Adjutant-General, Army Headquarters, Ottawa, Ontario.

Endnotes:

1. The Canadian Active Service Force was redesignated the Canadian Army (Active), effective 7 November 1940 (as promulgated in General Order Number 273 of 1940), under the authority of Privy Council Order 6645 of 19 November 1940.

2. For the purposes of reference and description, that portion of the Canadian Army (Active), serving in the United Kingdom and Europe, was designated the Canadian Army Overseas, effective 7 November 1940 (as promulgated in General Order Number 301 of 1941), under the authority of the Minister of National Defence.

3. First Canadian Army was the senior Canadian operational formation in the United Kingdom and Europe during the period of the Second World War, and was formed in the United Kingdom, on 6 April 1942, with Headquarters First Canadian Army, having been embodied under the authority of Privy Council Order 51/2757 of 11 April 1942, effective 1 April 1942 (as promulgated in General Order Number 131 of 1942).

4. On 26 September 1939, the Minister of National Defence authorized the creation of a Canadian Military Headquarters (CMHQ) (London, England) overseas. This headquarters held responsibility for coordinating the arrival, quartering, completing equipment requirements, and training of Canadian Active Service Force units and formations and to command and administer these units and formations in the United Kingdom and at base in the theatre of operations. In addition, the headquarters had an important liaison role, particularly liaison with the British War Office and with the General Officer Commanding (GOC) Canadian Forces in the theatre of operations, as well as furnishing information to the Canadian High Commissioner in London.

5. A Canadian Infantry Division, contained three infantry brigades, each of which contained three infantry (rifle) battalions.

6. A Canadian Armoured Division, contained one infantry brigade, of three infantry (rifle) battalions.

7. At this point in the war, owing to the nature of the operations in Italy, that the 5th Canadian Armoured Division was involved in, it was found necessary to augment the division with a second infantry brigade. The 12th Canadian Infantry Brigade, was formed for this purpose, effective 13 July 1944, and was disbanded effective 13 March 1945, upon the move of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division to North-West Europe.

 

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