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Remembered Today:

OC or CO


Chris_Baker

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Could someone please give me the definition of OC (Officer Commanding) and CO (Commanding Officer) as applied to the British army of 1914-1918, and the source of the definition?

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Chris,

Unsure about the source, but a CO (Commanding Officer) is the person in command of a battalion. The OC (Officer Commanding) is the person in command of a company sized element.

Cheers Andy.

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It wouldn't necessarily apply only to battalions; it could be any level, company or higher.

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So let me get this right: CO is a unit or formation commander. OC is in command of - what - a sub-unit or something scratch, like "OC Troops"?

What happens to the definition if we are talking about a GOC?

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Don't quote me, but I was under the impression that the two acronymns were interchangeable, with OC being British usage and CO being mainly American. I could be wrong and there may be a subtle nuance that distinguishes the difference between the two. Even ad-hoc organizations like detachments usually have an OC, CO, or ranking officer or NCO. "MFIC" was and is a ribald unofficial acronym in the U.S. Army.

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A GOC is a general officer commanding. As I understand it, that means he was a member of the General Staff. OC and CO should not be treated as interchangeable per se. Antony

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My understanding is:

GOC = General Officer Comanding = In charge of a Division normally Major General in Rank

CO = Commanding officer= In charge of a Regiment of Cavalry or a Battalion of Infantry or command of a RFA Bde will normally hold the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel

OC = Officer Commanding = In charge of Squadron of Cavalry or a Company of Infantry or RE or a Battery of RFA. Normally a Major but could be a Captain.

Of course in war time there will be flexability in the ranks

Of course I could be wrong

John

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I think I am correct in saying that a Commanding Officer had authority to exercise the full powers of punishment laid down in paragraph 493 of King’s Regulations.

This gave him the right to deal with a case summarily and award punishments including loss of pay, extra duties or Field Punishment Numbers 1 and 2.

Whereas an Officer Commanding does not have these powers and has to refer such matters to a higher authority.

Ivor

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American usage is to use CO as the term for all military command levels without any stratification between them. It's another one of those George B. Shaw "separated by a common language" type of things.

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Looking at the Canadian Expeditionary Force Units: Instructions Governing Organization and Administration

http://www.archive.org/stream/WarEstablishment1916#page/n0/mode/2up

generally uses Commanding Officer (C.O.), but there are some instances where Officer Commanding (O.C.), namely "Officer Commanding Battalion" and "O.C. of a Battalion".

On some attestation papers for men enlisting with infantry battalions the commander's signature will include something like "O.C. XXXth Batt'n, C.E.F.". And in several historical records, for example, the commander will be referred to as the Officer Commanding or O.C.:

Mr. Trihey became Officer Commanding. (p. 12)

http://www.archive.org/details/irishcanadianrang00anonuoft

Meanwhile the O.C., Lt.-Col. J. Ballantine had been occupied in selecting his Staff Officers, etc., as follows:

Officer Commanding. Lt.-Col. J. Ballantine, D.S.O., 4th Batt. (p. 10)

http://www.archive.org/details/historicalrecord00bigguoft

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CO as I understand it is a formal appointment to a role for an officer in charge of a battalion sized formation, whereas one could be OC of just about anything. OC as I understand it was was not a formal appointment as per CO and just a way of describing an officer in charge of a unit, body of troops or establishment.

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According to Wiki;

In the British Army, Royal Marines, and many other Commonwealth military and paramilitary organisations, the title of commanding officer is reserved for commanders of major units (regiments, battalions and similar sized units), almost invariably holding the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and usually referred to within the unit simply as "the Colonel". The post of a commander of a sub-unit (company, squadron or battery) is collectively referred to as the Officer Commanding (OC). More specifically they are referred to as the Company Commander, Squadron Leader, etc. Officers and NCOs in charge of platoons, troops and sections are just referred to as Commanders (Platoon Commander, Troop Leader, Section Commander/Leader, etc.).

Grant

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A company commander (or equivalent), who in the British army is a major, did and does have summary powers of punishment. He was able to award a range of punishments, including detention for a limited period. Furthermore, if he and his company was serving away from his main unit, the commanding office could publish a Part 1 order, making him a 'detachment commander'. Once that was done, he had the same disciplinary powers as a commanding officer which, in practical terms, meant the ability to award punishment up to and including twenty eight days detention.

Jack

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I think I am correct in saying that a Commanding Officer had authority to exercise the full powers of punishment laid down in paragraph 493 of King's Regulations.

This gave him the right to deal with a case summarily and award punishments including loss of pay, extra duties or Field Punishment Numbers 1 and 2.

Whereas an Officer Commanding does not have these powers and has to refer such matters to a higher authority.

Ivor

I think that somewhere in King's Regs of 1914 is a provision for the Officer Commanding (OC) of a detached unit to have the powers of Commanding Officer (CO) delegated to him

Ian

Afternote: Sorry - I responded to Ivor's post (#10) without reading down as far as that of Jack Sheldon (# 16 immediately above)

Edited by Ian Riley
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Unlike the US CO and OC were and are not interchangeable terms in UK.

A GOC is an general officer in a command position (ie not a staff officer or specialist advisor), in WW1 this included Brigadier-General although at that time B-G was an appointment not a rank (another little British confusion trap).

A CO was legally vested with the powers of a CO, in accordance with the Army Act, over a unit. An OC commanded a sub-unit of sqn/bty/coy or equivalent size and had the disciplinary powers of a subordinate commander.

I don't know of a single definitive official source, its the sort of thing that might have been summarised in a precis in an officer training establishment. IIRC the 'definitive' account of the evolution of British military law over the last millenium was an annex or the like in a later edition of the MML (the one with the AA 1944 or its predecessor) and there may be a summary there. The unified Armed Forces Act 2006 (available online) that replaced AA 1957 sets it out in slightly plainer English than the older acts and retains the centrality of the CO in service discipline. Of course it doesn't deal with 'GOC'. I think KRs/QRs deal with that.

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Hello all

The definitions are indeed given in the Army Act and in King's Regulations, although "according to the custom of the service" means that the definitions are a bit woolly. The OC of a small independent unit, or of a detachment, might have some or all of the powers (mainly as regards discipline) of a CO. But the descriptions given by Ivor and Grant are an accurate general summary.

In the context of an infantry battalion or cavalry regiment, there was only one CO, the (lieutenant-)Colonel or "the old man", but officers commanding companies, platoons, squadrons and troops were OCs.

Some aspects of the powers and responsibilities of a GOC, or a GOC-in-C, are given in places like the Equipment Regulations, as well as in KR.

Ron

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I am sorry, Ron, your statement concerning the summary powers of a subordinate commander is misleading. They may be restricted if the officer commanding a sub-unit is below field rank (i.e major), but if the appointment is filled by a major, he has the power to award summary punishments, including short periods of detention, if appropriate. There is no 'might' about these powers; they are clearly laid down and applied.

Jack

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From Notes For Commanding Officers issued to Students at the Senior Officers' School, Aldershot 1918.

Duties of Officer Commanding Company

1. He is primary responsible for the interior management of his company, for the clean and soldierly appearance, for the discipline and general well-being.

2. He is responsible for the training of his Officers and men.

3. He must encourage and promote games and amusements amongst his men and keep them always in good heart.

4. He is responsible that his subordinates know the exact state of their commands at all times.

5. He must observe and know the characteristics of all his subordinate leaders and constantly lockout for suitable understudies.

6. He keeps the leave roster of his company, and submits names when called for. He must personally see that it is equitably administrated.

7. He is responsible that the kits of all his officers and men killed and missing are handed in to Battalion Headquarters.

8. He must write to the relatives of Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers killed wounded or missing in his company.

9. He is responsible for the proper conduct of the company Officer’s Mess, and that all Mess accounts are punctually paid.

10. He is personally responsible for the correctness of entries in the soldier’s pay book (A.B.64), and for all money drawn on behalf of his Company.

11. He is personally responsible for all Company accounts.

Duties of the Commanding Officer

1. Although the Commanding Officer is responsible for everybody and everything in his Battalion, he is primary responsible for-

a. Fighting efficiency.

b. Training.

c. Discipline in the Battalion.

2. It is his duty to see all drafts on arrival, and to talk to them on the history and reputation of the Regiment. He will explain to them their responsibilities, pointing out especially the difference that exist between irregularities committed at home and those committed with the Expeditionary Force on active service in France.

3. It is his duty to see all officers, whatever their rank on joining the Battalion.

4. The Commanding Officer will write to, and, if possible, see, the relations of all Officers killed and wounded or missing. Similarly he will write to the relatives of Warrant Officers, senior Non-Commissioned Officers, and any particularly gallant Non-Commissioned Officer or men who were killed or missing.

5. The Commanding Officer will hold orderly room daily (Sundays excepted) . This duty will not be delegated to another Officer except under exceptional circumstances. At orderly room the following duties will be dealt with:-

a. Disposal of offences.

b. Interview of men released from field punishment.

c. Interview of Non-Commissioned Officers for promotion or appointment; also Non-Commissioned Officers and men preceding for employment on command on course, etc.

d. Interview of any Officer or men who wish to see the Commanding Officer.

e. Quartermasters correspondence.

f. Adjutant's correspondence.

6. All correspondence intended for higher authority has to be signed by the Commanding Officer personally. When this is not possible, it may be signed by another Officer ( “For” the Commanding Officer).

7. The Commanding Officer is responsible that the War Diary is written up to date and initials entries to it daily. In addition it is his duty to see that a full and detailed record of the Battalion is kept, in order that it may later on form the basis for the historical records of the Battalion.

8. The Commanding Officer is responsible that the various accounts in the Battalion are audited from time to time, if possible once a quarter as laid down in Kings Regulations.

Hope this helps.

post-7206-0-37746100-1302954861.jpg

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I understood that the two were used interchangeably in conversational English (so you might say "my CO" rather than "my OC" and not always mean the colonel) but that the use of CO did become more restricted as it also stood for Conscientious Objector so that "John's a CO up in Scotland" could be ambiguous.

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Dear Chris

There are some intriguing explanations so far. I have a simple list which I use when any of my visitors ask (sorry, can't remember the source). Whenever I am researching or reading and CO, OC, etc are mentioned, it appears to be correct.

Armies - commanded by a General 9GOC)

Corps - commanded by a Lieut.General (GOC)

Divisions - commanded by a Major-General (GOC)

Brigades - commanded by a Brigadier-General (GOC)

Battalions - commanded by a Lieut.Colonel (CO)

Companies - commanded by a Captain (OC) or Major (OC)

Platoons - commanded by a Lieutenant or 2nd.Lieut (OC).

Apologies if this seems too simplistic.

Regards

Bob Findley

Beselare

Belgium

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I am sorry, Ron, your statement concerning the summary powers of a subordinate commander is misleading. They may be restricted if the officer commanding a sub-unit is below field rank (i.e major), but if the appointment is filled by a major, he has the power to award summary punishments, including short periods of detention, if appropriate. There is no 'might' about these powers; they are clearly laid down and applied.

Jack

Quite right, Jack. I was trying to keep it fairly simple, and I used "might" to save having to go into detail about ranks and whether the sub-unit was independent or not. The powers and their limitations are, as you say, clearly laid down in KR of the time.

Ron

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OK, there is a lot of conjecture and confusion here, but in essence:

Commanding Officer: The CO of of a Regt or equivalent organisation. The officer that commands the entire unit, usually a Lt Col.

Officer Commanding: Precisely that. An officer commanding any further subordinate unit, being an OC Sqn, a Company Commander, or "OC Rear Details", or "OC Baggage Party" or similar. The latter "OC" appointment is flexible. The rule of thumb though, is that there is only one CO, but there can be many OCs.

In terms of the Manual of Military Law and related publications there exists specific paragraphs on "Powers of a CO" and "Powers of a Subordinate Commander". The appointment of the latter is key, as this details what awards (of disciplinary powers) can be made.

Of course, I'm speaking of the British Army, not our cousins across the pond.

Rgds,

DH

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What ho all

The simplest way to differentiate between Commanding Officer and Officer Commanding is to take a look at Rorke's Drift in January 1879. The Commanding Officer, was Major Spalding. Away on business he left Lt Bromhead as Officer Commanding. When the Zulu attack became obvious, Lt Chard by reason of seniority in rank, assumed responsibility for the defence and became de facto OC. Throughout the night Chard was on the spot and commanded the troops at his disposal. Even though he was absent, Major Spalding remained the CO with ultimate responsibility for the post and the troops.

In the absence of any senior officer available, the OC could be a 2nd Lt with a week's seniority. As I understand it, if he were killed it would pass down the NCO ranks and so the OC could reach as low as a Lance Corporal.

Cheer ho

John

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