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War Establishment - Infantry Battalions (Officers)


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In the past week I have read in two separate books* that a (British Army) infantry battalion's war establishment of Officers was 35-36. The official numbers are pasted below for reference. If they are any guide, it would appear to have been 29 plus one in the first reinforcement plus an MO. A War Office instruction on 7th Aug 1914 reduced this by three Officers, making it 26 plus an MO. The war diaries for 1914 confirm these numbers. I am at a loss why numbers as high as 35 or 36 would be considered normal for War Establishment, particularly in Dec 1914 when the supply of trained Officers was rather strained to say the least.

Q. Was War Establishment for the number of officers in an Infantry battalion ever 36? i.e by mid 1916?

Q. Was the reduction by 3 Officers ever redressed during the Great War?

* The books were

1. The Christmas Truce: The Western Front by Brown and Seaton (page 1)

2. The First Day of the Somme by Middlebrook. (appropriately, page 36). A book that I once thought faultless but on this reading is exposing a few minor errors.

Any thoughts on the source of the higher numbers would be welcome. MG

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In January 1916 the returns for the 6th DLI state that war establishment was 30 officers - including the MO.

Craig

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Hello Martin

The establishment of officers in an infantry battalion remained at 30 from Aug 1914 until spring 1918, when it was increased to 34 for battalions in France, Italy and at home. It was never formally reduced to 26: the reduction of three to which you refer was only temporary, and simply allowed battalions to go on service without completing their complement, and also allowed a small number of officers to be retained at the depot to help train the New Armies.

The figure of 30 included the MO but not the first reinforcement.

The establishment of a Canadian battalion was increased to 35 in Jan 1919 but at no time was there an official establishment of 35 or 36 for British battalions. Actual strengths might occasionally have reached those levels, though I doubt it.

The establishment of officers with Reserve battalions at home having a higher establishment of six companies was increased to 40 in early 1918, and to 34 for Young Soldier battalions.

Ron

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Craig, Ron - thanks - your sources seem to confirm that 35 or 36 Officers was not War Establishment.

Middlebrook states:

"An infantryman's home is his battalion, a unit nominally composed of thirty-six officers and 1,000 men, although after some time in France rarely at full strength."

I wonder where the number 36 started?

He then gives a reasonably detailed breakdown of a battalion. He also states that companies were nominally commanded by Majors, but due to casualties or promotion, by 1916 most were commanded by Captains. I would disagree with the first part of this. Starting in Aug 1914 it was quite rare to see battalions with more than one Major as a company OC. Of the 40 odd battalions of the Expeditionary Force that recorded Officer nominal rolls on deployment, only a handful had two Majors as OC companies. I cant think of a single one that had four. Most companies in the Expeditionary Force were commanded by Captains right from the very start and the command structure at the end of June 1916 merely reflected the normal structure. Of course there were casualties and many battalions had companies commanded by subalterns at times, and occasionally Senior NCOs, but the idea that Captains were OCs because there were not enough Majors is slightly misleading I think.

I have not done a detailed study of rank and command in July 1916. MG

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Field Service Regs had, I believe, a disclaimer that made the point that the ultimate authority in all matters was the relevant parent document, in this case War Estabs.

The detachment of three officers in early August should have had the effect of bringing forward three replacements from the Reserve of Officers or officers on half pay. I don't pick up an inference that the detachment "allowed" units to "complete to WE" three officers light. However, the fact of the matter is that very many [using Westlake] deployed with sergeants commanding some platoons. Perhaps some units went to France in the belief that they could go three short. If so, it was far from uniform.

An intriguing little aspect of the early days.

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Craig, Ron - thanks - your sources seem to confirm that 35 or 36 Officers was not War Establishment.

Middlebrook states:

"An infantryman's home is his battalion, a unit nominally composed of thirty-six officers and 1,000 men, although after some time in France rarely at full strength."

I wonder where the number 36 started?

Possibly a typographical error? 0 and 6 look similar!

Grumpy - good points, but remember that officers on half pay or on the Reserve of Officers would also have been needed for the New Armies, and possibly to complete the TF as well.

Ron

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Field Service Regs had, I believe, a disclaimer that made the point that the ultimate authority in all matters was the relevant parent document, in this case War Estabs.

The detachment of three officers in early August should have had the effect of bringing forward three replacements from the Reserve of Officers or officers on half pay. I don't pick up an inference that the detachment "allowed" units to "complete to WE" three officers light. However, the fact of the matter is that very many [using Westlake] deployed with sergeants commanding some platoons. Perhaps some units went to France in the belief that they could go three short. If so, it was far from uniform.

An intriguing little aspect of the early days.

There are examples in the diaries of clear instructions that battalions were not to deploy with more than x officers (I think x was 26 or 27 - I will revert if I can find the exact quotes). I think it is well understood that most battalions were light of Officers before War was declared. As suggested by Grumpy, in most cases their numbers were made up to the 'reduced' establishment from Special Reserve Battalions of Reserve of Officers. The three Officers (and 15 NCOs) were sent off to form the nucleus of the K1 battalions (WO telegram on 7th August is the earliest record, although it took time to filter through..).

1st Bn East Surrey Regt War Diary for 11th August 1914:

" ... War Establishment of Officers to be reduced by one Captain and 2 Subs, who, together with 15 NCOs had been sent to the Depot for Training new units..."

It is interesting that the diary specifically mentions 'War Establishment'. From the small amount of research I have done so far, most battalions had CO, 2IC, Adjt, QM, MGO and Tpt Officer (6 in total), which in theory leaves 5 Officers per company plus the MO. There are examples of Battalions deploying overseas with only 23 Officers plus the MO (2nd Bn Worcestershires) in August 1914. The companies were all commanded by Captains:

A Coy - 1 Capt plus 4 Subs

B Coy - 2 Capts plus 2 Subs

C Coy - 1 Capt plus 3 Subs

D Coy - 1 Capt plus 3 Subs

Which suggests Coy 2ICs were dispensed with and some platoons were commanded by NCOs. I am assuming having Officers commanding platoons was more important than having a Coy 2IC. Incidentally the battalion MGO was the rather unfortunately named Lt Slaughter.

MG

For what it's worth, the 1/6th Black Watch had 36 officers on strength on 2nd of April 1916 (153rd Infantry Brigade Diary)

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Mike

So there is a possibility that WE at some stage was increased?

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The WE for OC company was major/captain, with a captain as 2i/c.

Given that a two-battalion regiment needed a major as OC Depot, and that a regiment had a total of seven [from memory] majors, there were never going to be enough to fulfill one per company.

"Strength" did indeed vary, so that, in a quiet period with drafts continuing to come forward, it was indeed possible to be heavy on the WE.

Regarding changes in the WE., I take Ron to be THE expert.

Certainly my own diligent combing time and time again through all the AOs [ACI would not be used to change WE] of the war failed to find any such decrease as is discussed above.

It is very possible that a battalion WD could indeed believe WE had reduced, but without official chapter and verse I do not believe the three-officer reduction happened.

I would be delighted to be proved wrong.

The New Armies WE issued c. April 1915 retained the 29+1.

Incidentally Transport Officers had to come from within the company strengths, so one company was automatically light. This not a problem because the transport were semi-autonomous, headed by a sergeant and usually under the eye of the QM. The TO was not omni-present with the transport.

To get an idea of actual officer numbers deployed ab initio, Westlake is an excellent source.

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1/6th Black Watch strength 30/3/1916

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London Scottish strength 31/7/1916

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Mike

The London Scottish in the Great War page 115 mentions '...there had gone into action [on 1st July 1916] 23 Officers and 811 combatants of other ranks, with the Medical Officer and 21 stretcher bearers - 856 in all. There were left that night 9 Officers, 236 of other ranks and 21 stretcher bearers, a total of only 266". A table on page 118 shows exact numbers at 11 a.m. on 2nd July of 9 Officers who had gone into action and 10 who had not

Page 120 mentions on 30th July 1916 that working parties of 400 'took practically every available man'.

Clearly the numbers changed a lot. Later in the Diary (October) the strength of the Officers climbs from 14 on 1st Oct to 43 following an influx of 27 Officers in just 8 days. One wonders if these Officers were held at the Base or whether they were all with the battalion in the line. 46 or 43 Officers seems an extraordinarily high number.

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It may be significant that the two examples quoted are TF battalions who would, presumably, have been able to call on their second-line, and possibly third-line, battalions for fairly quick replacements for officer casualties.

I also repeat the point I made in post #4, that there was a distinction between war establishments and actual strengths, except that I am now happy to withdraw the words "though I doubt it."

Ron

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It may be significant that the two examples quoted are TF battalions who would, presumably, have been able to call on their second-line, and possibly third-line, battalions for fairly quick replacements for officer casualties.

I also repeat the point I made in post #4, that there was a distinction between war establishments and actual strengths, except that I am now happy to withdraw the words "though I doubt it."

Ron

If the 1914 diaries are any indication the supply of officers was rather random. By the end of 1914 some battalions had officers from four or five different regiments temporarily attached. Interestingly some of these officers remained attached months later - as late as May 1915 (Army List), yet one sees other officers being 'detached' and sent to a battalion of their own regiment. It was extremely fluid. Plenty of diaries showing Officers from three separate regiments arriving on the same day. Given the near 100% turnover in ORs in 1914 and more among the Officers, one wonders how regimental and battalion esprit de corps actually survived.... MG

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Not quite an answer but a slightly different table in the Field Service Regs 1914

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Craig

Craig - I assume this is the Field Service Manual (Infantry Battalion) Expeditionary Force dated 1st October 1914 rather than the earlier FSR 1909 (revised 1914)?

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I have just speed-read Westlake's "Infantry 1914" culled from WDs.

Many units apparently did not record full lists of officers. Martin may know otherwise.

I omitted Foot Guards and TF.

Only 6 battalions had the full 29 + 1 MO.

The average excluding MO was 26.

The lowest was an amazing 20, the 2nd Leicesters, returned from India and sent to F&F but the figure is unreliable because there is a possibility that extra officers were added as they wended their way via Suez, Marseilles, reaching the action at the end of October.

Nevertheless, one at 21, two at 23, and two at 24 with no very apparent pattern of "when" they went. Some early birds were woefully short, some late ones were plump to the degree that they had extra attachees [excluded in my crunching].

W.E.s were honoured in the breach from Day 1, seemingly.

ALL THESE SHORTFALLS HAD TO BE MET BY SERGEANTS BECOMING PLATOON COMMANDERS.

My analysis was in a hurry but the average and the extremes should be robust enough.

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Craig - I assume this is the Field Service Manual (Infantry Battalion) Expeditionary Force dated 1st October 1914 rather than the earlier FSR 1909 (revised 1914)?

That's correct.

Craig

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I have just speed-read Westlake's "Infantry 1914" culled from WDs.

Many units apparently did not record full lists of officers. Martin may know otherwise.

I omitted Foot Guards and TF.

Only 6 battalions had the full 29 + 1 MO.

The average excluding MO was 26.

The lowest was an amazing 20, the 2nd Leicesters, returned from India and sent to F&F but the figure is unreliable because there is a possibility that extra officers were added as they wended their way via Suez, Marseilles, reaching the action at the end of October.

Nevertheless, one at 21, two at 23, and two at 24 with no very apparent pattern of "when" they went. Some early birds were woefully short, some late ones were plump to the degree that they had extra attachees [excluded in my crunching].

W.E.s were honoured in the breach from Day 1, seemingly.

ALL THESE SHORTFALLS HAD TO BE MET BY SERGEANTS BECOMING PLATOON COMMANDERS.

My analysis was in a hurry but the average and the extremes should be robust enough.

Taking a very conservative approach and only selecting entries where specific numbers are mentioned (rather than calculate or interpolate), of the Expeditionary Force's 100 Regular battalions (1Div-8 Div) only 30 battalions recorded exact numbers of Officers. Roughly half of these managed to record every name. Some interesting stats:

Most of the battalions in the first 6 Divisions adhered to the reduced establishment. Numbers of 26 + MO or 27+ MO were typical (depending on whether the Officer with the First Reinforcement is included). The exceptions were the Foot Guards who appeared to ignore the rule. The 1st Bn Irish Guards taking 29 + MO + Interpreter (British Officer) + 2 Officers for Base details. Clearly by the time the 7th and 8th Divs were disembarking the reduced establishment was abandoned with numbers of 29+MO and 30+MO, 1st Bn Royal Irish Rifles took 31 Officers. Lowest was 2nd Worcestershires at 23 + MO, some 7 Officers less than the 1st Battalion took.

I may well add to this as I know the published histories have more numbers and Officer rolls.

I think there is enough evidence to support the idea that 35 or 36 was nowhere near the numbers taken in 1914.

MG

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Martin

Just as an aside, the table quoted by Craig in post 2 accords with War Establishments (Expeditionary Force) 1914. I think that the table in your post 1 comes from the slightly later War Establishments (New Armies). The increase of 14 other ranks is due to the Machine Gun Section being increased from two guns to four, though still with only one officer.

Ron

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Martin I only used units where names of officers were given by Westlake. I found 55 such units excluding Guards and TF. I added in 2RWF already researched.

How come I have a larger data set?

Oþher than your quoted source is there any evidence of reduced WE please?

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Martin

Just as an aside, the table quoted by Craig in post 2 accords with War Establishments (Expeditionary Force) 1914. I think that the table in your post 1 comes from the slightly later War Establishments (New Armies). The increase of 14 other ranks is due to the Machine Gun Section being increased from two guns to four, though still with only one officer.

Ron

Indeed. My point would be that Seaton and Brown arguing that 35 Officers was the normal WE in a book on the Christmas Truce 1914 is way off mark. Craig's example is I believe the closest by date to this event (published 1st Oct 1914) and clearly shows figures far off 35.

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Martin I only used units where names of officers were given by Westlake. I found 55 such units excluding Guards and TF. I added in 2RWF already researched.

How come I have a larger data set?

Oþher than your quoted source is there any evidence of reduced WE please?

Because Westlake's book sources data from the diaries and published histories and regimental journals. A good example is that of the 1st Bn Coldstream Guards. Westlake lists all the Officers who disembarked from the SS Dunvegan on 13th Aug. The war diary (WO 95/1263) does not list them. The published history - The Coldstream Guards 1914-1918 - does list the officers on page 23-24 as it does for the other two battalions. The 1st Bn diary notes that all related records were lost between 29th Oct and 2nd Nov 1914. There is a diary but clearly written after the events. There are scribbles in the corner of the diary pages indicating the lost diary was "complied by MB Beckwith [smith] Capt, & Adjt from various sources". The Guards kept rather shoddy diaries in 1914 but gave plenty of detail in their published histories. I think some of the detail in the histories is wrong as men who they claim deployed in early Aug 1914 appear later in the diaries and MICs don't always match the alleged departure dates. It is something I noticed when trying to resolve names in diaries with the Army Lists and looking for MICs when there were anomalies. Westlake understandably takes the published histories as a true reflection of the facts. They are for the most part, but my sreal interest is where the diaries and histories diverge, so it was something that stuck in my mind. The differences are small but interesting as they hint at a different version of the truth.

For the purposes of this thread, so far I have only looked at the diaries of the first 8 Divs (100 battalions). There are another 6 (British) battalions in the Indian Corps and 21 TF Battalions landed in 1914 to check. As mentioned in my previous posts the published histories have data on Officer rolls that are not always in the diaries. One assumes these came from personal diaries of material weeded out of the original diaries during the wring of the Official Histories or Regimental histories. My guess is that one would be able to get the data on about 70-75 battalions. Westlake's sample of 55 is sufficiently strong to be regarded as statistically reliable. As you point out the grouping is quite tight and I strongly suspect the out-liers (high numbers) will be units in the 7th and 8th Divs. He may well have included data from the 27th and 28th Divs which landed in Dec 1914. I have excluded these as they don't to my mind represent the old Expeditionary Force that fought at Ypres etc whose War Establishments essentially reflected FSR Part II (1909 amended 1914)

Off the top of my head about a third to a half of the Infantry diaries mention the reduction in War Establishment between 7th-11th Aug 1914. Some diaries mention the arrival of 15 NCOs from the Reserve soon after they lost 15 NCOs to the Depots for training K1. This suggests to me that there was no 'reduction' on the WE for ORs, and the reduction of three Officers only lasted until, 7th and 8th Div deployed.

As you know there is a provision within the FRS Part II that circumstances allows the WEs to change. The WE in the FSM of Oct 1914 states that the regulations are for warfare in a civilized country (really) and the regs can be changes to suit different circumstances.

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