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Gareth Davies

Leader or Commander

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Gareth Davies

In the Royal Armoured Corps the person in charge of a troop is a Troop Leader and the person in charge of a squadron is a Squadron Leader.  What terms were used during the Great War? Were they leaders or commanders?

 

Straying slightly off topic, when did the Sappers and Service Corps ditch companies for squadrons? And why do they have commanders not leaders?

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Ron Clifton

The only case I know from the WW1 period of the use of the term "leader" (other than in the RFC) was in an artillery battery, where the "battery leader" co-ordinated the actions of the guns, but was not necessarily the same as the "battery commander". So, the use of the term "leader" generally post-dates WW1. Even in the RFC, there were squadron commanders rather than leaders. There were also wing commanders.

 

In the RE, there were squadrons (and troops) in the cavalry divisions but all other RE units of comparable size were companies (and sections). All ASC units of comparable size were companies. They had commanders rather than leaders, probably to avoid confusion with the squadron leaders of the RAF.

 

You would have to have a look at Army Orders, or later editions of King's Regulations, to find precise dates for the changes. I have a copy of the 1940 edition of KR somewhere but I cannot currently lay my hands on it. Forum pal Muerrisch may know, as I think he has a run of KR.

 

My inclination would be to look at the 1930s when the cavalry, RE and ASC were increasingly becoming mechanised.

 

Ron

 

 

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Gareth Davies

I suspect that you are right. And annoyingly I can't find a reference to the person in charge of a cavalry or yeomanry squadron in any of my books right now.

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Ron Clifton

I have a copy of Cavalry Training 1912 (reprinted 1915) which consistently uses the title "troop leader" to designate the person in command of a troop (section 4). Section 10 refers to "squadron leaders" in relation to the principles of training, but in the chapter on mounted drill, both "squadron leader" and "squadron commander" are used (in the case of Section 137.3 both in the same paragraph!) and seem to be interchangeable. However, the officer of the machine-gun section is always referred to as its commander.

 

Ron

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Gareth Davies
Posted (edited)

That's helpfully unhelpful of them. Thank you. 

Edited by Gareth Davies

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Gareth Davies

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Steven Broomfield

Well, I've had a quick rummage through the Extensive Library and 'Squadron Leader' definitely seems the phrase to use.

 

Troops are more difficult: generally they are referred to as 'Lieutenant Smith, commanding No. 1 Troop', not as 'Troop Leader', 'Troop Commander' or anything similar.

 

I will continue to look.

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Gareth Davies

Thank you. 

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Ron Clifton

On the matter of squadrons v companies, I have had a look at Orders of Battle of Divisions, 1939-1945 by H F Joslen, an official HMSO publication.

 

The position as regards RE (and Royal Signals) and ASC is the same as I outlined in post number 2, replacing "cavalry" with "armoured". Airborne divisions had a mixture: para squadrons RE but field companies, and RASC companies. So, the change to describing RE and RASC units as squadrons post-dates WW2.

 

I also had a look at Standing Orders for the Household Division 1972. The regulations for the Sovereign's Escort refers to Troop Leaders, but an Escort Commander. The latter is not actually the commander of the escort - that is the Field Officer Commanding the Escort - and he rides behind the Standard Party, so he could hardly be described as the Escort Leader.

 

The cavalry in war have been described as bringing tone to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl, but they certainly do not bring consistency!

 

Ron

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Steven Broomfield

Came across a reference in Bickersteth's History of the 6th Cavalry Brigade, in which he refers to 'Troop leaders'.

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Gareth Davies

To broaden this a little, when did the terms Platoon and Company first come into use and were their commanders always called Platoon Commander and Company Commander?

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Ron Clifton

Infantry Companies date back to the Restoration at least They usually had up to one hundred men under three officers: the Captain, the Lieutenant and the Ensign. The field officers also held the captaincy of three of the companies. There were usually ten companies in a regiment: a grenadier company, eight "line" companies and a light company. The officer commanding a company was simply called the captain, or sometimes the captain commanding No. X company.

 

By the late 19th century an infantry battalion consisted of eight companies, and it was not until late 1913 that "double companies" became standard in the Regular Army when they were reduced to four, by combining the original companies in pairs. (TF battalions, Indian Army battalions and British battalions stationed abroad did not adopt the four-company organisation at first, but most did so on joining the BEF.) Until 1913, companies had been divided into half-companies, each led by one of the subalterns although commander rather than leader seems to have been the normal description. After the 1913 reforms, half-companies were renamed platoons, under a subaltern as platoon commander, but the term platoon pre-dates this renaming, as a term used in 19th century drill manuals to denote a fire-control unit.

 

Until the days of accurate rifles firing smokeless-charge bullets, it had been customary for company officers to lead from the front, so there was little need to distinguish between the roles of commander and leader.

 

The evolutions of the Foot Guards on the Queen's Birthday Parade are based on the eighteenth-century establishments, of eight "guards" (reduced in recent years to six) each under three officers. Even today, the troops lining the Mall are divided into half-companies.

 

Ron

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Gareth Davies

Thanks Ron. I’m going to follow this up but it won’t be specifically GW so I will start a new thread in Skindles.

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SiegeGunner

German docs (for example interrogation reports) frequently use 'leaders' to mean, according to context, higher command, local officers and/or NCOs (as in 'The men's confidence in their leaders has been shaken' or 'The officer and NCO were killed, leaving the patrol without a leader'.  Any suggestions of a suitable synonym for 'leader' in such contexts?

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Ron Clifton

In the SS (Waffen and Allgemeine) all the ranks seem to have ended "-fuhrer", and the Nazi Party organisation used "-leiter" for the same purpose. I don't know whether there were subtle reasons for this, but both are usually translated as "leader". Does one of these also have a civilian meaning such as "director"?

 

Ron

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GreyC

Hi,

In German the word Führer has a more military ring to it than Leiter. You associate "Führer" more at the front, the troops behind him (normally), Leiter can be everywhere w. respected to those he commands. It´s more like a conducter of an orchestra. This might be the subtle difference in German, thouh it doesn´t tranlate well into English. Leiter=Leader. Both are etymologically connected with verbs of movement. Führer is etymologically related to fahren (drive), Leiter means to "make someone/sth go", originally. So, though both have someone to command, "Führer" has a more dynamic connotation. Leiter has more to do with organisation.

GreyC

Edited by GreyC

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