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voltaire60

"Ration Strength" versus "Fighting Strength"

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voltaire60

   With our Mods. permission, may I raise this topic re. battalion level numbers? , Although I am aware that the subject  has been touched on before but mostly for higher levels of number crunching with statistics- brigade, divisional, army,etc.   I am a little surprised that  our departed colleague Charles Messenger (Blessed be His Memory) did not have this covered when I reached for my trusty and well-used copy of "Call to Arms", nor can I find the matter covered on Long,Long Trail.

 

    Could I ask colleagues to chip in with examples of any definitions of these terms  from any ACIs or army forms for the war years-  BUT remembering it is for BATTALION level.?  (This actually mean you Ron!)

    What intrigues me  is a particular battalion war diary-  that of  14th Royal Irish Rifles  for August 1917.   The WD is unusually full of the numerical details, giving both ration and fighting strengths for each day- it was being cranked up (as with many other Irish units, including other RIR battalions, for a pretty disastrous "attack" on 16th August 1917).  The WD for 1st  August 1917 records  

 

             Ration Strength----    30 Officers             740 OR

             Fighting Strength       38 Officers             876 OR

 

Every day,, the Fighting Strength is consistently higher than the Ration Strength-usually by c.8 Officers and between 120-150 ORs 

I suspect there must be an instruction out there as to which was which. I have a local casualty here for North-East London who was KIA 16th August 1917 while listed as 1st/18th London Irish Rifles-which had to be wrong as they were not in the line that day. But many men had only recently arrived (July-August 1917) from Training Reserve Battalions in England, a great many of whom were English and combed out of  Army Service Corps units having served (like my man) at home throughout the war thus far. CWGC shows that  1st London Irish casualties that day were across attachments to several RIR battalions.  I have raised this before- why do men stay as "attached" rather than "transferred" ? and what were the rules governing the difference between the  two?

    Of course, one can see with the Irish regiments roughly what happened-  a surplus of fit men coming into  London Irish form Infantry Base Depot and being shunted on to  RIR battalions to get them up to the fullest strength, rather than have fit men arriving just in time for a battalion to be in a rest area or back for training away from the front. Similar to Premier League players being loaned out to other clubs-"Theyr'e still registered with us so we want 'em back"

   There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to these transfers and why some are attached rather than transferred for badging ("no reason" is a synonym for a statement that there must,therefore, be some army -"logical" procedure for it).

    Given Churchill's strictures about the Army oft he Nile  in  Round 2, all tail and no teeth, I had got used to the expectation that "ration strength" would always "exceed "fighting strength"-   people still had to be fed even though not available for fighting- sick, absentees, deserters, on leave, on courses,etc,etc,etc..But 14 RIR is the other way around.

 

      There is good recent academic work about re-filling battered battalions as the war progressed, which is helpful but still does not nail this point. I ask for some debate on this as I think it distorts some accounts of what happened. 2 examples of this

 

1)  14 (and other) RIR August 1917-    A consistent surplus of "Fighting" over "Ration" numbers-    The surplus seems to be London Irish  who were kept  on the books and not transferred. OK- but is this because it was not good PR to have "Irish" regiments being replenished by English  drafts???????? Just a thought. 

2)  28th London Regiment-  1918.    Artists Rifles was  (with a nod to H.H.Kirst)  an "officer factory" but was still expected to take turns in the line, with its potential officers being just any other  OR infantry.  But it had men attached to it-half a battalion- from the disbanding of the 13th Essex-West Ham Pals.  Again, it looks to me that the ex- 13th essex men did a disproportionate amount of the front line work while "attached" but the Artists got the glory but not the casualties. Again,just a thought.

Edited by voltaire60

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ss002d6252
Quote

I had got used to the expectation that "ration strength" would always "exceed "fighting strength"-   people still had to be fed even though not available for fighting- sick, absentees, deserters, on leave, on courses,etc,etc,etc..But 14 RIR is the other way around.

I had expected that too but I doubt it's any more than just the attached men 'on loan' who are throwing it out.

As to the process and any logic, you're hoping the army had some ! They can categorise a wooden brush in twenty different ways (that a CQM could probably quote verbatim) yet seem to often be awash when it comes to the larger issues.
 

Craig

Edited by ss002d6252

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Chris Henschke

In your case, the difference in strengths could be that men on leave, or course, or detached to other duties (groups of men could be detached for example, to traffic control duties well away from their unit). Men on leave in UK or Paris, would not be included for rations, and men on course would be on the ration strength of the school.

 

Officers and men were struck off strength after listed as casualties in action, i.e., killed, wounded and missing (except "wounded at duty"), attached to another unit, sentenced to imprisonment, evacuated "sick" out of the Divisional Area, etc.

 

Although the following extract is for London District, it gives an indication of the system.

LONDON DISTRICT. DISTRICT ORDERS, No. 68, dated Friday, July 5th, 1918.

2. FIGHTING AND RATION STRENGTHS—DEFINITION.

              The definitions of Fighting Strength and Ration Strength contained in paragraph 13 of London District Orders No. 121, dated 5th October 1917, are hereby cancelled and the following substituted :—

              Fighting Strength will include all Officers and other Ranks who are physically fit and sufficiently trained to take their allotted places in the units to which they belong, in the event of active operations in this country ; provided that such men are either ( a ) present with the unit, or ( b ) subject to recall in an emergency, and able to join within twenty-four hours.

Ration Strength will include all ranks drawing rations, plus all ranks who would be recalled in the event of a move (not necessarily owing to an emergency) and less all attached personnel who in the event of a move would be left behind.  In other words, Ration Strength will be the strength at which the unit would move if ordered to change station the day following the rendering of the return.

(Authority :—G.H.Q., F.G.B., letter No. 3362/A2, dated 29th June, 1918.) (C.R., I.D., 2/1862/A.)

 

Chris Henschke

 

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voltaire60

Thanks Chris- very helpful. Now to track down a run of London District District Orders somewhere (Ironically, I have a little thread lined up on London District records in due course)

However, 2 observations:

1)  OK, there are always some men away on leave, etc.  I have 2 local casualties who missed First Day on the Somme because one was ordered to England for  officer training  (London Rifle Brigade) and the other was-by chance-sent on a divisional instructor's course.  But if  "Ration Strength" includes all those  would be recalled, then Ration Strength should always be greater than Fighting Strength- the more so if the Fighting Strength figures are for  those in the units to which they belong. 

 

2) If a unit has a chunk of others "attached" then those attached seem still to be on the  Ration Strength of their "badged" unit. Which makes it a logistic nightmare if the new unit  is moved and the badged unit is not. OK, most moves are within same brigade, if not division. 

 

    A further matter that will come up after I see the lie of the land on which figures to use- is the question of casualties. The WD for 14 RIR has a casualty figure list for  16th August 1917- standard stuff. BUT-  are the figures  based on "Ration Strength" or  "Fighting Strength"????   In the case of 14 RIR , then a difference of c.150 in the base figures grossly distorts  percentage casualties unless we know which "strength" figures, the casualty total is based on.

 

 

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Ron Clifton

I have had a look through King's Regulations, Field Service Regulations and the Field Service Pocket Book, none of which define the terms "fighting strength" and "ration strength" at all. There are two possibilities I can think of offhand:

 

1. The fighting strength of 14/RIRif at the time may have included the Brigade Machine Gun Company, which perhaps would be attached and included in the fighting figures, but were rationed separately. (The differences in numbers quoted correspond approximately with the size of such a company.)

2. The officer compiling the War Diary simply confused the two, and the CO didn't notice and correct it when signing the diary every month.

 

In my view number 2 is by far the more likely. The weekly field return, Army Form B213, submitted by COs every Sunday, specifically referred to the numbers of men rationed by him on the previous day.

 

Ron

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voltaire60
Posted (edited)

Thanks Ron-  yes,-agreed-it is about a company strength. But I know that some of the (if not all)  may be London Irish ORs.  There appear to be some with the other RIR battalions then at the front as well. But this would have to be a consistent mistake- the strengths are given every day. Off to have a look as previous months of the war diary

    Just realised that the "ration strength" number is unlikely to be the wrong way round with "fighting strength"-Would have been discovered on Day 1-the RIR would have been 150+ rations short- and hungry ORs soon make that fact known!!

Edited by voltaire60

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stiletto_33853

From Divisional Strength returns.

 

Andy

43112_1676_0-00755 copy.jpg

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stiletto_33853

In comparison, this after the units had been in Camp a little time where the numbers, although still different balance out a little better.

43112_1677_0-00154 copy.jpg

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voltaire60

Hi Andy- Interesting stuff.  The asterisks at the bottom explain a lot on this problem-   but the difference(officially) between "Fighting Strength" and "Bayonet Strength" is a new one on me.    Held back cadre?   Other jobs than bayonets? (Trench mortar,etc.)  

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