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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

The Platoon


PhilB
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Not being ex-infantry, I`ve never had the pleasure of serving in a platoon other than in a Training Battalion. That`s perhaps why I`ve never quite understood the need for a 2/Lt as platoon commander when there`s already a platoon sergeant who knows everything and runs the show. From what I saw, the platoon could have functioned perfectly well with the sergeant as commander. Is it just a way of giving subalterns a nominal role? Phil B

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I guess they have to start somewhere where they are relatively harmless :D

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My first Platoon Lt was 21 fresh out of the box, our platoon Sgt was 32 years of age with 17 years service, we knew who was running the platoon! He went on to be a Lt-Col so he listened well to the Sgt.

Kevin

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I assume that it was then as it is to day

Pl Comd - Commands the Pl

Pl Sgt - does the Pl Admin ( Ammo, Rats, etc

Sect Comd - Commands the section

Sect 2IC - admin for the Sect as well as controlling the Gun Group

Terryb

West Aust

t

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Terry,

Spot on. Having commanded Rifle,Mechanised, Demonstration and Recruit Platoons and started on that journey as a jumped up 19 year old I learnt very quickly that you listened to your Platoon Sgt and he was chosen to ensure you succeeded. For 6 months you watched saluted and were sent on courses to make sure you could do the job. Commanding a platoon is a great experience and as was said earlier we have to start somewhere.

As you climb up the ranks so you found did your NCOs and when you came back as a Company Commander (Major) you found your section commanders were still there as Sgts and CSMs. Its all part of what is called the Regimental family (or was!)

Cheers,

Rob

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When the BEF went to war in August 1914, many platoons were indeed commanded by Sgts simply because there was an acute shortage of subalterns. If you look at Westlakes 1914 book, most battalions were several subalterns short of establishment .......... 16 were needed , one for each platoon, of whom some had extra tasks such as Transport and MG. The Guards and RWF were almost unique in being up to strength.

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Which raises the question - does a platoon function better with or without a 2/Lt? One needs to generalize here - no good saying "Depends on how good, or how subserviant, the 2/Lt is"! Phil B

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Which raises the question - does a platoon function better with or without a 2/Lt? One needs to generalize here -

.......................

yes

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Which raises the question - does a platoon function better with or without a 2/Lt? One needs to generalize here - no good saying "Depends on how good, or how subserviant, the 2/Lt is"! Phil B

The idea that subs were necessarily raw and callow is misplaced, certainly for 1914.

They would have had 18 months at RMC [or Militia equivalent service] or been ex-rankers, together with a few university men and overseas men with OTC or colonial experience. On arriving at their unit they were customarily trained again, in the ways of 'the regiment'. 2nd RWF went to war with only three 'raw' young officers from the Special Reserve, who acquitted themselves well.

One gets the impression that a good NCO [or even the senior soldier present] was usually capable of defending a position ably and gallantly, but leading into the attack was seen as an officer's task.

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In the early part of the Second World War the Yeomanry (and probably cavalry too?) had a Troop Sergeant Major (Warrant Officer Class 3), basically in each squadron 2 troops were commanded by TSMs and 2 by Subalterns. This experiment obviously didn't work as they got rid of the TSMs. Suggests an important role for the subaltern.

Neil.

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yes

Or no?

Personally (and from a limited - TA - experience) I found the real commander was the Platoon Sergeant, with the 2 Lt to take the praise/blame. In all honesty, a long-service NCO has to have more nouse, but then the officer is trained to see things differently.

Maybe the answer is that the skill set is different, and complementary, making the two of them the ideal team to lead 30-odd blokes.

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Steven,

I agree and from the officers side of the fence he did in the main take the flak but without his platoon sgt he would have sunk without trace.

Of course Sgts do an excellent job as platoon commanders and the Brecon Snco course is outstanding but the young officer has got to get the experience and what better place than at the coal face with the platoon grouping. However once the 2lt becomes an experienced Lt then he really earns his money.

Rob

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Without having command experience at the most junior level, i.e. the platoon, a young subby would be clueless as he went up the ladder. His troop sergeant would guide and advise where neccessary for as long as needed; admitedly that might not have been too long in a war such as they experienced in 1914-1918.

But certainly during peacetime, then and now, Young Sir would listen to his troop stripey until such time as either the stripey or Company Commander thought he was 'grown up' enough. That was the way in the Royal Marines anyway and I'm sure all the other arms would have played it the same way.

Greg

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Hi all,

I concur with the comments made by Greg, which are similar to the point that Gordon Corrigan makes in his book: Mud, Blood and Poppycock (page 108):

Four sections were grouped into a platoon, the lowest officer's command, with a Lieutenant or Second Lieutenant assisted by a Sergeant. Not every army had commissioned officers this far down the chain of command, and indeed an NCO could well command a platoon. The real reason for the presence of a subaltern, in the British Army platoon, was to train him and give him the experience of small-unit command before he graduated to command a company...

Tom McC

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The idea that subs were necessarily raw and callow is misplaced, certainly for 1914.

Could not agree more. I am aware of several instances of subalterns of 1914 that had been lucky enough to survive into 1916 when they were CO or 2 i/c of their Battalions. They must have shown ability and knew what they were about - presumably in part, thanks to their RMA/OTC training or previous service in the ranks.

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