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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Sizes of different military units


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I apologise for my ignorance, but please could somebody answer the following questions or point me in the right directions of the answers?

How many men in a section, platoon, company, battalion, brigade, division, etc?

And what rank of officer (NCO in the case of a section, I think?) would be in charge of each of the units?

I have a vague idea of some of the answers, but having seen apparently contradictory information in different accounts of battles, I'm rather confused!



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How long is a piece of string? :D

Roughly: 10, 30, 120, 800, 3,500, 14,000 for the BEF in 1914 at full strength; in the field it could be anywhere down to 25% of that and rarely more than 75%. In 1918 divisions went from 12 battalions to 9 with consequent reductions in strength.

Commanded by: corporal, lt, captain, colonel, brigadier general, major general. Again this would vary with casualties so it was common for officers to command one formation higher than recommended.

You will for example find reference to battalions of 200 commanded by lieutenants until they could be reformed and new officers and men attached. Companies were often reduced to 30 or so and lead by serjeants etc.

I have no doubt someone will provide the links I can't find to chapter and verse but that is the broad picture.

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My reading of it is that an infantry battalion in 1914 was composed of about 28 officers + NCOs and about 950 men when in full strength; with a Lieutenant Colonel as CO, a Major as 2nd in command, and by 1914, the battalion was divided into 4 companies, each of about 230 men under a Captain and a Company Sargeant Major. My understanding is that the companies were sub-divided into Sections, under a Lieutenant and 2nd Lieutenant, with Sergeant NCO, with further subdivisions into platoons under Sergeants / Corporals.

They varied. In 'my' battalion' 4th RWF Tf, the Companies were recruited on a geographic basis. Companies A, B, C had full complements of 200+ each from the populous parts of Denbighshire, wheras D had only 78 men from my home town. The various sub-divisions would have been unecessary there.

Brigades, under a Brigadier General would consist of about 4 battalions.

A Division would consist of about

4 Infantry Brigades

4 R Field artillery Brigades

1 Heavy Battery

1 Squadron Yeomanry/Cavalry

1 Heavy trench mortar battery

3 Medium " " "

3 Light " " "

4 Machine gun companies

1 Signal Company

1 Cyclist Company

3 ASC companies divisional train

1 Company mechanical transport

3 Field ambulance Companies

1 Mobile Vetinary Section

1 Clerking Company

These figures are based on the 38th Welsh Division. A division would be commanded by a Major General.

I'm sure a far greater authority than I will come along with more info.

Hope this helps


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Thanks guys

Geraint - I always wondered what a Major did - I knew Captains commanded companies but I could never work out what Majors did



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:) Carole

I think that Majors also undertook the role of Adjutant - the Chief Exec if you like of the battalion, whilst the CO was Director!!

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The regular infantry went to war at full strength except that many platoons were commanded by a sergeant, rather than subaltern.

From the official War Establishment:

Battalion HQ.

Commanded by Lt-Col

Senior Major also called 2 ic, a Major

Adjt [might be Lt, Capt, exceptionally Major]

QM [usually ex-ranks, Lt, Capt or Major]

Medical Officer RAMC

Transport officer [dual role, was also a platoon-commanding subaltern]

Sergeant Major

QM Sergeant [rank Quartermaster sergeant]

Orderly Room Clerk [rank Quartermaster sergeant or Colour Sgt or Sgt]

Sergeant drummer

sergeant cook

Transport sgt

Sgt shoemaker

Pioneer sgt

signaller sgt

armourer sgt

plus batmen, drivers, signallers, stretcher bearers [bandsmen], pioneers, medical orderlies, ASC drivers,

total HQ 74 all ranks

MG section

subaltern, sergeant, corporal, 12 men, 2 drivers, 1 batman

Four companies each:

Major or Captain commanding,

Captain 2ic



4 subalterns each commanding a platoon, each of 2 sergeants, 2 corporals, 1 drummer, 47 private men, 1 batman

A few odds and sods omitted for clarity and brevity

Total all ranks excluding First reinforcement 1007.

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I think that Majors also undertook the role of Adjutant - the Chief Exec if you like of the battalion, whilst the CO was Director!!

Dont wish to disagree but...

Adjt woudl have been a captain; a major would have either been the Bn second in command (although I do see the link to Ch Exec) or commanding a company.

That said, once battle was joined - and casualties started to be taken - most offciers and NCos wold have been "acting up" at least one possibly two levels.


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You could try reading the definitions of the strength of units and formations, given on the Long, Long Trail.

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