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Three-squad Para platoons, myth? Or fact?


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I wasn't originally worried about this (ignorance), but as I've researched for a scenario I've come across a few hints that maybe the in-game Para companies are a bit under-weight.

Reading things like this prompted me to post:

Commanders of both the divisions which had taken part in the Normandy recommended that the organization of the airborne division be modified to bring it into line with practice.

By juggling figures and using replacements received before combat, commanders organized additional rifle squads, reconnaissance detachments, and military police platoons, and thus built what they considered a sound organization.

Out of the Blue: U.S. Army Airborne Operations in World War II, James A. Huston p.187

Lieutenant Meyers was briefed on the unofficial table of organization and equipment that had been adopted before Normandy, with the addition of a squad to each platoon in a parachute infantry company.

Each of the three rifle platoons had three twelve-man rifle squads, a 60mm mortar section, a rocket launcher (bazooka) team, and a platoon headquarters with a platoon leader, assistant platoon leader, platoon sergeant, and a radio/telephone operator (RTO). Each rifle squad had a light machine gun (LMG) and a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). One squad member was the assistant LMG gunner and the rest of the squad’s riflemen had the additional duty of carrying added ammunition for the LMG.

Four Stars of Valor: The Combat History of the 505th Parachute Infantry, Phil Nordyke p.223

In No Better Place to die, Robert Murphy states his company's (A, 1/505) post-drop strength at 146 men total, with a (approx.) 90% assembly-rate. Significantly higher than what we find in-game. Of course, three extra sections is an attractive explanation for this higher head-count. Tangled within eyewitness accounts in the same book are also a number of references to BARs in each section, er squad.

I guess what I'm asking for is the ability to purchase extra squads for each platoon as 'specialist teams'. And a BAR for every parachute squad, or at least the option. For now :P

I understand it is not by-the-book, but there is significant evidence that the reality diverged sharply from theory, some similar cases of which BFC have already made concession for (57mm guns for one).

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I'm curious as to what they called an "LMG". I thought the BAR was the LMG placeholder for the US. Do they mean some bipod version of the .30cal? With that loadout they'd have some serious organic firepower at hand: 6 full auto weapons and a mortar per platoon...

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This is from the foggy recesses of my brain, but ISTR that part of the reason that the airborne infantry carried the M1919A6 rather than the BAR is that the BAR did not break down easily into parts that could be fit into an airborne drop bag, while the M1919A6 could be relatively easily broken down into buttstock, receiver, and barrel packages. But I can't find confirmation of this at the moment...

At any rate, IMHO the M1919A6 isn't a huge advantage over the BAR as a squad automatic weapon. The belt feed was a definite improvement over the BAR Magazine feed, but it's significantly heavier than a BAR (14.7kg vs. 8.8kg for the BAR). In an attempt to keep the weight down, they also put a lighter barrel on the M1919A6 (as compared to the M1919A4), and it still didn't have any quick change barrel feature. So the advantage of the belt feed was severely limited by the barrel heating problem.

Overall, I doubt the sustainable ROF from the M1919A6 was that much higher than the BAR. To be sure, having a the belt feed means that a gunner can get more rounds down range for at least a brief period, and this is an advantage. I'm just not sure this relatively modest improvement is worth the additional 8kg in weight...

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Oh, and yeah; I was a little surprised to see so many M1919A6s in the Airborne TOE in the game. The A6 variant was accepted by the U.S. Army in early 1943, so it was definitely in production well before Normandy, but most of the images and references of it actually in combat that I am aware of are post-Market Garden. But maybe BFC has access to better information as to exactly when (and in what quantity) M1919A6s made it into that hands of Airborne units.

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Oh, and yeah; I was a little surprised to see so many M1919A6s in the Airborne TOE in the game. The A6 variant was accepted by the U.S. Army in early 1943, so it was definitely in production well before Normandy, but most of the images and references of it actually in combat that I am aware of are post-Market Garden. But maybe BFC has access to better information as to exactly when (and in what quantity) M1919A6s made it into that hands of Airborne units.

Information is, as it often is, incomplete. The information we have is that the M1919A4 was official TO&E since February of 1942. BARs were never part of the TO&E as far as I can tell.

Since airborne units usually get priority over new weaponry, and the A6 was available well before Normandy, it seems to be logical to assume they had possession of them for the Normandy timeframe in place of the A4 model.

Steve

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The M1919A6 was first deployed in Italy - later it was notably common in the 10th Mountain division, but it was tried much earlier on a small scale - was well liked there. The troops asked for all they could get. This is confirmed by official US documents (dated early in 1944) about the introduction of new weapons and their review by forces in the field, used for production planning purposes. For the airborne in England, it was administratively added to the TOE in February. I've seen internet chatter that they actually switched over to them in April (in game and history forums etc), but I have not been able to confirm that with a more robust source. I do think they had them in Normandy and suspect the idea they were a later war item may come from the point when Brits fought alongside troops using them, not when they actually appeared in US forces. But that part is a guess. That they were in the field in Italy before the end of 1943 is definitely confirmed.

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One thing to keep in mind is that the Airborne guys already had the M1919A4s. The US Army issued a conversion kit specifically to change an A4 to an A6. This would have reduced the logistics issues with Airborne greatly since a crate of kits could convert vastly more guns than that crate could fit fully assembled A6s. The little bit I know about logistics paperwork it would also be a lot quicker to get into place.

In other words, I would be shocked if the Airborne guys didn't have A6s going into Normandy.

Steve

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Thanks for the info, Jason and Steve. So it seems that the inclusion of the A6 in the game as the standard platoon-level MG for airborne is a reasonable conjecture, at the least.

In my limited experience with them in the game thus far, the M1919A6 is pretty darn effective. But I have mostly seen them engage in relatively short range ambushes thus far. I haven't yet seen how they do in a protracted, longer range firefight, which is where their performance should fall off compared to other MGs due to the overheating and platform stability issues.

Of course, the parachute infantry armament in general is not as effective for longer range fighting, which is why I generally try to avoid putting them in such situations. ;)

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I had always assumed the A6 was used in CMBN parachute squads because the A4 (a tripod-mounted weapon that must be "deployed") wouldn't work inside a normal infantry squad structure, same way we can't have multi-team heavy weapons squads. I was under the impression that the A6 variant was not used in Normandy. I've certainly never seen a photograph (but nothing definitive about that).

The official change to 3 squads per platoon instead of 2 came in the December 1944 TO&E. This TO&E also substituted a BAR for one of the m1919 LMGs in each squad. However, Zaloga's US Airborne Divisions in the ETO 1944-45 notes that the December '44 TO&E codified many practices that were already in place, which would square with the use of BARs in parachute squads during Market-Garden.

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The M1919, in general, gets a bad rap because compared to the MG34/42 it wasn't better yet weighed a whole lot more. True, the A4 model wasn't a good LMG because it wasn't set up for firing from a bipod. The A6 addressed the utility problems pretty well. Which is why the A6 became quite common by the end of the war. Still, it was too heavy for it's role.

Steve

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"I haven't yet seen how they do in a protracted, longer range firefight, which is where their performance should fall off compared to other MGs due to the overheating and platform stability issues."

Does CMBN model the sustained fire abilities of water-cooled MGs? I can't say I have noticed if it does. No barrel changes and no heat issue out to mean a lot more lead flying down range, I just haven't seen it.

Oh, has anyone seen a MG jam in CMBN?

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I had always assumed the A6 was used because the A4 (a tripod-mounted weapon that must be "deployed") wouldn't work inside a normal infantry squad, same way we can't have multi-team heavy weapons squads.

It would pose problems, true, but that's not why we went with the A6. See above evidence it was in use.

The official change to 3 squads per platoon instead of 2 came in the December 1944 TO&E. This TO&E also substituted a BAR for one of the m1919 LMGs in each squad. However, Zaloga's US Airborne Divisions in the ETO 1944-45 notes that the December '44 TO&E codified many practices that were already in place, which would square with the use of BARs in the airborne squads during Market-Garden.

Definitely. Usually TO&E reflects changes that have already largely occurred within a force structure. Especially once that nation was at war. The issue is how complete were those "unofficial" changes prior to the issuing of new TO&E? From my experience there's a pretty sensible "rule" that seems to exist. And that is the smaller the total number of units of that type, the more complete the changes would be in use prior to a TO&E change. Conversely, the larger the number of units the less complete the changes would be. Prolonged frontline exposure usually hindered larger reorganizations, at least on a large scale, so that also should be kept in mind.

For example, the US Airborne forces in Europe consisted of two divisions. The number of combat forces that were organized as Airborne were even smaller (a few Regiments). Therefore, it's likely that any positive change would be quickly and fairly thoroughly applied because it would likely need only a sign off from Regimental or Divisional level leadership. Especially when in garrison. If there were instead a couple dozen regiments, in the middle of fighting, then one would expect the changes to propagate rather slowly in comparison because lots of decision makers would have to be convinced it was good idea to break with official regs, not just a few. Plus, the units in garrison would have better opportunities to reorganize, "requisition" new weaponry/transport, etc.

Steve

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This is from the foggy recesses of my brain, but ISTR that part of the reason that the airborne infantry carried the M1919A6 rather than the BAR is that the BAR did not break down easily into parts that could be fit into an airborne drop bag, while the M1919A6 could be relatively easily broken down into buttstock, receiver, and barrel packages. But I can't find confirmation of this at the moment...

At any rate, IMHO the M1919A6 isn't a huge advantage over the BAR as a squad automatic weapon. The belt feed was a definite improvement over the BAR Magazine feed, but it's significantly heavier than a BAR (14.7kg vs. 8.8kg for the BAR). In an attempt to keep the weight down, they also put a lighter barrel on the M1919A6 (as compared to the M1919A4), and it still didn't have any quick change barrel feature. So the advantage of the belt feed was severely limited by the barrel heating problem.

Overall, I doubt the sustainable ROF from the M1919A6 was that much higher than the BAR. To be sure, having a the belt feed means that a gunner can get more rounds down range for at least a brief period, and this is an advantage. I'm just not sure this relatively modest improvement is worth the additional 8kg in weight...

Another thing that limits its rate of fire is that is fires from a closed bolt and thus is more prone to cook off after sustained fire. 6kg (?) extra weight of gun means 6kg less ammunition too

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Hmmm... well, the sources we looked into said the change came about as a result of Normandy experience, not prior to it. The TO&E wasn't made official until December, but I'm pretty sure it was put into place before Market Garden.

Steve

I guess the case I'm making is that these changes were already well underway by Normandy. The passage from Nordyke's book is quite un-ambiguous and detailed (as far as it matters to a platoon leader; why should he be confused about how many squads he had, and how they were organized?).

More, from Ridgeway:

thirty-three days' front line participation by this division in operations on the continent of Europe demonstrate once more, and with increasing emphasis, the need for these changes to the airborne division...

These changes are fundamental and of primary importance, Recommendation for their adoption has followed participation of this division in it's preceding campaigns in Sicily and Italy.

AB leaders were aware of the short-comings of their organization prior to Normandy - some pre-Neptune changes are more obvious - adding 2 parachute regiments and subtracting a glider regiment from the OOB, for instance.

My sources are limited, but I think the subject deserves another look. If you have it wrong, then in-game AB companies are being severely short-changed.

I think there is ample evidence for a BAR to be added to every para squad, at the very least.

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A more complete quoting of the key passage, for discussion's sake (courtesy my horrid Kindle):

Lieutenant James J. Meyers arrived with a group of replacement officers at Camp Quorn on July 18, 1944, and was assigned to Company D. “Upon entering the pyramidal tent that served as the D Company orderly room, the XO, 1st Lieutenant Waverly Wray, greeted me. Wray introduced me to the First Sergeant, John Rabig, and he informed me the company commander would return shortly. In the meantime, he assembled the other company officers.

“I stood a quarter inch short of six feet, which made me the runt of the litter of platoon leaders. They were: 1st Platoon, 2nd Lieutenant Thomas J. McClean, three combat jumps, a big Irishman and a former New York City policeman; 2nd Platoon, 1st Lieutenant Oliver B. Carr, three combat jumps, a son of the old South from Palm Beach, Florida; 3rd Platoon, 2nd Lieutenant Charles K. Qualls, two combat jumps, a giant of a man.

“Assistant platoon leaders were Lieutenant [isaac] Michelman, hospitalized and recovering from wounds; and 2nd Lieutenant Russell E. Parker, a former 1st sergeant, three combat jump veteran, and the recipient of a recent battlefield commission. I was a replacement for 1st Lieutenant Turner B. Turnbull, killed in action in Normandy.

“Following the introductions, McClean asked me, ‘What do we call you?’

“I replied, ‘Jim.’

“He paused, looked at me and said, ‘We have too many Jims in this outfit. From now on your name is Joe.’ I thought he was joking. He was not and to this day my airborne colleagues know me as ‘Joe.’

“When the CO, Captain Taylor G. Smith, returned, he met ‘Joe’Meyers. He assigned me as Tom McClean’s assistant. I had much to learn and Tom had extensive combat experience. He could teach me the ropes.”4

Lieutenant Meyers was briefed on the unofficial table of organization and equipment that had been adopted before Normandy, with the addition of a squad to each platoon in a parachute infantry company. “Company headquarters had a CO, XO, first sergeant, operations sergeant, company clerk, supply sergeant, supply clerk, and armorer. Each of the three rifle platoons had three twelve-man rifle squads, a 60mm mortar section, a rocket launcher (bazooka) team, and a platoon headquarters with a platoon leader, assistant platoon leader, platoon sergeant, and a radio/telephone operator (RTO). Each rifle squad had a light machine gun (LMG) and a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). One squad member was the assistant LMG gunner and the rest of the squad’s riflemen had the additional duty of carrying added ammunition for the LMG. In our company, the only true rifleman was the squad leader. As long as the ammunition held out, the airborne platoon had roughly two to three times the firepower of a straight infantry rifle platoon.

Nordyke, Phil (2006-11-15). Four Stars of Valor: The Combat History of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War II (Kindle Locations 5287-5308). Zenith Press. Kindle Edition.

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That's good stuff, Lemuel, but it's a bit problematic. Meyers wasn't in Normandy. He's relating something he was told to the effect that the orgasnisation he was about to take into MARKET GARDEN is the same as had been used in Normandy.

Can we approach this from another angle? Though I'm generally loathe to use web sources for stuff like this, are you familiar with www.6juin1944.com ? It has a very good section on the assault and exactly who and what went where.

This page

http://www.6juin1944.com/assaut/aeropus/en_9tcc.php

shows the Troop Carrier Groups and squadrons that flew on 6 June, and what they were carrying, at least at a gross level.

This page has the serials that flew in:

http://www.6juin1944.com/assaut/aeropus/en_formation.php

These pages:

http://www.6juin1944.com/assaut/aeropus/en_page.php?page=s11

http://www.6juin1944.com/assaut/aeropus/en_page.php?page=s12

Show the aircraft that flew in Serials 11 and 12, carrying 1/ and 2/506th. As far as I can tell, 11 had 1/506th while 12 had 2/506th.

Serial 11 had 45 a/c, while Serial 12 had 36. Each a/c nominally carried up to 28 passengers, but looking at the ones that were shot down it looks like they had 16-18 paratroopers on board.

45 x 17 = approx. 765 carried for the 1st Bn drop.

36 x 17 = approx. 612 carried for the 2nd Bn drop.

A US para bn, based on the official TOE in force for OVERLORD (that is; two squads) had about 527 men, which would fit into either serial with room to spare for odds and sods from Regt and engineers, etc. Adding another 9 x 12-man squads (one per platoon) would add 108 men to the bn, taking it up to 635 in total. That would be too large to fit in Serial 12, and only leave 130 spare spaces in Serial 11.

It's still possible, but I'm still not convinced.

Jon

Edit: on the other hand, each three-plane trio /would/ be able to carry a 3-squad platoon, with the platoon HQ and 60mm mortar split across the three planes.

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On BARs in Normandy, there is pretty clear info in the after action report of 82nd Airborne, testimony from officers on what did and didn't work, taken in August after the battle. Here is the most relevant passage -

Normandy after action report, August 1944, on airborne experience in Normandy

Colonel Ekman continues--I think it is better to use BAR's in leg packs in place of machine guns during the actual drop. You can move out with BAR's in place of machine guns and come back later for the guns which would be dropped in bundles. "A" Company was delayed in moving out as they couldn't find their bundles immediately. The weapons section we had contained machine guns in the squad, *we jumped with some BAR's*, but would like to replace the machine guns with BAR's, because looking for the machine guns holds us back at first.

Q. Do you want two BAR's in every squad and one machine gun?

A. In the machine gun section we would like to have for the drop two BAR's. A searching party to find the machine gun bundle and bring up guns later. Each rifle squad to have two BAR'S. "A" Company could have been able to secure the bridge if they had had their bundles. We lost quite a bit of equipment. Someone can always use the BAR'S after the machine guns are found.

Q. How did you identify your bundles?

A. (Col. Vandervoort) - We didn't use any bundle lights. We daisy-chained all six bundles tied together. I lost one 60mm mortar; I had the bulk of my machine guns. I had more radios than the rest of the Regiment put together. Tie your bundles together - it helps.

Other eyewitness testimony also refers unambiguously to 82nd AB personnel using a BAR on the ground.

While the above passage might be confusing because it mixes a recommendation with testimony about what they actually did, in passing he does state "we jumped with some BARs". He also states that the MGs were at squad level, though physically dropped in separate packs. It does not resolve the question of type, A4 vs A6. The A4 was intended as a platoon level weapon, and the A6 always as a squad level weapon. But that alone cannot be said to settle it.

On BARs, though, it is clear enough, TOE or not they took them. They wanted more, but they had some.

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