Battle Procedure

In preparing for an attack, an infantry battalion or infantry regiment in the Canadian Army developed a set procedure during the 20th Century in able to provide all participants with confidence in their ability to complete the mission.

An Orders Group (or "O-Group") was the name of an informal conference at which orders were passed from a commander to their subordinates. War Diaries from the Second World War also refer to "Huddle Red" and "Huddle Green."

 

Officers holding an Orders ("O") Group in front of a Sherman tank of The Governor General's Foot Guards, Bergen op Zoom, Netherlands, 6 November 1944. (LAC Photo)

 

Unidentified infantrymen, probably of the 48th Highlanders of Canada, at an "O" (orders) group during manoeuvres, England, ca. 1941.(LAC Photo)

 

Start Line was a military term used by the Canadian Army to denote the starting positions for friendly units for an operation, such as an attack on enemy positions. The term was replaced with Line of Departure (LOD) some time after the Korean War.

Strictly speaking, the start line is that point at which the attacking element crosses from friendly-held ground into unsecured ground. This is not to be confused with the Assembly Area, where friendly forces are collected, or the Forming Up Point (FUP), which is the secure area in which the attacking force prepares for an attack. Once ready, the force leaves the assembly area, may conduct a passage of lines, and crosses the start line.

A perfectly executed plan would include the Start Line (or LOD) being secure from enemy observation and direct fire, but in actual practice, this was sometimes not the case, causing delays. In some cases, fighting would have to take place in order to secure the Start Line before the actual operation could commence.

Whereas Assembly Areas and FUPs were of necessity physical features on the ground whose occupation in time was variable, the SLs were to some extent the opposite. They might be the line of a hedge or a stream but they could equally be a tape laid down beforehand. Their purpose, however, was of crucial importance to the accurate launching of an attack. An attack was timed from the start line. When the first troops crossed it, that was H-Hour: anything which took place beforehand was called H-minus and afterwards H-plus. Phased movements and artillery fire tasks were geared to H-Hour. The easy identification of the SL was therefore its most important function wince movement within a precise programme demanded accurate time keeping. And since troops had no need to stop on the SL it was not a necessity that it should be out of sight of the enemy, as was so essential with the Assembly Area and FUP. It had also to be aligned at 90 degrees to the axis to impart correct direction.1

The term "passage of lines" refers in miitary terms to a tactical enabling maneuver in which one unit moved through another unit's positions with the intent of moving into or out of enemy contact, generally as part of a larger operation. Commanders might conduct a passage of lines to continue an attack or conduct a counterattack, and would so so when their unit could not, for whatever reason, bypass another unit's position. A passage of lines involved a transfer of responsibility for an area of operations between two commanders, at a time determined either by higher commanders or mutually by the unit commanders themselves.

In a military operation, the Forming Up Point (FUP) (also seen as "Forming Up Place") was a pre-designated area in which friendly troops were assembled in preparation for that operation. This location was closer to the front line than the Assembly Area. In general, this is a secure area, free from observation by enemy troops if at all possible. Troops would then launch their attack from the FUP, crossing the Start Line on the way to their objectives.

Kenneth Macksey explains what an Armoured Regiment did in the FUP in the Second World War:

Infantry, traveling either in half-tracked armoured carriers or walking, joined the tanks in the FUP and there memorized tank recognition marks and finalized communication arrangements...from this moment onward the danger of being hit by shell fire was omnipresent, for there was always the possibility of enemy artillery bringing down speculative fire on possible forming up places, picked from the map, in the hope of disrupting the beginning of an expected attack. Hence the selection of FUPs was a matter for inspired judgment. It was unwise to enter areas that were too obviously suitable for the purpose: on the other hand it was useless selecting a place that did not fulfill the demands of accessibility, that was too cramped or from which the exits were so poor as to prevent quick deployment to the next tactical bound - the Start Line (SL).2

The Assembly Area was a pre-designated location in which troops/vehicles marshalling for an attack were collected. For an Armoured Regiment in the Second World War, this area would generally be from as far away as a few miles to as close as 3,000 yards to the front line.3

In the Assembly Area, final adjustments to weapons and vehicles, and topping up with fuel after the approach march, took place while planning went on. The regiment might stay in this location for a day or more, or perhaps just a few hours, but once the next move forward began to the Forming Up Place, in ground just out of sight of the enemy, halts would be shorter and sometimes avoided altogether.4
 

Time of the Attack

In military terminology, D-Day was used to designate the starting date of an operation during the Second World War. A specific time would be designated by H-Hour. This convention was widely used in the Second World War, and the start of most major operations was referred to as D-Day; for example D-Day for the invasion of Sicily as 10 Jul 1943. The invasion of Normandy however, became synonymous with the term, and often is used today to refer specifically to the landings in Normandy on 6 Jun 1944. During the First World War, the standard terminology for the start of an operation was Z-Day, with the starting time referred to as Zero Hour.

The following extract comes from an operations order of 8th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 16th Irish Division:

OPERATION ORDER FOR THE BATTLE OF MESSINES

SECRET ........................................Copy No.15.

8th R. INNISKILLING FUSILIERS. OPERATION ORDER No.103 - 4.6.17. BY LIEUT.COLONEL T.H. BOARDMAN,D.S.O.

Referring to days -

"Z" Day is the day on which operations take place.
One day before "Z"..............................."Y" day.
Two days before "Z".............................."X" day.
Three days before "Z"............................"W" day.
Four days before "Z"............................."V" day.
Five days before "Z"............................."U" day.

Days before "U" day will be referred to as "Z" minus 6, "Z" minus 7, "Z" minus 8 etc.

(a) One day after "Z"........."A" day.
Two days after "Z"........"B" day.
Three days after "Z"......"C" day.
Days after "C" day will be referred to as "Z" plus 4, "Z" plus 5, "Z" plus 6 &c.

(b) Referring to hours on "Z" day. Zero is the exact time at which operations will commence and times will be designated in hours and minutes plus or minus from zero, even if they encroach on "Y" day.

(c) In making reference to times before and after which operations will take place symbols + or - are not to be used. The word plus or minus is to be written in full. In referring to times before of after Zero Hour, the words "Zero plus........." or "Zero minus......" must be inserted, so as to prevent possible confusion with clock time.

During the Second World War, the term D-Day replaced "Z" Day. "Zero Hour" was replaced by "H-Hour".

Counting down to or up from D-Day was accomplished by adding "plus" or "minus" and a figure afterwards. In Normandy, for example, with 6 Jun 1944 being "D-Day", "D plus 2" refers to 8 Jun and "D minus 2" refers to 4 Jun, etc.


Left Out of Battle

Left Out of Battle (LOB) was a concept developed during the First World War and utilized extensively by the Canadian Army during the 20th Century.

A system was developed that allowed for infantry battalions to be rebuilt in the case of a disastrous battle; if heavy casualties resulted from an action, key personnel could be used as a cadre to reform around.

Before a major action, these key personnel would be designated Left Out of Battle. If a company commander led his company in an attack, his second in command would be left behind at "B" Echelon. The system was instituted at all levels; if the CO was in action, the second-in-command would be LOB. Individual rifle sections would sometimes also designate one or two riflemen LOB.

Casualties, too, dictated how many men could be put into a particular action.

First World War

An infantry battalion in the CEF usually left 108 men LOB in any given action.

  • Battalion Headquarters

  • 2 sergeants major

  • 32 men, including 33% of signalers and runners; bombing, gas, Lewis Gun instructors, and "other instructors in special work"

  • each of 4 rifle companies

  • 16 soldiers (4 from each platoon)

  • any other officers and personnel as designated at the commander's discretion5


On The Objective

Once on the objective, reorganization could occur. In the Second World War, the Canadians found that the Germans very often pre-registered their own positions so that as soon as they were lost, they could drop mortar fire onto them with accuracy - so men moved off the objective to reorganize a short distance away. Each platoon would take stock of ammunition and casualties, replenish, and most important - dig in, because the Germans rarely let a position go without counterattacking immediately, the idea being that the attacker was most vulnerable when reorganizing.

In a set piece attack, the attacking force might be relieved in place, or it might have another battalion of the same brigade (or company of the same battalion) "pass through", and they would fight for the next objective. In the meantime, the ground was prepared for defence. In addition to the physical task of digging in or improving positions (in the First World War this would involve reversing the trench, adding a sandbagged parapet and fire step to the back of what was the Germans' trench). This might involve "christening the ground" - identifying landmarks on the horizon, for example, so as to call out target indications rapidly in the event of an attack. Range cards, defensive fire plans, liaison with the FOO, all might take place as part of this.

Friendly units would need to contact flanking units, lay signal wire to new command posts, and send out carrying parties to bring up rations and ammunition and water, not to mention sleeping gear/packs/greatcoats since this equipment would be shed during the day and probably needed at night.

The Company Sergeant Major would need to establish a new casualty point, POW point, and would need to find out where the Regimental Aid Post was located for the battalion. He would organize new ammunition dumps with the regimental and company quartermaster sergeants, and the platoon commanders would be briefed on where everything was, including command posts for the companies. They would then have to filter that information down to the men in the rifle sections so that if someone was hit or sent back as a runner to pass on information or get more ammunition, he knew where to go.

And then there were patrols - contact patrols, to find neighbouring units; fighting patrols, usually section or even platoon sizes, to go make trouble and keep the enemy off balance; recce patrols - 2 or 3 men sent off to find information. All the while an infantry unit was in the line, patrolling was a reality.

In the Nijmegen Salient, some units were in positions for days at a time, and entire units rotated through the same positions for several weeks. A simple trench might get very elaborate, with straw obtained from local barns to form a floor; an old door could be used to build overhead cover - protection from rain more than anything; a direct hit on your trench would still kill with the concussion and a near miss might still turn insides to jelly.

Notes

  1. Macksey, Kenneth. Tank Tactics (Almark Publishing Co. Ltd., London, UK, 1976) ISBN 855242507 pp.29-32

  2. Ibid, p. 29

  3. Ibid, p. 28

  4. Ibid

  5. Love, David W. A Call to Arms: The Organization and Administration of Canada's Military in World War One (Bunker to Bunker Books, Calgary, AB, 1999) ISBN 1894255038 pp.110-111

 

 

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