Infantry Battalion

The Infantry Battalion was the basic tactical unit of the ground forces of the Canadian military throughout the 20th Century. Tactically, battalions are grouped into brigades. Administratively, battalions are subdivisions of regiments.

The battalion was a standard tactical organization throughout the 20th Century, and overseas deployments were usually done with formations formed from them.

Generally speaking, a battalion consisted of several hundred men, organized into sub-units called companies. The composition of those companies changed during the course of the century, in response to many factors, most notably the introduction of automatic weapons, which led to greater dispersal of infantrymen on the battlefield and a loss of direct control by officers over their men, and mechanization.

A battalion generally consisted of

  • A Battalion Headquarters

  • Several rifle companies

  • Administrative and supporting arms platoons, organized into companies

Definitions - Regiment and Battalion

The term "battalion" and "regiment" have been used interchangeably by historians of both the Canadian and British armies, and indeed, the terms have been used that way by those militaries themselves.

In the Canadian military, a Regiment is an administrative entity. This entity has its own distinctive name, and a set of insignia, traditions and customs associated with it. Most Canadian regiments also have an affiliate regiment in the British Army from which traditions are drawn.

A battalion is a tactical entity as described on this page. In peacetime, the distinction between a Regiment and a battalion may be academic, as most reserve militia regiments have traditionally been organized as a single battalion.

During the Second World War, most infantry regiments of the Canadian Army mobilized two or more battalions. These battalions drew their identity from the parent regiment, taking their name, insignia such as cap badges and shoulder titles, and inherited the history and traditions of that regiment.

In the latter half of the 20th Century, the Canadian military was expanded such that regular army infantry regiments had more than one battalion.

First World War

When the Canadian Militia had to mobilize a large armed force to participate in the Great War, the existing regiments were not mobilized. Instead a force intended solely for employment in Europe, called the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), was created. The infantry component of the CEF was organized into battalions, each given a number. These numbered battalions also acquired secondary titles. For example, the 10th Battalion, recruited in Calgary and Winnipeg, became known as the Tenth Canadians, while the 16th Battalion, recruited from four seperate Highland regiments, became known as the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish).

These infantry battalions were divided into eight rifle companies, changed in 1915 to four companies. The companies were either numbered 1 through 4, or else given a letter designation A through D, depending on the unit. The main weapons employed by the battalions that took the field in 1915 were rifles, with small numbers of Colt machine guns augmenting the battalion's firepower.

Tactically, the company was the main unit of maneuver, as it had been in the 19th Century. As the war progressed, and the firepower available to friendly and enemy infantry was increased, more emphasis was placed on the subunits of the company - the platoon and even the section - as the basic unit of maneuver.

In 1916 a typical infantry battalion consisted of 35 officers and 977 other ranks, commanded by a lieutenant colonel. Armament consisted of 975 rifles, with the 35 officers being armed with pistols, and a machine gun section of 2 Vickers guns having replaced the Colt machine guns used in 1915.In 1916 and 1917, tactical lessons learned in France saw the introduction of other weapons, chiefly the Lewis machine gun which could be used by infantry in an attack. Mortars, Hand Grenades and other weapons also became common, and platoons began to be split into sections by 1918, with grenade throwers (called "bombers"), Lewis machine gunners, and riflemen organized into seperate sections within each platoon.

The infantry battalion moved by foot (or by rail for long moves), with typical transport held by the battalion consisting of 13 riding horses, 26 draught horses, 8 heavy draught horses, 9 pack horses, and 16 various horse carts and wagons, in addition to 9 bicycles.

  • Battalion Headquarters (11 officers, 93 other ranks)

  • A Company

    • No. 1 Platoon

    • No. 2 Platoon

    • No. 3 Platoon

    • No. 4 Platoon

  • B Company

    • No. 5 Platoon

    • No. 6 Platoon

    • No. 7 Platoon

    • No. 8 Platoon

  • C Company

    • No. 9 Platoon

    • No. 10 Platoon

    • No. 11 Platoon

    • No. 12 Platoon

  • D Company

    • No. 13 Platoon

    • No. 14 Platoon

    • No. 15 Platoon

    • No. 16 Platoon

In 1916 and 1917, tactical lessons learned in France saw the introduction of other weapons, chiefly the Lewis machine gun which could be used by infantry in an attack. Mortars, hand grenades and other weapons also gained in popularity, and platoons began to be split into sections by 1918, with grenade throwers (called "bombers"), Lewis machine gunners, and riflemen organized into seperate sections within each platoon.

The infantry battalion moved by foot (or by rail for long moves), with typical transport held by the battalion consisting of 13 riding horses, 26 draught horses, 8 heavy draught horses, 9 pack horses, and 16 various horse carts and wagons, in addition to 9 bicycles.

1936 Reorganization

In 1936, following a reorganization of the Militia, three different types of infantry battalion were designated; the Infantry (Rifle) battalion, Infantry (Machine Gun) battalion, and Infantry (Tank) battalion.

The Second World War

At the start of the Second World War, Canada again created a force for overseas employment, called originally the Canadian Active Service Force (CASF). Unlike in the First World War, however, these battalions were formed from the existing infantry regiments, taking their names and at first being suffixed with CASF. For example, the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada raised an overseas unit known as "The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, CASF". These CASF units were also known as first battalions of their regiments, or in this case "First Battalion, The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada." In 1940, the CASF suffixes were abandoned, and the Canadian military became known for the first time as the Canadian Army. Full time units became known as the Canadian Army (Active), those former CASF units formed the Canadian Army (Overseas), and part time units in Canada formed the Canadian Army (Reserve). Some regiments of the new Canadian Army mobilized three and in some cases four battalions, each numbered accordingly.

Rifle Battalions - Early

The 1936 organization of an infantry battalion called for four companies, plus battalion headquarters and a headquarters "wing" (the forerunner of Support Company). This wing consisted of four groups; machine gunners, administrative personnel, transport personnel, and a mixed group of signallers and scouts. A platoon had 28 men and a full strength company 118 officers and men.

This framework changed dramatically after 1939. The Vickers machineguns were placed in specialist battalions, one per brigade at first, then one per division. An Anti-Aircraft platoon armed with light machineguns was deleted from infantry battalions by 1944 and an anti-tank platoon added, with support weapons being placed in the new Support Company. Above all, equipment was constantly upgraded, with the Boyes anti-tank rifle replaced by the PIAT, the 2-pounder Anti-Tank gun replaced by the 6-pounder, and the various small arms such as the Thompson sub machine gun, Lee Enfield No. III Mk I rifle, and .38 calibre revolver all being replaced over the course of the war years.

Battalion Organization - 1939

Echelons

The battalion was further divided into Echelons.

"F" (for "fighting") Echelon consisted of the rifle companies and support companies, and were located in the front line. As well, fighting transport and supplies, along with battalion headquarters, were considered part of "F" Echelon.

"A" Echelon was located three to five miles behind "F" echelon and held quartermaster stores, repair equipment, spare transport and supplies, the rear battalion HQ (where records were kept; the paymaster was also located here). "A" echelon was under brigade control.

"B" Echelon, under divisional control, held the Headquarters Company headquarters, dental staff, personnel Left Out of Battle (LOB - see below), and was where kit was stored.

Left Out of Battle (LOB)

The battalion in action operated with a Left Out of Battle (LOB) system that allowed for the battalion to be rebuilt in the case of a disastrous battle; the concept had been pioneered during the First World War. If heavy casualties resulted from a battle, the key personnel could be used as a cadre to reform the battalion around.

Before each major action, key personnel would be designated LOB. 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 designate one or two riflemen LOB.

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

Official establishments for platoons and companies were often restructured by Canadian infantry battalions once they saw action, and many changes, both official and unofficial, became common.

Due to these factors, the organizational charts shown on the other pages of this website should be taken as a general guide only.

Rifle Battalions - Late

The Infantry battalion (rifle) in World War Two numbered 801 officers and men by 1944. A Scout and Sniper Platoon was added to Battalion Headquarters, under the Intelligence Officer. Perhaps the largest change during the war was the addition of Support Company to accommodate the large number of support weapons that became necessary to ensure the success, and even survival, of the battalion on the modern battlefield.

The battalion had much in the way of its own support weapons, including 2-inch mortars, a platoon of 3-inch mortars, and a platoon of anti-tank guns. Each Infantry Section of 10 men had its own Bren light machine gun, but heavier machineguns (the Vickers) and 4.2-inch Mortars were held by support battalions at the divisional level and did not form part of the infantry battalion.

The infantry battalion of the Second World War was mechanized to a great degree, but the infantrymen still had to walk everywhere they went - each platoon had a single 15cwt truck to store its equipment on - not enough for troop lift. For long moves, Troop Carrying Vehicles (TCVs) pooled at the divisional level were assigned to units as needed.

Battalion transport consisted of, typically, 33 bicycles, 27 motorcycles (with all officers being required to know how to use them), 3 caravans, 9 jeeps (1/4 ton trucks), 1 15-cwt water truck, 28 15-cwt trucks, 13 60-cwt trucks, 12 Loyd carriers, and 26 universal carriers.

An Infantry Company, consisting of 5 officers and 122 other ranks, had a wide variety of weapons including rifles, Sten machine carbines (from 1942 on), Bren light machine guns, 2-inch Mortars, and anti tank weapons (at first the Boys Anti-Tank Rifle and later the Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank (PIAT)).

Battalion Organization - 1942

The typical late war organization was as follows:

Machine Gun Battalions

The Machine Gun Battalion was used during the war originally on a scale of one per brigade of infantry, by 1942 on a scale of one per division. They were later renamed Support Battalions as they eventually came to include 4.2" Mortar and 20mm anti-aircraft platoons, and reverted back to the Machine Gun designation after deleting the 20mm anti-aircraft guns.

Motor Battalions

The Motor Battalion was developed during the war as the infantry component of an Armoured Brigade serving in an Infantry Division. Canada fielded only two such Motor battalions in the Second World War.

Tank Battalions

Tank battalions were removed from the jurisdiction of the infantry and used as the nucleus of the new Canadian Armoured Corps during the Second World War. They were organized as "regiments" made up of "squadrons", a tradition inherited from the horsed cavalry regiments which were simultaneously re-equipped with armoured vehicles.

Post Second World War

In the post war era, Machine Gun battalions were discarded, with all infantry battalions being organized instead as rifle battalions. Many former Infantry regiments were reroled depending on need, either as armoured regiments, artillery regiments, or engineer units.


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