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Korean War Rifle Platoon

January 22 2017 at 3:57 PM
Dan Martel 

Response to Great start


There was no change to the rifle platoon and only one small change to the rifle company headquarters with regard to personnel throughout the war. While I don't have a copy of the actual war establishments used I have been able to determine the numbers through manuals, staff officer training data and other documents I have found.

The Handbook of War Establishments published in Nov 1950 provides the infantry battalion war establishment for E/RCIC/3/2. It shows a total strength of 956 (38-918). The rifle company has a strength of 137 (5-132) divided into a company headquarters of 17 (2-15) and three rifle platoons of 40 (1-39). All the weaponry identified is British pattern (PIATs and 2-inch mortars). It should be remembered however, that this handbook was published only as an aide to those officers studying for staff exams and was not an authority other than for training or examination.

The Weekly Strength Returns for 25 CIB from Jan 1951 to Jan 1952 show that for this period the establishment strength for all three infantry battalions was 959 (39-920) however the war establishment number is not provided. (Without going into details the difference in the strength of the establishment provided in the Handbook (956) and the establishment given here (959) is that battalions in Korea were allotted an officer for welfare duties along with a batman, and that there was now an extra 'other rank' in the administrative platoon.)

The Canadian Army Manual of Training 7-45 Infantry Section Leading and Platoon Tactics 1954 gives the breakdown of the rifle platoon in detail. The platoon headquarters consists of a platoon commander (a subaltern), a platoon sergeant, a 60mm mortar team of three lead by an NCO, an orderly (what the Americans refer to as a runner) and the commander's batman (who is allotted the wireless set No 88). Everyone is equipped with a rifle and bayonet except for the mortar No 1 (carries the mortar and has a pistol) and the batman (machine carbine). Only 28 mortar bombs are carried, 18 smoke, 6 high explosive and 4 III (I believe it's a misprint for Ill short for illumination).

Now the rifle section is interesting, having one more rifleman than the 10 man section of the Second World War. The second paragraph under platoon organization reads "It must be realized that the platoon will seldom fight at a battle strength with sections of more than 1 NCO and 7 privates owing to casualties, left out of battle personnel, etc." In fact the chart in the manual 'Suggested Organization Within the Platoon at Battle Strength' shows it operating with 8 man sections with a section commander, 5 riflemen and a Bren group of 2. The section was not organized to fight with 11 men, but contained that cushion to keep it up to a battle strength of 8. The section commander was armed with a machine carbine, the 7 rifleman with a rifle and bayonet, and the Bren group with a Bren gun and 2 rifles and bayonets. With an 8 man section a total of 19 Bren magazines were carried, 12 high explosive grenades and 4 smoke grenades. (No matter what the 'carry' amount is, in a defensive posture as the Canadians were during the War the numbers of bombs, bullets and grenades available would have been unlimited.)

The company anti-tank weapon was the 3.5-inch rocket launcher of which there were three located in the rifle company headquarters. These weapons were allocated to the individual platoons as needed and it was up to the platoon to provide the two trained riflemen to operate them and carry the rockets. The company headquarters also had a fourth 60mm mortar which could be allocated out or operated at the headquarters, as required. Again, a trained crew would need to be obtained. Harry Pope, in his book, relates how he operated his company's mortars in battery, that is all four were located with, and under the direct control of, the company headquarters.

From photographic evidence of the War the Lee-Enfield and the Bren gun remained the rifle section's weapons throughout the War. However we've all seen the use of carbines in those same photos so I would suspect a lot of American weaponry was used whether official or otherwise. I'm also sure I've read of Canadians using .30 cal machine guns, both water and air cooled versions, but I can't recall where. Definitely American mortars, rocket launchers and recoilless rifles were obtained and became an official part of the war establishment.


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