The British Parachute Battalion, circa 1944 to 1945

In early 1944 the Parachute Battalion was reorganised.  It still retained the general outline used previously but there had been some amendments to its support weapons.

The Parachute Battalion, circa 1944 to 1945

Battalion Headquarters (5 Officers, 22 men)

Headquarter Company (9 Officers, 226 men), comprised of;

Company Headquarters (1 Officer, 10 men)

Intelligence Section (1 Officer, 8 men)

Signals Platoon (1 Officer, 27 men)

Two Mortar Platoons, each (1 Officer, 40 men)

Anti-tank Platoon (1 Officer, 39 men)

Administrative Platoon (3 Officers, 62 men)

Three Rifle Companies (5 Officers, 112 men) each comprised of;

Company HQ (2 Officers, 13 men)

Three Rifle Platoons, each comprised of;

Platoon HQ (1 Officer, 3 men)

Three Sections, each comprised of 10 men

Total Strength of 613 all ranks (29 Officers and 584 men)

Comments

The 3-inch mortars were now concentrated in Headquarter Company, split into two identical Platoons.  The Protective Section and individual Company Anti-tank Sections were also deleted, their places taken by a new Anti-tank Platoon.  

The elements of the Battalion

Battalion Headquarters as before with the Lieutenant-colonel, Major, Captain (Adjutant) and Lieutenant (Intelligence), plus the attached Medical Officer. 

Intelligence Section - by 1944, the Section was equipped with eight sniper rifles, which were selected Lee-Enfield models fitted with telescopic sights and other modifications.  This would suggest it was also employed in the sharp shooting role as well as intelligence gathering. 

Signals Platoon as before, now with 10 airborne bicycles to supplement their message carrying capabilities.

Mortar Platoon - by 1944, there were two Mortar Platoons, each still with four weapons giving an impressive total of eight in the Battalion.  However, in what was I think a unique approach, the second Platoon could replace its mortars with four Vickers Medium Machine Guns.  There was no standing MMG Platoon, instead it was at the discretion of the unit commander whether he took four mortars plus four Vickers as he thought appropriate, or left the machine guns out entirely in favour of the 3-inch tubes.  There was no reason why he might not take six mortars and two MMGs instead.  The internal organisation of the Platoon does not seem to have altered, the crews merely exchanged one weapon for another, a tribute to their proficiency.  

Anti-tank Platoon - in keeping with their role as light infantry, the Paratroops were unable to take towed anti-tank guns with them.  Instead, the Anti-tank Platoon was equipped with ten PIATs, a lot less use against a Panzer assault but all that could be dropped by parachute.  The Platoon also fielded two Bren guns as a limited defence against air attack.  The PIATs seem to have been deployed in three sections of three, leaving one for the AA Section perhaps?  Some Battalions distributed the PIATs out to the Rifle Platoons, though whether the crews went with them is unclear.

In a further twist, some Battalions refer to an Assault Platoon in place of an Anti-tank Platoon.  It is unclear whether this was a simple renaming of the subunit, or whether certain commanders re-tasked their anti-tank personnel with the role of something akin to the more specialised assault pioneer role.  Any info welcomed.

Administrative Platoon - as previously.

The Rifle Company -  the only real changes to the format of the Rifle Company came with the deletion of the previous Mortar and Anti-tank Sections.

The three Rifle Platoons remained largely as before, though each Rifle Section now had a sniper rifle issued.  Each Platoon also had several 'reserve weapons' allocated to it, namely a Bren gun and a PIAT, which would actually have replaced the Boys much earlier.  The PIAT was additional to those carried by the Battalion Anti-tank Platoon, and was issued on the same scale as found elsewhere.  The extra Bren is interesting, and allowed one Section to be notably reinforced.  The weight of equipment at the disposal of the Platoon is quite remarkable, and I have to wonder whether Platoons sometimes left a couple of the 2-inch tubes behind to accommodate the PIAT and perhaps the extra Bren?

Company HQ remained as before, less its support weapons.  The Battalion still retained a pool of Sten guns, now reduced to 300 for issue to parachutists as required.

Summary

The Battalion, while remarkably well armed, remained the lightest unit of its size.  Its internal organisation showed the flexibility needed by a force often called upon to punch well above its weight.  The absence of heavy weapons was keenly felt as the battle wore on and every ounce of the determination unique to the airborne soldier was needed to preserve the gains they had made.

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