Disbanded units

Discussion in 'General' started by Warlord, Mar 13, 2018.

  1. Warlord

    Warlord Veteran wannabe

    Lads, while researching Sened Station, I stumbled upon the 3 US Ranger battalions that were disbanded after Cisterna, but then remembered the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade, which after Mechili AND Gazala, still found its way to Italy, reformed for a third time. All took similar beatings, but one was kept on the line and the others not.

    Why did things like this happen during the war? Was it because different armies had different policies? Maybe different in regard to unit level? Which were the "requirements" for disbanding a unit during WW2?
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2018
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  2. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Gunner Tours

    This is a really complicated subject - but quite interesting. Possibly even enough of a topic a for a war studies masters or PhD thesis

    There was a difference between disbanding a unit which may be recruited from particular location and whose removal will have political consequences removing a label from the organisation structure that was never more than nebulous.

    Every army was faced with the problem of what to do about units which no longer had any combat value.

    Britain - whole formations lost in Singapore and Tobruk. Units 90% losses in North Africa, France Greece and Crete. The British were not usually sentimental about formations Many British formations had regional links and antecedents and traditions from the First World War.The 9th Scottish Division was renamed 51st Highland to replace the 51 lost at St Valery - even though the 9th Scottish's WW1 heritage was every bit as significant as the 51 HD. Most other formations lost were not reconstituted. 18th (Eastern Counties) infantry, 8th Australian and 11th Indian divisions lost in Singapore and 2nd South African Infantry Division lost at Tobruk were not reformed during the war. The British were happy to raise and disband armoured divisions too. The 1st, 2nd, 8th,10th and 42nd Armoured divisions were all disbanded during the war, before the formation of the 79th. They also redesignated the 6th (regular) Infantry division as the 70th Division, and disbanded the 44th 50th and 59th infantry divisions.

    The British had to be more careful about individual units - especially regular or territorial (Reserve). There was no problem disbanding some high numbered wartime raised unit, especially if they were some temporary special unit. (Who cared if 191 field regiment, No 62 Commando or the 11th battalion the blankshires ceased to exist) But there were complications with units with a peacetime past.

    #1 They had a separate financial and charitable existence. Every British unit had at least a half dozen associated charities for the Regimental funds, officers mess, sergeants mess JNCOs Mess, Company/squadron./batteries etc. These might own property worth millions of pounds including pictures, silver, band instruments, priceless looted artifacts -and those intangible assets "traditions and precedence". It was possible to wind up a Regiment but it was a PIA - when I last checked the Charities commission still had an open file for the HMS Hood ship's fund. If the parent unit went into the bag it was far easier to redesignate some higher numbered battalion - maybe pick the most efficient. Thus after the 2nd Battalion the Cameron Highlanders was captured in Tobruk, the 4th battalion (itself reformed after St Valery) was re-designated the 2nd Battalion and served with the reformed 11th Indian Brigade in Italy.

    #2 Many British regular and reserve units had strong regional connections. These were more than military units, but something of the fabric of the town or county. Disband the local yeomanry (reserve cavalry) and no one from the Army Board would ever fish, hunt or shoot in that county again. Thus the 53rd (Worcestershire Hussars) Anti tank Regiment, (86th Hertfordshire Yeomanry) Field Regiment and (147th Essex Yeomanry) Field Regiment, the divisional artillery of 42nd Armoured Division were selected to play leading roles on D Day a year after the division disappeared from the order of battle.

    Germany - Whole formations lost in Stalingrad Tunisia and France. 90% losses at various times from 1941 onwards.

    German formations were regional, usually recruited from a single area, with some of the considerations that the British applied to the local regiment. The Germans believed in the propaganda value of tradition. When a division was "lost" there would usually be a core that survived - sick wounded or temporarily detached. So formations suffering huge losses or captured would usually be reconstituted. Thus the Afrika Korps core units 15th, 21st Panzer and 90th Light were reformed as were the 6th army units lost in Stalingrad. The 9th 11th and 116th Panzer divisions in France in 1944 were reconstituted from training units with a sprinkling of veterans returning after wounds. There were some exceptions. The 22 Panzer Division, held responsible for the collapse of the Rumanian army north of Stalingrad was not reformed. Nor was the 10th Panzer Division lost in Tunisia, or seven of the German formations lost outside the Stalingrad pocket.

    The US Army did not have quite the same regional traditions and links in WW2. But apart from the Philippines and Cisterna did not lose many entire units. the 31st Infantry Regiment lost at Bataan was not reformed during the war, nor were the independent Parachute Regiments decimated during the Ardennes.

    The Red Army developed traditions during the Great Patriotic War "Guards" divisions corps and "Guards" and "shock" armies - and the 8th Guards Army attacking Berlin was the 62nd Army that defended Stalingrad. poor performance might mean oblivion.
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2018
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  3. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member

    Within the British Army, the Infantry could not give a hoot which Brigade, Division, Corps or Army they belonged to. Only the Regiment mattered and, in some Regiments, only membership of one of the Battalions within that Regiment mattered. If you started out in the 1st Battalion, you made your career there and many went kicking and screaming to the 2nd or 3rd Battalion.

    The British Infantry is tribal but tribalism stopped at Regimental level which allowed individual battalions of that Regiment to be sent to any Brigade, Division or Corps.

    The mutiny at Salerno in Sep 43 happened because of individual soldiers wanting to continue to serve with those whom they considered to be their own. I am not aware of an equivalent event ever happening in the US Army.

    It was common for Infantry Regiments to borrow entire Rifle Companies from the battalions of other Regiments if they were short but it was temporary expedient.

    As for the Household Division, a GREN GDS battalion would be happy to borrow Guardsmen from the IG, SG, WG or COLDM GDS but refused to take county line infantry. After being almost destroyed at Anzio, the remains of 1 IG were broken up and sent to other Guards units, including 3 IG in NW Europe, simply because they could find no replacements from the Guards units in Italy who were also very short of manpower.

    The joys of the British Infantry.


    Last edited: Mar 13, 2018
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  4. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron

    In December '44 I suffered the ignominy of having my regiment disbanded and found it very painful.at the time.

    After the war, my "new" regiment was in turn to amalgamate with another cavalry unit and although I was long out of the Army I felt for those who had been in the 4th Hussars for many years.

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  5. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Gunner Tours

    Agreed but....

    For all of the noise we can make about the Regimental system it could be honoured in the breach for much of both world wars. Before the introduction of conscription in Jan 1916 soldiers were to a large extent sent to their own cap badged unit, and you have the "pals." Once conscription came in there were no qualms about sending drafts of men wherever they were needed.

    The same applied in the bloodier battles of WW2. Drafts of men were sent regardless of cap-badge or even service. The Guards in particular were under strength. During OP Market Garden the infantry were made up with all sorts. The "Grenadiers" that took Nijmegen were heavily reinforced with men from the Gunners and RAF Regiment.

    Yes the Salerno Mutiny was about cap badge loyalty and the soldiers said they wanted to serve with their own battalions - but their own battalions were going back to the UK and not spending the autumn climbing every mountain and fording every river in Italy!

    There were some higher loyalties and tribalism. One 4th Indian Division veteran wrote about the divisional camaraderie. Anyone wearing the red Eagle flash was welcome in any mess in the Division.
  6. sol

    sol Very Senior Member

    Interestingly 11th Indian Brigade of 4th Indian Division is the only Indian Brigade recreated during the war after being captured at Tobruk in 1942 as far as I know. Even more new 11th Brigade had under command a newly redesigned 2nd Cameron Highlanders and re-raised 2/7th Gurkha Rifles, both original battalions were also captured in Tobruk.

    From everything I have read almost every member of 17th Indian Division was proud to be part of "The Black Cats". I guess similar could be said for 5th and 7th Indian Division and probably many other divisions.
  7. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Although there is this from The Grenadier Guards 1939-1945, Move to Birgden, 1st Battalion, Pg 177:
    8th December 1944
    1 Squadron and 217 Squadron RAF Regiment "were placed under the command of the Battalion, explored the area and decided where the companies were to go."

    it should be noted that the RAF Regiment personnel most often mentioned in conjunction with the Guards were *taken on strength by the Guards as their own, i.e. transfers not temporary/ad hoc reinforcements. They went through the same training and those deemed not up to standard were returned. From reading one account at least it also seems that those men put forward for transfer by RAF Regt were to some extent also pre-selected as potential guardsmen by their own WOs.

    A small insight into admin of manpower within a regiment
    From The Grenadier Guards 1939-1945, Appendix I, Pg 525:
    Of all the problems which the successive Lieutenant-Colonels had to face, the question of man power was the most acute. Af first it was not too difficult. With the inflow of reservists and recruits it was immediately possible to put three battalions into the field, with large reserves in the Training and Holding Battalions, and a pool of reinforcements overseas. Nor was it difficult to find men of the right calibre and height (which never fell below a minimum of 5ft. 9in. through the war) to form the 4th, 5th and 6th Battalions in the course of 1940 and 1941. But thereafter, as Battalions went overseas and suffered heavy casualties, and as the expanding Army found itself in competition for new men with industry and other Services, the Grenadiers were reduced so low that they were unable to maintain the original number of Battalions. The 6th Battalion were withdrawn from active service early in 1944; the 5th Battalion a year later: and, though the remaining four Battalions saw the end of the war on the field of battle, they were *** scraping the bottom of the bin for their last reserves.

    It never became necessary for the Brigade of Guards, as it was for many regiments of line, to absorb from outside the whole companies which retained their regimental identity; ** but within the Brigade certain adjustments were necessary to maintain the Battalions at fighting strength, such as temporary inclusion of a company of Grenadiers in the 3rd Battalion Welsh Guards, *and the transformation into Guardsmen of many men of the Royal Air Force Regiment. Thus in the end the Grenadiers were a smaller Regiment than in the middle years of the war, but they were undiluted. Four of their six Battalion were intact. Employed outside the Regiment, Grenadiers were scattered over the width of the world - a Guardsman, perhaps, acting as a servant to a General in Syria, an officer detached to the Scilly Islands to train falcons for the interception of German carrier pigeons - and so on, endlessly. As all these men were still held on paper establishment of the Regiment, it was often difficult to convince the War Office that the Regiment's fighting strength was as low as those at Regimental Headquarters knew to be the truth.

    There were other difficulties. It was necessary to estimate, with little knowledge of the future operational requirements of Battalions which were often thousands of miles away from London, what their separate casualty rates were likely to be six months ahead, and to have reinforcements available for them at the right place, at the right time, and with the correct proportions of officers, non-commissioned officers and men. On the whole, the forecasts were remarkably accurate. Casualties in infantry battalions were slightly under-estimated: casualties in armoured battalions slightly over-estimated; and the losses in rifle companies were higher than had been expected in proportion to the losses among specialists. But it is a measure of the success of the planning in London that at the end of the war there were only two officers trained for armoured warfare who remained unabsorbed into a field Battalion.

    From The History of the Irish Guards in the Second World War:
    1st Battalion Irish Guards

    On the 11th April the Battalion sailed from Naples in the Capetown Castle. Of the 926 men who left Ayr in February, 1943, 326 landed in Liverpool on the 22nd April, 1944. On the beach-head the Battalion lost 32 officers and 714 men, killed wounded and missing. It left behind it in the graveyards outside Anzio 7 officers and 66 men.

    The disbandment of 1IG was debated and initially resisted but the number of Irish Guards recruits was clearly insufficient to sustain two infantry battalions in two theatres. Formerly designated the Training Battalion, 3IG's need in April 1944 was seen as greater than 1IG's: their situation before Normandy had already necessitated borrowing a SG rifle company to make up their establishment. Indeed even the 3IG designation was kept, I suppose, in order to build upon the esprit nurtured during training. 1IG returned to the UK, regrouped to an extent as a training cadre, but the bulk of those who could be spared were eventually sent over to 3IG some after Op Market Garden. [*** In his recollections my father made reference also to the 3rd battalion at some point having to 'scrape the bottom of the barrel': while he greatly admired veterans from 1IG with whom he served, he had a few negative comments to say about 'Depot men' who were either incapable of adapting to field conditions or who were incompetent in active warfare roles.']
    Grenadiers, Coldstream, Welsh and Irish each had infantry battalions in GAD to reinforce. ** Scots Guards supplied S Company to 2CG in Italy, while X Coy SG was used successively by both 3IG and 1WG in NWE to reinforce their infantry ranks (before eventually re-joining a SG battalion after the Welsh were sent back to the UK). So the decision to disband 1IG would have been seen as unavoidable.

    Excerpts from 1IG War Diary
    War Diary: 1st Battalion IRISH GUARDS, September 1939 - July 1944
    23 April 1944
    Before dinner the Lieutenant-Colonel addressed the Battalion in the Mess Room, welcoming them home, and regretting that the shortage of men and made it impossible to keep an IRISH GUARDS battalion in ITALY.
    He gave us the first hint of our future - that the 201 GUARDS BRIGADE was to form a training cadre for a large new intake to the BRIGADE OF GUARDS.

    7 June
    All Rifle company subalterns, together with four attached Officers from the WELSH GUARDS, began a P.T. Course today, under the C.S.M.I.
    It is understood that they are to be trained as Instructors to the expected squads, who will be drawn from the ROYAL AIR FORCE REGIMENT, and, to some degree from the ROYAL AIR FORCE.

    21 June

    At 0815 hours this morning the Brigade Commander spoke to all Officers, Warrant Officers and Sergeants, in the Brigade Hut.
    He emphasised a few points that should govern the Instructor’s attitude towards the squads of R.A.F. men, whose outlook is bound to be different from our own, and whose position is in many respects unenviable.
    The first squads arrived recently, and intakes are expected from now on at regular intervals, until the full number of the intake is made up.

    26 June
    Now that Barnes Camp, (just East of Stobs Camp) is beginning to be occupied by recruits and their Instructors, a Piper has been detailed to sound calles there daily.
    The Commanding Officer spoke to the R.A.F. intake at 1715 hours.
    * Of the total number of recruits taken in, 21 Irishmen have been accepted by the Battalion, destined to be Irish Guardsmen, while we are continuing to provide Instructors, and in some case also Trained Soldiers, for those going into other Regiments of the Brigade.

    Our own men are at present organised into Administrative Platoons, and Demonstration Platoons, from whom, if required, drafts of trained men could be taken.

    July 1944

    By far the most important work now being undertaken is that of training men, particularly the large intakes from the R.A.F. REGIMENT and the Ground Staff, and also our own members of the present Demonstration Platoons.

    31 July
    At the end of the month training could be summarised as follows:-
    There are at present fifteen squads under instruction, for whom the Battalion is providing 12 N.C.Os and the COLDSTREAM GUARDS 3 (these totals do not include supernumerary instructors). Of these squads one is destined for the IRISH GUARDS, seven for the WELSH GUARDS, and seven for the COLDSTREAM GUARDS. There are at present in the camp two COLDSTREAM GUARDS Companies, under Major I.W. GORE-LANGTON and Captain D.R.W.R. WATTS-RUSSELL, and one WELSH GUARDS Company under Major C.A.la T. LEATHAM. The administration and supervision of squads is, however, shared among these companies, and our own rifle companies, of whom No. 1 has charge of 3 squads, and Nos. 2, 3 and 4 Companies of 4 squads each. Courses correspond broadly to the type of training carried out at the GUARDS DEPOT, with emphasis in the early weeks on Weapon Training and Drill, advancing later through the various stages of Fieldcraft and minor tactics. The Course is based on a week of 5 full working days, leaving Sunday and one other week-day (not fixed) completely free. The total length of Courses is at present flexible, but will probably work out at 14 weeks. The customary inspections by Adjutant and Commanding Officer are carried out on a plan similar to that in use at the GUARDS DEPOT. All things considered, the spirit and will to work of the intake platoons, is remarkably good, and they should make, in time, a valuable contribution to their respective regiments.
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  8. Warlord

    Warlord Veteran wannabe


    This is A LOT of intel, lads. Thanks for rising up to the challenge :salut:

    Now, can it be said then that disbanding units was directly related to tradition or the lack of? It would explain both my examples, because even though the Rangers could trace their lineage back to the Colonies' Revolt :D, ever since Cash and Carry, industrial America was operating on the principle of "if showing the littlest wear, discard and get a new one".
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  9. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Gunner Tours

    There is a whole saga to be written about the Brigade of Guards in the Second World War. Its a case study of how factional interests can be counterproductive. The Guards staked out ambitions to fill formations that they could not sustain with the recruitment they had. There may have been an element of creating "Jobs for the boys" i.e. the maximum number of unit commands. The foot guards might have been determined to become master of armoured warfare - possibly because this is where they thought the future of the army lay and were determined to ensure that the army would continue to be led by guardsmen. The net result was that by the end of the War the HM Footguards provided two armoured Brigades and two infantry brigades.

    Given that the British army was desperately short short of high quality infantry it was more than a little bonkers that some of the finest most disciplined, infantry were mounted in tanks. At the same time, gunners and armoured units were deployed in a dismounted role because of the shortage of infantry. Montgomery did not want to take the 6th Guards Armoured Brigade to Normandy, but was forced to after the "friends of the foot guards" lobbied Churchill. In a rational world the Guards rather than the 42 Armoured Division would have been disbanded in 1943 and the Guardsmen used as infantry brigades or a complete division.

    The Foot Guards ethos is about as far as you can get from mission command as you can get. They are lovely people, as wonderfully British as you could find, and fine soldiers. However, the techniques that sustain the Trooping of the Colour, the defence of Hougoumont or the Knightsbridge Box are utterly antipathetic to the tempo of armoured warfare. My father told me about the woodentops mentality he observed in 1944. I offer one sentence from a briefing in the 1980s 40 years after WW2: "Mission XXX Guards Battlegroup will stage a counter stroke in 16 phases.(1)"

    1. A counter stroke is an attack into the flank of a moving enemy formation.
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2018
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  10. sol

    sol Very Senior Member

    Rangers that fought in the WW2 were created after the war started and while 1st, 3rd and 4th battalions were disbanded in Italy the Rangers were not as there were other units. Also all three battalions were disbanded because they were basically destroyed at Anzio with a loss of all but six men.

    Generally units were usually disbanded if there is a need for replacements for other, usually frontilne, units or if there is no need for it anymore. Tradition sometimes played its part but sometimes don't. There is no same general rule. Both 1st Armoured and 50th Infantry Division had fine war record but they were still disbanded instead of units that were raised after them. Both were disbanded because of need for replacements.

    Fame didn't prevent Chindits to be disbanded before the end of the war. But they were considered, among some other things, as not needed at that stage of the war. Indian army created several Armoured Divisions during the war. Two of them, 32nd and 43rd, were later amalgamated in the one, 44th Armoured Division. Both Armoured Brigades of 44th were sent to Burma as a independent brigades while division itself was first designated to become 9th Airborne Division to be instead converted to 21st Infantry Division. But after Imphal there was no need for another infantry division so 21st was disbanded and its units used to create 44th Airborne Division to which elements of the Chindits were sent after they disbandment.
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2018

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