Query - WW2 Infantry Training & Bren Gunner Selection

Discussion in 'General' started by Tim Martin, Sep 3, 2019.

  1. Tim Martin

    Tim Martin New Member

    I am researching my grandfather's service during WW2 (and this website is invaluable).

    He fought from Normandy to Germany as a Bren Gunner with 1st Hampshires and 2nd Devons.

    After PTW he trained with 1st DCLI in 1943, before posting to 42 RHU, and from there in April '44 as a replacement (X iv list) to 8 DLI (somehow he ended up in 1st Hants on D+1, knowing him he probably stood in the wrong queue!).

    I am trying to find out how and when he would have been selected as a Bren Gunner. None of my research so far contains enough detail on the selection process, if any, that led to him getting this role. Although he said little about his service, I believe that he was a Bren Gunner throughout his combat service. I have assumed that there was some sort of role selection during training. Am I right in this assumption? (I am aware that all infantrymen were Bren trained).

    Can anyone shed any light on how Bren Gunners were selected (or picked as "volunteers")?


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  2. Tony56

    Tony56 Member Patron

    I would suggest that you try to get hold of his regiment's war diaries. If you are lucky the appendices will include regimental orders that often show lists men selected to attend courses of instruction and give details of the men passing.
  3. chrisgrove

    chrisgrove Senior Member

    All infantry soldiers were (or should have been) trained on the Bren Gun. My guess is that the section commander would detail the brawniest guy in the section as the 'official' Bren Gunner, though possible the Platoon Commander might have a say if there was a soldier who was a particularly good shot on the Bren.
    ceolredmonger likes this.
  4. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    Have you tried contacting the National Army Museum

    Get in touch
    National Army Museum
    Royal Hospital Road
    London SW3 4HT
    020 7730 0717

  5. idler

    idler GeneralList

    I suspect it was based more on reliability than brawn or pure marksmanship. You wouldn't want a third of your firepower in the hands of someone flaky.
    ceolredmonger likes this.
  6. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Well-Known Member

    From my limited post war experience as a cadet a section is split into two parts for Section Attack /Skirmishing. The Corporal is Section Commander with 8 men in a section.
    The firepower is split between the rifle men (6) and the LMG (Bren) (2) the Bren Gunner is normally a Lance Corporal with a rifleman loading and changing magazines as required. He also directs fire as the gun kicks out a lot of smoke when firing and can mask the gunners aim he also carries a spare barrel when the gun jams.
    The fire and movement is what was called a leapfrog action the LMG opens fire keeping the enemies heads down while the riflemen move forward normally at an angle to the enemy to outflank him.
    They take cover and open fire, then the Bren moves forward takes cover and opens fire. The sequence is repeated until the rifle men charge the position and take it. The Bren ceases fire when they are virtually on top of the enemy.
    The Gun crew have to be well practice in IA's (Immediate Actions) 1st IA is gun stops safety catch, cock the gun to clear the breech change magazine. 2nd IA Gun stops safety catch, cock gun remove magazine change barrel, magazine on cock gun open fire if needed.
    My memory is a little hazy but I think that is correct. I'm sure some on here have more experience or better memories than me.
    Bren gunners tend to be the bigger men in the section due to its weight (25lbs) more than twice the weight of a No4 Lee Enfield. And experienced enough to be a Lance Corporal as he is in charge of the LMG manoeuvres.
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  7. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA

    Were all British soldiers trained to fire their rifles right handed, even if they were lefties? I was going to say that Bren gunners had to be right handed because of the offset sights but then thought I remembered that all soldiers were trained as righties.
  8. Tim Martin

    Tim Martin New Member

    Thanks all for your comments.

    I have copied the war diaries for all the units including 1 DCLI, didn't spot anything on first read but will comb through carefully in case it is there.

    Will definitely give the NAM a try.

    For now, in the absence of anything formal, I'm inclined to go with the informal "brawny and steady" method of selection, what you've said supports what I was thinking because he'd fit the bill.
  9. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Well-Known Member

    I am left handed and had a Marksman Badge. The No4 was easy to fire left handed you just had to make sure you maintained your aiming position whilst manipulating the bolt with your left hand moving over the stock. I never tried to fire a Bren left handed don't think it was possible but was still able to fire it accurately right handed. I think my eye was steadier left handed but with the Bren on a bipod I could blink my eye and maintain my aim to follow through between bursts.
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  10. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    I once asked my father how he ended up as a Bren gunner. He replied "I can't remember - probably because someone was wounded or killed" soon after his battalion landed in Normandy. He didn't receive any training above the norm at Guards depot and Lingfield. "We were all weapons experts then."
    (His No. 2 couldn't be arsed carrying the spare barrel and chucked it into a ditch fairly early on in their partnership. The biggest man in his platoon got the PIAT. No one wanted to carry the 3" mortar.)

    Practice makes perfect: Training, Assault Courses, Battle Schools, Exercises, etc
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2019
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  11. Tony56

    Tony56 Member Patron

    Tim, Reference my post #2 above, the following are links to Regimental Orders, contained in the war diaries for my father's regiment, these detail various courses of instruction:

    resized_P1990175.jpg | WW2Talk
    resized_P1990182.jpg | WW2Talk

    Drivers passing out
    resized P1990143 | WW2Talk

    resized P1980791 | WW2Talk

    AT Guns
    resized P1980794 | WW2Talk

    resized P1980795 | WW2Talk

    I assume the most proficient would have been selected from events such as these and other regiments would have had similar procedures.
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  12. 51highland

    51highland Very Senior Member

    My Father said as far as he could tell, everyone was trained on all small arms, inc Bren etc. He seemed to think that those with best scores were usually given the Bren. My Father could in no way ever be described as 'Brawny'.!!!
  13. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Well-Known Member

    I was thinking back last night and your 5th Highland posting today virtually "broke a dream".
    As Cadets we shared a camp with the Royal Scots.
    We had been made aware and afraid of Scottish soldiers due to newspaper reports from Germany about Riots by the Cameronian Regt who they nicknamed "Poison Dwarfs".
    All the RS were little short guys except for one, a Bren Gunner who stood over 6ft tall and I believe was named McCarthy, an Irishman. He was the butt of many jokes by his colleagues.
    No you didn't have to be huge to handle a Bren but you had to be a little bit fitter when running around with one.
    The main lesson to learn was to make sure the barrell locking nut was tight or you ended up walking back across the training area picking up the pieces of the gun.
    Smallest part with the longest name:the Barrell locking nut retaining ball, spring and pin.
  14. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA

    An excuse to repost this one

    Picture: Veronica Foster (Ronnie, the Bren Gun Girl), a worker of a Canadian small arms manufacturing plant, with Bren LMG

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  15. 51highland

    51highland Very Senior Member

    A Brawny Bren Gunner, My late Father, 2934077 G.P. Sands M.M. I think she is Brawnier!!!!

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Sep 5, 2019
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  16. idler

    idler GeneralList

    Thicker legs on the bipod!

    Wouldn't want to mess with him, though. I still get 'surprised' by the diminutive stature of many of the Tommies, especially when they're lugging rifles and Brens around.

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