Tracing Military Ancestors
ADS - Advanced Dressing Stations were attached to an infantry brigade and would provide limited medical treatment and basic emergency operations to those wounded in the front line. Those more seriously wounded would be sent down the line to a Casualty Clearing Station or Base Hospital.
ARMY ORGANISATION (SECOND WORLD WAR) - As the scope of warfare and the weaponry utilised became increasingly complex throughout the conflict, so army organisations metamorphosed into a multitude of different forms. Basically, however, whilst new categories of unit and arms of service such as anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery and tanks, proliferated, the basic unit structures remained similar to those of the previous world war. The following is a very simple guide to military organisation followed, with some variations, by the British and Commonwealth armies of the era:
|MILITARY ORGANISATION TERMINOLOGY
||NUMBERS OF MEN, GUNS OR ARMOURED VEHICLES
||Infantry: Usually between 8-10 men commanded by a non-commissioned officer (NCO) including a light machine gun/light mortar.
Artillery: 2-4 guns.
||Infantry: Three-four Sections commanded by a junior officer, usually a Lieutenant or 2nd Lieutenant (30-40 men).
||Armour: 3-5 tanks.
||Infantry: Three or four platoons commanded by a Captain (90-120 men).
||Armour: Three to five troops of tanks plus a small headquarters (9-15 tanks).
||Artillery: Two or three Sections plus a Headquarters Section (4-12 guns).
||Infantry: Three or four companies plus a Headquarters and Support Company which would provide heavy machine guns and mortars, transport, communications and anti-tank weapons under command of a Lieutenant-Colonel (650-1,000 men).
||Only regularly utilised in British and Commonwealth army organisations, the Brigade incorporating three or four battalions of infantry or three regiments of armour plus Headquarters and signals support under command of a Brigadier-General (2,500 Ė 4,000 men or 150-200 tanks). Battalions were usually drawn from different regiments and locations e.g. the 185th Infantry Brigade that landed on SWORD Beach on D-Day encompassed the 2nd Battalion The Royal Warwickshire Regiment, 1st Battalion The Royal Norfolk Regiment and 2nd Battalion King's Shropshire Light Infantry.
||Armour: Three or four Squadrons plus a Headquarters Squadron (50-60 tanks).
Artillery: Two to four batteries plus a Headquarters Battery (8-40 guns).
||Basic Corps and Army building block. Typically three infantry brigades (Infantry Division) or one or two armoured brigades and a motorised/armoured infantry brigade (Armoured Division). Would include attached artillery (usually one field regiment per brigade), engineer, signals, anti-tank, anti-aircraft and reconnaissance regiments. Commanded by a Major-General (12,000-16,000 men plus 150-300 tanks in case of an Armoured Division).
||Typically two to four divisions with supporting medium/heavy artillery and various headquarters and support troops. Commanded by a Lieutenant-General (50,000 to 150,000 men depending on number of divisions attached). The number and identity of divisions within these Corps could change dramatically, as the strategic situation demanded.
||A grouping of two or more Corps which could change depending on operational circumstances. For instance on D-Day British Second Army, responsible for landings on the British and Canadian beaches, encompassed just the British I and XXX Corps. As the beachhead expanded, however, the number of Corps increased so that by mid-July these had been joined by the VIII and XII British and II Canadian Corps, The latter combining with the British I Corps to form the First Canadian Army. Commanded by a Lieutenant-General. Numbers of men, tanks and equipment could vary greatly depending on how many Corps and Divisions attached.
||A grouping of two of more armies commanded by a full General.
Of course, the American, German and Russian armies all had their own variations on the above. The American was probably closest to the British, with armoured divisions being divided into three Combat Commands, similar to British brigades in size and utility. The main difference between American and German divisions and their British counterparts, was the use of the regimental system. In the former armies three or four battalions were recruited and trained at a single regimental depot and then stayed together operationally once deployed rather than brigaded with battalions from other regiments as in the British example. The use of "Troop" and "Squadron" to categorise armour (a hangover from cavalry days) was only used in the British and Commonwealth armies, the Americans and Germans preferring to use the more modern "Platoon" and "Company".
BANGALORE TORPEDOES - A British-developed weapon designed to destroy barbed wire and consisting of a long metal tube filled with explosive and with a fuse at one end. The fuse would be lit and the tube thrust through the wire to blow a path for following infantry.
GLACIS - Artificial slope of earth surrounding a fort, usually level and devoid of cover, designed to keep attackers under fire on their approach to the fort.
RUSSIAN SAP - An underground passage dug under no-manís-land towards an enemy position. An exit "manhole" would be dug or blown open allowing troops to exit close to the enemy, hopefully, with complete surprise. A second passage would sometimes be excavated, filled with explosives, and blown to coincide with the attack and eliminate nearby enemy troops.
TOBRUK EMPLACEMENTS - Small German-designed concrete emplacements with an open circular top. Used by machine-gun and mortar teams.
WEIDERSTANDNESTE - Numbered German defensive zones dotted along the Normandy coastline varying in construction and garrison size depending on terrain and task. They contained a mixture of machine-guns, mortars, anti-tank guns and artillery inside entrenched and/or reinforced concrete positions surrounded by mines and/or barbed wire.