Basic Training during Second World War

A bit of strange question but something that occured to me randomly today,

Obviously in this day and age much time is dedicated to the training of recuits, however during WWII troops would have been despretly needed, my questions are what did basic training consist of, was it run along similar lines of today? How long was it undertook for and were recruits trained within regimental depots or at regional centres?

Thanks for any replies

Depended very much on when/ where you were:

In general, post Dunkirk/ pre D-Day, most Infantry recruits received 6 wks "basic" plus another 6 of Infantry specific. General pattern would be basic at Regt Depot followed by some sort of regional Infantry training centre. Thereafter there'd be continual training at battalion, brigade & divisional levels - huge areas of the UK were taken over (civ pop usually evacuated) for this purpose. Severely bomb damaged areas of cities were often used for training in street fighting etc..

Post D-Day many battle casualty replacements were lucky to get more than 6-8 wks total.

General pattern was lots of drill, PT, weapon training, route marching etc for basic, plus basic platoon tactics. Infantry specific got more sophisticated as the war progressed, & by 1942/3 there was far more emphasis on battle drills, snap shooting, combined arms stuff etc.. By 1943 nearly all Infantry recruits went through some sort of "battle inoculation" course; Infantry Battle Schools tried to integrate "lessons learned" into the training, & there was a lot of live firing, simulated artillery fire etc, plus in some cases crawling through muddy ditches full of rotting sheep carcasses etc!

Far East Theatre was a bit different - 14th Army ran Jungle Warfare Schools, & most Infantry spent a few weeks at these before joining units.

Interestingly, WW2 British Infantry training placed considerable emphasis on "hand-to-hand" combat: mainly, I suspect, to inculcate confidence/ aggression, & it was useful PT. It was common for each day's training to end with "all in" - recruits/ soldiers squared up to each other in pairs/ by sections/ platoons & then tried to beat the cr*p out of each other. Hard times; hard men who'd grown up in the Depression, & of course most boys back then did compulsory boxing at school. The Commandos (and their offshoots the Paras) did milling bare fisted, & this was not uncommon elsewhere.

Living conditions were spartan - huts if you were lucky, but often - esp at Battle Schools & in Divisional Areas - under canvas. Sleeping bags were a luxury - in the field you slept under blankets & gas cape. Mattresses were straw filled palliases. Food - monotonous & limited (rationing etc), but the system did try to get more calories for troops, esp Infantry, so bully beef, chocolate, hard tack, tea, condensed milk, meat extract cubes, "Spam" etc were usually relatively plentiful. Washing/ hygiene facilities were by modern standards pretty minimal - a lot of "spare time" was spent just trying to maintain some modicum of basic hygiene.

As stated earlier, hard times; hard men.


Book Reviewer
Watch Film 4 tommorrow (Tuesday) at 1645

The Way ahead official sanctioned war film about a platoon of recruits training in WW2

Starring then Col Niven and his Batman L/Cpl Peter Ustinov who co wrote it and trained by Sgt William Hartnell who IIRC had just been invalided out of the RTR

From C4 Website

A platoon of enlisted men go through the rigours of training under a tough sergeant (Hartnell) before entering the fray
When Ambler and Ustinov wrote a 40-minute training film The New Lot for army recruits the result was so highly thought of that they were released from active duty to expand it into this semi-documentary. In outline it sounds like Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, but what we have here is a humane film about civilians drafted into a new order.
Captain Reed directs his superb cast headed by Colonel Niven in a film of humour and integrity.


Book Reviewer
Wasn't there a bit in Ambrose's Pegasus Bridge about the Ox and Buck and other infantry units being "bored" constantly training
I.E. units which where initally retained for home defence and then started training for D Day did nothing but train
As it was it worked out well for the Ox and Bucks but once D Day was under way the standard of repalcements went sharply down hill
IIRC this is one of the things he attributes to the failures in the Bulge in his other books recruits had not done the training and some had barely fired a rifle (at least in the U.S. Army) before being shipped out as replacements
The troops that didn't get a posting to the Middle or Far East must have gone out of their minds with boredom - most of the army simply sat in UK between May 1940 and May 1944, doing exercise after exercise, and living in field conditions. Must have been like a four-year FTX....

No wonder the Para/Commandos received so many volunteers, and no wonder the Canadian Division volunteered itself for Dieppe - they must have been gagging for "action" after stagging on in Sennybridge or whereever for three years..
Thanks Guys, my Great Grandfather served in the RTR during the Second World War and I was keen to find out what sort of training he would of recieved, I stil have alot of the maintaince manuals he was issued during 1940!

Regarding post-basic training:

Courses could occasionally be dramatically truncated due to emergency requirement. For example, when an additional Commando was required for the Normandy Landings, 48 RM Commando was formed from existing regular RM Infantry units. These men were then given only FIFTEEN days Commando training and virtually no pre-deployment, mission-based training before being embarked for Normandy.

Sidney Jary, in his '18 Platoon', discusses how indivdual initiative and creative thought was often stamped out of junior leaders at the Divisional Battle Schools. The correct answer to any tactical 'scheme' was always the 'DS Solution' and any discussion or dissent was stifled by the DS.

Louis Hagen, in 'Arnhem Lift', discusses how, after periods of flying training with the RAF, he and his fellow Glider Pilots would return to barracks and the tender mercies of their martinet SNCO, who would then beast the 'slack RAF ways' back out of them. This always involved drill, bull, brasso, blanco and other variations thereof. Hagen was quite bitter that at no point did this SNCO teach them how to operate a PIAT or 3-inch Mortar - these skills had to be learned by Hagen 'on the job' against StuGs and SS Panzer-Grenadiers in Oosterbeek.
A_M; you could do a lot worse than pick up a book called 'Tank Tracks: 9RTR At War' by Peter Beale. In it, he discusses the training at some length.

Do you happen to know which RTR battalion your great-granddad served with?
Very interesting info here. :thumleft:

Is there a particularly good reference / memoir that covers training not thus far mentioned ?

Bill Hartnell also starred in 'Carry on Sergeant'. Along with Compo as his Corporal. Pretty much all of that cast must have done National Service at least and IIRC Kenneth Connor was an infantry gunner in the Middlesex Regt and played the platoon hypochondriac in the movie. Now there's irony.

I only knew battledress as a cadet but I love watching movies that show it in use. Personally I reckon it's a smarter uniform for parades than the current No.2's (although it must've been a bitch in a combat situation compared to the Yank M43 issue kit.) So is the old Lee Enfield No.4. I suppose that dates me ? :oops:

Anyway, I hope more on the training gets added. SWORDSMAN !!!

My father tells me that he spent months in Northern Scotland training with the RM because it was thought that the Germans might take Gibraltar - and we would want it back - quick!

I know my Grandfather spent time in Scotland at a battle inoculation camp but that's about it. He didn't recall each and every camp he spent time at but after he passed away I got his records and they are all listed there. I'll dig them out and see.

There must have been hundreds of camps - if not thousands.

Not completely sure, from the pictures I have it looks like he was an RSM or similar. He is wearing a badge with what looks like a bull on it.

On looking on the CWGC website it shows that another one relative of mine was the commander of B Squadron of 9RTR and was killed in action in Germany towards the end of the war.
If the badge is rectangular, with a black bull seen from the side, that's 11th Armoured Division, which fought in NW Europe from Normandy to Germany 44-45 and included 3 RTR. There are two very good histories of 3 RTR - 'A View From The Turret' by Bill Close and 'Taming The Panzers' by Patrick Delaforce - I'd particularly recommend 'Taming The Panzers'.

If the badge is a triangle with a bull's head, that's 79th Armoured Division, which was the specialist armour formation ('Hobart's Funnies'). 7 RTR were in 79th Armoured Division from October 1944 onwards, as a Crocodile flamethrower regiment. Prior to that they served alongside 9 RTR in 31st Tank Brigade.

The badge of 255th Indian Tank Brigade, which fought in Burma 1944-45, also featured a bull (charging on a white circle or blue triangle), but there weren't any RTR units in the 255th.

What are the names of your Great-Grandfather and the other relative who served in 9 RTR?
Was your 9 RTR relative this gentleman?

Michael John Reynell commanded B Squadron in the later months of 1944 and at the beginning of 1945. He was killed in the Reichswald battle, and was buried in the Jonkerbos War Cemetery. This cemetery is in the south-west part of the town of Nijmegen. From the A73/E31 motorway turn off at “Knooppunt Lindenholt”, the junction with the A326/N326. Follow the N326 in the direction of Nijmegen over two roundabouts to a crossroads, and at the crossroads turn right into Weg Door Jonkerbos. Follow this road under the railway and round a right hand bend. Just after the bend turn left into Burgemeester Daleslaan, and the cemetery is a short way along on the right.
Cool :)

What's your great-grand-dad's name? I'll have a look through the books for him.

Did one of the badges I've described match what's in the photo?

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