Infantry training in the 1930s

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by davidflies, Jan 7, 2013.

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  1. davidflies

    davidflies War Hero Book Reviewer

    I am starting work on an account of German infantry training in the 1930s and early 40s.
    I have the relevant German manuals and pamphlets and a very good selection of photographs.
    For comparative purposes I want to get information on the same process in the UK at the same time.
    Does anyone have or is able to suggest sources for the length of the training and the depth to which the training went - drill, fieldcraft, weapon training etc.
    All help will be gratefully received and, of course, acknowledged.
  2. I have been down that particular path. Training is not as well documented as operations.

    A a starting point read "Raising Churchill's army" by David French. His bibliography lists just about everything you might need.

    You can obtain obsolete training manuals from MLRS the book service. Also talk to some veterans. I took an 8th army veteran who had joined up in 1939 to a presentation to a battlefield tour group departing Pirbright. His first words were the key is discipline and drill and PT. Besides raising a smile and a cheer from the drill instructors its a paraphrase of Military Training Pam 23 "Operations" Chapter one section 10.

    The British army trained its soldiers in skill at arms, but did not have anything like battle drills of "section or platoon attacks. These were introduced during the war, The story of the battle school movement - and the founding of the school of infantry is told in "To Reason why" by Denis Foreman. Its a tribute to Lionel Wigram.
  3. I don't know about that, P, my late father attended Mountain Warfare Instructors courses in India prior to deploying to the NW Frontier, battle drills were learned, perfected, and practiced throughout his Bn prior to their deployment.
  4. I thought the platoon tactics were based on Bren group/rifle group by the start of WW2?

    That system hadn't changed much by the mid-70's - just replaced the bren with a GPMG.

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  5. That is different. The NW Frontier was always operational and drew on a lot of very pracital experience. The Home Army experience is different, with an excess of drill and little tactical training or field craft. I am basing that on the literature that exists of training and the criticism that led to the Battle schools and the school of Infantry. The British Army training was so badly regarded that the Home Guard training centre was staffed with ex Spanish Civil war communists who produced a more lively and pracrtical training regieme, which in turn feeds intro the Battle Schools.
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  6. Try the IWM printed materials department.
  7. seaweed

    seaweed LE Book Reviewer

    A snippet from my uncle's memories of pre-war Home service (this is 1931):

    'Unfortunately it is difficult to imagine ground tactics without actual soldiers and of these in my platoon I had a sergeant and four men. Recruiting in the army was so poor in those days that all available men had to be posted to fill up the Foreign Service battalions, leaving the Home Service battalions as skeleton formations. We were in the experimental infantry brigade and the soldiers had available armoured personnel carriers called Burfords. Company commanders’ chargers were replaced by small cars and these used to trail along behind the marching men in the same way as the charger used to follow. Exercises were largely an exercise in imagination as I found to my cost when on a very hot day after a long approach march, I had told my four men to rest in the shade of some bushes. At that moment the GOC-in-C Southern Command came up and asked me where the enemy were. The acting Company Commander had not given out his orders. I did not know but looking around I saw another company making their way up a nearside hill. “Stand to” I shouted to my four men. The GOC-in-C strode off remarking that I was either bloody idle or bloody well mad.'

    Uncle was posted to Gib soon after that, where there were plenty of soldiers but nowhere for them to train.
    'This time we had our allotment of men but nowhere to exercise them. I did not see a platoon on the ground until we moved to Hong Kong in 1935 and I had four years’ service behind me. I tried to read the manuals when I was in Gibraltar but they were written in such general terms that they were of little use to me.'
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  8. My copy of 'Infantry Section Leading 1938 (104pp., reprints available on e-bay) doesn't mention anything like section or platoon battle drills. There are specific formations which may be adopted (arrowhead, single file, extended line), and the comment that " may be necessary to dispense with a certain amount of control to avoid losses."

    Control, rather than initiative, seems to be the key. I get the impression that Battalion did the thinking, and the platoons did the doing.
  9. I have a 1937 copy of Infantry Training: Training and War, (250pp) issued by the War Office.

    Its contents include:
    War Organization
    Infantry Weapons
    Principles and System of Training
    Field Formations
    Field Signals
    Training in Fieldcraft
    Battle Procedure
    The Defence
    Night Operations
    Fighting in Close Country, Woods and Villages
    The Passage of Water Obstacles

    ...but you can't have it.
  10. I'd call wah but the rest of the reply was far too sensible for it to be a wah!

    Erm, davidflies is MLRS

    Sent by carrier pigeon using Speckled Jim
    • Like Like x 1
  11. The idea of fire and manoeuvre using the Bren Gun carrier platoon was a concept I wasn't familiar with.
  12. The abovementioned manual seems to support that:
    "The section as a fire unit — All sections will be trained to act as rifle and/or light machine-gun sections." (p21)
    "The sections may be equipped primarily for fire, as light machine-gun sections, or for manoeuvre, as rifle sections. It must be remembered, however, that this distinction is only comparative and that light machine-gun sections must also be prepared for manoeuvre, while the rifle section has considerable fire power at its disposal." (p130)
  13. David Niven's autobiography " The moon's a balloon " gives a good picture of overseas service ( Malta ) in the early 30's when he was a subaltern with the HLI .It's a very humorous book and worth a read .