Friday, 3 January 2020

The Experimental Infantry Brigade 1934-6






Introduction

If you have found your way to this blog post the chances are you will be aware of British experiments in the 1920s and 30s with the Experimental Mechanised Force and the later Armoured Force. I suspect far fewer will have heard of the Experimental 6th Infantry Brigade which was formed in 1935 as an experiment in infantry reorganisation as part of the 2nd Infantry Division. Some of the lessons learned certainly had an impact on British organisation and doctrine in 1940 and for some time thereafter.

The Brigade was based near Camberley, Surrey at Dettingen Barracks, Blackdown. At the time it was the Headquarters of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps., and is now better known as Princess Royal Barracks, Deepcut, the home of the Royal Logistic Corps.

Its commander was Brigadier H. M Wilson D.S.O., late of the Rifle Brigade. In WW2 he was better known as “Jumbo” Wilson, serving as as General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of British Troops in Egypt in 1939-41, GOC Middle East Command in February 1943, and Supreme Allied Commander in the Mediterranean in the closing stages of the war, from January 1944. He retired as a Field Marshal.

The 2nd Division, the Brigade’s higher formation, was at the time commanded by the then Major General Archibald Wavell. It was regarded as an elite division to be used as a test bed for new ideas.


Composition of the Brigade

6th Brigade comprised Brigade Headquarters and Signal Section, three rifle battalions and a machine gun battalion.

The three rifle battalions were:


◘  2nd Battalion, The Royal Warwickshire Regiment
   2nd Battalion, the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry
   1st Battalion, The South Staffordshire Regiment

The 1st Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry formed the Machine Gun Battalion. If it seems odd now to convert a light infantry battalion to the more static tasks of a machine gun battalion, this view was shared by the Battalion itself at the time; however the Regimental Journal from January 1935 suggested that, having been selected, it was up to the Battalion to “infuse M.G. tactics with the light Infantry spirit”. There is some evidence that the 1st Battalion D.L.I. was something of a showcase battalion, having already being chosen to trial the experimental 1932 infantry uniform (with “deerstalker” hat), which with modification later evolved into the 1939 battledress.


The Rifle Battalions

Each was to comprise:

◘  Battalion Headquarters
   Headquarters Company
◘  Four Rifle Companies

The War Establishment of a Rifle Battalion was to be 26 officers and 705 other ranks, and of a company 4 officers and 118 other ranks. Sections were to fight at a strength of not more than one Corporal or L.Cpl. and six men.

Each Rifle Company was to consist of four platoons, each of three sections. All the men of every section were to be armed as riflemen, with each section also having one light automatic weapon. This was to be the Z.G.B. (original Czech precursor of the Bren gun), not the Lewis Gun. The Z.G. was a Czech manufactured weapon and Z.G.B. was the designation for the version produced for trials with the British Army.

The Headquarters Company in the Rifle Battalions included a mortar platoon of four 3-inch mortars and an Anti-Aircraft Platoon with four light automatics (Z.B.G.s?) on A.A. tripod mountings.

The establishment for Rifle Companies included an M.G. (unspecified) on the OC’s armoured carrier, and a Hotchkiss machine gun acting as a “token” for an anti-tank rifle (the Boys Mk 1 first entered service in 1937).

This mention of “tokens” illustrates the point that not all equipment specified in the establishment of the Brigade was in practice available to it and that proxies were used. Certainly in the 1936 organisation for the 1st DLI as M.G. Battalion Austin cars stood in for scout cars, Carden Loyd carriers for armoured carriers, Hotchkiss guns as anti-tank rifles, and Vickers guns as proxy anti-tank guns. The DLI Journal for April 1936 states that “Unfortunately very little of the new material will be available for these experiments and there will be a good deal of improvision (sic) and use of “token” transport and weapons”.

Special features of the new organisation (the experimental brigade) were to be:

◘ The use of wireless in brigade communications
◘ The mechanisation of all front line transport
◘ The substitution of Austin cars for officers’ chargers (horses)
◘ The concentration of all machine guns into one battalion, the Machine Gun Battalion
◘ The inclusion of an Anti-tank company in the Machine Gun Battalion
◘ The introduction of a new type of light machine gun, the Z.G.B., in Rifle Battalions
◘ The arming of sections in Rifle Battalions so that they could function either as Light Machine Gun Sections or as Rifle Sections
◘  In the Machine Gun Battalion, a Machine Gun Company and an Anti-tank Platoon would each be self-contained, both tactically and administratively, so they could be able when required to operate independently of the Machine Gun Battalion or Anti-tank Company respectively

Mobility of the new Brigade

The Brigade was not completely mechanised – i.e. not all personnel were carried in some sort of motor vehicle.

The only completely mechanised sub-units were to be:

◘  Brigade Headquarters
◘  Brigade Signal Section
◘  The Anti-tank Company of the M.G. Battalion.

Except for officers, who all had Austin cars to replace the horse, all the personnel of the M.G. and rifle companies would still walk.

It is would now only be necessary to lend lorries to the Brigade to carry dismounted personnel to enable it, with all its weapons and A and B echelon Transport, to increase its pace on the road from about 3 mph to 12 mph.

This accepted that tactically any increase in its speed could still only be increased by:

◘  A higher standard of training
◘  A higher speed in reconnaissance (for which the Austin cars might or might not prove suitable)
◘  Reducing the load on the soldier (which the motor transport should facilitate)
◘  A higher degree of physical fitness

As my local regiment, the DLI and their role as an experimental M.G. battalion is my personal interest in the Brigade, so I will concentrate on this further below.
Now to concentrate on the M.G. Battalion:

This needs to be looked at in two phases, as In 1936 a new establishment was introduced for the M.G. Battalion was introduced, which was very different to the initial 1935 organisation.


Motor Transport of the MG Battalion

The vehicles shown on the War Establishment of the Machine Gun Battalion at the start of 1935 comprised:

◘  1 four seater car (Battalion HQ)
◘  33 two seater Austin cars (Austin 7 Tourers) - chiefly for officers
◘  Motorcycles – signallers and AT coy
◘  49 tractors with trailers (guns, M.G.s and ammunition)
◘  16 lorries (cooks, greatcoats, petrol, fitters)
◘   4 12 cwt vans (one per Anti-tank Platoon for distribution of rations).

Of these the tractors could move at walking pace without harm. The other vehicles could not.

To drive and maintain these vehicles and allow for a working reserve of trained drivers required an establishment of 120 motor drivers in the unit. This quota of M.T. Drivers were to be trained to drive and maintain the establishment of motor vehicles, which the battalion hoped to receive in June 1935

The types of vehicles with which the Battalion was to be issued were not known, and in any case were likely to be the subject of experiment.

On an exercise lasting ten hours in May 1935 the fully mechanised M.G. Company covered no less than 160 miles.

  


Vickers Utility Tractor 1932 Personnel Carrier


The Machine Gun Battalion (1st Battalion Durham Light Infantry)


Weapon Training

◘  All ranks apart from the usual exemptions had to be trained in the use of the rifle.

◘  All ranks of the Machine Gun and Anti-tank Company had to be trained in the use of the machine gun. (This may suggest that the Anti-tank Company was pro tem equipped with M.G.s as proxies for their guns).

◘  All ranks of the Anti-tank Company would have to be trained in the use of the machine gun, once it is approved and issued (see note above).

◘  Many men of all ranks would have to be trained in the use of the revolver.

◘  No training would be carried out with the light machine gun in the Machine Gun Battalion. (The LMG was exclusively the province of the Rifle Battalions, in the same way as all Vickers Gun MMGs in the Brigade were concentrated in the M.G. battalion).


Some points raised at the time for consideration

◘  The Machine Gun Battalion Commander automatically became Brigade Machine Gun Officer, but with powers of command over M.G. units – how would this affect his working with the Brigade Commander and Rifle Battalion Commanders, and what will his principal duties be? 

◘  How would the Machine Gun Battalion be distributed for movement on roads? How and where would all the lorries and cars be moved which cannot go at infantry marching pace?

◘  Would the M.G. Battalion depend on Brigade Communications or its own? And by wireless, line, visual, motor despatch riders or cyclists?

◘  Would the Austin car satisfactorily replace the horse?

◘  How and under whose orders would the Anti-tank usually function? Would this be by a lorry with the gun mounted on it and carrying the team, or a number of small cars, be the best way of transporting an Anti-tank detachment?

◘  Would the mortars best be included in the Machine Gun Battalion, or as present in the Rifle Battalions?

◘  Should the Anti-tank Company form part of the Machine Gun Battalion? If not, where in the Brigade should the Anti-tank guns be placed?

◘  How would the new organisation affect Brigade tactics?


1936 reorganisation

Early in 1936 it was announced that the DLI had not been selected to permanently become one of the fifteen permanent machine gun battalions and therefore it would revert to being a rifle battalion after the present (1936) training season. However this would involve it carrying out further experiments as an M.G. unit, but on a new establishment and with very different equipment and transport.


Types and manufacturers of vehicles

In 1936 it was expected that the Morris truck would be the vehicle in general use and some were expected to be in service by April, with at least as many as were needed to replace the utility tractors and Hillmans of “A” Company. As Hillman did not make trucks in the 1930s these would have been cars, either the 16 or the 20. The Morris truck was almost certainly the new CS8 15 cwt platoon truck. The Noel Ayliffe-Jones article Infantry Vehicles of the 1930s in Airfix Magazine of September 1979 includes a photograph of 3 Utility Tractors of B Company along with a Morris CS8 15 cwt platoon truck and 1936 photographs at Blackdown in the DLI Collection show Morris CS8s.


Scout Company 1936

The main organisational change in 1936 was the inclusion of a Scout Company in the Battalion through the conversion of C Company, under Major J.E.S. Percy MC. It consisted of three platoons, each of three patrols. Each patrol had two scout cars, each carrying a Bren gun, and has a motorcycle for communication and control. This was a genuine Light Infantry role and so drew some friendly jealousy from the other companies in the Battalion. (It is interesting that the Bren is specifically mentioned here in April 1936, rather than the ZGB. The Bren Mk 1 officially entered general service in 1937).


M.G. Companies 1936

B Company (Capt. C.R. Battiscombe) and S Company (Major E. Dryden M.C.) each had four platoons. Each platoon had two sections of two guns each on an armoured carrier, with an additional Vickers gun on the platoon commander’s armoured carrier. Each company would therefore have twenty M.G.s all on armoured carriers.

The armoured carriers may have been intended to be the Vickers Machine Gun Carriers, which were introduced in 1937. We know the battalion received some Carden Loyd Mk Vis as proxies for armoured carriers around April 1936.

The Vickers Utility Tractors were a stop gap, proxies in the experimental brigade for the intended equipment of an operational brigade. These may not have been entirely replaced by the Carden Loyds in 1936.

As Ayliffe-Jones points out, the Government bought 149 Tractors Light GS Mark 1 from Vickers between 1933 and 1936. They were powered by a 52 hp Ford petrol engine and had a top speed of 20 mph on the road. The combination of a very short wheelbase and narrow width made them unstable and the cross country ride was uncomfortable. They were not armoured and provided no protection for the machine gun and crew, either from the elements or from hostile fire. However, they only cost the taxpayer £375 each and with no research and development costs, as they had been designed as a commercial venture by Vickers. By comparison an Austin 7 at the time cost around £350.

The Machine Gun Carrier Mk 1 was derived from a Vickers commercial project V.A.D50, which was intended to be able to fulfil the roles of both machine gun carrier and tractor to tow a light field gun It was a prototype vehicle with Horstmann-type suspension with a solid idler wheel and two return rollers each side. There was an armoured box in the front which enclosed driver and front machine-gunner, and a bench seat with folding back on each side behind this compartment to carry the rest of the M.G unit or the field gun crew. These seats were either side of the Ford V-8 engine which was positioned centrally.

The M.G. Carrier version had stowage bins fitted on either side of the armoured box for driver and machine gunner and the engine was protected by steel plates mounted on a frame. This then became the M.G. Carrier No.1 Mark 1, which abandoned the idea of carrying an independent machine gun crew. The crew of the vehicle was reduced to three, dispensing with the folding sides and adding a compartment for the third crew member on the left side of the superstructure. A small batch (13) of these vehicles were built in mild steel and these seem to be the vehicles which entered service with 1st DLI in 1936.

The M.G. Carrier was the immediate precursor to the early war Bren, Scout and Cavalry carriers, and with further development the Universal Carrier later in the war. The first operational use of the carrier was therefore in the experimental M.G. Battalion in 1936.


Anti-Tank Company

The Anti-Tank Company (A Company, Capt. R.J. Appleby, M.B.E.) was reduced to three platoons, but a more powerful gun was envisaged (2 pdr?). (this begs the question of how the Company was already equipped. They might possibly have had either Oerlikon tracked 20mm guns, or Vickers M.G.s as proxies, or even a mixture of both). Platoons were intended to consist of two sections each of two guns under a sergeant, who would ride a motorcycle.

Durham County Records Office holds an extensive collection of photographs relating to the DLI and a search of this collection using the term Blackdown (which is how the Dettingen Barracks is referred to in the contemporary records) turned up a number of photos of 1st Battalion at the time. These included several of individual companies of the battalion drawn up with all their transport. These of the anti-tank company show no anti-tank guns of any sort which reinforces the suggestion that perhaps machine guns were used as proxies.


Transport and equipment

The DLI Journal of January 1935 stated that little of the new material would be available for the 1935 experiments and therefore there would be a good deal of improvisation and of “token” transport and weapons.

◘  Austins (Austin 7s?) are token scout vehicles
◘  Carden Loyds token armoured carriers (M.G. carriers?)
◘  Hotchkiss guns token anti-tank rifles (one each scout and M.G. platoon)
◘  Vickers guns token anti-tank guns

Nevertheless it was expected that the transport to be issued would enable the whole battalion to be “off its feet”. The Morris Truck (Morris Commercial CS8?) would be the vehicle in general use.

  
CONTEMPORARY PRESS COVERAGE

The Experimental Infantry Brigade was covered in the contemporary press in the period 1934-1936.

The reorganisation of 1934, resulting in the establishment of the Experimental Infantry Brigade, was reported on 17 August 1934, for example in the Western Morning News and the Dundee Courier. These reports were very similar, suggesting perhaps that they relied heavily on press briefing by the War Office.

The Belfast Telegraph reported on 14 February 1935 on the introduction of the ZBG light machine gun and the motorisation of the Machine Gun Battalion.

The Sunderland Echo reported on 23 December 1935 on reorganisation which included converting the Cavalry Division and Tank Brigade into a mechanized Mobile Division; that all mechanized cavalry units would eventually divided into three types – cavalry armoured car regiments, motor cavalry regiments, and cavalry light tank regiments; and the conversion of fifteen rifle battalions into Machine Gun Battalions

The Army Manoeuvres of 1935 and 1936 were heavily reported, for example in the Scotsman, the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, and the Western News. The role of the Experimental Infantry Brigade and its MG Battalion were prominent. In 1936 Wavell’s 6th Division provided the Westland forces and the use of 70 Sussex green buses to represent the new RASC troop carrying companies was particular noted, including the mobility provided but also the dangers of road congestion and the need to reconnoitre routes.


Emerging Themes

The experimental brigade paved the way, among other things, for the introduction of the Bren gun into rifle battalions, the conversion of new Machine Gun battalions from existing infantry units, the introduction of the forerunners of the BEF carriers (Bren, Cavalry, Scout) and increased mechanisation of the infantry.

In the same way as with the experimental mechanised and armoured force it was marked by the use of proxies for some equipment and materiel - e.g. the issue of Carden Loyds to stand in as light tanks, and even sometimes trucks labelled “tank” on exercises.

This didn’t get in the way of experiments with organisation and tactics but would have limited the Brigade’s operational effectiveness if deployed in action.

This need for proxies was partly because the vehicles required by the tactics of the new formation were simply not developed yet, but also by the all-consuming pressure on the defence budget of the time. It would also be a result of the experimental nature of the brigade, which should mean it would throw up new requirements.

The 1936 reorganisation of the MG Battalion establishment demonstrates that lessons were being learned and implemented, even within the limited (two year) lifetime of the experiment.


Possible future avenues for exploration and research

Research into the experience of the three rifle battalions in the Brigade in 1935 and 1936.



Sources

Durham Light Infantry Regimental Journal
January 1935
April 1936
October 1937

Durham County Records Office
Photographic records of 1st Battalion DLI.

Noel Ayliffe-Jones, Infantry Vehicles of the 1930s
Airfix Magazine, September 1979 - includes photos of B Company in Tractors Light GS Mark 1 reproduced at the head of this post)

Faithful: The Story of the Durham Light Infantry
S. G. P. Ward
Reprinted naval and Military Press 2005

British Pathé
Tommy Tries It Out - Uniform Trial 1932
Army Exercise in Sussex 1936 - B Company 1st DLI with Tractors Light GS Mk 1


AFV 1919/40 British Armoured Fighting vehicles
Edited by Duncan Crow, Profile Publications 1970



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

With grateful thanks to:

◘  Peter Nelson, Lead Volunteer at the DLI Collection
◘  The staff of Durham County Records Office
◘  Jim Hale

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Looking for Jim Hale

I'm trying to get in touch with Jim Hale who left a series of comments on this blog in 2015. if he is reading this or anyone else has contact details, I would be grateful if you could contact me by leaving a comment on this post (if you include an email address I will not publish the content)

Saturday, 12 March 2016

More Pathe News

Two interesting clips which have recently been posted on the VBCW Forum. The first is called Battle of the Machines - Longer Version 1930

 

 It has some great pictures of loads of Vickers Medium IIs, from the Salisbury Plain Northland?Southland exercises. Clearly the crews preferred being on their tanks rather than in them where possible. No sign of lances with the cavalry. It is also particularly interesting to see the Carden Loyds with the QF 3.7" howitzer - it looks like two Carden Loyds per dun, one towing the gun on its tracked trailer, the other the crew in a tracked personnel trailer. It is particularly interesting to see the guns being loaded onto the tracked trailers for motorised towing - they seem able to get into/out of action very quickly.

The second is Tanks 1935

 

 This has interesting shots of two Medium Mark IIIs and is very helpful for vehicle markings etc. At c3.15 it has what seems to be an MG-only armed command Mark II, which I have never come across before.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Vickers Armstrong photos from the Evening Chronicle/Tyne & Wear Museum Service




A while ago the Evening Chronicle published a gallery of photos from the Tyne & Wear Museum Service relating to Vickers Armstrong, ranging from around 1900 to 1948.

They can be found here and form an interesting addition to the pictures from the two Beamish albums here on the Interwar Tank Development Blog. Not all of course are interwar.

Among the interesting things:

#1 Shervick Tractors - manufactured from cut down British Shermans in 1948 for use in the Ground Nut Scheme;

#6 1931 pattern Vickers-Carden-Loyd amphibious tank swimming in the River Tyne

#19 the handsome armoured cars based on Morris Commercial D chassis which were sold to Siam

#8 the rather bizarre man cages

#7 Carden Loyd Mk VIs

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Media Page updates

A number of further Pathe News clips of interest have been added to the Media page.

The Same Old..."Mud" has an intriguing shot of a REME detachment riding in a Burford Kegresse armoured MG Carruer half track

Our Mechanized Army (1930) is from the Dominion Premiers exhibition nd has a Light dragon towing a train of six tracked trailers, a Medium Mk III driving through a wall, a Carden Loyd Mk VI mortar carrier being loaded on a pontoon, and a Vickers Medium Mk II crossing a pontoon bridge. The vehicle #5 shown towing a large trailer seems to be a Guy 8 x 8 tractor with tracks provided over its rear wheels.

Speed and More Speed is the Watchword of the Army Today shows 1936 exercises in Sussex, including 1st battalion DLI in Tractor, Light GS, Mark 1s, in their role as an experimental MG battalion.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Check it out


I have added a new permanent page to the blog to host David Fletcher's Tank Chats, which the tank Museum has published on YouTube.

This is a series of short films with Mr Fletcher talking about vehicles in the museum's collection.

Theose of interwar interest include the Vickers Medium and the Type E; the Carden Loyd MG Carrier; and Lanchester armoured car; The others in the series include the WWI Mk II tank, and the A 13 Cruiser and Mk VI B Light Tank.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Vickers Medium at works, no armament


Col Breyer D of A


The D of A was the Directorate of Artillery, part of the Master General of the Ordnance's Office with the responsibility for placing government tank orders with manufacturers. I have no further information on Colonel Breyer or which of the officers in the photo he is.

Vickers 16 tonners Ns 1 & 2 1927




The captions read 14mm turrets and petrol tank protection. No front plate. 14 mm turret walls and tank front. 9 mm sides. The twin guns were not good for the want below for two belt boxes.

A1E1 Vickers Independent under construction 1926



The caption reads Independent: 28mm plating in F.C and turret. £ pdr and Vickers in main turret. $ auxiliary turrets. Rear L.H. was anti aircraft.

Armstrong Siddeley Dragon


The Dragon towed the gun instead of carrying it like the transporter. This is the vehicle which inpressed Captain Sheryer so much at TTS as a machine of great reliability, making a run of 100 miles in one day with only one involuntary stop, and was the first tracked vehicle to last 1,000 miles before track wear put it out of commission. The engine was an air cooled aircraft enginee.

18 pdr Transporter 1922





This machine carried the 18 pdr inside the vehicle, rather than towing it like the later Dragons. The Vickers Armstrong captions state 80 HP Wolse;ey engine, 20 mph. !st machine builtat Sheffield. Weight 5 3/4 tons without gun and crew. Drg started Merch 1922. delivered to Farnborough end of November.


18 pdr Transporter Mk II was about 63 track. Mk III was 66. Hence the wide ramp on one side.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Mark "C" Japan 1927


Birch Gun 1928/9


The third and final type of Birch Gun, Mk IE, the last two vehicles built. The gun was houses in a barbette. The top half of the shield was open at the rear.

Birch Gun 1925/6


Second type of Birch Gun, with gun shueld.

Birch Gun 1924/5


The first type of Birch Gun, with no gun shield

Patrol Tank 1932


A.10.E.1. 1936

Prototype of the A10 "Heavy Cruiser" tank

A.9.E.1. 1935


Prototype of the A9 Cruiser Tank.