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During the Second World War, the Canadian Army used the Rifle Section as its smallest organized formation of combat infantry soldiers. The organization was substantially similar to that of the Australian Army[1] and from 1944 the British Army used the same structure[2] with 3 sections to the platoon and three platoons to the Rifle Company.


Section composition

The section was lead by a corporal[3] armed with a submachine gun (the Thompson Sub-machine gun at the beginning of the war and the Sten Gun starting to replace it from 1942[4] for the remainder), with the second in command being a lance-corporal who had the responsibility of positioning the two-man Bren light machine gun team (one man firing and the other loading.) The Bren team was responsible for the operation of the Light Machine Gun (LMG). During combat, this three man element would serve as a base of covering fire while the remainder of the section (7 privates armed with the No. 4 Lee Enfield Rifle[5] , and their corporal commanding) would flank the enemy in an effort to either capture or kill them.[6]

Flanking element

The corporal was responsible for carrying 5 magazines of sub-machine gun ammunition for either the Thompson Sub-machine gun (.45 ACP in 20 round magazines) or the same number of magazines for the Sten sub-machine gun (32 rounds of 9mm ammunition). He would also carry two grenades; the most common type being the No.36M (known as the "Mills Bomb"). The remaining privates would be armed with the 10 shot No.4 Mk I Lee Enfield bolt-action rifle and the accompanying spike bayonet. They would each carry fifty rounds of .303 ammunition in five round stripper clips as well as one Mills bomb.[7]

Light Machine Gun element

The Lance-corporal would have been armed similarly to that of the privates except he was also outfitted with a machete. This was used to create a vantage point for the LMG if there was a need for a position within a densely wooded area. In addition to carrying the standard fifty rounds of Enfield rifle ammunition, he would also carry four extra 30 round magazines for the Bren gun (which also used the .303 rifle cartridge). The Lance-corporal would have been the only one within the machine gun element to carry a Mills bomb; this would likely have been used in the event that his position was being overrun. The private responsible for firing the Bren was known as a “Number One” and was not required to carry a rifle as the Bren itself weighed a cumbersome twenty-two pounds.[8] He was required to carry 4 magazines of LMG ammunition, and the “Bren wallet” which was a small cleaning kit for his weapon. The one loading the LMG was known as the “Number Two” and was armed with an Enfield rifle and fifty rounds of ammunition. Due to his role alongside the Number One, he would also have to carry 4 Bren gun magazines and a case containing a spare barrel for the LMG and any extra parts that might be required (such as springs, screws etc…)[9]

While small in size, the section tactics of fire base with flanking was also employed on a larger scale with an example of two sections, one acting as a fire base while the other two flank a position.[10]

Notes and references

  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Fraser, Robert L (1996). Black Yesterdays - The Argyll's war. Hamilton, Ontario: Seldon Printing Limited. p. 123. ISBN 0-9361380-0-4.  
  4. ^
  5. ^ up to mid 1943 the earlier SMLE Mark III
  6. ^ Clouter, Edmond Infantry Training, Part VIII. - Fieldcraft, Battle Drill, Section and Platoon Tactics, Pg 35, 1944 Ottawa
  7. ^ Bouchery, Deam From D-day to VE-day: The Canadian Soldier Pg 26 2003 Paris Histoire & Collections ISBN 2-913903-51-7
  8. ^ Crowell, Thomas Y The Encyclopedia of Infantry Weapons of World War Two New York New York 1977 Pg 72 ISBN 0-690-01447-3
  9. ^ Jean Bouchery,From D-day to VE-day: The Canadian Soldier Paris 2003 Histoire & Collections Pg 26 ISBN 2-913903-51-7
  10. ^ Clouter, Edmond Canadian Army Training Pamphlet No. 1: A General Instructional Background for the Young Soldier, Published in Ottawa 1942 Pg 134

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