The Rifle Company - the ultimate staying power of the Battalion remained founded on its four Rifle Companies.
Each Rifle Section was commanded by a Corporal, and consisted of a rifle group of six men, and a gun group with a Lance-corporal, gunner and loader. The Thompson submachine gun was now being increasingly replaced by the British made Sten. The Sten was a cheap, nasty and initially unreliable item, and fired more controllable 9-mm ammunition than the Thompson. It was also simple to produce and when cheaper to replace than repair. The six men of the rifle group were each now armed with the bolt action Rifle No.4, more easily produced version of the previous Lee-Enfield, still firing the powerful .303-inch round. While a perfectly sound weapon, like all bolt actions rifles it was handicapped by its relative slow rate of fire - especially in comparison with its semi-automatic US contemporary. The British Army never fielded a home produced semi-automatic rifle during the war, and the SMLE was still in service in 1956 when it was replaced by a British version of the Belgian FN FAL. The gun group served the Section's single Bren light machine gun. The Bren proved to be a superb weapon in all conditions and climes, and provided the section with its base of firepower. It was vital to maintain the weapon, no matter the cost, as without it the riflemen alone could not defeat a determined assault. If the gunner fell, another man would take his place, and again another. The Lance-corporal and loader each carried a rifle, the gunner the Bren.
In action, the gun group would lay suppressive fire to allow the riflemen to manoeuvre. As in other such sections, the weakness lay in the moment when the gun group had to up and move to catch the riflemen. The rifle group could not match the volume of fire with their bolt action weapons, and so could not equal the job done by the exposed Bren crew. The Corporal would try to guide the actions of his men, and lead in the close assault with his submachine gun. Overall the Section was workmanlike. The rifle group was large enough to sustain casualties and still operate effectively, and its mix of weapons was mostly adequate. It was not particularly suited to street fighting, the immediate nature of encounters requiring a higher portion of automatic weapons which could only be provided by increasing the issue of Sten guns on a local basis.
Platoon HQ had changed slightly. It still consisted of a Platoon commander, a Sergeant and two men. One, the officer's batman, served initially as a runner until the availability of radios permitted each Rifle Platoons to carry a hand-held set, and then he became a signaller. The second man maintained his role as a runner, carrying messages to the Rifle Sections who had no radios. The officer still officially carried the traditional revolver, but it was not uncommon for a rifle to be adopted until the Sten offered a more attractive alternative. Apparently, this was often obtained by 'swapping' the pistol with the 2-inch mortar gunner, but by 1944 Rifle Platoon Commanders were provided with their own Sten guns. The Sergeant, who in the absence or loss of the officer became platoon leader, batman and orderly all carried rifles.
Three men were now provided to operate the Platoon’s 2-inch mortar This odd little weapon had its equivalent in both the German and Russian armies, but both quickly discarded their versions. In British service though, the weapon endured. It could project small rounds up to 500 yards, but the effect of their charge was negligible. More useful were its smoke rounds, more of which were normally carried than high explosive. It was pretty much a mutated grenade launcher, but in the hands of some madmen it was known to be fired horizontally, braced against some object, like a massive shotgun. Quite useful for street fighting. The gunner carried a Sten, the other two men both rifles.
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