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CROSSFIRE: Orders of Battle

Not much here yet, but in time there should be more.

Armoured Panzergrenadiers ▼

CROSSFIRE OOBs: Armoured Panzergrenadiers

During World War Two, the Germans had troops units which were designed for fighting alongside tanks. These were fully motorised units. Most of the German army used leg or horse transport, but these units all had motorised vehicles to ride in, so that they could at all times keep up with the tanks. These were the Panzergrenadiers. Most of these troops rode in lorries, but some were armoured panzergrenadiers and these rode in armoured half-tracked vehicles known as Hanomag Sd. 251s. In these vehicles, they could cross open ground alongside their tanks, even when that ground was being shelled and machine-gunned. German SS units were favoured with a greater proportion of the best equipment, and about a third of armoured panzergrenadiers were in the SS. Here, though, I shall be dealing with the Wehrmacht panzergrenadiers. Some of my wargaming opponents refuse to use SS troops, and I'm not keen myself.

Panzergrenadier section

The basic fighting unit in the German army was the section, and an armoured panzergrenadier section had one big difference from the normal infantry section, or the motorised panzergrenadier section: it had two machine guns rather than one. Here above we see a section. In the centre is the section commander, with binoculars, submachinegun, and a heavy five-o'clock shadow ( Combat Miniatures). Section commanders were issued with binoculars. Officers had larger binoculars. I have read a few memoirs written by British soldiers, and a few times I've read of how they liked to steal German Zeiss binoculars, preferring them to the British issue.

The section has eight men in it. On the left, we see a four-man base. The two figures on the right of this are the machine gunner and his number two. The weapon is being fired over the shoulder of the number two. Although this was sometimes the practice, which would allow the firer to shoot over some obstacle, normally the MG34 or MG42 would be fired on its bipod, from a prone position. It was very difficult to fire the standard German LMG from the shoulder, and it gobbled up ammunition very quickly, so a two-man crew was necessary. Indeed, the rest of the section would have to help in ferrying ammunition for the MGs. Usually, it was as much as a section could do to keep one machinegun supplied with ammunition, but armoured panzergrenadiers would seldom stray far from their vehicles, which could carry a lot of ammunition and spare barrels. The over-the-shoulder firing pose looks very good on the wargaming table, though, is easy to recognise, and easier to pick up than prone figures.

Also on the base is a man with a Panzerfaust, which was a one-shot device for knocking out tanks and pillboxes. This was a metal tube, within which was a propellant charge which launched the bi-conical bomb on the end of the tube towards the target, and folding fins for keeping it straight in flight. The charge created a huge amount of smoke, which both gave away the position of the firer and would fill any building he was in with smoke. Anyone standing immediately behind the firer was in danger of suffering from the back-blast of the weapon. Down the shaft was a warning, painted in red, warning of this danger. On the head of the bomb, on a white square, were the instructions for use. The figure with the panzerfaust is by Irregular Miniatures, the others on the same base are by Combat Miniatures.

The last man on this four-man base has an unusual weapon - a pistol launched anti-tank gun. This nifty little gadget fired a High Explosive Anti-Tank warhead with so piffling a charge in it, that it was virtually useless. Nevertheless, impressed by their own clever design, the Germans continued making this weapon. Most panzergrenadier sections would not have one of these weapons, but I liked the figure.

The section fought as two parts, one MG team commanded by the section commander, and the other by his second. The other base has on it the other MG team, again in the over-the-shoulder pose. These figures (right) are by SHQ and are each wearing a "shelter quarters" or Zeltbahn. This was a large triangular piece of waterproofed cloth. It had a camouflage pattern printed on both sides ("splinter pattern" - darker on one side than the other), and a few uses. It was a rain cape in bad weather; it gave better camouflage to a soldier; and four of these could be joined together to make a pyramidal tent. Troops were issued with these from the start of the war, which is useful for the painter of wargaming figures, because one can paint the troops in early war uniforms, with Zeltbahn worn over the top, and they will be authentic for early war scenarios, and will look fine too for late war ones.

One man in a typical section would have a sniper's rifle, although I get the impression that he was not a specialist sniper, and that he would normally fight in the usual way alongside his section mates. Another would have a Gew. 43, which was an SLR (self-loading rifle) - a semi-automatic magazine-fed weapon. If you buy the Revell plastic German infantry box, then you will get men standing firing the snipers' rifle (with telescopic sight), and men running with the Gew. 43.

Inside one Sd. 251/1 there would be:

  1. NCO section leader, SMG, binoculars.
  2. First machine gunner, with pistol and MG34/42.
  3. Rifleman with Kar.98, assisting No.2.
  4. Rifleman with grenade launcher (range c.270 yards).
  5. Rifleman with sniper rifle.
  6. Second machine gunner, pistol and MG34/42.
  7. Rifleman with Kar.98, assisting No.6.
  8. Assistant section leader, with Gew.43 SLR, commanding Nos. 6, 7, and either 4 or 5.
  9. Driver for the vehicle, SMG.
  10. Vehicle crewman, SMG, who would man the front MG34/42 of the half-track.

This is ten men. The first eight would dismount to fight, and the last two would stay in the half-track. The section might have anything up to about five panzerfausts, distributed amongst those who'd find them least of a burden. Most typically, I think a section would have two or three. You may be able to see that the bases of the MG teams have small patches of cork tile showing (front right corner of both bases). When a base uses a panzerfaust, I stick a mapping pin in this cork to show that it has used up one shot.

In my games, I treat the three-man base as -1 in close combat, so the section commander usually goes with that to lend it support. The sections seem historically to have fought as two teams of four, each with one MG. The MG was the main firepower of the group, with the riflemen there to carry ammunition and protect the flanks.

Panzergrenadier platoon

Here we see a platoon. In front of the Nissen huts (vacuum mouldings by Bellona) are the four vehicles of the platoon, and in front of each, the troops who would dismount to fight. On the left, we see one 251/1 with an eight-man section, made up of an NCO commander on a base, a three-man base of rifleman and MG team, and a four-man base of sniper, rifleman, and MG team. All these have piles of bricks on their bases, showing that they are all from the same section.

Next from the left is the 251/10 command vehicle of the platoon, with its 37mm anti-tank gun. In front of this is a three-man base. On this are the deputy commander with rifle, and two men under his command: both rifle-armed messengers. In front of this base is a circular one with the platoon commander on. He has a submachinegun. The company has three platoons like this. One is commanded by an officer, the other two typically by senior NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officer). Two gunners stay in the 251/10 to man the AT gun. This vehicle also carried a  "corpsman" (medic), who is not shown. The medic is not a combat soldier, and Crossfire has no rules for medics, so I have not bothered to paint up medics, even though I have suitable figures for them. Such a medic would not, I believe, wear a red-cross armband, because they were armed, and the red cross was for use by unarmed men.

Further right are the other two sections and their vehicles. These are much the same as the first section. The one furthest to the right has twigs, representing logs, on the bases, and the other has yellow rubber lichen. The bases of the platoon commander and his deputy have piles of bricks, and yellow lichen, and twigs, showing that these command all three of the sections under them.

The platoon might also have a master gunsmith in the command vehicle, and a messenger on a motorcycle or Kettenkrad. It might also have a panzerschreck team (see below).

Panzergrenadier SFMG platoon

Here is the SFMG platoon. "SFMG" stands for Sustained Fire Machine Gun. Such a weapon would be mounted on a tripod (schwere Feldlafette) for accuracy, and would be fired by a team of men which would keep it supplied with very large amounts of ammunition, in long belts. In the front row, you can see the three weapons of the platoon. The two men on the left are SHQ, as is the third man on the middle base, and the rest are Revell Afrika Korps figures, which as you can see, mix perfectly happily with the SHQ figures. Next to each SFMG is a pile of spent brass cartridges. This was made by putting a blob of PVA glue on the base, and then adding lots of tiny trimmings from some electrical flex. I'd like to say that this nice touch was my own idea, but it was given me by Tim Marshall of Canada.

Behind the three MGs are the platoon commander, with SMG, and a base with three men ferrying ammunition (figures from an SHQ pack of "SFMG on the move"). These men would be rifle-armed, but would spend most of their time running back and forth with boxes and belts of ammunition. My plan is to play the rule that this base can fight, but if it gets destroyed, then the SFMGs will become only as effective as LMGs (Light Machine Guns), for lack of ammunition.

The official strength for armoured panzergrenadiers shows five men per SFMG in 1943, and four in 1944. Motorised (lorries) German SFMG teams had six men, and foot Schützen and bicycle units had seven, including the horse holder. From mid 1944 onwards, there would be three SFMG teams with an armoured panzergrenadier company. Before this, there were four, in two sections of two.

How exactly these SFMG teams were transported is a bit of a mystery. It seems that they rode in the AA vehicles. The official November 1943 TO&E (Theoretical Organisation and Equipment - what, on paper, a unit should have), there were only two 251/17 AA vehicles in the company, each with two SFMG teams. Three 251/17 with one SFMG team in each were introduced with the July 1944 TO&E. It is difficult to imagine where all the men of two SFMG teams would fit in a 251/17, alongside the AA gun and its crew. Later in the war, more and more 251/21s would have been introduced, replacing the 251/17s, and there would be even less room for the SFMG teams. The support platoon of the company, with its AA vehicles, stump guns, and mortar carriers, somehow found room in these vehicles to transport the SFMG teams. Perhaps a team or two rode in the platoon's command vehicle: a 251/1.

Panzergrenadier panzerschreck teams

The Panzerzerstörungstrupp - three panzerschreck teams. Left to right: Esci figure with panzerschreck painted "dunkelgelb" (sand - literally "dark yellow"); SHQ figure converted from a heavy mortar loader - he has a scratch-built (Milliput and plastic rod) back pack which is a wooden rack with round holes for five rockets; Esci converted radio operator - his radio has been removed, and he too has a wooden rack on his back - you can just see the empty holes in which two rockets were once carried; another Esci panzerschreck man; another converted mortar loader; a Revell prone panzerschreck firer.

The company had three teams of two men, operating panzerschrecks. These were German versions of the American bazooka. Rather than just copy the American design, however, the Germans made a more powerful version in 88mm calibre. The loaders carried five rockets on their backs. The panzerschreck was powerful, and accurate at short range, and was designed to be reloaded a few times during a battle and fired again. The crews who used them were specialist anti-tank men, and not like the riflemen who happened also to carry panzerfausts (see above). The back-blast from a panzerschreck was huge and deadly. If the weapon was fired in the open, a broad lane a hundred yards long had to be clear of friendly troops behind the firer. If fired from a confined space such as a building, the back blast would badly injure or kill anyone in the room, including the firer. Also, the rocket in flight left a clearly visible trail of smoke and sparks, which would make it clear to everyone, day or night, exactly where the firer of the weapon was hiding.

Some lists show all three teams riding in a single vehicle: the AA vehicle in the command platoon. This may well have been a bit of a squeeze, though, and alternatively, one two-man team might have been attached out to each of the three platoons of grenadiers. So, sometimes they fought as a single Schwerpunkt (something like "focal point" or "main effort", "spearhead") of three teams, and sometimes as three single teams. The company commander would decide.

Panzergrenadier company command

Here you see the company commander, and a base of his aides. The company commander I have based on an octagonal base, and we see him here peering through a "scissors scope". This is the Revell panzergrenadier commander, and I couldn't resist using him. He wears a long leather coat. His aides are: an Esci radio operator - each radio car had dismountable man-pack radios, and one would go with the company commander; an Airfix man pointing to a map/clipboard (I think he might be from the Reconnaissance set); and two Revell figures, one with a rifle (a messenger/runner), and another lovely figure of a man using binoculars. These men would all ride in one of the radio vehicles.

In the other radio vehicle, would ride the Kompanietruppführer (the HQ platoon leader). The Kompanietruppführer monitored all communications and informed the company commander of anything important which might otherwise have been missed. If the company command vehicle was disabled the command would shift to the second radio vehicle. If the company commander died, the Kompanietruppführer would co-ordinate the company until the next in command was able to take over.

Given the way they operated, I saw little point in modelling both the company commander and his aides, and the deputy and his. Until the main commander was disabled, the deputy would stay in his vehicle during the fight, so the same figures could in a game be used for both command groups.

Panzergrenadier company

All the troops of the company. The back row is the SFMG platoon. The next row has all the four-man bases of the sections in it, and the next the three-man bases, then all the section commanders. In front of the section commanders is a row of all the platoon commanders, on circular bases, their aides, and on square bases the panzerschreck teams, shown here attached out to the sections with matching base textures. From left to right, the base textures are: light green foam shrubs/bushes; red rubber lichen bushes; cat litter rocks; twigs representing logs; piles of bricks; yellow rubber lichen; small dark green foam shrubs; sisal string reeds; plastic aquarium plant bushes. The SFMG platoon has wheat (shades of brown) sawdust flock. All the bases also have the same mix of grass flock as well, giving a unifying look to the company.

The front row has the company commander, his aides, and a square base with a two-man forward observer team for the mortar vehicles. I have found no proof that such a team existed, but the mortar vehicles did not fire direct, and all had radios, so it seems reasonable to imagine that a man or two might dismount with a radio from the mortar carriers, and go forward to observe and report the fall of shot.

The figures are a mix of Revell, Esci, SHQ, Matchbox, Airfix, Irregular, and Combat Miniatures. This mix helps to give the unit a late-war ramshackle look. The uniforms are a bit mixed too, with a few Afrika Korps bits and pieces, and a few different colours of tunic. Quite a few of the figures are in early war uniforms, partly for variety, and partly so that when I want to paint up a force for early war games, I won't have to do so much painting.

Some lists show that the third platoon of the company would be differently equipped. This would be the "Sturm" platoon, and would have thirty MP44 assault rifles, in something like three sections of eight, and an HQ of six. If these ever actually existed in the field, then they would have been very late war indeed: April 1945. Even then, the fact is that the troops liked their MG34/42s so much that they would have been very unlikely to have wanted to fight without any. The MP44 was a decent weapon, but the German all-purpose MG was considered essential.

By 1941 most or all of the armoured panzergrenadiers would have been using two MGs per section. Before this, there were units with one MG per section, and units with two. In 1940, there were four types of Schützen regiment in the panzer divisions: a & d had one MG per section (PzDiv.: 1, 2, 3 and 10), while b & c had two per section (PzDiv.: 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9). The 4th Panzer Division had one of each type (c & d). There is quite a bit of complexity which I have not detailed here, but the gist of it is that for early war games, your panzergrenadiers at this scale can have one or two MGs per section.

Panzergrenadier company vehicles

Alle zusammen. The back row is the heavy weapons support platoon, left to right: three AA vehicles (251/17 with unarmoured open back, then 251/17, then 251/21); the platoon's 251/1 command vehicle; a Kettenkrad half-track motorcycle (by Hasegawa) for the platoon's messenger rider; two 251/9 stump guns; two 251/2 mortar carriers.

The middle of the picture has the panzergrenadier infantry vehicles of the three platoons, each with three 251/1s, and one 251/10. Each platoon is painted with a different camouflage scheme, which makes things clearer for wargaming purposes. The left hand platoon is in "ambush" scheme, and the centre one is in panzer grey (making it suitable for games set in 1940).

The front row is the command platoon. Left to right: a motorcycle with side-car (would normally be a simple motorcycle, but they used whatever they had); a VW 166 Schwimmwagen (might just be an ordinary Kuebelwagen, but who wants to be ordinary?); a VW 82 Kuebelwagen (officer's personal transport, not for front line battle use); the two 251/3 command radio vehicles; one 251/17 AA vehicle; a Kettenkrad, and a motorcycle with rider (both SHQ). The motorcycle, unlike the rest of the vehicles, is mounted on a base to help it stand up, which alas also makes it a bit difficult to see.

For some reason, I have photographed the 251/21 with the support platoon, and one of the two 251/17s with the command platoon. The vehicles might well have been assigned this way, but the 251/17 models are all in the camouflage scheme of the support platoon, and the 251/21 is in the same camouflage scheme as the late-model 251/3 radio vehicle, so really should have been shown at the front. No matter.

See the section on 251 half-tracks in my model making section, for many more details on the vehicles.

There are many sources for information on what German forces had in World War Two, and they all clash. It must be remembered that units, especially later in the war, were often made up by amalgamating other units, and so they were often non-standard. Also, again, mainly later in the war, it was very common for units to be under-strength, so you can be very easily justified in fielding a company which has less than what I have shown you above.

Here's a list for 1943:

  • HQ platoon: two 251/3 radio vehicles; one Kuebelwagen; motorcycles and Kettenkrads; four panzerschreck teams in a 251/1.
  • Three infantry platoons, each with: one 251/10; three 251/1.
  • Support platoon: two 251/9 stummels; two 251/2 mortar carriers; three 251/1 each with a SFMG team (seems a lot of vehicles to carry so little).
  • (One source lists a 251/10 for the command vehicle of the support platoon in 1943, replacing it with a 251/1 in 1944.)

And here's one for 1944:

  • HQ platoon: two 251/3 radio vehicles; one 251/17 or 251/21; two Kuebelwagens; motorcycles and Kettenkrads.
  • Three infantry platoons, each with: one 251/17 or 251/21 (or even 251/1) command vehicle; three 251/1 troop carriers.
  • Support platoon: one 251/1 command vehicle; three 251/17 or 251//21s; two 251/9s; two 251/2s.

But here's another for 1944:

  • HQ platoon: one 251/17 AA vehicle; four (!) 251/1s with commander and aides in one vehicle with SMGs, and deputy commander and aides in another with man-pack radio, rifles, and panzerfausts, and two panzerschreck teams in each of the other two vehicles.
  • Three infantry platoons, each with: one 251/17 with a two-man MG team; one 251/10 with platoon leader and aides with rifles and panzerfausts; three 251/1 troop carriers, each carrying two two-man MG teams, and a two-man panzerschreck team, and three to five men with rifles, rifle grenades and panzerfausts.
  • Support platoon: three 251/17 AA vehicles; two 251/9 stummels; a 251/10 for some reason; two 251/2 mortar carriers; a 251/1 with two-man mortar control team (forward observers); four 251/1 troop carriers carrying four SFMG teams, and a commander with three riflemen aides with radio and panzerfausts.

That last one strikes me as unusually over-strength. Here's yet another list, this time for 1941:

  • HQ platoon: one 251/10; one 251/1. In these are carried a two-man anti-tank rifle team,; the commander and his aides with SMGs; the deputy commander and his aides with SMGs and a radio.
  • Three infantry platoons, each with: one 251/10 with commander and aides with rifles and rifle grenades; three 251/1 carriers with two two-man MG teams, and four to six men with rifles and rifle grenades.
  • Support platoon: commander and aides, with SMGs in one 251/1; a 251 with a mortar fire control team in; two 251/2 mortar carriers; two 251/1 carriers with two SFMG teams in each (says two to three-man teams per SFMG, which seems unlikely).

I'd be inclined to disbelieve the idea that so many men had panzerfausts or rifle grenades. More believable is that one man of each rifle men team had rifle grenades. Some lists list men armed solely with panzerfausts - a very unlikely thing.

Here's a list for 1940 rifle platoon:

  • One command vehicle 251/10 with: one officer with pistol; three riflemen aides; a two-man anti-tank rifle team.
  • Three troop carrier 251/1 vehicles, each with: four to eight riflemen; one two-man MG team.

Early in the war, panzerfausts and panzerschrecks hadn't been developed, so anti-tank rifles were used instead, but these soon became near-useless against most tanks of the time. The same source has a list for 1941 which gives the officer the option of an SMG, and some rifle grenades to one of his aides, takes away the AT rifle and replaces it with nothing, and gives rifle grenades to one of the riflemen in each section.

I must extend my gratitude to Hauke Kueck of Germany, who aided me greatly in my research for this page.

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British Army Chindits ▼


Most of this information comes from "Return Via Rangoon" by Philip Stibbe, which describes the first venture into Burma by Brigadeer Orde Wingate's "Chindits". The book gives fairly detailed descriptions of the British contingent, which, it strikes me, would make a very nice Crossfire force.

The Chindits were named after the griffin-like mythical beasts which acted as temple guardians in Burma. Wingate's idea was to wage a totally new type of war. He proposed that troops be trained to go behind enemy lines, using mules for transport, and being supplied by air, and fight all the way through the monsoon season, and cause as much trouble for the Japanese as possible, destroying supply lines and the like.

The force had eight "columns", commanded by captains and majors. 1-4 were mainly Ghurkas, 5-8 mainly King's Regiment (Lancs.) Number six column was disbanded and used to bring all the other columns to full strength.

Each column had:

3 rifle platoons.

No very detailed breakdown of the platoons is in the book, but I believe them to be fairly standard platoons for the period, consisting of three sections, each with one bren gun and a rifle team. The platoon command sections were made up as follows:

- Lieutenant (on horse!)
- Sgt.
- Batman
- Runner
- Groom

Presumably each platoon had a 2" mortar team as well. I found no reference to anti-tank weapons, so probably no AT rifles, and near certainly no PIATs. There weren't many tanks in the jungle.

1 support platoon

3" mortars and Vickers MMGs (refers to "the mortar section of the support platoon" so perhaps this is only 2 x Vickers and 2 x 3")

1 platoon of Burma riflemen

"Burrifs". All of these were "Karens" – a Christian tribe. Used to question locals and scout areas with locals in. They would often change out of uniform to do this.

1 platoon of sappers and commandos from 142 company.

Many of the objectives were blowing things up (bridges, railways etc.). No details, I'm afraid.

Some signallers, medical orderlies, muleteers.

1 message dog

This had two masters. If the column split, it could go from one master to the other with messages attached. No one but one of its masters was allowed to feed or pet the dog.

90 mules

Mules fed mainly on foraged bamboo leaves. They started out with some bullock-drawn carts as well, but these were ditched during the expedition. The mules of the second Chindit expedition were "devoiced" to stop them braying. It seems, though, that braying was not a problem of note during the first expedition - the mules were simply taught not to be noisy and weren't. On the return trip from the first expedition, many mules were shot and eaten.

Column HQ:

- Commanding Officer (Major)
- Adjutant (Lt.)
- Admin Officer (Capt.)
- Medical Officer (Capt.)
- Air Liaison Officer (they were supplied by air-drop) (Flight Lt.)
- Cypher officer (Lt.)
- Animal transport officer (2nd Lt.)
- Column Sgt. Major (CSMJ)

You might like to have a look at this page, which has a  higher-level OOB on it, which mentions nothing much smaller than a regiment.

Other potentially useful/interesting facts:

  • Column half a mile long. Covered typically 20 miles a day. Marched for 60 minutes then rested 15. Three hour mid-day halt every day.
  • In column, of the three main platoons, one would be "reserve", one "escort" (guard and help load/unload the mules), one "perimeter" (guard the camp - stay awake). Would swap roles every 24 hours.
  • One column would be used to go to place X and distract Japs away from another column's target at Y. I read of no action involving the whole force, so this is the perfect excuse for using just one column in a wargame. The columns were designed to be independent.
  • Mules carried some dinghies, but most rivers crossed by swimming. It took three hours to cross one major river (Irrawaddy).
  • Orders conveyed to whole column by bugle. Orders included "disperse", "strike camp", "officers to conference".
  • Chindits were mostly 28-35 years old.
  • Each man carried 70lbs of equipment. Each had an "Everest pack" - which was a rucksack with frame - small by today's standards, but bigger than usual WW2 British back pack. In it was: 7 days' rations, shirt, slacks, socks, rubber hockey boots, housewife (sewing kit), water purification tablets, mess tins, cutlery. Each man carried dah or kukri (big native knives). Also carried were: rifle, bayonet, ammunition, 3 grenades, water bottle, canvas water container, water wings, toggle rope, jack knife, attabrin malaria tablets. These things were compulsory. Other things were optional. Each man issued 25 silver ruppees.
  • One day's rations: 12 shakpura biscuits, 2oz cheeze, 1oz milk powder, 9oz raisins or dates, 3/4oz tea, 1 packet salt, 4 oz sugar, 1 oz chocolate or acid drops, 20 cigarettes, 1 box matches. No loo roll carried - they used grass, and were unimpressed by the American practice of carrying loo roll.
  • Officers had Verey (flare) pistols, revolvers, torches, many maps (one platoon officer had fifty), and letters to be left with the wounded, entrusting them to the care of the local Burmans (the word Burmese refers to one tribe of the many in Burma).
  • The troops wore mainly "Jungle Green". They had bush hats rather than helmets.
  • Beards were encouraged.
  • Platoon fires for cooking etc. were all lit in close circle, to look from a distance like one fire.
  • Communication with high command all by radio. Brits never used speech on radio - only morse.
  • It took over a month before the men started getting louse-ridden.
  • A printed letter was sent to the relatives of each Chindit every month explaining that the man was well, but could not write. Mail was received by Chindits by air drop.
  • Burman villages were smart and well-kept, with teak and bamboo houses, golden pagodas, good wells sunk by the (ousted British) government, and orange-robed priests, and men in lungi skirts/wraps of bright colours.
  • RAF bombed concentrations of Japs reported by column.
  • Japs signalled Chindits' location to Jap aircraft with semi-circle of fires.
  • The second expedition used gliders. 96% of the second expedition was air-supplied.
  • Many losses suffered were simply men getting lost, and then returning to India in dribs and drabs, rather than try and locate the column in the vastness of Burma's jungles.
  • Japs were fit, but smoked a lot and were very noisy, so easy to find in jungle. Many wore thick glasses, and most knew some English. They were always asking prisoners about their sex lives. They showed tremendous deference to their officers.
  • Indian National Army was a sizeable force in Rangoon, raised by the Japs to "liberate" India. It recruited from the Indian prisoners in Rangoon jail. It was thought that if used, they'd mainly have defected to the British at the first opportunity. What actually happened was perhaps more remarkable. Two officers in Rangoon jail, one British, one Australian, started issuing orders to the INA once the Japanese had abandoned the city. Playing a magnificent game of bluff, they managed to get the whole INA to surrender to them.
  • The Burmese Defence Army was given command of Rangoon by the Japs, and this turned pro-British the instant the Japs left.
  • The actress Joanna Lumley's father was a Chindit officer.
One amazing story:

A crashed airman got word to the military prisoners in Rangoon, that the city was about to be bombed by 29 squadrons of Flying Fortresses the next day. The prisoners were terrified of being bombed to death so close to liberation, and told the airman that the bombing was pointless because the Japs had abandoned the city. The same airman set off in a tiny boat in the hope of reaching some off-shore navy vessels and telling them this. The prisoners did not see the airman again. The next day, the sky filled with Flying Fortresses. The bomb doors opened, and from these dropped... supplies! He had made it.

  • The British 14th Army which liberated the region around Rangoon was vast, keen, efficient, confident. The men volunteered to go on half rations, so that more petrol could be dropped, and the job finished sooner.
  • On the rough roads of Burma, the Japanese used captured British lorries, which were more robust than their own vehicles.
  • The Japanese insisted that they were brave because they would commit suicide rather than be captured. The British insisted that they were brave because they would suffer capture rather than take the coward's way out of suicide.
  • 65% of Wingate's expedition made it back to India to fight again. Wingate himself died in a plane crash.
  • 200 Chindits were captured. Half of these died after capture.

Half of the book deals with the capture and imprisonment of the author. I shan't go into all the detail of that. It is pretty gruelling. One notable thing is the tremendous loyalty shown by the non-British members of the British army. One Gurkha was given the task of writing an essay saying what he thought of the British. He simply wrote in block capitals "THE BRITISH ALWAYS HAVE BEEN AND ALWAYS WILL BE THE FINEST RACE IN THE WORLD". For this, he was severely punished. On a lighter note, one man in prison caught malaria and went mad. In a fit of madness, he escaped, and no one ever found out how.

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British Infantry (Sikhs) ▼

CROSSFIRE OOBs: Late World War Two British Infantry

For the moment, this section only deals with platoons and companies. I expect to add details of battalions later. Typically, there would be three platoons to a company and three or four companies to a battalion. The illustrations show Indian Sikh troops. All Commonwealth troops were organised along the same lines, so what follows applies pretty much to troops from India, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Canada and other such countries.

By the second half of the war, most British sections had been reduced from their paper strength of ten men to seven or eight. Each section had a Bren gun team and rifle team, and this did not vary although the exact number of men in each team did.


Total number of men between about 29 and 32

HQ section

Platoon commander.

Most often a lieutenant, although sergeants often had to step in and remain in command after the officer became a casualty. The casualty rate amongst officers was very high. They were the top priority targets for enemy troops.

Commander's escort.

This was usually about three men, who would typically be armed with sten guns. They would act as runners, the commander's batman, and would often include the platoon sergeant whom the commander would send to jolly the men along. These would also help out in close assaults.

Platoon anti-tank weapon, crewed by two men.

Early in the war, this would have been a Boys anti-tank rifle, but these were soon obsolete, because the armour of the enemy tanks got so thick, especially on the Western Front. Out East, they were retained longer, and they were also retained for such work as dealing with snipers. AT rifles could fire through quite thick trees, and could injure snipers who took cover in rocky terrain, such as that on Crete. The Boys team would fire past the foe, to hit rocks behind him, and the flying shattered rock would do the job.

Late in the war, the AT rifle was replaced by the PIAT (Projector Infantry Anti Tank) for use against German tanks. This was a remarkable device. It was a spigot mortar, powered by a combination of a huge coiled steel spring, and something like a big shotgun cartridge. It fired a HEAT bomb that exploded on contact, and with its shaped charge, would melt a hole through four inches of armour plating. It was capable of knocking out any German tank. The British paratroopers fighting around Arnhem managed to knock out some King Tigers with PIATs, although they did shoot from behind, through the rear armour. The PIAT was accurate to about a hundred yards, though most operators preferred to shoot from more like fifty. It had many advantages over the rocket weapons used by the Americans and Germans. It did not have a dangerous back-blast. It did not give away the firer's position by creating masses of smoke. It could be fired from inside buildings. It was not popular, though, because it was heavy (32 lbs.), had a heavy recoil, and its Heath Robinson appearance did not inspire confidence. To fire the first shot, a man had to cock the powerful spring, which was often an awkward task. After firing, the recoil would re-cock the weapon for the next shot. Contrary to misconception, it could be fired downhill, and the bombs could be thrown or dropped onto a target by hand.

Platoon mortar, crewed by two men.

This was a two-inch mortar that was used mainly for providing the platoon with smoke cover. Typically, the two men would carry eighteen bombs between them, though sometimes the platoon commander might demand that other men carry a few more. Every army had an equivalent light mortar, but it seems that the British was the most successful largely because it was very simple. The British army today is still using a weapon almost the same, although now it has the stupid name of "fifty-one millimetre mortar" (51mm = 2"). Each bomb weighed 2.5 lbs. It also fired illumination flares. The minimum safe range for HE rounds is stated as 200m, bearing in mind that the blast radius was about 150m. The maximum range was about 525m. The operator placed the mortar's base plate firmly on the ground, knelt or lay beside it, loaded in a bomb, and then judged windage by pointing the thing in a direction which seemed about right (it had a white line painted on it to help), and judged range by angling the thing at what experience suggested was correct. He then pulled a lanyard cord to fire it. One smoke bomb would create a smoke screen that would last about two minutes, depending on weather conditions. A slight breeze was best. High wind blew away the smoke, and a total calm meant that the smoke wouldn't spread out into a screen, and so more bombs were required. A good mortar firer was a valued asset in a platoon.

Platoon headquarters section

Platoon headquarters section, with officer (on round base - I gave him ginger hair and pink skin just to rub it in. What on Earth did men who couldn't tan do in hot countries at war, before the invention of sun block cream? Burn a lot, I suppose, or specialise in night patrols); sergeant, batman and runner (rectangular base); 2" mortar team, and AT rifle team (square bases). Figures by Britannia, except the officer, and the standing rifleman, by Lancashire.


There would be three of these, each with:

Section commander

An NCO, typically a corporal, put in command of a section. He was issued a sub-machine gun as standard, a sten or an American Thompson, but very often would prefer a SMLE rifle. All sub-machine guns were short-ranged. Thompsons were heavy and noisy. Worse still, the enemy soon learned to shoot the man in the section with the SMG first, as he was usually the commander. Opinions vary a great deal over how good the sten gun was. It was a successful design. Huge numbers were made, and every major warring nation copied the design or made designs influenced by it (the Germans made some copies so accurate that one might describe them as forgeries - right down to the British serial numbers - purpose unknown). Its greatest strength was its simplicity. It was cheap, and looked cheap, and did not always inspire confidence in its users. The final mark is described by some writers as perhaps the finest submachinegun of the war. It was more accurate than most SMGs, with an effective range often said to be as much as 55 yards, whereas most SMGs are considered to be effective only to 30 yards or so. Some writers contend that it was reliable and easy to clean, while others stress that it was horrendously unreliable. Certainly some marks were better than others. Sten and German MP40 ammunition were compatible, so the Brits could load captured MP40s with sten rounds. With most marks of sten, it was possible for the gun to fire a round accidentally if the bolt got knocked, which didn't go down too well with the men.

Three or four men armed with .303" Short Magazine Lee-Enfields (SMLE).

By the later part of the war, this would probably be a bolt-action "Rifle Number Four" which was an updated version of the rifle used earlier in the war and during World War One. This was very popular weapon, as it was reliable, very accurate, powerful, and easy to use. With the right technique it could be fired very quickly. Germans often reported wrongly that the British were using automatic weapons. It carried a magazine of ten rounds (the German equivalent rifle had five) in two clips of five, which could be topped up during a fight (American rifles had to run out of ammunition entirely before they could be reloaded). Fifty rounds were carried in a cloth bandoleer, which is something seldom pictured, but was standard issue. I suppose it doesn't look very parade-ground-fashion. The rifle would have a bayonet, which early in the war would be a sword type, like a big knife. Later bayonets were the "pig-sticker" type - a simple blunt-sided spike, which was stronger and more effective.

Each man would also carry one grenade as standard issue, and before a planned attack would probably have one or two more. These were most commonly the "Number 36" or "Mills Bomb", which was a very reliable and powerful splinter grenade, far more powerful than the American equivalent. It could be fired from the rifle using a simple adapter.

The main job these men had during an attack was to close with the enemy, and defeat him with grenade and bayonet.

A Bren gun team

The Bren gun was the standard British light machine gun of the war, and was based on a Czechoslovakian design. It is widely regarded as the best gun of its type. It was light, reliable, easy to maintain, and very accurate. In fact, its accuracy was sometimes regarded as a drawback, as a burst from it would often send all the bullets to one place, instead of scattering them around a "beaten zone" which is better for getting enemy infantry to seek cover. It had a slower rate of fire that the German spandau, but this meant that it used up ammunition more slowly, which was a good thing. Each man in the section would carry ammunition for the Bren gun, carried in 30-round magazines. The Bren gun itself could be fired by one man quite easily, although he always had a second man (armed with a SMLE) who carried amongst other things a spare barrel for the gun, in case the first over-heated. The team would often be escorted by a rifleman as well.

In attack, the main job of the Bren gun team would be to give covering fire to the men of the rifle team as they closed with the enemy. In defence, the Bren gun would be set up where it has a good field of fire, and could shoot at any enemy who showed themselves.

One section

One section, with Bren team (the early marks of the Bren gun had a shiny silver barrel. Later ones had blackened barrels), rifle team, and NCO with submachinegun. Figures by Lancashire except NCO and rifleman in front of him (Britannia), and prone Bren gunner (Wargames Foundry).


Total number of men about 100

A company would have a company commander and his deputy. The company commander would typically go forward to conduct the action of his platoon commanders, while his deputy would normally hang back a bit, and be near the company radio. The deputy would monitor the battle, inform his CO of developments, oversee the co-ordination of units on call by radio (air support etc.), and be ready to step into the CO's shoes if the company commander got shot. Both commanders would have about three men with them as aides. These men would act as runners, to take messages about the field, and would carry and operate the radio.

Company commander and aides

Company commander, on octagonal base, with his aides. Senior officers in the Indian army were almost all pale skinned native Brits, but junior officers were a mix. In front of these figures you can see some of my plaster castings. These were made by converting a bought figure into a dead pose, and then mounting this on a base, and making a mould with latex (see here for details of this process), and casting the result in plaster. I use these to mark pinned (no blood) and suppressed (splatter of glossy red gore) units. Figures by Lancashire except commander (Britannia).

Deputy commander, plus aides and FOO

Deputy commander, on six-sided base, with his aides, including radio operator. Also here you see a forward observation officer (FOO) and his aide. They are equipped with a field telephone and a long reel of wire (black cotton on a little removable bobbin). Land-line communications were more common than radios for artillery communications, and much more reliable. As the figure move around the table, the black cotton is reeled out behind them. If the enemy crosses this line, he might cut it. Figures by Lancashire except radio operator (Britannia, but I didn't like the radio he came with, so I converted an Esci plastic German one), and the FOO's helper (FAA).


Machine gun platoon

A machine gun platoon would be attached to a unit by a senior commander. Sometimes the whole platoon would be attached to a company. Sometimes one section might be attached to one company, and one to another.

A machine gun platoon was armed with .303" Vickers medium machine guns (MMGs). These were a design used in the First World War, and a very successful one. They had a jacket full of water around the barrel to keep it cool. The water, if it reached boiling point, would form steam that would carry heat away from the gun down a rubber hose, and this would condense in a tin which sat on the ground. The jacket was topped up with water via a cap on top. The Vickers was possibly the best weapon of its type, and was loved by its operators, despite its great weight, and was capable of sustaining continuous fire for hours on end. Other MGs used this way would overheat quickly. It was peerless in reliability. A unique feature of the gun was that it could be used for indirect fire. It had a special sight for this, and was often ordered to support troops further forward by firing bullets high into the air, to plunge down on the enemy and hamper his operations. The weapon was belt fed by an assistant to the right of the gun. It would take the bullets out of the cloth belt and fire them, and the spent cartridges would fall out of the bottom of the gun (so strictly speaking the piles of spent cases you see on the bases of my models should be directly under the gun, not to the side, but perhaps my gunners have cleared them away for convenience).

The difference between a medium and a heavy machine gun is that an MMG fires ordinary rifle-calibre bullets, and an HMG fires larger rounds, about .5" calibre, which have a better performance against armoured targets. Vickers also produced an HMG, but this was not standard issue to infantry units. A light MG also fired rifle bullets, and was different from an MMG in that it was an infantry section weapon, to be carried quickly, and deployed in the blink of an eye, usually on a bipod, and usually fed by magazine, not belt. A Bren was an LMG.

Machine gun platoon

Machine gun platoon. The officer is on a round base. Three riflemen stand by to defend the guns from flanking attacks, and to help carry ammunition to keep the guns fed. The two sections of two guns each have been set up facing in slightly different directions. Figures by Lancashire except the MMG team second from the right (Wargames Foundry). I bent the legs of gunners and their assistants, so that each is in a different position.


Occasionally, assault engineers would be attached to units, for particular jobs. These men were trained to go forward and blow things up. Lancashire Games produces figures for these men, and I couldn't resist getting a few, and here they are leading an advance.

Section of assault engineers

They are equipped with "Bangalore torpedoes", which are poles covered with packs of explosive. These were good for blowing paths through barbed wire, or shoving through firing slits of pillboxes and the like. I don't know whether they were invented in Bangalore, and so named after the place, or whether they were named after the fact that when one detonated one, there were bangs galore to be heard. They also have "satchel charges" which were satchels with big bombs in them, handy for blowing up the engine deck of a tank, or putting a hole through a fortification.

Behind the engineers are men from a section of ordinary riflemen. One is carrying a Vickers-Berthier LMG, which was a weapon very similar to the Bren gun, sometimes used in the same role by Indian units. The magazines for it are carried in brown leather curved pouches on the gunner's chest, where the usual grenade pouches would be.

Leading these men is a Sikh officer by FAA. The angle of the photograph has not been kind to this figure, but I have to say that these figures are the least good of my Sikhs, being rather crude and lacking in detail. The Wargames Foundry figures have the nicest sculpting, but are difficult to get hold of and have a limited range (they don't wear shorts). The Britannia Miniatures figures are useful in that they provided me with the 2" mortars, AT rifles and radio operators missing from the Lancashire Games range, but they are rather large and cartoony for my tastes (huge heads and hands, and preposterously large weapons). The bulk of my Sikh figures are by Lancashire, and these come in economical army packs. The knees and ankles are a little weak, but they are nice enough figures.

I have painted the webbing on my Sikhs with the paint by Miniature Paints called "coffee". It is not white, nor anywhere near white, but it is pale. All the photographs one sees of Sikhs shows them with very pale webbing. This may have started a darker khaki, but then got bleached in the sun. Sikhs were proud of their appearance, and Indian troops in general were very smart and neatly turned out. The British army did not divide troops on strictly religious grounds, and Sikh regiments had men in them of other religions. A person in the know could tell a man's religion and caste by the particular way he tied his turban. I notice that the figures by Britannia seem to have their turbans all tied a different way from the other Sikhs I have.

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Carrier Platoons ▼

CROSSFIRE OOBs: Carrier Platoons

The British army in World War Two had many thousands of small armoured vehicles called "carriers". At the start of the war, the main two types were the scout carrier and the Bren gun carrier. These had armour just down one side at the back, and were the ancestors of the "universal carrier" which came to dominance in the later stages of the war. As its name suggests, this vehicle had a thousand and one uses, and several variants and marks. It must have been a quite successful design, since so many other vehicles were based on it, such as the American T-16, and some larger vehicles developed late or after the war, such as the Windsor Carrier.

It is confusing whether or not carriers were true "AFV"s or armoured fighting vehicles. Some people class them as such, and others not. The army numbered them with "T" numbers, which all tanks had, which suggests that someone in high office thought of them more like tanks than like lorries. The term carrier suggests that the vehicles' prime role was for carrying things, not fighting. They were armoured, however, so that they could be used at the front under fire, which suggests a fighting role. They were something in between. They were for carrying things right into the thick of it. They were little armoured taxis for towing guns, delivering men and ammunition to the front, and getting them out again.

Many carriers were deployed behind the front line, and would perform tasks according to the whims of the moment. Being fully tracked, they could cross rough terrain where wheeled lorries could not go, and their armour would protect them from stray bullets and artillery blasts. Many infantry companies had one carrier in the HQ and four other carriers at the disposal of the company commander. Cynics might suggest that they were used for fetching the officers' champagne.

A late war infantry battalion would typically have a carrier platoon. In recce regiments, the carriers were organised differently from what follows. For a start, they carried three men, not four. What follows refers to the carrier platoons of standard infantry battalions, and much of it comes straight out of the training manuals of the period (1943) and of course this did not always reflect actual practice. I am grateful for the help Les Jackson gave me in researching this page. See his restored mortar carrier here.

Carrier Platoon

13 universal carriers, making up four sections of three vehicles each, plus a command vehicle. 7 motorcycles, four of which attached out to the sections.

Each section:

  • One carrier which would dismount a Bren gun and a 2" mortar
  • One carrier which would dismount a Bren gun and a PIAT
  • One carrier which would dismount a Bren gun and a No.38 wireless set
  • One motorcycle

Command carrier

This would carry the captain in charge of the whole platoon. His vehicle would have a number 18 wireless set in it, enabling him to talk to battalion command. No. 18 sets had a range of 5-8 miles. The captain would talk to battalion command, and Battalion would talk to Company, and he would get his orders that way. The rifle company commander would be in charge of the carrier platoon.

The radios of the time were not just delicate, but also very much affected by weather conditions, and were difficult to tune, and would often drift out of tune. Some wargame scenarios, therefore, might reflect this. On a clear day in the flat desert, radio checks might be made on a 2+ on 1d6, and in stormy weather, immediately after a night drop in a mountainous area, paratroop radios might need to roll a 5 or 6.


In practice, carriers in carrier platoons fought in sections of three vehicles. Each section of three vehicles would have the spread of equipment - one 2" mortar (with 36 rounds - twice what a foot-carried 2" would have), one PIAT, as well as the LMGs. Therefore, if the sections kept together, the PIAT and the mortar could protect the section as a whole. The senior vehicle in the section would have a sergeant in command, and he would have a No.38 wireless set, which would dismount with him, worn on a chest-rig. This kept him in contact with the other sections of the platoon, but not with the other vehicles of the section, which would therefore have to be nearby. A No. 38 set had a range of 1-3 miles. Each section had an attached motorcyclist, whose main function was to ride back and forth to company/battalion command, not across the front from section to section. These riders had stens for personal protection. The platoon had three other motorcyclists, making 7 in all. There must have been an awful lot of message sending.

Three men would dismount, taking a Bren, and in the case of the junior vehicles, a PIAT and/or a 2" mortar. This means that one man would gun the Bren, another either a 2" mortar or a PIAT, and a third would act as assistant to the to the other two. The sergeant would be too busy commanding to man a weapon. The driver/mechanic would then drive the vehicle back to safety, possibly digging it in or camouflaging it, and then, sometimes, would join the other dismounted men until it was time to leave. Smoke from the dismounted mortar would be fired a long way forwards, to cover the retreat.

It must be added that carrier crews would supplement their standard issue weaponry and equipment with anything they could lay their hands on. It was common to see carriers with bolted on .3 or .5 calibre Browning MGs, PIATs in the position of the vehicle-mounted Bren, and Brens on AA mountings. The vehicle as standard had a Bren gun poking through a hole in the front. This partially explains why universal carriers were often inaccurately called "Bren carriers". The Airfix kit of a "Bren carrier" is actually a universal carrier. Very common was for the vehicle to have a 2" mortar mounted up front on the inside, next to the gunner. Early carriers often had a 4" smoke launcher mounted on the outside. They would also carry a few rifles and personal weapons. One frowned-upon practice involved adding many sandbags to the inside floor of the carrier. Carriers were very vulnerable to mines, having thinly armoured flat undersides, but the sandbags made them very heavy.

Carrier Platoon Tactics

In attack, they were used for supplementing the firepower of infantry, relieving the infantry, and releasing it for attack. They were vulnerable to counter-attack, though, in this role. They would mount feint attacks to distract the enemy from the real attack. They would if possible encircle the enemy to cut off retreat. They might dismount on a flank, to protect it, or be used as a mobile reserve, or for carrying ammunition and wire to the front line.

In defence, they might be used to form outposts; to patrol between strong nodes; to support counter-attacks; for communication and evacuation; to deploy out in front, ready to fall back quickly, as an early-warning system of an attack; to retreat to an intermediary position, through which friendly forces might retreat.

The carriers withdrew after dark, since they were too easy to stalk by enemy infantry.

Carriers were little use in street fighting, since enemy on upper floors of buildings could so easily shoot down into them.


A common specialist variant of the universal carrier was the 3" Mortar carrier. These were in units of 6 + 1 command vehicle, but the individual carriers were usually attached out singly on a semi-permanent basis to infantry units. They bore a diamond with an M in the top half, and the number (1-6) of the carrier in the platoon underneath.

Another variant was the Wasp flame-thrower. The Germans would shoot captured Wasp (and Crocodile) crews, believing these weapons to be ungentlemanly.

The bridging weight of a carrier was 5. This was often displayed on a yellow circular disc on the front of the hull. It is roughly the weight of the vehicle in tons, and would give the officer in charge of a bridge an idea of how much weight he was allowing onto his bridge.

I have corresponded and spoken to a few people who have ridden in carriers, and they report pretty much the same thing: that a carrier speeding across terrain at 30mph bounces and lurches about alarmingly. It is particularly apt at tipping up and down. When it comes to a halt, it tips forwards, before rocking back violently. To fire from the back of the vehicle on the move would be to waste ammunition, and to risk being thrown out.

Carriers had an unusual method of steering. Central bogey wheels would move in and out, bending the tracks, and causing the vehicle to turn. For sharper turns, other methods could be used, involving slowing one track down relative to the other. Carriers could turn very sharply indeed, which was handy in an emergency.

Carriers were not fully bullet-proof. The armour on the front was fairly bullet resistant, but the armour on the sides was thin enough to permit rounds from MGs and rifles to penetrate. Glancing hits, long range shots, and most splinters from exploding shells would bounce off the armour, but if the vehicle came under accurate fire, the most sensible response was to move as quickly as possible. It was not a mobile pillbox.

Another place to find out about carriers is Maple Leaf Up

Carriers in Crossfire

The Carrier platoons as published in the Crossfire rules are in ONE carrier! Given the Crossfire official scale, and the inseparable nature of the carrier sections, I would use one carrier per section, perhaps plus one for command, per platoon, so the platoon of 13 vehicles would be represented by four or five models, each section having 2" mortar, and PIAT. The section in reality would have three Bren gun teams, and would have few men to defend these in close combat. Accordingly, I would treat the dismounted crew as equivalent to an "HMG" in the Crossfire rules, so it would fire 4 dice, but be -2 in close combat, counting as a crew-served weapon. In 1:1 figure scale games, a carrier might dismount a single three-man stand.

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German Infantry ▼

CROSSFIRE OOBs: German Infantry

Nearly everyone who does World War Two wargaming wants to build a force of Germans. This is easily understood, given that Germans fought all the way through the war on many fronts against just about everybody else. This page should help you build a force of German infantry, up to company level. It is worth reading my page on panzergrenadiers as well, because much of the detail on that is pertinent to ordinary infantry.

The first thing that must be understood about all orders of battle, is that they varied an awful lot. What a unit was meant to have and what it actually had were often very different things, and seldom was the difference greater than with German late war units. When things are going badly, you use whatever you have.

The next thing to understand is that unit organisations changed quite a bit over time. On this page I shall try to give you a few notions of these changes. Last, one has to compromise a lot when one is translating orders of battle for wargaming purposes. Units consisted of far more men than actually fired a shot at the front. Units had cooks, horse handlers, medics, messengers, and many men who were kept in reserve. Official organisations had many men in the HQ parts of platoons and companies, armed with rifles, who had no clear battlefield role that we might simulate during a game. These were often the men who would be kept in reserve, or who would have already been called upon to replace losses at the front. Consequently, wargamers, and I am no exception, often leave these men out or cut their numbers down quite a bit.

Last in this preamble before I start, I'll say that sources clash quite a bit, and that for these lists I am relying not on any one source, but on a mixture of a few, notably The Gamer's Guide to WWII Small Unit Organisations and TO&Es by Bill Rutherford, and lists compiled by the folks of the Wargames Research Group.

The basic unit of German infantry was the section. This had one NCO in charge of it, who might be armed with an MP38 or MP40 (later version, issued in 1940) submachinegun (often referred to as a "Schmeisser" even though this gun designer had no hand in its design). I use SMG figures for almost all my NCOs, because it is one way of making them easy to spot on the table. In fact they often used ordinary rifles instead. The MP40 was designed to look ultra-modern and fearsome. It was a decent submachinegun, but often Germans preferred to use captured ones, taken from Russians, Italians, or British. Otto Skorzeny, the famous German commando who rescued Mussolini from a mountain retreat, much preferred the British sten gun to the MP40, and tried to persuade the German army to adopt it as standard. This might surprise those who hated the sten, or "plumber's nightmare".

A section had two main elements. One was the light machinegun group, and the other was a team of riflemen. The Germans used a general purpose machine gun (GPMG), often called a "Spandau" (after the location of the factory that made World War I machine guns), but more properly the MG34 or its later version the MG42. The two guns were pretty similar in effect and use, but the later version was quicker and cheaper to make. The machinegun was what gave the section its firepower, and when slugging it out at range with the enemy, the riflemen would be subservient to the machinegun. They would protect it, and keep it supplied with ammunition. German machineguns had a very high rate of fire, and used up ammunition very rapidly indeed. British troops fighting against Germans reported that the Germans hardly ever fired their rifles, and that the fire from them came in the form of intense bursts from the machineguns. These bursts were not very accurate, but had an excellent suppressing effect, since they scattered many bullets over a wide area very quickly. If an enemy unit got surprised in the open by German machinegun fire, the result was usually very bloody, as the belt-fed machinegun could sustain many deadly bursts of fire. One problem with the weapon was that it tended to overheat very rapidly, and often needed to have its barrel changed during a battle. The gunner carried a pistol for his own protection, and his assistant had a rifle.

The riflemen used the Karabiner 98 kurtz (Kar.98k), which was a shortened version of the German WW rifle. This old design of bolt-action rifle which was very compact and effective. It held five rounds only. Its recoil was directly backward, which didn't upset the aim much, and its design of bolt is the ancestor of most bolt-action rifles today. Other rifles were issued, for instance entire divisions of Germans used British rifles captured at Dunkirk, but this was the standard. It had a metal-lined hole through its butt, which I guess was used for locking the rifle to a rack in an armoury.

The riflemen operated with the machinegun crew. They moved around the battlefield with it, and would participate in close assaults, going in with grenades and bayonets. The standard grenade was a stick-grenade, Steilgranate 24, also known as a "potato masher". It was a duel-purpose grenade. It had a removable steel sleeve which sat around the head. For offensive use it could be thrown without the sleeve, and would have blast effect only, and for defensive use the metal sleeve could be added to the head to give it some shrapnel effect. An infantryman might typically have two such grenades, often carried tucked into a boot or belt. Stick grenades could not be thrown further than other types, and were difficult to get through narrow openings like pillbox slots, but did not bounce and roll like other grenades could.

Early war German infantry section

An early war German section. The riflemen on the left (by Revell) wear the classic German infantry uniform similar to the type you see in the movies. Film audiences are used to the convention that Germans wear grey. In fact, most of the uniform was not grey, and in the later part of the war, very little was grey. See my modelling section for a painting guide to German infantry.

In the centre is the section commander, and on the right is a base with an MG team on it, and one accompanying rifleman. A section would have 6-10 men in it. The variable number would be the number of riflemen. The Germans relied very heavily on their machineguns, and didn't ever want to fight without them. If they lost the machinegun for whatever reason, they often fell back or surrendered. Here you see the gun being fired with the gunner's assistant holding the bipod of the weapon, the barrel of which rests on his shoulder. The noise must have been deafening for the assistant. How often this firing posture was used is difficult to say, but Germans are often portrayed using them this way, and it is a wargame convenience because it makes the MGs very easy to spot.

The base with the MG on it has three men by SHQ wearing the Zeltbahn or shelter quarter. Every man had one of these. Four put together made a tent, and each one could be worn as a poncho for protection from rain and for camouflage. These were used throughout the war and so give figures a multi-purpose look.

Late war German infantry section

Here we see a section from the later part of the war. The rifleman on the left are the same figures you saw before. In reality, they might be wearing late war uniforms by this time, but I only painted up one lot of riflemen for early and late war games, and this saved me a lot of painting. The base with the MG team on it is in late war uniform, and the MG is the MG42 (issued in 1942). On the right, the section's NCO also sports late war uniform.

The section is mostly the same, but in new clothes. The men might have different grenades, but this is unlikely to bother us in a wargame, and plenty of stick grenades were still being used. The man on the right on the MG base has a semi-automatic rifle (the Gewehr 41). Often the men would have panzerfaust single-shot anti-tank rockets as well. This is the biggest difference in effectiveness between an early and late war section. These devices had the power to knock out heavy tanks, but only at ranges of thirty yards or so. A section might carry quite a few of these. I usually allow two per base of combat troops. In 1941 the Germans added rifle-grenadiers to most of their sections as well. They were asking their men to carry a lot of weight.

German infantry platoon commander and aides.

Each platoon had three sections, and each platoon had a commander. Here on the left we see a platoon commander. Early in the war he might have a pistol or submachinegun. Later on he would probably have an SMG. Each company had three platoons. The first of these would be led by an officer, and the other two would probably be led by a senior NCO. Wargame convention, though, allows us to use more officers than in reality. It makes the figures easier to differentiate on the table, and it gives us something to do with all the officer figures that come in boxes of plastic figures. This officer is an Airfix one (with his pistol replaced with a more substantial one

The section bases you saw above all had cat litter stones on them. These marked them as parts of the same section. These bases have stones, foam rubber shrubs, and red lichen bushes on them, marking these figures as being in the HQ section of the platoon with the sections with these three textures on their bases.

The officer has with him his aides. These would be NCOs, runners, messengers, and whomever else he needed with him to help him control his platoon. Typically they would be armed with rifles, but an NCO might have an SMG. Many sources list the platoon HQ section as having an LMG team in it. I do not know why they do this, nor what the evidence for this is, nor what the MG might have been there for. If they did have MGs, my guess is that the main purpose was to replace or back up one of the fighting section MGs. Since most units in the field were under-strength, it is reasonable to imagine that even if they did have an extra MG team in theory, in practice this had usually replaced losses in the sections. I have not put MG teams in my platoon HQs. Some sources say that the HQ section had an LMG team or a 50mm mortar team.

German 50mm mortar teams

The Germans used 50mm mortars. These are light mortars, sometimes known as "grenade launchers". The Germans designed a very sophisticated and accurate light mortar, that was so well-made and complicated, that it took a while to set up, and weighed a ton (well, some 32 pounds). In the early part of the war, one 50mm mortar, typically with two crewmen, would be in the HQ section of a platoon, much like the British organisation. In 1941 things were reorganised, and the three light mortars were grouped together in the support platoon of the company, to give them a greater combined effect. Used this way, they were allotted a forward observer, and they would fire indirectly, which is a major difference. This means that the only man in a position to see the target would be the observer, and he would communicate what he saw to the mortars (perhaps by radio, but more often by field cable telephone), which would be out of sight further back. By 1943 this arrangement was done away with and the 50mm mortar fell out of use. Instead, infantry units were supported by mortar platoons with 81mm mortars (perhaps one section of two 81mm mortars per infantry company, if they were lucky).

On the left, you see two SHQ, crewmen (designed for 81mm mortars); in the middle, an Esci radio operator converted to a light mortar crewman (a very useful figure, that), and crouching by him with his fingers in his ears is the LMG assistant from the Revell Panzergrenadiers box; on the right are two Esci German infantry figures converted (one is the mortar loader with his arms and legs bent with a hot pin, and the other is the prone rifleman with his rifle cut away) for the role. All the mortars are scratch-built from plastic card and plastic rod.

Anti-tank rifle team

Early war platoons sometimes had an anti-tank rifle team in the HQ section. This was a very powerful bolt-action rifle, capable of piercing the armour of many early war light tanks. Later in the war, these weapons were abandoned in favour of panzerschrecks which were rocket-power copies of the American bazooka. How exactly these AT rifles were allotted varies a lot between sources. Some sources say that each platoon had one in its HQ section. Others don't mention ATRs at all, while others have three ATR rifle teams all in the company support platoon, but this does not necessarily mean that they fought all together in one place. They might have been attached out to the various platoons by the company commander. Figures shown by FAA - a bit chunky and child-like in proportion for my taste, but you can't get plastic figures of German AT riflemen.

Each company had three platoons, and a company commander. The company commander would often have his own car and driver, but these were not for front-line use. Indeed, even platoon commanders might have cars. They would also have an NCO, and perhaps a few riflemen as aides. There would also be a deputy company commander (who, according to some lists was an NCO), who would have his aides as well, and typically among these would be the company's main radio operator.

Company commander's aides

Here we see a base of company commander's aides. On the left are two Revell Afrika Korps figures, painted up as HQ riflemen, with their caps carved into the style of the normal (non-tropical) cap. In the middle stands an Esci NCO with teller mine. On the right is a  Hasegawa officer, pointing something out.

Late war German infantry platoon

Here we see the figures we saw earlier in the early war and late war sections combined to make a platoon at the scale that the Crossfire rules recommend. At this scale, one figure does not represent one man. Instead, one base represents a section, so here we see three fighting sections, plus an officer base, representing the entire platoon. I still sometimes play the game at this scale, as it suits some scenarios, but I prefer one figure to equal (roughly) one man.

Now to attempt a clarifying summary. What a company might have in support from SFMG teams, mortars, and AT platoons varied enormously. Below I list what might be integral to a company. Especially if it had no SFMGs or mortars of its own, it might have attached to it parts or all of machine gun platoons and mortar and anti-tank platoons from the battalion's resources. Typically, a battalion at full strength had three companies of infantry, and perhaps if lucky up to one AT platoon (perhaps 3 or 4 AT guns), one mortar platoon (six 81mm mortars or later war sometimes four 120mm mortars), and a machine gun platoon (typically 3-4 MG teams). Given that this varied so much, a wargamer at company level is granted a lot of licence in varying it.

German Infantry Company

Company Command Platoon

  • Company commander, armed with pistol (or perhaps SMG esp. 1941+)
  • His aides, mostly with rifles.
  • Deputy commander, possibly an NCO.
  • His aides, usually including radio operator.

Fighting Platoons (three of these)

Platoon Command Section
  • Platoon commander (officer in first, NCO in second and third), usually with SMG/pistol.
  • His aides, mainly with rifles.
Fighting Sections (three per platoon)
  • Section commander, NCO usually armed with SMG.
  • LMG team with MG34 or (later war) MG42, two man crew.
  • Riflemen, typically 4-6 of them. From 1941 onwards, some would have rifle-grenades.
  • 1943-45: Many riflemen also carried panzerfausts.

Other Weapons

  • 1939-1942: Three 50mm mortars, either one per platoon HQ section, or all three together in the company support platoon.
  • 1939-42: Three anti-tank rifles, either one per platoon HQ section or all three together in the company HQ platoon.
  • 1943-45: Replace anti-tank rifles with panzerschrecks

Company Support

Sometimes the company had its own integral support platoon, with a platoon commander, plus perhaps three aides, plus two or three SFMG (sustained fire machine guns - MG34 or MG42 on a tripod with lots of ammo, all transported on carts) teams, and supported by ammunition-carrying men with rifles. My sources clash horribly about this so I cannot say how common this was.

Early in the war, the support platoon might have the company's three 50mm mortars in it, with a forward observer team (typically two men). Late in the war, it might have two 81mm mortars and FO team.

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