Machine Gun Battalion

A Machine Gun Battalion was a type of Infantry Battalion created to provide infantry (rifle) battalions with fire support, primarily from Machine Guns.

First World War

A variety of Machine Gun companies and brigades were formed in the early years of the war, eventually being organized under the Canadian Machine Gun Corps, chiefly in Motor Machine Gun brigades and also with three, later four, Machine Gun Companies assigned directly to infantry divisions. Additionally, the 86th Battalion, CEF recruited in Hamilton as the first and only full Machine Gun Battalion in the Commonwealth at that time. It was later incorporated into the Canadian Machine Gun Depot in the UK in 1916.

In early 1918 these brigade machine gun companies became Machine Gun Battalions, and were assigned one MG battalion per division. At first the battalions had three companies, and in May 1918 this increased to four, with a total complement of 96 Vickers Guns.

On 1 May 1918, the establishment of the new machine gun battalions was fixed as follows:
 

Personnel Officers Warrant Officers S/Sgts and Sergeants Artificers Other Ranks Total
Headquarters 7 2 3 1 21 34
Headquarters (attached) 8 15 2   8 12
3 Companies 54   114 24 1299 1506
3 Companies (attached)         6 6
Totals 63 17 119 25 1334 1558
Table taken from online version of "The Canadian Emma Gees"

 

Transport Rid. Light Draft Heavy Draft Total Bicycles
Headquarters 5 3 12 8 24
Headquarters (attached) 2       2
3 Companies 30 297     339
Totals 37 300 12 349 24
Table taken from online version of "The Canadian Emma Gees"

The organization of a battalion in 1918 was as follows:

  • Battalion Headquarters
    • Commanding Officer
    • "G" Branch Orderly Room
      • Adjutant
      • Signals Officer
      • Paymaster
      • Training Personnel
    • "Q" Branch Orderly Room
      • Battalion Second in Command
      • Assistant Adjutant
      • Military Police
    • Quartermaster Department
      • Quartermaster
      • Assistant Quartermaster
    • Medical Department
      • Medical Officer
  • 1st Battery
    • Battery Commander
    • Vickers Section (4 Guns)
      • Section Officer
    • Vickers Section (4 Guns)
      • Section Officer
    • Vickers Section (4 Guns)
      • Section Officer
    • Spare Section Officer
    • 9 Lewis Guns
  • 2nd Battery (as for 1st)
  • 3rd Battery (as for 1st)
  • 4th Battery (as for 1st)1

Interwar Period

Machine Gun units formed part of the newly reorganized Militia after the First World War.

On 1 Jun 1919, a new Canadian Machine Gun Corps was created, with 12 Machine Gun Battalions organized in the Non-Permanent Active Militia.

On 3 Nov 1919, the Canadian Permanent Machine Gun Brigade was organized as part of the Permanent Force, renamed The Royal Canadian Permanent Machine Gun Brigade on 16 Jun 1921. The Brigade was disbanded on 1 Nov 1923.

On 15 Dec 1936, as part of sweeping reorganizations within the Militia, the Canadian Machine Gun Corps was disbanded. The companies were absorbed by infantry and cavalry regiments, and a new type of Infantry Battalion - the "infantry battalion (Machine Gun)" was created. Official designations of many regiments were then suffixed with (MG) (or (Mit) in French, short for Mitraiulleuses).

Second World War

The mobilization of two divisions in 1939 brought with it the mobilization of six Machine Gun Battalions, assigned to the divisions on a scale of one per brigade. This was scaled back in January 1941 to one per division. Three such battalions eventually saw action with the Canadian Army in Europe. Some regiments changed to or from a machine gun role during the existence of Machine Gun Battalions.

Employment

The following units were designated as Machine Gun units in the periods specified.

  • The Princess of Wales' Own Regiment (M.G.) [1936-1946]

  • The Canadian Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) (M.G) [1936-1942]

  • The Perth Regiment (M.G.) [1936-1941]

  • The Sherbrooke Regiment (M.G.) [1936-1941]

  • The Queen's York Rangers (1st American Regiment) (M.G.) [1936-1942]

  • The Prince of Wales Rangers (Peterborough Regiment) (M.G.) [1936-1942]

  • The Dundas, Stormont and Glengarry Highlanders (M.G.) [1954-1959]

  • Le Régiment de Québec (Mitrailleuses) [1936-1954]

  • The North Nova Scotia Highlanders (M.G.) [1936-1941]

  • Le Régiment de la Chaudière (Mitrailleuses) [1936-1941]

  • Le Régiment de Chateauguay (Mitrailleuses) [1936-1946]

  • The Princess Louise Fusiliers (M.G.) [1936-1958]

  • The Saint John Fusiliers (M.G.) [1936-1946]

  • The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa (M.G.) [1936-1942, 1954-1959]

  • The Royal Montreal Regiment (M.G.) [1936-1943, 1946-1954]

  • The Kent Regiment (M.G.) [1936-1941]

  • The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada (Princess Louise's) (M.G.) [1936-1941]

  • The King's Own Rifles of Canada (M.G.) [1936-1942]

  • The Edmonton Fusiliers (M.G.) [1936-1941]

  • The Winnipeg Grenadiers (M.G.) [1936-1941]

  • The Westminster Regiment (M.G.) [1936-1941]

  • The Winnipeg Light Infantry (M.G.) [1936-1946]

  • The Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary's) (M.G.) [1936-1946]

  • The Sault Sainte Marie and Sudbury Regiment (M.G.) [1936-1942]

  • The Irish Regiment of Canada (M.G.) [1936-1940]

  • The Toronto Scottish Regiment (M.G.) [1936-1947]

  • The Saskatoon Light Infantry (M.G.) [1936-1955]

  • Prince Rupert Regiment (M.G.) [1942-1946]

Organization

Each battalion was initially organized around four companies of Vickers machine guns. Each company had twelve Vickers Guns, in three platoons of four guns.

In the summer and fall of 1942, the future of the machine gun battalions was in doubt, and a feeling that the heavy Vickers Guns were obsolete gave way to thoughts that the MG battalions might be better employed in other roles. The idea of using them in beachhead administration during amphibious assaults was investigated, until reports from North Africa praising the work of MG battalions there brought such efforts to a halt.

While new emphasis was placed on the value of the Medium Machine Gun, a new organization was announced in the spring of 1943, and the three Machine Gun Battalions were redesignated "Support Battalions" and reorganized and re-equipped.

Support Battalions

On 1 May 1943, the former Machine Gun battalions

  • Saskatoon Light Infantry (Machine Gun)

  • Toronto Scottish Regiment (Machine Gun)

  • Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa (Machine Gun)

were redesignated

  • 1st Canadian Division Support Battalion (Saskatoon Light Infantry)

  • 2nd Canadian Division Support Battalion (Toronto Scottish Regiment)

  • 3rd Canadian Division Support Battalion (Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa)

Each Support Battalion consisted of an enlarged headquarters to administer the Division's Administration Area and three Brigade Support Groups, each under the operational control of a brigade when on operations. The new establishment included 20mm anti-aircraft guns as well as 4.2" mortars.

According to the regimental history of the Toronto Scottish, Carry On!, "...the reorganization from a four company machine gun battalion to a formation which resembled three small battalions was rather difficult. Promotion within the unit had been frozen for several months, and with the great increase in the number of officers and NCO's, this policy was quickly reversed. In one platoon of 38 men, 32 became NCOs of varying rank while the platoon commander was promoted to the rank of Captain and took over one of the new companies. The growing pains were not pleasant in the least." Shortly after, a draft of 200 reinforcement soldiers and 17 officers arrived to be taken on strength of the battalion, and for the first time reinforcements had come through the stream that weren't trained by Toronto Scottish instructors and who hadn't enlisted specifically in the Toronto Scottish.

The Saskatoon Light Infantry also found that many men had to undergo hectic training on the new weapons the unit would be using, sometimes training up to 16 hours a day. They did not realize they were earmarked for the invasion of Sicily in July 1943; their anti-aircraft companies had to stay behind with the Divisional Rear Party to complete their training on the 20mm Oerlikon gun.

Machine Gun Battalions

The new changes were short-lived, and the establishment was changed from a three group, nine company Support Battalion back to a four company Machine Gun Battalion; three companies of machineguns and one company of mortars, each with four platoons. The anti-aircraft elements were disbanded, and the old designation of Toronto Scottish Regiment (MG) was resumed. A full slate of T-16 carriers was issued for the mortar crews and Universal Carriers for the machinegun platoons, with special mountings for the Vickers Guns.

The establishment did not change again for the rest of the war. It called for a total of 36 officers and 711 Other Ranks.

  • Battalion Headquarters

    • Headquarters Company

      • Light Aid Detachment, RCEME (attached)

      • Signals Platoon

    • Medium Machine Gun Company

      • Machine Gun Platoon - 4 x Vickers Gun

      • Machine Gun Platoon

      • Machine Gun Platoon

    • Medium Machine Gun Company

      • (as above)

    • Medium Machine Gun Company

      • (as above)

    • Mortar Company

      • Mortar Platoon - 4 x 4.2" Mortar

      • Mortar Platoon (as above)

      • Mortar Platoon (as above)

      • Mortar Platoon (as above)

Post Second World War

In the post war era, Machine Gun battalions were discarded, with all infantry battalions being organized instead as rifle battalions.

Notes

  1. Love, David W. A Call To Arms: The Organization and Administration of Canada's Military in World War One (Bunker to Bunker Books, Winnipeg, 1999.) ISBN 1894255038. p.142

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