First formed in May 1942, airlanding battalions didn’t have provision for any medium machine guns. They used 3-inch mortars and 20 mm. dual-role anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns. For completeness, a copy of the war establishment in this early period of their existence is included.
This was the proposed War Establishment of an Airlanding Battalion in 1943. Upon the return of the 1st Airlanding Brigade to the United Kingdom in late 1943, the Support Company was increased by adding an additional MMG Platoon and forming and MMG Group with a Captain in command. An additional mortar platoon was also added and one was transported using jeeps and the other using handcarts. This formed a Mortar Group in the same manner as the MMG Group.
The Machine Gun Platoon in more detail …
A total of 8 guns carried in 8 handcarts. An overall establishment of 1 officer and 43 other ranks.
Whilst this was the intent, it was not until 14 February 1944 that the War Diary of the 12th Battalion, Devonshire Regiment, describes the withdrawal of the 20mm Hispano guns from the Anti-Aircraft platoons and their replacement with Vickers MGs. Selected personnel from the two platoons were then sent on a machine gun training course. On 16 February, it’s noted that 6 Airlanding Brigade Headquarters would be issuing details of organisation but transport and equipment would be decided when loading trials were carried out.
The training requirements for the MMG Platoons of 6 Airlanding Brigade were issued in Training Instruction No 12 on 2 March 1944. Given the expectation of operations very soon, they were not trained in all aspects of machine gunnery.
- MG Trg within the Bde will be based on the following principles:-
- MG Pls will be trained in Direct Fire, Overhead and Flanking Safety and Night Firing, but NOT in Indirect Fire.
- Only enough Mechanism will be taught to enable men to learn [Immediate Actions].
- All members of each Pl will be trained to handle the gun up to [Tests of Elementary Training] standard.
A full copy of the training instruction is available as a PDF download here of by clicking on the image.
The main glider of the British Army was the Horsa glider and this was used for the majority of the airlanding battalions troops, including the Mortars. It has not been possible to identify exactly how the MMG load was carried in the Horsa but the diagram for a detachment of the Mortar Platoon is shown below and it is reasonable to assume that the MMG jeep-borne elements of the Group would be transported in the same manner.
To demonstrate the loading of the Horsa glider, the Vickers MG Collection and Research Association has occasionally worked with CHALK Living History and the Glider Pilot Regiment Society to display a mock-up fuselage layout with associated equipment, including at Bicester Flywheel Festival in 2017 and the Royal International Air Tattoo in 2017 and 2018.
The Battalions that were Airlanding Battalions in the Second World War were:
1st Airborne Division:
- 1st Bn, The Border Regiment
- 2nd Bn, The South Staffordshire Regiment
- 7th Bn, The King’s Own Scottish Borderers
6th Airborne Division:
- 1st Bn, The Royal Ulster Rifles
- 2nd Bn, The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light infantry
- 12th Bn, The Devonshire Regiment
- Eastwood et. al., 1994
- The National Archives, AIR 10/4171, Airborne Forces and Supply By Air. Carriage of Equipment.
- The National Archives, WO 24/943, War Establishments 1942 January to June.
- The National Archives, WO 171/591, 6 Airlanding Brigade HQ Seaborne Element
- The National Archives, WO 171/1279, 12 Devonshire Regiment.