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In Praise of the Infantry - Her Majesty's Odd Job Men.


Puggled and Wabbit Scot.
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"Her Majesty's Odd Job Men" is a phrase I first heard from a British paratrooper, circa 1960. He heard it from his RSM while serving in 1st (Guards) Parachute Battalion in 1946, in Palestine with 6th Airborne Division. At the time 6th Airborne Div was the British Government's Strategic Reserve for duties East of Suez. In consequence they were issued the "jungle" variant of the Lee Enfield, the Mark V with short barrel and furniture, flash hider and rubber pad on the buttstock.

The Division was originally tasked to Palestine so that it would be centrally located to respond by air to imperial hot spots east of Suez. It was supposed to be a quiet posting so that they would be free to respond. The locals had different ideas.

The Division found itself protecting vital points, manning check points, performing street patrols, clearing refugees, escorting prisoners, fighting pitched battles, digging out armed insurrectionists, and still training for battalion movements by air to be inserted into the next place that needed their services more. R&R was in places like Port Said and Cyprus. Injuries and fatalities from upset locals while conducting Operations Other Than War were common.

The Division comprised:

HQ 6 Abn Div

1 Para Bde
1 (Guards) Para
2 Para
7 Para

2 Para Bde
4 Para
5 Para
6 Para

3 Para Bde
3 Para
8 Para
9 Para

3 King's Own Hussars (armoured cars)

53rd Airlanding Light Regt
2nd Airlanding Anti-Tank Regt
2nd Forward Observer Unit

1 Abn Sqn
3 Abn Sqn
9 Abn Sqn
249th Abn Park Sqn

6 Abn Div Sigs Regt
Number 1 Wing Glider Pilot Regt

63rd Composite Coy (Abn)
398th Composite Coy (Abn)
716th Coy (Abn Lt)

127th Para Fd Amb
224th Para Fd Amb
195th Airlanding Fd Amb
74th Fd Hygiene Section

6 Abn Div Ordnance Field Park

6 Abn Div Workshops
7x Airlanding Light Aid Detachments

Divisional Support
6 Abn Div Battle School
6 Abn Div Training School
6 Abn Div Provost Coy
317th Fd Security Section
16 Field Cash Office (Light)
6th Airborne Div Air Photographic Interpretation Section
2nd Mobile Photographic Enlargement Section
6 Abn Div Postal Unit.

This assortment of divisional troops, based on its 9 battalions of foot sloggers, was formed into ad hoc forces as situations demanded. Sometimes it was two paras on a check point munching watermelons filched from the local farmers. Sometimes it was a full Brigade Group.

An example would be the 2nd Parachute Brigade Group comprising:

2 Para Bde HQ

4 Para
5 Para
6 Para

B Sqn The King's Own Hussars

211/53 Airlanding Light Battery RA
300/2 Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery RA
1 Section, 2nd Forward Observer Unit RA

3 Abn Sqn RE
Det, 249th Abn Park Sqn RE

K Tp, 6 Abn Div Sigs Regt

63rd Composite Coy (Abn) RASC

127th Para Fd Amb RAMC

One Section, 6 Abn Div Ordnance Fd Park, RAOC

One Section 6 Abn Div Workshops, REME
One Airlanding Light Aid Detachment REME

One Section, 6 Abn Div Provost Coy.

These troops were organized around 9 battalions of foot sloggers who also happened to have been trained to fall out of aeroplanes or crashland in gliders. Once on the ground the relied on their feet. Or the suitably scaled support equipment that could follow them into battle by the same means and that were held locally by the Division (or, as seen, by the detached Brigade Group).

The Battalion was Four Rifle Companies of 3 Platoons. Battalion support was an MG platoon, mortars, pioneers and scout/snipers.

Transport was supplied by the RASC or from the Div vehicle park. Battalion vehicles were driven by those that could drive. Vehicles were also borrowed from collocated units when the opportunity presented itself.

These troops trained for high intensity warfare. They were organised to succeed in that field (Arnhem was a Army failure but an Airborne win - 10 days instead of 2). They were also tasked to tackle every other job and expected to employ unconventional means to accomplish them.

The working adage of Her Majesty's Odd Job Men was "Better a Battalion in time than a Division too late."

In these forums we seem to be focusing on "What does the Infantry do?" and looking for a clear, succinct, defined answer. The short answer, in my opinion, is everything that nobody else does. They are there to be thrown into the breach and do what they can until everybody else can get their act together and catch up to them, if they are required at all.

In the thread on UAS's I mentioned the difference, as I saw it, between the institutional Air Force's desire to keep its aircraft on the ground and then drop lots of bombs at one time in planned operations. The Army saw a need for the Air Force to keep aircraft in the air and only drop a bomb occasionally, but often.

The Infantry Battalion is the Army's version of the Combat Air Patrol. It is always on call and rapidly deployed. It specializes in Hasty operations.

The Heavy Brigade (and the LAV Brigade) is the Centre of Excellence for Deliberate operations.

My sense, in this grey world where Non-Conventional forces are expanding and the unexpected becomes more common, is that there is an increasing need for rapidly deployable, platform independent, foot-slogging Odd Job Men. Some may be called paras, others commandos, or special operators or even just light infantry - but all of them, in my opinion, although some may have specialized training focuses, are infantry - Odd Job Men.
The Light Arty Regiment was equipped with 75mm Pack Howitzers
The Anti Tank Regiment was equipped with the 17 pdr AT Gun (used on the Sherman Firefly and the Centurion)

The Recce Regt (3 Kings Own Hussars) replaced the 6 Airborne Armoured Recce Regiment. The 6AARR had been equipped with specialist airportable armoured vehicles. 3 KOH employed 14t Staghound armoured cars which had been brought into theatre for the North African and Italian campaigns.