♦  Understanding Military Organizations 

Part One: World War II Armies


General organization of a 1944-45 German infantry division as depicted in a wartime US Army handbook

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The study of the military history of World War II requires an understanding of military organizations, so that when reading of a “two-division attack,” its scale can be envisioned. In modern times most armies worldwide have employed broadly similar organizational templates. These are defined below for WW II armies using 1944 US Army tables of organization and equipment (TOE) as examples, and are broadly applicable to the French British, Italian and other 1939-45 European armies, with variations noted.


Team: 4-6 troops. The 1944 US Army 60mm mortar team had 1 NCO and 4 EM (enlisted men)

Squad or Section: 12-15 troops. The 1944 US Army rifle squad had 1 NCO (sergeant) as squad leader and 11 EM.

Platoon: 40-50 troops. The 1944 US Army rifle platoon had three rifle squads plus a headquarters section for a total of 41 troops. Commanded by a 2nd lieutenant.

Company (Troop in the Cavalry; Battery in the Field Artillery): 150-200 troops. The 1944 US Army rifle company had three rifle platoons plus a weapons platoon (machine guns and light mortars) and a headquarters section for a total of 195 troops. Commanded by a captain.

Battalion (Squadron in the Cavalry): 500-1000 troops. The 1944 US Army infantry battalion had three rifle companies, a weapons company (machine guns and medium mortars) and a headquarters company for a total of 871 troops. Commanded by a lieutenant colonel.

Organization of a 1943-44 US Army infantry battalion using standard NATO military symbols

Regiment, Brigade or Group: 2,000-3,500 troops. The 1944 US Army infantry regiment has three infantry battalions, an infantry cannon company, an infantry antitank company and a regimental headquarters company for a total of 3,118 troops. Commanded by a colonel.

Division: 10,000-15,000 troops. The division was the largest army formation with a fixed organization. The 1944 US infantry division had three infantry regiments, four field artillery battalions, a mechanized cavalry reconnaissance troop, a combat engineer battalion and a division special troops battalion (supply, maintenance and transportation) for a total of 14,352 troops. Commanded by a major general (two stars). The infantry divisions of the German Army were not as standardized as those of the US and British armies, since they were raised in waves (Wellen) using the organizational template in force at the time. Those of the Italian army were “binary,” with two instead of three infantry regiments.

Armament of the 1944 US Army Infantry Division

36 x 105mm howitzers
12 x 155mm howitzers
18 x 105mm infantry guns
27 x 57mm antitank guns
144 x light (60mm) and medium (81mm) mortars
393 x machine guns (cal .30 and cal .50)
557 x anti-tank rocket launchers (bazookas)
90 x submachine guns
5,204 x carbines
6,761 x rifles

In 1944 most US Army infantry divisions had an attached tank battalion with 57 medium tanks and 17 light tanks, or an attached tank destroyer battalion with 36 armored self-propelled antitank guns.

Corps: 2 to 4 divisions plus supporting units such as field artillery, mechanized cavalry, etc. The composition of a corps depended on its assigned mission. A typical US Army corps was VII Corps in June 1944, which had 4 infantry divisions plus field artillery, mechanized cavalry, tank destroyer and a wide array of support units for the D-Day invasion. Commanded by a major general or lieutenant general (three stars).

Field Army: 2 to 5 corps plus supporting units as for a corps. Commanded by a lieutenant general or a full general (4 stars).

Army Group: 2 to 5 field armies. Commanded by a full general.


The above definitions also apply to the Red Army, albeit with many reservations. During World War II the Red Army indeed used such titles as battalion, regiment, division, corps for its formations, but these did not accurately reflect the size and organization of its units. A 1944-45 medium tank battalion, for instance, had scarcely more tanks that a US Army tank company: 21 x T-34 versus 18 x M4 Sherman. The cavalry division was actually the size of a Western regiment or brigade. The cavalry corps, tank corps and mechanized corps were actually division-sized units. As for the Red Army’s rifle (infantry) divisions, they were intermediate in size between a Western division and brigade, with an authorized strength of around 9,400 men.

In the reorganization following the German invasion, the rifle corps were abolished altogether, their divisions coming under the direct command of the field army headquarters. When the corps began to be reintroduced in mid-1943 they had little in the way of non-divisional combat support units, these being held at army or front (army group) level.

Organization of a 1944-4 Soviet infantry army using standard NATO military symbols

By 1944, The Red Army's major units—field armies and fronts—were approaching the size of their Western and German counterparts. The diagram depicts a typical infantry army of the period. It should be remembered, however, that the army's sub-units were generally smaller than those of other armies, even when they were at full strength, which usually they were not. In 1941-42 a front tended to be a third to half the size of a German army group; only in late 1944 was something like parity achieved.


In WW II, once units entered combat they began suffering casualties and quickly fell below their authorized strengths. This was particularly true of the infantry, which bore the brunt of combat and had the highest casualty rate. All armies had replacement systems but especially during periods of intense combat the flow of replacements was insufficient to cover casualties. A rifle company with an authorized strength of 195 troops might therefore muster only 100, 75 or 50 after a few days of combat. After a few months of combat a rifle platoon or rifle company might have suffered 100% turnover, meaning that its original troops had all been killed, wounded, captured or incapacitated by sickness.

All armies had difficulty replacing their losses, particularly in the infantry. Red Army rifle divisions, for example, were chronically understrength, often with as little as 50% of their authorized manpower. The German Army had similar problems, particularly from 1942 to 1945, as its manpower crisis progressively worsened. The US and British armies also faced shortages of infantry replacements, particularly in 1944-45, but their powerful armored, artillery and air forces did much to make up for this deficiency.

An excellent source of information on the military organizations of all countries during WW II is Dr. Leo Niehorster’s website, World War II Armed Forces: Orders of Battle and Organizations.

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Copyright © 2020 by Thomas M. Gregg. All Rights Reserved


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