A battalion is a military unit with 300 to 1,200 soldiers that usually consists of two to seven companies and is commanded by either a lieutenant colonel or a colonel. Several battalions form a regiment or brigade.
The nomenclature varies by nationality and by branch of arms, for instance, some armies organize their infantry into battalions, but call battalion-sized cavalry, reconnaissance, or tank units a squadron or a regiment instead. There may even be subtle distinctions within a nation's branches of arms, such as a distinction between a tank battalion and an armored squadron, depending on how the unit's operational role is perceived to fit into the army's historical organization.
A battalion is generally the smallest military unit capable of independent operations (i.e., not attached to a higher command), although many armies have smaller units that are self-sustaining. The battalion is usually part of a regiment, brigade, or group, depending on the organizational model used by that service. The bulk of a battalion will ordinarily be homogeneous with respect to type (e.g., an infantry battalion or a tank battalion), although there are many exceptions. Every battalion will also include some sort of combat service support, typically organized within a combat support company. The term is Italian in origin, appearing as battaglione. The French changed the spelling to bataillon, whereupon it directly entered into German.
The term battalion is used in the infantry, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, and Intelligence Corps only. It was formerly used for a few units in the Royal Engineers (before they switched to regiments), and was also used in the now defunct Royal Army Ordnance Corps and Royal Pioneer Corps. Other corps usually use the term regiment instead.
An infantry battalion is numbered ordinarily within its regiment (e.g., 1st Battalion, The Rifles, usually referred to as 1 Rifles). It normally has a headquarters company, support company, and three rifle companies (usually, but not always, A, B and C Companies). Each company is commanded by a major, the officer commanding (OC), with a captain or senior lieutenant as second-in-command (2IC). The HQ company contains signals, quartermaster, catering, intelligence, administration, pay, training, operations and medical elements. The support company usually contains anti-tank, machine gun, mortar, pioneer and reconnaissance platoons. Mechanised units usually have an attached light aid detachment (LAD) of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) to perform field repairs on vehicles and equipment. A British battalion in Theatre of War II had around 845 men in it, and as of 2012 a British battalion has around 650 soldiers. With successive rounds of cutbacks after the war, many infantry regiments were reduced to a single battalion (others were amalgamated to form large regiments which maintained multiple battalions, e.g., the Royal Anglian Regiment).
Important figures in a battalion headquarters include:
- Commanding Officer (CO) (invariably a lieutenant colonel)
- Second-in-Command (2i/c) (Major)
- Adjutant (Captain)
- Quartermaster (QM) (Major)
- Quartermaster (Technical) (QM(T))
- Medical Officer (MO) (Royal Army Medical Corps captain or major)
- Administrative Officer (Adjutant General's Corps captain or major)
- Padre (Royal Army Chaplains Department chaplain 4th or 3rd class)
- Intelligence Officer (IO) (lieutenant)
- Signals Officer (lieutenant)
- Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) (warrant officer Class 1)
- Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant (RQMS) (Warrant Officer Class 2)
- Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant (Technical) (RQMS(T)) (Warrant Officer class 2)
Battalions of other corps are given separate cardinal numbers within their corps (e.g., 101 Battalion REME).
A battalion group is a military unit based around a battalion. A typical battalion group consists of an infantry or armoured battalion with sub-units detached from other military units acting under the direct command of the battalion commander. Battalion groups may be permanent or temporary formations. Under modern military doctrine battalion groups are being replaced by battlegroups. The key difference between battalion groups and battlegroups is that battlegroups consist of a mixture of sub-units and typically do not include all sub-units of any single battalion.
The battalion staff includes the operations officer (usually a major) who is also generally the next in command hierarchy after the battalion second in command.
Armoured infantry battalion
- Headquarters of five FV432, two Warrior MCRV (Mechanised Combat Repair Vehicle) and one Warrior MAOV (Mechanised Artillery Observation Vehicle)
- Four armoured infantry companies (one company has only two platoons):
- Manoeuvre support company:
- Headquarters of five FV432, two Warrior MCRV and one Warrior MAOV
- Anti-tank platoon:
- Headquarters of two Warriors and two MILAN teams
- Three sections of one FV103 Spartan (headquarters) three Warriors and six MILAN teams
- Reconnaissance platoon:
- Three sections of four Sabres
- Headquarters ISTAR group of one FV432
- Mortar platoon:
- Platoon headquarters of two FV105 Sultan
- Four sections of three FV432 with L16 81 mm mortar
- Operations section of four MFC teams and four FV103 Spartan
- CSS detachment of one FV432
- Pioneer platoon of four Warriors, platoon headquarters (L9A1 51 mm Light Mortar), three sections (two L86 LSW each)
- LAD section of one FV432, one FV434 "Carrier, Maintenance, Full Tracked" and one FV106 Samson
In the Canadian Forces, most battalions are reserve units of between 100–200 soldiers that include an operationally ready, field-deployable component of approximately a half-company apiece. The nine regular force infantry battalions are each composed of three rifle companies. Canadian battalions are generally commanded by lieutenant-colonels, though smaller reserve battalions may be commanded by majors.
Those regiments consisting of more than one battalion are:
- The Royal Canadian Regiment (3 regular and 1 reserve battalions)
- Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (3 regular battalions)
- Royal 22e Régiment (3 regular and 2 reserve battalions)
- The Royal Newfoundland Regiment (2 reserve battalions)
Tactically, the Canadian battalion forms the core of the infantry battle group, which also includes various supporting elements such as armour, artillery, combat engineers and combat service support. An infantry battle group will typically be commanded by the commander of the core infantry battalion around which it is formed and can range in size from 300 to 1,500 or more soldiers, depending on the nature of the mission assigned.
In the Colombian Army, a battalion usually has a strength of 1,200 to 1,300 men, and is divided in companies. Normally it is commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel or a Colonel. Counter Insurgency Battalions are the exception as they usually have around 300 soldiers, and are commanded by a Major. Two or more battalions form a Brigade.
Battalions are numbered ordinarily and according to its specialty:
- Mechanized Infantry
- Mountain Infantry
- Military Police
- Combat Service Support
- Infrastructure Protection
- A mechanised infantry battalion usually consists of one command- and medical company, three mechanised infantry companies, and one support company which has 3 platoons with heavy mortars and 1 (later 3) platoon(s) with anti-tank missiles (TOW). With the Dutch artillery units the equivalent of a battalion is called an "afdeling" (which translates to "section").
- Combat companies consist of (usually mechanised) infantry, combat engineers, or tanks. In the latter case the unit is called an "eskadron", which translates roughly to "squadron". There are also support battalions in the Dutch army, which specialise on specific task: for example, supplies and transport or communication.
- The Netherlands have four battalions that are permanently reserved for the United Nations, for the purpose of peacekeeping duties.
- An infantry battalion, logistical battalion, combat battalion, or even the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps all have a battalion structure. Each battalion usually consists of the following:
- Battalion command
- Second in command
- General service
- Personnel section
- Intelligence section
- Operations section
- Materiel section
- Communication section
- Command company
- Command group
- Administration group
- Medical group
- Communication group
- Supply platoon
- 3 Infantry companies
- Support company
- Command group
- Recon platoon
- Mortar platoon
- Anti-tank platoon
- Battalion command
With the major reform of its Armed Forces in 2004, the Swiss Army abandoned the old regimental system and adopted a combat team approach centred on battalions as the building blocks of mission-oriented task forces. Battalion sizes vary between branches. For example, an infantry battalion has a nominal strength of 1,224 men.
United States Army
In the United States Army, a battalion is a unit composed of a headquarters and two or more batteries, companies or troops. They are normally identified by ordinal numbers (1st Battalion, 2nd Squadron, etc.) and normally have subordinate units that are identified by single letters (A Battery, A Company, A Troop, etc.). Battalions are tactical and administrative organizations with a limited capability to plan and conduct independent operations and are normally organic components of brigades, groups, or regiments.
A US Army battalion includes the battalion commander (lieutenant colonel), his staff, and headquarters, the command sergeant major (CSM), and usually 3–5 companies, with a total of 300 to 1,200 soldiers. A regiment consists of between two and six organic battalions, while a brigade consists of between three and seven separate battalions.
During the American Civil War, an infantry or cavalry battalion was an ad hoc grouping of companies from the parent regiment (which had ten companies, A through K, minus J as described below), except for certain regular infantry regiments, which were formally organized into three battalions of six companies each (numbered 1–6 per battalion vice sequential letter designations). After 1882, cavalry battalions were renamed squadrons and cavalry companies were renamed troops. Artillery battalions typically comprised four or more batteries, although this number fluctuated considerably.
During World War II, most infantry regiments consisted of three battalions (1st, 2nd, and 3rd) with each battalion consisting of three rifle companies and a heavy weapons company. That is, rifle companies A, B, C along with heavy weapons company D were part of the 1st battalion, rifle companies E, F, G, and heavy weapons company H constituted the 2nd battalion, and rifle companies I, K. L, and heavy weapons company M were in the 3rd. There was no J company: the letter J was traditionally not used because in 18th and 19th century old-style type the capital letters I and J looked alike and were therefore too easily confused with one another. It was common for a battalion to become temporarily attached to a different regiment. For example, during the confusion and high casualty rates of both the Normandy landings and the Battle of the Bulge, in order to bolster the strength of a depleted infantry regiment, companies and even battalions were moved around as necessary.
From the 1960s through the early 1980s, a typical maneuver (infantry or tank) battalion had five companies: Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC) and A, B, and C Companies, plus a Combat Support Company, CSC, with a scout platoon, 4.2 inch "heavy" mortar platoon, along with other elements that varied between organizations. These included heavy anti-tank TOW missile platoons, ground surveillance radar sections, man-portable anti-aircraft missile sections and others. Beginning in the early to mid-1980s some elements of the combat support companies (the mortar and scout platoons) were merged into the Headquarters Company with the staff and support elements, others were moved to their parent type organization (ground surveillance radar and air defense), and in infantry battalions the heavy anti-tank missile platoon was organized as a separate company (E Company). In the late 1980s, there was a fourth "line" company added (D Company) in most infantry and tank battalions. In this older structure, U.S. Army mechanized infantry battalions and tank battalions, for tactical purposes, cross-post companies to each other, forming a battalion-sized task force (TF). Starting in 2005–2006 with transformation, the U.S. Army mechanized and tank battalions were reorganized into combined arms battalions (CABs). Tank battalions and mechanized infantry battalions no longer exist. These new combined arms battalions are modular units, each consisting of a headquarters company, two mechanized infantry companies, two armor companies, and a forward support company attached from the battalions parent brigade support battalion. This new structure eliminated the need to cross-post (or as it is more commonly referred to, cross-attach) companies between battalions; each combined arms battalion was organically composed of the requisite companies. At a higher level, each heavy brigade is composed of two CABs, an armored reconnaissance squadron, a fires battalion (field artillery), a special troops battalion (STB), and a brigade support battalion (BSB).
United States Marine Corps
A United States Marine Corps battalion includes the battalion headquarters, consisting of the commanding officer (usually a lieutenant colonel, sometimes a colonel), an executive officer (the second-in-command, usually a major), the sergeant major, and the executive staff (S-1 through S-4 and S-6). The battalion headquarters is supported by a Headquarters and Service Company (Battery). A battalion usually contains 2–5 organic companies (batteries in the artillery), with a total of 500 to 1,200 marines in the battalion. A regiment consists of a regimental headquarters, a headquarters company (or battery), and two to five organic battalions (Marine infantry regiments – three battalions of infantry; Marine artillery regiments – three to five battalions of artillery; Marine combat logistics regiments – one to three combat logistics battalions). In the USA Marine Corps, the brigade designation is used only in Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB). A MEB is one of the standard Marine air-ground task forces (MAGTF), is commanded by a brigadier general or major general, and consists of command element, a ground combat element (usually one reinforced Marine infantry regiment), an aviation combat element (a reinforced Marine Aircraft Group including rotary wing, fixed wing, and tiltrotor aircraft), and a combat logistics element (a Marine Combat Logistics Regiment, which includes naval construction force [Seabees] and naval medical elements).
In the U.S. Marine Corps, an infantry or rifle battalion typically consists of a Headquarters and Service Company (H&S Co.), three rifle, or line, companies (designated alphabetically A through M depending upon which battalion of the parent regiment to which they are attached) and a weapons company. Weapons companies do not receive a letter designation. Marine infantry regiments use battalion and company designations as described above under World War II, with company letters D, H, and M not normally used but rather held in "reserve" for use in augmenting a fourth rifle company into each battalion as needed. United States Marine Corps infantry battalions are task organized into battalion landing teams (BLTs) as the ground combat element (GCE) of a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). A "standard" U.S. Marine infantry battalion is typically supported by an artillery battery and a platoon each of tanks, amphibious assault vehicles, light armored reconnaissance vehicles, reconnaissance marines, and combat engineers. The battalion structure is designed to readily expand to include a fourth rifle company, if required, as described above under battalion organization. Often Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO) officers are assigned to the battalion, to coordinate naval gunfire support.
Soviet Armed Forces
In the Soviet Armed Forces a motorised rifle battalion could be mounted on either BTR armoured personnel carriers or BMP infantry fighting vehicles, with the former being more numerous by the late 1980s. Both consisted of a battalion headquarters of 12 and three motorised rifle companies of 110 personnel each and a number of combat support units: a mortar battery consisting of eight 120mm 120-PM-43 mortars or automatic 82mm 2B9 Vasileks, an air defense platoon with nine MANPADs, either the SA-7 Grail, SA-14 Gremlin or SA-16 Gimlet, and an automatic grenade launcher platoon with six 30mm AGS-17 launchers. The BTR battalion also featured an anti-tank platoon with four AT-3 Sagger or AT-4 Spigot launchers and two 73mm SPG-9 recoilless guns; BTR units on high-readiness status sometimes had six missile launchers and three recoilless guns. Both featured the same support units as well, with a signal platoon, supply platoon, repair workshop and medical aid station. The addition of the antitank platoon meant a BTR battalion at full strength was 525, while a BMP battalion consisted of 497 personnel.
Prior to the late 1980s Soviet tank battalions consisted of three tank companies of 13 T-64, T-72 or T-80 tanks, along with a battalion headquarters mounted in a command tank and a headquarters and service platoon, for a total of 165 personnel and 40 tanks; battalions using the older T-54, T-55 or T-62s tanks had 31 or 40 additional enlisted personnel. However forces in Eastern Europe began to standardize to a smaller formation with 135 personnel and 31 tanks total, with each tank company consisting of 10 tanks total.
- US Army, FM 100-2-3 The Soviet Army: Troops, Organization and Equipment, 4-3
- US Army, FM 100-2-3 The Soviet Army: Troops, Organization and Equipment, Paragraph 4-15
- US Army, FM 100-2-3 The Soviet Army: Troops, Organization and Equipment, Paragraph 4-108
- French Infantry of the Napoleonic Wars
- The Battalion Commander's Handbook, 1996, by Major General Richard A. Chilcoat, US Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania
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