Depot companies and service companies

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Depot companies and service companies

Postby cr1tical » 17 Jul 2017 16:10

On another thread jrdrury has kindly provided some very useful information relating to the whereabouts of the 2nd Battalion 22nd Foot Depot and Service companies.
Last year Frogsmile explained among other things what a Depot was and hence what depot companies were. May I please ask what was the composition of a service company and what was its/their role? In the locations listings jrdrury provided, the term for both is plural and they are at different ends of the country at the same time.

My pencil is poised and I am ready to learn!

Max
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Re: Depot companies and service companies

Postby Frogsmile » 17 Jul 2017 19:39

Service companies are the operational/deployable companies of an infantry battalion. There were eight of them, lettered A to H. At that time tactical breakdowns of an infantry battalion were binary, with each element capable of dividing into two parts. Ergo a battalion comprised two 'wings', each generally of four service companies (approx 400 men). A company comprised two platoons (of 50) and a platoon two sections (of 25). With men sick, detached, on leave or casualties the actual numbers varied accordingly. In foreign stations where battalions might have a number of commitments, it was common for wings to be deployed in different locations, and two-company 'out stations' were also not uncommon. Single company locations were more rare as they were usually only sustainable for short periods.

A service company in the high Victorian era usually comprised a captain as commander and a more junior captain as second-in-command (or sometimes a senior lieutenant), with a colour sergeant as the company's premier NCO. The two platoons were each commanded by a subaltern (1st or 2nd lieutenant), supported by two sergeants, so that each could if necessary command a section. Each sergeant was assisted by two corporals, who in theory were capable of 'stepping up' (as were all the other ranks mentioned). Lance corporals (and for a period, lance sergeants) were 'appointed', usually unpaid (although a few were funded) as a probationary position in which they could prove their potential by overseeing routine tasks that would otherwise have engaged the substantive corporals and sergeants.
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Re: Depot companies and service companies

Postby mike snook » 17 Jul 2017 21:01

And to add further that in the 10-company era, (ie. before abolition of flank coys - grenadiers and light- which was in 63 or 64 or thereabouts), there was a significant period, certainly through the 1840s and 1850s, when a battalion deployed with six service companies and left four depot companies at home. This never applied to India, to which battalions/regiments deployed for very lengthy periods at a full wartime establishment of ten companies, hence more than a thousand men to the unit. It did apply to South Africa and doubtless sundry other locations too.

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Re: Depot companies and service companies

Postby cr1tical » 17 Jul 2017 21:26

Thank you both for the help with this. For no reason that I can explain, I had somehow got the idea that these were somehow separate from the (in this case) two battalions - makes me look a total novice.

Creeps away embarrassed (but grateful) hiding his 39 years service.

Max
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Re: Depot companies and service companies

Postby Frogsmile » 17 Jul 2017 21:45

cr1tical wrote:Thank you both for the help with this. For no reason that I can explain, I had somehow got the idea that these were somehow separate from the (in this case) two battalions - makes me look a total novice.

Creeps away embarrassed (but grateful) hiding his 39 years service.

Max


These things are rarely straightforward, Max, so you should not feel
embarrassment. Even in the period to which Colonel Mike refers, there was a time when the British government found that its commitments so far exceeded its available infantry strength that in numerous cases it became obliged to deploy the four depot companies of single battalion regiments (26th of Foot upwards) as a makeshift (and concomitantly weak) battalion under a major or a second lieutenant colonel (the latter a formal position at the time). Even when not deployed the (then) four depot companies frequently found themselves called upon to aid the civil powers during domestic disturbances at home.

When viewed collectively these instances became so frequent that it greatly influenced the Cardwell/Childers Reforms that took place between 1873 and 1881, ending with all regiments (less for a short time the Cameron Highlanders) being reorganised to comprise two battalions, one fully deployed abroad, and the other at reduced strength at home, but ready to be deployed within a set period once bolstered with mobilised reservists.
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Re: Depot companies and service companies

Postby cr1tical » 17 Jul 2017 22:12

Thank you again for taking the time to "add value" and for making me feel better!

Very useful background (as ever), I shall make sure to make notes of its location for future reference.

My salaams and grateful thanks

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Re: Depot companies and service companies

Postby Frogsmile » 17 Jul 2017 23:12

cr1tical wrote:Thank you again for taking the time to "add value" and for making me feel better!

Very useful background (as ever), I shall make sure to make notes of its location for future reference.

My salaams and grateful thanks

Max


I cannot recall who it was (Churchill?) that said that anyone that does not learn from their mistakes is destined to repeat them, but the British have throughout history suffered from a shortage of infantry, and when I see what has become of the infantry of today's British Army I despair and worry for the future.
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Re: Depot companies and service companies

Postby mike snook » 18 Jul 2017 00:40

Re 'platoons'....There were indeed two of them per company, but for most of the period, if not indeed all, (I cannot immediately put my finger on the date of the change), they were contemporaneously referred to as 'sub-divisions' or more casually as 'half-companies'.

Mobilization of depot companies as a deployable fighting unit, (we are talking pre-Cardwell here), was covered by the so called 'reserve battalion' system. (Funny how in the British 'system', or want thereof (!), the R word consistently moves around in its meaning...but everything I'm about to cover relates to full time professional soldiers, not part-timers, militiamen or re-mobilized ex regulars).

In order to mobilize for overseas service, the depot (of four companies) received manpower augmentation from selected battalions/regiments (typically about half a dozen nominated by Horse Guards from across all the Britain/Ireland based infantry), sufficient to double it in size, such that it was thereafter capable of embarking as a service battalion of six companies, (typically about 20 officers and 600 NCOs & men), and yet was still able to leave two depot companies at home in Britain/Ireland. Thus the overall strength of what has miraculously become a two-battalion regiment is now 14 companies.

The depot was ordinarily commanded by the senior major...the lieutenant colonel and the junior major having proceeded on active service with the original six service companies. For a period there was no provision within the reserve battalion system for a commanding officer, save that said reserve battalion proceeding on service would be commanded by the senior major...in the rank of major...no 'local' or 'acting' rank, or any of that sort of shilly-shallying...major was a different currency then. Eventually, however, this was found to be unsatisfactory, (perhaps more unfair than unsatisfactory really), and an establishment change was authorized, such that a second regimental lieutenant colonel would be authorized on the formation of a reserve battalion.

In an originally single-battalion regiment, they obviously didn't routinely use battalion designators - hence the Loamshire Regiment - and not 1st Bn the Loamshire Regiment, just for the sake of it as it were. When, however, a reserve battalion was formed, the original six service companies did indeed become (temporarily) known as the 1st Battalion. That's nice and easy...so obviously the reserve battalion was called the 2nd Battalion....you'd think wouldn't you! No, in fact they never called them second battalions...always just the Reserve Battalion the Loamshire Regiment. I think this was because the War Office bean counters wanted it to be perfectly clear that this was a temporary expedient to meet whatever the imperial crisis of the day happened to be. To call them '2nd Bn The Loamshire Regt' would imply the sort of permanency enjoyed by the established second battalions in the two-battalion regiments.

I'm really talking 40s and 50s here. To what extent it continued into the 60s, I couldn't immediately say without looking into it further. I can't think why it wouldn't have continued into the 60s....save perhaps that there might conceivably have been a big establishment hike in the size of the infantry...more permanently constituted battalions would obviate the necessity to scratch a few extra ones together in time of trouble. Perhaps there was a hike after those French invasion scares...but I digress.

That's a brief summary of how the reserve battalion system worked in relation to depots anyway.

Oh yes...one last thought...the lieutenant colonel always included the two flank companies in his original six service companies, so reserve battalions formed subsequently never had a grenadier company or a light company.

As ever,

M

P.S. I share Frogsmile's concern about the size of the infantry...indeed I resigned my commission in disgust at the last mutilation of the infantry...so that then they had one less than they had been counting on! Not that 'they' cared one jot of course!
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Re: Depot companies and service companies

Postby Frogsmile » 18 Jul 2017 09:14

I've really enjoyed reading your detailed explanation of the Reserve Battalion system, Mike. Hitherto I have relied upon Frederick Myatt's, The British Infantry 1660-1945 and, more specifically, James Grierson's, Scarlet into Khaki, which focuses on the 1899-1914 period. It would be great if you might consider one day publishing something similar on what seems to me a bit like a 'dark age' in contemporary military writing, the 1840s to 1860s. I am not so naive as to not appreciate that such a book mayn't be the most commercially viable enterprise as not everyone is an anorak like me and interested in structures.

I was aware of the common term, half company, and the marching formation of sub-division of companies, but as Grierson referred to platoons (I think - am away from library), I imagined that its usage went further back.
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Re: Depot companies and service companies

Postby mike snook » 18 Jul 2017 11:25

Frogsmile,

Yes, I have both the works you mention and admire them.

I know what you mean about the apparent void and I do have a couple of projects in mind that might address it, but really only in passing...en route towards some tactical action (that being what I do). I always aim to get a few paragraphs of 'organization' into any book, because fighting doesn't make any sense at all without it. In fact the reason I know about the reserve battalion system is precisely because I have written it up: it is featured in Cape Warriors' (Vol I), which deals with uniforms and military organization in the Cape 1834-53. (Volume 1 also does the big picture military history, while all the tactical level battles and engagements in Volume II). Reserve Bns particularly came up in the context of the 91st (Argyllshire) Regiment, which was much involved in the 7th and 8th Cape Frontier Wars, but there were other (South African) instances too such as the 45th (Nottinghamshire) Regiment, so I had to get to grips with it.

It is interesting just how flexibly the word 'division' was used in that earlier period. It dawned on me originally when dealing with the memoirs of Pte Buck Adams, who kept saying our 'division' did this and our 'division' did that, when the 'this' and 'that' were evidently very low level military tasks. 'Division' to you and I means a formation of two or more brigades, but to the early Victorians it could mean anything from 20 men to 4,000 men. At the 20 men end of the spectrum, I refer to half of a cavalry troop (not uncommonly much reduced in strength from 70 to 40). It was perfectly possible for a troop to split and operate separately by its two component 'divisions', which is the context in which Buck Adams was typically using it. At the same time you might have a thousand men (including auxiliaries) in 'Colonel Eyre's division', (which is really a 'column', but it is 'division' they routinely prefer in all their reports and dispatches). And further afield, in India, you have 'divisions' as all arms formations and as military administrative districts...hence Major General Sir High Wheeler is GOC Cawnpore Division and Major General George Lloyd is GOC Dinapore Division. I forget whether it was Cawnpore or Dinapore, but one or the other of these 'divisions' straddled 120,000 square miles! Division - 20 cavalrymen or a vast geographic expanse in Northern India ...is it any wonder people can be bewildered by military affairs!

As ever

M
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Re: Depot companies and service companies

Postby cr1tical » 18 Jul 2017 11:43

Gentlemen

Keep it coming! I've an idea that judicious cutting and pasting of your various posts could well result in another definitive tome on the org and dep of Victoria's army!

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Re: Depot companies and service companies

Postby jf42 » 18 Jul 2017 13:39

Then of course there is that illustrious term 'corps.'

I have been reading this with great interest and, a fog of half understanding having been cleared, I am substantially the wiser.

I was wondering at what date the institution of the 2nd Lieutenant Colonel of infantry regiments/ battalions, introduced in 1794, was phased out. The circumstances explained above clearly show this had occurred by the 1840s. The most likely time, I suppose, would have been after Waterloo, when the army was pulled back into proper shape, although in the main that involved the disbanding of supplementary battalions formed in wartime.

As I understand it, the existence of a 2nd Lt. Col served two functions. One was to allow the two 'wings' of a battalion to operate independently but, as important, this measure allowed for the appropriation of the senior lieutenant colonel to command brigades and fill other staff posts- although the appropriation of both Lt. Cols on occasion would take the situation back to square one.

The dispersal of the army, reduced from wartime strengths, on far flung imperial service, rendered this latter redundancy less necessary, particulary when, latterly, the organisation of higher formations became more structured and permanent.

I assume that in the years after Waterloo the permanent presence of two lieutenant colonels in one battalion was regarded as an unnecessary expense, indeed an extravagance, and having legions of officers on half pay was seen as the cheaper option. Hence the makeshift arrangements in the reserve battalions as discussed above.
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Re: Depot companies and service companies

Postby jf42 » 18 Jul 2017 14:23

Re 'Anorak'

Far be it for me, etc., but I wonder, Frogsmile, if the correct term here shouldn't be 'Frock.'

Or 'Smock'.

Or both.
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Re: Depot companies and service companies

Postby mike snook » 18 Jul 2017 20:02

jf

You throw up another interesting question that hadn't dawned on me before now. Wings are a major's command - but if the senior major is always left behind to command the depot companies, it follows that there is always a gap where a major should be. Filled as you suggest in proper 'wartime' (!) by the authorization of a second lieutenant colonel, but more routinely by the senior captain, with a concomitant knock-on 'bugger's-muddle' that sees at least one company in the hands of a lieutenant (a commonplace arrangement anyway, due to casualties and sickness). So there's a good question there...from what date was it decided that depot companies should be commanded by the senior major. Was it ever thus or was it a definite change with a date attached to it? Can the decision literally be dovetailed with the decision to authorize second lieutenant colonels in wartime?

Is it possible, I wonder, that 2nd lieutenant colonels were never actually done away with (after Waterloo or at any other point for that matter), but rather that they only ever existed on the wartime establishment. [We still have wartime and peacetime establishments even now]. The period I am speaking of sits in the so called 'long peace' of course, (Waterloo to Alma, wherein little wars didn't really count!), and second lieutenant colonels definitely make a come-back for the Crimea (proper wartime!). So, I postulate, perhaps they were there all along - existing as wartime vacancies routinely left unfilled in 'peacetime' (even if it was actually 'wartime' in South Africa or India). Actually, thinking on it, second lt cols may also have been knocking about in the Anglo-Sikh conflicts (or the second, of 1849, at least). I am thinking of my own late shove, which at Chillianwallah had both Colonel Pennycuick, (elevated to command the brigade, but occupying the lieutenant colonel's vacancy), and Lt Col Brookes who actually commanded the regiment in the charge on the guns (albeit Pennycuick was there too and was KIA of course). I suppose it's possible that Brookes held his rank by brevet...I think I have an Army List that goes that far back and will check later, but, assuming he was a substantive lt col, this would fit with what I said about battalions/regiments embarking for India at full wartime establishment. So...you can have wars in India during the long peace...but not in South (-ern) Africa or anywhere else!

To cut a long story sideways perhaps the reason you can't find a date for abolition of 2nd lt cols is because there isn't one; they just stopped manning them in 1815. There all along perhaps, popping out of the woodwork in good time to storm the heights above the Alma?

As ever

M
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Re: Depot companies and service companies

Postby jf42 » 18 Jul 2017 23:09

Col Mike, that all makes perfect sense. In the context.
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