Support Company 1942-45
Support Company, as its name implied, assisted the rifle companies in their duties at the sharp end. The platoons of Support Company were not safe from German shell or mortar fire, though they were usually located away from the firing line. The Carrier platoon filled many roles, including resupply missions, casualty evacuation, and reconnaissance. The mortar platoon was the battalion’s integral fire support, able to provide high explosive, illumination or smoke protection. The pioneers were the handymen of the regiment, performing engineer tasks, and the anti-tank platoon provided not just protection from enemy tanks, but could engage a variety of enemy infantry and light vehicle targets as well. Support Company was a late addition to the infantry battalions, being introduced in 1942.
“Fighting Support” Its History
The following article comes from a July 1945 issue of “The Glen” and describes the history of Support Company in the Calgary Highlanders.
by Major Mark Tennant
Support Company of an Infantry Unit is an afterthought of the British Army after two years of unsuccessful fighting in France and in the desert. In these campaigns the infantry officers kept requesting for heavier close support than was then provided in the army. At the beginning a small Mortar Platoon and a Pioneer Platoon were in what was then HQ Company. Many trials were made both in combat and in training. In the fall of 1942 what we know as Support Company was added to the strength of an infantry battalion. It contained, in miniature, a replica of all arms, Mortars and Anti-Tank to represent Artillery; Carriers to represent Armoured Cars. Later Brownings were added to give tremendous fire power and Pioneers to cover off the Engineers. Flame throwers were added and did terrible execution. An Ack Ack Platoon only stayed for a short time. Each platoon was made completely self-supporting and self-contained for ammunition and rations. Each platoon works separate and under direct command of the Commanding Officer for fighting and tactical operations.
Support Company of the Calgary Highlanders suffered the first battle casualties in our Unit at Cussey (Abbey) 12 Jul 44. The Carriers were the first troops of our Unit to engage the enemy in combat. This platoon was ordered to clear a factory actually in the Regiment de Maisonneuve position before our attack on Hill 67, 18 Jul 44. Since that day our Unit has seen hardly a minor show without some elements of our Company supporting it. If a high building or a church interfered with a rifle company the Anti-tank platoon shot it up. If the Jerry was well dug in our flame burnt him out. Our pioneers were on the job destroying booby traps and mines and even constructing bridges. Our Mortar Platoon fired thousands of rounds at the enemy, firing in one day, at Tilly la Campagne, over three thousand bombs, assisting the rifle companies and destroying enemy vehicles and chasing him out of slit trenches with phosphorus bombs. At all times all personnel of the company did their best to support the rifleman.
Gradually Support Company gathered into its fold most of the long service men. The reason was two-fold, the main one being that we suffered less casualties than a rifle company, another reason being most of the rifle company commanders had at one time served in Support Company and gave us their well trained veterans to replace our losses. This also gave the long service men a break from the monotony of long marches and the terrible strain of hand to hand combat. This also assisted us for the men knew the job of the rifleman and were always willing to help in any way to relieve his load.
From its inception to its finish as a fighting Unit we have always maintained an enviable record. Each platoon in turn topped the Division at one time or another while in training. We do not know of a case where we let anyone down while in combat.
Many men have passed through our ranks both in training and in action. All but a few did their duty no matter what the cost. Several paid the supreme sacrifice, many more were wounded in the course of duty. A few were decorated for gallantry. At present our old company is scattered from Germany to the Far East; some are civilians, many more are just waiting that day. Wherever they are, in hospital or at home, the few that remain send them best wishes and a happy landing.