Tina Sanjar

Ground Forces


The Allies depended on airborne troops (Goldstein 47). These men were thoroughly equipped; "it is a wonder that they were able to move at all, let alone swiftly" (47-48). The equipment provided a parachutist rifleman was the same standard items carried by the average American infantry man. The smallest infantry unit was the twelve man rifle squad (Weigley 24). Each rifle squad carried 10 M1 Garand semiautomatic rifles with an eight round clip and one automatic rifle. Each rifle man [Link to image of Popup1-48] also carried a cartridge belt with a canteen, hand grenades, a parachute with a pack (if he was a parachutist), gloves, pocket compass, flares, a machete, a .45 caliber Colt automatic pistol, and a message book (Goldstein 48). The rifle grenadiers in the squad had similar equipment but also carried a set of binoculars and a 1903 Springfield rifle. In addition, each infantry man carried an emergency rations kit [Link to image of Popup2-49] that included four pieces of chewing gum, two bouillon cubes, two Nescafe instant coffees, with two sugar cubes and two creamers, four Hershey chocolate bars, one pack of Charms candy, one package of pipe tobacco, and one bottle of water purification tablets. The mainstay of American assault would be ordinary infantry men [Link to Popup4-237](48).

Three rifle squads formed a platoon (Weigley 24). By July 1943, infantry divisions would have a rifle company consisting of three rifle platoons and a weapons platoon armed with two .30 caliber and one .50 caliber machine guns, three 60mm mortars, and three bazookas. An infantry battalion united three rifle companies with a heavy weapons company armed with eight .30 caliber and three .50 caliber machine guns, six 81mm mortars, and seven bazookas. The infantry battalion also had a headquarters company with three 57mm anti-tank guns, three .30 caliber and one .50 caliber machine guns, and eight bazookas. An infantry regiment consisted of three infantry battalions, a headquarters company, a service company, and an anti-tank company (six 57mm anti-tank guns), a cannon company (six 105mm howitzers and three .50 caliber machine guns), and a medical detachment (24).

In addition, each division, besides the three infantry regiments, had an artillery division, a headquarters company, a reconnaissance troop, a combat engineer battalion, a medical battalion, a quarter-master company, an ordnance company, a signal company, and a military police platoon. The divisional artillery had three 12 piece 105mm howitzer battalions and one 12 piece 155mm howitzer battalion. Eighty-nine .50 caliber machine guns were scattered through the artillery. In total, the armament of an infantry division included: 6518 rifles, 243 automatic rifles, 157 .30 caliber machine guns, 236 .50 caliber machine guns, ninety 60mm mortars, fifty-four 81mm mortars, 557 bazookas, fifty-seven 57mm anti-tank guns, fifty-four 105mm howitzers, twelve 155mm howitzers (24).

The weapons of a British infantry men included Enfield MK 4 rifles, Sten sub machine guns, Bren light machine guns, PIATs (anti-tank weapons), pistols and grenades Arms and Equipment 3). They also carried jump helmets with a camouflage net, a face veil, one inch Toggle rope, cotton bandoleers to carry .303 rounds for the rifles, a fighting knife (FS Dagger), and light weight respiration bags attached to the belt to carry gas masks. Hand grenades, mortar bombs, or magazines were carried in special pouches. Each also had a canteen with a carrier (2).

These riflemen also carried other gear besides equipment. For instance, the British soldier would carry a knife, fork, spoon, and a mess tin. Also, a ground sheet, one pair of grey wool socks, one towel, a shaving kit, soap, shaving soap, shave brush, razor, toothbrush, comb, a folding stove, and bandages (4).


The average age in the American army was twenty-five and a half (Ambrose 34). The U.S. Army infantry divisions were not elite, but had some outstanding characteristics. Infantry divisions were primarily made up of conscripted troops. The American Selective Service System was selective. One-third of the men called to the service were rejected after physical examinations, making the average draftee "brighter, healthier, and better educated" than the average American (48). The average draftee had the following profile: he was twenty-six years old, five foot and eight inches tall, weighed 144 pounds, had a thirty-three and a half inch chest, and a thirty-one inch waist. After thirteen weeks of training, he would gain seven pounds and add at least an inch to his chest. Almost half of the draftees were high school graduates and one in ten had some college education. At the end of 1943, the U.S. Army was the "greenest" in the world. Of nearly fifty infantry, armored, and airborne divisions selected for participation in the campaign in northwest Europe, only two had been in combat (48). The bulk of the British army had also not seen action. Only a small amount had been in combat and none of those designated for assault had more than a handful of veterans (48). According to Ambrose, and those whom he interviews in his book, this inexperience had a certain advantage.
For a direct frontal assault on a prepared enemy position, men who have not seen what a bullet, a land mine, or an exploding mortar can do to the human body are preferable to men who have seen the carnage (49). Men in their late teens or early twenties have a feeling of invulnerability. The problem of inexperience can, in essence, be overcome with their "zeal and daredevil attitude" (49).

The ordinary infantry divisions of the British army were another matter. The average soldier was not as well educated or as physically fit as his American counterpart. Superficial discipline, such as saluting and dress, was much better than among the GIs, but real discipline, such as taking and executing orders, was slack. The British War Office had been afraid to impose discipline too strictly in a democratic army based on the notion that it may dampen the fighting spirit. British soldiers who were veterans had been badly beaten by the German army in 1940 and on other fronts (49). Germans who fought the British often expressed surprise at the way British troops would do no more than what was expected. They would abandon a pursuit to make tea, if ammunition was low, when fuel ran out, or when they were encircled. A reason for the shortcoming of the British army in WWII was inferior weaponry. British tanks, trucks, artillery, and small arms were not as good as their enemies or the Americans'. Another reason was the way in which pacifism had "eaten into the souls of British youth" after the catastrophes of Somme, Flanders, and elsewhere in WWI (49). Senior officers were survivors of the trenches and had nightmares of the experience. They mistrusted offensive action and direct frontal assaults; they lacked killer instincts (50). Britain had reached its man power limits (50-51). The British army could not afford heavy losses. This point infuriated Americans who felt the best way to minimize casualties [Link to Popup5-Casualties] was to take risks to win the war as soon as possible; not to exercise caution in an offensive action (51).

Americans were also irritated by the contempt British officers displayed for everything American. Most British officers regarded the Americans as "neophytes" in war who were blessed with great equipment in massive quantities and superbly conditioned, but inexperienced enlisted men (they assumed superiority of British techniques, methods, tactics, and leadership) (51). The British and Americans were getting on each other's nerves, which was only exacerbated by proximity as the American army in Britain began to grow in anticipation of the Normandy invasion. They had to learn to work together (51).

The U.S. Army of 1940 consisted of 170,000 men. Three years later it numbered 7.2 million (2.3 million in the Army Air Force). It was the best equipped, most mobile, with the most fire power of any army. In the end "It all came down to a bunch of eighteen-to-twenty-eight year-olds" (25). They were magnificently equipped and supported, but only a few of them had ever been in combat. The question toward the end of spring 1944 was whether a democracy could produce young soldiers capable of fighting effectively against the best Nazi Germany could produce (25-26). Hitler was certain the answer was no, but he was wrong. The young men born into the false prosperity of the 1920s and brought up in the bitter realities of the Depression of the 1930s were fighting this war. The literature they read was "antiwar", "cynical", and portrayed "patriots as suckers" and "slackers as heroes" (26). None of them wanted to be part of another war. But when freedom had to be fought for or abandoned, they fought. They were "soldiers of democracy" (26). On the day American soldiers were briefed on the operations of Normandy, they felt fear. Many, never having been in actual battle, tried to convince themselves that they had already faced the Germans; whether it was through newspaper articles at home or on the film screen during training. Some felt that no matter what they faced, it could not be worse than their training regiment. These are the young men who paid the price for our freedom.

Works Cited

Ambrose, Stephen E. D-Day June 6, 1944-1945: The Climactic Battle of World War II. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.

Doubler, Michael D. Closing with the Enemy: How GIs Fought the War in Europe, 1944-1945. Lawrence: University Press Kansas, 1994.

Goldstein, Donald M., Katherine V. Dillon, and J. Micheal Wenger. D-Day Normandy: The Story and Photographs. Washington: Brassey's, 1994.

Weigley, Russell F. Eisenhower's Lieutenants: The Campaign of France and Germany 1944-1945. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981.


Arms and Equipment
Statistics (Casualties)