US Airborne Battalion 42-44

The United States Parachute Infantry Battalion 1942 to 1944

In its original format, the Parachute Infantry Battalion was a particularly small unit, with over 300 men less than its regular Infantry Battalion equivalent.

The Parachute Infantry Battalion 1942 to mid 1944

    • Battalion Headquarters (4 Officers)
Headquarters Company (7 Officers, 138 men), comprised of;
      • Company HQ (2 Officers, 7 men)
      • Staff Section (7 men)
      • Mess Section (25 men)
      • Communication Section (1 Officer, 22 men)
      • Light Machine Gun Platoon (2 Officers, 40 men)
      • Mortar Platoon (2 Officers, 37 men)
Three Rifle Companies (8 Officers, 119 men), each comprised of;
      • Company HQ (2 Officers, 14 men)
      • Three Rifle Platoons, each comprised of;
        • Platoon HQ (2 Officers, 5 men)
        • Mortar Squad (6 men)
        • Two Rifle Squads, each comprised of 12 men
Total Strength of 530 all ranks (35 Officers and 495 men)

The Parachute Infantry Battalion mid 1944 to early 1945

    • Battalion Headquarters (6 Officers)

Headquarters Company (7 Officers, 180 men), comprised of;

      • Company HQ (4 Officers, 15 men)
      • Staff Section (15 men)
      • Mess Section (22 men)
      • Communication Section (27 men)
      • Supply Section (13 men)
      • Light Machine Gun Platoon (1 Officer, 46 men)
      • Mortar Platoon (2 Officers, 42 men)

Three Rifle Companies (5 Officers, 125 men), each comprised of;

      • Company HQ (2 Officers, 20 men)
      • Three Rifle Platoons, each comprised of;
        • Platoon HQ (1 Officer, 5 men)
        • Mortar Squad (6 men)
        • Two Rifle Squads, each comprised of 12 men
Total Strength of 583 all ranks (27 Officers and 556 men)
Points of note

Like all such airborne units, the Parachute Battalion was remarkably light. It mimicked the organization of a normal Infantry Battalion to some extent, but incorporated several adjustments. Support weapons were held directly by the Platoons in the Rifle Company and there were of course no towed antitank guns to rely on.

In August 1944 the Battalion was reorganized, which lead to an increase in personnel but a drop in the number of commissioned officers. There was no change in firepower, machine gun, mortar and Bazooka issue remaining as before.

The elements of the Battalion

Battalion Headquarters – as with the Infantry Battalion, this comprised the command staff of a Lieutenant Colonel, his Executive Officer and several other specialists.

Company Headquarters – contained the usual clerks and armourer, while the cooks were separated into a Mess Section.

Headquarters Section – the various NCOs and men who operated alongside the Battalion HQ staff.

Supply Section – a reduced version of the Ammunition & Pioneer Platoon found in the Infantry, with just a single Squad under a Sergeant.

Communication Section – was responsible for the Battalion’s links with other units. The Communications Officer was though listed among the members of Company HQ.

Light Machine Gun Platoon – this unit was divided into two Sections, each serving four M1919A4 Browning light machine guns. No heavy machine guns were allocated to the Battalion and the gunners must have struggled to provide the same level of support as the M1917s in the Infantry Battalion. The Platoon also deployed three Bazookas for self defence.

Mortar Platoon – a reduced strength version of the Infantry, with only four 81-mm tubes. As with the Machine Gun Platoon, there were three Bazookas.

The Rifle Company – it was among the Rifle Companies that the Paratroops began to add their own unique touch. There were still three Rifle Platoons, but each carried a higher concentration of light fire support weapons.

The Platoon had two Rifle Squads, which retained the general appearance of the Infantry model. A Sergeant commanded assisted by a Corporal, both men promoted to Staff Sergeant and Sergeant respectively by 1944. A gunner, loader and ammunition bearer served the squad automatic weapon, while five riflemen and two scouts provided the bayonet strength. The difference in their weapons was noticeable. The automatic weapon was the M1919A4 or later A6 Browning light machine gun. While a much heavier load than the BAR it provided a good deal more firepower, something the Paratroops really needed.

Individual weapons issue for any airborne unit is best described as fluid, and the Parachute Rifle Squad provides a good demonstration. In 1942, each man was issued a .45-cal automatic pistol and an M1 rifle, with the exception of the assistant Squad leader, with a submachine gun, and the light machine gunner, with a carbine. By early 1944 the Corporal’s submachine was replaced by rifle and the automatic pistols were deleted. The August 1944 amendments proposed that all three men serving the Browning light machine gun would carry carbines, the balance of the Squad rifles.

In practice however there was ample room for variation. Paratroopers were notorious for supplementing their regulation weapons with privately acquired .45-cal pistols and even revolvers for use if and when they became separated from their rifle during a drop. The submachine gun was also a popular weapon and both the Thompson and M3 were used in far greater numbers than the tables would suggest.

Two Rifle Squads served under a Platoon Headquarters. Each Platoon originally had two Officers, a 1st and 2nd Lieutenant, intended to reduce the risk of a scattered Platoon being separated from its commander. This was subsequently reduced to a single 1st Lieutenant, perhaps a reflection of the heavy casualties among junior leaders. They were aided by a Platoon Sergeant, Sergeant Guide and three messengers, one of whom operated the radio. Personnel weapons are again a complicated story, and almost certainly were adapted to meet requirements. Carbines were issued to the officers, a submachine gun for the Platoon Sergeant, with rifles for the remainder. The Platoon Sergeant supposedly reverted to a rifle in early 1944, the Platoon Guide a carbine in mid 1944. A Platoon sniper rifle is only mentioned from August 1944, the weapon being the M1C, however M1903A4s were certainly in use before this time.

As there was no Weapons Platoon, each Rifle Platoon included a six man Mortar Squad serving a single 60-mm weapon. Each Platoon also had access to several unallocated support weapons, chief among these being a Bazooka. There were also a further two Browning light machine guns available which could be deployed as necessary. That gave the Battalion forty-four such weapons and allowed each Rifle Squad to effectively double its firepower.

Company Headquarters retained the usual roles of command and administrative support. From early 1944, when the submachine guns were allegedly removed from the Rifle Platoons, they received a pool of six such weapons, and had a fourth Bazooka.


While envisioned as fighting only short, sharp actions, before being withdrawn and replaced by more conventional units, the Parachute Infantry Battalions found themselves being increasingly used to make up for shortages in manpower. They were not organized or resourced to spend extended periods in the line, but this became evermore common as the campaign in the West dragged on. In late 1944 proposals were made to substantially increase the size, and staying power, of the Battalion.