Portsmouth’s WW2 Dead: the Army (part 3)


73 Portsmouth men died while serving as officers during the Second World War:

4 – Lieutenant-Colonel (5.48%)
12 – Major (16.44%)
31 – Captain (42.47%)
21 – Lieutenant (28.77%)
5 – 2nd Lieutenant (6.58%)

Overall, 10.83% of the Portsmouth soldiers who were killed in the Second World War were Officers.

A couple of points are interesting here. Notice also how relatively few Portsmouth officers were of a senior rank. Unlike the Navy, it seems that Army officers did not settle in Portsmouth, and also that joining the Army was not seen as a career path for young men who might choose to become officers. And out of the four Lieutenant-Colonels who came from Portsmouth, two were serving with Indian or Hong Kong based units, where commissions were not so popular.

Its intriguing how over 42% of Portsmouth officers who died were Captains. An average infantry Battalion would have had much less Captains than Lieutenants – routinely a Lieutenant would command a platoon, whereas a Captain might be the second-in-command of Company. So even though statistically there were fewer Captains than Lieutenants in the Army, is it that more Portsmouth men happened to be Captains, or that Captains were more at risk of becoming casualties?

Other Ranks

601 men from Portsmouth died serving as other ranks in the Army between 1939 and 1947:

3 – Warrant Officer I (0.5%)
5 – Warrant Officer II (0.83%)
11 – Staff Sergeant (1.83%)
51 – Sergeant (8.49%)
90 – Corporal (14.98%)
48 – Lance Corporal (7.98%)
393 – Private (65.39%)

(ranks also include their equiavalents, ie Private includes Gunners, Sappers etc.)

89.73% of Portsmouth soldiers in the Second World War were serving in the ranks – overwhelmingly more than the equivalent figure in the Royal Navy. It is also noticeable how few soldiers were of senior rank – only 1.3% were Warrant Officers, for example. Many more Portsmouth seamen rose to higher rank in their service. Would, perhaps, there be more senior NCO’s in a town such as Aldershot, where long-serving soldiers were bound to live?

That such a high proportion of soldiers who were killed were serving as Privates is interesting. Certainly, it seems that the majority of Portsmouth soldiers called up to the Army during the war were young men, recruited to add to the numbers of the vastly expanding Army. The pre-war regulars, on the other hand, formed a cadre for promotion to NCO rank.

Did a soldier’s rank affect the likelihood of him becoming a casualty? Unlike in the Navy, where if a ship was sunk all ranks were at equal risk, different ranks had different duties and positions on the battlefield. Inevitably Privates were more likely to be at the sharp end. But conversely, officers and NCO’s often became casualties when they went foward to try and drive attacks on. They were also conspicuous targets for snipers.


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Filed under Army, portsmouth heroes, social history, Uncategorized, World War Two

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