Military units and ordinal numbers

The other day I passed by the buildings of the 6174th Garrison[sup]*[/sup] which made me wonder, are there actually 6000 similar units around the country (US)?

Which leads to the larger question, how are ordinal numbers assigned for military units?
I know, for example, we don’t currently field 101 airborne divisions, or even that many divisions of any kind, but the 101st is a well-known unit. Are the intervening numbers for inactive units, or has every number been historically assigned, with some numbers being abandoned (so that there have been a total of 101 or more divisions)?

Or is it a regional/functional designation? Or just whatever gets chosen?

Related questions - at what unit level are ordinal numbers used, and at what level are letters used? Is there a ‘scope’ of number usage at a certain unit level (such that every division could have a 3rd Brigade, and every brigade could have a 1st Battalion?)

This is a US-centric question, but I’m curious to hear what methods other countries use, so jump in if you like.
[sup]*[/sup]not the actual number.

In actuality, the numbers are totally at the whim of the activating authority. But as you can see by this list, most US Infantry divisions follow in sequence, allowing for “phantom” divisions and divisions never activated. Airborne units followed a different list, obviously. Personally, I think it’s because anybody who would willingly jump out of a perfectly functional airplane is too dumb to count. :smiley:

All units save Corps and Corps-level units are numbered with Arabic numbers and (in US usage) given ordinals. Corps numbers are read as cardinals. So:
One Corps
First Division

Until the end of the First World War, divisions were not (usually) differentiated by type. So it was the 82nd Division, not the 82nd Infantry Division. When divisions became identified by predominant branch, the new title was appended to the old number. So the 82nd and 101st became airborne divisions.

The divisions, as stated, roughly follow numerical order. The ancient regiments much the same. (Save for the gruesome renumbering ordered by congress in about 1810, but I need to let that go.) Support units in the divisions and to a lesser degree corps take the number of their parent. So we have the 82nd MP Company (a separate company v A Company 1234 MP Battalion, which is not).

Then we have the other separate units, like your garrison. They usually take larger number usually, in order to ensure nobody thinks they are part of a division. (Exceptions abound, the 5th Engineers are not part of 5th Infantry Division, but then artillery and engineers have always played fast and loose with the regimental system in my humble opinion.)

Does that help?

And then there’s MASH units. The famous book/movie/tv MASH unit was the 4077. That number was made up, of course, but the real unit it’s supposedly based on is the even less likely 8055.

I think I see.

It sort of follows some logic, but not necessarily as strictly as it looks.

Are the ‘phantom divisions’ used to fool the enemy? Or some other purpose?

In line with my related questions - I’m trying to parse this:

“(a separate company v A Company 1234 MP Battalion, which is not).”

Does the second part mean ‘A’ company (as in alphabetical order), which is part of the 1234 Battalion, which is an MP unit, and is part of some division (or would the battalion number be enough to signify the division)?

I’ve heard (in movies) of companies having letter designations. Do they all properly have a numeric designation, or is this just the way a company is labeled if it’s not one of the unusual/support-type units?

I always assumed that whenever a new {division} {organization} {MASH unit} {whatever} was created, it took on the next number in the counting-up sequence, but not necessarily adding one to the count (maybe they count up by sevens, who knows?). Then if units were inactivated or disbanded, their numbers were never reused, but saved in case of reactivation. That would explain why some numbers are high in the list and why there are so many holes.

That doesn’t explain why some orgs have names like “Americal” instead of numbers.

–Musicat (ex–1st Army Division, the “Big Red One”)

“Americal” was named such as it was activated on New Caledonia from unrelated regiments from the States. When it was re-activated after the war, it was officially designated the 23rd Infantry Division.

Phantom Divisions were used as deceptions. Patton’s phantom army during WW2 was full of these units.

Companies are usually designated by letters, not numbers. They are much smaller units, and can be formed and disbanded at will by divisional authority.

Support units, like MPs and hospitals, usually have much higher numbers, as Paul noted. They may be 'On Post" but are not under the command of the Post Commander. He is tasked with giving them support, but he can’t order them around.

Those units are called “Tenants,” they live on your base but do not work for you.

Look at two engineer companies. One is the 1234th Engineer Company. It is a big outfit with a lot of support people. Since it does not have a battalion to support it, it has its own little mess unit, personnel personnel (its own little HR team you might say) and guy who maintain the heavy equipment. The Fighting 1234th can deploy more or less on its own. It is commanded by a captain or maybe a major.

Now look at A Company of the 4567th Engineer Battalion. No higher-level mechanics, no personnel clerks, no mess detachment. It depends on the battalion for that stuff. A Company is a smaller unit than the one I mentioned above. It is commanded by a captain.

So companies with letters are smaller and less capable than companies with numbers.

(For my next trick, I will explain the colors of the bands on the MP’s helmet.)

Sometimes they are based on the parent unit. I was in the 725th Maintenance Battalion, which was part of the 25th Infantry Division.

Right, that’s how my USAF maint squad went as well. My last chain of command went something like this:
755th Comm Squadron
55th Comm Group
55th Wing

The letters for companies can have significance, as well. In the Seabees, if you’re in alpha company, you’re most likely either a mechanic or equipment operator, bravo company is either plumbers or electricians, charlie company is carpenters and steelworkers, H company is all the pecker checkers, titless Waves, and other office pogues.

So it’s sort of like the way that suites/floors work in a building; i.e. 223 is going to be room #23 on the 2nd floor, not the 223rd room in the building or complex.

The only other reason I could think of for ridiculously high numbered batallions is (and this is total conjecture) continuous sequential numbering of independdent batallions from some point way, way back in the past.

In other words, maybe there was a 1st Tank batallion that wasn’t numbered as part of a regiment, then a 2nd Signal, then a 3rd Quartermaster, etc… on up until we have numbers in the thousands. I guess it’s possible with WWII and Cold War organization and reorganization.

AFIK, the numbers meant something at some point, as has been suggested. For example, the 108th Detachment was probably, at some point the first Detachment (read company sized element) of the eighth Battalion. As units are activated and disbanded, you end up with the A Company of the 317th Battalion 21st Brigade, 4th Army. FTR I made all these units up, to illustrate the point.

At some point, Battalions may become company sized elements and vice versa to further screw up the mix. So unless you are really familiar with the unit history it seems like just numbers and letters. At some point most made sense.

SSG Schwartz

Try this:

You’ve got a division. It’s made up of brigades. Those are made up of batallions (or regiments), which have companies in them, and platoons in that. Let’s call the Division the 28th ID (In real life, the PA National Guard, hooah!).

You’d have:
28th Infantry Division
–1st Brigade
—1st BN
----A Co
----B Co
—2nd BN
----A Co
----B Co
–2nd Brigade
—1st BN
----A Co
----B Co
—2nd BN
----A Co
----B Co
–3rd Brigade
—1st BN
----A Co
----B Co
—2nd BN
----A Co
----B Co

“But wait,” you say, “where are all the support personnel? I mean, come on IntelSoldier, everyone can’t be an infantry guy like in the generic example you gave.” Well, that’s true. That’s why the division has a support batallion, but it doesn’t get numbered like the line units. It’s named after the parent: the 28th Support BN, or something. Don’t forget to add the 28th Engineering Bn. But the brigades need help too, so they get a special company attached w/ a special name, like HHC (for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, whose strange name is another post in itself) and 328th Medical company.

So to summarize, you’re likely to get a simple number w/ a simple name if you’re a main unit that does the job of the higher unit (like infantry brigades in the infantry divisions) and a number that’s complicated and only semi-logical if you’re a support unit (like engineers in infantry divisions).

Sorry, but please fight my ignorance. “pecker checkers”? “titless Waves”???

I’m not young, but never been in a military unit.

Pecker Checker- medical staff
Titless Wave- clerical worker, clasically a woman’s job. Men doing it =titless
POG (misspelled pogue)- Personnel Other than Grunt.