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British Army

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British Army
British Army Logo.png
Founded 1660[1][2][nb 1]
Country United Kingdom[nb 2]
Allegiance Elizabeth II
Type Army
Role Land warfare
Size 80,360 Regular[nb 3]
30,000 Regular Reserve[nb 4]
26,300 Volunteer Reserve[nb 5]
2,850 Brigade of Gurkhas
Patron Elizabeth II
Chief of the General Staff General Sir Nicholas Carter KCB CBE DSO
Army Sergeant Major WO1 Glenn Haughton
War flag[nb 6]
Flag of the United Kingdom (3-5).svg
Non-ceremonial flag

The British Army is the principal land warfare force of the United Kingdom. As of 2017 the British Army comprises just over 80,000 trained Regular, or full-time, personnel and just over 26,500 trained Reserve, or part-time personnel.[5]

The origins of the modern British Army can be traced as far back as 1660, when it was known as the English Army, with the term British Army adopted in 1707 after the Acts of Union between England and Scotland.[6][7] Today, although all members of the British Army are expected to swear (or affirm) allegiance to Elizabeth II as their Commander-in-Chief,[8] the Bill of Rights of 1689 requires parliamentary consent for the Crown to maintain a standing army in peacetime.[9] Therefore, the UK Parliament approves the continued existence of the Army by passing an Armed Forces Act at least once every five years. Day to day the Army comes under administration of the Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom) and is commanded by the Chief of the General Staff (United Kingdom).[10]

Throughout its history the British Army has seen action in a number of major wars involving the world's great powers, including the Seven Years' War, the Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War, the First World War and Second World War. Repeatedly emerging victorious from these decisive wars allowed Britain to influence world events with its policies and establish itself as one of the world's leading military and economic powers.[11][12] Since the end of the Cold war the British Army has continued to deploy to many conflict zones, often as part of an expeditionary force, a coalition force or as part of a United Nations peacekeeping operation.[13]


John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, was one of the first generals in the British Army, fighting campaigns in the War of the Spanish Succession.

In 1660 the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were restored under Charles II. Charles favoured the foundation of a new army under royal control and began work towards its establishment by August 1660.[14] The first English Army regiments, including elements of the disbanded New Model Army, were formed between November 1660 and January 1661,[15] and became a standing military force for Britain financed by the Parliament of England.[16][17] The Royal Scots Army and the Irish Army were financed by the Parliament of Scotland and the Parliament of Ireland.[18] Parliamentary control was established by the Bill of Rights 1689 and Claim of Right Act 1689, although the monarch continued to have influence over aspects of army administration until at least the end of the nineteenth century.[19] By the time of the Acts of Union in 1707, many regiments of the English and Scottish armies were already combined under one operational command and stationed in the Netherlands fighting in the War of Spanish Succession. Consequently, although all the regiments were now part of the new British military establishment,[3] they remained under the same, old operational command structure, and therefore retained much of their individual institutional ethos, customs, and traditions, of the old standing armies that had been created shortly after the restoration of the monarchy 47 years earlier. The order of seniority of the most senior line regiments in the British Army is based on the order of seniority in the English army. Although technically the Scots Royal Regiment of Foot was raised in 1633 and is the oldest Regiment of the Line,[20] Scottish and Irish regiments were only allowed to take a rank in the English army from the date of their arrival in England or the date when they were first placed on the English establishment. For example, in 1694 a board of general officers was convened to decide the rank of English, Irish and Scots regiments serving in the Netherlands; the regiment that became known as the Scots Greys were designated as the 4th Dragoons because there were three English regiments raised prior to 1688 when the Scots Greys were first placed on the English establishment. In 1713, when a new board of general officers was convened to decide upon the rank of several regiments, the seniority of the Scots Greys was reassessed and based on their entry into England in June 1685. At that time there was only one English regiment of dragoons, and so after some delay the Scots Greys obtained the rank of 2nd Dragoons in the British Army.[21]

After William and Mary's accession to the throne, England involved itself in the War of the Grand Alliance, primarily to prevent a French invasion restoring Mary's father, James II.[22] Following the union of England and Scotland in 1707, and the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801, British foreign policy on the continent was to contain expansion by its competitor powers such as France and Spain. Spain, in the previous two centuries, had been the dominant global power, and the chief threat to England's early transatlantic ambitions, but was now waning. The territorial ambitions of the French, however, led to the War of the Spanish Succession[23] and the Napoleonic Wars.[24]

From the time of the end of the Seven Years' War in 1763, Great Britain was the leading naval power, and alongside France was one of the two economic powers of the world.[25]

British Empire (1700–1914)

Although the Royal Navy is widely regarded as having been vital for the rise of the British Empire, and British dominance of the world, the British Army was the force that held the ground of the Empire and it played an important role in the colonisation of colonies, protectorates, and Dominions throughout the Americas, Africa, Asia, India and Australasia.[26] British soldiers captured strategically important territories and the army was involved in numerous wars to pacify the borders, or to prop up friendly governments, and thereby keep other, competitive, empires away from the British Empire's borders. Among these actions were the Seven Years' War,[27] the American Revolutionary War,[28] the Napoleonic Wars,[24] the First and Second Opium Wars,[29] the Boxer Rebellion,[30] the New Zealand wars,[31] the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857,[32] the First and Second Boer Wars,[33] the Fenian raids,[34] the Irish War of Independence,[35] its serial interventions into Afghanistan (which were meant to maintain a friendly buffer state between British India and the Russian Empire),[36] and the Crimean War (to keep the Russian Empire at a safe distance by coming to Turkey's aid).[37] As had its predecessor, the English Army, the British Army fought the Kingdoms of Spain, France (later Empire of France), and the Netherlands for supremacy in North America and the West Indies. With native and provincial assistance, the Army conquered New France in the North American theatre of the Seven Years' War[27] and subsequently suppressed a Native American uprising in Pontiac's War.[38] The British Army suffered defeat in the American War of Independence, losing the Thirteen Colonies but holding on to Canada.[39]

The British Army was heavily involved in the Napoleonic Wars and served in multiple campaigns across Europe (including continuous deployment in the Peninsular War), the Caribbean, North Africa and later in North America. The war between the British and the First French Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte stretched around the world and at its peak, in 1813, the regular army contained over 250,000 men. A Coalition of Anglo-Dutch and Prussian Armies under the Duke of Wellington and Field Marshal von Blücher finally defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.[40]

The English had been involved, both politically and militarily, in Ireland since being given the Lordship of Ireland by the Pope in 1171. The campaign of the English republican Protector, Oliver Cromwell, involved uncompromising treatment of the Irish towns (most notably Drogheda and Wexford) that had supported the Royalists during the English Civil War. The English Army (and subsequently the British Army) stayed in Ireland primarily to suppress numerous Irish revolts and campaigns for independence. In addition to its ongoing conflict with ethnic Irish nationalists, it was faced with the prospect of battling Anglo-Irish and Ulster Scots peoples in Ireland, angered primarily by unfavourable taxation of Irish produce imported into Britain, who, alongside other Irish groups, had raised their own volunteer army and threatened to emulate the American colonists if their conditions were not met. Having learnt from their experience in America, the British government sought a political solution. The British Army found itself fighting Irish rebels, both Protestant and Catholic, primarily in Ulster and Leinster (Wolfe Tone's United Irishmen) in the 1798 rebellion.[41]

The Battle of Rorke's Drift in 1879 saw a small British force repel an overwhelming attack by Zulu forces; eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded for the defence.

In addition to battling the armies of other European Empires (and of its former colonies, the United States, in the American War of 1812),[42] in the battle for global supremacy, the British Army fought the Chinese in the First and Second Opium Wars,[29] and the Boxer Rebellion,[30] Māori tribes in the first of the New Zealand Wars,[31] Nawab Shiraj-ud-Daula's forces and British East India Company mutineers in the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857,[33] the Boers in the First and Second Boer Wars,[33] Irish Fenians in Canada during the Fenian raids[34] and Irish separatists in the Anglo-Irish War.[29] The vastly increasing demands of imperial expansion, and the inadequacies and inefficiencies of the underfunded, post-Napoleonic Wars British Army, and of the Militia, Yeomanry, and Volunteer Force, led to the Cardwell and Childers Reforms of the late 19th century, which gave the British Army its modern shape, and redefined its regimental system.[43] The Haldane Reforms of 1907 formally created the Territorial Force as the Army's volunteer reserve component by merging and reorganising the Volunteer Force, Militia, and Yeomanry.[44]

World Wars (1914–1945)

British Mark I tank during the First World War. Note the guidance wheels behind the main body which were later scrapped as they were unnecessary. Armoured vehicles of this time still required much infantry and artillery support and still do to a lesser extent today. The photo was taken by Ernest Brooks.

Great Britain's dominance of the world had been challenged by numerous other powers; in the 20th century, most notably Germany. A century before, it was still vying with Napoleonic France for pre-eminence in Europe and around the world, and Hannoverian Britain's natural allies were the various Kingdoms and principalities of Northern Germany. By the middle of the 19th century, Britain and France were allied in preventing Russia's appropriation of the Ottoman Empire (although it was the fear of French invasion that led, shortly after, to the creation of the Volunteer Force). By the first decade of the 20th century, however, the United Kingdom was allied with France (by the Entente Cordiale) and Russia (which had its own secret agreement with France of mutual support in any war against the Prussian-led German Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.)[45]

When the First World War broke out in August 1914, the British Army sent the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), consisting mainly of Regular Army troops, to France and Belgium to prevent Germany from occupying these countries.[46] The fighting bogged down into static trench warfare that lasted for the remainer of the war. In 1915 the British Army created the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force to invade the Ottoman Empire via Gallipoli, an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to capture Constantinople and secure a sea route to Russia.[47]

Infantrymen of the Middlesex Regiment with horse-drawn Lewis gun carts returning from the trenches near Albert, France, September 1916. A line of supply lorries can be seen in the background.

The First World War was the most devastating in British military history, with nearly 800,000 men killed and over 2 million wounded. In the early part of the war, the professional force of the BEF was virtually destroyed and, by turns, a volunteer (and then conscript) force replaced it. Major battles included the Battle of the Somme and the Battle of Passchendaele.[48] Advances in technology saw advent of the tank,[49] with the creation of the Royal Tank Regiment, and advances in aircraft design, with the creation of the Royal Flying Corps, which were to be decisive in future battles.[50]Trench warfare dominated strategy on the Western Front for most of the war, and the use of chemical and poison gases added to the devastation.[51]

Led by their piper, men of the 7th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, part of the 46th (Highland) Brigade, advance during Operation Epsom, 26 June 1944.

The Second World War broke out in September 1939 with the German Army's invasion of Poland.[52] British assurances to the Polish led the British Empire to declare war on Germany. Again, as in the First World War, a relatively small British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was sent to France,[52] only to be hastily evacuated from Dunkirk as the German forces swept through the Low Countries and across France in May 1940.[53] The British Army was also effectively defeated by the Empire of Japan in many of the far east colonies throughout 1941–42, before stopping the Japanese advance at the borders of India.

From 1942, after the USA and USSR became involved in the war and the British Army had recovered from its earlier defeats, it went on to have notable success against the axis powers. Notably defeating the Germans and Italians at the Battle of El Alamein in North Africa in 1942–1943 and helping to drive them from Africa. It then fought through Italy[54] and, with the help of American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, Indian and Free French forces.,[55] took part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944, where nearly half the Allied soldiers were British.[56] In the Far East, the British Army successively rallied against the Japanese in the Burma Campaign and regained the Far East colonial possessions.[57]

Postcolonial era (1945–1990)

After the end of the Second World War, the British Army was significantly reduced in size, although National Service continued until 1960.[58] This period saw the process of decolonisation commence with the partition and independence of India and Pakistan, followed by the independence of British colonies in Africa and Asia. Although the British army faced major actions in Korea in the early 1950s[58] and Suez in 1956,[59] in general this period saw Britain taking a reduced role in world events and a downsizing of the British Army.[60] A large part of the British Army, known as the British Army of the Rhine, consisting of I (BR) Corps remained in Germany, facing the threat of Soviet invasion.[61] As the Cold War progressed there were significant technological advances in warfare and the Army saw more technologically advanced weapons systems come into service.[62] Despite the decline of the British Empire, the Army was still deployed around the world, fighting wars in Aden,[63] Indonesia, Cyprus,[63] Kenya[63] and Malaya.[64] In 1982 the British Army, alongside the Royal Marines, helped to liberate the Falkland Islands during the Falklands conflict against Argentina, after Argentina's invasion of the British territory.[65]

In the three decades following 1969, the Army was heavily deployed in Northern Ireland, to support the Royal Ulster Constabulary (later the Police Service of Northern Ireland) in their conflict with republican paramilitary groups, called Operation Banner.[66] The locally recruited Ulster Defence Regiment was formed, later becoming home service battalions in the Royal Irish Regiment in 1992, before being disbanded in 2006. Over 700 soldiers were killed during the Troubles. Following the IRA ceasefires between 1994 and 1996 and since 1997, demilitarisation has taken place as part of the peace process, reducing the military presence.[67] On 25 June 2007, the Second Battalion Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment vacated the Army complex at Bessbrook Mill in Armagh, bringing to an end the longest British Army operation.[68]

Recent history (1991–2014)

Although the ending of the Cold War saw a significant cut in manpower, the British Army has continued to operate in a global role, notably in the:

Persian Gulf War

Main articles: Gulf War and Operation Granby
Wrecked and abandoned vehicles along Highway of Death.

The British Army contributed 50,000 troops to the coalition force that fought Iraq in the Persian Gulf War,[69] where British forces were put in control of Kuwait after its liberation. 47 British Military personnel died during the Persian Gulf War.[70]

Balkans conflicts

Main article: Yugoslav wars

The British Army was deployed to Yugoslavia in 1992; initially this force formed part of the United Nations Protection Force,[71] but in 1995 command was transferred to IFOR and then to SFOR,[72] rising to a commitment of over 10,000 troops. In 1999 British forces under the command of SFOR were sent to Kosovo, rising to a commitment of 19,000.[73] Between early 1993 and June 2010, 72 British military personnel died on operations in the former Yugoslavian countries of Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia.[74]

War in Afghanistan

In November 2001 the United Kingdom, as a part of Operation Enduring Freedom with the United States, invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban.[75] The 3rd Division were deployed in Kabul, to assist in the liberation of the troubled capital and to defeat Taliban forces in the mountainous terrain. From 2006 the British Army concentrated on fighting Taliban forces and bringing security to Helmand province (known as Operation Herrick), with around 9,500 British troops (including marines, airmen and sailors) deployed at its peak,[76] making it the second largest force after the United States.[77] In December 2012, the prime minister, David Cameron, announced that the combat mission would end in 2014 and troop numbers gradually fell as the Afghan National Army took over the brunt of the fighting. Between 2001 and 26 April 2014 a total of 453 British military personnel died on operations in Afghanistan.[78] Operation Herrick officially ended with the handover of Camp Bastion on 26 October 2014.[79] The British Army currently maintains a deployment in Afghanistan as part of Operation Toral.[80]

Iraq War

Main articles: Iraq War and Operation Telic
British soldiers from 1st Battalion, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers Battlegroup engage Iraqi positions with mortars south of Basra.

In 2003 the United Kingdom was a major contributor to the invasion of Iraq, sending a force of over 46,000 military personnel.The British Army controlled the southern regions of Iraq and maintained a peace-keeping presence in the city of Basra.[81] All British troops were fully withdrawn from Iraq by 30 April 2009 after the Iraqi government refused to extend their mandate.[82] 179 British Military personnel died on operations in Iraq.[74] British Armed Forces returned to Iraq in 2014 as part of Operation Shader to counter the threat of ISIL.[83]

The Troubles

Main article: Operation Banner

Although there have been permanent garrisons in Northern Ireland throughout its history, the British Army was deployed as a peacekeeping force between 1969 and 2007 under the code-name Operation Banner. Initially this was in the wake of Unionist attacks on Nationalist communities in Derry[84] and Belfast[85] and to prevent further Loyalist attacks on Catholic communities but later developed into support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and its successor, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) against the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA).[86] Under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement there was a gradual reduction in the number of soldiers deployed [87] and in 2005, after the PIRA announced an end to its armed conflict in Northern Ireland, the British Army dismantled posts, withdrew many troops and restored troop levels to that of a peace-time garrison.[88]

Operation Banner ended at midnight on 31 July 2007, bringing to an end some 38 years of continuous deployment, making it the longest in the British Army's history.[89] An internal British Army document released in 2007 stated that the British Army had failed to defeat the IRA but had made it impossible for them to win through the use of violence. Operation Helvetic replaced Operation Banner in 2007 maintaining fewer servicemen in a much more benign environment.[89][90] From 1971 to 1997 a total of 763 British military personnel were killed during the Troubles.[91] Some 300 deaths during the conflict were attributed to the British Army, including paramilitary and civilians.[92]

Modern British Army


Troopers of the Blues and Royals.

The British Army has been purely a professional force since National service came to an end in the 1960s.[58] Since the creation of the part-time reservist Territorial Force in 1908 (renamed the Army Reserve in 2014) the full-time component of the British Army has been known as the Regular Army. The size and structure of the British Army continues to evolve and accordingly the Ministry of Defence publishes monthly reports on personnel. Figures for December 2016 show; 83,360 trained Regulars, 2,850 Gurkhas and 26,300 trained Army Reservists.[93]

The future transformation of the British Army is referred to as "Army 2020", which is the result of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review. According to the Ministry of Defence, Army 2020 will "ensure that the British Army remains the most capable Army in its class" and enable "it to better meet the security challenges of the 2020s and beyond".[94] Initially, the SDSR outlined a reduction of the Regular British Army by 7,000 to a trained strength of 95,000 personnel by 2015.[94] However, following a further independent review on the future structure of the British Army, "Future Reserves 2020",[95] it was announced that the Regular Army will be reduced to a trained strength of 82,000 while the Army Reserve will be increased to a trained strength of around 30,000 personnel[96] and this reform will bring the ratio of regular and part-time personnel of the British Army in line with US and Canadian allies and see them fully integrated with the Regular Army.[97]

In addition to the active elements of the British Army (Regular and Army Reserve), all ex-Regular Army personnel remain liable to be recalled for duty in a time of need, this is known as the Regular Reserve.[98] The Regular Reserve is separated into two categories: A and D. Category A is mandatory, with the length of time serving in category A depending on time spent in Regular service. Category D is voluntary and consists of personnel who are no-longer required to serve in category A. Regular Reserves in both category A and D serve under a fixed-term reserve contract and are liable to report for training or service overseas and at home,[98] much in the manner of the Army Reserve.[99][98] In 2007 there were 121,800 Regular Reserves of the British Army, of which, 33,760 served in categories A and D.[100] Publications since April 2013 no longer report the entire strength of the Regular Reserve, instead they only give a figure for the Regular Reserves serving in categories A and D only. They had a reported strength of 30,000 personnel in 2015.[4]

The table below shows historical personnel trends of the British Army from 1710 to 2010. The Army Reserve – or Territorial Army, as it was known then – did not come into existence until 1908.

Strength of British Army
Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
(1921– Present)
Year Regular Army Year Regular Army Year Regular Army Army Reserve Total
1710 70,000 1810 226,000 1921 Interwar period
1720 20,000 1820 114,000 1930
1730 20,000 1830 106,000 1945B 3,120,000 incld. in regular 3,120,000
1740 55,000 1840 130,000 1950 364,000 83,000 447,000
1750 27,000 1850 151,000 1960C 258,000 120,000 387,000
1760 87,000 1860 215,000 1970 176,000 80,000 256,000
1770 48,000 1870 185,000 1980 159,000 63,000 222,000
1780 79,000 1880 165,000 1990D 153,000 73,000 226,000
1790 84,000 1890 210,000 2000 110,000 45,000 155,000
1800 163,000 1900 275,000 2010 113,000 29,000 142,000
1918A 3,820,000 2015 83,360 29,603 112,990

Notes: 1710–1900,[101] 1918 & 1945,[102] 1920,[103] 1930,[104] 1950,[105][106] 1960,[105][107] 1970,[108] 1980–2000,[109] 2010,[110][111] 2015[93]

Modern Equipment


The basic infantry weapon of the British Army is the L85A2 assault rifle, sometimes equipped with an L17A2 underbarrel grenade launcher or other attachments using the Picatinny rail. The rifle has several variants, including the L86A2, the Light Support Weapon (LSW), and the L22A2 carbine issued to tank crews. These weapons are usually equipped with iron sights or an optical SUSAT, although in recent years several optical sights have been purchased to supplement these.[112]

Support fire is provided by the FN Minimi light machine gun and the L7 General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG);[113] whilst indirect fire is provided by 81 mm mortars. The L129A1 Sharpshooter Rifle was brought into service during the War in Afghanistan and to provide the Infantry with a long-range weapon;[114] in addition, dedicated Sniper rifles used include the L118A1 7.62 mm, the L115A3 and the AW50F, all produced by Accuracy International.[115] Additionally, in times of need, other weapons may be temporarily adopted such as the L128A1 (Benelli M4) 'combat shotgun'.[116][117]


The British Army's main battle tank is the Challenger 2.[118][119] This is supported by the Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle as the primary armoured personnel carrier,[120] the many variants of the Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (tracked) and the FV430 series, which had its engines and armour upgraded as the Bulldog.[121] Light armoured units will often utilise the Supacat "Jackal" MWMIK and Coyote in a reccosiance and fire support role.[122]


The Army uses three main artillery systems: the Multi Launch Rocket System (MLRS), the AS-90 and L118 Light Gun.[123] The MLRS was first used operationally in Operation Granby and has a range of 85 km.[124] The AS-90 is a 155 mm self-propelled armoured gun with a range of 24 km.[125] The L118 Light Gun is a 105 mm towed gun used in support of 16 Air Assault Brigade, 3 Commando Brigade (Royal Marines) and the Adaptive Force.[126] For acquiring enemy artillery targets the Army operates several weapon locators, such as the MAMBA Radar and also utilises Artillery sound ranging.[127] For Air Defence the Army uses the Short-Range Air Defence (SHORAD) Rapier FSC Missile System, which has been widely deployed since the Falklands War,[128] and the Very Short-Range Air Defence (VSHORAD) Starstreak HVM (High Velocity Missile), which is either launched by a single soldier or from a vehicle-mounted launcher.[129]

Protected Mobility

For environments where armour is either not required or mobility and speed are favoured the British Army utilises Protected Patrol Vehicles such as the Panther variant of the Iveco LMV and variants of the Cougar family such as the Foxhound, Ridgeback, Husky & Mastiff.[130] For day to day utility work the British Army commonly uses the Land Rover Wolf which is based on the Land Rover Defender.[131]


Specialist engineering vehicles include bomb disposal robots and the modern variants of the Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers, including the Titan bridge-layer, Trojan combat engineer vehicle, Terrier Armoured Digger and Python Minefield Breaching System.[132]


Day to day utility work is undertaken by a series of Support Vehicles, including 6, 9 & 15 tonne trucks (often referred to as 'Bedfords' after a historic utility vehicle), Heavy Equipment Transporters (HET), close support tankers, quad bikes and ambulances.[133][134]


Tactical communication is conducted using the Bowman radio system, whilst Operational or Strategic communication comes under the control of the Royal Corps of Signals.[135]

Army Aviation

The Army Air Corps (AAC) provides direct aviation support for the Army, although the RAF also contributes by providing support helicopters. The primary attack helicopter is the Westland WAH-64 Apache, a licence-built, modified version of the US AH-64 Apache, which replaced the Westland Lynx AH7 in the anti-tank role.[136] Other helicopters include the Westland Gazelle as a light surveillance aircraft,[137] the Bell 212 for support in specific Jungle / 'hot and high' environments[138] and the AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat as a dedicated ISTAR platform.[139] The Eurocopter AS 365N Dauphin is used for Special Operations Aviation[140] and the Britten-Norman Islander is a light fixed-wing aircraft used for airborne reconnaissance and command and control.[141] The British Army operates two Unmanned aerial vehicles in a survellience role, the small Lockheed Martin Desert Hawk III and the larger Thales Watchkeeper WK450.[142][143]

Current deployments

Low intensity operations

Location Date Details
Afghanistan 2015 Operation Toral: The British Army maintains a deployment of 500 personnel in support of NATO's Resolute Support Mission.[144]
Iraq 2014 Operation Shader: The British Army currently has personnel stationed in Iraq as part of the ongoing military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levent (ISIL). Primarily these are there to assist in the training of the Iraqi Security Forces.[145] Along with other elements of the British Armed Forces there are 275 personnel in theatre as of 2016.[146]
Cyprus 1964 Operation TOSCA: There are 275 troops personnel deployed as part of UNFICYP as of 2016.[146]
Sierra Leone 1999 International Military Assistance Training Team: The British Army were deployed to Sierra Leone for Operation Palliser in 1999 to aid the government in quelling violent uprisings by militiamen, under United Nations resolutions. Troops remain in the region to provide military support and training to the Sierra Leonean government. British Troops also provided support during the 2014 West African Ebola virus epidemic.[147]
Baltic States 2017 Very High Readiness Joint Task Force: The British Army will deploy up to 800 troops in 2017 as part of its commitment to NATO in order to counter perceived Russian aggression against the Baltic states.[148][149]

Permanent overseas postings

Location Date Details
Belize 1949 British Army Training and Support Unit Belize: British troops were based in Belize from 1949 until 1994. Belize's neighbour, Guatemala, claimed the territory and there were numerous border disputes. At the request of the Belizean government, British troops remained in Belize after independence in 1981 to provide a defence force.[150] The main training unit was meant to be mothballed following the Strategic Defence and Security Review,[151] however as of 2015 it continues to be in use.[152]
Bermuda 1701 Royal Bermuda Regiment: British troops have been based in Bermuda since 1701.[153] Home defence in this overseas territory is now carried out by the Royal Bermuda Regiment.[154]
Brunei 1962 British Forces Brunei: One battalion from the Royal Gurkha Rifles, British Garrison, Training Team Brunei (TTB) and 7 Flight AAC. A Gurkha battalion has been maintained in Brunei since the Brunei Revolt in 1962 at the request of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin III. The Training Team Brunei (TTB) is the Army's jungle warfare school, while the small number of garrison troops support the battalion. 7 Flight AAC provides helicopter support to both the Gurkha battalion and the TTB.[155]
Canada 1972 British Army Training Unit Suffield: A training centre in the Alberta prairie which is provided for the use of British Army and Canadian Forces under agreement with the government of Canada. British forces conduct regular, major armoured training exercises here every year, with helicopter support provided by 29 (BATUS) Flight AAC.[156][157]
Cyprus 1960 Part of British Forces Cyprus: Two resident infantry battalions, Royal Engineers, 16 Flight AAC and Joint Service Signals Unit at Ayios Nikolaos as a part of British Forces Cyprus. The UK retains two Sovereign Base Areas on Cyprus after the rest of the island's independence. The bases serve as forward bases for deployments in the Middle East. Principal facilities are Alexander Barracks at Dhekelia and Salamanca Barracks at Episkopi.[158]
Falkland Islands 1982 Part of British Forces South Atlantic Islands: British Army contribution consists of an infantry company group and an Engineer Squadron. Previously a platoon-sized Royal Marines Naval Party acted as the military presence. After the war in 1982 between Argentina and the UK, the garrison was enlarged and bolstered with a base at RAF Mount Pleasant on East Falkland.[159]
Germany 1945–2020 Part of British Forces Germany: Home of 1st (UK) Armoured Division. British forces remained in Germany after the end of the Second World War. Forces declined considerably after the end of the Cold War, and in October 2010 the prime minister, David Cameron, announced large cuts in defence with all UK troops currently in Germany to leave by 2020.[160]
Gibraltar 1704 Part of British Forces Gibraltar: British Army garrison is provided by an indigenous regiment, the Royal Gibraltar Regiment.[161]
Kenya 2010 British Army Training Unit Kenya: The Army has a training centre in Kenya, under agreement with the Kenyan government. It provides training facilities for three infantry battalions per year[162]

Formation and structure

The structure of the British Army is broadly similar to that of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, with a single command based at Andover known as "Army Headquarters". As the top-level budget holder, this organisation is responsible for providing forces at operational readiness for employment by the Permanent Joint Headquarters.[10]

The command structure is hierarchical with divisions and brigades controlling groupings of units from an administrative perspective. Major Units are regiment or battalion-sized with minor units being either company sized sub-units or platoons. All units within the service are either Regular (full-time) or Army Reserve (part-time).[10]

Naming conventions of units differ for traditional British historical reasons, creating a significant opportunity for confusion; notably the term Battalion in the infantry is synonymous with a cavalry/artillery/engineer Regiment, and the infantry Company is synonymous with an engineer or cavalry Squadron and an artillery Battery. The table below highlights how units of different sizes are named differently:[163]

Infantry Cavalry Artillery Engineers

(2 or more Battalions grouped

for administration)

No Equivalent No Equivalent No Equivalent
Battalion Regiment Regiment Regiment
Company Squadron Battery Squadron
Platoon Troop Troop Troop

Further adding to the naming confusion is the tendency for units, again for historical reasons, to mis-use titles for larger administrative structures. For example, the Royal Artillery comprises 13 Regular Regiments (equivalent to infantry battalions), yet also calls itself the 'Royal Regiment of Artillery' when referring to all these units as a whole. Similarly the Royal Logistic Corps and Intelligence Corps are not of Corps size, but rather consist of multiple Battalions/Regiments.[10]

Operational structure

The field forces of the British Army after the Army 2020 Refine reforms are organised, in garrison, as:

  • Reaction forces comprising a modified 16 Air Assault Brigade and an armoured division (3rd Division (United Kingdom) of three armoured infantry brigades (1st, 12th and 20th Armoured Infantry Brigades). From 2020 this division will re-organise and comprise two Armoured Infantry Brigades and two Strike Brigades.[164][165]
  • Adaptive forces comprising of 1st (United Kingdom) Division which comprises seven infantry brigades. From 2020 the adaptive force will will alter in structure and comprise of Specialised Infantry Battalions that will become experts in Train, Advise, Assist, Mentor and Accompany operations with indigenous forces.[164][165]
  • Force Troops Command comprising nine brigades of supporting units that supplement the Reactive and Adaptive Forces.[165]
Challenger 2, Warrior, AS90, MLRS and Stormer of 1 YORKS battlegroup

For operational tasks the most common unit is the Battlegroup, which is formed around a combat unit, supported by units or sub-units from other areas. An example of a battlegroup in the Reactive Force (e.g. 1st Brigade) would be two companies of Armoured Infantry (e.g. from 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment), one squadron of heavy armour (e.g. A Squadron, Royal Tank Regiment), a company of engineers (e.g. B Company, 22 Engineer Regiment), a battery of artillery (e.g. D Battery, 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery) and then smaller attachments from medical, logistic and intelligence units; typically organised and commanded by a Battlegroup Headquarters and named after the unit that provided the most combat units (e.g. in this example it would be called the 1 Mercian Battlegroup). This creates a self-sustaining mixed formation of armour, infantry, artillery, engineers and support units, typically consisting of between 600 and 1000 soldiers under the command of a Lieutenant Colonel.[163] The structure and command of a Battlegroup is often changed to suit the environment where the unit is operating (e.g. if there is a demand for more heavy armour over armoured infantry the battlegroup is adjusted to include 2 squadrons of tanks and only 1 of infantry).

The table below demonstrates how three or four Battlegroups make up a Brigade and then three or four Brigades make up a Division. A division is currently the largest unit that the British Army is capable of deploying independably, although that Division could be grouped with three or four other divisions from a multi-national coalition to form a Corps.[163]

Type of Unit Division Brigade Battlegroup Battalion / Regiment Company / Squadron Platoon / Troop Section Fire Team
Contains 3 Brigades 3/4


Combined arms unit 4–6 Companies 3 Platoons 3 Sections 2 Fire Teams 4 Individuals
Personnel 10,000 5,000 700–1000 720 120 30 8–10 4
Commanded by Maj-Gen Brig Lt Col Lt Col Maj Capt, Lt or 2nd Lt Cpl LCpl

Special forces

The SAS Cap Badge.

The British Army contributes two of the three special forces formations within the United Kingdom Special Forces directorate: the Special Air Service Regiment and the Special Reconnaissance Regiment.[166]

The Special Air Service overall comprises one regular regiment and two Army Reserve regiments.[167] The regular regiment, 22 SAS, has its headquarters and depot located in Hereford and consists of five squadrons: A, B, D, G and Reserve with a training wing.[168] 22 SAS is supported by two reserve regiments, 21 SAS and 23 SAS (collectively, the Special Air Service (Reserve) (SAS(R))), which now come under the command of 1st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Brigade.[169]

The Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR), formed in 2005 from existing assets, undertakes close reconnaissance and special surveillance tasks.[166]

The Special Forces Support Group, which comes under the Operational Control of the Director of Special Forces, provides operational manoeuvre support to the elements of United Kingdom Special Forces.[170] It was formed around the 1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment, with attached Royal Marines and RAF Regiment assets.

Locally raised units of British Overseas Territories

Historically the British Army included many units from Commonwealth Dominion countries and as these countries gained independence the control of these armies passed to the native government (e.g. Australian Army). However, units raised in other territories, including self-governing, Crown colonies and protectorates, remain under the control of the UK Government. To this day the UK retains responsibility for the defence of all of the fourteen remaining British Overseas Territories, of which four retain locally raised Regiments:


One of the most recognisable recruiting posters of the British Army; from World War I featuring Kitchener.

The Army mainly recruits within the United Kingdom, but does accept applications from people from Commonwealth nations and occasionally from friendly nations who meet certain criteria. In 2016 the decision was made that all roles will be open to women from 2018, previously women were not permitted to join the Combat Arms.[175] The British Army is an equal opportunities employer (with some exceptions due to stringent medical standards) and does not discriminate based on race, religion or sexual orientation.[176]

The minimum recruitment age is 16 (after the end of GCSEs), although soldiers may not serve on operations below 18 years;[177] the maximum recruitment age was raised in January 2007 from 26 to 33 years. The maximum age for Army Reserve soldiers is higher. Traditionally a soldier would sign on for a term of 22 years, although recently there has been a shift towards shorter 12 year terms of service with an option to extend out to 22 years. Once enlisted a soldier is not normally permitted to leave until they have served at least four years and must give 12 months notice.[178]

Oath of allegiance

All soldiers must take an oath of allegiance upon joining the Army, a process known as attestation. Those who wish to swear by God use the following words:[8]

I, [soldier's name], swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors and that I will as in duty bound honestly and faithfully defend Her Majesty, her heirs and successors in person, crown and dignity against all enemies and will observe and obey all orders of Her Majesty, her heirs and successors and of the generals and officers set over me.[179]

Others replace the words "swear by Almighty God" with "solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm".[8] Under the reign of another monarch, the name of the monarch and all pronouns with gender are replaced appropriately.

Training establishments

New College buildings of Royal Military Academy Sandhurst

Flags and ensigns

The official flag of the Army as a whole is the Union Flag, flown in a ratio of 3:5, although a non-ceremonial flag does exist and is often used at recruiting events, military events, exhibitions and also flies from the Ministry of Defence building in Whitehall.[190] Whilst at war, the Union Flag is always used, and this flag represents the Army on The Cenotaph at Whitehall in London (the UK's memorial to its war dead).[191]

Each British Army unit has a set of flags known as the Colours—normally a Regimental Colour and a Queen's Colour (the Union Flag).

Ranks, specialisms and insignia

Main article: British Army ranks
NATO code OF-10 OF-9 OF-8 OF-7 OF-6 OF-5 OF-4 OF-3 OF-2 OF-1 OF(D) Student officer
United Kingdom United Kingdom
Field Marshal
Second Lieutenant
Officer Cadet
No equivalent
Field Marshal1 General Lieutenant-General Major-General Brigadier Colonel Lieutenant-Colonel Major Captain Lieutenant Second Lieutenant Officer Cadet
Abbreviation: FM Gen Lt Gen Maj Gen Brig Col Lt Col Maj Capt Lt 2Lt OCdt
NATO Code OR-9 OR-8 OR-7 OR-6 OR-5 OR-4 OR-3 OR-2 OR-1
United Kingdom British Army
British Army OR-9a.svg British Army OR-9b.svg British Army OR-8a.svg British Army OR-8b.svg British Army OR-7.svg British Army OR-6.svg No Equivalent British Army OR-4.svg British Army OR-3.svg No Insignia
Warrant Officer Class 1 Warrant Officer Class 2 Staff/Colour Sergeant Sergeant Corporal Lance Corporal Private
(or equivalent)
Abbreviation: Cdr WO1 WO2 S/Sgt /
Sgt Cpl /
Bdr /L/Sgt
L/Cpl /

Every regiment and corps has its own distinctive insignia, such as cap badge, beret, tactical recognition flash and stable belt. Many units also call soldiers of different ranks by different names (e.g. a NATO OR-1 (Private) is called a Guardsman in Guards Regiments, a Gunner in Artillery units and a Sapper in Engineer units). These names make no different to the pay or role that the soldier undertakes.[192]


Further information: Uniforms of the British Army

The uniform of the British Army currently exists in sixteen categories ranging from ceremonial uniforms to combat dress to evening wear.

The day-to-day uniform is No. 8 Dress and is known as Personal Clothing System – Combat Uniform (PCS-CU).[193] It is based around a Multi-Terrain Pattern (MTP) windproof smock, a lightweight jacket and trousers with a range of ancillaries such as thermals and waterproofs.[194] In recent years, the British army has introduced Tactical Recognition Flashes (TRFs) – worn on the right arm of a combat uniform, this distinctive insignia denotes the wearer's regiment or corps.[195]

Working headress is normally worn, which is typically a beret. The colour of the beret usually shows what type of regiment the wearer is from. The colours are as follows:[196]

In addition to the working dress the British Army has a number of parade uniforms that are used for both ceremonial and non-ceremonial occasions. The most commonly seen uniforms are No.1 Dress (full ceremonial – seen at formal occasions such as at the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace) and No.2 Dress (Service Dress) which is a smart brown design seen at non-ceremonial parades.[194]

See also


  1. ^ English/Scottish parliamentary control 1689, British parliamentary control 1707.[3]
  2. ^
  3. ^ Figure current as of 1 Dec 2016. Does not include the 2,850 strong Brigade of Gurkhas.
  4. ^ Figure is current as of 1 April 2015. Only Regular Reserves serving under a fixed-term reserve contract are counted. .[4]
  5. ^ Figure current as of 1 Dec 2016.
  6. ^


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  4. ^ a b MoD – reserves and cadet strengths, table 1a-page 10. 1 April 2015.
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External links

  • British Army Website
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