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British Regimental System - 20th Century Revisions

In the twentieth century, the Infantry expanded and contracted significantly on a number of occasions. There were massive increases for Kitchener's volunteer Army and the later conscript Army of the First World War. Large reductions followed the end of the Great War, only for the whole procedure to be repeated for the Second World War. Following the Second World War, the Regiments of Infantry were almost universally reduced to a single line battalion. In 1946, these single battalions were grouped together on a regional basis around a common infantry training center. In July 1948, the decision was made to turn these regional groupings into formalized brigades, to handle centralized training for assigned units and provide a centralized supply depot.

As part of the Army Act, on 1 September 1951 all the regional brigades took on the role of corps. The biggest impact on the structure of the Infantry was that soldiers enlisting in a particular regiment could be subsequently posted to any regiment assigned to the brigade, with the brigades taking on a largely administrative function.

In 1957 infantry regiments of the line were grouped into brigades of infantry, each containing three or four regiments. Within these brigades senior officers, warrant officers and N.C.O.s were interpostable. Each brigade had one training depot for all its regiments, and the sense of identity was fostered by all ranks wearing a brigade, rather than a regimental, cap badge. There were considerable organisational advantages in the four-Battalion as compared with the three-Battalion Brigade. When, in 1957, the reorganisation was planned, it was not envisaged that this was the perfect solution.

After the end of National Service in 1960 there were further reductions. These drawdowns prompted the amalgamation of Infantry Regiments. In February 1962, John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War, invited Lieutenant-General Sir Roger Bower to be the chairman of a committee to study the implications of a move towards the large infantry regiment, and to make recommendations on the advisability, the nature and the timing of any changes. The committee consisted of very senior officers all of whom were infantry officers. The committee would not make any decisions; it would merely recommend to the Army Council.

The Army Board took a decision in 1962 to establish large regiments. Opposition to the large regiment came not from the serving soldier or from those who had recently served, but came very much more from those who were a good deal further away from active service. In November 1962 the Secretary of State for War (John Profumo) announced that he had received the Bower Committee's Report and, after considering this question very fully, he concluded that there was no requirement for any further radical reorganisation of the Infantry. Profumo decided to disperse the Forester Brigade and link the Battalions concerned with other neighboring three-Battalion Brigades. This gave ten Brigades of four-Battalions and left only three of three.

By 1963 something like 30 regiments of the line were under strength. The move towards the large regiment, the grouping of several of the old regiments, was going well in England by the late 1960s, and had been brought about voluntarily. But in the English brigades there were not many obvious distinctions and differences between regiments: only differences of cap badges, buttons, perhaps a lanyard that was all. The decision to amalgamate the Regiments of the Anglican Brigade into the Royal Anglican Regiment in 1964 created the first of the amalgamated multi-battalion Infantry Regiments, which would define the British Army into the 21st Century.

On 1 July 1968, the administrative brigades were replaced by 5 administrative divisions: Guards, Scottish, Queen's, King's, Prince of Wales's, and Light. Again, these entities were formed around a common training center. Some amalgamated Regiments remained separate from these divisions.

The Infantry experienced more downsizing as part of Options for Change after the end of the Cold War. Again regiments were amalgamated. In addition, the administraitive divisions were replaced by regional divisions, tasked with the same role. Regional brigades were again activated to provide administrative support to Infantry and other British Army units.

By the end of the century nearly half the infantry was already organised in this way and operated extremely effectively. Multi-battalion regiments allow individuals to move between battalions while at the same time maintaining the sense of regimental identity that is so critical to the Army's ethos and fighting effectiveness.




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Page last modified: 25-04-2013 17:44:05 ZULU