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A brigade is a military unit that is typically composed of two to five regiments or battalions, depending on the era and nationality of a given army. Usually, a brigade is a sub-component of a division, a larger unit consisting of two or more brigades; however, some brigades are classified as a separate brigade and operate independently from the traditional division structure. The typical NATOmarker standard brigade consists of approximately 4,000 to 5,000 troops. However, in Switzerland and Austria, the numbers could go as high as 11,000 troops.

A brigade's commanding officer is commonly a brigadier general, brigadier or colonel. In Imperial or Commonwealth forces, the brigadier was assisted by a brigade major who was chief of staff of the brigade.

In the armies of colonial powers, such as the British Empire, brigades frequently garrisoned isolated colonial posts, and their commanders had substantial discretion and local authority.


The brigade was invented as a tactical unit by the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus. It was introduced during the Thirty Years' War to overcome the lack of coordination between normal army structure consisting of regiments by appointing a senior officer. The term derives from Italian brigata as used for example in the introduction to Decameron where it refers to only to a group of ten, or Old French brigare, meaning "company" of an undefined size, which in turn derives from a Celtic root briga, which means "strife".

The so-called "brigada" was a well mixed unit, comprising infantry, cavalry and normally also artillery, designated for a special task. The size of such "brigada" was a reinforced "company" of up to two regiments. The "brigada" was the ancient form of the modern "task force".

This was copied in France by General Turenne, who made it a permanent standing unit, requiring the creation in 1667 of a permanent rank of brigadier des armées du roi (literally translating to brigadier of the armies of the king) which would in time be renamed simply Général de brigade (but would still be referred to occasionally as brigadier for short).

Individual armies

United Kingdom

In the Australian Army, the brigade has been the smallest tactical formation for more than two centuries, since regiments are either administrative groupings of battalions (in the infantry) or battalion-sized units (in the cavalry). A typical brigade may consist of approximately 5,500 personnel between two mechanised infantry battalions, an armored regiment, an armored artillery regiment, and other logistic and engineering units. The brigade is usually commanded by an officer holding the rank of Brigadier, who is referred to as the "Brigade Commander" (never the "commanding officer", which in the British Army is reserved for battalion-sized units).

In the Royal Artillery, "brigade" was also the term used for a battalion-sized unit until 1938, when "regiment" was adopted. This was because, unlike infantry battalions and cavalry regiments, which were organic, artillery units consisted of individually numbered batteries which were "brigaded" together. The commander of such a brigade was a Lieutenant-Colonel, who was referred to as the "commanding officer".


The Canadian Forces currently has 3 Regular Force Brigade Groups, known as Canadian Mechanized Brigade Groups: 1 CMBG, 2 CMBG, and 5e GBMC, the primarily French Canadian Brigade Group. These CMBGs are each composed of two mechanized infantry battalions, one light infantry battalion, one armoured regiment, one mechanized artillery regiment, one engineer regiment, one combat service and support (CSS) battalion, and one Military Police platoon. Co-located with each CMBG is a Field Ambulance, a General Service Battalion, and a Tactical Helicopter Squadron. Regular Force CMBG strengths are 5,000 personnel.Canada also has 10 Primary Reserve Brigades (Canadian Brigade Group), 31 CBG through 39 CBG, and 41 CBG. The CBG formations are for administrative purposes and, as such, are not deployable

United States

In the United States Army, a brigade is smaller than a division and roughly equal to or a little larger than a regiment. Strength typically ranges from 2,500 to 4,000 personnel. Army brigades formerly contained two or more and typically five regiments, during the American Civil War and continuing as a formation through WW 1, but this structure is now considered obsolete since an Army reorganization before WW 2. The US Army has moved to a new generic brigade combat team formation which contain combat elements and their support units, and is standard across the active US Army, US Army Reserve, and the Army National Guard.

In the United States Marine Corps, brigades are only formed for certain missions. Unlike the United States Army, the Marines have intact regimental structures. A Marine brigade is formed only for special expeditionary duty, for which it is outfitted like a smaller Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF). For example, TF TARAWA (2d MEB) during the Operation Iraqi Freedom campaign.

The Brigade Commander is usually a colonel, although a lieutenant colonel can be selected for brigade command in lieu of an available colonel. A typical tour of duty for this assignment is twenty four to thirty six months.

A brigade commander enjoys an appreciably sized headquarters and staff to assist him or her in commanding the brigade and its subordinate battalion units. The typical staff includes:

In addition, the headquarters will include additional junior staff officers, non-commissioned officers, and enlisted support personnel in the occupational specialities of the staff sections; these personnel will ordinarily be assigned to the brigade's headquarters and headquarters company.

See also



  • Nouveau Larousse illustré, undated (early 20th century), in French

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