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The British Army is the land armed forces branch of the British Armed Forces. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdoms of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britainmarker in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England and Scotland and was administered by the War Officemarker from Londonmarker. It has been managed by the Ministry of Defence since 1963.

The British Army consists of 112,990 regular soldiers (which includes 3,830 Gurkhas) plus 35,500 Territorial Army soldiers, giving it a total of around 148,000 soldiers in October 2009. The full-time element of the British Army has also been referred to as the Regular Army since the creation of the reservist Territorial Force in 1908. The British Army is deployed in many of the world's war zones as part of both Expeditionary Forces and in United Nations Peacekeeping forces. The British Army is currently deployed in Kosovo, Cyprus, Germany, Afghanistan and many other places.

In contrast to the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Air Force, the British Army does not include Royal in its title. This is because historically, British Armies were comprised of individually raised regiments and corps. Nevertheless, many of its constituent Regiments and Corps have been granted the Royal prefix and have members of the Royal Family occupying senior positions within some regiments.

The professional head of the British Army is the Chief of the General Staff, currently Sir David Richards KCB CBE DSO.


The British Army came into being with the merger of the Scottish Army and the English Army, following the unification of the two countries' parliaments and the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britainmarker in 1707. The new British Army incorporated existing English and Scottish regiments, and was controlled from Londonmarker.

From about 1763 the United Kingdom has been one of the leading military and economic powers of the world. The British Empire expanded in this time to include colonies, protectorates, and Dominions throughout the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australasia. 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 played an important role in colonisation. Typical tasks included garrisoning the colonies, capturing strategically important territories and participating in actions to pacify colonial borders, provide support to allied governments, suppress Britain's rivals, and protect against foreign powers and hostile natives.

British troops also helped capture strategically important territories, allowing their empire to expand throughout the globe. The army also involved itself in numerous wars meant 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, the American Revolutionary War, the Napoleonic Wars, the First and Second Opium Wars, the Boxer Rebellion, the New Zealand land wars, the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the First and Second Boer Wars, the Fenian raids, the Irish War of Independence, its serial interventions into Afghanistanmarker (which were meant to maintain a friendly buffer state between British India and the Russian Empiremarker), and the Crimean War (to keep the Russian Empire at a safe distance by coming to Turkey's aid).

As had its predecessor, the English Army, the British Army fought Spainmarker, Francemarker, and the Netherlandsmarker for supremacy in North America and the West Indiesmarker. With native and provincial assistance, the Army conquered New France in the Seven Years' War and subsequently suppressed a Native American uprising in Pontiac's War. The British Army suffered defeat in the American War of Independence, losing the Thirteen Colonies but holding on to Canadamarker.

The British army was heavily involved in the Napoleonic Wars in which the army served in Spainmarker, across Europe, and in North Africa. The war between the British and First French Empires stretched around the world. The British Army finally came to defeat Napoleon at one of Britain's greatest military victories at the battle of Waterloomarker.

Under Oliver Cromwell, the English Army had been active in the conquest, and the settlement, of Irelandmarker in the 1650s. The Cromwellian campaign was characterised by its uncompromising treatment of the Irish towns (most notably Droghedamarker) that had supported the Royalists during the English Civil War. It (and subsequently, the British Army) have been almost continuously involved in Ireland ever since, primarily in suppressing numerous Irish revolts and campaigns for self-determination. It was faced with the prospect of battling Anglo-Irish and Ulster Scots settlers in Ireland, who alongside their Irish countrymen had raised their own volunteer army and threatened to emulate the American colonists if their conditions (primarily concerning home rule and freedom of trade) were not met. 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.

In addition to battling the armies of other European Empires' (and of its former colonies, the United Statesmarker, in the American War of 1812,) in the battle for global supremacy, the British Army fought the Chinesemarker in the First and Second Opium Wars, and the Boxer Rebellion; Māori tribes in the first of the New Zealand Wars; Indianmarker princely forces and British East India Company mutineers in the Indian Mutiny; the Boers in the First and Second Boer Wars; Irish Fenians in Canada during the Fenian raids; and Irish separatists in the Anglo-Irish War.

Following William and Mary's accession to the throne, Englandmarker involved itself in the War of the Grand Alliance primarily to prevent a French invasion restoring Mary's father, James II. Following the 1707 union of England and Scotland, and the 1801 creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Irelandmarker, British foreign policy, on the continent, was to contain expansion by its competitor powers such as Francemarker and Spainmarker. The territorial ambitions of the French led to the War of the Spanish Succession and the Napoleonic Wars. Russian activity led to the Crimean War.

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. The Haldane Reforms of 1907, formally created the Territorial Force as the Army's volunteer reserve component.

Great Britain's dominance of the world had been challenged by numerous other powers, notably Germanymarker. The UK was allied with France (by the Entente Cordiale) and Russia, and when the First World War broke out in 1914, the British Army sent the British Expeditionary Force to France and Belgium to prevent Germany from occupying these countries. The War would be the most devastating in British military history, with near 800,000 men killed and over 2 million wounded. In the early part of the war, the professional force of the BEF was decimated and, by turns, a volunteer (and then conscripted) force replaced it. Major battles included the Battle of the Somme. Advances in technology saw advent of the tank, 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. Trench warfare dominated strategy on the Western Front, and the use of chemical and poison gases added to the devastation.

The Second World War broke out in 1939 with the German invasion of Polandmarker. British assurances to the Polish led the British Empire to declare war on Germany. Again an Expeditionary Force was sent to France, only to be hastily evacuated as the German forces swept through the Low Countries and across France in 1940. Only the Dunkirk evacuation saved the entire Expeditionary Force from capture. Later, however, the British would have spectacular success defeating the Italians and Germans at the Battle of El Alameinmarker in North Africa, and in the D-Day invasion of Normandy with the help of American, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand forces. Contrary to popular (Hollywood influenced) belief, over half of the Allied soldiers on D-day were British. In the Far East, the British army battled the Japanesemarker in Burmamarker. World War II saw the British army develop its Commando units, the Parachute Regiment and the Special Air Servicemarker (SAS). During the war the British army was one of the major fighting forces on the allied side.

After the end of World War II, the British Army was significantly reduced in size, although National Service continued until 1960. This period also saw the process of Decolonisation commence with the end of the British Raj, and the independence of other colonies in Africa and Asia. Accordingly the army's strength was further reduced, in recognition of Britain's reduced role in world affairs, outlined in the 1957 Defence White Paper. This was despite major actions in Korea in 1950 and Suez in 1956. A large force of British troops also remained in Germany, facing the threat of Sovietmarker invasion. The Cold War saw significant technological advances in warfare, the Army saw more technologically advanced weapons systems come into service.

Despite the decline of the British Empire, the Army was still deployed around the world, fighting colonial wars in Aden, Cyprus, Kenya and Malaya. In 1982 the British Army, alongside the Royal Marines, helped to recapture the Falkland Islandsmarker during the war against Argentinamarker.

In the three decades following 1969, the Army was heavily deployed in Northern Irelandmarker, to support the Royal Ulster Constabulary (later the Police Service of Northern Ireland) in their conflict with loyalist and republican paramilitary groups, called Operation Banner. The locally-recruited Ulster Defence Regiment was formed, later becoming the Royal Irish Regiment in 1992. 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 from 30,000 to 5,000 troops. On 25 June 2007, the Second Battalion Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment vacated the Army complex at Bessbrook Mill in Armagh. This is part of the 'normalisation' programme in Northern Ireland in response to the IRA's declared end to its activities.

Recent and current conflicts

Gulf War

The ending of the Cold War saw a 40% cut in manpower, as outlined in the Options for Change review. Despite this, the Army has been deployed in an increasingly global role. In 1991, the United Kingdom was the second largest contributor to the coalition force that fought Iraqmarker in the Gulf War. The nation supplied just under 50,000 personnel and was put in control of Kuwaitmarker after it was liberated.

Balkans conflicts

The British Army was deployed to Yugoslavia in 1992. Initially this force formed part of the United Nations Protection Force. In 1995 command was transferred to IFOR and then to SFOR. Currently troops are under the command of EUFOR. Over 10,000 troops were sent. In 1999 British forces under the command of SFOR were sent to Kosovomarker during the conflict there. Command was subsequently transferred to KFOR.


In 2001 the United Kingdom, as a part of Operation Enduring Freedom with the United States, invaded Afghanistanmarker to topple the Taliban. The 3rd Division Signal Regiment were deployed in Kabulmarker, to assist in the liberation of the troubled capital. The Royal Marines' 3 Commando Brigademarker (part of the Royal Navy but including a number of Army units), also swept the mountains. The British Army is today concentrating on fighting Taliban forces and bringing security to Helmand province. Approximately 8,100 British troops (including marines, airmen and sailors) are currently in Afghanistan, making it the second largest force after the US. Up to 2,000 extra British troops are likely to deploy in 2009, bringing the total up to 10,100.

Iraq War

In 2003, the United Kingdom was a major contributor to the United States-led invasion of Iraq. There was major disagreement amongst the domestic populace but the House of Commons voted for the conflict, sending 46,000 army personnel to the region, the second largest force after the US. The British Army controlled the southern regions of Iraqmarker and maintained a peace keeping presence in the city of Basramarker until their withdrawal on April 30, 2009.

Northern Ireland

The British Army was initially deployed in Northern Irelandmarker in the wake of Catholic rioting in Derrymarker and Belfastmarker and to prevent Protestant Loyalist attacks on Catholic communities, under Operation Banner between 1969 and 2007 in support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and its successor, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). There has been a steady reduction in the number of troops deployed in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998. In 2005, after the Provisional Irish Republican Army announced an end to its armed conflict in Northern Ireland, the British Army dismantled posts and withdrew many troops, and restored troop levels to that of a peace-time garrison.

Operation Banner ended at midnight on 31 July 2007, making it the longest continuous deployment in the British Army's history, lasting some thirty-eight years. An internal British Army document released in 2007 stated an expert opinion 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.

Tommy Atkins and other nicknames

A long established nickname for a British soldier has been Tommy Atkins or Tommy for short. The origins are obscure but most probably derive from a specimen army form circulated by the Adjutant-General Sir Harry Calvert to all units in 1815 where the blanks had been filled in with the particulars of a Private Thomas Atkins, No 6 Company, 23rd Regiment of Foot. German soldiers in both World Wars would usually refer to their British opponents as Tommys. Present- day British soldiers are often referred to as Toms or just Tom. Outside the services soldiers are generally known as squaddies by the British popular press. The British Army magazine Soldier has a regular cartoon strip, Tom, featuring the everyday life of a British soldier.

Another nickname which applies only to soldiers in Scottish regiments is Jocks, derived from the fact that in Scotland the common Christian name John is often changed to Jock in the vernacular.Welsh soldiers are occasionally referred to as Taffy or just Taff. This most likely only applies to those from the Taff-Ely Valley in South Wales, where a large portion of men, left unemployed from the decline of the coal industry in the area, enlisted during WW I and II. Of course it might also be a vernacular form of Dave or Davey, the patron Saint of Wales being Saint David.Irish soldiers are referred to as Paddys or Micks, this from the days when many Irish recruits had the name Patrick or Michael.

Junior officers in the army are generally known as Ruperts by the Other ranks. This nickname is believed to be derived from the children's comic book character Rupert Bear who epitomizes traditional public school values.

The term Pongo, as in "where the army goes, the pong goes", or Perce is often used by Sailors and Royal Marines to refer to soldiers. It is not considered complimentary.

Today's Army


British Army statistics
Personnel (Regular Army) 112,000
Personnel (Territorial Army) 34,000
Main Battle Tanks 446 Challenger 2
Light Tanks 325 FV107 Scimitar
Infantry fighting vehicles 789 Warrior. 305 Tempest MPV
APCs and CVRs 3,230–4,000+
Land Rover Wolf 15,000
Pinzgauer 2,000
Utility Trucks 2,300
Artillery pieces and mortars 2,896
Air Defence 337
Aircraft 300+

Current deployments

High intensity operations

Country Dates Deployment Details
Afghanistanmarker 2001– 9,500 troops British troops have been based in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion there in 2001. Currently, under Operation Herrick, the Army maintains troops in Camp Souter, Kabulmarker and a brigade on 6-monthly rotation in the southern province of Helmand, mostly based in Camp Bastion and forward operating bases. In late 2009, the resident brigade is 11 Brigade. This brigade has previously served tours in Afghanistan. In June 2008, British Defence Secretary Des Browne announced British troop numbers in Afghanistan to increase by 230 to a new high of more than 8,000 by Spring 2009.

Low intensity operations

Country Dates Deployment Details
Cyprusmarker 1960– Two resident infantry battalions, Royal Engineers, 16 Flight Army Air Corps and Joint Service Signals Unit at Ayios Nikolaos as a part of British Forces Cyprus The UK retains two Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus after the island's independence. The bases serve as forward bases for deployments in the Middle East. British forces are also deployed separately with UN peacekeeping forces on the island. Principal facilities are Alexander Barracks at Dhekelia and Salamanca Barracks at Episkopi.
Falkland Islandsmarker 1982– An infantry company group and an Engineer Squadron Previously a platoon-sized Royal Marines Naval Party acted as the military presence. After 1982 the garrison was enlarged and bolstered with an RAF base at Mount Pleasantmarker on East Falkland.
Gibraltarmarker 1704–1991 One infantry battalion, Joint Provost and Security Unit as a part of British Forces Gibraltar British Army garrison is provided by an indigenous regiment, the Royal Gibraltar Regimentmarker, which has been on the Army regular establishment since the last British battalion left in 1991.
Rest of the Middle East 1990- 3,700 troops Since the Gulf War in 1991, the UK has had a considerable military presence in the Middle East. Besides Iraq, there are also an additional 3,500 troops in Saudi Arabiamarker and Camp Beuhring, Kuwaitmarker, as well as regular training Exercises in Omanmarker.
Sierra Leonemarker 1999 About 1,000 troops The British Army were deployed to Sierra Leone, a former British colony on Operation Palliser in 1999 to aid the government in quelling violent uprisings by militiamen, under United Nations resolutions. Troops (Royal Marines) remain in the region to provide military support and training to the Sierra Leonean government.
Pakistanmarker 2009-2012 24 instructors 24 instructors from the British Army along with 6 American Army personnel will be training Pakistan’s paramilitary Frontier Corps over a period of 3 years

Permanent overseas postings

Country Dates Deployment Details
Belizemarker 1981– British Army Training and Support Unit Belize and 25 Flight Army Air Corps British troops have been based in Belizemarker since the country gained independence from the UK in 1981. Until 1994 Belize's neighbour, Guatemalamarker 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.
Bruneimarker 1962– One battalion from the Royal Gurkha Rifles, British Garrison, Training Team Brunei marker and 7 Flight Army Air Corps 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 Army Air Corps provides helicopter support to both the Gurkha battalion and the TTB.
Canadamarker 1972– British Army Training Unit Suffield and 29 Flight Army Air Corps A training centre in the Albertamarker 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.
Germanymarker 1945– 1st (UK) Armoured Division as part of British Forces Germany and 12 Flight Army Air Corps British forces remained in Germany after the end of World War II. Forces declined considerably after the end of the Cold War, although the lack of accommodation in the UK means forces will continue to be based in Germany.
Kenyamarker 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


The basic infantry weapons of the British Army are the SA80 assault rifle family, with several variants such as the L86A2, the Light Support Weapon (LSW) and the short stock variant, issued to tank crews. No sidearm is issued to infantry soldiers. However, some officers and snipers are issued with a sidearm, generally the Browning L9A1 or the Sig Sauer P226 or the Colt 1911, though a search is currently underway to find a replacement. Support fire is provided by the FN Minimi light machine gun and the L7 General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG); indirect fire by 51 and 81 mm mortars, as well as the UGL, mounted under the barrel of the SA80 rifle. Sniper rifles used include the L96A1 7.62 mm, the L115A1 and the AW50F, all produced by Accuracy International. Some units use the L82A1 .50 calibre Barrett sniper rifle.

The British Army's Armoured vehicles include Supacat "Jackal" MWMIK and the Iveco "Panther" CLV. The Challenger 2 is its main battle tank. The Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle is the primary armoured personnel carrier, although many variants of the Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance are used, as well as the Saxon APC and FV430 series now being re-engined and uparmoured and returned to front line service as Bulldog. The British Army commonly uses the Land Rover Wolf and Land Rover Defender.

The Army uses three main artillery systems; the MLRS, AS90 and L118. The MLRS (Multi Launch Rocket System) was first used operationally in Operation Granby and has a range of 70 km. The AS-90 is a 155 mm self-propelled gun. The L118 Light Gun is a 105 mm towed gun used primarily in support of 16 Air Assault Brigade, 19 Light Brigade and 3 Commando Brigade (Royal Marines).

The Rapier FSC Missile System is the Army's primary battlefield air defence system, widely deployed since the Falklands War; and the Starstreak HVM (High Velocity Missile) is a surface-to-air weapon, launched either by a single soldier or from a vehicle-mounted launcher. The Starstreak fills a similar role to the American FIM-92 Stinger

The Army Air Corps (AAC) provide direct aviation support for the Army, although the RAF also assist in this role. The primary attack helicopter is the Westland WAH-64 Apache; a license-built, modified version of the AH-64 Apache that will replace the Westland Lynx AH7 in the anti-tank role. The Westland Lynx performs several roles including tactical transport, armed escort, reconnaissance and evacuation. It was also used in the anti-armour role; it could carry eight TOW anti-tank missiles. The TOW missile system for the Lynx was withdrawn from service by the MOD in December 2005.

The Bell 212 is used as a specialist utility and transport helicopter, with a crew of two and a transport capacity of twelve troops.

The Westland Gazelle helicopter is a light helicopter, primarily used for battlefield reconnaissance and control of artillery and aircraft.

The Eurocopter AS 365N Dauphin is used for Special Operations Aviation, along with the Gazelle.

The Britten-Norman Islander is a light aircraft used for airborne reconnaissance and command.

L85A2 5.56 mm IW
L119A1 5.56 mm SFW
L1A1 12.7 mm Browning HMG
L86A2 5.56 mm LSW
L110A1 5.56 mm LMG
L9A1 Browning
L7A2 7.62 mm GPMG
L96A1 7.62 mm
L115A1 8.6 mm LRR
Armoured Fighting Vehicles (AFV)
FV4043 Challenger 2 MBT
Warrior IFV
FV102 Striker
FV103 Spartan
FV107 Scimitar
FV105 Sultan
FV4333 Stormer
FV432 "Bulldog" APC
Light Combat Vehicles
Supacat "Jackal" MWMIK
Iveco "Panther" CLV
Land Rover "Wolf" WMIK
Yamaha "Grizzly" Quad Bike
Harley Davidson MT350E Motorcycle
Artillery and Air Defence Systems
AS-90 155 mm SPG
Javelin ATGM
L118 Light Gun
Rapier FSC Missile System
Starstreak HVM
Cobra Artillery Location Radar
Apache AH.Mk.1
Gazelle AH.Mk.1 (being phased out)
Lynx AH.Mk.7 & AH.Mk.9
Bell 212
Britten-Norman Islander
Eurocopter AS 365N Dauphin
Logistics and Patrol Vehicles
Land Rover (TUL/TUM)
Ridgeback MPV
Mastiff PPV
MAN AG SX/HX series truck
Supacat ATMP
Information & Communication system, inc. UAVs
Bowman (Tri-service)
Skynet 5 (Tri-service)
MQ-9 Reaper (RAF)
Watchkeeper WK450
Desert Hawk
Landing Assault Craft
RCL Logistics Landing Craft
"Rigid Raider" Assault Boat

Formation and structure

The structure of the British Army is complex, due to the different origins of its various constituent parts. It is broadly split into the Regular Army (full-time soldiers and units) and the Territorial Army (part-time soldiers and units).

In terms of its military structure, it has two parallel organisations, one administrative and one operational.


  • Divisions administrating all military units, both Regular and TA, within a geographical area (e.g., 5 Div. based in Shrewsburymarker).


The major operational command is Headquarters Land Forces (incorporating Land Command and Headquarters Adjutant General).

Corps made up of two or more divisions (now unlikely to be deployed as a purely national formation due to the size of the British Army); e.g., the ARRCmarker.
  • Division made up of two or three brigades with an HQ element and support troops. Commanded by a Major-general.
    • Brigade made up of between three and five battalions, an HQ element and associated support troops. Commanded by a Brigadier.
      • Battalion of about 700 soldiers, made up of five companies commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel, or
      • Battlegroup. This is a mixed formation of armour, infantry, artillery, engineers and support units, and its structure is task specific. It is formed around the core of either an armoured regiment or infantry battalion, and has other units added or removed from it as necessary. A battlegroup will typically consist of between 600 and 700 soldiers under the command of a Lieutenant Colonel.

A number of elements of the British Army use alternative terms for battalion, company and platoon. These include the Royal Armoured Corps, Corps of Royal Engineers, Royal Logistic Corps, and the Royal Corps of Signals who use regiment (battalion), squadron (company) and troop (platoon). The Royal Artillery are unique in using the term regiment in place of both corps and battalion, they also replace company with battery and platoon with troop.


The British Army currently has 6 divisions with two (1st Armoured Division and 3rd Infantry Division) being deployable.

Name Headquarters Subunits
1st Armoured Division Herford, Germanymarker 3 Armoured or Mechanised Brigades.
2nd Infantry Division Craigiehallmarker, near Edinburghmarker Four regional brigades.
3rd Infantry Division Bulfordmarker, Salisburymarker Two mechanized brigades, one light brigade and one infantry brigade.
4th Infantry Division Aldershotmarker Three regional brigades.
5th Infantry Division Shrewsburymarker Three regional brigades, one air assault brigade and Colchester Garrison.
6th Infantry Division Yorkmarker Deployable divisional HQ. Created to support the UK's rotational command of HQ Regional Command (South).

Aviation components

The British Army operates alongside the Royal Air Force as part of a Joint Force, but the army also has its own Army Air Corps.

Special forces

The British Army contributes two of the three special forces formations within the United Kingdom Special Forces Command; the Special Air Servicemarker Regiment and the Special Reconnaissance Regiment.

The most famous formation is the Special Air Servicemarker Regiment. Formed in 1941, the SAS is considered the role model for many other special forces units in the world.

The SAS comprises one regular Regiment and two Territorial Army Regiments and is headquartered at Duke of York Barracks, Londonmarker.

The regular Regiment, 22 SAS, has its headquarters and depot located in Herefordmarker and consists of five squadrons: A, B, D, G and Reserve with a training wing. The regiment has battlespace roles in deep reconnaissance, target identification and indication and target destruction and denial. In its Counter Terrorism role it is seen as one of the prime anti-terrorist, hostage rescue and target capture units in the world.

The two reserve SAS Regiments; 21 SAS and 23 SAS have a more limited role, to provide depth to the UKSF group through the provision of Individual and collective augmentation to the regular component of UKSF and standalone elements up to task group (Regimental) level focused on support and influence (S&I) operations to assist conflict stabilisation.

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

Formed around 1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment, with attached Royal Marines and RAF Regiment assets, the Special Forces Support Groupmarker are under the Operational Control of Director Special Forces to provide operational manoeuvre support to the elements of United Kingdom Special Forces.


The Army mainly recruits within the United Kingdom, it normally has a recruitment target of around 25,000 soldiers per year.

Low unemployment in Britain has resulted in the Army having difficulty in meeting its target, in the early years of the 21st century there has been a marked increase in the number of recruits from other (mostly Commonwealth) countries. In 2008 Commonwealth origin volunteers comprised approximately 6.7% of the Army's total strength. In total 6,600 foreign soldiers from 42 countries were represented in the Army, not including Gurkhas. After the Gurkhas (who are from Nepal), the nation with most citizens in the British Army is Fijimarker, with 2,185, followed by Jamaicamarker and Ghanamarker with 600 each; many soldiers also come from more prosperous countries such as New Zealandmarker, South Africa and the Republic of Irelandmarker.

The Ministry of Defence is now considering capping the number of recruits from Commonwealth countries, although this will not affect the Gurkhas. If the trend continues 10% of the army will be from Commonwealth countries before 2012. The cap is being debated, as some fear the army's British character is being diluted, and employing too many could make the army seen as employing mercenaries.

The minimum recruitment age is 16 years (after the end of GCSEs), although soldiers may not serve on operations below 18 years; the maximum recruitment age was raised in January 2007 from 26 to 33 years. The normal term of engagement is 22 years, and, once enlisted, soldiers are not normally permitted to leave until they have served at least 4 years.

There has been a strong and continuing tradition of recruiting from Ireland including what is now the Republic of Irelandmarker. Almost 150,000 Irish soldiers fought in the First World War; 49,000 died. More than 60,000 Irishmen, more than from Northern Irelandmarker, also saw action in the Second World War; like their compatriots in the Great War, all were volunteers.There were more than 400 men serving from the Republic in 2003.

Oath of allegiance

All soldiers must take an oath of allegiance upon joining the Army, a process known as attestation. Those who believe in God use the following words:

Others replace the words "swear by Almighty God" with "solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm".

Training establishments

Flags and ensigns

Flag Ratio: 3:5.
The official flag of the Army.
The non-ceremonial flag of the British Army.
Sometimes the word Army in gold letters appears below the badge.

The British Army does not have its own specific ensign, unlike the Royal Navy, which uses the White Ensign, and the RAF, which uses the Royal Air Force Ensign. Instead, the Army has different flags and ensigns, for the entire army and the different regiments and corps. The official flag of the Army as a whole is the Union Flag, flown in a ratio of 3:5. A non-ceremonial flag also exists, which is used at recruiting events, military events and exhibitions. It also flies from the MOD building in Whitehall.

Whilst at war, the Union Flag is always used, and this flag represents the Army on the Cenotaphmarker in Whitehallmarker, Londonmarker (the UK's memorial to its war dead). A British Army ensign also exists for vessels commanded by a commissioned officer, the Blue Ensign defaced with the Army badge. Army Vessels are operated by the Maritime element of the Royal Logistic Corps.

Each Foot Guards and line regiment (which does not include The Rifles and Royal Gurkha Rifles (RGR)) also has its own flags, known as Colours—normally a Regimental Colour and a Queen's Colour. The design of different Regimental Colours. vary but typically the colour has the Regiment's badge in the centre. The RGR carry the Queen's Truncheon in place of Colours.

Ranks, specialisms and insignia

Abbreviation FM Gen. Lt-Gen. Maj-Gen. Brig. Col. Lt-Col. Maj. Capt. Lt. 2nd Lt.
  • 1Now an honorary or wartime rank only.

Every regiment and corps has its own distinctive insignia, such as cap badge, beret, tactical recognition flash and stable belt.

Throughout the army there are many official specialisms. They do not affect rank, but they do affect pay bands.

Band 2 Specialisms: Band 3 Specialisms:
Musician Survey Technician
Farrier Lab Technician
Driver Tank Transporter Registered General Nurse
Radar Operator Telcom Op (Special)
Meteorologist Aircraft Technician
Bomb Disposal Engineer SAS Trooper
Telcom Op (Linguist) Ammunition Technician
Operator Special Intelligence
Construction Materials Technician
Driver Specialist
Armoured Engineer

Royal Navy and RAF ground units

The other armed services have their own infantry units which are not part of the British Army. The Royal Marines are amphibious light infantry forming part of the Royal Navy, and the Royal Air Force has the RAF Regiment used for airfield defence, force protection duties and Forward Air Control.

Overseas territories military units

Numerous military units were raised historically in British territories, including self-governing and Crown colonies, and protectorates. Few of these have appeared on the Army List, and their relationship to the British Army has been ambiguous. Whereas Dominions, such as Canada and Australia, raised their own armies, the defence of Crown possessions (like the Channel Islands), and colonies (now called Overseas Territories) was, and is, the responsibility of the UK (due to their status as territories of Britain, not British protectorates). All military forces of overseas territories are, therefore, under the direct command of the UK Government, via the local Governor and Commander-In-Chief.

Many of the units in colonies, or former colonies, were also actually formed at the behest of the UK Government as it sought to reduce the deployment of the British Army on garrison duties around the world at the latter end of the 19th century. Today, three overseas territories retain locally-raised military units, Bermudamarker, Gibraltarmarker, and the Falkland Islandsmarker. The units are patterned on the British Army, are subject to review by the Ministry of Defence, and are ultimately under the control of the British government, not the local governments of the territories (though day-to-day control may be delegated to Ministers of the territorial governments). Despite this, the units may have no tasking or funding from the MOD, and are generally raised under acts of the territorial assemblies.

See also


  1. UK Armed Forces: Full Time Strengths and Requirements at 1 June 2009, Numbers in article to nearest hundred for readability.
  2. Bloomfield, K Stormont in Crisis (Belfast 1994) p 114
  3. PRONI: Cabinet conclusions file CAB/4/1460
  4. See "Inside the British Army" by Antony Beevor ISBN 071134658
  5. Armed
  10. ‘Ian's death brought people together' in the Daily Telegraph 19 March 2003
  12. British Army (non-ceremonial)

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