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British Army

The British Army is the land armed forces branch of the British military. In contrast to the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, the British Army does not include royal in its title, because of its roots as a collection of disparate units. The British Army has taken part in campaigns throughout the world, and has a long and distinguished history in warfare. Today the Army is one of the most technologically advanced land forces in the world, and is deployed in many of the world's war zones as part of a fighting force, and in United Nations peacekeeping forces.



See main article, History of the British Army


Prior to the English Civil War in 1642, there was no standing army in England or Scotland. Troops were raised by the King when required, a development of the feudal concept of fief (in which a lord was obligated to raise a certain quota of knights, men at arms and yeomanry) under greater control of the King). After the Civil War, parliament assumed control of the Army, and standing companies based on Cromwell's New Model Army formed the concept of the first regiments. The Restoration of Charles II saw the Model Army kept as a standing force, and the King raised further regiments loyal to the Crown. On January 26th, 1661 Charles II issued the warrant that officially founded the British Army.

Bill of Rights

This period in British history saw the Union of England and Scotland into Kingdom of Great Britain. In an effort to control the powers of the monarch, Parliament passed the Bill of Rights 1689 to prevent a standing army in peacetime without the consent of Parliament. To this day, annual continuation notices are required for the British Army to remain legal. However, now the Army was under the control of Parliament, and the last King to lead his troops into battle was King George II at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743.

British Empire

From around 1692 until 1914, the United Kingdom was the dominant military and economic power in the world. The British Empire expanded in this time to include colonies and Dominions throughout the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australasia. Although the Royal Navy is widely regarded as being vital for the rise of Empire, and British dominance in the world, the British Army played an important role in colonisation. Firstly, the British Army provided garrisons for the colonies, protecting them against foreign powers, and hostile natives. Secondly, the troops also helped capture strategically important territories for the British, allowing the British Empire to expand throughout the globe.

The British Army fought American colonists in the American Revolutionary War; the Chinese in the First and Second Opium Wars; the Boers in the Boer War; and uprisings in India (the Indian Mutiny).

European Wars

Despite its increasingly global commitments, Britain's backdoor was still unstable, and many wars on the European continent were fought with various opponents. As well as foreign powers, Britain was still not politically stable at home, with uprisings to support the direct heirs of James II, who had been deposed in the Revolution of 1688. The Jacobite Risings ended at the Battle of Culloden, the last land battle on British soil.

On the continent, British foreign policy was to contain aggression by its competitor powers such as France and Spain. The territorial ambitions of the French led to the War of the Spanish Succession and the Napoleonic Wars. Russian territorial aggression led to the Crimean War.

World Wars

By 1914, the United Kingdom was no longer the world's dominant military or economic power, as Germany and the United States of America were now stronger economically, and were funding larger military expenditure. The UK was now allied with France and Russia, and when war broke out in 1914, the British Army sent an 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 over 900,000 men killed and over 2 million wounded. Major battles included the Battle of the Somme. Advances in technology saw the advent of the tank and aircraft which were to be decisive in future battles. Trench warfare dominated strategy, and the use of chemical and poison gases added to the devastation.

In 1939, World War II broke out with the German invasion of Poland. British assurances to the Polish led the British Empire to declare war on Germany, allied with France. 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 evacuations saved the entire Expeditionary Force from capture. Later, however, the British would have success, defeating the Italians and Germans at the Battle of El Alamein in North Africa, and the D-Day invasions of Normandy. In the Far East, the British Army battled the Japanese in Burma. World War II saw the British army develop its Commando units inlcluding the Special Air Services, based, in part, on the success of German *stosstruppen* in breaking tactical deadlock in the First World War.


After the end of the World War II, the British Empire declined with the independence of India, and other colonies in Africa and Asia. Accordingly the strength of the British military was reduced, in reorganisation of Britain's reduced role in world affairs. However, a large deployment of British troops remained in Germany, facing the threat of Soviet invasion. The Cold War saw massive technological advances in warfare, and the Army saw more technological advanced weapons systems installed.

Despite the decline of the British Empire, the Army was still deployed around the world, fighting in the Korean War, the Suez crisis of 1956, and colonial wars in Oman and Malaysia. In 1982 the British Army, alongside the Royal Marines helped to recapture the Falkland Islands during the Falklands War against Argentina.

From the 1960s, the British Army has been deployed in large numbers in Northern Ireland, to quell civil unrest among the population, and to prevent terrorist attacks. The Bloody Sunday incident has made the Army a target for IRA terrorists.


The ending of the Cold War saw a 40% cut in manpower, significantly reducing the size of the Army. 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 Iraq in the Gulf War. Later the Army would see service in the former Republic of Yugoslavia in the Bosnia War and the Kosovo War. In 2003, the United Kingdom was the only other major contributor to the United States led invasion of Iraq.

The Army has also been deployed in many peacekeeping operations, such as in Sierra Leone and in the war against terrorism. The SAS unit of the British Army is specifically trained for anti-terror operations, and fought in Afghanistan in 2001. A battalion of SAS troops is always present in the UK mainland to respond to terrorist attacks.

The Army today


British Army statistics
Personnel (Regular Army) 112,700
Personnel (Territorial Army) 40,000+
Main Battle Tanks 386 Challenger 2
Infantry fighting vehicles 575 Warrior
Armoured Personnel Carriers 4,000+
Artillery 400
Aircraft 290

Current Deployments

Country Dates Deployment Details
Belize 1981- British Army Training and Support Unit Belize British troops have been based in Belize since the country gained independence from the UK in 1981. Until 1994 Belize's neighbour, Guatemala claimed the territory, and British troops were based in Belize to provide a deterrent force
Bosnia 1995- 3,000 troops British troops were based in Bosnia to provide peacekeeping role under UN Security Council resolutions.
Brunei 1962 - One battalion from the Royal Gurkha Rifles and Army Air Corps flight Centre of the Army's jungle warfare school.
Canada 1972- British Army Training Unit Suffield Training centre in the Alberta prairie. Regular exercises every year.
Cyprus 1960- Two resident infantry battalions, Royal Engineers, 16 Flight Army Air Corps and Joint Service Signals Unit at Ayios Nikolaos The UK retains two Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus after the island's independence. The bases serve as forward bases for deployment in the Middle East. British forces are also deployed with UN forces.
Falkland Islands 1982- An infantry company group and a Engineers Squadron Constant occupation since 1833, except brief period in 1982 when Argentina invaded. Previously a small battalion of Royal Marines served as garrison. After 1982 the garrison was strengthened by increased Army troops.
Germany 1945- 25,000 troops, 300 Challenger tanksas part of British Forces Germany 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.
Gibraltar 1704- One infantry battalion British Army garrison is provided by an indigenous regiment, the Royal Gibraltar Regiment, which has been on the Army regular establishment since the last British regiment left in 1991.
Kenya British Army Training and Liaison Staff 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
Kosovo 1999 3,500 troops After the Kosovo War in 1999, the British Army led the NATO deployment in Kosovo to restore peace to the province. Since then, the UK has withdrawn some forces, as other nations provided troops..
Middle East 1990 20,000 troops Since the Gulf War in 1991, the UK has had a considerable military presence in the Middle East. Current deployments include the 20,000 troops in Iraq where the British control the southern section of the country around Basara, as well as support staff in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The British also regularly train in Oman.
Sierra Leone 1999 around 100 The British Army were deployed to Sierra Leone, a former British colony, 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 Leone government.

Formation and structure

See main article: Structure of the British Army The structure of the British Army is complex, due to the different origins of its various constituent parts. In terms of the nature of its servicemen, it is divided into the Regular Army (full-time professional soldiers) and the Territorial Army (part-time paid soldiers). In terms of its military structure it is divided into corps (administrative groupings by common function), and divisions and brigades (large formations, somewhat fluid in nature).

The regiment is in some respects the most important unit of the British Army. It is the largest "permanent" tactical unit in most corps, although it is only an administrative and ceremonial grouping of battalions in the infantry. Typically, a regiment or battalion consists of around 700 soldiers and is commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel. Many infantry regiments today consist of only one regular battalion, although many also contain another Territorial Army battalion.

A typical battalion or regiment follows a structure similar to the following:

Sections can be subdivided into two fire teams for tactical purposes.


The Army mainly recruits within the United Kingdom, and 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, and in the early years of the 21st century there has been a marked increase in the number of recruits from other (mostly Commonwealth) countries, who as of mid-2004 comprised approximately 7.5% of the Army's total strength. In July 2004 there were 5,620 foreign soldiers from 42 countries in the Army (not counting over 3,000 Nepalese Gurkhas). After Nepal, the nation with most citizens in the British Army is Fiji, with 1,895, followed by Jamaica with 960; soldiers also come from more prosperous countries such as Australia and South Africa.

Oath of Allegiance

All soldiers must take the Oath of Allegiance on joining the Army. Those who believe in God use the following words:

I 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. [1]

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

Flags and Ensigns

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 offical flag of the Army as a whole is the Union Flag, flown at ratio 3:5. A non-ceremonial flag also exists, which is used at recruiting events, military events and exibitions. Whilst at war, the Union Flag is always used, and this flag represents the Army on the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London (the UK's memorial to war dead). A British Army ensign also exists for vessels commanded by a commissioned officer, the Blue Ensign defaced with the Army badge. However, there are currently no commissioned vessels in the Army.

Each regiment also its own flags, known as Colours - the Regimental Colour and the Queen's Colour. There is great variation in the different regimental colours. Typically the colour has the regiment's badge in the centre.

Ranks and Insignia

External links

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