United Kingdom 1930 - 1938
With the end of the First World War (then known as the Great War), the British Army returned to a peacetime establishment. Conscripts were released back into society, with the Regular Army returning as a small, professional army, tasked with policing the empire. Several cavalry regiments were merged in the period of 1920 to 1923, with reductions made in the number of infantry battalions during this period. The creation of the Irish Free State in 1922 resulted in five infantry regiments disappearing from the establishment of the British Army. The Territorial Army was reformed in 1920, its purpose being to reinforce the Regular Army at times of crisis.
The 1930’s were a time of economic restraint, and the finance available to the British Army was limited. The British Government’s policy was to maintain a small, regular (ie, full time or professional) army, supported by a larger territorial (part-time) army that could be mobilised at times of crisis. There was also a small Militia, mainly comprising recently retired regular army personnel. The main purpose of the British Army was to police the British Empire, in particular India, whilst maintaining a small corps in the United Kingdom able to be deployed to trouble-spots as and when required. The British Government relied on the concept that there would be at least ten years of increasing tension before a major war, during which time rearmament could take place. In the end, there was less than two years to prepare for the Second World War.
By 1930, the establishment of the British and Indian Armies had settled down. In the United Kingdom, there were five Commands, and two Districts. Based in the U.K. were five Regular Army infantry divisions, The 1 Infantry Division and 2 Infantry Division were up to strength and based at Aldershot. These formed the ‘Spearhead Corps’ available for deployment to meet the needs of the United Kingdom foreign policy. The 3 Infantry Division was based in Southern Command, the 4 Infantry Division in Eastern Command, and the 5 Infantry Division was stationed in Northern Command. There were some cavalry regiments and a few tank regiments, but mechanisation had only tentatively commenced by 1930. The Regular Army anti-aircraft artillery comprised two brigades only.
The main strength of the British Army was to be found in the fourteen Territorial Army divisional formations located across the Territorial Army. There were also a few T.A. yeomanry cavalry regiments and yeomanry artillery regiments.
Rearmament began slowly in 1932 with the creation of additional T.A. anti-aircraft units, a process that accelerated in 1935 and 1936. Mechanisation of the cavalry also continued during this period, albeit slowly. The appointment of Isaac Leslie HORE-BELISHA, M.P., as Secretary of State for War on 28 May 1937 did provide the political impetus for rearmament of the British Army, but the policy of the British government was still one of appeasement. As increased funding was found for rearmament, the priority was for the development of the Air Defence of Great Britain. This was a consequence of the Spanish Civil War, and the new impact of Air Power. The decisions of British Prime Minister, Neville CHAMBERLAIN, and his National Government proved to be extremely sound, as it was during this period that the U.K. developed the Home Chain radar system, and the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire single seat fighters. It was decisions and work undertaken in in 1937 and 1938 that led to the outcome of the Battle of Britain in September 1940.
By April 1939, the outbreak of war was becoming inevitable, so full scale expansion of the British Army began. The declaration of war with Germany on 3 September 1939 found the British Army only partially ready, yet by 1944 it had developed into a large, well led, well equipped and effective fighting force deployed across the world. The cost, however, in terms of those killed, wounded and taken prisoner of war was considerable, as was the financial cost to the United Kingdom economy.