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United Kingdom 1930 – 38


The British Army has undergone regular reorganisation throughout its existence. These reorganisations have occurred in line with the then current political imperatives, and the economic situation of the United Kingdom at that time.

The shape and organisation of the British Army in the Second World War was directly related to the reforms resulting from the poor performance of the British Army in the Crimean War of 1853 – 1856, and the Indian Mutiny of 1857. A Royal Commission was established in 1858, which reported in 1862. Like many commissions, few of its recommendations were implemented, as there was significant resistance to many of the proposed changes.

The appointment in 1868 of Edward CARDWELL, as the Secretary of State for War, was the catalyst for change. He abolished flogging and other forms of corporal punishment in 1868, and the following year required self-governing colonies to raise their own armed forces. In 1870, bounty money was also abolished, and other changes to recruitment made. Also in the same year, the Army Enlistment (Short Service) Act was introduced to allow differing terms of enlistment and the formation of a Reserve.

In 1871, the major reforms of the British Army regiments commenced, with regiments being allocated to specific geographic areas for recruiting purposes. Each regiment also had their Depot in that same area. The sale of commissions was abolished, and the War Office reformed.

In 1881, the then Secretary of State for War, Hugh CHILDERS continued implementing the reforms. It was in 1881 that the system of infantry regiments was introduced that persisted until 1948 (and until very recently in modified terms). Each infantry regiment had two Regular Army infantry battalions, with the exception of some regiments that recruited from the large industrial cities, which had four Regular Army battalions. These four battalion regiments were (1939 titles used):

The Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) – until 1922;
The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers – until 1907;
The King’s Regiment (Liverpool) – until 1901;
The Royal Warwickshire Regiment – until 1907;
The Lancashire Fusiliers – until 1906;
The King’s Royal Rifle Corps – until 1922;
The Middlesex Regiment – until 1922;
The Worcestershire Regiment – until 1922;
The Manchester Regiment – until 1906;
The Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort’s Own) – until 1922.

One of the Regular Army battalions was to serve overseas whilst the other was to remain in the United Kingdom. Each regiment also had at least one Militia (or Supplementary Reserve) battalion, and at least one Territorial Force battalion converted from the former volunteer regiments in that area. It was in this format that the British Army fought the South African War and the Great War (First World War).

For further information on the CHILDERS reforms (and links to the CARDWELL reforms) of 1881 see:

The cessation of hostilities in the First World War in November 1918 did not allow an immediate reduction in the size or commitments in the British Army. There was the requirement to garrison parts of Germany, leading to the formation of the British Army of the Rhine. British troops were sent to North Russia to fight alongside the White Russians against the Bolshevik revolution from 1918 until 1920, and the Third Afghan War broke out in 1919 on the North West Frontier of India. There was also a large commitment to Ireland, where the fight for independence had commenced in 1916.

In 1922, the Irish Free State was established, and in consequence, the five British Army regiments that recruited from Southern Ireland were disbanded. These were:

The Connaught Rangers;
The Prince of Wales’s Leinster Regiment (Royal Canadians);
The Royal Dublin Fusiliers;
The Royal Irish Regiment;
Royal Munster Fusiliers.

The remaining infantry regiments with four Regular Army battalions were reduced down to two in 1922. The cavalry regiments were reorganised, with several regiments merged against their will in 1921 and 1922. The Royal Regiment of Artillery was restructured in 1924, and the Royal Corps of Signals established in 1922. All these changes took time to settle down, but, by 1930 the British Army was back to a peacetime establishment and culture.

Limited rearmament commenced in 1932 with the slow increase in the anti-aircraft artillery in the British Army, but it was not until 1936 when a more significant increase in anti-aircraft artillery began. This led to two Territorial Army divisions being converted to anti-aircraft divisions.

The appointment of Leslie HORE-BELISHA as Secretary of State for War in 1937 (replacing DUFF-COOPER) was a key factor in the development of the British Army. At the time, the policy of the U.K. Government was appeasement of Nazi Germany, but HORE-BELISHA drove through several key improvements in conditions of service, and developments in arms and services.

As is often the case with change in an organisation, there was some resistence, and HORE-BELISHA was often subject to criticism (mainly due suspicions regarding his Jewish faith). His relationship with some senior Army officers became difficult, this being exacerbated by his appointment of the relatively junior General GORT, as Chief of the Imperial General Staff, over more senior officers. In spite of his determination to modernise the British Army, HORE-BELISHA was replaced as Secretary of Sate for War in January 1940 after disagreements with GORT over the ‘pillbox affair’.

Despite some modernisation and mechanisation prior to the opening of the Second World War on the 3 September 1939 (in respect of the United Kingdom), the British Army was not fully prepared for the outbreak of hostilities. The differences in the modern warfare of 1939, as opposed to those encountered with the end of the First World War only some twenty-one years earlier, had to be learned the hard way.

For further information on Leslie HORE-BELISHA see:

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