Units & Formations 1930 - 1956
During the First World War, the British Army liked to be organised in ‘fours’, with four companies to a battalion and four battalions to a brigade. By the commencement of the Second World War, the British Army operated in ‘threes’, ie, the accepted span of command was usually no less than two and no greater than four, with three as the preferred number.
Starting at the bottom, the smallest unit was the Section in infantry battalions. At the beginning of the war, this was eight men and by 1944 it had increased to ten men. A Section was usually commanded by a Corporal, although in Sections within the Parachute Regiment, a sergeant appears to have been in command.
Three sections formed a Platoon. The equivalent to a Platoon was a Troop in armoured regiments, artillery regiments and engineer companies. A Platoon or Troop was usually commanded by a Subaltern (ie, a Lieutenant or Second Lieutenant). At the beginning of the war, due to the shortage of officers, a rank of Platoon Sergeant Major (Warrant Officer Class III) was introduced to command platoons where no officer was available.
Three Platoons formed a Company, or three Troops formed a Squadron in armoured regiments or a Battery in an artillery regiment. A Company or Squadron was usually commanded by a Major, or sometimes a Captain. Most infantry battalions comprised FOUR rifle companies, as well as a support company (by 1944) and headquarter company. Three Squadrons formed an armoured regiment and three Batteries an artillery regiment in most cases.
A Battalion or Regiment was the largest unit in the British Army. It was commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel, the highest regimental rank in the Army; Colonels and above being Commands and Staff Officers. Battalions could operate independently and form ‘Battle Groups’, but the vast majority formed part of a brigade.
A Brigade was a formation which was placed in the hierarchy of command to command three battalions or three regiments, with three brigades forming a division. A brigade was the smallest formation in the British Army, as battalions and regiments were classed as units. A brigade could operate independently and comprise all arms, ie armour, infantry, artillery, engineers and signals. However, most brigades had a functional organisation and formed part of a division. A Brigade was commanded by a Brigadier.
A Division was the main formation of the British Army. Numbering between twelve-thousand and eighteen thousand men, it was larger than many small towns in the U.K. A division was an ‘All-Arms’ formation, comprising armour, infantry, artillery, engineer and signals within its establishment; although divisions did have a predominant role as either Armoured, Infantry, Anti-Aircraft or Airborne. A division was commanded by a Major General.
Above a division were the higher formations of a Corps, Army, Army Group or static Command. In operational theatres, a Corps headquarters was used to command more than two and up to five divisions. Two or more Corps formed an Army, and two or more Armies formed an Army Group. The size and composition of a static Command depended upon its location and function.