British Army Structure

In order to understand Herbert Halliday's army service an understanding of the structure of the British Army that fought during the First World War is required. This page gives a brief overview of the army's structure with a bias towards those aspects relevant to my grandfather's service.

Command Structure

By 1918 the British had five armies on the Western Front. This force was under the direction of the Commander-in-Chief who was a field marshal. Each army was commanded by a general and would normally consist of three or four corps. Each corps was commanded by a lieutenant-general and contained from two to six divisions. Divisions were commanded by major-generals and were self-contained fighting units. Divisions tended to retain their troops whereas armies and corps were purely administrative and did not hold divisions on a permanent basis.

The table below shows the command structure of the British Second Army on 17th November 1918.

British Second
Army

(17th November 1918)

II Corps 9th Infantry Division
29th Infantry Division
34th Infantry Division
41st Infantry Division
III Corps 8th Infantry Division
15th Infantry Division
55th Infantry Division
74th Infantry Division
XXII Corps 4th Infantry Division
51st Infantry Division
52nd Infantry Division
56th Infantry Division
Canadian Corps 1st Canadian Infantry Division
2nd Canadian Infantry Division
3rd Canadian Infantry Division
4th Canadian Infantry Division

Division

The British Army of 1914-1918 essentially contained two types of division - cavalry and infantry. Cavalry divisions had a strength of about 9,000 officers and men and contained four cavalry brigades and two Royal Horse Artillery Brigades. The infantry divisions had a strength of about 18,000 officers and men and generally contained three infantry brigades and four Royal Field Artillery Brigades.

Below is shown a more detailed breakdown of a British infantry division of August 1914.

Infantry Infantry Brigade Infantry Battalion
Infantry Battalion
Infantry Battalion
Infantry Battalion
Infantry Brigade Infantry Battalion
Infantry Battalion
Infantry Battalion
Infantry Battalion
Infantry Brigade Infantry Battalion
Infantry Battalion
Infantry Battalion
Infantry Battalion
Mounted Troops Cavalry Squadron  
Cyclist Company  
Royal Artillery Field Artillery Brigade Field Artillery Battery
Field Artillery Battery
Field Artillery Battery
Brigade Ammunition Column
Field Artillery Brigade Field Artillery Battery
Field Artillery Battery
Field Artillery Battery
Brigade Ammunition Column
Field Artillery Brigade Field Artillery Battery
Field Artillery Battery
Field Artillery Battery
Brigade Ammunition Column
Field Howitzer Brigade Field Howitzer Battery
Field Howitzer Battery
Field Howitzer Battery
Brigade Ammunition Column
Heavy Artillery Battery  
Heavy Artillery
Ammunition Column
 
Divisional Ammunition Column  
Royal Engineers Field Company  
Field Company  
Signal Company  
Royal Army Medical Corps Field Ambulance  
Field Ambulance  
Field Ambulance  
Royal Army Veterinary Corps Veterinary Section  
Army Service Corps Divisional Train  

Regiments of the British Army

The command and divisional structure described above applied to an army in the field. The regimental structure described below was used to supply troops into this fighting force.

Infantry Regiments

Infantry regiments were named after the area they came from (e.g. Hertfordshire regiment) and at the outbreak of the war would normally consist of two regular battalions (although some regiments had more). These were designated the 1st and 2nd battalions with the reserve battalion being numbered 3rd and the Territorial battalions numbered in sequence after this. During peace time a regiment would have one battalion serving abroad while the other stayed at home. However, due to the huge expansion of the army during the war many new battalions were formed. The New Army battalions were numbered in sequence after the Territorials but with "(service)" after their number. New Territorial battalions were given a new number before the battalion number of their first line Territorial battalion, e.g. 1/4 then 2/4 etc.

Each battalion had a strength of about 1000 officers and men and consisted of four companies each of four platoons.

Artillery

The Royal Regiment of Artillery was divided into the Royal Horse Artillery (RHA), Royal Field Artillery (RFA) and Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA). Each of these groups was further divided into brigades and batteries. Brigades were numbered and consisted of three or four batteries. Each battery had a strength of about 200 officers and men and comprised of four or six guns divided into two or three sections of two guns each. Batteries were either numbered or designated with a letter of their brigade e.g. A/50 (A battery of 50th brigade).

The RHA were attached to cavalry divisions and used 13-pdr guns. The RFA were attached to infantry divisions and used 18-pdr guns or 4.5-inch howitzers. The RGA fired 60-pdr guns in divisional heavy batteries or, under army control, 6-inch howitzers (at the outbreak of war) as part of siege batteries.

By 1918 the regiment had a strength of over half a million officers and men on the Western Front.

Non-combatant Troops

The army contained many large regiments or corps* whose purpose was to help maintain the fighting force in the field. Among them were the Royal Engineers performing a multitude of tasks including signalling, maintenance of trenches etc., the Royal Army Medical Corps responsible for all medical matters, the Army Service Corps for transport and the Army Veterinary Corps for the care of horses.

Each division would have units from these corps as would the rest of the command structure.

* Not to be confused with the corps in an army command structure.