The focus has been primarily on the western front, and the period of trench warfare, although imperial forces and extra-European campaign have also been studied. Douglas Haig has remained the focus of attention, not least because he remains a misunderstood public hate figure despite repeated analysis both of his personality and methods as a field commander. While far from faultless, both John Paul Harris and Gary Sheffield have explained the army which Haig led and the problems of command that he negotiated with greater critical balance.
A greater appreciation of the impact of the home front on processes and outcomes on the battlefield needs to be developed however, so that modern warfare can be seen in the round.
Learning to Fight : Military Innovation and Change in the British Army, 1914-1918
In two important volumes on strategic policy, David French refocused the study of strategy on the complex relationship between government departments and their ministers and competing demands on finite resources, suggesting that strategy involved a great deal more than the movement of armies and navies. Now the concepts and conclusion from this transformation of our understanding of the military effectiveness of the British army are starting to inform recent battle studies. Anglophone scholars are now applying their methodology to other armies.
The many recent monographs based on doctoral research will be supplemented by further in-depth studies as the centenaries pass. All this points towards a trans-national comparative approach based on British methodologies as the way forward for developing knowledge and understanding of the nations that went to war and the changing nature of warfare between and A series of national and international commemorative events has been announced by the British government, alongside a funded programme of local community projects.
British Army during World War I - Wikipedia
The BBC has commenced a four-year season of Great War related programming, even before the actual centenaries are upon us. The war certainly remains a living war in Britain and the centenary commemorations are starting with a bang. Whether public interests will be stimulated or quickly satiated, and whether this generates light or merely heat remains to be seen. Looking at the first wave of media-driven history, however, the opportunity for presenting up-to-date knowledge and understanding has yet to come. The media frenzy began in late , with new books on the origins and early months of the war plus a few on later aspects and on the war as whole and a wide range of original and repeated television and radio progammes: more will follow through and afterwards.
Already the centenaries are generating public controversy. It consisted of , regular troops organised in four regiments of Guards Grenadier , with 3 Battalions ; Coldstream , with 3 Battalions; Scots , with 2 Battalions; Irish with 1 Battalion ,  68 regiments of the line and the Rifle Brigade despite its name, this was an infantry regiment , 31 cavalry regiments, artillery and other support arms.
Almost half of the regular army 74 of the infantry battalions and 12 of the 31 cavalry regiments , was stationed overseas in garrisons throughout the British Empire. At the outbreak of the war, it consisted of 84 aircraft. The regular army was supported by the Territorial Force , which numbered some , men in September and, on the outbreak of war, was deployed in home defence.
The Army Reserve of retired soldiers was , strong. A Special Reservist had an initial six months full-time training and was paid the same as a regular soldier during this period; they had three or four weeks training per year thereafter.
British Military Records Online
The regulars and reserves—at least on paper—totalled a mobilised force of almost , men, although only , men were immediately available to be formed into the British Expeditionary Force BEF that was sent to the continent. This consisted of six infantry divisions and one of cavalry. Britain, therefore, began the war with six regular and fourteen territorial infantry divisions. During the war, a further six regular, 14 Territorial, 36 Kitchener's Army and six other divisions, including the Naval Division from the Royal Navy were formed.
In , each British infantry division consisted of three infantry brigades, each of four battalions, with two machine guns per battalion, 24 in the division. They also had three field artillery brigades with fifty-four pounder guns , one field howitzer brigade with eighteen 4.
The single cavalry division assigned to the BEF in consisted of 15 cavalry regiments in five brigades. They were armed with rifles, unlike their French and German counterparts, who were only armed with the shorter range carbine. The cavalry division also had a high allocation of artillery compared to foreign cavalry divisions, with 24 pounder guns organised into two brigades and two machine guns for each regiment.
When dismounted, the cavalry division was the equivalent of two weakened infantry brigades with less artillery than the infantry division. Over the course of the war, the composition of the infantry division gradually changed, and there was an increased emphasis on providing the infantry divisions with organic fire support.
By , a British division consisted of three infantry brigades, each of three battalions. Each of these battalions had 36 Lewis machine guns , making a total of such weapons in the division. Additionally, there was a divisional machine gun battalion, equipped with 64 Vickers machine guns in four companies of 16 guns. Each brigade in the division also had a mortar battery with eight Stokes Mortars. At the start of the war, there were three batteries with six guns per brigade; they then moved to four batteries with four guns per brigade, and finally in , to four batteries with six guns per brigade to economise on battery commanders.
The cavalry of the BEF represented 9. The infantry would decrease from By the end of after the battles of Mons , Le Cateau , the Aisne and Ypres , the old regular British Army had been virtually wiped out; although it managed to stop the German advance. In October , the 7th Division arrived in France, forming the basis of the British III Corps ; the cavalry had grown into its own corps of three divisions.
In August , , men had signed up to fight, and another , had joined-up by the end of September. The policy of drawing recruits from amongst the local population ensured that, when the Pals battalions suffered casualties, whole towns, villages, neighbourhoods and communities back in Britain were to suffer disproportionate losses.
With the introduction of conscription in January , no further Pals battalions were raised.
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Four months later, in May , it was extended to all men aged 18 to This legislation did not apply to Ireland, despite its then status as part of the United Kingdom but see Conscription Crisis of By January , when conscription was introduced, 2. Furthermore, although there were certainly many cases of men being sent to regiments from parts of the country other than their own, many battalions were still filled with men from their traditional local areas, the same as earlier in the war. Women also volunteered and served in a non-combatant role; by the end of the war, 80, had enlisted.
Most stayed on the Home Front, but around 9, served in France. In , no serving British officer of the British Expeditionary Force BEF had controlled a formation larger than a division on active operations. French had remarked in that Haig would be better suited to a position on the staff than a field command. His last active command had been during the Second Boer War, first as a senior staff officer in the cavalry division, then commanding a brigade-sized group of columns.
This was met with hostility by French as a cavalryman. By , French's dislike for Smith-Dorrien was well known within the army. After the failed offensive at the Battle of Loos in , French was replaced as commander of the BEF by Haig, who remained in command for the rest of the war. He became most famous for his role as its commander during the battle of the Somme , the battle of Passchendaele , and the Hundred Days Offensive , the series of victories leading to the German surrender in He held command of the Ypres salient for three years and gained an overwhelming victory over the German Army at the battle of Messines in Plumer is generally recognised as one of the most effective of the senior British commanders on the Western Front.
His leadership was noted during the retreat from Mons and the first battle of Ypres. In , he was given command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force , where he oversaw the conquest of Palestine and Syria in and He planned the highly successful evacuation of , Allied troops and the majority of the equipment of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force MEF.
The withdrawal was successfully completed in January , without the loss of a single man. General Henry Rawlinson served on Kitchener's staff during the advance on Omdurman , in , and served with distinction in the Second Boer War, where he earned a reputation as one of the most able British commanders.
General Hubert Gough commanded a mounted infantry regiment with distinction during the relief of Ladysmith , but his command was destroyed while attacking a larger Boer force in He commanded I Corps during the battle of Loos. Birdwood had previously commanded the Australian Corps , an appointment requiring a combination of tact and tactical flair. In August , there were 28, officers in the British Army, of which 12, were regular officers, the rest were in the reserves. These were survivors among the , officers who had been granted a commission during the war.
Most pre-war officers came from families with military connections, the gentry or the peerage ; a public school education was almost essential. In September , Lord Kitchener announced that he was looking for volunteers and regular NCOs to provide officers for the expanding army. Most applied for and were granted commissions, while others who did not apply were also commissioned.
Once a candidate was selected as an officer, promotion could be rapid. Smeltzer was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in , after serving in the Regular Army for 15 years. Along with rapid promotion, the war also noticeably lowered the age of battalion commanding officers.
In , they were aged over 50, while the average age for a battalion commanding officer in the BEF between and was Anthony Eden was the Adjutant of a battalion when aged 18, and served as the Brigade Major in the th Brigade while still only aged The war also provided opportunities for advancement onto the General Staff, especially in the early days, when many former senior officers were recalled from retirement. Some of these were found wanting, due to their advanced age, their unwillingness to serve, or a lack of competence and fitness; most were sent back into retirement before the first year of the war was over, leaving a gap that had to be filled by lower-ranking officers.
Nonetheless, when war broke out in August , there were barely enough graduates to staff the BEF. Four-month-long staff courses were introduced, and filled with regimental officers who, upon completing their training, were posted to various headquarters. As a result, staff work was again poor, until training and experience slowly remedied the situation.
In , staff officers who had been trained exclusively for static trench warfare were forced to adapt to the demands of semi-open warfare. During the course of the war, 78 British and Dominion officers of the rank of Brigadier-General and above were killed or died during active service, while another were wounded, gassed, or captured. British official historian Brigadier James Edward Edmonds , in , recorded that "The British Army of was the best trained, best equipped and best organized British Army ever sent to war".
Training began with individual training in winter, followed by squadron, company or battery training in spring; regimental, battalion and brigade training in summer; and division or inter-divisional exercises and army manoeuvres in late summer and autumn. The Second Boer War had alerted the army to the dangers posed by fire zones that were covered by long-range, magazine-fed rifles. The cavalry practised reconnaissance and fighting dismounted more regularly, and in January , the decision was made at the General Staff Conference that dismounted cavalry should be taught infantry tactics in attack and defence.
The infantry's marksmanship, and fire and movement techniques, had been inspired by Boer tactics and was established as formal doctrine by Colonel Charles Monro when he was in charge of the School of Musketry at Shorncliffe. In , British rifle fire was so effective that there were some reports to the effect that the Germans believed they were facing huge numbers of machine guns.
Two companies of infantry were allocated as ammunition, rations and water carriers for the gunners. Two men worked a belt—filling machine non—stop for 12 hours, keeping up a supply of round belts. They used new barrels and all of the water—including the men's drinking water and the contents of the latrine buckets—to keep the guns cool. In that hour period, the 10 guns fired just short of one million rounds between them.
One team is reported to have fired , At the close of the operation, it is alleged that every gun was working perfectly and that not one had broken down during the whole period. The lighter Lewis gun was adopted for land and aircraft use in October The Stokes Mortar was rapidly developed when it became clear that some type of weapon was needed to provide artillery-like fire support to the infantry. Finally, the Mark I tank —a British invention—was seen as the solution to the stalemate of trench warfare.
After the "race to the sea", manoeuvre warfare gave way to trench warfare , a development for which the British Army had not prepared. Expecting an offensive mobile war, the Army had not instructed the troops in defensive tactics and had failed to obtain stocks of barbed wire , hand grenades , or trench mortars. The first six waves were the fighting elements from three of the battalions' companies, the seventh contained the battalion headquarters; the remaining company formed the eighth and ninth waves, which were expected to carry equipment forward, the tenth wave contained the stretcher bearers and medics.
By , experience had led to a change in tactics; the infantry no longer advanced in rigid lines, but formed a series of flexible waves. Skirmishers formed the first wave and followed the creeping barrage into the German front line to hunt out points of resistance. The second or main wave followed in platoons or sections in single file.
The third was formed from small groups of reinforcements, the fourth wave was expected to defend the captured territory. Each platoon now had a Lewis gun section and a section that specialised in throwing hand-grenades then known as bombs , each section was compelled to provide two scouts to carry out reconnaissance duties. The tank was designed to break the deadlock of trench warfare. They were also assigned small groups of troops, who served as an escort while providing close defence against enemy attacks. On the way, 14 broke down or were ditched, another 10 were damaged by enemy fire.
In , during the battle of Cambrai , the Tank Corps adopted new tactics. Three tanks working together would advance in a triangle formation, with the two rear tanks providing cover for an infantry platoon. One section of each company would be out in front, with the remainder of the company following behind and each tank providing protection for an infantry platoon, who were instructed to advance, making use of available cover and supported by machine gun fire.
Prior to the war, the artillery worked independently and was taught to support the infantry to ensure a successful attack. By , the situation had changed; the artillery were the dominant force on the battlefield. Between and , the Royal Field Artillery had increased from 45 field brigades to field brigades,  while the heavy and siege artillery of the Royal Garrison Artillery had increased from 32 heavy and six siege batteries to heavy and siege batteries. With this increase in the number of batteries of heavier guns, the armies needed to find a more efficient method of moving the heavier guns around.
It was proving difficult to find the number of draught horses required. The War office ordered over 1, Holts caterpillar tractors , which transformed the mobility of the siege artillery. Until , artillery generally fired over open sights at visible targets, the largest unit accustomed to firing at a single target was the artillery regiment or brigade. Individual guns were aimed so that their fall of shot was coordinated with others to form a pattern; in the case of a barrage, the pattern was a line. It was useful when enemy positions had not been thoroughly reconnoitred, as it did not depend on identifying individual targets in advance.
Once the infantry had reached the German trenches, the artillery shifted from the creeping barrage to the standing barrage , a static barrage that would protect the infantry from counter-attack while they consolidated the position. A variant was the box barrage , in which three or four barrages formed a box—or more often three sides of a box—around a position to isolate and prevent reinforcements being brought up into the front line. This was normally used to protect trench raids ,  although it could also be used offensively against a German unit. Another type of barrage was the SOS barrage, fired in response to a German counterattack.
An SOS barrage could be brought down by firing a flare signal of a pre arranged colour, as a German barrage tended to cut the telephone lines. A pre-registered barrage would then descend on No Man's Land. With the introduction of the tank the artillery was no longer required to aid the infantry by destroying obstacles and machine gun positions.
Instead, the artillery assisted by neutralising the German artillery with Counter battery fire.
The Royal Engineers Signal Service, formed in , was given responsibility for communications that included signal dispatch , telegraph , telephone and later wireless communications, from army headquarters to brigade and down to battery level for the artillery. In , trench wireless sets were introduced, but the transmissions were easily intercepted by the listening Germans. Civilian telephones were used at the outset of the war, but they were found to be unreliable in the damp, muddy conditions that prevailed.
Consequently, the field telephone was designed; a device that operated with its own switchboard. Apart from voice communication, it featured a buzzer unit with a Morse code key, so that it could be used to send and receive coded messages. This facility proved useful when, in the midst of bombardment, exploding shells drowned out voice communication. The telephones were connected by lines that sustained continual damage as a result of shell fire and the movement of troops. The lines were generally buried, with redundant lines set in place to compensate for breakages.
The primary types of visual signalling were Semaphore flags , lamps and flags, lamps and lights, and the heliograph. In open warfare, visual signalling employing signal flags and the heliograph was the norm.
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A competent signaller could transmit 12 words a minute with signal flags during daylight and signal lights at night. Signal lights, which were secured in a wooden case, employed a battery-operated Morse code key. In trench warfare, operators using these methods were forced to expose themselves to enemy fire; while messages sent to the rear by signal lights could not be seen by enemy forces, replies to such messages were readily spotted, and operators were, once again, exposed to enemy fire.
During the war, the Army also trained animals for use in the trenches. Dogs carried messages; horses, mules and dogs were used to lay telephone and telegraph cables. These units were first used for aerial spotting on 13 September , but only became efficient when they perfected the use of wireless communication at Aubers Ridge on 9 May Aerial photography was attempted during , but again, it only became effective the following year. The British use of air power evolved during the war, from a reconnaissance force to a fighting force that attempted to gain command of the air above the trenches and carry out bombing raids on targets behind the line.
Given its potential for the 'devastation of enemy lands and the destruction of industrial targets and centres of population on a vast scale'. He recommended a new air service be formed that would be on a level with the Army and Royal Navy. The formation of the new service, however, would make use of the under-utilised men and machines of the Royal Naval Air Service RNAS , as well as ending the inter-service rivalries that at times had adversely affected aircraft procurement.
Planes did not carry parachutes until , though they had been available since before the war. On 1 August , the Royal Engineers consisted of 25, officers and men in the regular army and reserves; by the same date in , it had grown to a total of , Royal Engineer tunnelling companies were formed in response to the German blowing of 10 small mines in December , at Givenchy.
In July , on the first day of the battle of the Somme, what became known as the Lochnagar Crater was created by a mine at La Boisselle. Twenty-one companies were eventually formed and were employed digging subways, cable trenches, Sapping , dugouts as well as offensive or defensive mining.
They also operated the railways and inland waterways. In September , the Machine Gun Corps MGC was formed to provide heavy machine-gun teams after a proposal was made to the War Office for the formation of a single specialist machine-gun company for each infantry brigade—a goal to be achieved by withdrawing guns and gun teams from the battalions.
The intention being that they would crush the barbed wire for the infantry, then cross the trenches and exploit any breakthrough behind the German lines. Originally formed in Companies of the Heavy Branch MGC, designated A, B, C and D; each company of four sections had six tanks, three male and three female versions artillery or machine guns , with one tank held as a company reserve. Tanks were primarily used on the Western Front.
The first offensive of the war in which tanks were used en masse was the battle of Cambrai in ; tanks started the attack, and the German front collapsed. At midday the British had advanced five miles behind the German line. Some 22, men had served in the Tank Corps by the end of the war. A detachment of eight obsolescent Mark I tanks was sent to Southern Palestine in early and saw action against Turkish forces there.
From 12, men at the start of the war, the Corps increased in size to over , by November By the end of , the war on the Western Front had reached stalemate and the trench lines extended from the Belgian coast to the Swiss frontier. Soldiers were in the front or reserve line trenches for about eight days at a time, before being relieved.
There were three trenches in a typical front line sector; the fire trench, the support trench and the reserve trench, all joined by communication trenches. At the front, soldiers were in constant danger from artillery shells, mortar bombs and bullets and as the war progressed they also faced aerial attack. Other sectors were in a perpetual state of violent activity. However, quiet sectors still amassed daily casualties through snipers , artillery fire and disease. The harsh conditions, where trenches were often wet and muddy and the constant company of lice and rats which fed on unburied bodies, often carried disease.
They could also contract frostbite in the winter months and heat exhaustion in the summer. The men were frequently wet and extremely muddy, or dry and exceedingly dusty. Daily routine of life in the trenches began with the morning 'stand-to'. An hour before dawn everyone was roused and ordered to man their positions to guard against a dawn raid by the Germans. Once complete, the NCOs would assign daily chores, before the men attended to the cleaning of rifles and equipment, filling sandbags, repairing trenches or digging latrines.
Soldiers also had to take it in turns to be on sentry duty, watching for enemy movements. Each side's front line was constantly under observation by snipers and lookouts during daylight; movement was therefore restricted until after the dusk stand-to and night had fallen. A set procedure was used by a division that was moving into the front line.
Once they had been informed that they were moving forward, the brigadiers and battalion commanders would be taken to the forward areas to reconnoitre the sections of the front that were to be occupied by their troops. Detachments from the divisional artillery group would move forward and were attached to the artillery batteries of the division they were relieving. The Army was ultimately under political authority. Since the Glorious Revolution of the Crown has not been permitted a standing army in the United Kingdom — it derives its existence from the Army Act, passed by Parliament each year every five years since the late s.
The House of Commons took these responsibilities seriously: a letter from Haig clarifying the position on shell-shock had to be read out in the House of Commons on 14 March Lesser offences were dealt with by commanding officers. Field punishment FP had replaced flogging abolished at home in and on active service in , although still used in military prisons until FP No.
Striking an inferior was an offence but it was not uncommon in some units for officers to turn a blind eye to NCOs keeping discipline by violence, or even to do so themselves. Men who committed serious offences were tried by Field General Court Martial, sometimes resulting in execution.
Despite "assertions" that these were "kangaroo courts" e. The accused was entitled to object to the composition of the panel e. Eighty-nine per cent of courts martial returned a guilty verdict,  the vast majority of cases being for offences such as Absence Without Leave the most common offence , drunkenness and insubordination. Terms of imprisonment were often suspended, to discourage soldiers from committing an offence to escape the front lines, but also to give a convicted man a chance to earn a reprieve for good conduct.
Of the officers tried, 76 per cent were found guilty, the most common offence 52 per cent of cases being drunkenness. A death sentence had to be passed unanimously, and confirmed in writing by various officers as the verdict passed up the chain of command. A man's battalion and brigade commander tended to comment on his own record, but senior generals tended to be more concerned with the type of offence and the state of discipline in that unit. Of the 3, men sentenced to death,  men were actually executed, the vast majority of these for desertion, the next largest reasons for execution being murder 37 — these men would probably have been hanged under civilian law at the time and cowardice Of the 91, 40 were already under a suspended death sentence, 38 of them for desertion, and one man had already been "sentenced to death" twice for desertion.
It was felt at the time that, precisely because most soldiers in combat were afraid, an example needed to be made of men who deserted. Thirty percent were regulars or reservists, 40 percent were Kitchener volunteers, 19 percent were Irish, Canadian or New Zealand volunteers, but only nine percent were conscripts, suggesting indulgence to the conscripts, many of them under 21, who made up the bulk of the army by late in the war.
Only executed men's records survive, so it is hard to comment on the reasons why men were reprieved,  but it has been suggested that the policy of commuting 90 percent of death sentences may well have been deliberate mercy in the application of military law designed for a small regular army recruited from the rougher elements of society.
Despite remaining heavily reliant on the horse for transport and haulage, the army entered World War 1 as the most mechanised in the world, and maintained that position throughout the conflict. In our modern era of aircraft, helicopters, trucks and armoured vehicles, it is easy to forget that the humble bicycle was part of this mechanisation. As early as the s, the army began to include the bicycle in its armoury. Each had limits on speed and range, and the horse needed much by way of logistical support for its feeding and care. With a bicycle, an armed man could move relatively quickly across even poor ground and with longer range than his marching capability.
In other words, the bike brought new possibilities for the army to project its forces to where they were needed. Of these, most were established as units of infantry regiments an example being the 7th Cyclist Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment , while others were independent cyclist units, such as the Northern Cyclist Battalion.
Early in the war, a cyclist company was added to each British division. So for example, the structure of the 1st Division included the 1st Divisional Cyclist Company. These units were technically of the regular army.