The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdoms of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England and Scotland and was administered by the War Office from London. It has been managed by the Ministry of Defence since 1963.
As of April 2010 the British Army employs 113,970 regular soldiers (3,840 Gurkhas) and 33,130 Territorials. In addition there are 134,190 Regular Reserves of the British Army. The British Army is the second largest army in the European Union and the fourth largest in NATO . The full-time element of the British Army has also been referred to as the Regular Army since the creation of the reservist Territorial Force in 1908. The British Army is deployed in many of the world’s war zones as part of both Expeditionary Forces and in United Nations Peacekeeping forces. The British Army is currently deployed in Kosovo, Cyprus, Germany, Afghanistan and many other places.
All members of the Army swear allegiance to the monarch as commander-in-chief. However the Bill of Rights of 1689 requires Parliamentary consent for the Crown to maintain a standing army in peacetime. Parliament therefore annually approves the continued existence of the Army.
In contrast to the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Air Force, the British Army does not include Royal in its title. Many of the Army’s constituent Regiments and Corps have been granted the “Royal” prefix and have members of the Royal Family occupying senior positions within some regiments.
History of the British Army
The British Army came into being with the merger of the Scottish Army and the English Army, following the unification of the two countries’ parliaments and the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated existing English and Scottish regiments, and was controlled from London.
From about 1763, the United Kingdom has been one of the leading military and economic powers of the world. The British Empire expanded in this time to include colonies, protectorates, and Dominions throughout the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australasia. Although the Royal Navy is widely regarded as having been vital for the rise of the British Empire, and British dominance of the world, the British Army played an important role in the colonisation of India and other regions. Typical tasks included garrisoning the colonies, capturing strategically important territories, and participating in actions to pacify colonial borders, provide support to allied governments, suppress Britain’s rivals, and protect against foreign powers and hostile natives.
British troops also helped capture strategically important territories, allowing their empire to expand throughout the globe. The army also involved itself in numerous wars meant to pacify the borders, or to prop-up friendly governments, and thereby keep other, competitive, empires away from the British Empire’s borders. Among these actions were the Seven Years’ War, the American Revolutionary War, the Napoleonic Wars, the First and Second Opium Wars, the Boxer Rebellion, the New Zealand land wars, the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, the First and Second Boer Wars, the Fenian raids, the Irish War of Independence, its serial interventions into Afghanistan (which were meant to maintain a friendly buffer state between British India and the Russian Empire), and the Crimean War (to keep the Russian Empire at a safe distance by coming to Turkey’s aid).
As had its predecessor, the English Army, the British Army fought Spain, France, and the Netherlands for supremacy in North America and the West Indies. With native and provincial assistance, the Army conquered New France in the Seven Years’ War and subsequently suppressed a Native American uprising in Pontiac’s War. The British Army suffered defeat in the American War of Independence, losing the Thirteen Colonies but holding on to Canada.
The British army was heavily involved in the Napoleonic Wars in which the army served in multiple campaigns across Europe, the Caribbean, North Africa and later in North America. The war between the British and the First French Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte stretched around the world and at its peak, in 1813, the regular army contained over 250,000 men. A British Army under the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleons last campaign at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
Under Oliver Cromwell, the English Army had been active in the conquest, and the settlement, of Ireland in the 1650s. The Cromwellian campaign was characterised by its uncompromising treatment of the Irish towns that had supported the Royalists during the English Civil War. It have been almost continuously involved in Ireland ever since, primarily in suppressing numerous Irish revolts and campaigns for self-determination. It was faced with the prospect of battling Anglo-Irish and Ulster Scots settlers in Ireland, who alongside their Irish countrymen had raised their own volunteer army and threatened to emulate the American colonists if their conditions (primarily concerning home rule and freedom of trade) were not met. The British Army found itself fighting Irish rebels, both Protestant and Catholic, primarily in Ulster and Leinster (Wolfe Tone’s United Irishmen) in the 1798 rebellion.
In addition to battling the armies of other European Empires’ (and of its former colonies, the United States, in the American War of 1812), in the battle for global supremacy, the British Army fought the Chinese in the First and Second Opium Wars, and the Boxer Rebellion Māori tribes in the first of the New Zealand Wars, Nawab Shiraj-ud-Daula’s forces and British East India Company mutineers in the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, the Boers in the First and Second Boer Wars, Irish Fenians in Canada during the Fenian raids and Irish separatists in the Anglo-Irish War.
Following William and Mary’s accession to the throne, England involved itself in the War of the Grand Alliance primarily to prevent a French invasion restoring Mary’s father, James II. Following the 1707 union of England and Scotland, and the 1801 creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, British foreign policy, on the continent, was to contain expansion by its competitor powers such as France and Spain. The territorial ambitions of the French led to the War of the Spanish Succession and the Napoleonic Wars. Russian activity led to the Crimean War.
The vastly increasing demands of imperial expansion, and the inadequacies and inefficiencies of the underfunded, post-Napoleonic Wars British Army, and of the Militia, Yeomanry, and Volunteer Force, led to the Cardwell and Childers Reforms of the late 19th century, which gave the British Army its modern shape, and redefined its regimental system. The Haldane Reforms of 1907, formally created the Territorial Force as the Army’s volunteer reserve component.
Great Britain’s dominance of the world had been challenged by numerous other powers, notably Germany. The UK was allied with France and Russia, and when the First World War broke out in 1914, the British Army sent the British Expeditionary Force to France and Belgium to prevent Germany from occupying these countries. The War would be the most devastating in British military history, with near 800,000 men killed and over 2 million wounded. In the early part of the war, the professional force of the BEF was decimated and, by turns, a volunteer force replaced it. Major battles included the Battle of the Somme. Advances in technology saw advent of the tank, with the creation of the Royal Tank Regiment, and advances in aircraft design, with the creation of the Royal Flying Corps, which were to be decisive in future battles. Trench warfare dominated strategy on the Western Front, and the use of chemical and poison gases added to the devastation.
The Second World War broke out in 1939 with the German invasion of Poland. British assurances to the Polish led the British Empire to declare war on Germany. Again an Expeditionary Force was sent to France, only to be hastily evacuated as the German forces swept through the Low Countries and across France in 1940. Only the Dunkirk evacuation saved the entire Expeditionary Force from capture. Later, however, the British would have spectacular success defeating the Italians and Germans at the Battle of El Alamein in North Africa, and in the D-Day invasion of Normandy with the help of American, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand forces. Contrary to popular belief, over half of the Allied soldiers on D-day were British. In the Far East, the British army battled the Japanese in Burma. The Second World War saw the British army develop its Special Air Service, Commando units and the Parachute Regiment. During the war the British army was one of the major fighting forces on the allied side.
After the end of the Second World War, the British Army was significantly reduced in size, although National Service continued until 1960. This period also saw the process of Decolonisation commence with the end of the British Raj, and the independence of other colonies in Africa and Asia. Accordingly the army’s strength was further reduced, in recognition of Britain’s reduced role in world affairs, outlined in the 1957 Defence White Paper. This was despite major actions in Korea in 1950 and Suez in 1956. A large force of British troops also remained in Germany, facing the threat of Soviet invasion. The Cold War saw significant technological advances in warfare and the Army saw more technologically advanced weapons systems come into service.
Despite the decline of the British Empire, the Army was still deployed around the world, fighting colonial wars in Aden, Cyprus, Kenya and Malaya. In 1982 the British Army, alongside the Royal Marines, helped to recapture the Falkland Islands during the war against Argentina.
In the three decades following 1969, the Army was heavily deployed in Northern Ireland, to support the Royal Ulster Constabulary (later the Police Service of Northern Ireland) in their conflict with republican paramilitary groups, called Operation Banner. The locally-recruited Ulster Defence Regiment was formed, later becoming the Royal Irish Regiment in 1992. Over 700 soldiers were killed during the Troubles. Following the IRA ceasefires between 1994 and 1996 and since 1997, demilitarisation has taken place as part of the peace process, reducing the military presence from 30,000 to 5,000 troops. On 25 June 2007, the Second Battalion Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment vacated the Army complex at Bessbrook Mill in Armagh. This is part of the ‘normalisation’ programme in Northern Ireland in response to the IRA’s declared end to its activities.
British Army Equipment
Infantry The basic infantry weapon of the British Army is the L85A2 assault rifle, sometimes equipped with an L17A2 underbarrel grenade launcher and with several variants such as the L86A2, the Light Support Weapon (LSW) and the L22A2 carbine variant, issued to tank crews. Support fire is provided by the FN Minimi light machine gun and the L7 General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG); indirect fire by 51 and 81 mm mortars. Sniper rifles used include the L118A1 7.62 mm, the L115A3 and the AW50F, all produced by Accuracy International. Some units use the L82A1 .50 calibre Barrett sniper rifle. More recently the L128A1 (Benelli M4) ‘combat shotgun’ has been adopted, and is intended for close quarters combat in Afghanistan.
Armour The British Army’s main battle tank is Challenger 2. Other armoured vehicles include Supacat “Jackal” MWMIK and the Iveco “Panther” CLV. The Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle is the primary armoured personnel carrier, although many variants of the Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (tracked) are used, as well as the Saxon APC and FV430 series now being re-engined and uparmoured and returned to front line service as Bulldog. The British Army commonly uses the Land Rover Wolf and Land Rover Defender.
Artillery The Army uses three main artillery systems: the Multi Launch Rocket System (MLRS), AS-90 and L118. The MLRS was first used operationally in Operation Granby and has a range of 70 km (43 mi). The AS-90 is a 155 mm self-propelled gun. The L118 Light Gun is a 105 mm towed gun used primarily in support of 16 Air Assault Brigade, 19 Light Brigade and 3 Commando Brigade (Royal Marines). The Rapier FSC Missile System is the Army’s primary battlefield air defence system, widely deployed since the Falklands War and the Starstreak HVM (High Velocity Missile) is a surface-to-air weapon, launched either by a single soldier or from a vehicle-mounted launcher.
Army Aviation The Army Air Corps (AAC) provide direct aviation support for the Army, although the RAF also assist in this role. The primary attack helicopter is the Westland WAH-64 Apache, a license-built, modified version of the AH-64 Apache that will replace the Westland Lynx AH7 in the anti-tank role. The Bell 212 is used as a specialist utility and transport helicopter, with a crew of two and a transport capacity of twelve troops. The Westland Gazelle helicopter is a light helicopter, primarily used for battlefield reconnaissance and control of artillery and aircraft. The Eurocopter AS 365N Dauphin is used for Special Operations Aviation and the Britten-Norman Islander is a light aircraft used for airborne reconnaissance and command.