Search

July 2019
M T W T F S S
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31 1 2 3 4

British Army

The British Army

The British Army
 
The British Army, as one historian has commented, has always been a singular institution.  The army of 1944 had several years of combat experience fighting the Germans. Its structure reflected the highly stratified class structure of Britain; officers and enlisted men were often from totally different backgrounds.  Even so, the traditional territorial recruitment policy led to tough, extremely reliable combat formations with very high esprit de corps. 
 
An important advantage the British had was in the cohesiveness and skill of their infantry. Knowing that the "Queen of Battle" could often be decisive, the British lavished a good deal of training on its riflemen and this paid off handsomely. Leadership tended to be very good on the small unit level, but somewhat too cautious on the strategic level. The biggest problem to the U.K. forces in 1944 was the dire shortage of infantry replacements.  Unlike the U.S. forces where the shortages were caused by the experiencing a real shortage of manpower caused by the losses of the war and the limited pool available from the island country.  On this basis, the lack of aggressive combat behaviour can be somewhat overlooked since all the British commanders knew of the serious nature of this problem and were attempting to minimize their casualties. 
Formations
 
The British units fighting under 30th Corps in the Ardennes consisted chiefly of three divisional types: infantry, armour and airborne units.  Independent Armoured brigades and reconnaissance regiments were also involved. 
Infantry Division
 
The British Infantry Division had there infantry brigades. These were similar in strength to the American infantry regiments, being composed of three infantry battalions each with an extra heavy weapons detachment.  Artillery support consisted of three regiments.  Support elements included anti-tank, anti-aircraft battalions and reconnaissance squadrons.  The divisions lacked self-propelled guns or tanks and usually one of the independent Armoured brigades were attached for offensive operations. 
Armoured Division
 
The British Armoured Division was a product of pre-war thinking and lacked necessary infantry support.  It consisted of two manoeuvre brigades - one of armour and the other with Armoured Infantry.  Nominally, it had Sherman tanks and Cromwell tanks.  The Guards Armoured Division was only such British formation alerted for commitment in the Ardennes.  It saw no fighting there, however, remaining in reserve in the Namur-Huy region guarding the Meuse bridgeheads. 
Airborne Division
 
These light infantry divisions were similar of the American divisions by the same name.  Likewise, they often ended up fighting as infantry. The organization was very similar to the British infantry division.  The main manoeuvre elements consisted of two parachute and one glider brigade. The British 6th Airborne division, the only such formation in the Ardennes, fought against the Germans at the tip of the Bulge in early January. 
Armoured Brigade
 
The Armoured Brigade theoretically possessed three armoured regiments and an armoured infantry battalion. The ration armoured strength consisted of medium tanks, light tanks and anti-aircraft tanks. In practice, these brigades were most often attached to a British infantry division to the mutual benefit of both organizations. 
Independent Units 
The Cavalry Regiments were basically the equivalent of a U.S. reconnaissance battalion.  The Army Group Royal Artillery groups generally contained one heavy regiment and two medium artillery regiments.  Anti-aircraft brigades generally contained two heavy and two light AA regiments. 
Bibliography:

 

  • Excerpts: Battle of the Bulge, Hitler's Ardennes Offensive, 1944-1945, by by Danny S. Parker. (Ed. Combined Books, Pennsylvania)
Guy BLOCKMANS