Battalion: infantry Regiments were composed of battalions, active service units consisting of about 1000 men under the command of a Lieutenant-Colonel. It was often the case that a soldier’s first loyalty was to his battalion; when conditions allowed great efforts were made to ensure a sense of tradition and ‘esprit de corps’. During the First World War regiments raised large numbers of battalions.
Brigade: four infantry battalions would be grouped together to form an infantry brigade – under the command of a Brigadier-General. In 1918 brigades were reduced to three battalions.
Division: three infantry brigades would be grouped together to form a division – under the command of a Major-General. The division was likely to have been the largest formation that a soldier would have identified with; they had distinctive insignia and familiar nicknames; some divisional commanders became well known to their men. The division was a self-contained fighting force possessing, in addition to its 12 infantry battalions and Pioneer Battalion, its own supporting specialists, Engineers, Artillery, Transport and Medical units. Its total complement was over 19,000 men.
Corps: divisions (any number from two to six) would be grouped to serve under corps – a directing administrative formation responsible for the effective deployment of its divisions in the field. An army corps was commanded by a Lieutenant-General. A corps would be provided with supporting troops – often known as ‘Lines of Communication’ or ‘Corps Troops’.
Army: corps would be grouped to serve under an army – another higher-level administrative formation responsible for the effective fulfilment of the overall strategic aims of the Commander-in-Chief. An army, commanded by a General, was provided with specialist supporting troops – often known as ‘Lines of Communication’ or ‘Army Troops’.
Commander-in-Chief: Armies came under the control and command of the Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) at General Headquarters (GHQ). Field-Marshal Sir John French (1852-1925) commanded the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) on the outbreak of war in August 1914. During his period of command the British Army fought the vital defensive battles of ‘First Ypres’ (autumn 1914) and ‘Second Ypres’ (spring 1915). Heavily criticised for his handling of the Battle of Loos (September-October 1915) French was replaced as Commander-in-Chief by General Sir Douglas Haig on 19 December 1915. Haig (1861-1928) was subsequently responsible for all British Army operations in France and Belgium until the Armistice (11 November 1918). Convinced of the absolute necessity of defeating the German Army on the Western Front (the principal theatre of military operations) Haig’s name is for ever associated with the costly offensives on the Somme in 1916 and the constituent battles of ‘Third Ypres’ (popularly known as the Passchendaele Offensive) during the second half of 1917. Less well known is his direct involvement in the series of tumultuous Allied victories in the late summer and autumn of 1918. Following the war Haig commanded the Home Forces in the UK (1919-1921). He had been made a Field Marshal on 3 January 1917.
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