British Army Replacement System

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Duncan_M
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British Army Replacement System

Post by Duncan_M » 08 Feb 2019 07:01

During WW2, how did the British Army reconstitute units after taking heavy casualties? Specifically infantry regiments.

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Sheldrake
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Re: British Army Replacement System

Post by Sheldrake » 08 Feb 2019 11:23

This is an interesting question and the answer is either very short or very long. I don't know where this has been covered, so it may be an MA or PhD in waiting. Raising Churchill's army by David French explains the recruitment and training system

The British Army takes/took pride in the Regimental system, allowing for regional origins, idiosyncratic character and traditions. It went to some length to maintain the continuity of longf rooted regiments. Prior to WW2 Regiments trainied their soldiers in their depots, and their territorials in their drill halls.

However, WW2 was a war for national survival run by a centralised state. The Army moved soldiers where it needed to and ran roughshod over Regimental traditions when needed. During the war the training system changed with recruits trained in central depots under a "General service" cap badge before assigned to corps or Regiments.

The composition of the army also changed. At the start of the war men were mobilised as infantrymen because that is what they had weapons for. After 1940 it was obvious that a much higher proportion of Gunners and armoured crews was needed to fight a mechanised war. Lots of infantrymen were retrained, in particular as light AA gunners. The RAF Regiment were also formed tom protect airfields from attack. Once the allies had achieved air superiority and were fighting land battles the need was for infantrymen. AA Troops were a manpower reserve and many AA gunners were transferred back into the infantry and the RAF regiment largely disbanded.

Units that took heavy casualties would be reinforced with drafts from reinforcement holding units These might or might not be from their own cap badge.

Fresh units were sometimes fed in complete with battalions replacing a weakened battalion in a brigade or a complete brigade in a division. Units suffering very heavy casualties over a long period might be replaced by complete battalions. E.g. the two County of London Armoured Regiments serving in Normandy were amalgamated

Some units were amalgamated, as happened at the end of the Normandy campaign

Where complete regular battalions were wiped out, captured at Tobruck, a higher numbered war service unit might be renumbereed and assume its traditions, A territorial battalion of a Scottish Regiment had garrisoned Bermuda up to that point was renumbered and called to Europe to replace a regular battlaion captured at Tobruk.

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Re: British Army Replacement System

Post by Sid Guttridge » 08 Feb 2019 12:06

What about replacements from junior battalions of the same regiment? There could be a dozen of these.

Generally the first and second battalions were regulars.

The third and fourth were likely to be territorial battalions.

Further battalions, which could include pioneer units, were wartime creations.

Did these last have a role in providing replacements for their seniors?

Cheers,

Sid

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Sheldrake
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Re: British Army Replacement System

Post by Sheldrake » 08 Feb 2019 13:40

Sid Guttridge wrote:
08 Feb 2019 12:06
What about replacements from junior battalions of the same regiment? There could be a dozen of these.

Generally the first and second battalions were regulars.

The third and fourth were likely to be territorial battalions.

Further battalions, which could include pioneer units, were wartime creations.

Did these last have a role in providing replacements for their seniors?

Cheers,

Sid
There might be some shuffling of officers or soldiers from one battalion to another - e.g. a commanding officer or an RSM, But the junior numbered battalions of a battalion were pretty much independent and often trained for very different roles.

Take the Royal Fusiliers.
1st Bn- part of 8th Indian Div,
2nd Bn Part of 4th British Div,
8th & 9th Bns in 56 Div,
11 & 12 Home defence & training
16th Bn 10 Medium Regiment RA
23 Bn 46 Reconnaissance Regiment RAC

There were Junior Soldiers Battalions numbered in the 60-70s that trained soldiers under 18. These did feed soldiers into the reinforcement system.

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Re: British Army Replacement System

Post by Duncan_M » 09 Feb 2019 17:46

Very interesting answers, it seems that it was rather sd hoc and very situational in terms how they reconstituted units after taking heavy casualties.

I've read that in Normandy, GOODWOOD was launched purposely armor heavy without sufficient infantry support because a shortage. Was this due to Great Britain just not having enough manpower left? A temporary glitch in the overall replacement system? A breakdown of the regimental system? Did it carry over to future operations in late 44 into 45?

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Re: British Army Replacement System

Post by Aber » 10 Feb 2019 09:07

Duncan_M wrote:
09 Feb 2019 17:46
Very interesting answers, it seems that it was rather sd hoc and very situational in terms how they reconstituted units after taking heavy casualties.

I've read that in Normandy, GOODWOOD was launched purposely armor heavy without sufficient infantry support because a shortage. Was this due to Great Britain just not having enough manpower left? A temporary glitch in the overall replacement system? A breakdown of the regimental system? Did it carry over to future operations in late 44 into 45?
Britain was indeed running out of manpower in 1944 eg
- Infantry battalions in Italy went down from 4 to 3 companies
- Divisions were dissolved eg 59th, 50th
- Conscripts sent to coal mines (Bevin boys)

If you're really interested:
BRITISH ARMY MANPOWER CRISIS 1944
JOHN ROBERT PEATY
FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
https://kclpure.kcl.ac.uk/portal/files/ ... 313385.pdf

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Ironmachine
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Re: British Army Replacement System

Post by Ironmachine » 10 Feb 2019 11:44

Disregarding long-time traditions caused problems sometimes:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salerno_mutiny

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Re: British Army Replacement System

Post by Sheldrake » 10 Feb 2019 13:21

Duncan_M wrote:
09 Feb 2019 17:46
Very interesting answers, it seems that it was rather sd hoc and very situational in terms how they reconstituted units after taking heavy casualties.

I've read that in Normandy, GOODWOOD was launched purposely armor heavy without sufficient infantry support because a shortage. Was this due to Great Britain just not having enough manpower left? A temporary glitch in the overall replacement system? A breakdown of the regimental system? Did it carry over to future operations in late 44 into 45?
It is true that Britain was running out of infantry manpower in 1944, but:-

1. The British chose to wage a technology intense war employing manpower in aircraft, ships and tanks (one million people serving or building the Lancaster Bomber alone). It also put more men into the Royal Artillery than infantry. 20 infantry battalions were converted to light AA regiments and ten more to medium artillery in 1942. Many of these men were then returned to the infantry from mid 1944 on.

2. There was enough soldiers to have one million maintaining law and order in India and an ultimately pointless campaign in Burma.

3. Unlike the French, the British refused to employ African, Caribbean or Indian troops in Europe. The 2 million strong all volunteer Indian army provided very good infantry, as did many of the soldiers recruited from east and west Africa and sent to Burma. Ten brigades of African or Indian infantrymen would have solved the infantry manpower problem in NW Europe.

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Re: British Army Replacement System

Post by Loïc » 10 Feb 2019 16:16

you forget the symbolic presence of yours 4 RIASC Indian mule companies in France in 1940 but certainly very less symbolic participation of yours 4th 8th 10th Indian Divisions in Italy more the 43rd Gurkha Brigade, that is the size of a whole Army Corps and together 10 brigades

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Re: British Army Replacement System

Post by Sheldrake » 11 Feb 2019 01:30

Loïc wrote:
10 Feb 2019 16:16
you forget the symbolic presence of yours 4 RIASC Indian mule companies in France in 1940 but certainly very less symbolic participation of yours 4th 8th 10th Indian Divisions in Italy more the 43rd Gurkha Brigade, that is the size of a whole Army Corps and together 10 brigades
I didn't forget . I merely omitted the letters NW as a prefix for the first mention of "Europe". The battle in NW Europe was supposed to be the Allied main effort. Italy was a side show with Indians, Brazilians and Italian Legions under British command. The presence of three Indian Divisions did not stop various units in that theatre being reduced to cadres.

In WW2 the British mobilised some 2.5 million indians and 600,000 Africans. An army corps of 60,000 is almost insignificant.

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Re: British Army Replacement System

Post by Sid Guttridge » 11 Feb 2019 07:39

Hi Guys,

I think the UK's problem was less a shortage of manpower than a massive over extension caused by the breadth of empire, the number of territories occupied and the great length of communications to most of its active battlefronts. This absorbed enormous amounts of manpower and required a very big navy.

Then there was the fact that over 1940-44 the only way to strike at Germany itself was through air power, which led to a heavy bias in favour of the air force. (In 1944, even as the supposed German production miracle was at its height, the metropolitan UK produced as many aero engines and weight of airframes as the Reich with twice the population!).

The empire was expected to provide much of the infantry manpower, especially in the Indian Army, where the British supplied almost all the artillery, but only a third of the infantry.

In the UK manpower was heavily skewed towards the anti-aircraft artillery, leaving less for the field army.

To cut a long story short, the British infantry in the UK were near the bottom of a long list of worldwide priorities that favoured technical arms. As a result, insufficient trained infantry reserve were available in 1944 when the invasion of the continent promised increased casualties. If I recall correctly, within six weeks of landing one infantry division already had to be broken up to provide infantry replacements for others and thereafter tens of thousands of artillerymen were retrained as infantry in the UK.

It is a sorry story that, after five years of preparation and active campaigning elsewhere, the British should have been so woefully unprepared for the heavy infantry losses a continental campaign in Europe would almost inevitably impose.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: British Army Replacement System

Post by Sheldrake » 11 Feb 2019 10:42

Sid Guttridge wrote:
11 Feb 2019 07:39

It is a sorry story that, after five years of preparation and active campaigning elsewhere, the British should have been so woefully unprepared for the heavy infantry losses a continental campaign in Europe would almost inevitably impose.
While I understand the logic of your analysis there is another explanation. The British, in time honoured tradition were trying to have their cake and eat it. Churchill was never much interested in logistics. His mercurial interests in the Balkans, the middle and far east tended to leave Britain overstretched. The Americans were rightly suspicious that while they had signed up to "Germany First" the British were not playing the same game.

There were also the 100,000 Britons held as Prisoners of War, many from doomed expeditions conducted too little too late.

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Re: British Army Replacement System

Post by Eugen Pinak » 11 Feb 2019 15:49

Sheldrake wrote:
11 Feb 2019 10:42
The British, in time honoured tradition were trying to have their cake and eat it. Churchill was never much interested in logistics. His mercurial interests in the Balkans, the middle and far east tended to leave Britain overstretched. The Americans were rightly suspicious that while they had signed up to "Germany First" the British were not playing the same game.
US Army in NW Europe in 1944 had the same logistic and manpower problems, as British. So who was "not playing the same game" again? ;)

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Re: British Army Replacement System

Post by Sheldrake » 11 Feb 2019 16:33

Eugen Pinak wrote:
11 Feb 2019 15:49
Sheldrake wrote:
11 Feb 2019 10:42
The British, in time honoured tradition were trying to have their cake and eat it. Churchill was never much interested in logistics. His mercurial interests in the Balkans, the middle and far east tended to leave Britain overstretched. The Americans were rightly suspicious that while they had signed up to "Germany First" the British were not playing the same game.
US Army in NW Europe in 1944 had the same logistic and manpower problems, as British. So who was "not playing the same game" again? ;)
The British and US were in very different places in 1944. True, both had underestimated the intensity of fighting in Normandy and the number of infantry reinforcements. needed. The Americans called forward reinforcements from formations further up the deployment chain - e.g. soldiers from, the 99th ,100th and 106th which then deployed with raw recruits in late 1944. It is not true that the British did not have that pool of manpower, because they had an empire of 300m people.

1. The Americans were very focused on finishing the war in the ETO. At that time they had no interest in the Middle east or Balkans and little enough in the Mediterranean. The British were

2, The Americans were not trying to maintain an empire by force.

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Re: British Army Replacement System

Post by Eugen Pinak » 11 Feb 2019 18:52

Sheldrake wrote:
11 Feb 2019 16:33
True, both had underestimated the intensity of fighting in Normandy and the number of infantry reinforcements. needed. The Americans called forward reinforcements from formations further up the deployment chain - e.g. soldiers from, the 99th ,100th and 106th which then deployed with raw recruits in late 1944.
You forgot about US 6, 24, 31, 33, 38 77, 81 93, 96, 98 infantry, 11 airborne, 4 USMC divisions, which were also sent to fight Germany in 1944. After all, "Pacific Ocean" - it's somewhere near Germany, right? ;)
Sheldrake wrote:
11 Feb 2019 16:33
1. The Americans were very focused on finishing the war in the ETO. At that time they had no interest in the Middle east or Balkans and little enough in the Mediterranean. The British were
Yes, "Pacific Ocean" is Europe, while Balkans or Mediterranean are not ;)
Sheldrake wrote:
11 Feb 2019 16:33
2, The Americans were not trying to maintain an empire by force.
Of course, of course. That's why US were so occupied in strategically meaningless campaigns in Philippines and China - totally not to control their empire by force ;)

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