This site,, has a mind-boggling amount amount of information about the land armies of the British Empire and Commonwealth, and much ancillary information. I have been picking around on it, becoming increasingly impressed by it, and decided to share it with y’all.

UPDATE: This site, Britain’s Small Wars is an excellent source on these little-known actions. I suspect there is much to learn from the way the British handled these difficult situations.

11 thoughts on “Regiments”

  1. Lex–That site so overwhelms the reader with minutiae that he may well miss how small and poorly equipped Britain’s army is–and the other Commonwealth nations are in worse shape.

    Britain’s army now is as large as in Napoleonic times. Its population then was about 8 million, now about 60 million. In 1808 most troops were in one or the other of the combat arms. Today’s rear echelon units (like the Signal Corps.) did not exist, and there were no women at all in the army.

    British “kit” (equipment) is more often than not the butt of jokes, even among Italian soldiers.

    Australia’s entire armed forces–land, sea, and air–total 51,000.

    Out of mercy, I’ll pass over the military capabilities of Canada and New Zealand. Let those who research them be prepared to be astonished.

    Now, the usual response to the hard data is to invoke “professionalism.” One is never sure how far that response is grounded in a desperate snootyism. Think of Blanche du Bois trying to persuade Stanley of her potential contribution.

    Anyway, in international readiness competitions, Brits, Aussies, etc. do no better nor worse than the implicitly less professional Americans. They all have their good days and bad days.

    It is dismaying, from an American perspective, that the prospect for larger, better equipped forces among the other English speaking nations is close to hopeless. They may actually shrink and deteriorate further.

  2. George, that only makes the performance of British soldiers all the more impressive these days.

    And I wouldn’t be so sure as to generalize. The Parachute Regiments, the Royal Marines, SAS, SBS…They might not have all the gizmos, toys and creature comfort of their U.S. counterparts but it’s not even clear they need them.

  3. Sylvain–There is a sense in which you are quite correct. Given the quality of the boots, radios, rifles, etc. of the British army, one can breathe a sigh of relief that they have turned in a competent performance in Iraq. There are demands now in Britian for Defense minister Hoon to step down because, reportedly, some British units were supplied with only 2 rounds per man, body armor was so short people had to rotate its use, etc.

    These calls are unfair to Hoon, by my lights. Brits have been woefully equipped and supplied long before the time of Hoon. I think he and the troops have done as much as possible with what they had to work with. I am grateful to them all.

    From an American standpoint, though, there is no assurance that that level of performance is sustainable. Blanche du Bois looked fine as long as the light was just right. In the cold glare of day, however, her deficencies caught Stantley’s eye, and my eye has seen enough to be uneasy, even alarmed, about our allies’ capabilities.

    I should add that it goes without saying that the other European powers are in worse shape than Britain and the Commonwealth nations. A French General remarked recently that if France had decided to send ground combat units to Iraq with the US and Britain, he doubted they could have sent more than 5000 troops. Remember the assault forces had to be prepared for one Hell of a protracted, bloody fight. As a veteran of the French army, perhaps you have a better feel for its capablities than I do.

    Now, as to the British SAS, etc. They are great troops. So are the elite French units. So are everybody’s elite troops. The Brits go way overboard on how much better physically fit their troops are, how much more expert with the various weapons, at problem solving in the field, etc.

    Think of the history dept. faculties of Stanford, Princeton, Harvard, Yale, U. of Chi. etc. On any given day, the performance of one or the other is superior, but they are all so good that it is hard to pick one as the world’s best. A military unit’s excellence and readiness can change tremendously in 6 months, even less.

    Finally, given the amounts of money spent on the military by Britain, OZ, France, Germany, etc. and given the willingness of their young men to devote years of their young lives to mastering what you need to master to be good soldiers, you would think that they just didn’t think they had much worth defending.

  4. “…it goes without saying that the other European powers are in worse shape than Britain and the Commonwealth nations.”

    Of course no one is in America’s league. The British are still the best of the second rung. And they have fully half as many battalions of infantry as we do, with a fraction of our budget. That is the right place to put their money.

    Anyway, I was more interested in that site for the historical stuff.

  5. Veteran ? Funny. I usually associate the term with people who either fought, or served as professionals for a long time.

    So I don’t think I’m a veteran at anything. Except maybe software and tasting New England microbrews.


  6. Nahhh, Sylvain, you count as a veteran in my book. If you put up with basic and AIT, that’s close enough for government work, hehehe

    Lex–The entire British army (110,000 folks)–not the combat arms—would fit into the Rose Bowl with room to spare. British infantry strength is at 25,000 men.

    I have seen high school football games draw more spectators than that.

    Knowledgeable Brits cry out for more troops and better equipment but they are lucky just to maintain the status quo.

    It is neither here nor there, but they treat their veterans like dirt. Tommy Atkins gets about the rawest deal I know of.

  7. George, even with all that said, they are still a bigger player than the other guys. Shame on the Brits for starving their army, shame on the other guys for being even worse.

  8. It is clear to anyone who has looked at the training of each countries infantry, that the British infantry, especially their numerous elite + counter-terrorism regiments (SAS, SBS, Royal Marine Commando’s, Paras, Ghurkas and to some extent the Guards), are much better trained and prepared for action than any of their counter-parts. Just look at the time spent trainig. i.e. to become a British infantryman takes a minimum of 25+ weeks, and after that, training exercises are very frequent. But to become a U.S. Marine, it takes 10 weeks! In fact, America has recognised this and most of their special forces selection / training is based on that used by the British. However, I agree that, as far as kit is concerned, the British are still in the darkages.
    As far as the Canadian army is concerned, they are just a peace-keeping army, so the demands on them are usually pretty small.

    When it comes to Special forces, the SAS + SBS are the best. However, Russian, Israil’s and the French Legion all maintain a very high standard. Much higher than that of Delta Force or the SEAL’s.

    General Norman Swarchkof (Stormin’ Norman) but Americas attitude best : “Show me what a man can do that an F-18 can’t”

  9. Gdsm Oliver, that strikes me as correct. Thanks for the comparative figures on training. The key to the future of land warfare will the same key that opened the gates to victory in the past — the skill and endurance of the individual infantryman. And training and unit cohesion are the keys. The Vietnamese communists beat us, despite all of our expensive equipment, because they cultivated to perfection the only resources they had, the human potential of their soldiers –intellectual, physical, moral, ideological. Prevailing against a cash-poor but motivation-rich opponent will require many things that a man can do and that an F-18 cannot do.

  10. Also, American equipment seems to be working on the assumption that all non-American systems are enemy. This has resulted in a staggering number of British armoured personel carriers being destroyed by American A-10’s, planes, etc. America need to seriously re-assess their tendencies to cause staggering numbers of ‘friendly-fire’. Perhaps this relates back to training when a ‘KILL, KILL, KILL’ ethos is instilled into the soldiers.

    So, basically, if the American military wish to improve, their best decision would be to target their systems tendencies to fire upon friendly vehicles.

    However, I do think that the Americans do have the best Airforce and Navy. I also think that the Americans have a much better logistics department, as they seem to have enough kit / food, toilet paper, etc distributed on time, to each soldier.

    But, as you said – Wars are won by men, and that is something that the American army have in abundance.

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