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Listing of WWII British Units
When the British Empire, France and their allies declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939, two days after its invasion of Poland, the Army was still unprepared. For example, few armoured formations had been organised, and their equipment and training were sketchy. Nearly 100,000 soldiers were based abroad, more than half of them in India and the garrisons East of Suez, such as Singapore. Others were based in the Mediterranean, Middle East, and North Africa. The smallest overseas command was the West Indies with a single battalion supported by indigenous units.
Many British leaders, including Winston Churchill, sought to avoid the costly battles of attrition which had characterised the Western Front in World War I. Churchill became Prime Minister in the middle of the Battle of France, which resulted in British troops being driven from the continent and left no realistic chance of re-establishing any Western Front for years. The number of British divisions was therefore kept low; perhaps 50 were formed in total (not counting administrative or anti-aircraft divisions), but probably no more than 30 were in existence at any one time. This allowed the Royal Navy and especially the Royal Air Force to be expanded and maintained at full strength.
The increasing use of technology saw the creation of new types of units. Some of these were formed at the instigation of the War Office; most notably the Army Commandos. Inspired by the German use of airborne units in their Blitzkrieg offensives, Airborne brigades and divisions were formed. The Parachute Regiment was established as the parent body for all troops parachuting into battle. Glider infantry or Airlanding units also formed part of the airborne divisions.
Other new units, mainly various types of "special forces" were originally formed on an ad hoc basis. The Long Range Desert Group was formed in the Middle East by officers who had been amateur explorers in the Sahara desert before the war. The first SAS units were also formed in the Middle East. From 1942, the Army Air Corps administered the Parachute Regiment, the Glider Pilot Regiment, the Special Air Service Regiment and the Air Observation Post Squadron, RA.
The regular forces also experienced a substantial expansion, not just including the many battalions created in existing regiments. Six cavalry regiments were formed from the cadres of existing regiments, along with two new infantry regiments, all of which would be disbanded during demobilisation in the aftermath of the war. A Reconnaissance Corps of over 20 regiments was also formed, which was absorbed by the Royal Armoured Corps in 1944.
The requirement for infantry was much less than in the previous world war, and many infantry battalions were converted into anti-tank and anti-aircraft units of the Royal Artillery, or armoured regiments in the Royal Armoured Corps and Royal Tank Regiment. Towards the end of the war, this trend had to be reversed; as the infantry strength declined, and the threat from enemy air forces disappeared, many soldiers in anti-aircraft units were drafted into the infantry.
There are many good British units out there today. Talk to them, ask questions, see how you might fit in with their program. When joining a group, it's always best to research them and not just "jump in." Our two cents.
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