THE REGIMENT

By Lieut.-Colonel R.J.A. Kaulback, D.S.O., p.s.c.
Journal of the Royal United Services Institution, Vol. XCI, February to November, 1946

Now that the wars in Europe and the Far East are over and some of the lessons learned in the recent fighting are at last being made available to the general public, it is natural that there should be considerable speculation as to what form our armies should take during the post-war period.

Foremost among the queries that must rise to one's mind in this connection is that of the Infantry. Is it desirable to return to the Cardwell system of dual battalions, one at home and one overseas, both fed from a common depot, or is some other integration and grouping called for? Some aspects of this problem have already been discussed in an earlier article published in the Journal of February, 1944, but as so many of the factors concerning the infantry hinge on what is generally known as the Regimental System, it would be as well to consider this in greater detail and clear our minds exactly as to what we mean by it and what are the essentials which should be retained through any change in order to form a solid basis for the infantry of the future.

Discussion of this subject in the past has tended to be influenced perhaps too much by regimental loyalties and to some extent by rather wishful thinking over what are and what are not the benefits of tradition, and to what lengths these must be allowed to override other more material considerations where reorganization is called for. In this article the writer will try to maintain an entirely objective attitude whose criterion will be whether or not any particular factor adds to, or detracts from, the unit's efficiency in war, because it is for war and not for peace that the Army is designed.

What are the Objects of the Regimental System?

It would be well to start from the beginning and consider first what are the foundations and objects of the Regimental System as we know it to-day. There would appear to be three:— There is the Territorial affiliation which links each regiment with a particular county or area and ensures a close tie between the regiment and the people. Friends and relations serve together, family traditions are frequently built up, and a natural esprit-de-corps is engendered based on the part of the country from which the regiment is recruited.

From this the regiment has developed into a parent body in which the men, and to a great extent the officers too, may expect to pass their entire service. It is well known that men are happier and more cohesive when they know that they are part of a permanent organization in which they can grow up and to which they can give their entire loyalty and affection, whether this is a family, a school, a football team or anything else. It fosters the team spirit, and with that the spirit and pride of the individual members who associate themselves with the whole; but any impermanence is inimical to this object and an individual transferred from one body to another finds it difficult to transfer his allegiance intact with himself.

And lastly there is Tradition—tradition which draws its strength from a regiment's past history and which is enshrined in the uniforms, drills and customs which have been developed and cherished by past generations of fighting men. Any man must be proud of belonging to a unit with a fine tradition, and automatically he takes for himself some of the glory which has gone to make it.

All three of these factors—the Territorial link, Tradition and the Regiment as the parent of the soldier, play a tremendous part in building up the spirit, pride, loyalty and fighting efficiency of the Army, and should on no account be sacrificed; but we must examine carefully how they are applied and to what extent they have succeeded in attaining their object under modern war conditions.

To What Extent have these Objects been attained During the Late War?

During the late war, the greatest difficulty which had to be surmounted in trying to maintain the Regimental System was the smallness of the regimental unit in relation to the size of the forces involved in any theatre of operations. The pre-war system of maintaining one battalion of each regiment at home and one overseas caused the scattering of battalions during the War also, because there was no opportunity to concentrate them after the start of hostilities, nor indeed was there any inclination to do so. Though some concentration was effected as more war-time battalions took the field, still it remained very haphazard. It was quite normal for a regiment to be finding single battalions in all theatres of war simultaneously.

This fact alone produced an almost insoluble problem for the supply of reinforcements. On the average, each division in the field required men for battalions of nine different regiments and, as the casualty rate could never be accurately forecast by those responsible for compiling the drafts in England, there was always either a surplus or a deficiency for any particular battalion in the field. The result was that reinforcements received from the R.T.D. always consisted of a mixture of men from whatever drafts had a surplus at that particular moment, and it became impossible to post men with any real regard to their original units. To correct this, some cross-posting between battalions was occasionally done, but in the two battalions commanded by the writer in North Africa, Italy and Germany between 1942 and 1945, there were never less than twenty different regiments represented, and often there were many more. This was a typical average case.

The result of this chaotic state of affairs was that neither officers nor men could guarantee to serve in the field with the regiment to which they had originally been posted, nor indeed could wounded or sick men always expect to return to their own battalions, and the object of the regiment serving as the permanent parent of the soldier broke down from the start.

Furthermore the Territorial link failed equally. Scottish battalions were full of Englishmen and English battalions had men drawn from everywhere; only some of the Irish battalions remained fairly representative of their country. In part, particularly in the case of Scotland, this was due to there being too many battalions recruited from one small area, but it was aggravated also by the mixing of battalions from different areas within most divisions, so that the division itself was not representative of any particular part of the country. Had it been so, it might have proved possible to pool the resources of that division and ensure that one, for instance from the North, received only North Country reinforcements. This would have gone a long way towards overcoming the trouble.

One aspect of this mixing of units was that the Regimental System started to defeat its own ends. Owing to the closeness of their ties with their own regiments and their conviction that that was the best regiment in the Army, men who were suddenly drafted to another which they had been taught to believe was less good, automatically suffered a loss of morale and, in some notable cases, even refused to fight and deserted to rejoin a battalion of their own regiment which was somewhere in the same theatre. This was a deplorable state of affairs, and happily did not occur very frequently, but it must be realized that the mixing of regiments in this way was unavoidable and was the direct result of the Regimental System as it stood.

Regimental history, tradition, dress and other peculiarities played a smaller and smaller part in the building of morale and esprit-de-corps as the War proceeded. Except in the case of a very few fortunate ones, such as the Guards and the Rifle Brigade, who succeeded in keeping their own men, the majority of regiments were composed of strangers who had little time for learning the antecedents of the unit they were with and to whom its traditions consequently meant very little. What mattered far more to them was the reputation which that unit had built up for itself in this war, the confidence they felt in their officers and the efficiency of their training and discipline. It would seem, indeed, that these things are of infinitely greater importance to a battalion than any ancient tradition, because morale cannot otherwise stand the strain of battle. Regimental history and tradition alone are of little account except as builders of esprit-de-corps in peace-time, and then the more recent they are the stronger will be their effect.

It is also noteworthy that the reputation of a division as a good fighting division could have a tremendous effect on the men who joined it, and generally speaking division reputations in the latest war have been better recognized than those of the regiments forming part of them.

What are the Drawbacks of the Present System?

Apart from the obvious breakdown of the system in war, its greatest disadvantage, from which most of the present troubles have sprung, is the inflexibility of personnel even within such a small formation as the infantry brigade. The battalion has developed into an independent and exclusive body whose men cannot be used to make up any deficiencies elsewhere without bad psychological effects on themselves and their hosts; whereas the situation frequently demands that within the brigade, and if possible within the division too, men should be reasonably at home within any battalion.

This disability is not only confined to the psychological field ; it occurs also in training because, so long as a brigade consists of three separate and quite independent battalions, so long will there be divergencies in their training and methods and a further restriction on their flexibility.

The Germans overcame this by integrating on a higher level and centralizing basic training under the divisional staff. They reaped the benefit in the facility with which they could form ad hoc battle—groups from badly mauled units and continue to present a solid front in the way they did in Italy or after the collapse in Normandy in 1944. The British Army is not at present capable of this rapid readjustment.

Tradition, where it turns its eyes resolutely towards the past with too much insistence on the old and too rigid a dislike of the new, can have a strong effect by discouraging progressive thought and change. This is inherent in all military organizations and must be accepted, but efforts should be made to give more weight to those traditions which can be made to serve a modern purpose. How few Regimental Days are celebrated which date from later than the Peninsular War! But surely the later ones are the more valuable, because they have a modern significance and prevent the mind from swinging too far into the past and fossilizing

behind a facade of colourful dress, drills and ceremonial which play no part in the regiment's real purpose of Twentieth Century war.

From all of this we see that the regiment, as constituted with its separate battalions scattered in different divisions far apart, is too unwieldy and disjointed an organization to function under modern conditions. A change is over-due.

What Must We Aim to Achieve in the Future?

There can be no doubt that the aims of the original Regimental System are sound, but equally it is clear that the system itself is out of date and incapable of competing with recent developments. The system must be re-designed, brought up to date and its basis enlarged, so as once more to proportion itself to the scale of forces employed.

The most urgent necessity is to guarantee that the fighting units receive men from their own locality who have been trained and prepared to come to them and who can then expect to find themselves serving amongst their friends. Furthermore the men must be able to expect, if wounded or sick, to be able to rejoin their own units as soon as they are fit. Morale and esprit-de-corps are vitally dependent on this.

Traditions must also be maintained for building up the psychological background of the units, particularly where these traditions are based on recent exploits. For a unit to have fought at Alamein or Arnhem has more military value now than to have fought at Waterloo, however gallant the exploits of those bygone days may have been. Equally, the peculiarities of the modern foot-infantry or the armoured divisions or airborne divisions will engender far greater pride of regiment than perpetuation of the drills of the Fusiliers, Light Infantry or Rifle regiments whose special functions vanished in the twilight of the Nineteenth Century. Where in the course of reorganization, therefore, the question of amalgamation or disbandment of units comes up for consideration, very careful choice should be made between those whose retention is desirable on purely sentimental or historical grounds and those whose claim is based on the firmer ground of their record in the recent fighting. There are many very young units whose record should guarantee their place against all claimants in spite of their lack of historical background.

Lastly, once these aims have been guaranteed, it is clearly desirable to give the new organization as great a degree of flexibility as possible and, for this purpose, the larger within reason that we can make the unit or formation for which men are recruited the better. The limiting factor is the practical size of the training depot at which men can get to know one another and develop a common esprit-de-corps.

What Organization Will Fulfil These Aims?

The extent to which the Regimental System failed in the latest war was due to the fact that the units themselves were too small and too scattered to enable an even flow of reinforcements to be maintained. That is the root of the trouble and any reorganization must try to eradicate it.

There would appear to be two methods open. Either the units of the regiment, that is to say the battalions, must be increased in size or, alternatively, they must be grouped together and not scattered. In effect both these methods amount to the same thing, because a battalion cannot be increased in size without expanding into two battalions or three battalions, which is a group of battalions or in other words a brigade.

The suggested solution, then, is for the regiment to consist of three battalions which will serve permanently together as a brigade. That will achieve the aim of producing a sufficiently large body of men to enable reinforcement to be properly carried out. But brigades do not normally operate independently. They are an integral part of a division, and it is therefore for divisions that reinforcements should be planned, because, as the division moves, so must the reinforcements move also. This fits in well with what we said above that the unit or formation for which men are recruited should be as large as possible in order to give the maximum flexibility, and we see that the formation should properly be the division and not the brigade.

A bad way to achieve this would be to form divisions from nine battalions of the same regiment, for the simple reason that it is not unknown for divisions to be annihilated. If that were to happen to a division representing one entire regiment the effect would be catastrophic to the area from which that regiment is recruited, and also to the regiment itself.

The better way would seem to be to form divisions from three regiments each of which finds one brigade, but to link these three regiments and give them a common depot so that personnel are interchangeable. It would necessitate all three regiments having a common uniform—with the exception of badges—a common drill, which is natural as they will all be performing the same function, and to some extent a tradition in common also. But this is by no means so difficult as might appear at first sight. Regiments can be selected which have already formed a tradition of service together in the recent war. The adjustments required will in practice prove to be very slight and, if the division in which they are serving has already its own reputation and traditions, the object can well be attained without in any way prejudicing healthy rivalry any more than is already the case between the various companies within a battalion.

The extent to which this suggested reorganization can be implemented must depend on the number of first and second line divisions which His Majesty's Government decide to maintain in peace-time. If this number is very small, it will mean that there may not be sufficient divisions to allow each regiment to find one complete brigade, and therefore certain regiments may have to be amalgamated into a new composite regiment which would then furnish its quota of three battalions. The provision of second line, or militia, divisions would naturally follow the same pattern, and their brigades would be composed of the 4th, 5th and 6th Battalions of each regiment. Having regiments represented in this way with three battalions in each division will be a safeguard against the annihilation of any regiment in the event of one division suffering severe casualties.

An objection to the linking of regiments within a division will certainly be raised in some quarters on the grounds that the great strength of the regiments up to date has lain in all the aspects of their individuality, and that to sacrifice some of these by merging regiments more in one another will be a dangerous interference with custom and tradition from which the regimental esprit-de-corps must inevitably suffer. But is this valid? We have seen that during the latest war the individuality of regiments was in fact lost because all were composed of mixtures of one another. If this is to be corrected and a measure of real individuality retained, then some sacrifice must be made, and this sacrifice will only really be apparent in peace-time when the rate of replacement is so slow that the older system could possibly be retained in all its rigidity.

Before passing on to consider some of the associated questions that must necessarily come under review if a change is to be made, it would be well to compare the reorganization suggested here with the objects which we set out to attain and see whether it does in fact fulfil them.

The Territorial link will be maintained because each regiment will still have its recruiting area as before, although this area will now be larger and will be shared by the other two regiments of the division. As an example the 5th Infantry Division, which is already a North Country division, might comprise the Green Howards, The King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, and The York and Lancaster Regiment, which would then amalgamate their recruiting areas and share a common depot. In this way regimental and family ties with the districts would not be broken and the transition from old to new could be achieved with little trouble.

The regiment would once again become the permanent home of the soldier and it would be possible to guarantee that, except in very abnormal circumstances, no man would be required to serve outside the regiment of his choice. This would be possible because the joint regimental depot would be required to supply men only to its own division. A division is a large enough formation to have a fairly constant replacement rate, unlike a battalion which either wants a lot quickly or none at all. It is possible therefore to calculate fairly accurately the requirements of a division in action and to maintain that flow continuously from one source. This should make it unnecessary to draw on drafts from outside or to dilute the battalions with foreign elements.

The same would apply to returning sick and wounded because, although their own battalions might have no room for them at that particular time, it is inconceivable that the whole brigade would not, and they could if necessary be held in one of the other battalions of their regiment while waiting to be cross-posted to their proper battalion at a later date. Once again the larger unit would be able to maintain a continuity which would have been impossible for a single battalion.

The question of the introduction of divisional reinforcement battalions to replace the present system of R.T.D.'s is a very large one and, as it does not affect the general problem of the reform of the Regimental System, it is not intended to do more than touch on it here. The suggestion was outlined in an article in this Journal in February, 1944, and if accepted would do a great deal to ensure not only that the men arrive fully trained and refreshed for battle when they come up to join their units in the field, but also to place the distribution of reinforcements to battalions within the division directly under the control of the divisional "A" staff and thus ensure that men returning from hospital or sickness do actually go to their correct battalions. The failure to do this has been a very marked feature of the R.T.D. system in the past.

The third object which we set out to attain was the maintenance of morale and esprit-de-corps by tradition. This so largely depends on the men of the regiment knowing that they will serve with it continuously that it might be said that the problem has already been answered. On the other hand it is worth noting, at this stage, the extent to which divisional "esprit" has superimposed itself on that of individual regiments in the latest war. This has been partly due to the difficulty of singling out particular battalions for praise from among so many, and to the demands of security that prohibit the disclosure of the divisional order of battle, which it would seem is likely to be a feature of any modern war. Divisional traditions have therefore been made and, if maintained, will do a great deal to foster the esprit-de-corps of the regiments from which the division is formed.

The Position of Officers under the New System

The impossibility of retaining officers to serve within their own regiments during the late war has been even more marked than in the case of the other ranks. This has been due to the small numbers involved, the relatively high casualty rate particularly among the junior ranks, and to the necessity forimmediate replacement from whatever reinforcements are available once casualties occur. These conditions are unlikely to change appreciably in any future war and officers can, therefore, no longer expect to remain in one regiment, and still less in one battalion, for all their service.

Senior officers will, as in the past, have to expect to be treated as a pool and be selected for command according to their qualifications and without regimental considerations. Junior officers, on the other hand, under the new system could expect to serve for substantial periods of war within one battalion, but they should look upon the entire regiment (brigade) as their home and be prepared to serve at need in any battalion of the division. If this were established as a principle, then it should be possible for officers always to remain within the division of their choice until, of course, they reach the time when they become qualified for command or staff. In any case in peace-time, while casualties are insignificant, there should be no necessity for any more frequent change of battalion than used to occur before 1939.

It is possible that this suggestion of service within any battalion of the division may occasion considerable objection, for the regiment as the "officers' home" has come to be accepted as a sine qua non, though less in recent years than formerly. If only, however, it could be realized that this change will in no way destroy the Regimental System but simply expand it, that the home, instead of being the battalion, will become the brigade or division, and that the same loyalties can still be retained, there would probably be less opposition. Particularly must this be so when the urgency of the problem is fully recognized.

A Corps of Infantry

There has been much discussion as to whether a Corps of Infantry should be instituted in conformity with the practice in the Canadian and most foreign armies. It has been suggested that its creation would provide greater flexibility and esprit-de-corps in the infantry as a whole, though in practice this must always depend on the application of the regulations for posting and interchange of personnel rather than on a simple change of name.

Provided that the divisional system is accepted, there would seem to be no advantage in forming a Corps of Infantry so far as the other ranks are concerned, because they in any case are unlikely to serve outside their own regiment. The officers, however, present a different picture. In all cases they must expect in due course to be transferred either to command or to the staff, or to serve as regimental officers in one of the two other regiments within the division, and therefore to gazette them on first Commission to a Corps of Infantry, rather than to any particular regiment, would seem to have distinct advantages.

Opposition to Change

There will inevitably be some opposition to whatever changes are proposed. The Army is naturally conservative in its outlook, and no part of it more so than the infantry with its very long history and traditions. Forewarned is forearmed, and it would be wise therefore to meet in advance some of the arguments on which this opposition might be based.

There are many historical precedents for change. Before the 1914-1918 War, regiments often altered not only their names and their dress, but also their functions. The 31st Foot were at one time Marines, the 87th did not become Fusiliers till 1827, the Rifle Brigade and older Light Infantry regiments were formed from heavy infantry regiments during the Napoleonic wars, and yet no one would suggest that these changes in function or name or dress had an ill effect on the regiments themselves; indeed many of their proudest traditions date from those very changes.

Equally the Cardwell reforms, which were bitterly resented at the time owing to the amalgamation of regiments which they brought about, are not now criticized on the grounds that those regiments lost their identity. In fact the present rigid Regimental System dates almost entirely from after the introduction of Cardwell's measures, and there would seem to be no precedent for retaining the regiments in their present form if expediency dictates otherwise.

On the other hand any needless destruction of the older system should be avoided. Men's minds and habits change slowly, and reform should where possible be slow also in order that it may be more easily assimilated. The new system should grow logically out of the old, and as much as possible of the old be retained and used as the fertilizer from which the new may spring. A reorganization on a divisional instead of a regimental basis will in fact achieve this and, while requiring a wider mental horizon from the regimental soldier, need not in any way destroy the customs on which his older life was based.

It may be asked how this suggested system will fit in with the peace-time employment of the Army. Will it in fact be possible to use the Army, as in the past, for garrison duties throughout the Empire? Divisions are very large formations and many of the old stations, Aden for example, which were formerly garrisoned by a battalion, will not now be able to accommodate an entire division.

The question is valid, but its answer would seem to lie in a better appreciation of the resources of modern transport which the Army now has at its disposal. If full use is made of these, it should no longer be necessary to scatter small infantry garrisons in every area of possible trouble. To do so would once again prevent the Army from training itself for its real role in war. Divisions retained in central positions within, say, twelve hours road or air travel of the centres of trouble, and provided with the necessary transport, can still fulfil their role of assisting the civil power in time of need without meanwhile interfering with their normal work. In every case, so long as an Army is required, the demands of war must override all other considerations where organization is concerned. To think otherwise is to put the cart before the horse.

Conclusion

The time has come, therefore, when a new Regimental System should be planned. It should retain the positively useful features and achieve the objects for which the earlier system was designed, but it must be such that it will stand up to the strain of war and not break down as the earlier system did. To achieve this there is no need to scrap the system. That would do damage beyond repair, but the system should be enlarged to suit the enlarged conditions of world conflict.

It has been argued that the development of new weapons of warfare, such as the atom bomb, will render all armies obsolete. That is not our opinion, and anyway there is not the space to discuss that topic in this article. If true, then there is no more to be said ; but so long as an army does exist, let us ensure that it is as modern and as well designed to meet the new conditions as our ingenuity can make it. Let us not delay. There can be no better time for completing such a design than at the end of a major war with all our lessons of that war from which to draw, and no better opportunity than now, when the older system is already lying in ruins round our feet.

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