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A large regiment is a multi-battalion infantry formation of the British Army. First formed in the 1960s, large regiments are the result of the amalgamation of three or more existing single-battalion regiments, and perpetuate the traditions of each of the predecessor units.

Origins[edit | edit source]

Following the Defence Review announced in 1957, the regular infantry of the British Army consisted of single-battalion regiments grouped in 14 administrative "brigades", each of three or four battalions. Although the battalions in a brigade shared a common depot and cap badge, they maintained a separate regimental identity. Reductions in troop numbers following the 1957 review had necessitated the amalgamation of pairs of regiments within the brigades from 1958 to 1961, a process that sometimes proved controversial.

The idea of the "large regiment" originated in 1962. Speaking in the House of Commons on 8 March. The Minister of War, John Profumo, stated that there was not going to be a further extensive reorganisation of army units. However, talking of the need to increase flexibility in the services, he noted that the regimental system of the infantry could be said to "stand in the way of change". He stated that the transition from the regimental to the brigade system "had on the whole been going well" and it was now time to see if there were "tangible advantages from the point of view of recruiting and flexibility" to be gained from a "large regiment system".[1]

On 16 March The Times reported that the War Office were in the early stages of planning for the creation of large regiments. The plan involved the conversion of the existing brigades into regiments, with each of the regiments forming a numbered battalion of the large regiment. The creation of the multi-battalion regiments would allow the infantry to be expanded or reduced as needed. This could be done by the increase or decrease in the number of battalions of each regiment, rather than by the emotive process of merging or disbanding historic single-battalion regiments. The report noted that this process had effectively already begun in the East Anglian and Green Jackets Brigades, where regiments had been redesignated or amalgamated as the 1st, 2nd and 3rd East Anglian Regiments and 1st, 2nd and 3rd Green Jackets.[2]

The first large regiments[edit | edit source]

In February 1964, approval for the creation of the first large regiment was given. The Royal Anglian Regiment was to be formed from the four regular battalions of the East Anglian Brigade.[3] The regiment was formed on 1 September. In May 1965 it was announced that the regiments of the Green Jackets Brigade were to become the three-battalion Royal Green Jackets from 1 January 1966.[4]

In September 1965, figures showed that the new large regiments were recruiting more successfully than the remaining single-battalion regiments, some of which were only at rifle company strength. In particular the Welsh, North Irish and Lancastrian Brigades were under strength. It was thought that the Yorkshire Brigade and Home Counties Brigade were likely to form large regiments in the near future, while plans to merge the battalions of the Highland Brigade were only being delayed by failure to agree on a common tartan to be worn. While the Army Board could not compel regiments to amalgamate, it was their stated "wish and intention" that they should. The survival of the weaker brigades was under doubt, while a feasibility study into the formation of a single "Corps of Infantry" was initiated.[5]

In June 1966, it was announced that the regiments of the Home Counties Brigade had agreed to form the third large regiment.[6] Accordingly, on 31 December, the four regiments became The Queen's Regiment.

By July 1967, three more Brigades had opted to become large regiments. All three mergers occurred in 1968: the Fusilier Brigade became the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers on 23 April, the North Irish Brigade became the Royal Irish Rangers on 1 July and the Light Infantry Brigade became The Light Infantry on 10 July. The Defence White Paper of 1967 reduced the number of infantry battalions, with the large regiments all losing one battalion in 1968. The six brigades that had chosen not to form large regiments were also to lose a battalion: the decision to amalgamate a pair of regiments or to disband the junior regiment being left to the council of colonels of the brigade.[7]

On 1 July 1968, the brigade system was abandoned, with the infantry being grouped in five administrative "divisions" instead. Individual regimental cap badges were reintroduced and the creation of large regiments effectively ceased. Following a change of government in 1970, a policy of retaining single-battalion regiments was shown with the reversal of decisions to disband the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and to merge the Gloucestershire and Royal Hampshire Regiments.

Options for Change[edit | edit source]

Under the Options for Change defence cuts announced in 1990, the number of infantry battalions was to be reduced. While most of the reductions were effected by the merger of pairs of single-battalion regiments, two existing large regiments were further enlarged and the infantry regiments of the Brigade of Gurkhas became a large regiment:

Over the next few years, the junior battalions of most large regiments were disbanded, leaving them with two regular battalions.

Future Infantry Structure[edit | edit source]

In 2004, the Army Board announced the ending of the "Arms Plot" system, where individual battalions changed role and moved station every 2 to 6 years. The Board argued that the existing system led to seven or eight battalions being unavailable at any time due to retraining while changing roles. The lack of stability for the families of soldiers due to constant moving of locations was also cited as a disadvantage. In the future, battalions would retain the same role and largely the same location. As part of this process, all infantry would be organised as large single cap badge regiments of two or more battalions. At the same time, there was to be a reduction in the number of battalions, with amalgamations to take place within the administrative divisions created in 1968: The Scottish Division was to lose 1 battalion, the King's Division 2 and the Prince of Wales's Division 1. Each division was to consider one of two options:

  • The "small/large" option of 2 (3 in the case of the Queen's Division) regiments, each of 2 or 3 battalions.
  • The "large/large" option of one regiment of 4 or more battalions.[8]

The results of the reorganisation, which were completed in September 2007, were:

The Scottish Division formed a single "large/large" regiment, The Royal Regiment of Scotland,[9] on 28 March 2006 from:

The Queen's Division adopted the "small/large" option, retaining the three existing regiments with two regular battalions each:

  • The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment (Queen's and Royal Hampshires)
  • The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers
  • The Royal Anglian Regiment

The King's Division also adopted the "small/large" option:

The Prince of Wales' Division formed two "small/large" regiments:

The Light Division formed a single five-battalion "large/large" regiment, The Rifles on 1 February 2007 from:

The Territorial Army has also been reorganised so that each large regiment has one or more TA battalions.

The Guards Division and those regiments outside the divisional structure (The Royal Irish Regiment (27th (Inniskilling), 83rd, 87th and Ulster Defence Regiment), The Royal Gurkha Rifles and the Parachute Regiment were left unreformed.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. More adaptations forecast in the Army: study of "large regiment" basis for infantry, The Times, 9 March 1962
  2. Bigger infantry regiments planned by War Office, The Times, 16 March 1962
  3. First of new large regiments, The Times, 25 February 1964
  4. New Green Jackets Regiment, The Times, 29 May 1965
  5. Infantry may be reshaped, The Times, 30 September 1965
  6. New Home Counties large regiment, The Times, 1 July 1966
  7. Defence White Paper: sweeping changes in Britain's forces, The Times, 19 July 1967
  8. Future Infantry Structure, (Ministry of Defence), accessed 21 August 2007
  9. The amalgamation of the Scottish regiments proved an emotive issue, and led to the compromise of the names of the amalgamated regiments becoming the title of the new battalions, with each battalion's number being the subtitle - for example the full title of the 1st Battalion is "The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland", as opposed to "1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland (Royal Scots Borderers)", the pattern adopted by the English and Welsh regiments.

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