Infantry of the British Army

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Recruiting areas of British line infantry regiments

The Infantry of the British Army, part of the structure of the British Army, comprises 47 infantry battalions, from 19 regiments. Of these, 33 battalions are part of the Regular army and the remaining 14 a part of the Army Reserve. The British Army's Infantry forms a highly flexible organisation, taking on a variety of roles, including armoured, mechanised, air assault and light.

Recruitment and training


Traditionally, regiments that form the combat arms of the British Army (cavalry and infantry) recruit from specific areas of the country. Infantry regiments had been assigned specific areas from which they would recruit from by the mid eighteenth century. These were formalised under the Cardwell Reforms that began in the 1860s. Under this scheme, single battalion infantry regiments were amalgamated into two battalion regiments, then assigned to a depot and associated recruiting area (which would usually correspond to all or part of a county). The recruiting area (usually) would then become part of the regiment's title. It was this that gave rise to the concept of the "county regiment", with the local infantry regiment becoming part of the fabric of its local area.

Over time, regiments have been amalgamated further, which has led to recruiting areas of individual regiments increasing in size. Often, these amalgamations have been between regiments whose recruiting areas border each other. However, there have been occasions where regiments of a similar type, but from widely different areas, have been amalgamated. Two modern examples have been the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (amalgamated from the county regiments of Northumberland, Warwickshire, City of London and Lancashire, all of which were regiments of fusiliers) and The Light Infantry (amalgamated from the county regiments of Cornwall, Somerset, Shropshire, South Yorkshire and Durham, all of which were regiments of light infantry).

Since September 2007, when the most recent reforms were completed, the infantry has consisted of 18 separate regiments. The five regiments of foot guards recruit from their respective home nations (with the exception of the Coldstream Guards, which recruits from the counties through which the regiment marched between Coldstream and London). Scotland, Ireland and Wales each have a single regiment of line infantry from which they recruit (though the battalions of the Royal Regiment of Scotland recruit from the areas they recruited from when they were separate regiments), while England has seven line infantry and rifles regiments. The Parachute Regiment recruits nationally, while the Royal Gurkha Rifles recruits most of its serving personnel from Nepal, and the Royal Gibraltar Regiment recruits from the UK and Commonwealth nations

Before the Second World War, infantry recruits were required to be at least 5 feet 2 inches (1.57 m) tall. They initially enlisted for seven years with the colours and a further five years with the reserve. They trained at their own regimental depot.[1]


Unlike the other trades in the army, which have separate units for basic training and specialised training, new recruits into the infantry undergo a single course at the Infantry Training Centre Catterick. This course, called the "Combat Infantryman's Course" (CIC), lasts 26 weeks as standard and teaches recruits both the basics of soldiering (Phase 1 training) and the specifics of soldiering in the infantry (Phase 2 training). On completion of the CIC, the newly qualified infantry soldier will then be posted to his battalion.[2]

For some infantry units, the CIC is longer, due to specific additional requirements for individual regiments:

  • The Foot Guards CIC has an additional two-week enhanced drill course.
  • The Parachute Regiment CIC has an additional two-week Pre-Parachute Selection (PPS) course.
  • The Brigade of Gurkhas CIC combines the Common Military Syllabus with the CIC, together with courses on British culture and the English Language. The Gurkha CIC lasts 37 weeks.

New officers conduct their Phase 1 training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Phase 2 training for officers, which is encompassed by the Platoon Commander's Battle Course, is run at the Infantry Battle School at Brecon in Wales. It is here that leadership and tactics are taught to new platoon commanders. New NCOs and Warrant Officers are also sent on courses at Brecon when they come up for promotion. This encompasses Phase 3 training. Phase 3 training is also undertaken at the Support Weapons School at Warminster, where new officers, NCOs and soldiers are trained in the use of support weapons (mortars, anti-tank weapons) and in communications.

Territorial Infantrymen undertake preliminary training at Regional Training Centres prior to attending a two-week CIC(TA) at Catterick.

Headquarters Infantry

Headquarters Infantry, which is located at the Land Warfare Centre on Imber Road in Warminster, is responsible for recruiting, manning and training policy of the Infantry.[3]

Divisions of infantry

The majority of the infantry in the British Army is divided for administrative purposes into five divisions. These are not the same as the ready and regenerative divisions (see below), but are based on either the geographical recruiting areas of the regiments, or the type of regiments:

A further division, the Light Division, grouped together the regiments of light infantry and rifles until they were amalgamated into a single regiment in 2007, while the Prince of Wales' Division will be merged with the Scottish Division in 2017 to become The Scottish, Welsh and Irish Division.

Regular army

Guards Division Scottish, Welsh and Irish Division King's Division Queen's Division
Grenadier Guards The Royal Regiment of Scotland The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment
Coldstream Guards The Royal Welsh The Yorkshire Regiment The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers
Scots Guards The Royal Irish Regiment The Mercian Regiment The Royal Anglian Regiment
Irish Guards The Royal Gibraltar Regiment
Welsh Guards

There are further infantry units in the army that are not grouped in the various divisions:

Army Reserve

File:British Infantry 2020 Refine.png
British Army Infantry Organization after Army 2020 Refine reform (click to enlarge)

Types of infantry


Within the British Army, there are four main types of infantry:

  • Armoured Infantry - armoured infantry are equipped with the Warrior armoured personnel carrier, a tracked vehicle that can deploy over all terrain.
  • Mechanised Infantry - mechanised infantry are equipped with the Bulldog tracked vehicle. Since the mid-2000s, they have been using vehicles like Mastiff PPV.
  • Light Infantry - light infantry are not equipped with armoured vehicles, such units may specialise in jungle and/or arctic warfare
  • Air Assault Infantry - air assault infantry are trained to be deployed using helicopters, parachute or aircraft.
  • Specialised Infantry - infantry configured to provide an increased contribution to countering terrorism and building stability overseas.


The infantry is traditionally divided into three types:

  • Foot Guards - foot guards are those infantry regiments that were formed specifically to provide close guard to the King. Soldiers in the guards were usually the best trained and equipped members of the infantry. However, they would fight in the same way as ordinary regiments.
  • Line Infantry - line infantry refers to those regiments that historically fought in linear formations, unlike light troops, who fought in loose order. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw expansion of the roles of the infantry. To this end, the companies stationed on each flank of an infantry battalion were specialist units, with a company of light infantry trained as skirmishers to operate independently on the battlefield, and a company of grenadiers, who were usually the biggest and strongest men in the battalion, operating as the lead assault troops.
  • Light Infantry - in the late eighteenth century, the development of the Baker rifle led to the commissioning by the British Army of regiments specially trained to use the new weapon. These regiments would operate as skirmishers and sharpshooters on the edges of the field of battle. These regiments wore green rather than red tunics to enable them to blend in more with the environment, thus giving them the nickname "green jackets".

The tactical distinctions between infantry regiments disappeared in the late nineteenth century, but remain in tradition. In the order of precedence, the five regiments of foot guards are ranked above the ten regiments of traditional line infantry, who are ranked above the two remaining regiments of rifles.

Divisions and brigades

Battalions are attached permanently (semi-permanently for light role battalions) to formations. As of current:

This structure will alter due to the Army 2020 Refine initiative.


Delivering Security in a Changing World (2003)

HM Treasury asked for major cuts in the strength of the infantry in 2003, with at least ten battalions to be disbanded. This proved so unacceptable that, in November 2003, there was consideration to instead reducing each battalion to two rifle companies (with the third to come from the TA).[8] By March 2004, ECAB had shown that the maximum number of battalions it was possible to cut was four. This was finally officially announced as part of the army re-organisation. The arms plot system would be abolished; instead, individual battalions would be given fixed roles. To ensure that officers and men could continue to gain the variety of skills that the arms plot provided, the restructuring would also see a series of amalgamations of the remaining single battalion infantry regiments into large regiments. In addition, the regular army will lose four battalions. The roles are divided up as follows:

  • Armoured Infantry - 8 battalions (including Land Warfare Training Battalion)
  • Mechanised Infantry - 3 battalions
  • Light Role Infantry (including public duties and Gurkhas) - 20 battalions
  • Air Assault Infantry - 4 battalions
  • Commando Infantry - 1 battalion
  • Territorial Army Infantry - 14 battalions

The reorganisation was a hybrid of the systems used to organise the regular infantry in Australia and Canada. Australia's regular infantry encompasses eight battalions in a single large regiment, the Royal Australian Regiment - this system is the one undertaken by the Scottish Division and the Light Division. Canada's regular infantry has three regiments, each of three battalions, which is how the King's Division and the Prince of Wales' Division will be restructured (albeit with one regiment of three battalions and one of two battalions each).

In addition to the army's infantry battalions, there are three further battalion-sized commando infantry units, which are part of the Royal Marines, as well as eight field squadrons (each larger than an infantry company) of the RAF Regiment, who have responsibility for the ground defence of air assets and are under the control of the Royal Air Force.

The majority of infantry battalions are attached to one of the deployable brigades. However, there are a number of formations that exist to administer those infantry battalions that are not assigned to deployable brigades, but are instead available for independent deployment on roulement tours.

Guards Division

Each battalion in the five single battalion regiments of the Guards Division has a fixed role:

Two battalions will be assigned as general light role battalions, with the other two assigned to public duties. These battalions will periodically rotate roles and postings.

Scottish Division

The six battalions of the Scottish Division have amalgamated into a single five battalion regiment to be called the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

King's Division

The six battalions of the King's Division have amalgamated into two regiments;

Prince of Wales's Division

The original seven battalions of the Prince of Wales's Division have been reduced to five with the transfer of the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment and the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment to the Light Division. The five remaining battalions will amalgamate into two regiments;

Queen's Division

The three existing large regiments of the Queen's Division remain unaffected by the restructuring.

Light Division

The four current battalions of the Light Division in two regiments were augmented by two battalions from the Prince of Wales's Division in 2005. These two were amalgamated into a single battalion and then amalgamated with Light Infantry and the Royal Green Jackets to form a new five battalion regiment, called The Rifles. On its formation, the Light Division was abolished.[9]

  • Armoured Infantry (5 RIFLES) - 1
  • Light Role (2 RIFLES, 3 RIFLES) - 2
  • Mechanised Infantry (4 RIFLES) - 1
  • Commando (1 RIFLES) - 1

Other infantry regiments

  • The single regular battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment is unamalgamated to "retain an infantry footprint in Northern Ireland".
    • Air Assault/Light Role (1 R IRISH) - 1
  • The Royal Gurkha Rifles is unaffected by the restructuring. However, the UK based battalion has been integrated more fully with the rest of the infantry and trained in the air assault role.
    • Air Assault/Light Role (2 RGR) - 1
    • Light Role (1 RGR) - 1

Territorial Army

With the exception of the Royal Gurkha Rifles, every line infantry regiment has at least one TA battalion (the Royal Regiment of Scotland and The Rifles have two). The Guards Division has The London Regiment as an affiliated TA battalion.

Strategic Defence and Security Review (2010)/Army 2020

Following the 2010 General Election, the new government instituted a new defence review. The ultimate conclusion of this process was to reduce the size of the British Army from approximately 102,000 to approximately 82,000 by 2020. The detail of the process was subsequently announced as Army 2020 in July 2012. As part of this, the infantry was reduced in size from 36 regular battalions to 31. Of the five to be withdrawn, two were armoured infantry units, two general light infantry and one a specialist air assault infantry battalion. The withdrawal of two armoured infantry battalions is to bring this into line with the planned future operational structure, intended to see three "armoured infantry brigades", each with a pair of infantry battalions, forming the core of the Army's "reaction forces". These two battalions, along with the two light infantry battalions, will be disbanded and their personnel distributed among the remaining battalions of each regiment. The air assault battalion will be reduced to company strength, with the intention that it is assigned as a permanent public duties unit in Scotland.

The affected regiments were:

  • Royal Regiment of Scotland
    • The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland - Reduced to an incremental company and assigned to public duties in Scotland.
  • Royal Regiment of Fusiliers
    • 2nd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers - Disbanded and personnel redistributed to 1st Battalion.
  • Yorkshire Regiment (14th/15th, 19th and 33rd/76th Foot)
    • 2nd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment (14th/15th, 19th and 33rd/76th Foot) (Green Howards) - Disbanded and personnel redistributed to 1st and 3rd Battalions. 3 YORKS will eventually be renamed as 1 YORKS. 1 YORKS will eventually be renumbered as 2 YORKS.[10]
  • Mercian Regiment
    • 3rd Battalion, The Mercian Regiment (Staffords) - Disbanded and personnel redistributed to 1st and 2nd Battalions.
  • Royal Welsh
    • 2nd Battalion, The Royal Welsh (Royal Regiment of Wales) - Disbanded and personnel redistributed to 1st Battalion.

In addition, the Royal Irish Regiment (27th (Inniskilling), 83rd, 87th and Ulster Defence Regiment) was transferred to the administration of the Prince of Wales' Division.

Army 2020 Refine

Under a further review called Army 2020 Refine, the 1st Battalion, Scots Guards and the 4th Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland will be equipped with Mechanised Infantry Vehicles and form the core of the first Strike Brigade under the Reaction Force. The 1st Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland, the 4th Battalion, The Rifles, the 2nd Battalion, Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment and the 2nd Battalion, Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment will be reorganised as specialised infantry battalions, to provide an increased contribution to countering terrorism and building stability overseas, these battalions will have around 300 personnel [11][12]

Other regiments

Disbanded regiments

Over time, a handful of infantry regiments have disappeared from the roll through disbandment rather than amalgamation. In the 20th Century, seven regiments disappeared like this:

Regiments that never were

Since the Cardwell reforms began, infantry regiments in the British Army have amalgamated on many occasions. However, there have been occasions where amalgamations have been announced, but have then been abandoned:

Fictional regiments

In recent years, there have been many depictions of the British Army of various periods in fiction. Two notable ones depicting the modern British Army have been Spearhead from the period of the late 1970s, and Soldier Soldier from the early to mid-1990s. Both are seen as reasonably accurate depictions of life in the army at those times, and both are centred on a fictional infantry regiment. The more recent depiction of the British Army came in the film The Mark of Cain, which featured an infantry regiment deployed to Iraq, and the difficulties it faced.

The Loamshire Regiment is used by the British Army as the placeholder name in the provision of examples for its procedures, for example in the method of addressing letters to members of the forces produced by the British Forces Post Office.

Order of precedence

Preceded by
Royal Corps of Signals
Order of precedence Succeeded by
Special Air Service


  1. War Office, His Majesty's Army, 1938
  2. Marshall, Andrew. "British Army Phase 1: Initial Military Training". Retrieved 27 July 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Headquarters Infantry". Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 23 November 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Regular Army basing matrix by formation and unit Archived 14 August 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  5. Regular Army Basing Announcement footnote 10 Archived 14 August 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  6. "2 PWRR - British Army Website". Retrieved 22 December 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "2nd Battalion (Poachers) - British Army Website". Retrieved 22 December 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. News - Telegraph
  9. The Rifles - March 2006 situation report 2
  10. Duke of Wellington's Regiment
  11. "Strategic Defence and Security Review - Army: Written statement - HCWS367". Hansard. Retrieved 16 December 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Oral evidence: SDSR 2015 and the Army, HC 108". Hansard. Retrieved 17 December 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Statement to Parliament revealing the "Two Battalion add back" Archived 17 March 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  14. Hoon wins his regimental campaign Archived 25 March 2007 at the Wayback Machine Daily Telegraph 16 July 2004
  15. Sikh regiment dumped over 'racism' fears Daily Telegraph 24 June 2007

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External links