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British Expeditionary Force order of battle (1914)

The British Expeditionary Force order of battle 1914, as originally despatched to France in August and September 1914, at the beginning of World War I. The British Army prior to World War I traced its origins to the increasing demands of imperial expansion together with inefficiencies highlighted during the Crimean War, which led to the Cardwell and Childers Reforms of the late 19th century. These gave the British Army its modern shape, and defined its regimental system. The Haldane Reforms of 1907, formally created an Expeditionary force and the Territorial Force.

Memorial dedicated to the regiment of the British Expeditionary Force who took part in the fighting sequence near Mons (Belgium).

The British Army was different from the French and German Armies at the beginning of the conflict in that it was made up from volunteers, not conscripts.[1] It was also considerably smaller than its French and German counterparts.[2]

The outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 saw the bulk of the changes in the Haldane reforms put to the test. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) of six divisions was quickly sent to the Continent.[3]

This order of battle includes all combat units, including engineer and artillery units, but not medical, supply and signal units. Commanders are listed for all formations of brigade size or higher, and for significant staff positions.

Plans for the Expeditionary ForceEdit

Under pre-war plans, an expeditionary force was to be organised from among the Regular Army forces in the United Kingdom, with a strength of six infantry divisions and one cavalry division (72 infantry battalions and 14 cavalry regiments), plus support units.

It was planned that the seven divisions would be centrally controlled by General Headquarters and as such no plans were made for intermediate levels of command. One corps staff was maintained in peacetime, but the decision was made on mobilisation to create a second (and later a third) in order to better conform with the French command structure; both of these had to be improvised.

At the time of mobilisation, there were significant fears of a German landing in force on the English east coast, and as such the decision was taken to hold back two divisions for home defence, and only send four, plus the cavalry division, to France for the present. The 4th was eventually despatched at the end of August, and the 6th in early September.


The initial Commander-in-Chief of the BEF was Field-Marshal Sir John French. His Chief of Staff was Lieutenant-General Sir A. J. Murray, with Major-General H. H. Wilson as his deputy. GSO 1 (Operations) was Colonel G. M. Harper, and GSO 1 (Intelligence) was Colonel G. M. W. Macdonogh.

The Adjutant-General was Major-General Sir C. F. N. Macready, with Major-General E. R. C. Graham as Deputy Adjutant-General and Colonel A. E. J. Cavendish as Assistant Adjutant-General. The Quartermaster-General was Major-General Sir W. R. Robertson, with Colonel C. T. Dawkins as Assistant Quartermaster-General. The Royal Artillery was commanded by Major-General W. F. L. Lindsay, and the Royal Engineers by Brigadier-General G. H. Fowke.

GHQ Troops, Royal EngineersEdit

General Headquarters Troops controlled the army group engineers. It had the following structure in 1914:[4]

British Expeditionary Force 1914


There was no permanently established cavalry division in the British Army; on mobilisation, the 1st through to 4th Cavalry Brigades were grouped together to form a division, whilst the 5th Cavalry Brigade remained as an independent unit.

On 6 September, the 3rd Cavalry Brigade was detached to act jointly with the 5th, under the overall command of Brigadier-General Gough. This force was re-designated the 2nd Cavalry Division on 16 September.

Cavalry DivisionEdit

The Cavalry Division was commanded by Major-General Edmund Allenby, with Colonel John Vaughan as GSO 1 and Brigadier-General B. F. Drake commanding the Royal Horse Artillery.

Independent brigadeEdit

I CorpsEdit

I Corps was commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir Douglas Haig. His senior staff officers were Brigadier-General J. E. Gough (Chief of Staff), Brigadier-General H. S. Horne (commanding Royal Artillery) and Brigadier-General S. R. Rice (commanding Royal Engineers).

1st DivisionEdit

1st Division was commanded by Major-General S. H. Lomax, with Colonel R. Fanshawe as GSO 1. Brigadier-General N. D. Findlay commanded the Royal Artillery, and Lieutenant-Colonel A. L. Schreiber commanded the Royal Engineers.

2nd DivisionEdit

2nd Division was commanded by Major-General C. C. Monro, with Colonel Hon. F. Gordon as GSO 1. Brigadier-General E. M. Perceval commanded the Royal Artillery, and Lieutenant-Colonel R. H. H. Boys commanded the Royal Engineers.

II CorpsEdit

II Corps was commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir James Grierson. His senior staff officers were Brigadier-General George Forestier-Walker (Chief of Staff), Brigadier-General A. H. Short (commanding Royal Artillery) and Brigadier-General A. E. Sandbach (commanding Royal Engineers).

Lieutenant-General Grierson died on a train between Rouen and Amiens on 17 August; General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien took over command at Bavai, on 21 August at 4pm.

3rd DivisionEdit

3rd Division was commanded by Major-General Hubert I. W. Hamilton, with Colonel F. R. F. Boileau as GSO 1. Brigadier-General F. D. V. Wing commanded the Royal Artillery, and Lieutenant-Colonel C. S. Wilson commanded the Royal Engineers.

Men of 4th/Royal Fusiliers, 9th Brigade, resting before the Battle of Mons, 22 August 1914

5th DivisionEdit

5th Division was commanded by Major-General Sir C. Fergusson, with Lieutenant-Colonel C. F. Romer as GSO 1. Brigadier-General J. E. W. Headlam commanded the Royal Artillery, and Lieutenant-Colonel J. A. S. Tulloch commanded the Royal Engineers.

III CorpsEdit

III Corps was formed in France on 31 August 1914, commanded by Major-General W. P. Pulteney. His senior staff officers were Brigadier-General J. P. Du Cane (Chief of Staff), Brigadier-General E. J. Phipps-Hornby (commanding Royal Artillery) and Brigadier-General F. M. Glubb (commanding Royal Engineers).

4th DivisionEdit

The 4th Division landed in France on the night of 22 August and 23. It was commanded by Major-General T. D'O. Snow, with Colonel J. E. Edmonds as GSO 1. Brigadier-General G. F. Milne commanded the Royal Artillery, and Lieutenant-Colonel H. B. Jones commanded the Royal Engineers.

6th DivisionEdit

The 6th Division embarked for France on 8 and 9 September. It was commanded by Major-General J. L. Keir, with Colonel W. T. Furse as GSO 1. Brigadier-General W. L. H. Paget commanded the Royal Artillery, and Lieutenant-Colonel G. C. Kemp commanded the Royal Engineers.

Army troopsEdit

British Expeditionary Force 1914

(Royal Garrison Artillery units)

Royal Flying CorpsEdit

The Royal Flying Corps units in France were commanded by Brigadier-General Sir David Henderson, with Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick Sykes as his Chief of Staff.

Lines of communication defence troopsEdit

Unit strengthsEdit

A cavalry regiment contained three squadrons and was provided with two machine-guns. An infantry battalion contained four companies and two machine-guns.

A Royal Horse Artillery battery contained six 13-pounder guns, whilst a Royal Field Artillery battery contained six 18-pounder guns, or six 4.5-inch howitzers. A heavy battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery contained four 60 pounder guns. Each battery had two ammunition wagons per gun, and each artillery brigade contained its own ammunition column.

Each division received an anti-aircraft detachment of 1-pounder pom-pom guns in September, attached to the divisional artillery.

The Cavalry Division had a total of 12 cavalry regiments in four brigades, and each infantry division had 12 battalions in three brigades. The strength of the Cavalry Division (not counting 5th Cavalry Brigade) came to 9,269 all ranks, with 9,815 horses, 24 13-pounder guns and 24 machine-guns. The strength of each infantry division came to 18,073 all ranks, with 5,592 horses, 76 guns and 24 machine-guns.

Units not employed in the Expeditionary ForceEdit

In broad numeric terms, the British Expeditionary Force represented half the combat strength of the British Army; as an imperial power, a sizeable portion of the army had to be kept aside for overseas garrisons. Home defence was expected to be provided by the volunteers of the Territorial Force and by the reserves.

The total strength of the Regular Army in July was 125,000 men in the British Isles, with 75,000 in India and Burma and a further 33,000 in other overseas postings. The Army Reserve came to 145,000 men, with 64,000 in the Militia (or Special Reserve) and 272,000 in the Territorial Force.

Home serviceEdit

The peacetime regular establishment in the British Isles was eighty-one battalions of infantry — in theory, one battalion of each line regiment was deployed on home service and one on overseas service at any given point, rotating the battalions every few years — and nineteen regiments of cavalry.

Aside from those earmarked for the Expeditionary Force, there were three battalions of Guards and eight of line infantry (including those in the Channel Islands) – roughly a division's worth. In the event, six battalions of these regulars were deployed to the Continent along with the Expeditionary Force, to act as army troops. The Border Regiment and Alexandra, Princess of Wales's Own (Yorkshire Regiment) had the unusual distinction of being the only two regular infantry regiments not to contribute troops to the Expeditionary Force; both would first see action with 7th Division, which landed in October.

Given the rioting that had occurred during the national strikes 1911–12, there was concern that there would be unrest in London at the outbreak of war. Consequently, three cavalry regiments — the 1st Life Guards, 2nd Life Guards, and Royal Horse Guards – were stationed in the London District and not earmarked for the Expeditionary Force; these each provided a squadron for a composite regiment, which served with the 4th Cavalry Brigade. In addition, there were three Royal Field Artillery brigades, and a number of Royal Horse Artillery batteries, not earmarked for overseas service.

After the Expeditionary Force had departed, this left a total regular establishment of three cavalry regiments (somewhat depleted) and five infantry battalions[12] – less than a tenth of the normal combat strength of the home forces, and mostly deployed around London. This defensive force would be supplemented by the units of the Territorial Force, which were called up on the outbreak of war — indeed, many were already embodied for their summer training when mobilisation was ordered — and by the Special Reserve.

The Territorial Force was planned with a mobilisation strength of fourteen divisions, each structured along the lines of a regular division with twelve infantry battalions, four artillery brigades, two engineer companies, &c. – and fourteen brigades of Yeomanry cavalry. It was envisaged that these units would be used solely for home defence, though in the event almost all volunteered for overseas service; the first battalions arrived on the Continent in November.

Overseas serviceEdit

Forty-eight battalions of infantry were serving in India – the equivalent of four regular divisions — with five in Malta, four in South Africa, four in Egypt, and a dozen in various other Imperial outposts. A further nine regular cavalry regiments were serving in India, with two in South Africa and one in Egypt.

The forces in the rest of the British Empire were not expected to contribute to the Expeditionary Force. A sizeable proportion of these were part of the ten-division Army of India, a mixture of local forces and British regulars; planning had begun in August 1913 to arrange how the Indian forces could be used in a European war, and a tentative plan had been made for two infantry divisions and a cavalry brigade to be added to the Expeditionary Force; these were despatched, in the event, but did not arrive in France until October.

In the event, most of the overseas garrison units were withdrawn as soon as they could be replaced with Territorial battalions, and new regular divisions were formed piecemeal in the United Kingdom. None of these units arrived in time to see service with the Expeditionary Force.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Chappell, p 4
  2. ^ Chappell, p 3
  3. ^ Ensor, pp. 525–526
  4. ^ The Corps Of Royal Engineers: Organization and Units 1889—2018. p. 18.
  5. ^ Succeeded by Brigadier-General John Vaughan in September.
  6. ^ Replaced by H Battery, RHA, in September, after near-destruction at Néry.
  7. ^ a b In September, the 1st Camerons replaced the 2nd Munsters in 1st (Guards) Brigade.
  8. ^ a b In September, the 1st Devonshires replaced the 1st Gordons in the 8th Infantry Brigade.
  9. ^ The North Irish Horse and South Irish Horse, part of the Special Reserve, have the distinction of being the first non-regular regiments to be sent to the Western Front.
  10. ^ Landed at St. Nazaire on 5 October, came into action on 16 October
  11. ^ a b c d These four battalions were formed into the 19th Infantry Brigade on 22 August, at Valenciennes, commanded by Major-General L. G. Drummond.
  12. ^ The 1st and 3rd Grenadier Guards and 2nd Scots Guards in London, 2nd Border Regiment at Pembroke, and 2nd Yorkshire Regiment in the Channel Islands.


External linksEdit

A list of the staff officers of the Expeditionary Force in 1914 is given in "No. 28879". The London Gazette. 25 August 1914. pp. 6685–6694.