Experimental Mechanized Force
|Experimental Mechanized Force|
Vickers tanks on the move in England in the 1930s
|Equipment||Tanks and other armoured vehicles|
|Brigadier R. J. Collins|
The Experimental Mechanized Force was a brigade-sized formation of the British Army. It was officially formed on 1 May 1927 and was intended to investigate and develop the techniques and equipment required for armoured warfare. As such it was the first armoured formation of its kind in the world. It was renamed the Armoured Force the following year and for two years, it participated in exercises which proved the capabilities of mechanised forces against traditionally-organised and trained infantry and cavalry but also generated controversy in the army. The force was disbanded in February 1929. It was followed by experiments in a Tank Brigade in 1931, with three mixed battalions of medium and light tanks and a battalion of Carden Lloyd machine-gun carriers, operating as a reconnaissance force.
Armoured warfare theory
In the aftermath of World War I, several theorists sought ways to avoid trench warfare. The war of movement in 1914 had cost the French c. 850,000 and the Germans c. 670,000 men from August to December. The trench warfare that followed had been less costly in men but attrition warfare was indecisive; limited objective attacks under an umbrella of massed heavy artillery-fire could succeed but at the cost of unlimited duration. Colonel J. F. C. Fuller, formerly the Chief of Staff of the Tank Corps, proposed an all-tank force, which would operate independently against enemy headquarters and lines of communication. More moderate theorists such as the historian and former British army officer Basil Liddell Hart, advocated mechanised forces of all arms, able to carry out operations of war other than the all-out offensive. Giffard LeQuesne Martel, a third influential reformer, proposed that tanks should be subordinated to infantry formations, while many cavalry officers maintained that the horse still had a part to play on a modern battlefield, in spite of all evidence to the contrary on the Western Front in World War I.
Formation of the EMF
Following pressure from Fuller and from George Lindsay, the Inspector of the Royal Tank Corps, General George Milne, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, arranged for the formation of the Experimental Mechanized Force in October 1925. Milne was already inclined against the pure tank theorists and organised the force as a balanced force of all arms, as far as resources allowed. The force was established on 1 May 1927 at Tidworth Camp on Salisbury Plain and after unit training with the new equipment in the summer, training of the force as a unit began on 19 August. Fuller had originally been considered for appointment as commander of the force, combined with command of the 7th Infantry Brigade and the administrative responsibilities connected with the garrison of Tidworth. Fuller turned it down and resigned as the War Office refused to allot extra staff to assist him and Fuller believed he would be unable to devote himself to the force, its methods and tactics. Brigadier R. J. Collins, commander of the 7th Infantry Brigade, a light infantryman was appointed to command the Experimental Force in April 1927.
Over the two years following its formation, the Force participated in exercises on Salisbury Plain, the traditional training area of the British Army, which was generally open, with firm going and therefore ideal for mechanised units. The force's operations were almost invariably judged to be successful by the umpires. Its all-arms composition generally vindicated Liddell Hart's concepts, as the force was able to undertake operations such as opposed river crossings, that would have been impossible for an all-tank force. Liddell Hart complained that the force's operations were too small in scope and always served as an adjunct to larger, traditionally organised forces, rather than demonstrating that mechanised forces could operate independently and be strategically decisive. Another shortcoming which the exercises highlighted was that infantry lorries could not keep up with the tanks on rough going. The solution, which would be to provide the infantry with tracked or half-tracked armoured personnel carriers, was too expensive. After the Experimental Armoured Force was disbanded, the British Army formed ad hoc armoured forces in which the tank brigades and motorized infantry brigades tended to operate independently of each other, a fault repeated in the early years of World War II.
Order of battle
- Flank Reconnaissance Group
- Two armoured car companies (3rd Battalion Royal Tank Corps [RTC])
- Main Reconnaissance Group
- Tank battalion
- Mechanized Infantry
- Field Artillery
- 9th Field Brigade Royal Artillery (QF 18 pounder field guns, QF 4.5 inch Howitzers 2 batteries towed by Dragon tractors, 1 battery towed by Crossley-Kégresse half-tracks)
- 20 Battery (self-propelled Birch Guns)
- 9th Light Battery, Royal Artillery (3.7 inch Mountain Howitzers portée on Burford-Kégresse half-tracks)
- 2nd Battalion Cheshire Regiment
- Air support
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