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.
Following the Defence Review announced in 1957, the majority of regular infantry of the British Army consisted of single-battalion regiments grouped in administrative "brigades", consisting of anywhere from two to seven battalions.[note 1]
Although the battalions in a brigade (with the exception of the Guards and Gurkha brigades) 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.
- Royal Scots Fusiliers/Highland Light Infantry (City of Glasgow Regiment) - Royal Highland Fusiliers (Princess Margaret's Own Glasgow and Ayrshire Regiment)
- Seaforth Highlanders (Ross-shire Buffs, The Duke of Albany's)/Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders - Queen's Own Highlanders (Seaforth and Camerons)
- Queen's Royal Regiment (West Surrey)/East Surrey Regiment - Queen's Royal Surrey Regiment
- The Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment)/Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment - Queen's Own Buffs, The Royal Kent Regiment
- Royal Norfolk Regiment/Suffolk Regiment - 1st East Anglian Regiment (Royal Norfolk and Suffolk)
- Royal Lincolnshire Regiment/Northamptonshire Regiment - 2nd East Anglian Regiment (Duchess of Gloucester's Own Royal Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire)
- Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment/Essex Regiment - 3rd East Anglian Regiment (16th/44th Foot)
- South Staffordshire Regiment/North Staffordshire Regiment (The Princes of Wales's) - Staffordshire Regiment (Prince of Wales's)
- Devonshire Regiment/Dorset Regiment - Devonshire and Dorset Regiment
- Royal Berkshire Regiment (Princess Charlotte of Wales's)/Wiltshire Regiment (Duke of Edinburgh's) - Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment (Berkshire and Wiltshire)
- East Lancashire Regiment/South Lancashire Regiment (Prince of Wales's Volunteers) - Lancashire Regiment (Prince of Wales's Volunteers)
- King's Regiment (Liverpool)/Manchester Regiment - King's Regiment (Manchester and Liverpool)
- King's Own Royal Regiment (Lancaster)/Border Regiment - King's Own Royal Border Regiment
- West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales's Own)/East Yorkshire Regiment (Duke of York's Own) - Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire
- Somerset Light Infantry (Prince Albert's)/Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry - Somerset and Cornwall Light Infantry
Genesis of the large regiment
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".
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.
The first large regiments
In 1963, the first preparations for the introduction of large regiments began with the disbanding of the Forester Brigade. The Royal Lincolnshire Regiment had transferred to the East Anglian Brigade and amalgamated with the Northamptonshire Regiment in 1958. Five years later, the three remaining battalions were also moved, with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment moving to the Fusilier Brigade (and being renamed as the Royal Warwickshire Fusiliers); the Royal Leicestershire Regiment to the East Anglian Brigade; and the Sherwood Foresters to the Mercian Brigade.
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. 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.
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.
In June 1966, it was announced that the regiments of the Home Counties Brigade had agreed to form the third large regiment. 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.[note 3]
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 implemented.[note 4]
- Royal Anglian Regiment - formed 1 September 1964 from:
- 1st East Anglian Regiment (Royal Norfolk and Suffolk) - 1st Battalion
- 2nd East Anglian Regiment (Duchess of Gloucester's Own Royal Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire) - 2nd Battalion
- 3rd East Anglian Regiment (16th/44th Foot) - 3rd Battalion
- The Royal Leicestershire Regiment - 4th Battalion[note 5]
- Royal Green Jackets - formed 1 January 1966 from:
- Queen's Regiment - formed 31 December 1966 from:
- Royal Regiment of Fusiliers - formed 23 April 1968 from:
- Royal Irish Rangers (27th (Inniskilling), 83rd and 87th) - formed 1 July 1968 from:
- The Light Infantry - formed 10 July 1968 from:
Options for Change
Under the Options for Change defence cuts announced in 1990, the number of infantry battalions was to be reduced. While some of the reductions were effected by the merger of pairs of single-battalion regiments,[note 11] two existing large regiments were further amalgamated, and the four single battalion infantry regiments of the Brigade of Gurkhas became a large regiment.
- Royal Irish Regiment (27th (Inniskilling), 83rd, 87th and Ulster Defence Regiment) - formed 1 July 1992 from:[note 12]
- The Royal Irish Rangers (27th (Inniskilling), 83rd and 87th)
- The Ulster Defence Regiment
- The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment (Queen's and Royal Hampshires) - formed 9 September 1992 from:[note 13]
- The Royal Gurkha Rifles - formed 1 July 1994 from:[note 14]
Future Infantry Structure
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 one battalion, the King's Division two and the Prince of Wales's Division one. Each division was to consider one of two options:
- The "small/large" option of two (three in the case of the Queen's Division) regiments, each of two or three battalions.
- The "large/large" option of one regiment of four or more battalions.
The results of the reorganisation, which were completed in September 2007, were:
- The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment)[note 18]
- The Royal Highland Fusiliers (Princess Margaret's Own Glasgow and Ayrshire Regiment) - 2nd Battalion
- The King's Own Scottish Borderers[note 18]
- The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) - 3rd Battalion
- The Highlanders (Seaforth, Gordons and Camerons) - 4th Battalion
- The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders (Princess Louise's) - 5th Battalion
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 Duke of Lancaster's Regiment (King's, Lancashire and Border) was formed on 1 July 2006 (initially of three battalions, reduced to two in March 2007) from:
- The Yorkshire Regiment (14th/15th, 19th and 33rd/76th Foot) was formed on 6 June 2006 from:
- The Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire - 1st Battalion
- The Green Howards (Alexandra, Princess of Wales's Own Yorkshire Regiment) - 2nd Battalion
- The Duke of Wellington's Regiment (West Riding) - 3rd Battalion
The Prince of Wales' Division formed two "small/large" regiments:
- The Royal Welsh was formed on 1 March 2006 from:
- The Mercian Regiment formed with 3 regular battalions on 1 September 2007 from:
- The 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment - 1st Battalion
- The Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment (29th/45th Foot) - 2nd Battalion
- The Staffordshire Regiment (The Prince of Wales's) - 3rd Battalion
- In addition the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment and Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment were converted to light infantry in 2005 and transferred to the Light Division.
The Light Division was initially going to follow the "small/large" route, with the Royal Green Jackets retaining two battalions, and The Light Infantry gaining a third by amalgamating with the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment and the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment. However, the four regiments then took the decision to form a single five-battalion "large/large" regiment, The Rifles on 1 February 2007:
- The Devonshire and Dorset Light Infantry[note 20]
- The Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Light Infantry[note 20]
- The Light Infantry[note 21]
- The Royal Green Jackets[note 22]
Additionally, The Royal Irish Regiment (27th (Inniskilling), 83rd, 87th and Ulster Defence Regiment), as a result of the end of the Provisional IRA's armed campaign in 2005, saw its three Home Service battalions[note 23] disbanded in July 2007, leaving just the single regular general service battalion. The Parachute Regiment, although ostensibly unaffected by the reforms, saw its 1st Battalion removed from the infantry order of battle and transferred to the control of the United Kingdom Special Forces to form the core element of the tri-service Special Forces Support Group.
The Territorial Army has also been reorganised so that each large regiment has one or more TA battalions.
As part of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the British Army would be restructured and reduced in size, including the reduction of the infantry by a total of five battalions. One of the results of this was that two of the existing large regiments were reduced to a single regular battalion each, while the other "small/large" regiments were all reduced to two battalions.
- The Royal Regiment of Scotland was reduced from five regular battalions to four, with the reduction of the 5th Battalion to a single company.[note 16]
- The Yorkshire Regiment (14th/15th, 19th and 33rd/76th Foot) had its 2nd Battalion disbanded, reducing it to two battalions
- The Mercian Regiment had its 3rd Battalion disbanded, reducing it to two battalions[note 25]
- The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers was reduced to a single battalion
- The Royal Welsh was reduced to a single battalion
The Prince of Wales's Division was disbanded, with the Mercian Regiment transferred to the King's Division, and the Royal Welsh and Royal Irish Regiment joined the Royal Regiment of Scotland in the new Scottish, Welsh and Irish Division.
The Royal Gurkha Rifles, as part of an overall expansion of the Brigade of Gurkhas, is planned to raise a new 3rd Battalion.
As of December 2018, the make up of the regular infantry is as follows:
|Guards Division||Scottish, Welsh and Irish Division||King's Division||Queen's Division||Other regiments|
(1 reinforced company)
|Royal Regiment of Scotland
(1 reinforced company)
|Duke of Lancaster's Regiment
|Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment
(1 reinforced company)
|Royal Regiment of Fusiliers
|Royal Gurkha Rifles|
(1 reinforced company)
|Royal Irish Regiment
|Royal Anglian Regiment
|Royal Gibraltar Regiment
(1 battalion)[note 26]
- The Parachute Regiment, consisting of three battalions, always existed outside the brigade structure as an independent unit, while the Brigade of Gurkhas, the overall administrative formation for Gurkhas in the British Army, consisted of four single battalion infantry regiments plus engineers, signals and provost units
- At the time, the Grenadier Guards, Coldstream Guards and Scots Guards, had multiple battalions. The Grenadier Guards and Coldstream Guards each had three battalions, while the Scots Guards had two. By 1961, the 3rd Battalions of the two senior regiments had been placed in "suspended animation"
- In the end, three new single battalion regiments were created out of this process - the South Wales Borderers and the Welch Regiment united to form the Royal Regiment of Wales in 1969, while the Lancashire Regiment and the Loyal Regiment (North Lancashire) amalgamated into the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, and the Worcestershire Regiment and the Sherwood Foresters were united as the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment, both in 1970. A further amalgamation was planned between the Gloucestershire Regiment and the Royal Hampshire Regiment. Two further regiments, the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) and the York and Lancaster Regiment, chose to disband rather than amalgamate, while a third, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders was also intended to be disbanded.
- The change in policy regarding single battalion regiments saw a reversal of the planned amalgamation of the Gloucestershire Regiment and Royal Hampshire Regiment, as well as the disbanding of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders - the Royal Hampshire Regiment and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, along with three battalions from the new large regiments, were retained as single companies. Three of the five independent companies were subsequently reformed as full battalions.
- 4th Battalion, Royal Anglian Regiment was reduced to a single company (Tiger Company) in 1968, before being disbanded in 1975
- 3rd Battalion, Royal Green Jackets was reduced to a single company (R Company) in 1970, before being reformed in 1972
- 4th Battalion, Queen's Regiment was reduced to a single company (Albuhera Company) in 1971, before being disbanded in 1973
- 4th Battalion, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers was disbanded on 1 November 1969
- 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Rangers was disbanded on 23 November 1968, with the 3rd Battalion concurrently renumbered as the 1st Battalion
- 4th Battalion, The Light Infantry was disbanded on 31 March 1969
- The Queen's Own Highlanders and Gordon Highlanders were amalgamated into the single-battalion Highlanders (Seaforth, Gordons and Camerons), while the Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment and Gloucestershire Regiment became the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment, again with a single battalion. Similar mergers between the Royal Scots and King's Own Scottish Borderers, and the 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment and Staffordshire Regiment, were cancelled.
- Upon its formation, the Royal Irish Regiment was the largest in the army with a total of nine regular battalions. Of these, the 1st and 2nd Battalions were the general service battalions of the Royal Irish Rangers, while the 3rd to 9th Battalions were the home defence battalions of the Ulster Defence Regiment. The 2nd Battalion was disbanded in April 1993
- The four battalions of the Queen's Regiment and Royal Hampshire Regiment effectively ceased to exist upon the merger of the two, with the personnel of the two regiments distributed equally between the two newly constituted battalions of the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment
- The four Gurkha regiments were amalgamated into three battalions of the Royal Gurkha Rifles; the 7th Duke of Edinburgh's Own Gurkha Rifles and 10th Princess Mary's Own Gurkha Rifles were renamed as the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, while the 2nd King Edward VII's Own Gurkha Rifles and 6th Queen Elizabeth's Own Gurkha Rifles were amalgamated as the 1st Battalion. The 3rd Battalion was disbanded in November 1996
- The Grenadier Guards, Coldstream Guards and Scots Guards lost their second battalions, while the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, Royal Anglian Regiment, Light Infantry and Royal Green Jackets were reduced to two battalions
- The colours and traditions of the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards, 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards, 2nd Battalion Scots Guards and 5th Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland are each perpetuated by a reinforced infantry company serving as a permanent public duties unit
- 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.
- The Royal Scots and King's Own Scottish Borderers were amalgamated to form a single battalion, named as the Royal Scots Borderers and ranked as the 1st Battalion, which had been the original intention under Options for Change
- The 3rd Battalion was disbanded in March 2007
- The Devonshire and Dorset Light Infantry, and Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Light Infantry amalgamated to form the single 1st Battalion
- 1st and 2nd Battalions, The Light Infantry were renamed as the 5th and 3rd Battalions respectively
- 1st and 2nd Battalions, Royal Green Jackets were renamed as 2nd and 4th Battalions respectively
- The original seven Home Service battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment when it was formed in 1992 had been reduced by amalgamations to three by 2003
- Although the five regiments of foot guards were left unreformed as single battalions, the Guards Division did receive for the first time a TA unit in the form of the London Regiment
- The 3rd Battalion had been the former Staffordshire Regiment. To perpetuate the Staffords name, the Mercian Regiment's name was changed to Mercian Regiment (Cheshire, Worcesters & Foresters, and Staffords)
- The Royal Gibraltar Regiment is the resident home defence battalion for Gibraltar, and is a dual regular/reserve unit under the administration of the Queen's Division
- More adaptations forecast in the Army: study of "large regiment" basis for infantry, The Times, 9 March 1962
- Bigger infantry regiments planned by War Office, The Times, 16 March 1962
- First of new large regiments, The Times, 25 February 1964
- New Green Jackets Regiment, The Times, 29 May 1965
- Infantry may be reshaped, The Times, 30 September 1965
- New Home Counties large regiment, The Times, 1 July 1966
- Defence White Paper: sweeping changes in Britain's forces, The Times, 19 July 1967
- Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Defence (3 February 1993). "Army Manpower". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). United Kingdom: House of Commons. col. 322.
- "Select Committee on Defence Fourth Report". UK Parliament. 17 March 2005. Retrieved 3 August 2018.
- Future Infantry Structure, (Ministry of Defence), accessed 21 August 2007 Archived 1 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
- "RGBW The Future". RGBW Regimental Association. 22 July 2005. Retrieved 24 September 2016.
- "Army 2020: Defining the Future of the British Army". Ministry of Defence. UK Government. 5 July 2012. Retrieved 2 August 2018.
- Ripley, Tim (18 July 2018). "UK to recruit more Gurkha soldiers". Jane's 360. Retrieved 20 July 2018.