This page outlines the higher organisation of the British Army in World War 2 and where various elements relevant to artillery fitted in.

Updated 14 June 2014















The Bill of Rights of 1689 made a standing army illegal.  The British Army's existence was legalised each year by the Army (Annual) Acts.  The Army Act (a different act), best known for being the Army's disciplinary code, authorised King's Regulations and addressed other matters such as enlistment.  The 1940 edition of Kings Regulations governed WW2, there were amendments almost monthly throughout the war.  King's Regulations legally established the Army's higher level organisation and authorities.  Key points were:

The Army Council had been established in 1904 when it was vested with all the prerogative powers of the Crown that various individuals had previously held.  Until 1940 it comprised the following political, military and civil members. These were:

There were changes in 1940.  Much of the Master General of the Ordnance organisation became part of the Ministry of Supply and he ceased to be a military member.  The Vice-Chief and Deputy-Chief of the Imperial General Staff joined as 4th and 5th Military Members the former responsible for operations, plans, intelligence and training, the latter for organisation and staff duties.  The Director-General of Army Requirements joined as Supply Member.  

The Army Council was concerned with administrative matters in the broadest sense, it issued orders and instructions under its collective authority, not by the 'member most concerned' or its President.  However, routine matters were dealt with by a smaller Executive Committee (ECAC).  The Secretary of State for War was responsible for all Army matters in Cabinet and accountable to Parliament for the Army.  Churchill, was both Prime Minister and Minister for Defence (a new position) and the War Cabinet was responsible for political and strategic direction of the war.

Membership of the Army Council was reflected in the top level organisation of the War Office, basically a 'Department' for each member, with the CIGS' Department including the V-CIGS and D-CIGS.  These Departments, particular those of the military and civil members, were divided into staff Branches (usually called 'Directorates' in the CIGS' Department) headed by a 'Director', who was a major general in military branches.  During the war some Branches were headed by a Director-General, a lieutenant general.  Branches were further sub-divided as necessary, headed by officers of decreasing rank and generally identified by numbers and letters added to the abbreviation of the parent Branch.  

However, the Secretary of State for War also had two officers reporting to him who were not members of the Army Council.  First the Military Secretary, a general, who was responsible for matters relating to appointment and promotion of senior officers and staff officers, and honours and awards.  Second was the Judge Advocate General.  Both had their own staffs.

Until 1942 there was no 'chief of artillery' in the War Office, in that year the first Director Royal Artillery (DRA) was appointed with the rank of major general to head a RA Branch.  This was formed from the staff of the Director-General Air and Coast Defence in the CIGS' Department.  The Adjutant General's Department had a branch, AG6, that was responsible or the posting of all artillery officers at regimental duty (ie not staff officers).  Other ranks were managed by the RA Records Office and the RA Regimental Pay Office, both part of the Adjutant General's Department.


Operational direction of the Army, once Churchill became Prime Minister, was from the Chiefs of Staff Committee that reported directly to Churchill.  The CoS Committee members were the First Sea Lord, CIGS and Chief of Air Staff, the CIGS being the senior member and in effect the chairman.  For most of the war the CIGS was General Brooke, an artillery officer.

Below the War Office there were geographical Commands in various parts of the world, each headed by a General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOCinC), or a General Officer Commanding (GOC) if they were small or called Districts.  In UK there were 6 Commands (Scotland, Northern, Eastern, South Eastern, Southern and Western) for most of the war and London and Northern Ireland Districts.  Beneath each Command were one or more Corps (in peacetime the largest formations were Divisions), although there were many units and formations not assigned to a Corps that were commanded by Areas and Sub-Areas of the Command.  Field formations without a superior formation HQ were subordinate to a Command HQ.  However, the main role of Commands was to prepare formations and units for service in overseas theatres.  

The war organisation was for a C-in-C to have command of an overseas theatre, his HQ was called GHQ.  Below GHQ armies and corps were formed, unlike divisions neither had a fixed establishment.  The threat of invasion meant that GHQ Homes Forces, with its own C-in-C, was created in the chain of command between the War Office and Commands in UK, if invasion had happened then the Commands would have become Armies under this GHQ.  The BEF in 1939-40 had a GHQ, but in the second half of the war army-groups took on the role of a GHQ in most theatres.  

A C-in-C had supreme authority for all matters in his theatre on land, coastal waters and in the air except for final approval of appointments to command and the staff, permanent changes in organisation and the scale of rations.  He was responsible for the efficiency and maintenance of the forces in the theatre, for control and direction of their operations as a whole, and for the military government of all territory under martial law.  An overseas theatre was divided into administrative areas, one or more Army areas and the Line of Communications area, although sometimes there were others. An Army area was hierarchically sub-divided into its corps, division and brigade areas.   The Line of Communications area, with its own commander, was divided into sub-areas, base areas, garrisons and posts.

A GHQ included naval and air force staff and civil servants representing various responsibilities of the Permanent Under Secretary of State for War and well as other departments of the Government.  GHQs had large staffs organised in a similar way to the War Office and other higher formation staffs such as armies:

The main overseas commands were India and the Middle East, lesser commands being Malaya, East Africa and Malta.  Both India and British Troops Egypt had their own GHQs (GHQ Delhi and GHQ Cairo), and India was divided into Commands of its own (Central, North Western, Western, Southern and Eastern, these were renamed as Armies in 1942, and Eastern Army later became 14th Army).  Again, in peacetime the largest formations were Divisions, but war led to higher formations being formed.  An added complication were the Supreme Allied Commands, which included land, sea and air forces of two or more nations.  These were responsible for conducting operations but their British elements relied on the 'local' GHQ for logistic support to their theatre.

Other GOCs-in-C were Malta, Gibraltar and Bermuda where the Governor  held the position of Commander-in-Chief.  Some GOCs also held some GOC-in-C powers, notably Burma, Malaya, Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, London,  N Ireland, British Troops China, British Forces Palestine and Trans-Jordan.  As did Officers Commanding Sierra Leone, Mauritius, Ceylon and Jamaica.

Artillery staff above the level of HQsRA at Corps and Divisional HQs consisted of MGRAs, BRAs and Colonels RA with their staffs.  They were responsible for all artillery matters covering AA, Coast and if appropriate Maritime as well as Field including Anti-tank. GHQs had a Major General RA (MGRA), although GHQ Home Forces had two MGsRA the second being responsible for the RA training organisation.  Armies and Commands had a BRA.  Army Groups and Allied Land Force HQs had either a MGRA or BRA depending on the theatre they were in.   Broadly, their task was to advise the GOC-in-C on artillery matters, coordinate artillery training and to train the artillery commanded by their level of command.   It practical terms this also  meant they were responsible for artillery formations and units not under command of lower formations.


The Royal Artillery was a large organisation, at peak strength in WW2 it was bigger than the armoured corps and infantry combined.  Furthermore, it had historically been the most 'equipment intensive' part of the army, although the advent of armoured vehicles was changing this, and it remained the user of most ammunition by weight and cost if not by number of rounds.  This gave artillery a keen interest in materiel.  There was also a large training organisation, see the 'Recruiting and Training' page.  In 1942 the position of MGRA (Training) was created in GHQ Home Forces.  He reported to the Director of Military Training in the War Office (who in turn reported to the V-CIGS) and was also Commander of  RA Training Establishments.

Until the position of DRA was created, artillery matters were represented by the Commandant of the School of Artillery, Larkhill (a brigadier).  King's Regulations required him to cooperate with the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and all branches of the Army, as well as keeping contact with the Ordnance Committee, Director of Artillery, RA Committee, Experimental Establishments at Shoeburyness and Porton, Military College of Science and the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich.  The other important role was the Inspector of Artillery, although his primary function was to report on the state of training and readiness for war to the CIGS' Department.

Before WW2 requirements for artillery equipment were prepared by the Directorate of Military Training (DMT), but transferred to the Directorate General of Army Requirements when this branch was created during the war.  DMT was also responsible for preparing the army's training publications, which of course meant developing the tactical doctrine.  However, technical publications for artillery were drafted by the School of Artillery and reviewed by DMT before being published under Army Council authority.

In peacetime the acquisition of materiel, such as guns and ammunition, was the responsibility of the Master General of the Ordnance (MGO) Department, which became part of the Ministry of Supply when this was formed in WW2 (there had been a similar Ministry of Munitions in WW1).  This involved several key groups from an artillery perspective, and the MGO was often an artillery officer, as were his deputies.  There was no Ministry of Supply in India and acquisition there was the responsibility of MGO (India), which involved establishing much of the required production facilities.

The Director of Artillery, formerly in the MGO Department and transferred to the Ministry of Supply was responsible for providing artillery materiel to meet the War Office's requirements.  The Chief Inspector of Armaments was the overall 'quality manager' and responsible to him for the suitability of materiel in terms of its safety and functionality, with responsibilities covering Ammunition, Guns and Carriages, Small Arms and Optical Stores.  The main branches in this were the Research Department and the Design Department at Woolwich Arsenal.  Production was in the Royal Ordnance Factories and many other plants converted to war production.

At the beginning of WW2 the Ordnance Committee merged with the Royal Artillery Committee to form the Ordnance Board with members from all three armed services.  They were responsible for formally reporting on trials, research and investigations on all matters relating to ordnance and ammunition before or during its service.   They also investigated any matters concerning internal and external ballistics and were responsible for compiling range tables.  They could consult any government or private sector body they considered necessary and relied heavily on the Experimental Establishments, particularly Shoeburyness.


Finally, there were regimental matters, usually called 'domestic'.  This concerned the internal matters of the Royal Regiment, such things as history, traditions, dress, honour titles, numbering of regiments and batteries, bands, memorials,  museums and charitable activities.  These matters were handled by various regimental committees.  

The King was Colonel-in-Chief, after WW2 this title was changed to 'Captain General'.  The head of the regiment was the Master Gunner, St James's Park, a retired artillery officer.  Before and during WW2 this was Field Marshal the Lord Milne, who had been CIGS in the 1920s.  He was assisted by a Representative Colonel Commandant who traveled the world visiting units.  Some TA regiments, notable those with an infantry or yeomanry origin, had their own Honorary Colonel.



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