Welcome to Cold War Gamer, a blog I am using to record my Cold War wargaming projects. These range from fictitious Cold War hot projects to historical conflicts that took place around the globe throughout the Cold War era, all modelled and gamed in 20mm. The blog includes links to various resources useful to the Cold War Gamer.

My current projects include: Central Front; British & Soviet. South African Border War; Angolans and South Africans. Soviet Afghan War; Soviets and Afghans

Saturday, 7 January 2012

ORBAT - 1980s British BG, Part 2 Task Organisation

Battle Groups in the British Army during the cold war period were composed of a mix of armoured, squadrons, armoured infantry or mechanised infantry companies, artillery, engineer and support weapon elements dependent on the battle groups mission or task and the composition of the parent brigade

An armoured brigade with Type 57 regiments would field 8 squadrons of tanks and 3 infantry companies, whilst a mechanised brigade would field 6 infantry companies and 4 armoured squadrons. Each brigade would field 3 batteries of guns in its artillery regiment.  All armoured regiments and infantry battalions had a recce troop or platoon, but only infantry battalions included  the other support platoons of mortars and milan.  

With the introduction of Challenger 1 and the subsequent move to the Type 43 regiment, the numbers of squadrons changed from 4 per regiment to 3. The Challenger regiments were confined to the True "Armoured Brigades" ie 4, 7 and 20, with 22 fielding a Chieftain regiment and a Challenger regiment.  Once converted to Challenger and then to type 43 an armoured brigade would have 6 armoured squadrons and three infantry companies.

I am currently trying to identify the time at which the change from Type 57 to Type 43 occured, my current assumption is around 1987. I have no specific evidence for this but the following points are of note: 

  • At least 1 of the Armoured Regiments that deployed to the Gulf in 1990 - 1991 were incremented by a Squadron to make them Type 57. 
  • By 1987, we deployed 250 Challenger 1, if deployed in Type 57 regiments would allow us to form 4.5. Whilst if deployed in Type 43 regiments would give us 5.8. 
  • Challenger 1 conversion completed in 1989 by then we fielded 7 Challenger and 5 Chieftain Regiments in BAOR. 
  • Total Challenger buy by 1994 was 426 but by then the armoured force had been reduced to 9 Regiments and I would assume we were operating a mix of Type 50 and Type 43 regiments as Chieftain was subsequently retired. 

There is considerable confusion within the litrature as to which brigades were "Armoured" and which regiments where of what Types and when. This could merely be an indication that it was not specifically organised. This gives war gamers wishing to field a brigade a problem, but at battle group level, as can be seen from the table below, most variations are justifiable. The situation is further confused by a series of defence reviews which started in 1990 but impacted from 1992 that reduced the numbers of armoured and infantry units.

1.  Relationship between Challenger 1 and Type 43 regiments assumed
2.  Challenger 1 Regiments started as Type 56/57 moved to type 43/44 prior to Gulf War 1 and moved to Type 50 post gulf war 1
3. The assumptions around Type of regiment and there association with Brigade Type given the mix in 22 Armoured Brigade would mean that 7 Challenger Regiments and 5 Chieftain Regiments were fielded in BAOR. 

A battle group in the british army in the late cold war period was a task organised unit comprising of a mix of sub units commanded by either an armoured regiment or mechanised infantry battalion HQ.  Task organisation was completely dependent on the Brigades mission and at the discretion of the Brigade commander. 

In addition to directing the mix of sub units in each battle group the brigade would also allocate, battery tac parties these comprised of 3 forward observation parties and the battery commanders party. In addition Enginer assets were also allocated usually field troops, AVLBs, AVREs and CETs  as available and required, other plant tended to be allocated for specific tasks. Aviation assets if provided to the Brigade by Division could also be allocated and included both air observation posts (Gazelles) and Attack Helicopters (lynx tow) these tended to be time sliced for specific parts of an operation in a similar way to artillery support, rather than being a more permanent asset.

The battle group could be formed from any combination of sub units available to the Brigade although some combinations were more popular than others. As a General rule more than 4 sub units under a battle group HQ was unusual. Support weapons platoons mortars and milan might be detached to another battle group if a company were being provided, this would be done proportionally so an Infantry company might be detached with a section of Milan. This was not always the case it depended on mission and the balance of force across the brigade. Milan sections were more frequently detached with a rifle company than mortar sections which were more effective when operated as a platoon.

In a Type 43 Challenger Armoured Brigade the obvious mix was to place 2 squadrons and 1 company in each battle group.  In an Armoured Brigade that contained Type 57 armoured regiments the obvious choice was probably two battle groups with 3 Squadrons and 1 Company and one  with 2 Squadrons, 1 Company  and the infantry battalions support weapons. 

The mix was of course entirely dependent on the plan.  Once allocated the groupings were fairly enduring as it took a resonable  amount of time to shift sub units from one command to another without creating chaos.  The more obvious mixes tended to be the ones used most frequently and these were the ones that were used for exercises and training in order to build confidence and understanding between the different elements of a battle group.

In a Mechanised brigade based on type 57 regiments there would be 4 squadrons and 6 companies,      typically the brigade might deploy one battle group of 2 squadrons and 2 companies, and two battle groups of 1 squadron and 2 companies, in this case if the infantry battalions provided the HQ's for the 1:2 Battle Groups then they would likely retain their support elements as these were the weaker formations. If the mechanised brigade were based on a Type 43 regiment then the brigade would probably form three battle groups of 1 Squadron and two companies each with a proportion of the support weapons.

A range of battle group sub unit options for the different types of brigade is shown below, it would be reasonable to field any of these as part of a scenario.

Plausible Battlegroup sub unit compositions

Of interest 7 Brigade in the Gulf, deployed as an Armoured Brigade with Type 57 Tank regiments, crossed the start line with 1 Staffords as a 2:2 BG, Scots DG as a 3:1 BG, and the Queens Royal Irish Hussars as a 3:0 BG.

Prior to 1988 it was common practice to task organize sub units into combat teams.  Where companies and squadrons would cross attach a troop or platoon.  This practice was discontinued in the late 80s when the sub unit was generally considered to be indivisible but could still have other arms attached, to form the company group this included forward observers, field and armoured engineers, recce sections, Milan sections, and Javalin/blowpipe  air defence detachments.  

The next post in this series is 1980s British Battle Group - Part 3 Equipment.



  1. Great blog - so much invaluable material.

    Regarding the battlegroup photo - do you perhaps have a higher res copy? Or can you identify the source please?

    1. I am afraid I do not know the unit, challenger warrior went into BATUS in the early 1990s, units at BATUS used pool vehicles so unless someone recognises the photo it will be difficult to trace. This is the highest res immage I had but I downloaded it sadly can't remember from where.

  2. Hi
    I have been researching BAOR for a while. Hopefully what I have can answer some questions.

    1) QRIH in the Gulf was configured as a "pure" Armd BG and acted as sort of the Bde Recce Force akin to to a US Army ACR. This was because the CVR (T) series Recce vehicles did not have the opticals or mobility to keep up with the Challengers/Warriors. The 16/5 L were relegated to Recce/FP for the DAG because of this.

  3. Continues from above:

    If you have an email address I can send you the RAC breakdown for each Regt as of July 1989

    LD 2017

  4. Thanks for the info email addy is coldwargamer@gmail.com

  5. Andy

    Just sent you the email