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

Sunday, 24 August 2014

ORBAT - 1980s British BG, NATO Reinforcement Part 2, The Infantry Brigades

In the late 1980's the British Army purchased the AT105 Saxon APC and converted a number of light role infantry battalions to the Mechanised Wheeled role.  These units were part of 3 Infantry Brigades with reinforcement roles onto the continent in time of war. The purpose of this post is to look at the organisation of these brigades how they changed over the period and the range of units and subunits that could be task organised as battle groups with the Mech (Wh) battalions.

The 3 Regular Army infantry Brigades converted were:
  • 19 Brigade a component of 3rd Armoured Division which was the Corps Reserve,  in 1986 the brigade became part of 4th Armoured Division.
  • 24 Brigade in 2nd Infantry Division provided rear area security, in 1988 the Brigade converted to the Airmobile role.
  • 1 Brigade this brigade formed the core component of the United kingdom Mobile Force (UKMF) and deployed to LANDJUT as part of the AFNORTH force to defend Denmark.
In addition there were a variety of Armoured Corps, Artillery, AAC, and Engineer units with direct reinforcement roles who deployed with these brigades.

There is a degree of conflicting evidence both for the organisation of the Brigades and the battalions. This I believe has to do with a number of factors:
  • The production rate and the rate of introduction of the Saxon between 1984 - 1989.
  • The two Orbats that were produced for Mech (Wh) Battalions, which may well have been a function of the production rate. 
  • The re rolling of 24 Bde as an Airmobile Brigade in 1988.
  • The variance between the formation deployment environments:
    • The 1 Brigade UKMF deployment had no parent British division.
    • The 24 Bde deployment with 2nd Infantry Division which was a TA division with a distinctive  Orbat that included 2 Yeomanry Recce Regiments and TA Air Defence assets.  Although A Rapier Regiment was allocated to defence of the Line of communication area.
    • The 19 Bde 4 Division deployment which was in the context of a regular Division.
  • The lack of a Mechanised Division HQ which lead to units being allocated under command of particular Brigades for peace time administration, deployment to theatre and operations.
  • Equipment change such as the withdrawal  of Fox and replacement initially by Scimitar then by Sabre.

Saxon Unit Conversion

The production rate of Saxon governed the conversion rate of the brigades.  I have no data in which order units converted but have hypothesised a scenario which illustrates the issues.  An examination of the purchasing production and reorganisation cycle can provide if not the answer then a level of understanding of what may have been going on:

  • Saxon was first produced in 1975 and was purchased by the British Army in 1983. 
  • The Initial order for 47 Vehicles saw first deliveries arrive with Kings Own Royal Border Regiment in 1984. 
  • This was followed by a second order for 247 vehicles that was further extended in 1985 by further 200. 
  • Production was complete in 1989. 

A total of 447 vehicles were produced in 5 Years, assuming the production rate was fixed then GKN were producing 89 per year. The  total order of 494 vehicles allowed 6 Battalions to be equipped with 64 vehicles with 110 left over for war maintenance Reserve.  This would enable three Brigades to consist of two Mech (Wh) battalions and 1 light role battalion which is one of the Orbats stated for these Brigades. RA Air Defence Battery Command variants were subject to a separate order completed in 1987 as were 100 Saxon Patrol purchased in 1991 for internal security.

A roll out plan to convert 3 Brigades to 2 Mech (Wh) Bns and 1 Light Bn with units initially converting to the 43 vehicle orbat then to the 64 vehicle orbat given a production rate of 89 vehicles a year could look like this:
  • 1983 Initial Production and delivery 47 Vehicles
  • 1984 
    • 1 Bn converted KORBR 24 Bde.
    •  Bde Orbats 24 Bde 1 Mech Bn, 2 Lt Bn. 19 and 1 Bde 3 Light Bn.
  • 1985 
    • 2 Bn converted (86 vehicles), I assume 19 Bde, (1 STAFFORDS records converting in 1985).
    •  Bde Orbats 24 Bde 1 Mech Bn(43), 2 Lt Bn. 19 Bde, 2 Mech Bn(43), 1 Light Bn and 1 Bde 3 Light Bn.
  • 1986 
    • 2 Bn converted (86 vehicles), I assume 1 Bn 24 Bde, 1 Bn 1 Bde, 
    • Bde Orbats 24 Bde 2 Mech Bn(43), 1 Lt Bn. 19 Bde, 2 Mech Bn(43), 1 Light Bn and 1 Bde 1 Mech Bn(43) 2 Light Bn.
  • 1987 
    • 1 Bn converted 2 upgrade to full fleet (85 vehicles), I assume 1 Bn 1 Bde and 2Bn upgrade 64 vehicles. 19 Bde.
    • Bde Orbats 24 Bde 2 Mech Bn(43), 1 Lt Bn. 19 Bde, 2 Mech Bn(64), 1 Light Bn and 1 Bde 2 Mech Bn(43) 1 Light Bn.
  • 1988 
    • 4 Bn upgrade to full fleet (84 vehicles), 1 Bde and 24 Bde, 
    • Bde Orbats 24 Bde 2 Mech Bn(64), 1 Lt Bn. 19 Bde, 2 Mech Bn(64), 1 Light Bn and 1 Bde 2 Mech Bn(64) 1 Light Bn.
  • 1989
    • War Maintenance Reserve and complete production. 
    • 24 Bde convert to airmobile and pass on a Bn of Saxons to 19 Bde, (1 Bn in 24 Brigade remained Mechanised when they initially converted).
    • Bde Orbats 24 Bde 1 Mech Bn(64), 2 Airmobile Bn. 19 Bde, 3 Mech Bn(64), and 1 Bde 2 Mech Bn(64) 1 Light Bn.

Once all the 24 Brigade units converted to Airmobile or when the brigade adopted its 2 Infantry Bn, 2 Aviation regiment structure in 1994 then 1 and 19 Brigade could each consist of 3 Mech (Wh) Battalions each. Whilst the order of conversion is not clear the impact of the production rate on Brigade and unit Orbats can be appreciated, different policies for issuing vehicles would produce different patterns.

against this hypothetical deployment model the following brigade orbats are supported:
  • A 2 Mech Bn 1 Light Bn Bde can be Fielded from 1985
  • A 1 Mech Bn, 2 Light Bn Bde could be fielded from 1984 until 1986.
  • Type A(43) Mech Bns (an invented term) can be fielded from 1984 until 1988
  • Type A(64) Mech Bns (an invented term) can be fielded from 1987
  • A 3 Mech Bn Bde can be fielded from 1989

In addition to the infantry units that were part of the Infantry Brigade a range of other units would also be included in the Brigades Orbat.  The detail of these is outlined below.

Armoured Corps

  • The Wimbish Recce Regiment which provided the Formation Recce Regiment for 3rd Armoured Division and later for 4th Armoured Division is shown in a number of sources as under Command 19 Bde (QDG and then 17/21L).
  • The Tidworth Recce Regiment is shown under command UKMF, 1 Bde  less 1Sqn which deployed to AMF(L),  (13/18 Hussars).
  • The Tidworth Armoured Regiment (4RTR then Royal Hussars) shown under command UKMF but allocated routinely to both 1 and 19 Brigade. (HQ + 3 Sqn to 19 Brigade as Type 43, 1 Sqn UKMF to 1 Brigade). Their is  evidence from Exercises that this could be varied (See Below).


  • 3 Engineer Regiments supplied at least a Squadron to each of the brigades whilst their main roles lay else where, these were:
    • 22 Engineer Regiment Tidworth shown under command UKMF, (1Bde)
    • 38 Regiment RE Ripon, 51 Fd Sqn (AM) to 24 Bde, 
    • 39 Regiment RE


  • a Low Level AD Battery, Rapier from 16 AD Regt is shown under command UKMF, which provided area air defence for UK Forces in LANDJUT, I have assumed this was not required by other Brigades as they would come under there parent Division. 
  • 40/45 Regt RA, 26 Regt and 47 Regt variously supported the 3 Bdes all equipped with FH70 155mm towed howitzers. I am assuming that some stage the TAC parties for these regiments received Saxon but have no evidence, other than a general policy of conformance with the supported units vehicle type.
  • An AD Battery, 21 Battery RA shown as under command 24 Brigade, but I believe this probably provided a Troop to each brigade. I am also assuming they were Spartan mounted.

  • 2 AAC Sqns 657 Sqn allocated to (19 Bde) and 656 Sqn (1Bde). with 1 Brigades role as UKMF it seems clear that 656 Squadron would support throughout, whilst 657 Squadrons relationship with 19 Brigade is less clear.
A Mechanised Brigade Orbit

If we ignore the Wimbish regiment as it was clearly allocated to divisional Recce and assume that the Tidworth regiment whilst organised with 3 Recce squadrons and a GW squadron might on War have deployed 4 balanced squadrons. Then a Standard Mech Brigade with the infantry component outlined above could be accommodated that would additionally contain:
  • Up to 1 TA Light Role Battalion
  • Up to 3 Armoured Squadron Chieftain and Recce Troop Scorpion, 
  • Up to 2 Armoured Recce Squadrons, usually 1, for 24 Brigade this could potentialy be Yeomanry or Regular.
  • 1 FH 70 Regiment
  • 1 Engineer Field Squadron
  • Up to 1 AAC squadron
  • 1 AD Troop Javelin
  • Up to 1 Rapier Battery
Equally there was enough stuff for a mechanised Division though I suspect no sensible place to send it hence the 3 Independent Brigades.

Exercise Task Organisation

Groupings for exercises can also illuminate the issue:
  • A History of the Royal Hussars indicates that "The Regiment as a whole came under command of HQ United Kingdom Mobile Force and in August 1989 and February 1990, took part in two major exercises, Crimson Rambler I and II, on Salisbury Plain”
  • Lionheart 1984
    • 4RTR at the time was the Tidworth Regiment deployed 2 Squadrons and Recce troop on the exercise having deployed with 19 Bde they were then grouped and regrouped through out the exercise:
      • A Sqn to 19 Bde a B Squadron to 24 Bde
      • Battlegroup to 19 Bde,
      • Battlegroup to 20 Armd brigade
    • 24 Bde was reinforced with a TA Bn and detached from 2. Div which received the Bundeswehr's 53 HS Brigade.
This demonstrates the flexibility in Brigade and Divisional task organisation, which would be driven by the higher level scenario.

Many of the photos shown here are from the excellent Military Database site which contains a large number of photographs of NATO exercises in the Cold War and is an excellent resource.

Other Posts of interest:

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