The numbering of British Field Armies in WW2

Discussion in 'Higher Formations' started by Fatboy Coxy, Nov 2, 2020.

  1. Fatboy Coxy

    Fatboy Coxy Junior Member

    Hi all, can anyone shed light on the numbering of British Field Armies in WW2, was there a rhyme and reason, why didn’t they follow the convention of WW1, ie First, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth?

    Fatboy Coxy
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  2. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Wasn't it to confuse the enemy ?
  3. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place.... Patron

    I wonder if the low numbered army numbers might have been reserved for any field armies formed from Home Force Commands in the event of a German invasion.
    Fatboy Coxy likes this.
  4. Ewen Scott

    Ewen Scott Well-Known Member

    Maybe there is a clue in the numbering and formation dates, at least to start with.

    At the end of WW1 in Northern Europe there were 5 numbered armies (1-5 in the BEF) plus 2 Home Armies (North and South). Total 7. (OK I’ll admit I’m ignoring various “armies” in the Middle East and of which I know little of their history).

    The first numbered army to form in WW2 was in the Middle East and was the 8th (Sept 1941) closely followed by the 9th (Oct 1941). Further armies in that theatre were then the 10th (Feb 1942) and 12th (fictional in 1943 for deception purposes).

    Back in the U.K. when troops were being massed for Operation Torch, 1st Army (Aug 1942) was formed followed by the 2nd (June 1943) for NWE and the 4th (fictional late 1943 for deception purposes?). So a new sequence?

    Then in the Far East 14th Army was formed Oct 1943. A new sequence? Why the number 12 should be chosen in May 1945 when 14th Army was split between those troops remaining in Burma and those charged with carrying out Operation Zipper against Malaya is anyone’s guess. Unless of course designed to fool Japanese intelligence in some way, the war with Germany being over by then.

    Note the one number gap between the last operational army and the deception units in both theatres. Coincidence?

    I’ll admit I’ve never seen anything in print to explain the numbering.
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  5. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place.... Patron

    Another possibility is that numbered armies were designated fat a planning stage. For example the Fourth Army, which existed as a deception force for an operation which Churchill at various times insisted shouldn't be planned.

    There is a gap between the two armies formed by Home Force 1,2 and 4 and those formed by the Middle East 8th, 9th and 10th. Maybe Middle East just picked a high enough number for the renamed Western Desert Force that there would be unlikely to be one under planning in Home Forces. Similarly with the 14th Army by the HQ India?
  6. smdarby

    smdarby Patron Patron

    Interesting question. I presume the same question could be asked of Corps?

    And I wonder if there has ever been a 13th Army? Or is the number 13 always avoided for superstitious reasons?
  7. dryan67

    dryan67 Senior Member

    • It should be noted that as of July 22nd, 1942, the 1st Army in the United Kingdom was known as the BEF (British Expeditionary Force). BEF.jpg
    Aixman likes this.

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