Writing unit numbers with Arabic and Roman numerals

Discussion in 'Historiography' started by Chris C, Jul 3, 2019.

  1. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian

    Ok so here's a little question...

    I have been going over my footnotes and realised that I had written "54 Anti-Tank Regiment" (War Diary) in one. But in my text I have written for instance "93rd Anti-Tank Regiment".

    And then there are Corps. I am not sure if it was more traditional in the past to write their number in Roman numerals - V Corps, VIII Corps, XXX Corps, etc. But sometimes I see 30 Corps. Brigade numbers don't seem to ever get written as Roman numerals, nor does 21 Army Group.

    On the one hand - what do you prefer? On the other - what is the most up-to-date practice?
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  2. SDP

    SDP Incurable Cometoholic

    Personally it depends on the audience. Yes, I know that's technically wrong but it's often a case of getting the correct message across in context.
    A few examples:
    During WW2....or is that WWII.....or is it really World War 2.....gosh! Point proven?
    ..the 3rd Battalion Royal Tank Regiment was abbreviated to 3RTks.....except most people (myself included) abbreviate it to 3RTR most of the time. It only really became 3RTR later.
    My fathers Regiment - 24th Lancers, correct abbreviation 24L - was also known as 'The 24th Lancers' and 'XXIV Lancers'.
    I guess "you pays your money and takes your pick".....
    There's also that Able, Baker versus the modern NATO version stuff as well....
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  3. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    Which hand are you onto now??

    I would suggest that you tend more towards 30 Corps rather than XXX Corps for example, the reasoning behind this is that many people will be reading your wonderful work in the future will probably have no idea [as many today] what Roman numerals are or be inclined to actually find out.

    I think the same would go for 54 rather than 54th, often TNA only use the 54 number on its own, and also as in writing the date people are forgetting to use the 'th' as in 4th Sept [in fact they dont use it all in France just 4 sep]

    So really many of the conventions we were brought up with are falling into obsolescence. The main thing would be to maintain whatever sytem thropughout the book

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  4. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian

    Huh, just "4 Sep"? That's interesting. Sort of a shift in writing.
  5. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    No just "4 sep" - the French dont usually use capital letters for nouns like months etc


  6. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member

    I think if you look at Joslen's "Orders of Battle" epic, there does seem to be a sort of approach. As an example;

    102nd (Northumberland Hussars) Anti-tank Regiment, RA

    When that unit title is abbreviated it becomes;

    102 (NH) Atk Regt, RA

    The same approach is also reflected for formations, with 7th Armoured Divisions becoming 7 Armd Div, rather than 7th Armd Div (which is what I'd probably abbreviate it as). Corps are identified by Roman Numerals, as in XXX rather than 30 Corps (which set of letters can lead to a whole host of confusion as to what to expect...). I vaguely recall there being a convention whereby Divisions are always shown in numbers proper and Corps in Roman Numerals, then Armies written (so First Canadian and Second British). When Army Groups are involved, well they may have run out of ways to express the difference. There may also be a slight difference between US and British practice.

    Generally speaking I'd offer that you pick an approach you're content with, and stick to it, likewise for abbreviations. It can be irksome to read about the 21 Field Regt at the start of a paragraph which has become the 21st by the end of it.

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  7. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

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  8. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Ah something close to my latest (self-inflicted) project.

    The many variations on this forum alone can cause problems when using search engines. In the past they stymied many a search of TNA WD catalogue, which Lee's search engine cleverly ironed out.

    With that in mind, I've been spending a lot of time attempting to standardize terminology in Tags. It's been particular fun with Yeomanry units, which I've separated off from their converted nomenclature.
    see 65 Anti Tank Reg Norfolk Yeomanry 1941
    Screenshot 2019-07-03 at 19.14.23.png

    For my unit of interest I've seen
    3rd battalion Irish Guards
    3rd Bn Irish Guards
    3 Bttn Irish Guards
    3rd Bttn I Guards
    3 Irish G'ds
    3rd Bn I G'ds
    etc etc etc
    The standard tag is now cos I prefer a cleaner, unabbreviated term without ordinal terms.
    3 Irish Guards - 3 irish guards | WW2Talk

    XXX Corps for example is now all tagged as 30 Corps.

    30 corps | WW2Talk

    However Stalags have retained their Roman numerals and have been standardized as such.
    eg stalag ix c | WW2Talk

    Just to differentiate from our normal business, eg US units have been left with their full ordinal terms, 1st, 6th etc.

    So, for the purposes of the forum I've tagged the above as

    54 anti tank regiment ra | WW2Talk
    93 anti tank regiment ra | WW2Talk

    Note: no hyphens either, cos some people use them while others don't. And the Tag search uses Predictive text anyway.
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  9. 8RB

    8RB Well-Known Member

    For wartime spelling of unit numbers or names you could take a look at wartime War Diaries, although also there spelling can be inconsistent. One other thing I found useful (when editing "With the 8th Rifle Brigade from Normandy to the Baltic") was using a style guide, e.g. University of Oxford Style Guide. It also has a paragraph on writing dates:
    Oxf. Style Guide.jpg
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  10. idler

    idler GeneralList

    Contemporary Field Service Pocket Books contain guidance on the abbreviation of unit titles, so they may be a useful starting point as clarity was the key.
  11. Swiper

    Swiper Resident Sospan

    30 Corps is period.

    XXX Corps is postwar NATO style.

    This is far clearer than intermixing other styles. If you use period styles... it can actually be quite confusing for the reader. Whatever you do, keep it consistent as some books are impossible to read as they flip between 30th Corps, 30 Corps, XXX Corps or Thirtieth Corps (and yes... I've found this in several books, often within a page or two!)

    Their is also a modern approach which is FRRA etc (in this case being Field Regiment Royal Artillery). It's horrible and pushed by a couple of universities. Quite why, I have no idea.

    [Also of course people will keep using Roman numerals, suggesting otherwise is just silly.]
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  12. idler

    idler GeneralList

    I would argue for contemporary, rather than modern, styles, e.g. A/Tk rather than AT (which, back then, was Animal Transport). If nothing else, it will be more consistent with any quoted material.

    Personally, I would rather read abbreviated unit titles than the full version or ambiguous references to 'the regiment' where it could be one of several. When looking stuff up, it's always annoying to have to backtrack through a chapter to determine which unit is being talked about or - worse - calculate an absolute date of an event from a series of relative 'tomorrows', 'next days' or 'x days later' from the last stated date.
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  13. Tolbooth

    Tolbooth Well-Known Member

    Agree with Idler - go with the comtemporary usage. I try to use the same as the War Diaries, even if they can sometimes be a bit strange - AVsRE (Armoured Vehicles Royal Engineers) is an odd looking one

    As with any abbreviation or acronym always give it's full meaning the first time you use it, be consistent and don't assume your readers' knowledge - 141 RAC (Royal Armoured Corps) or the Buffs ?
  14. JDKR

    JDKR Member

    For what it's worth, this is the approach (work downwards) I have used for my forthcoming book (Note: no plug!):

    21st Army Group
    Second Army
    XII Corps
    53rd Welsh Division
    160th Infantry Brigade
    2 Mons
    457 Battery

    So I only use abbreviations for units and believe that a blend of numerals (eg '21st') , words (eg 'Second') and Roman numerals quickly helps the reader to identify the level of command being described. I think this seems to follow most conventions (but I might be wrong!). Things get a bit messier when dealing with battalions/regiments and I have either fallen back on what I remember of British Army SD, eg 1 Coldm Gds for 1st Battalion the Coldstream Guards or have used what I hope are sensible alternatives, eg '1 E Lancs' for 1st Battalion the East Lancashire Regiment. When describing numbered company/batteries/squadrons I have dropped 'th', 'st' and 'rd' as they seemed clunky when reading the text and have described them as you would say it, so it's '147 Battery' not '147th Battery'.

    I 100% agree that the main point is be consistent.

    Final thing. Avoid novel abbreviations, which are not obvious to the reader. The worst example of this I have come across is in The Noise of Battle by Tony Colvin in which he uses homemade abbreviations such as BID (British Infantry Division) and BCB (British Commando Brigade) to produce '53 BID' and '1 BCB', making the narrative extremely difficult to follow as the mind (well, mine at least) can't help but translate the abbreviation each time it occurs.

    The German system was very logical and used alternating Roman and Arabic numerals. However, the Wehrmacht was a far more numerically based organisation so this was an obvious system.
  15. idler

    idler GeneralList

  16. Richard Lewis

    Richard Lewis Member

    Here’s a couple of links to Field Service Pocket Book Part I, Pamphlet No. 3 Abbreviations.


    New Resource - Field Service Pocket Book - Abbreviations

    A transcribed version: https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://yourarchives.nationalarchives.gov.uk/index.php?title=Field_Service_Pocket_Book

    p.s. A bit slow there, Idler beat me to it!
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  17. idler

    idler GeneralList

    At least you found the TNA one - I knew it was there but couldn't hit it.
  18. idler

    idler GeneralList

    Another detail: when using the ordinals, there is the temptation to put the largely-redundant 'the' in front of them.
  19. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian

    Golly, I better not mention that I have expanded abbreviations in my quotes... oops, I just did. I don't think it is fair to expect the reader to know coy and A/Tk. Not to mention, "54 A/Tk Reg't" isn't that much of an abbreviation compared with "54 Anti-Tank Regiment". "54ATR" is much more compact, albeit inelegant.

    I do agree that it can be quite annoying to try to figure out a date like you describe. On the other hand as a writer, it is not very pleasant to have, e.g., three+ paragraphs each beginning "On 3 July...", "On 4 July..." and so on. But I think it's best to replace no more than every second one with something different.

    I guess I am fairly on board with just writing 30 Corps and 54 Anti-Tank Regiment, without "the". I am not sure how or if I want to shorten a mention of an anti-tank regiment.

    Thanks everyone for their replies so far... I seem to have touched a nerve here ;)
  20. I would say that a safe (and historically meaningful) bet would be to try and comply as much as possible with the Field Service Pocket Book (Pamphlet No.3), starting with its Note No.1:

    1. General—Abbreviations, whether authorized in this pamphlet or not will only be used if the writer is satisfied that there is NO possibility of their meaning being mistaken or not understood by any one of the addressees of the document he is originating.

    and thus, if any abbreviation is to be used, which I would recommend at least for unit names for better readability, to define it the first time it is used in the document. This complies with Note No.3, only in reverse (stating the full name first and its then abbreviation) and extending it to authorized abbreviations as well, so as to reach the widest possible audience (unless you want to attach the entire Pamphlet :D):

    3. Unauthorized abbreviations—The use of unauthorized abbreviations is not encouraged. If for some reason it is considered helpful or desirable to use an unauthorized abbreviation, it must be explained or defined the first time it appears in the text, thus: EFI (Expeditionary Force Institutes), IG (Instructor in gunnery). This ruling applies particularly to specialist and technical arms and services which are in the habit of using, within their own spheres, abbreviations that, though well known by their own arm or service, are not authorized for general use.

    We are simply considering that the writer is part of such "specialist and technical arms and services", whereas his audience is not.

    Note No.9 explains how to handle unit numbers (my underlining):
    9. Formations and units—Army List abbreviations will never be used in official correspondence, instructions, memoranda, or signals. Full titles of regiments or corps, as given in the Army List, will be used only in correspondence of a very formal nature. When formations and units are described by their authorized abbreviations, ordinal numbers (written as words) are used to denote armies, for example, First Army. Cardinal numbers (written as figures) are used to denote particular formations or units, for example, 17 Army Gp (Seventeenth Group of Armies), 5 Corps (5th Corps), 5 NORTHAMPTONS (5th Battalion, The Northamptonshire Regiment).

    In short, I would use the unit's full title as per the Pamphet when it first appears, with its authorized abbreviation between brackets, and then use only the authorized abbreviation throughout:

    "(...) 'A' Company of 5th Battalion, The Northamptonshire Regiment (5 NORTHAMPTONS) (...).
    'A' Company 5 NORTHAMPTONS (...)"

    If more abbreviations are to be used, this could become:

    "(...) 'A' Company (A Coy) of 5th Battalion, The Northamptonshire Regiment (5 NORTHAMPTONS) (...).
    A Coy 5 NORTHAMPTONS (...)"

    Last edited: Jan 26, 2020
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