World War II Vehicles, Tanks and Airplanes, picture of P-51 Mustang
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Great Britain's History

World War I

On November 5, 1918, the last tank battle of World War I occurred. At the Mormal Forest, the 3rd Guards Brigade was supported by eight Whippet tanks of the 5th Battalion, Tank Corps.

Over 2,000 tanks and armored cars of the Tank Corps were in constant use during the last 100 days of World War I.

Royal Air Force (RAF)

At the end of World War I (1918) the Royal Air Force had around 22,000 aircraft. There were over 290,000 men that made up the RAF.



Great Britian's King George V King George V
On November 1918, the Tank Corps consisted of 25 battalions. By 1921 it was reduced to 5 battalions and 12 armored car companies (which were used for policing duties in the British Empire, and were assisted by the armored car companies of the Royal Air Force). At the time armored cars were considered much cheaper to build and use for policing than tanks. One battalion was being permanently assigned to the Corps' depot at Bovington. Many considered disbanding the Tank Corps but its Colonel-in-Chief, His Majesty King George V, granted it the title Royal on October 18, 1923. However, the War Office still did not embrace tanks as a viable weapon. It was felt that the foot soldiers could be supported by horse cavalry and armored cars.

Decisions for designs were based on:

  • Policing the Empire;
  • Small expeditions and guerrilla warfare;
  • Major expeditions;
  • Major war
Great Britian's Liddell Hart Liddell Hart

Light tanks became the focus as they were small and cheep.

At the same time Liddell Hart wrote many articles and books on tank warfare theory to bring Colonel Fuller's theories to the forefront of discussion.

Fleet Air Arm (FAA)

In April 1924 the Fleet Air Arm was formed and in May 1939 became independent.

One Man Tanks

Major G. le Q. Martel built a one man tank in his garden in 1925. He felt that in mass quantities these would help the infantry advance. However, it was seen that a single man would have way too much to do inside the vehicle to be very affective and in 1926 he created a two man tank. Eight of the two man models were constructed by Morris Motors.

These vehicles eventually lead to the Light Tank Mk I that was designed by Sir John Carden.

Experimental Mechanized Force

In 1926 the War Office gave the go ahead to form a unit that would put their theories to the test. On May 1, 1927, the Experimental Mechanized Force was formed and Colonel R. J. Collins as its commander. It consisted of:

  • a reconnaissance group with tankettes and armored cars,
  • a battalion of 48 Vickers medium tanks,
  • a motorized MG battalion,
  • a mechanized artillery regiment, which had one battery of fully tracked self-propelled guns, and
  • a motorized engineer field company.

During a subsequent exercise on the Salisbury Plain it performed above expectations. Observers from the United States, Germany, and Russia were very impressed. In 1928 it became the armored force.



In 1931 a tank brigade was formed and it consisted of four battalions. This was commanded by Brigadier Charles Broad. Its units used radios much more than had previously been done.

Mechanization of the Calvary and Build Up of the Army

Starting in 1929 work was done to start the mechanization of the Calvary. Then in 1934 the Inspector-General stated that he saw no future for horsed calvary and requested that his regiments be converted to armor.

In 1934 under the command of Brigadier Hobarth exercises were conducted where an armored brigade had light and medium armored cars. The exercises were also conducted with a motorized infantry brigade. However, this exercise was considered a failure and this gave high command the excuse to stop development of tanks for a short time. As a result General Fuller and Brigadier Hobarth were relieved of their commands.

In 1935-36 the Army Estimates were allotted £4 million, of which only £270,000 were to go towards tracked vehicles. When the 1936-37 Army Estimates were introduced by the Secretary of State for War he didn't wholly support the mechanization of the 8 regiments of calvary. Many in the upper echelons of the government felt that Britain should focus on navy and air power for the defense of England.

In 1936 there were 375 tanks:

  • 209 light tanks
  • 2 Medium IIIs
  • 22 Mark V Light
  • 47 Mark VI Light

By 1939 there were only 4 remaining regiments that still had horses.

Aircraft Production Ramped Up

There were only 850 front line aircraft in the Royal Air Force in 1933 and with tensions breaking out in Europe production was greatly increased. By 1940 the total front line aircraft had risen to over 3,500 aircraft with over 170,000 men in the RAF.

Infantry Support

Specialized tank brigades equipped with infantry tanks were formed to support the infantry.

Tank Development

In the Autumn of 1936 the British observed the Soviet Union's manouvers. Based on this three types of tanks were envisioned:

  • Light for reconnaissance,
  • Medium/cruiser for protection on the battlefield, and exploitation,
  • Infantry for supporting the walking infantry with heavy armor.

By 1936 total tank strength was 375. 164 of these were obsolete Vickers Mediums and the rest were light tanks with only machine guns as armament.

By 1938 mechanization was in full progress and many light tanks were built as they were cheap, easy to maintain, and ideal for training. These would later be found to be outclassed on the battlefield. British tank design also didn't emphasize armament in development. Many of the early tanks had 2 pdr. without high explosive rounds to support the infantry.

Formation of Armored Divisions

In 1938 the first 2 mobile divisions were formed and in 1939 were designated armored divisions. The 1st division stayed in England and the 7th division was in Egypt. They consisted of:

  • a light brigade of 3 regiments with cruiser and light tanks,
  • a heavy brigade of 3 regiments with cruiser tanks,
  • a motorized rifle battalion,
  • a motorized artillery regiment, and
  • an engineer company.

In early 1940 the brigades became equal and an additional rifle battalion and a antitank/antiaircraft regiment was added. In late 1940 an armored car regiment was added.


World War II

Start of War

When the war started in 1939 there were 1,000 light tanks and only 146 of them were infantry or cruiser tanks. For being at the forefront of armored warfare the British was very behind in development when World War II started.


Great Britian's Major-General P.C.S. Hobart Major-General P.C.S. Hobart

When the Germans invaded France the British only had 1 armored car regiment, 7 divisional cavalry regiments, and the incomplete 1 Army Tank Brigade with 2 regiments (4th & 7th) in France. In England they still had the 1st Armored Division which was below strength. The 7th Division in Egypt was at its peak as it was under the command of Major-General P.C.S. Hobart.

The 4th Royal Tank Regiment had 50 Matilda Mk Is and the 7th had 27 Matilda Mk Is and 23 Matilda Mk IIs. These were used to shock the Germans at Arras on May 21, 1940. This helped delay the Germans in cutting of the retreating BEF (British Expeditionary Force) at Dunkirk.

During the evacuation from France, Britain left behind almost 700 tanks.

After the Fall of France

After France the Reconnaissance Corps was formed in 1941 to replace the cavalry regiments.

Major expansion was ordered and in early 1942 there were 11 Army Tank Brigades (1st, 10th, 11th, 21st, 25th, and 31st-36th) available for allocation to corps and divisions. By mid-1942 5 of these brigades ("Army" being dropped) replaced the 3rd infantry brigade in the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 43rd, and 53rd Infantry Divisions. These weren't suitable and the 'mixed' divisions were abolished in 1943.

Battle of Britain

In late 1940 the Germans tried to soften up the English's defenses so that Operation Sealion could be carried out with the invasion of England. The Germans had around 3,500 combat aircraft against the approximately 1,000 Hurricanes and Spitfires defending the skies over Britain. The Germans were to eventually suffer 1,733 planes shot down against 915 British planes.

Part of the success of this was not only the individual pilots defending Britain, but the operations of Fighter Command by detecting the Luftwaffe attacks and then coordinating the RAF's interception and response.

Armored Division in 1942


  • Armored brigade
    • 3 armored regiments
    • 1 infantry motor battalion
    • 1 infantry brigade (trucks)
      • 1 MG company
      • 3 infantry battalions (trucks)
  • Armored reconnaissance regiment
  • Divisional artillery
    • Field regiment with 25 pounders
    • Regiment of self-propelled 25 pounders
  • Anti-tank regiment
  • Anti-aircraft regiment
  • Engineers
  • Signals
  • Services

Expansion and Organizing

In August 1944 the independent armored and tank brigades each had 3 regiments/battalions of tanks. There was about 3,400 men of all ranks. There were 1,200 vehicles, with 190 of them being medium or infantry tanks, and 33 light tanks. In the 5 armored brigades the basic tank was the Sherman, while in 3 tank brigades it was Churchill tanks. All light tanks were Stuarts. In 2 of the armored brigades there was also a motor battalion. These independent brigades were intended for close cooperation with infantry divisions. It was 21 Army Group policy that they must be capable of working with armored divisions.


Colonel Fuller

Great Britian's Colonel J.F.C. Fuller Colonel J.F.C. Fuller
In 1920, Fuller published Tanks in the Great War. Later he wrote a series of articles titled "The Influence of Tanks on Cavalry Tactics" in the Cavalry Journal. He stated that he was calling for the horses to be replaced by tanks, not the elimination of the cavalry.

In 1923 he published The Reformation of War. He declared that cavalry, infantry, and artillery were redundant and that what was needed were heavy battle tanks and light scouting tanks. As tanks were mobile, then the artillery and infantry would also have to be mechanized.

Fuller became the chief instructor at the Army's Staff College, in Camberly, in 1923. He completely replaced the lectures and created new exercises. The Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Lord Cavan, denied his request to publish his writings.

Fuller published On Future Warfare in 1928 and retired in 1933 from the Army.

He then served as a reporter in Ethiopia in 1935, Spain during the Civil War from 1936-1939.

Fuller was the only foreigner allowed to see Germany's first armored maneuvers in 1935.

His autobiography, Memoirs of an Unconventional Soldier, was published in 1936.

General staffs in Germany, Russia, and Czechoslovakia adopted his Field Service Regulations III (published in 1937).



46,212,599, 47,500,000, 47,700,000, 47,900,000, 48,200,000


  1. Tanks of World War II, Duncan Crow, 1979
  2. Steel Fist Tank Warfare 1939-45, Nigel Cawthorne, 2003
  3. No Simple Victory - World War II In Europe, 1939-1945, Norman Davies, 2006
  4. World War Two Tanks, George Forty, 1995
  5. World War II Airplanes Volume 1, Enzo Angerlucci, Paolo Matricardi, 1976
  6. World War II, DK, 2004
  7. AFV #5: Light Tanks Marks I-VI, Major-General N. W. Duncan
  8. Tank War 1939-1945, Janusz Piekalkiewicz, 1986
  9. World War II in Numbers, Peter Doyle, 2013
20th Century American Military History Crucial Site