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The men and women who defend the United Kingdom and fight wars overseas.

The British Armed Forces (As a professional fighting force) began to appear during the English Civil War (1641-1651) with the New Model Army (with two regiments--the Coldstream Guards and the Blues and Royals[1]--in the present able to trace their roots to the force) and has since fought in many wars such as The Napoleonic Wars, The Boer War, The First World War, the Second World War, both Gulf Wars, and many others.

Has featured in the UK press quite a bit recently due to sometimes controversial deaths in the ongoing War in Afghanistan, in which British ground and some air forces are an integral part. There is a widespread, but unfounded, feeling the armed services are underfunded (despite having the third-largest defence budget in the world after the US and China, and ahead of France and Russia).

However, the British are generally right to be proud of their military. Both Labour and the Conservatives pledged not to cut defence expenditure if elected, a promise that was reneged when the coalition government's Defence Review went through the military like an industrial laser, with some very questionable decisions being made - the most prominent of which is the construction of new aircraft carriers while retiring the Harrier, meaning that there won't be anything to launch from them until the Joint Strike Fighter comes online.

Of course, participation in Iraq and Afghanistan is starting to look like it might change that, with newspaper stories of servicemen being heckled in the street when wearing their uniform and a decline in sales of The Poppy attributed to anti-war feeling. The government has attempted to combat this with "wear your uniform to work" days for the Territorial Army (volunteer reservists) and various other pro-military propaganda campaigns. This attitude has recently changed as both the UK and the US are both becoming more pro military.

Has a collective liking for a chap called Jeremy Clarkson

There are three branches to the UK military...

British Army

Self Explanatory. Home to all the squaddies and squadettes. Their main weapon is the L85 assault rifle (some military people will look at you funny if you call it the SA80 as the SA80 refers to the entire family of British Army rifles, machine guns, sniper rifles, etc, etc), which is rather short and can't be fired left-handed unless a face full of hot cartridge casings is your idea of fun. Note: Not named the "Royal Army" because it is descended from the institutions established by the "New Model Army" which fought for Parliament against the King in the seventeenth century civil wars, unlike the navy. There are "Royal" units in the Army, but they are regiments, divisions, even corps, rather than the Army as a whole, e.g., Royal Armoured Corps, Royal Artillery, and the Royal Flying Corps in bygone days. 110,210 regulars, 33,100 territorials and 121,800 regular reserves.


A core feature of the British army - or at least of its fighting arms - is the Regimental system. The Regiments (typically one or two battalion formations) play a far greater part than they do for many foreign armies and are a soldier's primary point of attachment. A man belongs to his regiment first and foremost, wears its (usually historic) distinctive uniform and frequently adopts its traditions and rivalries. Whilst he remains a private then his job title may also depend on which regiment he belongs to - titles include Trooper, Rifleman, Fusilier, Kingsman and Guardsman. Other ranks may also be renamed in some rare cases. TA personnel in frontline combat roles are divided between several regiments, usually forming one battalion.

The most famous regiments are (current names if they're still around):

  • The Special Air Service (SAS) regiment: The original Special Forces unit; the people who rescue hostages from embassies and look cool doing it, as well as other, more sneaky, activities. Started out in the North African desert in WWII. With two former members both in the novels business, they get a lot of coverage. Their motto "Who Dares Wins" is used a lot by Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses. They were the world's first Special Forces (as we would use the term today) and are still considered the best; all other Special Forces groups in the world are trained by the SAS or use the methods they developed. Occasionally fulfill a similar role to the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team, but contrary to popular belief they only provide VIP escort duties under exceptional circumstances. Once described by famed war correspondent Kate Adie as being like Martians: quiet, watchful and wearing a lot of strange weaponry. Applicants are only allowed in after at least 3 years of service with another regiment.
  • The Parachute Regiment: AKA The Paras. Jump out of planes for a living. Also includes the Pathfinders. Wear burgundy headgear. Getting in is seriously hard, and is by invitation only. Infamous for the Bloody Sunday massacre.
  • The Foot Guards (Grenadier/Coldstream/Scots/Irish/Welsh Guards): Five regiments. These are the ones who usually wear the bearskin hats, stand outside Buckingham Palace and get many an American tourist trying to make them smile in fiction. Don't annoy them too much though, those rifles are real, are loaded and can fire full auto. The Irish lot recruit mostly from Stroke Country, but also do so from The Republic Of Ireland (unofficially). Definitely not just ceremonial units, they have fought in many areas around the world such as North Africa, Italy (Like This Tropers' Granddad)and western Europe in WWII, and managed to hold the Hougoumont farmhouse at Waterloo against 14000 Frenchmen; All Guard Regiments have seen combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, including receiving battle honours in 2005. They can be distinguished via their button designs.
    • Or the plumes on the bearskin: Grenadiers white, Coldstreams red, Irish blue, Welsh green and white, Scots none.
  • The Household Cavalry: Comprising the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals. When in London they ride horses, carry sabres, and wear breastplates. When on deployment they ride tanks.
  • Royal Gurkha Rifles- They're from Nepal, a legacy of the British Empire's presence in India. They always carry large knives called kukris and they're very good at their jobs. Do not mess with a Gurkha. Seen a lot of press coverage recently regarding rather shoddy treatment of retired veterans. Thankfully this was changed thanks a pressure campaign spearheaded by actress Joanna Lumley. She was awarded a Pride of Britain award by the Gurka who saved her father's life.
    • In The Falklands War in 1982, the Argentian conscripts fired back at the British soldiers, but fled instantly when the Gurkhas attacked.
  • The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland: Now part of the controversial super-regiment that is the Royal Regiment of Scotland, they have retained their traditions. Wear kilts in their dress uniform and are another regiment you do not want to mess with. Germans during World War One ran away merely hearing them playing their pipes. Recently bailed the SAS out of a rather tight spot. Article here
    • Well, wouldn't you want to get as far away from a bagpiper as possible?
      • Well... that, and historically, if you hear Bagpipes, it means you're going to get your arse kicked very quickly.
      • The Germans also nicknamed them "The Ladies from Hell" and "The Devils in Skirts" referencing both the kilt and the fact that they were terrifying to fight.
  • The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland: Suffering the same amalgamation as the Black Watch. Most notable because one of their precursors, the Sutherland Highlanders, was the source of the now-ubiquitous military cliché "The Thin Red Line," which became their nickname after they stood in line to stop a cavalry charge (tantamount to suicide according to then-current military doctrine) in the Crimean War.
  • The Rifles, Another super-regiment formed by the merger of several older ones, The Devonshire and Dorset Light Infantry, The Light Infantry, The Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Light Infantry and The Royal Green Jackets. Wears Green berets and black buttons and uses the old spelling of Serjeant. Has its own traditions separate from Infantry of the line as rifle regiments used to use a radically different drill. By standing strength is the largest regiment of infantry
  • 7th Armoured Brigade: AKA "The Desert Rats", they are a very good tank brigade. Part of 1st Armoured Division, they are based in Germany.
    • Note that the 7th Armoured contains elements of several regiments - as of 2008 they included Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, The Highlanders (4Bat RRS), 9/12 Lancers, Royal Regt of Fusiliers and the Royal Anglians, plus artillery, engineer, logistic and other units. It also has the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, the same regiment (by direct decendence) which first used the tank, EVER, at the Somme.
  • Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment: Amalgated from the Queen and Hampshire regiments, this unit is the senior infantry regiment of the line. Earliest battle honours, and the most VCs!

The regimental system is less strong in the support arms (the Corps) where a man (or woman, since they're allowed to join "non-teeth" formations) is typically a member of his Corps (e.g. Logistics, Royal Engineers, Adjutant General's) first and can be moved between regiments fairly freely. Notable corps:

  • The Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineers. AKA the Gunners and the Sappers. Traditionally, the only part of the army where officers were promoted on technical skill, rather than ability to buy promotions, these two corps therefore have their own kind of snobbery and a fierce (but fairly friendly) rivalry. Unlike conventional regiments, the Gunners and Sappers have no battle honours. Instead they share the Latin motto "Ubique", meaning Everywhere. Because they pretty much are.

Writers should be careful in assigning a character to an existing formation - unless they are prepared to do a lot of research it's usually easier to make one up.

Bits of it are posted all over the world for various reasons. The Other Wiki has a full list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Army#Current_deployments

Armoured Support

  • The British Army currently has the rather cool Challenger 2 tank in service as its Main Battle Tank. It has a major advantage over its US counterpart, the M1 Abrams, in that it has an inbuilt kettle for making tea.
  • It also has the Warrior APC as its main Awesome Personnel Carrier.

Apart from the Gurkhas, roughly 8-9% of the army is made up of non-British personnel, the largest chunk from Fiji and other poorer Commonwealth nations such as Jamaica. However, it also includes servicemen from more affluent nations such as South Africa, Australia and Ireland. Yes, despite The Troubles there are several hundred Irishmen serving in the British army--probably because the Irish Defense Forces provide less opportunity for adventure/combat/exotic postings than the British forces (asides from the occasional United Nations peacekeeping operation, the Irish military mostly stays in Ireland). Northern Ireland is still part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland allows its citizens to join any service; it's just active recruiting that's not allowed.

Note also that the US and British rank structures differ markedly in non-commissioned ranks and Warrant Officers are something altogether different.

Royal Air Force

Just called that because it's The Royal Air Force. Created from the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service just before the end ofWorld War One. Home of Biggles. Famous for the Battle of Britain. Currently the smallest it has been since the First World War, due to the end of said conflict, as well as the major downsizing shared among the other major powers after the Second World War, and finally at the end of the Cold War; it is one of the largest air forces in the world. Operates at peak roughly 1,100 fixed and rotary-wing craft of all roles. The key attack aircraft of the RAF are the Panavia Tornado (with ground-attack, reconnaissance and fight-bomber versions), the BAE Harrier VTOL aircraft and the Eurofighter Typhoon, operating in the interceptor and air superiority roles, sometimes dabbling in ground-attack. They're also famous for the Red Arrows aerobatics team, who fly red-coloured Hawk trainers.

The RAF has had some very famous aircraft throughout its history:

  • Sopwith Camel - Biggles! (The real thing looks nothing like a doghouse).
  • Supermarine Spitfire - the pride of the RAF during the Battle of Britain and indisputably the most iconic fighter of the war. Any work of fiction mentioning the Battle will name-check this plane.
  • Hawker Hurricane - this was actually around more during The Battle of Britain and credited with more kills than Spitfires in the Battle of Britain. Generally speaking, Hurricanes would target bombers while Spitfires attacked enemy fighters, although these weren't exclusive roles. The night-fighting capacity of the Hurricane helped considerably during the war.
  • Avro Lancaster - what dropped the "bouncing bomb," and the main aircraft of the night bombing offensive against Germany.
  • English Electric Lightning- a very fast interceptor from the 1960s, with a climb rate that rivals the F-15, a plane a generation newer.
  • Avro Vulcan - a British nuclear bomber, famous for its unmistakable delta-winged shape. During The Falklands War, pulled off what was then the longest-range bombing raid in history, via a lot of tanker support. The history book Vulcan 607 covers the first of these.

Notable units include:

  • 1 (F) Squadron: The first RAF squadron, participating in every conflict the RAF has turned up in, today using Harriers in a close-air support role.
  • 9 Squadron: Formerly based in Germany and once a nuclear Vulcan squadron, their Second World War before that basing saw a lot of firsts and also getting the first bomb hit on Tirpitz.
  • 617 Squadron: AKA "The Dam Busters", as they were the unit who did that famous mission and also contributed to sinking Tirpitz. Today fly Tornado GR4 strike aircraft. Carry the very appropriate motto Apres moi, le deluge - Literally "After me, the flood".
  • The Royal Air Force Regiment - not as well known as the rest of the military, these are an Infantry unit, "affectionately" nicknamed "rock apes". They get a lot of stick from the army (for not being a "proper" infantry unit as they seem to spend a lot of time guarding RAF bases) and from the RAF (for being allegedly thick).
  • No. 1435 Flight: Who guard the Falkland Islands. Have four aircraft (Typhoons) named Faith, Hope, Charity and the reserve Desperation (the names come from the history of another island commonwealth of the British Empire, Malta, which defended itself against bombing raids with just three obsolete biplanes of the same names).

Royal Navy

 Rule Britannia, Britannia rule the waves!

The Senior Service (so called because it's the oldest of the three). Named as the RAF is. Home of Horatio Hornblower. Quite simply, for the longest time, the most powerful navy in the world. For more or less the entire ninteenth century, the Royal Navy was deliberately maintained at a size and power large enough to defeat the next two largest Navies in the world, simultaneously. The Royal Navy is practically synonymous with any mention of British military might and many a potential invasion of the British Isles would have had to cross through a wall of steel (or wood, depending on era). With it, the Brits were able to establish the most extensive empire in history and mercantile supremacy for nearly two centuries.

Unfortunately, the power of the Royal Navy declined with the Empire and is considerably less impressive than before. In addition to a number of destroyers and frigates, it has just two small VTOL carriers (well, four, one of which is currently mothballed pending scrapping and another is an amphibious-landing support vessel that normally carries only helicopters), but two full-length ones are on order, but have been delayed due to budget issues and the F-35 development problems. Its Vanguard class nuclear submarines carry the UK's Ultimate Defence of the Realm. But it just doesn't carry the moxie it used to. (Don't mistake this for being easy to win against. The British may no longer rule the waves, but as mentioned below, the Royal Navy has a very long history of thrashing forces it logistically should not have been able to beat and punches well above its weight. One could say it's bit of a Pint-Sized Powerhouse.)

Famous for Horatio Nelson, who got a column for beating the French and being fatally shot in the process. Also notable for losing an arm, sight in one eye, and chronic seasickness while in the service. Today a statue of him sits on top of a very tall column in the middle of Trafalgar Square (named after his last battle), honoured over the years by scores upon scores of pigeons. Also famous for H.M.S. Dreadnought, arguably the only ship known to history that instantly rendered every other ship of its class on the planet worthless the moment it was launched.

You do not want to fight these guys; historically they have beaten anyone and everyone. There are some battles where the Royal Navy have been outnumbered, outgunned, and outmanned, and have sailed away without one ship sinking. Effectively won a naval war on the other side of the planet in the 1980s. After the first Brit sub got on scene on April 19th the Royal Navy had forced the Argentine fleet back by May 2nd, effectively stranding the Argentine invasion force.

You are allowed to have a beard if you're in the Royal Navy, unlike in the US.

Unless there's the possibility of making an acquaintance with war gases, since the beard prevents you getting a good fit with your gas mask.

Has the Special Boat Service (SBS), which James Bond was a member of in the revised continuity for Casino Royale. This unit has actually amalgamated with the SAS in all but name, which should tell you all you need to know.

  • Basically everything the SAS is, except water navigation and combat swimmer capability added. SAS just gets more global publicity.
  • Originally (in WW II) they were part of the SAS.

Includes the Royal Marines: These are the dudes who do beach landings and stuff like that. Wear green berets. In the past, like the British Army, they wore red coats. In the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Keira Knightley disguises herself as a Royal Marine. She looks rather good in the jacket as well... Have a fierce rivalry with the Paras. Unlike the US Marines, the Royal Marines are Commandos and are used for specialist deployment. Their recruiting campaigns focus on their toughness and exclusivity: they used to use the slogan "99.9% need not apply". The Royal Marines have two battle honours from the siege of Gibraltar and the capture of Belle Isle. The rest of their service is represented by the Globe in their cap-badge, representing that they've served all over the world and are ready to deploy all over the world. Their motto is Per Mare, Per Terram meaning By Sea, By Land.

    • Ironically, they're part of the reason for US Army Special Forces being associated with (and called) "Green Berets."
    • Also in the new The Incredible Hulk movie, Blonsky (The Abomination) was retconned from a KGB agent into a Royal Marine, due to being played by Tim Roth. The Royal Marines are implied to be pretty badass by American standards in this movie.
    • One of the Royal Marines units is the FPG (Fleet Protection Group) whose task is to guard the UK's naval assets. Their primary task is guarding the nuclear weapons but they are also stationed on ships to act as defence and boarding parties.

On a more sombre note: bye-bye, sweetheart.

She's back: Prince Charles has agreed that the ship that that would have been named Prince of Wales will be named Ark Royal.

But on a lighter note, the oldest joke in the British military: Why does the Army rugby team wear red jerseys? So the blood won't show when they're injured. Why does the Royal Navy rugby team wear blue jerseys? Same reason.


The UK Armed Forces in fiction:

  • Crime dramas will sometimes have the armed forces involved, either dealing with veterans or active military-connected deaths (i.e. a murder at an Army base):
  • If it involves veterans, the military will be pretty much invisible. They'll just be the people who send you the service files.
  • It involves active duty military personnel or property, often the military will not be particularly nice. This will range from being uncooperative to actively covering the thing up. This behaviour will largely be done by the upper ranks.
  • Squaddies (the enlistees) will often be somewhat violent when violence isn't called for, and a couple may do drugs (it was recently revealed the British Army was kicking out the equivalent of a battalion a year for narcotics use). Brushes with the civilian authorities for public drunkenness are few and far between, however, or at least seldom committed by the same soldier twice. One is advised to be careful in pubs in garrison towns.
  • Any British Army officer up to 1945, and quite a few afterwards, will display all the characteristics of an Officer and a Gentleman to the letter. Any non-coms in the same series will have a regional accent and a 'Heart of Gold'.
  • No discussion of this subject is complete without the World War Two RAF pilot, who will have a moustache, a leather flying jacket and silk scarf, and use several of the expressions in Stock British Phrases.
    • Not forgeting the RFC Lord Flashearts
  • Call of Duty features British forces in all four instalments (SAS in 1, 3, and 4; 7th Armoured Division in 2).
    • But not the fifth, sadly.
      • Dummied Out game models revealed that they planned to include a British campaign, but dropped it for unknown reasons.
    • Modern Warfare 2 features the return of Captain Price and Soap MacTavish, who were SAS in Call of Duty 4 and have been requisitioned by Task Force 141 in MW2.
  • A major component of the European Federation's armed forces in Tom Clancy's Endwar consists of British forces on loan to the Enforcer Corps.
  • In The Salvation War, the British (in conjunction with the Iranians) are up front for the Battle of al Badiyah al Janubiyah, where they break a flank of Abigor's army against their guns, mines, and razor wire, killing a notable portion of Abigor's cavalry and driving the survivors of that flank towards the main body. Over time the British military seems to revert to a supporting role, though because of the destruction of Sheffield the RAF is granted the courtesy of "opening" the Battle of the Phlegethon River with a bombing run, killing several hundred harpies before takeoff. In chapter 76 of Pantheocide however, it's heavily implied that the SAS are the first First-Life humans to enter the Eternal City.
  • British military forces appear in The Patriot; unlike most of these other examples, they are presented as the antagonists.
  • Subverted in 28 Days Later: the survivors encounter what appears to be a functioning unit of the army. We later learn they've gone rogue, although they maintain some semblance of military protocol.
  • The novel and movies (of which the most recent came out in 2002) The Four Feathers focus on the British efforts to fight the Mahdist Rebellion in late 19th-century Sudan, and as such naturally features the British Army (including the death of Major-General Charles George "Chinese" Gordon).

Media involving The UK Armed Forces in a major way (we are not counting series where they turn up for a story or two as guests):

  • Redcap (1964-66) and Red Cap (2001-4): Although different shows, with no character links and the latter set in Germany - they both feature the Special Investigation Branch of the Royal Military Police. They Fight Crime. And wear scarlet covers on their caps.
  • Soldier Soldier, essentially a long-running drama. Popular enough for two of the stars to have a novelty hit single.
  • Doctor Who with UNIT, an ostensible United Nations force made up of British Army soldiers. Also appeared in other stories. Once, the RAF tried to nuke a nuclear power station; it didn't work.
  • Ultimate Force, a TV series about the Special Air Service.
  • The film Dog Soldiers, when not mucking about with werewolves, presents a relatively accurate portrayal of the way squaddies talk and act with one another.
  • Making Waves, a British TV series from 2004 about a warship. It was cancelled because of poor ratings (The viewing figures weren't much better).
  • The British military in various forms plays a role in many of Tom Clancy's works, usually in a supporting role to the US Army/Navy, but is itself almost always portrayed as highly competent. One of his most famous novels, Rainbow Six, had the SAS as major players, representing around half the Rainbow staff, including their intelligence, and most of the Rainbow troopers are British SAS and various American special forces.
    • In The Hunt for Red October, given the deployment of various forces, a RN carrier group is tasked with covering the US east coast while shuffling forces around to intercept the titular submarine. As the admiral commanding the carrier group notes, with humor, they're covering the US coast for the first time since the American Revolution.
  • Battlefield 1942 and its Road to Rome and Secret Weapons of WWII expansions featured the British army, air force, and on one limited occasion, its navy as the Allied nation on some maps, though in the original game they almost always use standard (read: American) equipment and weapons, though they grow more diverse in the expansion. One or two of the multiplayer maps are quite possibly the first time the British-Japanese front in India during WWII has ever been depicted in a video game.
    • Not so; there was a strategy game called Rising Sun during the late '90s which featured a scenario or two set in the China-Burma-India theater.
    • As well as Hidden and Dangerous 2, which featured the Japanese theatre of war in one of the campaigns. Also in H&D you play as, up to four, British SAS soldiers all throughout the game.
  • World War II Online prominently features the British Expeditionary Force, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy fighting alongside the French.
  • The Strategy game Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts, the Stand-alone sequel of Company of Heroes, largely is a homage to the British Armed forces, who saw action in europe after 1943, alongside the Americans from the original game. It features the 2. Army in the campaign, and further also the Royal Engineers (Sappers too), Royal Scots, Royal Commandos, Royal Artillery, and the Canadians, as well. Not to mention the various lieutenants, captains and The Major. This Troper guesses, that this is the advantage of having a Canadian developer's studio. After all, they were and still are part of the commonwealth...
  • Dad's Army has the Home Guard which, while not an official part of the armed forces, had a lot of ex-servicemen in it's ranks and was eventually equipped with the same small arms.
  • Sharpe involves numerous regiments and battalions of the army during the Napoleonic Wars
  • The Navy Lark radio sitcom centred on the most incompetent crew in the Royal Navy.
  • The fourth season of the Britcom Blackadder puts main character Edmund Blackadder in the trenches during World War One. Once there, here receives the full payload of one Upperclass Twit (Hugh Laurie), the Royal Flying Corps led by good old Flashheart, and General Melchett, stupid but perilious, meaning that he is willing to put the lives of millions of his own soldiers in danger with each attack.

 "Where is this battle plan?"

"We have a battle plan, sir?"

"Of course we do. How else do you think our battles are directed?"

"Our battles are directed, sir?"

  • In the British Fantasy series Redwall, there is not much resembling a real army. Still, occasionally an organized force consisting of hares makes an appearance (they resemble an army by far more). It is an obvious parody to the British Army; the soldiers are uniformed, and have a typical I say - lifestyle. According to the Author Brian Jacques, they should resemble the light-headed characteristics of British Airmen from WW 2 (Royal Air Force). Additionally, they have a very detailed hierarchy, ranging from Runners to Generals. They even have one specific rank, found in the British army only: Colour Seargeant. Interestingly, also a typical American rank appears: Master Seargeant.
  • The 1955 film The Dam Busters, a mostly-historical account of the exploits of the above-mentioned RAF 617 Squadron during World War II. Quite famous in its own right, it also served as inspiration for the Star Wars "trench run", and appeared several times in the background of Pink Floyd The Wall.
  • One of the favorites to use as a model for a Space Navy.
  • Lawrence of Arabia is of course about T. E. Lawrence, who was a lieutenant-colonel in the British Army (serving in the intelligence division of the Middle East command). His work with the Arabs was intended by the Foreign Office's Arab Bureau and the Army to help Britain take Ottoman Syria, and we see the British forces come in late in the movie.

Notes

  1. The Blues and Royals were formed from the Royal Horse Guards, or "Blues", and the Royal Dragoons, which were both New Model Army units granted the title "Royal" in the 18th century
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