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British Army Handbook

George Forty
Out of Print
Sutton Publishing (1998)

NoLongerAMember writes:

Excellent book, and a great one stop shop for information.

The reviewer here notes it is not the last word on British Armour, but that information is easily available elsewhere, this book is great for the nitty gritty of the Infantry and Artillery.

I will make no comment on a book about the British Army, not covering the Aircraft of the RAF…

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This entry created 17 May 2010. Last revised on 5 September 2016.

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British Army Handbook


Rating: gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star (10.00)

381 pages. Extensive B&W pictures; some charts. Appendices. Bibliography. Index.


1 - Historical Background
2 - Mobilization and Training
3 - Higher Organizations down to Army Level and Arms of the Services
4 - Non Divisional Units, Headquarters and the Staff
5 - The Combat Arms
6 - The Services
7 - Divisional Organizations
8 - The Soldier
9 - Weapons, Vehicles and Equipment
10 - Tactics
11 - Vehicle Markings, Flag Codes and Camouflage
12 - ATS and other Women's Corps

Appendix 1 - British Army Divisions of the Second World War
Appendix 2 - Military Symbols
Appendix 3 - Appreciations of the Situation and Operation Orders
Appendix 4 - Composition of 21 Army Group
Appendix 5 - Ground Radios
Appendix 6 - Personalities

The Handbook series from Sutton provides a useful single-volume reference for each of the major armies in WWII. George Forty has written several of them - he does a good job of collating the material, though his writing style can be dry at times. Then again, would you plan to read a book like this cover-to-cover, or are you more likely to look up a particular topic you need more information about?

This book came out in hardback in 1998; the edition I've read is the large-format trade paperback edition of 2002.

Introduction (pp.xi-xii): is a vast subject to cover in such a little book so I could only include the bare essentials....

I have tried, in this volume, to give a more balanced and complete picture of the British Army in wartime from the early days of the BEF, through the years of defeat and struggle in the early 1940s, culminating in the eventual Allied victory, in which the officers and men of the British Army and their Commonwealth comrades played such an important role...

As far as the main general description of the individual soldier, his weapons and equipment are concerned I have tried to base everything on the army that went into NW Europe in 1944, but at the same time not forgetting what went before and what came after, so the 'Forgotten Armies' that fought in Italy and Burma are mentioned as well....

It is best to think of this book as a "first resource" when looking for information on the British Army. It won't have the exhaustive information on any single topic, but it will have basic information on almost every topic.

Since the book is not optimized for a wargaming audience, wargamers will find some topics of less use than others - the details of the catering or dental services, for instance. However, this volume does deliver practical information on unit organization, weapons and equipment used, and a guide to unit insignia.

Division Organizations (p.146):

The division is without doubt the ideal sized field formation to use so as to explain the basic make-up of the operational British Army of the Second World War, the brigade and below being too small and unrepresentative, the corps and above being too large as they could contain a far more diverse mix of units....

This book is heavily illustrated - nearly every pagespread has two to five black-and-white pictures, clearly printed, illustrating the subject at hand.

There is also a list of abbreviations at the start of the book. Unfortunately for this American reader, there were a fair number of abbreviations used which did not make the list, and which required a bit of puzzling out.

Tactics (pp.296):

Although the British Army of 1939 had embraced mechanization, its tactical thinking was still steeped in the slow, ponderous tactics of the trench warfare of the First World War - and it was not helped by the fact that its major ally, France, had firmly opted for static warfare with its enormous commitment to the Maginot Line....

The one disappointment in this volume is the chapter on tactics. Only eight pages long, there is simply not enough space to do the subject justice.

If you have an interest in the British Army of WWII, then this volume will fill the need for a general resource. It's not the last word on British tanks on WWII, and it doesn't cover British aircraft at all, but it's a good foundation for a wargamer's reference library.

Note: There is also a British Army Handbook for the First World War, and a Handbook focusing on the RAF of WWII.

Reviewed by Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian.