British warfare (breadth study)

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  • Created on: 14-01-20 19:27

Army Reforms (1790-1918)

- McNeill- Tulloch report 1855 (Crimea)

- Cardwell's Reforms 1868-74

- Childers Reforms 1881

- Haldanes Reforms 1905-12 (following the Boer War)

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Reasons for the army reforms (the army before 1855

Recruitment:                                                                                                                                    - it became tricky to attract new recruits during the industrial revloution as working in a factory was seen as a more attractive job (higher paid, no risk of an unpopular regiment, no long posts abroad)

- regimental status was gained by social standing rather than merit- creating incompatent leaders. 

- there was a victorian ideal, meaning the army did not recruit criminals causing a shortage of troops. 

Officers-                                                                                                                                              - officers were recruited based on their social standing rather than the merit they had gained. meaning leadership was not as strong as it could be (not meritocratic= less motivational)

- purchase was used to buy rank and promotion, however this poduced incompitancy. 

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Reasons for the army reforms (the army before 1855

Munitions:                                                                                                                                             - the calvary rode with swords and the infantry used the Brown Bess Musket. Could fire 3 bullets a minute and needed cleaning quickly every few minutes. Because of this, the demand of bullets for the muskets could be supplied by the army on the field. 

- later in the centuary muskets were replaced by rifles, which eventually became breech loading. this meant the increase demand for bullets had to be produced at home in factories. 

Food and clothing:                                                                                                                            - British soldiers poorly equiped with low quality uniforms and footware, the die in uniforms ran and often needed repairing- officers often brought their own uniforms rather than use government issues. 

- Britian did not live off the land in the countries they visited on campaingn, instead food was bought from locals to maintain relations, or supplied by the RN. however supply often did not arrive, leading soldiers starving- and in the Crimea many men died from the cold and hunger. 

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Reasons for the army reforms (the army before 1855

Expanding the empire: 

- the British Empire expanded quickly and the supply of troops and clothing was stretched, meaning the supply chain needed proffesional administration to meet its needs- and many of the next reforms became centred around solving this issue. 

It is clear to see that the British army had a lack of resources- but the government was reluctant to spend more especially in peace time. 

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McNeill-Tulloch report 1855

Why needed?

The Crimean war exposed many failings within the British army. The distance to the Crimea and harsh winters meant that there were several supply issues. The winter supply scandal of 1854-5 was readily reported by the media on the field for the first time in British history- using technology such a telegraphy to print daily up to date bulletins in newspapers- increasing public interest in the war. The personal style of writing created by the reporters engaged the public and created sympathy for soldiers. The government became concerned that the public would begin to question the competence of the military and political leaders.

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McNeill-Tulloch report 1855


Hence McNeill and Tulloch were sent to the Crimea in order to investigate the Commissariat who were responsible for supply. Their main findings were that:

  • The majority of casualties were caused by disease, and a shortage of medical supplies
  • Poor health was largely due to a lack of fresh food- with units not receiving rations, and kettles misplaced
  • Lack of professional healthcare meant officers were caring for men
  • The distribution of supplies to troops was slow 8-9 weeks once they arrived in the Crimea at Balaklava
  •  Raglan (commander in chief) had no idea of the issues with supply as he had poor lines of communication with the commissariat
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McNeill-Tulloch report 1855

The recommendations the report gave from this were:                                                                                - Improve diet (allowing troops a more regular supply of fresh meat, fruit and veg), this would reduce the casualties from disease as people were healthier to fight off illness.                                 - Replace rum ration with porter (more nutritional as contained iron)                                                   - To improve the organisation of the army and its supply procedures- the materials were there in the ports, but were not being distributed quick enough to troops on the front line.


When the report was published it caused a scandal regarding the conditions in the army, giving status to the issues detailed in newspaper reports. Hence the army set up the Chelsea board which attempted to whitewash the report and its criticism of army leadership, and leaders had to conduct campaigns to defend their status.

To respond to this, the Commissariat was placed in the control of the army (whereas previously it was a civilian operation- the army only consisted of the fighting force).                                             The government also made the secretary of state for war responsible to parliament, therefore making the army more accountable so further reforms could be made by the government.

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Cardwell's Army Reforms (1868-74)

Why needed?                                                                                                                          Although the Crimean War revealed many issues existing within the army, little was done to improve it. This was partly due to the army facing colonial wars after the Crimea which they were able to deal with little reform. Then in 1868 at the same time as imperial expansion took hold the obstructive conservative government was replaced with a reformist liberal government. Under this Cardwell was appointed Secretary of State for war, during a time of military change. As the Prussian army successes against, Denmark, Austro-Hungary, and France showed the effectiveness of modern military reforms to equipment, organisation, supply and recruitment.

Problems facing Cardwell                                                                                                       However Cardwell suffered obstruction by a British Army leadership- influenced by Wellington’s legacy, that the British beat Napoleon (the best army in the world) so why would they change. This was unlikely to improve as promotion was still bought by purchase (during the French wars this worked as talented young men bought their way to the top- such as Wellington, however in the Crimea this was less effective with individuals such as Lord Lucan being less component). And due to the economic boom in the UK the quality of recruits were poor- as factory work was a more attractive position.

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Cardwell's Army Reforms (1868-74)

1) Flogging and branding punishments discouraged men from enlisting, so flogging was abolished as a punishment in peacetime in 1868. Branding abolished entirely. 

2) Recruiting sargents used dishonest ways to get men into the army- encouraged by the promise of bounty money, so bounty money was abolished in 1870 

3) The minimum term of service was 12 years, and a pension was only available after 21- a long commitment. So the army enlistment act 1870 allowed men to serve half of their term in the reserves. 

4) Men were afraid of long postings abroad, due to climate and desiease. So the regulation of the forces act 1871 abolished general service, and linked regiments more closely to a geographical area. 

5) Promotion could only be secured if the man had enough money to pay for his commision, so only the wealthy could gain high positions (this was sometimes okay, but often produced incompetancy). In 1871 the purchasing of commisions was abolished, establishing meritocracy. 

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Cardwell's Army Reforms (1868-74)

The effectiveness of the reforms:

- Abolition of purchase meant that officers could now only be promoted in terms of merit, creating better leadership which would hopefully have the ability to provide more reforms to the army in future such as supply, technology etc. However despite this there were more advantages from wealthy men- private education, degree, equipment- meaning that most top positions were help by the upper and middle classes and was until WW1. On top of this to work up to the top ranks without purchase would take 21- meaning that any further changes would be long term. 

- The recruitment problems the army had suffered was solved in the mid 1870s when the British economy began to slow, and the unemployment rate began to rise again, meaning more people took army jobs as a means of stable and reliable employment. the army was also not overstretched as were not fighing many conflicts at the time. The army had also become more attractive due to the reforms eg. The Army Enlistment Act. The increase in recruits meant the British were in a better position against the European conscripted armies. 

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Childers Reforms (1881)

The Regulation of Forces Act 1870 meant that general service could be abolished (where men were assigned to any army unit seen fit) and assigned each regiment to a geographical area, the regiment would need to have two battalions- so one could be at war whilst the other stayed at home- and could serve as a reinforcement pool for the other in wartime. However this proved difficult to put into play as most regiments only had one battilion- and would rather raise another from scratch than cooperate with another regiment. 

In 1881 Hugh Childers abolished the old system of numbering regiments and instead gave them titles relating to location- in most cases this also included merging with another regiment, and locating to a different area of the country. 

The reactions to these reforms were not overly positive with some regiments fighting to keep their old names, and even protests against the reforms- eg the Gordon highlanders held a mock funeral, and some regiments prolonged campaigns to return to their origional colours. 

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Haldane's Reforms (1905-12)

Why carried out?

By the end of the ninteenth centuary, military technology was expanding at unprecedented rates and more and more specialists divisions were needed to use new wepons. The impact of these changes were large, as new tactics were needed and khaki uniforms replaced the red. 

The biggest shock to the army system was the impact of the Boer War,  the Brithish army's performance showed supply was inefficiant, equipment was sub standard, poor leadership in combat and a poor state of fitness for many recruits. This meant that the war was only won by patience, economic dominance and numbers. 

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Haldane's Reforms (1905-12)

Expeditionary and Territiorial Forces

- Reorganised the army

- Set up a fully proffesional full time fighting force (expeditionary) which would be deployed abroad during wartime (attracted recruits as they knew they would be going abroad in the BEF). The force was made up of 6 infantry divisios, 1 heavy calvary divisions and 2 light calvary bdes. 

- Was to be fully supported- but size was limited by the budget of £28m

- The territorial force would provide the home defence and was to be made up of part time volunteers. 

- Created in 1907 by the Territiorial and Reservists Forces Act. 

- The paper strength - 712,000, but the actual strenght in 1913 was 236,000

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Haldane's Reforms (1905-12)

The officer training corps 

- Set up at universities and public schools after the Boer war.                                                        - They taught the skills and qualities needed to become army officers- impoving leadership.                                                                                                                       - Combined into a single national group- the officer training corps                                                    - Organised by the war office                                                                                                                - Funded by the government                                                                                                                - Standard army regulations applied 

- By 1914 - 20,000 school boys and 5000 undergraduates- meaning the army had the ability to expand during the war, as there were enough trained officers to lead the new recruits and conscripts. 

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Haldane's Reforms (1905-12)

Imperial General Staff 

- The government needed to improve the coordination of the different parts of the army, in order to stanadise aims so colonials could work together. 

- So, to do this, the imperial general staff was created, who were responsible for all of the strategic matters in the empire. so future conflicts could be predicted and troops could be trained specifically in anticipation of this.

- All colonial forces were organised along the British line 

- Non british, self governing dominions within the empire could veto decisions by the imperial general staff, as it was important for the british to keep the most advanced colonies as full members of the empire while maintaining their right to self govern. 

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Reduction in the size of the RN after 1815

The role of the RN after 1815 was to change dramatically. this was as there was no other navy of significance left in the world to fight and so the protection of Britian itself was not a proirity. Instead GB needed to police trade routes of the world and protect british trade- so there was security around the growing empire. GB had abolished the slave trade in 1807 and so the RN had to enforce this ban. 

After the Battle of Waterloo the battleships which fought Napoleon were quickly decomissioned, and put to other uses- such as prision hulks, guard ships etc. 

By 1817 there were only 13 battleships left on active duty from the navy which during the French wars could boast over 100. these were left in the european and mediteranean waters to remind countries of british dominance. the real strenght of the RN was in frigates, sloops and brigs operating around the world.

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The Shift from Sail to Steam

The first steamships included in the Royal Navy was commissioned in 1820s but despite this the transition from sail to steam was a slow process. The conservative sea lords were suspicious of the new technology and believed the power source was unreliable compared to wind power.

Sir James Graham oversaw the first operational steamship, HMS Medea with a steam driven paddle, and HMS Gladiator with the same technology. However Britain was not at war and so steamships were a cost that the peacetime government were not prepared to invest in.

It was believed that steamships were only suitable for support tasks such as moving supplies. And the steam powered paddle which propelled the boat was seen to be vulnerable to enemy fire, and the ship would not be able to fire broadside due to its placement in the middle of the boat.

The French began introducing steam engines to their boats in the 1840s and so the British followed suit in 1845. The first steam powered battleship was HMS Agamemnon- but still had full sail rigging.

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Wood to Iron

The issues which ship designers had with steam engines was with their weight and the extra weight of the coal needed to power them. Wooden hulls could only carry their equivalent weight and so could only have small steam engines. So to combat this ships would have to have iron hulls. The first ships to use this were called iron clads, with wooden hulls and iron coating the outside. In 1860 the RN launched the first fully iron ship HMS warrior.

Another reason for the shift towards using this material was the increasing size of the guns. Armstrong Whitworth designed a revolutionary new cannon in the 1850s which needed a larger ship to carry it. As guns began to get bigger they needed to be mounted on deck turrets rather than below deck- bringing the end to a full broadside. These new guns also brought devastating affects to wooden ships and so the iron helped to protect against this.

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Graham's Reforms (1832)

New ships and gunnery:

After the French wars most RN investment had gone into smaller vessels carrying 46 guns- whereas battleships could carry 120.  However Graham reversed this policy and began a systematic program of refitting existing ships and building new battleships- he believed the RN had been reduced to far and Britain relied on it to maintain its world power.

He also felt gunnery had been neglected and ordered that all crews should perform an exercise related to gunnery to improve skills and be combat ready. He also set up a school of gunnery and the commissioned HMS excellent for this. In charge of this ship was Sir Thomas Hastings who believed in a simple and standardised system of gunnery rather than each ship training men differently. So those in the reserve would be able to transfer to any ship and be effective immediately.

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Graham's Reforms (1832)


At the end of the French wars the reduction in vessel meant that there were many officers and captains without ships to manage, and the navy list showed all the captains on active service- 800 captains in 1830. Captains without a ship to command were placed on half pay. On top of this men of rank and influence were often promoted over those of merit. This meant there was no clear cut system as to which captains would obtain ships- and often men who had been waiting for a ship for a long time could be superseded by younger captains with more social influence. To minimise this, Graham introduced a minimum time of service before a man could move up the ranks- and before becoming a commander a man must have been a lieutenant for 2 years at sea. This did not sort the order of obtaining ships but it did mean men had a certain amount of experience.

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Graham's Reforms (1832)


One of Graham’s most important reforms was the abolition of the naval office and victualing board and placed these civil departments under the control of the RN. Before this the administration and supply of the navy had been undertaken by the government meaning that communication could be slow and the readying of ships for war was slow and ineffective. Under the new system five principle officers would be in charge of certain areas (surveyor, accountant, storekeeper, medical director, and controller of vitalising) these men were overseen by the board of Admiralty-selected by the first sea lord. This meant that all of the men were able to communicate directly, and so less time was wasted passing messages to the government and waiting for decisions to be passed.

Graham’s reforms were made during an arms race with France, however the government was not keen to spend more on the RN, so GB let France take the lead- avoiding high costs of testing and developing new technology.

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Fisher's Reforms (1904-10)

The changing role of the navy

  • During 1800 GBs population increased from 10m to 40m meaning we became dependant on food imports.
  • 1846 Corn Laws (finance given to UK farmers to grow food) were repealed allowing for the import of cheap food- paid for from the sale of manufactured goods.  Hence became dependant on trade and during wartime could be starved into submission by a navel economic blockade.
  • Therefore the role of the RN began to change to include the prevention of the blockade of GB. In 1889 the two power standard was adopted by GB, so the RNs greatest power was equal to that of its two greatest rivals. This was sustainable as Russia, France and Germany were focusing on their armies.
  • 1888 Wilhelm II becomes the Kaiser of Germany and wants to exploit Germany’s larger population and industrial output to create a navy matching the RN. Influenced by AT Mahans book- the influence of sea power upon history proving that once an empire loses their control of the seas they collapse. Hence the Kaiser wants to expand his Empire, to build a navy as big as ours to take our land.  
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Fisher's Reforms (1904-10)

Why was Jackie Fisher suitable to make reforms?

  •  Worked in the navy as an officer and as the captain of a modern battleship, then worked at the gunnery school HMS excellence.
  • Supervised the construction of modern warships and was responsible for building the first modern destroyers in 1890s.
  •  Disliked war and felt in order to maintain peace Britain had to be in an unchallengeable position with the newest technology.
  •  Commander of the Mediterranean fleet, second sea lord. And first sea lord 1904-11 and called back during WW1 in 1914-15.
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Fisher's Reforms (1904-10)

The reforms:

As second sea lord he reformed officer training, before 1902 the officers were divided into engineers or commanders (with commanders higher of the two), Fisher ensured they were both trained together until 22 so they both possessed the same basic skills.

In order to cut naval costs he sold 90 ships and put 64 into reserve- as they were old and slow. Crew members could then be placed on other ships or into the reserves. This forfeited the two power standard- but this was no longer an issue as the British had allied with France. He also created toe RN Volunteer Reserve.

Royal Fleet auxiliary were tasked with supplying coal and other equipment to ships so they were able to stay at sea longer.

He reorganised fleets to respond to changing conditions- making use of new allies such as France and Russia. Ships from reduced fleets were placed in the Channel or Atlantic fleet tasked with keeping Germany in check.

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Fisher's Reforms (1904-10)

The Russo-Japanese wars highlighted that wars could be fought using long range gunnery, and so investment into the biggest advanced guns was placed as high importance. Began programmes of building- submarines, battlecruisers.

HMS Dreadnought was a new type of battleship- which included the newest technology of the time, long range guns, faster than any other ship of the same size, technology to calculate gunnery due to electricity on ships. This led to the creation of an arms race which Britain lead, in 1914 Britain had 29 dreadnoughts, Germany 17, France 10 and Russia 4.

The liberal government were not happy about the costs involved in this but it could not be helped- and the public encouraged more naval spending. In the end Germany ended the arms race and focused on their land army.

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