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army. The exact origins of the British army are lost to history, although its red parade uniforms have been fancifully traced back to the colour of the tunics of King Arthur's bodyguard. A vestige of late Roman military customs and practice can be seen in the law codes and military organization of the earliest British kingdoms. Long before the Norman Conquest, military obligation seems to have divided into two basic forms which have remained constant until modern times. One was an obligation for common service by all adult males, established in English law as the militia by the Assize of Arms of 1181. The other was a small permanent standing army, usually represented in the medieval period by the warriors of the royal household. To these were added an obligation upon individuals to serve the crown on a temporary basis, and a tradition of employing and paying mercenary troops, who might on occasion be the same people. Although women have always played a major part in warfare, they have been almost entirely excluded from combat roles until very recently.

By early modern times, English armies consisted almost entirely of troops paid in some fashion. However, any form of standing army was considered a potential instrument of royal despotism, and was also beyond the financial resources of the monarchy to maintain. The Yeomen of the Guard, founded by Henry VII in 1485 as a small royal bodyguard, is the earliest unit of the British army that has survived to the present day. Other modern units trace their descent from mercenary forces in the service of various kingdoms during the same period. The granting of money by Parliament to finance armies on a temporary basis became one of the most important issues between crown and Parliament. It reached a crisis in 1639–41 when Parliament refused Charles I money to repel a Scots invasion, and would not trust him with control of an army to suppress the Irish rebellion.

The direct ancestor of the modern British army is usually considered to be the parliamentary New Model Army of 1645. However, its part in enforcing Cromwell's rule in England and in subjugating Scotland and Ireland helped to establish a prejudice against soldiers which lasted well into modern times. The first properly constituted standing army, of tiny proportions, was created in 1661 by Charles II from royalist and parliamentary units of the Civil War, and entitled ‘His Majesty's Guards and Garrisons’. For the next century the army grew at an irregular rate, partly from the need to find garrisons for overseas possessions, and partly for European wars. The existence and function of the army (unlike that of the Royal Navy) was based on royal prerogative rather than statute, an issue which came to a head in the reign of James II and played a part in his overthrow. Thereafter the 1689 Declaration of Rights established that a standing army was illegal without Parliament's approval, granted every year in the Mutiny Act until 1953, when this was replaced by a five-yearly Armed Forces Act. The issue of direct royal control over the army largely died away during the reign of Queen Anne and the Hanoverians. George II became the last British monarch to lead his army personally into battle at Dettingen in 1743.

Particularly after the Act of Union with Scotland of 1707, and the subsequent defeat of Jacobite uprisings a large army at home was not required. Instead, the British needed a minimum force to keep order (particularly before the establishment of police forces in the 19th cent.), garrisons for their overseas possessions, and small forces to contribute to coalitions for European wars. The British army developed in a manner regarded by European standards as both eccentric and old-fashioned, with a central core of units providing the basis for a much larger army that could be expanded and disbanded according to need. The existence of this permanent standing army was first acknowledged by a royal warrant of 1751 setting out the official precedence of units.

Whereas in some countries the army became the focus of political and social reform, in Britain it was always seen as the last bastion of reaction. Particularly after the French Revolution, the army was deliberately kept apart from British society (through the building of barracks), and practices regarded as obsolete in continental warfare, such as officers purchasing their commissions, regiments having considerable autonomy from central authority, and the flogging of soldiers, persisted well into the 19th cent. Parliamentary fears of militarism meant rigid control of the army's budget, a deliberately divided command system, and a toleration of inefficiency in order to keep the army politically weak. Officers were drawn largely from the lesser gentry, with an admixture of the aristocracy, and recruits from the poorest classes.

It was easy to forget that by the end of the 19th cent. Britain was a major continental land power with a large permanent army, because neither the continent nor most of the army was European. Particularly after the loss of the American colonies in the American War of Independence (1775–83), the largest single focus for the British army was India, following the crown's absorption of the East India Company army as the Indian army in 1858. Garrisoning British India (the frontiers of which stretched from modern Iran to Thailand) with both British and Indian troops became the major army role of the late 19th cent. A series of reforms following the Crimean War (1853–6), associated in particular with the abolition of purchase by Edward Cardwell in 1871 and with the creation of the ‘county regiments’ structure ten years later, produced a largely infantry army to serve overseas. Experiences such as the inability of the British to intervene effectively in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1) and the revelation of serious military deficiencies in the Second Boer War (1899–1902) produced more reforms to prepare the army for warfare in Europe, most particularly associated with Richard Haldane. Like many other late Victorian or Edwardian reforms, these actions have continued to determine much of the structure and ethos of the late 20th-cent. army, despite the removal of their original justification.

The British tradition of a small long-service army for use overseas, virtually unique in European historical development, meant that at the start of the First World War (1914–18) Britain was the only belligerent country without conscription, introduced with reluctance in January 1916. The creation of a mass citizen army for the war, at first entirely by voluntary methods, was of great social as well as political significance for Britain, marking the first real contact between the army and British society since the Civil War. Ultimately the British army was the most successful of the war, inflicting a crushing defeat upon Germany, previously regarded as the dominant European land power. Although all belligerents suffered terribly from the effects of mass mechanized warfare, British losses were not markedly worse than those of any other major power. However, with no shared military tradition to draw upon, the social and cultural impact of the war upon Britain was devastating, and persisted to the end of the 20th cent. At the war's end, the mass conscript army structure was abandoned, and the army returned to its role as a long-service garrison for the empire by 1922, with considerable enthusiasm on all sides.

The experience of the First World War enabled Britain to cope rather better with the Second World War (1939–45). For the first time in British history peacetime conscription was introduced in 1939, shortly before the outbreak of war. However, the demands of a genuinely global war for naval and air forces, and the growing erosion of distinctions between naval and land warfare, or even between civilian and military occupations, all contrived to keep the British army in the field considerably smaller than in the First World War. Although Britain (the only country save Germany to fight, with its empire, from the start in 1939 to the end) once more emerged victorious, it faced in 1945 a changed military situation. In particular the traditional roles of the British army of garrisoning the empire and fighting in Europe were ceasing to be relevant. After 1945 Britain maintained, again for the first time in its history, peacetime conscription (known as National Service) until 1963, after which, largely for cultural and social reasons, the army reverted once more to an all-volunteer force. Its two major roles were from 1949 membership of NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) as part of the collective defence of western Europe against the Soviet Union until 1991, and covering the ‘Retreat from Empire’, a succession of wars as Britain dismantled its empire, beginning with the independence and partition of India in 1947. The most significant war for the army in this period was in Northern Ireland (1969–94), Britain's longest war since medieval times.

The army in the last decades of the 20th cent. was faced with the same issues that had confronted it since the 18th. It was once more largely separate from its own society, subject to rigid budgetary control, generally ill-equipped to cope either with changes in the nature of warfare or of Britain's role in the world, socially reactionary, and badly in need of reform. However, it has also remained the most effective military instrument obtainable for the minimum financial, political, and social cost which successive governments have been prepared to pay.

Stephen Badsey


Ascoli, D. , A Companion to the British Army, 1660–1983 (1983);
Carver, M. , The Seven Ages of the British Army (1984);
French, D. , The British Way in Warfare, 1688–2000 (1990);
Pimlott, J. , The Guinness History of the British Army (1993);
Strachan, H. , European Armies and the Conduct of War (1983).


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The U.S. Army was officially established on June 14, 1775. George Washington (1732–1799) was commander in chief of the first national army, which included around 8,000 men. In October 1776, Congress voted to increase the army to include 88 battalions of infantry, or 60,000 men, each of whom would serve for three years, or if they enlisted during wartime, for the duration of the war. Two months later, Congress voted to establish 22 more battalions, for a total of 110. There were approximately 75,000 soldiers in the Continental army until 1781, when Congress reduced the number of battalions to 59, a more realistic and manageable number.

The original army consisted mainly of infantry (foot soldiers) and artillery, but it also had a small cavalry (mounted soldiers), a small corps of engineers, and a few maintenance personnel to repair and maintain equipment. The army disbanded almost completely after the American Revolution (1775–83), but some remained to help protect the frontier settlements.

The army has participated in every war in U.S. history since the Revolution. After the War of 1812 (1812–15), Secretary of War John C. Calhoun (1782–1850) established a peacetime army that remained intact until the start of the Mexican-American War (1846–48). In 1820, that army included about ten thousand troops, but it reduced its ranks by half later that year and maintained that level until 1835, with intermittent increases to total up to twelve thousand men.

The Spanish-American War (1898) was the first overseas war for the U.S. Army. By the end of the war, more than 274,000 men had joined the army, but most of them never left their training camps in the United States. After the war, the Army War College was founded and the school system modernized. Between 1900 and 1916, the army numbered from 65,000 to 108,000 officers and soldiers. Their duties extended overseas and included building the Panama Canal from 1907 to 1914.

In 1903, the army recognized the National Guard as part of its ranks during emergencies; in 1916, the National Defense Act added a reserve corps and began to provide officer training in colleges.

World wars

Even with the reforms in place, the army was not ready when World War I (1914–18) began. The government implemented the selective service system, or draft, by which all young men had to register, and if their names were chosen by lottery, they had to join the military. Some were exempted because of physical or mental illness, but healthy men who were called to duty had to serve. Within eighteen months, the army grew from 210,000 to 3,685,000.

The draft was used again during World War II (1939–45). Numbers reached a peak of around 8.3 million officers and men during the war, 5 million of whom were deployed overseas to fight. The army was divided into three commands: Army Air Forces, Army Ground Forces, and Army Service Forces. The Air Force eventually became its own independent military branch; the service forces were responsible for keeping operations running smoothly on the homefront.

After the war, the United States gained new ground in world affairs, and with it, added responsibility. A peacetime draft was enacted, and for most of the next twenty-eight years the army was comprised of both volunteers and draftees. During the Korean War (1950–53), the army was desegregated, and soldiers all were given equal opportunity for advancement. Before this time, although African Americans had served in the army since the Civil War , they always had been grouped into units separate from whites, and were never promoted to officer levels.

The draft continued almost through the Vietnam War (1954–75); it ended on July 1, 1973, when American troops withdrew from combat. The army once again became voluntary, and it remained so in the twenty-first century.

War in Afghanistan and Iraq

The Army participated in wars during the twenty-first century. The United States attacked Afghanistan in October 2001 in response to al-Qaeda ‘s involvement in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. In 2008, that war was still in progress. In March 2003, a coalition of troops led by the United States invaded Iraq. (See Iraq Invasion .)

Peacetime activities

The army has served the nation in peacetime, too. During the nineteenth century, soldiers helped survey the lands for the transcontinental railroad lines, keep peace during Reconstruction (the time of rebuilding in the South after the Civil War), and explore the West. Army doctors have contributed to the advancement of modern medicine, and in times of natural disaster, army personnel provide assistance to victims.


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army Organized group of soldiers trained to fight on land, usually rigidly hierarchical in structure. The first evidence of an army comes from Sumer in the third millennium bc. The use of cavalry was a Hittite development and the Assyrians added archers and developed siege machines. In the Middle Ages, major improvements were made to armour and weapons. The short-term feudal levy by which armies were raised proved inflexible, and this led to the use of mercenaries. Heavy cavalry was replaced by a combination of infantry and archery. The end of the Hundred Years' War saw the inception of royal standing armies and an end to the chaos caused by mercenary armies. Muskets and bayonets replaced the combinations of longbow, pike and infantry, and artillery was much improved. In the French Revolutionary Wars, a citizen army was raised by conscription and contained various specialist groups. Other European armies followed suit and the age of the mass national army began. The machine gun caused deadlock in the World War I trenches, and was broken only by the invention of the tank. World War II saw highly mechanized and mobile armies whose logistics of supply and support demanded an integration of the land, sea and air forces. Since World War II, nuclear weapons have been deployed both tactically and strategically, and again the nature of weaponry has determined an army's structure.


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ar·my / ˈärmē/ • n. (pl. -mies) an organized military force equipped for fighting on land. ∎  (the army or the Army) the branch of a nation's armed services that conducts military operations on land. ∎  (an army of or armies of) a large number of people or things, typically formed or organized for a particular purpose: an army of photographers armies of cockroaches.PHRASES: an army marches on its stomachsee stomach.


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army †armed expedition XIV; armed force XV. — (O)F. armée :- Rom. armāta, sb. use of pp. fem. of L. armāre ARM; see -Y5.

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