British home forces command structure 1940

Discussion in '1940' started by FMAlanbrooke, Mar 5, 2013.

  1. FMAlanbrooke

    FMAlanbrooke Junior Member

    Hi, I have read that in Britain in 1940 there were no armies and army groups, instead there were corps, area commands, and the GHQ (or Commaner-in-Chief, Home Forces). South-Eastern England seems to have been either Aldershot Command (later renamed South-Eastern Command) or Southern Command. Logically the command structure would be GHQ -> Area Command -> Corps commands -> Divisions and Brigades. However in the south-east there seem to have been the GHQ reserve, plus various corps, divisions, and brigades that were under one command or another, or somewhat independant. How was it all supposed to work? As I understand it, the Area Commands were mainly regimental training organisations that had been charged with local defence so the regular army corps units may have seen their line of command coming direct from GHQ? Superficially it sounds to me like the organisation of the German defence of Normandy, with Hitler controlling some units, von Rundstedt some others and Rommel the rest.
  2. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery Patron

  3. gaspirator

    gaspirator Member

    A very quick and incomplete answer as applied to Kent/Surrey/Sussex.

    I'm currently drawing up the complete order of battle for East Sussex 1939-45.

    In 1939: GHQ Home Forces > Eastern Command > Home Counties Area > 44 (Home Counties) Infantry Division (TA) + 12 Infantry Division (2nd line TA duplicate division).

    Eastern Command (EASTCO) at that time encompassed Home Counties and the east coast, excluding the London Area. There was also a Chatham Area at the same level as Home Counties Area; see The Army List up to about April 1939, after which the information is either withheld for security or just omitted.

    From memory, Army Corps were slightly later; I may be wrong on this, but XII Corps don't seemingly materialise until about June 1940.

    So Kent and East Sussex at this time is as follows: GHQ > Eastern Command > XII Corps > Divisions

    GHQ Reserve in 1940 comprised the best-equipped divisions to launch a mobile counter-attack against German invasion. These included 1 Canadian Division and 1st Armoured Division, although other divs came and went through GHQ Reserve. The Reserve became VII Corps and later the structure was used to form the Canadian Corps (later 1 Cdn Corps). Although this was an Army Corps, GHQ Reserve came under the direct command of GHQ and not Eastern (or any other) Command. In the same way, you get Army Field Companies RE and Army Field Regiments RA that were under control of Army Commands, rather than divisional or brigade level.

    In February 1941, the structure of Aldershot Command was expanded to form South Eastern Command (SECO). EASTCO was relieved of Kent/Surrey/Sussex as a result.

    At this time: GHQ > SECO > XII Corps/IV Corps/Cdn Corps > Divisional Areas, e.g, East Sussex Divisional Area.

    At this time, XII Corps holds Kent and IV Corps (relieved late 1941 by Cdn Corps) holds Sussex.

    In early 1942, the Hastings - Rye - Camber area of East Sussex is ceded over to XII Corps.

    May 1943 - static commands are established so that the local field divisions are relieved of admin tasks and anti-invasion/anti-raid defences. This provided continuity, rather than each successive division being handed the paperwork and left to work out where the beach minefields were laid three years previously. In Sussex, this allowed the Canadian Corps to focus on large-scale exercises for the Second Front.

    So: GHQ > SECO > HQ Sussex District > East/Central/West Sussex Sub-Districts > British TA Infantry Division.

    The Hastings - Rye - Camber area comes under HQ Kent District > Ashford Sub-District.

    The Cdn Corps was not under Sussex District, but was responsible for the defence of its own units; from memory, I think they would have come under SECO.

    Towards the end of 1944, SECO reverts back to Aldershot Command and EASTCO takes the Home Counties back again.

    There's all sorts of confusing areas/sub-areas/sectors/sub-sectors created at different times. You also get a lot of ad-hoc formations and detached units milling around after Dunkirk.

    There's also independent brigade groups that are almost 'mini-divisions' in that they have RA/RE/RAMC units brigaded with them.

    Having spent many years going through all the war diaries from GHQ down to the lowest levels in command, and trying to represent the ORBAT at several key points in time, every rule of hierarchy and structure seems to get broken from time to time. Units get disbanded, they change their role, they get rotated out of the coastal areas for training or get attached to higher/lower formations out of necessity.

    Hope this helps - feel free to ask further questions or about specific formations!

    - Pete
  4. FMAlanbrooke

    FMAlanbrooke Junior Member

    thanks, that's fantastic! So Eastern Command, not Aldershot Command was in control of the South-East, that clears some things up, though I still think it must have muddled things with Aldershot Command clearly having some control. I have also read of RE and RA regiments being under the Area command in 1940.
  5. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

  6. Brian Smith

    Brian Smith Junior Member

    On the track of Eastern Command locations and premises. According to the war diary for the RASC 13RMT Coy they were part of Eastern Command and were based at Leatherhead, Hereford and Chester during 1940.

    Is there any way of finding out the exact locations of billets, training halls etc. which would be used by these troops?

    Thank you Brian
  7. Wills

    Wills Very Senior Member

  8. Brian Smith

    Brian Smith Junior Member

    Wills many thanks for this I will spend time reading through the interesting material you have provided. Thank You Brian
  9. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    excellent work as it can be confusing as the Canadian Corps " training for the second front " was in fact the SECOND Canadian Corps as the FIRST Cdn Corps was in Italy as the 1st Inf Div - 5th Armoured Div and 1st Armoured bde

    and by Feb '45 they had joined with the SECOND Cdn Corps of 2nd Inf div- 3rd Inf div - 4th Armoured div as well as Second Armoured Bde in Belgium to make up the first Cdn ARMY.....the fact that the FIRST Cdn corps was made up with the

    later arrival of 5th AD - really steamed up Monty as he didn't need another HQ but needed infantrymen.......the 1st Cdn Div with 1st Cdn AB had landed in Sicily in the July ' 43 alongside 51st Highland Div of XXX corps - this tends to be forgotten

    in the adulation of D Day in France of June '44.....the very small population of Canada made a tremendous contribution to the war effort with a huge Navy - Air Force and a five division - 2 Ab's Army as well as industrial output of munitions

    6,000 of their D Day dodgers still lay in Italy...

    hutt likes this.
  10. Brian Smith

    Brian Smith Junior Member

    Tom thank you for the heads up. As not involved I can never share your feelings on WW2 but I can appreciate frustration when facts are not correctly recalled. Just started to read The Day Of Battle by Rick Atkinson on Sicily and Italy - may be its just me but so far it appears the Americans ran the show and did the fighting; oh and the Canadians and Brits came along too! I'll stick with it a bit longer.

    Cheers Brian
  11. hutt

    hutt Member

    I've also found that some books can 'over emphasise' one allied nationality over another, even if unintentional. The way to judge a book is by counting the number of helmets of either British or American shape in the photos and make a judgement based on that! (joke)

    I can recommend A Hard Way to Make a War by Ian Gooderson (Conway 2008) for a very balanced and moving account of the campaign in Sicily and on the Italian mainland.
  12. Brian Smith

    Brian Smith Junior Member

    hutt, yes or may be just check the Nationality of the author; thank you for the book recommendation.

    My aside above took us off track of the initial issue of the thread - any additional help on eastern command locations much appreciated. Not a show stopper just filling in the gaps. Cheers Brian
  13. gaspirator

    gaspirator Member

    Thanks Tom!

    Yes, I have had my troubles concerning the ORBAT of Canadian Corps/1 Canadian Corps/2 Canadian Corps and their movements.

    I remember enthusiastically diving into the war diaries of 2 Cdn Division for the period July - August 1941, when they relieved 55 (British) Division in East Sussex, temporarily coming under command of British IV Corps.

    I went through every diary, from 'G' Branch at HQ, through the brigades and battalions, Engineers, Artillery, Provost, Signals and also the CRASC petrol/ammunition/supply coys, mobile bath unit, mobile laundry, field ambulances and field hygiene section.

    Having done all these files, I then found that had I done my homework and turned over a few more pages, I would have known that 2 Cdn Division returned to Sussex a few weeks later - this meant that I had to go back through all of those files again to copy the diaries for the period October - December 1941!

    I've just completed 5 Cdn Armoured Division in East Sussex just prior to their departure to Sicily - and got completely confused with the reorganisation to British War Establishment and renumbering of the brigades.

    I completely agree with your comments about the Canadian contribution - everyone I talk to who was in Sussex during the war has fond memories of the Canadian troops. Although my research of the five divisions stops as each one leaves for Dieppe/Sicily/Normandy (I'll leave those stories to those better able than myself to research their battlefield contributions), I do find constant reminders of what Canadian troops did in regard of defending the Sussex coast, assisting in the aftermath of air raids, helping local farmers with the harvest and holding Christmas parties for local children.

    As you will probably know, quite a few Canadian lives were lost as a result of enemy action, accidents and other causes during their stay in Sussex.

    Just a few lesser-known contributions away from what most people regard as a battlefield (to me, Sussex most definitely was), but ones that deserve mention too!

    - Pete

  14. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    you are right as all the 5 Canadian Divisions and the 2 AB's did their share in defending Britain from the early days - even 1st Division went back to France with Alanbrooke AFTER Dunkirk - then 2nd Div to Dieppe - and in the interest of

    Truth in History 5th Ad never did land in Sicily but assembled in North Africa before landing in Italy around the the end of November '43 - to reject the Vehicles left by 7th AD who went off to the Uk - th 5th Cdn Ad then waaited for new stuff

    before entering battle just beyond Ortona in January ' 44

    BRIAN SMITH - MY copy of Atkinson's " Day of Battle " ended in the shedder about less than half way through as I have this strange notion that any and all so called historians - especially those with the Pulitzer prize - are alleged to have done

    some basic research into their subject - so I would have to agree that his Americans didn't really need us in Italy..the final straw being that he is convinced that the 17th battalion of the 21st Lancers captured the village of Pulmenora in the Liri

    Valley - that sort of ignorance - up with I will not put - to quote WSC

  15. gaspirator

    gaspirator Member

    Doh! The perils of posting when tired!

    It illustrates why my research stops on the Sussex border and I leave it to others to study the overseas campaigns...

    - Pete
  16. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    Fair enough BUT - it was a world war - even Brazil sent a Division to Italy....

  17. Bala

    Bala Member

    Pete - I can see that you have researched the Canadians ORBAT in Sussex thoroughly.

    Could you possibly help me? I am trying to find out which units (or HQ) occupied Northease Manor, Rodmell, East Sussex. Which is 4.8km South West of Lewis.

    Photograph of Northease Manor & Lt W. Ashby Commander of Auxiliary Units East Sussex Scout Section.

    Attached Files:

  18. hutt

    hutt Member

    Going back to the original thread and I realise I have these images from a section of 5th AA Division diary around Sep 42 that might be of interest DSC03712.JPG DSC03717.JPG
    Aixman likes this.

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