A short guide to British Army formations



(How they relate to each other)



This is only a rough guide – the numbers of men and or sub formations may vary but the hierarchy remains roughly the same.


1.The smallest autonomous formation is a ‘section’ comprising of 10 – 14 men and may be commanded by a Lance Corporal.


2. The next formation upwards, to which the ‘section’ belongs, is the ‘Platoon or Pltn’. This formation can be 40 -50 men and is commanded by a Lieutenant. Clearly there may be 3 or 4 sections in a platoon. Objectives that may not need the whole platoon to attack the Lieutenant will use a section of his men under command of a non commissioned officer to organise and take the objective.


3. The next formation up is a ‘Company or Coy’ comprising of 150 – 200 men and commanded by a Captain. The ‘Company’ is made up of 4 Platoons.


4. The next formation up is the ‘Battalion or Bn’ comprising of 800 – 1,000 men in four Company’s and commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel.


5. The next formation up is a ‘Brigade or Bde’ comprising of 3,000 – 4,000 men in 3 Battalions. Commanded by a Brigadier General.


6. The next level up is a ‘Division or Div’ comprising of 10,000 – 12,000 men in 3 Brigades and commanded by a Major General.


7. The next level up is a single ‘Corps’ comprising of 20,000 men in 2 Divisions and commanded by a Lieutenant General.


8. The highest and biggest formation is an ‘Army’ comprising of more than 40,000 men made up of two different ‘Corps’ and commanded by a senior General.


An individual in the army is part of a hierarchy and records for WW1 show part of the hierarchy to enable 3rd parties to carryout research. Military hierarchy can be likened in some ways to a postal address.


Mr A B C Jones                                                                                        56754 Cpl Jones

Fernhollow                                                                                                9 Plt, ‘C’ Coy

15, Broad Road                                                                                        2nd Bn Sherwood Foresters

Somewhere Village                                                                                45 Bde

Somewhere Town                                                                                   3rd Infantry Division

County                                                                                                      IV Corps

Country                                                                                                   1st Army


Postal addresses define the ‘Jones’ by his title and initials, the army defines him by his number and rank.


There are essentially 2 types of person in the army, officers and non commissioned officers. Their ranks are essentially in this order from lowest to highest rank.


For non-commissioned officers there are often some variances on the “rank title” depending on the traditions and nature of the regiment or corps. For example a Guardsman or Private is the lowest rank in the Guards, Trooper is the lowest rank in the cavalry, Private is the lowest rank in more modern infantry regiments, Sapper is the lowest rank in the Corps of Engineers (RE). There are several nuances at each level in rank – but essentially in terms of seniority the list below is a fair guide.


Private Pvt

Lance Corporal L/Cpl

Corporal Cpl

Sergeant Sgt (Sjt on some CWGC pages)

Staff Sergeant S/Sgt

Warrant Officer 2 WO 2

Company Sergeant Major CSM (an appointment not a rank)

Warrant Officer 1 WO 1

Regimental Sergeant Major RSM (an appointment not a rank)






2nd Lieutenant 2nd Lt

1st Lieutenant 1st Lt

Captain Cpt

Major Maj

Lieutenant Colonel Lt Col

Colonel Col

Brigadier General Brig

Major General Maj Gen

Lieutenant General Lt Gen

Field Marshall