Battle Drill

After Dunkirk, it was clear that virtually a new Army had to be built up. The Expeditionary Force had lost most of its arms and equipment and the territorial Forces were poorly trained, especially in mobile warfare.   There was little time or for that matter equipment available for training during 1940/41 - time spent on anti-invasion duties was time not spent on training.  Battle Drill was one of the answers to these problems – its primary aim was to ensure a uniform standard of battle procedures throughout the Army.


The origins of the new Battle Drill derived from I Corps Platoon Commanders School were from autumn 1940 a two week course for subalterns taught battle drill using lectures and practical exercises which used live ammunition. The drill was based on Lieut. Gen Alexander’s pamphlet, “I Corps Tactical Notes”.  This was followed by the establishment of a divisional school of battle drill by Maj. Gen Utterson-Kelso, 47th Division in July 1941. Lieut. Gen B.C.T Paget was s impressed by this school, that when he became C-in-C Home Forces he ordered that such a school be established in every division.


Battle Drill was merely a broadened discipline of close order drill from the barrack square – “infantrymen were taught by sections and platoons to fall in and tell-off, each according to his appointed place and duty in the fray”. The main aim of Battle Drill was in the offensive, to teach infiltration of the enemy position. In such situations the battle became confused and it was essential that all ranks knew and understood what was expected of them. “Fire and movement” was key and battle drill gave the junior commander a firm tactical base on which to develop his individual initiative.


The main principals of battle drill were:

  • Each movement and operation of war was analyzed and broken down to its essentials

  • An ideal plan is worked out to deal with that movement or operation in ideal conditions.

  • The ideal plan was taught as a drill.

  • A number of variations to the drill were taught so that individuals could apply it to varying circumstances.


One of greatest assets the German infantryman would have in any invasion was battle experience. It was appreciated that relatively few officers of Home Forces had any experience of front line fighting. It was also considered that many Home Forces divisions were not fully aware of the potential fire power available within their units. As a result, all the latest infantry weapons were used in battle drill training along with live ammunition.  It was considered that there was an urgent need for formations to be provided with an area in which to use their weapons in the most life-like battle conditions. Large training areas in each area Command were requisitioned where exercises involving armoured and infantry formations could be held using live ammunition and also live bombing from aircraft. This provided much realism and although some personnel were killed it was considered that this type of training ultimately saved many lives.


In Suffolk, 54th Division opened its battle school at Aldeburgh, with field firing rights obtained at Goose Hill and Gorse Hill areas. In his book, Aldeburgh 1939-45, G Dewing quotes the following from a contemporary report from an army film unit dated 19th Feb 1943:


“Men from the 54th Division are sent to this School to undergo a three weeks’ course of intensive training under conditions as near as possible to those they will experience in actual battle.


The Commandant of the school is Lt. Col Lee of the 1st Bn. Ox. And Bucks. Light Infantry. Lt. Col Lee can often be seen doing the most strenuous parts of the training side by side with the students.


From start to finish of the course the students do everything at the double; the absence of any form of fatigue is ample proof of their excellent physique. Training begins at 8.25am and goes on until 8 pm. On two days a week there are night operations; these are carried out at 4.25am

Conditions of actual battle are often obtained by the use of live ammunition. This has the result of making the men take all precautions against personnel injury through their own carelessness. They also get accustomed to the sounds of battle thus they are able to keep a cool head when in actual combat.


The instructors are men with much experience in their own particular sphere, most of them having been to the battle-front themselves.


One notable feature of the school is that it has all ranks as students, hence it is not unusual to see officers, NCOs and even privates in the same section. It is possible to see a mixed section with a private as section commander. The men are given every chance to show their abilities in leadership and are encouraged to use their own initiative.”


Having attended a course at the battle school, the junior commander was expected to disseminate the training either by running a training cadre or training his own platoon as a demonstration platoon. The platoon would then practice the drill in a non-tactical setting i.e. they simply learned the drill. The drill would then be put into practice in tactical exercises.


11 Corps also established a Training Camp at Rendlesham in 1942, with the Hollesley/ Sutton area being given priority for the Camp’s use. The objective of this camp was to:

  • Give each brigade complete freedom from invasion commitments and so allow commands to concentrate on training.

  • To put troops alongside Army tanks and give experience of the co-operation of tanks and infantry in the attack, defence and counter-attack.

  • To provide an area where maximum off the road movement can take place.

  • The brigades of 11 Corps Divisions were sent to the camp on rotation. The first three weeks were given over to company training with some battalion group exercises also set. During the forth week further exercises were held including a Brigade group exercise. Exercises were to concentrate on operations subsequent to arrival in the forward concentration area i.e. assembly, deployment, attack and defence with the co-operation of all arms in all stages of battle.


Training Areas


Right: Main Training Areas, Suffolk 1940-1945
























At the outbreak of war, the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act came into force. This allowed the Army to take possession of land and buildings (Defence Regulation 51) and for making provisions for training over land (Defence Regulation 52). Up until October 1940 the Secretary of State had to sign all requisitions himself but an amendment was made were temporary rights could be acquired with seven days notice on the authority of a Lieut. Col. which speeded up matters for local training requirements. It was always preferable though to make arrangements with individual land owners to obtain permission for troops to train on their land rather than use the Act.


When 55th Division moved to Suffolk in 1940, it identified the Dunwich-Sizewell-Westleton area in north Suffolk and the area east of Woodbridge in south Suffolk as suitable for training.  These areas, in one form or another, were used for training right through the War. Ranges under Suffolk T.A. Association were available at Sizewell and Bromswell and at Landguard, under control of Officer Commanding Fixed Defences Landguard Fort. Other became available during the course of the War.


In the Spring of 1942, GHQ ordered Corps Commands to carry out a reconnaissance for suitable areas for formation Battle training using live ammunition. Commands were required to identify suitable areas that already existed or areas were land would have to be requisitioned under DR51 / D52. Sparsely populated areas in which road and rail communications did not pass through were to be chosen. In Eastern Command, 11 Corps identified the hinterland behind Orford Ness and 2 Corps the northern corner of the Thetford area.


The area west of Orford, to be requisitioned under DR51 / DR52, was approx 29,000 acres. The area was described as poor arable land, heathlands and salt marshes with a population of about 450 inhabitants. A number of problems had to be resolved and in the meantime live firing exercises at brigade group level were held at Travellers Hill area (near Bury St Edmunds). It was not until July 1943 that the Battle training ground came into existence, with the local population accepting enforced exile. The Orford battle training ground was primarily used by the 79th Armoured Division.


After the Exercise Kruschen trails (which ran from March 1943 to May 1943) had been completed, the Dunwich area also became a Battle training area in October 1943. In December 1943 a further area was requisitioned under DR52, the Southwold Assault Landing Area, although no firing was to take place except under certain provisions.













                                             Above: Table of main Battle Training Grounds, Suffolk with area and authority of requisition under

                                             Emergency Powers (Defence) Act                          




11 Corps papers, TNA

55 Div papers, TNA

54 Div papers, TNA

The Second World War:1939-1945: Army: Training in the Army, Historical Monograph, TNA

Southwold Battle Training Area papers, TNA

Battle Training Areas, TNA

Military Training in the British Army, 1940-1944, T.H. Place, Routledge, 2000

The Instructors’ Handbook on Fieldcraft and Battle Drill, C.I.C Home Forces, 1942

Infantry Training Part VIII – Fieldcraft, Battle Drill, Section and Platoon Tactics, WO, 1944


Training Areas