The transformation of British infantry between 1899 and 1914 was one of the most striking developments in an era of British Army reform. However, while the high quality of the British infantry of 1914 is well known, the process through which it was developed is often neglected.
The development of superior weapons in the later part of the 19th century made close order, linear formations obsolete. The British Army learned this painful lesson during the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902 and was forced to adopt widely extended formations to reduce vulnerability to rifle fire. In the years that followed the conflict, the army grappled with the idea of extension. While it reduced infantry casualties sustained during the advance, it was vulnerable to determined counterattacks, was hard to control, and needed to be formed up for a decisive assault.
The debate on which attack formations were to be adopted swung from one side to another over the course of the pre-First World War period. Ultimately, extension was retained as a key tactical idea, but certain unresolved problems with the formation remained. This chapter explores the development of formation and the debates that followed.
Dr Spencer Jones (University of Wolverhampton)