Command and control, underpinned by communications, is the nervous system of an army

Original 6 June 2014















The term 'command and control' appears to have first entered the British military lexicon in Field Service Regulations Vol II Operations - General 1935,   FSR Vol 2's contents concerned 'the tactical principles governing the employment of all arms in co-operation, and all information regarding each arm that officers of other arms should possess'. This was the last version of FSR produced between the two world wars and amendments were issued during the World War 2. Volumes II and III were written by General Wavell, although similarly structured to earlier editions.  Volume II provided the Army's doctrinal core for operations at divisional and lower level, Volume III for higher formations.

The notion of artillery control had emerged in WW1.  In 1918 the Corps Counter Battery Staff Officer (CBSO), a Lt Col under command of the corps heavy artillery commander, had executive control to execute the CB battle.  This seems to have been the first time that control was formally recognised, although it disappeared in the years following WW1.  However, the intent was clear, a commander established the CB objectives and assigned the resources under his command to another officer to plan and conduct the action.

FSR Vol II Chapter 2 was titled 'The Command and Control of Troops in Battle'.  However, the word 'control' does not appear in the text!  It provides a succinct exposition of the tactical application of four of the principles of war (and refers to another three in later chapters), emphasises the importance of ground and summarises the tasks of a subordinate commander on receipt of orders.  The remaining threequarters of the chapter focuses on the various types of 'orders' and the means of communicating them.  In other words 'control' was what commanders did to their subordinate commanders.

FSR Vol II Chapter 1 'Fighting Troops - Their Characteristics and Armament' provided the doctrinal basis for artillery in its Section 5. First it stated:

"2.  Artillery, unlike other arms, is not fully committed once it has become engaged with the enemy, but retains, in great measure, its liberty of action.  Without change of position, its fire can be concentrated or dispersed at will, at varying degrees of intensity, on widely separated targets.  Artillery can be disengaged from the combat and brought into action in other parts of the battlefield with greater facility than any other arm.  This flexibility of artillery fire is a factor to be exploited in the plan made to deceive and surprise the enemy as to the area in which it is intended to attack.  

To obtain full advantage from these characteristics, the artillery in the field should be so organized and distributed that its main power can be rapidly applied at points where decisive blows are to be struck; and the system of command should be arranged to allow of centralization or decentralization of control according to the situation.  

Artillery can be used with more effect and greater economy if kept under one command.  Thus command of any body of artillery should be centralized under the highest commander who can exercise effective control.  This will vary in different phases of the battle, according to the signal communications available.  Whenever artillery is decentralized, it must be clearly stated in orders whether it is detailed to " support" the formation or unit concerned, command being retained by the higher formation, or is placed under the "command" of the formation or unit to which it is sub-allotted.  In the former event, artillery provides the fire required by the formation or unit which it is detailed to support so long as it is not called upon by the higher commander for other tasks; in the latter, it is controlled entirely by the commander under whom it is placed."

  Chapter 1 Section 5 also outlined artillery tasks:

"6. The methods by which artillery support the action of the other arms may be summarized as follows:-

In the attack-

i. Artillery preparation-i.e., fire which is intended to damage the enemy's defensive organization, to inflict losses on him and to impair his morale, prior to assault by our own troops: its duration and intensity will depend upon the strength of the enemy's position and the importance attached to surprise.

ii. Covering fire-i.e., fire which is put down while our troops are moving to the assault: it may take the form of a "barrage", or belt of fire, moving ahead of the advancing troops; or of "concentrations" in which the fire of a number of guns is concentrated on particular targets or localities in succession; or of smoke screens; or of a combination of any or all of the above (their advantages and disadvantages are discussed in Sec. 63). A proportion of the supporting artillery may sometimes be placed directly under the commanders of the leading units, in order to enable them to deal quickly with opposition which the pre-arranged covering fire has failed to overcome; or with special targets, such as a building, against which their own weapons have proved ineffective.

iii. Counter-battery fire-i.e., fire which is intended to neutralize or destroy enemy artillery; it is usually carried out by medium or heavy artillery with air observation.

iv. Harassing fire, employed to hinder the conduct of the defence, and to reduce the morale of the defenders by preventing or hampering movements of reinforcements, food and ammunition to the front,

In the defence-

v. Counter-preparation fire-i.e., fire directed on the enemy's forming-up places and forward communications, so as to disorganize and, if possible, break up an attack which appears to be imminent.

vi. Defensive fire, used against troops actually attacking.  It Is usually put down on pre-arranged areas in co-ordination with the fire of other weapons, especially of machine guns, and is fired on a pre-arranged signal.  If the enemy can be actually seen attacking, they will be engaged with defensive fire by all batteries whose observers can see them, although the pre-arranged signal may not have been given.

vii. Anti-tank defence, to provide a second line of fire if armoured fighting vehicles break through the front line.  In certain circumstances field guns may be placed in or near the front line with a primary role of anti-tank defence.

viii. Counter-battery fire and harassing fire, with similar objects to those of such fire in the attack.

The artillery will also always be prepared to support counter-attacks."

FSR Vol II was not alone.  Vol I was 'Organisation and Administration', the 1930 edition, with amendments, remained in effect throughout World War 2.  It defined 'Command' as follows: 'An appointment in war involving complete responsibility for training and leadership of troops and for their efficiency and maintenance.  The term command is also used to denote the formation, unit or area under the authority of a commander.'  There was no definition of control.

Vol I's first 20% dealt organisational principles, command responsibilities, staff organisation and distribution of fighting troops.  The remaining 80% dealt with administration in the field.  War organisation was defined in Chapter 1 as follows, some might consider it aspirational:

"3. The object to be attained in the organization of the Army for war is to place in the hands of the C.-in-C. a machine so co-ordinated down to its smallest units and so controlled by its various subordinate commanders and their staffs, as to make it possible for the C.-in-C. readily and constantly to apply the principles of war, in accordance with the ever-changing demands of a campaign.

4. War organization must, therefore, ensure elasticity, unity of effort, decentralization of control, and economy.
Elasticity-to enable the machine to adjust itself quickly and smoothly to the stresses and strains thrown upon it by varying and unforeseen circumstances.
Unity of effort-in order that all available resources may be directed solely towards the attainment of the common object.
Decentralization of control-to a strictly limited number of subordinates in order that authority may be delegated without overlapping and that such delegation may result in co-ordinated action and the assumption of a proper share of responsibility by subordinate commanders.
Economy-in order that the best use may be made of the man power available by reserving the higher category men, as far as possible, for duties in direct contact with the enemy, which require physical fitness and a high standard of military training and discipline, personnel of a lower category or civilians being allotted duties requiring a less degree of physical fitness and military training

Chapter VIII included artillery appointments at formation HQs:

"38. Technical appointments to headquarters of armies

1. Royal Artillery. - The senior artillery officer appointed to army headquarters will be called the Major-General, Royal Artillery (M.G.R.A.), of the army.

i. He will provide the army commander with information on all matters concerning the artillery of the army.

ii. He will co-ordinate the action of the artillery of the army, and will be responsible for drawing up the general policy for the employment of the artillery within the army, and will issue, through the general staff, instructions conveying this policy.  He will issue orders direct to the senior officer of the air defence troops of the army.

iii. If directed by the army commander, he will take executive command of the whole or part of the artillery in the army, and will in such circumstances issue orders direct to the artillery commanders concerned. He will forward copies of such orders, for information, to corps and other headquarters affected as well as to branches of the army staff.

iv. He will deal direct with the senior officer of the air force attached to the army in matters affecting the combined work of the artillery and air forces.

39. Technical appointments to headquarters of corps

1. Royal Artillery. - The senior artillery officer appointed to headquarters of a corps will be called the Commander, Corps Royal Artillery (C.C.R.A.).

i. He will command the artillery allotted to the corps as corps troops, the artillery survey company and such other artillery as is placed under his command by the corps commander. He will be responsible for the direction of counter-battery work.
The command of the medium and heavy artillery will be exercised through the commander, Corps Medium Artillery (C.C.M.A.).  The latter will be the representative of the C.C.R.A. in the forward area, and will keep in close touch with the forward divisions, assisting them in every possible way.  His headquarters will be the centre to which all information as regards the hostile artillery will be sent, and he will take executive action for countering their activity in accordance with the instructions received from the C.C.R.A.  To assist him in carrying out counter-battery tasks the C.C.M.A. is provided with a counter-battery staff consisting of a C.B.O. and two officers as assistants.

ii. He will provide information on all matters concerning the artillery of the corps to the corps commander and will co-ordinate the action of the artillery of the corps.

iii. In co-operation with the staff he will prepare artillery plans, both of offence and defence, for the corps, and will issue artillery operation orders or instructions as necessary.

iv. When centralized control is called for, he will, by order of the corps commander, take executive control of all the artillery in the corps, or of any lesser concentration of corps and divisional artillery, and in such cases will issue orders direct to the artillery commanders concerned.  He will forward copies of such orders for information to the divisional and other headquarters affected, as well as to branches of the corps staff.

v. He will deal direct with the senior air force officer attached to the corps on matters affecting the combined work of the artillery and air forces.

vi. He will submit proposals to the general staff for the co-ordination of the work of the corps survey company R.A. with that of the field survey company R.E.

 40. Officers of technical arms at headquarters of divisions

1. Royal Artillery. - The senior artillery officer with a division is called the Commander, Royal Artillery (C.R.A.) of the Division.

i. He is in command of all artillery permanently or temporarily allotted to the division, and is responsible for the execution of the divisional commander's orders so far as they affect the artillery.

ii. It will be his duty to keep the divisional commander informed on all matters relating to his artillery, and to prepare, in co-operation with the general staff, detailed artillery plans of offence and defence in accordance with the instructions issued to the division by corps headquarters."


FSR was the 'peak' training publication for the Army and issued, like all training publications, 'By Command of the Army Council', see the 'Higher Organisation' page.  FSR Vol II required each arm to produce their own training manuals, with Volume 1 being based on and supplementing FSR, and subsequent volumes dealing with special to arm subjects. In consequence in 1938 a new edition of Artillery Training Vol 1 (AT Vol 1) was issued.  It comprised a set of pamphlets, see here for the full list, the most significant for command and control were:

Generally, the differences in the editions reflected changes in organisation and the increasing dependability of wireless communications.  Tactically, the later editions placed even more emphasis on contact between artillery and the supported arm.

Pam 4 took FSR Vol I, Chapter VIII's statements about 'technical appointments', divided them into 'the organisation of the chain of artillery command' (to divisional level for field artillery) and 'Duties of Artillery Commanders' (to battery commander level for field artillery) and re-wrote them.  Both editions took the top levels of the chain of command to be GHQ and headquarters of armies, the former with a MGRA the latter with a BRA.  The 1942 edition (published 8 August) mentions neither the CCMA ( already abolished) nor CAGRA (the first AGRAs formed a month later).  Although new procedures for concentrating fire against opportunity targets were promulgated in September there is no intimation of them.

However, there were other significant changes and elaborations.  First, the MGRA or BRA (who appeared in 1942) 'advised the commander on artillery policy',  FSR had the MGRA at army HQ 'drawing up the general policy for the employment of artillery'.  However, it was expected that the need for centralised control by a MGRA or BRA would seldom arise.

A CCRA commanded a corps' artillery but only had 'executive control over divisional artilleries when it was specially vested in him by the corps commander from time to time'.  However, the CCRA had to advise the corps commander 'on the artillery policy necessary to give effect to the latter's intentions' and to 'co-ordinate the artillery fire on the flanks of divisions, and arrange for mutual assistance to be given by divisional artilleries'.  The CCRA was responsible for the counter-battery plan, with the CBO as his counter-battery staff officer.

A CRA's duties required him keep the divisional commander informed on artillery matters and ensure close co-operation with the divisional staff, passing them all information from artillery sources without delay.  The key duties were:

He was also responsible for CB if it was decentralised to divisions (in this circumstance he would usually be assigned an assistant CBO section).  However, he was always to 'keep in touch with the survey units servicing his division' and detailing 'certain regiments or batteries to work with sound ranging and flash spotting troops'.  In addition 'sub-allot air OP units at his disposal under command of his regiments or retain them under his control'.  AT Vol I, Pam 10 Employment and Organization of the Air O.P. stated that 'Although the squadrons are RAF units, they will be placed under the operational control of the army formations to which they are allotted'.

The creation of AGRAs did not result in any changes to AT Vol I, however, RA Note number 43 published in early 1943 and called 'C.C.R.A - C.A.G.R.A. - C.B.O.' stated:

'Some time ago the C.C.M.A was abolished.  All Army Field Regiments, Medium Regiments and Heavy Regiments are now Army Artillery.
To command this Army Artillery a new Commander termed Commander, Army Group, Royal Artillery, has been introduced on the basis of one per corps.
His job will be very similar to that of the old C.C.M.A.
The Army Artillery under one or more Cs.A.G.R.A. is a pool in the hands of the Army Commander who can decentralise either in whole or in part to Corps and/or Divisions.
There is therefore a close connection between C.C.R.A - C.B.O. - C.A.G.R.A.
It should be remembered that C.C.R.A and C.B.O. are Corps personnel, whereas C.A.G.R.A. is now an Army formation.'

Pam 4 also set out the duties of field regimental and battery commanders:

'6. A regimental commander will:-

i. Act as artillery adviser to the formation or unit which he is supporting, and assist it in every way possible within the limits imposed by his superior artillery commander.

ii. When placed under the orders of a commander of other arms, assist with the preparation of the detailed artillery plan.

iii. Within the limits imposed by the orders he has received, be responsible for the deployment of his regiment; the allotment of zones and tasks to his batteries; their movement in accordance with the tactical situation; and the allotment of wagon lines.

iv. Ensure that the fire of the regiment is applied in accordance with the orders of his superior commander .

v. Take such action as the tactical situation demands without waiting for orders. When it is necessary to depart from the orders received, he must report the action taken to his commander and to the commander of the troops he is supporting.

vi. Ensure that sufficient O.Ps. are established to watch the whole of the regimental zone.

vii. See that he is kept continually informed by battery O.Ps. and such air O.Ps. as may be under his command, or, if necessary, by patrols, of the situation and requirements of the forward troops.

viii. Ensure that information is transmitted to his superior commander without delay.

ix. Be prepared to bring fire to bear on zones on either flank of that allotted to his regiment. If his resources are not already fully employed and the orders of his superior commander permit, he must engage favourable targets appearing outside his zone.

x. Control ammunition expenditure if necessary.

xi. Collate the demands for ammunition submitted by batteries; render a consolidated demand to the R.A.S.C. brigade company concerned; and arrange for the distribution to batteries of the ammunition on arrival.

7. A battery commander will: -

i. Ensure that the O.Ps. and troop positions are suitable for the effective execution of the tasks allotted.

ii. Be responsible for applying the fire of his battery and for the engagement of targets appearing in his zone in accordance with the orders he has received and in the manner best calculated to assist the unit he is supporting, making use of any air O.P. which may have been placed under his command.

iii. Use initiative in the engagement of targets. Prompt decision and vigorous action will often be required at such short notice that even with good communications, reference to his regimental commander is out of the question. He must not hesitate to depart from the orders he has received, if he considers it necessary. In such cases he must, however, report his action at the earliest opportunity. In the event of a breakdown of communications, he may have to move his battery on his own initiative.

iv. Keep himself continuously informed of the situation and of the requirements of the troops he is supporting.

v. Ensure that information is transmitted to his superior commander and the nearest infantry command post without delay.'

Pam 4 echoed FSR Vol II by stating 'command of any body of artillery should be centralized under the highest commander who can exercise effective control'.  It also stated that a formation commander should not have to deal with more than one artillery commander.  To effect in this it introduced the concept of grouping to place all artillery allotted to a command, whether in support or under command, to be controlled by a single artillery commander.  In this context, bearing in mind the 'duties of commanders', the normal centralizing HQ was division for divisional artillery and corps for artillery with counter-battery tasks.

Pam 4 stated that to exercise effective control a commander must be able to transmit orders quickly, including to the guns, and must be in sufficiently close contact with the situation to take timely measures to provide the required support.  It then stated that when command was centralised it would be normal to place some or all subordinate units in support of formations and units of the other arms.  This enabled application of the principle (of war) of concentration while ensuring cooperation with forward troops.  However, it also stated that when effective control couldn't be achieved then some or all units may be placed under command of a forward brigade or even regiments or batteries under command of forward units.  The identified problem was that the artillery commander did not control the location of his HQ because of the need to keep close contact with the commander (eg division) that they served.  However, this problem was sometimes solved in the later part of the war by the CRA being with the divisional commander's tactical HQ and his HQRA with a leading brigade HQ as a source of timely information.  The need for timely information also led to HQRA in armoured divisions having a pool of liaison officers.

However, in late 1943 RA Note number 596 'Position of the CO in Battle' stated the following:

(a) The position of the CO must be where he can best assure himself that the fire of his regiment is applied at the right place and time.

(b) The CO's position is at his own HQ unless he is:-

(i) the CO of the regiment, or the chosen CO of a number of regiments, "in support" or "under command" of a unit or formation.

(ii) a nominated "rep" of an artillery commander.

(c) If he is working "in support" or "under command" of an infantry or tank commander he must normally be with that commander, so that he can order immediately the fire support needed.  If he has to be away from the commander for any length of time, he must leave a responsible officer with him as his deputy or liaison officer.

(d) For many reasons it is unwise to site regimental HQ away from the gun areas.  Unless the guns happen to be sited well forward, it will therefore often be difficult to arrange for regimental HQ and the HQ of the supported arm to be side by side, although this is the ideal arrangement.  Failing this, the only alternative is for the gunner CO to open a small HQ at the HQ of the formation he is supporting and to exercise his command from there, with frequent visits to his regiment.

The reference in (b)(i) 'the chosen CO of a number of regiments' implements the principle of a supported commander only having to deal with one artillery commander.  For example RA Notes number 152 refers to a report from N Africa 'It is usually the practice to co-ordinate artillery in support of an attack under the C.R.A. whether the attack is on a Division or Brigade front.  If the C.R.A. makes the plan with the Brigadier for an attack on a Brigade front, it does not necessarily mean that he remains at Brigade H.Q. during the attack.  He may leave one of his Regtl Comds. there with full powers and return to Divisional H.Q.'

There was no similar direction about the position of battery commanders (BCs).  However, it was a long-standing doctrine that the battery commander was responsible for the control and direction of his battery's fire.  The practice of the BC being the observer dated from about 1906 when indirect fire became the primary mode of firing, although before WW1 the BC was expected to position himself where he could see both his guns and the enemy.  This tactic of the BC being able to see both target and guns became increasingly difficult as range increased.  In 1914 it was not a foregone conclusion that the BC would be forward and not at the guns.  At that time the official procedure if the BC could not position himself as required was for him to send an observation party further forward.  Although the practice of sending a section commander forward continued throughout that war it appears that this failed the test of battle in WW1 and it became the practice that the BC went forward instead of supervising the gun position.

The WW1 practice, of the BC as observer, if necessary bringing forward a junior officer from the gun position to assist him lasted until the re-organisation of 1938.  The emerging problem was that mobile warfare increased frontages so that even an optimally sited observer, never mind one who need to cooperate with the supported arm, had difficulty achieving the required observation zone.  In 1938 troop commanders were established as the battery's observers with the BC.  

British doctrine always stressed the need for artillery to be part of the all-arms plan.  AT Vol I Pam 3 Application of Fire,  emphasised the need for cooperation with the supported arm in the context of cooperation being a principle governing the application of fire.  This need for cooperation was the main influence on the position of artillery commanders.


FSR established that Command was exercised through:

i. standing orders and routine orders, which regulate the general daily life of a force in the field, in accordance with the conditions of the campaign;

ii.  operation orders, which deal with a particular strategical or tactical move or operation: they are supplemented, when necessary, by operation instructions and administrative orders.

It then explained that the purpose of standing orders was to adapt existing regulation to local conditions.  Routine orders supplemented standing orders to facilitate administrative services and reduce the need for reports and returns.  Operation orders had the objective of implementing a commander's plan and ensuring full cooperation between all arms and services.  Operation instructions were used when a subordinate commander was required to act on his own judgment, they were to be used sparingly!  Military Training Pamphlet No 23, Part III, 1939 detailed the sequence and headings for operation orders, etc.

AT Vol 1, Pam 4 applied this to artillery:

Command carried with it several responsibilities, including administration.  This meant that if a regiment was placed under command of another unit or formation then the necessary administrative resources had to go with them.  The critical resource was their second line ammunition holding carried on Army Service Corps vehicles, usually a transport platoon per regiment.

AT Vol I Pam 3 Application of Fire stated that artillery policy was decided by considering the following factors:

Surprise was the third principle given in AT Vol I Pam 3 Application of Fire.  It stated that surprise could be achieved by fire from an unexpected direction or in unexpected volume, and in the opening stages of an encounter battle by speed and bold action.  Methods for achieving surprise included:

Counter-battery policy was framed in the context of general artillery policy.  It was usually between the extremes of engaging every hostile battery that opened fire and locating all hostile batteries and their zones of fire so that the appropriate ones could be attacked when required.  The first was called an active or offensive policy and had the goal of achieving moral and material ascendancy.  It was preferred during mobile operations, although could be used against an inferior artillery when operations were static.  The other extreme was called a silent policy, and was mostly used as a prelude to offensive operations.  The premise was that it enabled a successful surprise attack on enemy batteries when it was needed.  Its disadvantage was that not engaging active enemy artillery could adversely affect the morale of own troops.


The second principle of war particularly applicable to artillery and explained in AT Vol I Pam 3 Application of Fire (after 'cooperation') was 'concentration'.  To achieve concentration of fire there had to be centralised fire control.  Decentralisation, placing artillery units under command of lower formations or units, was a response to unreliable communications.  It was most likely to occur in mobile offensive operations, notably a rapid advance or pursuit.  It was not a tactic for dividing up the artillery to provide all the supported arm units or lower formations with their own 'slice' under command.  Centralisation gave the commander mobile firepower that could be applied where it was most needed.  

Of course in WW2 the circle had to be squared, units under command of one formation had to be in support of another, most obviously at divisional level.  However, the CCRA had the task of coordinating the fire of divisions within the corps and by implication ensuring coordination with the divisions of neighbouring corps.  The CRA had the tasks of ensuring coordination and mutual support between regiments.  All this could be made explicit in artillery policy from the highest level and in operation orders.  Obviously there could be a need to reconcile conflicts between the needs of different commanders' conflicting priorities, particularly when engaging opportunity targets.  In addition to decision making by HQsRA there was also the mechanism of ordering units to fire a scale.

Wireless communications reliability improved throughout the war as equipment and operating skills improved.  The result was decreasing need to place artillery under command of lower levels.  Of course centralisation of command, particularly once more efficient fire control procedures were adopted for attacking opportunity targets, affected deployment because guns could be called on to engage targets across a wider front.  While this was not a problem for towed 25-pdr with its platform (or 3.7-inch HAA in a ground role) it was one for SP field or towed medium and heavy guns with their limited top traverse.  It could be solved in two ways.  Either deploy further back to increase their range to target zones, see arcs and distances, or accept a slower response while the gun carriages were physically traversed, although this was really only an option for 4.5 and 5.5-inch and the early marks of 7.2-inch.  Of course deploying further back then limited the depth to which the guns could fire.

When decentralisation was necessary it was for as short a time as possible.  Perhaps the most usual form of decentralisation was to place medium regiments from AGRAs under command of leading divisions.  Centralisation probably reached its zenith in the final months of the war in NW Europe when large numbers of regiments were placed under command of particular corps for specific operations. 



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