Military History The British Army of the Rhine
Simon Moody
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 February 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 February 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0135


The British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) began life in 1945 as a postwar administrative headquarters deployed in support of the civilian authority of the British zone of occupation, northern Germany. With the activation of a NATO unified command structure in 1951, BAOR became an integral part, along with Belgian, Canadian, and Dutch army units, of the Northern Army Group (NORTHAG). Deployed on the European Central Front with its NORTHAG sister formations, BAOR was a significant feature of NATO’s forward shield of ground forces to deter or, if deterrence failed, to repel a major Warsaw Pact offensive on the Continent. To improve its combat effectiveness BAOR was equipped since the early 1960s with tactical nuclear weapons, and in so doing, became the first formation of the British army trained to fight and prevail on a nuclear battlefield. The deployment of BAOR on the European Central Front was symbolic of British political intent vis-à-vis European security and was the military means by which Britain sought to deter a conventional or nuclear Warsaw Pact attack. The history of BAOR, then, is not simply a history of an army formation. It is a history of British European security commitments, of NATO military strategy, and of the changing character of land warfare after 1945. This annotated bibliography presents the best quality scholarship relating to BAOR, from its inception until its replacement under the conditions of the 1994 Options for Change defense review with the twenty-five-thousand strong British Forces Germany.

History of the British Army

General histories of the postwar British army have tended to overlook the service’s preparations to fight a tactical nuclear war against the Soviet Union in Europe, despite this being its primary mission throughout the Cold War. Mainstream histories of the British army have focused overwhelmingly on the myriad counterinsurgency operations in which it became involved after 1945 at the expense of the vital role played by the British Army of the Rhine in the nation’s deterrent posture. Not all general accounts of the postwar army have overlooked the service’s experiences in developing ground forces for nuclear war, however. Blaxland 1971 and Mallinson 2009, for example, have produced histories of the army which are not entirely dominated by narratives of counterinsurgency campaigns. Moody 2020 provides the first comprehensive study of how the army intellectualized the arrival of nuclear weapons and how they might be employed in a future war. In a broader context, Barnett 1970 and Chandler and Beckett 2003 provide an essential overview of the experiences that have shaped the British Army over its long history. Likewise, French 2008 and Strachan 2000 have produced histories of the cultural attitudes of the British Army and how the institution relates to wider society.

  • Barnett, Correlli. Britain and Her Army, 1509–1970: A Military, Political, and Social Survey. London: Penguin, 1970.

    A sweeping review of four hundred years of British army history. Although our understanding of the service has been considerably deepened by subsequent scholarship, the book provides the broader context for thinking about the army after 1945.

  • Blaxland, Gregory. The Regiments Depart: A History of the British Army, 1945–1970. London: William Kimber, 1971.

    Although the book is concerned primarily with the British army’s experiences prosecuting counterinsurgency campaigns after 1945, it proves a helpful reference guide to the composition of the British army and its overseas deployments between 1945 and 1970.

  • Chandler, David, and Ian Beckett, eds. The Oxford History of the British Army. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

    A comprehensive history of the British army aimed at undergraduate students and the general reader. Includes a chapter on the activation of BAOR and its composition throughout the Cold War against the background of government defense reviews.

  • French, David. Military Identities: The Regimental System, the British Army and the British People c. 1870–2000. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    The best introduction to the regimental system of the British army. Includes a chapter on the creation of the postmodern regimental system between 1945 and 1970 against the backdrop of postwar austerity and the consequent reorganization and amalgamation of many regiments.

  • Mallinson, Allan. The Making of the British Army: From the English Civil War to the War on Terror. London: Bantam, 2009.

    A general study of the historical experiences that have shaped the British army. Contains informative chapters on the precarious position of BAOR during the austerity years of 1946–1953 and of the contribution made by BAOR to conventional deterrence throughout the Cold War.

  • Moody, Simon J. Imagining Nuclear War in the British Army, 1945–1989. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020.

    A thematic study on how the British Army imagined the use of tactical nuclear weapons in land combat. Individual chapters consider British thinking about tactical nuclear weapons, the evolution of NATO strategy, theories of tactical nuclear warfare, nuclear instruction at the Staff College, operational research and war-gaming, and the development of the army’s nuclear war–fighting doctrine.

  • Strachan, Hew, ed. The British Army, Manpower, and Society into the Twenty-First Century. London and Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 2000.

    A broad look at the cultural attitudes of the British army and its relationship with wider society. Includes two chapters on National Service and professional recruitment after 1945, both of which were issues that influenced force generation in BAOR throughout its existence.

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