Order of battle
In modern use, the order of battle is the identification, command structure, strength, and disposition of personnel, equipment, and units of an armed force participating in field operations. Various abbreviations are in use, including OOB, O/B, or OB, while ORBAT remains the most common in the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

. An order of battle should be distinguished from a table of organisation
Table of Organization and Equipment
A table of organization and equipment is a document published by the U.S. Department of Defense which prescribes the organization, staffing, and equippage of units. Also used in acronyms as 'T/O' and 'T/E'....

, the intended composition of a given unit or formation according to military doctrine
Military doctrine
Military doctrine is the concise expression of how military forces contribute to campaigns, major operations, battles, and engagements.It is a guide to action, not hard and fast rules. Doctrine provides a common frame of reference across the military...

 and to suit its staff administration operations. As combat continually evolves throughout a campaign, orders of battle may be revised during the course of composing the commanders' after action reports
After Action Report
An after action report is any form of retrospective analysis on a given sequence of goal-oriented actions previously undertaken, generally by the author himself....

 and/or other accounting methods (e.g. despatches) as combat assessment
Combat assessment
The objective of combat assessment is to identify recommendations for the course of military operations.The determination of the overall effectiveness of force employment during military operations...

 is conducted.

Historical approaches

In its original form during the Medieval
Medieval warfare
Medieval warfare is the warfare of the Middle Ages. In Europe, technological, cultural, and social developments had forced a dramatic transformation in the character of warfare from antiquity, changing military tactics and the role of cavalry and artillery...

 period of European warfare, an order of battle was the order in which troops were positioned relative to the position of the army commander. The term was also applied to the disposition of ships in the line of battle during the age of sail
Age of Sail
The Age of Sail was the period in which international trade and naval warfare were dominated by sailing ships, lasting from the 16th to the mid 19th century...

. In the later transformation of its meaning during the European period of Early Modern warfare the order of battle came to mean the order in which the units manoeuvered or deployed onto the battlefield to form battle-lines
Line (formation)
The line formation is a standard tactical formation which has been used in Early modern warfare.It continues the phalanx formation or shield wall of infantry armed with polearms in use during antiquity and the Middle Ages....

, with the positioning on the right considered the place of greatest honour. This need to reflect the unit seniority led to the keeping of military staff records, in tabular form reflecting the compilation of units an army, their commanders, equipment, and locations on the battlefield.

During the Napoleonic wars
Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars declared against Napoleon's French Empire by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionised European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to...

 the meaning of the order of battle changed yet again to reflect the changes in the composition of opposing forces during the battle owing to use of larger formations than in the previous century. Napoleon
Napoleon I of France
Napoleon Bonaparte was a French military and political leader during the latter stages of the French Revolution.As Napoleon I, he was Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1815...

 also instituted the staff procedure of maintaining accurate information about the composition of the enemy order of battle, and tables of organisation, and this later evolved into an important function and an organisational tool used by military intelligence
Military intelligence
Military intelligence is a military discipline that exploits a number of information collection and analysis approaches to provide guidance and direction to commanders in support of their decisions....

 to analyse enemy capability for combat.

British historical approach

British military history is the source of some of the earliest orders of battle in the English language, and due to the British Empire's involvement in global conflicts over several centuries the records of historical orders of battle provide an excellent source of study and understanding not only of the composition, but also of tactics and doctrines of the forces through their depiction in the orders of battle. The British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 and UK forces use the acronym ORBAT to describe the structure of both friendly and enemy forces.

Operation Quicksilver
Operation Quicksilver (WWII)
In World War II, Operation Quicksilver was a sub-plan of Operation Fortitude, the 1944 deception plan designed to induce the Germans to hold troops away from Normandy in belief that the Normandy landing was only a feint and that the major invasion would come in the Pas-de-Calais...

, part of the British deception plan for the Invasion of Normandy in World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, fed German intelligence a combination of true and false information about troop deployments in Britain, causing the Germans to deduce an order of battle which suggested an invasion at the Pas-de-Calais instead of Normandy.


Clausewitz defined the ‘order of battle’ as “that division and formation of the different arms into separate parts or sections of the whole Army, and that form of general position or disposition of those parts which is to be the norm throughout the whole campaign or war.”
Division comes from the permanent peace organisation of the Army, with certain parts such as battalions, squadrons, and batteries being formed into units of higher order up to the highest of all, the whole Army.
Disposition comes from the tactics and how these troops are to be drawn up for the battle. Normally these tactics are exercised in peace and can’t be essentially modified when war breaks out.
Order of battle belongs more to tactics than strategy.
Clausewitz also noted that the order of battle depends on the effective span of control by a commander. Too few subunits makes an army unwieldy; too many subunits makes the ‘power of the superior will’ weak; and in addition every step by which an order has to pass weakens its effect by loss of force and Longer time of transmission.
Clausewitz recommended that armies have no more than eight to ten subunits and subordinate corps four to six subunits.

United States Army

In United States Army
United States Army
The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

 standard operating procedures
TACSOP is an acronym commonly used by the U.S. Military for TACtical Standard Operating Procedure. The TACSOP is essentially the "game-plan" that units follow when conducting tactical operations...

, an order of battle to be used for operations planning should relate what an Army unit might be expected to encounter while deployed in the field. The templating of the OOB during maneuvers
Maneuver warfare
Maneuver warfare, or manoeuvre warfare , is the term used by military theorists for a concept of warfare that advocates attempting to defeat an adversary by incapacitating their decision-making through shock and disruption brought about by movement...

 is typically the responsibility of a battalion
A battalion is a military unit of around 300–1,200 soldiers usually consisting of between two and seven companies and typically commanded by either a Lieutenant Colonel or a Colonel...

 or brigade
A brigade is a major tactical military formation that is typically composed of two to five battalions, plus supporting elements depending on the era and nationality of a given army and could be perceived as an enlarged/reinforced regiment...

 commander, conducted through their Headquarters
Headquarters and Headquarters Company
In United States Army units, a headquarters and headquarters company is a company sized military unit, found at the battalion level and higher. In identifying a specific headquarters unit, it is usually referred to by its abbreviation as an HHC...

 S-2 (intelligence) sections. Observations about enemy troop movements may be gathered by various military intelligence resources from all echelons, including the employment of any attached special forces units (such as Rangers
United States Army Rangers
United States Army Rangers are elite members of the United States Army. Rangers have served in recognized U.S. Army Ranger units or have graduated from the U.S. Army's Ranger School...

 or LRS
Long Range Surveillance
Long Range Surveillance units are specially trained elite Surveillance units of the United States Army that are employed by Military Intelligence Units for gathering information from deep within hostile territories....

 teams) as well as Cavalry RSTA squadrons.

From such intelligence data, the OOB section staff compiles a likely order of battle for a planning document
A FRAGPLAN or a planning fragment is a document that contains a plan for an activity or series of activities. The difference between a FRAGPLAN and a standard planning document is that rather than being a complete, holistic, end-to-end plan it is instead a pluggable, planning component which may...

 or operations order by assessing the following factors:

Enemy's Composition, Disposition, Strength (often mnemonicized with SUALE: Size, Unit, Activity, Location, Equipment):
  • Composition: the command structure and organisation of headquarters and subunits
  • Disposition: geographical locations of unit headquarters and subunits
  • Strength expressed in units and weight of fire delivered by its weapon systems

Enemy capabilities and limitations (often mnemonicized with DRAWD: Defend, Reinforce, Attack, Withdraw, Delay):
  • Personnel training
    The term training refers to the acquisition of knowledge, skills, and competencies as a result of the teaching of vocational or practical skills and knowledge that relate to specific useful competencies. It forms the core of apprenticeships and provides the backbone of content at institutes of...

  • Logistics
    Logistics is the management of the flow of goods between the point of origin and the point of destination in order to meet the requirements of customers or corporations. Logistics involves the integration of information, transportation, inventory, warehousing, material handling, and packaging, and...

    : how the enemy unit obtains its supplies and lines of communication
    Lines of Communication
    "Lines of Communication" is an episode from the fourth season of the science-fiction television series Babylon 5.-Synopsis:Franklin and Marcus attempt to persuade the Mars resistance to assist Sheridan in opposing President Clark...

  • Combat Effectiveness using complex algorithm
    In mathematics and computer science, an algorithm is an effective method expressed as a finite list of well-defined instructions for calculating a function. Algorithms are used for calculation, data processing, and automated reasoning...

    s and combat modelling applications
  • Electronic Technical Data used to provide data for the combat modelling applications

Enemy's Most Likely Course of Action (EMLCOA):
  • Tactics
    Military tactics
    Military tactics, the science and art of organizing an army or an air force, are the techniques for using weapons or military units in combination for engaging and defeating an enemy in battle. Changes in philosophy and technology over time have been reflected in changes to military tactics. In...

     used by the enemy unit
  • Miscellaneous data related to specific task, mission or operations
  • Personalities (known enemy personnel and their behaviour, often based on communications intelligence analysis)
  • Unit history used to judge expected performance based on its past performance
  • Uniforms and insignia to enable confirmation of the above data

A rule of thumb in American military doctrine is that each unit should keep track of enemy subunits two echelons below its own: that is, a division
Division (military)
A division is a large military unit or formation usually consisting of between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers. In most armies, a division is composed of several regiments or brigades, and in turn several divisions typically make up a corps...

 should monitor enemy units confronting it down to the battalion, a brigade should monitor enemy units down to companies
Company (military unit)
A company is a military unit, typically consisting of 80–225 soldiers and usually commanded by a Captain, Major or Commandant. Most companies are formed of three to five platoons although the exact number may vary by country, unit type, and structure...

, and a battalion should monitor enemy forces down to platoons. General George S. Patton
George S. Patton
George Smith Patton, Jr. was a United States Army officer best known for his leadership while commanding corps and armies as a general during World War II. He was also well known for his eccentricity and controversial outspokenness.Patton was commissioned in the U.S. Army after his graduation from...

 was one of the first to recommend this practice.

The United States military's intelligence capabilities in the 21st century have allowed for monitoring even further than two echelons down the chain of command. It is quite common for US forces at the battalion level to be able to identify the location and activities of not only enemy forces at the squad level but even individual vehicles. This situational awareness provides a more complete picture of the battlespace
Battlespace is a term used to signify a unified military strategy to integrate and combine armed forces for the military theatre of operations, including air, information, land, sea, and space to achieve military goals. It includes the environment, factors, and conditions that must be understood...

 for both combatant commanders and tactical commanders.

Up until the end of the Cold War, determining realistic orders of battle was generally an orderly but extremely frustrating process for NATO because although the Warsaw Pact nations had well known doctrines, tactics, techniques and procedures, in actuality, the characteristics of Soviet forces fluctuated often, significantly, and changes often went undetected for years at below-division levels. The intelligence situation for Western militaries has been exacerbated today as they continue to be become engaged in operations against non-traditional enemies (insurgents
An insurgency is an armed rebellion against a constituted authority when those taking part in the rebellion are not recognized as belligerents...

, guerrillas, etc.) and compiling orders of battle for irregular forces
Irregular military
Irregular military refers to any non-standard military. Being defined by exclusion, there is significant variance in what comes under the term. It can refer to the type of military organization, or to the type of tactics used....

 becomes very difficult; the equivalent military intelligence output requiring an increase in acquired data and analysis effort to provide an accurate and timely picture to the commander.

See also

  • List of orders of battle
  • Electronic order of battle (EOB)
  • Five paragraph order
    Five paragraph order
    The five paragraph order is an element of United States Army, United States Marine Corps and United States Navy Seabees of small unit tactics that specifies instruction to a unit, based on an METT-TC Analysis...


  • Carl von Clausewitz, J. J. Graham, Jan Willem Honig. On War. Contributor F. N. Maude, Barnes & Noble Publishing, 2004 ISBN 0760755973

External links

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