FG-35020 - British Rank Insigna




The British Army during WW2 operated a two tier rank system consisting of Commissioned Officers ( holding the Kings Commission) and ‘Other Ranks’ (OR’s…known in other countries as enlisted men although the British Army have never used this term).

Very basically OR’s consisted of; Private Soldiers, Lance Corporals/Corporals (Junior Non Commissioned Officers/JNCO’s), Sergeants, Colour/Staff Sergeants (Senior Non Commissioned Officers/SNCO’s) and Warrant Officers (WO3’s-WO1’s…holding the Kings Warrant) of various classes.  On the face of it quite simple, but add to this over three hundred years of regimental (The Army’s tribal system) history, traditions and just plain British eccentricity and you have IMHO one of the most intricate rank systems going.

For example; in WW2 there were approximately 184 OR ranks and appointments, including ten titles for a private soldier at one end of the scale and fourteen WO1’s at the other.  WO1’s had layers of seniority many with their own identifying badges culminating in the Gods of Warrant Officers….The Conductors.
It’s to their credit then that Archers have been able to provide such an accurate set of transfers covering the mainstream British Army rank badges of WW2 and other era’s (see later).

The transfers


Archers have been producing dry transfers for the modeller for over twenty years; now branching into wet transfers.  The subject of this review FG35020 British Rank Insignia Uniform Patches, in 1/35th scale, first became available in 2000, and consists of 124 transfers of 8 types…enough to last the modeller a considerable time.
The transfers are supplied in a secure plastic bag with card insert to protect them.  Included is the compact (but full) sheet of transfers, a piece of wet media paper and instruction sheet.
The instruction sheet is quite basic…a list of the ranks contained in the set, Archers details and a link to the site for fitting instructions (both dry and wet methods). The sheet also contains a picture of a sleeve showing the location of rank chevrons; while this looks about right be aware the WO ranks are worn on the lower sleeves of battle dress.
The transfers can be applied using the dry rub method, or by applying them first to the wet media paper provided the more user friendly (for transfers this small) water slide method.  By using this method you will be able to manoeuvre the insignia into the proper position before final fixing.
Archers provide advice on their site about storage; but keep the backing on the transfers, avoid getting dust and dirt on the adhesive, and seal them (still in the original bags) in an airtight bag until required and you’ll get the best lifespan out of the transfers.  The product is covered by an unconditional lifetime guarantee.
The original rank badges were various shades of white/ fawn embroidered over khaki for WO’s and for the JNCO/SNCO’s white chevrons on khaki tape (sometimes light khaki even a pale fawn colour) on khaki backing.  Archers have represented this by using just white over khaki which is fine for this scale.
Using the dry rub method I found that the transfers adhered well and this was onto a dirty old figure found at the bottom of my spares box.  The khaki of the badge was almost invisible against the khaki of the figure, like the real item would be, and the white of the chevron stood out extremely well.  Almost too well because many wartime photo’s show the white of the badge to discolour quite easily (though on these small figures from a foot or so away it should be fine); however I do have references that show these to be a brilliant white at times, sometimes due to the application of Blanco ( a cleaning/colouring paste of the time). 
I didn’t try the wet media paper but by all accounts it is a simple and effective system.
I have tried the badges on Dragon British figures and they looked just right, on Tamiya they really filled the sleeve; this I would put down to the more ‘petite’ Tamiya figures and not the transfers.



The ranks


I am going to cover the ranks in the simplest form appropriate to the set and available figures/kits. The set provides the following rank badges;
Lance Corporal, Corporal, Sergeant, Colour/Staff Sergeant, Warrant Officer Class 3, 2, 1 and Staff Sergeant Major.

•     Lance Corporal: depicted by one chevron on the upper sleeves the L/Cpl was typically the Section 2nd in Command (2iC) responsible for section admin and command of the Bren LMG team.  There would have been three in a rifle platoon with possibly another 1-2 in platoon HQ on the 2” mortar or anti tank weapon (Boyes or PIAT).  The L/Cpl would have taken control of the section if the Cpl fell in battle. In the Corps they would have help posts dependant on their qualifications (likewise other ranks) and would be known as Lance Bombardier in the Artillery. The set provides 44 of this badge enough for 22 figures.

•    Corporal: depicted by two chevrons on the upper sleeves the Cpl would have led the section in battle, and there were three in a rifle platoon. Known as Bombardier in the Artillery. The set provides 22 of this badge enough for 11 figures.

•    Sergeant: depicted by three chevrons on the upper sleeves the Sgt was responsible for platoon admin and would have taken over from the Platoon Commander if he fell in battle. The soldier would have held posts in Corps appropriate to the rank i.e. Sgt, Tank Commander in the RAC or Section Commander in a machine gun platoon. Note; the correct spelling during WW2 would have been Serjeant. The set provides 11 of this badge enough for 5 figures with one left over.

•    Staff/Colour Sergeant: depicted by a Royal Crown over three chevrons on the upper sleeves.  The title difference is due to different fighting Arms; the Colour Sgt is found in infantry units and Staff Sgt in corps etc…typical posts held would include Company/Battery/Squadron Quarter Master Sgt, Troop/Platoon Sgt (of a large or specialist troop or platoon). In a rifle company his responsibility would be company admin such as stores, clothing, feeding etc, and he would have taken over from the CSM if he fell in battle. The set provides 11 of this badge enough for 5 figures with one left over.

•    Warrant Officer Class 3: depicted by a Royal Crown on the lower sleeves. This new rank created in 1938 led to 1000 NCOs’ being promoted to WO3 Platoon Commander.  Used to fill shortfalls in Officer posts, their job was to lead the men in battle and carry out all the duties held by junior officers such as Lieutenants.  The position was found in Infantry, Guards, Tanks, Cavalry and Artillery units; to a lesser degree they could be found in Signals units.  The rank was placed in suspension in 1940 although the rank holders’ retained their positions and (for obvious reasons) very few were left by the end of the war. The set provides 9 of this badge enough for 4 figures with one left over.

•    Warrant Officer Class 2: depicted by a Royal Crown surrounded by a Laurel Wreath on the lower sleeves. The most common job being that of Company Sgt Major (CSM) which was the senior OR in a rifle company; his job being discipline, dress, admin of weapons, ammunition, and control of casualties/prisoners etc. The set provides 9 of this badge enough for 4 figures with one left over.

•    Warrant Officer Class 1: depicted by a Royal Coat of Arms on the lower sleeves. Typical post is The Regimental Sgt Major (RSM)…the senior WO in an infantry battalion; his job being discipline, dress, admin of weapons, ammunition, and control of casualties/prisoners etc at Btn level. WO1’s would also hold appointments in the Corps, i.e. Engineers, Signals and Reconnaissance, and others. The set provides 9 of this badge enough for 4 figures with one left over.

•    Staff Sergeant Major: depicted by a Royal Coat of Arms surrounded by a Laurel Wreath on the lower sleeves, the wreath indicates the badge to be a SSM 1st Class the third highest of the WO’s, but is also the same as a Conductor, the highest ranking WO1 in The British Army.  Both carried out similar roles; the SSM in the Royal Army Service Corp (RASC) responsible for transporting massive amounts of stores (food, fuel, water, clothing etc) and the Conductor Royal Army Ordnance Corp (RAOC) who was responsible for ammunition and technical equipment. The set provides 9 of this badge enough for 4 figures with one left over.

Uses and anomalies


While the badges are suitable for most infantry, signals, artillery and tank units the modeller as to be aware of certain Regimental anomalies and there is no substitute for good references here.  For example the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) with their distinctive green badge on white backgrounds or the Royal Ulster Rifles whose were black on rifle green, just to name two. Also, if depicting WO1 ranks after 1945 then coloured edging appropriate to the arm of service was applied…i.e. scarlet for the infantry.
While generally seen on British and Commonwealth battle dress during WWII (i.e. Canada) the badges can be used on British figures up to the early 1980’s on combat dress and is suitable for use on modern figures if wearing jersey heavy wool or No2 Dress. 
Also useful for the Korean War and by inverting the chevrons and placing on the lower sleeves the badges can depict the soldiers good conduct badges.  These were also worn in conjunction with rank badges making for a very full arm’s worth.
Points to note: after 1947 when the WO3 rank was placed in suspension the other WO badges were reorganised; the single Crown becoming WO2 CSM and the Crown and Laurel Wreath WO2 Regimental Quarter Master Sgt (RQMS).
Spare badges?: While there are single badges left on most of the ranks in this is not a problem if modelling some figures…for example Denison smocks of the Paratroopers and the denim working dress of the Infantry usually only had one rank badge on the right sleeve.  Likewise on modern (approx 1980-82) combat dress/jersey HW.

Conclusions

This is an extremely useful set of transfers for anyone modelling WW2 British/Commonwealth figures.  While many think the drab khaki uniform of the British soldier was devoid of markings this wasn’t the case so if you are depicting a number of soldiers together its likely one or more
would hold some form of rank.
The research and production is excellent, with a real clarity to the badges.  Minute details like the shape of the Kings Crown are well represented (you can tell under the magnifying glass…I tried). There is no bleeding between the colours and adhesion is perfect.  Store them right and they should last forever; if not contact Archers who have a great replacement policy.
The only real negative point for me is that I can’t imagine many modellers making 8+ WO1’s/SSM’s so it really is a lifetime supply; long after the chevrons have gone you may still have these others stuck at the bottom of your spares box.  It would have also been nice to see a few trade/qualification badges included for the ordinary Private soldier i.e. signaller (crossed flags), marksman (crossed rifles) or machine gunner (LMG badge).
Archers are currently reviewing their sets however so there may be changes to them; the above would be nice to see.
I would like to thank Ian at Ian Kelly Military Insignia (http://www.kellybadge.co.uk) for the help, advice and for keeping me on the ‘straight and narrow’!

Very highly recommended.

Marks 90%

Thanks to Archers for the review sample; their products can be seen at http://www.archertransfers.com/catalog.html.

References

•    British Army Uniforms and Insignia of World War Two; B Davis, Arms & Armour Press 1993
•    The British Army, 1939-45: Middle East & Mediterranean; M Brayley & M Chappell, Osprey Publishing 2002
•    The British Army, 1939-45: North-West Europe; M Brayley & M Chappell, Osprey Publishing 2001
•    Canadian Forces in World War II; R Chartrand & R Volstad, Osprey Publishing 2001
•    British Battle Insignia (2) 1939–45; Mike Chappell, Osprey Publishing 1987
•    The World War II Tommy : British Army Uniforms - European Theatre, 1939 – 1945; M Brayley and R Ingram, Crowood Press 2007

Review Martyn Smith