eli5 Where do the numbers in military units come from?

160 viewsOther

I always see, for example, military units, like the 126th division or whatever, but I never see any mention of divisions 1-125, or 127 and beyond, etc. The numbers always seem so arbitrary, but there has to be a reason they’re used to name the units. Can someone please explain how this works to me? Thanks.

In: Other

5 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

Many military units have long histories, and number are often a result of that history. For example, in the US during WWII there were many hundreds of divisions of the Army. There were often sequentially numbers, but not always, and for all sorts of reasons, including operational security to confuse about troop numbers. Post-WWII in the massive draw down, many units of all sizes were deactivated or folded into other divisions and such. That gave the US a mix of division numbers all over the place with the divisions that remained

Even today, divisions and other units are removed, added, combined, separated and all such ways.

Many times, divisions with particularly historic heritage or such will continue to use those numbers even if their mission changes or they have had other changes.

But its not really important, the division numbers is just their “name”, there is no reason there has to be any order, rhyme, or reason to their names.

Fun fact, in the US Army there are only numbered divisions, many countries have names, numbers or whatever. The US during WWII and after had only one single Army unit that was actually named, the Americal Division, which technically has a number but it was generally called by its name. Many divisions have unofficial or offical nicknames though. Such as The Big Red One (1st Infantry Division)

Anonymous 0 Comments

Not sure how the Army does it, but in the Air Force, if it’s a 3 digit unit, a 1 in the hundreds place signifies it’s a National Guard unit, a 9 signifies a Reserve unit, 7 and 8 signifies it’s an auxiliary unit and has a sister unit at the same base.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Unit designations were for a time issued numerically on demand. So 1st division, then 2nd, etc

The reason for the discrepancies is that many of those units were stood up during the 2nd World War or other conflicts and were then later deactivated as the US (and other Western) military was downsized post-war. The remaining equipment and personnel from deactivated units were folded into other units.

However rather than just keeping the lower digit units active, many famous units like the 101st Airborne were kept active because of their reputations while less well known units were deactivated which is why there’s so many unused numbers today.

When a new unit needs to be raised, such as a need for a new Squadron in the Air Force, it’s common for a defunct squadron number to be re-activated.

The military has a strong sense of tradition and heritage and as such the newly created unit will often adopt the original badge and unit name as well as the motto and mascot of the old unit.

418 Squadron in Canada for example was recently re-activated to fly the C-295 Kingfisher search and rescue aircraft. It had previously been de-activated in 1994 but traces it’s lineage back to WW2.

Side note all Canadian Air Force Squadrons start with 400 because that’s what was assigned to us by the British in WW2 and we just kept it.

Anonymous 0 Comments

You generally hear about the ‘successful’ units. Government isn’t creative or anything else so something as benign as draft date and location may determine the unit’s pagination.

The exception being seal team 6 which was ‘numbered’ intentionally as a misleading tactic

Anonymous 0 Comments

Anyone know of a good list of the more famous divisions and their stories?