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To anyone who has looked at Military manuals the code number systems which
they are arranged under is bewildering. This is especially true for anyone who
is trying to understand and follow the changes in manuals over the last hundred
years. What I hope to do in this short essay is try to clear up some of the
confusion, to simplify the discussion we be will only be concerned with
U.S.Army manuals and only the essential points of the coding systems will be
From the beginning one code number prefix title has been used consistently.
Army Regulations (AR’s) which are concerned with the day by day running of
the Army. Otherwise manual numbering systems have changed quite a bit. There
are often many editions and changes to each manual number and there can be a
great deal of difference between the manual editions. So manual FM 21-75 can
have five editions covering 45 years of changes in doctrine. In reality each of
the editions are more like five different manuals rather than one manual with a
five series of changes.
Until the 1890’s there were no army manuals in the current sense.
Military manuals before the 1890’s were foreign imports or privately
published manuals and textbooks, without any numbering. For all practical
purposes they were simply books, with an author and title.
From the late 1880 until the end of First World War military manuals were
either War Department Documents or Ordnance Department Documents. Both types of
documents were numbered consecutively (1,2, 3, etc.) as they appeared with no
variations concerning subject matter. But there was often a branch numbering
system superimposed on the manual. For example War Department Document No.541
could also be Signal Manual No.3.
War Department Documents were approximately similar to modern Field Manuals
with an occasional one concerned with a technical subject like signal
communications and were usually hard covered books. Ordnance Department
Documents were similar to modern Technical Manuals and could be either hard
cover or paper backed.
Manuals began to be issued in loose leaf form designed to be placed in
binders, numbering prefects including TR (Training Regulations), TM (Training
Manuals), and TC (Training Circulars), with TR’s being the most common
type. There Prefixes were followed by a two to four digit number then a dash
followed by a two to three digit number. Like “TR 50-70 or TR
425-30”. The first set of numbers noted the subject while the second set
noted the number of the book under the subject. The subject number system was
fairly complex. Unfortunately too complex for the length of this essay.
The Technical subjects of the earlier Ordnance Documents were incorporated
into the Training regulation system.
The Training Regulations were merged into a series of branch Field Manuals,
like Basic Field Manual, Cavalry Field Manual, etc. The Field Manuals of this
period did not have a number system like current manuals. Instead FM 21-75 they
are titled by subject like “Basic Field Manual, Volume I, Chapter 3”.
The current U.S.Army manual number system was started at the beginning of
the Second World War. The primarily types of manuals became either FM’s
(Field Manuals), or TM’s (Technical Manuals), later followed by a
bewildering arrangement of lesser Prefixes like TC (Training Circulars). ST
(Special Texts), FC (Field Circulars), just to name a few.
Field Manuals were usually numbered by a one to two digit number followed by
a dash followed by a one to two digit number, like “FM 21-75”, with
the first series on numbers being the subject classification of the manual and
the second series being the particular manual.
Technical Manuals were numbered at first like FM’s, but because they
were vastly more of them by the early 1960’s, they began to be changed to
a more complex system.
Early TM’s have numbers like “TM 9-2300”. The first number
being the subject or branch of the Army. Number “9” means that it is
an Ordnance Branch manual. The second series of numbers referring to the
The many later TM’s, concerned with single pieces of equipment,
especially Ordnance equipment, were numbered like “TM 9-1005-223-12”.
The first number refers to the branch. The number “9” means that it
is an Ordnance branch document. The second series of numbers refer to the
subject type. The third series refers to the particular piece of equipment or
subject. The four series on numbers refer to the level of maintenance which the
manual is concerned with. With “10-12” being operator and
organizational maintenance level, and with higher numbers concerned with a
higher level, 20’s being direct support, 30’s being general support.
While this essay can only give the reader a brief snapshot of the coding
system, I hope that it will clear up some confusion.
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