The area was originally established in 1942 when a battle training area was required. Military exercises were already known in the area; the tanks had trained at Thetford in the First World War but the complete takeover involved the evacuation of the villages of Buckenham Tofts, Langford, Stanford, Sturston, Tottington and West Tofts.
The battle area includes 4 historic churches, the one at West Tofts being restored by Pugin, and a new "church" that forms part of the specially constructed village of Eastmere. Eastmere was built to give soldiers the experience of fighting on the northern European plains. As of late it is being reconstructed to more accurately reflect the experiences of the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan.
There is a short landing strip for Harrier aircraft at 52.541422°N, 0.701805°E.
As a live firing area, access is not allowed without special permission from the Army. In the main this is limited to a number of tours a year and on compassionate grounds for former residents of the villages or their relatives.
The area forms part of the distinctive Breckland landscape region, a gorse-covered sandy heath which offers poor agricultural opportunities. Arguably, its use as a military training area has safeguarded a substantial archaeological landscape, and the home of a wealth of rare species of flora and fauna already lost in other parts of the country. Parts of the are designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Certainly the battle area has had much less impact than the establishment of Thetford Forest on adjoining land.
The unpopulated landscape of the Battle Area was used in the filming of many of the episodes of the comedy series Dad's Army, especially those where the platoon goes on exercise.