Daily Archives: 20 December, 2009

Refighting the Falklands War?

HMS Hermes returning from the Falklands

HMS Hermes returning from the Falklands

One of the most uttered phrases in recent British Military History is ‘we couldn’t fight the Falklands War again’. In fact, its said so many times, that its become something of a cliche. I get so fed up of reading it so often, that I’ve decided to take a deeper look behind this oft-uttered phrase.

Is it a simple case of ‘yes we could’ or ‘no we couldn’t’. There are many, many aspects to consider. To begin with, there are the many facets of the Royal Navy: air power, amphibious capability, escorts, auxilliaries, submarines, and merchant vessels. Then there is the ground forces to consider, and what the Royal Air Force might be able to provide. All have undergone radical changes since 1982, with more foreseen in the next few years.

And, as in any military history context, we ignore the enemy at our peril. The Argentinian Armed Forces have changed dramatically, as has the Argentinian nation itself. They are no longer ruled by a military dictatorship, and conscription was abolished some years ago. The structure and materiel of the Argentine military has changed considerably too.

One aspect I do not plan on looking at is the politics behind it. I for one have no idea whether Argentina has any plans to re-take the Falkland Islands, I strongly suspect not. But rather, the purpose of this series will be to use the Falklands as a template for a long-range, out-of-area combined operation by British Armed Forces. It just so happens that the Falklands provides the ideal yardstick. Also, I do not wish to examine whether the British Government would have the will and or the finances to launch a task force as in 1982.

My scenario starts from the moment, as in April 1982, when the Prime Minister authorised the Defence Chiefs to put together a task force to retake the Falklands Islands….

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Filed under Army, debate, Falklands War, Navy, News, Royal Air Force, Royal Marines

Army unveils new Camo pattern

The British Army has unveiled its new Multi-Terrain Pattern (MTP) Camouflage, which will replace the existing DPM camo. Forces in Afghanistan will start to get the new uniforms in March next year, with the whole army upgraded by 2011. MTP is designed for a wide range of environments, including the volatile “green zone” of Helmand province.

DPM has been in service with the British Army for almost 40 years, in two main patterns – woodland and desert. When it was adopted, the British Army was planning to fight in the wooded countryside areas of North West Europe. However, operations in Afghanistan, where desert adjoins green zone, have highlighted the need for a pattern that works well in both desert and wooded terrains.

Lt Col Toby Evans – a military advisor with the Government’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory – told the BBC the new uniform was a compromise between having a uniform that was perfectly suited to a specific environments and one that would work well across a wide range of conditions.

“We’ve realised that Afghanistan is more complex – especially Helmand – than, say Iraq, which was predominantly a desert background or north-west Europe, which was predominantly green. The new camouflage is optimised for all the Afghan background colour sets and in doing so we never reach a point – which we did with the old colours – where it is actually wrong. It may not be quite perfect, but its good enough for everything.”

The adoption of the new pattern follows trials in the UK, Cyprus, Kenya and Afghanistan.

While all recent talk has been about Helicopers, Aircraft Carriers and the like, it is nice to know that the MOD are at least trying to sort out the smaller – but equally inportant – things too.

To see a video about the new Camouflage, click here.

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The Royal Navy and its Seamen at war

The 1937 Coronation Fleet Review, which showcased the Royal Navy at the height of its power

The 1937 Coronation Fleet Review, which showcased the Royal Navy at the height of its power

One of the features of war at sea, is that apart from perhaps the odd death from illness or caused by accidents, the vast majority of casualties come all at once. Often, they consist of most or even all of a ships company. If an Army unit has a bad battle, it might have lost say 10 or even up to 20 men in a day. An RAF Squadron might have lost 1 or maybe 2 aircraft in an operation. A ship, however, if torpedoed might lose most or all of its crew. Considering that Battleships such as HMS Hood, HMS Barham and HMS Royal Oak – all Portsmouth ships – contained upwards of 1,000 men, that entails heavy losses in a single day.

The list of sailors from Portsmouth who died between 1939 and 1947 tells us a lot about the Royal Navy itself. Many of the senior ranks, particularly Petty Officers, were older men and had served many years in the Navy. As Portsmouth was the home of a large part of the Navy, many of them naturally ended up living in Portsmouth. As such a high proportion of Portsmouth’s naval servicemen were senior ranks, such as Petty Officers.

As well as men who served and died on board ships, there were also many who died in the course of serving onshore. For every sailor onboard ship, many more were required to provide training and support services on land, especially when the Navy was taking in an influx of new recruits in wartime. In particular, older men who were perhaps too old or unsuitable for active service at sea seem to have worked in desk jobs or as instructors at shore bases. Many of these older men died in service, perhaps from heart disease, cancer or illness brought on by a lack of nutrition in times of food rationing.

During the Second World War the Royal Navy seems to have had a number of branches: stokers, who fuelled the ship and maintained the boilers; engine room artificers, who maintained the engines; cooks, stewards and supply assistants, who were responsible for catering; writers who took care of administration; and also other specialist roles such as shipwrights, engineers, gunners and masters at arms. There was also a large number of Able Seaman performing general tasks, and in some ships a number of Boy Seamen. In larger ships, Royal Marines would crew one of the main turrets, and the ship might also have a Royal Marine band onboard.

In stark contrast to todays Royal Navy, where many seamen are highly skilled technicians and systems operators, the Royal Navy of the mid-twentieth century was made up mainly of mechanics and labourers, who had to do hard, physical work.

Of men who served onboard ship, the statistics are pretty clear. When losses were suffered, for example if a ship was sunk or heavily damaged, a large proportion of a ships crew could be killed at once. This is not only due to the proximity of so many men to the point of danger, but that often survivors could expect no salvation and became casualties themselves. A stark reminder of this is that a majority of sailors who died in the war have no grave other than the sea itself. However, there are also a small number of men buried in their home town who must have died in hospital, and also men buried in the numerous ports around the world where Royal Navy ships called in.

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Filed under Navy, portsmouth heroes, World War Two