Daily Archives: 5 January, 2010

Falklands then and now: Command and Leadership

In 1982, the primacy of the Royal Navy was clear. The Task Force came about largely because the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Henry Leach, over-rode the objections of the Army and RAF and insisted that it should be attempted. As the conflict was dependant on the Navy to carry it out, command was placed within existing Royal Navy structures. The Task Force Commander was Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse, the Commander-in-Chief, Fleet based in Northwood.

In other respects, however, the arrangement was rather ad-hoc. In some respects, there was an almost dangeorus lack of understanding, clash of personalities and unwielding lines of command. The British armed forces learnt many lessons from how command coped in the Falklands, and this led to new systems and structures that were perfected from the first Gulf War onwards.

The picture in 1982

Brigadier Julian Thompson and Major-General Jeremy Moore conferring

Brigadier Julian Thompson and Major-General Jeremy Moore conferring

In 1982 senior appointments and command systems were focussed on Britain’s role within NATO. Independent operations outside of NATO and without allies were thought extremely unlikely.

The Commander of the Battle Group, Rear-Admiral Sandy Woodward, fell into the role rather than being chosen, as his flotilla was exercising off Gibraltar when the crisis blew up. He was a Submariner Officer, who had spent a matter of weeks onboard Aircraft Carriers during his career. If he hadn’t been on the spot it is likely that a more senior, Aircraft Carrier or Amphibious specialist would have been appointed.

In other respects the command system was rather untidy – to this day, Woodward insists that he was the senior commander in the South Atlantic, whereas Julian Thompson (3 Commando Brigade) and MiKe Clapp (Commodore Amphibious Warfare) feel that they ALL were equal and reported back to John Fieldhouse in Britain. This could have resulted in serious problems. That such senior officers were unclear of who commanded who is rather worrying.

The submarines, meanwhile, were commanded directly from Britain, in the same manner as if they were in the North Atlantic. This left Woodward, an ex-Submarine Commander himself, out of the loop completely and unable to control one of the key components of the Task Force. The time taken communicating over the Belgrano issue could have led to her slipping away.

The picture in 2009

Structure of the Permament Joint Headquarters (PJHQ)

Structure of the Permament Joint Headquarters (PJHQ)

After the end of the Cold War, doctrine and experience has led to a more flexible culture and structure of command, less on any predictable enemy or threat and more able to react quickly and flexibly to crises.

As a result of the lessons learnt during the Falklands War, a Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ) was set up, to command all three armed services during combined operations. This is a more permanent and more professional arrangement than previously, whereby the Armed service that was most involved in an operation commanded on an ad hoc basis. As such any Argentine invasion could be met with an immediate response by the PJHQ who could go to work immediately.

The Royal Navy itself has fine tuned its command system and its structure. The Chief of Joint Operations at PJHQ would perform the function that Admiral Fieldhouse did in 1982 as the British-based command of the Task Force, and the Commander UK Maritime Forces, a Rear-Admiral, would probably be deployed as the senior Commander in theatre. The Carrier Strike Group and Amphibious Group both have Commodores commanding them who would deploy as well. The Commander UK Amphibious Forces, a Royal Marines Major-General, would likely command the Land Forces as in 1982, with the Brigadiers of the specific Brigades – Army or Marines – underneath him.

Conclusion

In 1982 the command arrangements for the Task Force were largely improvised specifically for the conflict, as it fell outside the remit of the existing structures and there were no permanent arrangements for commanding joint operations. This was also reflected in the broader culture within the armed forces.

Despite their ad-hoc nature the arrangements worked well, although there were problems – particularly the lack of understanding between the Battle Group Commander and the Amphibious Commanders, and the control of Submarines in theatre. Commanders in theatre also had limited independence, and ultimate command rested in Britain. With the limited technology of the day, this made communication difficult.

Lessons were clearly learnt, as in 2009 the Armed Forces have an integrated system for co-ordinating joint operations, that has worked well in recent conflicts. This would be able to swing into action the minute any Task Force were required. The value of a familiar and dedicated staff team in taking action would be considerable. Modern statellite technology would enable swifter communication and decision making.

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Thoughts on Culture… or is it culture with a little c?

Think of Culture. What to you think of?

Opera? Art Galleries? Fine Wines? Theatre? Poetry? Classical Music? Foreign Literature? Architecture?… yep, when we think of culture, we tend to think of Culture with a Capital C – high Culture.

But what do these things represent? They say nothing about a city like Portsmouth, for one. For the most part, they represent what Culture is for a very small part of the population. Usually, the very top 5%, perhaps, of people in society. I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of ordinary working people – and I’m thinking about past ages, not just the present – simply aren’t bothered about listening to people warbling in Latin, or abstract art. I cannot imagine your average Dockyard worker being too worried about reading the latest book by Emile Zola, but rather popping to the Pub, or how Pompey will get on on Saturday. If they had a painting on the wall, it might have been of a nice local view.

So how is, considering so few people are interested in high culture, and it says so little about society, that it overshadows all other forms of culture? There’s something very undemocratic about high Culture. Something snobby, almost like ‘we know most people dont like it, but what would you know?’. How is it, in a supposedly consensus society where we elect Governments by unversal suffrage, that a small select part of society dictate what we should like? As if its something that the rest of us should aspire to, like a kind of social Premier League?

Not only is it about choices, but also money. Look at the funding that is given to institutions such as the Royal Opera House – yet how many ordinary people, who have indirectly paid for it, can actually afford to go there? And even if you can, is it welcoming to all walks of people? Somehow I think not. And how many high-brow Museums and Galleries are full of exhibitions designed for curators and high-brow aficianados, rather than the general public? For some reason, Culture is one of those areas that is still the preserve of the well-adjusted, a hangover from a different age.

Personally, I think that culture is not about lumps of pottery, or random smatterings of paint on canvas. Its about ways of life, ways of thinking, unique words or food or drink that you wont find anywhere else, the spirit that you find in a city that makes it what it is. With the best will in the world, Portsmouth is not a Cultural City with a Capital C. But in terms of broader culture, spirit and way of life, it has that in spades.

So what makes Portsmouth culture? Heres a few thoughts of my own… The view from Portsdown Hill… The Fratton End… Mother Kellys… Still and West… Guildhall Walk… Southsea Common… The Pompey Chimes… The Pompey Sailor… Pompey Royal…

Any more ideas?

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