reports Marines could be handed over to Army control

The Ministry of Defence has looked at the possibility of moving the Royal Marines over to Army control, the Financial Times reports.

Ever since their formation in the eighteenth century the Royal Marines have been a part of the Royal Navy. Their early roles included manning guns onboard battleships and providing landing parties. During the Second World War the Corps evolved into the Commando role, and it is in this green beret role that the Marines have best known for in recent years. Rumours about the Royal Marines control are nothing new. According to Julian Thompson, who commanded the Commando Brigade in the Falklands, Field Marshal Bill Slim informed him that in the 1940’s immediately post-war the Navy offered the Marines to the Army in return for supporting a new programme of aircraft carriers.

Apparently the plans would involve the UK’s land forces being reduced from eight brigades down to five, and 3 Commando Brigade and 16 Air Assault Brigade being merged into a single expeditionary brigade. The prospect of the Marines and Paras serving together so closely is likely to arouse a degree of chest-beating, but it will probably also mean some reductions for both Regiments. Currently both have three Battalions (or in the case of the Marines, Commandos). It doesnt take a genius to work out that if two brigades go down to one, that means a reduction in units and manpower.

Despite efforts in recent years – Joint Helicopter Command, Joint Force Harrier, and the Special Forces Support Group for example – there is still a lot of duplication among the armed forces. The Royal Navy has its infantry in the Royal Marines, whilst somehow the RAF has managed to maintain its own RAF Regiment for years. Meanwhile both the Army and Royal Navy have their own aviation arms. ‘Joint-ery’ is often criticised as eroding the individual character of each of the services, but not only does cutting duplication save money, it also encourages services to work together as a matter of course.

There are bound to be implications that go beyond just cutting a few units. For example, if the Commando Brigade is cut down to become one half of a new expeditionary brigade, will there be any sense in retaining enough Landing ships to land two brigades? The Air Assault Brigade’s assets should be reasonably safe for at least a few years, as both the Apache and Chinook are being heavily used in Afghanistan. But after that?

There are bound to be more rumours like this in the coming months, not all of them true. But they are, however, an indication of how far-reaching this Defence Review is likely to be.

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19 Comments

Filed under Army, defence, Navy, News, politics, Royal Air Force, Royal Marines

19 responses to “reports Marines could be handed over to Army control

  1. This would be a disaster! What of the Bootneck’s specialist maritime roles such as the FPGRM boarding teams? Or the landing craft specialisation who not only run our landing craft, but form about 25% of the ship’s company aboard ALBION and BULWARK? What priority would be given to retaining and developing amphibious skills?

  2. James Daly

    Quite right about the fleet protection group and the assault squadrons. And all RN ships have a small number of booties on board too do they not? I suppose what you might see there is a rump of RM personnel being attached back to the Navy for those roles. It would mean a lot of experience lost though.

    I wonder if the RN have offered up the Royals as part of the horse-trading in order to get their carriers built? That would be quite bizarre, given the RN’s current sizeable amphibious assets.

  3. To quote someone with far more knowledge than me:

    “Thing is there would be smaller savings than people think. P Coy would have to expand to cover the loss of FPGRM capability, Landing Craft crews would need to be trained and the big one is someone will have to provide the specialist skills needed for amphibious operations. That is the killer one because they are hard to learn but easy to loose skills. The Corps have those skills and if the RM go Army we, the Navy, would struggle to keep them.

    The Army would control the budgets but more importantly the ability of those we would have to have access to. In the long run the RN would either have to grow the skill bases within (sort of ruins the savings measure as manpower is the costly bit) or accept a decline in amphibious operations capability (which seeing as that is one of the few things we are world leaders in would be stupid).

    Would the Army take on the equipment for amphibious ops as well? If not again the RN keeps a burden. People see the RM as 3 x Cdo units for dismounted combat but forget that it is also the entire C2 and Support functions that allow us the RN/RM to deliver a fighting force around the world able to fight and sustain themselves when dropped off ashore (I know elements of that statement need refinement but lets just go with it).”

    From the Navy Net/Rum Ration thread on the subject: http://www.navy-net.co.uk/Forums/viewtopic/t=28372/postdays=0/postorder=asc/start=0.html

    • James Daly

      An interesting take on things. One thing that sticks in my mind, is how amphibious operations were pioneered mainly under Combined Operations. The clue is in the name, going from sea to land, or from air to land for that matter, involves two services. Its wrong to try and hide from that fact.

  4. Very true – however, the bulk of the expertise is provided by the Navy (inc Marines). Traditionally amphibious operations where seen as extensions of River Crossings, and the lessons were learnt the hard way.

    Is it a land operation that just hapeens to start at sea, or is it an extension of naval operations in the littoral? It places huge deamands of naval forces for dealing with air, surface, submarine and missile threats, assymetric threats, mine clearence, reece, command and control, and that’s before the first man has stepped ashore….

  5. James Daly

    Of all the capabilities we should be keeping, amphib should be the cornerstone, IMO. Its the one thing we do that no-one else does as well as us, nor – apart from the US – does anyone else in the EU or NATO have any kind of comparable amphibious experience, units or assets. If we’re looking at what we can contribute to alliances, air cover should always be a given, with the number of carriers in Europe and the US. Thats why I still think if we had to have new carriers, we should have gone down the amphib-carriers route, a la USMC, rather than two hulking great whales.

  6. The thing is that the amphibious flat tops that the USMC based AV8B Harriers aboard are much larger than our current carriers, about twice the size I think. The original plan was for CVF to be around this size (40 000 tonnes or so) but as the requirements have developed, that has grown to the present size of 65 000 tonnes. That size will allows lots of helicopters to be embarked.

    To quote an old say: “air is cheap and steeel is free” – in many ways larger vessels are more cost effective.

  7. James Daly

    The sad thing is, I dont think theres any getting away from the point that our armed forces are going to get smaller, and somewhere along the lines famous units are going to disappear. But as long as theres a handle on it, rather than the policy mish-mash we saw over the past 10 or so years. Its all very well underfunding the forces on the one hand, but then writing extravagent foreign policy cheques with the other.

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