Monthly Archives: July 2012

Leaks and Rumours on impending Army Cuts

There have been a number of leaks and rumours recently regarding the impending cuts to the British Army. Naturally, with the Army faced with losing 20% of its manpower strength, the current structure of Regiments and Corps will be unsustainable with this smaller footing.

And with the British Army being as tribal as it is, there have been numerous articles, letters, meetings and the like lobbying to keep certain Regiments. No lobby group swings into action like an old-boys network when ‘the Regiment’ is under threat. This kind of layalty is very admirable, particularly when it fosters a closeness among serving soldiers, but it also makes decision making very uncomfortable, particularly when political considerations come into play.

An article on the BBC News website reported that a letter from the honorary Colonel of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers to the CGS had been leaked. Apparently draft plans appear to show the two Fusiliers Battalions being merged into one – obviously not a good move for any Regimental Colonel, the tribal elder. The CGS will probably have had letters from every Colonel of every Regiment no doubt. A further article in the Daily Telegraph reported that at least five infantry Battalions are to be cut, along with a third of the Royal Artillery and a third of the Royal Logistics Corps.

An article in the Guardian reported that a Battalion each of the Yorkshire Regiment and the Royal Regiment of Scotland would be cut. Under the leaked document the Army’s troops would be reformed into three categories – spearhead (namely the Royal Marines and Paras); adapatable forces to take over from the spearhead, but taking 18 months to train for the specific theatre; and force troops, ie support units such as artillery, etc. Mergers have also been proposed within the Royal Armoured Corps, with the Queens Royal Lancers merging with the 9th/12th Lancers, and the 1st and 2nd Royal Tank Regiments merging. The Parachute Regiment’s three Battalions will also be spared.

Finally, today’s Portsmouth News contained a report fearing for the future of the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment. The Tigers were only formed by a merger just over two decades ago, and as a two Battalion Regiment are vulnerable to either being cut and or merged. The News understands that there are proposals to merge the PWRR with the Royal Anglian Regiment and the Fusiliers to form an East of England Regiment. This would be the next step on from Mike Jackson’s Regimental reforms some years ago. Whilst it is sad that centures old traditions are being lost, the size of the Army and the recruiting patterns of todays Army do not support the old structure.

One would hope that the Government and the Ministry of Defence take into account recruiting patterns, capability and future developments when they are thinking about which Regiments to cut and which to merge, and not just quaking in the face of Alex Salmond’s predictable jibes. When we have to plug gaps in Scottish Regiments with Commonwealth volunteers, then it’s no wonder the downsizing is to be considered.

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Filed under Army, defence, News, politics

Walking D-Day by Paul Reed

Paul Reed has carved out something of a niche with his ‘Walking’ Battlefield Guides. His ‘Walking the Somme‘ in particular set the standard for Battlefield Guides, long before the explosion in Battlefield tourism. The interesting thing I find about Battlefield Guides is that I own so many of them, yet out of all the Battlefields out there I have only ever actually been to Arnhem! The thing is, they are actually useful for getting a grip on what happened, where and when. If you forget that you’re sat in living room, and if the book is well written and well illustrated, then you can still go some way to visualising what happened at the Battlefield in question. Paul has spent an awful lot of time around Battlefields in North West Europe, and it certainly shows in the manner in which he writes.

This is unlike most other Battlefield Guides on Normandy, in that it only deals with D-Day itself. No doubt if you are interested in visiting the Battlefield area in Normandy in general you might find this a bit anaemic, but I actually think its a very good choice. To do all of the D-Day beaches and all of the Normandy sites, in detail, would take you forever. However, doing the D-Day Beaches and the airborne areas might take you a nice couple of days, and would make much more sense into the bargain. And from what I have seen such a tour would take in some lovely scenery as a nice by product. There are plenty of museums and sites to see along the landing beaches too. Perhaps a Holt’s style map might make a useful addition, but there are plenty of places from where the tourist can obtain a good map nowadays. It has enough useful practical information without being overloaded – the beauty of the modern world is that anyone can go online and search for hotels, ferries etc, so there isn’t such a need to include them in what is first and foremost a history book.

I’ve written a fair bit about what happened on D-Day, unsurprisingly, for a Portsmouth military historian and somebody who has worked at the D-Day Museum in Southsea. I found Paul’s book very illuminating – in particular, I enjoyed the section on Sword Beach near Ouistreham, where I was unable to get off my ferry a month or so ago! I also enjoyed reading about the 1st Hampshires at Hamel in the first wave on D-Day. I’ve written about them in my own book, but reading their story here certainly added to my understanding of what happened in those fateful hours on 6 June 1944. Obviously elements such as Pegasus Bridge and Merville have been raked over so much that it is difficult to write much new about them. It’s also got some cracking illustrations, including many that I haven’t seen before. In common with many battles, we are used to seeing the same old photographs of D-Day again and again, so it’s nice to see some that I suspect have never been published before.

It’s quite hard to write about such a well-known event as D-Day in a fresh way, in what is a very crowded market, and especially when it comes to the battlefield guide. But Paul Reed has done a very good job indeed here. My acid test for any battlefield guide is whether it makes me feel like I have been there, when I haven’t. This one sure does. I don’t know how Paul finds time to fit it all in!

Walking D-Day is published by Pen and Sword

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Filed under Book of the Week, d-day, World War Two

Flying Among Heroes by Norman Franks and Simon Muggleton

With the Bomber Command Memorial in London only having been unveiled a couple of days ago, I guess it is pretty fitting to be reviewing the story of a Second World War Bomber pilot. I’ve always been in awe of the job that these very brave young men did, and it’s always interesting to hear of their stories.

This book is the story of a Second World War RAF aviator, Squadron Leader Tom Cooke DFC AFC DFM AE. Joining the RAF as an 18 year old in 1939, he graduated to flying bombers. Cooke won the DFM as a Sergeant Pilot flying Whitlet Bombers, and was later commissioned as an officer. He later served tours flying Wellington’s and Stirlings. He was awarded the DFC and AFC. In between tours with Bomber Command Squadrons he also served as an instructor in Operational Conversion Units, teaching new pilots. In this capacity he took part in the famous thousand Bomber raids on Cologne and Essen, when Bomber Harris combed out the OCU’s in order to put up as many Bombers as possible.

He returned to operations flying Halifax Bombers, but this time in a slightly unorthdox manners – namely, Special Duties, dropping special agents behind the lines in occupied Europe. On his twelfth mission he was shot down over France, and managed to evade his way back over the Pyrenees, and home to Britain via Gibraltar. Having been in contact with the French Resistance he was not allowed to fly operationally over Europe again, as he knew too much about vulnerable contacts in occupied territory. Instead, after ‘escape leave’ he was transferred to South East Asia and Burma. After leaving the RAF in 1946 he re-enlisted, finally reaching the rank of Squadron Leader, and after finally leaving the service worked as a commerical airline pilot.

It’s quite possible to do a lot of research piecing together the career of RAF Bomber Crew. If the man’s log book survives then that’s a real bonus. Also, Squadron records state the aircraft that flew on specific missions, who exactly was on board, what bomb load they carried, when they took off and landed, and a brief report of their experiences. Some crewmembers, in particular gunners, filled out air combat reports when they encountered enemy fighters.

In an interesting way, this book is quite similar to some of the research I have done on Portsmouth RAF Bomber Crew, using the same sources. Only here, Franks and Muggleton were able to call on some oral history interviews in the Imperial War Museum, with not only Cooke but also some of his crew. My one criticism would be that the text does not perhaps flow as well as it could. The authors have chosen to include stories about other men, aircraft and raids, presumably to add context. Whilst these additions do this, they do have the side effect of breaking up the narrative of Cooke’s story. I would probably rather have read Cooke’s story, as there are plenty of good books on the Bomber Offensive in general. None the less, it is still very much an interesting and gripping read.

Flying Among Heroes is published by The History Press

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Filed under Bombing, Book of the Week, Royal Air Force, World War Two