Category Archives: Iraq

Kut 1916: Courage and Failure in Iraq by Patrick Crowley

Think of British military disasters: Galipoli, Singapore, Arnhem. Men such as Percival and Browning have been dammed for evermore But one epic failure that receives very little attention is that of Kut. Recent years have seen Kut fade into obscurity, especially compared to Galipoli – another disastrous Turkish expedition. Here Patrick Crowley, a serving British Army Officer, aims to redress the balance.

Britain launched a campaign to occupy Mesopotamia – modern day Iraq – early in the First World War, in an attempt to occupy the stratgically important oilfields around Basra. Given the growing importance of motor vehicles and oil fuelled warships, it was also another route to undermining the Ottoman Turk Empire, an ally of Germany. The British Government was also following a policy of ‘knocking away the props’, feeling that by eliminating Turkey from the war deadlock on the western front would be broken.

Initially the aim was simply to occupy southern Iraq. But overconfidence, underestimation of the enemy and naive mission creep led to the force attempting a march on Baghdad. After it became clear that Baghdad was not immediately reachable, the overall commander, General Nixon, ordered Major-General Townshend, Commanding the 6th Indian Division, to hold out at Kut. Apparently Nixon was confident in his ability to relieve Kut, and Townshend saw no reason to demur. Quite why it was felt important to hold Kut no-one seems to have pondered.

The relief force has serious problems reaching Kut – once again, they underestimated the ability of their Turkish opponents. There were also serious problems with transport, with only the River Tigris available. Eventually the garrison at Kut ran out of food, giving Townshend no option but to surrender in April 1916. By the end men were resorting to eating dogs, horseflesh and starlings. 11,800 British soldiers, many of them Indian, became prisoners.

There are serious questions asked about Townshend’s conduct after his surrender. Spirited off to a relatively luxurious existence, his soldiers suffered untold horrors. Already in a poor state after months of siege privations, they were beaten on their march into captivity, given poor rations and little or no medical treatment. Yet Townshend appears not to have been concerned about their safety. The treatment of Allied Prisoners by the Turks is clearly one of the most overlooked atrocities in twentieth century warfare – some harrowing stories of suffering emerge. Of the men who surrendered at Kut, 4,250 died in captivity.

So what went wrong at Kut? Firstly, the siege should not have took place in the first place – the force should have withdrawn to Basra. Secondly, the relief force was not strong enough to reach Kut. And at all stages of the campaign senior officers grossly underestimated their opponentss – even though evidence from Galipoli should have suggested that the Turk soldier was no pushover. Another endemic failure seems to have been an inability and unwillingness to organise logistics properly. Finally, in his handling of the surrender, Townshend was guilty of failing in his duty to his men. Overall, it seems that a lot of incompetence went into what transpired at Kut.

This book by Patrick Crowley is an admirable and professional attempt to analyse the campaign, and the reasons for its failure. It is very well researched, and blends strategy with personal histories very well. Unlike a lot of narrative military histories, this book has a very ‘military’ feel, with its strong resonance with lessons learnt, and the evocation of more recent British campaigns in Iraq. In 1916 the 1st/4th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment was fighting in Iraq, while in 2004 their successor Regiment, the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, fought a siege like action in nearby Amara. The I am a big fan of this relevant style of history, that will be useful to military personnel and interesting to historians alike.

Kut 1916: Courage and Failure in Iraq by Patrick Crowley is published by The History Press

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Filed under Army, Book of the Week, Iraq, Uncategorized, World War One

Learning lessons in counter-insurgency

Browsing on the RUSI’s website I found this very ineresting article by Huw Bennett, entitled ‘The reluctant pupil? Britain’s army and learning in counter-insurgency. It is extremely relevant to the current conflict in Afghanistan, and I think it is worth summarising here with my own thoughts.

Often the failures of armed forces, especially in counter-insurgecy campaigns, are blamed on the inability of the miltary to learn and absorb the lessons from past conflicts. Looking at the example of past wars should demonstrate that our forces and commanders need to develop an ability to react flexibly to the unique nature of each campaign. Learning is crucial in military command and leadership. Particularly when we are all too aware that the cost of lessons not learnt is counted in lives lost. This is one sphere where military history can have a real impact on doctrine.

Post 1945 the British Army found itself involved in one counter-insurgency campaign after another, notably in Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus, Northern Ireland, and most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. All of these examples are hallmarked by initial failings, before classic doctrine comes into play and varying degrees of success were achieved. Isnt it ironic that the British Army’s experience in the second half of the Twentieth Century was spent overwhelmingly in counter-insurgency, yet looking back we get the feeling that operations such as Northern Ireland were an unpleasant necessary, while the Army would rather have been fighting a real war?

History suggests that rather than being a new conflict out on its own, the current war in Afghanistan is in strong continuity with other counter-insurgency campaigns, albeit with its own unique local nature. It has been lumped under the banner of the war on terror, but that is down to US-political factors. The UK as fighting terror long before 9/11. There are strong lessons that shine through all campaigns. Hearts and minds matter, and civil-military co-operation is important. If you are going to ‘do’ nation breaking, then you have to do nation building. There will be no victory parade like in ‘real’ wars. Excessive use of force causes more problems than it solves. The objective is to make the enemy’s objective impossible, and to remove the factors that allow then to exist and operate.

But why is it that military culture struggles to learn these lessons? Does change – in particuar with looming cuts and restructuring – need to embraced rather than shyed away from? Certainly, deeply held beliefs and cultures, such as those found in an organisation like the Army, shape military beaviour and stifle abstract thinking and innovation. All too often a convenient orthodoxy reigns, and all thinking outside of it is frowned upon. Although there is also a strong culture of pragmatism and ‘muddling through’, is it the case that if we were pay more attention to history, then we might not have to? After all, how come the US military got their approach to Iraq so badly wrong, when there were ample case studies from their time in Iraq and the British experience in Northern Ireland?

Bennett’s conclusion is most interesting:

Historical campaigns should be studied as an exercise in analytical thinking for commanders, rather than being expected to serve up easily transferable generic lessons. Failure at a counter-insurgency campaign’s start is structurally inevitable, and is thus no cause for demoralisation. The trick is to recover, and learn about a new situation, fast.

Recovering and then learning quickly is likely to become a common theme in a time of cuts and overstretch. It will be impossible for the armed forces to be all things to all people all of the time, expecting the unexpected is likely to become the norm in an uncertain world. In the twenty-first century, has the unconventional become the new conventional?

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Fierce debate over UK Defence spending

The Prime Minister had denied that he ‘guillotined’ the Defence budget while British forces were fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. An ex-MOD civil servant had earlier made the claim while giving evidence at the Iraq Inquiry.

Conservative Leader David Cameron said: “Isn’t it becoming clear from the Chilcot inquiry that the government in general, and you in particular, made a series of bad decisions that meant our armed forces were not equipped properly when they were sent into harm’s way?”

Former Ministry of Defence permanent secretary Sir Kevin Tebbit called the £1bn cut “arbitrary”, and that “I think it’s fair to say that the Treasury as a whole didn’t want us to get as much as we got.” It would seem increasingly that the Government was willing to make huge commitments, but not to fund the armed forces to carry them out.

It is also broadly accepted that Gordon Brown, as Chancellor, had more control over public spending than any of his predecessors. Not only was he able to control spending, but Government policy by default. Gordon Brown’s denials come after a stream of witnesses at the Iraq Inquiry have stated that preparation for the war was severely hampered and inadequate.

It would not be in the Prime ministers interests to admit that he did not fund the armed forces properly: politicians are rarely blessed with honesty over such matters. But why ignore the clear findings of an Inquiry, that he ordered, before it has even finished?

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Filed under Afghanistan, debate, defence, Iraq, News, politics

Is criticism of servicemen wrong?

There is an interesting article on the BBC News website’s Magazine series discussing whether it is acceptable to criticise soldiers. This comes after an Islamist Group planned to protest in Wootton Bassett, and a group of Islamic extremists were convicted of offending public morals after protesting at the homecoming of the Royal Anglian Regiment from Afghanistan.

Many people question the legitimacy of the war in Iraq. This debate falls on a number of levels: whether and when it is acceptable to intervene in another state, what the motivations for that might be, and whether those motivations are justified. Clearly in hindsight the justifications for the war in Iraq – at least those that were advanced publicly – proved to be false. Iraq is probably the most divisive issue in civil-military relations in recent years. The war in Afghanistan is more clear, although still controversial.

The armed forces are the servants of the Government, who in turn are elected by us, the general public. The armed forces are given their orders by the Government of the day, and then down their chain of command. Clearly it would be very dangerous indeed for servicemen to take lightly the refusing orders that they disagree with: this would undermine authority and command. But the Nuremberg war trials established the precedent that ‘I was only following orders’ is not sufficient defence against allegations of wrongdoing. But, by and large, the major decisions about going to war are taken by the Government. If anyone deserves criticism for going to war, it is the Politicians. And the Iraq war has eroded public confidence in the ability of the Government to use our armed forces properly.

The public is – quite rightly – reluctant to criticise servicemen. In particular, people are hopefully wise to the fact that a Private on the ground in Afghanistan is not to blame for the UK being at war and has no leverage over higher strategy. You do not have to agree with the war to wish our troops well and hope that they come home safely. But there are some cases where I believe criticism is justified – in the cases of strategy, for example. This has historical parallels. For many years it was taboo to criticise a senior General, no matter how incompetent they may have been. But if there is overwhelming evidence that something or somebody was wrong, surely it is only right to make that case, for the sake of learning lessons? It is very damaging for a democratic society to have subjects that are off-limits to discussion and debate.

But there is a big difference between arguments made on sound principles, with reasoning and supported by evidence. And there is nothing sound or reasonable about any of the Islamic extremist groups that we have seen recently. To call British soldiers ‘babykillers’, or ‘rapists’ without a shred of evidence is wrong in the extreme. And talking about ‘our lands’ while also calling for Sharia law in the UK is not protest, it is grossly provocative and dangerous. There are broader themes here, in that religion – any religion – is not evidence, it is only opinion. It is a very personal thing, and in that sense should not be imposed on anyone else. If you are aware that your opinion may offend the vast majority of people, and that there is no basis for it, you are entitled to it – but keep it to yourself.

Proection for soldiers should not trump freedom of speech, but at the same time ill-founded and dishonest opinions should not be allowed to masquerade as well-reasoned criticism and debate.

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Iraq Inquiry: my opinions so far…

Ive been closely following the progress of the Chilcott Inquiry into the events leading up to and during the Iraq War, until British troops left Iraq last year.

The composition of the Inquiry is interesting. Sir John Chilcott is a former senior Civil Servant. Perhaps not a heavyweight by any means, but in my opinion he has chaired it competently so far. There are two military Historians on the panel: Sir Lawrence Freedman, the official Historian of the Falklands War, and Sir Martin Gilbert, Winston Churchill’s official biographer. I am glad that there are historians on the panel, but I wish they were not what you might call ‘establishment’ historians. Somebody like Richard Holmes, David Starkey or Simon Schama might have been a lot more probing. An experienced Barrister would have been wise too, to advise on legal issues.

So far I think the evidence given by the military figures has been very insightful. On the whole, it appears that given the UK’s subservient role in the invasion the military side of things was handled very well. Things were certainly not helped by the US Department of Defences’ lack of planning for the post-war phase – the British Army has huge experience of counter-insurgency, why was this not heeded?

In terms of the politics, however, nothing has changed my mind that there was some serious dishonesty going on. Even IF – and it is a big if – the intelligence led Tony Blair to believe the 45 minute caveat, there was still a lot of creative industry being applied in the so-called ‘dodgy dossier’. Alistair Campbell’s appearance today says much: even in front of an inquiry, seeking the truth, his stance is to put on an act, and to lie, spin and slither away. Maybe expecting the truth from Campbell is too much: the man is, after all, a professional liar. The ironic thing is that his demeanour at the inquiry showed exactly what was wrong with British politics at the time: an unelected official, expert at manipulating the truth, was pulling the strings.

The evidence given by commanders about the ineffectiveness of the Department for International Development has been telling. I have long thought that the UK’s approach to overseas aid is a mess: we are happy to hand over millions to countries who do not need it, without strings attached, yet when it comes to a country like Iraq, which desparately needed our help and quickly, DFID stood back idley. Quick and efficient aid would have helped prevent the slide towards insurrection and disorder.

On the whole, I get the impression that the Politics side of things was a monumental cock-up. The military side of things, once we disregard the politics, was handled rather well from a UK point of view. The panel have been more probing and incisive than we might have expected, and from their line of questioning on Campbell, Tony Blair can expect an uncomfortable time.

But it is one thing holding an inquiry, it is quite another to actually take notice of it and absorb its lessons. Will the mistakes and succeses be taken into account with future Government policy? Will the US have a similar inquiry, or take notice of the findings of the Chilcott inquiry?

If you make mistakes and ignore them, then they’re just gonna keep happening again. And in this case, mistakes mean lives lost.

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The making of the British Army – Allan Mallinson

The Making of the British Army - Allan Mallinson

The Making of the British Army - Allan Mallinson

The British Army, which can traces an almost unbroken lineage back to the days of Cromwell, often appears to outsiders as a curious institution. Why is the Navy the ROYAL Navy, and the Air Force the ROYAL Air Force? The answer is inherent in the Army’s culture – the Regiment is the primary loyalty in the Army, and the Army has for hundreds of years evolved to become a confederation of regimental tribes.

Allan Mallinson’s book is not a quick read. But then, the development of the British Army has not been a quick process. Several regiments in the modern Army can trace their lineage back to Cromwell’s New Model Army.

The story of the British Army is one of hard-won military experience. Of campaigns on all continents, in defence of Empire and against tyranny. Yet British culture has almost always placed the Royal Navy in the ascendancy. As an island nation the Navy defends us. With a strong Navy, the need for an Army is minimal, or so naval advocates have argued time and time again. The Army is a bullet, to be fired by the Navy.

So for many years the Army found itself fighting small, colonial wars around the globe, punctuated by rare forays onto the European mainland. But for the most part, at least until the twentieth century, the British Army was not a major factor in British defence planning.

What stands out most of all, is that often the British Army has managed to exert an influence out of all proportion to its size. Why? For one, apart from during and immediately after the two world wars, it has overwhelmingly been a volunteer force. Smaller than most continental Armies, never the less this small, volunteer ethos has continually led to the British Army having a stronger discipline, better training and professionalism. Over time, particular in the past 50 years, the Army has come to have a stronger identity, and a stronger grip over its constituent parts.

The British Army is also one in which people and events have always had an impact way beyond their time. Leaders such as Marlborough and Wellington still influence young army officers today. In particular, valiants stands at Waterloo, Rorkes Drift and Arnhem have a powerful motivational effect on officers and men alike. As Mallinson so aptly tells us, at Goose Green in the Falklands, one 2 Para officer told his men two simple words: ‘remember Arnhem’.

The Army is undergoing a period of change once more: it is engaged in a savage fight against a formidable foe in Helmand province. This is taking place against a background of continual defence cuts and reforms, with many famous old names disappearing as local regiments become increasingly regional in make-up. This might dilute local loyalties, but still I suspect it is easier to feel loyalty to a name than a number. Perhaps for the British Army more than any other, heritage makes it what it is. From the shining examples of victories – and defeats – to the uniforms, names, museums, quirky traditions and pomp and pageantry, history oozes out of every pore.

To try to understand the culture of the British Army, especially from the point of view of someone looking in from the outside, is no easy task. It was once said that an Army should be a mirror of the society that it comes from, but it is much more complicated than that. To explain the history of the British Army by simply charting battles and campaigns is not enough. This book by Allan Mallinson, although by no means an academic text, brings a complex story up to date. Although he is himself an ex serving soldier, his writing is refreshingly free of the ‘old boys’ style where old officers are respected regardless of their achievements – or lack of – and where officers live in the past, with no eye on the future.

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Filed under Army, Book of the Week, cold war, Falklands War, Iraq, Korean War, Napoleonic War, World War One, World War Two

Book Review – latest releases from Osprey Books

An earlier book in the Osprey Campaign series

An earlier book in the Osprey Campaign series

Osprey have been publishing books in the field of military history for many years. I have long been a fan of their well-presented and accessible style, complete with smart looking maps and fantastic artwork. I have made a lot of use of them over the years, especially their books on Operation Market Garden and Fairmile Motor Torpedo Boats.

These three interesting looking books landed through my letterbox over the weekend, so here are my impressions of them!

The Six Day War 1967: Sinai

This volume comes as part of Osprey’s Campaign series, which now numbers over 200 publications. They are well regarded as among the best introductions to any particular battle of campaign in history.

The 1967 Arab-Israeli War was part of the long running dispute that took place in the Middle East in the second half of the twentieth century, which is arguably still smouldering today. Since its inception Israel had long lived under the threat of annihilation. Under pressure in 1967, Israel launched a devastating pre-emptive strike on its enemy Egypt, eventually reaching the Suez Canal in just five days.

This book charts the story of this short but sharp war, in particular one of the most daring and successful operations in modern military history. As with all Osprey books it contains some crisp and accurate maps, well researched original photographs and some incredibly detailed artwork of aircraft, armoured vehicles and battlefield scenes. The text itself looks at the deep political reasons behind the war, and also the complex internal politics of the Israeli state. Along with chronologies and orders of battle, this strikes a helpful balance between detail and accessibility, which in my experience is the hallmark of the Campaign series. Whilst they may not have the detail and referencing of a full academic work, if you know absolutely nothing about the 1967 war – much like myself before picking this up – then you certainly would after putting it down.

M1 Abrams vs. T-72 Ural: Operation Desert Storm 1991

This account, part of Osprey’s Duel series, focuses more on the machines that were pitted against each other, and the men who fought in them.

The Cold War often seen clashes between American and Soviet built tanks, but curiously, never directly between those two countries. Never the less, commentators and intelligence analysts took a close interest in how each sides weaponry compared.

The last armoured clash between American and Soviet produced armour took place in Iraq in 1991, during the first Gulf War. The US M1A1 Abrams battle tank, which made up the bulk of the coalition armour, was barely two years old, and certainly one of the worlds most advanced tanks. The Iraqi T-72 was built by Soviet Russia. Compared to the Abrams it fielded second-rate sights and ammunition, as well as inferior training of its crews. As such the T-72 were never going to be a match for the Abrams, as this book argues. Indeed, the first Gulf-War saw some of the most one-sided armoured fighting in history.

Tech-heads, and fans of vehicles, armour and weaponry will love this book. It delves deep into the development and design of the respective tanks, full of technical drawings, close up photographs and specifications. Crucially, however, it also looks at the human aspect, especially the training of the men who crewed the T-72 and Abrams. Without this, there is a risk that it might be something of a Haynes Manual – very interesting but narrow, only nuts and bolts. Thankfully, by combining the men and materiel, wet get a full picture. Too often the human and machine elements are separated.

Special Operations Forces in Iraq

Military History should never be confined to ‘history’, and this book brings us right up to date with a reminder that servicemen are fighting around the world right as we speak. Some of them of the ‘talking trees’ variety.

Anything to do with Special Forces is a big seller. Look at the explosion of interest in the SAS after the Iranian embassy in 1981 and after the Gulf War. And this book from the Elite series does not disappoint. Looking at the initial deployments and engagements during the first phase of the Iraq War in 2003, through to the insurgency period, the hunt for Ba’ath party officials, Al Qaeda operatives and militiamen. It looks at battles around the port of Um Qassar, in the Kurdish mountains of the North, and the urban warfare in Baghdad and Basra. Refreshingly, it doesn’t just focus on US Special Forces, as many books tend to.

One of the fascinating things about Special Forces is in their name – the special nature of their weapons, equipment and tactics. This book more than delivers, with some cracking illustrations of US, British, Australian and Polish Special Forces. Each illustration has a detailed description. If you were looking to make military models, something like this would be right up your street.

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Victoria Cross Heroes – Flight Sergeant Norman Jackson

The Victoria Cross is the highest award for Gallantry that any British or Commonwealth Serviceman or woman can receive. It is always awarded first at any ceremony, and always the first medal worn. And with apologies to the Medal of Honour and the Iron Cross, there really is something special about that crimson ribbon and dark metal pattee cross. It has a history and a mystique all of its own. Go to a Museum where they have VC’s on show, and gaze through the gleaming glass at those hallowed medals, and try and argue that they are ‘just a lump of metal’.

Created in the Crimean War to recognise brave and heroic acts by all sailors, soldiers – and later airmen – regardless of class, rank or creed, in recent years it has become harder and harder to earn. This is shown by how many of them are awarded Posthumously, after the recipient has died in action. Of the two awarded for the Falklands War, both Sergeant Ian McKay and Lieutenant-Colonel H Jones were killed in Action. Corporal Bryan Budd was also killed winning his VC in Afghanistan. Only Private Johnson Beharry, in Iraq, has survived to receive his award in person in recent conflicts. And even then, he suffered terrible brain damage in the process. There are also countless stories of men being nominated for VC’s, but in the long process they were awarded a more minor medal.

It has occured to me more and more that although we are fully aware of some of the more famous VC winners – Guy Gibson, Leonard Cheshire, and of course the famous action at Rorkes Drift. But what of the hundreds of other recipients who did amazing things, but that we dont hear about?

So, starting now I’m going to take a periodic delve into the London Gazette’s records of Victoria Cross Citations, and look at some unsung holders of the Victoria Cross. This week we look at Flight Sergeant Norman Jackson.

Flight Sergeant Norman Jackson was the flight engineer in a Lancaster detailed to attack Schweinfurt on the night of 26th April, 1944. Suddenly it was attacked by a fighter at about 20,000 feet. A fire started near a petrol tank on the upper surface of the starboard wing, between the fuselage and the inner engine. Sergeant Jackson received shell splinters in the right leg and shoulder. Recovering himself, he remarked that he could deal with the fire on the wing and obtained his captain’s permission to try to put out the flames. With a fire extinguisher and parachute, he started to climb out of the cockpit and back along the top of the fuselage to the starboard wing. Before he could leave the fuselage his parachute pack opened and the whole canopy and rigging lines spilled into the cockpit. Undeterred, Sergeant Jackson continued. The pilot, bomb aimer and navigator gathered the parachute together and held on to the rigging lines, paying them out as the airman crawled aft. Eventually he slipped and, falling from the fuselage to the starboard wing, grasped an air intake on the leading edge of the wing. He succeeded in clinging on but lost the extinguisher, which was blown away. By this time, the fire had spread rapidly and Sergeant Jackson was involved. His face, hands and clothing were severely burnt. Unable to retain his hold he was swept through the flames and over the trailing edge of the wing, dragging his parachute behind. When last seen it was only partly inflated and was burning in a number of places. Realising that the fire could not be controlled, the captain gave the order to abandon aircraft. Four of the remaining members of the crew landed safely. The captain and rear gunner died. Sergeant Jackson was unable to control his descent and landed heavily. He sustained a broken ankle, his right eye was closed through burns and his hands were useless. This airman’s attempt to extinguish the fire and save the aircraft and crew from falling into enemy hands was an act of outstanding gallantry. To venture outside, when travelling at 200 miles an hour, at a great height and in intense cold, was an almost incredible feat.

Flight Sergeant Norman Jackson VC

Flight Sergeant Norman Jackson VC

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Filed under Afghanistan, Falklands War, Iraq, Museums, Remembrance, Royal Air Force, World War Two

The Sun Military Awards 2009

The Millies Awards

The Millies Awards

Following last year’s highly successful event, the second Sun Military Awards, also known as the Millies, are being launched by The Sun. Nominations will be invited from the Armed Forces and the general public until 14 September 2009.

Last years awards were judged by a panel consisting of Sir Peter Squires, Lord West, Prince Charles, Dame Kelly Holmes, Sir Mike Jackson, Ross Kemp, Martin Johnson, Lawrence Dallaglio, Andy McNab, Jeremy Clarkson, John Terry and Lord Guthrie.

These awards are a high profile and, even more importantly, down to earth way to recognise the excellence and calibre of our Armed Forces and servicemen and women. The ceremony will be televised in December.

There are awards in the following areas:

1. Overcoming Adversity
2. Most Outstanding Sailor or Marine
3. Most Outstanding Soldier
4. Most Outstanding Airman
5. Best Reservist
6. Support to the Armed Forces
7. Life Saver Award
8. True Grit: Home
9. True Grit: Overseas
10. Best Unit
11. Judges’ Award for Special Recognition

To make a nomination click below.

The Millies

LCpl Tom Neathway celebrates 2 Paras Best Unit award in the 2008 Millies awards

LCpl Tom Neathway celebrates 2 Paras Best Unit award in the 2008 Millies awards

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This week on TV – 6 Sept

Heres this weeks highlights of all things historical on the Box!

On Sunday on Channel 4 Atlantic Convoys – The War at Sea explores how Allied Convoys used cutting-edge technology to fight back against German U-Boats (Channel 4, 1900).

On Monday we’ve got quite a few interesting programmes. Land Girls follows the lives of young women who joined the Land Army at the start of WW2. Continues at the same time all week. (BBC1, 1715) .

Also on Monday Dispatches – Battle Scarred looks at the lives of four soldiers who have been left with serious psychiatric problems following service in Iraq and Afghanistan (Channel 4, 2000).

Finally on Monday, Warship follows Royal Marines on exercise in Malaysia, then competing in a field-gun run onboard HMS Bulwark (Five, 2100).

On Wednesday we see that the credit crunch is nothing new, in 1929 – the Great Crash. In the Wall Street crash shares plummeted dramatically, causing the loss of $25bn of personal wealth and untold suffering across the world (BBC2, 1900).

On Five Building the Ultimate – the History of artillery (Five, 1930) is followed by World War One in Colour. Lord Kitcheners famous call up inspires millions of Britons to volunteer. (Five, 2000).

On Friday in this weeks installment of The Tudors Cromwell arranged for Henry VIII to marry Ann of Cleves (BBC2, 2100).

And finally on Saturday BBC2 are showing an episode of Dads Army. Not sure which episode, but they’re all classic (BBC2, 1900).

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Book of the week #6 – Sniper One by Sgt Dan Mills

Sniper One - Sgt Dan Mills

Sniper One - Sgt Dan Mills

This weeks book of the week is a real gem. Not only is it a real thrill of a read, it is possibly one of the most important books written about the British Army.

Why? well, as we all know, whenever there is a crisis anywhere in the world, we call on the Paras, the Marines, and the SAS.  The rest of the Army are just cannon fodder, of course.  Dan Mills even refers to this head on, and suggests how damaging it is to morale to the infantryman to think that they are somehow sub-standard. Thankfully, this book succesfully blows apart this myth.

After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and after the Marines and Paras had gone home, the rest of the Army were taking turns on duty in Iraq. The Princess of Wales Royal Regiment were deployed for a 6 month tour of duty in Al Amarah, north of Basra – one of Iraq’s most lawless provinces. So peaceful was it expected to be, that they werent issued with grenades, and they even left their mortars at home. This is the story of the Battalions Sniper Platoon.

Any expectations of a quiet tour were soon dispelled, most of their 6 month deployment was spent fighting with Iraqi Militiamen loyal to Moqtada al Sadr. The long battle they fought has come to be known as the Siege of Cimic House. It was during this period that Johnson Beharry won his VC. Mills describes every bullet, every aspect of modern warfare.

Mills writes with a dynamism that is gripping, yet has none of the bombast or glorification of Andy McNab or Chris Ryan. Refreshing in his honesty, that he talks about pornography and masturbation all helps you to believe that these are normal men, not the virtual superheroes that front-line soldiers are made out to be. The Tigers recruit from Portsmouth, my home town, and you can almost see people you know in the characters in Mills’ Patoon.

This is a very important book. One, because it focusses on a rather less glamorous Regiment, and secondly because of its realism and its no-nonsense style or writing, it will be invaluable to Historians for hundreds of years. This is a more honest, and more important, book than Bravo Two Zero.

Click here to buy Sniper One: The Blistering True Story of a British Battle Group Under Siege

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