Tag Archives: richard dannatt

Review of the year 2010

Well what a difference a year makes! We started 2010 with a Labour Government, a Royal Navy with aircraft carriers and harriers, Pompey were (just) in the Pemieriship, this blog was getting 2,000 hits a month, and I was about as single as those things that appear in the top 40!!!

In military terms the biggest story has been the brutal cuts of the Strategic Defence and Security Review. Put bluntly, the Army did OK thanks to the prominence of Afghanistan and the lobbying of people such as Richard Dannatt, the RAF did its usual slick string-pulling exercise to keep its Ferraris going, and the Navy got hammered. On a brighter note Navy Days in Portsmouth was a real highlight – in hindsight ‘enjoy it while you can’ might have been an apt slogan for the event.

In the general election people voted ‘for change’, without thinking that change can also take you backwards as well as forwards. Sadly over the next 12 months many people who currently have jobs may find themselves with a lot more time on their hands.

On a personal level, this blog has gone from strength to strength – only the other day we received our 80,000th visitor since we began back in July 2009. On 11 November – Remembrance Day, fittingly – we had our highest ever number of visitors, 439 in one day. A big thank you to everyone who has visited, and particularly those of you who have stuck around and contributed.

Away from the blog, I enjoyed giving four talks on ‘what my family did during the war’. I am in the advanced stages of talks with a publisher to get ‘Portsmouth’s Second World War Heroes’ published. Most of the research is done, and I’m now in the process of writing it up. If all goes to plan, hopefully it will materialise sometime late in 2011.

And now, time for a few awards…

Best WW2 Book I have read this year

Danger UXB by James Owen… honourable mentions for Mother Country by Stephen Bourne; The Battle for Burma by Roy Conyers Nesbit; UXB Malta by S.A.M. Hudson

Best WW1 Book I have read this year

Mud Blood and Bullets by Edward Rowbotham… honourable mentions for The Great Western Railway in the First World War by Sandra Gittins and Kut: Courage and Failure in Iraq 1916 by Patrick Crowley.

Best ‘other’ History book I have read this year

A Long Long War by Ken Wharton… honourable mentions for Bloody Belfast by Ken Wharton and Crimson Snow by Jules Stewart

Best Fiction I have read this year

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks… honourable mentions for New York by Edward Rutherfurd and All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.

… and finally, I would like to thank you all for your support and encouragement, and I hope you all have a great 2011.

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Leading from the front by General Sir Richard Dannatt

Richard Dannatt has probably been Britain’s most controversial General since the end of the Second World War. Not afraid to stand up for what he thought was right, he received the support of his men and officers, but at the same time became the scourge of the Brown Government. Not only for his public criticism of Government defence policy, but also for agreeing to advise the Conservative Party whilst he was still technically on the Army payroll.

Dannatt joined the Army in the early 70’s, becoming a subaltern in the Green Howards, a famous Yorkshire Regiment. The early 1970’s were a busy time for the army, with heavy commitments in Northern Ireland. Dannatt served several stints in the province, winning the Military Cross – something which he almost breezes over. Remarkably, Dannatt also suffered a major stroke in his mid 20’s. And even more remarkably, he managed to make a full recovery and serve on to have a full army career afterwards. A picture emerges of somebody who was no doubt a very brave man, with plenty of resolve. Dannatt also served as a senior commander in both Bosnia and Kosovo. All three operations, which involved fighting in and around people and dealing with security and reconstruction, gave a strong understanding of the issues in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Interestingly, Dannatt also gained a Bachelors Degree in Economic History – an interesting subject for an army officer to study. This obviously gave him a better understanding of budgets than most Generals ever manage to obtain! He also served in the Ministry of Defence several times, which ensured that he had a good understanding of how the Whitehall machine worked when he reached the top of the tree – again, not something many Generals master. This probably explains his clever use of media interviews to get his point across, rather than constantly banging ones head against the Whitehall ‘wall’.

But perhaps his greatest achievement was his work to restore the Military Covenant – the unwritten agreement of support between the armed forces, the Government and society. Within several years, homecoming parades for returning troops are packed. Charities such as Help for Heroes are raising millions for troops welfare. You cannot help but feel that the armed forces matter more to people in Britain more than they have done for a very long time, and this is a real and lasting achievement.

It was undoubtedly a mistake to agree to advise the Conservative Party, particularly as when asked Dannatt was still a paid member of the British Army, even though he had stood down as Chief of the General Staff. Dannatt explains that he had hoped to keep the announcement secret until he had left the Army, but that it seems to have been leaked for mischievous political reasons. Dannatt then changed his mind, deciding not to join the Conservative ranks as a Defence minister. As he quite rightly states, it would have undermined the serving Defence Chiefs to have one of their retired counterparts undermining them from a tangent. It was a rare naive moment for somebody who strikes me as a very astute man. The political management of Defence is in something of a strange situation – we have a scenario where politicians are appointed to head a department, usually with no experience of defence at all – and who are nominally in charge or ordering around older, senior commanders who have 30 years of experience behind them, and have fought and led in wars. It is a strange set-up indeed, and I cannot help but think that the new National Security Council fudges the issue even more.

The Memoirs of Dannatt’s predecessor, General Sir Mike Jackson, gave the impression of an officer who – although no fool – was definitely one of the lads. Dannatt strikes me as someone who, although keen to stand up for his men, is more of a thinker. This is shown by the last chapter, which is really Dannatt thinking about loud about what he calls ‘the future’, and where we need our armed forces to be to face threats that might – or might not – transpire. He quotes from General Sir Rupert Smith‘s utility of force, going further to suggest that modern wars will not be just amongst the people, but also about the people. And if we think about it, this is exactly what has been happening since the end of the Second World War. Yet still people hanker after a Cold War style armoured clash, the kind of war they would like rather than the kind of war we are faced with in the real world. The Army spent years doing this sat in Germany, until Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leonne and more recently Iraq and Afghanistan forced a change in thinking. We still have, however, the RAF longing for dogfights over the white cliffs of dover, in much the same fashion.

As somebody who was in charge of Defence ‘Programmes’ political parlance for buying equipment – Dannat has some strongs words to say about Defence Procurement. In particular, he repeatedly questions the RAF’s need to buy and maintain lavish numbers of fast fighter jets, when it is hard to see when exactly we will need them. Meanwhile, the Army struggled by for years with sub-standard vehicles and equipment, for wars that were happening in the here and now. Published before the Defence Review, it was sadly prophetic, as the RAF triumphed once again. Helicopters are one of Dannatt’s keen interests – as Colonel of the Army Air Corps, he earnt his Army flying wings at a relatively advanced age for a soldier! He sees the formation of the Joint Helicopter Command as a fudge, as it placed Helicopter support in an area where it was owned by no-one, and ripe for cuts. At a time when the Army needed as many helicopters as it could get.

This is not perhaps as readable or exciting in its own right as Mike Jackson’s memoirs, but in terms of explaining the past three years – some might argue much further – of political-military development, this book is crucial and will have a firm place in the historiography of the British Army. It’s certainly got me thinking.

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PM and Defence Secretary at odds over Defence Review

Liam Fox, British Conservative politician.

Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox MP (Image via Wikipedia)

A leaked private letter to the Prime Minister from the Defence Secretary, Dr Liam Fox, has shown that the current Strategic Defence and Security Review is nothing more than a cover for the Government-wide Comprehensive Spending Review. The disagreement also shows the complete disunity within the Government over the Review.

I’ve quoted below some of the most important points in the letter:

Frankly this process is looking less and less defensible as a proper SDSR (Strategic Defence and Strategy Review) and more like a “super CSR” (Comprehensive Spending Review). If it continues on its current trajectory it is likely to have grave political consequences for us, destroying much of the reputation and capital you, and we, have built up in recent years. Party, media, military and the international reaction will be brutal if we do not recognise the dangers and continue to push for such draconian cuts at a time when we are at war.

How do we want to be remembered and judged for our stewardship of national security? We have repeatedly and robustly argued that this is the first duty of Government and we run the risk of having those words thrown back at us if the SDSR fails to reflect that position and act upon it.

Our decisions today will limit severely the options available to this and all future governments. The range of operations that we can do today we will simply not be able to do in the future.

The potential for the scale of the changes to seriously damage morale across the Armed Forces should not be underestimated. This will be exacerbated by the fact that the changes proposed would follow years of mismanagement by our predecessors. It may also coincide with a period of major challenge (and, in all probability, significant casualties) in Afghanistan.

Even at this stage we should be looking at the strategic and security implications of our decisions. It would be a great pity if, having championed the cause of our Armed Forces and set up the innovation of the NSC, we simply produced a cuts package. Cuts there will have to be. Coherence, we cannot do without, if there is to be any chance of a credible narrative.

Specific cuts mentioned in the letter are reducing standing naval commitments in the Indian Ocean, Carribean and Gulf, scrapping amphibious vessels and auxiliaries, the Nimrod MR4A maritime aircraft. Dr Fox implies that we could not re-do the Sierra Leone operation again, and also that we would have great trouble reinforcing the Falklands in an emergency. The ability to assist civil authorities would be reduced, as would the assistance the military could give in the event of terrorist attacks, and security for the 2012 Olympics.

Liam Fox has long been one of the Tory front-bench who I find it possible to respect – more so than most of the public schoolboy Thatcher-worshipping ilk. A former GP, and thus one of the few prominent politicians nowadays who has had a career other than politics or ‘policy’, he’s spent a long time in the Shadow Cabinet in various roles. Having been Shadow Defence Secretary for almost five years might be expected to have some idea of what he’s talking about.

I think the severe lack of senior politicians with any kind of armed forces experience – or for that matter with any experience of knowledge of history – shows. Any decision-maker with any sense would be looking closely at John Nott‘s 1981 Defence Review as a how-not-to-do-it. Yet that is exactly what Cameron and Osborne propose. It’s rather sad to think that the Conservatives came to power after touting themselves as the party of the armed forces. Even their former pet General, Sir Richard Dannatt, has waded in on Dr Fox’s side.

Fox’s reference to the possible reaction amongst the party membership is interesting. Although it is often thought that the Tory is made up of lots of ex-Guards Officers, via Eton and Sandhurst, the only former soldier of note on the Tory front bench is Ian Duncan-Smith. There are more than a few ex-military backbenchers, but how much influence do they have over ‘Dave’ Cameron and Boy George? I can’t imagine them, nor the Tory old guard around Britain, being too happy about the hatchet being wielded over the armed forces.

It is hard to disagree either with the assertion that the safety and security of the nation is the first duty of any Government. If they fail with that, then we’d all might as well give up. It’s no good having wonderful schools, hospitals and a thriving economy if enemies – either other states or terrorists – are able to disrupt our everyday lives at will. When we’re conducting an intervention abroad, say in Iraq or Afghanistan, we get the security sorted first, in order for the reconstruction to start. Why should the principle be any different when it comes to Defence closer to home?

Another thought that is deeply disturbing… if the Defence Secretary is having to write to the Prime Minister explaining his concerns about how the Review is progressing, who the hell is producing the review? It’s not a Defence Review… its a pure and simple cuts package. At least previous reviews made some attempt at sketching out the strategic direction. That somebody in the MOD feels the need to leak such a letter is indicative of how poorly this is being handled.

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Dannatt controversy rumbles on and on

General Sir Francis Richard Dannatt, KCB, CBE,...

Image via Wikipedia

 

I’m in two minds over the Sir Richard Dannatt issue. On the one hand, if I was a squaddie and I heard the top boss sticking it to the politicians on my behalf I would probably think ‘nice one!’ – theres nothing better for military morale than to see politicians having a hard time. But at the same time, Dannatt’s complaints have never been of just a military nature, they have always taken on a distinctly partly political overtone. Even if not necessarily pro-party, they are definitely anti-party (which you could argue is virtually the same thing).

There is nothing wrong with military leaders having an opinion. We live in a modern democracy, everyone has an opinion. I don’t even think that it is necessarily wrong to express them in public – if they’ve been expressed in private and not listened to, and you think its important enough, make it a public issue. Some things the public deserve to know, regardless of whether it is comfortable for the politicians. And in the modern era of spin, politicians and their ‘special advisors’ are prone to treating the military as they do any other department – keeping ‘on message’ is more important than doing a good job.

But while Dannatt was raising valid points, at the same time it was also couched in an anti-Labour, and somewhat pro-Tory feeling. Military officers should be apolitical – at least in public. The job of the armed forces is to do the bidding of the elected Government of the day, regardless of what colour that Government represents. Its that party political tone that really is the problem. You get the feeling that Gordon Brown pretty much blanked Dannatt as he was seen to be politically unreliable. This is a dangerous precedent, for politicians to shun Generals based on their politics. Ability to do the job should be the over-riding factor.

If Richard Dannatt‘s memoirs are to be believed, his relationship with Gordon Brown became so fractured that they did not meet for 6 months towards the end of his period in command, and had to resort to ambushing the Prime Minister on Horse Guards Parade. It’s pretty poor that both of them let their relationship get so bad. Sometimes you have to work with people you don’t agree with. But you just have to make the best of it. The people of Britain, and the Army in particular, deserved better. Mike Jackson might have been seen as being tamed by New Labour, but the General cannot pick or choose with politicians he gets to choose with, so might as well get on with it as best he can.

Dannatt’s ‘beef’ with the former Labour Government seems to be that while the Strategic Defence Review of 1998 set down guidelines for how the armed forces should be structured, Gordon Brown then refused throughout the coming years to fund them properly. This is pretty hard to argue with – the state that the Army found itself in 2003 before it went into Iraq is well known, no matter what Brown might argue.

Essentially, the armed forces were caught between Blair and Brown in their fractuous relationship, that has been well documented. In order to safeguard his own position as PM Blair handed Brown unprecedented control over public spending, and refused to confront him. So if Brown was in charge of the purse strings – and, in effect, in charge overall – what the hell was Blair doing? Why did we have a PM who was willing to espouse wise words internationally, but would not put his foot down with the bloke next door? Very strange for the two most powerful men in the country to be so disfunctional.

Sadly Labour’s record on Defence was disappointing. The initial 1998 Strategic Defence Review set a sensible framework, and the Blair Doctrine of humitarian intervention was well thought out. But 9/11, Blair’s willingness to follow Bush’s hawkish foreign policy to the end of the earth, combined with Brown’s unwillingness to fund Defence properly or to work properly with his Army chief made for a deadly combination.

Nobody emergest with any credibility from this fiasco. And the row is only likely to get worse, with Dannatt’s memoirs ‘Leading from the Front’ due to be released later this month. Of course, you can look forward to a full review here.

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When Generals fall foul of the Politicians

The recent sacking of General Stanley McChrystal has got me thinking about other Generals who have fallen foul of their political masters. Its by no means a new story – we only need to think back to the ‘frocks and hats’ arguments during the First World War.

During the Korean War President Harry Truman was forced to sack the Supreme Allied Commander in Korea, General Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur was seemingly untouchable, having been a formed head of the US Army, Supreme Commander in the Pacific War and Commander of the occupation forces in Japan. MacArthur publicly criticised Truman’s policies, and wanted to extend the Korean War to mainland China. He also apparently wanted to use nuclear weapons. This was unacceptable to Truman, and he was advised by his cabinet colleagues and the Joint Chiefs of Staff that MacArthur should be relieved. Yet MacArthur remained a national hero, and Truman’s poll ratings nosedived.

During the Second World War Winston Churchill made a habit of sacking Commanders, particularly in the Middle East. Both Wavell and Auchinleck fell foul of Churchill’s lack of patience, even though both were probably doing as well as they could have done in the circumstances. The problems with Britain’s Army were not confined to its Generals, after all, and it would not be until later in the war that Britain’s Army would mature from its weak state of 1939. But this was not enough for Churchill.

Although Montgomery initially pleased Churchill with his victory at Alamein, he received criticism for his perceived slowness in Normandy. A powerful lobby at Supreme Headquarters actively sought for Monty’s sacking, and it was only through the ardent support of General Sir Alan Brooke, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, that Monty was not dismissed. Even Churchill could be hostile to him, for example after Montgomery banned Churchill from visiting his HQ in Normandy. Brooke persuaded Montgomery to write and apologise, thus saving his job.

Matters with Montgomery came to a head after Arnhem. There was deep mistrust between Montgomery and his American counterparts. For his part, Montgomery did not help matters with an outrageous press conference he gave shortly after the Battle of the Bulge, belittling the Americans. Eisenhower was very close to asking for his sacking, before Brooke managed to smooth things over. It seems that the large part of Brooke’s job was to act as a buffer between Churchill and his Generals.

In more modern times, General Sir Richard Dannatt was effectively blocked from being promoted to Chief of Defence Staff by Gordon Brown, due to a number of statements critical of the Government. Although Dannatt was right in his comments, it could be argued that he should not have made them. Given his post-retirement support for the Conservative Party, the line he took while still in command of the Army does seem un-constitutional. There is a long held convention that Generals do not get involved in politics, they are civil servants as much as any other Government employee.

While Generals are often held up as national heroes, and to themselves and their men they are the closest thing to god, McChrystal’s sacking is a reminder that there is a bigger picture – just as in any line of work, it doesnt pay to criticise your boss in public!

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‘Extremists hijack’ military name

General Sir Mike Jackson

General Sir Mike Jackson

Four former senior British Army officers have spoken out over the BNP hijacking the name of the British Armed Forces in their campaigning.

Major General Sir Patrick Cordingley, General Lord Guthrie, General Sir Mike Jackson and General Sir Richard Dannatt signed a letter as part of the ‘Nothing British Campaign’, launched today. The campaign is also supported by Andy McNab, Simon Weston and Tim Collins.

The Generals write write: “We call on all those who seek to hijack the good name of Britain’s military for their own advantage to cease and desist. The values of these extremists – many of whom are essentially racist – are fundamentally at odds with the values of the modern British military, such as tolerance and fairness.”

For some time the BNP have used British military symbols, such as Spitfires and Winston Churchill, and claimed to have a strong relationship with the British Armed Forces. How all of this can be claimed by a party on the one hand, but whose leadership have been recorded listening to SS marching songs on the other, is disturbing in the extreme. The second world war was a campaign against fascism and extremism, and to use such symbols is taking historical licence to new levels.

They will probably argue that the campaign is sponsored by the Conservative party, as one of its directors is a well known conservative and Richard Dannatt is a Conservative advisor. On the other hand, Mike Jackson has been rumoured to be a Labour supporter. They will also claim that the Generals said nothing over MP’s expenses, which is not quite true.

These are real fascists, hiding behind a thin veneer of concern for ordinary people. They use real issues that concern people to garner support while hiding the true extent of their extremism. Thats how all extremist parties, past and present, gain support and come to power. History tells us that.

Evil prospers when good men stand by and do nothing. The generals are entirely right to stand up and be counted, and I applaud them.

Check out the campaign here: Nothing British

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Can military and politics mix?

Lord Kitchener - Secretary of War during WW1

Lord Kitchener - Secretary of War during WW1

The news that General Sir Richard Dannatt is likely to have a role in any future Conservative Government has provoked controversy among politicians, with fears that the so-called rule that military figures should not become involved in politics has been breached. The idea being, supposedly, that as senior civil servants military commanders are supposed to be apolitical.

Of course, constitutionally Sir Richard is a civilian, and if elevated to the Lords he will be perfectly entitled to take up an appointment on the front benches. And neither is it unprecedented for a senior military figure to move into politics. Whilst Oliver Cromwell might be an overly dramatic example, the Duke of Wellington became Prime Minister after Waterloo. In 1914 Field Marshal Lord Kitchener became Secretary of State for War, after agreeing that he would not become a political figure. Even so, there were frequent problems with him bypassing the army’s chiefs and giving military advice to the Government without consulting them first. In more recent times, Admiral Sir Alan West has become Security Minister in the Labour Government, although this appointment is outside the Ministry of Defence. Abroad, there are the examples of Eisenhower and De Gaulle.

So the unwritten rule that generals do not enter politics is a myth, probably exacerbated by new Labourites who are scared of generals who know too much and speak their mind. Arguably, more damage is done by ex-lawyers, bankers, economist and PR types who become MP’s. The thought of generals becoming ministers is not a problem in principle, but it is the practise of how the individuals concerned work together that is important. The potential for an ex-general to try and take charge of the armed forces is all to clear. The worry is that as a Defence Minister Dannatt would undermine his successors by advising the Government and effectively reducing them to paper shuffling. Traditionally British military practise has been to let the man on the ground get on with his job, unlike the american tendency to apply the 5,000 mile long screwdriver.

Sir Richard has been a frank and honest advocate of the armed forces, and one would hope that he continued that kind of approach in politics. Certainly, it must be better for the forces to have someone in power who can fight their corner than the faceless mandarins and junior ministers we have under the present government. That is of course if Dannatt does not start toeing the Tory line. His predecessor as Chief of General Staff, General Sir Mike Jackson, had all the hallmarks of being a ‘pull-no-punches’ commander, but surprisingly seemed to be house-trained by new Labour towards the end of his period in office.

What is more worrying, is Dannatt’s overt religious bent. Describing himself as a Judeo-Christian, he has spoken in alarming terms about muslim fundamentalism and the moral vacuum. I believe it is more important that senior figures look beyond their own beliefs and see the broader picture. Generals talking about Judeo-Christianity and Islam is not very helpful thank you very much.

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PM ‘refused extra Afghan troops’

General Sir Richard Dannatt

General Sir Richard Dannatt

Prime Minister Gordon Brown ignored military chiefs advice and refused a reinforcement of British troops in Afghanistan, the former head of the Army has said.

General Sir Richard Dannatt, who made himself very unpopular in Whitehall with his straight talking manner, told the Sun that ministers had to be taken “screaming and kicking” to agree to necessary measures, and that for some time the military had been operating “at least part of one arm tied behind one’s back”.

Of course Downing Street has come out and denied the claims, effectively calling General Dannatt a liar. Whilst Dannatt was still in office civil servants were briefing against him, no doubt unhappy with his frank statements about the lack of funding and equipment for the armed forces. He would normally have been a candidate for promotion to Chief of the Defence Staff, but this was vetoed by the Prime Minister.

If more reinforcements are needed, and the Government is – for whatever reason – unwilling to approve them, then they should put pressure on our NATO allies, some of whom are contributing very little at the moment. In one sense the Government is right to be careful about troop increases, as we are overstretched as it is. In a sense more British troops would only add added pressure.

But there are bigger issues than troop increases here. The armed forces may have a duty to follow the direction of the Government, but they also have an equally important duty to their men and women below them. The fact remains that our servicemen and women are being asked to put their life on the line, and soldiers respect commanders who stand up for them with the politicians. Some things go beyong party politics, and defence policy should be one of them. It is a dangerous precedent to set for Generals who speak the truth as they see it to be hounded out of office for not following the party line. This happened frequently in the first world war – generals who didnt say what the government wanted to hear were fired. And Winston Churchill himself was notoriously impatient with his Generals.

Hopefully Richard Dannatt will publish his memoirs. They would make very interesting reading indeed.

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