An attempt by an outsider to understand the British Army and how it got to be like it is, and observations on perhaps where it should be.
‘Everyman thinks less of himself for not having been a soldier’
There has been a few snide remarks about the term ‘Warfighter’ as used by our cousins across the pond. I think its fine and here’s why
A bit of History
It is worth reminding ourselves that up until Cromwell in effect there was no ‘Army’ as such.
Individual nobles raised troops top fight for the king in haphazard amounts and units, equipped according to their finances; and often with little relation to their feudal dues. A rich Knight often turned up to fight for or against the King with more and better equipped troops than a poor Earl.
The New model Army (more properly contemporaneously called the ‘Newly Modelled’ Army,(if I recall) changed that. Fed up with troops that would only fight under ‘Their’ commander and on ‘Their’ turf Parliament said (and I paraphrase):-
‘Sod this literally for a game of soldiers we need to get an Army we can command, if we are going to get any of this shit sorted’…
So the UK’s first professional full time paid and resourced Army was born.
The revolutionary Ideas of:
- Paying the troops well and on time,
- Concentrating on Moral, (through religious conformity it its case),
- An organization of units according to modern requirements,
- Proper logistics.
- And a proper code of Military justice.
Worked so well that it pretty much kicked arse from the moment it hit the ground.
However with the restoration of the monarchy a lot of old attitudes re-emerged.
It was very much the case for hundreds of years that you joined ‘The Regiment’. Often named after the Colonel who was in command. The British Army seems at some points to have been almost an accidental conglomeration of like minded units a bit like a trade organisation of organisations who happened to wear uniforms and fight for the King.
OK, this was slowly chipped away at by events in the Napoleonic and Crimean wars, to the stage by the late 19th century it was an ‘Army’, but some traditions and mindsets seem to take an age to die.
For all the ‘esprit de corps’ it undoubtedly delivered, incidents of internecine ‘warfare’ between units hampering actions in the field are well recorded up to WWII and beyond.
It is worth reminding ourselves that we are only now returning to an army the same size as the one we entered the run up to World war 1 with. That’s the one that was so small by European power standards that when asked what he would do if the British Army invaded Germany in the 1890’s replied ‘I would call the police and have it arrested’!
For all the skill and bravery of its soldiers.
For all the technical advances it has made
To an outsider like me its organisation looks like a mess!
The government can review it as much as it likes but here’s a few ‘Wikifacts’ :-
- There are/ will be approx. 80,000 full time soldiers in the British Army.
- There are approximately 50 Regiments/Corps/ service units (if one includes Chaplains and the like).
That Does not of itself mean a lot, some have much more but some have much less. they have wildly differing functions, and their sizes reflect that.
However within similar function groups is it not time to bite some serious bullet.
- We have 5 Regiments of foot guards each with 1 battalion!
- We have 12 nominal Cavalry regiments! (if you include RTC)
- We have 12 (nominal) Infantry regiments with 32 battalions (ish)- that’s an average of not quite 3 each)
Now given that these days troops are deployed in units with the somewhat dramatic title of ‘Battlegroup’; (funny, some people don’t like warfighter but are happy with that).
What’s all this regiment stuff got to do with the price of fish. (Or FRES or bullets come to that).
A battlegroup as I understand it is built around a battalion with extra units of say heavy Armour, or Engineers or Army Air corps etc. bolted on to suit the job it is asked to do. Sometimes ending up twice the size of the original battalion. For once this sounds to the layman like a very sensible idea.
Provided its being started from the:-
- What’s the job we want to do?
- How many men do we need to do it/
- What’s the terrain?
- Who are we going with if at all?
- etc etc
List of questions.
- What have we got?
- What can we afford to send?
- We can blagg It/Bluff it from there
List of questions
Larger deployed units get to be called brigades.
I have remarked on this before, but where in all this is the ‘Regiment’?
The answer to the layman is, nowhere.
As a functioning military combat unit the regiment for all purposes is dead.
So Lets Bury it as such
We have an Artillery Regiment that looks after the Artillery units and their admin
We have a Logistics unit that looks after logistics
We have an Engineers Regiment that looks after building bridges and digging holes.
How about we have a Recce Regiment to look after Red Trousers
A Tank regiment to look after the tanks
And an Infantry regiment to look after the Infantry (OK a lot of battalions)
A special forces regiment to look after SF and Para’s and Marines.
You get the idea.
No more regimental HQ’s,
No more RSM’s/ Colonels of the Regiment/ Ornamental goats / Silly headgear, etc etc.
No more cap badge bollocks, like those chaps at the Tory Conference
No more outraged pieces in the Daily Mail.
No more ‘reviews’ in which the guards continue their overall ‘bullet proofness’ when it comes to Defence
Meanwhile actual fighting capability is sidelined to keep such and such a regiment’s special place in the hearts and minds of a few.
When you join, you join the Royal Regiment of Infantry /Armour/Artillery etc.
What’s in it for the Army
Well it should do a lot for ease of promotion/ advancement.
After all if you can shift a good man form say 3rd battalion to 9th because 9th needs a new company commander, and Bloggins has been doing well in the 3rd but there is no CO spot, it becomes I suspect a lot easier.
Psychologically it becomes easier for commanders and the units involved to work together, if Battalion 14 has Warriors and needs a light battalion and battalion 7 is ‘light’ then send 14 and 7.
OK it is not going to save billions but the reduction in overheads will be there, we are removing a whole layer of middle management, and some millions could be saved from within the army budget by scraping Reg HQ’s their staff etc.
The QM’s Job must become a lot easier.
Within a like unit the kit can be moved and accounted for much easier I would have thought. it would be naïve in the extreme to suggest it would eliminate logistical confusion and fuck ups but it should reduce the numbers of ‘containers with no name’ shipped out to units who then have to rummage thru to see what they have got as per G1 and 2.
No surprises here. I remain convinced these would be a TA Unit , with a secondary royal protection squad function. Their military function should assumed by Royal Recce/Tank/Infantry regiments.
SF and Raiding
The various ‘Special’ units would become part of the ‘Special Service Regiment’. Or Perhaps a specific battalion or two within the unit below..
Para’s, Marines, 16 AAB, would become part of a ‘Commando Regiment’
Please note I want to stress this cultural vandalism is about redeploying forces to get more bang per buck, and not ‘cuts’ per se.
The only people loosing jobs are regimental Colonels etc.
Its about killing what appears to an outsider to be a Zombie system, very much of the ‘we’ve always done it this way’ thinking.
After all does a Grenadier Guardsman ‘Grenade’ more than any other soldier?
Does a Fusilier, err ‘Fusil’ more than any other soldier, and if a rifleman carries a rifle, what do the other soldiers shoot with?
Scrap the bally lot!
‘Warfighter Corporal IXION Reporting for Duty Sir!