The Defence Review

Today I wish to start a debate about why we have armed forces, what we expect of them and how they should be shaped, deployed and supported in the future.

The last guidance from the outgoing government came in its vague document “Adaptability and Partnership”, a Green Paper published in February 2010 to hold the line prior to a major defence review. The new government has embarked on that more fundamental review.

The main questions in February were thought to be “What contribution should the armed forces make in ensuring security…within the UK”; “Should we further integrate our forces with those of key allies..?” and “How could we more effectively employ the armed forces in support of wider efforts to …strengthen international stability?”

The whole bias of the doucment was on Iraq/Afghanistan type conflicts, as it gently steered people to the conclusion that more integration of our command and communications structures with the US would make things better and easier.

The new government has rightly warned that the next challenge to our armed forces may be very different from the US led Middle Eastern wars of the last decade. Mr Fox has said that we need to examine our commitment to Europe, maritime defence and the expeditionary capability which has been so important in recent years.

So let’s begin the debate today with a modest proposal that could save money. Why don’t we withdraw the army from Germany?

There is good news. On this issue EUsceptics and EU enthusiasts should be agreed. EU enthusiasts tell us that the EU has and will keep the peace in Europe. There will be no more recourse to arms. Many of us agree that the advent of peace loving democracies in Europe makes war between the main countries over borders unlikely. The UK could say that it no longer sees its own role as in any way responsible for enforcing or helping determine borders between continental European countries as it did in 1914 and 1938-9. If there are disputes then the UN can determine them, and NATO led by the US is available with force should the UN need any backing. Russia remains a major European power, and her views will also be important to and through the UN.

In practise in the run up to 1914 and again in the years before 1939 the UK did not build an army for intervention on the continent. The brave small force sent to France in 1914 was ill equipped for the trench warfare that followed, without machine guns and motorised transport. The much larger army to help win the war had to be recruited, trained and equipped in wartime. In 1939 the UK had no large army to help protect France from invasion. The force which was subsequently sent was too small to contain the might of the German advance, and is best remembered for its heroic and successful retreat from Dunkirk. Most of the equipment and transport was abandoned. Again most of the winning army had to be recruited, trained and equipped in wartime for the invasion of 1944. There was no victory in either war until the US started pouring men and material into the conflict.

This does not in my view argue that we should learn that we need a bigger army to intervene on the continent. Modern more peaceful conditions and the history of 1914-18 all argue in favour of the Uk not becoming embroiled in continental conflicts or keeping an army on the continent. The army in Germany should be the first saving and the first change from a past of European conflicts. We need the people and the cash elsewhere.


  1. oldrightie
    August 7, 2010

    (Forsees conflicts within nations and from differing cultures and views of society -ed) Our defenses will be challenged by potential civil war here in the UK as well as The Continent. Our forces will become more police like than military.

  2. Norman
    August 7, 2010

    I have absolutely no idea why we still have bases in Germany, we no longer have to fear Soviet Tank Armies streaming through the Fulda gap and I can't think of one good reason (or indeed a bad reason) why we should still station troops there.

    With today's logistics even if another Yugoslav type conflict were to spring up being a few hundred miles closer to the action won't make any noticeable difference surely?

    One task the Navy should be doing more of is protecting merchant shipping from piracy – that this is still happening to merchant seaman should be a national scandal.

    1. johnnymac
      August 7, 2010

      I concur, Norman. I am open to correction but I believe earlier this year the Americans ordered fifteen destroyers. They resisted a new design settling for a proven ship to cut costs. I would suggest that we order a similar number. With our two new aircraft carriers and Trident and other capabilities we would have a pretty formidable naval force. As well as protecting merchant shipping, we will need more ships to safeguard British interests such as Falklands oil.

    2. Mark
      August 7, 2010

      It's only any use equipping the Navy to tackle piracy if they are going to be permitted tough rules of engagement, as they used to have in earlier centuries. Otherwise, leave the job to the Russians, who are much more prepared to do it properly.

  3. Alan Jutson
    August 7, 2010


    Yes the age old question about defence spending.

    Clearly we need to conduct an in depth defence review, but before that we need to define exactly what our requirements are to be.

    Do we simply want to defend the shores of UK PLC and nothing else.

    Do we want some form of ability to go to some other shores, to support our own interests in those areas.

    Do we want to be part of the Worlds police force.

    Gone surely are the days of gunboat diplomacy (at least for us).

    Only when you our Politicians have decided on our role can you conduct a proper Defence review. But do please remember that treaties, signed bits of paper and the like, are no substitute for being prepared and able to stand your corner.

    Cut too far and you may not be in control of UK PLC to make any other decisions for a very long time.

    Freedom is hard fought and hard won, its very often cheaper to retain it, than have to gain it back, both in lives and in money.

  4. Adrian
    August 7, 2010

    Our armed forces should be deployed to honour the time-old swearing of 'to Queen and country'. This means that they should be deployed to defend these shores and uphold it's constitution.

    Under such a function, they will repel any foreign police forces who think that treacherous pieces of paper give them jurisdiction in this land.

    They would also be responsible for ridding the people of treacherous politicians and their corrupt, civil liberty loathing enforcement tyrants who besmirch the uniform of a police officer, killing and assaulting members of the public with impunity.

    Yes, that should be the role of Her Majesty's armed forces. Defending the British people from foreign invaders, the treacherous, and the tyrannical enemies within.

    On that note, I'm off to polish that statue of Cromwell which stands outside Parliament.


  5. A.Sedgwick
    August 7, 2010

    I have an "is it me" moment coming on.
    Our defence requirements are very simple:
    1. A nuclear deterrent;
    2. Protect our borders;
    3. Maintain a special forces capability and strong RN to protect our sea routes and overseas interests and be able to rescue our citizens in trouble abroad e.g. Entebbe and not the disgraceful non efforts for the couple held by Somali pirates.

    Our governments need "re-educating" that we are not a major power since 1945 and we have 1% of the world's population.

  6. theukcc
    August 7, 2010

    "We need the people and the cash elsewhere. "

    I hope this isn't politic-speak for "Sever this arm to save money"
    If it means retaining the numbers but re-distributing them to more useful places (Not Afghanistan by the way as that is a pointless excercise and TOTAL waste of our money and resources, let alone the innocent lives of sons and daughters) then you have a very good and valid point.

    Our troops could be better served helping out in disaster areas which are far more prevelant these days and would test their metal just as well as killing mainly 'other' innocent sons and daughters.

  7. Ian Jones
    August 7, 2010

    The lesson from the two World Wars is that we shouldnt get involved in other peoples wars unless it directly affects us. Keep some nuclear missiles and have a big enough attacking force to deter anyone who fancies a go but that is all.

    The UK is too small to do anything on its own now anyway.

  8. DBC Reed
    August 7, 2010

    Could n't agree more.( Nothing else I want to say really.)

  9. Agincourt
    August 7, 2010

    Quite right. An additional, never stated, but subtle factor to always consider is that our army in Germany is potentially a hostage to the UK's forever remaining docile in the EU. If the UK were ever to really take serious issue with the EU, eg over our annual contributions to the EU or having to accept unacceptable ECJ decisions – & certainly anything at higher levels than these – then 'difficulties' could possibly arise for our forces there. Better to eliminate that possibility before it can possibly arise, by withdrawing our forces currently in Germany back to the UK – where they stationing them can contribute towards our economy rather than to Continental ones.

  10. TimC
    August 7, 2010

    Army in Germany. Having that huge HQ in Rheindahlen is just preparing to fight not the last war but two before last (last war- Iraq, one before, Falklands). Yes someone will claim we need the training areas, but only for training in European warfare, tanks across plains, guns firing miles. Neither skill seems to be essential in Afghanistan.

    1. Jask
      August 7, 2010

      We do need the training areas in Germany and the ranges as well, they don;t exist in the UK. We can use the areas in Canada to replace these training areas and ranges but that is substantially more costly. If you still want an Army than can wage conventional warfare in any form then it needs training. You cannot train a larger conscript force from scratch if you don't retain core skills in the small peace-time force. If you lose those skills it is very difficult and costly to get them back.

      One last thing, there have been reviews of the Germany presence before and it has always been concluded that it is actually cheaper to keep the Army units in germany rather than station them in the UK – and it brings greater operational benefits (training and ranges again). Unless you want to fully disband these units it will cost more money to have them in the UK rather than Germany, Germany pays us money for the units in Germany (often locally rather than national) and we get subsidised land for training.

      1. OurSally
        August 9, 2010

        I agree to all that. Also, British troops are popular here. the Germans do like to see them. How come Germans don't train in the UK, or do they?

  11. Doppelganger
    August 7, 2010

    I agree entirely. It should include the RAF as well if there are any still there. This should have happened back in ghe 90s. The fact that it did not speak volumes as to how badly our military are managed.

  12. Victor Southern
    August 7, 2010

    Of course you are right John. Objectors to this logical withdrawal cite the cost of providing similar accommodation for the force and the families back in the UK. i assume that the area occupied and owned by us in Germany has some market value as have also the buildings there?

    The other prong of their argument is that we have no space in the UK to practice tank manoeuvres. I am not aware of any large scale tank operations in Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Iraq or Afghanistan – those are modern wars.

    1. Prentiz
      August 9, 2010

      Ah yes – how very like the pre-first world war generals, looking at the Boer War and deciding that, what we really needed for the next big war was a new cavalry sabre. The 1908 cavalry sabre is arguably the finest weapon of its type ever made – and utterly useless against a machine gun.

      The UK armed forces has always been undermined by politicians basing spending decisions on the last war, and not the next one. There was most certainly tank warfare in Iraq – tank combat in fact between the Iraqi army and our troops and Challengers were employed there as part of the peacekeeping for some years.

      By all means lets withdraw more troops from Germany if it makes sense – but let's not lose our ability to train for tank warfare and for armoured warfare.

  13. Iain
    August 7, 2010

    The last time the Conservatives unthinking slashed our defensive capabilities the Argentinean General walked into the Falklands. This time the Cameron's Conservatives are planning to eviscerate our defensive capabilities. The Argentinean Generals must be licking their lips in anticipation.

    Meanwhile Cameron's Conservatives are lavishing more and more money on the EU and Aid.

  14. Vanessa
    August 7, 2010

    I agree that our forces should be withdrawn from Germany as it is up to the new EU army to protect the European Union. I fundamentally disagree that the EU has kept the peace for the last 50 years, that was down to NATO and the last dictator was only in power about 9 years ago – Slobodan Milosevich, Yugoslavia.

    I am very opposed to scaling down our armed forces because the world is a very unstable place. Nobody knows what Iran will do if it gets nuclear arms, nor North Korea; the Middle East is still an unknown area. I am not saying they will press the button but as a first step armed forces may have to be used and as an island Britain needs to defend itself by whatever means it has rather than nuclear. I think the army, navy and airforce are vital and should not be reduced to a size which will be useless should we need them – and we will need them at some time, maybe not for 10 years but maybe 15 years hence something will boil over. We should learn something from the sub-prime bubble that NOTHING is forever and it will change quickly and we will need to act.

  15. forthurst
    August 7, 2010

    The Treaty of Rome in essence was the ultimate means by which France bound its more powerful neighbour, Germany, into a strategic and economic alliance thus ending a conflict beginning with the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1 and in which we voluntarily participited in 1914-18 and 1939-45. (The last world war also concerned Germany's ambition to destroy Bolshevism which had acted as an existential threat both within and without its borders since 1919.)

    The army on the Rhine originally existed to occupy Germany and to contain the Bolshevik empire which thanks to our assistance was enabled to expand hugely in 1945 to swallow Eastern Europe and a third of Germany. The Bolshevik empire has ceased to exist and with the advent of Putin in Russia the last remnants of the Bolshevist tendency have been removed from power. Now the US controlled by the neocons have surounded Russia with missile batteries and military bases as part of an encirclement which has been in part facilitated by the activities of the Soros Foundation. One of the many objectives of this encirclement is that of preventing Russia from involving itself in the neocon inspired wars in the Middle East in which, we are an ally (or figleaf). (Note to Dave – Iran has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty and is regularly inspected by the IAEA – Israel has refused to sign) As such, the Rhine army has been comprehensive outflanked.

    The sort of armed forces we need is entirely dependent on whether we require it as a defence force or one for unprovoked aggression against states whose strategic threat to us can only be sustained by a tissue of lies, as presently. If are forces are for defence, then we need a powerful navy and a totally, completely, and without reservation, independent nuclear deterent otherwise there is no limit to what men and materiel we might require but it would be helpful if we had a Department of Defence that was actually capable of timely response to new threats to the safety of our forces by immediate collaborations with defence manufacturers who could be told the nature of threat and invited to respond as quickly as possible.

    History records that alliances come and go but the most dangerous are those where a member of the alliance uses the alliance to achieve its own aggressive strategic objectives. It should also be noted that a member of an alliance can also totally change its internal political complexion.

  16. gac
    August 7, 2010

    Mr Sedgwick gives my views succinctly: –

    Nuclear deterrent, it does what it says on the tin

    Army and Air Force equipped sufficiently to protect our homeland security and provide support to the Navy for any 'offshore skirmish'

    A Royal Navy with Carriers to include fixed wing aircraft and Marines, to protect our Merchant Fleet (including a 'Russia' approach to pirates) and to react as required to any offshore threat which threatens our security and/or interests.

    Also, trim the MOD to at least a quarter of the 100,000 or so who are employed in it – many presumably held in reserve or in non jobs

    August 7, 2010

    We agree about Germany – daft.

    Before we deconstruct the Army infrastructure too far let's give thought to the disciplined training that could be given to our millions of our unemployed young.

    We again commend our oft-blogged proposal for a New National Service – organised at the County level and titled accordingly – embracing military, environmental (including the Gardening Citizens idea recently advocated) and welfare/care options.

    * No unemployment or disability benefits except for the greatly impaired.
    * A Guaranteed job at a rate slightly above benefits pay.
    * Redundant public servants to be redeployed to set up and administrate assisted by the moderately disabled unemployed.

    Simply stated jobs for the lesser-skilled and young unemployed must be created rather than politicians of all parties burbling on about 're-training'/computer courses/’get on your bike’ etc etc.
    Factories – of which we need more producing goods we currently import – mines and pre-computer offices used to provide these jobs but we need flexible, radical thinking for this generation.

    Anyone listening out there? Duncan Smith…Frank Field…Michael Caine perhaps?

  18. Derek Buxton
    August 7, 2010

    A government's first duty is defence of the Realm, thus that is the starting point for any revue. We should certainly withdraw from Germany, all we do there is help the German economy, so stop it. I do not believe this canard that the EU is responsible for peace in Europe, it isn't. And should a war break out, we have no allies in the EU, as before we will be on our own. So we need to plan on that basis, no effort to be in the EU army, none, now or ever.
    So to this end we need Trident on patrol, we need a decent Air Force and as an island we need a decent Navy capable of defending our shores and allowed to combat piracy on the high seas. As to piracy, throw out the pathetic "rules of engagement", pirates do not have them nor "human rights".
    Unfortunately I do not think we have the politicians with the necessary backbone.

  19. jedibeeftrix
    August 7, 2010

    “Should we further integrate our forces with those of key allies..?”

    That is the wrong question to ask, for of course we should encourage the continental nations to better integrate the capabilities through NATO in order that our declining clout is wielded most effectively, but the question that really matters is as follows:

    "Should we retain the capability of sovereign and strategic power projection?"

    To give a poor example; were the Falklands threatened with invasion again, would Argentina be more likely or less likely to be deterred if we retain the capability to deploy and sustain a reinforced brigade with the requisite naval and air units at short notice?

    Deterrence is a valuable capability for conventional forces in addition to nuclear, and we are getting dangerously close to the point where the power that Britain can project is neither sovereign (and thus unreliable) nor strategic (and thus ineffective), so the SDSR will have to make some very careful choices about where it allocate its shrunken future resources:

  20. Dan
    August 7, 2010

    Agree totally. The argument of what about training well sorry training for what? If there is a real fear of Russian Tanks heading for Berlin then they should move forward to Poland and all of NATO should be increasing spending, if not there is no threat on the continent.

    Return all of them, mothball the heavy armour as useless against anyone but a major state player and that will have some notice if circumstances change say 10 years.

    Plan on the assumption of protecting these islands which at present are under less threat than any time in 1000 years, then contribute to alliance operations BUT no more than France or Germany (similar pop and ecconomy), then small scale short term intervention on our own i.e. Sierra Leone.

  21. Ex Liverpool Rioter
    August 7, 2010

    The Anglo-American Empire of worthless FIAT paper is over mate!
    Already "decoupleing" is happening, China/Saudi & the rest tour the World looking to exhange their soon to be worthless $ for something, ANYTHING!

    Already the colaspe in America is on:-

    In 12-18 months that will be here, our TRUE debt is 485% of GPD, we are bust, finshed…………"Game over Man, Game over!"

    Our Northsea Oil & Gas are almost depleated & we didn't bother building new Atomic plants as that might have "Upset" America (Nukes not good for the Petrol $)
    I loved "DC" trying to flock 4th gen fighters to India when India is buying Su 50's (5th Gen) from Russia…….or trying to offer 1 of the carriers which is no use India.

    We are in the tolet & about to get flushed!


  22. backofanenvelope
    August 7, 2010

    First of all, we should separate internal security and external defence. For external defence we should have three aims.
    1. Defence of the UK and the surrounding waters.
    2. Maintain our contribution to NATO.
    3. Maintain the nuclear deterrent.

    No 1 is chiefly a matter of air and maritime forces.
    No 2 should be conditional on NATO returning to its original purpose, defence of the NATO territorial area and the surrounding waters.
    No 3 is necessary because there are too many people who would take a pop at us because they daren't take on the USA.

  23. Ashley Wills
    August 7, 2010

    But where does the money come to bring them back? Where is the existing space the German based troops can live in and reside in with their families?

  24. thedarknight
    August 7, 2010

    Surely withdrawing from Germany means sacrificing our tank capabiltiy? In which case we need to decide if that is something we wish to do. It would mean restricting what sort of operations we are able to conduct.

  25. oldtimer
    August 7, 2010

    Clausewitz said, correctly, that war is politics by other means (or words to that effect). Any discussion of a defence review should start with the politics – otherwise it is conducted in a vacuum. That is where we are right now.

    A number of observations:
    1 the UK has engaged successfully in continental war in Europe only in alliance with others. The politicians of the day well recognised that fact and the dangers of overstretch.
    2 The BAOR is an anachronism now and is only there, I have read, because it would be too expensive to relocate back to the UK where there are no barracks to accommodate it.
    2 How important is it to strut the world stage as a member of the UN Security Council? Would we lose a lot of influence if we were outside? I should like to know the reasoned case for it.
    3 The irreducible minimum defence requirement is the defence of these islands – the seaways, the airways, the borders and internally.
    4 The next step up from that is a limited expeditionary/special forces capability to support the alliances we choose to belong to and to recognise the changing nature of warfare.

  26. Mark
    August 7, 2010

    BAOR is effectively just bases like Catterick or Aldershot. Maintaining it is not strategic any more, but simply about using existing facilities (can we even house those soldiers if we bring them home?). Maybe there might be other options at lower cost, such as former Soviet bases (although doubtless Russia would wrongly see that as provocative). Maybe there are better locations that would be of strategic use if we can negotiate them – Oman could be geographically useful for instance, being within reach of several important potential flashpoints.

  27. Iain gill
    August 7, 2010

    as far as defence review goes i would invite in some folk who have proven knowledge of "defence" and who are also prepared to speak their mind against the grain of whatever political views are in fashion

    i would invite folk into the defence review team like "sharky ward" ex RN harrier commander, who has some interesting things to say about the RAF – most of which make sense

    id invite in some recently retired senior NCO's from the special forces

    much better input that the usual suspects into a defence review would come from such folk

  28. Tony, Abergele
    August 7, 2010

    No we don't need our forces deployed in Germany, nor, I would venture to add, do we need our forces fighting other peoples battles anywhere. We need to preserve the Military model however for defense purposes only. No more Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo if these people are unable to sort their own domestic problems then tough. I'm sick of hearing of hearing of war casualties occurring on foreign soils for reasons unknown to the common man. Make our forces the best in the world, the best equipped and the best trained. Let us be a power great enough to defend our shores and our cultural wellbeing. Let it be known that the rest of the world is on its own, you’ll soon see a change in there outlook regarding their own future. We have dabbled in the affairs of too many other countries that has left us despised by many, friends and foe alike. National Service? Yes. If only to instill a discipline in forth coming generations of our youth. Money should not be an issue; defense is the last thing we need to cut back on. But with sensible budgeting and a home based military we could afford the best.

  29. alan wheatley
    August 7, 2010

    I wholeheartedly welcome a debate on the armed forces and support your initiative.

    The first priority of government is defence of the realm. This does not mean simply to prevent invasion, it is very much wider.

    I agree there is no reason to retain UK forces in German as a necessary part of defence. However, I believe one of the benefits of being in Germany is ready access to training facilities not available in the UK, so there may be a case for some UK forces being in Germany. If so, let that case be made.

    I think there could be a case for UK forces remaining in Afghanistan. That country would seem to be ideal for training UK forces in the types of conflict they are likely to encounter. And some local presence could act as a "back-stop" in support of Afghan forces in the event they become overstretched.

  30. austin
    August 7, 2010

    The biggest threat to the Realm is the possibility of a power achieving hegemony on the European continent.. This goepolitical fact has not and will never change. Not coincidentaly, a continental hegemon is also the biggest threat to Britain's closest ally, the U.S.The stationing of British,and of course American armour in Germany makes this possibility rather remote at the moment. As with nuclear weapons, remove the deterrent and watch the threat increase.
    Britain is blessed with possibly the best geography, besides the U.S,. in the world. It's independence derives from it's unique location and it's ability to be a global maritime power gives its prosperity tremendous potential. A powerful navy, able to operate anywhere in the world must remain one Britain's top national priorities.

  31. David Hollins MBA
    August 7, 2010

    Many comments here and elsewhere do not start from the right point. War, to paraphrase Clausewitz, is the final option of policy. Consequently, we must start in the FCO, who really should stop trying to pretend that we care some great imperial power. Where do our interests lie and how do they fit with those of our allies? Dump the nuclear subs and give up the permanent seat on the UNSC.

    Then look at the key relationships – USA and the EU. The US is unrelaible and only tries to shaft us at every opportunity. Consequently, we should only try to maintain a close relationship, where our interests actually overlap. It is now essential that we integrate with the EU, several of whose members can supply the large armies, which might be required. We can then focus on our maritime and air projection capabilities and, with France, have some kind of nuclear response force. The EU can then take the UNSC seat, allowing India to take the one held by France.

    Certainly, our influence will decline significantly as a result – the FCO will not like it. However that is the reality opf the UK in 2010.

  32. Mike Stallard
    August 7, 2010

    Is defence as important as Social Security or the NHS or Education or Quangos or Making People into Better Citizens or Giving them their Rights? Most people would say not.
    I am not at all so sure.
    I am currently studying Poland which forgot to defend itself and was wiped off the map just as we were in 1939, despite the Empire.
    But pretending to "box above our weight" is preposterous.
    What are we there for?
    Anyone care to answer?

  33. Bob
    August 8, 2010

    It's the welfare budget that needs cutting, not the defence budget.
    Let people learne to stand on their own feet.
    Let's never put ourselves in the disarmed & weakened postions we were in prior to WWI & WWII.

    The Falklands was touch and go too.

  34. Dominic
    August 8, 2010


    I think we have 25,000 civilian and military personnel in Germany, according to the BBC contributing EUR 1.5 billion to their economy.

    Just build them a new garrison town in, say, Northumberland and they could take advantage of the Otterburn ranges and Spadeadam tactical training area.

    We wouldn't even notice the influx of 25,000 people but we could definitely benefit from the EUR 1.5 billion.

  35. Matt Wright
    August 8, 2010

    John, it sounds logical but some genuine questions. Where would we put the men and equipment? How much would it cost to have suitable places for the men and equipment (I imagine it's a lot of men and equipment)? What happens to the places left on the continent, are they assets and what can they be used for?

  36. Chuck Unsworth
    August 8, 2010

    We have armed forces to defend our country and this country's interests. The real question is 'what are our interests?'. Very few modern politicians have the slightest understanding of that concept, and certainly those who have been in charge for the past decade have none whatsoever.

    The confusion in their minds has been evident, with domestic politics being of paramount importance, rather than the good of the nation. Thus defence spending has been directed to local political objectives rather than strategic defence planning. That is to their eternal shame.

  37. EJT
    August 9, 2010

    As many others have stated above – we can't afford everything, so first decide what is the "core business" of our defence capability. BAOR – no. Afghanistan – no ( at least not what it has mission-creep morphed into ) …

  38. Roger Hird
    August 9, 2010

    Mr R, This is not a contribution to the debate – just a query or two on your picture of military history. You say:

    "In practise in the run up to 1914 and again in the years before 1939 the UK did not build an army for intervention on the continent."

    With hindsight perhaps but the 1914 BEF was equipped in much the same way as the French and our German enemy and acquitted itself well in the initial stages.

    You say the BEF "was ill equipped for the trench warfare that followed, without machine guns and motorised transport."

    None of the forces involved were equipped for trench warfare or had motorised transport (the German army predominantly used horse transport for supplies throughhout the First AND Second World Wars). The Germans were perhaps quicker to adapt to the stalemate of the trenches than we were – but that's a different issue. Oddly enough Haigh had written intelligently about trench warfare before 1914, from his experience of machine guns and barbed wire in the Boer War.

    "In 1939 . . . The force which was subsequently sent was too small to contain the might of the German advance, and is best remembered for its heroic and successful retreat from Dunkirk".

    The BEF is surely best remembered for its succesful retreat not FROM Dunkirk but TO Dunkirk : with the French crumbling on its right and both French and Belgians crumbling on its left, it disengaged, turned its front through 90% and fought an organised withdrawal to the coast – showing impressive generalship if not from Gort certainly from Dill, Brooke, Alexander and Montgomery.

    Your broader conclusions are probably right – though I don't think that the BEF in either war was ever meant to represent much more than an initial committment to our European Allies – like the US forces in Europe under NATO which in theory were always to have been massively reinforced in a real crisiis..

  39. Lindsay McDougall
    August 10, 2010

    I wonder if you will change your attitude if (when?) the EU starts to build its own army. Any defence review should focus on the fact that it is countries nearest to us that have the greatest capacity to damage us – at least as far as conventional warfare is concerned.

    Defence expenditure should be on defending these islands and our fairly small number of overseas possessions.

Comments are closed.