Wednesday 22 September 2010

Snatch to be replaced

The BBC is trilling its little head off about the announcement that the decision to award the contract for the LPPV has gone to Force Protection Europe and Ricado, with their Ocelot. That is probably the right choice and it means that the last of the Snatch Land Rovers can now be replaced. However, while one can say it is exactly what the Army needed – that was back in 2003. It is now probably too little, too late.

Nevertheless. it will be heaps better than the Jackal and maybe some soldiers who would otherwise have left their legs and possibly their brains spattered over the Afghan countryside might survive intact. However, in the case of some officers, it would be hard to tell the difference if the latter event occurred, and for some generals it would be an improvement.

Of course, it would have been nice if we had had mine protected vehicles back in 2003, when we really did need them, instead of the Snatch Land Rover ... er ... except that we did (pic below). But the Army didn't want them and flogged them off at knock-down prices. It then did its level best to ensure that no more were bought - with the full support of the BBC - until the hapless Des Browne forced the issue and soldiers started finding out how nice it was to have two legs after all.

Now, of course, the Army has seen the light, seven years after it could have acted – which is about the sort of speed the Army is capable of working (in fact, slightly faster than average). But the Taliban now have seven years practice in blowing up British Army vehicles and will soon get the measure of this one. What we really need is more Buffaloes and some Huskies, which even the French are buying, and some concerted effort in using intelligence-based systems coupled with 24/7 UAV surveillance on target routes.

The trouble is that the idea of using detection systems, as well as detection vehicles in concert (much less designing and buying a Pookie replacement with GPR and environmental mapping software) is probably so far above the competence level of the typical brown job that we'll have to wait for the invasion of the Euro Army (where in some countries they still have an education system) to up the brain-cell count before we get any movement in that direction.

Instead, we'll have to make do with the Media's currently favourite talking head, Col Tootal, to tell us what for. He know's everything 'cos he's been there and ritten a book. So that's alright. Job sorted.


Tuesday 21 September 2010

Sodden and limp

In the aftermath of the British withdrawal from Sangin, we have considerable media comment, and a huge contrast of styles. Up front is the ponderous – some might say pompous - Max Hasting, in The Daily Mail. He says: "Blame the generals and politicians for this mess. But our soldiers can hold their heads up high."

Then we have the gung-ho Sun which blares: "Sangin: Our Boy's blood, their efforts, their victory." And just to make sure we get the message, it has that great strategist Andy McNab, who is now the "Sun Security Adviser". Continuing the joke, he tells us:
I AM fed up with armchair generals who say the handover of Sangin to US Forces is a British retreat. That is 100 per cent crap. We have moved out because at long last the 20,000 US 'boots on the ground' finally arrived.
The Scotsman has Clive Fairweather telling us that the handover is a sensible redeployment of our troops ... not a retreat. He then retreats behind a "premium" paywall, so we never get to see what he really thinks. And we care less.

In The Daily Telegraph we get some sensible pieces from Thomas Harding, but it is more reportage than analysis. And that is what is missing – decent analysis.

You couldn't call Hasting's piece "decent" analysis. His is lightweight extruded verbal material. You unroll it, tear it off by the yard and paste it in to fill the space. I'm getting rather bored with his pontificating.

I was mightily cheered, however, by an extract from Michael Foot's biography of Aneurin Bevan, who commented on the wartime coverage of military affairs – the Second World War, that is. "Immediately on the outbreak of war," he wrote, "England was given over to the mental level of the Boys' Own Paper and the Magnet". He continues:
The Childrens Hour has been extended to cover the whole of British broadcasting, and the editors of the national dailies use treacle instead of ink. If one can speak of a general mind in Britain at all just now, it is sodden and limp with the ceaseless drip of adolescent propaganda.
At least we can take some comfort in having been there before. I devoted a considerable amount of effort into evaluating the situation at Sangin in Defence of the Realm and was particularly proud of this and this.

But with a nation given over to a second childhood, still "sodden and limp with the ceaseless drip of adolescent propaganda," such grown-up analysis is a complete waste of time and energy. How much easier it is to cheer "Our Boys" to the rafters, and celebrate yet another victory.


Monday 20 September 2010

Fluffheads Mk II

The Taliban have taken out a Jackal, killing two soldiers. Far from being critical, however, The Sun acts as a free propaganda sheet for the MoD, calling in aid Major Chris Hunter, ex Army bomb disposal "expert".

The Jackal is so much better than its predecessor, the Snatch Land Rover, says Major Hunter, immediately demonstrating that, while he may be a bomb disposal expert, he certainly ain't a vehicle expert. The predecessor to the Jackal was the WIMIK Land Rover. The Snatch was supposed to be replaced by the Vector – another brilliant choice from those Army geniuses.

But hey, this is The Sun after all, so we get Hunter giving us a Janet and John lecture, telling us that, with combat vehicles there is always a trade-off:
You have to balance firepower, mobility and protection and the result is a compromise. When you increase the vehicle's capability in one area, you have to surrender it in another. More armour means less speed and less manoeuvrability.
As you can see, 50 years and more of expertise on vehicle mine protection, the theory and practice, is ignored. But what do you expect of a British Army Major?

Anyhow, this is a good opportunity to remind ourselves that very little you read in the newspapers can be trusted. Feast your eyes on the above, as the Guardian Air Correspondent tells us that the "new" Heinkel 113 is inferior to the Spitfire and Hurricane.

And indeed it is, for one very simple reason – it does not exist. It is a spoof, a propaganda stunt pulled by the Germans. Soon enough though, we had RAF pilots swearing that they had shot down He 113s, with "kills" studiously recorded by intelligence officers and entered in the official record.

Now, in the great tradition of the wartime Guardian, we have David Willetts, Defence Correspondent of The Sun, fronting a piece telling us what a brilliant truck the Jackal is. You can always rely on The Sun - they will tell you how it really is.


Another great victory

Most of the papers carry the "news " today, that British forces have scored yet another great victory in the global war on terrorism, handing over the now pacified town of Sangin to the grateful forces of his excellency president Karzai, who will now extend his kindly rule over the friendly and prosperous inhabitants of this bustling market town.

This victory follows in the great tradition of recent campaigning in Afghanistan, where British forces can now add Sangin to the growing list of towns and settlements pacified, which include Now Zad, Musa Qala and Kajaki, and where the US forces can only stand back and admire the sheer skill, dedication and fortitude of the UK military and its leaders.

The template for this success, however, was undoubtedly forged in recent times by the experience in Iraq, where the British military brought us the stunning success of the al Amarah campaign, followed by its storming success in Basra, which has earned the undying gratitude of the Iraqi people – those that survived the experience.

But for those who think such successes are recent, we need to look back 70 years where, this weekend we were able to celebrate another great victory where the RAF so successfully beat off the German air force that the citizens of London and elsewhere in the UK only had to endure another eight months of bombing and a few tens of thousands dead and injured – plus hundreds of thousands of homes and properties destroyed - as the Luftwaffe roamed almost without challenge in the barely-defended night-time skies.

And so the lessons of the past transfer to the future. Says Sir Stephen Dalton, the current Chief of Air Staff, "winning the Battle of Britain was vital to the overall outcome of the war ... Unless we had control of the skies over Britain we could not build up the forces ready to liberate Europe later on."

"That is entirely relevant today," he adds. "Without the freedom of the skies in Afghanistan there would need to be 10 times the number of soldiers and marines on the ground to achieve the same effect." And as with the Luftwaffe of the past, we only have to count the wrecks of the Taliban air force to know how true this is.

We are so lucky that we have such wise and foresighted leaders who will guide us on the path to yet more and better glorious victories in the mould of Sangin. And the Afghanis simply don't realise how lucky they are that we happened along at just the right time to save them and their beautiful country.


Wednesday 15 September 2010

Didn't we do well!

The Heritage Industry is in full spate today, celebrating "Battle of Britain day", and in particular the 70th anniversary of the battle.

As always – seen from the picture above – the politicians are getting in on the act (give them an "act" and they'll climb into it, with not a scintilla of shame), but in so doing they perpetrate a pernicious myth that hands credit for what actually amounts to a famous victory to a self-serving élite, and completely distorts an important part of our history.

At the core of all this, of course is the myth of the "Battle of Britain", with the "battle" capitalised. At the time, it did not exist, was not recognised as such and only came formally into being in April 1941 when the Air Ministry published a pamphlet with that title. Even then, the start point was 8 August and it was not until later that it was revised to the arbitrary date of 10 July.

The "self-serving élite" at the time was, of course, RAF Fighter Command – not "the few", who were just the expendable pilots, the cannon fodder, but the institution. At that time it was locked in mortal combat with the real enemy, Bomber Command. It was threatening to achieve what the Luftwaffe had failed to do, the abolition of Fighter Command.

It was the "invention" of the Battle of Britain which made this a political impossibility, and that involved branding a very limited part of the overall battle, and vesting the ownership with Fighter Command. Thus pilots who flew with Bomber or Coastal Commands during the period chosen do not qualify for membership of the "few" because the "brand" is exclusive to Fighter Command.

The more important issue, though, is that the real Battle of Britain lasted much longer than the very short period claimed by Fighter Command. Furthermore, it actually comprised three phases. The first started on the first day of the war – the "blockade" phase - which continued through until 1942 when we finally achieved a victory.

The second phase, running contiguously, is the classic "air superiority" phase, but it actually lasts from about 8 August until 6 September 1940, the next day being the day the Luftwaffe bombs the Port of London and the start of phase 3. In the general hagiographies of the battle, bombing London is seen as the great mistake by Hitler, and the one that saved the RAF and therefore Britain. Without German air superiority, the threatened invasion could not go ahead.

But actually, the mistake was going for the RAF in the first place. This perhaps reflected the hubris of the moment and the half-formed but totally unrealistic plan for an invasion of Britain, which was never a practical proposition. Thus, while the battle for air superiority raged, wiser heads prevailed, affirming that the invasion was a non-starter. A more certain way of taking Britain out of the war - it was thought - was to attack the people in the cities.

At this time, the prevailing theory of air warfare was that nations could be brought down by strategic bombing, the main effect being to erode public morale to such a great extent that that functioning of the cities would collapse and the governments would be forced to sue for peace.

Hitler and those around him reasoned that Britain – and the British Empire – was a corrupt, decadent, class-ridden society on the verge of collapse. It only needed a small push (in the form of the Blitz) to make that happen.  In fact, he was wrong – but not far wrong. British society was torn by huge stresses and, under the weight of the bombing and the blockade, it very nearly did collapse. It was a very close-run thing, far closer than people want to admit.

The reason Britain did not collapse was, in small part due to the PR genius of Winston Churchill. But in the main part it was due to the perseverance and endurance of all those organisations which kept the fabric of society functioning, from the civil service, local authorities, the fire services, civil defence, hospitals, the nursing service, the Womens' Volunteer Service, and many, many more – plus, of course, the people themselves.

What is so often called the Blitz was the main part of the Battle of Britain - it was phase 3. It was the battle for the hearts and minds of the British nation, fought by the entire British nation, which endured until May 1941. It was then that Hitler turned his attention eastwards and withdrew the bulk of his forces in preparation for the invasion of Russia.  The phase two of the battle was an irrelevance, a strategic impasse. The "few" and their counterparts in the Luftwaffe were fighting a meaningless battle.

Seen in this context, the Great Churchillian Soundbite – "never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few" is exactly the opposite of reality. Given that those most at risk were the privileged élites, it would be far more accurate to say that never had so few owed so much to so many – a debt they were never to repay.

That is not in any way to disparage the actions of the fighter pilots, or to take anything from their raw courage and heroism. It is simply to put their endeavour in perspective. The battle as a whole, the real battle of Britain, was a battle fought and won by the people – the many. In truth, it was won more in spite of, rather than because of the actions of the government.

It was our battle, our victory. And didn't we do well!

COMMENT: Battle of Britain thread