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British Army Of the Rhine

British Army Of the Rhine

Paul Chrystal
ARRSE Rating
0.5 Mushroom Heads
Britain’s contribution to the land part of the Cold War was collectively known as the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR). Throughout the period ((1945-1993) at least 55,000 troops were garrisoned there, initially to keep the Germans down but mostly to keep the Russians out. That’s a huge amount of effort and we won – the arms race that ensued bankrupted the Soviet Union. As a by-product, the Cold War in Germany also turned the British Army into a formidable fighting machine and (people often forget) provided an environment where the US Army could recover from the drug infested failure that it became in 1970s Vietnam to the supreme military machine that it was in the late 1980s. There is a fair bit of history in the story of BAOR, and it’s one that should be written.

Unfortunately this short book (part of the Pen and Sword Cold War series) is not that history.

It opens badly; the cover picture is of a Challenger 2. The Cold war ended in 1993, BAOR disbanded in 1994 and Challenger 2 came into service 1995. It’s a small point, but in soldiering small points matter. If you’re going to write a book about the British Army at its best then t you have a duty to get your facts straight. Mr Chrystal, it seems, can’t be bothered and neither can his editor. Thus we are assured that C3 stands for Coordination, Command and Control (for younger readers we stared with C2, Command and Control, which became C3 when the Royal signals got involved and Communication got added, upgraded to C4I with the inclusion of computing and intelligence – but enough alphabet soup). Other howlers include Challenger being a replacement for Centurion (that would be Chieftain) Wolfenbüttel being a brigade location (only ever had a recce regiment) and 7th Armd Bde being based in Hohne (it was in Fallingbostel for it’s sins). Soltau is referred to as Munsterlager.

If the facts are shaky the structure is worse. The book repeatedly leaps from the end of the second world war to 1993 and it simply does not have the length to be able to accomplish that (its only 118 pages of A5 long). It manages to convey absolutely nothing of the experience of being part of BAOR -there are a couple of quotes and then the authors precis of 48 years history by topic, and the topics are seldom stuck to. Over a page is devoted to Exercise Lionheart (one of the biggest British ones in the 1980s, but at about a month’s duration hardly 1% of the history of BAOR). A couple of pages to Ulster (BAOR contributed heavily, but that’s a different story).

The books only hope of salvation is its pictures, but they are even worse. There are some stock ones from the end of the war, intermingled with what seem to be pictures taken by a relative of the author and mostly involve a JNCO cadre from the Royal Signals.. There is one of a T64 and, unaccountably, one from 2007 of someone from the Submarine Parachute Assistance Group (no relevance to BAOR whatsoever) jumping from a C130. Many of them date from after 1993.

The sad fact is that this is a bloody awful pamphlet; ill considered, poorly structured and inadequately researched. The author does not understand his subject and, frankly, could have saved himself some effort and me some misery if he hadn’t started.

Don’t buy it and if someone gives it to you for Christmas do not read it; use it to prob up a table leg or light a fire.

Half a mushroom.

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