Secret report urges Army to defy Hoon over cuts to fighting

Secret report urges Army to defy Hoon over cuts to fighting forces
By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent
(Filed: 05/12/2004)

A secret report on the future of the Army commissioned by senior generals is recommending that defence chiefs defy the Government and delay further cuts to the infantry because of "growing uncertainty over future commitments", The Telegraph can reveal.

The 150-page "confidential" report, which will be presented to defence chiefs tomorrow, also discloses the extent of the bitter fighting within the military about which regiments should survive.

Geoff Hoon was against delaying a decision

One senior officer said last night: "The generals are fighting like rats in a sack."

The document, titled "A Future Infantry Structure", reveals widespread concern that the cuts are coming when the infantry has heavy commitments and is "bearing the brunt of operational risks and casualties, with the latter at levels unprecedented since the early 1970s".

The Army's most senior generals will scrutinise the report's recommendations at a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Army Board, which is chaired by Gen Sir Mike Jackson, and its findings will be announced by the Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon to the House of Commons on December 13. The report, a copy of which has been seen by The Telegraph, also reveals the full extent of ministerial interference in decision-making.

It questions the truthfulness of Tony Blair's claim to the Commons last month that "it is important that the Army be allowed to make its decision in the right way".

Gen Sir Mike Jackson will scrutinise the report

Defence chiefs have decided that the Army must reduce the size of the infantry from 40 to 36 battalions and merge all 19 single-battalion infantry units into so-called "super-regiments".

Three out of the four battalions have been agreed upon, but the decision on the fourth is causing the most difficulty.

Many in the military believe that the cuts should come from the Scottish regiments because they have the worst recent recruiting record in the entire infantry, but defence chiefs have decided that Scotland should lose only one regiment while England should lose up to three.

The report also recommends that, rather than cut or amalgamate a fourth infantry battalion, the Army Board should delay the decision until after April 2006 "to allow further work on the future trends in recruiting". But crucially it adds that "the inherent benefits of this option must be balanced against the Secretary of State's declared intent that he would not welcome delaying the decision".

It adds that if the Army board decides not to take up the recommendation, then the fourth battalion which still remains to be cut could come from removing a second battalion from the King's Division or a battalion from the Queen's Division.

The report reveals that one of the battalions could be saved if a new role was created for a unit to provide permanent direct support for the Special Forces.

This move had the full support of the Army but, according to the report, "did not meet with ministerial approval". One Army officer told The Telegraph that this "smacks of gross ministerial interference".

"The reorganisation of the infantry is long overdue and is necessary if the Army is going to be able to deal with future military threats.

"But while the restructuring has the support of most of the infantry, the cutting of four battalions just doesn't make sense when we are in the middle of a war and is causing a lot of pain."

Another officer said: "This is an issue that is quite simply tearing the Army apart. The generals are fighting like rats in a sack. The ones that come out alive will survive. The gloves are off."

The quarrels over the proposed reorganisations were further inflamed by the decision to make English regiments bear a larger share of the cuts than was originally proposed. The extent of the infighting is made clear in letters from senior officers contained in an annex to the report. Among those who raised concerns is Lt Gen Sir Richard Dannatt, the commander of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corp and the Colonel Commandant of the King's Division, who has been told that his division will lose one battalion and faces the prospect of losing a second.

In a letter to Brigadier Jamie Balfour, the director of infantry, dated October 5 2004, the general writes: "Last week I met with the Colonels of the Regiments of the King's Division to agree our recommendations on the future infantry structure.

"As you would expect, the colonels, while understanding the rationale for the necessary restructuring, still have very strong views about the timing of the cuts to the Infantry and particularly about the proportion of those cuts allocated to English regiments."

At the end of his two-page typed letter, he writes in his own hand: "As you know I can't stress too strongly the enormous strength of feeling associated with the 4th battalion to be cut - this is the issue that can spoil the whole initiative".

In a strongly-worded letter, Gen Kevin O'Donoghue, the Colonel of the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire - one of the regiments to be disbanded - tells the chief of the general staff of his disappointment at how the debate is being conducted. He said: "I am disheartened by the lack of generosity of spirit shown by many of those involved in the debate over the future of the RGBW.

"In particular, I am deeply disappointed that this lack of compassion has led the executive committee to consider, in effect, disbanding the RGBW...I cannot believe that it is the committee's intention to reduce the combat power of the infantry by breaking up such an operationally effective regiment."

In another letter, Gen O'Donoghue launches a blistering attack on Maj Gen Christopher Elliot, the Colonel Commandant of the Prince of Wales's Division, over suggestions that his regiment is not fully manned. Both officers are members of the same division of infantry.

He writes to the director of infantry: "Christopher Elliott has written to you with his views on the future structure of the Prince Of Wales Division, which although loosely based on the discussions at our Colonels of Regiments meeting on October 4, give a very negative and far from unanimous set of options...

"Christopher's letter misses the point in three areas. First he persists in referring to the poor manning record of the RGBW. This is a fallacy."

The annex contains letters in a similar vein from the colonels commandant of the Prince of Wales's Division, the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment and the Light Division.
I'll stick my heed on the chopping block.
But is this reduction of four battalions not just Tony's promise to the IRA and their supporters, to reduce the size of the Brit Army so they/we can not just send back the reductions in troops in NI when the IRA play up AGAIN as they will.
Being of Irish stock, and no doubt some of you will agree with my sentitment, but no one bears a grudge like the Irish - Bush will be gone in four years and if the 'Global Terrorism' thing is still with us (which it shows every sign of being), then the PIRA might just keep filling in their weapons chaches holes with concrete.

Course, it's not their 'best stuff', and if all is well when Bush has gone, then, as with ETA in Spain yesterday, the Boyos will be back to their best and the BA will be growing its numbers over the water - Major did more to 'solve' the Ireland issue - Blair has made a complete Jamesd Hunt of it.