Army Rumour Service

Register a free account today to become a member! Once signed in, you'll be able to participate on this site by adding your own topics and posts, as well as connect with other members through your own private inbox!

The Changing of the Guard by Simon Akam

ARRSE Rating
5.00 star(s)
In years to come, people who want to know what the British Army was like in the first twenty years of the 21st century will start with Simon Akam’s controversial masterpiece “The Changing of the Guard - The British Army since 9/11”. Stunningly well researched it brings together evidence from a huge number of players at all levels to explain the failures in both Iraq and Afghanistan and is a must read for anyone with an interest in the contemporary British Army.

1612733227564.png

Structured around 5 sections, it starts with the author’s own experiences of the Army during a 12 month gap year commission with the Scots DG and then follows the Regiment as they deploy on Op TELIC This focus on individuals from key organisations, continues through every chapter and is used to bring to life events that might otherwise be a little dry, or difficult to understand. This has the impact of making the book extremely readable and I finished the entire 700 pages in under 3 days.

Many opinions have been given extremely candidly, and perhaps controversially, as can be clearly seen in the sections covering the 42/45 Cdo tour that resulted in the conviction of Marine A or the situation in 2007/08 Iraq that led to the Charge of the Knights. I’m sure that there will be named people who will be extremely unhappy with the way that their contributions have been portrayed and it is notable that publication has been delayed for years due to legal concerns which resulted in a change of publisher. On the other hand, the book repeatedly shows how very few senior people have been held accountable for operational failures so perhaps this is the only way that will ever happen.

Possibly the most impressive part of the book is the authenticity that it possesses. Although it comes to many deeply critical conclusions, The Changing of the Guard has the feel of a work that was written by an insider with a profound understanding of the Army mindset. Military folk, like me, are a demanding audience so this is no mean feat but there are also very few three letter abbreviations, no wiring diagrams and succinct explanations for most topics which makes it accessible to a much wider audience.

Simon’s book is also really important due to the excellent job he makes of bringing many of the failings of the Army, and wider MOD, into the bright light of day. I’m sure many of us who served during this period shook our heads in despair at the lack of continuity created by 6 monthly Bde handovers or the incoherence of the blank UOR cheque book but I can’t think of anywhere else where they are written down in such a coherent fashion. The Changing of the Guard should be sent to every senior officer and politician not to mention featuring prominently on the reading lists of our training academies.

I consider myself incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity to read this ahead of the general publication and am sure the majority of ARRSE users will get as much from it as me. If you haven’t already realised then this is 5/5 stars - you should all go and get a copy to read!



One slight postscript is that ARRSE is included, most notably during the events which contributed to Piers Morgan’s career change at the Mirror. The founding of the site is also covered in some detail and if you really want to know who Good CO and myself are then you can find out.

 
Last edited:

Guardian Review by a former Basra based journalist

"This is a long book. There are chapters of useful and rigorous investigation of alleged abuses committed by British troops in both theatres, and these may have explained the ire of some interviewees. That Akam has taken the trouble to interview sex workers about the scared British soldiers who come to them to talk as often as to have sex on the eve of the Iraq war is impressive. The detail often makes for gripping individual episodes, but sometimes clouds the overall argument and narrative.

It would be unfair to expect more analysis or reporting of the broader context of British intervention in Iraq or Afghanistan in a work that took five years to write. But without it, the most important factor in success or failure – local and regional politics – is underplayed. In both wars, the self-appointed “best little army in the world” was only a minor actor, and one that had a limited impact. This is another bitter truth that many senior soldiers have trouble accepting. In this at least, the army is a representative of the country it fights for."
 

Bad CO

Admin
I don't agree with everything in the Guardian review especially as it clearly panders to the prejudices of the journalist and the expected readership. Having said, that there is a lot that is spot on and it will challenge many of us. For my money, that isn't a bad thing!
 
I've ordered it but it will have to take its place behind my Jeeves omnibus, 100 Days to Victory (How the Great war was fought and won) and Koehler's history of the Stasi.

It'll be interesting reading an analysis that covers events I was part of. I was on my LE Commissioning Board on 11th Sept 2001.
 
Well, it's arrived...
 
I've ordered it but it will have to take its place behind my Jeeves omnibus, 100 Days to Victory (How the Great war was fought and won) and Koehler's history of the Stasi.

It'll be interesting reading an analysis that covers events I was part of. I was on my LE Commissioning Board on 11th Sept 2001.

WOW!



I didn’t know you could read.
 

Bubbles_Barker

LE
Book Reviewer
I don't agree with everything in the Guardian review especially as it clearly panders to the prejudices of the journalist and the expected readership. Having said, that there is a lot that is spot on and it will challenge many of us. For my money, that isn't a bad thing!
Well, Akam does write for the Guardian so perhaps that's to be expected.

My copy arrived today - impressively weighty....
 
Book arrived this evening. I’ll get started on it once I finish my reread of Bill Bryson’s excellent ‘Down Under’.
 
Wednesday for mine, wee Independent bookshop. They survived last year through regular customers plus suppliers posting direct to your address.
Hyndland bookshop

Please don’t spoil the ending gents
 
Wednesday for mine, wee Independent bookshop. They survived last year through regular customers plus suppliers posting direct to your address.
Hyndland bookshop

Please don’t spoil the ending gents
Dinger is both Darth Vader and Luke’s father.

Also, Hyndland are excellent.
 
Spoiler alert...

Well, it's a book. But I'm afraid it left me a bit... whelmed. Beyond some interesting (and in places touching) "colour", there is little unique or insightful that hasn't been covered before. That said, if you're not a sad geek like me, then it may be a useful and interesting primer to the concurrency of TELIC, HERRICK, London, Basra and Helmand.

To explain:

1. He needed a much better, and stronger, editor. This book should have been 1/2 to 2/3rds its length. Whilst the social habits of the SCOTS DG, and the BOAR/BFG, were interesting personally I feel they added little. It did feel a bit like he was trying to "big up" his old Regiment a little too much.

2. For a book that deals with the British Army's parochialism, it felt remarkably parochial at times. The periods that cover Basra during the Charge of the Knights, and it's place within the broader Iraq conflict, could have done with a much more rounded examination with many more Iraqi and US viewpoints. For my money, Ricks (Fiasco, Gamble) and Gordon/Trainor (Cobra II, The Endgame) are a better resource to understand quite how unimportant we were. Equally, Urban's TF Black gives an interesting view from UK Baghdad based force elements. I would have loved to have had first hand understanding why PJHQ was the OPCOM authority not the Senior National Representative in Baghdad, and what politics drove that decision.

3. Any book that writes about Helmand will suffer in comparison to Martin's An Intimate War. The rehashing of 42/45 Cdo's interaction was interesting as far as it went, but left far too much dangling. Again, for a broader, less Helmandshire view of that war, Ghost Wars and Directorate S (both by Coll) bring out the theatre wide aspects we simply ignored.

4. The book this should have been - the British Army's parochialism - could have been brought out far more strongly. Frankly, there are a series of threads on here that deal with the problem much better, and British Generals in Blair's Wars is a more informative springboard. I suspect the desire to name names has resulted in protectionism from his interviewees. Equally, there could have been much more made of the how the attitude towards H&A, and their impact on promotion, subsequent employment, etc - I suspect there's a very interesting PhD thesis waiting to be written on tracing this facet.

Fundamentally, this is an interesting primer to the whole era, but suffers by trying to do too much, and ironically through the same type of parochialism that he (rightly) condemns. There are probably better books for each of the topics he raises (standfast the H&A related behaviour).

I'd give it a 3/5 mushroom heads, perhaps 3.5.
 

Bad CO

Admin
An interesting perspective and I always value your thoughts.

1. I see these bits as really valuable, particularly to the wider audience, not least because they make it very readable. They're also important if you're trying to explain culture.

2. Of course it is parochial and the clue is in the sub-title "The British Army since 9/11" rather than "British Strategy since 9/11".

3. For almost all practical purposes, Helmand was what the Army did in HERRICK and it is impossible to deny that it was our main effort. I say that as someone who spent his tour as part of an MND(SW) force element so do appreciate the wider aspects. I also think the book is using particular examples to make wider points rather than providing a blow by blow account of everything that took place.

4. I think we'll also have to disagree on this one as I think it does an excellent job of highlighting the cultural issues that exist in the Army (and in my experience the other services) in a way that they can be understood by outsiders. As well as the commoditisation of H&A, I'd also argue that it exposes the no risk approach, search for operational sunshine to enhance reports and lack of VSO accountability that have been discussed so many times on here.

I think you're right that the book does have a broad approach and if you want to dive into particular aspects in more detail then there are others, such as those you have mentioned, that deal with them individually. I'm not aware of anything else that claims to track how the Army as an institution evolved through the period though? That's why I think it is so valuable.
 
Mine's arrived & will commence reading shortly - it's a big bugger isn't it.
 
The Daily Telegraph Review 13th Feb 2021

This book has received a very poor review from Con Coughlin (The Daily Telegraph Defence Correspondent)

""Taking cheap shots - There is a fascinating book to be written about the British Army travails since 2001. Unfortunately this isn`t it""

"From the start of this long and clumsily written book, it is clear that the author has a jaundiced view of the Army"

"Of the Generals whom were interviewed by the Author quote " but rather that concentrating on their explanations of events , Akam makes snide remarks about their attire and post military careers".

Has Coughlin been briefed against this book by the "Establishment" he need to keep people on his side to continue receiving privileged access to the Military ???

Archie
 
The Daily Telegraph Review 13th Feb 2021

This book has received a very poor review from Con Coughlin (The Daily Telegraph Defence Correspondent)

""Taking cheap shots - There is a fascinating book to be written about the British Army travails since 2001. Unfortunately this isn`t it""

"From the start of this long and clumsily written book, it is clear that the author has a jaundiced view of the Army"

"Of the Generals whom were interviewed by the Author quote " but rather that concentrating on their explanations of events , Akam makes snide remarks about their attire and post military careers".

Has Coughlin been briefed against this book by the "Establishment" he need to keep people on his side to continue receiving privileged access to the Military ???

Archie
If either the Grauniad or the Telegraph don't like it, it's usually worth reading
 

Bad CO

Admin
The Daily Telegraph Review 13th Feb 2021

This book has received a very poor review from Con Coughlin (The Daily Telegraph Defence Correspondent)

""Taking cheap shots - There is a fascinating book to be written about the British Army travails since 2001. Unfortunately this isn`t it""

"From the start of this long and clumsily written book, it is clear that the author has a jaundiced view of the Army"

"Of the Generals whom were interviewed by the Author quote " but rather that concentrating on their explanations of events , Akam makes snide remarks about their attire and post military careers".

Has Coughlin been briefed against this book by the "Establishment" he need to keep people on his side to continue receiving privileged access to the Military ???

Archie

There is an article several pages before which is railing against the 1971 decimalisation. I think that pretty neatly sums up the Telegraph!
 

Glad_its_all_over

ADC
Book Reviewer
Con Coughlin is the designated recipient of hot-off-the-press info from SO1 (Leaks) at MoD, the Hereford PR Machine and the South Of The River Informal News Agency. What he says generally reflects, accurately, the party line from MB, Credenhill and Vauxhall Cross.

Clearly some of the grownups are feeling rather stung, specfically the cohort who were 1-4 star between 2005 and 2015, as Akam is distinctly unkind to them - although his central thesis, as below, seems not wholly without merit to me.

The TL:DR version is this, based on what I've read so far.
  • British Army culture, by 2001, had become incredibly insular and self-regarding and experience of 'real combat' (i.e. not BANNER, GRAPPLE or BARRAS) - and GRANBY doesn't count as it was only 100 hours - was lacking since the Falklands.
  • There are interesting insights into specific units, notably the RSDG. One can't help wondering just how loved he was when he did his SSLC.
  • One of the involuntary villains of the piece is Matt Maer, who did fantastic writeups for his battalion on TELIC 4 (I think) and generated a positive shower of decorations. This immediately upped the stakes for all combat arms types, who now understood a. That medals were now more freely to be won and b. That these - or the absence of these - would have significant career impact.
  • By 2006, after the grind of three years on TELIC, the Army was spoiling for a fight and found it by going in hard in Helmand, platoon houses, 3 Para and all that. For some reason Ed Butler is the villain of this piece.
  • Charge of the Knights was a huge humiliation for the British Army and the failure to intervene robustly in Basra to support the hairtrigger Maliki-led assault before it was nearly all over severely damaged credibility with the US.
  • Brown is a major villain of the piece, both as Chancellor and PM.
  • While most senior officers get a bit of a pasting, some are quite sympathetically handled, notably Jonathan Shaw.
  • ARRSE gets something more than an honourable mention, notably as part of the explosion in publicising the views of the soldier and officer, including through YouTube and other social media.
NOTE HERE - this is not my opinion, it's a summary of the book up to the point I've reached.
 
Last edited:

Latest Threads

Top