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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.

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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.

 
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Why was there a disdain for the US Armed Forces in the early noughties when they had comprehensively demolished Iraqi Forces in a six week air war and a four day ground war in GW1 in 1991 and did the same again in 2003 with a three week two division blitzkrieg from Basra to Baghdad?
Because ‘they didn’t get the subtle art of COIN’ which as we all know the British are the masters of..... ahem.
 

Auld-Yin

ADC
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
Reviews Editor
Having read the reviews, I think I will wait for a second hand copy on E-b*y
 
It is paywalled but I seem to be able to read it on my mobile without problem
 
Well, some interesting diversity [oooh-err, cop what I did there!] of opinions, indeed ... I've just ordered it, hard-back; its' "release" date is 22nd March, with ETA 25th March - 26th April, to the Antipodes. So, I'll wait, in anticipation ...
 

longtimeout

War Hero
We make a virtue of necessity and feel that our relative penury, limited equipment scales and lack of mass confer moral and tactical superiority. I'm not sure they do.
One thing that I‘ve (as a Commonwealth ousider) always found strange is the proud claim of ”punching above our weight“.

I‘ve always read that as - we‘re burdened by Senior Officers who aren‘t brave enough to say ”No, we’re not equipped for that task”.
 

Bad CO

Admin

Glad_its_all_over

ADC
Book Reviewer
I‘ve always read that as - we‘re burdened by Senior Officers who aren‘t brave enough to say ”No, we’re not equipped for that task”.

Politicians routinely bite off far more than the British Armed Forces can comfortably chew.
 

Glad_its_all_over

ADC
Book Reviewer
I think a lot of the negative response is people feeling personally insulted, either on their own or their extended group of pals' behalves.

I don't think it's particularly a wonderful book and, as noted upthread, there are aspects to it which appear to support the author's personal agenda and prejudice, but, at the same time, it seems to me to be a worthwhile contribution to a debate which has to happen.

Here on ARRSE over the last twenty years or so, that debate has been continuous and some very insightful and considered contributions have been made. The debate needs to move out into the public realm, though and the various points of view and agendas thoroughly aired, despite the truism that there are no votes in defence and the government doesn't see it as a crocodile anywhere near its pedalo at the mmoment.
 
One thing that I‘ve (as a Commonwealth ousider) always found strange is the proud claim of ”punching above our weight“.

I‘ve always read that as - we‘re burdened by Senior Officers who aren‘t brave enough to say ”No, we’re not equipped for that task”.

Retention Vs recruiting plus three decades of Defense cuts has almost emasculated every aspect of the Army.

The individual person be it male or female is capable of the job given to them. ensuring that initial success is not squandered is the challenge, it’s scary to look at how busy btns are prior to covid restrictions the post covid resumption of training will be fun
 

Cynical

LE
Book Reviewer
One thing that I‘ve (as a Commonwealth ousider) always found strange is the proud claim of ”punching above our weight“.

I‘ve always read that as - we‘re burdened by Senior Officers who aren‘t brave enough to say ”No, we’re not equipped for that task”.
Quite.

To confuse the boxing analogy, a middle-weight who has a punch as strong as a heavy-weight may well be a one hit wonder. But if he (or she) gets into a protracted contest with a heavy-weight they are unlikely to triumph.

As you say, it's one of those phrases that identifies the user as a bluffer. Others include "force multiplier", "good tank country" and (also available in civvy strasse) "new paradigm."
 
Strange. I don't subscribe to the FT and got the full article. Maybe the paywall kick's in if it is linked?
You'll get away with them on and off anyhoo.
 

Cynical

LE
Book Reviewer
It goes back a lot longer than the early 00s sadly - and was always based on a colossal level of UK mil arrogance and self-delusion.
In BAOR in the late 1980s as a Lt / Captain I saw a fair bit of the US Army, including having an exchange company plus numerous joint exercises.
  • There was no doubt that they were fit, disciplined, serious and hard working. To those who remember the drug ridden incompetents of the late 1970s and early 1980s the turnaround was fascinating.
  • Officers were very deferential to more senior officers.
  • Incompetents were sacked. (I got lucky and knocked out a regiment / brigade HQ. The Colonel was removed from command and a replacement inserted in 20 minutes). This did not create an atmosphere of experimentation of comfort.
  • The kit was abundant and often superb.
  • Junior leadership quality remained variable (as it probably has been in every Army since the Spartans
At my lowly level we acknowledged this. I thought then (and believe now) that junior officers overly deferential attitude to their immediate superiors was unhealthy. But yes, we thought them very, very good. Of course, at that time in the armoured world the Germans were still #1 (although their performance tended to diminish quickly in a second week on exercise).

At the same time they thought our efforts in Northern Ireland and the Falklands were awesome.

I suspect that those 5-10 years senior to me, who served alongside a US Army that was a drug ridden, racially divided shambles may not have noticed the absolute transformation of that decade, and perhaps attributed it to a vast equipment programme. It is also highly probably that off the cuff jokes but Brits don't work as expected in US (something I learned the hard way in my post military life).

It may also be the case that neither the US nor Brits had worked out the battlefield impact of the Options for Change cuts and redundancies.
 

4(T)

LE
It may also be the case that neither the US nor Brits had worked out the battlefield impact of the Options for Change cuts and redundancies.


In my view/experience, the absolute watershed for the British Army. I'd even go as far as saying it broke the back of the Army, with numerous negative outcomes ranging from collapsed recruiting to the politicisation of VSOs.
 
Quite.

To confuse the boxing analogy, a middle-weight who has a punch as strong as a heavy-weight may well be a one hit wonder. But if he (or she) gets into a protracted contest with a heavy-weight they are unlikely to triumph.

As you say, it's one of those phrases that identifies the user as a bluffer. Others include "force multiplier", "good tank country" and (also available in civvy strasse) "new paradigm."
You'll love this then, they managed to shoehorn "agile" in there as well.

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