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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Glad_its_all_over

ADC
Book Reviewer
Wh,at a sad indictment of the officer cadre.
I see it differently, protecting and preserving core capability while two brigade-level non-core operations were ongoing seems perfectly sensible to me. The Army had - and has - the requirement to maintain full-spectrum capabilties, if not necessarily at the sort of scale (Division/Corps) that @Cynical (and many others) remember so fondly. Going hard over on the specific requirements for a highly constrained, risk- and casualty-averse and thus force-protection heavy deployment would have meant, as @Bad CO notes, the hollowing out or cancellation of important and vital core programmes and activities.

Where things went wrong, to my mind, is in the inability of an Army of 120,000, +regular Reserves and TA/AR to deploy and sustain two 10,000- man operations over the hills and far away, coupled with the utter lack of any strategic direction or definition of the end state operations were intended to produce.

It's in the nature of a competitive professional officer corps to run towards the gunfire, that's not going to change without an fundamental reshaping of the Holy Army Officers' Career Structure, for which the entire Army provides a bearer ecoology. Whatever the operational implications, six-month roulements, for example, gave the maximum number of folk the maximum exposure to the two-way range. Good for individual experience, of course, great for finding out who's who; probably not quite so great for, you know, winning.
 

HCL

LE
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

Currently on the cardio ward after a scare last night. Colour me surprised to come across a full screw of a tech corps in A&E, helping out.
Had an interesting chat re current situation, with mentions of retention for the youngsters in his Corps. Long and short of it, they have nowhere to go, there are some vacancies up the ladder but there's two nasty knotted twists to overcome on the climb up. Getting that first tape isn't too hard, it's getting the second that's a blocker to the third and third+crown then there are less than 4 or 5 WO spots. Over commitment and lack of opportunities, plus, no surprise Crapita couldn't give the clap to a prossie in 5 Mark alley so no recruits and juniors signing off.
At least I think that was his take, as he was making me laugh a lot, much needed under the circs.
Not going to add anything else about him cos of his persec but thanks mucker. British squaddies of any age are still all the same evil minded beggars.
Just thought, I don't have to wait for the bus any more, I ring the bell and nurses come running. 40 years too bloody late mind but I'm up on most of you losers waiting at the doors of the disco!
Hallelujah! A sponge bath? Why I don't mind if I do, nurse.
 

Bad CO

Admin
I see it differently, protecting and preserving core capability while two brigade-level non-core operations were ongoing seems perfectly sensible to me. The Army had - and has - the requirement to maintain full-spectrum capabilties, if not necessarily at the sort of scale (Division/Corps) that @Cynical (and many others) remember so fondly. Going hard over on the specific requirements for a highly constrained, risk- and casualty-averse and thus force-protection heavy deployment would have meant, as @Bad CO notes, the hollowing out or cancellation of important and vital core programmes and activities.

Where things went wrong, to my mind, is in the inability of an Army of 120,000, +regular Reserves and TA/AR to deploy and sustain two 10,000- man operations over the hills and far away, coupled with the utter lack of any strategic direction or definition of the end state operations were intended to produce.

It's in the nature of a competitive professional officer corps to run towards the gunfire, that's not going to change without an fundamental reshaping of the Holy Army Officers' Career Structure, for which the entire Army provides a bearer ecoology. Whatever the operational implications, six-month roulements, for example, gave the maximum number of folk the maximum exposure to the two-way range. Good for individual experience, of course, great for finding out who's who; probably not quite so great for, you know, winning.

And that is the exact problem in a nut shell. We didn't put all our efforts into winning because it wasn't viewed as that important. End result was 454 Brit dead (Afghanistan only), vast numbers more physically/mentally traumatised, our reputation trashed and the country worse then when we arrived.

On the plus side, at least the Equipment Programme wasn't too badly damaged!
 

Caecilius

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
And that is the exact problem in a nut shell. We didn't put all our efforts into winning because it wasn't viewed as that important. End result was 454 Brit dead (Afghanistan only), vast numbers more physically/mentally traumatised, our reputation trashed and the country worse then when we arrived.

On the plus side, at least the Equipment Programme wasn't too badly damaged!

Winning, losing, or drawing was never in our control. Afghanistan was (and, indeed, is) an American conflict.

The hard truth is that all the effort that the British Army expended still only gave us a supporting role.
 

Bad CO

Admin
Winning, losing, or drawing was never in our control. Afghanistan was (and, indeed, is) an American conflict.

The hard truth is that all the effort that the British Army expended still only gave us a supporting role.

Of course you're right on both counts. As the book makes clear they were also willing to try a lot harder than we were. You can also argue that to a certain extent they succeeded in Iraq which was arguably always more important to them than Afghanistan.
 
Well, Gents, thanks all for your input various. As an Antipodean retired Old Phart who has been an interested bystander to contemporary events, but not "chosen" to participate in the regions discussed, I have ordered the book, and I look forward to reading it ... most of my expertise revolves around operational multimodal transportation efforts during our deployments where, as a "blue job" I've had to convince my "green-hued" colleagues, subordinate and superior alike, of my bona-fides. The points of view so far presented by the reviewers various have given me plenty to think on ... when the book arrives, apparently "25th Mar - 26th Apr", by which time I'll have finished "Defeat into Victory".
 
As a matter of interest, is there a specific work or works that you would recommend as a valuable analysis of the UK military post-9/11?
Although your question is aimed at another; I hope you don’t mind if I offer this book up.

I found it an excellent read (albeit I have yet to read the subject book of this thread yet).

I can offer some other relevant tones that may or may not have been reviewed on this site but I am currently away from home with only my iPhone available and not easy to search etc.

 
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Sadly you could probably say the same up to maybe 2*, I know plenty of SO1's and 1*'s that feel fairly powerless to enact proper change.

I had a conversation with a 3* who felt he had more opportunity to change things as an OF4 than he did as a 3*. He used the phrase “rubber levers of power”...
 

ugly

LE
Moderator
Although much of the failure, as per Ben Barry's book, was craven VSO (and indeed, arguably, 1* and CO) failing to act decisively to prevent under-equipped troops being deployed in insufficient strength to deliver anything like the intended outcome.
Would you share the title please
 

ugly

LE
Moderator
Bought it on Kindle, as a former serving member of the same Bn I’ve found his books to be readable but usually restricted to regimental themes such as tours or history, this should prove interesting
 

Yarra

War Hero
Well, Gents, thanks all for your input various. As an Antipodean retired Old Phart who has been an interested bystander to contemporary events, but not "chosen" to participate in the regions discussed, I have ordered the book, and I look forward to reading it ... most of my expertise revolves around operational multimodal transportation efforts during our deployments where, as a "blue job" I've had to convince my "green-hued" colleagues, subordinate and superior alike, of my bona-fides. The points of view so far presented by the reviewers various have given me plenty to think on ... when the book arrives, apparently "25th Mar - 26th Apr", by which time I'll have finished "Defeat into Victory".
Slim's epic should be a good introduction to CoTG.

Slim was hamstrung by a lack of operational mobility (aircraft & shipping), as the US saw the SEAC as something of a sideshow and thus not a priority to support. Nevertheless the US did provide the Brits/Commonwealth sufficient vital airlift for Slim to work his magic (excellent Leader, v effective staff, superb trg and a wholly achievable operational plan, underpinned by the aforementioned and what we would probably recognise now as a very effective 'just culture'). The Brits interest in SEAC was of a waning global power, desperate to re-gain some kind of post war influence in the face of US hegemony. What Slim did was not much short of miraculous, but achieved with the effective support of Whitehall.

I have not read CoTG, but have relevant first hand experience of the entire period covered in the book. I also have a decent row of contemporary books on the subject (Dusty Warriors, Blair's Wars, Junior Officer's Reading Club etc). My reflection would be, vice Defeat into Victory, that during TELIC/HERRICK, we lacked the following;

decisive political leadership: those of us attending Robin Brims TELIC 1 'hot' op debrief, back in the UK in the Summer of 2003, may well recall a very enlightening vignette around the subjects of OIF planning in the Pentagon, UK Corp effort and respective influence (esp around PhIV planning), the UK Firefighter Dispute 02/03 and toxic relations between PM and Chancellor of the Exchequer.

really outstanding generalship: much very good generalship, but a disappointing lack of robust challenge to Whitehall, esp at the VSO level.

operational focus: as a result of points 1&2. The stretching of already thin resources across two enduring theatres (TELIC/HERRICK) meant facilitating operational failure, something akin to Operation COMPASS & MARITA.

We were the beggar to the US during both points in history, but whilst we made a good game with some difficult cards back in 44-45, we were weak (politically and thus operationally) during the 'GWoT'.

I wouldn't blame the Army per se, but it played a poor hand reasonably poorly. We were not quite lions led by donkeys, more lions led by hyenas. As mentioned above; yes, I was also guilty of running to the sound of the guns without a second thought. We were probably guilty of a lack of collective critical thinking. I'd like to think we've learnt. I'm hopeful, but my own jury is still out on the matter.

edited fur pur Englich
 
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QRK2

LE
We were the beggar to the US during both points in history, but whilst we made a good game with some difficult cards back in 44-45, we were weak (politically and thus operationally) during the 'GWoT'.

I've finally round to starting Robert Gates's 'Duty'. It was disappointing but unsurprising and illustrative to find that there was but one entry for 'United Kingdom' in the index.
 
I've finally round to starting Robert Gates's 'Duty'. It was disappointing but unsurprising and illustrative to find that there was but one entry for 'United Kingdom' in the index.
It’s an interesting book - currently re-reading.

Shows how little of what we do actually makes a difference.

E2A - similar in other US histories of Iraq: MND SE is either not mentioned or an irrelevant sideshow. Charge of the Knights might make it, but not always.
 
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QRK2

LE
It’s an interesting book - currently re-reading.

Shows how little of what we do actually makes a difference.

E2A - similar in other US histories of Iraq: MND SE is either not mentioned or an irrelevant sideshow. Charge of the Knights might make it, but not always.

Mind you the choice of picture might give an idea of who in the UK does have some 'soft influence' (not power) with the US.
 
Hmmm...not sure about Gap Yah books like these.

After all, The Junior Officers Reading Club (by the young Oxford-educated barrister looking to pep up his CV) was overall a decent read with some accurate Iraq/Herrick dits, but it suffered from its incredibly pompous tone, huge amount of chippiness and overly-dismissive manner to the glorious RAF (!)

Might wait until its in the £1 bin.
 
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