Saturday, 22 August 2015

Britain's Crap Generals

Crap General Lord Chelmsford
I've known three generals on a beer and rugby match basis; all were affable, well-socialised and quite unremarkable chaps, though one had a senior ceremonial position and lived at the Tower. And I wouldn't trust a single one of them to organise a fireworks party, let alone direct forces in battle.

We have a long and proud tradition at times of peace and Small Wars of breeding crap generals. From Isandlwana to the first retreat from Kabul to our more recent ignominious defeat in Basra, inadequate generalship has triumphed to overcome the superb professional skills of our lads in turning victory to rout. The skills needed in peacetime to attain general officer rank are not the same as the skills required in wartime, when the Gentlemen go out and the Players come in. And like Lord Chelmsford, our crap generals are acutely sensitive to bad publicity.

So I'm hardly surprised that it's the crap generals and crap senior civil servants who screwed up Iraq that are co-responsible with the guilty politicians for holding up the Chilcot report.    

Corbyn apology
As a comment to the post below indicates, a Corbyn apology for the Labour Party's part in Blair's War will be something of a red letter day. But the party wasn't responsible for the war; it was Blair and his cronies. If Corbyn becomes leader, the best he can do is not to apologise but move to expel Blair from the party - along with Campbell, Hoon, Straw and Irvine. The failure of any of them to make it onto an honours list may also speak volumes as to the jury still being out on their eventual judicial disposal; the palace won't want to ennoble another about-to-be-convicted crook.


Sebastian Weetabix said...

This is my favourite stupid senior officer story. An AIr Vice Marshal, on inspecting a 3rd line maintenance facility, asked a young technician what the device next to him was. "It's a goniometer, Sir." Being dimly aware, thanks to his classical education, that 'meter' means 'measure', he responded "what does it measure?" Seeing an opportunity for mischief the technician adopted an expression of pained surprise & answered "why Sir, gonies of course!" "Ah, of course, of course. Well done! Carry on!" As he wandered off he was overheard saying to his ADC "bright young chap, that fellow". The bright young chap got the bollocking of his life from his Chief Tech later - Chief Techs & Station Warrant Officers being the people who really run the RAF. Since they decide appointments & do the admin you always find they have the best mess, with the best cooks, best booze, etc. By comparison the poor officers live like pigs.

I served under quite a few berks like that AVM. One in particular used to get very angry if blokes sat next to their wives on mess nights, on the grounds that it was "not conducive to social mixing" - well, you know what? If I've been away from home for 6 months on a shitty hardship posting, when I get back I'm going to sit next to my missus at dinner.

They all have something in common; unshakable self-confidence in their rightness. They are all Tim Nice-but-dims, Good Chaps, who went to Good Schools, with social polish in the mess, and you wouldn't trust them to wipe their arse unsupervised. I hear the Army is worse, with the choicest examples in the Cavalry.

billy marlene said...

Would you like some vinegar with those chips.........?

Mike Spilligan said...

On the Corbyn apology: I really don't understand how anyone can "apologise" for something they didn't do (or omit to do). The Gordon Brown (or was it Blair?) apology for the slave trade made me cringe, made only slightly less so by the fact that we all knew it was insincere.
What I'm hoping for in this case, and I think there's a strong chance that it will happen - if "egged on" by the popular media - is that Corbyn's opponents and their supporters may publicly disagree or face the accusation that they were complicit in this and really good row could ensue.

Michael said...

"Judicial disposal"

Now that really chills the soul, Radeers...

Gordon the Fence Post Tortoise said...


RAF? look at the way they treated Park and Dowding... an object lesson of sorts :-/

There are some right planks presently doing the rounds as I hear it from career military of my acquaintance.

I don't think we have a monopoly of/in over-promoted idjits but there's no doubt that they are tolerated and once critical mass is achieved they are self sustaining.

Radder's observation about incompetent and stupid senior civil servants is self evident when you look at the results that we pay handsomely for...

How in heaven... do we dispose of them?

In the meantime try this :-)

Billy marlene said...

Radders old thing, you do disappoint me. Opening the door to this sort of generalisation (no pun intended).

You may have your beer swilling rugby mates; mine are the proper Generals - Guthrie, Rose, Jeapes and - to a lesser extent - De la Billiere.

All of the above are not Whitehall Warriors (especially Rose). All of them are soldiers first and foremost and would all subscribe to the adage ' No plan survives the first contact with the enemy'.

As for 'Nice but Dim' LOL! A mate of mine recently retired as a Knighted Lt General (higher than Maj Gen for the benefit of the Crabs around here). I am trying to recall whether his Alma Mata was Eton, Harrow or Winchester.........oh, hang on, it was a comprehensive in Southampton.

Sitting with spouses? Hilarious. Old brekkie face must have a weird marital relationship. My Missus was always far happier flanked by a couple of dashing young subalterns at the Ladies Dinner Night. I, too, preferred the company of baby legged girlfriends of aforementioned subbies to three hours of discussing the life expectancy of the washing machine with ' er indoors.

Perhaps, as with much of his other 'observations', they are rather less than first hand. Mine certainly are.

Still, each to his/her own.

Fantana said...

Try Chris Elliott's 'High Command: British Military Leadership in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars'. Heard him speak last week. Lions and donkeys sprung to mind. 'It is the responsibility of the chiefs of staff to speak truth to power when Britain goes to war. However, until now they have been accorded little attention in the controversies generated by the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Christopher Elliott has put that right, combining an insider's perspective with shrewdness, wit and strategic insight. If we are to learn lessons from the last decade, this is where to begin.' --Sir Hew Strachan, Chichele Professor of the History of War,

Raedwald said...

Billy - point taken. And no, it's not really fair of me to compare a sociable 2* officer from the RAMC or RLC with a 3* or 4* general via the paras or the light infantry. But it's a blog and one needs must make shortcuts to get a point across succinctly. I make no aspersions of course against any honourable and valiant member of HM armed forces as far as their duty, courage and valour are concerned. Merely their ability.

The point stands that IF commanders bow to political pressure to move when things are not really 'good to go' and by luck they succeed they rightly lap up the credit. When they take a gamble and it goes tits up, as it did in time in both Herrick and Telic, they must be prepared to have their arses kicked as scapegoats for the politicians.

Twas ever thus.

If they hoped that Chilcot would focus on Blair's cabinet, senior mandarins and 'C' it was a naive hope.

Billy marlene said...

No issues with arses, however senior, being kicked.

Respect, however, where it is due to who actually do vote with their combat boots - viz Ed Butler, Andrew Mackay and, one may argue, Richard Dannatt.

Mike Rose has spent the past eight or nine years on the trail of Blair. Let us hope that his efforts pay off.

Sebastian Weetabix said...

Richard Dannatt is the man who persisted with snatch land rovers and resisted efforts to buy mine-resistant vehicles in order to keep FRES going. He's a bloody fool.

Sebastian Weetabix said...

@Billy Marlene: yes, I can understand why your wife would prefer to sit next to someone else.

Cull the Badgers said...

Not really worthy Readwald old bean. Leaves a bad taste.

Bill Quango MP said...

To be fair, Chelmsford was not that bad a commander.
very much like the Iraq mission, the forces at his disposal, the task he had to complete and the timescale he was given to complete it, meant that he had to adopt a strategy that was unwise.

But what choice? here is the are the forces...get on with it!

And after the total disaster that was Islandwana, he received the reinforcements and defeated the Zulus, pretty much without further issue.

Not that he was a good general. Certainly not an outstanding one. But the task was not easy and his subordinates also failed him.

G. Tingey said...

My comment on Dannatt got eaten .... ( Iwas making rude remaks about his religion ... )
However, sorry, but the "Lions led by Donkeys" trope needs killing & burying right now.
Admittedly WWI was an appalling waste & some generals were indeed, hopeless ( Note 2 ).
Which of the principal armies in WWI [ Note* ] had the LOWEST casualty rate?
i.e. To make clear what had the lowest proportion of soldiers killed per hundred or thousand serving men?
Answer: The "British"
And who "won"?
Answer, NOT the Central Powers.

Note* Brit Empire, USA, France, Italy, Imperial Russia, Ottoman, Austria-Hungary, Turkey.
Note 2: We had some crap ones in WWII too, & some with over-inflated reputations.
I nominate Neil Ritchie and Monty for one in each class, for starters.

visc said...

"We have a long and proud tradition at times of peace and Small Wars of breeding crap generals. From Isandlwana to the first retreat from Kabul" - so well well decribed the Flashman books...