A Game of Two Halves…

Many apologies for anyone stumbling on this Blog in the hope that I had anything profound to say about England’s stellar progress in the FIFA World Cup.  It is, in fact, one of two blogs I intend to publish this week, the first will look back at the first half of 2018 and look forward to achievements yet to come, the second will take a controversial look at the use of historical sites to mythologise and socially engineer.  For those unimpressed by either football shenanigans or an account of this pilgrim’s progress, I must disappoint you, the controversy will have to wait until the weekend.  Regular readers will recall that in January 2018 I set myself some fairly ambitious targets for the year, what follows is my progress to date.

My objective in 2018 was to encourage and advocate soldier education as a key component of an adaptable Army.  The main vehicle for this has been the ‘War Talks‘ series, since January we have delivered ten talks at Prince Consort’s Library, Aldershot on such diverse topics as encountering children in war zones, organisational learning in the First World War, and the leadership of Montgomery of Alamein between the Wars.  We continue to draw a small but dedicated audience, but I have recognised that we must adapt and so it is my intention to record and perhaps video future talks for a wider web-based audience.  This decision coincides with the temporary closure of the Prince Consort’s Library for vital renovation work, I have been fortunate to find a new home for the Talks at the Aldershot Military Museum which provides a central location, good parking, and a historical backdrop to the events.  The next Talk, our nineteenth in the series, will take place on Tuesday, 17th July 2018, when Professor Theo Farrell will speak about his #BAMBY18 shortlisted book, ‘Unwinnable: The British in Afghanistan 2001-2014‘.  In addition to our talks at Aldershot, I am organising a series of ‘War Talks on the Road‘ in conjunction with other organisations at historic locations such as Tonbridge School in Kent and HMS Victory in Portsmouth.

A spin-off of the ‘War Talks’ series has been the privilege of running the British Army Military Book of the Year Competition 2018 #BAMBY18.  Of the six shortlisted books announced in the Spring, four authors have spoken on the subject of their books in the last year.  The judges, Reservists and Regulars, will provide their judgements in September 2018, with the winner announced shortly thereafter.  It is likely that the prize-giving will take place in January 2019, at which point I will return the running of the Prize to the Army Library Information Service.  Whilst these two initiatives have taken up much of my time, I also organised and ran the HQ Regional Command Op REFLECT Study Day in March 2018, and provided academic support to the AGC Educational and Training Services (South) battlefield study, Ex CROMWELL SCHOLAR, as well as command team support to four of the Department of Education’s School Children’s Battlefield Tours.  Going forward, I am privileged to be guiding a flagship multinational tour to coincide with the centenary of the Battle of Amiens, conducting groups of school children from the UK, Australia, Canada, the United States, France, and Germany around the Somme battlefields of 1916-18.  Finally, as far as these trips are concerned I will be guiding a number of Army Cadet Force groups around the Western Front in October 2018.

In preparation for my Fellowship at RUSI commencing in September 2018, I have also begun to speak to units and formations on the subject of Adaptability.  In June 2018, I spoke to 104 Logistic Brigade at South Cerney and tomorrow evening I will deliver a talk to 3 Regt RLC at Abingdon.  Perhaps the most fortunate thing that has happened to me this year is being given the opportunity to write a Joint Concept Note on Adaptability for the Developments Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC) at Shrivenham.  The project is due to come to fruition in November 2018.  So what are my priorities for the rest of the year?  Well more of the same, an article or two, some high quality research at RUSI, concentration on my academic career, and perhaps an application for a Commission (dependent on a return to full fitness).  I should perhaps add that next week I will be awarded the RAF’s Salmond Prize 2018 from the Chief of the Air Staff, this is an incredible honour which was both a surprise and humbling.

I promise a much more interesting Blog this weekend, I will warn you that it may not compete with either the World Cup Quarter Final or Love Island, whichever is your poison.

Best wishes,


War Talks (at the Museum).

Just over a year ago I founded the Defence Studies Talk Series.  A few weeks later, that mouthful became the War Talks at the PCL Talk Series, a year later and I’m changing the title to War Talks.  This change of nomenclature is not merely a result of the renowned short attention span of its owner, rather it is driven by some fundamental changes to the Series.  When I started the Talk Series in April 2017 I had two objectives: First, to provide an opportunity for informal professional military education to all ranks of the armed forces and civil service and secondly, to promote the historic Prince Consort’s Library.  Since July 2017, the Talk Series has delivered nearly twenty talks on a wide range of topics to an audience of several hundred.  In addition, we have run the HQ Regional Command Op REFLECT Study day 2018 and the British Army Military Book of the Year 2018 (#BAMBY18).

Following our last Talk given by Dr Nick Lloyd earlier this month, Prince Consort’s Library closed for essential renovation work, it will remain closed until January 2019.  This left the Talk Series homeless, and led to a flurry of e-mails from supporters offering guidance on the way forward; overwhelmingly it was felt that the Talks should remain in Aldershot but with suggestions that the talks should also go ‘On the Road’ and /or be recorded.  In terms of a new Aldershot home, I was offered the church halls of the three Army Churches, the lecture theatre of a new Army Reserve centre, and several facilities ‘behind the wire’.  In the end I am pleased to announce that following a wide-ranging conversation with Kirsty Hoyle, the new Community Manager of the Aldershot Military Museum, I have decided to make it my home.  The Museum has excellent parking, a historic conference facility, and is in the heart of the Aldershot community; a little gem, I hope the Series can help to support the work of Kirsty and her volunteer staff.

The War Talks Series will begin with a flourish on Tuesday, 17th July 2018 when Professor Theo Farrell will deliver a Talk on his BAMBY18 shortlisted book, ‘Unwinnable: Britain’s War in Afghanistan 2001-2014.’  The Museum will be open before the Talk and I would encourage audience members to view the fascinating collections for which Kirsty is responsible.  The Talk will commence at 1900 hrs, refreshments will be available at reasonable cost, and there will be plenty of time for questions and debate afterwards.  I am hoping to arrange for the recording of the Talk and will be ably assisted by Kirsty in terms of marketing.  In many ways, the Aldershot Military Museum is the perfect partner to the War Talks and we have a number of exciting ideas for future collaboration.  I will give you all more information as the plans firm up towards the end of 2018.

Another suggestion made was to take the Series ‘on the Road’.  I have taken up this challenge and have arranged a talk in conjunction with the Tonbridge FWW Talks initiative at Tonbridge School on Wednesday, 7th November 2018.  Our speaker, Maj General (Ret’d) Mungo Melvin CB OBE will speak on the subject of his latest book, ‘Sevastopol’s Wars: Crimea from Potemkin to Putin’.  Clearly, there is a wide gap between Prof Farrell’s talk in July and Maj Gen Melvin’s talk in November, I am working hard to fill the gap with out usual high quality talks and can announce a fabulous ‘on the Road’ venue for which I hope to find a speaker on naval warfare.  With the assistance of Commander Kay Hallsworth, the War Talks Series will deliver a Talk aboard the Navy’s flagship, HMS Victory, in the historic dockyard in Portsmouth in the Autumn.  If any readers have subjects they wish to see discussed please let me know, the only guideline  is that the subjects requested are in the areas of strategy and war studies.

I’m guiding an Army Staff Ride by the AGC(ETS) (South) in Hampshire next week, I’ll be sure to give you the inside track when I get back, the weather is going to be beautiful, a change is as good as a rest as they say!!

All the best,



The aim of the review of the Honours system by John Major’s government in 1992 was devised to ensure that the UK honours system was based on the principle of reward based purely on merit.  Over time, the system reformed by that government has proven to be no less controversial than the system it replaced, albeit the controversy usually involves the perceived misapplication of political honours.  Allegations of corruption in the application of political honours are as old as time and not the concern of this Blog, rather I’m interested in the problems created by a ‘classless’ honours system for the UK military.

One of the major outcomes of the 1992 review was to ensure that the tiers of award available to Officers and Soldiers should be equalised, the review saw the abolition of awards like the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the Military Medal, and the British Empire Medal, and the extension to other ranks of the previously Officer-only equivalents like the Military Cross and MBE.  Whilst theoretically fair, in practice, putting Officers and Other Ranks into the same pot has extended the number of non-operational honours available to Officers at the cost of those available to soldiers.  In this week’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List, Other Ranks representing almost 85% of the Army’s manpower were awarded less than 30% of the honours to which they are eligible.  Almost as if to offset this, it is noticeable that the award of the Meritorious Service Medal has been granted a level of importance far in excess of that which was originally envisioned, and there has been a proliferation of local awards such as challenge coins, commendations and the like to reward Other Ranks, particularly junior ranks.  At the same time, Officers are now awarded the Long Service & Good Conduct Medal, an award which from 1830 until last year was the preserve of soldiers, operating to a somewhat different standard when it comes to ‘good conduct’.  In the round, 25 years after the application of the Major reforms, reward is heavily weighted away from Other Ranks and towards Officers and Warrant Officers.  The award of a certificate or coin does not make up for either the de facto loss of opportunity for a State award, or watching Officers rewarded with the award of the LS & GC under a very different disciplinary standard.

I have been the lucky recipient of coins, commendations, and medals including the LS & GC, and have a number of close friends who have been very deservedly been honoured with state awards including the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, the Military Cross, and the MBE.  Notwithstanding that, the system as currently constituted is broken.  The lower level awards are useful incentives and rewards at a time when retention is perhaps the most significant existential threat Defence faces, however, the unfairness at the heart of the system must be addressed.  I accept it will prove impossible to roll back the inequity of the LS & GC and that lower level non-State awards should remain, but I would encourage the MoD to re-introduce the British Empire Medal (already re-introduced in civil life) for Other Ranks only.  The MBE should also remain open to all in an attempt to deliver the equality and merit-based system envisaged by John Major.  Equality based on access to reward, not necessarily on the reward itself; a pragmatic solution which accepts the status quo and delivers the benefits of reward to retention.

My next Blog will be published at the end of June once I return from two battlefield tours in France, a third in South East England, and the RUSI Land Warfare Conference.  It’ll probably be a review of the first six months of 2018.  Before I go I’d like to thank you all for your good wishes on my award of the RAF’s Salmond Prize 2018, it was a great surprise and honour.

Have a great June, all the best,


Speaking Truth to Power.

A recurring theme in many of the talks in the ‘War Talks at the PCL’ Talk Series this year has been the link between military failure and an inability to speak truth to power.  Dr Matthew Ford made a case that the effective procurement of small arms by the British Armed forces in the post-war era was a triumph of fashion over efficacy, despite the misgivings of experienced and informed, yet relatively junior, military personnel.  Lt Gen (Ret’d) Sir John Kiszely spoke about the Anglo-French campaign in Norway, 1940; in that case, a charismatic and powerful First Lord of the Admiralty forced through an invasion of northern Norway when senior Officers had very private, but with hindsight accurate misgivings.  Thankfully for Great Britain, Churchill would be largely tamed by Alan Brooke later in the War; even then, truth spoken to power was not always heard.

In my short few years in the British Army, I have been briefed often on change programmes: in 2002, I attended a briefing in Catterick Garrison regarding what was then called JPASS, now JPA; an audience of administrative professionals pointed out several flaws with the programme long before it was complete, but the programme rolled out in 2005 with those flaws intact.  In 2015, I attended a briefing at RAF Brize Norton regarding the MoDNet system, again an audience of information management professionals pointed out that a lack of training, information maturity, and other factors would compromise the System; in 2017 the rollout of the system stalled due, in large part, to the flaws pointed out two years previously.  Finally, last week I attended a briefing on the Future Accommodation Model, it seems the problems identified on the previous briefings remain unreformed, I pray that the coalface experts’ opinions do not come to fruition, but I won’t hold my breath.  The FAM pilot begins in December 2018.

Earlier this month, it was announced that CGS was to become CDS in June 2018.  This news, it was hoped, would ensure Gen Carter’s continued insistence on greater debate and openness in Defence.  Would the rhetoric, however, be matched by action?  My recent research into the Reichsheer of Col Gen Hans von Seeckt, identified the ability of subordinates to critique policy and doctrine as an important enabler of adaptability, moreover, it pointed to listening being key.  Policy could change if backed by evidence and often did.  Unfortunately, in recent weeks several serving bloggers and tweeters with whom I speak have told me that they have had ‘that conversation’ and would either be closing or curtailing their activities at least on current policy.  Over the weekend, perhaps the best of the British defence bloggers, Think Defence, announced his retirement; this and the closure and curtailment of the serving accounts removes much of the informed debate on defence matters on social media.

So why should we be bothered?  What is the loss to Defence? Well without the debate, without the willingness of senior and responsible commanders to listen to the shop floor, we are condemned to make the same mistakes as before, to allow fashion and charisma to guide defence policy rather than experience and knowledge, would be unforgiveable.  Von Seeckt was able to use intellectual openness as an ethos to create an effective Army, other Army’s have similarly benefitted, if we close down debate on policy and doctrine simply because it is uncomfortable for those heavily invested in those policies and doctrines we are lesser for it.  Farewell TD, we may not see your like again!

All the Best,




A Dedicated Follower of Fashion.

Eight years ago I was asked by Tim Ward, the librarian at Prince Consort’s Library, Aldershot, to become a member of the judging panel for the British Army Military Book of the Year Prize.  One of the first shortlisted books I read was Patrick Hennessey’s ‘The Junior Officer’s Reading Club’; entertaining in its own right, my experience was further enhanced because I both lived and worked on the campus at Sandhurst at the time.  Throughout the book, Hennessey is deeply critical of the relevance of his training at RMAS:

We were still being given Sidney Jary to read in our first term…Rather like sending people into Basrah with a copy of Stalingrad, it prepared us for the worst, but I couldn’t help thinking there was more relevant stuff out there.  We knew we weren’t going to be Jary and we didn’t want to be.  We joined the Army to fight the three-block war’

Almost as if the Army command was listening, an evening run in the Academy’s woodland would reveal the construction of a FOB, or at least a Platoon House, though probably not an ’18 Platoon’ house.  At that time, militaries on both sides of the Atlantic had become intoxicated by the writings of pundits like Nagl and Kilcullen (my bookshelves continue to bend under their earnest weight) and were rapidly ditching everything they knew, in pursuit of the new god COIN; combined arms battle was out, ‘Hearts and Minds’, or rather the latest voguish iteration of it, was in.  The Army is a shallow creature of fashion, uncritically loving the shiny, feasting on the zeitgeist, and habitually throwing away the flares when the drainpipes become a la mode.

The tendency to follow fashion is not new.  In 1853, for example, the Victorian explorer and soldier, Sir Richard Burton, wrote a manual of bayonet fighting, ‘A Complete System of Bayonet Exercise’, which influenced the way the British Army trained for the next fifty years.  Burton’s book is a child of gothic romanticism, pleading the importance of training the infantryman for the bayonet duel; the War Studies equivalent of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.  A soldier without operational experience, Burton’s argument is critically flawed because, as early as the Peninsular War, it was clear that the bayonet was becoming a purely psychological weapon, against the deployment of which no European enemy would stand.  Nigel Green makes an impressive figure in Zulu…c’est magnifique mais ce n’est pas la guerre!  Nevertheless, the attraction of two knights facing each other with glinting bayonets on the field of honour proved too attractive to avoid and the infantry was sucked into a Black Hole with its own culture the critical mass.

The problem is common to all militaries of course; in his book ‘A Revolution in Military Adaptation: The US Army in the Iraq War‘, Chad C Serena praises the adaptive changes the US Army adopted in reaction to the Insurgency.  Serena ends with a warning: the adaptations which improved the Army’s ability to fight the ‘three-block war’ were antithetical to its culture of combined arms conventional warfare, effective or not they would not survive a swing of the pendulum towards new, improved, shiny manoeuvrism because conventional warfare was the Army’s cultural home.

Rebalancing the force to be more combat-centric is tantamount to ignoring history and the successful, and necessary, adaptations that occurred in Iraq.  Doing so will ensure that…the Army will again have to undergo considerable adaptation in the conduct of future operations.  The cost in lives and national treasure will be substantial‘.

By May 2016, the pendulum had firmly swung back, the US Army Chief of Staff, General Milley, visiting a US training mission in Tanzania, declared that COIN had gone too far, and that manoeuvrism was the real truth; drop the gourd, follow the sandal!  In fairness, the scrabble to follow the new prophets had begun earlier, and in the UK at least there was some attempt to hold the slippery infant in the tub, but is Integrated Action combined with Manoeuvrism really all we gain from the thirteen years of continuous war against terror?  As we hotly pursue STRIKE, Medium-Weight Capability, FRES or whatever we choose to call it, I think it important to understand that flares will come back, and that the baby is too precious the toss out with the bath water; in an Army dressed in tweed, should we really be chasing polyester?  In short, look at the pretty girl at the water fountain by all means, but rather than buying a big Harley Davidson and riding off into the sunset with her, go home to your significant other, buy him or her a new outfit and a nice holiday (preferably a Battlefield Tour), and always remember divorce is cripplingly expensive!!

Hope you’ve all had a good weekend, I’m off to the cinema (I would say movies, but then I’m not a fashionista).

All the best,



One Year On…

A year ago, I wrote a Blog outlining a new project I was originating at Aldershot.  Back then I called them the Defence Studies Talk Series, one year later they are War Talks at PCL; the concept remains the same, only the name has changed.  In this Blog I want to talk about the rationale behind the Talks, thank those who have helped me, outline the Talks planned for the remainder of the Summer, and let you know about some exciting future plans.

The War Talks at PCL Talk Series was originally devised with twin aims:  firstly, it aimed to provide continuing professional military education for all serving personnel and civil servants, filling a gap where formal military education left off.  Secondly, it aimed to highlight the incredible mid-Victorian Prince Consort’s Library at Aldershot and encourage serving personnel and civil servants to use the Library’s services.  In the last ten months we have reached out to hundreds of people and provided high quality professional development; I am satisfied that we have begun to make some impact, we have attendees regularly travelling from as far afield as Devon, Staffordshire, and Leicestershire and speakers travelling from the United States and in July, from Australia.

Although this is a project without either a budget, or sophisticated equipment, and organised and run in entirety by one man, I am pleased with the results.  I am assisted in producing the Talks primarily by the forbearance of my bosses at 1st Bn Scots Guards, I am under no illusions that they could turn it off with no notice, and I am thankful to them for allowing me to continue.  Additionally, the staff at PCL and within ALIS have been supportive, helping to set up and put away, alongside my own soldiers from the SPS Detachment at 1 SG.  My biggest thank you, however, must go out to the academics and soldiers who have spoken at my Talks and who have provided enormous food for thought.  It must be said that without the speakers, library staff. and my Unit these talks would not happen.

The outline for the rest of the Summer is shaping-up nicely.  Our next Talk will be by Dr David Morgan-Owen on Wednesday 23 May 18 speaking on the subject of ‘War as it might have been: British Sea Power and the First World War‘.  This is a substantial departure for the Series and reflects my intent to move away from a purely Land Warfare bias, I hope to see some Matelots in Aldershot, eager to avenge last week’s Rugby result.  I’m hoping to re-schedule Maj Gen Craig Lawrence’s talk on ‘Getting Strategy Right (Enough)‘ to the evening of Tuesday 5 June 18; this is much anticipated, but Craig is a busy man and more often than not he is outside the UK.  I have booked Dr Nick Lloyd, the author of one of the BAMBY18 books, ‘Passchendaele: A New History‘ on Tuesday 12 June 18; the BAMBY is a really special award, judged by practitioners, I am very happy to be running it this year.  Finally, Prof Theo Farrell will be speaking on his BAMBY shortlisted book, ‘Unwinnable: Britain’s War in Afghanistan 2001 – 14‘ in Aldershot on Tuesday 17 July 18.

As many of you will know, the Prince Consort’s Library will close for renovations, I will therefore be looking for alternative premises.  Many of you have been generous with your offers of assistance but I have decided that the closure offers an incredible opportunity to spread the word, if not about PCL then certainly about the need to provide high-quality professional military education outside of the formal career path.  In short, I intend to take ‘War Talks on the Road‘!!  I intend to arrange Talks in London, Portsmouth, Shrivenham, Tidworth and Camberley before Christmas 18 and to Colchester, Stafford and York in 2019.  This will take considerable organisation and any help readers can offer will be gratefully received; I am a one man band and pursuing a Fellowship at RUSI, working for DCDC, producing the Talks, the BAMBY, numerous battlefield studies, and several formation study days can be a difficult juggling act.  Finally, for those who want to see the Talks recorded, I am also aiming to organise that before I start at RUSI in September.

Many thanks for all your help and support thus far,



Mission Command in Barracks.

Almost two years ago, I started my MA dissertation in Military History at the University of Birmingham, the ability to critically analyse sources was perhaps the most important skill I picked up from the excellent academic staff who taught me, I hope I did them justice in my analysis of primary sources relating to ‘Aerial Re-Supply in the First World War 1916-18’.  This week, as regular readers of this Blog may know, I attended an Armed Forces University Short Course at Exeter on ‘Strategic Communications in an era of Persistent Conflict’; the healthy scepticism imbued by Drs Boff, Whittingham, and Pugh was, I must admit, on high alert!  Strategic Communications is a relatively new discipline for Defence, with much of it imported from Madison Avenue; given Defence’s proclivity for the novel and fashionable, and having read ADP ‘Land Operations’ 2017 with its concentration on ‘Integrated Action’, it would be fair to say I required some convincing.  The course was delivered by a former Royal Naval officer who had wide-ranging experience and considerable expertise in the area; whilst the theory seemed compelling, the outputs seemed very variable, what may work in one context, may not work in another.  Strategic Communications is very definitely an art, rather than a science.

I have also been researching military adaptability for my Joint Concept Note for the MoD’s Developments, Concepts and Doctrine Centre at Shrivenham.  I wrote in my last Blog that we had a good deal to learn from the reforms of Colonel General Hans von Seeckt, the German Chief of Staff from 1921-27.  I was reminded on Twitter by the aforementioned Dr Jonathan Boff ,that there are considerable differences between the Reichsheer of the 1920s and the British Army of 2018; what may work in one context, may not in another.  One of the best books I have read this week was Eitan Shamir’s ‘Transforming Command: The Pursuit of Mission Command in the US, British, and Israeli Armies’, in it Shamir examines the problems experienced by all three militaries in taking the organisational culture of the German Army, extant from the time of Scharnhorst until the fall of Berlin in 1945, and implanting it within their own cultures.  By far the most successful of the three has been the British Army, although less so latterly as they become more interoperable with the Americans and pick up bad planning habits!

The point that not every solution works in every context is well founded, however, the principle of Mission Command, when adapted to British military culture, seems both effective and efficient.  It cannot, however, be simply superimposed on the prevalent culture, Mission Command requires high levels of expensive professional military education at all levels, a high degree of risk tolerance from commanders, good communication and trust.  Like adaptability, it is not a cheap option, it is not a way of ‘doing more with less’, to do it properly is expensive in financial and cultural terms, but is critical to future success in war on the battlefield and amongst the people.  Mission Command in Barracks is not a straightforward proposition, von Seeckt did not have to deal with a litigious public, a risk averse government, or a constant demand for quantitative evidence from Higher Formations.  Trust is a rare commodity in twenty-first century Britain.

What could improve trust and encourage commanders to risk their reputations and careers?  The answer is professional military education, both formal and informal; only by educating our subordinates to a level where we trust their capacity and capabilities can we take the calculated risks inherent in Mission Command.  We are, then, both the problem and the solution, we must trust and educate if we are to reap the benefits of doing things smarter.  To that end, the peerless Dr Jonathan Boff will be speaking in the next in the War Talks at PCL Talk Series, the subject is his excellent new book, ‘Haig’s Enemy: Crown Prince Rupprecht and Germany’s War on the Western Front’. Jonathan will speak from 1800 hrs on Tuesday 8th May 2018. See you there!

Best wishes,


A Seecktian Future?

This week finds me on an Armed Forces University Short Course at the Strategy and Security Institute of the University of Exeter.  The subject of the course is ‘Strategic Communications’, and although I cling to the healthy cynicism of the British Tommy regarding some aspects of Information Operations, I find it fascinating that both the lecturers and my fellow students identify the same frustrations with the current state of the Armed Forces.  Indeed,  I recall from my recent holiday reading of Chad C. Serena’s ‘A Revolution in Military Adaptation: The US Army in the Iraq War‘, that the American Army is similarly, and terminally, afflicted.  So what are these problems which bedevil professional militaries on both sides of the Pond? In short, the ethos of each organisation remains fundamentally anti-intellectual, imbued with a pride in amateurism, and dominated by the primacy of combat. These characteristics, it seems, act like a magnet, constantly drawing the Armed Forces back to the conventional combined arms paradigm, even when the evidence of our experience in the Middle East and Central Asia demonstrates that the character of warfare has changed and that our model requires reform.

At first glance, Colonel General Hans von Seeckt may seem an unlikely champion.  Hans von Seeckt, was the founder of the Reichsheer of the Weimar Republic in the period immediately following the end of the First World War (1921-27).  Von Seeckt was an acolyte of manoeuvrism and combined arms warfare, a dedicated reformer, and an ultra-nationalist, however, if we put his doctrinal and political beliefs to one side and instead concentrate on his reforms, I think we can see that much of his conclusions retain resonance, especially for a Future Force whose pre-eminent quality will be adaptability.  Von Seeckt was privileged to take over the German Army as a blank page, retaining the best of the Imperial Army and discarding its worst aspects.  He had to work within the limitations of the Treaty of Versailles, that is an Army of 100,000 men, an officer corps of 4,000, and no armoured vehicles or aeroplanes, and yet within a few short years he had created perhaps the most professional Army in the world, operating with modern weapons, modern doctrine, and educated personnel.  Von Seeckt did this by insisting on the highest standards of physical fitness, intellectual excellence, and moral conduct from his personnel, by depending on his NCOs to lead troops and deliver capabilities customarily delivered by Officers, and to encourage open (and often public) debate and ongoing and sometimes painful lesson-learning.  Von Seeckt’s Army offset this by improving the conditions of service of his personnel;  but most importantly it placed professional military education front and centre of its outputs.

Clearly, the modern British and American Armed Forces do not have the luxury of a blank page, however, there are important synergies with the German Army of 1918.  Firstly, we have accumulated a great deal of evidence demonstrating that the character of conflict has changed from our experiences since 9/11, we should be looking to assimilate them into our capabilities and organisational architecture by understanding that the answer is not always kinetic, empowering our NCOs by increasing the range of their responsibilities and allowing them to manage aspects of leadership and command which have been traditionally been the fiefdom of officers, and raising education and training to a pre-eminent role in the life of all personnel; as I have said many a time previously, we must Train for the Known and Educate for the Unknown.  Hans von Seeckt may have been a dreadful political reactionary, but he reformed his Army recognising that the character of warfare had changed and that there could be no return to 1914.  If we, like those who opposed von Seeckt, hope to turn the clock back for our Forces to 2001, insisting that we will only do war on our terms, we set ourselves up for defeat, and that, after Iraq and Afghanistan, should send a shiver down every soldier’s spine.

All the best,





Monty’s Men?

Born into the British Army of the Rhine, and brought up in an Army family, I have admired Field Marshal The First Viscount Montgomery since boyhood.  Whilst not all those elderly relatives who had served under Monty in the Second World War felt the same way (my Stepfather’s father had a visceral hatred of Monty) the vast majority saw him as a great leader and a brilliant commander.  It is true, he was a man with considerable human shortcomings, but as a soldier he has been my professional role model for nearly thirty years.  On Tuesday evening, Professor Lloyd Clark, Director of Research at the British Army Centre for Army Leadership, gave the latest in the ‘War Talks at PCL’ talk series with Monty’s leadership in the Inter-War years as his subject.  A gifted trainer of men, an iconoclast, and a dedicated professional, Monty was portrayed as everything I had hoped.  I was drawn to one particular anecdote in which Monty challenged a number of officers by stating that soldiers were as likely to be leaders as officers, citing the conduct of a Private under his command at Ypres in 1914, this was not a popular view amongst his audience, but Monty stuck to his guns believing that all soldiers have it within them to be leaders, and that all should dedicate themselves to the study of their chosen profession.

Today, while discussing a project with which I am involved at Tidworth, the subject of Professor Clark’s Talk and soldier education came up, I instantly hopped onto my soapbox!  Those of you familiar with this Blog know that I argue passionately that the current professional education of soldiers is poor, at less than one month in a twenty-four year career, certainly insufficient for the success of the adaptable Future Force.  Without mandated, through-career, professional education what hope is there for our junior leaders?  In an archaic, hierarchical system, which in part would still be shocked at Monty’s suggestion that even Privates can be leaders, how can we hope to get the best from our men when we refuse to give them an adequate professional education, and fail to encourage them to exploit educational opportunities? Recently, Lieutenant General (Ret’d) Sir John Kiszely wrote reminding those at the top of the Armed Forces of the importance of professional education and warning against easy cuts which would undermine Defence, Sir John is right it would be easy to make savings in professional education but it would be disastrous to future operations.  We need more education, greater rigour, and more opportunity…Train for the Known, Educate for the Unknown.  Monty for all his human failings was right, soldiers are leaders and must be educated.  I am one of Monty’s Men.

On a lighter note, the next Talk in the ‘War Talks at PCL’ series will see Dr Jonathan Boff, a man to whom I am personally indebted for my education, speaking on the subject of his new book, ‘Haig’s Enemy: Crown Prince Rupprecht and Germany’s War on the Western Front’.  Jonathan will speak at Prince Consort’s Library from 1800hrs on Tuesday 8th May 2018.  Later in May, we have Dr David Morgan-Owen of King’s College London and the Defence Academy, talking about the Royal Navy in the Great War.  I am still firming up arrangements for Talks in June, but we expect to see Dr Matthias Strohn, Dr Nick Lloyd, and Professor Theo Farrell before the August break.  Professional Military Education is everyone’s business, I’d ask those military amongst you whether you feel you have done enough to promote it?  We are all busy, but as professionals we should dedicate ourselves to our profession, to misquote Alexander Suvarov, ‘Educate Hard, Fight Easy’ and be one of Monty’s Men.

Have a good weekend,


War Talks and BAMBY18 Update

As some of you who regularly attend the Talk Series may know, we have been awaiting news on the temporary closure of our venue, the Prince Consort’s Library in Aldershot, for several months.  It has recently been confirmed that the building will close from late July – early December 2018.  During that period, the Library be emptied and a temporary, limited service established by the Army Libraries Information Service (ALIS) within New Normandy Barracks, Aldershot.  This is good news for the Library, which will receive new electrics for the first time in a century, securing its use as a venue for the education of the soldier long into the future.  It is also good news for both the War Talks at PCL Talk Series and the British Army Military Book of the Year 2018, as it gives me a definitive guideline within which to operate.  I had only booked guest speakers up until 8 May 2018 in anticipation of an earlier closure, but can now book-in up to four more speakers before the Library closes, and find a temporary venue for our Talks from September – December 2018.

I have received some kind offers regarding accommodation, notably from within the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, however, this would both limit our audience and create a temptation to stay in the bosom of our academic colleagues at Camberley.  The purpose of the Series and BAMBY18 is essentially twofold: to encourage service personnel and civil servants to carry out informal Professional Military Education (PME) as an enabler of military adaptability, and to support the continued work of the PCL.  Given these aims, it is essential that the Series and BAMBY 18 remain in Aldershot, both the Home of the British Army, and home to four major Army headquarters and six Army major units.  I will therefore be looking for a venue, outside the wire, and easily accessed by military and civilian audiences alike for the Autumn period.  I have had some suggestions, the churches for example, and look forward to hearing your suggestions.  It is anticipated that the Talk Series and BAMBY18 will return to the PCL in December 2018 for the presentation of the BAMBY Prize.

Talking of the Prize, I’m sure you will have seen my earlier Blog posts regarding the shortlist and judging criteria for the BAMBY18, our judges are busying themselves as we speak, reading and deliberating.  As a matter of fact, on Tuesday 10 April 2018, Dr Aimee Fox will speak on her shortlisted book at PCL.  Aimee will be the second of the shortlisted authors to speak at PCL this year, with Lt Gen (Ret’d) Sir John Kiszely KCB MC having spoken there in July 2017.  Now that I have a little room for manoeuvre, I hope to be able to welcome several more of the shortlisted authors along to speak.  Indeed, it is likely that we have tempted Professor Theo Farrell all the way from Australia for a Talk in July!!  The extension to the available time for talks has also allowed me to book an academic whose work I greatly admire and who I have been chasing for several months.  I am pleased to announce that on Wed 23 May 18, Dr David Morgan Owen of King’s College London and the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom will speak to us on the subject of, ‘War as it Might Have Been: British Sea Power and the First World War’.  Hopefully, by moving to a naval topic, we will expand the War Talks audience and broaden the interests of our loyal followers.

I look forward to seeing you all at an event in Aldershot soon,

All the best,