The Tragedy of Ajax

When the British Army named its replacement tank for the outdated Scimitar that should have been replaced 20 years ago, it focused on the story of Ajax’s epic fights at Troy, when he was undefeated by Hector and earned a reputation for his strength and spear and shield.

Two weeks ago I watched a troop of prototype Ajax tanks on their way back from Castlemartin Ranges after all tests were halted when the crews complained of excessive noise and vibration problems. Regardless of those who comment that the pollution soldiers experienced on Chieftain tanks in the 1980s was much worse, this project is becoming something of a farce.

The noise can be solved by throwing money at the issue and buying better headsets for all the crews. The problem of vehicle vibration is not so easy to answer as it has been sourced to poor design and quality control in the manufacturing of the steel hulls (they were made in Spain). One can lament the way the government abandoned the British tank manufacturers fifteen years ago and looked to foreign companies, or one can decry the way the MoD cut their in-house technical directorate, which kept a handle on the quality, safety and reliability of a project throughout its procurement cycle, but the bottom line is that this vehicle is no longer fit for purpose.

The tragedy of Ajax at Troy is that he committed suicide because the Greek leadership favoured Odysseus in the vote for Achilles’ armour. Unfortunately, it looks like the Ajax tank is going the same way because the hulls are so full of defects and the British Army is less interested in the sort of high intensity land operations that were envisaged for this capability. Then there is the question of accountability…

A worn out Scimitar on UN operations in Bosnia 1995

Liberating Libya

Since the copy editor has completed her work on my next book, it is probably time that I mentioned it on this blog.

The story traces the British diplomatic and military work in this poorly-understood Mediterranean country that is geographically nearer to Britain than many European member states (London is closer to Tripoli than it is to Athens). It pays tribute to the 10,000 service personnel, who are buried in Commonwealth cemeteries and the dozens of regiments that laboured up Hellfire Pass and fought valiantly at Tobruk, Gazala, El Alamein and during the advance to Tripoli. It brings the reader right up to date with the situation today and with a significant contribution from David Cameron reveals the truth about what happened in 2011.

My publishers have set 15 October as the release date (just before the two important anniversaries of the Relief of Tobruk and the death of Gadhafi), but I am hoping to take a few advance copies to the Early Early Christmas Fair at Tedworth Polo Park on 28-29 September. This brilliantly organised event, which supports the Soldiers’ Charity (ABF) hosts more than a hundred stalls full of fabulous ideas for presents. Hopefully, there will not be another lockdown to spoil the fun.

The Sad Case of Lance Corporal Bernard Mongan

I intended to write about the British retreat from Kabul this week, but the shocking news about Bernie Mongan has to take precedent.

This heart-rending case is difficult to accept on so many levels. Bullying in the Army is a really complicated issue, which stems from the fundamental aspect of training men and women to cope with enemy bombs and bullets when the natural human instinct is to run away from danger.

However, the bullying in this case was nothing to do with “training hard to fight easy”. This was more to do with victimization and the challenge of dealing with someone who was suffering from PTSD. It is an appalling indictment of the leadership in 1st Military Intelligence Battalion that no one was punished for breaking Bernie’s eye socket before he died and that his body was not discovered in his room at Gaza barracks for three weeks.

There is a further disgrace that makes my blood boil and that is the neglect of his family. Every officer is taught the basic tenets of welfare, which includes ensuring soldiers’ families are looked after by the system. Bernie’s headquarters in Catterick did not even have his Next of Kin details, let alone provide his wife and three children with appropriate support. This is one of the most distressing cases I have heard about and brings to mind the failings that dragged the Army’s reputation through the dirt in 2005.

Twenty five years ago, the Army instructed all its units to improve their people management through the Investors in People accreditation process. The standards rose dramatically, but it was seen by some as too burdensome on operations. Now that the Army is no longer deployed so frequently, it should bring back IiP to ensure the sad case of Lance Corporal Bernard Mongan is not repeated.

Northern Ireland Prosecutions End

The collapse of the final cases against veterans who served in Northern Ireland during the early part of The Troubles is to be welcomed by impartial observers.

Whether or not the individuals who were killed were innocent of supporting terrorists at the time, it was an extraordinary piece of political duplicity for the Government to allow its soldiers, who were attempting to maintain law and order to the best of their ability, to be charged when known murderers are protected from prosecutions by the Good Friday Agreement.

There will always be non-negotiable, hard-liners, who think otherwise, but reconciliation has to be fair to all sides to work properly. It is a pity that it took the resignation of a Government minister to drive the message home.