Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Culture in Battle

The following presentation was given by the Commanding Officer of the Scots Guards LT COL Mike Scott (who recently retired as a Major General)

Culture in Battle: 2nd Battalion, Scots Guards at Tumbledown Mountain — 14 June 1982

Mike Scott

Before looking at culture in battle, it is, I think, important to paint a backcloth of the culture of the British which, of course, underpins all that we do, including fighting in a war. What is that? Fish and chips, roast beef, the Beatles, cricket, the Royal Family, James Bond, the pub, the last night of the Proms, or poppies on Remembrance Sunday? However, you might think all that is a little superficial and we should dig deeper. Although multi-culturalism has been much in the news in this country of late, in truth the British Isles have been multi-cultural since the earliest arrivals of Celts, Vikings, Romans, Saxons, the Norman French and so on. We are the people of an Island comprising English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh nationalities — and I have deliberately put those in alphabetical order! These four nations share a great deal, but each has its own ideas of identity and particular cultural heritage. Our long history, our geography and our weather are but three examples of major contributors to our culture.

But the average inhabitant of the United Kingdom, despite his well- developed sense of humour, attaches enormous importance to his equally well-developed sense of fairness. When roused, he will stand up with thousands of others to demand what is fair and, if he has to, fight for it.

While not critical to the outcome of any tactical battle, success in war is largely dependent on belief in the justification for conflict and support of the home population. In the case of the Falklands Conflict, while historians and academics could argue the ownership rights of the Islands, there was no doubt, in the minds of the British general public, including the Armed Forces, that the Falkland Islands were a dependency of the United Kingdom. The Islanders did not see themselves as an offshore province of Argentina. Galtieri’s troops were a force occupying against their will and Britain had a contract to defend them. So my first point on culture in battle is that all my soldiers understood and believed in the cause for which they were to fight.

My Regiment is composed of volunteer professional soldiers. The normal contract for a warrant officer or non-commissioned officer (NCO) can be up to twenty-two years, so senior ranks in my Battalion had served for many years. Officers can serve in a battalion up to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. I was forty-one years old in 1982, but did not retire from the British Army until the age of fifty-five. (Mind you, the average age of my Guardsmen was only twenty-two).

We are also a family Regiment. Often men follow their fathers or brothers into the Regiment and some have forbears going back to the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Officers and soldiers who have served together for years know each other very well and establish a close relationship seldom understood by those outside. All this combines to create an insuperable strength and depth of confidence in each other. My second point therefore is the inestimable value of a disciplined and
tightly bonded team to which every individual feels a profound sense both of duty and of personal loyalty. This is a battle-winning factor.

We are a Regiment proud of our traditions and our close affiliation to the British Royal Family. We are jealous of our privilege of guarding the Sovereign and, because of our ceremonial public duties in London, we have less time for tactical training than other units. While this is an obvious disadvantage, it does not prevent us from carrying out our operational tour responsibilities. In the years prior to 1982 we had had long periods of counter-terrorism operations in Northern Ireland. We were not as physically fit, nor as well-trained for war-fighting, as the Parachute Regiment or Royal Marine Commandos, but then they are specialist shock troops, expensively and specifically trained for impact operations. While our critics sometime see our lack of training or physical fitness as an inadequacy, I have yet to meet anyone who has suggested that more fitness or training would have altered the final outcome of the Battle of Tumbledown. In practice, our considerable experience of Northern Ireland operations, highly dependent on low- level section and platoon command tactics, leads to my third point. Whilst the minute-to-minute requirements of a full-scale night Battalion deliberate attack and ensuing battle might be different, all my junior commanders — from the Majors commanding companies of about 100 Guardsmen, down to the Corporals commanding perhaps only three or four Guardsmen — were self-confident, trusted by those under their command, and used to making quick decisions on their own.

While the plan and execution of our attack on Tumbledown is now well known, what is less apparent is that its strength lay in the fact that it was designed, considered, and enthusiastically endorsed by my command team. It was not, therefore, a plan autocratically imposed by me. It was, however, my responsibility to persuade the 5 Infantry Brigade Commander, who originally had some different ideas, to approve it. My fourth point then is that we have a very well rehearsed system for planning, and an equally well-practised system for ensuring that the plan, once agreed, is known and understood by all. Every man knew what was expected of him immediately prior to the Tumbledown battle.

It goes without saying that leadership, my fifth and final point, is vital. In this battle, once contact was made, it became the company and platoon commanders’ operation, coupled with the efforts of their NCOs. My influence on the battle was, in the end, reduced to adapting the direct and indirect fire support, encouraging and guiding the company commanders, maintaining a deployable reserve, anticipating alternatives if things went wrong, and keeping the Brigadier calm! Our records of the battle demonstrate our commitment to leadership from the front at all levels. Overall, we suffered eight dead and forty wounded — over fifty percent of these casualties were officers, warrant officers and NCOs.

A final brief word on the aftermath, although I realise it is being examined at this University International Colloquium in much more detail and depth. We acquired considerable self-confidence, personally and militarily, having succeeded in accomplishing a difficult battalion level night attack of a scale not seen since the Korean War, which had occurred some thirty years before. The six weeks in which we were left behind in the Falklands after the war, whilst difficult and frustrating, had the long-term advantage that we bonded even closer together. Platoon commanders were accommodated with their men. We had no family or media intrusion. Camaraderie, at a level no other experience can create, was established amongst those who had seen real battle at close quarters. These important bonds were made which will last for the rest of our lives. When we returned to the United Kingdom there was not for us any of the swaggering braggadocio of the conquering hero, but the quiet confidence that we, and others, knew our worth. We resumed our duties and got on with life.

In conclusion, I am intensely proud of all the men of my Battalion. They are the true inheritors of those who defended Hougoumont.

No comments: