Letter to the Editor

Julian Thompson

November 12, 2013

‘A Snowball’s Hope in Hell’

If the description of what goes on now at higher formation HQ is accurate, I can only say ‘God help us’ if we find ourselves fighting a major war in which our national survival is at stake. As I said in my assessment, the problem seems to me to be that the principal that the commander makes the plan, and the staff put the flesh on it and makes it happen (movement, logistics, etc.etc.) appears to be forgotten. I know that the plan for 1st Armd Div in Gulf War One was Rupert Smith's.

If the commander does not make the plan you end up with an 'Irish Parliament'. When I was BM [Brigade Major – now Chief of Staff – Ed] of 3 Commando Brigade, I worked for two commanders. The first always made the plan. The second delegated it to me and the staff. We would serve up plan after plan, which were sent back for changing time after time. It was a lesson I learned by the time I became a brigade commander, and one that I used to tell the Intermediate Command and Staff Course (Land). I also knew a CO who, whenever he was told of an operational opportunity in Borneo, invariably took so long to make up his mind, dithering and consulting, that the opportunity had disappeared by the time he ordered action to be taken. His concern was not to make a mistake that would affect his career. He became a three-star general!

I suspect that part of the problem is the CMA (‘Cover My A**e’) syndrome, linked to political interference, and fear of the media. I guess that in these circumstances commanders feel more comfortable if the plan is arrived at by consensus. If it goes wrong they can sack the Chief of Staff!!

As for the size of the HQ and its immobility, I am left speechless.

Julian Thompson

Julian commanded 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines during the Falklands Conflict.