When Uganda has more tanks (239) than Britain (227), one begins to wonder which world we’re living in. Let’s see: Uganda is definitely Third World…
If such residual questions still lingered, they’ve received a resounding answer: Britain’s entire force of tanks and armoured vehicles will be scrapped. This in a country that, on 15 September, 1916, was the first to use tanks in anger.
Much has changed since the Somme: military technology and tactics, geopolitical balance – and the understanding Britain used to have that the state’s prime function is to protect its population.
Our battle tank, the Challenger II, was born in the 1990s, and it needs upgrading. The cost of that, however, is seen as unaffordable. We’d rather spend our money on throwing benefits at freeloaders from the world over and propping up lame nationalised Leviathans.
It would be almost bearable, if no less reprehensible, if the government came out and honestly admitted that Britain can no longer afford playing a viable role in Nato and therefore the defence of the West. We are skint, and if that makes us a Third World weakling, then so be it. See if we care.
Instead, however, the government is making mendacious noises about rechannelling the funds into cyberwarfare, aviation and other modern tools. This is bilge.
There’s no question that tanks can no longer be used as they were in the First World War, when they played an auxiliary role, or in the Second, when they dominated the battlefield.
In the Second World War, tanks were practically invulnerable to air attacks because even low-altitude bombing didn’t then provide enough accuracy to hit even a stationary tank. Typically, dive bomber aces counted themselves lucky if they could hit a 100x100m square.
That could have been marginally effective against masses of tanks advancing in close formations, but not against tactically astute tank commanders who knew how to spread out and manoeuvre evasively. Throughout that war, tanks could really only be defeated by other tanks, anti-tank artillery or infantry weapons such as the German Panzerfaust.
The situation is different now. Precision bombing with laser-guided ordnance has made tanks exceedingly vulnerable to air attacks. That, however, hasn’t made them useless. It only means that new weapons require new tactics.
An enemy ability to turn advancing armour into sitting ducks can be downgraded or even negated by achieving air superiority before pushing the tanks through. After all, if the warplanes’ ability to hurt tanks with precision bombing has improved, then so has the ability to wipe out enemy airfields with similar weapons.
Coordinating the efforts of different army branches is as paramount now as it always has been, perhaps even more so. Yet no military man will claim that wars can be won from the air only, with armour relegated to the scrap heap.
With one exception, no modern war has ever been ended without tanks rolling in and clearing the way for the infantry. For example, both Hitler’s Germany and Saddam’s Iraq were bombed flat, with Germany gratefully receiving an almost three-megaton present from the Allies.
Yet neither war was won until armour moved in to claim the prize. Air attacks had made victory possible, but without the tanks they would have been merely an exercise in vindictive cruelty.
The one exception I mentioned earlier was Japan, which capitulated after those two well-known air raids. The atomic weapons used were so apocalyptic that the Japanese realised their country could be obliterated and then invaded at little cost to the invader.
That situation hasn’t changed since 1945: a confrontation with a strong adversary can’t be won by air attacks only – unless nuclear weapons are involved. If our government thinks tanks have outlived their purpose because they are vulnerable to laser-guided bombs, what about our small island’s vulnerability to nuclear bombs? These are bound to come if we solely rely on such weapons for our survival on the battlefield.
Since the Challenger II first saw the light of day, the Russians have introduced five new generations of tanks. They now have 12,950 of them in active service – and tens of thousands of older models mothballed.
If that increasingly aggressive country decides its time has come to recreate the Soviet Union, it would take the Americans weeks if not months to supplement their current force of 87 tanks in Europe. Since the Channel is rather narrower than the Atlantic, British tanks could be on the continent within hours, to help Nato defences.
With our armour scrapped, what help are we going to offer, assuming that a nuclear strike is off the table? Computer games with cyberwarfare? Some air support?
The military understand how ridiculous this is. One senior source said: “We simply will not be viewed as a credible leading Nato nation if we cannot field close-combat capabilities. It places us behind countries such as France, Germany, Poland and Hungary.” And Uganda, which isn’t even a Nato member. Perhaps she could take our place.
There’s no doubt that Covid has strained the Exchequer, but there are others in the same boat. Yet only Britain is planning to disarm in response to the financial squeeze.
Our governing spivs aren’t bothered about defence of the realm. They have more urgent concerns: how to bribe the electorate into voting the right way at the next election. They forget that neglecting defence is akin to playing Russian roulette – with an automatic.
P.S. We are good at cultural surrender too. It has just been announced that Rule, Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory will after all be played at the Last Night of the Proms – but without the lyrics. The cultural spivs are confusing something: it was Felix Mendelssohn, not Thomas Arne, who wrote songs without words.