Books in brief: Boots on the Ground

"As recently as 1992 the size of the British Army was 145,000; now it is just 82,000"
November 17, 2016
Boots on the Ground: Britain and her Army since 1945 by Richard Dannatt (Profile, £25)

Six years ago, the then General Sir Richard Dannatt published his hard-hitting autobiography Leading from the Front. Among other things, it excoriated Tony Blair’s Labour government for invading Iraq without good reason or proper post-war planning, and for sending its overstretched troops to Afghanistan before the former conflict had been resolved.

His latest book—written in conjunction with Sarah Ingham—is more ambitious in scope: it aims to provide a commentary on Britain since the Second World War, “seen through the perspective of the Army.” It contains many of the same merits of his earlier work—unflinching opinions set out in clear, concise prose—and represents, to date, the best account of the British soldier and the role he or she has played since 1945.

It is shocking to be reminded that as recently as 1992 the size of the British Army was 145,000; now it is just 82,000. Dannatt wonders if, in the current security climate, “the Army could be too small to do everything that might be asked of it.” The answer is surely yes. Defence spending needs to be greater than 2 per cent of GDP and the current government must also take on board Dannatt’s lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan.

These lessons are that Britain’s Armed Forces must never again be taken to war without absolute candour to Parliament, the support of the British people, a fully thought-out strategy, an operational plan that provides a reasonable prospect of success in the campaign and sufficient resources to win the tactical battles.