Big Ships V Small Ships Don’t Mess with The Royal Marines

I do make a point of looking at some of the statistics that involve modern navies and match them against what we are doing. We seem currently to be in a bit of a mess with our two new aircraft carriers.

The first of the new Queen Elizabeth class carriers are struggling to acquire aircraft, struggling with manning requirements and we appear to have some difficulty in finding an appropriate base where these ships have freedom of movement. The Queen Elizabeth is to be based at Portsmouth we are told but at the moment the harbour is being dredged to accommodate the ship. It is also reported that exit and entry to the dockyard can only be achieved during high tide where there appears to be an hourly slot where the ship can move in and out without difficulty. The ship already has manning problems with insufficient trained sailors available to fill all the slots. There is also a planned reduction in Royal Marine numbers where proposals have been announced to reduce the Corps by 250 Marines mainly comprising “roles like drivers and administrative staff”. These Marines will be what is described as “re-purposed” from the Royal Marines to other parts of the Navy. Berets swapped for round hats it would appear. Not very clear what happens if you say that you joined the Royal Marines and do not want to work as a sailor. However, no redundancies are planned.

Apparently, there are currently about 7000 Royal Marines and this number has maintained since the 1980’s. The number of sailors has declined in line with the steep decline in ship and submarine numbers. However, if you look statistically at the other navies of the world you would be alarmed to note that the major powers, i.e. the United States, Russia and China are working at full speed to increase the size of their naval manpower and ships. The Chinese for example currently have a Marine Corps of 20000 which is being increased to 100000. They have a total of some 235000 sailors. It is intended that some of the proposed Chinese Marines will be based in China friendly countries around the world. Landing craft are being built which it is again reported to include one of 35000 tons with “considerable transport capacity” along with “substantial helicopter platforms.” Russia appears to be upgrading most of its fleet. The US figures are equally mindboggling. Donald Trump has signed off budgets which will allow the USN a fleet of. of 355 ships by the end of his first term as President. The US Navy have seven shipyards building these ships with some 50000 workers. Interestingly welders engaged on building nuclear powered vessels must serve a seven-year apprenticeship. The US fleet is by far the biggest and most powerful in the world currently boasting more aircraft carriers and nuclear-powered attack submarines than the rest of the world put together. We have no chance whatsoever to catch up in this arms race, we cannot possibly afford it and more to the point do we need to. Clearly these countries are years ahead of us and being sensible about it our time has been and gone.

Many smaller countries with what would appear “very little need” are now buying conventional diesel-powered submarines and small craft at an alarming rate all equipped with an array of weapons that

are formidable and frightening and on their own could win a war!!! It appears you buy a basic U-boat and then select your extras from a wish list.

I recall the US dealt effectively with a Syrian airfield strike with missiles fired from a “destroyer”. Why do we want huge carriers costing fortunes that we are unable to crew let alone fill with strike aircraft and of course man!!! Statistics again, it is estimated by the National Audit Office that employing the two carriers will require a “significant proportion” of the Navy’s already over stretched fleet. It is estimated a carrier task group was likely to represent around 27 per cent of the overall British fleet by tonnage and a fifth of the fleet’s entire personnel strength. Extra sailors are also needed to man the RN’s new Astute class attack submarines with a sixth and seventh already on the blocks. (£1.4 billion each I believe).

Germany has designed and built a new “U-boat” known as the 214 U-Boat and is described as the “Global Weapon of Choice”. and is supplying bits and pieces to various countries so that can build their own. These submarines have torpedo facilities which can be adapted to fire missiles, have very superior safety features both for the submarines and for the crew with massive high tech automatic activity that comes into play in any type of emergency. Crews are maximised at 45 including five officers and seem readily available. South Korea and Turkey, also customers, are buying them in quantity, but have smaller crews and more automatic functioning equipment. (I noted in the customer list Greece have acquired four such vessels totaling some £2 billion pounds the last one being delivered in 2016. Thought they were broke!!) My question once again, do we really need these two big carriers. Watch out for the mothballs coming out shortly for that second one?

In announcing the changes to the Royal Marine Service the First Sea Lord said that the RN had to adapt to meet the challenges of a dangerous and uncertain world. The Government is investing in a new generation of ships, submarines and aircraft. “As we introduce these capabilities we must ensure we have the right mix of skills across each of the Navy’s fighting arms to optimise how we use them and I have sought to find the right balance between Sailors and Royal Marines in responding to this challenge. The First Sea Lord issued a reassurance that the Royal Marines remain bound into every part of the Royal Navy’s future from conducting sophisticated operations from the sea at a variety of scales and against a range of threats, using our new aircraft carriers as a leading the service’s development of information warfare. They will continue to be as vital to the defence of the realm in the years ahead as they have been for the past 350.” The Commandant General of the Royal Marines has pointed out that the Corps “is seeking to ensure we remain as relevant tomorrow as we do today.” Further reports indicated that the Royal Marine Commando divisions would be jointly known as Maritime Operation Commando. It will consist of 600 elite Royal Marines and the suggestion was made that 60 such Royals could be carried in each of the relatively new and troublesome Type 45 Daring Class destroyers which it suggests also would amount to “a significant embarked unit”. It would be expected to deploy to frigates, destroyers and other vessels to provide boarding teams and other groups for front line tasks. In some ways, the change sees a return traditional roles for Royal Marines, offering the hard edge of highly trained groups of sea soldiers that can handle a variety of jobs in demanding environments. Further words of wisdom declared that “SAILORS COULD NEVER TAKE ON SUCH TASKS (NOR WOULD THEY WANT TO). Says who???? I know one or two choice jobs that could be allocated.

As well as reducing the number of Royal Marines the Navy is also considering cutting the number of amphibious vessels and will next year de-commission HMS Ocean the Navy’s current flagship and sole assault carrier seven years early in order to provide crew for the second super carrier. The MoD envisages the new carriers providing some capacity to support amphibious assault missions via helicopter lifts and not via landing craft. However, modifications to the carriers for this role have yet to be funded. It has in the meantime been reported that HMS Ocean is to be sold to the Brazilian Navy for £80.3 million pounds. Although the MoD has not confirmed this sale it has not ruled out such a move. Generally speaking this decommissioning of HMS Ocean seven years early has been strongly criticised by previous Sea Lords. There is no current replacement and to use the super carriers would mean them working close to shore performing an amphibious role and make them vulnerable. We seem to be between a rock and a hard face all the way round.

There were a lot more notes that I researched but my ink is running out. The best quote I read was from Lord Ashdown (Paddy Ashdown one time MP) and I can only repeat what Lord Ashdown who served in the Royal Marines as a Special Boat Squadron officer mentioned on a Radio 4 interview when asked his view. He said that, in an unpredictable age the UK needed forces that were “fast, flexible and mobile” and he doubted cutting the Royal Marines was the way to do this pointing out that the Royal Marines are a response force that can work “at world class level”. I am sure no one would ever deny that.

Lord Ashdown went on: “To cut their numbers to fill a naval manpower black hole is not just poor reward for their service over the past years, but a folly which plays fast and loose with the nation’s defences. The Royal Marines have carried the greatest burden in the defence of our country over the last decade, they have fought in more theatres and won more battles than any other British unit. They are also the crucial manpower tool from which we draw many of our special forces. The Royal Marines were paying the price for “foolish decisions” made in the UK’s last Strategic Defence Review in which service chiefs were allowed to hang on to their prestigious equipment even if they made little or no contribution to the nation’s strategic long-term defence needs. He finished by saying, “We are now saddled with cuts to the Royal Marines to pay for sailors to man two huge aircraft carriers which many fear are little more than floating white elephants”. Sadly, I am afraid I share the views of Lord Ashdown.

Shipmates, I am afraid that we have been relegated to the lower divisions and when next the shout goes up “The Navy’s here”, the response will be, “Which one?”.

I have requested that Chairman Mike reads this before it is published and lets us know his feelings acknowledging his obvious pride at having served in the Royal Marines.

RNA Norwich

The Norwich Branch is one of 300+ branches of the Royal Naval Association world wide. It was commissioned in 1979 and today has a membership of just over 90. It is a registered charity in its own right - the Registered Charity Number is: 1068699

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