British Army, British Forces Germany, Bergen-Hohne Training Area (Heidekreis, CC3, 2012)

British Army to Stay in Germany?

Gen Sir Nick Carter Rethinks German Withdrawal

The Head of the British Army, General Sir Nick Carter, has realised that current plans to withdraw the British Army from Germany may not have been such a good idea. Under the current Army 2020 plan, British Forces Germany (BFG) will be re-located back to the UK by 2020 – many units have already returned. But has sufficient consideration been given to Russia’s resurgent military ambitions in Eastern Europe?

Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) on Monday, 22 January, General Sir Nick Carter said that the threat from Russia meant that they were considering retaining military bases in Germany.

Talking about ‘Dynamic Security Threats and the British Army’, the Chief of the General Staff, the British Army’s highest professional appointment, Gen. Carter pointed out that “readiness is about speed of recognition, speed of decision-making and speed of assembly”. While the Army is constantly seeking to improve its ability to deploy over land by using road and rail, Gen. Carter emphasised that it is “also important to stress the need for a forward mounting base”. Until the end of 2019, Britain still has those bases.

In line with the announcement of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) of 2010, it is the Government’s intention to rebase the British Army from Germany to the UK by 2020. On the 4 November 2015, the Ministry of Defence confirmed that the final Field Army units will withdraw from Germany in 2019 in accordance with the Government’s SDSR 2010 commitment.

The Regular Army Basing Plan was announced on 5 March 2013 to support the full implementation of the Army 2020 plan. The plan sets out the location changes for the Army and also confirms the drawdown of all units from Germany by 2020.

Celle Station, Münster Station and the Rheindahlen Military Complex were closed and that estate handed back to the German Federal authorities. Consequently, the Headquarters British Forces Germany were rebased from Rheindahlen to Bielefeld in summer 2013 to place it at the centre of the remaining military population in Germany, from where it will be better able to provide key services to the remaining troops, their families and support staff.

In 2014, a number of units were disbanded or amalgamated, allowing the closure of Hameln Station on the disbandment of 28 Engineer Regiment.The major rebasing moves from Germany occurred in 2015 when 7 Armoured Brigade units moved from Bergen-Hohne and Fallingbostel, Headquarters 1 (United Kingdom) Armoured Division moved from Herford, and 16 Signal Regiment and 1 Armoured Division Signal Regiment rebased from Elmpt and Herford to Stafford. The Bergen-Hohne Garrison and Elmpt and Herford Stations were closed and returned to German Federal authorities.

Princess Royal Barracks, Gütersloh, and Alanbrooke Barracks, Paderborn, were closed and returned to Germany with the rebasing to the UK of 5 RIFLES from Paderborn and 6 Regt RLC from Gütersloh in 2016. Tower Barracks, Dülmen, and Kiel Training Centre were also closed and released in 2016. In 2017, 1 Military Working Dogs rebased to the UK.

At present the British Army still has a sizeable presence in Germany with 20th Armoured Brigade, headquarted at Normandy Barracks, outside Paderborn, comprising The Royal Dragoon Guards, The Queen’s Royal Hussars and ‘The Highlanders’, the 4th Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland (4 SCOTS), supported by 1 Armoured Medical Regiment, 35 Engineer Regiment, 3 Armoured Close Support Battalion REME and 1st Battalion, The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment. 26 Regiment Royal Artillery remained stationed at Mansergh Barracks, Gütersloh and British Forces Germany (BFG) is headquartered at Catterick Barracks, Bielefeld (Bielefeld Station). The current Commander BFG is Brigadier Ian Bell.

Under the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, all British troops in Germany were earmarked for recall back to the UK, with the final units set to leave the county in 2019 and the bases there closed. A small number of detachments will remain following the drawdown to maintain and improve the British Army’s close ties with the German Bundeswehr. This may include units such as 412 Amphibious Engineer Troop and 23 Amphibious Engineering Troop, 75 Engineer Regiment, who have a close working relationship with German counterparts in deploying mobile bridging capabilities.

Working with the German Panzerpionierbataillon 130 based at Minden, the specialist Royal Engineer units pilot the 26-tonne amphibious M3 rig used to ferry troops and vehicles or connect together to form a pontoon bridge. Forces.net warned in August last year that show unique capabilities could be lost.

Bringing the estimated 20,000 soldiers back to the UK is expected to save £240 million a year in operating costs, but will potentially leave the UK unable to effectively deploy against any European challenges. About 15,000 soldiers have already returned to the UK.

General Carter said that “State-based competition is now being employed in more novel and increasingly integrated ways and we must be ready to deal with them.”The threats we face are not thousands of miles away but are now on Europe’s doorstep – we have seen how cyber warfare can be both waged on the battlefield and to disrupt normal people’s lives – we in – the UK are not immune from that.”

Mirroring Kremlin concerns made by others, General Carter highlighted how last year Russia undertook simulated attacks across Northern Europe – from Kaliningrad to Lithuania.

Genral Carter’s comments come only days after the British Army confirmed the drawdown from Germany earlier. Major General Alastair Dickinson, CBE, Director of Army Basing and Infrastructure said:

By confirming the timetable to bring the final units back from Germany we are providing our service personnel and their families with greater certainty to allow them to plan for their futures.”

Maj. Gen. Dickinson also sought to stress that Britain’s relationship with Germany would be unaffected by the move: “While fewer personnel will remain in Germany after 2019, Germany will remain one of our most valued NATO and European partners, and we will continue to intensify and deepen our security and defence relationship with them.”

As far back as 2015, then Minister of Defence, Sir Michael Fallon, revealed that Britain was under pressure from NATO to keep a military presence in Europe, according to the Mirror. The Major Projects Authority had also warned that the rebasing plan was flawed: “successful delivery of the project appears to be unachievable.”

During his speech, General Carter was clear that Britain “must take notice of what is going on around us” or that the ability by the UK to take action will be “massively constrained”.

“Speed of decision making, speed of deployment and modern capability are essential if we wish to provide realistic deterrence,” he added.

The time to address these threats is now – we cannot afford to sit back.

General Carter’s comments come during a period of widespread concern over possible cuts to the defence budget and a continuing sense of crisis in Army recruitment.

Other Sources: British Army