British Army, 16 Air Assault Brigade board a 18 Squadron Chinook during Ex Swift Response in Hohenfels, Germany (Crown Copyright, 2016)

British Army in Germany, Who Will Stay?

Will Military Personnel Remain in Germany After the Drawdown?

Since General Sir Nick Carter, current Chief of the General Staff, stated the need to retain a forward operating base in Europe earlier this year, rumours have been rife that the Army is rethinking withdrawing troops from Germany. The Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) of 2010 set out the current plan to rebase British Army personnel stationed in Germany by 2020, but a question mark has been hanging over that strategy following General Carter’s speech.

Talking about ‘Dynamic Security Threats and the British Army’ at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in January this year, General Carter said that it is “important to stress the need for a forward mounting base” to meet any threat from Russia. This was widely reported as suggesting a reversal of the current plan; however, speaking on BFBS radio, the Commander of British Forces Germany, Brigadier Ian Bell, confirmed that rebasing would go ahead as planned.

Unique Collaborations Could Be Lost warned in August last year that bringing home all of the soldiers currently in Germany would destroy some unique collaborations that had been built up, such as that between the Royal Engineers’ wide wet gap crossing specialists and their German counterparts.

Currently, 23 Amphibious Engineer Troop and 412 Amphibious Engineer Troop, 75 Engineer Regiment, work closely with the German Panzerpionierbataillon 130 based at Minden. Last year, the sappers built an 80-metre bridge using the M3 rig to showcase their skills to the visiting Commander Field Army Lt Gen. Patrick Sanders and the Deutsches Heer’s Lt Gen. Carsten Jacobsen.

General Carter has highlighted the value added by such collaborations. Also during his RUSI speech, General Carter said, “the combined engineering regiment that we share with the Bundeswehr, based in Minden in Germany, is a very good example of how you can burden share and deliver more capability through a pairing and a partnership like that.”

Some British Troops Will Stay

However, it has always been part of the plan that some troops would remain in Germany, but which ones?

Brigadier Ian Bell said that there were still some 9,000 British Army personnel in Germany, including 26 Regiment Royal Artillery, 35 Engineer Regiment, 1st Battalion, The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (1 PWRR), 3 Armoured Close Support Battalion REME, 1 Armoured Medical Regiment and the Queen’s Royal Hussars.

According to the British Army website, the final moves will take place in 2019 with remaining Field Army units – including elements of 20th Armoured Infantry Brigade – leaving Paderborn, Sennelager, Bielefeld and Gütersloh. Headquarters British Forces Germany will also close. The website also states that a small number of detachments will remain following the drawdown to maintain and improve the British Army’s close ties with Germany and its Armed Forces.

During his radio interview, Brigadier Bell said that around 750 British Army personnel would stay on in Germany, but gave no specifics.

It was revealed at an Army Families Federation (AFF) roadshow in September, 2016, that British military personnel left in Germany following rebasing would be those working in NATO headquarters or as liaison officers, and in specialist training positions. Also mentioned as under consideration for remaining were the Adventure Training facilities in Bavaria, the vehicle storage site at Ayrshire Barracks, Mönchengladbach, and 23 Amphibious Troop at Minden.

Mönchengladbach Site Will Remain Open

Under a Freedom of Information request  made in 2017, the Ministry of Defence confirmed that the large armoured vehicle storage facility at Ayrshire Barracks, Mönchengladbach, would be retained by the British Army for at least four years following the withdrawal of the Field Army in 2019. Currently, more than a thousand military vehicles are stored at the Theatre Fleet Support Unit site in special climate-controlled conditions.

Rather than arguing for a reversal of strategy, it seems more likely that General Carter was referring to Mönchengladbach as that “forward mounting base”. But it has to be wondered whether a thousand vehicles stored in a foreign country without the troops to operate them is a credible option.

Image: A Chinook helicopter of 18 Squadron prepares to embark soldiers from 16 Air Assault Brigade for a move across the Hohenfels training area, Germany, during Exercise Swift Response in 2016.