One of the things I did when preparing to fight the Navy SEALs for our ‘Remembrance Day Rumble’ to raise money for charity was do a bit of reading up on US naval history.
I’m a land combat man myself and I’ll admit I don’t know much about life on the ocean waves – but I was deeply impressed by the many stories of real guts sacrifice over the ages – not least in the brutal and bloody war against the Japanese in the Pacific.
One particular incident really stuck in my mind: It was the story of Task Force Taffy Three at the Battle off Samar during the wider Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippine Sea on October 25th 1944.
Despite being described as one of the greatest mismatches in naval history, the ships of the Task Force – largely destroyers and destroyer escorts – launched an all out assault on a Japanese force of battleships and cruisers, backed up with air support.
The went at them at fill tilt – and despite suffering appalling casualties – helped to inflict the final defeat on the Japanese navy as the fleet remained in port for the rest of the war.
One historian wrote “In no engagement of its entire history has the United States Navy shown more gallantry, guts and gumption than in those two hours between 0730 and 0930 off Samar.”
The battle was on my mind this morning while I listened to the latest government report into the state of our once proud Royal Navy.
After years of cutbacks and neglect, the state of the RN is little short of a national scandal. The parliamentary inquiry says that we now have “a pathetically low” number of ships – the worst in the history of the service.
Is this what we’ll be reduced to if the balloon goes up against the mighty Chinese or Russian navies– sailing into battle out-manned and outgunned – going down fighting just like the brave men in Task Force Taffy 3?
When the Parliamentary Report came out, the usual suspects came out on radio and television to say that at this time of economic crisis defense spending was not a priority.
What these people fail to appreciate is that the number one duty of any government is to protect the safety of its citizens.
The world has never been a more dangerous and unstable place and we need the security that strong armed forces bring.
As an SF operator I’m always going to argue that the needs of the Army are going to come before that of the Navy or the Royal Air Force– that’s in my DNA. (I also have to confess that some of the best tear-ups I’ve had in my life have been with the good citizens of the historic naval base of Portsmouth – deadly rivals to my home town Southampton – but that’s another story!)
But I recognize that we need a strong Navy as well – it’s a no-brainer
Only last month a Russian aircraft carrier and a Kirov class cruiser were filmed in the English Channel en route to bolster the bombing campaign in Syria.
There was no doubt that the Russians would have been using the sail past to track and monitor our own capabilities every inch of the way.
It was a public display of an old enemy flexing its muscle. And while the aircraft carrier wasn’t exactly state of the art, there are some real threats lurking off our coats.
What is causing the Navy top brass (and your lot Stateside) major headaches are the frequent incursions of the Russian submarine fleet at levels described to me as at the “highest levels since the Cold War.”
The word among those in the know is that these include a new generation of Russian nuclear power stealth submarines capable of evading detection by our current technology that has failed to keep up with the latest developments.
This means two things – they get to sneak in and around our most sensitive installations – including the nuclear base at Faslane.
It also means they can launch their big fuck off warheads undetected.
Our government response is that defense spending is at its highest level for six years.
But when I took a closer look at the figures I found, the usual government trick of playing fast and loose with the truth.
The spending figures including substantial amounts like pension payments which are always welcome, but if they’re not going to supply the necessary kit to ensure you live long enough to retire… are a bit meaningless.
What successive governments always fail to take into account are all the other benefits of spending other than just Defense of the Realm.
It gives you technological innovation, scientific advances – and taking a whole generation of young men and women in and giving them a whole range of skills and training.
So instead of having to sit and listen to the embarrassment of having our once great Navy reduced to the laughing-stock of the world, let’s get our act together and start investing properly; before it’s too late.
Featured image courtesy of Wikipedia