Downsized Argylls live to fight another day amid expected armed forces cuts
THE Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders have been given a last minute reprieve by ministers, with the coalition government to announce today that all historic Scottish infantry names are to be saved.
However, defence secretary Philip Hammond will announce today to Parliament what is expected to announce a cut of around 30 per cent to the Royal Regiment of Scotland, whilst all British army battalions will be shrunk in size as part of a 20,000 to the regular army.
It also seems likely that the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, which as the Greys famously captured Napoleon’s imperial eagle at Waterloo, will be given a reprieve, becoming part of a newly merged tank regiment or a standalone battalion.
Whitehall sources last night confirmed that a late decision was made not to scrap any of the Scottish infantry names, partly in response to pressure ahead of the independence referendum.
It had been planned to either merge the name of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the fifth and most junior battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, with the Black Watch, the third battalion, or turn it into a Territorial Army regiment.
The army’s high command also made it clear it wanted to get rid of the Scottish Regiment’s fourth battalion, the Highlanders, which has the worst recruitment record in the army.
Instead, both will survive. The Argylls are to be reduced from more than 450 service personnel to company strength of between 100 and 150, largely responsible for public and ceremonial duties, making it the first unit of its type based outside London. The company will be moved from its current home in Canterbury to Edinburgh, probably based in the Castle, where most of its duties will take place.
The Argylls, famous as the “thin red line” at the battle of Balaclava, was on the verge of being scrapped in 1968 after being reduced to company strength, but was saved by the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Government sources acknowledged that the independence referendum had played a large part in the decision, but also said Prime Minister David Cameron had listened to Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson’s appeal based on the need to maintain links with communities across Scotland.
A Whitehall source said: “The important thing is that we have maintained the names and traditions and the golden thread of recruitment in Scotland.”
He added that it was possible that in the future, the Argylls, currently with a full strength of 465, could be restored to full battalion strength.
The decision will infuriate English Tory MPs and senior commanders in the army, who had been pushing for bigger cuts. The decision means that while the Royal Regiment of Scotland will drop to below 2,000 from its current strength of about 2,800, much larger cuts will be made south of the Border.
The decision was welcomed by Colonel Clive Fairweather, a retired former senior commander in Scotland and second in command of the SAS. Col Fairweather, a former honorary colonel for the Argylls, said: “The important thing was not the names and cap badges, but maintaining the number of units – which will make it far easier for the army to restore numbers if and when this country faces crises in the future.”
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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