It was ever thus with tanks (see earlier blog) according to a friend and former colleague, Peter Hehir.
Peter wrote about the tanks blog: “Researching my father’s army career – 40 years in the Royal Tank Regiment – I discovered some gems. The new British tank they had been demanding in Egypt, when Rommel’s Panzers were able to fire about half a mile further than our British effort, eventually arrived. It was a shocker. Hardened Tankies could not understand basic interior faults, let along fire power weakness.
“Apparently the Minister instructed someone to design a new tank. Buggins went to someone else (there was no office for tank design) and they ended up in the naval docks at Chatham, where boats and ships were built.
“Two men were given a loft room and god knows what brief. But they never consulted anyone from the Tank Regiment, anyone with experience of driving one and no idea what it was like to be in one in a battle. They sent their drawings off to the manufacturer who didn’t consult either.
“The biggest problem was when the man standing up to look out at the battle got hit he’d’ fall, probably headless, into the interior, entirely blocking the only exit. When a tank is hit it ‘brews up’ as they used to say – instant fire inside. So often the whole crew died.
“There were smaller issues such as sharp edges- not good when you are bouncing along desert rocks.”
…and it got worse: “Dad was QM when they headed north to help the Greeks. They got all the tanks there safely, and the spares. But days into training, when in bad conditions things tend to break they opened the spares boxes and found they were for the wrong sort of tank.”
Peter also reminded the blog that Liz Truss’ campaign appearance atop a tank was homage, nudge and wink to Margaret Thatcher who once did the same.
The difference was that Thatcher managed to look a bit like Boadicea while Truss simply looked foolish and out of place.
Thinking of Thatcher there is a parallel with John Howard. Thatcher is in British political memory – at least among conservatives – the ultimate PM (ranked just after Churchill) a bit like John Howard in Australian conservative political memory. Sadly, for the Australian memorialists, Howard is still around and his interventions nowadays aren’t helping to maintain the mystique while Thatcher’s last years were lost as dementia set in and her political interventions ended.
By the way, Thatcher inspired a wide variety of responses from Tory adulation to trade union hatred. The most unusual was probably that of the politician, historian, diarist and philanderer Alan Clark who said she was very sexy and that she had the eyes of Caligula. This odd pairing might reflect British upper class male toilet training or the influence of their nannies
His magnificent three volume diaries tell us much about Tory politics but also why Clark not only found Thatcher sexy but also just about every other woman he met – including the two sisters who were his immediate neighbours and with which he was concurrently having affairs.
Whether he’d fancy Truss or not is another question – although she is a woman which would be a good start with Clark.
On a more sombre note an ex-military friend picked up on the massive problems with Australia’s arms procurement – and not only tanks.
“Absolutely agree on the weapons procurement issue. It seems so painfully obvious that the current practices give us capability we don’t need far too late and at outrageous costs,” he said.
“I hate to say it but I suspect it has something to do with the post service career aspirations of officers in the relevant departments. Be a driving force now for getting something from XYZ Inc, and XYZ might accommodate you sometime later.
“Defence has long stubbornly refused to address this issue. But it’s easy enough in principle. Just legislate a gap of a couple of years before it’s possible.”
The UK satirical magazine, Private Eye, gives regular updates on the consequences of this sort of situation on defence procurement – lots of waste and underperformance. Perhaps some media outlet here should do the same.