The Combined Operations Directorate and the Joint Forces Command
Outside my office there is a new
board with my name as the second Commander of the Joint Forces Command
after Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach .... but his is not the first
name on that board. Above our names are the names of very distinguished
officers and warriors who previously commanded an organisation that stands
as our alma mater.....the Combined Operations Directorate.
My predecessors include no less
than Admirals Keyes and Mountbatten but 'Combined' in those days was very much
related to the amphibious landing of troops, coloured by Gallipoli and reaching its high point on D Day. After the end of the war, the skills and
lessons faded quickly with little imperative and nobody to champion them. For some, the increasing importance of air power made these capabilities
seem less relevant, and they were quite wrong.
We think back now on the fall of
France in 1940 and the need to consider the potential re-invasion of the
Continent. The imperative for Combined Operations, on a vastly increased
scale then ever attempted before, was all too obvious. Lt Gen Bourne, a
Royal Marine, was appointed "Commander of Raiding Operations and Adviser
to the Chiefs of Staff on Combined Operations." A marine was an ideal
choice as they fully embraced the concept, although the RN was still
focussed on conventional maritime operations. Churchill wanted something
So, Churchill resurrected the hero
of Zeebrugge, his old friend Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Keyes, aged nearly
70, to build the new force. Reactions from the military leaders of the
day ranged from scepticism to outrage, but Keyes stood up as the first
Director of Combined Operations. The first HQ was established in Richmond
Terrace, opposite the Ministry of Defence. Minor raids onto the continent
began and a force of 5,000 men were equipped with increasing numbers of
landing craft and trained at Inveraray in Scotland.
[Photo Crown Copyright. The Joint Forces Command HQ taken
by Mark Rawlings].
One of the biggest challenges
Keyes faced was the lack of clearly defined or understood
responsibilities. Keyes was clear that he was solely responsible to the
Defence Minister (the Prime Minister) on all matters concerned with
Combined Operations; whereas the Chiefs were certain that Keyes was their
servant with limited responsibilities for training and minor raids but not
for large scale amphibious operations. Unfortunately, Keyes' poor
interpersonal relationships with the Chiefs did not allow for a suitable
compromise or accommodation. History is shaped by human factors as much
as reason and logic.
In late 1941 the Chiefs insisted
that Keyes be re-titled 'Adviser' rather than Director. Churchill upheld
the Chiefs' view that only they could advise the defence committee and war
cabinet. Keyes disagreed and was replaced - the Chiefs had won in what had
been a bitter episode. So the very junior, somewhat unproven and newly
promoted Commodore Mountbatten arrived at a difficult period for Combined
Operations. Churchill instructed him to begin a series of raids of ever
increasing intensity with the ultimate aim of preparing to invade France.
In his directive of 16 Oct 1941,
Churchill made it clear that the invasion of France would be under the
general direction of the Chiefs. Mountbatten began to strengthen his
position by mending relationships, which he did with customary style, tact
and diplomacy, even though his own Service still watched him more
carefully than the others. Two months after taking on his new role, he was
given the dual role of adviser to the Chiefs and Commodore Combined
Operations (including large scale). When Mountbatten took over the
Directorate the HQ staff (including typists and messengers) numbered only
Mountbatten split his new
organisation in two: admin and ops. It was the operational half which was
to expose the inter-service nature of Combined Ops. Mountbatten firmly
believed that ventures where soldiers, sailors and airmen were required to
co-operate closely could succeed only if they planned, lived and played
together and forgot not their skills but their individual service
loyalties and patterns of thinking. Any evidence of single
service bias marked them out as unfit for present duties. The operations side of
the HQ was further split into planning, intelligence, training and
– again, very similar to my
organisation. The intelligence and communications requirements of Combined
Operations resulted in an inter service organisation. This is another
reflection of how the modern Joint Forces Command operates today.
Within 6 months the staff had
grown to over 400. Mountbatten would personally scout and poach personnel
to fill his staff. One of his more eccentric choices was his head of
intelligence - the Marquis of Casa Maury, a rich glamorous racing driver,
dismissed by some as a decorative playboy (ahem). But it was Mountbatten's
cohort of scientists that drew the most criticism. When Evelyn Waugh dined
with Mountbatten and his scientists, he commented that he found it a nest
of communists. Some described his HQ, HMS Wimbledon, as all rackets and
balls. However, it was the bright minds of Geoffrey Pyke, J D Bernal and Solly Zuckerman working there, that were the architects of D-day.
raid was on Vaagso, an island in Norway, followed by Bruneval and then St
Nazaire and later at the end of 1942 the famous "Cockleshell Heroes" of
operation FRANKTON. There were also the small scale raids on the continent and
the Channel Islands aimed at demoralising the enemy whilst encouraging the
Home Front. There was Operation STARKEY
– the deception operation
of 1943 that was the precursor to full scale deception operations for D
Day. There also was the rapid operationalisation of cutting edge
technology that gave birth to battle winning solutions such as PLUTO
(pipeline under the ocean), the MULBERRY docks, novel navigational aids to
get the recce teams close in, amphibious tanks to name a few ... and a few
not so successful thought experiments such as the infamous Ice Ship.
So Combined Operations harnessed
the actions of the extra-ordinarily brave with the brilliantly
ingenious. It was a fusion of technology, training, concepts,
communication and intelligence. The parallels definitely exist today in
JFC when Special Forces, Defence Intelligence, Defence Academy, Doctrine
Centre, medical services, logistics and communications are under one
hand. The only thing the heroes of Operation CHARIOT might not recognise
is 'Cyber,' but I suggest they might have used it to good effect in shutting
down the dockyard services in St Nazaire!
General Barrons delivering this speech at the dedication ceremony].
On 4 March 1942, Churchill
summoned Mountbatten to lunch where he was told that he was to become the
Chief of Combined Operations, as the fourth chief of staff in the acting
rank of Vice-Admiral, Lieutenant-General and Air-Marshal. Not bad for a
junior captain in a shore appointment.... as First Sea Lord pointed out
when he objected to the move. Despite the army and air force pressing for
him to get their uniforms, Mountbatten pleaded that he had insufficient
coupons. In fact he was barely able to come to terms with the higher rank
of his own Service, but he was now at the heart of defence with friends in
high places and a looming task that would become all consuming and all
Slowly Mountbatten appears increasingly
prominent in the COS' minutes of the day and by the summer of 1942 any
attempt to discriminate his role from the others was abandoned. The directorate flourished through the war years making a vital
contribution (including at D Day) until 2 years after the war its role was
eclipsed by the more pressing demands of the Cold War.
I find myself facing similar
problems to those of Keyes and Mountbatten but am pleased to report the modern Chiefs are far more collegiate. The importance of the
Services, who provide the men and women who make us work, and most
importantly the vital combat force elements that deliver the hard fighting power, mean that teamwork is our watchword and I seek to support
rather than compete with the Navy, Army and Air Force. In the team game
my role is not as the owner, nor the manager, nor Captain but possibly the
midfield playmaker. To steal the strapline from the modern-day Commandos,
Joint is a
“state of mind". Mountbatten put it slightly more lyrically: "ventures where soldiers,
sailors and airmen were required to co-operate closely, could succeed only
if they planned, lived and played together and forgot not their skills
but their individual loyalties and patterns of thinking."
Ladies and gentlemen we have a
very proud legacy, and one where the challenges were very similar to
today, albeit the strategic stakes were of a magnitude greater. However,
UK defence faces as great a challenge today as we try to impose ourselves
on an uncertain world against an increasingly agile, devious and ruthless
enemy. We do so with so many more tools available with which to apply our
trade, but costs are high and society’s
appetite for paying for them is understandably much reduced. We have to
make hard choices and exercise great initiative.
[Photo; the plaque
unveiled, General Barrons looks on as the Rev Prebendary Tony Wood
dedicates the memorial].
So, we do well to heed the lessons
of the past and apply them today. My team look back to Combined
Operations with a sense of history and pride
– it is part of our history
and I am pleased to say that the badge of Combined Operations is once more
being worn on our uniforms in my HQ and on operations around the world. I
am proud to be here today, and privileged to unveil the plaque to this
'Joining Force' Memorial at Northwood
[Photo of memorial, Crown Copyright. Taken
by Mark Rawlings].
There are around 300 books listed on
our 'Combined Operations Books' page. They, or any
other books you know about, can be purchased on-line from the
Advanced Book Exchange (ABE). Their search banner link, on our 'Books' page, checks the shelves of
thousands of book shops world-wide. Just type in, or copy and paste the
title of your choice, or use the 'keyword' box for book suggestions.
There's no obligation to buy, no registration and no passwords.
and development of the Combined Operations badge.
specimen badges from WW2 to the
Index to over 150 Combined Operations related subjects.