~ COMBINED OPERATIONS COMMAND MEMORIAL ~
DEDICATION CEREMONY - JULY 4TH 2013
Speech by General Sir Richard Barrons, KCB CBE ADC Gen, Commander of the Joint Forces Command
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 more.
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 23.
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 communications – 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.
The first ‘big’ 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!
[Photo; 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 important.
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 single 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 splendid memorial.
'Joining Force' Memorial at Northwood JFC HQ
[Photo of memorial, Crown Copyright. Taken by Mark Rawlings.]
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