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Exercise Crusader

Volume 414: debated on Tuesday 4 November 1980

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2.40 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a statement as soon as possible on the lessons learnt from Exercise Crusader.

My Lords, Crusader was a very successful exercise. Over 30,000 troops were moved from the United Kingdom, including some 20,000 members of the Territorial Army and substantial numbers of the RAF. The TA turn-out was high and its performance throughout received well-deserved praise. The great majority of reinforcements were in their exercise positions within 48 hours of leaving their bases, demonstrating our ability to reinforce BAOR swiftly and effectively should the need arise. The field training exercise in Germany, in which American and German forces played a prominent part, tested our operational techniques on a scale previously untried. A number of areas have been identified where improvements may be needed, and many valuable lessons have been learned. But it will take several months to analyse the exercise in detail.

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that Answer, may I ask him whether he can elaborate a little as to how our allies, and particularly Germany, regarded the exercise?

My Lords, I believe that our allies in NATO were impressed by our ability to perform the reinforcement role which we had undertaken, and I think they also particularly welcomed this demonstration of our commitment to defence on the European continent.

My Lords, would the Minister tell me what the cost was to us? I am not against defence in any way, naturally; but how much did this whole exercise cost?

My Lords, the exercise cost was in the region of £82 million in excess of normal exercise costs, and we believe that this was very well worth while.

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord the Minister, in reference to his statement that the auxiliary forces deserved praise, to say how they adapted themselves to the situation along-side our regular forces? He probably is aware that many Members of the House of Lords—including myself—consider the efficiency of our auxiliary forces to be of supreme importance.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his question, which shows considerable understanding of what this exercise was intended to do. We were extremely satisfied, both by the turn-out of the Territorial Army and their performance, and I believe that the Regular Army were very impressed by the demonstrated ability of the auxiliary forces to support them in the way which was planned, in a time of tension.

My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister tell us whether, when the Government have completed their analysis of the lessons learnt from this very important exercise, a fuller statement will be made available to the public? Also, could some report of this be included in the annual Defence White Paper?

My Lords, these are two interesting ideas. Certainly a full analysis of the exercise will be made: after spending that much money, of course, it would be necessary. When the report has been compiled in the New Year we shall have to consider how much of it could be presented both to the House and to the public at large, and what would be the most effective way of doing it, consistent with the security considerations which are bound to surround it.

My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether any lessons were learned from this exercise about the ability of small numbers of infantry, using modern laser-guided anti-tank weapons, to stop an armoured thrust in Central Europe: and what conclusions we may draw from this regarding the effectiveness of the limited numbers of troops we can deploy in Germany to counter the possibility of invasion from the East?

My Lords, the noble Lord is asking me rather a technical question and I think this is exactly the sort of thing which will come out in further analysis. I do not in fact know whether the reinforcement forces were using the kind of laser-guided weapons to which the noble Lord refers.

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the very much reduced military transport force is adequate to meet the operational needs, not only of exercises but of potential war? Also, would it not be worthwhile taking up Sir Freddie Laker's offer to adapt, at very small cost, the DC-10s he has on order, so that they can reinforce the limited air transport we now have?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises both a general and a specific question. So far as the general question is concerned, I think the exercise demonstrated that there is an ability to provide the necessary transport to do the kind of reinforcement which is required. I do not know the answer to the specific question raised by my noble friend, but I am sure it has been considered. I do recall that the Americans have for some years considered the possibility of strengthening all the civil transport fleet, but they have decided that even for them it would probably be a prohibitively expensive exercise.

My Lords, does the noble Lord think he can really be very proud of the fact that it took 48 hours to get men from Britain to the battlefront in France? I ask this question because in 1915 we did it in less than 24 hours.

My Lords, my memory does not go back as far as the noble Lord's, and I would not dispute his facts. I do not know what numbers he is referring to, but the 48 hours we are talking about covered the whole of the reinforcement and I would imagine that some of the forces arrived there in less than 24 hours.