Thursday, August 20, 2009

The British Ministry of Defense has a black eye

I'm cynically amused to see that the British Ministry of Defense is having a hard time locating the equipment it's supposed to have.

Bungling Ministry of Defence officials have 'lost' desperately-needed military equipment worth £6.6 billion [US $10.9 billion] including vehicles, weapons and battlefield radios.

With ministers under fire over their support for troops fighting and dying on the frontline in Afghanistan, spending watchdogs have condemned the MOD's 'inadequate' and 'deteriorating' efforts to keep track of its own kit and supply stocks.

National Audit Office investigators found serious discrepancies during spot checks at military supply depots, and refused to sign off the MoD's annual accounts because officials did not know where vast amounts of essential equipment was, or whether it was fit for use.

. . .

Defence officials could not account for some £1.25 billion [US $2.06 billion] of equipment deployed with troops, such as machine guns, night-vision goggles, combat radios and body armour, and £350 million [US $578 million] worth of fighting vehicles apparently being used for training and operations.

The remaining £5 billion [US $8.25 billion] of 'missing' supplies consist of raw materials and spare parts, ranging from rifle components to engine propellers.

There's more at the link.

The more one reads about the UK Ministry of Defense, the more one gets the impression that their fighting men and women count for very little in the eyes of the bureaucrats running the 'establishment'. The latter are far more interested in office politics, dotting every 'i' and crossing every 't', than they are in the well-being and safety of the troops on the front line.

On the other hand, I'm sure the troops are going to take full advantage of this lapse in record-keeping to obtain a few 'souvenirs' for themselves, and also account for everything they can't trace, find or locate when they return to England.

I'm reminded of a story my father told me, about the end of World War II. He was responsible for organizing a number of flights bringing combat units and their equipment back from Germany to England, where they would prepare to deploy to the Far East to fight Japan. (Fortunately, the atomic bombs put paid to that.) Anyway, one of the transport aircraft, a C-47, crashed on take-off from Germany. The crew escaped with minor injuries, but the aircraft and its cargo burned out completely.

Now, a C-47 had a rated cargo capacity of 6,000 pounds, which could be increased to 8,000 pounds in a war emergency situation. So far, so good. However, when the Army unit involved in the repatriation submitted its equipment returns, it emerged that this particular C-47 had been carrying no less than 267,500 pounds of cargo - a mere 45 times its normal maximum payload! Eyebrows rising almost into his hairline, my father went down to the Army unit and asked to speak to the Commanding Officer. He explained his problem, and politely asked what was going on.

The CO blushed, and told my father in confidence that his unit had been losing equipment here and there ever since the Normandy landings, almost a year before. They'd fought their way across France and the Low Countries into Germany, drawing new gear as they needed it, pursued by increasingly acerbic queries from the Supply Directorate asking where the old stuff was, and why hadn't it been handed in for repair or replacement? The crash had come as a Heaven-sent opportunity. On their CO's instructions, the Quartermaster had listed on the plane's manifest every single missing item of equipment - hence the unbelievably heavy 'cargo' that had been 'destroyed in an air crash'. It included weapons, ammunition, motor vehicles, tents, furniture - even a complete field kitchen!

The CO presented my father with a case of the finest French brandy (captured from the Germans, who'd looted it from the French), and asked him very nicely to not say anything about the payload question, because the Army Supply Directorate wouldn't know enough about the subject to ask any awkward questions - provided no-one enlightened them. After all, it was the end of the war, and the supply clerks wanted to be demobilized and go home too, rather than waste time on pointless inquiries. My father, knowing what the finest French brandy was worth on the English black market at the time, solemnly assured him that his lips were sealed. I understand they parted the best of friends!

The claim duly went through, and something like half a million pounds worth of equipment (it'd be about ten million pounds today, I guess) was written off, without charge to the unit concerned. I imagine everyone blessed the day that particular aircraft crashed! (And yes, my father said he did share the brandy with the pilots and crew of the crashed plane! He was an honest man, after all . . . )



Anonymous said...

I read this story in a Vietnam novel about a Huey. Not that it wasn't true both places, but I'm guessing a mule train was once lost crossing the Alps, and Hannibal's supply guy seized upon the same idea. :-)

St Paul

Anonymous said...

An arsonist burned down a chapel at Ft. Knox in the early-80's.

It is amazing how a fire can clean up a supply sergeant's books.

Ted said...

A tornado leveled a warehouse at Tinker AFB in Oklahoma sometime in the 80's (IIRC). You'd be amazed at how much equipment was packed into that building. :D