The British army is to base hundreds of armoured vehicles in Germany, just over a year after marking its official withdrawal from the country, in a move designed to help bolster Nato as tensions with Moscow over Ukraine remain high.
Under plans described as a “radical” restructuring of British land forces, the UK government announced on Thursday that a Nato base at Sennelager, near the German city of Paderborn, would become one of three new “regional land hubs” for the British army, alongside Oman and Kenya.
The move represents a U-turn just over a year after the UK ended a permanent military presence on German soil that had been maintained since the end of the second world war. The closure of the last British army military headquarters in Bielefeld last February was the culmination of a decade-long withdrawal of 20,000 British service personnel from the country.
“We are putting a substantial number of our armoured vehicles forward in order to be able to move more quickly should they be required anywhere on the continental [European] land mass,” Lieutenant General Ralph Wooddisse, commander field army, said.
One government official would not be drawn on exact numbers but said the plans envisaged basing “hundreds” of tanks and armoured vehicles at Sennelager.
The decision comes with Nato allies becoming increasingly concerned that Moscow is planning an invasion of Ukraine. Kyiv has said Russia has massed as many as 114,000 troops to the north, east, and south of the Donbas, a mostly Russian-speaking region where Russian-backed separatists have fought government forces since a pro-western revolution in Ukraine in 2014.
Earlier this year, US president Joe Biden halted plans by his predecessor Donald Trump to withdraw thousands of US troops from Germany.
The plans to send British armour back to Germany form part of an overhaul of the army described as the most “radical” transformation in over 20 years.
“We cannot afford to be slave to sentiment”, UK defence secretary Ben Wallace said, as he announced troops numbers would be cut by 9,000 troops to just 73,000 over the next four years — the smallest the army has been in centuries.
The cuts will also see 33 army bases closed around Britain, including the Alanbrooke Barracks in North Yorkshire. UK prime minister Boris Johnson had promised during the 2019 election campaign that a Conservative government would “not be cutting our armed services in any form”.
Tobias Ellwood, the Tory MP and former army officer who chairs the House of Commons defence select committee, criticised the cuts. “Our world is becoming more dangerous, more complex. This is not the time to cut the defence budget or reduce our tanks, our armoured fighting vehicles and our troop numbers as we are doing,” he said.
But Wallace insisted the restructuring was designed “to transform the army into a more agile, integrated, lethal, expeditionary force”. The army would be “leaner but more productive”, he added, as he confirmed plans for a new 1,200-strong “Ranger regiment” modelled on the US army’s elite Green Berets.
The regiment will be made up of four battalions, which will embed with foreign forces and focus on counter-insurgency operations in regions such as east Africa. Wallace said this would mean more personnel are deployed around the world for longer.
Wallace said there would also be a larger proportion of troops based in each of the devolved nations.