Royal Welsh battalions to merge under Army cuts

The 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh will be withdrawn from battle, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has announced.

The battalion, which has 640 members and is based in Wiltshire, will be merged with the regiment's 1st Battalion.

The Queen's Dragoon Guards (QDG), known as the Welsh Cavalry, survives as does the Welsh Guards.

Mr Hammond confirmed a new Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadron, probably for St Athan in south Wales by 2018.

The Royal Welsh has two battalions, 1st Royal Welsh based in Chester and 2nd Royal Welsh, while the Welsh Guards are currently based in Hounslow, west London

It is one of 17 major units the Army is to lose in the biggest overhaul of the service for decades.

The military-led review looked at how best to restructure the Army and Mr Hammond said it would leave a "more flexible and agile Army". The number of regular soldiers is due to fall from 102,000 to 82,000.

The head of the Army in Wales, Brigadier Philip Napier, commander of 160 (Wales) Brigade told BBC Wales: "Overall, the Army from Wales has been protected.

"We're going to be seeing an infantry brigade based here in Wales, and none of the regiments - the Queen's Dragoon Guards, the Royal Welsh or the Welsh Guards - have been deleted from the order of battle.

"It's bitter-sweet result because the 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh have been given extraordinarily bad news and there are many soldiers concerned about their futures but I'm sure the tradition of this fine regiment, of which I'm colonel, will mean we take this forward constructively."

He said 650 soldiers in 2nd Battalion based in Tidworth were told nothing will change for a couple of years and then it would be worked out where it was best to place the battalions.

Bgdr Napier said the Defence Secretary had made it clear no-one would be made redundant because they belonged to individual battalions, that this was part of cuts to the structure, which affected everyone across the infantry.

Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan says the announcement of the Army 2020 review means Wales will remain at the heart of the British Armed forces.

"I am delighted that we retain a significant military footprint in Wales and that our regiments will play a key role in the Army's future," she said.

"While it is disappointing to see two proud battalions of the Royal Welsh Regiment merged into one, I am assured by the defence secretary that this is necessary to ensure our Army remains adaptable for future challenges."

'Hollow victory'

She added: "It is important to remember that these plans have been led by the military who best understand how to build the balanced, capable and adaptable force structure required to face the future."

But Owen Smith, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales said: "I warned the Secretary of State at Welsh Questions last week that Wales was going to lose out in this review of Army personnel.

"Retaining the cap badge of 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards is a hollow victory for Wales when we see 600 jobs going from a battalion of the historic Royal Welsh."

And the Welsh government's First Minister Carwyn Jones described the merger as "disappointing".

"The loss of the battalion will be a severe blow to serving soldiers and veterans of this regiment, and also to the families of those that have given their lives for our country," he said.

"The Royal Welsh has already been through a major amalgamation in 2006 and I can only imagine the impact that this latest blow will have on the morale of the whole regiment which has always been a source of pride to us citizens of Wales.

Mr Jones called on the MoD to do all it can to transfer those who face losing their jobs or help prepare them for civilian life.

Welsh Conservatives leader Andrew RT Davies said he was "extremely pleased" that the Welsh Cavalry has been saved.

He said he understood the significance of all three regiments but that he understood the "difficult decisions" that had to be made.

"This has led to the merger of 2nd the Royal Welsh into the regiment's first battalion. There is now much work to be done to ensure that these arrangements strengthen the operational nature of the armed forces in Wales."

David Davies, chairman of the Welsh Affairs committee welcomed keeping the QDG and praised those who helped save it.

He said the committee's "grave concerns" about the Royal Welsh, of which he said 98% of members is drawn from Wales, would be passed on to the MoD.

Wrexham MP Ian Lucas, campaigned to save QDG, said he was pleased the regiment had been saved but the victory was "hollow" because of the Royal Welsh merger.

The Queen's Dragoon Guards are based in Sennelager, Germany, and act as a vehicle-based reconnaissance unit.

The 1st Royal Welsh based in Chester and 2nd Royal Welsh at Tidworth in Wiltshire, while the Welsh Guards are currently based in Hounslow, west London.

Mr Hammond, answering a question from Vale of Glamorgan MP Alun Cairns said there would be a "new Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadron stood up, probably at St Athan in his constituency."

The 614 West Glamorgan will be among five new squadrons, which will be give general service support and represent various trades and branches from within the RAF, said the MoD.

RAF maintenance ended at the St Athan base earlier this year with the loss of 200 jobs, while multimillion-pound plans for a defence training academy and maintenance super-hangar were scrapped in recent years.

Mr Cairns said it was excellent news and returned RAF activity to the former RAF base.

It is hoped that existing expertise and skilled personnel within the area can be utilised.

"As it's likely to be based at RAF St Athan, it will be a real and much needed boost to the local community which has such a long history with the Royal Air Force and the MoD," he said.

"A further announcement will be made within the next six months to confirm the details for the squadron and recruitment of the project team. The aim is for the unit to be fully operational by 2018."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites