Devastating for morale – and a threat to life

Article published in The Daily Mail, 17 September 2017. © Richard Kemp 

The news that officers aboard a British nuclear submarine on active patrol threatened to resign, because both the captain and his second-in-command were alleged to be having affairs with female crew members, is terrifying – but not surprising.

It is impossible to imagine a more serious setting for a crisis in morale than HMS Vigilant, one of the four Vanguard subs that form our country’s round-the-clock Trident nuclear deterrent at sea.

But it was sadly inevitable, given the Government’s insistence that men and women must serve alongside each other wherever our Armed Forces are on duty – on battleships, on the front line, from the first day of training, and even in submarines.

I am quite certain we’re hearing this story only because of the seniority of the ranks involved. Commander Stuart Armstrong and his executive officer [XO], the boat’s No 2, have both been removed from their posts. It is unprecedented for both the commander and the XO of a nuclear sub to be suspended simultaneously. But affairs between lower ranks are commonplace, and they can have equally catastrophic effects on morale and unit cohesion.

The situation is so bad that, in the two years up to last December, 36 Army recruits became pregnant during basic training. So did 15 RAF and ten Navy recruits. That’s about one young woman per fortnight.

It is not a new problem. More than 100 servicewomen were evacuated from Iraq during the years following the overthrow of Saddam because they were pregnant: Military rules forbid expectant mothers from active duty in a war zone. It was a similar story in Afghanistan – though in September 2012, quite unbelievably, a Lance Bombardier gave birth at Camp Bastion in Helmand province. Four days earlier, the Army base had repelled a Taliban attack.

Every pregnant soldier is a loss to her unit, in an Army already undermanned and compromised by defence cuts. But the effect on morale is incalculable. Soldiers have to be able to trust each other with their lives. The camaraderie of an active unit is crucial – and it can be ripped to shreds by the petty jealousies that simmer when two of the squad embark on a relationship together.

There is no more certain way to damage a tight-knit team than with sex. But put men and women together, especially in the pressure cooker situations of a combat zone or a submarine on active duty, and sex will be the result.

Politicians obsessed with political correctness are desperate to impose gender equality everywhere, including the Armed Forces. They ignore the fact that the Army, Navy and Air Force are like no other employer. There is nothing comparable to being a combat soldier.

There is a pretence in government that men are the same as women, and that all soldiers are machines that can control their desires. Neither is true. Men and women are different, physically and emotionally. And if there’s one force of nature that is even stronger than the best military discipline, it’s the human sexual urge. As a senior Army officer, before I retired from active service in 2006, I dealt with numerous cases of sexual misconduct between troops.

I lost count of the number of men who told me they ‘couldn’t help it’ and the Army was unfairly placing temptation in front of them. I didn’t condone their behaviour, but I did sympathise. The cost to morale was horrendous, not just in the unit but back at home. How many wives are now tortured by the fear not only that their husbands might be killed, but that they could be unfaithful?

And if senior officers also ‘can’t help it’ and give in to their sexual instincts, how can they possibly exert the self-control to treat their lovers as ordinary crew members? A commander must show no favouritism, or his men will never be able to trust him. The moment a senior officer begins an affair with a junior, that trust is breached.

It is too late to reverse the MOD’s politically-correct decision that forces men and women to serve beside each other everywhere. But as long as this continues, there will be sexual affairs – and the consequences will sometimes be fatal.