For the first time since the Second World War, Britain will be removing all its tanks from Germany. The Queens Royal Hussars will move back to Tidworth in July, marking the end of almost 75 years of British heavy armour in that country. They have just finished their annual gunnery camp at Hohne and will be preparing for a BATUS tour, to be followed at the end of the year by a deployment to Estonia where they will lead a NATO battle-group.
The decision to withdraw all of the UK’s armour was an outcome of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) 2010. The battalions and regiments, including those from the Paderborn-based 20th Armoured Infantry Brigade, were scheduled to move back to Tidworth as part of the last phase of the “Army Basing Programme”.
The main withdrawal from Germany (and what was BAOR), began in earnest in 2010 and the plan is for some 15,000 troops to be based in and around Tidworth in order to make the most economical use of SPTA, effectively the only armoured-warfare training area in the UK (though life firing will be conducted on the tank-ranges such as Castle Martin and Lulworth.
The Army’s 2020 plan was to have just two armoured regiments, both based in Tidworth, with the KRH handing over to the QRH, and the RTR being the other tank-regiment. However, the delay in the Ajax production programme has meant that the KRH is likely to retain its Challenger 2s until the early/mid-2020s and then move across to the Ajax as and when they are ready for service.
Under present proposals, the UK is going to have some 200+ Challengers, out of which it will have to equip at least two armoured regiments of about some 55 – 60 tanks each, as well as having vehicles in training establishments and camps (such as BATUS), and allowing for vehicles being rotated through workshops. At some point, tanks will also have to be taken out of commission whilst being put through the projected Challenger-upgrade programme. There might even be some sort of reserve – although it is possible that an imaginative civil-servant accountant will argue that all those in workshops constitute the reserve.
Salisbury Plain Training Area (SPTA) is a different type of training environment compared with Hohne, but it is still worth looking at the relative sizes of the two areas. SPTA has some 39,000 hectares of land, of which about 10,000 are permanently closed to the public due to live firing – mostly artillery. Hohne is about 29,000 hectares – but it is dedicated to live firing for most of the year; the German Army also has a number of other large training areas in the eastern part of the country which all became accessible after unification (thus making it sensible for them to give up using Castle Martin ranges in Pembrokeshire in 1996). SPTA could not realistically become a tank range per-se as the safety areas for modern tank guns are huge.