BRITAIN is facing a historic crisis that echoes the build-up to the Second World War.
In 1938, when Hitler began to rampage across Europe, our Armed Forces were woefully under-resourced.
5Britain is facing a historic crisis that echoes the build-up to the Second World War – pictured UK munitions factory on eve of WW2Credit: Getty5No one wants Russia’s bloodbath to spiral into a Third World War, but the lesson from history is clearCredit: GettyOur Cruiser tanks were wholly inadequate.
Some combat units still relied on horses.
For the previous 20 years, since the end of the First World War, we had failed to modernise.
We thought — or rather we hoped — we had fought the war to end all wars.
We had endured the Great Depression.
Times were hard. Money was tight. We didn’t want another war.
But as Leon Trotsky remarked: “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”
Today, Vladimir Putin has unleashed the deadliest war in Europe since 1945.
The parallels with Hitler are chilling.
No one wants Russia’s bloodbath to spiral into a Third World War, but the lesson from history is clear.
If we want peace and security in Europe, we must be prepared for war.
US President Teddy Roosevelt famously quoted a West African proverb: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
He warned in 1914: “No amount of speaking softly will save any people which does not carry a big stick.”
The shocking truth is this: Britain no longer carries a big stick.
Our brave Armed Forces have been whittled away by decades of spending cuts imposed since the end of the Cold War.
In 1990, we had 165,000 regular soldiers and 800 tanks in the British Army. Now we have fewer than half those troops.
The Army stands at 79,000 soldiers and is due to shrink to 73,000 — its smallest size for 300 years.
On paper, we have a fleet of 227 Challenger 2 tanks.
But only a few dozen seem to be battle-ready. We have given 14 of those to Ukraine, where they are needed most.
We used to have more than a thou-sand armoured infantry fighting vehicles armed with 30mm cannon.
Soon, we will have none. Our formidable fleet of Warriors is due to be replaced with an unarmed armoured troop carrier.
As director of the National Army Museum, it is my job to tell the story of our Army over the last 350 years.
It is an incredible story and, almost uniquely among the nations of Europe, it is a continuous history, as the British Army has never been wholly defeated in war.
But this can never be taken for granted.
The 1930s under-investment nearly cost Britain the war.
Meanwhile Hitler’s build-up of armoured forces let the Nazis inflict years of defeats from 1939 to 1942 — including Dunkirk and Tobruk.
It wasn’t until November 1942, at the Battle of El Alamein, that we managed to turn the tide, with newly built British Crusader and American Sherman tanks.
Luckily for Britain, the government saw the storm clouds gathering and had started to rearm in 1937.
It was too late to prevent the war — but enough to keep us in it long enough to win it.
In 1937, Britain hiked its defence spend from 3.6 per cent of GDP to 4.5 per cent.
5During World War 11 Britain hiked its defence spend from 3.6 per cent of GDP to 4.5 per cent – pictured British troops in the Netherlands, 1944Credit: Mediadrumimages/AnthonyTucker-Jones/PenandSwordBooksThe Army increased from 352,000 men in 1937 to 400,000 by 1939, when conscription was announced.
By 1940, we had replaced most of our horses with armoured vehicles and trucks, although horses and mules still played a key part in Italy.
Crucially, we also ramped up production of Spitfire and Hurricane fighter planes and anti-aircraft guns, which played decisive roles in winning the Battle of Britain and halting Hitler’s planned invasion.
Without those decisions, Britain may have lost.
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014 was a similar, historic turning point.
Just as Hitler made his intentions clear when he annexed the Sudetenland in 1938, Putin made his intentions clear when he annexed Crimea and fomented a false-flag rebellion in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
The similarities are chilling.
History tells us we must respond.
History shows the Army needs to grow, as it did in 1937 and during the Korean war in the 1950s.
The weapons we gift to our Ukrainian friends must be replaced.
I cannot overstate how urgent this is. We need trained troops, good armour and guns.
Throughout history, there has always been a search for a silver bullet to change warfare and to make it easier and cheaper — the rifle, the machine gun, air power, computers or cyber.
All of these innovations were meant to revolutionise war.
5We can see from Ukraine that artillery, tanks, infantry and armoured vehicles are as essential in modern war – pictured troop training in Ukraine last weekCredit: AFPThey have all changed war. But fundamentally, war is fought on the ground between people and armies.
It involves defeating armies and taking and holding ground in close combat.
We can see from Ukraine that artillery, tanks, infantry and armoured vehicles are as essential in modern war as they were in decades past.
Some 80 per cent of the casualties in Ukraine are from artillery — just as they were in the First World War.
Armies need might and mass to win.
That means good weapons, good people and enough of them to be a credible deterrent.
It matters to me, as a veteran and a historian.
And it should matter to every Sun reader because, without effective defence, everything that you treasure is threatened.
Defeat in war means you lose every-thing. No health, no pensions, no education and no safety.
Poland remembers the lessons of history — and what it means to be invaded by Russia — and they are doubling their defence budget.
France and Germany are ramping up spending as well.
We need to be prepared — and preparation has a price.
5The weapons we gift to our Ukrainian friends must be replaced – pictured Ukrainian fighters in DecemberCredit: AFP
Story Credit: thesun.co.uk