An SAS officer nicknamed “the Rock” will be the new head of the British Army, sources confirmed last night.
Lt Gen Sir Roly Walker will replace Gen Sir Patrick Sanders, who quit over cuts to troops and equipment as the Army shrinks to its smallest size since the 18th century.
Lt Gen Walker’s appointment will come as a surprise to those expecting the role to be awarded to Lt Gen Sharon Nesmith, who would have become the first female Chief of the General Staff since the role was created in 1904.
He was selected after scoring higher than Lt Gen Nesmith at a promotion board that saw him also beat Lt Gen Sir Ralph Wooddisse, who is currently head of the Field Army.
Gen Sanders, a Rifles officer, was expected to remain in post for at least three years. But in June it emerged he had decided to step down after a year following his objection to manning and equipment cuts imposed by the Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin.
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Lt Gen Walker has a reputation as a “no-nonsense officer” and has a warm relationship with Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, a fellow platoon commander with whom he shared a billet in Belfast in 1970.
As deputy Chief of the Defence Staff he also enjoys a close working relationship with Admiral Radakin. Born in Kenya and educated at Harrow, he initially joined the Irish Guards and is regarded as politically sophisticated and able to navigate ministerial red-tape.
He spent eight years with the SAS before joining the Grenadier Guards in 2008. In November 2009 he was commanding officer of the 1st battalion Grenadier Guards in one of the most dangerous areas of Helmand Province when five of his soldiers were killed inside an Afghan Police compound known as Blue 25.
He also survived a roadside bomb explosion, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in September 2010 in recognition of his service in Afghanistan.
As Director of Special Forces, he led Britain’s war on the ground against Islamic State in Syria that saw the Jihadist cult’s caliphate destroyed.
But he faces a huge task in rebuilding an Army that is suffering low morale, a lack of equipment and a recruiting crisis.
Reacting to the news last night, one senior officer said: “Special Forces get all the resources they want. How removed is he from the tank park, and the lot of the average soldier who is forced to live in c***** housing with few resources to count on. How in touch is he?”
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Gen Sir Richard Dannatt, who held the role of Chief of the General Staff until 2009, expressed concerns over the choice. “I am not surprised that Ben Wallace has chosen Roly Walker with his impressive SF background as this continues the direction of Army development towards a lighter hi-tech force initiated by Mark Carlton-Smith who also had an SAS background.
“That is cheaper in both manpower and equipment, but does that really stand up against the realities of a brutal war in Ukraine?
“There, the fighting is characterised by both new technologies and the old slogging of man against man and tank against tank.
“Patrick Sanders has been arguing this during his tenure. Ben Wallace has not been listening. “I worry that the cheaper, seductively hi-tech route will be followed further and, come a conventional challenge to Nato and the UK, we will be found wanting. I am sure Roly Walker has this worry in mind too.”
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