Four regiments saved by a 'slight adjustment': Christopher Bellamy looks at the regiments that yesterday won a reprieve as defence cuts were reversed

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FOUR historic Army regiments, including the senior regiment of the line, the Royal Scots, were reprieved last night when the Government announced a 'small but sensible adjustment' to its plans to cut the Army.

It was responding, not to emotional campaigns launched on behalf of the infantry regiments facing amalgamation, but to changes in the strategic environment since the Options for Change review was first announced on 25 July 1990. Since then, British forces have fought in the Gulf war and witnessed the breakup of the Soviet Union and bloody disintegration of parts of Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, some of those who have campaigned to stop the amalgamation of infantry regiments feel they have been successful.

The Army refuses to discuss the exact criteria which determined the four regiments to be saved, but they were similar to those used to determine the original amalgamations: recruiting patterns, current manning levels and past amalgamations and history.

The regiments saved, the Staffordshire and Cheshire regiments, the Royal Scots and the King's Own Scottish Borderers, have some of the highest profiles. The Cheshires are currently in Bosnia, reinforced by troops from other infantry units including the new Royal Irish Regiment. The Staffords were the cutting edge of one of the two armoured brigades in the Gulf war.

The decision not to amalgamate the Cheshires and Staffords will not necessarily affect soldiers serving in Bosnia and due to receive redundancy notices as part of the plan to reduce the overall size of the Army. Many volunteered for redundancy, and the cuts are Army-wide, affecting middle and senior-ranking officers and NCOs. They are not confined to regiments facing the axe. However, officials said last night that where people had volunteered for redundancy because the regiment was due to be amalgamated, they might be able to withdraw their applications.

The Scottish regiments mounted a particularly vociferous campaign against the cuts. The Royal Scots and the KOSBs both come from southern Scotland - not far from the constituency of Malcolm Rifkind, the Secretary of State for Defence. All the Scottish regiments are well-recruited, so the decision was a difficult one.

The Royal Scots - the First of Foot - are the oldest regular Army regiment, founded in 1633, when they fought for the French. Known for antiquity as 'Pontius Pilate's bodyguard', they had never been amalgamated. Nor will they be now. They have once again lived up to their motto, Nemo me impune lacessit - 'No one touches me with impunity'.

The cuts have been under way for some time. The Army was to be cut from its current strength of 148,000 to 116,000 by the mid- 1990s. This will now be increased to 119,000. And the front-line strength will be increased by a further 2,000 troops transferred from support units.

Many of the Army's armoured regiments have already been amalgamated in accordance with an elegant plan prepared by the cavalry. When the 9th/12th Lancers, currently serving in Bosnia, come to the end of their tour in May they will be replaced by the Light Dragoons - one of the new, amalgamated regiments, formed from the 13th/18th and 15th/19th Royal Hussars.

A reduction in the size of the Army was inevitable with the end of the Cold War. But the uncertainty and fragility of the 'new world order' and the exponential increase in work for UN peacekeeping forces have forced the Government to adjust its plans.

The most significant new commitment has been Bosnia, where 2,500 troops are deployed. If the Vance-Owen plan is implemented, this could need to be increased to 6,500. With extra troops in Northern Ireland, the effect would be to decrease the interval between emergency tours below the current 15 months. The Government has committed itself to intervals of 24 months.