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Project Prodigal and an alternative UK defence plan in the 60s

uk 75

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As we know, the UK relinquished most of its non-NATO commitments in the late 60s as a result of financial chaos at home and overstretch.

Before the UK withdrew from East of Suez there was an ambitious programme under the general heading "Project Prodigal" for a lighter more mobile Army with futuristic looking kit able to be airportable to wherever it was needed.

As the UK continued to try and field heavy Divisions in Germany, the West Germans were powering ahead economically and were better able to put such divisions with decent kit into the field.

The UK tried various ways to get out of keeping standing forces on the Continent, such as pulling individual brigades back to the UK. If Project Prodigal had delivered the right kit, may be we could have followed Canada in downsizing our forces in West Germany in favour of forces better able to reinforce Norway and Denmark where NATO was weakest and the host nations did not want forces deployed on their soil in peacetime. In my scenario the UK would have negotiated with the FRG to replace two of its three divisions with properly manned and equipped Bundeswehr units. The remaining UK 1 Armoured Division would have pulled back towards to Dutch border.
To compensate for this change, 3 Infantry Division from the UK would have received modern Prodigal kit and been allocated to the defence of Jutland, where it could fly in at the beginning of a crisis.
The Royal Marines would have been also given Prodigal equipment and increased in size to a full Division of at least 4 to 5 Commandos with appropriate shipping and airlift for reinforcing Norway in times of tension.
These divisions would have been far more useful than the badly equipped and maintained divisions in FRG and forced the West Germans (who could afford it) to take on more of the burden of their policy of forward defence.
 

Grey Havoc

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With regards as to army equipment, the 120 mm recoilless rifles armed version of the FV4401 Contentious (see below) was a missed opportunity. There was also the Prodigal 3 air portable light tank. Range of 500 miles, or 800km, crew of 2 (one in a pinch) and armed with an autoloader fed 160mm Low pressure gun firing a 60lb HESH round at 600 m/sec. Liquid propellant was considered, along with a recoil-less mount. Incidentally, the Prodigal 3 was apparently related to the Chieftain tank family.

For the poor squaddies, adopting the updated EM-2 rifle with the experimental 6.25×43mm cartridge might have been a godsend. A replacement for (or even a modernised version of) the 'Gammon bomb' [No. 82] hand grenade would have also been useful for airborne/air mobile forces. By the way, does anyone know if the '72 pattern webbing' (not adopted because of budget constraints) originated with Project Prodigal?
 

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edwest2

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I've seen something like that Guntank in Gundam, a Japanese anime series.
 

zen

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Wouldn't this make the self propelled Rapier system a strong effort?
Though ideally this would actually be the PT.428 system instead.
 

Tony Williams

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For the poor squaddies, adopting the updated EM-2 rifle with the experimental 6.25×43mm cartridge might have been a godsend.

Sadly, that was never on. The UK got its fingers burned very badly over the adoption of the 7 mm round at the beginning of the 1950s, and adopting any new small arms cartridge in isolation from the rest of NATO (and the US in particular) was not going to happen.
 

zen

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More thoughts.

Wasn't there a US effort with a 6mm round for the SAW?

More on the SAM issue, this strengthens the late 60's to early 70's SAM efforts.
Such as System C and Army's longer term successor to Thunderbird.

Doesn't this also strengthen the case for STOL aircraft?
 

Tony Williams

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Wasn't there a US effort with a 6mm round for the SAW?
Yes - 6 x 45. Intended for better long-range effectiveness than 5.56 mm M193, this featured a relatively long, heavy bullet at a moderate velocity. It was dropped in favour of a new loading of the 5.56 mm (the SS109 / M855).
 
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