WEARSIDE military groups and families today criticised the Government after it announced it was pressing ahead with cuts to the Army.
Five infantry battalions are expected to be axed and other units merged or turned into reservists in the biggest overhaul of the service in more than a century.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond set out how the regular Army would be cut from 102,000 troops to 82,000 by the end of the decade, its lowest level since the Napoleonic Wars.
The plan, known as Army 2020, is expected to see it split into two, with a reaction force, ready to respond to emergencies around the globe, and an adaptable force capable of carrying out a range of tasks and commitments.
Mr Hammond said the changes, drawn up by Lieutenant General Nick Carter, would provide the basis of a smaller, more flexible and agile Army into the future.
But the prospect of losing historic units has been the cause of intense anguish among Army supporters.
Paul Jasper, chairman of the Wearside-based Silver Bugle Association military group and key organiser of the annual Armed Forces Day in Sunderland, said: “We should be really making savings elsewhere to the save the amount of troops we have got.
“We need them. Not just for military service, but for problems closer to home. Soldiers are called out to help with flooding or other emergencies.
“These are highly trained people and we are going to lose them if these cuts go ahead.”
Earlier this week, it was revealed how Brigadier David Paterson, of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, had written to the head of the Army expressing his bitter disappointment at plans to axe one of its two battalions.
Janice Murray, from Washington, whose 18-year-old son Michael Tench was killed in Iraq in 2007, branded the proposals “senseless”.
The mum, who also played a major role in bringing about the Brothers In Arms memorial wall in Mowbray Park, said: “It’s shocking considering the situation we’re in at the minute.
“These people are going to be thrown out of work with little prospect of finding another job.”
She added: “How many of them are going to be in the 18 to 25 age group, who are already struggling to find employment?
“Quite a few are going be from Sunderland, which is a major recruiting area, and I’m really concerned about what is going to happen to them.”
Kevan Jones, Labour MP for North Durham and Shadow Minister for the Armed Forces, has also backed the calls to reverse the cuts.
Mr Hammond, who set out details of the proposals in a statement to the House of Commons, said he has acknowledged that they have involved some “difficult” decisions.
But he said that cuts could not be avoided, with the demands for strict financial discipline under the Government’s 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review.
Under the plans, reductions in regular Army strength would be offset by increases in part-time reservists, with the Territorial Army doubling in numbers from 15,000 to 30,000.
As well as providing specialist capabilities, such as medics and intelligence, reservists would be used to reinforce infantry battalions on deployment.