David Richards, Baron Richards of Herstmonceux

General David Julian Richards, Baron Richards of Herstmonceux, GCB, CBE, DSO, DL (born 4 March 1952) is a retired senior British Army officer who was formerly the Chief of the Defence Staff, the professional head of the British Armed Forces.[1] He succeeded Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup in this role on 29 October 2010.

The Lord Richards of Herstmonceux
Born (1952-03-04) 4 March 1952
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchBritish Army
Years of service1971–2013
UnitRoyal Artillery
Commands heldChief of the Defence Staff
Chief of the General Staff
International Security Assistance Force
Allied Rapid Reaction Corps
4th Armoured Brigade
3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery
Battles/warsThe Troubles
International Force East Timor
Sierra Leone Civil War
War in Afghanistan
AwardsKnight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Distinguished Service Order
Mentioned in Despatches
Commander of the Order of Rokel (Sierra Leone)

Richards served in the Far East, Germany and Northern Ireland with the Royal Artillery before commanding forces in East Timor and most notably Sierra Leone, where his action without official sanctioning protected Freetown from rebel attacks during the Sierra Leone Civil War. Richards has also served with NATO as a major general, and as a lieutenant general he commanded the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2007 during its expansion across the whole country.

Richards became Commander-in-Chief, Land Forces of the British Army in 2008 and held this role until 2009 when he was appointed Chief of the General Staff, the head of the British Army. He was appointed as Chief of the Defence Staff the following year. He was succeeded by General Sir Nicholas Houghton on 18 July 2013.

In 2014, Richards was created a Life Peer taking the title Baron Richards of Herstmonceux. He sits in the House of Lords as a crossbencher. In December 2015, it was announced that he had joined the global advisory board of asset management firm CQS.[2][3] He has also worked as an advisor to the government of the United Arab Emirates and US-based arms company DynCorp.[4]

Early life

Richards was born on 4 March 1952 to John Downie Richards and Pamela Mary Richards (née Reeves).[5][6] He attended Eastbourne College,[7] and was commissioned into the Royal Artillery as a second lieutenant in 1971.[8] He then attended University College, Cardiff, graduating in 1974 with a degree in international relations.[9]

Army career

Richards served with the Royal Artillery in the Far East, Germany and the United Kingdom, including three tours in Northern Ireland, and served on the staff of the 11th Armoured Brigade in Germany. He was promoted lieutenant in 1974,[10] and captain in 1977.[11] He attended the Staff College, Camberley in 1984. Promoted to major that year,[12] he returned to 11th Armoured Brigade to command a field battery in 47th Field Regiment. He then served as the Chief of Staff of the Berlin Brigade for two years, before being promoted lieutenant colonel on 30 June 1989.[13] He served as an instructor at the Staff College for three years, and was then given command of the 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery.[9]

In 1994 Richards joined the Ministry of Defence as Colonel Army Plans.[14] In December 1995, after completing the Higher Command and Staff course, he was promoted brigadier[15] and then became Commander of the 4th Armoured Brigade in Germany.[6] He became Chief of Joint Force Operations at the Permanent Joint Headquarters in 1998. In this role, as the default commander for short notice expeditionary operations, he commanded the UK Contingent in East Timor as part of INTERFET in 1999 and twice commanded a UK Joint Task Force in Sierra Leone in 2000.[9]

In 2000, during the Sierra Leone Civil War, Richards was in command of Operation Palliser, ostensibly to rescue British and other foreign nationals but which he then independently transformed into a commitment to support the embattled national president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and lead the defence of his capital Freetown against the Revolutionary United Front. Although not initially sanctioned by London, the action was cited as a second example of the kind of liberal military intervention previously seen in Kosovo, and as such attributed to British Prime Minister Tony Blair.[16]

In April 2001 Richards became Chief of Staff of NATO's Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, with the rank of major general.[17] He became the British Assistant Chief of the General Staff in 2002,[18] and on 19 January 2005 became the Commander of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, which carried promotion to lieutenant general.[19]

In July 2006, command of the international forces (the International Security Assistance Force) in southern Afghanistan was passed to NATO forces under Richards's command and he was promoted to the acting rank of full general (4-star).[20] On returning from Afghanistan, he reverted to his previous rank of lieutenant general. On 1 February 2008 he was promoted to substantive General and appointed Commander-in-Chief, Land Forces in succession to General Sir Redmond Watt,[21][22] and on 12 June 2008 he was appointed Aide-de-Camp General (ADC Gen) to The Queen.[23]

On 17 October 2008, The Independent revealed Richards's appointment as the next Chief of the General Staff, the professional head of the Army.[20] The Ministry of Defence later confirmed that he would take up the post in August 2009.[24] In early August 2009, just before taking up his post, Richards was widely criticised when he claimed that British troops may have a role in Afghanistan for up to 40 years.[25] General Sir Richard Dannatt handed over his appointment as Chief of the General Staff at midday on 28 August 2009 to Richards.[26]

Allegations surfaced in September 2009 of a Labour Party plot to smear Richards because his daughter worked for the Conservative Party. The threat to target Richards, who had taken up his new job just nine days before most of the reports appeared, was widely reported to have been one of the real reasons that Labour MP Eric Joyce resigned as an aide to Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth.[27]

In February 2010, Richards said that a "turning point" had been reached in the battle against the Taliban. He suggested troop numbers could begin to decline as early as 2011 while the majority would be withdrawn by 2015. Richards said "we are now seeing some very optimistic signs" in the latest military offensive, Operation Moshtarak (togetherness), in Helmand. The Taliban had been forced to give "serious consideration" about continuing the fight. Richards said that: "We expect the military conflict to trail off in 2011," who was visiting British front-line forces for the first time since taking command of the Army last year. "The combat role will start to decline in 2011, but we will remain militarily engaged in training and support roles for another five years, and we will remain in a support role for many years to come."[28]

Richards said that "The Taliban is now beginning to realise that they can lose this war, which was not the view they had a year ago. We have to reinforce the view that they can, and will, be beaten."[28] In 2010, however, he also stated in a radio interview that "I think there's no reason why we shouldn't be looking at [talking to the Taliban] pretty soon".[29][30]

On 14 July 2010, the Ministry of Defence announced that in October 2010 Richards would become the next Chief of the Defence Staff in succession to Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup.[31] Downing Street, in a press statement to announce the intended ennoblement of Sir Jock, also announced in the same release that Sir David would take up his new post as Chief of the Defence Staff on Friday 29 October 2010, immediately after the retirement of Sir Jock.[32]

In November 2010, Richards said there was no desire to "open up another front" in the Middle East but suggested that in future it "might be" necessary. David Cameron told Parliament that Britain would "take every step to cut out the terrorist cancer that lurks in the Arabian Peninsula", but Gen Richards said an intelligence-led approach was the current strategy. Richards added: "Clearly, the primary agencies dealing with this are our intelligence and security agencies. But the military are already helping with their [the Yemenis'] training. I don't think we want to open up another front there and nor do the Yemenis want us to do that. So we have to find other ways of doing these things and in the meantime making sure Afghanistan doesn't revert to becoming, if you like, a 'second Yemen' – that is the Army's primary duty at the moment. Our role is to remain very close to them, to help them where they most need it and in the meanwhile focus our efforts on Afghanistan and assisting Pakistan to ensure they don't become the threat Yemen is beginning to be.[33]

In May 2011, Richards and other senior NATO officers expressed a wish for backing from member states to intensify the war effort in Libya by directly targeting Col Gaddafi's regime, rather than simply protecting Libyan civilians. "The military campaign to date has been a significant success for NATO and our Arab allies, but we need to do more. If we do not up the ante now there is a risk that the conflict could result in Gaddafi clinging to power," said Gen Richards. He added that, while NATO forces were not targeting Col Gaddafi directly, he could nevertheless become a legitimate target if he was caught directly attacks against Libyan civilians. "The United Nations resolution allows Nato to use 'all necessary means' in Libya," he said. "We are not targeting Gaddafi directly, but if it happened that he was in a command and control centre that was hit by Nato and he was killed, then that is within the rules."[34]

During the Syrian Civil War, Richards drew up plans to train and equip a Syrian rebel army of 100,000 to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, as an alternative option to the government's plan for limited direct military involvement. The plans were rejected by the National Security Council as too ambitious.[35] Ultimately on 29 August 2013, parliament refused to support the government's plan to participate in military strikes against the Syrian government.[36]

Richards was succeeded as Chief of the Defence Staff by General Sir Nicholas Houghton on 18 July 2013.[37]

Later life

Richards worked as a consultant for the government of the United Arab Emirates[4] and has advised American arms company DynCorp.[38]

From October 2013, Richards has worked as a Senior Adviser to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.[39][40]

Richards is a patron of the Armed Forces Muslim Association.[6]

On 26 June 2014, Richards said that Britain's Armed Forces will be like a "banana republic" if the Ministry of Defence kept cutting costs, and criticised the "bean counters" who cut perks for his successors. He is believed to have said Defence Secretary Philip Hammond "would never be a good soldier". Richards was concerned about a controversial plan to replace regular troops with reservists. On pay to soldiers, he said:[41]

On 7 October 2014, Richards criticised the contemporary Western strategy employed to defeat ISIS. He said that air strikes are:[42]

Richard's autobiography, Taking Command, was published in October 2014.[43]

In a November 2016 interview with the parliamentary magazine The House, Richards said of Western involvement in the Syrian Civil War:


Richards has attended the US Brigade Commanders, Combined Joint Force Land Component Commanders, and Joint Task Force Commanders (Pinnacle) Courses. His operational awards include a Mention in Despatches for services in Northern Ireland.[45] Richards was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services in East Timor,[46] and made a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for services in Sierra Leone (Operation Barras).[47]

Richards was appointed and knighted as a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in the July 2007 operational and gallantry awards list for his services in Afghanistan.[48][49] In 2014, he was made a Commander of the Order of the Rokel, Sierra Leone's highest honour for "gallant leadership of the British Military intervention in the Sierra Leone Civil War."[1]

Richards was appointed Honorary Colonel of the Royal Rifle Volunteers on 1 September 2003,[50] Colonel Commandant of the Royal Artillery on 19 January 2005,[51] and on 1 April 2007 he was appointed Colonel Commandant of the Brigade of Gurkhas.[52] Richards was advanced to Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB) in the 2011 New Years Honours.[53][54]

Richards was created a Life Peer on 24 February 2014 taking the title Baron Richards of Herstmonceux, of Emsworth in the County of Hampshire.[55][56]

Personal life

In 1978 Richards married Caroline Reyne (née Bond).[57][58] Lady Richards is a trustee of charities Plant for Peace and The Afghan Appeal.[59]

Richards is a keen student of military history and a qualified offshore yachtsman. He is Admiral of the British Kiel Yacht Club and Royal Artillery Yacht Club.[60][61]


  • "[Untitled book review]". Book Reviews. Naval War College Review. 71 (3): 150–152. Summer 2018. Review of Ullman, Harlan (2017). Anatomy of failure : why America loses every war it starts. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.


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  6. "RICHARDS, Gen. Sir David (Julian)". Who's Who 2014, A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc, 2014; online edn, Oxford University Press.(subscription required) ISBN 978-1-4081-1414-8
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  10. "No. 46507". The London Gazette (Supplement). 4 March 1975. p. 2922.
  11. "No. 47137". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 January 1977. p. 1422.
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  19. "No. 57541". The London Gazette (Supplement). 25 January 2005. p. 831.
  20. Kim Sengupta, 'We need 30,000 more soldiers to beat Taliban,' says general, The Independent, 17 October 2008. Retrieved 17 October 2008.
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  25. New army chief under fire over ‘40 years’ claim The Times, 9 August 2009. Retrieved 10 August 2009.
  26. Hughes, David (28 August 2009). "New British Army Chief Sir David Richards takes harge". London: The Independent. Retrieved 28 August 2009.
  27. Walters, Simon (6 September 2009). "Smear allegations centred on employment of daughter by Conservatives,". London: Daily Mail. Retrieved 9 November 2009.
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  33. Rayner, Gordon. "Army 'might need to intervene in Yemen'". Daily Telegraph.
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  35. Richard Spencer (4 July 2014). "Britain drew up plans to build 100,000-strong Syrian rebel army". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 4 July 2014.
  36. Robert Winnett (29 August 2013). "Syria crisis: No to war, blow to Cameron". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
  37. "Sir David Richards to become a lord – after overseeing the sacking of 20,000 troops". Daily Mirror. 13 July 2013. Retrieved 14 July 2013.
  38. "Resources – Influence – Person – 121 – David Richards". CAAT. 14 September 2015. Retrieved 17 February 2017.
  39. "IISS announces the appointment of General Sir David Richards as Senior Adviser". International Institute for Strategic Studies. 23 October 2013. Retrieved 1 February 2014.
  40. "David Richards – Senior Adviser". International Institute for Strategic Studies. Retrieved 1 February 2014.
  41. "Britain's Armed Forces will be like a banana republic's if MoD keeps cutting costs, says ex-CDS Lord Richards". Daily Telegraph. 26 June 2014.
  42. "Lord Richards: air strikes 'never going to be sufficient' against Isil". Daily Telegraph. 7 October 2014.
  43. Norton-Taylor, Richard. "Taking Command by General David Richards – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 October 2015.
  44. PoliticsHome.com (3 November 2016). "EXCL Former Army chief Lord Richards: We should let Assad win back Aleppo". PoliticsHome.
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  61. "Club Committee". RAYC. RAYC. 2018. Retrieved 18 November 2018.
Military offices
Preceded by
Richard Dannatt
Assistant Chief of the General Staff
Succeeded by
Bill Rollo
Preceded by
Sir Richard Dannatt
Commander Allied Rapid Reaction Corps
Succeeded by
Sir Richard Shirreff
Preceded by
Mauro del Vecchio
Commander, International Security Assistance Force
Succeeded by
Dan K. McNeill
Preceded by
Sir Redmond Watt
Commander-in-Chief, Land Forces
Succeeded by
Sir Peter Wall
Preceded by
Sir Richard Dannatt
Chief of the General Staff
Preceded by
Sir Jock Stirrup
Chief of the Defence Staff
Succeeded by
Sir Nick Houghton
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