The new Royal Regiment of Scotland is already 313 men below strength, a 15% shortfall in its fighting manpower, The Herald can reveal.

Critics cited the merger of six regiments in March last year and the loss of traditional regional identity as a key factor in the deficit, at a time when the Army is fighting major campaigns in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Recruitment for the Royal Regiment has been centralised, undermining the ties of local recruiting teams operating for their own units in "tribal" areas which have produced a pool of enlistees for up to three centuries.

Even the 1st Battalion of the new regiment, the product of combining the Royal Scots and King's Own Scottish Borderers, is six soldiers below establishment. When the two units merged last year, they had a combined surplus of 130 troops.

That could be compounded by a decision which emerged yesterday: in future, soldiers joining the Royal Regiment will be sent to whichever of its five battalions needs them most, rather than the unit of traditional tribal choice.

Campaigners who fought to prevent the establishment of the new "super-regiment" say the move is the latest ploy to sever the "Golden Threads" of 300 years of individual history and set up a pool of nameless, interchangeable infantry.

The Herald has seen a letter sent by Major-General Andrew Graham, honorary colonel of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, to senior colleagues which states that recruits "will go to the battalion that is most in need", regardless of individual preference.

A press, TV and radio recruitment drive, which will cost £800,000, the equivalent of the starting pay of 57 newly-trained recruits, was unveiled yesterday.

At the launch in Glasgow, Brigadier David Allfrey, the officer responsible for meeting manpower targets north of the border, admitted that controversy over regimental amalgamations had "bruised" relations between the Army and Scotland. But he denied any underlying conspiracy to eliminate the military traditions, claiming the new structure offered "continuity combined with flexibility".

He added: "Soldiers also now have the opportunity to vary their military careers by cross-posting from parent battalions to gain a flavour of light infantry or armoured infantry experience in other parts of the greater regiment."

He added: "I would argue it represents not erosion, but unparalleled flexibility.

"While I appreciate the views of the old and the bold' in opposing the restructuring, this is not about sheer geography or old loyalties. I would like them to join us in recognising and taking forward the new opportunities."

Jeff Duncan, spokesman for the Restore Our Army Regiments campaign, said last night: "Due to the relentless suppression of regimental identities, they have lost the support of families which traditionally filled the ranks."

Liam Fox, Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, said: "Throughout the entire reorganisation what no-one took into account was the emotional attachment to the old regiments and there was a history and a loyalty and a culture that came from the shared experiences in those regiments which have been lost.

"Many veterans predicted at the time it would cause a problem with recruitment and sadly, that seems to be coming true."