More than 200 soldiers on their way home from Afghanistan had to strip off their uniforms on the tarmac at Birmingham International Airport and don civilian clothes before being allowed access to the terminal building.

The charter flight was bringing the men back for Christmas leave when it was diverted from its intended destination at RAF Brize Norton because of bad weather, the Ministry of Defence confirmed yesterday.

The incident, which has triggered a barrage of complaints to the MoD and to the company which runs Birmingham International, follows another military diversion blunder highlighted by The Herald yesterday in which 130 Wiltshire-based troops returning from Iraq were left 400 miles from home at Prestwick Airport on Christmas Eve.

Then, despite having 15 hours notice of the delay and diversion, RAF movements staff claimed they had not received orders to make onward travel arrangements and that no coaches were available to take the troops home.

The soldiers at Birmingham were told by the pilot that their baggage was being unloaded on to the runway and that they must reclaim it, dig out their own clothes and remove their desert combat kit before they could proceed into the airport building.

While he then offered to allow them to re-enter the aircraft to change, most chose to strip down in a freezing wind to save precious leave time.

One soldier involved in the Birmingham fiasco said: "The temperature was Baltic on the runway but most of just wanted to get home so we cracked on with getting changed in the open.

"We weren't told who gave the order. It might have been the designated senior officer on board, the chartered airline or the airport security people. It's an insult to the entire Army to force guys who've been fighting in Afghanistan to obey some jobsworth rule when all they want to do is get home soonest to their families. So much for a nation proud of its servicemen."

An MoD spokesman said: "We can confirm the incident occurred but because everyone is on leave, we have not been able to discover who gave the order.

"It's possibly a response to an out-of-date standing instruction during the confrontation with the IRA that service personnel should not make themselves terrorist targets by wearing uniform in public places."

An airport spokesman added: "There are no restrictions relating to clothing or appearance for those using the airport for public flights. However, the airport company has been advised that certain airlines may refuse to accept personnel in military uniform."