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Chapter 8 – E Company - The Early Years (1970s)

 

Attrition

 

The British government started to wear down the terrorists in 1971 with the catchphrase, ‘An acceptable level of violence’. It would be another six years before the IRA started their war of attrition by adopting the principle of ‘The Long War’. 

The catchphrase, ‘An acceptable level of violence’ was first coined by Reginald Maudling in December 1971 and repeated by others such as William Whitelaw many years down the line. They upstaged the Republican murder strategy from the onset. That catchphrase expressed the mind-set of the British government. They were prepared to accept a certain level of violence from the IRA. That undermined the value of violence as a tactical weapon.

 

The IRA’s ‘Cutting Edge’ Philosophy

 

The IRA’s murder campaign was designed to influence world opinion, wear down British resolve and maintain a limited Loyalist terrorist backlash. The IRA plan was not designed to coerce the people of Northern Ireland into a United Ireland; it was indirectly trying to coerce the British government into uniting Ireland. This was the ‘cutting edge’ philosophy of Adams in application, the Armalite forcing the political demands. The whole community of Northern Ireland were hostages, held to ransom by the IRA and murdered by them at the rate of two each week. They were showing the world that Northern Ireland was a failed democracy and political changes had to take place. The IRA leadership was saying to the British government, “We have not gone away you know. Start legislating for our United Ireland and we will stop killing”.

   The IRA leadership had the capacity to increase the killing rate but they were on a ‘knife-edge’. An increase in the killing rate would have resulted in a civil war that nobody would have won. IRA violence failed to wrest major concessions from the British government because they were also on a ‘knife- edge’.

   Although the British government showed scant regard for the Unionist politicians, the first Ulster Workers Council strike in 1974 delineated the line they could not cross without raising Unionist and Loyalist wrath.    

   The IRA activist always went to ground until the Loyalist ‘tit-for-tat’ attacks were taken out on the general Roman Catholic population. These Loyalist sectarian attacks promoted the idea that the Roman Catholic community needed the protection of the IRA. That way, the whole population of Northern Ireland were hostages to all the ‘mad dogs’ of Irish politics for the next thirty years. 

  In these early years the symbiotic relationship between politics and murder cut away the middle ground and polarised Northern Ireland society. There was a continual movement of the population and the former ghettos were transformed into enclaves controlled by terrorists.

 

 

Internment 9 August 1971

 

“If ever there was validity in the term ‘a pivotal moment’ this was it. Unrest and civil disturbances had reached intolerable levels and political uncertainty coupled with pressure from Westminster and Dublin was not helping. We all felt something had to be done and while we were still in a relatively embryonic state in terms of our operational status and capabilities, nevertheless we were willing to do whatever was necessary to help bring peace, stability and normality to our daily lives.

 

Most of us thought events were going downhill so fast there would be civil war which would probably be very bloody but short lived and then we could get on with the rest of our lives. How wrong we were. We were only at the beginning of what was to become ‘the long war’ and none of us ever dreamt at that time that it would take another 30 plus years of terrible violence before we could see an end.

 

In the early hours of 9 August 1971 the RUC and Army carried out arrest operations of suspected IRA men across the Province, which led to the introduction of internment. Most of these arrests were carried out while the suspects were still in bed and involved breaking down the doors of many of the houses where the suspects were sleeping. This naturally provoked the families and caused immense resentment in entire communities especially as the suspects were then taken away to face harsh questioning and detention without trial. The violence on the streets, which followed these arrests, was immense and widespread. Even more important was the impact and loss of face suffered by the Official IRA. Although we did not realise it at the time, nor did we fully appreciate the leadership struggle and dissention, which was going on in the ranks of the IRA, the net result of all these events led to hundreds of Republicans joining the Provisional IRA. By the end of 1971 the Provisional IRA had not only grown in strength immensely but had also acquired substantial quantities of weaponry.

   

 

Collar badges popular for catching the fingers of searchers

The entire UDR was ‘called out’ for full time service by the GOC Northern Ireland for operations is support of the police and army. We relished the prospect of being able to do something constructive and we all felt we had a duty to leave our jobs, don our uniforms and get on with soldiering to help protect the decent law abiding citizens from the widespread violence, which was practically out of control in many areas.

 

After receiving a call from CSM John Kerr early that morning to get my uniform on and get in as quickly as possible, I recall arriving at our base in Macosquin to report for duty having left work and family hurriedly and not knowing what was in store. My mother quickly made me some sandwiches and a flask of coffee and warned me to be careful as she stood watching me leave. I knew she had tears her eyes. Naturally I assured her that I would be fine and that she needn’t worry.

 

On reaching Macosquin it was a classic case of ‘hurry up and wait’. More men were arriving and there was a great deal of speculation about where we were going and what we would be doing. Then the OC arrived after having been at Battalion Headquarters and got all the men to sit down in front of him while he briefed us. There was no fuss or drama as he gave his orders. We were then deployed 24 hours a day on a 12 hour shift system for a variety of patrols, static guards and vehicle check points over a continuous six week period.

 

Our operations were mostly based on the Border in the Londonderry enclave and consisted of VCPs and some static guards including guarding Magilligan Camp, which was to become an interrogation centre for detainees. After the initial excitement and as we settled down into a routine it became second nature to us as we carried out our duties including travelling to and from the various locations around Londonderry in support of 22 Regiment RA.

 

Photo 25 CO 22 Regiment RA visiting E Company patrol in Londonderry City

 

 

Courtesy Cards

 

We survived all weathers, even though it was August, in our olive green combat gear and even more surprising we managed to live ‘in the field’ with very limited support from either Company HQ or Battalion HQ. Many locals were quite friendly to us and brought us goodies such as tea and cake or sandwiches. These were a welcome change to the doubtful looking stew and tea made with condensed milk sometimes delivered to us by the CQMS. I remember being at Battalion HQ on one occasion when huge containers of stew were being made inside a tent within Ebrington Barracks and that confirmed my opinion that it was indeed a doubtful delicacy. Some locals were decidedly unfriendly to us and clearly resented our presence. Mostly, we found that by being firm and as polite to them as possible made them realise that we were not going to rise to their insults and they eventually cooperated in a silent and sullen manner.

 

In between visiting static guards, manning VCPs for long periods and regular stints as Battalion Orderly Officer, usually for 12 hours at night, a duty which was even more demanding, I was allowed to go home on a few occasions to wash, catch up on some sleep and return to duty supposedly suitably refreshed.  Most of the soldiers did the same, as their hours on duty were either day shift or night shift except on the odd occasion when shifts extended to 18 hours or so. This happened due the threat, sometimes the unavailability of transport for relief or the routes that had to be taken because of rioting or incidents in the city. There were few complaints if any about the arduous conditions we endured, as this was what we had all joined to do.

 

The Banned Book

One sunny afternoon at Fanny Wylie’s Bridge Ballyarnett some of our soldiers manning a checkpoint were fired on from a low ridge about 300 meters away. Fire was returned and this caused great excitement although no hits were claimed. Fortunately there were no casualties amongst our men. When I arrived at the scene a short time later one of the NCOs was holding a small branch, which had been hit by incoming rounds and had fallen on his head. This incident sharpened our minds beyond all doubt that we needed to keep alert at all times and be prepared for action.

 

Eventually the ‘call out’ ended after six tough weeks and we returned to our families, civilian jobs and the normal routine of nighttime patrols and guards. We had all learned a lot and it had been a real test of stamina and resolve. We had become an even closer knit Company and a much more cohesive band of ‘brothers in arms’.

 

In the aftermath of those days and weeks there was an enormous increase in terrorist activity including the establishment of No-Go areas. As the Official IRA faded gradually into relative insignificance, the Provisional IRA became very well organised throughout the Province and became a highly potent and aggressive terrorist organisation. The ‘war’ began in earnest. Even at that stage we thought it was not going to last long.

 

How wrong we were again” (Hamill, 2007).

 

       

Anti-Internment Rallies

 

Magilligan 22 January 1972

 

An Anti-Internment rally was held on Magilligan strand on 22 January 1972. A training day was being held at E Company location on that day. This was cancelled and the company was deployed on the periphery of the containment operation. The Parachute Regiment were deployed on the front line and successfully dispersed the crowds.

 

Londonderry 30 January 1972

 

That same month, on 30 January 1972, 20,000 people took part in a banned march in Londonderry city. It was a protest against internment and had been organized by the NICRA. The route towards Guildhall Square was blocked by the Regular army at William Street. This channelled the protesters into the Bogside where they assembled at "Free Derry Corner".

    The Regular army then carried out a cordon operation that trapped the protesters on waste-ground between the Flats and William Street. The troops were shot at on at least one occasion before the Paras main assault on the rioters took place. A Roman Catholic priest reported seeing a civilian carrying a handgun during one of the shooting incidents. One civilian was shot and died later before the Paras were deployed (Doherty, 2007)

   The Paras were ordered in to arrest rioters and as that operation began they shot and fatally wounded thirteen known civilians. That one incident alone accounted for more civilian deaths than the persistently maligned B Specials had ever been accused of in their 50 years of loyal service.

 

“One officer and 25 soldiers from E Company were manning the Permanent Vehicle Check Point (PVCP) on the Letterkenny Road that day. I was the radio operator and as soon as the shooting started I monitored all the frequencies in the city with my C42 radio to determine what was happening. Despite the horror of the situation all the operators followed proper radio procedure.

 

The PVCP was very busy when the shooting stopped, in that many ambulances, including the Knights of Malta passed through. Many people were injured and they were treated in the Republic of Ireland.

   One hour after the shooting stopped the area was very quiet. There was no animosity from the people going through our PVCP, which was strange. We were stood down by the resident battalion at approximately 5pm and went for a meal in Ebrington Barracks before returning home to Coleraine.

 

That incident was a turning point as far as the security forces in Northern Ireland were concerned. After the incident we had to upgrade our personal security and patrol tactics in order to stay alive” S36.

 

 

Bloody Sunday was followed by an upsurge in Republican violence. In the three years prior to the incident six people were being killed each month. For eleven months after the incident, forty people were killed each month.

 

The Stormont devolved government was suspended on 24 March 1972 by Edward Heath after Brian Faulkner’s administration refused to transfer the control of security in Northern Ireland to Westminster. From that date a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland governed Northern Ireland along with a team of junior ministers and civil servants.

 

Official IRA Ceasefire

 

Two months later, after the terrorist murder of Ranger Best in Londonderry, the Dublin based leadership of the Official IRA called and maintained a ceasefire on the 29 May 1972.

 

Loyalist No-Go Areas

 

The following month, on Friday 30th June 1972, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) began to organise its own 'No-Go' areas. This action was a response to the continuation of the Republican 'No-Go’ areas.

   Then three weeks later it was another Bloody Friday in Ireland’s bloody history. In Belfast on Friday afternoon 21st July 1972 the IRA planted and exploded 26 bombs. In the space of 75 minutes eleven people were killed (Bew & Gillespie, 1999) and 130 others were seriously injured. The whole recovery operation in the aftermath of this terrorist attack was confounded by a series of hoax warnings. This resulted in delays in coping with the real bombs and the treatment of the injured.

'Bloody Friday' and the general revulsion with the carnage gave the British Government the opportunity to deal resolutely with all the ‘No-Go’ areas.

  

Operations Motorman and CanCan

 

At 4am on 31 July 1972, 21,000 Regular troops moved into the ‘No-Go’ areas established in Londonderry in the aftermath of internment protests of 1971. The Regular troops expected to take heavy casualties if the Provisional IRA remained in position. To that end the Province-wide operation to clear the barricaded areas was known as Operation Motorman and was preceded with a widely publicised ‘Sabre Rattling’ media exercise.  In 8 Brigades operational area, which included Londonderry city, Operation Motorman was called Operation CanCan.  

   The general public fully expected the barricades to be cleared but the date of the army’s deployment was withheld. Operation Motorman succeeded in destroying the barricades with minimal opposition and the area was secured by 7am.

   That same day three car bombs planted by the South Derry PIRA exploded without warning in the village of Claudy, killing nine people, including nine-year-old Catherine Eakin. It has been alleged that this terrorist atrocity was organised by a Roman Catholic priest.

   While the British government was planning Operation Motorman they had other considerations to ponder. A British government document dated July 1972 was released on 1 January 2003. This document explained for the British government the possibility of redrawing the Northern Ireland border and carrying out a transfer of the population.

 

“I was doing the searching on Op Motorman for the Garvagh detachment. One day we stopped a car with one occupant, the driver. He was French and did not speak English very well. I lifted out the back seat and found a .303 Lee Enfield rifle. There were two rounds of ammunition, one loaded and one attached to the rifle sling. We phoned the RUC but they were too busy so a team or Royal Military Police came out from HMS Sea Eagle and arrested this individual.

   I had to go to HMS Sea Eagle later on and make out my statement. It transpired that the Frenchman was going to shoot an officer or at least a soldier if that was not possible. He expected to be paid £200 for shooting an officer and £100 for shooting a soldier. I was never called to give evidence so I do not know how this finished up” S9.

 

“We were called out for Operation Motorman and spent a long time on a static VCP across from the back of Shantallow in Londonderry, not far away from the Stokes travellers camp. That was an interesting place. All the travellers had Republic of Ireland documents, couldn’t write (supposedly) and signed with variations of a cross” S47.

 

“During Operation Motorman the Company was called out for full-time duty for six weeks. That was from the beginning of August to the middle of September in 1972. I spent most of the time on the Derry border “dug in” trenches in a defended position while operating a permanent checkpoint along with an Armoured Reconnaissance Squadron from the Blues and Royals in support.

 

At that time it was thought the Irish Army was going to invade and take over Derry and we were there to defend against an invasion force. It was seen as a full-scale war issue. I well remember those nights of Operation Motorman, as there were soldiers who didn’t want to be relieved from duty. They pleaded to stay on, as they didn’t want to miss any of the action. That was the sentiment of the time – time didn’t matter. We were there to do a job. The pay was pitiful but the cause was great” (Hamill, 2007).

 

The Coleraine Town Bomb Blitz

 

The following year, on 12 June 1973 Francis Campbell (70), Dinah Campbell (72), Elizabeth Craigmile (76), Nan Davis (60), Robert Scott (72) and Elizabeth Palmer (60) who were all Protestants, were killed when a PIRA car bomb exploded outside the off licence at the top of Railway Road in Coleraine.

Capitalising on normal evacuation procedures, the PIRA had earlier exploded a bomb at the car sales rooms in Hanover Place. This bomb ensured that the town would be evacuated straight into the second bomb in Railway Road; similar to the tactics used in the IRA’s Bloody Friday atrocity.  

 

Railway Road, the bomb was planted in the right foreground

One of the many people who helped the injured and dying that day was a WWII veteran called Frank Walls, a former Battery Sergeant Major in the Coleraine Battery. He gave first aid to many victims and organised stretcher teams using doors taken from the bombed out buildings to move the victims to the ambulances.

 

Photo 26 Frank, Mary and ‘Toots’ Walls, 1942  

 

 

The Sunningdale Agreement and the UWC Strike

 

The Sunningdale Agreement of December 1973 was a power sharing concept where Unionist and nationalists were persuaded to work together and solve the political deadlock in Northern Ireland. In response to the implementation of the Sunningdale Agreement a Loyalist ad hoc committee called the Ulster Workers Council (UWC) was established. The UWC condemmed the Sunningdale Agreement and conducted a two week General Strike starting on 15 May 1974.

   The strike involved a combination of political, paramilitary and popular support. Province wide the Loyalist paramilitaries used intimidation to enforce the strike. In Coleraine town the ad hoc committee met in a Unionist Councillor’s house. That committee was made up of councillors, church ministers and trade Unionists who all gave ‘a nod and a wink’ to the paramilitary leaders while discussing the blockade of the Coleraine roads. This was a difficult time for E Company soldiers who had to run the gauntlet of groups of ‘Loyalists’ on the River Bann bridges. It was practically impossible to get petrol and soldiers were allowed to buy Jerrycans of petrol from the Army to enable them to travel to and from duty.

   On 28  May 1974, in the second week of the strike, the power sharing executive collapsed and direct rule was reintroduced.

   After misjudging the attitudes of the Loyalist paramilitaries during the UWC strike, Merlyn Rees, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, thought this was a good time to push Tom Nairn’s idea of Ulster Nationalism. But the Loyalists wanted to maintain the Union . They were dissillusioned by the inability of the Unionist politicians to capitalise on the power base presented to them during the strike.

   This strike proved to be the last time the Coleraine Loyalist paramilitaries would fully co-operate with the Unionists. Merlyn Rees and the Northern Ireland Office civil servants were sowing the seeds of Ulster Nationalism on very stony ground.  

Merlyn Rees visiting E Company Annual Camp at Ballykinlar 1974

 

The Cell System

 

That same year, a series of presentations on The Cell System were held throughout Northern Ireland. Officers from the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) Co. Londonderry command visited Coleraine and encouraged the local UDA leaders to create secret terrorist groups of between four to eight men who were prepared to conduct a clandestine murder campaign against the IRA and their supporters. But sustained by the success of the UWC strike the volunteers in Coleraine UDA saw no value in breaking down their unit into smaller units.

   It would be decades before the idea was finally adopted by Loyalist paramilitaries such as the Ulster Freedom Fighters and the Ulster Volunteer Force. The IRA did adopt the cell system to a limited degree in 1977 to counter the covert operations mounted against them by the security forces..

 

The Coolkeeragh Power Station Raid

 

In July 1975, E Company were tasked to guard Coolkeeragh power station in Londonderry. That night intruders, who came in below the perimeter fence, tied up the guard and stole six SLRs (Self Loading Rifles).

   A thorough investigation followed and it was found that three of the platoon responsible for the guard duty that night had Loyalist paramilitary connections.

   The Coolkeeragh Guard Commander reported, “I was fortunate or unfortunate to be in combat situations.  Once in Swatragh village there was a PIRA shooting attack against our mobile patrols.

   I am unable to recall any long-term pressure or stress from these ‘contacts’, but there was one incident where my patrol was held hostage in Coolkeeragh power station by a group of armed Loyalist terrorists. That situation was more stressful than the Swatragh incident. That was because the patrol was being shot at in the Swatragh incident and your anti-ambush drill training just kicks in. You know how to react to that form of contact.

   In the Coolkeragh situation we were being held by a bunch of Loyalist terrorists and we had no control of the situation. We could have been killed or injured and there was nothing we could do. When I look back on that incident I know that I prayed silently more that night than I have ever done before or since.” S3.

 

John Trussler

 

As a measure of the calibre of the volunteers joining E Company, consider the life history of John Trussler, who joined the Company on 15 September 1975.

   His military career started when he enrolled in the Royal Artillery at Rhyl, North Wales on 5 January 1949. During his gunnery career John has had postings to Borneo, Singapore, Malta and BAOR (British Army of the Rhine).  He has been attached to 36th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Malta, 36th Guided Weapon Rgt, 16th Light Air Defence (LAD), 102nd Light Air Defence and 206 Light Air Defence Battery in Coleraine. It was while serving with 102 LAD that he received his first Royal Warrant on promotion to Sergeant Major PSI (Warrant Officer 2nd Class Permanent Staff Instructor).

   On discharge from the Regular army he joined 206 LAD Battery, Coleraine and received his second warrant as Sergeant Major, Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve (TAVR).

   On the 15 Sept 1975 John transferred to E Company as Sergeant PSI and worked his way through the ranks again to receive his third warrant as Sergeant Major. He was posted to the Quartermaster’s Department in Battalion Headquarters and later became the Training Warrant Officer of the Battalion before retiring in 1982. John’s remarkable military career has spanned 33 years.

 

Farrenlester Road Explosion

 

“Four Loyalist terrorists belonging to the UVF, Mark Dodd, Samuel Swanson, Robert Freeman and Aubrey Reid were killed in a premature bomb explosion on the Farrenlester Road, near Coleraine on 2 October 1975 when the device they had been transporting blew up. I was in command of the cordon on the Farrenlester Road between Coleraine town and Macosquin village after the explosion” S10.

 

   Long before the Farrenlester Road explosion the Rev Brian Liddell had made a forthright statement from the pulpit of 1st Coleraine Presbyterian Church in Coleraine. He stated that he would never officiate at the funeral service of any member of the congregation killed as a direct result of their involvement in a terrorist act.

   Rev Liddell did not conduct the funeral service for Samuel Swanson. A minister from another church was employed. The funeral procession turned out to be the largest one that decade.

The following Sunday, Rev Liddell reiterated his edict and went on to say that any one who disagreed with his decision was free to leave the church. Nobody left the church that day.

 

Search Operation

 

The following month, on the first Sunday in November, E Company carried out a planned search of a wood near Dungiven. On the search was an eager young Permanent Cadre soldier called Ronnie Gamble. He had a habit of volunteering for such operations to counter the dreary routine of Base Guard duties.

   There were quite a few chuckles from others when the soldier refused to take up the Mk 1 Prodder and instead produced his personal electronic metal detector and started to sweep the area designated to him. Within thirty minutes he discovered expended cases close to a small reservoir, proving that the area was used to test fire terrorist weapons.

   The search intensified after that and E Company had two more sets of finds that day including 140 assorted rounds of ammunition, 30 ft of safety fuse and a tin of 93 commercial detonators. This was one detailed example of many successful search operations conducted by E Company. That was also the month An Phoblacht presented an article on having Ulster ethnically cleansed by the year 2000.

 

Opening the New 5th (Co. Londonderry) Battalion Headquarters

 

Two months later the Battalion Headquarters location was transferred from Ebrington Barracks in Londonderry City to Shackleton Barracks in Ballykelly. On 31 January 1976 Maj. Gen. David Young presided at the official opening. He commented on the Battalion strength being over 830 personnel including 62 female UDR with an average turnout of 250 soldiers every night in County Londonderry.

 

The Company Commander’s Daily Routine

 

“I do not know how I managed to do it or how the other men managed to cope with the workload. Most of the men were doing their normal job during the day and reporting for duty several nights every week and at weekends. 

   I was rising in the morning at 8am for breakfast. I then called into the camp for a check on the situation with the Company Sergeant Major and to pick up my mail. I then went off to school. Sometimes I called into the camp at 1pm. After school I was usually home for 5pm and immediately went to sleep. My wife would wake me at 6pm for dinner and by 7:30pm I would be back in the base.

   At 8pm the patrols would be briefed and then head out on patrol. Sometimes I would accompany the patrol. On other occasions I would have to go to either Londonderry or Ballykelly to attend an Operational Briefing (O Group) with all the other senior officers. I would be back home in bed for 4am, hopefully!

   How I was capable of carrying out this punishing routine for twelve years without a major health problem is beyond me. In 1976 I was promoted and E Company changed command. I then had a series of senior staff postings and retired at the age of 58 in 1982. The first six and a half years were terrible for both my family and myself. After that, the next five and a half years were not so bad.

   From 1970 until 1976, we had progressed from a small group of ex-servicemen and a few green recruits to a large strong company, ready, capable and willing to serve anywhere. It was a privilege to be part of it. You felt that you were really needed – you did not always know the importance of the job you were doing. Your men did not know what car bombs your roadblocks had prevented.

   On one occasion I can remember our roadblock obviously stopped ‘something’. The car approaching us did a hand brake turn. It was hard to tell your men you didn’t know exactly what they were achieving. But they were doing a good job in deterring the terrorist. We even caught some of them in the commission of their evil crime. My motivation was always loyalty to the Crown. I enjoyed service life, the atmosphere of the Officers’ and Sergeants’ Mess and working with the men” S1.

 

Change of Company Commander

 

“I took over command of E Company in July 1976 and concentrated on improving recruit training and training for operations while maintaining and strengthening all our operational commitments. We had no difficulty in attracting new male recruits together with ‘Greenfinches’ (female soldiers) and the Company grew rapidly in size and strength. The age profile of the company changed considerably in the late 70s and we had many more new young men and women joining. This new influx provided additional challenges and required much effort to ensure we were operationally ready at all times. With the Detachment at Garvagh the Company had a total strength of over 250 – almost half a Regular army Battalion” (Hamill, 2007).

 

 

Photo 27 Major Victor Hamill

 

Police Primacy

 

The policy document ‘The Way Ahead’ was introduced in July 1976 and implemented in 1977. It discussed the Ulsterisation of security in the Province, where the RUC were to take the lead and the UDR replaced the regular army to provide patrol operations throughout most of the Province.

   The policy of Police Primacy led to many changes in the Northern Ireland security scene. The full-time soldiers became known as Permanent Cadre and their pay increased to be on parity with the Regular army pay scales. There was also an increase in recruiting and training in order to cope with the ever-expanding patrol areas. The Tactical Area of Responsibility (TAOR) of the UDR in all areas increased as the Regular army was withdrawn and the Permanent Cadre took over their patrol areas.

   The full-time soldier sometimes worked in excess of eighty hours each week. These figures were massaged in that full-time Company Commanders stopped the clock when the patrols were relieved on the ground. That deleted the time it took for you to get back to base, return your equipment and get home. This reduced your operational hours by five hours on some duties.

 

 

 

Map 1 The Expanding TAOR

 

   Alongside this overt change in tactics there was also an increase in covert tactics where all terrorist suspects became subject to more intense surveillance. The part-time element also experienced many changes.

 

”Our operations became more sophisticated and patrolling became much more efficient and effective. As time went on the UDR developed a closer working relationship with the RUC and joint patrols became standard procedure.

   The UDR input to supporting the RUC had a clear advantage because of local ‘nouse’. There were exceptions of course when frictions surfaced due to personality differences on rare occasions or when the military approach differed to the policing requirements. Any of these perceived or real problems were always successfully overcome by discussion or negotiation and by applying common sense and decency.

   Patrol tasks became our bread and butter as well as guards and other duties and we became proficient in advanced skills at section, platoon and company level. We operated ‘Framework Operations’ – mutually supporting patrols that basically saturated an area and kept the terrorist guessing. These were very successful tactics in preventing ambushes of patrols and the free movement of terrorists and their munitions” (Hamill, 2007).

 

   Not only was there a radical change in Security Force tactics, there was an equally radical change in Republican terrorist tactics after the short IRA ceasefire ended in 1975. In 1976/77 twenty-nine UDR personnel and thirty-seven RUC were murdered. This rate was double that from the previous three years. Eleven of the murdered UDR personnel were from 5 UDR alone.

 

Increased Terrorist Activity in 1976

 

E Company soldiers managed to survive one of those murderous attacks. At the start of August 1976, 21 Platoon had a close call on Portballantrae Rifle Range in County Antrim. A milk churn bomb was buried at one of the firing points and a pressure plate was hidden on top of it so that anyone standing on the firing point would detonate the bomb below.

 

“At the start of the range day Sergeant George Mitchell and I were making our way down to the butts for the first detail of the March and Shoot firing practice. Corporal Robert McCarron and another soldier were setting out six rounds of ammunition on each firing point. Various teams were out on a forced march that culminated in a competition shooting practice. When the March and Shoot team arrived on the firing point they had to charge their magazines with the ammunition and then engage the targets.

 

Photo 28 Sgt George Mitchell

 

 

Sergeant Mitchell and myself were about fifty metres from the firing point when this blast came. It was like a heavy wind and we felt this blast on the back of our legs. I looked round and saw Corporal McCarron flying through the air. A soldier was lying in the trench in front of the firing point screaming with his face covered in blood.

   As we ran back to the firing point Alex was already on the scene supervising the first aid to the two injured soldiers. He did a wonderful job under the circumstances. Although the Private soldier looked the worst of the two injured, all his wounds were superficial. Corporal McCarron had sustained severe chest and jaw injuries. The surgeon at Coleraine Hospital had to use pioneering techniques to reconstruct Corporal McCarron’s jaw.

   Corporal McCarron had stepped on the pressure pad. He survived this Republican booby trap attack but was unfit for service” (H Jamieson, 2007).

 

 The Republican onslaught continued and within a week of the Portballintrae attack the commercial heart of Portrush town was under attack.

 

“A Republican terrorist arson bomb attack took place in Portrush on Tuesday 6 August 1976.  This remains the top north coast resort and the ten-bomb attack was designed to coincide with the peak of the holiday season. We were on cordon duty all through the night and were also tasked to search the town for unexploded IED’s” S10.

 

   The following week on the 12 August 1976 E Company were responsible for manning the PVCPs on the Muff, Buncrana and Letterkenny roads as well as the checkpoint on the Quayside. This was part of the Company’s contribution to the Emergency Call Out of the UDR Province wide. It allowed the Resident Battalion to monitor the crowds at the Apprentice Boys parade in Londonderry city.

   The Province and 5 UDR in particular suffered from brutal attacks carried out by Republican terrorists from 1976 onwards. In March 1977 there was an emergency call out of UDR personnel for a two-week period in order to curb the Republican murder spree. The SDLP spokesperson on law and order protested in the local press claiming that the call out was unwise.

   The Unionist politicians called on the Government to deal more effectively with the IRA and also reintroduce majority rule.

   They also set about organising a second Province wide strike. One of the organizers was the Rev Ian Paisley and the group was known as the United Unionist Action Council (UUAC). That strike ran from Tuesday 3 May until Friday 13 May in 1977 and it proved to be an abject failure. This time there was no general uprising of the Unionist and Loyalist family. The Coleraine paramilitaries were not prepared to support political leaders who, they believed, failed to capitalise on the advantages they had gained for them in the 1974 UWC strike.

   Despite threatening to resign if the second strike failed Paisley carried on. A subsequent ‘show of force’ by the DUP degenerated into the donning of cherry berets, climbing a hill in a nice safe area and the waving of firearms certificates at the invited media.

 

Visit by the Queen August 1977 (Her Silver Jubilee Year)

 

Three months later the Company was called out again for the Queen’s visit on 10 and 11 of August 1977. E Company was tasked to secure the coastline between Portstewart and Portrush, particularly the area overlook in the anchorage of the Royal Yacht Britannia. The Company Tactical Headquarters was established in Portrush Town Hall. Twenty-one Platoon was based in the harbour and used the Harbour Master’s office as a Platoon Headquarters. Twenty-two and 23 Platoons patrolled Portrush town and Garvagh detachment, 24 Platoon, provided patrols on the town boundaries. The Company had the unique responsibility of coordinating the deployment of over 400 men and women from different army units in that security operation.

  “At 4am on 11 August I decided to take a foot patrol from Company Headquarters to the West Strand to ‘freshen up’ for a visit by the Commanding Officer and the Brigade Commander at 6am. We had no swimming gear for a dip in the sea and as far as I know we were undetected. The Commanding Officer and Brigade Commander thought we were very alert when they arrived” (Hamill, 2007).

 

   It was a sunny day when the Royal Yacht Britannia and the escort ship arrived and anchored off the NW coast at Portrush. There was a carnival atmosphere in the town. Two local fishermen, Derek McLeister and Freddy Fleming set up a barbeque in the harbour close to 21 Platoon Headquarters.  They barbequed fresh mackerel all day and the platoon was well fed.

   The Royal Marines patrolled the harbour area in their fast patrol boats all day and occasionally called into the harbour to enjoy pints of Guinness and beer as well as the adulation of young boys and girls. Unfortunately E Company did not have the same glamour but the general public did give them a friendly pat on the back now and then for a job well done. The security threat was minimal and the IRA seemed to have boycotted the occasion.

   Later on, the Queen visited the University of Ulster. The SDLP boycotted the Coleraine visit. After her visit a bomb exploded in the grounds of the University. In a follow-up operation an army explosives search dog indicated an interest in two different rooms of the University.

 

The Killings after 1978

 

From 1978 onwards the ‘Ulsterisation’ of Northern Ireland security did not result in more Ulster deaths but instead it led to a spectacular reduction in some of the death rates. The yearly average for civilians (117) and the Regular army (39) dropped to forty-six and thirteen respectively. After 1991 the killings dropped further to twenty-six and 2.5

   Despite the upsurge in the murder of UDR/RUC personnel in 1976/77 table 2 shows how this changed in 1978 to nine and twelve respectively and finally dropped in 1991 to one and three.

 

Table 2 Murder Victims Yearly Average

 

Phase

Civilian

Reg Army

UDR

RUC

1969 - 1977

117

39

11

12

1978 - 1990

46

13

9

12

1991 - 2001

26

2.5

1

3

 

When the terrorist killings are attributed to their respective groups they are also quite revealing. Table 3 shows that up until 1977 the Republican terrorists were killing 96 people every year and the Loyalists 48. After 1977 this figure dropped to 60 and 12 respectively.

 

Table 3 The Terrorist Yearly Murder Rate

 

Phase

Republicans

Loyalists

1969-1977

96

48

1978-1990

60

12

1991-2001

18

18

 

 

This can be explained in part by the fact that Republican terrorists had adopted the cell system in 1977 to counter the covert operations mounted against them by the security forces. As well as that the sectarian killers now had more political direction. This helped to reduce the civilian deaths as the killers were ordered to concentrate on the security forces. Despite this political control of the Republican campaign the sectarian atrocities did continue as the gunmen countered the Loyalist murders with more ‘spectaculars’. 

   The drop in Loyalist murders can be related to the drop in Republican murders so there were fewer ‘tit-for-tat’ attacks on Roman Catholics. At the same time the Intelligence services had infiltrated all Loyalist groupings and deliberately slowed down their kill rate. The Loyalist groups at this stage were now more corrupt and were focused on extortion, drug dealing and protection rackets. Then in 1991 the terrorists were on parity, each group murdering 18 people every year.


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