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Terrorist Activity

 

The Maghera Bomb Blitz

 

“In 1980 it was decided that the UDR should expand its area of responsibility to cover the security of South Londonderry. The area extended just north of Cookstown to the area north of Garvagh. The Commanding Officer at the time was Lt. Col. Hugh Tarver, a thoroughly professional and competent Regular Officer. The Commanding Officer decided that I should be posted as the Operations Officer based at Magherafelt.

   Two days after I was appointed as Operations Officer the IRA put five bombs into the town of Maghera and I got a phone call quite early in the morning to say that there was an incident in Maghera. I travelled from my home to Maghera and when I got to within one and a half miles of the village the hot ashes were landing on the roof of my car. I could see the whole town was ablaze from one end to the other.

   A store in Lower Main Street Maghera contained a large quantity of gas cylinders and these had gone up and were blowing the slates off the roofs. I walked down to the junction of Main Street and Hall Street in Maghera and spoke to the sentry posted at the end of the street.

   I then left that position and drove to Magherafelt. Later on I found something uncomfortable in my right foot, I took off my shoe and I found that a sliver of wood from the explosions had entered just below the sole of my foot. If it had of been a fraction of an inch higher it would have gone through my foot.

   I met the Commanding Officer in Maghera later on and he said, ‘This is marvellous’. I thought it was disastrous. ‘Not at all’, he said, ‘This is just what we need. This shows we can cope’ S4.

 

The Mid Ulster Murders

 

On 12 September 1981 Private Alan Clarke, a 20 year-old Permanent Cadre soldier from Upperlands was murdered by Republican gunmen as he walked along Hall Street in Maghera. One of his pallbearers on 14 September was Reserve Constable Johnnie Proctor, a former member of the Garvagh Detachment.

   A few hours later Johnnie Proctor visited his wife and newborn son in the Mid Ulster Hospital in Magherafelt. He was shot dead as he returned to his car.

 

Contact at the Pot

 

“It was 25th June 1982. A multiple patrol of five teams from 21 Platoon was operating in the Garvagh area. I was the driver of one of the Landrovers. It was a wet summer night but quite warm.

Two teams left their Landrovers in Garvagh RUC station and we took them in our vehicles to the Garvagh Glen. They were dropped off and conducted snap VCP’s (Vehicle Check Points) on foot for a few hours. The remaining three Landrovers worked in the Dungiven area. It was a good nights work as usual for 21 Platoon with plenty of good craic. We had lots of VCP data sheets completed for each vehicle stopped and searched.

   At around 2am we left the Dungiven area and moved towards Garvagh on the Legavallon Road to pick up the two Foot Patrols. We were in the last vehicle. Corporal Jamieson said to me, “Get the fags out young man”. The next thing I knew there was a white flash and the Landrover lifted about ten feet in the air. Somebody shouted, ‘F*** me, we’re all dead!’ Large rocks and boulders were raining down on us and all the windows were blown in. I managed to turn the steering wheel before the Landrover landed so we ran into the banking instead of rolling down the 300m. slope.

    Corporal Ted Jamieson shouted, ‘All out into cover. Put fire down on the high ground!’ I jumped out and into the ditch with my heart pounding. I emptied a magazine in no time, firing along the skyline of the high ground. Tracer rounds and illuminating rockets lit up the morning sky.

   After detonating the 500lb landmine the terrorists had escaped by car. There was a hole in the road you could have fitted our three Landrovers in. We cordoned off the area and for the safety of the road users we diverted all the traffic. At 7am the full-time soldiers came out to take over the cordon positions. I had to set off straight away to my normal day job, which began at 8am. Just another night for 21 Platoon and then my civilian boss complained that I was 15 minutes late for work” S51.

 

Photo 29 The Bomb Crater on the Legavallon Road

 

 

The Sandy Baxter Incident

 

“One October night in 1982 we were patrolling in the Swatragh area when we saw a well-known terrorist’s car sitting by the side of the road near a garage. As we inspected the car the owner came forward with the excuse that he had run out of petrol.

   Three nights later at the same spot Sandy Baxter was shot in the elbow. He was on vehicle patrol with his elbow resting on the windowsill of the Landrover, smoking, when the attack started. If his elbow had been inside the vehicle he would have escaped injury.

 

Photo 30 Sandy Baxter after the Incident

 

 

   We drove out of the killing zone until we reached the Garvagh Road and Sandy was the most injured. Stone chips of the terrorist bullets had also ricocheted off the road surface and splattered others on the patrol. In fact some of the leaf springs of the Landrover had bullet holes.

There were at least four gunmen involved in this failed murder attempt. It was a miracle that no one was killed. It was a typical ‘shoot and scoot’ on the terrorist part.

   After that we used other methods to get through Swatragh. Some Regular units ignored the threat and paid the price when they fell victim to a horizontal mortar attack.

There was a popular TV show at that time called Dallas and the topic was, ‘Who shot JR’. As part of the following Thursday night celebration in the Junior Ranks club, we had a run of T-shirts with the logo, ‘Who Shot Sandy Baxter?’ on the front” S 18.

 

The Swatragh Ambush

 

On the night of 8 November 1982 the Commander Land Forces, General Chiswell, and the UDR Commander, Brigadier Graham, visited the 5th Battalion. It was almost one month after Sandy Baxter was shot. That night two Republican gunmen tried again to murder members of an E Company patrol as it passed through Swatragh village.

 

“We travelled through the village of Swatragh and just as the leading Landrover crossed the bridge over the small river running through the village, there were two or three bursts of automatic gunfire – rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat. Instinctively I ordered the driver to stop, which he did rather quickly. The rear vehicle pulled up about 30 yards behind us.

   We all used the parapet of the bridge as cover and a young soldier from the rear vehicle reported the flashes of the terrorist weapons. The Corporal in charge of the rear vehicle gave a fire control order and the section returned fire on the terrorist position with the aid of illuminating flares. These engagements with terrorists are known as contacts and I immediately got on the radio and put in a ‘Contact Report to Magherafelt Operations room. The Duty officer in Magherafelt then alerted all the support agencies to be on stand by to be tasked to our location.

  As soon as I realised we were no longer being fired on I ordered ‘Cease Fire!’ I then checked my men in both vehicles. We were lucky no one was injured but a terrorist bullet had hit the flash eliminator of one of my soldier’s rifles and the muzzle was blown apart. That young soldier came within inches of being killed or seriously injured that night”

   We had Nightsun, the helicopter with a searchlight, the RUC Scenes of Crime Officer (SOCO) and other support agencies on hand within a short time” S3.  

 

“Our patrol left Garvagh ten minutes after the Coleraine patrol and we followed the same route. As we travelled towards Swatragh at the Craigavole area the radio operator said to me, ‘What kind of things are those flying through the air? Are they shooting stars?’

   The driver Bertie Gilmore and myself looked in the direction she indicated and we both saw the tracer rounds leaving their track in the sky. The rounds were at the same height as the telegraph poles and were coming in our direction. If they had been any lower they would have hit us.

   The driver accelerated the Landrover forward to the crest of the hill in front of Swatragh village. By this time the firing had stopped. At that point the area was lit up by the village streetlights so we stopped just short of that area. We dismounted and left the two drivers in charge of security of their vehicles and went forward. As we ran forward towards Swatragh we saw the silhouette of a person running across the road from the location of the telephone exchange to the back of The Rafters public house.  

 

 

The back of The Rafters public house

   I checked my observation with the soldier on the other side of the road and he confirmed my sightings. We continued our advance as far as the back yard of The Rafters bar because that was the most likely location of the person we saw earlier.

   There was a touring caravan in the yard with all its lights on and the female occupant was standing at the door. She was shouting continuously at the patrol with foul obscenities. We knew this was her way of decoying us from our immediate job, finding the runner. Her distractions did not work and we continued our search, still not fully aware of what had actually taken place.

   One of the soldiers posted in the yard said that the door to an outhouse had been open. It had been open when the patrol first entered the yard. Now it was closed. I immediately had the outhouse surrounded by the patrol using defensive positions in case anyone bolted out from the outhouse.

   With the outhouse covered, I went forward and opened the door and shone a torch in. There was a man crouched against the wall, cowering with his hands covering his face. His feet were on a loaded rifle. I called the patrol forward so that we closed in on the individual. I reached in and grabbed the individual and dragged him from the outhouse. He lay on the ground and refused to move. It was quite obvious he was petrified. We questioned the individual and all the information was false because we knew the area very well.

   We handed the individual and his rifle over to the RUC. Once the police left the scene I reorganized the patrol and carried out a detailed search of the immediate area. We found the firing point used by the terrorist to attack the patrol. This was located in an alley beside the car showroom in the middle of Swatragh.

   A terrorist had engaged the rear Landrover of the patrol going through the middle of the village. One of his shots had split the flash eliminator on the end of the soldiers SLR where he sat in the back of the Landrover.” S9.

 

The ‘Droppin Well Inn’ Atrocity

 

The following month, on 6 December 1982, E Company was involved in the follow-up operation in Ballykelly where seventeen people were murdered in a Republican bomb attack. The casualties were mostly off duty soldiers and locals who had been drinking in a local bar and disco near their Ballykelly base. Over 150 people were also injured, 30 of them seriously. The photo shows the clean up operation the following morning.

 

 

Freedom of Coleraine

 

“One of the highlights of my service, and there were many, came when the Regiment was granted the Freedom of the Borough of Coleraine in March 1981. I commanded a guard of honour from the Battalion which represented the Regiment and paraded to the Town Hall in Coleraine for inspection by the Mayor and after a ceremony at the Council Headquarters we held a party for all ranks at Laurel Hill House in the evening – it was a superb occasion.

   The officers that day carried swords. We had seldom practiced sword drill until then. Many hours were spent at Ballykelly practicing our foot drill, arms drill and sword drill. After the Freedom parade everyone on the Guard of Honour felt very proud that we had achieved such a high standard and had been a credit to the Regiment” (Hamill, 2007).

 

Laurel Hill Arms Raid

 

   On the night of 22 February 1987 E Company Armoury storeman smuggled three men into the Coleraine camp in the boot of his car. Later that night the three men overpowered the guard and ‘forced’ the storeman to hand over the armoury keys. All the company weapons including 144 SLRs, two Light Machine Guns (LMGs), twenty-eight pistols and over a thousand rounds of ammunition were loaded onto a van and the group made their escape.  

   The van was intercepted within one hour of the alarm being raised by a soldier coming on duty who was unable to gain access to the camp.

   Even after a consideration of the security lapses and other factors not discussed here, the central question still remains, why was it allowed to happen?

 

Soldiers Attitudes to Loyalist Terrorists

 

“There were a couple of incidents where Loyalist terrorist activity compromised the UDR. Some of the soldiers who tried to confront the Loyalist terrorists during one incident were left in no doubt that their lives were in danger if they did not shut up.

    Many soldiers did not talk about incidents like that. These were difficult times for the majority of the soldiers because it was impossible to tell who was involved. You can lose your trust for your fellow soldiers. It was not safe to openly voice your opposition to Loyalist terrorism when you lived in a predominately Protestant community. If the Loyalist terrorists could overpower an armed guard, what chance did you stand in your own community?” S25

 

Terrorist Security

 

The RUC Information Office released a table called ‘Policing Efficacy, 1981–1987’. But, more than reflect RUC competence, it probably reflects the relative ability of each terrorist group to maintain their security. The table shows that over the six-year period the Republican terrorists murdered 386 people and one person was charged for every three murders. The Loyalist terrorists murdered 69 people and five people were usually charged for every three murders.

 

 

The Collapse of Communism

 

The Republican movement received another credibility test in 1989. When the Provisional IRA (PIRA) split from the Official IRA in 1969 they rejected the Officials brand of Marxism but continued to identify themselves as both non-sectarian and socialist Republicans. When the Berlin Wall crashed down in 1989 so did socialism, the PIRA’s non-sectarian facade.

 


 

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