Secret Army report reveals Derry’s days were numbered…

THE Pat Finucane Centre last week published a previously secret Army report from September 1971 about its operation to take control of the streets in west Belfast. According to the report – written by the British Army Commander of Land Forces, General Robert Ford, for the attention of the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Michael Carver – four soldiers died in the ‘successful’ operation and 10 people were killed, although only two were in the IRA, republicans say. The Andytown News covered the document in some detail from a Belfast perspective, noting that the Army was preparing for direct rule nine months before its introduction, the military’s desire to station a full battalion of troops specifically in Andersonstown to counter dangerous levels of IRA activity and the need for ‘in-depth’ interrogation to obtain information (as there was little coming from informers at the time). What is perhaps as interesting, particularly following the weekend riot in Derry, is how the military viewed the city’s ‘no-go’ areas as a future target for decisive force – just months before Bloody Sunday.After the Belfast operation, the Army reported decreasing levels of violence, ‘but in Derry the situation was very different. The inherent hatred of the Catholic population and the arrogance of the hooligans produced a steady deterioration in the situation. The credibility of the Army and the whole system of law enforcement and government was being challenged. There was an urgent need to demoralise the hooligans and reassert the full range of military and police activities throughout the city.’

The Army admits it was overstretched, and waited until the Belfast operation was over before deciding to tackle Derry (the report doesn’t refer to ‘Londonderry’). The Army’s analysis at this point in time is interesting, as it gives an insight into how the military mindset regarded Derry as a completely different situation from Belfast. The Army decided to set a trap.

‘Accordingly, as soon as the forces became available after the Belfast battle, we mounted an operation with three battalions. As you well know, Derry is a very different problem from Belfast, and I felt that it was not practical, even with this force, to remove all the barricades and prevent the population of the Creggan and Bogside to from re-erecting them. This would have demanded a strong military presence for the long term, possibly as much as five battalions tied to the ground for some weeks or even months. We therefore decided that the aim of the operation should be to demoralise a large proportion of the hooligan element, if possibly by ensnaring them into a trap and arresting a good number of them, whilst at the same time removing barricades. We hoped that if the hooligans were really sorted out and whilst the memory of Belfast was still fresh, there was a chance that the local population would be prepared to at least allow the situation to return to thte status quo we had up to the shootings in early July. We knew that the IRA backing was minimal – half a dozen gunmen.

‘Unfortuantely, despite our precautions, the hooligans were deterred from venturing out – possibly because they realised our strength despite our efforts to conceal it. We were very successful in the early stages of the operation in sorting out the IRA gunmen – we killed one and wounded at least two more. But it now became clear that the hooligans intended to devote their efforts to re-erecting barricades as soon as we moved on. The GOC (General Officer Commanding) therefore decided to attempt to take the barricades down themselves. For this purpose he met what has become know as ‘The Committee of 30′ and on 20th August it was agreed to give them 30 days in which they would try to persuade the population to do this.’

Towards the end of the report, the author returns to consider Derry, ‘because our course of action there could affect our force level requirements’.

‘The time decided upon to allow the ‘Committee of 30’ to influence the population of the Creggan and Bogside to pull down the barricades will run out during the third week in September. Present indications are that there is little hope of this committee achieving any real influence over the population in these two areas. If they do not pull the barricades down, we must decide what we are going to do and, incidentally, there are indications of a considerable IRA/Blaney build up. If this goes on and they launch a bomb ofensive into the city and the Protestant areas, we shall have to go into the Bogside and get them. As long as our intelligence is good, this should be practical. the consequences of this are likely to be that the hooligans will launch out and we shall therefore have to take them on once again. The net result wil probably be a fairly major operation into the Creggan and Bogside. We shall be unable to prevent them putting barricades up again but we could certainly patrol through both the Creggan and Bogside so that they will be in no way ‘no-go’ areas.’

The author continues:

‘But if the IRA do not launch an offensive we shall be faced towards the end of this month with the alternatives of either leaving these two areas as they are, or launching an operation to remove the obstacles and restart patrolling. We cannot leave a military presence inside these areas other than at Blighs Lane because any presence is to be a hostage to fortune it would have to be of such strength that the existing force levels of the Province could not sustain it. At the moment there seems little doubt that we shall have to consider mounting some form of operation there at the end of the month, having judged very carefully the reaction in the rest of the Province by so doing and the overall political implications.’

The report also identifies ‘the three main lessons of the period up to this time’. The first was PR, and while the Army recognises it was on the back foot, it saw the importance of propaganda:

‘There was and is an urgent need for someone at Lisburn (Army HQ) level to hit back, plan and coordinate all our propaganda and psyops activities – overt, covert, defensive and offensive. I am glad that this requirement will be shortly filled.’

Secondly, the Commander for Land Forces saw the need for improved civil liaison, as commanders had ‘little time’ to simultaneously direct operations and liaise with civil leaders. He proposed a ‘proper civil adviser’ who ‘should be from the UK’. He added that ‘a Whitehall man rather than a Stormont one will not only be more likely to be successful but would also be invaluable in the event of direct rule when he might become a proper “Civil Commissioner”.’

Finally, the author suggested re-evaluating ‘force levels which have been agreed in our contingency plans for direct rule’ – Stormont was prorogued the following Spring, and while there were 17,000 soldiers available for duty at the start of 1972, there were 29,000 by the end of it.

The Army author did not seem particularly impressed by the RUC, which was putting pressure on his resources in its demand for military protection for police stations. The Army saw the increase in applications to the UDR as a means to alleviate resource pressures while providing a visible, locally-based military presence to provide rapid response to events, vehicle checkpoints and so on. While recognising that the vast bulk of recruits would be Protestant, the Army seems to have believed the UDR would be able to ‘retain its non-sectarian identity’.

The regiment’s later disbandment and other later Army documents stating the military’s own belief that the UDR was widely infiltrated by loyalist paramilitaries and involved in the supply of weapons to them suggests the opposite.

The report concludes that, if the Army can make the changes the author recommends, ‘I am sure we can contain [the word is underlined in the report] the IRA threat in the forseeable future’.

He adds:

‘Of course the real question which is posed at this time is – is containment over the next few weeks and possibly months going to be enough?’

What the report indicates is that, five months before Bloody Sunday, the Army considered Derry ‘a place apart’, one that would require decisive and brutal military action. Indeed, in December, the author wrote another document “Future Military Policy for Londonderry”, which stated:

“Apart from gunmen or bombers, so called unarmed rioters, possibly teenagers, are certain to be shot in the initial phases. Much will be made of the invasion of Derry and of the slaughter of the innocent.”

He added (also in December): “I am coming to the conclusion that the minimum force necessary is to shoot selected ringleaders among the Derry Young Hooligans. In other words, we would be reverting to the methods of IS [internal security] found successful on many occasions overseas.”

The bloodbath that ensued was subsequently regarded as a failure. Militarily, Operation Motorman succeeded in clearing all no-go areas, but the civilian slaughter helped increase resentment against the Army’s presence in Northern Ireland, both at home and abroad, created sympathy for republicanism, and probably help prolong and exacerbate the Troubles. Its effects, in the form of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, are still felt today. The document is revealing and can now be seen in its historical context as the Army’s statement of intent regarding Derry.

  • Dewi

    I am coming to the conclusion that the minimum force necessary is to shoot selected ringleaders among the Derry Young Hooligans. In other words, we would be reverting to the methods of IS [internal security] found successful on many occasions overseas.”

    And Saville inquiry assistant secretary writes to me:

    Dear Dewi

    > Thank you for your e-mail enquiry of 16 September.

    > The report is currently still in preparation. It has been necessary for the
    > Tribunal to look at a very large quantity of material so that it is not
    > possible to give any firm estimate of when the report is likely to be
    > finished but it will not now be before the end of this year.
    > Further information will be posted to the website as it becomes available.

    > Katrina Barr
    > Assistant Secretary to the Inquiry

    Perhaps the inquiry should have read the stuff you quote Gonzo – not a great deal more evidence required.

  • The Dubliner

    It shows how difficult it is to protect innocent civilians from harm when a bunch of murdering thugs are hiding among the civilian population, using them as cover, hoping that civilians are harmed by the military in pursuit of said murderous thugs in order to boost support for the demented agenda of the thugs by the resulting propaganda victory of a plastic bullet, or whatever, aimed at a thug hitting an innocent standing close by. PIRA brought all of that upon the heads of the nationalists, along with the guns of loyalists – and for no purpose other than furthering their own selfish sectarian interests. The Army didn’t realise that they were actually fighting a propaganda war against folks who would outclass them by far in that particular enterprise.

  • Sean

    Dubliner
    You are completely out to lunch

    The report states clearly that the army was prepared to shoot unarmed civilians as long as they were politically expedient targets.

    This has nothing to do with PIRA they were intentionally williung to target civilians and werent even concerned with the IRA

  • Sam Hanna

    The Pat Finicane Centre would be better served in ivestigating why Pat Funcane was a Member of the Army Council of the IRA.

    That is not my claim but that of attested Garda Informer and Former IRA Army Council Member, Sean O’Callaghan as well as that of the former RUC Chief Constable Sir Jack Hermon.

  • Irish Republican in America

    Ha, believing Sean O’Callaghan are ya?

  • Dewi

    Dubliner – total absolute nonsense. But me, I’ll wait for the report to find out what really happened.

  • Billy

    Dubliner

    Yet another justification of “loyalist” terrorism from you – sickening.

    I am not (nor have I ever been) a member, supporter or voter of Sinn Fein. Although I grew up in the worst of the troubles, I and my family were totally opposed to the IRA – apart from their immorality, the political tactics of the SDLP were (in my opinion) more effective – I believe that the events of recent years have proven me right.

    However, the UDA/UVF/LVF are riddled with people who are motivated only by a hatred of Catholics. Indeed, a senior RUC officer once remarked that he had never met anyone with a more fanatical hatred of Catholics than John (drug dealer + sectarian murderer) Gregg.

    These sum (with their self appointed military titles) needed no excuse to murder Catholics -their religion was reason enough. They really went out of their way to select “military” targets didn’t they? Women, children – basically any Catholic who was an easy target.

    These scum weren’t “soldiers” who were defending Ulster or anything else. They were cowardly sectarian murderers and criminals – NOTHING ELSE!

    I have quite a few Protestant friends/colleagues and none of them would make any justification for “loyalist” terrorism any more than I would for Republican terrorism.

    However, you seem to imply that i.e. the Shankill Butchers have some sort of justification for their torture and murder of innocent Catholics because of IRA activity. That speaks volumes about you.

    As far as I (and I believe all decent people are concerned) ALL terrorist murders are equally despicable and ALL these sumbags are equally contemptuous.

    Clearly, you believe that “loyalist” sectarian murders aren’t quite as bad as Republican sectarian murders. What an insult to the innocent victims and their families.

    Absolutely sickening!

  • Reader

    Sean: unarmed civilians
    Your “clearly states” analysis depends on
    “unarmed civilians” == “so called unarmed rioters”
    Do you also regard Loyalist rioters as having been “unarmed civilians”? Or is that different?
    And also, what have either “so called unarmed rioters” or “selected ringleaders among the Derry Young Hooligans” got to do with Bloody Sunday? Is that how you regard the dead? Did you call them that in the inquiry?

  • Reader

    Dewi: not a great deal more evidence required
    But you’re not a judge. Here are the three further steps you need, to make your case:
    1) The author of the report finally came round to the conclusion he was moving to.
    2) He got high level agreement to put it into action
    3) The army thought they were actually shooting at “selected ringleaders among the Derry Young Hooligans”
    I don’t think you can assume either of the first two, and I doubt you believe the third yourself, do you? Your chain is broken in three places.

  • Sean

    And also, what have either “so called unarmed rioters” or “selected ringleaders among the Derry Young Hooligans” got to do with Bloody Sunday? Is that how you regard the dead? Did you call them that in the inquiry?

    Unarmed rioters are unarmed rioters regardless of which church they belong to.

    This report has sweet F**k all to do with Bloody Sunday it just shows the armies readiness to murder politically expedient targets, the fact that they were your fellow citizens and you are defending their actions speaks volumes about both of you.

    If the referendum ever goes against the loyalists are you willing to be murdered by the agents of her majesties government for politically expedient reasons?

  • observer

    funny how the IRA murdered hundreds more catholics than the army ever did, and remember catholics supported and hid IRA , tough if they got in the way when they involved themselves with terrorists

  • Billy

    Observer

    “catholics supported and hid IRA”

    Yeah that’s right – every single Catholic was either an IRA member or supporter.

    I guess, in your world, that justifies the murder of hundreds of innocent Catholics (including women + children) by “loyalist” terrorists.

    I suppose the thousands of UDA/UVF/LVF members weren’t supported and hidden by people in the Protestant community?

    Do this mean that the entire Protestant population are also complicit and so this justifies their murders too?

    I’m so glad that my abhorrence of the sectarian murders of innocent people never varies depending upon their religion.

    Then again, I guess it helps if you are filled with hate and uninterested in the true facts.

  • Ulster’s my homeland

    The IRA were’nt there to protect the good people of Derry, they used the people of the city as shields. Scum!

  • Mick Hall

    There is little in this report that most sensible people did not know about, but I do find it shocking that some like Dubliner shift the blame from the real culprits here. The first duty of any State is the well being of its citizens, their right to life and limb. It matter not a jot that some of these citizens have no interest in being citizens as the UN makes clear when it sets out the responsibility of occupying armies.

    When you read this report I ask myself is it any wonder that the Muslim people of areas like East London and Brandford etc are beginning to live in fear of what the UK state might do where there to be another al-Qaeda atrocity carried out by British born Muslim youth.

    The writer of this report in the very least should have been charged with incitement if not conspiracy to murder, it is very scary stuff but oh so predictable. Is it any wonder that British soldiers have gone from wearing soft caps and carrying light armaments to being holed up under attack from the Iraqi resistance, as the same mentality still infects and poisons the British armed forces.

    This report has little to do with the IRA but is about current events and just what a disgraceful shower the UK military is, class ridden and racist to the core.

  • Cromwell

    At it again Billy?

    Where in observers post did he say “every single Catholic was either an IRA member or supporter.”
    So basically since you based your whole post on that premise, your whole post is pants……again!

  • Reader

    Sean: This report has sweet F**k all to do with Bloody Sunday
    Great, tell Dewi
    Sean: Unarmed rioters are unarmed rioters regardless of which church they belong to.
    By definition. However, what does an unarmed rioter actually do? Wrestle? Spit?

  • Sean

    Give me a yob with a brick over a squaddie with no supervision and an itchy trigger finger any day!!!!

  • Ulsterman

    “Give me a yob with a brick over a squaddie with no supervision and an itchy trigger finger any day!!!!”

    Give me a an itchy trigger squaddy over an IRA snipper anyday, as the IRA snipper would be content shooting helpless local women, in the hope it would muster support against the Army.

    If the IRA came out fighting like men instead of hiding behind civilians and shooting them, less families would have had to experience loss of life.

  • Cromwell

    Sean,

    The only thing I could ever say to you is; aye dead on, cos’ you would really know, wouldnt you.

    It’s about time wee Marty was pulled in for questioning over who gave the orders for the two RUC men who were murdered in cold blood in Londonderry the day before Bloody Sunday.

    What do you think of that Sean? Since you know so much in your jaundiced little world.

  • Sean

    Give me a an itchy trigger squaddy over an IRA snipper anyday, as the IRA snipper would be content shooting helpless local women, in the hope it would muster support against the Army

    Well since the squaddies mudered mostly innocent men women and children as well on those terms it was a draw. Except there were a lot more squaddies

  • Sean

    Go ahead cromwell

    Call in Adams as well

    Then wake up from your dream because its a blind alley

  • Dewi

    “But you’re not a judge. Here are the three further steps you need, to make your case:

    1) The author of the report finally came round to the conclusion he was moving to.

    2) He got high level agreement to put it into action

    3) The army thought they were actually shooting at “selected ringleaders among the Derry Young Hooligans”

    I don’t think you can assume either of the first two, and I doubt you believe the third yourself, do you? Your chain is broken in three places.”

    You are right in points 1) and 2) of course Reader – I hope the Saville report clarifies the matter.

    On 3) I really don’t know – they certainly were not shooting at armed terrorists.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Just to be clear, the last two quotes were from Ford’s December report. The bulk of the blog is from the September one.

    The December one has been considered by the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. I don’t think the September one has, although when read in conjunction with various other military reports of the months leading up to Bloody Sunday, including a few by Ford, it shows how the military mindset was developing.

    You can compare and contrast Ford’s words, terms and phrases and see how they develop; something the Inquiry has spent considerable time on and something this document could well assist in.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Ulsterman: “Give me a an itchy trigger squaddy over an IRA snipper anyday, as the IRA snipper would be content shooting helpless local women, in the hope it would muster support against the Army. ”

    What is your fascination with scissors, Ulsterman?

    An unarmed rioter ideally, should be met by a police officer equipped to deal with a riot — riot shield, CS gas, etc.

    The military, outside of military police, were a poor choice for duty in Belfast. Wrong training, wrong equipment, snippers or no.

  • rob

    laugh out loud at billy, sean and mick hall, who do you think your talking to???

  • Ulsterman

    Sean – “Well since the squaddies mudered mostly innocent men women and children as well on those terms it was a draw. Except there were a lot more squaddies”

    and the IRA never murdered innocent men, women and children?

  • Sean

    ulsterman
    Where did I say that?

    Its infact you that infered that the squaddies only killed “armed rioters” even if they were armed only with a dog collar

  • Billy

    Cromwell

    “At it again Billy?

    Where in observers post did he say “every single Catholic was either an IRA member or supporter.”
    So basically since you based your whole post on that premise, your whole post is pants……again!

    As Observer said “Catholics supported and hid the IRA” with no qualification or justification, I think the implication was pretty clear. Observers past history of such comments makes his position very clear.

    I must admit that, from an intelligent impartial commentator, the “pants” comment would have been offensive.

    Coming from someone like you who is neither of these, it’s just laughable.

  • Dewi

    From a project management perspective don’t those who work in industry find the Saville inquiry statement unbelievable ?

    “it is not possible to give any firm estimate of when the report is likely to be finished but it will not now be before the end of this year”

    I think this means “We haven’t got a project plan”
    Unbelievable for such a multi million pound undertaking. (Sorry off thread a bit)

  • Billy

    Rob

    “laugh out loud at billy, sean and mick hall, who do you think your talking to???”

    In case your case, clearly someone with a limited vocabulary and even more limited intelligence.

  • Cromwell

    Billy,

    So do you disagree with “catholics supported & hid the IRA”? I dont see any implications, its a bare statement of fact.
    You lecturing me on impartiality & intelligence, now that really is laughable, you’re a one trick pony, speaking of which have a word with Sean, living in his blinkered little dreamworld thousands of miles away, mentally & physically.
    You two have a lot in common.

  • Skintown Lad

    what happened slugger’s editorial control on this thread?

    interesting title piece, but a lot of these comments don’t further the discussion

  • Sean

    Cromwell
    Its you who is living in a blinkered world because both sides of the community lived with and hid the murderers.

    And the government were some of the worst of the lot so go peddle your self righteous nonsense

  • Cromwell

    Sean,

    I didnt say otherwise.
    I’ll forgive you as you know so little of what you speak, the sort of cant you put on here may wash on the likes of Balrog et al, but some of us actually live here & would tend to know a wee bit more about this place than the likes of you.
    You’d do much better involving yourself in the politics of your own country than inflicting your tunnel vision on me.

  • Sean

    Nice straw man there cromewell

  • Cromwell

    Sean,

    Nice not being able to spell Cromwell even though its written right above your head.
    My point stands.

  • Sean

    Not wanting to spell cromewell correct even though it was above your point falls down on its own merits

  • Cromwell

    Dead on Sean,
    That doesnt even make any sense.
    Just make yourself look even more foolish by pretending you meant it, what age are you, I’d say about 5!!!

  • Sean

    LOL cromewell its an age old technique that if you were as smart as you think you are, would have noticed I use all the time

    So what age are you then 95