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british special forces » special air service » history » northern ireland - part 1 - the 70s
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THe SAS In Northern Ireland - A History

Part one : the 70s

The SAS's controversial involvement in the Northern Ireland Troubles began in 1973 and mostly took the form of small teams/individuals advising regular units.
1973 - 14 Intelligence Company
Following a series of controversial incidents involving the Mobile Reconnaissance Force (MRF), the SAS are tasked with setting up a new undercover unit for surveillance operations in Northern Ireland, which becomes known as 14 Intelligence Company, or the Det. A special training wing of the SAS selects and trains candidates for 14 Company. SAS officers form much of the command staff.
more info on 14 Intelligence Company »

1976 - Official Deployment
With the crisis in Northern Ireland worsening, the then British Prime minister, Harold Wilson publicly announces that the Special Air Service are to be formally deployed to Ulster. In many ways, the Regiment, with its tendency to rely on aggression and heavy firepower, is seen by many as un-suited for the rather delicate task of policing the troubles.

In January, 1976 a 12-man troop of SAS is deployed to Bessbrook, the scene of a recent terrorist attack on a bus. The deployment is publicized, placing the usually-secretive SAS in the public glare and in the center of politics. This initial deployment is soon bolstered by all of D squadron. The initial role of the squadron is surveillance and intelligence gathering, usually by way of foot patrols and covert observation positions (OPs). As with the counter-terrorist role, A,B,D & G squadrons would subsequently rotate in and out of Northern Ireland deployment on a 4-6 month schedule.

March 1976
Suspected IRA commander, Sean Mckenna, is abducted from his home in Eire by the SAS and dropped across the border where he is promptly arrested by a regular army unit.

April 1976
Another suspected IRA man, Peter Cleary, was arrested by an SAS team who had been manning OPs overlooking his house. Cleary is killed by the SAS during an alleged attempt to escape custody.

May 1976
An SAS team in an unmarked car 'stray' across the border and are arrested by Irish police. 2 further SAS cars full of armed troopers are also apprehended, in a controversial and politically embarrassing incident.

April 1977
Acting on a tip-off, the SAS ambush and kill IRA man, Seamus Harvey, and engage but fail to capture several of his accomplices.

Febuary 1978
The SAS ambush a 2-man IRA team as they attempt to access a weapons cache in a County Tyrone farm. Paul Duffy is killed. The other terrorist is wounded but manages to drive away.

June 1978
A 4-man IRA team attempt to firebomb Ballysillan Post Office depot. A joint SAS/RUC team had been tipped-off about the IRA operation and, as the 3 of the IRA men approached the target, an ambush was sprung. All 3 IRA men were killed. 2 innocent bystanders came onto the scene and were challenged by the SAS. One of these men, William Hanna was shot dead when he ran from the challenge.

July 1978
In a tragic turn of events, a local teenage boy, John Boyle, discovers an IRA arms cache in churchyard in Dunloy, County Antrim. The police soon learn of the discovery and the SAS set up covert OPs to watch the cache. Early on the morning of the 11th, Boyle returns to the cache, presumably full of curiosity of what he had previously found. Mistaking him for IRA, a 2-man SAS OP team open fire and killed the boy. The human tragedy aside, the incident was a propaganda bonanza for Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing. The 2 SAS soldiers are eventually tried and acquitted.

end of part one

view part 2 : the 80s »

« SAS history

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