A former top secret briefing document signed off by the commander of British Army Ground forces in Derry during Operation Motorman reveals the entire plan for the storming of ‘no go’ areas in the city. In this article IAN CULLEN explores the details of the paper which was released by the Public Records Office to legal teams acting in the recent inquest into the shooting dead of 15 year-old Daniel Hegarty .
Soldiers stormed Derry’s no-go areas expecting to fire “thousands of rounds” during Operation Motorman, according to the blueprint for what was a part of the biggest British military operation since the Suez crisis.
Almost 40 years on and the ‘Journal’ can now reveal the extent to the British army was willing to go to “neutralise the gunmen” in the Bogside and Creggan, according to once highly classified documents obtained from the Public Records Office in Kew, London. The document, which was signed off by A.P.W. (Patrick) McLellan, Brigadeer, Commander 8th Infantry Brigade on July 29, 1972 maps out the details of how events were supposed to unfold during Operation Carcan (the name given to the Derry action as part of the Northern Ireland-wide Operation Motorman) which by the end of the first day saw the shooting dead of two people, one a 15 year-old boy, and serious wounding of another teenager.
It states that the British Government decided on “resolute action” against the Provisional IRA following the breaking of the ‘bi lateral truce’ ceasefire which began in June 1972 to facilitate the famous Cheyne Walk talks between a delegation including Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and Whitehall representatives led by then Secretary of State William Whitelaw.
The briefing paper states that the offensive action of flooding Derry with many hundreds of heavily armed troops, accompanied by Centurion tanks and other heavy machinery, was designed to “root out the terrorists once and for all”.
It further states that the Provisional IRA action in light of the operation was expected to take “one of two forms”, the more likely of which was to fight with the possibility of combatants going to ground being deemed “unlikely after their frequent boats that the security forces will not be allowed to occupy the Creggan and Bogside again”.
The following extract indicates what the of how the soldiers from the various regiments deployed to Derry on July 31, 1972 expected to be greeted in the city. “There may be fierce firefights lasting perhaps 2/3 hours. Thousands of rounds may be fired and there may be some civilian casualties. IRA positions will be quickly pinpointed and effective action will be taken against them, including hot pursuit. Thereafter sporadic sniping and the occasional ambush or bomb attack is likely to be the extent of IRA operations . . . Although from the start of the operation there is a danger that routes and houses may be booby-trapped or mined.”
Several British army regiments were in action during Operation Carcan including the Coldstream Guards, Kings Own Border, Royal Scots Regiment, Light Infantry Regiment, Royal Green Jackets, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, Royal Horse Guards, Ulster Defence Regiment, and Medical Regiment.
After the activation of Operation SPONDON - the standing plan to seal off the border areas - the plan was to bus troops into the city using armoured personnel carriers (APCs) accompanied by tanks and an assault vehicle of the Royal Engineers (AVRE) to remove the barricades “as quickly as possible”.
“Within minutes it is the intention that the whole area will be saturated and held, thereby avoiding any prolonged street fighting,” the document states.
It further states that there will be “no firing unless vehicles are ambushed or it is essential to return fire”.
The documents anticipates “total domination” of the ‘no-go’ areas within 2-3 days, although it outlines that subsequent interrogation and intelligence gathering may last anything up to three months “by which time it is anticipates that the Provisional IRA in Londonderry will be neutralised and demoralised”.
Certain houses and known IRA combatants “will require particular attention”, according to the document which includes an annex with the heading ‘Alphabetical list of all known IRA members’. Although the members identities are not disclosed in the document - which was released by public records office to legal teams acting in the recent inquest into the shooting dead of 15 year-old Daniel Hegarty by a Royal Scots Regiment soldier armed with a general purpose machine gun (GPMA) at Creggan Heights during the operation - it does contain a detailed list of weapons believed to be held by both wings of the IRA in Derry at the time. The extensive list includes grenades, flamethrowers, mines, various heavy and light machine guns (including around 75 Armalites and several belt-fed Browning machine guns), shotguns, sidearms, explosives, detonators, anti-tank rifles and even a Luger.
The briefing paper makes clear that it will be impossible to conceal that the operation is imminent in the hours before “D-Day” as the amount of troop movement will be visible to all. However, with hindsight senior British army officers were said to have been dismayed at the very least that on the eve of the action William Whitelaw announced on the evening news that the major operation was about to happen.
As Major David Dickson told the recent fresh inquest into the death of Daniel Hegarty - who was found to be completely innocent when he was shot by a soldier in the platoon commanded by the then Lieutenant - that the Secretary of State’s public announcement “destroyed the element of surprise”. “It gave the other side a better chance to finish their defences . . . it increased the level of danger we were all facing,” he said. Major Dickson also told the coroner’s court that he and his men were “prepared for battle” in the Creggan and had intelligence that there was a mine field at Piggery Ridge, which was their entry point into the ‘no go’ area.
In fact ,the result of the Whitelaw announcement and earlier intelligence reports led to the IRA actually going to ground, relocating en mass to south of the border refuges in Donegal.
Although there were no IRA confrontations with the British army on the day, the use of force was clear in the Brigadeer McLellan’s briefing paper. “IRA armed attacks and other forms of violence are to be defeated by resolute armed action in accordance with the rules of engagement . . . soldiers may also fire without warning under para 12 of the Yellow Card [a guide for soldiers on using force - ed].”
It also outlines action to be taken against “passive resistance”, citing the example of “women sitting on roads”. The actions include ordering them to disperse, trying to go around, using water canon and even using CS smoke.
The document stresses several times that action is to be taken against the IRA and not the Catholic population. However, the people of the Bogside and Creggan and many well beyond were left in no doubt as to their beliefs of the operation after on the fatal shootings of Daniel Hegarty and unarmed IRA volunteer Seamus Bradley, and the wounding of Daniel’s cousin Christopher. Anticipating such a reaction, the document even states that the Unit Public Relations Officers “should make every effort to collect and conduct press and TV men in their areas in the hope that the news men will subsequently give a balanced report to their readers and viewers on the proceedings.”