New TV doc revisits Operation Motorman 40 years on

A British Army Centurion tank - used to clear barricades - makes its way through the Creggan Estate during Operation Motorman.
A British Army Centurion tank - used to clear barricades - makes its way through the Creggan Estate during Operation Motorman.

A new television documentary marking the 40th anniversary of the ending of Operation Motorman - when British troops, tanks and bulldozers poured into Derry and Belfast in a bid to smash the ‘No Go’ areas - will be screened this week.

The UTV Insight special will be broadcast on Thursday, December 6 at 9 pm.

An Official IRA checkpoint in 'Free Derry' in 1972.

An Official IRA checkpoint in 'Free Derry' in 1972.

1972 was the bloodiest year of the Troubles. Spiralling violence on the streets of Northern Ireland saw almost 500 people killed and prompted the British Government into action in an effort to restore law and order: that action was ‘Operation Motorman’.

‘Insight’ takes viewers back to 1972 and into the heart of Operation Motorman and the barricaded areas it targeted.

For the first time on television, we hear the story of Motorman from its planning and execution through to its impact in shaping the outcome of the conflict.

The one-hour programme includes interviews with key players such as Martin McGuinness, Baroness May Blood, Sir Kenneth Bloomfield and Billy Hutchinson, as well as a number of British soldiers who took part in the operation.

The deaths of two young Derry men and the subsequent bombing of Claudy are also discussed in the programme.

Baroness May Blood recalls: “Why could the army not do something about these ‘no go’ areas, as they became known? Why did they not move in, why did they not take over? And that was a real sense of frustration in the Protestant areas because they couldn’t see why these people could be allowed to build up their own ‘no go’ areas...”

Motorman was the largest British military operation since the Suez crisis of 1956 and created scenes reminiscent of a war zone on the streets of Belfast and Derry.

More than 20,000 troops equipped with tanks, Saracens and even HMS Fearless were deployed to end the barricaded ‘no go’ areas that had developed in nationalist and loyalist areas.

Overnight, the conflict was transformed and the paramilitaries were initially forced onto the back foot and then firmly underground in a move which was to set the scene for the ‘Long War’ and a further 22 years of violence.

Martin McGuinness said: “I was in [Derry] and remained in the city for many weeks after Operation Motorman and there were actually several occasions in the weeks after… where I was physically stopped and searched by the British army who hadn’t got the foggiest notion that I was Martin McGuinness. So, I presume, that if I had been arrested at that time, in all probability I would have been either shot or interned.”

The new documentary is an Open Reel Production.