UDR the top source of arms 'for Protestant extremists'
Steven McCaffery, Irish News | 02 May 2006
The collusion file obtained by The Irish News is made up of several documents, but the most important is a 14-page paper stamped 'secret' and entitled: 'Subversion in the UDR'. This is a detailed summary. The document was compiled by British military intelligence and a covering letter written by a brigadier indicates it is a draft being circulated among senior colleagues.
He writes: "In view of the MoD's responsibility for the UDR, including its internal security, I believe that you will want to have the opportunity to comment on the paper before it gets into JIC channels." The JIC, or Joint Intelligence Committee, provides top-level intelligence assessments to the prime minister and other government ministers. Formed in 1936, the JIC recently came to prominence for its role in compiling the dossier on Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.
The brigadier's letter, dated August 1973, ends: "As you will see the paper is largely factual.....The paper gives an estimate of the percentage of men in the UDR who are, or have been, members of extremist Protestant groups. The evidence on this is by no means firm and further research is in progress. This is the one point in the paper on which Commander UDR is not entirely happy." The document itself begins by explaining it is based on the "evidence and intelligence available to us". Its research is said to have included a questionnaire sent to UDR headquarters and army intelligence and security departments, personnel files, weapons loss reports, intelligence reports and visits to UDR battalions.
The document continues: "Since the first days of the UDR the dangers of raising a local force from the two communities, at a time of intercommunal strife, has been clearly recognised, and each applicant has been subjected to a security vetting process. "However, following the impetus given to the recruiting of Protestant paramilitary and extremist groups by the imposition of direct rule, (the UDA in particular was estimated to have a strength of 4,000 - 6,000 members in Belfast plus 15,000 supporters by September 1972), the problem of divided loyalties amongst UDR recruits became more marked. Joint membership of the UDA (which had objectives incompatible with those of HMG [Her Majesty's Government]) and the UDR, became widespread, and at the same time the rate of UDR weapons losses greatly increased."
The report defines subversion as including:
- "Strong support for, or membership of, organisations whose aims are incompatible with those of the UDR";
- "Attempts by UDR members to use their UDR knowledge, skills, or equipment to further the aims of such organisations."
But it goes on to note: "The discovery of members of paramilitary or extremist organisations in the UDR is not, and has not been, a major intelligence target.... it is unlikely that our intelligence coverage of this area is in any way comprehensive." This is followed by a crucial section, stating: "Despite the improvements in the vetting of applicants, it seems quite unlikely that the security vetting system, or subsequent intelligence material, can reveal all the members of subversive groups who have applied to join the UDR. "It seems likely that a significant proportion (perhaps five per cent - in some areas as high as 15 per cent) of UDR soldiers will also be members of the UDA, Vanguard service corps, Orange Volunteers or UVF. "Subversion will not occur in every case but there will be a passing on of information and training methods in many cases and a few subversives may conspire to 'leak' arms and ammunition to Protestant extremist groups. "The presence within the UDR of members of extremist groups does, however, contain within it the danger that at some future stage, if HMG's actions were perceived to be unfavourable to 'loyalist' interests, those men could act as a source of information, training and weapons for their fellows and might even work within the UDR to make it unreliable."
Under the heading, 'Loss of Arms and Ammunition', the report continues: "Since the beginning of the current campaign the best single source of weapons, and the only significant source of modern weapons, for Protestant extremist groups has been the UDR."
It then sets out the "details of UDR arms losses for 1972/3", carrying two tables detailing the UDR weapons gone missing during the period. The table of information for 1972 covers three categories of weapons. For 'SLR' - self-loading rifle, also known as a semi-automatic rifle - it says that 102 were lost or stolen at UDR armouries or from soldiers on duty, but notes that 62 were later recovered after a loyalist raid on Lurgan UDR base detailed later in the report. It adds that a further 38 SLRs were lost or stolen from UDR soldiers at home or on their way to work and remain unaccounted for. For SMG - submachine gun - it notes that 24 were lost or stolen at UDR armouries or while UDR soldiers were out on duty and records that eight of these were recovered. A further four submachine guns are noted as having been lost or stolen at home or on the way to work and remain unaccounted for. For pistols, it records that 22 are unaccounted for.
The document concludes, therefore, that in 1972, almost 190 semi-automatic rifles, submachine guns and pistols were lost or stolen from the UDR, with 70 recovered. The document adds: "By comparison, Regular Army weapons losses in Northern Ireland in 1972 were six SLRs, one SMG and nine pistols." A second table of figures covering the first seven months of 1973 notes that the UDR has shed a total of 28 semi-automatic rifles, submachine guns and pistols, all of which remain unaccounted for. It adds: "By comparison Regular Army weapons losses in Northern Ireland in the same period were two SLRs, nil SMGs and six pistols."
The document continues: "We believe that the vast majority of weapons stolen from the UDR during this period are in the hands of Protestant extremists. "In the case of the weapons stolen from UDR armouries and from the UDR guard detachments disarmed at a polling station (7 March 1973) and a key point in Belfast (7 Nov 1972) there is a substantial body of intelligence to support the view. "The question of whether there was collusion by UDR members in these thefts is a difficult one. In no case is there proof positive of collusion: but in every case there is considerable suspicion, which in some instances is strong enough to lead to a judgment that an element of collusion was present."
The document then gives detailed accounts of three such raids. The first incident is described as, "The arms raid on the HQ of 10 UDR at Lislea Drive (14 Oct 72)". On this Belfast raid, the document reads: "14 self-loading rifles and a quantity of ammunition were stolen from this location, when armed men 'overpowered' the Camp Guard. "The raid was well organised and was carried out by persons who had prior knowledge of the unit layout and de-tails of guard arrangements. "It subsequently transpired that the guard commander on the night of the raid had nine previous convictions for deception and had spent a period in jail. "He had been arrested in September 1972 for riotous behaviour outside Tennant street RUC station following the shooting of two men by security forces in the Shankill and the arrest of a UDA leader. "He had one UDA trace and three separate reliable reports subsequently indicated that he was a member of the UVF. The initial security report into the incident concluded that it was probably carried out with 'inside help' and that it was possible that 'one or more members of the guard had prior knowledge of the intended raid and actively assisted in its prosecution'."
The document then rec-ounts a major raid in Co Armagh. "The arms raid on the UDR/TAVR [territorial army] centre at Lurgan on 23 Oct 72: At about 0420 on the morning of 23 October 1972 members of 'C' coy 11 UDR, and 85 Sqn, 40 (Ulster) Sig. Regt. TAVR on guard at the Kings Park Camp in Lurgan were 'overpowered' by a number of armed men and 85 SLRs and 21 SMGs were stolen. "It is apparent that the raiders found rather more weapons in the armoury than they had bargained for and within a matter of hours 63 SLRs and eight SMGs had been recovered close to an abandoned Land Rover. "Of the 22 SLRs and 13 SMGs that were not recovered, 16 and 11 respectively were the property of the UDR, the rest of the TAVR.
"One of the concluding paragraphs in the Provost Company (RMP) investigation of the incident read as follows: 'It is quite apparent that the offenders knew exactly what time to carry out the raid. Had they arrived earlier they may have been surprised by returning patrols and had they arrived later they may have been intercepted by the Tandragee power station guard returning from duty. The very fact that all the guard weapons had been centralised and there was only one man on the gate, a contravention of unit guard orders, was conducive to the whole operation. The possibility of collusion is therefore highly probable'."
The document then recounts the theft of "UDR weapons" from Claudy RUC station on October 30 1972. That night the unmanned station was broken into and four UDR submachine guns were stolen. "The circumstances of the raid indicated that the raiders knew both the layout of the building and the presence of the weapons. The security section report on the incident was unable to discount the possibility of collusion by a member of the UDR or the RUC."
The document says "the possibility of UDR collusion in arms raids by Protestant extremist groups exist in at least two further cases". It cites the theft of eight SLRs and ammunition from a UDR guard at a polling station in east Belfast by six to nine armed men in March 1973 and says that five months earlier 14 SLRs and ammo were taken from a UDR key point guard by eight men "themselves armed with self loading rifles".
The report adds: "It may be of interest that shortly before the polling station incident, two men had strolled past the sentry and told him that they would return in a couple of hours 'to steal your guns'. "Thus in a series of four arms raids 121 SLRs and 21 SMGs have been taken from armed UDR/TAVR defensive guards by well briefed gangs who knew what they were doing, without a shot being fired in anger, or any significant attempt made to resist. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that members of the UDR were party to these incidents. "The circumstances in which some weapons have been stolen from UDR soldiers at home or on the way to work has also aroused suspicion and it is likely that a number of these raids or hold-ups were carried out with the foreknowledge of the subject."
On the leakage of UDR ammunition to "groups such as the UDA and UVF", it adds: "It is almost impossible to estimate the quantities involved. Similarly there have been a number of reports of UDR soldiers giving weapons training to UDA, UVF and OV extremists: the scale of this training is not known."
In a further significant section, the report continues: "There can be little doubt that subversion in the UDR has added significantly to the weapons and ammunition stocks of Protestant extremist groups. "In many cases ex-UDR weapons are the only automatic and semi-automatic weapons in their possession. "Neither the British army, nor the minority community has yet experienced the full force of these weapons, for many are in store. "Several have, however, been used and there is strong evidence that they have been in the hands of the most violent of the criminal sectarian groups in the Protestant community.
"One of the Sterling SMGs stolen from the Lurgan UDR/ TAVR centre was recovered in the Shankill on 21 July 1973 in the possession of three men, two of whom were known members of the Shankill UFF/UVF group: they had just robbed a bar. "Research at the data reference centre has subsequently indicated that this weapon has been used in at least 12 terrorist outrages, including the murder of a Catholic, and seven other attempted murders (details are at Annex E)."
The Irish News has obtained a copy of "Annex E". It details how the weapon was also used in a kidnapping, while the 'seven' attempted murders referred to involve drive-by shootings at groups of Catholic youths, that could have led to a large number of deaths.
The document adds: "It is a statement of the obvious that circumstances may well arise in which all the weapons stolen from the UDR may well be used, perhaps against the British army. They would form a most significant part of the armoury of the Protestant extremists." It then considers circumstances that might render the UDR "unreliable". "The ability of the UDR to carry out its duties has been compromised on only a very few occasions to date by the activities of disloyal or subversive soldiers. "It does not require great mental agility, however, to conceive of circumstances in which subversion in the UDR might become a much greater problem. "There are two possible situations in which elements of the UDR might well cease to be reliable.
"a: Should the Assembly fail and future Westminster plans also meet with no success, it is possible that the future leader of a 'Loyalist' political party might well declare a 'UDI' [Possible reference to a 'Unilateral Declaration of Independence'] for Ulster in an attempt to return power to 'Loyalist' hands. In these circumstances the loyalty of UDR members to HMG would be sorely tried, particularly if required to play any part in military activity against 'Loyalist' groups.
"b. If at any time it became a feature of HMG policy, perhaps under a labour government, to encourage early and substantial progress towards the setting up of a powerful council of Ireland, or towards the achievement of a United Ireland, the reliability of elements of the UDR would be brought into serious question. If the latter policy objective were to be undertaken by HMG it is conceivable that a large number of UDR soldiers would desert taking their weapons with them."
Under 'Conclusions', the document states: "The danger of subversion in the UDR, by comparison with other British Army regiments, is enormously heightened:
a) By the circumstances in which it was set up
b) By the communities from which it recruits
c) By the task it is expected to fulfil
d) And by the political circumstances that have prevailed in the first three years of its existence.
"It goes without saying that the first loyalties of many of its members are to a concept of 'Ulster' rather than to HMG, and that where a perceived conflict in these loyalties occur, HMG will come off second best. "So far this division of loyalties has not been seriously tested but already disquieting evidence of subversion is available. "We know comparatively little, from an intelligence point of view, of subversion in the UDR. Often what intelligence there is, is of a 'post facto' character. "But despite our limited sources and the limited evidence available to us a fair number of UDR soldiers have been discovered to hold positions in the UDA/UVF. "A number have been involved in overt terrorist acts. "It is most unlikely that our intelligence coverage presents anything like the whole picture of infiltration of the UDR by the UDA and other groups and there is no immediate prospect of it doing so."
The report continues: "It is likely that there remain within the UDR significant numbers of men (perhaps five to 15 per cent) who are, or have been, members of Protestant extremist organisations. "Subversion in the UDR has almost certainly led to arms losses to Protestant extremist groups on a significant scale. The rate of loss has, however, decreased in 1973. "Subversion in the UDR may well have been responsible for materially adding to the reservoir of military skills amongst Protestant extremists and it is likely that there remain in the regiment men who would be willing to engage in further arms raids should it be thought necessary. "In most cases our intelligence on stolen arms has been limited to ascertaining blame after the event.
"Except in limited circumstances subversion in the UDR has not compromised its ability to carry out its duties. There are, however, a number of predictable political circumstances in which the regiment might not only suffer a much higher level of subversion than at present, but in which elements of it might cease to be reliable. "There is no substantial threat of subversion from republican extremists. "The evidence and intelligence available to us on subversion in the UDR is limited, and there are large gaps in our coverage. "Improvements in intelligence would certainly help weed out subversive and troublesome men. "But by the nature of its being, and the circumstances in which it operates, the regiment is wide open to subversion and potential subversion. "Any effort to remove men who in foreseeable political circumstances might well operate against the interests of the UDR could well result in a very small regiment indeed."