BBC Panorama – “Bandit Country” (1976)

An episode of the BBC series Panorama which aired in 1976 about the Royal Scots Battalion operating in South Armagh, Northern Ireland at that time.

Advertisements

2009 Massereene Barracks Shooting

Saturday 7th March 2009

Massereene Barracks was situated in Antrim and in 2009 was home to 38 Engineering Regiment. Despite it being north western Europe, the combat fatigues worn by most of the soldiers at the barracks that day were of the desert type suited to Afghanistan for the regiment were on the eve of a deployment to Afghanistan as part of Operation Herrick. At approximately 2140hrs, a group of soldiers emerged from the barracks to meet up with two delivery drivers from the local Domino’s Pizza. Among them were Sappers Mark Fitzpatrick, Patrick Azimkar, Richard Marshall, Christopher Fairclough and Mark Quinsey.

The soldiers spoke mainly to one of the drivers, local man Anthony Watson, since his colleague was a Polish-born man who spoke very little English. As they worked out their bill they were unaware that they were being observed by the two occupants of a green Vauxhall Cavalier that had stopped across the road from the main gate to the barracks.

According to Sapper Mark Fitzpatrick’s account,  he heard some commotion followed by someone shouting for them to take cover. There was suddenly a burst of automatic gunfire that hit Sappers Patrick Azimkar and Mark Quinsey. Azimkar fell against Fitzpatrick before dropping to the ground; conscious but in pain. Quinsey was silent however. Fitzpatrick quickly took cover in the footwell of the pizza driver’s car while Richard Marshall took cover behind the vehicle before making a run for the main gate with Fairclough to alert the barracks of the attack.

Whilst taking cover in the car, Fitzpatrick looked up at one of the gunmen. He later described what happened next;

Whoever it was wanted to cause damage and they finished [Amzikar] off before firing in at me…There was no remorse. He knew what he was doing, he just seemed to do it all quick. When he saw me in the car he opened fire. [The gun] was an automatic, probably about 10 to 15 seconds of constant fire.

massereene-shooting-patrick-azimkar-mark-quinsey

Azimkar & Quinsey

Fitzpatrick was wounded in the chest where one of the 7.62mm bullets from a Romanian AKM assault rifle punctured his lung. He was also hit in his hand and shoulder. Both delivery drivers were wounded in the attack but their injuries were not life-threatening. Sappers Pat Azimkar and Mark Quinsey were both killed however with the former being shot again at close range despite already being wounded in the initial attack. They were the first British Army casualties as a result of dissident action in Northern Ireland since 1997.

The attackers fired off around 60 rounds of ammunition equivalent to two full magazines before retreating back in to their vehicle and fleeing the scene. The green Vauxhall Cavalier was found a few hours later abandoned eight miles away near Randalstown; there had been an effort to burn the vehicle but DNA evidence was obtained from it. As the news broke, the offices of The Sunday Tribune newspaper in Dublin received a call from the Real IRA – a splinter group from the previous Provisional IRA – claiming responsibility for the attack promising that as long as there was a “British military occupation of Northern Ireland” then there would be more bloodshed in the future. The caller even cited the pizza delivery men as legitimate targets since they were servicing British forces. The next day, Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officer Stephen Carroll was shot dead in Craigavon, County Armagh in another dissident attack this time carried out by another splinter group of the Provisional IRA known as the Continuity IRA.

massereene-shooting-patrick-azimkar-mark-quinsey-flowers

Flowers left at the gate where the shooting took place (Belfast Telegraph)

An investigation was launched into the attack while the people of the United Kingdom, who had become so focused on the threat from Islamic extremism and the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, were quickly reminded that despite the Good Friday Agreement, Northern Ireland was still divided and armed. However, many leading figures of the former Provisional IRA such as Martin McGuinness and Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams publicly condemned the shootings claiming the perpetrators had no real support or plan for a united Ireland. There was also widespread condemnation from abroad such as the US and the government in Dublin as well by Pope Benedict XVI. There was also a mass vigil attended by Catholics and Protestants at the barracks to remember the fallen soldiers. The splinter groups of the IRA remained unapologetic however with the Continuity IRA stating that the Irish people had a right to use whatever force was necessary to remove the British from Ireland and that the attack was not murder but more akin to an act of war.

A week after the attack, three men were arrested but one was subsequently released. The two remaining men, Colin Duffy from Lurgan and  Brian Shivers from Magherafelt, were put on trial for the shooting. Duffy, a long-time Republican, was found not-guilty in 2012 and released but Shivers was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. There was a great deal of controversy surrounding this conviction since it was based primarily on DNA evidence found in a glove that was in the abandoned Vauxhall Cavalier but ignored the fact that Shivers was not a well man suffering from Cystic Fibrosis. There was also the fact that his wife – herself a Protestant – gave him an alibi for the night of the attack which was dismissed in the trail. After the launching of a campaign by his family and friends a retrial was granted in 2013. Shivers was cleared of the attack. His lawyer said to reporters that he was not celebrating but rather his thoughts were with the families of Pat Azimkar and Mark Quinsey who still demand answers to why their sons will never come home.

A memorial to Pat Azimkar and Mark Quinsey was erected at Massereene Barracks but was moved to Aldergrove when 38 Engineering Regiment was relocated there and the barracks were sold to Randox Laboratories Ltd. in 2013. In the days after the shooting, shocked news reporters described Army duty in 21st century Northern Ireland as being no more dangerous than on the mainland. This demonstrated how complacent many people had become regarding the situation in Northern Ireland and while there seems to be a committed effort on all sides for peace there still remain those willing to take up arms to achieve their aims.

 

 

 

Vector 6×6 Protected Patrol Vehicle (PPV)

Vector1

The Vector Protected Patrol Vehicle (PPV) is a six-wheel drive armoured vehicle employed by British forces during operations in Afghanistan. The vehicle is based on the Pinzgauer 6×6 all-terrain utility vehicle and was built by BAE Systems with the aim of providing British forces in Afghanistan with a patrol vehicle that offered greater protection from small arms fire and mortar detonations than previous vehicles such as the Land Rover Snatch. The vehicle was placed in to production following an Urgent Operational Requirement issued by the British Army in 2006. 180 units were eventually ordered including 12 configured as ambulances for the CASEVAC role.

Vector 2The vehicle retains the same basic chassis and motive components as the Pinzgauer thus easing logistical support requirements as the infrastructure is already largely in place. The armoured shell comes largely in the form of kevlar panels fitted around the vehicle’s body while the windows are made of laminated ballistic resistant glass. In many ways the Vector is the spiritual successor of vehicles like the Saxon armoured truck which was essentially a Bedford M-series truck with an armoured body. Additionally the vehicle was fitted with a a radio jammer designed to disrupt the ability of insurgents to detonate Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) by wireless remote.

The Vector has a top road speed of 65mph and has a range of approximately 700 miles but this can be extended with the fitting of additional fuel tanks for extended endurance patrols. It is powered by a 109hp diesel engine that meets European emission requirements. It is normally operated by a crew of two with up to four fully armed troops in the rear compartment on blast resistant seats. Alternatively up to 1600kg of supplies can be carried internally and externally to support the patrols or resupply forward positions.

Vector 3In Afghanistan the vehicle was used primarily for urban and rural patrolling where it could expect to get caught up in close quarters combat with insurgents. Unfortunately the vehicle’s protection proved less than ideal against the latest IEDs although it has to be remembered that it was still an improvement over the Land Rovers used previously. It could protect reasonably well against small arms fire but their poor under-belly armour made them too vulnerable to roadside bombs. Also their standard Pinzgauer suspension proved unable to cope with the extra weight of the armoured body and electronic countermeasures equipment fitted in the conversion. Combining this with a shortage of spares (something that shouldn’t have happened since the Pinzgauer vehicle it was based on was in widespread service), the Vectors serviceability rates fell below 60% in 2008 and later that year it was withdrawn from service after just two years on the frontlines.

Longest Tank Kill In History

large

One thing that is undeniably “British” is the love of a good underdog story and British military history is filled with examples of just that. The Harrier in the Falklands. The Swordfish bomber attack on Taranto harbour. The evacuation of Dunkirk. That’s to name but a few. In 1991 on the eve of the ground war to liberate Kuwait and destroy Iraq’s mighty army one of the underdogs was certainly the British Challenger tank.

221 Challenger tanks were eventually deployed to Saudia Arabia to liberate Kuwait and operated under the guise of the 1st (UK) Armoured Division supporting the US Army’s VII Corps. As the tanks deployed there were worried muffles in the Ministry of Defence and amongst military analysts about how well they would perform especially in the face of Iraqi armoured forces who were superior in number and had extensive tank vs tank combat experience following the Iran-Iraq War.

The reason for this is that the Challenger had developed quite an unenviable reputation at the start of the 1990s. In service it had displayed very poor reliability and this was the source of much frustration amongst crews and commanders. Even worse however was the stigma of having finished last in the prestigious Canadian Army Trophy tank competition held in West Germany in 1987 against tanks and crews from all over NATO. Despite the MoD highlighting several key factors for this poor performance the stigma remained and so when the Challenger deployed to the Gulf it had a lot to prove.

chall88

Prove itself it did. During the course of the 100 hour ground war the Challenger had completely reversed its reliability problems and achieved an enviable serviceability record; a testament to the hard work and dedication of the support crews who keep these vehicles going. In combat it was the superior of anything it came up against and by the end of the three day offensive Challengers accounted for some 200 Iraqi tanks destroyed or captured along with numerous armoured and ‘soft’ vehicles.

During the offensive one Challenger finally laid to rest the doubts anyone had over the capability of the type with a single shot. That shot was made over a staggering range of 5,100m (3 miles) with a Depleted Uranium (DU) round – the longest confirmed tank kill in history!

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Ian Stewart, said after the poor showing of the Challenger at the Canadian Army Trophy in 1987;

I do not believe that the performance of tanks in the artificial circumstances of a competition, such as the recent Canadian Army Trophy, is a proper indication of their capability in war.

Less than four years later he was proven right.