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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

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The IRA’s S-Plan & the Bombing of Broadgate, 1939

In the wider perception of European history, the late 1930s is remembered as the time when Nazi Germany began to cast its shadow over Europe leading ultimately to the most destructive conflict in history – World War II. At the same time however, old grievances were bubbling to the surface once more in Ireland and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) were about to resume their campaign to unify Ireland and expel what they saw as a British military occupation of Northern Ireland.

Sean Russell IRAEarlier efforts to conduct operations against the British government and the British Army in Northern Ireland were curtailed by the turbulent internal politics of the IRA in the 1930s. One major source of contrition was how the organisation should associate itself with the government of the Republic of Ireland with many members viewing it with suspicion and mistrust, accusing it of being an imperialist puppet of the British. In 1938, Seán Russell resumed his post within the IRA’s council having been investigated for misappropriating funds and began gathering support for a coordinated campaign against the British. His plan called for a series of bombings against British industrial and economic targets coinciding with a wider propaganda war aimed at gathering support from the Irish people on both sides of the divide and abroad. Known as the S-Plan (the “S” standing for sabotage), Russell and his supporters went to work training recruits through 1938 and finalising targets in the UK mainland.

By December 1938 the plan was ready to be put in to place. As the propaganda angle was a major factor in the plan the IRA declared itself the true government of all 32 counties that made up the entirety of Ireland in an effort to give their cause an air of legitimacy and even foster a feeling of sympathy from abroad; freedom fighters waging a war against an imperial foe and their collaborators in the south. This was especially important for rallying support from Irish-Americans but served to alienate the government of Irish Republic President Douglas Hyde who the IRA were effectively declaring as illegitimate and which began passing tougher laws to limit and criminalise the IRA as a result.

Despite some reservations within the IRA about the organisation’s readiness for the campaign, they nevertheless delivered the following ultimatum to the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax on January 12th 1939;

I have the honour to inform you that the Government of the Irish Republic [32 counties], having as its first duty towards its people the establishment and maintenance of peace and order here, demand the withdrawal of all British armed forces stationed in Ireland. The occupation of our territory by troops of another nation and the persistent subvention here of activities directly against the expressed national will and in the interests of a foreign power, prevent the expansion and development of our institution in consonance with our social needs and purposes, and must cease.

The Government of the Irish Republic believe that a period of four days is sufficient notice for your Government to signify its intentions in the matter of the military evacuation and for the issue of your Declaration of Abdication in respect of our country. Our Government reserves the right of appropriate action without further notice if upon the expiration of this period of grace, these conditions remain unfulfilled.

The British government refused to adhere to the demand and thus the IRA declared war on the United Kingdom on Sunday 15th January 1939. The next day, five bombs were detonated in London, Warwickshire and Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. The targets were electricity pylons and power sub-stations in an attempt to specifically harm industrial outputs in those areas. This set the tone for much of the IRA’s campaign and over the following week a significant number of targets were hit but with almost no fatalities since they were aimed at infrastructure, power and gas supplies. This was a key factor in supporting the propaganda war since large numbers of deaths might turn the all-important American support against them.

Throughout 1939 the IRA carried out repeated attacks aimed at further undermining the British industrial complex and the British people’s confidence in their government to protect them. In July 1939, attacks were made on cinemas in London and Birmingham using tear gas bombs which although didn’t kill anyone struck fear in to the wider public that their enemy was on their own streets and walking among them. At the same time, perhaps frustrated by the lack of results thus far, the British government revealed that it had been informed that the attacks on the UK would intensify in the coming months. Not long after this, bombs were detonated at banks across London killing one person while a second was killed in a blast at King’s Cross train station a month later. The British responded with emergency powers that saw large numbers of the Irish community in Britain get deported to Southern Ireland who were themselves introducing legislation to combat the IRA. The British were also increasingly concerned about reported support for the IRA’s campaign coming from Berlin.

Then on August 25th 1939, less than a week before Hitler’s forces crossed in to Poland, a rather inconspicuous-looking bike was placed up against a wall in Broadgate, part of Coventry’s busy city centre. The bike had a basket on the front, common for the time, with a bundle inside it. A rather frustrated man had left it there and walked away having found it difficult to take the bike across the tramlines in the area. His name was Joby O’Sullivan who came from Cork and he was the only one who knew that the bundle in the basket was in fact a bomb. He would later state that he intended to take the already armed bomb to a nearby police station but the tramlines had slowed his progress down meaning the bomb was due to detonate soon and not wanting to be a martyr he left it where it was.

At two minutes after half past two on a busy Friday afternoon, the 5lbs of explosive was detonated by an alarm clock timer. The blast shattered glass which shot out like bullets that cut down people walking by at the time. A young shop assistant, 21-year old Elsie Answell, was killed instantly having been standing by a window near where the bomb detonated. She was due to be married in early September but ended up getting buried in the same church her service was to take place.

IRA bombing Broadgate coventry

In the W.H. Smiths store, 30-year old Rex Gentle who came to Coventry from North Wales for holiday work and 15-year old local boy John Arnott were also killed in the initial blast. 50-year old Gwilym Rowlands was killed while sweeping the roads for the council while the oldest victim, 82-year old James Clay, was struck down as he walked home from his regular café which he had left earlier than usual because he was feeling unwell. Another 70 people were injured many of them with severe lacerations caused by the flying glass.

The British public were outraged and the attack served to further diminish confidence in British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his government who seemed impotent to stop both the IRA at home and Hitler in Eastern Europe. Arrests of people with Irish descent in Britain increased as did hostility towards the Irish community in the UK which should have played in to the hands of the IRA’s propaganda war but the loss of life in Coventry had dealt it a severe blow with their sympathy from moderate US supporters starting to taper off as a result. Behind closed doors the IRA itself began to recognise the potential disaster the Coventry bombing was to their cause and coupled with the lack of results from their operations in the previous months, Russell addressed the Irish world trying to affirm that their time for victory was at hand;

“England’s difficulty – Ireland’s opportunity” has ever been the watchword of the Gael.. Now is the time for Irishmen to take up arms and strike a blow for the Ulster people.

The outbreak of war between Britain and Germany looked set to further Britain’s problems and offer the opportunity for Irish victory especially with Nazi German support, after all it had been the last war that helped secure partial home rule for the Irish people in the south. Alas it was not to be for Russell and his supporters. The outbreak of war increased British security and limited the once commercially available materials in Britain needed for bombs making attacks all the more difficult. Not forgetting the deaths at Coventry, the British eventually arrested five people on the charge of the bombing among other terrorist offences and hung two of them, 29-year-old James Richards and 32-year old Peter Barnes, in February 1940. Joby O’Sullivan was not arrested for the bombing and would only confess to it years later to a reporter.

By 1940 the IRA’s campaign was completely running out of a steam as a result of British and Irish Republic emergency powers to curtail their operations. Arrests and deportations ran high in both countries while the US authorities started to clamp down on IRA members and supporters in America amid the increasing evidence of Nazi support. The hanging of Richards and Barnes effectively signalled the demise of the S-Plan although the last attack associated to it would occur on March 18th 1940 by which time the British people were more concerned about facing their own foreign invader in the form of Germany than paying any significant attention to the IRA’s cause. Indeed, despite Russell believing Nazi Germany could aid the Irish cause the events of the first six months of war actually overshadowed the IRA’s operations which did much to diminish their effectiveness. He believed this to the point where he would actually die in a German U-Boat trying to get to Nazi-occupied Europe.

The IRA leadership would be deeply self-critical of the operation in the years that followed with many members pointing out that there were warning signs of its inevitable failure even before 1939. Many of the attacks were rendered ineffective by poor training of agents, something that was pointed out in 1938 but ignored by Russell, while others cited that the organization had not yet adequately recovered from the disarray of the mid-30s leadership debate. Also, some of the more grandiose plans such as bombing the Houses of Parliament failed to come to fruition.

While the plan failed to establish the unified Ireland under the IRA’s government that it was intended to it did regenerate the feelings of Irish patriotism. Many of those involved joined the list of earlier IRA martyrs that would inspire the next generation of members and keep the organization alive only to flourish in the 1960s and 70s (Sean Russell’s statue is below). The deliberate effort to limit civilian casualties also endeared many Irish communities overseas to give their support to the IRA who were seen as heroic; it can be argued that the propaganda side of the S-Plan was quite successful in the long term despite the Broadgate bombing.

Sean Russell IRA statue

For Coventry, the bombing was unfortunately a mere taster of what was to befall the city in the coming year and a half.

NEWS: British Army careers day at Irish school causes anger in local community

British army careers recruitmentProving that despite the end of open hostilities Northern Ireland remains a divided land; a Ballygawley secondary school has received complaints from parents with nationalist backgrounds after a British Army recruitment team visited the school during a careers event. The decision to include British Army representatives has been branded “insensitive” given that many families in the area had lost family members in combat with British forces. Dungannon Independent Republican councillor, Barry Monteith, said that he shared parent’s “justifiable anger”.

One particularly vocal parent opposed to the decision was a cousin of Tony Gormley who was one of eight Irish Republican Army (IRA) men shot dead by members of the SAS in the Loughgall Ambush on May 8th 1987.

Ballygawley Principal Aidan Taggart told local reporters;

The College would never intend to cause offence or hurt to any member of our community. We welcome into our school, children of a range of cultures and faiths and we are educational partners with both maintained and controlled schools. With that in mind, we aim to provide as much factual information about a wide range of careers as we can to our student body whilst ensuring that such information is age appropriate so that students can make objective, informed choices about careers at the appropriate time.

It is in this context that a career event about Apprenticeships organised by STEMNET took place within the school. STEMNET provide ambassadors from a wide range of Industries and government organisations throughout Northern Ireland. We now appreciate the choice of Ambassador sent by STEMNET may have caused offence to some of our community and it would never have been our intention to do so.

An interesting comment on the Shorland SB300

It’s always rewarding to have first hand accounts passed on. This morning, Michael Howes made this interesting and quite frightening comment on one of the images of the Shorland SB300 in Defence of the Realm’s galleries.

I would like to thank Michael for this informative comment and share it with everyone.

On a similar matter I would like to once again thank everyone who has read, liked, subscribed, commented or contributed to Defence of the Realm since its inception. 2015 is Defence of the Realm’s first full year and what a year it has been. I have learned so much myself working on articles and keeping up to date with the latest news but more importantly I have made several friends along the way who now get repeatedly pestered by me on Twitter.

Season’s greetings to you all.

Tony Wilkins

SB300

NEWS: Bomb threat against British troops in Northern Ireland following arrest of Bloody Sunday soldier

British soldiers training in rural County Derry were the subject of a bomb alert on Wednesday after a local charity was contacted by an unknown individual to make the threat. The threat was taken very seriously by authorities as it included a codeword that confirmed that whomever made the call had a Republican background. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) responded with an air and ground search of the Drumsurn and Limavady areas but authorities have not confirmed whether they located an explosive device or not.

Up to 5,000 British soldiers are based at the Magilligan and Ballykinler bases in nearby County Down. In the last year the relationship between the British Army and the Republicans has been strained by several incidents. Earlier this year British troops were seen apparently patrolling the mostly Republican Drumsurn area angering the local community while last month a phonecall claiming to be from the IRA claimed responsibility for placing a bomb under a van being driven by an off-duty British soldier in north Belfast. The bomb was discovered after it broke loose from the vehicle. The “IRA” claimed they were targeting the soldier because he was in a relationship with a local woman and had made several attempts to kill him because of it.

With the arrest of a former British paratrooper by police investigating the events of Bloody Sunday in Londonderry in January 1972 tensions in Northern Ireland are at an all-time high since the ceasefire. The 66-year old former soldier, who has now been released on bail, is being questioned over the deaths of William Nash, Michael McDaid and John Young. He was arrested in County Antrim on Tuesday morning and held in Belfast.

Operation Motorman

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Operation Motorman was a military operation carried out by the British Army in Northern Ireland. It took place on the morning of the 31st July 1972 and involved the use of Centurion AVRE tanks to break down barricades erected in Belfast and Derry. The barricades were erected to segregate Nationalist (Catholic) and Loyalist (Protestant) communities. The first barricades were put up in 1969 around an area of Derry where there were large numbers of Nationalists living in what became known as “Free Derry”. The barricades were put up to stop Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) patrols and this lead to a three day clash between both sides in what is now known as the Battle of the Bogside.

The barricades of “Free Derry” were taken down but it set a tone for the future as more areas in Belfast and Derry erected barricades and by 1972 there were 29 of these segregated areas that were effectively under IRA and Nationalist control. Both factions of the IRA (provisional and official) patrolled these areas and enjoyed widespread support. For London the situation was intolerable and the Army was instructed to destroy the barricades and regain control.

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Seven Centurion AVRE engineering vehicles and upto 100 armoured vehicles such as the Saracen 6×6 APC were involved in the operation. The operation was carried out swiftly so as to limit the ability of the Nationalists to respond. A battle was not wanted by either side as this would no doubt cause horrendous civilian casualties; the British Army were still smarting from the “Bloody Sunday” tragedy and didn’t want a repeat while the IRA didn’t want to risk their own people’s lives and possibly suffer their own backlash from a high casualty rate. The IRA dispersed while the British Army took down the barricades with the only resistance being the odd rock or bottle thrown at the vehicles.

Sadly, what could have been a relatively bloodless end to this chapter of the history of Northern Ireland was not to be as a fifteen year old boy and his cousin were shot as they climbed a wall to watch the tanks demolishing barricades in Derry. The boy was killed while his cousin was wounded. One IRA member was shot and died a short time later while numerous arrests were made by the RUC in Belfast and Derry.