‘Mick’ Mannock VC – the Irish fighter Ace of WW1

Edward ‘Mick’ Mannock VC, DSO (two-bars) MC (& bar)

Mick Mannock was born at Ballincolling Barracks in County Cork on 24 May 1887. His mother had grown up in a nearby village and his father was a corporal serving with the Scots Greys and was stationed at Ballincolling.

Shortly after moving to England his father became a violent drunk and later stole the small amount of money the family had saved and disappeared. As a teenager Mick took a number of low paid jobs to support his family and it is thought his mother later persuaded him to learn a trade: in 1911 Edward ‘Mick’ Mannock is listed as a trainee telegraph engineer.

The family was always in a desperate need of money so after finishing his training he worked in Constantinople (Istanbul) supervising the laying of telephone cables and regularly sent money to his mother living in England.  In 1914, when war was declared he was still in Constantinople and was interned. After several failed escapes he was repatriated after a prisoner exchange and in 1916 returned to England and joined the Royal Flying Corp (RFC).

Like James McCudden VC who later become his best friend, Mick found himself surrounded by public school educated social elites who looked down on his working-class background and many were vocally hostile regarding his lowly social status. As far as they were concerned only gentlemen should be aviators and these prejudices were identical to those experienced by James McCudden who was also from a working-class background.

After qualifying as a pilot and joining an operational squadron in France for a while he was shunned by the majority of pilots from privileged backgrounds and spent most of his time alone and without friends.  Over a short period of time his popularity and respect for him increasingly grew after consistently showing his bravery during dogfights and his skills in aerial combat which he started to pass onto other pilots.

London Gazette, 17 September 1917, for the award of the Military Cross (MC), T / 2nd Lieutenant Edward Mannock Royal Flying Corp

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. In the course of many combats he has driven off a large number of enemy machines, and has forced down three balloons, showing a very fine offensive spirit and great fearlessness in attacking the enemy at close range and low altitudes under heavy fire from the ground.

After destroying the balloon mentioned in the citation he wrote in his diary:

“My fuselage had bullet holes in it, one very near my head and the wings were more or less riddled. I don’t want to go through such an experience again”

His diary shows an emotional man with a complex personality who used his diary to write down thoughts and feelings he could never share.

During the Great War pilots did not wear parachutes because it would encourage them to abandon their aircraft! Apart from having no means of escape, aircraft of the period were made of combustible materials which meant a small fire would often quickly develop into an inferno. Consequently, during a dog fight it was common to either see a pilot and gunner trapped inside their burning aircraft or leaping to their deaths and it was the fear of burning to death which always weighed heavily on Mick Mannock’s mind.

During every mission Mannock displayed remarkable bravery and was eventually awarded the country’s highest awards, but surprisingly his Diary shows he was constantly petrified.  He recorded his frequent nightmares of seeing himself burning to death during a dogfight and always took his service revolver with him so he could shoot himself in the head at the first sign of a flame. Today he would undoubtedly be diagnosed as suffering from PTSD, but not only did he hide his fears those around him only saw his bravery.   

His fear of burning to death and his nightmares increased after seeing 23-year-old 2nd Lieutenant Frederik Rook plummeting to death in a ball of flames and he later said in his diary:

That’s the way they’re going to get me in the end- flames and finish.

He would not allow anyone to know his great fear and frequent nightmares and apart from being respected for his bravery Mannock was widely known for his sense of humour, for looking after the men under his command and helping them develop as fighter pilots. They were also not aware every time he lost a man, he went to his room to grieve and only allowed the men to see him after he had composed himself.

After shooting down a two-seater aircraft over the British lines he drove out to examine the wreck. On his return he told his men the pilot was dead with three neat bullet holes in the head and the gunner survived.   As always, his true thoughts were never discussed and only written in his diary.  On this occasion he wrote, “I found their mascot which was a small dog, dead on the observer’s seat, and I felt like a murderer.”

London Gazette, 18 October 1917, awarded a Bar to the Military Cross (MC), T / 2nd Lieutenant Edward Mannock MC – RFC

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He has destroyed several hostile machines and driven others down out of control. On one occasion he attacked a formation of five enemy machines single-handed and shot one down out of control. On another occasion, while engaged with an enemy machine, he was attacked by two others, one of which he forced to the ground. He has consistently shown great courage and initiative.

Whilst on leave in England Mannock discovered his mother had become an alcoholic and his sister was working as a prostitute and being unable to cope, he returned to his squadron. Several months later he was told his best friend James McCudden VC had been killed, and after this the entries in his diary became increasingly darker and more fatalistic but he still kept his thoughts to himself.

His diary shows he was convinced he would die in a burning aircraft and the nightmares continued but so did his awards for bravery.

London Gazette, 16 September 1918, awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), T / 2nd Lieutenant Edward Mannock MC – RFC

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during recent operations. In seven days, while leading patrols and in general engagements, he destroyed seven enemy machines, bringing his total in all to 30. His leadership, dash and courage were of the highest order.

 London Gazette, 16 September 1918 {sic}, awarded a Bar to the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), T / 2nd Lieutenant (T / Captain) Edward Mannock DSO, MC – RFC

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. In company with one other Scout this officer attacked eight enemy aeroplanes, shooting down one in flames. The next day, when leading his Flight, he engaged eight enemy aeroplanes, destroying three himself. The same week he led his patrol against six enemy Albatros all in flames, but later, meeting with five Scouts, had great difficulty in getting back, his machine being much shot about, but he destroyed one. Two days later, he shot down another two-seater in flames. Eight machines in five days – a fine feat of marksmanship and determination to get to close quarters. As a Patrol leader he is unequalled.

London Gazette, 3 August 1918, awarded a second Bar to the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), Lieutenant (T /Captain) Edward Mannock DSO, MC – RFC

This officer has now accounted for 48 enemy machines. His success is due to wonderful shooting and a determination to get to close quarters; to attain this he displays most skilful leadership and unfailing courage. These characteristics were markedly shown on a recent occasion when he attacked six hostile Scouts, three of which he brought down. Later on, the same day he attached a two-seater, which crashed into a tree.

By July Mannock is known to have shot down 76 enemy aircraft. This does not include aircraft which were not confirmed or those he deliberately crippled to allow new pilots to shoot down.

Also, in July the squadron received a new pilot, this was a New Zealander named Donald Inglis who was fresh from flying school and had no combat experience. As with all new pilots Maddox warned him to never fly low and avoid the temptation to fly low to examine a machine they had shot down because they would be in range of enemy ground fire. To allow a pilot to obtain their first victory and gain confidence they flew their first operation with Maddox who looked for an enemy aircraft to cripple and leave for the new pilot to finish off. On 26 July they took off in search for an enemy aircraft for Donald Inglis to shoot down.

After coming across a two-seater German aircraft Mannock killed the gunner before signalling to Inglis to finish off the aircraft which he did with a long burst of machine gun fire, they then watched the aircraft spiralling out of control towards the ground.  Mannock then broke his own rule – he followed the aircraft down and came within range of enemy ground fire and was hit by a massive volley of machine gun and rifle fire. His engine was hit and caught fire. During a BBC documentary Inglis told BBC Timeline:

After shooting down the aircraft I fell in behind Mick again. We made a couple of circles around the burning wreck and then made for home. I saw Mick start to kick his rudder, I then saw flames come out of his machine, it grew bigger and bigger. Mick was no longer kicking his rudder. His nose dropped slightly, and he went into a slow right-hand turn and hit the ground in a burst of flames. I circled about 20 feet but could not see him and things were getting hot {gun fire}. I made for home and managed to reach our outposts with a punctured fuel tank… Poor Mick … The bloody bastards had shot my major down in flames. 

For the award of the Victoria Cross

London Gazette, 18 July 1919, Over France, 17 June 1918 – 26 July 1918, Captain (Acting Major) Edward Mannock DSO, MC – 85 Squadron, Royal Air Force.

On the 17th June 1918, he attacked a Halberstadt machine near Armentieres and destroyed it from a height of 8,000 feet. On the 7th July 1918, near Doulieu, he attacked and destroyed one Fokker ( red-bodied ) machine, which went vertically into the ground from a height of 1,500 feet. Shortly afterwards he ascended 1,000 feet and attacked another Fokker biplane, firing 60 rounds into it, which produced an immediate spin, resulting, it is believed, in a crash. On the 14th July 1918, near Merville, he attacked and crashed a Fokker from 7,000 feet, and brought a two-seater down damaged. On the 19th July 1918, near Merville, he fired 80 rounds into an Albatross two-seater, which went to the ground in flames. On the 20th July 1918, East of La Bassee, he attacked and crashed an enemy two-seater from a height of 10,000 feet. About an hour afterwards he attacked at 8,000 feet a Fokker biplane near Steenwercke and drove it down out of control, emitting smoke. On the 22nd July 1918, near Armentieres, he destroyed an enemy triplane from a height of 10,000 feet. Major Mannock was awarded the undermentioned distinctions for his previous combats in the air in France and Flanders.

Edward Mannock died on the 26th July 1918. Having shot down an Albatross whilst flying with a new member of the squadron, he was hit by a massive volley of ground fire. His aircraft caught fire and crashed behind German lines near Lillers, France. An unidentified airman is buried in the Laventie British Cemetery, France, and it is believed this could be Edward Mannock.

Mick Mannock always remained deeply hurt and resented the way his father had deserted the family and stole their savings and said in his will he should not receive any of his belongings. Surprisingly, his father was invited to Buckingham Palace to receive the posthumous award of his son’s Victoria Cross.  Within a few weeks he had sold the VC and other medals for £5. In later years the RAF Museum took possession of the medals awarded to Mick Mannock and these are on display at their museum in Hendon.

James McCudden VC the working-class fighter pilot of WW1

James McCudden (VC, DSO & Bar, MC &Bar, MM) brief extracts from his memoirs ‘Flying Fury’ published 1918

James McCudden was born on 28 March 1895 to an Irish family living in Gillingham Kent England. His family had a long tradition of serving in the British military and at the time of his birth his father was a corporal with the Royal Engineers.  In 1910, at the age of 15 James enlisted into the Royal Engineers and served as a bugler.   

In 1913 James decided to transfer to the Royal Flying Corp (RFC) and like his older brother William who was already serving in this new branch of the army James decided to follow his lead and train as an aircraft mechanic.  After becoming a qualified mechanic, he was promoted to corporal.

After war was declared in 1914 James was sent to France with 3 Squadron and first saw combat whilst flying as an observer armed with a Le Enfield rifle in November 1914. At the age of 20 he was promoted to sergeant and a month later was informed his older brother William had been killed in a flying accident and his younger brother Anthony had recently enlisted into the army.

Sergeant James McCadden then applied to become a pilot but was told he was too important as an aircraft fitter and could not be spared. During this period social class was considered more important than ability and to be considered suitable for pilot training the applicant was expected to have been educated at public school and be from a ‘respectable’ family. McCadden was rejected because he was working class, and this made him unsuitable for a position reserved for gentlemen!

Newly promoted Flight Sergeant McCudden on leave in London with his sister Mary.

When there were no aircrafts in need of repair or servicing, James flew as an observer and in a letter to his mother described seeing his first enemy aircraft.

 “It came over us like a flash, with the black crosses on his fuselage as plain as daylight. I managed to get off half a dozen rounds at him as he passed.”

Whilst flying with his commanding officer their plane was attacked by a German fighter and McCudden stood up in the cockpit firing his Lewis Gun. Due to his dogged determination during this action his commanding officer made him a full-time observer, and this caused resentment among some officers because of McCadden’s lowly working-class background.

During his new role as observer James McCadden continued showing the same determination to bravely fight off enemy aircraft and in January 1916, against the protests from some social elites, his application to become a pilot was finally approved, he was  promoted to flight sergeant and returned to England for pilot training.

After qualifying as a pilot, he returned to France and served with 20 Squadron and flew a two-seat F.E.2bs. A month later he was posted to 29 Squadron which were equipped with the Airco D.H.2, a rotary-powered pusher. This was “a very cold little machine,” McCudden remembered, “as the pilot had to sit in a small nacelle with the engine a long way back…no warmth from it at all.” During one patrol he recalled being “so intensely cold and miserable that I did not trouble to look around at all to see whether any Huns were behind me or not; in fact, I did not care whether I was shot down or not.”

Arco DHR

It is not known what aircraft he was flying on 6 September when he attacked a German two-seater aircraft over Houthem-Gheluwe in Belgium. He later wrote in his journal, “Closing to 400 yards, I opened fire. I fired one drum of Lewis at him, and he continued to go down while I changed drums. I then got off another drum and still got no reply from the enemy gunner, but the German was going down more steeply now….” This was his first recorded kill.

He also described a dog fight where he made a mistake and was almost killed. He and a   German pilot came at each other head-on at high speed whilst firing their machine guns.

 “I now did a silly thing. I put my engine off and dived, but not straight… I could hear his bullets coming far to close to be healthy. Although the German hit my aircraft twice… if the German pilot had been a little skilful, I think he would have got me.”

This and other near fatal mistakes McCadden called “little incidents” and said they caused him to be very furious with himself and he devoted time to what he called the science and training of air warfare. He spent time aligning his guns and made modifications to his aircraft to improve its performance.


After a dogfight with a German fighter pilot flying an Albatros which was far more superior than the British and French aircraft he wrote in his journal.

“I heard a terrific clack, bang, crash, rip behind me, and found a Hun was firing from about ten yards in the rear, and his guns seemed to be firing in my very ears.”  McCadden escaped by doing a half-roll. After landing safely he counted 24 bullet holes in his shredded plane.

The same day he was involved in what he described as a rough dog fight with a very skilful fighter pilot. Only much later was his opponent identified as Lieutenant Manfred von Richthofen, who apparently claimed him as his 15th victim after McCudden spun down 9,200 feet to escape the legendary Red Baron.

On 1 January 1917 after eight months of combat, flying 115 air patrols and shooting down five enemy aircraft McCudden was commissioned second lieutenant and awarded the Military Cross. In June he was promoted to captain and posted to Joyce Green Airfield at Long Reach, near Dartford and was an instructor teaching German tactics. Here he met Edward Mannock and they became close friends. Both were from working-class Irish backgrounds; both were fighting the social barriers of the period and Mannock like James McCudden would later become a highly decorated fighter pilot. To his surprised he also found himself training his younger brother Anthony.

Apart from teaching pilots McCudden was also flying air defence patrols over London looking out for Zeppelin bombers, but he was eager to return to France. After his request to return to the front was approved, he joined 66 Squadron and developed his tactic of flying on lone patrols at 15000 feet or more (without oxygen!) to hunt for German aircraft and other targets.  On 21 July he was serving with 56 Squadron flying a SE5 when he shot down another German aircraft during a dogfight.

In the middle of August, he was given command of B Flight 56 Squadron and flew a S.E.5a, McCudden wrote that he “liked the machine immensely…  it was far superior to the enemy because of its top speed of 126 mph, great strength, its diving and zooming powers, and its splendid view. Apart from this, it was a most warm, comfortable and easy machine to fly.”

On his first day with the squadron instead of having breakfast MacCudden spent time aligning his guns and sights. An aircraft mechanic recalled, “he must have fired the best part of a thousand rounds from each gun before he was satisfied”.  When McCudden came into the mess for lunch some of the officers booed him after mistaking his professionalism for showing off and some continued to look down on him because of his working-class roots and questioned why he had been made a flight commander while others more socially superior had not been promoted.

Undeterred by the social snobbery McCudden continually modified his aircraft to maximize its performance. He had a Sopwith Camel joystick installed, which he believed enabled him to fire his guns more accurately. He also shortened the exhaust pipes and later had a spinner taken from a German aircraft he had shot down fitted to his aircraft to streamline the stub nose. This was painted red so his men could identify him in the air.

To fly higher he made alterations to the wings and had its engine fitted with high compression pistons to allow it to fly at 20000 feet. But he found that flying at that height for too long resulted in headaches, faintness and exhaustion due to a combination of oxygen starvation and the start of hyperthermia.

From December 1917 to March 1918 he shot down a further 32 aircrafts.

On 18 August 1917, McCudden shot down an Albatros D.V that had attacked him head-on, this was his eighth kill. He shot down another the next day and on the evening of the 20th, after he positioned himself 50 yards behind the aircraft and fired bursts into it from both guns the German fighter caught fire and went down. He wrote in his journal, “That was my first Hun in flame… As soon as I saw it, I thought, poor devil and really felt sick….”

McCudden also took part in what some historians consider one of the most famous dog fights during the war. On 23 September he led B Flight against German ace Lieutenant Werner Voss who was flying a Fokker F.1 triplane. Within ten minutes from the start of a vicious dogfight Voss had shot up seven British fighters before he was shot down and killed by Rhys Davis, McCudden wrote, “As long as I live, I shall never forget my admiration for Voss… his flying was wonderful, his courage magnificent. “A month later Rhys Davis was shot down and killed.

In his journals James McCadden documented the horrors he witnessed. For instance, on 27 September after firing at an aircraft it burst into flames over the British trenches he later wrote, “The plane rolled over, he watched in horror as the enemy gunner either jumped or fell out and saw him following the machine down, twirling round and round, all arms and legs, truly a ghastly sight.”

The next morning McCadden shot the wings off an aircraft and its pilot also tumbled out and fell to his death. Moments later another German aircraft came towards him but suddenly broke off his attack.

McCudden explained when attacking a two-seater aircraft, he would be high above them before diving and pulling up underneath their tail section, which blocked the observer’s field of fire. Many victims died in a sudden hail of bullets, not knowing what had hit them. He usually tried to kill the observer first to silence his gun, then went after the pilot or engine. “I cannot describe the satisfaction,” he mused, “which one experiences after bringing a good stalk to a successful conclusion.”

In December McCudden destroyed 14 aircrafts during dog fights. On the 23rd he destroyed four enemy aircraft in one day.  During one dog fight in under 30 minutes he shot the wing off a Rumpler flying at 16,000 feet, he then turned his attention to another aircraft which during his attack caught fire and then attacked another at 9,000 feet which exploded in flames.

These dog fights were very close and personal and McCudden said in his journal after one fight his windscreen was spattered with German blood.

James McCudden was now a national hero and his photograph was appearing on the front pages of newspapers and after another double victory his score reached 46 and this further increased his hero status.

Apart from not liking public attention he was deeply concerned his young brother might feel compelled to take unnecessary risks to support the famous family name. In late February 1918 he flew to his brother Anthony’s squadron to tell him not to recklessly take chances. After gaining five kills during aerial combat Anthony was killed a month later. James McCudden had now lost his two brothers and his father to the war.

Later in February McCudden shot down a further 11 aircraft. One of these aircraft is known to have been flown by Corporal Julius Kaiser who fell or jumped to his death after it burst into flames. Later that day he shot down another Albatros, his score was now 54 and by the end of the month he had 57 confirmed kills.

James McCudden, popularly called Mac, was now respected by the pilots under his command who came from so-called ‘respected’ families. Under his command and guidance the flight had a total score of 123 kills and had only lost four pilots.  This was seen as testimony to his outstanding leadership.

After receiving orders to return to England to train pilots the squadron gave him a farewell dinner. The next day, the man who had previously been written off for being working class was entertained by generals and was presented with a silver model of an S.E.5a.

Shortly after being awarded the Victoria Cross James McCudden wrote his book ‘Flying Fury’ and in late June was promoted to major and given command of 60 Squadron.

On the morning of 9 July James, the only surviving male member of the McCudden family, said goodbye to his mother and sister Mary in London and ask them to look after a small box containing his medals. Later that afternoon he crossed the channel in his new S.E.5a to take command of 60 Squadron.  

Aware the German front line may have changed during his time in England after reaching France James decided to land at the British airfield at Auxi-le- Chateau and ask them to mark his map with the British and German lines. After landing and having his map marked with the relevant information and being given useful intelligence from other pilots, he took off to continue his journey.

Eyewitnesses at the airfield remember his aircraft was in a steep climbing turn when they suddenly heard the engine cut-out before it crashed into nearby woods. He was found unconscious near the wrecked aircraft and was suffering from head injuries. Although he was quickly rushed to a field hospital 23-year-old James McCudden died that evening and was buried at Wavens.

Pilots and the British public were shocked to hear James McCudden who was one of Britain’s most decorated pilots and had survived many dogfights had been killed in an accident. 

Several months before his death James McCudden wrote in his journal

 “It seems to me that the very best fellows are always those who are killed…. Sometimes one sits and thinks, ‘Oh, this damned war and its cursed tragedies. After all, I suppose it is to be, and we cannot alter destiny.”

 Suggested further readings: James McCudden Flying Fury

Alex Revell (McCudden expert) Victoria Cross: WWI Airmen and Their Aircraft

 Alex Revell, High in the Empty Blue: The History of 56 Squadron RFC/RAF 1916-1920; and James McCudden VC.

British Army in Northern Ireland 1969 to 2007

EDITORIAL NOTE – I agree with a recent comment pointing out the title is misleading and it should be noted all branches of the military played an essential role in this operation, not just the army.

Operation Banner, the official name of the British military campaign in Northern Ireland, is among the most controversial and misunderstood British military engagements in recent history and this is not surprising due to the propaganda promoted by the IRA and other republican movements.   

The narrative of Operation Banner seldom mentions the IRA was not the only terrorist organisation during the 30 years of violence and often neglects to mention the majority of those living in Northern Ireland remained loyal to the crown. The predominantly protestant community insisted Ulster remain British and also engaged in acts of terrorism against anyone they considered endangered their British citizenship.  It is also seldom stated not all Catholics called for a united Ireland but expressing such thoughts were violently discouraged by the IRA and other republican movements within their community.

Author 1972 – Operation Banner

I served in Northern Ireland in 1972 the year officially listed as the most violent and the conflict was popularly called the troubles by people on both sides of the Irish border. Although the so-called troubles was constantly reported in newspapers and by television news networks across the world it was seldom explained the British army was upholding the democratic wishes of the majority who demanded to remain part of the United Kingdom.  Acts of terrorism by loyalists believing they were defending their British citizenship were also seldom mentioned.  Unbalanced and often biased reporting greatly assisted republican propagandists to reinforce their lie of being engaged in a popular uprising to force the unification of Ireland but in reality, the republican movements were non-democratic and rejected the political wishes of the majority.  Throughout the troubles news editors seldom asked the obvious question, if the British army are oppressors and the IRA are fighting for the people of Ireland why are the IRA bombing crowded civilian targets where the only victims will be men, women and children?

To protect the flow of finance and other support from some Irish Americans who believed the propaganda, the IRA did everything they could to hide the fact they were also being armed and financed by Libya’s Gaddafi who was the main sponsor for international terrorists.  Apart from hiding the fact they were sponsored by  an enemy of the United Sates and Israel,  members of the  IRA were trained at middle eastern terrorist camps financed by Gaddafi and trained alongside  members of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) and European terror groups including the Red Army Faction (RAF) of Germany and the Red Brigades of Italy. The start of the conflict in Northern Ireland had nothing to do with the unification of Ireland, the IRA simply seized an opportunity to politicise legitimate issues connected with human.

Segregation based on a narrative of hate, intolerance and paranoia

Segregation along religious lines has always been the major issue in the political and social life of Northern Ireland and this has been the cause and effect of violence.

John H. Whyte (Interpreting Northern Ireland, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999, p8) illustrates this division by explaining the two factors separating Northern Ireland are endogamy and separate education. Separate schools, he says, resulted in the majority of people up to the age of 18 having no conversation with members of the rival creed and Nick Cohen (Guardian 23 July 2007) described this as ‘educational apartheid’. Whyte also says, employment was also highly segregated, particularly at senior management level.

Polarisation as a result of inequality was made worse by the Northern Ireland Parliament, based in Stormont, being dominated for over 50-years by unionists (Loyalists) and its attempts to solve political and social issues such as institutional discrimination against Catholics being regarded as too slow by Catholics and too quick by the Protestants (Loyalists). This, it is widely argued, gave rise to growing tensions and violence between the two communities.

Loyalist flags showing solidarity to Israel because the IRA had been trained by the Palestine Liberation Organisation and received arms and finance from Libya’s Gadaffi
IRA supporting the Palestine Liberation Organisation

After being inspired by the 1960’s counter-culture and the civil rights movement in America the Catholic community organised a series of peaceful civil rights marches in which thousands attended. These marches were met with violence from the Protestant community and as the number of marches increased so did the level of violence against them.

In 1968 Northern Ireland saw regular violence and rioting between Catholics and Protestants with the Royal Ulster Constabulary being attacked by both sides. Over 150 catholic homes in neighbouring protestant communities were burnt by Loyalist mobs resulting in 1,800 families being made homeless, and the Catholics quickly retaliated by burning protestant homes. This intercommunal violence resulted in families moving from mixed neighbourhoods to one’s exclusively housing members of their own religion and makeshift barricades guarded by members of their community were erected to protect them from sectarian violence. This was the start of the so-called ‘No Go Areas’ where no one outside their community, including the Police, were allowed to enter.

The UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) protecting a loyalist area

By the end of the year 19 people had been killed, a large number of police officers had been injured during riots; the community had been totally polarised, violence and arson against homes and commercial buildings continued.  Due to parts of Belfast resembling photographs of the London Blitz the British Government had no option but to send troops to Northern Ireland, dissolve the Northern Ireland Parliament and rule Ulster from London and the role of the army appeared straight forward: to remain neutral whilst protecting the two communities and supporting the police.  

Burnt out homes in Belfast
The sort of photograph the IRA did not want the world to see

British soldiers were welcomed as protectors by both communities and were given tea and toast by grateful residents.  In stark contrast to the British soldiers Catholics despised the IRA who had bragged they would protect them and made their feelings known by calling the IRA I ran away and painting this on walls.

Whilst the army brought a degree of stability to Northern Ireland there was violent infighting within the ranks of the Official IRA. This resulted in a split within the organisation and the creation of the Provisional IRA (PIRA) and this new version of the IRA was not interested in a peaceful Northern Ireland. Although Catholics were demanding civil rights and were not interested in becoming part of the Irish Republic, PIRA seized the opportunity to use the prevailing widespread hate, intolerance and paranoia to fuel their own political agenda for a united Ireland.

From the start of 1971 Northern Ireland was turning into a war zone:  there were frequent gun battles with the army and police, the use of car bombs, the bombing of factories and public buildings and all were increasing each month. In the countryside and close to the border the IRA started using large IED’s capable of destroying armoured vehicles.  

Robert Curtis

On 6 February 1971, 20-year-old Gunner Robert Curtis of the Royal Artillery was shot in the head by a PIRA gunman whilst on foot patrol in the New Lodge area of Belfast. He was the first soldier to be killed during Operation Banner.  One month later (10 March 1971) brothers John McCaig, 17 and Joseph 18, along with 23-year-old Douglas McCaughey, who were serving with the 1st Battalion Royal Highland Fusiliers, were lured from a Belfast pub to the isolated Brae off the Ligoniel Road by a PIRA ‘honey trap’, and the unarmed soldiers were  shot dead by waiting gunmen. 

The McCaig brother and Douglas McCaughey Murdered during IRA ‘honey trap’

From January to 9 August 1971, 13 soldiers, 2 police officers and 16 civilians had been killed and there had been 94 bomb explosions in July.  During a seven-month period the total number of terrorist bombs were 311, this does not include those which failed to explode, and more than 100 civilians were injured as a result of these indiscriminate bombings of civilian areas.

IRA – bombing civilian targets

During a single night there were 20 explosions and these coincided with gun attacks against the army and police, and in October there was a two-hour gun battle between 30 PIRA gunmen and 12 soldiers. 1971 was the start of the shooting war, the indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets and the regular use of car bombs against military and police patrols.  However, the worst was yet to come.

IED’s were a major hazard in rural areas

1972 was the most violent year of Operation Banner, with multiple attacks against the army and police being considered normal.  Many who served during this period remember the sounds of multiple gun battles, the metallic sound of the terrorists Armalite rifles, followed by the distinctive sound of the army’s SLR’s returning fire, and the rumble of distant explosions.

The following figures from the CAIN Project conducted by the University of Ulster show the intensity of the conflict during 1972:

Casualties due to terrorist action in 1972

Army      148 injured (106 killed)

Police       17 Killed

Civilians 248 Killed

 Total number of deaths 371

Injuries due to terrorist action (Security forces and civilians) 4,876

Shooting incidents 10,631

Explosions                  1,382

Bombs defused            471

Total number of explosive devices 1,853

Another indication of the violence of 1972 are documents authorising in extreme cases the use of heavy weapons including the Carl Gustav 84mm anti-tank gun.

The history of the Troubles continues to be dominated by extensive reference to the IRA but this is understandable because the organisation took every opportunity to publicise their political agenda through a constant stream of propaganda and disinformation. Due to this publicity many people tend to forget there were only two republican terrorist organisations, PIRA (the Official IRA was now little more than a name) and the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA).

Despite representing thirty percent of civilian deaths in Northern Ireland and their attacks inside the Irish Republic, the four main Loyalist terror groups, often referred to as paramilitaries by the press, have drawn far less publicity and international attention than the IRA.

Although due to the very nature of terrorism it is always difficult to obtain accurate membership figures the following are estimates from a number of researchers including the CAIN project.

Republican terrorists

PIRA 1,500


TOTAL 1,550

Loyalist Terrorists

UDA (Ulster Defence Association)  40,000

Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)               100

Red Hand Defence (RHD)                      50

Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF)               40

Red Hand Commandos                         30

Ulster Vanguard                                       Not known (links to Loyalist terrorists)

TOTAL                                                        40,220 (Potential active members)

Compared to the loyalists the IRA and INLA combined had an insignificant number of supporters and the loyalist community had a much greater potential for widespread violence. Loyalists were able to call on a large number of Protestants to support their political agenda and if necessary, fight to retain their British identity. For instance, after the British government took power away from the Northern Ireland Parliament the UDA organised a rally numbering 100,000 during the Parliament’s last sitting and on 10 March 1972, the Ulster Vanguard (which had strong links with Loyalist terror groups) held a rally in Ormeal Park which was attended by an estimated 60,000. During this rally William Craig, leader of the Vanguard, announced, “We must build up the dossiers of men and women who are a menace to this country, because one day, ladies and gentlemen, if the politicians fail, it will be our duty to liquidate the enemy”. (Boyd, Anderson: Falkner and the Crisis of Ulster Unionism. Anvil Books, Tralee, Republic of Ireland 1972. P100)

1 Para 1972

The widespread support this declaration of violence received from the loyalist community and only the army and RUC preventing a civil war, raised major concerns among senior politicians in the Irish Republic and among officers of the Irish Defence Force.

One of many hundreds of civilians killed or injured by IRA bombs

Republic of Ireland fearful of a British Withdrawal from the North

Declassified government papers show at the height of the troubles Prime Minister Harold Wilson held a number of meetings with members of his cabinet to discuss the feasibility of a military withdrawal and repartitioning the country in favour of the Irish Republic.

More civilians in Ulster were killed and injured by IRA bombs than the army and police combined

Senior civil servants warned such a proposal may result in civil war throughout Ireland. Widespread intercommunal violence, they said, may lead to an influx of Irish American volunteers supporting the IRA and members of the Orange orders from Scotland and England joining the Loyalists. They were also concerned that such a decision would provide opportunities for intervention from unfriendly governments such as the Soviet Union and Libya.  After listening to these concerns the proposal was dropped.

Although the meeting was classified top secret senior politicians in Ireland were made aware of the proposal and this was met with serious concerns regarding the future security of the Irish Republic.

Gerrett Fitzgerald, the Irish Foreign Minister who later became Taoiseach (Prime Minister of the Irish Republic) said “if that had happened, we would not have been able to deal with the resulting backlash from avenging Loyalists.  There was a clear danger that such a withdrawal might be followed by full-scale civil war and anarchy in Northern Ireland with disastrous repercussions for our state as well as for the north and also possibly for Great Britain itself… We in the Republic had an important common interest with the Northern Ireland political party {SDLP}, which was a powerful barrier against the IRA, the openly stated agenda of which at the time was the destruction of the democratic Irish state and the submission by force of an all-Ireland social republic. .. We concluded that the choice lies between British rule and Protestant rule and it was quite clearly in our interests to do everything possible, which may not be very much, to try to ensure that the British stay…” …” (The 1974-5 Threat of a British Withdrawal from Northern Ireland, Garrett Fitzgerald former Taoiseach, Irish Studies in International Affairs, Vol.17 , 2006 , p141-150)

Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet of the Irish Republic, Dermot Nally said, “The possible consequences of Northern Ireland becoming independent were so horrific that we should on no account give any support to the proposal…” (Ibid)

1 Para

Garrett Fitzgerald also said, In the event our concerns about a possible British withdrawal were eased during the following months. Our efforts to alert informed British opinion indirectly of the dangers involved seemed to have paid off (Ibid)

Soldiers under fire

Looking back, Fitzgerald said, at the fraught period 30 years later, what remains most vivid in my mind about the time is the terrible sense of virtual impotence that I and others immediately involved felt in the face of the dangers which a British withdrawal would have created four our island and our state. Neither then nor since has public opinion in Ireland realise how close to disaster our whole Island came during the last two years of Harold Wilson’s premiership.” (Ibid)

Omagh bomb victims after the IRA left a car bomb in a road crowded with shoppers
Stephen Resorick, shot dead in 1997 holds the tragic distinction of being the last soldier killed during Operation Banner.


It is clear British troops were deployed to Northern Ireland to protect both communities and it was not, as the IRA propagandists claim, an army of oppression. We also see the IRA constantly rejecting democracy, the majority made it clear they wanted Ulster to remain part of the United Kingdom and firmly rejected any talk of being governed by the Irish Republic which they regarded as a foreign country.   

 Finally, senior politicians, civil servants and military officers in London and the Irish Republic were in no doubt a British military withdrawal would have resulted in a civil war which was likely to engulf both sides of the border.  As Garrett Fitzgerald put it, “I think the state {Irish Republic} was more at risk than at any time since our formation” (Ibid)

  Statistics – Northern Ireland during Operation Banner

The CAINE Project, at the University of Ulster have published the following figures in relation to operation Banner:

Civilians killed                           3,600

Soldiers killed                1,500

Royal Ulster Constabulary killed   302

Security Forces Injured      6,116

Civilians injured                47,541

Bombing incidents           16,208

Shooting incidents           39,923

(Note: During the research for this post I found a large variation of figures relating to deaths and injuries. Further independent research is required)

Iraq- Another Sphere of Iranian Influence?

Although I originally published this article in 2015 it may be used as a backdrop to the current relationship with Iran, the US and Europe.

Although there continues to be accounts of Iraqi security forces making increasing military gains against the Islamic State Group, many of the successful campaigns have been fought by a number of Shiite militias loyal to Tehran, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and their Special Forces branch called the Quds Forces (alternatively spelt Qhods or Qods). It is also known that all forces, both Shiite and Sunni, are commanded and advised by Iranian officers and they report to Major General Qasem Soliemani of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Commander of Quds Forces.

Quds Forces

This is the Special Forces section of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard whose members are known for their military skills and commitment to the Islamic Revolution. This elite force is responsible for all extraterritorial operations and reports directly to the Supreme Commander of Iran, Ali Khamenei.

Although this is a covert force, well-placed commentators say Quds Forces consist of combatants, military trainers, those responsible for overseeing foreign assets, politics, sabotage and intelligence gathering. In 2004 Quds Forces Headquarters was moved to the Iranian- Iraq border to monitor events inside Iraq and it soon became clear that political instability, tribal friction and a breakdown in Iraq’s internal security capabilities made the country vulnerable to Iran’s superior military forces, subversion and political intimidation.

The steady advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant into Northern Iraq provided Tehran with the excuse to ‘assist’ Iraq in expelling these extremist insurgents. Initially, a small number of military advisors from Quds Forces provided military training and small arms to various Shiite Militia groups know to be friendly towards Iran, Iranian airstrikes on extremist positions soon followed which coincided with more Iranian forces and members of Hezbolloh training and advising an increasing number of militias.

As the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (later called Islamic State) made further advances across Iraq, communities throughout the country became aware of the mounting atrocities and recognised that government forces were unable to stop their advance. Due to this increasing threat from extremist insurgents, many of the tribal combatants came to the obvious conclusion they could not rely on the Iraqi Security Forces for their country’s defence and saw Iran as their only option. This allowed Iran to seize the opportunity to increase their military and political presence in Iraq. Consequently, Tehran can argue that not only was military intervention essential in order to secure their borders, this intervention was as a direct result of ‘popular’ demand from the Iraqi people!

Although Iranian involvement in Iraq is not reported by the state owned media, some Iraqi officials have been more forthcoming when speaking to the western media. On 23 March 2014, Iraq’s vice president Iyad Allawi told various journalists, including Sky News, “Iran’s role, doing what they are doing, and sending officers to fight and lead is not acceptable”. He also declared that Baghdad is becoming the capital of the Persian Empire.

Allawi also said “The strong Iranian presence in Iraq is not new, but just how visible it has become is quite staggering…”

Iraqi officials and members of Sunni communities continue to complain and express concerns about pictures of Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei being plastered on walls throughout the country.

“The posters of Khamenei sends shivers up my spine and there will be a high price to pay for Iranian involvement … The failure of this country means the failure of the whole region…” Allawi told western reporters.

The stability of the entire region now hangs in the balance as Iran increases its influence by filling Iraq’s political vacuum, and proving the countries’ security needs. There is a real danger that the whole or parts of Iraq will become another proxy state, an informal extension of the Persian Empire.

The unknown female war hero

On 2 September 2010 police were called to a small house in Torquay after local residents reported a strong smell coming from the property. After forcing their way into the house officers found the decomposed body of an 89-year-old female lying on the floor in one of the rooms and they estimated she had been dead for several weeks.

Door to door enquiries failed to identify the woman: no one knew her name, she did not appear to have friends, and nobody was seen visiting the house. The only time she was seen in the street was when she was feeding stray cats.

Whilst searching the house an officer found a photograph of two women dressed in British army uniforms which were taken during the war and they later found an old shoe box containing several medals including an MBE, the French Croix de Guerre, other medals and more photographs of the two women taken during the war.

It was several weeks before the police discovered the dead woman was Eileen Nearne and the photographs of the two young women dressed in British army uniforms was Eileen and her sister Jacqueline who had served as agents with the Special Operations Executive (SOE). The police and local community were further surprised to discover the elderly cat lover who had been ignored and went unnoticed in her community was also a war hero.

(Photographs found by police. Left Eileen, Right Jacqueline )

By the age of 22 Eileen was a trained clandestine wireless operator who had volunteered even after being warned her life expectancy, with a bit of luck, was about six weeks.

During the night of 2 March 1944, she arrived in France by Lysander aircraft at an isolated field and joined the Wizard circuit which specialised in sabotage operations and her job was to keep in touch with London.

It has always been acknowledged the work of wireless operators was the most dangerous job in SOE because the Germans had the technical capability to detect their signal and identify their location. Wireless operators were also aware they were in possession of important intelligence and if arrested they must expect to be tortured by the Gestapo and if they refused to talk, they would most likely be shot.  Consequently, survival meant being one step ahead of the German wireless detection teams by never transmitting from the same location and passing their messages as quickly as possible before moving to a safehouse some distance from where they had been transmitting.

During this dangerous game of cat and mouse where the Germans had all the advantages Eileen Nearne sent over 100 messages to London. According to Foot, SOE’s official historian, “she had transmitted a good deal of economic and military intelligence besides arranging for weapons, sabotage stores and other agents to be dropped by parachute. Eventually her transmissions were tracked down and she was arrested and handed to the Gestapo.

Her torture at Gestapo headquarters has been described as savage and intensive but she refused to talk and expected to be shot but instead was transported to the notorious Ravensbrück concentration camp. At Ravensbrück she came across other women from SOE who were in a pitiful state due to torture and neglect.

In early 1945 Eileen Nearne escaped and used her training to evade capture as she made her way through war-torn Germany in the hope of meeting up with allied forces.  After being stopped by the SS in keeping with her training she calmly informed them she was a French volunteer working in a Factory and was allowed to continue her journey. After reaching Leipzig a German priest hid her until the arrival of the US army.

After the war Eileen lived in London with her sister Jaqueline who was the only person she knew and trusted. Eileen and Jaqueline had always been close, and her sister greatly helped her cope with the psychological difficulties of dealing with the memories of her treatment by the Gestapo and the horrors of Ravensbrück. In 1982 Jaqueline died of cancer and Eileen moved to Torquay.

With no friends, traceable relatives and with insufficient money in her bank account, after her death the local council was going to pay for a cheap funeral and cremation but after news of Eileen Nearne’s distinguished war career came to the attention of the British Legion, they paid the funeral costs and among those who attended to show there respects  were members of the military and the Foreign Office.  

Before her death Eileen Nearne (Left) attending a memorial at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. Sitting to her right is Odette Churchill GC another SOE agent who refused to talk under torture and survived this death camp.

Her sister Jacqueline will be discussed in a later post.

Female SOE agents in France

In September 2014 I published this small article examining a few female agents working for the Special Operations Executive and this was the start of my four-years of research into SOE in wartime France which is due to be published in September 2019.

This may be read by following the link or reading/downloading the Pdf version.



Narratives: Pathways to Domestic Radicalisation and Martyrdom, International Terrorism (Dec 2014)

Narratives: Pathways to Domestic Radicalisation and Martyrdom, International Terrorism (Dec 2014)

The Virtual World of Modern Terrorism: Social Mapping to Understad Behaviour (Dec 2016)

Special Operations Executive in Wartime France (due for publication in June 2022)

Previous publications

Russian Spetsnaz: Ukraine’s Deniable ‘Little Men’ (Modern Diplomacy 10 May 2015)

Increasing Survival During an Aircraft Hijack (Intersec Journal of International Security, Vol.3, issue 5, 1994, also reproduced by the International Federation of Air line Pilots)

Analysis of Aircraft Hijackings and Government Response (IFAP and International Security Review 1994, Intersec Journal of International Security Vol.1, Issue2, 1994)

Modern Terrorist Technology and the Means to Counter it (Intersec Journal of International Security, Vol.4, Issue 6, June 1994)

MI5 and the IRA: Some Aspects of the reorganisation of counter-terrorist activity in the UK (Intersec Journal of International Security, Vol.8 Issue 3, March 1993)

Highgrove: Never on Her Majesty’s Secret Service (The Independent Newspaper 13 May 1993)

Hostage Survival: An outline of concerns (Intersec Journal of International Security, Vol.3, Issue 5, October 1993)

The Illegal Arms Trade during and since the Cold war (Intersec Journal of International Security, Vol.3, Issue, June 1993)

Private Security: How Good is It? (Intersec Journal of International Security, Vol.3, July/August 1993)

Tactics of the Urban Terrorist (Intersec Journal of International Security, Vol.2, Issue 5, October 1992)

Improvised Personal Security (Intersec Journal of International Security, Vol. 2, Issue 6, November 1992)

The Master Bomb-Maker and his methods (forwarded by Major-General Julian Thompson, Intersec Journal of International Security, Vol.8, Issue 3, March 1989)

Missiles Available Illegally (Flight International, 20 May 1989)

The 1990’s: The Decade of International Unrest? (Aspects of Criminology May 1989, republished by Sage Publications)

VIP Close Protection and the Private Security Industry: An International Problem? (The Police Journal 1989 * editor wrongly said I have a phd, republished by Sage Publications)

Author Goes on Shopping Spree in International Illicit Arms Market (Armed Forces Journal International, Vol.46, No.4, August 1989)

Sophisticated Weapons and their availability (The Police Journal 1989)

The Loyalist Paramilitaries: For God and Ulster (The Criminologist April 1988)

Soviet Stingers? (Air Force Monthly December 1988)

Known Citations/Mentioned by writers and academics

Kleptocracy: Putin’s Hybrid Warfare (Hudson Institute Washington dc, briefing paper June 2017)

Active Measures of USSR against the USA, preface book, (The National Institute of Strategic Studies Ukraine, 2017)

Policing Social Conflict: A Balanced Approach, N Baxter The Police Journal 1999

Cascade of Arms: Managing Conventional Weapons Proliferation ( ed Andrew J. Pierre, Brookings Institution Press November 1997)

War Markets: Corporate and Organised Crime In Europe (Vincenzo Ruggiro Middlesex University, Sage Journal Social and Legal Studies, 1 March 1996)

Transnational Policing and the Making of Postmodern State, JWE Sheptycki, British Journal of Criminology 1995 (CCJS)

Aviation Terrorism: Historical Survey and Responses (Jin-Tai, Robert B. Munson, 14 December 1993)

An Analysis of the terrorist threat and the implications for a free America, KE Bannister, 1995

A Two Dimensional Typology of Crime Prevention Project, Jan JM Van Djik and Jaap de Waardi, Department of Crime Prevention Netherlands Ministry of Justice 1991

International Relations Research Institute China, Issues and Research (Vol.30, Issue 7-12, 1991)

A Buyer’s Market for Arms (The bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol.46, p19, 14 May 1991)

State Watch EU Bulletin, 1 January, Vol.4, 1994 (* wrongly described as dr instead of MA)

Jillian Becker (Institute for the Study of Terrorism and the Becker Foundation) 1991

Future Perspectives regarding crime and criminal justice: Mentioned in a report for the fourth conference on crime policy organised by the Council of Europe on 9-11 May 1990 in Strasbourg (Dr, JJM Dijk, Head of Department of Crime Prevention Ministry of Justice, The Hague, document reproduced by US Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice)

The Drug Enforcement Agency in Latin America: The ins and outs of working around corruption, EA Nadelmann 1989

Theoretical Model of Policing of Conflicts, NSJ Baxter, Ashgrove Publishing 2001

The Terrors Network: The Secret War of International Terrorism (Clare Sterling 1981)

Public appearances (during 1990s)

Regular guest speaker on SKY and BBC Television News, BBC Radio 4 and 5, BBC Southern Counties Radio

Consultant for television investigative documentaries

Regular consultant for a number of productions including the award winning Big Story (produced by Roger Corke) which investigated the Rwanda Genocide and was broadcast by Channel 4 in 1993.

Operation Banner: British Army in Northern Ireland

There is no doubt the British Army in Northern Ireland is one of the most controversial British campaigns in recent history. This article which I published a few years ago received mixed feelings but I was surprised by the many positive feedbacks I received from both sides of this divided community.

All PDF files may be read online or downloaded