2 August 2007 Edition
Remembering the Past
Operation Motorman was a military operation carried out by the British Army to retake what it termed ‘no-go areas’ established in Belfast and Derry in the aftermath of the introduction of internment without trial the previous year.
The introduction of internment without trial in August 1971 was a hugely significant development in the conflict. The brutal affect of internment with British soldiers raiding and wrecking nationalist homes had enraged nationalists right across the Six Counties. Right across the North barricades were erected to prevent crown forces entering nationalist areas. When they did approach, local women would take to the streets banging dustbin lids off the ground to alert the people’s army, the IRA, who now enjoyed widespread support.
Such ‘no go’ areas as the British called them enraged both local unionist representatives and their political masters in London. Nowhere was this more true than in Derry where the Creggan and the Bogside, where the local people had fought, defeated and expelled in the RUC in the Battle of the Bogside in 1969, had become known as Free Derry.
The Bloody Sunday massacre of 30 January 1972 further strengthened the resolve of the people of Derry to resist British and unionist aggression and reinforced the local alienation from the Six County state and support for republicanism.
Motorman was truly massive in scale, confirming that the British army had hoped to confront and destroy the IRA in areas such as Free Derry. The IRA had been aware that a major military operation was planned and did not fall into the trap of confronting an overwhelmingly superior military force.
Involved in the attack were 26 companies of the regular British Army. Specialist tanks and approximately a hundred Armoured Personnel Carriers backed up the locally recruited loyalist militia, the UDR. It was, in fact, the single biggest operation by the British army since the Suez crisis of 1956. In all, over 21,000 troops were involved, 4,000 more than were usually deployed in the entire Six County area.
Two people were shot dead in the onslaught. The youngest, Daniel Hegarty, was only 15 years old. Hegarty was shot only yards from his home as he attempted to flee the oncoming tanks. He had nearly made it home but was murdered practically on his doorstep.
Seamus Bradley was the only IRA Volunteer to die in the attack. He had been shot in the leg and despite the fact that his injuries were not immediately life threatening the British soldiers who had taken custody of him callously watched him bleed to death. He was only 19 years old. He had been unarmed at the time in line with the IRA decision not to immediately confront the British Army.
If Motorman’s aim was to engage the the IRA on the British army’s terms and by removing the barricades impose an illusion of British control and normality, it was a spectacular failure. All over the world the images went out of tanks rumbling up streets in residential areas. Massive volumes of troops occupied schools, parish halls and anywhere else they could seize, surrounded by barbed wire and sandbags. The message was clear – Ireland was at war.
Operation Motorman occurred 35 years ago this week.
An Phoblacht Magazine
AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:
- The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
- It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
- There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.