Chapter 5: Glenbeg hit
“Alright lads. What about you?” began Sean.
It was Sunday afternoon and Sean had assembled the team that had participated in the failed mission on Friday morning. Sean had also brought Hugh, Barney and Bernie to discuss the mission and try to learn from it. Bernie was there because Sean had a great regard for her, her line of thought and mind-set.
They sat around a table in the back room of a safe house around six miles from Glenbeg in the Sperrin mountains of Tyrone. The owner and his two sons were outside looking down the mountain side and into the sky keeping a watch for any hint of Brit activity. The woman of the house gave in a big pot of tea, bread, scones and butter and jam and then left them and went outside to join the rest of her family.
“This is Army talk and best not to hear” she said to her family outside.
Sean exhaled the smoke from his cigarette and spoke up again “Listen lads, I don’t know how but the Brits knew about the hit on that Orange bastard. Gerry talked to the contact and he told him that the Brits were stalking out the bastard’s house. They must have been expecting us to rush the house and hit him there.”
Gerry picked up the story “My man says that at around quarter past eight he drove by there on his rounds, and he saw the Brits coming out of sheds and the fields around the house. When he drove his van by they nearly started firing at him, shouting and waving their guns all over the place, but thank God they didn’t shoot. They pulled him out of the van and searched his van and everything in it. He got a bit of a shock when the jumped him shouting and threatening him. He is rattled so he says that he will have to keep a low profile for a while. That’s him off the information line for this while.”
Sean paused and scratched his stubble “How the fuck did they know that we were going to hit him on Friday. Your guy drives up and down that road every other morning nearly and never saw Brits there before.”
Hugh broke in and said “They will pull your man in again for questioning. How will he do? Will he hold his whist?” Sean shrugged his shoulders pondering the question.
Gerry said “He is sound and will say nothing and keep saying it. Or at least that’s all we can hope for. If he gets lifted, we will debrief him when he gets released. That’s really all we can do.”
Eamon suggested “Maybe he had second thoughts and changed his mind and tipped off the Brits himself?”
“No” replied Gerry “he was acting too natural when I talked to him yesterday. Nervous at being searched and rattled but he wasn’t wary of me. No my gut says that it wasn’t him.”
“Who else knew about the hit?” asked Jimmy. “All of us at the meeting” he answered himself. “There was ten of us there at the meeting.”
They sat and thought about that for a few minutes. They went through everyone in their own minds.
Eventually Sean said “Nah I don’t think anyone touted from that meeting, but just in case the open meetings like that will have to stop. I hate doing that because we are all the team not just the ones carrying out the mission.”
“What about Eddie our car guy?” asked Eamon
“Nah again. He gets the cars but doesn’t know anything else.” Sean replied.
Barney grunted “Whoever it was only got half the story, they thought that the hit was happening at the house not at the top of the lane like you planned.”
Stephen said “Look lads, did any if youse say it to anyone? Anyone at all? Even just mentioned that a hit on a UDR man in Ballymore was going to happen?”
Everyone shook their heads.
“Here’s an interesting point” piped up Bernie, “if Sean’s contact hadn’t gone down the road we would not have even known that they were aware of the hit. We would have presumed that he had just changed his plans or decided to take a day off from work. That’s another twist maybe we were not supposed to know that they knew?”
The room was silent as that line of thought sank in.
“That’s an interesting thought” Stephen said and the unit mulled over and discussed Bernie’s idea for a while.
“Let’s summarise this” Sean spoke up.
“1) The UDR man plans changed by coincidence
2) The Brits were tipped off and thought that we were going to hit him at his house
3) The Brits were tipped off and knew the plan but just went into protective mode to protect the UDR man.
4) Why did the Brits not hit our team if they knew the plan?”
Sean looked around the table and waited.
Bernie leaned forward and said “I think that we can eliminate the first point. It’s too much of a coincidence, him not going to work and the Brits being down at his house too.”
There was a murmur of agreement around the table. Too much of a coincidence was the general consensus.
Bernie continued “Point 2 is that they thought we would hit him at his house and sent a protective team to hit us there when we came to his house.”
“I don’t think so” says Eamon “they would surely have had someone posted at the top of the lane as a lookout. Stephen was lying in wait for 50 minutes and didn’t pick up anything unusual. Plus, if the Brits did have a lookout, he would have tipped them off that we were up there. They would surely have sent a unit up to cut us off and probably take out Stephen, Jimmy and myself.”
There was another silence as this too sank in and some blessed themselves while others touched wood.
“Yeah” says Sean “but how did they only get half the story?
“I’ll say one thing” says Barney “they knew about the hit and prevented it and for some reason, known only to themselves, they were content at just preventing the hit. In their opinion they have won this round. How they found out the plan, we will have to work out.”
Hugh cut in “But in the meantime we need another hit and the sooner the better to rattle them and to let them know that we mean business. That UDR man would have been a soft target. There are nine of us in this room right now. Six active volunteers, sorry, actually seven counting Bernie there.”
Hugh nodded apologetically to Bernie “Plan something and plan it for sooner than later is my advice.”
Barney rapped his pipe off the palm of his hand “You’re right Hugh, but the lads have to be careful. Pointless going out just shooting at the barracks door and getting caught. The Brits win again then.”
“Dead on Barney and Hugh.” agreed Stephen “We need to pull off something.”
“Youse want action? I’ll give youse action” says Sean. “Tomorrow morning we hit the Brit Army morning patrol as they walk up Mary Street, just after they leave the barracks. We take over Rafferty’s house tonight. The hit team stay there with the getaway car parked out the back. As the patrol moves up the street the driver goes out and into the car to start it. The two volunteers inside the house let rip as the last two Brits walk by Rafferty’s. They take out the last two, one on each side of the street. As the Brits return fire, the two volunteers run out the back door and into the waiting car. Ye then head up the lane to McEntee’s Lane where another volunteer is in action.”
Sean paused and looked around the room.
“Jaysus Christ.” Says Jimmy, “that’s some rattling alright.”
They were leaning in now closer to the table as Sean used plates, cups and the salt and pepper shakers to illustrate his plan.
“As soon as the lads in the house start shooting and the patrol dives for cover another volunteer steps out of McEntee’s Lane. He hurls a hand grenade across the road to the point soldier on that side of the road. As the grenade is in the air he fires a short burst from his gun at the nearest Brit on his side of the road.”
The room was abuzz with excitement at the thought of the action. “Go on.” They urged Sean as questions and idea’s flooded into their minds.
“As soon as he fires one burst at that point Brit, and he better hit the bastard, he legs it back down the lane to the waiting car. Then into the car and out Glenelly Road to Corramore Road Cross. There we have two cars waiting. One to take the gear back to the dump, the other one to get the volunteers to safe houses, out Dungannon and Carrickmore way. We will burn the car that the gun team arrived in.”
He looked around the room. “That’s 3 drivers in 3 cars and four shooters. The most my man will get is two so we will have to borrow one off of a friend and they can report it missing after the shooting.”
Sean looked at Barry. “Tomorrow is Monday morning and if you take part you will be late for work. How will that go down with your boss?”
Barry was quiet for a minute “I’ll have to phone in sick before 10, but Monday is in the office stocking up the car and making appointments to hit the road selling stuff. They won’t be happy and with me missing the same time as the ambush in my home town? That might be a bit too obvious Sean to tell you the truth.”
The others nodded in agreement “The backlash will be brutal from the Brits so don’t give them an easy one by identifying one of ye.” said Hugh.
“Right” says Sean “the same team less Barry, in different roles. Jimmy and Eamon in Rafferty’s house as the shooters. Gerry will guard the Rafferty’s and do the driving in the getaway car. Stephen, you will be in McEntee’s Lane. Bernie, you will go to the Cross in the early morning in one of the stolen cars. Your job is to make sure all the weapons are put into your car and to bring the gear back to a dump. Stephen you drive with Bernie to the dump and then both of you head to Dungannon for the day. Dump the car and bus it home. Understand lads?” he asked them.
Everyone started shouting questions but Sean held up his hands, “Wait until I finish. I’ll drive the borrowed car, with Jimmy, Gerry and Eamon and we will head for the Carrickmore safe house, dumping the car outside the town. Stephen and Barry you sort out the gear this evening, I’ll talk to my car man. Gerry get a borrowed car off of some supporter that needs his car replaced, but don’t get a crock, get one that will get us to Carrickmore.” Sean laughed.
Sean then continued, “we will meet by the building site tonight at 10pm and move out before the Rafferty’s go to bed tonight. We don’t want to give them a heart attack by knocking on their back door too late. Everyone that’s going into town needs to be dressed in combats and wearing masks. The Rafferty’s shouldn’t be able to recognise us. They might know our voices but we should leave them that they can’t name us to the Brits. Jimmy get rope to tie them up with. Also bring a change of clothes to the building site. I’ll bring them away and have them ready for ready for changing into at Corramore Road Cross. Bernie bring a can of petrol to light up the car that the shooters are in.”
Sean stopped speaking and looked at the volunteers, he raised his eyebrows and asked “Questions and suggestions?”
Everyone started talking at once as Sean reached for a piece of paper and he started drawing a rough map and they settled down to go over the details.
It was Monday morning at 06:30 hours and the morning foot patrol was getting ready to leave the barracks. Although they patrolled every morning, the time that they left the barracks was always varied for security purposes. This morning Captain Oswald was the commanding officer of the eight men detail. There was a slight drizzle falling in the early cold February morning, as they finalised their preparations. Miserable sodden country thought the Captain as he automatically went through his check list. Fucking out here in the sticks with most of the action in Belfast or Londonderry. He shook his head with disgust.
He turned to his radio man and grumbled “Foot patrol after foot patrol to keep the natives in check, and driving around in convoys pulling unexpected security check points in between. For fuck sake. On Thursday, the one chance since starting this tour, at shooting some Irish terrorist bastard and the Lieutenant-Colonel decides to play prevention to protect their fucking source. Their fucking source” he complains, shaking his head.
The radio man continued preparing his gear, hardly listening to his complaining Captain who continued, “Shoot everyone and let God sort them out. That’s what I say. We had them wankers the other day and instead we lay around in sheds waiting for yellow bastard fucks that had no intention of coming down that lane.”
He tapped the radio man who gave him the thumbs up that he was ready to move out.
The Captain didn’t acknowledge the radio man “And now another foot patrol. For fuck sake.”
“All checked?” he asks the Sergeant. A murmur of agreement came from the tired Sergeant, he had been drinking late into the night and was in no mood for this patrol.
“Let’s go. Sarge you take point on the right side, Williams you’re point on the left. Radio man right behind me on the left. We go up past Cleary’s and around the edge of town heading west.” He then added bitterly, “Another stroll around the lovely countryside of pigsville. Let’s fucking move out.”
The gate swung opened and they quickly ran out the gate into position, supplying cover for each other as they moved cautiously forward. Once they were all in position and spaced out they started up the street at the side of the diamond, towards Mary St. There they turned left and walked in two rows, one on each side of the street.
As quiet as usual thought the Captain but he still kept his eyes moving, checking the skyline and the windows for any sudden or out of place movements. He constantly moved his head looking all around as the patrol moved along Mary St. The Sarge up at point was moving the patrol at a nice steady pace, cautiously but covering ground. The captain was looking in front of the Sarge at the opening to the narrow lane around 10 yards in front of the Sarge narrowing his eyes. Had he seen a movement, a shadow out of place?
Suddenly behind him he heard the loud bursts of automatic firing. He swung around as he ducked behind a car parked just beside him. Fear raising from his stomach, up his chest, tightening the muscles in his chest as he gasped for breath, he laid on the ground curled up as he whimpered with fright. The firing continued for a few seconds and then suddenly he heard the loud explosion of a hand grenade, very close to him, followed immediately by the rat-tat-tat of another automatic machine gun, this time towards the front of his patrol. The patrol members had dived to the ground at the sound of firing, trying to adjust their senses and see where the bullets were coming from. There was a lull and the captain raised his head from under his arms and looked around him, first down the street to where he could hear screeching of pain. He saw Burnett laying twisted on the ground rolling around and shouting for a medic. He saw his radio man shouting into the radio and waving at him. The Captain scrambled to his knees still hugging the side of the car and looked back up the street to the front of his patrol, where Williams was also writhing around the ground. The grenade had been thrown from the alley way across the street and bounced off the house before exploding feet away from Williams, the point man. The pavement around him was turning red with blood. Looking across the street through the window of the car the Captain could see the Sergeant stretched out on the pavement, not moving. Then he saw Wesley, the trooper that had been walking opposite him, crouching between two cars not sure which way to turn and point his gun. The Captain felt the dampness on his leg where he had urinated with the shock of the sudden firing of death. Keeping low he stumbled down to the radio man.
“Get back up. Get back up” he was hollering, anything to be making noise as he tried to regain his self-control.
The radio man put down the radio phone piece and raising his gun he pointed to the house with the open door.
“They fired from there and ran back inside” he shouted at the Captain as the captain dived in beside him.
“Fucking bastards” he shouted at the radio man “They may be still in there, keep low. Did you call for back up?” he asked.
“Yes sir” says the radio man “I’m sure I heard a car drive away right after they stopped firing and ran back into the house. I’m going to cross the road and try to check it out. You cover me. “
Before the Captain could say anything the radio man was off, crouching low the radioman ran across the street, zig zagging his way to the other side. He reached the other side and dived behind a car taking shelter. He hand signalled to the soldier, Barkley that was half under the car, keeping in cover while looking and pointing his gun up the road.
“Follow me this way” he barked at Barkley.
With the eerie silence, except for the screams and moans of pain from the wounded soldiers, the radioman was sure that the Irish rats had bolted for it. He scurried down the road, with Barkley following him, using the parked cars as cover until they came to where a soldier lay on the ground. The soldier had been in the rear-guard position and was the nearest and first target to be hit by the gunmen. He now laid unmoving, lifeless, as the blood poured out of his skull and neck. The radio man felt the rage rising inside of him. Stay calm he thought.
He could see the captain zig zagging across the street towards him. He heard the military vehicles speeding up the road from the barracks and the clumping of army boots on the pavement and road as the soldiers came closer. He could hear the wounded still screaming and moaning as he raised his head and shouted at Barkley “Cover me” and he jumped up firing his machine gun, the bullets ripping through the front room window of the house that the gunmen had used to ambush them.
The window shattered and he threw a stun grenade through the opening. As it exploded in the room he was demolishing the front door with bullets and kicking it down as he stormed forward. He entered the house and threw himself onto the ground, ceasing the firing and listened. The pounding of his firing still ringing in his ears. Cautiously he pointed his gun as he looked around the front room. “Nobody there” he said to himself as he ever so carefully worked his way towards the kitchen and back room, looking for booby traps and listening for the gunmen.
Suddenly the Captain burst into the house pushing past the radio man and rushed into the kitchen, out through the back room and into the back yard
“Don’t fucking move” he roared as he pointed his gun at two figures laying on the ground in the back yard.
The radio man and soldiers from the back up squad also arrived into the back yard looking at the two figures, trussed up like turkey’s, their hands tied behind their backs with tape across their mouths and half covering their head, they laid face down side by side.
The Captain ran over and started kicking the two prone figures shouting at them “Who were they? Those rat bastards! Who were they, you murdering bastards?” he was screaming as the two figures whinged and tried to curl up to get away from the flying boots of the captain.
The radio man grabbed the captain and lifted him backwards away from the tied up victims.
“Calm down! Calm down!” He spoke into the Captains twisted face
Barkley also grabbed the captain “We can bring them in for questioning” he roared at the captain as he wrapped his arms around him to stop him from moving towards the tied up figures.
The captain’s body went slack and he slumped into a chair as his body started shaking unstoppable and he began to sob. “Those murdering bastards shot up my patrol” he rasped over and over with an air of helplessness and anger.
The two tied up people were untied and lifted from the ground and escorted out of the shot up house into the waiting Army Jeeps. They told the soldiers that they were Dick and Ashley Rafferty, the owners of the house, as the soldiers pushed them roughly into the jeep.
The people from the neighbouring houses nervously stepped out of their houses, still stunned and uncertain as to what had happened in their small town.
“Oh my God what happened” they shouted to each other.
The street was crawling with British soldiers, with their vehicles blocking all access and movement in or out of the street.
“Get back into your houses and stay there” the soldiers were shouting and pushing the people, “you’ve seen enough blood today”
The medics had lifted the two wounded soldiers into the Army ambulances. The two slain soldiers were lifted onto stretchers and also put into the ambulances and were sped away. The whole town was shut down as the soldiers began to go systematically through all the houses searching as more soldiers flooded into the countryside. They set up checkpoints and searched houses, farms and sheds for the vanished gunmen.
But the IRA gunmen were nowhere to be seen or found as they had vanished into the early morning air.