Chapter 6: Training in Belfast
Sean, Jimmy and three other volunteers made their separate way to Belfast. Sean and Gerry, as part of developing their company into units of specializing skills, had identified, assessed and talked to several potential members for the engineering unit. These volunteers would specialize in developing weapons and changing their ideas and usage to adapt to the local conditions in their struggle for freedom against a world power and all the resources at the British Army’s disposal.
Their immediate mission would be to travel to Belfast and learn from the Belfast Brigade, the skills needed to develop car bombs so that they could partake in the commercial bombing campaign. The Army had developed the car bomb but they were being utilised mainly in Belfast and Derry. Sean wanted his Engineering team to develop contacts with other like-minded volunteers to learn from them and to hopefully assist in the development of more advanced technology. Sean had made arrangement for his team to be met in various locations in the city by the Belfast volunteers. While there in Belfast, they would be trained and would participate in local action and activity regarding the adapting, making, transportation, delivery and utilization of car bombs. While the lads were training Sean planned to meet GHQ staff to update them on the local situation progress and plans for the future. He also wanted to secure delivery of the new favourite weapon of choice, the Armalite Rifle. However, the main person that Sean wanted to meet was the volunteer that they called the Shade. Dark of complexion the Shade was one of the leading operatives in Belfast. Sean had met the Shade when he and Hugh had brought some of the guns that Hugh had stashed away and hid in dumps during the mid-sixties, up to Belfast after the 1969 split with the Officials. Sean had stayed in Belfast after delivering the weapons to help defend the beleaguer communities. In the following weeks Sean and Shade had become close comrades and friends despite the 15 years of age that separated them. They operated well together and had occasionally hooked up since then to assist each other.
When Sean arrived into the city he went to the corner that he had arranged to meet Shade. Standing there smoking a cigarette he looked around him. The corner was on the edge of West Belfast and there was an air of warfare, tension and danger. Up the street he could see the barricades of the no go area with youths peering over the top constantly looking for signs of danger. In the distance he heard a dull thud of an explosion. Smoke rising in the skyline of several different locations of the city. Within minutes he spotted Shade walking briskly up the street, cigarette in the corner of his mouth, his head constantly looking and sussing out the situation. Totally ignoring Sean he continued his brisk pace, Sean waited a minute and then pulling on his cigarette, casually followed up the street towards the barricade. As he approached it he saw a small opening enlarge to an opening that he could slip through handy enough. He walked straight through and was meet by Shades big laugh and welcoming hug, two more volunteers pushing in past them having followed Sean to ensure that he did not have hassle following Shade to the barricade.
“What about cha Seanie” Grinned Shade. “Meet some of the lads”
Sean looked at Shades colleagues. They must have only been 18 or 19 years old. Hard looking but they gave Sean a friendly look and nod of the head
“Pleased to meet ya” says one with a grin “Shade told us about ye and your father. Fair fucks to ya and your old fella” He laughed and opened up his arms “Welcome to my home.”
Shade interjected with a slap to the side of the younger fellas head “Get the fuck with ye. Don’t you have someplace to be?”
As they walked away down the street Sean felt quite old looking after those two young fellas.
Shite he said to himself, Shade is only around 20 years old himself. They grow up fast in this home behind the barricades.
Sean turned to Shade “Any word from my lads yet?”
“Yeah” replied Shade “all arrived safe and sound. Two are based in the 1st Battalion area and two in the 3rd. You, mo cara (my friend) are under the tender loving protection of the 2nd Battalion.”
They walked into a house and pulled up two seats at the table.
Sean says admiringly to Shade “Ye have a right war going on here. I can hear explosions every few hours with regular gunshots in between.”
Shade nodded and lit another cigarette. “Yeah we are constantly planning or running operations. Bombing, shootings, fundraising, each volunteer could do two or three operations in a day. If we can keep up this pressure here and more through the rest of the six counties, we can force the Brits to the table and out the fucking gate.”
Sean nodded in agreement and Shade continued “We have some great lads and more looking to join, it’s just a matter of training everyone up. The Stickies are not such a hindrance anymore. I think that they will wind down their campaign soon enough, which will bring all the fighters to us. Unfortunately, they won’t bring a gun between the lot of them.”
“I hear what you are saying Shade” said Sean “We are going to have to bring large quantities of weapons into the country.”
“Aye” said Shade “and in the meantime, we need the likes of your father to take care of the Stickies weapons! He wouldn’t leave with his arms swinging.”
Shade gave Sean a punch to the shoulder.
“I hear things are picking up in your area boy. Tell us about the attack the other week.”
Sean gave a brief outline of the build-up, the attack itself and the following couple days of terror and intimidation inflicted on the townspeople by the security forces.
“Good” said Shade “you need to capitalize on that. The people need to see that the Brits are the problem and getting rid of them is the answer. And no better bunch of sick bastards than them to prove us right” he laughed.
Sean agreed and joined in the laughter.
“Listen” says Shade “you need to get the younger kids active whenever you can. Take for instance, the Brits taking over the town, you should get the kids, say from 12 to 15 years old out throwing rocks, bottles, anything at all, at them. That distracts them and shows the Brits the depth of the hatred in the town for them. Fuck with their heads, Sean and keep them guessing. Plus, what mother and sister isn’t going to hate the foreign bastard that beat up their wee boys?”
Sean thought about what Shade said.
“I know what you are saying but I am thinking more along a military line. The lads trained and thinking like disciplined soldiers in a guerrilla war.” replied Sean.
“Very romantic” says Shade “it will make for a great song” he jibed the older volunteer. “That was great for the Resistance Campaign idea. We have an opportunity now and as Tom Barry said in 1919 we will have to sink to the Brits level and beat them out of our country at their level. I’m gladly going down there and I will beat them bastards at their own game.”
He took Sean’s arm and said “Sean, use everything and everyone at your disposal, we have to comrade. We have to.”
Shade stopped talking and sank back in his chair. There was another low thud of an explosion.
Shade spoke so low he was nearly whispering. “Sean this is hell on earth boy. Did you see those two lads that you met at the barricade? Old before their time. Rioting, shooting, always on the lookout for Brits and loyalist hit squads. They have been fighting nonstop for three years now. Evolving from rocks to petrol bombs to guns and explosives. We have to be the generation that ends this 800 year war.”
He smiled “And do you know what Séanie boy? We will a cara, we will be the generation that finishes this off” he said with certainty.
“C’mon” Shade said and headed out the door “We can talk as we walk. I want to show you and run through what we will be teaching and training your lads.”
Sean told Shade about how himself and Gerry were changing the structure of their local company and how they had identified their men for this training.
Shade nodded his head “Good idea, because in fairness, the engineering department is a total skill set in its own right. Let’s look at what we are concentrating on this time. Car bombs. Look at the ingredients needed, a car which you need one of the unit to secure. I know you use someone outside the Organisation to get your cars. Don’t do that with car bombs. One premature explosion or one ignored warning, and the Brits do that, and they track that car back to your source and he will crack under pressure. He will spill his guts and lead them right to you. So stick to the volunteers you have.”
“Fair comment” replied Sean.
Shade continued “Explosives have to be made, but ye lads know the fertilizers and stuff but we will go over some new developments that we have learnt with gelignite. Our lads will show them about adapting the car to take the weight of the explosives and they will take them on a delivery run. It’s fucking nerve racking. The gelly starts to sweat and you’re relying on getting there without being caught in traffic. We have started delaying putting in the detonator till we are at the bomb site but that leads to its own problems of being spotted at the site while inserting the det.”
“I think I might go with putting in the det at the bomb site, better that than scoring an own goal with a premature explosion” Sean replied.
Shade stopped walking “Here’s the house that GHQ are meeting you in. I have to do a run on an op so I’ll meet you here in two hours, after your meeting. Push for the Armalites’ off the quartermaster, they are a beautiful gun. Handy to carry, great distance for the shot and the rounds are handy enough to source.”
Knocking on the door he said loud enough “Kieran it’s me, Shade with the country man.”
Laughing he shook Sean’s hand and said “See you later boy.” as Kieran unlocked the door and let Sean in.
“What about cha” he said nodding to Shade. “C’mon this way kid” he says to Sean locking the door behind Sean, he led him down the corridor.
Sean heard the thud of an explosion and the sound of gunfire in the not too far distance and nobody else seem to notice or pay attention. General Headquarters staff were delighted to hear Sean’s plans and that the country Company was preparing to train and assist in the commercial bombing campaign. They talked and discussed plans and how the Glenbeg Company was developing, but there was no promise of delivery of any of the much sought after Armalite Rifles.
Two hours later Sean and Shade were walking into the city centre.
”I want to show you the devastation that we have inflicted on the economy and the financial institutions. We are bringing this loyalist sectarian city to its knees Seanie boy.” Shade explained.
They skirted and avoided several check points, as both were carrying shorts or revolvers, on their way into the nearly destroyed city centre. The centre was nearly deserted with the majority of department and smaller shops wrecked shells. As they walked Shade pointed out several shells of buildings and then added that the Europa Hotel had been bombed again the previous week.
He laughed “They keep building it and we keep giving them reason to rebuild it again! Fucking mad Seanie. We won’t hang around here if the death squads or loyalist spot me we are dead meat” Shade told Sean and they headed back to the safety of the no go area.
They walked in silence each lost in their own thoughts, Shade planning more operations in his head while Sean thought about the work, effort and commitment that was being utilised here in Belfast and swore to himself that the effort back home would have to increase. While Shade walked he might be in deep thoughts but he was constantly looking for danger.
Suddenly he whispered to Sean “Don’t look into the traffic but there’s a car there with two of our lads in it. It must be the scout car on an op.”
Sean casually glanced around as he paused to light a cigarette. “I think I see it” he said “The blue escort?”
“Aye it is” says Shade. “And the lads in the car with the explosives must be shitting it, caught in this traffic.”
Sean turned his attention to the traffic as they continued to walk up the road back to the Falls Road.
“That is messed up” he said. ”Hopefully they won’t have the detonator put in yet.”
“Aye” says Shade as he pulled on Sean’s jacket “Get into this doorway for a sec. Look at those fellows.”
Sean looked up to where Shade had indicated. The two lane road was choked with traffic going around the city centre and the outward traffic had suddenly stopped too as a car had stopped dead blocking the cars. Three men got out and were walking briskly back towards the other, inbound lane. Shade was looking at the general direction that they were heading when he spotted the two volunteers in the bomb car. Just as he spotted them and he started pulling his pistol from his waistband, the three men, all standing slightly apart opened up with their machine guns on the car carrying the two bombers’. The shooters fired an intense wall of bullets into the car that the volunteers were in. The volunteers’ bodies were thrown about inside the confined space with blood exploding onto the interior of the car.
Shade and Sean had their pistols out with Shade firing a fraction of a second before Sean. Both men left off with three fast rounds each, aiming for the heads of the assassins, sure that they would be wearing bullet proof jackets. Their shooting was deadly accurate. With the force of the shots, one of the men was flung back onto the bonnet of a car sitting in traffic behind him, the driver of the car crouching low in the front seat praying not to be hit or involved in this slaughter. The second man was lifted like a rag doll and landed on the ground between two stationary cars.
Shade and Sean ducked and started running in a crouched manner dodging and tucking behind cars as the lone surviving assassin levelled his gun and let off a short burst after the two fleeing volunteers.
Meanwhile in the car that the assassins had pulled up in, the two occupants that had stayed in the car had watched the killing zone unfold before their eyes. The Setter and Harold and his team had been driving towards the Falls Road barricades in the hope that Setter would spot their intended Provo target. Setter had spotted the two volunteers in the possible scout car and when he saw the second car with two volunteer occupants he immediately told Harold that he believed that it was a car bomb delivery or a hit team. Harold barked at the Driver to stop immediately and Harold and the other two MRF members jumped out of the car. Ignoring the suddenly stopping cars they walked speedily over towards the Provo car drawing their weapons from under their jackets when they had a clear shot at the target car.
“Fire at will” Harold had shouted and as the guns roared into life and the bullets shattered the car windows and punctured the car body, they could see the two bodies being tossed around the car with the ferocity of their firing. So intent were they on the firing, for two brief seconds that they did not see the two men stepping out of a doorway with raised pistols firing. Out of the corner of his eyes, Harold say his two colleagues being lifted into the air and send backwards, blood bursting from head wounds. He swung his gun towards the men and let lose a burst which was cut short as the round clip emptied.
The Driver and Setter saw the scene unfolding.
“Fucking hell, Captain” the Driver shouted.
“Fucking Sean Clarke” said Setter.
Setter ducked down onto the floor of the car as the Driver stuck her into gear and tore off after the running Provo’s, reaching for his gun with one hand.
He hadn’t driven 5 yards when a car drove out from the long line of waiting cars facing towards the city centre and into the front wing of his car. As the two cars collided the Setter was flung completely onto the floor of the car while the Driver’s chest bounced off the steering wheel snapping his head forward and nearly knocking him out with the force.
The two occupants of the other car leapt out of their car, one pausing to fire two rounds from his pistol into the prone shape of the Driver thrown over his steering wheel while the other let go with a couple of rounds at Harold before running off back up the road towards the Falls Road. Harold picked himself up off the ground where he had thrown himself behind a car for cover. Putting in a new ammo clip he started running after the two new runners when he saw a crowd gather around his car.
The Driver and Setter he thought and ran back to the car. The crowd scattering before him as he ran brandishing his machine gun and shouting “Stand away from that car. British Military, stand away from that car.”
Opening the passenger door, he pulled the radio out and started shouting into the radio telling Kenneth to notify the security forces that they were in the area and had been attacked by unknown paramilitary gunmen. Ignoring Kenneth’s questions that were being barked at him, he leaned over to check the Driver who was now groggily shaking his wounded head and looking around. The crowd of by-standers were melting into the side streets and doorways, while the cars were all trying to drive away, anywhere, to get away from that zone of unknown killers.
Harold again picked up the radio to talk to Kenneth as RUC and British Army personnel warily approached.
Suddenly the Driver caught his arm “Setter, the fucking Setter is gone!” He whispered urgently to Harold. Harold was concentrating on the approaching military to ensure that the Driver and he were not cut down by their own side.
“We can worry about him later” he growled “we need to get back to base. We just lost two of our team, Albert and Stan are gone.”
“I know, fucking Irish bastards” the Driver wearily replied blessing himself.