A "what if...?" Going Sri Lankan in Ulster

What if Op Motorman had been run differently, without the effort to minimise casualties and with a clear intention to force the IRA to stand and fight? If the border had been sealed, and the troop deployment had been made relatively openly, what would have happened?

Would there have been re-enactments of the Warsaw Rising in parts of Londonderry and Belfast, with IRA prisoners marching off to POW camps while crowds of refugees gathered at border crossing points?

Would the Republic have intervened militarily (say, by forcing a way across the border to let refugees out, or let arms in)?

Would the total number of people killed have been more or less than the total for the next 20 years?

Would the resultant population shifts have pacified Ulster for a generation, or just created another generation of martyrs, or both?

I know that this is not how we do things in this country, and the UN and other countries would have kicked up a storm about our abuse of UK citizens, but just imagine if a British PM had looked into the future and said, "We can't fix this problem like this inside of a generation, and I'm not prepared to allow people to be blown to bits for the next 25 years. Let's stop this, right now."
I do know (having lived through it as a child) that there was a LOT of concern in the south about how the Nationalist / Catholic population in the north were being treated, and this was not just from the Brits Out crowd, and separate to any nationalist ideology.

Don't forget that however it turned out and got twisted (and not to justify or condone any of the sh1t that later happened), the beginnings of it was the airing of legitimate grievances by the minority population in Northern Ireland, and the response to them by the establishment in Stormont.

I think that in the scenario that you mentioned, the government in the south would have been forced by to intervene on the side of the nationalists, however reluctantly. Not to do so would have been political suicide. (IMHO)
flamingo said:
I think that in the scenario that you mentioned, the government in the south would have been forced by to intervene on the side of the nationalists, however reluctantly. Not to do so would have been political suicide. (IMHO)
To have intervned would have been military suicide..... if we following the Sri Lankan statergy I am asuming that outside interfernece would not have been tolerated.... and the skies of the south been criss crossed with vulcan contrails

I'm not saying it would have been a good idea, just that in the scenario mentioned above it would probably have happened. Would the UK have taken direct action against the south? I don't know.
If we would have been prepared to fight in the way you suggest...... i think wiping out the souths defences would have been a daytrip for the armed forces in the 70's ........ might as well go the whole hog if the south are supporting the IRA!

The south didn't support the IRA, more British citizens vote for Sinn Fein than do in the south! I'm sure you are right, the British Army would have rolled over the border without too much trouble.

However, as I was at pains to say in every post on the subject, there was a lot of legitimate concern about the treatment and conditions that the minority catholic nationalist population in the north were under. This should not be confused with "support for the IRA". Don't forget, the IRA is an illegal organisation in the Republic, and at that stage, considered itself to be at war with the government in the south as well (albit on a "truce")

If Operation Motorman had evolved into a situation where it was perceived as "ethnic cleansing" or similar, as the poster above has described, then there would have been much greater international intervention, both from the Republic and probably other quarters. It would have been inevitable. It would also have handed the IRA the greatest propaganda victory imaginable.

Also, what would have been the reaction of the seizable proportion of the population of the UK (including members of HMF) of Irish ancestry if the UK was perceived to be at war with the Republic?

Would the UN have been able to stand by, notwithstanding the UK veto? What would have been the reaction of the USA? What would have been the reaction of the USSR if it comes to that?

At least cooler heads prevailed, as I'm sure the "sledgehammer" option was at least considered.


Book Reviewer
Reading about international intervention, what flashes across my mind is the rabid Irish Nationalist support in certain quarters of the USA and (separately from this) the USA's reaction to British (and French) intervention in Suez.

My gut instinct is that this would have been political suicide by the Labour government of the day. As it was, the deployment of troops on 14 Aug 1969 ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/august/14/newsid_4075000/4075437.stm ) brought an expression of outrage from Jack Lynch, Irish Prime Minister as "outrageous interference" in which he called for a United Nations peacekeeping force to be sent to the province.


Book Reviewer
Reviews Editor
It would have been a very sad day for Britain as a whole. Whilst not supporting, or even condoning the IRA, there was, as previously said, a growing swell of concern for the Catholic minority in the North, both over the erosion of their civil rights and the discrimination played against them in housing, employment and education. This concern was reflected in parts of mainland Britain too, notably in Scotland and the north-west areas of England.
A military adventure on the scale mentioned would have drawn the Repuclic of Ireland into the arena, and whils there is no doubt that eventually British forces may have won the confrontation, it would have been at a huge cost. The Irish armed forces may have been smaller than ours, but were vastly experienced, having fought in the Congo and other places as UN troops.
Putting aside any political condemnation by USA and others, there was a very real danger that the Unites States could have become involved militarily, and that would have been a disaster. And not just from a military standpoint. Politically, the fall-out would have been huge. It would have meant the end of our partnership with America, opened up enormous gaps in NATO and allowed the Soviets ample opportunity to exploit this disharmony to their great advantage.


Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
Reviews Editor
Op Motorman was the offer to PIRA to 'bring it on'. PIRA decided that discretion was the best part of valuor that day.

There was every opportunity for PIRA to take on the army. Had they chosen to do so then they would have been well beaten and taken more casualties than they could replace. As an organisation they would have been finished. Also, if they had stood by to the army then the British spin-machine would have made it very clear that the army were clearing up their own back yard.

As it was, PIRA backed off, sensibly, and both sides with tacit agreement, settled down to a war of attrition.

I doubt very much if other countries would have intervened, including ROI. There would have been a lot of hot air in the UN and other places but that would have been ignored by Britain if military action had closed down PIRA. There would have been huge amounts of diplomatic work done (and I am sure that there was at the time and we will never hear about it) to ensure that good ole USofA, aka pseudo-Ireland, did not intervene. What with Vietnam on the go I doubt if USA had the stomach to intervene in Ireland other than to make noises in the UN.

Just my thoughts and I am sure that others will have differing views which I am quite willing to listen to.
One of my PhD students is a Dub and his dad was in the predecessor to the Irish reserve defence force (CFA?) back in the 1960s/70s.

He said that during the time of Bloody Sunday, his dad and oppos were mobilised and were heading for Derry (sh!ting themselves he is keen to add), until they were turned around ca. 20 miles or so from the border.

Anyone know if this actually happened?
Look here at the Irish Army orbat in the early 70's; no wonder they were flapping.


It still seems crazy that 25 years of bombings and killings were the least worst option. Good job they don't hire me to make those kind of decisions; 'out of my depth' wouldn't cover it.

My feeling is that the US was too busy to intervene directly, the USSR wouldn't invade West Germany just because a few British infantry battalions were busy, the Irish Army wouldn't have invaded the North but might have kept a few border crossings open for a short while, and the Europeans would have asked us to stop.

Invading the Republic is a no-win situation, but I could imagine a few bombing raids on troop concentrations if required.

Maybe I've lived through too many years of New Labour government, but I could imagine a government run like those of Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher spinning an operation like this in a positive fashion, at least for an internal audience. Ted Heath wasn't above telling blatant lies (EEC votes, anyone?), and how many people trusted Harold Wilson?

Mind you, they would have to do well to convince me that forcing British citizens out of their homes to preserve Ian Paisley's right to insult Catholics was a valid thing for the British Army to be doing.
http://www.birw.org/Daniel Hegarty.html#_ftn14
Motorman was a reduction from a larger operation. Scaled down because “The advantages of the more limited operation are that it is a less extreme measure and that it concentrates on the areas of particular symbolic importance for the majority [Catholic] community. Its disadvantages are that an operation concentrated on Londonderry could provoke a major flare-up in Belfast, with which the Army might be ill-placed to deal; that it attacks areas which have recently been relatively quiet rather than the more serious trouble spots in Belfast; and that it is manifestly directed only against areas inhabited by the minority [Catholic] community
Trotsky said:
If we would have been prepared to fight in the way you suggest...... i think wiping out the souths defences would have been a daytrip for the armed forces in the 70's ........ might as well go the whole hog if the south are supporting the IRA!

Thats quite an assumption you make there, shame its way off the mark
On the reaction of the Irish government to Operation Motorman:

http://www.birw.org/Daniel Hegarty.html#_ftnref109
Jack Lynch, the Taoiseach of Ireland, was informed of Operation Motorman by Sir John Peck, the British Ambassador to Ireland, a few hours before the troops moved in. President Nixon of the USA, the Vatican, and other heads of state, including members of NATO and the European Community, were also forewarned.[34] Sir John Peck conveyed the warning to Dr Patrick Hillery, then the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, at 8:45 pm on 30th July. Dr Hillery conveyed the message to Jack Lynch, who was electioneering in County Cork, who asked Sir John Peck to meet him at Divisional Police Headquarters in Cork at 12:30 am on 31st July. At the meeting, which lasted an hour, the Taoiseach said he would support Operation Motorman on four conditions:

· that military action be quickly followed up with a political initiative;

· that firm action be taken against any Protestants maintaining or re-erecting barricades[35];

· no discrimination between the Catholic and Protestant communities and action to stop loyalist sectarian murders; and

· that every possible effort be made to spare innocent lives during and after the operation.[36]
How they would have reacted to an enhanced Motorman (Operation Folklore, according to the website linked below), I'm not sure...

Similar threads

Latest Threads