How accurate is Contact (1985)?

Indeed, which is why NITAT was formed.
In reality, some of the things which happened were truly brutal and uncalled for.
But with tens of thousands of troops, hundreds of thousands over thirty years, percentage wise, the professional outweighed the unprofessional.

That's it in a nutshell.

It's worth remembering that the army had withdrawn from Aden just 2 years before the Troubles began.

There were things that were common practice in Aden that would cause an international outcry and war crimes trials today. Some acts of brutality were (arguably) necessary evils, others were truly shameful.

It was a very different kind of army that hit the streets of Belfast in the early 70s. Much rougher and tougher, a lot harder and a lot less compromising than today's army. It was a different generation with its own values and worldview. WW2 had ended just a quarter of a century earlier...

The only real surprise is that there weren't more tragedies like Bloody Sunday.
 
Try searching for the TV series Panorama or World in Action from the late 1960s to the mid 1980s. TV at the time was awash with NI current affairs programmes, although the coverage of operations would have been extremely limited for obvious reasons.

The director was Alan Clarke, while the writer was A.F.N. Clarke (ex Para), two different people.

The chap in the car was armed, they removed a sidearm from the body afterwards.

I took this as normal patrolling, the scene where they lay in wait for the arms deal would`ve been based on intelligence gained elsewhere.

The house was a ruin, as I understood it the couple were guilty of nothing more than having an al fresco shag there, something which the Officer realised.
Ah, I missed that they were two different people. Thanks.

Yep I saw that the guy was armed but did they give context as to how they knew he was armed? As far as I understand he was driving the car and then he was shot by the patrol, I assume from prior intelligence?

Ah ok, didn’t know the house was a ruin. He seemed to hover about it as if there was something odd, that’s why I asked.
 
Wasn't Jodie Foster in it?
 
Fair enough, would that have made them Pathfinders? Or their antecedent perhaps?
During the 1980s every British army armoured or infantry unit in BAOR had a recce troop or platoon.
Their job was to scout ahead of the main force in the case of a Warsaw Pact invasion.
They weren't necessarily used for that role on Op Banner, all front line units supplied troops for OPs, covert or otherwise.
Pathfinders are more akin to SF.
 

Bubbles_Barker

LE
Book Reviewer
During the 1980s every British army armoured or infantry unit in BAOR had a recce troop or platoon.
Their job was to scout ahead of the main force in the case of a Warsaw Pact invasion.
They weren't necessarily used for that role on Op Banner, all front line units supplied troops for OPs, covert or otherwise.
Pathfinders are more akin to SF.
You know this of course, but there’s a big difference between ‘undercover’, ‘plain clothes’, covert, overt etc. Stand fast the early days of the Wild West in the 70s, nobody in a normal ‘green army’ unit would have been doing anything ‘undercover’. They will have mounted ‘covert OPs’ or ‘lurks’ in uniform and certainly mounted more conventional ambushes - in uniform. Operating in scenarios and places (other than just ‘blending in’ on an admin run), where the locals are meant to think you’re local was (and is) the province (SWIDT) of Tier 1 SF.

Having said all that, the Province was a mess of agencies and disregarded rules in regard to this for a long time. It’s a miracle more soldiers weren’t killed just going to pick up the Sunday papers.
 
This.


Also incorporates some of the stuff he saw in Belfast when he was a Tom. He was my platoon commander in XMG, at the back of the book there is a photo of One Platoon - I’m second from right in the front row.


Yes I know, I’m quite a looker.
Just dug out the paperback version published in 1984 from the depths of my library. He appears to be a platoon commander in 1973 in Belfast and again in 1976. Luckily there are no photos in my book. He obviously didn't want to frighten the readers.
 
You know this of course, but there’s a big difference between ‘undercover’, ‘plain clothes’, covert, overt etc. Stand fast the early days of the Wild West in the 70s, nobody in a normal ‘green army’ unit would have been doing anything ‘undercover’. They will have mounted ‘covert OPs’ or ‘lurks’ in uniform and certainly mounted more conventional ambushes - in uniform. Operating in scenarios and places (other than just ‘blending in’ on an admin run), where the locals are meant to think you’re local was (and is) the province (SWIDT) of Tier 1 SF.

Having said all that, the Province was a mess of agencies and disregarded rules in regard to this for a long time. It’s a miracle more soldiers weren’t killed just going to pick up the Sunday papers.
True, I've posted on the Op Banner thread about being double manned, civvie clothes, nine mil Browning and no spare mag, in that bloody four tonner painted orange, with the canvas still army green on the inside.
I honestly think that vehicle was never hit because it gave the Provos such a laugh.
 
Hi all,

As someone born well after the main clashes of the Troubles, I watched Contact recently and was truly surprised to see what kind of operations took place in NI during the 70s and 80s. There's not much film/TV sources on the conflict and as the director was an ex-Para, I was wondering how accurate the whole thing was, as it seemed fairly authentic from a viewer's point of view.

Some questions:

The main character from what I could grab was a Captain, was it normal for a Captain to be leading the patrols in NI like that? I always thought officers were tactically in the middle.

The shooting at the beginning, did occurrences like this happen all the time? What kind of motive did they have to shoot? Prior intelligence?

Was it normal for Paras to conduct night patrols and clandestine ops, surveilling IRA movements? I would have thought this was more SF/Intelligence ops.

The scene with the villagers coming out of the house and the Paras pointing their weapons and then casually walking off and continuing the patrol, how accurate was that? Were British troops super aggressive with the local populace.

Generally on Op Banner, were there a lot of patrols by infantry in South Armagh? I'm a bit confused as to the point of thisThis strategically, the soldiers just seemed like moving targets for the IRA. Wouldn't it have made sense to focus on raid/surveillance type ops considering the local situation?

Super interesting movie that doesn't seem to be promoted enough!
This book published recently and reviewed on Arrse is a far better book in my opinion. It follows 2 Para in West Belfast in 1976/77. Only a few pounds on Amazon.

51epBLgRu4L.jpg
 

Bubbles_Barker

LE
Book Reviewer
True, I've posted on the Op Banner thread about being double manned, civvie clothes, nine mil Browning and no spare mag, in that bloody four tonner painted orange, with the canvas still army green on the inside.
I honestly think that vehicle was never hit because it gave the Provos such a laugh.
At least you were double-manned, that was something!
 
You know this of course, but there’s a big difference between ‘undercover’, ‘plain clothes’, covert, overt etc. Stand fast the early days of the Wild West in the 70s, nobody in a normal ‘green army’ unit would have been doing anything ‘undercover’. They will have mounted ‘covert OPs’ or ‘lurks’ in uniform and certainly mounted more conventional ambushes - in uniform. Operating in scenarios and places (other than just ‘blending in’ on an admin run), where the locals are meant to think you’re local was (and is) the province (SWIDT) of Tier 1 SF.

Having said all that, the Province was a mess of agencies and disregarded rules in regard to this for a long time. It’s a miracle more soldiers weren’t killed just going to pick up the Sunday papers.

That’s pretty much what we did on the covert stuff on my tours in the 70’s.

Some of it might have been a bit sneaky and taken place over several days etc but we were always in uniform.
 

Bubbles_Barker

LE
Book Reviewer
That’s pretty much what we did on the covert stuff on my tours in the 70’s.

Some of it might have been a bit sneaky and taken place over several days etc but we were always in uniform.
That’s my point - I’ve spent a night or two waiting in the dark for a PIRA funeral firing party to turn up in Milltown Cemetery but it wasn’t an ‘undercover’ op and it certainly wasn’t in plain clothes (and no ****** ever turned up, oh how we prayed they would…).

I did do loads of op tasks in plain clothes on other tours though that weren’t admin - but almost all were overt, In other words, we were operational but just in plain clothes rather than uniform, certainly not ‘undercover’.

The whole thing was a bit of a Venn diagram in that respect, which was part of the problem, where folks entered the wrong part of the diagram without the appropriate reason or training.
 
Yep, fair point, as soon as I posted I remembered that we did that, and routinely aimed at potential sniper points in houses and other buildings.
Though I think the question was more about aiming at crowds, which we were encouraged not to do.
Regarding the main beam, on a couple of occasions, whilst in APVs patrolling rural areas, some scallies often thought it would be amusing to tailgate us with full beam on.
A blast of Sharkeye straight at the drivers side soon discouraged that.
I was given a massive bollocking for “aiming at crowds” when we covered a horse race near Lisburn. Then it was scaring horses, then just our presence.
I was looking through the sights at the ground beyond the nags, honest guv.
Nothing to do with the 2.15 favorourite.
 
I was given a massive bollocking for “aiming at crowds” when we covered a horse race near Lisburn. Then it was scaring horses, then just our presence.
I was looking through the sights at the ground beyond the nags, honest guv.
Nothing to do with the 2.15 favorourite.
Ha, you had SA80 on that tour didn't you?
So entirely believable that you were using the SUSAT to check out the runners, and not the cleavage of some of the patrons.

Especially the female ones.
 
Ha, you had SA80 on that tour didn't you?
So entirely believable that you were using the SUSAT to check out the runners, and not the cleavage of some of the patrons.

Especially the female ones.
No, we were conducting perimeter security checks, and covering all angles to ensure the full security of the event.
Which went ahead with no issues. Thank the gods.
It was a pleasure to see people turn up in Range Rovers and enjoy their day with drinky-poos and canapes whilst I sat in a ditch for the day.
And went back to the portakabin we shared as a troop.
It was March, no norks out. For that you need Aintree.
 

Proff3RTR

War Hero
That's it in a nutshell.

It's worth remembering that the army had withdrawn from Aden just 2 years before the Troubles began.

There were things that were common practice in Aden that would cause an international outcry and war crimes trials today. Some acts of brutality were (arguably) necessary evils, others were truly shameful.

It was a very different kind of army that hit the streets of Belfast in the early 70s. Much rougher and tougher, a lot harder and a lot less compromising than today's army. It was a different generation with its own values and worldview. WW2 had ended just a quarter of a century earlier...

The only real surprise is that there weren't more tragedies like Bloody Sunday.
A bloody good post, I think a lot of people forget armies do evolve depending on operational experience and experiences. I never served in the province in the 70’s or early 80’s my tours were 89 (East Tyrone) & Belfast 96 (Ardoyne, New Lodge) both Tours fairly lively but nothing compared to the early days. Also mix that with the soldiers experience prior to those tours. As CSM said, early troubles you would have lots of Aden vets ( my old man one of them, SCLI/1 LI) so they had very diff views from my generation of soldier, and also lots of actual field experience on Ops that were very kinetic as it were, by my time Ops still were kinetic but were disabled down in comparison to a big degree. So we approached it at a diff pace. Now fast forward to Afghan, different setting, different generation of soldier and also that was all but war fighting even though some will say it was not. A whole different mind set, very aggressive when on patrol when it went south but also more controlled.
To each generation of soldier there comes ‘thier war’ and every generation deals with it differently.
I suppose no matter how you look at these things it comes down to shared experiences and also the units Operational background.
 
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Fair enough, would that have made them Pathfinders? Or their antecedent perhaps?
Specialist army surveillance operations in NI evolved from: 'the Bomb Squad' c. 1970-71; the 'MRF' (Mobile Reaction Force) 1971-72; the 'SRU' (Special Reconnaissance Unit aka NITAT(NI) 1973-76; the 'Army Surveillance Company' aka the 'Det' (Detachment) or '14 Int') 1977-on). These were augmented first by NIPG (Northern Ireland Patrol Group) and then by the Close Observation Platoons as previously mentioned. The first formal COP was trained at PATA (Pontrilas Army Training Area) by former operators in the SRU and other Special Forces instructors led by Major Julian Ball (SRU/SAS). Regular Emergency Tour battalions had pioneered the development of the 'COP' methods. The training program for '14 Int' Operators was written by and overseen by Major Brian Baty, SAS. ETA before anyone starts on about persec, all of the above is in the public domain in documents released by the National Archives at Kew.
 
I come from a family of soldiering. The ancestry need not keep up us.
If this be about recent army history, I went there. My dad also. After a couple of whiskies he can describe North Howard Street Mill to a degree that puts me to shame.
Get on with it.
 
There are some excellent posts on here, and years upon years of combined experiences, from members of all arms of the British Armed Forces.
The police in NI played an extremely important and dangerous role, and they, along with the UDR, bore the brunt of much of the violence.
It's important for the OP to realise that much of the negative press came from people who had an axe to grind, or weren't that savvy about military ops.
The fact is that the civil war in Northern Ireland was a dirty, irregular little affair, that forced the higher ups to change the way we did things, and basically tactics were developed on the hoof.
By the eighties, tactics and equipment were finally putting PIRA and others on the back foot, and regardless of what certain people in political and media circles have said, the British army and security forces in Northern Ireland on the whole acted with professionalism, bravery and compassion, which is a hell of a lot more than can be said for our adversaries.
 
Drift alert (but not too far I hope). Just while I have a few eyes gathered here, does anyone remember a book about RM in Belfast in the 70's? The author was new guy and had a mate called "Froggy"(?). I haven't read the book itself but did read the conensed version in the back of the Readers Digest.
 

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