By James Kinchin-White and Ed Moloney
There are three references in the following official British Army reports and correspondence to the MRF’s name being the ‘Mobile Reaction Force’, and one which seemingly prefers the title, ‘Military Reaction Force’.
A separate Log Sheet of incidents compiled by the Royal Anglian Regiment on May 12th, 1972 also refers to the ‘Mobile Reaction Force’. The Anglians were based in Belfast, the MRF’s main operational area.
The first reference to ‘Mobile’ comes in a letter written by the Director of Army Staff Duties, Brigadier W G H Beach on February 17th, 1972 to Brigadier M E Tickell, the Chief of Staff at British Army HQ at Thiepval Barracks, Lisburn.
The correspondence came in the wake of a visit by Beach to British Army units, including the MRF, earlier that month.
The letter is a formal version of the ‘loose minute’, or draft which figured in the first post in this series on the MRF’s name and can be regarded as a confirmation of the term, Mobile Reaction Force, used in the ‘loose minute’.
The reference to ‘Military Reaction Force’, comes in a document outlining the composition and duties of regiments and units in the 39 Brigade (Belfast) area in August 1972. It appears this document was widely circulated in the Brigade area. It is reproduced in full towards the end of this post.
Our preference is to suggest that ‘Mobile’ is the correct term since it is the one used by the British Army’s top brass in confidential correspondence between themselves; the term ‘Military’ comes in a document that would have had a wide circulation in the 39 Brigade area and could well have been seen by elements not entirely trusted by the military’s higher echelons. Amongst these would have been Belfast-based UDR regiments.
The first reference in this batch of documents to ‘Mobile’ comes at the end of the second page of the correspondence between Tickell and Beach, in which it is also revealed that the MRF recruited former SAS personnel to its ranks:
The second reference to ‘Mobile Reaction Force’ comes at the tail end of a six-page summary of the visit to British Army units by Maj-Gen Beach, the Director of Army Staff Duties on 8th and 9th February, 1972.
This document also has an intriguing reference to ‘Operation Four Square’, although it seems from the size of the operation – ’20 to 22′ infantry units – that this is not the same as the ill-fated attempt of the same name by military intelligence to discern IRA activists through the forensic examination of dirty laundry which was interdicted by the Provos’ Belfast Brigade in November that year.
The reference to the MRF suggests that the unit’s headquarters were at Palace barracks, Hollywood and that the OC at the time was somewhat dissatisfied at the level of continuity in his commanders, i.e. they were being constantly changed.
Here is the six-page document:
Then there is this document which discusses the use of second hand cars by the ‘Mobile Reaction Force’:
These log sheets below, which catalogue events in the Royal Anglian Regiment’s operational area in Belfast, describe an incident in which the CO of the Anglians requested the assistance of the ‘mobile reaction force’ in the arrest of the Adjutant of the Official IRA’s 1st Battalion, one Peter McIlroy.
The idea was that the MRF soldiers, in plain clothes, would accompany two RUC Special Branch officers into the Orchid Bar in King Street where they would arrest McIlroy and send him off to Long Kesh.
Note the signature in right hand margin of the MRF’s commander approving the Royal Anglians’ request.
In the event the Special Branch men appear to have got cold feet. One stayed in his car and the other would not enter the bar, leaving the two MRF soldiers to search the club by themselves in vain for the Official IRA officer.
Here are the relevant extracts from the log sheets followed by the full logs themselves:
On page 7 of the following document, which is a summary of units and their duties in the 39 Brigade area (Belfast) dated August 1972, the MRF is referred to at the ‘Military Reaction Force’ and the following interesting detail is given about its role, relationship to RUC Special Branch and modus operandi:
The document also has this interesting detail on the British Army’s arrest policy in the summer of 1972. Loyalist activists could not be arrested or interned, even though sectarian murders were soaring, but republicans of various sorts were fair game:
Here is the full report: