Attack on the Four Square Laundry

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Attack on the Four Square Laundry
Part of The Troubles
Date 2 October 1972
Location Twinbrook, Belfast Northern Ireland
54°33′18″N 6°1′15.6″W / 54.55500°N 6.021000°W / 54.55500; -6.021000Coordinates: 54°33′18″N 6°1′15.6″W / 54.55500°N 6.021000°W / 54.55500; -6.021000
Result IRA victory
MRF disbanded
Belligerents

IrishRepublicanFlag.png Provisional IRA

 United Kingdom

Commanders and leaders
Brendan Hughes Cpt. James McGregor
Strength
2 Active Service Units Unknown at time of attack. Atleast 40 members in unit
Casualties and losses
None Between 1 - 5 killed
2 ex-IRA volunteers were shot dead for informing [1]
Attack on the Four Square Laundry is located in Northern Ireland
Attack on the Four Square Laundry
Location within Northern Ireland

The Attack on the Four Square Laundry was a Provisional IRA ambush in the Twinbrook area of Belfast against a special British Military unit known as the Military Reaction Force. At least one undercover British soldier (Edward Stuart (20)) was killed, the IRA claimed they killed 5 undercover soldiers altogether. The attack took place on 2 October 1972.

Background

The MRF was set up around mid 1971 and stopped operations sometime in late 1972 or early 1973 after their cover had been blown.[2] Its maximum strength size was about 40 members. MRF teams operated in plain-clothes and civilian vehicles, equipped with pistols and sub-machine guns. They were tasked with tracking down and arresting, or killing, members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The MRF also ran double agents within the paramilitary groups and ran a number of front companies to gather intelligence.[3] In October 1972, the Provisional IRA uncovered and attacked two of the MRF's front companies—a mobile laundry service and a massage parlour—which contributed to the unit's dissolution.

The MRF ran a number of front companies in Belfast during the early 1970s.[4] They included Four Square Laundry (a mobile laundry service operating in nationalist West Belfast) and the Gemini massage parlour on Antrim Road.[5] The MRF also had an office at College Square. All were set up to gather intelligence on the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Irish nationalist movement.

A Four Square van visited houses in nationalist West Belfast twice a week to collect and deliver laundry.[6] One "employee" (a young man) drove the van while another (a young woman) collected and delivered the laundry. Both were from Northern Ireland.[6] Four Square initially gathered customers by offering "discount vouchers", which were numbered and colour-coded by street.[7] Clothes collected for washing were first forensically checked for traces of explosives, as well as blood or firearms residue. They were also compared to previous laundry loads from the same house—the sudden presence of different-sized clothes could indicate that the house was harbouring an IRA member.[8] Surveillance operatives and equipment were hidden in the back of the van or in a compartment in the roof. Further intelligence was gathered by staff observing and "chatting" to locals whilst collecting their laundry.[8]

However, in September 1972 the IRA found that two of its members—Seamus Wright and Kevin McKee—were working for the MRF as double agents.[9] Under interrogation, McKee told the IRA about the MRF's operations, including the laundry and the massage parlour.[10] The leaders of the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade ordered that the companies immediately be put under surveillance. This surveillance confirmed that McKee's information was correct.[11] The IRA later took Wright and McKee to South Armagh, where they were "executed" as spies.[12] Their bodies have been recovered in 2015.[13]

October 1972 Attacks

Following these revelations, the leaders of the IRA's Belfast Brigade planned an operation against the MRF, which was to take place on 2 October 1972. The 2nd Battalion would attack the Four Square Laundry van and the office at College Square, while the 3rd Battalion would raid the massage parlour.[14] At about 11:20AM[6] on 2 October, IRA volunteers ambushed the Four Square Laundry van in the nationalist Twinbrook area of West Belfast. Four volunteers were involved: one drove the car while three others did the shooting.[14] They shot dead the driver, an undercover British soldier of the Royal Engineers, and machine-gunned the roof compartment where undercover operatives were thought to be hiding.[14] The other Four Square employee—a female operative from the Women's Royal Army Corps (WRAC)—was collecting and delivering laundry from a nearby house at the time. The residents, who thought that loyalists were attacking the van, took her into the house and kept her safe.[14] The woman was later secretly invested at Buckingham Palace with an MBE.[9]

About an hour later, the same IRA unit raided College Square but found nobody there.[14] Meanwhile, a unit of the 3rd Battalion made for the room above the massage parlour, which they believed was being using to gather intelligence. They claimed to have shot three undercover soldiers: two men and a woman.[14] According to some sources, the IRA claimed to have killed two surveillance officers allegedly hidden in the laundry van,[15] and two MRF members at the massage parlour.[8] However, the British military only confirmed the death of the van driver on that day.[16] Brendan Hughes said that the operation "was a great morale booster for the IRA and for the people that were involved".[14]

The MRF, realising its undercover operations were blown, disbanded the units and was itself disbanded shortly afterwards.[14] Nevertheless, the incident was believed to have prompted the establishment of a new undercover intelligence unit: the 14 Intelligence Company (also known as "The Det").[17]

Aftermath

After the attacks the IRA released a statement saying:

" The Republican Movement has been aware for a number of months of Speacial British Army Intelligence Unit, code-named MRF. This Unit comprising picked men, has been operating in the guise of civilians. The unit was run by a Captain McGregor who used flats and offices in Belfast and ran laundry service."

The bodies of IRA informers Seamus Wright and Kevin McKee were eventually found in buried in a farm near Navan County Meath in 2015 over 44 years since they were killed and then buried.[18]

The MRF was suspected of being involved in at least one more attack which took place in the New Lodge area of Belfast in drive-by-shooting attack which occurred on 3 February 1973. Allegations have been made that the Ulster Defence Association colluded with a British Army unit to carry out the attacks on the night of 3 February and early hours of 4 February that left six people dead. The car's occupants opened fire on a group of young people standing outside a pub on Antrim Road, killing IRA members James Sloan and James McCann and wounding others. The gunmen drove on and allegedly fired at another group of people outside a takeaway. In the hours that followed, a further four people—an IRA member and three civilians—were shot dead in the area by British snipers. The dead became known as the "New Lodge Six".[19][20][21]

In June 1973, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association issued advice on how to behave in the event of being "shot by MRF/SAS squads", saying for example that people should "pretend to be dead until the squad moves away".[22]

The historic allegations team are still currently investigating See: New Lodge Six shooting

See also

References

  1. ^ http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/sutton/chron/1972.html
  2. ^ Taylor, Peter. Brits: The War Against the IRA. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2001. pp.128-130
  3. ^ Ed Moloney (November 2003). A secret history of the IRA. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 119–. ISBN 978-0-393-32502-7. Retrieved 7 February 2011. 
  4. ^ Charters, David (April 2009). "The Development of British Counter-insurgency Intelligence". Journal of Conflict Studies. 29. Retrieved 6 December 2011. 
  5. ^ Dillon, The Dirty War, p.41
  6. ^ a b c Dillon, The Dirty War, p.29
  7. ^ Tom, Ricks (5 October 2008). "Tom Ricks's Inbox". The Washington Post. Retrieved 4 December 2011. 
  8. ^ a b c Faligot, Roger (1983). Britain's military strategy in Ireland: the Kitson experiment. London: Zed Press. ISBN 0-86232-047-X. 
  9. ^ a b Geraghty, Tony (1998). The Irish War: the hidden conflict between the IRA and British Intelligence. Baltimore: JHU Press. p. 90. ISBN 0-8018-6456-9. 
  10. ^ Dillon, Martin. The Trigger Men, Mainstream Publishing, 2003, p. 66
  11. ^ Dillon, The Trigger Men, p. 67
  12. ^ Guardian
  13. ^ [1]
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h Taylor, pp.135-136
  15. ^ "Remembering the Past – The Four Square Laundry". An Phoblacht. 30 September 2004. Retrieved 4 December 2011. 
  16. ^ Moloney, Ed (2010). Voices from the Grave: Two Men's War in Ireland. PublicAffairs. ISBN 1-58648-932-1. 
  17. ^ Michael, Smith (1 August 2002). "Secret watchers who keep an eye on the terrorists". The Telegraph. Retrieved 4 December 2011. 
  18. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/sep/08/remains-confirmed-as-ira-disappeared-seamus-wright-and-kevin-mckee
  19. ^ The New Lodge Six Archived 3 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine.. Troops Out Movement. Retrieved 19 November 2013.
  20. ^ "New Lodge Six inquiry". An Phoblacht. 21 November 2002. Retrieved 19 November 2013.
  21. ^ Sutton's Index of Deaths from the Conflict in Ireland: 1973. Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN).
  22. ^ Dillon, The Dirty War, p.255
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