The official story – The British Army and Ministry of Defence

British soldiers in Belfast, December 1969.
By permission of The Imperial War Museum (TR 32958)

British solders leaving from RAF Aldergrove, Co. Antrim during the IRA ceasefire, 1995.
By permission of The Imperial War Museum (HM 98393)

Troops Out

Operation BANNER – support by the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force to the police and civil authorities in Northern Ireland – ended at midnight last night, 31 July 2007 after 38 years.

A permanent garrison of no more than 5,000 Service personnel will remain in Northern Ireland, available for deployment worldwide. From today, 1 August 2007, the new Operation HELVETIC will enable these personnel to support the police in Northern Ireland in the event of extreme public disorder. This is comparable to the level of support the military presently provide in mainland UK

Defence Secretary Des Browne said of that event:

“Operation Banner, one of the longest running British military campaigns in history, drew to a close last year. Today we pay tribute to the hundreds of thousands of Servicemen and women who served on this Operation and to the enormous contribution that they made towards a lasting peace in Northern Ireland.”
“They served with the characteristic determination, selflessness and professionalism that typify our Armed Forces. In particular today we remember, with humility, gratitude and respect those who lost their lives on Operation Banner. The Nation”s debt to them and to the loved ones who survive them is immeasurable. Their sacrifice must never be forgotten.”

During the worst period of The Troubles, between 1972 and 1973, 27,000 military personnel were stationed in Northern Ireland, with 106 military bases or locations in the Province.

On the day Operation Banner ended Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, Chief of the Defence Staff, sent the following message to staff across the Ministry of Defence:

“For 38 years now we have provided military support to Northern Ireland under Operation BANNER. On 31 July this year, that operation comes to an end – a key milestone in the Province’s journey to a brighter and more secure future. It is a moment that should make us all glad; but it is also a time for reflection.
For the progress which heartens us all so much has been dearly bought. Our Armed Forces have been alongside the RUC and PSNI through long years of dedicated effort and sacrifice. The qualities of our people – their endurance, patience, loyalty, courage and professional excellence – have been severely tested; and they have come through that test and emerged stronger than ever.
This is a proud record. But it comes at a price: 651 service personnel were killed in Operation BANNER, and 6,307 wounded. As we move to this new stage in Northern Ireland’s history, we particularly remember them; and we shall be commemorating their sacrifice at a special Service in 2008.
Their contribution, and that of the other 250,000 personnel from all three services who served in the operation, have been key to success. The fact that ordinary people in Northern Ireland can look to a future of hope and opportunity rather than violence and despair is in large measure due to the unceasing effort of the Armed Forces over nearly four decades. As Operation BANNER ends, that is a testament of which we can and should all be very proud.”

From the website of the Ministry of Defence

Troops In

Support to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (formerly the Royal Ulster Constabulary) in public order and counter–terrorist operations began on August 14, 1969 when soldiers were deployed onto the streets of Londonderry and subsequently Belfast to help restore order after a confrontation between Nationalist residents of the Bogside, police and members of the Apprentice Boys of Derry, culminated in serious rioting in 1969.

The sheer scale of the military’s presence in Northern Ireland in response to the deteriorating security situation has been staggering. An entire generation of Servicemen and women have deployed on countless tours of duty covering the hotspots in Belfast, Londonderry, East Tyrone, Fermanagh and South Armagh. Before violence broke out in the late 1960s there were just three infantry battalions garrisoned in Northern Ireland, but numbers rose in response to serious civil unrest and the increasing terrorist threat. At the height of the troubles in 1972 there were approximately 25,700 Army personnel deployed, with 15 battalions stationed in Belfast alone.

From Soldier magazine

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