Londonderry Roulement Tour
March – July 1979
1st Royal Hampshire under the command of Lt Col RG Long MC deployed to Londonderry on a Roulement tour from 7th March 1979 to 15th July 1979. Londonderry City was the heartbeat of Republicanism in the present troubles, the initial protests having started there in 1968. The Battalion assumed command of the City, west of the River Foyle on 7th March 1979 taking over from the 1st Royal Welch Fusiliers. Battalion Tactical HQ was located in RUC HQ at Strand Road. A, Y and HQ Companies were in the large Fort George base on the banks of the Foyle, B Company in a what was the car-park to the local Masonic hall within the historic Walled City on the edge of the Brandywell and overlooking the Bogside estates and Z Company in the area of the Creggan estate.
The role of 1st Royal Hampshire was to support the RUC. Operations were subject to Police Special Branch control and direction which was appropriate for this type of operation. This was not a new situation for the Battalion with many including the Commanding Officer being able to build on their experiences from the Ballykelly tour of 1976/7, carrying out search and arrest operations at the RUC’s request. A sighting list had been produced for each company area and patrols were required to report real time sightings of those on the list. Further certain individuals when stopped in a vehicle had to be taken to the search centre at Fort George. The RUC wanted these actions in order to disrupt IRA activity and helped in the analysis of incidents.
A Company under Major Humphrey James was responsible for patrolling Shantallow, the newer housing estates in the north of Derry and the rural area between the estates and the Border. The Company was responsible for manning two permanent vehicle check points (PVCPS). One alert patrol was responsible for the arrest of a known IRA member in possession of a grenade hidden in a sock. Subsequently, he was imprisoned becoming one of the dead hunger strikers in 1981.
Although B Company under Major Bruce Willing were based within the Walled City, it was responsible for the Bogside, Brandywell and Protestant Fountain estates. The Company manned two observation posts on the City Wall overlooking the Bogside and another in the Bogside on the roof of the Rossville flats. There were no attacks on the Company.
Y Company under Major Tim Glass was responsible for patrolling the City Centre including the Walled City. Most of the incidents during the tour occurred in Y Company’s area because this was the commercial heart of the City. The IRA’s aim was to prevent normal life returning to the centre. There were a number of minor bomb attacks on commercial premises with some of these attacks being out of hours with the bombs attached to grills of shops. Y Company ensured disruption was kept to a minimum. There were two unsuccessful attacks on foot patrols.
Z Company under Major Roger Stockton, was responsible for the Creggan estate, the Rosemount an area of old styled terraced houses between the Creggan and the City Centre as well as the western rural enclave. Company HQ with 2 platoons were in the camp on Piggery Ridge overlooking the Creggan estate responsible for patrolling the estates and the enclave. The 3rd platoon manned the PVCP on Letterkenny Road with the residue in Rosemount RUC station. There were no attacks on the Company and only a shooting at an RUC mobile patrol near Creggan Heights resulting in no casualties.
There is an accepted history that the Catholic community ignored the soldiers which was not true in the Battalion’s experience. Even in the Creggan most people including active terrorists were willing to chat to the soldiers. Indeed, if there were problems such as children going missing, the locals were willing to seek help from our soldiers. At this stage there continued to be an almost absence of the police in hardcore republican areas to deal with minor law and order issues.
1st Royal Hampshire engaged in a mainly successful community relations program. Each Sunday in both Fort George and Creggan bases activities were organised for Catholic and Protestant children in order to lessen tension though must be said at times the children ran wild. Community relations meetings were held on a regular basis in Masonic and Creggan. This allowed local people to discuss issues and raise concerns. Though it was mostly moderate nationalists who attended these meetings they were still worthwhile in keeping sections of the community if not supportive at least balanced in their attitudes towards the Army. It was recognised that the good community relations were not the panacea but were essential in this type of conflict
At the end of the tour after handover to the 1st Duke of Edinburgh’s Royal Regiment, 1st Royal Hampshire was deployed to Moscow Camp in Belfast to cover the period of the Orange Marches of 12th July in lieu of the spearhead battalion or another being brought over. By 14th July they had returned to Munster after another successful though quiet tour.
The success of an Roulement Tour is not measured only by kills and arrests but on the level of incidents. In that regard 1st Royal Hampshire, due to its imaginative patrolling, charm offensive and the basic cheerful approach of the soldiers had been successful. Of course, there were frustrations and more robust and aggressive action was warranted on occasions. The CO, Company Commanders and most of the NCOs understood they were part of an ongoing process to contain the IRA threat.