Operation BANNER & FERDY

RAF Wessex Helicopter, Eagle Patrol, Northern Ireland

Operation Banner & Ferdy
Northern Ireland, Aug 69 - Jul 07

The euphemistically named ‘Troubles’ had their roots in the Irish nationalist uprising in April 1916, which was brutally suppressed by the British Army.  There had many earlier issues, though, from conquest by the Normans not long after the Battle of Hastings, through brutal battles in Tudor and Stuart times to the unsuccessful fight for home rule in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Religious sectarian conflict became a recurrent theme in Irish history with the majority of the ruling class being Protestant.  At its worst, Catholics, representing some 85% of Ireland’s population, were banned from the Irish parliament and the vote.

In 1922 a guerrilla war began, marked by many atrocities on both sides, and most of Ireland won its independence. The six North-Eastern Counties, which had a Protestant majority, insisted on remaining part of the UK as Northern Ireland.  Northern Ireland itself was divided in its population, with the Provisional IRA and other terrorist organizations fighting to unite Northern Ireland with the Irish Republic, supported by a large majority of the Catholic population despite generally opposing their terrorist tactics. The IRA was opposed by the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland who supported the security measures taken by the British Government.

Thiepval Barracks, Northern Ireland
Helicopter Landing Zone and Radio Cabin, Bessbrook Mill, Northern Ireland
Helicopter Landing Zone and Radio Cabin, Bessbrook Mill, Northern Ireland
Op BANNER, Helicopter Hanger, RAF Aldergrove, NI
RAF Wessex - Eagle Patrol, Northern Ireland 1980
PTR 175 & ARC-52 Transceiver
092 Radio Communications Cabin
Wessex and Lynx Helicopter Landing Zone, Northern Ireland

Initial Deployment and Ongoing Commitments

The troubles began in earnest in July 1969 when a civil rights demonstration in Londonderry was broken up with great violence by Protestant paramilitary police, the B Specials. Protestants attacked Catholics throughout the province while the local militia and police stood by or actively helped.  The British Government intervened, sending the Army in to keep order in August 1969. The Catholics initially welcomed this protection from Protestant violence.

After a period of indecision, the British Government began correcting the civil rights issues of Northern Ireland but encountered heavy opposition from the Protestant Northern Ireland parliament at Stormont. Edward Heath, the Prime Minister, dissolved the Northern Ireland parliament in 1972 and, apart from a brief period in 1974, the province was directly ruled from London until full power was restored to the devolved parliament in 2007 following the Good Friday Agreement.

The violent outbreaks in the late 60’s encouraged and helped strengthen military groups such as the IRA who portrayed themselves as the protectors of working-class Catholics who were vulnerable to police and civilian brutality.  The Catholics developed “No-Go” areas in Londonderry, and new members flooded to IRA ranks helped by the worldwide recession hitting Northern Irish industries.

In July 1969, Tactical Communications Wing and Army signals personnel from Echo troop were sent to man the HQ communications centre at Thiepval Barracks, Lisburn, NI.   These Tactical Communications Wing personnel are believed to be the first from the RAF to be sent to Northern Island as a direct result of the Troubles, arriving before any RAF Regiment or Squadron personnel.  Tactical Communications Wing soon assumed further responsibility for providing communications to the Support Helicopter force and Tactical Supply Wing (TSW) detachments deployed across the province, with additional support for the Hercules aircraft as the first troops were airlifted to the Province in the August. With workload increasing, Tactical Communications Wing personnel began completing permanent six-week detachments, providing communications for 72 Sqn Wessex at Lisburn and Aldergrove using 092 cabins, ARC52 HF and PTR175 UHF radios.   TCW then deployed additional equipment and resources to Ballykelly Airfield, including Air Traffic Control, Mobile Airfield Aids and Radar equipment.

Air Traffic Control Tower, Ballykelly Airfield, Northern Ireland

Operation Ferdy

The Ballykelly airfield officially closed in 1971 when the site was then handed over to the Army, who renamed it Shackleton Barracks. However, under the name of Operation FERDY, Tactical Communications Wing maintained a commitment on the airfield supporting the navigational aids and associated equipment until July 2007.

Video: Operation BANNER - Helicopter Operations