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The covert plan to smash the IRA in Derry on Bloody Sunday by David Burke

The behaviour of Support Company of 1 Para, also known as ‘Kitson’s Private Army’, on Bloody Sunday, indicates that a secret mission was assigned to them, or some designated number of them. The 'Kitson' referred to here was Brigadier Frank Kitson, the British Army's counter-insurgency specialist.


The 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday massacre falls next month. The official position of the British Government is based on the 2010 report of Lord Saville of Newdigate, i.e., that a group of paratroopers engaged in the massacre of thirteen innocent people in Derry with a fourteenth dying later, for no reason.

Unfortunately, Saville ignored or discounted much evidence that indicates that the soldiers were acting on orders.

He paid scant attention to the crucial role played by a deceitful agent run by Military Intelligence and MI5 called ‘Observer B’.

He was unduly harsh on Byron Lewis, a paratrooper who blew the whistle on his colleagues.

The two companies of paratroopers of 1 Para that went to Derry on Bloody Sunday were meant to be on the same mission, following the same orders. Yet, they behaved as if they were on different operations. The orders followed by Support Company, also known as ‘Kitson’s Private Army’, indicates that a secret mission was assigned to them, or some designated number of them. The ‘Kitson’ referred to here  was Brigadier Frank Kitson, the counter-insurgency specialist who ran Belfast and its environs.

1. Chain of Command

The senior British officers present in Derry on Bloody Sunday and mentioned in this article in order of their seniority were:

  • General Robert Ford, Commander Land Forces Northern Ireland.
  • Brigadier Patrick MacLellan of 8 Brigade, which ran Derry.
  • Colonel Derek Wilford, who commanded 1 Para.
  • Major Edward Loden who commanded Support Company of 1 Para.
General Ford, Brigadier MacLellan, Colonel Wilford and Major Loden.

No criticism is made of Brigadier MacLellan in this article. If there was a hidden plan that unfolded on Bloody Sunday, it was conceived and executed behind his back.

2. General Ford foists 1 Para on Brigadier MacLellan

In the run up to Bloody Sunday, the Brigadier of 8 Brigade in Derry, Patrick MacLellan, was ordered by his immediate superior, General Robert Ford, to make preparations to prevent a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) march from reaching the Guildhall in Derry on 30 January 1972. Ford was based at HQNI at Lisburn.

Brigadier MacLellan, seen here with Harold Wilson. No criticism is made of his role in Bloody Sunday in this article.

MacLellan was lent troops from 1 Para to assist him on Bloody Sunday, or so he was led to believe. 1 Para was based at Palace Barracks, Hollywood, outside Belfast. They normally conducted their operations in that city.

3. ‘Corking the bottle’

Ostensibly, the plan for 30 January was to prevent the NICRA march from reaching the Guildhall and, if appropriate, arrest likely rioters. The rioters were to be caught by putting “a cork in the bottle”, as Captain (later General Sir) Michael Jackson of 1 Para has described it. This meant encircling and trapping the rioters before arresting them. This operation was to take place at the end of William Street. Please look at the map which accompanies this article. The rioters were to be captured between Barrier 14 (shaded yellow) and the junction of Little James Street and William Street. The Support Company troops who were meant to be behind Barrier 12 (shaded red) could have swung around from Little James Street (red arrow) and blocked an escape route back along William Street or up Rossville Street. The peaceful NICRA marchers followed the line shaded in purple from William Street to Rossville Street. A group of rioters did present on the day.

4. Two Companies which were meant to – but didn’t – perform the same task

Two different companies from 1 Para were sent to Derry on Bloody Sunday:  C Company and Support Company.

In theory, they fell under the temporary command of Brig. MacLellan. (Their brigadier in Belfast was Brigadier Frank Kitson). Although both groups were allegedly assigned the same task by their commander, Col Wilford, Support Company behaved in a completely different manner to C Company.

Brigadier (later General Sir) Frank Kitson)

C Company was put behind Barrier 14.

Support Company was sent to a yard at a Presbyterian Church on Great James  Street which was much further away from the area where the rioting was expected to take place.

5. Differences in preparation and deployment

There were a number of differences in the deployment of the two companies  [C company and Support Company], which include the following:

  • Location of Forming Up Points (FUPs)
  • Use of rifles instead of batons;
  • Application of war paint;
  • Use of vehicles;
  • Discharge of shots.
The actions of Support Company did not provoke the IRA into action on Bloody Sunday.

{i} Location of Forming Up Points (FUPs)

C Company’s FUP was behind Barrier 14 which is shown on the map that accompanies this article. This makes sense in terms of MacLellan’s plan. They were well positioned to block the march should an attempt have been made to break through to the Guildhall. It also left them strategically placed to rush forward and encircle any potential rioters.

Support Company would have been well advised to have formed up as close to the junction between William Street and Little James Street as possible. Barrier 12 should have been moved up much closer to the junction. They should have been behind it in light clothes ready to swing around to ‘cork the bottle’.

Note the distance between the church and the junction between William Street and Little James, especially taking the route through Barrier 12.

The two companies could have infiltrated the side roads as well and thereby blocked any attempts to escape through them.

Yet, Support Company – based at the churchyard – were not within running distance from the likely rioters whom the army termed the ‘DYH’ [the Derry Young Hooligans]. There was little chance that Support Company could ‘cork the bottle’ from a starting point at the Presbyterian Church on Great James Street. The rioters would have seen soldiers running at them from Little James Street in plenty of time to make an escape by sprinting up Rossville Street.

The deployment of Support Company at the church was guaranteed to defeat the purpose of MacLellan’s arrest plan.

Again, note the distance between the church and the junction between William Street and Little James

{ii} Primary use of rifles instead of batons;

C Company wielded batons or kept their arms free to grab, wrestle and tackle the rioters when they went into action. Some may have used the butts of rifles strapped over their shoulders to strike the rioters. Crucially, they did not deploy with fingers on the triggers of their weapons.

Yet, on Bloody Sunday, Support Company held rifles in their fists from the moment they leapt from their vehicles. Batons would have been far more suitable for the arrest of rioting or fleeing YDHs.

Why did the men of Support Company go into action holding guns?

{iii} Application of war paint;

Soldiers E, G and J

The troops of Support Company applied war paint to their faces, a tell-tale sign that they expected to engage in a gun battle. A round white face presents a good target for a gunman. By applying war paint to the face, the target becomes more difficult to find. It also had the potential to rev up the Paras who could  expect to be fired upon, and was preparation for a gun battle; not an arrest operation.

Who ordered them – well in advance of their deployment – to wear war paint?

{iv} Use of vehicles;

C Company carried out their work on foot as MacLellan had ordered. Support Company, however, used vehicles and raced away from the rioting area up Rossville Street towards the Bogside contrary to his orders.

{v} Discharge of shots by Support Company only.

All of the declared  army shots [108] were claimed exclusively by Support Company and not even one apparently from C Company. This is redolent of a pre-ordained battled plan and separation of roles between the two companies. It would be far-fetched for it to have been  a coincidence. That is not credible.

6. The strange presence of radio operators.

Radio operators on duty during Bloody Sunday.

Crucially, each of the Support Company units that deployed from their convoy of Saracens (‘pigs’) had a radio operator. There may have been seven such operators. They had no chance of catching fleeing rioters. There was no need for radio operators on such a task. They were not used in Belfast to chase after rioters.

This raises the spectre that the Support Company radio operators and their colleagues were earmarked for a ruthless clandestine counterinsurgency mission, one carried out behind MacLellan’s back. It indicates a plan to deploy Support Company to the location where they carried out the Bloody Sunday massacre, i.e. the area in the vicinity of the Rossville Flats. The use of vehicles was suitable for such a deployment. This offers one credible explanation for their distant  placement at the churchyard on Great James  Street: it had room for the vehicles and it was never envisaged that they would deploy on foot. It would also explain their carriage of weapons and painted faces.

It also explains the presence of radio operators. In military terms, radio equipment is required where troops intend or are likely to spread out into units and each unit needs to be able to communicate with its commander.

7. Colonel Wilford’s ‘unusual’ visit to Soldiers F and H

Lance Corporal David Cleary (Soldier F). He described Wilford’s visit to talk to him and Soldier H shortly before the Bloody Sunday massacre as ‘unusual’.

Colonel Wilford visited David Cleary (Soldier F) and Soldier H at their FUP at the Presbyterian Church. Cleary has never described in detail what orders Wilford gave him at this late stage. He has, however, acknowledged that it was “unusual” for an officer of Wilford’s rank to make such a visit.

What did Wilford order Cleary and Soldier H, two of the most prolific Bloody Sunday killers to do?

8. Byron Lewis, Support Company Radio Operator

Byron Lewis was a radio operator with Support Company. After he leapt from his “pig”, he moved forward and raised his rifle but “on tracking across the people in front” of him, he could see a crowd which included “women and children although the majority were men … [but] no one with a weapon”. He lowered his rifle. Yet, members of the crowd were shouting “wildly”. According to Lewis:

“I remember thinking looking at my friends who had now grown to half a dozen in a line side-by-side, do they know something I don’t know? What are they firing at? Opposite us I could see members of the machine-guns (sic) helmeted and black faced in a standing position also pumping off rounds at quite a rapid rate. In the initial 30 seconds I would say that 100 rounds were fired at the crowd … Several people had dropped, bodies were being dragged away, men were lying on their faces crawling along the pavement in front of Rossville flats in an effort to get away. After an eternity of timeless moments and sights [Major ] Loden’s voice came on the radio and ordered a ceasefire. I knew the blokes were getting in while the going was good as people with gleeful expressions were running up from the rear and elbowing their way through to get into the firing line”.

TV footage exists during which Loden can be heard shouting: “Do not fire back for the moment unless you identify a quality target”.

Lewis relayed Loden’s order to “cease-fire” by running along the line of soldiers tapping them on their shoulders. The firing slacked and died as the crowd dispersed. Then, in defiance of Loden, Soldier F and others moved into Glenfada Park where they would continue the murder spree. According to Lewis:

“[Soldiers] E, H, G and F and myself then leapt the wall, turned right and ran down Kells Walk into Glenfada Park, a small triangular car park within the complex of flats. A group of some 40 civilians were there running in an effort to get away. H fired from the hip at a range of 20 yards. The bullet passed through one man and into another and they both fell, one dead and one wounded. He then moved forward and fired again, killing the wounded man. They lay sprawled together, half on the pavement and half in the gutter. E shot another man at the entrance of the park who also fell on the pavement. A fourth man was killed by either G or F. I must point out that this whole incident in Glenfada Park occurred in fleeting seconds”.

Lewis recalled that when the soldiers first appeared in Glenfada Park, the people had “turned to face us and raised their hands”. That was the way they were standing “when they were shot”. Moments later a “Catholic priest ran across to the bodies shouting about giving the last rites, he was clubbed down with rifle butts. A hysterical woman, short, fat, about 50 years old dressed in black was crying uncontrollably about one of her sons being shot. She too was beaten and I recall soldiers kicking her when she was on the ground”.

Why did the EFGH unit disobey the orders of their major? Unfortunately, the best-case scenario is that favoured by Saville, i.e., that they were bad eggs somehow consumed by a lust to kill unarmed civilians who posed no threat to them. The worst-case scenario is that they were in receipt of secret orders from Wilford to provoke a reaction from the IRA, if the local gunmen looked like they were not going to defend the Bogside. Such a mendacious plot could have been conceived as an insurance policy to hand 1 Para the excuse it needed to invade ‘Free Derry’, i.e. a street battle with the IRA. In this respect, it should be recalled that neither wing of the IRA had taken the bait during an earlier scheme to goad them into action called ‘Operation Hailstone’. It had taken place the previous July.

During ‘Operation Hailstone’, 1 Para had done little more than conduct a few searches to provoke the DYH and the IRA and had elicited no response from either group. Shooting civilians was, however, a far more serious provocation. If there were forty IRA men or Auxiliaries, as an MI5 agent had predicted, the chance that one or two of them would have responded was enormous. (The role of the MI5 spy will be touched upon again later in this article.)

There is insufficient space in this article to outline the many reasons why Byron Lewis was a credible witness. Yet, Saville attacked some of his evidence (i.e. that which pointed to pre-meditation) but not that which suited his conspiracy theory that the soldier spun out of control. I go into this in more detail about this in my book, ‘Kitson’s Irish War: Mastermind of the Dirty War in Ireland’.

This photograph may include some of General Ford’s communications command on Bloody Sunday.

9. Radio Control, General Ford and his mobile communications unit

General Ford, the most senior officer present in Derry on Bloody Sunday, told the Widgery (1972) and Saville inquiries (1998-2010) that he had gone to Derry as an observer. Yet, he flew up in a helicopter and then joined a truck which had gone ahead of him. It contained radio equipment and a radio controller. He was also accompanied by armed bodyguards.

The frequency upon which he broadcast and received incoming signals is still not known.

General Ford. (This picture was not taken on Bloody Sunday.)

10. The MI5 Spy

Military Intelligence and MI5 ran a shared spy who operated in the no-go area known as ‘Free Derry’. The RUC and British troops were excluded from ‘Free Derry’. The spy invented a yarn that 40 Republican gunmen would be present in the Bogside. This must have been like a red rag to a bull in so far as Ford, Kitson and Wilford were concerned. There is insufficient space to go into the role of the MI5 agent in more detail here, but I do so over a number of chapters in ‘Kitson’s Irish War’.

C Company paid some heed to what Brigadier MacLellan had ordered them to do in so far as his instructions were for them to remain on foot if sent forward to catch rioters.

Support Company ignored this part of MacLellan’s direction. General Ford, who was MacLellan’s superior officer, was entitled to override his commands. He had the radio equipment to issue any order he liked. He had also had discussions with Col Wilford before Bloody Sunday and was in contact with him on the day.

It is not fanciful to suggest that a plan was put in place to take out the IRA and reclaim ‘Free Derry’ for the Crown.

11. Lord Saville got it wrong

Saville did not consider that there was a plan behind the apparent madness of Bloody Sunday. It involved Cleary, Soldier H and others from Support Company rushing towards the Bogside in ‘pigs’ wearing war paint while holding rifles in their hands. It would also explain why they fanned out in an attack pattern to confront the 40 IRA gunmen they expected to encounter and retake the Bogside and end ‘Free Derry’..

If there was such a plan, it backfired because the IRA was not active in the Bogside on the day.

In this scenario. Soldiers EFGH and others were not gripped by a group frenzy out of the blue, which drove them to shoot at individuals. Instead, they were operating to orders from Ford and his small team which included a radio operator.

Crucially, this operation has the appearance of one which was in gestation long before the MI5 spy started to peddle his lies. Clearly, it would have gone ahead even without them. His contribution, however, poured petrol on a burning fire. His motive was the accrual of filthy lucre. 14 people died because of his greed for money. Hundreds were wounded or beaten up. Thousands of lives were destroyed. The Provisional IRA received an enormous boost to their campaign. NICRA was diminished. The reputation of the British army was dragged through the mud across the globe. The impact as in all such events of this type and magnitude is inter-generational. The damage has not yet been staunched.

David James Cleary, better known as Soldier F, knows the truth about what happened on Bloody Sunday.

The British Government is determined to bring in legislation to prevent the prosecution of Cleary and other soldiers who killed people in Northern Ireland.

The families of some of Cleary’s victims have taken a judicial review to reinstate the criminal prosecution against him. A decision is imminent.

David Burke is the author of ‘Kitson’s Irish War’. It can be purchased here:



Soldier F’s Bloody Sunday secrets. David Cleary knows enough to blackmail the British government.

Learning to kill

Colin Wallace: Bloody Sunday, a very personal perspective

Lying like a trooper. Internment, murder and vilification. Did Brigadier Kitson instigate the Ballymurphy massacre smear campaign? Where was Soldier F and his ‘gallant’ death squad during it?

Another bloody mess. Frank Kitson’s contribution to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. 300,000 have died in Afghanistan since 1979.

Lying like a trooper. Internment, murder and vilification. Did Brigadier Kitson instigate the Ballymurphy massacre smear campaign? Where was Soldier F and his ‘gallant’ death squad during it?

A Foul Unfinished Business. The shortcomings of, and plots against, Saville’s Bloody Sunday Inquiry.

Kitson’s Private Army: the thugs, killers and racists who terrorised Belfast and Derry. Soldier F was one of their number.

Soldier F and Brigadier Kitson’s elite ‘EFGH’ death squad: a murderous dirty-tricks pattern is emerging which links Ballymurphy with Bloody Sunday. A second soldier involved in both events was ‘mentioned in despatches’ at the behest of Kitson for his alleged bravery in the face of the enemy.

Mentioned in Despatches. Brigadier Kitson and Soldier F were honoured in the London Gazette for their gallantry in the face of the enemy during the internment swoops of August 1971.

Soldier F, the heartless Bloody Sunday killer, is named.

Mission accomplished. The unscrupulous judge who covered-up the Bloody Sunday murders. Soldier F and other paratroopers have been protected by the British State for five decades. None of them now face prosecution. This perversion of justice began with the connivance of the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, John Widgery, a former British Army brigadier, Freemason and oath-breaker.

Counterinsurgency war criminals, liars and cowards: Kitson and Wilford, the brigadier and colonel who led the soldiers who perpetrated the Ballymurphy Massacre.

Brigadier Kitson’s motive for murdering unarmed civilians in Ballymurphy.

The McGurk’s Bar cover-up. Heath’s Faustian pact. How a British prime minister covered up a UVF massacre in the hope of acquiring Unionist votes to enable the UK join the European Economic Community, the forerunner of the EU.