Part 4; the Ulster Volunteer Force
Previously we have looked at republican armed groups and re-analysed the violent campaigns of those groups and those that they considered to be ‘legitimate targets’.
We will now look at Loyalist armed groups, beginning with the UVF and it’s smaller satellite organisations, namely the Red Hand Commando and Protestant Action Force.
The original UVF
The original Ulster Volunteer Force was formally established in 1913, in order to resist, by force if necessary, the imposition of ‘Home Rule’ on Ulster. At it’s height, the original UVF had more than 100,000 members organised into a multitude of brigades across the (then) nine counties of Ulster and including machine gun units, a medical corps, logistics corps etc.
Contrary to popular belief, the original UVF did not disappear when the Ulster Volunteers joined the British Army en masse in 1914/15, forming the 36th Ulster Division and going on to win eternal fame for their gallantry and heroism in the battles of the Great War, in particular the Battle of the Somme.
After the war, as Ireland slipped into the bloody and brutal War of Independence, the Ulster Volunteer Force remobilised to defend their homeland.
At one point, in May, 1920, the UVF even seized and (relatively briefly) held the city of Londonderry, an event now all but forgotten, apparently because it does not suit the Irish nationalist narrative.
With the establishment of the Ulster Special Constabulary, the Ulster Volunteers stood down, with many UVF veterans joining the newly commissioned ‘Specials’, enlisting in either the ‘A’ Specials or the more numerous ‘B’ Specials.Ulster Volunteer Force machine gun unit, 1914
Although there is some anecdotal evidence that the Ulster Volunteer Force once again organised, in a limited way, during WWII, the original UVF had, almost certainly, ceased to exist by the late 1940s.
The Second UVF
It is widely believed that the Ulster Volunteer Force re-emerged in 1966, with the establishment of the ‘Second UVF’ credited to Gusty Spence. However, Spence himself claimed that he was sworn in to an already extant organisation in 1966, and insisted that that organisation was already well established and had been since at least the early 1960s.
At the time, hardline Loyalist elements were anticipating a renewed campaign of republican violence; with the failed IRA “Border Campaign” of 1956-62 still fresh in their memories and the expectation of a new outbreak of violence to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the 1916 republican putsch now known as the Easter Rising, some within Loyalism saw violence as being inevitable.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is safe to say that those Loyalist hardliners were correct about the inevitably of bloodshed and were incorrect only about the chronology of events.UVF Press Conference, Circa 1972
This “Second UVF” began as an organisation of no more than around 40-50 members but grew rapidly at the onset of the Conflict. By the mid 1970s the ‘new’ Ulster Volunteer Force had grown to around 1200-1800 members, although this was the organisation’s highpoint, in terms of personnel.
Almost from it’s inception the ‘Second’ UVF was extremely active and was widely regarded as being ruthless, determined and uncompromising.
The Protestant Action Force
There is evidence to suggest that the Protestant Action Force (PAF) was a semi-independent group (or groups) within the UVF who were carrying out attacks on their own initiative, or without the official sanction of the central leadership. Although, alternatively, the PAF may have originally been an independent grouping which later came under the umbrella of the Ulster Volunteer Force.
The PAF first came to public attention in late 1974, claiming responsibility for a number of attacks in Belfast, South Antrim, South Tyrone and North Armagh. On the 24th November, 1974, shortly after the name ‘PAF‘ first appeared, an interview with three unidentified men was published in the sensationalist tabloid newspaper the ‘Sunday World’. The men claimed to represent a Loyalist group that had existed since 1971, was made up of former soldiers and had killed 28 people in the past two months.
The PAF faded from view around 1976, only to re-emerge in the early 1980s. Throughout the 80s the PAF was relatively active although by mid 1991 the group (or sub-group) had once again ceased it’s activities, or had, at least, stopped claiming responsibility for the attacks which they carried out, with all such actions claimed instead by the UVF.
Red Hand Commando
The Red Hand Commando was formed in 1972, in the Shankill area of West Belfast, by John McKeague, William “Plum” Smith and a number of others from the Shankill Defence Association.
Membership was high in the Shankill and Woodvale areas, in East Belfast, South Belfast, Newtownabbey, as well as in parts of Co. Down. The RHC agreed in 1972 to become an integral part of the UVF. It kept its own structures but in operational matters agreed to share weapons and personnel and often carried out attacks in the name of the Ulster Volunteer Force.
The RHC waged it’s paramilitary campaign from 1972 until the 1994 CLMC ceasefire. According to CAIN, the Red Hand Commando killed only 13 people during their campaign, however, it is known that the RHC carried out many killings and then allowed other Loyalist armed groups, mainly the UVF, to claim responsibility for the deaths.RHC volunteers
Interestingly, the Red Hand Commando is the only armed group in Ulster not to have had a ‘supergrass’ or informant within it’s ranks at any time. A feat attributed to the well disciplined and highly secretive nature of the organisation.
The UVF, RHC and PAF had a fairly wide range of ‘legitimate targets’, although certainly not as extensive or wide-ranging as that of the Provisional IRA or other Irish republican death squads.
Amongst those considered ‘legitimate targets’ by the UVF/RHC/PAF were-
- Members and former members of the Provisional IRA/Sinn Fein.
- Members and former members of the Official IRA/Workers Party.
- Members and former members of the INLA/IRSP.
- Members of the SDLP.
- High ranking GAA members and officials.
- Members and former members of the IPLO.
- Members of the Catholic Ex Servicemen’s Association.
- Nationalist/republican business owners suspected of aiding republican armed groups (including ‘fronts’ for money laundering etc)
At various times others would have been added to that list. For example, the UVF actively targeted Prison Officers during two brief periods of ‘the Troubles’, killing two Prison Officers, although for the vast majority of their campaign, the UVF would not have regarded prison staff as targets.
How Many ‘legitimate targets’ Were There?
It is extremely difficult, indeed almost impossible, to ascertain exactly how many people would have fallen into the category of ‘legitimate targets’ for the UVF, RHC and PAF.The aftermath of the McGurk’s Bar bomb attack
For example, how many people from a nationalist/republican background owned their own businesses during ‘the Troubles’, or at some period within that time, and how many of those would have been considered sympathetic enough to republican armed groups to have given them financial or material support?
One may as well ask how many dust particles are on Olympus Mons, the enormous Martian shield volcano, for there is simply no way to know for sure. We are left, therefore, to attempt to make a reasonable estimate, at least in this case.
Fortunately, for some of the other ‘target groups’ we have much more information and can, therefore, arrive at more accurate numbers.
For example, it is known that at an estimated 10,000-15,000 individuals passed through the ranks of the Provisional IRA throughout the Conflict, with that organisation having anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 active members at any one time.
If we assume that around 12,000 people were members of the Provisional IRA between 1969 and 1997, then that means that there were 12,000 members and former members of that group that were potential targets for the UVF/RHC/PAF.
As for Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Provisional IRA, membership numbers are difficult to come by but it is generally accepted that today the party has approximately 2,500-4,000 members in Northern Ireland.
The aftermath of the UVF ambush of a PIRA ‘active service unit’, Cappagh, East Tyrone, March, 1991.
Historically though, that membership would have been significantly lower during ‘the Troubles’. At the beginning of the Conflict membership of Provisional Sinn Fein was probably not more than 300 or 400. By around 1980, that membership would probably have risen to about 600-700.
One must also keep in mind that most of that membership would have been dedicated republicans who would have remained within the Provisional Republican Movement for most of their lives and that there would have been a significant overlap between PIRA and Sinn Fein with many ‘activists’ being members of both.
Therefore, we believe that it is reasonable to estimate that the number of people who were only members of Sinn Fein (during the entirety of ‘the Troubles’) to stand at around 1,400 in total.
Total number of PIRA/Sinn Fein members (and former members) = 13,400
It is estimated that the Official IRA had a total membership of between 1,500 and 2,000 during the entirety of ‘the Troubles’. With the Workers Party having a membership of around 300-500 (who were not also members of the OIRA). It would seem reasonable to simply “split the difference” and estimate the number of OIRA/WP members at a median figure between the lower and higher estimates.
Total number of OIRA/Workers Party members (and former members) = 2,150
Various sources estimate the membership of the INLA/IRSP during the Conflict to have been between 1,500-2,500. The IRSP was (and is) comprised almost entirely of persons who were also members of the INLA, the two organisations being scarcely distinguishable from each other. Therefore we will treat the INLA and IRSP as a single grouping.
Total number of INLA/IRSP members (and former members) = 2,000
The SDLP do not publish a membership list, or disclose how many people belong to the party, however, an SDLP spokesman said recently that party membership was “in the thousands and growing steadily”. That seems like something of an exaggeration and should probably be taken with a pinch of salt.
UVF mural, Londonderry.
I think it is safe to assume that the SDLP was a far larger party in the 70s, 80s and 90s than they are at present, I think that it is also safe to assume that given that we earlier (in Parts 2 & 3) estimated that the Ulster Unionist Party had a membership of around 2,400 throughout the entire conflict, that the numbers of people who passed through the ranks of the SDLP between 1971 and 1994 (when the Combined Loyalist Military Command declared a ceasefire) would have been not more than approximately 2,000, and that at any specific time, SDLP membership was probably not more than 1,000-1,400. We will continue to use the “split the difference” rule employed previously and estimate the number of SDLP members (at any given time period throughout ‘The Troubles’) as being around 1,200.
Total number of SDLP members/party activists = 1,200
The Ulster Volunteer Force and it’s satellite groups did not target rank-and-file members of the Gaelic Athletic Association as a matter of course but did (relatively) routinely target senior members and officials of that organisation.
By senior we mean those who sat on the so-called ‘Ulster Council’, those who sat on GAA County Boards and those who were chairmen or senior members of individual clubs.
Given the number of GAA clubs in Northern Ireland prior to 1994 (approximately 380), I think it is reasonable to assume that there would have been about 1,500 ‘senior‘ GAA members/officials.
Total number of ‘senior’ GAA members/officials = 1,500
The total number of IPLO members (1986-92) is given by Wikipedia as 150-200, with 30-40 ‘volunteers’ on Active Service at any given time.
It is our belief that that estimate is somewhat low and that a more reasonable estimate would be 180-220, with about 70-80 active members at any one time. We will assume a compromise figure of 200.
Funeral of IPLO ‘Chief of Staff’ Martin O’Prey, shot dead at his home by the UVF.
Total number of IPLO members (and former members) = 200
We know (from previous exhaustive research) that at it’s height the Catholic Ex-Servicemen’s Association had a membership of around 12,000. Due to the fact that the CESA was active for only about 4-5 years we feel that it would be reasonable to assume that the total number of those involved with that paramilitary grouping would be no higher than the 12,000 previously stated.
Total number of CESA members = 12,000
Nationalist/republican business owners suspected of aiding republican armed groups
At first glance it would seem an impossible task to estimate the number of ‘legitimate targets’ in this particular group. However, we can estimate with some degree of accuracy.
According to the 1981 census (1971 we feel would be too early, while 1991 would be too late) there were just over 1.5 million people resident in Northern Ireland. Of those, an estimated 586,000 were Catholics.
Of course, we cannot assume that every Roman Catholic in N. I. at that time was a nationalist or republican, so we will estimate the nationalist/republican population at around 550,000, as it would seem reasonable that at least 36,000 Catholics would (in 1981) have considered themselves either pro-Union or politically neutral.
How many of those people would have been under 18 or over 65? We believe that a reasonable, fairly conservative estimate, would be about 30%, or 165,000.
That leaves 385,000 people of working age, approximately. Of those, some 30% were either unemployed or “economically inactive” (ie full time carers, those unfit for work through disability, illness etc) in 1981. 30% of 385,000 = 115,500.
Now we must ascertain how many of the remainder- 269,500 would have owned a business. We have hypothesised that perhaps 12% would have owned a business. That gives us a figure of 32,340. That, however, is not the final figure.
Of those 32,340 we must now try to ascertain how many that Loyalist armed groups suspected of providing aid to Irish republican extremists. The exact figure is impossible to know; would it have been as high as 50%? As low as 5%?
Given the number of business owners actively targeted by the UVF, we believe that it is reasonable to assume that they regarded around 10% as providing aid to republican organisations.
This includes Belfast ‘black taxi’ firms and self-employed drivers who were
members of organisations known to have been fronts for the Provisional IRA, INLA etc., such as the Falls Taxi Association (also known as the West Belfast Taxi Association), Crumlin Star Taxi Association etc.
10% of 32,340 is 3,234- however, those who were operating such businesses in, for example 1974, would not necessarily have been still operating in 1986 or 1993. Therefore, we must adjust our figure upwards somewhat. Would it be credible to think that the final figure should be around 5,800? We believe that it would.
Total number of Nationalist/republican business owners suspected of aiding republican armed groups = 5,800
How many ‘legitimate targets’ were actually killed?
The UVF/RHC/PAF killed 33 members of the Provisional IRA/Sinn Fein
33 = 0.25% of 13,400
The UVF/RHC/PAF killed 9 members of the Official IRA/Workers Party
9 = 0.42% of 2,150
The UVF/RHC/PAF killed 5 members of the INLA/IRSP
5 = 0.25% of 2,000
The UVF/RHC/PAF killed 10 members of the SDLP
10 = 0.83% of 1,200
The UVF/RHC/PAF killed 19 ‘senior’ GAA members/officials
19 = 1.26% of 1,500
The UVF/RHC/PAF killed 2 members of the IPLO
2 = 1% of 200
The UVF/RHC/PAF killed 7 members of the CESA
7 = 0.06% of 12,000
The UVF/RHC/PAF killed 24 Nationalist/republican business owners
24 = 0.41% of 5,800
Total number of ‘legitimate targets’ killed = 108
Total number of available targets = 38,210
108 = 0.28% of 38,210
The UVF have killed more people than any other Loyalist paramilitary group. CAIN states that the UVF/PAF and Red Hand Commando were responsible for 485 killings during ‘the Troubles‘. According to Lost Lives (2006 edition), it was responsible for 569 killings. Our research shows that the UVF/RHC/PAF were responsible for approximately 515 deaths during the Conflict.Ulster Volunteer Force show of strength
If we subtract the number of so-called ‘legitimate targets’ (108) from the number of people actually killed by the UVF/PAF and Red Hand Commando (515) we arrive at a figure of 407, however, not all of those 407 people were innocent civilians who were killed indiscriminately.
17 were alleged informers.
5 were alleged anti-social
6 were members of the Security Forces.
6 were individuals killed in feuds.
2 were members of the UVF or RHC executed for “war crimes”.
15 were members of the UVF killed by their own actions or the actions of their comrades.
2 were members of the Prison Service.
42 were civilians killed in attacks outside of Northern Ireland.
6 were relatives of republican prisoners (deliberately targeted).
4 were persons killed unintentionally during attacks on the homes of named targets.
2 were individuals killed in attacks on PIRA funerals.
Total number of ‘others’ killed = 107
When we subtract those 107 persons, classified as “others”, we arrive at a figure of 300. 407 minus 107 = 300. How many of those 300 people were targeted because of unreliable information will never be known. Certainly, at least some of those people were targeted and killed because the UVF/PAF and Red Hand Commando believed that they were legitimate targets.
That in no way excuses the killing of civilians, many of whom were killed in indiscriminate and sectarian attacks. However, it does rather destroy the myth that Loyalist paramilitary groups were mindless killers who slaughtered their victims entirely, or even mostly, at random.
Only a small fraction of the so-called ‘legitimate targets’ available were actually killed by the Ulster Volunteer Force, Protestant Action Force and Red Hand Commando, although that fraction is comparable to, and in some instances surpasses, the number of ‘legitimate targets’ killed by republican groups.
In conclusion, though the UVF/PAF and Red Hand Commando were certainly not the indiscriminate killers that they have subsequently been portrayed as being, their armed campaign was, nevertheless, not successful.
Infiltration by the agencies of the state, the so-called “Supergrass trials”, the callous, brutal and psychotic activities of the “Shankill Butchers”, the fractious nature of the relationship between the Mid Ulster Brigade and the Belfast based leadership, combined with the inactivity of UVF units (and sometimes entire brigades) in North Ulster, Co. Down and other areas of the country meant that the armed campaign of the UVF/PAF/RHC was neither sustainable nor likely to achieve a decisive and final military victory.
In Part 5 will re-examine the armed campaign of the UDA and the Ulster Freedom Fighters