In late 1972, according to a Northern Ireland Ofﬁce brief, its operations were brought under a more centralised control and a higher standard of training was introduced by establishing a Special Reconnaissance Unit (SRU) of 130 all ranks under the direct command of HQNI. It was classic British modus operandi in the wake of bad publicity – to re-form and re-name. On 15th November, a top-level memo entitled ‘Special Operations for HQNI’ was sent from Major JB Howard to the to the General Ofﬁcer Commanding (GOC) informing him that the Chief of the General Staff (CGS) accepted the need for an organisation to handle special troops despite the heavy overheads that would be involved in recruiting and maintaining such a high calibre of soldier. He speciﬁed that nobody who had served in the SAS for the previous three years would be allowed to join. Soldiers would volunteer for an unaccompanied tour of one year for special plain-clothes intelligence duties in Northern Ireland. The GOC undertook to report to CGS on the numbers required at a meeting on 17th November.
The Defence Secretary, Lord Carrington, sent a similar minute to the Prime Minister on 28th November in which he sought agreement for the use of volunteers with SAS training as the basis for reorganising ‘the old Military Reaction Forces’ into what became the Special Reconnaissance Unit (SRU). He agreed that serving members of 22 SAS and any men who had served with them within the previous three years would be excluded and every attempt would be made to conceal SAS involvement.
Official documents show that the Special Reconnaissance Unit was still in existence in 1976, and under cover of names such as 14 Intelligence Company, its heritage can be traced to the modern Special Reconnaissance Regiment.
Urwin’s report is cited in Anne Cadwallader’s new book Lethal Allies: British Collusion in Ireland, which documents the activities of the Glennane Gang, a group of loyalists, RUC officers and UDR soldiers which killed over 120 people in the mid 1970s.
Key extracts from Lethal Allies will be posted on the Spinwatch website in coming days.