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11 Fd Sqn 1970-1980

11 Fd Sqn
1970-1980

In 1971 38 Engr Regt in Ripon was made responsible for providing Harrier support to the RAF, both for the Allied Command Europe Mobile Force (AMF) and RAF Germany. 11 Sqn was placed in support of 1 Squadron RAF based at Wittering with an operational role in support of the AMF in Norway.

Harrier Support, however, was not the only activity of 11 Sqn, which took its fair share of deployments to Belize, Oman, and Northern Ireland, together with engineer exercises in Kenya, Canada and elsewhere. The Sqn could also expect at least one month on Harrier support in BAOR of which about two weeks co- incided with an RAF exercise. The first ten days of such exercises usually involved the Sappers in hectic site preparation of pads and strips and the construction of hides and fuel bunds, with at least one alternative set of sites for each Harrier Squadron. One the RAF had finished there was much clearance, lifting of pads and strips and making good to be done.

It was quite an education for Sappers to live and work with the RAF in the field and each learnt much from the other as mutual trust built up. In particular, the RAF NBC drills were particularly thorough and the RAF Regiment showed themselves to be a most effective security force as well as providing healthy rivalry in local bars before and after exercises. Comfort levels in the deployment areas with good tentage and centralized messing were relished by soldiers used to the more Spartan army conditions normally encountered.

Prior to 1969 Northern Ireland affairs played little part in the activities of the Corps, and it was Jun 1970 before the first troop from 11 Field Squadron deployed to the Province. There they assisted with the construction of watchtowers and road blocks. Between Oct 1971 and Feb of the following year, first a

troop and then the whole of 11 Sqn was employed on Operation ASHBURTON. This involved the closure of the numerous unapproved border crossing points, using cratering, and the erection of barriers. Such was the tempo of the work that 75 roads were kept closed despite the attempts of the local population to reopen them.

It had long been apparent that one field squadron was inadequate to provide even the minimum level of engineer support required in the Province, and in turn 11 Sqn was deployed on a four month roulement tour to Long Kesh, an internment camp which later became known as Her Majesty's Prison Maze.

11 Sqn were also kept busy closer to home, forming the Guard of Honour on HM The Queen Mother's visit to Ripon Cathedral on 18 Jul 1972, the building's 1,300th anniversary.

Late 1972 saw 11 Sqn take a brief respite from the violence of Northern Ireland, with one troop on a roulement tour in Belize and one in Gibraltar on the Europa Road Project, both for six month tours. The Sqn was to return to the Province from Jun-Oct 1973, when the OC, Maj R Jarman, was tragically killed in action.

In May 1974 11 Sqn was called upon to assist with the havoc created by the Ulster Workers' Council Strike. In protest against the Sunningdale Agreement and the power sharing executive, the strike badly affected the output of the power stations in the Province, on which the population depended. Protestant
paramilitaries forced thousands of people not to go into work, and very soon not only was electricity in short supply but food, milk, oil and petrol. On 28 May the Executive resigned, the Northern Ireland Assembly was prorogued and direct rule from Westminster reimposed.

Units in Northern Ireland needed to continue with close quarter battle training, preferably without having to return to the mainland, and in 1976 a plan was drawn up to build a range at Ballykinler. The main construction work on the range was undertaken by 11 Sqn, who completed the task a month ahead of
schedule despite great difficulties in obtaining supplies of materials. Once completed, it was a much valued and well used training area, reflecting the urban environment found in the Province.

Upon their return to the UK in 1976, 11 Sqn undertook a MACC Task, Exercise HIGHLAND LEAP, to repair bridges in Callander and Arrochar in Scotland. An article submitted to Sapper magazine after the event recalled that "the appreciation of the local inhabitants was shown in liquid form, and the (Sqn was quite sad to leave)".

A detachment from 11 Field Squadron carried out a tour in Mar 1977, clearing tracks of mines, forward helipads laid during operations, and assistance given with defensive positions. Two major tasks were the construction of the Mudhai to Manston road and the construction of wire and obstacles on the Hornbeam line. This was the largest operational obstacle built by the Corps since Korea and stretched inland for 30 miles over rugged country from Mugshayl on the coast to the edge of the desert.

In Oct 1977,11 Sqn took part in the NE District March and Shoot competition, Exercise STAINTON CHASE II. The teams consisted of mainly Gunners and Infantry, and 11 Sqn's team did extremely well to achieve second place in spite of only a minimal amount of training time available.

11 Fd Sqn conducted two more tours of Northern Ireland, from Mar-Nov 1978 and from
Oct 1979 - Feb 1980.
In the Feb 79 The Sqn went to Monterey, California. One our return we were seconded be ambulance drivers during another strike which almost caused me to miss my own wedding! One of our drivers had to drive a kid with a broken neck between hospitals in an army ambulance because the strikers would not allow us to use a real one.

2 comments:

  1. FRom Steven Cox
    Some additions and one correction for your history.

    In the Feb 79 entry the Sqn went to Monterey, California.

    One our return we were seconded be ambulance drivers during another strike which almost caused me to miss my own wedding! One of our drivers had to drive a kid with a broken neck between hospitals in an army ambulance because the strikers would not allow us to use a real one.

    In Apr/May 79 we did another Harrier exercise.

    In 1980 before the commando exercise in Norway we did a preparatory one on the south coast.

    On the way to Norway it was the first time the RFA had all its troop carriers together for a while and so we did anti submarine exercises on the way over in a gale! From memory we took five days to get to Norway.

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  2. 1974,We built the biggest sight screen ever around the maze.Same year sight screen at the range in Dungannon.
    74/75 Southern Sudan,Rebuild of Mundri Bridge amongst other things.
    Tom Coull

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