• April 29, 2019

Scotland’s Sunday Herald newspaper carries a story last weekend saying that the former Commander of the Force Research Unit (FRU) in N. Ireland, Gordon Kerr, is to be questioned by police involved in ‘Operation Kenova’:


FRU was the successor to “4 Field Survey Troop, Royal Engineers”. The innocuous cover name was introduced in 1973 and abandoned in 1975. Captain Fred Holroyd claimed this was an SAS unit under cover at the Royal Engineers’ base at Castledillon, County Armagh. Holroyd said he worked with the members of this unit and that members were told that it was a NITAT (Northern Ireland Training and Tactics Team).

Holroyd later ‘resigned’ from the Army (1976), although he later asserted he was forced to resign by MI6 because he objected to the methods being used. Holroyd also gave evidence to the Justice Barron inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings carried out by British Army pseudo-gangs.

Operation Kenova (enquiring into the activities of the intelligence operative codemaned ‘Stakeknife’) remit is;

“to ascertain whether there is evidence of the commission of criminal offences by the alleged agent including but not limited to, murders, attempted murders or unlawful imprisonments attributed to the Provisional IRA. It will also look at whether there is evidence of criminal offences having been committed by members of the British Army, the Security Services or other government personnel.”


In the background to this ongoing series of enquiries is the presence of Frank Kitson (Brigadier and later Genera).

It has been known for years that the use of gangs and counter gangs was part of the counter insurgency mantra of the British Army it was particularly honed Brigadier Kitson and was first used in Kenya and Malaya before being exported for use in the six counties

In 2015 an assessment for another article for Celtic League I cited the work of John Newsinger’s work ‘British Counter-Insurgency; From Palestine to Northern’ in which he says:

“Kitson (Brigadier Frank Kitson) was also responsible for developing the use of covert operations in Northern Ireland. This was hardly a new development but was a feature of every British post war counterinsurgency campaign. Certainly the activities of the Military Reconnaissance Force (MRF) and other similar detachments were effective at fighting the IRA with its own methods. Robin Evelegh actually laments the fact that during his tours in Northern Ireland he was not allowed to put more than 20 per cent of his battalion into plain clothes and argues that 50 soldiers in civilian dress were more effective that 400 in battledress.

Nevertheless, covert operations have their own inherent drawbacks. As historian Charles Townshend has pointed out, this ‘mimetic process’ holds considerable dangers with an inevitable tendency for the army’s counter- or pseudo-gangs to run out of control and resort to assassination”

Kitson went on from N. Ireland to Commandant of the British Army Staff College at Camberley. His book ‘Low Intensity Operations’ and other papers he wrote are part of the ‘cultural DNA’ of the British Army.

Just what a ruthless ‘cold fish’ Kitson was is illustrated by another author Fred Holroyd.
Holroyd was a former Army Intelligence officer with knowledge of the British Army murder gangs.

In his book ‘War without Honour” (page 29) Holroyd writes about a lecture Kitson gave at the British Army base at Ashford (The Joint Services Intelligence Training Centre) in 1973. Speaking of Kitson he says:

“He was rightly considered the top man in his field. Kitson spoke very clearly and very slowly, almost as if he was addressing a crowd of schoolchildren; and I realised the tactical philosophy he was expounding was rather different from that normally associated with the British Army. The logic of the use of infiltration, pseudo-gangs and deep interrogation, to defeat terrorist opposition was nonetheless compelling. I was yet to see how it worked in practice – and just how it could involve breaking the law and imitating terrorism to achieve its ends.”

It remains to be seen if the Operation Kenova effort will enjoy any more success that other earlier efforts and indeed the ‘Historical Enquiries’ ongoing in relation to unsolved murders. However clearly the pressure is on to resolve a number of controversial execution type murders carried out by the British Army and pseudo-gangs of loyalists employed by them on both sides of the Irish border.


British Counter-Insurgency; From Palestine to Northern Ireland (John Newsinger) ISBN 0-333-79385-4 (Publisher: Palgrave)

War Without Honour (Fred Holroyd) ISBN 1-872398-00-6 (The Medium Publishing Co).

Low Intensity Operations: Subversion, Insurgency and Peacekeeping by Frank Kitson (ISBN: 9780571271023)

Image: ‘A cold fish’: Brigadier Frank Kitson in the early days of the troubles. He wrote the British Armies ‘bible’ on counter insurgency ‘Low Intensity Operations’ which advocates the use of pseudo-gangs.

Bernard Moffatt

Assistant General Secretary
Celtic League

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