faro From Egypt, joined Aug 2007, 1745 posts, RR: 0 Posted (5 years 9 months 2 weeks 2 days 21 hours ago) and read 8421 times:
From the Wiki re the 2006 BBC program "The Plot Against Harold Wilson":
"In 1974 the Army occupied Heathrow Airport on the grounds of training for possible IRA terrorist action there, however Baroness Falkender (a senior aide and intimate friend of Wilson) asserted that it was ordered as a practice-run for a military takeover or as a show of strength as the government itself was not informed of such an exercise based around a key point in the nation's infrastructure."
Does anyone recall such occupation of LHR at the time? What would it amount to in practical terms for airline operations? Were there any other such military occupations of important civil airports in recent history?
DLPMMM From United States of America, joined Apr 2005, 3670 posts, RR: 11
Reply 2, posted (5 years 9 months 2 weeks 2 days 20 hours ago) and read 8294 times:
Quoting faro (Thread starter): "In 1974 the Army occupied Heathrow Airport on the grounds of training for possible IRA terrorist action there, however Baroness Falkender (a senior aide and intimate friend of Wilson) asserted that it was ordered as a practice-run for a military takeover or as a show of strength as the government itself was not informed of such an exercise based around a key point in the nation's infrastructure."
A military coup in the UK in 1974?
I think the Baroness is more than a bit paronoid. I think the term over the pond is "Daft".
fcogafa From United Kingdom, joined May 2008, 1123 posts, RR: 0
Reply 3, posted (5 years 9 months 2 weeks 2 days 19 hours ago) and read 8130 times:
It was not unusual in those days to see troops, armoured cars and small tanks trundling around Heathrow. I remember wondering what the point of a tank here was, I couldn't imagine them ever having occasion to fire shells airside - think of the damage that would cause!
I remember this happening. I was down at LHR on the day the Army clamped down on security. There was me walking around with my daysack on my back with various squaddies looking at me as if they wanted to practise their arrest procedures.
I can also remember when BHX had a major security exercise in the early 1980's (1983 I think). The first I found out about the exercise was when I was walking my dog around the perimeter fence to find the fence down with a suspicious group of people dressed in black with non standard rifles keeping me away from my normal route.
Chinooks and various other bits of kit were flying in and out at all hours of the day.
The excercise lasted about a week and included a friends father (who was working on security at the Airport) being told he was now dead! He should not answer his radio / phone and should stay where he was until the police advised he could go.
He asked how he had been shot (as he had seen no-one approach him) and was pointed in the direction of a roof-top where a sniper stared back at him!!!
adg737800 From United Kingdom, joined Sep 2008, 100 posts, RR: 0
Reply 7, posted (5 years 9 months 2 weeks 2 days 12 hours ago) and read 7570 times:
It's all very much alleged but it seems there was a time in the 1970s when Britain came very close to a military coup due to the government and policies of Harold Wilson. It was a time of massive industrial unrest and there was a feeling amongst some quarters that Britain's position was threatened.
I remember the TV show a couple of years ago, on the whole not sensationalist, where the allegations were examined and the army exercise at Heathrow was 'allegedly' (and I stress allegedly in the face of a lack of firm evidence) a dress rehearsal. If it had happened Mountbatten is alleged (there's that word again!) to have been in line to be Prime Minister of the country until a new government was appointed. Peter Wright's Spycatcher book also details the plot too.
czbbflier From Canada, joined Jul 2006, 1030 posts, RR: 2
Reply 9, posted (5 years 9 months 2 weeks 2 days 3 hours ago) and read 7210 times:
Quoting faro (Thread starter): Does anyone recall such occupation of LHR at the time? What would it amount to in practical terms for airline operations?
I remember a little bit of the army being at the airport. I was 7 at the time. We were flying to Belfast for Easter holidays in 1974. My mother's description filled me in with some more information.
Apparently, there had either been a threat of an IRA attack on LHR. I recall seeing soldiers in green battle fatigues everywhere all carrying machine guns. Mum said that she was really nervous with all these 'trigger-happy' young men on edge themselves.
I dont' know if it was normal procedure at LHR at the time but there were rows and rows of aircraft out on the ramp: there were none actually parked adjacent to the terminal building and everyone was bused out to their plane. I recall it was a specialized bus that articulated (very unusual in those days) and that we drove for what seemed like a mile down a long line of parked planes before we got to the one we flew on to go to Belfast.
I don't remember much of Belfast airport but I sure that there was a repeat performance there with the army being out in force since it was an IRA threat. I can't recall if we returned to LHR under such tight security either- I recall being sick with some stomach virus and was still feeling really, really crappy for a few days even when we got home to Poole.
HBGDS From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 10, posted (5 years 9 months 2 weeks 2 days 1 hour ago) and read 6870 times:
Quoting faro (Thread starter): Were there any other such military occupations of important civil airports in recent history?
GVA for major summits during the Cold War, notably Reagan-Gorbachev in 1985. Regular air ops continued as scheduled. I differentiate from "normal" in that these were actual army units from outside the usual field of operations. In Switzerland at the time, customs was (actually still is) part of the Swiss army, albeit without all the combat gear.
GDB From United Kingdom, joined May 2001, 13591 posts, RR: 76
Reply 11, posted (5 years 9 months 2 weeks 1 day 15 hours ago) and read 5970 times:
No, not any kind over imagined political conspiracy, as usual, the truth was less exciting, more mundane, though in this case potentially serious.
Intelligence agencies had picked up indications of a plot by Palestinian terrorists to down airliners, (probably, for them preferably) El Al ones, using SAM-7 missiles, Rome and LHR were seen as the likely firing points.
SAM-7, like another Russian military product, was the AK-47 of the shoulder launched, heat seeking anti air missile world.
The US, also in the 1960's, built the similar Redeye (the IRA tried to get hold of them), the British a bit later would build the command guided, bulkier, faster, had to be used by well trained operator, Blowpipe.
But the production, distribution of SAM-7 dwarfed them all, this before the Chinese made unauthorised copies.
From wars in Africa to SE Asia, SAM-7 was the entry level surface to air system, plug in the nitrogen pack to cool the missiles infra red seeker, point at target, if the cooled seeker locks on to the engine heat of a target, denoted by a warning light, fire.
A slim missile pops out of the shoulder mounted launcher, the rocket ignites, at a high subsonic speed the missile homes in on the engine heat.
As long as the lock on occurred while the missile seeker was pointed at the target engines jet-pipe, as long as it did not decide to instead now home in on the Sun, or a reflection of the sun in water.
So you'd have to be bombed or strafed by an attacking aircraft then fire at the departing jet.
Not a problem when the target was an airliner.
SAM-7 soon became very vulnerable to decoys such as flares ejected from an aircraft, again, not a problem with an airliner.
So the prospect of terrorists having a SAM-7 in the vicinity of an airport would have made the blood of security leaders and politicians run cold.
Fresh in the memory then was the spate of airliner high-jackings, bombings, this seemed an inevitable next step.
How best to counter?
Clearly no chance in the case of LHR to secure all potential firing points along the flight-paths, the SAM-7 was limited to several thousand feet, but it was much more likely to both lock on and prove lethal for an airliner on take off or landing, preferably take off with the higher engine power making a better heat source.
So when you consider this, the deployment of the army in early 1974 makes perfect sense, they would patrol around the most likely firing points, (also, less visibly to the press, beyond the LHR perimeter), seeking if not to the catch an attempt in the act but also to deter an attempt.
The age of the suicide terrorist had not yet arrived.
Though armed police (and unarmed) would have supported this operation, in 1974 only some specialist marksmen and Colt Revolver carrying Flying Squad detective and Diplomatic/Political Protection offers were routinely armed, the specialised armed response teams of today's police were not around then.
A few years after this, a novel was published where Mid East terrorists use a SAM-7 to down an airliner from the roof of a London building, the DC-10 crashes on Victoria Rail Station.
The novel was called SAM-7 .
(Might be worth a look an Amazon et al).
A SAM-7 did down a Rhodesian Viscount airliner in the 1970's, more recently we saw that near catastrophe when a DHL A300 was struck in Iraq.
The IRA, courtesy of Libya, got a bunch of SAM-7's in the 1980's, since one shipment was intercepted this led to the wholesale fitment of decoy gear to N.I. based helicopters, military transports and VIP aircraft, C-130's, VC-10's, BAe-146 and BAe-125 aircraft. Though the IRA never successfully fired one at a target - military choppers in N.I. started operating in pairs and door mounted machine guns were mounted as a response to the news of the SAM-7's.
Throughout the intervening years, as stated, regular exercises were carried out to test the response of the police and army.
Only in 1974 and in 2003 was it a response to a perceived threat, the latter also had fears that a RPG-7 might be used to fire at a taxing airliner.
The reason you sometimes saw light tanks or armoured cars was that the nearest military barracks with vehicles having the comms and command and control facilities, was the cavalry unit at Windsor, rest assured the 30mm or 76mm weapons would not have been loaded!
As stated, the infantry came from Hounslow Barracks.
The idea was the 1974 deployment was part of an imagined coup attempt, is as nonsensical as the idea the the 2003 one was some kind of political move to drum up support for the upcoming Iraq war (surely it would have the opposite effect?)
But some just have to add 2 + 2 and make 5, or even 10.
GDB From United Kingdom, joined May 2001, 13591 posts, RR: 76
Reply 13, posted (5 years 9 months 2 weeks 1 day 15 hours ago) and read 5920 times:
A very quick search has found that the novel inspired by the real 1974 plot, SAM-7 was written by Richard Cox, long out of print but loads of them available cheaply, I read it after borrowing from a friend in the mid 1980's, I might get myself a copy!
Back to this 'political plot' idea, largely a product of the paranoia of Prime Minister Harold Wilson in his final, unhappy term.
Also a sequel to when in 1968 a crazed newspaper megalomaniac (that's not changed then), who thought Wilson was leading the country to ruin, he approached the relative of the Royal Family and ex Chief Of Defence Staff, Lord Mountbatten,with the idea of installing him as a national figurehead after Wilson was deposed presumably by non democratic means.
Mountbatten promptly told him he was mad and to bugger off.
In the 1974 period, a few, maverick, MI5 types, beset with paranoia (occupational hazard one suspects), did some low level snooping outside of their remit.
Nothing officially sanctioned, they were pensioned off, the most bonkers of them all Peter Wright later wrote a heavily fictionalised account of his time which rattled a few cages.
But really, if you want to see the true extent of these 'plots' of the 1970, you can really do no better than this clip from the wonderful 1970's sitcom The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin , where Reggie's inept Army Officer brother in law lets Reggie in on his plan to protect England from the 'forces of anarchy;