One of Britain’s most distinguished soldiers today said the Army was warned that the IRA intended to turn the Bloody Sunday march into a “bloodbath“.
General Sir Michael Rose, 63, was a captain and press officer in the 1st Battalion of the Coldstream Guards when British paratroopers killed 13 Catholic men on a Derry civil rights march on January 30, 1972.
Gen Rose, who commanded the SAS in the Falklands and at the 1980 Iranian Embassy siege as well as heading the UN protection force in Bosnia, told the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, sitting in central London, that he was not connected to the SAS in 1972.
Michael Mansfield QC, representing some of the bereaved families of Bloody Sunday, had to rephrase his question about the General’s SAS career. Gen Rose had refused to answer at first, saying it did not concern Bloody Sunday and the official Government line is not to comment on special forces.
He then recalled that officers were warned the IRA would begin a shooting war with the Army in which innocent people could get killed.
“This was more specific than a rumour,” he told the inquiry.
“The most germane thing that I can remember was that there was a warning of danger that the IRA were going to try to turn the civil rights march into a bloodbath ... the battalion was to be alert to this and was not to let it occur.”
The warning came from police or intelligence sources and was announced at an Army battalion orders group meeting a few days before Bloody Sunday, Gen Rose said.
With the likelihood of gunfire, Army officers were told not to “overreact” or to have a “disproportionate response” to stone throwing, Gen Rose said.
They would return fire if a member of the battalion or someone in the crowd of civilians was in danger, the inquiry was told.
A firefight at the march would have been particularly attractive to the IRA because it would be witnessed by the world’s media who had been invited to attend to counteract its view that the Army in Northern Ireland was “oppressive“.
Gen Rose was convinced the IRA risked civilian casualties by opening fire first against the Army and using the crowd as cover.
“We were warned that this may happen, and it did,” he said.
He said he heard five or six shots from a Thompson machine-gun, the IRA’s weapon of choice in the 1970s, and then entered the Bogside on foot “out of curiosity” without telling his commanders to get a closer look at the action.