Thursday, 12 August 2010

Some Talk of Private Armies

What story lies behind The Winter of 79? Is the very idea of revolution or military coup in the UK during the  1970's even feasible?

“I came back from a cruise down the Rhine to discover to my horror that interest rates were 15 percent for one month certain, I discovered that the unions were striking again, the IRA were dropping bombs around. It was no longer a green and pleasant land, England. I thought the BBC would break down for one thing. I thought the trains would fail to run. London airport would not function anymore. The ports would be stagnant. There would be complete chaos in the land. You know the people who work in the City of London were not liking it and people who work as stockbrokers usually come from the best schools and a lot of them have titles and they weren’t liking it at all.

“I know the Queen—she wasn’t very happy with Mr. Harold Wilson—but there wasn’t much she could do about it at that time. And Lord Mountbatten rang up General Sir Walter Walker (NATO Commander of Northern Europe in 1969-72) one evening and said, ‘If you want any help from me will you let me know.’ Sir Walter Walker had prepared a sort of speech, which the Queen might read out on the BBC that asked the people to stand behind the armed forces as there was a breakdown of law and order and the government could not keep the unions in control.”
Major Alexander Greenwood (reitred)

The plan involved Greenwood and others setting up network of private armies including a private army (under Frank Kitson?) within the army in 1974-75. They would seize Heathrow airport, the BBC and Buckingham Palace. Lord Mountbatten would be the figurehead, acting as interim prime minister. The Queen would read a statement urging the public to support the armed forces, because the government was no longer able to keep order.

Fantastical? SAS founder David Stirling, concerned about the political power of trade unions in Britain, established GB75, which he described as "an organisation of apprehensive patriots" which would help the country in the event of severe strikes. Former intelligence officer Brian Crozier admitted lobbying of the army by men behind the scenes of power and that they "seriously considered the possibility of a military takeover".

Prime Minister Wilson was never informed of the troop manoeuvres at Heathrow, billed as a routine exercise then and now interpreted as a possible rehearsal for a coup.

Around that time the talk of private armies was masked in the press by a disinformation campaign including the much publicised release of Top Secret files from WW2 detailing Britains most secret army, Colonel Colin Gubbins and his Auxiliary Units. The Auxiliaries were a mostly civilian force raised, equipped and trained to operate as guerrillas against German forces if they had ever set foot on British soil in 1940.

For more detail, oustanding reportage and tons of inspiration read Wilson, M15 and the Rise of Thatcher: Covert Operations in British Politics 1974-78. Just click on the picture link in the right hand pane for the pdf.



  1. Hello!

    I ran across this 1971 UK TV series by accident just last night and I did not see it listed on your blog, so I am not sure if you were aware of it. It was called, "The Guardians". I figured that this would be right in line with the Private Armies post & the whole Winter of '79 blog.

    The Wiki entry:

    A short 3 min YouTube clip:

    Looks like it was an interesting show.


  2. When I click on the picture for "Wilson, M15 and the Rise of Thatcher: Covert Operations in British Politics 1974-78", I get a message telling me that the account has been "suspended". Is there anywhere else to read this?

  3. The Guardians is great. It really fits the feel of this blog. So does 'The Knights of God' an 80's children's TV show, which I managed to get on VHS, although it is a bit cheesey!