Special Reconnaissance Unit

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Special Reconnaissance Unit
Active 1972–2005
Country  United Kingdom
Branch  British Army
Role Special reconnaissance
Part of United Kingdom Special Forces[1]
Headquarters RAF Aldergrove, Northern Ireland
Engagements Operation Banner (The Troubles)

The Special Reconnaissance Unit, also known as the 14 Field Security and Intelligence Company (internally "The Det") was a part of the British Army Intelligence Corps involved in plain-clothes operations in Northern Ireland from the 1970s onwards.

The unit conducted undercover surveillance operations against suspected members of Irish republican and loyalist paramilitary groups. Its troops were recruited from line battalions and trained in an eight-week course by the Special Air Service (SAS). An initial deployment of 120 men took place in November 1972.[2][3] Allegations of collusion with loyalist paramilitaries were made against the unit. In 1987, the unit became part of the newly formed United Kingdom Special Forces directorate.[1] The unit was amalgamated with the Special Reconnaissance Regiment or SRR in 2005.[4]


The Special Reconnaissance Unit, also known as 14 Intelligence Company was the successor to the Military Reaction Force (MRF).[5]. Selection to 14 Intelligence Company was available to all serving members of the British armed forces and to both sexes. For the first time, women could become members of a UK Special Forces unit. Candidates were required to pass a rigorous selection process, designed to select the individuals who possessed the necessary qualities to deal with undercover covert operations they'd be tasked with. In one selection course, out of 1000 applicants who applied, only 17 were deployed to Northern Ireland.

Wilson briefing[edit]

"Special Reconnaissance Unit" is the term appearing in official documents from the 1970s. An April 1974 briefing for Prime Minister Harold Wilson states:

The term "Special Reconnaissance Unit" and the details of its organisation and mode of operations have been kept secret. The SRU operates in Northern Ireland at present under the cover name "Northern Ireland Training and Advisory Teams (Northern Ireland)" - NITAT(NI) - ostensibly the equivalent of genuine NITAT teams in UKLF and BAOR.[6]


Authors claiming to be former members of the unit describe an organisation[7][8][9][10][11] with a depot in Great Britain and four operational detachments in Northern Ireland.

Selection and training of personnel from all arms of the British Armed Forces was conducted in a number of locations in Great Britain. Candidates, both male and female, volunteered for special duties for periods of 18–36 months, before being returned to a parent unit. Trained surveillance operators could volunteer for re-deployment after a period with the parent unit, with potential opportunities to serve in command, staff or training roles within the organisation or higher command structure.

Weapons issued[edit]

While the Unit was in usage there was a wide variety of firearms utilized by the unit. [12]

Collusion accusations[edit]

14 Intelligence was accused of acting in collusion with loyalist paramilitaries by former intelligence personnel Fred Holroyd and Colin Wallace in regards to the death of senior Provisional Irish Republican Army member John Francis Green, the Miami Showband killings and the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.[13][14][15][16][17]


  • 14 April 1974: Captain Anthony Pollen was shot dead in Derry while carrying out undercover surveillance on a Sinn Féin event. He was shot twice in front of a crowd of more than 150 people.
  • 15 May 1977: Captain Robert Nairac kidnapped and shot by the IRA.
  • 14 December 1977: Corporal Paul Harman was shot dead by the IRA in west Belfast. Harman was undercover when he stopped his red Morris Marina on Monagh Avenue. An IRA unit approached the car and shot him in the head and back and torched the car.
  • 11 August 1978: Lance Corporal Alan Swift was shot dead while undercover in the Bogside area of Derry City. Two IRA members fired into the corporal's car with automatic rifles.
  • 6 May 1979: Sergeant Robert Maughan was shot dead outside of a church in Lisnaskea
  • 21 February 1984: Sergeant Paul Oram was killed in an incident in mainly nationalist Dunloy, Ballymoney when he and a colleague were surprised during the night by an IRA unit operating in the area. Sgt Oram and his colleague drew their pistols and engaged the men, striking Declan Martin (18) and Henry Hogan (21).[18] Sgt Oram was killed almost instantly. According to his colleague, the two IRA members fell to the ground and were still alive, but he killed them as, in his opinion, they still constituted a threat.[19] Oram's colleague was seriously wounded but team-members stationed nearby assisted, and he survived.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Urban, Mark (1992). Big Boys' Rules: The SAS and the Secret Struggle Against the IRA. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 9780571161126.
  2. ^ David A. Charters, Counter-insurgency Intelligence: The Evolution of British Theory and Practice, The Journal of Conflict Studies, Volume 29 (2009).
  3. ^ Dr Huw Bennett, The reluctant pupil? Britain’s army and learning in counter-insurgency, Royal United Services Institute, 11 October 2009.
  4. ^ 14 Company - 'The Det', eliteUKforces.info; accessed 3 December 2017.
  5. ^ Griffin, Tom (20 November 2013). "The long shadow of the Military Reaction Force". Spinwatch.org. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  6. ^ "PREM 16/154: Defensive Brief D - Meeting between the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, 5 April 1974 "Army Plain Clothes Patrols in Northern Ireland"" (PDF). The National Archives. London. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  7. ^ Rennie, James (2004). The Operators: On the Streets with Britain's Most Secret Service. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military Classics. ISBN 9781844150991.
  8. ^ Ford, Sarah (1997). One Up: A woman in action with the SAS. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 9780002558198.
  9. ^ George, Jackie (1999). She Who Dared: Covert Operations in Northern Ireland with the SAS. Barnsley: Leo Cooper. ISBN 9780850526868.
  10. ^ Falconer, Duncan (2001). First into Action: Dramatic Personal Account of Life Inside the SBS. London: Warner. ISBN 9780751531657.
  11. ^ Connor, Ken (1999). Ghost Force: Secret History of the SAS. London: Orion. ISBN 9780752826974.
  12. ^ http://www.eliteukforces.info/the-det/
  13. ^ Friel, Laura (6 January 2000). "The killing of John Francis Green". An Phoblacht. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  14. ^ McCaffrey, Barry (13 July 2006). "Revealed — how British threatened harsh sanctions over SAS arrests". Irish News. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  15. ^ Ken Livingstone, Member for Brent East (7 July 1987). "Northern Ireland Act 1974". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. col. 231–237.
  16. ^ "Interim Report on the Report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Bombing of Kay's Tavern, Dundalk". Houses of the Oireachtas: Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. July 2006. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  17. ^ Holroyd, Fred (1989). War Without Honour. Hull: Medium. ISBN 9781872398006.
  18. ^ http://www.anphoblacht.com/contents/19737
  19. ^ Brits: The Secret War, BBC

External links[edit]