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Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe foresaw his own death!
His memo to MoD warned helicopter shortage would cost lives... weeks later he was dead!

Damning memo: Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, the most senior casualty of the Afghan war.

Taliban booby traps - another murder of one of the UK's armed forces

The most senior soldier to be killed in Afghanistan foreshadowed his own death in a damning memo about the shortage of helicopters.

Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe told his superiors that many more British troops would die because they were being forced to make trips by road.

Less than a month later on the 1st of July 2009, he was blown up by a roadside bomb!!

The leaked memo dramatically undermines Gordon Brown's naive claims that helicopter shortages have not caused the deaths of troops fighting the Taliban.

It amounts to a devastating condemnation from beyond the grave of Labour's stewardship of the war in Afghanistan.

Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, 39, commander of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, died with Trooper Joshua Hammond when their convoy set off an improvised explosive device (IED) during a patrol north of the town of Lashkar Gah.

On June 5, he had chillingly predicted the circumstances of his own death in his weekly report to the Ministry of Defence.

Headed 'Battle Group Weekly Update', it reads: "I have tried to avoid moaning about helicopters - we all know we don't have enough, but we obviously cannot carry out our usual army operations without people moving around, so this month we have conducted a great deal of administrative movement by road. This increases the IED threat and our exposure to it."

Victim of a Taliban booby-trap bomb: Thorneloe with his children Hannah and Sophie:

Taliban booby traps - another murder of one of the UK's armed forces

Colonel Thorneloe goes on to spell out in graphic terms how he had 'virtually no' helicopters of the type which would allow him to move troops by air rather than road. He added: "The current level of SH (support helicopter) support is therefore unsustainable."

In a damning assessment of Nato operations, he concluded by saying that "the system used to manage helicopter movements in Afghanistan is very clearly not fit for purpose."

Another leaked report by a senior officer in Afghanistan, written on July 10, proves that the problems still persisted.

It reads: "Aviation has been erratic throughout this week. This has forced us to conduct more road moves than I would like. I understand the strains in the fly programme but any improvement would greatly assist." Taliban booby traps - another murder of one of the UK's armed forces

The officer added that he had received just half the helicopters he had requested for operations that week. And he also complained about the 'attrition of Vikings' - armoured vehicles overused because of the helicopter shortage.

Yet just two weeks later, on July 22 the Prime Minister insisted that soldiers had not died because of MoD penny pinching. He told Parliament: "In the operations we are having at the moment it is completely wrong to say that the loss of lives has been caused by the absence of helicopters."

The memos were leaked by a disgusted MoD official to Tory MP Adam Holloway, a former Grenadier Guards officer who regularly visits Afghanistan.

In an email, the official referred to the second memo, telling the MP: "As you can see, the situation is no change, despite Rupert Thorneloe's death. Still no aviation, still unnecessary administrative road moves which are killing people. Still claims by the Government that the military have got enough helicopters and all the tools they need. Lies, lies and more lies!!."

Mr Holloway told the Mail: "What a heart-wrenching irony it is that Lieutenant Colonel Thorneloe wrote those words. It must have been terrible for him as the commander of 800 men to know that their lives were being put in danger every day because the Government, in whose name he had taken them to war, would not spend the money to make it safer for them to move across country."

He added that "defence chiefs should be ashamed - hopefully now they will at last do the right thing and get our troops off the roads and into the air where they are safer." Taliban booby traps - another murder of one of the UK's armed forces

Mr Holloway has written a devastating critique of the handling of the war in a pamphlet shortly to be published by the Centre for Policy Studies think tank.

It reveals that despite clear evidence that a shortage of helicopters is killing British troops, defence chiefs are still refusing offers to supply more.

Prediction: Lt-Col Thorneloe told his superiors many more British troops would die because they were being forced to make trips by road.

Only last month, the Ministry of Defence turned down another offer of helicopters which could double Afghanistan flying hours for British troops fighting the Taliban. The Mail has independently confirmed that former RAF pilots offered to supply 25 helicopters within three months to back up the Chinook fleet which is stretched to breaking point.

The deal would have cost the MoD just £7million a month - a relative drop in the ocean - but the offer was rejected because the RAF did not want to share a role with private contractors.

Lieutenant Colonel Thorneloe and his widow Sally had two daughters, Hannah, four, and two-year-old Sophie. At his funeral the mourners included the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, who knew him well.

In a statement yesterday, Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said: "My thoughts remain with the family and friends of Lt-Col Rupert Thorneloe, who was a courageous soldier and a fine man. Our brave forces deserve the very best equipment and we remain determined to provide it. We know the value of helicopters on operations, and that commanders could do more with more. That is why we have increased the numbers and types, improved engines and almost doubled flying hours. To counter the roadside bomb threat we have also been improving unmanned air surveillance."

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The IRA lynch mob murders

It happened on Wednesday, 19 March, 1988, when two British soldiers in plain clothes - Corporal David Howes and Corporal Derek Wood both of the Royals Corps of Signals - mistakenly blundered into the funeral cortege of an IRA man who had been killed in a loyalist attack on another paramilitary funeral.

Initially mistaken for loyalist terrorists and trapped in their car, they were dragged out in front of the world’s press and viciously beaten in nearby Casement Park. Minutes later they were executed as suspected SAS members!

Brutality: Catholic priest Father Alec Reid administers the last rights to Corporal David Howes, one of two British soldiers brutally beaten and murdered in Belfast in 1988. Killers of Corporal David Wood and Corporal Derek Howes

(Pictured on the right, Father Reid tried to save the two soldiers).

A Roman Catholic priest kneels in a car park as he administers the last rites over the bloodied and almost naked body of a British soldier. It is an iconic image, a horror frozen in time.

Father Alec Reid’s hands are clutched in prayer or anguish, his left cheek smeared with blood because he’d tried to give the man the kiss of life.

Minutes earlier the NCO had been seized by a frenzied mob, tortured and executed. A few yards away, out of frame, lies the corpse of a colleague, similarly abused and then slaughtered.

No one who saw the harrowing photographs or film footage of the deaths of Corporals Derek Wood and David Howes in Belfast - can ever erase that awful memory.

At its end, eight people were dead and 60 injured. One massacre was averted by a triple killing, but the result was another atrocity. That in turn led to the double lynching of the British corporals - an act of such barbarity that the wider world awoke to the true horror of the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland.

At the centre of the maelstrom on the day they died was an extraordinary figure; the local missionary priest, Father Reid, who was in fact privy to so much secret, high-level peace negotiation that the head of the IRA’s Belfast brigade nicknamed him ‘Behind the Scenes’.

And the two soldiers who died were not the ordinary signallers the Army later described to the world.

Why had their car blundered into an IRA funeral? What was their true role in the province? And why, with the world watching, couldn’t they have been saved?

A former Army special operations officers who was on duty in Ulster that day in the Army’s West Belfast control room and watched live feed of the unfolding murders, said, ‘this was the stuff of nightmares’ - beamed from the camera of an Air Corps surveillance helicopter overhead.

He knew the two men’s true jobs and spoke of the ‘horror and anger’, and feelings of frustration as the outrage unfolded.

Another person on duty that fateful day was an RAF special operations pilot who claims a communications breakdown contributed to the soldiers’ deaths.

Father Reid spoke to the BBC, about his courageous attempts to save two lives. Their combined testimonies build a compelling new account of what happened to lead up to events that shocked the world.

In May, 1987, the SAS ambushed an IRA attempt to blow up the police station at Loughall in Northern Ireland, killing eight terrorists. On Remembrance Day that year in Enniskillen, an IRA bomb killed 11 and wounded dozens, in what proved to be a PR disaster for the IRA.

Pressure increased on all sides for a way out of the violence, and warring factions began to emerge in the republican movement.

One man ideally placed to play a role was Father Reid, a priest based at the Clonard monastery in West Belfast, with which the family of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams had close links.

Reid knew that IRA operations had to be reined in if real progress was to be made towards peace.

But there were hardliners who wanted to pull off a ‘spectacular’ as the 20th anniversary of the beginning of ‘the Troubles’ approached.

The softest of soft military targets was chosen. A bomb would be exploded next to an Army band as it played during the weekly changing of the guard at the British governor’s residence on Gibraltar.

The plan was compromised. On March 6, 1988, three members of the IRA active service unit chosen to perform the attack - Danny McCann, Seán Savage and Mairéad Farrell - were intercepted in Gibraltar and shot dead by members of the SAS.

No matter that the intention was mass murder, nor that Spanish police soon found the intended bomb-making material, including 64kg of Semtex, in a car across the border in Marbella; there was outrage in republican circles that the three IRA bombers were unarmed when killed. Tensions mounted in Belfast as the bodies were brought home. Father Reid knew all three - Savage had been an altar boy at Clonard - and met the coffins in Dublin.

The funerals were held at the Milltown Cemetery, off the Falls Road, on March 16. Because of the powder keg circumstances, security forces agreed to suspend their usual policy of heavy and close policing of terrorist burials. The stage was set for Michael Stone - a member of a loyalist paramilitary group - to take ‘revenge’ for the Enniskillen bombing.

Using two pistols and several hand grenades, Stone killed three people in the cemetery - including an IRA man called Kevin Brady - and wounded around 60 before being chased and caught by mourners.

He was only saved from lynching by police intervention. Fear and hatred soared in republican West Belfast, and reached a peak two days later when Kevin Brady’s funeral took place.

Corporal Derek Wood was 24 and came from Surrey. Corporal David Howes was 23 and from Hackney in East London.

Their parent unit was the Royal Corps of Signals. Indeed, after their murders on March 19 - at Brady’s funeral - the Army said they had merely been engaged in ‘routine maintenance’ work on a transmitter.

They had been dressed in civilian clothes and were travelling back to base in an unmarked silver VW Passat saloon. Both were armed with standard issue Browning 9mm pistols for self-protection.

But that was not the whole picture. It was at best a semi-fiction, which was maintained even to the men’s families.

‘At the time the (undercover army surveillance) structure over there included two specific units,’ a senior army officer who was engaged in Ulster intelligence operations said, ‘There was the main surveillance unit known variously as 14 Int, or The Unit or The Watchers. And there was a support unit called 12 Int, from which the two corporals came.

‘12 Int used to go under the cover name of the Northern Ireland Couriers. On that day there was a handover. One of the corporals had just arrived in the province, and the other was about to leave.

‘The new arrival was being shown the routes and places to pick up and drop off equipment and documents for 14 Int. ‘I believe they were coming back from (the base at) RAF Aldergrove when it went wrong.’

The officer recalled that because of the republican funeral, an ‘out of bounds area’ had been issued for everybody, but that - fatally - the corporals strayed into an 'out of bounds' area!

‘The reason why they cut the corner (into the funeral) was never clear to me or anyone else. Whether it was just a wrong turn, a mistake, I don’t know.’

The consequences were swift, terrible and very public.

Contemporary TV and photographic footage from the large media presence shows the funeral cortege advancing slowly along Andersonstown Road towards Milltown Cemetery, headed by a number of the black taxis favoured by the IRA.

It was at this moment that the corporals’ car, with Wood at the wheel, came towards it at speed from the opposite direction. Its driver clearly panicked - Army sources believed the men knew they had been identified by IRA ‘dickers’, or spotters - the car mounted the pavement, scattering mourners, and turned into a blocked side street.

Film footage (on the video below) then shows it reversing across a junction before becoming boxed in by the black taxis in the cortege. Male mourners quickly surround the VW and attempt to get at the men inside. A warning shot can be heard, fired in the air by Wood.

The crowd briefly scatters before surging forward again. The men are now hopelessly trapped. One of the crowd smashes the front passenger window with something in his hand. He and others begin to try to haul Corporal Howes out.

Wood, clearly holding a handgun, half climbs out of his own window but is grabbed from behind by several men and pulled down and out of sight. Improvised weapons appear. A man is on the VW’s roof smashing the windscreen with a wheel brace.

Father Reid was at the scene, and he explained his part in the tragedy. ‘Everyone thought immediately that this was another loyalist attack,’ he said. He followed the mob as it carried the two corporals to nearby Roger Casement Park.

‘They put the two of them face down on the ground and I got down between them . . . I had my arm around this one and I was holding the other by the shoulder,’ recalled the priest.

‘They were so disciplined, they just lay there totally still and I decided then to myself that these must be soldiers.

‘There was a helicopter circling overhead and I don’t know why they didn’t do something, why they didn’t radio to the police or the soldiers to come up.

‘I remember saying to myself: “This shouldn’t be happening in a civilised society”. I kept asking for an ambulance and next thing someone came in, picked me up and said “Get up or I’ll f*****g well shoot you as well.” And then he said “Take him away”, and two of them came and kind of manoeuvred me out.’

While still in the park, the soldiers were mercilessly beaten, stripped to their underwear and searched. It was then perhaps their fate was sealed irrevocably. One of them was carrying a pass which bore the name ‘Herford’.

This was a place in West Germany where the British Army had a divisional HQ. But in West Belfast it was mistaken for ‘Hereford’, the HQ of the hated SAS, which had so recently killed the IRA team on Gibraltar.

‘I came back (to the park),’ said Father Reid. ‘I knew the men were going to be shot. It was a terrible, tense atmosphere.

‘I remember saying to myself: “I’m going to try to stop them”. And the next thing I realise they had put them over a low wall.’

The pair were put in a black taxi, which drove off at speed, one of the IRA men waving a fist in triumph.

The priest then heard shots further up the road. He followed the reports and walked up to an area of waste ground off Penny Lane, 200 yards away.

‘There was no one else there, just the two bodies. And I went up to the one nearest me and he seemed still to be breathing. So I started to try to give him the kiss of life.

‘After a while a man came in behind me and said “Look Father, that man is dead”. I anointed him and went over to anoint the man three yards away, lying on his face.

‘Two women came over and covered him with a coat and said he was somebody’s son. I felt I had done my best to save them. I was very shocked. I had failed. It was a tragedy.’

Wood had been shot six times and stabbed four times, as well as suffering multiple lesser wounds. From start to finish, their ordeal had lasted no more than 20 minutes.

Later that day the IRA issued a triumphalist statement: ‘The Belfast Brigade IRA claims responsibility for the execution in Andersonstown this afternoon of two SAS members, who launched an attack on the funeral cortege of our comrade volunteer Kevin Brady.’ As with so many statements about the affair, it simply wasn’t true.

Could the corporals have saved themselves once they were hemmed in? To their credit, they did not try to shoot their way out against apparently unarmed opponents around the car. But the former army intelligence officer who saw their deaths thinks it unlikely they could have.

"The fact that they had only two pistols showed they were not part of the specialist 'watcher unit'", he said. "They were under-armed. At most they would have been carrying one magazine and possibly a spare. This is not OK Corral weaponry. Between them they would have had a maximum of 48 rounds. They were surrounded by hundreds of people, got boxed in and overwhelmed. The second factor is that they were not (SAS) and did not have training to extricate themselves.

Sitting in the car really wasn’t an option. Their best hope was to kick their way into a nearby building like a shop that had restricted approaches, and wait for the cavalry to arrive. With IRA members in the crowd, armed with automatic rifles, it was always going to be very one-sided."

Why didn’t the security forces rescue them? A former RAF special operations pilot said there was a communications breakdown between the Army helicopter overhead and a nearby Royal Ulster Constabulary rapid reaction unit.

But another Army officer disagrees: "The Gazelle helicopter had constant communications to the West Belfast army battalion’s HQ at North Howard Street Mill, and to 39 Brigade HQ in Lisburn, both of which would have had RUC liaison officers present. It shouldn’t have been a problem. I was not on their (radio) network but I am pretty sure the corporals got an alert out early (on their personal radio). I have also heard stories of reticence to react on the part of the security forces.

It was simply down to the speed of republican reaction and the number of people in the street: they were very angry and some of them very heavily armed.

Physically there was not a way (for British soldiers) to get through without it turning into a major armed incident. We were all very, very angry that night. Frustrated at not being able to reach them and save those blokes’ lives."

A year later, two IRA men, Alex Murphy and Harry Maguire, were found guilty of the murder of the corporals. They were jailed for life in 1989, with a recommendation of a minimum 25 years. But as part of the Good Friday agreement they were among scores of murderers who were freed in 1998!!!

Corporal Wood’s father, also called Derek, who is now dead, was moved to say in 1998: "I have no shred of comfort in thinking that the death of those two lads helped the peace process. Derek died for nothing and I cannot forgive and forget."

He added: "Information given to us by the Army about what the soldiers were doing just didn’t ring true. The Army has never let us meet anyone from Derek’s unit."

Corporal Howes’s father Robert, who is now living in the Far East. said: "As to the precise nature of the work the soldiers were engaged in, we hope that one day the military will tell the truth about why the lads were there. This was not young man’s bravado." and of those who butchered his son, he added: "I try not to think about the terms of the peace process which released those responsible from prison, because it still makes me very angry." It is a sentiment echoed by the army officer who watched the murders unfolding: "I was bitter about the release of their killers, and I think a lot of us were. They were dreadful people. I suppose it was the price for peace, but it was a huge price to pay."

Two shitbags Alex Murphy and Harry Maguire, were found guilty of the murder of the corporals.. They were jailed for life in 1989, with a recommendation of a minimum 25 years. Murphy received a further 83 years, and Maguire 79 years..In November 1998, (just 9 years later), Murphy and Maguire were released from the Maze prison as part of the early prisoner release scheme under the Good Friday Agreement......Justice ...I think not!!

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