|As rioters and terrorists come up with new weapons,
soldiers and civilians in "Britain's fastest industry" retaliate with
|It is midnight on Belfast's Black Mountain.
Suddenly the Welsh Guards' Land-Rover is rocked by a mighty explosion. 10
to 15 pounds of gelignite hurl rivet heads half-an-inch thick into the
One lethal lump smashes the windscreen in front of the driver's face, three more tear into the section under his legs, a further four pepper the Rover's side.
Miraculously, the four crew are unhurt. They owe their survival of the terrorist mine to the glass fibre beloved by car enthusiasts and a plastic visor fitted to American moonmen's helmets . . . and to the "ideas men" and craftsmen of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.
Two years ago, on an old airstrip in Ulster, petrol bombs hurled by REME experimenters at a lorry fitted with mesh riot screens signalled a revolution in Army thinking on internal security equipment.
Violence, turbulence and terrorism in Northern Ireland have given birth to what one REME officer describes as "the fastest industry in Britain"—the all-out no-punches-pulled effort to satisfy the needs of the soldier on the streets.
"Brainstorming sessions" late into the night at REME Headquarters in Lisburn have created the ideas; corps workshops all over Britain have translated them rapidly into nuts and bolts. From grappling hooks to armoured fish-and-chip vans, shin guards to bulletproof skirts for armoured "pigs," fibre-glass armour, see-through shields—ingenuity has run riot and a flexible outlook has cut through red tape.
"We don't have to put anything in writing. I get on the 'phone to head-quarters who get on the phone to the workshops with our requirements. It's a nice feeling to know you have all this behind you ready to spring into action without normal peacetime channels."— Lieut-Col John Nuttman, chief REME officer in Northern Ireland.
It all began in the summer of 1969 when the Army's commitment to Northern Ireland's "troubles" was a growing possibility. Standard riot kit for three-ton lorries was the mesh screen familiar in Aden and Cyprus, but it offered no protection against that simple and deadly "nasty," the Belfast "cocktail."
Lieutenant-Colonel John Nuttman, chief REME officer in the Province, proved the point dramatically by throwing petrol bombs at a screen-fitted lorry. "We were horrified," he recalls. "The bottles broke on the screen and flaming petrol shot all over the inside of the lorry."
Colonel Nuttman and his aide, Major Reg Pearce, came up with a canopy treated with fire-resistant paint fitted to a frame with an arched roof. It was remarkably effective against the fire bomb.
A request for hundreds went to Head-quarters Technical Group REME at Woolwich and the order "This is an operational requirement" was issued to the workshops. Soon the canopies began rolling across the Irish Sea.
Now riot-breakers no longer feel like oven-ready cockerels in a cage. And the invention of the canopies was just the beginning; a torrent of original ideas was to follow. As the situation became more tense, Intelligence forecast imminent use of the nail bomb (gelignite laced with six-inch nails) and claymore mine (a box packed with "jelly" and "Belfast confetti"any old iron that takes a terrorist's fancy).
Colonel Nuttman and Major Pearce were asked to work on an answer to this sombre threat to the Army's mobile Land-Rover patrols. It came, after dilligent research and much head-scratching, in the grey-green shape of glass reinforced plastic, much used by home car repairers and makers of a certain three-wheeled mini-car.
A 26-part "do-it-yourself" kit designed to be fitted to a Land-Rover in 30 hours by a battalion's REME fitter was deemed the answer, in view of the quick turnround of men and vehicles in Northern Ireland.
Assistance now came from the Senior Service which had been using the material.
Wonder-plastic visors developed by REME inventors give
these troops an almost medieval appearance during a tense time in a
REME Workshop, Donnington, Making kits of glass-fibre armour.
Saracens and Humber "pigs." When stationary, REME-fitted armour "skirts" at the rear protect sheltering troops from gunmen's ricochets
Probing bullet-proof qualities.
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