A few months ago, we hosted a 3-part series on an upcoming COIN Series inspired game called The Troubles which deals with the struggle in Northern Ireland. Through that process I came to appreciate the designer Hugh O’Donnell’s take on this difficult conflict and really felt he was going about dealing with the nature of this bloody war as tactfully as possible as well as simultaneously providing some enlightenment and understanding about some of the issues.
Here are links to those three posts:
After those posts were received well, we asked Hugh if he would be interested in doing a series of Event Card spoilers for the game. The game is not yet published and has just started playtesting so there is a long road yet to travel but we thought an early look would be a good thing.
*Please keep in mind that the artwork and layout of these cards is not yet finalized and is only for playtest purposes at this point. Also, as this game is still in development, card details may still change prior to publication.
#63 Four Square Laundry/MRF
In 1971, the year prior to the bloodiest year of the Troubles – 1972 – the British Forces set up the Military Reconnaissance Force (MRF). Ten months earlier, according to Moloney (2002), Seamus Wright, a volunteer in Second Battalion’s D Coy, and from the Lower Falls Road, had come under suspicion by the new Belfast commander at the time after he had been spending much time in England, and after interrogation, Wright admitted that he was an informant; he had “been in the company of a special military unit based at Palace barracks in Holyrood, County Down, where IRA suspects were taken for routine interrogation before being interned” (p. 119).
The MRF was tasked with intelligence gathering and utilised a number of bona fide businesses, one of which was a laundry business called ‘Four Square Laundry’, which operated in mainly Nationalist areas; this wasn’t unusual. It also operated a massage parlour and an ice cream business.
Using a van that could accommodate two SAS soldiers hidden within a special compartment beneath the roof, it would photograph suspects and license plates as it conducted its ‘tour of duty’, garnering important information from seemingly innocent business and social interactions with its customer base.
Ingenuously, its operations facilitated the data acquisition of highly detailed information: clothing sizes and genders; volume and variability of clothing, invaluable to revealing the presence of men on the run, thus identifying ‘safe houses’. The MRF had the ability to scientifically analyse the garments for the presence of blood, explosives, gun oil, etc.
Using a double agent, the operation was unmasked. At 11:15 on 2nd October 1972 a green Morris van bearing the livery of ‘Four Square Laundry’ was ambushed as it approached the Twinbrook area of Belfast. The driver and two carefully concealed SAS officers were machine gunned to death.
Hours later, additional MRF agents in another business area were subsequently killed; in total, five MRF agents lost their lives on that October day.
These events were deemed as an astonishing counter intelligence coup, and that the newly appointed Belfast commander had penetrated the very heart of British intelligence. But it also highlighted the fact that the IRA’s Second Battalion had been infiltrated, too: Wright and an accomplice, Kevin McKee, were ‘disappeared’: executed and buried in unmarked graves.
Moloney, Ed. (2002). The Secret History of the IRA. Penguin.
You can catch up on the series to date by following these links:
As always thank you Hugh for this great insight into the history behind the game and the salient issues. One of things that draws me to these COIN Series games is the learning of something about history and this game is going to shed some really interesting light on the subject for many who do not know much of the details.