Vehicle Checkpoints (VCPs) – Northern Ireland

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    • #124065

        The question was asked in the Tactical Questions thread about Vehicle Checkpoints (VCPs), specifically in a Northern Ireland context. So I will cover what we used to get up to when deployed to Northern Ireland.

        As part of the security apparatus in Northern Ireland, ‘Green Army’ troops would conduct patrols, both urban and rural. The purpose of these patrols was to ‘disrupt’ terrorist activities. I’ll focus more on rural patrolling for the purposes of this article. If you picture a ‘Quartermaster’ supply chain of terrorist weapons across Northern Ireland, you can see how the use of VCPs was one of a number of ways that this flow, of personnel and equipment, could be disrupted. Thus, patrols would have to be unpredictable, making VCPs unpredictable.

        The general idea of a rural VCP was to not be in position for more than 20 minutes. That was because 20 minutes was the statistical time that it would take for an IRA Active Service Unit to target you once they learned of your position. They would employ what we called ‘dickers’ which were watchers passing on info about patrols. So when you went out on a foot rural patrol, you would employ as many deception measures as possible, planning a patrol trace from drop off by Helo to pick up, via a series of tasks, which would usually include a number of VCPs on different roads. Literally a game of cat and mouse as you disappeared back into the countryside, never using road, trails or obvious avenues such as gates or holes in hedgerows – because of IED, pressure plate, snipe, multi-weapon shoot (ambush) etc. Basically, our training grounds were Northern Ireland since 1969 (throw in some Balkans) for all the tactics which were rolled out in Iraq / Afghanistan and adapted to the specific threat / situation. And passed to the US Army / Marines, who had no clue in the early days.

        When you went to NITAT training in the UK, they taught VCPs in a certain way, which I adopted on my first tour, and rapidly adjusted under the advice of NCOs to make it better. What NITAT wanted was to position all three of your four-man teams on the road, which was better for traffic control / stop groups. But it did not afford overwatch, which was critical, especially in places like East Tyrone and South Armagh (‘Bandit Country’) where Paras were mostly deployed.

        NITAT wanted the two stop group teams to move to the road, secure their stop positions, and then the road team would move on in the center and start the VCP. The two stop groups would be concealed and would have caltrops ready to pull across the road. Don’t forget that when moving onto the road, as at any stop, 5 and 20 meter checks would need to be conducted – checking your environment for any signs of IEDs or wires or similar. You could literally have moved onto the road where an IED was emplaced, and if you were there longer than 20 minutes or sufficient time for someone to get to the command wire, it could end badly. The NITAT system was ideal, so long as you put your VCP in a good location where it could not be seen early and avoided, because if anyone tried to drive out or reverse, you would be able to deploy the caltrops.

        The road team would consist of road guys stopping the traffic each way, and cover guys set back to cover them. You would need decent lights at night, for example, because this could be a lonely country road or a busy highway, so for safety you would have to wave traffic down. Used to use a big maglight with a red cone on the end. As cars came in you would take a look, maybe wave them through, stop and ask for ID etc. You would run plate checks up via the radio. You would know suspects from the list of mugshots. Depending what came back, or if you recognized a person of interest, you may do a search of the vehicle (boot and bonnet). Of course some vehicles would be “don’t stop” and you would let them through, becasue they would be part of a higher level security operation. What happened at VCPs could be anything from nothing, to a search, to weapons found, to guys getting arrested, for which you had to be really careful and get the police (RUC then later PSNI) involved as soon as fucking possible. I wrote elsewhere about my first ever firefight after stopping a car full of active service members on the way into Dungannon. This was from an “Eagle VCP’ operation where we were conducting a security net around the town and landing next to roads in helicopters to set up immediate VCPs, then lifting off to another location. Nothing could be done except a boot and bonnet search, which found nothing, then some aggro at the side of the road, and we had to let them go. Later that night, they were shooting at us and then trying to lure us in for an assassination. Timely Intel saved us from the last bit, as I was about to go in and it came over the radio, pull back and avoid the ambush.

        The way we adapted the VCP was to only use two teams. The third team would go into an overwatch position. So as we moved to a task at a road, the overwatch team would move in (this is all from satellite patrolling) and get eyes on. We would then move two teams down to the road, conduct our 5m checks as we started the VCP. The idea is that we would site the VCP well, and each team would act as the stop group for the other. It was not perfect, and theoretically if you saw the VCP early you could do a u-turn and avoid it, if badly sighted, but it gave us overwatch which was tactically more important.

        My favorite was always stopping Americans travelling from the Republic (Dublin) into Belfast on a trip. Horrible looking paratroopers stopping them at the side of the road and asking for ID was always classic.

        If you had vehicles, you could arrange them on the road as a chicane to force traffic to slow. You would only have vehicles in an urban area, because rural areas were too dangerous to travel by road, hence the helicopter rides.

        If there is any more to this you want to know, or other aspects, let me know.

        • This topic was modified 5 months, 3 weeks ago by Max.
      • #124106

          Great stuff! Thanks


        • #124108

            Thanks Max!

            I’m having trouble envisioning the formations (NITAT and adapted overwatch VCPs). Could you MS paint it onto an google maps screen shot?

          • #124112

              I’m having trouble envisioning the formations (NITAT and adapted overwatch VCPs). Could you MS paint it onto an google maps screen shot?

              Here you go, see attached for basic diagram.

              I have not shown positions of individuals. The Stop groups are not actually on the road. They will be in cover positions as flank protection and also to protect the road team, plus caltrop guy.

              • This reply was modified 5 months, 3 weeks ago by Max.
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            • #124118


              • #124130

                  If you have a 4 man team doing the VCP on road. Do you have a pair working each opposite lane of traffic? One on the road flagging down car and questioning etc and the buddy off the road covering? At 90 degree angles?
                  Also, did you have hand signals between the pair? Say touch your hat is signal to shoot.

                  HEAT 1(CTT) X 3
                  HEAT 2 (CP) X1
                  FOF X3
                  OPFOR X2
                  CLC X2

                • #124275

                    Great info, thanks Max!👍

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