IRA or NATO? Somerset teenagers go magnet fishing and open a can of worms
On a normal day they might fish out some scrap metal using their powerful magnet, or steel odds and ends from what are locally known as 'rhynes' to sell. The last thing they were expected was a pistol, an assault rifle, a machine gun, then more and more...
“Caught one every time,” explained 16-year-old treasure hunter James Cork, until he and his friends had hauled around 80 firearms onto the riverbank. Avon and Somerset police, who turned up soon afterwards to confiscate the cache, said the guns were from the Second World War, that there were only half as many as the BBC said there were, and declared none to be in working condition.
But in conversation with the BBC and other regional media James and local expert, Mike Motum from Somerset military museum, beg to differ, telling the BBC many had been well sealed up in watertight bags. Motum identified the guns as dating from the 1940s to 1970s, an extraordinary range of scores of small arms from right across the East-West Cold War divide.
The cache, enough to equip two platoons of soldiers or a column of guerrillas, included a Czech SA vz. 25 sub machine gun, US made M-16 assault rifle, .44 Auto-Mag large caliber semi-automatic pistol and Belgian FN CAL assault rifle from the 1960s. There was also an M2 Browning .50 machine gun, capable of bringing down a helicopter, a Soviet AK-47 assault rifle, Smith & Wesson revolver and a WWII German MG42 light machine gun, known as 'Hitler's buzz saw'.
So who put them there? Some speculate the haul belonged to the Irish Republican Army (IRA), others suggest it might have been dumped there by a nervous collector. But would the IRA really have been equipping columns of guerrillas, preparing to engage the British Army on its home turf? Possibly, but if one digs into the European archives this stash looks more like the first British example of similar hoards uncovered over the last 30 years or so in other parts of Europe. These have been found to have been buried for a secret NATO-wide ‘stay behind’ guerrilla army. To be activated in case of a Soviet invasion.
The idea was that if Western Europe was invaded by the USSR, and if the national armies of France, Germany and Britain were defeated, a secret guerrilla army would emerge from the shadows. Furnished with the locations of secret arms and explosives caches across the continent, units would begin forming to harangue occupying Soviet forces using ambushes and sabotage, much as the World War Two partisans did in Yugoslavia, France and elsewhere in Nazi occupied Europe.
But the USSR, of course, did not invade, and rather than just lying idle some of these arms caches were used for a second, more sinister purpose. Far from democratic oversight they were used by NATO Special Forces, often working with far right soldiers across Europe, in terrorist attacks which were then blamed on left-wing groups. Such as Italy’s Red Brigades, Germany’s Baader-Meinhof gang and Belgium’s Cellules Communistes Combattantes (CCC) who were accused of the 1985 Brabant supermarket massacres where scores of innocent shoppers were shot dead.
These secret ‘stay behind’ armies, whether passive or active, were commanded by NATO intelligence in Brussels, the US CIA, and Britain’s MI6 as well as a shadowy Swiss association of former and serving intelligence officers known as the ‘Club De Bern’. They were codenamed 'Operation Gladio' and used most horrifically in Italy during the 1970s when, in 1978, Prime Minister Aldo Moro considered forming a coalition government with the Communist Party.
This was not acceptable to the US and NATO military so Moro was kidnapped, then executed, by Licio Geli’s secret government, the P2 Masonic Lodge. The Italian press, however, blamed the kidnapping and subsequent misuse of the ‘Gladio’ forces on the left-wing Red Brigades who were scapegoated in what is known in military parlance as a ‘false flag’ attack, blamed on an innocent enemy, and strictly against the Geneva conventions.
This series of military attacks, by Geli's parallel Italian government, on the heart of Italian democracy was what became known as the ‘Strategy of Tension’, designed to persuade Italians to give up their liberties and turn to the state for protection. It lasted for best part of a decade and culminated in the horrific 1980 bombing of Bologna railway station which killed nearly 100 innocent rail passengers.
Similar ‘false flag’ attacks, always blamed initially on left wing groups, took place using secret ‘stay behind’ arms and explosives right across Europe. Parliamentary enquiries in Italy, Switzerland and Belgium uncovered NATO involvement, but while some of the 'Gladiators' were prosecuted, none of the military top brass that signed off these secret terrorist operations on their own people ever were.
140 similar caches all over NATO countries?
One ‘Operation Gladio’ arms cache was discovered in 1972 buried at a chapel in the town of San Vito al Tagliamento near Trieste, Italy, another in 1983 near the town of Velp in Holland. At least 140 such caches were revealed in the Italian parliamentary 'Operation Gladio' enquiry to have been squirreled away all over the NATO countries. The standard Gladio cache included C4 plastic explosive for sabotage and plenty of ammunition.
But James and his Somerset friends would not have fished those out of the rhyne like they did the guns, simply because, however powerful, no lead bullets, cordite, brass cartridges or explosives will stick to their magnet. If indeed it was a Gladio cache, the area would have been sealed off and those will have been hastily fished out by security service frogmen within hours of reporting the find to police.
The wide range of weapons found in Somerset, from both sides of the Cold War divide, fits both with the secret ‘stay behind’ and the top-secret ‘false flag’ Gladio scenarios. It would suit a NATO sabotage column, under occupation, to be able to shoot any caliber of ammunition they won in ambushes or raids they carried out on an occupying Soviet force.
Modern forensics make it increasingly possible to identify the weapon used in an attack from rifling marks on bullets recovered from the scene. If the cache was used in a false flag terror attack, special forces playing the gruesome part of terrorists would be ordered to use one, or other type of weapon depending on what the ‘terrorists’ they were mimicking were known to, or most likely to have used. In the 1985 Brabant supermarket killings the guns were later planted on hapless left-wing squatters who were raided by police the day after, and immediately accused of the massacre.
“Why did we find them here? I just want to know why they’re here?” treasure hunter James Cork asked BBC's Somerset reporter Clinton Rogers. Well I hope that goes some way to answer your question James. Either they would be used for sabotage and ambush in Soviet occupied Britain or used by our own secret armies to kill innocent people in nearby towns of Bridgwater or Taunton in attacks blamed on the British establishment's latest bogey men, probably ISIS or al-Qaeda, as an excuse to strip us of even more civil liberties.
This is the danger when secret armies are allowed to thrive out of the democratic purview as the British Army's Force Research Unit (FRU) was in Northern Ireland during the troubles. They were later found in the Stevens enquiry to have been supplying explosives to the Loyalist terrorists, but they were never prosecuted. Just like in Italy's 'Strategy of Tension' there was a culture of impunity and injustice reigned. Out of democratic oversight there is nothing to stop deadly weapons falling into the hands of terrorists, state sponsored or otherwise, as the Italians, Germans and Belgians have found out to their cost.
Thank God the guns were discovered by some decent Somerset lads rather than some ne'er-do-well, tempted to sell them for a pretty penny on the black market where they may well have ended up in the hands of organized criminals. Another good reason why British Military Intelligence should fess up to ALL Britain’s known Gladio caches, wherever they may be. It's totally irresponsible for any government to let their military get away with stashing arms in the countryside where anyone might come across them. Next time we may not be so lucky.
BOOK: NATO's Secret Armies: Operation GLADIO and Terrorism in Western Europe by Daniele Ganser (2005)
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.