Ilyushin Il-28 in RAF serviceEdit
During the early 1970s the face of traditional Irish politics was thrown into disarray with the massive growth of the new, Irish People's Party. Fueled by their all-inclusive rhetoric and their willingness to stand up to their powerful UK neighbour.In 1974 the Party won 33% of the vote in the local elections in Dublin and 23% nationwide, next year they cashed in on this result and managed to split both traditional parties, taking enough votes from either to form a minority government. Several key politicians of both parties where tempted to the new National Government with promises of positions and ministries, though none of the major portfolios such as defence and foreign affairs.
The new government pursued a set of policies more close to traditional eastern European governments than the more pedestrian Irish norm, including an increased support to the terrorists north of the border. This support materialised in increased weapon deliveries and the formation of training camps in the south of the country, safe from the eyes of the SAS, or so they thought.
The situation in Ireland carried on along these lines with the country slowly moving into the Eastern Bloc. The UK kept a strong watchful eye on all that was happening in the Republic and increased its border security accordingly, as well as increasing SAS and Commonwealth special forces involvement in the south.
On March 5th 1977 the Irish Minister of Defence announced to the world at a press conference that the Republic would take delivery in the name of the People's Irish Republican Army 5 Ilyushin 28 medium bombers as a means of "taking the struggle to the Brits". The Ministry of Defence in the UK responded with the Statement that "not one of these aircraft will become operational and they will never be a threat to any part of the UK".
For the rest of the world that was more or less the end of the matter, but the UK again increased its readiness and deployed even more SAS patrols into Ireland, where they received help not only from much of the population at large but also from the Garda and the Defence Force itself.
On July the 12th a Bulgarian freighter was spotted with a suspicious deck cargo and followed by Nimrods and French Atlantics through the Mediterranean and into the Atlantic where it was shadowed all the way to Ireland by a RN submarine. The deck cargo was unloaded at the port of Dublin and then road freighted to the Air Corps base at Baldonnal where they disappeared into a hanger.
Intelligence gathered from very reliable sources told the UK that the aircraft would be rolled out on the 7th of September. It was decided that on the night of the 6th the SAS would storm the airfield, hold it and fly the aircraft out to the UK under cover provided by the RAF and RCN carriers in the Irish Sea.
Contacts within the Defence Force were made aware of the operation and were able to assure the UK government that no defence to the mission would be mounted for as one Irish colonel told his contact "no decent Irish man will stand up and fight for these scum", a sentiment echoed by all the British could contact.
The night of the 6th came and all that can be told is that the operation to take and hold Baldonnal airfield was a success, with British, Australian, Canadian, and for the first time Maltese SAS squadrons involved in the capture, and subsequent holding of the airfield. All details of the operation are and will remain secret for many years to protect all those involved in this action, whatever their nationality.
Early the next morning 5 RAF Hercules transports covered by Arrows and Lightnings arrived and unloaded the crews who would fly the Beagles to the UK. Later on that day in the full glare of much of the world's press the Beagles, now resplendent in RAF roundels taxied from their hanger and took to the sky.
The rest as they say is history, the Garda inspired coup, the return to full democracy, the new more friendly attitude to the UK and the peace accords are all to well known for me to cover here, but as for the Beagles, well they entered RAF service as dissimilar combat trainers and flew until 1986.