By Ray O’Hanlon
The Soviet Union’s intelligence service, the KGB, supplied arms to the Official IRA beginning in 1972, according to a just published and widely praised book on the KGB’s history.
The first cache of arms was delivered to the Officials in late 1972, three years after the split in the IRA that resulted in the movement splitting into two factions, the Officials and the Provisionals.
Details of the operation, codenamed SPLASH, are contained in "The Sword And The Shield, The Mitrokhin Archive And The Secret History Of The KGB."
The book was jointly written by former KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin and Christopher Andrew, who chairs the history department at Cambridge University and is a former visiting professor of national security at Harvard.
The first delivery of weapons was authorized by Yuri Andropov, the head of the KGB, in 1972. Andropov later became Soviet president.
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On Aug. 21, 1972, Andropov presented details of SPLASH to the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party. It was entitled "Plan for the Operation of a Shipment of Weapons to the Irish Friends," the latter title being KGB code for the Official IRA, which Moscow viewed as being still sufficiently Marxist in outlook in the wake of the IRA split.
Upon approval, so-called KGB "technical specialists" assembled a shipment consisting of two machine guns, 70 automatic rifles, 10 Walther pistols, 41,600 cartridges, all of non-Soviet manufacture. In addition, the Walther pistols were lubricated with West German oil while packaging was gathered from several points around the world by KGB agents. Moscow did not want the weapons traced to its door in the event that they fell into the hands of British security forces.
The weapons were carried on a Soviet intelligence gathering ship, the Reduktor. During the Cold War, such ships, usually disguised as fishing vessels, were a frequent presence in the North Atlantic.
According to the Mitrokhin/Andrew book, the arms, in waterproof wrapping, were dumped on a sandbank about 90 kilometers off the coast of Northern Ireland. The weapons sat on the bank at a depth of about 40 meters.
The KGB had decided in advance to mark the spot with a marker buoy, the kind used by fishing boats to denote the presence of nets. Again, in an effort to lay a false trail in the event of something going awry, the KGB planned in advance to use markers of either Finnish or Japanese origin.
According to the book, the first arms shipment was a success. A few hours after the delivery, a fishing boat belonging to the "Irish Friends" arrived at the sandbank and hauled up the weapons. The crew did not, however, know the exact nature of the cargo.
According to the book, Operation SPLASH was supervised on board the Reduktor by an officer from the KGB’s "8th Department of Directorate S."
"Several further Soviet arms shipments to the Official IRA were delivered by similar methods," the book — described by the FBI as the result of "the most complete and extensive intelligence ever achieved from any source" — stated.